Sure, I'd realized last night under a yalmuka made of the pineapple left over from a huge mai tai poured on my head as Aethelgifu stormed out of the Top of the Mark to grab the last plane to Tampa with her half of Pasteley Marstonbury's ill-gotten war profits, it had
to be the uranium-powder for-baking-soda-scam I'd suspected when Pastley's ex Jenny'd baked a thirteen-legged dungeoness into my crabcakes, a big fat detail left over from the Billy Mars to the Moon case
- the kind of loose end that not only breaks your heart and takes your one shot at the big time and hides it in the sock drawer, but tends to get wrapped around your throat at about 2am in the alley behind John's Grill by a couple jute-suited greaseballs, both supposedly named Ramon and working for the Treasury Department, and leaves you to a comfy night in a cozy brick gutter with Perverted Granddad
bottles for pillows and about 40 degrees of drizzily fog and Moldy the Hobo's vomit for blankets, which is where I was now, my head throbbing like a grizzly waking from hibernation to find himself sewn rudely into a burlap bag; but the revelation really didn't help my physical appearance before two sets of legs, one in all-too familiar thick black cop shoes, and the other full stack of sexy in slick red platforms leading up to a towering pale girl in a brown mink coat, her vivacious body making Myrna Loy look like Jimmy Stewart, the sweetest scoop of ice cream since at the age of seven I stole a vendor's cart on State street in Chicago and tried to hide from the cops in the bucket of cherry vanilla.
"That's him, Officer," said the brunette in a low, deliberate voice, "that's the private detective who took my case and....
"Graarrahaaharrggh!" I said, beating off what turned out to be invisible flies.
"...and my money to find my missing husband and then he just up and disappeared and I haven't heard a word in three weeks. Make him give it back!"
"Well, Mister?" said the cop with the huge moustache - a thick, soupy sort of chowderhead I didn't recognize.
I tried to say hello again to Mrs. Wickersham and tell them that after the blondie dumped me last night I was assaulted by foreign agents, and while the military had covered up the whole rigamarole, I just saved the Bay Area from the Nazis a week ago by foiling an elaborate uranium powder and Hollywood murder plot which had come to fruition when the Santa Angeles
sank in the Bay, along with two full batallions of crack stormtroopers. But it came out: "Mahmoudahmadinejad! Mahmoudahmadinejad!"
The cop had developed a thesis: I was raving lunatic. And it looked like the committee was about to award his degree.
He cuffed me like a Chaplin outake. "Yer' coming downtown, Mack."
Lovey Chickie-Poo Wickersham - her first name escaped me - piped up. "Is that necessary officer? I just want to find my husband." She looked on my pathetic state (at the moment, trying to brush someone's else's dried vomit off my lapel with an empty whiskey bottle) with much the reserve and compassion Catherine the Great might have had for a dying ferret she'd just stepped on.
"Dr. Brain," she said, recalling a profession of mine I'd even forgotten, "Were you able to discover anything?"
Those federal Ramons had worked me over something fierce on top of the hangover, and the Bear in my brain started gnawing on the inside of my skull, leaving, I was sure, fang marks. I rubbed one of the decorative assortment of yellow, black and purple bruises on my face: my cheek would make a good baseball for Hell's AAA team. Somehow, my uvula ached.
But I was a pro, heat-hardened and tough as rhino jerky. I'd given depositions in worse shape before, once on a LA divorce case when my liver had to be removed temporarily to drain and bandage it properly - and my client not only won the house but got her husband sent to the chair.
"Mrs. Wickersham.." I gathered my remaining corpuscle to action, "I'm sorry..delays..Nazi batallions... Blonds with icicles for hearts..never mind. I have one lead.."
"Yes?" She looked expectantly, cool, intelligent eyes almost amber in color. I stood with her finally, eye to eye - tall girl, dressed like a gin-joint canary but with a Nob Hill address on her bank statement.
"Does the....does the name Slagophurm mean anything to you?" I looked close to get the expression.
"Slagophurm?" She blanched, which was impressive because she was a pale as a Copenhagen ice sculpture contest already and had to turn a little blue to register emotion.
"Is it - I need to know - is Slagophurm the dental adhesive?"
"Ma'am, you need me?" said the cop.
"Not anymore. Thank you, officer. I'll be fine, really." And he shrugged off, stopping for a sec to club a zoot-suiter on the back of the skull.Slagophurm
. It was an old mystery I'd only connected to a dusty aisle in a Sunset pharmacy when the doc dug out an old brown bottle from the turn of the century labeled "Slagophurm."
Trouble was, about once a year since 1932 some joker's turned up in my office with a cagey reference to "Slagophurm" right before they disappear faster than free steak in a Hooverville, until I get the phone call from a glum life insurance adjustor trying to confirm the bizzare circumstances of their death, like a bicycle crash inside a freight elevator or an asthmatic's last encounter with a pie full of angry bees.
"We've got to get you cleaned up, Dr. Brain. Come along. "
Lovey Chickie-Poo - what was
her first name? - with what I had to call a fistful of courage, called us a Cab and took me back to her place at the St. Francis.
"It's my husband," she explained to the doorman, "bumped by a cable car into a Chop Suey dumpster." The doorman replied with an inscrutable but distinct expression for which he was bribed handsomely.
She signalled a bellhop and handtrucked this wreck of myself to room 3434. They dumped me unceremoniously into the bathtub, and soon I was dead to the waking world.
I woke up
two days later in a soft bed in the same, spacious room. The grizzly in my head was more like a gerbil now. Lovey Chickie-Poo walked in, wearing a long pink silk house robe with shoulder pads, made up and radiant, pushing the room service cart.
"You look very nearly human again. " she said brightly. "Orange juice, oatmeal and coffee, Dr. Brain?"
"And what is your..." I belayed the question. "How can I thank you, Mrs. Wickersham? "
She sat herself brazenly on the bed. "Shush. Eat your breakfast." And she feed me a spoonful of oatmeal before I could say anything, leaning toward me for optimal viewing.
This was too good to be true and too true not to be good.
Lovey Chickie-Poo needed something. Something about Slagophurm. It was good to be needed.
Lovey nodded her lovely, craning neck toward the closet. "I've sent for some of your shirts and a new suit - I hope you don't mind."
Speaking as a doctor, let me just say a word about the suprasternal notch, the little depression at the base of the neck above the breastbone. I was examining that notch now, like a magical dell in the rolling pink foothills of Lovey Chickie-Poo. It was a feeling like finding a seam of ore and wanting to dig for gold, except the ore is love and the seam plays out at the heart. And among all the suprasternal notches in the world, her notch was the greatest goddamn notch I'd ever bored my leer into, the nattiest notch, the wicked notch of the West.
"No, I don't mind at all. " Notched out like this, I wouldn't have minded if she just told me she'd sold me to a rendering plant.
"Um, Mrs. Wickersham.."
"Silly..don't be so formal."
Wait - had something happened? Deep in a reverie of notch and mystery and Slagophurm came suddenly this most awkward social error - had I slept with her and somehow forgotten, or was this a fresh assault on the Mack Brain fortress of love?
I was just working up a good quizzical expression when the closet door appeared to explode, sending splinters through the room, and standing in the pile was a three hundred pound side of longhorn in a suit who looked like he'd just found out his wife was in bed with another man. Which she was, although it was not a moment for cogent reason and calming tones to explain that the man in question was uncertain as to his own status.
"Brain!" Was all he said before I was picked up like a glass vase and thrown at the wall with a huge crash that shook the plasterwork from the ceiling, leaving a surprised detective-shaped hole in the wainscotting.
"Solenoid!"I said. "Don't..." was all I got out before I found myself watching the curious arc my own body was tracing as I crashed through an art deco lion lamp, into the bathroom, and hit the clawfoot tub so hard it overturned with a sudden spray of hot water as the pipes tore from the tiles.
It was Stanhope "Solenoid" Wickersham, who I had in fact been trying to not find for some time now. For all the damage I actually wasn't in bad shape, and was trying to tear a lead pipe from the remains of the plumbing when Solenoid came forward with fist like a car battery and smashed me into the mirror. It was like getting hit with both the battery and the Dusenberg it was in, and I saw more stars that moment than Mann's Chinese Theater on Astronomy night.
But I wasn't done. I grabbed a rubber duck and shoved it in his mouth before clapping his ears with both hands as loud as possible, then kneed him in the jaw, then tore off the shower curtain and wrapped him up like Roosevelt vs. Hoover and he dropped to the floor wriggling about like a tube worm, which is when room service arrived with a nutritious breakfast and an offer from a certain Hortense, who I gathered while catching my breath was Venezuelan, for a relaxing massage.
But the while Hortense the masseuse stood there agape and the room service boys agapely stood there, well, I don't know if you've ever carved your way of a shower curtain with a six-inch bowie knife, but it was an impressive sight now as Solenoid sliced it open rapidly, like a vengeance-minded chicken enchilada, even as I was busily kicking him in the head in the broken plumbing mist, and when a Hotel Manager with an extremely tiny moustache worked his way past the masseuse, the room service boys, Lovey whose first name I still could not remember, and my panting, bloody self to yell at the emerging Chrysalis of Solenoid, who was completely unlike a butterfly in any noticeable fashion and was raising his knife menacingly as the police almost arrived (preventing from entering by the growing crowd) including my latest nemesis from the blue screws, Dennis "Short Pants" Wortlewingly, the kind of enormous, flatulent corrupt flatfoot that insisted on a hand job to fix a parking ticket and a 40 point piece of the action if it was murder for hire. Short Pants drew his .38 and aimed it strangely at the Hotel Manager and shot him, slightly, but the bullet went through him to it's intended target, Solenoid, straight in the right shoulder, and the knife dropped.
"Hold it!" said Short Pants.
"Oww!" said the manager.
"Aiee!" screamed Hortense.
"I'm not completely sure but I don't think I slept with your wife," I said to Solenoid.
"Mack!" said Lovey. "Solenoid!"
"French Toast?" said the more slack-jawed of the boys.
"Here!" said Lovey.
"Not about Cloie, it was...Slag...," started Solenoid.
"Oh no. Cloie?
really?" I said.
"Hmmph," said Lovey-Cloie, crossing her arms.
." and Solenid passed out, his energy discharged.
I had to admit later that despite Solenoid instigating the damage to the St. Francis, it seemed crass to hand him the bill while he was still in the hospital in a coma by tucking it neatly in less bloody corner of his shoulder bandage. Still, he laid there, like that. The jokers wrapped up in whatever Slagophurm
was rarely pulled through.
But why did Lt. Short Pants shoot him exactly? He was a threat in that crowded hotel room, but nothing a fully-riled Mack Brain, twelve hotel employees and a peeved estranged wife couldn't handle. Was he being paid to slam shut Solenoid's jabber-hole? In San Francisco, where you could do your dry-cleaning or buy a supervisor off in about an hour, Short Pants set a standard for corruption that made the Tea-Pot Dome Scandal look like a XMAS cookies and a cup of Earl Grey, and with 1942 almost halfway gone, the War Machine wasn't too fussy about what you call your ethics.
I never liked Short Pants. He always gave the impression of having just been somewhere much better than this. He wore a huge black moustache and his unibrow was slightly above his hairline. He had a thin, wide mouth and cruel eyelashes. He gave off a smell like diesel, gym socks, and lilac water, some kind of horrible cologne he picked up off a dead merchant marine officer he shot downtown for crossing a street against the signal while having sex with Short Pants' favorite whore, Belinda. He was standing there now, hovering over Solenoid in the hospital like a bony, East Lansing-bred vulture over a dying water buffalo, giving me the eye, which of course was just the one after what he always claimed was a sword fighting accident, but I knew was the result of the business end of a stilleto heel in a 5 cent peep joint window when he stiffed the girl in question, and not even in the interesting way. Not that he wasn't sometimes useful: Short Pants took more bribes than Tammany Hall between 1878 and 1934. Yet his pants were well-tailored.
"So who messed up Solenoid?" He said, his voice both gruff and squeeky.
"You did." I said.
"I mean who got him all steamed up to kill you? Not that rubbing out Mack Brain would cheese me off." He smiled in a menacing grimace, like a rabid badger with dentures.
"And how's you mother? Did she get the flowers I sent?" I said.
"Can It, Brain. Go back to your tarp."
"Mrs. Wickersham wants me here when he wakes up. If. And besides I'm a doctor. "
That was the second "hmmph" in two days. I may be the least qualified Doctor since the genius that tried curing Lincoln's brain shot with a good bleeding, but I didn't like getting hmmphed. I decided to carefully nurture an inward, personal resentment.
Then Mrs. Wickersham came in, and the dingy beige room lit up like a Christmas tree decorated with small incendiary devices. She was wearing a dress cut so tight the ruffles failed to ruffle, and so low I didn't notice the gun she was shooting.
BANG. She missed him.
Short Pants at this point peed his pants.
"You shot my husband, you filthy whoreson!" A quaint insult in a time of obvious stress.
She started to cry, and I walked up straight to her and held her, and she started to lower the gun, little Italian black .25 auto with a rhinestone inlay on the grip, the kind of girl gun that gets girls in girl prison faster than cheatin' in the bus station.
"Give me that, Baby, I'll shoot him for you."
I grabbed it gently and shot his hat off, breaking the window. He tried moving. I shot between his legs.
"This is fun." I said. "Who paid you to kill Solenoid, Short Pants?"
The gun's noise was pretty small. The walls were thick.
"Who paid you?," and to Cloie, "how much ammo in this gun?"
"Oh, about 7, but here's another clip, dear, " and she kissed me.
"Thanks, Sweetie, but you're messing up my aim," I said as I fired another shot, which richocheted and hit a flower vase behind him.
The courage was out of Short Pants, and his normally Jaundiced pallor was lacking even the yellow, which appeared to be draining out of his skin and down his pant legs.
"Alright! Alright! Look, here, here's the money..." and he pulled a cool two grand out of his pockets in one thousand dollar bills. I hadn't seen those since The Case of the Ten Thousand Dollar Laundry.
"I don't want the money," I said, "although I will be spending it. Who paid you?"
He fiddled with his pockets again.
"Look, here's the black book...there's this business that's involved with something called Slagophurm.."
Suddenly, Solenoid bolted up, saw Short Pants, and before I could even shoot he leapt up, grabbed him like a linebacker and shoved him and himself through the window, falling three stories to Grant street, where as Cloie Wickersham buried herself in my arm we heard the distinct sound of four hundred and fifty pounds of human chops crash into a Model A roof, a sound I recognized from at least two other cases this year alone.
"Goddamit." I said.The Complete Rebar for Tootsie Roll Stories are located in oblogotorially reverse order, at IRONCANDY.BLOGSPOT.COM. All rights are not only reserved, but emotionally repressed.