by Bud Webster
It was the first party of the holiday season. As is customary, most people brought something. A bottle of booze, a cake, even a date. Me? I brought a gun. A big gun. You might even say a very big gun. A gun as big as a diamond as big as the Ritz.
I walked into the room, comforted by the weight of my big gun in its holster under my coat. It was a big coat—it had to be, to hide my big gun—and my eye was caught by Spider Two-Suits, a guy I occasionally did business with. I could tell by how big his coat was that he was carrying a big gun, too. He nodded to me and I ambled over.
“So, Spider. I see you’re wearing a really big coat,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, the way I’d learned when I was in the Big House.
He blinked at me. “Yeah,” he said in his gravelly voice. “I gotta wear a big coat. A really big coat.”
“I understand,” I said. “A really big coat is necessary, ain’t it?”
“Yeah, it is, on account I got a really big gun.” He opened his coat slightly so I could see inside. It was a really big gun, all right. Bigger than mine, and I got a big gun.
“I always say a guy, a real guy, hasta carry a big gun. I mean, who don’t carry a big gun, right?” he asked.
“Nobody, is who don’t,” I said. “Nuns don’t carry big guns. Pansies don’t. Cops like to think they’re carrying big guns, but that’s just hooey.”
“Damn straight. I got two suits, it’s why they call me Spider Two-Suits, and both of ’em got really big coats so’s I can wear my gun.”
“Your really big gun, right?” My voice was gravelly like a cheap driveway in Scarsdale.
“Damn straight.” He shook his head in admiration. “You don’t miss much, do you?”
“Can’t afford to, I’m a PI. If I missed much, nobody’d hire me. How could I afford to buy ammo for my gun then?”
“Yeah, big ammo. But not as big as yours must be, Spider.” I knew when to kiss up; you don’t get to be private heat in this town without you know how to kiss up a little. But I never kiss up big-time, that’s for losers. Pansies. Nuns. When you got a big gun, you don’t have to kiss up but just so much.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. It was Scree Talus, who people called Rocks. I nodded at him.
“Youse guys got yer guns?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Spider said. “We got our guns. You?”
“I got mine. It’s big. The bigger the better, right? Am I right?” We both said he was right. He looked around the room. “I think we all got big guns here tonight,” he said. He looked satisfied, like all of us having big guns made us like a club or sorority or something.
I checked out the room. Sure enough, all the guys had on big coats, some of them really big. Except for one guy who might have been a pansy or a nun. He was holding a cake, but he didn’t have a date. There might have been dates in the cake, I guess, but they weren’t big dates or you’d have been able to see ’em. And it wasn’t a big cake, either.
It was a big room, it had to be. There was a big band on the stand, playing “Begin the Beguine,” and couples were dancing, but not too close. I saw one guy, Tony Skeets, dancing with two women, and remembered hearing he’d been arrested for bigamy. Didn’t seem to have made a lot of difference, though.
Suddenly, the doors at the other end of the room burst open, and the cops came waltzing in. They had their guns drawn, and from the looks plastered all over their mugs, they thought they had big guns, but they was wrong. You could of hidden any of them under a Hawaiian shirt, that’s how little they were.
I walked up to the main cop. “So, Lt. Manicotti. You here to enjoy the ambiance?”
He sneered. “Yeah,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Where’s the cake and the booze?” He shouldered me aside and strolled to the center of the room. The band went quiet.
“Now hear this!” he yelled. “All you pansies line up against that far wall. We’re gonna search you. Not you, Sister,” he said to a nun on the left holding a piece of cake. I couldn’t tell if it had dates.
“Who the hell you think you are, Manicotti?” yelled No-Neck Arnie in a gravelly voice. His coat was so big he almost couldn’t see past the lapels. “We all got big guns here. Right, fellows?”
“Right!” they all said, pulling their guns out. Every one of them was big. Even the nun pulled out a big gun, and so did the pansy with the cake.
I almost dropped my booze trying to ease out of the way. Something big was going down, and I wanted to look as small as I could, as small as the dates the other guys brought.
“Yeah, those are big guns all right,” Manicotti said with a shrug. “But we got more of ’em than you got.” Sure enough, about a hundred more cops came in through the doors, all of them with guns. Little ones, but lots of them. “Now, drop ’em, you guys!”
Grumbling in gravelly voices, the guys all dropped their guns. They made a big noise when they hit the floor. “How about me?” the nun asked. Her voice was gravelly, like a gravel pit with all the gravel still left in it.
“Yeah, you too, Sister.” She grumbled, but dropped her gun.
Manicotti walked up to me. “Peeper, I ain’t gonna take your gun, ’cause you got a permit. But you remember this: lots beats big anytime.” He looked me over like I was something really small, then he snorted and walked away.
I watched as the cops picked up all the big guns. Somehow, all the guys’ coats looked empty, like banana skins with no bananas in them. I guess it don’t get much emptier than that.
I walked slowly out onto the street, knowing that of all the guys on the block at that moment, I had the biggest gun. It wasn’t much comfort to me somehow. I lit a smoke and thought about the booze I had at home. Maybe I’d try and get a date. One with a cake.
I began walking, leaving behind me the sound of the cops taking all the guys away for having big guns, leaving behind me the mean booze and the cake that might have had dates in it. “Lots beats big,” Manicotti had said. I shook my head wryly; it made a sound like gravel. I had learned a big lesson, and I was more than ready for a little sleep.
Or maybe even a Big Sleep.