Friday, June 14, 2024

"Douser's Heart Played Hopscotch, Marking Lines on His Stomach and Jumping Up and Down on It, Hard"

"Half-Pint Homicide."
(a.k.a. "Enter—The Douser").
By Ray Bradbury (1920-2012; Wikipedia HERE; the ISFDb HERE).
First appearance: Detective Tales, November 1944.
Reprinted in:
   Detective Tales (Canada), May 1945
   A Memory of Murder (1984) (Wikipedia HERE)
  The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition: Volume 2: 1943-1944 (2014), as "Enter—The Douser."
Short short short story (5 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE; today's text) and (HERE; go to text page 67).

   "The Douser had a very simple way of taking care of some very complicated people . . . . As witness his effective remedy for the fat, 
lush and powerful Mr. Schabold . . . ."

THERE'S a thin line between bravery and foolhardiness, and Douser wobbles all over it with aplomb. Doing that once too often with a vicious mobster, though, can get you killed: "Oh, 
I'd love to pull this trigger. And keep pulling it, over and over."

Principal characters:
~ Douser Mulligan ("Tag, you're it!"); Schabold ("I pride myself on my clever record"); and Sergeant Palmborg ("A body's cooling in there, just brought in from the railyards").

Notable phraseology:
  "The sea came in and went out, lifting its salty skirts."
  "Douser's fingers crawled like wary spiders, chest, stomach, legs, arms, then flying 
to his face."
  "You're an oyster with its shell off, soft and white underneath!"
  "Under the plankings the sea walked on salt feet between the piles."
And does this prefigure Columbo?
  "I'm no sleuth. I just know how to bother people. Nuisance value."

Typo: "I'l kill you".

References and resources:
- The Douser's last name is evocative, which may explain why Bradbury used it:
  "A mulligan is a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best-known use is in golf, whereby it refers to a player being allowed, only informally, to replay a stroke, although that is against the formal rules of golf. The term has also been applied to other sports, games, and fields generally. The origin of the term is unclear." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  Mulligan's first name can also be spelled "dowser," which takes us to what many regard as a pseudoscience:
  "Dowsing is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, claimed radiations (radiesthesia), gravesites, malign 'earth vibrations' and many other objects and materials without the use of a scientific apparatus. It is also known as divining (especially in water divining), doodlebugging (particularly in the United States, in searching for petroleum or treasure) or water finding, or water witching (in the United States)." (Wikipedia HERE.)
  It's unlikely the author wanted the reader to make that association. It's more likely he intended us to think about the sinister connotations of "douse," i.e., "quench" or "smother."
- "It was a frame. . . . With gilt edges, too":
  The "frame" is used quite a lot in crime fiction, both written and televised:
  "Framing someone means providing fake evidence in order to falsely prove someone guilty of a crime. 'Frame' here means making someone innocent look guilty by 'putting the person in a picture frame of suspicion.' Of course, it results in a need for the Hero to Clear My Name. If the hero has to clear someone else who has been wrongfully accused of a crime, it's Clear Their Name." (TV Tropes HERE.)
- "Take your fingers away from your nose":
  "Thumbing one's nose, also known as cocking a snook, is a sign of derision, contempt, or defiance, made by putting the thumb on the nose, holding the palm open and perpendicular to the face, and wiggling the remaining fingers." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "Got your draft cards?":
  It's 1944 and a lot of people are eligible for military service:
  "The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed by Congress on 16 September 1940, establishing the first peacetime conscription in United States history. It required all men between the ages of 18 and 64 to register with the Selective Service. To register, men typically completed a D.S.S. Form 1 Military Draft Registration Card from the Director of Selective Service. Over 49 million draft cards were completed, including The Old Man's Draft." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "barrage balloon":
  Bradbury uses it as a metaphor for all it's worth: "A barrage balloon is a type of airborne barrage, a large uncrewed tethered balloon used to defend ground targets against aircraft attack, by raising aloft steel cables which pose a severe risk of collision to hostile aircraft, making the attacker's approach difficult and hazardous." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "I came to the Coast to blackmarket gas":
  "Black markets flourish during wartime. States engaged in total war or other large-scale, extended wars often impose restrictions on use of critical resources that are needed for the war effort, such as food, gasoline, rubber, metal, etc., typically through rationing. A black market then develops to supply rationed goods at exorbitant prices. The rationing and price controls enforced in many countries during World War II encouraged widespread black market activity." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "until my alibi is water-tight":
  "Often, when someone is suspected of a crime, they can prove they were somewhere else at the time, or otherwise physically incapable of committing the crime. This is called an 'alibi.' It's a common plot element in the mystery and crime genres, but sometimes pops up elsewhere. Note, however that the term 'alibi' is sometimes misused. . ." (TV Tropes HERE.)
- "1929":
  "The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Great Crash, Crash of '29, or Black Tuesday . . . It was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its aftereffects . . . The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange's crash of September, signaled the beginning of the Great Depression." (Wikipedia HERE; also see HERE.)
- "Venice Amusement Pier":
  "Venice is a neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles within the Westside region of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Venice was founded by Abbot Kinney in 1905 as a seaside resort town. It was an independent city until 1926, when it was annexed by Los Angeles. Venice is known for its canals, a beach, and Ocean Front Walk, a 2.5-mile (4 km) pedestrian promenade that features performers, fortune-tellers, and vendors." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- Bradbury produced only two Douser Mulligan stories:
  (1) "Half-Pint Homicide," (ss) Detective Tales, November 1944 (above)
  (2) "Four-Way Funeral," (ss) Detective Tales, December 1944.
- Our author grabbed our attention most recently with "The Crowd" (HERE).

The bottom line:
  "Every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction, and the same cycle shows in them all. The Republic is born, flourishes, decays into plutocracy, and is captured by the shoemaker whom the mercenaries and millionaires make into a king. The people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented."

Unless otherwise noted, all bibliographical data are derived from The FictionMags Index created by William G. Contento & edited by Phil Stephensen-Payne.

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