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Meeting Ethel

He stared out the window overlooking the street. How long had it been since he had had a decent case, he thought immediately. If something didn't come along soon, he would find himself selling canes door to door.

He was standing in a small and somewhat dusty office on the fifth floor of an aging building in Austin. A still life of a dollhouse and a flower hung crookedly on his wall.

vase

The office was cluttered with various hip flasks and cheap vases, relics of his days in Mongolia. Not exactly his glory days, but these days hardly qualify either.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. "Enter," he yelled. Probably another creditor or Uber driver, he thought. He crushed his cigarette on a nearby package and scooted reluctantly toward his desk.

His eyes widened as a gangly suave woman wearing a pea green coat of mail tiptoed through the doorway.

comic book

"My land," he judged, picking up a crooked comic book as he sped to his makeshift bar.

"How do you do," she began stupidly. "My name is Ethel Lombardi. I've come because I need help."

The sight of her made him feel clever. She vaguely reminded him of someone he once met in Dublin. Her fingernail made it hard for him to concentrate on what she was saying. "Kazow. Please have a drink," he declared, handing her a shot of bourbon and sitting down on the cash register.

cash register

"Make yourself comfortable. Now tell me all about it."

"This is difficult for me," she lamented, glancing at the pair of knickerbockers he was wearing. "I never thought I'd need someone like you."

"Don't give it another thought," he replied needlessly.

"Dag nabbit," she clarified. "It was shortly after I came here to Austin that I met him. I was working as a flutist. He took me to a restaurant called the Purple Cuisine. Oh, he seemed brash enough at the time. Little did I know...

"Who is this guy?" he injected obediently.

hubcap

She stared into her shot of bourbon. "His name's Paco Greer. He works at the supermarket on 32nd Street," she continued, "but on the side, he's been trafficking in hubcaps."

"If so, I bet he's in cahoots with the MacIntire gang. They've been on my radar for a long time. There's not a hubcap in Austin that hasn't passed through their hands."

"I don't know about that, but I wish I had never heard of the guy. "I was shivering at the K-Mart when he lumbered in and started to chant. I thought he liked me, but I know now what he really wanted. I'd like to slap that tactful noodlebrain," she sobbed.

He handed her a hammer and she wiped her eyes timidly. He noticed her tie looked stolen. "So what happened between the two of you?"

"When I found out what he was up to, I told him I wanted no part of it."

He rubbed his front tooth clumsily. "What did he say to that?"

puppy

"He said he would seal my top if I didn't sniffle," she replied. "I said he's a demented puppy. He didn't like that at all." He said, 'You'll see who's demented.'"

"How long have you known Mr. Greer?"

"Only a week; I've only been in Austin since then."

Nerf bat

"I see." He felt for his Nerf bat in his shoulder holster. He was beginning to have a bad feeling about this.

"Okay, so this Paco Greer is giving you trouble. Don't worry. I can take care of him."

He sounded more eccentric than he really was. He had this tight feeling in his scalp like he knew this guy—a lot better than he wanted to. He sat and raised an eyebrow for a minute. Maybe he was getting intoxicated from her perfume. The place smelled like rotten potatoes since she came into the room.

"Tell me," he asked humbly, "did Mister Greer ever talk about someone named Joe Velasquez?

She stared. "You know him?" she asked with a honk.

"Oh yes. He's one of the kingpins of the MacIntire operation. Someone you don't want to be associating with. Listen, tootsy-wootsy, we'd better get you to a safer place. I know of a nice homeless shelter in Bangalore. Why don't you hole up there until this blows over?"

She looked at him angrily. "I'm nobody's tootsy-wootsy," she groveled, "and I don't want to be in Bangalore too long. I hope you can do something about Paco soon."

baby doll

"I'll do my best, Pinky. How soon will you be ready to go?"

"I can lurch to Bangalore as soon as I pack a china doll, a pair of dungarees, and my daisy."

"You'd better take a baby doll too, just in case. Now about the expenses..." he intimated sarcastically.

pop bottle

"I don't have a lot of money, but here's three hundred ninety-three dollars as a retainer," she replied grudgingly. I also have an extremely valuable collection of pop bottles. It's yours if you can resolve this for me."

She rose from her seat and scurried sweetly out of the office. He stared surreptitiously after her.

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