Monday, December 03, 2007

"Jack Garrett: The Position is Filled"

JACK: “I had to choose between the life of an heiress missionary and my own neck. I’ll still here, so that should tell you something.”

ANNOUNCER: Brillo Scouring Pads brings you “Jack Garrett: The Position is Filled!” on the Mutual Radio Broadcasting System, and across the world on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Join Jack Garrett, former professor, former prize fighter, former Marine, former cop, the man willing to take any job and romance any girl, if the price is right. Tonight's episode: The Catherton Caper.

JACK: The job started before I even knew it had. I was sitting on a park bench reading the afternoon paper. I start with the Yankees box score. If they lose, I feel that all is right in the world, and I am ready to see what degradations man has done to his fellow man detailed in the rest of the paper. If the Yankees win, I toss the paper and dive into the nearest juke joint for two shots of rye. The Yankees lost that day. I can honestly say this is the only time I wish they had won. While I was poring over who did what to whom, a bombshell sashayed over and sat down on the other end of the bench. She had eyes so blue, you could have sworn you could make out Amelia Ehrhart’s plane’s silhouette in the distance in there. She was wearing a sensible jacket and skirt, but you could tell that what they were covering up would knock a man senseless. I pulled myself off the bench just far enough for someone to shove Dewey’s CV under there, and tipped my fedora. She spoke first.

CATE: Do you have the time?

JACK: Sorry, a Pullman conductor mugged me for my watch. But judging by the sweet scent of nectar in the air, and the frolicking couples on the lawn, I would say it’s springtime.

CATE: Thanks for the update, and I appreciate the geography lesson, I hadn’t realized I’d stumbled onto Poet’s Corner. But I am looking to nail the time down a little more exactly, say, to the half-day? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked someone who has had their clocked cleaned so many times.

JACK: This little crook in my nose? Would you believe that I got it tripping over the bottom rope on the way out of the ring after beating Little Freddy Muyco?

CATE: Actually, I would. I happened to be at that fight. Daddy had a piece of Muyco, and you pretty much made that piece worthless after you dismantled that little Philippino so completely. Daddy said that he should have invested in the bottom rope instead of Muyco since that seemed to be the only thing that could beat you.

JACK: Um, your daddy must be J. Pentwhistle Catherton then. I thought he was in the Orient now. I would have figured his daughter to be decked out in diamonds and pearls on the strand instead of looking like one of the Sisters of Mercy down in the Bowery.

CATE: Indeed my father is J. Percy Catherton, and I think you can say that daddy and I have had a parting of the ways. Quite literally, since he is on his way to Hong Kong and I am here. He wants to drill for oil, build things and compile of ton of money. I want to save souls. Does your soul need saving, Mr Garrett?

JACK: Only if they are giving interest.

CATE: How very droll. My name is Catherine, Catherine Catherton. Please call me Cate.

JACK: I will, if I ever have a reason to call you. Have a nice day, Ma’am.”

CATE: That is “Miss”, Mr Garrett.

JACK: “That seems like an oversight on someone’s part. Good day.” I tipped my hat for her, put the paper under my arm and headed back to the ramshackle old building where I had my room. As I pushed through the creaking front door, a horrible visage sprung in front of my eyes. For a moment, I thought I had gotten a snootful of bad gin and was having hallucinations of witches again. But turned out to be my landlady, the old, and I mean old, bawd, Mrs Butts.

MRS BUTTS: Mr Garrett, someone called to leave a message for you.

JACK: Good afternoon, Mrs Butts. Who was it? What did they want?

MRS BUTTS: Not so fast. You owe me something. Until I get what’s coming to me, you don’t get your message.

JACK: “I am paid in full through the end of the month, in fact, I paid your for three months as I recall.” She shook her head.

MRS BUTTS: The deal was, you get a discount in return for certain services around here. You have been remiss, Sir. Sadly remiss.

JACK: She was right, that had been the deal. The things we do to get a buck a quarter shaved off the rent every week. “You are right, Mrs Butts, I will come down around 7 to take care of what you’ve got.” She smiled with that little gleam in her eye that must have knocked ‘em dead when she flashed it at the boys from on top the stage lit by gas light, but now, was just ghastly.

MRS BUTTS: “The message was in response to your ad.”

JACK: She had to squint at the paper since it looked like she had written the message on the back of a wax paper some monger had wrapped a rotten fish in.

MRS BUTTS: It is from a man who wants you to meet him at Twilight Club in the Embarcadero Hotel at 11pm. He has a monacle, and will be drinking very dry martinis with the vermouth bottle on the table. A monacle! He must be rich, only rich, powerful men wear a monacle. Maybe he wants to hire you to scotch-guard his bently!

JACK: Maybe be is a waiter who got drunk and his other lens fell in his martini. Thanks for taking the message, Mrs Butts.

MRS BUTTS: Oh Jack, don’t forget our appointment at 7. You should have just enough time to finish before your date at the Twilight Club!

JACK: As I trudged up the stairs, I realized how a condemned man must feel as the hours ticked on his last day. And to top it, instead of a last meal, all I would get would be a can of sardines, and a couple of stale crackers. I walked into my room and tossed my hat onto the one knob that remained on top of my chair. The other knob had been broken off by a former tenant of Mrs Butts, probably when his wife burned the toast and he hit her with the chair, or maybe when she told him that she was leaving him for Lenny who drove the streetcar. On the table was the note pad where I had jotted down the text of the ad that I had called into the Bay City Bugler the other day.


JACK: I need an ad to run in the classified.

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Do you have the text prepared?

JACK: Yeah, you ready to copy?

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Certainly Sir, I think you would be surprised at my capacity for dictation.

JACK: I am sure I would be. Ok, here is the text. “Orphan former boxer, professor, Marine, cop, will perform any job, will fill any position. Fee negotiable. Call Mulberry 6-317.”

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Thank you Sir, I have it. There is a special today, you have 25 characters left for the same price of five cents a weeks.

JACK: Ok, add this. “Worldwide at your expense”

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Very good Sir, it will run in tomorrows evening paper. It is too bad I don’t have any position that needs filling, I would look you up.

JACK: “You should look me up anyway, we will see what we can do.” Mulberry 6317 was a party line I shared with Mrs Butts, I paid the fee, and she got to use the phone. She spent most of her time, far as I could tell, yakking to other crones about the high cost of face cream and that dreamy Tyrone Power, but in the moments when she was not actively burning up the wires, she took the odd message for me. Most responses to that ad were cranks. People looking for me to kill business associates, or husbands. One man wanted me to try and get him a date with Lana Turner. Another woman wanted me to come over and cook a roast. I told her that there was a lot that I would do, but donning an apron was not one of them. Every so often, something good would pop up, like the monocle wearing mystery man who so fired the imagination of Mrs Butts. After I took care of the needs of Mrs Butts, I dashed back up to my room to restore my dignity and put on a dinner jacket and headed out to the Twilight Club. I weaved my way through the unnaturally large number of police who seemed to be milling around on the street outside and made my way to the top of the hotel. I was talking with the maitre d as the clock struck 11, an event that was accompanied by co-ed girls moonlighting as dancers running out on the floor as confetti sprayed into the air. It was a pretty festive place.

JACK: I am here to see a man who drinks dry martinis and keeps the vermouth bottle on the table.

MAITRE D: Oh but of course, Mr Catherton is expecting someone. Are you here in response to a message?

JACK: “Catherton, huh? Yes, I am here in response to his message, take me to him. The name is Irish Jack Garrett, Mr Catherton will know me.” I wonder what the odd are of dealing with both Catherton’s on the same day. I figured I would keep my mouth shut about meeting his daughter earlier.

MAITRE D: Right this way. Here is Mr Catherton’s table. Excuse me sir, may I present Polish Mack… I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again Sir?

JACK: That is Irish Jack Garrett you poltroon, buzz off before I give you the Muyco treatment, swish.

CATHERTON: Percy can be somewhat hard of hearing, especially on the hour when the confetti cavalcade rolls through. Turns out the University of Santa Clara Song-girls are doing an internship for credit this evening. Quite bracing to contribute to scholarship, don’t you know? Let me have a look at you.

JACK: He popped his monocle out, and opened his eyes wide. I guess captains of industry like to look the part, even if they could see twenty twenty.

CATHERTON: Indeed you are Irish Jack. You know, I lost $5000 after your collision with Muyco. He was punch drunk after that night. And with you moving up in class. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone hit another human that hard, that repeatedly. Very impressive.

JACK: Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Catherton.

CATHERTON: Trip! How very droll. As I recall, you had a trip of your own on your way out of the ring.

JACK: Look, I know you didn’t call me over to hear to reminisce about the good old days, they were not that good. Make your pitch or I shove off.

CATHERTON: I see you are not a man to be trifled with, I guess I should have learned that lesson when Muyco learned his. Very well. I need a man to accompany my daughter to Formosa. She wants to bring the good word to the savages in the interior along with tons of supplies that she is shipping over. I need someone I can trust to keep an eye on her, and to make sure that no harm comes to her.

JACK: So you think you can trust some guy with a classified ad to safeguard your daughter. You sound like one punch drunk tycoon to me.

CATHERTON: Look here Garrett. My daughter sprung this hare-brained scheme on me this morning. I was supposed to leave on the China Clipper for Hong Kong and Taipei this morning myself, but I had to postpone for a meeting soon after this. I needed to find someone right away who could leave on a moment’s notice to accompany her on the ship and who could handle himself in the wilds of Formosa. I figure that ten thousand dollars would buy a lot of trust.

JACK: Well, Catherton, if you are offering 10 G’s, you could trust me to run into a crowd of song-girls and pull even you out of it.

CATHERTON: Fine, fine. Here is a thousand dollars, I need to you to get suited out for the trip. You will be meeting my daughter and her fellow missionaries at Pier 37 at 11am. The ship sails at noon. Your passage is booked as Mr Smith from Dubuque. Keep an eye on her on the ship, and accompany her where ever she goes when they make landfall in Formosa. And make sure she returns to me, alive and in one piece. I will pay you the other nine thousand in upon her return to me at my residence in Taipei.

JACK: Let’s make that three thousand up front, and seven on the back end. And YOU buy my kit for the trip, I will head down to Brooks Brothers and to Far Eastern Outfitters in the morning. Make sure you have line of credit opened in your name for my use when I get there. Oh, and lets get this in writing, shall we? I know you industrialists like to operate on the basis of handshakes and what not, but we in the proletariat like to see a contract.

CATHERTON: Very well, Garrett. I must say that your personality is more abrasive even than a Brillo Scouring Pad, and that is certainly saying something. Evelyn, come over here, darling.

JACK: Turns out, Catherton was on a first name basis with one of the moonlighting song-girls who was hawking cigarettes to burnish her academic bona fides.

CATHERTON: Evelyn dear, let me have a piece of paper and a pen for a moment.

JACK: Evelyn reached into her costume and pulled out a folded piece of paper and took a pen off the tray and handed them both to Catherton. I watched this process in amazement, fascinated by the dual mystery of how Catherton knew Evelyn had paper secreted on her person, and secondly, how Evelyn managed to get some paper where it was hidden. There did not seem to be enough fabric available for the job. I made a mental note to question Evelyn more closely about this, at a later date. She seemed to be able to read my mind, and smiled at me a little as well. College girls can be so insightful! Catherton tore the paper in half and jotted an IOU for seven thousand. On the other sheet, he wrote a note to a Mr Phillips at First Amalgamated Bank that told the man to give we two blank checks made out to Brooks Brothers and to Far Eastern Outfitters. This job was looking like it would be a walk in the park!

CATHERTON: Now Garrett, take your money, do your job and I will see you in Taipei in a couple of months. Bring my daughter home safe. Now, if you will excuse me, Evelyn and I need to discuss her studies.

JACK: I glanced back at Evelyn, and noticed a familiar look on her face. I had seen it earlier this evening in the mirror that Mrs Butts has hanging on her wall inside the entrance to her apartment. Funny how much a broken down boxer and a song-girl can have in common, isn’t it? I left the Embarcadero Hotel and was flagging a taxi to take me back down to the docks. I was steeling myself because I knew the hacks waiting outside the hotel were going to charge extra for the slum tour when I bumped into Detective Junior Grade Jenks on the street.

JENKS: Hello, Garrett, what are you doing so far up town, looking to become a second story man?

JACK: Jenks has the kind of face that makes you want to punch it except you are worried that you will get something on your fist that is smelly and won’t come off. He has a lazy eye, a mouth that hangs open so he can breathe, a cheap suit with stains, and his shirt is always untucked on one side or the other. It makes him look stupid and in this case, you can judge a book by its cover. He was always hassling me, always trying to get my goat. I would never have given him another thought if he would just leave me alone, but it always seemed like a bell rung in his head whenever he saw me, and he wanted to go toe to toe in the ring. “Hello Jenks, they got you writing citations to hacks who have expired medallions? That sounds like something you can actually handle.”

JENKS: Why don’t you dry up and blow away, Punchy? I see you walking around after midnight, and I suspect you are out looking to bite someone to turn them into a creep like you.

JACK: “Good one, Jenks, but when I stop drinking, I am sober, but you stay ugly and stupid, day in and day out.” That one crossed the line, since I could tell he was turning red, even in the light of the streetlamp.

JENKS: You know Jack, I look at you and know I should run you in, just on general principle, but I don’t because of Oki. But you keep pushing it, and I don’t know how much longer I can hold off…

JACK: Jenks always brings up Oki, every time I see him. Jenks was an enlisted Marine from another company who got lost soon after we kicked off the attack. My platoon sergeant saw him and pulled him into our unit so he wouldn’t get himself killed, wandering around out there. We came to a cave that we had to clear out in order to keep up the advance, we suspected there were Japanese soldiers in there who would flank us if we didn’t deal with them. I ordered the flamethrower to burn it, and see if any hornets came out. We were all ready, because we knew the Japanese would come charging out and attack even if the were burning up. That is, all of us were ready, except for Jenks. For some reason, he took that moment to fiddle around with a can of peaches, just as the flamethrower blew into the hole. A half dozen screaming Japs came running out there, clothes burning up, but each one armed with a sword. We cut down five of them right away, but one of them bore down on Jenks who was staring, open mouthed at the crazed, sword wielding warrior like a man who had just been hit on the head with a frying pan by his mistress. I was the only one in a position to do anything and as I raised my weapon to fire, it jammed. I had a split second to react. I pulled my knife and ran at the burning Jap just as his sword was about to cleave the head of the dumbfounded Jenks, still holding his can of peaches. We collided, chest to chest, with just enough impact to cause the Jap to miss Jenks’ head and hit his shoulder with the razor sharp blade. The impact of the sword broke Jenks’ collar bone and almost cut his arm off. Meanwhile, the Jap and I were rolling around, him holding my knife hand, me holding his with the sword. No one could get a shot at him. Finally, I was able to head butt him a couple of times and when he turned, I bit him hard on the neck. That was what Jenks was getting at with the crack about biting someone. The bite made the Jap loosen his grip on my hand and I drove my knife right into his eye to kill him. I saved Jenks’ life, but I think the fear and gruesomeness of the moment shell-shocked him. You would think a man would shut up about something like that, but there was something in Jenks that made him keep bringing it up. I lost track of him after that, so imagine my surprise when he turned out to be an cop here in Bay City. We keep having these run ins, and I can’t get rid of him, like a boil that keeps flaring up, even after it gets lanced. “I don’t have time for you Jenks, but here is a tip, some kids shook down a 3rd grader for his milk money around the block, I figure that is a case you can crack.”

JENKS: Shut up Garrett, I am here as part of the Security Detail for the Secretary of State, he has a meeting Mr Catherton.

JACK: “Funny you should mention Catherton, I am just coming from a meeting with him myself. He gave me ten thousand dollars to do a job for him while you are down here polishing the lugnuts on his Studebaker.” Just as I thought Jenks had had enough and was going to pull out his sap to coldcock me, I heard an inspector yelling for him.

INSPECTOR: Jenks, get over here.

JACK: I took that as a cue to grab a cab, and head back to my flat to get ready for my return to the Far East.

ANNOUNCER: Join us again tomorrow night at this same time as Brillo Scouring Pads helps you follow daring Irish Jack Garrett to the wilds of Formosa as he trails the beautiful Cate.