Hair of the Dog.
“Lo siento, señor,” the shy, apologetic housekeeper said from behind the ornate wrought iron security gate guarding the entrance to the humongous Mediterranean style home. “Yo no vi este perro”.
“You sure you haven’t seen this little dog?” Fish held the reprint of the animal rights group’s ad up to the wrought iron grill again. “Esta usted seguro?”
The housekeeper took a second look and nodded.
“Si, señor. Seguro.”
Fish shrugged. What the hell, Mr. Foo bailed out of the Mercedes a week or so ago. So the chances of finding the dog this way were bound to be about as good as former President Dubya becoming the next big yearly grand champion on Jeopardy. Uhh, Alex…My answer is, what are the axles of evil?
“Well, thanks for your help. Uh, muchas gracias para su ayuda.”
He started the morning early, putting in similar visits at the dozen or so houses on either side of Sunset at the intersection where Mr. Foo had suddenly decided to take a stroll.
And got the same answer at every one of them.
Houses? Fish shook his head as he walked back to his car.
Christ, his Malibu cliff top barrio was a long, long way from austere. But each of these mausoleums was a huge, tasteless monument to obscenely conspicuous consumption.
It was as if each owner had said to their decorator, “Give me a place the Beverly Hillbillies would look at and wonder what the hell I’ve been smoking”.
Fish unlocked the Surveillance Mobile’s door, tossed his corduroy sports jacket on the back seat and climbed in.
Being self employed and answerable to no one except maybe Einstein and Kenny, on any other morning he would have simply jumped on his scoot, had a great time with the curves along Sunset Boulevard and the hell with what anybody thought.
But knowing the kind of neighborhood in which he was going to be nosing around, common sense told him discretion was the better part of not spooking the help and possibly winding up repeating his client’s recent encounter with the local constabulary.
So, earlier that morning Fish fought his way into his one business suit – the one he saved for the occasional appearance in court. Then he pulled his hair back into a ponytail, rolled down the sleeves of his dress shirt to cover his tattoos and went into the garage, where the Surveillance Mobile sat in the darkness of one of the far corners.
Quietly humming an old Grateful Dead tune, he crossed his fingers and turned the ignition key. Even though it hadn’t been run in a couple of fiscal quarters, the car fired right up and despite his misgivings over temporarily abandoning his usual modes of attire and transportation, Fish broke into a huge beatific smile as he backed out of the garage, still humming his song.
The vehicle was a marvel of advanced stealthy engineering and design, a five year-old gold colored Toyota Camry sedan that was all but invisible in traffic and blended in perfectly, parked at the curb of any neighborhood Fish, Einstein and Kenny would ever have to stake out.
And at a little over seven grand and bought used through the Penny Saver, it was considerably cheaper than the two billion per the Air Force was shelling out for their stealthy playthings.
* * *
It was five minutes to noon as Fish eased the Surveillance Mobile to a halt in Charlie’s driveway. In the eight minutes it took to drive over from the last house he visited, he had managed to tear off his tie, roll up both sleeves and unfasten the rubber band holding his ponytail together.
It was a definite improvement, but a far cry from the T-shirt, torn and faded old jeans and black leather Harley Davidson vest he was used to.
Fish quickly walked across the driveway and up to the front door, hoping that no one he knew would drive by and spot him. Taped to the door was a note written on a sheet of “Your Uncle in the Diamond Business” stationery.
“FISH, SORRY I COULDN’T BE HERE, BUT A FAMILY EMERGENCY CAME UP. I DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE YOUR MONEY OUT IN THE OPEN, SO LOOK UNDER THE POTTED PLANT NEXT TO THE DOOR MAT. LET’S TALK LATER.”
The note was signed, Charlie Kipniss.
Right, Fish chuckled as he shook his head. As if some other Charlie Kipniss was going to forge a note for him telling exactly where to find the money he was so afraid to leave unhidden.
What a putz.
Kipniss might not have been a Mensa candidate, but his word was good. Fish opened the envelope he found under the specified flowerpot. Inside was a cashier’s check, drawn on a local business bank and made out to him, in the amount of twenty thousand dollars.
He folded the check in half, placed it in his shirt pocket, and then set the large and heavy flowerpot back where he had found it and stood up.
Then from behind, he heard the unmistakable sound of a round being chambered into a large caliber automatic.
“Freeeze…muthah fuck…uhhh…” the calmly spoken command carried all the menace of a man used to delivering it on a regular basis.
It also had the same kind of charmingly breathless delivery as the late Marilyn Monroe, which made Fish wonder if maybe he had stumbled into some Billy Wilder movie gone a little bit sideways.
“Hey, you’re the boss,” he replied, raising his hands and slowly turning around.
A large, black Caddy Escalade was parked behind the Surveillance Mobile, blocking its escape, and every one of the huge SUV’s side windows were tinted almost opaque, so there was no way of knowing who was inside.
Just like there was no way of missing the oversized, expressionless man in the black Armani suit and shades, shielding himself behind the opened driver’s door and pointing .45 caliber worth of SIG-Sauer automatic at what would have easily passed for Fish’s center mass at any target range in the country.
“Don’t make…any sudden…moooves…” he commanded, sounding exactly like the former Mrs. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, in one of her scenes from River of No Return.
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Hey!” The rear window on the passenger side silently slid down. “What’s a guy have to do to get a little ‘thank you’ for a referral, huh?”
The door opened and all five feet and three inches of Hesh Lipshitz jumped out, laughing like this was old home week.
“Fish, you tattooed, degenerate son of a bitch!” he yelled, walking across the driveway to give the man a hug. “How’s it hangin’, beach bum?”
“Everything was fine,” Fish smiled in spite of himself. “Then I ran into you, scumbag.”
Most scumbag lawyers spend their lives cultivating the opposite image.
But not Hesh; he celebrated it, reveling in his hard-won label.
And winning was everything.
He even had personalized license plates made up for the Escalade, which read SCUMBAG.
“Here, I want you to meet someone,” he said to Fish. “This is Leon, my head of security.”
“Hey,” Fish nodded to the expressionless man in the dark suit and shades, who had already replaced his gun in the holster under his armpit. He returned Fish’s greeting with a non-committal nod and went back to impassively eyeballing the neighborhood for signs of anything out of the ordinary.
Fish shot Hesh a quizzical look, in the back of his mind fracturing one of Bogart’s more timeless lines from the movie, Casablanca. Of all the driveways in all the neighborhoods in LA, what the hell brings you to this one right now?
“I live next door,” Hesh answered before Fish could get the question past his vocal cords. “Spotted you when Leon was picking me up, so I thought I’d stop by and say hi.”
“OK, hi. And thanks for the referral.”
“Hey, what are friends for?” Lipshitz smiled.
“I’ve already got friends, Hesh. People I’d trust with my life. And the last time I checked, your name wasn’t on the list.”
Like a lot of Angelenos, Fish earned his law degree the hard way, spending four years working in a restaurant kitchen by day, while he went to law school at night. He graduated close to the top of his class, with a love for the law and a passionate belief in its ability to safeguard and uphold the rights of man. After passing the California Bar Exam on his first try he was recruited by Uptight, Rigid, Repressed & Larcenous as an associate, and assigned to work under Herschel Lipshitz. Having recently made partner, Lipshitz was the firm’s rock star, a loud and flamboyant barrister who specialized in defending individuals and corporate clients whose allegiances to their stockholders and investors were always a lot stronger than they were to the letter and spirit of the law.
Five years later, Fish was sitting outside the firm’s conference room, waiting to give the management committee his answer on their offer of a partnership. By now he was thoroughly disgusted with Uptight, Rigid, Repressed & Larcenous’ approach to the law in general. And if he didn’t get away from Hesh’s personality and lack of ethics soon, there was a good chance he’d end up in court himself, for committing scumbag-icide. Fish took a seat at the conference table and grinned while he rolled up his sleeves, giving the firm’s managing partners their first look at the tattoos that covered both his arms.
He crumpled their offer letter in his fist and said, “Y’know, most of you assholes could use a good suppository.”
Then he chuckled, tossed the wad of paper on the table and added, “Here, why don’t you guys use this?”
“Your loss, pal.” Hesh shrugged, unfazed by Fish’s put-down about being one of his friends. “So, you think you can help my client?”
“Not really sure,” Fish answered. “The dog’s already been gone a week.” He looked back at Casa de Kipniss for a second, then returned to his non-friend. “Look, I know Charlie is pretty upset about all this. The girlfriend, too. But – “
“Who, Bryana?” Hesh interrupted, laughing. “She’s some piece of work. I take it you haven’t met the lady of the house?”
Fish shook his head.
“Picture a face like an angel,” Hesh answered. “And a body that could get a Hassidic Rabbi to order a BLT.”
A look of grudging respect came over Hesh. “And ambitious? Christ, I bet she’d screw a boulder if she thought there was a warm snake under it.”
“You want to translate that?” Hesh’s metaphor had zoomed right over Fish’s head.
“Tons of ambition. And not a single ounce of morality or conscience,” Hesh explained. “Shame she didn’t go to law school,” he sighed.
“And you know all this because…”
“Because she came over right after Charlie left this morning, and offered to do me in exchange for finding her freakin’ mutt.”