Dear Aunt Ora,

Help me out here, dollface. There's this guy, see? And so I says to Eddie, I says, "You know what you gotta do". And Eddie says, "Yeah, okay". So then I see this guy, you know, eating a bagel at Mickey's. So I says to Eddie, I says, "What's he doin' here? I thought you were gonna do what you were gonna do, you know?" and Eddie says, "Yeah". So's now it looks like Eddie, he's gonna be a problem, which really gets me cause he's my wife's cousin and everything. So, what I'm askin' is, do you think Gogol or Dostoevsky had a better grasp of narrative, if you know what I mean?


Night-time in the city. Sin, corruption, literary criticism - they're all here if you know where to look. I know where to look. It's my job.

In an alley, keeping out of the pool of yellow light thrown out by the only unbroken street lamp - four shadowy figures. One of them is me: Pythia DiStefano, private informative. No job too tough, no fee too high. The others... are not important.

"Where's he now?"

"Lou's Bar. You know Lou's Bar?"

"I know Lou's Bar."

"Yeah."

"Don't go messin' up Lou's Bar, okay? Like, Lou is my sister's wife's godson, you know what I'm sayin'? I don't want nothin' to happen to the bar."

"Nothing's going to happen to the bar."

"I'm just sayin', you know? I don't want nothin' to happen to the bar."

"Yeah."

"Shuddup, Eddie."

"Yeah."

I didn't have all night.

"You two stay out of sight - I'll handle this. Come on, Kid."

Why did Sibyl insist I take the Kid along? On this, of all assignments? It's just dumb! As is the Kid. Somebody could get hurt. Shot, even.

"Can I shoot somebody, Pyth?"

"Shuddup, Kid."

I cross the street to the door with the flickering Bud sign. Do I know Lou's Bar? Hah! I push the door open; the Kid follows me in.
Good. Only two people inside: Lou, and a guy at the end of the bar. THE guy. The guy who Eddie didn't do what he was gonna do to. I lean on the bar. Lou walks over.

"Hit me."

*THWAP!*

I get up off the floor.

"Lou," I say, "I meant 'Hit me' in the figurative sense of 'Get me a drink', capiche?"

"Oh yeah," says Lou. "Sorry." He fetches the bottle of Jack Daniels.

"Can I shoot him, Pyth?"

"Shuddup, Kid."

"Oh, pooh!"

Lou pours me a slug. I knock it back. I tell Lou to refill my glass, this time without invertebrates. I turn to the guy at the end of the bar.

"Hey, bub!"

"You talkin' to me?"

"You see anybody else here?"

"Yeah - the dopey-looking blonde in the pink trench coat. Do I win a prize?"

"Listen, bub. My father's sister's accountant's rabbit's brother Angelo, he says he knows this guy can put a gal in line for some Tolstoy. That's what he says. Maybe even some Pasternak."

He looks shifty. "I donno nothin' about that."

"No? That's a real shame. Only the Kid here, she's mainlining Solzhenitsyn. No telling what she might do if she don't get a fix of 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' real soon now, know what I mean?"

"Yeah, and some Ilya Kuriakin!"

"Shuddup, Kid."

"You broads come to the wrong place. G'wan, beat it!"

"Guess so. Come on, Kid, we're wasting our time here. This guy wouldn't know his Anna Karenina from his Anna Kournikova."

I figured that would get to him. I figured right. He goes for his piece - his 'War and Peace'. I let fly with 'Crime and Punishment' first. It hits him right between the eyes. He goes down like a bacon sandwich at a rabbi convention. I turn to Lou.

"Nothing happened here, Lou. You didn't see nothing."

"Sure thing, girls. I don't want no trouble."

"Smart cookie. Here." I stuff some lettuce into his shirt pocket. "Something to feed the slugs with."

We step outside, cross the street. The boys are still waiting for us in the alley.

"What's he say?"

"He says Dostoevsky's grasp of narrative makes Gogol look like Jeffrey Archer, is what he says."

"See, Eddie? What did I tell ya?"

"Yeah."

"You owe me five bucks."

"Yeah."

"Shuddup, Eddie."

"Talking of bucks, here's our invoice, boys. Note there's a partial refund on the cost of the Kid's Russian language tapes - they didn't take. Payment in small unmarked bills, please. No lettuce."

"Yeah."

"Can I shoot Eddie, Pyth?"

"Shuddup, Kid."