Thursday, September 28, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (V)
Part five of only very slightly more than six in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
We came through the half-open door at a trot, pushing the startled Hynes back into the apartment. He fell back on the sofa and began to gibber.
‘On! Plaes! Not clowans!’
Arlington Copley Hynes was a proof reader with the city’s top publishing house, and moonlighted as a corksoaker, preparing stoppers for wine bottles. Before this he’d worked in a soft drink factory as a Coke stacker, and for a footwear company as a socktucker. Don’t ask me how I knew him, I just did. I had no idea how he was mixed up in all this, but by G-d I was going to find out.
Sam and I had slung Reverend Brewski’s body in the trunk on top of the Barker guy’s, and had followed the twin trails of blood from the reverend’s stumps back down the street, down several blocks, in fact, until they’d ended abruptly. I figured he’d been thrown out of a car to die like a dog in the road.
On our way to Hynes’s apartment I’d paid a visit to Krabbz and Klapp’s costumiers. I had some dirt on both of them so I didn’t expect any co-operation problems. In the event, neither of them was in and the store was shut. I shouldn’t have been surprised; it was four in the morning, after all. When you’re in a 24-hour job like I am, you tend to see nine-to-five workers as shiftless bums. So I slipped the locks and put a bullet thru the alarm system and Sam and I chose a couple of clown suits and put them on. Makeup as well.
For some reasons Hynes had a clown phobia. I recall hearing that it stemmed from something that had happened to his parents. Myself, I’ve always felt sorry for clowns, ever since I saw one get caught accidentally on a giant hook once at the circus when I was a kid. He hung suspended fifty feet above the ground, while the trapeze artists swung backwards and forwards trying to tug him loose from the hook. It was a half hour before they finally managed to jerk him off.
Sam stood over Hynes and menaced him while I tied him to a kitchen chair with some rope I kept in the car. Then we started interrogating him. I was Good Cop, Sam was Bad. It went something like this:
‘We know you cut off Reverend Brewski’s legs, Arlington.’
‘i dident I don’t no what yuour tlakin abuot’
Honk honk! (this from the novelty hooter Sam was carrying)
‘Come on, Arlington, make it easier on yourself.’
‘I swaere Idunno nohtin abotu no leges!’
Squirt squirt! (this from the novelty squirting flower Sam was wearing)
‘I’m not going to be able to control her, Arlington. Just tell us what we want to know and we’ll be gone.’
A half hour of this and we glanced at each other. It was clear he was telling the truth. He knew nothing about any of it. I sighed, and undid the ropes. My knots were so expert it took me a good five minutes. He slumped, eyes glazed, on the floor.
I lit a cigarette and dropped a couple of bills on him. ‘Buy yourself another guitar.’ Sam raised an eyebrow through the thick layer of pancake. The apartment was virtually wallpapered with the instruments.
I drove in a mood as foul as the night. There’d been a queue at the river and all the bricks that would weigh a body down had been used already. We’d finally heaved the two stiffs into the oily stinking water and now I was just driving around aimlessly, trying to think. Beside me, Sam seemed oddly cheerful. I’ll never understand women. Take my ex-wife. That Christmas when she asked for something hot, hard and throbbing between her thighs, how was I to know she wanted a motorbike?
‘Why so chirpy?’ I grunted eventually, unable to stand any more.
‘Stop the car,’ she almost giggled. ‘I’ve been thinking and I’ve realised something.’
I pulled over and she leapt out, beckoning me. I lit a cigarette and went round to her side of the car, scratching uncomfortably at the clown costume. I was beginning to wonder if Krabbz and Klapp were really just the names of the store’s owners.
‘Look.’ She was pointing at the bloody words Brewski had scrawled on the door of the car.’
‘ACH done this.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Look at those letters. That’s a K, not an H.’
I stared. Ack. My G-d.
Ack Maroon. Ayres’s and Barbudo’s chief enforcer. One of the most violent, sadistic men I’d ever met. A snarling, roaring demon from the suppressed nightmares of my past.
This was getting weird.
She spent the night at my place, Sam, of course. It was too late for her to return home, and probably unsafe. ‘Do you mind if I share your bed?’ she murmured when we got in the door.
The next morning I woke sore and aching. My right arm did, anyhow. It had been a hell of a job sawing the bed in half. I resolved to replace the metal frame with a wooden one.
She left after we promised to call one another later to review progress. I made myself a quick breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, hash browns, grits, pancakes with maple syrup, a half-pound steak, fries, flapjacks, bagels with cream cheese and lox, toast, Cheerios, a chocolate malt, OJ and coffee, washed down with a half bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I know what you’re thinking, but I was on a diet. I lit a couple of cigarettes and glanced at the morning’s headlines. The city’s famous giant gorilla had apparently been kidnapped, if that’s the word, from the zoo. KIDN-APE-D! said the headline. G-d-damn a-shole press men.
I got to work. My first call was to the FBI.
‘Put me thru to Agent Challinor,’ I told the girl. I waited no more than a minute.
‘Challinor here,’ said a cultivated voice.
‘How’re you doing Philip?’ I asked cheerily.
‘You mean, “How are you doing COMMA Philip,” surely?’
The guy’s amazing. He can correct punctuation even in spoken language. It also makes him kind of an a-shole. We have a reciprocal arrangement, him and me. He has access to high-level information that can be of use to me, and in return I supply him with leads on suspected Communists in the city. I’ve never met anyone with such a fanatical loathing of Commies as him. He once broke up with a broad because she painted her nails red. Not only that, he got her thirty years in Sing-Sing too.
‘I need all the poop you got on the Cosifantuttis,’ I said, lighting a cigarette. ‘First names, the size of their outfit, what sort of rackets they run, that kind of thing.’
‘No problem,’ he said. ‘I’ll call you back.’
He was as good as his word and five minutes later I was scribbling in my notebook. Linguini and Ravioli Cosifantutti were the joint bosses of a Bolognese mob family who had set up in this town about five years earlier. Little was known about them or their associates, but they were thought to be involved in drugs, prostitution and protection racketeering. Their main source of income, however, was illegal wicker. And there were rumors that they were trying to kick-start a revival in the underground comic book market.
I gripped the receiver and gritted my teeth as the room swirled and the flashbacks snowballed thru my head like wildfire.
Once I’d got a hold of myself I thanked Challinor for his information.
‘What have you got for me?’ he said.
I gave him the names of two guys I’d overheard in my local bar making negative remarks about the death penalty. I swear I heard him slavering as he put down the phone.
Next I called Laughs and brought her up to speed. I gave it to her straight. She went quiet after I told her of the possible Mob connection. Poor gal. I took a hard hit off of the JD bottle. I learned a long time ago not to care; but damn, it’s hard sometimes.
Then I called Lieutenant O’Nann. He was out of breath as though he’d been exerting himself. He had a positive ID on the handless corpse: a small-time wicker dealer named Ball Bag. They’d brought his mother, Mrs Noreen Bag, in to identify him, but in the end it had been dental records as they couldn’t understand the mother’s accent, and couldn’t in any case pick out any words in her speech that weren’t obscenities.
In return I told O’Nann a pack of lies about my own investigation. To tell the truth, he didn’t sound much interested. He said all his staff had been drafted by the Commissioner into the search for the missing gorilla.
I got thru a package of smokes and a quart of JD before the phone rang. I picked it up, expecting Sam. Instead, a vaguely familiar female voice said: ‘Did you hear about the ship carrying nothing but red paint that crashed into the ship carrying nothing but brown paint?’
‘Did you hear about the ship carrying nothing but red paint that crashed into the ship carrying nothing but brown paint?’
I began to feel a prickle down my neck, up my cr-tch and across my face. Something wasn’t right.
The lady paused for effect, then said: ‘The crew were marooned!’
It was a set-up, and I knew who by, and I turned but not quickly enough and I got a sense of movement behind me and a crashing blow to the back of my head, and then darkness.
He seems to have forgotten about the dog, doesn’t he?
a) He’s a hard-bitten private eye, so he’s got no time for sentimentality.
b) For God’s sake, he has to keep the word count down somehow.
c) I’ve a feeling the dog will be back…
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (IV)
Part four of barely more than six in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
The blast sang in my ears and the room lit up in the muzzle flash. I kept my eyes open all the way through, waiting for the punch of the slug and the final searing pain.
The man slammed back against the wall and slid down, leaving a dark smear on the wallpaper. The air stank of cordite. She stepped into my field of vision on the left, a broad I didn’t know with a British-made Browning dwarfing her small fist.
I got up and staggered over to the guy - C---st but my g---ds hurt - but she’d gotten him smack in the heart and I knew he was a goner even before I felt his neck. I pulled the stocking off his head. Bearded, but he was nobody I recognized.
She stood with her gun lowered. First things first. I went over to Monstee who was making tiny squeaking noises on the carpet. I picked her up, looked in her eyes, at her teeth. She was sick, but alive. I put her down in her basket in the corner and made a phone call. It was the early hours of the morning but he’d come.
She was tall and fine-boned and fair, and her eyes were not on me but on the man she’d shot. In her hand there was the faintest tremor. I lit a cigarette.
‘You look like you could use a stiff one.’
‘I’d prefer a drink, if you don’t mind,’ she said.
I don’t give out my Jack Daniels to people I’ve just met, even if they have just saved my life, so she had to settle for a generous shot of my 125-year-old Islay single malt. As I busied myself with the drinks I saw her glancing around at the décor, clearly doubtful. I sympathized with her. The guy I’d hired to decorate had gotten it all the wrong way round. For instance, I asked him for a thin blue carpet in my front hall, and instead he put a thick pink one up my back passage. I handed her a glass and lit a cigarette and squinted at her across the smoke.
‘Are you one of those femme fatales?’
‘Femmes fatales,’ she corrected. ‘No.’
‘Are you the plucky young journalist who investigates a crime even after her boss has told her to lay off?’
‘No!’ she chuckled. ‘That’s a whole other genre.’
As the Scotch took effect she began to speak more flowingly. Her name was Sam P C Bride, and she was, like me, a private eye. She’d been hired two days earlier by a drifter named Joe K’Mayall. He was a curiously humorless young man who’d turned up at her office and asked her to shadow him for a few days as he was afraid that he might disappear suddenly. In that event, she was to find out what had happened to him. He’d paid her a handsome sum up front. In the early hours of this morning she’d tracked him to the Wicker Universe on Charles Manson Ave; when she’d got there she’d found a crime scene, the cops. Me. She’d caught a glimpse of the handless corpse and seen that it wasn’t her client, but she’d sensed a link and had followed me home.
I don’t believe in dames as private dicks, but there was something about this broad – her heady perfume, the way she crossed her legs – that was making my head swim. The door buzzer went and she put her hand on her Browning and I fingered Pussy but it was the guy I’d phoned earlier and I let him up. Dr Joe McCrumble arrived in a fluster of muscular apologies. I told him that Monstee had been poisoned but that I’d seen in her eyes the unmistakeable sign of a Filey worm infestation. He picked her up and looked in her eyes and turned his head to me and nodded once, his mouth grim-set. Of all the things to come out of North Yorkshire, the Filey worm is the most terrible. He took her away, resolving wordlessly to do his best. He would, of course, as long as I held on to those negatives.
Once he’d gone I went over to the corpse against the wall and searched him. His driver’s license said he was Justin Barker, from Valencia, which was one of the vilest ghettoes in the city. In his wallet I also found a sheet of paper which had this list written on it:
Heads: $100 each
Torsos: $50 each
Dogs: $100 (one-off only)
Sexual vibrators: $500
Foot Eater: $75 (dead), $150 (alive)
I lit a cigarette.
Sam stared down at the page. I held it up to the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling.
‘There,’ I said.
Barely visible on the page, in the glare from the bulb, was a watermark. Three letters, interlinked in a highly stylized way. C, F and T.
Cosifantutti. The most recently established and most brutal Mob family in the city. If this Barker guy who’d poisoned Monstee and then taken photos of her, and had then fought and tried to kill me, was mixed up with the Cosifantutti family then things were more frightening, more high-level than I’d thought.
I sat with Sam Bride after that for a couple of hours, smoking and drinking and listening to her slivers of intelligence and giving her shafts of mine. Yes, dammit, there was a charge there; but we were professionals, and our best bet was to co-operate.
So. We had a common link with the wicker store. An apparent bounty hunter had shown up on my doorstep with an agenda: he was to procure body parts, and mine in particular. Apart from that, we knew flip-all. (Later in this story there’ll be far more occasion for ripe language, so I’m getting you used to the euphemistic flip word early on.)
I thought about calling O’Nann about Barker’s body but decided that I didn’t need the cops stamping their clod-hopping hooves all over this. Sam and I agreed that we’d dump the corpse quietly in the river.
Before we left my apartment I made a list of things I needed to do in the morning:
Phone my contact in the FBI to find out more about the Cosifantutti mob
Call the Laughs broad and update her vis a vis the investigation (and negotiate an increased drink and smoke expenses budget)
Phone O’Nann and find out who the dead handless guy is
Together we hefted the Barker body down the stairs and along the street to my battered ’37 Camaro. I was opening the trunk when Sam screamed.
Alongside my car was a… torso, I guess you’d call it. It was a legless person, his arms batting against the rear door and his thigh-stumps sucking at the tarmac. His legs had been amputated at the inguinal crease.
I lit a cigarette.
Then I rushed round but he was dead, his mouth drooling congealment. I recognized him immediately. It was Reverend Brewski, the leading advocate of Temperance in this city. Many was the time I’d watched him on my TV screen ranting against the evils of drink and stimulants and bebop jazz. Now he sprawled at my feet, stinking of blood and death and wicker.
‘Look,’ whispered Sam, pointing.
I looked. On the side of my car, in his own blood, the reverend had scrawled something. I stooped, staring closer. In bloody scraggling letters it said:
ACH DONE THIS
ACH. Arlington Copley Hynes.
A proper lead. At last.
‘Where are we going?’ asked Sam as I reached across her and slammed the passenger door shut.
‘We’re going to visit someone I know.’ I said. ‘But first, we’ve got to find us some clown costumes.’
I tried to light a cigarette but my package was finished.
Will this story:
- ever be finished in under 12 episodes?
- feature any explicit sex, as promised?
- include a femme fatale?
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (interlude)
Staring down the barrel of a loaded gun sure focuses your mind.
And broadens your sphincters.
It’s a cliché, but your life really does flash before your eyes. It happened the last time I was on the point of death, jammed in the closet with the mayor coming up the stairs and his wife scrambling to get dressed, and it happened now.
It played before my gaze like a speeded-up newsreel, stopping at significant milestones: my seventh birthday party, known forever after as the Bay Hill Cookie Massacre, when I’d sat cradling my granddaddy’s head and wishing him to be alive even though his body was thirty yards away; my seventeenth summer working on the farm, where I’d made some very special friends; the day I got my shield. But it kept snagging at one particular spot: my final session with my therapist.
It was two years ago now, and I had gone along on a Tuesday morning like any other. I hadn’t intended it to be my last session but the things that came up in it were so painful that I couldn’t go back afterwards. My analyst, SheBah, had legs that went all the way up to heaven and back down again. Twice. What I mean is, once per leg. Oh hell, you figure it out. Anyhow, at first I thought this was going to be a distraction but in fact she used it to therapeutic advantage, as you got so hypnotised by those pins you ended up speaking in an uninhibited way.
I’d begun therapy after my wife split because I felt I needed to resolve my issues about women. I’d always had a view of dames as being like cappuccino coffee: light and frothy on the top, dark and bitter underneath. I also needed help with the lousy puns that had started to infest my speech and writing like nits.
SheBah seemed to be of the opinion that I had a lot of unresolved anger and bitterness, and she felt there were areas of my life I wasn’t willing to discuss. That day she proposed to hypnotise me. I didn’t believe in all that stuff but I agreed anyway, and soon I felt myself detached and dreamy in the semi-darkness of her rooms, staring at the calf swinging on the end of her chair with its tiny gold ankle bracelet winking in the light.
I found myself talking, guided by her soothing murmur, about getting fired from the force ten years earlier. At the time I’d been giving a series of highly-regarded seminars on planting evidence when this young upstart uniformed officer, Hutton, started making complaints, first to me and then to the Commissioner, about the ‘morality’ of my methods. G-d-damned bleeding heart pinko bedwetter. One day he opened his locker in front of a roomful of fellow cops and out tumbled leather bondage gear, whips, chains, women’s pantyhose and a few other unmentionables. Somehow he managed to prove that I’d put it there, and I got canned.
I’d drifted after that, and as so often happens, I’d been taken in by the allure of comic books. I won’t go into details, but within three months I was working in an abandoned warehouse down by the docks for two of the sleaziest barons in the illegal comics world, Kim Ayres and his foul cousin El Barbudo. I’d been recruited by their enforcer, Dr Maroon, who was if anything even sleazier and more brutal than they were, by promises of easy riches. More fool me.
There were a few of us, losers and drop-outs to a man – and, I’m sorry to say, to a woman. We’d stand for hours in the freezing cold of the warehouse, the barges rumbling past outside like great whales, while one of the illustrators drew us in various bizarre poses. Sometimes we had to mime beating each other up, sometimes attacking each other with chainsaws or axes; real sick stuff, it was. The pictures didn’t even look like us. After a 14-hour day of this, we’d be herded into our windowless ten foot cube of a room underground and fed a grim meal before lights out.
For a year I did this. I was helpless, addicted, though I couldn’t tell you how exactly. Week after week Blunt Cogs was churned out onto the streets of the city to corrupt young and old alike, the scenarios we were forced to pose for becoming ever more twisted and perverse.
I escaped one day, not without a struggle, and not without the help of one man. Binty McShae was the comic’s best illustrator. I’d watch him as he drew us, and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. I won’t go into details now about how I persuaded Binty to change sides and how he and I bust out, but I’d never repaid him for it and that’s why I had to say yes when his wife had asked me for help.
And now it was too late. There wasn’t even time for a last cigarette.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (III)
Part three of absolutely, definitely no more than six in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
I’d called the cops from the payphone down the street and they’d arrived within a half hour. The one in charge was an old, familiar face: Lieutenant Finbar O’Nann, who’d been a sergeant on Vice back when I’d been on the force and who had transferred to homicide to fill my shoes after I had… well, after I’d left.
The crime scene boys got busy and O’Nann stood watching with one hand fidgeting about in his trouser pocket and the other full of the sunflower seeds he was partial to. He was big and Irish and short-sighted, with coarse red hair in his ears and nose and on his palms, which rasped unpleasantly when you shook hands with him. I hadn’t this time.
‘Lemme get this straight,’ he said. ‘You happened to be passing by when you saw the door of this store open, so you looked inside and found this.’
‘That’s right,’ I said, and took a nip from my hip flask. He squinted across at me, a look on his face like a thorn tree in winter.
‘You realize I could take you back to the station house and have the truth beaten out of you.’
I smiled. I’d taught those guys everything they knew about extracting a confession by force. I lit a cigarette. The only reason I was hanging around now was that I needed O’Nann’s help – an ID on the stiff, for starters – and I figured he’d be willing to trade. I’d searched the dead guy myself, of course, but he wasn’t carrying any credentials, just fifteen bucks which I pocketed. Hell, I don’t get many perks in this job.
One of the crime scene techs was taking photos. The flash from the camera lit up the walls which were sprayed maroon. Whoever had severed the guy’s hands had done it before he was dead, because the arteries in the wrists had continued pumping. The wounds were clean ones. The hands were missing.
‘Must of tooken his hands to stop us fingerprinting him,’ remarked O’Nann, the fidgeting in his pocket becoming more frantic. He gets off on this kind of thing. The hand holding the sunflower seed was shaking too.
‘Nope,’ I said. ‘In that case they would have taken his teeth as well so you couldn’t check ‘em against dental records.’ I lit a cigarette.
He glared at me. ‘So what do you suggest then, smart-ss?’ He nibbled a sunflower seed.
I shrugged. ‘Hand fetishist, maybe. Check your files. Or he was wearing lots of rings so the killer took the hands to save time. Doesn’t explain why they were cut off before he died, though.’
He agreed grumpily to keep me updated on his findings if I did likewise with whatever investigation I was involved in, and I split. As I left I heard him sigh, and without looking round I knew he’d spilled his seed on the ground.
I walked home through streets that were already becoming muggy again after the rain. The sidewalks were awash and I gave up trying to sidestep the puddles. G-d-damn frigging city with its G-d-damn lousy stinking drainage system. I stopped at my regular all-night liquor store for JD and smokes but it was being held up by a couple of hoods when I went in, so I had to go the one down the street where the owner charged me full price.
Home was a second-storey apartment in a faceless brick tenement in midtown. I moved there two years ago when my wife walked out. She said the final straw was when I gave her that bad case of crabs. I still kick myself today. She loved seafood but I’d left it out of the freezer too long.
I let myself into the lobby and took the stairs, feeling jaded. I had one missing guy, one dead guy and a wicker connection. I’d searched the wicker store before calling the cops, of course, but had found nothing. Maybe O’Nann and his boys would come up with something.
As I climbed the last few steps to my door I listened out for Monstee, my bitch. She’s a rare breed of terrier, a genetic dead-end with blue hair and low cunning. When I get home she sinks her teeth bone-deep into my leg and I kick her off against the wall. She p--ses on my head and I do the same to her. We horse around like this for a good ten minutes. It’s like love.
This time there was no tick of claws on lino, no frantic joyous whimpering. I pushed the door open. Light from the hall spilled into my living room.
I lit a cigarette.
There, crawling piteously across the carpet, was Monstee, her eyes staring at me pleadingly. Red foam was coming out her maw and there was the smell of beefsteak hanging in the air. Right away I knew she’d been poisoned. Standing over her, his face obscured with a nylon stocking, was a man. In his hands was a camera.
Taking pictures of my Monstee.
I was on him in a second but he was fast and brought his hands up and in one of them he had a gun so I kept myself close to stop him being able to take aim. I got him in a headlock and close up I could smell the wicker on him. He grappled me and we turned and crashed, sending the coffee table shattering. He got a good kick in, right up in the privates, and I reeled away but I couldn’t let myself get too far because of that G-d-damned gun so I rolled toward him again and dove for his legs and sent him thudding against the wall.
The neighbor started yelling and I cussed back at her thru the wall. I felt sick from the kick to the jewels and I could feel my strength draining. He got in a kick to my head and the floor lurched. I looked up at him, watching the barrel of the gun center on me.
Sic transit gloria Podophagi…
Is this the end for Foot Eater?
a) Don’t be ridiculous, he’s the narrator telling the tale in the past tense.
b)Ah, but he could be telling this story from the afterlife!
c)Who cares, tell me if the dog survived!
Monday, September 11, 2006
Intermission (sort of)
Meanwhile, why not check out the two latest additions to my link list. Fat Sparrow and Old Bitter Balls fill a four-letter-word-shaped hole in the blogging world left after El Barbudo and Anti-Barney went quiet. Pedants be warned, though: Old Knudsen wouldn't know a properly punctuated sentence if it kicked him in the bollocks.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (II)
Part two of no more than six in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
I walked the rain-soaked streets through the city’s neon glare and as I walked I smoked and I flipped the spent butts into the puddles where they sizzled like little cancer fireflies.
I’d been working the city all day, paying visits and checking my networks. Nothing. I was heading for a dead-end bar downtown where my best stool pigeon was sure to be.
The dame’s name was Laughs, Sarah Laughs, though she didn’t seem to do much laughing around me. Few people do. She’d been married to McShae a little over six months. By the sound of it things had been going great, so when he hadn’t come home one evening a month earlier it had been a bolt out of the blue. He had no family he might have gone to, and she’d checked out his friends but they hadn’t seen him either. McShae sold wicker furniture for a living. That immediately got my suspicions up. The illegal wicker trade is worth a fortune. If he was messing around with that s—t then he was in more trouble than she realized. Assuming he was still alive at all.
I had to go looking for him because he was the only link I had to something very terrible that had happened to me ten years earlier. God alone knew where Ayres or Maroon or Barbudo were now, so crossing paths with McShae like this was like – I’m going to say something quite hard to swallow now, so if you’re a lady you might want to skip to the next paragraph, though if you’re a lady you shouldn’t really be reading this tale anyhow – it was like Providence offering to s—k your c—k for you.
I got to the bar, Bo Khaki, a little after midnight and threw the empty bottle of JD into the alleyway down the side. The doorman was getting ready to move aside for me but I hit him anyway because I needed the practise. Inside was the stink of booze and sweat and nixed hopes. Every loser and weirdo in town was there, it seemed: that crazy Irishman who had issues with toy dinosaurs was arm-wrestling the gal from Boston with the attitude (and coming off second best); that God-damn scientist guy was using some contraption he’d invented to try and look up the skirt of the Irish broad who did kick-boxing (as he’d soon find out); and that smart-a-- Brit expat from North Carolina was trying to impress the cute San Francisco broad who always comes across so innocent. He didn't see the razor she was holding behind her back.
Bo, the bar’s owner, had my triple JD – rocks, no water or soda – under my nose before I could say where's my God-damn JD. It’s a friendly enough place, Bo Khaki, though the waitresses all wear this horrible shiny slimy makeup which I haven’t figured out yet.
I lit a cigarette. My stoolie, SafeT, was perched next to me and he groaned when I tapped his lid. He’s nuts, like most of them in here; he thinks he’s a robot and wears this kind of dustbin. Back when I was a cop I’d used him very effectively and he’d kind of stayed on. Loyalty, perhaps, or else he was scared s—tless of me. Hell, I scare myself s--tless.
‘How’s tricks?’ I asked. I lit a cigarette, didn’t offer him one. He was drinking two-stroke engine oil, taking his artificial persona a little far, I thought.
‘Same old,’ he said, trying to sound metallic. I held out a photo between my first two fingers, keeping the other two folded over a twenty-dollar bill in my palm. He looked at it, shook his head rustily.
‘Name’s McShae. Scotch.’
‘Oh, okay,’ said SafeT and tried to get Bo’s attention. I sighed and clanged his lid shut, catching one of his ears. When he prised it open again I said, ‘I didn’t want a Scotch. He’s a Scotch. McShae.’
He muttered something and I ignored him and gave him some details. He took the photo and told me to give him a half hour. I sat and drank and smoked and tried to ignore the bitter howling wind within my soul.
SafeT was as good as his word – he wouldn’t dare not to be – and was back in under thirty minutes. He gave me back the photo and jerked a corroded thumb over his shoulder.
‘Guy back there. Refuses to talk to you but says he saw this McShae here, downtown, the night he disappeared. He was scared-looking, that’s how the guy remembered him, and he was alone. He was at the Wicker Universe store down on Charles Manson Avenue, knocking on the door, after hours, and someone opened up and he went in.’
Damn wicker. I knew it. I gave SafeT the twenty and, after a moment’s hesitation, fished out of my pocket a lube job voucher. I’m getting soft in my old age.
I reached the Wicker Universe in fifteen minutes and did a quick scout round the building to see if there were any lights to suggest a security guard. Nada. The triple locks on the front door were more complicated than I’d seen in a while and it took me a full ninety seconds to crack them. I eased the door open. The smell hit me first, that hazy, dangerous sweet aroma of newly woven wicker. I pressed a handkerchief against my mouth and nose. With my other hand I groped in my pocket for Pussy. I had a bad feeling about this.
When I felt I could trust myself not to be overcome by the smell I put the handkerchief away and found my flashlight. I flicked it on and saw a broken dark line stretching away across the lino floor. I bent closer.
I followed the trail which became a smear and then, behind a dense-weave patio set (despite what I saw next I had to admire the craftsmanship), I found the man. He was lying face-up in a sticky pool which was brown in the torchlight but was obviously his lifeblood. He wasn’t McShae. In his wide-open eyes was a look of utter, cosmic horror.
I couldn’t figure out immediately how he had died but I could see right away that something had been done to him beforehand. Something very nasty indeed.
I lit a cigarette.
What has been done to the poor man? Has he:
a) been dogged senseless?
b) received a year’s subscription to Reader’s Digest for his birthday?
c) *** ** ******* *** in **** *aa** * *******?!
Or suggest something of your own. The best idea goes into the next instalment!
Saturday, September 02, 2006
This is the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, one of my all-time rock heroes. I’ve seen him live in London twice – Earl’s Court Olympia in 1999 and Crystal Palace Stadium in 2003 - and I own all his albums. Sometimes I play his 1975-1985 live collection at full blast while reading Dostoevsky. I've cut down because the passengers in my car aren't too happy about this combination, the philistines.
Anyway: back in 1985 Springsteen had a single called Glory Days. It’s about baseball for the most part, but also about lost dreams.
Last night I took a mildly wine-soaked trawl through the scant history of The Fishwhacker Swindle – this self-same blog – and I concluded, once and for all, that three of the people I link to there on the left are actually one and the same person. They know who they are.
I also concluded that my own glory days were in January this year (2006). Back then I was starting to gain some commenters and a little respect. Even the great Gorilla Bananas used to comment in those days. I still regard this two-part post as my finest hour so far; yet the second instalment got fewer responses than the first. I’ve reached a wider audience in the eight months since then, and I’ve censored myself accordingly. Is this a good thing? I would never post something like The Neckrofyle nowadays.
I have two questions for you, gentle readers.
1. What do you regard as your own glory days, blogesquely speaking? (i.e. which is your favourite post on your blog?)
2. Which is your favourite post on this blog? (Supplementary question: should Coca-Cola bring back New Coke?)
I'm serious about this. Please let me know.
Friday, September 01, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (I)
Part one of six in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
I was a little over halfway through my first bottle of Jack D of the night when I heard the footsteps coming up the corridor to my office.
A woman’s footsteps, high heels clicking over lino (which kind of muffled the clicking and spoiled the effect to some extent). I sat in my chair with my back to the door and took a hit from the tumbler of Daniels (rocks, no water or soda) and lit a cigarette. From the sound of her heels and the distance between her steps I figured she was long in the leg and broad in the hip. Just the way I like a dame.
I swiveled round in my chair to face the door. I lit a cigarette. I always have the lights off after midnight but the blinds were open and the light from the giant neon 9/11 sign across the street slanted in sweepingly to bathe my desk and the doorway in a harsh blue wash. I sucked on my cigarette and tweaked the top drawer of the desk ajar. Pussy, my partner, revealed her butt. She’s a beauty. The reason she’s called Pussy is that she’s a nine millimetre, which the G-d-damn NRA a--holes reckon can’t stop a rampaging sheep. They say you can’t kill s--t without at least a 45 mm. I say with the right man behind the gun you can stop a rhino with a single slug, never mind the caliber.
I smoked and I watched the doorway with Pussy nearby and before long this broad appeared in the doorway and pointed a pair of 38s at me. For all I knew she had a gun as well. She was wrapped in an evening dress made out of silvery nothingness and she had the kind of smoldering eyes that could melt steel at twenty-five paces. Her hair was flame red. As though it was on fire. Which it was.
I threw the rest of the contents of the JD bottle over her which wasn’t such a good idea as the fire in her hair got worse so I ripped the fire extinguisher off the wall and sprayed her till she was smoking but not smoldering and she threw away her cigarette holder with a rueful grimace.
‘I’ll get to the point’ she said. I laughed inside. A few paces forward and she’d be right on top of the point. I lit a cigarette.
‘You are Mr Foot Eater, Private Detective.’ She said it as though it was a fact, which it was, even though technically I’d lost my license after that episode with the senator’s garden gnome and the Mexican maid.
‘I want you to find my husband. He’s vanished.’
‘Yeah, yeah…’ I started to say. I lit a cigarette. I’d heard the story a thousand times before. Guy marries classy dame, starts fooling around after a couple years, runs off with secretary, wife gets jealous and wants some PI to track the guy to Peru or Sweden or wherever the ----. Once upon a time I’d have taken the chick’s money and clocked up a nice little earner, a couple months on five bucks an hour, and at the end I’d have told her, hey, sorry honey, but your man’s not coming back, oh, and by the way, here’s the bill. But I’m older now than I was then.
She cut me off, this broad with the silvery slinky dress and the melons. I fished a penknife out of my pocket and peeled one of them as she spoke. I don’t usually take bribes but I’m partial to fruit. I smoked while I ate.
‘I want you to find my husband,’ she said, planting herself on my desk top, ‘and I know you will, because you know him. You were once part of a cartoon series with him.’
I went cold.
‘His name’s Binty. Binty McShae.’
I went colder.
In that instant, I knew I had to take on this broad, follow her down whatever hellish road she was leading me.
McShae. Maroon. Ayres. Barbudo.
My world went spinning.
I lit a cigarette.
You direct this story! Is the mystery broad:
b) Sam, ProblemChildBride?