Heads - the Corpse Loses
Black Mask magazine, September 1943
D. L. Champion wrote 30 stories for Black Mask beginning in 1940 and continuing until 1950. The vast majority of these stories featured private eye Rex Sackler and his assistant Joey Graham. According to A comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1952, by Edward Hagemann, the first of these stories appeared in July 1940 and there were a total of 26. Hagemann notes in the first story, "Introduces Rex Sackler, ex-cop turned p.i., known as the Parsimonious Prince of Penny Pinchers," narrated by his assistant Joey Graham, total of 26 RS stories and genuinely funny; DLC's debut in BM."
The story I just read, "Heads - the Corpse Loses," proves Hagemann quite correct when it comes to the genuinely funny part. Joey is the long-suffering assistant who continually has to deal with his miserly boss:
Rex Sackler lifted his thin, dark face from the letter he was reading and grunted. He regarded my grinning visage with sour disapproval. He sighed like a sorely tried man.
'Joey,' he said, 'you are a predatory, avaricious miser. I take it that you wear that horrible grin because it is payday. Your lust for a dollar somehow reminds me of a dirty postcard.'
He sighed again like a weary breeze and went back to his letter. I refrained from remarking that Sackler accusing me of frugality was like the Gestapo accusing anyone oat all of an atrocity.
Sackler's continual complaining of having to pay Joey a salary is interrupted by the arrival of a new client, Samuel Shoreham, a tall, gaunt man who wants a certain Ronald Goodman shadowed. Not that he wants a detailed list of Shorham's activities; he wants just to know when Goodman arrives at 946 East 93rd St. Once Goodman arrives at that address, Shoreham is to be notified and the shadowing job is over.
Of course, it falls to Joey to shadow this Mr. Goodman, who proves to be a walker of "the best British upper class tradition. He was an aimless, window-shopping walker who had led me a foot torturing trail for a solid hundred blocks." Joey, painfully shadows Goodman for another day until Goodman enters a building and up an elevator. Joey follows at a safe distance.
I pushed open the office door and walked in. A little fat man was seated at Sackler's desk. Sackler was making the usual sickening spectacle of himself that he always does when he thinks he has a client.
He glared at me when I came in. He said, angrily, "Joey, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be out on a job."
I tossed my hat to the rack, sat down at my desk and said, "I'm doing it."
"Joey, if this is a joke it is in bad taste. We do not break faith with clients once a fee has been agreed upon. You were instructed...."
the plump man at the desk said icily: "Can you postpone this inter-office bickering until my departure, Mr. Sackler? I desire to retain you."
The anger fell from Sackler's face. He turned on the register of an effeminate floorwalker placating a dowager who has been told a plain fact by a salesgirl.
"Of course," he said. "Pardon me, Mr. - er, Mr..."
"Goodman. Ronald Goodman."
Sackler looked swiftly at me and I grinned back. I had tailed Goodman right into our own office.
Goodman, of course, unaware of Shoreham hiring Sackler to shadow him, wants Sackler to find a girl, Vera Housaman and Vera's brother Oscar. They were to have arrived from Vienna, but, upon their arrival into the city had completely disappeared.
Of course, it's not as simple as Vera living at 93rd Street and Shoreham wanting to know when Goodman finds her. Because when Goodman arrives at 93rd Street, Joey and a very curious Rex arrive to see what's up. There they find that yes, a Vera Housamann's name is on the mailbox, but when they go inside to find out what's up with this mysterious woman, they discover a ghastly scene: a dead woman.
She had been neatly and horribly decapitated. And not too long ago either. I put my hand over my eyes, said "Good God!" and turned off the light. I went out into the hall. white faced, Sackler followed me.
"I don't care if you lose a hundred fees," I said. "I'm getting out of here."
for once Sackler did not think of money. "Joey," he said in a dry, strained voice, "I'll be at the front door long before you."
We clattered down the stairway together.
The cops get involved, Sackler and Joey find intriguing clues left behind like footprints on the wall, find out that Goodman was in love with Vera Housamann, and Goodman, convinced that the corpse is not Vera, hires Sackler for five thousand dollars to find the real Vera. All of these are added to the mix and result in a extremely entertaining short story.
I'm trying to find out whether these Rex Sackler stories have ever been reprinted. If they haven't, they certainly should be. I'll be the first one in line to buy a copy of these rich, hilariously narrated tales. I'm also investigating more on D.L. Champion. According to the Thrilling Detective web site, "Author Champion was born in Australia and educated in New York. He served with the British Army in World War I, worked in the merchant marine, and read copy for a slew of magazines, before turning to writing himself. He was also the creator of legless, cantankerous "unofficial" homicide dick Inspector Allhoff and Mexican "detectivo particular" Mariano Mercado." Champion's Inspector Allhoff stories were reprinted in Footprints on a Brain, The Inspector Allhoff Stories which was published by Adventure House in 2001. And some of my pulp expert friends like Walker Martin may know more about Champion.