My office buzzer hurt my ears. It always hurts my ears. With these ears, that’s saying something. Today it hurt more than most days. I’d been working all night and conked out under my desk. I don’t like sleeping under my desk. It puts me in a bad mood. My tongue felt like it was covered in fur.
I grunted and took a swig from the bottle there next to my head. Turned out my tongue was covered in fur. A long night licking myself will do that. Hey, someone’s got to. I crawled out from under my desk.
The buzzer went off again, tearing off the scab in my brain from the gunshot wound it had felt like the first time. A strange clicking sound came from behind the door.
They call me Thistle. I find things. Sometimes the things I find are worth something. On a good day I get a percentage. This wasn’t shaping up to be one of those days. I’d almost made it to the door when the buzzer went off for the third damn time.
She’d been pacing in the hallway. The clicking was her feet on the hardwood. Those feet were at the ends of the longest, tannest gams I’d ever seen. She was taller than me. I had a pretty good view. Especially since I was lying on the floor. Like I said. It’d been a rough night.
I must have been staring: she let out one of those little, polite, deadly pointed coughs. So I pried my gaze off her gams and let it hop leisurely northward. Eventually I got to her face, and flinched. She looked familiar. I was pretty sure I’d seen her at the racetrack a few times. Running. Now I’m not one to judge. I’m no pinup model myself. But this dame was a dog.
She sighed. She’d been through this before. “Are you quite finished leering, Mr.…?”
“They call me Thistle.”
“Is it your habit to transact business in the hallway, Mr. Thistle, or do you actually have some sort of accomodations for your prospective clients?”
I didn’t need the attitude.
“Let me just save you some time, lady. I don’t work with greyhounds anymore.” That was bitter experience talking. Once bitten, twice shy. The thrill of the chase wears off real quick when you’re staring down the barrel of the fuzzy end of the lollipop.
She sighed again, and flounced on past me into my office. This day was not starting well. I followed her.
In the two seconds it took for me to walk in, shut the door and turn to look at her, she’d gotten pretty damned comfortable, curled up on my divan with those long legs tucked beneath her.
“I’ve been retired for years, Mr. Thistle. I haven’t chased in nearly as long. I’m as trustworthy a soul as you, given the life you lead, are likely to meet.” She bared a set of sharp white teeth at me. I eventually realized she was smiling. “And besides, if you look at the… advance I’ve placed on your desk, I think you’ll see I can make it worth your while.”
On my desk was the biggest pile of lettuce I’d ever seen.
I tried not to react. Things had been tight since my partner died. He was better at keeping clients. The landlady was on my case and my bills all had big red print on them. If she could pay like that, I needed this job. But I couldn’t seem too eager.
I turned to face her. She was watching me coolly. It made me nervous. I swallowed it. “Okay, lady, I’m all ears.”
She was quiet for a second, deciding whether or not to laugh.
“A valued possession of mine has been taken. I would very much like it returned.”
She nodded at the desk again. I walked over. She’d put a folder next to the pile of green. I opened it. There was a photo inside. I looked at it. I looked back at her. She looked at me.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Couldn’t you just get another cheeseburger?”
“If you’re not interested in the job, Mr. Thistle, I understand. Though I am disappointed. Is it the money? I can offer more.”
“The money is fine.” It was the first time I’d ever said anything like that. I figured I’d run downstairs to MacGuffin’s, buy her another cheeseburger, keep the change and everyone’s happy, including a few collection agents who’d been trying to get to know me better. “I just don’t understand why this one burger is so important.”
“Do you have to? Honestly, Mr. Thistle, I really can make it worth your while.” She stretched those long legs, a sweet little groan escaping her lips, got up off the couch and walked over to me. “I really have heard nothing but good things about your… your work.”
It doesn’t matter if she’s a dog. When a dame starts licking me behind the ears, there’s not much I can do but roll over.
Night fell like a dead cat out of a tree. I was cursing myself for a sucker. By the time Lady had told me there was a falcon involved, I’d agreed to take the job. I don’t like falcons. They bother me. This usually isn’t a problem. I leave them alone if they leave me alone. But she’d seen a falcon flying off with the goods. Oh well. Work is work.
There was a place by the docks where falcons roosted. I figured I’d go there and sniff around, do a little digging. I got as far as the produce terminal on Water Street before it started, that feeling I get sometimes, like there’s a conga line of fleas marching up and down my spine. It always means trouble.
Then came the shout. I started running. At least it wasn’t a cat. I hate cats. Cats are trouble. This was just a human, slow and dim, a big monkey angry at the rabbit in his produce. No gun. Just a mop. A sorry specimen.
It’d been years since I’d loitered in the produce terminal. You can’t stay a delinquent forever. Or that’s what they keep telling me. But I guess it’s like using a liberty ball. You just remember how.
My old moves came back. I played with him a little, ran just out of his reach a ways, let him think he was gonna catch me. At the end of the terminal was a huge pile of carrots, and behind the carrots were two shipping containers a foot apart. A refuge. I sprinted. They were some damn good carrots: old-fashioned Danvers, Kyoto Reds, some purple ones from the Middle East somewhere. I had enough of a lead to get a few bites of each. Damn, it was good to taste something besides corner store Chantenays. “Why did I stop hanging out here again?” I asked myself. “Oh, right. The goons,” I answered. He caught up to me, a stupid, evil smirk on his puss. Just as he swung I ducked between the containers. His killing blow with the mop landed on cement. Splat.
I chuckled. I still had it.
I hopped over a pile of trash between the containers and my back suddenly felt like an entire flea nightclub. Something was very wrong. I went back. There was something about that trash pile, something underneath that crumpled, oily newspaper, that set me on edge.
A falcon! I screamed. I jumped. Forgetting where I was I turned sideways in mid-air, hit the side of the container hard, fell, and slammed into the pavement next to the falcon.
The falcon wasn’t moving. Neither was I. That damn prey reflex kicks in at the worst of times. After a minute I realized I wasn’t dead. After another I realized the falcon was. I pulled the newspaper off his corpse and took a look. No exit wounds, no obvious broken bones, not so much as a bent feather. Odd. He’d had an alarmed expression when he kicked it, but when don’t they? I couldn’t tell what had killed him.
And then I smelled it.
I took a closer look at his beak.
He had a mouth full of cheeseburger.
I don’t like it when jobs get this complicated, I thought to myself.