You want me to tell you about Zim? I don’t know you. And I never forget a pretty face. . . . Sure, I worked over at the Mirror years ago. Probably before you were born. There wasn’t a single dame in the entire newsroom back then. I guess times have changed. For the better, heh? But if Barry George sent you over, then you must be okay. . . . Cass, is it? Just call me Jim. Is that shorthand you’re doing? Geez! Chicken scratch. Nobody’s gonna be reading over your shoulder. But let me tell you about the old days. I had a stubby pencil and a notebook and the best I could do was to spell the names correctly. . . . Yeah. I got canned. That was because of Mayor John F. Hylan. Sonofa—I’d tell you what the ‘F’ stood for—But that’s why I gave it up.
Right. So this is what I know. At least what I’ve heard. The part that I think is true.
No. Just cream. I can get you some milk out of the icebox if you want it?
So. Despite what you read in your own paper, it wasn’t Joan who caused any of it. She might not be innocent, but she was a bystander right up to the end, almost. . . . Joan? Yeah. I did my time waiting in the outer office at Daring. Smart cookie. But I never got to first base.
It was Florrie that was the first guy to get a hook on Zim. This was something of a surprise to me, you see, because Florrie was the last guy you’da thought needed the help.
You know Florenz Patterson. Sure you do. But you probably know him better by the name of Gunther Grab or Forrest Fern. You’ve might’a read some of his ‘Ready Evans’ stories in Black Mask. He wrote under a lot of names. There were issues of Wild West that he wrote almost single-handedly using five different monikers. Not many of the New York guys have ever been on a horse or much else west of the Poconos. Hell, Clarence Mulford even writes his ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ stories from up in Fryeburg, Maine, for Christ sake! But they are all good at making the best use of what little experience they know.
Florrie once woke up from a dead drunk down at the police stables, nestled in a pile of manure for the warmth. It was winter at the time. He never remembered how he got there, but that resulted in the ‘Fast Burk’ series. You’ve read those maybe. The jockey detective? No? In any event, Florrie was a generous guy for a tight-wad sonofabitch penny-a-word man. For a while there he was churning out stories so fast that the pennies were adding up to dollars. He bought a Packard. Got drunk. Wrapped it around a tree up on Pelham Parkway. Went right out and bought a Cadillac. But before that, he was the one who first discovered George Zim.
Have another cup a’ Joe? Yeah. This might take a while. The answers to some questions aren’t so simple.
No. I can say this for sure, though, not as simple as a cheap headline. When that hack Vince Fosdick walked into Bill Grogan’s office at Power Publications last week and shot poor Bill in the eye, it was just damn lucky he didn’t get Bill’s good eye or you guys would have never had all that ready-made material. Vince always used a typewriter and not a pen to churn out his line of dreck anyway, but still, you all got it wrong. That was not Bill’s sword. Bill was in the Philippines, and in Mexico, and in France, but he never carried a sword. That was his granddaddy’s sword from the Civil War. Bill just kept it up on the shelf there behind him for sentimental reasons. And there was no fight. No tussle. Bill stuck that sonavabitch Fosdick up against the wall like a butterfly with one thrust. Bill wasn’t one to waste any energy. Especially when he was about to take his last breath. You guys just couldn’t resist the easy one-liner about the ‘sword is mightier than the pen’ after all. Three cartoons in three papers the same day all working the same angle. You all should all be embarrassed.
Yeah. I was talking about when Florrie met Zim. But it’s all related. Right? Or why would you be in here asking about all that old news now?
So it all started one evening when Florrie was down to the Chelsea Diner on Ninth Avenue. It’s where a lot of the guys went when the pay-day came because Sally took their checks and they all ran tabs. Besides, she’s a heavy reader. And it’s where Florrie was that summer night, right in the middle of a feast. He’d just gotten Kennicott over at the Blue Book to pay up on a couple of stories from the year before. This would be in early ’35. Florrie was ready to celebrate. By himself, of course. No one in the per-word trade would think of breaking bread with old Florrie otherwise. No one liked him.
Just then, this guy comes in and sits down at the next stool and orders soup. This fella is wearing a good Burberry coat that’s a little frayed at the cuffs, over the remains of what must at one time have been a three-piece suit. But the guy just orders soup. Sally starts to go get it and then stops and says “Don’t I know you?” The guy looks innocent like ‘Who, me?’ Sally says, “I know you! You shaved off your beard, but I know you. You couldn’t pay for your dinner last time. Right? You stiffed us for a Salisbury steak. Right? Right? I remember you. You’re the phony writer!”
The guy looked pained to hear that. But Sally reaches below the counter and pulls out some coffee stained pages. She says, “You gave me this! What am I gonna do with this? Heh? It’s not even finished. Bad enough you talked me into taking your goddamn story for the price of a meal—-I get to the end and it isn’t even finished. What kind of trick is that. What kind of deal is that for a Salisbury steak?”
Now this fits with Sally–her heart’s made of butter. She’d given me more than one cup of coffee through the years when I was working the penny-a-word trade and didn’t have the nickel. Now the guy is looking pretty sheepish. He finally just says, “I couldn’t—” chokes on his words and starts to leave.
But remember, Florrie is flush. He’s got most of fifty bucks in his pocket. Blue Book used to pay more then. Up to a three cents a word—when they paid. And Florrie’s been watching this little drama for full entertainment value. But when the guy gets up to go, it pulls a string on Florrie’s heart. Right. Hard to believe he has one. Not like with Sally. Florrie used to be a newspaper reporter, you see. Yeah. Just like you or me. But he walked out on a wife and kids down in Philadelphia when the Enquirer found out he was making stuff up. Now, Florrie’s thick skinned. He just turned around and started writing fiction full time. And we all took him for what he was. But something about the other fellow that night just got through to whatever was still beating in Florrie’s chest and it makes him speak up.
He says, “I’ll pay for it. I’ll buy his dinner, Sally. And if you give me those pages, I’ll pay for the Salisbury steak too.”
The deal was done.
Then Florrie proceeds to chat the guy up for a couple of hours or so while they eat. And it turns out he’s an interesting guy. Says his name is George Zim. Florrie vaguely remembers the name from years before. He was with the Minneapolis Star just after the War, but made a name for himself working for Asia Magazine in the late 20’s. Made his way all over China and India. Florrie knows a little bit about airplanes from time he spent pushing broom at an aerodrome over in England during the war so he uses his two cents to loosen Zim up a bit.
Now I found out about a good deal of this well after the fact because I got to know Sally a little bit better later on, as you know, but this was before we started trading recipes. So don’t quote me.
As I understand it, George Zim was born in 1900. Turns out, when school got boring in St. Paul, the kid ran away from home and joined the circus just like ‘Wash Tubbs‘ in the Sunday funnies. That lasted a season I guess, but Zim got tired of washing down the elephants and juggling apples and oranges at the ticket counter, and shoveling out the horse stalls. When the circus closed down that winter Zim found himself in Winnipeg, Canada during one very cold Christmas. I can’t imagine that. We’re the same age and about that same time I was still hugging on to my teddy bear.
There was no work to be had up on the farms, of course, and there was a war on, so Zim turned a six into an eight on his papers, and signed up with the Canadian Expeditionary force right out of Winnipeg. By July 1916, on his birthday, he was in Paris, France, and later got to see action at Morval during the battle of the Somme. He was injured there. A concussion I think. Well, it was about then the Canadians were losing pilots so fast that they were asking for volunteers in the field and Zim up and joined the Royal Air Force. And that’s where he stayed until 1918.
Zim ran away from St. Paul for the second time when his job at the Star got to including too many farm reports. He went to Chicago. He was the one who covered Jack Knight’s transcontinental airmail flights for the Times. He interviewed Major Macready before he did the first non-stop coast to coast. He could fly a plane pretty well himself so Macready took him right up there with him during test flights. And it was from Chicago that he later went on to China.
But for some reason no one knew that night at the Chelsea Diner, the guy had fallen on hard times. So the two of them talk right through a full roast beef dinner, four or five cups of coffee and a pack of cigarettes.
And that night Florrie takes the story home that Sally gave him and reads it. And damn! It’s the goods. Florrie is gobsmacked. This guy Zim can really write. Only it isn’t finished. Just like Sally said. The story isn’t complete. So Florrie finished it that night. He knows right off how it should end. He retypes the whole damn thing before dawn and hands it in over at Daring Publications the next morning. But now it’s got his own name on it.
Get this, Florrie goes down to the Daring Offices on Madison and 23rd and sits right down on the desk of Herbert Glick—Glick was editing Daring Detective at the time—and refuses to leave unless Glick reads the first page. If I pulled that stunt with Glick he would start laughing and wouldn’t stop until he’d managed to throw me out onto Madison Avenue. But Glick reads the first page, and then the second. And the third. He reads the whole damn thing right there on the spot. Bingo. Sale.
And Daring Detective pays up front. Florrie is riding high now. He buys a bottle of good rye, finds a lonely gal on the closest corner and takes her home to his hotel room. . . . Sorry. You’re a reporter. You’ve seen worst. So, Florrie was living down at the Champlain on 22nd Street at that time. Nice place. No roaches. No bed bugs. Twenty bucks a week. I stayed there myself once.
Now, to be fair, the pulp trade is a hard grind for most guys. They have to be able to produce two or three stories a week to pay the bills. If they don’t have families to support, they have other habits. You’ll see a lot of guys out there on the street these days who were once in the trade but couldn’t keep up with it. As fast as the magazines eat the stuff up, there is always some punk with a fresh face and a new bag of tricks.
My figure is that Florrie must have been getting tired. The easy mark was the one to hit.
Well, then, the next week Florrie can’t get anything to crank. No ideas at all. Daring Detective even calls him for something else to put in their next issue and Florrie tries to steal something from the daily rags. . . . Yeah. Sorry about that. Everybody does that. You guys never tell the whole story anyway. Just pick a good headline, change the names and add the ending. Easy as pie! But this time nothing works. The next week, the same thing. And then another week. After a month Florrie’s closing in on broke again. He’s going to have to move out of the Champlain.
And then, right there, shoved into the shelf next to him, he spots that original story from the guy at the Chelsea diner. He pulls it out and sees there’s an address on the top. That’s when he first got the bright idea to go down to Avenue A and look up Zim. But Zimm’s not home.
Now Florrie is still Florenz Patterson of the Philadelphia Pattersons. That is to say, he is a schmuck. He has no intention of telling Zim that he’s stolen the guy’s story and published it under his own name. He just goes down there and sits on the stoop until Zim gets back. And the whole while he’s waiting he’s staring at a pile of trash on the curb and watching the bums come by and pick it over and then wander away.
Finally, the guy arrives. But Zim stops at the curb before he even sees Florrie. He looks stunned. Then suddenly he throws himself on that pile of trash and starts to sob as he roots through the mess. Florrie gets up and moves closer, but there is not much he can do, until Zim finally rises up with a small black book in one hand, and a smile on his face through the tears. With that in his hand, he just sits down again, on the remains of a chair.
This is a thin guy, maybe 5’ 6” tall, in a brown Burberry that would have fit somebody thirty pounds heavier, and a battered black fedora—looks like that new guy at the movies, Humphrey Bogart, but on a bad day—and he’s sitting in a pile of trash hugging a little black book like it has all the answers to life itself.
No. It’s not a Bible. It’s just a little note-book.
Florrie realizes that the pile of trash is really just the contents of the room Zim was living in. After a minute, when he thinks Zim has calmed down, Florrie reintroduces himself. Reminds Zim of their conversation at the diner and of the meal Florrie bought him. He asked Zim what’s going on.
It turns out Zim’s rent was only eight dollars a month with occasional heat, but the guy was three months behind. Florrie’s mind is working fast now. He tells Zim why he came by. He needs some inspiration. He’s run dry. And from their previous conversation, Florrie got the idea that Zim might have a story or two to share. Florrie says he’d be willing to pay for it. Zim says no problem. He’s got more ideas for stories than he knows what to do with. Right there, on the curb, Zim holds this little black note-book, up close in front of his face and pages through it.
Florrie realizes that Zim is running around without glasses. The guy is nearly blind now on top of everything else.
Well, Florrie can’t wait. He rings the bell for the building super and chats him up. They make a deal. Florrie pays that month’s rent for Zim in advance and the last month’s rent and promises to catch up on the rest at a later time if Zim can stay. Deal!
Then, with Zim still in the chair on the curb, looking at his little book, Florrie and the super move the rest of the pile of trash back into Zim’s room.
Finally, Zim closes up his little black book again and after a minute he says. “There is a fellow, a scientist at Columbia, who is fading out. Just disappearing. He wakes up one morning and looks in the mirror to shave and sees the shadow of something right behind him. And it’s not an optical illusion. Everyday it’s getting worse. He goes to the doctor. The doctor tells him it’s true. He’s never seen anything like it. He’s becoming transparent . . .”
Right there on the sidewalk at Avenue A, Zim tells Florrie this great tale. Well you know the story, X rays and all. ‘Shadow Man.’ It was the top title in Daring Adventures for 1935. They strung it out for three issues. Somebody else even re-stole it, and gave it the Hollywood haircut for a film with George Brent. Big hit. But what you don’t know is that only the end of that yarn was all Florenz Patterson. Zim had given him everything except the end for it. No finish. And if there was one thing Florrie knew how to do, it was finish.
The next week, Florrie is back again. This time, seeing how the guy is looking a little pale, he offers to take Zim out to dinner. For the price of a liverwurst sandwich and two beers at McSorley’s, Zim opens his little black book again and sticks his nose down in the pages.
And that story? That story was even better than the first. That was China Dawn. Yes! That made it all the way to the Saturday Evening Post. Florrie knew a good tale when he had it. He didn’t waste it on the pulps. And he used his own name on that one too. That one made it all the way to Hollywood right after Shadow Man. Yeah. Gary Cooper. Madeleine Carroll. You saw that, right? Foreign correspondent in Shanghai trying to get the missionary’s daughter out before the Japs take the city. Lord! Madeleine Carroll! What a woman. And for that one, Florrie got full credit on the film too. He was rolling in dough then. That was when he bought the car. You know all about that, right?
But it was before that when everything really started to fall apart. The Post didn’t run China Dawn until later in ’36. Meanwhile Florrie had his rent to pay at the Champlain. And now he had Zim’s rent to cover down on Avenue A, as well.
About once a week, Florrie starts showing up at Zim’s door and takes him out to dinner. Zim was very grateful. That was probably the only substantial food he was getting at the time. But a man cannot live on liverwurst alone. Even with the two beers. And even Florrie could see that. So each visit he would stuff a couple of extra bucks in Zim’s pocket when they parted. Very generous.
What? You’re wondering what Zim is doing with himself the whole time. Right? We don’t really know, but it seems he used to go to the museums or the library a whole lot. Some place to stay warm I guess.
And in the mean time, Florrie is moving up the food chain himself. One week he has something in Argosy. The next month he’s in Blue Book again. A Black Mask here. A Dime Detective there. Even the Post took another one. Florrie is eating well and the girls on the corner are seeing him every week. But Florrie’s real problem was the bottle. When he was short on cash, a quart of rye might last a good two weeks. With his pockets full, he was knocking down a couple or three quarts a week, not counting his visits to McSorley’s with Zim.
And when Florrie was drunk, he talked. I know this first hand.
When Christmas came that year, Daring Publications had their annual soiree. They rent the Hibernian Hall on Fourth Avenue and invite all the other magazines to join in. A good affair. Lots of schmoozing. All the editors and writers show up for the free booze. But more important, all those secretaries show. And that’s where the real trouble is. And I was there. I saw it all unfold.
Pete Barron from Thrilling never liked Florrie and that situation was only magnified by the fact that Florrie never sent any of his work there. Now, with Florrie hot in the market, Pete’s boss, Leo Margulies, wants to know why, and this has rubbed things a little raw. Everybody wants a piece of the hot pie before it cools off. You know.
Florrie had said things here and there over the previous months that had people wondering. Just a bit here, and a bit there. Now, all together in the same room, the word was going around. Florrie was getting his stuff from somebody else! And Pete Barron puts two and two together. He knows the trade. He knows all the authors worth knowing. Hell, he’d started with All-Story back in the first days of Tarzan of the Apes. And more than once, back in the 20’s, he’d encountered pieces by George Zim.
What is it about some material? You can tell who wrote it without the name. Even with Florrie’s re-write, Zim’s mark was on the stuff. Running food relief by aeroplane into Sikiang during the siege. Flying into a forest fire in Montana to save a bunch of railroad workers. Fighting a dope ring on the docks in San Francisco. Chasing off bandits along with a dinosaur hunter in Mongolia. This wasn’t the world of Florenz Patterson of the Philadelphia Pattersons. Even the fantastic stuff was outside of the usual fare. Who in 1935 was envisioning another planet in a balanced orbit around the sun exactly opposite to the earth? Hell, who understood enough about nuclear physics to imagine a bomb the size of a Studebaker could wipe out New York City?
It was Zim.
Zim had gone to Germany in 1924 for the Chicago Times to hitch a ride on Hugo Eckener’s first Zeppelin flight to Lakehurst N.J. But the flight was delayed, so he stayed a while in Berlin with an aunt who was a secretary to some Hungarian physics professor there. He and the professor got to be beer buddies. And let me tell you, that one had cost Astounding Science a small wad when the government made them pull the whole print run. But Florrie still got paid. Twice as a matter of fact. The Federales paid him afterwards not to write about such things again.
Well it was Pete Barron who guessed what was up. Right there, on the floor of the Hibernian Hall, with all the secretaries kicking it up to the sound of some orchestra, Pete Barron said as much. Pete’s problem was that he lacked about thirty pounds weight and six inches in height. Florrie took him out with one punch.
But too late. Now the news was out. And nobody can be more resourceful than a pack of pulp writers who smell a wad of dough. And now each of them was in it for themselves.
The next up in line was Phil Parks. Phil had been a hot shot on Wall Street before the crash. He never used his own name because there were too many investors still looking for him. You might know him as Donald Crimmins from Daring Adventures or Daring Detective or one of the Thrilling books. But his big hit finally came with the ‘Fanny Pierce’ series—You know, the minister’s daughter trying to make her way in the world as a nurse, smart as a whip, chaste as new fallen snow—she just can’t stay put when there’s good to be done. The set-up seemed old fashioned. Sure. But the fact is, it was real. That character was based on Sarah Fearing—really just the same character everybody fell in love with in China Dawn. It was Reverend Thomas Fearing’s daughter that George Zim had fallen in love with during his China days.
And for reasons we will never know, she had rejected him. And then it was too late. You might have missed the short bit in Time Magazine about her going missing back in ’32. She was up in Manchuria by then. I think it was politics that kept it quiet.
Rice pudding’s a dime. Yeah. We put extra egg in it.
Well, the ‘Fanny Pierce’ series would have run forever if Phil Parks hadn’t gotten himself killed. After he’d extracted that scenario out of Zim, he could have run with it all by himself if he’d been smart.
And then there was Charles Jones. He started going to the bank every week with the ‘Chris Tell’ stories. Better than selling encyclopedias which is what he did door to door until ’31 when a lot of people stopped buying such things. Charles fancied himself an ‘intellectual’ because he’d spent so much time reading his sample copies. Funny thing was he didn’t know much of anything beyond the letter ‘g.’ But lumberjacks who investigate murders? Not a common area of endeavor. Of course George Zim had worked up in Idaho and Montana for three years after he came back from China the last time. George wasn’t big enough for the saws but he could handle a truck and understood the chains. I think George tried to lose himself up there. But I guess when the long nights came, he couldn’t forget Sarah, the missionaries daughter. And you know that ‘Chris Tell’ character had the matter of fact quality people like in a hero. Not a lot of nuance. Straightforward. Honest. A little naive. I think even the girls were reading those issues of Argosy.
Even you. See? Refill?
I think it was Finley Barnes might have been the first one to figure out where George Zim was living after the word got around at the Daring Publications Christmas party. He has the nose of a bloodhound. He used to sell insurance and he could always smell a prospect. And when people started cutting back on insurance, it was that ugly nose of his that made him successful over at Black Mask and Thrilling Detective and the like. But his stuff was getting stale by 1935. Hammett had covered the ‘Pinkerton’ type story in Spades, so to speak. Yeah. But then Finley suddenly came up with the ‘Chicago Sam’ stories.
I know. Reports hate those. It doesn’t matter that a crime reporter can’t really spend the time Chicago Sam does on getting the facts. It’s the detail that makes those yarns work like little Swiss watches. And the description. Like when the jewels were hidden high in the alabaster bowl suspended beneath the ceiling light at the Chicago Public library. The grain of the stone hides everything but the glow of the ruby. “Like a drop of blood, suspended in the milk of the light.” I love that line. You know right then he has his man—or, in that case, woman. Finley Barnes went to town with what Zim gave him. At least a story a week. Even Hollywood was sniffing around again.
And all three of these guys knew how to finish a story, you understand. Never kill the kid or the dog—well, the dog can die but only if he’s lost while saving the kid. The hero always gets the girl. The girl always keeps her knees together, if you’ll excuse the expression. The bad guy always gets what he deserves. Right there you have the whole problem with Zim. That’s not the way it had worked out for him. He could make up a thousand stories, but it was never going to work out the right way for him.
But I think the problems really began when Phil and Finley and Charles started bumping into each other. Remember, these are writers, not fighters. A couple of writers in the middle of a fight is a comical sight. I’ve seen a few. So after one or two altercations, they just made a deal. They had it all figured out that Florrie never showed up at Zim’s except on Wednesdays. The reason for that was not obscure. It had to do with his ex-wife. She’d got tired of waiting for the check in the mail and used to come up from Philadelphia on Wednesday morning to collect the alimony in cash. So, on Wednesday afternoons, Florrie was broke. That, plus he had just about recovered from his weekend bust with the bottle.
Still, Florrie discovers right away that his situation has been made. He no longer has a private line on Zim. And he has two alternatives. Maybe three. He can make a deal with his competitors. He can kill them. Or, I suppose, he can quit.
You wouldn’t know this, but Florrie could take pain. He just couldn’t take much. In 1918 he shot off his small toe so the Army wouldn’t send him to Europe. They sent him anyway. He was assigned to KP for six months and then cleaned engine parts and cement floors at an aerodrome outside London. So, in this situation, he decides to keep the rest of his toes. He makes the deal. The four of them divide the days of the week up. They figure Zim might get a little chubby if they try to see him on weekends—given his sedentary habits during the day. And they leave one day free for emergencies—that is when one or the other can’t show up on his assigned day for some other reason.
Geez, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during those negotiations.
And what was Zim thinking the whole time? . . . He must have guessed. He might have known. But what was in his mind. Here he is playing Scheherazade to a bunch of thieves. I can’t even begin to speculate. The life he had once was gone. Life wasn’t worth living anymore, I suppose. One too many crashes. One too many concussions. His eyes were shot, so he could never fly again. He’d lost the love of his life. And he was a German Catholic. He wasn’t going to take the easy way out and commit suicide. Suffering was part of the deal for him, I think.
Every day he went out to the Library, or to the Museum of Natural History. I bumped into him myself up at the Metropolitan once. But I didn’t know it was him until I figured it later because Finley Parker was following him around like a puppy dog taking notes.
No. Actually, it was Sally who figured that all out. Plus, she listens. Amazing what a guy will tell a pretty girl across a counter.
When I finally saw Zim that first time at the library, he didn’t look so bad. He was eating better by then, of course. Four meals a week. He had the same coat, but someone had bought him a new pair of glasses. He must have been very grateful for those. He was a little pale. He looked more like the kind of guy he must have been once, but just a bit threadbare.
I can imagine those guys coming to Zim for material four days a week. Begging him. And him opening his little black book and reeling off yet another yarn. Day after day. By the summer of thirty-six, Zim must have been responsible for a lot of what we were all reading every week. I can only guess of course from the frequency of certain noms de plume—Is that how you make a plural out of that one? Pen names. You know—Well, there must have been some of Zim’s stuff in every story magazine that Union News carried. Westerns. Mysteries. Ranch Romances. And of course, the flying stories. Barnes had the lead serial about then in Zeppelin Adventures under the name Holly Andrews.
Did you know that George Zim had been up in the USS Shenandoah earlier on, and filed one of the first reports from Ohio when it went down because he’d flown out to the scene himself? That was when he was still working at the Times in 1925. And then he went to China the next year.
And Zimm keep poring over his little black book and pouring out the plots. My guess is that those creeps were making upwards of five hundred dollars a month while it lasted. Probably more. Besides Patterson and Barnes and Jones and Parks, there might actually have been others. But we can be sure of those four because of what happened at the end.
And my guess is that Zim knew nothing about it. He didn’t read the pulps. He didn’t even read the Saturday Evening Post. All Zim wanted to do now was write novels. That and spend his days down at the Museum of Natural History, or at the Library doing research. Otherwise he stayed away from the human race. And every night he sat in his little room on Avenue A and tried to finish something.
Yeah. Novels. He had an old Royal Number 10 and typed out fifty or a hundred pages at a whack. Only he never finished a story. Not one that we know of, anyway.
Well, the problems really escalated when Florrie got so drunk one night he was still drunk the next day when he showed up down at the Daring Publications office on Madison and 23rd.
Nice building. I worked there myself for a couple of years back in the twenties. Copy-editing, mostly.
So, Florrie shows up, like God’s gift, and wants to talk to Doug Kirk. Doug is managing editor and chief bottle washer over there. He’s always too busy to sit down. That, and if he did sit down he’d need a high chair. When he stands at his desk he looks like a fire hydrant waiting for the fireman. Yeah. Don’t you think? It’s the bowler hat that does it. He won’t take it off because he’s balding. But he keeps a rope on the budget. That’s why Daring made it through the financial crunch in ‘32 and ‘33. Not a nice guy, exactly, but okay. Fair.
And he doesn’t like drunks.
And Florrie comes in and accuses him of stealing one of his stories.
Well, that was bound to happen, I guess. Zim had related one tale or another more than once. Florrie had submitted a story to Daring and it was rejected because Florrie wanted too much per word. He was on his high horse by then. And then Herbert Glick later ran a story by Charles Jones with the same plot and characters in an April issue of Daring Detective. Florrie was outraged. Doug is not interested in outrage from a penny a word man on a winning streak. So Doug throws Florrie out on his ear. Bingo. Florrie wants the fight. Doug tells him to get lost. Florrie starts to brag. He says he has more stories like the ones Doug had bought before, and Daring Periodicals will never see a word of them.
Now, this is a mistake. Why? Because Doug Kirk has a secretary. And this is where Joan comes in. Nice girl. Corn fed. Out of the Indianapolis School for Women. The blond isn’t real but the curves are. And she had made the mistake of going out with Florrie a few times. That was before he was flush and he was on his best behavior because he wanted to get his stuff in with Kirk. He was just using her of course.
Well, Florrie had disappeared for a while when he first discovered Zim and got the piece in at Daring. Then he got a couple more with Street and Smith and a few at Popular Publications. And, of course, he had already hit the big time with China Dawn at the Post. It was after he got the check from the Post that he shows up one day and takes Joan out to dinner at the Stork Club. No telling what lines he used, but he gets her to drink too much. Then he takes advantage of her. . . . Well, we don’t know that, but we can guess. She suddenly hates his guts.
So now we’re back to the day he comes into the office at Daring again. And he’s bragging. Everybody knows now he’s sold the movie rights to China Dawn. He’s in the big time. And he comes in not just to brag, but to accuse Doug of theft! Got that. Doug Kirk was the thief! And like I said, Doug throws him out. Never pick a fight with a midget!
And that was when Joan puts two and two together from the Christmas party and all. And Joan, being the kind of resourceful secretary Doug Kirk would hire—she’s from Indiana, you see, and her Daddy is a Methodist preacher as well as a cabbage farmer, so she knows her onions. She gets on the phone and puts that farm girl’s arm on someone she knows who knows just what’s going on. And finally, it’s her that goes down to Avenue A to tell Zim what the real deal is.
The person Joan had called was Kelly O’Toole. Kelly is the secretary for Herbert Glick at Daring Detective. Kelly is not the smartest gal on the beach, but she has the reddest hair. For Kelly, gossip is a team sport. Kelly was at the Daring Christmas party along with the other girls. And Kelly knows more about this than anyone because she’s been seeing the encyclopedia salesman, Charles Jones, ever since he started turning up with the ‘Chris Tell’ stories and getting a regular check. She knows all about George Zim. Mr. Jones confessed it all to her the first night Kelly was willing to let him master the mechanical geometry of her bra clasp. . . . Sorry.
Well, you can guess that Joan has never been down to Avenue A. It’s a tough neighborhood. She gets off the IRT at 14th Street. George Zim lives off the corner of Third Street. She’s got a long walk and she’s wearing high heels. In the meantime, Kelly has confessed to Charles what all she’s told Joan and that Joan is going down to see George. Charles is not a brave fella. He sees he is about to lose something he can’t replace. A meal ticket. He likes all the comforts that more than a hundred bucks a week can buy. Besides. He’d probably lose access to Kelly and her bra if he doesn’t have his story fix every Tuesday. Tuesdays are his days to visit George Zim. But now it’s Thursday.
Thursdays are reserved for the insurance salesman, Finley Barnes, to buy George’s dinner. Charles calls Finley and gives him the scoop. They decide to head down together. And of course, if they are going, Phil Parks ought to have a piece of the trouble. And between the three of them, they haven’t got a clue what they are going to do once they get there. They can’t make it up. All they know for sure is, they better go. And one other thing. They aren’t going to tell Florrie.
The three of them take the BRT express right down to Houston Street and walk over from there.
What they don’t know is that Florrie has already decided to get revenge on the whole lot of them. He figures Zim is his goose and from now on he’s not going to let anyone else have the golden eggs. Florrie, you see, has not just spent his money on cars and hookers and Canadian Rye. He has bought himself a cabin in the Catskills close enough to Grossinger’s to smell the pastrami. And he is going to take George Zim away on a ‘vacation.’ In that he had just gotten this brilliant idea, he has no idea what he’s going to do after that.
Now, have I forgotten anything?
I’ve got Florrie heading down to Avenue A in his blue Cadillac.
Yeah it was dark blue. I know that.
I’ve got Charlie and Phil and Finley all headed down together to Houston on the Broadway line.
And I’ve got Joan going down on the IRT. . . Right! Oh, yes. I forgot one important detail.
Joan didn’t wander into her secretarial job working for Doug Kirk at Daring Publications in Manhattan fresh out of the Indianapolis School for Women just by accident. She took the bus. And she knew exactly where she was going. Joan wanted to write romances. Ranch Romances and Daring Romance were her favorite publications. Doug Kirk hired her before she could sit down. She’s been the artist’s model for every cover of Daring Romance since 1934. And get this: she has no idea. She doesn’t think any of the girls on those covers look like her. Doug buys one of her stories every few months just to keep her happy and gets the price back by under-paying her for her secretarial skills. Now, that’s about the whole picture, I think. That, and the fact that she came up out of the IRT at 14th Street and asked the first cop she saw where she could find number forty-one, Avenue A. And the cop told her.
Now, that was October 16, 1936. One year ago tomorrow. I didn’t see what actually happened anymore than anyone else, but I won’t forget it. The week before that, on October 9th, I proposed to Sally. Sally quit her job down at the Chelsea Dioner. I quit writing for the pulps. And six months later we opened this place. Best thing I ever did.
No. That has nothing to do with the story. It’s just a time frame. You see? The way you remember things. That’s all.
No. I don’t know what happened after that. I’ve got no more finish on what happened than George Zim did on his stories. But I can do better than the police report I read in your paper. “Pen Pals Massacre.” What kind of crap headline was that?
I see it this way.
She’s just come from the office. She’s in high heels. The cop she’d asked directions from reported she was wearing high heels. I believe him. Even an ink stained wretch like you would notice something like that. She can’t walk far. So she hails a Checker cab and right off she probably tells the driver if he can step on it she’ll double his fare with the tip.
Yeah, I’m talking about Joan. Who else? You got that down?
But when our three guys show up at Zim’s apartment, he’s not there. Right. It’s six o’clock, and that’s when Finley Barnes was supposed to meet George for dinner. Right? All Zim’s trash is laid out around the room like it usually was. The Royal Number 10 typewriter is there, with a sheet of blank paper turned in and ready. Yeah. The police report says the paper was blank, except for a spot of blood. You read that, right? Hell, The Daily News put the whole thing on page 3. . . And his bed is unmade. The towels are on the rack by the sink. His toothbrush is there. But he’s gone. So what do our three guys do? They start to tear the place apart looking for the little black book, naturally. Right? They don’t even need George Zim, do they? All they really need is the little black note-book. And he usually doesn’t carry it with him. So it might be there. Someplace. In all that mess. Dirty laundry. Unfinished manuscript pages. Stacks of old books.
And that’s when Florrie shows up. He sees what they are up to and he goes into a rage. He goes nuts. They start to argue.
At least one knife was already there. The police said there was an apple peel in the sink, so it must have belonged to Zim.
I figure, someone lost their temper first. Then the next. They would have started to fight. The room was small. There wasn’t much space to take a big swing. I figure they wrestled. That’s what must have turned all that sad furniture upside down. We know that Florrie had a knife wound too, but it probably didn’t kill him. What killed him was the back corner on that Royal Number 10 that someone slammed down on his head. So I figure that at least two of the three held him down. . . .Then they turned on each other.
Now there was a murder done. The one who could get out alive could go his own way, and it might look like the others did themselves in. That’s the way a pulp writer might figure it. That’s the way they think.
Well, it’s an explanation, is all.
Four bodies? How else? They ended up killing each other and none of them got out alive.
What about the little black book? Now that’s the mystery! There it was in Phil’s hand. The blood on it was his. There was blood on the pages and in the wire wastebasket too. Right? So I see it this way. Phil is already on the floor there, bleeding to death. Maybe he’s the last of the four alive. And he can see the wastebasket in front of his face. And there, in the basket, is the little black book. He musters the last of his strength to reach in and pull it out. He opens it up . . . And it’s blank! Blank! Page after blank page. Blank! You see, all those ideas for stories were just in Zim’s head. Those blank pages were just the catalyst. . . .You know ‘catalyst.’ It’s a chemical you put in that makes the other chemicals work. Like sulfur in gunpowder. Yeah. Like that.
What George Zim had was writer’s block. When he looked at a blank page it started him thinking. His problem was he couldn’t finish, for whatever reason. Get me Sigmund Freud, will ya? What do I know about that?
So, my figure is this: maybe Joan did get there in time to tell him some part of what was going on. Maybe he threw that little black book in the trash can himself because it was the catalyst to his problems. I don’t know.
What I don’t buy is the idea that Zim killed those guys himself. I believe that Joan must have got there ahead of them all. She told Zim what the deal was. Or she didn’t right away. Maybe she just told him to come with her. You know most guys would follow a girl like Joan into a dark alley if she asked them to go.
We know the cab picked up two people, a man and a woman, at 5:58, right at the stand on the corner of Avenue A and Houston. The cabbie says he didn’t see any blood. They looked fairly calm. He was wearing a Burberry. She was doing all the talking, but the fellow didn’t seem to be paying attention anyway. Like he was in a daze. And maybe the talk was something about writing. That’s what the cabbie said. But it was her that paid the fare when they got out at Grand Central. That’s important. What gal pays the cab fare? It had to be them.
I have no idea. I can guess as good as the next guy. I just don’t believe that George Zim killed those hacks and then committed suicide by jumping in the East River. And besides, where is she? Where is Joan? Did he kill her too? She hasn’t been heard from since, has she?
If you ask me, I think they’re together. I think George Zim finally found his preacher’s daughter. And this one knows her onions. It’s no mystery. It’s just another Daring Romance for Christ sake.
You asked me. That’s my answer.