“I don’t typically investigate cases of missing dogs.” Being polite, pleasant even, as I took information from the young woman, an art student.
“My puppy’s name was Lady,” she said through her hand, elbow on a hip. She invited me into her apartment, minimally furnished with Swedish mail-order. A somewhat older male was busy being minimal on the sofa, eyes at half-mast.
“Was Lady spayed?” I scratched at paper.
“Lady was a boy…” Interjected he from the couch. I looked at him. He was reading a newspaper upside down, eyes still to half-mast, and fixed on a location over my shoulder.
Pointing to the faker on the couch, I asked “What is your friend’s name?”
“That’s Lanny! He’s no’ my friend…he’s my lover…” The woman said, accent on ‘love,’ as she hugged herself and bit her lip. “Anyways…” she continued as I observed, “…Lady was gone, gone when I got home from work las’ night.” I decided her inability to completely pronounce words was an affectation, rather than an impediment of speech. Later I would add to this that it was a means of not discussing that which was uncomfortable, or should be hidden from conversation, rather like a writer who over-uses the ellipsis as means of concealing a hidden thesis.
She showed me to a wooly dog’s bed, in a corner of the room, which reeked of dog piss. Our movement to the other side of the room took Lanny some seconds to fix with his eyes, and even then Lanny was only partly committed to looking at anything. “My stef’ather’s gonna pay your bill…you guys charge lots for this.”
“Where do you work, Tanja?” I was looking at her ear, as she’d turned her head to see what Lanny was about. She worked at a restaurant of some note. She worked nights. There was an easel, and a drawing table, each with art which appeared half-done, arranged around the perimeter of the main room.
“You a waitress?” I asked.
“No…I’m a server. Wha’s that to do with Lady?” I’d irritated her. Probably not for the first time. I changed the subject.
“Why’d you name your dog ‘Lady,’ Tanja?” I didn’t particularly care.
“It’s cause my favorite movie when I was a kid was ‘Lady and the Tramp,’ when I was a bebe.” She utter it in a faked French accent. Thirty seconds later Lanny emitted something akin to a laugh, and discarded the upside down LA Weekly.
“An’ when I got home las’ night it was gone, Lady was gone, an’ all.” She hugged herself again and mustered the intellect to predict my next question “Lanny went to a show…din’t ge’ home until a ways after me.’
“Oh?” The most open of open-ended questions was answered with facts other than those sought.
“Yeah…things happen here at The Titanic, Mister Detective.” She hugged herself again, looking almost pretty, and gazed up at me. “The lock musta been picked…or something.” Or something.
“Why do you call this place ‘the titanic,’ Tanja?”
Couch boy unslouched, took to his bare feet and emitted “Because! It’s going DOWN…” and punctuated his explanation with a wan smile.
She signed my standard Release and Authority, so I could commence. Lanny walked with us to the door, and offered his drippy hand. The tattoo on his palm of a wide open human eye was hard to ignore.
On my way down the stairs I passed a battered door with a battered tin sign which announced ‘Manager.’ Having reached the ground landing, I looked over my shoulder, feeling eyes, and I saw the Manager’s Door cocked, open face-width. A man in glasses who looked a boiled-owl scowled out and down, before his hatch slammed shut.
I lingered…looked to the mailboxes, for which there were no name tags, nor functional locks. Tanja’s box was sprung, as it should be. Within was a friendly note from a collection agent, addressed to a Leonard J. Botkin. Lanny.
The Records Section of the Municipal Criminal Court is on the third floor, with a counter like a bank or the Post Office. I didn’t recognize the bored woman behind the counter, but her attitude was familiar…minimally helpful.
From my records search I learned Lanny had a series of criminal cases involving possession of narcotics and petty theft.
After lunch, I ventured by the Department of Animal Control, and was greeted at their counter by a beefy woman in khaki uniform and a badge which advertised her position as a Humane Officer. She wore a utility belt, like Batman…a baton, taco sauce, handcuffs, radio, etc. A rape whistle decorated her pocket.
I smiled to her, which didn’t work. When I unraveled the Release and Authority bearing the Art Student’s signature, authorizing my investigation into the disappearance of a dog named Lady, the Humane Officer checked the wall clock, adjusted her batman belt, looked over her shoulder at someone eating lunch, and looked back at me. “What’s this thing?”
“I am here to see if you might have a dog here, one removed from the residence of a client.” My best sally.
“We don’t cooperate with PIs, mister.” She adjusted her belt, again, and felt for the gun that wasn’t there.
The remainder of my daylight was filled with other matters…the bank, the Post Office, a few calls. After the last of the sun had filtered through dusty windows, I called Animal Control. Their recording was on.
Then I called the Watch Commander’s Desk at the Police Department. After the fourteenth ring, a tired man answered “Yeah?”
“Animal Control’s night number….you got it?” I kept quiet.
“Hang on.” I could hear paper rustling, phones ringing, a radio call.
He gave me the night number…the one the cops use to call Animal Control when she with the beefy hips was off-duty.
I rang it. No answer. Dinner. A shower. I rang it again.
“Animal Control…” Another tired voice.
“We have an issue at the apartment, 77 North Raymond. Have you responded to any calls at that address?” A good question.
“Several…past couple of weeks. What’s at issue?” He still sounded tired.
“Anything involving a young dog?” I held my breath.
“Yeah…several calls about a dog or puppy crying. Hang on.”
I waited. Checked my watch. Waited more. Weighed my balls.
“Apartment 17, second floor. Eleven calls from different tenants about a dog crying, all hours of the night.”
“Thanks.” I fell asleep reading a book about Groucho Marx.
The next morning, I fell by The Titanic, early. There was a utility closet next to the laundry room and the boiler. Paint, a mop bucket, rolls of screen, old toilet plungers. And a spade.
The building had a pleasant backyard…picnic bench, a flower garden, an expanse of green lawn. Next to a bush was a patch, a lumpy patch, of earth which had been recently spaded. Loose, lumpy…a grave.
Over the next days I went over the names of the tenants who had complained to Animal Control about Lady, including the manager. I didn’t like any of them, particularly, in the sense that none seemed to stand out as he capable of killing a juvenile dog.
Lanny was a junkie, and a mope. But no crimes of violence. My best guess was The Manager…he with keys to get in when no one is home. He who would have to entertain the complaints of tenants. Him I liked.
My mail that day included a note from my bank. Tanja had stopped payment on my retainer. She didn’t answer her phone.
When I arrived, Tanja was on the curb, a bag packed.
“How are you, Tanja?” I smiled to her.
“Oh…Mister Detective. Wha’s going on?”
“I got a note from the bank. You stopped payment on the check, Tanja.” I had a hand on my side, and looked to the Art Student as would Picasso to a model who refused his order to disrobe.
“Yeah, I know about that. My stef’ather said I could spen’ the money to go to Gstad!” She pronounced the ‘g’ after having dropped so many other consonants.
“Oh? That’s nice, Tanja. Where’s Lanny?”
“Lanny coulnt go…he gets sick when we travel.” I’ll bet Lanny does.
I bade Tanja a good trip and collected my fee from her stepfather. But for the clients, this is not too bad a business. Case closed.
© Copyright 2013 Nils Grevillius. All rights reserved.
First employed in a saloon at age 13, Nils Grevillius gravitated toward the night at a young age. Later a soldier, Pinkerton Detective and polemecist, Grevillius is best known in Metropolitan Los Angeles for his work on the Wonderland Avenue murder case. He is the author of A City of Devils and Sub Rosa, two novellas featuring Luke Fitz, Pasadena’s only unindicted private eye.