Dead on Delivery was published mid-1950 by Scion Ltd. and represents the 9th novel written by Bevis Winter under the Al Bocca pseudonym. The cover art is signed Gomez; one of several aliases of Philip Mendoza who also signed as: Garcia, Zero, Ferrari, etc.
Al Bocca just can’t seem to keep his sorry arse out of trouble. The novel opens with Bocca at the train station, waiting to pick up Mulligan (an assistant) and reminiscences over his last assignment, the Durrimer case. Then a luscious doll-face departs the locomotive and latches her body and lips to his face. She’s in a fit of hysterics; a meathead is following her, and appears to intend harm. Bocca looks big and strong, and she wants to appear to be in his company. Bocca hasn’t time for her drama, and since she won’t reveal the nature of her woes, he hands her his business card, tosses her inside his personal car, and see ya later. The driver (Harry) is given instructions to drive her anywhere she wants, but to be sure to lose the brute tailing her. Harry takes off, and the brute hops a car and tears off in hot pursuit.
A costly mistake, but we’ll return to that in a moment. Mulligan deserves some air-time…
Mulligan walks out of the train station and locates Bocca watching the cars race away. Bocca explains the recent development, and Mulligan, ever appreciative of the fine female species, wants facts and figures.
“What kinda dame? Big, small, fat, thin, dark, light, easy…?” and Bocca replies: “Five feet five of glamour, one hundred and fourteen pounds, strawberry blonde, nice legs, good bust.”
Lemme tell ya, Bocca robbed Mulligan of his original impression. For us readers, earlier, he went on at great length to ensure us she was worthy of attention, even going so far as to note the type of perfume she was wearing. To say she left an aromatic impression wouldn’t be going far enough, given she practically body-melded Bocca and gave him the lip treatment.
Am I boring you? I’m boring you…
Mulligan and Bocca head to the latter’s apartment and are met by a hyper Harry (the driver, remember?). He vomits that the brute was unshakable, across town, around the park, through the Ennever Tunnel (the what?!?!) across town again, back to Vine (where?), then the car stalled at Graham and Third (yeah, okay, I give up). The nameless dame jumps from the dead vehicle, hot-foots it, the brute gives chase, Harry ditches his wheels and lends his feet to the concrete, pours on the speed, down an alley, and they vanish. He hears a shot; then another. Finds the gal dead, a bloody mess, and the brute is long gone.
Now we have a dead girl and a mystery. Bocca tells Harry to provide the police with basic information, but leave Bocca’s name out of it. Picked up the girl at the train station arriving from Dorval (where??? there is NO such place in California) and you know the rest. We eventually learn she left her purse in Harry’s car and that the brute must have returned to the scene of the crime; she’d been stripped, and Bocca’s business card is missing from the purse and her body. He’s certain the cretin now knows a P.I. is involved.
Al Bocca is certain of one thing: he feels responsible for the young lady’s untimely demise. Obtaining the purse, he dumps out the contents. No identification. The most substantial clues are a ring of keys and hurried note. Following the semi-cryptic clue, Bocca finds himself phoning the address of a Mrs. Gloria Kerr-Smith. She answers the call, and Bocca carefully alludes to the unknown girl. Gloria panics and agrees to meet Bocca at her home. He arrives, enters, they meet, and she is one sexy dame.
Bocca unveils the truth concerning the dead girl, and Gloria breaks down in tears over the loss of her friend, Arlene Raynor. Turns out Miss Raynor shares the same occupational hazard as Bocca: private investigations. She operated her own outfit out in Dorval with partner Loretta Carson. Bocca is gobsmacked to discover the young 20s-something hotty was a P.I. like him. But Gloria has more surprises.
The plot as presented by Gloria Kerr-Smith:
1. she is the sole child of her father’s business empire.
2. she dated and eventually married a man her father did not approve of.
3. daddy cut off her $5,000 allowance certain her hubby (George) was a piece of dirt.
4. said piece of dirt confesses to stealing her jewels after they were reported stolen by person’s unknown.
5. The jewels were previously insured, and the agency coughs up $125,000.
6. Gloria does not inform her father because he detests the media. It would spell S.C.A.N.D.A.L.
And because no proper crime novel is complete without a web of intrigue, we have some more overlapping scandals involved. Seems daddy is married to his second wife, a much younger woman. While he has been busy working his tail off for the American government, she’s having an affair with Adrian Calbrook. She wrote him numerous love letters, sent unscrupulous photos, etc.
Adrian meanwhile is deep in debt to George Kerr-Smith’s gambling rooms. In order to pay off the debts, Calbrook turns heel and blackmails his wayward lover. Those letters and photos eventually are acquired by George to settle the remaining debt, and George then uses the same materials to continue blackmailing Gloria’s father’s wife (Marie). The arrangement is simple: George demands, Marie sends money to the middle-man (er, middle-woman, rather) in the form of her daughter-in-law, Gloria, to collect. Gloria turns it over to George. Gloria eventually is tired of all this and unburdens her soul to childhood friend Arlene Raynor. She deals her hand in and promises to discretely obtain the letters and photos, despite Gloria’s protests to not get her involved.
Al shows Gloria the keys, and eventually she recognizes one key as potentially belonging to a deposit box at a bank in Dorval, where George’s gambling business is located. Gloria makes sexual advances and Bocca is warm-blooded and eager to be drained dry, but smells a rat. Gloria is holding back some information, but he hasn’t a clue as to what. The brute, if he was employed by George, certainly does not require the stolen ring of keys to enter the bank’s deposit box. All he needs to do is present himself and valid identification, and claim to have lost the key.
So, at the heart of all these problems it appears that George is the ultimate beast that needs manhandling. However, Bocca describes the brute that murdered Miss Raynor. Gloria hasn’t a clue who he is; he isn’t her louse of a husband! So, who is the brute? Is he associated with George Kerr-Smith? Or is there a third faction involved?
To add some fresh data to this series, Bocca is called “Alphonse” at one point. Is that the full name for Al Bocca? I’d like to see that name pop up in another novel to be sure.
Next day, Mulligan and Bocca drive Gloria out to the fictional town of Dorval, park outside the bank. Al and Gloria enter, fill out required forms, and are shown to the box. She enters the key, withdraws an envelope containing the letters and photos. She’s further excited to spot a small box that contains her stolen jewels, only, the box is empty! The swine has already removed the jewels.
Departing the bank, the trio are run off the road by some hulking hoodlums carrying foul-talking gats. Realizing they had Gloria in a potential cross-fire, Al orders his partner to drop his gun. They are extracted from the car, and searched for the papers. They realize they must be on Gloria, and shred her dress, leaving her stark naked in the effort (I imagine her undies aren’t touched, as that would be too much for English censors). Declothed, the hoodlums extract the papers hidden under breasts, and depart, leaving the trio stranded with a busted car.
Al Bocca is annoyed. Gloria clearly lied, and he finally throws it in her face regarding the blackmail papers, that he is aware George could have accessed the bank anytime without those keys. She realizes the peril of the situation, and reveals the truth… Her father had developed some form of top-secret technology in his chemical laboratories. The papers were not just letters and photos: they were blueprints. George is working with the “commies.”
Now, how to find the hoodlums? Skipping ahead, Bocca visits George’s apartment. He is certain one of the keys on the ring must open the door. No need…while inserting the first key, he turns the knob and it opens easily. Wasn’t locked. Unlimbering his hardware, he sneaks in and catches a young lady making to exit but she is caught by Bocca in her attempt. She is revealed to be the late Miss Raynor’s partner, Loretta Carson! And on the ground at her feet is a very dead George. Apparently the third-party no longer required his services, having obtained the blueprints.
Despite not being involved with the case, Loretta’s friend had leaked some of the data to her. After reading of her partner’s demise in the newspapers as an unidentified corpse, she investigated George herself and make various discoveries. One was that he was working with the “Agents of Freedom,” a group of shady characters associated with the commies. Bocca convinces Loretta to chat in safe privacy at her apartment. They hit romantically off (ah, more required padding) and between chat and making out we have both driving off to the “Agents of Freedom” headquarters in a seedy part of town.
Convinced he has found their HQ, he instructs Loretta to locate a callbox, phone his partner for backup, and to tell the police everything. Bring all forces to his rescue, for Bocca intends to do something he swears he is not cut out for: heroics.
Locating the gang’s secreted car, he pops the hood and removes various parts to make it nonfunctional, wipes grease over his face, and then heads upstairs semi-disguised in the hopes the hoodlums that stripped Gloria naked won’t immediately recognize him. It works. He pawns himself off as a lowlife associate of “the brute” that killed Miss Raynor (who by the way is dead, courtesy of Mulligan saving Al’s life during that “skip ahead” moment…sorry, but it saves a lot of time, mates!) and informs them that the brute was captured by the police and is confessing everything. They panic, but quickly begin completing their assignment, having made miniature copies of the blueprints. Climbing all up to the building’s turret, Bocca is mortified to see they attach the documents to a carrier pigeon and release it!
Realizing he must compromise his life, Bocca draws his hidden gun, pushes it through the slats, and shoots the pigeon. All hell breaks loose. Guns are drawn, Bocca is in a gun-battle, and eventually finds himself safely behind a surviving hoodlum, who has his boss at his own back, gun drawn. Neither Bocca nor the boss can shoot without slaying the hoodlum. Not that the boss cares, but shooting the hoodlum means exposing himself to Bocca’s lead. After both slowly circle the motionless-one, the boss escapes and bars the door, then douses the door and lights it. Both men inside suddenly find themselves on agreeable terms, to save each other. But neither can break down the door!
Thankfully, sirens sound, guns begin blazing. The cavalry has arrived. Bocca busts out some slats from the turret to obtain air, and his suffocating companion thrusts forward for fresh air. An opportune moment, and Bocca slaps his gun over his head, knocking the man unconscious.
The novel essentially ends. The crooks are captured attempting to flee in the sabotaged car. The downed pigeon is found and the blueprints retrieved. Al is dining with Gloria and her father and his wife. Turns out while he and Marie were away on a trip, Marie confessed everything, including her infidelity and the stolen blueprints. All for nothing. He had already changed the plans and the blueprints; had they made their way to the commies, they would have been utterly useless. Despite that, his wife’s confession strengthened their love and devotion, and he admires Bocca for his own heroic adventures, despite the fact it was actually not necessary. But Al Bocca didn’t KNOW that. So, he offers his widowed daughter Gloria as reward, and a position at his chemical plant making a vast amount of money.
Bocca turns it all down, but accepts the $10,000 reward, drives away, and calls up Loretta. Is she interested in some alone time down in Miami, or maybe Florida? Yeah, that’s how it ends. Let’s think about this…Miami or Florida? Was this a typo on Bevis Winter’s part, or, was it intentional that he had Al Bocca offer the city of Miami and then follow it up with Florida as an option, insinuating that either way, he’s bringing her there? Who knows! Knowing Bevis’s humorous habits, I’d like to think it was truly intended to sound idiotic. Personally, I’d love to see Al Bocca and Loretta Carson team up as business associates in future novels, but I’d wager this doesn’t happen. In any case, I can’t wait to dive into the next Al Bocca novel on my shelf.
If you have any Al Bocca novels on your shelf that you aren’t particularly attached to, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Books are meant to be read, and if your copy is languishing, gathering dust, I’d like a crack at that book.
As an additional note, the rear cover to Dead on Delivery supplies an entirely fictional bio for Al Bocca. It is rather amusing, and I decided to present it here for your perusal. Someone had a load of fun creating it.