Various costumed weirdos meandered into the restaurant as Ms. Tsang’s employees served h’orderves.
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “When I needed Battler’s help, he sent you to make me sign a legally binding contract obligating me to jump through a bunch of hoops like a jackass, but now that he needs something from me I’m supposed to bend over backwards like a world class limbo champion?”
“That’s the general idea,” Ms. Donnelly said. “It’s entirely up to you, Mr. Hatcher. I can’t force your hand, though I find it necessary to point out that if General Morganstern succeeds in blowing up Mr. Battler into smithereens, the secret of how you can return to 1955 will perish with him.”
“Good,” I said. “Good riddance to that lousy nerd. You could just tell me the skinny then.”
Ms. Donnelly clutched her pearls.
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” she said. “Go against a client’s wishes? Mr. Hatcher, I’m an officer of the court and as an attorney I have a reputation to uphold.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll fill up a notebook with the scoop on how I punched Adolf Hitler in the face if you think it’ll be useful as a bargaining chip to save Battler’s hide. But know I’m not doing it for that geek, Ms. Donnelly. I’m doing it for you. If that weasel buys the farm you’ll stop visiting me and I’d miss you like a castrated dog misses his phantom testicles.”
“As usual, I don’t know whether or not to be charmed or alarmed, Mr. Hatcher.”
“A little from Column A and a little from Column B,” I replied.
The music began. Every yahoo in the joint started jitterbugging.
“Isn’t it a tad early for Halloween festivities?” Delilah asked.
“Ahh, this is some shindig Ms. Tsang and the local merchants put together every year,” I answered. “Every business holds a party. The kids come by to trick or treat. The adults get tipsy. It’s fun, you know, for people who aren’t like us…people who have the luxury of being able to have fun.”
“People who don’t suffer the burdens we do?” Delilah asked.
“Precisely,” I replied.
Some ignoramus in a lion costume walked up to the table.
“Put ’em up, put ’em up,” the jerk said.
Instinctively, I reached into my trench coat, under which I kept Betsy, my old World War II service revolver, strapped to me tight.
“Hi folks,” the lion said. “Abe Marlowe of Marlowe’s Dry Cleaning!”
A lady wearing a blue jumper over a white shirt came over. She carried a wicker basket with a stuffed black dog.
“My wife, Sally” the lion said.
“Hello,” Sally said. “Wow, cool costumes! Let me guess…”
Sally pointed a finger to me and said, “…you’re Bogie” and then to Delilah, “…and you’re Bacall.”
“Something like that,” I replied as I took a sip from my scotch glass. “Who the hell are you two supposed to be, escaped mental patients?”
“No,” he said. “Haven’t you ever seen The Wizard of Oz?”
“Oh right,” I said. “Girl drops a house on a green broad minding her own business but beats the rap on a technicality, thus avoiding the chair. A heartless robot man, a mongoloid scarecrow and a giant gutless cat march her to a magic man who they think can solve all their problems with one wave of a magic want because it never dawns on them to roll up their sleeves and do any hard work of their own. Communist propaganda if you ask me, at least that’s what I told my girl Peaches when we saw it in the theater when it first came out.”
The couple looked at me like I was The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Delilah smoothed things over with her silver tongue, one of her many fine assets.
“Mr. Hatcher’s donned the garb of a hardboiled film noir style private detective,” the lady lawyer said. “And one might say he’s a bit too wrapped up in the role.”
The couple breathed a sigh of relief. Grown adults dressed up like characters in a kids’ movie but somehow I’m the oddball. Go figure.
“Nice meeting you,” Abe said as he shook my hand. “Stop by anytime and I’ll dry clean that coat for you, buddy. On the house.”
Abe and Sally took off.
“Dry clean my coat?” I asked Delilah. “What’s he mean by that?”
“Well, I’m not one to point out the foibles of others, Mr. Hatcher,” Delilah said as she clacked open her briefcase and pulled out a manilla envelope, “But you haven’t washed that coat in over sixty years so perhaps Mr. Marlowe was taking pity on you, or at least the olfactory glands of those around you.”
Delilah forked over the envelope.
“Get outta here,” I said. “Battler wants me to write down the details of Operation Fuhrerpunschen AND solve another Pop Culture Mystery?”
“Indeed,” Delilah said. “He expects it to be part of his ‘Thirty One Zombie Authors’ promotion on the Bookshelf Battle Blog, a push to grab the attention of additional readers.”
“How’s that worked out for him so far?” I asked.
“Very well,” Delilah said. “Last I checked with Mr. Battler a fellow in Dubuque was giving strong consideration to clicking Mr. Battler’s follow button.”
“I just hope the fame doesn’t go to his head,” I said.
The DJ dimmed the lights and played a slow number.
“Alright alright,” the DJ said. “Boys grab your ghouls and head out on the dance floor…”
“Shall we wiggle our bodies to and fro in a passionate manner, Ms. Donnelly?” I asked.
“Thank you but no, Mr. Hatcher,” Delilah said as she stood up. “I’m afraid I have other pressing matters to attend to and I simply have no time to dance with you this evening.”
“Who said anything about dancing?” I asked.