Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two-Fisted Detective Stories, October 1960 (Volume 2, Number 3)

I’ve been on a hardboiled pulp kick recently and discovered that a lot of good material was published in the ubiquitous digest-size crime magazines of the time (roughly 1953 to 1965 or thereabouts). Then I discovered that some of the more lurid crime digests were published by the same twisted folks who also turned out the various sweat mags of the time, ie the stuff that was anthologized in Soft Brides For The Beast Of Blood. In particular Two-Fisted Detective, Web Detective, and Off Beat Detective, and I got a few volumes of each, luckily for acceptable prices.

This October 1960 issue of Two-Fisted Detective is the first of them I read. At 113 pages of double-columned stories, it basically amounts to a paperback-sized anthology. Some stories were okay, others just middling. While entertaining it was nothing mindblowing, with each of the stories short, snappy, and heavy on the torture/lurid vibe. I’m betting the more famous (and respectable) Manhunt magazine didn’t feature so much torture and bondage! Practically every story in here features a woman being tied up and slapped around by a thug.

“Kill Me With Kisses” by Art Crockett, the lead story, is a case in point. Narrated by recurring protagonist Juan Kelly, a private eye with a talking parrot in his office, the story sees Kelly hired by wealthy Mrs. Southwell to find her daughter Barbara, who has run off with some damn beatniks. In reality “Babs” has been abducted by Charlie Sleeper, a rough pimp who keeps the young girl tied up in a room for his clients who are into rape scenes. Our hero Kelly when we meet him is surrounded by several of Sleeper’s gorgeous hookers, each armed with a dagger. He is very much in the Mike Hammer mold, dishing out punishment with his fists.

When Kelly finds Babs he takes her back to his place, only for Sleeper to call and say he’s sent in all of his clientele – all of whom would want Babs permanently silenced. The finale is pretty good, with Kelly and Babs running across rooftops, being chased by the bloodthirsty creeps, though the finale is perfunctory with Kelly merely blowing Sleeper away and the others running for it. Of course Kelly must inform us that Babs, who has been bound and raped for the past week or so, demands they go back to his apartment so they can have sex.

“No Escape” is by Don Unatin, which according to was a pseudonym of Reese editor (and owner?) Bud Ampolsk, who also wrote as “Bill Ryder.” Ampolsk I’m betting wrote many of the stories that appeared in the sweat mags he edited, and according to Bob Deis at Mens Pulp Mags, Ampolsk was also the guy who devised the crazy, torture-focused covers Norm Eastman would paint for the Reese mags. So then it’s safe to say Ampolsk had a quite fevered imagination. It’s at work here in this short, breezy tale written in third-person about a girl named Ronnie who keeps getting calls from a horny sadist named Duke who claims he got her number off a payphone, where someone had written that she offered a great time.

The calls have become more and more aggressive, with Duke even figuring out her address. He says he’s coming over for a little loving, and might even rough her up a little because he likes that, too. And don’t bother calling the cops ‘cause they’d never believe you, or something like that. Finally Ronnie talks him into meeting her somewhere. They meet at a hotel where, surprisingly, Duke actually does have sex with her, though obviously it’s an off-page event. But as he’s lying there afterward Ronnie takes an icepick from her purse and jams it into his brain. Turns out Ronnie is a killer, putting up her own number on payphones so as to root out and kill off “lust crazed animals.” 

“Hell School” by Pete McCann returns to the first-person narration and concerns Craig Bradman, a gym teacher at deadbeat Southside High, which is populated by “duck-tailed punks” and promiscuous young women who are hookers in all but name. The narrator’s wife wants him to move on to a better job in a better school, but Bradman wants to stick around. On his way into the school one day he comes across one of the punks having sex out in the open with one of the gals. Bradman isn’t surprised when later he’s called into the principal’s office and there’s a cop there, having busted them. Also the cop found dope in the backseat. The principal convinces the cop that they can handle it – turns out Bradman earns his living by beating the shit out of the punks who break the rules! As a double ironic twist we also learn Bradman is the supplier for the punks, hooking them up with drugs and using them as salesmen so he can eventually get his wife out of the hovel in which they live. 

“Save Her For A Passion” by Grover Brinkman is narrated by Joel Vance, an enforcer hired to pull a hit on Diane – who turns out to be the wife of Joel’s boss, Jud. He’s about to assassinate her along a beach but the lady gets the drop on him, coming armed with her own gun. She talks Joel into teaming up with her against Jud, who doubtless will send Joel up the river for doing this job, anyway. She reminds him what a bastard Jud is, like that innocent girl Jud raped and got hooked on drugs in New Orleans. The narrator goes along with it, absorbed with Diane’s great breasts, and the finale sees a quick fight on Jud’s drug-transporting ship. But then Diane shoots Joel in the gut and leaves him: that innocent kid in New Orleans was her sister, and Joel’s the one who snatched her off the streets for Jud.

“Mistress of Mayhem” by Al James is another third-person tale with an ironic twist ending you can see coming even with blinders on. Mira is a hotstuff 19 year-old married to deadbeat Phil, 23 and unemployed, a former car mechanic. Mira is having an affair with Jim, 40, and hopes to marry him, but Phil won’t give her a divorce. Al James appears to have written sleaze paperbacks in the ‘60s and that’s quite apparent here, as the word “breasts” is used more than all the other stories in the issue combined; Mira must be quite stacked.

Mira demands Phil leave to look for a job and then when Jim comes over for their daily rendevous (cue a sex scene that isn’t as vague as the others), she tells him she wants him to kill Phil. There’s a red-gloved bandit going around the neighborhood, attacking people in their homes, and they can set Phil up so Jim shoots him, mistaking him for the bandit. Can you see the ironic twist? Yes, Phil turns out to be the red-gloved bandit, and the tale ends with Jim dead and Phil revealing his true identity to Mira, as well as his knowledge of her affair with Jim; it’s intimated he’s about to strangle her. 

“Come-On Cutie!” by Flip Lyons has a hell of an opening: a con man named Bennie beating the shit out of his female accomplice, Jodi. He bashes her in the stomach, the face, beating her to the floor. Why? Because he came into a hotel room and caught her packing her luggage with ten thousand bucks she just conned from an old millionaire named Hollingsworth. Battered and bloody, Jodi tells Bennie he’s an idiot; she packed his bag, too. Hollingsworth, whom she knocked out with a sleeping pill, is on his way with the cops and they need to leave town. Further, she and Bennie are now through; she refuses to stay with a guy who beats her. After cleaning up – during which she shows Bennie her breasts and tells him he’ll never see them again! – Jodi takes off…only to immediately be snatched by Hollingsworth and the cops.

Feeling bad about it, Bennie tries to con Hollingsworth so Jodi can be freed. But then he finds out that Jodi really stole 90 thousand from the guy. He springs Jodi from prison and tells her he’s going to beat her to a pulp this time – that is, right after she tells him where she hid that ninety thousand. Jodi talks him into a last meal at the local diner, where she of course slips a mickey in his drink. A bizarrely light-hearted finale sees Bennie, that woman-beating maniac, merely falling asleep at his table as Jodi announes her plans to go live like royalty in Europe with the 90 thousand!

“Lust Holds The Gun!” by Gil Grayson concerns Spandau, a con who came up with his latest idea in prison; he’s going to rob Marie Rodgers, a high-class madame who makes monthly payoffs to a mob boss named Rodman. Spandau became pals with one of Rodman’s men in the slammer and learned how Rodman’s men collect from the various madames. This tale definitely has the feel of a vintage men’s mag story as it’s all about the bondage and the breasts. Spandau, wielding a .38, sneaks into Marie’s office building at night, an hour before the scheduled money pick-up, and barges in. He roughs her up, which she seems to enjoy. Also she’s certain Rodman won’t believe that she’s been robbed, so she wants him to hurt her.

So Spandau ties Marie up and then, because she seems eager for it, rapes her. (She apparently enjoys that, too…) Afterwards he burns her with cigarettes, all so as to get the safe combination. Finally Marie gives it, and Spandau absconds with twenty-five thousand bucks. The story features a typical EC comics-style twist with the greasy, obese elevator operator being a pickpocket who ends up lifting Spandau’s wallet. This third-person story is written in a goofy hardboiled style, with such enjoyable lines as, “The elevator door finally opened, revealing a sallow faced man whose bald head looked like something you might step on in a graveyard at midnight.”

“Dark Hunger” by Jay Richards is the shortest story in the book and the goofiest. It’s also very much in the EC Comics vein. Marty is a serial killer who strangles women, and he’s set his sights on a lovely young lady named Erica as his latest kill. With the opening lines of “She was young… Lovely… Stacked…”, you know this one also upholds the Reese Publications standard, and thus there’s a definite lurid vibe throughout. Mostly the dark comedy comes through Marty chastisizing himself that his last kill was named Loreta, which blew the A-B-C nature of his previous kills; if only Loretta had been named “Doris!” He takes Erica home, ready to strangle her – and who will be surprised when Erica herself turns out to be a serial killer, pulling a knife from her purse and killing Marty? The lurid vibe continues with the vague detail that Erica orgasms when she kills. And now she’s on the hunt for a new man…

“Don’t Tempt Murder” by Jim Arthur is another dark comedy piece; this one’s about Alfie, a would-be “professional bleeder” who has just gotten his first job from mob boss Turk. Alfie’s been ordered to kill Turk’s old flame Sue Martin, who is about to turn state’s evidence. Alfie goes to Sue’s apartment with a .38 Special that only has one bullet in it, so as to fool the cops into thinking an amateur was behind the kill (professional bleeders we’re informed use six slugs on their hits to ensure death, an industry standard).  But Sue turns the tables on him, opening her door fully nude. The dark comedy ensues as Alfie gawks at her awesome bod and keeps telling her he has to kill her. She offers herself, he reluctantly refuses; somehow he shows her he only has one bullet, and then he spins the chamber and it’s like Russian roullette, with the girl passing out with each blank shot. Finally the cops show up and it turns out Sue is under police protection and she also took the bullet out of Alfie’s gun, so it was empty the whole time!

“A Darling For The Devil” is by Lawrence Stone and rounds out the magazine. This “novel”-length tale is narrated by Charlie, a chaffeur for a sadistic kingpin named Bugs Martin. We watch as Bugs beats some hapless diner owner nearly to death, then moves on to a local nightclub. Along the way our narrator informs us how Bugs gets his rocks off whipping women with a studded belt. This story is very heavy with the sweat mag vibe. The nightclub has a new act – a hotstuff lady named Francie who turns out to be the childhood sweetheart of our narrator. Bugs gets the immediate hots for her, and due to his span of influence the club owners turn away as he basically abducts Francie. She fights back and now he’s all hot and bothered, just ready to whip the shit out of her.

They go to a cottage outside of the city, where Bugs has his fun, and when the narrator can take no more he ends up getting bashed in the face by Bugs. It culminates in a bizarre ending where the narrator finds some spiders on a milkjug and throws it at Bug’s feet, after he’s been whipping Francie for a good long while – Bugs freaks out (turns out he’s afraid of bugs, hence his nickname!), and in the chaos Charlie picks up his .38 and blasts him. The story does not feature the expected denoument in which Charlie gets lucky with the gal; instead, he carries her home and he tells us he never heard from her again. Jeez, wonder why?


James Reasoner said...

Al James was Day Keene's son, I believe. I don't think I've read anything by him, but I enjoy his dad's work.

Walker Martin said...

Fifteen or so years ago I sold all my crime digests. I had just about all of them but I lost interest. Now all these years later, I just picked them up again but I had to pay twice the amount that I sold them for. MANHUNT is the best title and was quite good in the early and middle 1950's. The imitators were for the most part, not on the same level. TWO FISTED had great covers but the stories were too short and not properly developed. They all seem to be about women being beaten and mistreated, etc.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks a lot for the comments. James, that's interesting to hear Al James was Day Keene's son. Walker, sorry to hear you sold all of your crime digests, but good to know you've gotten them back. If you're ever bored sometime, maybe you can check out Herbert Kastle's two Manhunt stories (in Feb '56 and June '61) and let me know what they're like. They're just about impossible to find!