I wish whoever is pounding that base drum would can it. It's giving me a
hum-dinger of a headache. It takes a few minutes of clearing cobwebs for me to
realize that drum is inside my own skull. While I'm trying to figure out how a
base drum could fit inside my noggin, I decide to pry my peepers open, on the
off chance they might not fall out of their sockets.
"Well, if it ain't Rip Van Gumshoe, wakin' up from his beauty
nap," comes a voice from the fog. "You and me need to have a little
Since my eyeballs didn't fall out, I try making out the shape in front of
me. A pin-stripped suit starts to come into focus. I can make out the oily
features of one Mario Paloma. I try to bring my paw up to touch my aching head when
it comes to me that they're tied behind my back. It also comes to me I'm
sitting in a rock-hard, wooden chair.
"What's with you cheap hoods and your loud, pin-stripped suits?"
I ask Paloma. "It's like saying, I have dough, but the fashion sense of an
Mario steps forward and grabs my hair with one mitt, yanking my head back.
His tanned puss is just inches from my own. "Fingers told me about your
comedy routine with your gat in the hall, Beam. With that twenty dollar
Woolworth's special you got hangin' on you, I wouldn't be talkin' fashion,
pally. By the way, I rifled through your billfold, funny man," say he.
"James R. Beam, Private Investigations, huh? You got sand, James R. Beam.
I'll grant you that. Your survival skills ain't nothin' to write home to momma
I look into those dark, hard lamps. "I figured you wouldn't pump any
daylight into my hide until you found out how much I know about Roberta Mason.
I'm still breathing, so I guess I was right on that score."
"That's the only reason you're still breathin'," the gangster
sneers. "That twist took off with somethin' of mine, and I aim to get it
back, one way or the other. Before I call the boys in and let 'em play a little
paddy-cake on your mug, you wanna tell me where she ran off to?"
"Funny you should ask that," says I. "A little birdie is
paying me three C notes a day to find out the same thing. I was kinda hoping
you could fill in some of the blanks. The same little birdie told me you put a
dealer on ice for two million clams worth of smack he was packing. I guess your
playmate decided to take it on the lam rather than hang around to find out if
she was next on your hit parade. I talked to one of her friends, and it seems
she has a little gambling problem. The word is, she’s into your crowd for a
Paloma takes his fingers out of my hair and stands back, crossing his arms.
He gets this little smirk on his thin lips. Then he starts this low, rumbling
chuckle, shaking his head like I said something amusing. "Boy, were you
sold a bill of goods, gumshoe!"
He starts to pace around his plush office. "I didn't ice nobody, Beam.
You only got one thing right. That broad did take somethin' of mine, but it
wasn't no heroin. And it ain't Roberta with the gamblin' bug. It's that
movie-star sister of hers, but she paid back the fifty grand she was into me
for this mornin'. I was gonna send a couple of the boys over to her digs to
shake her down for info about her thievin' sister, but my money says she's the
little birdie that hired you. Am I right, or am I right, Beam?"
I mull this over while Mario wears holes in his red carpeting.
"Tell you what, pal," I shrug, "normally I don't give out
the monikers of my clients, but since you've been such a gracious host, and I
don't want your goons tracking mud all over Gloria Mason's classy joint, I'll
level with you. Gloria did hire me to track down her twin. Roberta even called
her and told her the story of you bumping off a drug dealer and relieving him
of two million dollars-worth of powder. She told Gloria she was blowing this
burg, but wouldn't say where to."
"That rich!" Paloma hoots, perching himself on the edge of his
desk. "What she lifted was a suitcase packed with two million in cold, hard
cash. My contact wasn’t s’posed to show for another hour. The buy hadn't even
gone down yet. I don't mind sharin' this with you 'cause my hands are clean,
see? There ain't no stiff floatin' around, and I didn't even get a smell of
that heroin. Looks like that schemin' dame played the famous Gloria Mason and a
"If what you say pans out to be on the level," I frown, "I
got no beef with you. I don't care much about your business deals. I was just
hired to track down Roberta. If I find her and she has your two mill, I'll even
return it to you, minus a five percent finder's fee, natch."
For about a half a minute, Paloma just stares at me. Then he throws back
his head in a jackass-sounding belly laugh. He points his manicured finger at me.
"Like I said Beam, you ain't too bright, but you do have sand. Here you are, trussed up like a Christmas pig on my turf, and you're cutting
deals with me. I gotta admire that, pally."
He plants his dogs back on the floor and strides over to me. The mobster
pulls out a pearl-handled stiletto, pushing the button on its side. A six-inch
blade pops out, right under my beezer. Instead of slitting my nose, he
reaches behind me to cut the ropes on my wrists.
"If you find my dough
before I do," he starts out, "you get your five percent, but if I
find that two-faced broad before you do, she's disappearin' for good, if you
catch my drift."
Paloma steps back as I stand up and rub the circulation back into my abused
wrists. He walks back over to his desk and tosses me my hat. "I got
another offer for you, Beam." Paloma’s gaunt face goes hard. "I'll
pay you twenty percent of that two mill, if you get back the mazuma, and hand
that female snake over to me."
I stroll over to the door and put my hand on the brass knob. I look over my
shoulder at the hood. "Nobody ever accused me of being a boy scout,"
I smile, "but I draw the line at murder. If I should find out that you
caused Gloria's sister to have a fatal accident of some kind, it would be my
civic duty to make a bee-line to the nearest copper clubhouse and spill all
your dirty laundry on their doorstep." I open the door to see the two
goons, still guarding the door.
"That sand of yours is gonna get you croaked one of these days,
Beam," Mario says. "If you and me weren't lookin' for the same
broad, you wudda been dead ten minutes ago."
"I appreciate the favor," I shoot back
The goon with my rod pulls it out from his waistband, looking inside the
doorway to his boss for permission to hand it over.
"Give him his piece, Fingers," the mob boss barks, "and shut
the damned door! I've got me some thinkin' to do."
The hired muscle slips the .38 to me, which I tuck into my shoulder
I start ambling down the hallway toward the lounge room and hear some sweet
Jazz piano. I enter the noisy room, thinking, this caper has more versions than
a hop-head's alibi."
As I weave through the room, I look up on stage and see the guy who was
laying down those sweet notes sitting at a baby grand, tickling those ivories
just the way I like it. I walk over to my reserved table and take a seat.
Just then, my redhead comes running over, all-concerned. "Glad to see
you made it back!" she says.
She gets a pretty frown on her face. "I just realized, I'm stepping
out with a strange man. I don’t usually do that.”
"And I don’t usually let some knockout redhead pick me up without at least
knowing her handle,” I smile.
"Well, Mr. Beam," says she, "my name is Thelma W. O' Conner.
The W stands for Willing.
I straighten the knot in my tie. "Well, Thema, it looks like this night just might turn out pretty jake after all."