I was sitting in a restaurant with the two wolves. The room was dark, but I could sense that the room was full of wolves, sitting at the other tables behind me and on either side. The only ones I could see, though were right across the table from me. In front of me was a huge plate of steaming spaghetti, with a mound of meat sauce on top. The aroma was wonderful and I was anticipating digging in. I picked up my fork.
"It's good pasta," said the wolf with the deep voice.
"Yes, it really is very good," said his partner. He put a jar on the table in front of me, next to the plate. "You really ought to have some cheese."
I looked at the jar of grated cheese. It looked oily and unappealing, and seemed to have a faint greenish cast. As I looked at it, I saw that tiny things were moving inside the jar, among the pieces of cheese. The cheese was infested with some kind of worm.
"I really don't think I want cheese," I said.
"You have to have cheese," the wolf with the low voice said, menacingly.
"You only have to take a little cheese," added his partner, in a sympathetic tone, "look at all that pasta. Is a little cheese really so much?" I looked at the jar. The worms were bigger, slimier. One was slowly crawling up towards the mouth of the jar. In fact, the whole jar was pretty much a mass of writhing, cheese-colored worms.
I looked up at him and the two of them were staring at me. What could I do? I did not want to eat the cheese, but not to do so would be impolite, even risky. "Could I have a glass of wine?" I said.
Suddenly, there was an uproar from all the unseen wolves in the room. I heard chairs scraping back as they all leapt to their feet and began shouting, although I couldn't make out what any of them were saying over the din. Unseen paws grabbed my arms from behind and yanked me backwards out of my chair. I could see the two wolves on the other side of the table - they were on their feet, pounding on the table, shouting at me. I was being dragged backwards down a long hall. They were getting farther and farther away, but obviously very angry.
"You get some wine from that monkeybar!" shouted the wolf with the deep voice. "You make that monkeybar wine!"
I realized that the wine they were talking about was my blood, that they were going to cut me up and use my blood for wine. Then I thought that maybe the last word he'd said had been "whine" instead of "wine." The possibility didn't make me feel any better. As I was being dragged down the hall, I heard a phone ringing off in the distance. A voice right beside my head said "Joey, get the phone!" The phone rang again, but closer this time, and this time the voice was more distant. It said again "Joey, get the phone." I couldn't see anything anymore, the hall and the restaurant were gone, all I heard were the voices. The phone rang again, and I remembered that Joey was what they called me, and I was the one who was supposed to get the phone...
I opened my eyes. The phone in my living room was ringing. I pushed back the covers and plodded out into the living room to answer it. It took me a minute to find the phone amid all the mess, but eventually the ringing led me to it. I picked up the receiver. "Yeah?"
"Sam, you are there," said the surprised voice on the other end of the line. It was Flora, my secretary. "It's almost eleven o'clock. I thought you'd decided to stay on vacation."
"I didn't get much of a vacation, Flora. I've been at work on a new case."
"Yeah, that would explain the calls."
"You got one call from Miss Sonya Mao, and one from Ollie."
"No, were you expecting somebody else?"
I ran a paw across my forehead and looked around at the mess. "Someone got into my place last night and trashed it. I thought they might call to let me know who they were."
"Oh my god, Sam! Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I was out at the time. Still, I've got quite a mess on my hands. What did Ollie want?"
"He was cryptic as usual. He said you should call him right away, that he had something for you. That's it."
"OK, do you have his number?" She read it off to me and I scribbled it down. "Thanks, Flora. Listen, call Sonya Mao back and tell her that I'm busy with the case and I'll call her tonight. Oh, and call the florist and have some nice flowers sent over to Lola's place. Include a note saying I'm sorry."
"I assume she'll know what for. Are you gonna be in today, Sammy?"
"Yeah, later but I don't know when. I'll see you then."
I hung up the phone. Monday had arrived.
Less than an hour later I was on my way to another one of Ollie's seedy hangouts. Having finally gotten my shower, I made sure we weren't headed to another monkey bar. My duds were a bit wrinkled, but not actually that much worse than usual. I don't even want to entertain the notion of what that says about my personal style. I'd wolfed down some bacon and eggs at a diner on the way, and I drove with one hand as I finished off my coffee. Cleaning my apartment would have to wait at least until I'd heard what Ollie had to say.
As I approached the address Ollie had given me, I saw that it was a run-down looking car wash. A couple of attendants sat around the place listlessly, and showed no sign of perking up when I pulled into the driveway. I scanned the building for Ollie. I finally spotted him in the little shack for the cashier. I pulled up to where he was and rolled down my window.
"Wax or no wax?" he said.
"Ollie, c'mon. What have you got for me?"
"You've got to drive around to the back. Wax or no wax?" he said, as if I hadn't even spoken.
I sighed. "Wax," I said.
"That'll be five bucks."
"Five bucks?! I can get this jalopy washed, waxed and vacuumed over on Vine Street for two bits, and still have change left for the soda machine!"
"Five bucks," he said again, implacably.
I fished for my wallet. "How much is it without wax?" I said.
Ollie turned the gaze of his good eye upon me. "Five bucks."
I opened my wallet, pulled out a five-spot and gave it to him. He tore a yellow ticket off the roll in the booth and handed it to me. "Drive around back," he said. He stepped out of the booth and walked back with me alongside my car, waving me along slowly. I reached the back of the building, drove around the U-turn painted on the pavement, and pulled up to the entrance. Just before the drive belt of the car wash took hold, he opened the passenger side door and hopped in.
"You're pretty hot these days, Sammy," he said. "Can't take chances on being seen with ya. I hear tell you been hanging out with them mobsters that pulled into town."
"I go where the case takes me," I said dryly. "So what's this all about, Ollie?"
"You said to keep my eyes open for anything suspicious. Well, how's about this? That lady friend I told you about, the one who sees the cop, well, she's got another lady friend who lives in a rooming house downtown. A lotta girls live in this place, see, and the friend of my friend was talkin' to the landlady one day, and the old woman was complainin' about this boarder who disappeared without a trace and skipped out on the rent."
I looked out at the brushes and soapy water going across the windshield. The car was crawling forward at a snail's pace. "Ollie, what's this got to do with my case?"
"I'm comin' to that," he said. "See, this landlady told my friend's friend that this gal was a tall, good-lookin' tabby, with blonde hair and tawny fur. The thing was, she had been by on Thursday and told the landlady she'd bring the rent on Friday. Said she'd got a job that was gonna pay off real well, and she could pay all her back rent, too. Only Friday comes and goes, Saturday and Sunday too, and this dame never shows up with the rent."
"Well, that's not so strange," I said. "Maybe she got paid and decided to take a vacation instead of going home, or just skip out on the rent."
Ollie looked out the side window at the brushes and the flowing water. "Nah. Landlady said she was real reliable - I had my friend poke around a little bit, claimin' she knew the girl - the landlady even let her in to the room. She said all this girl's clothes were there, and her purse! Now what kinda dame goes on vacation and don't bring her purse? Here..." He reached in the pocket of his coveralls and handed me a small photo. "I knew you wouldn't think nothin' of it unless I showed you this. My friend nicked it when the landlady showed her the room."
I looked at it. The girl in it was pretty, though no longer quite young enough to be called fresh. In the picture she was standing next to a car, so I could judge her height pretty well. She did bear more than a passing resemblance to Marlene Milkbone. She had the same high cheekbones, and her nose was similar too. I handed the photo back to him. "Okay, so she's missing. I still think you're stretching it here, Ollie. I'm not made of money you know."
"Listen, ya dumb mutt," he said, "you know I never took a plug nickel from you if I didn't have somethin' to give ya. That dame is a dead ringer for the dead lady, and she goes missin' the same day the lady dies. I call that suspicious. What do you call it?"
What indeed? The car was almost through the wash, and the two attendants were moving slowly towards us with their dirty rags. I pulled out my wallet. "OK, Ollie. Twenty bucks it is. Give me the address."
"You said twenty bucks to find somethin' suspicious," he said. "The address will cost you another five."
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