Short stories

Note: There is a complete short story underneath Cry, Baby, Cry.

This is the begining of a noir crime story. The P.I. Larry Carmody is tough enough to fight his way into print and he likes indented paragraphs, which WordPress with their inane system are not able to give him. Maybe you are, though? Should you want to help Larry get into print – you can’t help him with much else, unfortunately – just get in touch.

CRY, BABY, CRY

by Anders Bellis

Putting the word out on the street can be dangerous, but I had to.

When I woke up in the office the only thing I could remember was the fist planted in my face. I had just come back from a late night tailing a guy’s wife on the suspicion that she was having an affair, but after having followed her walking aimlessly around for hours only to see her finally return home, I thought I’d go back to the office and sort through some papers long overdue at the IRS. When I opened the office door, the fist landed in my face. Two guys, of that much I was sure, and judging from the bruises and the broken rib and my thundering headache they’d given me a going over once I was down. Problem was, I didn’t have a clue as to why, nor who they were. I’m a small-time operator, dealing mostly in extramarital affairs and minor thefts, and there was no reason whatsoever for anyone to send a couple of heavies to rough me up. Or that’s what I thought. I was obviously mistaken.

I made my painful way to Joe´s, where I had two shots of whiskey, one of his half fried eggs, and a cup of tar-black coffee. Sitting there smoking, I waited for one of the cobwebs to show up. These guys are the know-it-all informants to anyone needing any piece of information about what´s going down on the streets, provided one pays the price. They will either know of any event of any significance whatsoever or they are able to find out by searching their cobweb. It was around three o´clock at night and drizzling, and I was well into the pack of cigarettes and hurting like a gunshot in the chest for every puff before Jimmy the Tie showed up. Now, Jimmy the Tie is the one guy who never wears a tie. He is called Jimmy the Tie because once down by the docks a couple of guys tried to off him, but Jimmy the Tie is a mighty resourceful guy, and what with one thing and another going down in the fight, he managed to slam one of them senseless, fast as you like cut off his tie with the knife he had taken from the other guy, and strangle that guy to death with the tie. Now, I never understood why he didn´t simply use the knife on the other guy, but it´s always pretty hard to figure out what Jimmy the Tie is going to do next in any kind of situation and maybe that´s his edge, what makes him such a good cobweb. And also he likes to do things stylishly, like, with a bit of flair. And you´vet got to hand it to him; Jimmy the Tie is a niftier name than Jimmy the Knife, which is probably what he would have been called had he used the knife.

Anyway, into Joe’s came Jimmy the Tie, and the first thing he says when he sees my large shiner and the bruises in my face is:

“Jeez, Larry, what´s up? You don´t look too good. Got a cold or something?”

I gave him a drink – Jimmy the Tie always drinks beer instead of hard liquor. He says it keeps his head clear. And after we´d chatted for awhile about the track and the new show up at Club Zeus, I told him about the heavies and that I´d like to know what was going down. Now, Jimmy the Tie hadn´t heard about anyone having it in for me, and was mighty surprised or at least pretended to be, maybe in order to up what I had to pay him to get the low-down. He said he would have it for me in a day at the outside, and after giving him thirty bucks and another beer I told him to call Cindy when he knew anything. Then I left.

Cindy became all upset when she saw me and started fussing with disinfectants and band aids and stuff, but I told her to lay it off. All I needed was some sleep. She started crying and wanted me to go to the emergency ward, but I told her flat out that the only emergency was that I was running out of cigarettes and had given my last dough to Jimmy the Tie, so could she maybe pop down the drugstore on the corner and get me another pack? Finally she stopped crying and did pop down the drugstore, but in the meantime I practically passed out and slept well into the day.

What I remember next are two things. The sunshine and the ringing. The sunshine hurt my eyes, the ringing my ears. I had an earthquake in my head and the ringing didn´t make it any better. Cindy answered the phone, and it was Jimmy the Tie who cheerfully told me that the information had been a bit hard to come by, so I owed him another thirty quid, and could I come down to Joe´s and give it to him and he would tell me what he´d found out?

“Come off it, Jimmy, I don´t have any cash at the moment. I´ll get it for you, no problem, but spill the beans now. I sort of need to know quite urgently.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you do.” He chuckled. Now, when Jimmy the Tie chuckles, that´s a bad sign. Not that Jimmy the Tie is a bad guy as such, but he does tend to find some amusement in the harder predicaments of others. Maybe that´s also what makes him such a good cobweb; he is curious, and likes to find things out, and gleefully pass on bad news. One wouldn´t really think it to see him, what with his handsome face and general demeanour of somebody being a bit rough at the edges but basically a nice guy, but there you go.

“Believe it or not”, says Jimmy the Tie to me at the other end, “but the guy who´s got it in for you is none other than Paulie el Toro.” By now Jimmy the Tie is laughing out loud.

I nearly laugh out loud too, but my rib cage is hurting so much I can´t.

“Yeah, yeah, sure, Jimmy”, says I. “Funny, funny. Now, give me the low-down.”

Suddenly Jimmy the Tie turns all serious on me and says as follows: “No, I mean it, Larry. It´s Paulie el Toro. It´s got something to do with the cops busting one of his gambling joints the other night. He´d paid them off, so they shouldn´t have, but he hadn´t told them he also runs a knocking-shop in the back rooms. They figured they should have been paid for that as well, or at least invited for a few freebies, but they didn´t, so they busted him. He is mighty upset about it, you know.”

I listened with what could best be described as icy chills along the spine, going all dry in my mouth, because Jimmy the Tie really did sound serious. I gestured to Cindy to pour me a glass of whisky and spent a few incredulous moments mulling over what Jimmy the Tie had said.

“Still there?” asked Jimmy the Tie cheerfully.

“Jimmy”, I said very seriously after a sip of whisky, “I know about the bust. The word is all over town. But what the hell has it got to do with me?”

“Far as I could gather”, said Jimmy the Tie, “you’ve been seen coming and going in and out of an apartment building where an undercover is staying. Turns out this undercover had been to the gambling joint on several occasions the last few days and had even become quite schmoozy with Paulie himself, since he was a big spender around the tables. Federal money he got in order to pursue the investigation, if you must know, but of course nobody understood that at the time. He is a rather good undercover. Not even me knew about him. And let me state this as a matter of fact: this undercover was even once or twice invited to Paulie’s inner office. Well, they say Paulie’s face was something else to behold when in storms the undercover with about twenty uniforms and busts the place.” Here Jimmy the Tie made a pause to chuckle again. “And you don´t have to put too many twos together to figure who the snitch was, now do you? Especially since it´s well known to one and all that you had a lucky streak the other week and went spending like crazy at the Starlight Ballroom.”

“Now come on, Jimmy … you believe I was the snitch?! And what apartment building? Where? I don´t even know who the bloody undercover is! Just heard about the cops busting Paulie’s place.”

“I didn´t say I believe you’re the snitch, Larry. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But Paulie el Toro does. And the apartment building is on lower Seventeenth East. Number four.”

“My God. Why didn´t he just let his heavies finish me off then?”

“Because he wants information, Larry. He thinks you’re in bed with the feds and knows what they´re up to and what they´re going to do next. The heavies last night was just to scare you off from any more snitching. Paulie´s going to call you in for a meet. I think you’d better go. See to it that you give me the thirty.”

And then he hung up.

I just sat there, staring at my whisky and smoking one cigarette after another. Snitching on Paulie el Toro is not thick, it´s the equivalent of putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. I would never have done it, at least not without getting enough dough to leave the planet. Or the galaxy, maybe. Paulie el Toro is the head of one of the Italian families, although he is also partly of Spanish descent – or so he claims after he got his nickname el Toro. That means ”the Bull” in Spanish, and Paulie el Toro is well known to one and all for being very fond of bullfights, after once having seen one in Madrid where the bull killed the bullfighter. That was such an inspiration to Paulie that when he had to off a guy a month or so later, when he was back in the States, he and his heavies brought the guy down by the docks, to a warehouse of Paulie´s where they had hidden some cattle that, according to Paulie, had voluntarily walked off a ship a few days earlier, and which Paulie had already sold to some Texan or other but failed to deliver, since he´d gotten a better price by a few of the butchers at the market down by the docks and was thus going to sell the same cattle all over again. Anyway, they brought this guy down to the warehouse by the docks with all the cattle in it, and in this herd of cattle there was a large bull, so Paulie and his heavies arranged a bullfight of their own, with the guy who was going to be offed as the bullfighter. There were no bets as to the outcome, however, for the difference between this guy and a real bullfighter was he was all tied up when they put him in the temporary pen with the bull and then shot the bull a few rounds out of a shotgun. The bull got mighty ferocious, but since he was locked up in his pen and couldn´t get to anyone except the tied up guy who was going to be offed, the bull offed the guy to loud cheers from Paulie and his heavies. That´s how Paulie el Toro got his name and came to claim he is partly of Spanish descent. Although tell you the truth, I don´t think he is. I think he is all Italian. His origin was, however, of very little concern to me at this particular moment that I´m speaking of, because my real concern was how I was going to explain to him that the reason I´d been going in and out of the apartment building on lower Seventeenth East was that this was were the guy whose wife I had been tailing lived, together with his wife, and on three occasions I had been there when his wife wasn´t home to collect my fee, since the guy was mighty depressed and claimed he couldn´t bring himself to come to my office and give me the dough. Once he was so depressed he even refused to open the door, and I actually had to kick it until the lock nearly broke and threaten to strong-arm him to get my fee. Anyway, he simply refused to give up on the notion that his wife was having an affair, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, so I continued adding to what he owed me by just taking walks along dark streets some thirty yards behind his wife. He just desperately wanted me to find her lover. I never had a clue that there was also an undercover living in the same tenement, and that the same undercover was the guy responsible for the bust against Paulie el Toro’s gambling joint. And really, if Jimmy the Tie hadn’t known about the undercover, how could I? Neither did I have any idea how I was going to make Paulie el Toro believe my story, especially not since my big spending night at the Starlight Ballroom, when I had told one and all that I had finally had a lucky streak in the form of an aunt dying in Seattle and leaving me a bundle of dough. That hadn’t been exactly true, as one and all understood, because the aunt dying in Seattle was common parlance for having obtained some unexpected money in an unexpected way.What money I had on me that night came from an investigation into a small-time company whose boss suspected embezzlement, so I had tailed the company´s accountant and, sure enough, seen him cash several cheques with a specific teller at a specific bank, all the cheques at the same time. So I had just waited outside the bank until he came back out and then told him that I had a business proposal, and over a drink in a nearby bar shown him my camera and informed him that I’d taken a few interesting pictures and that if I told his employer about what I had seen, this would be a matter for the police, and the police were mighty expensive to pay off, so if he gave me half the dough he’d gotten from cashing those cheques, I would just clam shut about the whole matter and pretend that I hadn’t seen a thing. So we went out in the back alley behind the bar and he gave me a bundle, but I didn’t really trust this guy, since he had been embezzling from his employer and must thus be dishonest, so I was rather frank with him, pushing him up against the wall, taking his wallet, and going through its contents. And sure enough, it turned out he hadn’t given me half the dough at all, but rather something like thirty-five percent. So then I saw to it that he gave me seventy percent instead of half of it, and that was that, and that was the bundle of dough I had brought to the Starlight Ballroom that night. And that night at the Starlight Ballroom was when I first met Cindy and I mightily wanted to impress her, since she was a very nice dame indeed, and a real great looker with her black, curly hair and a figure as fine as you please, and a doll´s face to boot, painted and all. So I spent all the dough – or maybe not all the dough, but about seventy percent, I’d say – that night at the Starlight Ballroom and told one and all that I had suddenly come into plenty of dough because a rich aunt of mine had died in Seattle. Not even Cindy believed that, and certainly not Paulie el Toro, who when he heard about it and the fact that I´d been coming and going at the tenement down on lower Seventeenth East put his twos together and came up with a very different proposition.

I told Cindy I had to leave since I had important business, but she told me if the business was that important I´d better have a shower and a shave first. Not that I looked much better after the shower and the shave, what with my shiner and the bruises and all, and the pain in my ribs, which made me walk kind of careful like, because of the pain. But anyway, I had the shower and the shave. No sooner had I had the shower and the shave than the phone rang again, and who was it but somebody just saying, when Cindy had answered and handed me the receiver, as follows: “Paulie el Toro wants to see you. Today, four o´clock. Lucky Dice.” Then the guy hung up, and I knew that this was the meeting Jimmy the Tie had spoken of, and no doubt he´d gotten another thirty bucks or something for telling one of Paulie´s cobwebs where to find me. Jimmy the Tie does nice things like that. He claims he wants to help people stay in touch.

Copyright © 2014 by Anders Bellis. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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