TAKES ONE TO FIND ONE ###
(All characters are copyright their players)
The door opened. With a mean eye and an uneven gait, the coyote staggered out of the filthy biker bar, tossing aside a beer bottle. A ragged grin on his pierced and metal-ringed lips, he sat down on a souped-up motorcycle sitting underneath a street lamp.
And then he noticed the chain threading through the front wheel, imprisoning his ride to the lamp post.
“What the….,” the coyote slurred.
“Think of it as a really nasty parking ticket.” I said, flicking a toothpick into the dumpster I was standing behind. “Only YOU are the one that’s gonna get impounded.”
“Who the f@#$ are you?!” The biker staggered off his ride, reaching into his back pocket.
“I’m the guy,” I said, reaching into my own, “that’s going to bring you in for jumping bail on an assault charge, a possession of narcotics charge, and….do I really need to go through your rap sheet?”
“&$%^ YOU!” The coyote flicked out a switch blade and came at me in a drunken lurch, drawing back the knife to thrust it at my face. I closed the gap quicker than he planned and slammed my boot into his stomach. It drove the biker back to trip over his own machine, loosing his switchblade to a storm drain. So he decided to use his bare hands instead. It was only fair that I did the same. He swung for my face and I ducked it, grabbed his leather vest, and swung him against the dumpster. The lid came down as the coyote’s eyes rolled up. The bartender came out of the back door with a baseball bat in hand just as the clicks of my handcuffs were dying away.
“Hey!” the dragon said, eyeing me suspiciously, “what’s the idea?!”
“Private eye,” I grunted, hauling my semi-conscious assailant to his feet. “This guy’s a bail jumper.”
My office door handle rattled as I inserted the key and threw it open. I let out a slow breath as I tossed my coat onto the hook next to the door. Flipping a quarter to myself, I grunted.
“Bounty hunting,” I grunted. “Not a terribly bad job, but outside of tactical planning, it doesn’t require quite as much brainwork.” I collapsed behind my desk, the evening sun tossing bars of light across my back. Business had finally hit rock bottom about a month ago. Good news for the justice system and the average joe, bad news for my bill collectors. I had to find some way to pay off my debts, but a Doberman in my position can’t exactly walk up the police department steps, hat in hand, and ask if they’ve got any work for me. The police department isn’t big on temps.
So at first I’d tried looking around for a bodyguard job. That got boring fast. The endless paranoid businessmen who weren’t satisfied with their top floor apartments and offices with entire buildings full of security grated on my nerves. So one day I was perusing the “Wanted” web site of the city’s P.D and saw the word “REWARD” emblazoned under an escaped child abuser’s ugly face.
Four weeks later, I’ve got a steady pay, relatively, but I’m constantly getting my butt shot at, stabbed at, and swung at. I’ve gotten used to a certain amount of danger on the job, but this perpetual hostility was starting to make me paranoid and fast on the draw. It’s not worth it, not for little three and five hundred dollar pay-offs. That may seem like a lot when you think about it, but it isn’t nearly enough when you’ve got a baseball bat passing an inch over your head looking to send it flying over the fence.
“What I need,” I said to myself, checking my email, “is one big bust that’ll tide me over ‘till I business picks back up.” I deleted the last worthless email, another offer to refinance my insurance.
Then I saw it. An email from some sort of organization labeled “Job Offer”. I almost broke the mouse clicking it.
I represent a large security firm which has many shareholders. It has come to our attention that a very notorious criminal, who is currently at large, is planning to steal a vital prototype software from their home office, which is located in your city.
We are offering you a reward for his capture. Attached to this email is the suspects description and known name. Please contact us at the following address if you chose to accept this job.
Uneasily, I clicked on the attachment, unsure of what I was getting myself into. Glancing over the description, my eyes widened.
“No way….HE is in the city?!” I quickly brought up the “FBI Most Wanted” site. Right there near the top of the list was my intended target. Photos of him were grainy and of abysmal quality at best. I wouldn’t be able to make a solid match up from the pictures if I was standing close enough to him to smell his breath. All I could make out was his species.
I clicked the email shut. This guy was probably out of my league. A private eye going up against a criminal mastermind? This Tarboro had to be joking.
But that reward….the number listed in the target’s description would pay off a lot of bills……
I printed out the email and stuck it in my pocket; I had to think about it.
My aimless meandering has taken me to a lot of places I normally don’t go. The beach is one of those places. While I don’t consider myself completely unattractive, I know for a fact I’m no catch. So normally I don’t show my face around the land of body proud imbeciles and strung out surf bums. But today for some reason I wound up strolling down the boardwalk, mulling over my current occupational conundrum. I didn’t realize just where I’d wandered until I smelled the salty breeze, felt the sandy crunch under my boots, and heard the sounds of several mating calls….
“OOoooh baby, you’re getting’ me ALL HOT!”
“C’mon sexy mama, it ain’t Christmas, but why don’t you sit in my lap anyway?!”
“You know you want me, stop torturing yourself!”
“Yeah,” I grunted under my breath, “Why not torture him instead?” If there’s one thing I’ve found out, it’s that the open gyms in the fenced in cages at the beach are reserved only for the body proud losers who would gladly scoop out their brains and stick ‘em down their pants to create a noticeable….well you get the idea. Just as I was passing by the cage, some muscle-bound wolf in cut off jeans walked over to the fence and leaned on it. “Hey, scrawny. Yeah, you, in the hat.” I cocked an eyebrow and turned to face him. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, you can by asking your girl if she wants to get to know a REAL stud!” The guy made his pecs bulge with a little flex. I smirked.
“You know…you’re right! I’d better get over to her really fast to protect her from fake pieces of c**p like you!” That elicited a laugh from the others….and a muscular arm around the neck from the wolf.
“You little twerp! Say uncle! C’mon, say uncle!” He started squeezing my head, laughing rather unpleasantly. My face was pressed into a rather unpleasant place as he did.
“I would if the unGodly stench of your armpit wasn’t about render me unconscious…,” That made the wolf throw back his head and laugh….and rub my nose right under his arm!
“What’s the matter? Can’t take my big, manly odor?” I gave a hard shove and wriggled out, trying to wipe the stench that was still lingering in my nostrils. Stomping down the boardwalk, I passed by several shops before my eyes fell on one hanging sign.
“Harlequin Joke Shoppe.” I began to grin predatorily.
“You wanna be big? I’ll make you big.”
“C’mon, baby, I’m all cold! I need you to warm me UP!” The wolf was standing at the juice bar of the outdoor gym, still trying to hit on every girl that so much as glanced at his ripped form. He knocked back one of those dumb energy drinks that tastes like a melted popsicle, only worse. He crushed the can against his forehead, naturally, and snaps his fingers for another one. The zebra running the stand gave him an irritated look and reached into his cooler for a can as some poor girl actually started flirting back with the lunkhead lupine.
I grabbed the zebra’s hand and put a finger to my lips as he cracked it open for the wolf. I pulled out a paper packet and showed it to him, and it made him grin as I tore it open and plopped in two asprin-looking pills. The vendor put down the can within the wolf’s reach and he grabbed it, chugged it, and crushed it against his head in one swift motion. Oh brother.
“Ooooh, I’ll be you just get all beefed up when you pump iron…,” said the wolf’s current target, a female wolf who wasn’t exactly coming across as the sharpest knife in the Ginsu collection.
“You know it, sweet thing…,” He rumbled in his throat. Acting like he was God’s greatest gift, the wolf strutted over to the nearest barbell set up for bench presses and laid down on it, not even realizing that his rock hard abs were starting to crumble.
“Oh yeah, you’ve never seen anybody do THIS before…,” the wolf said with a toothy grin. Well, he was right; nobody had ever seen a person get FATTER as he pumped iron! Everybody at the gym stopped to watch as the wolf heaved and grunted, but the barbell, which had about 400lbs on it, wasn’t rising as fast as his belly! The lupine’s gut gurgled, but he was grunting so loudly he must have drowned it out in his own ears as his arm muscles bulged pushing up the heavy load. The lady wolf put a hand to her mouth to stifle an open laugh. Muscle-head’s belly now looked like he’d swallowed the medicine ball….then another….
“RRRRGH! AAHHH…..YEAH!!” The wolf fully extended his arms! “Oh YEAH! Whadaya think of THAT, baby?!” he lifted his head a bit and grinned at the wolfette, sweat pouring down his face.
“Um, not as much as I think of THIS…,” She giggled, and sank a finger into his fat belly. It was easily the size of a trash can. The entire gym started cackling their heads off.
“What the….WHOA!” The wolf made a bad mistake; he tossed the barbell away. Without the counterbalancing weight, the bench he was lying on see-sawed forward and catapulted him against the fence. It buckled under his flab, and he fell back with his eyes rolling in different directions, which drew the heartily sympathetic sound of even more beach bums whooping it up at his expense.
The beach behind me, I snickered and whistled to myself. My ability to handle the muscle-headed wolf had given me a bit more confidence that I could still lay a trap, but a prank is one thing; the master criminal that this Tarboro wanted me to go after was another.
But that money would be awfully handy……
“Eh, why not?” I said to myself. And began dialing a number that would answer my question more than I wanted it to.
“Thank you for comin’ on such short notice, Mr. Fang.”
“It’s no problem, really. I haven’t had much business otherwise lately.” I looked around the office. The building that I’d been given the address to was still under construction, so from next door, the floor above, below, and just outside came the sound of construction equipment; sanders, saws, hammers, and so on. The office itself was decorated with neo-classic design; a kidney-shaped desk with a metal lamp and a phone. The Great Dane sitting in front of me typed on a laptop as he spoke, dressed in a business suit that was steamed and pressed to within an inch of its life. His watch could have been worth my entire apartment, my office, my next three paychecks; name your cliché. No pictures hung on the walls, though; the room only had the mass produced, low pile carpeting that was standard in any number of business offices.
“So, Mr. Tarboro, why do you think this thief is interested in robbing you?” I shifted in my seat.
“We’re an up-and-coming software company, Mr. Fang….,” The Dane said.
“No offense, but who isn’t these days?” I chuckled. He seemed to share the joke.
“Ahh yes, but we’ve got a very hot contract to begin with. The AutMo Motor Co. wants us to write the program for the GPS system in their latest luxury car. There are plenty of people who would pay to get THAT.”
I nodded; the program could be useful in a number of applications, not all of them so benign as to help tell rich fat guys just how close to Copenhagen their executive parking spaces were.
“Hmmm. Interesting. How do you figure he heard about it?”
“Word of mouth. It’s no big secret, actually. We’ve got good security guarding it here, but we want somebody out there actively looking for this thief.”
“Fair enough,” I stood up and offered a hand. The Dane took it with a strong grip, and a flash in his eye that would be annoying me in the back of my head all the way back downstairs.
Okay, I thought to myself, rummaging for a hard candy in my pockets First question: how’d he get into the city? I’d say the most unlikely way. Airport requires too much information, maybe a train…wait, who says he used public transportation? People who’d heard about this guy knew of his love of cars. The next few hours were spent talking to toll booth operators. The only thing I knew about the guy’s description was his species, and about three dozen of them had passed through them that morning alone. It was only after the tenth phone call I realized that it would be easier to check the security cameras of the company’s building.
“How far back do you need me to go?” Asked the security ferret. I stood behind him in front of the security room monitor system as he flipped through DVD’s.
“Just back to when that software company moved in.”
“Oh yeah, that was just three days ago.” The ferret slipped in a disc and started playing it through.
“Who are you looking for?”
“I’ll tell you when I spot him.” Once again the tedium set in. More than once I needed a bathroom break. I was almost about to give up when I realized that there was someone coming on camera a bit more often than most….
…the janitor. Most of the time, they tend to wait until after hours to clean up, but this one guy kept coming out front….
..like he’s checking front desk security! I felt my heart stop. The cleaning crews in buildings are well nigh invisible to the white collar boys and girls. I peered a bit closer at the camera. Suddenly, there he was. He was the right species. He turned his face up to look at the camera, like he was marking its position.
“Hey there,” I chuckled at his lightly grinning visage.
The owner of the building hired the cleaning crew separate from the people who rented space in it. The salamander was a bit of a crank, but after a little fanny Frenching I managed to get him to cough up his duty roster. The janitor who was on duty at the time and day the disc I’d watched came from was one Cyr Cane. I raised my eyebrow at the document as it was handed to me.
That is one damn good fake name. Who would’ve thought to dream up THAT? The listed address was a P.O. box, but when I went to the post office, there wasn’t any way they’d tell me his physical address, though. At least at that branch; I’d had better luck elsewhere. Fortunately he hadn’t yet picked up the day’s mail. Now a more patient person would have just stood and waited for his quarry to show up and get the mail. But two things stopped me from doing so.
The first was this guy was no fool, and might spot me loitering around the post office.
The second is….I’m not all that patient. Peering closely into his box, I saw a rolled up magazine! Heh, even a master criminal can’t seem to escape the dreaded free-issue marketers for magazines.
And they tend to be a bit more loose with their information.
The sky had started to cloud over the next day. Thunder rumbled as I carefully made my way down the street. After getting off the phone with “Hot Rodder’s Anonymous: The no.1 Mag for Jag’s, Harley’s, and Anything Metal That Moves!”, I’d found “Cyr Cane’s” physical address; seems he’d actually bought something and ordered it through UPS. I’d gotten kinda tired running around, and I didn’t feel in any condition to try and surprise my quarry in his hideout the day before.
But now, knocking on his modestly expensive hotel room’s door, I was primed and ready. Muscle’s tense, I waited. Nothing for a minute. I stepped outside to look in the window and see if I could discern anything. But before I could turn the corner completely, there came the rattle of an ice machine. I stepped just around the corner and yanked off my hat, peering around it.
There he was. My target had just stepped out to get some ice. He was a ringtail just slightly shorter than myself. And if you added on his ears, you could say we were at equal height. A slightly poofy shock of brown hair came up on top of his head. He had one hand in the pocket of his long, dark duster and a bucket of ice in the other, which he set down in order to open his room door.
And I was knocking at his door. Great. I probably tipped him off. Let’s just hope he didn’t see my face. Suddenly, the master thief started down the hall toward me! I quickly started down the hall and out the door. I stopped at a vending machine to get a candy bar and find an excuse to get behind my target and tail him. He paused just outside the door of the hotel, then started right across the street. The restaurant right across the way, “Sammy’s Breakfast Nook”, was known for serving all sorts of early-morning dishes all day long.
I glanced in the rain-streaked window of the restaurant. The ringtail sat down in a booth, face to the front door. Smart, it’s the same move I try to make. I waited until a large party came in and used it as cover to slip inside. My quarry was slick and watched his back well. I had a feeling he already knew I was there. It was instinctive, plus the signs were there, a sort of cautiousness to his movements; a slow, deliberate motion, like a demolitions cop disarming a bomb.
I took a seat at the window and watched him in the reflection of the napkin dispenser. The ringtail was staring into his coffee mug rather deliberately. He hadn’t even bothered to take off his black coat. Then again, I hadn’t taken off my tan trench coat either, but that was to keep my .357 hidden. The waitress came over and a made a small order to make myself seem less conspicuous. The fem raccoon came back in about two minutes with a glass of orange juice. I drained it just as my quarry stood up and went into the men’s room.
Oh boy, he’s going for the old “out the bathroom window” routine. He must be desperate. I grabbed my hat off the table and followed as soon as the door stopped swinging. I tried not to sigh as I stood outside the door. I was almost disappointed it was turning out this easy. I’d expected more from a master criminal.
I pulled open the door, moving quietly and slowly. The yellow-tiled restroom was like every other one in the chain, urinals on the left, sinks on the right, stalls ahead on the left. I could tell in an instant that the ringtail was in one of two places when I failed to see any sort of window. I glanced up at the ceiling. None of the tiles had been moved, and the ventilation duct was in place, unmoved and un-tampered with.
I looked at the three stalls. Okay, door no.1, no.2, or no.3? I stepped in front of the stalls. I knew he hadn’t left the room, and I knew he was in one of three hiding places. But he was probably waiting for me to open the wrong one so he could bolt out the other and slam the door in my face. I bend over and looked under the doors. I didn’t see any footpaws or shoes, but after a second, I heard a sound. It sounded like a feather duster moving over a rough surface.
It was his tail swishing.
Door no.3 it is. With an almost anti-climactic feeling, I stood to one side of the door and knocked.
“Kendall? I know you’re in there. Now look, I’m gonna open this door….,” I pushed on the stall door. Kendall had one shoe on the toilet paper dispenser and the other on the handicap railing on the side and was in a crouch. The ringtail’s face was set….
…..behind the Glock he had me staring down the barrel of. My eyes bulged out of my head and I hit the deck. Two slugs cracked the air and shattered the framed newspaper front page about the Hindenburg exploding. Kendall leapt from his perch and onto my back, making me snarl in pain as he made for the door over my not-yet-dead body. I rolled over on my back just in time to see him stop as he pulled the door open and turn to take another shot at me. Eyes narrowing, I ripped my revolver out of my holster, cocked the hammer with a thumb, and aimed in one fast movement. Both of Kendall’s eyebrows shot up and he jerked back. My magnum’s report was more than triple the noise of his automatic. Any customers still left in the restaurant probably made a mess of their garments in one way or another.
The ringtail bolted out the door just as the hydra shock hollow point slug I fired fell out of the wall that it impacted with. Hydra shocks are designed so that they’ll stay embedded in whatever they hit, given a minimum amount of firmness. I grunted and got back to my feet, pulling out the one empty shell and replacing it with a fresh bullet.
“Right,” I grunted, picking my hat back up, “Now I’m not feeling so bad about this….,”
The door to the diner burst open as I came out ready for an assault from anywhere. But Kendall had made a clean getaway. To top it off, as I looked across the road, I could see smoke billowing out of the window of his room, and hear the fire alarm of the hotel braying loudly as the staff and guests poured out into the streets. I had to smirk as bit as a fire truck manned entirely by Dalmatians pulled up and charged into the hotel to put out what was left of the ringtail’s former residence and trample what little evidence might have survived into obliteration.
“Oh, this guy is GOOD.”
I trudged down the streets, my hands in my pockets. The moon was full and lighting things up almost like daylight. The search of what was left of Kendall’s hotel room turned up diddily squat. From the looks of things, he’d snuck in an I.V. bag filled with gasoline, used the tube to draw a long line of it all over his room that led to the front door, then set it off right after he ran. Very neatly planned, but he made one flaw. I hated to get evidence on a guy ‘cause he had a heart, but sometimes that’s the way things are. I had found the alarm that had been pulled to send the hotel guests and staff packing and dusted it for prints. Sure enough, when I gave them to the police, they didn’t match anybody’s prints from birth records or from arrest records. Odds were, it was Kendall that pulled the alarm. Too bad he forgot to toss a handkerchief or something over the handle before he pulled it.
“Of course,” I muttered to myself, “prints are only good for proving someone did something. My problem is finding this son of a…,” I stopped at the corner. It had finally clicked in my head. The guy was in town on business, and the rule of thumb with professional thieves was you never use anything that can’t be discarded so it won’t lead the cops to you. So this guy must have bought his tools locally.
“Guys Night Out” was the most loud, obnoxious, and raunchy bar in the city. An entire establishment devoted to the typical vices of guys: sports, booze, cars, tools, hunting, fishing, guns, and babes. It’d be my kind of place if a few more intelligent people would come in. There were a few here and there, but the bar was patronized most of the time by your typical jocks, womanizers, sports super fans, and so forth. The bar was built in a cloverleaf shape, with two bars in the upper right and lower left leaf, a gigantic screen playing “The Big Game” in the lower right leaf and a stage with Vegas-style dancing girls in the upper left. The rest of the bar was littered with half circle booths.
And at that time, the bar was hopping; there must have been over two hundred yelling, laughing, and cat-calling guys pack inside. Loud music from some hidden speaker just barely made itself known over the din of the crowd. I slowly weaved my way through the casual drinkers, the “players” looking to score with the waitresses, and the drinking contests until I made it to the upper right leaf. The red striped salamander in a green striped shirt tending the bar was popping the tops off a line of beers for a bunch of frat boys. I pulled him to one corner as soon as he had a moment.
“I’m lookin’ for Dale Clyde.” I said, having to raise my voice over the hollering college boys.
“Don’t know anybody named….,” The bartender started. I knew where he was going with this and pulled a twenty dollar bill out and stuck it in the tip glass.
“Why don’t we just cut to the chase, hmm?” The salamander paused, emptied the tips into his pocket, and unlocked a door behind the bar. I pushed it open, and was immediately treated to the aroma of a Cuban cigar. Down at the end of a long, narrow room lined with some illegal guns on one side and some tools of questionable purpose on the other was a horse chewing on the origin of the scent, wearing a black leisure jacket, white shirt, and jeans. He ran a hand through his blonde mane and looked up at me from behind his desk.
“What can I do ya for, bud?” I glanced at an AK-47 hanging on the wall and checked the price tag leisurely; WAY out of my budget. I could pick up the same gun at a gun show for less, possibly, but I’d have to have the right type of permits and stuff to own a fully automatic weapon. The extra cash was obviously for no questions asked.
I said only one word to Dale. “Information.” The horse stiffened just a bit, but relaxed quick, put his hooves up on his desk, and gave me a grin. “Dunno what you hope to find here.”
“Mr. Clyde,” I said, hands in my pockets and looking him dead in the face. “I just had to track down a small-time crook and let him go in exchange for telling me where to find you. Now I’m not lookin’ to cause you trouble; far as I’m concerned, what you’re doing here is relatively small potatoes. Smuggle in a nuke or chemical weapon, though, and there’ll be a problem.”
“Hey,” The horse said, holding up a hand, “I may not be on the right side of the law, but I don’t cater to no terrorists.”
“Good,” I said, “Now, all I need to know is if a certain someone came in here and bought equipment from you. A certain ringtail.”
“You mean….,” The horse immediately sat dead upright. I nodded. As if he was afraid of being overheard, Dale leaned forward and spoke in a lower tone. “You know what you’re gettin’ into, going after a guy like that?”
“Yeah, more or less,” I said, and pulled off my hat so he could get a good look at me. “but I think I’m up to the challenge.” The horse puffed on his Havana.
“Tch! You’re robbing me blind here.” I smirked and started to scribble out something when the horse said, “Whoa, hang on, I don’t take checks. There’s an ATM right outside the bar.” I was back in two minutes, though on the way I got beer spilled on me. I walked back in smelling like fermented barley and hops and slapped the bills down on the table.
“Done. What did he buy?”
“Lessee….he bought lock picks, a recorder to tap into security camera video feed, a few flash bombs, laser deflection mirrors, a couple sleeping gas bombs, a portable acetylene torch, and a parachute.”
“Hey, I don’t ask questions, I just sell the stuff.”
I nodded. “Okay, that tells me a lot, thanks. Now where is he?”
“Hey, do I look like I ask for I.D.?”
“C’mon, a guy this big? You must’ve heard some rumors.”
“Ehhhh…….there was one….someone said that he had to torch his hotel room and was sleepin’ in his car hidden in some warehouse down near the steel mill.”
“Right, that should do it. You keep out of trouble, Mr. Clyde.” I headed out the door. I now had plenty of information; it was time to pay this guy another visit. Just then, as I was passing through some of the booths, I happened to glance over near the leaf with the giant tv screen. It was decorated with car memorabilia.
“Nah,” I said, “he wouldn’t be here. I mean yes, he did feel comfortable enough to buy his equipment here, and he would be tryin’ to stick to places he felt safe in after our last run-in, but he wouldn’t come out in pub….,”
There he was. Sitting in one of the booths, Kendall had two empty shot glasses in front of him and one full one. He was laughing it up with his arms around a pair of girls, a tiger in a red evening dress and a black wolf in a sequin-studded, two-piece number.
“Would you like anything else?” the waitress was saying to the ringtail. He was about to say something when I stepped up.
“Yeah, I’ll take a screwdriver on the rocks, please.” The waitress turned to look at me as I leaned against the side of the booth. “If you’ll excuse us, miss, I need to have a private word with this gentlemen.” She hesitated a moment, then nodded and left. Kendall was giving me a smug, self-confident look. I returned the favor.
“Well well well, I thought you would’ve disappeared from public view,” I said, arms crossed. The ringtail smirked, his girls looking a little unsure as to what to say or do. “Now why on earth would I do that? I haven’t committed any crimes....that you can prove.”
I raised an eyebrow, “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said you’re not going to get away with this, would you?” Kendall laughed. “Not a chance. I’ve been at this way too long to get caught by some amateur.” Now it was my turn to chuckle.
“Yeah, that is true. Pity for you I’m not an amateur.” The ringtail raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah, really, and if I do say so myself, you’re lucky you’ve got me on your case and not somebody who’s more trigger happy. You’re a very wanted ringtail.”
“Oh, he certainly is,” said the tigress, stroking Kendall’s fluffy tail, which was draped over her shoulders like a stole. “I know I want him.” He turned to give her a roguish grin and give her a growl in his throat.
“Well I’m sure you’ll be able to give him a congical visit in prison.”
“Prison? Me? Oh-ho, not a chance.”
I sighed. “Kendall, really, do you want to make a public scene again?”
“No; that’s why I’m gonna leave this up to them.” The ringtail tossed his head. I glanced over my shoulder. Two fairly large bear bouncers were right behind me and each laid a hand on my shoulder. I turned back to Kendall.
“This isn’t over yet.”
“No, but I don’t think it’ll last much longer. Ciao.” With that, the two ursines started strong-arming me out the side door. I knew if they were just going to toss me out, they would have done it through the front. This was leading to a beating in a back alley. But I wasn’t about to just play along. The second they got me outside, I hauled up both my footpaws and smashed them down on each of theirs. Difference was, I was wearing heavy boots, they weren’t. Both bears let out vehement exclamations and lost their grips on my arms. I quickly hauled one arm back and smashed my elbow into the face of one bear, then repeated it with the other, and they dropped like sacks of bricks. Didn’t matter if they were bigger than me; I knew where to hit ‘em where it counted.
I shoved the back door of the bar open, my teeth grinding; my patience with this guy was starting to wear out. The booth where Kendall had been was empty, and as I threw my gaze over to the door I saw him starting to leave. Alone. Guess his girls weren’t into the whole dangerous lover bit, or maybe he had their phone numbers and was going to call them later.
Didn’t really matter, he’d be seein’ them next on the other side of a visitor’s booth in the county lock-up. I dodged back out the back door again and ran down the alley. My car was parallel parked on the street. I jumped in and gunned the motor. Making sure I was going fast enough that he couldn’t see me, I passed the ringtail and went around the corner, parking again, this time with another car to block the view. I watched through the rear windows of the car as he made his way down the sidewalk, eyes darting every which way. But he missed me, apparently. I continued to tail him in this manner, trying to keep out of side at all times, blending in with the traffic. Finally, Kendall led me to his hiding spot, which was indeed a warehouse by the steel mill.
I cut my car’s motor and parked it down the street. A gust of wind blew up and I pulled my hat down low.
“Now you’re in for it, sucker.”
Kendall sighed as he stretched his arms. Walking up the wire mesh steps to the raised catwalk, he hit a red button at the top of the steps that dropped the large front door down and locked it shut. Another button punched on the overhead hanging lights, their light illuminating a wide 2nd floor area with grated flooring. Simply arranged on it was an army surplus cot, a cardboard box containing what looked like the equipment he bought from Clyde, and a simple desk, apparently left behind by the previous owner of the warehouse, on which a laptop and a cell phone sat. The ringtail picked up the phone, plugged it into the computer, and ran some program, probably a scrambling one, as he dialed a number. A mechanically altered voice came over the other end as he wandered over to the box and began arranging his things.
“Yes?” Said the voice.
“Good. Is everything going according to schedule.”
“No problem. The item hasn’t moved, I’ve done my recon, and I’ll be doing the job tomorrow.”
“Excellent. We have a buyer waiting and he hates to be kept on hold. There haven’t been any complications, have there?”
“Nope…..well, maybe one, but I’d hardly call it a complication.”
“Some punk trying to catch me for a reward.”
“ ‘Some punk’? Describe him.”
“Ahhhh….Doberman, broad shoulders, wears a trench coat and a stupid hat.”
“That sounds like Mike Fang.”
“Small time private detective, but he can be a pain if you let him.”
“Please, this guy couldn’t catch his own butt with both hands and a net.”
“Then how’d he find you, smart @$$?”
“Don’t count on it. He’s not that smart, but he’s got a trick or two up his sleeve.”
“Well whoop-de-do. I have so many of ‘em I’m shooting them out my backside.”
“You’d better. Just make the drop by Friday, or you’ll be in serious need of a paramedic.” The phone clicked, and the ringtail stood up from the box and went “Tch!”
“Aren’t belligerent employers a b!$#*?” I asked, stepping out from behind an I-beam. I’d snuck in a back door as Kendall came in the front, and stayed in the shadows until his conversation was over.
“WHAT THE F***?!” The ringtail roared, and pitched one of his flash bombs out of the box at me. I covered my eyes from the glare, but that just gave him a chance to run up and give me a flying kick that almost sent me over the railing. I had to grab it and roll over on my stomach to keep from dropping to the ground. I snarled as Kendall started flying up a ladder towards the roof. I was hot on his heels, only a few seconds behind him as he vaulted through the opening and disappeared somewhere behind one of several air conditioning units, ventilation ducts, and so forth.
The moon was making the roof more than bright enough. But just to add to things, a helicopter came by, the blowback scattering the gravel on the roof around. A pair of searchlights started scanning the roof.
“KENDALL, THIS IS THE POLICE! GIVE YOURSELF UP!”
“How did they…?!” I heard the ringtail sputter from somewhere. I laughed loudly. “well since you saw fit to sic your friends on me, I thought it only fair to do the same!”
“You think you’ve got me?! I’ve outrun better pursuers than you!”
“Yeah, but you’ve never met one as tenacious as I am! End of the line, Kendall!”
“Well see about that!” The ringtail suddenly tossed himself out from behind an ventilation duct, firing at me. I ducked behind an air conditioner and let loose a round that went past his right hip and hit the roof. He responded with two more shots as he side-stepped around an air conditioner. I decided to make a break for it. Staying in a duck, I rolled across to an air vent closer to Kendall’s position, drawing some fire and returning my own from over the top of the rotating vent.
I hit the deck as another shot wizzed by. Crawling forward on my stomach, I made it to another air conditioner, even closer to the ringtail’s position. Or so I thought. Standing up, I whirled around the AC to find….nothing on the other side! Cautiously, I stepped forward. I heard a foot scraping on the roof, tossed a glance to one side, and saw Kendall lining up on my head! Bringing up my own revolver, I threw myself to one side just as the ringtail threw himself to the other, each of our shots barely missing. We both hit the ground in a duck and roll and came up firing, strafing as we did and not really coming close to hitting each other. I started to pant for breath, my back against another AC unit as I broke open the cylinder of my gun and reloaded.
I edged up to the corner of the unit, muscles tense. I could see him getting ready to make a move. Gripping my revolver tightly, I came around the corner and leveled on him.
Kendall stuck his hands in the air. Was he giving up? I wasn’t buying it.
“Move real slow, pal or I’ll take that smug head of yours right off.” The ringtail was grinning, sidestepping as I came out from behind the AC unit.
“Well this was exciting,” Kendall said, “we’ll have to do it again sometime.”
“Yeah, when you try to break out of prison,” I smirked. The ringtail just laughed, and took one step back.
He’d played me. He’d gotten me away from the roof hatch. With that one step, he dropped back into the warehouse. I froze for one second, shocked, then charged forward. Too late, he grabbed the hatch and pulled it shut, locking it from the inside.
“You arrogant son of a….,” I growled, and blasted the hinges of the door off and ripped it free. I slid down the ladder, trying not to give Kendall a good target. I needn’t have worried; the warehouse was empty, and he had taken all of his equipment.
Except for the three sticks of dynamite attached to an alarm clock sitting on the now-empty desk! I let out a vehement exclamation and ran for the stairs. Praying to God I’d make it, I jumped on the railing and slid down it, hitting the floor on my feet and running full tilt towards the door. The explosion behind me was enough to destroy the platform that Kendall had been working from, but didn’t do much structural damage to the building.
I came to a stop outside, the chopper landing in the empty steel mill yard nearby. Leaning against the doorway, I panted for breath.
“You’ve won one more round, Mr. Master Thief,” I rasped, “but third time pays for all!”
I paced back and forth in my office. This case was getting under my skin. I was going to bring Kendall down or die trying.
“When I get my hands on this long-tailed son of a gun,” I glowered to myself, hands behind my back, my hat and coat tossed hap-hazardly on my couch, “I’m gonna make ‘em scream for mommy. I’m gonna ram my boot down his throat and grind his Adam’s apple into apple sauce. I’ll stick his head in a toilet and flush it ‘till he drowns, and then I’m gonna…….,” Finally I stopped, getting a good look at myself in the reflection of my tv screen. I slapped a hand over my eyes and leaned on my desk.
“Aaagh, c’mon, get a grip! You’re losin’ it and that’s gonna land you in more trouble than anything. You’ll either become predictable and easy to bait, or you’re actually gonna kill this guy and wind up sayin’ Hail Mary’s from now ‘till your grandkids get into college.”
“Okay,” I let out a breath. “Focus, focus….how are we going to find Kendall now? Well he’s pulling the job tomorrow….so we know he’ll be there at that time….maybe surprise him when he gets in the building….no, no he’d expect that…..got to take him earlier, his guard will be down….but where’s he going to launch this plan?” I logged onto the internet and did some searching. Finally I found a 3D map of the city. I focused in on the building the software company was located in, the ripe fruit Kendall was looking to pick.
“Structure doesn’t look unusual….Front door’s watched thoroughly….same for the back door….They changed his employee access codes after I told them about his janitor ruse….C’mon Kendall, what’s your game plan?” I glanced at the list of equipment. The one that still stuck out in my mind was his last purchase.
“Parachute.” It hit me. “He’s gonna land on top of the building.” I quickly zoomed out of the map and narrowed my eyes at the buildings surrounding the software co.’s.
“He’s gotta jump from a building, the city’s a no-fly zone….for planes that is…..That’s it.” I tapped my finger on the screen. Two buildings over from the target was the Stanton Bank & Trust corporate headquarters. I’d seen a notice on its doors when I’d gone to the job interview; they were closed for fumigation and a health inspection. It was one of the tallest in the city and it was upwind, so it would protect Kendall from harsh buffets when he jumped.
The interior of Stanton Bank & Trust was quiet and fairly dark, though the continuing full moon lit things up nicely that was near a window. The marble floors and high ceiling over the receptionists’ desk were architecturally impressive, as was the desk itself, a hardwood number that obviously had set the bank back a fair amount. Next to it, an escalator carried one to an upper floor with a glass railing that enabled a customer to look over the edge at the ground floor. This floor design went all the way up, each floor housing offices for personal bankers to handle the numerous private and company finances. A small waiting area was outside each one, comprising of a few overstuffed chairs, a glass coffee table, and some magazines.
But now the furniture and was covered with plastic sheets, and the faint scent of insecticide lingered in the air. And now, a new renovation was being made to the building; a hole was being cut in the glass of the front door in order to allow a gun with a silencer to be poked through and shoot out the video cameras. Kendall pulled out a pair of lock picks and had the doors open in a minute. Not bad, ‘bout how long it took me to get them open. The ringtail shut the door behind him and relocked it to avoid suspicion, stuffing his tools back into his black duster.
“Getting easier every time,” Kendall chuckled. “I should really raise my standards.” He headed towards the escalator, a backpack bouncing up and down on his back. He stepped onto the rising stairs and pulled the backpack off.
Hiding behind a potted plant in the dark, I started to line up my sights.
Kendall came up higher on the escalator, completely oblivious to my presence. He was going through his tools, counting them off.
I carefully cocked the hammer of my revolver, watching my target come closer and closer into view.
The ringtail got to the top and stepped off. He showed me his profile and then I had him.
I pulled the trigger. One .357 magnum bullet rocketed through the air….
….and tore though the parachute. The impact was actually enough to rip the backpack from Kendall’s hand. He drew his gun and turned to face me, but his eyes followed the backpack as it hit the ground, the tear allowing the ‘chute to come out, unfolding and revealing several rips. He turned back to watch as I stepped out of the shadows as far as the far side of the down escalator, the ringtail at the far side of the up.
“You…,” he growled, clenching his teeth. “Don’t you ever take a hint and GIVE UP?!?!”
“Hmm,” I put on a mock look of thoughtful-ness. “Lemme think,” I paused for all of a fraction of a second before saying “NO!” I raised my gun up higher. “I’ve had it, you bat-eared blowhard. You cheesed off the wrong private eye. Now as it is traditional,” I opened my arms wide, “I’ll give you the choice of the easy way,” and then pointed my revolver at Kendall again, “or the hard one.”
Kendall paused for half a second to look at me like I was insane. “I’m gonna skin you and use your hide to line THE FRONT SEAT OF MY CAR!” He cracked off a shot at my head as I ducked and rolled behind a chair.
“Why do I even bother to offer them the easy way?” I sighed, and promptly returned fire, shattering the glass pane in the railing directly behind Kendall as he jumped onto it, launched himself up, and tried to gun me down as he sailed through the air. I held my position, and as he apparently expected me to dodge, got a really good shot at him as he sailed overhead. But moving targets aren’t really my specialty. He hit the ground unscathed as I plugged a ceiling tile. He started to turn around to fire again, so I grabbed the plastic cover off the chair and tossed it up to obscure his view of me as I ran for the other side of the waiting room. Kendall whipped his arm around and fired several times, tearing holes through the plastic sheeting. But he missed me and lost site of me completely.
The ringtail stood up, eyes narrowed and ejecting an empty cartridge. That was my cue. I shot up from behind the plastic lined couch and let off a thundering round that smashed a lamp on an end table but missed the ringtail as he quickly sidestepped and slammed in a new clip. I took the time to fire one more shot, making him duck so I smashed the glass window of one of the banker’s offices. Thinking quickly, I crawled around to hide behind the arm of the couch. Sure enough, Kendall duck-and-rolled so that he came up behind the back of the couch, where I was before, ready to fire.
What happened next was unexpected. As I got ready to surprise the ringtail, he figured out where I was, grabbed the opposite end of the couch, and tried to flip it over on me! I raised up my hand and gave a hard shove, knocking it back over and forcing Kendall to jump back. I jumped onto the couch and raised my revolver to fire. At the same time, he let loose a round with his Glock. We both jerked back as our guns were sent flying from our hands and landed within a relatively close distance of each other.
Both the ringtail and I stood stock still. Our eyes shifted between each other and the guns.
Then we both launched ourselves…..at EACH OTHER. Apparently we both had the idea of trying to surprise the other when he went for the weapons. We collided in mid air and hit the ground trying to go for each other’s throats. I wound up on top. Being bigger and heavier, I pressed down on Kendall and started lifting up his shoulders and slamming him against the floor. He hauled back and nailed me one in the jaw. For a semi-slim guy, he could punch! My head snapped back and he slammed one into my side and I rolled off, gasping for air. We both got to our feet, myself rising slowly and Kendall doing a hand flip into an upright position. He went into a Walker Texas Ranger-style spin kick. But I’d seen those too many times before and knew what to do. I dropped my shoulder and just rammed him. I caught him right off balance and slammed the ringtail in to the wall behind him. Snarling, I grabbed his throat and started to try and throttle him into submission.
But just as his eyes were starting to close, Kendall proved he had more tricks up his sleeve. He whipped his tail around and blinded me with it. Temporarily distracted, he got in two fast jabs to my face, and then pulled off a stamp-kick to my stomach. I doubled over and he grinned, cracking his knuckles like he was getting ready to lay me out with a haymaker.
I’d taken enough. I let him have it with a straight left palm thrust to the solar plexus. Kendall’s eyes bugged out and his air left him in one big blast. Standing up fully, I grabbed him by the shoulders and did the ultimate close-up; a nasty head butt. Our two skulls collided rather unpleasantly. Then I grabbed him by the lapels of his duster, swung him around by spinning on my heel, and let him go flying. He flew face-first into the glass window of one of the offices, smacking it hard enough to crack it; those things are sturdier than they look.
The ringtail slumped against it like he’d had enough. But just as I got close to slap the cuff on him, he pulled an ace out of his sleeve. Summoning up all his strength, Kendall put his hands against the cracked glass and hopped in the air. Raising up both sneakers, he smashed them backwards in a double mule-kick and nailed me square in the chest. It hit me hard enough to send me flying back and land on the coffee table. HARD.
Kendall groaned. He turned around slowly; his lip was cut and he was staggering as he held his head. I rolled over on my side, hissing as I clenched my teeth. My chest felt like a car had hit it and I was having trouble breathing in correctly. We both locked eyes for a venomous second, then spotted our guns laying on the floor just in front of the escalators. We simultaneously launched ourselves at them like frat boys at free beer. I hit the ground on my side and slid myself up to the glass railing, snatching my revolver up. Kendall did two uneasy loping strides, then collapsed against the railing next to his backpack after scooping up his Glock. Both of us with our shoulders pressed against the glass panes, we raised our guns in unison and pointed them at each other, our aims waving all over the place.
“Give…up…yet…,” I said in sporadic gasps, still unable to breathe right.
“Not a chance,” Kendall muttered, only then realizing his lip was busted.
“Say’s youAAAHH that stings! RRRGH, when this is over, Tarboro’s gonna make me a rich ringtail!”
I jerked my head up. “TARBORO?” I could feel my breath starting to come back. “Great Dane? Bit taller than I am?”
“….I dunno, I only saw sillouette’s of him on a video phone….but he looked like a Great Dane…,”
“Oh my Holy God…,” I groaned. “We’ve been suckered!”
“What? Is this a trick, ‘cause I’m not buyin’ it.”
“No it’s the truth, I swear to God! I was hired by a guy named Tarboro! He’s been playing us against one another!”
Kendall stared right into my face. I couldn’t see my own expression, but I knew I had my mouth shut, was panting hard for breath, and giving him as best a hard-yet-honest look I could generate after getting my butt beat halfway from there to Mexico.
“Son of a…,” he said. Suddenly, a voice came on over the PA system of the building.
“Ahh, so they finally wise up.” Both the ringtail and myself started rolling our eyes around, trying to find the source of the voice.
“TARBORO!” I hollered as loudly as I could in an uneven voice. “You two-faced….sleaze what are you testing us for?!”
“Testing? Now who on Earth said anything about that?” both the ringtail and I jerked a bit. We realized that somehow he had a mic planted either in the building or on one of us. He’d been watching us the entire time!
“Come off it, you…,” Said Kendall, letting out a rather bad word, “We’re not stupid! The only reason to send us after each other is to see who’s better!”
“Alright you toilet-mouthed lackey,” Tarboro snarled “you want the full Monty?! Here it is! We wanted to see who was better; the craftiest, most unstoppable thief, or the most cunning, relentless private eye!”
“Oh you flatter me,” I said in a mocking tone. “I’m not the best and you know it.”
“Oh you’re too modest Mr. Fang,” The two-faced Dane chuckled. “How about you, Mr. Kendall? Care to deny your own reputation?”
“No, I’m the best.” I raised an eyebrow at Kendall. “You know pride should only be applied to the quality of one’s work, not one’s reputation.”
“Well I’m only saying it as a matter of fact,” the ringtail chuckled. He tried to grin, but the split in his lip still stung him.
“All right,” Tarboro interjected. “Enough plesantries. One of you kills the other one, end of story. The winner gets to work for us, and the loser is fed to the local wildlife in bite-sized pieces.”
“There’s a fitting burial.” I snorted.
“NOW DO IT!” Tarboro thundered. Kendall and I looked at each other, then both looked in the direction we each thought the voice was coming from and stuck out our Mr. Digit hand puppets.
“Oh now that’s hardly showing any spirit, gentlemen,” The S.O.B could see us, too!
“UP YOURS!” Kendall and I yelled at the same time.
“THAT’S IT! You two either fight to the death, or I’ll send in my boys to do BOTH of you!” I narrowed my eyes, my mind almost busting a gear trying to figure a way out of THIS one. Finally, I hit on half a plan.
“Hey,” I whispered at Kendall. He didn’t turn towards me, but I saw one of his ears swivel around toward me. No wonder he’s an expert.
“I’ve got an idea on how to disappear, but I don’t know how we’re going to get out of the building.”
“I’ll handle that,” Kendall whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “What’s your plan?”
“You’re gonna have to trust me, for starters.”
“Oh boy, one of THOSE plans.”
“Don’t screw with me on this, or we’re both dead!”
“Okay. So what next?”
Kendall slowly dragged himself up to his feet. He held out a hand. Painfully, I extended my own and grabbed it and he helped me to my feet. “Okay Tarboro, you win.”
“Good,” the voice box echoed from somewhere. “Now hurry up.”
“We’re gonna do this the old fashioned way.” I said. Kendall and I put ourselves back-to-back, pistols held at port arms.
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding.” Said Tarboro.
“No, so take it or lump it,” Kendall snorted. We started counting steps. One…two…three…four….I gripped the smoke bomb Kendall had palmed me when he helped me up….five…six…seven….I stuck my finger in the pin….eight…nine…ten! We stopped, turned towards each other….
….Then threw down two grenades that filled the waiting area with thick black fumes.
“WHAT?!” Snarled Tarboro. “VINNY, LUIGI, ROBERT, GET IN THERE!” Kendall and I heard the front doors smash open and the sounds of automatic weapons cocking. But we were well out of the clouds of smoke by the time the bullets started flying. We were doing flying of our own; down the stairs of the emergency stairwell. Well flying may not have been the best term; more like careening down the steps and crashing into the walls all the way down. We’d smacked each other around pretty good.
“Hold it,” said Kendall when we’d reached the bottom. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the wad of plastic explosive he’d bought from Mr. Clyde. He slapped it against the wall just underneath the stairwell.
“Okay, the building next door shares a basement wall with this one. That wall there. So let’s take cover.” The two of us staggered into the basement long enough for the ringtail to blow the wall. The explosion knocked the both of us off of the wall we had been leaning against and onto our knees.
“Shoot, that rattled my skull,” I said. “C’mon let’s…,” I glanced to the side. It appeared the beating I’d given Kendall’s head had made him rather sensitive to shocks, and his eyes were rolling around on different circuits.
“Oh dear God,” I sighed, and tossed one of his arms over my shoulder. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.” And with that, I hauled the ringtail through the smoking debris.
“Police have no clues yet as to the identity of the suspect or suspects who were responsible for the break in this evening at Stanton Bank & Trust. Police CSU’s found both small arms and automatic weapons damage to the building, as well as a hole in the basement wall, apparently made by plastic explosives. For News Channel 8 I’m Brenda Fillen, reporting.”
I winced a bit as I dabbed antiseptic at a cut Kendall had given me with one of his jabs to my head. It was right above the eyebrow I always raise to indicate my surprise at the stupidity or bizarre nature of something, so naturally it was going to sting for a while from excessive use during the healing process. I sat at my card table, a first aid kit open in front of me, trying to fix on myself what I could.
“How’s the head?” I said, tossing my gaze over at my couch. Kendall was laying in my living room with an ice bag on his head where a nasty bump was showing up where our two minds had collided. He also had some healing cream on his split lip, and appeared to be making an effort not to so much as twitch his head.
“Better than your chest, I’d imagine,” he tried to joke. I smirked, when another racking coughing fit hit me. It would be several hours before the blunt force trauma Kendall had you-know-what slapped me with would completely wear off.
“Probably,” I wheezed. I dragged myself to my feet to drop into the chair beside the couch. The ringtail was staring at me through a cracked eyelid. Finally, he dropped the question.
“Why what?” I said, cracking a stiff joint in my neck, and wishing I hadn’t when the headache set in.
“Why didn’t you leave me after I was left stunned on the basement floor?”
I was silent for a second. “Gut reaction.”
“Mmm, I’d say Christian charity. I don’t leave behind helpless victims.”
“Heh, how noble of you.”
“Some would call it stupid.”
“Yeah, and some would call giving a wrecked motorist a ride to the nearest gas station stupid, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.”
“Well,” Kendall started to try and pull himself up, “thanks for the hospitality, but I’ve gotta go.”
“Go where?” I chuckled, “To an early grave? You step out that door in your condition, they’re gonna spot you and have your butt in a crosshair so fast you won’t have time to figure out what type of gun they just plugged you with.”
“You really think they don’t know where you live?”
“Duh. If they did they would’ve come through the door by now, don’t you think?”
“…..I guess you’re right. But I can’t…,” The ringtail tried to sit upright even further. All I had to do was stick out my hand and put one finger on his forehead and gently press and he started to lie back down again.
“ow ow ow ow ow….,”
“You can, and you will. We’re stuck in this together, so we either find out who’s been pulling our strings or they’re going to hang us with them.”
“Uuuuhh, oh all right. Seems I’ve got no choice.” The ringtail tilted his head slightly to one side and grabbed the straw in a can of Dr. Pepper I put next to him on the coffee table with his muzzle and sucked out a mouthful. “So who do you figure is after us?”
“Well,” I said, trying to drink from the beer mug of milk sitting next to me and coughing a little into it. “given the armament that Tarboro’s lackeys had, and some of the little details in his speech, I’d say there’s only one possibility.”
“Organized crime,” Kendall and I said at the same time.
“Yeah, but who?” I mused. “Russian mob?”
“Nah,” Said the ringtail, “the never hire Americans.”
“How do y…,” I started, but remembered who I was talking to as the master thief gave me an incredulous grin. “Oh yeah. Okay, what about the Mafia? Those three guys had Italian names.”
“Maybe,” Kendall said, propping himself up on the couch’s arm, “but the big boss likes to put in a personal appearance, and Tarboro definitely isn’t the big dog.”
“Yeah, that’s true, he doesn’t pontificate enough. Some sort of militia?”
“…oh, never thought of that….,”
“Heh, well that’s part of my job; thinkin’ of stuff nobody else does. We’ve got the “join us or die” attitude, full auto weapons…,”
“Yeah, but don’t forget about how they talked about the loser’s body getting chopped up and fed to wild animals.”
“…oh yeah. Militia’s don’t usually execute like that, do they? They’d be more likely to put you in front of a firing squad or hang you, then bury you in a shallow, unmarked grave.”
“Probably. Drug lord?”
“I dunno. Tarboro seemed too….clean. Drug guys are more the ‘you want in? Go shoot the guy that owes us money,’ type. They don’t usually seek out new hires.”
“Good point. Gun runners?”
“Mmmm, a bit closer to the mark, I suspect, but still they tend to be the type that doesn’t have to go out and look for people to work for them.”
“Yeah, true. So who would?”
“…..Group of assassins?” I cocked my head to one side. Neither of us spoke for a minute.
“I think you may have it,” Kendall said. “Very exclusive, not exactly the type of group people actively seek out, and if they require somebody’s services to fulfill their own, they don’t exactly take no for an answer.”
“Maybe,” I mused. “But the only thing is if they were testing our abilities, and the ones they were looking to judge were our abilities to blow each other away, then why trick us into doing it in self defense? Assassin’s have to be aggressive, not defensive….Oh, I think I’ve got it.”
“A death game.”
“….You mean…..guys bettin’ on which of us will wack the other first?”
“But then what was all that stuff about working for them?”
“….They probably need a reigning champion to pit newcomers against.”
“Hmmm, sounds plausible.”
“Well,” I grunted, pulling myself up out of my seat, “whatever the reason, we’ll find out in the morning.” I staggered slowly into my bedroom, “If we don’t get some sleep, we’re going to be dead from exhaustion, anyway.”
“Sounds good, I’ll just sack out here on the couch.”
“Right. If you hear anything, I’ll be in the next room. Oh, and Kendall…,” I stopped in the doorway. The ringtail tilted his head. “Yeah?”
I gave him my best sardonic grin. “If you’re gone in the morning after swiping my ash trays, I’ll be ticked.”
The next morning I had finally regained my ability to breathe normally, and my cuts and bruises had healed over. Kendall turned out to be an even faster healer than myself; I found him up and about even earlier than myself, more or less making himself at home….in MY home! I staggered out of bed that morning to find an empty orange juice carton and an empty cereal box on the counter, not to mention three cabinets open and the ringtail with his head stuck in a fourth. He pulled it out as soon as he heard me grunt my “Morning of The Living Dead” greeting to the daylight. He had a banana stuck in his mouth.
“Say,” he said, pulling it out and swallowing a lump of fruit. “Where do you stash your coffee?”
“You want coffee?” I said, wiping something out of my eyes, “here’s what you do: reach under the kitchen sink…,” the ringtail bent over.
“then pull out the bag marked ‘potting soil’.” Kendall resurfaced with a look on his face. “Not a coffee drinker then, eh?”
“If God meant for us to drink a brew that tasted like hot water strained through a gym sock, He wouldn’t have given us a sense of taste.” The ringtail smirked and proceeded to drain my orange juice instead.
“So what’s the plan?”
“Well, first you do your dishes.”
“Alright, then what?” Kendall dropped his bowl and spoon into the dishpan and began to run hot water into it.
“Next, we go talk to our mutual friend Mr. Clyde. We know that Tarboro was watching us, probably using surveillance equipment not normally in the building.”
“You think they got their equipment from him?”
“If not,” I said, reaching into my pantry and pulling out a new bottle of grape juice and swigging straight from the bottle, “he’ll know where they did.”
“Ahh, my newest customer!” I stepped into Clyde’s back office again. I’d had to pay off both the doorman AND the manager to get in after hours. “Come back to check out that HK-47? I could give you a dis….,” Kendall stepped out from behind me.
“….count….why do I get a bad feeling about this?” I gave the horse an incredulous look, but I did keep eyeing the rifle as I drew closer.
“Can’t imagine. Unless….of course….you knew what we were here for….,”
“Heh, well, I don’t….,” The horse ran a hand through his mane. Kendall wasn’t buying it as he was also ignoring the fact that his cigarette had burned down to where it was singing the fur on his fingers.
“Then why are you sweating more bullets than you’ve got in these cases?” the ringtail said, leaning against the wall.
“Uuuuhhh….,” The horse began to reach below the sight line of his desk. I quickly reached over and slammed the draw he was reaching into on his hand, and a hefty clunk dropped as he gritted his teeth and yanked it free.
“Now what would that have been?” I said, eyes narrowing. Kendall grabbed the horse’s shirt as he grinned nervously. I pulled open the drawer myself and pulled out a heavy nickel-plated automatic.
“My my, would this be yours?” I said, slamming it down on the table. “You know why we’re here, you knew somebody was playing the both of us, and you better spill it now!” Kendall let go of the horse forcefully, knocking him back into his chair. “Okay okay! Someone came here and told me that Kendall might be showing up and someone might be following him! I was supposed to let them know…,”
“I dunno! They gave me a phone number, nothing else!” I narrowed my eyes and nodded. “That’s all we need.”
“It is?” Kendall gave me a look over his shoulder.
“Yep. Trust me.” The master thief gave me an “are you serious” look. He narrowed his eyes, calculated, and turned back to Clyde.
“I’ll have you know you’ve lost my repeat business.”
The ringtail and I stood outside the office building; across the street from it actually. Using the internet, I’d managed to track down the phone number to a law firm. It figured; the hunting game would be run by a guy who made a living screwing people over. The firm was one that was frequented by high-profile celebrities, especially music “artists”.
So why were we standing outside of it? Well the first reason was because both Kendall and I agreed that the odds of them believing we’d come after them instead of fleeing the city were remote.
The second was we were in disguise.
The idea had come to Kendall; dress up like a couple of rappers and claim we needed to see our $1000 an hour mouthpiece about a contract dispute. Going to second hand shops, we put together an ensemble: each of us had ripped jeans, black leather vests, bandanas, gaudy gold chains, and rainbow-tinted glasses.
But as I looked over the ringtail as he put plastic hoops around his fluffy namesake, something didn’t add up.
“They’re gonna see though these way too easy.” I said, looking at the t-shirt I was wearing, complete with stenciled on cheesy pick-up line. Kendall had decided to go no-shirt himself.
“Huh? Are you kidding?” The master thief grinned and looked at himself in my bedroom mirror. “My mother wouldn’t recognize me in these clothes.”
“Well unless you took on the family business, I doubt your mother feels the need to question the identity of everyone who comes in her presence.”
“Okay,” he said, hands on his hips, “What do you think we should do?” It was all I could do to suppress my grin.
“Oh, that’s easy. Right this way.” I led the ringtail into the enclosed back lot right behind my building. It was a small area some people put flower boxes and stuff, so it was made with what every gardener needs.
A garden hose.
“Well?” said Kendall, looking around, “What did you pull me out here f….,” the ringtail was cut off as a shoved the garden hose in his mouth. I snickered.
“What rapper is less than 300 lbs these days?” I said, and twisted on the flow. The ringtail gurgled and sputtered a bit as water began to flow down his gullet. His tan, furry belly was the first thing to start bulging, rounding out like a watermelon growing in fast forward. His arms started to get a bit fatter next, then his paws. His cheeks got pudgy and he put his paws against his belly as it got rounder, stretching out and sloshing in front of him, almost an inch every five seconds. Kendall leaned against the side of the building as his foot paws bulged up, his toes starting to get wiggily. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.
It took two minutes before I shut off the water. Kendall spit out the hose and belched loudly, his sunglasses sliding down his muzzle. His belly was about the size of a 30’ tv, a big round bulge in front of him. His limbs and paws had pudged up so he would have to wear sandals and waddle quite a bit.
“So?” I sniggered, poking my finger into his belly. “What do you think?” Despite his attempts to look serious, the ringtail had to giggle a little as I poked his belly button.
“Heh, I’ve got only two words: YOUR TURN!” Kendall flipped the hose up into his hand and shoved it in MY mouth! My ripped shirt ripped even further as my brown furry belly bulged up this time. Kendall went a little bit faster than I did, though, my gut jiggiling more as he twisted the handle up higher. My toes popped out audibly, as did my fingers. Yet miraculously, the ringtail managed to time it just right. When he twisted off the hose, our bellies had bulged to the same size, as had everything else.
“Heh,” the ringtail snorted, “now you really can say you’re PHAT.”
“Oh, very FUNNY!” I said, smirking and throwing my belly into his. We got into a little sumo match for a few minutes, forgetting the seriousness of our situation until we finally couldn’t go on without collapsing in a fit of sniggering.
The door to the elevators opened. The receptionist was sitting at a somewhat familiar kidney-shaped desk, a vixen teasing her hair up with a compact mirror. She tucked it into a purse that matched her business suit, turned to face us….and could only raise one eyebrow when we waddled up to her looking like a couple of nightmares out of an all-you-can-eat restaurant owner’s bad night.
“Where’s Mr. Tarboro?” Kendall said, trying to make his voice sound deep. The vixen looked up at him, trying not to stare at the big belly not an inch away from her desk. We’d both agreed I’d be the silent one this time.
“I’m sorry?” She said in an icy tone suggesting she was anything but.
“We’ve got to see Tarboro right NOW. Didn’t he tell you we were comin’?” The vixen raised an eyebrow and looked like she was about to dial security. Kendall put a stop to that by leaning forward and BLOMP! He dropped his belly onto her desk not an inch from her nose.
“Now look here girl! I am the freshest new mixer out there! I AM Ring-A-Bling, and this’s my homie, Wide Load Dawg!” I flashed a gangsta’ peace sign, or what I thought would pass for one.
“Some schizzle’s got his fazizzle up in our record deal, and we want this nizzled, yesterday!”
“Okay, okay….,” The flustered secretary said, realizing that a few passerby’s in the hall were starting to stare, “Let me just call ahead....,” That was my cue. I dropped MY tv-sized paunch onto the desk, walling the vixen in on two sides with oversized round bulges of bloat.
“Girl, we don’t have TIME for that!” Kendall said, “Just point to his office!” The vixen threw her hand down the hall. “Two flights up! The elevators don’t go that high!”
“Okay, coo’,” Kendall said, and lifted his gut off the table, making it creak in relief. “Thank you, honey. Hey, tell you what, why don’t you and yo FINE self meet me later afterwards….,” But I had the ringtail by the arm and was pulling him away and around the corner before the secretary decided her job wasn’t worth getting hit on by a jelly-bellied thief in disguise and called the rent-a-cops.
“I can’t believe that worked,” I said, looking over my shoulder down the expensive carpeted hallway lined with gaudy pieces of abstract “art”. Kendall smirked. “Heh, rule of thumb: if it’s outrageous enough, people don’t question it. Now, what are we going to do about these?” Kendall put a hand against his belly and wobbled it. “We’re in no shape to go hauling Tarboro out of his office.”
“Really? I thought we could just sit on him,” I snickered. “Okay, there’s two ways to undo a little water retention, and this’s the only one that’s practical.” I stopped in front of a door in the hallway and beckoned Kendall inside. The ringtail took one look at the insignia on the door and his ears drooped.
“Ho boy. I hope they’ve got magazines in there.”
My stomach finally shrank back down to its original semi-in shape form. I checked my watch. Ten minutes had gone by. I stood up and worked some kinks out of my back from being in a sitting position for a while and banged on the wall beside me.
“Hey, you okay in there?”
“OOOooooohh….yeah, I’ll live….,” I tried not to laugh as I changed into my usual white dress shirt, brown slacks, trench coat, fedora, and boots. After blowing up, Kendall and I had found that we could hide our usual clothes underneath the stretched out disguises; let’s hear it for the rapper fad of wearing baggy pants!
I pushed open the door to the stall, adjusting my shoulder holster. In the one next to me, I heard the sound of rushing water, then the door opened. The master thief staggered out, his coat rather askew and his eyes rolling around.
“Hey,” I said, trying to help steady him, “You alright?”
“I haven’t gone that much since I went on a weekend bender,” He said in a far-off voice. Kendall went over to the sink and splashed some water on his face, shaking it open.
“RBRBRBRBR! Okay, I’m ready.” I went to the door and cracked it open. The hall was still empty. I nodded and we slipped out of the men’s room.
“So I just realized,” I said as we headed for the stairs, “what are we going to do when we get Tarboro?”
“I thought,” Kendall said, reaching underneath his coat, “one between the eyes would suffice.”
“What?! No way! I don’t do murder! We drag his carcass to the cops, that’s what we do.”
“Oh yeah, that’s a real option for me. ‘Hello officer, I’m an international thief. Here’s a crook I found, would you like to take me in as well?’” The ringtail pushed open the stairwell door. The video camera was visible right over the inside doorframe. I reached up and pulled out the feed wire.
“Well if you announce it to him, sure.” I said, “Look, let ME do the talking and you can just walk away.”
“Oh, so now I’m supposed to trust you?” The master thief shook his head. That irked me. I grabbed his arm as he started up the stairs.
“Hey, I could’ve turned you in any number of times to save my own skin. Don’t start copping this “the whole world’s out to get me” attitude NOW. I don’t turn on my comrades, EVER, unless they turn on me first.”
Kendall sighed. “Alright, we’ll try it your way.”
“Yes Mr. Delmont,” The Great Dane said, idling fiddling with his pen, “consider your partner cut from the contract. And yes, those photos you sent were very helpful.” The slimebag hung up his cell phone. The office he was sitting in was more like a throne room; a definite step up from the one he’d met me in. Twin grandfather clocks flanked the door to a 40 square foot room. Oriental rugs were spread out on the hardwood floor, a large self-portrait of Tarboro hung on one while the other was lined with an odd collection of items in glass cases. Behind his desk was a ceiling-to-floor window that had a door in it that led to a balcony.
Kendall and I stood with our backs to opposite walls on the outside of Tarboro’s office doors, peering in around the corners. We waited until he turned around in his seat to take another phone call, then we slipped inside, shutting and locking the doors behind us.
“Yes Ms. Teller? Who? No they haven’t shown up….I see.” The Dane hung up.
“I don’t remember having any clients called “Ring-a-Bling” and “Wide Load Dawg”….,”
“Yo mo’ fo’,” Kendall said, pulling out his Glock and putting it in Tarboro’s ear. I pulled out my revolver and did the same with his other one.
“What up?” I snorted. The Dane appeared to be trying to look in two opposite directions at once and getting ready to soil his expensive suit. “We figured out your game, Tarboro. How many guys have you had go after each other so you and your sick buddies could get your jollies watching them?”
“Enough to get good at setting up these games,” The lawyer snorted. Kendall dug his gun deeper into Tarborro’s ear.
“Not good enough, apparently!” The ringtail snarled.
“I’ve got money,” was the first thing out of the Dane’s mouth.
“Screw your money,” was the first thing out of both of ours.
“Well now that that’s been established….,” The Dane said, sounding tense as piano wire. I don’t know how he managed it, probably a hidden button low on his desk, but when Tarboro kicked the corner of his expensive hardwood throne, a flash/bang grenade hidden on the arm rest went off, blinding both Kendall and myself. The ringtail fired a couple of rounds as Tarboro bolted for the doors, actually managing to break the lock by kicking it open.
“It isn’t gonna be THAT easy!” I snarled, bolting out of the office after the scumbag lawyer. I got as far as the receptionists desk, the master thief right behind me, when I ran into four problems, each of them in a security uniform and with a Beretta aimed at my head! I hit the deck and rolled into a doorframe as a slug from each of them came down the hall. Kendall heard them before he saw them and actually went into a slide that would have done Sammy Sosa proud, coming up underneath the slugs and knocking one guard off his feet.
Another guard turned to plug Kendall in the head and I whirled up, aimed for his shoulder, and nailed him with a shot that hit hard enough to put him out for the count. A third took a swing at Kendall’s head, which the ringtail ducked and countered with an uppercut that threw the guard’s head straight up, then slammed a heel into his chest and threw him into a stand of potted plants.
The fourth guard stepped out from behind an office door to line up a shot at Kendall’s back. I charged out of my cover spot and slammed my shoulder into the door, crunching the guard between the door and the frame. I slammed it a few more times and he finally dropped his gun, then dropped unconscious himself.
I surveyed the scene of insanity, panting a little for breath. “Not exactly the most fun part of the job,” I muttered.
“You feel guilty?” Kendall said.
I nodded. “A bit. It was self defense, but they were just doin’ there jobs.”
“Really? I didn’t hear any warning before they opened fire, did you? And take a look at this.” He pointed out three of the guards’ name tags: Vincent, Luigi, and Robert.
“Why do those….,” Then it clicked. The three guys Tarboro sent in to blow us to pieces when we wouldn’t keep trying to ice each other.
“Well, THIS certainly puts things in a whole new light,” I said, being sure to step on them as we renewed our chase.
“He’s gonna get to the bottom first!” I hissed. We were taking the stairs down to the building’s ground floor, but through the windows we could see the glass elevator that Tarboro was taking from the outside, smugly smiling at us as he dropped faster than we were.
“Oh no he’s not,” Kendall said. He suddenly got off on one of the floors. Ignoring the screams pencil-pushers were making at seeing an armed thief running around in the building, the ringtail pried open the doors to the elevator shaft, took aim at one of the service maintenance boxes, and shot it. The emergency brakes on Tarboro’s elevator kicked in and it stopped a few floors down.
“Heh, going down? I don’t think so…,” Kendall smirked and jumped into the shaft, grabbing the cables and sliding down. I followed quickly behind him, getting to the car just as he was prying open the access panel.
The elevator was empty. The lawyer had gotten the doors open and had proceeded to continue to run like the judge of a chili cook-off for the port-a-potties. The ringtail and I kept after him, though we were getting out of breath by the time we got to the basement garage.
Inside the garage, it was dark, save for the areas where the fluorescent lights actually worked. Kendall and I quickly scanned the parking lot, and then heard the familiar sound of an electronic lock being released on a car door. Tarboro was climbing into a fancy Jaguar, and was just about to pull the door shut when we ran up.
“Hold it, scumbag!” I hollered, and started reaching into my coat. The Dane glowered and turned the engine over. I realized that he’d run us down before either of us could draw. I had to think fast, so…..
….I pulled out my hand, gripping what was in it tightly. “If you step on the gas, I’ll push this!” I held out my hand. In it was a thin metal tube with a button sticking out of the end. I had my thumb on the top of it. The Dane narrowed his eyes at me, apprehension filling them quickly. Kendall raised an eyebrow at me, obviously very shocked.
“That’s a really nice car, Tarboro.” I grunted, “It would be a shame if it was blown to scrap.” The dane’s eyes got wider. There was a very tense moment…
…and then he turned off the engine and put up his hands. It was at that time the sound of sirens started echoing through the garage. Three squad cars pulled up and several uniformed cops jumped out.
“FREEZE! HANDS IN THE AIR!” I tossed a look at Kendall. I got the distinct impression he was seeing his life flash before his eyes. I cleared my throat to get his attention and gave him a fast wink.
“Officers,” I said as I was frisked by a female goat, my revolver relieved from my person. “Glad you’re here. You can arrest that dog,” I tossed my head at Tarboro, who was also being patted down. A fancy pistol was also removed from his pocket, one of those prissy, round-nosed numbers that was obviously made more for looks than for reliability.
“Really? On what grounds?”
“Attempted murder by criminal enterprise. He tried to get me and Mr. Cane here,” I tossed my head toward’s Kendall, who was obviously trying not to look surprised. “to rub each other out for his entertainment and that of his friends.” The cops looked at Kendall hard.
“Mr. Cane? And who are you?”
“He’s not Cane!” Tarboro whined. “He’s Kendall, the international criminal!” I gave Tarboro a look, turned to the goat, and smirked. “What they will say to get out of their own punishment, eh? Mr. Cane here was just the janitor at a software company that closed down a while ago.”
“That company was…..,” Tarboro started, but quickly shut up. He realized what I had; he couldn’t tell them the truth about the false software company without admitting his own guilt.
“Was what?” The goat said, turning towards Tarboro.
“I plead the fifth,” he grumbled. The goat nodded. “I see. Well you can explain it to our friends downtown. I see that while you don’t have a permit for a gun, Mr. Fang and Mr. Cane here do,” I turned toward Kendall and grinned; when he put together a fake identity, he certainly didn’t miss any details. Our guns were returned to us, and Tarboro was led off to the squad car, complaining even as he was read his Miranda rights.
“That. Was. SMOOTH.” Kendall said, letting out a tense breath. I chuckled, reholstering my piece. “But when did you get the chance to plant explosives on Tarboro’s car?”
“I didn’t,” I said. “I remembered what you said: if it’s outrageous enough, they’ll believe it.” I grinned and picked up the metal tube that I’d dropped when the cops showed up off the floor and tossed it to myself.
“Tarboro really should have learned the difference between a remote detonator and a ball point pen.”
“Oh, Mr. Fang,” The goat’s hoof beats echoed through the garage as she walked back up to me, “I’ll need you to sign this form to officially press charges.”
“Sure thing,” I said, “are you going to need Mr. Ca…,” I turned to look, but the ringtail had vanished.
“Where’d he go?” The officer said, jerking her head around. I could only pull my hat down over my eyes and smirk.
I should’ve known….
The evening was sun was once again throwing bars of light through my office window. My shirt sleeves rolled up just past the elbow, I punched up the final documentation of my case on my laptop, currently sitting on my desk rather than my lap, and gently pushed the screen down.
Revealing that Kendall had been sitting on my couch, picking at his nails. I jumped a bit in my seat. “Jeez! Heh, I suppose it would be pointless to ask you to knock next time?”
“Heh, yeah, I’m afraid it’s a force of habit.” The ringtail stood up. “I just dropped by to say thanks ‘fore I left town. In my profession you don’t meet a lot of people who stick their necks out for somebody who was only minutes ago trying to give them a dirt nap.”
“Seems to be one of several things we have in common,” I said, standing up as well and shaking his hand.
“So what’s going to happen to Tarboro?” Kendall asked.
“Well after bringing him up on owning an illegal gun, seems his piece had the serial numbers burned off with acid, they tossed his apartment and his office, found recordings and such, and got him to roll on his friends. He’s still serving 25 years, but they’ve taken death row off the table.”
“Serves him right.”
“Amen to that. Heh, plus it seems that there was a reward on this guy’s head under a different name, and the cops were gracious enough to give it to me. Here,” I pulled a check out of my pocket which I’d written on the off chance I saw the master thief again, “you earned it.” The ringtail didn’t bother to deny it as he took the check. It wasn’t for as much as Tarboro had offered me for his head, but even divided in half it was going to put my head well above water.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ve been asked this before; have you ever considered tryin’ out the right side of the tracks for a change?”
The master thief smirked. “Sometimes. Incidents like this give me pause for thought. But I do what I’m good at.”
“But you could apply those skills towards ends that are a bit more….noble.”
“I guess. We’ll see what the future holds.” I nodded.
“He worketh in mysterious ways,” I chuckled, and reached over onto a small box on my desk.
“Here. I can’t promise I’ll be willing to help you break the law unless it’s for a greater good, but if you need help, give me a call.” The ringtail looked at my business card for a second, then put it in his pocket and pulled a pen out of a cup on my desk and a piece of paper out of my printer. He scribbled something down on it and handed it to me. It was a bunch of odd directions, talking about asking certain people for certain things, going to specific buildings, and finally leaving a message on an answering machine.
“Your message drop?” I asked. Kendall nodded. “If you need to get in touch with ME, let me know. There are some rather unwholesome competitors out there I wouldn’t mind being rid of if you go after them.”
“Heh, okay, I’ll keep that in mind. Oh, one more thing before you go…,” I reached into my desk drawer.
“Nobody would ever believe me if I told them about this, so….,” Kendall grinned and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Sure, on one condition…..,”
That evening, as the sun was setting, Kendall was driving down the highway into the descending ball of light. Grinning to himself, he looked at a photograph tucked securely in his car’s ash tray. He and I were standing, each with an arm around the other’s shoulder in front of my desk, grins on our faces, backlit by the sun through my office window. I was stripped down to my boxers and tank top undershirt, and the ringtail had all my personal belongings in a sack over his shoulder, my fedora on his head, like he just robbed me blind. A signature on the picture in my handwriting said
To the only thief that’s ever outsmarted me and gotten away with it,
And as he was driving off into the sunset, I was sitting in my office, looking out the window and grinning. In my hand was also a photograph. Kendall and I were again in front of my desk and grinning, the sunlight coming in through the window, but this time I was fully dressed, and while each of us had one arm around the other’s shoulders, the wrists of our opposite hands were handcuffed together. And on my photo, in a handwriting that wouldn’t ever get put on the police’s books if I had anything to do with it, was a message.
To the only private eye who ever slapped the bracelets on me,