I’m honored to have a great young pulp author today posting fiction here on my nest o’ nightmares! This piece comes direct from author Bryce Beattie, from StoryHack.com, and author of the zombie-pulp novels Oasis and The Journey of St. Laurent.
So, without further ado, let’s have some noir! Take it away, Bryce!
by Bryce Beattie © 2012 Bryce Beattie, all rights reserved
People tiptoe through my office door all the time burdened with questions to which they do not really want to know the answer. If they also come through the door carrying enough lettuce for a three day retainer, then we do business. It’s not usually easy, it’s often dangerous, and it almost always requires getting more than a little dirty. Ah, well, it’s work. Brick work. That’s my idea of a joke. You see, my name’s Brick Baines, and I’m a private dick.
I sat in the Buick and let my thinker meander to the fine ham sandwich that rested lightly in my paws. It had plenty of cheese and a divine-smelling mustard. I figured the new deli might actually work out. And the best part was that for the third day in a row, I’d be eating a lunchtime hoagie on a client’s dime.
And just then, before the cold cuts could cross my lips, for the third time in as many days, a long pair of legs rounded the corner and breezed into the smoky gin joint known as O’Malley’s. On day one, I sat around and waited for the frail who owned the legs to leave with some beefy affair. No such luck. She went home alone. Ditto for day two.
Both days she scrammed walking too straight to have been tossing back giggle water for those six hours. So what was she doing all that time?
After I tailed her home that second night I asked around about the bar. It had survived prohibition and then the war due to the fact that it was owned by “Dangerous” Donovan Druggan. Being a solo act, I don’t really go in for stirring up the hornet’s nest known as organized crime, so I didn’t know much about him. The fact that he was in his seventies and working stiffs still called him “Dangerous” told me something.
The fact that the owner was a Mafioso didn’t mean that the frail was necessarily mixed up with his business. Because, you know, delicious dames often hang out daily in dingy crime-owned bars for no apparent reason. A guy can hope, right?
And speaking of bars, I’d just like to make my point again. The bright small time private investigator tries to avoid even digging dirt in establishments owned by big time operators. This is because bright small time investigators like to keep hot lead out of their heads. Of course, I was retained to find out if she was having an affair, so I’d have to bite that bullet, march in and maybe put myself on the radar of some very shady cats.
Yep, the very thought of diving into that particular den of vipers was enough to make me lean back and finish my sandwich.
When the lunch meats were gone, so were my excuses.
Not wanting to spark an accidental gun fight, I ditched my heater in the Buick’s jockey box before legging it across the street past the parked cabs and into O’Malley’s.
The door opened up onto some steps that led down. At the base of the steps was a second door. The joint was set up so that daylight would never defile its smoky innards.
The interior of the place was about like you’d expect – dark, with pockets of darker. And in a couple of badly planned spots, it brightened up to almost poorly lit.
I scanned the room looking for my mark. She sat in a booth along the back wall, bathed in shadows. A notebook and a coke sat on the table in front of her.
I sat at the bar and ordered a scotch on the rocks. Some say that ice ruins a drink. The people who say that? They’re right. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to enjoy a tasty libation. I was there to pass time and watch a client’s wife. That meant sip slowly and water it down. I could get three sheets when the case was closed.
A man sitting at the end of the bar saw me, looked again, then looked a third time. After that he stared hard at his drink and rapped his tubby fingers on the counter.
He looked familiar, but I couldn’t get a good enough gaze of his mug to put a point on where I might have seen him before. I wasn’t here to watch him, anyway.
The mirror behind the bartender didn’t give me a good look at the dame, but I could see one leg as well as the seat opposite her.
Halfway through my second drink, a squirrelly guy in an ill-fitting suit slid into the hot seat across from the girl. He didn’t look to me like much of a lover, but sometimes you can’t tell with these things. He made some nervous chit chat and then pulled out a few greenbacks and held them out.
She pulled the geech from his trembling fist and set it somewhere, then scribbled something first in a book and then on a scrap of paper. She slid the paper across the table. He picked it up, put it in his pocket, and made a hasty exit.
From the corner of my peeper I saw the man at the end of the bar signal for the barkeep.
Two others sat down with my client’s wife in turn and performed the same ritual.
Any mook could see what was going on. She was taking bets.
Now, my client’s wife was a looker, but she wasn’t fine enough to be running an operation out of a mob joint without their express permission. And by express permission, I mean more like “working for.” The dame’s supposed affair was really just a part time gig as a bookie for a local hood.
My client was not going to like that any better.
The man at the end of the bar whispered his secrets to the bartender and then practically ran for the exit. The bartender glanced just once over at me and then marched over to the door at the back marked “storage.”
This little show put me on edge, but I wasn’t ready to make like a drum just yet. If I could get it, I needed some kind of proof to take back to my client. My camera was out in the Buick, and dim, smoky joints weren’t the best place for clicking the shutter anyway.
There wasn’t much time to stew on the quandary of proof. The storage room door opened up and in shuffled three burly mooks dressed in finery much too fine for a dive like this. The bartender crowed close behind them and pointed at me. Stinking coward.
The lead monkey pulled the cigar from his lips. “Whatchu doing here?”
“Just getting a drink.”
“No you ain’t. Cliff fingered you as a private dick. Brick Beans or sumpin’.”
I looked from gorilla to gorilla to gorilla. They scowled back.
“Baines,” I shrugged. “All right, all right. It’s true. I am a private dick.”
“Mr. Druggan don’t like none of youze nosy types snooping around.”
“Yeah, but I’m not here chasing anything to do with Mr. Druggan. I didn’t even know he owned the place. A man hired me to find out if his wife was having an affair. She’s supposed to be around in a few minutes. I was just going to watch if she met someone.”
“Yeah, we calls that ‘snooping’ around here.”
One of the backup heavies stepped in. “And who names a kid Brick anyways?”
You know the funny thing? My name’s not really Brick. It’s Daisy. That’s right, I said my given name’s Daisy. Ma and Pa Baines each had a very vivid dream on the same night that the forthcoming kid was to be named Daisy. Three months later I was born a boy, but it was too late, fate had chosen my name.
Still, you can’t go telling tough guys you have a flowery name. “Brick’s a nickname, pal. When I was fourteen, I put a brick through the window of a cherry top. By the time the folks fetched me from the station, the name had stuck.”
The meat didn’t even crack a smile at my story. Oh well. It doesn’t always work. I checked the mirror and saw another transaction happening with the dame. The gambler was a lanky gate in suspenders and looked like he was in a hurry. That gave me an idea.
I lifted my glass to the gorillas. “Can I at least finish my drink? I’ll even pay for it.”
The big one chomped on cigar again and cracked his knuckles. “No. Scram. Now.”
The gambler in the mirror pocketed his receipt.
I took a sip and set down the hooch. “What’s the matter? You run out of sentences and you’re down to just little words?”
“Youze a real smart guy, huh? Maybe you want help findin’ the curb.”
I don’t know what my problem is. Maybe I don’t want to look weak in front of anybody. Maybe I just like making trouble. Plus, I only needed to buy a few seconds.
I stood, sneered, and pointed with my left at his oversize chest. “I told you, ugly, I’m not looking into your boss, so–”
A lot of hired muscle have short fuses. Still, this one seemed especially primed for violence. One direct insult and he went down to business, pulling his beefy fist way back. Much farther than he needed. It gave me all the time in the world to duck and weave.
That’s not what I did, of course. I could have, though. I just want to make that crystal clear. I needed to buy those extra couple of seconds.
His large mitt drilled into my cheek.
I bent my knees, spun to my right, and took a stumbling step back.
The punch hurt but probably wouldn’t even pop a shiner. Some of those giant-types never do learn to fight right. They just rely on a pile of muscle to do all the work.
The lanky gambler shuffled the long way around the commotion.
I brought my left hand up to my cheek and squeezed out a groan. Just for show. My right was turned away and hidden to the three bruisers. I dug it into my pocket.
“Stand up, shamus. Youze is just gettin’ started.”
The gambler was mere feet from the exit when my fingers slipped into the holes of the brass surprise in my pocket.
The monkey who had hit me reached out and grabbed my shoulder.
I pulled out my fist and bent a little lower.
The monkey tugged up on my shoulder, and leaned down to stick his face in mine. “Look at–”
I built my rebuttal punch from my toes pushing against the ground, thrusting my hip forward, and pounding my brass knuckles into the fleshy underside of the monkey’s jaw.
He collapsed, if you don’t mind my saying, like a ton of bricks.
I didn’t stay planted long enough to watch his primate brethren trip over his unconscious corpse in a mad frenzy to rip out my windpipe. I made for the door like a drunken freight train.
The bartender said some unsavory words. The lesser monkeys roared.
I stashed the knuckles quick as I could. If nobody saw me use them, it’d be swell for my reputation. The lanky gambler was my final obstacle. He stood in the lower doorway, staring over his shoulder at the carnage, mouth agape.
I clutched at his left shoulder, fumbled for his right hip, my hand slipping into his pocket, then spun him around. He was a lot lighter than I expected. Even if my luck were good, his featherweight awkwardness wouldn’t slow them down much. Still, they didn’t need to be slowed much. I had plenty of head start.
The still-conscious gorillas tossed table after table out of their way.
I raced through the door, up the stairs, and out the other door.
I signaled one of the cabs and dove in, then told the driver to get moving. It didn’t matter where. I could come back for my Buick in a couple of hours.
The cab squealed out into the street.
I smiled and opened my hand. It contained a piece of paper I had lifted from the gambler’s right pocket during our little dance. Sure enough, it was a receipt for a ten dollar bet on Brooklyn for Saturday’s game, complete with a stamp. The whole thing was handwritten beautifully. It’d be a walk in the park to show that it was her handwriting. That meant proof to tie the dame to the less than legitimate business.
Now I just had to figure out how to tell my client, the Burbank chief of police, that his wife was making book for Dangerous Donovan Druggan.