“Death, I am not keen on, overmuchly,” said Donut Dave, turning a funny shade of yellow.
“Well, I’m only passin’ on what I heard last night at Max’s,” I said. “Seems Big Cyril and da boys is out lookin’ for you. On account of you visitin’ Missy Cymbeline Banks, Cyril’s best gal.”
“Sure, I seen her, but only to measure her up for a trombone. Says she wants to learn in secret like, give Cyril and the boys a big surprise at the club one night.”
Donut was a hot jazz piano player, so I guessed there was some truth in his story. “Well, the way I hear it, Cyril’s gotta surprise in mind for you, he’s gonna be measurin’ you up – for a pair of concrete pyjamas!”
There was a knock on the door and Donut looked around frantically for somewhere to hide.
“Relax oneself,” I said, “it’ll only be Suzie Spade, the maid.” I opened the door to a lady as black as her name and a smile like a polished banana.
“Hullo, Mister Paul, and you, Mister. … er, David.” She looked sheepish. “I wasn’t expectin’ to see you alive again, truth to tell.”
Donut turned an even funnier shade of yellow.
“Can you start upstairs?” I asked.
“Sure, Mister Paul, I start in the bathroom. Polishin’ them tiles till I can see my dimples! By the way, d’you hear Massa Noble in town? You know, that one who owns all them bettin’ shops, swans around town like he owns the place!”
I laughed. “Actually, he does own most of it! Jackie Noble, he’s OK, in fact, he’s kind of a friend of mine.”
“I never knew that,” chimed up Donut, wiping the sweat off his brow with a tea towel, like a barman mopping up spilt beer. “How come?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s all on account of when he was starting up. He’d only been set up a week when there was a big race, the Silverstone Derby, and that kid up at the Hartman stables, we used to call him the Humbug Kid, on account of a bag of humbugs he always had, stickying up a pocket, plus all the ‘humbug’ he used to talk. Anyways, he gives me a ‘sure-fire bet’ on a donkey named Northwest Passage. I said, ‘You gotta be kiddin’ me, ‘Bug. That nag wouldn’t win if the rest of them hosses ran backwards!’ But he took on a serious kinda look, somethin’ you saw less than a peanut hawker in the White House, and he says, ‘Mister Paul,’ trust me on this.”
“And what happened then?” asked Suzie.
“You still here!” I said. “Well, for Pete’s sake, the front two hosses fell and ol’ Northwest Passage rolled in, in first place! Well, it would’ve practically bankrupted Jackie Noble, the amount I’d bet, so I reached an ‘agreement’ with him and let him off.”
There was another knock on the door. We all jumped, then breathed a sigh of relief as it opened to Jazzy Jay the trumpeter and his side-kick, Sonny Bones the drummer.
“Hi Y’all,” exclaimed Jazzy, putting down a trumpet case and taking off shades blacker than a coalminer’s doo dah. “Hey, Donut, I hear from Missy Cymbeline Banks that you sortin’ out a trombone for her, in an ambiguous kind o’ way.” He laughed. “Well, I’ve come to offer some advice. You see, she gonna be playin’ a lot in the key of B flat, so what she wants is–”
Well, we never did hear what she wanted as just then there came yet another knock on the door. Sonny Bones pulled out some drumsticks and began a crescendo on a nearby sideboard. Before I could complain, the door crashed open and there stood Big Cyril, flanked by Johnny ‘Knuckleduster’ Norris and Herman ‘Gravedigger’ Hemmings, with baby-faced little Sammy Poison bringing up the rear.
Cyril squeezed through the doorway with a violin case, shadowed by his henchmen. “Hey Donut. I gotta matter to settle wit’ you. You been messin’ with my Cymbeline.” He put the violin case on a piano and extracted a Tommy Gun.
“You crazy?” exclaimed Donut, “everyone’ll hear and they’ll talk.”
Cyril gave a sarcastic laugh. “Ever’one within earshot will hear, no one’ll talk, not if they wanna spend the rest of their lives breathin’.” He aimed the gun at Donut’s chest. “And it’ll act as a … as a kinda warning. People gotta show me veneration.”
Without thinking, I grabbed the barrel, just as a deafening burst of bullets tore into the carpet.
“What … you!” exclaimed Cyril. “You’re next in line for a lead tuxedo!”
“No, listen,” I said, “how’d you and da boys, Knuckleduster and Gravedigger here, and little Sammy Poison too, like a no-expenses Caribbean Cruise on a luxury liner, The Beautician?”
Cyril frowned, “Hey, that’s part-owned by Jackie Noble ain’t it?”
I reached into my jacket and pulled out a yellowing letter. “See, signed by Jackie Noble.”
Cyril read it, then the penny dropped. He smiled. “Well, boys, I guess we could use a little sun, and my Cymbeline’d sure look cute in a bikini! Boys, go down to Maxie’s, bring us up a few bottles … and a few gals. We’re gonna have us a party right here! Jazzy and Sunny, get groovin’ and you, fat boy,” he gestured towards Donut, “get tinklin’ them ivories!”
Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth
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