Saul’s twinkling eyes took it all in – the platinum hair framing a first-class face, the silvery sheath dress wrapped around a figure that was out of sight, but in plain view. She was definitely the classiest thing in the joint -- Bannister’s by name, a jazz club just off Camp Street in New Orleans – and she was leaning against the side of a very lucky piano, crooning a sultry tune as Saul watched her from his table at the other end of the room, nursing some straight-up rye and taking puffs off a Lucky Strike – which wasn’t half as smokin’ as Marilyn. The ceiling fans didn’t put much of a dent in the muggy air, but that didn’t stop a cold chill from making its way down Saul’s backbone as Marilyn belted out the last few bars of her suggestive little ditty.
When she was done the patrons roused themselves from their stupor long enough to beat their hands together like they meant it, and Saul did the same, then motioned a cigarette girl over and whispered in her ear, dropping a fiver onto her tray. The girl swayed her way over to Marilyn, who was having a tête-à-tête with her piano player. After a few seconds he split, disappearing through a curtained doorway, and Marilyn perched herself on a stool at the far end of the bar. The cig girl muttered the message, jerking a thumb in Saul’s direction, and Marilyn started to shake her head as she turned toward him, but the moment her baby blues locked on his, the “no” turned into a “yes” and she crooked a beckoning finger. He picked up his drink and made his way through the clouds and the crowd till she filled his field of vision.
“Hello, handsome,” she said as she gestured at the stool next to hers. He parked his keister on it. “I understand you’re a private peeper, come all the way from New York City just to talk to little old me.”
“I’d have come farther,” he said, “just to get a good look at you.”
“Aren’t you the charm boy,” she said, producing a Kool from her silver handbag. He lit it. She puffed. So did he.
“Actually,” he said, “I’m in town on another case, but when I found out you were here I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.”
“Good thing I’m not a bird. So what do you want to talk about? Dicky Delgado?”
“I didn’t know you had a mind-reading act too.”
“Mister, if I could read minds I’d be slapping your face right about now.”
He grinned. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I know this. Delgado’s in a jam and Barry Bason is defending him and everybody knows you’re Bason’s pet gumshoe. I’m just trying to decide which I like better -- the tall, dark, handsome one or the lighter version. You and Bason are a couple of dolls. Although your pictures in the paper don’t do you justice.”
“Thanks. Neither does yours. And you’re right about Delgado. I’m investigating all his enemies, trying to figure out which one of them framed him.”
She crossed her legs. The oh-so-tight dress parted, nearly up to her waist, revealing the shapeliest shins this side of Betty Grable.
“You think it’s a frame job?” she said.
“And you figure I might’ve had something to do with it?”
“Oh come on. Sure, I resented that heel for giving me the boot, but I landed on my feet. In fact, I’m grateful to Dicky for setting me on a new career path. I’m moving up in the world.”
Saul glanced around the small, seedy nightclub. “This path leads up? Looks more like a dead end.”
“Hey, don’t let the decor fool you, handsome. This is one of the top jazz joints in the country and the boss pays a lot better than that skinflint Cuban. And a girl could get noticed here if she plays her cards right.”
“I mean by record producers, smarty. All the big shots stop in here looking for new talent. We’ve already gotten a couple of nibbles.”
“My husband and I. Bobby was the guy tickling the ivories during my number.”
“Quite a cozy arrangement. Was it that way with Delgado too?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I wonder if you and Delgado sang a few after-hours duets. And when the lyrics got too hot for Dicky to handle he changed his tune to the wedding ring blues. That casts the brush-off in a whole new light, doesn’t it?”
“Is that what he told you?”
“No, but Bason figures it’s an angle worth pursuing.”
“Which proves that brains and beauty don’t often go together, especially in men.” She blew smoke in his face. “Bason is all wet. And you can tell him so.” She got up off the stool. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go change my tune.”
“Hold on, I’ve got a few more questions.”
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned. Bobby Trope, blonde piano player and annoyed husband, stood behind him, along with a burly bouncer with anchors tattooed on his biceps.
“This quiz show just got cancelled,” Bobby said. “Time to sign off, shamus.”
“Hi, Mr. Trope,” Saul said. “I hear you barely made it back in time for Marilyn’s show last night. Your flight out of New York got delayed due to engine trouble.”
“Who says I was in New York?”
“The girl at the TWA counter at the airport who sold you your round-trip ticket. Why did you go there? To tend to some unfinished business?”
“Unfinished or finished, my business is none of yours.”
“You got something to hide?”
“Nope. I just don’t like nosey questions from private dicks. But I got a question for you. Are you gonna blow this joint under your own power or do you need a little breeze in your sail?”
Saul glanced at the bouncer, then stood up and turned to Marilyn. “Nice meeting you, Miss Leeds.”
“It’s Mrs. Trope to you,” she said. “Now blow.”
(This is an excerpt from my mystery pastiche novella, "The 'I Love Lilly' Murders"
Copyright © Stanley Carter | Year Posted 2016