Thursday, January 21, 2010

AN UNLIKELY PARTNER ~ By Anthony Venutolo of Harbinger*33

An Unlikely Partner
By ~ Anthony Venutolo

AT THE BIJOU's first TALKIE! Click. Hear. Up above, Anthony's SpeakEasy sets mood, holds tone. Oh yeah.

This didn't feel right. My partners were late and I kept thinking it could have been for a thousand different reasons and all of them bad. Our job was done and this should feel like the home stretch, but things can quickly go south and get hotter than a $3 pistol.

The lacquer cracker on the jukebox kept skipping so I told that corn-fed giant-of-a-barkeep to unplug that hunk-of-junk once and for all or find something worth playing. Besides, it wasn't the time for the rah-rahs of wartime propaganda.

 "This is a tavern, Bubb. We don't house stiffs here. We need music," Barkeep grumbled.

I flipped a nickel at him. "Then go find something quiet... An onion ballad sung by that skinny twerp..." 

Lighting my Chesterfield, I enjoyed the ivory-twinkling of the song and for a small moment I felt calm. The tonsil-paint was doing its job. I asked Barkeep for another one.

"Leave the bottle..." I told him, waving him off just in case he started gabbing again. I needed to think. Think about my partners. Think about which of 'em even deserved their share of the cabbage to begin with. Think about how I could hop a freight with the dough and no one would see this two-bit newsman again. I liked the sound of that.

I was clearly doing next week’s drinking early and realized that was my problem. The scotch was going down easy because the hooch was old enough to vote. I always went top shelf for almost everything and craving those finer things is what got me here.

And just where was here? I managed to get a tip from one of my sports writers that the fix was in. He said Parks was gonna take a dive in the fifth round and if I had the sense of a billygoat, I'd take every clam I owned and bet big.

I needed an Average Joe to lay down the bet come fight night and some shape-in-a-drape to collect afterwards. Being that I was the one who supplied the tip, my job was done. And even though I had my reservations, there were only two I figured could help me pull it off.


When I met her, she was working at some dime-grind palace in Atlantic City, hustling GIs for a nickel a dance. I was back from The Pacific and like those other schnooks, she got me hot in the zipper as well. The eyes. That hair. Her smell... A perfect mix of sandalwood and rose. Fast-forward and not much has changed. The soldiers in gin mills have now become out-of-towners with leather attaches and all of ‘em at some point wind up screwed, blued and tattooed. 

While my day gig was that of a city editor, my connections would land me small hustles on the side - nothing major, but enough for her to enjoy that high life and me to have the perfect cufflink on my arm. We lasted about three years and there wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t get me all steamed up like a pants presser. At the end of the day, though, she was wine and I was rye. And you know what they say: Never mix the grain and the grape. 

As for the Clyde pressing our bet, he was some cub in the newsroom that was greener than spinach. He looked like apple pie and after a few finskes, I told him that he’d get a fair share of the winnings.  That was the easy part.

Since it was fight night, every watering hole around the Garden would be packed, so I hopped on a Broadway Battleship and found a secluded joint uptown. It was a colder-than-usual January and the city wind whipped something brutal. The streets were empty and quiet and only drunks that took their job seriously made it out. Aside from corn-fed Goliath behind the bar, there were a couple of neighborhood winos – deep in the grip of the grape - refueling their engines with high test.

I looked at my watch and asked Barkeep to turn up his radio. The announcer said that in a stunning upset Parks went belly-up as planned and I thought it wouldn't be long until my pockets were stuffed with dead presidents. But then it hit me... Are guys like me even supposed to have happy endings?


I thought about where I'd go come morning. Vegas? I'm sure I could land a gig at some Sin City Scandal Sheet rewriting obits on the overnight desk. I'd blend in just fine. I'd make up an alias and no one would know squat.

Then again, maybe I'd let the Greyhound take me all the way The Coast. I'd find some studio dame to share whiskey with and then I could worm my way into writing pictures. Good ones with Raft or Bogart.

That is if I can get through tonight...

I heard the squeak of the side door open and those high heels approach, slowly. I could tell she was alone. But where was the other one? The cub? 

When I heard her gun cock, I knew he was either waiting in the car or on a deep six holiday. My guess was dirt city.

I turned around in my barstool. She carried a small leather pouch and it plopped to the ground before I saw her smile that smile that told me that my hunch was right: She was lower than the belly of a snake. Although I suppose part of me hoped she’d be loyal, I’m not shocked. As I took one final drag, all I could think was, "Even when we were married, this broad never did know how to share..."

You don’t feel much when you get shot. The pain is so strong, the brain goes into overdrive and you feel cold more than anything. I started getting fuzzy and everything became blurry. The last thing I remember before I blacked out was her body plopping next to mine.


I woke up in a cold, white hospital bed. The radio next to me said it was three days later and that the new United Nations Headquarters was officially open.

After my rotten meal, Corn-fed Barkeep walked in and smiled at me. He was holding her small leather pouch - although he made it look like a big wallet with those big galoot hands of his.

He tossed it on the bed near my feet and joked, “I heard of hangovers but this is ridiculous.”

I didn’t laugh because I had questions. He told me I was in the clear and as far as the coppers were concerned, some peach had a beef with me and that was that. Corn-fed did what any barkeep would, protect his joint and popped her in the shoulder with a zip-gun he kept behind the bar for emergencies.

An odd part of me felt sad. When I asked if she was dead, he laughed. She didn’t go belly up. In fact, she was headed to the hen-pen, an all female prison farm somewhere deep in Mississippi on an attempted murder rap. Her only chance of freedom would be that of a pine box parole. Yup, she’d be there for life.

And me? I had more dough than an army baker and after giving Corn-fed Barkeep his share of greenbacks, I finally was able to think about where I’d wind up and kept asking myself, “Vegas or Hollywood?...”

(c) 2010, an original debut AT THE BIJOU,

Anthony: OK Kate ... Here's my info... Feel free to add your razzle dazzle spin...

Kate: Me? Razzle-dazzle spin? I'm still in a smoky blue state of mind since reading all the swirlcomestances of "An Unlikely Partner". But, since you insist -- and hey, you liked that joke I did with Bogey though, hunh?  

Anthony: Yessss Ms Kate. Now tell all the nice people good stuff about me. I am shy y'know. 

Kate:  Sure Ant . . . and I'm gonna plug how you dash up good writes down in Bukowski's Basement with all the spiffy sound equipment you have down'cellar there, to make the words sing when they speak, your mind. I'm not even gonna make stuff up, but with you zinging so much good jargon up there, you don't leave much material to work with. This'll be jake though ~ just you wait and see ~

ANTHONY VENUTOLO brought his first cinematic noir piece AT THE BIJOU with more excitement than a happy trigger finger (top-metaphor that one, Paul Brazill!). Little did he know, asking "GOT NOIR?" would bring in some ringers to play this showbill alongside him. We trust we surprised him, and more importantly, are exciting all you grand multifaceted readers out there, who keep coming back Tuesday & Thursday time & times again.  

Anthony fancies himself a writer by trade and by passion. He's dabbled with  screenplays, short stories and now a pulpy comic book about a tattoo artist in Atlantic City.  This Jersey guy freelanced for such magazines as Bikini, Details, Chance and Playboy Online, and wrote a column for the gambling magazine Casino Player and Strictly Slots. He works as an editor at a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper, and dated all the cocktail waitresses he could get good storyline material from until he met and married the sensational lady of his dream genre. Online his flash fiction and prose poems have appeared at Zygote in My Coffee, Red Fez, Deuce Coupe, Gutter Eloquence, Shoots and Vines and Six Sentences. Ahhh, and he has a stellar story you can bet on in the upcoming HARBINGER*33, sailing forth writers' deserving destinies. 

KATE:  What moves you, Anthony besides fame, fortune, the roll of the dice, and a sense of time that goes beyond time to you natural jive of fascinating rhythms?  

ANTHONY: Well Kate, I know you dig Fitzgerald, but I'm influenced by the simplicity of Hemingway; the Skid Row rawness of Charles Bukowski; the understated genius of Raymond Carver; the poetry of Bruce Springsteen; the Chuck Buk-channeling of Tom Waits; the psychedelic dreaminess of Jim Morrison; the immigrant sensibilities of Bernard Malamud; the jazziness of Jack Kerouac; the quiet isolation of Edward Hopper; And let's not forget Richard Ford and Andre Dubus for the carrying on of Carver's sensibilities; the irony of O. Henry; the dreariness of Poe and the cool swagger of Sinatra, Dino and Sammy et al. 

KATE: We're in sync with the RatPack, Ant -- grooving right over there with tunes to accompany you. Poe though, was never dreary when he dated Laurita, remember? We jive alive as well with admiring great fellow writers who inspire us in our day to day. So glad you gave us this tale to showcase AT THE BIJOU, and of course, for ongoing quips and cares with You.  

SHAMELESS PLUGS WORTH PLUGGING: Bukowski's Basement, Anthony's raving blogsite, primarily a showcase for nuggets that can range from Skid Row to the Savoy as well as gritty creative posts in the form of prose poems, flash fiction and booze news. So pour yourself some cheap hooch and settle in because this is a place to celebrate all things wondrous in the gin-soaked literary landscape of Chuck Buk, Jack Kerouac, Tom Waits and Raymond Carver.

      THANKS Anthony, for cinematic noir pleasures to die for
~ Absolutely*Kate and staff of fine renown ~ AT THE BIJOU


Michael Solender said...

Shine this one up any more and it'll blind ya. Skeezit, you dirty rat, your tale spinning had me grinnin as this here expose done just that, it exposed you for the fine scribe that you is, you is. *absolutely one of your best and , here's lookin at you kid, that's sayin a LOT!

Harry said...

Wow Anthony, that was tip-top top to bottom! Loved all the cool lingo from "tonsil-Paint" to "hen pen" & "pine box parole" and the too many good ones (shape-in-a-drape, Broadway battleshp)in between. You should be very proud of this one!

Laurita said...

Dammit, Anthony. This one made me feel like I was wearing a pair of cement shoes. I was so deep in I was gasping for air at the end. Fantastic!

Kevin Michaels said...

Well done Anthony - love the hard, grittiness of the story, as well as the dead solid perfect descriptions and dialogue. It had the feel of Chandler and/or Dashiell Hammett! Excellent Bijou debut!

Paul D Brazill said...

Wonderful images and world weary vibe. Now THAT is a torch song.

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone for checking it out... It was a fun write.

Unknown said...

Ya had me from lacquer-cracker Kid.
This town's big enough for da both of us.

~ Bogie

EC said...

Smooth style Mr. Venutolo - the pod cast is fantastic.

Linda said...

Fun read -- love the 'deep six holiday'. Very smooth. I'm having trouble with my computer speaker, but will listen in at work, heh-heh-heh... Peace, Linda

Carrie Clevenger said...

Best damn Noir I've read in a long time, stylin like the classics, you got more talent in your pinky than I do in my whole body. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Crybbe666 said...

Anthony, I read this first before listening to the podcast. What a treat that was, in both forms. Agree with Harry about the turns-of-phrase, stunning!!!!

Allie said...

I think you're the only one who can use all those old skool cliches and make them sound original. I think Robert Parker's spirit found a new home. Love the post-story interview.

Anonymous said...

Ant, this is one of your best. Perfect for the Bijou. I love the rants, cliches and references to the fuzzy hussies. Before this was over MICKEY SPILLANE/alias newspaper man, I was rolling on the floor. Major fun.