O N E F O R T H E B O O K S
“Yeah,” says my cotton mouth.
“Crane, sorry about the time.”
You’ve been sorry before, Hotcakes.
“Your winning ticket’s dead.”
“Booth. Dead as the proverbial doornail. One nasty hole through the temple.”
I scratch my forehead. Yawn.
“Hawkins gonna pay you a visit. He’ll want to know what you know about your client Booth. Which is pretty much nothing, so get your pants on.”
Walter Johnson Booth. President of Booth Industries. “Name your price, Mr. Crane.” That Booth. Only a week ago in my office he came to me looking grim. Desperate. I thought to myself, Okay, the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first World Series yesterday and he’s one pissed-off Yankees fan. I frame the smiling, game-winning pitcher Johnny Podres in my head and together we both toss back a scotch for Brooklyn. Then I give a quick look around at my dingy office, dress down my face into a scowl of disgust. The pastel-green peeling wall, the chipped desk, the very un-Persian rug fraying at our feet.
I throw a glance at Hotcakes, Betty-Grable gams crossed, dictation pad on her kneecaps. My price? What the hell.
“Thirty Big Ones, as in $30K’s,” I tell him. Maybe it’s the drink I toasted with Podres making me dumb-headed.
He ups the ante. “Forty, Mr. Crane,” then offers his hand to shake on it. I wait for that same hand to sign the check.
Booth walks to the door. “Find her,” he says without unlocking his stone jaw.
A week beating the bushes uncovering not even a hint of a rattler’s hiss and feeling damn guilty about the easy 40K, I get this wake-up call Booth is dead. Mrs. Crane––Ava Dell Crane––was still missing. Maybe at large. For a short second I miss the old days in the 40’s when I was Horvath Blatsmore, a Woolworth’s Five-and-Dime store manager in Hackensack, New Jersey. Bored to the bone. Hungry for the fireworks of a life on the edge. The cold-steel feel against my palm. But it was 1955 and the twinge of nostalgia was just that––a twinge. Horvath Blatsmore and I wave a mental goodbye in the Woolworth’s parking lot.
When the phone rings again minutes later, I pick it up. “Crane here.” I can hear someone breathing. “Crane here,” I repeat, then do a little breathing of my own as I inhale and exhale on my seventh Chesterfield of the new day.
I keep the phone plastered at my ear. If a private eye is anything, he’s patient. I hang in and wait. I light another from a nearly empty pack when I hear a voice soft as morning fog say, “I didn’t kill my husband.”
“Ava Dell,” I say without a question mark, like we’re old school chums from Hackensack High.
Now Booth’s widow sniffles back tears. Patience, Crane. Patience. Finally, in spurts and pauses, she lets it all out. “Mr. Crane, I know my husband hired you to track me down. He said if I ever ran off…Mr. Crane, my husband was a dreadful man!” Pause.
“Dreadful how?” I say, yanking us free of silence.
“Oh, he had money. Rockefeller? Walter could buy and sell ten Rockefellers! But I never saw a Mercury-dime of it. He paid me in black-and-blue. Bruises. All over me except where neighbors could see and wonder. Longer pause. “But they’ll fade. Someday.”
The gumshoe in me flashes “MOTIVE” in huge neon lights. Ava gets rid of Walter. No more beatings. Goodbye fear. A pocketbook the size of Fort Knox to help her forget.
Jump in, Crane. The water’s fine.
“Okay, you leave him. He hires me to find you and bring you back home. No luck there. Instead, you find me. Is that right, Mrs. Booth?”
Silence. Maybe Ava nods.
“Now the blue boys want answers. Who put the bullet in Booth’s head? Who was most likely to gain from a Booth stone-cold dead? Now I pause, then add, “Afraid that’d be you, Ava Dell.”
I return the dead receiver to its cradle. Case closed. Now Hawkins at the precinct can work his investigative magic, track down the elusive widow with a gun and give justice its due.
What the hell… Another round of rings. This time I wait for Mrs. Booth or Hotcakes or Hawkins to lead off. A little silence from me.
“Don’t hang up on me again, Mrs. Booth. Where are you?” In my head I’ve been asking that question for a week now. “Where are you, Ava Dell? Make it easy for yourself.”
Outside my flat the morning sun pokes its yellow in between the blinds. The Irish fruit-and-vegetable vendor stands beside his truck and greets the new day with a hollering roll- call brogue of the new day’s specials. “Watermelons, peaches, Concord grapes, potatoes.”
“He was having an affair,” Mrs. Booth says, twice sidestepping my question of her whereabouts. “A big-eyed blond who wanted all his money.”
“I was hiding from Walter, but from her too. Me, dead, she marries him. Then Walter, dead, she gets it all.”
I’m confused. Booth paid me $40 G’s to find her. Why? So he can kill her?
“He wanted you back,” I tell her. “Could it be he loved you? I mean he paid me a bundle to…”
Ava Dell practically growls out, “They wanted me dead!”
“So why was your husband murdered? What you’re saying don’t make sense. Only you as his widow stood to rake in his millions. No contracts out there to say different. Come up with a scenario I can believe in.”
Ava Dell isn’t done. Now the two of us are puffing cigs into our mouthpieces. And speaking of mouthpieces, this dame was gonna need a damn good one.
“Maybe Walter missed beating up women,” Ava says. “Maybe his new punching bag wasn’t up to taking it, money or not.”
I scratch my forehead again. Lame-brain Crane. Where the hell was Hawkins?
We stop the chit-chat this time with quick goodbyes.
The phone’s gonna ring again, I convince myself. I frown and smile when it does.
“Yeah, I got the news already. Big Bucks Booth’s dead. The widow’s been calling me a few times since five this morning. We shot the bull. Says she ain’t the gun.”
“She’s not. We got witnesses. How easy this gonna be, Crane?
So Ava Dell was on the up and up. Brooklyn’s 66th Precinct wonder boy Burt Hawkins cleared her. He had the real deal down at headquarters.
“The killer?” Hawkins asks.
“Booth’s new squeeze. Big-busted blond named Chrissy Lincoln.”
Crap this crazy never happened at Woolworth‘s. First the Dodgers upset the odds and take the Series from New York. Then my phone makes a play for most phone calls on a single Thursday in October for the Guinness Book of Records 1955. Now for the crowning kabosh: Lincoln shoots Booth! What the hell was next?
At last a quiet moment. A Chesterfield clamped between my lips, I think of the Bahamas. Bronze beauties strutting their assets on the hot sand. I think, “Crane, Private Eye” stenciled on the glass door of my new triple-sized office.
I tap the butt of my .38 Special sitting snug in my shoulder holster. It’s there to save my life. Then I reach into my side jacket pocket and run my fingers over my bank book, more than $40 Grand fat, and visions of sugarplums dance in my head.
© 2012 NOIR Author ~ SALVATORE BUTTACI
Cold crimes for Jump-Jivin' January NOIR ~ AT THE BIJOU
AND WHY DO WE READ HIM?
Salvatore Amico M. Buttaci is a retired English teacher who has been writing since childhood. By his own jovial admission, Sal's an obsessive-compulsive writer, whose work continues to proliferate widely. His first published work, an essay entitled “Presidential Timber,” appeared in the Sunday New York News when he was sixteen. Since then his poems, letters, short stories, and articles have been widely published in The New York Times, Newsday, U.S.A. Today, The Writer, Writer's Digest, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Cats Magazine, Thinking Ten, Pen 10, Six Sentences and elsewhere in America and overseas.
Buttaci is the former editor of New Worlds Unlimited, and of Poetidings, the newsletter of the New Jersey Poetry Society, Inc. Along those stanzas, Sal was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-Wit Poetry Award. He has lectured on Sicilian-American pride and conducts poetry workshops and readings. I salute Sal heartily as the finest 'Godfather of Authors' aboard the soon sailing HARBINGER*33, manifesting destinies. His spirit and encouragement is the stuff of legends and laughter. One can see the twinkle in Sal's eye come through just in how he scribes a note your way. Inspirationally, romantically and oh so enjoyably, our bountiful Buttaci lives in West Virginia with his sweetheart of a wife, Sharon.
|Ms Sophia Loren |
backstage AT THE BIJOU
when she heard her great
paison Salvatore was
selling books, sexy.
“I think the quality of sexiness comes from within. It is something that is in you or it isn't and it really doesn't have much to do with breasts or thighs or the pout of your lips.”
~ Sophia Loren, knowing sex sells
. . . wishing to soar Sal's sales
Not sure what you'll say, if you judge Sal's book by its cover but the bountiful Buttaci will come right up to you on the streetcorner and ask you, "Say, why haven't you bought my book yet?"
You can't have Sal's pride without having Sal's sensational successes with the manner words move soul:
Sal's latest collection of short-short fiction, 200 Shorts, is available in book and Kindle editions at Amazon.
In 2001, Pudding House Publications included his work in the Greatest Hits Series with his chapbook, Greatest Hits: 1970-2000. Buttaci's book, A Family of Sicilians … is available, where else?
At the ever enterprising Buttaci Publishing.
Three authors who made an impression on what he calls
The Buttaci Writing Style are ~
Ray Bradbury . . . Frederic Brown . . . Philip Jose Farmer
Ciao, grazie mille Salvatore!
Ti voglio bene ~
and our ritzy staff
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