26 July 2010
It’s two in the afternoon, and I can’t tell if the incessant pounding is coming from my head or my office door. I put a fresh clip in my .45 and ready myself, just in case the person outside isn’t some poor sap looking to hire a gumshoe with a bad temperament and drinking problem to trail his hussy of a wife. “Come in,” I croak, my voice shaky from a night of drinking and who knows what else. As the giant of a man in a black suit enters, I’m thanking Vishnu I’ve got Reba cocked and ready to spit lead. Where have I seen this guy before? Was it last night? Oh, God, last night. A kaleidoscope of fragmented memories slam against my frontal lobe, like so many of my bullets into bad guys’ heads. I know I was trailing some dame when, as usual, I got side-tracked. Like a drunken Proust, I try to recall what happened. I vaguely remember stepping into some dark, smokey room, and drinking a bourbon. Nothing new there. I remember cheering and activity, all with an underlying sense of danger. I remember the dice in my hand, the bourbon commanding me to continue throwing them. I wonder if I won. As I check my pockets for evidence of my winnings, the giant who’s now taking up most of my office snaps me out of my introspection.
It seems as though the large man needs me to track down some money which belongs to his employers. Some scumbag hightailed it out of their place of business without having paid them their two large. I tell him I’ll track the guy, and their money, down for them, but that it may take a little time. A guy running from men as large as this one don’t generally make themselves easy targets. “You’ve got two days,” he says, apparently not savvy to the process of a private eye, “two grand.” And I thought broads were demanding. “I’ll get the money,” I says to him, I says, “but I’m going to need at least a week – these types of cases don’t just crack themselves in the first day.” We stay in silence for a while, and the migraine continues to pound out a tympani solo on the backs of my eyeballs. “You’ve got two days.” Sensing my incredulity at getting the job done in such short shrift, he describes what they’ll do to the crook if they find him on their own, and needless to say, it ain’t pretty. Unless your version of pretty involves putting someone’s head in a vice. Great; now the perp’s problem is my problem – I don’t find the guy before the deadline, he ends up disappeared. I may hunt these scumbags down for a living, but that just don’t seem right. The Goliath then brings his point home by leveling a snub-nose .38 yours truly, and reiterates: “Two days. Two grand.” Obviously this guy had been to some Toastmasters classes.
After the giant leaves, I rack my racked brain to come up with a plan. Where would one go if one wanted to get out of town with two G’s of debt hanging over his head and “This Thing of Ours” on his trail? The answer seemed obvious: New Orleans. And if I were a guy who had just lost two grand in a bourbon-infused craps game and was on the lam in the Big Easy, I knew where I would be found – in a restaurant.
I confer with the 32-ounce daiquiri I’m carrying down Bourbon street, and we agree that even a guy on the lam would want to stuff his face with the best New Orleans has to offer – after all, each meal could be his last. After finishing the dregs of my nuclear-infused concoction, I enter an oyster house to grab however many bivalves I can before some forty-weight gets them in the Gulf. The joint is dark – just the kind of place a guy on the run would grab a bite. I opt for several dozen grilled oysters, and for the time being my spirits are lifted. The smokey oyster is topped with seasoned butter and Romano cheese, and accompanied with New Orleans French rolls. I chase each one with an Abita beer, and after I’m done I search the room for some shady character trying to take his mind off outrunning death with a few oysters and a few more beers; maybe my mark will be as careless as I hope he’ll be. The crowd, however, seems to be a mixture of hard-working locals working hard at not working, and wide-eyed tourists ignoring everything around them. When the waitress returns I make a point of indicating that one of the three dozen oysters I just ate had a hair on it, and that I won’t be paying. After I demand to speak to the manager, I wait until she storms off, then I hightail it out of the joint, getting lost in a sea of people. I set about on the streets of the French Quarter, hoping some dumb luck and even dumber private eye cunning will take me to my perp before the Syndicate catches up to him.
I walk into the unassuming building and sit down at an unassuming bar – just the sort of place a guy trying to not be assumed would be lurking. I tell the bartender to pour me a martini with a bourbon chaser and try to decide on something with which to cover the pit in my stomach. I’m tempted by the boudin noir, but the thought of blood is making mine run cold. I opt for the non-sanguine variety of sausage, and settle into another martini in an attempt to calm my nerves. After years of hunting down scumbags and exacting my own brand of extrajudicial adjudication, I can’t help but wonder why this particular tail is so nerve-racking. What do I care if this perp gets his knees capped by big guys in big suits? Something about it just doesn’t seem fair. Before my introspection has time to burrow further into the horrifying confines of my psyche, the sausage arrives, as simple and unadorned as all good food should be. I squeeze the casing and suck out the pig flesh, liver, rice, and seasonings. It’s earthy and gamey, but smooth and delicious. I follow each bite of sausage with pickles and bread and martini and bourbon and martini and bourbon, until my head is swimming. I ask for the check, pretend to place money in the holder, and stealthily stumble out of the restaurant. Just to make sure no one is trailing me, I duck into one of the ubiquitous daiquiri joints.
It becomes immediately clear that the streets of the French Quarter are meant to be some sort of dare. How else do you explain the fact that in a town where booze is flowing from every building and beverages are all in to-go cups, the sidewalks look like they belong in a post-war Dresden? I extricate myself from the cobblestone minefield and follow the jazz music to an open-air restaurant. I order the crawfish boil, hoping that the spicy broth will snap me into some state of sobriety, especially after the three shots of 151 I ordered upon being seated. The big basket of miniature lobsters is placed in front of me, and before digging in I hunch down to look inconspicuous and scan the room, looking for someone trying to look inconspicuous. The meat of the crawfish is tender and delicious, and the fiery broth and brain sucked from the head sends a message to my body that I need to snap into shape and get back on the trail. I tell the waitress I’m going to step away from the band to make a phone call, which I pretend to do while walking away from the joint.
It’s past midnight, and the crowds and music on Frenchmen have only grown larger and louder, respectively. It seems like each bar I enter has some journeyman jazz musicians playing their asses off. It seems like I’ve drunk all the punch this town has to offer, but no amount of diligent boozing has brought me any closer to the poor bastard who’s got a private dick and the mafia on his tail. I take time out to listen to a rag-time band on the corner, while I order a shrimp po’ boy from a nearby stand. The bread is fresh and dressed according to the standard menu, always letting the perfectly fried shrimp do most of the work. I manage to not get half-a-pound of sandwich on the front of my shirt, and feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day. Just as I’m contemplating the fact that my two-day deadline has technically already come to an end, when in the milling crowd I see two large men who stick out like two very large and threatening thumbs. Before I can wonder if they got to their man before I did, one of them approaches: “You get our money, or were you just down here on vacation?” I explain that New Orleans is a big place and if given the opportunity and a few more days I would no doubt find both the deadbeat and their precious two grand, both of which I was sure were in this city. The two gentlemen answer my request by showing me the handles of the revolvers tucked beneath their fine, tailored jackets. I don’t know why they’re trying to strong-arm me, but I’m persuaded. “Let’s take a walk, we’ve got a car waiting around the corner,” one of them says. Nothing good has ever been waiting around a corner, so I back up and quickly assess my options. Before I know what I’m doing, I yell above the din, “Hey! These two assholes are from BP!!!” Almost instantly, attention, followed by nasty words, get tossed toward the two men. Like a sea of scorned Latinas, the crowd is shrinking in toward them, looking more and more threatening, and I pick this moment to do some shrinking, myself, back through the mob, and drunkenly run as fast as possible in the opposite direction, looking like a Special Olympics sprinter with an inner ear problem.
Sitting in a bar, hours later, listening to some old-timer in a three-piece band sing “Hellhound on my trail,” I can’t help but think I haven’t seen the last of those two enforcers. I also can’t help but think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast in a few hours.
10 October 2008
I had only been on the case for 24 hours – ever since the dame in the red dress came into my office and ruined my lunch – not to mention my life. I hadn’t seen her in years; she had been abiding by her promise to never speak to me again. Unfortunately it was another promise she couldn’t keep, just like our wedding vows. And, like a woman, she wasn’t stopping by just to say “hey.” She wanted a favor, naturally, and me and my fist hoped that it was a punch to the kisser. Instead, she reminded me that it was 2008, not 1943, and that domestic violence was against law. Also, she was pretty sure smoking in my office was illegal, as well, and that a blogging chef probably didn’t need a .38 laid out on his desk. I didn’t know what the broad was talking about, so I just nodded and played along – she was always nitpicking. “Enough with the chit-chat,” I said. “Lay it on me, babe, who done ya wrong and, more importantly, what do you want me to do about it?” It turned out that she had been burned by some punk. Burned bad. He had broken her heart, and if that wasn’t enough, had also disappeared with her TV, laptop, DVD player, and dog; he even managed to seduce her younger, prettier sister. She said she wanted justice, but I could see she had revenge on her mind – cold, unfeeling, anti-Semitic revenge. And, after all, they say it’s a dish best served by a scorned woman with a huge rack. This wasn’t a job for an out of control dame with great gams, though. This situation needed the steely logic and quick-triggered determination of a man and his gun. His huge, throbbing gun.
“So whaddya want, doll-face? You want me to track this bum down and beat some manners into him? You want I should whack him a couple’a times over the head with my black-jack? Would that make ya feel better? ‘Cause I could do that, sweetheart, but not because of our past, and not because we’ll never have a future, but because it’s my job. Because it’s what I do best – besides being trampled on by the fairer sex, that is.” She said she just wanted her stuff back and for her sister not to get caught up with some bum like she had, with me. The dame was getting aggitated and started yelling – how novel: an emotional woman. Needless to say, I didn’t like it. It felt like old times when I wanted to strangle her for recording over The Shield with reruns of The Hills. And those were the good days. “Listen, Hon, I’ll take your case and I’ll get your stuff back. Maybe even little sis will listen to reason, when I track ’em down. But if you don’t cool it, there’s going to be some other private dick knocking on my door in about a week, investigating the case of ‘annoying bitch goes missing, and she can’t even be found at the mall, spending her husband’s hard-earned dough on a billion pairs of shoes she don’t need,’ if you know what I mean.”
Unfortunately, the dame was just getting more and more emotional, and then, like a dame, she started crying. I knew how she felt – I was out of bourbon. Predictably, she said she’d call the cops to do the job, if I wasn’t going to help her out. “They can’t get results, sugar. They’re just going to give you the run-around, and maybe let you know in a week that they did all that they could, but that it wasn’t enough. The police have to abide by the rules,” I reasoned with her, “but I only have to answer to my conscience, and luckily I had that removed a long time ago. Same with my appendix, ’cause I kept throwing up, and they said that if they didn’t operate that I could die.” She gave me a funny look and put the phone away. Finally, I thought I was getting through to her – maybe for the first time in either of our lives. I was wrong, of course.
“LISTEN – JUST GIVE ME BACK MY SHIT, STOP CALLING CRAIG AND I IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, AND LEAVE MY SISTER ALONE, OR I REALLY WILL CALL THE COPS. OH, AND YOU CAN KEEP THE FUCKING DOG !!!”
Dames. Can’t live with ’em, can’t cheat on ’em with their skinnier sister. Either way, this was going to be a tough nut to crack, and I had suspects to track down if I was going to get to the bottom of the case. Luckily, I knew right where to start – you don’t swim with the sharks for as long as I have and not learn a thing or two about putting all your eggs before the horse. What?
Little Havana was a cesspool filled with vibrant colors, cheerful people, and lots and lots of beautiful women in bikinis. All the sun and fun made me rethink my pro-immigration stance, as well as my decision to wear a trench coat in mid-July. I stopped at a little joint that I knew would at least yield a good sandwich, if not a good lead. The medianoche was hot and delicious and made me forget about my troubles for the two minutes it took me to pack it in my angst-hole. I took note of the sandwich and it’s ingredients – that’s just how I was trained. It’s lucky I didn’t shoot it, because I’m also trained to do that (if you count watching Lethal Weapon over 125 times as “training.”) The Cuban bread merely hinted at sweet, and was filled with pork and ham, then topped with mustard, pickles, and Swiss cheese. The whole kit ‘n caboodle was then shoved in a press and grilled like it was a suspect that I had gotten alone in a room with no windows. The proprietor didn’t seem to know anything about a shady character who just scammed a naive girl dreaming of the big city, which is why I didn’t ask him about it. Also, I don’t speak Spanish. I was content to cool my heels on the bar stool, and cool my throat with an ice cold beer.
The eye-ties are known for their food, their chest hair, and their fiery tempers. But, then again, so am I. Except for the chest hair, because I’ve never been able to grow any. My therapist says that that’s why I compensate with a tough-guy attitude, guns, and an insatiable appetite for broads and their sisters. There was no time to think about that, though, because the waiter in front of me was playing hard ball and demanding an answer. I had no choice but to comply. “Muffuletta,” I said, “And two bottles of wine to wash it down with.” I didn’t know whether the sandwich needed the washing down, or, rather, my guilt at not being able to find my ex’s culprit. Thankfully, I didn’t have time to think about it, because the sandwich was quickly at my table. The big ciabatta loaf was cut in half and piled high with gardeniera and oil, cappacola, salami, prosciutto, mortadella, provolone cheese, and I’m pretty sure there was some chest hair in there, as well. It was delicious, and maybe it was the wine talking, but I had a hunch that the waiter was just a patsy in this whole crazy mess. I decided to let him go – I only hoped it wouldn’t come back to haunt me. And, just so there’s no unnecessary suspense: it didn’t.
The wine had taken its toll, and I fast realized that I had to get to my perp before my perp got to me. Unfortunately, I had stumbled into a dank, smelly dive bar, full of crisp white shirts and businessmen sipping martinis. “When in Rome”, I thought, as I sidled up to the zinc bar to blend in with the local populace, and also to get shit-faced. The pretty red-head next to me wasn’t talking, so I decided to change my tact and play “nice cop” with the leggy blond behind the bar. It worked, and she opened up like your mother’s legs after our last date. She answered all my questions, and I was able to deduce that the crazy language on the menu was something called “French.” I think I had heard of it once before, in conjunction with the words “surrender,” “pretentious asshole,” and “tickler.” All I know is that when my sandwich arrived, I was five martinis into the afternoon (six, if you count the one that got thrown in my face.) My croque madam would add some much needed heft to my starting-to-get-queasy stomach, and I was happy to make its acquaintance. Leave it to the French to gussy-up a ham and cheese sandwich by slathering on Dijon mustard, frying both sides, then broiling more cheese on top, all before the coup de grace of slapping on a runny-yolked egg. After my meal, I questioned some more patrons and wet my whistle with some more martinis. Somewhere along the line I must have hit upon a nerve, because the next thing I knew, two Vichy-loving thugs were giving me the bum’s rush out the door and onto the sidewalk. I was making progress and getting closer to my nameless suspect, and I hoped that he was getting scared. I knew I was.
Fried Egg Sandwich
This city may never sleep, but I sure as fuck do. That night, for instance, on a park bench, for use as a bum ATM. I headed for home as the tyrannical sun rose once more in the East, my pockets as empty as my soul. Luckily for me and my bad mood, the door to my apartment was open, so there was no need for the key I no longer had. Apparently, whoever had been in my place the night before had been kind enough to leave it ajar for me as they got away with my DVD player, laptop, and TV. The dog, sous-chef Bruno, was still there, though, and had made a valiant effort to ward off the intruders by peeing on the rug. This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I knew exactly who the perp had been – after all, she had just hired me the day before. The old double-cross: send the dupe out on a wild goose chase so you and your spikey-haired boyfriend can break in and get away with the loot. Leave it to a dame to be so duplicitous. With the case closed, I headed to the kitchen and decided to reward my gullibility with a fried egg sandwich – my favorite. “Another happy customer,” I said to Bruno, as I piled the egg, a slice of heirloom tomato, some bacon, and a slice of sharp cheddar cheese on top of thick, white bread, toasted to perfection, “But we have other cases that need our attention. Like that dame who thinks that the creepy guy she went out with that one time is using her apartment while she’s out of town on business all month.” Sous-chef Bruno looked nervous.