Perry Mason and the Hardy Boys in Erle Stanley Gardner’s/Franklin W Dixon’s “The Case of the Oedipal Parricide”

Chapter 1 – It’s a Small World After All

It’s a typical sunsplashed Tuesday in Southern California where Perry Mason sits in his spacious walnut paneled office admiring his brand new state-of-the art intercom system. This is the age of rotary pay telephones, automobiles with tailfins that stretch out like prison sentences, an age when administrative assistants are known as secretaries.

Mason’s secretary, Della Street, shares the office with him. She’s an extremely attractive dark-haired woman in late twenties, buxom but wasp-waisted, slender, long-legged. Although the median marriage age for women is 20.6, Miss Street is single, and her desire for Mr. Mason is palatable. They frequently socialize, and his demeanor towards her is paradoxically solicitous yet aloof. Even though he often places his hand on her shoulder or waist as they walk together, there’s a distant formality in those gestures. Somehow she hasn’t intuited he’s as gay as a rhinestone-studded cummerbund.

As she leans over to place some papers on his desk, there’s a brisk knock on the door, and in strides Paul Drake, Mason’s private detective of choice. Drake is a strapping 6’2,” with sharp features and an abundant amount of blonde hair combed back from his forehead. He’s sporting a soon-to-be out-of-style checkered blazer and a skinny black tie.

He gives Della the once over and says, “Hello, beautiful.”

“Hello, Paul,” Mason replies.

Drake places his hands on his hips and frowns. “Look, Perry. I’ve asked you more than once to desist with these playful innuendos. I know you’re joking, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I could claim harassment.”

Mason looks up an offers a slight, quizzical smile. “First of all, Paul. It’s 1957. There are no harassment laws. Second, I was looking down at these papers on my desk. You didn’t say, ‘Hello, Della. You look beautiful.’ You said, ‘Hello, beautiful.’ I assumed you were referring to my soulful protuberant eyes and the feline grace with which I move my broad-shouldered frame, my girth always well disguised beneath the impeccable tailoring of my Brooks Brothers suits. But, look, I didn’t call you here to match lawyerly wits but to get you working on a case.”

“Okay, Okay,” Drake says, surrendering.

Drake, Perry (seated), Della

“Ever heard of Fenton Hardy?”

“You mean the private detective who works out of Bayport, that small but thriving city of fifty-thousand inhabitants, located on Barmet Bay, three miles inland from the Pacific Ocean?”

“That’s the one.”

Della pipes in, “He has two sons. I read about them recently solving a case for their father.”

“That’s right,” Mason says. “One boy is dark, and the other fair, but there’s a marked resemblance between the two brothers, Eighteen-year-old Frank is tall and dark. Joe, a year younger, is blonde with blue eyes.   By the way, their father, Fenton is dead.“

Della and Paul, as if in a duet, simultaneously gasp, “Dead?”

“Murdered,” Mason says, holding up his palm, traffic-cop-style to prevent their gasping “Murdered?”

“Well,” Paul says, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket, “There certainly are a slew of thugs, gangsters, insurance fraudsters who would have a motive. “

Mason, calmly, “Oh, they’ve already arrested a suspect.”

In unison, “They have?”

“Yeah, the older boy Frank, the darker one, has been arrested and booked for murder.”

“Back in Bayport?” Stella asks.

“No,” Mason replies matter-of-factly. “In Anaheim. The family was vacationing at Disneyland. Laura, the mother, and Joe had gone out to run some errands. Frank was back in his room recuperating from sprained back from a fall he’d suffered in Frontierland, and the father was napping. When Laura returned she found her husband dead in bed, gunned down by his own pistol, which was lying on the floor. The gun is covered in the older boy’s prints.”

“That’s Frank,” Drake asks, “the older one, the dark one?”

“Correct. Paul, I want you to drive to Anaheim to the Clearview Motel, Rooms 17 and 19 and to see if there’s anything Tragg has overlooked. I’m headed to the jail to interview Frank.”

“Okay, boss.”

“Della, I want you to come with me.”

As Della grabs her purse, Drake exits in a hurry, leaving the door open. Mason waits, places his hand gently on Della’s back ushering her out. He turns around and carefully closes the door.

[cue the ominous distinctive theme song]

Unanswered Prayers

Mr. Bigshot, who do you think you are?

By the way, I don’t pray, despite the miraculous anecdotal evidence. If I did, I’d probably limit my beseeching to “Thy will be done,” which in fact seems to me like a sort of silly request to make of an omniscient, omnipotent deity. “Damn straight,” might be the thunderous response in whatever is Heaven’s native language – Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin?

People who knew about our agnosticism would sometimes half-apologetically say during my wife Judy’s illness, “I know you’re not a believer, but I’m praying for you,” and she’d reply, “We welcome thoughts, prayers, and small animal sacrifices. “ I would assure them that I too welcomed their prayers and insisted I could very well be wrong in my metaphysical musings. After all, when Judy was studying to be a school psychologist and giving me a practice IQ test, I missed the question, “Why do people bathe?”[1]

Nor do I hold the belief that “things work out for the best” as if the challenges life splatters upon us are steps in some sort of divine plan that leads to a more favorable outcome.[2] Of course, horrible events can sometimes precipitate peripheral favorable outcomes. For example, if my maternal grandmother had not gotten cancer of the larynx, her son would not have met the red-haired student nurse who became my mother. I need to add that I don’t think my existence is a fair trade for my grandmother’s death in her forties. My non-existence would be no tragedy. Judy would have married someone who might not have gone bald. My son Harrison would not be spending this holiday weekend at Ocean Beach nor my younger son Ned headed to Iceland, but quite literally they would be “none the wiser.”

my maternal grandmother

One of Judy’s pet phrases was “it is what it is,” and I might add, “it isn’t what it isn’t.” However, whatever the antecedent of “it” might be, it’s a mighty bountiful gift/accident to exist on the jewel of a planet moving in accordance with its kin folk of the Milky Way wherever we’re heading.

I thank my lucky stars (or God or karma) for affording me this opportunity to contact you, to look up from the computer screen to see outside my study’s window the soft sway of magnolia branches, to embrace the “wounded epicureanism” that has been my lot in life.”[3].

I’m not complaining.

[1] To conform to societal expectations was my answer.

[2] Exhibit A: the Holocaust

[3] “Hemingway was a master not of a realized stoicism but of a wounded epicureanism. Have fun while you can, and then endure the bad stuff when it happens. It doesn’t sound high-minded when you say it, but it was saner than most anything else on offer.” Adam Gopnik in the 3 July 2017 edition of The New Yorker.