The Maltese Poodle

The Maltese Poodle

A Story by Chicago Jake

A Chicago Jake Mystery

I was staring at a riot of chestnut hair, gams as long as a mother-in-law's memory, and an hourglass figure with the sand in all the right places.  It was my secretary, Brandi, and she was standing in the doorway to my office.

"Visitor to see you, boss," she said.  "A dame."

I raised my eyebrows.  "Well?  Show the lady in."

Brandi twirled and left the room, and in a moment returned with my visitor: a handsome, mature woman with gray hair and a trim figure.  She walked with the easy grace of a retired dancer.

"My name is Constance Tetrazini," she said, shaking my hand.

I motioned her to a seat.  "Connie Tetrazini?  Wife of the notorious gangster Tony "The Torpedo" Tetrazini?" I asked.

"My husband is a businessman," she sniffed. "And he doesn't know that I'm here.  I'd like to keep it that way."

"Of course.  Confidentiality is my middle name.  Tell me what's troubling you."

"It's my baby. He's gone! I need you to find him," she said. "I hear that you can work wonders, especially when discretion is required."

"Umm, I'm sorry, but, your baby?  Isn't this a matter for the police?  And shouldn't your husband be aware of it?"

"This baby is a dog.  My prize Maltese, Chauncey.  And my husband hates the poor pooch.  I wouldn't be surprised if he's the reason my poor baby is missing in the first place."

"I see," I said.  A missing mutt!  This is what it's come to?  Well, it had been a slow month, and my tab at the liquor store wasn't getting any smaller.  So, I pulled out a pad and pencil.  "Can you give me a description of the missing pup?"

"Here," she said, and handed me an eight by ten glossy photograph. "This is Chauncey."  I stared down at a lovable fuzzball of white curls.  If I stuck a broomstick in its a*s, I could use it to dust the office.

"When did you last see him?"

"Two days ago. I walked him, then put him down for a nap. When I called for him later, he was gone!" She began to sob a little.

"Did he have any enemies?" I asked.

Connie stared at me.  "He's a dog, not a mob boss," she said coldly.

"Very well," I said, rising.  "Let me look into it.  I'll give you a call in a couple of days and let you know how things are going. Did Miss Alexander explain my fee structure?"

"Yes," she said.  She stood up and took a wad of bills out of her purse.  She counted out a neat stack of hundreds.  My misgivings at tracking down her missing mutt evaporated.  "Will this be enough to get you started?"

"Lady, I'm your man," I told her.  Habib down at the liquor store will be very happy, I thought.  "Can I walk you to your car?"

"Actually, would you call me a cab?  My chauffeur disappeared yesterday, along with my Town Car.  You just can't get good help these days."

I walked her to the outer office, and had Brandi get her a cab.  Then I went back to my desk to think over my next move.  What do I know from dogs?  Nothing, that's what.  But I do know dames.  And in particular, I knew one dame who knew everything there is to know about animals.  An ex-girlfriend of mine, Sherry Jones, worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  If there was a way to track a lost pooch, she would know it.

I grabbed my fedora, and started walking toward the nearest Brown Line station.  But before I'd gone three blocks, a gray Plymouth coupe pulled up to the curb and its tinted front window rolled down.  "Hey, buddy!" came a voice.  "You gotta light?"  I looked down instinctively, and suddenly was staring down the barrel of a revolver.  "Get in," said the voice.

I didn't think he was likely to shoot me in the middle of Armitage Avenue, but still; there are few things I value more than my bullet-free hide, so I got in.

"Where are we going?"

"Shut up," he explained.  I shut up.

I recognized the gunsel behind the wheel.  His name was Wilmer, and he worked for Tony "The Torpedo" Tetrazini.  The Torpedo and I had a bit of history.  History I'd rather forget, especially since I was now working for his wife.  But before long, we pulled up outside the Tetrazini mansion.

Wilmer motioned with his head toward the front door.  "In there," he said.  "Scoot."  I scooted.

I pulled open the massive front door to be met by a tuxedo-clad butler.  He ushered me into a plush study where Tony "The Torpedo" awaited me.

"Mr. Chicago Jake, how good to see youse again," he said, his meaty face forced into a poor facsimile of a smile.  "Cigar?"

"Don't mind if I do," I said, grabbing three stogies out of his humidor, and stuffing two inside my jacket.  I bit off the end of the third one and accepted his light.  "What can I do for you, Mr. Tetrazini?"

"I unnerstand that youse is good at finding things.  Lost things, that is to say.  Am I right?"

"That's my business, Mr. Tetrazini.  What exactly have you lost?"

"It ain't me," he said.  "It's my wife.  Her little poodle has gone missing."  He shoved an eight-by-ten glossy in front of me.  "She loves that little mutt, and it's just eating her up inside."

Little alarm bells went off in my head.  I didn't like the way this was going.  What was he up to?

"And... you want me to find it?"

"I knowed you'd unnerstand," he said, his smile broadening. "Only, not a word to my wife.  She don't know that I know it's gone, you see."

Lies and deception between a mob boss and his wife?  What could go wrong here?  This was not a situation I wanted to be in the middle of.

"Mr. Tetrazini, really, I don't think I'm the right man for the...."

The Torpedo slammed his fist down on the desk.  "Don't youse give me that!  You owe me, remember?  Who got you out of that jam at Senn High School a couple years ago, huh?"

Damn, I was afraid he'd bring that up.  How was I supposed to know she wasn't a teacher?  Kids grow up so damn fast these days.  I had no choice but to give in.

"Okay, you're right.  I owe you one.  I'll find your missing pooch.  But did you say it was a poodle?"  I glanced down at the photo, and remembered what Connie had called it.  "This looks like a Maltese to me."

"Whatever.  What am I, a freakin' botanist?  It's white, it's fluffy, it s***s in the yard.  Just find it."

***************
Since I walked back out of the mansion alive and on my own, Wilmer must have decided I wasn't an enemy after all.  He even drove me to the Zoo and dropped me off at the front gate.  I immediately went to the animal hospital building where Sherry worked.  I found her bent over an incubator caring for a sick critter of some sort.

"Sherry!" I called.

She whirled around, saw my face, and gasped.  Then she strode directly toward me, and swung her arm in a huge arc, slapping me across the face.

"What the hell was that for?"

"You have a short memory, you b*****d!"

"No, just selective," I said, rubbing my cheek.  "Come on, Sherry.  I'll make it up to you.  I promise.  Besides, there's a cute puppy in danger, and he needs your help."  I held up the photo of Chauncey.

Her heart melted.  "Oh, Jake; he's adorable!" she said, clasping her hands together in front of her chest.  "What sort of danger is he in?"

I quickly explained the situation, and asked her how one goes about finding a lost dog.  She nodded her head and I could see the gears turning.

"Dogs like this don't run away," she said.  "They bond with their owners.  It's much more likely that he was abducted."

"Snatched?" I said, a light bulb going off over my head.  I suddenly remembered Connie's missing driver.  Things were starting to fall into place.  "That's it, doll face, that's it!  I owe you one."  I gave her a quick peck on the cheek and bolted for the door.  I thought I heard her saying something like, "that's what you said the last time," as the door was slamming shut behind me, but I wasn't really listening.

I had to find Connie's driver.  And that meant finding the missing Town Car.  And that meant help from the coppers.  My buddy Tom was a detective with the Force, so I gave him a call as I walked toward the nearest El station.

"Detective Collins," came his voice over my cell.

"Tom!  It's me, Jake.  You got a minute?"

"Just the man I want to talk to!" he said cheerfully.  "You got time for lunch?  I'm buying."

"If you're buying, I'll make time," I told him.  I glanced at my watch.  "Meet you at Al's Italian Beef on Taylor Street in half an hour?"

"Works for me," he said, and hung up.

Now why did he want to talk to me, I wondered.  And why is he offering to buy lunch?  Something must be up.  Something big.  I puzzled over that as I climbed the stairs to the Red Line platform, connected to the Blue Line, and walked down Taylor Street.  Tom was already waiting for me when I got to the beef stand.

We ordered two Italian Beef sandwiches, wet, with hot jardiniere and cheese, and took them to a booth in the corner.  Tom threw his tie up over his shoulder and dove in.

"Al's has the best Italian Beef in Chicago," he said, his mouth full and juice running down his chin.

"And that makes it the best Italian Beef in the world," I added, munching happily on my own sandwich.  Soon we were both full and sloppy, and mopped up our greasy faces with the thick stack of paper napkins.  "So, Tom," I asked.  "What do I owe this free lunch to?"

Tom finished wiping his hands and tossed the wadded up napkins at a waste basket.  "You hear thing, Buddy," he said.  "Things that don't always make it to the Department.  I want to know what you've heard about the big diamond heist on Wabash the other night."

"Diamond heist?"  I said.  "This is the first I've heard of it. What happened?"

"Smash and grab. Some punks shot up the place, killed the owner and his wife, and made off with five million worth of ice.  Two nights ago."

Two nights ago! About the same time Chauncey went missing.

"Five million worth of ice?  That doesn't sound like punks on a smash-and-grab.  It sounds like professionals to me."

Tom started at me hard.  "You do know something, don't you?"

"Just a hunch, buddy. Tell you what. Run a plate for me. Lincoln Town Car, registered to Tony Tetrazini. The car is missing, and I'll bet the missing diamonds aren't far from it."

Tom made the call from his cell, instructing his boys to run the plate and put out an APB. Then we walked down the block to Mario's for Italian Ice.

It wasn't long before he got a call back.  I watched as he held the phone to his ear, his face getting hard.  He rang off.  "The Town Car has been spotted at a motel on Archer Avenue, just outside of town.  Let's go."  We hopped into his car, and soon were at the motel.  It was a ramshackle, one-story joint, the kind that rents by the night, or by the hour. The Town Car was parked outside.

"That's the car," I said.  "He's here."

"Which room do you think he's in?" asked Tom.

I scanned the row of doors.  "If it were me," I opined, "I'd ask for the most isolated one.  That one on the end."

We parked at the far end of the lot, and walked back, creeping slowly up to the window of the room.  Tom and I both peeked through the pane.  There was a tall, gaunt man, muscular, with heavily bandaged arms and a scratched face, leaning over a white dog on the bed.

"That's him," I hissed.  "Kick in the door!"

"You know I can't do that without a warrant."

I looked at him.  That's one of the reasons I'm not a cop.  One of the many reasons.  "I can," I said.

We positioned ourselves at the door to the motel room, Tom with gun drawn, me bracing myself against the jamb.  I kicked with all my might, and the door slammed open, banging on the opposite wall.

The driver jumped like he'd been hit with a cattle prod.  He had been holding a gigantic knife poised above the poor fluffy pooch, just about to slit him open, but when he saw us, he dropped the toad-sticker and leapt toward the window.

"Not so fast!" I yelled, and tackled him.  We both tumbled to the mildewed carpet in a tangle of arms and legs.  Tom covered him with the gun.  Soon we had him cuffed to a chair.

"Start talking," Tom said to him. The driver was covered with scratches; his face, his hands, his arms.  The pooch had put up a hell of a fight, that's for sure.

"I ain't got nuttin' to say," said the driver.  He spat on the floor.  "I wanna lawyer."

I went to Chancey, squirming on the bed.  He'd been hog-tied, front and hind legs, but he was still full of fight, wiggling and snapping.

"What's the matter, pooch?" I asked him, as I cut the ropes.

Big mistake.  The damn mutt jumped on my face, jaws snapping and claws clawing!  He was as ornery as an alderman denied a bribe, and twice as feisty.  He was biting and scratching me like his life depended on it!

"Whoa, cool it, little fella!"  I yelled, trying to hold him at arms length, away from my eyes. "I'm a friend, okay?"  But my cheeks and biceps were already scratched and bleeding, and my shirt was in tatters.  I felt a bruise forming under my eye.  But the malicious mutt just kept growling and chomping at me.  Eventually, I tossed him back on the bed in frustration.

Tom swooped in with a pillow case, and we stuffed the crazed canine into it.

"Close call!" Tom smiled.  "This little guy put up more of a fight than our driver friend."  The driver just glared.  "Why do you think he's so ornery?" Tom wondered.

"I think that's an easy one," I said. "Here, feel."

I directed Tom's hand to where Chauncey's belly was inside the pillowcase. "What do you feel?" I asked him.

Tom's eyes were like saucers.  He whistled, a long, slow note.  "The diamonds!" he said.  "Good work, Jake!  How did you know they'd be inside the poodle?"

"Maltese," I corrected him, dabbing at the oozing scratches on my face, and my growing shiner.

"Whatever," he said. "Let's get over to the police infirmary.  We can get some ointment for you, and a nice enema for Chauncey here."

***************

The next day, I walked up to the Tetrazini mansion, holding a small plastic crate with air holes.  The occupant was several hundred carats lighter than he had been the day before.

"I'm here to see Mr. Tetrazini," I said to the butler, who showed me to the study where The Torpedo was again waiting for me.

I placed the crate on the desk.  It bounced and banged with the energetic gyrations of its occupant.  Chauncey was now diamond-free, but he was still a handful.

The Torpedo looked from my scratched and bandaged face, to the vibrating crate, and back to my face again.  "Thank God youse found my wife's Maltese!"  he said.  "Did he give you any trouble?"

"I thought you said it was a poodle?"  I asked.

"Whatever," said The Torpedo, reaching carefully inside.  I watched his face as he tenderly stroked the pooch's belly.  His eyebrows shot up and the blood drained from his cheeks.

"Anything wrong?"  I asked innocently.  "By the way, I took the liberty of having the police infirmary check him out.  Just to make sure he was okay."

"Ahhh, I see.  No, nuttin's wrong.  I'm, ahh, just glad to see the little tyke back home where he belongs."  His crestfallen face hid nothing.

"Are we square?"  I asked.  "For the, you know, Senn High School episode and all?"

"Dat depends on how big a mouth youse got on you."

"As far as I'm concerned, it was your wife that hired me, and her driver who snatched the... the dog."

"Excellent," said the Torpedo.  "Sure, we're square."

****************

That evening, Tom and I were kicking back with a couple of drinks at Little Joe's on Taylor Street after another great Italian Beef meal.  "I'm glad that cute little dog was okay in the end, huh Jake?"

"That was no cute little dog, Tom," I said, tenderly touching a scratch on my cheek and the bruise under my eye.  "That was the stuff nightmares are made of."



© 2011 Chicago Jake



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Added on February 27, 2011
Last Updated on February 27, 2011
Tags: crime, diamonds, puppy, puppies, maltese, poodle, private eye, chicago

Author

Chicago Jake
Chicago Jake

Chicago, IL



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Aspiring writer of genre fiction. more..

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