“I’m sorry to say this kind of a disappearance isn’t entirely foreign to me, Mrs. Maguire.”
I tilted my own tumbler upright to gulp its dregs. Feeling a quick lift from the drink, I found myself staring across my desk at this sobbing broad, and I noticed how snug her dress fit around her conch-shaped hips.
“Obviously the first thing I tried was to call the police,” she said.
“Right. The local boys-in-blue -- forget about it.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
Jarred by her apparent incredulity, I stared at her, and crumpled my cigarette in my bronze frown-shaped ashtray. I leaned towards her a bit; she leaned in too, as if we were about to share a secret. For me, that gesture cinched her ignorance as the genuine article, and not some kind of kidding or a rouse, so I continued:
“You see these two-timing badge-tout-ers every Thursday, creeping around the docks, lending cover for bootleggers as big as Warren Starbuckington or Indiana “Indie” Brooks-Lynn. Each of the docks-creeping cops gets a cut themselves, see?”
“Oh... yes. I see,” said the doll-faced dame as she deflated into her chair. But some damsel in distress doesn’t get much of a rise out of me. Or at least not like it did; I used to have a soft spot. Now I have gonorrhea.
“Look here, Mrs. Maguire. Whether it’s for some dough or some Spice, it seems like all five boroughs are hooked. And the police are no exception. They’re about as much use as a wet match."
So (I thought to myself) another man takes fall for the Fall-drink, eh? The Prohibition on Pumpkin Spice has left a lot of watery-eyes wives looking for husbands that were long dead, down deep in the East River wearing their working-stiff suits and cement shoes. And it’s only been two years.
“So what should we do about this?” Mrs. Maguire asked, breaking the silence.
I look a long drag from my cigarette and let the smoke billow slowly out of my nostrils like a pair of entranced cobras.
“The same problems always present, see? You’ve got enough toil and trouble from just the stuff itself. It’s usually bathtub-mixed swill, cut with yams and sometimes things as rotten as gasoline and amaretto.”
Mrs. Maguire let out a sort of yelping sound. Without a word, I poured her another glass, and then continued:
“And then of course there are the hoodlums themselves, mostly lousy Mcs and the like, who have answered the call.”
“The call to what?”
“Well," I said, annoyed. What wasn't she understanding? "Obviously, the call to quench the public’s insatiable autumnal thirst. Sure, it's illegal. But that hasn't stopped anyone from wanting it, and it certainly hasn't stopped anyone from getting it. I’m afraid it’s a very bad scene, Mrs. Maguire."
"There’s... there's just so much flannel.”
"Oh, I know."
“So what can we do about this?” she asked officiously. I thought she must be emboldened by the Spice.
“Look, Mrs. Maguire. This isn’t easy to say. It never is. But…”
“What? What is it now? Oh, just tell me! Please! ”
Alright, that's the way you want to play it then? Fine. No sugar, here's the medicine, the straight dope:
"Sure, the papers all say we're starting to win the fight, that Demon Spice is nearly vanquished. But the way I see it, there's more of it pumping through Americans’ veins than ever. There's more spice-easies in the Village than there were ever taverns or saloons in all of New York."
"But... what does that mean?"
"It means you can forget about it being ‘seasonal,' doll."
I lit a cigarette.
"In one way or another, the sweet gourd-y nectar makes victims of us all.”
With one still dangling from my lip, I lit two more cigarettes and stuck them both up my nostrils; I looked like a walrus. Needless to say I was very stressed. When I'm stressed, I am the walrus.
I am the walrus...on the street, it was called by many names: the squash stuff, Hallow’s Eve tipple, autumn hooch, or just THE SPICE. But that’s where I come in... I am the walrus.
Then, the elegant locomotive that was my thoughts stopped dead in its tracks -- the stupid girl had started talking again.
“Please!” she begged. “Why are you just staring out the window and softly mouthing words to yourself? It’s very strange indeed! Are you talking like some kind of omnipotent narrator?"
I considered this. Or I meant to, but she kept talking.
"And why are you wearing that trench coat inside? For God’s sake, how many cigarettes can a single man have on his person? AND WHY DON’T YOU HAVE BETTER LIGHTING IN AN OFFICE? Presumably you read in here -- it’s lit like a boudoir! Or a birthday party for Nosferatu! ”
I looked at her a moment, this silly, down-on-her-luck broad. I didn’t say anything, and felt my lack of contribution to be inherently masculine. Oog, I thought. Oog.
“Calm down now, sweetheart,” I said. “Don’t make a scene now. I don’t want to have to slap some calm into you. How about another drink?”
“Thank you,” she said. I do hope you might be able to help me. I’m so very worried, Mr. Barnes.”
So there we were. All she brought for me were deep pockets and shallow heart, both of which were no doubt thanks to the very husband she said was missing. Then I again realized I was talking aloud. A bad habit to be sure, but an entirely necessary plot device -- the sort of thing broads would just never understand.
“What in Heaven are you talking about?” she asked as she flinched from hot whips of panic. “Oh deary me gracious golly gee! Does this have anything to do anything?”
He was there with us, of course. His disappearance was the matter that brought her through my door. I could feel Mr. Maguire hanging thick in the air, caught up with the gray haze of bitter smoke.
“Yes, of course it does. Now, I assume you’ve come here today so I track down your husband?”
“What? Hell no! Now gimme some more o’dat Spice! And an Afghan blanket! And an actual Afghan! Yes, bring them to me! Away from the desert! Because Fall is here, betch! And this time I want to go to brunch with people who will actually appreciate it!"
"I think... I think you may've had too much Spice, Mrs. Maguire."
"Screw you! I just needed your phone! Hello? Operator? Yes, get me Afghanistan!"
Before I could stop her, she reached into her ample cleavage, which concealed a Sig Sauer P238 pistol, one of those handy scorpions with a needle-dick barrel; always beware buxom broads, I thought to myself. You know this.
Her wide eyes no longer reminded me of Bambi. Before I had time to spin a grim analogy, she shot me twice, stole my container of Spice, and stormed out with a cackle like cold syrup.
It started to rain. I lit a cigarette.
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John Marshall is a part of the sad boiz clique (UWS), and makes turtlenecks for giraffes in his spare time. Follow him down alleyways.
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