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Thrilling Hard-Boiled Detective Comics

Scott Brothers


The dick is barely alive. His strong, jutting jaw line, angular to a fault, rests upon his chest in utter defeat. The dick is slackening. The dick is soft. He is flaccid. The private dick, Rex Holdem, bound with rope to a steel pipe in the belly of an abandoned factory at the very edge of the outskirts of the City, having barely weathered a beating that was nearly―but not quite―what one would call savage, at the hands of Mr. Black’s burly, dumb-as-doorknobs henchmen, his blackened eye closed over, the bluish-purple skin-stain spreading outwards, his upper lip cut and bloated, his grizzled face sagging beneath a ragged Fedora, is silent save for an occasional moan that slips from his gaping mouth. It was as if his face were putty that had been reshaped, worked into something less than human, a monstrous visage that replaced what women often referred to as ‘rugged good looks’. Egads! he is easily taken apart, surmises the villain, Mr. Black. Mr. Black has seen his share of private dicks, but this one was the weakest willed of the bunch, begging not to be hit, splayed out upon his knees looking upwards at the villain, pleading, his hands clasped together, Mr. Black―a dwarf―seemed to tower above Rex. Mr. Black, dressed in his most appealing white suit, not wishing it to be bloodied, (he had had his share of immaculate white suits ruined completely by blood stains that refused to leave the fabric (plus Mr. Black always felt awkward when he brought the suits to the dry cleaner, as if the dry cleaner was owed an explanation for the regular occurrence of blood stains in the fabric)) unleashing the brute strength of his henchmen upon this particular private dick. Soon: Mr. Black will tell the dick of his awful plan, as elaborate and lengthy as it is, then he will shoot Rex dead―one bullet through the back of the head, as is his style, the M.O. of which every citizen of the great City was familiar with thanks to the flesh-hounds of the tabloids. Besides, the dick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and Mr. Black is all too happy to explain the complexities of his plan; this was one of the fringe benefits of being a villain―flaunting his power and the extent to which he could wield it. Rex Holdem attempts to lift his head. The world is awash in Technicolor; objects are rendered in garish, lurid halftones, which ferret out the details that lie beneath.

Lucy Marigold hides behind a cluster of pipes, biding her time―biting her nails. Crimson-lipped, a woman governed only by the will not to be governed, is she. Lucy holds her 357 Magnum close to her chest, her finger lingering over the trigger. She has a .38 Special tied to her left calf, a Berretta down the back of her linen pants and a .45 stashed in the front of her bra, nestled carefully between her breasts (look at the guns on that dame!), the latitudes of her body having become a haven for concealed weapons. She is waiting to hear Mr. Black’s plan. If Lucy can save the private dick in the process then so be it, although Rex Holdem is not her main concern. It is Mr. Black she is really after; it is he Lucy wants to kill. But first, the plan; it was essential that she discovered the architecture of Mr. Black’s revered scheme so as to exploit it later, then she would make her move. Mr. Black takes his time. He talks at great length about the months and weeks leading up to the plan, the preparation that actually went into making the plan a reality. That is the real secret, Mr. Black pontificates as he paces back and forth, the structure of the plan―the organization, all of the behind-the-scenes arrangements that makes a plan such as his so diabolical, so utterly foul. That was the biggest mistake other criminals made when it came to the hatching of the plan. That all the angles weren’t worked out. All of the possible holes in the plan not sealed up completely, making it water proof, or rather, fool proof. The plan was proof he was no fool; the proof was in the pudding, as it were! What was a plan if weren’t solid through and through? Mr. Black asks Rex rhetorically. Mr. Black had also conceived of a back up plan if the main plan failed, a plan that was as good as the main plan and that was as painstakingly crafted. Mr. Black remarks that he wouldn’t reveal the specifics of the back up plan now, only at such time that the main plan failed. Rex Holdem begins to slip in and out of consciousness. To Rex, Mr. Black’s grand monologue had become, at times, a string of garbled words, devoid of meaning. This, unfortunately, was a possibility that Mr. Black had not thought of: his henchmen beating Rex Holdem so badly that he would not be able to fully comprehend the depth of his amazing plan, a plan so rich in detail and nuance, that he would surely be remembered in criminal circles as a genius of plan making, that his formal eloquence in this regard was without equal, his was a plan in which innovation and originality were the key words, and it was this plan that was about to be revealed, word for word, which Rex Holdem knew he would be unable to digest without a great deal of work on his part. Lucy waits patiently. Her time would arrive―eventually. Mr. Black finally completes the prologue to his plan. "And…now…" he says, drawing out every syllable, plucking them tenderly as if strings on a violin. He pauses to regard the dick’s beleaguered countenance, then lights a cigarette, taking a long, leisurely drag. Lucy suddenly realizes that she has to urinate very badly.


"Have you ever been hypnotized?"


"Not even on stage, in a nightclub act?"


"Could it be you were and you don’t remember because you’ve been told through the process of hypnotism to forget that you had, at one point, been hypnotized?"

"Well, I guess. Anything’s possible."

"Yes, yes it is. We are here to help you regain you’re memory. Memory is an illusive thing. It can be very slippery. In your case, you’ve lost your grasp of it completely. I want to help you. I want to help you get it back, your memory that is. I want to help you place all of the pieces together. That is what we have now, Rex. Pieces to a very intricate puzzle. Wouldn’t you agree?"

"I think so…"

"Rex, I want you close your eyes. Relax."


"Yes, relax. Now, I want you to count backwards from 10. Ready? Begin."



Mr. Black, more than anything, wished to extricate himself from the villain business. He was becoming old and crime was so often a young person’s game. Mr. Black wanted no part of fooling himself into believing that he could still wield power the way he once did. Moreover the entire enterprise of being a criminal was itself becoming, in a word, old. Mr. Black no longer took the pleasure he once did in illegal activities, in exercising his considerable power over the City’s criminal underground and, as of late, he had been burdened with an illness that left him tired most of the time. He longed for fulfillment of a less life-endangering kind. He wanted to help people; he wanted to make people happy, a notion that had blossomed since he anonymously gifted thousands of dollars to a local orphanage. Perhaps philanthropy was an endeavor that he could fully embrace, a field in which he could exact real, fundamental change. Mr. Black considered his nature ambulatory in this regard; his advanced age had revealed as much. The very idea that libraries, institutions for higher learning, etcetera, could all bear similar gold plaques proclaiming that their very existence was indebted to the boundless generosity of Mr. Black, that he would be remembered for his work in these areas, not helping to forge the City’s criminal underground, gave much happiness to Mr. Black. Yes, he would do it! He could remake himself; reinvent himself, his prior aberrational behavior notwithstanding. People with fewer resources than he―often no resources―did such things every day. Those in his employ would surely not be grateful for his sudden change of heart, they might even resent him to the extent of trying to kill him (not that that was anything new, as the City’s greatest villain his life was constantly endangered by those representing good and those evil), but surely they could all find new work with whom ever sought to replace him, those of which were plentiful indeed, so many crime bosses vying for the position of the king of the City’s vast underworld of crime, that their precipitous ascents would no doubt be marked with a fair amount of bloodshed.

Mr. Black rises from his bed and moves fluidly toward the balcony doors of his massive bedroom, maneuvering easily into a soft, cobalt blue velvet robe that is draped over an oversized chair. He throws open his balcony doors, as if he were a character in a movie, the president of a small county, eager citizens awaiting his appearance in the streets below. He leans over the balcony looking down upon the vast metropolis that held so much promise. Mr. Black thinks to notate this moment as a crucial turning point, the defining moment of his life, significant enough to warrant an entire chapter in his forthcoming memoir. This sort of revelation always made for good reading.


Rex Holdem is sitting in the waiting room of his dentist’s office, thumbing through aging copies of Redbook and Field and Stream. He had lost a few teeth during his prior run-in with Mr. Black’s henchmen; more specifically when he ran into their fists. Rex was surprised that his teeth were the only pieces of himself that he had lost; he had been close to death, positive that Mr. Black was going to kill him right then and there, in the abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town. Mr. Black had tied Rex with coarse, itchy rope, dangling him over a vat of acid, lowering the besieged gumshoe a few inches every so often, no doubt to heighten the tension of the entire situation. Mr. Black, a tall, lanky fellow, a freakish giant as Rex called him under whispered breath, was about to reveal his evil plan when Rex blacked out, probably from the beating he had received at the hands of Mr. Black’s henchmen. Rex awoke sometime later in a junkyard then hitchhiked back to the city. Thankfully, he had fairly good medical and dental coverage, which, for a PI such as he, was hard to come by. Rex had been searching his mind for some clue as to what had happened between the moment he blacked out above the vat of acid and awoke in the junkyard, his body dull with pain. Had Mr. Black changed his mind about killing him? Had someone rescued him at the last moment? Rex tongued the holes where several of his teeth once resided, the naked gums feeling slick and unwelcoming to the habitual probing. A Muzak version of Muskrat Love played from a location that was not obvious from Rex’s vantage point. There were three other people in the waiting room with him: A woman in her forties―her skin worn and slack from too much time in the sun―was flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan; a man of some girth, even though he was small of stature, whom some people might refer to as a dwarf or a little person, dressed in a dark blue seersucker suit, wearing dark sunglasses that appeared more like a space-age visor of some sort, a cane at his side, sat impatiently in his chair, constantly thumping the top of his cane with the palm of his hand; a teenager, as surly-looking as they come, his hair unkempt, his arms crossed tightly in front of his chest , stared downward, his eyes fixed on the floor, never diverting their gaze. The receptionist at the front counter calls for a Ms. Learner. The woman reading the issue Cosmopolitan rises, almost giddily, and is then ushered through a door and down a narrow hallway. The man in the black suit suddenly grabs his cane, moving awkwardly toward the door, throwing a quick glance at Rex. Rex experiences a flash of recognition; the man with the cane seemed familiar; had Rex met this man before? Rex was sure of it, what was that sensation―Deja Vu? The man leaves the waiting room, exiting through the glass double doors; all the while Rex watches his truncated frame amble down the hallway. Was there something to this sensation? Rex wondered. Rex springs from his chair, informing the receptionist that he would be in the restroom, worried that he might miss his appointment, the receptionist in turn nods slowly, one eyebrow cocked above the other as if to say, why are you telling me that you’re going to the restroom, I don’t need to know your bodily functions, and then Rex is out the double doors, not really sure why he was perusing the man in the dark suit, what he would do once he caught up to him. Rex calls out to him, Hey, you, wait! but the man in the dark suit doesn’t respond, he doesn’t even flinch, as if he hadn’t heard Rex at all. Rex calls after him again. Still the man doesn’t respond. Maybe he’s deaf, Rex thinks. Rex finally catches up to the man in the dark suit, he is just behind him, ready to grab the man’s arm when Rex looses his legs, that is to say his legs loose him, they fall out from underneath him, as if giving way―that’s what it feels like in those initial seconds, that his legs no longer work―that they have forgotten how to work with the rest of his body. But it is only when he has hit the ground, tumbling on his side, his head coming down hard on the floor, his jaw striking the ground first, the surge of pain great enough to make him yelp, that Rex finally realizes he had been attacked from behind, that someone had grabbed both of his legs. Rex rolls over, moaning from the extreme pain surrounding his jaw and mouth. The surly teenager from the waiting room looms above him. It was the kid! By God, it was the kid that had attacked him! Wha th’ uck, wha th’ uck! Rex screams over and over, cradling his mouth in his hand, his jaw already swelling. The man in the dark suit is near him as well, lingering at the very edge of Rex’s vision, barely perceptible, an odd ocular occurrence that manifested a certain amount of dread within Rex. Rex Holdem, what do you think you were doing? a voice says. Is that the teenager speaking? No, his mouth doesn’t move. The surly teenager reaches into his back pocket, producing a large switchblade, the blade immediately unleashed, the sound it makes like a dynamic onomatopoeia from the pages of a comic book: SWISH! Bad move, Rex, the voice says again. The kid smiles for the first time, as if mugging for a camera. He has no teeth. What the hell does he need a dentist for? Rex wonders before kicking the kid in the crotch with one of the wingtips he picked up two days prior from Lenny’s Shoe Repair on First and Amsterdam.


Could I pass as a woman? A passageway to womanhood; would anyone make a pass at my supposed womanliness? I situated the chestnut-brown wig upon my head, maneuvering it into place. I used this same outfit as a disguise several years back in case I was working, liked the way it felt, liked the way my skin felt in it, and had, on occasion, worn it again, around my apartment. Eventually, I began venturing beyond the safety of my abode as a woman; the grocery store, the park, the bowling alley, even to bars―the cigarette smoke so thick and alcohol available in such great quantities that recognition of certain inaccuracies in my portrayal became blurred. Lucy Marigold: this was the name I used on these particular outings. My name, why it’s Lucy Marigold, and yes I would simply love a drink! I’d venture to a certain bar downtown, one that throngs of private detectives frequented, including myself, when I wasn’t dressed as a woman. It’s almost like a game now, to see if I can fool them, to see if I can truly pass as a woman. I enter the bar; my gaze leveled straight ahead. I sit at a table in a darkened corner, the physicality of my every movement laced with what I perceive to be the utter ease of femininity. Sure enough, there are many dicks here tonight, large and small, all hoping for the same thing: some gorgeous dame to saunter into their lives. And this is what I’d say: you don’t want to get mixed up with me mister, I’m trouble.


Lucy Marigold is sitting behind her desk in a cramped office, flanked on all sides by filing cabinets overflowing with paper work from old and current cases. Organization never being her strong suit and having fired her office manager for making several long distance phone calls of a dubious nature, day-to-day operations of her small detective agency had fallen into disrepair. The man who enters the office says that his name is Rex Holdem, repeating the words several times in succession. He appears as if he might have once been handsome, a trace of which remained beneath a defeated façade; his back curved outward, shoulders brought forward, his face sallow and unshaven, his clothes rumpled and wrinkled so badly one might suspect that they were in such a state on purpose, to prove a point, whatever that might be. The man is oddly familiar to Lucy. Had they met somewhere? Had they been on a date previously, the date so horrible that she had tried to bury the memory? In the end Lucy avoids asking if they had met. . She had learned that in this type of business you were never sure with whom you were dealing with exactly, that some things were best left unspoken. "Please sit down," Lucy offers, quickly averting her gaze, asserting it upon the sheaves of paper work that lay across her desk. "I’ll be brief, Ms. Marigold. I think my wife is cheating on me. With this guy, Mr. Black. But I want to be sure. I mean I suspect it is this fellow that my wife is sleeping with." Rex Holdem shifts and fidgets in the chair. "I just want you to know, Mr. Holdem, these types of situations are never easy. You might think you are prepared for certain, well, truths, but, once you have photographs of your wife and Mr. Black together, once you have proof of their liaisons, it’s a different story entirely. Another ball of wax." "I understand," Rex says plainly, obviously anxious to get started. Lucy was suddenly aware of where she had seen Rex before. It was a few nights ago, in a dream. Some hoodlum, his face undistinguishable, had tied up her and Rex together, back to back. A gigantic table saw was slowly heading toward them, the whole bizarre tableau established by the hoodlum in order to make she and Rex talk, convinced that they both possessed some important scrap of information. It was as an over-the-top scenario as you would see in the movies. Of course, just before the blade of the saw was about to slice the two of them in half, Lucy awoke. And now, here he was: sitting across the desk from her, a more defeated-looking person she could not remember meeting, the man of her dreams. That is to say, the man in her dreams.


Lucy is crouched behind a stack of boxes watching the dangling dick as he is lowered over a vat of boiling acid. Mr. Black was about to reveal his plan; then―as he carefully explained to Rex Holdem―he would lower the dick to his gruesome, painful death. This was it! Finally Lucy would hear the plan. Then she would instigate her own plan; one of certain revenge against Mr. Black. Unexpectedly, Mr. Black began sneezing, at first sporadically then finally in great, prolonged bursts, sending globs of phlegm and mucus in all directions. He sat on a small wooden crate still sneezing, while each of his henchmen, Eddie Big Nose, whose nose was exceedingly large—as the name indicated—encapsulating most of his plump, reddened face, like a mutated W.C. Fields and Vinnie the Vacant, a more indicative name there could not be, withdrew a handkerchief from inside their sport coats. Allergies, Mr. Black explained―the sneezing villain grabbing both handkerchiefs then blowing his nose into them one after the other―always got the better of him this time of year. Perhaps, Mr. Black offered, they should resume the outlining of the plan and subsequent ghastly killing sometime later, when the allergy attack subsided. As it was he could not properly explain his elaborate plan to the pendulous PI, nor could he enjoy Holdem’s ensuing death while his nose was slick with snot, his eyes puffy and itchy. "Uh, should we take him down, boss?" Vinnie the Vacant asked, scratching his bald cranium, looking stupidly at the sneezing Mr. Black. "No, I want you to give him a big sloppy kiss." to which the henchmen looked at one another, then up at Max Holdem, then again at Mr. Black. "Yes, of course I want you to take him down you morons! Take him down and tie him up until tomorrow. I’ll take a couple of allergy pills and hopefully I will feel better." The henchmen lower Rex Holdem from the ceiling. He is barely consciousness, his solid body gone limp under the length of rope that encircled Rex from his shoulder blades to just above his knees. Lucy is enraged. This would mean that her plans for revenge would have to be put on hold for another day. She couldn’t wait any longer. She wouldn’t wait any longer. Lucy steps out from behind the stack of boxes, aims her .45 at the henchmen and this is what she says: "Hold it. None of you are going anywhere."




Rex Holdem is being fired upon. Bullets whiz past him. One bullet nicks his left ear, the pain instant, acute as a bee sting. Rex wasn’t entirely certain how he had come to this place. To this exact moment in time. Before: there was blackness and now he was here. Unable to move. Pinned down by a scourge of bullets, running out of ammunition. Rex Holdem fires back at the criminals. (The Audience gasps.) He hears a woman’s voice. She is shouting orders to her henchmen. Then she speaks directly to Rex, saying that he has nowhere to go, which was true. The gunfire ceases briefly. Rain begins to fall. Rex peers around the trashcan that he is stooped behind. The woman and the two henchmen move around behind two cars which block off the entrance to the alley. Perhaps they are reloading their weapons. Perhaps they are trying to make him sweat. The woman seems familiar. Had he met her before? Rex wasn’t sure. There is a backdoor at the end of the alley. A single light fixture hangs above the door, the bulb blinking on and off, the buzzing sound of electricity intermittent. Had he already tried the door? Surely he must have. (An Audience member cries out, "Check the door!") The woman calls out to Rex again. She is saying that it is over, over and over. Rex begins inching along the alley wall, making his way toward the back door. He hears footsteps on the wet pavement, from around the corner. They are closing in. A police siren screams in the distance. Rex notices that he is bleeding from his leg. Had he been shot previously and not realized it? He looks back over his shoulder. Shadows move like liquid up the opposite wall of the alley. Rex is at the backdoor. It is locked. He hears a voice from behind, a sound like sandpaper working against a hard surface: "I see him". With as much strength as he can gather, Rex throws the side of his body at the backdoor and falls into darkness once more. (The Audience gasps again, this time louder.)


Rex Holdem, the private dick, lingers near Mr. Black, occasionally zapping him with a taser gun. Mr. Black crawls around on the concrete floor of the abandoned warehouse by the docks, the distant sound of foghorns occasionally penetrating the silence. "Are you going to tell me now? Are you going to tell me your plan?" Rex Holdem sneers, leaning down toward Mr. Black. "I don’t know what plan you’re talking about! I have no plans!" Mr. Black says, gasping. "Oh, but you do. And I want to hear them!" Rex whispers, close to Mr. Black’s gaunt face. Rex Holdem smiles, zapping Mr. Black again, directly on the side of his neck. This was the part of the job that Rex enjoyed the most.


("3…2…1…All right, times up you dirty bums! Not talkin, huh? well maybe this will make you talk then!" that’s what I says to these two jokers, thinkin theys can be all hard-nosed with me, like I’m gonna put up with shit like that, I put up with it from Mr. Black for ten years before I told him to go fuck himself, that I was through as his tough, that I’m gonna go out on my own, I’m gonna be my own villain, gonna get my own toughs, boss them around, which is just what I did I tell ya, and I was good at it, put that Mr. Black ta shame, I tell ya, then I get wind of somethin brewin, my squeals on the street tellin me somethin stinks like a whorehouse at low tide, that some pair of knuckle-heads was keepin’ tabs on my business, see, sneakin around like pair of sneakers, so I gots their names, rounded up these two blowhards, gonna show ‘em a thing or two, show ‘em who’s boss, which would be me of course, teach them to meddle in my business, MEDDLERS! that’s how we got to where we are, smack-dab in this here situation, these two mooks tied together, the broad and the private dick, tied up with a big ol table saw comin at them, pretty fuckin brilliant, huh? had all the time in the world to tell me what they know, but they just clamed-up, stupid moolys, not the best time ta clam-up when ya got a table saw bearin down on yous, a saw big enough to slice both of yous in half and then some, better fess up or it’s curtains, I tell ya! CURTAINS! and the table saw, it’s getting’ real close like, and the two pea-brains still ‘aint talkin! Fuckin-A is right! game of chicken, right? who’s gonna blink first and all that shit? well, I’m from the neighborhood, I know how it’s played, and this is what I did)


The deadline is imminent! A more telling word there could not be: deadline; speaking in absolutes to the ineluctability of what would happen; there are no excuses available in the face of a deadline, it was what it was, and, so often, it did mean the death of him physically; finishing the script on time was frequently mentally draining, or, perhaps, it would mean the death of him financially; that is to say, he would be out of a job. Deadlines were taken seriously at Wonder Comics; so serious in fact that people had been fired for missing just one. Rex Holdem always managed to finish writing the script for the latest installment of Thrilling Hard-Boiled Detective Comics just as it was to be passed onto the artists. Wonder Comics was a sweatshop for sure, but so was every other publisher in the industry. It was the night before the script was due and he had written the main character of the series, a tough-as-nails private dick named Ace Manly, into a corner―literally. Ace was surrounded by gunmen in an alley, with no chance of escape, and Rex hadn’t an idea of how to end the story. He wrote dozens of comic books every year; horror comics, true crime, romance, sci-fi fantasy. He was known in the business as a jack-of-all trades (or a jack-ass-of-all-trades as some of his detractors referred to him), a writing chameleon that could write in many different genres, making them each uniquely his own. More importantly, he never missed a deadline. Ever. He was a wunderkind at his current employer, Wonder Comics, a demy god among its mostly transient staff and a colossus in the comics industry. But here he was nonetheless, bound and gagged, (figuratively at least) like an unfortunate character in one of his stories. Had writer’s block finally blocked him up? Perhaps the cerebral version of an enema was necessary! Rex had written dozens of stories in which the hero managed to maneuver their way out of a difficult situation, a jam. If truth be told, Rex would have ended the story with a cliffhanger—To Be Continued Next Issue—unfortunately the previous issue of the comic had ended in a cliffhanger and it was Wonder Comics’ policy never to have two cliff-hanging endings in row (which, to Rex, was an inane policy to have anyway; they could, if they desired, string kids along for extended periods of time, cliff-hanging after cliff-hanging ending, securing their return to the newsstand month after month). Rex sat on his couch in the middle of his apartment clipping his toenails, letting the severed bits of keratin fall directly onto the carpet. Clipping his toenails and fingernails was usually a potent distraction for him; the banal quality of the act itself was enough to let his mind work through whatever barriers he had erected for himself, the writing following this ritual more fluid. The intermittent sound of toenails edited from his stubby, hairy digits cut plainly into the blank air of the apartment, the sound so isolated that Rex suddenly became aware of its weighty presence, like the sound of a ticking clock in an otherwise quiet space. He watched the toenails collect upon the surface of the worn beige carpet, starring deeply at their stark presence, yet he failed to raze the barriers he had built. Rex was swiftly overwhelmed by a feeling of claustrophobia, and needed vacate his apartment for a while. He wished to clear his mind. A late night movie might be just the sort of distraction he required. Or perhaps he would pay a visit to his ex-girlfriend, Lucy, someone who had, on more than one occasion, saved Rex from himself, and for whom Rex still harbored a fair amount of unblemished desire. Of course the man Lucy was living with might not look favorably upon a late night visit from an ex. Rex snatched his coat from the hall closet and hurried out of the apartment, leaving his discarded toenails to linger on the floor, never stopping to look back over his shoulder, at the unoccupied typewriter, the damned thing as loathsome a sight as he had ever seen in his fairly un-loathsome life. 

Scott Brothers’ short stories and humor pieces have been published (or are forthcoming) in Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, The Big Jewel, and Monkeybicycle.

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