Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (VI)
Part six of seven in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
My head jerked up as the sting of ice water arced across my face. I was on my hands and knees and must have been dozing. I was secured to the wall by a manacle clamped round my neck and attached to a three foot length of chain.
It was a ten foot square cube of a cell with damp walls and no windows and a single electric bulb hanging from a piece of flex in the ceiling. The light was always on, day and night, not that I could tell the difference. I had no idea how long I’d been down here. I’d woken up here, my head aching. I hadn’t seen Maroon since but I’d glimpsed him behind me in the moment before the blow to my head. I’d been set up. The woman with the naggingly familiar voice had kept me talking on the phone while Maroon had snuck up behind me.
There was some sort of air vent in the wall to my left and an old wooden door in the wall opposite me. Twice since I’d been here a man had come through the door. He was little, old and Italian by the look of it: greased down shiny black hair, a pencil mustache, a tendency to contextless hand gestures, and with a funny accent when he spoke, which he seldom did. Both times he’d come in to feed me, dropping a bowl of stuff that looked like congealed pond scum at my feet. It tasted like something you’d wring out of a dead wino’s underwear, but I ate it anyhow. I needed the protein.
Both times the little old man had been carrying an enormous shotgun, and he was carrying it now. From his other hand dangled a bucket with which he’d just doused me.
‘You-a wake-a up-a now-a,’ he said rudely. He wasn’t close enough that I could make a move on him but he was close enough that I could smell the garlic, and the wicker too. He pulled a towel out of his pocket and threw it at me, then disappeared out the door again. I wiped my face.
I blinked. To my left was a pair of beautiful, plump tits.
Except they weren’t tits, they were sparrows, and there was just one of them. I’d been there so long I was starting to see double. It was a female, and it must have flown in accidentally through the air vent, on the rim of which it now perched. Pity. I could have done with a carrier pigeon.
The door opened again and the old man tottered back in, lugging a camera and tripod as well as his gun. He deposited the bundle on the floor and started to set up the equipment. He was sweating from the exertion, and I noticed that his mustache was peeling off, as was the toupee he was wearing.
‘I know you,’ I said.
‘You-a no-a talk-a,’ he snarled, in an accent I now recognized as incorporating elements of Scotch.
The toupee flopped off entirely to reveal a bald, gnarled, liver-spotted pate. It was Knudsen. He worked at the Glory Hallelujah Hole, the most decadent nightclub in town. I was there once on a case and they had this jazz band, except what they were playing wasn’t jazz. They all had long hair and weird guitars that were plugged into the wall and which they ritually smashed at the end of thir performances. One of the players was even wearing a schoolboy’s uniform. The Anachronisms, I believe they called themselves.
‘How’s it hanging, Knudsen?’ I asked, chuckling at my wit. Knudsen worked as a stripper and table dancer at the club. Like I said, it’s a sordid joint.
He glared at me, then laughed nastily. ‘Och aye the noo, ah suppose there’s nae point in keeping up thae pretence any longer, seeing how yoo’re nae gonna leave heer alive anyhoo.’ He crouched under the cloth hood, checking the light settings but levelling the gun at me at the same time.
‘In that case you might as well tell me what’s going on here,’ I said. ‘Why are you trying to pass yourself off as an Italian?’
‘Hoots mon, thae Mafia thing is just a front,’ he said cryptically.
‘And why are you taking a photo of me?’
‘That’s enough exposition for noo, laddie,’ he said. He jacked a shell into the breech of the shotgun.
The fat little sparrow rose shrieking into the air, startled by the noise. Knudsen glanced up at it just as it was directly above him, and it unloaded a great runny stream of white and yellow ordure into his face.
He gave a roar and stumbled forward, blinded. I grabbed at him, the restraining chain round my neck pulled taut, and got a hold of the barrel of his shotgun. I tugged harder and harder on his enormous weapon and it discharged against the ceiling. He faltered, disoriented by the noise of the blast, and I punched his lights out.
He had the key to the manacle in his pocket and I freed myself and took the shotgun (though I would have preferred Pussy) and locked him in the room. I had to move fast because the sound of the blast was bound to alert somebody. Thru the door was a corridor running left and right. From somewhere in the building came a drawn-out scream. If my blood was warm it would have curdled.
The sparrow was flying down the corridor and I figured it had some instinct for the way out so I followed. It felt like I was underground. Doors led off from the passage and there were small windows in some of them. Despite myself I stopped and peered into one of them, curious.
A red-haired young man was strapped on his back on a table. Two men stood over him, one of them anonymous-looking and operating a camera on a tripod, the other poised with an enormous butcher’s cleaver in his hand, about to bring it down. I fired thru the window. The blast caught the camera man in the back and flung him against the wall. I kicked open the door and started to reload but the guy with the cleaver was swinging it down and I brought my hand up instinctively and grabbed his fist. With expert rhythmic movements of my wrist I worked at his huge chopper until I achieved its release. I threw it in a corner and prodded him with the shotgun.
He was ruddy-faced with tiny round glasses and dressed in shiny black boots and lederhosen with a sausage sticking out of his pocket. ‘Gott in Himmel! Achtung! Schweinhund! Raus! Schnell! Scheisse!’ he shouted.
The guy strapped to the table said weakly, ‘I think he’s trying to be Italian, but he hasn’t quite got the hang of it.’
I undid the guy’s straps and he sat up and rubbed his wrists. For the first time I noticed that his left hand was missing and the stump bandaged. He told me his name was Joe K’Mayall, the kid Sam Bride was looking for. He’d got mixed up in the seamy wicker underworld and had gone to the Wicker Universe store to meet his dealer, but had been kidnapped and brought here. He’d been photographed in all kinds of bizarre situations: being menaced by a large dog, dressed in women’s underwear, and yesterday, having his hand chopped off. He had no idea why.
The man with the chopper had fainted so I couldn’t question him. I gave him a kick to make me feel better and looked at K’Mayall, but he shook his head. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. I searched the man for cigarettes but dammit, there weren’t any. I was desperate, so I ended up smoking his sausage.
In the corridor my new friend the sparrow was waiting, and she took off as soon as we emerged. We rounded a bend –
- and cold steel pressed against my temple, too close for me to bring up the shotgun. The voice was like the opening of a crypt door.
Dr Maroon. ‘You’ve put on weight,’ I said.
He had two goons with him. Beside me, K’Mayall slumped, looking defeated. They divested me of the shotgun and jabbed us forward with their own pieces.
It was an old trick but I tried it anyhow. ‘Say, Maroon, what’s the difference between a counterfeit dollar and a thin prostitute?’
He smiled unpleasantly. ‘That’s not going to work on me any more.’
Maybe, maybe not. I had to hope that the riddle would torment him on some unconscious level, and thereby distract him. It might be my only chance.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
His face was like the Siberian tundra after an atomic war. ‘The bosses would like to see you now.’
Don't miss the thrilling finale!
1. Which characters aren't what they seem?
2. Will Glark feature?
3. What's the punchline to the riddle and will anyone give it away in the comments beforehand?
i like how fat sparrow came to the rescue. :o)
"how's it hanging knudsen?"
that line made me spit up tea.
(1)Monstee is really not a dog at all, but a wild untameable wolf named Glark, only bluer.
(2) See (1)
(3) One's a faked buck, the other's a baked fuck? Hmm. Off for a think about that, and to conduct a back-search to see who might not be as they appear.
I'm still holding out for the saucy sex scene yu promised us. Are you keeping that for the climax?
I'm looking forward to a serial that actually finishes - it'll be the first one I've read in a year or more
Hahahaha, that's Old Knudsen, the gay icon, all right!
Hmmm, am I a hero, or a villain? On the one hand, I helped you escape, on the other, I led you (accidentally?)around a corner to Doc.... Well, I can hope I haven't turned to the dark side.
Right Kim, fuck me, you're as subtle as a kick in the balls.
I think fatmammycat is the boss. Maroon would do anything for a turn of her pretty ankles. He'd work for free. But bosses. Hmm. Nanas and fmc in some diabolical Irish/Congalese alliance?
I love mysteries. You've got us all dangling by a string here Foots, analysing your every sentence, hanging on your every word...
There aren't many clues in the previous episodes - this is not exactly a work for publication - and in fact there might be no mystery at all. Or there might.
Hint: there might be pie.