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Sample Chapter: Herr Schnoodle & McBee

Herr Schnoodle & McBee~ Chapter 1 ~

Scrambling over garbage cans, Alexander McBee climbed up on the dividing fence, and dropped, bent over, breathing hard.

McBee’s heart pounded. He felt the exertion in every muscle of his body. “Barely forty and you’re unfit as hell,” he muttered when his breath caught up with him again. He didn’t think of himself as lazy. He just didn’t believe in sweat.

His first case in a month and already screwing up, but what the hey ... he was trying, wasn’t he?

“Hey, jerk! You tailing me?” The hoarse whisper sounded alarmingly close to his ear.

McBee pivoted, ready to get in a few licks until he recognized the voice of the sleazy bookie he had followed for days. So much for undercover.

“Yeah, I’m following you.”

It was hard slowing his gasps to somewhere near normal, noting the other fellow was not even breathing hard.

“What the hell for?” Blackjack snarled. “I paid you a deposit and you screwed up the big bucks. You were supposed to watch Marie, not me, you jerk!”

Private eye work could get complicated. When had he decided to switch from shadowing Marie to watching her husband?

“Lay off the name calling,” Mac said with what he liked to think of as cold menace in his voice. When he finally managed to straighten up he stood at least a head taller than this creep. A definite advantage. The optimism didn’t last long.

 

Herr Schnoodle & McBee

Blackjack flexed his arms. A switchblade fell into a waiting palm. The man tapped it lightly against the side of his own cheek in a calculated gesture of intimidation.

“I asked a question. Why follow me?”

Mac fumbled in his jacket pocket, drawing out a pack of photos, extending them without speaking.

The street noises funneled into the alley, but Mac’s ears closed as if in a vacuum. The only sound coming his way was Blackjack shuffling the photos.

 Suddenly a loud squalling tore the air between the two men and they both jumped. Mac looked down to see if he still had his socks and loafers on. Both men grinned self-consciously as the cats quarreled in the dumpster.

“What’s this all about?” Blackjack hit the pictures with the flat of his blade.

Mac swallowed and tried to tower over the fellow. He decided towering was not easy with a switchblade close to your face. He dropped back on his heels and forced himself to relax.

“It means the cops have all the evidence they need to bust you for aggravated assault. I took the shots the last time you beat up Marie—and got statements from the neighbors. If that won’t do it, I know about Babette, your tootsie you got set up on the other side of the city. Marie’s going to take you to court and you’ll lose everything but your Fruit of the Looms.”

“Tootsie?” Blackjack’s gravelly voice rose an octave in outraged disbelief. “Tootsie? Are you in some kind of time warp or something?”

McBee studied the ground a moment. Maybe he should quit watching those old detective movies on late night TV. He thought they’d help him get a feel for this profession.

 

Herr Schnoodle & McBee

“Whatever. You’re missing the point.”

Blackjack’s scorn progressed to a mask of hostility.

“McBee, you’re a dirty dealing double crosser. Marie’s messing around on me. Everyone on the street knows that. I hired you to ...”

“Yeah?” Mac interrupted the tirade before the little man could build up a head of steam. Where short tempers were the norm, the neighborhood regarded Blackjack’s awesome temper with unparalleled respect.

The bookie’s narrow, pale face showed puzzlement. “But why? I paid good.”

“Yeah, well—here’s your money.” Mac extended a handful of bills, mostly singles, hoping Blackjack wouldn’t bother counting it.

“Aw save it for your old age if you’re lucky enough to have one.” Blackjack muttered with uncharacteristic generosity. “Just answer my question. Why?”

Mac shrugged, not sure what to answer and waited, expression carefully blank.

Marie deserved something better than this worm, for sure. She had a boyfriend, true enough, a legless Nam vet who painted pictures. Weeks ago, he’d watched them together as she wheeled him through the park. Their devotion was unmistakable.

Mac had warned them of Blackjack’s suspicions. He recalled the thrill of pulling the roll of thirty-five millimeter film out of his camera and tossing it in the nearby litter can. He had seen that dramatic gesture at least a hundred times in the late movies and had always wanted to do it.

Blackjack raised his arm and the knife slid back into his sleeve. Mac wondered what a good sneeze would do to his sweat glands with the sharp end pointed up like that.

 

Herr Schnoodle & McBee

“Hell, I don’t give a damn what Marie does,” Blackjack snarled. “She’s lousy in bed, anyway. I’m heading for Vegas tomorrow. Make sure our paths don’t cross again—jerk!”

Watching the wiry, thin man saunter off, Mac considered his evaporated fee. Owning a license—reading “Alexander McBee, Private Investigator”—hadn’t put many groceries on the table so far.

His problem started when he flew into the face of family tradition to become a tax accountant after college. He should have given up and joined the police force as his father and grandfather expected he would do. Call it stubborn, call it over-reacting, rebelling was the most important thing in his life at the time.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot—he detested working with figures. He still hated to admit he’d chosen the profession his father would oppose the most.

He should be tooling around in a fancy car, preferably a shiny red convertible—strictly low profile, of course. He should have nubile lovelies standing in line for his attention. Excitement should lurk in every corner. Damn it, he’d counted on it happening! He watched reruns of Magnum over and over to capture that Mr. Cool persona.

* * * * *

The late afternoon turned to dusk as McBee ambled along the littered streets. In absentminded distaste, he kicked away the blowing papers that clung to his trousers. Last week a paper loaded with squiggly jelly from the donut cart had landed against his leg. He couldn’t afford another cleaning bill.

When he passed shopkeepers in front of their stores, sometimes they nodded, but none spoke to him. McBee’s glance flickered into a doorway and took in the snoozing wino, his thoughts not registering the details. Was he invisible like that man?

Sometimes he had the feeling he’d been invisible all his life. People saw him, spoke to him sometimes—but did anyone ever see beyond his baby blues? He didn’t think so. His thoughts carried him beyond his usual walk and toward the docks, unmindful of the dark corners with suspicious lumps of humanity lying along the wharf. Spaced out with drugs or liquor, they too were untouched by his presence. He felt lulled by the lap-lap of the murky water as he kicked at a stray can to break the monotony.

 

Herr Schnoodle & McBee

Life chugged along in slow motion. This wasn’t how it should be. Sure, he was better off than them. He watched a particularly repulsive bum cradling a bottle of dago red as if it were his only friend in the world.

But what the hey—that wasn’t a fair comparison. McBee had poured his body and soul into this PI business and it was turning sour on him. He was running out of options.

Something made a low whine as the water slapped louder against the side of the barnacle-encrusted pier.

He took two neatly folded paper towels from his back pocket and laid them on the dock before he knelt and peered over the side. From the fog-shrouded street light he could barely make out a form in the flotsam and jetsam. He smiled at the words springing into his mind. Flotsam and jetsam. In high school they were his two favorite words for weeks until his family banned him from ever saying them again in the house.

The dark mass in the water struggled weakly. A rat? Nope. At least he hoped never to see a rat that big. He bent to get a closer look.

Good Lord! It was a dog!

His first instinct was to turn away. He was sure he’d always been allergic to any creature with fur. They could make him sneeze or break out in ugly hives. If the animal still had any life left, it probably carried bubonic plague from all that dirty water. Mac imagined he saw the whites of the dog’s eyes move. He turned away and then sighed.

Maybe he should haul the beast up and let it expire in peace. Nothing should have to die in water so thick you could dig with a shovel.

Reaching down into the slime, Mac grabbed a handful of fur. His nose clogged with the stench of pollution. The damned animal weighed a ton as he hauled it in and dumped it on the dock. He glanced down at his once neat suit. What a mess. First the jelly donuts, now this. So much for wearing a suit and tie. He should have ignored that particular suggestion from the PI correspondence school’s list of commandments. It hadn’t hurt Magnum to run around in tight jeans and baggy bright shirts.

McBee examined the soggy heap of fur on the dock with distaste tempered with revulsion. It looked like a huge porcupine with bits of floating debris and grease stuck to its coat. Mac bent closer, seeing the heavy rope wrapped around its neck. No damn wonder the dog felt heavy.

He poked the animal with the toe of his shoe, hoping it was beyond caring. No such luck. The tail flopped weakly, spraying a greasy film over the tops of his shoes and the one trouser leg still clean. With that effort expended, the dog’s head fell back and its eyes closed in weary resignation.