Bo Peep Goes Film Noir
by Maureen Mancini Amaturo
It was dark in the back alleys and broken paths in Mother Goose Land. Bo Peep, just home from her second job at the Rock-A-Bye Club, the only dance hall in town, managed to slip out on King Cole again. She knew she and her sheep would have to lay low if she wanted to keep them alive. Old King Cole had been shadowing her and her sheep for months. He loved lamb, see. Not because they were cute, but because they were great with potatoes. King Cole controlled most of the town, except for Bo Peep and the few townsfolk who were brave enough, or stupid enough, to buck the old man. Those folks watched out for each other, relied on each other. Unfortunately, some of them–the three blind mice, Simple Simon, and the old woman who lived in a shoe–weren’t much help, but Bo Peep was grateful Peter Piper had tipped her off to the fact that King Cole and his goons were on her tail. So, she took her sheep out to graze when the town went empty, when the farms went dark, and no one would expect sheep to be out in a nighttime field.
Bo Peep gathered Fluffy, Snowy, and Blanche. She whispered, “Listen to me, and listen good. We’re gonna graze, but when I say ‘Blow,’ you gotta run like the wind. You know where to go, right? Same place as always, got it? Don’t look back, just run. I’ll find you again. I always do, right?” The sheep stared blankly. She felt sorry for running off on them so many times, but she had to ditch them for their own good. She couldn’t tell them the truth that Public Enemy #1 wanted to make them an entree. She led them through the door and stealthily down the side of the hill. She remained within feet of the sheep, walking with collar up, glancing over her shoulder, squinting through the shadows. She heard footsteps and a serrated voice say, “Freeze, Dollface!”
“Blow,” she yelled, and the sheep took off like racehorses.
A hand the size of a catcher’s mitt landed over her mouth. “Let’s go.” From the sound of his voice, Bo Peep thought he might have the face of a gargoyle.
Another man joined them, and together the thugs dragged her into a car. They blindfolded her. After a short ride, they pulled her out and led her into a small shack and tied her to a chair. They removed her blindfold.
“So, ya gonna play nice? Old King Cole doesn’t like it when he can’t get what he wants. You’ll bring us the sheep and work some magic over at the stove, if you know what’s good for you.”
Bo Peep sat in the chair directly beneath the milky white ceiling light. She didn’t know whose kitchen she was in or how she got there. She stood her ground while sitting in the belly of what she assumed was a hideout. “I ain’t movin’.” From the silence, and the long car ride, she could tell this place was far from Mother Goose Land’s town center or even any farm for that matter. No traffic sounds, no voices or movement outside, just the scraping of dry tree branches against the side of the small shack whenever the wind took a fancy to breeze by. Looking around the small, perfectly square room, Bo Peep noticed the chip in the sink’s worn enamel that must have been white once, the peeling, gold-flecked linoleum, and the stained walls whose paint had seen better days. She wasn’t sure what made her stomach turn more, the grease on the table and the red vinyl chairs or the scar and crooked nose on the face of the big lug, Jack Sprat, pacin’ the floor.
Sprat held a well-worn apron with only one waist sash toward her with his left hand and pointed a .38 caliber at Bo Peep with his right. “I thinks it’s time you should slip into somethin’ more comfortable, Cupcake.” Turning to his partner, Little Boy Blue, who was standing against the half-paneled wall looking out for the coppers through the opening in the thin, cotton, rooster-print café curtains, Jack Sprat asked, “Don’tcha think a hot dish like little Bo here’s gonna look kinda sweet in this?”
Little Boy Blue glanced quickly from beneath his grey, felt fedora while keeping his gun between the curtain and the glass. He reached into his pocket and threw a safety pin on the table. “Here, you’re gonna need this.”
Bo Peep looked at the sorry apron with its one sash and sent Little Boy Blue’s offering to the floor by kicking the table leg. “You ain’t pinnin’ this on me.”
Jack Sprat pointed his gun at Bo Peep. “Listen and listen good before I turns ya into swiss cheese. What King Cole wants, King Cole gets. He’s willin’ to buy ya whatever you need to do it, too. He wants the best, see? We’ll put the bite on ‘im if it’s cash you need. He ain’t short on lettuce. No small-time tomato like you’s gonna say no to Old King Cole.”
Bo Peep spit on Sprat’s shoes. She would have slapped him if her hands weren’t tied behind her back. “No two-timin’ louse fresh outta the slammer’s gonna tell me what to do.” She saw Sprat had something up his sleeve. When he pulled it out, she could read the large print. It was a leg of lamb recipe. Jack Sprat dangled the paper in front of her. “Right here’s the recipe Cole swiped from the Rock-A-Bye Club the other night. He knew just where Mother Goose hid it.”
Bo Peep gasped. “You dirty rat. If that ain’t nerve. So, it was Old Cole stirrin’ around in the kitchen while I was dancin’ my feet to the bone at the Club Saturday night tryin’ to earn a buck.”
“Jeeze, for a dame in a pickle, you sure got a fresh mouth. Look, Dollface, alls you got to do is hand over the sheep. We’ll take care of a few things, and then you start cookin’, or me and Little Boy here are gonna turn up the heat.” He grabbed a dirty dishtowel to wipe his wingtips. He tilted his head toward the countertop. “We got everything but the meat.”
And that’s the way it’s gonna stay.” Bo Peep glanced to her left. There sat a new can of olive oil, tomato paste, and garlic.
Sprat pointed his gun at Bo Peep and gave her a piercing stare. “Put a lid on it. Ain’t gonna do you no good to sit there and stew. The big guy would be here himself, but the law is after him. King Cole is layin’ low. He ain’t gonna take the wrap for knockin’ off Humpty Dumpty. He didn’t push him off that wall. He didn’t push anybody, hear?”
Bo Peep sneered at him.
“Don’t tell me you’re still carryin’ a torch for that pinched-faced roly-poly? Not when there’s guys like us around, pure Grade A beef, right Blue?” Sprat looked over at his sidekick, crouching beneath the rooster curtains. “So, listen, Cole is hungry, and it’s our job to deliver.”
Little Boy Blue yelled, “We gotta blow this joint, or we’re chopped liver. It’s the fuzz. Cheese it! Grab the goods.” He dropped the curtain.
Sprat squeezed Bo Peep’s shoulder. “Let’s go, sweet cheeks. Where’s the sheep? Start singin’ or your goose is cooked. Now’s the time to spill the beans, baby. Hurry up.”
“You’ll never find ‘em,” Bo Peep said.
Jack Sprat reached behind her to untie her wrists. He said, “C’mon. We’re goin’ for a ride. And don’t try to run. Cole’s got three men in a tub watching the river, and we got a guy in the beanstalk watching from the sky.”
“Aw, stuff it.” Bo Peep kicked Sprat in the shin.
Jack reached for his shin. “Ouch! Why you little, ten-cent sheep grazer, I’ll…”He raised his gun aiming to come down hard on the top of her head.
“Stop! We’ll fix her later! Grab the goods.” Little Boy Blue got across the small, greasy kitchen in three steps and grabbed Sprat’s gun and the olive oil. “Get the tomatoes and garlic. We gotta split!”
Bo Peep took advantage of the chaos and stuck her foot out. She caught Blue’s ankle. He went head first against the cabinet. Crash! The rod he was packing landed in the sink just as the front door exploded open.
“Hands up. We’re takin’ you in,” the first copper yelled. “It’s the big house for you. You’re gonna fry in the chair for this one!”
Sprat threw his gat in the air, and it came down on Bo Peep’s cheek. Her black eye was coloring up real nice before the cops even got the cuffs on the two thugs.
A black eye meant the jig was up for a while on Bo Peep’s chorus-girl career, but worth it if it meant giving Old King Cole the slip. But even better, she didn’t have to sing a swan song for her sheep.
After a few hours down at the station, Bo Peep returned home. She scoured the hills looking for her lambs. “Fluffy, Snowy, Blanch, where are you?” She didn’t have to whisper tonight. King Cole and his goons were living on bread and water now.