Hello. My name is Max Wood. I am a Private Dick. I work for hire solving crimes that cops either can’t or won’t solve. I work out of an office at the corner of 22nd and State in Bone City. I work alone; that's the way I like it. Partners just get in the way. I am a stand up man and always rise to the occasion whenever I’m called upon, sometimes to solve unsolved crimes. Sometimes the job is long and hard but I almost always pull it off. These are my investigative stories.

Episode 3: The Hand Job

I call this one "The Hand Job" simply because the case was quite a job, and it had to do with a strange fellow named Hand. Randy Hand was his full name and if you think that's a strange name, wait until we meet the man.

It was quite a hot, Indian Summer afternoon in Bone City when the little bell over my front office door dinged. Finally, I thought, somebody's coming in the front door for a change. A slightly portly guy came in. He was decked out in a business suit that was at least one size too small and a hat that was at least one size too big. He also wore a big goofy grin on his puss.

"I have a case for you!" he said, almost singing it, as if it was very good news. I mean, it'd be good news for me, more dough in my pocket, but usually if you're coming to me for help, things have not been very good.

"What's with the act?" I asked him. "You come straight from Vaudeville or something?"

"Uh, no," he said, "I just thought you'd like to hear that I have a new case for you. My name's Hand. Randy Hand."

"OK," I said, "well, I, uh, appreciate it. Er, what's your story… Mr. Hand?"

As he proceeded to tell me all about the case, I noticed that this guy was a little light in the loafers. He was very animated and used body language I usually only see with broads. I quickly realized that it wouldn't be long before this boob was going to wear me out. But it was money, so I tried to listen. I'll summarize it because this Hand guy tended to go on and on in great detail, quite a bit more than I felt was necessary. If I would have let him he probably would have jawed on for hours.

Apparently a friend of his named Ben Dimover had taken a bunk and nobody had seem him for three days. Hand had worked with Mr. Dimover at a clothing boutique on the upper west side called Dunham Goode Fashions. He was visibly dismayed that the cops were reluctant to help him out. They had explained that there was no evidence to suggest that he hadn't skipped out on his own volition. Hand even said that the cops had given him the cold shoulder and told him to shove off.

"Those were their exact words/" I asked.

"Not their exact words, but that was the feeling I got from them when they shooed me away," Hand said. Then he threw his hands up in his face. "Oh this is just awful, AWFUL! Poor Ben! The people who took him to god-knows-where, and doing god-knows-what to him! And nobody cares! NOBODY!"

Then he actually started to cry! A grown man! Yep, this was going to be quite a job. I sighed.

"Listen, Randy, I care," I lied, "your friend will be all right. You just settle down. I'll get to the bottom of it. You came to the right place." I could not believe that I was having to use my same comforting tone and language on a man that I usually had to use on a damsel in distress. I stopped short, though, of actually going over to him and putting my hands on his shoulders, looking into his eyes, and telling him with my warm eyes that everything was going to be all right.

That was reserved for women exclusively.

Still, his performance was so convincing as he continued to blubber and babble on about this and that, that I was actually almost tempted to do that anyway. I was beginning to wish that this Randy Hand was a woman.

"Did you act like this down at the station?" I asked.

"Yes," he blurted out between sobs.

Well no wonder the fuzz weren't much help, I thought.

"Well what would THAT have anything to do with anything?!" Hand yelled.

"Hey hey calm down, pal" I said, putting up a hand, "it shouldn't have mattered one bit. The cops were very unprofessional there." I felt bad, but I thought that if I were still back in the days when I was a police detective, I would have been tempted to shoo him away, too.

"Thank you! That's what I thought!"

"So, let's go over a plan here, I can't wait to get started," I lied again, "we'll find your friend. Now, first off, does he have any enemies?"

"Well," Randy said, "not really."

If there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's that "not really" usually meant "yes."

"Well, go on," I said, knowing that he'd had more to add to that comment.

"Um, well," Randy said, "we do have a rival boutique across the street. They're on the West Side."

"What are they called?" I asked.

"Mister Bater's Fashion," Randy replied. "Over at my store, we don't like Mr. Bater. He's given us the shaft more times than I can count so we try to put the squeeze on him whenever we can."

"So you thinkin' that maybe this Mr. Bater rubbed ‘im out?" I asked. "Seems to me if he gets rid of an integral part of your operation he perhaps hurts his competition and boosts sales for him all in one stroke."

"Putting us out of business would be a lot harder than that, Mr. Wood!" exclaimed Randy. "We have beaten Mr. Bater out in sales nearly every week, him and his little squirt Dick, his teenage son who has been working for him. He's just always behind us! Because of our superior prices and service profits for him have been hard to come by."

"Still, that's a lead that I'm gonna check out," I said as I got up out of my chair. I was feeling a little peckish, I felt like a sandwich, so I grabbed some bread and the salami I'd bought at the market that morning.

"Wasn't lunch time a few hours ago?" Randy asked. "My friend is missing!"

"I don't work so well on an empty stomach," I said as I grabbed a knife. "You want some?"

Randy sighed. Then he said "I usually don't eat salami. However, Ben and I… we liked to play this game called Hide the Salami. We'd hide it in the weirdest places." Then he sighed sadly again. Boy this guy really missed his friend!

It seemed at first like the Hand Job would be an easy one. If the rivalry between the two fashion boutiques was so heated, it seemed only logical to me that this Mr. Bater would be the prime suspect. Why the coppers didn't pay him much mind was curious to say the least.

I decided to go and feel out this "Mr. Bater" for some information (starting with his first name). But first I had to go home and feed my wiener dog, Bangkok. Also, I had a feeling that maybe I would need him, my unofficial partner, on this case. So when I got home, after feeding him, I grabbed my wiener , put a leash on him, and went to leave. But he was difficult that day. I wasn't sure why. Sometimes he's just stubborn for no apparent reason. I found that I had to pull and jerk my wiener quite a bit to get it to come. Finally I got Bangkok into my Studebaker and we drove off together.

When I arrived at the address that Hand had, um, handed me, I found the digs to be pretty impressive. What I was looking at when I pulled my wiener up to the front door was no less than a mansion. After ringing the front door a tall man in a tuxedo answered.

"I'm lookin' for a, uh, ‘Mr. Bater,'" I said. "He around?"

"May I ask who might you be?" asked the man, whom I presumed to be his butler.

"I am investigator trying to gather information for a case I'm working on and I think your boss can help," I answered honestly. Sometimes if I'm afraid I won't be let in if I let them know what I am really there for, but these wealthy types are often so full of themselves that they aren't afraid and that they're above the Law. But what a lot of them don't realize is… I am not the Law.

"Come in," the butler said, "May I take your jacket and hat?"

I thanked him and let him take them. Then he said "Now I shall go fetch him." As I entered, the butler made his way down the entry and yelled "Master Bater! A man – some sort of detective – is here to see you!"

After a moment this Mr. Bater appeared. It was so typical. He had a cigar in one hand and he was wearing a purple velvet bathrobe and matching slippers. And it was 4 o'clock!

"Well well well," the man said in a snooty British accent, "who might you be?"

"My name is Max Wood," I said, "I am a Private Dick. I am here investigating a case. I'd like to talk to you but first, this is quite an impressive home you have here."

It is always a good idea to first butter up anybody you're gonna be hitting with hard questions in a moment. Finding something to compliment them on and stroke their ego with can take the edge off the forthcoming interrogation.

"Oh, isn't it lovely?" he said. "When I moved to Bone City I knew I had to have it! It was erected way back in 1855."

"Well it's quite a big erection," I said, "it's a wonder that it's stayed up so long."

"Oh, especially considering it's taken quite a beating," Bater replied. "with the hurricane of '01 and the earthquake in '95. It's craftsmanship you rarely see anymore."

"No, you certainly don't," I said, wanting to get to the real questions now, "but, um, Mr. Bater…?"

"Oh, please, call me Astor," he said, "everybody does at my boutique."

"OK, Astor," I said, "funny you should bring up your boutique. That's what I want to discuss with you. It seems that a gentleman employed by your rival has turned up missin.' His name was, uh, Ben Dimover. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you?"

"My my, Mr. Wood, are you accusing me of something?" Astor asked, indignant.

"No, not at all," I replied, "I'm just trying to get information, talk to people who might be witnesses, who might know something. I ain't lookin' for suspects yet."

"Well, I wouldn't know anything about any employee of that dreadful place turning up missing," Astor said. His premature defensive comment indicated that he was guilty of something. If I was a police detective, I'd have said I had my prime suspect right there. I got my notebook and pen out of my jacket pocket.

"So you didn't see anything unusual, something fishy over there?" I said.

"Well those women over there, they're always fishy," Astor said, "but that's something that never changes. Besides that, nothing in particular."

"Why would you characterize the women at Dunham Goode as ‘fishy?'" I asked.

"Oh, you know women, always scheming, conniving," Astor said, "'tis why I prefer the company of men. But I meant nothing specific by it."

"I see," I said. I could see already that this guy was a real piece of work with definite trust issues. Maybe it was why he was single and living in a huge mansion, aloof from the society around him. I was gonna keep my peepers on him.

"Well, if you have nothing else to tell me about Mr. Dimover's vanishing, I suppose I'll be off," I said. I pulled out a business card. "Call me if you remember something."

"I have a feeling that this won't be the last I see of you," he said darkly, taking the card.

"Why do you feel that?" I said.

"Listen, I know you P.I. types," he said, "always taking up difficult cases, sometimes not getting paid what you're worth, operating on a hope and a prayer. How about, since I am a very busy man, that we agree that you will believe me, forever, when I say that I know nothing about this case? And maybe in exchange I give you help in another way, like, say, perhaps some cash to pay for the gas you'll undoubtedly consume whilst running around town investigating other leads."

And then Bater reached into a pocket of his bathrobe and pulled out a wad of cash. A large one. Now I knew why the cops weren't puttin' the heat on him.

"You think I can be bought, don't you?" I said, looking at him suspiciously. "I'm sorry to tell ya, Max Wood can't be bought."

"Oh, Mr. Wood, it's nothing like that," Bater pleaded, "I would never try to compromise a man of such character or insult the intelligence of one so notoriously clever such as yourself."

"You can butter me up, stroke my ego as much as you want," I said, "but you're blowin' it, cuz it ain't workin'. I'm a stand-up man with a firm grip on my scruples. Quit beatin' around the bush and just tell me you're tryin' to bribe me."

"Well, fine, then, finance your fuel costs with your own pocket," Bater said, avoiding my question, putting the wad of cash away. "I have nothing more to say to you."

His butler brought me my coat and hat. I thanked him and put them back on. "Oh I have a feeling we'll be talking again, Mr. Bater."

As I drove away I stewed in my anger. It always got me riled up when I met people like Bater, who think they can beat the system like that. I'd like to smack them around in an interrogation room until they release what they've been holding inside them and go limp.

But that was then, and this was now, and my cop days were over long ago.

My next stop was Dunham Goode, the salon Hand and his friend worked for. I figured I should get as much information from the people closest to the case, after all.

"Welcome, welcome, Mr. Wood," Randy said, ushering me in after I had arrived. "Let me introduce you to everybody!"

First he pointed me out to a dapper-looking fellow who was dancing about checking price tags. Like Randy, the kind of feminine way he conducted himself betrayed his gender.

"That's Dick Hunter!" Randy said, happily pointing to his employee. "We like to call him the Price Hunter because he's always hunting for ways to adjust the prices, raise them, slash them… whatever might be best."

"Hello!" Mr. Hunter said to me, waving, in an overly-friendly manner that was just a little disturbing. Then he went back to his… price hunting.

Second he showed me to two ladies. One was behind the cash register and the other was near it arranging some dresses on a rack. They looked alike, both with reddish hair and freckles. Both had that hair done up under similar flowery hats and they wore matching sun dresses. They were a couple of pretty broads, two of the finest-looking gals I'd seen in a while.

"We call these two ‘The Twins,'" Randy said, "even though they aren't really related. But they look the same and have similar names. It's kind if eerie that they both ended up working here coincidentally. But anyway, at the register here is Ida Dunham – daughter of our owner – and over here is Ida Diddertoo."

"Nice to meet you both," I said, but then I turned to the Ida by the dresses, "nice rack, by the way."

"Oh you think so?" she said, batting her eyelashes. "I just had some workers augment it so it was bigger. We had to make room for the fall fashion line. The bigger the rack, the better, I always say."

"Well, that's one of my philosophies anyway," I said. "So, let's get down to it." I got out my notepad. "What all information – any information – do either of you have on Mr. Dimover's disappearance?"

"Well, it's simple for me," Miss Dunham said, "on Tuesday, which was three days ago, a customer came in, a man, he wanted some penny loafers." She rolled her eyes. "Very far from what we specialize in, kind of low brow for this place, but we do usually have some. But there weren't any on the shelves. So Ben said that he would try to help out as much as he could and went into the back. He knows the store room well so he's most helpful in the… in the rear…"

Miss Dunham trailed off, looked down, suddenly overcome with emotion.

"Please, continue," I urged her while jotting down some notes.

"So, as I was saying, he's… he's most helpful in the rear of the store. He's our guy for checking the back room for things we don't have on the shelves. So Ben went back to see if we had any penny loafers in the back. I thought I heard the rear exit open – that door is back there in that room – but I wasn't quite sure because it's hard to hear from here at the front. Besides that, I never heard a peep. Nor have I seen Ben since. He never returned."

"Hmmm," I said. I thought about the penny loafer thing. It reminded me of something.

"This man asking for the penny loafers," I said, "was he by any chance wearing coveralls? Unshaven?"

"Why, yes he was," Miss Dunham said. "How did you know?"

I knew it! The only penny-loafer-wearing gangster in town! Easy Earnie, sometimes only called "Easy E" for short. He wears coveralls and is very unkempt because he's lazy, always looking for the easy route. Coveralls, you put ‘em on, zip ‘em up, and you're done. Going to get a shave only every once or twice a week is pretty darn easy for him. He must have been working for the other boutique, set Ben up so he'd have to go to the back. I was seeing the plan very clearly then in my head.

Just as I was seeing the whole crime play out in my head, like a flick at the local movie theater, the bell above the door dinged. I turned to see who was entering the boutique.

"Who is THIS??" I thought. The person that had just entered the store looked around before proceeding, surveying her surroundings carefully. The broad was quite a dish I must say, shiny black curls spilling around her round, pale, flawless puss. She had big, dark doe eyes; but don't let that description fool you. Those eyes meant business. She was dressed almost like me, a dame detective, only she was wearing a short skirt, showing off legs that went on forever.

"Oh," she said in her whiskey and cigarette-soaked voice when she focused her peepers on me, "I see some other detective has beaten me here."

She didn't say it as if she was defeated or disappointed, more like she was just commenting on the situation.

"You're a private dick, too?" I said. I couldn't believe it. I'd never even heard of a female detective, much less one in Bone City.

"I suppose, although I don't like that term," she replied.

"Who are you?" I said. "I thought I'd seen all the dicks in this town."

"Well not this one, Mr. Wood," she said. "I'm Detective Cumming. Alotta Cumming. I'm new to this town, but not to the biz."

Now I have heard it said that, in the case of private dicks at least, two heads are better than one. And with this Hand Job, maybe Alotta Cumming could help. But I don't like working with a partner, or anybody else for that matter. Max Wood works best alone.

"Well I'm already on this case," I said, sounding a little more hostile than I'd intended, "who hired you?"

"I did," said Ida Dunham. "Sorry, Mr. Wood. I called here before Randy spoke to you. I… I'm sorry. I'm just really concerned for Ben. Oh and thank you for coming, er, Detective Cumming."

"You're welcome, but will I be going?" she asked Ida as she glanced at me.

"Well, no," said Ida. "Well, I mean, you gotta go. But only if you have to. I'm sure you're a real wiz at this, too."

"What a relief," Detective Cumming said. But there was a hint of sarcasm there. Cumming wasn't worried about going and never was.

"Just remember," I said to her, "I got a good rep in this town and I was here first. On this case I'm Number One and you're Number Two. And when you gotta go, Number Two, I'll dump ya. Especially if you're wasting my time."

"Why, Mr. Wood, you're getting a little flushed," she said, a playful look in her eyes, "what's the matter? Don't like a woman being on the case? I assure you, there will be no ‘Number One' or ‘Number Two' here. Neither one of us will be bringing up the rear. We'll just have to crack this case together."

I sighed. It looked like there was going to be Alotta Cumming on this case and I certainly wasn't pulling out. "Fine," I said, "then you might as well hear the theory I've been digging." That's when I told her about Easy E.

"Well, Mr. Wood, you're gonna have to dangle if he's involved," Detective Cumming said, "I may be new to this town but I'm aware of all the local gangsters."

"Oh my god, you think Easy's got ‘im?!" Randy yelled. He must've heard of Easy before.

"Maybe," I said, "but there's still more investigatin' to do." Despite my attempt at reassurance, Randy started pacing around with an anguished look on his face like he was close to crying again.

We couldn't get out of there soon enough, leaving Randy to blubber as Cumming and I went to find Easy. Which, ironically enough, I knew wouldn't be easy. I offered to drive. I made it seem like I was trying to do something nice for Alotta, but in reality I did it so I could be in control.

"We gotta stop by my house," I said. "I need to get my wiener dog, Bangkok."

"Why do we need your wiener?" Alotta asked.

"Well, my wiener may be hairy and sometimes makes a mess," I said, "but I need my wiener for this Hand Job. He's almost like a partner to me. His moral support can help me get things straight in confusing times and help me get a grip on what's important."

She reluctantly accepting my reasoning as I went into my house to grab my wiener. Bangkok was happy to see me as usual and was more than willing to let me pull him to the car. I think I saw Alotta roll her eyes as we got in. If she didn't like my wiener, tough. She can just handle it however she wants, but he was coming whether she liked it or not.

As we headed for Poker and Liquor, an aptly-named local mob hangout where we were sure to find Easy E or somebody who might know where to find him, Alotta began prying into my personal life.

"I thought I was getting involved with somebody a few months ago," I said, responding to Alotta's question about whom I might be seeing at the time, "her name was Wilma Dikfit. We coulda been great together, but the dame found herself on the wrong side of the law."

"That's too bad," Alotta said, "I guess both genders are attracted to individuals who are a little bad."

She said that with this flirting look in her eyes. "Here we go again," I thought. Don't get me wrong, I'm usually quite humble, but I'm telling you, for some reason this always happens to me. Whether it be a client, or an insurance agent or, apparently, another investigator, whenever a broad is working with me, often she ends up interested in this private dick.

When we arrived at the bar we asked the bartender if Easy E. was around. At first he refused to be helpful, typical since this was notoriously a mob joint.

"Listen, barkeep," I said firmly, "if you don't answer us straight, I'm gonna make things very sticky for you around here. And if I don't, I can guarantee you that Alotta Cumming here will."

"I don't care who you two are!" the surly barkeep said. "Easy E. Ain't! Here! Haven't seen 'im since last week! He must be busy with some kinda job."

Hmm. A Hand Job perhaps?

We took a look around for ourselves. He was nowhere in sight. We decided that maybe the barkeep was right. We left still empty-handed.

Just when we were going to our cars I thought I spotted two guys ducking into an alley nearby. I shushed Alotta quietly and ushered her to the brick building in front of the alley. We both slowly brought our heads around the corner. I couldn't believe my luck. There was Easy E. But he was talking to some suit. He looked familiar.

"That guy, I've seen him someplace before," I whispered to Alotta.

"That's state Senator Mike Rotch," Alotta whispered.

"What's Easy E. doin' with Mike Rotch?" I said.

"Something dirty and under the table no doubt," Alotta said.

"I shoulda known that Mike Rotch was bein' touched by the bad guys," I said, "it explains a bad feeling I've had for a long time now: a feeling that they're corrupting all the local politicians."

"Hmmm," Alotta said. "I have a hunch. We need to somehow figure out who all contributed to Rotch's reelection campaign last year."

"Looks like a little 'breaking and entering' is in order," I said.

In my line of work I tried to find myself on the right side of the Law as much as possible, but when it came to exposing Mike Rotch, I decided to make an exception.

As it turns out, by posing as the fuzz, we were able to fool the dopes at the State government offices into letting us right in. We skillfully snuck into the room with the file cabinets with information on who contributed to which senator's campaigns. Alotta was an excellent lock picker! Not only that but each drawer has the name of the senator clearly labeled. She easily got into the drawers with "Mike Rotch."

"Got it!" she whispered as she happily waved the file folder around.

"Ah haaaaa," I said as I noticed that one of Senator Rotch's biggest contributors was none other than Astor Bater! A neat little trail was forming that I began following; with that Mr. Bater and Mike Rotch linked, things were really starting to come together. And Alotta Cumming followed it as well.

"So where does Easy E. and the kidnapping fit in?" I whispered as we snuck out the back doors. Connecting Ben Dimover to Mike Rotch became a top priority.

"Well, let's see," Alotta said as we made it to my car where Bangkok was loyally waiting, "Bater contributes a LOT of money to Rotch and Bater makes even more money with his competition gone, which means more money for Rotch. So Rotch hires Easy E. to kidnap Dimover, giving Easy E. some business, and there's a repaying of a favor there because I saw a lot of questionable contributions from cryptic sources in that file, probably contributions from the mob."

"It's all one big circle of greed and corruption," I grumbled as I started the engine.

"So where to now?" Alotta said as we sped off into the orange and golden setting sun. It was late fall, the days getting shorter and shorter.

"To the docks," I said. "If we're lucky we'll stop 'em before they send Mr. Dimover into the river for a swim in a pair of cement shoes."

"What if they're not killing him?" Alotta said. "Maybe he'd be useful to them. They could force him somehow to show them trade secrets that would increase profits for Bater's boutique."

"Nope," I said, "he's a liability. He can escape, he can expose them. They don't wanna keep him around any longer than they have to. Any gains from keeping him alive are trumped by the risks. Lemme just say this: you don't wanna play around with either the mob or Mike Rotch."

"But it sounds so dangerous, the two of us going down to the docks to confront them, just us," Alotta said. She looked worried.

"Don't worry, dollface," I said, grinning. "I have a plan."

It turns out I was right. Score one for experience. After staking out the docks for a while, guess who showed up? Easy E. along with fellow gangsters Hammer and Two Pack. They got out of their large, black, luxury car dragging a man I assumed to be Ben Dimover who was tied up and gagged and guess what? He was wearing cement shoes!

Alotta, who was dressed in a "lady of the night" getup, nervously took a deep breath. I must say, looking at her in that low cut black dress was starting to drive me crazy. But I tried to maintain my composure. We had an important job to do. We got out of the car and snuck over to a stack of pallets. I hid behind it while Alotta walked right over to them.

"Hello boys," she said just as they were about to throw Mr. Dimover into the drink. "Anybody looking for a good time?"

"What in blazes?" Easy E said. "What's this broad doin' here?" They were all distracted, frozen in their tracks, looks of surprise and wonder mixed up on their faces. My plan was working!

"You workin' these docks?" Two Pack said, looking her up and down. "I didn't know any pro skirts were workin' 'round here!"

"Eh, beat it!" Easy E said, struggling with Ben who was squirming quite a bit. "We're takin' care of important business here as you can see!"

"Not so fast," Two Pack said, smiling and raising an eyebrow. He sauntered up to Alotta. "What's your, uh, 'going rate'? You know, after we—"

"Don't touch that!" Hammer said, putting an arm between Two Pack and Alotta. "Come on! Maintain some professionalism, will ya?!"

As they continued to argue and Alotta continued to distract them with her flirts and veiled propositions, I secretly and quietly crawled around the pallets and, with my trusty bolt cutter, severed the chains holding Dimover's feet together. Then I cut his handcuffs. Even though he couldn't see with his blindfold, I could tell he realized what was going on. In a little stroke of luck, he kept it a secret that he was now unbound.

"Come on, boys," Alotta said as I snuck back around to the other side of the stack, "surely having a good time with me would be more fun than going for this nighttime swim."

"Scram!" Easy E. said. You could tell that he was under the most pressure to get rid of Dimover and Two Pack and Hammer were there just to assist. "If you don't shove off, you're takin' a dip with 'im!"

I sure am glad that was the moment the cops showed up. The sirens alarmed them all. Ben took the opportunity and ripped off his blindfold, remove his gag, and attack Easy E. He slapped him! It looked hard and painful, but I'd only ever seen a woman slap like that. But no matter, it got the job done. Easy E. was stunned. But only shortly.

"Get away from me, you brute!" Ben said, slapping Easy E's gun out of his hand and then slapping his face again.

That's moved in to Ben Dimover, gripping my gun.

"YOU!" Hammer yelled, pulling his gun.

"Foiled by Max Wood again!" Two Pack said, growling.

Easy E. screamed in frustration and then lunged at Bem Dimover, pushing him over the edge of the dock and into the dark waters below. He splashed loudly into it, screaming.

"Help me! Help me!"

Alotta ran and jumped off the edge and dove in after him, as he cement shoes were sinking him fast. I made the mistake of letting myself get distracted by that. Two Pack attacked me and wrestled my gun out of my hands! Two Pack then aimed his gun at me.

Suddenly I heard a barking. Bangkok came streaking in, getting between him and me. He stood his ground and growled fiercely at them. Hammer then aimed his gun at my dog.

"Please, Hammer, don't hurt him!" I pleaded.

"EVERYBODY FREEZE!" yelled one of the cops as they began descending on the scene. Hammer grinned a positively evil grin, cocked his gun, and fired at Bangkok anyway. Two Pack ran off the edge, too, and took a dive. Hammer was grabbed by two officers before he could make such an escape. Easy E. was wrestled to the wooden floor of the docks as well. I fell to my knees, tending to my whining wiener dog.

"Somebody shot my wiener!" I yelled, my eyes beginning to mist up, my gut starting to twist up in sadness. "I can't get it up now!"

"Somebody help the dog!" yelled Officer Wagner, pointing to us. That's when I looked and spied one of the officers helping the drenched Detective Cumming and Mr. Dimover out of the waters.

"We don't always see eye to eye, Wood," said Wagner as he and an officer with a first aid kit approached me and Bangkok, "but I sure hate to see your dog hurt. We'll do everything we can for 'im. And thanks for tipping us off. I think we might have enough to jail these scumbags."

I tried to listen, but all I was concerned about was my wiener. I pleaded with him to hang on, stroking him, squeezing him, as he continued to stay limp. "You may be hairy," I said, "and you get me into trouble, but I don't know what I'd do without ya, boy!"

Bangkok was OK, though. The next day, before going over to visit Randy in his shop, I stopped by the Veterinarian's to visit Bangkok. He was already up and walking around!

I met Detective Cumming at the fashion boutique. We walked in together. We received a very warm reception. Randy thanked me for finding Ben. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Wood!" he said, beaming, as he held his arm around Ben. "I am soooo glad to have my business partner, my best employee… and best friend back!"

Then they looked at each other and grinned. Randy began to get all misty-eyed. It took a lot of effort not to roll my eyes as he then started crying like a little school girl. What the heck was with this guy anyway?

"Yes, thank you!" said an extremely friendly voice from somewhere in the store. I looked and spied Mr. Hunter flitting around checking prices. "Thank you very much for successfully hunting for Ben!"

"Yes, thank you Mr. Wood, I agree with Randy and Dick, I owe you my life," said Ben as he patted his partner's shoulder.

"Don't just thank me," I said, "My wiener and Alotta Cumming here was also part of this happy climax."

"Well," she said, smiling at me in a flirtatious way, "I helped but I can't say I was as brave as Detective Wood here. Even when they gave him the squeeze he kept his head on straight and fought hard. By the way, how is Bangkok, poor doggy?"

"He's gonna be fine," I said, smiling, briefly reliving how happy I was when I had been told the good news by the doggy doc. "He's gonna be limp for a few weeks but they say he'll shoot up perky again in no time."

"I'd love to give your wiener a good stroke sometime," Ben said, "you know, thank him, too."

"I'll see what I can do," I said.

After all the thanking and goodbyes Alotta Walked out with me. "Has Astor Bater been arrested yet?" she asked.

"No, but he's being intensely investigated," I said. "With as much money as he has, I'm sure he's gonna get the best lawyers available. He'll probably be able to weasel his way out of it, but we'll see."

"So what now about Senator Rotch, though?" she asked me.

"Well," I said. I paused. What I was about to say was difficult. "As much as I'd like to expose Mike Rotch to the world, show them who he really is, I figure it'll help me to have leverage over somebody in such a high place."

"But… Max," she said, looking puzzled and worried, "you… you're not seriously gonna extort him are you?"

"No," I said, "not exactly. He just might be able to do me a favor here and there. Just think. Not only would it help my business but think of all the good this… well, this not-so-good thing could do, how Mike Rotch could help me help the people who come to me. Besides, I've made quite a target of myself the past six months with some pretty shady fellows. Some of them are in jail right now but not all. He might be able to help with that, too.

"You see, Alotta, you'll learn that in this business, sometimes ya have to sacrifice a little bit of your soul."

"Well," she said coldly, "I hope your intentions are as altruistic as you're making it out to be. I may be naïve, but I'll keep things on the straight and arrow myself. I know the job is hard, Max Wood, eternity is long. Just think about that."

And with that, she walked the opposite way down the street towards her car. Me, I sighed, and turned to get to mine. Maybe I'd made a mistake. She was really beginning to like me. She might've been a great asset to me later. But then, it looked like Alotta Cumming wouldn't be in my life as much as I'd thought. I didn't know it then, but my decision had actually created quite a rivalry between me and Ms. Cumming where it might have blossomed to a great friendship.

But like I've said, being a private dick can be a lonely job. Maybe it was fate that things turned out the way they did.

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