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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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noir mystery

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode VI ~

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

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.

Imma Pennyraker

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.

Bridge

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.

Boat House

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.

Broken Window

“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.

Boat House Door

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.”

The Package

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.

From the East Shore

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.”

Thrift Shop Fedora

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot!

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

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode V

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony

Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot

Our Story So Far

A mysterious woman in a wet raincoat pays a visit to the Mugsy Phlegmming Detective Agency. She entrusts Mugsy with an envelope. The sound of a terrible crash from the street below distracts Mugsy. He goes over to the window to investigate, and by the time he turns back, the woman in the wet raincoat has vanished. Mugsy is visited by Mr. Fontaine, the man in the lime green mohair leisure suit. Fontaine, pulls a gun on Mugsy and attempts to steal the envelope. It looks like he may get away with it, until Gladys swoops down from her perch, knocks the gun from Fontaine’s hand and steals the envelope. Fontaine lunges for the parrot as she flies away and he meets his own untimely demise as he falls from the window to the street below. Gladys roosts on the roof of the building across the street, the envelope still held in her beak. 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.

Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot 

I stuck the starter pistol in the back of my waistband, gangsta style and stuffed the sock full of quarters in my right hip pocket. It created an unseemly bulge, but then again, that might actually help me get lucky. That sock full of quarters might just get me out of a jam somewhere up the road, especially if I needed change for a parking meter or a vibrating bed in a fleabag hotel. I had the giddy feeling that anything could happen. I wondered about the dame and immediately felt a pleasant vibrating sensation near my groin. I was just beginning to enjoy it a little too much when I remembered the burner phone Imma Pennyraker had given me. I’d put it in my other pocket and forgot about it.

I let it vibrate for a couple more seconds before I pulled it out. There was a text message: “ Walk towards the river and someone will contact you. I.P.”

I stepped out into the hallway, quietly pulled the door shut behind me and tried to sneak down the stairs without making the floorboards squeak. It was no use. The floorboards chirped like a nightingale floor in a samurai castle. I stopped and held my breath. I could hear Bisbee rustling about in his office, but miraculously, it seemed that he had not heard my departure. The last thing I needed now was him tagging along as a sidekick. He would insist on showing me his tattoo.

I stopped on the front landing and peeked out the window before stepping out into the street. A black Mercedes SUV with black-out windows pulled up to the curb and stopped with the motor running. Two hulking brutes in black Armani suits got out, picked up Fontaine’s body, and put it into the car. They got back in, pulled away, and drove  towards the river. I heard sirens in the distance. I stepped out onto the sidewalk. Music rumbled from the strip club. Sketchy looking characters came and went from the tattoo parlor. Ms. Crabclaws was out there, waving her cane around and ranting at a group of skaters who were standing nearby.  I spied Gladys down the street in the other direction, perched on top of a No Parking sign. Thank God she still had the envelope in her beak. I was glad that Gladys was perched down the street in the direction I had to go. At least that made things easier. The sirens were getting closer. Ms. Crabclaws had probably called the cops. I was running out of time.

Tattoo II

I started walking down the sidewalk. I needed to cross the street to get to Gladys. I looked back just in time to see the piano tuners come out of the alley, turn the corner and start walking up the street in my direction. Ms. Crabclaws saw them and blocked their path. I heard her launch into a vicious tongue lashing. I glanced back to see her waving her cane around like a light saber. I knew she’d delay the piano tuners for only so long. They had spotted me and were stepping around her as she continued her tirade. I started to cross the street and heard a tremendous screeching of brakes. A Dodge minivan covered with bumper stickers had stopped inches away from flattening me like a pancake. I was momentarily frozen in my tracks but quickly snapped out of it and jumped back onto the curb. Gladys flapped her wings and took off. She was flying in the direction of the river.

The side door of the van slid open and somebody said, “Get in now if you want to live!” I noticed the campaign bumper sticker on the side of the van that said Cheney-Satan in 2008. Now there’s a portentous omen, I thought, as I dove for the door.

Cheney-Satan Campaign Sticker

As the van pulled away, I could see the two piano tuners coming down the street. Bisbee gaped in disbelief from the upstairs window. Gladys was flying away. “Follow that parrot!” I said “and step on it!”

Gladys

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode IV

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode IV.

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

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony

Episode IV. The Piano Tuners and the Free-Lance Ornithologist

Synopsis 

 A mysterious woman in a wet raincoat pays a visit to the Mugsy Phlegmming detective Agency. She entrusts Mugsy with an envelope. The sound of a terrible crash from the street below distracts Mugsy. He goes over to the window to investigate, and by the time he turns back, the woman in the wet raincoat has vanished. Mugsy is visited by Mr. Fontaine, the man in the lime green mohair leisure suit. Fontaine, pulls a gun on Mugsy and attempts to steal the envelope. It looks like he may get away with it, until Gladys swoops down from her perch, knocks the gun from Fontaine’s hand and steals the envelope. Fontaine lunges for the parrot as she flies away and he meets his own untimely demise as he falls from the window to the street below. 

Building

 Episode IV. The Piano Tuners and the Free-Lance Ornithologist

 I leaned out the window and looked down at Fontaine’s body. It looked like a broken doll from the disco era as it lay crumpled on the ruins of the piano on the sidewalk below. I actually kind of felt sorry for the guy. Guess I wasn’t quite the hard boiled dick I thought I was.

However, my brief reverie was disturbed by the sound of footsteps in the hall outside my door. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I was developing a preternatural cat-like sixth sense for danger. A shadow darkened the frosted window of the door, followed by the sound of knuckles sharply rapping on the glass.

Office Door

“Hold on, I’ll be right there,” I said, as I looked around for Fontaine’s gun. It was laying around somewhere. Whoever was out there, turned the knob and started to open the door. I saw Fontaine’s gun laying in full view on the floor. I had to do some pretty fancy footwork, but managed to kick the pistol under the desk just as the door swung open. I was busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.

I turned to face my latest visitor, expecting the worst. I was relieved to see Elvert Bisbee, the freelance ornithologist from across the hall. “Hey Phlegm,” he said “I gotta talk to you. There’s some strange stuff going on around here.”

“Come in and close the door Elvert … and please don’t call me Phlegm. You know I hate that nickname. It’s just not dignified,” I replied. “What’s up?” I tried to act casual.

“You know that old biddy, Miss Crabclaws, who teaches piano upstairs?” he said. “Well, I just ran into her as I was coming into the building a little while ago and she told me a couple of guys claiming to be piano tuners shoved her piano right out the window. Boy, was she ever pissed off. She was waving her cane around like Igor Stravinsky conducting the Rite of Spring. I thought for sure old lady Crabclaws was gonna club me over the head with it … and there’s more.”

“Like what? I asked, feigning complete innocence. I glanced out the window and saw Gladys roosted on top of the All Nite Laundromat and Pizzeria across the street. She still had the envelope in her beak.

Window

“Well for one thing,” he continued, “someone switched our signs around in the hallway, which is weird enough. But then, I open my door to find two goons tossing the place. When I ask them what the Hell they think they’re doing, they claim to be piano tuners, apologize for the mixup, and leave, just like that. Piano tuners, my ass! More like some kind of hired heat if you ask me. Piano tuners don’t go around dressed like the Blues Brothers and acting like characters out of Men in Black. You’re the private dick around here. What’s it look like to you?”

“Sounds like they were on a mission, that’s for sure,” I said. “Maybe looking for something, but I can’t imagine what,” I lied. I heard the sound of police sirens in the distance. There was no time to waste.

“By the way, have you seen Gladys?” he asked. “I can’t find her anywhere.”

“Nope,” I lied. “I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her – or feather nor beak, as the case may be.” I hoped he wouldn’t notice the bird shit on the floor under the hat rack where she had roosted. I glanced out the window. Gladys was nowhere to be seen on the roof of the All Nite Laundromat and Pizzeria.

“Elvert, this is all pretty damn fascinating and mysterious,” I said, “but I’m late for an appointment. I have a mani-pedi and a facial scheduled down the block at that tattoo joint, and you know how those people can be. The last thing I need is for them to be pissed at me while they’re working around my face with a tweezers.”

Tattoo II

“I didn’t take you for that kind of boy Phlegm,” Elvert said sarcastically. “You should let them ink you. They did a portrait of Gladys that covers my whole back. I’ll show you sometime.”

“I can hardly wait,” I said, distractedly. “Don’t let that door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

He left, closing the door behind him. I thought about grabbing Fontaine’s gun, but figured it would only get me in trouble. I snagged the starter pistol and sock full of nickels from the desk drawer instead. I listened for the sound of Bisbee’s office door closing. When I was sure the coast was clear, I put on the  fedora, pulled it down low on my forehead, took a slug of Jack and headed out the door.

Thrift Shop Fedora

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.

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