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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

Month

January 2012

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Installment III

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Part III

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just happy to See Me?

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

 A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony 

 ~ Installment Three ~

III: The Man in the Lime Green Mohair Leisure Suit

 Ms. Pennyraker had vanished like a puff of smoke in a magic show, leaving the door open behind her. I closed the door and went back over to the window to see what had happened down on the sidewalk. I opened the window and leaned out to have a look. A small crowd had gathered around what was left of a wooden upright piano that apparently had fallen from the roof.

Once again, I heard the floorboards squeak on the landing outside of my office. Someone was out there. “I’ve really got to get that fixed,” I thought vacuously.  I quietly reached into the desk drawer where I kept the starter pistol, a sock full of nickels and a half empty bottle of Jack. I still had a trick or two up my sleeve. I grabbed the half empty bottle of Jack and took a slug. Then I crept over to the door and jerked it open. There was a strange man in a lime green mohair leisure suit, just like the dame had said.

“Please excuse my disheveled appearance,” he said. “I hope I did not startle you. I must confess, I am a bit shaken. I was nearly crushed by a piano that appears to have fallen from your roof. It believe there may be more to this than meets the eye.”

That certainly explained the sound of the piano crashing to the sidewalk. I tried to wrap my mind around it. I didn’t like the look of this at all, especially whatever sartorial statement he was trying to make. I was at a loss for words and made a lame attempt at small talk to try to buy some time. “Is that real mohair?” I asked. I was distracted by other thoughts, like how a piano could fall from the rooftop and why anyone in their right mind might still actually wear such a ghastly relic of men’s fashion. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

“Yes it is,” he replied. “Thank you for asking. I can give you the name of my tailor, if you so desire, but I have more pressing business at the moment. May I come in?”

Thrift Shop Fedora

I asked him to come in and we both sat down. He was a strange looking character. Not exactly little, like Ms. Pennyraker had described. But, then again, she was a tall drink of water herself. His complexion had kind of ghoulish cast and his hair was not so much red as it was orange. He seemed edgy to the point of being manic. He reminded me of Cesar Romero as The Joker in Batman. It had been one of my favorite TV shows as a kid, but this guy gave me the heebie jeebies in all kinds of ways.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. He spoke with a trace of a foreign accent. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he sounded vaguely like Boris Badenov from Rocky and Bullwinkle. He even made Ms. Pennyraker seem a little bit like Natasha Fatale, but I was letting my imagination run wild. “You may call me Mr. Fontaine.”

“Where you from Fontaine?” I asked.

“Moscow,” he replied, “Moscow, Idaho.”

It was a stretch, but I wondered if this joker was related to the infamous black marketeer, Count Fontanovitch who had been linked to a number of high profile scams that included gun running, art theft and industrial espionage. He had dropped off the face of the planet after supposedly peddling priceless artifacts that vanished from the national museum in Bagdad.

“So Fontaine, what brings you here today?” I asked.

“I am here on behalf of someone who would like to be your patron and benefactor. It seems you are in possession of a package for which I am prepared to make you a rather handsome offer,” he said.

“Not so fast Fontaine. I’m not that kind of boy and I don’t come cheap. How do I know you are who you say you are and who says I even have this package you say I have?” It was then I realized the fragrant, hot pink envelope Ms. Pennyraker had given me was still right out in the open on the desk, between us. I saw Fontaine glance at it, and I pretended not to notice.

The Package

“Drink?” I asked, trying to act nonchalant. “Occasionally,” he said “but not before dark and never on Sunday.” “Then I hope you don’t mind if I do,” I said.

I reached for the desk drawer. I’d feel a whole lot better if I could just wrap my fingers around the cold blue steel of the starter pistol. “Here, Mr. Phlegmming, the bottle is right here on the desk where you left it.”

“I’m just getting a glass,” I said “My Mother always told me it’s bad manners to drink right out of the bottle in front of company.” He reached into his leisure suit as I reached into the desk drawer. I was relieved to see him pull out a business card. I left the gun in the drawer and pulled out the glass.

Bottle and Glass

“Allow me to present my credentials,” Fontaine said. He extended a business card towards me. I reached for the card, but he let go of it before I had it in my grasp, and it fluttered to the floor. Without thinking, I bent down to pick it up. I picked up the card and looked up. He had the package in one hand and a pistol in the other. What a sucker I am, I thought. One of the oldest tricks in the book. I guess I was entitled to a rookie mistake, but this looked bad.

“It would be a good idea, Mr. Phlegmming, if you neglected to mention any of this to the authorities,” he said. “They might not take such a benevolent view of you practicing your business without a license. Neither would your patron.”

“That doesn’t look like much more than a pea shooter Fontaine, and besides, I don’t think you have the cojones to actually pull the trigger on an unarmed man,” I said. I was bluffing, but trying to buy some time anyway I could.

He leveled the pistol at my chest.“ I assure you Mr. Phlegmming, this is quite real, my ‘cojones’, as you call them, are in perfect working order, as is my trigger finger. Now, if you will excuse me…” He rose from the chair.

There was an earsplitting shriek and a flapping of wings. “Drop the gun punk!” Gladys squawked as she flew from her perch on the hat rack. She swooped down and landed on Fontaine’s shoulder, digging her talons right through his mohair suit and into his flesh. Fontaine never saw it coming. He yowled in surprise and pain and the gun fell to the floor. Gladys snatched the envelope in her beak and flew away, landing on the window sill.

Gladys

Fontaine came around the desk and moved towards the open window where Gladys was perched. Gladys started flapping her wings, Fontaine lunged and dove for the bird, just as she flew away. Fontaine kept on going right on through the window. He actually looked like a graceful diver as he sailed through the air, before landing with a sickening thud on the wreckage of the piano that still lay on the sidewalk below.

I leaned out the window and saw Fontaine’s crumpled body on top of the piano. “Guess the piano didn’t do much to break your fall Fontaine. Bet that’s gonna leave a mark,” I said sarcastically. It felt disrespectful to the recently deceased, but I figured that’s what any real hard boiled dick would say in a situation like this.

Not in Tangier

I didn’t feel the sting…

My upper lip blew up and curled into a frozen Botox Elvis sneer. I ripped through scorching versions of Devil in Disguise, All Shook Up and Kissin’ Cousins, the King’s dubious solid gold classic about incest.

I self medicated with Benadryl and vodka and channeled Samuel Coleridge. A thousand white doves fluttered from golden cages. A camel caravan snaked through drifting sands on the trail to Timbuktu. An albatross came rapping at my chamber door.

I felt like William Burroughs. I studied the distant horizon of my toes in silhouette against the wall of the Naked Lunch Diner. Outside my window the call to prayer went out from the minaret.

I awoke to find I was not in Tangier. It didn’t seem fair. I bought the ticket and took the ride. I should have been there by now, not stuck up in the crotch of a fuzzy tree.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Elvis has left the building!

Red Painting

Ileen Kaplan Fine Art

This is my first entry in  the category: “Groovy Places I Like to Go.”  This category is devoted to websites that feature content from artists and writers whose work I’d like to share because it resonates with me on a personal level.  Follow the trail of bread crumbs to Ileen Kaplan Fine Art.

Ileen Kaplan is an extraordinary painter who lives in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York state. Her figurative paintings are luminous reflections of  people, places and things in her environment. Her work is lush and painterly and depicts lyrical slices of life. Ileen has shown extensively throughout the region. She is represented by West End Gallery in Corning New York and she is a member of  State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca New York. Perhaps nobody can describe her work better than Ileen herself.

“In my paintings I try to capture everything about a moment in time:  the light, the feeling, the sense of space, the action, the stillness.  My paintings are colorful and I presently work in oil, although I have also used acrylic as well.   My work is representational, yet I don’t strive for photo-realism.  In all of my paintings, whether they are still life, portraits, landscapes or cityscapes, I try to connect with the subject, so that by the time I am finished I feel like I have inhabited the scene. And I hope the viewer does as well.”

Visit her website – you won’t be disappointed!    http://ileenkaplan.com/

Reading List 2012

Announcing my new “Book Journal.” It’s named:  “Alice B. Toklas” and it  is my reading list for 2012, which contains braggin’ rights to books I’ve actually had the stick-with-it brass and balls to actually hang in and FINISH! There may be spontaneous outbursts about books I love or hate. (Although unless it’s “Mein Kampf” I’m not going to speak ill about any book.) More to follow. I know you’re waiting on pins and needles and can hardly wait, but I’m not quite there yet, so you’ll just have to deal. Actually, I need to finish a couple books first!

New Book to Recommend – Flash Fiction Fridays

As soon as I heard that Robert Vaughan had put together this collection of short fiction I ordered it immediately because I knew it would be great. Drawn from his radio show “Flash Fiction Fridays”, Mr. Vaughan has assembled a collection of short fiction from some of the best authors out there today. Don’t let the label “short fiction” fool you into thinking that these pieces are like light snacks without substance. Brevity is power. This is the undiluted stuff. Each piece is a little package of dynamite, full of vivid imagery, emotion and humanity. The physical book is a slick and professional, aesthetically pleasing, high quality volume and it was on my doorstep within three business days. I can only hope that Robert Vaughan is already working on this year’s collection!

http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/flash-fiction-fridays/18835063Flash Fiction Fridays

Paperback, 54 pages

*****

(9 Ratings)

Flash Fiction Fridays
List Price: $20.20
Price: $17.17
You Save: $3.03 ( 15% )
Ships in 3–5 business days

Flash Fiction Friday is a monthly radio program aired on WUWM’s Lake Effect in Milwaukee, WI. Each month host Robert Vaughan selects local writers who come in, do a quick flash interview and read their flash fiction piece on the air. Then, Robert reads a national writer’s piece and ties the two together with a theme that he discusses with his co-host, Stephanie Lecci. After doing this every month in 2011, Vaughan decided to create an anthology to honor the writers who shared their work on the radio program. Writers include Meg Tuite, Sheldon Lee Compton, Susan Gibb, Len Kuntz, Julie Innis, Sam Rasnake, Susan Tepper, Joani Reese, Christopher Allen, Sara Lippmann and many more.

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks – Part II

Happiness is a Warm Gun

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

 A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony 

 ~ Installment Two ~

II: The Woman in the Wet Raincoat

I was there to meet my first client. Floorboards squeaked as someone ascended the stairs and stopped outside my office. I jumped at the sounds of a car backfiring out on Bridge Street and three sharp raps on the frosted glass of the door. “Come on in, it’s unlocked” I said. The door creaked as it swung open. That’s when I got my first look at her.

Door

She stood in the doorway, illuminated by a shaft of light streaming in from the hall; looking like a warrior goddess from Forbidden Planet. Jet black hair fell in cascading rivulets down the front of her glistening, wet raincoat. Her tootsies were tucked into a pair of cherry red stiletto heels; and she had a pair of gams that went all the way up to her knees. She was the kind of broad who could make a man steal Girl Scout Cookies, if that’s what mama wanted.

The Woman in the Wet Raincoat

She was a swarthy lass, but a robust and coy beauty, nonetheless; and looked like the kind of chick who could take care of herself in a tight spot and probably K.O. any chump who double crossed her. Although she wasn’t exactly the kind of woman I would have met at a PTA meeting, she did look vaguely familiar. Perhaps it was just that she reminded me of a field hockey player named Mona I’d had a dalliance with back in Kansas City. Mona had thighs like a boa constrictor and nearly squeezed the life out of me during our moonlight romps on the center line of the hockey field. My imagination was on fire with a thousand questions as I wondered about this doll and what she might be up to.

Before I could invite her in, a huge parrot swooshed overhead and flew into the room. This dame was too cool to even bat an eyelash. “Friend of yours?” she asked.

The big bird roosted next to the fedora on top of the hat rack. “Allow me to introduce Gladys,” I said, “the African parrot who lives with a freelance ornithologist across the hall.”

“Drop the gun punk!” Gladys squawked. “She doesn’t mean you,” I said. “I think that’s all she knows how to say. I just hope she learned it from watching movies.”

Gladys

The lady arched an eyebrow. “Freelance ornithologist?” she asked. “At first I thought the sign said “orthodontist” I said. It’s kind of a sketchy place for a freelance ornithologist to hang a shingle. I don’t think he’s playing it straight, but it’s that kind of neighborhood.”

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me Mr. Phlegmming,” she whispered in a husky tone, “I really didn’t know who else to turn to. May I come in?”

I asked her to come in and sit down, so she could tell her story. I said “Mr. Phlegmming’s my father. My friends and associates call me Mugsy.”

“Thank you, but until we get to know each other a bit more intimately, it would be more appropriate to call you Mr. Phlegmming,” she replied. I felt my cheeks flush with heat.

“I feel it only fair to tell you that I Googled you, Mr. Phlegmming,” she said. “I already know a great many things about you. For instance, I know that you do not actually hold a professional license as a private investigator, but I think you are someone whom I can trust.”

“But I do hold a professional license.” I replied.

“Yes you do,” she said. “You hold a license to teach, but not a license to kill. The truth is, I don’t want a legally licensed investigator to handle this, because that would involve the authorities, and I simply can’t risk having them involved in any of this. In a situation like this it seems the only ones who can be trusted are outlaws.”

This babe was playing hardball from the get-go and the price of poker just went up. I leaned back in my chair and tried to size her up. She didn’t look like a working girl, but she wasn’t exactly what you’d call a straight arrow soccer mom either.

She’d already Googled me and the best I could do was ogle her. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” I said “It seems that you know a lot more about me than I know about you.”

“I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. My name is Imma –  Imma Pennyraker. But you can call me Ms. Pennyraker.”

She gave me a name, but what was her game? I looked for a wedding ring to see if she might really be “Mrs.” Pennyraker, although I didn’t believe for a minute that ”Imma Pennyraker” was actually her real name.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Pennyraker. May I offer you a light refreshment?” I asked. “I have some cocktail weenies and finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off.” I had pocketed a stash of appetizers from a Chamber of Commerce Welcome Wagon Reception I crashed the night before, but, of course, I didn’t tell her that. I wanted to project an air of genteel sophistication.

“I’m afraid I don’t have an appetite for little weenies or the time for hors-d’oeuvres,” she replied. “To come straight to the point, I need to leave this with you,” She plunged her hand deep inside the cleavage of her raincoat. Before I could respond, she pulled out a hot pink envelope and thrust it in my direction.

I held the package in my hands. “Before I agree to take you on as a client, I need to know more – like who you are and what’s in this package.”

“Mr. Phlegmming, I can only tell you what you need to know at this moment. Any more information will only put you in grave danger. We haven’t much time. A strange little man in a lime green mohair leisure suit will come for the package. I think he followed me here. Under no circumstances should he be allowed to have it. You must do whatever it takes to throw him off the trail and await further instructions.”

“But how will I contact you?” I asked. “I will contact you with this cell phone only,” she said as she handed me a phone. It was a burner.

Just the thought of anyone wearing a lime green mohair leisure suit offended my sensibilities and set my mind reeling with shock and horror. Only a dangerous sociopath would make such an egregious and tragic fashion decision and expect to get away with it. I laid the package down on the desk between us. Just knowing where the lady had stashed it makes a guy like me all hot and bothered. The envelope smelled like an exotic, intoxicating perfume, but it also smelled like trouble.

I needed to think. I leaned back even farther in my chair, but I went too far. The chair flew out from under me and there was the sound of a tremendous crash as I fell flat on my back. I saw the shadow of a large object sail past the window, followed immediately by the sound of an even more tremendous crash on the street below. I struggled to my feet to see what the commotion was all about, but by the time I got up off the floor she was gone.

Door

Hey There!

I am thrilled and honored to have my piece “No Place for Unicorns or Teddy Bears” selected by San Francisco editor Meg Pokrass for inclusion in the inaugaral online edition of “The Editor’s Eye”.  Here’s the review Meg wrote about the piece. Thank you Meg. I am thrilled and honored to be included!

“Michael Gillian Maxwell’s story offer a straightforward narrative voice, employing smart visual details. Here we are catching a bittersweet glimpse of compensatory, brotherly work relationships, and how sexual fantasy takes over when conditions are this lousy, when the stakes are absurdly high. He shows us a war of dangerous work and the Carpenter Ant-like lives of humans so replaceable.”

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks

Tattoo Parlor

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

 A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony 

I: The Mugsy Phlegmming Detective Agency

 I was a laid off teacher with a pocketful of dreams and a closet full of Masters degrees. After my teaching career short circuited, I hit the bricks looking to reinvent myself and pick up the pieces of my life. I tried my hand at a couple of dead end rackets that ended up being one way tickets to nowhere. I worked as a delivery “specialist” for Singing Panty-Grams, a Singing Sandwich Artist at a sub shop and did a brief stint as a Singing Barista at a local coffee joint. For different reasons, they all ended in disaster. Maybe professional singing wasn’t really my thing. Or maybe that kind of work wasn’t meant to be paired with singing. Who knew for sure, and who cared?

 What I really needed was a line of work that would allow my true talents to emerge. I’d always been an inquisitive busy-body with a nose for news and other peoples’ business. I thought this just might be the perfect opportunity to try my hand as a private dick. But what did I really know about the private detective game? Not much, but jumping in up to my eyeballs in danger and into other peoples’ intrigues seemed like a good way to find out.

I rented an office above a tattoo parlor on Bridge Street. For 12 hours a day music boomed from the topless bar down the street. Teen age slackers hung out at the Skate Spot next door and local tweakers came and went from the All Night Laundromat and Pizzeria across the street. There was a pawn shop, a Gypsy palm reader and Rent-To-Own store towards the end of the block. The corner boys did their thing in the alleyway. The neighborhood was full of rough trade but the rent was cheap. The real selling point was the liquor store two doors down from my office.

"The Mare" Gentleman's Club

The detective agency was a bare bones operation and a one man show. I found an old fedora at a vintage clothing store. Since most of the players in this game were bound to be packing heat, I needed a piece of my own, preferably a 38 caliber snub nosed revolver with a pearl handle. But hot pistols were hard to come by in this sleepy little burg and I’d have to settle for any kind of Saturday Night Special I could get my hands on. I ended up with a starter pistol I’d lifted from the track coach’s desk drawer at school. It wasn’t ideal, but shooting blanks in the dark was better than nothing. Anyway I could do just as much damage at close range with a sock full of nickels.

Happiness is a Warm Gun

 II: The Woman in the Wet Raincoat

I was there to meet my first client. I heard the floorboards squeak as someone ascended the stairs and stopped outside my office. The door creaked as it swung open. That’s when I got my first real look at her…..

Late Night Television

Who Art You?

This post is a cross between a blog post, a prose poem and a rant – inspired by a stimulating conversation at a dear friend’s birthday party last night – over many bottles of wine – gustatory delights – good poetry  – telling of tales – singing of songs – petting of dogs – skyping with babies – and lots of laughter – and much silliness on my part – although I think it was the killer chocolate cake that ultimately sent me over the edge! This is dedicated to my wonderful and dear friends John and Carol, Jeff and Lisa, Mickey, Judy and Chris and my endlessly patient and understanding and compassionate wife and  life partner – Ileen.

Late Night Television

I sprawl in a chair, point the remote at the flat screen, flip through stations, look for a place to land. New research claims that a person’s lifespan is shortened by 22 minutes for every hour of television watched. I should have been dead years ago.

Does the world really need a remake of Planet of the Apes? Who am I to judge?

News Networks, left, right and somewhere in the middle, all sell the same story. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Conquest, War, Famine and Death play their greatest hits, together now for the first time in one boxed set! Also appearing are Pestilence, Economic Collapse, Political Extremists, Suicide Bombers, Ecological Disaster, Civil Unrest, Revolution, with special guests – The Seven Deadly Sins. If you buy now your purchase will also include record-breaking drought, wild fires and floods, global warming, an earthquake in Virginia, and a hurricane bearing down on the eastern sea board.

Does the world really need a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still? Who am I to judge?

I settle on a movie called “Thor’s Hammer”, a tale about Vikings pitted against ferocious Werewolves. The Vikings have Australian accents and the werewolves are clearly actors dressed up in really bad wolf suits. The bard who recited the Beowulf saga in a great hall in front of a roaring fire told some version of the same story. Something just got lost in translation.

Does the world really need a remake of Conan the Barbarian? Who am I to judge?

Information Overload

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