Something drives me awake. And it isn’t pain. You get used to pain when it’s non-stop. It’s like being at an opera. The decibel level varies. Only pray for a quick death when the soprano breaks crystal, see.
“Hey Mabel, wake up. It’s me, Chill.” A couple of pats on my cheeks doesn’t help the pain.
“Whaaa? Wait a minute.” Another couple of pats. In the wrong places. I think about revenge, see. “Stop that, Chill. I’m not a scottish pancake.”
“Sorry. Just makin’ sure it’s really you. Your grandma said you were dead.”
“Feel free to call me Mamie, Detective.” I sit up. Still in my car. That’s nice. If I gotta die, I want it to be in my car, see. Chill’s looking at me with a crooked grin on his face. He’s got a thin scar that extends from the right side of his mouth, diagonally up the cheek, and ending near the corner of his eye. He got sliced up in a bar fight when he was nineteen. Plastic surgery didn't go so well. Hasn’t hurt his dating prowess. Dames love the scar. All he’s gotta do is flash that beaut, and baseballs sail out of the ballpark. Most of the time. I’m hard to please, see.
“I’ll call you Mamie when you quit leaving dead bodies in your wake. What have I told you about that?”
I sit up and take a shallow breath. I’m learning, see. “Need a drink. Take me back to my apartment.”
“Sure, doll. I’ll send a man to pick up your . . . automobile.” When Chill wrinkles his nose, it’s like looking at a mugshot in a funhouse mirror. He doesn’t like my car, see. He likes the big boaters. You know the kind: a fender bender, and one car winds up in Casablanca. It isn’t the boater. Anyway, Chill says only real men drive those monsters. He should oughta know. He tools around in a 1940 Black Cadillac, Series 75 Limousine Sedan.
“Your man? . . . Is he good looking?”
Chill shakes his head, but his hair doesn’t move one iota. It’s black with a tint of midnight blue running through it, and lacquered up like some dame in a Broadway chorus. Could break a finger just touching it, see.
I get in his car, holding my ribs together. Feels like they’re gonna fall right out of my chest. Even with the brace. “Listen, Chill, I got questions that need answers.”
He stares at me like I have three eyes and one of them is black and blue. “Oh yeah? Funny thing is, Mabel, I got questions that need answers too. And you’re gonna answer mine before I answer yours. Know why? One, ‘cos I carry a real shiny badge. Two, ‘cos I found you unconscious. Three, ‘cos I found two dead bodies, one of them lying underneath a very alive, very voluptuous body. Four, ‘cos I found Luigi crawling down the stairs at that dirt bag of a motel he called from. So talk fast. A five-minute history lesson will do.”
When Chill brings out the badge, either talk, or sit in the hoosegow playing “Sentimental Journey” on the bars with a tuning fork. Or, in special cases, say hello to the sadistic doc in the ER. Chill knows better than to put me there. And I know better than not to talk. It’s all about respect, see. Me and him. Even if we swing for the fences missing each other by a hair.
One thing about Chill’s car; it gets alotta looks of the admiring kind, but everybody stays the heaven away from it. He glides into a parking slot at my apartment building. Only took two spaces this time. “Alright. Come on up. But just for five minutes. And don’t try any funny stuff, Chill, or I’ll part your hair with a razor, see. And I’m not talking about the hair on your head.”
“Sounds . . . frisky.” He looks at me with hungry puppy eyes.
Good thing I prefer cats. Otherwise, I might be tempted to break an inviolate rule of mine: yeah, that one. A few minutes later, I’m laid out flat on a white leather sofa sipping a pain reducer, and listening to the bridal chorus of “Lohengrin” on my 1918 Victor Victrola; a stereo that seduces all great artists into your apartment to sing their guts out before your ear drum shatters. But it’s worth it, see.
Chill’s been relegated to a box chair made out of vinyl, you know the kind, leaves a sweat stain a mile wide on your tookus. He looks at his watch. “Ok, I’m listening.”
“What’s your question?”
When Chill’s sighs, it’s like a cold draft, only not the good kind, see. “What? We gonna play twenty questions now, Mabel? Why don’t you start with the dead bodies of Mick the Creep and his lovely girlfriend, and go back from there. But word of warning, I’m especially interested in the whodunnit question.”
“All I know is, Billy the Chimp shot me.”
Chill laughs. “That’s a good one, Mabel. But I’m not in the mood for jokes. You can do better than that.”
“I’m not joking. And don’t you spread it around the station, see. I got a reputation to protect.”
“Well, then, you’ll be glad to know we picked Billy the Chimp up. He’s currently incarcerated at the zoo. They had to put him in isolation. Thing is . . . he’s not talking.” Chill can’t do sarcasm, see. He always snickers before the punchline. I’d like to punch him!
“I would’ve started the investigation somewhere’s else, Chump. Look, that hairy piece of monkey dong shot me point blank. Caught me off my guard, see. You ever know anybody to do that?”
“Mabel, he was naked when we found him.”
“When was that?”
“Going through some trash by that shi--I mean hooker motel. He was hungry.”
I sit up quick on that one. I bite my lip in pain. “Sable abandoned him, Chill. It’s her m.o. That, and killing all the lugs she hires to do a job for her, see.”
“So . . . let me get this straight. You’re trying to tell me that Sable Mink trained a chimpanzee to shoot you, her loverboy, and his girlfriend?”
“No . . . I’m telling you Billy shot me. With an antique gun, see. Find it. Test all the bullets. I’ll bet you balls on a ballerina, I’m the only one he shot.”
“Yeah? Why would you think that?”
“Listen, wiseguy, I wouldn’t shoot my own mother even if she begged me, capische?”
“Then what was he doing in the motel room?”
“I don't know. I'll figure it out.”
“Ok, so then who hired you to put the lens on Mick? I saw the hole in the wall. Very original. And very Luigi.”
I don’t answer right away. The death of Elsa is playing havoc with my heart. Finally, the last notes die out. “A Mrs. Robinson. She was strange, I admit. Wore a thick black veil, and a hat the size of a cannibal’s pot. Claimed to be the victim of an acid thrower. Thought her husband hired muscle. Wanted to prove he had motive to do it."
“Hmm . . . Mrs. Robinson, huh?" He shakes his head. That's not a good sign, especially when one hair gets jacked out of place. "Mabel, do you know how many women use Mrs. Robinson as a fake name when they get arrested? A ton. Ever heard of the movie, "The Graduate?" I stare at him blankly. "Geez, Louise, let me guess. You only watch black and white movies." I nod slowly. My knees go weak. I screwed up. "Ok, well, here’s what I think: your Mrs. Robinson was actually Sable Mink in disguise! And you totally missed that. Ironic, huh? I mean with you being a psychic private investigator and all.”
When Chill chuckles it’s like hearing a clown cry. I’m not in the mood to hear it. I throw my wine glass at him. It lands right in his lap. He jumps up and dabs at the spilled wine with my nice lace doily. Ha! Red wine. Blue jean crotch. Visualize it. "That's for being sarcastic. Why would Sable hire me, genius?"
First, he stares at me like he can see the inside of my head and finds it empty. Then he stares at the spreading stain in his jeans. "Dammit, Mabel, these were expensive jeans. I'm charging you up your fine ass—OW!" He rubs a knee and hops a couple of steps.
I rub a sore fist. Apparently, I'd hit bone. "I'm waiting for your answer, genius cop."
"To set you up. Think about it, Mabel." He flinches like I'm going to hit him again. When I don't, he flops back down on the couch. “Look, the woman told you exactly where to spy on her husband, right?”
“Uh huh. So?”
“Well, most women know their husbands are cheating, but most don't know the location of hubby's love nest. One reason why they hire dicks like you. So, what did you do with that information after the woman left the office?”
“Called Luigi to set up surveillance.”
“Exactly. By the time that lazy bum got around to it, Mick was most likely already dead.”
“Look, Chill, Sable’s too dumb to pull something off like this.”
“Well, I never said it was completely successful, did I? You’re still alive. Although, I gotta admit, you got lucky there." I think I hear a snicker. "Hard to believe you got duped, Mabel. So, what happened? The ol' psychic powers take a night off?" Another snicker, another flinch, another hit.
"OW! What was that for?" He rubs the other knee.
"Practice." Actually, it was personal.
"I swear you hit me again, Mabel, and I'm gonna arrest you for assaulting a police officer. Sometimes, you are one nasty bi—OW!” He jumps up and limps around. Then pulls out a pair of handcuffs. "Ok, I’ve had it, Barlowe! Get up and put your hands behind your back."
"Fine. But how will you explain it to your cop friends? Oh, this big bad woman with broken ribs hit me in the knees and made me cry! Should go over real well."
"Son of a bit—gun!" His tookus falls back down on the vinyl. "Sometimes I really hate you, Barlowe."
This would be a good time to smile. So I do. "Feelings mutual, cutie pie. Now leave. I’m in some serious pain here."
He grits his teeth. “One more question. You think Sable shot her own boyfriend and his girl?”
“No. Dame’s so blind she couldn’t shoot the front door of a bordello without ringing the bell first. She also has an eye phobia. Doesn’t wear glasses or contacts.”
“That’s screwy. It doesn’t stop her from driving, or from shooting at you, doll.”
“She thinks she’s torturing me, see. She’s not. Although, I gotta admit when she moves objects with her mind it can get dicey. And messy.”
Chill’s sculpted to perfection chin drops a mile. “She’s psychic too? You’re kidding me, right?”
At least the strands of my hair move when I shake my head. “I’ve seen her in action.”
Chill snorts like an ostrich in heat. “No way, you musta been drunk on your butt!” Good thing he jumps off the chair and lands a full ten feet away from me. Changes the subject fast. "So, Sable probably put a contract out on the boyfriend then.” He suddenly snaps his fingers. “And I bet it was that looney tunes brother of hers, KIrk.”
“In England, according to Vera. Psychiatric hospital.”
“Hmm . . . what about the father, Irk? He’s a real piece of work, that one.”
“In England, trying to get his son out of the hospital. According to Vera.”
“What the he—heck is Vera doing keeping tabs on the Minks?”
“She has to. Remember?”
“Oh, that’s right. Boy, your secretary’s rack, I mean your secretary racks up a lot of restraining orders, Mabel.”
“I blame her rack, too, Chill.” I heave myself off the couch and head to the door. I open it with a flourish. Wait until you see the finish. “Now, get out of here before I glock you.” He approaches me with a light in his eyes, you know, the kind that rolls out the red carpet. What’s that about? When he gets close enough, I say, “Oh right. I don’t have my glock. Somebody confiscated it.” A booted foot solidly connects to his shin. He looks good hopping around. But he doesn’t sound so good.
“OW! OW! Oh Holy mother of go-dog!! OW! Shoot! OW! Dammit, Barlowe, one of these days I am really going to throw you into jail.” He limps around trying to shake off the pain. "Until then, I’m keeping a close eye on you . . . from a distance.” He steps out the door.
“Speaking of eyes, did you pick Roxy Binghorton up for assault?”
“Can’t find the broad. Which reminds me, anymore bodies show up, you and I are gonna have a come to the Copacabana meeting.”
“A meeting you should have had with that doozy dame Sable by now. She’s dumped more bodies than a knight in the Crusades. And now her lover’s dead. But you chumps do nothing, see.”
“Apparently, Barlowe, the woman is a Mistress of Disguise, she don’t leave witnesses, and she has more hideouts than I have under-drawers. Believe me, we’ve been looking for her.” He groans as he reaches down to rub his shin.
“She drives a car a maltese could find.”
He straightens up quick, and his gorgeous eyes light up. I think I need a cold shower.
“Wait. I’ve seen that movie, Mabel. Two words, overrated.”
Then he opens his mouth, see!
I slam the door shut. The doorbell rings again. I open it. Mistake. A crooked pair of lips lock on mine like a drone on a terrorist compound. When it fires a heat-seeking missile, I push him away. “No.” Simple but effective. Like throwing a glass of red wine at a blue jean crotch.
He smiles. “Had you there for a sec. Ya gotta admit.”
“Yeah, like a wounded animal caught by a predator.” I glare at him.
“Your grandma told me you were dead. I’m expressing my joy that you're not.”
“Nobody with brains believes anything my grandma says.” I slam the door shut. Again.
Irritated, I totter off to the bedroom. My cell phone goes off. Martin Cooper is the father of the cell phone. I’d like to sew his ears shut, see. I find the thing buried in my empty holster. “Mamie Barlowe, ace psychic detective speaking.” I can bark like a great dane going nuts over a burglar. “This better be good! I am holding a remote device powered by sonar that will melt your phone in less than two seconds.”
“Ms. B-B-Barlowe? . . . Uh . . . you’re joking, right?”
“Who is this?”
“Clarence B-B-Binghorton III. I—”
“Why are you stuttering Mr. COB III? You didn’t in my office.”
“What are you t-t-talking about, Ms. B-B-Barlowe? I’ve never b-b-been to your office. I got your name from a receipt I just found in my wife’s wasteb-b-basket. I’d like to know why she hired you!”
Will someone on Mars please catch my eyeballs! What the devil is going on here? “Mr. COB III, it’s late. I was shot two days ago. An old lady tried to exorcise me this morning. Tonight, I was shot at twice. I think you will understand why I’m going to hang up in approximately one-half second. Be in my office tomorrow at 2:00. Bring a birth certificate and a genealogical chart, capische?”
“What? I d-d-don’t—hello? . . . Hello? . . . Ms. B-B-Barlowe?”
Guess cell phones weren’t made to fly, see. Mine shatters on its maiden flight to the nearest wall!