I was challenged on Romance Divas this week to write a story a’la 1930’s noir fiction. The challenge was:
Your story should include the following: a dirty taxi, a missing councilman, a Dick Tracy watch (radio included), and should take place in the 1930’s.
Here, then, in honor of Flash Fiction Friday, is my story. I think it might work out to be a Chapter One in a possible novel; what do you think? Shall we continue? Read on and decide for yourself. (I should warn you, because of the time period, there is profanity and racism in the writing, so please don’t continue if you’re not comfortable with either.)
Taxis these days are abysmal. God damned pig-shit Irish think they run the place, and they can’t even keep the damn taxis clean. Damn Cermak, anyway, for getting shot when it should have been Roosevelt. World’s Fair comes here, you’d think they’d clean up the damn things.
“Move it!” my driver shouted out the window, his cigarette in danger of landing his lap. He shook his fist at some Black kid trundling a huge cart of flat cardboard boxes from sidewalk to sidewalk, wrestling the dumb thing up the eighteen-inch curb.
Progress. That’s what they call it in the papers. Just an excuse to beat up on the little guy, like always.
“Go left at the next street,” I told the driver.
“Look, buddy, you really don’t want –”
“Just do it!”
God damned pig-shit Irish, thinking they’re better than good honest Americans. Come over here with their potato famine and their accents and think they run the place. Stupid Cermak; why’d you leave us like this?
“Let me out here.”
The driver’s blue eye gazed at me in the mirror, his disagreement plain on his freckled Irish face. His nose didn’t show the signs yet, but they’re all drinkers. Irish whiskey, Scotch, it didn’t matter. They say God invented the stuff so the Irish would never win a war.
And now they’re in my town. Thanks a lot!
I got out around the corner from forty-seventh, smack in the Black Belt. Lieutenant Dziedziecz thought I was nuts for coming here, but here is where the witness lived.
“You’re a nice White boy, and Polish to boot, Lapinsky. How you gonna go to the Black Belt at night and find a tinker’s damn in the place without getting shot or worse? The Councilman sure as shit ain’t in the Black Belt, for Christsakes!”
“You wanna find the Alderman, or not?” Dziedziecz came from New York, by way of Poughkeepsie. Couldn’t get it through that brick he called a brain that Chicago had Aldermen, New York had Councilmen.
He kicked me out of his office with his characteristic profanity, and I gave as good as I got.
There are benefits to being a gumshoe and not a cop, chief among these is I don’t have to take shit from a Pollock no matter how rich he was. Still came from Warsaw, or at least his pop did, same as me.
My watch chimed and I glared down at it. A Dick Tracy radio watch, the genuine article! My kid bought it for me as a birthday gift last month. God damned comic book hero, and my kid thinks that’s what I do for a living. I’d leave the thing at home but the wife says it makes me a better father.
Because of a watch?
The bar I wanted was three doors down. And I mean down – the thing lived in the basement of a three-storey brick number. The three-flat housed two famous Black Jazz musicians and what was reputed to be a famous Black madam, but I didn’t care about that. I wanted the bar.
The hulking bouncers loitering by the cast iron fence and smoking promised to interfere with that plan…
I pulled out a cigarette and approached. “Got a light?”
The one closer to me turned to get a better look at me and then stared. “Lapinsky?”
“Joe Brown? What the Hell you doin’ all the way down here? I thought you was going to Los Angles!” I lit my own damned cigarette, since neither of them showed any sign of doing it.
“Los Angeles,” Brown drawled, spreading out the syllables like a Spaniard. “When you gonna learn another language besides Panglish?”
His buddy made a sound somewhere between a cough and a snort and covered his mouth with one huge black fist. If he could have turned red, he would have. Hell, maybe he did; with the night around us, Hell if I could tell if Black skin reddened.
“What are you doin’ here, man?” Brown asked me. “This is Reggie.”
Reggie nodded but said nothing, so I sketched a salute in his direction. “I’m lookin’ for the Alderman. Word is, your Bartender could help me.”
Reggie straightened, no longer blushing. Brown motioned him back and he hesitated, then leaned against the fence again. Except this time, I had his undivided attention.
“Police send you?” Brown wanted to know.
“I told Dziedziecz where I was going.” I paused. “He said I’d get my ass shot off.”
Brown laughed, a loud bray of sound that echoed through the street even over the sounds of Jazz coming from the place on the corner. “You might at that, you crazy Pollock. You might at that.”
I narrowed my eyes. “That mean you’ll let me in?”
Brown glanced at Reggie, who shrugged. He turned back to me. “Yeah. You can go on in. Ask for Marve.”
“And Pollock,” Brown added, “be careful.”
Great. First the Lieutenant and now Brown. You’d think I was shakin’ down Capone’s place or something, and not some Black dive bar in the middle of the Black Belt.
Progress, my ass.
I took a final drag on my cigarette and tossed it into the gutter. The steps led down to a black door. Here’s hoping they led up again.