K9 Katastrophe

16 October 2005

Sarah thinks it’s hilarious. Meghan wants more of an ending. My dad said it was great. Pop doesn’t feel qualified to critique me. For anyone else who wants to read, here it is.

K9 Katastrophe

It’s another night in the Big City. The rain’s coming down in buckets, and I watch as it fills the window well of my basement office. Water seeps in around the edges where the gasket doesn’t seal right, leaking all over my desk, and I make a mental note to have it replaced when I get my next influx of cash. Then I have a better idea. I’ll move my desk.

So that’s how the dame finds me, bent double with my back muscles straining and my heart doing a triple jackhammer as I try to heave the old oak monstrosity into the center of the room. I know she’s a dame ‘cause she’s got one of those fake mink coats on, the kind husbands buy for their second wives so they won’t break the bank like the first ones did.

“Are you Jack Friday, the private eye?” Her tone’s incredulous, and I know, I wouldn’t believe it either, not if I saw some soft boiled detective trying to rearrange his office furniture. But that’s what it says on my door, and I always pay attention to the memos my secretary leaves there. I decide to put her at ease.

“Yes, yes I am. And by the way, your coat’s fake.” It’s always a good idea to throw facts at the customer, out of the blue, Sherlock Holmes style, helps them have more faith in your deductive reasoning abilities. But apparently the dame doesn’t think too highly of mine.

Smack. She belts me in the head with her handbag, and the next thing I know, I’m seeing stars dance across my eyelids.

When my vision clears, I find my secretary, Grace Valentine, with her arms around Ms. I Still Don’t Know Her Name, while the dame sobs into her blouse.”What’d you say to her, Jack?” Grace asks me.

“I just told her that her coat was fake.”

Smack. Now it’s Grace’s turn to belt me one.

“Jack, you don’t tell a woman that, especially not if it’s her first mink!” Grace shoots daggers at me, and I duck just in time to let them clatter harmlessly against my filing cabinet.

“No, it’s not that.” Ms. I Still Don’t Know Her Name says as she extracts herself from Grace and then dabs at her eyes with a tissue. I wonder where the tissue came from, and than I remember seeing the contents of her purse at it flew towards my head. Ah, another mystery solved.

“It’s just that I expected to find a nice detective to help me find my Winchester and all I’ve found is this, this…” she says as she waves the tissue in my direction, “animal hating, brute!”

The dame is all tears again, and I’m suddenly concerned for my office furniture. Between the rain and her waterworks, I’m going to be lucky if anything in here stays dry. But then it hits me like a ton of bricks. Her husband’s rich enough to afford fake mink and she’s got a missing rifle she wants found. That means she’s a paying customer, and I might just come out of this with enough dough to move to an upstairs office. I seize the moment.

“I’ll take your case, Ms. I Still Don’t Know Your Name. Now, tell me all about this missing rifle.”

“My name’s pronounced Istella Dahnoyornam, and I don’t know anything about a missing rifle,” she says. She stops crying long enough to look confused, and I motion to Grace that I’ve got the situation under control and she can go back to doing whatever it is that my secretary does. Grace exists stage left, and then it’s just me and Ms. Don’t Know Your Name sitting in the green tinged light from my accountant’s desk lamp.

“You said you were looking for a missing Winchester,” I offer.

“Oh, no, Winchester’s not a gun. He’s my dog.”

This throws me for a loop. I usually leave missing animals up to Pest Control. Maybe they’re all busy at the moment, which is good for me; I need this case.

“Well, what does Winchester look like and where did you last see him?” I ask.

“He’s a small white Yorkish terrier, and I was walking him on Sunday down by the park when he just vanished into thin air,” she says.

Today’s Tuesday. I count backwards. Winchester’s been missing for two days, and in the Big City, that means his trail’s probably cold by now, especially with all this rain. But I don’t tell that to Ms. Don’t Know Your Name.

“I’ll see if I can find Winchester for you, Ms. Don’t Know Your Name,” I say.

“Just leave a number with my secretary, and I’ll get back to you when I know something.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you.” Ms. Don’t Know Your Name is all gushy tears, and I hurry her out of my office before she cries all over my green accountant’s desk lamp and shorts it out. After all, it’s the only working light I’ve got left. Knowing that Winchester’s trail won’t be any easier to pick up tomorrow, I grab my faded fedora and black leather trench coat, check to make sure that I’m packing my .45 and carrying enough ammo to provide covering fire to a small revolutionary country, blow a kiss to Grace, and step out into the dark and the rain and the streets of the Big City.

Indecent Nymph. That’s what the neon letters above the door to the Eccentric Mafia’s new bar read, but what they illuminate is the two Russian thugs doing a concrete lion bit on either side of the entrance.

“Get out of here, Friday. This is a private bar,” Thug Number One growls.

So these guys know me. That must mean I know them. I think back on all the Russian thugs I’ve busted over the years and the answer hits me like a hungry sea bass going after a lure. It’s Boris and Yawnis, the Put You To Sleep With the Fishes twins. I’ve got a rap sheet on these guys back at my office that’s a mile long. They’re been busted for robbery, arson, grand theft auto, singing opera in public, and terrorizing Chicago style hot dog vendors.

“He told you to beat it, Friday.” Yawnis takes a step towards me as he says this, and I watch the flecks of Meaty-O’s breakfast cereal fly from his mouth and land on my trench coat when he gets to the word, ‘beat’. I brush the flecks off. I know how to handle these guys.

“Look, boys, a hot dog stand.” I point down the street at the ketchup and mustard stained aluminum sided cart that’s parked under an awning to keep its owner out of the rain. Boris and Yawnis look at each other, than at me, than at the hotdog stand, than back at each other. I hear a heavy kachunk as their mental gears engage. Finally, Boris speaks.

“We’re supposed to be guarding the door, Yawnis.”

“But it’ll just be one hot dog, Boris,” Yawnis replies.

“But what if he goes in while we’re not here? The Don won’t like that,” Boris says.

Yawnis looks at me. “You won’t go in, will you, Friday? At least not until we get back,” he asks.

“No, I won’t go in,” I reply.

“See? It’s settled, Boris. Now let’s go get hot dogs,” Yawnis says.

“Okay,” Boris says, and the two trudge off in the direction of the hot dog vendor, who waves as they approach. He must be new. No sane Chicago style hot dog vendor would ever invite the Put You To Sleep With the Fishes twins over to his cart. I squint through the rain, trying to make out the company logo on the ketchup and mustard stained aluminum siding. When I finally do, I smile. ‘Bill’s Venetian Hot Dogs.’ The man can take care of himself.

I turn my attention back to the nondescript, cherry wood red, ivory handled with a brass knocker door of the Indecent Nymph. I push on the handle; the door swings open, and I walk out of the dark and the rain and the streets and into the best bar in the Big City.

The inside of the Indecent Nymph is dark, smoky, claustrophobic, the kind of place that’s home to all kinds of low life characters: pushers, dealers, thugs, toughs, bookies, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen. Glaring white lights are strategically placed so that they cast obvious shadows on the corner tables; after all, those of the underworld need a place for their shady deals. A jazzy, bluesy, electric, rock and roll noise reaches my ears, and my gaze shifts to the band on the corner stage. They’re a four piece, string quartet, girls with electric instruments group out of Europe. I’ve heard their music; Grace tells me I even like it. If I’m remembering right, their name is Glue.

But the music and the shadows aren’t what catch my attention. What does is the four foot two, gossamer dress wrapped, wisp of a girl, who’s trying to eat the microphone as she belts out the band’s lyrics. She’s got the body of a twelve year old and a voice that could crack china at fifty feet. I glance down the bar; all the patrons are holding plastic cups. Smart move. Then she hits a high note, and I watch that lacy dress unfold into a pair of fairy wings. I notice the gold chain around her ankle, and the realization hits me like a boxer warming up with a punching bag. This is the Indecent Nymph. The Eccentric Mafia is trafficking in pixie porn.

Well that’s good news for me. You aren’t allowed to keep fairy tale creatures without a license, and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the Eccentric Mafia doesn’t have one for their singer. I amble up to the bar where Vinnie, the owner, is talking to Daniels, the bartender.

“Friday! Get out of here.” Vinnie greats me with his usual cheer.

“Can’t do, Vinnie. I’m here to bust you for illegal possession of a fairy tale creature, unless you’d care to trade for some information,” I say.

“What? Her?” Vinnie jerks a thumb at the singer. “She’s legal. Got her from a guy down on 14th Street who specializes in exotics: werewolves, ghouls, vampires, pixies. You name it and he can get it. But that don’t matter, ‘cause she’s legal. So get out of here. How did you get in here, anyway?”

“Through the door, like everyone else,” I reply. “Well then look, the Don still owes me a favor for returning his missing day planner, right?”

“No, you’re all squared with the Don. We did that favor with the music for you, remember?” Vinnie says.

He’s right. The pixie porn bust didn’t go down like I’d planned, and I’m all out of favors with the Don. It’s time to play my wild card.

“The Deuce of Spades!” Vinnie sputters as I show him the card. “Where’d you get that?”

“From the Bicycle deck in my office,” I say. “Now, will you trade me for some information and a drink?”

“I thought we’d confiscated all of those,” Vinnie says. “Sure, Friday, hand over the card and you’ll get your information.”

“No. Give me the information and you’ll get the card,” I say.

“How do I know you’ll give me the card when I give you the information?” Vinnie says.

“How do I know you’ll give the information when I give you the card?” I reply. Two can play at that game, and Vinnie’s never been good at MindMaster.

“‘Cause we of the Eccentric Mafia always keep our word,” Vinnie says.

He’s right. They do. It’s part of their unwritten creed, which is only unwritten because the Don spilled a bottle of white out on it while the ink was still wet. I know. I was there. I bumped his elbow. But nobody but me remembers that last part.

“Deal, Vinnie,” I say as I slap the card on the bar.

He palms it with the smoothness of a Mississippi gambler then says, “Okay, Friday, what do you want to know?”

“Know anything about a missing Winchester?” I ask.

“What? The rifle?”

“No, the dog.”

“No, I don’t,” Vinnie says, “But Nicky the Nose might.”

“Where’s Nicky hang these days?” I ask.

“At the Sugar Bowl, but she says she’s trying to quit.” He shrugs.

I nod my thanks, than turn to Daniels. “A shot of scotch, twelve years old, port finished, single malt, and keep it off the rocks.”

Daniels hands me the plastic glass and I knock it back, than I’m out the door, and the Indecent Nymph is behind me, and all that’s in front of me is the night and a name and a dog that’s missing somewhere in the Big City.

A quick stop at the Quick-E-Mart lands me all the supplies I need for an interrogation at the Sugar Bowl. Then it’s off to the bad part of the Big City, which is only half a block from the good part of the Big City. There’s really not a whole lot of city in the Big City.

Carefully, I rap on the door of the Sugar Bowl. The door opens a few inches, and a disembodied voice begins to spew movie trivia questions at me.

“What’s your name?” the voice asks.

“Jack Friday,” I reply.

“What’s your quest?” the voice continues.

“I’m looking for a missing Winchester,” I say.

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Black.”

“How’d you get here?”

“I followed a white rabbit. Trixie, this code is stupid. You know it’s me. You can see me through the door.”

It’s true. The door to the Sugar Bowl is made of candy glass. Trixie, the owner, has to have it replaced about once a month whenever an unwanted customer tries to chew their way inside.

“Shut up and finish the code, Friday,” Trixie says. “Now, who framed Roger Rabbit?”

“Jessica Rabbit,” I say.

“See, that wasn’t so bad.”

She opens the door the rest of the way and I step inside. The bright lights reflect off Trixie’s blond hair; paired with her blue eye shadow and black mascara enhanced eyes, she looks exactly like that dog out of Lady and the Tramp. Hence where she got her nickname. I glace around the inside of the Sugar Bowl, looking for stray crumbs and paying customers. Trixie’s partner, Fido, is nowhere to be seen. That’s fine by me; I don’t like dames who drive fast cars, slurp the last of the sugared milk from their breakfast cereal bowls, and are fond of evicting me from the premises simply because I’m a private eye.

“You paying, Friday, or did you bring your own?” Trixie asks.

“Brought my own,” I say holding up the Quick-E-Mart bag.

“Figures,” Trixie says turning around and walking back towards the tables.

“Nicky the Nose around?” I ask Trixie’s retreating figure.

“Corner table.” She waves a hand in a vague direction that encompasses all the corners of the room. “But she’s quitting, so if you get her sloshed I’ll get Fido to throw you out.”

I nod, not caring that she can’t see me, and then take myself down the carpeted steps, towards the tables, and into the Sugar Bowl proper.

The Sugar Bowl is the only pool hall in the Big City where they serve sugared breakfast cereal instead of peanuts and milk instead of beer. Bright colorful lights stave off the manic depression induced by the movie theater style carpeting and Disney theme song music that plays over the sound system. If it wasn’t for the fact the half the Big City’s underworld element hangs out here, parents might even call the place kid friendly. I spot Nicky the Nose lining up a corner pocket shot on a far table and head in her direction.

“Hi, Nicky, how’s it going?” I ask.

“Friday!” She jumps two feet in the air, misses the shot, turns, and breaks the pool cue over my head. For the second time that night, I watch stars dance across my eyelids. When I come to, I’m lying on the floor, and Nicky’s standing over me.

“I’m so sorry, Friday,” she says as she helps me up. Nicky has one of those voices that sounds like you’re trying to talk with a clothespin wrapped around your nose while choking on a handful of milk saturated sugared breakfast cereal. Conversations with her are always entertaining.

“Not a problem, Nicky,” I say as I get to my feet. “Now, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about a missing Winchester, would you?”

“A rifle?” she asks.

“No, a dog,” I say.

“No. Nothing.”

“Are you sure, Nicky?” I pull a box of Lucky Charms out of my Quick-E-Mart bag and set it on the pool table next to an empty bowl. Nicky’s eyes go to the cereal, than back to me.

“Absolutely.”

“Are you really sure?” I ask as I produce a jug of milk.

She licks her lips, but nods anyway. “I’m sure,” she says.

“Are you really, really sure?” I pour the cereal into the bowl then open the jug of milk. “It’s two percent.”

Nicky’s eyes get even bigger than Trixie’s as she watches me pour the milk into the cereal. She chews on her lower lip.

“Well…” she says hesitantly.

“Yes?” I bait the word with a silver spoon I pick up off the table, sliding it into the bowl of sugared breakfast cereal and then lifting a spoonful of milk laden, crunchy, green marshmallows towards my mouth.

“Okay!” Nicky can’t take it any more, and she snatches the bowl and spoon from my grasp. “I heard a rumor that a lot of dogs have been disappearing down by the Fettuccine Feline brother’s place. They’re Italian you know,” she mumbles around mouthfuls of cereal.

“Thanks, Nicky,” I say, as I turn away from the table in time to see Trixie sic Fido on me from across the crowded room.

I make a three point landing in the street, knees, elbows, nose, and Fido’s barking “And stay out!” rings in my ears, but even the pain can’t stop a grin from spreading across my smashed features. Winchester’s trail is close; I can feel it, and so I pick myself up, dust off my faded fedora and black leather trench coat, wipe the blood from my face with a napkin I swiped from Nicky’s table, and make my way towards an Italian tailor’s shop that’s nestled among the streets and buildings and gutters that make up the heart of the Big City.

Twists and turns and two blocks later, I’m lost, because I can’t remember where the Fettuccine Feline brother’s tailoring shop is. I pause at the entrance to a dark alley, trying to get my bearings and figure out where I am, when a meaty hand clamps itself around my neck from behind and drags me backwards into the shadows. A large caliber pistol grinds itself into my temple, and a voice that smells faintly of Venetian style hot dogs belches in my face.

“We’re going to have to work you over, Friday,” the voice says.

“But today’s Tuesday,” I protest.

“Is not. It’s past midnight. Today’s Wednesday,” the voice replies.

And with that they go to work. Brass knuckles play my ribcage like an accordion, while the meaty hand around my neck keeps me from crying out, or going anywhere. It’s intense. The most intense pain I’ve ever felt, except for that time I ate at Lou’s Cheep Hong Kong Restaurant, where the chef cooked chicken that had been marinated in hot sauce for three days and was studded with bits of cracked pepper and crushed Fireballs. That was more intense than this, but this is still pretty intense.

After what seems like hours, but was really only five minutes according to the Timex wrapped around my wrist, the meaty hand holding me up lets my bruised body fall down into the gutter, and the voice speaks again.

“And don’t ever think about busting the Indecent Nymph for pixie porn,” it says.

So this is what it’s all about. Vinnie’s trying to get even for something that hasn’t even gone down yet. Either that or Yawnis and Boris are just stupid and have assumed that I was going to put them out of a job by busting the Indecent Nymph for pixie porn. I decide to set the record straight.

“But I wasn’t going to bust the Indecent Nymph,” I mutter into the pavement. “It’s all legit.”

“Oh,” the voice says. There’s a long pause. “I told you we didn’t have to work him over, Boris.” Yawnis prods me with the toe of his boot. “Sorry about that, Friday. Say, is there any way we can make it up to you?”

“You guys know where the Fettuccine Feline brother’s place is?” I ask. “And can you carry me there? I’m not in such good shape any more.”

“I know where that is,” Boris says. “They’re Italian. We’ll get you there, Friday.”

And then I’m aloft, suspended between the Put You To Sleep With the Fishes twins who half drag, half carry me through streets and alleys and gutters and finally dump me on a concrete stoop in front of the Fettuccine Feline brother’s tailoring shop in the heart of the Big City. After they’ve left, and I’ve laid on the stoop long enough for my ribs to stops hurting so much, I muster enough strength to stand up and ring the doorbell. Frederic answers.

“Friday, good to see you. You need a new trench coat? Yours looks like someone evicted you from a pool hall and then worked you over with brass knuckles,” he says.

The Fettuccine Feline boys are sharp as needles, but that’s to be expected; they’re Italian, and tailors.

“No, the coat’s fine,” I say. “What I need is information. Know anything about a missing Winchester?”

“No. Ours is still above our fireplace,” he says.

“Not the rifle, the dog,” I say.

“No, I don’t know anything about that, but Franz might. Hey, Franz, come to the door,” he yells back into the building. Seconds later, Franz appears. It’s creepy how much the Fettuccine Feline boys look like each other, but they’re Italian, and brothers, so I don’t let it bother me.

“Friday’s, got a question for you,” Frederic says to his brother.

“You know anything about a missing Winchester?” I ask Franz.

“No. Ours is still above our fireplace,” he replies.

“Not the rifle, the dog,” I say.

“Sure. I saw it happen,” Franz says.

At last, the missing pieces of the puzzle are coming together, and I’m about to find out what happened to Winchester. As Franz unfolds the story, I hang on to his every word, and he finally has to tell me to knock it off because I keep derailing his train of thought. He starts the story over from the beginning.

“It happened last Sunday,” Franz says. “I was mending a suit out on the balcony, and I saw this lady walking her dog.”

“What kind of dog was it?” I ask. I need to make sure that the dog we’re talking about is Winchester, and not some other dog that Franz saw.

“A little white puff ball thing, and this lady’s walking it, and she keeps calling it Winchester, like the rifle, and I’m sitting there mending the suit, and thinking this is all very sweet, this lady walking her dog and calling it Winchester.”

“And?” I prompt him to continue.

“And there’s this guy down the street, and he’s cleaning out the sewer, and he’s got one of those big vacuum things like we use to clean the lint off clothes, only much bigger, and he’s pulling the hose out of the sewer, ‘cause he’s done with that part, and he’s going to move on to the next part, and then suddenly the dog is in the street, and it’s running towards the man, barking its little head off, and he pulls the hose out of the sewer, and the dog runs under the hose, and whoosh, it vanishes into thin air,” he says.

I stare at him. “You mean Winchester got sucked up by a sewer cleaner?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “And then the next day the lady comes back, and she starts putting up these missing dog posters, like that one over there.”

I look where he’s pointing, and sure enough, there on a lamppost is an orange flyer with a picture of Winchester on it and Ms. Don’t Know Your Name’s phone number below it and a reward for any information about the missing dog.

“Well thanks for the help, guys,” I say. “I guess this is case closed.”

“No problem, Friday, and if you decide you need a new trench coat, you know where to find us,” Frederic says.

The door to the Fettuccine Feline brother’s place shuts behind me, and I walk over to the lamppost and pull down the orange flyer with Winchester’s picture on. Folding it up, I stick it in my pocket, and then start the long walk back to my office. As I walk, I think to myself that maybe this case will land me with enough dough so that I don’t have work in a basement, and can afford to buy some flowers to put on my secretary’s desk, and maybe even get a new trench coat from the Fettuccine Feline brothers, but all that’s in front of me, and the Winchester case is all that’s behind me, and all that’s right now is the dark and the rain and the streets of the Big City.

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