even colonel waters, who had been wheeled in, sniffling and grumbling, by a ferociously scowling nurse jaspers.
the windows had been thrown open to the night.
a wolf howled in the surrounding hills.
clyde took one look around the room and got down to business.
maxwell was seated on the blue divan, nonchalantly murmuring to colette, but turned when he felt clyde’s eyes on him.
“it was a sweet setup, maxwell, “ clyde began, “and you almost got away with it.
everybody was looking for the hinkydink. and they thought they needed the birkenstock to find the hinkydink.
what nobody cottoned to was that the birkenstock was the hinkydink.
how did i figure that out? it was the postcard. the same postcard that seemed to seal the deal once and for all against eberhart. the postcard that was written in red ink - “
suddenly hogan burst into the room.
“clyde! stop right there, old buddy!”
clyde smiled tolerantly. “what is it now, hogan?”
“it’s miss wildwood.”
“you mean you found out where she came from?”
“no, we found her! in a motel in bakersfield - a little buzzed, but alive as you or me.”
“you mean - ?” clyde gasped.
“that’s right. the body in the burned yellow camaro wasn’t her at all - never was. it looks like we all are starting from scratch.”
the people gathered in the room - mrs cora davis, jenny white from the chronicle, colonel waters and nurse jaspers, and of course maxwell - began to snicker and giggle.
maxwell leaned back and let out a loud guffaw. “well, mister clyde, it looks like your carefully constructed case has blown to the proverbial smithereens.” he looked around. “by the way, does anybody know exactly what a smithereen is? no one has ever properly explained it to me.”
mrs cora davis and jenny white laughed out loud.
“so that’s the great clyde…” someone in the back of the room said.
clyde looked down at the cold fireplace. he wished there was a fire in it, and he could jump in it.
his case had been blown to bits like a nest of dead wasps dropped from the top of the taj mahal…
later that morning, in maggie’s diner.
hogan put his coffee cup down. “well, got to run. i am on the public payroll, you know, and have to put in an appearance.” he tossed a half dollar on the counter, and got up.
he slapped clyde on the back, gently. “don’t take it so hard, clyde. today is another day. and you might get another case - some day. ha, ha !”
clyde didn’t look up as hogan went out the door.
neither did the waitress leaning on the counter down by the cash register.
there was no other customers in the place. the waitress, whose name probably wasn’t even ruby, did not come down from the end of the counter to offer clyde any consolation, or to speculate on the unpredictable nature of existence.
it wasn’t like the old days.
so it’s come to this, thought clyde.
the big case - the big case that was going to him back on top -
just another spider web in a hurricane.
just another cat up a tree that was cut down forty years ago.
outside it was a gray day, with the threat of rain.
a cold rain.
there was a quarter of an ounce of coffee in clyde’s cup. did he want to finish it?
or didn’t he?
he couldn’t make up his mind.
behind him, the door opened. the little bell above it jangled.
clyde didn’t turn around.
a shadow fell across his coffee cup.
the guy who had sat down beside him - and who had six other stools and three booths he could have chosen - weighed at least three hundred pounds. and that was without his bowler hat and camels hair coat.
“can’t say that i do.”
“i didn’t think you would, but no harm in asking.”
the waitress appeared. “what will you have?” she asked the newcomer.
“we have more than one special. we have - “
“i’ll have the special with the most calories. i tell you what, i’ll have that and i’ll have the special with the next most calories too, how’s that?”
“that sounds good, mister. coming right up.” the waitress scribbled something on her pad.
“i didn’t think you would remember me,” the stranger said, after the waitress had moved away to hand the order through to the kitchen.
“i give up,” clyde told him. “who are you?”
“pleased to meet you, randy,”
“ha, ha! but you don’t remember me?”
“i am sorry, i don’t.”
“walter j abbott elementary school in springfield, ohio?”
“see - i told you you wouldn’t remember me.”
“and you were right.”
randy peterson smiled, but fell silent when the waitress brought him a cup of coffee and a big plate of toast as the first installment on his two specials.
“but i’ve been following you, clyde,” randy resumed, when the waitress departed again.
“following me? clyde looked up.
“ha, ha! i mean following your storied career in the papers. not following you down the street, ducking behind doorways, ha ha!”
“oh.” clyde looked back down in his coffee cup.
“i kept track of all the famous cases you were involved in - the silver walrus case, the beheaded peanut case, all of them. one in particular - the redheaded buzzard case, i had my own views. i am not so sure you got it right.”
“i think all those cases are closed,” clyde said.
“oh, i know that. i didn’t follow you here to talk about old cases.”
the waitress came back with a plate heaped with pancakes and put it down in front of randy peterson.
“thank you, sweetheart.” randy grabbed his fork and prepared to attack the pancakes. “don’t worry, clyde, i will get to the point.”
mike did not express any great surprise when eddie showed up at his door, although they had not seen each other for twenty-two years.
“remember me?” eddie asked.
mike nodded. “eddie. how you been?”
it was just starting to get dark. the street behind eddie was deserted. mike’s house was a run down one story. it looked like it might never have been painted at all. the little patch of land in front of it was all dirt, no grass.
mike’s ten year old chevy pickup was parked in a driveway. it had a new coat of green paint.
the other houses on the street looked abandoned. there were no vehicles parked in front or beside any of them.
mike looked up and down the street. either eddie had walked, or whoever drove him had taken off.
“can i come in?” eddie asked.
“oh, yeah, sure.” mike backed up and waved eddie in.
a hall led into a kitchen, the only room with a light on.
eddie looked around. the kitchen was not too dirty. there were some clean dishes stacked neatly beside the sink.
a girl was sitting in a chair beside the kitchen table. she looked about fifteen. she was naked, and bound firmly to the chair with elaborately knotted ropes. she had something in her mouth - a rag or a ball, with a gag tying it in.
eddie looked at her. “i hope i’m not interrupting anything.”
“no, she can wait. she’s not going anywhere.”
“same old mike.”
mike shrugged. “some things never get old. “ he sat down across from the girl, in the only other chair. “so what can i do for you, my friend? you want something to drink? all i got is beer.”
“i’ll take a beer.”
“help yourself.” mike nodded at a small refrigerator behind eddie.
eddie took a can of schlitz out of the refrigerator and popped it.
mike relaxed in his chair. “i repeat, what can i do for you?”
“you heard from phil lately? phil winters?”
“phil winters? are you kidding? he’s been dead for eighteen years. i ought to know, i killed him.”
“maybe you did, but he’s alive again.”
“you don’t say so?”
“yeah, this new technology, you know.”
mike nodded. “i heard about it. i didn’t know anybody was using it on a bum like phil winters.”
eddie took a sip of the schlitz. “maybe he wasn’t such a bum as we thought.”
“no?’ you mean he was connected? to who? i don’t remember anybody giving a shit when i killed him.”
“it looks like he was rich. his folks had money.”
mike slammed the table. “i knew it! i always suspected it. there was just something about him. damn! we should have kidnapped his faggot ass and held him for ransom.”
eddie nodded. “well, that was then and this is now.”
“so what does he want now? is he looking for me?”
“i don’t know what he’s looking for, but some people are looking for him.”
“where do you come in?” mike asked.
“they asked me to look for him. they’d make it worth my while, all that.”
“yeah, right. damn, this is a lot to take in.” mike closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “all this new stuff, it’s just too much for me sometimes.”
with a glance at the girl, eddie slipped something out of his back pocket.
what mike did not suspect was that “eddie” was not really eddie at all. he was mal-dor, an agent of the tricanean trans-time empire, and that the girl in the chair was the princess aleaaa of the house of nor, whom he had been commissioned to rescue.
eddie pressed the little gray disc he had in his hand, and a bolt of blue flame dissolved mike’s guts into a quickly cooling pink puddle of fuzz…
turning the gray disc over, mal-dor used it to quickly cut away the princess’s bonds and gag.
“whew! i thought you would never get here.”
“everything was under control.”
“that’s easy for you to say. did you have to spend so much time jabbering with him?”
“i was probing his brain - seeing if he knew anything.”
“and did he?”
“do you care? “
“not really. why don’t you get me one of those beers? i’m thirsty.”
“are you crippled? get it yourself. and let’s get out of here.”
“my arms and legs are all numb from being tied up.”
mal-dor took a can of schlitz out of the refrigerator and gave it to the princess. “now let’s go.”
“have you got a ship?”
“no, i walked from clavon-7. of course, i have a ship, it’s right around the corner. can you walk, or do i have to carry you?”
“i can walk, big boy. just wait until i find my clothes.”
forty-eight hours later. dusk was falling again.
dolan and jefferson looked down at mike’s body.
“look at that hole, will you?” jefferson shook his head. “ i know it’s nice and clean in its way, but it gives me the creeps. give me a good old-fashioned bullet wound with pus and guts and maggots.”
“it’s time’s like this,” jefferson continued, “i wish i was back in the andes, chasing pancho garcia.”
dolan rolled his eyes. he had heard it all a thousand times before. “let’s look for some kind of bullet.”
“you know there’s not going to be no bullet.”
“there’s a hole in front of him and a hole in back, ain’t there? regulation says we look for a projectile, which we will either find or not. so let’s do it, soldier boy, and get it over with.”
“all right, all right. i just hope we get back in time for the game.” jefferson looked around. “is there a tv in this place?”