(Another night in the rain-soaked city. Smoke fills the bar on 3rd street as the band wraps up its introductory number. One man sits in the audience, draped in a trenchcoat, drink in hand. It’s Sinan Kubba, here to take a crack at describing Team Bondi’s new game L.A. Noire. A smooth saxophone melody sets the stage for the singer to appear.)
Tonight every bum in town is at the Play Station on 3rd, a dingy joint with all the rep of a Dutchman on holiday. The noise is that the dive’s new chanteuse sweetheart is hot enough to burn the place down.
The flame is a girl called Noire. The Station’s usually inclined to display more prominent assets than those beneath Noire’s black and white number, but this broad doesn’t need them. She takes the stage, a classic, picture-perfect face and behind it a blockbuster voice box. Noire looks and sounds like something off the big screen, so what’s she doing in this washed-up part of town?
The song ends. Noire exits stage right. I grimace through the last gulps of my poison before slamming the glass down, pulling my collar up, and bracing myself for a lonely ride home.
Or at least I would be on my way home, but for the black and white broad standing in my way in the lobby.
“Sorry,” Noire says, her big eyes studying mine, “I thought you were someone else.”
Before I can get a word in she turns and starts walking away. A few clacks as her pumps touch the floor. Then, the waterworks. Oh boy. I do the gentlemanly thing and pull up a chair, tissue in hand.
“You reminded me of a boy.” she says, dabbing her eyes, “Phelps. Cole Phelps. That’s a compliment.”
Seems the teary-eyed dame’s obsessed with some guy. They always are. Still, I’ve got nothing better to do. I sit back, offer her a light, and ask her to tell me all about the boy, her woes, whatever.
So it turns out this Phelps is a detective. Young kid, an education, a talent, a future, the works. He started off as any other cop on the beat but a few lucky guesses and he’s on homicide, another fast-track hero defending the city. Sure, I’ve heard it before, but I’m in not in the habit of telling a good-looking girl to scram this early in the night.
She starts talking up some of his cases. I’m used to the Play Station regulars droning on about some beefcake with a gun saving the world, but Noire has a smarter angle. The story’s fresh but twisted, like a good morning kiss from a hooker. I get absorbed in her little stories, trying to solve the cases ahead of this Phelps character. The dame tells a good story. Or, to be more precise, she tells her story well.
But as the hours pass, my patience starts to wear. It wears thin, then thinner than a dancing girl on rations. Sure, she tells it well, but this tale isn’t gonna win any Oscars. It’s just a parade of perps, each one more forgettable than my second wife, each conclusion about as biting as a vodka without the twist. Easy to listen to and even easier on the eye, but where’s the pay-off with this skirt?
“It’s coming, sugar,” she muffles, a tissue tiding another stream from those weary whirlpools. “Cole ain’t the goody two shoes he sounds like.”
A bit out of left field, that. Still, now I think about it, I can see why a man like Phelps might lose it.
Noire had mentioned the golden boy’s interrogation strategy, something he’d learnt off an old-time attorney called Wright. Phoenix Wright. Phelps is rational, straight by the book, and he knows either Joe Criminal is telling the truth or he’s lying, but if he’s lying you’ve got to prove it. Big whoop, right?
So what’s Phelps’ ace in the hole? Knowing when to press on. You can’t prove he’s lying but you doubt he’s ringing true. Get him to open up though and that boy will sing like a music box.
Rock solid in theory, but in practice the detective game ain’t black and white. Phelps found that what looked like killer evidence often led to a dead end. Sometimes he tried to read the sucker opposite him, but that was harder than a sailor on leave. Sometimes he’d buy the guy’s story when he should’ve doubted, and sometimes he doubted when he had the evidence. He was inconsistent and he got rapped for it, but he knew it wasn’t his fault. He tried to play the game, but sometimes the game played him.
The dame’s still talking but I’m almost nodding off – this payoff sure is slow. Noire realizes she’s losing me and peppers it up a bit. Now she’s throwing in car chases, fistfights, and shootouts like they’re going out of fashion. The gal’s not so hot with the action stories, though. The fights, they’re clumsy. The car chases are alright but they all feel the same. The shootouts – well, they say girls cant handle a gun, right?
It’s all just distractions and deflections. Maybe Noire isn’t holding any aces, after all. One thing’s for certain; forget Irish coffee, the Station can’t even make American coffee. Not coffee that I can hold down anyway.
Phelps’ story reminds me of this trombonist who used to play at the Play Station around this time last year. A frog who liked to call himself Rain. Heavy Rain. Back then, there was a lot of noise about that guy, too. Real chunky, as jazz players go; must be why we originals used to call him Heavy.
Heavy Rain wasn’t all that, though. His blues had soul but it had too many layers, all of ‘em going on at the same time. And when he tried to bring it all together it just didn’t sound right. What’s worse, when one of those layers took just one little turn in the wrong direction the whole damn tune came apart.
Noire’s story, her tale of this Phelps cat, feels similar. Except in his case he wasn’t making bad decisions, he just wasn’t making the right ones.
I look up. It’s late, real late, and I ain’t prepared to stick around for the big finish. The third wife will get uppity and the kids will get ideas. There’s a storm outside. I thank the lady for the company – you could get much worse around here – tip my hat and pull it down tight and hard.
“Don’t go,” Noire chokes back a tear, “I’m getting to the good part, honest I am.”
“Sure you are, sweetheart. I believe you.”
And I do. But so what? Maybe it’s wrong to leave a dame crying, but who says I’m a nice guy? I put it on my overcoat, wrap it close around my liquored belly, and don’t look back.
Noire’s a fresh girl, good-looking with a great voice, and a half-decent tale to sing about. You know, that makes her far better company than half the lookalike broads you meet in a dive like the Play Station. But when you get down to it, she’s just another broad. Star potential, kid, but no more than that.
I step into the storm, the puddles soaking through my size 10s. Tomorrow’s another crappy day in this town but who knows what it might bring? Heck, they’re even building a new café down by the projects. I might get a half-decent cup of Joe one of these days after all.