Only the Bed by Don Holliday (Hal Dresner), Midwood #19, 1959
UPDATE NOTE (3/8/2011) After looking at one again, we don’t believe Hal Dresner wrote thus, it is not in his style or that of other Holliday-penned books. This one actually reads more like early Block or a Block/Westlake collaboration. The narrator’s voice is a lot similar to the voice in Grifter’s Game.
The original Don Holliday was Hal Dresner, a Scott Meredith stable writer, who — along with fellow Meredith writers Robert Silverberg, Donald Westlake, and Lawrence Block — provided manuscripts out of Meredith’s “black box” for Midwood, Beacon, and Nightstand, using various interchangeable pen names.
Later, as Dresner got busy with other work, he hired ghost writers to meet his monthly title deadline, such as Art Plotnik…and by the mid-60s, Holliday was a house pen name, turning to gay fiction written by Victor Banis.
(See here for a nifty review of Holliday/Dresner’s Sin Ring.)
Dresner excelled at absurd comedy, as seen in the classic The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books (see also Dresner’s Sin Professor as Frank Peters) and his employment by Jack Lemmon to write material and screenplays. Only the Bed, and other early work, is serious, or not humorous like later Ninthstands; it’s a crime/sleaze novel with apparent influence from his buddies Block and Westlake (aka Sheldon Lord/Andrew Shaw and Alan Marshall) and their penchant for sleaze novels that were also crime books.
The narrator is Cliff Varner, the cabana manager at the Royal Hotel, a Miami, Florida vacation resort — a combination of Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt territories here. Like Hitt’s hotel managers, Cliff tends to have sex with the guests, often as a gigolo, much like the characters in Loren Beauchamp’s Midwood title, Another Night, Another Love.
Cliff has a big problem, though: he owes his bookie $1600 for bad bets he made, he doesn’t have it, and his bookie is leaning because the local Miami syndiacte mob guys want their dough. He knows if he doesn’t pay, something bad will happen to him, and a beefy hood who hangs out at Dino’s Pizza Parlor tells him so — Friday.
Cliff has a week. So the book is all about Cliff’s frantic running around trying to drum up $1600–old loans he made, card game debts owned, fifty here, twenty there; he borrows from several loan companies, using the employment contract of a sous chef at the hotel. He even resorts to blackmailing rich teenage lesbians who came down without their parents knowing…he cheats at card games and sinks low enough to set up the forced sexual experience of a virgin girl staying at the hotel, all for the last $300 he needs.
The set up is a tried and true oldie: put a fellow in a corner with a great trouble and watch him try to squirm out of it.
Cliff’s not a good guy; he’s desperate and scared. He could always skip town, but his bookie is a friend and he doesn’t want to put his bookie in a bad spot that might get him hurt. $1600 is nothing to the mob, it’s the principle of the matter: if they let one person get away with not paying a debt, others will; if they make an example out of Cliff, people will know that the mob guys mean business.
Ad for all his sins, Cliff pays the price, espcially when his ex-lover, a nympho stripper named Doris, rolls back into town.
A swift, good read, on the verge of a Gold Medal, and may have been targeted for that market and sold by Meredith to Midwood when/if Gold Medal rejected it and Midwood was looking for material in 1959, perhaps with some added sex scenes, like this clever, sunbtle-hinting description of cunnilingus:
…my lips left her breast and moved down onto her stomach. It was cold and smooth and still damp […] my tongue licked at the cool wet skin.
“Now!” she said. “Start now!”
There was a swelling pounding at my head and it built as I felt her body vibrating wildly, passionately under my mouth.
“Oh God!” she cried.
Then her hand fell open and I had the money. (p. 83-84)
For all that licking, he gets a whopping $200.
An 8.5 and recommended read if you like these kind of suspense/crime stories.