The Maltese Laundry.

Sometimes it feels like this city is haunted.

Not by ghosts. By crime. It’s soaked into the sidewalks like water into a sponge. There’s no part of this city that doesn’t have it, like an unpleasant oily flavor in the back of your mouth. And sometimes it erupts, and when it does, it can be anywhere.

It’s Either the Gentleman Dog Thief, Or Mr. Fantastic.

I can hear it now, just over the wall of washing machines.

She’s stealing my laundry! Geez!

Oi! Dat’s not kosher! Someone call da management, roight!

Oh, I thought this was my dryer! Just a mistake!

I could have you in jail for this, ya sneak!

Oh, I’m sure there’s nooo need to bring the police into this!

No, not really, but that’s never stopped me before. “Is there a problem here?”

To judge from the expressions on each of three faces, yes there is, and it’s me. Interesting. But they all swallow that fast.

Even more interesting.

This fink was trying ta make off wit my laundry! The noive!

Honestly! Everyone is getting so excited about an honest mistake! If everyone would calm down for just a moment-

Don’ you go creditin’ ‘er, mate! Oi sawr ‘er!

“One at a time! Max, would you take charge of the, um, evidence?”

But s’all soggy!

“Ok, you first.”

Well honestly I don’t see WHAT the big deal is, all I did was take the clothes out of the wrong dryer, that’s a mistake ANYONE could make, right? She’s totally overreacting!

I’ll overreact yer face, ya fink!

“Have you got something you’d like to add, ma’am?”

Dern straight I does! She’s totally tryin ta mak off wit da laundry! Er else why aint she give it back yet, huh? I mean, like gai!

“Well, it’s been what? Fifteen, twenty seconds since you started squeaking about it. Maybe she would have.”

An maybe she woulda jus scarperred!

In moi poisonal opinion, the dog buts in, there’s an offisah what’ld be much better off ‘restin the littl’ twoip roight ‘ere an askin ‘is quesshuns later!

“You make a good point. You’re all under arrest.”

There will be a brief intermission while we handcuff them and give them a chance to quit shrieking bloody murder.

“See, you all made really good points. You,” the weasel looks ready to bite my finger off, “made it clear to me that there was something much more interesting in that dryer than lacy unmentionables. Why else try to hang onto it when you get spotted? You,” the cat sulks, and I know I’ve seen that expression before, “proved that it was something worth stealing. Why else would you assume that that was what she was trying to do? And you,” his face is as lifeless as a mask, “told me what to do about the fact that even though you were shouting for the police, not a one of you was glad to see me.”

I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’re going to leave me alone with the evidence?

“Ha. I was giving myself 1:3 that it was you.”

Shaddup! Donchu dare say another word or I swear to gaih I’ll never fence nothing for you again.

He sighs hard enough to shift the mask. Yes, you’re doing a masterful job concealing your guilt. But I fear, my dear, you’ll be doing very little fencing for some time. And you, Mz…?

If she were any more in over her head, she’d be coming out the other side in China. Uhhhh… Weasel. And it’s Mrs, actually.

My apologies. But you really shouldn’t have tried to intercept the emerald. The person from who I acquired it was reluctant to part with it, and I do not think they would be particularly inclined to make use of the police force in reobtaining it.

“Which pocket is it in, while you’re feeling helpful?”

Valuables should always go in the front, to deter pickpockets. Max drops the pants like they’re hot.

“And does this mean you’re going to come quietly?”

He slips off the mask and grins. Why would I do that? And then several things happen at once.

The theif takes a half step backward.

Carla–I’m pretty sure it’s really her under there–shouts something I don’t have time to listen to.

Wendy sticks a foot out as Max steps forward, and he lands face first in a pile of wet laundry.

I’m reaching for my gun.

And the thief kicks the pants up at my face. Something hard in the pocket strikes me above the eye, and the world goes fuzzy for half a second. Long enough so that I think I see the thief falling apart, like his hands are coming off.

And when I get it back in focus, he’s gone. All that’s left is a fake pair of hands in cuffs.

I yank the shorts from my face, and grope in the pocket. It’s a potato.

The backup is putting Lucy and Ethel in the back of the van. The cat won’t shut up. Ah well. At least Cassie won’t be pissed, it wasn’t her brother. This time.

Ya want cooperation! she yowls in my general direction, I’ll give yah co-freggin-operation! That doity splat ripped me off! He got a cool tree-hundred big ones off me fer that bit a pretty! You aint never seen a witness so freggin full o’ co-operatin’!

“So tell me what you know,” I say without looking at her, “because I’m guessing it’ll take about three seconds.”

I know he’s married! Then the doors are shut and the car is taking her away.

I look up in time to see Mrs. Weasel in the other squad car. She’s looking really calm.

Like she’s just had something go exactly according to plan.

The faintest hint of a smile hits my muzzle.

The point of something being haunted is that there’s something you’re afraid of, and it’s coming for you. If that’s so, then this city is haunted. Not by ghosts, by me. Because they ought to be afraid. And I think I can get one step closer to them, now

And when I get him, it could be anywhere.

The Final Word.

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