Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Richness and Rightness: A P&PC Noir

I'm a man who likes to talk to a man who likes to talk, so when I first heard Jack Milton call Poetry Poultry—it was about eleven o'clock one Tuesday morning down at the Paradise Lost, a joint where you couldn't buy a free verse for a nickle—I knew him for a pal. Jack was blind. He had been since the war, though he had a pair of mitts that could scoop a pot from the table before the butter and egg man knew what was what. He wasn't a chisel, just called 'em for what they were and let the devil take all.

We were reminiscing about the dip he'd caught with his hand knee deep in Jack's fogger the week before, when in she walked. Even Jack put down his snort to lean over and get a slant at her enormous notebook—a big ham of a thing with clippings stuck out the sides and rings from long gone drinks staining the cover. She had on a French cap and lipstick as red as some jasper's face near the last call that never came. And wouldn't you know but she went straight for me like a cheat to a Chicago overcoat.

"Got a light?" she asked.

I had one, all right, but I didn't know her from a hatchetman, and I didn't know what sort of juice she was after.

"As in Sandover," I replied, "or Tennyson's Brigade?"

Something fell over the bar, and for once it wasn't Dick being cuffed by the hammer and saws. It was her notebook. A clipping fell to the ground.

"Yeah," I said. "I got a light."

Behind the bar, Mickey said, "He's not a bad goose, sister. And this ain't no hash house either. What can I get you—this round's on him."

I flipped him the dactyl, but if she were fazed, she didn't let on.

"Calvert," she said, "straight up."

"What's in your bindle?" I asked. "Is that your scrapbook?"

She avoided my eye and reached into her bag. I got ready to beat it like a peterman on the job, but instead of the roscoe I thought she was aiming to aim my way, she pulled out a little red and white striped matchbook with a cute little Calvert owl decorating the cover. "Let the owl select / His favorite refrain," I thought.

Still, I couldn't figure it—I thought she didn't have a light.

And she didn't.

What she had was a little folder of tissues. She tore one off as her drink arrived and pressed it between her lips like a shiv between some snooper's ribs, and I got a load of the verse printed inside:
Yes, Calvert has lightness
And richness and rightness
In a blending as mellow as chimes
It's whiskey perfection—
Your wisest selection—
The Happiest Blend for the times!
"Clear Heads Choose Calvert" read the slogan printed beneath. But by then my head was dizzy.

"It's poetry," I said. "Popular poetry."

"Poultry, baby" she replied, shooting her whiskey. "It's popular poultry."

"With a twist," I said. "Now let's take a look at that scrapbook."