DAVID GOODIS “The Blue Sweetheart.” Novelette. First published in Manhunt, April 1953. Published as a Kindle eBook by Peril Press, November 2013.

   Thick sticky heat came gushing from the Indian Ocean, closed in on Ceylon, and it seemed to Clayton he was the sole target. He sat at the bar of a joint called Kroner’s on the Colombo waterfront, and tried vainly to cool himself with gin and ice. It was Saturday night and the place was mobbed, and most of them needed baths. Clayton told himself if he didn’t get out soon, he’d suffocate. But he knew he couldn’t walk out. If he walked out now he’d be killed.

   The setting may be different, but the milieu and the predicament of the hapless hero of this novelette from the legendary digest Manhunt, is pure David Goodis, the poet of the down and out, the hopeless, and the lost. You may know him best from his novels or the films made from them (Dark Passage, Nightfall, The Burglar, The Burglars …), but chances you know him as the author of grim down to the bone tales that could give Cornell Woolrich a run for their doomed kismet haunted protagonists.

   What you may not know is Goodis also had a good run in the pulps, particularly in the aviation pulps. Aside from his fatalistic novels he also wrote tales of adventure and intrigue, and this novelette from Manhunt is much closer to those works than his better known novels, though hints of those works can’t help but slip in.

   Not that Clayton, the protagonist of this tale, would feel out of place beside the doomed heroes of most of Goodis novels. As the story opens he is in a very shady bar in a foreign port knowing simply leaving will likely cost him his life, and the back story is no prettier about Russ Hagen, a brutal power that be in Colombo who stole Clayton’s woman and fortune in gems and booted him out of Ceylon a year earlier.

   Now Clayton is back, his fate seemingly sealed, all because of Alma who had laughed with Hagen as Clayton lay beaten and bleeding at Hagen’s feet, and because of a large sapphire, the “blue sweetheart” of the title which is Clayton’s hope for redemption and revenge.

   Cast this one in the movie of your mind as you will, Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, and George Macready (Gilda) or Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, and Brad Dexter (Macao), this is the familiar adventure tale of countless pulp stories filtered through a film noir lens and peppered with a certain shabby hopeless elegance unique to Goodis voice and gift for painting unforgettable word images:

   The Englishman’s name was Dodsley and he was a greasy whiskered derelict of forty years.

   â€œOf course there were witnesses, they flocked like angry hyenas. Then I showed them the gun.”

   He was broken and bleeding at Hagen’s feet. And Alma was in Hagen’s arms, looking down at him as if he were mud.

   The knocking was a parade of glimmering blue spheres bouncing in blackness.

   He was swept outward and away from the boundaries of reality, and yet somehow he knew this wasn’t a dream, it was something he had waited for and hungered for …

   And this little exchange when he sees Alma again for the first time in a revealing dress standing in his bedroom and it all comes back to him:

   He said: “You here on business?”


   â€œIf that’s a business outfit you’re wearing, I got a few dollars ain’t busy.”

   She didn’t even flinch. She was a clever boxer neatly slipping a right-hand smash to the jaw. “I’ll do the buying,” she said very softly.

   It’s hard not to see that one in cinematic terms.

   â€œThe Blue Sweetheart” is no classic, and it reads with an easy familiarity, but it also hits all the right notes, a perfect jazz rift played with ultimate skill from a well worn Fake Book by a master whose fingers almost autonomously caress the keys with grace and style.

   The first grey ribbons of dawn were sliding across the sky as he turned slowly and moved towards the woman who had her back to him and looked out at the dark water that was reflected in his eyes.

   Muted horns playing, gradual fade …