One-Armed Bandit.

Sly, I aint so sure dis is good idea.

“That’s the way this business works, Max,” I say, sounding if not confident at least not unconfident, “Is the stuff ready?”

Yeah. Heavy as heck, dough. Oof.

“Then let’s not keep the ladies waiting.”

Or Maybe It’s Just Filled With Beans.

Heya, ladies in waitin, Max quips. I hate it when he thinks up jokes older than dirt. He’s gonna be repeating that one for weeks.

There’s a shy, nervous, thoroughly unhappy elephant, a bored trailer trash mom, a chihuahua hooker who I pray to every deity ever worshiped even it’s only in comic books is a woman, and then I force my eyes past her to the dumpy suburban matron who looks like she’s taken the hopefully-female one’s pose as a personal challenge.

Ahem. “Ladies. As one of you already knows, somebody broke into a secured area and made off with a suspect’s case file. Now, we’ve got a description from a witness that could be any one of you, so I’m just gonna ask a few questions-”

Start with this one, foxy, Cassie purrs, It goes, ‘How do you conduct a police investigation with a description that’s nothin but “wears a skirt.”?’

They all titter like Monty Python characters. “I’ll ask the questions, if you don’t mind.”

Ooooh, Cassie stage whispers to the shemale next to her, He’s getting all authoritative. This is where it gets good.

I can take a joke, but she’s coming dangerously close to going too far. “You know, ma’am, attracting attention is really not what you want to be doing right now.”

Ma’am? Do I look like a ma’am to you? That why you stopped calling me?

I clear my throat again, try to get the whole situation back on a professional level. “The thief left an object behind, and we’re going to try to match it to it’s owner. If any of you aren’t comfortable with this-” I’m talking over the sound of the elephant’s furious blushing “-you’ve got the right to request a policewoman instead of, well, me.” That was the wrong thing to say, apparently. She’s blushing even worse now.

Cassie glares at me through her eyelashes. Oh, I see where this is going. I know how your mind works, Sly. She spits the last word like it’s a hot pepper. ‘Oh, Cassie’s got a heel missing! Why, here’s the heel that was in my apartment! It musta been her.’ She laughs this hard, bitter way, like glass breaking in slow motion. Like I haven’t seen the inside of your place often enough. Like I couldn’t of lifted any one of the case files while you were-

“WHEN DID I SAY” I bark to shut her up, then I drop my voice in the silence the follows, “that it was my house that broken into?”

Our eyes lock for a long moment, then she drops her gaze with a muttered Shit.

“So, Cassie,” I say, holding back like a glacier about to crack and fall, “you wanna tell me what you wanted with the file on some doctor who was acquitted for his wife’s death?”

You can talk to my lawyer, or you can see how hard it is to investigate a girl when she’s got a restraining order on your tail.

“That ain’t how it works. Oughta know that by now. I’m frankly surprised at you messing with long-closed cases as is.” Somebody gulps, but I ignore it. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d go for anything that doesn’t have some profit in it.”

And how, she looks up, she’s wearing that old familiar smirk again, do you know I just didn’t want a little fun?

The tension in the air is so think you could cut it with the side of a fork. “You’ve got some odd ideas about fun, pickin at the dead records on an innocent man-” The one-armed lady of the night shifts her stance subtly, “and you’re wasting your time, as is.” I’m not looking at anything but Cassie, she’s not looking at anything but me. “Ain’t nothing in the file you pinched.”

Well, we both know that now. She arches her eyebrows. Coulda saved me a lot of time if you’d throw out old junk once in a while.

“It’s procedure. So I want it back.”

Then I guess you’d better talk to the boys down at the municipal incinerator. She smiles at me, teeth glittering.

And that’s when the androgynous chihuahua snaps. She flies at Cassie, claws out, shrieking Touch that file and I’ll scratch your eyes out! It’s mine!

The rest of the line-up scatters, and the duck and I are holding her back by the one arm she’s still got, while she shrieks He did it! He killed his wife! I know it and I’m gonna prove it! Then she’s getting dragged out, and all there is left are the fading echoes of He’s guilty! from the hall.

“I don’t care,” I mutter, rubbing my shin where she kicked me.

Ya alright boss? asks Max.

“Fine. You’ve got the hard evidence, right?”

Da prostetic arm is safe in da bag.

So that’s what it was, remarks Cassie, I wondered why you asked me to wear broken pumps. Don’t shoot me the playful look, please. Not now.

So, what’d you think of my performance? she asks, grinning playfully.

“You are a dangerous little woman, YoSaffBridge.”

What’s that?

“At least I got you outclassed on pop-culture, then. I’ll have to remember that for next time.”

I swear, Foxy, a girl tries to have a businesslike exchange and you start up the sexy chit-chat.

“I never discuss business on the job.”

Her tail twitches. Then where do you discuss it?

I give her a considering sort of glance, as if I hadn’t been trying to decide on the answer to that all afternoon. “How about ‘Jack’s‘ uptown?”

Classy. Is that my fee, or is that where we’ll talk about it?

“Well I won’t know that till I get there, will I?”

She turns to go. I can tell she’s deliberately teasing me, with the way she’s moving her tail, but damned if I can do anything about it. “How do you like being on the right side of the law for a change?” I call after her.

Too early to tell, foxy. Ask me again tonight.

And she’s gone.

Max is talking to the boys from evidence, about getting back the missing file, about handing over the prosthesis that she left in my flat, about making sure they got down everything she–or he, I’m still not sure–said during the crazy breakdown.

“All done here?” I ask as he turns around.

Ya, dat’s all she wrote. I say we dun a good day’s work here. Howzabout we take da rest of the aftanoon off, huh?

I raise an eyebrow. “You know we’ve still got paperwork.”

Dat’ll keep till tomorrah. Sides, you don wanna keep yer Lady in Waitin waitin.

His chuckles follow me out of the room.

Ah, hell. I guess I can let him get away with one corny joke.

The Final Word.

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