I first ran into the dame a week past forever in an upscale five-and-dime drop that had more glittering dresses than Las Vegas.
She was looking to pick up a dress of her own called "I'm-doing-better-than-you-now" and if hair had to be pulled to take it home, she was the gal to do it. She coyed me up and I pulled a black number off a rack that was a size too small for my comfort and had more beads than could fill a pair of maracas. She put it on and asked what I thought.
"Baby, you play that dress like Ricky Ricardo can play the Salsa."
She smiled a smile that sent sailors to their ships and then on down to sail with Davy Jones, himself. I knew this was bad-news riding the rails into town, only there were no outbound express lines to hop. There was only one thing for me to do, find a new black suit fit for a funeral, mine.
I tried to lay-low in my safe-house the rest of the week. Unfortunately, she knew my address.
Yesterday barged into my life like a bill-collector looking to flip a mark. I could see trouble coming down the hall and was determined to hide. I had made the mistake of not locking my office door. It was wide open and try as I might, Noir's footsteps raced louder down the hall then the keys of my keyboard, pounding out my last will and testament.
She slid into the room and slow-spun like a record about to get played. She wore her dress well. It clung to her like a hungry baby. She said it was called a cocktail dress, and I told her it was called a felony in my line of work. The deep v-split down the center of her chest was like a storm-cloud at midnight parting a full moon. Who needs the sun with that kind of view. And the rhinestones on her high-heeled shoes glittered like stars on a rippled moon-kissed lake. "Keep on walking baby, I'm on stakeout," I thought.
"It's time. You up to the job?"
"Baby, I would rather die under the Port waters with blocks of concrete to keep my feet warm than provide muscle for the pain your going to bring on tonight."
She cocked her head in a way that said she could just as well be cocking a pistol. She aimed her gaze at me. Hard. Steady. This girl knew trouble and she was looking to dance with it tonight. By bullet or strong-arm battery, I was going down for the count tonight and about to take one for the team.
She purred, "It's your funeral, either way," and blew me a kiss.
I put my new death-suit on. At least it would save time for the morticians later. My time was up. I picked a Lilly for my lapel.
Somewhere outside I heard a jazz band playing a funeral dirge. They must have blown into town from the storm in New Orleans. Now there was new hurricane brewing in town, and all that relocated brass was finally getting a chance to be useful.
I tossed my badge aside. Where we were going tonight, having a tin-badge on my body was almost as much trouble as having Noir in my pockets.
I grabbed a roll of quarters. They could bail me out of jail if any dames got too close, and if I didn't need them, the parking-meters would be happy to take them later.
We got into my black car which might as well been a hearse. At least it would have come with a coffin.
Noir smiled at me as I motored deep into the heart of darkness, the City on the Bayou. Sure it was a valley of mirrored-glass mountain peaks and granite mausoleums, but under all that flash was iron and steel. Kept rust-free with an undercurrent of oil. It was all about Power. Money. And lots of it.
None of it was going into my pockets tonight, and Bayou City didn't hesitate to remind me of it. I'd rather be working the ports than working the carpet tonight.
Noir chatted on as we pulled into the grand hotel. The whole way in, she prepped me on the case and the likely suspects better than a judge reading Al Capone's rapsheet. It was thin on paper, but held a lot of excess baggage. Forget having the G-Men as backup. They would be useless in this joint. I needed Charlie Company and all the grit, grime and guns they could provide. The big kinds that go "bang" and the other side doesn't get up from again.
I gave up my keys to the valet and watched hopelessly as my last avenue for exit flew off in a squeal of tires.
We passed through the glass doors and my head swam. I'd blame it on the revolving door, but I've been through them before and most times have handled it just fine. I think it was the joint. It was like a smokes-girl, you'd never take her home, but she sure manages to distract you from the game most of the night, always offering her poison dished up with a smile and a wink.
And I quickly realized the game was on. A crowd had gathered to watch it. It was a real fight. My gut was telling me Texas was in for a lashing by Ohio, or maybe that I ate too many Bratwurst earlier in the day. It was difficult to tell.
Noir pulled at me like a tug hauling a tramp-freighter. She steered towards a set of stairs. Was she leading me towards heaven or hell?
As I climbed them with Noir, I caught sight of an angel of white in gold at the top.
I asked her where Peter was. She said he went to the bathroom and left her waiting. Damn. I was in Hell.
The room seemed small enough to hold a zoo. Good thing. Noir immediately spotted a gang of female gorillas and they were tearing through the forest scrub to reach us faster than monkeys on Carmen Miranda's trademark Latin fruit hat. I reached for my roll of quarters, but Noir whispered for me to keep them in my pocket for now. I braced for the impact.
In the high-pitched squeals of piglets getting scrambled with eggs, they traded their information. One of the dames was about to spill more than information. She was dishing up two generous scoops of melon flavored ice-cream that refused to stay in their serving bowls. Fortunately, I was on the job with Noir and I had left my pink plastic spoon in my desk.
I remained focused on Noir like the beams of sun through a magnifying glass over ants on the sidewalk. Smoking and popping, baby. The race was on, full-throttle.
The food was fine. Though there was way more rabbit food than bloody cow in my book. And not a potato in sight. There were more longnecks in the room than in an Texas ice-house. Only the sawdust was missing from the red-carpeted floor...or was that blood?
The music sounded 20 years too old for my tastes. Had more mold on it than bad blue-cheese left in a trunk for two years from eternity out under the blistering desert sun. And the fish just weren't biting on the dance floor, they were flopping for breath.
Halfway through the night, Noir left my orbit so I sat at a round-table larger than King Arthur's with a pair of friendly knights trading jousting stories. "Anybody got a sword to run me through?" I asked Nobody in particular. It was OK, since Nobody was listening back.
I found the lone barman and asked him if he had any good lines. He said "Texas over Ohio" and "Tulane over Houston." He also told me to try the odds on the line, "Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?"
I could tell he was serving bad beer and the foam wasn't just in the glasses. His lines stank like skunk baking on the roadside. It was a bad-smell you just couldn't wash off.
The old footballers just kept getting drunker, the glam-girls kept getting skinnier, the band crowd kept on marching to their own beat. And all the others just kept watching and taking license-plate numbers like the undercover detectives trolling the parking-lot outside Bugsy's casino. Many a pen and pencil died a quick death this night.
I kept a constant eye on Noir through the crowd. It wasn't hard to do. She sparkled and glowed like the Crown Jewels on display.
A waiter who was dressed like the captain of the tramp steamship Love Boat kept bringing me cups of Joe to visit with and wore a glazed expression that would be seven-days beyond worthless in picking a thug out of a lineup down at the precinct.
I wasn't in a ritzy hotel. No, this was a swanky art-museum and the attendees were Rubenesque paintings walking around on display for all the eyes in the room to feast on, like ribs at a tailgate party.
A poor mark got confused and thought they were Alexia Trebek and came up too close to me, like a hand on a hot burner getting into Jeopardy. Asked me who I was.
"I'm with Noir over there. This is her party and I'm just muscle."
I must not have answered in the form of a question clear enough, Trebek wasn't satisfied.
"What do you do? What class were you in. I don't remember seeing you."
"I pound stuff Mister Symantec and Mister McAfee miss. Make sure bad-guys and thugs don't ruin your party, and do some detective work on the side. I'm the kind of doctor you go to when you don't want somebody to get well anymore. And I do it on the cheap under authority of the State. Tonight, I'm doing muscle as a favor for Noir. Want to make sure she gets back home safe, and let her show me off like Oscar from the Academy."
Trebek must not have heard the buzzer I just rang.
"I thought you looked like James Bond. What class were you in, again?"
She was pushing just a little harder and sounded like her nose needed to be wiped. I spelled it out for her, old-school kindergarten style.
"That's Sam Spade to you, not a prissy Englishboy who can't count past ten. I didn't come from your class. The class I kept came from the other side of the tracks. Down by the docks, not up on the hill. Where the smell couldn't turn your noses up at us, because they were already pointed that way to begin with."
Her face snapped faster than Jess Willard getting clocked by Jack Dempsey. I thought maybe I had swung too hard there, but suddenly felt a hand snake around my hips from behind like a feather boa sliding off Josephine Baker in front of an audience of spoiled and hungry Frenchmen.
Trouble had just came sailing into port.
Noir's eyes were burning a flaming torch that even Lady Liberty herself couldn't have held. Noir's smile said "sweet" but her eyes said "leave." Noir could make Cleopatra's asp tremble in fear and refuse to bite.
"I think it's time to leave," she purred. How long had we been there? Three, four hours?
The roll of quarters in my pocket cashed themselves in and became a roll of dimes. I'd already lost enough dough baking up donuts preparing for this case, and wasn't in the mood to lose more silver standing here. Noir alone had enough on her. Now if I could just get her back to the bank without being mugged.
I cut a path through the still heavy crowd like Batman through the Penguin's stooges. We descended from hell back into heaven on earth. I was on the ground-floor again and felt five-stories taller already.
The valet returned my car with a little less rubber on the tires. Now I knew how Cameron Frye must have felt getting his old-man's Ferrari back from the parking garage attendants. I reached into my pocket to pull out my roll of dimes for the valet.
Noir purred darkly cute again, "Keep those, we may need them later tonight", and kept my hand in my pocket. Instead she slowly peeled off her sheer shoulder wrap like the skin coming off a ripe banana. The valet must have considered the account paid-in-full. He tossed me the keys and ran. Smart kid.
I drove her back to my office down by the docks. The dimes were becoming quarters again, and Noir was ready to play bank-teller.
I turned to Noir and asked, "Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?"
"Once was enough for me, Sam."
I grinned a wicked grin....
Happy 20th high-school reunion, Lavie. You wear Noir well. And it was my pleasure watching your back for the night.
--ClausWith grateful thanks to:
Dashiell HammettJack DempseyJosephine BakerDavy Jones' Locker - WikipediaThe Most Complete and Most Useless Collection of Pick-up LinesPeter Paul Rubens - WikipediaFerris Bueller's Day Off - WikipediaFilm Noir, 10 Shades of Noir, Film Noir MTI Paperback Covers, Pulp Fiction on flickr, and Russell James: So You Want to Write Noir?