Smart-Aleck (Extra-Spicy Detective Stories, Issue 38, February 28, 1935)

Frank Blakeley’s office was the size of my entire life. His desk was a slab of mahogany as big as a door, nothing marring the perfect mirrored darkness but a telephone and a pristine blotter. The rug was thick enough to drown in. Outside his windows most of Seattle hunkered down in the overcast darkness, like a beaten dog showing Blakeley its belly, hoping for a pat, expecting only another kick.

Even the smoke from his cigar looked rich: thick white curls eddying around his head like an ersatz halo, too heavy to rise until they had a moment to dissolve. Frank’s family was money, and more than money, power. He might have been the district attorney but he didn’t work out of the DA’s office downtown, tucked away in those concrete rat warrens making the city go. What Frank liked was this private office like a showroom, high up in Smith Tower where he could look down on the rest of us and smile. I didn’t belong here, and I knew it. His smile said he knew it too. I rested my battered fedora on my knee and waited, patiently, to find out why I’d come.


The Deadline

What is it the pulps always say? It started with a dame.

God-damned pulps. Ruined my life. Fresh out of the war, barely twenty, looking for something to do and thinking that those private eyes in the pulps were awfully swell. Well. They were. On pulp stock. In real life the gig stank, and by the time McCrae came around looking for a PI who could maybe let a few things slide, I didn’t have a damn left to give. Sure, he took care of me well enough while I dug up his dirt and did his slightly-soiled work, but a couple of months ago McCrae caught himself a bullet and died of it. Left me out in the cold, and stinking of poison, to boot. I had a rep as being one of McCrae’s crooked little pets. I was legit, but just barely, and I sure as hell wasn’t clean, and nobody would touch me unless they were cheap, or desperate, or both. What little I still made from divorce work and the occasional missing-persons case wasn’t enough. I was living out of the back room of my office in a sleazy building just barely on the right side of the tracks, and I needed to trip over a cheating husband soon or I’d lose that, too, and then it would have been just me, and the gutter, and the bottle, like it was for a million other poor guys out there right now. The end of the war nearly killed Seattle, and then the Depression nearly killed it all over again. It was a hard place to be in those days. Still, I stayed. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.