BLOOD ON THE HARDWOOD CONCRETE CH.4 - CHICKEN TONIGHT
By James McShane
You consider your options and realise that you’ve only got one choice. You need the cash. The last alimony check cleared out your bank account. When you brought this to your ex’s attention, you were told to sing for your supper. Lacking a voice to trouble Pavarotti or Bieber, you know it’s time to take the money and run.
“I’m outa here,” you tell Curly. “I’ve taken on more than I can handle and frankly this private dick isn’t as hard-boiled as it used to be.”
“What the f—?” Curly fumes down the phone. “Hey, Sweetwater, the boss has turned jellyfish on us.”
You hear Sweetwater yelling. “Get off my goddamn phone, you moron. You think I’m made of money? Let the sucker go. We ‘Trotters can take it from here.” Curly finishes the call without so much as a goodbye and good luck. You’re not surprised. Your relationship with the boys isn’t exactly a marriage made in heaven. They’ll get by, as they always do.
You turn your attention to the lady behind the desk. “Tell me more about this Chicken Fetish job?”
She’s surprised at your about-face. “Well,” she says, taking a card from beside her magazine. “The broad in question is a Missy Synch. Her address is here.” She hands you the card. “It’s not too far away. Ten minute walk, max.”
Something in the back of your mind urges you to steer clear from this madness. But you counter this “something” with thoughts of how you’re going to spend the five Gs. Barbados looks good for this time of year. Maybe the receptionist would like a trip, too.
“I don’t like long-haul flights,” she says suddenly. “So yes, Barbados would be nice.”
“Wait a minute,” you say, “can you read my mind?”
“No. You talk out loud a lot.”
“My therapist would agree with you.”
She points down the corridor. “The suit is in Room 5. Get ready as quick as you can and go see your client.”
“I gotta go there dressed like a chicken?”
“It’s in the manual, did you not read it?”
You remember skimming over a lot of the requirements. But hey, it’s not often you get the chance to earn easy money.
“There’s no such thing as easy money,” the receptionist says. “And you really must learn to stop talking out loud.”
“My therapist would agree with that, too.”
You find your changing room and go inside. Hanging up on the far wall is a bright yellow chicken outfit, complete with headgear and beak. There are fluffy white wings where your arms are supposed to be. At least there are holes from which you can see where you’re going. You’re glad it’s a cool night out there, otherwise you’d bake—and whoever found your dead body would serve you with chipotle.
You strip out of your work clothes and leave them in a crumpled heap on the floor. It takes you about fifteen minutes to get into the chicken suit, and you remark to yourself that it’s a very comfortable fit. It’s as if it’s been waiting for you. You hum the Sesame Street theme as you leave the room to check in with Lady Hotstuff at the desk. She whistles at you.
“You know,” she says, “when this is all over, and if you want to, you and I could head out somewhere for…you know…”
“A drink?” you offer.
“Maybe we can lay some eggs, too,” she giggles.
As you leave Different Happyness, you feel less like a private investigator and more like an advert for Chick-fil-A—but you don’t care, there’s money to be made. You cross the street and wait for the inevitable…and you’re not disappointed. A cabbie calls out, “Hey, why are you crossing the road?” You let this existential moment pass into the ether.
Ten minutes later (and after many calls of how you’d like your eggs in the morning), you arrive at your destination. You look at the card Hotstuff gave you and search for Missy Synch’s name on the apartment buzzers. You see an M.S. and reckon that must be the place. You press it and a voice answers, a female voice that doesn’t sound right. In fact, the voice in question does not belong to what you would call a spring chicken.
“Hello?” the voice says.
“I from Different Happyness,” you reply. “You asked for our services?”
The voice breaks into a coughing fit. There goes a lung, you think.
“Are you dressed appropriately?” she asks.
“If you call this an early Halloween party, then yes, I’m dressed appropriately.”
“I’m on the fifth floor. Number 512. The lift doesn’t work.”
That figures. She buzzes you in and you trudge up five flights of urine-stained stairs. The walls don’t bear looking at, so you stare straight ahead, thinking only of the money.
You knock on apartment 512. She opens the door and allows you inside. You get your first look at her and think God, how old is this woman?
“A lady’s age is her own business,” she cuts in. “And you really should stop talking to yourself out loud. I’m sure your therapist would agree. Now get dancing!”
“That’s what you’re here for, to dance. Did you read the manual?”
“Well yes . . .but . . .”
“No buts, just dance. Can you tango?”
For an old bird, the lady can move. She grinds her pelvis against your own, pulling at your beak like it was a phallus. She ruffles your feathers in ways they hadn’t ever been ruffled before. You feel you were born to be a chicken. You move mechanically, remembering something called the Robot Chicken. The old lady laughs hysterically at your automatonic jerks. You cluck deliriously. If you could lay an egg, you would lay one here and now. You curse the heavens for not providing you with the relevant biological conditions. And all this to no music, not even The Chicken Song.
You love being feathered fowl.
But all good things come to an end. As soon as she stops her dancing, the old lady says, “I need to shower. Care to join me?”
“In this?” you say.
“No,” she replies. “You can strip off. When we finish, I’ll go get your money and then maybe we can, you know, work out a schedule.”
You like the sound of schedules.
You turn rapidly the second you hear a bang. It comes from the bathroom. There’s a shrill scream, then nothing.
“Lady,” you call out. “Missy Synch, are you okay in there?”
A figure emerges from the room. It’s neither old nor female. You know this man’s face, and then the penny drops.
“Hello Clive,” you say to the man. “Did I just dance with your mother?”
“Yeah,” he says. “She’s got some pretty good moves for a woman of her age.” He points his gun at you.
“Did you kill her?” You realize you’re unarmed. Your gun is back in the changing room at Different Happyness.
“No,” he says. “I just let off a shot and it made her faint. She is my mother, after all. What do you take me for?”
“So what’s going on?”
“I want my ‘Trotters back, dillweed. You’ve taken up too much of their time. I want you out of the picture and them back in mine. Capiche?”
“Did you kill the rest of those women just to get my attention, Sinclair?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Clive Sinclair, former head coach of the Harlem Globetrotters, says. “Now get down on your knees and cluck for your life.”