The Devil’s Dozen by Frederick C. Davis

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.

SHARMAN ELLIS 08

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:

The Devil’s Dozen by Frederick C. Davis

Three Miles from Murder by Frederick C. Davis

SHARMAN ELLIS 03In the late 1930s, English publisher Sharman Ellis Ltd. acquired the right to reprint several of Frederick C. Davis’s pulp stories.  It’s unclear whether those rights were obtained via the author, or the original publishers, or, his agent (if he had one).

The cover art is simply signed as “LB.”

None of the booklets in the series carry a copyright notice. They were published prior to World War Two, perhaps late 1936 or early 1937. The rear cover quotes the first four titles in the “Mystery Thrillers” series (of which this is #3) and that they are to be issued monthly. The featured read here contains two stories, and runs a total of 64 pages.

In Three Miles from Murder, Nicholas Bansak, a slot-machine racketeer, is shot to death in his home. There is no evidence as to who the shooter is. The maid hears the shot, finds his corpse, and quite naturally, phones the police. Arriving are Detective Lieutenant Frank Cooper. He is described as: “alert, muscular tension of a race horse.” His counterpart is lethargic Detective Sergeant Otto Schellhaus, and Cooper has zero respect for his partner, whom later remarks that he is no Sherlock Holmes (note, however, that S. H. figures in Otto’s surname). The pair are given 24-hours to solve the mystery or lose their jobs. To worsen the predicament, the body disappears! No body, no incriminating bullet, no murder! Right? Wrong. The maid saw the body, and the pair saw the body just before it pulled a Houdini. Crime has been running rampant in the city, and their only clue as a possible culprit to the murder, is one Ed Fox, whom now is the sole operator of slot-machines. The rash Cooper is convinced that Fox has fled the city upon calling at his home and finding he has not returned home overnight. The city is cordoned off, calls are placed, etc. Otto has other ideas, but Cooper isn’t interested. So, he nonchalantly follows up on them himself. He discovers that Fox has not fled, but, rather, is simply at work. Fox threatens to sue for slander and false-arrest. He is released, despite Cooper’s attempts to detain him. While Cooper is chasing up various angles like a rabid attack dog, Otto decides to investigate if it were indeed possible for Ed Fox to commit the crime. He learns that Fox’s home isn’t far from Bansak’s home, and, tallies off the mileage. While illegally snooping in Fox’s auto, he discovers a receipt noting that the car was recently worked on. Going to the shop, he obtains the mileage on the car. With this information, he maps out the mileage home, to the murder, etc. While driving all over town trying to discover just where a missing 3 miles may have led Fox (if he committed the crime) he discovers one circuitous route: the cemetery. And that very morning, the Chief of Police had a member of his family buried! Convinced that Fox slipped in and stole the body while they were distracted, Otto illegally convinces the caretaker to unearth the casket and crack it open. Scarily enough, only the body that is supposed to be present is accounted for. Worse than that, Cooper arrives on the scene and is mortified that find that Otto has dug up the Chief’s family. While being reprimanded, Otto freaks out and grabs Cooper into the car, and speeds all around the city like a raving lunatic the mileage per destination and insists the body has to be at the cemetery. They then strike upon the idea that the body IS at the cemetery, UNDER the casket. Returning to the scene, they lift the casket out of the ground and dig further. They haven’t got far to go before they find Bansak’s corpse and ultimately, prove that the bullet belongs to Fox’s gun.

Three Miles from Murder (via his alias Clark Aiken) was originally published under his own name in Detective Fiction Weekly (17 June 1933) and copped that edition’s cover (erroneously as “Three Miles to Murder”).

In the concluding story, Marmon speeds to the home of the Hartleys. The family has a legacy of being buried alive via freak accidents. Worse, Marmon’s fiancee is afraid of being buried alive. Her father was deemed dead, and to their horror, rose from the dead, only later to die in a mine cave-in. She informs Marmon that she suffers from the same malady that her father had, and that while she may appear dead, with no pulse, breath, etc., she is actually in a trance-like state. After her brother is shot fatally while chasing a grave-robber, Bernice faints and is presumed dead. The embalmers are brought in and Marmon chases them out. Eventually he resorts to violence, and carries a gun. Much time passes and someone breaks into her room. Hearing the noise, and bashes in the door and shoots the perpetrator whom is about to ram a knife into her chest. They tussle and someone bashes him over the head. The villain(s) depart down a trellis and escape. Marmon discovers the knife was left behind and realizes it belongs to the armory downstairs. Two others live in the house, and Marmon accuses them of attempted murder, the only logical option. While remaining once more on guard, they bring him food and tea and he staggers and passes out. His drink was drugged! Waking, he discovers Bernice removed and they couple acknowledge that they did dope his drink with sleeping tablets, because he was acting irrational. Speeding off to the embalmers, he bursts in as they are about to drain Bernice of her fluids. Pulling his gun, he locks them in a closet and takes her away to a secret location. Eventually, he thinks he hears her call faintly for water…. Or is it all really in his mind? The police are certain that he was the one that murdered Bernice’s brother, and that is why she fainted dead. Marmon discovers a letter with notes about the mother and jewels and following a lead, digs up the mother and learns that her necklace is fake! Only one person could have had access and the time to effect a swap: the embalmers. Calling the pair back to his house to claim the body, and to finally give up, the police instead appear first. Marmon begs them off and states the real murderer(s) are due. The couple, the cops, Marmon, and finally the embalmers are present. He reveals the fake necklace and lays the claim before the embalmers, whom stridently deny the accusations. There is no evidence. Or is there? Didn’t Bernice perchance see her brother’s killers? She did. She walks in and everyone is stunned. The conclusion is evident, as she points out who the killers are….

The Embalmers carries no byline. The story was originally published under his alias Garry Grant in Dime Mystery Magazine (March 1936).

Both stories are fun, entrancingly interesting reads. I look forward to obtaining and reading further stories by Frederick C. Davis in the near future. Stay tuned !!!

Three Miles from Murder by Frederick C. Davis