Goodis' first pulp story, 1939 ("Mysteries of the White Slave trade," Gangland Detective Stories:"Dink Bauer didn't know [that floozie's] vengeful passion would turn him into a chopper-ridden corpse."Jump to: It's a Wise Cadaver The Plunge Professional Man
Goodis’ short stories span the entire range of his career from 1939 to about 1960. Therefore, the incidents, plots, and responses to fate and betrayal are similar in both his stories and his novels. Pulp magazine writers use crime, detective, horror, war, exotic adventure, and any combination of story that exploits a sinister atmosphere. That is due to the way these genres imply panic, fear, hatred, aggression, vengeance and venality as what seem to be survival strategies. The best stories comment on the entanglement in and resignation to a bureaucratic system that ignores corruption, taxes regressively, and demands war-time preparedness. "It's a Wise Cadaver," New Detective (1946) has hints of Goodis' major themes. Poverty (Greenwich Village tenement) makes a father desperate. His son has lied to him and not given him money for his part in a con scheme. Considering his son worthless, he kills him with an axe. Goodis leads us to wonder if the father feels remorse. But he kills himself by jumping out of a window – whether for remorse or b/c he knows a gang boss whose money was invested in the scheme will find him and torture him to death (“know what he will do to you”?). A title Goodis may have used earlier—“The Laughing Trap”—might have been better applied to this story, if the person laughing was the same indifferent force—a street, the moon-- that that sneered at the protagonists in The Moon in the Gutter, Behold This Woman, or Night Squad.
In The Plunge" (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, 1958) the detective Roy Childers, with a solid family life, is unfaithful b/c he has fallen for a classy center city apt – dweller, who is the mistress of a criminal whom the cop knew as a kid in a tough neighborhood. The criminal has been nothing but kind and frank with the young woman. He is now being hunted, accused of murder. Childers wants to be with her regardless of the agony that awaits him as a betrayer of the police force, his wife and children, and his community. He has shut himself off from the “sane,” “responsible,” part of himself, in order to save his soul by being honest about his spontaneous but deeply real needs. “It didn’t make sense . . . it was a kind of lunacy.” But for Roy Childers there is no turning back. In the white heat of a moment of blazing recrimination and gunfire, the lieutenant kills the mobster. Now, the woman cannot trust Roy. A moment later he finds out that his professional adversary was not guilty.. At this point, he is cut adrift from his deepest self, from his soul. There is nothing beyond his double-barreled guilt and single-minded self-loathing but a void. He opens a window, speaking into the indifferent universe, begging forgiveness of a wife from whom he had kept his disloyalty. He had “tried so hard to be clean” but had “got[ten] himself all dirty.” As he plunged to his death, “He began to feel clean again.” That sacrifice hurts his family terminally, and his colleagues as well.
The one second of wrong decision is like Eddie or Cassidy – fate, bad luck, beyond power to control.
Freddy Lamb, a "Professional Man" (Manhunt, 1953), operates an elevator by day and is a hit man by night. Herman Charn, his boss, is obsessed with testing his men’s loyalty. Freddy is tested by Charn's assignment to kill Pearl. She has rejected the boss, b/c she is in love with Freddy. He forces himself to carry out the boss’s orders.
Freddie’s way of freeing himself from Charn and his combine was to stab himself in the heart after slitting Pearl’s throat. Herman had told Freddie, “You gotta need me as much as I need you.” The boss lost his investment, not quite being correct in his assessment that his hit man “was all ice and no soul, strictly a professional.”
“Professional Man” is a story of self-entrapment and moral failure, not b/c the protagonist is tied to monetary gain or a coward, but b/c—like almost everybody else—he doesnot have it in him to be independent. He is a lamb, in an environment where such a person is a certain loser, a Nowhere Man.
Key plot elements in pulp are entrapment, murder as business, violence as a way of life, sexual compulsion, and blind, indifferent fate. Goodis’ heroes, however manic, entrapped, self-isolated, detached and sometimes facing existence with an ironic, no-where man kind of smile, are not mean or vicious. They have souls, and they know it. So they are lonely, angry, and distrusted. Their tragedies are those of The Common Man in post-war America.
Here is Pilot Goodis, noble loser, bailing out, East of Chunking, amid Zeros--in a bad dream. There was no pulp genre more dedicated to making readers proud of their country than the air war yarns in which Goodis excelled. He was a sort of king of the genre (rather as H Ron Hubbard was king of sci-fi yarns): Army-Navy Flying Stories, Fighting Aces, RAF Aces, Flying Aces, Wings, Battle Birds, Dare Devil Aces, Captain Combat, The Lone Eagle. Collector and author Walker Martin estimates that he may have written 100 of these. Since he developed a reputation among publishers of the genre, when one or more stories under the house names Byron P Short, Roy C Raney, David Crewe, Logan C. Claybourne, Roy Shotwell, and/or Lance Kermit
“Kid Brother”, RAF Aces (Canadian), Dec 1944 The “kid” is a conscientious objector. He is thought, of course, to be a coward. After an altercation with a soldier at an airfield, which leads to the latter being killed in the Nazi raid, the kid is told that if he is sorry, he should go fight for his country. So he does, out of remorse at his part in the soldier’s death. “A mad mixture of anguish and horror and self-hatred made a torturing flame within him.” Goodis builds up suspense as Allan refuses to shoot but escapes the Nazi planes through skill. But when he sees his brother in trouble, he does. “It’s taken a rather rough sky party [Brit dry wit] to prove to me you can’t fight Nazi bullets with peace pamphlets.” While Goodis' conscientious objector story line is daring in an air war yarn, it pales in comparison with Steve Fisher’s “For My Country” (Fighting Aces, November 1940), set during World War I. Flier Marvin Miller must watch while his brother is executed for cowardice. He refused to engage a German pilot and flew away. The reason was, the condemned man confides to his brother, that a third brother, John, was flying the German bi-plane. He had been in Germany in 1914 and was impressed into the air force. Later, Marvsights his brother, and begs off, explaining that his guns jammed. But the next day, as John waves at him from his cockpit, Marvin dispatches his brother’s plane.
“ The Cloud Wizard,” Sky Raiders, February 1943: Bersbee was a leader of his RAF squadron, with 27 kills. He gave the other flyers confidence they had to have. A reclusive soul who never executed playboy-type spins and sharp dives, he was a detached, severe individual, but as he had saved many fellow flyers with Messerschmidts on their tails, his aloofness simply made him more God-like. One flyer, Meader, wants to speak with him. The result is a fist fight with a member of the squadron that does not want Bersbee annoyed. Later, Meader learns of the pressure Bersbee was under as he tried to figure out the math formulae that would make him and the group successful. Bersbee breaks down weeping when Meader forces the explanation out of him—a binge of desk-pounding, paper-crumpling howls “like a child who purposely tries to cry so hard he cannot catch his breath.” Meader, appalled, blames his own lone wolf stubbornness at finding out the proper explanation for whatever comes into his line of vision. Perhaps he too was a little too tough. The next day Bersbee dies in his Spitfire, refusing, as Meader knew he would, to bail out. And Meader takes Bersbee’s place as the anxious lone wolf, existing with the slide rule and mathematical calculations that he uses to perfect the flying skills that save many men, as he dives from the clouds to surprise the Nazis. He is the new larger-than-life super hero with the same secret life that eventually martyred his predecessor.
The highest flyers suffer and sacrifice the most, in many kinds of pulp.