Today was a bit busy, as I needed to find a new place to live — perhaps a story for another day. However, as long promised, I have provided another Dirk Danger story, this one written while I was in college, and undoubtedly the best (actually I quite like it, unlike… some of the others), and shortest (hooray!). If you think the rest of the DD stories are boring and stupid (I don’t blame you!), I suggest you read…
A Keen Sense of Destiny
Flora Heartwood walked through the halls in the downtown office building, checking each door for a stenciled “DIRK DANGER, P.I.” Walking past such notables as “ARCH TARSAL, Foot Inspector” and “SUE HEMMINGWAY, Seamstress,” Flora couldn’t help but wonder where these names came from. She paused outside Dirk’s door, applying more scarlet lipstick to her plump lips. She fluffed her long, wavy brown hair, unbuttoned another button on her blouse, and knocked.
“Enter,” came a dark, deep voice from inside the room. She pushed open the door and saw a man of dark complexion and five o’clock shadow sitting behind a mahogany desk, slouching in his chair with his feet on the desk. The room was trimmed in the same dark wood, and in the corner stood a hat rack with a beige fedora perched on top, and beneath it a matching trench coat. “What can I do for you, Miss…”
“Heartwood. Mrs. Flora Heartwood,” she said. “My husband has gone missing, and I hear you’re the best in the business.”
“Mrs. Heartwood, you hear right.” He took his feet down from the desk and sat up. “I presume you are referring to flooring magnate Mr. Edward Heartwood, who was last reported seen some twelve days ago? What took you so long to see me, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I thought I should see how the authorities would do. Needless to say, they haven’t done very well,” she said, frowning slightly. “I was hoping you could do better.”
“Well ma’am, I probably could, but you’ll have to wait to find out. It’s almost five o’clock. And it’s Friday,” said Dirk, checking his watch. “I’m afraid I can’t do anything for you until Monday.”
“But sir, I saw your advertisement in the paper, it said you’d solve any case if it intrigued you enough or the money was there. I assure you the case is interesting and the compensation is great. What can I do to persuade you?”
“Mrs. Heartwood, if you saw that ad then you know it listed my hours.” To her disappointed look he added, “Ma’am, I take my work seriously. But I seriously don’t work on weekends. Come back Monday.” And with that he put his feet back on the desk and motioned toward the door.
Flora Heartwood redid her button and walked angrily toward the door. As she left, she turned around to see Dirk one last time. “Maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll just go down to Arch Tarsal and get a foot massage. How is it that everyone in this God damned office building has such ridiculous fake names? Could you be any more stereotypical?” Needless to say, she closed the door just a little too hard as she left.
It is a matter of course that as a private investigator, Dirk Danger is assumed to have changed his name to better suit his profession. In fact, it is largely assumed that most of what Dirk does is an act, and Mrs. Flora Heartwood was probably thinking this as she walked down the hall. No one in this day and age works in a darkly lit mahogany office with a half-finished cigar in the mahogany ashtray, a green lamp on a mahogany desk, a trench coat and a fedora on a mahogany coat rack and their name in all caps stenciled on the large frosted glass window in their mahogany door. Nobody still wore suits to work, much less a trench coat or a hat. This was the twenty-tens, for goodness sake. And yet Dirk Danger had all those things, and the name to go with them.
It is, of course, true that most of what Dirk Danger does is an act. He does not, for instance, smoke cigars. Nor does he drink whiskey during work hours, yet there is a decanter filled with the finest bourbon sitting in his office. But he always solves the case. Always. Because someone who was born into the name Dirk Danger doesn’t become a janitor. Nor a lawyer, nor a doctor, nor a dentist for that matter. If your father named you Dirk Danger, you’d be the best damn private I in the city, because someone who’s name is Dirk Danger needs to be; and Dirk Danger is exactly that. So how did Dirk get the name that led him down this inevitable career path?
Our story commences in the late 1920s, in Bavaria. There lived a young banker, Georg von Stirpitz, whose father, and owner of the bank, had recently passed away. Georg von Stirpitz had, some ten years previously, been stationed on the eastern front as a boy of sixteen and had played a quiet and largely unimpressive role in defeating the Russians, but before he could be redeployed to the west the war was lost. Upon his return home, he married his sweetheart, Maria-Magdalena, and settled down to his father’s business, where he plodded along for quite some time.
However, by 1928 things were starting to turn south for the young banker. He was twenty-eight years old, had been married for almost ten years, and had yet to produce a single child. What’s more, his father had just died and his job was no longer secure. His father had left the bank to his older brother, Wilhelm, and there were rumors that Wilhelm was about to sell the bank to the highest bidder, then keep all the money for himself. When Wilhelm did exactly this, the highest bidder released young Georg to fend for himself, leaving only a tiny severance package. (Little did they know it at the time, but within a year that severance package would be worth more than the bank itself.)
Georg knew not what to do. His father was dead, his sole inheritance lost and his brother had skipped town with a wad of cash. Georg was jobless and would soon lose his home, but he had a wife to think about and was still hoping to start a family. There was nothing for Georg in Germany anymore. He decided to move to America.
Georg was a hapless man, but not a dumb one. He had spent several summers in England as a child, and could speak the King’s English; in fact he had quite an affinity for Anglo-Saxon civilization, which was one of the reasons that he had been stationed on the eastern front instead of in the west. Yet, however anti-German were the States in the wake of the Great War, the British were far worse, so Georg decided that America was the place to be. Of course, when he arrived he had decided that he and his wife would change their names from the almost comically German “Georg and Maria-Magdalena von Stirpitz” to something similar, but more American or British, in the hopes that the Yanks would mistake him for British wherever he went.
Georg spent the last of his severance pay to purchase tickets on a steam ship leaving from Amsterdam in May 1929, and arrived in New York City in June. He knew that his relative youth and education would probably allow him to stay in the country, and it did. He was handed the immigration forms at Ellis Island, and there lay the first step toward what would become Dirk Danger.
Georg filled out the form as best he could; there were some small lies here and there and some bigger ones elsewhere. He used the names he had arrived at, George Striper for himself and Mary for his wife, and filled in Country of Origin as England. He was unsure of his ability to land a job as a banker, but had been pretty handy with automobiles in Germany and during the war so filled in his occupation as “Meckanik.” Spelling was not his strong suit.
The immigrations officer looked over the paperwork, looked over the couple arriving, and nodded them forward. “Cheerio, old chap,” said the new George Striper.
“Right then, Mr…” began the officer, further perusing the paperwork. The paperwork seemed to have been designed especially poorly, as though it was purposefully hard to fill out or read. “Meckanik.” He said. It was then that George realized he had made a mistake. “I see here that it says you are a . . .” the officer looked puzzled. “Stripper?”
George was too embarrassed to say anything other than to mumble “…striper…” and look away sheepishly. He took a new identification card upon which had been written George Meckanik and one for his wife. Luckily, the card did not list an occupation, and perhaps even more luckily his wife spoke almost no English, and so Mary Meckanik, formerly Mary Striper, and even more formerly Maria-Magdalena von Stirpitz, was entirely ignorant of the embarrassment she and her husband had just undergone, and it was with no reluctance whatsoever that she later expanded the Meckanik family with a son and a daughter, George Meckanik, Jr. and Barbara (respectively).
The remainder of George, Sr.’s life was spent in New York State working as a mechanic. He and his family went through some rough times over the next decade, but emerged relatively unscathed from the Depression, and during the war that followed he was sent off to work as a mechanic in the Pacific. (He couldn’t be sent to Europe due to a rumor that his wife was German, not English.) He worked to repair airplanes that were coming back from missions, and eventually was promoted to chief mechanic for an entire airbase. Once the war was over, his business took off as automobile purchases soared, and by the time he died in 1956 his business was profitable, and George, Jr. was perfectly happy to carry it on in the family name.
At this point, Junior was about the age his father was when he had come to America, and his mother pestered him in German frequently about finding a nice girl and settling down. George managed to fulfill his mother’s wishes when he finally met a young blonde named Martha Titely. The couple met at an “All-American Pie Tasting,” when George tasted Martha’s Famous New England Apple Pie and knew right then and there that he wanted that pie for the rest of his life. His stable salary and neat little house with a white picket fence that he had been able to buy when his father died were more than enough for her, and the two were married within months of meeting. Her days were spent using exciting new gadgets like the refrigerator and the washing machine, and she cooked dinner every night and hung out the laundry to dry during the day. (These were simpler times.) Every Friday morning, Martha would bake her famous apple pie and leave it on the windowsill to cool for when George, Jr. came home; and later for when their only son Holden came home after school.
Holden Titely Meckanik was equipped with what can only be termed a keen sense of destiny. He understood that it was perfectly acceptable, and possibly necessary, for a person named Meckanik to work as a mechanic. In fact, he quite liked how his father’s customers could pretty much guess his dad’s name: “Hey, mechanic, I’ve got something wrong with my truck!” was perfectly acceptable to him.
There were, however, a number of things he did not see as right. To begin, by the age of ten he knew that his mother was a dying breed. Quite simply, no one was content to do the wash and the cooking anymore, and he told his mother this. The idea that, as his friends and his friends’ parents marched around for women’s rights, his mother was having a grand old time ironing, drove him nuts. And what was even worse was his name. His father had named him Holden after a character in his favorite book. But Holden Meckanik was not a great name. It was boring. It was weird. It wasn’t funny, and it lent itself to absolutely nothing.
Holden grew up despite this and moved on with his life. He decided not to be a mechanic, because by that day and age mechanics were not as revered as once they had been. His father’s business was falling on hard times, and the idea of inheriting it or even working for his father after a few summers in his teenage years didn’t sit too well with him. Holden decided that New York wasn’t the place for him, and when the time came he went to college down south. It was there that he met a young girl named Maria, a girl whose parents had fled the revolution in Cuba and had settled in Florida. (In an odd twist of fate, by 1957 the immigration forms had gotten only so much better that when her parents, Emilio and Catalina Colón, left Santiago, they inadvertently became Emilio and Catalina Santiago from Colón.) In any event, after college the two were married, and they settled in Florida near Maria’s parents.
Soon after moving away from his father’s garage to avoid life as a mechanic and to begin his life as, ironically, a used car salesman, Holden received word from his crying mother that his father had died of a heart attack. It seemed that Martha’s famous apple pie had eventually caught up with the man and finished him off. Holden immediately made plans to drive up to New York in a brand new used car (Holden’s favorite phrase) and a court date for when he returned. He was going to change his name.
He could have settled for any number of great, telling names. He could have gone with his old standby, Otto, or something more exotic, like Aero. He could have abandoned everything and come up with his own name, something like Gun Smith or Hida Waye or Pay No Moore, which might have even helped out his business. But that wasn’t Holden’s style. When the day came, after much deliberation, and because of his bottled up resentment over his father’s effort at naming him, he scrapped the Meckanik name but kept the rest, and became Holden Titely Danger. He relished his choice every time he introduced himself to someone as “Danger, Holden Titely.”
It was only a few weeks after the death of George, Jr. that Maria Danger, formerly Maria Meckanik, née Santiago (but very nearly Colón), informed her husband that they would be welcoming a new member of the family. Holden thought long and hard about what to name their child, and had even considered naming the boy after himself, but Danger, Holden Titely, Jr. wasn’t quite as clever, and it certainly wasn’t original anymore. He decided to name his child Leigh Dusphrom Danger if it was a girl, or simply Dirk for a son. In the late months of 1987 they gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.
Dirk’s childhood was essentially a normal one. He went to school like everyone else, played outside, enjoyed going to the beach, and was generally amicable with the other children. He had plenty of friends and, to all observers, was blossoming into a levelheaded, well-liked young man, destined not necessarily for greatness, but likely to make something of himself as a doctor, or a lawyer, or a dentist.
Yet he and his father knew different. For all of Dirk’s childhood, Holden passed on to his son much of the wisdom he had accrued in his years. “Son,” he would say, “It’s great to set your own hours. But there’s a reason people set them from 9 to 5.” Or he would say, “Son, appearances can be deceiving, but people can be morons. Appear to be what you want others to perceive you to be.”
But most importantly, Holden passed on that same sense of destiny that he felt had betrayed him. “Son,” he would say, “I have given you the greatest gift that a man can give. I have blessed you with a name that has purpose, a name that has reason. Your mother has given you a dark complexion and the hint of mystery. The day will come when you must put down all that you love, and you must answer your true calling.” And so it was that, growing up, Dirk knew that a man named Dirk Danger would one day have to drop the baseball cleats and playground shorts he was wearing and don a trench coat and a fedora; that Dirk Danger was destined to be a gumshoe.
Mrs. Flora Heartwood, wife of a missing floor specialist, knew none of this. But if she had, she’d probably be angry just the same.