My name is Max Fly, I’m a private eye and a damned good one. It was a Tuesday afternoon and it was raining cats and dogs and I just returned from the offices of the Burnt Corn Hippogryph, Burnt Corn Alabama’s weekly newspaper, where I dropped off a press release stating that our firm, Max Fly Private & Nefarious Investigations and Pest Control Services, was just named as Burn Corn’s largest, and only law firm, Dewey, Cheatam, & Howe, LLC, as their in-house investigators. I was dripping wet.
I hung up my dark brown oilcloth duster and white Stetson hat and unbuckled my rigging that held my Smith and Wesson .357 revolver and threw it next to my partner, Zippy Doo’s, that was hanging on the coat tree behind the door as I dropped down heavily into my chair. I was exhausted. I was wearing my Dan Post cowboy boots, my tight skinny Wrangler stretch jeans, my bucking bronc belt buckle, and my yellow Snead State Community College sweatshirt. I lit a Cohiba and I grabbed a PBR out of the cooler sitting on the floor between my desk and Zippy’s.
Chico “Zippy Doo” Rodriguez, a sort of illegal green card carrying Hispanic from Matamoros, Mexico (his green card is a forgery), who heads up our displaced persons and pest control divisions, was seated next to me finishing a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. He let out a loud belch as he stacked his third empty on top of a pyramid of cans on the edge of his desk which he had started building last week. We were in the middle of discussing the recent and untimely death of Alabama’s longtime State Senator who was from Burnt Corn, Miss Dixie Normous, who was struck and killed by a transit bus driven by Van Ryder, one of the proprietors of the Burnt Corn Shuttle Service and Transmission Shop which is located off State Highway 84 on the outskirts of Burnt Corn, Alabama when the phone rang.
We both reached for it. Zippy was faster and he got there first.
“Max Fly, Private & Nefarious Investigations, and Pest Control Services. What do you want?”
I made a mental note to work on Zippy’s phone etiquette.
“Yeah, okay. How much do I owe you? What, $6.95? That’s highway robbery. I ought to turn you into Sheriff Wyatt Hertz for price gauging,” Zippy yelled as he slammed down the receiver.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“That little Chinese guy, Sum Tsing Wong, who owns that new Chinese Restaurant, Soon Fatt Chinese Take Away. Wanda and I are sharing a plate of Shitake Fried Rice with Water Chestnuts. Sum Tsing Wong is on his way over with the delivery.”
Wanda is Wanda Winchester who is our Reconciliation Expert and also serves as our firearms instructor when she’s sober.
“Are you paying for it out of petty cash?” I asked.
“Yep. I’ll give him a buck tip, even though he is overcharging for that stuff. I know how much rice you can get for $6.95. Hell, when I was in Viet Nam an entire village could eat rice for a month on that kind of money.”
“You were never in Viet Nam, Zip. Since you are paying for that out of petty cash, I’ll take a little plate of it to see how it tastes.”
“Help yourself. You know she wants to be cremated, don’t you Max?”
“Who wants to be cremated?”
“Dixie Normous. I think she’s doing it because she realized that her last hope to have a smoking hot body is to be cremated. Claire Voyant, the personal secretary for Hugh Cheatam, called and said that Mr. Cheatam would appreciate it if we showed up for Dixie Normous’ celebration of life.”
“Where is it going to be held?”
“They took the body to the Barry M. Stiff Funeral Home in Monroeville. The celebration is at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow.
The door swung open, almost toppling the coat tree that stood behind it that was holding our Smith and Wesson .357’s, coats and other paraphernalia, and in strutted this little bald Chinese man, Sum Tsing Wong, carrying a small white bag that, I have to admit, gave off a tantalizing aroma.
Zip grabbed the bag from him and said, “What’s this? This can’t be the entire order. Not for $6.95.” Zip opened the bag and looked up at Sum Tsing Wong and yelled, “Something’s wrong, there’s no fortune cookie in here? What kinda Chinese joint doesn’t serve fortune cookies?”
“I sorry, but Hymie Horowitz’ Food Service truck it break down this morning and no make delivery. So no fortune cookie. Now you pay.”
“You get your food from a Jewish food service? I can’t believe this. Not much in here,” Zip said, still peering into the bottom of the small white bag.
“Horowitz truck have rice too. This all you get today. Call again and you might get more. Now you pay.”
After Sum Tsing Wong left, muttering under his breath because he couldn’t convince Zip to cough up the $1.00 tip, Wanda walked in and sat down and opened the lower drawer of her desk and pulled out her bottle of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and an empty jelly jar, pouring in a couple of fingers of the brown liquid. We shared what little there was of the Shitake Fried Rice with Water Chestnuts and we each cracked open another PBR when the phone rang again.
Thankfully Wanda got it before Zip did.
“Good afternoon, Max Fly Private & Nefarious Investigations and Pest Control Services, how may I help you?”
“Oh hi, Evelyn, how are you?”
“Good, I am glad to hear that. Really? When? Okay, I’ll pass that on to Max. He’s sitting right next to me. We are finishing our lunch. Shitake Fried Rice with Water Chestnuts.”
“From that new Chinese restaurant that just opened up in Burnt Corn, Soon Fatt Chinese Take Away. The little owner is so cute. His name is Sum Tsing Wong. Isn’t that funny?”
“Yes, yes, a three bedroom and two baths; that’s right as long as it’s not too far out of town. Okay, I’ll tell him. I’ll see you then, goodbye.”
Wanda hung up and grabbed her can of PBR. It was empty.
“Zip, would you mind grabbing me another Blue Ribbon?” she asked.
“On its way,” Zippy replied.
“Well, aren’t you going to tell us who that was on the phone and what the call was about?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry, that was Evelyn Sackryder, from Sax Real Estate Brokerage over in Monroeville. She has been looking for a house for me and she thinks she found one that is pretty close to the office here in Burnt Corn.”
“Okay, but you said ‘I’ll pass that on to Max’ so what will you pass on to me?”
“Oh, she said something fishy is going on over at the Gentle Dental Drill ‘Em and Fill ‘Em Family Practice on Payne Avenue. The front entrance was open when she drove past it and it was still open about thirty minutes later when she returned. She thought you might want to go over and see if everything is okay.”
“Why didn’t she call Sheriff Wyatt Hertz or his deputy, Hiram Firam?”
“She said she did, but nobody answered the phone.”
“That’s not surprising, nobody is ever there,” Zippy burped, “I don’t know why us taxpayers even bother providing an office for those two clowns.”
“You don’t pay taxes, Zip,” Wanda, who also doubles as our bookkeeper, said.
Zippy ignored her. “Did she call over to Patty Mae’s All Night Bar and Pool Hall? They’re usually there getting comped for something.”
“She did and Patty said she thinks they are over in Monroeville looking at Dixie Normous’ body before they set it on fire.”
“Okay, finish that PBR and grab your shootin’ iron, Zippy. It looks like we got us another situation here. Wanda, you try to reach Sheriff Hertz over at Barry M. Stiff’s Funeral Home in Monroeville and see if he can break away and get over here.”
“I’ll get the Fly Mobile,” Zippy yelled as he strapped on his rigging while checking the chambers of his Smith and Wesson .357 to make sure it was loaded.
Dr. Ken Hurt opened the Gentle Dental Drill ‘Em and Fill ‘Em Family Dental Practice in May at 100 Payne Avenue in downtown Burnt Corn and has seen a steady growth in business ever since. Most of the residents of Burnt Corn had been driving the fifteen miles to Monroeville to get drilled and filled at Dr. Henry Drewel’s Dental Office who on numerous occasions was heard saying, “When I’m in doubt, I pull ‘em out.”
Burnt Corn folks find it more convenient to be able to walk downtown in Burnt Corn and be sitting in Dr. Hurt’s chair within five minutes and still be able to make it back in time to enjoy the various activities available in Burnt Corn, like hearing local author, Rhoda Book, recite her poetry or Clay Earth, proprietor of the Burnt Corn Nursery and Cemetery and his wife, Helen Earth, sing the famous aria Glück das mir verblieb from the 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), in acapella in the Burnt Corn City Park.
When Zippy and I arrived at the Gentle Dental office, the front door was still wide open and we both drew our .357’s as we entered the building.
The lights were on and soft soothing music was coming from the speakers in the ceiling but no one was around.
I turned to Zip and motioned for him to follow me. “Stay close, in case someone decides to shoot. It will give them someone else to aim at.”
We looked in both procedure rooms and the chairs were empty as was the doctor’s private office. While there, we heard a noise coming from behind a locked door across the hall. The sign on the door said “Storage Room.”
We tried the door but it was locked, we would have to kick it in. Normally, Tommy “Sneakers” Corona, head of our Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Division, did the kicking in of doors for us because he had his black belt in karate but he was unavailable; he was vacationing in Cosa Rica.
“You want the honors of kicking in the door, Zip?” I asked.
Before he could respond, we heard a muffled voice in the storage room say, “Please, don’t kick it in, a spare key is in the middle desk drawer in the lobby.”
Zippy found the key and we were able to open the door and untie the doctor and his young assistant, the lovely Ginger Vitus.
About this time, Deputy Sheriff Hiram Firam drove up in his Chevy Caprice with his blue lights flashing and his siren blasting. He entered the office with his service revolver drawn, a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum.
After we brought him up to date on the information we had, he sat down with Ms. Vitus and Dr. Hurt to fill out his report.
“So, do you know who did this to you?”
“Yes we do, Dr. Hurt said. “It was Ivan Oder. He came in for a cleaning but his teeth were so bad I told him we couldn’t clean them that he would be better off having them extracted. He misunderstood me and thought it would only be one or two teeth, but we had to extract almost all of them.
“When he saw how many teeth were gone he went crazy, saying we made him look unattractive and he would have a difficult time dating anyone. When presented with the bill he refused to pay and pulled out a gun demanding his teeth back before forcing us into the storage room. Before he left, he took all five tanks of laughing gas.”
“He took what?” Deputy Firam asked.
“Nitrous Oxide; it’s a controlled substance and can easily be overdosed. We mix it with oxygen. I think I heard him say something about using it to fill balloons. If he doesn’t know what he is doing, he could die.
“Maybe we should get the Drug Enforcement Agency in on this since it’s a controlled substance?” Zippy interjected.
“I can handle this,” Deputy Hiram Firam spat at Zippy before looking in the direction of the cowering Ms. Ginger Vitus.
“Usually it’s high school kids around graduation time who steal laughing gas. We never had an adult steal it,” Dr. Hurst said.
“Can you give me a description of this Ivan Oder?” Deputy Firam asked.
“I can do better than that. We have his picture. It’s on the Happy Face Wall along with all of our happy patients. We were going to take it down anyway. Some of the mother’s of the children said their kids were scared of it. I told Ginger we should only have children’s pictures up there anyway.”
“Do you think you can catch him, Deputy Firam?” Ginger Vitus asked, batting her eyes coyly at the portly officer.
“He can run, but if he does, he’ll only be going to jail tired ‘cause we’ll catch him, little darlin’. That you can bet your teeth on.”
“We are sure fortunate to have you around, deputy. I feel safer already.”
Zippy turned to me and stuck his finger in this mouth and rolled his eyes.
After Deputy Firam finished up and left, taking Ivan Oder’s picture with him along with Miss Ginger Vitus’ telephone number, I approached Dr. Hurt and suggested that he contact Burnt Corn Good Humor Alarm and Security Systems, that we monitored them 24/7. If he had, we could have been here much sooner and most likely have apprehended the perp.
“I think I will call them tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. Fly. Would you care for a cleaning?”