Creepy And Musty
by Marvin Pinkis
My office is a
converted custodian closet, which explains my
slouchy posture. Just today I hear the joe what
owns this rat-trap of a hell-hole of a hovel in
the worst neighborhood in this two-bit Podunk
burg on this God-forsaken planet in a far-flung
universe, threatens to raise the rent to unheard
of heights. Maybe I should leave and make a clean
sweep of it.
Meanwhile Im glomming
through the Police Gazette which has been outta
print for decades, still it's a thrill to go back
to the good old days when the porn was softer
than warm butter.
The phone in the hall rings
jarringly, about a dozen times, maybe twelve. I
take my good old time striding over to it. A
grating, gutteral voice queries, "Are youse
the private dick guys, Myles and Miles?"
Unsure if it's a bill
collector or a real honest-to-goodness client, I
take my chances and answer resoundingly, "Yes."
The voice asks, "Who
do I got, Myles or Miles?"
I giggle. "Actually, I'm
"So why the two names?
Are you a wise guy?"
"The two names imply a
large staff, a firm to be reckoned with."
"Yeah, shoulda seen
that myself. A while back you did some tailing
for my goil Winnie, Winifred Winningham
Willingham. You might remember her. She had a
mole on her shoulder. The mole was trained which
is more than you can say for Winnie."
"Sure, I remember
Winnie. Not a pleasant memory. Pooh on Winnie."
"Har, har. Well, she's
out of the slammer and wants to nail the guy who
framed her, Charlie the Carpenter."
For no reason, I gasp
discreetly and say, "I recall the judge
ruled that Winnie was the culprit, not Charley."
"That's Charlie, not
Charley. Look it up in your musty files, the ones
under 'Musty Files- 1982 and the first quarter of
'83 and call me at Express 968247803276. Got it?
You better, buster, if you don't want some broken
limbs. I'm an arboritist besides being a tough
The caller sounds serious.
I had neglected to discuss fees. No sooner than
that thought transpires, the phone rings again.
It's the same voice. The
same voice says, "I figured you'd get aroun'
to fees. I'll give you a C note only if you wrap
this up in no more than two weeks, weekends don't
I gulp. "Hard to pass
up. How do you and I make contact?"
It says, "I won't call
you. You call me."
"At the number
"Naw, I changed it to
an unlisted number. You figure it out."
"Gotcha. Now you want
evidence that it was this woodsman who is the bad
guy, not Winnie.
The response is a click, an
unmistakeable click. Even the line goes dead.
I reach up to a shelf, pull
down a jug of Wild Mourning Dove in a used Drano
container. I reflect on the case. A C-note for no
more than two weeks work. I should be so lucky.
Wait, how much IS a C note?
A real case. I could pinch
myself if I thought I wasn't getting over-familiar.
"Winsome Winnie", they called her.
"Dirty bastards, she called them back.
Soon after, Winnie stumbled
into my life, and that of countless others. That
was Winnie's way.
Winnie had been stringing
an indiscernible wire across a sidewalk. As
pedestrians stumbled, assuming they were still
alive after a hard bump on the cement, Winnie
would riffle through their pockets, or purses,
feigning to be assisting the victim whilst she
did her deed.
Well, she met her match in
me. On previous strolls I couldn't help noticing
scores of walkers falling, all in the same place.
All of the fallees were attended to by the same
woman, who would change wigs or affect different
accents. Well, if she could feign aid, why couldn't
I feign a fall?
To my chagrin, Winnie had
pulled up stakes, that is wires, and had split
the scene. There I was, the laughing stock of all
who beheld me tripping on air. The only
assistance I got was from Officer Wily who booked
me for impersonating an accident victim. I saw
Winnie look over her shoulder and smile at my
misfortune, if you can call a hysterical laugh
At the station house I
stood before a no-nonsense magistrate. He growled,
"Good apprehending, Wily. We'll make an
example of this one."
Every cell was occupied so
they made me stand outside. Finally a policeman
poked his head through a window and yelled,
"Hey, Miles, we got an opening. Upper or
lower bunk? Give us a sec to change linen and
restock the fridge."
They let me make one phone
call but it couldn't be to friends, family,
attorney, neighbors or ex-classmates. So I got
the weather report but it was a week old.
After an interminable
incarceration I was released on my own
recognizance. There at the jail gate awaited a
shabbily-clad woman who approached and then
tripped me. Looking down at me sprawled on the
pavement, she chuckled and said, "Have a
nice fall. Can I give you a lift?"
"If it isn't out of
"I would go myles out
of my way for you, Miles."
Such flattery. I couldn't
The wretch was Winnie who
explained, "I took a rap for a Carpenter who
I thought was square. I mean to give the neer-do-well
his comeuppance. Let's talk over a drink. We'll
split a milk of magnesia."
As we walked a crepuscular
miasma settled on the city. Neither saw it as
foreboding. At the dimly lit magnesia parlor she
said demurely, "You help me get the goods on
that scoundrel who besmirched my name and left a
ketchup stain on my tablecloth, Myles, and there's
something in it for you."
"What do you have in
"Half my kingdom?"
"Deal. Anybody to be
on the lookout for besides Charlie?"
"Yeah, his alter ego,
verily his shadow, one 'Nails' Wood."
"One 'Nails' Wood? How
many are there?"
She grinned sheepishly,
then goatishly. "That's one tough hombre."
I answered grinning so
intently my mouth hurt, "'Nails', tough, huh?
Well, sister, I can be as hard as..."
Instantly she claps her
hand over my mouth, as if to bade me to be still.
I get the drift of her intent and quietly clam up,
zip my lip, nod in understanding and fall asleep.
"Hush your mouth or I'll
give you what for. Remarks like that are not
conducive to getting to the bottom of this. Hell,
we're not even at the middle. Anywho, I swear
since I got sprung, Charley is following me or
having me followed.
When I first met
Charlie he was plying his trade as a professed
carpenter and I hired him to build an addition to
a linen closet in this dump I lived in. He
impressed me as a plane guy and on the level,
someone who measured up. I would bring him
refreshments: catered dinners on Irish linen, a
necktie, tickets to an already played Cleveland
Browns game ."
"Yes, a sports car. I
guess we got a little chummy. We exchanged blood
and he promised to be mine forever and ever. But
soon, he hammered me with questions as to why I
lived in such squalor. I attributed it to modesty.
He attributed it to a lack of gumption and I had
to admit the guy was right. I wasn't ready for
the world much less a guy who knew his way around
wood. So, you see, even though he done me wrong I
have to find out if there is a future for us or
if it's back to my life as a wastrel and a
missing page in society's book of people to
invite to soirees and sleep-overs."
"How touching. What
would you have me do?"
She sputters, "Draw
your own conclusions."
"Draw my own
conclusions? I can barely draw a straight line."
Winnie smirks. I try to
smirk back but can't get it right.
When can you start?
"What time is it now?"
"Good. None too soon.
I got places to go. Goodbye My(i)les," she
On that note she's gone. It
's up to me. My ticket to private dick fame. I
can picture my induction into The Private
Detectives Vestibule of Fame.
I trace Charley to his
listed address in the phone book along with
driving directions. I knock on the door of this
average-looking house in this unpretentious
neighborhood. I plan to pretend I'm delivering a
pizza. A woman, possibly Charley's paramour,
opens the door, gives me the onceover and voices
a profound, "Yeah, what is it?"
I say, "I'm delivering
She says, "Great, I
got nothing ready for dinner. So, where's the
Pizzaless, I explain,
"Well, I'll be right back. By the way, where's
Charley the Carpenter?"
"He told me to tell
nobody where he is, but you look like a decent
guy. He's at 'Rover's', a theme bar over on
Clover. Do you know the place?"
I grunt something, so
indiscernable I can't make it out.
She provides a connect-the-dots
sketch of Charlie, and I wend my way to 'Rover's.
Its reputation was that of a waterfront dive. Not
being on the waterfront was compensated for by a
drainage ditch that ran in front of the place,
approachable only by a draw bridge. Draw a bridge?
I can't even draw a straight line.
The place is devoid of
anybody except a guy at the far end of the bar
and the ubiquitious bartender wiping glasses with
the filthiest towel you ever saw.
I saunter up to the bar
because sauntering is the only acceptable way to
approach a bar. The bartender asks, "What'll
"It'll be I need to
find Charley the Carpenter."
The bartender nods in the
direction of the lone figure.
I saunter up to the lone
figure and ask the big question, "Is you is
or is you ain't Charley?"
The guy shakes his head and
nods in the direction of the bartender. The
nodding back and forth continues for the better
part of twenty minutes and my tootsies are
killing me. At least, the two guys seem to be
having fun. I finally throw in the towel and the
bartender picks it up and proceeds with his
I pose the question, "What
exactly is the theme of this theme bar?"
The bartender roars
uproariously as only jovial bartenders can, and
with a devilish look informs me, "There's a
theme all right. The theme is you go in and you're
overcharged exorbitantly, shoved around and
threatened if not worse. Customers like our one
drink for the price of two special. Any lip and
you get dragged outside in the alley and beaten
by the bouncers, all banned professional
wrestlers, for anywhere from forty-five minutes
to overnight. Also, you get rolled."
"You mean they take
your money too?"
"No, you get rolled
down a steep embankment."
He smiles as if to imply,
"You're outta yer league." The smile
over, he says, "You're outta yer league."
I believe the best defense
against impossible odds is a transparent bravado.
"Get this and get it straight. When you see
that varmint Charlie the Carpenter tell him, the
varmint that is, that before it's all over, I'll
take his measure."
The bartender cowers and I
reassure him, "It's not you I'm after. The
sooner the world, or at least this neighborhood
is done with the likes of Charlie the Carpenter,
the sooner we can all face the future unafraid."
Once outside in skies
leadened by nearby belching smokestacks of giant
steel mills and the stench of slaughter yards, I
feel clean, reinvigorated. Time to re-visit the
musty files to find that one thing to put it all
together, that one thing right under your nose,
so obvious yet so easy to miss. I pick up a pizza,
the usual, pickled herring and Cheese Whiz
topping, and settle in on the ominous task.
Nothing cheerier than
riffling through musty files. I hear something
behind me and my lips perk up. Nothing happens
until my ears perk up. Just like that, there's a
heavy thud behind me and I whip around to get a
gander of what's going on. The heavy thud is a
heavy thug who had apparently snuck up behind me
and passed out from the dust of the files.
I frisk the guy and find a
membership card from the Brotherhood of Pileated
Woodpeckers, Wheeling, West Virginia Chapter,
also a business card that reads "Madam Lulu
Devine, Palms Red, Green or Orange." Along
with some lines of poesy. Could there be a
connection between the Chapter and the verse?
The guy's name, according
to the Woodpecker card is, strangely enough,
Charlie the Carpenter. Coincidental, but not
quite there. The only Carpenter I knew was
Charley. Of course, he uses aliases, like
variations of his first name, but the similarity
is an aberration, utterly insignificant.
What's with this goon
coming after me? Anything to do with the phone
call from the voice that hired me? My attraction
to Winnie? What gives with "Nails" Wood?
To say nothing of "Rover's" or the
chickie at Charley's house.
The shmuck on the floor
starts coming to. I know he's coming to because
he opens his eyes, looks around which doesn't
take long in this place, and asks, "Where am
I? I must have been overcome by musty files.
I give the lug a swig of
Drano which seems to perk him up, after which he
whirls around and retchs. I decide to be
aggressive. "I know your name is bogus. For
your information, I know Madam Lulu Devine and
you, sir, are no palmist. Better blab why you're
here and who you really are."
"Why not. The name's
Nathan Wood. I sometimes pretend to be Charlie
the Carpenter even though it goes against my
grain. The compulsion to lurk on the fringes of
this scoundrel's milieu hammers at my very being.
You see, I've always wanted to be despicable.
Early on, I decided that my dream could only
"You poor sucker. Is
it worth it?"
Before he could answer, a
hush falls over us. Wood asks as he loosens what
would have been a tie if he had worn one, "Is
it usually this hushy in here?"
"I'll tell you when
you give me the lowdown on what's behind all this
business. And, why you are called 'Nails."
"That's a moniker to
imply a correlation between Charlie the Carpenter
and yours truly. Again, we have that vicarious
issue. I salivate basking in the penumbra of
shadowy personages. As far as the other matters
are concerned, I'll spill the beans."
"Now we're getting
somewhere. Hark, I hear noises outside. Look, the
door is opening. Oh, oh, there's the muzzle of a
gun protruding from the hall. Well, whattya know,
it's shooting, yelling, 'Myles, duck.' Does it
mean that we're having duck for dinner? Nails,
you all right? Maybe we can fix that gaping hole
in your heart region. Hang in there, old man.
What's that you're mumbling? Bust no one? Lust no
one? Golly, if you can't articulate, how's a
person going to know your parting words?
One less suspect. I decide
to go back to "Rover's." I better have
a palaver with that bozo at the bar. I couldn't
make out what he looked like in the dim light as
he covered his face with a newspaper, although
his nodding was obvious as it was so energetic.
Yet, it could have been just another bar nodder.
As Im about to hit
the street, who's ahead of me, going out of the
buildings revolving door, none other than
Winifred. What's she up to? Aw, she probably
knows someone else in the building. Just the same
I'm getting a whiff of gunpowder, like somebody
just shot a gun.
Why was Winnie weturning?
Whence goest she? Who bumped off Nails yet spared
me? Who was the unknown voice on the phone? Male
or woman? Female or man? Were these issues ever
to be resolved? ?
Ah, a park bench, in a park
at that. I'll just plop down and cogitate. What
have we here? A bothersome pigeon on the bench
cooing away. A guy can't even cogitate in peace.
An obscurely familiar voice
yells from a nearby clump of tree stumps, "Check
what's in the bird's beak, stupid." Looking
around I'm the only cogitator in the park. It
must mean me. There is a small piece of paper in
the creature's mouth. I feel icky in taking the
paper from that thing's mouth, clue or not. I do
retrieve it, wipe it best I can on my sleeve, tip
the bird, it flies off, I unfold the paper. It is
a note, but in code. Lucky for me, I recognize it
as a secret Dick Tracy code. Lucky I always carry
my Dick Tracy decoder ring with me . The message
is simply, "Check your musty files under 'P.'
Expect a call at your, for lack of a better term,
office, in two hours, allowing you enough time to
check the guy in the bar, have a chat with the
bartender, (watch out for him), grab a corned
beef and chocolate phosphate, no mustard, at the
corner deli. Go home and get out of those sweaty
duds. Think of it as a fresh start. And remember,
a clear mind is the exception to the rule but it
doesn't hurt to look nice. Someone may drop in."
Fine, just fine, I think. I
hie to "Rover's." The guy is there,
still shrouded in a cloak of mystery. No
newspaper this time but a scrambled image impedes
identity. This time it talks, responds to my
interrogation. Unfortunately, the words are
"What's with Mumbles?"
I query of the barkeep.
"Look, Myles," as
he glances furtively in all five directions,
"this case is dynamite. You're dealing with
explosive folks. Charlie is out to get Winnie who,
in turn, is out to get..."
What could be enlightening
is thwarted by the unmistakeable swish of a
wicked knife on its way to a bartender's back.
Quickly, I whirl around but the guy at the bar is
gone. Back where I started. I'm gonna leave this
stiff here for the service that disposes of dead
bodies in the crime genre.
I unlock the open door to
my office. Everything is in shambles. What isn't
in shambles is enveloped in a hush. I check my
files only to find all the files gone, except for
"P." Somebody trying to tell me
something, or what? I have no choice but to
determine what "P" has to do with all
this. Mentally, I go through my list of suspects
but no "P's", unless fate intends for
me to meet one. At the same time I need to
discover why the place was ransacked. Come to
think of it, the figure that could have been
Winnie was lugging a large bundle of, could it
have been, file folders? Yes, file folders. It's
starting to add up. I just have to do the math. I
do but the teacher marks it wrong.
Just like that, the phone
rings. A voice starts speaking but it's garbled.
The guy at the bar? I ask the voice if it belongs
to the guy at the bar. The voice says, "Maybe
yes, maybe no."
I ask, having heard the
line in a movie, "What's your game?"
"Does the name 'Joe
Chimes' ring a bell?"
I'm thinking. Joe Chimes,
huh? The only Joe Chimes I knew was a two-bit
counterfeiter who specialized in phony quarters.
He was very bitter that I had busted his
operation. At his sentencing he was led out of
the courtroom by fourteen burly guards, screaming.
Joe was screaming. If the guards had been
screaming it would have been deafening . "I
was framed, framed, I tell ya. I'll get you for
this, you gosh darn so-and-so." He did a
stretch in the big house where he fulfilled a
wish to change genders. Changed his name too. The
new one began with "W' or maybe "P.".
Learned shop in the can. When he got sprung he
amassed an enormous wardrobe that could easily be
considered unisexual. Most people saw it as a
jail-acquired quirk, nothing more.
I'm thinking. Way too many
suspects. Group some together, eliminate the
duplicates and the odds should improve. Cunningly,
trying to trap the caller, I say, "Why
dont you ask, Winnie?" Next I hear the
sound of a horse neighing, then uproarious
laughter. I scream into the receiver, "What's
so funny, Winnie?"
More neighing, more
laughter. Finally, a voice, almost human,
chortles, " You private eyes need a ton of
bricks to fall on you before you get the subtle
nuances of life."
I recall Joe. Supposedly he
vanished. Or should I say, she vanished?:
"I believe there's
only two to pick from."
"Everywhere I look
there's a new player. I'm befuddled."
"Don't forget. He's a
master of disguise and can effect a myriad of
dialects and regional accents."
"Just my luck. A multi-linguist
on top of everything else. Ah, but we digress.
What is everyone after?"
The caller says, "I'll
help you out, in a fashion. Gimme a character and
I will decipher it."
"Nails, for instance."
"Simple. Nails was too
smart for his own good."
"Nails had his fingers
into everything and got the best grades in eighth
grade, resulting in uncontrollable envy from his
classmates, even to this very day. Charley
protected him like Nails was his own brother,
which, coincidentally he was. A tale for another
I grunt as if I got the
A sound emanates on the
phone, a car backfire or a shot. More. Could be
more cars backfiring or more shots being fired.
At any rate, the line is dead.
I need to dope this out.
Some life this is. Cooped up in an office that's
really a broom closet. People getting shot,
assuming numerous identities, tricksters
And more. Worktime over,
what then? Back to my flop in Ma Milldew's
Boarding Establishment. And, my tiny room there,
is it better than a closet? No wonder I'm
constantly chided for slouching. When you think
of cramped, I'm the first one to come to mind.
Only good part is once in
awhile I run into the cookie who recently moved
in. She lives on the first floor in the rear.
Miss Plaine. Miss Jane Plaine. Quiet, yes. Mousy,
definitely. Everyone says, get a dame. I never
could mix. Guess I'm not blameless for being
dameless. Tonight's going to be different.
I'm sitting on the front
stoop. She comes out the front door and starts
down the steps and smiles at me, slightly, but
any fool could see she's smiling demurely,
perhaps beguilingly. If this isn't a come hither
gesture, I don't know what is.
I don't have a hat to tip
so I salute her smartly and click my heels. She
smiles again, this time "coy" and
"vixenish" are written all over her
Sophisticated me says,
"Hey, toots, I'll walk miles for a broad
like youse. Can I escort you?"
Miss Plaine devastates me
with another of her patented smiles and replies,
"Sure thing, kiddo. However, and I will say
this only once, keep your mitts off me or I'll
knock you into the middle of next week."
"Fair enough, but
The walk itself is
uneventful except for encountering a pack of
wolves, a sudden blizzard that just as quickly
turns to blistering heat. Did I mention raging
Back at the boarding house
I thank her profusely for permitting me to
accompany her. And how does she respond?
"Allowing you to walk
with me is so intimate an event you are compelled
to do the right thing and announce our bethrothal.
I'll be your steady for an appropriate period, no
funny stuff. Then we'll get to using personal
names and innocuous data concerning your
idiosyncrocies, the unspeakable skeletons in your
closet, nothing lurid, mind you. Of course, we
will continue to live separately at Ma Milldew's."
"As long as we're on
suppressed matters," I ask, "do you
know I'm a private dick?"
"It is not my
intention to butt in, 'butt', get it," she
grimaces, "your anatomical secrets will
never be an issue. Therefore, if you have any
ideas about, shall we say, intimacy, you will do
well to dismiss them and I mean forever. I view
your calling as sordid, nothing less, and a
change will be in order.
"My own profession is
that of a junior book stacker in the library of
the 'Acme Museum of Dangerous Predators and
Bowling Memorablia.' As it turns out, we very
recently lost a staff member and..."
"You lost a staff
"Yes, he was last seen
in the section of the larger, vicious members of
the cat family. They're stuffed you know, but one
hears of strange goings-on. Back to the job. My
employer owes me favors, as it were. I can get
you in as..."
"You'll be on the
evening shift, patrolling the large medieval
gallery. Suits of armor, maces, shields, an
occasional lance, gallant figures astride
handsomely bedecked steeds."
"And the job's name?"
I can't believe it. At long
last, an exit out of private eyeing, private
dicking, oh to be an ex-sleuth. A job with
regular hours. Not scintillating company, mind
you, but I'd be the first one to admit a lack of
I take a good hard look at
Miss Plaine, my promised one. Who cares how it
came about? I know it's the detective in me but I
discern a resemblance in her to the revolving
door person, and if her voice was garbled
slightly, it could be that... But enough. Not my
concern. Even is shes really the infamous
Winnie, at least I got a steady. If she chooses
to make life grievous for me, well, she's a smart
cookie and has her reasons and I hate to judge
others. A new future beckons.
Screwing up courage, I flat
out ask why subject me to an arduous path ahead (not
that I wont comply).
I ferreted out your
whereabouts and seized the opportunity for
revenge whilst gaining your favor, knowing how
you yearned for acceptance and I for twisted
vindication. Ah, you ask, revenge for what?
Simple, you sent my sister, Veri Plaine, to the
I murmur, "the chair?
" It was your
testimony that convinced Judge Meaney to sentence
Veri to the chair. Or, at least, that's what
everyone thought. An illiterate clerk transcribed
in the court records, 'choir' not 'chair.
She joined a church choir where she was doomed to
stay forever in the grips of inspirational music.
"Gosh," I gasp.
"Gasp away," she
sneers. "If that business with Veri wasn't
enough, you poor excuse for a stereotyped private
investigator, try this for ironic fate. He set me
up to call you, and he contrived to get the heat
off me and focused in lieu on you. Clever by half,
you fool. Still, the way your hair is tousled,
how your ears wag, that annoying blink every time
you hear the score from Sound of
Music, make you one heck of a lovable guy.
I'm yours forever, within the bounds of propriety."