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Hair of the Dog

                                                                                                        Chapter 1



Harry reached into his coat and pulled out the envelope. Plastic was far more convenient, but since banks had developed a disturbing tendency to notify the feds every time someone moved any amount over 10K, he preferred the security of cash.

            Chuckling to himself at his own pun, Harry lifted the flap of the envelope and counted the money. A cool 25K, he smiled to himself. The mark never knew what hit him. He should’ve gotten into the insurance racket a long time ago. He tossed the envelope onto his desk where it joined its many friends.

            Harry Reed, of the Michigan Reeds, was a thin-framed little man with a receding hairline and watery blue eyes. After moving west, he started out as a runner for assorted white gangs in the bay area, working his way up the racketeering ladder until he was able to take his place at the top of his own organization. The fact that he had managed that feat through betrayal and blackmail meant nothing to him, but it spoke volumes to those who considered and then rejected the idea of deposing the bantam crime boss. The San Francisco bay’s bottom was littered with a number of skeletons chained to concrete weights as a testament to the ferocity of Harry’s intention to remain in power.

            As he moved through the ranks of corruption, Harry tried his hand at nearly every one of the marketable vices: gambling, drugs, prostitution, unlicensed tobacco and alcohol and so on. At the turn of the millennia that he noticed the really big money was at the corporate level. His assorted businesses netted him about a million a year—nowhere near as much as Shultz’s organization and not even close to Luccesi—but it wasn’t chicken feed either. Then one day he decided to pick up a copy of the city’s business magazine along with his usual Chronicle. The man on the cover was Randall Driver, and when Harry saw the estimated yearly income, he nearly lost his teeth. He was no longer a small fish in a big pond; he wasn’t even in the pond. The man had other people doing all the work for him and he was raking in billions.      

Through a few of his political channels, along with several thousand in bribes, Harry managed to acquire himself a corporation. From there he searched around and located those industries which allowed the greatest degree of theft built into their business models, time-share sales, insurance and stock management. Because of the almost unlimited greed of the bankers, he grew quite fond of hedge funds.

            Even though the greatest amount of graft came in through the stock markets, Harry felt the greatest sense of satisfaction in cheating people out of their insurance settlements. Sure, there were companies stupid enough to hand out awards like they were candy, but to Harry that seemed almost blasphemous, like giving away food and shelter, or treating everyone equally regardless of race, creed or color. That way lay madness.

            His latest acquisition had been particularly satisfying; an old man had been the victim of a theft, several old paintings claimed to be nearly priceless works of an American master supposedly an ancestor of the homeowner. He, through his ‘investigators’, managed to prove to the underwriters that the supposed American Masters were little more than worthless attempts by a hobby painter. Of course, the owner protested the decision, but Harry also had a couple of judges on retainer. His reward for a few minutes work was the rather thick envelope sitting on the pile in the middle of his desk.

            On impulse, he reached across the desk and picked up the envelope. This last one, he mused, was special. He’d had the unique pleasure of watching the old man realize the scam and being able to do nothing about it as he delivered the bad news. Harry stuck the envelope into his pocket and patted it. He was going to go shopping as a celebration, and the old man’s tears would pay the bills.

            The heat began as Harry drew near to his door. He first thought that someone had been messing with the air conditioner. By the time he reached out for the doorknob he was sweating. As he pulled the door open, the fabric of his coat began to smoke and then it burst into flames.

            Harry screamed out in both fright and pain, but ripping off his coat did nothing as the flames erupted from his shirt, pants, and underwear. The heat increased to the point that none of his employees could even get close enough to try to staunch the flames. When the fire finally died out Harry was reduced to a pile of white ash and a few scorch marks indicating where he had laid.

                                                                                           ♦          ♦          ♦

            I put the paper down with a profound sense of ambivalence. The lead story in the Chronicle was about the sudden immolation of old Harry Reed. No great loss there, the man was a notorious cheat, except using the term with Reed was doing a serious disservice to cheats.

            I’m Tony Mandolin. I live and work in San Francisco--Fog City, as it’s lovingly known to the locals, and if you weren’t born here, you ain’t local. When I first got my Private Investigator’s license I was about as green as green can be and the only thing that kept starvation away from the door was my friendship with then police sergeant, Pat Monahan. Pat funneled the odd job and consulting gig my way until I made the mistake of being right when the big boys insisted I was wrong. A city bigwig’s kid was indicted, a councilman was embarrassed and my ass was suddenly grass and every badge in the city, except for Pat, had an extreme case of Mandolinitis.

            It was right about then I discovered my talent for finding things. You know how some people can lose their reading glasses right on their nose? Well, I’m the guy who can find them. Lost kids, cats, dogs, and wallets, it doesn’t matter. If you lost it, I’ll be able to find it. The problem is, an awful lot of the time there’s some folks even more interested in what was lost staying that way. And they tend to get pretty rumpled when someone like me comes along and stirs the pot.

            A few years ago, that pot boiled over and sent me into the world of the weird. Someone had begun killing redheads, one of my favorite flavors, but my tastes don’t lead to leaving behind a corpse. In addition, to bring me to the attention of the city’s mob bosses, it also put me under the microscope of the people at the tip top of the San Francisco food pyramid. When all was said and done Mama Mandolin’s baby boy had a stack of cash, a dead vampire, a house of my own, and an NFL-sized housemate with a penchant for size 16 Louboutin pumps.

            I got up to pour myself another cup of coffee and had to veer to the right to answer the phone. I am a Luddite and proud of it. I don’t have a computer and my phone is one of the old connected to the wall with a cord types. Unlike the new smartphones, this one does one thing and it never breaks.

            I picked up the receiver, “Mandolin.”

            “You read today’s paper?” The gruff voice at the other end of the line belonged to Pat Monahan, now a Metro Captain.

             “Harry Reed, right?”

            I heard Pat take a sip of coffee. He’s the only guy in the city who likes it stronger than me. If it doesn’t dissolve his spoon, he sends it back. “Right,” he sipped again, “You notice anything about how they say he died?”

            I have to admit, I pretty much skimmed the story. Today’s journalists, in my opinion, don’t know the first thing about writing. All they do is jot down a few facts, run it past the editor to make sure it meets with that paper’s agenda and then collect their check. The idea of making it interesting for the reader or actually exploring any of the facts never occurs to them. “Burned to death, I believe. I thought Harry stopped smoking a few years back.”

            Monahan sighed, “At least you’ve grown up enough to not turn that into a sick joke. No, this one has you written all over it. Come to my office after lunch.”

            He didn’t wait for me to agree, he just hung up.

            Greystoke, my German Shepherd, padded into the room, his tail wagging in that way that means either take me for a walk or call for maid service. Breakfast was over with and Frankie was off auditioning for a part in the latest SoMo theatrical spectacle, so I grabbed his leash and hit the sidewalk.

            In my part of the city, an older neighborhood with some Vickies that survived the 1906 quake, most folks have some form of family pet. Over the past year or so Greystoke had made friends with a couple of poodles, an English bulldog, a few undistinguishable mutts and a great Dane. Of course, he’s had his share of staredowns as well. So far, the only one he hasn’t been able to back down is a Tibetan Mastiff by the name of Fluffy. The dog is roughly the size of a black bear. I have no proof, but I think the owner just leaves it out in the yard and lets it feed on burglars.

            After that first meeting, I decided to make sure our walks took us on a route away from Fluffy’s house. That dog’s bark could break windows.

            I was also looking forward to getting out of the house a bit. Last year I had a case that finished up with a full blown war between the mob and a demigod right on my front lawn. It had only been a couple of weeks since the neighbors had decided I wasn’t going to be bringing the apocalypse down on their heads. Not to mention that I’d wound up gotten myself bitten by a baby werewolf. Don’t ask.

            There’s a small park across the street from my house with the appropriate doggie doo station next to the sidewalk. I collected the necessaries and after checking to make sure no rivals were in sight, let the boy loose to run.

            Greystoke took off at a full run, barked, and made a cut to the right that would have made Frank Gore green with envy. He made another cut to the left and then ran a high-speed circle that covered the entire diameter of the grass. A couple of his mutt friends ran across the park to join him and soon a game of chase was in play.

            As I watched Greystoke romp with his buddies, I heard a growl behind me. I turned, assorted exclamations bouncing through my head, none of them appropriate for publication.

I should have used stronger language. It was the mastiff, and he did not seem to be in the same jovial mood as the other dogs.

            If you’ve ever seen one of those documentaries on the wolf’s domesticated cousin, and if you paid attention, you probably learned about the body language of man’s best friend. A dog that’s feeling good and wants to play with you usually crouches and wags his tail held high. A dog interested in bumming a snack or a pet more often than not will sit down and look up expectantly with his mouth either closed or panting. Teeth never really come into the picture.

            This dog was not wagging, or sitting, or panting. No, this one was decked in a more growly, toothy motif. Not something you really want to see up close and personal, especially if said dog is about twice your size.

            I raised both of my hands ready to give a try at calming Fluffy down. Being eaten by the neighbor’s dog wasn’t high on my bucket list. To my surprise, Fluffy flinched and backed away as I moved. This time the doggie body language said nothing about attacking and a whole lot about getting away from the bad man. I took a step and Fluffy spun about and took off as if a nightmare was after him.

            There wasn’t a lot of time to stop and consider what had happened because right about then, Greystoke led his buddies over to me. Whatever had gone on with Fluffy was going on with them as well. Every dog there except for Greystoke acted as if I was about to use them in assorted Chinese dishes, and even he was looking at me in a funny manner as his buddies took to the hills.

            I looked down at him, “What?”

            He didn’t seem to be interested in elaborating, so I grabbed the leash and took him home. On the way, Greystoke kept sniffing at me, and mustting, that thing where cats and dogs make a face as they work out a particularly intriguing smell. I’m pretty sure the neighborhood would be all abuzz with gossip for days after this spectacle.

            The phone rang as I unlocked the door. The mantle clock told me why it was ringing as I entered the room. I’d messed around long enough that I missed the appointment with Monahan. He wasn’t at all understanding, and he dismissed my comment about the weird behavior of Fluffy and the other dogs with a comment of his own about my general personality that was entirely uncalled for.

            I locked up and made my way down to the Metro building where I received more of the bonhomie from the desk sergeant as he buzzed me in. Geez, solve a couple of cases the Commissioner has deemed unsolvable and they treat a guy like he’s a hit man for internal affairs.

I caught sight of my most favorite person in the whole world, little Denny Knowlen; the midget Detective Lieutenant from Hell.

            Knowlen, for some reason, hated me at first sight. Whether it was because I could actually reach the top shelf in the fridge and he couldn’t, or because I had proven Private Investigators were not all voyeurs with an expense account, I had no idea. Boiled down, it didn’t matter. It may have simply been the fact that I had a direct hand in getting his best bud, Ex-Lieutenant Rorche, a vice cop who made bad vice cops look good, kicked off the force. Rorche was all too cozy with some very nasty elements in San Francisco’s underworld. I spent some time kicking that anthill and then Rorche spent some time trying to whack Mrs. Mandolin’s baby boy. I was lucky there. If Frankie hadn’t got it into his head to follow me around I’d be staking out my own personal cloud right now.

            He noticed me, started, and then that familiar sneer I knew so well took up housekeeping on his pinched face. “Mandolin,” he sniffed, “That explains the smell. I thought the sewers had backed up again.”

            I pasted the cheesiest grin I could onto my puss and stuck my hands deep into my pockets, “Not me, short stuff. Look around, I’m sure you got your fan on reverse again.”

            Knowlen snarled and started to stand, “Why you crud…”

            “Don’t have to time to dance, Lil’ Denny,” I said, waving, as I continued on past his desk and pointed at Pat’s office, “The Captain has summoned me.” I finished with a royal wave and walked into Monahan’s office without knocking.

            He looked up from the report he was reading and noticed who it was, “Mandolin! What have I told you about knocking?”

            I started to turn around, saying, “Oh, then you don’t want to talk to me.”

            “Get your ass in here!”

            Sometimes Pat is way too easy to wind up. I really do need to find myself another hobby. I closed the door and grabbed the chair in the corner; I didn’t feel like taking the one in front of his desk, as it brought back too many memories from high school.

            I crossed my legs, leaned back, and asked, “Okay, so what’s this about?”

            Monahan sighed, “Come on, Mandolin. I don’t have time to play games. I’ve got a citizen--a politically connected citizen, in spite of what the news says about him--turning into a bonfire in the middle of his office and the only other thing showing damage is the scorched spot on his rug. If you ask me, this falls right smack dab in the middle of that bailiwick we in the Bay Area Law Enforcement Community like to call Mandolin Madness.”

            I nodded, “So? The guy probably experienced a bout of spontaneous human combustion. It’s rare but I’ve read where it does happen. The stuff I’ve had to deal with goes way past rare.”

            “Stop reading the tabloids, Mandolin, they do nothing for your questionable intellect,” Pat sniffed, “SHC’s a myth. So to answer your question, the big boys want to know what happened and they don’t want to have to wait for answers.”

            “Lovely,” I snorted, crossing my arms, “And just to be clear, whatever is sent your way will roll downhill in my direction?”

            Monahan almost cracked a smile, “That stuff does run downhill, always has, always will. Welcome to my world.”

                                                                                                    ♦          ♦          ♦

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