Apologies to Dashiell Hammet. Sam Spade has gone to the dogs. Meet Em Spayed, Private Nose.
It was a hot, smoggy day in the City of Angels and the fan on my desk in my digs on Rosecranz struggled against it. My secretary, Amanda Basset, was out having her nails done which was just as well, I couldn’t pay her anyway. I hadn’t had a case in three weeks and I was down to eating food that listed corn first in the ingredient list. My daddy, Clem ‘The Nose’, told me there would be times like this. The little bell over the front door tinkled and since Amanda was gone I struggled to my feet and opened the door to my office.
She was a looker all right, a sleek, thin bitch looking as only a Doberman can look. Her black and tan outfit fit perfectly and she had the ankles of a stripper. I felt a little self conscious in my baggy suit.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“I’m looking for Em Spayed, Private Nose,” she purred, like a cat.
“You found her,” I replied. “Step into my office.”
She wiggled past me like some kind of snake and took a chair in front of my desk. There was something about this broad I didn’t like, but I couldn’t put my paw on it. I sat on the edge of my desk and waited.
“It’s my husband, Buddy. He’s a Golden Lab and you know how stupid they can be, always chasing some strange tail.”
Yeah, actually I did, my last boyfriend was a Lab. They are real friendly guys, but not overly bright.
“Buddy hasn’t been home for the last three nights,” she sniffed, but her sorrow didn’t go past her eyes. This was one hard-boiled bitch.
“I work for fifty bucks a day, and expenses (when I can get them).”
She wiped a tear from her eye with a perfectly manicured paw, dug in her purse and pushed a stack of bills across the desk. This broad was seriously rich, I counted $500. “Let me know if you need more.”
Bitch or not, I found 500 reasons to withhold further judgment. This case could put me back on canned food. There was something familiar about her and I suddenly knew what it was. The Society Pages! She was Rita Van Pelt, the famous show dog!
“Well, Miss Van Pelt, I’ll make a few inquiries, see what I can dig up.”
Her eyes widened at my recognition. “I’ve heard you are discreet.”
“Silent as a barkless Basenji,” I added. “Can you tell me where he usually hangs out, his friends? A picture would be nice.”
She dug into her purse again. “Here’s a picture, and here’s his collar.”
Men. They’re all alike. Take off their collars before stepping out like a gal can’t see the image left behind, the matted spot. I took a sniff. Nice aftershave, smelled like the woods. I looked at the picture. Oh, he was a handsome dog all right, glossy golden hair, deep chest. I felt a pang for my old boyfriend. I gave them back.
“I met him at a place called the Fireplug, a dive down on Burbank. You might try there. Here’s my number, call me when you learn something.” Rita slithered out and left me alone with my thoughts.
The money was good but something didn’t add up. Why would a classy dame like Rita frequent a dive like the Fireplug? And why would a hound like Buddy give up Rita’s money to chase around? I wasn’t going to find the answers sitting on my tail. I locked up the office and left.
The Fireplug was one of those dingy, dirty places that look so much better in the dark. I left the afternoon sun to enter the joint, and then stood aside to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Now it was a palace of glittering glass and revelry. I wound my way past the little tables to the bar and took a seat at the end. The bartender, a tall, skinny, sad-eyed Bloodhound made his way to my seat.
“What’ll be, Sister?” He asked.
My demons surfaced at the thought of a drink. I’d been down that road many times, all the way to the dead-end. “Water, and a little information.”
He spritzed some water into a small bowl and slid it to me. “The water’s free, but the info will cost you, Cousin. What’re you doing in a place like this, anyway?”
I pushed my card at him. “I’m Em Spade, Private Nose, and I’m looking for someone.” I lapped my drink while he looked at my card.
“Hey, I hearda you. Last year, the missing kid, you tracked her down over three days with no rest.” He looked at me with renewed interest. “Who you looking for now?”
“A loser named Buddy, married to Rita Van Pelt, the show dog.”
He clammed up like I’d slapped his drooly face. “A nickel’s worth of free advice, Cousin. Leave this one alone.” He moved off down the bar with his back to me.
Well, that was interesting. I lapped my drink some more. The door opened and in waltzed a rhinestone princess, ribbons and all. She made her way to the bar and collared the bartender. “You seen Buddy?” She asked, in a little baby-doll voice.
He glanced my way, and then shook his head.
“Three fingers, at my usual table,” princess commanded the bartender then left for a table in the darkest corner of the room.
The barkeep moved with unusual speed to fill her wish and I wondered about that. But I wondered more about her looking for Buddy. I slipped off my stool and headed for the ladies room, which happened to be behind her table. As I got closer, I saw that she was more of a queen than a princess and that dark corners were her friends. She hadn’t had a cut in quite a while and her makeup looked like it was applied with a trowel. She was crying.
“Somebody break your heart, princess?” I ventured as I slipped into a chair across from her.
“Men!” She squeaked without looking up.
“Tell me about it,” I said sympathetically. So, she did. Girl talk.
“I been Brad’s girl for about six months now, until that hussy show dog waltzes in last week and catches his eye. A real bitch, batting her eyes at Brad, and her married and all.” She lapped a little of her drink.
Brad, why did that name sound familiar?
“Two days later her husband walks in and catches her with Brad. I’ll give him this, that Golden Boy stood up to him but he was no match for Brad’s goons and he left without his wife. I followed him out, figuring, ya know, what’s sauce for the gander. I invited him home, ya know, as a friend and we had a real good time and then he takes a powder and now I got nobody.”
I started to ask the big question when the room was silenced by a loud, rumbling growl.
“Shut up, FiFi, before your yap writes checks it can’t cash.”
Brad Pittbull swaggered over to our table, two black beady eyes staring out of an ugly granite face, scars on his drooling muzzle. I knew him all right, the crime Boss of the Eastside. This bar was probably one way to launder his protection money. He would have been the cause of a lot of bodies floating in the LA River if it had any water in it.
“Always the gentleman, huh Brad?” I asked. FiFi was lapping her drink big time.
“I know you, Spayed. If you want that nose to keep working, you’d better get it out of my business!”
I don’t know why I said it, I’m just a bad girl I guess. “Why, Brad, will I end up like Buddy?”
His eyes narrowed and a snarl that passed as a smile swept over his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And you don’t either, if you want to go on breathing through that nose.”
Well, that was pretty clear. Had I touched a nerve? Nobody had said Buddy was dead, but where was he? Not at home and not with FiFi. Had Brad seen to that?
Another problem in addition. Rita said she had met Buddy at this joint, yet FiFi said she hadn’t seen him before a few days ago. Someone was lying. Imagine that, a bitch, a floozy and a mobster all not telling the truth. Well, maybe the floozy was, she was too stupid to make up a lie.
I jumped down from my chair to leave and I could feel Brad’s eyes all over me like a cheap suit.
“Say,” Brad slobbered, “underneath the baggy clothes you might be a looker.”
“You’ll never know,” I flung over my shoulder as I left. I felt like going home and taking a bath.
Instead I stopped by my usual watering hole, Rick’s Place, out in the Valley. I needed something cool to drink and a dark place to think. Rick met me at the door and passing the piano on the way to my table he said, out of the side of his mouth, “Play it, Sam.”
“But, Mr. Doberman, you said . . .”
Rick gave Sam a hard look. As the strains of “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” wafted over us I turned to Rick. “I never liked that song and I’m sick of hearing it!” I said.
Rick waved his paw and the music stopped. “Sorry, Sweetheart, I guess in this crazy world the problems of two dogs . . .”
“Can it, Rick,” I interrupted. “Get a new line.”
Alone at last I lapped my Shirley Temple and tried to get a handle on my case. No one was going to tell me where Buddy was and I had no clue where to start. Labs were the outdoorsy type, always on the hunt. Now if I was losing my wife to a mobster where would I . . . suddenly the pieces fell into place and I knew!
I left Rick’s at a trot and didn’t stop until I had climbed the Hollywood Hills, under the big sign. Why start here, you ask? Because, ‘the nose knows’! I put my nose to the ground and sniffed out a grid until I found what I was looking for. “Arrooo!” I was off on the scent, my short, powerful body breaking through the underbrush, my baggy skin and floppy ears concentrating the scent in front of me. A quarter of a mile brought me to a cliff area where I picked up another scent, a heavy copper, slick-sweet smell. I knew I had found what I was looking for.
It was a small, cozy den, just the type for a Lab to hide out and relax in. I knew what I would find even before I went inside. Police Lt. Jake Shepherd would chew my fuzzy little butt for entering a crime scene, but it wouldn’t be the first time.
Buddy was lying face down on a pool of dried blood. There was a blue steel .38 lying inches from his paw, and three neat holes in the back of his head. I could just hear Jake now, “Worst case of suicide I’ve ever seen!”
It was dark when I got to the house but I could see from the lights that someone was home. I pushed the bell and waited for Rita Van Pelt to open the door. When it opened I could tell, from her changing expression, that she had been expecting someone else.
“Oh, it’s you. Do you have any news?”
“Can I come in?”
Rita led me into the living room. “Better sit down,” I said.
She jumped up on the sofa and waited.
“I found Buddy’s hideout.”
“How . . .” Rita looked scared.
“The collar you showed me. At first I thought it was covered with aftershave until I thought about it. Pine, Juniper and Lilac, a heady combination of scents found only in one area of the hills. And something else, I thought he cut himself shaving.” I looked her in the eyes. “I know these hills like the back of my paw.”
“Wh- where is he?”
“You know damn well where he is, Doll Face . . . crossing the Rainbo Bridge! You killed him!”
Rita was speechless in her fear. “What did Brad Pit promise you? A film career? Your own Club? What made you pump three bullets into your dumb, pretty boy husband who had suddenly become a liability?”
Rita’s tears dried and she leaped off the sofa to face me. “The dummy wouldn’t fade into the background. This was my big chance to be truly famous but he wouldn’t let go. Said he loved me. What’s love got to do with marriage? I could have had it all!”
“Why did you hire me, anyway? The police would never have figured on you.”
“Insurance. I could prove I was looking for him. I never dreamed you’d find him.”
I called over my shoulder. “That enough for you, Jake?”
Lt. Shepherd came around the corner. “That’ll do, Spayed.” He snapped a leash on Rita. “Ambition is one thing, murder is another.”
It started to rain as I walked back to my digs. Ambition. Los Angeles was full of it. Every leggy bitch with stars in her eyes was dying to come here and be famous. Sometimes, others did the dying. That’s why I had a job.
I saw the lights of the market through the gloom and thought about the 500 big ones in my pocket. “Canned food tonight!” It stopped raining.