|Private Eye, that's what the letters spell out on the glass to the door of my office.
New York City is a tough place to make a living and if you try to sing the blues you'll quickly find out that you're not even good enough to be another voice in the choir. Down on Broadway, it's a dog eat dog world so I make a little money on the side selling milk-bone underwear to hungry tourists or anything else that makes a sound like money. Anyone who lives here can smell the rat in this cheese factory but nobody's saying anything because having morals on Broadway is like celebrating mother's day at the orphanage - It makes you feel good but everyone stares at you like a nun in a string bikini. People don't normally need a Private Eye but when their chickens come home to roost it's a little like being the only cabbage farmer in town on St. Patrick's Day. Eventually they all show up at my door with a sob story and a dirty job that'll pay the bills.
| The Femme Fatale
I was sitting in my office when the door opened and in walks a young brunette. Her legs were long and silky, like honey pouring out of a jar, and I suddenly found myself wishing I was the only bear in 100-acre wood. She was tall and thin, with headlights that could freeze a deer 500 feet down the road and innocent brown eyes that made you feel bad for running her over. She was the kind of girl that would probably eat a man's heart for breakfast and spit out the left ventricle but I sat there in my chair and ogled her like I was holding a chest spreader, a hunting knife and some steak sauce. She said her name was Margo Lane and that she had a job for me. Apparently the lady had a younger sister named Trudy with a wolf problem that needed taking care of. Some clown was bothering the girl and he needed a little persuasion to pull up stakes and follow the circus to Hoboken. The "Popeye gets Emily Post on Bluto" routine wasn't my specialty but Margo winked and tossed me enough dead presidents to make it worth my while - so I was off like Galahad to the Meatpacking District in a New York minute.
| The Warehouse
The organ grinder who couldn't control his monkey was a guy named Harry Boyd. I found Prince Charming's office at the back of his kingdom on West 13th street, a warehouse for "Boyd's Beef", which had more meat in it than a busy downtown hooker. When I found a door sporting a placard with the right name on it, I opened it and walked in like I owned the place. Behind a large wooden desk sat an equally large man, he must have been at least fifty because you can't get that ugly without years of practice. He was shaped like a walrus and his suit fit like a brown paper bag on a quart of malt liquor. He had more chins than a Chinese phone book and more worry lines on his forehead than an old lady has doilies on her coffee table. He was eating his dinner like a hungry seal who'd just played chopsticks on the bicycle horns and after gulping down another hamburger he took one look at me and his face puckered up as if he'd just blown an English sailor. I looked him straight in the folds and told him that little red riding hood was off the menu for anyone but me and that he'd better stick to minding his own head cheese if he wanted to live long enough to taste another double whopper. Unfortunately, someone came up from behind me that didn't like the floor show and before I knew it, I was being thrown around like a poker chip in Tijuana.
| The Dead Debutante
When I finally came to, I noticed that I wasn't in Kansas any more and that I'd better click the heels on my ruby slippers in a hurry because I was laying next to a dead girl in a strange motel room. Just like a rainbow she was nice to look at from a distance but up close there were no leprechauns or pots of gold waiting for me, only trouble. I got the feeling that I was looking at Margo's little sister because the family resemblance was unmistakable but this doll looked like she was raised on the other side of the tracks. She looked over-bred and under baked. Her face was fragile and breakable - like someone's walking porcelain sperm bank in heels. I noticed her bra was padded like an executive's expense account because somebody had stabbed her in the side and did a pretty thorough job. She had a startled look on her face as if someone had used the wrong knife from the table setting and she was appalled at their poor manners. I was mesmerized by this deflated love doll but when I heard a pair of big dogs walking on tile and getting closer, I knew it was time to get out of there quick because the lights were about to get turned on and I wasn't going to find some fat kid yelling "happy birthday" at the door.
| The Ineffectual Cop
Right on cue, the door busted open and there he was. Inspector Madigan wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed but he had a shiny badge and a dislike of yours truly. His eyes swept the room like a thousand dollar shop vac but nobody had changed the filter in his head since the police academy. "What's going on in here?" demanded Madigan. "Nothing," I said. "If I had known you were coming I'd have baked a cake" which earned me a one way ticket downtown in the back of Madigan's unmarked car.
Normally talking to Madigan was like trying to chat with a magpie; you say something and he parrots it back to you as a loaded question - but tonight he was as edgy as a jumper on top of the Empire State Building. Trying to get a word in edgewise with him was like trying to give a rabid weasel a massage on a hot-plate. I needed this like I needed a sixth toe on my right foot but Madigan was already sizing me up for a pair of custom loafers in the electric chair. Fortunately for me it took only a few hours down at precinct before Madigan got the call from forensics because just like the chorus girls' tits and legs in a cheap nightclub, nothing matched up and I was free to go. Before leaving I was able to finagle some tidbits from Records and Identification about the Lane sisters and Mr. Boyd. As for the Walrus man, who I saw inhaling cheeseburgers in Boyd's office, his identity was a mystery. Harry Boyd was much younger, thinner and had the distinction of being handed the family business after his parents died in a toboggan mishap. The Lane girls came from a well-to-do family as their father, Charles Montgomery Lane, ran a highly successful toy distribution company. While the meter may have run out on Margo's ride in the Private Eye taxi, this scenario was so loaded with dough that I figured I could play Jean Valjean and pinch a nice big loaf for my troubles.
When I got back to my apartment the door had been kicked in and someone had ripped through home sweet home like an Australian wildfire. It was an awful lot of hot water for some problem with a meat monger squeezing a gal's tomatoes. I noticed that my secret admirer left a calling card behind, a book of matches for a ticky tacky little Juke-Joint up in Soho called the Boardwalk - A notorious hangout for sailors waiting for their next cargo to ship out. Inside the cover somebody had written "EST. 19336".
| The Trusty Informant
Between the cops getting tipped off to the Lane girl's killing and my place being ransacked, I knew I was onto something bigger than a bread box. I played the whole scenario in my head to see if anything that happened up to this point made any sense and it didn't, so I decided to pay my favorite informer Lionel an impromptu visit. Lionel and I go all the way back to reform school. It worked for me but it lead Lionel into a career as an opiate salesman and he was his own biggest client.
I made my way up to the fifth floor penthouse that Lionel shared with a few thousand of his closest cockroach buddies and when I got close to his door I heard Sophie Tucker belting out a tune. I hated to knock and ruin Lionel's musicale but unlike the neighbors I still had a shred of class. The music stopped and the door flung open revealing that Lionel and the last of the red hot mama's were having a rough night. Lionel grunted, stepped aside and ushered me in. If it's ever so humble, there was no place like Lionel's flat - the smell was a combination of wet dog, a pile of dirty socks and sweaty feet. He lifted a whiskey bottle to his mouth like he was making love to it and sucked down most of the contents like an underfed Somalian kid at a Pillsbury bake-off. I went to give him the match book but he held up his hand and I quickly tried to remember how much a bottle of rot gut cost these days. So I reached for my wallet, handed him back the match book with a fin and he gave me back a dirty look in exchange for my troubles. Lionel looked at the number inside the cover and a smile crept onto his face. "Beef?" he asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. "Looks like somebody is really into his meat" I told him to cut the crap and leave off the bologna. "It's an establishment code. It goes on large lots of beef, destined for the meat grinder and a few million hamburgers". Lionel rambled for awhile about USDA grades of beef but it was like scotch tape in a bowl of cotton to my ears. He seemed to know an awful lot about red meat but I was trying to freeze a Walrus with a book of matches and Lionel was wasting time like he had just won the Irish Sweepstakes. Before I left he told me that my best bet was to go back and check out the warehouse.
| The Return To The Warehouse
I showed back up at Mr Boyd's Warehouse to take a closer look at his operation and found the real Harry and some big goon waiting for me like a pair of archangels on judgement day. Apparently, I wasn't the only one buying bottles of hooch for Lionel and even though I could always count on him for the truth, I shouldn't have trusted him 100 percent after his lengthy beef lecture. Experience taught me that it was probably a good time to cover up my head but I felt a wallop before I had a chance to do anything about it and the room started spinning and everything went dark again.
When I came to, I could hear Harry Boyd barking to his overgrown lackey and telling him what to do with me when I woke up. The big guy wanted to know why they didn't get rid of me while I was out for the count and Harry insisted that he wanted me awake and alert when they threw me into the meat grinder. I decided to fake it and laid there like a pole-axed prize hog while waiting for my opening. Harry took off and left me with his heavyweight helper and as soon as he was out the door, "Cuddles" took it upon himself to tenderize me a little more by kicking me in the spareribs. Of course, sometimes when you throw a surprise party, the surprise is on you and when he swung that size 13 oxford my way the second time I grabbed his foot and wrenched it until his ankle sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Cuddles let out a scream that would rival Janet Leigh in the shower and when his melon hit the concrete it looked like the sledge-o-matic sketch from a bad Gallagher video. I stood over him and his eyes opened slightly. I asked him if he knew Margo Lane and he mumbled something about her passing herself off as a woman of good taste but he knew the lower priced spread when he smelled it. He made a gurgling sound and then it was off to lala land for Cuddles. As much as I wanted to snoop around the warehouse I had no idea what I was looking for and didn't want to wait for the Donner party to come back and throw me into the grinder. That left the Juke Joint down by the Merchant Marine office as my only other lead.
|The Juke Joint
Obviously there were a few things that Lionel didn't tell me and I couldn't help but notice that he had nothing to say about the little juke joint in Soho - which was a quick drive down Hudson Street.
The great thing about Harry was that he had a mouth like a foghorn for a guy that probably buys his clothes from the junior's section. I followed his voice to the back door of the Boardwalk and that's where I found our gal Margo and Harry having a discussion in the billiards room. I walked around to the front, turned the collar of my London Fog raincoat up, pulled my fedora hat down and headed through the front door. I found a seat in the bar where I could see them in the back room and looked for a prop to make me look like any other bottom feeder. I found an empty bottle of Four Roses all cozied up in a brown paper sack and before I knew it I was just another sailor getting high on nicotine and waiting for the next ship to head out. What guys on the make like Harry didn't get was if you want to draw attention to yourself, the loudest thing you can say is a whisper to someone else. Something about it cuts through the din of the world around you and grabs your attention. I couldn't make out the words but he was apologizing to her and he was doing it with a deadly seriousness. Harry got up and headed out the door and I wondered how much time I had before he found out that his guest of honor for the midnight meat grinder party had flown the coop. Nevertheless, it was time for our gal Margo to come clean.
It was a slow night at the Boardwalk which was a good thing for me. The bartender looked as useless as a bench warmer at the Special Olympics so I tossed him an extra big tip and told him I'd like a little privacy in the back room. I walked to the back and plopped myself down in the chair across the table from Margo and she looked at me like she'd just seen Elvis buying a crack pipe at an Alabama Stuckey's. "Surprised to see me?" I inquired but her face shifted gears and she started spinning a yarn so long that you could knit a sweater for King Kong out of it. Apparently, her plan to get Harry away from her little sister Trudy didn't work out so well and now she was trying to play Sherlock and find out who the killer is. The dogs were all barking but none of them were locked in the kennel with that speech so I told our favorite bitch to explain how her sweet sister Polly Purebred ended up dating the meat packer and why everyone's been using my head as a pinata ever since I got involved with it. Apparently, the Lane toy empire owns a warehouse right next door to Boyd's house of beef and when Trudy met Harry, big sister Margo has been trying to split em' up ever since. Harry was the jealous type and when I stormed into his office claiming to be Trudy's squeeze, he's the one that came up from behind me and played Santana's Greatest Hits on my head like it was a bongo. It was a semi-believable story but there was obviously a lot I wasn't being told. I was getting ready to apply some hands-on persuasion for Margo to start talking when I heard the sound of a revolver cocking behind my head.
|The Death March
The Juke Joint and the Warehouse were just a little too close to each other for my own good and when Harry left the Boardwalk he headed straight for Boyd's Beef. When he found a fat guy with a busted skull and no Private Eye, he made his way back here, got the drop on me and took my gun. "Well, if it isn't Trudy's little boyfriend" he sneered at me. "All three of us are going to get up and take a little walk out back". Nobody was in any position to argue so we all marched single file out the back door with Harry taking up the rear and concealing his gun like a Catholic Cardinal dealing with a sex scandal. He herded Margo and I down an alleyway that heads toward the Hudson River and halfway down the first block he stopped us when a big car pulled in from behind and washed us with headlights. We turned around to face Harry as the car slowly crawled up from behind him."My friend is very unhappy with you" said Harry as the car's headlights now force us to squint while Harry's silhouette looked all the more menacing. When the engine suddenly roared and the car lunged forward all I could think about was the chalk pattern that my mangled body was going to leave after they scraped it off the asphalt. When Harry saw the fear in my eyes, the maniacal smile on his face changed to worry and he quickly swung around to face the car but he only had enough time to kiss the grill as it mowed him down. Margo jumped one way, I went the other and the vehicle missed us like a 7-10 split. As it passed I could clearly see that the Walrus Man was behind the wheel. For a grossly overweight beef fetishist, he drove that car as well as any Hollywood stuntman and spun it back around like one of the Duke boys jacked up on meth. There was no way to outrun him and nothing to hide behind. I was just about to see if unaided human flight was a possibility when Margo pulls this cannon out of her purse and starts blasting holes in the car like a lawyer on a bad alibi. The Walrus Man suddenly lost control and when the car sideswiped the wall it flipped, rolled and came to a halt right in front of us.
I pulled the Walrus Man out of the car and it looked like he was dead before the car stopped moving - Margo had nailed him in the forehead and created a glory hole big enough to keep Jeffrey Dahmer busy for a week. I found his wallet and pulled out a USDA Meat Inspector's identification card for Edward Delbruck and I suddenly realized that there must be a third wheel for this tricycle and the ace in the hole must be the person who got me involved in the first place. Unfortunately for me, that card was standing right behind me and it was a little lady with a large gun. She had looked at Harry so adoringly in the Juke Joint but she didn't even flinch when he got run down in front of us like a Labrador on the freeway. "So, have you finally figured it out Mr Private Eye?" she said sarcastically. By this time she had already cleaned off the first gun, tossed it next the crumpled body of Harry and had another impressive piece of firepower covering me. "Let's continue our pleasant evening stroll down to the Hudson River, shall we?" she said and motioned me to start moving back down the alleyway. I realized that I only had a couple of city blocks left to weasel my way out of this bird's nest before we ended up at New York's favorite garbage disposal. "You shouldn't have even made it this far but I guess you did manage to help me get rid of a few more problems than I originally hired you for." She was getting really cocky now, clearly enjoying having me at her mercy and that's when everything started getting clearer. With both a meat packer and inspector involved it was obvious that some soylent beef was being ground up and the unsavory ingredient had to be tied to the toy maker's daughter. I probably started looking like a cat trying to piss in the corner of a round room so she finally started spilling the beans to let me off the hook - she was going to kill me anyway.
|The Lady Gunsel Speaks
"Being a toy distributor these days means doing business with China" she said reflectively. While on a purchasing junket a few years back, Margo bumped into a man in Shanghai unsuccessfully trying to sell a play-doh-like substance that smelled and tasted just like Angus beef. It had no nutritional value and some minor side effects when consumed but a little dash of Melamine and it passed all the USDA tests. Being young and aggressive, she secured ownership of the product and produced boatloads of the stuff in China for pennies on the pound. After wiggling her buns at Harry, she found a place to stick the fake beef and together they were cutting the real hamburger 50/50 with the stuff and making a mint in the process. The Walrus man was a meat inspector that rubber stamped the operation and provided the establishment codes for the fake beef to make it all legitimate. Everything was running like clockwork until younger sister Trudy started dating Harry and caught wind of the scam. Trudy threatened to blow the whistle on the whole enchilada and tell daddy if she didn't get a cut - that's when sibling rivalry took over and Margo decided to make her move. Getting rid of Trudy meant more inheritance money for Margo but she wasn't satisfied with just getting rid of her sister. She had learned how to fake the USDA codes by repeatedly dropping her pencil in front of the Walrus Man until he succumbed and showed her the tricks of the trade. She'd already cozied up to anyone who's anybody at Boyd's Beef so she didn't need Harry around anymore either. Margo manipulated Harry's jealousy issues by planting some choice seeds in his head and paying me to barge into his office and look like Trudy's secret lover. She was also the one that got her sister to arrive at the warehouse right after Harry and the Walrus Man were done dancing on my head. After Trudy walked into the office and got confronted by Harry, she denied knowing who I was, so the boys took a little trip to my apartment. After ripping my place apart they found a faked photo of my fictional relationship with Trudy that Margo had neatly planted after she hired me. Harry flipped out, killed Trudy and decided to pin the rap on me. Fortunately, these clowns were meat peddlers and not mafia dons, so they botched the frame job in the motel room and left the match book behind in my apartment. The final trick was Margo convincing the Walrus Man that she had the hots for him and that Harry was planning a double cross which would send him into the meat grinder right after me. She played everyone right down to the end and after she was done with me, the whole dirty operation was going to be all hers.
|The City That Never Sleeps
In this neighborhood, nobody is on the street after dark and if you screamed for help on a summer night you'd probably hear windows slamming shut. This is the city that doesn't sleep but it won't mind pretending for a few minutes when people are taking care of business. It didn't take long for her to guide me to a pier near the Holland Tunnel and walk me out to the edge. I had enough time to turn around, watch her raise the gun and carefully aim for my forehead before I heard the shot and saw a chunk of the back of her head pop into the air like a wide right field goal attempt in overtime. Margo went down more stylish than any Kennedy I'd ever seen but when she hit the ground I saw something that was as welcome as a box of candy in a diabetic ward - Madigan with a rifle and a big smile on his face. It turns out that someone had called the cops and tipped them off to a batch of contaminated beef at Boyd's. The caller even provided an establishment code for the tainted product, "EST. 19336". It sounded like Lionel either wasn't very happy with the last bottle that Harry bought him or felt bad about setting up such a loyal repeat customer like myself. Either way, when Harry left "Boyd's" the last time he just missed Madigan who raided the warehouse with every agency he could throw at it. Then Madigan came looking for Harry at the Boardwalk after he didn't arrest him at the warehouse and that's when he found the trail of bloody footprints walking away from the bodies of Harry and the Walrus Man - which seemed to head straight for the river. Even Madigan could solve a case with such a cliché' ending as this but that didn't stop the reporters from making sure to spell his name right or prevent Madigan from playing follow the bouncing ball as he doled out his personal ABC's like a grade school teacher to a bunch of kids. Meanwhile, it was time for me to head back to the office.
It's a tough job sticking your nose where nobody wants it except for the person paying you. Sometimes you smell things that you'll never forget. I spent a day stuck in a pair of moldy cheeks and the smell was going to stick to me for awhile. I did make a day's wage but I have to wonder if all the continuous blows to my head will come back and haunt me one day. At least while I was in the meatpacking district I was able to get some discounted ground beef for dirt cheap. On Broadway you have to stretch a dollar as far as you can throw a day-old doughnut to make ends meet, that's why I do whatever it takes to make a buck. That's why I'm a private eye, just like it says on the door to my office.