Miles falls afoul of a toaster and promptly loses all the proceeds from the missing twin caper. He goes to look for work and discovers nefarious doings afoot at the Seattle Art Museum. Undaunted by multiple attempts on his life and with his pals Rudy and Jackson in tow, he sets out for Mexico to unravel the mystery surrounding the small clay figurine known as The Demon of Death.
I was still trying to make sense of what had happened when I arrived back at Lena’s. Rudy rose to his feet when he saw me come in. He didn’t look happy. I reached up and touched the rip in the sleeve of my – make that our – suit jacket. I had hoped the tear wasn’t noticeable. It was. When I tucked in my shirt I realized that the seat of my pants was split from waistband to inseam, exposing my bare ass to anyone who cared to take a peek.
“Hey, guys.” I tried to sound upbeat and casual while keeping both hands behind me to cover my butt while I walked through Lena’s. “You’ll never believe what happened to me today.”
“Dog bite your ass?” Jackson glanced pointedly at the position of my hands.
“Not exactly.” I chuckled weakly. “Much more unbelievable than that.”
“Miles.” Rudy had merely uttered my name, but the subtext was clear. “What the hell happened to the suit, you goddamned piece of festering dog shit?” I hated it when he did that.
“Rudy.” I squared my shoulders and met his gaze, but my subtext was also crystal clear. “Yes, I fucked up the suit and I know I’m a festering piece of dog shit, but I just can’t help it.” I hated it when I did that.
“You’re pissed, aren’t you, buddy?”
“Gee, Miles, whatever gave you that impression?” Rudy expanded his massive chest threateningly. A little vein in his temple started to throb. When he made a fist, a much larger vein that snaked across the expanse of his left biceps throbbed as well.
“I can explain.” I sat down next to Jackson. Suddenly I felt very tired.
“Don’t tell me,” Rudy hissed irritably. “Let me guess. You were abducted by a band of crazed proctologists who insisted on giving you a free exam, but couldn’t wait until you got your pants off? No? Well, then, were you accosted by officials of the EPA who insisted on getting a swatch of fabric so they could test it for residual radiation? Or were you perhaps being interviewed to be this year’s poster boy for hemorrhoid?”
“Rudy!” Jackson cut him off and he plopped down in his seat sulkily. I was relieved – he sounded a little shrill. “You know Miles doesn’t do this stuff on purpose. He can’t help it that he draws trouble like… like…”
“Like shit draws flies.” Rudy filled in the blank.
“Rudy!” I felt positively fecal. “I’m sorry about the suit, but somebody tried to kill me this afternoon.” Jackson’s eyes narrowed and even Rudy had the good grace to look surprised. I pulled up a chair and filled them in on the details of my day. “So that’s what happened to the suit,” I concluded. “I’m really sorry, but it almost came back in a plastic bag all smushed together with yours truly.”
“Any thoughts about who might have pushed you?” I shook my head. “By the way, Jackson will testify that I was right here the whole time.” Rudy winked at me, his temper restored, at least momentarily. “You didn’t piss off anyone at the museum, did you?”
“Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I was perfect. A perfect gentleman, that is.” In fact, I had been rather good, although I felt no need to elaborate. No point in making Rudy’s bout with good humor too short-lived. “I did, however, stumble across something while I was there that might be of interest to all of us – a business interest, of course.”
“Of course.” I chose to ignore Rudy’s reaction, which could only be characterized as a snort.
“So spill it, guy.” Jackson planted his elbows on the table and leaned forward intently. “If anybody needs some prospects, we do.”
“The museum is in serious trouble.” They stared at me blankly. “I overheard freaked-out curators, collectors, and insurance agents, all squealing about lost money, potential scandal and stolen art. You know what this means, don’t you?”
“Don’t even consider it, Miles. Not again. I couldn’t stand it.”
“Rudy, we’re talking big-time trouble here. That means big bucks are up for grabs, one way or another. Here’s a chance for us to get back on our feet.”
Rudy held up his hand for silence. “Get a grip. If there’s any trouble at the museum, which I doubt, they’ll call in the best experts money can buy. This isn’t amateur hour.”
“I know that, Rudy. I’m not stupid.” Rudy raised his eyebrows, but had the good grace to remain silent. “They don’t want publicity and I’m pretty damned sure they don’t want any police, either. I distinctly overheard them say that the insurance company was in a cash crunch and that things would be very bad if this situation came to the attention of the public. Then there was the director of the museum. That Corliss fellow is hiding something. The man has shifty eyes. We ought to do some snooping around.”
“Miles, you don’t just go into a museum and snoop. They’ve got guards, not to mention a state-of-the-art alarm system.”
“Well, then maybe you could just pop in during visiting hours and take a look at that collection. You know, tell me if you think it’s reasonable to insure a piece of it for millions.”
“Who’d you say this collection belongs to?” Rudy’s eyes got wide. I liked that. It did my heart good to see him sit up and take notice.
“The man’s name is Gizzard.” I let the word roll off my tongue.
“What?” Rudy looked at me strangely.
“Chicken?” Jackson piped up.
“What?” Now it was my turn to ask questions.
“Miles, chickens have gizzards. Are you sure you were at the museum today and not at a poultry-processing plant? The two are easily confused.”
“Very funny. I distinctly heard someone mention Nicholas Gizzard in relation to the collection.”
“Grizzard!” Rudy shouted.
“What?” Jackson asked. This was getting repetitive.
“Nicholas Grizzard, Jr. is a famous collector of Central American artifacts. As a matter of fact, his collection is renowned as one of the finest in the country, if not the world. I can’t believe that he’d be involved in anything at all underhanded.”
“All I know is what I heard,” I retorted huffily. I knew that something was afoot and didn’t like having Rudy correct me, even if I didn’t have the world’s greatest track record when it came to keeping details straight. “I’ll bet you good money – or I would if I had any – that this Gizzard…”
“…Grizzard is up to his neck in some kind of insurance scam.”
“Oh, come on, Miles.”
“Come on, yourself, Rudy. You just told me that the museum has an incredible security system. There hasn’t been any mention of a break-in, yet all these high-powered dudes are gathered behind closed doors, discussing failing insurance companies and lost artifacts. Believe me, something is definitely up.”
“Are you sure that bus didn’t run over your head?” Rudy still wasn’t buying.
“Come on,” Jackson interjected. “If he’s right, there might actually be some money in it for us. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather check this out than pound the pavement looking for an office job.”
“Office?” Rudy shuddered slightly. “Fine, I’ll go to the museum first thing tomorrow and snoop around.” He settled back in his chair and downed the dregs of his coffee. “What are you staring at, Miles?” I eyed Rudy’s pants. He had managed to obtain a pair of jeans. They were faded, but they fit him and they appeared to be in one piece.
“Where’d you get the jeans, Rudy?”
“Huh?” He looked up at me, clearly alarmed. “Oh, no. No. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it.”
“I’ve got to go talk to this Gizzard guy.”
“Grizzard. And no, you can’t have my frigging pants.”
“Rudy, I need those pants. Just for a couple of hours. This could be important. I want to confront the man before he disappears or goes underground.”
“I don’t think that’s likely to happen.” Rudy had a death grip on the waistband of his jeans. “We should wait until I examine the collection at the museum tomorrow.”
“We’re broke, just in case you haven’t noticed. We don’t have the money to buy dinner. I don’t think we can afford to wait.”
“Maybe Miles is right.” Jackson put a reassuring hand on Rudy’s shoulder. “Besides, he couldn’t ruin two pairs of pants in one day.”
“Wanna bet?” Clearly Rudy was not convinced, but he pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I’m warning you, Diamond, if you…”
“Rudy!” I pressed my hand firmly against his chest. “Just shut the fuck up and give me your damned pants.” Several heads in the restaurant turned our way, but nobody said a word. Rudy sighed mightily, but nevertheless followed me into the bathroom.