Wednesday, December 29, 2010


One thing, you gotta hand it to the Universe: It — Is— Big. Seriously big.
Bigger’n all get-out —
like, yea-ea-ea big …
You know the old song, “So high, you can’t get over it — So low, you can’t get under it — So wide, you can’t get around it.” Well that’s the universe, right down to the ground.
I read somewhere, where the universe, it’s already this big, but now it’s blowing up even bigger, like a balloon. I mean, what’s that about?
Anyhow, my theory is — we’re guests here — it’s like a campsite, sposta leave it nicer than you found it. So, bottom line: Don’t cuss; try not to do too much bad stuff; and for you married guys? — always leave the toilet seat down.

Bonus post from a copacetic dame:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Since first it was heard, that ringing dirge
has not ceased to pound in my brain.
So bring it to mind, and let it whine,
as you read this sad refrain.

[Here's Leadbelly's version: 
-- This one seems to have disappeared.   It had "black girl" instead of "my girl".
A middling version by some white guys: 

-- Actually, not meaning to diss the Stanley Brothers.  Here they have a fine version of "Roving Gambler", which is probably one of the inspirations of the wonderful rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" by the "Foggy Bottom Boys", in the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?"


“O Murphy, O Murphy,  don’t you lie to me:
Tell me where   did you sleep  last night?”
I slept  at the bar, with my head  in my arms;
and now  -- I don’t feel quite   right…”

“O Murphy O Murphy, why’d you ‘borrow’ that car?
You know that that was not right.”
“Well I wanted a ride, so I strayed, in my pride,
and I drove it the livelong night.”

“O Murphy O Murphy, why you smoke so much?
You know it’ll mess with your bod.”
“The Lord made tobacco, for which we give thanks.
I smoke in praise of my God.”

“O Murphy O Murphy, you’re a sinner man,
Tell me why do you sin  so long?”
“The Lord made me free, and I ate from the Tree,
that I might know right from wrong.

“And since that day, I sin and I pray;
I know both pride and shame.
Mine each sweet sin is in praise of Him,
as I bless His holy name.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Murphy makes history!

He is featured in what is almost certainly the only complete detective story ever written entirely in pentameter.

In the poem "Thanks for Everything," Dr. Justice sings of dames and a man.


High upon noon, the sun unblinking stands,
and sheds his rays down on the quiet street,
where, frozen in siesta, nothing stirs.
Unmoving Murphy waits behinds the blinds,
his narrowed eyes still scan the street through slits.
The whiskey in the bottle now is low,
and with the liquor ebbs his hope's last drop
that any client to him ever come,
and bow, and beg, and say: I crave a boon.

Yet hark, upon the hushed midsummer air
a click of heel on pavement hither comes,
now hurried, now hesitating if to go,
now gaining strength, and resolutely on.

Thus Murphy lifts the lit butt to his lips
and sucks a drag that fills his hungering lungs.
A hundred questions wrestle in his mind.
A dame in trouble, come to seek his aid,
or trouble itself, in lipstick and high heels?
Yet beggars no choosers be, cannot refuse
what Fate flings laughing on their empty plate.
With firm resolve he stubs the ember out,
shuts the booze drawer, in calm awaits the knock.

It comes, though softly, tentative at first,
as if not meaning it, or practicing,
then hearing no response, begins to beat
more loudly now, and with a quicker pace,
till flailing with both fists upon the oak
she sends reverberation through the room.

Squaring his shoulders, Murphy pulls the door.
A redhead on the threshold startles back,
then lowers her hands, and swiftly is blasée.
"So you're the private eye?" she says and shrugs,
looking about the room with some distaste,
its bare floor flecked with ashes and old burns,
and scattered dishes crusted in the sink.

Murphy looks too, her new gaze points afresh
to scenes grown dim to him, since over-known.
The faded paint, one square of darker hue
where once a painting hung in place, now pawned;
a calendar depicting power tools
while babes in swimsuits wield them with a grin –
he starts, to note it shows the last month's date.

To her his gaze returns: say five-foot-six,
compact of build, and nearing middle age,
the which with rouge she labors to disguise.
Her lipstick clashes with her carrot-top;
her nails are yet another shade of red.

"Yawanna stare s'more," she ups and snaps,
"or are ya gonna aks a lady in?"
He blinks and winces, wordless waves her on,
and fumbles for a smoke: he needs a friend.
She looks around as though she spots no chair;
he pulls it towards her, gestures, mumbles "Please."
She shakes her curls and sits down, ladylike.
He sits down on the keg, and smokes, and waits.

"So you're a private eye," she says again,
but this time looks him fully in the face.
He nods; what can he add; and still he waits.
"Just happens I got a little job for you.
My man run out on me – the dirty rat.
I figure you can hunt him up for me.
I'll lay a C-spot on you for your time."

To her the gumshoe: "Finding guys' my game."

He obviously takes the case--wouldn't be a detective poem if he didn't. To read the rest, as well as more traditional detective stories (meaning, written in prose), you can buy I Don't Do Divorce Cases, available in hardcopy or Kindle through Amazon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Murphy on the Mount is now available!

Murphy on the Mount is the first full novel featuring the
Murphy brothers. They face their toughest case ever. No
clues, no leads, and now not even a client. They will sink
into the deepest dregs of the underworld and hope to
emerge with answers to the mysteries of this case and life

Here are some excerpts from Murphy on the Mount:

Chapter One
So one June, one afternoon, we’re sitting around and I say: “You know what I think, Joey?”
“What do you think, Murphy.”
“I think we need a secretary.”
He looks at me like my strait-jacket’s slipped, he’s thinking I bust outa my bin. “A secretary? Murphy we got no customers, whadawe need a secretary for?”
“You know, some slick broad, class up the front office, handle our calls.”
“Murphy Murphy, nobody calls us. The front office, that’s just the front a this office, the place where the beds fold up durina day. We don’t got but one room!”
“Not counting the pool room,” I astutely note.
“Dang right I’m not countina pool room, whacha gonna do, yagonna put ’er in there? In back? Plus first you know you’d hafta move out that moose head, Murphy —”
“Oh don’t get on to me about that moose head again.”
“An ’en all them pizza boxes, all piled up, like it’s a tower to heaven —”
“It is, it is! ‘Smatta wichoo, you never played with blocks?”
“An ’en-a tires, Murphy, o-o-o-o-o-oh, the tires…”
“Yeh well you know how it is.”
“That I do, Murphy, that I do. Other guys pick up stray cats or stray diseases; you, you pick up stray tires.”
“You know it, Joey. Tires what had no home.”
“I know it, Murphy. I’m not knocking your tires.”
“They’re nice tires.”
“The best — in their day. But just — Mu-u-ur-r-phy….”
And right then — bingo — a knock at the door.
“Now see what I mean, Joey? A customer! Don’t you wish we had a secretary right now? She could deal with ’em while we hide in back, say we’re too busy, say that we died.”
“C’mon, Murphy, party’s gonna get tired knocking. Opena door.”
“You open it. Makes me nervous, customers.”
Joey opens it and — Ooh, Wah, Doo: a customer — and what a customer! It’s a dame, — but that don’t describe it. I mean, your mother’s a dame, if it comes to that. No I mean like, a da-a-ame dame: with everything on it. She got shiny hair, so clear you could shave your face in it. She got lips like a paint sale. She got teeth, make a dentist say: I’m ready, Lord, I seen it all, you can take me now. She got eyes like ice, and it ain’t melting. A neck, would make the Boston Strangler just throw up his hands, he wouldn’t hardly know where to begin. Then a blouse, a white blouse, the front part of it all scooped out, like a dish of ice cream. And below, oh, the double dip, I’m peeking through my fingers; and her waist is like a sugar cone. Then all that flesh that was left over from the middle, they just slabbed it onto the hips with a trowel. And then she goes and tapers down again, she’s like a spinning top, you’d a think she’d fall over, just these slim little feet and tall high heels and the shoes come to a point like a kick-knife.
“You a shamus?” she says, looking at Joey.
He blushes and mumbles, “Me an’ him.”
She looks me over, half her mouth does this little stab at a smile. “You’ll do.” And I think: You too.


So I’m fishing around in the papers I already read, done all the crosswords as far as I could do ’em, reading about recent guys that died, only none with a bearing on this case. And now I’m out of stuff to read.
Well okay here’s the puzzle page. It’s called “The Sixty-Four Dollar Question”, and it tries to stump the readers, then gives the answers. Any number can play. And today’s stumper goes like this:
WHAT… is the ‘Unpardonable Sin’?
Never heard of it but it makes my skin crawl, just the same — just the name. Kind of thing I would’ve learned in catechism if I’d gone parochial instead of first public and then hooky and then reform. Even as it is, I know enough from just what I picked up in the gutter, to know that it’s not one of the first things that might come to mind, like rooting for the Yankees, or having it off with your own mom or anything like that. I chew a pencil-end for a minute, see if I can suck it somehow out of the wood, then I give up and turn to page 54.
If you answered, “Despair”, give yourself half credit. The correct answer is:
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
My blood runs cold. Could I of done that? Not real likely — I can sin up a storm but I do watch my tongue. But even worse, what about Joey? He’s a sweet guy but he does have a temper sometimes, specially if he misses breakfast. Hits his thumb with a hammer or loses a Pop-tart behind the sink, and he blasphemes like nobody’s business, cussing something awful, mostly yapping on about the First and Second Persons, but who knows, maybe one time he got extra hot under the collar and was running out of G-words and J-words, he might’ve just gone and clipped one to the Ghost. Mighta done it, mighta not. — Never did hear him messing over the Virgin, though.
Jeez — I mean Jeepers, this looks bad. My own brother, maybe even me! Cause it doesn’t say: Badmouthing the Spirit over sixty times, like a speed-limit, or even ten. It says: Just once, Jack, near as I can tell. And —”unpardonable” — do they really mean that? can they? Is that even possible? A buddy can pardon you anything if he feels like it, or you fork him a fiver or whatnot, so they must mean it’s God who’s doing the pardoning or not pardoning. And it sounds like in this case even He can’t do it, infinite mercy be blowed.
Joey’s out, and I’m alone, and I start to panic. He could get run over by a pie truck or something, in a state of… This is awful. I think of calling up a priest, then I remember my name is mud with those guys. But I just got to find out the facts.

[For a dramatic reading of a key passage, by Murphy himself, click here.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Murphy on Double-Entry Bookkeeping

The Murphys never encountered any difficulty balancing their checkbook, since they’d never kept one. At the rare times when they were in funds, they paid in full, in cash. Any necessary record-keeping was handled by their pawnbroker, Solly, who has a head for figures.

But one day Joey got to thinking back and reminiscing, and tried to kind of tote things up. It was difficult to do.

“Hey Murphy, how much you reckon we made out of this P.I. racket?”

“What, all told?”

“Yeh like, over the years.”

“WEH-helll Joey baby, that’d be a record as long as your arm! Just one famous case after another.”

“Yeh but, in dollars.”


“You know -- simoleons; smackers; long green.”

“Oh yeh… that stuff. Well, it isn’t something you can quantify.”

“Murphy, that’s exactly what you can quantify! That’s kind of what dollars are there for! Heck, even wampum you can quantify.” Which was a more acute and cutting remark, than might appear superficially; since, often and again, the Murphys had effectively been paid in wampum, for their pains. Wampum from before the war.

“OK OK, lemme see…you add up… carry the nine…comes to… hmm…” Murphy was lost in a brown study for a time, then looked up satisfied. “All told, over the years, I’d say we are getting well up into the triple figures.”

Joey nodded thoughtfully, taking this in. “OK and, how much would it come to, after expenses?”

Murphy stared indignantly. “After… expenses! After we spent all those years working our way into the triples?! You’re gonna subtract that? Joey, that’s just cruel!”

Joey shrugged. “’At’s the way the bankers do it, Murphy.”

Murphy steamed. “Yeh, remind me why I got a beef with bankers. That’s like, the right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away.”

Joey remained silent, allowing Murphy the last word.

After a pause, Murphy perked up in a new mood. “Say Joey…J’evver hear about double-entry bookkeeping?”

“Reckon I’ve heard the phrase. Is that where you keep one set of books for your investors, and a different one for the taxman?”

“No no, it’s more like a science thing. Two different perspectives on the same reality. Helps you to see clearly; keeps you sane.”

Joey was intrigued.

“See: you got your basic banker-style bookkeeping. A number goes here, a record goes there, things tally, things cancel, you’re good to go. Or, in our case, you’re broke.

“But see there’s another kind of bookkeeping, it’s a lot like the other one, you got a debit column and a credit column, but instead of numbers, it’s stuff we did.”

Now Joey was really interested.

“So like: Our life. On the debit side, you got, well, a lot of overdue borrowed cars, a lot of broken china, some ethical grey areas, plus that time in Chicago, a dead mobster or two… well, really, a lot of stuff, you can read all about in this series that old Dr. Massey has been editing (My Sins, by Michael X. Murphy; Lingua Sacra Publishing, thirty-seven volumes to date). Painful to tote up, but you get the idea.

“But now see, on the other side of the ledger, the credit side -- well I mean we’ve done some good stuff here and there, you’n me, but I mean just in our P.I. business. Like, there’s Mrs. Bosworth(**): we did a good turn by her. And Timmy -- managed to give that young man a nice assist. And a few other things like that.”

“So-o…” Joey was a little confused. “How do they balance out?”

“But that’s just it, Joey!” Murphy leaning forward now, his eyes alight. “In this book, things don’t balance -- they bloom! Like, you got that Desert of Sin, just like it says in the book: a blasted wasteland stretching from East Horror to West Hell. Parched since the evil primeval. What could ever water that? And yet, one day, some where in the world, there is an act of kindness; and (can we detect it?) a tiny tear of gratitude. That tear smites the parched sands like a sledgehammer --: clouds of shrieking steam rise roiling into the sky. And there where it lay, a rose-bush blooms; and then a babbling brook; and the sounds of children playing.

“So -- that’s the book that I believe in, Joey. The banker types can keep the other kind.”

[(**) Editorial note: The reference is to the celebrated case, chronicled in the narrative known as “Don’t Mention It”, which you can read here.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Murphy on "24"

Heck, I’ve been in retirement now, here, for a long long time. What do you want to go asking me about some TV show for young folks? -- Y’know, me and Jack Bauer were having a couple of cold ones the other day -- no more than a couple, it’s not like the old days, we both gotta watch our waistlines now -- and he asked me how I liked retirement and I said, after thinking about it for a minute, that it’s alright; taking it all in all, it is really all right.

Yeh, sure, I miss the car chases, the barroom brawls, the rooftop shoot-outs, and the dames… above all, the dames… so pretty, yet so deadly… But it gives you some time to sort things out, get your values straight, and in my case, to write up my case-files. -- Bauer cocked a skeptical eyebrow at that one. “Don’t tell me you’re going to tell’em all about the Case of the Heisted Heroin, and all that stuff you pulled?” I swore that that was exactly my plan: Just lay the whole thing out and let the people judge (modulo a few necessary improvements and lies)...
So anyway, back in my day, I said, we used to just kick down doors. And now you, nowadays, you kick’em down too, kick ‘em down even harder -- but then you *agonize* over it…

Bauer nodded and had to admit: Yeh, doing all that stuff he did, did eventually come to kind of get to him -- they even had him in Group Therapy there for a while. -- “Group *therapy*?!” I snort, and take out another Camel: but the flame is shaking as I try to light the butt.
“So, it was different for you, back in your day, huh,” sympathizes Bauer. He’s really basically a decent and a really nice guy, when he isn’t actually breaking your fingers.
“Yeh,” I said. “Back in the day -- you see a car where the keys are in the ignition, you take it out for a spin. You see a door, you kick it down. -- Just the way we were raised.”

[My drinking buddy and pointy-headed friend Doctor J  has some (mostly incomprehensible) remarks about Jack and all that,  here.]

Friday, January 1, 2010

Don't Mention It

Here's a story of something that happened to me and Joey this one time. You can read more stories like this one in I Don't Do Divorce Cases.

Don’t Mention It
[First appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1988]
So one time, another time, musta been ‘bout April, we’re sittin’ around, thinking: maybe play some pool. But Joey says no, too nice a day, and we go out to the sidewalk looking at the old cars, the new cars, and the garbage cans. Then up off in the distance, sort of shimmering in the smog, Joey spots this dame.
“She’s heading our way,” notes Joey.
“Ye-es, she’s coming on down the line.”
“This could be a customer coming in.”
“Could right sure be one at that.”
Now, fact a the matter, we do this a lot, pass the time; but this one time, this one dame, she didn’t turn down a side street or keep right on walking by, just kept heading straight for us; so this is the time I’m telling you about.
She keeps walking towards us like she’s coming into focus. Joey and I stop what we’re saying and just watch. When she gets right up to us, she stops.
‘I’m looking for …”
“You found it,” I say.
She nods. We go into the building and head upstairs.
She looks to be about forty, made up to look younger. Pretty clothes, but frayed. She sees the sign that says MURPHY BROS. PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS and says, kind of archly, “You are the brothers Murphy?”
“Yeh, I’m Murphy, and he’s Joey,” I say.
She frowns.
I push open the door. The office, unfortunately, is just like we left it. Crud all over everything. Moose head in the sink.
“Have a seat,” I say gravely, indicating an overturned crate. She looks around doubtfully. “Is this where you work?”
“Well, the penthouse suite is being renovated, so for right now — yes. This is where I work. And eat, and sleep, and — right behind that door there — play pool. So, state your business.”
“I — I — I don’t know quite how to say this — ”
“It’s all right, we know. Your husband disappeared.”
She looks at me with a round mouth. “How did you know?”
“We’re detectives, lady, remember? Look, it happens alla time. Only kinda case we get, really.” I look over at Joey and he gives a helpless shrug.
“Oh! Then I have indeed come to the right place. You are — specialists, then?”
“Y’might say, y’might say.”
She nods, with furrowed brow. “Then I am in your hands.”

[To read the rest of this story, you can download it to Kindle or computer for just ninety-nine cents on Amazon.]