“Would you mind repeating that?” Maggie asked, with a fair amount of consternation on her face.
“Sure, Honey,” I deadpanned. “One million.”
“Dollars?!” she exclaimed.
“Yeah—dollars. Why the big surprise? Don’t you think I’m worth that much?”
“That’s not the point, Johnny, and you know it.”
“What then?” I enquired. I had to admit that I was kind of enjoying the exchange.
“For what, Johnny? The last few years we’ve been running the agency, you haven’t made as much as a thin dime. Matter of fact, you’ve lost money hand over fist—either solving cases for free, or paying your magnificently under-worked employees at least three or four times what they’re worth. And you know what? I don’t even care. Matter of fact, I kind of like it that way. But now you tell me someone’s come along and wants to pay you a million bucks—and miracle of miracles—you accept it!”
“So, what exactly is your point?” I said. Man, I loved getting under her skin. It was a bad habit, but one I did not seem to be able to resist.
Maggie stopped and took a long deep breath, touching her fingertips together and then drawing them apart, making the universal yoga sign with her hands for “Inner-peace.”
“Nope,” she said. “I’m not going to do it. Not today. I know what you’re up to, and for once I’m not taking the bait. You’ll tell me the whole story when you’re ready.”
The game was up. After a few years of marriage, Maggie was finally starting to get my rather “unusual” sense of humor.
“Okay, Maggie. I’ll tell. Gonna need some ice cream to go with it though,” I said, as I made my way to the fridge. Ice cream had become a sort of a thing with us. It bordered on a semi-religious experience. Maybe it wasn’t even that “semi” anymore.
A few minutes later I set a couple of expertly constructed hot fudge sundaes on the kitchen counter. Extra heavy on the whipped cream. We climbed on our respective stools and went to work on them.
“So, spill it.”
“Okay. Ever heard of Henry Holman?”
“The movie guy?”
“Sure. Hollywood Hank Holman. Triple H. Potty humor Hank. ‘B’ list kid actor of low class comedies, that aged out and turned ‘B’ list director of low class comedies. Who hasn’t heard of him?”
“Was a director. He’s graduated. Now, he’s a ‘B’ list producer of low class comedies. Well, anyway, he called me last night—or rather his secretary did.”
“Here, at the house?” Maggie asked.
“Four in the morning. He called WE, but I picked up here. I guess he was just planning on leaving a message.”
“Yeah. Holman’s sec is a guy. Gerald something or other. Stuffy sounding guy. Almost regal in his speech.”
“And he just offered you a million dollars out of the blue?”
“Well, not right at the start. But a business call that early kind of teed me off; so, when the guy asked if I were available, I said yeah—for a million dollars. I was more than a little surprised when he said that would be acceptable.”
Maggie grinned. “Maybe you should have asked for two.”
“Maybe,” I agreed.
“So, who do you have to kill for that kind of money?”
It was my turn to grin. “Nobody. I commit all my cold-blooded murders for pure pleasure.”
“Dunno. Gerald whatever his name was, said if I wanted the job, I’d have to meet with Holman face to face.”
“Now that’s really regal. It’d be more like you to tell him to stuff it.”
I laughed. “Usually I would—I hate to be in danger of ever actually turning a profit, you know. But I just had to find out what this is all about. Not even big name movie producers offer that kind of money for a private-eye.”
“You’ve got a reputation.”
I laughed again. “Not a million dollars’ worth.”
“So, when do you meet with him?”
“The office—his office. In Los Angeles.”
“You’ve hit the big time.”
“We’ve hit the big time. Everything is all expensed, and Gerald boy said there are no limits.”
“Bring me back a souvenir.”
“Pick one out yourself. We be like the dynamic duo now. A set—not to be separated.”
“I’ll pack a bag.”
“Forget the bag. I hear Rodeo Drive has lady’s shops.”
Maggie looked suspicious. “What’s really going on, Johnny? You’re the least money motivated person I’ve ever known.”
Maggie could always see right through me. I suspected her of having x-ray vision. “Just that the expense account is the real fee, and our fun. The million dollars is in the form of a check. It’s being overnighted to us now. A check with the payee left blank, just the way I asked for it. You, my beloved, get the fun of filling it in. To whatever worthwhile charity you decide to give it to.”
“Now that’s the money-bags O’Brien I know. Holman must be pretty sure you can deliver.”
“I’ll deliver. But it doesn’t really matter if I do or not. The fee stands either way. It’s spelled out precisely that way in the written agreement Gerald’s sending with the check.”
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
“That’s why we’re going all California. Don’t forget your sunglasses.”
“They have those on Rodeo Drive too?”
“Can’t wait for you to kiss me,” I leered.
“What were you doing up at four in the morning anyhow?” Maggie asked.
“A nightmare. Couldn’t get back to sleep.”
“You don’t have nightmares.”
“You should have told me that last night.”
It was Maggie’s turn to leer. “If you’d have woken me up, I would have showed you something last night.”
“Settle down, little filly,” I grinned.
“All right, Johnny,” Maggie said, flashing a sultry smile. “We’ll be in California soon enough.”
“Now I can’t wait.”
“So, what was your nightmare about?”
I was taken back a bit with the question. For some reason I hedged, not knowing why. It was not like me to be less than honest with Maggie. “I can’t remember all the details, Mag. But it was dark. Awfully dark.”
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in a few days with a remembrance of the late, great, Jerry Lewis, called: Jerry Lewis, the nutty-humanitarian. See you then . . .
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