Friday, May 28, 2021

"I Don't Like His Kind of Slime, and I'll Do My Best To Get Rid of Them"

THE SHAN OF THIZAR is about to get himself coronated, with the highly valuable Crown Jewels an integral part of the ceremony. Jewels of any description tend to attract people of, shall we say, less than sterling character; stealing them and getting away with it always presents a challenge to thieves, but a smooth operator and a beautiful young woman think they've figured out how to pull off a . . .

"Heist Job on Thizar."
By Randall Garrett (1927-87).
Illustrated by Virgil Finlay (1914-71; HERE).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, October 1956.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; scroll down to text page 22).

     "In the future, we may discover new planets; our ships may rocket to new worlds; robots may be smarter than people. But we'll still have slick characters willing and able to turn a fast buck—even though they have to be smarter than Einstein to do it."

It would seem that even smooth operators have scruples . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Anson Drake:
  "I was drawn back by the memory of the natural beauties of your planet. The very thought of the fat, flabby face of old Belgezad, decorated with a bulbous nose that is renowned throughout the Galaxy, was irresistible. So here I am."
~ Jomis Dobigel:
  "You're very funny, Earthman. But we don't like Earthmen here."
~ Norma Knight:
  ". . . was known throughout this whole sector of the Galaxy as the cleverest jewel thief the human race had ever spawned."
~ Viron Belgezad:
  "This time you won't get away, Drake! Stealing anything from the palace of the Shan carries a minimum penalty of twenty years in Thizar Prison."
~ The Lord Prosecutor:
  ". . . looked as though he suspected Drake of having taken leave of his senses."

References and resources:
- Astronomical references: Thizar, Seladon II: Inventions of the author. Algol: A real three-star system about 90 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation as seen from Earth; some-times called the Demon Star (Wikipedia HERE). Andromeda: "The number of stars contain-ed in the Andromeda Galaxy is estimated at one trillion (1 times 10 to the 12th power), or roughly twice the number estimated for the Milky Way" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "smarter than Einstein": Some say he was the smartest man who ever lived (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "able to turn a fast buck": "A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as 'a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct . . . intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial,' as they 'benefit con operators ("con men") at the expense of their victims (the "marks")'" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Little Bo-Peep": Not meant to be a compliment (Wikipedia HERE).
- "worth traveling parsecs to see": A measure of distance in space not as well known as the "light-year": "The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length used to measure the large distances to astronomical objects outside the Solar System, approximately equal to 3.26 light-years or 206,000 astronomical units (au), i.e. 30.9 trillion kilometres (19.2 trillion miles)" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the Crown Jewels": On Earth, as on Thizar, they represent more than just wealth: "Crown jewels are the objects of metalwork and jewellery in the regalia of a current or former monarchy. They are often used for the coronation of a monarch and a few other ceremonial occasions. A monarch may often be shown wearing them in portraits, as they symbolize the power and continuity of the monarchy. Additions to them may be made, but since medieval times the existing items are typically passed down unchanged as they symbolize the continuity of the monarchy" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "this whole sector of the Galaxy": "In stellar cartography, a sector, which was referred to as a star sector or space sector, was a gridded region within the Milky Way Galaxy. Sectors were composed of an area and volume encompassing several light years and typically contained several star systems. A group of sectors was called a sector block, which was located in a quadrant" (Memory Alpha HERE).
- "Coronation Day": "A coronation is the act of placement or bestowal of a crown upon a monarch's head. The term also generally refers not only to the physical crowning but to the whole ceremony wherein the act of crowning occurs, along with the presentation of other items of regalia, marking the formal investiture of a monarch with regal power. Aside from the crowning, a coronation ceremony may comprise many other rituals such as the taking of special vows by the monarch, the investing and presentation of regalia to the monarch, and acts of homage by the new ruler's subjects and the performance of other ritual deeds of special significance to the particular nation" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "they're simply well-cut crystals of titanium dioxide": On today's Earth it supports a $13 billion industry: "Titanium dioxide, also known as titanium(IV) oxide or titania, is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium, chemical formula TiO2. When used as a pigment, it is called titanium white, Pigment White 6 (PW6), or CI 77891. Generally, it is sourced from ilmenite, rutile, and anatase. It has a wide range of applications, including paint, sunscreen, and food coloring" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Randall Garrett was tirelessly publishing SFF beginning in 1950 and never letting up; see the ISFDb (HERE).
- Another SFFnal adventure by Randall Garrett that you might enjoy is "Witness for the Persecution" (HERE).

Monday, May 24, 2021

"It Was Fascinating To Watch Really, the Way All Those Tentacles Curled Up and Folded Away"

"The Landlord."
By Delia Leslie (?-?).
Illustrated by John Bolton (born 1951; HERE and HERE).
First appearance: Science Fiction Monthly, September 1974.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at (HERE).

     "Er, now this is where we get to the part I really feel very embarrassed about telling you. Maybe it wouldn't have happened if Auntie would only get proper optilens fitted instead of wearing those crazy old-fashioned glasses."

Some people—and that includes Venusians—just won't listen to reason . . . .

Main characters:
~ The apartment house manager:
  "Yes, yes, of course I realise Venus is 25 or 30 million miles away. And that just bears out what I've always said, and I'll say it again, you can't run a block of flats the way it ought to be run at that kind of distance."
~ Mr. Glmff:
  ". . . refused to listen to a word I said. Instead, he started getting nasty about those glopping Venusian cacti. Said he'd see we paid for a new lot, spacefreight charges and all, and wouldn't believe me when I explained about the neighbourhood dogs just getting curious. Well, Mr. Glmff seemed pretty upset so I said to him why didn't he come and have a look at the garden and all the plants Auntie had put in."
~ Auntie:
  "When Mr. Glmff bought this block of flats, he wanted to get Auntie out. She hasn't paid any rent for years, but he can't sue her. Protection of Senior Citizens Act you know. And Auntie knows her rights. No one pulls any wool over her eyes, I can tell you."

- According to the ISFDb (HERE), "The Landlord" is Delia Leslie's only published SFF story.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

"No Sane Man Committed This Crime"

WHEN DREAMERS STARTED talking about flying safely through the air they were greeted with nearly universal skepticism; after all, airplanes are heavier than the air they're supposed to pass through, and everybody knows what that means. In today's story, though, we have someone who knows only too well how an airplane works, well enough to make sure that if it does get into the air it won't stay there very long . . .

"Flat Spin."
By Grange Lewis (?-?).

Illustrations by William Heaslip (1898-1970; HERE).
First appearance: Blue Book, August 1950.
Short short story (7 pages; 4 illos).
Online at (HERE).

     "He's dead. I suppose you'll want to get him out of here now?"

World War II saw the large-scale application of the jet engine to the airplane, starting a stampede of aircraft companies trying to develop newer and faster jets that, even now, has never really abated. Big contracts, some of the biggest being offered by the government, awaited the corporations that could devise planes meeting civilian and government specs, producing a situation ripe for domestic industrial—as well as foreign—espionage and, possibly, sabotage. Spence Hurley, an engineer with Far Western Aviation, is about to find out just how ripe—and deadly—that situation is . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Spence Hurley:

  "So far, the whole affair was a bewildering mystery—to me, anyway."
~ Bob Hughson:
  "I've never handled a sabotaged ship before, but man, have I got one on my hands now!"
~ Richard Leavitt:
  "Tell him to use his 'chute and let the plane go."
~ Joe Robb:
  "In short, what went wrong with the XF?"
~ Matt Comstock:
  ". . . what the bad blood was, I couldn't say."

~ Duncan Basoldi:
  "I tell you, that XF was our baby, our sweetheart."
~ James Bassett:
  "As chief engineer of an aircraft company, I made an unforgivable error in stress analysis which resulted in our going bankrupt."
~ Stan Murphy:
  "It looks like 'HA-HA'."

References and resources:
- "Flat Spin": Never go into one unless you have lots and lots of air under you: "Flat spin occurs when both rotation around the yaw axis and side-slip dominate, and the nose attitude raises to level, or nearly so, resulting in the aircraft assuming a Frisbee or boomerang-like motion. Normal spin recovery techniques are ineffective due to lack of rudder authority. If entered due to a center of gravity located aft of manufactur-er's published limits, the spin may be unrecoverable. Some aircraft are difficult or impossible to recover from a spin, especially a flat spin." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "went into a hammerhead stall": An aerobatic maneuver that isn't necessarily unintentional: "A Hammerhead (also known as a stall turn) is performed by pulling the aircraft up until it is pointing straight up (much like the beginning of a loop), but the pilot continues to fly straight up until their airspeed has dropped to a certain critical point. The pilot then use the rudder to rotate the aircraft around its yaw axis until it has turned 180 deg and is pointing straight down, facing the direction from which the aircraft came. The aircraft gains speed, and the pilot continues and returns to level flight, travelling in the opposite direction from which the maneuver began. It is also known as a 'tailslide,' from the yawing turn, which is different from the typical method of turning an aircraft in the pitch axis." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "if the XF didn't pan out, it meant the end for our company": "The aircraft industry is the industry supporting aviation by building aircraft and manufacturing aircraft parts for their maintenance. This includes aircraft and parts used for civil aviation and military aviation. Most production is done pursuant to type certificates and Defense Standards issued by a government body. This term has been largely subsumed by the more encompassing term: 'aerospace industry'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The jet was just too hot": With an exhaust gas temperature of around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, "hot" perfectly describes a jet. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "fishtailing like mad": "FISHTAILING - A rudder-controlled side-to-side [yawing] motion to reduce air speed, generally prior to landing." (MiMi HERE).
- "the Plexiglas canopy": Technically the substance is called poly(methylmethacrylate): ". . . a transparent thermoplastic often used in sheet form as a lightweight or shatter-resistant alternative to glass. Historically, PMMA was an important improvement in the design of aircraft windows, making possible such designs as the bombardier's transparent nose compartment in the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Modern aircraft transparencies often use stretched acrylic plies." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the hydraulic pump": "Hydraulic pumps are used in hydraulic drive systems." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "when the FBI gets on the scene": Since Western Aviation's XF is evidently intended for military use, the FBI's involvement would be understandable. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a CAA inspector": The Civil Aeronautics Authority, from 1938 to 1958 the precursor to the FAA: "In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt split the authority into two agencies, the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a three member Civil Aeronautics Board. The CAA was responsible for air traffic control, safety programs, and airway development. The CAB was entrusted with safety rulemaking, accident investigation, and economic regulation of the airlines." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a heavy channel": Not designed to be used to kill someone: "The structural channel, also known as a C-channel or Parallel Flange Channel (PFC), is a type of (usually structural steel) beam, used primarily in building construction and civil engineering." (Wikipedia HERE).
- FictionMags (HERE) credits Grange Lewis with six short stories, five of them for Blue Book; otherwise, we can't find out anything else about him/her.
- Previous ONTOS postings involving aircraft and criminality include:
  . . . Birds of Prey, a TV movie (HERE) and (HERE)
  . . . Hugh Wiley's "The Fourth Messenger" (HERE)
  . . . Edward McDermott's "The Snatchers" (HERE)
  . . . and A. S. Gregory's "The Death Window" (HERE).

Monday, May 17, 2021

"Tracking Down Crime in the Super-mechanized World of the Future"

RAY CUMMINGS had a good idea with this series; it's too bad that either he, his editors, or all of them together didn't continue with it.

   "The devices of modern detective science work both ways."

"Crimes of the Year 2000."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 6, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).
Novelette (14 pages as a PDF).
Online at Faded Page (HERE), (HERE), and UNZ (HERE).

     "The night of June 20th, 2000, when the power failed and we so unexpectedly trapped 2XZ4—America’s most famous murderer-at-large—
will be a red star always in New York’s criminal records."

Criminals habitually look for the weakest points of their victims; in the world of the year 2000, though, the weakest point is something you can't even see . . . .

Main characters:
~ Jac Lombard, first-person narrator:
  "I am a New York S. S. Man—plain-clothesman of the Shadow Squad of New York’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations."
~ George Trant:
  ". . . my partner."
~ Captain Macfarlan:
  " . . . my immediate superior, Chief of City Night Desk 4."
~ Kenna:
  ". . . had radiphoned that he’d stumbled onto something. That was Kenna’s style—by nature he was a browser. Something that concerned the present whereabouts of 2XZ4."
~ 2XZ4:
  ". . . the man wanted for a score of crimes, from murder up to treasonable plotting. 2XZ4 had never been arrested, never been typed. But we had his olfactory classification; the Bloodhound Machine, as the newscasters luridly call it, had contacted his trail several times, so that the scent of him was mathematically known."
~ Paul Green:
  ". . . for years chief of the power house. All the broadcasted aerial power, from which aircraft traversing this district were operated, was under the night supervision of this Paul Green."
~ Iturbi:
  ". . . had been night operator in charge of the power house for several years."

Typo: "Trent commanded".

References and resources:
- "Palisades Aerial Power House": "The Palisades are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of New York City, forming a canyon of the Hudson north of the George Washington Bridge, as well as providing a vista of the Manhattan skyline. They sit in the Newark Basin, a rift basin located mostly in New Jersey." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "broadcasted aerial power": Not quite as safe as was previously assumed by inventors like Nikola Tesla: "Tesla went on to develop a wireless power distribution system that he hoped would be capable of transmitting power long distance directly into homes and factories." (Wikipedia HERE, HERE, and HERE). A related story, Eando Binder's "Static," is featured (HERE).
- "the moving sidewalk of the Hudson River ramp": A gizmo favored by technophilic SFF writers that just screams "the world of the future"; Isaac Asimov, not one known for a vigorous lifestyle, thought they'd be common in a New York just fourteen years up the line from Cummings's vision: "For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections. They will be raised above the traffic. Traffic will continue (on several levels in some places) only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim. Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city's marvels." (The New York Times HERE). For a critique of Asimov's predictions see Inverse (HERE): "To be sure, moving sidewalks would, under the right circumstances, be markedly easier than buses and trains. One would be able to step onto a constantly moving platform without delays (unless it’s broken down) and save several minutes in walking a short distance every day. But the cost is significant, and the infrastructure problems are many."
- Technovelgy credits Ray Cummings with 39 inventions in his SFFnal career, including the Banning heat-gun and, in today's story, the Bloodhound Machine. (Technovelgy HERE, HERE, and HERE). Ray Bradbury had his own variation. (Technovelgy HERE). In Fahrenheit 451: "Outside he suspects the presence of 'The Mechanical Hound,' an eight-legged robotic dog-like creature that resides in the firehouse and aids the firemen in hunting book hoarders." (WARNING! SPOILERS! Wikipedia HERE).
- "like Mercutio, he’d smile with a mortal wound, and smile as he died": Romeo's good pal: "Before he dies, Mercutio curses both the Montagues and Capulets, crying several times, 'A plague o' both your houses!' (Act III, Sc. 1, often quoted as 'A pox on both your houses'). He makes one final pun before he dies: 'Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man'." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the first passing taxi": That would be an air taxi; corporations are getting serious about them: "eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) air taxis have been touted as the future of urban transportation. Many companies, both emerging start-ups and established manufacturers, are developing eVTOL vehicles which are expected to hit the market in just a matter of years." (Simple Flying HERE).
- "giant six-foot power vacuum tubes": "In the 1940s, the invention of semiconductor devices made it possible to produce solid-state devices, which are smaller, more efficient, reliable, durable, safer, and more economical than thermionic tubes. Beginning in the mid-1960s, thermionic tubes were being replaced by the transistor." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Four million platinum dollars": These days you are less likely to buy your car with platinum but, paradoxically, more likely to find it inside it: "During periods of sustained economic stability and growth, the price of platinum tends to be as much as twice the price of gold, whereas during periods of economic uncertainty, the price of platinum tends to decrease due to reduced industrial demand, falling below the price of gold. Gold prices are more stable in slow economic times, as gold is considered a safe haven. Although gold is also used in industrial applications, especially in electronics due to its use as a conductor, its demand is not so driven by industrial uses. In the 18th century, platinum's rarity made King Louis XV of France declare it the only metal fit for a king." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "in the sub-stratosphere": "Near the equator, the lower edge of the stratosphere is as high as 20 km (66,000 ft; 12 mi), at midlatitudes around 10 km (33,000 ft; 6.2 mi), and at the poles about 7 km (23,000 ft; 4.3 mi)." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a sub-sea vessel was lurking here—a freighter engined for speed": "A merchant submarine is a type of submarine intended for trade, and being without armaments, it is not considered a warship like most other types of submarines." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The high-voltage current surged": "High voltage electricity refers to electrical potential large enough to cause injury or damage. In certain industries, high voltage refers to voltage above a certain threshold. Electricity can flow between two conductors in high voltage equipment and the body can complete the circuit. To avoid that from happening, the worker should wear insulating clothing such as rubber gloves, use insulated tools, and avoid touching the equipment with more than one hand at a time. An electrical current can also flow between the equipment and the earth ground. To prevent that, the worker should stand on an insulated surface such as on rubber mats." (Wikipedia HERE).

~ ~ ~

   "I sure am glad you’re there! Why, it’s a perfect alibi!"

"Crimes of the Year 2000, No. 2: The Television Alibi."
(a.k.a. "Studio Crime").
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 20, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (13 pages as a PDF).
Online at Faded Page (HERE) and UNZ (HERE).

     "This television case was a routine job on which supposedly I could work alone, without stress or danger. There were a few moments in it, however, when I could have been killed very easily."

The eternal triangle all too often leads to places where most people wouldn't normally want to go, the least desirable destination being death: "Won’t need a more complete autopsy. We’ve got all the evidence now" . . .

Main characters:
~ Jac Lombard, first-person narrator:
  "It was an unusual case for me, from many angles. Chiefly, it introduced me to the most beautiful and appealing girl I have ever seen. And it tempted me to let a criminal escape."
~ George Trant:
  ". . . the only person so far to whom I have told the full details, has ever since regarded me with ironic admiration—amazed, he says, that I am human enough to be tempted."
~ Captain Macfarlan:
  "Assignment from the Crime Prevention Bureau. A perfectly decent young fellow seems liable to commit murder."
~ Elena Denizon:
  ". . . famous television dancer . . ."
~ Willard Jared:
  ". . . President of the American Television Company . . ."
~ George King:
  ". . . a young law student."
~ Franks:
  "I could see in the mirror-grid over her shoulder the image of Franks’ thin face, with the semi-circle of orchestra players partly assembled behind him. He looked strangely worried."
~ Rankin:
  "Murdered. Obvious who did it. And we’ve got chemical proof. Blood on the body and on the desk and the chair."

References and resources:
- "all that was left of the once great Arizona desert": "The Sonoran Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Sonora) is a North American desert and ecoregion which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona, California, Northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is the hottest desert in Mexico. It has an area of 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq mi). The western portion of the United States–Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "like Lady Godiva enveloped by the long, thick mass of her black hair": History's most famous ecdysiast: "Lady Godiva (died between 1066 and 1086), in Old English Godgifu, was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is relatively well documented as the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and a patron of various churches and monasteries. Today, she is mainly remembered for a legend dating back to at least the 13th century, in which she rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband, Leofric, imposed on his tenants. The name 'Peeping Tom' for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend, in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a princess of Barbary, voluptuous as Venus. Yet chaste as Diana": Barbary: "The terms Barbary Coast, Barbary, Berbery or Berber Coast were used in English-language sources (similarly to equivalent terms in other languages) from the 16th century to the early 19th to refer to the coastal regions of North Africa or Maghreb, specifically the Ottoman borderlands consisting of the regencies in Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis as well as, sometimes, Morocco. The term was coined in reference to the Berbers." (Wikipedia HERE). Venus: "The Romans adapted the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for Roman art and Latin literature. In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus became one of the most widely referenced deities of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality. She is usually depicted nude in paintings." (Wikipedia HERE). Diana: "Diana is considered a virgin goddess and protector of childbirth. Historically, Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god." (Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the healing, germ-killing violet-ray": Maybe he means "ultraviolet," or perhaps he's talking about some sort of laser, decades before its invention: "He [Endre Mester] went on to show that low level HeNe [laser] light could accelerate wound healing in mice." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "But no one saw me there": Evidently in this particular future there are no closed-circuit TV cameras: "By one estimate, there will be approximately 1 billion surveillance cameras in use worldwide by 2021. About 65% of these cameras are installed in Asia. The growth of CCTV has been slowing in recent years. The deployment of this technology has facilitated significant growth in state surveillance, a substantial rise in the methods of advanced social monitoring and control, and a host of crime prevention measures throughout the world." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "when the hundred days are up": Our author adds a new wrinkle to marriage law, which is already complicated enough: "When a marriage is performed and carried out by a government institution in accordance with the marriage laws of the jurisdiction, without religious content, it is a civil marriage. Civil marriage recognizes and creates the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony in the eyes of the state. Some countries do not recognize locally performed religious marriage on its own, and require a separate civil marriage for official purposes." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "We received the image and a voice": They're using a videophone: "The concept of videotelephony was first conceived in the late 1870s, both in the United States and in Europe, although the basic sciences to permit its very earliest trials would take nearly a half century to be discovered. This was first embodied in the device which came to be known as the video telephone, or videophone, and it evolved from intensive research and experimentation in several telecommunication fields, notably electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The hissing stab of heat shot over my shoulder and seared the ceiling": That's your basic pulp SFF ray gun at work: "Ray guns as described by science fiction do not have the disadvantages that have, so far, made directed-energy weapons largely impractical as weapons in real life, needing a suspension of disbelief by a technologically educated audience . . ." (Wikipedia (HERE).

Typo: "her words might make up me".
~ ~ ~

"Crimes of the Year 2000: Death in the Fog Tower."
By Ray Cummings (1887-1957).
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, August 3, 1935.
Reprints page (HERE).

NOTE: We've looked high and low and so far we haven't found this story anywhere in the Interzone; when we do we'll post about it as an update.

~ ~ ~
The "Crimes of the Year 2000" stories:
 (1) "Crimes of the Year 2000" (above)
 (2) "Crimes of the Year 2000, No. 2: The Television Alibi" (above)
 (3) "Crimes of the Year 2000: Death in the Fog Tower" (currently unavailable).
"Be patient, okay? I'm certain my contact lens landed right here."

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"The Usual Procedures of Investigation Were Worthless Here"

YOU DON'T ORDINARILY find a story with a Western setting that also happens to be a detective tale. You might recall the definition of Westerns (source unknown) as "crime dramas with big hats," with little or no sleuthing being done to bring the malefactors to justice, happenstance, coincidence, wild guesses, and obvious clues being the normal approach. Before you read today's story you might ask yourself just how much our author depended on the normal approach when he perpetrated . . .

"The Red Brand of Murder."
By Oscar Schisgall (1901-84).

Genre: Western.
First appearance: Detective Fiction Weekly, March 27, 1937.
Novelette (24 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Parental caution: Mild profanity.)
     ". . . if this scheme works at all, it's goin' to work doggone fast."

For Sheriff Larry Devoe the Ace of Diamonds murders are nothing short of baffling:

   "He thought again of the bodies which, during the last three months, had been found on the Bar H Bar range—cowpunchers for whose deaths nobody had yet offered a satisfactory explanation. He thought, too, of the strange symbol which had invariably been found on those corpses. It had been painted in blood on their shirts, over the heart—the crude replica of a playing card. Always it was the same: the Ace of Diamonds."

It doesn't help that the local ranchers are losing faith in Larry's competence and, even more important to him personally, the prettiest miss hereabouts only evinces hostility every time they meet. If he hopes to solve these crimes and get the girl, Larry is going to have to get proactive, pronto . . . .

- Chapter I: "I'd sure give a lot to know what she's thinking."
- Chapter II: "Whine of Bullets"
- Chapter III: "Another Death"
- Chapter IV: "Larry Has Ideas"
- Chapter V: "The Little Black Bag".

Principal characters:
~ Larry Devoe:

  "It's a lonely job, bein' a sheriff."
~ Horny Bob Lassiter:
  "You—you've caught the Ace of Diamonds killer for 'em!"

~ Ellen Traine:
  ". . . laughed in a manner that mingled disdain with nervousness."
~ Bill Traine:
  ". . . can handle a rifle as well as any man within a hundred miles."
~ Pete Harmon:
  "I've seen enough blood spilled on my land!"

~ The Mexican:
  "Without a word of warning, he drew his gun . . ."
~ Slim Evans:
  "I heard four shots."
~ Lefty Anderson:
  "Reckon we all heard the shots at about the same time."
~ The bartender:
  "Reckon they were kinda expectin' fireworks."

Comment: The sleuth is supposed to know whodunnit before the perp is revealed to the rest of us, right?

Typo: "buchwhacking you".

References and resources:
- "rustlin' cattle across the Rio Grande": For all the nuances of cattle rustling see Criminal Law Notes (HERE); more about it is on Wikipedia (HERE). Our story takes place very close to the Rio Grande, facilitating plot developments; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "some Bar H Bar waddy": Used here as a faintly contemptuous synonym for "cowboy"; go to The Free Dictionary (HERE).
- "touched his Stetson": But not a ten-gallon one, surely: "Early on, Stetson hats became associated with legends of the West, including 'Buffalo Bill', Calamity Jane, Will Rogers, and Annie Oakley. It is said that George Custer rode into the Battle of Little Big Horn wearing a Stetson. Later on, Western movie cowboys were quick to adopt the Stetson; many were drawn to the largest, most flamboyant styles available"; see Wikipedia (HERE). Our author, however, uses the word "sombrero" to mean any hat.
- "several longhorns": Native to Texas but not originally Texas natives: "The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to over 100 inches (2.54 m) tip to tip for cows and bulls. They are descendants of the first cattle introduced in the New World, brought by explorer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonists"; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "roweled his horse": Another term for "spurred"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "straddling his buckskin": You've probably seen them in TV shows; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "A buckboard": One of the first American SUVs: "The buckboard has no sideboards on the body, leaving the floor quite mobile. In rough terrain, the floor can flex and 'buck,' lending the vehicle its name"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "time to palaver": Funny how this European term came to be on the lips of so many Americans. Palaver means a long discussion or procedure, from the Portuguese word "palavra"; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "were dry-gulched": Usually written with the hyphen: "(U.S., slang) To murder; to attack, assault, especially in an ambush." As for where the term came from: "Because in the American West, outlaws often killed people as they passed through a dry gulch; or because cattle rustlers drove stolen animals off the edge of such a gulch. (ref. John Ayto 1998)"; see Wiktionary (HERE).
- "pulled iron in self-defense": Slang term for a firearm, not used as often these days; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "moseyed up to 'em": Nobody seems to know where the term originated; may we suggest that what the Old Testament patriarch did with his people wandering 40 years in the desert might have something to do with it? See Wikipedia (HERE).
- "the black gelding": A horse that's been unwillingly forced to make a major sacrifice: "Castration, as well as the elimination of hormonally driven behavior associated with a stallion, allows a male horse to be calmer and better-behaved, making the animal quieter, gentler and potentially more suitable as an everyday working animal"; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "no border hacienda": "Haciendas originated in the Spanish colonization of the Americas as conquests followed a similar pattern in many places. As the Spanish established cities in the middle of conquered territories smaller plots of land were distributed in nearby while far-away areas were granted as large landholdings to conquistadores becoming haciendas and estancias. Distribution of land happened in parallel to the distribution of indigenous people who entered servitude"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "pow-wow with Bill": "In popular culture, such as older Western movies, the term has also been used to describe any gathering of Native Americans, or to refer to any type of meeting, such as among military personnel"; go to Wikipedia (HERE) for the original pow-wow.
- "a low, flat mesa": "As noted by Bryan in 1922, mesas '...stand distinctly above the surrounding country, as a table stands above the floor upon which it rests.' It is from this appearance the term mesa was adopted from a Spanish word meaning table"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- "Yet it seemed a queer region for the smuggling of diamonds": The long border between Mexico and the United States (1954 miles) has always been porous, so that smuggling anything—diamonds, drugs, weapons, people—has historically been relatively easy: ". . . according to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the two nations, 'along the deepest channel' (also known as the thalweg)—a distance of 2,020 kilometers (1,255 mi) to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. The Rio Grande frequently meanders along the Texas–Mexico border. As a result, the United States and Mexico have a treaty by which the Rio Grande is maintained as the border, with new cut-offs and islands being transferred to the other nation as necessary"; go to Wikipedia (HERE).
- "to the Border Patrol": Although the USBP wasn't officially organized until 1924, other entities had been doing patrolling unofficially for some time: "Mounted watchmen of the United States Department of Commerce and Labor patrolled the border in an effort to prevent illegal crossings as early as 1904, but their efforts were irregular and undertaken only when resources permitted. The inspectors, usually called 'mounted guards', operated out of El Paso, Texas. Though they never totaled more than 75, they patrolled as far west as California trying to restrict the flow of illegal Chinese immigration. In March 1915, Congress authorized a separate group of mounted guards, often referred to as 'mounted inspectors'. Most rode on horseback, but a few operated automobiles, motorcycles and boats. Although these inspectors had broader arrest authority, they still largely pursued Chinese aliens trying to avoid the National Origins Act and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- A few years ago we highlighted several other short stories by Oscar Schisgall that weren't Western-related (FictionMags HERE): "No Nerve," "Family Affair," and "Nine Roses for the Commissar" (HERE).