It was another steamy Friday afternoon in Manhattan. I was considering calling it a quits for the day when the call came in from Fogel over at Metal Leg.
"This the Will Annandale Detective Agency?"
"Yeah," I answered. I'd dealt with Fogel before.
"Well, we got a problem only you can solve."
I was all ears. I poured a shot as he began his tale. Seems someone had uncovered a long-lost Dan tape. A rare bootleg of outtakes and unreleased numbers. "There's one copy floating around Miami," he intoned. "Last known owner: Doctor Wu." I was sitting on a potential gold mine. But first I'd have to crack the code. Knowing the clues would be scattered throughout the Dan library, I settled in with my collection. Eight hours of music and two bottles of Jack later, I knew just where to look.
One more call. This one to Babs Moreland. I hadn't spoken to Babs in a while and it looks like I may never again. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I had 168 hours, exactly one week, to uncover that tape.
It wasn't going to be easy. Wu, a once prominent Miami acupuncturist who'd stung one too many was now hiding deep in the Miami underground. Only two guys, Fogel said, knew his whereabouts - crime bosses Chino and Daddy G., who for obvious reasons could not be reached through conventional sources. I cabled my own and was off.
First stop Miami International, where Babs and I hopped a small charter to Key West. One thing about Babs, she was a sport. A real looker and always up for an adventure. It was ten to five when we checked into "The Banyan." Third World Johnny was waiting behind the desk with a message from Chino and the tacit instructions to "Sign in, Stranger." I chuckled to myself. Leave it to Third World Johnny to don a disguise just to get to me.
BOGOTA. JIVE MIGUEL ON THE TRAIL. GO TO MALLORY SQUARE AT SUNSET AND LOOK FOR A BIG BLONDE NAMED GRETCHEN. WHISPER "SUMMER SMOKER" IN HER EAR AND SHE'LL HAND OVER A LETTER WITH FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
Good. I'd just have time for a quick shower. Jive Miguel was sharp. Too sharp, and I knew we'd have to he on our toes to stay ahead of him.
Gretchen was there all right. If ever a dame could hold her liquor, I knew this was the one. But there was no time for cordials. According to the note, a character named Hoops McCann was intent on a midnight meeting at Mr. Chow's.
Babs and I downed a couple of Cafe Cubanos and hightailed up the coast. I had to hand it to Babs. She looked cuter than a Filipino on Saturday night. The neon that flickered Mr. Chow's was not entirely promising, but in we went.
McCann was unmistakeable. He had a smile of gold and a tattoo on his left bicep that read: "Rose Darling." He handed me a cassette with the words, "Sorry, we only have eight." It had been years since I'd seen an eight-track so we asked Hoops where we might locate a player. A couple of Cuban Breezes later he came up with a name. "Cathy. Cathy Babarian knows." Just my dumb luck. Two in the morning and the only player in town belonged to an old flame. This town was starting to feel real small.
Babs took the opportunity to get frisky in the car. We decided to call it a night.
The morning brought with it a tropical rain. I chose the linen suit I had laid out the night before. Babs lay languidly in the sheets.
"You think I need a shave, Babs?"
"WilIie, you're already the cleanest guy I know."
I lathered up anyway and prepared to meet my rival. It was close to eleven when we put the car in neutral and walked up to Babarian's. Two knocks later we were inside. After all these years, the dame still had that touch of Tuesday Weld. I smiled. A bit too hard.
"Feels nice," I said.
She shrugged. "You're out of the rain."
The air was thick with tension but we had to hear that tape. "Your dad still got that El Dorado?"
That got her going. Twenty minutes later, she hauled out her old eight-track and listened in.
We were instructed to find one Big Tony Belzoni, one of Daddy G.'s boys and the sucker who would inevitably lead us to Wu. One catch. Our instructions were indelibly marked somewhere on Belzoni's person.
This thing was turning into a wild goose chase with us as the geese. We threw our kisses, said goodbye and poured ourselves into the car. There, on the windshield, was a note that caused my blood to boil: "Do you have a dark spot on your past?" It was Miguel. Someone along the way had squealed and we were being stuck to like flies on rice. We had to find Wu before Miguel did.
There was only one place in Miami a heavyweight like Belzoni would hang his hat: The Tower Room at Eden Roc. Babs squealed with delight at the mention of this hot spot.
"Not so fast," I leveled. "For a stint in a joint like that, we've got to wire Fogel for more bread." But first we'd have to throw the Gaucho off our scent.
We ditched the sedan and hired a local girl named Maxine to take us up the coast for a day of reef diving. I figured we were better off submerged should Miguel decide to come looking for us. Besides, I couldn't come this far without stalking the dread moray eel.
Babs was quivering as we suited up. She mumbled something about the oysters from the night before. But we took the plunge, getting an eyeful of the undersea in all her glory. Babs came up choking, though, and the poor kid opted to remain tied to the mast as I went down again.
Getting Fogel on the phone was no easy trick. I finally tracked him down in a sleazy Manhattan night club.
"You want what?" he shrieked at the request for extra dough.
"Listen. We're almost there. You want the job done right or not at all?" I inquired about his cousin Buzz, a Miami native who I was sure could hook us up.
"I'm through with that guy," Fogel said disgustedly. "He takes all my money." Trooper that he was, Fogel promised to wire some funds to the Eden Roc.
But my problems didn't end there. That night, Babs started in. Seems she'd had a different sort of trip in mind.
"I'm tired of being dragged around. You never take me anywhere fun anymore," she cried. "Take me where the music plays."
"Babs," I answered, "you knew this was business going in. You expected jazz and conversation? Look, let's just go our own ways. No tears and no hearts breaking. No remorse."
That broke her up. And truth to tell, I couldn't take it either. I consoled her with tales of the other glittering Miami. Down the causeway by the big hotels. I promised to get her fixed up, buy her a zombie from a cocoa shell, you name it. She smiled. You just had to know how to talk to these dames.
We sailed up U.S. One - water on all sides, WJAZ on the radio, Babs' green earrings glistening in the sun. It really was a pretty sight. At Biscayne Bay we asked a tired looking Cuban gentleman where we could get some grub. He directed us to a local joint called Louise's for the cheapest red beans and rice I'd ever had. I was feeling good. We'd lost the Gaucho and things seemed smooth with Babs.
We checked into the Eden Roe without a hitch. I jumped into the shower and devised a plan. I knew Belzoni took a massage every day at four. We'd have to disguise Babs as a masseuse and beat the real one into the room. That way, she'd have unlimited access to Belzoni's person and, of course, that code.
To my surprise, Babs agreed. At three forty five the next day, she entered the Tower Room.
Belzoni was big, a mountain of a man. And as luck would have it, he was already feeling no pain when the kid went to work on him. "Wow, you've never done it like this before."
Babs continued to knead his overworked skin. Everything in the room was weathered. Even the carpet had a Florida suntan. She squeezed his fleshy calves, sunk her thumbs in the tops of his feet, worked her way down to his giant insteps and there, on his right sole, was the map to Wu's.
Babs could barely hide her enthusiasm. She pressed and pressed as she tried to memorize the code. She must have hit a tendon because something made the big man sit up in pain. "Hey, you're not Rikki!," he growled. "Wait a minute, Sister." Belzoni was no dummy and neither was Babs. She sprang from the room and down the service stairs before he could catch her.
The worst part is she hightailed it out of there without getting the complete code. And, unfortunately, I let her have it. I couldn't help myself. We'd come so far and gotten so close. It's just like a dame to panic in the clutch.
That was all Babs had to hear. She was packing her bags faster than a Mexican seamstress. I didn't even have it left in me to beg her to stay. Last I saw her she was in the hotel lounge crying to a doomsayer in a cheap suit, "That'll be the day I go back to Annandale." It was a black Friday indeed.
There was one bright note. Before Babs left, she mumbled something about a dragon. A slight hunch and the Miami phone directory led me to the Dragon nightclub in West Dade and the tender arms of two sisters, Perfection and Grace. Much as I enjoyed their experienced hands roaming my body, I had a deeper mission. As I'd suspected, this was just the kind of joint where Belzoni, Chino, Wu, and all the others could spend a long lost weekend. If it took all night, I was going to get these floozies to talk.
It was four in the morning when some facts unraveled that I knew would make Wu's hair stand on end. Seems he was involved in everything from money laundering to running a small-time prostitution ring. And that he talked in his sleep. Without much further ado, the pair disclosed his whereabouts.
At noon the next day, I made the move on Wu. He knew I hadn't come to discuss acupuncture.
"What took you so long, Will?" he asked. The guy was sharp, but I knew I had the goods. "It's over, Doc."
I proceeded to let loose everything I knew. I made no bones about my desire to ruin him should he not come through with the tape. He was a beaten man. He nodded slowly. "You got me, Annandale."
He slowly went through some file drawers, delaying until he came up with the bootleg, which he mournfully presented me. I wasn't about to leave that fast. Knowing Wu, there was something behind his compliance. "Throw on the tape."
"Yes," he said. "I'd relish hearing it one more time." At those first dulcid tones, I knew I had not let Fogel down. The sounds of Becker and Fagen filled the room as Wu's eyes filled with tears.
"You won't be sorry, Wu. Thanks to you, many people are going to derive untold pleasure. And your secret will remain safe with me."
So that's the story, friends. And it's a bittersweet one indeed. In the end, I lost Babs but I got my hands on one of the richest sets of music available. There are plenty of dames out there, but only one Steely Dan.
Issue 17 contents | Metal Leg overview | The Steely Dan Internet Resource