A while ago, I wrote up a story by Frederick C. Davis reprinted in England by the 1930’s publisher Sharman Ellis Ltd. (If interested, click on the publisher’s name in the TAGS section). The cover art is simply signed as “S.E.C.” and I haven’t a clue who that would be, but the cover art closely adheres to a scene in the story (except the maid does not actually see the murder take place, as depicted here).
The Devil’s Dozen is the 8th title in the “Mystery Thrillers” series, and spans exactly 64 pages. The story features Davis’s recurring character, Lieutenant “Show-Me” McGee, as a policeman that disbelieves all evidence set before him until he solves the crime to his own satisfaction. Davis wrote a good handful of McGee tales during the early 1930s before bringing the series to an abrupt demise. I’m not sure how well the others fared in comparison to this one, but if they each were of equal measure, then as a whole, they aren’t too damn awful.
The story opens with the murder of Mr. Leach at the hands of Mr. Townland. We know this because Mr. Leach’s maid, Clarice, personally admits him to his home that night. Stunningly, after gunning down Leach, Townland phones the police, asks for the exact time, then explains to the officer over the phone (who turns out to be McGee) that he has just murdered Mr. Leach.
Bizarrely enough, upon rushing to the home of Mr. Townland to effect an arrest, McGee finds him likewise dead, an apparent suicide, but discovers that Townland was dead before Mr. Leach was murdered by him.
How is that possible?
McGee immediately dismisses all known factors and accepts only two facts. Both men are dead; Leach’s death is a known case of murder with a supposed witness, and Mr. Townland’s death is not a suicide case; he was actually murdered, and there are no powder burns on his clothes.
Both have the distinction of being employed at the same business. What’s more, while alone with the second stiff, McGee discovers a man hiding on the premises, trying to stealthily escape. David Washburn is caught and interrogated by McGee. Learning that Washburn arrived shortly ahead of McGee, he ascertains that David is present because he was searching for a missing man, name of Sylvester Morrison, at the request of Morrison’s daughter, Patsy, who he intends to marry.
Nonplussed, McGee discovers that Morrison likewise works at the same business, and that he is the Chief Automotive Engineer at LuxCar. He and the two dead men were the only three to have top secret clearance to a specific division working on a prototype that would extend driving distance vs fuel consumption. Such fuel economy would revolutionize the automotive industry and lock LuxCar in as the Number One builder of this specific engine.
Ergo, Morrison’s mind is now worth billions of dollars. Sniffing out a possible ransom case, McGee meets with the daughter, and not long afterwards, sure enough, a ransom is made out in the name of half-a-million dollars. The automaker is ready to pay that and more, to secure Morrison.
With zero police presence on the scene, McGee, from far away on top of a building, watches the money drop-off point. The funds are tossed off a bridge attached to a flotation device. Nobody picks up the bundle. It drifts down river, and then, mysteriously, turns around and heads against the flow!
Realizing that the bundle has somehow been fetched, McGee quickly escapes the building, and speeds along a riverside road. He passes what seems to be a granny hauling goods home. Discovering the parcel opened and empty, McGee chases down the granny, offers her a ride. She declines and he speeds off. Secluding himself a distance away, he watches the woman enter another vehicle, and it departs. Realizing that the woman is beyond-a-doubt involved, he, at a discreet distance, pursues the vehicle to a remote district, off a dirt road, to an abandoned derelict house.
He draws his gun, throws his bulk against a door, and bounding in, we are introduced to the kidnappers. Gunning both down, he retrieves the goods, and learns from the one surviving member several facts. One, that Morrison isn’t actually missing: he’s currently suffering a case of amnesia and in a holding cell at police headquarters! Two, that as surmised, Townland did not murder Leach. The dead kidnapper actually was a make-up artist (he was also the disguised old woman). Before making good with his knowledge, the building is suddenly blown thunderously to pieces by several automatic weapons. The kidnappers both are now dead and the fate of McGee is left unknown…
So, who opened fire on the house?
Enter the Devil’s Dozen, a close-knit group of hardened criminals that are on the outs locally, and prior to vacating the city, decide to pull one last gig. After hearing that a local man is worth potentially millions of dollars (since the ransom was announced at $500,000, the leader realizes he might be worth twice that) the gang learn that the two kidnappers were operating in their region, and that it must be they who kidnapped Morrison. (The logic behind this is told in more detail, but I won’t cover that here).
Knowing the location of their hideout, they await their return, then watch as McGee sneaks in. Waiting outside, they listen in and overhear the whole confession, including Morrison’s whereabouts. Obtaining said data, they murder everyone inside, and then speed off to the city…
In the city, they phone in fake calls to the police, demanding immediate assistance at the LuxCar plant, which is far out of town. Leaving a handful of officers to run the precinct, the dozen men fan out and storm the vacated police station.
Weary and bloody (and miraculously alive) McGee deliriously arrives in time to barricade the dozen assailants inside and assume a one-man assault on his own place of employment. In lustrous blood and thunder fashion, we readers are provided our own guilty pleasure as a gun battle ensues, and Davis artfully draws up a waged battle of wits vs bullets.
In the end, many of the dozen are dead or wounded, some arrested, and old man Morrison’s amnesia timely dissipates and he is bewildered to find himself in police custody. McGee faints dead away from exhaustion, adrenaline, and blood loss, to wake up in a hospital bed.
Two weeks pass, still at the hospital, and an officer delivers to him an addressed envelope. Opening it, he learns of Washburn’s marriage, and, finds himself the recipient of a “Thank You” check, totaling $10,000, signed by LuxCar’s owner! After all, what is $10k to LuxCar, when Morrison’s mind is worth billions?
According to the FictionMags Index website, there were only eight “Show-Me” McGee tales. If I am lucky, maybe one day I will have the privilege of reading more of them.
They (including this story) are as follows:
- Hell on Wheels (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 30 1933
- Murder Without Motive (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 7 1933
- The Killer in the Tower (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Nov 18 1933
- The Devil’s Dozen (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 2 1933
- The Three Doctor Jekylls (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 30 1933
- Death to the Witness (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Feb 24 1934
- Stone Dead (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jun 9 1934
- The Eye in the Wall (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Jul 21 1934