The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode VI
A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper
A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery
in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony
~ Episode VI ~
Things Ain’t Now, Mama What They Used To Be
Now Let’s See ~ Where Were We???
Mugsy is visited by the free lance ornithologist, Elvert Bisbee, who is looking for Gladys. He informs Mugsy of the suspicious and sinister activities of the two piano tuners. Mugsy heads out the door to find Gladys, and the envelope and to meet his date with destiny. He receives a text message from Imma Pennyraker, telling him to walk towards the river. After descending the stairs, he pauses to check on the action in the street, and witnesses Fontaine’s body being spirited away in a black Mercedes SUV. Stepping out onto the sidewalk, he spots Gladys roosting on a “No Parking” sign across the street. Careful to avoid Miss Crabclaws, Mugsy starts to cross the street in an effort to approach Gladys and retrieve the envelope. He glances back to see the piano tuners come around the corner. They spot him but are temporarily detained by Miss Crabclaws. Musgsy starts to cross the street and is almost hit by a van, just as Gladys takes off and starts flying towards the river. The door of the van slides open and someone yells: “Get in now if you want to live!” Mugsy dives into the van telling the driver to “Follow that parrot and step on it!”
~ And now ~
The van took off and careened down the street, first bouncing off the curb, then nearly swerving into oncoming traffic. I flopped around like a fish out of water, trying to get up off the floor. This was the second time in an hour I found myself in a such a compromised position. I hoped it wasn’t becoming a habit.
Her sultry voice hit me like a velvet hammer. “So, we meet again, Mr. Phlegmming. I did not think it would be so soon, but things are happening more quickly than expected. I presume you have the envelope?” I heaved my bulk onto the seat and and found myself face to face with Imma Pennyraker. She was no longer dressed in a wet raincoat, but she still looked as munchable as a box of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. “The envelope is somewhere safe,” I said. “Actually, it’s a long story, but Gladys has it. That’s why we need to follow that parrot.” Ms. Pennyraker said something in Russian to the driver, who gunned the engine, jumped the curb and started driving on the sidewalk to get around traffic and keep up with Gladys.
I looked back and saw a police patrol car stop outside my office building. Miss Crabclaws was all over the cops before they could even get out of the car. She brandished her cane like a rapier, slashing and poking, pointing at the ruins of her piano, then thrusting the cane back towards the cops as she ranted and raved. Maybe this was what Zorro might have looked like at the elder hostel, hopped up on meth and reliving his salad days. The piano tuners were jacking a pizza delivery car. One of them had a gun leveled at the pizza guy who was backing away with his hands in the air. Bisbee came out of the building and started sprinting after us. “Hell Hounds On My Trail” started running through my head. This was no time to be singing the blues.
“She’s heading towards the river” I said. “ We can’t let her out of our sight!” Pedestrians screamed and dove out of the way of the van. We swerved back onto the street just in time for the bridge. Gladys was flying across the river. She had swooped down, keeping close to the water and then veered east towards the main part of the city. I heard brakes screeching and horns honking. I looked back and and saw traffic stalled out in gridlock and the pizza delivery car jammed up in the middle.
We crossed the bridge, keeping our eye on Gladys. She seemed to be heading towards a ramshackle shanty on the river bank. “That’s the old boat house,” I said. “Turn left on that access road just across the bridge, but do it fast. We’ve got to lose that pizza delivery car.” It was starting to get dark and that was going to make everything more difficult. Gladys was looking for a safe place to roost for the night. It would be almost impossible to find her in the dark. I hoped that’s why she was heading for the boat house. It would be a good place for us to hide too, if we could just lose the piano tuners.
We turned onto the frontage road and headed for the boat house. The street on the other side of the bridge was not in view. I couldn’t see the piano tuners which meant they couldn’t see us either. The boat house came into view, but Gladys was nowhere to be seen. It was getting dark fast. We had no time to lose.
We pulled up to the boat house. I got out of the van first. I heard Imma Pennyraker say something to the driver in Russian before she got out. The van pulled away and kept driving down the frontage road. “I told Giorgio to drive the van away and lose it. We can’t take the risk of somebody spotting it here.” she said.
The boat house was in disrepair, but still relatively intact. There were a couple of broken windows, but the roof looked sound and there was a working door. I turned the knob and was relieved to find it unlocked. I pushed the door open and tried to get a look inside. It was already dark as a dungeon in there but still light enough to see shadowy forms. I could just make out the shape of a flat-bottom row boat on a set of saw horses. Before stepping totally inside I looked back in the direction we had come from. It was almost too dark to see, but someone was definitely walking up the road in our direction.
“Quick, get inside,” I said. “Someone‘s coming!” We ducked inside and closed the door behind us. It would have been dark as pitch, but the lights from the town were enough to illuminate the place to see just enough to get around. I heard foot steps crunching on the gravel outside the boat house, then they stopped. I pulled the sock full of quarters out of my pocket and held it over my head like a black jack. I was prepared to give whoever it was a good crack across the noggin.
The door swung open with a creak. A shadowy figure stood in the doorway. “Hello,” he said. “Is anybody in there?” He started to come through the door. I raised the sock full of quarters and got ready open up a can of whoop-ass on the intruder. Before I could move, I heard flapping of wings and felt something rip the sock right out of my hand. There was an ear-splitting screech. “Drop the gun punk!” It was Gladys! I heard Bisbee’s voice. “Gladys? Is that you girl? Come to Papa!”
I peered into the dusk and recognized Bisbee with Gladys perched on his shoulder. “Jesus Christ Bisbee!” I said “You scared the Bejeezus out of me! How the Hell did you find us?”
“Glad to see you too, Phlegmm,” Bisbee said. “I knew about this boat house and figured Gladys might try to roost here for the night. By the way, you’re welcome.”
“For what? I asked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about?”
“ I knew you had a shitload of trouble following you, so I pulled the lever on the back of a garbage truck. It dumped a full payload into the street. Hell of a mess. Stopped traffic dead going both ways. I think the piano tuners are probably still stuck in that quagmire.”
I heard a deep but sensuous voice behind me. It massaged my libido like the scrub brushes in a car wash. “They’re not piano tuners.” Imma Pennyraker stepped out of the shadows and outside into the dim twilight. She was holding the envelope in her hand. “Gladys dropped the envelope onto the floor when she knocked your weapon out of your hand. We are fortunate, indeed,” she said. She stood facing us in silhouette with the river at her back. The reflection of the lights of the city sparkled on the placid water like a million emeralds. She looked like an Amazon river goddess.
Bisbee let out a low whistle between his teeth. “You’ve been holding out on me Phlegmm. Who’s this tall drink of water?”
“I’d introduce you, but I don’t know her real name.” I said. “I’ve been getting the run-a-round ever since she darkened my doorway. Perhaps the lady would like to tell us her real name and explain what this is really all about?”
“I’d be happy to,” she said. She held out the sock full of quarters. “Mr. Phlegmming, perhaps you’d like to put this back in your pocket? Not only does it enhance the cut of your trousers, but you may be needing it later. Now let’s step inside and I’ll explain everything. We haven’t much time.”