Flesh Trade

Flesh Trade by Cora Buhlert1966: Freelance troubleshooter Todd Donovan is hired to locate four American college students who have gone missing while doing humanitarian work on the Caribbean island of San Ezequiel.

While punching suspects and taking names, Todd learns that the college students as well as a young nun were kidnapped by a local crime boss named Cabeza.

So now Todd is engaged in a desperate race against time to rescue the kidnapped women before they can be sold to the highest bidder.

This is an adventure novelette of approx. 9800 words or 35 pages in the style of the men’s adventure pulps of the 1960s.

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More information:

  • Flesh Trade is a novelette of 9800 words or approximately 35 print pages. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • The Crawling Death may be the first Two-Fisted Todd story published, but it’s not the first one written. Because I started writing what would eventually become Flesh Trade some time before The Crawling Death, but set it aside, when I hit a dead end. After I published The Crawling Death, I decided to look at the half-finished story again and promptly wrote the ending.
  • Flesh Trade started out as a writing challenge, because I’d read somewhere that quite often the covers of men’s adventure magazines, just like the pulp mags before them, were already finished beforehand and that the editor then commissioned a writer to write a story to match whatever the cover artist had come up with. I thought that sounded like an interesting writing challenge, so I picked up an art book about men’s adventure magazines, opened it up at random and decided to write a story to match whatever cover came up. And even though the initial story stalled out, I liked the idea so much that I did it again for the July short story challenge.
  • As mentioned above, Flesh Trade was inspired by the cover of a vintage men’s adventure magazine, namely this image of several bound women being driven down the gangway of a ship, while a man with a gun watches hidden in the reed. The cover pretty much informs the type of story involved, so Flesh Trade is a human trafficking story. Though I failed to notice that the man with the gun is wearing broken chains as well.
  • Human trafficking has been a subject of popular fiction from Victorian dime novels and penny dreadfuls to contemporary crime dramas on TV. It has also been a serious real world issue for even longer. But even though the occasional sensationalist article borrows the language of the various popular fiction depictions of human trafficking, there is little overlap between fiction and the real world here.
  • Coincidentally, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the Silencer also tackled the subject of human trafficking as well as the discrepancies between the fictional version and the real world in Fact or Fiction.
  • If the covers of vintage men’s adventure magazine feature more than one woman, there’s usually a blonde, a redhead and a brunette (usually portrayed by the same models, too – the blonde eventually grew up to be sex researcher Shere Hite). And so college students Cheryl, Deborah and Brenda are a blonde, a redhead and a brunette respectively. And because it’s no longer the 1960s and we have more diversity now, I also added the African American college student Michelle and the Latina nun Sister Magdalena for good measure. Coincidentally, it was only after I had written the story that I realised that the cover image I used for inspiration was one of the few that did not feature the combination of blonde, redhead and brunette.
  • The two crime lords Cabeza and Pandano are also two of the names of his rivals that drug lord Durango mentions in The Crawling Death.
  • Todd describes Rico, the dishonest taxi driver, as “a ninety pound weakling not even Charles Atlas could help”. This is of course a reference to the Charles Atlas ads, which were ubiquitous in comics even as late as the 1980s and 1990s and which very likely would also have been found in men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • It was only after I had written the story that I realised that the three nuns from the orphanage Santa Maria de la Esperanza almost exactly mirror the three nuns from the Littlest Angel Home for Orphans from the Silencer story St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen. This was entirely unconscious, but apparently I can only come up with three different types of nuns.
  • Coincidentally, Todd’s encounter with the nuns of Santa Maria de la Esperanza reveals that he was raised Catholic – as his Irish surname implies – and that he used to attend a Catholic school. This is one of the very few things we learn about Todd’s background.
  • Unlike in The Crawling Death, there is no concrete date mentioned in Flesh Trade. However, many of the references and descriptions firmly place the story in the mid to late 1960s.
  • Pat Turner from The Crawling Death does not appear in this story, simply because there was no space for her. Instead, Todd does not experience any romantic entanglements at all in this story.
  • We only meet the five kidnapped young women – Cheryl, Deborah, Brenda, Michelle and Sister Magdalena – towards the end of the story and only see them through Todd’s eyes, since he is the POV character. Nonetheless, I did my best to give them agency and had them actively fight against their captors and assist in their rescue.
  • Unfortunately, the covers of 1960s men’s adventure magazines and 1970s men’s adventure paperbacks are nigh impossible to recreate without access to custom art. However, I tried my best and I think I succeeded. The main cover image is a stock photo by Engin Akyurt, by the way, altered to better achieve the look I was after. Since the model is blonde, we’ll assume that this is Cheryl Whitman.