Progress on The Same Old Story (here, here, here and here) continues at a steady pace, with the word count up to 45,000 or so. The Same Old Story is a mystery set in the early-1950s whose protagonist is a pulp and comic book writer. Part of the conceit of the novel is that chapters of the fictionalized version (starring his pulp character, NYPD homicide detective King Solomon, who is based on his father) of the mystery our hero, Max Wiser, is investigating are mixed in with the “real” story. Here’s one of the “make believe” chapters:

© Paul Kupperberg

The boss obviously didn’t believe in wasting his money on offices to impress visitors, or cockroaches for that matter. Apex Publications was about as bare bones as an operation got, walls painted institutional green, desks and chairs from an office surplus house and filing cabinets, none of whose drawers could any longer close properly. Dennis Arnold, president and publisher of Apex Publications, sat in his little ten foot by ten foor office with a single window overlooking the airshaft. He appeared to King Solomon to be a very practical man, the kind who went around shutting off lights and retrieving paperclips from the trash cans after everyone had gone home at night.

He also seemed fairly well shook by the death of Ray Koening.

“I bought Raymond’s very first stories, when he was just a kid, still in high school,” Arnold said, shaking his head and staring at his desktop as though the riot of papers and comic books spread across its surface held some secret, if only he could dig it out of the chaos.

“Would you say you were friends?” the King said.

“Friends, with Raymond?” Denny Arnold asked, almost surprised by the question. He smiled sadly. “I suppose as much as he was capable of having a friend, I would be it. He came to me for advise and help several times on a personal matter.”

“Would that have been his commitments to Stony Hill?”

The round little man shrugged and met the King’s eyes. “What difference does it make now? Does it have a bearing on the reason he’s dead? I thought he fell from a train.”

“So he did,” King Solomon said. “But the question remains, why did he fall? Mr. Koenig was not popular among his peers…”

Denny Arnold sat forward. “That’s nonsense. Sure, he was difficult to get along with, but everyone respected him.”

“I’ve spoken to a few of his fellow writers. The nicest thing any of them had to say was that he was always clean.”

“Well, there was some jealousy at work. Raymond rose very quickly to the top of his profession and I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about that attitude of his, like he believed he deserved special treatment. And maybe he did. He was a natural born storyteller, very original and prolific. Back when Apex first started publishing, he was writing most of our output. Eventually, he was offered work from other publishers at a higher rate of pay than we could afford to match and we lost his full-time services.”

“He had a check for seventy dollars from Apex in his wallet, dated two days before his death.”

The little publisher smiled. “Raymond was under an exclusive contract with Dynamic Comics, but he still wrote for me sometimes. For old time sake.”

“And extra cash?”

“I was just happy to have him writing for me,” he said with an innocent shrug.

“Why did he need the money, Mr. Arnold?”

“How should I know, detective? As I said, Raymond was very forthcoming about his personal life.”

“I understand he liked women,” the King said.

“So?” Shrug. “So do I?”

“Other than your wife.”

Arnold heaved a sigh into the air and shook his head. “No. Now Raymond, on the other hand…”

“Any woman who might have gotten him killed?”

The little man blinked in surprise. “Dear lord, I can’t imagine such a thing. I mean, doesn’t that only happen in movies or our comic books?”

“You’d be surprised, sir.”

“Well, no. He ran around with all sorts of women, but no one actually dangerous. Actresses, receptionists, secretaries, airline stewardesses. He liked gals who were easy on the eye,” Arnold said. “He may have made up stories about them, for his own reputation, but he stayed far away from trouble. “

“Was he seeing anyone you know about?”

Arnold paused. “Well…”

The King smiled. “It’s okay to tell me, Mr. Arnold. I’m the police.”

“I know, Inspector. I’m sorry…it’s just that I’d hate to involve an innocent party in something like this.”

“If they’re innocent, there’s no harm in your giving me the name.”

“Yes…well, one of our editors, a young woman named Sandra Daniels. I’ve heard rumors she and Raymond have been seeing one another recently. I don’t know how serious they were, but knowing him, I’d say not very.”

“What can you tell me about Miss Daniels?”

“Nothing much to tell. She’s in her early thirties, single, very friendly and efficient. I hired her about six years ago as an assistant and she was so good I fired the guy I had hired her to assist and gave her his job three years later.”

“Is Miss Daniels by any chance a redhead?”

“No, sir. She’s a blond.”

The King nodded. “Tell me, Mr. Arnold, do you think Mr. Koenig’s reputation was deserved? I’m getting the sense he was a bit of a talker.”

“He liked to talk tough,” Arnold said. “But talk was all he was. He was no hero.”

“Puffed himself up, did he?”

“I’ll say. He had more fight stories than Lardner but I’ll bet you can count on two fingers the number of times that guy threw a punch as an adult. And probably wound up on his back both times. You could tell. He was a flincher?”

King Solomon nodded.

“You know the type, right? Gives it away right from the get-go, flinches when you put out your hand to shake hello.” He stopped and chuckled at a thought. “Raymond had this scar on his right cheek, about three inches long. For years he’s been telling everyone who’ll listen that he got it in a duel with some Baron Von Humphf-humphf or other in Austria. Big duel, honor of a lady, the countryside at dawn, two men and their swords, the whole nine yards. You didn’t ask about it, he’d point it out somehow, ‘Whenever my dueling scar itches like this, I know it’s going to rain.’

“Anyway, he had this story of that duel, sounded like a scene from the Three Musketeers. He’s slashed, bleeding, first blood to the baron, but the sight of blood makes the blackguard overconfident and Raymond takes advantage and tags the guy in the shoulder, the guy concedes, Raymond’s the hero. The scar’s his badge of honor.”

The King smiled. “’Blackguard’?”

“What can I tell you, he talked that way. So, the whole world knows about his dueling scar. One day, I stop by his apartment to pick up some scripts on my way downtown, who opens the door but his mama, old lady Koenig herself! Raymond’s not home, but he left the scripts for me and Mrs. Koenig invites me in for a cup of coffee. She’s visiting for a few days, she lives in Ohio somewhere, Cincinnati? Cleveland? Anyway, she lives in Ohio now with Bob’s older sister, Ilsa, who’s apparently not in the best of health. So Mrs. Koenig is so happy to meet one of Raymond’s colleagues, Raymond this and Raymond that. Lovely woman. Anyway, over coffee and strudel, I make a passing reference to his dueling scar. Mrs. Koenig seemed to find it amusing when I called it that, although she was quick to point out that it wasn’t funny at the time. Seems as a boy in the Bronx, Raymond was pretending a discarded automobile radio antenna was a sword, slashing it around in front of the mirror when it whipped back into his face and cut his cheek. He was never, she added, terribly adept at physical activities, but he did excel at the cerebral.”

“She talk that way too?”

“Like mother, like son.”

The King drummed his fingers on his knee. The picture he was putting together of Raymond Koenig was not a pretty one, but nothing so ugly as to suggest a motive for murder.

“Tell me, sir,” he said, “were you the only publisher for whom Mr. Koenig was writing, in violation of his contract with Dynamic Comics?”

“Oh, I doubt it. Raymond was very, very prolific. He could bang out a six-pager over lunch. You want to have seen something amazing, watch him type! He had these long, slender fingers, like a piano player’s, and he made a typewriter sound like a machinegun. I once saw him type something on one of those new IBM electric typewriters…my hand to the Almighty, he typed so fast that the machine kept going for a full five seconds after he stopped, catching up with him. However many pages of story a week his contract called for, I’d bet Raymond could produce double it. He knew people all over town who were happy to buy from him and keep quiet about it. Not that it really mattered. Everybody knows everybody else’s business in comics anyway. It’s a small community, Inspector, and these guys are all yentas.”

“Didn’t sound like Mr. Koenig was doing so bad for a man so unpopular.”

Denny Arnold shuffled through the papers on his desk. “He was a bit of a mad genius. People cut some slack for people like him.” When he looked up, his eyes were wet. “I think I’m actually gonna miss him. Who knew?”

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