Crosstown Traffic

The Big Fairy Tale Sleep Raymond Chandler meets the Brothers Grimm
The office looked different through the bottom of a gin bottle. It was stupid thought, but it had been a slow week and I was hungry for action. I took another swig of breakfast. Then she walked in. She was beautiful. Her face was so pretty that if Michelle Pfeiffer had seen it, she would have rushed out to get a facelift, just so her’s could look half as good. “You’re Maloney, right?” Her voice was like the cool hiss of freshly poured champagne. “That’s right, Zac Maloney at your service.” “So I hear you’re a damn fine private dick.” “Sure, gourgeus. What’s the problems?” “Mr Maloney,” she began as she sat down and leaned across my desk. “I’ve got a couple of things on my mind.” “So have I,” I replied, before I managed to drag my eyes upwards from her chestal region. “What’s your name, doll?” “Red. Red Ridinghood.” Red Ridinghood. The name sounded familiar. She had that sweet, innocent look of the kind of gal that would visit her grandmother regularly, bearing gifts. “I work in a strip joint up the Cross.” “Sorry I didn’t see the show,” I said. “Look, Mr Maloney, I won’t beat around the bush –” Impressive, I thought, she can read the filth that makes up my mind as well. “ – My grandmother’s gone missing. She’s disappeared without trace. I went ti visit her on Sunday and she was just gone.”
Grandma Ridinghood lived in a small terrace on the outskirts of town. Her bed had been slept in. There were a few grey hairs and saliva stains on the sheets. In the photograph Red showed me, her grandma had white hair. I might have suspected grandma to be into funny business, but the photo showed that grandma was ugly enough to make gargoyles jealous – she had all the sex appeal of wet chips. The whole business stank like a dead camel. I headed over to the strip joint where Red worked. I thought I might find some clues there – and if I didn’t, at least I’d have something to cheer myself up. Three idiots dressed up as pigs were blocking the laneway behind t strip joint. They were struggling to move a barrowful of bricks very fast. “Hey! Can’t you get the hell outta way!” I yelled. They couldn’t. I wasn’t feeling very patient, so I got out my Colt .45 and let it do the persuading. “No!” One of them squealed, “Tell Mr Wolf we’ll have the money for him tomorrow.” “I don’t know no Mr Wolf. Tell me about him!” Relief swept over their faces. “He’s a beast of a man, a real dog,” said one of them. “if we don’t keep giving him money, he says he’ll blow up our house.” I decided the time was ripe to ask these pigmen the obvious. “What are you guys anyway, freaks or something?” “We’re the Goldblum Brothers, otherwise known as ‘The Three Little Pigs’. We do a cabaret act, and these are our costumes.”
“So what does this Mr Wolf guy do – besides extorting Jewish pigmen, I
“He swallows things. Whole.” A tiny bunch sprang up in the back of my mind – so tiny that even Donahue would have had second thoughts before blowing it wide open on national television. “Tell me,” I said, “This Mr Wolf – is he grey-haired?” “Yeah, he’s got grey hair all right, and lots of it.” My mind was racing like a hamster on speed. “And where can I find this guy?” I asked. “he hangs out at the Club Coyote.” “Thanks,” I said as I turned to go. “Hey!” one of the pigmen yelled after me. “If you see him, don’t mention that you’ve seen us with the bricks, OK?”
The Club Coyote was a dingy but good-sized joint where all kinds of weirdos did their acts. I looked around and found Mr Wolf. He was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket. He had grey hair, with fuzz growing out of his ears, far enough to catch moths. Then there was the mouth. It was huge. A dentist could have got both hands in up the elbows. Before I could get to him, he was gone – slipped out of the rear exit or something. I strolled up to the bartender. “Howdie. That guy who was just here, was that Mr Wolf?” “Yep, that was Freddy ‘Swallow-it-whole’ Wolf. He sure is something, eh?” “I’m sure. I got a message for him – know where he lives?” “No one does, buddy. It’s a secret.” “No one? Surely there’s someone close to him who must know where he lives.” “Well, Alice might, but she’s stoned off her face most of the time – ‘Alice in Wonderland’ we call her. She spends most of her time ranting about huge rabbits and mad hatters, and looking at things through the bottom of glasses. She’s a great dancer though.” “She’s his gal?” “Only when he wants some action. She’s over there in the corner.” “She’s the one with the coke spoon around her neck, right?” The bartender nodded sadly. Alice was as cute as lace pants, but her eyes were like jellyfish. She was tightlipped at first, and about as perceptive as your average tree stump, but a few Orgasms got her talking. It was an expensive business though – with the money I paid for the cocktails, I could have bribed a senior Queensland Police Official.
I checked out the address on the way back to Red’s joint. Wolf had a big penthouse apartment in the richer part of Paddington, as grand as a thousand dollars. It was just a little too good for a slideshow freak-cum-club performer. Red was waiting for me when I got to her place. “The bastards!” she shrieked, shoving a neatly typed ransom note in my face. “They want $10,000 in the next forty-eight hours, otherwise they say ‘She’s gonna go down the toilet.’ God knows what that means. So did I. “Don’t worry, babe, it’s under cointreau,” I told her. I jumped back in the car and sped off to Wolf’s joint.
There was no answer at the door, but the sounds of a TV seeped gently through the walls. I let myself in through the window. A light came on and split the darkness. “Please, make yourself at home,” said Wolf with the kind of ice-cold politeness you’d expect from a talking deep freezer. “Thanks,” I said, but I felt as welcome as a pork chop in a synagogue. “Help yourself to some whiskey!” he said as he levelled the double-gauge shotgun at my chest. “Hmm, Kentucky whiskey, Mind if I drink it in Kentucky?” Wolf took the safety catch off the shotgun. I took that to mean no, Close up, he looked a real nasty type – the kind who wouldn’t think twice about using the Chinese Water Torture on his mother. “Got any soda?” I asked, playing it cool. “There’s a siphon on the sideboard.” I poured myself some whiskey. Wolf cradled the shotgun in his arm, nice and relaxed. A little too relaxed. I shot a stream of soda in his face. He stumbled back, blinded temporarily. I gave him a faceful of knuckles and took the shotgun off him. “Game’s up, scumsucker! Tell me about the Three Little Pigs and the money!” I said. “What’s it to you?” Wolf growled. “Lots of thin rectangular pieces of paper with numbers in the top corners.” “Okay, okay, spare me the terrible puns, I’ll tell you! I’ve been put up to it.” “Is that why you swallowed Red Ridinghood’s grandmother? Wolf went white. “You’re smart,” he replied. “Don’t flatter me, just talk, before I turn you into Swiss cheese!” “Okay already! The Grimm Brothers made me do it.” The Grimm Brothers. They once ran virtually all the cabaret and sleaze joints in the Cross, with all the big names, like Jack and His Beanstalk, the famous male stripper, and Rumpelstiltskin, formerly of the famous “Fairy Tale” erotic dance troupe. All that was before the Grimm Scandal, after which they lost out to the new breed of managers, who had been quietly waiting in the wings for the chance to grab a piece of the profitable Cross club and cabaret cake. “Why? Why’d you give in to them?” “Because they got my girl, Rapunzel.” Rapunzel! The secretive glamour girl of the stage with the long flowing hair who mysteriously disappeared three months ago. “Wait a minute, I thought she was in love with that prince or something.” “It was all an act. That’s why I had to keep it a secret that I was living with her in this flash apartment of her’s.” It turned out that the Grimm Brothers wanted to get back into theatrical management in a big way, and were blackmailing a lot of performers to do it. This gave them some of the cash they needed, and might have cleared the way for their own performers. “And what about Rapunzel? I asked Wolf. “They said they’ll shave her head if I don’t cooperate. I know she’ll just die without her hair. “Don’t worry!” I said as I helped myself to more whiskey, “I’ve got a trap for the Grimm Brothers.” ‘What?”
“we go back a long way, since childhood in fact, and there’s nothing they like better than a happy ending.” I reached for the phone. “You’re gonna calk them now?” “Yeah,” I said, “Just as soon as I call the surgeons. Red wants her grandma back.
The Grimm Brothers rushed headlong into my trap like journalists rushing at a political sex scandal. They honestly believed the managers of the Club Coyote waould forfeit the club to them as long as they and their performers were left alone. What the Grimm Brothers forgot was that happy endings usually only apply to the good guys, not the bad. Grandma Ridinghood was okay. When Red saw me again she gave me a smile that I could feel in my hip pocket. The smile said more than just thank you, Later, we went to see a performance of the Three Little Pigs. I hadn’t seen such a good show since the Gulf War went to air, but then I’ve got less culture than a spoonful of yoghurt. Afterwards, we went to a park for a private performance of our own. We left grandma at home.

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