“I’m not a dame.” And then silence. The kind of silence where you can hear your own heart beat and distant clocks ticking. After the last time I thought I’d never be fooled again. The guy back in Frisco. Walked like a dame, talked like a dame, well….you know the rest. My thoughts race in a million directions, quicker than good whiskey. She sure looks like a dame. But she’s wearing jeans and a man size sweater. She’s wearing a bracelet. But it’s made out of guitar strings. Dames don’t play guitar. She spoke on the phone in a deep voice, saying she’s Jack Murdry. JACK MURDRY.
“What?” She looks confused. She’s not the only one.
“What d’ya mean you ain’t a dame?”
“I mean nobody uses words like dame any more. You gotta have a little more respect for women than that. I ain’t a dame, a broad, or whatever else you wanna call me. I’m a 21st century woman and I stand on my own two feet. I got too much dignity to let you walk in here and call me a dame.” So she is a dame. I begin to relax.
“I beg your pardon ma’am” I say sincerely. But she doesn’t stop there. This broad sure can talk.
“I don’t know what happened to you, what made you like this. Maybe you been through some hard times, maybe somebody broke your heart, but you gotta let go, start living in the now. Go where your heart leads you.”
“Save the daytime T.V talk sister. I don’t go in for that kinda stuff. When you’ve seen as much misery and pain as I have you kinda tighten up. It kinda focuses the mind. Tell me more about the casino.”
“Well it’s like I said, we got out just in time. Everybody knew who was behind it and….” A song called blue jeans starts playing, a tinny, static noise that seems to be coming from her hips. She really is something. She stops talking and reaches into the pocket of her jeans. It’s her telephone.
“It’s a text. From Jimmy. Says he’s on his way over” she says, surprised. She pushes some buttons on the device and puts it back in her pocket. She starts talking about Jimmy again. My mind began to wander. Every now and then I interject with a ‘poor kid’ or ‘tough break.’ But I’m beginning to daydream.
I picture a scene on the back of my eyelids:
I’m walking out through the door of Mama Belles, out onto the street where a crowd of reporters has gathered. Dictaphones thrust in my face, cameras flashing all around. A nasally voice kicks off the proceedings:
“Say Luigi, so you finally cracked the Murdry case. How did you do it?”
“It wasn’t so hard” I answer, casually. And other reporter, cigar hanging from his mouth, wearing a flat cap.
“Tell me what makes you tick Mister O’Reilly.”
“Dames, broken dreams. Discarded cigarettes on abandoned railroad tracks…..”
When I open my eyes I’m still in the neon lit room, and Beauty is still talking. I ask her to tell me more about the casino. She says there’s nothing more to tell, no point sniffing around. It’s too big. The corporation owns everybody and everything in the town. I figure it’s time for me to go. She calls me a cab from her device. I finish my drink and she reaches behind me to flick a switch. The wooden panel slides open silently. I put on my hat and step back into the bar. Jimmy’s standing in the doorway. Beauty introduces us. I figure I’ll wait for the cab out on the street. Before I leave I turn to Jimmy and say…
“Listen kid. Take a tip from me. You can’t leave jazz and jazz can’t leave you. Nobody gets out of this thing alive. You gotta go where your heart leads you.”
The rain has eased off, replaced by a damp smell and bugs in the warm sticky night air. I stand at the end of the alleyway thinking things through. Maybe Beauty was right. Maybe it’s time to forget about Mister Murdry, murder mysteries, and the whole stinking, rotten game. Maybe I won’t see Beauty ever again. I could tell myself she was just another dame. “She was just another dame” I mumble under my breath. A car rolls down the street and pulls up to the kerb. As I step from the alleyway toward the cab I hear a guitar tuning up.