“Africa?” Cuddles said, holding his lips together the way a trumpet player might. His face was starting to turn red. “You’re panic-mode song is ‘Africa?’”
Dingo stood there, arms akimbo, hands on hips. “It wasn’t panic mod-”
“I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AaaaaaaaaFRICA! (I bless the rains!)” Cuddles interrupted, belting the tune out in a high falsetto that would have woken the dead – if the dead could have still been animated; which they couldn’t, since Dingo killed magic. Cuddles didn’t say that last bit of cleverly placed exposition, but the look he gave Dingo as he screeched the high notes at almost the right pitch, said it much more clearly.
Dingo sighed. “Are ya done?”
Cuddles stopped long enough to change his expression to one of a dog who’s just shat on the floor. Then he belted out, “Ooooooohhhhh gonna take some time!” A mild fit of laughter later, he said, “Okay. Now I’m done.”
“It wasn’t panic mode,” Dingo said, rolling his eyes. “It was a spell I used to cast on my phone at parties.”
“You what?” Cuddles asked, then thought better of it. “Wait, nevermi…”
“Too late now!” Dingo broke in. “Back when I was a wizard, see, I’d have all kinds of women at parties just kinda throwing themselves at me – asking me to tell crazy wizard stories, that kinda shit. So I started telling the story about one of the Africa jobs… You know, before the last one.”
Cuddles looked at him as if to say, “Please no!”
“Oh yeah!” Dingo said gleefully. “The one where we used Rafael.”
“My god.” Cuddles said, holding his forehead between his thumb and middle finger. “I forgot about the fuckin’ tank.”
“How could you forget Rafael!?” Dingo said – incensed at the idea that his best friend could have forgotten about the Russian government lending them a ‘90s era T-90 heavy tank to help out on a job in South Africa. “He saved our ASSES on that job!”
Cuddles shook his head in his hands. “It was a nightmare,” he said.
“Yeah, but Rafael, though…”
Cuddles sighed in resignation. “Yeah, Rafael. He was a good tank.”
“Did you ever get the blood out of your body armor?”
Cuddles just shot him a thousand-dagger glare.
“Right. So are ya done giving me shit about what I maintain is still a fantastic song? Can we get back to the fact that I may have CAST A SPELL!!”
“Yeah.” Cuddles said, taking another sip from his Pendleton and setting it down neatly on the coaster before him. “Now what makes you think you cast a spell, and that your phone didn’t just malfunction with some pre-determined routine it had to set up on account of the spell you used to use?”
“I haven’t used that spell in ten years, Cuddles,” Dingo said. “Do you really think I have the same phone I had ten years ago?”
“Right,” Cuddles said. Okay, well, what did you actually say or do right before the spe… before it happened?”
“I just reached toward it to turn on the voice memo app.” Dingo said. “An arc came out of my fingers, and it was just like I had cast the spell at a party ten years ago.”
Cuddles didn’t really react. He looked down and said, “Well… that’s a mystery.”
“Yeah.” Dingo said. “Listen, thanks for the booze. I’m gonna go crash now. I’ll, uh… I’ll catch ya later.”
“Wait a minute,” Cuddles said. “What are you going to do about this… for real?”
“I don’t know,” Dingo said. He left and closed the door behind him. Cuddles took another drink and sat back down on his couch. He had trouble sleeping the rest of the night.
Dingo got back to his place a few minutes later and flung himself on his bed. He didn’t sleep well either.
When he woke, he checked his phone. It was already full of messages from Mert:
Mert: What the hell did u stumble upon?!?!?!?!?!?!
Mert: u r an asshole u know that?
Mert: do u know how many strings i had to pull and how many asses i had to kiss to keep you out of an interrogation room today?
Mert: whenever ur princess ass decides to get up will u plz msg me back!!!!!!
Mert: goddamnit Dingo!!
Mert: WAKE UP!!! 🤬🤬🤬
Dingo rubbed his eyes. Barney woke up, crawled over, and licked Dingo’s face for a while. Dingo smiled. It was the only time he ever genuinely smiled anymore. Barney was all he had, really.
Mert and Cuddles had his back – he knew that without a doubt – and they would always have a bond. But when he killed magic he put them out of work, too. Mert had been a powerful combat sorceress. She and Dingo, combined with Cuddles as the charming manager/liaison/fixer, had made a very effective crew. They had quite the reputation once for their, let’s call it creative, use of magic to solve crises. They were as close to the rock stars of old as anyone could really get nowadays, and now he was the Axl Rose of wizards – brilliantly talented, but badly tainted, and just barely hanging on to relevance.
But Barney didn’t give a shit about any of that. As long as Dingo could keep his food and water dish full, play him some Rush in the van, and would take him on adventures with him, Barney would keep right on loving him. No matter what else.
Barney finished kissing Dingo’s face, and Dingo sat up. He messaged Mert back.
Dingo: I had no idea what would happen. Totally wasn’t my fault. Need to find out what was in those crates, tho. Can u help?
Mert: I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!!! No I can’t help! My cpt. told me that if i don’t back off he’s gonna have me transferred. Whatever you stepped in it’s some high level shit and i don’t want anything to do with it! Just stay off of this. Let it go.
Dingo: ur not even curious as to my side of things?
Mert: Dingo this is dangerous… really. Let it go.
Dingo: I think I blessed the rains down in Africa.
Mert: OMG CRYPTIC SHIT? REALLY?
Dingo: My old pickup technique…
He waited for a reply, but none came for a while. Barney began whimpering like he needed to go outside, so Dingo got up and put on some pants and his old stained white tank top. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He had dark circles under his eyes that seemed to be getting darker every day, no matter how much he slept. His skin was starting to yellow a bit. It was normally a light brown, but it lately it seemed stained somehow, just on the edges – the way teeth will start to yellow after years of coffee and nicotine catch up to them. And even the whites of his eyes seemed to be turning more cream colored than white. He didn’t look good by any stretch of the imagination, and deep down he knew it, but he still maintained his old punk-wizard style. His purple Mohawk was matted and unkempt. His jeans were black and faded, and ripped at the knees, and he wore a pair of worn-out gray Chuck Taylors.
His loft was three stories up, and he and Barney clumsily made their way downstairs and out onto the street for their walk. As they stepped away from the door and onto the sidewalk, a man in a light blue pinstriped business suit stopped them.
“Excuse me…” the man said.
“Look pal, I clean up his shit, he’s licensed, and I follow all city ordinances, so don’t fuck with me about it, okay?” Dingo said, preempting what he was sure was going to be a lecture about riff-raff like him with dogs making the city a cesspool and all that.
“What?” The suit-man asked.
“I happen to be a businessman and I pay my taxes. I contribute to society, so don’t treat me like I’m some kinda bum because I don’t order my clothes from Brooks Bros.”
Dingo was about to step around the man, but the man put his hand on Dingo’s shoulder and said, “Please…”
“Are you Gerald Conroy?”
“Dingo.” Dingo said.
“No.” Dingo said. “I go by Dingo. The dog is Barney.”
Barney stopped sniffing the man’s feet and barked once.
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry,” the man said. “That’s right. Roy, um Dingo Roy, correct?”
“Bingo.” Dingo said.
“Bingo?” The man asked, now more confused than ever.
Dingo sighed. “No – the expression. ‘Bingo!’ ‘Winner!’ Poor word choice on my part. My name, as far as I’m concerned, is Dingo Roy. People at the government and the bank and the news refer to me as Gerald Conroy. Anyone I actually care about talking to, however, should refer to me as Dingo – as in the Australian wild dog – Roy. Are we clear now?”
The man looked at Dingo a moment, then stuck out his hand and said, “Glad to meet you, Dingo Roy. My name is Calvin Blair.”
Dingo smiled and shook Calvin Blair’s hand.
“Okay, Mr. Blair,” Dingo said, “Now, what kind of shit are you gonna give me about Barney?”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Why would I be upset about you walking your dog? I want to hire you.”
“Oh!” Dingo said. “Well in that case, head on up to the loft on the third floor. The door to the waiting area’s open. I’ll be back in a few minutes after I walk Barney.”
Calvin Blair nodded and thanked Dingo before heading upstairs. At the top of the landing on the third floor, he saw a door with the words “Death Unicorn Investigations” posted on a wooden door in block letter stickers – the kind with the reflective backgrounds that you might use for house numbers or mailboxes; $2.99 for a full alphabet at the local hardware store.
Above the words was a graphic of a grotesque cartoon unicorn head. Its eyes were pointed in slightly different directions, and it’s tongue was hanging out like a panting dog, all of which gave the impression that it was completely deranged. In the background of the graphic was the silhouette of a grim reaper.
Calvin approached the door and let himself in. He looked as out of place in the dingy “waiting room” of Death Unicorn Investigations as a walrus in a desert. He took off his jacket and folded it neatly as he sat down.
A few minutes later, Dingo returned with Barney. “Well, Mr. Blair, what brings you to brighten my door?”
“It’s my brother, Benjamin. I think he’s in some kind of trouble.” Calvin said.
“Okay, what kind of trouble?”
“I’m not exactly sure. He’s been admitted to Pinebluff against his will, and nobody there can give me any kind of straight answer.”
“Pinebluff?” Dingo asked. “He’s looney?”
“No!” Calvin said, “At least not that I can see. Look, Ben may have always been a little flighty – he’s a musician – artsy type. He never concerned himself with money or trying to fit in with everyone else, but that doesn’t make him crazy.”
“Hmm.” Dingo said. “I like him already.”
“Yeah,” Calvin continued. “Me too. I mean, we kind of live completely different lives, but I’ve always admired my brother, and I do my best to make sure he has enough to take care of himself when he’s not making enough playing music.”
“I see.” Dingo said. “And now he’s at the Pinebluff mental institution?”
“Yes. Three days ago he called me up and left a weird message on my phone.
“What kind of message?”
“He was just singing the chorus of ‘Africa’ by Toto.”
“Get out.” Dingo said.
“I know, it’s weird, right?” Calvin replied.
“No. I mean get out. I don’t know how much Cuddles is paying you, but I’m not gonna give you a reaction for him. Where’s the camera, in one of your shirt buttons? Your tie clip?”
As he said this, Dingo stood up and began to escort Calvin to the door, “Very funny, Cuddles!” he yelled toward the tie clip. “Sorry Mr. Blair, but I’ve got a lot on my plate today and unfortunately I don’t have time to play my friend’s little game.”
He ushered Calvin out the door and shut it behind him.
Almost immediately Calvin began pounding on the door. “I assure you, Mr. Roy…”
“IT’S DINGO!” Dingo yelled as he walked back to his desk to pour himself a Pepto cocktail.
The pounding continued.
“Please, Mr… Dingo, I think my brother’s in real danger, and I think you’re the only one who can help me.”
There was a pause in the knocking.
“I…” Calvin started, “I was at the warehouse last night.”
They sat in Dingo’s office. Dingo drank his hellish pink concoction of Pepto-Bismol and the bottom shots of two or three different liquor bottles. Calvin stared at the glass. Finally Dingo said, “Okay. Why were you at the warehouse, and what did you see?”
“I work for Nikwon.” Calvin said.
“Nikwon? What does that have to do with anything?” Dingo asked. Then he gulped down the pink potion and poured himself another. Calvin jerked back slightly and his eyes grew large – a look of confusion flashed across his face. Dingo looked at his watch.
“What?” He asked, “It’s almost noon.”
Calvin shook his head, obviously still baffled. Then he looked at the drink and said, “What and when you drink is your business, um… Dingo.”
“Thank you.” Dingo interrupted.
“I’m surprised because you don’t know what Nikwon has to do with anything.”
Now it was Dingo’s turn to look surprised. “You mean those Korean goons at McEnroe’s place were from Nikwon?”
“Nikwon owns that warehouse!”
“I thought it was registered to McEnroe’s construction firm…” Dingo said.
Calvin shook his head in disbelief. “You really didn’t look any farther than that?” He asked, then took another look around the sparse and disheveled office space of Death Unicorn Investigations, complete with a Murphy bed pulled down from the wall (un-made, of course), and piles of laundry littering that side of the room. “Nevermind,” he said.
“Look,” Dingo said. “I’m not the best P.I., but people get what they pay for.”
“It would seem so.” Calvin said, then almost immediately he added, “I’m sorry. I lose my manners when I’m upset.”
Dingo looked at him. “Um… okay.” That last word almost a question. “So Nikwon owns that warehouse. That helps me put that piece together. To be fair, though, I just got up and the job was just last night. Anyway…. What were you doing there? And how did you not get arrested with all of the Korean goons?”
“I wasn’t supposed to be there, so nobody was looking for me.” Calvin said. “I just wanted to see… Um, well… there was this discrepancy.”
“What kind of discrepancy?”
“The kind I thought was an accounting error.” Calvin answered. “As you saw last night, that warehouse isn’t exactly small. Nikwon doesn’t make products that usually require that much storage space, and so I started asking questions.”
“So you’re an accountant?”
“Yes, I report directly to the CFO of our North American region.”
“Sounds fascinating.” Dingo said.
“It is… I mean, I know most people wouldn’t think so, but I love the minutiae of checking and re-checking numbers. The numbers always have a story to tell.”
“I’m already falling asleep. So, let’s see if I can fill in the rest of the blanks here. You work for a big Korean corporation, you noticed something fishy in the numbers and so you just happened to go to this warehouse you suspect is being used for… whatever… and you come see me after I nearly get myself killed and some of your bosses arrested. What does any of this have to do with your brother?”
“I got the call from the hospital the morning after I found the discrepancy.”
“Hmm.” Dingo said. “So what exactly was this discrepancy?”
“The items that were set to be stored in the warehouse had a customs code I’d never seen before. Almost everything we normally deal in has a customs code that begins with an A9 designation. These were designated UXM0.”
“Let’s pretend I have no idea what that means.”
“Okay then. That will make two of us.”
Dingo shook his head and said, “What? You mean you snuck out to a warehouse in the middle of the night over a code you saw and didn’t recognize? Jesus, and I thought I didn’t have a life.”
“My brother is locked up. I couldn’t ignore the coincidence.”
“Okay.” Dingo said. He rubbed his eyes, then his temples; then he rubbed his eyes again. “I think we’d better start at the beginning.”
Calvin detailed for Dingo how he found these items on a shipping manifest with the weird customs designation. He was curious, so he tried looking the designation up, but couldn’t find anything on it. As far as Google was concerned, the designation was just a model number for a few seemingly unrelated products. After his search yielded nothing, he went and talked to the CFO.
“What did you say?” Dingo asked.
“I asked him about the code and whether or not it was a mistake.” Calvin said. “He gave me an odd look, then he said that the code was correct.”
“What do you mean by odd look?” Dingo asked.
“When you work at the executive level for a Korean corporation, you learn to pick up on very subtle body language. My original interpretation of the look was that I must have simply forgotten that it was a code we sometimes used.”
“Wait,” Dingo interrupted. “Was it?”
“No. That was just my original interpretation.” Calvin said. “When I left my supervisor’s office, I called an old friend of mine who works in the shipping and receiving department. I asked him what the code meant, and he said that he’d never heard of it either, but he made a comment about one of the letters, the X. Then he said I shouldn’t keep asking.”
“Really?” Dingo said. “You’re gonna make me ask about the goddamn X?”
“He said that if there’s an X anywhere in the prefix designation it meant that whatever was inside the container was protected by a little-known international trade law that prohibits officials from checking crates that may contain corporate trade secrets.”
“Wow.” Dingo said. “That doesn’t seem shady at all.”
“That’s what I thought.” Calvin continued. “I know there are laws protecting corporate intellectual property and other trade secrets, but I didn’t know that multi-nationals could get away with bypassing customs. I did a search for that particular law, and that’s when I got the phone call from my brother.
“I spent the rest of that day trying to get a hold of the doctor that authorized his admittance, but nobody would let me talk to her. The next morning, when I called again and got the same excuse they’d give me every time I called the day before, I realized that I was being stonewalled.”
Dingo had been leaning forward, listening intently. “And this was three days ago?” He asked.
“Yes. After I gave up trying to talk to the hospital, I remembered my boss’s look.”
“Yes, the one I originally interpreted as meaning I’d made a mistake.”
“Well, I thought about it some more, and that explanation didn’t quite fit anymore. I began to think that Ben was put into that mental hospital to distract me from something.”
“That’s quite a leap to make, Mr. Blair,” Dingo said. “Are you sure your boss didn’t just have gas?”
“Like I said, it’s a Korean corporation. You don’t get to my position without knowing how to read body language. Lately, though, I’d been noticing some other subtleties – locked doors during conversations with other execs to which I should have also been party, stacks of papers being hastily shuffled and put away when I enter the room – that kind of thing. When I thought about those things, along with my shipping friend’s suggestion that whatever it was I was asking about was something secret enough to keep the governments out of it, it seemed like a very real possibility, so I looked at the manifest again and saw that the shipments were supposed to be arriving last night. That’s when I made the decision to go by the warehouse. I got there just a few minutes before the incident started. I noticed your van, and that’s why I’m here.”
“Shit, and I thought those billboards I took out were finally starting to pay off.” Dingo said. “Look, I’m not sure how much I can help, I mean, there was some weird shit that happened there last night. I’m still trying to figure it all out myself.”
“What kind of weird shit?”
“The kind where my phone just magi… I mean, randomly starts playing ‘Africa’ by Toto and then you show up and tell me your brother was singing the same song three days earlier.”
Calvin looked at dingo with genuine shock on his face for a moment before his phone started ringing. His ringtone had nothing to do with Africa.
“It’s Pinebluff,” he said.
“Put it on speaker.” Dingo demanded. Calvin acquiesced.
“Hello,” Calvin said.
“Mr. Blair,” the female voice on the other end of the line said. “I’m Dr. Carpenter from the Pinebluff Institute. I’m afraid I have some bad news…”
The office of Dr. Karen Carpenter was decorated in dark oak wood. Her giant desk dominated the room the way Stanley Kubrick’s monolith dominated the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was nearly clear, save for what looked like a hand-carved Newton’s cradle on the left side and an ornate pen set with a crystal globe in the center on the other side. The inscription on the wooden base of the pen set said, “With great thanks from the board of the American Psychology Association.” Behind her desk, the walls around the large window were peppered with degrees and certificates of achievement. Dingo and Calvin sat in two dark plush leather chairs on the visitor’s side of her desk, while she occupied what Dingo would have only referred to as a swiveling throne on the opposite side.
“I don’t understand,” Calvin said, on the verge of tears. “He was supposed to be in your care! How could you let this happen?”
“I assure you, Mr. Blair, that all of our standard safety protocols were observed when looking after your brother.” Dr. Carpenter said. Her tone was solid ice.
“I’d like to see him.”
“Of course.” She said. “His body’s already been transported, but I’ll call the coroner’s office at once and make the necessary arrangements.”
Calvin put his head in his hands. He was shaking. Dr. Carpenter pulled open a drawer on her side of the desk and pressed a button. “Sharon,” she said, “please call Dr. Marley at the coroner’s office and inform them that Mr. Blair will be coming to view his brother’s body.” She looked at Calvin, shivering and nearly sobbing into his hands. She pursed her lips. Dingo couldn’t tell whether it was sympathy or annoyed pity.
In either case, Dingo thought, she owed his client some answers. “So, you said he was found hung in his room?”
“Yes,” she said, eyeing him with what he was now sure was contempt. She looked at his mowhawk and his shabby clothes and said, “I’m sorry, how are you related to Mr. Blair?”
“He’s my client.”
“You’re… an attorney?” She asked, not even trying to mask the scorn this time.
“Yeah, Dewy Cheat’em at your service.” Dingo said. He shook his head before adding, “No, lady. I’m a P.I. And I think you owe my client an explanation at the very least. How does someone in a fine institution such as this one get access to the rope to hang himself?”
“He apparently ripped two electrical cords out of fans that were in the custodial closet,” she said. “It must have happened during the orderlies’ shift change.”
“I see,” Dingo said. “And you said there was no note?”
“No.” She said.
“Then how do you know it was a suicide?” He asked.
“Mr. Roy,” she said, “I’m not at liberty to discuss patient treatment with anyone who isn’t immediate family.”
“I’m sitting right here!” Calvin burst out. “You tell him everything! You tell him everything right now, goddamn it!”
“Mr. Blair,” Dr. Carpenter said, “I know you’re grieving, but I’m afraid for the safety of our other patients I must ask you to keep your voice down. This incident has already caused enough of a disturbance here, and I don’t want…”
“A DISTURBANCE?!” He was on his feet and shouting, now. “MY BROTHER WAS ADMITTED HERE AGAINST HIS WILL AND NOW HE’S DEAD AND YOU THINK IT’S JUST SOME KIND OF INCONVENIENCE FOR YOU?!”
Calvin, who, until this point, Dingo wouldn’t have fingered for the death of a housefly, was now about to jump across the massive oak desk. The door opened and two gigantic orderlies burst in. One of the goons, who looked like he could have been a sumo wrestler, held a syringe, and the other, a very tall Viking (if Dingo had to guess the ancestry) held some restraints.
“Is everything alright, Dr. Carpenter?” The sumo wrestler asked, raising his syringe toward Calvin.
Before Dr. Carpenter had the chance to respond, Dingo was on his feet and positioned between the goons and Calvin. With uncanny speed he produced his stiletto switchblade knife and held the tip toward the sumo’s throat. “Hey, Leon,” he said, looking at sumo’s name tag. “You poke him, I poke you.”
“Mr. Roy!” Dr. Carpenter shouted.
“It’s Dingo, goddamnit!” he shouted back. “Look, bitch, I know the law, and I know that you can’t detain someone like this. You’d try to explain it by saying my client was acting irrationally, but see, I’d testify that he’s a man who just lost his brother, and that there’s absolutely nothing about his behavior that’s abnormal right now. Then you’d try to say that I’m assaulting ol’ Leon here, but the problem there, is that it’s entirely reasonable for me to assume my client is in danger right now, and for me to step in to try and save his life. And that’s fine if you want to do it that way. It will all happen weeks from now in a court room, and you might even get away with it, but not before I bleed Leon and Eric both, and if you thought Mr. Blair’s brother caused a disturbance around here, well…”
By this time, Leon had dropped the syringe, and Eric – the other orderly – was backing up with his hands in the air.
“Yeah!” Dingo said, turning his head toward the doctor while keeping his eyes on the surrendering goons. “See, minimum wage or whatever bullshit you pay these guys may be enough to keep them quiet, but it seems like it’s not enough for them to want to bleed for you. You should probably ask for some more funding.”
Everyone was still and quiet for a moment, then, in one fluid motion, Dingo snapped his stiletto shut and put it back in his pocket. “Come on, Calvin,” he said. “Let’s go see your brother.”
Leon and Eric followed at a slight distance as Dingo and Calvin made their way off of the Pinebluff grounds. Once they were back in Calvin’s BMW, Calvin looked at Dingo and started sobbing. “Thank you!” He said, between sniffles and gasps.
“It’s nothing,” Dingo said. “I don’t trust that twonk as far as I can throw her, and I don’t buy her goddamn story. Before we go, though, I need to know, would Ben have actually killed himself?”
“No,” Calvin said. “He was an artist, but he wasn’t depressed. His art was about finding the beauty in the world, not obsessing over pain.”
“People with depression can sometimes hide it really well.” Dingo countered. “I just needed to make sure.”
“He didn’t kill himself.” Calvin said. “And if he did, he would have left me a note. He wouldn’t leave me without any explanation.”
“Okay,” Dingo said, “Then let’s get to the morgue so you can say goodbye and start making arrangements.”
Ben’s body lay on the cold steel slab that the mortician had pulled out. He was covered in a blue sheet and when the mortician pulled it back, the ligature marks on Ben’s neck were immediately apparent.
Calvin looked for a moment, then turned toward the door and vomited into a large garbage can. Dingo tried to comfort him, but a woman in scrubs came in and said, “Mr. Blair, we have a restroom right down here if you’d like to come with me.” She escorted Calvin out of the room and the mortician began to cover Ben’s body back up. “Hang on a sec,” Dingo said. “I need to ask you a favor.”
When he came out of the morgue, Dingo saw Calvin sitting on a bench in the hallway. “You okay?” He asked.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” Calvin said. “Ben was the only family I had left. He was…” he started shaking again, and put his head in his hands.
“We’re gonna figure this out.” Dingo said. He put his hand on Calvin’s back for a moment. “We’ll figure it out. I did ask the mortician if there was a note in his effects, and he said he didn’t see one. So, it may take some time, but we’ll get it sorted.”
While Calvin tried to compose himself, Dingo took out his phone and texted Mert.
Dingo: I need ur help. Really.
Mert: Fuck off.
Dingo: I think I’m onto something big here.
Mert: I told you to drop it.
Dingo: Look, forget what I said about Africa earlier. This is different.
Mert: New case? You promise?
Dingo: Yeah. Client’s brother Benjamin Blair was found hanged in his room at Pinebluff this morning.
Mert: Pinebluff? A looney got too depressed and hung himself. Case closed.
Dingo: Not so fast. Brother’s sure if a suicide there would have been a note. Can u do some digging?
Mert: OMG I hate you.
Dingo: Put it on my tab.
Dingo and Calvin walked back into Dingo’s apartment/office. Calvin sat by Dingo’s desk, still very shaken up. As Dingo fed Barney, Calvin asked, “So what do we do now?”
“Now we wait for Mert.” Dingo said. “Look, Calvin,” he continued, “I know this has been a bitch of a day for you, and I am gonna figure this out, but um…” Dingo paused and considered how to make his next statement without coming off as a total dick, but almost immediately gave up. “You see, the thing is, we’ve spent more than eight hours on this today, and I, uh, I have this thing about working overtime, so…”
“Oh,” Calvin said. “I see. Um, of course. I guess I’ll just… uh, go home then.”
Dingo sighed and said, “Look, do you have anyone at home to help you out?”
“No,” Calvin said. “I live alone, and Ben was… well, like I said he was my only…” he turned around, obviously trying to hide the tears.
“Alright,” Dingo said. “As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, I’m utter shit at playing the caring role, so I don’t know how much help I’ll be to you, but I’ve got a friend who might be able to look after you for the night. Besides, I’m not so sure you’d be safe by yourself at home. Why don’t you follow me to his place.”
“Are you sure?” Calvin asked. “Don’t you want to call him first?”
“Oh most definitely not.”
Cuddles answered the door and looked at Dingo and Calvin suspiciously.
“Hey buddy,” Dingo said. “This is Calvin. He just lost his brother. He’s gonna stay with you tonight.”
Cuddles opened his mouth to say something in protest, but no words came before Dingo had pushed past him and was dragging Calvin toward the couch. “This is the couch,” he said to Calvin. “You’ll be sleeping here. The extra blankets are in the closet in the hallway, and the bathroom is the door just beyond that. Cuddles usually has moon pies in the cupboard above the fridge, but he’s kind of a diva despite his bearish appearance and so there won’t be anything else you don’t have to spend an hour watching Food Network to prepare in there.”
“Dingo!” Cuddles said. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I told you. Calvin needs to stay here tonight.”
“Yes. I got that part. Why does he need to stay here?”
“Because I already put in eight hours and he needs a place to crash after just losing his brother and I’m shite at taking care of people and you could use the company and…”
“Okay, look. He’s a client. We found out this afternoon that his brother died at Pinebluff last night. The head doctor there is about as crooked as a certain orange former President, and I had to use Reba to get out of there today, otherwise I’m pretty sure that both he and I would be sleeping with the loonies tonight. I can’t have him at my place, and he sure as hell can’t be alone at his place. He’s really very polite, and I’m pretty sure he’s even housebroken. I’ll come get him in the morning.”
“You pulled a knife on hospital staff?!” Cuddles asked. “Does Mert know?”
“Self-defense; and no, Mert doesn’t know yet. Haven’t gotten that far.”
Cuddles sighed. “Okay he can stay for tonight, but you’d better get this shit figured out, Dingo. This ain’t the old days anymore. She can’t just go bailing you out like she used to.”
“I know.” Just then he felt his phone vibrate. “Speaking of my devilish benefactor…” he said.
Cuddles took Calvin by the arm while Dingo checked his phone. “I am so sorry for your loss,” he said. “And for my friend’s lack of any semblance of decorum. You don’t need to sleep on the couch. You can take my bed and I’ll sleep out here. Let’s go get you settled in.”
Dingo stayed in the living room and read the message from Mert.
Mert: Why are u still involved in this after I told u to back off? This is serious Dingo. U could be in some really serious shit here, and ur gonna get us both locked up or worse.
Dingo: I told u… this is separate. What did you find?
Mert: Separate my ass. I talked to the guard at the gate of Pinebluff – old army buddy – and he said there was a note.
Dingo: What? He did kill himself? How does that make this related to the other thing?
Mert: <.jpeg file>
Dingo looked at his phone and saw a picture of a note scrawled in red. It only said the following:
Gonna take a lot to take me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I blessed the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have.
To be continued…