…continued from Chris Wood issue
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.
The next morning, Kitty raced into my office. She seemed upset, unsettled, frazzled, ruffled, and disturbed. She had received an anonymous phone call, sometime in the night and it was from our old friend, the perv, wanting to return the pictures to her. The only caveat was that she pays him five thousand dollars. I guess nothing in this world is free. She said that if she didn’t meet with him tonight, with the money, that he would send the pictures all over town. She’d be destroyed, humiliated, disgraced, and embarrassed. I couldn’t let that happen. She had grown on me, like a wart, and I wasn’t about to get her burned off.
I stopped in at the bank to see an old fling. Bitsy was a banker who I could bank on. A teller that wouldn’t tell anything if asked any questions. She’d back me by fronting the money that I need for the night. Why not? I’d been good to her. She was part of my past, but we never had a future… only good times. She was a chubby, big, thing with a body shaped like Dodger Stadium – but that’s just a ballpark figure. Back in the day, I used to stop by, after closing hours, to see her and make a deposit – sometimes I even had some money on me. We would often slink away into the backroom and have a tryst in one of the vaults. She believed in safe sex. I got the overnight loan from her I was looking for and she threw in a smile.
It was close to midnight as I stood in the park. I was cautious, on guard, and maybe a little scared. Rhythmic footsteps approached me from behind. I spun around and there he was. No one said a word. We slowly exchanged envelopes and while still watching each other, we both took a quick gander at the contents of our envelopes. “Hey, what’s the big idea?” he questioned. “These aren’t Kitty’s pictures.” Before I could answer, a shot rang out and the poor sap collapsed in front of me. I dove behind a tree as more shots rang out, each one with my name on it. I never liked chitchat, so I wasn’t about to wait around to ask the many questions that were swimming in my mind.
I scurried away like a raccoon caught in a dumpster, and sunk into the darkness.
I needed some time to think, so I meandered into my favorite watering hole, The Tipsy Turnip. I cozied up to the bar. I was feeling low, so I ordered a Highball. I just handed some lug in the park five grand, just to have him hand me five grand. The whole thing stank like a three-day-old halibut, rotting in a musty sewer. That guy wasn’t looking for dough. He was looking for the same thing I was, Kitty’s pictures. They were a hot item and the trail had just gone cold, and I wasn’t warming up to the fact that someone had set us up. While the unlucky John had gone down, I tried to remain up, but nothing made sense.
The next day the newspapers identified the body as one Frankie Deluchee. Who the hell was this park fella? I needed information about this dead slug. Tommy “Two Thumbs” Malone, was a shifty con artist who worked the east side. He got his name because he had one thumb up his butt and one in his mouth, playing switch. His hustles were small time (things like corner shell games, pick pockets and running numbers… mostly prime ones). He liked to gamble too. I went over to the race track to see the man who had his nose in everything on the streets. He knew everyone, and if you covered a few of his bets, his belly would spill like vomit. I could get information straight from the horse’s mouth, or should I say, the horse better’s mouth.
“Two-Bit Bum” hit in the second, which put Tommy in a good mood. “So what do you know about a Frankie Deluchee?” I asked.
“He was a pilot for TWA and then they canned him for flying with his pants off,” Tommy spilled. “The poor sap fell on hard times. Lost his license, and then started hitting the bottle and gambling a lot. I saw him one night in a card game… even had a dame on his arm. The girl could bet. I mean heavy. Two grand a hand.”
“You know the dame?” I asked.
“I never seen her before,” he pondered. “But, she went by some animal name… Poochie, Possum, Birdie… Kitty, that was it.”
I stood frozen with my jaw resting on the floor. I flipped Tommy a buck and told him to take “Secret Surprise” to win in the fifth.
I hit Kitty in the kisser with the information I had. She seemed unfazed. “Yeah, I knew him,” she off-handedly remarked. “We had a few dates, but there was nothing to it. He was a loser who liked the hooch more than me. I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
“Well, you won’t see him again. He’s dead,” I stated.
“Frankie!” she bellowed as she broke down and cried.
The news seemed to hit her hard for someone she barely knew. Were they real tears, or the crocodile ones that turn and bite you when you least expect it? I didn’t know if I could trust her. I decided to keep her gambling hobby to myself. I may need to play that hand later.
I started to dig into the life of this drunk pilot. He flew high, living beyond his means. I spoke with a baggage handler down at the airport (I busted him once for tap dancing while juggling carry-ons for quarters). You want to play in my town, then get a street performing permit. Yeah, he had heard of the raucous pilot. The talk was that he had stewardess in every city, every room, and every other bed. The sky playboy liked the party life. When he got canned from his job, things went belly up for him. With his income dried up, quieted wild nights, he went on to booze bashes or “pin-the-tail on the hussy” games. The ape had a reputation and this case was driving me bananas. Is that why Kitty stopped seeing him? There’s only one thing a dame likes more than her man, and that’s his money. And without cabbage, the coleslaw tastes a lot different.
I changed my thinking. Instead of looking at the players that traveled in Kitty’s circle, I’d take a look at the main character in this murder mystery play. I’d been playing the understudy all week and, now, dress rehearsal was over. It was time for my performance. Who was Kitty Brunswick? I wondered about her and why she had my head spinning like a milkshake blender at the corner drugstore. It was time to find out a little more on the leading lady.
As I drove around, I kept telling myself, “Yeah, so what?” She cozied up with a pilot and took a few flights on his bank roll. It doesn’t make her a bad person; it just makes her a republican. A lot of girls want a man who can give them the finer things in life, but it just didn’t sit well with me. My insides were crawling like a beetle on a rose petal in a summer garden. I headed south on Henderson, then turned down Mulberry, and pulled up to the county library. I was working on a hunch that maybe Kitty had something in her past. Something that would jump out at me. Something that wasn’t pretty.
I once dated a librarian. Her name was Shirley Feldman. She read my mind and I read her body. I used the brail method. The relationship didn’t last long. You might say it was a short story. It ended in a fight where she threw the book at me. She was feisty; I learned that you could never judge a book by its cover, but that was just a long ago chapter in my life and I’ve turned the page. Shirley was the cat’s meow and had the memory of a baby elephant… and a nose to match. She recollected the name Kitty Brunswick. After an hour of digging, she pulled up an old article that mentioned Kitty. It was more about her husband, Johnny Tortellini. He had owned several Italian delis and appeared to have done quite well for himself. Unfortunately, the poor rogue had died in an odd manner. Poison accident. Coincidentally, Kitty had been married to him at the time.
I felt bad for Kitty to lose a husband, that is until I had my old banker gal pal look up some of Kitty’s old records. What I found hit me liked a baby delivery doctor slapping a baby’s bum and welcoming him into the cold world. I’m sure that the fifty thousand dollars that was deposited into her account right after her husband’s death dampened her grieving. I’d never make that much dough in my life. I tracked down where the money came from. It was large insurance company. The timing was uncanny, coincidentally and suspiciously, because she took out a death policy a week before her husband’s death. I wondered why she didn’t use her psychic abilities for her gambling hobby.
“Sure I was married before. Is that so wrong?” Kitty stated. “He was a good man and I loved him.”
“Kind of a strange death, wasn’t it?” I threw out.
“I don’t think so,” she fired back. “A lot people die from accidental rat poisoning. It wasn’t his fault.” She began pacing with an intense look. “Those rats were all over Johnny’s meat. Every morning he’d come into that deli and there were half-eaten meatballs and mild sausages strewn on the floor. Those dirty rats didn’t like the hot sausages. Mild, that’s all those rodents wanted. Johnny had had it. Those big mice were driving his business into the ground. One day, Johnny came in and noticed one of the rats slumped in a corner with his tiny paws resting on his fat plump belly. He had been feasting all night on Johnny’s profits. That little monster looked up at my Johnny, with pasta sauce all over his whiskers and he… he smirked. Johnny flew into a rage. There was craziness in his eyes. I’d never seen him like that before. He vowed that he was going to kill the rascals. I pleaded with him. ‘Johnny don’t. Don’t Johnny. Think about us and our dreams.’ It was too late. Johnny had gone off the deep end. He raced out the door to the hardware store and bought the rat poison. I tried to warn him. I begged and pleaded but they were too smart for him. That night the furry scoundrels got into the poison. They didn’t eat it. No, those good-for-nothings mixed it in with the powdered sugar and then my Johnny made himself a cannoli, and he dropped like a bowling ball in the Hudson river. Filthy lousy rats. I hate them. I hate ‘em all.”
I had heard stories like that, but it wasn’t that unusual. After all, I once ate a shoe thinking it was potato. I still had my doubts though. “His death made you a rich woman,” I pried.
“I don’t care about the insurance money,” she shrugged. “I’d take my husband back any day of the week, even if it’s my hair salon day,” she said breaking out in tears. “Johnny did the lawn work and I could sure use some weeds pulled.”
I never had a green thumb, but I just hoped she wasn’t pulling my weed. Money’s a crazy thing. It can make you kiss the devil without a breath mint. “Come on, let’s go out to a fancy place,” she said cuddling up to me. “I’ll let you buy me dinner.”
After dinner, Kitty didn’t invite me back to her place. It was odd, but maybe she just wanted to be alone. Her excuse was she had to get to bed early, because she’d be spending the next day helping out at the soup kitchen. She had a big heart. People like her gave bums the chance to flash grateful toothless smile. It was just what I needed to have a little quiet time checking out her place.
I had no trouble jimmying the lock. It was easy. I had a cousin named Jimmy who used jimmy locks and put jimmies on his ice cream. He did things quickly and didn’t jimmy-jack around. I learned quickly from him. The only hang up I had with him was that he liked to wear dresses.
The inside of Kitty’s place was well decorated: plush carpet, velvet couches, and few paintings that could possibly dot a museum wall. I noticed some mail on a desk. I shuffled through the stack like a deck of cards. Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, Montgomery Wards… This gal was hocked up to her plucked eyebrows in bills. Another envelope peeked my interest. I opened it and noticed an insurance policy in Frankie Deluchee’s name. Once again, Kitty had stumbled into a pile of money. I guess lightning could strike twice.
She walked in the door with a handful of shopping bags, overflowing with blouses and dresses. She was startled to see me sitting in her chair sipping on a stiff vodka martini. “How did you get in here?” she huffed.
“I’m a detective,” I answered. “That’s what we do.”
She ignored me and set her new clothes on the couch then fished around in a furniture drawer for a cigarette.
“Soup kitchen have a sale today?” I sarcastically remarked.
Without missing a beat, she responded, “They closed early. It was a slow hobo day.”
“Word on the street is you like to dabble in the poodle action,” I knowingly inquired.
“Sure I’ve dabbled. What’s it to ya’?” she sassed back. “It was just a way to deal with my Johnny’s death.”
“You ran up quite a hefty tab with Ming a Ling Ling,” I fired back.
“Yeah, well, my mind wasn’t right then,” she retorted.
I was tired of the runaround. I was getting as dizzy as a school girl jumping rope in a tornado. Yeah, I said it.
I decided to come clean and put it all on the table. “The night in the park… You set it all up?”
“Don’t be stupid,” she retorted. “I just wanted those photos back.”
“The only problem is… you have the photos,” I continued. “I figured maybe your half-witted boyfriend thought he was buying the pictures from me since he had the same amount of money in his hands as I brought.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you dumb baboon,” she huffed.
“Don’t you?” I calmly replied, waving Deluchee’s insurance policy in front of her.
“What the hell’s that?” she clamored.
“An insurance policy in case Frankie died. It even covers murder,” I continued. “Something tells me that you didn’t think he’d be around too long.”
“He lived a reckless lifestyle,” she shot back. “Why not cover the bases? And if I make some money on that rum-filled bum for doing something stupid, well, that’s just playing it smart. Besides, I deserve it for all the lying and cheating the louse put me through.” She lit a cigarette and poured herself a drink.
“I tracked down your dead husband’s sister, Sledge. She said that her brother despised cannolis. Wouldn’t touch ‘em. Said they made his face blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon.”
“You leave Macy’s out of this,” she blurted out. “They have a lousy three-day exchange policy and I don’t know if I’m still gonna like a dress in a week. Who does?”
“My cousin Jimmy does. You had a fat policy on your husband,” I pushed. “Took it out a week before his death. No wonder ya’ like the gambling. You must be a lucky broad.”
“What are you driving at?” she questioned.
“You’re good with policies, but you want it all, don’t ya’ doll face?” I snickered. “Well, life’s not a pretty little package that’s dressed up in colorful wrapping paper, where ya’ spend your days trying to figure out how to tie a bow.”
“What does that mean?” she questioned.
“It means don’t pull your red wagon with one hand, so don’t play coy with me, pumpkin,” I shot back, not understanding a word I’ve said. “I know your type. One day you’re big, and the next day you’re small. You take long walks outside hoping it doesn’t rain. And when you’re home all by yourself, ya’ pour a glass of wine and stare at the shadows on the wall, humming Ethel Merman songs, and wearing fluffy slippers. Do I got it right, chicken?”
“Yeah, I like fluffy slippers. What’s it to ya’? You’re some smart detective,” she cynically remarked. “You think it’s easy flying in those planes, listening to babies cry, people demanding blankets, and serving drinks and meals like some cheap diner waitress? To hell with all the people who want a little pillow. I’m done making nickels. That life’s over. And every guy I’ve ever met has never been able to give me the good things. Things I deserve.”
“Who shot Deluchee that night in the park?” I pressed.
“Alright, smart guy, you wanna know the score? Well I’ll tell ya’. I was in the hole to Ming for ten G’s and if I didn’t pay him he was gonna have me… work it off. I think you can figure that out. So, I told Ming he’d get his cash if he got one of his henchmen to rub out Frankie. I told him the money would be sitting in his cold dead hand.”
“That’s only half the grub you owed him. What about the other… half?” My words dribbled out like a slow dripping leaky toilet. The GE bulb went off in my head. She stared coldly at me.
“I guess the other half of the lettuce was in my hand,” I surmised.
“That’s right,” she smirked. “Like I said, I always pay my debts… one way or another.”
“You got it all figured out, doll kitten baby. What’s to stop me from walking out that door and singing like a jaybird to the cops?” I asked.
“They wouldn’t believe the lyrics,” she cracked wise. “Besides, I’m willing to share my dough. You keep your trap shut and we can both be on the beach of Playa del Carmen by tomorrow afternoon.”
“I don’t fly that way,” I chirped. “I travel by right and wrong, sister.”
“Well that’s a one-way trip to the poor house,” she laughed. Kitty walked over to her desk and picked up a piece of paper. “My big pay day has yet to come.”
She handed it to me. I looked it over. I could feel my heart pound like my head after a two-day bender. Clever. It was quite an expensive insurance policy; I was holding a cool half million. The only snag was… it had my name on it. When I looked up, Kitty was holding a gun, gripping it like a baby would a rattle. Well, this baby wasn’t about to wet his pants and cry. I only do that alone.
“Where do ya’ want it?” the cold-hearted woman asked.
“How about Chicago?” I tried.
by Jeff Charlebois