Learning to Kill: Stories

by Ed McBain

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780156031479
  • ISBN-10: 0156031477
  • Pages: 492
  • Publication Date: 06/04/2007
  • Carton Quantity: 32

Also available in:

About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book

    Ed McBain made his debut in 1956. In 2004, more than a hundred books later, he personally collected twenty-five of his stories written before that time. All but five of them were first published in the detective magazine Manhunt and none of them appeared under the Ed McBain byline.

    Here are kids in trouble and women in jeopardy. Here are private eyes and gangs. Here are loose cannons and innocent bystanders. Here, too, are cops and robbers. These are the stories that prepared Ed McBain to write the beloved 87th Precinct novels. In individual introductions, McBain tells how and why he wrote these stories that were the start of his legendary career.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    This story first appeared in Manhunt. The editor of the magazine was someone named John McCloud. No one knew who John McCloud was. The poem parody we recited was “I wandered lonely as McCloud.” Well, John McCloud was Scott Meredith. It was very good to be working for the man who was editing the hottest detective magazine of the day; in 1953 alone, fourteen of my stories appeared in Manhunt under the Marsten, Hunter, or Collins bylines. This one was published in 1955, under the Evan Hunter byline, which by that time had been my legal name for almost three years.


    First Offense

    HE SAT IN THE POLICE VAN WITH THE COLLAR OF HIS leather jacket turned up, the bright silver studs sharp against the otherwise unrelieved black. He was seventeen years old, and he wore his hair in a high black crown. He carried his head high and erect because he knew he had a good profile, and he carried his mouth like a switch knife, ready to spring open at the slightest provocation. His hands were thrust deep into his jacket pockets, and his gray eyes reflected the walls of the van. There was excitement in his eyes, too, an almost holiday excitement. He tried to tell himself he was in trouble, but he couldn’t quite believe it. His gradual descent to disbelief had been a spiral that had spun dizzily through the range of his emotions. Terror when the cop’s flash had picked him out; blind panic when he’d started to run; rebellion when the cop’s firm hand had closed around the leather sleeve of his jacket; sullen resignation when the cop had thrown him into the RMP car; and then cocky stubbornness when they’d booked him at the local precinct.


    The desk sergeant had looked him over curiously, with a strange aloofness in his Irish eyes.


    “What’s the matter, Fatty?” he’d asked.


     The sergeant stared at him implacably. “Put him away for the night,” the sergeant said.


    He’d slept overnight in the precinct cell block, and he’d awakened with this strange excitement pulsing through his narrow body, and it was the excitement that had caused his disbelief. Trouble, hell! He’d been in trouble before, but it had never felt like this. This was different. This was a ball, man. This was like being initiated into a secret society someplace. His contempt for the police had grown when they refused him the opportunity to shave after breakfast. He was only seventeen, but he had a fairly decent beard, and a man should be allowed to shave in the morning, what the hell! But even the beard had somehow lent to the unreality of the situation, made him appear—in his own eyes—somehow more desperate, more sinister-looking. He knew he was in trouble, but the trouble was glamorous, and he surrounded it with the gossamer lie of make-believe. He was living the storybook legend. He was big time now. They’d caught him and booked him, and he should have been scared but he was excited instead.


    There was one other person in the van with him, a guy who’d spent the night in the cell block, too. The guy was an obvious bum, and his breath stank of cheap wine, but he was better than nobody to talk to.


     “Hey!” he said.

     The bum looked up. “You talking to me?”


     “Yeah. Where we going?”

     “The lineup, kid,” the bum said. “This your first offense?”


     “This’s the first time I got caught,” he answered cockily.

     “All felonies go to the lineup,” the bum told him. “And also some special types of misdemeanors. You commit a felony?”


     “Yeah,” he said, hoping he sounded nonchalant. What’d they have this bum in for anyway? Sleeping on a park bench?

     “Well, that’s why you’re goin’ to the lineup. They have guys from every detective squad in the city there, to look you over. So they’ll remember you next time. They put you on a stage, and they read off the offense, and the Chief of Detectives starts firing questions at you. What’s your name, kid?”


     “What’s it to you?”


     “Don’t get smart, punk, or I’ll break your arm,” the bum said.


    He looked at the bum curiously. He was a pretty big guy, with a heavy growth of beard, and powerful shoulders. “My name’s Stevie,” he said.


     “I’m Jim Skinner,” the bum said. “When somebody’s trying to give you advice, don’t go hip on him . . .”

     “Yeah, well, what’s your advice?” he asked, not wanting to back down completely.


     “When they get you up there, you don’t have to answer anything. They’ll throw questions but you don’t have to answer. Did you make a statement at the scene?”

     “No,” he answered.


     “Good. Then don’t make no statement now, either. They can’t force you to. Just keep your mouth shut, and don’t tell them nothing.”

     “I ain’t afraid. They know all about it anyway,” Stevie said.


    The bum shrugged and gathered around him the sullen pearls of his scattered wisdom. Stevie sat in the van whistling, listening to the accompanying hum of the tires, hearing the secret hum of his blood beneath the other louder sound. He sat at the core of a self-imposed importance, basking in its warm glow, whistling contentedly, secretly happy. Beside him, Skinner leaned back against the wall of the van.

    When they arrived at the Center Street Headquarters, they put them in detention cells, awaiting the lineup which began at nine. At ten minutes to nine they led him out of his cell, and the cop who’d arrested him originally took him into the special prisoners’ elevator.


     “How’s it feel being an elevator boy?” he asked the cop.

    The cop didn’t answer him. They went upstairs to the big room where the lineup was being held. A detective in front of them was pinning on his shield so he could get past the cop at the desk. They crossed the large gymnasium-like compartment, walking past the men sitting in folded chairs before the stage.

     “Get a nice turnout, don’t you?” Stevie said.


     “You ever tried vaudeville?” the cop answered. 


    The blinds in the room had not been drawn yet, and Stevie could see everything clearly. The stage itself with the permanently fixed microphone hanging from a narrow metal tube above; the height markers—four feet, five feet, six feet—behind the mike on the wide white wall. The men in the seats, he knew, were all detectives and his sense of importance suddenly flared again when he realized these bulls had come from all over the city just to look at him. Behind the bulls was a raised platform with a sort of lecturer’s stand on it. A microphone rested on the stand, and a chair was behind it, and he assumed this was where the Chief bull would sit. There were uniformed cops stationed here and there around the room, and there was one man in civilian clothing who sat at a desk in front of the stage.


     “Who’s that?” Stevie asked the cop.

     “Police stenographer,” the cop answered. “He’s going to take down your words for posterity.”


     They walked behind the stage, and Stevie watched as other felony offenders from all over the city joined them. There was one woman, but all the rest were men, and he studied their faces carefully, hoping to pick up some tricks from them, ho...

  • Reviews


    "Gripping . . . a must for fans who want to see how the master honed his skills."—PEOPLE

    "The amazing thing about these stories . . . is how strong and clear the voice is—as if the man himself were still in the room."—MARILYN STASIO, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW