One Night Stands; Lost weekendsLawrence Block
One Night Stands and Lost Weekends
To the gormless young man
who wrote these stories
and the hapless editors who bought them
One Night Stands
Introduction: If Memory Serves
The Bad Night
The Badger Game
Bargain in Blood
Bride of Violence
The Burning Fury
A Fire at Night
Hate Goes Courting
I Don’t Fool Around
Just Window Shopping
Lie Back and Enjoy It
Look Death in the Eye
Man with a Passion
Murder Is My Business
Nor Iron Bars a Cage
One Night of Death
Ride a White Horse
A Shroud for the Damned
Sweet Little Racket
The Way to Power
You Can’t Lose
The Lost Cases of Ed London
Introduction: Calling Ed London
The Naked and the Deadly
Stag Party Girl
Twin Call Girls
About the Author
Other Books by Lawrence Block
About the Publisher
IN 1999 THE SMALL PRESS PUBLISHER Crippen & Landru brought out a limited hardcover edition of twenty-five previously uncollected early stories of mine. I called the book One Night Stands, as most of the stories were written in a single session.
The Lost Cases of Ed London followed two years later, consisting of three novelettes narrated by a private detective whose name you can very likely infer.
I was by no means convinced that any of these stories needed to return to print, and yet I didn’t want to deprive collectors and specialists of access to them. So I chose to limit their availability to these hardcover collector’s editions, and not to allow them to be reprinted in paperback form.
Here you have the contents of both volumes, assembled together in a handsome but reasonably priced trade paperback edition. How come? What happened that led me to change my mind?
More important, I think, is what didn’t happen. No one who bought either book wrote to the publisher to demand his money back or to me to savage me for foisting such crap upon the reading public. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody liked the stories; for all I know, collectors bought them and admired them and placed them with pride upon their shelves, never bothering to read the damned things. While I might have worried that reissuing them would damage whatever remains of my reputation, well, it didn’t.
And here’s something that did happen: Sometime in the mid-nineties I got an e-mail from my friend Evan Hunter. He’d been approached by Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime about the possibility of HCC’s reissue of a group of stories Evan had written and published some forty years earlier. They featured a Bowery derelict named Matt Cordell, a former cop who pulls himself together sufficiently to handle a case and then falls apart again. Evan wasn’t sure he wanted to see those stories back in print, and he wondered what my experience had been with the publisher and with reissuing early work.
I was able to vouch for Ardai and Hard Case Crime, and I was also able to put in a word for Matt Cordell. I remembered those stories well—I’d read all of them when they appeared—and I assured Evan that neither he nor they had anything to apologize for. “And for what it’s worth,” I said, “here’s how I make this sort of decision. When I’m faced with two courses of action, I try to pick the one that brings money into the house.”
Why should I sit in judgment of my early work? Why should I limit its readership to collectors with full wallets? Why not opt instead for the choice that will bring in a few dollars?
ONCE I’D COME AROUND to that way of thinking, I didn’t need to do a lot of heavy lifting. My publishers and I agreed that both books should be combined into a single volume, or if you prefer, a double volume—English is a curious language, isn’t it? And was there a title that might serve for such a book?
I still liked One Night Stands as a title, but it didn’t really fit the Ed London novelettes. They’d taken longer to write—a few days, certainly. I couldn’t remember whether I’d written them on the weekend or during the week—I could barely recall having written them at all, to tell you the truth—but as soon as the new title came to mind I liked it, and so did the good people at HarperCollins.
We also decided that the original introductions should stay, and so you’ll find them here, one immediately after this one, the other preceding the novelettes.
THERE’S ONE OTHER THING I should talk about here, and that’s a story that was included in One Night Stands as a separate pamphlet. It’s tucked into the main body of this new edition, but it isn’t mentioned in the original introduction, and I probably ought to remedy that.
The story was my only real attempt at science fiction, a genre I rather liked and certainly respected, but not one to which my talents and imagination seemed to lend themselves. My agent liked the story and sent it everywhere, and it always came back, until it landed at Science Fiction Stories, that market of last resort edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes. (They paid half a cent a word, but my agency insisted they get a minimum of ten dollars for a story. They took their one buck commission, and I netted nine dollars. Funny what you remember.)
Laurence Janifer, a friend of mine who liked the story far more than it could possibly have deserved, brought it to the attention of Judith Merril, known as the “little mother of science fiction,” who chose it for her very prestigious best-of-the-year collection. Go figure.
The planet on which the story takes place is called Althea in a nod to the Richard Lovelace poem “To Althea from Prison,” which begins, “Stone walls do not a prison make.” I accordingly called the story “Make a Prison,” although that’s not a very good title, is it? If I had wanted a good title, all I had to do was move on to the poem’s second line: “Nor iron bars a cage.” Now that’s a title. And, since I get to decide these things, that’s the title it’s going to have from now on, starting right here in this volume: “Nor Iron Bars a Cage.” The rest of the story’s not much, Larry Janifer and Judy Merril notwithstanding, but that’s a damn nice title.
One Night Stands
IF MEMORY SERVES…
IN 1956, FROM THE BEGINNING OF AUGUST through the end of October, I lived in Greenwich Village and worked in the mail room at Pines Publications. I was a student at Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which sounds like a hell of a commute, but that’s not how it worked. At Antioch students spent two terms a year studying on campus and two terms working at jobs the school arranged for them, presumably designed to give them hands-on experience in their intended vocational area. Like a majority of students, I had spent my entire freshman year on campus. Now, at the onset of my second year, I was ready to begin my first co-op job. I knew I wanted to be a writer, so I went through the school’s list and picked a job at a publishing house.
Pines published a paperback line, Popular Library, a batch of comic books, and a couple dozen magazines, including some of the last remaining pulps in existence. (Ranch Romances, I recall, was one of them. It was what the title would lead you to believe.) I worked five days a week from nine to five, shunting interoffice mai
l from one desk to another, and doing whatever else they told me to do. My weekly salary was forty bucks, and every Friday I got a pay envelope with $34 in it.
I lived in the Village, at 54 Barrow Street, where I shared a one-bedroom apartment with two other Antioch co-ops. My share of the monthly rent was $30, so I guess it fit the traditional guideline of a week’s pay. I know I never had any money, but I never missed any meals, either, and God knows it was an exciting place to be and an exciting time to be there. (I was eighteen, and on my own, so I suppose any place would have been exciting, but at the time I thought the Village was the best place in the world. Now, all these years later, I haven’t changed my mind about that.)
I didn’t do much writing during those months. I’d realized three years earlier that writing was what I wanted to do, and every now and then I actually wrote something. Poems, mostly, and story fragments. I sent things to magazines and they sent them back. At Antioch, I taped the rejection slips on the wall over my desk, like the heads of animals I’d slain. Sort of.
One weekend afternoon, I sat down at the kitchen table on Barrow Street and wrote “You Can’t Lose.” It was pretty much the way it appears here, but it didn’t end. It just sort of trailed off. I showed it to a couple of friends. I probably showed it to a girlfriend, in the hope that it would get me laid, and it probably didn’t work. Then I forgot about it, and at the end of October I went back to campus.
Where at some point I remembered the story and dug it out and sent it to a magazine called Manhunt. All I knew about Manhunt was that most of the stories in Evan Hunter’s collection The Jungle Kids had first appeared in its pages. I’d admired those stories, and it struck me that a magazine that would publish them might like my story. So I sent it off, and it stayed there for a while, and then back it came.
With a note enclosed from the editor. He liked it, but pointed out that it didn’t have an ending, and that it rather needed one. If I could come up with a twist ending, a snappier ending, he’d like to see it again. So I found a newsstand that carried Manhunt, bought a copy, read it, and wrote a new ending, one which at least proved I’d read O. Henry’s “The Man at the Top.” (My narrator ends with the triumphant boast that his ill-gotten gains are due to increase dramatically, because he’s just invested the whole thing in some gold mine stock. Or something.)
I sent this off, and it came back with another note, saying the new ending was predictable and didn’t really work, but thanks for trying. And that was that.
Then several months later the school year was coming to a close, and I was due to head off to Cape Cod and find a co-op job on my own. One night near the end of term I couldn’t sleep, and I lay there thinking, and thought of the right way to finish the story. I went home to Buffalo to visit my folks, drove out to Cape Cod, and wrote a new ending for the story. The acceptance process was slow—Manhunt had what we’ve since learned to call a cash-flow problem—but, long story short, they bought it. Paid a hundred bucks for it.
My first sale.
I LEFT THE CAPE after a month or so and wound up back in New York, where I got a job as an editor at a literary agency, reading scripts and writing letters to wannabe writers, telling them how talented they were and how this particular story didn’t work, but by all means send us another story and another reading fee.
I lived in a residential hotel on West 103rd Street, where my $65-a-month rent was again a fourth of my salary. And, nights and weekends, I wrote stories, which the agency I worked for submitted to various magazines. Most of the stories were crime fiction. I hadn’t yet decided I was going to be a crime fiction writer—I don’t know that that’s a decision I ever made—but in the meantime I read extensively in the field. There was a shop on Eighth Avenue off Times Square where they sold back copies of Manhunt and other digest-sized magazines (Trapped, Guilty, Off-Beat, Keyhole, Murder, and so on) at two for a quarter. I bought every one of these I could find, and I read them cover to cover. Some I liked and some I didn’t, but somewhere along the way I must have internalized the sense of what made a story, and I wrote some of my own.
They sold, most of them, sooner or later. Sometimes to Manhunt, but more often to its imitators. Trapped and Guilty paid a cent and a half per word, so they were the first choice after Manhunt passed. Then came Pontiac Publications, at a penny a word. (Their magazines had titles like Sure Fire and Twisted and Off-Beat, and every story title had an exclamation mark at the end. I longed to call a story “One Dull Night” so that they could call it “One Dull Night!”)
After I’d been a month or so at the literary agency, it was clear to me I was learning more than I’d ever learn in college, and that I’d be crazy to stop now. So I dropped out and stayed right where I was. In the spring, I decided I’d learned as much as I was going to at the job, and that a student draft deferment was, after all, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp bayonet. I went back to Antioch.
By the time I got there, I was writing books. “Sex novels” was what we called them, though they’d now get labeled “soft-core porn.” I wrote one to order the summer before I returned to Antioch, and the publisher wanted more. So that’s what I did instead of classwork. And I also went on writing crime stories. At the end of that academic year, in the summer of 1959, I dropped out again, and this time it took. I started writing a book a month for one sex novel publisher, and other books for other publishers, and from that point the crime short stories were few and far between.
WHEN DOUG GREENE AND I discussed bringing out a collection of these early stories, he brought up the subject of an introduction. “You can read through the stories,” he said, “and write some sort of preface.”
“One or the other,” I said. “You decide which.”
I have a lot of trouble looking at my early work. I rarely like the way it’s written, and I especially dislike the glimpse it gives me of the unutterably callow youth who produced it. I like that kid and wish him well, but read what he wrote? The hell with that.
You know what? I’m afraid to read them. I’m scared I’ll decide not to publish them after all, and it’s too late for that.
So an uncharacteristic attack of honesty compels me to advise you that I am in the curious position of introducing you to a couple of dozen short stories that I myself haven’t read in forty years.
Someone else suggested that some of the stories might require revision, because attitudes expressed in them are out-of-date and politically incorrect. No way, I told him. First of all, one of the few interesting things about them is that they’re of their time. I’d much rather burn them than update them. And screw political rectitude, anyway. You want to go through Huckleberry Finn and change the name of Huck’s companion to African-American Jim? Be my fucking guest, but leave me out of it.
A FEW THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:
1. A few of these stories, as indicated in the bibliographical notes at the back, were published under pen names. This only happened when I wound up with more than one story in the same issue of a magazine. W. W. Scott, who edited Trapped and Guilty, would make up a pen name when this occurred, generally by working a variation on the author’s usual byline. Thus “B. L. Lawrence.” The guy at Pontiac asked what pen name to use in similar circumstances, and I provided the name “Sheldon Lord.” Were there other pen names? Maybe, because there have been editors in the business who had house names that they used at such times. Maybe they used them on stories of mine. I don’t think this ever happened, but at this point I’d have no way of knowing. And no reason whatever to care…
2. There’s a story in here called “Look Death in the Eye” that deserves comment. It may strike some readers as curiously familiar. I wrote it way back when, while I was working for the literary agent, and it sold to Pontiac, and I lost all track of it. Didn’t have a copy, didn’t know where to find one.
And I found myself thinking about the story. What I really liked about it was the last line, and that, really, was all I remembered. So I re-created the stor
y from memory, right up to the last line, which I recalled word for imperishable word. I hammered it out and sent it off to a fellow named Bruce Fitzgerald, who was editing a magazine called For Women Only. (It was a beefcake magazine, as it happens, composed of outtake photos from Blueboy, a gay magazine. The stories and articles interspersed among the nude male pix in For Women Only were ostensibly slanted to female readers, of which I doubt the magazine had more than twenty nationwide. The idea was that, by being purportedly for women, it could get on newsstands closed to gay publications, where its true audience would, uh, sniff it out. Its name notwithstanding, it was really for men only. Publishing is a wonderful business.)
Bruce liked the story, but felt it was a little too graphic for his female readers, even though we all knew they didn’t exist. Could he use it without the last line?
Without the last line, of course, there’s no story. And the only reason I wrote the story a second time was so that I could reuse the last line. So I displayed artistic integrity I never knew I had and withdrew the story. I don’t know what difference I thought it would make, since nobody read anything in that magazine anyway, but for once I just couldn’t stop myself from doing the right thing. Gallery wound up taking it, last line and all. It was published as “Hot Eyes, Cold Eyes,” and was later included in my second collection, Like a Lamb to Slaughter.