Wednesday, August 01, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- She Stoops To Conquer

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.

“Yah, he had it bad alright. He had it bad for her right up until her last breath, and maybe after that for all he knew, maybe for eternity. It might have been that way; it is sometimes, sometimes when a thing is written in the stars. Even if they are star-crossed stars,” opined my old time Olde Saco, Maine schoolboy friend Jimmy Jacques when he related to me the story about two lovers who in the end had a falling-out that no love, and no uncrossed stars, could survive.

Jimmy was always telling me, even in high school where we ran track together, stories about the underside of life, about star- crossed stuff once he found out that I was a fan of black and white crime noir films from the 1940s and 1950a and their tales of crime doesn’t pay, thieves falling out among themselves, and gun-blaring femme fatales, especially that last category. Yes, I have it bad , real bad for hard-as-nails-hard loving, hard-hating femmes who don’t mind throwing a slug, or six, into some guy, some guy who still comes up grinning and asking for more. And this one, this Jimmy Jacques one, related a few years back, actually about twenty years back now that I think of it, before I moved back to the old home town and he came to see me when I lived in California, had them all. More importantly he was there when Willy Webb spilled his guts about her, about the hold she had on him, and how it had to end, end the way it did, just like in the movies, except for the real blood.

Here is how Jimmy told it, or really how Willy told it to Jimmy like he was some father-confessor. And maybe for that moment that is what Willy thought Jimmy was although one look at Jimmy would tell, tell clear as day, that he had not even a passing acquaintance with god since the old days at Ste. Brigitte’s.

See Jimmy and Willy worked together for a while down at the Olde Saco Garage. A- One mechanics working on cars, young and old, right after they got out of high school. Although they knew each other in high school, passing corridor nod knew each other, it was at the garage that they became fast friends. Sharing a taste, like a lot of guys who aren’t mechanics, for fast cars, fast liquor highs, and fast women, especially the last. Then Willy drifted off to find better work at a high- end garage up in Bar Harbor fixing dents and fine-tuning the precision motors of the automobiles of the Mayfair swells that flocked there in summer and for the “townies,” the rest of the year.

The years passed and Jimmy and Willy lost touch. Then one day Willy showed up at the garage where Jimmy was now part-owner as he was passing through town. He told Jimmy that, if things, things left unspoken, worked out right with a woman thing he had going maybe he and Jimmy could swing a deal to buy the place where he worked as an ace mechanic for the swells. Sweet, easy street work. Jimmy didn’t hear from Willy again
until one night when Willy showed up at the open bay door of the garage where Jimmy had been working late on some jazzed up green 1964 Mustang that “Stewball Stu” was getting ready to race in a “chicken race” down at Olde Saco Beach the next day.

Willy showed up, by the way, wearing a red splash on most of his upper shoulder getting redder by the minute, and a grey face getting greyer. Finally he just collapsed under his own weight, asked for a pillow, or something to prop his head up, and a smoke (Camels, unfiltered, for the curious, a brand both men had been smoking since about eighth grade). Then he started talking, slow like he wanted it taken down in Jimmy’s brain just like it was coming out of his mouth, slow too because the life was draining out of him and slow was the only way he could have his say, have his peace say:

“It didn’t start out wrong, I don’t think. No more wrong that with any other woman that I ever ran around with. Maybe less so. I don’t have time to argue those fine points right now. But let me go back to the beginning, that first day when she came through Bill Bentley’s Cadillac up in Bar Harbor, the place I told you about and about us becoming partners at. The place where all the swells come for oil changes and tune-ups in the summer. Or have the million and one dents their kids, or their wives, put in that old Rolls, Buick, Lincoln or whatever they use to make up hell for dear old dad’s insurance premiums.”

“I had my head buried down looking at the engine block in Mr. Pepper’s Cadillac and when I pulled my head up there she was. Estelle Pepper, Mrs. Clarence Pepper, I found out later, ten minutes later when it was too late. Young, twenty something young, fresh as a daisy, dressed in white, summer white, shorts and blouse, wearing blonde hair, wearing long legs, wearing well, in the end wearing some jasmine perfume that took the all the hell out of the oil, gas, diesel, funk smell of that old garage. Yah, in the end it was that perfume that got to me, got to me bad.”

“But before the end, way before, it was that look that tiger hungry look that some women get when they are bored, lonely, or just being frisky, frisky with the hired help. That was the first look she gave me, and then she put on the smile, a faint ironic smile like brother, guess what, this is your lucky day and I am the prize smile. And I, I, just grinned”

“So we started, started the man-woman back and forth chatter, eyes blazing, and other stuff too, stuff that knew only one way to end, end in some dreamy outsized bedroom complete with outsized private bath, or some hotel, motel, no tell bed in some by the hour joint on Route One near the Ellsworth line. That’s when I found out she was Mrs. Clarence Pepper, the wife of the big New York stockbroker, and not as I had thought his daughter, his slumming daughter. Here in Bill Bentley’s to pick up the old family Caddy, and drive me to hell. Like I said by that time, by that hungry look, faint smile time it didn’t matter, matter at all, if she was married to five guys. Or fifty.”

Willy stopped for a minute to put out his cigarette, and ask for another.

“ So, naturally, after some more banter, a few smiles, and a couple of grins from me, I had to drive her home to make sure everything was alright with the vehicle. Drive her to Bar Harbor Estates where the Peppers held forth and had for generations. And before I knew it we were drinking heaven scotch, heaven Clarence Pepper- bought scotch, by the pitcher in her dreamy outsized bedroom with that outsized bath getting ready to muss up the sheets. Not a new story, no way, bored rich house wives, bored young housewives, looking for working stiff thrills have been doing this since they invented Bar Harbor, and not just Bar Harbor either.”

“Here is what was new though, new to me, some dames, yah, dames, just don’t know when they have it good. Estelle coming out of a from nowhere bracero, okie, arkie home in suburban California, and having done tours as a waitress serving them off the arm and fending off the truckers lined up to take shot at her, a lingerie model for guys looking for socks for their ever-loving wives, and a call girl (that is how and where they met at the Waldorf in New York City ) took Clarence’s offer of marriage (his third ) in a flash before he changed his mind, or died.

Yes, Estelle had this sweet set-up, old Clarence, accepted, or at least didn’t cry over her infidelities and trysts, and looking at any actuarial table in the year 1978 would show that the life expectancy of a seventy-three hard drinking, hard- smoking, hard- living man was short, short enough for a twenty something woman to wait out.”

“Could she wait? Hell, no. More importantly though once that jasmine got into, under, over, between my skin and made me skirt-crazy, no Estelle crazy, neither could I. See, she said she loved me, loved me like no other man, and could never love another man like that again. And she would nuzzle that jasmine scent right on my shoulder. Then she started, started slow at first, with little hints about what would happen if this or that happened to an engine, or this or that happened to the brakes, or this or that happened to the tires, until I got so crazy I just confronted her straight up and asked what she had in mind. Knowing, and she knowing that I knew, what she had in mind. She said it straight up, straight up like it was an everyday thought (and maybe it was), straight up no way to avoid the word, murder.”

“And all this jackass of a bum mechanic said was, ah, how are we going to do it. Yah, I had it bad, bad as a man can have it for a woman. She knew the answer before I finished asking when she “suggested” a loose valve while beloved Clarence was driving to his fuddy-duddy old golf course up in the hills toward Arcadia National Park. I said, that would not work, no way would we get away with that, no way. So I worked out a plan, a plan involving just the slightest pinprick in an engine line that would cause the fumes to come up in his face while driving causing him to conk out and, well, kill himself. Perfect, or perfect enough for what we had in mind”

“But see that is where the whole thing went awry, crazy. Clarence wasn’t such an old fool after all, or at least fool enough to our advantage. He never really did not accept Estelle’s affairs, he had her watched, had her followed, and in the end had me followed. And he never did drive that damn car. See he took it to Bill Bentley himself to have it inspected, thoroughly inspected.
Bill found that faint pinprick, really not so faint by the time he inspected it.”

“Knowing what had happened old Clarence devised a plan, a simple plan.
He invited Estelle and her companion, me, to his study for some before dinner drinks. Prior to this Estelle had been bugging me to devise another plan, a non-car plan. I had balked at any rough stuff though. We went into the giant dining room and made idle conversation. Then, after some banter about the weather, Estelle took out a gun, a .44 I think, and shot at one Clarence Pepper at point-blank range. And then one William Webb as well. I fell to the floor in shock.”

“Here is some advice, buddy. Never trust a woman with a gun. She totally missed Clarence even at point-blank range. And that was fatal, fatal for her. See Clarence, before Estelle messed up the play, also had planned to have a little shoot-out himself before dinner was served. And he won. Later when I woke up there was one Clarence Pepper standing over me ready to put a couple more in me. I gathered all my strength, pushed the old man away, opened the front door and got into my car and sped like hell here. End of story.”

Well not quite the end of the story. See Willy was the guy who tipped Bill Bentley off to the pinprick leak, and the guy who made it bigger, big enough so even Bill Bentley could see the damn thing. Willy, when the deal went down, jasmine-crazy or not, just couldn’t take the old guy’s life. Fool? Yes, fool maybe as he took out of his pocket a small handkerchief that Jimmy said smelled of jasmine, brought it to his nose and expired, expired with that grin, that grin on his face like he had when she first came in that garage door . And Clarence Pepper? Nothing happened to him but old age. See while Willy was out cold Clarence put the old six-shooter in his hand and the fingerprints found, at least the one’s that counted for the Bar Harbor coroner were Willy’s.

“Yah, he had it bad, six ways to Sunday bad, poor old Willy,” opined Jimmy Jacques. And Josh Lawrence agreed. Dames.

No comments:

Post a Comment