From the Finn McCool’s Irish Pub Short Story Collection 2013:
published with permission of Finn McCool’s Irish Pub
Here are the ten words we had to use in our short stories:
Direction or Bastard (I used both)
The Private Eye and the Diner Waitress (Fiction)
Copyright © 2013 by Sara Jacobelli (First printing rights Finn McCool’s Irish Pub New Orleans)
1. The Phone Call
“Aye. We can meet tomorrow then, about 3 then. Where?”
“Finn McCool’s, it’s a pub in Mid-City. Banks Street.”
“Good then. One more thing, we’ll be needing a woman.”
“A woman? What for?”
“Long story, but we don’t want to interview this lady without another woman present. Just us two lads, she’ll make trouble. You know a woman who can handle it?”
“Sure. My girlfriend. She’ll love it. She’ll think she’s in a James Bond movie.”
2. The Wiener Dog
“Why do you drink your tea with milk in it? Shit. I burned the bacon.”
“Hmm. It’s OK. Just a little crispy.”
“But why the milk in the tea?”
“I don’t know. My mother did it. Her mother and my namesake, Sarah O’Hara from County Cork, she did it. Hot tea with milk and sugar is the solution to anything, that’s the mantra I grew up with.”
“You’re her namesake. I mean, she had the name first.”
“Well, she put milk in her tea, that’s what’s important.” Sarah turned on the radio. They listened to WWOZ while eating breakfast.
She banged on the radio. “Will you guys shut up and play some music?”
“Sarah, listen, I need you to come with me this afternoon. It’s to meet this guy at Finn’s, and, uh, well, it’s about—“
“We missed the pub quiz. I’m definitely going next Monday.” Sarah stirred her tea.
“You can go without me. There’s no point in playing any trivia games with you. You always win. You have the memory of an elephant. No, make that a tribe of elephants.”
“I think it’s a pride. No, that’s lions. Must be a herd. A herd of elephants. But you can be on my team.”
A red and black dachshund bounded into the cluttered kitchen.
“Look who’s awake, Lady Gaga!” Sarah fed her some bacon.
“See, Lady likes my cooking. Let’s take her for a walk.”
Sarah bent to attach the spiked collar around the dog’s neck and hooked on the leash. They walked towards Poland Avenue and to the levee by the Navy Base.
“So this guy I’m meeting, his name is HP O’Grady. Some kind of Irish cat, but can’t figure out if he’s really from Ireland, or if it’s a bit of an act. And he says it’s important that I bring a woman.”
“HP? JJ meets HP? Sounds like a bad B movie.” Sarah laughed. She unhooked the leash to let the dog run. She threw Lady’s ball and watched her waddle after it.
“Well, this guy is a PI in San Francisco. He got my name from when I wrote for that weekly paper. He’s looking to interview this woman here. She’s supposed to testify in some trial. He’ll be in town for a few days.”
“What’s this got to do with you?”
“Come on, Lady!” JJ put the squirmy little dog back on her leash. “He needs my help, since I’m a local. And, he wants a woman to come with, someone who can keep her cool and not blab too much. So I told him I’d cruise the bars and see if I could find anyone. Maybe I could find a hot, buxom, red-headed babe looking for adventure. There’s probably one or two of those in Vaughan’s.”
Sarah tugged at JJ’s arm. “Hey, I’m the woman! Hey, I wanta go. This is like a spy movie or somethin’.”
“I knew you’d love it. He’s even gonna pay us. Maybe we can pay the Verizon bill.”
They reached their double on France Street. Sarah looked at JJ as Lady scampered up the steps.
“We’re not getting involved in anything too weird, are we?”
He struggled with the jiggly door-knob. “This door drives me crazy. “
“I haven’t the slightest idea, Sarah.” JJ finally got the door open and walked into the living room, while Lady ran around on the front porch. He moved stacks of books and records off the couch so he could sit down.
“Hey Miss?” George the Junk Man stopped his battered bicycle out front. “You needin’ new dishes? Or a fancy Tiff’ny Lamp?” The bike had plastic milk crates attached as baskets, and was weighed down with various precariously perched household wares.
“No thanks, George. But keep your eyes peeled for old blues records for me, will ya?”
“Sure thing, sugar. I’ll find some good ones. Leadbelly. You like Leadbelly? Hey, is that a, is that a ferret?” George narrowed his eyes at Lady Gaga. “I don’t mess with ferrets. They bite.”
“A Ferret? A freakin’ ferret? George, you better get some new glasses. That’s a wiener dog.”
3. The Pub
“Aye. Not a bad little pub. They serve food too?” HP took off his leather jacket to reveal two heavily muscled arms. He had a tattoo of the Irish harp on his right bicep.
They arranged three chairs around an empty table.
JJ brought drinks from the bar.“I’m still not sure what direction you want to go with this. You want us to go with you on the interview, but why?”
“They really have some Irish left in New Orleans, do they?” HP looked at the posters and photos on the walls. “I thought they were all house painters in San Francisco.”
“Are you from Ireland? I keep hearing ‘aye aye aye’ and some sort of accent, but–” Sarah said, making a suspicious face. JJ kicked her under the table.
“My folks were born over there. I was born and raised in San Francisco. We went over to visit every year.”
“OK, but back to this mysterious woman. Where do we go to meet her?” JJ chugged his beer while Sarah got up to order fish and chips.
“She’ll be texting me soon with the address.”
HP insisted they all have a shot of Jameson’s.
“Sla’inte.” HP downed his shot.
“Sla’inte,” JJ downed his too. “Come on, Sarah.”
“But I hate whiskey.” Sarah drank hers slowly. “Yuck. Well, Sla’inte, I guess.”
Her code name was Natasha, although there did not appear to be a Boris. Natasha didn’t text back until seven thirty that evening. The unlikely trio downed several more rounds of Jameson’s while waiting for the signal.
Natasha texted HP that they were to drive to Vacherie, about an hour away. She wanted them to go to the Jubilee Truck Stop Casino parking lot on Highway 20.
“Vacherie? We’re going to Vacherie? There’s nothing out there but gators. Maybe the occasional friendly frog.” Sarah sat in the back seat of HP’s rented PT Cruiser. She drew smiley faces in the condensation on the car window.
JJ drove since HP didn’t know where he was going. HP had a Louisiana road map spread out and was studying it as if it was the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“These roads don’t make any sense at all.” HP frowned at the map.
“Don’t bother with that map, there’s no road signs out there anyway. Everyone goes by landmarks, like gas stations or railroad tracks. Ask someone for directions and they’ll say, It’s over by the old high school that burnt down in 82. Right by Fred’s cousin’s place where we used to go for crawfish boils.”
HP nodded. “Sounds like Ireland, then. Except for the crawfish.”
“Bored! Can we at least get some tunes, please?” Sarah demanded from the back seat.
JJ tuned in OZ. They listened to the blues show until the signal turned scratchy and then completely faded on Highway 3127.
“Shit. I love this guy. ROCK BOTTOM!!! A God-dammed dynamite blues LEGEND from Florida. If you don’t LIVE it, you can’t GIVE it! ROCK BOTTOM!!!”
“Aye. She’s a bit of a handful, isn’t she?”
“She never drinks whiskey. The Jameson’s got to her.” JJ drove smoothly into the dark night.
HP tried to make phone calls but couldn’t get a signal. “Where in the world are we?”
“The swamp. This is the real swamp.” They stopped at a lonely gas station to use the rest rooms. Crickets, mosquitos and frogs blended into an eerie night-time musical performance.
Sarah wanted to buy an energy drink but JJ and HP talked her out of it.
“This stuff is really cool. It’s made out of vitamins and kelp and all this stuff.”
“Kelp?” HP said. “That’s just seaweed. Why would anyone drink flavored seaweed, then?”
“I don’t care what’s in it, she doesn’t need more energy, believe me.”
They piled back in the car and JJ drove off.
“Are we there yet?” Sarah said, her voice fading. “Oh, I don’t feel so good. That whiskey makes me, what-do-you-call-it, discombob, discabob, dismobob,”
“I believe you mean discombobulate.”HP said. “Here, use my jacket like a pillow, you can curl up and sleep back there. And you better leave your window open, my lass.”
“Discombobulat-ed. She feels discombobulated.” JJ said. “But, basically she’s just drunk.”
Sarah was snoring softly when they drove into the Jubilee parking lot. HP texted Natasha.
“Hope we can get a signal.”
“Texting gets through even when you can’t talk on the phone. We learned that after Katrina.”
They waited about twenty minutes. Natasha texted a message to HP: Take Highway 643 for five miles.
“What in the world is that?” HP pointed to an armadillo snuffling around in the trash as JJ started the car.
“Wow! An armadillo that’s not run over. Sarah will be mad she missed this.”
“Never seen one before.” HP shook his head in amazement. “Looks like a miniature armored tank.”
5. The Failed Mission
“She changed her mind, then. She won’t do the interview, and she won’t testify. She’s walking onto an airplane right this minute.” HP frowned at his phone.
“What? Are you serious?”
“Aye. If she were a man I’d be calling her a bastard.” HP looked miserable. “This whole trip for nothing. This is a disaster. I need some tea. And a cute waitress to serve it. Is there a diner?”
Sarah groaned from the back seat. “NOT Waffle House. Anything but that.”
JJ laughed. “You’re alive? And awake? I know where there’s a Denny’s.”
“Hey,” Sarah stuck her arm out the window and shook her fist in the air. “There’s a plane, maybe it’s hers. Natasha. Natasha my ass. Her name’s probably Gertrude or Bernice. Or Ethel. She’s a freaking Ethel without a Lucy.”
JJ pulled the car into the Denny’s parking lot.
“Aye. Let’s sit at the counter, then,” HP said, as they walked into the brightly lit diner. “I see the one for me.”
“All I care about is a Grand Slam,” JJ said.
“I really want a blueberry waffle with whipped cream,” Sarah said.
The smiling waitress poured coffees. Her name tag said “Mary-Ann.”
“Aye. I always knew I’d love a Mary-Ann someday. But it’s hot tea I’m needing—not hot coffee, my dear Mary Ann.”
“With milk and sugar,” Sarah said.
Author’s note: This story did not win anything, but is included in the collection. I wrote this fiction piece as a brief glimpse into the glamorous world of private investigation, which in the movies is really exciting—but in real life involves a lot of waiting and waiting and waiting around.
Story judges are Stephen Rea and Ian McNulty.
Finn McCool’s Short Story Contest Entries 2010-2012, and Finn McCool’s Short Story Contest Entries 2013, are available for purchase at the pub:
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub
3701 Banks Street
New Orleans, LA 70119
Photo Credit: “coffee cup,” by sj