12 November 2013

S is for Short Story

The Crooked Golfers
Frank L. Packard

I know of 182 short stories by Frank L. Packard, but there could be twice that number. Here one month, gone the next, they appeared in the magazines of his day, most never to be republished. Even the small percentage that found second life in books are decades gone – which makes The Crooked Golfers all the more special. A chapbook, it features a previously unknown short story discovered by Packard scholar JC Byers at Library and Archives Canada.

Evidence indicates that "The Crooked Golfers" was written late in life… perhaps very late; Packard was not in the habit of dating his work. Appended to the typescript is a note dated 4 April 1942, but the hand is not his, the author having died nearly seven weeks earlier.

It would seem that efforts to sell the short story failed. If true, this says something about the changing market because "The Crooked Golfers" is typical of the writing that brought this son of Lachine riches through the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Its characters would've been familiar to Packard's readers. The first we meet is Milord, a criminal mastermind who moves with equal ease amongst the gentry and downtrodden:
Milord was a linguist. He spoke two languages – English and East Side – both fluently. By reason of long arduous training his English was charming, his voice cultured, a delight to his auditors; but East Side was his native tongue…
Partner in crime Nippy shares nothing of Milord's sophistication and affectation, but he is a crack hand a safe cracking. Their victim is Josiah P. Heatherington, he of the New York Heatheringtons, who "unmoved by the upward march of fashion in the general direction of Riverside Drive, still lived, as his fathers had lived before him, in one of the aristocratic mansions on Washington Square."

Nippy and Milord gain access to Heatherington's home by way of a basement window and have just opened the library wall safe when footsteps are heard in the hallway. Milord extinguishes his flashlight, leaving Nippy to scoop out the contents in darkness. Their escape is made easier by the fact that Josiah P. Heatherington and companion are "pleasantly 'lit up'" on "illicit liquor". True professionals, the criminal pair run madly off in all directions, then meet up at a unsavoury speak-easy. That Nippy has the loot proves there is honour among thieves.

The close call is the closest yet, causing Milord to again consider his future:
   "Time to quit," said Milord laconically.
   "Oh!" ejaculated Nippy – and grinned. "It listens like I heard dat before."
   "You have," returned Milord quietly; "but you've heard it for keeps this time. And it isn't only just because I'm afraid of getting caught sooner or later, either, though to-night has sort of forced a showdown. All my life I've wanted to associate with gentlemen and be one of them myself. I'm going to now – and so are you."
Unsigned certificates to the Wallapootimie Golf Club in hand, stolen from Josiah P. Heatherington's wall safe, the pair travel to Florida intending to make themselves over as honest gentlemen. Though that which transpires will come as a shock to readers unfamiliar with the sport, it is by parts fun, funny, and very much in keeping with the sense of morality that runs through Packard's work.

The Crooked Golfers serves as a good introduction to Packard's work. The size of same I leave for JC Byers to discover.

There be riches. Milord would tell you as much.

Object and Access: A 34pp stapled chapbook featuring the short story with a handy chronological listing of Packard's thirty-one books. Copies were handed out gratis at Mr Byers' talk on Packard at the February 2013 meeting of the Ottawa Book Collectors. I've yet to see any come up for sale.

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  1. "Only Magazine of Its Kind in the World"...I wonder why???

    But I bet all of us have our fair share of bus and subway stories that could keep us in publication for years!!!

    1. Very true. I have a pretty good story set in Lucien-L'Allier metro station.

      Must say that Packard, a former Canadian Pacific employee, seems to have really known his stuff. But railway stories aren't my thing, I much prefer the airship novel.

  2. I should add...I do love the cover of Railroad Stories.

  3. Wow, this guy is completely unknown to me. Great piece.