ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Slated to Die.” First published in Argosy Weekly, January 11, 1936. Delbert “Del” Free #1. Novelette. Probably never collected or reprinted.

   Del Free, whose first and most likely only appearance this was, is one of those gentlemen of leisure in Erle Stanly Gardner’s pulp stories who every so often seeks out adventure by poring carefully over the personal ads of local newspapers and sees what he can find. Here’s the one that catches his eye to start this story off:

At eleven o’clock tonight drive your
car to place where you had your puncture
about a month ago when you walked in to
the Big-E-Garage. Park it and wait. We
will blink our lights three times. Every-
one well. Sends love.   A. B. C.

   This, of course, would catch my eye, too, if I had the free time and a lust for doing something out of the ordinary. Free scouts out the area, finds a car he thinks may be Valere’s, blinks his lights three times, and finds himself way over his head in, of all things, a kidnapping scheme, and caught between a girl who is trying to pay off the gang who are holding her father ransom, the gang members themselves, and yet another gang who also has read the same personal ad that Free has.

   The result, from the point of view of the reader of the story itself, is a long, involved tale of who is where, doing what, being captured and threatened with torture before escaping, and in general racing around not knowing exactly what is going on, the latter on the part of all three parties.

   There is no deduction in this tale. It is pure action from start to finish. Not one of Gardner’s better tales, but even so, third rate Gardner is a lot better than a lot of his competitors.

   One other thing. Most of the rest of this issue of Argosy Weekly is taken up by small chunks of serial installments, which is why most pulp collectors today are not all that interesting in buying single issues of the magazine. There are four such installments in this issue: various portions of novels by Borden Chase, H. Bedford-Jones, Karl Detzer, and Dennis Lawton.

   Question: Did those people who bought copies of Argosy from their local newsstand back in 1936 read a given issue straight through and throw them away, or did they stack them up at home and then read novels that had been serialized only once they had all the parts together? It’s too late to ask anyone who was there then, but maybe some of you just happen to remember how their grandparents handled this.