The year was 1948. I had been a cop most of my life until I was asked to turn in my badge. They just didn’t like the way that I did things… which way? My way. Good cops would spend hours, or days, following the rules to get vital information on crimes. Me, I’d slap someone around for a good ten minutes and have all the information that I needed to make an arrest. It wasn’t right, but in my eyes, it wasn’t wrong. It was the way that I rolled. The way I bounced. The way I got things done. They didn’t like it, and I didn’t much like them, so I opted out of the blue uniform and went out on my own to become a private dick. Which was not so smart, I barely made enough money for a Dagwood sandwich and a bottle of gin.
It was raining that day when she first walked in. Blond hair, long legs, and blue eyes that could pierce the blubber of a Humpback whale. She lit a cigarette, and then exhaled. After reaching into her purse, she threw a picture on my desk. “I need your help,” she stated.
It was a sultry, black-and-white photo of her lying on a bed. She was in her birthday suit, naked, nude, stripped down and doing her best impersonation of Biblical Eve.
“I can see you’re not the shy type,” I quipped.
“There’s more of these pictures out there and I want them back,” she calmly insisted.
Over dinner, she told me that she had received a phone call from a stranger. “He said that he had some information about my boyfriend cheating on me, so I agreed to meet him. We had a drink and I became terribly woozy. The last thing I remember was getting into a cab with him.” She lit a cigarette, and then continued, “I awoke the next day… naked… in my bed.” It was obvious that this snake had slipped something in her drink.
“Blackmail,” I murmured.
“No, he was white,” she corrected.
We stood on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant, “I can’t pay you,” she said, “I’m broke.”
I started to walk away, but she grabbed my hand. “But, I give good head… massages.”
I don’t play any instruments, but what she said struck a chord with me and I liked the sound of the tune. I wasn’t looking to get close to anyone. I was married once, but maybe it wasn’t my bag, my thing, my cup of Joe. I loved my work, which left less attention for my spouse. We would fight almost every night. I ended up sleeping around. I slept on the floor, on the couch, and in my car. It just depended on how mad she was. But now, now I’d been on own, by myself, solo, for the last six years since my wife was blindsided by a newspaper boy on a scooter. The story didn’t make the papers, but I never forgot the news of my wife’s death. Maybe it was time to let it go. To move on. Open up my heart again. Besides, I could use a scalp rub down.
We went back to her place and she told me a little more about herself. She was an American stewardess who flew with TWA. She asked me if I wanted a cocktail, and I said yes. Of course, what man wouldn’t? That was a typical lunch for me. She brought me some crystal clear, cheap, vodka in one of those itty bitty bottles, you know, about the size of a bottle cap on normal size of hooch. There was no doubt she was a stewardess.
Things escalated and the booze was kicking in. Before I knew it, we were flying united. Maybe I should’ve fastened my belt, but I was thinking in the other direction. Her kisses were like catching snowflakes on your tongue, but warmer. I was drowning in her passion. Her flight attendant breasts soon became my flotation devices. We eventually came in for a landing…., and a rough landing it was. I reached for the oxygen mask on my side of the bed, because I needed it. I told her that I would take the case. Before I left, she reached in her purse and threw me a packet of peanuts. She was nuts about me.
On the back of her naked photo I could make out faint print of a local shop, The Dive Studio. It was a good place to start, although I didn’t much like photographers. In my early twenties, I had dated a photographer, but nothing developed. You might say, it was a negative experience. The relationship wasn’t a pretty picture, and I distrust anyone who was trying to frame me.
At the Dive Studio, I showed the clerk the picture and asked if he knew the photographer who took the photo. He flipped the picture idly and remarked, “Maybe I do and maybe I don’t.”
I dropped a fin on the counter. He pocketed the money and looked at the photo again. “No, I don’t know,” he said.
Wise guy, I thought. I grabbed him by collar and slapped him across the face. “Ring a bell now,” I snapped, holding the photo up to his face.
“My mind’s a little foggy,” he quipped. I slapped him again.
“Is the sun coming out now?” I pushed.
“Get out of my studio,” he yelped.
I quickly spun him around and pulled his underwear up to his neck as I shoved his head into the photograph. “You getting the picture yet?” I snarled.
The wedgie must have jarred his memory, because he started singing like The Andrew Sisters. When he was done, his rendition of the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” he said, “Stan, the guy’s name is Stan. I don’t know anything ‘cept he’s a freelancer and likes to hang out in the strip joints.”
I found myself in the only strip joint in town. It was the usual horn dogs, pervs, and estranged husbands who were trying to add a little variety into their dismal marriages. While the prancing floozies shook their tassels and danced on stage, I approached the bartender to inquire about Stan. He pointed to a dark corner where a stringy stranger sat, sipping a martini and ogling a hussy who had gotten comfortable on his lap. I wandered over and sat down next to him. “How’s the movie?” I asked.
“Get lost. I’m busy.” he muttered.
Touchy I thought… and not just with his lap dog. “Why don’t you scram, doll.” I suggested to the stripper dame. “I got some business with Stan.”
She stood up, brushed my cheek with her hand and whispered, “All business is never good.”
I flipped her a dime and said, “Go call your mother. She’s worried about ya’. Now take a powder, baby.”
She huffed off.
“Who the hell are you?” Stan barked. “The name’s Murphy,” I shot back. “Private Investigator. I see that ya’ like the naked women.”
He snickered, “Only if they don’t have clothes on.”
Wise guy, I thought. “Does the name Kitty Brunswick mean something to ya’?”
“Not to me,” he snipped without blinking.
I slid the photo in front of him. “Maybe this will help paint a picture for ya’,” I lashed out.
His face turned whiter than a chicken egg in a pale of beige paint. “It wasn’t my idea. I’m not like that,” he whimpered. “I just like watching ‘em dance. That’s all.”
“Who put ya’ up to it?” I forcibly asked.
“I don’t know his name. I got a call from a guy who wanted me to do a photo shoot and…, I needed the money, so he told me to show up at this house around midnight and…, she’d be on the bed,” he continued. “He wanted various poses. I just did what I was hired to do.”
“You’re a pig. A filthy little pig,” I coldly stated. “It’s punks like you that make this world a hell hole to live in.” He shrugged, so I slapped him. It’s just what I do.
Stan got payment for the photo-shoot by a middle-aged Asian man. The only thing Stan could recall was that the man spoke in broken English and had a tattoo of an eggroll on the top of his hand. Why wasn’t it a dumpling? I wondered. No matter, I needed to find this firecracker before things exploded.
I met up with Squeaky. She was a little person, about four feet tall, so she always had her ear to the ground. She was good with the small talk. We went out for a quick bite to eat. The little vixen was well connected around town, so I thought she might know something. Squeaky was good at that. She didn’t say much and was always very short with me. When the meal came, she just stared at it for twenty minutes. “Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No,” she answered. “I’m just watching what I eat.”
I was hungry. Hungry for some information. “So do you know this Eggroll fella?” I asked.
“He goes by the name of Ming a Ling Ling,” she responded in that high squeaky voice.
“What’s his game?” I probed.
“He likes Ping Pong,” she replied. “But his main racket is the Poodle fights in the Tiny Tokyo Corner.”
Poodle fights had been around for maybe five years now. The mutt mauling was a sick, degrading sport where owners would dress their prized poodles up in a slinky tutu, tie a pork chop around their neck and let them go at it. The losers would be given up to some local Chinese restaurant to be the next sweet and sour dish. Yeah, it was all illegal, but the dough it brought in had a way of turning the cheeks of cops. And just like Chinese food, the money only made them hungrier for more.
In a dingy warehouse full of shrimp toast and noodles, a frenzied crowd screamed out cheers to dogs battling in the ring. In the center of it all was Ming a Ling Ling, who scurried around calling out orders and collecting bets. If someone bet over twenty dollars, Ming would pass along a fortune as thanks. Something like “A meaningless search for meaning is not very meaningful.” They usually dropped another ten, grateful for the advice.
While a pair of pooches nipped at each other, I made my way over to Ming a Ling Ling. “I understand you gave an envelope to a photographer friend of mine,” I teased, throwing the cards on the table.
“I not talk to you. Very busy. You bet on dog. I take your money,” he snapped, trying to ignore me.
I wasn’t coming back. I was getting my answers now. “Listen to me, Won Ton soup, you’re gonna start spilling the Saki or I’m gonna get the coppers in here to shut this hound kennel down. You’ll be on a slow boat to China if you don’t start talking.”
Before I could say another word, the Asian tycoon shanghaied me with a Kung Fu kick to my liver. Wrong move. I’ve only given gin permission to abuse me there. I soon found myself in a knockdown brawl with this dog ringmaster. He used some ancient martial arts moves, while I fired back with good old fashioned American punches that I had learned from my feisty Irish, drunken, grandmother as a small boy. When all was said and done, Ming had learned another side of life. “Alright Ching Chang Charlie, play time’s over. Why’d you hustle money out of Kitty Brunswick?” I demanded.