Friends of Dorothy – An excerpt from Secondhand Souls
A novel by Christopher Moore
©2014 Christopher Moore
Mike Sullivan is a painter on the Golden Gate Bridge. From time to time, the ghosts of the bridge visit him. Like this one:
# # #
I was working in the Naval Investigations Service out of Chi-town when we first got word of a potential enemy propaganda operation called the “Friends of Dorothy” operating on the West Coast, probably originating in Frisco. I know, what’s Naval Investigations doing in Chicago, a thousand miles from the nearest ocean? That’s the slickness of our strategy, see: Who’s gonna suspect navy cops in the middle of Cow Town on the Prairie, am I right? Of course I am.
Anyways, we get word that new troops shipping out to the Pacific of San Fran are being approached on the down low by this Friends of Dorothy bunch, who are playing up on their pre-battle jitters, trying to cause some desertions, maybe even recruit spies for Tojo.
So the colonel looks around the office, and as I am the most baby-faced of the bunch, he decides to send me out to Frisco under cover as a new recruit to see if I can get the skinny on this Dorothy and her friends, before we got another Axis Annie or Tokyo Rose on our hands, only worse, because this Dorothy isn’t just taking a shot at our morale on the radio, she’s likely running secret operations.
I tell the colonel that despite my youthful mug, I am an expert on the ways of devious dames and I will have this Dorothy in the brig before he can say Hirohito is a bum, maybe faster. So five days later I find myself on the dog-back streets of San Fran with about a million other sailors, soldiers, and marines waiting to ship out.
Well, San Fran is getting to be known as liberty city, as this is the spot where many guys are going to see the good old U S of A for the last time ever, so in spite of restrictions and whatnot all along the Barbary Coast, every night the town is full of military guys out for one last party, looking for a drink or a dame or the occasional crap game. It’s a tradition by this time that the night before you ship out, you go up to the Top of the Mark, the night club on the top floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel on California Street, where a guy can have a snort whilst looking at the whole city from bridge to bridge, and if he’s lucky, a good-smelling broad will take him for twirl around the dance floor and tell him that everything is going to be okay, even though most guys are suspicious that it’s not. And these are such dames as are doing this out of patriotism and the kindness of their heart, like the USO, so there’s no hanky panky or grab-assing.
So word has it, that the Friends of Dorothy are recruiting at the Top of the Mark, so I don a set of Navy whites and pea coat like a normal swabby, and stake out a spot by the doorman outside the hotel, and as guys go by, I am whispering, “Friends of Dorothy,” under my breath, like a guy selling dirty post cards or tickets to a sold-out Cubs game (which could happen when they make their run for the pennant). And before long, the cable car stops and off steps this corn-fed jarhead who is looking around and grinning at the buildings and the bay at the end of the street like he’s never seen water before, and he’s sort of wandering around on the sidewalk like he’s afraid of the doorman or something, and I gives him my hush-hush Friends of Dorothy whisper.
So Private Hayseed sidles up to me and says back, “Friends of Dorothy?”
“You’re damn skippy, marine,” says I.
And just like that the kid lights up like Christmas morning and starts pumping my hand like he’s supplying water to douse the Chicago fire, or maybe the Frisco fire, as I hear that they also have a fire, but I cannot but think that it was not a real fire as Frisco is clearly a toy town. Kid introduces himself as Eddie Boedeker Jr. from Sheep Shit, Iowa or Nebraska or one of your more square-shaped, corn-oriented states, I don’t remember. And he goes on how he is nervous and he has never done anything like this before, but he’s about to go off to war and might never come home, so he has to see — and it’s all I can do to calm the kid down and stand him up against the wall beside me like he’s just there to take in the night air and whatnot. You see, I am dressed like a sailor, and he is a marine, and although technically, swabbies and jarheads are in the same branch of the service, it’s a time-honored tradition that when they are in port they fight like rats in a barrel, which is something I should have perhaps thought of when I picked my spy duds.
So on the spot I compose a slogan of war unity so as to shore up my cover. “Fight together or lose alone, even with no-necked fucking jarheads.” I try it out on the doorman like I’m reading it off a poster and he nods, so I figure we’re good to go.
“C’mon, marine,” I says to the Private Hayseed, “I’ll buy you a drink.”
So we go up the elevator to the Top of the Mark, and I order an Old Fashioned because there’s an orange slice in it and I’m wary of scurvy, and I ask the kid what he’ll have, and he says, “Oh, I ain’t much for drinking.”
And I says, “Kid, you’re about to ship out to get your guts blown out on some God-forsaken coral turd in the Pacific and you’re not going to have a drink before you go, what are you, some kind of moron?”
And the kid provides that, no, he’s a Methodist, but his ma has a record of the Moron Tabernacle Choir singing Silent Night that she plays every Christmas and so I figure the answer is yes and I order the kid an Old Fashioned with an extra orange slice hoping it might help cure stupid as well as scurvy. But I also figure that old Eddie here is exactly the kind of dim bulb that Dorothy and her cohorts will try to go for, so I press on, pouring a couple more Old Fashioneds into him, until the kid is as pink-faced as a sunburned baby and gets a little weepy about God and country and going off to war, while I keep trying to slide in questions about Dorothy, but the kid keeps saying maybe later, and asks if maybe we can’t go hear some jazz, as he has never heard jazz except on the radio.
Well the bartender provides as there is an excellent horn player over in the Fillmore, which is only a hop on the cable car, so I flip him four bits for the tip and I drag Eddie down to the street and pour him onto the cable car, which takes us up the hill and over to the Fillmore, which is where all the blacks live now, as it used to be Jap neighborhood until they shipped them off to camps and the blacks moved in from the South to work in the ship yards bringing with them jazz and blues and no little bit of dancing.
And as we’re getting off the car, I spots some floozies standing outside the club right below a war department poster with a picture of a similar dame that says, “She’s a booby trap! They can cure VD, but not regret.”
And as we’re walking up, I says, “Hey toots, you pose for that poster?” And one of the rounder dames says, “I might have sailor, but I ain’t heard no regrets yet,” which gives me a laugh, but makes Private Eddie just look down and smile into his top button. He whispers to me on the side, “I ain’t never done anything like this before.”
I figured as much, but I say to the kid, “That’s what the Friends of Dorothy are for, kid,” just taking a shot in the dark.
And he gets a goofy grin and says, “That’s what the guy said.”
And I say, “What guy?” but by that time we’re through the door and the band is playing, the horn player going to town on the old standard Chicago, to which I remove my sailor’s hat, because it is, indeed, my kind of town. So we drink and listen to jazz and laugh at nothing much, cause the kid doesn’t want to think about where he’s going, and he doesn’t want to think about where he came from, and I can’t figure out how to get behind this Dorothy thing with the band playing. After a few snorts, the kid even lets a dame take him out on the dance floor, and because he more resembles a club-footed blind man killing roaches than a dancer, I head for the can to avoid associating with him, and on my way back, I accidently bump into a dogface, spilling his drink. And before I can apologize, when I am still on the part that despite his being a piss-ant, lame-brained, clumsy, ham-handed Army son of a bitch, that it is a total accident that I bump into him and spill his drink, he takes a swing at me. And since he grazes my chin no little, I am obliged to return his ministrations with a left to the fucking bread-basket and a right cross which sails safely across his bow. At which point, the entire 7th Infantry comes out of the woodwork, and soon I am dodging a dozen green meanies, taking hits to the engine room, the galley, as well as the bridge, and my return fire is having little to no effect on the thirty-eleven or so guys what are wailing on me. I am sinking fast, about to go down for the count. Then two of the G.I.s go flying back like they are catching cannonballs, and then two more from the other side, and through what light I can see, Private Eddie Boedeker, Jr. wades into the G.I.s like the hammer of fucking God, taking out a G.I. with every punch, and those that are not punched are grabbed by the shirt and hurled with no little urgency over tables, chairs, and various downed citizens, and it occurs to me that I have perhaps judged the kid’s dancing chops too harshly, for while he cannot put two dance steps together if you paint them on the floor, he appears to have a right-left combination that will stop a Panzer.
Before long guys from all branches of service are exchanging opinions and broken furniture and I hear the sinister chorus of M.P. whistles, as which point I grab the kid by the belt and drag him backwards through the tables and the curtain behind the stage and out into the alley, where I collapse for second to collect my thoughts and test a loose tooth and the kid bends over, hands on his knees, gasping for breath, laughing and spitting a little blood.
“So, kid,” I says. “You saved my bacon.” And I offer him a bloody-knuckled handshake.
Kid takes my hand and says, “Friends of Dorothy,” and pulls me into a big hug.
“Yeah, yeah, Friends of fucking Dorothy,” I say, slapping him on the back. “Speaking of which,” I say, pushing him off. “Let’s take a walk—“
“I gotta get back to Fort Mason,” the kid says. “It’s nearly midnight. The cable cars stop at midnight and I gotta ship out in the morning.”
“I know, kid, but Friends of Dorothy,” I says. I’m aware all of sudden that I have strayed somewhat from my mission, and that if the kid goes, I’m going to have to start all over again, although I suspect I have not exactly stumbled onto the mastermind of the diabolical Dorothy’s organization. But still.
“Look,” says the kid. “This has been swell. Really swell. I really appreciate you, you know, being a friend, but I gotta go. I aint never done nothing like this, never met anyone like you. It’s been swell.”
“Well, you know–” I says, not knowing how to bail this out. That one tooth was definitely loose.
Suddenly the kid grabs me again, gives me a big hug, then turns and runs off toward the cable car stop. He’s about a half a block away when he turns and says, “I’m going to go see the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning. Oh-six-hundred. Ain’t never seen a sunrise over the ocean. I’ll meet you there. Say good-bye.”
And I’m am tempted to point out several things, including that he will have to see the Golden Gate Bridge as he passes under it when he ships out, that we are on the West Coast and the sun doesn’t rise over the ocean, and that there is no need to run, as I can hear the bell of the cable car and it is still blocks away, but these being finer points than I want to yell up an alley when there are M.P.s still on the prowl, I say, “I’ll be there.”
“Friends of Dorothy,” the kid says with a wave.
“Friends of Dorothy,” I say back at him. Which goes to show you, right there, the difference between sailors and marines: marines are fucking stupid. Running when you don’t have to.
So next morning I’m on the bridge, crack of dawn, so hung-over I feel like if I don’t close my eyes I might bleed to death, but not having to worry about it, since my eyes are too swollen up to bleed, and I see the kid, all by himself, about halfway down the bridge, out in the fog, waving like a goddamn loony when he sees me. So I limp out to him, and when I get close he starts running at me, so I says, “No running! No goddamn running!”
But he keeps running, and now he’s got his arms out like to give me a big hug, which I am in no mood for.
So I back away and say give him an, “At ease, marine.”
And he stops, bounces on his toes like a little goddamn girl.
“I couldn’t wait to see you. I thought about you all night. I couldn’t sleep,” he says.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s good,” I say. “But about the Friends of Dorothy—“
“I’m sorry about that,” the kid says. “Really sorry. I mean, I want to, but I never did anything like that before. I mean, in Kansas nobody’s like that. I thought – I mean, if my folks –I thought I was the only one. Then this guy in boot camp told me about the Friends of Dorothy.”
That’s right. It was Kansas. Anyway, I says, “That’s it, you got to tell me about Dorothy, everything you know, Eddie.”
“But I don’t know nothing. I just, I just have these feelings—“
Then the kid grabs me, right then, and gives me a great big wet one, right on the kisser. I was so surprised I just about shit myself. So I push him off of me, you know, big flat palm to the chin, and when I get done spitting, I’m say, “What the hell was that about?”
And the kid looks like I just shot his dog. “Friends of Dorothy,” he says.
“Yeah, the Friends of Fucking Dorothy, that’s why I’m here, but what the fuck was that? You queer or something?”
And he goes, “Friends of Dorothy. Like the scarecrow. Like the tin man. Like the cowardly lion. People ain’t got anyone else like them. But Dorothy don’t care. Like you. Like us.”
“I ain’t like you kid. I got people. I got a wife and kid back in Chicago. I’d be out shooting the ass off of Tojo myself if I hadn’t blown my knee out in football in high school. I’m not Dorothy’s friend, I’m not your friend, kid.”
“Friends of Dorothy,” the kid says. “We find each other,” he says.
“Queers? That’s what this about? A bunch of fairies? Marines? Sailors? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Friends of Dorothy,” the kid wails.
“Not anymore. Naval Investigative Service. I’m taking you in, kid. You’re going in the brig, and if you ever wanna get out, you’re going to tell me everything you know about the Friends of Dorothy. Everyone you ever talked to about them. I need names, places, dates.”
“But I’m shipping out today. I ain’t never done nothing like this.”
“And you’re not going to again,” I says. “It’s time of war, kid, and being queer is a court martiable offense. You and your Friends of Dorothy are traitors. Hell, they might even shoot you. You might make it back to Kansas, but it’s going to be in chains, to Leavenworth.” Rough, I know, but I’m hung-over and annoyed that I’ve been made a sap, and I’m just trying to scare the kid so he’s easier to handle.
The kid starts shaking his head and backing away. “You can’t tell my folks. You can’t tell my Dad. It would kill him.”
“Everyone’s going to know, kid. It’s going to be in the papers, so you might as well come clean.”
Then he turns and really starts to run.
“Where you think you’re going, kid? I got the whole fleet I can send after you. A deserter. A queer traitor and deserter.”
“Friends of Dorothy,” he wails. His face is melting into a big glob of snot and tears.
“Yeah, Friends of fucking Dorothy, traitor. Let’s go, Boedeker.”
The he just starts wailing, crying it, “But Friends of Dorothy! Friends of Dorothy!” and then, again with the running, but this time for the rail, and before I can get close to him, he’s over, head first. Hit the water like a gunshot. I bet they could hear it all the way to Fort Mason.
I look down and he’s just all bent up, like a broken scarecrow, floating dead in the waves.
# # #
“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard,” said Mike Sullivan.
“Yeah, it was the war. Tough times.”
“So, you, did you, I mean, did you jump too?” asked Mike.
“Nah, I went back to Chicago. Heart attack in fifty-eight.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Smoked a lot, ate a lot of bratwurst, we didn’t know stuff in those days.”
“No, why are you on the bridge?”
“No idea. Guess that’s why the Spanish broad wanted me to tell you my story. You want I should fetch her?”
“Maybe that would be good,” Mike said. The ghost’s story had made him a little woozy, he couldn’t figure out if it was nausea or anxiety, but neither were to be taken lightly when you were up on the bridge.
“So long, bridge painter,” said the ghost. “And by the way, you can tell the dame that you have not been helpful in the least. I feel like I’m the only one did any talking here. No offense.”
“You’ll want to fuck off, now,” said Mike, who despite being a nice guy, had his limits, which he was very close to reaching with this particular spirit
Secondhand Souls is the sequel to A Dirty Job, so yes, it will have characters from that first book, but Mike Sullivan and his group of ghosts is kind of a fun addition, I thought.
Seconhand Souls will be released August 25, 2015.
Merry Christmas Everyone!