“Well, he’s definitely cheating on you,” Dingo said, throwing the pictures on the desk in front of her. “These good enough for ya?’
She stared at them a moment. There it was. Her husband, and a young woman who could pass for their daughter – if they had one. So much skin – it was downright pornographic. She couldn’t…
“Well? We good?”
“God, you are an abrasive bastard, aren’t you?” Mrs. McEnroe said, pulling a tissue from her purse and dabbing her eyes. She was petite, about fifty, Dingo noted, and beautiful – one of those regally mature women. She wasnt’ a little girl and had no interest in pretending to be. She wore designer clothes and even on the verge of breaking down she carried a dignity that wouldn’t be shaken. None of that, however, mattered to him.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Dingo said. “Did I break up your perfect little vision of your perfect little marriage? Is that why you came to me for proof? Spare me the grieving wife routine, honey. We both know you’ve known about this for a long time now – maybe since it started – and that you offered to pay me for hard evidence so you can give your divorce lawyer all the ammo he can fire at the prick. Also, at my prices you ain’t payin’ for service with a smile. So, if you’re done being all broken up, do I need to go take more pics or not?”
She sat across from him, mouth agape for a moment. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Well,” she continued after another moment, “Yes, Mr. Roy…”
“It’s Conroy.” Dingo interrupted.
“Conroy. My last name is Conroy. Dingo Roy is my professional name. Most people just call me Dingo, though. Stick with that.”
She shook her head in disbelief, then continued. “Okay, Dingo, Yes. Those pictures are enough proof that my husband of 24 years was cheating on me. Now what do we do?”
“Beg pardon?” Dingo said, nearly choking on a piece of orange chicken. He finished chewing and gulped the mouthful down.
“I said, ‘Now what do we do?’”
“We?” Dingo asked.
“Yes. I can’t go to a lawyer without my husband finding out about it. He has access to all of my finances, besides, I’ve had a hard enough time even lying about coming here to see you.”
“Bullshit.” Dingo said. “First of all, the money’d better not be a problem, because you if you don’t have the cash to pay me, so help me God I’ll…”
“Relax.” said Mrs. McEnroe, throwing down a stack of cash on top of the pictures. “It’s not just…”
“Second,” Dingo continued, “I’ve been keeping tabs on him for three weeks now, lady. You really don’t think, while I been sitting on him, I don’t see you leaving all the time, too?”
“You weren’t supposed to be watching him when he was home!” She protested.
“Oh like he wasn’t gonna bring the girl home with him when he knew you were away. Of course I sat on him while he was home. And I know damn good and well that you come and go as you please. So again… What do you mean, we?”
“Fine,” she said, her shoulders deflating a little. “You’ve seen our lifestyle. Do you really think I can’t afford to hire a better P.I. than you? I hired you because of your reputation.”
Dingo rolled his eyes. He took a bottle of rye whiskey from his desk.
Now Mrs. McElroy rolled her eyes. “Really?” She said. “You don’t think that’s a bit cliche?”
He then produced a bottle of pink stomach medicine. He poured both into his coffee and swirled them around. “If you’re gonna go in,” Dingo said, “go all in.”
“Good God.” Mrs. McElroy said.
“So, what about my reputation brought you to darken my doorstep, so to speak?”
“You were a wizard.”
“Yes. The operant word bing were. Supposedly, I killed magic, and consequently my entire profession along with it, remember?”
“Supposedly?” She asked, “It wasn’t your spell then?”
His eyes bore through hers, and the message, “Don’t go there,” was loud and clear. She looked down.
“I meant,” she said after a moment, “as a wizard, and a powerful one at that, you used to handle covert operations, right?”
“Yeah.” He knew where this was going.
“Well, I was hoping that someone with your particular skill set could help me in more ways than just finding proof of infidelity.”
“I’m not an assassin Mrs. McEnroe. That’s not what wizards did, despite what Fox and Friends might have told you.”
“What? No!” She said, putting her hand to her chest. “I don’t want you to kill Trent! He’s a bastard, but that doesn’t mean I want him dead.”
“Hmm, well I guess even a broken clock can be wrong twice a day… wait, did I fuck that up? Nevermind. If you don’t want me to kill him, and you don’t need any more proof, then what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t need any more proof that he’s cheating on me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need proof.”
“Ah.” Dingo said. “What’s he into?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I know he deals with a lot of shady people. He has contacts down at the docks that he talks to at all hours of the night. He plays golf with Rafael Manzano…”
“So does the mayor…”
“Yeah, in public. At charity events. Not at exclusive mob country clubs.”
“And, I think it has something to do with tech, because he’s needed a Korean interpreter for a lot of his calls lately, and I saw a man and two bodyguards that could have been Korean getting into a car as I was coming home the other day.”
“Yeah, I thought that was weird, too. I just figured he had some Asian building contract on the line. He is basically just a contractor after all.”
“Just a contractor?” she said, actually offended at the insult to her dirtbag husband’s reputation. “More like a building kingpin… wait, you saw that!? Just how much time did you spend surveiling my home?”
“Na, I didn’t see it. Just being a dick.” he grinned.
“Really?” She said. “Puns, too?”
“Sorry. So you think your husband, in addition to being a cheating asshole, is also a criminal asshole, and you want me to get proof for you. How am I doin’ so far?”
“And if I get this proof for you, you will…”
“Pay you another grand?”
“Well… yeah… at least. But I mean what are you going to do with the information?”
“I don’t want him dead,” she said, “but I do want him ruined. I’ll take the info to the authorities and they can take it from there.”
“Leaving you with an even better case to take all of his shit in the divorce.”
“God you really don’t think much of me do you?”
“Ma’am, I don’t really think much of anybody.” He took another drink of his disgusting Pepto cocktail, then continued. “But, if you wanna pay me to put your husband in the slammer, your reasons for doing so are really none of my concern. How soon do you need the info?”
Dingo sat in his van outside of the Easton Shipyards’ main warehouse a few blocks down from the pier. He lit up a cigar and rolled down the window. Rush’s “Fly By Night” was playing through his stereo.
My ship hasn’t come in and I just can’t pretend… he sang to himself. His bones ached. He grabbed a packaged cheese-stick from the inside pocket of his black leather biker jacket. Calcium depletion occurred more rapidly in former magic users since the magic was literally ripped out of their bones ten years ago. One more cross to bear for ol’ Dingo. Sometimes he swore he could tell a former wizard, warlock, witch or whatever they called themselves just by the hatred for him he saw festering in their eyes.
Barney heard Dingo open the pack of cheese and walked to the front of the van. He jumped up into the copilot’s seat of the vintage 1994 GMC Vandura G2500 conversion van and panted expectantly. “Okay,” Dingo said, and handed Barney a small piece of cheese. The Australian Shepherd/wild-dog mix leaned over and licked Dingo’s cheek. “Yeah, yeah,” Dingo said, tousling the dog’s motley spotted fir.
He took another puff of the cigar and checked his rear view. Nothing there. He scanned the main entrance again. McEnroe had been here all day. No surprise there; he ran the operation. It was creeping up on 8pm, though, and usually businessmen who’d been in the game as long as McEnroe would be either home with their families or at the hotel with the mistress by now. It was the young ambitious ones who were the workaholics, not the steers like McEnroe. At least Dingo thought he was a steer. “Maybe he’s a bull after all?” he said to Barney. Barney looked out the passenger window and said nothing. Typical.
“Fly By Night” ended and the next song on the playlist, “Virus,” by Iron Maiden came on. Barney whimpered once in token protest. “Look, you know the rules. Only two bands in the van – Maiden and Rush, man, Maiden and Rush! Maiden for me, Rush for you. I know you don’t like the Blaze years, but this a rare cut and it’s awesome, no matter who’s singing, so you can get over it.” Barney jumped out of the copilots seat, walked slowly back to his bed at the rear of the van, and laid down.
Dingo shook his head and chewed/puffed some more on his cigar. After the second chorus he started to drum along on the steering wheel with the instrumental section. He looked back at Barney and said, “I don’t know what you’re complainin’ about. This shit kicks ass and you know it.”
Barney raised his head up for a moment, titled it to the side, then huffed and laid back down. Dingo smiled and got back to his drumming.
The song changed tempo and the final refrain began. Dingo mumbled along, The rats in the cellar, you know who you are… the rats in the cellar, you know who you are. Dingo checked his rear view again. He noticed three sets of headlights in an obvious caravan heading down the long, deserted street that led to the warehouse. He shut the lights of his van off. He wanted them to think he was just parking. “Okay, Barney,” he said. “I think it’s time to go do some business. I need a lookout.” Barney barked and jumped up from his bed. He shook his fur out and licked Dingo’s hand to let him know he was ready.
Dingo clipped the leash to Barney’s collar and stepped out the curbside door of the van just as the three black Lexus sedans pulled into the now open bay door of the warehouse. All of the vehicles had tinted windows, but the windshields were clear enough for Dingo to note that the drivers were Asian. “C’mon, Barn,” he said, and the two began walking along the sidewalk toward the other end of the warehouse. When they had reached the corner, Dingo told Barney to “stand lookout.” At the command, the canine trotted over behind a stack of crates and laid prone in the shadow with his head positioned to see out in a wide angle from the corner.
“Good boy!” Dingo said. Then he pulled on a stocking cap to cover his purple Mohawk and crept into the shadows alongside the warehouse himself. He made his way onto a scaffolding and began to climb up to a catwalk and fire-escape network that ran around the second story of the large building. Once on the catwalk, he crept to a bank of old folding windows that lined this side of the warehouse. He looked down through the dirty panes of glass and saw… a bunch of crates, of course. He also saw the three cars and a gaggle of ten guys standing around Trent McEnroe. All of the other men looked to be Asian, but of course, Dingo couldn’t know if they were Korean or not from outside the warehouse.
“Shit,” he muttered to himself. I’m gonna need backup, he thought. He pulled out his phone and opened the messaging app. He selected the thread with Mert and started the conversation.
Dingo: I may need u
Mert: What now?
Dingo: Oh don’t act like ur not gonna get yours
Mert: Not the point. Ur more troup Theo no ur worth.
Mert: *than ur worth – Ducking autocorrect!
Dingo: Look, this might be big. Gonna take some pics n’ send ‘em. Maybe Koreans… import/export.
Mert: Koreans?? So what?
Dingo: So rumors are that they have been researching again…
Mert: Goodbye Dingo.
Dingo: No wait!
Dingo: Even if it’s not what I think, it’s still seriously illegal. U could add this one to that spotless name of yours.
Mert: Don’t get killed. Goodbye Dingo.
Dingo sighed and put his phone back in his pocket. “Damn it!” He said. Then he pulled his phone back out because he remembered he was going to need to take pictures.
After taking a moment to shake all of that off, he crept back toward the windows. He opened the camera app and made sure the flash was off. Then he muted the volume and focused in on the meetings. It was times like these that he wished he could spring for a proper camera with an optical zoom, but his not-so-spotless name precluded the type of income such a device would require.
The first picture he sent was of McEnroe and the semi-circle of goons opening a crate with what looked like Asian writing of some type along the side. McEnroe was standing next to what were presumably two of his own goons, one of which was holding a black suitcase. The other goon held the crowbar and was mid-pry when Dingo took the shot. He sent it to Mert.
A moment later, he saw that whatever was in the crate was envelloped in some kind of straw insulation. Dingo snapped the shot and sent the pic to Mert. He saw that she hadn’t responded. Frustrated, he refocused his camera and readied the next shot.
McEnroe’s heretofore crowbar-wielding goon now pulled from the straw packaging a gold-colored figurine of an Asian-style dragon. The dragon was about two feet long, and in it’s mouth, was a clear glass ball that looked to Dingo to be about the size of an orange. Its eyes were made with sparkling red stones. Probably not genuine red-dyed zirconium, Dingo thought. McEnroe’s goon handed the statuette to one of the Asian boss’s goons. Dingo snapped a final pic and sent it to Mert. Then he began typing again.
Mert: It looks like an international business transaction. So what.
Dingo: I’m telling u those r Koreans down there, and that is a magical artifact! Even if it’s not, doesn’t it look suspicious 2 b trading in international art at this hour?
Mert: This hour? It’s only 8:30, Grandpa.
Dingo: Goddamnit they’re Koreans! Don’t they look like Koreans? The writing on the crate looks Korean!
Mert: U look like a Korean.
Dingo: Yeah, but I’m First Nations!
Mert: And an idiot, apparently. Besides, the writing on the crates is blurry. Get a better camera.
Dingo: 😡 Okay… sending proof. Standby.
Dingo crept along the catwalk, trying to stay as close to the bottom of the window bank as possible. When he had reached the other end, he flipped the latch that allowed the old, fold-out windows to open. He gently opened the first window, pulling the bottom out about six inches. The hinge at the top creeked slightly, but Dingo covered it well, and nobody heard it.
He took out his phone again and opened the voice-memo app. He went into his settings and turned the microphone gain up as high as he could. I’ll get ‘em talkin, he thought and let Google do the rest.
Then he put his left hand, with his phone, through the opening at the bottom of the window. He could hear the conversation from where he was – though he couldn’t understand half of it – so he reached under with his right hand to press the record button. When his right hand was about six inches from his phone, a blue arc shot from Dingo’s fingertip and hit the divice. Immediately, Dingo’s phone began blaring the song “Africa,” by Toto at full volume, and the camera’s flash began strobing. Shocked, Dingo dropped the phone and began running. He had just enough time to see the guns being drawn when he bolted. The first few shots were nowhere near him, but a half-second later, they were closing in.
He jumped from the catwalk onto the stack of crates behind which Barney had been keeping watch. “Barney, GO!” He shouted, and the dog lept into action, bounding toward the van.
Dingo jumped off of the crates and onto the ground. He began running after Barney for the van when suddenly every muscle in his body locked up. He went stiff and face planted on the wet pavement. Barney stopped a moment, looked back at Dingo and then ran off. Good boy, Dingo thought, right before he passed out.
When he came to, he was tied to a chair in the warehouse. He immediately noticed that he felt different. It was almost like… no, that wasn’t it. Still, he felt different, and he couldn’t put his finger on it. He had a massive headache, he knew that much, and he noticed that his left eye was nearly swollen shut. McEnroe and the guy he figured for the leader of the men he was now positive were Koreans stood in front of him, with the rest of the goons flanking his chair on either side.
“I don’t know who you are,” McEnroe said, “and I don’t care. I don’t tolerate bullshit around my business and if it were just me you’d already be dead. That much needs to be clear up front. I don’t think you’re a cop – you look too much like a low life, even for undercover work. You could be from the Russians, but from the look of you, I’d say you’re with the Japanese.”
Dingo rolled his eyes.
“I’m First Nations. From the Woods Cree tribe! Why does everyone think I’m Asian?!?”
One of the Asian goons struck Dingo on the kneecap with a stun baton. Dingo’s leg instinctively straightened with the shock, but was restrained at the ankle to the chair. The piano wire or whatever the hell it was they’d used to tie him up with cut deeply into his shins as his quadroceps involuntarily tried their best to straighten his leg.
He winced, but didn’t make a sound. Finally the shock and convulsions wore off and he grunted. “That was nice.” he said. “Let’s do more of that.”
“No,” McEnroe said. “I didn’t even want to do that much. I’d just as soon put a bullet in your head and be done with our business, but my friends here want to know what you’re up to. So let’s make it simple. Tell me what you’re doing here and I’ll just kill you quickly and painlessly. If you keep dicking us around, though… Well then they’re just going to beat the shit out of you until you die in a most painful fashion anyway. The point is, either way you’re gonna die. Might as well just tell me what you’re doing here and make it quick and painless.”
“Wow. That’s a really good sales pitch.” Dingo said. “Thing is… what if you’re not gonna like what I tell you and then you change your mind and tell your goons to just beat me to death anyway, then I have no leverage at all, no… what do they call it? Agency?”
This time the blow came from the other side and was to his head. He blacked out for a split second, and then he blinked for a while. It took some time for his vision to unblur. Boy, he’s not kidding, Dingo thought, his buddies really do want to draw this out. He heard them speaking in what he was now positive was Korean, and then McEnroe interrupted.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “he appears to be back with us. Let’s ask him again. I really do have other business…”
“You mean that sweet little brunette who’s young enough to be your daughter?” Dingo said, spitting out a little blood. His ears were ringing, so he didn’t hear McEnroe’s response clearly, but he did see him pull out a handgun. Then Dingo heard one of McEnroe’s goons say what he assumed was the Korean for “He’s not here for you,” to the others.
McEnroe chambered a round and was about to point the gun at Dingo’s head when an array of floodlights assaulted the building. SWAT agents dropped in from the roof and kicked in the doors. There was a cacophony of explosions from flash-bang grenades at every corner. McEnroe and the other goons dove for cover and began opening fire on the agents. They were armed with submachine guns, and bullets flew by in a complex web of crossfire.
For a few seconds it was absolute chaos. Dingo was still tied fast to the chair and he felt one bullet whiz by his left ear. He began rocking in any and all directions to try and lower his profile. Just as he reached a tipping point, a bullet grazed his cheek – just a flesh wound , but the heat seared into his face nonetheless and dazed him for a moment.
When he came back to, he saw agents swarming the goons and smelled the stench of cordite and grenade smoke. His cheek still felt like it was burning, but then he felt fur from behind his neck and Barney began licking the wound. It actually felt soothing, he thought, in a weird and painful kind of way. Within minutes, he was sitting upright again and being untied by a few agents. Five of the goons were dead – including Trent McEnroe. They were killed in the shootout. McEnroe’s business partner, who, it turns out, was not Korean, but rather a Filipino expat working for the Koreans, was taken into custody.
He saw Mert standing about thirty yards away talking to some agents. Her professional demeanor and pressed black pant-suit still boggled his mind, but he knew she couldn’t come and talk to him. He understood.
Instead, he and Barney were taken in and questioned. When the detectives asked how Dingo got caught, they didn’t blink when he told them he accidentally set off his phone’s alarm. I guess once people hold you responsible for one bad thing, it’s easy for them to assume you’re an idiot in all things, he thought to himself.
After he’d finished giving his statement, he texted Cuddles and asked if he could come over for a drink.
Dingo: You have booze?
Cuddles: It’s 2:30.
Dingo: Irrelevant. You have booze?
Cuddles: Door’s open.
Dingo and Barney arrived at Cuddles’ apartment just in time to see his giant bear of a friend kick a skinny, half-naked black man out. “I didn’t say you could sleep over,” Cuddles said.
“You’re a dick!” the man said, gathering up his clothes and storming off.
“Oh don’t act like you didn’t know what this was!” Cuddles yelled after him. “Call me!”
Dingo just shook his head. “Sorry?” he said to Cuddles.
“Na. I was gonna kick him out anyway. He wants to cuddle WAY too much after.”
Dingo tilted his head.
“What?” Cuddles said.
“You do see the irony there, right?”
“Whatever. Everyone’s got a limit, and that guy’s over all of ‘em. Come on in.”
Cuddles’ apartment was exactly what you might expect from a 6’3” tall, 289lb gay hipster-bear. Then again, it might not have been exactly what you’d expect. In any case, it was immaculately decorated in a modern, dark hardwood motif. Everything had it’s place and Cuddles made sure it was there. Dingo loved that because he knew his very presence in the place gave Cuddles the urge to clean everything immediately after he left.
Dingo and Barney walked in and Dingo plopped down on the white leather couch. He could almost see Cuddles wince. Barney sat politely on the floor at the edge of the couch, his tongue hanging out, panting lightly. “Okay,” Cuddles said. “You can get on the couch, Barney.”
Barney jumped up and snuggled next to Dingo, wagging his tail.
“I’m just gonna have to vacuum it anyway,” Cuddles muttered. “What can I get you to drink, my not-so-esteemed amigo?” he asked.
“Rye.” Dingo said.
“Pendleton it is.” Cuddles said. He turned and went to the bar on the other side of the living room. He poured from a decanter into a whiskey glass and asked, “So why do you break up my happy amorous dalliance?”
“Well I would hope the dalliance would have already been done by the time I got here,” Dingo said.
“You know what I mean.” said Cuddles.
“Something weird happened.” Dingo said.
Cuddles looked at him quizzically. “Well, I’m assuming it has something to do with that wound on your cheek, but otherwise, define weird.”
“Oh shit… that kind of weird.” Cuddles sat down on the chair next to the couch, his massive frame, clothed in navy blue silk pajamas, sinking in comfortably. “Okay,” he said. “What happened.”
“I think I cast a spell.” Dingo said.
To be continued…