[This is a novel from the curious world of a scurrilous squirrel. For some background on the character and his world, the original short stories are listed at http://www.sdmahaney.org. The complete novel can be downloaded from http://sdmahaney.org/PN/ .]
The phone rang, so I answered it.
It wasn’t habit to answer the phone right away, even though my livelihood depended on it. As a private detective, and a small time one at that, I needed the business. But as a private detective, and a small one with a distinctive look (the bushy tail is a dead giveaway), I had people looking for me with plenty of bones to pick – my bones, if they could find me. I rediscovered every day the unique problems faced by a private eye squirrel.
My modest oak tree office said plenty about the size of my practice. I didn’t get the big corporate security gigs. I got more private affairs. My jobs mostly involved broken hearts and broken piggy banks, usually both owned by the same client.
I answered the phone even though I saw the area code. I knew before he told me, they needed me back up north. I knew the territory well, eastern Canada – nothing but maple leaves, or snow anxious to melt and sneak its way back down under all those fallen maple leaves.
I had moved south many years before. I expected the weather and the people to be more reasonable. I was right about the weather.
I listened to the caller. The job was big, too big to keep it discrete if they took it head on, the only way cops know how. I didn’t owe anybody any favors up there, but I wouldn’t mind collecting some to cash in later. I’d probably take the case.
I knew the Mountie who called. I used to work for him, before they kicked me off the force. They kicked me out of the country, too, but that’s another story.
We did a lot of vehicle traces and stake outs back in those days. I was just a junior investigator, partnered with a young lieutenant. Some how most of our stake outs were convenient to the Windsor Ballet. I think he had something on the regional commissioner who assigned cases. I know we both appreciated the arts.
He was a division colonel now. He had his own office in Ottawa and dozens of agents to manage. I didn’t know how he still had time for his wife and kits. I couldn’t recall off hand how many years it had been since his wedding, and the first kit that came along just weeks later. His youngest was about ready to graduate and leave the tree. Now I was just a private gumpaw, with a dirty ashtray and a clean bank account to keep me company.
After a quick run down of the case, which didn’t take long because they didn’t have much, we worked out travel details. “I’ve got a special visa signed and waiting for you at Thousand Islands,” the Colonel assured me. He knew I’d need that.
“It will take me a few days to get that far.” He knew that much too.
“I hear you. Just get moving and we’ll be here waiting for you. Nothing else is moving on this case anyway, on orders from well above me. Remember – we need to keep this discret.”
“Entièrement!” I’d have to work on my bilingual sarcasm during the drive.
He knew it would take time to get there because he knew my particular problems. Commercial flights were out. It’s hard enough to get through airport security at a foot tall and furry. It’s impossible when you’re a foot tall with a big mouth. Leave it to someone of my limited talents to point out an absurd circumstance to the agents of the absurdity. They’re not the most receptive. They do have lots of rubber gloves.
I could have taken a charter stork. But it was just over 8 months since the last big ice storm. In my neighborhood that means a long blackout with no internet for people to play on. So the storks were all booked on baby delivery gigs. I hoped to get back in time to cash in on all the child support cases.
I closed up the knot hole to my oak tree office and told my secretary Grace to take a few days off. Since she’s a German shepherd I found her dictation and handwriting poor for taking messages, especially compared to her propensity to tear holes in would-be clients she didn’t like the look of. Still, being a dog she was an excellent judge of human character.
Climbing up to my living quarters I wondered a bit more about what I was getting in to. Before packing it, I checked the usual news sites on the iPaw. There was nothing on the wires yet about the case I was about to stick my tail into. I shut it off and started packing the rest of my gear.
So how does one pack when not knowing how long the trip will be, where one will go, what social occasions might arise, or how mean a tough guy one will meet, down how dark or deep of an alley? There’s only one answer: Look smart, and bring cash.
I picked a couple of my best hats, and the biggest gun that would fit under them.
The bathroom travel case went in the bag next. Toothpaste and tail shampoo took up too much space, as always. I picked up the pack of condoms that had been sitting in the case with them, wondering how long they’d been in there. Expired, as I expected. I put them back in anyway – they’re hard to come by in my size.
There was nothing else to it but to do it, so I topped off the oil in the motorized roller skate and loaded up some progressive heavy timber music for the drive.
It was still mid-morning. I turned off the coffee pot and carried out my bags. The sun felt good. I’d be missing it soon enough. The forecast up north was for twelve different kinds of snow in 5 days. One more trip inside produced an old hockey team sweatshirt, both to keep warm and as urban camouflage in that hockey-mad terrain. With the heel loaded, I started up the motor skate and wound my way north.
That motorized roller skate was a real gem. Motoring along I felt the hum of the engine through the sole. The feel of the road came right through to my tail, without being harsh, just the way Bob Bondurnut told me it should be.
It took some years to get the project together, since I moved trees a few times, but once I had some good workshop space under a thick willow the skate got running in no time. The chassis was a classic Labeda outdoor model. The mechanics had fit a stout Weed Eater motor to it, and even let me talk them into fitting a remote-switched intercooled blower to it. They warned that the motor wasn’t built for it, but I promised to only switch it on for short bursts when chasing a suspect (or running from an angry surveillance subjectess). I thought Felix Leiter would approve of the arrangement.
With a mental reminder to re-read Diamonds are Forever when I got back, I turned north and proceeded to watch the countryside pass.
[on to chapter 2]