Tuesday, December 17, 2013
ADVENTURES OF DUFFY DEAN (unified story)
It’s always a dame. Yes, this truth I have learned many times over, and I’m not catting around. In my case, there are many dames, of course, and they shall likely be the death of me. My main dame, rock of my existence, however, is my babe Sarah, but this tale has little to do with her. Nor my many mistresses, no. This story is about a dame who interrupted my normal sleuthing duties.
It was a dark and stormy night. I was sitting at my normal perch, feet up on Sarah’s computer keyboard, when there was a knock. I could barely see a profile through the translucent pet door, but I could smell her Chanel #5. I set down my absinthe. I don’t always drink absinthe, but when I do . . .well, I really have no idea why. I called for her to enter. The flap wasn’t locked.
I nearly fell off the table. Dressed in sheer blue velvet, with a wide-brimmed hat sporting plumage from several different breeds, she sashayed into my room. I’ll have you know that I am a feather fetishist, but let’s keep that between us. She had curves that wouldn’t stop, a squashed nose that of an aristocat, and enormous blue eyes you could have swam in. Skinny dipping immediately came to mind. Margaret Keane would have drooled to paint them.
“What’s a broad like you doing in a seedy neighborhood like this?” I asked. I was relieved that my maid had recently changed out the litter box.
“I was looking for help,” she purred cattily. “And I heard you were the top.” Oh, what she didn’t know! I played it cool, though, but my whiskers were thrumming like strings on Hendrix’s guitar.
“What should I call you?” There were many names already swirling about the crevasses of my feline brain. But then she stopped my heart.
“Kitty Boo Boo. But you can called me Boo.”
I almost melted. I recognized her now. She had sent me a card. The online photos did not do her justice.
Quickly I was to my feet. I knew we should talk in more intimate surroundings. “It’s late. I was heading over for some Indian cuisine. Wanna join me for some curried tuna and nan?”
A sensuous smile cracked her beautiful face, and she said, “Why not.”
I knew I was being foolish, heading off into dangerous territory, but it was a path I’d take a thousand times just to hold her delicate paw again.
Although I still wanted Indian, the evening called for a classier place. Dinner at the Chateau Cheetah was memorable. Kitty Boo Boo, resplendent in velvet and diamonds, picked daintily at her goose pate, while I took on a huge prime rib, rare. We shared martinis and then a bottle of Hazlitt 1852. Her eyes shown as bright as jewels in the flickering glow of table candles. Quiet renditions of Cat Stevens songs, covered by the blind piano player and his jazz trio, flittered about the room like hummingbirds.
After sharing post-dinner cordials, while I puffed on a giant Cuban cigar, I turned to Kitty and asked, “So, doll, tell me what you need. Why did you seek me out?” My mind imagined many delectable responses to my query, but instead she looked down and murmured, “I have to find it. I just have to!”
“The statue. The onyx Drakones Indikoi.”
I scoffed. “You mean the supposedly famous carving of Indian dragons? Everyone knows that that piece of art is a myth. Never existed. It was just a scam to get archeological funds from a gullible public.”
Fire flashed in her eyes, and her cute Persian nose crumbled in disgust. I thought for sure I was in for a cat fight. Her whiskers flickered like antennae on an overexcited roach. Her fur ruffled and her pearly white teeth broke the edge of her sultry mouth. But like a skilled seductress, she quickly gained control of her anger and then stared confrontationally at me.
“No. It exists. My papa stole it from the Baghdad Museum during the fall of Saddam and snuck it to the States. He had to have had help from government insiders, I am sure, someone in the CIA or the Army, but I don’t know. He never told me. But he said only a few knew of it, or where he had hidden it. But he told me. And it cost him his life.” Water began to well in her eyes, and my feline heart ached. A perfect crystal tear formed and then fell to the starched white linen. “They found him horribly beaten and murdered. Those rats, I want them all dead and his treasure returned. They tore out the wall, behind which it was hidden. He fought hard not to give up the secret location, but he failed.”
“Because you are the only one I can trust. I don’t know who in the government or from overseas knew about it, but either it was an inside job or someone spilled the beans. But it has to be an outsider.”
“This sounds like a job beyond my skills.”
“But Duffy,” she purred. “I know you have a lion heart and mad skills. Everyone says you are the best. I may not be able to pay you right away, but I will make it worth your while.” A bolt of electricity turned my insides to rubber. How could I refuse such a beautiful damsel in distress?
“I need to see the scene. Can we go there?”
“Of course. I can take you tomorrow.”
“Then tomorrow it is. I’ll pick you up at ten.”
Morning arrives too early for the party cat I am. I could feel martinis and wine still punching my brain cells. It took several cups of thick Brazilian brew and a sardine/veggie shake to get me started. I could still smell Kitty’s perfume as I padded around the kitchen, deciding if I should go to the office first or just relax until my appointment. Sarah didn’t like me smoking cigars in the house, so I popped a piece of gum in my mouth. Women, I thought. Always controlling my life.
I took a quick shower and flea dip, then spent a while blow drying and combing my silky fur. Yeah, I said silky. I’ve got to keep the babes satisfied. Then I picked out a nice purple Pierre Cardin suit, topped with a floppy hat, the brim decorated with a pheasant feather. Damn right I was pimpin’.
At five to ten I met up with Kitty, and she directed me to her father’s joint. Not much to talk about, for a noted archeologist and scholar. She unlocked the door and I was immediately struck by the smell of old man and ancient artifacts, as if the home was itself a tomb. Particles of dust swirled about in the slatted light filtered in from unwashed windows. Kitty clearly felt uncomfortable, as if embarrassed to acknowledge any relationship to the cat who ended his life here. Someone had straightened up the front parlor and kitchen. She led me back through a narrow hallway. “This is his office.”
A chalk outline marred the scuffed wooden floor. A throw rug was scrunched up below the desk, covered with detritus and ephemera from a life of scholarly pursuit. Obviously he had fought hard for his life. Claw marks of different depths scored the floor planks, desk edges, and mantels. Closer examination seemed to indicate the possibility that two perps were involved. “How did they get in?” I asked Kit.
“There was no sign of forced entry. All the windows and back door were locked.”
“Hmm. He must have known them. Did he ever mention any of the people he had dealings with?”
“No.” But I had the distinct feeling that she was not telling me all I needed to know. I looked at her, but she cast a glance to the back wall. Someone had completely destroyed the paneling, ripping veneer and sheetrock in jagged patterns. An alcove had been exposed, obviously the recent hiding place for the alleged onyx statue. I reached over and pulled on the throw rug; as it unfolded I heard a tinkle as something slid to the floor. I leaned over and picked it up.
It was a key, one usually partnered with a safe-deposit box. Perhaps in his struggle the professor tossed it on the rug and then shoved it all under the desk, hoping the assailants might not notice. Or it fell out of his pocket during the melee, the sound of its fall muffled by fabric. Maybe the killers were so focused on getting the artifact that they forgot the key, or it simply wasn’t important to them. But it was a clue. Then I saw a small clump of hair attached to a tiny triangle of cat flesh.
“What color fur was your father?”
“Light Persian grey.”
The good doctor had bitten or ripped a small portion of an ear in his losing battle. I picked it up with a pair of tweezers and sealed it in a small ziplock bag, both part of a kit I always kept with me for investigations. How had the police missed it? I was beginning to wonder if they had investigated at all---if they were satisfied just to remove the body and turn a blind eye. I decided then to call my buddy on the force, Detective Tom Felis, a Maine Coon who sometimes slipped me info, while I returned the favor at other times. I decided not to mention this fact to Kitty.
“Anything else seem out of order or missing?”
Kitty batted her lovely eyes and scanned the room. Her gaze came to rest on a stand behind the door, and she gave a little gasp. “His mahogany cane is gone. His bulldog cane. Ivory handle, carved dog embellished with glowing sapphire eyes.”
The scene had provided me with wonderful clues. The game was afoot.
As we were leaving I looked at pictures on the wall. Papa had been a very busy boy. There were fifteen litters displayed, averaging six per photo. It was easy to pick out Kitty, though she was quite plump in her kitten days. And it looked to me that she dyed her hair now. I wondered why that would be."
Tom Felis rocked back in his custom chair, a chaos of paper and photos strewn around his desk. Assorted detective items were placed willy-nilly, and his wall was covered with plagues and awards testifying to his decade-long service to the community. He took a sip from his steaming cup of joe, and then hissed at me: "Whatya mean our boys didn't do a good job at the scene?"
I pulled the key and piece of purloined pelt from my pocket, and tossed them on some unfinished reports piled on his desk. I didn't know if Tom was going to reprimand me for affronting his fellow officers's work or charge me with removing evidence from a crime scene. But I could see in his amber eyes that he was concerned. He picked up the key with one claw.
"First Feline Federal. . . hmmmmm. Must be where he kept his lock box. I'd need a warrant to check the box, although I may have a contact there that could slip you in. Marjorie Morningpuss. You remember her? I think if you schmooze her she might let you have a few minutes in the safe. But don't tell her it was me who told you. She is still a little angry at me."
Indeed I did! And her name had nothing to do with her attitude waking up, if you know what I mean! But that is another story. "But isn't FFF a front for the Panthera gang?"
Tom grimaced. He had been fighting the Pantheras forever, chipping away at their soldiers and supporters but never getting close to the bigwig, Jay Gur Undi, but almost everyone called him Wabo. Slick, even beautiful some say, but a sneaky devil with a cold heart. He ran all of the town's illicit gambling and cathouses, and dabbled his claws into anything that might make him a buck. He was a deadly adversary, and I wasn't surprised that there might be a potential link. Clearly I had to get a look into that lockbox. "What do you think of the fur?"
He picked up the baggie. "Domestic short hair. Looks like the tip of an ear. Orange tabby, I think. Old guy gave them a fight, didn't he?" Then his eyes clouded and his brow furrowed. I knew he was thinking. "I seem to recall a bit of muscle employed by Wabo. Big orange tabby, bad attitude. Tough. Runs numbers when he isn't pummeling people to pieces. Not bad with a gun either. Be careful with this cat."
"You hear anything on the street about an onyx statue?"
"Nope. Can't think of any reason it would cost the old guy his life. Is it really valuable?"
I paused to mull that over. Wasn't sure how much I wanted to let him know, just yet. "Not sure. I can't help thinking there is more to that piece than just art. In your, well, 'investigation,' did you come across anything interesting?"
His eyes narrowed again at the slight, but he decided to let it pass. He could handle a dig every once in a while, especially when he knew there was some truth to my charge. I called them as I saw them.
"One of the guys said he could smell Chanel in the room. Kind of odd for an old guy." My mind started to whirl. Why hadn't I noticed? Oh yeah, there was someone there with me who already smelled of Chanel. I'd have to ask my doll when she last visited dear old dad. "And there was some residue of cocaine, which seems odd. No evidence from the autopsy that the old guy used any drugs, so it must have come in via the assailants or some other source." The pelt thickened.
"Thanks old chum. I need to ask around. I'll let you know if I find anything that can help you."
"You do that. And remember, you still owe me $20 from poker night."
I grinned as I quickly slipped out of his office and back on to the trail of mysterious misdeeds.
FFF just happened to be down the sun-stroked street, so there was no time like now to check and hope there might be something there, before someone got wise to the existence of this key. The sunlight shone steadily and a light wind soothed the street. Located in a grand brick building three blocks from the police station, the bank’s marble entrance exuded warmth and strength. One would expect a lot of activity there, but the building was practically empty. A couple of cuties watched me from their teller positions, and a grizzled vet security guard rubbed his claws on his service revolver. He knew the deal though, and saw I was no threat.
“Duffy!! Duffy, duffy, duff. My main puff puff. Where have you been, sweetie?” Marjorie Morningpuss purred, as she snaked up and practically enveloped my whole body. I was suddenly ensnared in a silent lambada of sexiness. Within seconds no part of my frame hadn’t been caressed by the sexiest cutie this side of the Saluda River. She had been part-time mistress to half a dozen powerbrokers, and could easily pick one and retire to a life of hedonistic pleasure, but she preferred to work and enjoyed playing the field and her freedom. Thank God for that! We had several pleasurable trysts over the years, including one memorable trip to Las Vegas. And that story stays in Vegas! She was a beautiful Bengal with a rich cream coat covered in delightful dark brown spots, and fur softer than a kitten’s bottom. And she had a wonderful tail. “My perky Sherlock Holmes. Why haven’t you been snooping around my house lately, killer?” I just melted in her presence. She took my paw and led me back to a private office where XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX WOW XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX YOWSA! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX [ed. Redacted due to explicit material not meant for young eyes. Take it from me, our intrepid detective was only interrogating and using his special charms to further his investigation.]
“Did the temperature just go up ten degrees in here? Are the fire extinguishers going to start sprinkling us?” I quipped.
“Mmmmmmmm. My little fire starter.“ She cooed. “You know, we could always go over to the Hilton and see if we could set some sheets on fire. But I’m sure you are here for more than my tasty affections. What do you need, big guy?”
“Any chance of me having a few uninterrupted minutes with the safe deposit boxes?”
“Why honey, you can have my XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX any time.” Oh, what a wicked grin. “But yes, I think I can sneak you in for a few minutes.”
“That would be great.”
“You have to promise me you won’t remove anything though, just take a look.”
She escorted me back into the lobby and then over to the safes. I handed her the key and she brought me a medium-sized grey box. I slipped into a private cubicle and opened it. Nothing! The box had already been cleaned out. I felt the air go out of me, another dead end. A fine white dust could be seen on the inside, however, so it was possible the cocaine theory might still be plausible. I set the box on the table and took my head in my hands, pleasantly worn out from Marjorie and tired from disappointment. What had I gotten myself into? What had I missed? As I started to get up I noticed a shimmer along the inside top of the box, and upon closer inspection I could see that there was writing in pencil, faint enough that it would be missed by most eyes, but for the experienced sleuth it could just be made out.
"IF YOU ARE READING THIS, MY NINTH LIFE HAS RUN ITS COURSE. TRUST NO ONE. FRISKIES ARE NICE, BUT NEWMANS IS BETTER."
It was a gorgeous Carolina day, bright blue skies with lower humidity than was normal in the town called “Famously Hot.” I adjusted my fedora and strode out into the afternoon, rejuvenated by the dalliance with Marjorie and with the hidden words of Dr. Boo bouncing around in my skull like balls in a pachinko game. Luckily I remembered to wipe away the words before I allowed the lock box to be returned. Had Boo emptied the box? Or had there been another key, and had this person also seen the message? What could the strange sentence mean? Perhaps Kitty Boo Boo could help. I turned south and began to walk down Main toward the Karolina Kat Kondominiums where Kitty kept her apartment.
Almost as if on cue, my cell phone rang, with bars from “Stray Cat Strut” spilling from my pocket. I grabbed the phone and punched in my code. “Duffy, Duffy. Help!”
“Kitty, are you ok?”
“No. . . they’re here. Inside my place.”
“Who?” My feet began to break into a stride.
“I can’t see them. I am hiding in a closet. But I can hear them. I think it is three men. They're just about to come upstairs.“
“Stay hidden. I am heading in that direction right now.”
My claws scratched against concrete sidewalk as every tendon in my body strained to gain more speed. I had to get there, but even at top speed it would take ten to fifteen minutes, and I didn’t see a cab anywhere. I dared not call 911 in fear of being disconnected from Kitty’s phone. I could hear her breathing quietly in fear. Soon I heard other voices.
“Kitty! Kitty Boo Boo! We know you are in here. We just want what is ours. It wasn’t in the statue. We know you have to know where it is.”
Then there was a shriek and the sound of struggle. I could hear Kitty spewing curses in her distinctive southern drawl. I heard the distinctive thud of fists on flesh and rage turned my vision red and cause my paws to clench, so tight that I was suddenly aware I might crush my cell phone. As I came within a block of her place I saw a large Persian tossing a limp Boo into the backseat of a black stretch limo, and then just as swiftly the car peeled off down the street. I heard sirens in the distance. Someone must have called 911. I howled in frustration. These were dangerous men and they wanted whatever it was, very badly. Enough that they would stage a mid-day kidnapping of a defenseless dame.
The coppers must have grilled me twenty times, and in each interview I gave them everything I knew . . . at least from the phone call that Boo made. Some things I was going to keep to myself. One of the dicks said there wasn’t much evidence, other than that the kidnappers were rough. No one recognized my description of the Siamese thug. The two other guys must have already gotten into the limo before I arrived. Did they really think Kitty had the answers? Why were they so certain her father would have told her much? Perhaps my intuition that she knew more than she was telling me was true. But now I was more invested than ever in finding out the truth.
“You know I’m not supposed to be talking about an ongoing investigation.” Tom looked irritable and stressed, and clearly he wasn’t happy about having me back in his office so soon. “You are starting to be a walking bad-luck charm, Boy-O.”
“Come on pal, there has to be something. Your guys can’t tell me that a struggle with several guys and a feisty gal like Kitty didn’t result in some evidence.”
Slowly Tom rose from his chair and then quietly slipped closed his door. He turned to me and leaned against a row of battleship-grey filing cabinets. “Well, there were a few orange hairs.”
“I think it’s time to have a visit with Wabo’s strong man. Maybe I can shake free some intel. I am feeling the need to crack some heads.”
“Now hold it Duff, that won’t help you, and it can’t help me. Let us do our work right. If you get involved it might be bad for Kitty. No one that we know of has even been contacted yet.”
“Well, I can’t just stand around and do nothing. You have any idea who the Persian might be.”
“Yeah, possibly. Another of Wabo’s thugs. But this one is a lot smarter than Orangey. Normally he is in the background, one of Wabo’s closer advisers rather than muscle. Something really serious must be going on for Wabo to be letting him get his hands dirty in the field. I think his name is Sattar.”
I mused over the name and drilled it into my memory. Sattar and I were destined to have words.
Tom sat back down and put his paws on the desk. “Clearly they didn’t find what they wanted from the old man, or what they found instigated them to grab Kitty. I wonder if she has information that could have helped us out?”
I nodded and said, “Possibly.”
“We interviewed everyone at the university who worked with him. Not the most beloved academic, but they respected his research and production. Only one little thing made me wonder. He took an unexpected trip to Charleston about two months ago, wouldn’t talk about it, even missed a few lectures he was supposed to give. Some of his colleagues said that was about the time some shady characters started showing up at the college. We checked through his files at the school. I’m no brainiac, so nothing especially interesting stood out.”
I scratched my chest, a nervous tick from kittenish days. “Might be something, maybe not. You know anything about the limo?”
“If you had grabbed the plate numbers, it might have helped. Kind of classy for Wabo’s organization. Maybe we have more players here than we thought.”
“You think Wabo might be the middleman?”
“Not enough yet to haul him in and put the screws to him.”
“You got anyone on the inside?”
“Naw. He busted our last undercover. Broke him up pretty badly. I’ve never seen a feline who went through so much abuse and lived to tell about it. But they must have scared him pretty bad, because as soon as he was out of the hospital he just disappeared.”
“Didn’t give ya nothing?”
“Only some general stuff. That the crew seemed especially jumpy and tense, as if pressure was being applied to them. Also made them more cautious and wary, which is how they caught the guy. Wabo was furious. But since the guy skipped, we haven’t been able to pull in the boss.”
I paced back and forth on the already threadbare carpet. My mind was spinning. I needed a drink. Time to hit O’Malleys and see if I could clear my thoughts while at the same time dulling them. Kitty being in danger was driving me insane. I should have been there, kept her out of trouble. I didn’t want to think of worst-case scenarios.
“I’ll catch ya later Tom.”
O’Malley’s was quiet for a late afternoon, the regular crowd had not shuffled in. That’s cause there was no piano man. Ha!
Actually, I wanted it quiet. Bartender Stuffy O’Hearn, an old pal of mine, kept my pints and fish-flavored cheese snacks coming. There wasn’t much I could do about Kitty without shaking down Wabo’s crew. But I had to be smart about that, or someone was likely to get hurt. Most likely, me. An episode of “Too Cute” played on the television behind the bar.
I knew my solitude was coming to an end when I saw Stuff’s eyes grow larger and he took a step back from the carved mahogany bar. Under his breath I heard him say “I gotta piece under the bar, if ya need backup.” I shook my head "no." I was a regular and I didn’t need to cause a scene or wreck the place, if I could avoid it. I glanced into the corner mirror and spied three menacing figures approaching. Looked like I didn’t have to track down Wabo’s crew after all. But there were three of them and one of me. I could have taken Orangey or Sattar, and maybe even both at the same time, but the third cat was a bruiser. He was a Siberian Forest Cat. He had beautiful markings, I must admit, but he was also huge. I’d dated a few females of the breed, and I’ve got to tell you, they can wear you out. Anyway, he didn’t look all that smart, but it didn’t take much to set them off, so I knew I better play it cool.
“Well, if it ain’t our favorite fly in the ointment.”
“And who might you be?” I responded to the orange tabby, who sported a “Hello Kitty” bandage on his clipped ear.
“Yuwse knows who I is, but you might not know the name. Everyone calls me Flame.”
I thought about snuffing him right there, but my cooler nature held. “And who are your friends?”
“I’m Sattar. And we are getting somewhat irritated with your recent meddling into our business. Not sure about your relationship with a certain moll we know, but we want it to stop. Immediately.” The Hulk just grunted. “And this is Igor. He a trained ex-Russian trooper, so don’t get smart with us.”
“I’ll try to keep it on a kindergarten level for his benefit.” Igor’s eyes scrunched and his ears twitched, and I realized he wasn’t so dumb that he didn’t recognize an insult. “Let’s keep this civilized, shall we? This is a nice family bar and I don’t see any reason to mess up the day of others.”
Flame still looked like he wanted to mess it up. But the leader was clearly Sattar, and when he nodded they both took a step back.
“Listen, Duff. We know who you are and what you do. You’ve got a reputation as a smart cat and a tough adversary. I respect that. But our boss wants what he wants and he’s going to get it. And you aren’t going to stand in our way. “
“What is it you are seeking?”
A wry smile crossed his face and his whiskers shimmered. “If you truly don’t know, I’m not telling. I’m sure your fancy-pants bimbo spilled the beans though. I thought you might want to duke it out with us right here. A little taste of honey make you soft?” The fur on my back started stiffening in irritation as they dissed Kitty.
I gritted my teeth. Their time would come. “Is she ok?”
“How should I know.” A sinister glint flashed in his eye and his grin grew just a tad more menacing. Somehow I knew that she hadn’t told them anything yet. Despite their being gangsters, they usually didn’t rough up dames. They might kill, but seldom cathandled the ladies.
“If anything happens, you are going to pay,” I hissed.
That was the first and only time I saw Igor smile. He was going to be a pawfull.
Sattar, dark face and deep blue oriental eyes, set in sharp angles, took back the floor. “Tell you what, smart guy. If you figure out what’s missing and find it, we’d be willing to trade. You might find a little sweetie released, might even make a few extra clams. But if you interfere, there will be consequences. I can assure you that. You know where to find us.” With that he turned on his haunches and marched out the door, followed by his sidekicks. An audible sigh could be heard from O’Hearn.
“What was that all about, Duff? I thought for sure those rummies were coming for blood.”
“Naw. They are basically muscle, not calling the shots. It could have got ugly if I pushed it, but didn’t want you or your customers hurt. I need to track something down, but I don’t know what to do.” I told him an abridged version of my dilemma.
After a few minutes, and after serving a few mojitos to the cuties at the end of the bar (who I was sure were checking me out), O’Hearn threw his bar rag over his shoulder and said, “Well. You have more information than you did at the start. I say you revisit the place you started and see if any of the knowledge reveals something you might have overlooked not having known it in the first place.”
“Wow, that is really sage advice.” I jumped off the stool and reached for my wallet, but O’Hearn raised is paw and said, “It’s ok. On the house. Thanks for keeping things cool there.”
I scanned sidewalks and streets as I walked the city, hyperaware of any possible attack by the three musketeers or any other enemies, though I really didn’t expect any trouble right away. I was curious, however, how the mob even knew I was involved. Had Kitty spilled information? Was she being tortured? Or was there some other source that had to be ferreted out? There was no way anything would have come from my police friend. Tom was not the type to betray a pal.
I could have grabbed a cab and gotten across town to the Dr.’s house much quicker, but I needed to stretch my legs and brain. Clearly I was on to something, or at least my association with Kitty had raised attention. What is it that the Dr. had that could engender strong-arm tactics from a group that usually liked staying in the shadows while they earned their nefarious booty? What could be held in a small statue that would have been worth exposure? Drugs? Seemed unlikely, as even a few pounds of any drug would not be worth too much. It could be some information that might lead to riches, but the nervousness of the thugs and the singlemindedness of the boss indicated that it might be something else altogether.
The beers had settled nicely, and a fish taco purchased from a local food truck fixed my hunger cravings. The sun was dropping and lights were coming on. I have always been attracted to sparkly things. A long neck adorned with a diamond collar, deep emerald eyes that sparked with fire and delight, seductive ears draped. . . then I felt cold blue steel press against the back of my head. It happened so quickly I just froze.
“Mr. Dean. I don’t have time to explain or cajole. I am not here to hurt you, but will if I must. I am here representing an interested party and need to speak with you. Would you please step into this alley? I will remove the gun if you promise no funny business.” I moved into the cool shaded alley. Detritus from years of passerby was strewn about.
I could not remember anyone ever getting the drop on me that easily. “I am truly impressed. You are more stealthy than a fox on a rabbit hunt.” I then was amazed that in fact, he was a fox. Somewhat smallish, his deep red hair smoothed back over his long snout and face, but unlike so many foxes, he was not smiling.
“Forgive me, Mr. Dean.”
“Duffy. Duffy is fine.”
“Duffy, then. I am a member of a secret police agency, undercover. That is the reason for the abrupt nature of my introduction. I just needed you off the street. Can’t blow my cover. But we needed to talk in person, because I simply don’t trust electronic devices. I’m not going to give you my name, but you can call me Aesop.”
I chuckled, remembering all the fables, but I wondered if this was the wise one or trickster. “So, Aesop, what brings you to my fair city?”
“We have been running an operation on Wabo for a while. We were totally unaware of the Dr. or his daughter until very recently. Their sudden appearance garnered quite a bit of intense mob attention. It wasn’t the normal attention associated with greed, or some sudden score, but almost a fear. As if some secret activity or arrangement had been compromised. Almost as if some sort of blackmail was going on. But there was no proof and no calls that our guys picked up to verify this hunch. Whatever it is, it is big. Wabo is beside himself. Usually he is pretty calm, but he has been slapping around his henchmen, staying away from the skirts, calling in markers. He did, however, mention your name on several occasions, and not kindly. That gave me the impetus to come and speak with you, since I was certain you were not on the inside.”
“You’d be right about that pal.”
“Whatever you found or are on the trail to finding really has the big boy rattled. I want to know what it is?”
“Sorry buddy, I don’t even know. Yet. I keep trying to think what might have them all hot and bothered, but I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“I would like you to share if you figure it out.”
“Well, I can’t say I will, since I don’t know what it is yet. I work for a client. But if it in someway endangers civilians or society, I might share.”
He reached into his vest (Yeah, I know. How cliché, but he was wearing a vest), and pulled out a card. No name, no number, just an “A” and a dropbox number at a local postal store. “If you want to talk to me, leave a note in the slot. Someone checks it daily.”
“What you gonna do for me in return?” I asked.
“If I have something that can be of help to you that doesn’t mess up our operation, I’ll let you know. But your helping us out can expedite our friendliness and cooperation.” For a few minutes we stood there, cut off from the rest of the world as if we were voyeurs in the forest. I grabbed a hanky and mopped my brow, and then I had the feeling that I was alone. I turned, and so I was. Amazing. This guy was good. I poked my head out of the alley and caught a glimpse of him hustling down the street as the shadows of dusk began to cloak the city.
Humbled by my inability to stave off the surprise encounter with Aesop, and chastened by my failure to solve much of this mystery and find out where Kitty might be, I saw no option other than to continue to her father’s home in the hope that some inspiration might strike. It had been a good suggestion by my bartender friend to return to the original crime scene in hopes that some clue might emerge to help me figure out what was at stake and who might have wanted to silence the old professor. Clearly he knew what he had might be a hot potato and needed to be hidden.
I slipped into the house via a key that Kitty had provided before she disappeared. The house was eerily silent without its owners and the fur along my spine tingled and stood on end. I must have looked like a puff ball. I couldn’t have gotten those lights on any faster. Even with the lights the house seemed like a mausoleum, or that I had sneaked into an ancient tomb in search of gold or mummies.
Methodically I started searching through each room (crypt), trying to find a solitary scrap or piece of evidence that might advance my investigation. I will admit to you, my faithful listeners, that I was somewhat aroused by the pink room that had been Kitty’s when she was young, but I didn’t find anything incriminating in there. Still I lingered, looking over the pictures on the wall of Kitty as cheerleader, pageant contestant, Miss Cat-Toure, and a model on the catwalks of Paris and New York. She had pics of her with famous actors and musicians, and even a pic of a visit to the White House. I was amazed, and jealous at the same time.
It was creepy being in the house alone, his ghost surely observing my every intrusive move. If only he could direct me to some clue, I thought. In his back bedroom I searched the closet and dresser, and then I was on all fours searching under the bed, when I heard the slightest creek, like the whine of a mouse under a grasping paw. My hair was stiffer than a fifty-year-old man after downing five Viagra. I was frozen in place when I felt the slightest tap on my left side---once, then twice---and I practically exploded and sprang up like a newborn fawn accidentally stepped on by a predator, and I sprinted out into the living room, fumbled to get my piece out and aimed, and stood riveted to the floor as I waited for my assailant to come out of the bedroom. Surely the walls of the bedroom were now embedded with thousands of pin-like daggers of hair that had shot off of my pelt.
After a tense few minutes I crept forward back to the bedroom door and peeked in, and upon doing so I burst out laughing. I must have accidentally kicked one of the side tables, which had one of those quiet swinging doors, and it had swung open and tapped me. I looked to make sure I hadn’t peed myself. What a silly goose I was. This story was definitely not going back to my pals at the poker game! Thank goodness I was here alone. After I retrieved my heart and scratched off one of my nine lives, I returned to the under-the-bed search, but didn’t find anything but dust motes and nail clippings. I checked out the bathroom, guest room, and other areas of the house, including the laundry room and storage closet. Nothing. I think I checked every volume on his bookshelves and carefully recanvassed his office, the chalk lines of his corpse still clear on the floor. Nothing. No secret doors or hiding places were evident, despite the torn-up wall area that originally housed the statue.
Defeated, I went into the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the still-working fridge (thanks, Doc) and sat at the table. It wasn’t much of area, little more than an efficiency. It wasn’t well stocked either, the professor clearly a Spartan when it came to food. I sat there and stared at the surroundings, ready to hit the road after finishing the drink, in utter defeat. After downing the last few sips, I took a quick look in his cupboard cabinets, when I found his pantry, filled with cans of food. Friskies, about one hundred cans. He surely liked his Friskies, probably every flavor represented. And then it hit me like a drunken driver on the interstate. FRISKIES IS NICE, BUT NEWMANS IS BETTER. I immediately began sorting through the stack of cans, and sure enough, there was a lone Newman’s Own, Chicken & Salmon. I lifted it out, and was not surprised to find it was clearly lighter than it should have been.
I took it back to the table and played with it. I prodded and probed, peeled off the label, and used a claw to try to lift off top or bottom, and then wondered if I should pull the pop top. What scared me a little was the possibility that he might have put some biological agent in there, or some explosive that might rip off my paw and mar my incredibly handsome mug. What a loss to the kitties of the world. I tried to twist the can instead. . . and suddenly it plopped open. There was no cat food mess, just a small 16mm film, maybe ten minutes worth of celluloid.
Was this what everyone was so anxious to find? Had this little film cost at least one life, and maybe more? My heart raced and I chuckled at how ingenious the hiding place had been. Hiding in plain sight. Amazing. And now I had to find someone who owned a projector so I could find out what was on the film.
Nothing could have prepared me for the horrors I would soon witness. The shadowed path was darker than I could ever have imagined, but what I was to see sure put all I had been pursuing into perspective and illuminated the warped reasons for the intense desire to obtain the professor’s film. I had evidence that could blow this town wide open, ruin careers and reputations, maybe even cost a few lives. Somewhere deep inside I knew it might cost me big time, but I had to see what was on that film. Curiosity was simply getting to me. Yeah, I know the oft-said warning, but I had to find out anyway.
My fastest option was to see Phil Coffee, proprietor of Fatcat Photo. I used his skills all the time to develop film, get me up-to-date cameras, and even doctor a photo or two. Phil even stepped in at times when I needed addition photographic monitoring on stakeouts. Nobody captured the curves of cheating wives and mistresses better than he did.
Phil was in the back of his dusty shop when I strolled in. Rows of cameras, one for just about any preference or need, graced shelves along a back wall. I locked the door after I walked in and turned the “Closed” sign. In less time than it takes to set an f-stop, Phil’s furry face flicked out from a darkroom.
“Duffy, my man, what you doing here? Got a job for me? Or are you here for another copy of Honey Boo Boo Does Dallas?”
Ok, busted. I have to admit that sometimes my trade with Phil was under the table, but it was hard to get copies of Honey’s stuff. Don’t judge me. You’d do it too if you could.
“Nope. I need you for something else. You have a sixteen mm projector handy in the shop?”
“Do kittens love laser pointers?”
“Great. Can you string up a small film for me and give us a look?
Phil sighed, but I knew he wouldn’t refuse me and I could even detected a rising interest in what I had brought. I always seemed to come up with interesting items. I had once found a film copy of the Panther cheerleaders romping and frolicking during a calendar shoot while investigating Miami Hurricanes players in a huge recruiting scandal. Not the first time for them of course, but I cracked that mystery faster than a cheetah on speed. I think Phil still had a copy somewhere around here (not that I ever watched it).
Phil took me back to a storage room where he had a screen on the wall and set up a small projector. He flipped the lights and the images began to roll. Soon our heads practically rolled off of our shoulders too.
At first it looked like a typical party. White-jacketed waiters waltzed around with trays of champagne and caviar, while gorgeous dolls pranced around in slinky evening dresses. I started noticing a lot of prominent people, county and city commissioners, police bigwigs, important businesspeople. Mixed in though was an assortment of mob folks, organized crime and drug lords, pimps, and other naughty folk. Still, this revelation would not have been that damning, would never have resulted in murder or even much media attention had it not been for. . .had there not been. . .it is almost too painful to describe. There were, there were. . .
DOGS! Female dogs mixing with the felines, pawing them, licking their whiskered faces. Ohhhhh, the inhumanity, the injustice! Now, I am not so old fashioned that I can’t accept a little crossing of the breeds. But here you had wanton debauchery. Most of the little bitches (chihuahuas and cockapoos, with a few bischans thrown in) were from one of the well-known doggie clubs in Atlanta, the Dirty Doghouse. A famous rapper---Snoopy, Snoop, something like that----hung out there all the time. These ladies were in various stages of undress, but they all wore spiked doggy collars and were answering to every command. Let me say that more than legs were being humped. I was disgusted, yet riveted. I heard Phil spitting out several hairballs. But two things really stood out in the midst of this tragedy. On the middle stage, bare naked except for a long string of pearls, dancing with feline abandon, was Kitty Boo Boo! And in the middle of the scene, dressed in drag with huge diamond earrings, tossing kibbles about and touching. . .well, I just can’t describe it. . was Wabo himself. No wonder the big guy wanted this celluloid clip. His days as big boss would end in a powder poof. Long-standing treaties between dogdom and catdom had declared that there would never be pernicious puppy pandering. Not in this town. I was so riveted to the screen that I didn’t even hear the front door being jiggled. But I definitely heard the glass shatter.
Believe me, I don’t mind mixing it up. Not that I am a violent cat, really. I am a lover, not a fighter. Unless someone gets my dander up.
I jumped up from my seat and headed out into the main salesroom and saw that the front window had been smashed. It looked like someone threw a trash can through it. Cameras and photography equipment was scattered about. Then I saw the Hulk, accompanied by Flame, approach the front door. “Phil, get outta here.” I didn’t have to tell my friend twice, and not a second too soon, as the Hulk’s bulk busted the front door. So much for locks.
Clearly I had to deal with him first and I picked up a stanchion and slammed it into his ugly mug. He fell backward and I could see blood blossoming on his face. I stepped back just in time to deflect a paw coming at me with a switchblade, and I caught Flame with a hefty kick to the solar plexus. I grabbed his arm and snapped it back, and I heard a deep howl squeal out of his mouth. He wasn’t being smart now. Hulk was quickly back back in action and swinging like Brock Lesnar, so I clipped him in the knee, which staggered him, then hit him again with the largest telephoto lens I could heft. It was as big as a telescope, and it was lights out for the Meow Mountain. He crashed to the floor. Flame, arm hanging akimbo, was now aware that it was me and him and that he probably couldn’t fend me off. I didn’t feel like any more fisticuffs, and wasn’t in the mood for a knife fight, so I pulled my piece. Flame froze like a frightened feline. He shiftily looked left and right. I thought I heard some sirens off in the distance. Then. . .the lights went out.
I came to face down on the floor. My head ached from the conking. Someone had blasted me hard. I tried to get up but I wobbled like a sailor on shore leave. The Hulk was still collapsed in the doorway. Cameras and equipment were strewn about, and all drawers and shelves were cleaned off. Several policemen surveyed the damage, but no one seemed interested in providing medical aid to me or my assailant. Then I saw a pair of orange paws peeking out behind a cabinet. I tried to think hard if I had gotten in a lucky shot.
“Duffy, Duffy, Duffy. What am I going to do with you?” Detective Tom was coming out of the back room. “Always a disaster waiting when I hear you have been involved in something. What do you think they were looking for?”
I grumbled a hello, but every syllable clanged painfully inside my head. “Whatever it was, I hope they didn’t get it. Where’s Phil?”
“In the back. Someone roughed him up pretty badly. He said you and he were going over a planned photography stakeout when the bully boys came in.”
“So, it looks like you were handling them ok. Why’d you have to kill them?”
I looked again at Hulk and I saw a neat round hole in the top of his head. I staggered up and then looked at Flame. He had a small hole too, right between his eyes. My gun was in the center of the room.”
“If I check the piece, will there be two missing bullets?” Tom asked.
“Don’t know, but I didn’t shoot them.”
“No, I don’t imagine you did, though I am sure the murderer would love for us to believe you did. Phil said several more people came in, but he thought you were already out by that time, since he would have heard you mouthing off to them. Whoever got you, did it from behind. Why they didn’t just finish you off, I don’t know. Maybe they thought we would take care of it.”
“Is Phil ok?
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. A few bruises. They busted up the place good though.”
“Can I see him?”
“He’s at the hospital, where we are going to send you in a few. “
“You gonna arrest me?”
“No, I think the evidence points to a frame, and I know you would never shoot a downed man, no matter how much you disliked him. At least he didn’t know what hit him. I just can’t understand why they were killed.”
I mulled over the demise of my tormentors. Then it hit me. “Because they were injured and would have had to get treatment, and you guys would have been asking questions.”
The realization that my words might be true drew a deep breath. “These guys are really serious. I can’t imagine Wabo doing this.”
“What about Sattar?”
“Mmmmm. Don’t know. I’ll have to check him.”
At about this time the pain got more intense and I could feel my head splitting, and I slumped back to the floor. I could feel Tom grabbing me and trying to hold me, but it was no use.
I must have blacked out, because when I awoke, I was on a gurney and sterile white lights of a hospital ward blazed above me. A really hot nurse was checking a bag, and it took every painful muscle in my face to eke out a quick wink in her direction. Hey! Priorities. As I was slowly able to take in the room I saw Phil sitting in a corner, reading a magazine. He looked up as I stirred.
“Did they get the film? Or the police get it?”
“Neither. I put it in an envelope and dropped it into the to-be-developed bin. Neither group even thought to look in there for some reason. I’ll fish it out when I go back and survey the damage.”
“Who was it? Did you tell them anything?”
“They roughed me up, but I kept telling them the same thing I told the detective. Surveillance planning. I don’t think the thugs bought it, but the coppers seemed to.”
“Did you see them?”
“Two of them. American shorthairs. Fairly big. One brown and white, the other black and white. They could have been brothers though. Tough cats. They worked on me a bit, but they knew not to go too far. They could have ended me. Not sure why they didn’t kill you, since I think they killed the two other ones.”
“Maybe because they still need information from me, in case they didn’t find the film. That thing is dynamite. Are you covered in all this? I’ll try to get you some money from my savings.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m covered.”
Cutie nurse came in and said I was going to have some stitches, and she smiled as I felt myself going back under.
My head still hurt and I was nursing both a brew and the recent memory of a delightfully therapeutic visit by the cutie from the hospital, as I recuperated from the fight and injury. It was peaceful at home, and I tried to get my mind off troubling aspects of the case. I was reading one of Karen Brissette’s fun food forays, which always makes me chuckle, when I heard the slightest scratching on my door. It didn’t sound like that of any of my hunnies, so I quickly retrieved my weapon from under the cushion and clicked off the reading light. Then came a light rapping, definitely against the door, but clearly not meant to raise the attention of neighbors. I wondered why it would be so light. If it were one of my recent adversaries, I am sure they would have simply kicked down the door. Nonetheless, I clicked off my safety.
I crept over to the door, unlatched it, and then opened it a crack. When I looked down I saw huge brown eyes, dark muzzle, and brownish body of a female pug, one I was not familiar with. Cute, in a doggy way. She looked up at me with a devilish grin. I then noticed another white pup, set off back against my privacy fence, who was apparently serving as a lookout. I didn’t sense that there was danger here, despite the unusual nature of this visit.
“Detective Duffy Dean?”
“I am Detective Sophie Steshenko, and back there is my partner Delilah Steshenko. We are from the Atlanta Police Office. Can we talk?”
“Want to come in?”
“No, actually, we prefer staying out here.” All I could think of was that I was now dealing with my own canine Cagney and Lacey.
“You are more than welcome.”
“OK. You don’t sound like you are from Atlanta? You talk like you might be from my old stomping grounds.”
“Yeah, originally from New York. I had heard about you up there too. You were shacked up with some chicka named Sarah. We used to hear about your parties. Anyway, we decided to come down and visit Atlanta. Heard it was a swinging place for pooches, and we needed a change of pace. We got recruited onto the force and have been working local crime for a while. Mostly counterfeit doggy treats, leather-collar crimes, fixed greyhound races, that sorta stuff.” She had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and I could tell she might be a naughty girl. I had to banish those thoughts, however, in light of what I had seen on the film, now safely hidden in a place it would never be found. I wasn’t surprised at all that she was from the City that Never Sleeps.
“So, what can I do for you, dollface.”
She must have been one of those feminists, as I saw her brow furrow slightly, and Delilah’s paw gripped her sidearm a little tighter. “No offense,” I quickly added.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ve heard of you. Quite the reputation as a ladies’ man. But you are also well respected and regarded among detectives as a stand-up guy, even if you are a feline, so we thought we would risk approaching you on a sensitive matter. Normally we wouldn’t be coming out of Dogtown here to chat, but we are on a troubling case, and we heard through the grapevine that you might be working an angle that might dovetail into ours.”
“Maybe. Tell me more.”
“Well, usually, like most activities, interspecies cooperation is relatively rare. It happens, and sometimes folks get along, but usually it is frowned upon. That goes for criminals too. Not much trust, ya know whatta I mean?”
“So, anyways, we started noticing an unusual trade of animal tranquilizers being stolen and shipped out of Atlanta. Apparently the sellers haven’t cared much about their markets, as long as they can move the stuff. Cash is green for everyone. There has also been an uptick (she smirked as she said this) in finely ground catnip dip, canine cannabis, and exotic universal flea powders. We think a local dog gang, the Wolves, has been dealing with someone down here. But recently rumors have revealed that some sort of mistake or error in judgment on behalf of a renegade splinter group may be jeopardizing the illicit dealing, and the Wolves have been anxious to eliminate that potential problem. Then we heard you were handling an unusual case and had come up against some strong-arm tactics, and I decided perhaps to reach out to a fellow investigator. Maybe we could trade information and shut down some bad activities.”
I was liking her even more. She sounded smart and confident, and clearly she was willing to go the extra mile to solve her case. I stepped out and sat of the porch. “How can I help you?”
“Well, we have an idea who might be the local connection, but we needed confirmation.”
“Does the name Wabo strike a bell?”
“Hot damn. We thought he was involved. But it goes higher than that. We think someone on your local council may be more than just a plant by organized crime. We think he is actually the big bosses, protecting shipments and taking a healthy cut.”
Sophie sat on her haunches, and wiped her brow. “It sure gets muggy down here.”
“Yep. Famously hot.”
“We have an undercover source who has tipped up that a shipment will be coming into town here, and it will be monitored closely. The locals are extremely motivated to shut down whatever threat has emerged to their secrecy. If we could cooperate and bust the whole group while the deal is being made, we could close this case on both ends. We don’t know how close they are to squelching their problem.”
“I can assure you that isn’t going to happen. I happen to know what is bothering them and I have the item tucked away in a safe place.”
That brought a wide grin to Sophie’s mug and a little drool to her lower lip. I could see she wanted to rain down a little mayhem on the bad guys. Even the relatively stoic Delilah practically quivered at the thought. “I think we can work together.”
The Atlanta Avengers, via New York, were amazing. I have never seen so thorough a collection of evidence in a case. They had tracked and trailed and done everything but tagged their targets. Sophie was particularly adept at explaining the intricacies of the conspiracy, as she saw it. The only problem was catching the bad guys exchanging the goods, their paws red handed. . .so to speak. The canine crusaders were fairly certain that the exchange of drugs and other items would occur tonight at an abandoned warehouse just on the edge of town. It took some persuading, but Tom and two of his pals agreed to help and keep the information from going up the channels, especially of higher ups in the department were involved.
After a rousing dinner in one of the back rooms at O’Malleys, we got down to business. I ordered prime rib for the girls and fresh salmon for the cats, and maybe a few bottles of brews. Hey! What happens at O’Malley’s, stays at O’Malley’s. Though I will hint that Sophie is a very naughty gal. I might have to rethink a few things. Anyway, back to the plan.
We had no idea of how many bad guys we would be dealing with, though clearly if each crew brought at least a few hands there would be at least a dozen. We didn’t think it possible that we could contain the individuals without sparking an unwinnable firefight that had our side outgunned. Then the quiet but introspective Delilah had a brilliant idea. Why not hint to Wabo somehow that the Wolves already had whatever it was they were looking for (I had decided not to tell them everything, for Honey’s sake) and that they were going to hold it as further control over the local arm of his organization. But what about Honey, I asked. If we were able to take down the two groups, maybe one of them would roll over with information about where they were keeping her. It was a good idea, but I wasn’t sure how we could get the info to Wabo’s people without them becoming suspicious. Then I thought of Phil. They had left a contact number. I excused myself for a few minutes and hustled over to Phil’s house. He was game, as usual.
“Hello. Let me talk to this Sattar guy. He left me this number.” Phil turned to me to indicate that he was on hold. It took a few minutes but then someone was back on the line. “Yeah, yeah. It’s me, the guy you roughed up. Yeah. I wasn’t gonna call you, but that detective guy you wanted to know about came by earlier. Pissed me off, I’ll tell you. Said he was going to Miami for a break. Seems he got some quick cash and is headed to the bars on the beach. And me, with a destroyed shop and laid up in bed. Nothing, he didn’t offer me nothing.”
Phil was quiet for a few minutes, listening. Then he said, “I’m not sure. He said he traded something valuable. I don’t know who, no. He did say something about Atlanta though. Said it was tough dealing with dogs, whatever that means. Yes, Yes. OK. You promise to leave me alone? Ok.”
Phil grinned at me. We had set the bait, now just had to see if the prey was gonna run with the hook. I thanked my pal and scurried back to O’Malley’s.” Clearly the crew had had a few more bottles, but they still seemed alert, if not a little flushed. We had a little while before anything broke out. I told them about our call. Sophie seemed a little sad that she might not get into any gunplay. But it was better for everyone involved that we keep their involvement minimal, and mine too. Tom would have a tough time explaining it all.
At about ten we set up observation posts near the warehouse. Tom thought it better I man my own spot and he put the gals in another. Sophie winked as she wobbled away. Delilah gave me little bit of stinkeye though. The coppers installed a listening device, but reception wasn’t great.
Soon we observed headlights, and the Pantera crew arrived. Three identical black Explorers with tinted windows and rolling menace. They pulled into the warehouse though a side entrance. About a half hour later a truck and two tricked out sedans rolled up and were admitted inside. It wasn’t long before we knew our plan had snagged a whopper---hook, line and stinker. We could hear shouting and accusations as emotions flared. Suddenly the inside of the warehouse erupted in gunfire, a small battlefield encased inside the brick walls. It lasted for about ten minutes. Tom told everyone to sit tight and let it all play out. We could hear sirens start to come on downtown and knew backup in blue would soon be there. Then a door opened and we saw Sattar, his fine duds blotched in red, stagger out of the building. He didn’t get far before he collapsed on the street. Smoke started pouring out of the opened door. Then police cars started arriving. More and more arrived, like ants to a piece of discarded candy. Several went in and started yelling. Tom and his two guys rushed over and offered to help. The cover was that he had just heard about the meet and had been setting up nearby when all hell broke loose.
After about a half hour my cell rang. “It’s Tom.”
“It is a mess in here. Sophie was right about the goods. About a ton of stuff in the truck. Three of the Wolves are dead, and two others seriously wounded. You saw Sattar. Another five Panteras are dead, caught by machine-gun fire. They didn’t have much a chance. They were bunched up, which was stupid. Wabo is still alive, but I don’t think for long. He was still cursing and screaming in delirium. Something about the crazy bastard and a film. We got two others arrested, also injured. But Duffy, and I need you to listen to me carefully. . .you need to go home right now. I mean, right now.”
“I don’t want to say. You just need to get gone, I’ll talk with you later. Promise me.”
“Okay, cool, I’ll go. But you need to give me something.”
“Duff, we got the big wig, the top banana, the head of local criminal operations. And we gonna take them in, but you can’t get involved. Promise me you will skedaddle.”
Sure, I’m outta here right now.” I called up the gals and told them to meet me at my place. I told them where I kept the key. Then, I hid myself in another window, hoping no one would see.
I should have listened. I will never forget what I saw. Tom came out first and scanned around to see if anyone was watching, and I could see other cops agitated and excited as they pulled up a paddy wagon. Then they went in to bring the big boss out, I supposed. And then SHE came out. Kitty. Dressed in a satin full-length gown, gold trimmed in black, her paws handcuffed behind her, her fabulous fur mussed up. My heart stopped dead in my chest. Kitty had played me. Such a fool was I.
A week after the destruction of two rival gangs and the interruption of illicit trade, as well as the sudden resignations of a series of upper-level politicians and administrators, a gold-embossed invitation landed on my desk, accompanied by a bottle of twelve-year-old scotch. I think it was the only time anyone ever got such a summons from county lock-up. I almost didn’t go, but there were so many questions that needed to be answered. So I steeled my heart and went for a visit.
How is it possible for an incarcerated dame to look so stunning in faded orange linen? Must be a southern thing. Kitty must have had access to makeup, and I swear I could smell Chanel right through the bulletproof glass. She sat leisurely back in her chair, haughty and superior, and she smiled demurely. I was miffed, but I tried not to show it.
“So, you were the head of the whole show?” I asked.
She just smiled. Then she said “Were? I still am, my sweet detective.”
I didn’t doubt it. I was amazed at how calm and self-assured she seemed.
“I’ll be out soon. My lawyers are well compensated, and there really isn’t much evidence left now. And I can always court new suppliers. I’ll be up and running soon. Plenty of hidden cash.”
“Don’t you still want justice for your Dad?”
She chuckled. “He wasn’t my pops. But he did steal something from me. Wabo tried to get to it first, so in a way you have helped me twice. I will send along the money I owe. Have a pretty good feeling I know where the item might be too, but we’ll leave that to another day. Perhaps a friendly trade will get it back for me,” she purred. Every hair on the lower spine tingled as if I’d stuck my claw in an electrical outlet. I knew she knew.
She must have seen disapproval on my face, as I thought of the film. “Come now, Duffy. You know I like my fun, and for someone like me, I don’t worry about the rules or what people think. I am considering doing a reality television show when I get out. You can be one of my characters, if you wish. You know everyone is fascinated by me, even Sarah.” I doubted that, but you never knew.
“And believe me, I am everywhere,” she cooed. “I’ll be in touch, sooner than you think.”
I didn’t go back to work for a few days. Chastity (the hospital nurse) came over and kept me company. Hey. . .don’t judge me! One has to move on, you know? And her back scratches are to die for. But when I did, I was in for another surprise. When I unlocked my door, laying there across my desk was the old man’s cane, as beautiful as described. And taped to it was a note: WITH LOVE, XXX KBB