Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Issue #80 -- October 2021

THE JADE RING
by Preston Lang  

The Jade Ring was sometimes called the poor man’s Maltese Falcon. But this was ridiculous considering how many plot holes Falcon had, how hokey the score was, and how much tangier Ramona Dade was than cold Mary Astor. CJ spent a lot of time and energy trashing The Maltese Falcon even though she ranked it as the sixth or seventh best movie ever made. But The Jade Ring was two cuts above. Lean, mysterious, and beautiful, not a shot was wasted. Every scene ramped up the tension, and every line of dialogue crackled, spun, and surprised.

CJ had published eleven articles on Jade. The editor of Noir Memories suggested that she write about “a movie people have actually seen or care about.” She dragged his carcass all over social media for months. After that, the only place that would still publish her was a small nonpaying monthly called Gats, Gams, and Knuckles. You could write Bogart five hundred times in crayon—they’d print it.

CJ would follow up on any scrap about Jade. She ran names and key phrases through every database she could find—the title, the stars, the creators. The director was a former cameraman from RKO named Victor Lugo who’d directed a few other films: uninspiring police dramas and a stilted circus picture. On Jade, though, Lugo held the camera straight and let the scenes play. What made it work was the script.

The screenwriter was an old army buddy of Lugo’s named Frank Bauer. This was his only credit. CJ had once entertained the possibility that Bauer was a front for someone else, someone big—Faulkner, Trumbo, Dorothy Parker, Franz Kafka? But that wasn’t it. The style was wholly unique, yet quintessentially noir. CJ wrote article after article about the depth and bite of the banter, the simple beauty of the early morning fog, and the women. All of them—complex, stylized, and acid-tongued, but real and sexy as hell.

When a huge trove of old police reports became available to the public in a searchable database, CJ jumped right on it and got a hit from Daneville, Iowa, 1946. A murder suspect used the old I-was-at-the-movies alibi. Jade had simply been dropped on a number of screens across America one Friday in October of 1946 as the B picture in a package with a musical called Fancy Footin’. No advanced information, no teasers in the trade magazines. The murder occurred the first night the movie had been shown publicly. The cops had the suspect write out the entire synopsis by hand. In 1946, this was a good alibi.

Criminal Report Daneville Police Department

I hereby submit the following report for the day of October 26, 1946: The victim, Al Harris, permanent residence unknown, was found strangled in the Oaktree Hotel on the night previous, October 25.

Suspect Dan Frieze interviewed on October 26. Suspect seen with victim by witnesses in the week before the murder. According Witness #1, suspect and Harris argued in public outside of hotel. On the night of October 25, Witness #2 saw a man believed to be Suspect enter Harris’s hotel room at 7:30 PM and then leave at 9 PM or shortly after. Suspect claims he was at the movies from 7 PM until after 10:30 PM on the night of October 25.


A few pages were missing, and the cop’s handwriting was cramped and hard to decipher, but the description of The Jade Ring was written in legible longhand by the suspect. He did a great job: the opening chase in the rain; Singapore Sam with a dagger in his boot; the delicious twist of the shoeshine boy’s identity; all the double entendre about cave exploration; and the slowdance to frantic boogie-woogie piano. Then just before the conclusion … the murder of Ramona’s sister.

Alone in front of her computer screen, CJ actually gasped. If you’ve seen the movie even once, you know the little sister does not die. She’s got the last line of the movie—Wouldn’t catch me dead in a coat like that. You might think, so what? The suspect made one mistake. But CJ knew what no other living soul knew: in the original screenplay, Ramona’s sister did die, hit by a car in the desert just as the suspect had described. Three years earlier at a used bookstore in LA, CJ had lucked onto an original script. That yellowed stack of paper had been her holy grail. This now felt bigger.

The police had held the suspect overnight, but the next day they checked his alibi. The ticket seller at the theater remembered him. He’d bought one for the seven o’clock show. First he’d passed over a ten-dollar bill then realized he had thirty-five cents change in a back pocket. Jade came on before the feature. There might’ve been a few shorts or a news reel first, but if the suspect saw The Jade Ring that night, he couldn’t have committed the murder.

CJ put on her gray double-breasted and a bias-cut, striped tie and drove west. Seventeen hours, away from her rented room and her minimum-wage job toward the Daneville town archives. There had to be more in the local papers, maybe even police reports that hadn’t been put online. Over the years, CJ had learned that old midwestern towns never threw anything out. It wasn’t always easy to find, but truth sat mute in boxes and folders. Rolling through America, CJ played favorite scenes in her head—Lydia scamming the shipping company with a slick badger game, Ramona leaning over the dying pianist, making him play “My Sweetheart’s Smile.” In no time, she’d arrived.

Daneville was one of those solid Iowa towns of just over thirty thousand that rise up modestly out of the corn centered around a cluster of honest stone buildings. CJ got in just after ten a.m. Town Hall was a short walk down Main Street. On the way, she passed the old movie theater. There was the box office where seven nickels would’ve let her live her dream—Jade on a real big screen. But on a cold Tuesday morning, it advertised a superhero sequel and that one with Hugh Jackman and a talking monkey. CJ combed her hair and straightened her tie in the reflection off the plexiglass.

***

The archivist was a small woman with a chipped front tooth. The nameplate on her desk read Audrey Tyne. Before CJ spoke a word, the archivist laughed lightly.

“Can I use the archives?”

“What for?”

“I’m a journalist, researching the Albert Harris murder.”

“Never heard of it.”

Her voice was tart and luscious.

“Happened in 1946, right here in Danville,” CJ said. “I know my way around an archive, so I don’t need any help.”

“You don’t need me to hold your hand?”

“Is there a fee?”

“No. Just leave your ID with me. But you can’t smoke, and you can’t eat anything too juicy.”

“What’s too juicy?”

“A pear, a plum, a peach.”

Downstairs boxes were stacked to the ceiling, but it was well-organized, and CJ found the old newspapers right away. She had to fight a few cobwebs on her way to 1946, but the papers didn’t crumble into dust when you touched them, and the print was still clear and easy to read. The Bee and the Journal both ran accounts of the murder almost daily.

The Bee wrote that Daniel Frieze, a salesman, had been brought in for questioning. The next day, he was no longer a suspect. CJ found Frieze’s address in the 1946 phone book. He wasn’t there in 1945 or 1947. From property records, she saw he was a renter. There was no mention of what kind of salesman he was or what business he had in town.

A week in, the police arrested and charged a mechanic named Joe Murphy. The victim’s wallet had been found in a locker at Murphy’s garage where Harris was having repairs done on his car. For a few days, Murphy claimed innocence. Then the papers started to describe the victim as a “suspected red,” a “onetime member of subversive organizations,” and “involved in deviant lifestyles.” Soon after, Murphy confessed to the killing but claimed he was just defending himself from this strange little leftist.

It was getting good—a communist and a mechanic. In addition to being the best film ever made, Jade was also the most trenchant condemnation of capitalism ever put on screen. Some noirs attacked the concept of greed, but Jade indicted the whole rotten system. Without speeches or moralizing, it forced you to see the world in a different way.

Murphy got eighteen months for manslaughter. None of the papers ever mentioned the other suspect again – Frieze, the moviegoer. CJ was feeling giddy as she scanned residential listings near Frieze’s residence where she found Peter Gordon, a two-year-old in the 1940 census. He’d lived across the street from the house Frieze had stayed in. He would’ve been eight when Frieze moved in. To CJ’s surprise, he was still alive—a retired electrician living right where Frieze had left him in 1946.

It was past seven when CJ came up the stairs. The archivist had let her hair loose and set a bottle of rye on the counter.

“What time do you close?” CJ asked.

“Two hours ago.”

“Sorry to keep you.”

“If we stay open late, we all have to take one good pull.”

She poured a generous tumbler for each of them

“Well, if those are the rules,” CJ said.

“I don’t make them, but I enforce them to the letter.”

The bottle had a picture of a sketchy-looking gent in a powdered wig. The price-tag said 6.99, but it was damn good fire.

“Have you ever heard of a movie called The Jade Ring?” CJ asked.

“Solid B picture. Two car chases; one racy spelunking joke that snuck by the censors.”

“You’ve really seen it?"

This girl was too good to be true.

“I looked you up, CJ.” The archivist handed back her driver’s license. “Eleven articles about this Jade Ring. I watched the whole thing while you were underground.”

“It’s great, isn’t it?”

CJ lost her cool for just a second and flashed the big, deranged smile of an obsessive.

“What does it have to do with my archives?”

CJ gave her the whole story, ending with Peter Gordon.

“I know Pete,” the archivist said.

“How well?”

“He botched the order for youth choir tee shirts, so my mom got him kicked out of church.”

“What denomination?”

“Presbyterian. We’ll be fine if we bring him a bottle.”

They hit the liquor store for more rye and brought it over to Pete’s place. The house was on the old side of the street, where all the homes were solid Victorian. On the other side, where Frieze’s place had been, everything was prefabs with a gap before you got a convenience store and gas station.

Pete answered the door in a dress shirt and slacks.

“What do you want?”

“She’s a reporter working on a story,” Audrey said. “And she brought you whisky.”

“I’m looking into the Albert Harris murder,” CJ said.

“You know what her mother did to me?” Pete pointed to Audrey.

“Hey, don’t pin that on me. I hate my mom more than you do. She broke her wrist in June, it was hilarious.”

“Harris murder,” Pete said.

“I was wondering about a man who lived across the street: Dan Frieze.”

“That’s a hell of a tie, young lady,” Pete said to CJ.

It was a gift from a woman who told CJ only lies from day one. She said it had belonged to Cal Lafaro. Bit player in the ’30s and ’40s. In Jade he had a sad one-liner after he lost at dice in the casino scene. The tie did look a lot like his, but she knew it was fake. Still, she relished the naked deception.

“Can we come inside?” Audrey asked.

“Give me the bottle.”

Pete’s living room was filled with childish art and photographs of smiling kids, but he lived alone in the big house.

“They questioned Frieze about the murder,” he said. “Then it turned out the big Irish guy did it. Got in a fight with that communist.”

“You don’t think Frieze was involved at all?”

“The Irish guy confessed, didn’t he? He was out in less than a year. Everyone was good to him, brought him their cars to fix. And I don’t think he paid for another drink until the day he died.”

“What do you remember about Frieze?”

“He had a woman who lived with him. But they weren’t around much. They’d leave for weeks at a time. And, you know, they weren’t married. They were chilling.”

“Chilling?”

“Like kids today. My granddaughter, my niece, the girl who put in my cable TV. They just find a guy and—chill.” He looked to Audrey. “Do you chill?”

“You know me, Pete: I don’t go below simmer.”

“What was the name of the woman who lived with Frieze?” CJ asked.

“Birgit. Name like a Viking’s mistress. I’ve always remembered her. It was my mom who found out they weren’t married. Goes up to the lady—how are you today Miss Munsey. That Valhalla broad backhanded my mom into the street. We stayed away from her after that.”

Something about the name Birgit landed with CJ—it tied in, but she couldn’t remember how. Pete poured out half a glass for everyone, and Audrey raised her drink to the generous host.

“I can tell my mom to talk to the Rev,” she said. “Maybe bring you back into the fold.”

Pete shook his head.

“What do you get from religion? A few songs on Sunday and everlasting life?”

***

“Birgit Munsey,” Audrey said at the Steel Toe Diner. “Hell of a name for a lady who goes around smacking good Christian mothers.”

She ate half a blueberry pie while CJ looked up the mystery woman. What she found was gold. Birgit was a minor figure in the American Communist Party starting in the mid-1930s. There she was in pictures with Earl Browder and Paul Robeson—short, neat hair, and a long modest skirt, but her eyes were fierce and her jaw was set for the struggle. She wrote articles in a few of the party organs. They were good: engaging, colloquial, funny. CJ read Audrey a few choice excerpts. Finally, in an eight-hundred-word takedown of American Trotskyites, an intellect was described as “dry as sand on a soda cracker.” Word for word the same phrase Singapore Sam used about the DA.

“Just like in the movie,” Audrey said.

“She wrote the screenplay.”

For one perfect moment life decided to make sense. CJ had sometimes suspected a female hand behind the language, but this was the solution in full—a communist woman, living in sin in Iowa in 1946. Albert Harris was a rat from the past come to blackmail her, so she had him killed. All the pieces fit. CJ kept searching, but the trail dried up after 1946. Then she remembered why the name Birgit felt familiar. In the 1910 census, Hans Bauer of Collander, Wisconsin had two sons: teenagers Frank and Tom, and a toddler step-daughter—from a mother now deceased. Frank, of course, grew up, fought in the first world war, met Victor Lugo, and got one screen credit for a little picture called The Jade Ring. And his baby stepsister?

CJ passed her phone to Audrey.

“Birgit Muntz?”

“From Muntz to Munsey,” CJ said. “A lot of Germans took the kraut out of their surnames back then.”

This revelation was huge and meaty. There were four or five different articles she needed to write immediately: the intersection of art, gender, political philosophy. CJ was getting dizzy, but Audrey started typing and soon found a Birgit Muntz, living in Arch, Wisconsin—two towns over from Collander. But this woman appeared to be in her seventies.

“Too young,” Audrey said.

“It’s her daughter.”

Old Birgit got knocked up by Frieze (or some other clown) then she moved back up to Wisconsin, had the little bundle, and named it after herself.

“But why is she Muntz instead of Munsey?” Audrey asked.

“Her mom changed it back to stay off some radars.”

“And after the war, she figured it was safe to slip the lederhosen back on?”

“I need to go see her.”

CJ downed the last of her coffee and stood.

“Right now?” Audrey said.

“If I start now, I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Or you could stay with me. Set out in the morning like a civilized human.”

“No, it’s always best to get an old person early in the day,” CJ said. “Come on, I’ll drive you home.”

Audrey paid and followed CJ out to her car. It was less than ten minutes to Audrey’s place. When they got there Audrey asked CJ to walk her to the door then fumbled for her keys a bit before fitting the metal into the lock.

“You got a girlfriend?” Audrey asked.

“No.”

“Don’t like to be tied down?”

“Something like that.”

“You probably got a string of broken hearts longer than that reddit chain you started about the colorized version of The Big Sleep.”

“How about a kiss goodbye?”

A nip on the chin then the mouth, gently. CJ leaned into this soft little woman. Audrey opened the door and started to pull CJ inside. But CJ didn’t cross the threshold.

“Good night,” she said.

“You’re really going to leave me here? Start driving to Wisconsin?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Okay, then.”

Audrey closed the door, and CJ walked back to her car. As she reached for the handle, she took a shot to the side of the head that knocked her off her feet.

“Who the hell are you?”

CJ didn’t answer. She just looked up at a man, big as her car.

“What were you doing with my girlfriend?” he asked.

“Just checking the woman for ticks.”

“You made a big mistake, little man.”

“I’m not a little man. I’m a medium-sized woman.”

Did he really think she was a man? It was dark and she was wearing a suit. He took her by the lapels and lifted her. CJ heard the click clearly in the still night.

“You need to leave, Scott.”

Audrey was clear and confident.

“Do it,” Scott said, shaking CJ out in front of him. “Put one right through your little boyfriend. See if it hits me.”

“You need to let go of her. And you need to leave.”

Scott released his hold and shoved CJ aside. Audrey stood steady with a Colt Commander pointed at the big man.

“Do it,” he said. “If you want to kill me, kill me.”

“I want you to go home.”

They all stood still until Scott turned and walked away.

“You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend,” CJ said.

“I don’t have a boyfriend. I have a problem. Are you okay?”

“Me? I’m fine.”

“Looks like I’m going to Wisconsin with you,” Audrey said, getting into the passenger seat.

As CJ started the car, she saw Scott turn and begin running back toward them.

“Reverse. Then take a left at the first intersection,” Audrey said.

Scott seemed to be gaining on them as they backed away from the house, but once they hit the turn and started driving forward, Scott faded in the rearview.

“You think he’ll burn your place down?”

“He wouldn’t do that. Not if I wasn’t inside.”

Once they made it to the highway, they didn’t pass another car for miles—the open seas belonged to them.

“You have work tomorrow?” CJ asked.

“You know what happens if I don’t show?”

“Mass hysteria?”

“No one’s checked on me in years. I read, watch movies, write snide comments on social media.”

“What kind of movies do you like?”

“A lot of trash that’ll disappoint you if I say it out loud. I did go through a noir phase in high school.”

CJ wasn’t crazy about the term “noir phase” but she liked the low, fluid purr of Audrey’s voice.

“I hung around the food court in a cocktail dress and pillbox hat,” Audrey said. “They called me the Maltese Mall Tease.”

CJ nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Birgit Muntz,” Audrey continued. “That’s a real femme fatale.”

And a genuine commie. Not some watered-down humanist who went to a Woody Guthrie concert one time. She was a woman who could write tough-guy dialogue and political treatise, or have a man killed if he turned traitor.

“So what’s your theory?” Audrey asked.

“Frank Bauer knew Lugo from their days in the army. Lugo starts directing bad B pictures. They meet for a drink one night—any monkey could churn out a movie script. Frank knows his lefty sister can write, so he gets her to bang one out.”

“Okay, sure, but I’m talking about the murder.”

“An old communist pal comes to Daneville and blackmails her. She has Frieze kill Harris for being a weasel. They set up Murphy, but they also make it so he comes out okay.”

“Because Murphy’s just a mechanic—an honest working man?”

“Exactly.”

“None of that makes any sense,” Audrey said.

“Why not?”

“What’s the blackmail about?”

“She’s a communist. Wouldn’t have gone over well in a town like Daneville.”

“Daneville was just a place to keep the trunk and a few spare frocks. Things get bad, they just find a cheap room in another little town.”

“No, that’s—”

“And you’re trying to tell me that the film she wrote under her brother’s name just happens to give them the right alibi at the right time?”

CJ grew frustrated, then angry, but Audrey was right.

“Okay. No blackmail,” CJ said. “Munsey, Frieze, and Harris knew each other from their commie days. Frieze went over to Harris’s room to talk over the old times.”

“Toss around a few dialectics and sing ‘The Internationale’?”

“So they get a little drunk, Harris says something ugly, Frieze strangles him.”

“No, Frieze went over there to kill Harris. Remember how he’s got an alibi set up, even did a little routine with a sawbuck at the box office so they’d remember him. It was premeditated. Frieze had a reason.”

CJ looked over at Audrey. Was it really so surprising that an archivist would have a head on her shoulders?

“Let’s see what the daughter knows,” CJ said.

They glided into Illinois, past a seventy-foot grain silo and road signs promising salvation and Dr. Pepper.

“You know why I laughed when I first saw you?” Audrey asked.

“Why?”

“Your eyes. They’re intense. Like you’re trying to intimidate a wild animal.”

“And that’s why you laughed?”

“When we go see this old bird, you probably want to get your face under control.”

Of course, this wasn’t the first time CJ had been told that her eyes were fierce and off-putting. They also served as a kind of beacon for a certain type of lost girl.

“Are my eyes okay now?” CJ looked over at Audrey.

“They’re gorgeous.”

CJ looked back at the road.

“We’re ahead of schedule. There’s campgrounds in about twenty miles. We can pull in and get some sleep before going to see the lady.”

“I’m not sleeping in a car,” Audrey said.

“I can’t afford a motel.”

“I can.”

Thirty-eight miles from Arch Wisconsin, they found a Super 8. CJ knew it was a mistake to have brought Audrey, and the next mistake was going to be even bigger. She was about to cede a bit of herself in a cheap room just when she could least afford it. A woman like this always took something from you. When it was just a tee shirt or an out-of-print DVD, you were getting off easy.

***

Audrey was still in bed at eight the next morning. A fitful sleeper, she tossed and mumbled—can’t hear. But there was time. The best hour to hit an old person was between ten and eleven. Once you were in their house, it was tough for them to tell you to leave; and once you got them talking, they often spilled the whole story from title to credits. If you pressed even more, you could find yourself in the attic sorting through treasure.

CJ got a cup of coffee and the local paper. A high school girl working at Burger King had killed the owner of the franchise. Ten-to-one the boss man had it coming. By the time CJ got back to the room, Audrey was up and ready to go.

Birgit Muntz was a tall woman who went by Bonnie. She greeted them warily, but after a few awkward moments, she invited them in and even set out a few Lorna Doones on the coffee table. The home was clean and sparsely decorated, but there was an unwholesome smell coming from the carpet.

“We believe that your mother created one of the greatest films of all time,” CJ said.

“My Uncle Frank you mean? He was the one in movies.”

“No, your mother, Birgit Munsey. The world should know more about her.”

Bonnie broke a cookie in half but left both the pieces on the tray.

“You’re talking about that little—jade picture?” she asked.

The Jade Ring, yes, ma’am.”

“Yeah. Mom wrote that. You think it’s one of the greatest movies ever made?”

“I believe it with all my soul.”

“It’s no Gone with the Wind.”

CJ took a very deep breath and clutched the armrest tight.

“But she had to use your uncle as a front because she was a communist. Is that right?”

“Who was a communist?”

“In the ’30s, your mother—”

“Oh, she joined the organizations, wrote some—tracts, screeds, whatever you call them. But that’s not who she was.”

“Who was she?”

Bonnie Muntz smiled and shrugged.

“I guess it can’t hurt to tell now,” she said. “And even if it does, she deserves a little pain. She drove my dad away.”

“Who was your dad?”

“The husband of my mom,” she said—snappy answer to a stupid question.

“What was his name?”

“Daniel Frieze.”

“But they weren’t married.”

“Excuse me—yes, they were. Married over there. But when they came back to America, it was better that they had different names.”

“Why?”

“She was spying.”

“For who?”

“The Germans.”

“The—Germans?”

No, this made no sense.

“So she was a Nazi?” Audrey asked.

“And she wasn’t a very good mother, either.” Bonnie shook her head. “She met Dad in Berlin in 1933. She was in Europe, working for a company that sold fancy jackets. He was playing trombone in a dance band. Both of them native-born Americans who thought there was something to this Third Reich. They fell for each other, too. The Nazis thought they might be more useful back in the states. Dad got them to send regular cash.”

“For infiltrating the United States Communist Party?”

“Take the temperature over here.” Bonnie grew more comfortable, even a little slick as she told the story. “Turned out Dad wasn’t much of an actor. Put him in a room with those queer ducks, he’d just get too angry, threaten to throw someone out a window. But Mom could keep it cool. I’ll give her that much.”

“So the woman who wrote The Jade Ring was a fascist,” Audrey said.

This was just a game to her, a funny story told by an entertaining old lady. But Audrey was wrong. Birgit Munsey was a triple agent, working the Nazis for the reds. You couldn’t write like she did while working for the wrong team.

“She mellowed over time,” Bonnie continued. “But, you know, certain politicians, businessmen would get her going. When Rosenstein bought up all the A&Ps. ‘Swell, we get to buy all our bread from that Rosenstein now.’”

The old woman was doing a voice. In structure and cadence it resembled the tart responses Ramona spat out at the slow-witted cop. Bonnie pushed the plate of cookies to the center of the table.

“I’m not saying it’s right,” she said, “but, you have to admit, there’s something there.”

“Something where?”

“When you have a tiny group of people who control so much of the world, the money. Is that right?”

“Did your mother write anything else?” Audrey asked.

“She was always writing—articles, stories. Uncle Frank got her some radio work for a while.”

“Radio work?”

“She’d send pages to one of those men who yells at you on the AM dial. They don’t just make it up as they go along.”

“This is ridiculous,” CJ said. “None of this is true.”

“You’re calling me a liar?

“I’m calling you—a liar.”

“Get out of my house.”

Bonnie wasn’t afraid of a woman in a double-breasted suit.

“I want to see what she wrote, what she left behind. It’s here—in the house.”

“I’m calling the police.”

Bonnie lifted the receiver of an old landline. CJ took one stride toward her, but Audrey stepped in and ran a hand up her shoulder.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

CJ could easily yank the phone away and tie this hag to a chair. Birgit Munsey deserved to have her memory celebrated. Instead, she’d been betrayed by a daughter gone fash. All the proof was in this house—papers, letters, unfinished novels, essays, screenplays. But Audrey’s touch, still with the power of last night’s intimacy, eased her to the door.

Ten minutes later they were back on the highway.

“This is some story,” Audrey said. “You got Nazis, you got movie people, you got shortbread cookies in Wisconsin.”

Audrey settled into the passenger seat—flip and cruel. She was nothing but a petty, hateful civil servant.

“There’s no Nazis,” CJ said. “Bonnie is a racist old woman being strange. Birgit Munsey was the genuine article.”

“I’ve known a lot of racist old women. None of them make up Nazi parents.”

“Birgit Munsey was a communist, a radical—”

“You’re just going to ignore the parts you don’t like?”

“I’m going to ignore what doesn’t make sense. That’s called logic.”

“If you’re not going to tell it right, I will.”

“What do you mean?”

“Put a noun in front of a verb, pretty soon you have an article.”

CJ stopped the car and pulled onto the shoulder.

“You can’t write about this.”

“Maybe I can dig a little on the German side. I know a few archivists over in Europe, and—”

“No, there is no German side. Get that through your head.”

“Albert Harris found out who they really were. They lured him out to Iowa—”

“Shut up. You’d never even seen The Jade Ring until last night.”

“It doesn’t belong to you just because you’ve cared about it the longest.”

Audrey got out of the car. What was she going to do, walk back to town? CJ followed, slamming the door behind them.

“Anyway, the story isn’t even about the movie,” Audrey said. “It’s about a couple of Nazis who—”

“No, Jade is the whole point.”

“One cheap B movie? Bad production values, so-so dialogue, no real—”

“How would you know what a good movie is?”

Jade was made to kill ninety minutes. It’s not Double Indemnity or Maltese Falcon or—”

“Get the hell out of my face with Falcon. Falcon has so many problems. First of all—”

“I don’t need a lecture. And I don’t need to see Jade two hundred times to know it’s trash."

CJ didn’t remember when she’d grabbed Audrey by the wrists, but when the little archivist tried to pull free, CJ shoved her sideways and her head slammed hard against the side of the car. CJ charged at her as Audrey rolled onto her side, pulled her gun, and fired once.

CJ fell into the dirt. The bullet had ripped clean through her jacket, her shirt. She felt the wetness just under the ribcage. The car started and backed up, passing just inches from her head. Then it turned away and drove off. CJ managed to sit up, then stand and walk along the side of the highway.

She had no car, and the pain flared all along the left side of her body. Her steps became uneven, but there were things that hurt a lot worse than taking a bullet to the gut. In Bonnie Muntz’s home, she’d find everything she needed.


Preston Lang is a Toronto-based writer. He's written dozens of stories and at least three novels.