Ye Olde Worlde Fudge Company was a dark, gloomy place. It smelled of butter and chocolate and rum and nuts and dust. A glass counter ran alongside the inner walls. It was full of fudge. Trays and trays piled with slabs of fudge. A face peered over the counter. An old woman with a face as wrinkled as the raisins in her rum fudge.

"May I help you, sir?" she said.

"I was thinking about buying some fudge."

I wandered down the length of the cabinet. Her face followed me, looking as if it was sliding along the top of the glass.

"Is there a specific kind of fudge that interests you, sir?"

"What’s the best fudge you have?"

"Ah." She let out a dusty sigh. "That is a matter of subjectivity. There’s the Charlotte Corday Peanut Butter Nougat, one of my favorites, or the Genghis Khan Chocolate Crunchy Crunch."

"The Charlotte Corday?" The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Maybe she was that fat witch on the city council who had banned cigar smoking in public.

"Yes. She assassinated Jean-Paul Marat in his bath in 1793. Afterward, she whipped up a batch of Peanut Butter Nougat to celebrate the occasion. The Chocolate Crunchy Crunch was invented by Genghis Khan’s chef, Bharli Zup. The Mongol hordes always carried some in their saddlebags when they rode out to burn and pillage. The original recipe included the pulverized bones of Polish peasants."

"Those Mongols." I shook my head. "I, uh, assume you updated the recipe a bit?"

She didn’t answer, but just stared at me.

"A friend of mine buys fudge here. Name of Lugg. Joe Lugg." My eye fell on the nearest tray behind the glass. Chamomile Tea Fudge. "He always buys the Chamomile Tea Fudge. Raves about it. Has he been in lately?"

The wrinkled face behind the counter was still for a moment. "The name isn’t familiar."

"Tall fellow, big shoulders. Sort of resembles a gorilla, but hairier and not as pretty."

"Perhaps you should leave now. It’s time to close for the day."

"At one in the afternoon? Does Lugg come in often? Does he trade protection for fudge? Or for cash?"

"You should leave."

The wrinkled face disappeared from behind the counter and the room fell silent. I loitered in front of the Hazelnut Slash ‘n’ Hash Fudge for a while and then left. As I walked out the door, I thought I heard the sound of an old rotary phone being dialed. Zip-chchchching. Zippp-chchchching.

Someone was sitting behind my desk when I unlocked my office door. My heart almost did a back flip, because I had been thinking about Joe Lugg the entire walk back. Lugg and Manny Lolo and their industrial-size walnut cracker. But it wasn’t Lugg sitting there. It was Maura. My heart did a real back flip and I froze, wondering if I should draw my gun.

"How’d you get in here?" I said.

She batted her eyelashes at me like a Venus flytrap. "Through the door. How else?"

"Don’t play stupid with me, Maura."

"Me?" She widened her eyes and managed to look shocked. Her eyes were green enough to give a tree-hugging hippie cold sweats. "I’d never do such a thing. Now, where are you taking me for dinner tonight?"

Obviously, she had forgotten the beer incident from last night. To be fair, though, I doubt she referred to it with that title. Her version was probably named something like "Murphy’s Snide Comments About My Mother, Referring to Her as Evidence for the Existence of Hell, Which Caused Me to Heave a Bottle at Him." Comments which, I’ll have you know, were completely justified. Women are like that. They refuse to see the man’s side of the story. Or even acknowledge that the man has the right to have a story.

"Fleur de Lis," I said.

"Fleur de Lis!" she screamed, bouncing up from the chair. I moved in for a kiss.

"If I had any money."

She slapped me. Slapped me so hard I could hear the ocean waves pounding on the beach. Could hear seagulls calling back and forth. It was a real pretty sound except for the noise of a shotgun going off. Someone was shooting the seagulls.

"So make some money!"

"I’m working on it." I told her about the arson, about Joe Lugg, and about the old woman in the Ye Olde Worlde Fudge Shoppe.

"She knows Lugg," said Maura. "She knows him, she’s paying protection, and she probably knows what happened with Hong Sho."

"Why are you so sure about that?"

"I’m a woman. I know. If you had half my brains, you’d be solving crimes right and left, in a nicer office with a secretary, an old, ugly secretary, and taking me out for dinner every night of the week."

"Maybe you should be doing my job," I grumbled.

"Maybe I should."

And that’s how I found myself walking down the sidewalk with Maura. It was close on five o’clock, and the city was overflowing with life, thronged and crowded with bumper-to-bumper taxicabs hollering and cursing in sixty-three different languages. We passed Finnegan and Sons. A "Closed" sign hung in the window.

"Bought a pair of shoes here today," I said.

"With what money?" scowled Maura. I could see her mind at work: The jerk has money to spend on shoes, but not a dime to take me out to dinner.

"Don’t even think it," I said. "Wait."

"I’m not going to wait," she grumbled. "You’ve got a lot of nerve. I think what I want. And I’m definitely thinking something now."

"Not that. Look. Look through the window."

The lights were off inside, but there was still enough illumination to see the jumble of shoes scattered across the floor. Shoes everywhere, swept off the shelves.

"Something’s wrong," I said. It felt wrong. Wrong like discovering a Russian dance troupe hiding in your closet. Or waking at 3 a.m. and finding the Mayor shaking your hand, asking for a campaign contribution. Or even as wrong as my Great Aunt Marge. It was that wrong and then some.

"Yeah," said Maura. "Almost feels like finding a Russian dance troupe hiding in your closet."

"Stop reading my mind."

I stepped to the door and looked around. Pedestrians hurried by in every direction but no one spared us a glance. I whipped a lock pick out of my pocket–I keep it to clean my fingernails, of course–and jiggered the lock. No dice.


I didn’t say anything, just glared and stepped back. Maura did something with her hands. Something too quick for me to see, and the door opened.

"How’d you do that?"

"What did you say?" She smiled at me, showing all her teeth. "Was that a proposal of marriage?"

But she went silent once we were inside. I gotta say that for Maura. She can be a beautiful pain in the neck, but she knows when to shut her trap. The place was a mess. Shoes everywhere. Shelving knocked off the walls. I pulled my gun. The place was as silent as my Uncle Melvin that one Christmas when he fell into a coma after his third helping of pork chops. Maura pointed to the back of the store. A dim light shone underneath a door. I put my ear to it, heard a faint sound of voices. I eased the door open. No one was there with a gun pointed at my head or a crowbar ready to cave in my skull. That was good.

The light came from another door. A door half open revealing stairs going down. I sidled over and peered around the frame. I couldn’t see anything down there other than a basement full of boxes and crates. Whoever was talking was out of sight. But I could hear plenty.

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