Current lunar phase: Waning Crescent

JULY

2009


Try calling New Orleans first

I did the math: during the busier parts of the day, about ten thousand people cross Herald Square at 34th every hour, and even if there aren’t that many redheads bobbing through the crowd, I’d probably be better off with a few calls down to the Big Easy. Once my gentleman caller had left, I reached into my desk for the faded Blue Book, flipped back to the R’s, and started dialing.

“Hello?” The first call to a Ruby on Iberville was answered by a very friendly woman, Ruby B., who really loved the sound of my voice. As much as she wanted to see me tonight—and by her particular purr, a little part of me was starting to want to see her, too—she was no help to the task at hand. She wouldn’t admit to knowing any of the other Rubys in the Quarter—she probably didn’t want the competition—so I wished her well and tried the next.

“Whaddya want?” Ruby number two must have been sleeping, because she sounded none too happy to hear from me. Once the slur of sleep lessened a bit, her propriety returned enough for me to glean a morsel of information. “Well, I am right here, baby. But Ruby down at house 16 has been gone all week.”

The third number, to Ruby at Iberville 16, went unanswered. All things considered, that was a good sign. The way these houses usually worked was a phone per floor, a couple of girls per floor, a couple floors per house. Not unlike a sorority house in that way. If Ruby was gone and her floormate was off getting her permanent, well, that would mean no answer. I put the receiver down on the blotter and let it ring for a while, while I thumbed through my gangster’s call book. I found another girl, a Trixie, at 16 Iberville, but with a different extension. I dialed it.

“Hello?” The voice on the line answered in a deep sort of rasp. I could just about hear the smoke-rings floating out of her mouth and over the long distance line.

“Hello, there. Is this Trixie?”

“Yeah, who wants to know?” She started to purr her deep voice, not knowing if I were a John, a Dick, or a Pig. I cleared my throat and it stopped.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter none, just a friend of Ruby’s, and I’m looking for her.”

“Looking for Ruby?”

“Yeah, I’m a friend of a friend, and I wanted to get her a message.”

The gasp on the other end of the line was so great that it just about sucked the air out of my office. “Are you a friend of Leonard’s? Is there any news? We’ve all been worried sick.”

“Yeah, Leonard...” I dove for a pen and started scrawling, trying to buy myself some time. “No, no news up here. Any news down there?”

“Not a drop. Sarah left Tuesday to go looking for him. Listen, he better be in some kind of trouble, because it’s pretty awful what he did to her. If you see him, you tell him that.”

“Sure thing, sweets. One last question... any idea where Ruby might’ve gone?”

“Like I said, mister, Sarah left Tuesday. Said she’d be staying with her sister, up in Brooklyn.”

“That sister got a name?” So far I’d gotten two new ones out of this girl, I was hoping for a hat trick.

“Jeez Louise, it’s on the tip of my tongue. I met her once down here, a real sweetheart. She married an Irishman, she and hubbie came down here for their honeymoon. She looks just like Sarah, an extra twenty pounds of padding, maybe, and without the crimson, of course. Had enough of that on him... what a mop! That man was big as a house, with a head of red hair that made me understand the term carrot top.” Turns out I had a regular Chatty Kathy on my hands.

“That’s very nice, Trixie. You ever been up to Brooklyn?”

“Never a once. Sarah asked if I wanted to come with, but I said no. It’s a busy time of the year down here, I didn’t want to miss out on the last few good weeks. Lent’s a dry spell, sure you understand. Speaking of which—“ she put the phone down and I could hear footsteps cross a room and return. “I’ve got company. Gotta run.”

“Wait, wait, one sec. You say Brooklyn, but it’s a big city over there.”

“Lord knows if I can remember. Gee, I think it must’ve been Soda Slope or Pepper Park or something like that. Listen, honey, it’s been fun but I really got to be going.”

“Say no more, darling.”

“No more.”

I told the dial tone thank you, then dropped the receiver back in its cradle. I grabbed my hat and coat and made my way to the door. An out of towner couldn’t be expected to keep her condiments straight, but I knew what she’d been talking about with all that salt and pepper: I had a date in Vinegar Hill.

Go look for the red headed husband first.

Go asking about the red heads at a local establishment.

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