The first story from the 2017 July short story challenge to see the light is The Milk Truck Gang, the latest adventure of the Silencer. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the series, The Silencer follows the adventures of Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp writer by day and the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer by night, and is my homage to the hero pulps of the 1930s such as the Shadow, the Spider, Doc Savage and others.
The Silencer stories are fairly research intensive because of the 1930s setting and also because New York City, where most of the stories take place, has changed a lot in the past eighty years. Luckily, New York City’s past is extensively documented, though tracing what the city looked like in the mid 1930s, what long gone buildings were in which location and what shops, restaurant, hotels, theatres, etc… were called (cause they change names and tennants often) can still be a pain. On the plus side, researching locations for a Silencer story often yields plenty of interesting facts that provide ideas for more stories. Coincidentally, I recently came across this fabulous site, which is a basically a Google Streetview into the past and links historical photos to particular locations. Invaluable, particularly when dealing with an area that had changed drastically in the past eighty years.
Because the Silencer stories require so much research, they don’t really lend themselves to a project like the July short story challenge, where speed is of essence and there usually isn’t a lot of time for research. I did write a Silencer story during last year’s July short story challenge, but Fact or Fiction is a housebound story that takes place entirely in Richard’s study and therefore required a lot less research than the average Silencer story. Though even Fact or Fiction required some research, e.g. was white out fluid available in the 1930s (no, invented in the 1950s) and if not, what did people use instead?
While doing the 2017 July short story challenge, I chanced to listen to a report on the radio about a wave of thefts, where cargo – mostly electronics – was stolen directly from the backs of trucks. The report was about a new alarm system that would alert the driver, but what piqued my interest was the crime itself. “That would make a great Silencer story”, I thought to myself.
The July short story challenge requires coming up with a whole lot of ideas in a very compressed time period and so it didn’t take long before I thought, “Hey, that idea for a Silencer story about a wave of thefts from truck beds was pretty good. Maybe I should write that one.”
The next question was what should the thieves steal? It needed to be something that was shipped in sufficient quantities and on a predictable schedule, that was easy to sell and difficult to trace. And so I settled on milk. Milk was ideal for the purpose of my story, because a city the size of New York consumes a lot of it, it is delivered on a predictable schedule and by trucks following predictable routes in the very early morning, it is easy to sell and almost impossible to trace, particularly with 1930s technology.
This led to the question, where precisely did the milk consumed by New Yorkers in the early 20th century come from? Researching this led me to the swill milk scandal of the mid 19th century, which in turn made its way into the story, for the gang not just steals milk and attacks truck drivers, it also adulterates the milk and so poisons young children, which gives the story an extra sense of urgency.
There were a couple of other questions to research, such as what route would the milk trucks take to get the milk from Westchester County to New York City and did those streets already exist in the 1930s (thanksfully yes – what is now Broadway was first mentioned in 1642 and is likely much older)? The reminder that Broadway extends quite a bit beyond the city limits of New York into Westchester County brought to mind the George M. Cohan song “Forty-five minutes from Broadway”, which not only made it’s way into the story, but also stuck in my head for several days.
After the Christmas extravaganza that is St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen, The Milk Truck Gang is a more low-key Silencer adventure that basically centres on a single fight scene. The investigation take place largely off-stage and of the Silencer’s usual supporting cast, only Constance and Edgar, the kitten, as well as Baby Kenny (introduced in St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen) appear. I’m somewhat troubled by the fact that this is the third Silencer story in a row, where Constance doesn’t get a very much to do aside from making coffee and breakfast and patching up Richard after his adventures (the fifth story in the row, actually, since Constance doesn’t appear at all in The Great Fraud and Mean Streets and Dead Alleys). Okay, so she does get a bit more to do in St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s not nearly close to the level of Constance’s involvement in Countdown to Death or The Spiked Death. However, in the hopefully not all too distant future, there will be a Silencer story where Constance goes on an undercover mission of her own.
But for now, here is the Silencer’s latest case, as he battles…
The Milk Truck Gang
Upstate New York, 1937: When the delivery vans of the Daisy Chain Dairy Company are targeted and robbed by a criminal gang and a driver is shot, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer decides to get involved.
So he stakes out the dairy company in the early hours of the morning to apprehend the criminals, only to find himself embroiled in a lethal fight on the bed of a speeding milk truck…
Length: 3700 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
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