But the mystery of the missing pulp writer turned into something quite different.
Talk about cold trails. Emil Teppermann had been missing for almost 50 years. When this fellow from East Squantum, Mass. asked me to track him down, my reaction was simply,"Who?"
Turns out Emil Tepperman was a pulp fiction writer. If you're like me, you immediately thought of the movie, PULP FICTION.
My grandfather set me straight shortly after I took the case. Grandpa Colpus had worked in Detroit back in the thirties. He told of going by a little newsstand on almost every corner on his way to work and back.
Stands crowded with all sorts of pulp magazines with lurid covers. Not only detective, western, and love pulps, but really specialized stuff like RAILROAD STORIES and FIRE FIGHTERS.
Emil Teppermann wrote a lot of real slam bang stuff. I read a few of his Spider novels in the course of the job. Seems like the bad guys would wipe out half the population of New York before the Spider would wipe them out.
I started in New York looking over old publishing records. I ended up in Virginia slogging through the rain. A large town on the Chesapeake Bay called Newport News, noted mainly for some publication called THE NEW NEWPORT NEWS NEWS.
There was this old warehouse that looked like nobody had been near it in years. I'd found an account in some stuff at the local historical society linking Teppermann with the warehouse.
By now, I was getting itchy and wanted a look inside. So one dark and stormy night, I did. For some reason, detective work is rarely done in good weather.
Anyway, the lock wasn't anything special and I slipped in. Not much inside. Scattered crates, assorted junk, and lots of cobwebs. Little office in the back corner with a beat-up desk and broken kitchen chair.
Marks of tidal flooding on the wall made me wonder if I should be here on a rainy day.
I almost left, but something was bugging me. So I climbed up on top of the office and got out my trusty tape measure. Sure enough, there was a small secret room tucked atop the office. I started looking over its walls. Ran through one set of flashlight batteries.
People tend to overlook stuff over their heads. So I went back down and into the office. The ceiling was okay. But the walls were cheap lumber, full of knotholes. Three guesses who got to check out every knothole.
Finally I found one that grudgingly came lose. It had a keyhole behind it. This lock was a lot better than the one on the outside door.
I felt a surge of excitement. Why such a lock here unless something important was behind it?
Finally it clicked open and an irregular portion of the wall gaped out. I had to pry it open. Worked stiffly. I replaced the knot in the knothole and shut the wall behind me.
I was in a long narrow room with a ladder. I went up it.
The room above was bigger and had a weird gadget in it. I stepped up close to examine it.
How I lost my balance, I'll never know. Suddenly I was falling. There was a sensation like my body was being twisted like a corkscrew. I fainted.
When I awoke, it was morning. I found myself out in the woods. Dry, too. The weather seemed to have drastically improved overnight despite a forecast of three more days of rain.
I gingerly got up. I felt a bit stiff, but no sign of any injury from my fall.
I looked all around. I was standing in fairly tall grass. It was packed down where I had been laying and completely undisturbed all around. Almost like I'd fallen out of the trees onto the ground.
Somebody must have brought me here last night. But I couldn't see how they managed it. Helicopter?
The trees were rather open, letting through the morning sun. Most had long narrow pods. I recognized them from those I'd seen on my Grandfather Will's farm as locust trees. He liked them for fence posts.
Then it struck me that the trees were almost in rows. Who would plant groves of locusts?
I turned toward the sun and hoped it was morning. My gut rumbled and I took out a Zero candy bar. I started walking toward the sun as I ate. The ocean had to be out there somewhere.
An hour later, the sun was higher. I was still walking through a grove of locust trees. Then I saw somebody. I waved and hollered.
He gave my clothes a funny look. His had obviously seen better days. Looked like his grandfather's hand-me-downs.
"You from New Yawk?" he asked.
"Yep, I seem to be lost."
"Where ya going?"
"That's a ways. Better come to my place for some chow."
I felt I'd stepped back in time when I saw the way his wife and kids were dressed. Their home was a simple frame house that had to be over 70 years old. No TV either.
It was nested amid groves of fruit trees. The honey locusts near the house and the red barn had small nut trees and fruit trees underneath their branches. A pack of hogs roamed a field underneath oak, mulberry, and paw paws.
Made me homesick for Grandfather Will's farm.
The ham tasted quite good. The salad had some unfamiliar stuff in it. Some whitish cubes turned out to be raw potato.
After dinner, we relaxed in the living room. The radio, a real antique, was playing big band music. My host sat down in a stuffed chair, ready for a chat.
I looked around the room and spotted a pile of pulp magazines. The top one was an issue of THE SPIDER MAGAZINE. I stared at it.
My host smiled."Latest issue. Haven't you seen it yet?"
"No, I sure haven't."
The young man passed it to me. I was almost floored. It was dated this month.
"That Carr fellow is pretty good."
"I like the stuff Teppermann did in the 30's."
"Oh, you like the real old stuff. I prefer the stuff Teppermann did in the fifties and sixties."
"Do you know much about when Teppermann came down here in the forties," I asked.
"He just passed through on his way to New Yawk." He gave me a puzzled look."I thought you were from there."
"I am. But I'm doing some research on Teppermann. Want to find out more about his stay here."
"Well, Newport News is the place to go. I was promising the wife and kids a trip to town. So you're sure welcome to come too."
When he brought the car out of a shed near his barn, I got another surprise. It looked like a model from the thirties, but it also looked new.
"Looks pretty nice, don't she?" Bean crop been good the last two years."
He pumped away at a little button on the dash for about a minute until the car ran smoothly."We do our own alcohol and it's a bit crude," he said apologetically.
When we drove into Newport News, I knew something was wrong. The town had shrunk since I'd been there. Could I have been drugged? Then I saw that none of the houses had tv antennas.
I was quite confused. Newsstands crammed with pulp magazines didn't help.
I was standing in front of one newsstand looking bewildered when two policemen came up. They were not wearing familiar uniforms. But you can always tell a cop.
They were more polite than most cops. But I still had to go with them. The police station was cleaner than most I'd been in. I showed them my private detective's license. It caused a bit of a stir.
So I got passed right up to the Captain in charge of the station. This gave me a sinking feeling.
Captain Marsala was built like a defensive end. I'd hate to get in a brawl with him. His companion was as hefty, but a lot softer looking. The captain introduced him as Mayor Quinn.
We shook hands.
"Mr Williams, I'm sorry about any inconvenience you've had here. But we have to know. Which New York are you from?"
Somehow I wasn't too surprised by the question. I was obviously further from home than I first thought. But it still gave me a chill.
Captain Marsala handed me back my license."Our New York doesn't issue anything like this."
His Honor shook his white-mane d head."The bureaucrats over there have probably regulated everything."
I ended up under a sort of house arrest. But far from solitary confinement.
Had all sorts of people questioning me about the place I'd come from. Being a decent detective, I learned something in return.
I'd be flattering myself if I said it took even good detective work. These people wanted to brag about what they'd accomplished.
Basically in rural Virginia in 1923, a man named Conrad Thornberg discovered how to open a way to an uninhabited Earth. Thornberg sounded like your typical mad scientist. Nobody who know much science took him seriously.
Unlike your typical mad scientist, Thornberg finally found something. And nobody would listen.
Most history books tell us that the Great Depression started with the Crash of 1929. That's a lot of bull. The Crash of 1929 was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. Problems had surfaced many years earlier.
Farmers started getting in trouble nearly ten years earlier. So when Thornberg buried himself in the country, he was surrounded by people in trouble. Giving them a way to a North America as it must have been before the Indians came was literally a life-saver.
Fish, game animals, plus fertile soil to work made New America an Eden at first.
Few people much cared or noticed when poor rural folks began disappearing. But when the Depression hit, nearly everybody was in trouble. More Thornberg Generators were built. For some reason, they only worked in a few places.
Newport News was one. Its position on the Chesapeake Bay soon made it a center for the colonization. Whole boats were brought over. Others made regular trips up the various rivers bringing back farm equipment, factory machinery, even entire houses.
They'd anchor just off Newport News, then switch over to New America in the middle of the night.
Somebody found a place on Long Island where a Thornberg Generator worked. Soon most of Long Island in New America was being colonized. There were problems with erosion from over farming. Most of eastern Virginia as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and parts of New York and Pennsylvania were lightly settled in 1932 when a fellow named Smith came over.
He was a relative of the J. Russell Smith who had written Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. He was also a born crusader.
By the forties, denuded lands were being reforested mainly by crop trees such as the honey locust which yielded high sugar pods good for both food and alcohol fuel. The latter led to a viable auto industry centered near Trenton. Railroads ran up and down the coast and inland.
Now there were nearly ten million people spreading out into New America. But I found that they didn't have a good view of the world they left.
I was chatting with a Teppermann scholar, a fellow named Blackbeard, though he looked more like Santa Claus.
"Teppermann came over in 1947. We tried to get other writers. Walter Gibson had gotten the go ahead to do more Shadow novels for Street and Smith. So he wasn't interested. Lester Dent just didn't care."
Blackbeard shook his head."Most people over there were comfortable. The war had ended the Depression. But over here, we were getting nervous. Nuclear weapons had ended the war. But we feared that they might end the world.
"So a last batch of immigrants came through and we closed down the generators on this side. We thought we had the ones on the other side shut down.
"Calibration must have drifted way off after fifty years to dump you out on the Hickman place."
"Your description of pulp fandom may have encouraged some of us to try a rescue mission."
A good detective gets so he can read more that people care to say. My quess was that if I asked to go home, I'd wait a very long time for a favorable answer.
One night I slipped out and over to where the warehouse I'd first visited in the old Newport News was located. I'd kept my lock picks well hidden. Of course, I'd never mentioned that I'd needed to use them to get over here.
My personal property had been left alone. I still had my flashlight and a set of spare batteries.
The warehouse was a lot larger. I had to crawl through and climb over various items to get to the unused back room. The final lock took a while to open. But finally I stepped up to a twin of the machine that had sent me here. I hit the start button.
And nothing happened.
I steadied myself with deep breaths. I'd learned a little about these machines. I plugged it in and began fiddling with various switches and knobs. Still nothing.
The thought of spending my life with no tv and no comics made my guts knot up. But I kept trying various combinations.
Finally when a little pre-dawn light had crept into the room, I felt my body being twisted and I fainted.
I awoke wet. There isn't much of the Dismal Swamp left in our Virginia. But with my luck, I found it. Guess the New American Thornberg generator was out of alignment too.
I had my wallet and was able to get back to Portsmouth and from there to New York.
I told my client the story. finishing: "Those people really are down on us.? They blame tv and comics for corrupting our society.? So they have neither. Imagine no football on tv, no X-Men or Punisher comics."
"Tough," my client agreed.?"What did you find out about Teppermann?"
"He died in 1977. Had over 500 Spider novels to his credit as well as a lot of other stuff."
I wasn't thinking or I'd never have told a collector that.
My client stroked his clean shaven chin."You did find out something about the location of the New York Thornberg Generator."
"Yes, another warehouse in the South Bronx. But this warehouse is in use. Couldn't be anything there."
He nodded."You're probably right."
I never saw him again. The police came to me when he turned up missing. I certainly didn't mention New America to the cops. They'd have thought I was another X-Files nut.
Not to mention that I might get the Feds on my case.
I did receive a note in the mail about two months later.
It read,"Have sold 3 Doc Savage and 2 Shadow novels already. They really respect writers over here."
No tv and no comics. He must be crazy. But there are times I look around me and wonder.