Prologue: A Dragon in Big Town
So, about three hundred years ago, when the Qing dynasty isn’t even old enough to buy a beer, there comes a wave of barbarians out of the north with such fury and numbers that it kicks nine shades of shit out of the Emperor’s army, causing much embarrassment and fear among the aristocracy, and a large number of corpses among the peasants and military. You can’t walk a block without tripping over a widow or an orphan, the sky is black with the smoke of burning villages, and it is widely agreed throughout China that the soup of the day is Cream of Sadness.
So the Emperor calls his ministers together and says: “Who are these mugs? Why do they vex me thus? And will no one rid me of them?”
And one of his ministers, a toady whose name is lost to history, but let’s say he’s called Jeff, says: “These are the same mugs from the north that have invaded us regularly lo these many years.” But he does not say, “They vex you thus because you have opened up the aristocracy to anyone who can afford the ducats, including merchants and lawyers, so you have a kingdom very top-heavy with bums, but you have not spent any of that sweet cabbage on walls, weapons, or the training of soldiers.” Jeff does not say this because he is one of those selfsame bums of which he speaks. But he does say, “I hear of a Buddhist monastery in Fukien Province where the monks train day and night in the art of fighting and are said to be so fierce that one of them punches out a yak’s lights when he goes outside to take a leak in the morning—rings the bell of a wild yak with one hand on his willy and does not get even a drop on his robe.”
And the Emperor says unto Jeff, “Yeah, go get those guys. Offer them substantial cheddar and powerless positions at court to save our bacon.”
So Jeff journeys to the mountaintop where the monks keep their clubhouse, and asks them will they rid the kingdom of the vicious barbarians from the north and the abbot answers thus: “Nope. We have some chanting and meditation to do, and after lunch, fighting practice.”
“But,” says Jeff, “we will give you titles, stacks of cabbage, fine outfits, a feedbag of the finest fare, and gorgeous dames with feet so tiny they can tap-dance on a bottle cap.” And the abbot says, “We’re good. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to have some tea and punch a yak.”
So Jeff spake thusly: “But many peasants have been killed, there are widows and orphans coming out the wazoo, villages are burning, and there is much suffering in the land. Besides, what’s the point of training at fighting all day if all you are going to do is knock out random mountain beefs?”
And with that the abbot says, “That is an excellent point, toady. We’ll do it.”
And so it comes to pass that one hundred and thirty-eight monks, outfitted for fighting, march north (leaving home one guy for ringing the gong and another to milk the yak). And before three days have passed, those barbarians who were not killed or wounded are more than somewhat discombobulated, and they retreat to their own land, while not a single monk is lost (although a couple have blisters on their thumbs from their fighting sticks and the abbot quotes the Buddha to them, saying, “Life is suffering,” and “You should put some ointment on those” and they are comforted). Then they return to their monastery, shut the doors, and resume their routine.
Meanwhile, there is much rejoicing in the land, and in the Celestial City, the Emperor is praised for his strength and wisdom and says thus: “So these daffy mugs don’t want anything?”
“Nope,” says Jeff. “They say they are content to have lessened the suffering and oppression of the people and would I please go piss up a rope.”
“Buddhist parable,” explains one of the other ministers. “Probably.”
“Something’s fishy,” says another toady. “How do we know these guys aren’t up to something?”
“And what if they start to think that we are the ones oppressing the people?” says another, “Which, you have to admit, has come up at meetings.”
“Yeah,” says the Emperor. “I don’t trust a guy who doesn’t want anything.”
“Maybe,” says a younger toady, “we—” And here he makes the gesture of cutting someone’s throat and makes a croaking sound.
“How?” asks Jeff. “They are the best fighters in the land and I think we can admit that in comparison, our guys are shit.”
“Maybe we give them a little flaming medicine,” says one of the more clever ministers, referring to what they call gunpowder at the time. “I hear recently from one of the Dutch white devils that it can be used for croaking guys as well as entertainment.”
And around the great hall goes a collective “hmmmm” of thoughtfulness.
See, gunpowder has been around for hundreds of years, but up until then it has only been used for firecrackers on New Year’s and to blast that one guy to the moon several centuries ago, which, it is agreed, would have worked if they hadn’t made his rocket ship out of bamboo. But recently, traders from the West have introduced the flaming medicine for making bombs and loading cannons, thus giving it the new name.
“Make a plan,” says the Emperor.
So it comes to pass that a small force of the Emperor’s soldiers sneaks into the mountains in the night and sets fire to the monks’ clubhouse, stacking barrels of gunpowder at the gates and tossing bombs over the walls until the entire joint is in flames. When the monks run to one gate to meet their attackers, it is blown up, and when they run to another, it too is blown up, until most of the monks are dead or in flames and it is not looking good for those few who are not.
But then the Immortals look down from the heavens, and despite the fact that the Buddhist monks don’t believe in them, they are moved by their discipline and good deeds, and they send a thunderbolt down to blow a hole in the back wall of the monastery, through which the surviving eighteen monks escape, leaving the Emperor’s soldiers thinking the monks are toast to the last man.
Hidden and nursed by the peasants whom they saved from the barbarians, all but five of the monks perish from their wounds. Those five, who are called the Five Ancestors, vow to oppose the reign of the Qing Emperor and all those of his descent, as he is now regarded throughout the land to be a first-rate douche bag, and they also vow to restore the previous Ming dynasty, which everyone agrees was swell, and much better for the people. To each of the Five, the Immortals bestow a talisman of the Five Great Dragons: dragons of wood, earth, metal, fire, and rain, whose power they will represent on Earth.
So the Five Ancestors adopt a banner of three red dots, which is the symbol of the Ming dynasty, and for that they are called the Triads. They spread out through the cities and villages, recruiting members to the secret resistance, and eventually, to make ends meet, they evolve into great criminal organizations, always with the goal of overthrowing the Qing emperors, as well as making a few doubloons on the side. A couple of hundred years go by, gold is discovered across the salt in the Land of Golden Hills, the Triads establish benevolent societies called tongs, and many sons of the working class are recruited and helped to immigrate to America to find their fortunes. The tongs become very powerful among the Chinese in America, and become very proficient in running gambling, smuggling, prostitution, and extortion operations. In the New World, the tongs are competitive to the point of war, and adopt all kinds of spooky rituals, calling on their noble Triad history to recruit and earn the loyalty of their soldiers. There are rumors that even some of the talismans of the Five Great Dragons made their way to Big Town (San Francisco) and the tongs promised the power of the immortal dragons could be summoned against their enemies at any time.
But you know, rumors. Dragons? In San Francisco? C’mon. What are the odds?
Chapter 1: Mother Superior and the Big Black Dong
When we pulled up to Jimmy’s Joynt on Pier 29 the doorman was beating a skinny guy in a tux with a black rubber dildo the length of a Louisville Slugger and the diameter of a soup can, hitting him only in the soft parts—the thigh, the shoulder, the caboose—so each blow sounded like a butcher smacking a fat ham.
We had the windows of the cab down, as it was a warm night for November, with only a light wind, and the fog hadn’t even crept through the Golden Gate yet, despite it being the small hours of a Sunday morning.
“Boy, you don’t see that every day,” said Milo, whose cab I was driving. Milo often assumes passenger duties in his own taxi, as he was soundly blown up while driving a tank at the Battle of the Bulge and so sometimes gets jumpy behind the wheel.
“Well, Butch likes to keep a tight ship.”
Butch, who was also wearing a tux, as she always does when working, performed a two-handed golf swing that sent the dark dangler into the thin guy’s nut sack with a sickening thud, to which the guy, Milo, and I all responded with explosive “oofs!” although the oofs were only sympathetic from Milo and me.
The thin guy sank to his knees, then rolled over on the pier, trying to catch his breath, while Butch menaced him with the point of the dong. “And don’t come back,” Butch said, “or it won’t go as well for you.”
“It does not seem to be going that well for that guy this time,” said Milo.
The guy, still gasping for air, scuttled away from Butch, passing on my side of the cab.
“That guy looks like he could be good for a return fare,” I said to Milo. “Pac Heights or Nob Hill. You want I should flag him down?”
“Nah,” said Milo, pulling down the brim of his checkered cabbie cap like he couldn’t even see the guy. “That guy has a pencil-thin mustache and it is well known that no one grows a pencil- thin mustache except douche bags and Errol Flynn.”
“Are you saying that Robin Hood is a douche bag?”
“I am saying no such thing. I said douche bags and Errol Flynn. I’ll wait. You want I should keep the meter running?”
“First, I do not know how long I will be, and second, since I drove here, the flag has not been dropped on the meter to date, so third, and in conclusion, no.”
“Fine. Off the meter. You sure you don’t want to drive back?” “I have to see to the Cheese,” I said.
“Well, she can drive back. I don’t mind a dame driving.”
“We will not be returning to Cookie’s,” I said, referring to the diner in the Tenderloin where I often rendezvous with Milo and various other citizens for late-night coffee and philosophical discourse. “I am accompanying the Cheese to her place, where I intend to attend to her various wants and needs and vice versa.”
“I’ll be back!” shouted the pencil-thin mustache guy. “I know people! Important people. You’ll be sorry! You, you, abomination!” Then he scuttled off down the pier past a line of parked cars where two dames were smooching furiously against the side of a Studebaker.
“You wanna come in?” I asked Milo. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Nah,” said the diminutive Greek, “I gotta get back to Cookie’s. I might just sit here a minute and watch those two dolls swap spit, you know, pick up some pointers I can use on Doris.”
“You are a thoughtful fellow,” I said as I climbed out of the cab and screwed my hat down tight against the breeze. “Always thinking of Doris’s happiness, Milo.”
“She is a stand-up dame,” said Milo.
“That she is,” I agreed. Doris is the graveyard biscuit-slinger at Cookie’s Coffee, and despite her being ten years older and several stones heavier than Milo and being in possession of a very large Swedish longshoreman husband called Lars, Milo is deeply smitten with her, and vice versa, it would appear. “Well, hold down the fort,” I said, tapping the hood of the cab. “I will see you tomorrow at Cookie’s.”
“Adieu, ya mug,” said Milo, sliding over behind the wheel as I strolled away.
“How’s it hanging, Sammy?” called Butch, holding the dildo in a menacing manner (and it occurred to me then that menacing is about the only way one can hold a yard-long rubber dong).
“You an abomination now, Butch?” I asked.
“Taking night classes,” said Butch with a shrug. “Something to fall back on.” She stood five feet ten, weighed maybe a buck-ninety, so my size plus about twenty pounds of shoulders, giving her a linebacker V-shape that unruly patrons had come to fear or at least respect. Her hair was short, black, and slicked back in the manner of a lot of the dames who frequented Jimmy’s Joynt.
“Well, that is quite a respectable pasting you gave that guy. This a regular thing?” Being a barman myself, at Sal’s in North Beach, I am acquainted with various methods of managing unruly patrons. I appreciate the art.
“Regular enough. Some guys get sored up when they find their missus joining us here on the sunny sunny side of the street. Such guys are often of the opinion that they can push a dame around by virtue of their sex, and I am obligated to correct their way of thinking, sometimes rendering them unconscious before my point is made.”
“Point taken. I, too, have resorted to such tactics, although I use a sawed-off pool cue to help make my point, rather than—” I bounced my eyebrows at Butch’s weapon.
“Oh, this,” she said, holding up the dong like a marine saluting with a dress sword (her weapon wiggling disturbingly with the gesture). “You’d be surprised how few guys want to report to the cops that a dyke down at the wharf just beat the stuffing outta them with a big black rubber dick.”
“That is a very savvy angle, Butch. Very savvy indeed. They ever come back with some pals to get revenge?”
“Nah, although one guy comes back the next night and offers me a C-note to do it again, only slower.”
“You take him up on it?”
“Nah, the boss does not like us to pursue personal business while at work. Jimmy has asked that we attract as little attention from the gendarmes as possible. I keep the corporal punishment very much on the QT, what with the Mother Superior vowing to rid the city of all forms of fun.”
The Mother Superior, or Dunne the Nun, is Captain James Dunne, the San Francisco Police Department’s new head of vice, a starched-shirt, churchgoing flatfoot who was trying to claw his way into the mayor’s office on the backs of many respectable citizens such as hookers, gamblers, hustlers, strippers, lady lovers, pansies, pimps, pornographers, panderers, and people who like jazz—in other words, the guys and dolls I call my friends.
“Still, you got that as a fallback, if working the door gets you down.”
“I don’t think so,” Butch said, tucking her dark dingus behind the podium where she stood guard, as she functioned as both the doorman and the host on slow nights. “Taking money for it would be weird.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t want it to get weird. Well, you got style, pal, I’ll give you that.”
Butch raised an eyebrow of skepticism. “Don’t go sweet on me, Sammy. I know you got a talent for falling for the wrong dame and dames don’t get any wronger than yours truly.”
“Holding court at the bar. Not a dry stool in the house.”
“What’s the damage tonight?” I reached into my pocket for the toll for the cover, which changes from night to night, depending on the time and how much the joint is jumping.
Butch tossed her head and a well-oiled forelock broke loose from her coif. “Get out of here with that, ya mope.”
I tipped my hat as I went by. “You’re a gentleman and a scholar, Butch,” I said, which made her laugh until she snorted.
The main room at Jimmy’s Joynt was once a warehouse, now painted black to cover the hooks and hoists in the rafters. A low ghost of cigarette smoke hung in the air over about forty tables where dames, only dames, in dresses or men’s suits, were paired up, looking sad and urgent as, up on the stage, a skinny dame in white tux and tails with a painted-on mustache squeezed out a slow song about lost love in a sultry alto. The joint looked like some daffy Sapphic goddess had sprinkled an abandoned coal mine with melancholy lesbians, then taken a powder in a puff of smoke. On the dance floor three couples rocked in rhythm to a stand-up bass coming out of a dark corner where a tall blonde in a long green evening gown was giving it an expert fingering for their pleasure. It was three in the morning and whatever high time there was to be had had been had, whoever had somewhere to go had gone, and now everyone was just marking time until last call, when they had to go somewhere they didn’t want to be or home to someone they didn’t want to see.
A few faces turned toward me as I walked in and for all the welcome in their expressions I felt like a leper wearing a dead skunk for a tie. I don’t take it personally. A lot of these dames have grounds for giving a general stink-eye to citizens of the guy persuasion and no use for us whatsoever.
Just like Butch said, Stilton, a shapely blond biscuit of whom I am more than somewhat fond, was perched on a stool up at the bar, looking bright as a summer day in her white dress with the big red polka dots (despite it being November, and dark as Dracula’s dirty drawers) and red Mary Janes, tall heels hooked into the rail of the bar. The Cheese, as I and my pals refer to Stilton when she’s not around, was surrounded by a bevy of broads of various sizes and shapes, attired in men’s suits, smoking and laughing and hanging on the Cheese’s every word like she was the Blessed Virgin passing out tips on a hot horse at Bay Meadows.
But before I could catch the eye of my one true I heard, “What’s the scam, Sam?” Which came from Jimmy Vasco, who was flanking Stilton on the starboard side, smoking a coffin nail in a long black holder that she chomped between her pearly whites so it bounced a little when she talked. Jimmy was slicked-back, sharp as a tack, in a satin black tux and tails tailored to flatten her curves; maybe five-two and a C-note soaking wet, and though she was little, she was fierce, as the Bard says, and a stand-up dame—she lent me her car and a sweet little Kraut pistol on occasion. Jimmy Vasco owned the joint.
Jimmy gave me a respectable punch on the shoulder by way of a hello.
“This jamoke bothering you, Toots?” said the Cheese. In this scenario, Jimmy was the jamoke, and I was, well—
“Don’t call me Toots,” I replied.
One of the dames on the other side of the Cheese sneered at me—actually sneered—I suppose sensing that Stilton and I had enough chemistry to put Union Carbide and Dow Chemical in the soup line.
“Hi, Sammy,” chirped Myrtle, a tall Olive Oyl–shaped redhead who worked the lunch counter at the Five & Dime with the Cheese and who had been decorating Jimmy Vasco’s arm nigh unto half a year.
“Hey, Myrt,” I replied with a wink. “Looking very fetching this evening. Very fetching indeed.”
“Aw, pshaw,” Myrtle said, and hid her smile like she was embarrassed instead of basking in it.
And she did look good. Jimmy had wrapped her in various sheaths of satin and sequins since they started dating, at least when Myrtle was in the club, and rather than looking gawky like when I’d first met her, she was threating elegant. In fact, that long green number on the blond bass player in the corner had made its maiden voyage on Myrtle a month or so back. (Jimmy Vasco was nothing if not efficient.) I liked Myrtle. She was a good pal to the Cheese and she said things like “pshaw.”
“You ain’t so bad yourself,” said Myrtle, batting her eyelashes, flirting for Jimmy’s benefit. “Me? I’m a sack of old sweat socks compared to you, hot stuff.” And I sort of was, still in my bartender togs, smelling of stale liquor and cigarettes, my tie tucked into my shirt, my tweed overcoat thrown over the whole mess.
“My sack of socks,” said Stilton, who pulled me over to her and bit me on the ear, a little harder than was strictly necessary. And with that, all the dames who had been trying to make time with the Cheese moved away, dispersing into the room like mosquitoes who just tried to take a bite out of the Tin Man. The one who’d sneered at me before harrumphed as she walked away.
“Hey, I’m trying to run a business here,” said Jimmy. “It’s hard enough these days without you dancing in and crushing everyone’s hopes and dreams.”
“That your business, Jimmy? Hopes and dreams?”
Jimmy stepped to me and let a stream of smoke trickle out of her nose as she tried to look sinister. “Very dark, very damp dreams, Sammy.” Then she grinned around her cigarette holder. “Also dancing and moderately priced liquor. Whaddaya drinking?”
“Vodka gimlet,” I said. Jimmy nodded to Mel, the bartender, a lean, androgynous dame in the same outfit as me, sans the overcoat and fedora, plus a cameo on a velvet choker at her throat. She started building the gimlet without a word.
To Stilton and Myrtle I said, “Don’t you two have to be at work in about”—I checked my Timex—“three hours?” The girls were generally pushing pancakes at the Five & Dime by six. In fact, the Cheese and I had decided we would take a night off, as I did not get off work at Sal’s until two, and she had to be at the Five & Dime by six, so I was more than somewhat surprised when she’d called me at Cookie’s Coffee, where I was enjoying coffee and narrative with my pals, and invited me to join her at Jimmy’s Joynt, as Jimmy had something she wished to discuss with me, after which, the Cheese implied, we would retire to her place for much nudity and merriment.
Gimlet in hand, I tipped a toast to Mel the bartender, then turned to Jimmy and said, “So, what’s on your mind?”
But before Jimmy could answer there came the sound of a whistle, such as a coach might use, tootling through the club, although I was sure it was not the tootling of a coach.
“Fucking cops,” said Jimmy by way of explanation, and with that she grabbed Myrtle’s paw, who in turn grabbed the Cheese, who grabbed me, and we were led willy-nilly behind the bar, through a door, and into a long, badly lit hallway with walls painted black. I had been there before, and I headed for Jimmy’s office down the hall, but I was whipsawed in the grasp of the Cheese as Jimmy stopped and bumped a shoulder into the wall, from which snapped open a hidden door, revealing a narrow staircase.
“Pull that shut behind you,” said Jimmy, and I did.
Jimmy led us up the stairs to another hall, barely shoulder width, where she pulled a chain, snapping off the single lightbulb, leaving us standing in the dark listening to each other’s breath as well as no little shouting by cops and patrons coming from the club on the other side of the wall.
“They can’t see—” I started to say when I heard a scraping sound, which was Jimmy opening a little port that revealed a peephole the size of a quarter, which Jimmy filled with her eyeball.
“The fuck happened to Butch?” she asked.
“Butch has a button on the podium that warns everyone,” said Myrtle.
“Maybe they sneaked up on her,” the Cheese offered.
“There’s a dozen cops down there,” said Jimmy. “No one sneaks up on Butch.”
“Why the commotion?” I asked. “You ain’t doing nothing illegal. I mean, serving after hours, but that’s maybe a ticket or a bribe, not a raid.”
“Three articles,” said Jimmy, and she pulled away from the peephole to give me a gander. I looked down to see the cops lining all the dames dressed in men’s suits against the wall, while herding all the dames in dresses over to the stage.
“Masquerade law,” said Myrtle, casting no more light on the subject than the peephole did on the dark passage.
Below there was much protest from all involved and a little sobbing and sniffling from a few. The uniform cops did, indeed, number a dozen, which surprised me no little, because if you had asked me, I did not think there were a dozen cops working all of Fog City at this time of the morning. As I observed, two plainclothes mugs made their way in, one a dumpy mope with a boiler trying to escape his pants and jacket, and a very tall, hard-looking cop with a jaw like a hatchet and creases in his pants that would cut butter.
While I watched, the tall cop went from one dame to another, pulling up her jacket and pulling out her waistband, inspecting each in the most invasive way. “I don’t know what he’s looking for,” I said, “but it ain’t weapons.”
Jimmy Vasco pushed me aside and fitted her eye to the peephole. “That cracker-crunching mackerel snapper is checking their underwear.”
“Cracker cruncher?” I asked Myrtle with a raised eyebrow. My peepers had adjusted to the dark and between the light from the peephole and what was coming over the top of the fake wall I could see just fine.
“Body of Christ,” said Myrtle, crossing herself.
“Sorry, doll,” said Jimmy. “I forgot. It ain’t he’s a Catholic, it’s he’s a holier-than-thou cocksucker of a Catholic.”
“That’s Dunne?” I’d never seen the new head of vice.
Jimmy shushed me, finger to her lips. We could hear cops rummaging around in the hall below us, slamming doors, tipping stuff over.
“Looking for you?” I whispered.
Jimmy nodded. “’Swhat I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Well, I’m not going to hide you. My apartment’s small and you’re bossy.” “Nah, I was gonna ask you to take care of him like you did Pookie O’Hara.”
“I did not scrag Pookie,” I said. And I didn’t. Pookie O’Hara, SFPD’s previous head of vice and a certified creep, mysteriously disappeared a few months ago while the Cheese and I were having an adventure up in Sonoma County. Many citizens attributed his disappearance to me.
“Right,” Jimmy said with an exaggerated wink that not only was visible in the crepuscular light of the passage, but looked like she had wiped a cut lemon across her eye and was trying to squint away the burn.
Stilton pushed through and put her eye to the peephole. “Now they’re looking at their socks. What kind of loopy shit is going on down there?”
“Masquerade laws,” said Jimmy. “Started back in the 1800s. If a dame is dressed like a guy she’s got to be wearing at least three articles of women’s clothing or she’s in violation of the law.”
“Three-articles law,” said Myrtle.
I heard a click and a flick and Jimmy’s Zippo lit up and she held it down by her feet while pulling up her pants leg, showing a lacy sock with pink embroidered roses. “Embarrassing,” she said.
“Most girls wear a pretty pair of panties, too,” said Myrtle. “I know I do.” “Aw, Myrtle,” said Stilton, “you got feminine for miles.”
“Well, those socks make two,” I said to Jimmy, then, with an elbow to her ribs, “What else you got hidden to keep you out of jail?”
“Things get rough, I figure I can jump into Stilton’s panties.”
“Well, you’re shit out of luck tonight, buster,” said Stilton, still looking down on the club. “Unless you want to hike up the hill and get ’em out of the hamper.”
And I was thinking, What kind of bum lets his girlfriend go through life with only one pair of skivvies?
“Hey!” Stilton yelled. “Let go of her!”
“Shhhhh, doll,” I said, and Myrtle and Jimmy were shushing her for all they were worth, too. “Well, he’s roughing up Betty Anne. She’s a swell gal.”
I looked through the peephole and sure enough, Dunne was going down the line, whipping each of the dames up against the wall while the uniforms were cuffing them. Not exactly punching their lights out, but being much rougher than the situation called for. Dunne was a big guy, maybe six-six, and well over two hundred, a church tower of a guy, one of those sturdy English church towers with the slots on top for your church archers to shoot through. He was whipping these dames around like they were rag dolls, calling them perverts and dykes and various other unflattering sobriquets, and let me tell you, dykes can call themselves dykes all night long and laugh it away, but a guy tries that one on and he will have some severely sored-up lesbians on his hands. But these poor dames were growling or crying and I did not care for the scene at all. I do not care for guys roughing up dames, even if they are wearing suits that are nicer than mine, and just as I was about to comment thus, Dunne whipped this tall, thin dame around by the shoulder, and she had nothing but fire for him. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-two, twenty- three, wearing a black pinstripe suit over a silk blouse unbuttoned to her navel, and not a stitch under that I could see. Her hair was black, short, in a bob like that silent film star Louise Brooks had, long, pointed sideburns sweeping down near to the corners of her mouth. She was a looker, in a pissed-off, vampire-who-wouldn’t-drink-your-blood-if-she-was-dying-of-thirst sort of way.
Dunne dropped his tone and said something I couldn’t hear. The thin dame gave him a sneer. Whatever she said, it made Mother Superior Captain James Dunne look like he’d run into a solid wall of nope.
“The fuck?” I sort of let drool out, as I watched Dunne order all his uniforms to uncuff the dames against the wall. While they were still sniffling and rubbing their wrists, the cops cleared out, Dunne called the uniforms back out from Jimmy’s office, then made a tucked-tail exit with the tall, thin dame stepping right behind.
“Jimmy,” I said. “Look, look, look. Who’s the tall dame trailing Dunne?”
I stepped to the side and Jimmy fitted her eye to the peephole.
“The fuck?” Jimmy said.
“What? What? What?” said Myrtle, pulling Jimmy away from the peephole. Jimmy looked up at me. “The fuck?”
I shrugged so hard my hat tipped. “She said something to him and he nearly pissed himself.”
“Oh yeah, I saw her come in after you,” said Myrtle. “Wait. Look, look, look.” Myrtle pulled aside to give me a look.
So I looked. “The fuck?” On her way out the thin dame threw an arm around Mel, the bartender, who had been lined up against the wall with the others, and laid an Argentine backbreaking tongue-tango on her while catching the back of Dunne’s jacket so he was whipped around and had to watch.
I stepped aside quickly so Jimmy could see. “The fuck?” she said.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“No idea, first time I’ve seen her,” said Jimmy. “But I’m glad she’s on our team.”
Two minutes later we were downstairs on the dance floor, the lights all the way up like you never want to see in a bar at three in the morning, and Jimmy had gently but sternly told everyone they had to get the fuck out, so they shuffled off, some of them still sniffling from their run-in with the Mother, the bass player carrying her axe like an oversized baby.
Jimmy herded us out last, turning off lights and locking doors as we went. I helped her bring the host podium in and noticed that Butch’s dingus of death was still tucked behind it.
“Can’t figure what happened to Butch,” Jimmy said. “That’s not like her to take a powder on a work night.”
“You want us to help look for her”
“Nah, I’m beat,” said Jimmy. “I’m staying at Myrtle’s place. You two need a ride?”
Jimmy kept a small apartment behind her office and had a pearl-black ’36 Ford Coupe with a rumble seat that would be a snug but welcome fit about now. I did not relish climbing the 387 steps to Stilton’s place on Telegraph Hill or finding a cab to my place at that hour.
“Sure,” I said. “Thanks.”
“We can find out Butch’s story in the p.m.,” said Jimmy, the p.m. being the hours in which we in the hospitality trade actually begin to stir, as opposed to the morning for normal citizens. But what we found in the p.m. was that at that very moment, Butch was bobbing facedown in the bay about fifteen feet below where we stood.