Bill Pronzini: Hoodwink

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Bill Pronzini Hoodwink
  • Название:
    Hoodwink
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
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  • Язык:
    Английский
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Hoodwink: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Bill Pronzini


Hoodwink

ONE

I was sitting tilted back in my office chair, reading one of Russell Dancer’s private eye stories in a 1948 Midnight Detective, when the door opened and Russell Dancer walked in.

Coincidences happen now and then; I knew that as well as anybody after the Carding/Nichols case I had been involved in a few months ago. But they still jar you a little every time. I opened my mouth, closed it again, blinked a couple of times, and then got on my feet as he shut the door.

“Hey there, shamus,” he said. He came through the rail divider, gave the scattered cardboard packing boxes a curious glance, and plopped the briefcase he was carrying down on the visitor’s chair. “Remember me?”

“Remember you? Hell, I was just reading one of your old pulp stories.”

“You kidding?”

“Not a bit.” I held the magazine out for him to look at. “One of the Rex Hannigan novelettes.”

Dancer glanced at the title above the interior illustration, and his sardonic mouth got even more sardonic. ” ‘There’ll be a Hot Crime in the Old Tomb Tonight!’ Frigging editors loved pun titles in those days-the worse the better.”

I said, “Bad title, maybe, but a good story,” as we shook hands.

“If you say so. I wouldn’t recognize a word of it after all these years.”

“Don’t you ever reread your early work?”

“I don’t reread what I wrote six days ago,” he said. “Besides, all my pulps went up in the fire, remember?”

I remembered. It had been almost seven years ago, down the coast a hundred miles or so at a village called Cypress Bay. A woman named Judith Paige had hired me to follow her husband because he kept disappearing on weekends and she suspected he was seeing another woman. Paige led me to Cypress Bay-and straight into a nasty triple murder that revolved around tangled relationships out of the past and a twenty-year-old paperback mystery written by Dancer. The novel, through no fault of his own, had almost cost him his life-no doubt would have if he’d been home at his beach shack, instead of celebrating the completion of his latest Western with a bottle and a woman, the night it was deliberately set ablaze.

“You didn’t replace any of the books and magazines you lost?” I asked him.

“No.”

“How come?”

“Too much trouble,” he said. “I used to keep file copies of most of my published shit, but I kind of lost interest after the fire.” He shrugged. “Guy who wrote all that early stuff is dead and gone anyway.”

Still the same old Dancer, I thought. Bitter, cynical, full of self-mockery and something that approached self-loathing. He had cared once; you could tell that, and how much talent and promise he’d had by reading the pre — 1950 Hannigan stories. But that had been a long time ago, a lifetime ago, before a combination of things only he could understand had soured and blighted him.

If he cared for anything now, it was probably money and liquor. He was sober enough at the moment, but there was the faint smell of bourbon on his breath that said he had drunk his lunch and maybe his late-afternoon snack as well. And he had all the physical signs: ruptured blood vessels in his nose and cheeks; the grayish dissipated appearance of his skin; the washed-out blue-gray pupils and bloodshot whites of his eyes. He was at least fifteen pounds thinner than I recalled, and starting to lose some of his dust-colored hair. He had to be about sixty now, and he looked every year of it-every hard, unhappy year.

Some of what I was thinking must have shown in my face. Dancer grinned at me in a lopsided way, without humor. “Pretty sorry specimen, right?” he said.

“Did I say that?”

“You didn’t have to.” He shrugged again. “All writers are drunks, you know. Would-be, borderline, confirmed, sodden, reformed; one stage or another. All drunks, every damned one of us.”

I had no comment to make on that. Instead I said, “Things been that tough for you lately?”

“They couldn’t get much tougher. I haven’t made a dime in five months or written much of anything in four. Not because I can’t write any more; because I can’t sell any more.”

“Why is that?”

“Market’s tightened up. Competition is stiff from top to bottom, so most of the old-line hacks like me have been squeezed out. Lots of hackwork being published, but it’s either big, specialized crap on assignment or through packagers, or it’s genre stuff done by stable hacks. Not much chance of me getting into one of the stables today; paperback editors are all twenty-five-year-old English Lit majors who never read a goddamn word of paperback fiction before they were hired. They build up their own stables; they only use upward-mobile hacks. My agent’s trying to work out a deal with one of them now-a series of heavy-breathing adult Westerns at three grand a crack. Pun intended. But it’ll never happen.”

“So how are you getting by?”

“Scraping, brother. I gave up my apartment three months ago and moved in with a lady friend.”

“In Cypress Bay?”

“Near there. In Jamesburg. But she’s not too well off either. She’ll throw me out sooner or later if I don’t bring some bread into the house.”

I didn’t say anything.

He lit a cigarette, threw the match in my waste-basket, and glanced around the office. “Doesn’t look like you’re exactly in the chips yourself,” he said.

“Well, I’m not starving.”

“Then how come the packing boxes?”

“I’m moving next week, not being evicted.”

“Better digs?”

“A little better, yeah.”

“Glad to hear it,” he said. “This place is like something out of a forties pulp, you know that? One of the Hannigan stories, maybe. Private eye in a shabby office with stains all over the walls, sitting around waiting for clients to walk in. You wouldn’t happen to have an office bottle, would you?”

“No,“I said.

“Too bad.”

“Sure.” I had begun to feel a little uncomfortable, and I guess that showed in my face, too. Dancer gave me another of his sardonic grins.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t come all the way up here to put the bite on you,” he said. “I’m not that desperate. Not yet, anyhow.”

“Just to say hello, huh?”

“Nope. I’m in town for the convention.”

“What convention is that?”

“The pulp convention, what else?”

“Oh?”

“You mean you don’t know about it? As into pulps as you are?”

“I’ve been pretty involved the past couple of weeks,” I said. “Fill me in; it sounds interesting.”

“Not much to it. Bunch of pulp collectors and fans got together and decided to put on a convention. Going to be an annual event if they don’t lose too much money on this first one. You know the kind of thing: panel discussions, speeches, dealers selling old pulps and books, kids running around asking you for autographs. Guy I know dragged me to a science fiction con about ten years ago. Bored the hell out of me, but I guess some people get off on them.”

“Why go to this one, then?”

“Because I’m getting paid for it,” Dancer said. “Not much-what they call an honorarium-but it’s enough to bring me up here for three days. Besides, it’s kind of a reunion.”

“Reunion?”

“You ever hear of the Pulpeteers?”

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