The Tale of Jessica Rabbit

The following is a short story that I originally penned for a privately released publication, a few years ago. I've altered it to fit the theme I wanted to explore with photographer, model, and graphic illustrator, Miss Britney Rae. The moment I laid eyes upon the set of images you're seeing here, I knew that I wanted to do a "noir-ish" tale, something along the lines of a Raymond Chandler dime store novel. The original had pretty much the same theme, but I've changed out some of the characters, and much of everything from the fourth paragraph on, is all new material (with the exception of a sentence or two, here and there).

The story is not the best thing I've ever written, but I did it just for fun, and to (once again) show off Britney's magnificent photography. I hope you enjoy the story and photographs, as much as we enjoyed crafting them.

The night I met Red was during one of the worst times in my life, I gotta tell you. Darla had left me for some hack jazz musician from the Bowery (who she had introduced to me a year earlier as her “cousin”), and I was hurting like slug in a salt mine. For days, I wallowed in self pity, drinking myself into a coma most nights, stumbling into one bar after the other, and getting tossed out on my ass every time. My editor was screaming at me to get back to work, but I wasn’t in the mood for interviewing guys who was making the kind of heartbreak tunes I was living. Heck, the way I was feeling, I coulda wrote those songs myself.

There I was with my feet on my desk, hat tilted over my eyes, chomping on a soggy Montecristo I found in the back seat of a cab two nights ago. In my Remington was a sheet of paper with a half written review, the dust on the return lever evidence of my laggardly demeanor. The cramped office smelled like defeat; you know, a combination of cheap booze, cheaper after shave, musty clothes, day old sweat, and cigar smoke. Suddenly, Francine the bosses secretary knocks at the door, and I reluctantly wave her in. The lady’s all business, but I know for a fact she’s got a heart of gold.

She looks at me with that nondescript gaze of hers and says “Rick, you can either sit there all night long with that puckered pout on your puss, or you can do something and stop letting that good for nothing broad live in your skull for the rest of your miserable life.” Then she slides a matchbook across my desk, and walks out.

Francine doesn’t talk much, and if she does, you can be sure it’s got something to do with work. Never any time for pleasantries, except for a “good morning”, and “good night”. So I pick up the matchbook, and it reads “RED-7669” The bulb is dim in my office (not to mention I’m just slightly inebriated), so I think I’m seeing things at first. I’m game for pretty much anything, but what’s with the peculiar phone number, I’m thinking. Had it been anyone else other than Francine, I’d have tossed that matchbook in the trash.

So I make the call, but damned if I could make out anything the dame on the other end was saying. The only thing my brain was focused on, was the sultry tone of her voice.  It was like warm honey being poured over a hot stack of flapjacks. I hung up the phone, and grabbing my coat, I went out into the grey evening to catch a cab back to my hotel. By the time I had finally caught one, it was pouring. Just my frigging luck!

Photograph by Marten Bjork

I get home, and the second I walked into my room, I knew something wasn’t right. The air felt thicker than normal, like that rancid peasoup at O’Malley’s Diner. For a minute (maybe longer), I stood in the doorway, waiting for  my eyes to adjust to the dark. My hand was on the light switch, but I was frozen on the spot. My gaze fixed on a curvaceous shadow across the room, the smell of expensive perfume wafting in my direction. Hints of rosemary, lavender, and something else I couldn’t put my finger on. The lamp on the table near the fire escape window flickers on, and I nearly jump out of my skin. Leaning against the wall near the window, was the most stunning doll I had ever seen in my life. Her milky white skin, pushing out of her scarlet dress at the bosom and seam, the right side of her face, partially hidden by her long, flaming locks; don’t ever let anybody tell you red on red don’t work.  

She slides off her long, silky gloves, and tosses them on the short table next to the lamp. Her purse is there too, and she picks it up, and grabs a pack of squares out of it. Pulling a cigarette out of the pack, she offers me one, but I wave it away. Then she gives me this look like she’s annoyed or something and says “Well, are you gonna stand there all night with the front door and your mouth open? You’ll catch flies either way, you know. Get in here, and give a lady a light, will you”.

Awkwardly shuffling forward, letting the door shut behind me, I reach into my pocket for my lighter. I light her up, and she takes a long drag off her square, leans her head back, and blows smoke at the ceiling. I motion for her to take a seat, while I hang my soggy hat and coat on the rack behind the door. The only booze I keep around, is a bottle of scotch. The lady aint interested, so I pour one out for myself instead. She sits on the couch, and when she crosses her long legs, that’s when I notice the red pumps. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the East ain’t got nothing on this pair.

“Do I even want to know how you got into my room?” I ask, taking a seat across from her. Before she can answer, “So what can I do for you Miss--” It just occurred to me, we haven’t exchanged pleasantries. I don’t know who she is, what she’s doing here, or what the heck she wants from me.

“They call me ‘Red’, and that’s all you need to know for now”, she says. “But I know you, Rick. I know you write for the Daily Gazette, hoping that someday you’ll be a big shot. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and Vanity Fair will give you a chance.” I guess she could tell by the look on my mug, I’m trying to figure out how she knows all of this, so she quips “Francine”.

“She and I go a ways back. She told me a little bit about you, Rick. Said you’re the man I should talk to if a girl wants a little exposure in this town.” Well, maybe. I handle the entertainment assignments for the Gazette, but that’s not what I started out wanting to do. I thought I would get the big stories, the front page and headlines. You know? Like Red said, I thought I was gonna be a big shot. Didn’t turn out that way, but whatever.

Trying to maintain eye contact, I ask “What kind of exposure are we talking about? What are you a magician? You walk through walls or something?” I chuckle, but my joke falls flat, and she (rightfully, mercifully) ignores it.

“I’m gonna cut to the chase, Rick. I’m a singer, and a damned good one at that. You’re gonna come hear me sing at the Purple Pomegranate tomorrow night, and you’re gonna write about me. You’re gonna tell the world that Red is in town, and she’s gonna set it on fire, because that’s what I’m gonna do. See?.” By now, she had put her cigarette out, and was reaching for another.

This lady had the kind of confidence I wish I had. Either that, or she was just full of herself. I lit her cigarette, then reached for my cigar. “I’ll tell you what”, I said, taking a couple of puffs, squinting one eye, as smoke crept up the side of my face. “I’ll play your little game, whatever it is. I got nothing to do tomorrow, except play the ponies, and I can do that any time.” How could I pass up another opportunity to see this gorgeous piece of cake again? Those eyes, those lips, those curves. No. I had to see her again, and if what she was saying was true, this could be it for me. She could be my ticket to the big time!

For the first time, she smiles, and the flash of her pearly whites almost makes me choke on my cigar smoke. “No games, Rick. I’m the real thing.” Outing her cigarette, she stands, smoothing the wrinkles out of her dress. She picks up her purse, and walks towards the door. “Don’t let me down, Rick. Be there tomorrow night, at 8:00 sharp.” Beating her to the door, I hold it open for her, and as she passes the threshold, she turns to me for a second, and winks. Normally, I’m a gentleman, and I’d have walked her to a cab, but to be honest, I was just too stunned by what had just happened. It’s not everyday someone like Red comes into your life, much less into your hotel room. Yeah, I was thinking about the opportunity this could be, if she was as good as she claimed, but I was also hooked. I could still smell her perfume through the smoke in my room, still see her standing there in the lamp light, still hear that voice like golden honey. You’re damned right, I was gonna be there.

Later, after scarfing down some leftovers and  half a beer, I plop down into the couch. Propping my head up under a pillow, I stretch my legs up and relax. It’s stopped raining, and the only sound in my apartment is the clock ticking, and the neighbors television. I doze off, and dream about Red.

The following night, I find out Francine is just full of tricks. Not only had she hooked me up with Red, but she was the one who got her booked at the Purple Pomegranate. When I arrived, I saw her. Francine, that is. She spotted me from across the room, and gave me a knowing smile and a nod. I “stole” one of the photographers from the Gazette, with a promise that he wouldn’t regret doing this for me. He was up towards the front of the stage when Red came on, while I hung back by the bar, with a scotch rocks in my hand.

Tonight, my Red was sporting a blue number, just as sexy and classy as the red dress she wore the night before. From the second she laid her hand on the microphone, and that heavenly voice of hers let slip the first few notes of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”, the whole joint went quiet. Every eye in the Purple Pomegranate was glued to her sensuous form, everyone frozen in place, in the middle of whatever it was they was doing. It was just her and the piano under the spotlight. She looked just like an angel! Her eyes met  mine, just as she sang “why's it so, that this longing for you follows wherever I go”, and something in me just melted inside. When she finished, the joint stayed silent for a few seconds, the crowd held rapt in her glow. Then the audience exploded into applause, and guys were whistling to wake the dogs. She was magnificent!

Somehow, she made her way through the crowd over to where I stood at the bar, and took my scotch out of my sweaty fingers. “So, what did you think?”, she asked while taking a sip. What did I think? What did I think? I think I’m in love, is what I’m thinking! Then she laughed and gave me a peck on the cheek. Boy, was I in heaven!

That same night, I went back to the Gazette, and started working on my story. Phil managed to get a few great shots of Red, better than either of us expected. The boss signed off on the article, and it went to press the next morning. In the article, I reveal that Red’s real name is “Jessica Wray”, but she goes by the stage name of “Jessica Rabbit”. Reason being, when she was a kid, she had a bunny she simply named “Rabbit”, and the other kids would see her with him and say “There goes Jessica, and her rabbit”. Yeah, I know. Corny story, but I kind of like the stage name. It fits her, I think.

Well, not very long after my article, Jessica became an instant hit. I ended up quitting my gig, and started managing her career instead. The record companies were calling, and there were contracts to sign. Within a month, Red and I became a thing, and eventually got hitched (I still call her “Red”, that’s a thing between the two of us). It’s been two years now, and we couldn’t be happier. Sometimes I look back on that wet, miserable day when I first met her, and I thank my lucky stars (and Francine, of course). I’m the luckiest man in the world, and don’t I know it!

All photos by Miss Britney Rae, except where noted. Follow Britney at her Instagram, Facebook profiles, and purchase high quality prints at her RedBubble site.