Short Yarn: Gumshoe
I wrote this probably six years ago after seeing Brick starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a movie that still holds a spot in my top 5 films of all time, and so I was inspired to write a short story using the same purple dialog that appeared in the film. I went even further, as it was an exercise in using language in a way I’d never done before.
She comes knocking, asking for help with teary eyes and the stink of whiskey on her. She’s a drama and a comedy all wrapped up into a bundle of sobbing theatrics, the kind of gal a man hates to love. Or loves to hate.
She has it all; the twinkling blue eyes, the ruby red lips. Even dead drunk she could pass for a classy star. She ain’t here to make passes, even if she was, it’s all business. Straight to the matter, bullet to the issue, fact to the fact. There ain’t no dilly dallying with this doe eyed gal.
“I’m Bernadette Winters,” she tells it to me straight, flicking coal embers from her tube cigarette, “and I need a good man to solve a bad problem.”
I solve bad problems, cold hard problems that pay good money. When enough dames with trouble bitin’ their ankles come callin’, paying big dollars to jimmy them from the bind, I’ll ditch the digs and hole up on some beach in a less god forsaken, rainy town. For now, Chicago’s all I got, and Bernadette is in a serious way. Good thing I’m a professional. Lucky for me, lucky for her; everyone wins.
“My Joe’s gone missin’, and some hep-cat’s asking for the big payola.”
She digs in her purse, all wound up and flustered, producing a sleeve of paper with more questions than answers. It’s got digits, a calling card for disaster, the connection needed to tell the operator when looking to make the deal. Bernadette doesn’t want to deal, she wants her Joe back, and she’s paying me to tell them boys she don’t mess around.
Not with me on the clock.
“300 clams, yours if you get him back. I’ll owe ya one too, never hurts havin’ a songbird on the ringer.”
She tells me his name, the gin joints Joe Frenetti calls home. She tells me of his gambling problems, the poundings he gets into over his whiskey attitude. No one loves a mean drunk. I’d wager good money Bernadette does. She knows nothing, this lamb, this white porcelain doll. Hell, if it’d been some other dusty, wailing woman, I’dve charged 500 for the effort. Not Bernadette.
One name; Jangles Jive. South Chicago. I know the place. The devil’s apartment wearing a halo, serving sin and corruption like it were an edible entree. The greasy’s speakeasy, a place where black trade and grey deals are struck at the tip of a .45.
People disappear there all the time. They always come floating back on the river. Everyone takes a dive at Jangles Jive.
* * *
She turns and walks out the office, the swivel in her hip stoking fires on a cold March morning. The door clicks shut and I’m left alone chewin’ proxy.
Time to call the big dogs, reel in the leash on the ‘who dunnits’ and ‘will do its’ of shady Chicago. No time to cool my heels, I have a scratch list of loose criminals who owe me one. I cradle the ringer and drop a name to the dame on the wire.
“Bill Thompson, South Chicago”
Baseball Billy’s a low end woodworker, a meaty hand wielding a sporty club.
“One moment, please.”
He’s an iron killer; a steely gaze and blood shot eyes, terrifying as an enraged elephant. The kind meant to be caged but no sane person would bother tryin’.
“Thompson, who’s ringin’?”
I feel ice in his voice, and I drop my name as a heater.
I tell it to him straight, that I’m on the heels of a spectre, the Ghost of Joe Frenetti Present and I’m calling in all favours. No holds barred, I’m coming for this contract with all pistons firing.
“I’ve heard of ‘im, had big debts in Morello town, tried to swim before knowing water.”
Luigi Morello, the big cheese with a wrench grip, the type of mobster whose thoughts ended lives. I know the name by reputation and by all accounts I’m gonna need a goddamn army. I slam down the talker and kick up my stems.
It’s time to hit the streets and put a gumshoe to the ground. There’s always time for one last cigar before the big show, even though it’ll be my last.
* * *
The sky’s weeping; all din, darkness and black globs of cloud. I pull up to Jangles Jive and keep my peepers peeled, drinking in the layout, getting drunk on architecture. A gorilla guard with a Tommy stands lookout, watching for the riff raff not meant to cross the threshold. I’m one of those types, but it takes more than an animal to keep me at bay.
I slam the car door shut and leg it to the entrance, turning up my collar to fend of the biting cold rain. My shooter thumps against my beating heart.
“Ain’t no wet smacks in here, boy.”
No written invitation, and a five spot won’t be changin’ his mind. Animals speak in blood, and I make fantastic speeches.