Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Mask Story: "I'd Thought I'd Die" by Frederick C. Davis

Black Mask Story of the Week
From the September 1943 issue:
"I'd Thought I'd Die" by Frederick C. Davis.

Unfortunately I'm still having scanner issues, so here's a cover from another Black Mask that may have been from the same year.

According to the Comprehensive Index to Black Mask 1920-1951 (Edward Hagemann), this is the first of two Peter Trapp stories writen by Frederick C. Davis for Black Mask. Peter Trapp is manager pro tem of the Wright Detective Agency.

Even before his current dilemma begins, Trapp is walking a highwire: the previous owner of the Wright Detective Agency had fired him due to "an unfortunate misunderstanding." But Worthington had died, and his brother Webster had rehired Trapp, not only as an employee but as the new pro tem manager of the agency.

The story opens with Trapp writing a letter to Webster explaining why he never showed up after being summoned to Webster's office. Trapp, we find out, was on his way to see his boss when a Dr. Andrew Danvers showed up at his door with a large envelope; Trapp's current client, Lois Kirby, had asked that the doctor deliver the package to Trapp. Trapp, though, is in such a hurry to make sure that he isn't late for the appointment with his employer that he asks the kind doctor to wait until he gets back. Danvers agrees and Trapp leaves. Except that after Trapp has hit the street, he hears a large crash eminating from his office. He returns to find Danvers unconcious after being beaten; Trapp, while investigating why Danvers had been assaulted in his office, gets the same treatment from the unknown assailant. Trapp awakens shortly afterward on the floor, greeted by Lois Kirby's shapely legs and the fact that the envelope that Danvers delivered is gone.

Ths begins a long, convoluted story of Trapp's new assignment: to determine once and for all whether Mr. Flood, businessman, cuckolded husband (although we don't know that yet) is most certainly dead. Several people have a vested interest in the status of Mr. Flood, the least of which is his wife/widow. Another person is Mr. Wright's client, Elaine Weldon and her husband Donald, because Elaine is Mr. Flood's daughter. Then we have Mr. Entry, who has a legitimate power of attorney for Mr. Flood. Mr. Entry stands to lose a large sum of money should Mr. Flood be declared officially dead, because that power of attorney becomes null and void at the point of the grantor's death. If he is not declared dead, then Mr. Flood can still conclude a transaction that Mr. Flood began for a chain of restaurants and Mr. Entry stands to gain a large sum of money that he has surreptitiously pocket from the deal. Mr. Wright, however, knows this, and wants Trapp to reassure him that Mr. Flood is indeed, truly dead. His daughter, for one thing, stands to gain a substantial interest in Mr. Flood's estate should he be declared dead.

One can only wish that the story was as simple as that. But a devastating fire at a local nightclub, one that claimed several hundred fires. Every single body has been claimed and identified, with the exception of one. This is where Miss Kirby comes in, because it's suspected that her boyfriend, Jimmy Cobbs, went to the nightclub that night, but Miss Kirby is positive he wasn't there and only wants him to come back to her so she can marry him before he leaves for the military.

But....Mr. Flood and his wife also attended the nightclub that night. And, we learn, that the last body left has just been identified as that of a Robert Lewis. Wright, however, is determined to prove that Mr. Lewis has been wrongly identified, so Trapp is left with the task of getting the body exhumed. Trying to find Mr. Lewis' brother in order to serve the Order to Exhume, Trapp does not find any trace of him or of the deceased Mr. Lewis himself, Trapp discovers that these men have actually no records -there are no draft records, no social security numbers, no addresses - these men had never existed.

Tired yet? Imagine how Trapp feels. And we're only about half-way through.

I'll stop there, only because I don't know how much you readers want me to divulge and besides it's past my bedtime. I'm wondering whether any of these Davis Black Mask stories have been reprinted or included in any anthologies. It definitely would be worth looking into.

The author:

Frederick C. Davis (1902-1977) wrote 16 stories for Black Mask, but he is best known for the first twenty Operator 5 stories that were printed as the Operator 5 magazine by Popular Publications.

However, his pulp writing career had a number of other credits as well. The list included the famous Moon Man series for Ten Detective Aces, a number of long running characters in Dime Detective as well as other Popular Publications magazines as well. He would later move on to hardback fiction.

The Vintage Library web site says, "Mr. Davis brought a unique style to the Operator 5 series. These stories had strong plots, plenty of action, consistent dialog, and loose ends always seemed to come to closure by the stories end. Mr. Davis often used factual information as the basis for his stories and often provided detailed footnotes. It has been reported that with careful research, one could even find the original newspaper headlines that had influenced Operator 5 stories.

....Ultimately, the frantic pace of a novel/invasion every month got to Frederick Davis and he resigned from the Operator 5 series, but continued his pulp writing career for Popular Publications."

Movie credits for Frederick C. Davis according to
Lady in the Death House (1944, from story "Meet the Executioner")
Who is Hope Schuyler (1942, "Hearses Don't Hurry")
Double Alibi (1940, "The Devil is Yellow")

I'll have more about Frederick C. Davis when his granddaughter Karen has a few moments to write a short biography for us - hopefully in the next few weeks.


Walker Martin said...

Laurie, thanks for your comments on the Davis story in Black Mask. I read it several years ago and enjoyed it alot. I guess my favorite series by Davis is the one he did for Dime Detective in the 1940's starring Bill Brent, a reporter on the crime beat that annoyed his editor so much that he was reassigned to the Advice for the Lovelorn column. He had to write under the name Lorna Lorne but still became involved all sorts of whacky and bizarre crime cases. All 16 of these long novelets were reprinted in one gigantic volume by Battered Silicon Dispatch.

Laurie Powers said...

Those Bill Brent stories sound like a lot of fun. I'd like to get a copy of those reprints.