Thursday, December 6, 2012

G-Man versus the Red X

G-Man versus the Red X
Steven Slesinger
A Big Little Book
Whitman, 1936

Genre: Mystery


The story opens with Tod Morgan calling up his girlfriend, Ellen Terrence, to cancel the plans they had for that evening. Tod is the son of the district chief of G-men and he just found out that his dad, while visiting Childs restaurant, was murdered. He doesn’t know many details except that the waitress said she saw two men come in and sit at his table. One dropped something into his father’s drink, he got drowsy, the men left, and a few minutes later Tod’s father was dead. Tod is pretty sure that it was a poison pellet slipped into his father’s cup. The reason for it must be because the Red X knew that the Chief had the goods on them. He was probably killed with the same poison the criminal group has been selling illegally all over the states—a poison that has been responsible for a number of mysterious deaths lately. Unfortunately, Tod can't prove it.

Tod decides that he needs to go find Squint Eye Spinson—the main hit man for the Red X. The doctor from the medical examiner's office was able to determine that the Chief was killed by the same mysterious drug that has killed the 20 other people in the past three months. Tod discusses the case with his dad’s partner, Bo, when a waitress brings them some lunch. In a few minutes, Bo is dead—another victim of the poison.

The narrative then switches to Squint Eye and his gang as they discuss their poison garden where they grow the poison and other nefarious drugs.

Meanwhile, Tod goes to the restaurant the sent up the food that killed Bo. A waitress named Mamie delivered the food and tells him that she has no idea who put poison in the food that she delivered. All she knows is that the person who fixed the tray was a “squint eyed” counterman who went away that afternoon and has not come back. Todd assembles his lieutenants to plan war on the gang. He knows for sure that Squint has to be the killer. However, the man that they want the most is the Emperor—the man who really runs the Red X.

Tod sends one of his detectives, Sam, up to New Jersey to go undercover to get a job at the poison garden. Sam had a hunch and went from rural store to store asking for pair of rubber gloves. Sam's hunch was that a poison farm would need a lot of rubber gloves. After store after store saying that they do not sell to farmers, Sam comes across the store of John Scuttiboe who directs him to the farm that buys a lot of rubber gloves. At the farm, Sam pretends to have car trouble. He says he has nowhere to go and is driving around hoping to find a job. Sam works on the farm and bides his time gathering what information he can. No visitors ever come to the farm but the telephone sure does rings a lot. Sam sneaks away one night to John's farm and asks to use the phone. He calls Tod and gives him a message in Morse code. Sam heads back to the farm where he is caught. It turns out that their telephone is wired to John's and they heard his entire conversation. Sam is taken outside and a poison pill is forced down his throat.

Tod meets with Ellen. She says that she can help out with the case. They decide to bug the Emperor’s house by temporarily “kidnapping” the maid and having Ellen sneak into the house in her disguise. She makes her way to the library where she opens the window and receives a small microphone from Tod so she can bug the room. Tod gets an unexpected visit from a gangster named Stumble Mumble. Stumble tells Tod that the Red X is expanding and gives him a map and directions to the farm.

Todd disguises himself as a mailman and successfully pilfers a letter from the farm which appears to be about normal farm products. Upon further investigating, he discovers invisible writing stating that all the marijuana crops are in and are ready to be shipped. Tod hopes that this is evidence enough to get the Emperor. Later, as they stake out the house, men arrive with the drugs and discuss it with the Emperor while the G-men are outside listening to the conversation and making a recording of it. With a hidden camera the G-men are able to take a picture of all men close together looking at the various samples the drugs and poisons. The men then ambush the house and make arrests.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

First published during 1932 by Whitman, the Big Little Books were small, compact books designed with a captioned illustration opposite each page of text. Other publishers adopted this format after Whitman achieved success with its early titles which were priced just at 10¢ each. A Big Little Book was typically 3⅝” wide and 4½” high with 212 to 432 pages. The interior of the book usually displayed full-page black and white illustrations on the right side, facing the pages of text on the left printed in very large print. Stories were often related to radio programs (The Shadow), children's books (Uncle Wiggily), novels, or TV and film characters.

After the first Big Little Book, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, was published in December 1932, numerous titles were sold through Woolworth's and other retail stores. With a name change to Better Little Books in 1938, the series continued into the 1960s.

This story is fun and just horrifying as to how bad the writing actually is. Since it is about G-Men (and they aren’t related to any of the other G-Men BLB stories) the characters all have to be tough guys and most of the villains are evil crime lords. Tod, the main G-Man is portrayed as being sad that his father is dead but calm and controlled—he doesn’t get emotional. In fact, “Todd replied with all the bitterness and grief and flaring anger in the world. He replied with all the vengeance a man can feel when his father is killed” when he considers going after the Red X.

Since the bad guys are dealing in poisons and drugs, there is a lot of drug talk for a book that was aimed at young children! When Bo tells Tod about the case he says, “The Red X's selling murder at $15 a throw, or maybe $25, if they think they can get it” The Red X poison is being marketed as a pill that can kill anyone you and all you have to do is wear gloves while administering it. The pill kills quickly in 15 minutes and is supposedly very easy to make. Bo says, “The New York Academy of Medicine will tell you the same. So will the United States Public Health Association. But they won't tell you how. They don't want murder getting cheaper by the day—like the Red X are now making it.”

The poison garden also contains other drugs the gangsters are making. They describe in some extreme details the stuff: “I'll bring in enough marijuana to dope every girl in town. I'll bring in the other choice vegetables that kill easier than a Thompson machine gun.” Squint Eye asks, “What have we been doing for five years? Did we put reefers in every state from Red Hook to the Golden Gate? Did we make freakers out of people who never thought they would do anything worse than be a Rotarian? And what did we do to the boogies?”

The rest of the interesting and important comments occur in the totally stereotypical presentation of the gangsters. They are described as meeting in “a dim and dingy backroom of a cafĂ© in Newark [where] three men drink rye and soda, and plot[ted] a few more murders which they had in mind.” There is hilariously bad (and spot on to movie) dialogue for the gangster. When Squit Eye gets angry he says, “Listen, dog, that word’s out. We don't know the word murder, see? We ain't in that business. We don't know what killed Attan. All we know is we gave personal service.” To which Knife Nickerson replies, “Poisonal service, Happy Boy. That's it. Don't call it bad names like moideh.” Happy Boy Binty, who is described as being flat faced, long armed, with a bashed in nose, and a pleasant voice, says, “You heels know that moideh is moideh. Do we sell it, or don't we? Maybe you don't like to admit, but I like to sell it. I don't care much for people. I'd rather sell the little pills so people won't be people anymore, and make nuisances of themselves.”

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