Friday, July 22, 2016

"This Here West Coast Publicks a Bunch a Crooks"

"Poor Economy."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Munsey's Magazine, January 1923.
Reprinted in Thrilling Detective, June 1947.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The story of an amateur in burglary and a novice in detective work"
Here we have a kinder, gentler Ray Cummings crime story from the twenties, this one concerning Jimmy Martin, an ambitious young man looking for the increased income he needs to get married, with only a slippery sneak thief, the self-titled Lead Pencil Willy, standing in the way. In his first case as an insurance investigator, Jimmy must solve what comes to be known as the affair on Queen Anne Hill, a case with Willy's trademark touches all over it—except, that is, for one little detail . . .

Principal characters:
~ Mr. Gregg:
   ". . . the local manager of the Globe Protective Association, specialists in burglary insurance . . ."
~ Lead Pencil Willy:
   "At the moment, Lead Pencil Willy was the most noted and most elusive criminal on the Pacific Coast. From San Diego to Sitka he was wanted on a hundred different charges. His exploits varied as to time and place, but were almost identical in method. He was one of those freak criminals who become prominent every decade or so—the aristocrats of crime, who originate and perfect their own unique methods, who take an inordinate pride in every successful job accomplished, and who gloat loudly and sardonically at their bewildered pursuers after each successive escape.
   "Lead Pencil Willy's methods were daring but simple. He got into the homes of the wealthy, the merely comfortable, and the poor—how, nobody ever found out, for he never left any evidence of his entrance or his exit—and abstracted whatever valuables happened to be there. His affairs were never marked by violence to human life—possibly not because of any restraint on the burglar's part, but because he was sufficiently clever to avoid being seen or heard at his work.
   "And in order that he might receive proper credit for his skill, in each case he left a sarcas-tic but illiterate note, with a lead pencil stuck through the paper, as a sort of trademark, so that no one might remain in doubt as to his handiwork."
~ Jimmy Martin:
   "The Lead Pencil Willy mystery had fascinated Jimmy. One evening, while he was talking to Alice most despondently about his lack of business prospects, which promised to delay their wedding indefinitely, he suddenly hit upon an idea that seemed like a possible explana-tion of these burglaries about which the whole Pacific Coast was speculating.
   "Jimmy told his theory to Alice. The next morning he told it to the Globe's manager. On the following Monday he went on the company's pay roll, praying in his heart that Lead Pencil Willy would come to Seattle soon."
~ Jonathan Parsons:
   "Skinflint Parsons, as he was frequently called, was an aged bachelor, popularly supposed to be inordinately wealthy, who lived in a comparatively modest home on Queen Anne Hill. He was credited with being the meanest and most parsimonious man on the Pacific Coast. He was not a miser, but merely a maniac on economy. He would buy an automobile in the morning, and in the afternoon he would deplore the fact that he could not sell his newspaper back to a newsboy after he had read it. He would spend a dollar in gasoline driving about town in search of a cigar store, in order that he might save ten cents on a box of cigars.
   "His fetish, in short, was the greatness of little things. He worshiped, not the almighty dollar, but the almighty penny."

- If it seems like we were communing with Ray Cummings just the other day (HERE), that's because we were.

The bottom line: "The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company."

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