Thieves’ Blueprint by Ronal Kayser writing as Dale Clark appeared as the featured novelette in the March 1943 issue of G-Men Detective.
Thieves’ Blueprint has almost everything you’d expect from a “hard boiled detective story”: a mystery that starts and ends with a dame, a couple of no goods up to no good, a murder, and a no nonsense detective who narrates the whole thing to himself. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost say Thieves’ Blueprints was a satire or spoof, it’s so by-the-numbers. But Ronal Kayser wrote and published hundreds of detective stories, so by 1943, he’d gotten it down to a science. Rote and predictable as it is, it doesn’t fail to entertain.
Steve Sheridan is an undercover FBI agent stationed in San Diego; he’s got a job at the naval base, but it’s cover to keep an eye out for spies and saboteurs. The story begins with Sheridan offering both ode and lament for his encounter with a dame down in Tijuana who is certainly the reason why his tires have been slashed. Flash-back to the previous night, the drop-dead gorgeous Sheila Feyne comes into a Tijuana night spot with an older gentleman, Warren. Sheridan observes and overhears a few things: they’re somewhat flush with cash from the races, the dame is playing with a cheap straw horse, and a rough pair – the Hawk and the Ogre, he dubs them – are watching them intently.
The man Sheila came in with gets up, making to go to the bathroom; shortly thereafter, the Hawk and the Ogre head to the back after him. Thinking herself ditched, Sheila leaves only to find her car’s been stolen. Playing knight-in-shining armor for the dame, Sheridan offers to take her back across the border. They file a police report on the stolen car and go their separate ways. Sheridan wonders if they were just ships passing in the night when the next morning he finds his tires slashed!
Sheridan heads over in a cab to the dame’s place, where Sheila claims the police had rang her later the previous night to let her know that Warren had been arrested – except when she’d gone down to identify him, no one at the station knew anything. Sheila offers to make Sheridan breakfast, but when she turns on the light, there’s Warren dead in her kitchen.
With no wheels, Sheridan has to figure out what’s going on without being himself implicated in the murder!
So a couple things about this one: this is a story that knows what it is and revels in it. There’s nothing groundbreaking or new or even particularly original here – it’s as stock as stock can be, from paper doll archetypal characters to the nods to importance of war rationing, but it does it so neatly, hitting those sweet pulp beats, right down to the ‘oh, yeah, and I married her’ perfect ending, that it’s hard not to come away from Thieves’ Blueprint smiling. It is not cutting edge – it is state of the art.
The titular Thieves’ Blueprint makes no appearance in the story, if it’s not merely a case of a mistitled story. The actual scam turns out to be an attempt to smuggle jewels across the border in a straw horse, but one of the three bad guys tried to take off with it on his own. Funnily enough, a similar scheme was used in the old 1987 Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.
Despite much of the seeming self-awareness of this novelette, the writing is really solid pulp prose:
Tijuana was a mistake. I expected too much, had a tourist travelogue picture of Old Mexico in my brain, and the real thing was not that way at all. There weren’t any balconies, or black-eyed senoritas with mantillas, or glimpses of Old World romance.
I parked my coupe in the Foreign Club enclosure and walked around the streets for awhile.
Tijuana consisted of false-front frame buildings and street bazaars and hippy American housewives in slacks hunting for bargains. In Tijuana Mexican tots peddled nickel shoe shines and nickel packs of cigarettes that tasted as strong as a shanty Irishman’s pipe. Tijuana was also a trinket-town. Every bazaar and store window was crammed with five, ten, and fifteen-cent novelty souvenirs – toy whips, woven baskets, shoddy belts, sleazy carpet slippers called huaraches, and colored picture postcards.
I bought a dozen postcards, addressed them to folks back in St. Louis Mo.
“Join the Navy and see the wold,” I scribbled on the back of each card. But I wasn’t really in the Navy. I was an operative of the F.B.I. assigned to undercover duty at the San Diego destroyer base.
Now THAT is some evocative writing!
In addition to selling hundreds of detective stories to several magazines under the name Dale Clark, Kayser also had several stories published under his real name in Weird Tales, including The Albino Death, perhaps best known for its salacious Brundage cover.