Chop and Splice
The days are long and cold now and the dark streets slick with rain – or blood. There’s always blood if you know where to look: for example, down at the fish market at 4 AM when the grouper and snapper and yellow fin come in twitching fresh and leave filleted on ice, guts and crimson life hosed off the pavement by dawn.
But this isn’t a street I’m not down at the fish market this 4 AM and there’s still blood. In my line of work, blood’s a bad sign though about as inevitable as the results of a hooker’s syphilis exam. The name’s Oedipus. Oedipus Rex, Private Eye.
Of course, that’s not my real name. In this line of work the last thing you want is for some hood to find out who your parents are and tell them how rotten your credit rating is or how you really didn’t go to college like you told them, spent all their money partying like a coked-up chimpanzee, and how you got a P.I.’s license by responding to a mail order ad in the back of an old issue of McSleazy Photo Kittens. You remember, the one where Lola LaVoom bared her 44 EEEs for the first time.
Nah. You don’t want that. The ramifications could be devastating – such as they might realize their only son has grown up to be a cheap liquor-drinking asshole with a Fisher Price P.I. license and a well-oiled Colt .45 knock-off. And then they might write you out of the will, giving your inheritance to the Trappists in penance for the great sin of burdening the world with your reeking presence.
You want things to stay the way they are, with them thinking you’re a junior executive in a perfectly respectable men’s shoe company, climbing the corporate ladder, dating attractive young women who will, one day, deliver unto them fitting progeny. Of course, doing freebie work for Sam McSleazy, owner/publisher of McSleazy Photo Kittens Magazine so you can get models to play the role of girlfriend de jour every time you go home for the holidays is getting old, but what the hell, ma and pa will kick off eventually.
Oedipus Rex isn’t my real name. It’s Nixon. Richard Milhous Nixon, an honest man in a dishonest world.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. Right here, 4, well, 4:05 AM, in Room 107 at the Tick Tock Motel. The radio’s on, softly playing some hard-luck orchestra "live from the Rumble Room in New York City" – which is total bullshit because the Rumble Room closes at 2 AM. I stood in line all night once to get in because I had something important to tell Sam McSleazy and the bouncer threw me out around then saying I looked like some kind of poorly shaved panhandling prick.
"Besides," he said, "we’re about to close."
I ought to have put 20 ounces of hot lead in his steaming vitals and laughed mercilessly as he died whimpering with a soul-searing gut wound. But I have no spine, so slunk away like a dog that’s been beaten with a hickory cane about twelve too many times. Instead, I asked around and got his name and added it to my list. I’ve got this list, see, of all the people who’ve ever crossed me and when I become president I’m going to give it to the IRS and order them to pull their tax returns all the way back to the dawn of time and look until they find enough evidence to fuck them all till they like it and ask for more.
So far, the list includes Mao Tse Tung, Harry S. Truman, and three-quarters of the population of New Jersey, including Bruce Springsteen even though I don’t think he’s been born yet.
Right now, however, it’s 4:15 at the Tick Tock Motel, Room 107 where I ever so stealthily let myself in with my Ronco lockpicks only to discover the body of a man face down in a pool of blood. Well, as much of a pool as you can get on cheap, Jello-green colored motel carpet.
I’m thinking, this is not good. For a variety of reasons: One, this was where Sandra Slopes, noted stripper, had just been staying for three days (found out from the late night desk clerk) – and I’ve had the place staked out for hours; no one came in and Sandra only left about a half hour ago, not exactly in a hurry. Two, Sandra Slopes is sister to Slippery Slopes known for salaciously soaping it up on stage down at Sterno Stan’s House of Sin Sunday through Saturday (except for Wednesdays and Thursdays when she, strangely, takes a sort of sabbatical from her sudsy slithering – some say she spends time sailing). And, three, Slippery Slopes is my client.
Confidentiality laws and workplace ethics prevent me from sharing with you the nature of the job for which I was retained; however, since private dicks are, as a matter of tradition, incapable of refraining from these interior monologues such as you are, at this moment, witnessing; and, as the conceit of noir detective fiction is that I don’t seem to know you’re listening anyway, I’ll tell you why I was following Sandra Slopes.
It was late in the afternoon yesterday and I was doing what I usually do in my office in late Autumn – drink Listerine from a water glass because my bank account’s too low to buy a bottle of Bottom O’ The Barrel Bourbon, chain smoke filterless Pal Mals because they don’t make the damn things with filters yet, all while cleaning my Colt .45 knock-off. It occurred to me there might be something like stupidity involved in slapping machine oil all over an automatic pistol while drunk on Listerine and juggling cigs, but that’s why I’m a P.I. and not an executive at Walk-Rite shoes like my folks think I am.
Once upon a time I had a real sexy secretary called Patty Hearst; she wore these real low cut blouses with skirts so tight you could see the seams of her stockings through the cloth whenever she walked away. She’d come in, oh, about twenty, twenty-seven times a day and bend waaaaaay over and sharpen her pencils with the sharpener on my desk while talking about things I do not remember at all. Staring down her cleavage, I swear she had some kind of seven-headed hydra tattooed on one of her breasts. That, and I think her navel was pierced. Thought about putting my foot down on this behavior many times, but never could find a good reason to do so.
She was stealing me blind – not hard to do flashing skin like that and bringing me water glasses full of alcoholic substances every couple of minutes. Every time she left to go home, there was at least a twenty stuffed into the toes of each of her stiletto-heeled death shoes until the day came when my safe was cleaned out and she didn’t show up for work. Used the cash to help finance a "revolutionary cell" (whatever the fuck that is) and last I heard their army had "liberated" San Francisco, seceded from the union, and voted some weirdo freak poet named Ferlinghetti president. But that’s another story. All I know is Patty Hearst is on my list.
But other than screwing me over – and not in the desired fashion – she was a good secretary and receptionist, making clients wait that extra hour while I pretended to do Important Things to make them think they were damn lucky to get to hire me at all or tipping me off when it was a bill collector or the heat so I could go climb out the window and sit on the ledge until they left. Good girl that way.
But the day Slippery Soaps sauntered in, Patty was long gone, a beatnik liberator of Frisco; so Slippery just waltzed right in, pretty as you please, no knock, no anything.
"No anything" was right – I’ve never felt so embarrassed to look at a woman allegedly wearing clothes in my entire life. She was indescribably indescribable. If you took one part Jayne Mansfield, one part Mimi Van Doren, one part Marlene Dietrich from The Blue Angel, five parts Bettie Page from both the cheesecake and the Irving Klaw stuff, five parts Betty and Veronica drawn with a French curve by a particularly talented sex maniac destined to be jailed for crimes against decency standards, tossed in 15 pounds of habinero peppers for spice, added a big pinch of je ne še qua, stirred ever so carefully, poured into a frightfully provocative mould, and then baked at 250 until golden brown, your product would look far closer to Quasimodo than the heart-stopping Esmerelda called Slippery Slopes.
"Hello, I’m Slippery Slopes," she said in a voice as buttery and dark as Belgian chocolate.
"Uh – yes, you are," I responded in a voice that cracked and sounded like a man who’d drunk three bottles of Listerine in a row.
My gaze looked for a safe place to land. Finding none, I just wandered over her amazing body with one eye while trying to look professional, focusing on her deep, ultramarine blue eyes and full coral pink lips with the other.
She, in turn, seemed unconcerned with either of my eyes, so completely confident and transcendent was her bearing; the body before me said, simultaneously, yes, please look all you want – hell, I’ll even show you around – but to even dream of touching me is so absurd and dangerous you may just as well grab up a dozen rattlesnakes freshly menaced with a cattleprod that are looking for someone on whom to demonstrate their desperate need for an anger management group.
She continued speaking, "I’ve heard you’re a good detective. Sam McSleazy has told me all about you."
Well, even I have limits. "Look, if this is about free work for Sam, at the moment my account with him is square…."
"You misunderstand, Mr. Rex. Or may I call you Oedipus?"
"You may call me Bobby, or you may call me Zimmy. You can call me anything, but why not just call me Richard? That’s my real name. I don’t give it out to just anyone." I think I winked.
She smiled broadly. Somewhere in Tahiti there’s a dentist living like a god off what Slippery paid for those teeth. "OK, Richard."
"And may I call you Slippery, Miss Slopes?" Or Boom-Boom Sex Death Machine?
"The Slippery thing is just a stage name, of course. My given name is Konnie Kanteloupes. Had to change my name when I became a stripper, just so my parents wouldn’t find out, y’know? They think I work on the line down at the Hossenfeffer Beer Factory. Shlemiel, shlemozel. But call me Slippery anyway so your audience won’t get overly confused."
"Never mind." She reached into her purse and produced a stack of Ben Franklins thicker than four decks of playing cards and proceeded to shuffle and fan them out in front of my widening eyes in a most cruel and enticing fashion,
"Easy money, Richard. I just want you to tail my sister, Sandra for a few days and find out whom she’s seeing. She’s a burlesque dancer too, and since she started working down at Bad Mamma Jamma’s Chapel of Boobs, Booze, and Blues I’m somewhat concerned she may have fallen in with the wrong crowd and picked a cad for a boyfriend. Plus mom and dad asked me to look after her when we left to go to the city and all."
"I charge 2, uh, $350.00 a day plus expenses."
She slapped the entire stack on the desk sharply and gently waved her perfectly manicured hand over it.
"You can have all of it if you do this for me. Money’s no object – I make this much off a one minute lap dance." Then she peeled off five bills and tossed them up like confetti. "Is this enough to retain your services?"
I had snatched the cash out of the air, put it in my wallet, and was up and on my way out the door to Cirrhosis Hank’s Friendly Neighborhood Bar Where Everybody Knows Your Name and Wants To Knock Your Teeth Out by the time she said "services."
"Richard? Don’t you want to know the details?" she wondered.
After a few belts and a couple of bar brawls at Hank’s, I locked myself in a stall in the Men’s Room where I began my work. You see – and this is the secret to my success – I am a graffitomancer. Some exercise prophecy by means of cards or entrails or palmistry. A few years ago I realized that I can loosely see the future and such after tanking up on rot gut whiskey and then reading graffiti while urinating. As the water began to fall, I fell into a trance as I looked at the inane offerings:
’Bobby luvs Debbie’ – ‘so does everybody else with $2’ – ‘for a hot time call 867…’ – ‘call yo’mamma, I did an she liked it’ – ‘Go Marines!!! Uuuraah!!!’ – ‘I think you just passed a stone the size of a brick, fag’ – ‘Here I stand, quietly dismayed/came to piss but just got laid’—a hammer and a sickle, a cross with Jesus Saves H&S Green Stamps, a crude drawing of a crooked penis engraved into the enamel of the stall, a magic markered screaming chicken with one eye way too big, word balloon: ‘suck my cock’….
Images flashed before my eyes, strange things, like a reel of movie film had been cut into billions of pieces, thrown into a hurricane, and then spliced together and overlapped, some brief scenes rapidly running forwards, some backwards, none in any sort of perceivable order….
And then I woke up on the filthy floor with piss on the front of my pants and some drunk beating on the door and calling me names I don’t feel like repeating in the presence of ladies. I had received a sort of series of impressions and a premonition – images of long-haired people dressed in strange, multi-colored clothing, lots of beads, large medallions, saying strange words I didn’t know; but the feeling I got was even stranger, as if I was in extreme danger somehow, a danger worse than death.
So I went back to the bar and drank some more until the premonition went away. Feh – sometimes psychic readings work and then sometimes they’re like picking up snatches of incomprehensible programming from Cuban AM radio stations at night when the signals bounce on the ionosphere.
Good and tanked, it was time to go down to Bad Mamma Jamma’s Chapel to catch the show – and maybe find Sandra Slopes. Of course, someone had stolen my car at Cirrhosis Hank’s so I had to catch a cab. Bastard wouldn’t take me all the way to Bad Mamma Jamma’s – "I ain’t drivin’ into that neighborhood. No way," he kept muttering. Got his name from the cabbie’s license and put it on my list before being tossed out about 3 blocks short of my destination. Didn’t give him a tip, either.
Staggering along, I was vaguely aware of being happy I was too drunk to realize how much danger I was in; that, and I noticed there were many eyes from many slum tenement windows boring into me – eyes of black people who had been exploited and cheated and ripped off and jailed and harassed by men about as white as I am. And here I was, a single white man in a cheap suit, drunk and in the wrong territory in the middle of the night for no reason, no back up. Obviously, I needed an ass beating.
Therefore, when I woke up with two black eyes and some loose teeth and my ribs stomped in, pockets turned inside-out, I was not surprised at all. I picked myself up from the heap of garbage at the edge of the neighborhood on which I’d been deposited and began to limp away in extreme pain. The cab that had put me out came slowly rolling up and the driver called out in a sing-song voice, "Told ya so!"
"Shut up," I coughed, climbing in. As the cab pulled away I wrenched my left shoe off and dug around in the sock – they had missed the hundred I’d stuck in there, "just in case." I get beat and robbed so often I do this by habit now. Reaching in my jacket, I realized the sons of bitches hadn’t taken my list, so I scrawled "all minorities" in it. Yeah, I’d show them.
Just then, a pink Cadillac passed the slow moving cab and I clearly saw it was a woman who looked almost exactly like Slippery Slopes except her hair color was blonde (I think) and Slippery’s was raven black (I think) – it’s difficult to remember their exact description. But it had to be Sandra.
"Follow that car," I told the cabbie.
She wound up at The Tick Tock Motel, Room 107, and I had the cabbie let me out at The All-Nite Diner across the street. I handed him the hundred.
"I ain’t got change fer this," he said.
"Well, give me a second and I’ll get it from the diner."
He tossed me a twenty and barked tires leaving. "You owe me a tip, asshole," he growled.
That’s how I came to I stake out Room 107 sitting in a window booth, nursing cup after cup of black coffee until Sandra left, I let myself, and then found myself standing here over a corpse with dance music allegedly from the Rumble Room coming over the radio. So, she’s killed somebody – wonder who? I mused, rolling the body over with my foot.
"Damn!" I hissed, seeing the recipient of the bullet. It was Lyndon Baines Johnson, crime boss known to control every other politician while sipping mint juleps on the well-manicured lawn of his mansion in Texas. This was bad, very bad – no way was Sandra Slopes going to walk away from this alive . . . and Slippery and I might be in the grave right behind her. Maybe if I just leave town for a few weeks, I thought. Manitoba is a nice place in late autumn, or so I hear . . ..
As I turned to get the Hell out of Dodge, the door opened. I reached for the trusty Colt .45 knock-off and came up empty handed; bastards stole it when they mugged me! But the shape standing in the door had a pistol, one held with great assurance, barrel aimed right at my chest. Then she stepped into the room and quietly closed the door behind her.
"Sandra Slopes?" My voice was a weak as my bladder. Hint: You do P.I. work, don’t drink a couple of gallons of coffee before walking into a potential crime site.
She smiled slightly. Reaching up with one hand, she removed the blonde wig and tossed it on the bed, letting her (I think) raven black hair fall down across her shoulders.
"Slippery Slopes?!!! What – what’s going on here?"
"Simple, Richard. You killed Lyndon Baines Johnson."
"This pistol," she waved it a little, "is yours. Had some friends pick it off your body a few hours ago. Yes, I set you up. I knew what you’d do, I knew how all of this would turn out. Hell, I could’ve even told you and you’d still have done it all and we’d be standing here anyway."
"I don’t get it."
"Of course not. My name’s not Slippery, nor is it Konnie, it’s Cassandra. Get it? ‘Sandra?’ "
"Uh, no, I still don’t get it."
"I forgot, you only told your parents you went to college. It’s rather an empty thing to constantly make allusions and predictions no one gets. ‘Apollo, oh Apollo . . ..’ "
"Isn’t that a theatre in Harlem?"
"Never mind, you nit wit. Walk over there to the closet. Very slowly, now – it’s time to end this mess."
So, this is how it all comes down, I thought. I’m gonna die like a punk in a cheap motel room, shot down by an indescribably indescribable woman because I was looking at the sights and missed what was coming. This was what those graffiti visions meant.
And the closet door opened to reveal two old men, both impeccably dressed in black silk suits, one with a fedora the other without. Behind them, I witnessed an impossible sight: a room full of books that was so huge it seemed to stretch into infinite darkness; the room was in another world, entirely different from a cheap motel room – it had candelabras, an ancient oak table and leather chairs running down the center, typewriter keyboards hooked to strange "screens," movie projectors and thousands of scraps of edited film strewn around in the floor.
"Who -- what . . .?!" I yammered.
Slippery-Cassandra spoke from behind me.
"Allow me to introduce you to two of the masterminds of our great plot to rewrite history and prevent a terrible future from being born. These gentlemen are Burroughs and Borges, reality re-arrangers extraordinaire."
From a shadow in the corner of the endless room stepped another form into the light.
Yes, it was Patty Hearst, sexy as ever in a skin-tight leather sort of arrangement with high heeled boots. She wore a raspberry beret and carried a submachine gun.
"That’s right, Richard, it’s me."
"Come to watch me die?" I said, hoping my pitiful pout was clearly expressed through intonation.
"Well, that depends," she cooed. "The choice is up to you, really."
Slippery-Cassandra broke in.
"Here’s the Reader’s Digest version, as that is all you will be able to comprehend. You see, in the future, you became a President of the United States and really screwed up, well, everything. One of the worst in the office, really. But that’s before Borroughs and Borges here proved they were not of this dimension and had discovered a way to destroy and re-create reality at will, make it more exciting, interesting; they showed us how to travel time, undo things in the future and past that will have horrible effects and replace them with something better. Something fun."
"So, we re-wrote the script to your life," smiled Patty. "You were making some really useless decisions on your own and needed a little help."
"Which is why you’re here," continued Slippery-Cassandra dryly. "You either choose to go along with our new plot or, well – Bill, what’s in store behind curtain number two?"
"Gangsters will throw you headfirst into a smelter where your remains will be mixed in with steel that goes to make toilets at federal prisons. And you will never lose consciousness, forever," said Burroughs in a metalic yet cultured St. Louis accent.
"Jeezis! What do I have to do?"
Patty walked over and took me by the arm.
"I kind of took a liking to you all those months I was ripping you off, y’know? I think I want you to be my personal houseboy in San Francisco, quit drinking Listerine. Grow a ‘fro, wear a dashiki."
"You’ll have time to figure it all out . . . if you make the right choice."
Slippery-Cassandra moved closer.
"So, what’s it gonna be, boy? Yes . . . or . . . no?"
Frisco’s a nice place. I’m learning to like it. Bill and Jorge re-wrote the way I look and made me a little more hip, though Pat wouldn’t let me make any drastic changes. "Pat’s" what I call Patty now that we’re married. Buddhist monk did the service.
She’s on the Revolutionary Council – last month I met Che Guevara and decided to wear a beard and a beret like his. Soon, we’ll invade Los Angeles and our cells are gaining strength and numbers all across the country. We’ve been thinking of starting a family and I think I’ll be a stay at home dad. Weird idea, but interesting. Then it’ll be her, me, the baby, and Checkers, our cute puppy. Maybe I’ll start an organic garden, grow cabbages. All I know is I’ve given up writing in my little book, and -- you know? -- I feel a hundred percent better about things.
Right now I’m going to go listen to this Hendrix guy that just blew into town. "Groovy," as the wife says.
Richard Van Ingram
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