Merchants of MenaceJoan Aiken
Merchants of Menace
A Mystery Writers of America Classic Anthology
Rod Amateau and David Davis
Miriam Allen deFord
Robert L. Fish
Elsin Ann Gardner
Fred S. Tobey
Don Von Elsner
Donald E. Westlake
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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MERCHANTS OF MENACE
Copyright © 1969 by Mystery Writers of America.
A Mystery Writers of America Presents: MWA Classics Book published by arrangement with the authors
Cover art image by Alexander Kirch
Cover design by David Allan Kerber
Editorial and layout by Stonehenge Editorial
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Mystery Writers of America Presents: MWA Classics edition / October 2018
All rights reserved.
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For information contact: Mystery Writers of America, 1140 Broadway, Suite 1507, New York, NY 10001
A Message from Mystery Writers of America
H as in Homicide by Lawrence Treat
Domestic Intrigue by Donald E. Westlake
The Front Room by Michael Butterworth
The Real Bad Friend by Robert Bloch
Wide O— by Elsin Ann Gardner
Death on Christmas Eve by Ellery Queen
Gone Girl by Ross Macdonald
The President’s Half Disme by Ellery Queen
Amateur Standing Suzanne Blanc
The Peppermint-Striped Goodbye by Ron Goulart
Marmalade Wine by Joan Aiken
Counter Intelligence Robert L. Fish
The Man Who Played Too Well by Don Von Elsner
Never Hit a Lady by Fred S. Tobey
Farewell to the Faulkners by Miriam Allen deFord
The Dead Past by Al Nussbaum
The Cries of Love by Patricia Highsmith
Something Evil in the House by Celia Fremlin
The Tilt of Death by Rod Amateau and David Davis
The Moon of Montezuma by Cornell Woolrich
A Message from Mystery Writers of America
The stories in this collection are products of their specific time and place, namely, the USA in 1969. Some of the writing contains dated attitudes and offensive ideas. That certain thoughtless slurs were commonplace—and among writers, whose prime task is to inhabit the skin of all their characters—can be both troubling and cause for thought.
We decided to publish these stories as they originally appeared, rather than sanitize the objectionable bits with a modern editorial pencil. These stories should be seen as historical mysteries, reflective of their age. If their lingering prejudices make us uncomfortable, well, perhaps history’s mirror is accurate, and the attitudes are not so distant as we might have hoped.
Ideally, it would be Hillary Waugh who’d be writing this foreword. It was, after all, he who edited this anthology and provided the original introduction—which you’ll be able to read for yourself once I get out of the way. But Hillary, who was born in 1920, is no longer around to write it. He had a good long run before giving up the ghost in 2008.
When I think of Hillary I always picture him in a tuxedo, because I was most apt to run into him at MWA’s annual Edgar Dinner and its after-party at Mary Higgins Clark’s apartment. For all I know he spent the rest of his time in ripped jeans and a fisherman’s sweater, but I somehow doubt it. I don’t know that Hillary was born to wear a tux, but no one so attired ever looked more at ease. He was good company, with social grace that matched his clothes. I can’t say I knew him well, but I liked him.
He wrote a good many books over a good many years, and has a definite claim on the title Father of the Police Procedural; his early novel, Last Seen Wearing, published in 1952, is at once a groundbreaker and a classic. MWA honored him as a Grand Master in 1989, and could as well have given him an award for faithful service, as he was always an ardent and devoted member.
And look at the stories he contrived to round up!
Larry Treat, for heaven’s sake. Cornell Woolrich, Bob Bloch, Ross Macdonald. Stan Ellin, Patricia Highsmith, Ellery Queen. Al Nussbaum. Bob Fish.
And Don Westlake. I read his story, “Domestic Intrigue,” as soon as the PDF arrived, and was astonished that it was one I’d never read before. Alas, this tells me more than I care to know about my aging memory, as the Acknowledgments page makes it clear that the story appeared in The Saint (where I surely didn’t read it) and Don’s collection, The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution (where I unarguably did). Ah well. I read it again, and enjoyed every word of it, even the partial word with which it concludes.
The authors I listed above are all with Hillary at that big Edgar dinner in the sky. And so are most of the others. David Davis and Michael Butterworth would seem still to be with us, and Ron Goulart, God love him, is still writing, with four books published this century, the most recent in 2016.
But the rest are gone. And in all too many cases, we’ve lost not only them but their work, especially their short fiction. Books tend to endure, and the internet now makes it possible for almost anyone to find a copy of almost anything ever printed and bound. And not a few of these authors have a book or two still in print, and the novels of still more of them have been given a new life as ebooks.
Ah, but the short stories. Aside from a handful of scholars and collectors, nobody pays much attention to old magazines…
So I’ll wrap this up with a bouquet of virtual flowers to everyone responsible for the program of reissuing these MWA anthologies. They give life to worthy short stories, and win readers for deserving writers.
Enough. Now you can read what Hillary has to say, and then you can read the stories. A good couple of hours i
It Is not for editors to sound off in print. By their authors should ye know them. This, therefore, will be as brief as Foreword requirements permit.
It is the annual custom of Mystery Writers of America to publish an anthology of crime short stories. It is a custom that has been going on for twenty-four years or virtually since the inception of MWA. In the beginning, the purpose of the anthology was to earn money for the infant organization’s infant coffers. For that reason, the editors of the anthology donated their time, and the authors who appeared in it donated their stories.
The same is true today. It is still a gratis operation, but there is a difference. Appearance in the MWA anthology is no longer merely a benefit performance on the part of the author. It has become a mark of high prestige.
This fact makes life very easy for the editor, for authors not only donate everything willingly, they willingly donate everything. There is, in other words, no holding back of top stories for more profitable markets. The editor’s task, then, is not that of trying to find enough good stories to make a book, it is that of deciding which of the galaxy of fine stories he should use to obtain the kind of balance and shape and effect he desires. This is anthologizing as it should be, and as it so rarely is.
The following collection represents the results of such an effort, and all of us who helped to produce it are pleased to let it serve as MWA’s showcase of stories for 1969. Let it not be thought, however, that these are the only fine stories that came our way, or even that they represent the finest of the fine. Limitations of space do force a cut-off point and the ways of handling that space also affects the selection of stories. This, then, is not so much a collection of “Best Stories” as it is a collection of “Some of the Best Stories.”’
My thanks and appreciation go to Liz Lewis, the editor at Doubleday responsible for the real labor that goes into such an undertaking, and to Gloria Amoury, Executive Secretary and laborer-in-chief at MWA. They did the work and I had the fun.
My thanks and appreciation go also to those many people whose recommendations gave me guidance and to all the writers and their agents, who sent in submissions so willingly and generously.
It is their stories that made the job the fun it was and I hope the following sample of their work will bring to you, the reader, equal enjoyment.
April 1, 1969
H as in Homicide
Larry Treat says he wrote his first police story back in 1945. That was a long time before Dragnet, and may make Larry the father of the procedural school of mystery writing. This story, for which he won an Edgar, is an example of that school at its best.
She came through the door of the Homicide Squad’s outer office as if it were disgrace to be there, as if she didn’t like it, as if she hadn’t done anything wrong—and never could or would.
Still, here she was. About twenty-two years old and under weight Wearing a pink, sleeveless dress. She had dark hair pulled back in a bun; her breasts were close together; and her eyes ate you up.
Mitch Taylor had just come back from lunch and was holding down the fort all alone. He nodded at her and said, “Anything I can do?”
Mitch put her down as a nervous stutterer and waited for her to settle down.
“They told me to come here,” she said. “I went to the neighborhood police station, and they said they couldn’t do anything, that I had to come here.”
“Yeah,” Mitch said. It was the old run-around, and he was willing to bet this was Pulasky’s doing, up in the Third Precinct. He never took a complaint unless the rule book said, “You, Pulasky—you got to handle this, or you’ll lose your pension.”
So Mitch said, “Sure. What’s the trouble?”
“I don’t like to bother you, and I hope you don’t think me silly, but—well, my friend left me. And I don’t know where, or why.”
“Boyfriend?” Mitch said.
She blushed a deep crimson. “Oh, no! A real friend. We were traveling together and she took the car and went, without even leaving me a note. I can’t understand it.”
“Let’s go inside and get the details,” Mitch said.
He brought her into the Squad Room and sat her down at a desk. She looked up shyly, sort of impressed with him. He didn’t know why, because he was only an average-looking guy, of medium height, on the cocky side, with stiff, wiry hair and a face nobody particularly remembered.
He sat down opposite her and took out a pad and pencil. “Your name?’’ he said.
“New York City, but I gave up my apartment there.”
“Where I come from, too. Quite a ways from home, aren’t you?”
“I’m on my way to California—my sister lives out there. I answered an ad in the paper—just a moment, I think I still have it.”
She fumbled in a big, canvas bag, and the strap broke off and the whole business dropped. She picked it up awkwardly, blushing again, but she kept on talking. “Bella Tansey advertised for somebody to share the driving to California. She said she’d pay all expenses. It was a wonderful chance for me... Here, I have it.”
She took out the clipping and handed it to Mitch. It was the usual thing: woman companion to share the driving, and a phone number.
“So you got in touch?” Mitch prodded.
“Yes. We liked each other immediately, and arranged to go the following week.”
She was fiddling with the strap, trying to fix it, and she finally fitted the tab over some kind of button. Mitch, watching, wondered how long that was going to last.
Meanwhile she was still telling him about Bella Tansey. ’We got along so well,” Prudence said, “and last night we stopped at a motel—The Happy Inn, it’s called—and we went to bed. When I woke up, she was gone.”
“Why did you stop there?” Mitch asked sharply.
“We were tired and it had a Vacancy sign.” She drew in her breath and asked anxiously, “Is there something wrong with it?”
’’Not too good a reputation,” Mitch said. “Did she take all her things with her? Her overnight stuff, I mean,”
“Yes, I think so. Or at least, she took her bag.”
Mitch got a description of the car: a dark blue Buick; 1968 or 1969, she wasn’t sure; New York plates, but she didn’t know the number.
“Okay,” Mitch said. “We’ll check. We’ll send out a flier and have her picked up and find out why she left in such a hurry.”
Prudence Gilford’s eyes got big. “Yes,” she said. “And please, can you help me? I have only five dollars, and the motel is expensive. I can’t stay there, and I don’t know where to go.”
“Leave it to me,” Mitch said. “I’ll fix it up at the motel and get you a place in town for a while. You can get some money, can’t you?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll write my sister for it.”
“Better wire,” Mitch said. “And will you wait here a couple of minutes? I’ll be right back.”
Lieutenant Decker had come in and was working on some thing in his tiny office which was jammed up with papers and stuff. Mitch reported on the Gilford business and the Lieutenant listened.
“Pulasky should have handled it,” Mitch said, finishing up. “But what the hell—the kid’s left high and dry, so maybe we could give her a little help.”
“What do you think’s behind this?” Decker asked.
“I don’t know,” Mitch said. “She’s a clinger—scared of every thing and leans on people. Maybe the Tansey woman got sick and tired of her, or maybe this is lesbian stuff. Hard to tell.”
“Well, go ahead with an S-4 for the Buick. It ought to be on a main highway and within a five-hundred-mile radius. Somebody’ll spot it. We’ll see what cooks.”
Mitch drove Prudence out to the
motel and told her to get her things. While she was busy, he went into the office and spoke to Ed Hiller, who ran the joint. Hiller, a tall, stoop shouldered guy who’d been in and out of jams most of his life, was interested in anything from a nickel up, but chiefly up. He rented cabins by the hour, day, or week, and you could get liquor if you paid the freight; but most of his trouble came from reports of cars that had been left unlocked and rifled. The police had never been able to pin anything on him.
He said, “Hello, Taylor. Anything wrong?”
“Just want to know about a couple of dames that stayed here last night—Bella Tansey and Prudence Gilford. Tansey pulled out during the night.”
“Around midnight,” Ed said. “She came into the office to make a phone call, and a little later I heard her car pull out.”
Time for the missing girl to pack, Mitch decided. So far, everything checked out. “Who’d she call?” he asked. “What did she say?”
Hiller shrugged. “I don’t listen in,” he said. “I saw her open the door and then I heard her go into the phone booth. I mind my own business. You know that.”
“Yeah,” Mitch said flatly. “You heard the coins drop, didn’t you? Local call, or long distance?”
Hiller leaned over the counter. “Local,” he said softly. “I think.”