Category Archives: A to Z Challenge 2014

A to Z Noir: A down and out gumshoe, a couple of femme fatales and a rising tally of dead bodies. Murphy just wants to make a little dough but he’ll settle for getting through this challenge alive!

***Note: The original posting dates have been changed for easier access***

Max Noir

Coming Back.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this blog… But I’ve certainly been writing.

In 2014 I took part with in the #AtoZChallenge. With no idea going in, I got caught up in telling a fast and fun story that was as much a surprise to me as to the few who read it.

It’s now 2016 and that initial 26 Chapter story has the possibility of becoming a film series. Originally sticking to the conventions, I’ve now adapted the screenplay to my current homeland of Trinidad and, with the help of some great people we’ve actually filmed a Teaser Episode of: Max Noir.

Here’s a teaser for the teaser, a taste of more to come:

https://www.facebook.com/MaxNoirFilm/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1478100870636108

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Coming Soon!

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A-to-Z Noir

“A down and out gumshoe, a couple of femme fatales and a rising tally of dead bodies. Detective Jack Murphy just wants to make a little dough but he’ll settle for getting through this challenge alive!”

So, after a rocky start, I’ve decided to take part in the A-to-Z Challenge 2014.

As my theme I’ll be doing a noir-style detective thriller. The attempt is to keep it short and sweet, paying homage to the classic noir elements of Chandler and Hammett – the hard boiled detective, the sultry femme fatales, the tough thugs and quick turns – while hopefully adding a little something of my own.

It’s a fast paced, shoot-from-the-hip world, maybe just right for an A-to-Z Challenge. Either way, Murphy and Company are about to find out…

Happy A-to-Z Challenge.

– HMB

Alpha Dog

Chapter 1

Alcohol.

It always ended up here and here’s where things often began as well, sitting in a dimly lit bar with a broken heart, empty pockets and relying on the generosity of Sal, the bartender, which was the equivalent to really having no prospects at all. It was a never ending cycle and each come-around the jobs got a little smaller and the loop a little tighter so that, geometrically speaking, I was in a downward spiral of a thing that barely deserved the title of: “My Life.”

I was strongly aware of the fact of my decline, sprawled there, lapping at my whiskey. I had no illusions of ever returning to the top of my game. I brought the dirty glass to my lips and felt a couple of hot drops slip by the rim, twisting down the sandpaper of my chin. It was soaking into my tie, while I mourned the loss.

Just then the doors swung open and the beast that was Alvin Walter strode in. He came right up to me, the full brick building of him and leaned in close so that the sour of his sweat almost drowned out the sour of my whiskey.

Almost.

Determination is a hell of a thing and I scrounged up just enough of it to avoid eye contact with Alvin and keep focus intently on my drink. Alvin was waiting, but the reek of him was demanding attention and he kept leaning in closer until his heavy breathing was drying my shirt collar and sending ripples over the whiskey.

“Do you mind?” I eventually told him, “I get enough trouble keeping from spilling when I’m sober – far less for working rough seas in close quarters.”

It was a mistake. I had acknowledged the dogs presence and his fist came down heavy on the bar in front of me. We all jumped; me, Sal, the ashtrays, the bottles. The pretzel bowl even threw up a bit.

Alvin barked from his lantern jaw, “You owe me money, Murphy!”

It was true, I couldn’t argue with him. I owed him five large, and he was welcomed to try to take it out of my hide. Only I was pretty sure my hide didn’t have it. He could take my life, but my life wasn’t worth half of it, and the way things were now, he might even be doing me a favour. Then I’d owe him again, even more. As a friend and an honest man I couldn’t ask him to do me any more favours, so it was best we just left things as they were for now.

I told him as much, but I don’t think he followed my logic and he grabbed me by the tie. “You have til Monday to get the money, Murphy,” he said through big square teeth and then he shoved me back and stormed out.

It could have been worse, I decided, though I wasn’t too cognisant of how. I waited a respectable minute then gathered my stuff to head back to the office, but not before I’d finished my drink.

Bombshells

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Chapter 2

Blondes. They always spelled trouble.

I could tell the one standing in the middle of my office was no different; with those bored baby blues and the way she couldn’t move from window, to desk, and finally to chair, without first making sure her hips got a good look around.

I had been surprised to find her here at this hour and could only guess that my ever-reliable assistant had let her in before quitting the scene. She had that typical blonde air about her; an air of entitlement. It was an attitude that just because she was a blonde, with a gorgeous figure and Tinseltown looks, and I was a man, that God had put me here to serve her. She would learn soon enough that that assumption didn’t hold true everywhere.

Luckily for her though, it held true here.

Between the booze in my head and the loneliness huddled around it, I was ready to do my best to make her comfortable. I tripped over myself to pull the chair for her and fumbled her a cigarette, then dropped my lighter. This last at least afforded  me opportunity to discreetly slide my eyes the full length of her. It was a roller coaster.

“Mr. Murphy,” she said, with false innocence, “I have a job for you.”

Now dangerous things always come in threes; there was Alvin in the bar downstairs and I was considering the blonde already as being detrimental to my health. I could only assume that the job would be the coup de grace.

“It’s my friend,” she began and she got all uneasy, this time for real. Something to do with the word “friend,” it seemed to have some special implications in this case. It spooked her.

“Anything you tell me is confidential,” I assured her. “Ms…?”

She didn’t fill in the blank.

“My friend… A man I’ve been seeing. He’s gone missing, Mr. Murphy.”

“Men go missing all the time, Ms…” She left me hanging again. “What makes you think you need a private dick?”

“This… man,” she said cautiously, “he was supposed to meet me. He never showed up.” She took quick short tugs at the cigarette. “Mr. Murphy, I think his wife may have… well I think she murdered him!”

Cat’s Pajamas

Kim-Novak-and-Pye3 copyChapter 3

Customers. In most businesses you needed them.

The P.I. business is no different. But every now and then there was the feeling you’d be better off without one.

The blonde sending up smoke signals in my office was a case in point. She struck me as too wise to truly believe that a man who could stray from his wife couldn’t also stray from his mistress. She was nervous about something too, and I wasn’t convinced that it was concern for her illicit lover’s well-being. She was holding something back.

Still, my encounter earlier with Alvin reminded me that I couldn’t be too picky. So I had agreed to take her case, once she flashed the requisite dough and agreed to cover expenses. I did insist on getting her name first though.

“Thank you, Mr. Murphy. Delilah Ambrosia. Thank you so much.” She gave me a screen-test worthy smile of gratitude while pumping my hand. “And you will be discreet won’t you?”

“As discreet as an angel.”

I got some more details and sent her on her way.

The guy she was looking for shouldn’t have been too hard to find. He was a big shot by the name of Lionel Tucker. Lionel owned a few night clubs. Some fine dining types. As well as a few not-so-fine dining clubs, where the dancing girls were as friendly as you could afford. He was a slick player and I had seen him around but always at a distance. Lionel Tucker was a cool cat, one of those guys who walked around without touching the sidewalk. But in my experience, guys that high often had a finger in the gutter. There were rumours of mob involvement and various rackets. Still he got to sleep in a big old house at night, with a pretty wife, wearing matching pajamas, and apparently he got to go home with the likes of Delilah Ambrosia too. I suppose you couldn’t blame a guy, but didn’t mean you had to like him.

Luckily for me, you didn’t have to like a guy to find him either. It was a healthy paycheck and I didn’t mind the excuse of a few more meetings with Ms. Ambrosia, even if it was just to better suss out her angle. I’d do some digging first thing in the morning, just as soon as I’d had a shower and got some shut eye.

But first maybe one more drink.

 

Dead Men Don’t Dine

Personal-12-FilmNoirPlayboy 2 copyChapter 4

Delilah.

She had thought her sugar daddy, Lionel Tucker, was on the slow train to La-La Land, checked in with a ticket bought by a jealous wife. On the face of it the truth seemed a lot simpler: Lionel had got tired of his jelly on the side, decided to change up the dish.

That was the looks of it anyway, from where I sat at the bar of the Havana Boom! Lionel was attacking a slab of steak pretty heartily for a dead man. He was trim, long and thin and everything looking drawn by a sharp pencil, down to the slick black patch of hair, to the pencil moustache below his sharp nose. His suit was a neat grey pinstripe and the white napkin was tucked in the collar like a cravat.

The girl sitting opposite him was no Delilah Ambrosia. Probably some mid-west bumpkin freshly arrived in the city judging by the plump pink features, the country flowered dress and the pudgy fingers. Seemed to me Lionel was trading down, but then there were always other sides to the story.

Either way, that wasn’t his wife and Lionel was indulging appetites that were definitely reserved for the living.

It hadn’t been hard to track him down either. The Havana Boom! was his club. A couple discreet questions and, for all intents and purposes, the case seemed pretty neatly sewn up.

Still I sat a little longer, sipping at a whiskey and enjoying the pleasures an expense account brings, when in walked Dominic Hutchinson. Hutchinson was a good man, the kind that success hadn’t spoiled; tall, good-looking ex-quarterback type, he had lucked out with an early investment in some oil enterprise and was living the high life since. Any other night I would have been happy to see him, happy to accept his generosity, but tonight I had an expense account and his success annoyed me like it would any good friend. I knew I was just being sore though.

“Hey, Jack!” Dom smiled. His teeth were whiter than Chin’s rice. Lionel looked up and over at us with beady eyes, but I didn’t care, the case was closed. “You working?” Dom asked genially and he slipped onto the stool beside me.

“Depends on your definition of the word,” I smiled. “But let’s say I am, so I can charge this drink.”

Dom looked me over and I felt he wanted to scrub me like his pet Alsatian. I could swear Dom shaved every time he visited the men’s room.

“You’re looking a little rough around the edges,” he said.

“I’m actually rougher the further in you go.”

He smiled but his mind quickly switched to something else. He leaned a white jacket elbow against the bar and tilted towards me. “Listen,” he said in a hush and it got my attention. Secrets weren’t in Dominic Hutchinson’s nature. “Maybe we can help each other out,” he said. I glanced at Lionel and it seemed to me he’d been watching us, but he was back to his meal, ignoring the side dish. Dom breathed conspiracy, “I may have something for you.”

Everybody Loses

noir-photography-theme 2 copyChapter 5

“Elsewhere.”

It was the thought going through my mind because it was exactly where I wanted to be: Anywhere but here.

The fat man’s body sat heavy in the chair and he could have been sleeping, the way his head lolled back all slack-jawed, and his arms hung. Only no one would sleep here. This sewer stank.

The dead body probably wasn’t helping. There were two bloody holes popped in his chest, neatly on either side of his tie. Well at least his eyes were closed.

I should have got out of there but Hutchinson had offered a tidy sum and I wasn’t about to pass it up. “Get it together, Jack,” I urged myself.

Hutchinson had asked me to track down a family heirloom, a painting of a racehorse his granddaddy had owned or some such. He said the item had been stolen but he’d somehow gotten word it had been fenced to a pawnbroker on 5th. I went to see the broker that night. I didn’t think much of the case but I thought highly of Dominic Hutchinson – that is, highly enough of the name when it was scrawled across a check made out to Cash.

With a little convincing the broker gave up a man named Dalton who owned a cafe on 12th and Bayview. Dalton is where things seemed to get seedy. I had asked a couple questions at the cafe. In retrospect, not such a great idea. But turned out Dalton hadn’t been seen for a week. The last anyone had seen him was at the waterway. So that’s where I went. I don’t know why the open gate to the sewer had drawn me. Maybe I’m just drawn to low places that way.

Down the stairs and shadows, I knew something was wrong even before I saw the dead man in the chair. I picked my way through the muck, mindful of my loafers. The irony of dodging puddles in a sewer to riffle a dead man’s pockets wasn’t lost on me. I pinched the corner of his jacket and prayed he didn’t carry his ID in his pants. Luck was with me, if you could call it that, the brown leather slipped out and sprung open in my palm.

“Carl Morella,” I read his name out from the driver’s license. He didn’t respond. I don’t know if I was more disappointed or grateful.

I had no idea who Carl Morella was in all this. I did know of the Morella family though; a small time hood family connected to a mid-level mob family, who of course were connected to a bigger one and so on, all the way up. That’s just how it worked. This Carl Morella was small time, but the cash that had sprung the wallet suggested he was into something lucrative.

I couldn’t resist. I pocketed the cash along with the notion that Carl here hadn’t been killed for money.

“What kinda killer brings a chair to a sewer?” I asked myself. But if I knew, I wasn’t telling.

Seemed like a dead end. In the morning I would have to give Hutchinson the bad news, that it looked Dalton had skipped with the painting. I’d also have to call Delilah Ambrosia, give her the equally bad news that her boyfriend, Lionel Tucker, was alive and well.

Looked like disappointments all round.

 

Friendly Fire

75d 2 copyChapter 6

Finally.

Back in the office I headed straight for the filing drawer behind the desk and poured myself a stiff one. I lit a cigarette too and tried hard to get the stink of sewer out of my mouth and the image of dead men sitting out of my mind. The cigarette helped and the drink helped some more. I was probably on my third when I heard the click of the reception room door. Someone trying to be discreet.

It was hardly likely that Molly had come in for some late night filing, so I drew my .45 from the drawer next to the bottle, eased my shoes off and slid out of my seat.

I could imagine the two of us, me and my intruder, doing a shadow dance on opposite sides of the door, both with careful slow movements so as not to tip off the other. The difference was, I was content to stay on my side of the door, while my intruder was more ambitious about advancement. I watched the handle slide down slowly and then in one quick movement the door swung open and the hand and sleek revolver dropped through.

I grabbed the thin wrist just as the gun kicked. The shot exploded and smashed some cheap diploma on the wall above my desk and I brought my gun hand down sharp on top of the revolver, yanking hard at the wrist with my other hand. The gun made a dull thud on the carpet in the doorway and the intruder was hurled into the room, quickly stopped short and hard by my desk. I scooped the revolver up and levelled the .45, found the light switch and looked with disappointment at Delilah Ambrosia.

“You have a concern about the expense account charges?” I asked.

She looked more startled than I was, striking a pose like on some cheap horror flick poster. Then her face seemed to try on every emotion imaginable all at once. She collapsed into a chair and began blubbering into her hands. “Oh, Mr. Murphy!” I caught, as she popped up for air now and then. “It’s not what you think!”

I hoped not, because just then I was thinking she was trying to kill me.

I slipped her rod into my jacket pocket, came around the desk and poured two drinks. I did it all one handed, letting the .45 take a good look at her. I didn’t think she’d try anything, still it seemed she was more civil when she knew I had it.

“It was just to scare you,” she continued. The shot was pretty high but, if I’d been standing there, she still might owe me a new hat. “You have no idea the fix I’m in.”

I slid a drink over towards her, “Why don’t you tell me about it.”

Goodbye, Darlings

darlings 2Chapter 7

Germany.

I had seen it at the end of the war. It would be a lousy thing for me to try to claim that it was the war’s fault, that I was a product of the violence and so, when I came back, I was no good for anything but work on the seedy side of the tracks.

The truth was different, because a lot of guys came back and settled in comfortably to office jobs and the family life. No, the war didn’t break me. But it did open up my eyes.

See, it was the kind of thing that makes you lose faith in your fellow man. Some folks claimed they saw greatness, heroic acts and selfless courage, and I won’t try to tell you there wasn’t a whole lot of that over there. But I never saw it.

All I saw was survival. A man could survive or a man could crumble. And the sooner you decided which one it was you wanted to do, well, the better you could do it I guess.

I decided pretty early on I didn’t want to crumble, and by the end of the war we were entrepreneurs, business men, supplying needs and moving goods on the black market all around Berlin. We were ahead of the curve. Then it all fell apart. The ring was broken up and I was sent home.

I’d squeaked out a living all right over the years, but it was only when I was back home, back among the supposedly civilized that I really figured exactly how the war had changed me. I realized that it wasn’t just Europe and Germany that were different, it was me. Disillusionment had set in, same as it had for most of us. We knew now what men were capable of and it wasn’t pretty. We weren’t to be trusted. And so we brought the war home with us that way, building up a world that was every man for himself.

But a little something from before those days still stayed with me. Or maybe I was just fooling myself, but I wanted to believe that there was some good left out there, every now and then, someone who meant well, was trying to do the right thing and still get by. And maybe it was just circumstance that had them in a bind. I suppose that little piece of me that held on to that belief was the piece that was the sap just waiting to be played.

Maybe I even knew it. But maybe I figured that little piece was really the only piece of me worth a damn, worth holding on to. And if I gave up that last little piece, gave it up and surrendered it to the darkness, well there’d be nothing left of me at all. And when all that’s left of a man is just a shadow of himself, seems to me it’s time to call it quits. Just pack your bags and disappear into the night, leaving nothing but a farewell kiss and a “Goodbye, Darlings.”

Hard Fall

hard fall 2Chapter 8

Havana Boom!

The club was swinging.

I had left Delilah Ambrosia outside of my office, a touch lighter without the gun she’d been carrying on the way in. I had her story on loan, since I wasn’t quite sure I was buying it yet. It all needed checking out.

I was starting here at the Havana, because it was where I had found Lionel Tucker the last time. I figured he just might have some answers for me – answers about Delilah and the whole mess. I also might run into Dominic Hutchinson again and catch him up on his missing painting. With any luck I could kill two birds with one stone. That would make three dead altogether if you counted the fat man sitting in the sewer. It was a lot of math that didn’t quite add up.

The Cuban band was brawling a Spanish jazz and the stage show was all coloured ruffles, waving feathers and over-sized pearly whites. The waitresses whisked by in glittered dresses, like shooting stars doling out wishes by the bottle or the glass full. I knocked back a few wishes myself as the night wore on, none of them coming true, and there was still no sign of Lionel.

Eventually I pulled aside a cigarette girl. She was a cute brunette with a wavy bob, chestnut eyes and a thin, quiet smile. She looked like the sensible type, which is what I wanted. “Hey doll, is Lionel in tonight?”

“Mr. Tucker?” She wasn’t demure, she looked right at me and spoke easy, “He came in earlier. Went up to the office, but I haven’t seen him since.”

“You see him go back out?” I asked.

She shrugged, “Nope. Didn’t I just say.”

We let each other sink in, then she looked to her little box of treats and back at me. I took the hint and bought a pack of smokes.

“Thanks,” she said, giving me the once over before moving along.

I smoked two cigarettes and finished my drink before heading across the floor, to the stairway that lead to the office up top.  There was no one around so I went on up and listened at the door. Inside was quiet, for all I could tell over the muffled sound of maracas from the club. I tried the door and it opened welcoming enough and I eased inside.

The office was pretty sizeable, dimly lit with a large mahogany desk in the middle, a fish tank to one side and a wide window overlooking the club. Didn’t take long to see Lionel Tucker was still there. He was sprawled face-down on the floor in front of the desk. A dark pool on the carpet said he wasn’t napping.

Another bird. Another stone cold corpse.