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.