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. He sure has a lot to answer for.
“Yep. Same guy. Shuffling Sammy.”
“The ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ flimflam?”
“The ‘leopard never changes it’s spots’ sting?”
“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.”
“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.