Note: This episode is really quite different than those that follow later. I was tempted to go back and edit this one to make it fit better (and to make the protagonist more appealing in general), but I decided that wouldn’t be true to the spontaneous nature of the story.
It was just after noon on a Tuesday that was muggier than most Tuesdays. It seemed like the city itself was sweating. The oscillating fan on my desk wasn’t; it was turned away from me with the haughty air of a woman pretending that she was above such foolishness. But I knew better. I could have reached out and turned her toward me, but that would have been a victory for her. I could wait. Sooner or later she’d turn back; I was willing to sweat it out.
My last bottle of rye lay empty on my desk, squeezed of its last drop, and not even Vishnu was going to fill it back up. Not with whiskey, anyway. I brushed the cobwebs off the phone and buzzed Alice. She sounded surprised to hear from me. “How much we got in petty cash?” I asked.
“You’re out of liquor already?” Alice never understood that it was the whiskey that helped me think; it was the cornerstone of my practice. Without the whiskey there would be no fourth-floor office on the corner of East 55th and 2nd, there’d be no phone, and there’d be no Alice in the front office getting paid to paint her toes.
“Just answer the question,” I grumbled.
“There’s twelve bucks, not counting what you owe me in back pay.” She kept bringing that up. There’s no satisfying some dames.
Twelve clams. Good thing I’d been drinking the cheap stuff. I hung up the phone and stood, my knee protesting. It had never been the same since Iron Hand Flannigan and his goons had introduced it to Mr. Lead Pipe. I have to agree with the doctors about heavy metal poisoning. I wasn’t sorry when they pulled Flannigan out of the river with assorted plumbing augmenting his own. I picked my hat up off the floor by the hat rack and mashed it onto my head.
By the time I opened the door Alice had the dough ready. She’s a good kid, really. I had rescued her from a pataphysics recovery group out in Portland and taken her under my wing, so to speak. She was wearing a nice little polka dot outfit that was very easy on the eye. She had nice gams, too. “Thanks, Doll,” I said.
“What is it, Sweetheart?”
It came out in a big blubbering gush. “I can’t go on this way, not getting paid with Ma in the hospital and they’re about to throw us out of our apartment and oh God I don’t know—”
“Jesus, Sister, settle down.” Dames. They just can’t deal with their problems calmly and rationally. After that display, I couldn’t get to Jake’s for a highball fast enough. Fortunately she buttoned up before I had to slap her. “Listen,” I said, talking fast so I could get down to the bar, “everything will be OK. We’ve been through worse, you and me.”
“No, we haven’t.”
“That must have been one of my other secretaries then. But it still applies. Come on, Doll. Buck up.”
Of course she turned on the waterworks then. “I don’t know why I’ve stayed with you so long!”
Honestly, I couldn’t help her on that one. Secretaries for me are like bottles of whiskey; they never last as long as I want them to. It wouldn’t be long before Alice was gone; I could see the signs, I’d danced this number before. I’d already read this chapter, seen it in the tea leaves, gone round this block. It would be too bad; she smelled real nice.
It was getting stuffy in there. “We’ll talk about this more when I get back,” I lied. I beat it for the street and the cool secrets of Jake’s.
Tune in next time for: Encounter At Jake’s!