Straight Crooked Part 1

Straight Crooked Part 1

There’s a knock on the door. I stare at the handle suspiciously.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me. Let me in.”
It’s her. After all this time.
“Give me one good reason why I should let you in.”
“I was a fool to leave you. You’re the best, better than all….”
“Hey, keep your voice down. That’s between me and you. I don’t want every helpless, wide-eyed, foxy dame in the apartment block chasing after me. I got enough problems”
I walk toward the door and open it. She steps into the room looking like a ghost. A ghost that’s wearing too much make-up and not enough clothes.
“You left me hanging for months. I didn’t know what had happened to you. I thought maybe you were dead or something. The nights grew cold. The days were filled with darkness. Then I got to thinking; Who needs a dame when you got a city full of bars, and bars full of bourbon. Who needs a heart when a heart can be….”
“What’s bourbon gotta do with it?”
“Sorry dollface. It’s over. Here’s some money for a cab.”
I get woken up by a knock on the door. It’s three in the morning.
“Who’s there?”
“And the Snake?”
“No snake”
“No snake?”
“Just Kitty.”
“How come just Kitty?”
“Are you gonna let me in or am I gonna have to wake up every low-life punk in your apartment block with stories about how you’re not really a private det……”
I swing the door open wide and she slides on in.
“Didn’t you and The Snake go to Casablanca to open up a hotel? What happened?”
“You got any drink?”
I pour her a gin, straight. She knocks it back without even saying thanks.
“Where’s The Snake?”
“You got any more drink?” I pour her another one and do a quick stock check..
“You come back alone?”
“Yeah that’s right. The Snake met some toots over there and brought her back to………….Daventry.”
Her head drops as she speaks the word.
“Don’t make me say it again. Give me another goddamn drink.”
“That’s pretty low even for The Snake. Say, why don’t we head down to Max’s Bar. I most likely don’t have enough hootch here for this story.”
I pick up my hat, put it on my head, and follow her out through the door. Then I walk back in. I guess I should put on a jacket too. And maybe a shirt.

I’m walking along the street with Kitty to Max’s All Night Bar. I tell her about the dream I’m having before she turns up uninvited.
“What is the deal with you and Tina Turner!? It’s not even jazz!
I stop dead in my tracks.
“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear you say that” I tell her.

We keep walking. She starts filling me in on non-jazz music. There’s a hundred and eighty five paving slabs and forty nine street lamps between my apartment and Max’s bar. Some things in life just don’t make any kind of sense.

We’re sitting at the counter drinking cocktails. It doesn’t take a whole lot of persuasion to get Kitty to tell me what happened with her and The Snake.

“They got a cabaret at the hotel, every Friday night. Same folk show up week after week. Same performers, same routines. There’s one band that always ends their show with the trumpet player singing a song about the lead singer. Turns out the lead singer is none too happy about this circumstance and he shoots him cold, right there on the stage. Then the next act comes on while the guy who’s pretending to be dead is still lying on the stage…..and still dead. I guess if you hadn’t seen them do the same stunt the week before you might believe he really kills the guy. Thing is, nobody in the audience cares one way or the other. Tough crowd. But it’s the next act that comes on that’s the reason I’m sitting here drinking with you in the middle of the night in some back street gin joint.”

“And here’s me tryin’ to figure out whether it’s my looks or my money.”
She keeps talking.

“Her names Consuela. She’s a jazz singer. Can’t speak a word of English. The Snake tells her he can make her a big star. Tells her he’s got contacts. Says he can spot raw talent from a thousand miles away and then some. Ok, no big deal so far. But he seems to be taking a shine to her. Something’s going on here. This isn’t some regular kinda showbiz racket. Sure enough, one day ………he’s gone. No goodbye, no nothing. Except… he leaves me the title to the hotel. Oh, I forget to mention. The hotels in debt. Deep debt. I guess you don’t need me to tell you I don’t stick around too long after this.”

Right about now we get interrupted by some drunk guy. He seems to appear outta nowhere.

“Say. You sure are one fine looking broad. You look like you should be in a movie set on some tropical island some place sipping daiquiris from a coconut shell and painting your toenails just for the hell of it all.”

Then he notices me sitting there.
“Is this your fella?” he says.
Both me and Kitty say “What!” at exactly the same time and at exactly the same pitch. B flat I think. I’ll check later.
“Do I look blind to you?” Kitty yells at him.
“Now hold on a minute. You drag me out of a dream in the middle of the night to insult me?”
“I figure you’re the only guy I know who’s awake at this hour and has liquor. I guess I’m wrong.”

The drunk guy thinks he sees an opportunity and moves in closer to Kitty. Tells her he digs her hair, real retro, like Liza Minnelli in that movie with the other cat. Kitty smiles at him and uses a crooked finger to beckon him closer. Then she takes hold of his beer-stained shirt collar and looks him straight in the eye. She speaks slowly and spits out every word.

“Listen Toots. There Ain’t Enough Liquor In The Whole Damn Festering Universe. Now Beat It!”

Things get a little blurry after that. Kitty’s gone and there’s another dame sitting in her place. Big hair, long legs, smeared lipstick. It seems she was seeing some guy who got killed in some kinda hunting incident. Just another brokenhearted, desolate soul in the night looking for some schmuck to tell her story to. I guess she found him.

“He wanted to prove his manliness. Said he felt like the whole weight of the modern world was bearing down on him, crushing his natural instinct. Always rattling on about how buffalo don’t give any mind to paying rent or treating buffalo dames with any kinda respect. So he went off on a hunting vacation with a couple other deluded jokers from the office. They headed off into the wilderness, up some mountain in Colorado. Naturally, they all took their phones with them. He was taking pictures of himself every day trying to look wild and mean. This went on for a few weeks. Then some moonshine-guzzling grizzly came down from the mountain and knocked him on out into the river. The river was deep and the mountain was high…………. and he couldn’t swim.”

I open my eyes. Kitty’s walking toward me shaking her wrist and looking pleased with herself about something.

“So you woke up, huh?” she says.

I guess I’d been dreaming again. I notice the drunk guy is laying flat out on the door mat.

“What happened to him?” I ask her.
“Oh that jive turkey? Let’s just say he won’t be using any big fancy words for a spell.”

Straight Crooked Part 2

I’m sitting minding my own business at the counter of Max’s Bar. A strange odor fills the air. A chemical, sulphurous gassy smell mixed with strong liquor and cheetos. I turn my head toward the door and put one hand over my face, gently clutching my bourbon with the other hand. The door opens and a fog drifts in, clinging to the walls and bar stools like a drunk dame who’s mislaid her purse and returned to make vague inquiries.
This is bad weather, even for The Snake.

He sits down next to me. It’s just The Snake, no Kitty. He doesn’t look so good.
‘Where’s Kitty?’ I ask him.
‘She ain’t here’ he says. I guess that clears things up a little.
‘Forget Kitty. I got some information that might interest you.’
‘What kind of information?’
‘Information about a crime’
‘A crime?
‘A jazz crime.’

I buy him a scotch and take him over to one of the booths. The waitress at Max’s Bar is a swell gal but there’s certain things she doesn’t need to hear.
‘You ever heard of Noak E. Kelly?’ The Snake asks.
‘I don’t believe I have’.
‘Played with Johnny Blue for a spell’.
I’m about to say ‘the blues guy?’ when I figure it might be easier to just play along.
‘Yeah, sure. What about him?’
The Snake leans back into the plush pleather seating and takes a long drag of his scotch while slugging a cigar. One of these days I’m gonna ask him how he does that. But not today.

‘They say he hated music. Ever since he was a kid. His ma used to take him to talent competitions. Got him to sing songs from the shows. Oklahoma, Show Boat, that kinda deal. The crowd loved him. Thing is, they loved him ‘cause they thought it was a comedy routine on account of him wearing his papa’s clothes and him being only six years old. You get the picture….. I’m saying his clothes were too big. Way too big. He got kicked outta music class at school. The teacher said he couldn’t teach a kid that had no passion for music. But he had a passion alright, he hated music with a passion stronger than anybody could ever know. On his sixteenth birthday his ma got him a guitar. This is where things start getting a little strange. I’ll be right back.’
The Snake slides over to the bar and chats some with the waitress. I can’t hear what’s being said but the waitress suddenly rolls her head back and laughs so hard that the neon beer sign behind her crackles, sizzles and burns out.

He slithers back over to the booth with enough liquor for a two-part story.
‘She’s a swell gal’ he says, laughing about something that maybe he oughta keep to himself.

‘Anyway, he’s got this guitar and he gets to thinking; “maybe I could learn to play it, and play it real good. And sing, and write songs. Get into some big band and then ……… Destroy Music From The Inside!”
He’s got it all figured out. He’s gonna bring the whole stinking deal down with one big out of tune mess.’

‘Yeah, I remember him now. No Key Kelly. The jazz guy. Made the bass player play with only one string. Told him less is more. In the end the guy wound up with no strings at all. Once did an entire show where the band stood with their backs to the audience talking to each other about Chet Baker and occasionally playing a few obscure notes with no time signature. But where’s the crime? That’s just jazz.’

The Snake is about to answer when a sudden gust of perfume fills the bar and a wistful trumpet starts playing some place in the distance.
‘Might’ve known I’d find you two jokers in here!’

Kitty is standing next to the booth wearing a hundred dollar gown and carrying a tiger print briefcase.

‘I’ll be over at the bar. Something smells a little off around here and I don’t want any folk thinking I got anything to do with it.’
She walks over to the bar, sits down and orders herself a vermouth I guess. She lays the briefcase flat on her lap, opens it up and after a short while starts tapping it with her fingers while staring at the lid. Looks like she’s finally lost it.

‘Back to the story. Kelly was in here a few nights ago. He didn’t see me sitting in the shadows. My hat was pulled down but not quite all the way, if it was I wouldn’t have been able to see what he did.’

‘What did he do?’
The Snake looks around to check nobody’s eavesdropping.

‘He walked casually over to the jukebox. Put a few quarters in and the thing fired up, then music started playing.’

‘Yeah, that’s how those things work.’

‘This wasn’t just any kinda music. The thing was pumping out punk rock. Most people in the joint didn’t know what was going on. They thought maybe they’d had some bad liquor and were hallucinating. One guy had his hands clasped over his ears screaming “Stop The Noise! I Can’t Take It Anymore!”
Kelly was standing there laughing maniacally and wailing along with the record. Bawled out something about being an antichrist. Said he wanted to be anarchy. Didn’t seem to care that it made no sense grammatically. At this point folk started hurling chairs at him, calling him a low-life commie and a punk. Kelly didn’t care, he just kept on shouting along with the record, calling everyone in the joint music snobs and even worse names than that. Max made his way over to me from behind the bar, dodging flying chairs and bottles. Asked me what he should do. He was thinking of calling the cops. I told him no, they’ll just start poking around the joint, maybe turn over a few stones that are better left unturned if you know what I’m driving at. And besides, it’s out of their field. This is just another jazz crime. Leave it to me.’

‘I pull my hat up a little so I can see where I’m walking and weave across the saloon toward the jukebox. I slide my hand between the machine and the wall, find the cable connecting the jukebox to the electricity supply and pull it clean out of the power socket. The noise stops abruptly, though Kelly’s still standing there shouting and jumping up and down like some kinda freak. I grab hold of him by the shoulders. “Ok Buster” I tell him. “The party’s over. You wanna listen to a bunch of kids shouting nonsensical garbage over three chords that’s swell. You can do it in the middle of the ocean or out in some backwoods some place but don’t do it ‘round here. Nobody needs to hear that junk. Have a little respect”. Then I let go of him and return to my seat. Kelly splits and Max cleans up the mess. Like I say, just another jazz crime.’

Kitty walks back over, holding her briefcase open. An eerie light seems to be beaming out of it. She holds it up in front of The Snake and starts talking mysteriously.

‘This might interest you. It’s an email. From my attorney. It concerns the hotel. In Casablanca.’

The Snake is staring at the briefcase in exactly the same way that Kitty had been earlier. Like the thing has some kinda hypnotic effect on the pair of them. His face turns pale. His mouth is wide open and his eyes narrow and tight almost as though he’s reading something terrifying, or just badly written. Like pop lyrics.

‘Why You…….Crooked…………’
Kitty laughs.
‘Crooked? You leave me a hotel buried deep in debt in a foreign country and run off with a mediocre jazz singer and I’m crooked? Well now the hotel’s in Consuela’s name and I guess she’s gonna be as sore as I was when she gets there and finds out what the place is worth. Crooked? Ha! At least I’m straight crooked!’

It’s karaoke night at Max’s Bar. A Tina Turner song is playing and some dame is impersonating her. I knock back my drink and leave the bar. Kitty was right, it’s not even jazz.

Hotsy Totsy Flim-Flam

She walks out from behind the bar with a pitcher of beer balanced on her head and steps slowly over to the young couple sitting at one of the booths over by the bagatelle table. The guy reaches up and carefully removes the beer from her head, places it on the table and slips her a note. She shimmies back over to the bar, smiling like a crazy person. She tells me the guy always tips her five bucks. Says she’s got a sweet deal going with the cats. She gives them a pitcher of blue moon for four bucks instead of ten, does her beer balancing trick, the guy slips her a tip. So they get a dollar off their bill and she gets to entertain the crowd. Her name’s Rosie, mid 40’s, long blond hair, blue eyes. A former Coney Island beauty queen. Used to put on raunchy shows for the troops, now she serves liquor to the disillusioned, the heart-broken, and the forgotten.
“What if The Snake finds out you’re screwing around with his profits?” I ask.
“Well, you ain’t gonna tell him now are you?” she says, placing her finger on my lips seductively.
“Not me. It’s just that he has a habit of figuring things out. And when he does he can be kinda ruthless. Remember what happened to one-eyed Joe?”
“One eyed”? she says. Her smiling face turning cold with fear. She quickly collects herself.
“He don’t care about this joint. He’s got his other business interests.”
She says business interests like she’s tryna get something out of her mouth that she doesn’t want in there.
“He uses this place as his own personal dive bar. Runs it at a loss. I could say more but I don’t think I oughta.”
I figure I’d better change the subject, and quick. But it turns out I don’t need to. The door creaks open and The Snake walks through it.

“I know somebody’s talking about me, I always know. Ain’t that right Luigi”, he says, grinning like a hyena as he shakes my hand. He turns to Rosie, still holding my hand like it’s the door of a refrigerator that he can’t remember the reason he had for opening.
“Luigi knows I know. But he don’t know what I know and he don’t know about whom”.
Rosie looks confused but being a pro mixes him a cocktail.
“Where’s Kitty” I ask.
“I don’t know” he says. He notices me smirking and straightens up.
“I guess she’s doing her nails or something. Dames huh?”
“Yeah. Dames” I answer.
“Say”, he says, “you remember Billy Twitch?”
I have to reach far back into my brain, past the Wild Turkey years. Out beyond Santa Monica. Across the high plains. The seagull that wanted to play war games with me on Miami Beach. Then I see a nervous looking guy sitting at the bar in some kind of daydream. Billy Twitch.
“Sure. How could I forget him” I say.
“You remember how he got all that inheritance money from an uncle he never even knew he had?”
“Yeah. Walked out of here, said ‘so long suckers’ and never came back. He didn’t even buy me a shot” I say.
“Well”, The Snake says, “looks like he blew all his dough and now he’s just a dumb, poor schmuck again.”
“Not a rich asshole anymore huh. Well ain’t that a doozie. Gambling?”
“No. Not this bird. He had the bright idea of opening a theme park. But not just any theme park.”
He takes another slug.
“So-So Land.” He moved his hand across an imaginary movie screen, highlighting the words as he spoke them like some kinda drunk conductor.

“That’s what he called it. No loud noises. No surprises. No big wheels or rollercoasters, nothing too exciting. Everything in the park was laid out in straight parallel lines. Exactly 100 cracks between the plain concrete slabs along each strip of pavement. All the rides were symmetrical. Problem was, nobody went to it. He kept pouring dough into the deal, telling everyone it was gonna take off and be huge. After a year of losing money he decides to put on live music at the park, try to lure some punters in. Nothing too crazy, just some light jazz. Rhythmically complicated. Give the kids something to count. He got some big names to play there. Johnny Blue played there one time.”
“The blues guy”? I ask.
“No. The jazz guy…. Jazz, blues. What’s the difference. The point is the whole thing was a big flop.”
The Snake walks behind the bar while Rosie’s juggling a couple bagatelle balls to amuse a group of sailors. He picks up a bottle of bourbon, opens it and pours a neat shot.
“Anyway, he’s gonna be here soon. Go easy on him. He’s had a rough ride”.
It’s at this exact moment that Kitty walks in the joint. She looks kinda happy about something.

End of Part 1

Part 2

“I guess she’s finished doing her nails” I say to The Snake. He turns his head around one hundred and eighty degrees. Now both of us are looking toward the saloon door. Walking a few feet behind Kitty there’s a sheepish schmuck. Head down, hands in pockets, no hat.
The Snake turns his head back around to face me and speaks out of the side of his mouth.
“Remember, no wisecracks, go easy on the kid”
Now he’s giving me a formal invitation.
“Don’t worry”, I tell him, “I don’t know a thing”
“Did he bite?” The Snake says to Kitty in a low voice as she gets up close to him.
“Like a crocodile in a sushi bar” she purrs.
Before I have a chance to figure out what’s going on Billy Twitch is standing in front of me, tryna get to the bar.
“I’d get you a drink but I figure maybe you don’t need a sucker like me offering you a shot when you can buy the joint wholesale” I say to him.
What he says next just about knocks me off the bar stool and kicks me in the head like bad whiskey. He says, in a matter of fact, casual, nothing to see here kinda way;
“Yeah, looks like I’ll be taking over the joint soon”. Bam! Just like that. Then he turns to Rosie and says, “get Luigi a bourbon, he looks a little pale”.
So he didn’t blow all his money. He must have had just enough left over to get screwed by The Snake. I guess I could tell him the place is losing money and fast, but who am I to go around bursting bubbles.
“I hear you opened up a theme park” I say as the bourbon arrives.
“Yeah, that’s right” he says.
“Straight lines, symmetrical rides, everything on time…. No litter, no loud noises, no lines to get in?”.
“You been there?” suddenly he’s interested. His eyes widen and he holds his glass still, mid-slug.
“No.” I tell him. “But I’ve been to Canada.”
“Alright, alright. What did I tell you about wisecracking?” The Snake asks.
“Where did Kitty go?” I answer.
There’s nobody in the joint that doesn’t know where Kitty’s gone. Rosie’s back behind the bar and now Kitty’s taken her place entertaining the group of sailors, ‘cept she isn’t using bagatelle balls.

End of Part 2

Part 3

One of the sailors is looking at Kitty the way no sailor oughta be looking at a dame who’s strolling out with The Snake. At some point, and that point may come quicker than he bargains for, he’s gonna find himself wishing he wore sun glasses for the occasion.
Luckily for him The Snake doesn’t see him and his lustful glare behind the bulking frame and hat of Billy Twitch and Rosie who now has her arms around Billy Twitch welcoming him back to the neighborhood and kissing him on the left cheek of his dumb face. A casual observer would think the guy had returned from some battle some place far away, but I guess he’s her boss now so she better keep him sweet and hope he doesn’t start checking the levels of the liquor bottles.
“I hear you open up a theme park” she says.
Billy Twitch starts telling her all about it, going into the kind of details a dame like Rosie doesn’t need to hear, and doesn’t care to know. He’s pitching the whole straight parallel lines dodge to her.
“Yeah I saw Rain Man once. Great movie” Rosie says, examining the underside of her finger nails.
At this point The Snake intervenes and makes a suggestion to Rosie that maybe she could think about fixing him a shot of bourbon as his glass seems to be empty. She disappears behind the counter and Billy Twitch bends down to tie his shoe laces, leaving a clear view of the bagatelle table. The sailor with the lustful eye and no sun glasses is now at the point where no excuse or apology will satisfy The Snake. I turn back around to see The Snake checking the horses in a local newspaper. Another lucky escape for the reckless turkey.
Rosie comes back over to schmooze some more with Billy Twitch. I start to feel a little sick and this time it isn’t from the week old fish that they call chicken at the late night chicken ‘n’ other stuff joint.
“So when are you taking over this here establishment?” she asks as she slides a hand around his waist and spreads her smile as wide as her ocean blue eyes.
“Oh that was just a ruse” he answers, laughing.
“A ruse?” she says, her hand drawing back to her protruding chest.
“A jig” he says.
“Yeah I know what a ruse is” she says, sounding just a little duped.
“Just a little flim-flam on Luigi” he says.
I turn around to see The Snake laughing harder than a guy who’s dame is playing bagatelle with a bunch of uninhibited sailors oughta be.
This time The Snake’s gone too far.
“Laugh it up” I tell him.
“That’s swell. Just swell” I add, before I settle in for the killer line.
“So tell me, if Billy Twitch isn’t the new owner of The Hotsy Totsy then just what kind of business was being discussed between Billy Twitch and Kitty while you were sitting in here pouring liquor into your fat grinning face?”
I lean back on my bar stool, waiting for his response. It comes quicker than expected.
“He’s setting up an online dating site for left handed folk” The Snake says, still laughing and unmoved by my incursion.
“You ever considered online dating Luigi?” asks Billy Twitch. I think about taking a pop at both him and The Snake. I set my glass down on the counter and give both of them the look of a man who’s not too happy with the current situation and is thinking about maybe doing something to even out the score. Before I get a chance to stand up I see Kitty walking over, she’s shaking her wrist and blowing some dust off it. I glance over to the bagatelle table. The sailor with the lustful eye and no sun glasses is lying flat out on the bagatelle table, he’s out cold. Two other sailors are leaning over him, slapping his face and pouring water on him.
He’s still out cold.

The End

The Fixer

I’m sitting at the counter of Whiskey Pete’s when thru the smoke I see a couple silhouettes slip silently into the gas lit bar room. It’s been some time since I’ve seen Kitty and The Snake. The Snake walks up to me, I tell him, “been some time”.
“Eight years”, he says and sends Kitty off to powder her nose, telling her he’s got some business to discuss.
“Always business to discuss”, she mutters as she walks off thru the haze.
“I hear you’re looking for information” The Snake says.
“I’m always looking for information. Why don’t you narrow it down a little so I don’t have to tell you everything that’s on my mind.”
“I hear you’re looking to find the guy who came up with the ‘too cold to snow’ ruse.”
“Who told you?” I grip my bottle of beer by the neck and I ain’t letting go. Not for The Snake. Not for anyone.
“Let’s just say I’ve got ears and eyes all over this city, nothing worth knowing slips by me
“So have you got a lead on the guy who came up with the ‘too cold to snow’ ruse or are you just here to play games and waste my time?”
“Shuffling Sammy. Carpenter and small time gambler. Lost everything he owned in Reno. House, station wagon, wife, gambled it all away.”
“So where is he now?”
“Wait, I need a drink”. He orders a beer. I notice Kitty over by the jukebox talking to a couple business men types. Italian suits, silk ties. Kitty only picks the best. We dated once or twice. The Snake doesn’t know. I guess that one slipped by him.
The Snake slides his hand over the bottle and takes a slug.
“What about the ‘good workman never blames his tools’ jig?” I ask.
“Same guy” he answers.
“I need to find this punk”
“He upped and disappeared” says The Snake.
“Nobody just disappears” I tell him.
“Like I say”, a glint appearing in his oily eyes “nothing slips by me”.
I glance over to the jukebox. Kitty’s standing between the two businessmen. Each one has an arm around her waist. Her head rolls back laughing when one of them whispers something in her ear. The Snake keeps talking.
“Sammy shuffled off to the mountains to hide from everyone he owed money to, and his wife. Built a log cabin and started writing dumb sayings that made no sense, figured on making money off folk gullible enough to buy it. After a spell word got out and old wives would venture into the woods, pay him a couple bucks for one of his lines, hanging on every word. They thought he was some kind of wise mountain man” Suddenly everything starts to make sense.
“How about the ‘exception that proves the rule’ baloney?” I ask.
“Same guy”
Same guy. He sure has a lot to answer for.
“Yep. Same guy. Shuffling Sammy.”
“The ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ flimflam?”
“Same guy”
“The ‘leopard never changes it’s spots’ sting?”
“Same guy”
“A watched pot never boils?”
“You can’t always get what you want?”
“No, that one was Mick Jagger. Anyhow”, he continues, “he somehow made enough money from this scam to buy a new identity and move back to the city”.
“Got a name for this joker?” I ask.
“Yeah. Sammy Neptune. I guess he wanted something plain, something that wouldn’t give him away. He got a job at a raunchy hotel run by some kind of playboy with too much money and too little sense. This playboy hired him as a handyman and after a time made him his press agent. You can’t run a raunchy hotel without keeping the press sweet.”
“A fixer.”
“Yeah, a fixer. Well, things were going just swell till a body shows up in Sammy’s hotel room. A male body.”
“A dead one?” I enquire.
“No, a naked one, drunk but still breathing. Seems there’d been a party at the hotel the night before, the place was full of high society dames and press men. Some kind of promo for the joint. Went on till the early hours. Seems that Sammy got a little drunk and started blabbing. Told one of the high class broads all about the owners brothel business and money laundering racket. Well this broad, it turns out, was no ordinary broad. She was an undercover reporter fixing to dig up some dirt on the hotel owner. She sent another drunk guy to Sammy’s room, telling him it was her room and she’d be there shortly. She didn’t tell him she’d be bringing a camera with her. The next day the owner’s sitting in his office reading the morning papers. The headline on the front page of the Daily Dredge read: ‘Dirty Dealings at Raunchy Hotel’. There’s a picture of Sammy in bed with the naked guy. The owner goes looking for Sammy, smashing mirrors and knocking paintings off the walls of the hotel lobby. You could say he’s angry. He finds Sammy at the bar, trying to fix a hangover. He’s yelling at him, tells him he didn’t hire a PR guy to make bad news. Eventually Sammy calms him down, tells him he can smooth things over, says the papers will be talking about something else tomorrow. By next week nobody will remember a thing.”
“Nobody except you” I say.
“Nothing gets past me” he says, pointing to his left eye and squinting the other one. I look over to the jukebox. Nobody there. Just behind the jukebox, in the darkness, there’s a long leather couch. Let’s just say it was occupied and the two business men were no longer wearing ties.

“So anyway, Sammy makes a few calls, things start settling down. Seems like the heat is off. He’s in the hotel lobby, putting pictures back up on the wall, cleaning the glass from the floor, making the place look like it oughta. He’s hammering a nail into the wall when somebody calls out; ‘Sammy Neptune?’. It’s a reporter walking thru the main door, into the lobby. A camera flashes, Sammy loses his grip on the hammer and it flies out of his hand towards the reporters head”.
“A dead reporter?” I ask.
“Lets just say he went kinda quiet and hit the ground pretty hard”
“Not good for business” I interject.
“Not good for anyone. Sammy gets hauled off to the county jail. The hotel owner gets some high rolling lawyer on the case. The lawyer tells Sammy to say the hammer was faulty and snapped while he was driving the nail in. So a few days later, in the courtroom, Sammy tells the judge it was a cheap hammer, broke clean in two, says it’s a shame the guy was standing there when the head flew off, just a dirty, stinking shame. But the judge isn’t buying any of it. You know what the judge says?” he asks me. “Not a clue” I say. He takes a good long slug of beer, looks me straight in the eye and says in a half whisper, “The judge says ‘a good workman never blames his tools’, bangs his gavel on the desk without killing anyone and sends Sammy off to death row.”

Kitty saunters back over, looking a little worn but with a smile on her face. “Did you close the deal?” The Snake asks her.
“Don’t I always?” she says, sassily. The two of them walk out of the joint the same way they walked in. I figure I don’t need another beer so I order a coffee. I watch the pot till it boils.