“I am Jimmy boy to my friends,” I said nonchalantly to the Flinty Eyes, whose eyes, gimlet like were seeking chinks in my armor, as I pulled up a chair.
“So you are an out-of- work agent, well,” he said rocking his chair gently and his ripples of fat sent waves sloshed within his well tailored frame: his buttoned down Arrow shirt shuddered but held on; while his beige pants, secured with a fancy alligator skin belt around a hillock of bad fat presented a man who got what he wanted. He was well heeled to pay me for my services. That made me smile and hang there like an eager beaver. He was all for rocking himself to keep me there squirming : especially as he sank deeper into his chair and let his paunch roll to a rumble and then to a quiver. I cleared my throat to signal I am there for business. The upheaval was lost on the wearer whose thick black glasses looked deadly: as sharp as a flint. Owl-like he swiveled his neck. His tie was a garrote,
“ I am here for the job!” I said almost in knots. No twitch, no nervous tic on that wall of a mug who passed for the boss. He sat there beneath a framed photograph of his senior, and seemed to draw comfort from it. Having found a comfortable position he did nothing. I was in his territory. He knew it and I knew it but didn’t cramp my style. I was the professional gun for hire. I was doing him a service for gawdsake!
From my years of experience I knew that didn’t help in all cases. I sat straight. Warily, ready to draw.
“I didn’t call for any interview,” said he now taking out his montecristo and puffed as if it would make me fade out.
“ No, you didn’t call,” I rasped,“ so I flew out of the air and just dropped in!” I murmured with a sardonic curl of my lips and I knew whenever I meant to convey some mystery, I sounded something like a Bogart. Out- staring him I hissed, “ but I know you need a gun for hire just the same.”
“What are you, some wise guy?” he said blowing smoke as a tired whale in sharkskin suit and it only made him incongruous, coming to think of it.
“ No, I am a bit tired right now”, I said getting to my feet and taking out that squishy cigar out of his mouth. Had he been wiry as I was he would have belted across my mug. Instead he blinked and I said, “ One doesn’t smoke a cigar to hide from the real issues.”
“Well I’ll be blowed!” FE gasped, and I said just to smoothen his ruffled ego, “ A wet cigar doesn’t add to your personality.” I had to steer him right on the tack. I crooned leaning closer, “ I am a very busy man and being doled out to do the job my fuse is short on drivel.”
“Ditto!” he said with a frown.
“ My gun is for hire, savvy?”
“Doled out?” Mr. Big asked, “By whom?” FE was playing for time as I could figure it out.
“ By necessities, man,” I was on the edge,“ Do I have to spell it out what it mean? You think I would be wearing out soles of my shoes if it weren’t for that?”
Morning smog of the city had with tired feet come in through the broken down blinds and I could see silhouettes move around restless. Through the frosted glass partitioning of his space from the rest of the floor, life had found its exact rhythm and with a glance I knew it was regular jungle out there. Steady hum of typewriters and crackle of teleprinters coming from some dead hollows warned me to go easy. It was the bewitching hour when Supply rubbed shoulders with Demand and the brokerage firms of Sin City skimmed their percentage; it was also the time winners ran all the way to the bank while the losers beat their path to law firms looking for a loophole o something. Some even would send for the likes of me. Of course I have my professional pride. Never a hit and run job. That is my principle man. I wanted the thrill of looking in the eye of one who assigned me the job and check out for myself if the job was clean or not. In Sin city I lived by my gun but I slept all the same with a clean conscience.
The man who in his girth of all girths ran an empire, which though from what I had seen of his cubicle concealed from me its exact nature. His imperturbility was a front I knew. I could hear warning bells as he looked longingly at the butt of his cigar dying out in the corner and furtively smoothened his cuffs. He ran an evil empire all right.
I started a conversaion that he cut in and ducked when I asked. He spoke with a guilty conscience and I was not to give up. Cosa Nostra would have been proud of him, had he spoken a word of Italian. Instead he spoke Yiddish with gilt edge. When he raised his voice it was like jagged edges of bottle raised in self-defense. In his thick glasses I read mayhem as he finally found voice. He barked,
“ You can hit the street!”
The excrescence of the humanity who ever warmed the chair before me paused chewing in all probability, the poor slobs who were fated to work for him and he took to run his pudgy hands over his tie. His tiepin was cheap, fools- gold thing beaten to represent an image of a Collie with a bandaged paw.
“ I carry a gun,” I said with a low laugh, “as ever; and I can shoot straight!” I knew that I had the reputation of being one with a deadly aim.
I was so good but these days when every goon with a hand to spare latched onto a gun or other I ought to be something more: with so many amateurs going around these days, one who shot with a song in his heart and mouthing Ginsberg with the right inflections (at the same time) was something of a rarity. I prided myself being a pro.
Between the assignments. Only trouble was that the interval, in leaps and bounds had something of a wasted decade. My gun was primed and ready to go off. But who shall take me on? Honestly now I needed the job badly that I was willing to take this blot on the landscape; the Flinty Eyes I knew could eat nails for breakfast with a couple of broken glasses on the side, (go easy on mustard, please). I knew he wasn’t much for a conversation except being offensive with his silence. As I cased the setup I could him take him on steel for steel, nerve for nerve, I could stare him down. In fact that was what we were at for a couple of minutes till the shade of Sidney Greenstreet unwound his stare in defeat. He removed the glasses and boy! Was he a sore sight! He was cross-eyed. So he was a fake who passed for Flinty Eyes. I knew I had him where I wanted.
“Now about this assignment, how big do you think…” Slowly Cross Eye alias FE got up with every ounce of adipose at his will and pleasure; had I not been beefed up about necessities in life I could have taken time to see all those jowls doing a watusi as he ambled on. He came around where I sat and he put his suety hand with a ring with glass as big as a beetle on his pinkie to say,” No longer we put to sleep elephants with a gun…” He would have cried then and there if I made a false move. So he was a phoney don with marshmallow for a heart” Well, well I was slowly getting through. I was afraid he might start crying so I steeled myself and kept a deadpan face, “So you are sorry it had to come to this?” I quickly added,
“ When I hit I hit good and proper.”
“OK you can hit the street, mister!” The man had guts. This much I had to say. “Where does that leave my smoking gun?”
To which he said moping his promontory of a forehead with his bandanna as large as a table cover, “tranquilizer gun is out!”
“ What fortune- cookie this fatso is dishing out?” I asked myself.
“ Bring your dog next time.,” said he with a placatory tone,” don’t come yourself, for goodness sake.”
“ Why, a dog?” I hollered,” I told you my gun puts to sleep!” I knew Philip Marlow didn’t face a situation as I did then.
The boss merely stood there and punched his thumb towards the door where stood my blonde Venus. She was armed and dangerous.
The last part of it by courtesy of a whelping lapdog and I didn’t give a damn. My eyes could see a voluminous cushion of a woman’s bosom; above the cleavage were some millions worth of ice and a face to match. A gorgeous babe, sure. She walked in and crooning to her doggie as though the mutt was any wiser for it. She walked past me in a cloud of Bellini #3 while a sweet thing instantly appeared from somewhere and received the mutt. “ I shall fix Fifi to her old glory, mam.”Said the girl Friday. So she cleans up the butt of a mutt. What does that make the bozo? I had no answers.
The boss saw me eyeing the babe with Fifi and he didn’t like it one bit. He knew I was a mistake. And I was in the way. He came striding to lead me out.
I stood there dumb looking at the door, and my hair all stood up in horror.
My mistake stood there in 2” letters. Having run through tight corners all my life I could now of course brace myself to it.
“ BEHRAM WADIA & CO
Expert vet jobs undertaken”
“So I have come to the wrong floor after all,” I said with a devil-may-care leer knowing the pachyderm in business suit had his eyes still crossed while I made a beeline to take the way out.
Patting the bulge under the left side of my lapel I said, “I am still a hit man!”
I thought I heard him guffaw loud just to impress the sugar babe.
After all I had the last word as I closed the door behind me. Making a neat turn I said icily,“ I’m James Manekshaw Boyce to strangers!”
“ Mr. Batliboy will interview you now,” the voice of the secretary snapped me out of my reverie.
Mr. Phiroze B. always had in his sleeve a question to trip you up when you least expected it and had weeded out so many of my friends who never again found their feet; and he was in there and he was in for his kill.
‘This is the real thing, Jimmy boy.’
Instantly I was sober and quickly ran through the tips ‘everything-you- wanted-to-know-of-facing-an- interview’ once more in mind; clutching my CV and documents I went in with a smile not sounding too familiar and with a nod I politely announced,” Good morning, Mr. Phiroze Batliboy, My name is J. M. Boyce.”