In 1949, America was the center of a new world. It was a time when everyone wanted to rebuild their lives after the Great Depression and the Second World War. New York was filled with immigrants — from the broken countries in Europe and the young veterans from rural America who had traveled the globe to fight tyranny and knew they could never go back home. This is the story of one returning soldier, Phillip Dagger, for whom the war has never ended.
1. At the Club
It was one of the perks of the job.
I was watching my target in the smoky reflection of the bar mirror at the Copa, wearing a tux under my trench coat, hiding a gat in my pocket, and sipping one-dollar martinis.
My boss and the boys in accounting would have gone over the moon seeing these expenses, if the agency had an accounting department and if I was working under anyone except my gorgeous assistant on those rare occasions when she was between boyfriends.
Like I said, the job had some perks, as long as the client had deep enough pockets.
As I nursed my drink, trying to blend into background, a familiar form entered the club like the memory of a cool breeze.
She floated across the club, dressed like a Parisian model, with a Chinese sun hat¹ titled forward to hide her features.
But her intentions were no mystery.
She wore a bare-shouldered black evening dress cinched tight at the waist, swelling into a full flowing skirt that seemed to have a desire of its own, as it lifted up with each step she took.
Her dress would have shown off some world class gams² except they were covered by patent leather riding boots.
Talk about a fashion faux pas covering up this fox’s paws.
This was one spicy dish, maybe a paella or a couscous. I wouldn’t know until I got a taste.
She came over to the bar, and tilted back her hat.
“Oh, it’s you,” she smiled.
It was her.
I was dizzy for this dame in another lifetime. “Hello, doll, you haven’t changed a bit since Barcelona.”
“It was Paris, or did you forget?”
How could I ever forget?
It still hurt, even though we’d been separated by a World War, two hemispheres and a trail of blood that circled the globe.
“I know it came from a Bogart movie,” I said, “but of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, how’d you end up here?”
She lit her own cigarette, the glow of the match illuminating her face like a fresco at the Vatican. “They have these things called airplanes now. I’m as free as a bird now.”
“More like a vulture,” I mumbled as I brought the martini glass up to my lips and took a swallow of forgetfulness.
She knew what she had done. Was she just coming back to pick a little more meat off my carcass?
She pursed her blood red lips into a pout that could melt the ice in her gin and tonic. “Oh cherie, chacun voit midi à sa porte.³ We did what we had to do to survive the war. It’s just water under the bridge.”
I bit down hard on the olive in my drink and snapped the toothpick like it was a stick, frowning at my inability to find a witty metaphor. It was more like water over the bridge. I thought. A bridge resting at the bottom of the river after she had blown it up.
Her frontal assault on my personal space was supported from the air by the perfume she wore, a reminder of the day we said goodbye at Gard de Lyon, in Paris.
I was headed for Marseilles and a way back to the States to fight fascism; she would stay and “resist” the Nazis in her own way.
Her lips brushed past my check and came to rest near my ear, as her hips pressed into me and my concealed rod.
She shivered as we touched and whispered, “Are you happy to see me, or is that a gun in your pants?”
“Yeah, well, I’m getting by these days as a private dick.”
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Can we schedule a consultation tonight? I need your help. Aides moi.” She dotted the “i” with the tip of her tongue tickling my ear.
I had a tip for her, too.
And a lot more.
2. The Office
My office was simple and uncomplicated, just the way I wanted to live my life after I came back from the war.
There was a desk, a telephone, a small safe in the corner, a couple of comfortable chairs to think deep thoughts, and a couch for extra deep thinking.
On the back wall was a large wooden wall painted with the image of some men playing soccer.
She was unimpressed by my digs until I pulled the handle on the wall and opened out the Murphy bed.
“Make yourself comfortable,” I said. “I’ll get us some drinks.”
I opened the safe to retrieve a bottle of champagne, while discreetly locking my gun inside.
This had the makings of a memorable night that I needed to survive in order to remember it.
I still wasn’t sure of Angel’s intentions, and knew I had to feel her out; first gently, then harder and faster, over and over, until I got the answers I wanted.
When I turned around, she was holding a roscoe and wearing nothing but a smile on her face. “I want you, gumshoe, but I don’t trust you.”
“Well that makes two of us. I wouldn’t trust me with a woman like you. It’s your move, sweetheart.”
It was a humid summer night in Manhattan, the skyscrapers were oozing heat like the radiator in my office that never worked in the winter, and my own temperature was rising.
My experience as a private eye told me there was a completely different reason her nipples were standing at attention as if they could hear La Marseillaise.
My jour de gloire had definitely arrived.
“What’s your game, baby? It seems like you’re just whistling in the dark.”
She turned the lights way down low, sat on the bed and did her best impression of a ballerina doing le grand écart. “I was hoping you would supply the music. You remember how to whistle, don’t you, darling? You just put your lips together and blow.”
I moved slowly toward her with my hands up, leaned down toward her as her head tilted up toward mine.
Her eyes were wide open.
Our mouths clashed hungrily, and she drew back in pain.
“Brut! Idiot! You almost chipped my tooth,” she cried. “Has coming home turned into a gorille?”
“I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be with a dame,” I lied.
But the truth was, it was never the same for me, once I’d lost this particular dame.
She pointed the gun at me, glanced down at her the open boulevard leading to her rond point. “I suggest you brush up on your French, if you know what’s good for you. But first, get rid of those clothes, so I can be sure you aren’t carrying a concealed weapon.”
“Of course I’m packing, toots, can’t you see?” The bulge in my pants should have been obvious enough.
I stripped down and joined her on the bed.
Even with the gun pointed at me, I’d never felt hotter or harder — no performance anxiety here.
This time, our lips locked into a fevered embrace.
I let my fingers work their magic down south of the border, she did the same for me and we finally fell into a groove.
“Please…” she moaned, and gasped.
“Don’t…” came a deep rumble from her heaving breasts.
I paused, suddenly confused about the rules of consent.
She looked me in the eye, frowned a little, and glanced back down to my now stationery hand, so I got back to work.
“Stop…” she cried, as her body started to twitch.
I paused again.
Who could have ever thought punctuation could be such a cock blocker?
“Mmmmmm,” she groaned, then she slapped my face with her left hand and put the gun to my head with the right.
Instead of giving me another left, she grabbed my hand and shoved it back down hard into her heart of darkness, as if she were trying to jimmy the back door of a rock shop.
This time I went back to work, and didn’t stop, no matter how many periods, ellipses, or question marks got thrown my way.
“Sister,” I said, “I’ve cracked a lot of vaults in my time, and it usually requires a soft touch. But if you like it rough, I can give as good as I get.”
She slid over on top, mounted me, and rode me like a stallion.
I will never be able to think of a rodeo in the same way.
As the action grew hotter and steamier⁴, I was afraid that either her pistol or mine would go off inadvertently.
Finally, there was an explosion in the room, but only the good kind.
As we cuddled in the bed, sharing a cigarette, she put the gun on the night stand and sighed, “tomorrow, we’ll talk about the other job I need you to do.”
“Sounds good, Angel,” I exhaled through a chain of smoke rings. “But I’ll have to charge a little extra for hazard pay because you almost killed me tonight.”
She smiled and we drifted off to sleep.
3. The Morning After
Just before dawn, I woke up and whispered to the still sleeping beauty in the bed next to me, “Baby, I’m going to the bakery downstairs. I’ll come back with a surprise for you.”
When I came back a half an hour later, we had breakfast in bed.
We had our fill, then ate the fresh croissants, too.
Sitting on the bed, I handed her a cup of Joe and we sipped at the sweet bitterness, thinking of all the events that had brought us back together.
There was a soft tapping at the door.
“Don’t answer it,” she said, “I want this moment to last forever.”
“Me, too, Doll, but duty calls.”
Her soft lips drew back into a snarl as I opened the door and let the heat in.
“You fingered me, cochon!”
She went to grab her gun, but the cops stopped her.
“I did a lot more than that, baby,” winking at the boys in blue, “but I ain’t the type to French kiss and tell.”
Yeah, I fingered her.
I fingered her long before I fingered her.
There were too many bread crumbs leading from the murder scene at the base of the Eiffel Tower all the way up to the ones stuck between those steamy short and curlies below her belt. You’d think she had done the deed with just her cooch.
In a way, she had.
I know it would have eventually killed me, too, trying to love a woman hiding so much darkness, both above and under the sheets. Being with her was like kissing the devil — no matter how much you worshiped at the altar, whatever promises she made were just lip service.
“Boys,” I said to the cops. “Take that gun. The fingerprints should match a murder case in Paris. Interpol will appreciate the heads up.”
Angel looked at me as if I had cut the heels off every shoe in her wardrobe.
“Gilles was my friend, sweetheart,” I told her. “ He gave you a mink coat and you repaid the favor with a cement overcoat.”
“Why would you care? Gilles stole me from you.”
“Don’t you know anything, baby? We played club soccer years before you Can-canned into our lives. It’s always been foot avant pute.”
“Non, mon petit homme, his big, hard baguette sang a different song.” She moaned to mock me, reminding me of a big hole in my life that I could never fill.
“I’d love to see you again, Angel, but it looks like you’ll be tied up for a while.”
“You bastard!” She struggled against the cuffs, as the two flat foots held on for dear life. “If you enjoy seeing me in bondage, you should have said so. I would have taken you to paradise.”
Her glance pointed me over to the bed stand.
Inside her purse there were fur-covered manacles.
I dug my hand in deep and showed her the $25,000 policy insuring my life — with her named as the beneficiary. “Honey, I’ve been to heaven with you and back. The only paradise I see now has been turned into a parking lot. Or a concrete slab.”
As the cops led her toward the door, she started screaming four-letter words at me. But it was in French, so the words were a lot longer and way easier on the ears.
“You’ll have to do better than that, sweetheart, it all sounds like music coming from you.”
“I’ll see you in hell,” she hissed, “but not before I’ve put you in the ground.”
“And I’ll wait for you, even if you get sent up the river for twenty. You stole my heart, Angel, and I intend to get it back.”
Her expression softened into the trace of a smile and then she was out the door and gone from my life forever.
Later that morning, I woke up to the sound of my assistant unlocking the door to the office.
Brigid was wearing a long white skirt topped with a red cardigan sweater and a large brooch in the shape of a falcon flying above those majestic mountains of pleasure.
She opened the pink box from the bakery and purred with delight. “Mmmm, I just love a warm baguette in the morning. Did you get this for me?”
“Sure thing, toots, you know I’m always thinking about you, even when you’re with Winthorp or whatever his name is.”
“I told Winnie to hit the road. He wanted me to give up my job helping you fight crime.”
Then she frowned. “You know, I heard sirens close by just before I got here, and this place looks like a tornado hit it. What happened?”
“Let’s just say I was boning up on my French, baby.” I patted the open space next to me on the bed. “Why don’t you come over here and I’ll teach you their native tongue.”
Brigid took the phone off the hook, and locked the deadbolts.
Then she sat next to me and giggled as I undid her bra.
I looked at her in those deep baby blues and said “the word we’re going to learn today is oh la la.”
Like I said, the job does have its perks.
Here’s to better writing.
¹This was my French fashion reference from the 1940s:
²Here’s a great film noir glossary:
Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang
Compiled by William Denton . Copyright © 1993-2009. CC-BY. Edition 3.9.4. Version 4.0 is planned. Originally published…
³This French expression means each individual is totally occupied with their personal interests and feels their subjective opinions are objective truths.
⁴This is a period piece and there is some steamy sex, hence period sex, in case you were wondering about the lack of tampons and blood.