I submitted this to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, but
they didn't want it. So I'm putting it here, which means that all
of you get to read it absolutely free.
Private-eye Pat Maginess helps a dog to find his way back home,
and earns himself a pretty good bottle of whiskey in the process in
"It's a Dog's Life."
"It's a Dog's Life"
a Pat Maginess private-eye story
Los Angeles, 1952
There was just enough of a breeze coming off the ocean that Monday to
blow the exhaust fumes off of Wilshire Boulevard, which combined with a
nice grinning sun up in the sky made my walk back to the office after
lunch a rather pleasant one.
"Any calls while I was out, Carmen?"
Carmen reached over the old military surplus desk, all six-foot-tall
plus two-inch-heels of her, and handed me a message slip.
"This guy called, Mr. Maginess. Don Johnson. Something about a dog."
"Did you tell him this wasn't the SPCA?"
Carmen didn't laugh. She was proving to be a damned good secretary but
at twenty she was a little young yet to appreciate irony.
"No, I didn't mention anything about that. I just told him you were
available to take on a case. He said he wanted you to get his dog back.
That's pretty much it. He wants to see you right away."
"Of course he does. They all want to see me right away. I'm just a
really popular guy. Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to give him a call."
Two hours later I pulled up in front of Johnson's classy-looking
little house in Inglewood and rang the bell. A blonde-haired guy in his
early thirties answered the door. His hair was a mess and it looked like
he hadn't shaved in four days. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and
he was wearing a bathrobe, a pair of black dress socks, and his
"Pat Maginess. Private Investigations. I take it you're Mr. Johnson?"
Johnson let me in and pulled me by the cuff of my jacket into a
nicely-decorated living room. There were four or five empty booze
bottles rolling around on the floor and it looked like the ashtrays
hadn't been emptied in a month.
"Would you like a drink, Mr. Maginess?"
"Sure. Just to be sociable."
Johnson poured me a straight rye and another for himself. His hand was
shaking as he handed it to me, a fact that was obvious even to himself.
"I apologize. I'm just not feeling like myself lately, ever since
Bugsy went away."
"My dog. He's a miniature dachshund. My wife stole him. Or should I
say my future ex-wife. She left me a few weeks ago and took Bugsy with
I took a swig of the rye. It was the good stuff, not my normal cheap
"Mr. Johnson, much as I'd enjoy staying here and drinking some of your
excellent whiskey for a bit, I have to tell you that I don't get
involved in settlement matters. You need a good lawyer, not a private
"I'll pay you a thousand dollars if you can get Bugsy back for me."
"On the other hand, I do make exceptions. Hell, I was thinking
about getting a a dog myself. Why don't you tell me all about it."
I pulled out my notebook and made some notes as Johnson told me the
story. I wasn't sure whether it was a sad story or a funny one, and once
again I was left wondering what there was about divorces that made
people go temporarily insane.
"So your wife, she rented this house up in Hollywood?"
"Yeah. She's a real-estate agent" Johnson said, pouring us another
drink. I lit a Pall Mall and took the refill.
"And what do you do, Mr. Johnson? If you don't mind me asking."
"I'm a screenwriter. I work at home mostly."
From the look of it Johnson hadn't been doing too much work lately, at
home or otherwise.
"Okay. So your wife, she would be out of the house most of the day?"
"Have you tried just talking to her, Mr. Johnson?"
"Of course. I kept calling her, but after a while she just stopped
answering the phone. Then I drove over and she wouldn't answer the door
and eventually called the police on me. I could hear Bugsy barking
inside the house. I think he knew I was there. Dachshunds have excellent
hearing. So then I tried to go over and rescue him when I thought she
was at work, but I couldn't get in. The house is one of those cottage-
style places with wrought-iron bars over the windows. I'm at my wits'
end, Mr. Maginess. And my lawyer tells me the divorce could take up to a
year. I want my Bugsy back."
"I hate to say this, Mr. Johnson, but doesn't your wife have as much
right to Bugsy as you do? I mean, he's her dog, too. Right?"
"She doesn't love Bugsy. She never did. She used to gripe about him
all the time, about how he'd have his little accidents on the rug or
about how he'd bark at the postman. She took him just to spite me, Mr.
Maginess. Just to spite me. I offered her the house, the boat,
everything. Just give me Bugsy, I told her. She just laughed in my
"Hmmm" I said, scribbling in my notebook. Yeah, pretty much insane.
I drove up to Hollywood and checked out Johnson's wife's new place. As
Johnson had said it was a small cottage-type home. There was a whole
five feet between it and the next house to either side and it had a
front yard big enough to plant about three radishes in. The back yard
was slightly bigger, but not by much, and faced out onto an alley that
ran the length of the block. Though small the house was probably worth
some good money because of the location, just the type of investment
property that real estate people are always looking for.
The second I rang the bell a dog started barking inside. He barked
for about two straight minutes, during which time it became evident that
if Mrs. Johnson was at home she was either in the bath or just not
answering the door. I rang again, this time pounding on the door as
well. Once again the dog inside started up and continued on for another
couple of minutes. It occurred to me that Bugsy had an awfully loud bark
for a small dog, and that no matter what Johnson had said his dog had a
real tendency to bark at things.
I hadn't really expected that Mrs. Johnson would be home at such an
early hour. I had my lock-pick kit with me and could have been in the
house in about thirty seconds. But that was no way to get Bugsy back.
Mrs. Johnson would suspect her husband immediately, which would start
the equivalent of a small-scale grange war between the couple. I had a
different plan in mind, one that would get Johnson his dog back and not
lose me my P.I. license for breaking and entering. It would take a few
days but at the end of it was a thousand bucks. And maybe a bottle of
really good whiskey to celebrate with.
Driving over to the Alley Cat lounge, my favorite watering hole, I
grabbed a good dinner and a few drinks. Then I got my stake-out gear
from the office and headed back out to Hollywood. It was about ten
o'clock when I arrived at Mrs. Johnson's house. I took a short walk in
the neighborhood, picking up pea-sized pebbles and slipping them into my
jacket pocket. Then I moved my car so that it was parked about ten feet
from the side of the Johnson cottage and settled in for the night.
About midnight the lights went off in the house. I waited a while to
give Mrs. Johnson time to climb into bed. Then I got out of the car and
threw one of the pebbles I had collected over the top of the Plymouth at
the nearest window. The first pebble missed its mark and hit the side of
the house, but the second hit one of the iron bars over the window and
rattled down and hit the glass. From a distance of twelve feet I could
barely hear the slight clinking sound the pebble made as it hit the
window. But I knew that a dog would hear what would be virtually
inaudible to Mrs. Johnson or myself. Seconds after throwing the pebble
Bugsy began barking and kept it up for several minutes.
"Good doggie" I whispered.
Climbing back into the car I smoked a few Pall Malls and sipped cheap
rye, remembering how good the stuff at Johnson's had tasted. I got out
of the Plymouth twenty minutes later and tossed another pebble. Bugsy
barked, as he did with every pebble that I threw at the window between
midnight and dawn. At that point it was light enough out that Mrs.
Johnson or some neighbor might see me, so I got a small pillow from my
stake-out pack and propped myself up against the door and took a little
Just after seven-thirty Mrs. Johnson came out of the house. She was
wearing a nicely tailored grey business suit and black heels, but her
eyes had dark circles under them and she didn't look to be in a very
good mood. She climbed into her car and drove off as if she were being
chased by demons.
I parked outside the house again the next night, throwing pebbles at
the window every twenty or thirty minutes. Mrs. Johnson came out of the
house the next morning looking even worse than the day before. Her hair
looked like it had been pinned up on her head by a four-year-old, the
buttons on her blouse didn't line up, and she had the look of a zombie
Following the third night of all-night pebble-throwing Mrs. Johnson
had Bugsy under her arm when she came out. I tailed her, hoping that she
was finally sick of the barking and was taking the dog back to Johnson.
As it was she drove straight to the local dog pound. She took Bugsy
inside and when she came out ten minutes later she didn't have him with
her. Evidently Mrs. Johnson would rather see Bugsy go off with a
complete stranger than back to her husband.
"Crazy people" I said as I got out of the car.
"Excuse me" I said to the kid behind the counter at the pound. "My
name is Patrick Maginess. I'm the assistant director on a movie that
we're doing up in Hollywood. We need a dog for the movie. A small dog.
Maybe one that's reddish in color. Short. Long. That type of thing. You
wouldn't have a dog like that, would you?"
"Gee, that's odd" the kid said. "Because you know, a woman just brought
a dog like that in. One of those wiener dogs."
"Wiener dog? That sounds great. Wrap him up."
"Mister, the problem is that he hasn't been processed yet. He needs to
be vaccinated and have his license made out. It usually takes three days
or so before they can be adopted."
I pulled out a twenty from my wallet and held it up in front of him.
"We're kind of on a tight shooting schedule. Think you can hurry
things along any?"
Just short of an hour later I had Bugsy at Johnson's door. Johnson
cried and kissed the dog and Bugsy was so excited he kept twisting up
like a pretzel as he licked Johnson's face.
"He might be a little hoarse" I told Johnson. "He's been barking a lot
"Really?" Johnson said, rubbing Bugsy's ears and kissing him. "I
wonder why that is?"
I shrugged. "Must be Hollywood" I said. "I don't think he liked the
neighborhood. And by the way, don't let your wife know that you've got
Bugsy back, okay? As far as she's concerned Bugsy's gone off to live
with a nice old man who lives in the country."
Johnson gave me a check for the thousand bucks, which I decided to
take to the bank and cash immediately just to be on the safe side. Then
I stopped at a liquor store and headed back to the office.
Carmen was over by the couch working out with a small set of barbells
as I walked in. It was always strange seeing her with the barbells
dressed in a blouse and skirt and wearing her shoulder holster with the
.38 tucked into it.
"Well, I've got some good news, Carmen" I said, walking over to the
"What's that, Mr. Maginess?"
"Good news is I bought a bottle of the good stuff." I took a quart
bottle of McManus Canadian rye out of a sack and set it on the coffee
"Courtesy of a twelve-pound dog named Bugsy. Sixteen bucks a bottle and
worth every nickel."
"That's great, Mr. Maginess" she said. Carmen was involved in the new
health and fitness thing and didn't even drink booze, but I always found
her to be enthusiastic about pretty much everything.
I went over to the little refrigerator and got some ice and made a
drink with the McMannus and took a long swig. It tasted so good going
down I almost wanted to howl.
"It's a dog's life, Carmen" I said. I took a long draw on a Pall Mall
and then another long sip of the rye.
Carmen looked at me oddly. The girl just didn't understand irony.[/B]