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The Fabulous Clipjoint [Secure eReader]
eBook by Frederic Brown

eBook Category: True Crime
eBook Description: Fredric Brown's The Fabulous Clipjoint comes from a now-vanished world of crime fiction that once satisfied the same appetites in the audience that are now fed by television programming. Neatly crafted and loaded with atmosphere and humor, The Fabulous Clipjoint, published in 1947, follows the exploits of an unlikely pair of amateur sleuths--a teenaged boy and his uncle, who follows the carnival--in solving a disturbing murder. The victim is a drunk, who seems to have gotten rolled and winds up lying dead in an alley. A cop discovers the body, and a routine inquiry turns up nothing more than sad and pitiful evidence--another blasted life that ends in another random murder. But the victim has a son, 18-year-old Ed Hunter, who is not willing to let his father's death be dismissed so quickly. He has no one to help him, so he turns to the only person he can trust, his Uncle Ambrose, a carny he has not seen in years. Ambrose agrees to help Ed, and the two set out on a most unlikely murder investigation. It takes them down dark and abandoned Chicago streets, confronting a gallery of unsavory characters in the underworld, armed only with a crazy kind of courage and an ever-growing determination to discover the truth. The Fabulous Clipjoint was Fredric Brown's first full-length novel, though its assured skill comes from the author's experience in turning out hundreds of detective stories for magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Ed and Ambrose are an couple of offbeat heroes, foolish enough to get themselves in extraordinary situations. Brown creates a rollicking world for them to explore, filled with vivid characters and plenty of danger--a sleek, suspenseful read.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2002


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Chapter 1

In my dream I was reaching right through the glass of the window of a hockshop. It was the hockshop on North Clark Street, the west side of the street, half a block north of Grand Avenue. I was reaching out a hand through the glass to touch a silver trombone. The other things in the window were blurred and hazy.

The singing made me turn around instead of touching the silver trombone. It was Gardie's voice.

She was singing and skipping rope along the sidewalk. Like she used to before she started high school last year and got boy-crazy, with lipstick and powder all over her face. She was not quite fifteen; three and a half years younger than I. She had make-up on now, in this dream of mine, thick as ever, but she was skipping rope, too, and singing like a kid, "One, two, three, O'Leary; four, five, six, O'Leary; seven, eight ..."

But through the dream I was waking up. It's confusing when you're like that, half one way and half the other. The sound of the elevated roaring by is almost part of the dream, and there's somebody walking in the hallway outside the flat, and -- when the elevated has gone by -- there's the ticking of the alarm clock on the floor by the bed and the extra little click it gives when the alarm is ready to explode.

I shut it off and rolled back, but I kept my eyes open so I wouldn't go back to sleep. The dream faded. I thought, I wish I had a trombone; that's why I dreamed that. Why did Gardie have to come along and wake me up?

I thought, I'll have to get up right away. Pop was out drinking last night and still wasn't home when I went to sleep. He'll be hard to wake up this morning.

I thought, I wish I didn't have to go to work. I wish I could take the train to Janesville to see my Uncle Ambrose, with the carnival. I hadn't seen him for ten years, since I was a kid of eight. But I thought about him because Pop had mentioned him yesterday. He'd told Mom that his brother Ambrose was with the J.C. Hobart carney that was playing Janesville this week and that was the nearest they'd get to Chicago, and he wished he could take a day off and go to Janesville.

And Mom (who isn't really my mom, but my step-mother) had got that looking-for-trouble look on her face and asked, "What do you want to see that no-good bastard for?" and Pop had let it go. Mom didn't like my Uncle Ambrose; that was why we hadn't seen him for ten years.

I could afford to go, I thought, but it would make trouble if I did. I figured like Pop did; it isn't worth it.

I got to get up, I thought. I swung out of bed and went into the bathroom and spattered water into my face to get wide awake. I always used the bathroom and dressed first, and then I woke Pop and got us some breakfast while he got ready. We went to work together. Pop was a linotype operator and he'd got me on as an apprentice printer at the same shop, the Elwood Press.

It was a gosh-awful hot day, for seven in the morning. The window curtain hung as stiff as a board. It was almost hard to breathe. Going to be another scorcher, I thought, as I finished dressing.

I tiptoed along the hall toward the room where Pop and Mom slept. The door to Gardie's room was open and I looked in without meaning to. She was sleeping on her back with her arms thrown out and her face without any make-up on it looked like a kid's face. A kind of dumb kid.

Her face, looking like that, didn't match the rest of her. I mean, maybe because it had been such a hot night she'd taken off her pajama tops and she had nice, round, firm breasts. Maybe they'd be a little too big when she got older but now they were beautiful and she knew it and was proud of them. You could tell that by the way she wore tight sweaters so they would show.

She really is growing up fast, I thought; and I hope she's smart because otherwise she'll be coming home knocked up one of these days, even if she isn't fifteen yet.

She'd probably left her door wide open on purpose so I'd look in and see her that way, too. She wasn't my sister, really, see; not even a half sister. She was Mom's daughter. I'd been eight and Gardie a snot-nosed brat of four when Pop had remarried. My real mom was dead.

No, Gardie wouldn't miss a chance to tease me. She'd like nothing better than to tempt me into making a pass at her -- so she could raise hell about it.

I went on past her open door thinking, damn her, damn her. There wasn't anything else I could think or do about it.

I stopped in the kitchen long enough to light a fire under the kettle so it would start to boil for coffee, and then I went back and rapped softly on the door of their bedroom and waited to see if I'd hear Pop move.

He didn't, and that meant I'd have to go in and wake him. I hated to go into their bedroom, somehow. But I knocked again and nothing happened, so I had to open the door.

Pop wasn't there.

Mom was on the bed alone, asleep, and she was dressed all but her shoes. She had on her best dress, the black velvety one. It was awful mussed now and she must have been pretty tight to go to sleep with it on. It was her best dress. Her hair was a mess, too, and she hadn't taken her make-up off and it was smeared and there was lipstick on the pillow. The room smelled of liquor. There was a bottle of it on the dresser, almost empty and with no cork in it.

I looked around to be sure Pop wasn't anywhere at all in the room; and he wasn't. Mom's shoes lay in the opposite corner from the bed, quite a ways apart as though she'd thrown them there from the bed.

But Pop wasn't there.

Pop had never come home at all.

Copyright © 1947 by Fredric Brown


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