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.]