I don’t remember the exact day Oonaballoona walked up the stairs to my office, but I do remember her outfit as she pushed open my door, the glass etched with lettering: Detective Didyou – No Job Too Small. That was me: private detective on the mean streets of Chicago.
The dress was red. And blue. And yellow. I think some orange was in there. What can I tell ya? It was as though the mob were back in town and they’d splurge gunned the local vegetable shop. Hell! It wasn’t the type of dress Tallula would wear for a gig at Sam’s Speakeasy. Know what I’m saying?
‘You could get arrested for crimes against fashion,’ I drawled, pulling my trilby down lower over my face. Whoever this dame was, I didn’t want her to see the glint in my eyes. I smelled commission! Only that morning, one of my most regular clients had sent me a telegram:
URGENT. STOP. NEED VICTIM FOR UGLY AMNESTY. STOP. KEEP EYES PEELED.
‘I could get arrested for a lot of things,’ my visitor said, perching on the edge of my desk. Those legs! That smile! I needed something to distract me. I pulled open the desk drawer and placed a bottle of tequila on the table. Reached behind me and took two glasses from the top of the filing cabinet.
‘Wanna drink?’ I asked, pouring her one without waiting for an answer. She downed the amber liquid in one slug and wiped the back of her hand across her red-stained lips. This dame had done shots before. I raised my eyebrows, impressed.
‘Why are you here?’ I asked.
She waved a careless hand down her body. ‘Don’t you want to ask about this?’
I hesitated. Did she mean…? I decided to take the safe route; remembered what Karen had asked me to find out. ‘Shall we talk about the dress?’
She rolled her eyes and slid off the desk. Settled down in a chair as she poured herself another shot. Then she raised a quizzical eyebrow at me. ‘Shall we begin?’
That was the day I found out about The Dress That Didn’t aka Ugly Amnesty number 5 aka Oonaballoona’s Oopsie. The memory is seared in my head for ever…
It’s a helluva fabric you’ve got there, lady. Where did you get it? The black market? Or did you pay good money for a check print like that? If so … why?
I paid nothin’, gumshoe. You think a dame like me pays for fabric? You’re still a little wet behind the ears, aintcha? This was a gift from a fellow—a fellow seamstress, that is. Prewashed and everything. Things like that just drop right into my pretty little lap. If you can’t see that straightaway, maybe I’ve come to the wrong guy.
Tell me about that pocket. Looks like it could hide a gun or worse. Did you add the button to distract mugs like me?
Hmm. Maybe I misjudged you. Good detective work there… distraction is exactly why I added the button. I was hoping to distract from the godawful ugliness of this particular garment. That’s a lot of pressure on that wee shell button. I’m surprised it hasn’t cracked yet.
Could you stand up and turn side on for me? Yeah, just as I thought. You’re the queen of subterfuge, aintcha ? There’s a heck of a body in there and you’ve disguised it as a sack of potatoes! What makes a good-looking woman DO this to herself?
What can I say, I was going through a self hating period. I had an idea I’d look like a hipster in this. I hate hipsters. And there you have it: self hate.
You’re killing me. Now, let’s take a look at the back. No, I’m not undressing you with my eyes! Gimme a break! Hmmm. Interesting. Are you a smuggler, too? What do you hide in those baggy folds above your – forgive me, lady – ass? Bottles of whisky?
Look you, I know the deal. You ain’t foolin nobody. Get your grubby eyes off my ass. It’s rather juicy, so I’m not surprised you’re stuck on it.
I happen to have an ample rear and a high waist. At the time, I thought this combination meant a sway back adjustment. This was my first crack at it (pun completely and absolutely intended), and I was stoked with the results. Swell! I thought. Top notch on my first try! The celebratory bourbon probably had something to do with it. Once I’d sobered up, the harsh light of day revealed the extra elephantine behind I’d bestowed upon myself. But you’ve given me ideas, gumshoe. A lady always needs a place to stow her booze. You work prohibition charges, dontcha?
Alright, last question. I hear on the grapevine you have a partner-in-crime. Someone called ‘Ruggy’? It’s come to my attention that he’s been stealing frozen mountain water, and smuggling it in wine bottles. What kind of a sicko is he?! Don’t you think it’s time you kept better company?
What, are you putting yourself up grabs? You think you can hold a candle to a gent like Ruggy? He eats pipsqueaks like you for breakfast! Do you know what my man said when I showed him these shots?! IT’S NICE, BABE! Now that’s class! He would wipe the FLOOR with you, ya mealy mouthed pipsqueak! Why I oughta— you just wait till Karen hears about this—
I’d pushed her too far with that last question. She slammed the door behind her and was down the stairs before I had chance to lean out of the window and call after her ‘Meet me in Sam’s tonight!’ She wasn’t listening. Dames like that never listen to people like me. She might have been wearing the worst disguise I’d seen since Prohibition began, but I could tell she was a class act.
Oonaballoona… What a name! What a gal! What a dress!