“Trust but verify.” It has come to this. I have lived long enough and somehow have stumbled down one too many dark path best left deserted. Yet here I am quoting the Gipper, Ronald Reagan. But really, isn’t ‘trust’ a word readers and writers of crime and mystery fiction have a distant relationship with most times? I mean who really believes a certain self-aggrandizing blowhard when he says “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation.” Beyond the latent insincerity in the sentence, who could possibly trust him not to go off again with a week on this or that issue or person in the news as we all know his history and his mindset. Or is it, in our stories, we hear the beguiler’s words, we know they’re smirking behind the offered olive branch, yet many are still sucked in by the con. Because you know, we want to believe anyone can falter, but anyone can be redeemed.
It’s like with addicts; at the moment they’re telling you if you could just lend them that twenty, they’re going to use it to get themselves the meat loaf and mashed potato special at Denny’s – a square hot meal, baby. Really. And this bit works because at the very moment they’re telling you this, they believe it. They believe this is the exact point in their sorry existence that with your Jackson in their shaky hand, this is the point in time that marks a new beginning for them. Sincerely. Only soon as they have your Benjamin in their greasy palm. As they walk away, grinning and what not, the Crack Angel, dressed in a miniature version of a slumming Lady Gaga outfit, appears on their shoulder. She whispers the sweet siren song of being high in their ears and they succumb. See, it’s not their fault. They’re as much a victim here as you. Hell, more so. Really.
Trust is like garlic to the vampire when it comes to the crime writer. You better have some healthy disregard for that particular sentiment if you want to get inside the heads of your characters and have at least one of them come out alive. Sure you can have the sap, the sucker who is all gee whiz and gosh wow, and I’m not so cynical to say that there aren’t people like that. We need folks like them to help balance out the hardboiled hardness of the venal, greedy ones. But Sam Spade has becomes the iconic private eye because he does have that hidebound skepticism.
“We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy; we believed your two hundred dollars…I mean, you paid us more than if you’d been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right,” Spade said to his client in the Maltese Falcon.
So who do I trust? Very few, particularly that puffy-eyed chump looking back at me in the mirror.