It was a slow morning in Dullsville. One of those days when even the flies are crazy with boredom, and go looking for a strip of fly-paper to commit suicide. In the reception Rita was perfecting her nails, while Jake, my partner, practiced his marksmanship with a rubber band and ruler on the few flies who had not opted for a slow, sticky end. I practiced my imaginary piano. Great instrument – totally portable, never a wrong note, doesn’t disturb the neighbours. And not screechy. Not surprised Sherlock Holmes needed his daily 7 percent opium spike – a badly played fiddle is apt to jangle the nerves. His housekeeper was probably tone deaf and wouldn’t have noticed if he had taken up the bagpipes. Excellent woman that Mrs. Hudson – they don’t make her kind any more.
Just as I got to the tricky bit Rita interrupted. Since she very seldom said anything, naturally I listened.
“Frank, you better come in here, there’s a dog lookin’ for some-one”
Well, we do advertise our services for finding the lost, so I figured a dog qualified for at least five minutes of our time. Besides – the piano would wait.
He sat, bright eyed and bushy tailed, on our reception sofa. We call it a sofa, but it’s none too comfortable, as anyone who’s tried to spend a night on it will testify. Since he had a collar, I checked, just in case we could cut the preliminaries, and get introduced real quick. Nope, he preferred to travel incognito. Still, he looked like he could pay – coat well maintained, all the signs of regular meals. I decided to call him Spencer.
“Well, Spencer, let’s cut to the chase, pal, the meter’s running. Who are we looking for? Or is it cat troubles?”
There’s always one involved some-where along the way – more often human than feline. Men and dogs have this bond of unspoken shared experience: cats and women – you can’t live with ‘em, and it’s deadly dull without ‘em. You didn’t know that? Why else d’you think they call dogs MAN’S best friend? That’s one of the perks of being a private-eye – you get time to think, and enjoy these occasional flashes of revelation. Positively apocalyptic.
Spencer tilted his head, ears cocked. I could see he was one heck of a fella with the ladies. Rita broke her vow of silence again. A record – twice in one day.
“Aww, he’s so cute. And he looks thirsty.”
Which proved my deduction about his effect on the fairer sex. He already had her eating out of his hand. Or to be more precise, I was about to be sent to the store to bring in suitable doggy delights, so he could eat tidbits from her delicate fingers.
Perfectly on cue, my partner appeared, a leash dangling in his hand. Like most places, we have drawers with all sorts of stuff. Just takes finding. He grinned, and handed it to me. Spencer wagged his tale. We were communicating. I glanced out the window. A beautiful day, blue, cloudless sky, high thirties, perfect – if you were in Hawaii.
“Your client awaits” said my partner, his grin threatening to crack his face in two. So, I took my hat from the stand, attached Spencer to the leash, and we went out.
Having had reasonable experience with creatures of nature, I decided to let him show me where he wanted to go. Usually works, with dogs, horses – and women. And, sure enough, Spencer took me down the path, onto the pavement, and we set off. Downhill, thankfully.
Now that he had a human in tow, Spencer became a dog with purpose. I lengthened my stride to keep up, feeling the first prickles of sweat starting to bead on my back. Fortunately, this is not called Forest Drive for nothing. So we proceeded in a series of spurts – from tree to tree, where Spencer checked his messages, and left a few of his own, while I took advantage of the shade. Besides, this wasn’t exactly rocket science, so I could enjoy the view, and the music. Never needed an iPod, since nature decided to bless me with a memory that has perfect recall – for some things. Never forget a tune, a scene, or a pretty face. Just don’t ask me where my paper-work is.
After two blocks, we got to the park. Deserted on a weekday, just expanses of grass, trees, a middling sized lake with a few water fowl listlessly drifting about, or dozing in the shade of the overhanging willows. Since Spencer gave no indication he was about to take off and lead me on any chase after geese wild or tame, I slipped the leash, curious to see what he would do next. The ducks and geese didn’t even bother to stir. So – my client was well known, and his credentials checked out. Or were on the tolerated list. Never yet met a goose that trusted anyone. Even less when it had goslings.
Spencer deciphered a few more messages, and went for a quick dip to cool off. Sensible fellow. I could see the thermals coming off the concrete paths. Then he came back, and waited expectantly, eyeing the leash. Evidently I was nothing but a walking leash-carrier. Well, in for a penny . . .
When he was re-attached, and indisputably legal on a public thoroughfare, we set off again, across the park, and then back, up Bird Street. A bit of a misnomer since all the birds (of the feathered kind, anyway) used to hang out in Forest Drive. So, if you stood around under trees, you learnt to check the ground for deposit-free zones.
Reaching a narrow lane, he turned in, and stopped outside a double storey house, all old woodwork and ivy, designed by someone who had qualified in the days when good Queen Vic ruled a quarter of the world. Mention her name, and people invariably follow with “We are not amused” in an imitation upper-class Brit accent. Colonials just love to take the mickey.
I opened the gate, and we went up a tiled path onto a shady verandah. The air was heavy with the smell of blossom, and the lazy buzz of bees. I rang the bell. A trim, immaculately dressed woman answered the door. Bright, sharp eyes, like a bird. I tipped my hat.
“Oh, Charles” she said, “you’ve been swimming again.”
Very acute eyesight. In this heat water evaporated faster than free beer down at Lancey’s Pub. Just a sprinkling of pond algae on his neck and back. Or – was this a regular ploy, and I had been today’s patsy? She opened the door a fraction more, and said “Come in.” It wasn’t an invitation meant for me.
Charles the wanderer having returned to the bosom of his family, she smiled, sweetly condescending, and closed the door.
As I got to the gate I spotted Charles’ escape route – a hole in the corner, half-hidden by a flowering shrub. I liked his style. A dog with a fine appreciation for the uses of gullible humans. But the name Charles? Nope. No wonder he needed to escape for the occasional distraction. As I turned to latch the gate, he appeared, framed in one of those tall picture windows, and wagged his tail in brief salute. An officer and a gentleman.
As I reached the corner of Bridge and Forest, Jake pulled up in our car.
“Glad to see you lost the pooch. Get in. We’ve got a case. Homicide”