An Excerpt from THE WET NOSE OF DANGER, Chapter 11, “A Fetching Little Number”
At a high-society fundraiser, in a garden behind the art museum:
With one eye on Schatzie, I edged nearer the bandstand, to soak in the melodies. I was careful to stay out of the musicians’ sight; even at functions like this, they sometimes have a habit of breaking into John Philip Sousa whenever they see a clown or any kind of kinker. They’re only human, after all. There’s nothing more pathetic, believe me, than hearing the string quartet version of “The Glory of the Yankee Navy.” As I tiptoed along the hydrangea bushes, I was suddenly grabbed from behind by a pair of bony hands and pulled out of sight.
My coat was pulled up over my head, making it tough to swing my arms around and grab my attacker. I was hauled maybe ten feet through the scratchy shrubbery before I was let go. My attacker spun me around and grabbed me in a bear hug. More like a bear hug in mating season, because hands were flying all over me, in some of my most unpublic places. Someone was mighty hungry for some clown lovin’, but I was still on the job, so after a minute or two of half-hearted struggle, I pushed myself away to see who was so hot for me. There, with hydrangea leaves poking out of her graying brown hair, stood the lanky figure of Isabel Lodestone. It looked like her anyway, but it sure didn’t act like her.
“Mrs. Lodestone,” I stammered, trying to adjust my agent suit, “what kind of joey do you take me for?”
She replied with a low, rumbling laugh that sounded like distant thunder. “Don’t play coy with me, Mr. Koko,” she purred. “I could tell what was on your mind the very first time we met in the library.”
I did a double-take and said, “Sorry, wrong number. I never mix business with pleasure.”
“But what is the business of a clown,” she said in a smoky voice, “but pleasure?” She tossed her bony frame at me and landed a kiss as hot and writhing as a feverish rattlesnake. This was an occupational hazard for someone in my line. Some broads simply can’t control themselves around a clown. Maybe it’s the old wives tale about the big shoes. Now some joeys take advantage of this and waggle their balloons just anywhere, but I have a little more self-respect than that.
“Listen, lady,” I said, pushing her off, “this ain’t the time or place. You’re a respectable woman, this is a respectable crowd . . .”
“Don’t give me that,” she hissed with a smile. “Just because I’m married to a senator, have advanced degrees from Princeton and Vassar, and can trace my ancestry back to Charlemagne doesn’t make me respectable. Look at me as just a woman, with a woman’s needs, and a woman’s appetite.”
She was pretty tanked up, and judging from the drug-store smell on her breath, that probably wasn’t port in her glass before, either. She was firing it off hotter than a Griebling Street coochie show, but no way could I give in. She was too unstable, and the Senator was too powerful. Besides which, she had all the curves of a hat rack, not my kind of jill at all.
She reached for my belt and gave a tug, grabbing the bulb of my Bombay horn by mistake. The fat honk could have been heard for a mile. You’d think the noise would have caused her to stop, but she only got wilder and let out a lusty bark. She was so worked up, I doubt I really needed to be there; I could’ve just left her some of my props and let her go to town. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted, but the noise would have been something terrible.
“You’re my big clown, aren’t you?” she moaned. “You’re my big clown.”
“No, right now I’m a big shamus,” I said, pushing her away again. “Your husband hired me for security tonight, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
“He has his fun, why shouldn’t I?” she asked, making another lunge for my belt. “Don’t you know women like a man with a sense of humor?” She started rooting around on me like a pig on a truffle hunt. Somehow she got her hands on my wolf whistle and gave that a shrill toot, which sent her into even more of a fit. I was sure we’d be discovered in the bushes, which meant at the very least I could haul my kiester back to Top Town and continue to slowly starve to death.
“Mrs. Lodestone, you’re letting the cough syrup do your thinking. You don’t want to get shipped upstate again, do ya?”
But she was past reasoning. I even squirted her a couple of times with my boutonniere, but it was like dousing a fire with gasoline. She had more arms than a spider-woman and the sex drive of a hippo after Happy Hour. When she finally grabbed my nose and set off the whistle there, it was all over but the mopping. She moaned loud enough to rattle the glasses at the waiter’s station and slowly lowered herself to the ground, gasping sighs of release. I turned the water flower on myself for a squirt or two, just to cool off.
With timing that was almost too perfect, the bushes behind us rustled and through them stepped Senator Lodestone himself, beaming broadly.
“Aha, Koko, I’ve found you. Isabel, what are you doing here?”
“Nothing, Claude,” she panted, resting on her knees, “just passing the time . . . with this . . . fascinating . . . entertainer.”
“I heard some grunts back here,” he said. “Sounded like some animals had escaped from a menagerie.”
“You could say that,” I said, trying to shake myself into a little composure. “Something’s definitely wild around here.”
“I’ll say,” purred Mrs. Lodestone. Either she was shameless, or the Senator was a sap. Or both. Or neither. I didn’t know. I was having a hard enough time getting my rubber chicken back in my pocket.
“We were just chatting about the dognappings,” I said, trying to think up a reason to be found behind a thick hedge with a narcotized nymphomaniac with a split personality.
“Oh, forget about that for now,” said the Senator, taking my arm. “Come back to the party. I need you out there beside me. Isabel, are you coming?”
“No, Claude, I think I’ll stay back here and smoke a pack of cigarettes.” She gave me a wicked, weary smile that said she wasn’t done with me. Things were definitely getting funny around here, only I wasn’t sure I liked it.