Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cassidy's Girl by David Goodis (Blackmask 1951)

Cassidy turned. He looked at Shealy. He said quietly, “What's wrong with you?”

Shealy did not reply. He was sending his eyes through Cassidy's eyes and trying to see the core of Cassidy's mind.

“All right,” Cassidy said. “Let's hear the sad music.”

The white-haired man folded his arms and gazed past Cassidy's shoulder and said, “Leave her alone, Jim.”

“For what good reason?”

“She's helpless. She's a sick girl.”

“I know that,” Cassidy said. “That's why I won't leave her alone. That's why I'm staying with her.” He hadn't meant to state his complete plans, but now, as though Shealy was challenging him, he met the challenge and said bluntly, “I won't be going back to Mildred. I'll never be with Mildred again. From now on you'll find me living with Doris.”

Shealy moved toward the ladder and gazed up at the top shelf where the sweaters and working pants were stacked. His eyes were appraising and finally he seemed to be satisfied with the arrangement. But he went on looking up there at the merchandise as he said, “Why not take it further than that? If you're out to help all the poor creatures of the world, why don't you found a mission?”

“You go to hell,” Cassidy said. He started toward the door.

“Wait, Jim.”

“Wait nothing. I come in to say good morning and you give me the needles.”

“You didn't come in to say good morning.” Shealy was with him at the door and not allowing him to open it. “You come in because you want assurance. You want me to tell you that you're doing right.”

“You? I need you to tell me?” Cassidy tried a sarcastic smile. All that showed was a scowl as he said, “What makes you so important?”

“The fact that I'm out of it,” Shealy replied. “Entirely out of the show. Just a one-man audience, sitting in the balcony. That gives me a full view. I can see it from every angle.”

Cassidy grimaced impatiently. “Quit the syrup, will you? Talk plain.”

“All right, Jim. I'll make it as plain as I can. I'm just a worn-out rumhead, slowly rotting away. But there's one thing left alive in me, one thing working and holding me in line. That's my brains. It's my brains and only my brains telling you to keep away from Doris.”

Here we go, Cassidy said to the wall. “Now it starts with the preaching.”

“Me preach?” And Shealy laughed. “Not me, Jim. Anyone but me. I lost my sense of moral values a long time ago. The credo I hold today is based on simple arithmetic, nothing more. We can all survive and get along if we can just add one and one and get two.”

“What's that got to do with me and Doris?”

“If you don't leave her alone,” Shealy said, “she won't survive.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Leader by Gillian Freeman (J. B. Lippincott Company 1965)


"Who's that? Jessop?"

"Yes. I'm at the house. It's happened."

"You mean Pearman?"

"You were quite right. He's played himself out. He's just taken an overdose. The ambulance is on its way."

"Why didn't you let him die?"

"What's the point? He's nothing. Nothing. Just pathetic. comic. Let them pump him out. Are you listening?"


"Well, we've got quite a salvaging job to do. I want you to handle the press. As soon as the ambulance men remove him, I'm going up to Birmingham. You can report to me there. All they need is the right leader."

The bell on the ambulance, growing louder, stopped outside the house. It was replaced by the urgent ringing of the doorbell. Jessop went to answer it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Soul Circus by George P. Pelecanos (Little Brown 2003)

“Like Granville Oliver?” said Quinn. “That just a job to you, too?”

Only Janine knew the truth: that Strange had been responsible for the death of Granville Oliver’s father, back in 1968. That Oliver had spared the lives of two killers at Strange’s request, in exchange for Strange’s help, less than a year ago.

Strange looked into his drink. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“You were making a living before you took Oliver’s case. You didn’t have to take it.”

“I know you think it’s wrong.”

“Damn right I do. Piece of shit killed or had killed, what, a dozen people. He infected his community and he ruined the lives of all the young men he took on, and their families.”

“Most likely he did.”

“Then why shouldn’t he die?”

“It’s not him I’m working for. For me, it comes down to one thing: I don’t believe any government should be putting its own citizens to death. Here in D.C. we voted against it, and the government’s just gonna say, We don’t give a good goddamn what you want, we’re gonna execute this man anyway. And that’s not right.”

“Maybe it will make some kid who’s thinking about getting into the life think twice.”

“That’s the argument. But in most civilized countries where they don’t have the death penalty, they’ve got virtually no murders. ’Cause they’ve got the guns off the street, they’ve got little real poverty, and they got citizens who get involved in raising their own kids. The same people who are pro–death penalty are the ones want to protect the rights of gun manufacturers to export death into the inner cities. Hell, we got an attorney general sold on capital punishment and at the same time he’s in the pocket of the NRA.”

“Well, yeah, but he doesn’t think people should dance, either.”

“I’m serious, Terry, shit doesn’t even make any sense. Look, an active death row doesn’t deter crime; ain’t nobody ever proved that. It’s all about some politicians lookin’ to be tough so they can get reelected the next time around. And that makes it bullshit to me. I’d do this for anyone who was facing that sentence.”

“What about McVeigh?”

“You know what they do in prison to people who kill kids? McVeigh got off easy, man; that boy just went to sleep. They should’ve put him in with the general population for as long as he could live. Trust me, wouldn’t have been long. But they did him to get the ball rolling on this wave of executions we got coming. Wasn’t nobody gonna object, for real, to McVeigh’s death. A week later, they put that cat Garza down, and nobody even blinked an eye. Now that the ice got broke, next thing, a line of black and brown men gonna go into that chamber in Terre Haute, and bet it, it’ll barely make the news.”

“Here we go.”

“Look here, Terry. Out of the twenty men they got on federal death row right now, sixteen are black or Hispanic.”

“Could be they did the crimes.”

“And it could be they got substandard representation. Could be they found a death-qualified jury that’s more likely to find guilt than the other kind. Could be the prosecutors used those Willie Horton images to convince the jury that what they had was another nigger needed to be permanently took off the street. And I’m not even gonna talk about where these men came from, the opportunities and guidance they didn’t have when they were coming up. You gonna sit there and tell me that this isn’t about class or race?”

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Futility: A Novel by William Gerhardie (Melville House 1922)

When the train arrived at Omsk, the new regime of Kolchak had been established. The Admiral was distinctly pleased with the change; for he no longer believed in granting the Russian people a Constituent Assembly because he had grounds for thinking that the Russian people, if given this opportunity, would take advantage of it and elect a government other than that of Kolchak. And the Admiral was rather fond of little Kolchak, whose interpretation of democracy was that of denying the people the choice of government until such time as by some vague, mysterious, but anyhow protracted system of education he hoped their choice would fall upon his own administration. We lived in our train, a verst or thereabouts from the station — a thoroughly unwholesome place; and the Admiral diverted most of his time by throwing empty tobacco tins at the pigs that dwelt in the ditches around the train. ‘You have no conception what a pig a pig really is,’ he said, ‘till you see an Omsk pig.’

‘Splendid!’ said Sir Hugo. ‘Splendid!’

‘There she goes again!’ yelled the Admiral, and hit an old big sow with a Navy Cut tobacco tin.

‘Splendid effort!’ said Sir Hugo. ‘Splendid effort!’

‘I give dem h-h-hell!’ roared General Bologoevski. ‘Dam-rotten pigs!’ But, as usual, his threat remained an empty one.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Harpole and Foxberrow, General Publishers by J. L. Carr (The Quince Tree Press 1992)


My first job was teaching games and Eng. lit in a Hampshire school. The class knew by heart 'The Lady of Shalott' and could explain [to my satisfaction] what Robert Browning had in mind when he wrote 'Karshich, the picker-up of Lemming's crumbs onEpistle.' I awaited a first inspection of my labours with a quiet confidence.

The Headmaster picked up the book. 'Ah! he said, 'A book! Turn to page (i).' They turned to Page One.

'Ah, no' he said patiently, 'Not Page One. Page (i) And tell me who are Faber & Faber. Is he, they, one man or two men or perhaps Mrs & Mr Faber? Is he or they this book's author? And is a person who makes a book a bookmaker? What does I S B N mean and how should I say it? Is © a friend of the author? Is the book dedicated to him? Who are Butler & Tanner of Frome? What is a preface, an epigraph? This Foreword . . . need I read it? Can only William Shakespeare own a folio. Does a quire have a conductor? Can one catch a colophon by too heavy reading late at night? And spell it.'

He went on and on: my class's ignorance was utter. Finally, he pronounced sentence. 'You don't seem to know much about this book. And I haven't got as far as Page One . . .' My pupils looked reproachfully at me. Until that unnerving day I had supposed a book was a cosy arrangement between writer and reader.

And, of course, the brute was infuriatingly right. Books concerns printers, publishers, sales reps, booksellers, proof-readers, professors, illustraters, indexers, critics, text editors, literary editors, librarians, book-reviewers and bookbinders and book-keepers, translators, typographers, Oxfam fundraisers, whole university departments of soothsayers, manufacturers of thread and glue, auctioneers lumberjacks, starving mice, wolves howling at the doors of authors of first-novels, the Post Offices book-bashing machine minder, religious bonfire fuel suppliers and libel-lawyers.

And that this army is camped upon billeted upon one man or one woman gnawing a pen is neither here nor there.

So, by and large, this is what this book is about. It tries to answer Mrs Widmerpool's sister's alarming enquiry at George Harpole's trial, 'What are books? Where do they come from?'

Her 'where do they go to?' is unnanswerable . . . except, quite often - to the head.
James Carr.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Going to Sea in a Sieve by Danny Baker (Phoenix 2012)

Good though I was with our Olympian clientele, I confess the first time Marc Bolan came in I thought I was going to go off like a rocket and sit sizzling in the rafters. As already described, the shop was a small space and people just bounced straight in off the street to be presented in front of you like the next hopeful to be auditioned on our well-lit stage. When that someone is Marc Bolan and it’s 1973, you have only a few seconds to think, ‘Okay, okay. Got it. That’s Marc Bolan. And this is me. He is looking right at me and in precisely two more footsteps’ time he is going to talk to me. I, me, will be engaging with Marc Bolan. Don’t be loopy. Don’t do what you did with Michael Caine and shout, “Whoa, Michael Caine – top customer ahoy!” ’

I didn’t. I said, ‘Ha! Marc Bolan! There’s something!’ I may have even loudly warned him to have a care as we employed several store detectives – always a favoured joke of mine to shout in a shop barely the size of most people’s front rooms.

‘Hi, darling, is John about?’ he said in a bouncy Bolan-esque style, not unlike Marc Bolan.

John appeared immediately with a playfully caustic, ‘Well. Hello, stranger. Where the fuck have you been? This is Danny. He’s in love with you, so careful he doesn’t leap on you or something.’

There was some truth in this. When first taken on and informed, ‘They all come in here, so get over it,’ I had asked, possibly breathlessly, whether Marc Bolan or David Bowie could be included in that number. Ian had answered, ‘Bowie might do – did a bit before he tarted himself up – but Marc’s in and out all the time. Call him Mary: he loves it.’

I was not going to call him Mary. As far as I know, nobody ever called Marc Bolan Mary, but I did come to know many of Elton’s crowd by their feminine handles.

Marc and John disappeared into the small back area and gossiped over tea. I had to stay out and man the counter. I didn’t mind that – in showbiz, pretending to be professional and cool is one of the most cool and professional bluffs you can master. However, by now, I was brooding over something.

How did John know everyone? Pushing the philosophy further, I wondered how, in fact, everyone seemed to know everyone. I had often watched This Is Your Life and asked myself the same question. In theatrical circles, everyone seemed to have known everyone else for ever. They were all mates. How did that happen? I can understand that you might cross paths with a couple of subsequent celebrities on the struggle upwards, but how was it possible that entire legions of the famous charged into the spotlight en masse and linking arms?

I didn’t know anyone. Nobody in my family or army of friends knew anyone either. You’d have thought that we’d know at least someone, but no. I had never once been round a mate’s house and when the phone rang somebody answered it and said, ‘Joyce! Harry Secombe on the phone for ya.’ It just didn’t happen. And that’s Harry Secombe! You can imagine the remoteness of a John Lennon or even Kiki Dee. Yes, I had pretended to be David Essex’s brother, but it was precisely because nobody had a clue how an anomaly like that could exist and behave that I got away with such flapdoodle. And remember: not David Essex. His brother.

Now here I was. I knew Elton John. I’d made Long John Baldry a cup of tea. Run after Rod Stewart when he’d left his Access card in the machine (calling him a dozy git into the bargain), and now Marc Bolan – who Bernard Sibley and I had once imagined kidnapping and making him tell us all about the real meaning of Tyrannosaurus Rex lyrics – had just called me darling. He was sitting three feet behind me – behind me. When I’d paid to see him at the Lyceum Theatre I had battled and sweated for every inch that I could get closer to him onstage. Now he was less than a guitar case away and here I was, turning my back and doing a terrific impression of a man reading the NME. What on earth was going on?

After a short while Marc emerged past me again – I confess I took a whiff of what he smelled like as he inched by (Sweet Musk) – and began sorting out a few albums from the racks that he wanted to take with him. His browsing style indicated that in terms of having a finger on the pulse, he was no Elton John; he would hold up LP sleeves and shout, ‘John – what’s this? Any good?’ To which John would reply either, ‘Yeah, you’ll like that,’ or ‘Oh, please! Fucking dreadful.’ I was on the verge of also giving my opinion to Marc, but was sadly too busy not reading the paper.

Sneaking direct looks at him, I now noticed he was wearing The Greatest Shirt Ever Made. Between the open buttons of his full-length bottle-green coat, I could see it was of the palest peach silk and had Warhol-like prints in various bold colours of Chuck Berry doing the duck walk. This was a shirt that, if taken at the flood, might lead to greatness. As he came to the counter with an armload of covers I let him know. ‘Mary,’ I said (though instead of Mary I said ‘Mr Bolan’), ‘that is the greatest shirt I have ever seen on a person. Where’s it from?’

‘Oh, this? Um . . . I got it in New York. Funky, innit? You can’t get it though, this is the only one.’

I gave a regretful response while inwardly quite giddy with the notion that Marc Bolan actually thought, had the piece not been unique, I might shoot over to the States and buy a couple. I began sorting out his purchases and bagging them up. Marc went off to talk with John.

When he returned, he had done the single most magnificent and starry thing I have ever known. He had taken the shirt off and was now handing it to me.

‘There you go, babes. I don’t wear things more than once, so knock yourself out . . . Listen, John, I’ll call you, okay. Give Ian and Jake my love, talk soon.’

And with that he tripped out of the shop on his built-up Annello & Davide heels, his green coat now worn over a bare chest. I don’t think I even said thank you. As far as I recall, I was too busy standing there open-mouthed and thunderstruck. John looked at me and laughed. ‘She is something isn’t she? That is a STAR. It’s a great shirt, by the way.’

I just stood there, holding this saintly relic still warm from the Bolan body. I tried to respond to John but could only manage a noise like the death throes of a seagull.

It’s fair to say that, whereas Marc professed to wear a thing only once, I could make no such claim. I didn’t leave the shirt off for a fortnight. Everyone in the pubs of Bermondsey asked where did I get that shirt, and I would say, ‘This shirt? Marc fucking Bolan gave it to me.’ In return, I would ask where they got their shirt, and they would say a shop like Take 6 or Lord John, and then I would ask them to ask me once more where I got my shirt and when they did I would say, ‘Marc fucking Bolan gave it to me’ again.

So where is that shirt now? Why isn’t it in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame or currently on eBay for ONE MILLION pounds?

Because my mother washed it. In our banging, boiling Bendix washing machine. Probably along with some of my brother’s rotten pants and last week’s football socks. In short, she had taken a recklessly cavalier approach to the ‘DRY-CLEAN ONLY’ warning on the shirt label. I can hear her defence even now:

‘Well, how was I to know? A shirt! Who the pissing hell dry-cleans a shirt? If it can’t take a wash, what’s the point in having it? Blimey, we’d go skint overnight if we had to dry-clean all the shirts in this house! Now buck your ideas up, because I’m busy.’

I was crushed, sickened by this act of wanton philistinism. But, as she further pointed out, ‘If it was so bleedin’ precious, what was it doing laying all over y’bedroom floor?’ She rather had me there.

For the record, when I found it, it was in our airing cupboard, sans any silken lustre, with the remnants of Chuck’s duck walk now barely discernible and suddenly of a size that might just about fit a ventriloquist’s doll.

Whenever Marc came into the shop after this he would always say, ‘How’s the shirt, D? Still loving it?’ And I would say, ‘Had it on last night!’ I lived in mortal fear he would one day ask for it back.

But, of course, real stars don’t do that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grange Hill Rules O.K? by Robert Leeson (Fontana Lions 1980)

Michael Doyle was at ease with the world, modestly proud of the success of his plans A, B and C. If only he could tell his dad. The old man would be proud of him. He sat in the dining-hall lingering over his rice pudding. His sidekicks had left already. He stayed on to think about his next move. Just how to close the trap he had placed around Jenkins. The thought gave him great pleasure.

Suddenly he realized he was not alone. Seated in a row across the table were the strangest assortment of people - Penny Lewis, Trisha Yates, Cathy Hargreaves - what next? - Tucker Jenkins, Benny Green, Alan Humphries. They watched him carefully as he raised his spoon.

'Enjoying your pudding, Michael?' asked Trisha.

He stared at her.

'Is it sweet enough?'

'Yes, thank you.'

'Are you sure?' She reached over to the table behind her and suddenly put a big bowl in front of him. Taking a spoon she quickly spread two big spoonfuls of brown crystals over his pudding.

'Hey, get off!' said Doyle.

'Eat it up, Michael. It's only brown sugar. I thought you had a sweet tooth.'

'How do I know it's brown sugar?'

'What else could it be?' asked Penny. 'Laxative powder mixed with brown sugar, perhaps?'

'No,' said Tucker. Couldn't be. I mean, who'd play a rotten trick like that?'

'That's right, Michael, dear,' said Trisha. 'Eat up your pud like a good little boy.'

'Tell you what,' said Cathy. 'Let's fetch Matron. She may be worried. This sudden loss of appetite.'

Doyle stood up, but Tucker leaned over and pushed him down.