Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Noir Story

The corpse was dead. I like that in corpse. The kind that move around tend to eat your brains and make a big mess. This one wasn't going no place. Neither was his wife. Though widow was the proper term. She wasn't dead, or undead, guess I should have mentioned that earlier. She wasn't wearing black yet. She hadn't had time to change. I didn't want her to.

I liked her just the way she was.

She had legs that started at her feet and ended at her hips. In between, it was quite a journey. You could build a trolley on those legs. Hell, you could build a scenic railroad. Maybe one of them monorails like they got at the World's Fair. I'd pay the fare.

Then she looked at me. Right between the eyes. I looked at her. Right between the legs. She had a question on her mind. I had an answer, right on the tip of my tongue. But my mind forgot where it put it.

"You gonna stare at my legs or you gonna take the case?"

"How about both?"

She pointed the knife at me. Angry like.

"I didn't do it."

"Sure. That knife you're carrying is just a souvenir."

"You a cop?"

"Nah. I'm a dick. Dick Johnson Jones, Private Investigator."

I showed her my license.

"Dicks like you are a dime a dozen."

"Cheaper than that."

"I know what you're thinking."

"You some kinda mentalist or something?"

"You're thinking about my legs."

"Sure, but it's more than that."

She crossed her legs. I struggled for the words. She saw me moving my jaw around, then gave me a shot a gin. Then a shot to the jaw.

"I'm thinking about metaphors."


"Yeah, sure. Metaphors, analogies. Synechdoches even. Legs do that to a guy like me. Legs like yours, I mean."

"What about corpses?"

I looked at the corpse. Sorta killed the mood.

The dead guy was all stabbed up and pin-cushiony. He looked like a slab of meat an astigmatic seamstress figured was crinoline and sent through one of them Singer sewing machines, her pale white hands blithely feeding it in while the machine made its staccato noise and the mechanical needle kept stabbing into the bloody mess, again and again and again. Only worse than that.

"This is a hard case," I said.

"I like it hard," she said. "You the kind of dick who quits?"

"Nah. I can keep going all night."

"You're gonna need protection."

I opened my trenchcoat and whipped out Roscoe, my chrome 45. Used to belong to Mr. Large, but I won in a poker game. She looked disappointed.

"That's your protection?"

"What were you expecting? What's your beef? It ain't big enough."

"No. I'm sure it's big enough."

"It's plenty big!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Jones. I didn't ..."

She bit down on the bloody knife. Tough dame, but the tears in her eyes gave her away. I tried to think of something sophisticated to say, like one of them French existentialists. I had a reputation to uphold. Mr. Tough Guy.

Then, suddenly, I puked. It came up hard and fast, like that last turn of that monorail back in Chicago. Her pretty blue eyes watched as the arc of vomit leapt out of my mouth and landed in the ash tray. The cigarette butts just floated there. It was kind of pretty.

"You can't help him."

"No I can't."

"You can't help me."

"Maybe I could."

"Could you?"

"That depends."

"You can't."

"No. I can lady."

"I don't believe it."

"Believe it. I can jump off the roof. I can wear high heels. I can vote Republican. I can help you. Sure."

"You could?"

"Yeah, I could. You're asking the wrong question."

"You would?"

I smiled. She smiled. She looked at me again. I looked at her. She looked away. I looked back. We had a staring contest. She won. Then we had a do-over. I won.

"You gonna take the case or what?"

"Sure. I'll take the case. I'll take you. For everything you've got. Just one more question."


"It's important. Something I need to know. I'm a detective. I've got a code. Maybe that's not important to you. Maybe you won't understand it. He'll never understand it. But I need to know."

She crossed her legs again. I didn't complain. Neither did the dead guy.

"Ask your question," she said.

The question was important. You should always ask it first. That's the kind of thing they teach in detective school. I guess I was sleeping in class.

I asked the question.

"What's your name?"

She smiled.

Then the dead guy stood up.

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