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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 25


"Give 'em to me," Mungo said, "or you'll have a bad accident--ahhh, shit!" Mungo tried to shake his leg but Hoover's teeth were sunk deep into his ankle. Mungo stumbled. I broke free and scrambled away. Mungo grabbed for me and lost his balance. I watched in horror as he landed on Hoover.

Hoover squealed and lay still.

Mungo started to get up but I'd already grabbed my suitcase and was swinging it in a giant roundhouse. The steel corner cracked over Mungo's skull. He clutched his head, listed left, then toppled.

Hoover shuddered violently and groaned.

"You okay?" My voice was raspy, as if Hoover and I were the same species.

He tried feebly to stand. I patted his head to settle him, but he got up and limped toward the door, put his paws up on the wall and pointed to his leash.

"I'm not sure we should leave him."

I took Hoover's leash, tied Mungo's arms behind him, then wrestled him over to the refrigerator. I wrapped a guitar string around his ankles and twisted the ends together. I didn't know exactly what kind of knot to tie, so I tied a lot of them. I looped an E-string, the thinnest and sharpest, loosely around Mungo's neck, and tied the other end to the fridge door.

I called Dr. Dean and explained that Hoover was hurt. Before I finished telling him that I didn't have a car, he said his son was on the way.

After tightening the knots, I said, "Wake up." Mungo didn't stir. I kicked his right shoe. He stiffened, one eye fell open, then closed, and he settled again. I grabbed his ears and shook his head. His eyes popped open, and in them was a frightening emptiness.

He squirmed and tried to pull his feet up under him. The E-string tightened around his throat, and he slowly sat back down.

"Who hired you to shoot Richard?"

He wasted enough bad language in ten seconds to last an ordinary man all his life, with care. I caught him by surprise with a hard backhand on his left cheek.

Then I waited for him to talk.

A cold grey light glinted in his eyes.

I slapped him hard on the right cheek.

"I can keep this up forever."

"Oh, can you? You'd have to damn near kill me before I'd tell you anything, and you haven't got the guts."

I cocked my backhand. He didn't wince. It was ludicrous. I had the cretin tied up, and he was in control of the situation.

Hoover's head trembled as he licked blood from his paw. Alice was curled up next to him. I bent down and stroked Hoover, trying to calm and reassure him. Or maybe myself.

"Let me go," Mungo said, "and maybe I won't turn the A.L.F. names over to the cops. If you don't, all of you, even that damned ugly spider, will go to jail."

That reminded me. Mungo hates bugs.

I went to the blender. Smuffy and I exchanged vulnerable, searching looks. Carefully, I tilted the blender and put my fingers inside. Smuffy crawled into my palm with the deliberate high steps of a show horse. I carried her over to Mungo.

Mungo's eyes bulged out of his head like soft-boiled eggs in eggcups, either trying to see more clearly, or maybe simply trying to leave. He leaned away, and the wire noose tightened.

I put my hand by his shoulder, and Smuffy climbed onto it. Mungo started to shake. Smuffy moved slowly toward Mungo's neck--just as Mungo's hand had crept down Ann's neckline. My anger built.

"You shake, she'll bite."

Mungo stiffened against the fridge like a man being electrocuted. His tough fa´┐Żade gone.

"Last chance," I said. Smuffy extended her front legs, feeling Mungo's neck.

Mungo's eyes were wild, close to hysteria. Almost imperceptibly he nodded. I pressed my open hand against one of the pale sweaty rings in his neck, just below Smuffy. She crawled into my palm. I put her back into the blender and blood started coming back to Mungo's face.

"Talk."

"You know Purple-Hair, the fuzznut who jumped onto the stage? After he got bounced, he snuck back in with a sawed-off shotgun--"

I banged his head backward against the fridge, hard enough to knock over a jar inside.

"Damn you. Listen to me. Someone planted a full-size shotgun in the rafters. You don't know how much I know, so it's a bad time to try lying. The only way you could know I called Brett 'Purple-Hair' is because you've been eavesdropping. Where did you plant the bug?"

Mungo clenched his jaw and stared at me.

I reached back into the blender, waited for Smuffy to crawl onto my hand, and let her off again high on Mungo's neck. Mungo's whole body flexed. For a moment I thought he might be strong enough to snap the steel wires. He wasn't. Instead, the wires seemed to bite through his flesh.

As Smuffy crawled over his chin, Mungo shut both his eyes. With each step, Mungo bent his head back, until he was facing the ceiling. Smuffy crawled over Mungo's cheek, nestled into his right eye socket, and then settled like she might go to sleep.

I pulled a loose splinter of wood off the door frame and poised it, ready to prod her to bite. I hesitated. I hated to poke her after she trusted me to handle her. Now I was sweating.

Hoover seemed to understand. But whether he did or not, he suddenly sprang onto his hind legs, leaning his forepaws on Mungo for support, and barked. Smuffy bit into Mungo's scrunched eyelid.

"Christ! Get me a doctor!" His fingers were digging into the refrigerator.

Hoover dropped his forepaws to the ground.

"Ready to talk?"

Mungo nodded his head feverishly, although it was no more than a tremor.

I called the police. "Can you get here right away? I have someone who will confess to trying to kill Richard Tipton."

* * *

"Let me go," Mungo demanded.

Strolling to the window, Chief York asked, "Why?"

"Because I didn't do anything wrong! Untie me!"

Grief suddenly filled me as I realized I'd made a tragic mistake. I was new at detective work, and I had forgotten to get any proof. The police will have to let this killer go free. Were I any dumber, I'd have to be watered.

"Untie me," Mungo growled.

"We didn't tie you up," the Chief said. "Whatever two people do in the privacy of their own hotel room is their own business. Isn't that right, Stubby?"

Now wait just one lousy minute--

"That's right." Stubby rubbed his fingers along the guitar strings binding Mungo to the refrigerator. "And, quite frankly, we've seen a lot kinkier than this."

"I want to press charges," Mungo glared from me to Smuffy. "That madman put a poison spider on my face. My eyelid is swelling. Take me to a doctor!"

The Chief shook her head.

"No, sir. We're not an ambulance service. We can take you to jail, but only if we have a reason to arrest you."

"Jesus Herbert Christ! You're saying if I don't confess, you'll leave me here?"

"Absolutely correct, however, you get no points because I had to give you a hint." Stubby turned, hiding his smile.

Mungo strained forward against the steel wires. "Very funny. Okay. I'll tell you who shot Richard if you get me to a doctor!"

"Promises, promises." Chief York watched the pigeons outside on the ledge, conveying to Mungo he'd have to work harder to hold her interest.

"Okay," Mungo said. "Here's what I know . . ."

"First things first," the Chief turned, rested her fanny on the windowsill, folded her arms, then read Mungo his rights.

The formalities out of the way, Mungo began, "Lester brought a shotgun into the Lobster under a fur coat. Then he hid it in the rafters of Richard's office while Rat and I argued with Dudley and Richard about a 'reserved' booth. For the love of Jesus, get me outta here."

"Did Beezil hire you to kill Richard?" I asked.

"No," Mungo said. "Beezil only wanted Fluke out of town. It was Lester's idea to use the shotgun to close the Lobster."

"Then why'd you attack Mr. Baker and Miss Berlin after Fluke left town?"

"A story in the Examiner said Clark was after the gunman. Lester wanted to know how much Clark knew, so he had me bust into this dump and hide a bug. I made it look like a burglary to confuse Clark."

"Why'd you leave a key in my door?" I asked.

"Mr. Terrig knew the insurance company wouldn't pay him until after an investigation, which might prove it was arson and get the police involved. So he gave me a key to cleaning fluid cabinets near the furnace and asked me to plant it on someone. I stuck it in your hotel door, hoping you'd keep it."

Doubt crossed the Chief's face.

"Why did you break in a second time?"

"To put new batteries in the bug," Mungo said, "and confuse Clark more. I knew from listening that if I broke in that night, he'd believe someone had seen him at the Lobster."

The Chief asked, "Where's the bug?"

"Under the couch."

I asked, "Why did you want me gone at nine o'clock?"

"That's when the desk clerk takes his nap. I was waiting for him to nod off when you came home."

The Chief whispered to Stubby: "Check under the couch. Be very quiet. The bug could trigger something to explode." The Chief looked at the counter. "We could end up looking like that bag of chips."

Stubby nodded. His face rigid with intent, he advanced on the couch. As he tipped it slowly backward, I shifted my feet and flexed my knees in position to dive at the first sound. Stubby spotted the bug and studied it while balancing the couch.

"It's safe." Stubby gripped it by two thin wires and handed it to the Chief.

Stubby and the Chief stepped into the living room. I followed them.

"Do we have enough to convict him?" Stubby asked.

"He's confessed only to keeping people busy while Lester planted the shotgun. That's accessory. But he's quick to blame Lester for everything, so I'd bet he knows Lester is dead."

"We need to find the other shotgun."

I cleared my throat. Their stares could have nailed me to the wall.

I said, "It's on the backseat of Mungo's car, right outside. Car's probably unlocked, he left in a hurry."

Stubby went to the car and returned with the shotgun.

Mungo swallowed hard and his swollen eyelid twitched spastically.

"Okay. Okay. After Kristin died, Brett leaked crap to Terrig about the upcoming Laurel raid. Terrig wanted to catch the guys responsible for Kristin's death, so he convinced John Laurel to hire a dude who would protect Laurel. He said he knew of a 'recovering' animal-rights puke who knew the A.L.F.'s tactics and who wanted revenge.

"This puke didn't really exist. Terrig's plan was to have Lester hiding inside Laurel and videotape A.L.F. members. Then he'd blackmail them. He and Lester were in agreement--all for one, one for all--until Ann and Clark visited the Terrigs. Then Terrig changed his mind, took back his cameras a few hours before the raid, and told Lester to stop guarding Laurel. But Lester had a plan: shoot video and sell it to Slim Twitchle. He asked me to bring him a camera, but I needed time. So Rat delayed you in the alley, using the toy helicopter."

That explains why he only delayed us. In fact, he wanted us to continue with the break-in. "How did he get our Cobra?"

"Lester heard about your car wreck from Terrig, who heard it from Brett. We went and checked it out."

"Why?"

"Looking for heroin needles or other contraband carried by rockers. Or the list of A.L.F. members. Anything to blackmail you with."

"Interesting," Stubby said, "but why kill Lester?"

Mungo's expression was bewildered, the eyes affronted, blaming, like the eyes of a caught fish. "When I took the cameras to Lester, I told him it wasn't smart to double-cross Terrig. But he'd been drinking," Mungo wrinkled his brow. "Although I don't know where he got the beer. Anyway, we argued and he told me to kill all the rabbits. I didn't know how plastered he was. When I hesitated, he got mad, pumped his rifle and yelled at me to kill the rabbits or he'd feed me to them. He pinched my cheek like I was a little kid." Mungo looked pained, like a knife was stuck in him. "I punched him. While he was falling backward, I grabbed the rifle. The blast drove him into a chair." Mungo made a wrenching sound that masked my sigh of relief. Bill had not killed Lester.

Stubby untied Mungo, helped him to his feet, cuffed him, and directed him out the door. Mungo's knees buckled. If Stubby hadn't been holding him, he would have gone down the stairs like a runny egg. "Think now we have enough to convict him?" Stubby asked.

The Chief almost giggled. Mungo, babbling piteously, was confessing to sins he had committed all the way back in the fifth grade.

Hatful of Pain 26

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