Sammy01.wpd: 8/22/2000


Drier Mondays I seen in a massage parlour with bust hot-water-pipes, and the dame client - she itched like Chinese health-needles ...

... for this I keep a good downtown Charleston address: Four-Corners-of-the-Law ... State and Broad or like cabbies call it grift-and-fraud I wouldn't know about fraud but some shysters sharing the office suite do: The sign sez Sammy Levine, PI. Fifth floor, Allreed Building. Office suites, yeah ... I got a room and a bar and a crapper. Beside the larger window a battered, grey-metal desk comes with the rug. Both chairs I bought - my own break-a-back oak swivel, and a leather lounge for the client. Singular. Like the dame now, pumping blueberry silk shorties.

Jeez it was hot. Rain fell heavy all morning. It stank ozone like a cheap air freshener stinks in a closed attic. Curtains of offshore lightening slashed over Charleston harbor blowing jumpy white streaks through the window, but the dame wasn't jumping out after them ...

"Those photos are useless to me, Mr Levin."

"You said nude, I shot nude. You said sex, I shot sex. If you wanted beard and beard only, I'd have flown to the Vatican and shot DaVinci."

She slouched deeper into the leather lounge and her face hardened. "Beard?"

"A technical term, Mrs Knobweiler."

Thunder rolled through the window and lights flickered. The leggy frail in blue and a box hat made frantic, pawing movements with bare toes - go figure on a rainy day bare toes both they and the stacked heels were blue. She was working on me. "What a horrible little man you are. I should have hired a North Charleston PI. I never should have trusted ..."

I looked once again at the glossies. "Did I or did I not photograph your husband 'in flagrante' with babs-the-bimbo?"

"Babs? Oh spare me the humor please ..." The frail making the lounger rock - one South-of-Broad matron named Mona Knobweiler groaned piteously. "I said three photos, not two ya weasel-nosed little bastard and full-frontal ... can I spell that for you Mr. Levin? F-u-l-l f-r-o-n-t-a-l . Or do you need a dictionary ...?" She slipped silk gams, snatched one of the glossies and walked contemptuously to the window overlooking County Courthouse, staring down at State Street lunch hour traffic easing along steaming, rain-slick asphalt. "Do I care what the slut-nosed bitch's ass looks like?" She whorled around. "Not tight as mine, that's for damned sure and if I hadn't ... well ... say something Mr Levin. Speak up, but only if you have any remote conception of getting a check ... oh, I bet you spell that word just fine Mr Levine. My c-h-e-c-k billing the second half of your outrageous fees. Well ...?"

Sweat inch-wormed from my collar. "Like I tried to explain, Mrs Knobweiler, your husband and the, ah ... woman-in-question weren't having traditional sex, and from where I took the pictures I had a hell-of-a time focusing as much ass as I did."

She held the glossy up to the window, like images might be hiding on the other side. "Appears to me, Mr Levin, you focused more on cruising Charleston Harbor than photographing the bimbo's tits ... her knockers, Mr Levin ... the bouncing boobs of a husband stealing bitch ..."

"Yeah, well, the boat was bouncing too ... boobs just happened to be on the other side."

"And of course you did nothing to make her turn around ..."

"She seemed quietly occupied. Doesn't ass count at all?"

"Not hers, not now," snaked out. "The divorce I will win - any time, Mr Levine and for a dozen reasons, though the cotton-mouth bastard does have his connections. Why ... the snake didn't even come home this morning. But the alienation-of-affection suit against that slut - well, I'm a realist Mr Levine."

"Ever consider a plastic surgeon?"

Her steel-grey eyes drilled me. "We all work with what God gives us ... what man ever left a woman for an ass worse than the one he currently uses? It's her tits, tits, tits that lured that wastrel of a husband from my bed and that woman's going to pay! If YOU can only take those pictures ... oh dear ... oh my ..."

I fished my hank from a breast-pocket and passed it over. Dry it was ... wet it got fast. I thought she might break fingernails sobbing. She half-opened the window, in steaming gusts of humidity, breathed deep and again whorled her speciality like lemon eclairs facing me down ... then gammed cross the oak floor that once had been waxed and planted not the worse ass SOB alongside my feet propped up on the leather desktop.

"Won't you try just once more to get what I need, Mr. Levin? Can it be so impossible, and ... and I would be so ... so eternally grateful."

She dropped the wet hank over my Dock-Sides and from inside her green silk blouse slipped a check and tucked it under my heel. The check showed three zeros and where it was now had more company than where it came from. Kinda felt sorry for her - like I felt sorry for a water mocassin having shorter fangs than rattlesnakes. Her eyelashes both batted. Batted about .200 in double-A I figured if ya hung the curve-balls ...

She went for her raincoat still dripping beside the office door. "You have my unlisted number, Mr Levin. Call me anytime after eight."

"And if the husband gets wise?"

"He's a coward at heart, Mr Levine. Always has been."

But not you, sister, no way ... "I'll do what I can, Mrs Knobweiler," I said and she flounced through the door leaving it swinging helplessly open on a broken spring. Charleston humidity slammed in after her. Open window ... open door ... open invitation ... the check had a 3 scratched in before the three zeros and I counted myself lucky. After locking glossies in a safe my dentist could drill I closed the window, tucked a 32-caliber belly-gun under my trench, snatched straw fedora from the wall and slammed the door behind me.

Our foyer had nice hanging plants and a wool carpet that had missed a cleaning last year and centered six offices around a large, circular check-in desk. The ferns were rootbound and dried out. The doors had been mahogany in 1944. Six office doors ... two PIs, four attorneys all specializing in divorce like married sex was a crime of passion. That book I could have written twice ...

"Oh Mr. Levine, Mr Levine your bookie just called," crowed Doris the answering girl for all offices in Suite number four ...

"Call him back pronto, Doris. Put fifty on LAST LEGS in the 5th at Santa Anita."

"He sea...ays ,,, you still owe two-fifty from last week ... he's gonna call a collector ..."

"Yeh, yeh, yeh ... tell him LAST LEGS is a lock ... I'll make it all back with change."

"I know what he's gonna sea..ay Mr Levine." Doris primped. "He's gonna say that's what you said last time ... and ya have three real messages. You said hold all telephone calls this morning."

"Cough 'em out, Doris, but hold the chorus" I wheezed like nags ain't real and reached over the divider for the fresh pack of Doris' Pall Mall Reds. She smacked my hand ... I got the smoke ..

Doris flashed the Zippo toward the end of the Red. "I said three calls, but there was a fourth, really the first one just after I got in this morning. Some wailing frail - I couldn't make 2-cents worth'a sense from her babble so I don't count that as a message." Doris then rattled after the grey cloud. "Some-one from Naval Pawn & Loan ... calling again! What a' creep. He said the Rolex was about to get sold ..."

"Sold! My Rolex ...?" I got a wrist too small ta be bare ... it itched, after only a month, but the three zeros in my pocket I'd get that back today. "Next!"

Doris lit her own Red. "I recognized that voice, Mr Levine ... your toitsy Brother-in-Law Saul Davidson. He wants ta meet you for lunch - said break-a-leg ... or he will ... funny guy for a Brother-in-Law, hum Mr Levine?"

Saul ... I wouldn't say two words to that bastard ... not crap-face ... "And whose on third, Doris?"

She hung the Red lazy, from pink, pouty lips. "That's a new one fer me, Mr Levine. Some copper ...a Detective Nick DeLeon? I think that's the name."

DeLeon ... Lieutenant Nick DeLeon. "What did the copper want?"

"He mentioned the Citadel boat-dock and a floater ... must be a canoe on the loose, huh Mr Levine? Then he says don't call too soon, but don't call tomorrow."

DeLeon ... homicide detective ... if chops had pain, Nicky was a dental tool ... "Yeah, must be a canoe ... thanks Doris."

"Mr Levine, I've worked here five years, for PIs and shysters and I ain't never heard of a Detective DeLeon." Doris dropped the pink-stained cigarette to the ashtray and scribbled a note it better be ta the bookie and say LAST LEGS not FAST LEGS what a loser it's last three starts on the outside but Doris sings. "The only DeLeon I know is a lady who writes the Ms Peepers gossip column for the Charleston Standard. But she's an upper class broad. Couldn't be a copper's wife. Couldn't be the same DeLeon, could it?"

Not after she married him I thought. And Nicky wouldn't show around here - he didn't sweat domestic violence. I hacked at the Red hungry. "Same DeLeon no way Jose, Doris. See ya after lunch and remember F-A-S-T "

"Yeah, Mr Levine, I got it written down f-a-s-t have a kosher ham-n-egg fer me."

Saul-the-bastard served nothing but ... I flew down stairs, and in the lobby stopped at the smoke-shop to cool heels over bitter, black coffee and a cigar labeled Tampa in faded, yellow print and Havana in smooth, long, sweet brown ash. Call it caution, or paranoid or maybe ham-n-eggs just didn't settle right in early afternoon.

"Black, hot and bitter - just like ya like it Mr Levine " said Jimbo behind the stained marble counter chewing a Habanos dead weeks ago and returning slick-hand five from a ten. Ex-Navy, Jimbo ... maybe five-out'a-ten like the bill and I tucked it under the ashtray. Lobby traffic went back-and-forth and the floor not just wet but soppy.

"Lots of traffic, Jimbo? I threw out with the cigar label while grabbing the Charleston Standard morning edition.

"Gams and grifters, Mr Levine ," he rumbled sucking a dead coffee filter from the machine and double-loading the next one - a liquid hi-brass shotgun shell, "and one blond guy with white teeth who missed the train for Hollywood."

"Hollywood, huh ... crew cut?"

"Yeah, how did you know?"

"The latest fashion, Jimbo ... ya gotta read the trades ..." Fucking Saul ... I chewed at the coffee - caffeine bit back like an ex-wife and I looked more careful at Jimbo steaming away ... eight-out'a-ten maybe ... and I riffled the paper. Beauty contest front page. Second page another barrier island developer acquitted of everything but snatching stray Pelican feathers. Yankees beat Cleveland again no crap and TOOT-MY-HORN faded at the eighth-pole ... another fifty oh Jeez. Eighth page last column made my eye-balls bleed caffeine ...


No cause, huh ... no ID ... coppers know nothing or were saying nothing say it ain't so ... I dropped two-bits on the counter, folded the rag with no big show under my arm and stuffed it into my raincoat. Jimbo hacked butane flame at his Habanos.

"Pretty much a usual crowd, Mr Levine" he rapped. "All the PIs, back-n'-forth like they gotta lott'a business. Coupl'a shysters in early and working girls dropped in ta fish out the lunch crowd. Blo-N-go if ya catch my drift."

Out came the rag for another read - folding that article into a pocket I turned to the comix page. "Any luck?"

"The girls? Coupl'a fish ... like I sez a pretty normal morning." We both bit on the coffee and scowled. Then Jimbo said "oh yeah, two flat-feet made the rounds about 7 AM ... plain-clothes types, with a good professional creep, but the gal copper could'a sent postcards. Shiny black pumps ... what dame wears those any more, and a bulge on her ass ... nice ass, but must'a been a 357-caliber she was packing."

"And the man?"

"Wore a white bunny-suit ... white linen, I think and a straw Panama. Fancy Italian leather shoes. I never seen either one before."

"So not looking for anything in particular?"

"Them types always are, Mr Levine, but ... think about it, there was a weird, hippy broad that came in about 6 AM just after I opened. Had an espresso, paid with a yard imagine that and kind'a floated out. Maybe they wuz looking for her - now she was lookin'!"

"For what?"

"Beat me, Mr Levine. But ya know how a dame has those wide-eye peepers when she ain't just window-shoppin'"

"She leave a tip for the info?"

"Info-crap!" Jimbo sucked black bitter to the bottom. "Hell-no-in-a-harpoon. I ain't no flounder gotta make bubbles every time a gig goes sticking around the sandpile. Nobody here and that's me too lives fat in this building, but I gotta eat twice-a-day and that's when I open the mouth."

"You and me, Jimbo."

"Yeah, we both seen the world ..." He lit a small, black cheroot half-smoked from behind the counter. "You're a PI, Mr Levine. You know all that mean street crapola. I been on those mean streets, and though I'm passin' through that's all I don't see people leave who try makin' it eat twice-a-day."

"That's negative, Jimbo, like electricity jumps from the clouds. How mean do ya figure for State & Broad?"

"Mean as a piss-whipped alligator tryn' ta screw a stoned water moccasin."

"I never seen a stoned snake, Jimbo, so maybe us smart ones make it. We're crows round the fat pig."

"Not crows, Mr Levine ... cause we never squawk on an empty stomach."

Some fat crow ... three-bills in the wallet I should'a put 'em in a museum and I felt fat ... too fat ta worry about Knobweiler's photos. Four sucks later on the Habanos, and a stomach full of black bitter I pushed through glass front doors into a driving, Charleston thunderstorm. Two blocks down Broad to the bank then lunch I figured, before calling the detective. Had ta call DeLeon ... tell him something ... The storm wrapped water to my knees and trench around my face so I didn't see the frail till she dove across the street out of a puddle and into me like I was an umbrella and she the last dry shoulder in Charleston. We slammed against stucco wall.

Then she hit me with blue-eyed saucers and machine-gunned away. "Are ... are you ... you ... are you Sammy ... Sammy-the-Mole?"

"Not since I shot the last dame called me that, sister. Should I make it two-fer-two?"

Her voice gulped down ..."but I need ... I mean I heard ..." and tried pushing away - I stopped that fast. "And you got all of that, sister. What's your beef?" She had affections that wouldn't alienate a sick alligator ... either one ... not that I noticed. She wore jeans and a yellow, fisherman's slicker common to barrier islands and hard, hard rough hands that had dug more oysters out'a pluff-mud than Rockefeller had clams. Maybe too, she had a story - maybe too, she had a few too many clams from all that digging. I let her scramble away, to the street corner where swill from a passing hotel limo washed over her sandals and she stood there swearing wet hell and a sailor's death on all who drove by.

I couldn't remember last time I rescued a damsel ... but I think she stole my wallet. Not this one, in the shrink-to-fits and where-could-it-go but boy could she swear ..." you rat-bastard-fuck-don't-just stand there and watch me drown do gawddamit something ...!" Then the sky really opened up, like a white sheet falling.

How blind was I like bats-in-a-loud-speaker while I swooped down to the kerb and threw her over my shoulder dashing across State Street toward Polly's Parrot Bar I did a calculation that said her at five-feet-eleven healthy as an eel and me five-six stretched bare-naked it could not be done. We ran the last half-block.

By the third martini we had dried out, sobered up like most Charleston judges and gotten past first names. And I had got up to my knickers in Isle of Palms perv.

" ... and when I called him a rat-bastard-fuck Island coke-head he slammed out the door. Three AM yesterday morning and that was the last time I saw him."

"Husbands will do that, Loretta, when their wives call them ..."

"That isn't the first time I nailed TJ, but he's never stayed gone two mornings."

"Most women worry about the nights."

"TJ has a fourteen year old girlfriend. They can only screw when she leaves home in the morning for Junior High."

"Loretta, that's mighty understanding of you, but it's also some kind of a crime."

"You tell me, Mr Levine ... they never use rubbers. And that ain't the worst. He left the bath-tub full of LSD so I can't take a shower. His blotter-acid paper is locked in a safe ... nice purple-dragon design so ... what a waste ..."

"That, too, is some kind of crime. What do you want me to do?"

"Get the rat-bastard-fuck back home. Everybody says Sammy Levine's the-mole, the-bed-weasel, the best rat-trap in town - for husbands that are rats."

"I get $200-a-day plus expenses ... T-bone lunch-steaks are expenses ... rented convertibles are expenses ... ya paid for these martinis already ..."

"Would you take a pint of acid each week? Bet it's worth more and TJ's got absolutely gallons in the attic!."

"Now here we are again, with some kinda crime. I gotta tell you sister ya can't shoot-em-straight with a bent barrel. And you haven't told me where TJ was headed if anyplace just after he left your house."

"Does he haf'ta go someplace?"

"Unless he slept in the street."

"He's done that ... not in the street, that is ... the place he and the girlfriend always go ... to the Ashley River ... to the canoe-launch right behind the Citadel."

Some brain cells bleed gin and some caffeine - they were now all talking ta the six-and-a-half cells in my brain that still caught sharp edges. "Any chance he'll wander home with no persuasion?"

Loretta nibbled the booze bottom. "I hope-the-hell so. The LSD in the bathtub needs to be re-crystallized before I can sell it. But the bastard's likely to sneak in-and-out , and take half-what's mine doing it. Better you should put a little fear into him first."

Some women are the breathless type - their brains ain't seen none in days, cause that's me ... Sammy-the-Mole ... fear-monger, hard-case, hundred-twenty pounds a' hired muscle. I wondered if Loretta had taken a bath before coming down town ... she started slurring curses after the next martini and that was plenty for me. I got her address on Isle of Palms and her telephone number. I got a headache that made aspirin taste like corn-nuts. Rain on the street had settled into steady drumbeat as I pushed her into a cab.

Lightening flashed above, and in the yellow strobe I caught blonde flash at the corner then nothing but downpour ... but I got no imagination so I peeled eyes till my nose hurt ... yeah, something, some-one, and got cricks in my neck shaving eyeballs at the trench watching careful from the churchyard across the street. Wasn't no blond crew, and since most of the graves are 200 years old the trench wasn't praying for newly, dearly departed.

Not trying to hide, either, or try ta be obvious like a sandspur up-yer-butt ... DeLeon was just leaning against the iron-grill wall like maybe he'd been there a couple hundred years with notions of staying a few more - like part of the scenery - like what Nazis used on gold teeth. My head could have been a honey-cave with two horny bears thumping. I needed an x-ray machine, for what was thumping behind the detective's reedy eyes ... what he knew or what he guessed ... I needed a martini.

Two blocks down Broad I slipped into the Golden Empress Grill and took and a seat far back behind the brass nude where the waitress could find me and the light over the bamboo fan couldn't so easy.

"Pack'a Reds and a martini. Don't let the olive swim, honey," I rapped to the tired blonde posing with a pen and no stockings, "make it do a deep-sea dive."

"You want lunch," she nibbled on the pen?

"Yeah, make two of them."

"Bourbon, rocks on the side, sweetheart - bonded Wild Turkey and like the man said keep them coming," rumbled out from behind me ... I didn't know there was a behind me ... "Your eyes getting sensitive, Sammy? Must be spending too much time in the dark room."

I shifted the cane chair careful, like I don't know Eve ate an apple, but you got ta hate a guy like that ... DeLeon on the creep behind me ... who don't know nothin' fer sure but makes guesses like every perp was 2 + 2 ... "Heh, Lieutenant DeLeon, the wife must have you on a diet, ta get so flat against a wall."

He pulled himself out of the shadow and slings into a cane-break chair cross from me. Right across the table and snaps on the hurricane lamp above. Tips back the white-straw Panama ... forks out two Camel Straights what crapola and a battered, chrome Zippo that may or may not stories go round have a bullet-chip out'a one side where his heart beat lucky.

DeLeon's face is a cops quick face, not mean and he talks that way. "Pack-a-day, Sammy ... that's all the wife lets me have cause the daughter wants to smoke ... easy to be a bad example, Sammy, a man doing what he shouldn't ... kind of a crime ... I have ta smoke slow, so you need to talk art photos and fast."

Yeah, I needed ta do that - talk fast and think slow like Eve ate an apple ... I hadn't seen him for six months, since a coupl'a jealous dames shot-it-out right here over the brass nude - over each-other's husband ... I had checks from each husband, cause horns got passed around one bed to another. And Jeez the women were still jealous what did they want two brothers? DeLeon wanted those photos too ... I said casual "Ya mean like a crotch-shot? How 'bouts a vice-inspector's wife boffing a pimp?"

"Old news, Sammy, and a lousy angle. Buy a tripod. But I hear you shoot water themes with much more finesse."

"Some specialty, huh, like Ansel Adams shoots the moon ... ? Last Christmas, Lieutenant, I shot Blessing-of-the-Fleet for Father McClusky over on Sullivan's island. The Nuns loved all the halo effects."

About half-a-lung's what he got from the Camel Straight and it all drifted my way. "Ya want to talk here, Sammy, or rap at the PI licence office?"

"Whose office, what licence, DeLeon? Mine got two more years ... like the concealed carry."

"What you hide, Sammy ought ta be a crime. Your rap sheet has ... lets see ... two cases pending ... aggravated trespass and statutory ..."

"Heh, Lieutenant, alright, Okey ... ya gotta get serious for a working stiff she looked 19, or 18 anyway and me with no bank account who doesn't live SOB and eats twice-a-day maybe. No oyster crap. Hamburgers, only hamburger a Rabbi wouldn't touch and it takes the gin ta melt 'em off my heart."

Our waitress returned slopping four drinks on the table and a fat ear till I slapped her ass and left twenty-in-da-apron for which ten did not return but she left. Bar-angel had poured them big, but we bit through the first two like chicken-wings ya look through but don't talk while eating.

Nibbling top-a-the second, Nicky hit me between the eyes. "What does this melt for you, Sammy," sez DeLeon and he flipped the glossy from a pocket of his white linen jacket that wasn't Ansel Adams but had two mountains and no moon and a smooth round neet-as-a-pin empty hole between them. Grainy B&W cop-shots. Full frontal nudity. I hadn't seen them before - the boobs but like any photographer I could'a guessed ...

"Tiny one, huh ... 25-caliber?"


"Kidskin, huh ... kinda young for the Goth-scene, isn't she, Lieutenant?"

"Kind of young for the morgue, isn't she, Sammy?"

Not that coppers are, but I ain't no fan a' death ... any PI sez otherwise got crap where his mouth should be. "So that blood ain't makeup. Kind-of-a stylish shot ... police hire professional photographers for the City morgue?"

"Halogen lamps ... new Fed grant to help keep the young dead cold. Have you seen the girl before?"

"Gawd, that's one set a' boobs ... No - I ain't seen nothin' like that ..." which wasn't a damned lie, but I knew how Popes must feel heading for hot-iron coffins in Catholic hell.

"But you do work for a woman named Knobweiler."

"Maybe I do ... and maybe that's privileged info. I can't lean on the City's nickel when the phone bill comes. Who's gonna hire a PI got mouth-bubbles like a gigged flounder?"

"That's you Sammy," he sniffed mock insulted, "just another working stiff, working maybe a divorce case, eh Sammy ... a nasty divorce? Sammy-the-Mole ... when dirt needs digging, those dames sure know where to look." DeLeon leaned back in his chair. "Take pictures for her, Sammy?"

"Yeah, Lieutenant ... Roto-Revoir for the flower show."

"I hear different ... I'd like to see different. Still keep your client photos - the juicy money-shots in the office safe?"

The rule is simple. Admit nothing till ya can't lie. Then lie. "Anybody with a search warrant can find out. Any copper with reasonable cause gets a warrant. But I don't see any warrant, and I ain't seen no reasonable cause."

"How many causes do you need? I think you also work for a dame named Loretta Jerrette."

"Last name don't sound familiar ... I gotta consult my ..."

"On the street, Sammy, she almost rolled you into stucco. One worried broad. Husband's name is TJ ... Thaddeous James Jerrette ... nice old family name for Charleston. But the man seems to have gone missing from their home on Isle of Palms. Wife's in a pickle, Loretta is cause she's missing the pickle ... know what I mean, Sammy?"

Old family names - old Charleston names ... I had a list. "What wives are missing, Lieutenant, I got a PhD in. You want ta give me a buck, for every Charleston dame's got that problem - too many or too few pickles? Even your wife ain't got that much money, Lieutenant."

"Women are from Venus, Sammy."

"Yeah, only planet with more acid than alcohol in the air."

"Breath deep, Sammy. Story is ... the dead girl in the photo is TJs girlfriend. Or was ... story is she and TJ built a love-nest beside the Ashley River ... cooing and mooning all morning long ... perhaps all of yesterday morning, til the girl dies of moon-glo."

"Nice story, Lieutenant. How did you get it?"

"This morning it's in the air like ozone. You get the same story I did Sammy, or did ya have to read the papers?"

Damn the man. If I was a coon, he'd be chewing my heels. "What I read don't make the papers, Lieutenant. I read it this way. Sure Mrs Knobweiler's buyin' the hotdogs this week. She's a SOB rich-bitch, but you know that. Maybe the dame yaks ta your wife over bridge, or at the Pet-Our-Pelicans club as wives yak about straying husbands not that I know about any straying husband and Eve razzes you before a body shows up floating. Then you come sniffing around my building this morning and just happen ta bump into Loretta. That dame you know already since her husband TJ is a pal of your Isle of Palms buddy Ben Hricko. Computer geeks, aren't they and so far gone that inside's out?" I trolled noise - DeLeon flat-faced it, so I continued. "If ya know all this, then the play figures straight. Loretta spills her guts ta you, before she snags me on the street. You got the peepers on everything, Lieutenant, and now I got more horns on my head than ten years up-the-big river."

Sure, I gotta say something. Any PI eats twice a day will tell you - try ta shag a smart copper and ya gonna be walkin' bowleg to the free clinic ... you have ta give some ... and give a bit more. The copper has to feel you're on his mailing-list, even though ya got yer own mailbox. So back-and-forth goes the rap ... just that Nicky DeLeon and I ain't never called him Nicky to his face or Three-Balls which is what the street calls him ... Nicky got one big fucking hammer ...

For a good, long second he chews on the Straight then spits out "If I'm right, Sammy, you photographed the girl just before she was murdered."

... and drives big fucking nails ... I ain't so fast ta answer like perps do. "So you said, but I've not admitted taking any photos, and about dead ... I got a brain like Plato's clean slate."

He lets that sit, then sez real quiet. "Did Loretta tell you where TJ might be now?"

"Why? You finger him for the murder?"

"Just want to talk to him, Sammy."

"Sure, like a lawnmower talks ta grass."

"Just trying ta clear out the weeds. TJ had motive and opportunity ... his girlfriend was screwing Knobweiler's husband, and TJ was probably at the Citadel dock area when the two were together. Guess you didn't see all three ... course not - you would tell me Sammy ... but tell me anyway. Did you take the photos from a boat? Were the couple also in a boat? Did you see them leave or return to the dock?"

"None a' that, Lieutenant ... I have nothing to say about client business till the judge sez holler, but ... Loretta did mention TJ might need to return home for a scrub - a quick dip in the bath-tub. Bad chemistry, know what I mean and I ain't talkin' Liquid Plumber."

His face got three questions all chasing around ... "I hate Pelican chases, Sammy, when all I find on the beach are goony birds. If that happened, Sammy our next chat will be in the City Station sweat-box."

"I got rubber drawers, but no guarantees, eh Lieutenant in our racket?"

Saying nothing he chewed on that through his last bourbon which might'a lasted twenty seconds while I got the eye-ball x-ray that should'a killed any lung cancer I got from the smokes. He scratched an eyeball cross his stainless Rolex, then tipped back his wet, straw Panama and said simple.

"Fair enough, Sammy. Don't get lost the next three hours."

Lost wasn't the word I wuz thinking. DeLeon slipped out the back way like he came, fast but he could a' been a jet and not fast enough for me. He had left a twenty on the table which the waitress had not earned so I left a ten ... making tracks for the front door where now the rain squalls wouldn't drown ya just dilute blood alcohol enough so I could drive safe west.

I like old cars from the seventies. They look better dirty. The big trunks let ya carry dead bodies just kidding I told myself ... I can afford an old, dirty car Jeez Sammy ya should go ta work for the brother-in-law Saul the Jew bastard no matter ya wouldn't say crap-face to him less the sister was around, but how come she marries a crook?

"Mr Levin!"

My Ford was parked third floor of the Allreed Building garage, like ya need a boat ta park first floor Christ it was a foot deep now and the attorneys got second floor so they can sue the poor bastards driving Chevys who clip their BMW bumpers on the way by though that wasn't the only reason I parked third floor. Like that voice clipping me behind the knees as I rushed by.

"Mr Levin, Mr Davidson wishes a word ... immediately."

I looked over, then up at the square-jaw face and slicked by my hair I gotta full head which is 10000 hairs more than Saul which he hates. "Saul wants a word ... I got two for him ... crap-face ya Nazi scum-ball and tell him the help needs Bryl-Creame ta keep the hair squared up."

"That will not do for an answer, Mr Levine. Do the names Knobweiler and Jerrette seem familiar? Your recent clients, Mr Levine are a source of embarrassment to Mr Davidson ... not to say business liabilities."

"Saul got complaints? Tell him ta sue ..."

"A most unfortunate attitude, Mr Levine. And most unpleasant. I'm sure Mr Davidson will explain most ... convincingly. Please follow me ..."

The guy had a pocket-full-a-mosts, next ta the sap ... he was about thirty feet away, six-three, two-forty and moving toward me like a Tiger tank in no hurry cause ain't no way ta stop him without a cannon me a step up on the stairwell then taking two at a time I ain't a kangaroo but I can jump better than most white guys up toward the third floor and Saul's Nazi muscle now pounding behind me. I slipped out the spray can and popped the plastic cap

The spray can said FOR PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY. It said for-frozen-nuts-and-bolts I ain't never tried, and it said slippery-as-shit and that I had tried twice before both damned fools broke legs and maybe they had insurance ... maybe not. I heard the slip behind me and a scraping lunge, the long foul curse and dull sounds of a body tumbling heavy too bad the fuck wasn't Saul himself.

I cleared the stairwell and across concrete hit the door of my Ford full tilt. I roared away since Holly carbs like wet air and I'm standin' on the gas-pedal. Some paint clipped from the rear fender on a hydroplane through the first floor exit, but the alley was empty and I jerked west onto Lockwood Boulevard bumper-ta-bumper coming in but except for City buses broke down at the flooded kerbs I had a clean shot to the Ashley River and west.

And I had time - twenty minutes west to the Citadel ... DeLeon promised three hours, but that Rolex a' his shaves time funny. Who got the wild goose not me I hoped moving steady west to the Citadel canoe club and a body I figured cold as lunch martinis ... but maybe not.

Was a military school, The Citadel. What's PC these days that's the Citadel now not bad-mouthing modern but it sucks at least they could'a keep the girls out. Some thing like killing a girl shouldn't see. A Jew with a gun now that's me likes enemies talkin' to his face ... The Citadel don't specialize in killing any more. I lost four yards last year when Clemson chewed them into a bloody pine stump they should'a never let the fullback get away ... what Negro fullback transfers ta O'L Miss?

Plenty the Citadel ain't improved, but drive concrete piling they do with the best. Famous for it. Citadel engineers gonna cover the East Coast beaches and swamps from Miami ta Norfolk with concrete piling. If dead crabs counted the Citadel still slaughtered. And over the piling driven into the Ashley River got built docks. West end of the Citadel Campus butts on the Ashley River. The blue-water marina and four, redwood docks sit on the downstream edge of campus and that marina has more sixty-foot mahogany hulls than the Wop Vitalle got container-ships at Port-of-Charleston. The Citadel has got a better navy than the Navy has on the other side a' Charleston since the yard closed down and the cruisers no longer limp in. No limpers need apply at the Citadel marina ... One of those sixty footers belongs ta Saul-the-bastard. I've never been onboard, only once ... or to the parties onboard. The Wop ain't invited neither ...

But anybody can use the canoe launch, that sits on the other end of campus, upstream a mile from the marina and hanging thick with live oak right down ta the water's edge so ya can't see the water moccasins for the hanging moss. That's where I met Vitalle, and his pervo pal Ben Hricko, at six one morning paddling them canoes like moccasins were gonna swim and bite through the aluminum Hricko wuz pooped out on a boat-rack flogging one a' Vitalle's Partagas I could smell a mile and Tony Vitalle and me did the extra four laps cross-river while Hricko snoozed. But Vitalle? Jeez for a fat guy he paddles.

Must be a dozen redwood-racks for those canoes ... thirty, maybe forty canoes spread out drying, or standing up or bunched together for the next set a' jocks like so many sticks in a nest. I'm thinking sticks-in-a-love-nest. I'm thinking the boat I photographed yesterday morning - the boat with Mrs Knobweiler's straying husband and the kidskin doing him but I'm gonna heave thinkin' maybe not was a bow-rider_35 with chrome rails and plenty a' push to get from the canoe launch to the boat marina in flat ten minutes making no more noise than hanging moss makes ...

Rain had broken in sporadic fits of thunder and light showers as I parked at a picnic table fifty yards upstream from the canoes. It was gonna stink - Nicky wuz gonna sweat my ass like I have ten pounds ta lose I strapped on the Nikon ... maybe I trade a glossy fer ten pounds ... and sneaker-creeped through the salt-grass river edge.

Rain had chased home every fool but me. The launch strip was part sand, part padded-down grass clumped among live oak into separated, weedy patches. At the first patch the stack of canoes were wooden, rotted and stripped to maple frames for repair good swimmers only need apply.

The second rack hung back from the river twenty yards on trim grass. Some of the canoes stood upright, some turned over and beneath the slates lay two aluminum hulls upright and resting on concrete blocks but so covered by the hulls above they maybe didn't see the rain or not much. I kicked easy at the first hull and stepped back ... maybe five seconds and a thick black moccasin uncoiled from along the blocks and slipped yards by me on an erratic, vague course toward the river. What didn't bother it didn't get bitten I took the message. I didn't kick again, cause I heard the metallic groan.

But I slipped out the belly-gun and one handed slid a canoe off the rack. It's free end settled easy on sand, aluminum scrapping dully over wood it wasn't no violin. I poked the short-barrel between staves. What voice eked out ya couldn't recognize.

"You must be Jesus, cause the Devil's got a pitchfork. Or blue Noah."

I meant ta ask the Rabbi that same question. "How long ya been there, sailor?"

"Since the sky melted."

"But the animals boarded two-by-two, sailor."

"Yeah, both of us, but I can't find her. If you're Jesus, maybe you took her first."

"Wrong Jew, pal." I holstered the 32-caliber. Grunting, the crumpled figure in the canoe uncoiled and sat upright pressing his face against the slates looking out. His eyes were red and wild and worn like a man's eyes after a long trip through wet, melting skies. I snapped two quick photos. "You have a name, pal?" I couldn't guess like Einstein did fractions.

"Thaddeous, like the disciple ..."

"That's Timothy ... try TJ, like the long lost husband of Loretta."

"Loretta ... she's a great fuck when she's stoned on acid."

"Try Thaddeous, like the gent with a high-school girlfriend."

"She ain't in highschool, but junior high. And she didn't know shit about acid til I taught her."

"Yeah, pal, ya taught her plenty. Do you remember when she left you?"

His face corkscrewed, then brightened. "Remember ... that's about the past, right? I know these trick questions ..." His side fell over the edge of the canoe and he crawled out from the rack all knees and elbows as a rain-squall blew in from the river. "Once I had a past, but it crawled away ..." Then he stood face up while the rain washed purple stains from his mouth. I snapped another photo, of the half-alive bastard who never killed with a 25-caliber ...

Or stood straight very long ... TJ dropped to a knee talking up at me. "She wouldn't get back into the canoe once the snake came in. Damn bitch ... " He pulled a small, red glass vial from a torn jean pocket. "Bitch was scared as shit, so I poured acid over the snake's head and it went to sleep. I snuggled in next to it but the bitch ... can't remember the past much after that cause the sky was melting ... and somebody was pulling her away, Mr ... Mr ... are you a Jew like Jesus?"

"Hell no, they ain't got me yet. But the girl ... who pulled her away, pal?"

"I ... I ... I thought it was blue Noah ..."

Click, brain, I'm thinkin', will ya click, click ... last shot, I figured ... plenty enough ta keep Three-balls happy, keep my ass out a' the sweat-box til I figure ... and snapped off the Nikon lens cover ...

The cultured, venomous SOB voice snapped back my ears. "That will be quite enough, Mr Levine. Another photo is useless to me."

Jeez, I shoulda' been Einstein, only quicker ... "Ya know, Mrs Knobweiler," I said turning round for the full frontal shot of a SOB matron drawing down paws full of a 25-caliber automatic, "I've had the same rap pokin' at my brain for about the last ten minutes."

She appeared from behind a live oak and smartly cut distance between us from seventy-five to twenty feet. Her wrist held dead steady I hated that word. Dead. Like her thin, deadly smooth grin. She pointed to the camera. "A silly, useless exercise, Mr Levine. Both you, and this Isle of Palms pervert will soon be dead ... with the gun in the pervert's hand ... naturally, him a suicide."

TJ had groped his way standing at a tilt. "Jesus doesn't like suicides, ya bitch."

The steel gun-barrel wavered toward him. "Oh ... just shut up, fool. On you it looks natural."

Who likes natural, I thought, but Jeez, the dame liked blue ... she wore violet leather gloves, a navy slicker and robins-egg Cod'r hat, and except for her bare steel-grey toes she was dressed ta bring bad weather blues. Thunder rolled from the harbor ... I lowered the Nikon and snapped on the lens-cap. "Yeah, suicide ... ya always did like cowards, don't you Mrs Knobweiler. Like the straying husband only too happy ta pose with a dead girl's body."

That got her thinkin' - me pokin' the grift wide open, and while the gat stayed level on my gut she walked all the way round us, ta the riverside so rain blew scattered on her back. Then her gat-hand stretched. "Believe me, the slime-for-husband actually enjoyed it!" Her forehead worked up and down. "I would have cleaned him out, in a divorce ... left him pinch-penny. He knew that, and he knew the scandal would destroy me. So we traded, Mr Levine ... his money for my South-of-Broad reputation ... a good ass counts for something after all."

"Just a little matter of the trading costs, eh Mrs Knobweiler, the real cost of protecting your reputation. That cost was the girl's life."

"A trifle ... and of course the cost of your initial photos, Mr Levine, to prove the girl was alive with my husband. To cover his roving ass, should the police prove frisky and to provide a motive for the pervert, here, to kill her."

"Why didn't you kill TJ when you took the girl? He was your mark, the set-up, the fall-guy for the girl's murder. Why not be certain and do the job yourself?"

Her wild, blue lips broke into a laugh. "Too pat, Mr Levine. As I imagined it, as I wanted the police to imagine, TJ observes the girl and my husband having sex, then later shoots the girl in jealous rage. To escape an act so horrid he trips on acid. The snake was supposed to deliver an oh-so-tragic ending to the lover's quarrel. So tragic and so outrageous ... so believable. How could I imagine TJ would feed the snake LSD?"

"And today's photos?"

"Well, if you hadn't been a shit, and photographed me, those first glossies would have proven you stumbled on a wild-man ... an insane, raving lunatic who ... naturally shot you dead. Shot you and then himself. Now, I'll simply dispose of the film once ... but too bad really about the moccasin ... it would have been so romantic ..."

I seen women in a crunch who didn't come up for air - but this dame hadn't breathed oxygen in days. Insane? Beside her, TJ was Solomon, Nicky a dentist and Saul his brother's keeper I ain't never tellin' my sister that. But they all got better ... compared ta the mental case in blueberry knickers and she still had the gat. I had a plan, maybe two for breathing steady, but being a man of action Levine ain't Solomon.

Knobweiler's face set grim and determined ... " and so deadly," she stepped back ... TJ lurched forward arms in a windmill ripping the red glass vial from his pocket. "But Jesus said we could handle snakes - like that one ...!"

LSD puts snakes to sleep maybe, but TJ's leap was one, giant muscle-spaz. Auto 25-caliber in the dames paw swung quickly after movement and SNAX, SNAX twice the lead hornets creased his side him screaming from the sting I saw blood squirt but no worse and me ... I had out the belly-gun 32-caliber.

I ain't never shot a dame. I bet the moccasin never bit one that fulla LSD and wouldn't now, but it was squirming through grass ten feet from Mona Knobweiler's bare toes and she blasted away with the 25-caliber five times clipping grass like a lawnmower before my shoulder caught her chest at full-run Jeez I blasted her and I'm no fullback sending the gat flying - her body and face smashing down onto the snake which just twitched it's fat deadly black body and wiggled away.

Maybe first I rolled over it. Maybe the moccasin spit at me and maybe sometime I owe that moccasin a salmon filet ... if they eat salmon ... Maybe I got up slow I ain't no hard-case like Saul's pals, but I should go ta the gym more often. My shoulder hurt. The dame stayed down. TJ chased after the snake into salt grass while I put a cord-wrap on Mrs Knobweiler's blue-glove wrists.

After the razz, it ended flat with me sitting on a wet canoe. Knobweiler was woozy and breathing like she hadn't seen oxygen in days ... she was a murderess, but would never see old Sparky. That's one nag ya could put a paycheck on. If the law worked and I don't know one shyster or cop who feels that way she would stare at grey concrete the next forty years. But with her money ... a couple years at rolling-hills-and-green-field treatment center like all green got plowed under in Charleston what she'd get and crap ... I'm damned glad I never felt like Solomon - never got the trigger finger itch like I know Nicky does ...

Sitting in rain-spit on a wet canoe ... sometime real soon I'd get real scared, the six-and-a-half sharp brain-cells told me but not then, not cool, not frozen. Not ... both a cell-phone and CB were at the Ford. I strapped the Nikon with some care to my shoulder cause what that one photo of Mrs Knobweiler showed gotta be worth ten pounds. Then I heard sirens, whining up closer like a train whistle approaching oh hell City Station's only two miles away on the Ashley, and I saw a Police launch plowing up river. That's good. Any PI tells ya they like death got crap for a mouth not me ... hell no, I wanted ta deep sea dive for the next two martini olives.

Who called out the coppers and where to I could guess. I figured Nicky's had his fill of the pervo's bath tub and got smart again I wuz never gonna claim I made him take the dumb move cause a smart copper hates that more than anything and will sweat pounds off your ass for it even when things turn out Okey.

That night I cashed Mona Knobweiler's check, and took a call from her husband. He wanted ta buy photos. After wiping for prints, I mailed them to Eve DeLeon. Two days later the cops pulled TJ alive from the water at Wappo Cut miles downstream in Charleston Harbor, but first they gotta kill the water-moccasin wound sleeping about his neck. Saul he ain't called in weeks I say a prayer. The sister sez he's happy.