Bite Me, Deadly
It takes a special kind of man to be a Private Dick. Smart. Tough. An eye for broads. And a complete set of nonstick cookware.
It all started on a typical day in Houston. Morning fog, noontime tornado, afternoon hurricane. Forecast: partly cloudy sunset. Relative humidity: a hundred and fifty percent. Predicted overnight low: 25 degrees.
Two o'clock. I was camped out in my office watching the neighborhood fly by the window when I heard her ooze through the door. Hey, I'm a private eye. I'm trained to recognize sounds like that.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything important." She sounded like a standing invitation to break every Commandment. And obey the Golden Rule. Her breathy voice reminded me of Marilyn Monroe the night she orgasmed the birthday song to John Kennedy. I always got sweaty thinking about it.
"No, no. Not at all." I swiveled my chair so I could see what was attached to the voice. She had a body built for the fast lane, and I wanted to drive her. In all five gears. Plus Park. I guessed five-foot six with thirty-six C-cup by twenty-four-inch waist by thirty-six-inch seat cushion. But who was keeping score?
I pulled a handkerchief from my Levi's and mopped my face. "Have a seat. Miss?"
"Mrs." She sat. "Mrs. Lola Raymond."
"Mark Mallet. Private eye."
"Yes, I know. I saw it on the door."
I saw right away she was no typical dumb redhead. I also noticed she collected jewelry. Especially the kind with large diamonds.
Lola tilted her head to the right about ten degrees. Maybe twelve. Geometry was one of my worst subjects.
She smiled. "Do you always dress so informally?"
I shrugged. "I was in a quirky mood this morning. Decided to wear my dark blue Levi's to set off this pale pink dress shirt, then accent it with a pink-and-blue-striped tie. Notice the matching socks." I swung my right foot onto the desk.
"Very nice." She punctuated her smile with a graceful nod. "I admire a man with taste who's not afraid to show it. Did someone recommend you wear the Reeboks with that ensemble?"
"No." I jerked my foot down, reminded myself to pay more attention when I dressed.
Time for a different approach. I offered her a cigarette. In Houston, it's against the law to smoke. Except in my office.
"No, thanks." She shook her head. Her long, blazing-sunset red hair went along for the ride. "I quit."
"Smart," I said. "How long?"
She pursed blood-red lips, stared with emerald eyes. "Who knows? Time is a spatial concept governed by the assumption reality exists and the universe evolves in an orderly manner."
I took that to mean she'd forgotten. "Coffee?"
Her red mane swayed again. "No. I quit."
I decided not to ask how long ago. "What brings you here?"
I straightened my tie. "What about your husband?"
I flipped on my shocked-but-sympathetic face. "I'm terribly sorry. It must have been quite a blow for you."
"Yes. But not as much as it was for him."
I cleared my throat. "What happened?"
"He was murdered."
"How did he die?"
"In our bedroom."
"No. What part of the body?"
"I don't mean to seem insensitive, Mrs. Raymond, but the head is a primary target for many suicide seekers."
She slid a mauve handkerchief from her purse, dabbed her eyes. "I know. But do they tie themselves to the bed?"
"Your husband was tied down?"
"Who found him?"
"I did. He had gone upstairs to prepare for bed. I stayed downstairs."
"What made you go up?"
"A gunshot. I ran to the bedroom. But it was too late."
"How did you find him?"
"I opened the door and there he was."
"No. I meant, where did you find the body?"
"On the bed. His hands were tied to the posts."
"And the gun?"
She shook her head. "No. It wasn't tied down. It was just laying on the bed."
"Did you call police?"
She nodded. "They believe I killed him."
She shrugged. "His money, I suppose."
"Your husband was rich?"
A fingertip caressed the edge of my desk. "Filthy."
"What business was he in?"
She crossed her legs, one silk-covered thigh sliding over the other. It looked like fun. I wanted to help. "Yes. The AIDS epidemic gave his company the thrust it needed. He made millions. Maybe billions. I'm not quite sure."
"Have you seen a lawyer?"
"I'm sure I have. It's so hard to tell sometimes. They look like everyone else."
"No, I meant, have you hired a lawyer?"
She cocked her head. "Why should I? I didn't do anything."
"When did all this happen?"
"Two nights ago. On Wednesday."
"Mrs. Raymond, did you see anything unusual in the bedroom that night, other than your husband's body?"
"An item from Randolph's collection was missing."
She nodded. "Randolph kept it in our room. After me, it was his second love. He was the world's foremost authority on rare bird figurines. His collection included every rare bird known to man."
"And you say one was missing?"
"Yes. A figurine. Not a man."
She paused, as only a beautiful, mysterious woman who's about to deliver an important message to a private eye can.
"The Peruvian Parrot," she said.
After Lola Raymond left, I decided to call it a day. It was Friday, so that's what I called it.
I locked the office, walked to my Mustang convertible, and headed home. I drove east on Westheimer, the only Houston street that runs in a straight line for more than a mile. While the afternoon gale winds blasted my wavy blond hair, I played back my favorite part of the meeting with Lola. She paid my fee up front. Opened her large sand-colored tote bag and dumped out my retainer. Fifty C-notes. My job? Track down her husband's killer and find the missing bird.
Fifteen minutes later, I hit my driveway in the Montrose, Houston's largest gay neighborhood.
I owned a beach house set twelve feet above ground on stilts. I'd had a lifelong phobia about floods. This really pissed off my neighbors, since the nearest water was sixty miles south in Galveston. They slapped me with a deed-restriction lawsuit about once a month.
I glanced at my imitation Swatch watch. Damn. Almost dinner time.
I hurried to the kitchen. Grabbing a large skillet from the cabinet, I poured in an ounce of cooking oil and set the burner at medium low.
While the oil heated, I tossed in salt, pepper, onions, garlic, paprika, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Then I raided the refrigerator and the pantry. In a large bowl, I mixed cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, liver pâté, diced tomato, six eggs, a pound of chopped sirloin and two ground-up dog biscuits. The whole mess went into the skillet to simmer for ten minutes.
The phone rang.
"You won't be for long if you don't solve the Raymond case." It was a man. His voice sounded like it had kissed too many Jack Daniels bottles and sucked too many unfiltered cigarettes. Or maybe he just had a cold. I couldn't tell.
"Who is this?"
"You don't want to know. Just remember one thing, Mallet."
"Louie the Limp."
The line went dead.
I checked the skillet. Still simmering.
A nicotine urge hit. I didn't allow smoking in my house, so I stepped out onto the deck for a cigarette. What the hell, one more wasn't going make any difference in this burg.
From my deck, I had a view of Houston's skyline. I stood there, twelve feet off the ground, sucking on my cigarette, contemplating the steel and glass corporate towers that shot up into the sky like giant phalluses.
Damn. How about that. Scored a double. Metaphor and simile. And I managed to work in sex. I was on a roll.
The phone rang again. I dashed through the door and grabbed the receiver.
Same voice. "Mallet. I forgot something."
Just what I needed. A crank caller with a short-term memory problem.
He hung up.
I was staring at the phone wondering about the connection between diamonds, Louie the Limp and a Peruvian parrot when the oven timer chimed. I retreated into the kitchen, grabbed the skillet containing my gourmet concoction and headed out the back door. At the bottom of the stairs, I located my St. Bernard, Marlowe. He sat by his food dish, nose in the air.
"Sorry I'm late."
I dumped his hot dinner into the dish, then dashed back up to the kitchen, whipped together a peanut butter and banana sandwich for myself, and washed it down with an ice-cold Pepsi.
So sue me, Spenser.
"Mallet here." I aimed one eye at the bedside clock. Glowing numbers flashed 5:15 a.m.
"Mallet! What the hell are you doing sticking your honky nose into the Raymond case?" It was Detective Sergeant Milford Ulysses Washington. One of Houston's finest; I saved his life years ago during a bank robbery.
I sat up, tried to shake numbness from my head. Milford calling this early meant he was upset.
"I gotta eat. Raymond's widow threw a lot of cash at me to find her husband's killer."
"Stay away from the Randolph case, Mallet," he growled. "I don't want you screwing this one up."
He hung up.
Just what I needed. An angry cop who didn't want me to eat.
Saturday morning. Hurricane Billy Bob was rampaging across the Gulf of Mexico toward Houston. But I had a case to solve. A little rain never hurt anybody.
I picked out a pale-blue dress shirt, matching blue-and-red wool tie, gray-blue wool slacks, and a navy blazer. As a final touch, I stepped into brown Hush Puppies.
I drove to the Galleria mall on Houston's west side. Fancy stores sold expensive merchandise there. Somebody might know about rare bird figurines.
Two hours later, I stood near the lower-level ice rink, more depressed than Ross Perot reading his IQ test results. My idea about the mall had bombed.
I watched the skaters, hoping one of the more well-developed ones would fall on her ass and cause that cute little skirt they all wear to flip up. No one fell, so I left. As I drifted toward the parking garage, my eyes zoomed in on a window sign I'd missed:
Horowitz CollectiblesMaybe I could learn something after all.
ON SALE TODAY!
Peruvian Parrot Figurines
I entered. A gray-haired old man with a humpback guarded the cash register. He looked like a small camel.
I jerked out my ID. "Mallet. P.I. I need to talk to you."
He squinted through wire-framed glasses. "What unusual initials." He had wrinkled skin and smelled like a dead fish.
"Your initials are P.I.?"
"No. That's what I do."
"Oh." His brow furrowed. "What's P.I.? I mean, what do you do?
I sighed. "I'm a Private Investigator."
His beady black eyes widened. "You mean like on TV?"
"Right. I used to wear a button that said `As seen on TV!' People kept asking me if I sold Thighmasters. So I stopped wearing it."
The old man pulled a rag from beneath the counter and started cleaning. "This is an honor. I've never had a private eye in my shop. Let me clean this. You don't want to get your sleeves dirty when you smash my face down on it."
He stopped wiping. "That's what you guys do, isn't it? Someone refuses to help, so you grind their face into something hard so they'll talk."
I closed my eyes. Counted to ten. "No," I said. "I don't do that."
The old fart actually looked disappointed. I swear on a stack of Raymond Chandler novels.
"That sign." I pointed toward the window. "It says you have Peruvian parrot figurines. Right?"
His little head bobbed.
His eyes lit up. He wrote a price on a note pad, held it up so I could see.
"Is that all?"
"I'm afraid so." His voice quivered. "There's not much demand for them."
"Has anybody bought one recently?"
He nodded. "A fat man, very short. He coughed all the time. Came in last week. Looked at the birds, then bought two."
The description fit Louie the Limp, probably Houston's most incompetent criminal. Maybe my anonymous caller really knew something. It would be a first. I usually got the heavy breathers.
"Did he say why he wanted two?" I asked.
"No. He gave me a delivery address and left."
"You delivered them?"
The old man nodded. "He told me he didn't want to carry them around all day because they might get damaged."
"Still have the address?"
He reached under the counter and brought out a battered shoebox. "Certainly. Right here." He handed me a piece of paper. It listed a River Oaks address. I recognized it as the Randolphs'.
Now my brain cells really started clicking. Or maybe it was the grandfather clock in the corner. I couldn't tell. But I knew I had stumbled onto something big.
"When were the birds delivered?" I asked.
"Two days ago. On Wednesday."
How convenient. The day Lola's husband bit the big bird.
"Your birds?" I asked. "Where are they?"
He pointed to the opposite side of the store.
The old man shuffled toward the display. He never made it.
Gunshots ripped my eardrums. Glass exploded, rained down on us. The old guy clutched his chest, slumped to the floor.
I drew my snub-nosed thirty-eight and knelt, ready to fire out into the mall and kill or maim thirty innocent people in order to hit the assassin. I looked down. Blood gushed from a wound near the old man's heart.
Damn. This Peruvian Parrot business was dangerous.
The cops entertained me all night. We had a ball. Finally, at seven a.m., they decided I hadn't zapped old Horowitz.
I stepped out of police headquarters just as Hurricane Billy Bob tore through the south side. As I set out to find my car, a long, silver Cadillac drove up. A tinted rear window slid open.
From the Caddy's bowels, a voice boomed. "Get in, Mallet. I want to talk."
I climbed in. "Big Daddy," I said. "I thought you never came within two miles of this place unless you had your shyster on a leash."
"Cut the crap," he snarled. "We got business." He jerked a bony hand up and rapped the plexiglass separating us from the driver. The Caddy leaped forward.
I glanced across the seat. Big Daddy hadn't changed much since I'd last seen him. Tall, with a hawk-like face and a body as thin as an eighty-year-old's tits. He looked like he always did--a crime kingpin. His diamond earrings, nose rings, finger rings, tie pins and solid gold watch accented with diamonds made me sick. Sick that I couldn't afford them. Everyone called him Big Daddy because he had fathered at least twenty illegitimate kids. In his spare time, he controlled Houston's entire vice business. He also was inclined to blow your brains out if you ever mentioned his real name. I guessed I'd be touchy if someone called me Theodore.
I popped open the mini-fridge. "What? No Diet Pepsi? Did you miss a night at etiquette class?"
A scrawny hand shot across the seat and wrapped itself around my throat. Tight. Very tight. "You want to live, Mallet?" He pushed up, lifting me off the seat. Funny, I would've never guessed such a skinny guy could have so much arm strength. Then again, I believed Oliver North and Bill Clinton.
"Right." I hit a note most sopranos would die for.
"Then can it."
"Right." Damn. Two high ones in a row.
Big Daddy's eyelids formed tiny peepholes. "I hear you're looking for a bird."
"Right." I squawked. What the hell. Might as well go for a record.
"I want it." With his free hand, he stuffed a wad of bills into my coat pocket. "Here's five grand. You work for me now."
"I already have a client." Pavarotti would have been proud of me. An entire sentence only dogs could hear.
"That Raymond dame. Forget her. I'll deal with her later. Find that Peruvian Parrot. Bring it to me. Do it or I'll find a live bird and stuff you up its ass."
I couldn't imagine how I'd fit inside a bird's ass, but I figured Big Daddy knew a way.
"Right," I squeaked.
"And stay away from Louie the Limp." Suddenly, Louie was the most talked about guy in town. I had a hunch he was up to his fat little bumbling elbows in this case.
Big Daddy released my hostage throat and hit the Plexiglass again. The car stopped on a dime and left twenty cents change. I pitched forward onto the floor.
"Get up," Big Daddy demanded. "You'll ruin the carpet." The door opened. As I tried to right myself, Big Daddy delivered a field goal kick to my ass, sending me tumbling onto the street in the middle of a hurricane.
"I'll give you a week, Mallet. Bring me that bird or you'll never see a sunset again." His Caddy roared away.
I stood alone in the rain, watching my all-wool sports coat and slacks shrink before my eyes.
Jerk. What kind of threat was that?
You'll never see a sunset again.
Didn't he realize I lived in Houston?
Driving home, I punched in Lola's number on my car phone.
"Mr. Mallet. What a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect you'd come through. So soon."
I ignored her choice of phrasing. "I think I know who killed your husband. But I don't have the bird yet."
Silence. "Find it," she said, then hung up.
When I arrived home, I felt like I had been the only condom at a porno movie wrap party. I strolled into my bedroom, hit the light switch and froze. Lola Raymond lay stretched across my bed. Naked.
"From the moment I saw you," she said, "I knew I had to have you."
Damn. Who was I to argue with logic like that?
I ripped off my clothes and executed a swan dive onto the bed. For two hours, we devoured each other--grabbing, rolling, pounding, slapping, sucking and moving in ways I never knew.
Then we had sex.
Later, I lay on my back, spent, my eyes closed. My clock had been cleaned, but I didn't know what time it was.
I observed the rules of etiquette. "Did you come?"
I opened my eyes. Lola stood over me, still naked. Except now she held a large knife high over her head.
I rolled to my left as he blade whizzed passed my shoulder and ripped into the mattress. I executed an expert martial arts kick to Lola's seductive hipbone, throwing her off balance. Leaping off the bed, I locked her smooth, creamy arms against her incredibly firm body, expertly arranging my hands on her breasts. We tumbled to the floor. She hurled curses. I threw them back. I fought to knock the knife from her hand. Somehow, I was able to sneak in several gropes of her well-rounded ass.
Lola's hand groped between us. She grabbed and yanked.
I screamed. Enough was enough. I slammed a fist into her jaw.
I struggled to my feet, gasping as I flopped onto the bed. During the fight, Lola's tote bag had fallen to the floor. It lay on its side, open, contents scattered. There, half exposed, poking its head out, was a figurine.
It looked like a bird.
Hurricane Jimmy Jack was snorting its way through the Gulf of Mexico toward Houston. But I had a job to do. A little high wind never hurt anyone.
I left Lola at the beach house, naked, standing in the bathtub, hands tied to the shower nozzle. I thought I knew why Lola had the bird. It made sense now. But I needed one more answer before I tossed this case to the cops.
A few minutes later, I entered River Oaks, Houston's answer to Beverly Hills. Except no one had ever bought a map to the mayor's house. No one cared.
I found the address listed on Lola's drivers' license. Same address the old guy at the Galleria had given me. That meant two figurines purchased by Louie the Limp had been delivered here. On the day Randolph Raymond was killed.
The house was a modest mansion, maybe twenty or thirty rooms, with a four-car garage. But who's counting?
I parked the car and walked to the back yard. No wonder this guy got whacked so easily. No security that I could see. Any psycho could wander in.
"Hold it, Mallet."
I was right. A wacko had wandered in. I recognized the wheezy voice. "Louie the Limp. What brings you to the classy side of town?"
Cold steel jabbed my kidney. Actually, I couldn't tell it was cold. I was wearing my sports jacket. But in private eye novels, the bad guys' guns were always cold steel.
"Insults will get you nowhere. You've got something I want. Where is it?"
" `It?' What have I got that you want, Louie? Charm? Women? Good looks? A cheap office? A foot-long love machine?"
He rammed the gun harder. "Shut up, wise ass. Take me to the Raymond dame or your kidney's gonna eat hot lead. I want to talk to her."
I sized up my problem. Did this overstuffed whale really think he could ace me, Mark Mallet? Hell, no. I'd pulled myself out of more tight places than Warren Beatty. Besides, my kidney wasn't hungry.
"Only if you give me your gun," I said.
"What? You really think I'm that stupid?"
"Oh, okay," he said as he handed me the pistol.
Like I said, he was Houston's most incompetent criminal.
"Luuucy, I'm home." I shoved Louie through the door of my beach house.
"Get me outta here!" Lola's scream made Louie flinch.
"Is that her?" he asked.
"Right, Louie. The woman of your dreams." I pushed him toward a chair. "Sit. Make yourself comfortable. I'll bring her out."
I hurried to the bathroom.
Lola greeted me with dagger-filled eyes. "You bastard. I'll have you arrested for this."
I slapped her ass. Hard. "Listen, sister. I brought back an old friend of yours who wants to see you about a bird. Cooperate or I'll leave you like this and send him in."
She considered my proposal. "All right. Untie me."
I loosened the rope. "I love it when you talk dirty."
Lola rubbed her wrists, then walked to the bedroom and slipped into her clothes.
As we entered the living room, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," I announced. "Probably the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol." When I opened the door, Detective Milford Ulysses Washington and Big Daddy stood on my deck. "Well, talk about the odd couple. Come in, gentlemen. Glad you could join us."
Both scowled as they trudged in.
I moved to the center of the room. "I invited everyone here so we can clear up this mess. What say we proceed?"
"Proceed with what?" Big Daddy growled. He and Milford parked their butts on my worn green and yellow sofa. Milford wore the same brown suit I'd seen him wear for five years. Big Daddy still looked like a walking jewelry store.
Time for my song and dance. "Everyone seems to have the hots for a bird figurine. At first, I couldn't figure out why. Then I remembered Lola telling me about her husband's business. Randolph Raymond--condom king of Texas. But that was a front. His real business involved jewels. Stolen diamonds. He used condom shipping orders to sneak them into the country."
"That's absurd." Lola sneered at me from the sofa. "Randolph would never do anything illegal."
"Don't be so sure." I forged ahead. "He found an easier way to transport his goodies. Figurines. They held more diamonds."
Milford piped in. "Where did you get this crap, Mallet?"
I stuck out a hand. "Hold on. Give me a minute." I whirled toward Lola. "You discovered Randolph's plans. But you wanted the jewels for yourself. So you hired Louie to knock off hubby. Louie probably stabbed him, then blew off half his head to hide the wound."
Lola's eyes breathed fire. "You bastard. You don't know what you're talking about."
"I don't? Why'd you hire me and then try to carve out my organs?"
She made a face. It looked like she had just sucked on a lemon. Or a spoiled prune. I couldn't tell.
"You wanted to throw the cops off the trail. But when I got too close, you decided I would look better in a coffin."
Lola turned away and pouted. I strolled toward Louie. "Fat Boy here owed Big Daddy a favor. So Louie clued him in on Randolph's diamond scheme. Big Daddy came down with a case of greed. He loves diamonds. Big Daddy hired Louie to snuff Randolph. Louie had it made. Two fees for one hit."
"You're crazy, Mallet," Louie grumbled from the corner. "I've never seen this dame before."
"Is that right? Then why did you have two figurines delivered to her house the day Randolph was murdered? My hunch is you both wanted to make a switch. But Lola double-crossed you, didn't she?"
Big Daddy waved a pale, bony hand. "Mallet, you've gone too far this time. Do you have evidence?"
"You just said the magic word." I strutted over to the liquor cabinet, reached around, and brought out the Peruvian Parrot.
Lola jumped to her feet. "Where did you get that? she screamed. "It's mine!"
"Be careful with that, Mallet!" Milford yelled.
I held the bird out like a battle trophy. "Randolph used this bird to test his smuggling operation. When Lola found out, she lifted it from the murder scene." I threw Lola a smug look. "But Louie thought you had cut someone else in on the deal. The old man from the Galleria. He had connections to sell the diamonds. Louie wanted everything for himself, so he shot Horowitz."
Milford stood, shaking. "Mallet, shut up and give me that."
"Not until I prove I'm right." I hoisted the bird high above my head then smashed it against the coffee table.
"No!" All four screamed. In unison. Almost in harmony.
The bird shattered. Glass flew everywhere.
It was empty.
"What the hell?" I stared down at the jagged base I held.
Milford grabbed my arm. "Mallet, you moron. You just destroyed the murder weapon."
Milford's forehead was a mass of sweat drops. "Mrs. Raymond bashed in her husband's head with that. Then she used his gun to try and make it look like suicide."
My insides turned to water. "How do you know that?"
His lips twitched. "Ever heard of pathology, bird brain?"
"But what about the diamonds?" I pleaded.
"There were no diamonds, you idiot." Big Daddy looked as if he wanted to feed me to his pet wolf, Peter. "That figurine had a flaw," he said. "A factory mistake. It was worth a fortune. Since I'm also a collector, Mr. Raymond was prepared to sell it to me."
"Oh." I retreated a couple of paces. Glass crunched under my shoes. "I guess that settles that. Glad you folks could drop by. We'll have to do this again sometime. Real soon."
Milford wrapped a beefy hand around Lola's arm. "Come on. You're under arrest for murder." As he handcuffed her, he grunted at me. "By the way, jerk-off, Horowitz wasn't killed for the bird. Some kid wanted to marry his daughter. The old man objected."
I stood alone in the middle of my living room, fragments of a priceless Peruvian bird scattered around me. Maybe my career, too. I felt lower than snail shit. I needed company.
I dashed for the back door. Outside, I rushed down the stairs searching for my Saint Bernard, Marlowe. I found him, under the house, humping the next door neighbor's collie.
Just what I needed. A closing metaphor.
Stan Houston was a retired advertising/financial writer who produced four satirical novels and numerous short stories between 1993 and 1998. One of his stories won first place at the 1997 Houston Writers Conference. "Bite Me, Deadly" was Stan's first fiction publication with wide circulation. He died June 3, 1998 from complications of Parkinson's, just days after the story appeared on the Internet.
"Bite Me, Deadly" was chosen as a finalist in Pulp Eternity's "Best of Web Fiction" awards for 1998.
InterText Copyright © 1991-2000 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 8, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1998 Stan Houston.