Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"One, Two, Three" by Paul Cain

From: The Black Lizard Big Book of the Pulps, ed. Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2007.

The unnamed gambler who narrates this story is after a con man named Healey, and with good reason. Healey plays cards but is no good at it, and he has a lot of money. The narrator plays well and wants to relieve him of some.

After cooling his heels in Los Angeles waiting for his mark to show up, the narrator gets a tip he's hiding out in Caliente, Nevada, and he wastes no time getting up there. Pretty soon he and Healey are drinking together, and Healey eventually asks him for a lift to L.A. Unfortunately Healey gets cold feet, as in laid-out-on-a-slab cold, and his money takes a trip of its own. The narrator doesn't like that so much.

He returns to L.A. and starts hunting around, and before long he discovers two other chislers trying to horn in on the action. The three of them do their best to beat each other to the punch, but unbeknownst to them, there's someone else out there ready to knock them all on the head.

"One, Two, Three" is told in Cain's trademark deadpan style, but unlike many of his other stories, there's nothing grim about it. In fact it's blackly humorous and the ending is outright funny. I read Cain's collection Seven Slayers, in which this story apparently appeared, several years ago, but for whatever reason had absolutely no memory of it, even after rereading it in Otto Penzler's mammoth love letter to the pulps.

I was reminded of Cain today when I read the news that one of Cain's stories that had never been reprinted was available. Take a look here for more details. (via Spinetingler)

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