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Noir- Excerpt #2

February 15th, 2018 · 9 Comments

Hey kids, as promised, here’s another excerpt of Noir, where you get to see a little more goings on between Sammy and the Cheese. It was supposed to be up for Valentines Day, but events and whatnot happened. Thanks for adding my stuff to your shelf on Goodreads and for following my author page on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Moore/e/B000APFLHC/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1518706568&sr=8-1

Laff in the Dark

They got on the B-car at Geary Street and rode it for nearly an hour, laughing and smooching and commenting between them on everyone who got on or off at every stop, making up out rageous, silly stories about street pirates and bus stop witches, mentioning neither the war nor what had come before. They got off at Ocean Beach, between the Great Highway and Playland, where, as usual, a freezing wind whipped off the Pacific at about seven hundred miles per hour, whistling through the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster, and surprising more than somewhat those tourists who had come here for a balmy midsummer night’s dream, but discomfiting Sammy and the Cheese not a whit. They were locals, and knew what the author Jack London had said about Ocean Beach in 1902: “Holy fuck, you couldn’t get a match lit here to save your life.” Stilton wore her raincoat to protect her from the wind and Sammy wore a wool overcoat with a pint of Old Tennis Shoes in the pocket to protect against the cold.

“So, what’s your pleasure?” Sammy asked as the streetcar clanged away.

“I could put on the feedbag, if you don’t mind,” she said.

“Sounds good. There’s a diner down by the merry-go-round, if you can stand diner food.”

“I built up a tolerance. Let’s go.”

They walked arm in arm to the Sea Lion Café, where they ordered burgers and Cokes from a counter guy in a paper hat. Sammy splashed a jigger or two of Old Tennis Shoes from the pint into their Cokes under the table.

“More,” said the Cheese.

Sammy slurped some cola off the top and splashed in more liquor—a bartender used to juggling glasses.

“Okay?”

She nodded as she blew the paper wrapper off her straw at him, then drank off a quarter of her Coke in one pull. “Ah, perfect.”

“Glad you liked it. Old Tennis Shoes is aged in oak barrels for several days.”

“You can taste it.” She put her glass down. “Sammy, I need to ask you something, and don’t say no just to be nice. Be honest.”

“Promise. Shoot.”

“Do you think I’m an alcoholic?”

“How would I know? I’m a bartender. Everyone I know is a drunk except the kid who hangs out on the steps of my building, and I’m not even sure about him.”

“What would you guess, then?”

“Nah. Considering what you been through, you’re as sober as a church mouse.”

“Isn’t that ‘quiet as a church mouse’?”

“You’d think, but once you get a few drinks in those little guys, you can’t stop them singing.”

“Thanks,” she said, smiling at him around her straw before she took another long pull on her drink.

“Just the truth,” he said. “Now me.” “You’re definitely a drunk,” she said. “No, now I get to ask a question.”

“Oh, okay. Forget I said that. Shoot.”

“What were you looking for when you came into my bar that day?”

“I was looking for you. Just you.”

“But we’d never met.”

“I didn’t know you were what I was looking for, but there you were . . .”

“What if I hadn’t been there? Would anyone have done?”

“Nope. I wasn’t looking for just anyone. I wasn’t looking for you until I found you. I thought, That’s the guy I’ve been looking for, that guy, right there.”

“It was because I was pouring drinks, wasn’t it?”

“That did not hurt. It wasn’t everything, but it was something.”

“You could have lied about that.”

She sucked on her straw until it made a thirsty slurping noise at the bottom of the glass, then said, “I’m not lying.”

“Yeah, but you could have. I would have been okay.”

“Okay, here’s the truth, Sammy. I’m trouble. I’m not right. I do reckless things. Selfish things. I’m a wreck waiting to happen. You should steer clear of me.”

“You want another Coke?” Like he hadn’t even heard her.

“Yeah. Please.” She had warned him. You can’t blame her.

“You like onion rings?”

“Nah.”

“Me either.”

Their burgers arrived and they dove in, the Cheese eating hers in four bites, cheeks puffed out like a lipsticked chipmunk. Sammy was impressed. For a slim broad, she could eat.

She was munching away at a bouquet of ketchup-tipped fries when he said, “You know, for a slim broad, you eat like a champ.”

“Yeah, thanks,” she said. “Been eating since I was a kid. You know, practice.”

“I mean, a lot of girls on a first date would be dainty and pretend they weren’t really hungry. Push the food around on their plate. But not you.”

“Yeah, but what you don’t know is then they go home, climb into the icebox with a spoon, and think bad stuff about you. I won’t be doing that. I got plans for you, later, buster, which is why I gotta keep my strength up.”

“Plans?”

“Yeah. You gonna eat the rest of your fries?”

Sammy grinned and pushed his fries to her side of the table and was about to negotiate for a hint of her plans when two cops came in the café and took seats near a window looking down the walk toward the merry-go-round. Sammy watched their reflections in the paper napkin dispenser. They were young, not particularly tough-looking, and seemed more interested in watching girls than fighting crime—like they were celebrating drawing sweet duty where the worst thing they might encounter was a rowdy sailor or a kid lifting wallets in the funhouse.

Sammy snatched the last handful of fries from his plate and crammed them in his mouth.

“Too slow,” he said around the mouthful of distressed spuds. “Let’s go.”

Stilton laughed and the cops looked over. Sammy put on his hat and stood, dropped some money on the table, and said, “Keep the change,” to the guy at the counter.

“Thanks, folks,” the counter guy said, but they were already out the door—Sammy, with a hand on her hip, was steering Stilton toward a ride called the Ship of Joy.

“You’re not even limping,” Stilton said. “Guess you were right about the cane.”

“I’m right about most stuff,” Sammy said. “It’s a curse.” He gave her hip a little squeeze to mark the nonsense he was talking.

The Ship of Joy was two ship-shaped gondolas, each seating twelve people, that swung on long pendulums and approximated the experience of being on a big playground swing with a bunch of strangers. They swung and they laughed, mostly at some kids who whooped like they were going over a cliff with every swing, but also at a dad who had lost his hat on the first swing, then stared forlornly for the rest of the ride at the spot over the shooting gallery where it had drifted.

As they were stumbling off the Ship of Joy, arm in arm, Stilton said, “I was expecting more joy.”

“Kind of a phonus bolognus in the ship department as well,” Sammy said.

“Ooh, I love it when you speak Latin. You been to sea?”

Sammy hoped she didn’t see panic on his face. “Just transport,” he lied.

“My husband was on a ship. Heavy cruiser. Went down with all hands near Savo Island, August ’42. They never found him. Uncle Sam sent me a flag.”

Casual as you please, like that first day in the saloon when she’d mentioned her husband. And, like then, he didn’t know what to say. He said, “Sorry, kid.” He pulled her close.

She pushed him away, took his hand, and pulled him toward the games of chance. “Come on, win me something.”

Sammy threw some baseballs at milk bottles filled with concrete and threatened them not at all, although Stilton cheered him on and cursed the bottles’ stubborn ways. At a shooting gallery he downed a few metal ducks with a .22, because his father had given him and his brothers BB guns as boys and he was not a bad shot, although not good enough to win a prize.

“C’mon, let’s kill some clowns,” she suggested, pointing toward a booth where you could throw darts to pop the balloon bodies of painted-on clowns.

“How ’bout you, little lady?” called a barker as they passed. “Guess your weight for a nickel! I get it wrong and you win a teddy bear.”

“And you get it right and I’ll rip your lips off and stomp them like slugs,” replied the Cheese. Sammy nodded earnestly to the barker to confirm her conviction. Stilton’s weight went unguessed.

Sammy finally won her a prize when a ping-pong ball he tossed settled into one of a hundred baseball-size goldfish bowls, startling the fish inside somewhat, but which it soon forgot.

Stilton held the bowl aloft and looked at the perky orange occupant against the lights of the Ferris wheel. “He looks so lonely, Sammy. Win me another one so they can both be in the same

bowl and have a little goldfish razzmatazz.”

“I don’t think goldfish have razzmatazz,” said Sammy.

“Well, then how do they have little goldfish?”

“Far as I know, the female lays her eggs on the bottom, then later on the male comes along and fertilizes them.”

“Really?”

“Not exactly sure with goldfish, but that’s how it works for trout. We had trout in Idaho. I read a book on them when I was a kid.”

“Yeah,” said the scruffy guy working the goldfish booth. (You could have sanded the varnish off a coffee table on his five o’clock shadow.) “He’s got it right.”

Stilton handed the fish back to Five O’Clock Shadow. “Take this sad fish. Give him to a kid. Come, Sammy, I need fun.” She took his arm and led him toward the funhouse with the great yellow letters painted across the red façade reading laff in the dark. Sammy bought two tickets and they entered through a giant clown’s mouth, stepping through baffles of black fabric until they were stumbling inside a ten-foot-high, rotating drum. It wasn’t dark yet, but they were laughing and stumbling until they stepped out onto a very mushy field of what must have been black foam rubber.

“It’s like walking on meat loaf,” said the Cheese, giggling, as a skeleton dropped from above them and was caught by a red spotlight. Stilton yipped and jumped into Sammy’s arms. He carried her through another set of black fabric draperies and into complete darkness.

“Should be called Pee in the Dark,” said Stilton.

“Really?”

“Nah. Close, though.”

“C’mere, ’fraidy cat,” said Sammy. He smooched her perhaps a little too zealously for someone who was laughing and they banged their teeth. Then they separated and felt for chipped teeth with their tongues.

People, mostly teenagers, pushed past them in the dark, giggling, groping, and shrieking like joyful heretics at a clown inquisition. Someone pinched Sammy’s bottom and he jumped. “Was that you?”

“What?” said Stilton, her voice sounding about ten feet away.

“Nothing,” Sammy said. “I think I mighta just made a friend. Stay there, I’ll come to you.”

He found her in the dark and they kissed like they’d been separated for months, clinging to each other as revelers bumped into them, shrieked and laughed and stumbled on. They blundered together through another set of baffles, these made of some kind of black gauze, which felt like spiderwebs against their faces, onto a dimly lit floor that shifted and tilted, sending them staggering one way, then stumbling another.

“I don’t think I’m drunk enough to walk this way,” said the Cheese.

“Relax, ma’am, you’re in good hands,” Sammy said. “I’m a bartender.”

He pulled her through the next door and ducked under the outstretched hand of a moaning mummy that pivoted on an axis at his waist and swung his arm back, just missing delivering a backhand to the Cheese. Sammy pulled her down just in time and they crouched beneath the bandaged automaton. The mummy moaned again.

“This mug’s got a moo box in him,” said the Cheese.

Sammy pulled the pint from his overcoat and unscrewed the cap. “Pardon?” he said.

“A moo box,” said the Cheese, taking the pint from him. “We sell them at the five-and-dime. It’s like a little can and when you turn it over, it moos like a cow.”

The mummy waved over their heads again and moaned.

“That does sound like a cow,” Sammy said.

“Moo box,” the Cheese explained. She pointed at the pint of Old Tennis Shoes. “No chaser?”

“Rehearsal’s over,” Sammy said.

She went a little cross-eyed as she took a swig, scrunched up her face like a kid eating a lemon, then shook her head until the burn settled down. There were tears in her eyes when she held the pint out to Sammy as if it contained a cocktail of nitroglycerine and monkey spit, which is to say, with careful disgust. “Smooth,” she gasped.

“Good for cleaning engine parts, too,” Sammy said, braving a swallow himself and capping the bottle. “Let’s get out of here.”

They raced away from the mooing mummy and made their way across the ceiling of an upside-down room and through a mirror maze to stumble, arm in arm, out onto the midway. The smell of sea air, popcorn, cotton candy, and cigarette smoke washed over them. Sammy bought them snow cones, red for her and blue for him, and, at Stilton’s suggestion, doctored the chilly treats with the last of the Old Tennis Shoes.

“Not bad,” said the Cheese.

“Could use some more blue,” Sammy said.

They walked by the rides and souvenir stands, and tried to find takers for bets on the merry-go-round.

“I’m giving six-to-five odds on the funny-lookin’ kid on the camel!” Stilton called, waving a fan of Skee-Ball tickets in the air to show she was legit.

“I think that’s a giraffe,” Sammy said.

“Five-to-six on the funny-lookin’ kid to win, then,” said Stilton.

Sammy pulled her away before she could find any takers and they ended up in front of a caricature artist, who sat on a stool, wearing an artist’s smock and a beret.

“Pinup of the little lady, sir. Only a buck.”

“I don’t know . . .” Stilton tried to walk away.

“I think she’s worth giving a second look,” said the artist. “Don’t you?”

“Absolutely,” said Sammy. He swung Stilton around by the arm. “Come on, Toots, I think you’re worth it, don’t you?”

“Don’t call me—” She caught herself falling for the bait. “Aw, hell.” She slurped the last of her snow cone, handed the soggy paper wrapper to Sammy, then sat down on the stool opposite the artist and let her trench coat fall off her shoulders.

“Color me pretty,” she said.

A look passed between Stilton and the artist that made Sammy think she might slug the guy.

“No work for me, ma’am,” said the artist, and he commenced drawing, holding his drawing board out of Sammy’s sight.

“Fine,” Sammy said. He walked away and fought with a half a book of matches to get a cigarette lit, noticing that the breeze had changed directions and was blowing offshore—it was warm, a rare condition on a summer night at the San Francisco beach.

“How ’bout you undo a button or three in the front there, Toots?” said the artist, when he thought Sammy was out of earshot.

“How ’bout I bop you in the beezer so hard it spins your beret around?” said the Cheese.

“Jeez,” said the artist. “No need to get tough.”

“And don’t call me Toots,” said the Cheese.

The artist finished his sketch about the time that Sammy was grinding out the butt of his smoke on the gravel of the midway.

Voilà!” said the artist, in perfect fucking French. He flipped the drawing around.

Sammy took a look, then took a step back and whistled. “Holy moly.”

“You’re a lucky guy,” said the artist.

“Yes I am,” said Sammy.

The caricature portrayed Stilton in the pose of the classic Rosie the Riveter she can do it poster from the war—a blonde flexing a bicep, her hair tied up in a polka-dot bandana, the classic chambray shirt—except this Rosie was facing the artist, not looking over her shoulder, and the shirt was unbuttoned to the point that exaggerated bits of the Cheese were about to burst out for the world to see. It was Stilton all right, but rounder in the places where she was round, and sharper in the places where she was sharp: drop-dead sexy.

“That should be on the side of a bomber or something,” Sammy said.

“That’ll be a buck,” said the artist.

“You got it.” Sammy handed the guy a dollar. The artist tore the drawing from his sketchbook and started to roll it up.

“No, not yet,” Sammy said. He took the drawing, held it up, and compared details with the model, his eyes darting from Stilton to the drawing and back. “I need to look at this Rosie.”

“You two have a good evening, sir,” said the artist with a wink to the Cheese.

“Wendy,” Stilton said as she stood and joined Sammy in admiring the drawing, turning her back on the artist. “Rosie the Riveter was for girls who worked in airplane factories. In the shipyards we were Wendy the Welders.”

“What a dame,” Sammy said. Then he turned from the drawing and kissed her.

“You like it?” She pouted with anticipation. “I like the model,” Sammy said. “I like the model a lot.” “Let’s go for a walk,” Stilton said. “It got warm out,” Sammy said. “You notice?” “Oh yeah,” she said.

Sammy rolled the drawing up and fixed it with a rubber band the artist had given him and tucked it in his pocket. They walked arm in arm around Playland at the Beach, then out of the park and up into the dunes. They found a sheltered hollow where all they could see was the stars and sand, and calliope music from the merry-go-round sailed over them on a warm offshore wind. They lay down between her trench coat and his overcoat, wrapped the stars around them like a blanket, and made love until time disappeared.

***

Time returned, just before dawn, dressed in a chill fog, and Sammy awoke to the caricaturist’s drawing poking him in the ribs. “Hey,” he said. “How did that guy know you worked at a shipyard during the war?”

 

 

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Nutt // Feb 15, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Now I’m gonna have to buy another of your books!

  • 2 Ada Lavin // Feb 15, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Can’t wait for the book to come out. Thanks Chris!

  • 3 Robb Houser // Feb 15, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    Tagging “a thirsty slurping noise at the bottom of the glass” to “I’m not lying” is a universal truth that has long needed addressing. Thank you, Chris.

  • 4 Ken // Feb 16, 2018 at 4:48 am

    Hooked

  • 5 Dawn // Feb 16, 2018 at 5:33 am

    Thank you!

  • 6 Becky Botos // Feb 28, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    I discovered you when your book “Bite Me” first came out. I found all your previously published books, bought them and have continued to buy each new one as they come out. Does that mean I am a fan? Guess it does. I can’t wait for this one.

  • 7 Juris // May 6, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Just finished reading it … definitely enjoyable.
    My favourites:
    =1 Fool
    =1 Lamb
    3 Lust Lizard
    4 Sacre Bleu

    I thought Noir is up there in the mix. Was not keen on You Suck and Dirty Job. Having said that, after reading Lamb first, I could not believe you weren’t English (a compliment :-))

  • 8 Dave // May 20, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    whoah this weblog is great i like studying your
    posts. Stay up the good work! You recognize, lots of
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  • 9 R. R. López // Jul 23, 2018 at 2:08 am

    That’s a wonderful text. The reproduction point of view is really fun.

    ¡Saludos desde España!

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