Wednesday, March 30, 2011


This week’s challenge was to create a period fiction piece; a pulp styled story set between 1900 and 1950. The genres would be pulp ones like Adventure, Detective, Fantasy, Horror, Noir, Romance, Science Fiction, War or Western. The word count was to be under 1800 words.

As much as I enjoyed writing this one, I truly hope I’ve set some kind of a mood here for possibly the 1940’s. That’s what I was aiming for and hopefully I’ve hit my target. Please enjoy.


Two packs of smokes and a bottle of hooch. My pay for a job well done. Fine by me, sure, but I do believe Betts will blow sky high. Three weeks’ tailing a dame, watching her smooching up her husband, Richie’s best friend, giving the husband proof she’s playing him for a sucker, he decides to forget the mess and takes her back. Most days I wonder why I bother getting out of bed, and today was sure no exception. Betts will be back soon and I have to come up with a plan on how to break it to her. Wait. Let me explain Betts to you so you get my drift.

My name’s Mo. Mo Pollniak. I was christened Maurice, but nobody’s allowed to use that on me. Okay, so it was alright for Ma and the nuns down at The Virgin Mary of the Sacred Woods School, but that’s it. My Pop got runned down by a beer truck one Saturday morning when I was 2, so I don’t really remember what he used on me. But Ma worked on the line over at the bicycle factory right up till the day she died so I’d be able to eat and go to parochial, so it all worked out.

I’m a PI, in case you were wondering, and I’ve been doing this near to 30 years now. I never eat breakfast, I shave at least once a week, I hang my one suit out on the fire escape to air out, and the Chinese lady down the hall washes and irons my shirts out of pity since she thinks that I’m broke and a real loser. Smart lady. Now let’s get back to Betts.

I first opened my business in an abandoned store front, just stood a handmade sign in the window that said ‘Mo Pollniak-Investigations‘; you know, all classy like, and she walked in. Said her name was Betsy Malone, but if I ever didn’t call her just Betts, she’d break my arm. Her man had went out for a shot and a beer three weeks ago, and hasn’t been home since. She needed a job, this was close enough to walk to so she wouldn’t need carfare, she’d work cheap and she made the best sandwiches in the State. She started that afternoon. The best thing about Betts is when a job gets done, she makes sure we get paid. Not sure what I’m going to tell her about our latest though. Gotta think…

When she got back from lunch, slammed the door, and threw a bag with two roast beef on rye and a cream soda on my desk, I wondered how she found out about Richie. Was I ever barking up the wrong alley…

“I knew it. She told me he was going to kill her and now she’s dead. The cops are wandering around in circles as usual and he’s going to get away with it just like she said he would. Mo? You’ve got to do something!”

I asked her if I could eat my sandwiches while she told me the story, and once the drop-dead look in her eyes passed, I took that as a yes.

On her way back to the office, she passed this town’s only hotel, cops all over it. Betts’ friend, one of the maids, was outside, and told her a man named Howard Marshand had found his wife, Suzanne, strangled in their room.

“What the hell was Suzanne doing here in a hotel anyway?” Betts was boiling mad. “She and I went to St. Mary’s together and her Daddy had some money and when he died, he left her the house and enough cash to get by. I hated it when she married that Marshand character. He’s low-life scum that just lived off her all these years. He’s a lying bum, and the last time I talked to her about 2 months ago, she said she knew he was planning to get rid of her. He had some floozy on the side and wanted the house and the cash. Mo, I’ve never asked you to get involved in my business, but I am this time. I can’t prove it, but I know he killed her. Please?”

First ‘please’ in 30 years. How could I say no.

I got the scoop from one of the uniforms at the scene. The happy couple had booked the weekend to spark their fire, but got into it over something, and he left to spend the night with his part-time gal. Real classy gent. When he got back to the room this afternoon, the poor kid was on the floor with a scarf knotted around her neck. She had an ugly gash in the back of her head too and the desk had blood on a corner. Somebody wanted her real dead.

I went up to the room to have a look-see and my old pal, Lt. Dave Hastings, was finishing up.

“What do you want here, Pollniak? A real crime happened in here.”

I knew he’d be thrilled to see me.

“Just looking around, Dave,” I said. “Can’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on it, right? Who’s the broad he spent the night with anyway? She alibi him?”

I could tell he wasn’t in a very cooperative mood.

“Not that it’s any of your beeswax, Mo, but her name’s Molly something, and she lives in those rooms in Riverdale. She gave a statement that Marshand ate dinner over there, played some canasta, and he stayed the night, like they were some regular dick and jane. End of story. Let her be, okay? This time, the husband didn’t do it so we gotta start looking somewhere else. Now, beat it, huh? Doc will be here soon to get her out of here.”

For some reason, I didn’t feel quite as good about Molly something’s word as Dave did. I figured it was about time I stuck my nose in where it didn’t belong.

* * * * * * * * * *

A week later, Betts comes in, smiling ear to ear.

“It’s over, Mo. It’s all in this morning’s paper. That son-of-a-bitch confessed and the cops were right there listening. They had it all set up. She got him over to her place and told him she wanted him to take his clothes and scram. She said she knew that he had murdered his wife while he was wearing his brown jacket because she found out what happened to the missing button. He said he didn’t know anything about a damn button, and besides, he had been wearing his blue jacket when he killed her--not the brown one--and she’d better clam up about it or she’d get hers. Well, the cops came out and arrested him right then. Can you believe it?”

Uh-huh. I sure could. All it took to shake his little gal up was a quick phone call one night, letting her know she shouldn’t alibi a murderer since the cops were planning to arrest her too unless she came clean. See, they found the button. When he was choking his wife’s lights out, she pulled a button off his jacket and they found it clenched in her cold dead hand. Molly put the phone down to check the closet, and mumbled something that sounded like ‘lying bastard’ before she hung up.

There wasn’t actually a button found, you know. A wife, she isn’t going to let her man leave the house with a button missing, but a girlfriend? A man doesn’t spend time with a girl like Molly because of her abilities as a seamstress. I knew there had to be at least one button missing from something he stashed at her place.

Betts handed me three roast beefs on rye and two cream sodas. There was a pickle in wax paper and a napkin too. Out loud ‘Thanks’ and ‘You’re Welcome’ would have been sappy and were already understood. I was ready to chow down and grabbed at that pickle when Betts said “By the way, Mo. Did Richie ever stop by to pay us for trailing after that cheating tramp of his?”



  1. Excellent!!!! Yes, you did set a 1940's mood and I am now ready to go out and read some Mickey Spillane.

    My story for this cycle went up in metaphorical flames after all the hassle I caught last weekend prevented me from any real quiet time to write. Its a bummer since I was looking forward to this prompt.

  2. Beach, You really made my day with your comments. I grew up in the 50s, but have always loved the detective stories and old movies from the era I missed. After I wrote this, I went out and got my hands on a collection of detective stories from around that time and I am having a blast. Love the matter of fact descriptions and the attitudes that are so incorrect now. And the characters? So real and so graphically right or wrong--no grays then. Great fun.

  3. As usual, another excellent submission! Very real classic characters. It was more like I was watching the piece in black and white as opposed to reading it! Thanks for sharing

  4. Great story, as usual. I always know I'm in for something good when I land on your blog.

  5. This is first rate with an excellent mystery. You found the voice and the language of the noir with no trouble. You always deliver dear.


  6. Reg, Thanks so much for your comments. While I was writing it, I was trying to see the scenes and hear the dialogue as if they were occurring in one of my favorite black and white films. I'm so glad it came across that way.

  7. Flannery, Thanks so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun trying to turn back the clock with my dialogue and descriptions. Not having been around in the 40's (really!), the period holds a strong fascination for me. I'm always reading detective stories and watching films from that era.

  8. Doc, I very much appreciate your comments. I tried so hard to make it as believable as I could because I love to read the detective stories and watch those black and white films from that time. In fact, this prompt renewed some interest and after I wrote this, I went to the library and took out several collections of detective tales from that era. They are a blast!

  9. You do the classic feel very well. Funny and natural.

  10. Chris, Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed this. You know I had to keep a bit of humor in there. This isn't particularly dark as mine usually are, but I do believe 'funny' belongs everywhere to some degree.

  11. I love this, Joyce. Most especially because it's not TOO noir. For me, it's just right. I think you should expand this character into something longer. I really like him. Congrats on a job very well done!

  12. Yvette, Thanks so much for your comments. I didn't want to go overboard with it; just try to keep it era-appropriate. I'm so glad you like Mo because he's the main character in the novel I'm currently writing. It's set present day though, but he's still Mo and Betts is with him too. I have a two book set planned for these two and I'm hard at work on the first. He's going to be quite an unusual sort of chap and I believe he'll turn out to be someone people will enjoy following. I sure hope so.

  13. I really love this Joyce... a nice, balanced noir feel to it... the dialogue is outstanding and I love the dialect... the little speech mannerisms... that alone puts this story over the top.

    Excellent 'period' piece... a real 40's feel.

    Would love to read more of Mo and Betts.

    Superbly done!

  14. Veronica, So happy you enjoyed this one. I had a blast writing it. Actually, eventually, you can read more of Mo and Betts since my NaNo project is a novel called Little Girl Lost. Mo is the main character in a two-book set I'm planning to complete and Betts, of course, is his secretary. These novels are set in present day though, but of course, Mo never really moved into the present day, either technology-wise or operations-wise. I am entirely redrafting the first novel in the set and plan to complete both and hopefully see them published. Mo and Betts are truly two of my favorite people!