Matt Pitt: Gumshoe

Typewriter

*****

Matt Pitt is a poet and screenwriter. He has previously published in Ambit, Acumen, Ink Sweat & Tears, Prole and Under the Radar. His second feature film, Man of Sorrows, is due to start shooting in 2022..

Matt Pitt Photo

 

*****

GUMSHOE

street scene

1
I was twisting the cap
off a bottle of gin
when the door opened up
and a pinstripe blew in.
He stood there playing tough,
then reached from his jacket
a faded photograph.
I snuck a look at it.
It was old and crumpled . . .
and gorgeous as Bacall!
She’s missing, he mumbled.
I snorted. Aren’t they all?
I said, Listen fella,
this ain’t your lucky day.
You wasted your leather,
you climbed the wrong stairway.
If I took your case on
I’d be playing us both.
I’m no Perry Mason . . .
He twisted up his mouth.
Yeah? That’s not what it says
on that big plaque outside.
Come on, look at this place,
it’s a dump! I replied.
Okay, I’ve got a plaque,
but it’s brass, chum, not gold!
For every case I crack
another ten go cold.
Really, I’m not your guy . . .
He said, Skip it, gumshoe.
You know exactly why
I’ve brought this case to you.

lampost

2
Her name was Dolores.
Or Deborah. Or Pam.
Or maybe Mercedes
or who gives a sweet damn?
She wouldn’t remember
my handle, that’s sure.
I was just the number,
the easy guy, the score.
Bay Valley. Forty-three.
I was working a case
for the LAPD.
Plain clothes. These were the days
of the City rackets.
Mob guys, politicos,
in each other’s pockets.
Big Mickey, Mayor Burrows
(Vote for a Better Life!),
Tony Katz, Guy the Goose . . .
and his beautiful wife.
They said she was bad news.
What the hell did they know?
She was the Wall Street Crash.
She was the Alamo.
Oh sure, I’d seen the flash,
I’d sized up the danger,
but you want a good laugh?
I thought I could change her.
One night we took a path
through the Hollywood hills,
just her, the Olds and me.
Below us, the jonquils
were swaying prettily.
The eastern sky glowed pink.
Somewhere a mockingbird
was kicking up a stink.
I held her close. I said,
Babe, it’s now or never!
Deliver me the mob
and we can both go clear –
I’ll quit this deadbeat job,
you’ll take sentence deferred
and we’ll make a new start.
She smiled. She gave her word.
She crossed her lousy heart.

man hat

3
Shall I spell out the rest
or did you hear enough?
In case you haven’t guessed,
let me sketch it in rough . . .
She left me on the edge.
She ditched me on the brink.
The City got my badge
and the mob got the wink.
Some riot, huh? Some fun!
This one’s even better –
in spite of what she’d done,
I couldn’t forget her.
I chased up leads, shook down
all the rats and stoolies . . .
No dice. The dame was gone.
She’d vanished like the breeze.
So then the lonely nights,
the crying jags, the pills,
the drunk tanks, the bar fights,
the wasted hours until,
somehow, I sobered up,
I rearranged my tie,
and I opened a shop
as a cut-price PI.

walking cropped

4
So I knew her! I snapped.
So what? You think she’s here?
Why not frisk the cabinet?
Try H for heartbreaker . . .
Calm down, he said, sit tight,
I know you’re no minder.
But you’re a shamus, right?
I need you to find her.
I told him straight. I can’t.
I’ve turned this crummy town
inside-out, back-to-front
and upside-goddamned-down!
She’s gone without a trace.
Find her, he repeated.
I leaned into his face,
dropping my voice, and said,
Pinstripe, ain’t you got ears?
Hells bells, that got a rise.
He hissed back with a sneer:
Gumshoe! Ain’t you got eyes?
I studied him. Real close.
I looked him up and down,
from the tips of his shoes
to his pink balding crown.
And then a cold shiver
did a rumba down my spine.
The guy was a mirror.
His goddamned face was mine!

doorway cropped

5
Well now, that’s Kafkaesque,
I said, stroking my chin.
He reached across the desk
and poured us both a gin.
He smiled. Down the hatch!
I’m sorry I got tough,
but when you meet your match
you gotta play it rough.
Come on, gumshoe, let’s talk.
I know you can find her . . .
I said, And snakes can walk!
D’ya need a reminder?
I’ve chased up every clue
in this rotten City
from Central Station to
the Port Authority.
She’s gone! She’s vanished! Poof!
She’s covered every track.
And here’s the bitter truth –
she’s never coming back.
Back? he murmured. Who said
anything about back?
Just find her! he pleaded.
I shifted my attack:
So tell me where, big shot . . .
He said, Try the moonlight.
I said, I’m sorry, what?
He said, Check out the flight
of a red-tailed hawk
over Bay Valley Park.
Try snow on the sidewalk.
Try ragtime in the dark.
Ask the clouds. Frisk the breeze.
Shake down every raindrop,
interrogate the trees.
Tread softly. Never stop.
Be blossom in the mist,
be cobweb in the rough.
Do this, gumshoe. Do this.
You’ll find her soon enough . . .

I walked to the window.
The City hummed and sprawled
a hundred feet below.
A girl screamed. Someone called
for a dog. Police sirens
wailed like lonely souls
lost in Hell’s environs.
Let’s look at financials,
I said. What kind of price
will you pay for my time?
His voice was smooth as ice.
Nothing. Not a sweet dime.
I spun round angrily.
I looked into his face.
He stared right back at me.
He knew I’d take the case.

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