pstate New York, 1937: When the delivery vans of the Daisy Chain Dairy Company are targeted and robbed by a criminal gang and a driver is shot, Richard Blakemore a.k.a. the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer decides to get involved.
So he stakes out the dairy company in the early hours of the morning to apprehend the criminals, only to find himself embroiled in a lethal fight on the bed of a speeding milk truck…
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Some background information:
- The Milk Truck Gang is a short story of 3700 words or approximately 12 print pages in the Silencer series, but may be read as a standalone. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- The Milk Truck Gang was one of the stories written during the 2017 July short story challenge.
- Like The Great Fraud, Elevator of Doom, Fact or Fiction and Mean Streets and Dead Alleys this is a more low-key Silencer adventure with smaller stakes.
- The inspiration for The Milk Truck Gang was hearing a report about a wave of thefts on the radio, where cargo was being stolen directly from the cargo platform of trucks. The report was mainly about measures taken to prevent such thefts (which do not involve the Silencer). However, when I heard it I immediately thought, “This would be a great idea for a Silencer story.” And since I was doing the July short story challenge at the time, I immediately wrote it.
- The original radio report involved the theft of electronics from truck beds. However, I eventually decided on milk trucks, because there are a lot of them (a city the size of New York consumes a lot of milk) and their routes are predictable, making it easy for criminals to target them.
- The adulterated milk scandal connected to the milk truck robberies is loosely based on the so-called swill milk scandal in New York in the mid 19th century involving low quality adulterated milk originating in dairies attached to distilleries, which killed approximately eight thousand infants in the 1850s.
- Broadway a.k.a. US Route 9 really stretches past the limits of New York City into Westchester County until it eventually becomes the Albany Post Road. Hemlock Hill is a real villages in the area, as is Sleepy Hollow, though the Daisy Chain Dairy Company is fictional.
- Sing Sing Prison really is located on the banks of the Hudson River in the town of Ossining close to US Route 9. Richard’s remark that he was no desire to ever see that place again is of course a reference to Countdown to Death, where Richard finds himself incarcerated there for a murder he did not commit.
- “Only forty-five minutes from Broadway”, the song Richard hums in the back of the truck, is the title song of the eponymous 1906 musical by George M. Cohan. You can find the full lyrics here and see it sung in the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy here. I picked the song, because Richard would have known it and because the lyrics fit the scene perfectly, even though the song refers to the forty-five minute train ride to New Rochelle, which is in Westchester County, but neither on Broadway nor near the Hudson River. Coincidentally, information about the plot of Forty-five minutes from Broadway is extremely vague, though the brief summary Richard gives is accurate as far as I can tell. The other songs Richard hums, “Mary is a Grand Old Name”, “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Over There”, are all by George M. Cohan, a prolific and popular Broadway composer, writer, actor and producer from the 1900s to 1920s, as well. Cohan was still occasionally working by the 1930s and Richard would have remembered his songs from his childhood and youth, even if he did not know the name of the man who wrote them. Contrary to what Richard believes, George M. Cohan actually did leave Manhattan and was actually born in Providence, Rhode Island.
- There was a biopic made about Cohan in 1942, the above mentioned Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney (which won Cagney an Oscar, even though it is one of his weaker films IMO), and there is a statue of him in Times Square, though his musicals and songs are rarely performed these days, probably because they no longer fit modern sensibilities with their sentimentality and heavy patriotism. Besides, the lyrics are full of dated references to the point of nigh incomprehensibility as the lyrics to “Forty-five minutes from Broadway” linked above show. Indeed I’d never heard of Cohan not even during my peak interest in opera and musical theatre in the late 1980s. Though several Cohan songs showed up in the Muppets Show in the 1970s and “Over There” (which is fiendishly catchy in the way only propaganda songs can be) can be heard in two episodes of Mad Men and was used by Donald Trump for his presidential campaigns, which should really tell you all you need to know.
- The Silencer’s usual supporting cast is mainly absent for this story. Neil Cassidy, Jake Levonsky and Justin O’Grady are all mentioned by name, but don’t appear in person. However, Constance and kitten Edgar (introduced in Elevator of Doom) show up at the very end. We also meet Baby Kenny, an orphaned toddler Richard and Constance encountered in St. Nicholas of Hell’s Kitchen, again, which suggests that they took up Sister Mary Margaret’s suggestion of becoming Kenny’s foster parents.
- The cover is stock art by Phil Cold. The setting is clearly Brooklyn with the Manhattan Bridge in the background. Of course, the story is set nowhere near there, but the image has the necessary pulp vibe.