? Sherry Gottlieb: The Case of the Maltese Frog

SAM SPAYED is not your typical literary dog; Sam is a rare breed called a "Coton de Tulear." Sam is also a skilled private eye. The Sam Spayed mysteries have been collected in PUP FICTION from Waltsan Publishing, available at Amazon in both paperback and for the Kindle.

Photo © 1996
by Michael Perry


She sashayed into my office, her black-and-white hair in a fashionably curly bob rather than the long silky tresses traditional with Shih-tzus; I knew right away she was no ordinary bitch.

"Are you Miles Archer?" she asked me.

"Who?" I'd never heard of him.

"Never mind," she said. "You're an investigator?"

"I am. Samuel Spayed, P.I., at your service; you can call me Sam. What can I do for you, Miss —"

"O'Shaunessey. Sushi O'Shaunessey. I need you to help me avoid some dogs who want an ornament which is about to come into my possession."

I leaned against my desk.

"Why don't you tell me about it, Miss O'Shaunessey."

She got closer.

"Sushi," she said in a husky little growl.

"The 'ornament' is raw fish?" I asked, confused.

She rolled her eyes impatiently.

"I'm Sushi. The 'ornament' is a Squeaky I've arranged to acquire. It's very rare, and it's taken me a long time to get it. There are some who would like to take it away from me. I'll pay you handsomely to protect me from them until I can get safely away with the Squeaky."

"How handsomely?"

"This is just a retainer," she said, plopping a bagful of pigs' ears on my desk.

"That's good — that's very good. But I have to see this Squeaky — I can't guard what I can't recognize," I told her.

She looked down.

"I don't have it yet — I'm getting it tonight. It's a frog, about two mouthfuls big —"

Fortunately, we had about the same size mouths.

"What makes this frog so rare?"

"Its squeak is as unique, as delightful, as the day it was made — even though that was many lifetimes ago. It belonged to the Maltese," she added. "Have you heard of him?"

Of course I had. The Maltese was legendary. His owners had spared no expense on his Food, Treats, and toys. His sweaters were hand-knit to his measurements, his Squeakies custom-designed for his bite; rumor had it that they were flavored with Chicken or Bacon, and never lost their flavor or their squeak.

"I heard that all the Maltese's Squeakies were cremated with him," I told Sushi. "How did you get one?"

She sighed.

"It's a long story, Sam. The Maltese Frog is the only one of his toys to survive the funeral. I've tracked it from Singapore to Istanbul to Cairo, obsessed by nothing else. Now I'm finally about to lay my paws on it and I don't want to lose it. Even as we speak, I've been followed. Look out the window," she suggested.

I went over to the window and stood on my hind legs so I could peer over the sill. On the street below was a skinny young mutt leaning against a fire hydrant.

"You talking about the gunsel with the notched ear?"

"That's him," Sushi hissed. "His name's Wilmer. He works for Kasper, the Fat Dog. Kasper and I were partners once. We're not anymore."

I'd had a feeling this bitch couldn't be trusted, but I trusted her bag of pigs' ears. And if I helped her, maybe she'd let me play with her Squeaky.

"Where do you pick up the frog?"

"It's coming in on the Chien Andalou at sunset tonight."

"OK. I'm gonna go down and have a talk with Wilmer there. When you hear me bark, you slip out through the back. I'll meet you at the dock at sunset."

I snuck up behind Wilmer and barked loudly. Just as I'd suspected, he folded right away, went belly-up in submission.

"Take me to the Fat Dog," I told him.

Wilmer whined piteously, but didn't move.

"Now!" I barked.

He scrambled to his feet and started trotting down the street, stopping every few blocks to glare back at me.

"Keep on riding me an' they're gonna be pickin' my teeth outta your ass," he growled.

"The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter," I grinned.

The name "Fat Dog" didn't do justice to Kasper's stature. He was the most formidable Shar-pei I'd ever seen, and his tiny ears almost disappeared in the deep folds and wrinkles of his bristly coat. He wasn't particularly large, but he radiated an aura of strength and self-confidence which brooked no challenge. When he smiled, the temperature in the room dropped.

"You like to talk, sir?" he asked me.

"Sure, I like to talk."

"Well, sir, I'll tell you right out: I'm a dog who likes talking to a dog who likes talking."

"Swell. Will we talk about the frog?"

"That depends. Are you working for Miss Shaunessey or for me?"

"I'm working for myself. Say I can lay paws on the frog, Fat Dog — what's it worth to you?"

"Well, sir, I think I can manage to trade, say, your weight in steaks. What do you say to that?"

Jeez, I had the wrong client — steaks beat pig ears, paws-down.

"I'd like to taste one before I decide."

"Certainly. Wilmer, bring our guest a steak."

Wilmer growled, but disappeared into the other room. He returned with a rib eye — no bone, but great flavor. I dug in, but was only partway through before I started to feel dizzy and my vision clouded. I realized that I'd been drugged just as I passed out.

When I awoke, I was alone and the sun was almost down. I had to get to the Chien Andalou!

I ran all the way to the docks, but was too late: the ship was completely ablaze and there was no sign of Sushi O'Shaunessey, Kasper the Fat Dog, or Wilmer the Gunsel. If one of them hadn't gotten the Maltese's frog before the fire started, it was history now. Before I left, I overheard someone say the Captain's dog, Jack, was missing in action.

I went back to my office.

I was putting the bag of pig ears in the desk when the door opened and a wire-haired dachshund staggered in — a newspaper-wrapped package in his mouth — and died, right there on my floor. It was obvious from his wounds that he'd been attacked by at least one vicious dog.

When I opened the package, I realized the dachsie must be Jack, from the Chien Andalou. I now had the frog, but there wasn't time to taste or squeak it. Whoever killed Jack might have followed him here.

I re-wrapped the frog, took it out and buried it where it was unlikely to be found by a dog: behind the vet's office.

Unfortunately, I'd been followed. I'd barely left the block when I found myself surrounded by Kasper, Wilmer, and Sushi. Wilmer had blood on his muzzle; ten-to-one it was Jack's blood.

"Let's do some business, sir," Kasper said. "You have something I want."

"Maybe, but I'm not trading it for a bunch of drugged steaks," I told him.

"And I'm not afraid of your gunsel, either. I'm not as easily killed as the Captain's dog was."

"What about getting it for me, Sam?"

Sushi rubbed up against me. If I hadn't been neutered, it might have been more effective, but the point remained that I'd taken her retainer, so she was my client, no matter what else was in the offing.

"If I give it to you here, these guys are gonna take it from you," I pointed out.

"I want Kasper to have it, Sam. He's paying me very well for the Squeaky."

So, she spent all those years looking for the frog, only to trade it for a few pounds of steak. Well, it was her choice.

I took them back to the vet's office — noting with satisfaction that Wilmer piddled on himself as soon as he smelled where we were — and dug up the bundle.

Kasper tore off the newspaper and bit into the frog. It didn't squeak. Not one bit. But Kasper did.

"It's a fake! This isn't the Maltese frog — it doesn't squeak!"

He dropped it, so I went over and tried. He was right — the frog had no squeak and it wasn't flavored, either. They'd all been scammed — maybe it had been switched in Singapore, or Istanbul, or Cairo, but now there was no way of telling if the Maltese frog actually still existed.

While they were fighting about who'd screwed up — and, more importantly, who owned the steaks — I picked up the fake frog as a souvenir and left.

As I turned the corner to my office, Buri saw me.

"What's that you've got?" he called.

"The stuff that dreams are made of."