Saturday, July 28, 2018
DIVIDENDS OF DOOM
This is the second appearance of The Leopard Lady! In her first appearance, Legion of The Living Dead, Felice Vincart was a typical Agent X adversary, a woman thrown into a life of crime for excitement or adventure. However, now she appears to be the embodiment of evil, using her pets, two savage leopards to kill at her command.
Although again, she is a secondary character in the story, Fleming-Roberts had a way of making his femme fatales shine above the other players in the drama. It isn't the mastermind the reader is interested in, but the Leopard Lady. We don't really care who the mastermind is we just want to follow this girl and her vicious pets.
She is three dimensional, and feels hate - or love. As we see in this scene from Dividends of Doom, when she has captured Agent X:
" I could have loved a man like you madly," she whispered. "But I am easily turned to hate. Now you shall know the agonizing fear of the electric chair, even as I have known it because of you." Her voice seemed very far away now. X could no longer see those tantalizing red lips.
"Goodbye, Agent X," came the distant whisper. Then he knew no more.
When her end came, it wasn't Agent X who killed her, but her boss, the mastermind. Stuart Gray, alias Achmet Karahmud, who was attempting to escape with the loot, leaving the girl behind. The Leopard Lady caught up with him over a burning theater, along a batten for supporting stage drops. Gray tripped her on that narrow batten, and Felice Vincart, the Leopard Lady, fell to a fiery doom in the inferno below.
Thus ended the life of the only foe to face Secret Agent X more than once.
At least in the pulps. I might make a side note here, concerning Felice Vincart. In a story dated December 1996, Steve Mitchell writing in CLASSIC PULP FICTION STORIES as Brant House, wrote a sequel to Dividends of Doom, in which the Leopard Lady survived the burning flames of the theater. In The Choice, she is assisted by Ravenwood and the Nameless One, and turns her life around. A second story, The Leopard Lady Strikes Back, also by Steve Mitchell, appeared in the January 1997 issue of CLASSIC PULP FICTION STORIES, and this time she meets Secret Agent X again, who accepts her change. Unfortunately, that seems to be her last appearance anywhere.
With the new pulp movement, we may not have seen the last of The Leopard Lady yet. Happy reading
Saturday, July 14, 2018
INTRODUCING NEW PULP AUTHORS
Once in a while I will be spotlighting one of our new pulp authors. These will just be short bios. The author is encouraged to add more information at any time, and since my data is a bit old (taken from the back of books we – or others – published) new information would be appreciated. This is not limited to just the authors of the FADING SHADOWS magazines. Other new pulp authors can be included. Just send me a short bio, and an illustration if you have one.
Thomas A. Condarcure: From Phoenix, Arizona, Tom is a science fiction fan, and contributed many stories to small press magazines in the style of the old pulp SF magazines of old. For Alien Worlds he wrote such titles as The Tombs of Saturn, Under The Seas of Titan, The Veil At The Center of Time, and the novel Astro Athena & The Robots of Doom. For fun, he wrote the missing and unpublished Flash Gordon novel, The Sun Men of Saturn as James Edison Northfield. Tom was in our area one day and stopped in for a short visit.
Monday, July 9, 2018
Angel Eyes #6: “Bullets And Bad Times” by W. B. Longley (Robert J. Randisi):Liz Archer rides into Clearwater, Dakota Territory hoping to find rest, but word of her destination has proceeded her. The sheriff and a hot head young gunslinger are both awaiting her arrival. With her horse lame she leaves it at the livery to be tended too, and then discovers the young gunman wants a showdown with her. When the bank is robbed and the sheriff mortally wounded, she puts on the badge to go after the robbers and the young gunman joins her. The bank robbers connects with another gang and are killed themselves, but a father wants his daughter out of their hands, and leads Liz and her partner up the mountain to the gang’s hideout. Returning to Clearwater, it’s time for Angel Eyes to face the young gunman in a showdown. This was another good western plot, and a final showdown for the female gunfighter. The story is only marred by the adult sex and language.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
THE TERROR OF SPYDOM
In the back pages of the OPERATOR #5 magazine, Arthur Leo Zagat wrote twelve short stories featuring a secret agent called Red Finger in the battle against foreign espionage and sabotage from agents of a foreign power. Actually, there was little doubt as to who these agents represented. At the time it must have been all right to use German and Japanese-sounding names.
To call these adventures short stories may be pushing it a bit. They were mostly 8 1/2 pages counting the half page illustration that appeared with each story. By the end of the series, the final two entries were merely 6 ½ pages, with the ever-present half page of art.
The twelve stories were:
Second Hand Death 10/34
Death Rides The Sound 11/34
Red Finger – Death Dealer 12/34
Caged Horror 4/35
Death’s Red Finger 9/35
Red Finger Meets His Match 3/36
Red Finger – Spy Poison 6-7/36
Locked In With Death 8-9/36
Death’s Toy Shop 1/37
Envoy of Doom 7-8/37
The Spy Who Stole Death 9-10/37
Red Finger’s Murder Messenger 3-4/38
I will include a synopsis for the stories I read after discussing the main characters. (Note At the time I wrote this article, I had only read a few of the stories, not the complete series yet. Since then I’ve read them all.)
The hero’s true identity is never in doubt. He is Ford Duane. The world sees him as a long-faced, alpaca-coated man. He appears young, and his very blue eyes are continually moving and very watchful. His very existence depends on the maintenance of his identity as a dreamy, cobweb-brained sexton of a tomb of defunct books.
Perhaps they were not keen enough, those eyes. Perhaps sometimes they would not be quite watchful enough to forestall the sudden, flashing flicker of death which at any moment might strike at their owner. For death, to Ford Duane, was an ever-present, ever imminent threat. There was a price on his head in half the chancelleries of the Eastern Hemisphere. There were those whose lust to slash steel into his heart – to blast lead into his flesh – needed no price to whet it. Sooner or later, he knew, one of these must discover who the shambling bookseller he pretended to be really was. And then …
For Ford Duane was America’s Secret Agent, known to every foreign spy as … Red Finger. The torch beam reflecting back showed a vague, black-clothed figure ominously motionless. A gray felt was pulled low over his forehead, a gray mask hid nose and mouth, only his narrowed eyes were revealed; their irises steely blue. A glove was worn on the hand covering the butt of his weapon. The glove was black except for the finger curled around the trigger. As if it had been dipped in fresh blood, it was a glaring scarlet. The Red Finger!
Lithe muscles coil like steel springs, thin nostrils flare imperceptibly. A black cloak hung from his shoulders to ground. They saw a black swirl come through the vertical slit in the blind … the apparition straightened, its black cloak swirling about and making it shapeless. A broad-brimmed black hat showed only a gray, featureless mask.
These prowlers of the dark were, after all, brave men. But it was the finger that told them who it was that had tracked them down. The dread name dripped from the spy leader’s white lips:
Red Finger Gott in Himmel! Es ist der Rote Finger!
About mid-way through the series, a female agent code-named Flower, helps Red Finger on some of his cases. The two fall in love, but a spy’s life does not include marriage, so Red Finger tries to discourage the girl both as an agent, and a lover. The only name associated with her was Jane Adams. She is mysteriously dropped after only a few issues. A shame, she could have been an added attraction to the stories.
On the lower Fourth Avenue, in an area known as the Port of Missing Books, a little shop with a grimed plate-glass window displays decrepit boxes of tattered volumes in front of their dark book stacks within. A simple sign: This box 15 cents each, choice selections 50 cents - is just as rain-streaked and illegible as the glass window is forlorn.
A curtain ineffectually conceals his living quarters from the store proper. As the curtain drops behind him, movement – and he has vanished. A slender wall of tight-packed books has moved suddenly on well-oiled hinges, returning the wall in place as he moved inward to the room beyond.
The hidden inner room is little more than a cramped, windowless cubicle, not more than a yard square. Within the room is a stool set before a narrow ledge attached to the inner wall, and a powerful light from a high ceiling.
The bookstore is sandwiched between one run by Radley Ransom and another run by Lazarre Garreau. It was a street of bookstores. And the names of the men next to his would change often.
The living quarters, located behind the curtain dividing the bookstore proper, contains a rumples camp cot and a two burner gas plate. A wooden table, and a rickety chair. Not the normal abode we would associate with a secret agent. But what better place for a pulp hero than a used bookstore!
I should add before going into the story synopsis that the head of Red Finger’s secret organization is only known as T, no other name given to him. Ford Duane usually receives a message from T that send him off on another assignment. The message is delivered in such a way that Ford Duane will know it’s true. The initials, P.A.T. are always given in some sentence to identify the messenger as being his contact. The stories themselves are very simple: Ford Duane receives a message at his bookstore, and this little scene is always played out, then the scene switches to the location of the sabotage or whatever the current threat, and that scene is played out. For an 8-page story there is little time for anything else. But the stories are so well written that the two scenes come off perfectly, then the end.
SECOND HAND DEATH: It was only a dingy little back street book stall, yet it held a secret so sinister, so menacing, that even the mysterious Red Finger, Ace of the Military Intelligence Service, might well have hesitated before the ghostly doom that awaited him.
A foreign spy has blackmailed a city engineer into turning over blueprints of New York City’s subway system. His government plans on setting bombs at strategic locations, killing many. The plan also calls for the release of plague into the city, killing many more.
Red Finger gets word of the plan and intercepts the master spy. His intervention avert destruction and death within the city, as well as prolongs the start of war between America and the foreign country involved.
DEATH RIDES THE SOUND: A few indentations on a shiny bit of metal leads Red Finger, Ace of the Counter-Espionage Bureau – on an eerie quest in the murky waters of a death-haunted inlet.
A foreign spy plans on sabotaging an army munitions supply, leaving behind fake evidence pointing towards a neutral country. Red Finger must not only stop the sabotage itself, but protect the other country from being blamed for terrorism and sabotage.
RED FINGER – DEATH DEALER: Not Reviewed.
CAGED HORROR: Not Reviewed.
DEATH’S RED FINGER: Once more a veiled message comes to Ford Duane’s dingy bookstore … and Red Finger, nemesis of foreign spies, again plays a lone hand to thwart the undercover enemies who would destroy America.
Adolph Maurer and an agent called G-X are set to blow up the American battleship, the Missitucky, but Red Finger learns of the plot and intervenes, catching the saboteurs on board with the bomb.
Here’s a curious note on this one. America has a secret agent called G-X that appears in another of POPULAR PUBLICATIONS magazines, ACE G-MAN. The G-X exploits were written by Harry Lee Fellings, but these adventures would not appear until 1939, four years after the current Red Finger story. I doubt there is any connection.
RED FINGER MEETS HIS MATCH: Again, those fateful three letters come to the musty second hand bookshop, this time as the initials of the loveliest girl Duane had ever seen … and once more the dreaded Red Finger, counter-spy supreme, waged battle in the Endless War, pitting his keen mind and troubled heart against the enemy’s rat –sly secret agents.
This is a nice little entry in which foreign agents. Garon and Fator, plan on assassinating the President during a national parade. Ford Duane receives a secret message from a female operative, code named Flower, then she is kidnapped by the foreign agents who were following her.
Red Finger reaches them before they can torture the girl, or assassinate the President. When Red Finger and Flower part, she asks if they will ever meet again, and he tells her, never. But the next day he receives a message, signed Flower, that tells him, Never say never to a woman.
RED FINGER – SPY POISON: A crusty dowager whispers to a second hand bookseller and Red Finger, the terror of spydom, follows a perilous trail of death – and romance!
A scientist has invented a machine that uses ultraviolet light to penetrate clouds, fogs, or any obtrusion, to pinpoint enemy aircraft and successfully bring the planes down with anti-aircraft guns. He is hidden away by the American government until the invention is completed. A female agent, Jane Adams – Flower – designated Agent 613, is the scientist’s guardian while in hiding.
Unfortunately, agents of a foreign power learn everything, and capture military leaders en route to obtain the secret data on the new invention. When the pseudo-American generals arrive for the data, they are tripped up by Flower, and she destroys the data. But the foreign agents tie her up along with the scientist, and then apply torture to get the information.
Red Finger has all ready been alerted to the incident, and was on hand as quick as he could get to the hideaway. He stops the foreign agents and saves the scientist; and now knows that he is in love with the woman simply known as Flower – all of this in an 8-page story.
LOCKED UP WITH DEATH: Faced with final, horrible destruction, Red Finger – counter-spy and terror of all enemy agents – knew that he was playing the last grim hand of his long, danger fraught career – but he hadn’t counted on the courage and stratagem of the lovely girl he knew only as Flower.
Astroff, the leader of the Lemurian spies has set a massive plan into being. Strategically placed bombs to disrupt America, while the Lemurian army waited off shore to attack New York. He sets his agents to signal the army after the bombs have exploded.
Red Finger hears their plans and enters the hideaway, only to be captured by the wily spy. He is left entombed in a room about to be blown up, when suddenly Flower arrives to set him free. He then causes the death of Astroff, but it is not revealed how the plans for the bombs – nor the Lemurian army was to be stopped. Supposedly, everything ended with the death of Astroff.
DEATH’S TOY SHOP: High in a New York office building, the signal was to go out that would set a secret army of destruction on the march for the conquest of America. Could Red Finger, the super-spy, get there in time to stay the slaughter?
Jane West (Jane Adams?) – Flower, is working as secretary to a known spy when she learns that plans call for an invasion of America that very evening. She secretly tries to leave the office but is caught and held captive by the foreign agent. Mexicans are prepared to assault the West Coast, while ships lie in wait on the East Coast. The invasion will begin a t 7 pm, when a popular radio station plays a certain song on the air, the musician merely awaits the order.
Before the spies learn that Jane West is a secret agent, they allow her to write a message to her boyfriend, telling him that she can’t keep their date. One of the agents delivers the message himself – to Ford Duane!
Red Finger reaches the toy shop in time to save Flower, as well as stop the message from reaching the musician who would broadcast the coded song over the air.
ENVOY OF DOOM: The hem of a silken scarf told a fateful story to Red Finger, nemesis of furtive men who dealt in death for millions. Those lustrous threads sent him on a danger trail to save a nation, though it meant tossing his own life on the hissing fuse of hell’s own bombshell.
Germany’s agents have trained Green Shirts – Americans against America – in causing anger and fights between American; doc workers and seamen are targeted, while miners and labor unions were also targeted. The plan was to arm them all, then set them to fighting each other, turning America into a burning battleground within itself, leaving the way open – and easy – for Germany’s armada of planes were already approaching each coast.
The agents merely await the signal. Fortunately, Red Finger stops the planned signal, and has his own message broadcast to the waiting agents. A message that will stop their plans cold!
THE SPY WHO STOLE DEATH: It was a terrible catastrophe those foreign spies planned – to blow up the subway tube, to slay hundreds, and force America into a war of reprisal. Only Red Finger watched and waited, warned by those tin strung beads. For they were not beads of prayer but a killer’s code that spelled death!
It is another plan by the Japanese agents to destroy the subway system with a bomb, while many thousands will be murdered. And evidence left in a little room, throwing blame on a Russian spy. But Red Finger intercepts the plan and stops the destruction and loss of life. Again, the plans of an enemy have been stopped.
RED FINGER’S MURDER MESSAGE: Untold millions in bills were there, ready to pay the price that would forever doom America. But into the secret room, where the Three laid their amazing trap for Liberty, came Red Finger – America’s last desperate hope, with the tiny uncorked bottle in his hand!
America’s enemies plan on dumping billions of American dollars (printed illegally) into the economy system. This will cause financial problems with the American economy, and bring America to the brink of destruction. A foreign spy infiltrates our spy network and discovers Red Finger’s identity. They send an agent to kill him, but the plan backfires, putting Red Finger on their trail. In his final encounter, he penetrated the headquarters and kills the agents, while destroying the illegal money in a blazing fire.
Thus ended an exciting little series. The 12 stories, put together, would make a 100-page novel.
OBITUARIES ARE FINAL: Tom Johnson wrote a final story for the ALTUS PRESS complete reprint of the series. In this final tale, Flower is captured by a German spy planning on blowing up the Empire State Building during a visit by the President’s wife. Red Finger, wounded and weak, is searching for Flower, and discovers the evil plans. He finds the hideout and kills the spy before he can set off the deadly bomb. The fear he had felt for Flower’s danger proved that he loved her, and in the end he proposed.
Note: When Tom Johnson created The Black Ghost in in early 1995, retired government agents, Ford Duane and Flower were his trainers/teachers from his teenage years. They had no children, and left him their fortune in savings to continue his work fighting crime when they were gone.