Eddie Provolone

The night was cold, cold and wet. Just the way I like it. I sat alone in my office as the rain cascaded off of the roof of the building that I shared with two accountants and an aerobics instructor. The neon sign on the skin theater across the alley strobed on and off as it drew me into its spell and my thoughts of the past few days. My head hurt and I probably had a broken rib somewhere. Goes with the territory though. The envelope on the table contained the fruits of my efforts. Not near enough. But that's all I asked for. Who knew?

My guess was that I hadn't payed the cleaning lady in a while, because my stuff was everywhere. The smell of raw garbage permeated the tiny room and even though I knew I should've taken it out, all I wanted to do was take off my shoes and crawl into a bottle of cheap bourbon. I had spent the last week chasing down some loser from somewhere in Alabama who was wanted by some friends of mine. Some kinda drug thing I'm sure. But hey, it's not like I'm a cop or anything. Just a guy. Just a guy who will go almost anywhere or do almost anything for a buck.

Then she rolled in. Like a buffalo straight out of a swimming pool. She was a great big hulking beast all covered with boils and cold sores. She had an ass like a wad of chewed bubble gum and a set of tits that turned into her stomach somewhere. Yea, I'd seen her type before. The kind of broad that could single-handedly turn Richard Simmons into a quivering, handholding bowl of melted Cool-Whip. Then, just when I didn't think it could get any worse, it did. She spoke.

"Eddie, Eddie Provolone?" she belched.

"That's right sister, what do you want?"

"Oh God, Eddie, you've got to help me." She thundered. .

Then she started to cry. Let me tell you, there was shit flyin' out of holes in this broad that I didn't even know women had. I shoved a dusty box of Kleenex at her and said soothingly, "Jesus Christ, get a grip on yourself 'Mighty Joe'. Suppose you calm down and tell me which paw the thorn is in?"

" Eddie, I know it's late, I know you're lonely, I know your plans don't include me, but still here we are...."

"If there's one thing that pisses me off its old Bob Seger. Now cut to the chase or there'll be no peanuts before bed-time." I growled.

"Okay, Eddie, I'm just gonna spit it out -- I'm a wanted woman."

" Wanted? Wanted by who, the Audubon Society?"

" No Eddie, by the law."

Then it happened, I swear to God in all my years as a P.I. and all my time spent in de-tox wards I had never seen anything like it. I'm not even sure if I can even describe it to you, but I'll try.

First came the shakes, like a St. Bernard in a carwash. Covering the surrounding area with a spray of what appeared to be really thick, "7-up". Then the blubbering sobs, interrupted only by the sound of mucus being drawn back through her sinus passage and down one of her many throats. Then finally the tears, until she was nothing more than a huddled mass of sticky, goo. By the time she composed herself, there was more snot and tears on my office floor than at a Motown anniversary show.

"Alright, take it easy doll." I cooed, "Suppose you tell me what all the emotion is about?"

After several moments of silence she began to rock back and forth spasmodically and then once again she spoke.

"I'm wanted by the police for the murder of my husband." she began, "But it's all a big mistake, see. I didn't kill him, Eddie. Honest I didn't.

Then it was my turn.

" I don't know why, but I think I believe you. And although it's against my better judgment, I'm going to ask you to tell me the rest of the story. First though, I'm going to have to know some things about you--like your name, breed, bloodline, and your master's phone number. Now come over here and let me see if you're wearing a collar."

"Oh Eddie," she sighed, "I don't know what it is about you, but you make me feel like everything is going to be OK."

"Just tell me the story, OK?"

"My name is Fumunda. Fumunda Yerballs -- and I'm not a murderer," she whimpered, "I may be a spoiled little brat but I'm no murderer. See, my father is the big furniture tycoon, Helix Yerballs. He's worth a fortune and everyone in this rat's-nest of a city knows it. Imagine how tough it was for a girl of my status to find a man who could love me for me and not my father's money. Which, I might add, will all be mine someday."

"I can just imagine," I yawned.

"Anyway, when I met Red I knew he was special." she waxed, "Maybe it was the way he held me after sex, maybe it was the gentle way he hosed me down at the truck stop on Sundays. Or maybe even the innocent, childlike way he would bring his drunken friends home and let them clumsily screw every wrinkle in my body until they all passed out. All I know is there will never be another man like Red Shanker passin' this way again Eddie."

"So, this poor sap Shanker, he was your husband?" I probed.

"I was getting to that part Eddie." She wheezed, "We were married on the fourth of May five years ago. It was a lovely ceremony with flowers and music and..."

"A great big cake right?" I interrupted feeling rather amused with the story at this point.

"Eddie, how am I going to finish the story if you insist on flirting with me?" She panted. "As I was saying, we were married in May three years ago and the honeymoon never stopped. It was like we were teenagers all over again. Picnics, romantic dinners, walks on the beach, just like in the movies."

"With Orsen Wells playing your part, naturally."

"Aw, cut it out Eddie." She wheezed. "Everything was fine until about a month ago then strange things started happening. Phone calls at all hours of the night, packages delivered in plain brown wrappers, and eventually we stopped having sex altogether."

"When do we get to the strange part?"

"Listen Eddie, you may not know it to look at me but I know how to make a man happy. It's just that sometimes I only need to be held, and Red was never a very romantic kind of guy when it came to sex. You know, in and out then wipe it on the curtains, but I never stopped loving him."

"So let me get this straight," I said, " You marry this somewhat normal guy, and after 3 years he stops feeling the desire to schtupp you and several weeks later he's feeding worms? I've got to tell you lady this doesn't look very promising for you so far."

"That's why I came to you, Eddie. They say that you're the best and that you really seem to care."

"Listen, Famunda, this may not be an easy question to answer but, then again.... Do you think your husband was seeing someone else? Like maybe another woman? Hell, another man for that matter?"

"If he was, he sure didn't show it." she said, as a distant smile overtook the acreage that was her face. "He was a tiger Eddie. There were nights when we didn't even go to sleep. Lots of those nights. Do you know what he used to like to do to me? He used to........."

"Like I said," I rushed in, "Do you think maybe he was seeing someone else? It's not out of the scope of things you know."

"I really don't think so, Eddie. There were no other women. Just that goddamn Burt. That no good son-of-a...."

"Burt?" I sat up.

"Burt Rawlings. He and Red became fast friends after we loaned him some money about a year ago"

"Burt Rawlings? The Burt Rawlings?" I confirmed. "The same Burt Rawlings that just bought the Cleveland Indians? With cash? That Burt Rawlings? Why did he need to borrow money from you? He's beyond loaded."

"I don't really know exactly," she breathed heavily. "Red just said that it was O.K. and for me not to worry about it."

"So you didn't worry about it?" I probed "Wasn't it your money?"

"Yes, I guess so. But Red and I shared everything. Everything. What was mine was his, and vice/versa. I wasn't worried," she said. "Besides, it wasn't like it was our last dime."

"Alright, I'll see what I can dig up, but don't get your hopes too high." I warned, " This wouldn't be the first time I've seen an innocent woman go down for something she didn't do."

I walked her to the stairs and then I told her, "I'll need $1,500 up front and then it's $200 a day plus whatever expenses I run up."

"Sure Eddie, that sounds fine." She whispered.

"Alright, as soon as I get the 1,500, I'll get started." I promised. I gave her a push down the stairs and closed the door.

I sat back down and began to digest everything that I'd heard. This Red Shanker was either really stupid or really blind. Either way, Red Shanker had caught a tremendous break and probably never knew it. I had seen the story in the paper. The police had found Shanker in a dumpster, with his arms cut off. The early reports said that the police believed his arms were severed from his body using barbed wire.

The next morning I was awakened by what sounded like about 95 pounds of spare-ribs slamming into my office door repeatedly. I grabbed my pants and swung the heavy oak door wide open. To my surprise there wasn't anyone there, but on the floor was an envelope with my name on it. Obviously this Yerballs dame had gotten to the bank real early and spared me the pain of seeing her again. I made a mental note to thank her for that later.

Half an hour later, I was just getting out of the shower when I thought I heard the phone ringing. I rushed to the desk, but when I got there, it had stopped. I stood there dripping, wondering if this Fumunda broad was on the level. Maybe she was one of those dames who ends up gettin' poor saps like me turned into swiss cheese. I decided that after I dried off, I'd do a little checking with my friends downtown. If this broad was tellin' the truth, I wouldn't have to ask a whole lot of questions.

Then the spareribs started in on my door again. This time more urgent than the first. I walked to the doorway and stood, dripping and listening. I could hear the heavy gasps of someone desperately overweight who had just lumbered up two flights of stairs, just outside the door. Famunda! I swung the door open, obviously surprising her, as the three-pound bag of peanut M&M's she was clutching went clattering down the staircase.

"Oh, Eddie! I was beginning to think I'd never see you again", she hiccupped, as a bead of chocoloate slobber came to rest on her chin.

"Yea, me too." I choked.

"Did you get the envelope? I mean the money? I brought it by early this morning. Did you get it?" She asked, with her Wiemeriener-like eyes batting furiously

"Yea, I got it."

"Can I come in?"

"It's a long shot, " I replied after eyeing the doorway, "but you're welcome to try." I stepped away from the door and stood behind my desk to watch. "So to what do I owe this little visit?"

"Eddie, I need a place to stay." she said, as she forced herself through the doorframe. "I wouldn't ask ......but it's just that we seemed to really hit it off last night, and well, I felt something. Did you feel anything? Between us I mean.?"

"Oh yea, I felt something. Hungry. You smelled like pork & beans last night for Chrissakes! The answer is no. Absolutely not! I'm sure there's something about it in the lease anyway." Then she started to cry again. There was no pre-game this time. She went straight to the tears. It was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever wittnessed. And I've seen "Cats".

"Eddie, I don't have anyone else." she wailed, "My father loved Red. He's offered a reward for my capture".

I had to get out of there. Fast. There was no way I was letting, "The Elmer's Glue Girl" stay with me. I had to think.

"Listen, you stay here - for now." I said as I finished with my tie, "I've got to go out, but when I get back we'll figure something out-- and try to cheer up alright. I don't have a mop."

"Eddie...?" she started, "I'll be thinking about you.

I just stared at her. "I'll be back." I sighed as I slammed the door.

Once on the street I began to put things together. The first thing that I had to do was get this, mouth breather-in-a-bra out of my office. She had potential for cramping my proverbial style. This meant that I would have to clear her and if she was really as innocent as she said she was, that shouldn't be too hard. Still, there was something about her that made me nervous. Well..., more uneasy than nervous, but you get the point.

My first stop was, "Chubbie's". Everyone in Chicago must have been to Chubbie's at least once, because Chubbie knew everyone in Chicago. Or claimed that he did. I had gotten Chubbie off the hook on a gambling charge through my connections on the force about 5 years ago, and ever since then Chubbie has all but licked my ass whenever I so much as darken the door of his place. If this Shanker fella had enimies, Chubbie would know who they were, and where I could find them.

The dim, bar light was a welcome change from the bright afternoon sun, and as my eyes got adjusted, I recognized the same sad faces that were in here the last twenty or thirty times I had come to pump Chubbie for gossip. I suddenly felt sick.

"Eddie! Eddie Provolone!! You little bastard you." Chubbie's voice filled the bar. "What the Hell is a skinny little fuck like you doin' in my joint?"

"Chubbie, it's always nice to see you still up and walkin' around." I offered as I gave him a firm grip and slapped his thickly padded back.

I was lying, it was never nice to see Chubbie. To tell the truth he smelled of fried pork most of the time. Fried pork and Fighting Cock. Chubbie was the definition of "Greaseball". He stood exactly 5' 4'", and was shaped like a giant pear, with his ass out circumferencing his head by more than a couple of inches. Cover all of this with a filthy white disco suit, and a salt stained pajama top which he never changed, a grease soaked brillo pad stiched to his head, and you've got Chubbie.

"Chubbie, is there somewhere that you and me can talk?" I said, while glancing at the meatloaves seated at the bar.

"Well, well Mr. Eddie Provolone needs my help. Did you hear that Gus? Eddie Provolone wants to talk to me about somethin'." He bellered across the room to the old man behind the bar. "What is it Eddie? You don't got nothin' to hide here. You're among friends. Right boys?" A series of grunts and other noises of agreement ran the length of the bar.

"C'mon Chubbie, let's sit," I motioned to a back table "and a drink would be nice."

"Gus, bring, little Eddie some water, and I'll take a beer. Make it two, and a glass." Chubbie hollard across the room. "Surely you ain't old enough to drink beer, are you little Eddie"? "

"Let's you and me cut the bullshit Chubbie." I said, as Gus set the water and beers down on the greasy, dogeared table. "What do you know about a Red Shanker?"

"I know if that's what's botherin' you then maybe you should see a doctor. That's liable to develop a nasty infection." Chubbie contorted with laughter as I reached over the table and grabbed the greasy patch of hair that was stapled to his bright red scalp.

"Listen to me you greasy pig-fucker," I growled, "I don't have all day to sit and play these little fuckin' games with you!!" I let go of his hair and sat back. "Who was Shanker nailing? You? There had to be someone. I"ve seen his wife"

"Shanker, you say? You mean that guy that they found in the dumpster behind the Italian place on fifth? The story is that someone chopped off his arms. Is that true?"

"That's what the paper says. Barbed wire." I lit the first of many cigarettes.

"They used barbed wire? Oh boy, I bet that made a mess. Jesus!!"

"So, do you know him or what?

"You mean, did I know him?

"Whatever. Did you?" I was getting pissed.

"Yea, I think I mighta' seen him in here a few times. Came in with that Rawlins guy. What's his name? Bennie? Bobbie? Ah fuck I can't re......

"Burt"

"That's it! Burt! What, you lookin for this guy or somethin' ? He's only been in here maybe once or twice. Every time with that Shanker."

"Where can I find out about him, Chubbie?" I said, while sliding a 5 spot across the filthy tabletop.

"How would I know, Eddie?" he wheezed as he reached for the bill with his grubby little mitt. "I told you he's only been in here once or twice."

"That's not what, "Honest Abe" says." I clipped, as I deposited a handfull of change in his lap.

Scurrying to pick up several pennies and a couple of quarters Chubbie changed his mind.

"Alright Eddie, I know him. I knew him. He used to come in a couple of times a week and cry on Gus' shoulder about that Yerballs broad he was hooked up with. She sounded like a real pain in the ass. Red used to say he could actually watch her getting fatter day by day. Like you said, I'm sure he was ballin' someone else, but I don't know."

"No woman could be all that bad Chubbie." I said, desperately covering. "Rawlins was the only person you saw him with?"

"Yea, him and some of his friends. I don't remember who all he runs with, but I'm sure he would be more than happy to open up to you." Chubbie grinned, with his hand outstretched.

"Chubbie, you are in luck. I really don't have the energy to keep this up any longer, so if you don't mind," I got up and picked the popcorn that I had sat on off of my ass, "I'm going to get out of here, before the health department shows up with the boards and nails.

"Hey Eddie, why are you so interested in this stiff, Shanker? Did he owe you money or somethin'?"

"What makes you say that?"

"He owed everybody money. Especially Burt Rawlings. I think I heard Burt say Red was into him for at least 10 g's. I dunno, but if you ask me, Burt Rawlings is the last person a fella would want to owe money to.

"Oh really? Do go on Chubbie."

"M-m-m-well, he's just high strung, that's all. Actually more uptight than high strung really."

Chubbie was getting to know this guy better all the time. I really wanted to stay and chat but I was out of change, so I figured I would let him fester for a while. If I knew Chubbie like I thought I did, he wouldn't be able to resist telling me everything he knew for long. As soon as he needed a couple of extra bucks he would come crawling around. I decided to wait it out. As I turned to leave I said to him,

"Chubbie, I'm going to go now. You can go on talking if you want, but I'm going. If you have anymore brain flashes, you know where my office is." Then I remembered Fumunda. "Better yet, just put the word out, and I'll be around." I could hear Chubbie squirming in his chair as I turned to go.

"Hey Eddie?" Chubbie said, "The water is a dime"

I tossed him a quarter, "Get change from your mother."

As I started down the crowded morning sidewalk toward D'Nunzio's over on fifth, I began to put everything that Chubbie had told me together and either Fumunda was lying or she was much more stupid than I had realized. After wrestling with this for a block or two, I decided that she was lying. After all, what are the odds of a broad that ugly being that stupid too? Pretty damn low. Still, one thing bothered me. Why would Famunda want to kill the only shot she had at a normal husband? I mean, it wasn't as if this broad was gettin' calls from Charlie Sheen or anything. She was doing pretty good to be dating guys that walked erect. It didn't add up. Unless Chubbie had been telling the truth about Red owing Burt money. Had Red blown through all of Fumunda's money that quickly? And on what? The Ponies? Other dames? As soon as I took a look over at D'Nunzio's, Fumunda and I were gonna have a long talk. She wasn't being straight with me and I could smell it from a mile away.

There were still a couple of squad cars hanging around the front of, D'Nunzio's as I approached the door, and as I pulled one of the handles to go in, it was pushed open from inside by Tom Craney. Capt. Tom Craney. An old friend of mine from my days on the force.

"Hey, Craney!" I said. "Look at us huh? Back together again."

"Hey there Provolone". He grunted as he quickened his pace past me.

"How have I been? Well, thanks for asking. I've been good, Tom. Pretty damn good." I said. "And look at you-a captain! Whose desk did you have to camp out under for that ?"

"I don't remember," he grunted as he walked toward the parking lot. "there were a lot of sedatives involved."

"That reminds me, Tom- are you still going to those meetings?"

"Fuck you Eddie!" he huffed as he headed for his car.

"Yea, go check in with, 'Mommie', Tom! Take her home a nice emema from the drugstore!" I called after him.

"My Mother died two years ago, Eddie." he turned around with tears in his eyes.

"Who knew?" I shrugged. "Listen, Tom, can't we just talk for a minute? After 20 years together, all we got for each other is a bunch of insults? C'mon buddy-be friendly!"

"Friendly who? Friendly me? To you?" He fired back. "Tell me why I should be friendly to you. Do you remember Christmas, 1975? Do you remember almost getting you and I killed trying to run down that 'peeping tom'?"

"That was my girlfriend's house, Tom! Besides, how was I supposed to know he was 'connected' ?"

"Good bye Eddie" he said as he slammed his car door shut on his coat. Then he rolled down his window, "And Eddie, I'm gonna do you a favor and pretend that I didn't see you here. Why don't you do yourself one and lay low for a while?"

"Yea, it was nice seein' you too, Cheesedick", I said as he rolled it back up. "Maybe you and Mrs. Cheesedick can come by for dinner some night? What do you say? Sound good?"

As I watched his rusty old Impala pull out of the lot, I suddenly remembered just exactly why I had quit the force. It was greasy bastards like Tom that had no real respect for justice. They have a gun and a badge, and suddenly they're above the law. Punks. They don't know the street the way I know it. Booze, Drugs, Broads, I know where to get em' all. I know every pimp in Illinois. I know a guy in Aurora that sells acid to these nuns twice a month and then they.... never mind that though, I had to get a look around. I couldn't help wondering though; what did he mean "lay low"? I had every right to be there. I still had my license, at least for another year.

D'Nunzios was the kind of place where a dead body could probably go unnoticed for several days, and evidently one had. As I weaved my way back, through all of the cops and reporters to the dumpster where they had found the body, it became painfully clear that somebody had definitely been dead here. Suddenly, for some reason I was reminded of Fumunda, back at my place, knawing on my furniture. I decided to take a look around inside, to give things time to thin out a little bit more out back before I took a poke around.

The next to empty dining room seemed to echo my footsteps as I walked in and began gazing at the pictures of the celebrities which speckled the otherwise filthy flocked wallpaper. A lone couple, seated near the front was whispering in hushed tones, as the whirr of the fan on the ceiling blew Dean Martin's voice around the room. I could smell fresh bread and sauce as I got closer to the kitchen. As I reached for the handle to go in, I was greeted by Miguel. The owner's son.

"Hey, you think maybe I could help you with something there?"

I turned around slowly, and came face to face with him, "I was just lookin' for Ernie. Is he,-uh around?" I managed to stammer.

"Ernie don' come in till 6, sometimes 5 but always by 6. You want I should leave a messege for him?"

"Listen, my name is Eddie....." I began.

"Yea, I know who you are Provolone, and if you think I'm gonna let you hang out here and snoop around you're fucked in the head. I've been busy with cops for 48 now, and what I don't need is some half ass, wise ass detective smellin' up the place. It's bad for business Eddie"

"Easy, 'Tiger', I was just asking when your Daddy was going to be here." I said. I figured that if I could just warm him up I could get him to let me talk to whoever was on duty that night.

"Nice try, 'Cheesey', but no cracker. The Old Man comes and goes as he pleases. You think he has time to tell me where he'll be every minute of the day? Get outta here Eddie."

"Alright calm down, 'big fella' I was just askin'." I said calmly. Realizing that I had just struck clay, I decided to leave. I certainly wasn't going to get anywhere with 'Little Ceasar' guarding the door, and besides that, Fumunda was back at my place probably half dead by now, covered with sweat and drinking the last of my 'Aunt Jemima'.

"See ya later, 'Bruno'" I said as I turned to leave.

"Hey Eddie," he said as I turned back around, "is it true that you were porkin' that stiff's fat wife? A couple of the waiters said that they heard some of the customers talkin' about you and that Yerballs broad. They heard that you had been bangin' her for years."

"You're out of your mind. Have you ever seen that thing? You've got a real fucked up sense of humor, you know that 'Micki'?"

"No need to get hostile Eddie, I was just askin'. Oh yea, and I think it might be on the front page of the paper this afternoon too. I'm not sure, but I think it might be." He said as he tossed a still warm copy down on the table in front of me. "Have a nice day Cheesey." He managed to choke as he walked off, laughing hysterically.

"Fumunda! She wouldn't have. She couldn't have." I thought to myself. Then I thought, "Wouldn't have done what? Told someone something? There was nothing to tell. I know this broad, what, all of 16 hours and all of a sudden I've been bangin' her for years? This is crazy." I said all this to myself because there was no one else standing there. Quickly, I grabbed the paper and with shaking hands began to read. Sure as Hell, there it was, as big as her ass, on the front page. "PRIVATE DICK LINKED TO SHANKER SAWING."

The article went on to say that I had been secretly been seeing Fumunda for the last several years, and that she had heard me talk of killing her husband on more than one occasion. She had revealed all of this in a signed statement taken earlier this morning after she phoned them from my office. She told them that I was obcessed with her, and that she was scared. They came and got her and I imagine that you can guess the rest.

Quickly, I got the hell out of there through the front door, and with my head down, merged in with the 3:00 downtown crowd. I needed someplace to think. Thanks to Famunda my apartment/office was out, and my Mother wasn't talking to me. That left me with only one choice. Ronnie.

Ronnie was one of those gals that really knew how to deal with men. She knew when she was and wasn't needed, and she knew how to get lost. In my line of work, a man can't make commitments. Romantic ones at least. Here was one broad that understood that and never made them herself. A real "Free Spirit", that was Ronnie. When I met her she was a maid in an old hotel. We used to sit in her car after her shift, drink cheap wine, and talk about ten years from then. Well, ten years is now and look where we are. Ronnie is a manager of a hotel, and I was wanted for murder.

The place she ran was over on the South side, so after some debate with myself, I decided to risk a cab. It would be getting dark soon and as long as I kept a low profile, I wouldn't have any problems-- and if it hadn't been for actually having to ride inside the cab, there wouldn't have been.

To begin with, the driver was some half Irish mutt with enough coats on to clothe an entire tenament. Not that I have anything against coats. The coats I can live with. Just clean them once in a while. I swear to God he had an entire lasagne on the collar of the old peacoat on top. He could have opened a buffet with all of the stuff in his pockets.

My only other complaint is; why can't you get a cab in this city whose driver knows how to keep his damn mouth shut? This leprechaun yammered to me the entire way across the city about some investment that was going to get him and his whole family rich. Like breeding chinchillas or some other crackpot idea. Amazingly enough he got me there in one piece though, so I tossed him a dollar for a tip as I got out and stood up to take in a lungful of clean air.

I had known Ronnie for a long time, but not long enough for me just to barge in, so I stood at the front desk of Howard Johnsons, waiting for someone to answer the little bell. A minute later I was being escorted back to a waiting room and told to wait. Several minutes later Ronnie appeared, and with a smile invited me back to her office. Once inside, I threw myself into one of the fake leather chairs along the wall and before I knew it someone was handing me a drink Same old Ronnie- still so hospitable.

"Eddie, it's good to see you." she began. "I see you got some ink in the afternoon's edition." I could see a copy on the chair next to me.

"Take it easy doll, none of it's true."

"Honey, I know you better than a lot of people do and even I have my doubts." She said. "If it's all bullshit, then why you? Wait, don't tell me. I really don't want to know.

"Good, because I wasn't going to tell you anything anyway." I said getting up for another drink. "The only reason that I looked you up is because I need a place to stay. Just for the night."

"Oh no. Not this time Eddie. Huh-uh, I've seen my share of your 'just one nights'. Besides that I've got a career to think about now. I can't afford to be getting involved with you again."

"I didn't say a goddamn thing about getting involved with anything. All I need is somewhere I can sit for an hour or so and collect my thoughts. Christ, I thought we were friends Ronnie, I guess I was wrong."

"Look, Eddie, It just hurts too bad when it's all gone. When the case is solved, you're moving on. No commitments remember?"

"You've changed, Ronnie. Really changed. What happened to sunsets and Four Roses? What happened to the stars? Remember the really bright ones? You used to say that all of those bright stars up there were really other people's dreams that they were still hanging on to. You said there would always be one for each us Ronnie 'No tomorrows Eddie.' Remember telling me that? Don't tell me you let your star burn out baby."

"That's easy for you to say, Eddie. You weren't the one left at home alone all winter. Without trace one of you. How am I supposed to forget about that?"

"Whose asking you to forget? Look, all I need is a blanket and someplace to lay down."

I could see the tears welling up in her eyes as she stumbled towards me with her arms wide open. "Oh Eddie, I don't know why I'm doing this. My mother said........" She continued mumbling as she stood there 'crying', with one of her arms around my neck, while the other one was unzipping her dress.

Great! She had bought it. I had made up all of that shit about the stars. The Four Roses and sunsets actually happened though. But after Four Roses, who remembers the stars anyway? Just as long as I had a couch to sleep on tonight. Don't get me wrong, she is definitely attractive, but the last thing I needed was to be sinking any wood into that right now. Ronnie was an alright girl, but like any dame she had her bald spots and her's was attention. She never could get used to a private eye's lifestyle, and she got lonely real easy. That was my bald spot.- her "loneliness".

Every guy in town knew about her loneliness. To say she was insatiable would be getting pretty close to the truth. Ronnie was a whore. No, she didn't take money, but all of the rings and clothes didn't just fall into her lap... well, what I mean is that she had to earn them somehow and frankly all she knew how to do was hit her back. Somehow though, she had always managed to find me when she was between executives. I guess you could say I was her hobby. I needed to avoid that really badly right now. Yet there she was, standing across from me now with absolutely nothing on.

"Listen, baby, don't get the wrong idea. I mean, I like you and all, it's just that I'm a little preoccupied right now. This whole 'wanted for murder' thing is all kind of new to me and I really think I should......"

"Eddie, don't try to tell me for one minute that you don't want this worse than I do." She purred as she crossed the room and closed the blinds.

"Now Ronnie, heh heh,- you know how carried away we can get. Why don't we save this for later? After a nice dinner? I'll cook!" I stalled as I backed against the door and fumbled for the knob. "Oh and we can't forget the wine. I wouldn't forget the wine. No wa......."

She pushed me up against the door and began doing things to me, as she whispered, "Only you know what I really like Little Eddie. C'mon, Cheesy, let yourself go. Remember the Four Roses Eddie? Lets do it like the old days baby!"

"Okay, why don't you go look up the number of the guy that you sold your Plymouth to and.........."

The next thing I remember is waking up in Ronnie's apartment. She was gone, and so was my gun. What I did still have was a price on my head, along with a good sized lump. Looking around, I realized there had been some kind of struggle, and it hadn't been between Ronnie and me. She had slipped me something in that first drink, but she certainly wasn't strong enough to carry me from her office to her room. She had obviously had some help.

As I sat up and began to get my bearings, I heard a key in the lock, but before I could move, the door swung open. There in the doorway was Ronnie, with Famunda right behind her.

"Hello, Eddie." They said in unison as Famunda closed and locked the door behind them. Then Ronnie crossed the room to the couch where I was sitting to shocked to move.

"How's the head baby?" She asked, as she gently stroked the rumpled patch of hair covering my lump. "I told the guys to be careful with you, but you know how hard it is to get good help these days. Poor Eddie. I'll get you some ice, honey."

I looked up to see Famunda gazing at me with those great big Holstein eyes of hers. This time though, they weren't full of tears. This time they looked like they could've burned holes all the way through me. This broad was farther out there than I had realized. Then like bacon grease, she softened.

"Gosh Eddie, it's a shame about that story in the paper. It kind of makes you look like the bad guy in all of this." She said with a sudden look of empathy on her face. "I just want you to know, Eddie, I never wanted to hurt you. It's just that I needed to get rid of Red, and this was my only way out."

"Don't worry baby, it'll take more than some bogus murder rap to touch me." I choked while trying desperately trying to hold back my own salty tears. It was just my luck that I happened to look great in heavy denim, and there was plenty of it where it looked like I was going.

I got up to stretch my back and to take in the scenery. As I looked around Ronnie's place, I began to notice things that raised certain questions in a man. There were pictures of me everywhere. On the walls, on the doors. The glass topped coffee table, was filled with pictures of me showering and shaving and the ones in the bathroom were worse.

"What gives with all of the pictures baby?" I asked, as Ronnie came toward me with an ice pack. "And why didn't you ever tell me I had hair growing back there?"

"Look Eddie, it's like, 'Mundie' said. It's nothing personal. This was just the easiest way out, that's all.

"Mundie?" I choked. My mind whirling, I suddenly noticed that Ronnie's place smelled a lot like a litterbox.

"Hey, when did you get a cat? I thought you were alergic."

Ronnie slowly crossed the room, and stood next to, Famunda. Then with a gleam in her eye, she turned and faced me.

"I've got no cats, Eddie. There's no one here except us mice.

And with that, she grabbed the back of Famunda's gigantic head, and climbed into her mouth. Lips first.

That was my cue. I grabbed my ice pak and headed for the door. But before I could figure out the lock, I heard the sound of a 9mm clip being slid into place, and the sting of cold steel against my cheek.

"Sit down, Eddie. We haven't finished our little show yet." Ronnie growled. "Just make yourself comfortable, we were just about to get to the interesting part."

"You know what I find interesting.....?" I began, squirming in my seat.

"Shut up, Eddie!" They roared in unison.

"I was just going to say......"

"Shut up God damn it. From now on we do all of the talking. You got a problem with that, 'Little' Eddie?" Ronnie belted, as she shoved the piece in my face.

"A gun? After all of these years, you pull a gun on me? I said, as I wiped the sweat from my forehead. "Jesus, Ronnie, what is this Bonanza? Just put it down, and I'm sure we can all come to some kind of an understanding. There's no sense putting holes in me. I'm your alibi remember?"

"He's got a point , Ronnie." Fumunda managed from behind Ronnie's skirt. Let's just let him sit down, and we can all talk this over. I'll whip up a few coffee cakes.!"

"Easy, baby." Ronnie soothed. "We can't trust him yet. Joyce Brothers says he has to be captive 24 hours before any real bond is formed."

"What, am I a monkey? It's me, Ronnie. Remember the sunsets, and the wine?"

"There were no sunsets, Eddie. You made up all of that other crap, and we both know it. So why don't you just zip your lying cakehole, and relax. Most guys would pay to see shit like this." Ronnie barked, as she and Famunda resumed what appeared to be an act of love.

It seemed to go on and on. The minutes turned to hours and my stomach just turned. It wasn't so much the sight of Fumanda completely nude that bothered me, but rather the thought of her touching Ronnie in places that even I hadn't been to yet. Her big, calloused, sharecropper hands, roaming over every inch of Ronnie's creamy white body did things to me inside, that only those who have seen a pig give birth at a state fair could relate to. The only thing that could've made it worse would have been a video camara.

"Alright, alright, I get the point. I think. You two want to be alone. I don't mind. I've got some things to do anyway, so I'll just let myself out....."

"Eddie," Ronnie's muffled voice croaked from under, Famunda's now exhausted body. "there are some friends out in the hall who are just itching for you to meet them. So, if you're going to leave, make sure you stop to say, 'hi'. You can't miss them, they're the three gorillas in leisure suits sitting in the lobby."

Feeling pretty much defeated, I decided to sit down and take what was coming to me. I figured I could take it. I had probably seen much worse than this in those Danish porno tapes I had lifted from the evidence room while I was on the force. I had even gone undercover a few times in whorehouses. How bad could this be?

"Listen, since it doesn't look like you two are going to need me for anything, do you mind if I pour myself a drink and relax?" I asked, as I headed to the fridge to get a glass and some ice. "I've still got one Hell of a headache." A series of grunts came from under the coffee table which I took as a, ' help yourself".

An hour later they came up for air, and when they did they found me half asleep in one of the fake leather recliners that Ronnie had obviously lifted from the 'Ho-Joes' that she managed. My headache had decreased considerably thanks to about a gallon of Jim Beam and a Fresca that I had found in the crisper. In my current position I couldn't afford to be too choosey.

"So what do you think, Eddie? Are we ready for Cinimax yet?" Ronnie asked, as she wiped at least a pint of Fumunda's glue off of her chin with a little pink wash rag.

"Well I'll tell you this, I'm glad I found that Fresca. I don't think I could have sat through all of this on an empty stomach." I said, as I sat up and downed the rest of my jumbo sized Chicago slurpee. "So what is all of this about anyway? I mean, I hope you don't mind me asking, seeing as how I'm going to be dodging mop handles for the next 20 years on account of this."

"It's real simple, Eddie. Mundie and I wanted to be together and we needed Red out of the picture." Ronnie began as she slipped into her robe and poured herself a drink.

I didn't blame her. Christ, just thinking about the two of them together made me wish there was another quart of Beam in my glass.

"So what's wrong with a divorce? You don't even need barbed wire for that." I asked.

"Well, being the romantic soul that I am, I didn't bother to sign a pre-nup." Fumunda explained. "If I had left Red, he would have taken half of everything. And where is a girl like me going to find work?"

"Never mind all of that, baby." Ronnie chirped. "All he needs to know is that after all of these years of pain, I finally get to see him sweat. You're going to go away for a long time for this, Eddie, and we've taken care of all of the details."

"So what about Rawlins. Where does he fit into all of this? I thought Red owed him at least 10 'large'. Or was that all bullshit too?"

"That was no bullshit. Burt was more than happy to take care of Red for us, Eddie. There were people standing in line to take him off of our hands. Burt was just the easiest to get to, that's all."

"So now I take the fall? All because you got your feelings hurt three years ago? That's pretty God damn petty if you ask me. I mean, you did alright for yourself. A nice place like this, a great big office, goons in leisure suits in the lobby. Everything a girl could want. Why wear me out about something that happened years ago? Surely there have been other guys in your life since then."

"No, Eddie you were the last. Since then it's been 'Mundie' and I. I'm not complaining, but it hurt Eddie. I really thought that you cared. I guess I was wrong."

"Oh I don't know. I'm facing 20 years for you. If that doesn't say, 'I love you', then ..." At that moment, the bedroom door came flying open, and out walked Tom Craney with a video camera in his hand. Right behind him were two more, 'plain clothes' and they all had tape recorders with them.

"Relax, Cheesey." Craney grinned. "We've got all we need on these machines to put these girls away for a long time. Plus, this video will make a fine feature attraction at the next detective's convention."

"Damn it Eddie, say something." Fumunda squealed as the smaller of the two cops cuffed her to the doorknob. "I thought we really had something special."

"The only special there was, happened to be the, "special of the day" over at Mario's, which you apparently had more than one of ." I said as I dumped the contents of her purse onto the coffee table for closer inspection. "You're a mess baby. You need to take a little time off and get yourself cleaned up I think this whole thing is going to turn out to be just what you need. A nice long vacation in a place where you can get to know other women before deciding to settle down for the rest of your life."

"Eddie, you little bastard. How can you let them do this to me?" Ronnie whined. "Do something for God's sake!"

"Oh I'm going to do something alright. I'm going to go home and take a nice warm shower. Take em' away boys."

As the two rookies helped Mundie and Ronnie on with their clothes, I went to look for another bottle to mix a drink with. They at least owed me that.

"Don't bother to thank me, Eddie." Craney said as he approached me in the kitchen. "I'm just doin' my job."

"How did you know, Tom? When did you....?

"When I saw you out walkin' around this afternoon, I knew that you couldn't have done it. Even you couldn't be that stupid. I had my boys follow you here and wait outside. Once I had gotten here and the girls started their little show, the three of us crawled in through the window in the bathroom. The rest is just fundamentals.

"Well, I'm gonna thank you, Tom." I said, "I think we both have a pretty good idea of what you saved me from. And I'm sorry about that Mother's enima comment, I had no idea."

"Go home, Eddie. Get some rest. You've had a long day, Tiger. We'll need you to make a statement tomorrow, and we'll need you crisp.

I grunted as I walked past him and out into the sunlight, where I enjoyed every fesh breath of air that I took. I even decided to walk the 10 blocks home.

"Hey Eddie, give me a call sometime." Tom called, as I started away from the building.

. I turned around just in time to see the car pulling away carrying the two lovebirds. Their sad faces pressed against the windows as the shabby sedan pulled out into traffic. Somewhere an angel got their wings.

Later that night, after a nice hot shower, I sat down to chinese take-out, and a warm six pack. And for the first time in 24 hours, I knew where I was going to be waking up. I didn't get much sleep though. I tossed and turned and thought about what I had done to Ronnie. I guess she was more attached to me than I had realized. At any rate she went pyscho, and it was just one man's hunch that saved me from the chair. That crazy dyke.

But there was an up side to all of this and after the initial shock wore off, I began to get the feeling that this was going to be a turning point for me. And in some ways, a chance to redeem myself. In front of my friends, and collegues to boot. I suddenly developed a whole new attitude about the whole thing.

The next day, I arrived back at my place after giving Craney his statement to find a note taped to my door. After a couple of seconds debate with myself, I opened it up and read it;

"Eddie,

I got your name from a friend and I need your help. I'm a desperate woman. Please phone me right away!"

It was written in a woman's handwriting, and signed, "Maggie" There was a number and I decided I would give her a call in the morning. I still needed a few more hours of shut-eye before starting a new case though, so I sat in front of the TV for the rest of the evening, and slowly drank myself to sleep.

The next morning, I was awakened by what sounded like 95 pounds of spare ribs slamming into my door..........