Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Caravan to Tarim" by David Goodis

Originally published in Colliers, 1943

Available in: Black Friday & Selected Stories by David Goodis, ed. and intro. Adrian Wootton. Serpent's Tail, 2006.

Kelney is an American trader in Arabia. When Bedouins attack his caravan, many of his men are killed. Kelney tries to shoot himself, in fact, but the chamber of his pistol comes up empty.

In the hands of the Bedouins, who are hated and feared by his Arabian boss Mezar and his English colleage Tiggs, Kelney laments the role he played in his own predicament, including secretly loading his men's rifles with blanks. He hates himself for being a coward, all while knowing he would make any deal to stay one step ahead.

Kelney's saving grace is that he values one life the same as another, no matter race or tribe. He agrees to obtain treasure and supplies for the Bedouins, and they send him back to Mezar with a mute for a guide.

Goodis's characterizations are succinct and sharp, but the highlight is Kelney's struggle against himself. Which of his instincts will win, and what repercussions will follow?

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