David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and '50s (Library of America)

BOOK: David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and '50s (Library of America)
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FIVE NOVELS OF THE 1940s & 50s
Dark Passage
The Burglar
The Moon in the Gutter
Street of No Return

Robert Polito,



Volume compilation, notes, and chronology copyright © 2012 by

Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., New York, N.Y.

All rights reserved.

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Dark Passage
The Burglar
The Moon in the Gutter
, and
Street of No Return
copyright © 1946, 1953, 1954 by the Estate of David Goodis. Copyrights renewed. All rights reserved.

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David Goodis:

Five Noir Novels of the 1940
s &

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a tough break. Parry was innocent. On top of that he was a decent sort of guy who never bothered people and wanted to lead a quiet life. But there was too much on the other side and on his side of it there was practically nothing. The jury decided he was guilty. The judge handed him a life sentence and he was taken to San Quentin.

The trial had been big and even though it involved unimportant people it was in many respects sensational. Parry was thirty-one and he made thirty-five a week as a clerk in an investment security house in San Francisco. He had been unhappily married for sixteen months, according to the prosecution. And, according to the prosecution, a friend of the Parrys came into the small apartment one winter afternoon and found Mrs. Parry on the floor with her head caved in. According to the prosecution, Mrs. Parry was dying and just before she passed away she said Parry had banged her on the head with a heavy glass ash tray. The ash tray was resting near the body. Police found Parry’s fingerprints on the ash tray.

That was half the story. The other half meant the finish of Parry. He had to admit a few things. He had to admit he hadn’t been getting along with his wife. He had to admit he was seeing other women. The fact that his wife was seeing other men didn’t make any difference to the court. Then they got Parry to admit that he hadn’t gone to work that day. A sinus headache kept him at home all morning and in the afternoon he had gone for a walk in the park. When he came home he found a crowd outside the apartment house and several police cars, the usual picture. That was what he said. The police said differently. The police said that Parry had hit his wife on the head with the ash tray and then arranged the body so that it would look as if she had tripped, knocking the ash tray off a table as she fell, then knocking her head on the ash tray when she reached the floor. The police said that it was a very clever job and no doubt it would have succeeded except for Mrs. Parry’s dying statement.

Parry’s lawyer tried hard but there was too much on the other side. There was only one weak link in the prosecution. It involved the fingerprints. When the prosecuting attorney claimed that Vincent Parry was a shrewd, devilish murderer, Parry’s lawyer came back with the statement that a shrewd, devilish murderer would have wiped fingerprints from the ash
tray. Parry’s lawyer said it was no murder, it was an accident.

That was about all, except the character stuff. A lot of people wanted to know why Parry wasn’t in uniform. The prosecution played that up big. Parry was a 4-F. The sinus was one reason, a bad kidney was another. Anyway he was a 4-F and added to that was something connected with a stretch in an Arizona reformatory when he was fifteen. He was an only child, an orphan, and his only relative in Maricopa said no and a week later he was hungry and robbing a general store. Then again there was this business of playing around with other women and there was a collection of statements from bartenders and liquor dealers. Parry had a habit of drinking straight gin despite the kidney trouble. The prosecution claimed that the gin was primary cause for the kidney trouble. Connecting the gin with the kidney, the prosecution made another connection and inferred that the 4-F status was attained through excessive gin that made the kidney worse. A few newspapers bit into that and began calling Parry a draft dodger. Other newspapers took it up. There were editorials calling for further examination of the 4-F ’s who complained of kidney trouble. When Parry was sentenced his picture was in all the papers and one of the papers captioned his picture “Draft Dodger Sentenced.”

Just before he was taken to San Quentin, Parry got permission to talk to a friend. This was Fellsinger, who was a few years older than Parry and worked in the same investment security house. Fellsinger was Parry’s best friend and one of the persons who believed Parry innocent. Parry gifted Fellsinger with all his possessions. These included a waterproof wrist watch, $63.75, a Packard-Bell phonograph-radio, a collection of phonograph records featuring Parry’s assemblage of Count Basie specials and the late Mrs. Parry’s assortment of Stravinsky and other moderns. Parry also handed over his clothes, but Fellsinger burned these and also got rid of everything that belonged to Mrs. Parry. Fellsinger was unmarried and he had spent most
of his time with the Parrys. He had never liked Mrs. Parry and when he said good-by to Vincent Parry he broke down and cried like a baby.

Parry didn’t cry. The last time he had cried was when he was in the reformatory in Arizona. A tall guard had punched him in the face, punched him again. When the guard punched him a third time, Parry went out of his head and put his hands around the guard’s throat. The guard was dying and Parry was sobbing with tears as he increased pressure. Then other guards came running in to break it up. They put young Parry in solitary confinement. Later on the brutal guard pulled another rotten trick on one of the kids and the superintendent investigated the situation and had the guard dismissed.

Parry was thinking about that as he entered the gates of San Quentin. He hoped he wouldn’t run into any brutal guards. He had an idea that he might be able to extract some ounce of happiness out of prison life. He had always wanted happiness, the simple and ordinary kind. He had never wanted trouble.

He didn’t look as if he could handle trouble. He was five seven and a hundred and forty-five, and it was the kind of build made for clerking in an investment security house. Then there was drab light-brown hair and drab dark-yellow eyes. The lips were the kind of lips not made for smiling. There was usually a cigarette between the lips. Parry had jumped at the job in the investment security house when he learned it was the kind of job where he could smoke all he pleased. He was a three-pack-a-day man.

In San Quentin he managed to get three packs a day. He worked as a bookkeeper and he made a financial arrangement with several non-smokers. He got along agreeably with other inmates and the first seven months were no hardship. In the eighth month he ran into the same sort of guard who had punched him during his Arizona confinement. The guard picked on him and finally arranged a situation where it was necessary to exert authority. Parry was willing to take the bawling out but he wasn’t willing to take the punch. Then came the second punch. And on the third punch Parry started to sob, just as he had sobbed in Arizona. He put his hands around the guard’s throat. Other guards came in on it and broke it up. Parry was placed in solitary.

He was in solitary for nine days. When he came out he was fired from the bookkeeping job and switched to another cell block, much less comfortable than the one he had been in. He learned that the guard had almost died and the episode had reached outside the prison walls and it had been in the papers. He was now doing hard work with a spade and a sledgehammer and at night he was practically out on his feet. He was almost too tired to read the letters he received from Fellsinger. But one night he got a letter from Fellsinger and it told him he was a sap for mixing with that guard. It ruined any chances he might have for a parole. He got a laugh out of that. He knew he was going to spend the rest of his life in this place. He knew what kind of life it was going to be.

It was going to be a horrible life. The food at San Quentin was decent but it wasn’t good enough to get along with his condition. And somehow he had the paradoxical feeling that gin had helped his kidney and here he couldn’t have gin. He couldn’t have women and he couldn’t have bright lights and he couldn’t have a fireplace. He couldn’t have the kind of friends he wanted and he couldn’t have streets to walk on and crowds to see. All he had here were the bars on his cell door and the realization that he would be looking at those bars for the rest of his life.

He was sitting on the edge of his cot. He was looking at the bars of the cell door. Like a snake gliding into a pool a thought glided into his mind. He stood up. He walked to the door and put his hands against the steel bars. They weren’t very thick but they were strong. He thought of how strong these bars were, how strong was the steel door at the end of corridor D, how ready was the guard’s revolver at the end of corridor E, then the two guards at the end of corridor F, and how high the wall was, and how many machine guns were waiting there along the wall. The snake made a turn and started to glide out of the pool. Then it turned again and it began to expand. It was becoming a very big snake because Parry was thinking of the trucks that brought barrels of cement into that part of the yard where they were building a storage house. Parry worked in that part of the yard.

Sleep was a blackboard and on the blackboard was a chalked plan
of the yard. He kept tracing it over and over and when he got it straight he imagined a white X where he was going to be when the truck unloaded the barrels. The X moved when the empty barrels were placed back upon the truck. The X moved slowly and then disappeared into one of the barrels that was already in the truck.

The blackboard was all black. It stayed black until a whistle blew. The motor started. The sound of it pierced the side of the barrel and pierced Parry’s brain. There wasn’t much air but there was enough to keep him alive for a while. A little while. The sound of the motor was louder now. Then the truck was moving. He knew just how far it had to move until it would be out of the yard. He waited to hear the sound of a whistle. The sound of a siren. He had the feeling that this was nothing more than a foolish idea that would get him nowhere except back in solitary. He shrugged and told himself he had nothing to lose.

There was no whistle. There was no siren. The truck was going faster now. He couldn’t believe it. This had been too easy. He told his mind to shut up, because this wasn’t over yet. This was only the beginning and from here on it was going to be tough. He had to get out of the barrel and that was going to be a real picnic. He was in one of the bottom barrels and they were stacked three deep. The truck was rolling now. He sensed that it was making a turn. It made another turn and then it rolled faster. He was having trouble drawing air from the black inside of the barrel. He told himself that he had five minutes and no more. Two barrels on top of him, and four rows of barrels between him and the edge of the truck. He took a deep breath that wasn’t so deep after all. That scared him. He took another deep breath and that was less deep than the first. He threw his weight against the side of the barrel and the barrel wouldn’t budge. He tried again and he made about an inch. He tried a third time and made another inch. He kept on trying and making inches. All at once it came to him that he was battling for his life. It scared him so much that he stopped trying and he decided to start yelling, to start begging them to stop the truck and let him out of the barrel.

Just before he opened his mouth he analyzed the idea. The gap
at the top of the barrel was wide enough for his voice to get through, but if his voice got through it would mean that he would soon be back at San Quentin.

His mouth stayed open but did not release sound. Instead he made another drag at air. He pushed again at the side of the barrel. Now he estimated that three minutes were subtracted from the original five. He had two minutes in which to make good. He kept on dragging at air and pushing at the side of the barrel.

August heat came gushing through the gap at the top of the barrel, mixed with the black thickness in the barrel and the anguish and the effort. Perspiration gushed down Parry’s face, formed ponds in his armpits. All at once he realized that more than two minutes had passed, considerably more. Put it at ten minutes. He looked up and through the gap at the top of the barrel he could see yellow sky. He smiled at the sky and now he understood that he had a good chance. Along with the sky a supply of new air was coming through the gap.

Heaving at the side of the barrel, pushing it away from the two barrels on top, he widened the gap to ten inches. He was working on the eleventh inch when the truck hit a bump in the road and the two barrels on top went sliding back to their previous position. He looked up and instead of yellow sky all he could see was black, the black underside of the second barrel. He had lost the gap and he had lost all the air. Now he must start all over again.

He didn’t want to start all over again. He wanted to weep. He began to weep and the tears were thick spheres of wet mixing with the wet of increased perspiration. His cramped limbs were giving him pain. He measured the pain and knew that it was bad. And it would get worse, keep getting worse until finally it would blend with the pain in air-starved lungs. Once more he told himself that he was going to die here in the barrel.

Hate walked in and floated at the side of fear. Hate for the bump in the road that had caused the two barrels to slide back. Hate for the two barrels. Hate for the truck. Hate for the prosecuting attorney. Hate for Mrs. Parry. Hate for Mrs. Parry’s friend who had entered the apartment that winter afternoon and found the body. Her name was Madge Rapf. Her name was
Pest. She had been the Pest from the first moment Parry had known her. She was always in the apartment, butting in. Getting herself invited to dinner and staying late and trying to make time with Parry. Once she had made a certain amount of time with him and he remembered it was on a night when he and Mrs. Parry had engaged in a vicious quarrel. Mrs. Parry had gone into her room and slammed the door. Madge went into the room and stayed there for about twenty minutes. When she came out she asked Parry if he would take her home. He took her home and when she got him inside she started in on him. He didn’t want to do anything. She didn’t really attract him. She was nothing very special. But he was sick and tired of Mrs. Parry and he didn’t particularly care what happened. So he began seeing her and one night it got to a certain point and then he told Madge to lay off, he was going home. She began to pester him. She told him that Mrs. Parry was bored with him but she wouldn’t be bored with him. She told him he should split with Mrs. Parry. He told her to mind her own business. But her nature made that impossible and every time she got the chance she told him to split with his wife and pitch in with her. She had been separated from her husband for six years and during all that time he had been trying to get a divorce. She wouldn’t give Rapf a divorce because she knew every now and then he had another girl he wanted to marry. She had nobody. She had nothing except the hundred and fifty a month she got from her husband. Now the hundred and fifty a month didn’t satisfy her and she wanted somebody. She was miserable and the only thing that eased her misery was to see other people miserable. If they weren’t miserable she pestered them until they became miserable. Parry had a feeling that one of the happiest moments in Madge Rapf’s life was when the foreman stood up and said that he was guilty.

BOOK: David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and '50s (Library of America)
4.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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