Is it possible to write a crime story in under one thousand words?
I thought I’d try and find out.
“Smyth, with a P,” I said urgently.
Behind the rope the Neanderthal checked his clipboard and furrowed his brow, which appeared to be his default expression. He gave the distinct impression of someone that would be confused by vowels.
“Rhymes with Klaus,” I shouted over the relentless base from the club.
His razor-blade slit of a mouth creased in frustration. I seized the list from his grasp and pointed to a name at random. “There. Victor Manning, that’s me.” I smiled for effect. I didn’t receive one in return.
He looked me up and down. I cut quite the figure in my tuxedo. I could have been Fred Astaire if I lost forty kilos and didn’t dance like a tasered alley cat. He eyeballed his clipboard again to see if it held resolution to his conundrum. I doubted it.
The club was strictly low rent. The line consisted of skinny bimbos and meat-heads. The girls were all teeth, boobs and Chernobyl fake tan, wearing what could be generously referred to as sequinned hankies. The blokes wore t-shirts to show off their tattoos, had necks as thick as elephant legs, and were about as intelligent.
I was might overdressed. Then again, if I was going to be killed tonight – a distinct possibility – at least I’d go out in style. It wasn’t even my tux, so a few bullet holes wouldn’t worry me so much. Except for the agonising death, of course.
Captain Neanderthal lifted the rope and jerked his neck towards the door. He muttered something unintelligible which I assumed was a critique of dialectical materialism or a diatribe about the lack of strong feminist role models. I slipped him fifty bucks for his trouble.
After paying an entry fee more akin to extortion, I stepped into the club. It smelt of stale beer, chlorine and desperation. Much like home, really.
Absentmindedly I tapped my jacket for a revolver I knew wasn’t there. I hadn’t carried one in years. Hercule Poirot didn’t, so why should this private detective? Given the fact that he was fictional and didn’t have half the Melbourne underworld after them, the point seemed moot.
With the combination of stifling heat and gyrating nubile flesh, I grew increasingly nauseous. I fought my way through the pretty things to the back of the club.
Either Captain Neanderthal moved like lightning or he had a twin. A similar looking thick jawed thug stood at the fortified office door.
“Hello,” I said jovially.
“What do you want?” was his witty rejoinder.
At least this one could form sentences. Sure, not up there with Wilde, but what was these days?
“I’m here to see Knuckles,” I said nice as pie. Two pies in fact.
“He expecting you?”
“No, but he’ll want to see me.”
“They all say that.”
“Well, I’m reasonably sure he’ll want a chin wag,” I said nodding at the door.
“I just shot his brother.”
Without delay, or due concern for the non-refundable deposit on my suit, I was hauled through the door and unceremoniously thrown at the feet of Knuckles Kane.
Placing the delicate china teacup on the imposing mahogany desk in the equally imposing mahogany lined office, Knuckles casually tutted. Built like a whippet, his beady eyes drilled into me. In a jockey-like voice, he said, “I hired you to look after me little brother, not shoot him.”
“If it’s any consolation, I only shot him a bit.”
“A little bit,” I said closing the gap between my thumb and forefinger. “I could have sailed off into the sunset…” That was a lie, I got seasick looking at pictures of rowboats. “…but I came here to let you know what happened.”
That and Knuckles would have hunted me down like a dog if I hadn’t.
He shrugged. “The way I see it, shooting someone’s a bit is like being a bit pregnant. Either way someone’s been fucked.”
The mixed metaphor didn’t quite work, but I let it slide.
“You hired me to keep him out of trouble and he was about to step into a huge steaming pile of it. There’s a job going down at the Crown Casino tonight, he’d agreed to drive the getaway van. I got wind of it and crashed their little planning session.”
“The other gents present were none too pleased with this turn of events.”
I had the distinct impression Knuckles had heard this tale before. He was far too calm.
“There were a couple of tussles.” I showed him my bloody fists. “I managed to spirit your brother away. He decided to pull a gun on me, quite discourteous, if I’m honest. I’d stuck my neck out for that little…cherub and he does that.”
“So why exactly did you shoot him?” Knuckles said eying one of the opened doors.
The fix was in and my fate was sealed.
“Because your brother was adamant he was going to make a name for himself and I was equally adamant he wouldn’t. In the end, shooting him in the leg seemed better than getting his head blown off.”
Seemingly unsurprised with my story, Knuckles asked, “Why you all dolled up like that?”
“I had a date. To the opera.”
“Like opera do you?”
“Well, then this will be a relief.”
I turned to see Knuckles’ little brother holding a big gun. He had a heavily bandaged leg and a face of barely contained rage. No Christmas card this year.
When the bullet entered my belly it was like all the pain of my life was relived in an instant. Don’t let anyone tell you being shot is like the movies where you shrug it off. It hurts like hell and you scream like a banshee, no matter who you are.
As I lay dying in a pool of my own blood, every hacking cough bringing me closer to death, one thought kept running through my brain.
I really tipped that bouncer too much.