“Hotwater Longcycle? Squid Detective? Has Saul lost his mind…”
Unlucky For Some
I was hanging out at the end of the wharf minding my own business when I first saw her. She had that look certain dames do, all short, stumpy legs and small eyes. And she was blubbing. I can’t stand it when they blub.
“Say, what’s up?” I asked. She looked around, confused until she saw me. She seemed surprised at first but then just shrugged.
“Oh, nothing much,” she said. “Just the end of my life.”
“How so?” I said. “Girl like you, young, pretty, appropriately dressed for the inclement weather. You got everything going for you.”
“And I would have said the same too… yesterday,” she said. “But today… oh, it’s too awful. I should just… should just end it now.” Then she blubbed some more.
“Say, how ‘bout you tell me what’s up, maybe I can help.” I said. Like I say, I can’t stand it when they blub.
“Well, I guess it can’t hurt. Things couldn’t be no worse. See, up til this morning I was happy and carefree. I’d met and married the man of my dreams. Sure he was a little older, with him being 93 and me 26, but I truly loved him. It didn’t matter to me that he was a millionaire. I barely even noticed how big his mansion was when I was his nurse, pushing him around in his wheelchair. We were married last May, but fate wouldn’t even give us a year. Last night we had dinner a little later than usual, at six, and then, and then…”
“Go on,” I said. “It’ll help, believe me.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “See, I can’t remember. I woke up this morning, still in the dining room. My husband was dead, slumped over his spaghetti with a big dent in his head. I was next to him, with the pepper grinder in my hand. It was a big one, Italian… and it matched the dent in his head. The staff woke me up when they came in. They saw me, saw the grinder and my husband and assumed… I can’t blame them. I just ran and ran trying to figure out what to do next. And here I am. I’m sure I didn’t kill my husband, but who would believe me? I can’t live without him, so I’m planning on joining him.”
She stared morosely into the water and I guessed there would be blubbing again soon. I made a decision then.
“Say, how about I help you. You ain’t got nothing to lose, and I don’t like to see a dame down on her luck. I’m a detective, see. A private eye. Name’s Hotwater Longcycle.”
“I’m Virginia,” she said. “Mrs Virginia Schlosswasser. ‘Least, ‘least I was.”
“I just got one question Virginia,” I said. “Look me in the eye and answer me once and answer me true. Did you murder Mr Schlosswasser?”
She looked at me clear in the eye and said, “No, Mr Longcycle. I did not.”
“Then I’m on the case,” I said.
My first port of call was to mooch along the bars by the docks. Lot of those bars don’t like my kind. Lots of signs saying “NO SQUID, NO FISH, NO OCTOPUS”. Lot of bartenders won’t even look at you. Eventually I found a bar desperate enough to welcome my kind and kind enough to welcome the desperate low-life I was looking for. Johnny McQuirk, famous for his indolence and his flapping mouth. He’d help me with some information. I sat down next to him at the bar.
“How you doing Johnny?” I asked.
“I don’t talk to no squid,” he said.
“Five of the green says you do,” I said, holding out five strands of seaweed. That stuff is a delicacy around here.
“I got principles,” he says.
“Ten then,” I said, “to compensate you for your fall in standards.”
He nodded then and I passed over the weed.
“What do you want to know?” he said, not looking at me once.
“Guy called Schlosswasser wound up dead today, murdered by all accounts,” I said.
“Yeah I heard,” he said. “The little lady is what I heard.”
“What if it wasn’t?” I said. “What if it was someone else framed her?”
He turned to look at me then.
“What are you into?” he said. “That’s crazy talk. Here, keep your stinking weed, I don’t want it anyway.” He got up and left, and I could see his hand shaking as he did. His silence told me everything. The dame wasn’t lying. She’d been set up for a fall.
I decided I should get better acquainted with the crime scene. Luckily, old man Schlosswasser’s mansion was on the shore, although it was 50 feet up a cliff. Since I do a little workout, it was tough, but not impossible to drag myself up by the suckers. When I got to the windows I peered in until I found the room. It was easy to spot. There was yards of police tape at hip height. But I ain’t got no hips so it didn’t stop me. I climbed in through the window and looked around. It looked like everything had been left alone. There was some mouldy spaghetti on the table and the pepper grinder, which had been dusted for prints. Two glasses of wine were still on the table, one with lipstick. I checked them both, although I don’t care for liquor. The guy’s was fine, but the gal’s had some funny taste. I knew what it was straight off. Someone had slipped the dame a mickey finn. It was starting to make me a bit woozy too when the door started to open. I hot-tentacled it across the room, looking around wildly. There was a large shield on the wall with five swords pointing out. I crawled up to it and hid behind it, my tentacles wrapped around the swords. I couldn’t see a thing, but I sure could hear. And what I heard made my hemolymph go cold.
“So the big guy’s dead, the wife is out of the picture, and the Mano Cannery is safe from prying eyes,” said one voice, refined sounding.
“You do the job yourself?” said another, gruffer voice.
“With these two hands,” said the first voice, proudly.
“Who’d a thunk it, a butler killing someone,” said gruff voice. “What is the world coming to? But I got some bad news for you. The boss ain’t gonna be pleased that the broad’s on the run. Leaves things… complicated. That’s a loose end that’s gonna need tying up.”
“Why bother?” said the butler. “The police’ll get her soon enough, or if she has any brains at all she’ll leave town.”
“If she has any brains, she might figure out what really happened,” said gruff voice. “But maybe you don’t wanna hear it from me. Maybe you wanna hear it from the boss?”
“Oh-ok,” stammered the butler. “I’ll sort it out.”
“Be sure you do,” said gruff voice, and I heard footsteps leaving. When I was sure the coast was clear, I climbed down from behind the shield and headed for the window.
Once back in the water I headed to Mano Cannery. I’d heard the name, one of a bunch of fish canneries down by the docks. As I swam down I noticed there was a big factory next door with Schlosswasser Fisheries on it. Well, what do you know? Once I got to Mano I climbed up and took a look around. It looked normal enough to me, fish going in and cans coming out. But something sure smelled bad and it wasn’t just the day-old fish heads in the trash cans.
I needed to get inside so I helped myself to one of the white coats all the staff seemed to be wearing. It didn’t fit too good, being two feet too long and eight arms too short, but it got me in the building. It just seemed like a regular small time cannery. Didn’t seem worth killing a guy over. Then I saw a door said “Authorised Personnel Only”. It might as well have said “Please Come Inside”.
The door was locked, but I got some mean suckers on me, and I got it open in no time. It was a smaller factory floor with a desk and phone at one end. No one was in the room. There was some Mano Cannery cans on the tables with “Special Sauce” written on them. I looked at the cans and then I knew what was going on. The fish had been dried and ground up, but there was no mistaking the yellow colour. Angel fish, dried and ground and sold for kicks, illegal in every state. Mano Cannery was pushing angel dust.
I started to wonder who might be doing this and what it had to do with the broad when I heard the door open. I shot under the table and heard the same gruff voice shout to the main factory, “Hey, who left this door open?” He shut the door with a sigh and went to the telephone. He dialled the number, reading it aloud as he did. Guess numbers weren’t his thing.
“Mr Selachii, it’s Frank… Yeah, he’s definitely dead. It looks like he ain’t gonna be buying the Cannery no time soon. There’s some bad news, though. The little lady’s been framed by the butler like we said, but she’s on the lam… Yeah, I told him… Yeah, you bet I made it clear. Still, looks like it keeps us from being bought up and keeps our entire West Coast operation running without outside interference… Yeah, yeah, I guess that is a superfluous non-sequitur that reveals compromising information to a casual eavesdropper.”
He put the phone down and walked out the room. I was frozen like a fishstick to the spot. Selachii. I’d heard his name mentioned in some of the bars. Always whispered, always with reverence. He was a very big fish in our tiny pond. Well, I thought to myself, grow some cartilage Hotwater, you eat fish for breakfast.
I went back to the wharf-side motel where I’d left Mrs Schlosswasser: a squalid, damp, rat-infested hole called the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t much, but they knew to keep their eyes open and their mouths closed. When I saw the broad she seemed happier than the night before. But given she’d been planning to take a pleasure cruise on the River Styx, she couldn’t have been sadder then.
“Oh, Mr Longcycle,” she said, “I’m so relieved!”
“Please, call me Hotwater,” I said. “What’s the story?”
“I just got off the phone to Hives, our butler. I know it was stupid, but I had to call… had to find out what was happening. It’s great news, Hotwater. He said they know it was all a silly mistake. I’m to go back tonight at 8 and he’ll square everything with the police. He’ll make sure I’m safe.”
“The only thing that creep will make sure of is that you‘ll wind up in a box,” I said, causing her to jump back. “I went there today, overheard everything. Hives is the guy that killed your husband.”
She gasped, “Oh, Hotwater, what will I do?”
“Keep calm,” I said. “I got an idea. You get ready for the big meet. I’ve got a surprise party to plan.”
I went back to my office and picked up the phone. Gruff voice might not be good with numbers, but I am. Ten tentacles will help a guy that way. I dialled the number.
“Selachii,” said the voice on the phone. It was watery, gravelly and full of menace, like a fish bowl filled with acid.
“Good evening Mr Selachii,” I said. “I have some bad news for you. You’re being set up by a business partner. A Mr Hives? He doesn’t plan on tying up your loose end. He plans on using it to make you swing.”
“Is that so?” said Mr Selachii.
“You bet,” I said. “The loose end in question is going over there tonight. Be there at 8.30 and you’ll catch him in the act.”
“Thanks for the tip, buster,” said Mr Selachii. “But who are you anyway?”
“Let’s just say, I’m a friend,” I said.
“Where, from high school?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“From softball? We play softball? Or the wedding? You came to the wedding? Bill something?”
“No no,” I said, “just… a friend,” and I put the phone down. Selachii may have sharp teeth, but I guess that’s where it stops.
I made a call to the cops, and then I made for the Schlosswasser mansion.
It was nearly 8 by the time I got there, and like before, I crawled up the wall. Hives and Mrs Schlosswasser were in the dining room. Guess that was his favourite place to kill people. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I sure saw the gun he pulled out. Mrs Schlosswasser screamed and that was when I burst in through the window.
“Who are you?” said Hives as I brushed the glass off me.
“I’m the guy that’s gonna see you go to the chair,” I said.
“Fat chance!” he laughed. “You’re just a spineless squid, and here’s me with a gun. How are you going to stop me?”
“I ain’t,” I said. “He is.”
Three guys and gruff voice walked into the room. The guys were pushing a big fish tank. They took off the lid and pulled out some guns of their own, pointing them at me and Hives. Slowly, a Great White Shark pulled itself out of the fish tank, hauled itself up and spoke.
“Mr Hives, I believe you have some explaining to do,” said Mr Selachii.
“I… I didn’t do nothing… I was just going to kill her,” started Hives. Then he started laughing. It must have been contagious cos all the other guys started laughing too. I took the opportunity to put myself between the guns and Mrs Schlosswasser. Eventually the laughter died down and I realised what was the joke. It was me. Five shooters and one shark were all pointing my way.
“Well ‘friend’,” said Mr Selachii, “you must think I’m as dumb as a sea slug. But straight after our little chat I spoke to Mr Hives and we straightened everything out. Nice try, loser. Why don’t you tell us your name so we know what to put on your grave.”
“Name’s Longcycle. Hotwater Longcycle,” I said. Then I quickly squirted ink at the shooters, slapped them with five tentacles and took their guns with the other five. They lay unconscious on the floor. “But you can call me Sir.” I added.
I never seen a Great White turn white, but I saw it then. Still he had some bravado.
“Close, but no cigar,” he said, then pressed a button on his tank. Tiny rockets came out of each side and suddenly the tank shot across the room, through the window, and fell toward the ocean.
“He’s getting away!” said Mrs Schlosswasser. I walked over to the window.
“I wouldn’t worry,” I said. “Mr Selachii’s luck is like the tide. Out.” We both looked out of the broken window to see the gangster flapping on the mud. Cops were moving towards him ready to cuff him.
“Your gonna fry Selachii,” I called down.
“This isn’t over Longcycle!” he shouted. “This isn’t over.”
I was hanging out at the end of the wharf minding my own business when I saw her again. The sun was shining and so was she.
“I never really thanked you,” said Mrs Schlosswasser. “You saved my life.”
“Nothing to thank,” I said. “Guy does a girl a favour. Nothing in that. Just… just be careful what you order in a seafood restaurant.”
“I will,” she said.” And I wanted to invite you to my wedding.”
“Wedding?” I said.
“Oh, Hotwater, you won’t believe it. At the funeral I met such a nice man. He’s not as young as my last husband, and I think he has a little more money. Not that that matters. We’re to marry next week, just before his quadruple heart bypass.”
She beamed so brightly that I couldn’t help but share her joy, although I felt trepidation for some reason. I watched as she walked away with a spring in her step then sank quietly into the waves, happy at a job well done.