It was not until late 1944, after his army enlistment had expired, that Rickie actually went overseas, with the Red Cross to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, as it was then known, which had recently been recaptured from the Japanese. (Today Hollandia is the city of Jayapura, Indonesia.) Rickie came home from Hollandia suffering from encephalitis and a pronounced drinking problem. Hugh, on the other hand, stayed stateside the whole time and, truth be told, had rather a lovely war. Looking over Hugh's life, one is tempted to say that he must have been kissed by the gods at birth.
During the time of his and Rickie's active service, 1943-45, Hugh managed to expand, with varying input from Rickie, two previously serialized works into the novels The Scarlet Circle (Jonathan Stagge, 1943) and Puzzle for Puppets (Patrick Quentin, 1944), and to complete a pair of original novels, Death and the Dear Girls (Stagge, 1945) and Puzzle for Wantons (Quentin, 1945). There were also a handful of original shorter works (more on these in an upcoming blog post), which were attributed to the third man in the Webb-Wheeler writing factory: Q. Patrick, who had not published a new novel since 1941 and would not do so until 1951.
Hugh also handled the business correspondence for Messrs. Patrick, Quentin and Stagge, Rickie having his hands full as it was in the sweltering, unforgiving, mosquito and malaria ridden jungles of New Guinea. During this time both Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge received fan letters from detective fiction fiends across the country who had no idea that the two authors were actually the same person (or persons). The most interesting of these letters, two in number, were written in 1944 by a twenty-two-year-old Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Forces: Charles Howard Tokley, formerly of the great western states of Montana and Washington.
|seasoned by war|
Charles Howard Tokley in 1949
when he was 27 years old. This was
five years after he, then serving as part
of a B-25 bomber crew, wrote
Hugh Wheeler a couple of fan
letters praising Hugh's crime fiction.
Howard Tokley's father Charles was an assistant time reviser with the CMStP&P, a position which surely must have been beloved by famed Golden Age British detective novelist Freeman Wills Crofts, king of the railway timetable mystery. The tasks of the time revisor were as follows: "Check time slips, revise time slips, handle time claims, prepare reports, maintain records associating with timekeeping and revising." Charles Tokley, predictably nicknamed "Toke," was said to be "a regular 'gee whiz' at figures."
Pictured immediately below is the CMStP&P depot in Deer Lodge, Montana, where Toke ticked his train figures for many years. Today the depot is a church, as the rail line has been long shut down. (Note the cross in the second picture.) Howard Tokely was born in Deer Lodge and suffered his terrible accident there.
|Deer Lodge depot today|
Nearly a decade later after Howard's near fatal accident, in 1939-40, when Howard resided with his parents at Tacoma, Washington, he was a senior at that city's iconic Stadium High School, an awesome turn-of-the-century structure built in the style of a great French chateau that was the locale of many of the scenes in the high school comedy film 10 Things I Hate about You (1999).
Wow! Sure beats where I went to high school. (See below.)
|"Howard" Tokley a decade earlier|
at the age of 17, during his senior year
at Stadium High School at Tacoma, Washington.
Among his declared interests were
watching films and reading detective fiction.
At six feet tall with brown eyes and dirty blond hair, Howard was an appealing if perhaps a bit doughy melange of English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch and German heritage. From his native English paternal grandfather Philip Tokley, a son of an agricultural laborer from the Tolkienish-sounding Essex village of Rivenhall who had served in the British Royal Artillery for nearly two decades, receiving a medal for bravery in one of the Afghan Wars, Howard had inherited something of a martial pedigree,although his high school interest in acting and writing hardly suggested such. (A maternal great-grandfather, Adam Weatherstone, like Philip Tokley an English immigrant, was a skilled millwright who crossed the Oregon Trail to Walla Walla, Washington in the 1850s. Adam's father-in-law, pioneer Richard Rutter Howard, had built one of the first flour mills in Oregon Territory.)
|Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington|
looking like something out of a
John Dickson Carr novel
On August 11, 1944, Lieutenant Tokley, who had been visiting sunny southern California while he was on leave from Columbia Army Air Base in South Carolina, sat down and wrote "Dear Mr. Stagge" a letter in beautifully formed cursive script (Does anyone do cursive handwriting this nicely anymore?), giving as his return address a location in Butte, Montana. "I never know how long I'll be at one Army field or another," he explained.
He then entreated the author to aid him in corralling a stray Stagge for his mystery library:
|the novel in question|
Just last week in a small bookstore in Hollywood, I was able to locate "Murder by Prescription." But I still lack "The Dogs Do Bark" to complete my collection. [At this time there were six Jonathan Stagge detective novels-TPT.] I was wondering if you by any chance know where I can get a copy of the book. I would appreciate any information you can give me about it.
I am looking forward to more adventures of Dawn and Hamish--and of course Dr. Westlake.
Something in this letter, perhaps Howard's confiding tone and the easy familiarity he expressed with the author's series characters (Dr. Westlake, his rambunctious young daughter Dawn and her dignified Scottish terrier Hamish), or possibly his soldierly identity itself, must have appealed to the recipient, thirty-two year old Hugh Wheeler, who was whiling away the war at Fort Dix.
That Hugh wrote the lieutenant a friendly and detailed reply, complete with an inscribed copy of The Dogs Do Bark and the staggering revelation that Jonathan Stagge was also "Patrick Quentin" and "Q. Patrick," is evident from Howard's flattered and appreciative second missive to "Dear Mr. Stagge," composed by him at Columbia Army Air Base a month later, on September 11, after he had returned to duty. The disarmed young man wrote with self-deprecating charm of his own attempts at crafting fiction and of his life in the military:
|finally found by Tokley in a small|
It was a pleasant surprise to find that three of the authors I enjoy are actually only one. I had surmised that Q. Patrick and Patrick Quentin were one and the same but that Jonathan Stagge was, too, was another matter. You have truly achieved something by being able to develop two distinctly different styles of writing, keeping both at such high standards.
In a small way I know how it is as I, like millions of others, have dreams of someday becoming a popular, well-known author like yourself. I strive to develop my own style but I often find myself , after reading a book, patterning my work after my current favorite.
I suppose experience is the best teacher. I remember my first big attempt at writing. It was when I was in the first year of High School. The work was stuck away and a few years later I came across it. It was masterpiece--I never had so many laughs. The manuscript was quickly burned before anyone else happened to find it.
|the memorable Popular Library|
pb edition of Stagge's fourth
mystery novel, Turn of the Table
As for my Army life, at the moment, I am in a B-25 replacement unit. So far our crew consists of a pilot from Chicago, a radio gunner from Boston, and myself (navigator-bombardier). Later we will get our co-pilot, engineer and tail-gunner. It looks like we are going to have a bit from each corner of the U. S.
I have really rattled on here but to me, you seem like a newly acquired friend. I sincerely hope so.
Thank you again for everything. Maybe someday I will have the good fortune to do you as great a favor as you have done me.
By war's end Howard, again happily unscathed by lasting physical injury, had completed twenty-three bombing and strafing attacks on Japanese installations in the Philippines and Southwest Pacific, incidentally putting him in the same neck of the jungle, so to speak, as Rickie Webb. He was awarded the Air Medal for meritorious achievement in sustained aerial missions.
|sauced at college|
Tokley in 1951, after four years
of fun fraternity life at USC
A year after joining the Omega Deuteron chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa at USC, Howard was elected the fraternity's secretary. This was a job which he clearly took to heart, just like he did fraternity life. Over the next several years he contributed heavily to The Signet, the official fraternity magazine, reporting on a swirl of social affairs.
In January 1951, for example, Howard discussed the opening of the local chapter's new house, an event attended by what he colorfully termed "that scrumptious whistle-bait, Miss Betty White," who at this time with radio disc jockey Al Jarvis co-hosted the pioneering live television talk show Hollywood on Television. Yes, Howard was referring to the Betty White, who was but four months older than he and today in 2020 is nearing her centenary.
|"that scrumptious whistle-bait" Betty White |
with actor Eddie Albert, Al Jarvis' successor at Hollywood on Television)
Throughout the year, the World War Two veteran, himself now pushing thirty, chattily and cheerily confided about additional boyish frat fun at Phi Sig, such as:
1. The stiff competition that raged among pledges tasked with making "decorative paddles to be hung in the dining room."
3. The Spring Break where "Bill Rowley squeezed 25 guys into a five-room beach house."
4. The delightful eighty degree weather that winter, which induced the Phi Sig boys to shed their clothes to catch rays and indulge in rowdy bouts of aqueous horseplay.
"The overhang in the patio has been turned into a sundeck," Howard divulged, "and Don Goodrich, Stan Julius and Jim Bowen make daily use of it, showing off their muscles and just plain soaking up the sun. This early warm weather has brought numerous water fights too. Herb Boelter learned a few lessons on how to duck a pail of water....Well, it is one way to cool off!"
For some the shirtless volleyball scene from the film Top Gun might come to mind. Howard seems to have found masculine camaraderie wherever he went, whether in the military or the fraternity.
|Howard Tokley's boyhood bungalow in Butte, Montana|
|inside the Tokley house--plenty of room for bookshelves!|
Whether or not Howard still found time, amid all these boisterous masculine hijinks, to peruse Jonathan Stagge and other detective fiction favorites (the last Stagge novel, The Three Fears, was published in 1949), he did put his gray matter to work on behalf of Phi Sig in college bridge tournaments. A well-liked fellow, he often served as an usher at the weddings of his fraternity brothers--though he himself appears never to have wed.
Later in the Fifties, the thirtysomething college graduate moved with his parents to the city of Downey in southeastern Los Angeles county, where he was employed as the art director at Colortone Decal Company. He listed his party affiliation as Democratic, although as a student he had declined to state one, suggesting in this era of Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare that he had unorthodox inclinations. After his father's death in 1960, he moved to Seattle, where he passed away in 2000 at the age of 77.
|Howard Tokley's home in Seattle|
Whatever happened to the letter Hugh wrote Howard is currently unknown. The name of Charles H. Tokley does appear, however on a list of the fans and friends of Patrick Quentin that was compiled by Rickie and Hugh, so perhaps an acquaintance between the two men was kept up in some form--though during these years Hugh himself had a great deal going on in his life, matters that were rather more weighty and parlous than bridge competitions and Apache parties. Hugh, however, came through, as always, just as Howard had from war in the Pacific. Rickie not so much--but more on that later!
|B-25 completing a bombing run in New Guinea|