Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Dress Blues by Michael A. Black

Dress Blues” by Michael A. Black, Hardluck Stories, Spring 2005

PI Ron Shade is looking for a runaway boy. The boy, Manuel, had a behavior problem, he was getting into trouble and trying to get into a local gang, the Spanish Tigers. His mother, with the help of a family friend, got him enrolled in the Woodsen Academy, a military school. Manuel had disappeared from the school.

The people at the school were unhelpful, but sent him to Dr. Odin, a psychologist who counsels the school’s more problematic students. Odin also used the “didn’t have time to get to know him” excuse, suggesting that Manuel had gone back to the gang. Ron learns that Manuel’s street name is El Mariposito, Little Butterfly, because of his affinity for Filipino butterfly knives. (BTW, Dave, you got the spelling right on the third try!)

Ron tries to talk to his friend, George, at the police department but is brushed off because of the murder of a big-shot named Horkin. Later, with the heat off because of the kiddie porn they found in Horkin’s safety deposit box, George offers to help Ron talk to some Spanish Tigers. They don’t know where he is. George sends him to a priest who helps kids in trouble. That also turns out to be a dead end.

Ron goes back to see George who had promised to check Manuel’s juvenile file. When he arrives George is going through Rolodex cards from the murdered big-shot pervert’s office. One of the cards attracts Ron’s attention, Dr. Herman P. Odin. When Ron finds out that Horkin was knifed, he goes back to see Odin.

I enjoy Mr. Black’s Ron Shade stories, and this one is no exception. Shade is well drawn, and I like the fact that he can take care of himself. PIs like John Lutz’s Nudger make me nuts. Becoming a professional snooper, at least in fiction, almost guarantees that sooner or later someone is going to take violent exception to your actions. Anyone that doesn’t realize this and take appropriate steps is less than bright.

I also liked the way Mr. Black led Shade to build his case step by step, many of them false, letting us feel his frustration build, then blowing off a little steam with the hulk at the halfway house. That relief then let him build suspense more effectively to the end.

In short, good, solid PI fare.