Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Heads - The Corpse Loses"

Heads - the Corpse Loses
D.L. Champion
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.


Chris said...

Sounds intriguing, to say the least. Sackler and Joey sound like quite the team. (: That "dirty postcard" quip is hilarious.

Nice review—as you can probably guess, I love an extended review of a short story!

Charles Gramlich said...

sounds intersting. I'm not familiar with his stories, though

Ed Hulse said...

Laurie, D'Arcy Lyndon Champion was an Australian-born writer who wrote for the pulps under several names. I believe he was the first pulpster to have his stories published in "Thrilling Group" magazines under the house name G. Wayman Jones. His first notable series, "Alias Mr. Death," ran in 1932 issues of THRILLING DETECTIVE. Under that name he created and wrote many early adventures of the Phantom Detective.

In my opinion, most of his work for the Thrilling Group is pretty typical stuff, but Champion seems to have come into his own once he started writing for Popular Publications. His DIME DETECTIVE series featuring the legless, wheelchair-bound Inspector Allhoff is quite good; many of these yarns were reprinted some years ago by John Gunnison's Adventure House. Walker Martin turned me on to the Sackler stories some years ago, and I now believe them to be among the very best things Champion ever wrote -- and he wrote a lot.

By the way, Sackler actually debuted in a late '30s issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. But when Popular bought BLACK MASK, it was entrusted to DIME DETECTIVE editor Ken White, who was very series-minded. Since he already had Champion doing the Allhoff stories for DD, I think it's same to assume that he asked Champion to bring Sackler over to BLACK MASK.

I'm not wild about Champion's Mariano Mercado mysteries, but that DIME DETECTIVE series has its adherents as well.

Ed Hulse said...

Oops. Guess I didn't read your Sackler post all the way to the end, Laurie. I see that I've repeated info you had included near the bottom. Sorry about that.

By the way, another point of interest about the September 1943 BLACK MASK: the Ed Jenkins story by Erle Stanley Gardner is the 73rd and last entry in that long-running series. Also Gardner's last story in BLACK MASK and his last to be published in any pulp magazine.

Walker Martin said...

I hope you keep reviewing pulp stories Laurie. Champion's Rex Sackler series has long been a favorite of mine and I think they are great examples of the screwball hardboiled comedy genre. Ken White, the editor of Black Mask and Dime Detective in the 1940's encouraged the authors to write funny, witty, bizarre stories. Many of them are quite long at 15,000 or more words. There were three Rex Sackler stories in Detective Fiction Weekly and then the series switched to Black Mask in 1940.

Laurie Powers said...

thanks for all the comments, guys. And I am very happy to report that the other BM issue I bought: July 1946, has another Rex Sackler story in it: Two-Death Parlay. Hmm...I smell an addiction coming on...

And Ed, I was heartened to learn from your post that the issue I have with the Gardner story is the last of his pulp stories. Maybe that makes all the money I paid for this issue worth it.


Yeah Laurie keep reviewing the pulp stories - these are great posts. I'm completely unaware of these writers and found the comments from Ed Hulse and Walker Martin to be very illuminating. Do load more Black Mask stuff and it would be nice if you could do a couple of stories from Wild West Weekly, maybe a chuck martin.