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We went over to a corner of the bar near the exit and stood under the ominous portrait of a frowning Tony Scalia. If I believed in omens, I would have left then. “So what do you need to talk to me about?”

“You first. You’re looking for a favor, too, aren’t you?”

“What makes you think I want to ask a favor? Maybe I want to tell you something you need to know.”

She raised a skeptical brow. “Like what, for instance?” she asked in the kind of tone that suggested she found it almost impossible to credit the notion that someone like me could have anything of importance to tell someone like her that she didn’t already know. I don’t even think she meant it; it was automatic. A tiger may smile playfully but with blood on its teeth, chances are you won’t take it that way. No wonder she was a trial lawyer.

“Like maybe I’m pregnant and you’re the father,” I said. She laughed. I always liked her laugh. Unlike everything she ever said to me, her laugh didn’t feel like it was aimed at my genitals. “OK, so I’m not pregnant and you’re not the father. Maybe I inherited a million dollars and I want you to help me spend it.” That got her attention. Money always did.

“Did you? Inherit a million dollars?” She didn’t believe it for a second but hope was writ large in her eyes just the same, like the hungry croc who sees a big, juicy antelope on the shore hoping that this one time the damn thing will be dumb enough to go swimming. If I had inherited a million bucks, I’d be lunch.

“You wish. No, you’re right. It’s a favor. But a really smaaaaall one…” I put my thumb and finger less than a nose-hair apart. “That big. No bigger.”

“Oh, goody!” She clapped her hands in delight. “Maybe we can trade. I’ll help you, then you can help me. So brief me. What’s up?”

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I took a bus downtown and walked to a place called “The Legal Eagle Bar and Grille” right across from the courthouse. Carolyn always lunched there with the other liars–er, lawyers–who had cases that day. It was toney as hell – brass rails at the bar, wood paneling on the walls, paintings of State Supreme Court Justices glaring down at you from above every oak booth, $7 beer and $25 hamburgers that tasted as if someone had poured cheap gravy over sawdust and paint chips and then fried a ball of the stuff in grease that hadn’t been changed since 1937. Lawyers loved it.

I ordered a small ginger ale – $3.50 for a 4-ounce glass that was worth, maybe, 50 cents on the hoof counting a 100% markup over cost. When the bartender wasn’t looking, I slipped one of their cheap plastic ashtrays into my coat pocket. Damned if I was going out of there with nothing to show for that extra 3 bucks.

I didn’t have long to wait. Carolyn arrived promptly at noon in the middle of a clutch of male lawyers who were, I swear, giggling, probably at something she’d said. That may have been unusual behavior for lawyers, giggling, but it was standard behavior for men hanging around Carolyn.

There was nothing wrong with her figure and there never had been, I’ll say that for her. Whether it was in the way her hips swam when she walked or the way she ducked her head coyly and flipped her hair or the way her breasts insisted on bouncing even when she was standing still, she somehow contrived to render her severe tailored suit all but useless for taming the glory that was underneath. I was aware of it from across the damn room. I couldn’t physically see the curves but I knew they were jiggling like mad, I just knew it. So did every other male in the bar judging by where they were looking.

If they knew what I knew, they’d be concentrating more on their lobster bisque.

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I needed help, and I needed it from someone who knew their way around both dogs and grand larceny. There was only one person I knew who fit that description – Carolyn Emblehoff. She was a lawyer, which covered both ends of the larceny problem, and she loved dogs. All kinds, but especially big ones with sharp teeth. She and I had been, well, close for a while, if you know what I mean, and there was a time when I really thought she was The One. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, and she’s a healthy devil in the sack.

Unfortunately, she’s also a devil out of it. She has a lamentable fondness for one of the most juvenile forms of humor in the known universe, a form I despise with every fiber of my being – practical jokes. I would almost have put up with it (I mean, this is a picture of her I took at the beach that summer –

carolyn.jpg

– so you can see what I was up against) if it hadn’t been for the Great Dane Hustle.

We had broken up over a practical joke that also happened to involve a dog, an enormous Great Dane that she had installed in my apartment without bothering to tell me that it had acute indigestion and had to be fed Maalox at every meal or it would vomit on the sofa (it preferred sofas for vomiting purposes, don’t ask me why). She waited a week before informing me of both the condition and its cure, meanwhile deriving many a hearty guffaw at my expense.

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The next morning I was sent off to the supermarket with explicit instructions as to exactly what kind of steak to buy – top round, lightly marbled, and when I squeezed it, it should stay squeezed.

“That means it’s tender,” Aunt Harriet said.

“Aunt Harriet, please. It’s a goddamn dog. It will wolf down anything that’s meat. Turkey franks would do. Perhaps with a little sauerkraut on top -”

She was scandalized. “Brutus,” she said huffily, “is a thoroughbred.” As if that explained anything. I gave up and headed for the store. Sort of.

I was not, of course, allowed to use her car for this trip. “It’s going to take a lot longer,” I warned.

“My car,” she thundered, “is NOT a toy. Besides, if you think I’m going to give you a chance to wrap it around a telephone pole so you can get out of stealing that trophy, you’re off your chump. That dumb I ain’t.”

As a matter of fact, I had been doing a lot of thinking since the night before and an untimely “accident” had occurred to me as one of my possible options, but I had dismissed it almost as soon as it poked its head above the covers. My Aunt Harriet’s inexplicable love for her Ferg Turdis ruled it out. If I survived the backlash of her anger and her certainty that I’d done it on purpose, it would likely be as a cyborg whose muscle and sinew had had to be replaced by wheels and pulleys. That dumb, I’m not.

I must confess I’ve never understood her deep affection for that machine. It isn’t particularly attractive, it doesn’t have much power or speed, it doesn’t handle very well, and it’s in the shop half its life for maintenance. It’s only a couple of years old but already the door handles don’t work, the buttons fall off if you look at them cross-eyed, and the seats feel as if they were stuffed with especially sharp rocks. The day it came off the showroom floor, it was already obsolete. Yet despite all this, my Aunt coos to it, purrs to it, pats it on its hood and strokes its tail, worships the very ground it rolls on. It’s spooky.

But my prolonged wrestling match with the Masked Avenger of my mind had not been entirely negative, and my remark about the length of time my errand was going to eat up wasn’t a casual one. I had formed a plan and I was laying the groundwork for a little side trip.