Thursday, February 10, 2022

“Killer McGurk”

“And so you see, Bubbles, my novel, now that I think of it, might just possibly prove to be only the initial installment of a grand multi-volume roman-fleuve which will perhaps someday be to American literature – which I consider still to be in its infancy – what Proust’s masterwork is to French letters. Because even though the volume I am currently working on will probably run to at the least a thousand printed pages, I feel that I can yet explore so much terribly more through the vehicle of my hero Buck Baxter, and…”

Bubbles wasn’t listening, but she didn’t mind. Addison’s babbling was just another soothing element in the smoky drunken symphony of the bar, along with the jukebox music and the laughing and shouting voices of all these other idiots in this place.

“Please, Mr. Johnson,” sang a lady on the jukebox, “don’t play them blues so sad…”

“Hey, Addison,” said Bubbles, “let me interrupt you just a minute.”

“Oh, by all means,” said Addison.

“Why a cowboy book?”

“Pardon me?”

“What I mean is, of all the kinds of books you could write, why did you decide to write a cowboy book? I mean, what do you know from cowboys?”

“Well, Bubbles, you know, that’s actually a very good question, especially as I’ve never even been ‘out west’ as they say, but let me ask you, did Shakespeare ever visit Denmark, or Venice, or Rome, or even France?”

“Beats me.”

“The answer is no, as far as we know he never left England, but you see his imagination through his genius was able to travel to these various far-flung places, not to mention –”

“Yeah, okay, but why a cowboy book?”

“Why indeed? In fact, Bubbles, I think I can answer that question quite specifically. You see, I have a, well, yes, I suppose you can call him a ‘friend’, a man named Tommy McCarthy, he’s involved in some way I’m not quite clear about in the docks on the East River.”

“Tommy McCarthy the big river boss?”

“Yes, the very chap.”

“You’re friends with Tommy McCarthy?”

“Indeed. And, you might not believe this, but Tommy actually even offered me a job –”

“Tommy McCarthy offered you a job? Doing what?”

“That’s not entirely easy to say. You see, we got to chatting one day at my ‘local’, Bob’s Bowery Bar, and, much to my surprise, Tommy suddenly invited me to go see a movie with him. I agreed of course, and on the way to the movie in his enormous Studebaker he stopped outside another bar down by the river called Sailor Sid’s and asked me to wait in the car, and when he came out a couple of minutes later he handed me a gun and told me to put it in my coat pocket.”

“And did you do it?”


“Jeeze. Did he shoot somebody?”

“Well, I didn’t feel it was my place to ask.”

“And then what happened?”

“We went to an Audie Murphy movie, The Preacher Wore a Sixgun. Have you seen it?”

“No. So he told you to hang onto this gun.”


“And how long did you hang onto it?”

“Oh, a week or so. And as I say, he offered to put me on his payroll. But the thing was, you see I got more and more nervous about the gun, and finally I had to tell him I couldn’t accept the position because I needed to concentrate on my writing, and I asked him to take the gun back.”

“Jeeze, Addison. Was he mad?”

“Oh, he may have been a trifle disappointed in me, but in the end I think he took it pretty well.”

“But what’s this have to do with why you’re writing a cowboy book?”

“Well, you see, at the time I was in the nascent stages of writing a compendious study of trends of literary criticism in the twentieth century, but Tommy suggested I write a western novel instead.”

“He did, huh?’

“Yes, you see, Tommy is quite fond of the western genre.”

“You kill me, Addison.”

“I kill myself, Bubbles.”

“Hey, Bubbles,” said some guy who had come up to the bar and stood next to her.

“Oh, you,” said Bubbles.

He was a big fellow with red hair and a red face.

“You busy?” said the guy.

“Busy drinking and minding my own business, Jack.”

“My name’s not Jack.”

“Sorry, Mack,” she said.

“You know my name.”

“I’m trying to forget it,” she said.

“I got some dough,” said the man, and he took out his wallet. “Ten bucks still good for a throw?”

“Take a hike, Mike.”

“My name is Herb, as you well know, Bubbles. Here, up front.”

He took a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet and laid it on the bar next to the Cream of Kentucky highball Bubbles was drinking.

“Listen, Herbie,” said Bubbles, “you take that ten-spot and put it back in your wallet, and then why don’t you dry up and blow away?”

“Hey, you don’t have to be that way.”

“And you don’t have to be the way you are, but you are. Now shove off, because I’m trying to have a conversation with my friend here.”

“This guy?” said the man. “He looks like a fairy to me.”

“A fairy?” said Bubbles.

“Yeah, he looks a little light in the loafers to me.”

“You know who this guy is?”

“I don’t know,” said the man. “He looks like Dan Duryea on a bad day, except a little more weaselly and fairy-like.”

“You know Tommy McCarthy, the river boss?”

“Well, I don’t know him personally. Why?”

“This guy works for Tommy. He’s what you might call Tommy McCarthy’s right-hand man.”

“He is?”

“That’s right. Hey, Killer, say hi to Herbie here.”

“Hello,” said Addison.

“Killer?” said the man.

“That’s what they call him,” said Bubbles. “Killer McGurk. And they call him that for a reason.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect,” said the man.

“So take that sawbuck and buzz off, Herbert.”

“I really didn’t mean any offense,” said Herbert.

“Hey, Killer,” said Bubbles to Addison, “show him your gat.”

“My gat?” said Addison.

“Yeah, show him your gat and tell him you’re gonna stick it up his fat rump and pull the trigger if he doesn’t beat it.”

“Look, I’m going,” said the guy, and he picked up his ten-dollar bill. “I’m very sorry, sir,” he said to Addison. “I didn’t understand.”

“What I don’t understand is why you’re still standing here,” said Bubbles.

“Sorry, I’m going, but, look can I buy you both a drink before I go?”

“I don’t give a damn what you do, as long as you go,” said Bubbles.

The bartender was standing there smoking a cigar and watching the show.

“Joe,” said the man to the bartender. “Here’s a ten. I want you to back up my friends here with as many drinks as that’ll buy.”

“And what about a tip for Joe?” said Bubbles.

“Oh, right,” said the man. He laid the ten back down on the bar, and then took a dollar bill out of his wallet and put it on the ten. “Here’s a dollar for you, too, Joe.”

“Big spender,” said Bubbles. “Why don’t you give Joe another buck if you can spare it?”

“Oh, sure,” said the guy, and he took out another single and laid it down. “There’s another dollar for you, Joe, and thank you.”

Joe took the money and went away without a word.

“You showed off,” said Bubbles to Herb. “Now – and you should pardon my French – scram, Sam.”

“Okay, I’m going. Nice to meet you, Mr., uh, McGurk, and I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”

Finally the man staggered away down the bar.

“What a schmuck,” said Bubbles. “He could see we were having a private conversation here.”

“Killer McGurk?” said Addison.

“Okay, so I exaggerated a little bit,” said Bubbles. She took a drink of her highball. “Two-bit punks like that, they’re the reason how come dames turn dyke.”

“Close to you, I will always stay,” sang another lady on the jukebox…

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, lavishly illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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