From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- The Lady In Shay’s Pond
Joshua Lawrence Breslin, Josh, to all but crazed aficionados of his by-line in the publishing world, and recently “retired” from the rigors of the public prints in such progressive and radical newspapers and journals as the East Bay Other, The Eye, Climate Change Quarterly, The National Digest, and Thompson’s Review, has agreed to share some of his insights into the ways of the world in this space. Oh, and by the way, he happens to be a long-time friend, raconteur,, and mad monk compadre of mine ever since we set eyes on each other up in some noble San Francisco hill in the summer of love, 1967 version, when he donned the name and persona of the Prince of Love and I, Be-Bop Benny, and from then on we were together “on” Captain Crunch’s magical mystery tour yellow brick road bus. Enough said-Markin
Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment
I had not seen Peter Paul Markin in a while when he invited me to make some comments in this space. The immediate cause of our recent reunion was his appearance at a conference up in Portland, Maine near my old growing up, and current, home town of Olde Saco. The subject of that conference, unlike the million and one anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-oppression (name your flavor of the month) conferences that we have wound up at together, was on film noir/ crime noir, a subject we both have shared as a life-long passion. And while I am foggy on exactly how Pee-Pee (except for a short time in the 1967 summer of love when I, and everybody else, called him Be-Bop Benny, the name I have always called him) came by his passion mine actually came out of my early professional work, when as a cub city desk reporter for the Portland Daily Gazette (now long gone), I covered the police beat and needed a break from that mundane assignment to relax and deal with some “real” cinematic and literary crime. Especially after reporting on this one story, the story of the Lady in Shay’s Pond that drove me deep into the genre.
Funny, everybody today thinks, you just go to some swanky journalism school, or school of communications like over at the university, and presto you are a print/internet/television instant icon. Not so in the old days, the now old early 1970s when after getting “off the bus” out on the West Coast I headed back east to make my name, and fortune. Although I had no journalism degree I had always wanted to be a journalist and had done some free-lance work while “on the bus” for different West Coast alternative newspapers and journals that Captain Crunch had connections with through Ken Kesey’s circle of friends. So I wrote a few things about this and that, mostly in a drug coma (or in the throes of love, it could be six-two-and even on either proposition) for The Los Angeles Free Express, The East Bay Other, Ramparts, etc. Nothing big, nothing fancy but I had the bug, had that small scratch resume, and had a notion that if I worked the back roads of journalism I could find some niche to start off with without the degree that I was, frankly, too old and too antsy to go back to school for.
I actually got my East Coast start up at the beloved Schoodic Times, a weekly local newspaper that covered the Bar Harbor area and points north. I was the all-mister-everything there. You know writing up how some Mayfair swell was giving a party for his little girl, Bessie, and he or she, mainly she, wanted all the known world, the known swell Bar Harbor world to know, that hard fact. With each and every participant’s name listed. Correctly listed, or there would be hell to pay. Or maybe covering the monthly town meeting in bustling Schoodic Point or some other meeting convened to vote on (vote against, mainly) some public welfare issue. Or write up some ad copy (mainly in tourist –heavy summer) for Aunt Betty’s Diner, explaining exactly why this local “hot spot,” a piece of authentic New England charm was a “must eat” stop on that hard-earned yearly two weeks’ vacation.
Best of all was covering the “crime” scene news. You know how lobsterman Woodson and lobsterman Eppings went at it tong and nail over who rightfully owned some derelict untagged lobster trap. And that tongs and nails fight wound up in front of the local justice of the peace. That last type work, little of it as there was, and mainly off tourist-heavy season (everybody was on their best behavior for the “guests”), is what got me that first real job at the not missed Portland Daily Gazette. Remind me to tell you about those Schoodic days some time. They really were something else but now I have a murder, or some murders, to solve so let me press on.
Now everybody figures, and figures maybe rightly, if you land in a big city newspaper, say Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, you are among royalty and have entre everywhere. Just snap, flash the badge, point to the camera man and presto you have your story. Ain’t necessarily so, and most definitely was not in my case. I was thrilled, thrilled beyond words, as I recall that I was going to be a cub reporter on the city desk at the Gazette. I figured a couple of articles and I would be talking to the mayor, the governor, the president, who knows, on a first name basis just like the big boys and girls.
Forget that. Podunk (sorry Portland) cub city desk reporter meant you were at the bottom of the feeding chain. Below, well below, the drunken career copy editor who they stashed there because at one time he had won some prize for some odd-ball thing that nobody exactly remembered but is agreed upon by all not to bring up. Below the Woman’s Page lady busy manicuring her fingernails waiting on the latest recipe to file, the latest tidbit about what a certain very much married Mr. So-and-So and Miss Somebody were seen doing at some social event, or writing up somebody’s a party complete with a detailed list of what went on and who participated (I hoped that she spelled each and every name correctly, or else she was doomed). Below the publisher s daughter who was “stashed” there to keep her out of harm’s way (read: away from the night life at Jimmy Jake’s Blues Club down at Olde Saco Beach in high French- Canadian ooh-la-la summer) before she marries the son of the Augusta (Maine) Journal. And that cub reporter below also meant nothing but to mainly cover the police “beat” press room at the main station on the off-chance that every known Mafioso don, every know jack-roller, every known mug, yegg, drifter, grifter, and midnight shifter intended to descend on Portland in a fit of hubris.
Or maybe to cover, just maybe, that one time, off-hand odd-ball murder, or really before it was all over, murders, that has the whole town stirred up for months. That’s the one that broke me out of the bottom of the chain, out of writing novels at my police station desk to keep my eyes open. Yes, that day, October 23, 1973, the day they dragged the lady out of Shay’s Pond over in Ocean View.
That day I was just writing my fifth re-write of chapter three of my novel, The Third Wife, a novel to end all novels, to put Hemingway on cheap street, to let Fitzgerald go back and sulk, and have another drink with Zelda, to nuzzle Mailer out for that great American Novel prize when the police call came in. [We knew when a call, silly, obtuse, or important came in, because a green light flashed three times in the press room to alert us, quaint.] Some kids had been traipsing in the woods over at Shay’s Pond in Ocean View and come across a very badly decomposed body of what latter turned out to be a woman who had been strangled, a woman known in Ocean View although not as a full-time year-round woman but a “summer guest” (with the emphasis squarely on summer, and squarely on barely tolerated) as the native Mainiacs like to call them.
I didn’t know much about Ocean View then, although it was only a few miles south of my old hometown, Olde Saco. But it might as well have been a million miles away. Although they didn’t have gated communities then as they do now Ocean View was strictly for the Mayfair swells. Not, maybe as swell as the old time Bar Harbor set with their two last name middle and last names and stuff like that but strictly swells and strictly no murder capital of the world swells. In fact the town had no police force (except for summer rent-a-cop college boys, really just life-guards, who wanted to impress the junior girls swells and maybe catch an off-hand “wild girl” waiting to break-out before marrying another two last name middle and last name guy.) So the State Police out of Portland, along with a couple of special deputies from the Portland Police Department who knew the area, had to deal with the body, deal with the publicity (or rather keeping a lid on it), and deal with solving the crime, or what they thought was the crime. One cop in particular, Detective Garcia, had worked on a case there before (it didn’t come out until after it was all over that the case was over some “he said, she said” things between a big time stockbroker and his estranged wife, kid’s stuff, strictly kid’s stuff).
Here is what the “Staties” picked up right away after a couple of days hard work. The woman, Eleanor, the young wife (twenty-six) of J. Eugene Murry, yes, that J. Eugene Murry, the CEO of Murry Industries, the ancient big defense contractor, had been reported missing by Mr. Murry back in late August, whereabouts at the time unknown, possible destinations unknown, last known companion (s) unknown, cash in hand, plenty, love of J. Eugene Murry, nil. Of course Mr. Murry might just a have been the slightest bit more helpful since he had a rather large mansion over on not-gated but might as have well have been Atlantic Street, Mrs. Murry had called him from that locale several times asking for (and receiving) money in early August, and she was seen by various mansion employees with one (or more) males, young males, closer to her age that Mr. Murry’s.
All that, of course, didn’t come out until later after the case was nailed. Oh, ya, and Mrs. Murry, or someone who sounded very much like Mrs. Murry had called Murry Industries, specifically Mr.Murry’s personal secretary asking for (and receiving) cash six times between late August and the discovery of the body in the pond. The last time just four days before the very, very decomposed (I had to avert my eyes when I first saw it) came to the surface, or whatever dragged it to shore.
With that last bit of information in hand the previously laconic Mr. Murry determined to hire a private detective to get to the bottom of this case. See the regular cops were going too slowly for him all of a sudden. Yes, Mr. Murry was that kind of man. He didn’t care what his wife did, or didn’t do, in public or private, as long as she remained Mrs. Trophy-Wife but now that she was gone, long gone, something had to be done, and done quickly. And, no, no, a thousand times no J. Eugene Murry did not kill his wife, and his alibi, naturally was that little blonde personal secretary who was feeding somebody dough to keep her away.
Now this private detective thing, the stuff of crime noir legend is nothing but a shill. Look, most of these guys can’t tie their shoes, can’t spell murder, and couldn’t make it on the police force (because (a) they couldn’t keep quiet about the graft, (b) didn’t give Johnny Rico or some guy enough protection, or (c) couldn’t keep quiet about the free doughnuts and coffee in the locker room provided by Milly’s Diner) and got the boot. And not knowing any other gainful profession set up shop in some flea-bag office building with failed dentists, repo men, and insurance coverage chiselers. Hats off to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler but that is the stuff of dreams, opium dreams from what I can gather.
I guess our Mr. Murry just went to the nearest telephone directory and placed his finger on the first name he came to, Alan Albert, because that is who Detective Garcia (who knew Albert when he was on the Portland force before he was canned for taking more than his cut of the protection money and “forgetting” about the Precinct Six captain, a fatal mistake) introduced me to him as Mr. Murry’s new private hired help. His main previous work, upon interview by me, was some rough-edged divorce work. That work, keyhole peeper work, rather than solving police platoon-sized murders, is what keeps most private dicks in coffee and cakes, and the wolves from the door.
But here is the funny part, funny after the big pin in the balloon I have put in the private- eye sleaze business. Alan Albert actually did solve the crime, crimes actually, the heinous crimes of murder, although not in the two-fisted, take a couple of slugs for the cause, maybe save a damsel in distress, or get bopped by some femme fatale out for her own kicks way. Here is how.
When Albert went over to be interviewed by Miss Grayson (the name of that, ah, blonde, very personal secretary belonging to one Mr. J. Eugene Murry) he recognized a photo on her desk as belonging to a girl he once knew from the Sea and Surf Club over at Olde Saco Beach (I remembered that club, and its mainly hell motorcycle “wild men” well). That girl in the photo, Emily Greer, happened to be a very close friend of Miss Grayson, according to what she said at the time. Upon request, after being given the job of finding Mrs. Murry’s killer (or killers), Alan was given a photograph of Mrs. Murry. He noted, although he kept quiet about it then, the striking resemblance between Eleanor Murry in the photograph and Emily. Enough to follow a certain lead.
See this Emily Greer, wild as hell, a “motorcycle mama” is what we called them in old Olde Saco time (and maybe they still do), was at one time the girlfriend of that Detective Garcia who introduced us a few days back. But after squeezing the Detective for all kinds of stuff, including getting her brother to walk on a murder rap, she dumped him and left him for some white trash biker from Ellsworth. But Detective Garcia still had it bad for his Emily. So, every once in a while she would squeeze him, squeeze him hard for information about the swells in Ocean View. See he had worked that stockbroker and wife feud that he had investigated into a little affair with the slumming wife (the “sleeping around and caught" cause of the stockbroker “he said, she said” argument that he broke up). So he gave up the Mrs. Murry information from Mrs. Stockbroker to Emily, and presto, Eleanor Murry is nowhere to be found. And, as it turned out, a few other “summer guests” would also turn up in that stinking Shay’s Pond.
Private Detective Albert and Public Detective Garcia, after rounding up Miss Grayson (real name, Alice Greer) at Murry Industries Headquarters (she was feeding the so-called Mrs. Murry dough out the door to her sister, Emily) and placing her safe and sound at Police Headquarters took a little ride over to the Sea and Surf Club to collar Miss Emily. No guns, no fights, no car chases, no whipping chains, just a plain ordinary “come with us, sister” arrest. And if you saw spiteful Emily you could see that she would have taken a couple in the chest if he she had been sober just then, but you could also see that she had the wherewithal to dunk those five bodies found in that small pond, without remorse.
So you see why I got into “real” crime noir after all this matter-of-fact-stuff. Let me tell you about some real crime stuff up in old Schoodic Point, a titanic fight between two lobstermen over the spoils of a daily catch. That will get the hairs in the back of your neck up. Oh, I guess I have run out of time. That is a story for another day