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Bob Beers
AKA the Author Robert Lee Beers
AKA the Author Robert Lee Beers
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Would you like to have available to you, totally free, an entire urban fantasy comic (meaning funny, not a comic book) mystery series? Well, just follow the link, and then go to the download page. They are all there.

http://asmbeers.wixsite.com/robertleebeers

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My Trailershelf promotion.

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A piece from Tony Mandolin 6 The Clone in the Closet.

I woke up with the rare sunbeam shining onto my eyelids. You have to have lived in the bay area for a while to understand how rare that sort of event is. It felt nice, lying there under the comforter, the sun shining into the room, feeling the gentle lethargy of sleep slowly melting away…
“Ah, he wakes.”
I knew that voice. Damn, and I was hoping it was all just a long, highly detailed, complicated dream. I shut my eyes tightly, and then sat up, opening them again. Nope, it didn’t work, they were still there, Medb and the Morrigan. One clothed, and one… well, even in San Francisco, she’d have to put something on if I was going to get anywhere.
There was a soft wuff and the canine traitor known as my dog came over to the side of the bed and rested his muzzle on the covers.
“What?” I said, “Et Tu, Greystoke?”
He just opened his mouth and grinned me a German shepherd grin.
The animal is correct Anthony Mandolin,” The Morrigan said, “He should have been fed already.”
“You speak dog?” I asked.
“I speak to all animals,” she said as if I should have known that as a matter of course, “Now arise, we have a task to fulfill.”
I looked at Medb and raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head and said, “Get up Mandolin. The sooner we get this done the happier I’ll be.”
I nodded and got out of bed… mostly, there was the condition I typically sleep under to consider. “Uh, ladies?” I said, looking down at myself and then back at them. There were indications of potential embarrassment going on.
Medb looked disgusted, “Really, Mandolin, modesty?” She glanced at the Morrigan, “Especially now?”
“Indulge me,” I grumbled.
The Morrigan threw back her head and laughed. Under different circumstances I would have enjoyed watching, the movements that action caused were highly intriguing, but this wasn’t different circumstances, not by forty rows of trolley cars.
“Very well, Mandolin,” Medb sniffed, “But hurry yourself, this has already gone on too long.”
They left the bedroom and I took a nice cold shower. Warm would not have helped things. As I was dressing, I wondered if Frankie had noticed the two new guests in the house.
When I hit the landing to the staircase I found the answer. “Toneeee! What are these women doing in MY house? And why is this one with the hair showing her tits to the whole world?”
I found Frankie in the kitchen, his favorite frilly apron on and a rolling pin in his hand. He was wearing the chef’s hat he’s been given from his friend Bruce as a thank you for helping solve that case of the foodie poisoner. He was also wearing his best outraged glower.
Medb and the Morrigan were standing near the back door. Looking at something in the backyard. They were carrying on a sub-vocal conversation, ignoring Frankie entirely. I think that may have been irritating the big guy the most. We have had people in the house far weirder than either of these two, and he took all of that in stride.
He saw me and immediately stepped onto his soapbox, “Tony! How in the world am I going to keep a decent house if you keep bringing guests in unannounced? And,” he pointed the rolling pin at the Morrigan, “Just look at the state of that woman, and not just her hair, though a few hours in a parlor wouldn’t hurt, but she’s completely naked! Just look at that!”
Believe me, I had been looking. I also had a concern. What if the Morrigan refused to cover up? In my experience, the vast majority of magical beings and creatures consider our rules of society to be ludicrous, if not downright insane. Convincing someone like the Morrigan to put on some clothes, if she didn’t want to could be hazardous to one’s health. She seemed to think of maiming as foreplay. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of miffed.
Whatever the two had been whispering about was over. Medb and the Morrigan turned to look at me, and then at Frankie. “We have decided,” Medb said.
“Okay…” I said, wondering where in the hell this was going, “Umm… decided… what?”
“You will be our consorts,” The Morrigan said
I blinked. “Umm… what?”
Frankie grabbed my arm, so tightly it hurt, “Tony…”
Medb snorted derisively, “Don’t be a fool Mandolin. Human mating rituals are not needed here. As consorts, you will be made aware of some of the senses of the fae. We cannot do this and succeed if you act as an anchor rather than an aid. I can feel Bain, but without some kind of rooting into this world the feeling is too faint to track.”
The Morrigan slithered up to Frankie and reached out.
He flinched back, “Tony…”
“Go with it, big guy,” I said. “I don’t think she intends to hurt you.” I hoped.
The Morrigan laid her palm on the big guy’s chest and drew in a deep, deep, massively astounding, breath.
She released the breath in one long, slow sigh, and then shivered. “Mmm,” she purred, “The magic is strong in this one.”
Frankie said, “This is not the droid you’re looking for.”
Medb stepped forward, “Explain yourself, human.”
I spoke up before things deteriorated even further, “It’s his way, ladies. When he’s nervous he uses cultural references. That was from a well-known film called Star Wars.”
The Morrigan’s eyes widened, and things stood out further, “A warrior who battles among the stars?”
Frankie said, “Uhhh… Tony…?”
“He’s right. Queen Medb, I think your friend here is frightening our warrior.”
Frankie shot me an I’ll get you for that look.
The Morrigan smiled and stepped back. “This one has much of the bear in him. Our mating would be long and violent.”
“Enough,” Medb growled, “We need to begin or we will never finish.”
I said, “Sounds good to me.” And then I said, “Might I suggest the Morrigan disguise her body? The natives have some rather narrow-minded attitudes about women walking about in the nude.”
The Morrigan, being of fae upper echelon was no fool. She waved a hand and was transformed into a casually-dressed, extraordinarily beautiful woman. Her hair went from a tangled, enveloping mane into a neat ponytail that reached just below her buttocks, which, by the way, were encased in a pair of rather fetchingly far too tight jeans. Her feet were stuck into a pair of flats that worked well with the jeans. Up above, a woman’s flannel plaid shirt struggled to contain what was inside.
She did a twirl, saying, “Does this look suit your human sensibilities?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, maintaining my professional attitude at all times. Oh, the pain… the pain…
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Prologue


Anyone familiar with my history would think I would be used to people coming back from the dead. Hell, the past few years it seems that sort of thing happens with more regularity than earthquakes, and I live in San Francisco for god’s sake. Yeah, you would think that, but I’m not. I seriously doubt I will ever be.
The latest resurrection starred Landau Bain. If you don’t know that name you must have been living on a desert island somewhere or perhaps under a nice dense rock. Bain is a wizard. In San Francisco, he is The Wizard, all caps et cetera, etcetera. The first time I met him he gave me a lesson in manners that fried every nerve in my body. The second time wasn’t much better. He stuck me with the tab in one of the most expensive eateries in the city. There are those people who know guys who know guys, right? Not Bain. No, he’s one of those guys people know. I mean, how many people do you know who can get the devil, I mean the big L himself, so pissed off he gives him the finger, twice. Now ask yourself this, why did Bain only get the finger? Yeah, now ask yourself the follow-up, why didn’t he get anything worse, hmmm? Get the picture?
I followed Bain into Hell, and no, that is not a euphemism. So what did the jerk do to repay that favor? He saved my life at the expense of his own. Another guy I know used the phrase that starts with, “No greater love hath a man…” This is also the guy who gave me a very broad hint that Bain’s time on earth wasn’t over. I really should have paid much closer attention; really should. I’m saying that for a reason.
Another fellow who’s crossed my path more than once is Tiny, no last name. At least as far as I can tell. He’s the owner, cook, brewer and chief bottle washer of the Snug, my neighborhood bar, what the Brits would call my local. Tiny is the only guy I know who can almost look Frankie in the eye. Frankie, by the way is my partner, and no I don’t mean that in the San Francisco sense, but in the business sense. I may not date a whole lot, but I do vastly prefer the company of girls over guys. Frankie, not so much. Imagine a neatly seven foot tall NFL lineman with a penchant for stiletto heels and feather boas and you’re about 1% into the maze that is Franklin Amadeus Jackson. Frankie was there with me when Bain saved both my life and his. He was also there in the hospital when we both watched Bain vanish right from under the covers, looking like he was about 600 years old. The big guy, as I call him, bawled like a baby
The other big guy, Tiny, also has another job separate from owning and operating the bar, he’s the Norse All Father Odin. You know, the one with the eye patch and the twin ravens who act as his mobile eyes and ears? I have yet to ask how he keeps his shoulders free of bird crap. That’s not really a question you ask of a guy who’s laid out a troll with one punch, you know?
I’m bringing all of this up because it was in the Snug where Frankie and I saw Bain, alive and for all intents, purposes and whatever cliché you want to add into the mix, well. Tiny had just handed us a shot glass of something he claimed was nearly priceless and rarer than Madonna’s virginity, and after we sipped it, and both had what can best be described as a very personal moment, found out it was thousand year mead. After that, Bain, who was sitting on the next stool with his back turned to us, turned around and said, “Hi.”
That’s right where I left things hanging in the last casebook, mainly because it was more of a brief pause than an ending. Yeah, there’s this vast amorphous evil called The Other floating around in the multiverse somewhere that has everyone’s panties in a twist, and I do mean everyone’s, including the biggest guy himself, who for some reason thinks Momma Mandolin’s baby boy is the answer, but that’s another casebook altogether. And, of course everyone involved is lining up and taking sides as well as side bets, but so what? Politics is politics, whether you’re in Heaven, Hell, or any of the innumerable places in between.
Where Bain was concerned, after he got his breath back following Frankie’s bear hug, we were informed Tiny’s mead had curative properties, and before the week was over, Landau Bain would be back and as cranky as ever. I thought that was a pretty good deal, even if the guy had put my life at risk just about as often as he saved it. But I also wasn’t going to be counting my chickens waiting for it to happen. It has been my experience that whoever holds down the job of universal balance is always pretty quick on the draw when it comes to sending a trainload of crap my way.
You know how some of the old detective stories, the really, really good ones from the pulp fiction days usually started with a ringing telephone or doorbell? Well, that’s how it usually begins. It isn’t a cliché if it happens all the time, right? So, I was in my front office, working on a crossword when the doorbell rang.
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Chapter 1

I was trying to find a seven-letter word beginning with W when I heard the doorbell. I glanced at the clock and saw the time; a good hour past my posted office hours, so I called out, “Frankie, doorbell,” and went back to tickling my gray matter.
There was no answer. Thinking the big guy was probably under the influence of his ear buds, so I called louder, “Frankie! Someone’s at the door!” Then I waited, listening. No Frankie.
The bell rang a second time and I opened my mouth to yell. Greystoke’s whine stopped me.
I thought, “What the hell?” and stood up. When a German shepherd makes a sound like that something hinky's going on. It may not be dangerous, per se, but whatever it was, hinky probably applied.
Greystoke turned to look at me as I entered the hallway leading from my office slash study slash enlarged closet to the front door. He sat, in that typical shepherd version of at attention. Once he was sure I was headed his way, he turned his attention back to the front door.
I looked. There was definitely someone there, but I didn’t recognize the vague shape through the stained glass. If it had been Pat Monahan, he would have announced his presence with banging on the frame and yelling, demanding to know why I wasn’t there to have the door open as he approached it. It was nice to know his promotion to police Captain hadn’t dulled his manners any.
Bain wouldn’t have even bothered knocking. I doubt there’s any kind of lock that can keep him out if he’s of a mind to go in.
I said to Greystoke, “Good boy. Good boy.”
His tail thumped twice in reply, keeping his attention wholly on whoever was on the other side of the door.
“Now,” I said, “Let’s see who’s on our porch.”
I opened the door and said, “Yes?”
The man on my porch could have held down the role of the unassuming friendly neighbor in just about any of the evening sitcoms of the fifties. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he introduced himself as Joe Average.
“Are you… Anthony Mandolin, Private Investigator?” The question came in an accent I couldn’t place. It sounded familiar, but the place evaded me. I tossed the thought away. San Francisco was nothing if not a city of foreigners; essentially the Casa Blanca of the west coast.
I answered, “Yeah, that’s me.”
The guy smiled, lips closed, and nodded, bobbing his head up and down. “Ah, at last. I have been seeking you for nearly a year, Mister Mandolin.”
Before I could ask the obvious question, he held up a finger, saying, “I first had to learn your tongue and then I had to figure out the odd way you Americans maintain your maps.”
The expression on my face had to be one for the books. He smiled again and asked, “May I come in and explain?”
“Sure, sure,” I replied, stepping aside, “Come on in. The office is that door on the right,” I added, pointing.
“Yes,” he said. It sounded like “yass”, “I see it. Thank you.”
Greystoke backed out of the guy’s path, his tail not wagging, but very still. I’d learned a long time ago to trust my dog’s instincts. Whatever this guy was, he wasn’t as average as he looked. Another question came to mind as I followed him into my office, where was Frankie?
My office is small. I like to call it an enlarged closet, but in reality, it’s more of a cozy room, occupying the space between the front room and the kitchen on the right-hand side of my Victorian. Yeah, I owned my own Vickie, purchased for cash out of the earnings of the case that had opened my eyes to the world of the weird. Where other just felt uneasy, heard whispered voices, or caught something out of the corner of their eye they could never really see… I saw what was really there. Consider yourself lucky. Especially those of you living in San Francisco. No other city in the world can claim the oddities that call Fog City home.
My unknown guest was studying my bookshelf when I entered my office. His right hand was up, the forefinger running across the titles. Some may not believe it, but I do read, and sometimes I read the classics. One of my friends owns a book shop right off of the Haight, and sometimes I get a good deal on a collectible. That forefinger was dangerously close to some of the rarest in my collection.
He said, not turning his head as I came into the room, “You have a fine collection here, Mister Mandolin. Have you read them all?”
“Yeah,” I replied, heading toward my desk. “I only buy books I read.”
“Ah,” he said, pulling one of the older ones out of the shelf. “That would include this one.” He held it up so I could see the dust jacket. The title, Dracula was legible in its faded red against the dirty yellow of the cover. My guest shook his head as he looked at the book, “Mister Stoker had such an imagination.”
I wondered about that. Since my eyes had been… opened, as the faerie folk say, I’d come across enough solid evidence to indicate to me that old Bram may have been writing his diary more than a book. I wasn’t about to tell that to mister average here, fingering my collection. From the looks of the guy, he’d probably faint.
Greystoke gave a little woof, and the guy put the book back into its place on the shelf. “You are quite right, my dear fellow. I should ask before handling such a valuable rarity.”
It may have been the accent, but it seemed he just talked to my dog.
He turned and asked, holding up the book, “Do you mind?”
I shrugged, “Not as long as you’re careful. I buy paperbacks for reading. Those are just too delicate.”
He nodded, sighing, “Yes, age eventually wears upon everything, does it not?”
He turned, put the book back and then selected the even more prized piece of my collection, Max, the owner of the Haight bookshop and head dungeon master of the local gaming guild almost had a stroke when he saw it uncovered in the bottom of an old trunk I bought at an auction. I nearly joined him when I was told the last copy to surface sold at auction for almost a hundred and fifty grand.
The guy said, as he slowly turned the book over in his hands, “Lovely little Mary. I’d always wondered if she would publish what she saw…”
A chill went down my spine, one of those icy shivers that tell you something at the top of the hinky list is going on, and you are unavoidably involved. I said, “Perhaps it may be best if you just put my copy of Frankenstein back on the shelf and tell me why you’re here.”
He turned away from the book and stared at me. This was not just a look, it was a stare, one of those unblinking things you usually only see in old movies. It was damned uncomfortable, almost a challenge. Then just like that, it was over and he said, as he replaced the book onto the shelf with what could almost be called reverence, “Of course. You must think me incredibly rude.”
“No…” I said, easing around my desk and sitting. I linked my fingers together and put my hands onto my desk as I added, “No, you just seem to be dancing around the subject. I do have to say you do better footwork than most of the people I’ve seen.”
I waved at the one other chair, “Please, sit.”
He did and then pulled out a business card and reached across the desk, holding it out for me to take. “My card.” His accent made it sound like my carrrd.
I took it and turned it over to look. The face side was gloss black with red script lettering spelling out Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum. Underneath that in a thin chiseled-looking typeface, House of Drăculești.
I put the card onto my desk and said, “I don’t read much Latin, but I get the gist, You’re telling me you’re Count Dracula, right? What’s the follow-up, Frankie bursting into my office yelling surprise?”
He didn’t give a single tell. I filed away the notion of adding him to my never play poker with this person list. Then he shrugged, “Count is a misreading of the Latin. Vaivoda is better translated into Warlord, or rather War Leader. The closest European title would be Duke, not Count.” Then he chuckled and waved a hand, “But after nearly seven hundred years, it has little meaning, especially the way you humans wage war these days.” He smiled, “And people used to call me bloodthirsty.”
I couldn’t help it, I smiled as I leaned back in my chair. “You, Dracula, and seven hundred years? You’re being serious?”
He bowed his head as if he was in a royal court. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, “I am Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum, of the House of Drăculești, as it states on my card. I was born the eldest son of my father, Vlad II, who earned the title as he was inducted into the Order of the Dragon in 1431 by Emperor Sigismund. It is to my eternal shame that I caused the title to take on its devilish intonations, forcing my fellow Romanians to change the word for dragon to balaur.” He sighed, “The way a man deals with heartbreak…” His words trailed off as he shook his head.
The alarm bells were still going off in my head. I thought back to that case where I had an entire extended family of vampires as clients down in Redwood City. I was never paid for that case, but when your client’s castle winds up being ground into the rock of the mountain by a giant serpent out of Norse mythology, it does tend to put a damper on things like payment, being able to find the client, and so on…
What the hell. I decided to ask, “So, Mister… uh… Dracul, why are you here? What do you need me to do?”
He paused, took a breath and then said, “I need you to find the last remnants of my family. I am told you were one of the last to see them alive.”
Those alarm bells became sirens. “All right,” I said, intentionally leaving off the I’ll bite portion of the cliché, “What can you tell me so I can begin looking?” It helps to slip into the routine to hold off the shakes.
“From what I was told”, he said, leaning back in the chair and crossing one leg over the other, “My cousin Eretich had his family home transported from its place in the mountains of Romania to a city here named after those incredibly tall trees you Californians are blessed with.”
Danger, danger, danger Will Robinson. Okay, how do I tell the original bad guy vampire sitting across my desk in my home office that his cousin is most likely bits and pieces of decayed vegetarian vampire mixed in with the rubble of his destroyed castle? And to top it off, yours truly could rightly be blamed for it?
I, as quietly as possible, eased open the middle drawer of my desk, exposing the butt of the loaded semiauto I kept there. The bullets were those Landau Bain, my cranky alcoholic wizard friend had, uh… enhanced about a year ago. If needed, they just might put a hitch into Vlad’s get-along. As I did so, I asked, “Umm, what’s the full name of your cousin Eretich?”
Dracula said, his attention apparently on the condition of his fingernails, “Viscount Eretich Drutsk-Upyr, Mister Mandolin. Not cousin, but more nephew. And please, do not insult me by attempting to use that weapon. I am fully aware of the circumstances of my cousin’s disappearance, and even though he blamed you for what occurred, I have been made aware of who was the real cause of that tragedy. I am also prepared to cover the costs of both my needs and what Eretich should have paid you.”
Ever have one of those moments where your brain takes off on a vacation right in the middle of a conversation? I was pretty sure I was staring at my client-to-be with about as much intelligence as a newborn calf.
Finally, a few cells reactivated. “Umm. Mister Dracula—“
I stopped and held up a hand, and then said, “I’m sorry. But I’m going to need more than just a card. I’m decidedly not calling you a liar or intending to insult you in any way, but frankly, you don’t look or act like who you claim to be, and honestly, even in this city, legends dropping by to retain a Private Investigator… it just doesn’t happen.”
The guy nodded if anything his expression one of understanding. Then he stood, and then he swelled, changing. I could hear Greystoke leave at speed, whimpering. To be honest, I probably whimpered some myself. What stood before me, filling most of my office from walls, to the floor, to ceiling, was a nightmare of nightmares. Bat could have been the main theme, but it went beyond bat into full blown ewww and then some. And then as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone, and it was just the guy again, sitting in my office and looking at me with a tiny smile on his face.
“Is that better?” He asked.
“Good God, no, that isn’t better!” I yelled, and then I forced myself to settle down. Breathe Tony, breathe. I held up a hand, “Sorry. You startled me, but you did it for a purpose and you don’t deserve to be yelled at.”
Vlad, it couldn’t be anyone else, Dracul nodded, “Very understandable, Mister Mandolin. Actually, I should congratulate you, few men have taken that revelation with the aplomb you showed.
“Chalk it up to mileage, not guts,” I growled. Then I said, “Uh, are you aware there is nothing left of Ereitch’s castle? I was there. I watched it being destroyed.”
He stared at me and then shook his head, “No, I was not aware. Please,” he spread his hands in supplication, “Tell me how it happened.”
“I thoughtt you said you’d been told about his disappearance,” I replied.
Dracula scowled, “Obviously much was left out. I will deal with that at another time and in my own way, Mister Mandolin.” He relaxed and said, “Assume I know nothing of what occurred, and now please, tell me the tale.”
So I told him how the snake out of the Nordic apocalypse was discovered under his cousin’s property in Redwood City and my, uh, being temporarily turned into a werewolf wound up defeating the thing, and how in its death spasms it ground what was left of the castle into gravel.
“What was that damned snake doing under my cousin’s castle?” He asked, more to himself than to me.
I nodded, “You know, I asked Bain that same question, but I have yet to get an answer.”
He froze. “Bain? Do you mean Landau Bain, the Wizard?”
“Uh, yeah?”
He stood, looking around, “He isn’t here now, is he? Perhaps sleeping off his latest binge?”
“I take you know him?” I asked.
Dracula gave me the most haunted look I’d ever seen, and from my perspective, that’s saying something. He just stared at me for a while and then shook his head, “No, and I have a very good reason to not wish to. You are sure he isn’t here, or nearby?”
I nodded again, “Absolutely. The last time I saw him, he was planning on taking a vacation, or whatever his sort does to relax.”
“Then it wasn’t him,” Dracula growled, “His sort, as you put it, does not relax.”
“Well whatever it was he was planning, it was Bain, no mistaking it. You can be sure of that. Regardless, you’re in my house and under my roof and therefore under my protection.”
He smiled, the first real smile I’d seen. “You know, Mister Mandolin,” he said, “That is the first time, in a very, very long time that I have heard those words.” He bowed his head, and when he brought it back up again, he said, “I, Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum, of the House of Drăculești, gratefully accept your sanctuary.”
The words sounded formal, and way back in the dusty recesses of my mind, I could bed, a few of my remaining brain cells dedicated to common sense started ringing their own alarm bells.
To hide any unease I may be feeling, I asked, “Besides my being one of those who last saw your cousin, why come to me? I mean, it could be all I’m good for is just a witness, answer a few questions and that’s it.”
“Oh, you are far more than just a witness, Mister Mandolin,” Dracula waved a hand. I noticed the ring he wore, it had a very large ruby surrounded by diamonds in a very high carat gold setting.
He resettled himself into the chair and continued, “Why did Eretich hire you to act as security for his party?”
I thought back. “He said I had a reputation, I believe.”
“Oh, far more than a reputation, Mister Mandolin,” He said, chuckling, “In some areas of the nonhuman world you are notorious.” He leaned forward, “Are you aware, that the name Tony Mandolin is used to frighten the unruly children of certain species into behaving?”
Huh? Then I replied, “That’s got to be a mistake. I haven’t been around that long.”
He shook his head, “No mistake. You must not be aware that time flows differently outside this dimension. For some of the creatures on the other side of the veil, you have been a nightmare for centuries. For others, a hero of legend.”
“And I suppose,” I muttered, “For others not even a blip on the radar.”
He nodded, “Certainly. For others.”
I thought about that and then decided to stop doing that, it gave me a headache. I tried another direction, “Your cousin told me there are different types of…” I paused, didn’t not knowing how to say “vampire” without sounding… well, like a hick.
Dracula smiled, showing elongated canines, “Of my sort?” He chuckled again, “Eretich was speaking out of turn, either that, or you had been accepted as family.”
I had been, I thought, and then tossed out on my ear, so to speak, when it all went balls up.
“Well, as I have accepted your sanctuary,” Dracula added thoughtfully, “I have no issue with affirming what my cousin told you, there is a variety of my kind, and, as you are probably told, there is little love lost between any of them.” He sighed, “It’s a competition for prey issue.”
I suppressed the urge to cover my neck.
Dracula continued, “I won’t bore you with a discourse on all the various types of my kind. It is a dreary business at best.” He sighed, “What I will tell you is this, I cannot stand those stupidly insipid romance stories about teenage vampires. No basis in reality whatsoever.” He snorted, “Phagh! Whoever came up with that as a plot device should be staked and laid out in the sun.”
He stopped and looked at me, “I’m sorry. It’s from spending so much time on my own. Eretich had his family. The last of my wives was killed centuries ago.”
I was pretty sure I knew the name associated with that deed and mentally drew a line through Van Helsing and then locked it away. I nodded as if understanding. Rule number 35, learn how to act, it pays for itself.
Dracula broke into my thoughts with, “I believe I mentioned payment.”
“Yes, you did,” I agreed.
“Ah,” he said, smiling. This time the fangs were gone. “Good, I do so despise being absentminded, it reminds us of the passage of the years. Do you recall what my cousin promised to pay you?”
I shrugged, “Sorry. Things went screwy so rapidly once I showed up for his party, I never got around to writing a bill.”
“No matter,” he said, reaching into his coat, “If you are able to successfully complete this task, you will not only be aiding me, but Eretich and the rest of the family as well.” He held a smartphone in his hand, one of the big ones, more of a tablet than a phone when you got down to it.
He looked at me from behind the phone, his forefinger poised, “Will one do?”
“One what?” I was way out of my depth, guaranteed.
“Yes,” he said, pulling the finger away from the phone, “It would not do to be ambiguous now, would it. Allow me to clarify, the one refers to one million… dollars, I believe is the denomination you Americans use, yes?”
Beep-beep-beep. My brain went into tilt, just like a kicked pinball machine. All I could do is stare. I hoped my mouth wasn’t open. Swallowing, I croaked, “Yes.”
“Ahh,” he said, “Good.” Then he began tapping on the phone.
I asked, “Do I need to give you an account number, or anything like that?”
Still tapping, Dracula shook his head, “No need for anything like that. I distrust banks with ties to governments.”
He held the phone up so I could see the screen. “Is this address correct?”
“That’s my address,” I said. “What-?”
“Good,” he said, going back to his tapping, “Then the gold will arrive safely.” He looked at me sternly, “It will have to be signed for, of course.”
I nodded vigorously, “Of course.”
“Well, then,” he said, sounding pleased, “I’m glad that’s settled. Once you’ve found Eretich and delivered the dragon’s egg, I will have your payment delivered.”
He stood while I was still digesting what had just happened. “It has been very pleasant meeting you, Mister Mandolin, and not at all what I was prepared for. I will be in touch. Good day.”
I stood, ready to come around the desk and shake his hand, but he did that smoke or mist thing I’d seen Eretich’s people do and was gone.
It hit me several seconds later. Dragon’s egg?
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Franklin Amadeus Jackson, part time drag queen, full time oversize black man with an affinity for feather boas and Village People playlists stopped and stared. The city of San Francisco is known as the melting pots of melting pots. Whatever race, whatever species you’re looking for and whatever flavor it comes in you will most likely find it right there in Fog City, even if it sometimes wears size 16 red Christian Louboutin pumps. What you do not expect to see is two of Frankie, as he prefers to be called, but there it was, his double standing not fifty feet from him chatting with Billy Bunty, the hotdog vendor.
Frankie raised a hand and called, “Yoo hoo! I say, Mister Good Looking! What are you doing here with my face?”
Frankie stands bare inches shy of seven foot something, and at a mass closer to that of livestock than humanity, he has the built in volume of a bullhorn. Let’s just say his voice carried.
Said Mister Good Looking looked up, half a polish sausage in his hand, and the other half in his mouth. He saw Frankie waving, widened his eyes as he saw himself calling to himself, and took off through the Market Street crowd. When a semi-tractor decides to plow through a traffic jam the sedans give way…or else. This was essentially the effect of the double’s charge. The last Frankie saw of his double was the flapping tail of a trench coat vanishing around the corner of the art supply shop.
He pulled up adjacent to Billy’s cart, puffing.
Some overweight folks—no, who am I kidding? Billy Bunty is obese on a Guinness Records scale, but he makes up for it in being one heck of a nice guy. He could find good in anyone, so it was with acknowledged genuine concern that he peered up at the big guy. “Frankie, what’s wrong? Was the polish too spicy? And how did you change so quickly? That red shift looks pretty good, though. What is it? Are you and Tony on another case?”
Frankie, catching his breath, looked down at Billy with probably the same expression most folks use, confused affection. You just can’t dislike the guy, not even when he’s taken a firm hold on the wrong end of the stick.
I didn’t mention it earlier. As Billy said, the red shift; Frankie was in full drag, blonde wig and all. He’d won himself another starring gig at the drag queen theater down in the Castro. His current getup included a form-fitting spandex gown with a UK stars and bars motif, a wavy blonde wig that hung down to the small of his back, and a feather boa long enough to be worthy of the fourth Doctor.
He huffed and puffed a couple more times and said to Billy, “Umm, I’ll have another of what I just had. Okay?”
♦ ♦ ♦
“And then he handed me a Jackson Special,” Frankie said, flopping back into his chair and staring at me, eyes wide.
“A what?” I asked. Knowing the big guy and his sometimes off the beaten path ideas of what cuisine was, a Billy Bunty Jackson Special could involve any number of weird ingredients.
“I said,” Frankie leaned forward, working his mouth, “A Jackson Special. Tony,” he said, in his little boy voice, “I don’t have a Jackson Special. I never heard of one, and besides that, everyone knows I abhor sauerkraut.” He shook his head, “I think we’re getting pulled into another one of those weird deals… again.”
I checked my watch. It’d been about two months or more since the big guy and I had been involved in one of those “weird deals”. The last one involved a bunch of pirate ghosts, zombies, illicit gambling and the fate of the universe, and, to top it off, Frankie being killed. Yeah, you heard me, the big guy was snuffed, iced, axed, and whatever pulp novel term you choose to use in being shot and left to die in your partner’s arms.
I hear you, and I know the next question, if Frankie was killed, what was he doing telling me about his conversation with Billy? If you’ve been made aware of my other cases, you should already know the answer. If you’re a newbie, let me just say this, San Francisco has some rather unique qualities, one of them, it’s lousy with the supernatural… from both temperatures. One of the players in that realm, a whale, a major player, and a whole host of other descriptives that simply don’t do the job, decided I needed the big guy to remain in my life, and so it was. I came home ready to make the funeral arrangements and he was in the kitchen, cooking. Like I said, supernatural. I was getting pretty fed up with the supernatural, almost to the point where I was thinking about taking on divorce cases. Yeah, and the Niners were going to move back to Candlestick, win the Super Bowl and then retire as the next incarnation of the Village People.
I said to Frankie, “I wouldn’t worry about it, Jackson is about as common among the darker-skinned demographic as Smith is in Utah. The guy probably looks a bit like you and, face it big guy, people are growing…still. You may no longer be unique.”
Frankie sniffed, “I am so. I will always be unique, and that imposter is going to be brought to heel, Tony. I swear it!”
I gave him my best gimlet stare, all 90 proof of it, “Frankie, if you start quoting Wrath of Khan in the original Klingon, I’m eating at The Snug.”
He opened his mouth for a comeback and the doorbell started singing. I had to smile, literally, saved by the bell.
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I looked across my desk at the little guy sitting in the only other chair in my office. He looked about as dangerous as a gerbil and half as fierce.
He spent most of the time examining his hands, which he kept in his lap. “I can’t even keep pets, Mister Mandolin. This isn’t due to any clause in my rental contract, they either run away or die on me.”
He called himself Hugo Dahl. From what I could gather, he was some sort of scientist, or researcher. He worked at Stanford in an area I’m not going to try to re-pronounce. The term had a whole lot of syllables and most of them Latin, I think.
He kept talking, all of it in the same quiet monotone, “I’ve got to have the worst luck in the world, the universe. Why do I keep betting on them, every time, they lose, every time!”
He started to become excited so I held up a hand. My office isn’t big enough to pace in. “It’s all right, Mister Dahl, I’m here to help, if I can.”
“Hugo, please.”
“All right, Hugo. Who loses?”
“Huh?”
Some clients are like that. They head off onto tangents and need to be guided back to find whatever point they were aiming for. “You were talking about luck and betting,” I said, hinting broadly.
He nodded and said, “Rather than being hyperbole, Mister Mandolin, I have never won a bet in my life. In fact, I have never won anything. Anything in the realm of chance as far as being favorable in the remotest has stayed far from me.
“I keep trying. I can’t help it. One year, a few seasons ago, I chose the NFL team that, the previous season had breezed into the playoffs and won the Super Bowl by a record number of touchdowns. After I placed my bets they became the first team ever to be shut out for the entire season. The team owner committed suicide on the fifty-yard line and the head coach, when last heard from, was managing a McDonald’s in Portland.”
I’d read about that. I seriously doubted Hugo was responsible. He didn’t look like he’d purposely jaywalk, much less put a whammy on a football team. I grunted, nodding for him to continue.
He did, “I decided to enter into a study of Heisenberg’s laws of probability. Some might consider it crackpot, but I began working on a theory concerning the existence of probability waves consisting of particles similar to Quarks. I was able to get ahold of a small projector and modified it to where I could fire a stream of what I called Heisendahl particles at a charged plate.”
I nodded and asked, “Did you?”
He answered my nod with one of his own, “Well, the math appeared to be correct so all I needed to do, in theory, was push the fire button on the gun.”
“What happened?” In spite of myself, I was becoming interested.
He swallowed and said, in a slightly more engaged tone, “A stream of extremely over agitated electrons impacted the plate. They produced an ever-expanding rainbow such as one might see under a fountain on a clear summer’s day. I set up a control program on my laptop and through it, I could see that, even when the voltage was diminished to a level below that of a phone line the rainbow effect remained constant.”
“What did that mean?” I asked.
Well,” he said, “according to Murphy’s corollaries there should be two polarities to the probability spectrum. If these were in fact probability waves…if Murphy was right in saying (1) that if anything could go wrong it would, and (2) that if anything could go right it would, then there could possibly be a way to force the condition. Sort of a lucky force field, I suppose. All I needed to do was test it.
“Considering my track record in that area, I assumed even one winning roll of a pair of dice would tell me in a control test. I also weighted the dice to come up with craps when outside of the control field. If the field could affect probability so that it affected dice weighted in favor of my bad luck, I thought I would have something.”
I nodded again. Even in the number of weird cases I’d been handed over the years, this fellow was out there. Fortunately, he didn’t seem prone to violence.
Hugo continued, “The polarity control consisted of a simple toggle switch to the side of my laptop. Up selected one polarity and down selected the other. When I began, the switch was up. I tossed the loaded dice into the field and they bounced, coming up with a five and a two. I repeated that test four more times. Every time I threw either a seven or an eleven.
“For the final test, I had a pair of legal dice. With the polarity set to positive every throw was a winner, and when set to negative, a loser. I also checked with the loaded dice and received the same result.”
I leaned back in my chair and said, “Sounds like you’ve got something there.”
“That’s the problem, Mister Mandolin,” Hugo said, looking me in the eye for the first time, “I don’t. There was a break-in and the projector has been stolen.”
“Hmmm, that could be interesting,” I thought, “Where would a thief go with something like that? The casinos would be my first choice.” Then another thought hit me and I asked, “Can you describe this projector? How big is it? Breadbox, shoe box or refrigerator box?”
Hugo smiled sort of a nervous twitch on one side of his mouth. He said, “I work in micro-circuitry, Mister Mandolin. The breadboard was only for preliminary testing. My final prototype was designed to fit in my pocket.” He smiled again, “I don’t know if it was for ease of use or a way of rubbing it into my fate’s face, but the projector looks like an old silver dollar. Heads is the positive side and tails is negative. All you have to do is press either side with your thumb.”
I groaned, “A lucky coin.” “Nice.”
Hugo nodded, “Exactly.”
Another question came to mind, “You said something about a charged plate earlier. Does that mean your lucky coin only has so much area where it works?”
“Well, yes and no,” Hugo said, hedging his bet.
“Come again?”
He spread his hands, “I’m sorry, I’m not telling this very well. Losing my prototype has been very upsetting. When I was just beginning my experiments, I used the charged plate to test my hypothesis. After that, especially after perfecting the microcircuitry I discovered the field affected an area covering a sphere of exactly eight feet, no less, no more.”
I nodded, wondering what the results of thumbing the wrong side of the coin would be, then I asked, “What does that mean? It only works in that area? Like that story about the football team, it wouldn’t have helped?”
He seemed to be thinking for a bit and then he said, “No…no, I think it would have. I wanted them to win, and if I was in the field they would have. Yes, I’m sure of it.”
“How about anyone else in that field?” I asked, “Would it affect them as well, and is there a tradeoff?”
He looked puzzled again, “I don’t understand the question.”
I shook my head, “Maybe I’ve watched too much science fiction, but it seems to me if you’re forcing good luck to go your way, then doesn’t it follow that someone else has to pay for it? You win and they lose?”
He hummed to himself for a bit and then nodded, “Yes, I suppose the question of balance would come into play…”
I shuffled a couple of the papers on my desk. I was only in the office to pick up the mail and was ready to head back home when the little fellow showed up. For some reason what he was telling me scared me just shy of the point of wetting my pants.
For those of you snickering at my attitude right now, let me introduce myself. My name is Tony Mandolin and I’m a Private Investigator, not a private eye. I don’t do snoop work such as peeking through bedroom windows to catch assorted types of infidelity, not even for serious money. Some of us still have a little bit of pride left. At least I’m not personal injury hack.
Anyway, a few years back I discovered that nearly every fairy tale had a certain level of truth to it, like about past your eyebrow level. Pixies, vampires, goblins, werewolves, gods, goddesses, elves and faeries, all real, all true and most of them scary as hell. Toss in a former alcoholic wizard and we have the whole chef’s salad of weird that my life has become.
Ever since then the word has gotten around, and if you’ve got yourself into a pickle, and if it’s the sort that if you told the authorities about, your next sleepover would be in in a padded room, well that’s where I come in. I deal with the weird stuff.
Yeah, I said weird stuff. There was this vampire whose taste ran to redheads, a witch poisoning the diners in high-end restaurants, an evil-not-so-evil faerie queen, and that alcoholic wizard I mentioned, plus a pregnant werewolf. And, that just a sampler. What Hugo was talking about added a completely new level of weird to the possibilities.
Well, turning down jobs that didn’t insult my integrity never paid the bills. I shook my head and asked the next question, “There’s the matter of my retainer, Mister Dahl.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, fumbling in his jacket. He pulled out a checkbook, “What was the amount again?”
“I haven’t mentioned it yet,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “My usual rate is $200 a day in addition to expenses. Those expenses include state and federal taxes. And I can’t guarantee I’ll find anything,” I smiled, “Sorry about that, but all you’re paying for is the effort.”
“Oh, no matter, no matter,” Hugo babbled, “Is the first week in advance all right?”
I didn’t tell him that a nice round thousand dollars retainer was very welcome news. Nodding, I said, “That will do.”
Hugo left the check on my desk and took one of my cards, along with my promise to keep him informed on how the case progressed.
After the door closed, I picked up one of the papers from my desk. It was a bill, and so were the others, coming to a total of about $650.00. I glanced at the check and breathed out a sigh. It wasn’t all that long ago a bundle like that would have been considered small change. The last case though hadn’t turned out all that well. My client wasn’t pleased that most of his family died, even though it wasn’t my fault or doing, and he didn’t pay. Of course, that could have been because of his castle being torn down about him by an enraged giant snake. I wasn’t going to judge.
I put the check and the bills into my pocket and stood up to grab my coat and hat. The phone rang just as I was reaching for the doorknob. Whoever ran the circumstances surrounding my life, they had far too much of a sense of the idiotically dramatic.
I picked up the receiver and said, “Mandolin.”
“What are you doing there? Why aren’t you at home?”
I recognized the voice. It belonged to Patrick Monahan, my friend and a Captain for the San Francisco Police department. Pat tended to be rather short and gruff when the city leaders had a bee in their bonnet.
“Hi Pat,” I answered, “I’m just doing a mail run. What’s up?”
He grunted, “Why haven’t you let that flea trap’s lease lapse? If anything the neighborhood is worse than it was when you first moved in.”
He was right there. When I took out the lease on my office the elevator actually worked and most of the businesses in the building were, for the most part, legitimate. Now, outside of the attorney down the hall, the average office housed businesses devoted to selling, or at the very least renting assorted forms of affection. I’d been toying with the notion for a while, but it was my office, damn it. Working from home all the time seemed like giving up.
I answered, “I know, I know. Sentimental, I guess. Why the call? You got a case for me?” I figured I might as well do some sales work while I’m at it. Pat sometimes sent cases my way, especially if they had an ingredient the police called Mandolin Madness in it.
He paused and I knew it was going to be one of those MM cases. “Well, we’ve got something down in the morgue I want you to see…”
I sighed, the city won’t release the count, but a huge number of bodies go through the San Francisco morgue every year. So far, in my career as an investigator, the number of times I’ve been asked to go down there and check something out comes out to a nice round three. One of those times was without Pat’s knowledge, but every time I got the call, meant I was in for a case loaded with things nightmares are made of.
“When do you want me?” I asked.
“Take your time,” Pat said, “You don’t have to be downtown until 8 am tomorrow morning. You’re going to love meeting patient zero.” He hung up.
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Chapter 1

Harry reached into his coat and pulled out the envelope. Plastic was far more convenient, but since banks had developed a disturbing tendency to notify the feds every time someone moved any amount over 10K, he preferred the security of cash.
Chuckling to himself at his own pun, Harry lifted the flap of the envelope and counted the money. A cool 25K, he smiled to himself. The mark never knew what hit him. He should’ve gotten into the insurance racket a long time ago. He tossed the envelope onto his desk where it joined its many friends.
Harry Reed, of the Michigan Reeds, was a thin-framed little man with a receding hairline and watery blue eyes. After moving west, he started out as a runner for assorted white gangs in the bay area, working his way up the racketeering ladder until he was able to take his place at the top of his own organization. The fact that he had managed that feat through betrayal and blackmail meant nothing to him, but it spoke volumes to those who considered and then rejected the idea of deposing the bantam crime boss. The San Francisco bay’s bottom was littered with a number of skeletons chained to concrete weights as a testament to the ferocity of Harry’s intention to remain in power.
As he moved through the ranks of corruption, Harry tried his hand at nearly every one of the marketable vices: gambling, drugs, prostitution, unlicensed tobacco and alcohol and so on. At the turn of the millennia that he noticed the really big money was at the corporate level. His assorted businesses netted him about a million a year—nowhere near as much as Shultz’s organization and not even close to Luccesi—but it wasn’t chicken feed either. Then one day he decided to pick up a copy of the city’s business magazine along with his usual Chronicle. The man on the cover was Randall Driver, and when Harry saw the estimated yearly income, he nearly lost his teeth. He was no longer a small fish in a big pond; he wasn’t even in the pond. The man had other people doing all the work for him and he was raking in billions. Through a few of his political channels, along with several thousands in bribes, Harry managed to acquire himself a corporation. From there he searched around and located those industries which allowed the greatest degree of theft built into their business models, time-share sales, insurance and stock management. Because of the almost unlimited greed of the bankers, he grew quite fond of hedge funds.
Even though the greatest amount of graft came in through the stock markets, Harry felt the greatest sense of satisfaction in cheating people out of their insurance settlements. Sure, there were companies stupid enough to hand out awards like they were candy, but to Harry that seemed almost blasphemous, like giving away food and shelter, or treating everyone equally regardless of race, creed or color. That way lay madness.
His latest acquisition had been particularly satisfying; an old man had been the victim of a theft, several old paintings claimed to be nearly priceless works of an American master supposedly an ancestor of the homeowner. He, through his ‘investigators’, managed to prove to the underwriters that the supposed American Masters were little more than worthless attempts by a hobby painter. Of course, the owner protested the decision, but Harry also had a couple of judges on retainer. His reward for a few minutes work was the rather thick envelope sitting on the pile in the middle of his desk.
On impulse, he reached across the desk and picked up the envelope. This last one, he mused, was special. He’d had the unique pleasure of watching the old man realize the scam and being able to do nothing about it as he delivered the bad news. Harry stuck the envelope into his pocket and patted it. He was going to go shopping as a celebration, and the old man’s tears would pay the bills.
The heat began as Harry drew near to his door. He first thought that someone had been messing with the air conditioner. By the time he reached out for the doorknob he was sweating. As he pulled the door open, the fabric of his coat began to smoke and then it burst into flames.
Harry screamed out in both fright and pain, but ripping off his coat did nothing as the flames erupted from his shirt, pants and underwear. The heat increased to the point that none of his employees could even get close enough to try to staunch the flames. When the fire finally died out Harry was reduced to a pile of white ash and a few scorch marks indicating where he had laid.
♦ ♦ ♦
I put the paper down with a profound sense of ambivalence. The lead story in the Chronicle was about the sudden immolation of old Harry Reed. No great loss there, the man was a notorious cheat, except using the term with Reed was doing a serious disservice to cheats.
I’m Tony Mandolin. I live and work in San Francisco--Fog City, as it’s lovingly known to the locals, and if you weren’t born here, you ain’t local. When I first got my Private Investigator’s license I was about as green as green can be and the only thing that kept starvation away from the door was my friendship with then police sergeant, Pat Monahan. Pat funneled the odd job and consulting gig my way until I made the mistake of being right when the big boys insisted I was wrong. A city bigwig’s kid was indicted, a councilman was embarrassed and my ass was suddenly grass and every badge in the city, except for Pat, had an extreme case of Mandolinitis.
It was right about then I discovered my talent for finding things. You know how some people can lose their reading glasses right on their nose? Well, I’m the guy who can find them. Lost kids, cats, dogs, and wallets, it doesn’t matter. If you lost it, I’ll be able to find it. The problem is, an awful lot of the time there’s some folks even more interested in what was lost staying that way. And they tend to get pretty rumpled when someone like me comes along and stirs the pot.
A few years ago, that pot boiled over and sent me into the world of the weird. Someone had begun killing redheads, one of my favorite flavors, but my tastes don’t lead to leaving behind a corpse. In addition to bring me to the attention of the city’s mob bosses, it also put me under the microscope of the people at the tip top of the San Francisco food pyramid. When all was said and done Mama Mandolin’s baby boy had a stack of cash, a dead vampire, a house of my own, and an NFL-sized housemate with a penchant for size 16 Louboutin pumps.
I got up to pour myself another cup of coffee and had to veer to the right to answer the phone. I am a Luddite and proud of it. I don’t have a computer and my phone is one of the old connected to the wall with a cord types. Unlike the new smart phones, this one does one thing and it never breaks.
I picked up the receiver, “Mandolin.”
“You read today’s paper?” The gruff voice at the other end of the line belonged to Pat Monahan, now a Metro Captain.
“Harry Reed, right?”
I heard Pat take a sip of coffee. He’s the only guy in the city who likes it stronger than me. If it doesn’t dissolve his spoon, he sends it back. “Right,” he sipped again, “You notice anything about how they say he died?”
I have to admit, I pretty much skimmed the story. Today’s journalists, in my opinion, don’t know the first thing about writing. All they do is jot down a few facts, run it past the editor to make sure it meets with that paper’s agenda and then collect their check. The idea of making it interesting for the reader or actually exploring any of the facts never occurs to them. “Burned to death, I believe. I thought Harry stopped smoking a few years back.”
Monahan sighed, “At least you’ve grown up enough to not turn that into a sick joke. No, this one has you written all over it. Come to my office after lunch.”
He didn’t wait for me to agree, he just hung up.
Greystoke, my German Shepherd, padded into the room, his tail wagging in that way that means either take me for a walk or call for maid service. Breakfast was over with and Frankie was off auditioning for a part in the latest SoMo theatrical spectacle, so I grabbed his leash and hit the sidewalk.
In my part of the city, an older neighborhood with some Vickies that survived the 1906 quake, most folks have some form of family pet. Over the past year or so Greystoke had made friends with a couple of poodles, an English bulldog, a few undistinguishable mutts and a great Dane. Of course, he’s had his share of staredowns as well. So far, the only one he hasn’t been able to back down is a Tibetan Mastiff by the name of Fluffy. The dog is roughly the size of a black bear. I have no proof, but I think the owner just leaves it out in the yard and lets it feed on burglars.
After that first meeting, I decided to make sure our walks took us on a route away from Fluffy’s house. That dog’s bark could break windows.
I was also looking forward to getting out of the house a bit. Last year I had a case that finished up with a full blown war between the mob and a demigod right on my front lawn. It had only been a couple of weeks since the neighbors had decided I wasn’t going to be bringing the apocalypse down on their heads. Not to mention that I’d wound up gotten myself bitten by a bay werewolf. Don’t ask.
There’s a small park across the street from my house with the appropriate doggie doo station next to the sidewalk. I collected the necessaries and after checking to make sure no rivals were in sight, let the boy loose to run.
Greystoke took off at a full run, barked, and made a cut to the right that would have made Frank Gore green with envy. He made another cut to the left and then ran a high-speed circle that covered the entire diameter of the grass. A couple of his mutt friends ran across the park to join him and soon a game of chase was in play.
As I watched Greystoke romp with his buddies, I heard a growl behind me. I turned, assorted exclamations bouncing through my head, none of them appropriate for publication.
I should have used stronger language. It was the mastiff, and he did not seem to be in the same jovial mood as the other dogs.
If you’ve ever seen one of those documentaries on the wolf’s domesticated cousin, and if you paid attention, you probably learned about the body language of man’s best friend. A dog that’s feeling good and wants to play with you usually crouches and wags his tail held high. A dog interested in bumming a snack or a pet more often than not will sit down and look up expectantly with his mouth either closed or panting. Teeth never really come into the picture.
This dog was not wagging, or sitting, or panting. No, this one was decked in a more growly, toothy motif. Not something you really want to see up close and personal, especially if said dog is about twice your size.
I raised both of my hands ready to give a try at calming Fluffy down. Being eaten by the neighbor’s dog wasn’t high on my bucket list. To my surprise, Fluffy flinched and backed away as I moved. This time the doggie body language said nothing about attacking and a whole lot about getting away from the bad man. I took a step and Fluffy spun about and took off as if a nightmare was after him.
There wasn’t a lot of time to stop and consider what had happened because right about then, Greystoke led his buddies over to me. Whatever had gone on with Fluffy was going on with them as well. Every dog there except for Greystoke acted as if I was about to use them in assorted Chinese dishes, and even he was looking at me in a funny manner as his buddies took to the hills.
I looked down at him, “What?”
He didn’t seem to be interested in elaborating, so I grabbed the leash and took him home. On the way, Greystoke kept sniffing at me, and mustting, that thing where cats and dogs make a face as they work out a particularly intriguing smell. I’m pretty sure the neighborhood would be all abuzz with gossip for days after this spectacle.
The phone rang as I unlocked the door. The mantle clock told me why it was ringing as I entered the room. I’d messed around long enough that I missed the appointment with Monahan. He wasn’t at all understanding, and he dismissed my comment about the weird behavior of Fluffy and the other dogs with a comment of his own about my general personality that was entirely uncalled for.
I locked up and made my way down to the Metro building where I received more of the bonhomie from the desk sergeant as he buzzed me in. Geez, solve a couple of cases the Commissioner has deemed unsolvable and they treat a guy like he’s a hit man for internal affairs.
I caught sight of my most favorite person in the whole world, little Denny Knowlen; the midget Detective Lieutenant from Hell.
Knowlen, for some reason, hated me at first sight. Whether it was because I could actually reach the top shelf in the fridge and he couldn’t, or because I had proven Private Investigators were not all voyeurs with an expense account, I had no idea. Boiled down, it didn’t matter. It may have simply been the fact that I had a direct hand in getting his best bud, Ex-Lieutenant Rorche, a vice cop who made bad vice cops look good, kicked off the force. Rorche was all too cozy with some very nasty elements in San Francisco’s underworld. I spent some time kicking that anthill and then Rorche spent some time trying to whack Mrs. Mandolin’s baby boy. I was lucky there. If Frankie hadn’t got it into his head to follow me around I’d be staking out my own personal cloud right now.
He noticed me, started, and then that familiar sneer I knew so well took up housekeeping on his pinched face. “Mandolin,” he sniffed, “That explains the smell. I thought the sewers had backed up again.”
I pasted the cheesiest grin I could onto my puss and stuck my hands deep into my pockets, “Not me, short stuff. Look around, I’m sure you got your fan on reverse again.”
Knowlen snarled and started to stand, “Why you crud…”
“Don’t have to time to dance, Lil’ Denny,” I said, waving, as I continued on past his desk and pointed at Pat’s office, “The Captain has summoned me.” I finished with a royal wave and walked into Monahan’s office without knocking.
He looked up from the report he was reading and noticed who it was, “Mandolin! What have I told you about knocking?”
I started to turn around, saying, “Oh, then you don’t want to talk to me.”
“Get your ass in here!”
Sometimes Pat is way too easy to wind up. I really do need to find myself another hobby. I closed the door and grabbed the chair in the corner; I didn’t feel like taking the one in front of his desk, as it brought back too many memories from high school.
I crossed my legs, leaned back, and asked, “Okay, so what’s this about?”
Monahan sighed, “Come on, Mandolin. I don’t have time to play games. I’ve got a citizen--a politically connected citizen, in spite of what the news says about him--turning into a bonfire in the middle of his office and the only other thing showing damage is the scorch spot on his rug. If you ask me, this falls right smack dab into the middle of that bailiwick we in the Bay Area Law Enforcement Community like to call Mandolin Madness.”
I nodded, “So? The guy probably experienced a bout of spontaneous human combustion. It’s rare but I’ve read where it does happen. The stuff I’ve had to deal with goes way past rare.”
“Stop reading the tabloids, Mandolin, they do nothing for your questionable intellect,” Pat sniffed, “SHC’s a myth. So to answer your question, the big boys want to know what happened and they don’t want to have to wait for answers.”
“Lovely,” I snorted, crossing my arms, “And just to be clear, whatever is sent your way will roll downhill in my direction?”
Monahan almost cracked a smile, “That stuff does run downhill, always has, always will. Welcome to my world.”
♦ ♦ ♦

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