Though no longer listed on his Wikipedia page, John Grisham’s controversial debut novella The Congressman’s Penis was serialized in Bugle issues 157, 158, 159, 161, 170, and 178; is available at an exclusive mezzanine tranche of bookshops; and is presented here for the first time in downloadable form.
* * *
It was 4:30 AM. The sound of a dog barking rent the Philadelphia skies. Mickey Stantanio opened a resentment-filled eye. “F***ing dog,” he spat, stretching his arms and throwing his novelty doggie alarm clock at the wall.
The dog barked again. Balls, frouted Stantonio. That was actually a real dog. I’m gonna have to buy myself another alarm clock. Stantonio stood up on his bed and bounced up and down, shouting “Weehee!” until he fell awake. That’s better, he chundled. Good morning, Mickey Stantanio, P.I., he greeted himself, hugging himself like the long-lost friend he was to himself.
He looked at his bed, his empty, empty bed. “Oh my god, where’s Janet?” he whispered to himself. Oh yeah, he remembered, she left me 12 years ago and emigrated to Namibia. Stantonio removed and incinerated his pajamas, bedsheets, and teddy bear. No trace of him would be left in this one-star boutique motel.
He put the kettle on; took it off again; and chuckled to himself. That putting-the-kettle-on-my-head joke really works better when someone else has said “put the kettle on” before I put the kettle on my head, he admitted, drinking a cup of cold and unbrewed tea.
Just then he saw something in the middle of the table. He approached it cautiously. “Shit,” he said. “What the f*** is this?” It’s wooden, flat, seemingly with no writing or distinguishing marks on it. No, hang on, that is the middle of the table. But hang on, what’s on it?!
Stantanio, the 48-year-old private investigator, table-tennis aficionado, and erstwhile owner of a five-foot-long iguana, reached out to pick up the unexpectable parcel. “What the f*** is this?” he repeated. He opened the box. His eyes widened each other with amazement at what lay within. “shit on a pineapple tree,” he growled. “It can’t be — can it? It can! It’s a congressman’s penis! But,” he growled, “which congressman? And which of his penises? I’d better take this down to the lab and have it checked out.”
20 minutes later, Mickey Stantanio, P.I., was siting in his favorite cafe. Menopausal Brenda’s, on 13th and Gooch. Before him on the table sat two coffees — and a penis. “So, Mr. Penis — what’s your story?” opened Stantanio, casually flicking a bacon rasher into his mouth. The penis lay motionless on the table.
Stantanio thumped an eggy fist on the dispassionately Formica surface. “That’s your game, is it, penis? I want to know whose penis you are, why you’re not on that person anymore, and how you came to be in my hotel room!”
There was a timbre of desperation in Stantanio’s voice that morning. 48, divorced, broke, lonely, and with a congressman’s penis staring him the face over a plate of grits. This wasn’t the life he signed up for when he joined the force back in ’58. And the last thing he needed, today of all days, was to have to take fingerprints off a congressman’s penis. He finished his breakfast, leaving his solitary sausage understandably untouched on the side of his plate. He had his flaws as a man, did Mickey Stantanio, but he also had a sensitivity to the feelings of his dining companions.
“Come on, penis! We’re gonna get to the bottom of this!” Stantanio winked a flirtatious kiss at the chef, apologized, explained that he thought the waitress was still at the till, and promised it would never happen again. He picked up the penis, and he was just about to put it back in his glasses case when –
“Wait!” said the penis. “There’s something you should know.”
“I’m all ears,” said Stantanio, instantly realizing the biological inaccuracy of his claim, even as the words were still warm and wriggling in his mouth. The penis took a deep breath.
“What I’m about to tell you is gonna make Watergate look like a f***ing Taiwanese kids’ nativity play.”
“Awesome!” said Stantanio. “Wait till I tell Brenda about this. She’s gonna come crawling back to me like a slice of cheese.”
The penis fixed Stantanio in the eye. “I’m not just any congressman’s penis. I’m the penis of Congressman -”
And at that moment, a shot rang out. Stantanio jumped behind the coffee machine and held his hands together to form an imaginary pistol, and prepared to return pretend fire.
Another shot! A door slammed. A car revved. Stantanio emerged. “Kapow! Katwang! Kapow!” he shouted as he gave himself covering fire whilst running back to his table. But the penis – the congressman’s penis – had gone.
“Man, that is seriously annoying!” he said. “Someone knew that penis was here, and they wanted it back. Why?”
* * *
2. The Crotch of Despair
Mickey Stantanio ran out of Menopausal Brenda’s onto the intersection of 13th and Gooch. There was no sign of the congressman’s penis — not so much as a single stray foreskin. “Hey, lady!” he shouted at a passing man. “F*** you, schmuck!” replied the man., “I’m sorry,” apologated Stantanio, “I – I … I just had breakfast?” “That’s no excuse, you mongrel-screwing balstraing,” said the man.
“Fair point,” said Stantanio. “But you are wearing a dress, and you’ve got a cracking set of -”
“Hey, have some respect for a dame!” said the man.
“Sorry, sir. I’m Mickey Stantanio, private investigator. What’s your name?”
“That’s a funny name for a guy ’round these parts.”
“Who says I’m a guy?”
“Oh yeah, I’m always getting them mixed up. No, I’m a gal. That’s the one, gal. You were right the first time. Man, has that little confusion got me into some scrapes.”
Mickey Stantanio, P.I., felt a surge of confidence coursing through his detectives’ veins. He still had it! It might only have been a small thing like telling a guy from a girl, but he still had it. “That’s the old Mickey,” he cuddled himself. “I’m gonna find that penis. And reattach it to the right congressman.”
“Did I say that out loud?” asked Mickey.
“You did. Loud as a fluorescent chicken in a farmyard full of grey ducks. Care to explain?”
“Maybe you’d like to care to explain, lady!” exploded Stantanio. His old confidence had not just come back – it had put its slippers on, helped itself to a beer from the refrigerator, and resoundingly broken wind on the sofa. It had come home to stay. “Lady, tell me straight. Have you seen a congressman’s penis?”
“Why, sure I have.”
“Where was it? Who was it with? Where did it go?”
“I’ll answer those questions in turn,” she said. “One: It was on a congressman. Two: It was with the congressman. And three: Do you want me to draw you a f***ing diagram?”
“Er, no need, lady. I think we might be talking about different congressmen’s penises here. I need to find that penis. I’m gonna split, Miss Paranovskaya. Paranovskaya – what is that? Venezuelan?”
There was an awkward pause in that Philadelphian air.
“Ahem, sorry.” said Mickey Stantanio. “So, the penis. Long story. You got a smoke?”
“Yeah, I got smoke,” said Bridget. “I got this canister of the stuff from a fire at a rubber factory. I was taking it over to my mother’s hospice. She loves the smell of burning tire.”
“Who doesn’t?” said Mickey, breathing in the fumes. “Apart from old Joey Struber, of course. The late old Joey Struber.”
“Yeah, did you know him?”
“Why did you ask if he was dead?”
“Er … in case I ever meet him. How did he die?”
“Well, he was working undercover as the wheel on an illegal dump truck. Driver tried to speed away from the cops at a junction. Wheelspin. Left Joeymarks all over the road. Still, it’s the way he would have wanted to go.”
“Yep. Beats the crap out of being eaten by a Communist in a crocodile outfit. And Joey saw it as an either-or. So he died with a smile on his face.”
“Sounds like he died with a dump truck on his face.”
“That too, sweetcakes. That too. So! The penis. I found it this morning,” said Mickey. It’s a congressman’s penis – no doubt about it.”
“How do you know?” asked the lady, kicking her Wellington boots against a nearby tramp to wear them in for a hard winter’s booting.
“When you’ve been in this game as long as I have,” said Mickey, “you just know. You just know. So lady, where do you think we might find a congressman’s penis round here?”
“I got a suggestion for you,” grunted the lady, extricating her leg from the mouth of an irate tramp. “You ain’t gonna find a penis that small in a city this big. You need to do this by a process of elimination. To work out who is and who isn’t missing a penis, you need to see as many congressman in as trouserless a state as possible.”
“What, you mean go to Idaho? And hang around at bus stops?”
“No, I mean go to congress.”
“I like your thinking, sizzly lips,” he guzzled, arrogantly flicking the ash from her cigarette before her face caught fire again. “But a congressman with no penis – isn’t that just a congresswoman?”
“Um … not necessarily, Mickey Stantanio,” she said. “Not necessarily.”
Anyway, three days and one very long donkey ride later, Mickey Stantanio and Bridget rode into Washington, hotly pursued by an angry donkey-rental salesman shouting, “You only booked it for a f***ing hour, you pair of thieving shitbags!”
“You know more than you’re letting on, don’t you, lady,” said Mickey, realizing he was conversationally remortgaging himself but unsure about the interest rate.
“Sure I do, Mickey. I got a degree in 17th-century French literature. I could tell you all about Moliere, but I didn’t think you’d be interested, so I didn’t let on. Anyway, this can wait. We gotta break into congress and start looking at some penises, or that congressman’s penis is gonna be little more than an unpastried sausage roll for the rest of its life.”
Mickey Stantonio stood in the vestibule of the congress building, dressed in his athletics kit. “And that, ladies and gentlemen,” he announced to the watching company, “is how you do the triple jump.”
The congressmen and congresswomen nodded their political heads; uttered platitudes to each other about taking the hop phase on board and moving forward to a more holistic approach to triple jumping; and scattered to order some new research sand pits.
“Phew,” extrapoloded Mickey. “Talking my way into congress by claiming I had to do a presentation on triple jumping was high-risk, but it worked – and I managed to set a new U.S. indoor triple jump record in the process, breaking Mike Conley’s long-standing and extremely patriotic distance of 17 meters 76. I just hope they don’t make me take a piss test. I’ve been eating nothing but kangaroo steaks for months to make myself boingier.”
Stantanio knew this was his chance to get into the congress shower block and check out some groins. “I’ve gotta get in there. By the sounds of it, Bridget has been pretty successful at disguising herself as the congress speaker and making inflammatory marks during a debate about the legalization of women, causing a mass wrestle on the congress floor. They’re all going to need to freshen up in the showers after that.”
Stantanio put on his lab coat; picked up his clipboard; and claimed to be a Nobel Prize-winning scientific research assistant from the International Institute of Wangology. He started questioning the congressmen as they filed in to shower.
“Congressman Lambredio, I’m Stantanio from the IIW. Have you got a penis?”
“Sure I have, Mickey, it’s right here in my wallet.”
“Okay,” noted Mickey academically. “Now you, Congressman Platch. Have you got a penis?”
“I sure do. Do you need it now? It’s just I left it in the glove compartment of my car this morning. I didn’t think I’d need it today.”
“Okay, no problem, Congressman,” said Mickey, scratching himself at the implication. It seems, he said internally, that all congressmen have removable penises. That penis that’s on the loose somewhere in the USA could be anyone’s.
Just then Congressman Polcrutchet strode in, in his wrestling kit. “Congressman, Mickey Stantanio, IIW. You got a penis?”
“Yeah … I got one of those. I keep it in a safety deposit box on my ranch. Do you want the code?”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the object of keeping it in a safety deposit box? said Mickey.
“Good point. Anyway, it’s 354175. Man, no wonder it keeps going missing.”
“Did you say it keeps going missing?” said Mickey.
“Sure it does,” said Polcrutchet.
“Congressman,” said Mickey. “When did you last see your penis?”
“Ah – er – oh, I’m not sure. Let me think. I took it out for dinner on our anniversary; that’s my birthday, the same thing really. Since then … I don’t know, I’d say two weeks? Two weeks at least.”
“Congressman,” said Mickey. “Have you got any enemies? For example, anyone who might want to take your penis hostage?”
Congressman Polcrutchet gulped.
“I knew this day would come. For me — and for my penis. Sit down, Stantanio. We gotta talk.”
* * *
Senator Polcrutchet had dropped a bombshell. And it had landed on his own foot. “Ouch,” he thought. “That would’ve blown my toe off if it hadn’t been metaphorical. The bombshell, not the toe. If my toe had been metaphorical, would the bombshell still have metaphorically blown it off? I guess I’ll leave that kind of philosophy to Malcolm Gladwell,” he chuckled, metaphorically rubbing a soothing mayonnaise balm onto his actual toe just in case.
Mickey Stantanio finished what had become a very physical disagreement with a coffee machine about what constitutes a cappuccino. In which, for the first time in his career as a professional life as a cop, P.I., and freelance trapeze artist, he had uttered the words “That’s just bubbly f***in’ brown milk.”
Anyway, he sat down with his notepad as Senator Polcrutchet prepared to spill the most refried of all possible beans.
“Okay, Senator. Fire away,” said Mickey.
The Senator took a gulp of water, sipped in the air as if he wanted to eat his own destiny with a side order of self-analysis. “So anyway, Mr. Stantanio, I was speaking to Maureen this morning and she said that Deirdre’s been told she can’t do any gardening anymore, what with her back, and of course Dennis is not long for this world anymore, and her Bridget’s been having an affair with the vicar, and it’s not good for her heart, what with him being an escaped Sudanese war criminal, and his wife being a man. And then there’s Enid. Well, if she will joust at her age, she’s going to get hurt. Mind you, if she must do it, she should at least do it on a horse, not a 750cc motorbike, and at the very least put some clothes on as well. And as for Morag, well, I’ve told her cesium and water don’t go together. But would she listen to me? Of course she f***ing wouldn’t. I’ll tell you who I blame for it. Heston Blumenthal and his fancy recipes. And anyway, my Albert’s dead again — that resurrection really didn’t go according to plan. Mind you, it probably wouldn’t’ve worked out for Jesus either, if he’d died with a garden spade smashed into his skull. Might’ve made the iconography a little bit more interesting, mind. And did I tell you about our Abdul? Yeah, he’s got an internship with Hezbollah. We’re ever so proud of him. But his Angela isn’t too happy about it, what with them having just bought a house in the Orkney Islands and her being a Mossad agent and all — very awkward it is, I give them six months. And poor old Agnes can’t walk these days, and she’s worried sick about the Greek economy, and the Americans looking into the Kennedy assassination again, well, that can’t end well for her, can it?
“And did I tell you about my kidneys? Oh, in a terrible state they are. Guess I’m going to have to get some new ones. Completely overcooked, they were. Mind you, the steak and the rest of the pie were first class.”
Mickey carefully took Senator Polcrutchet in a headlock.
“Senator. Can you please get to the f***ing point? Where is your penis? And why?”
* * *
Mickey Stantanio, the man who never prided himself on his ability to slice bread evenly, but was nonetheless quite good at that underrated skill, stared Senator Polcrutchet in the eyes. He thought to himself, “I need a wee-wee. But before that … Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, hot dickety dang! No, focus, Mickey. Focus. Ya gotta find that penis before it ends up in the wrong hands! Or in Mexico! Or in an extremely distressing and quite disappointing foot-long hot dog!”
But at that moment he felt something cudgel him in the back of the head.
It was a cudgel.
Mickey Stantanio woke up. His hands were tied behind his back. He was blindfolded and his mouth was taped over.
“Bollocks!” he said. Although it sounded like “Rt-rwrft”.
“Hang on. On reflection, some use. Those restraints came off quite easily. Almost like … spaghetti!” He shook the blindfold from his face. It was a large slide of taleggio cheese. He bit into the tape around his lower face. It melted into his mouth.
“Mmm! Parma ham! Nice touch. Mmm-mmm, that’s the good stuff too, not some supermarket muck. Mmm, so tasty it’s become kosher. Oh yeah!
“But why? But this has all the hallmarks … of an Italian restaurant!”
Mickey ate through the rest of the ties that bound him, including a couple of unaccountable mozzarella testicles. He muttered, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a glass of Barolo around here?”
He sneaked up to the door. “I wonder what Italian restaurant this could be?” Just then, a familiar voice boomed around the corner.
“Mickey boy! Nice ta see ya!”
“Uncle Vittorio! But … but … have you got the congressman’s penis?”
“Wot mate?” said Uncle Vittorio. “No penis ’round here, other than the regulation ones. All above board, I assure you. Just like everything else in this operation. Right, Franco, Giuseppi, Roberto, Vittorio, Salvatore, Gianluca, and Walter?”
“Right, boss,” said the men.
“Uncle Vittorio!” said Mickey. “Why are you implying members of the 1990 Italian football World Cup squad? And if you don’t have the congressman’s penis, why did you kidnap me like that?”
“Well, I just hadn’t seen you in a while, and you weren’t answering your calls.”
“Man, you are seriously annoying sometimes, Uncle Vittorio. You’ve just wasted a whole f***ing chapter of this book! And you might’ve let the congressman’s penis escape the country! If we’re not careful, there could be an American congressman’s penis out there in whatever the rest of the world is called collectively. Do you realize the instability that could cause? That could spark a third world war!”
“Third?” said Uncle Vittorio. “Don’t you mean second?”
“No, Uncle Vittorio, I mean third. You’re gonna have to start stopping describing your last years in the late thirties and early forties as ‘one hell of a fancy-dress party’.”
“”You were Benito Mussolini’s personal assistant!”
“Officially I still am,” said Uncle Vittorio. “He never actually fired me.”
“It’s pretty f***in’ hard to fire someone when you’re hangin’ upside down from a meat hook!” said Mickey.
“That’s hearsay!” said Uncle Vittorio.
“There’s photographic and video evidence!”
“Quit saying that!”
“Oh, it’s just a new dish we’ve started selling. We just had an order from Table 14.”
“Aw, shit it!” said Mickey. “This trail has gone cold. This was supposed to be the last chapter, Uncle Vittorio.”
“Oh well, it’s very nice to see you too, Mickey.”
“Any chance of some tiramisu before I go?”
“Go f*** yourself!”
Mickey Stantanio woke up in his all-too-familiar bed. “Home shit home,” he thought, regretting having drunk that flagon of unbranded meths the night before.
“I feel like a slice of lemon in the wrong woman’s gin,” he growled to his own self. “What the f*** am I doin’ with my life? Sure, being a private investigator beats being a professional pig breeder, but is it really so different?”
Just then there was a knock on his door. It was a courier. “Package for Stantanio!” said the courier.
“What is it?” said Mickey Stantanio, rubbing a peanut out of his eye. Another burst pillowcase, he thought to himself. Maybe I should try using a conventional one instead of a packet of peanuts.
The courier replied, “I dunno, but it’s postmarked U.S. Congress.”
Stantanio grabbed the package and incapacitated the courier with a suffocating neck hold. That probably wasn’t necessary, he said to himself. Probably doesn’t mean definitely in this game. If life was a game of probablies, I’d be living in a cave in Delaware and eating snakes.
He carefully opened the package.
There, staring at him like a disappointingly unfinished toy cyclops, was a penis.
“Could this be?” he said to his long-departed wife. She didn’t reply. At that moment she was meeting her friend Lorraine for coffee in a cafe in Portland, Oregon, having left Stantanio several years before, after an unusually contentious game of scissors-paper-stone. “Damn lady. She used to read me like a big-print Mills & Boon,” he recalled.
Stantanio looked the penis in the eye.
“So, my long-lost friend. We meet again. Whose penis are you and why?”
He donned his baseball gloves. Never handle a piece of evidence without gloves, he remembered being taught at cop school. Along with “Don’t be too obviously corrupt,” and “Evidence is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Which congressman’s penis are you?”
Suddenly the penis sat up in his baseball mitt.
“I’m Newt Gingrich’s penis. Look at the f***ing tattoo. It says so on the … you should have looked at that in Chapter One, you f***ing idiot! You could have saved everyone a lot of heartache.”
Fair point, Li’l Newt, thought Mickey.
“Can you send me back to Mr. Gingrich, please? He thinks the Soviets have got me. Just like they got Lyndon Johnson’s penis.”
“The Soviets have Lyndon Johnson’s penis?” Mickey Stantanio gasped. “Then what the f*** was that thing in my lunch yesterday?”