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Villains, Vipers, And Dogs
About the Author: A. D. Price is an Emmy-winning screenwriter and author. In 2022, she published her debut novel After the Blue, Blue Rain. Her numerous publications (as Amy Dunkleberger) include educational books and feature articles on historical and arts-related subjects.

Yep, I confess. The puppy had taken me by surprise. Like the Boy Scout I’d once been, I do my best to be prepared when I’m on a job, to be ready for anything. But how could I have anticipated a puppy? Sure, I’d seen the photo of the Rin Tin Tin lookalike in the agency’s Yellow Pages advert. But a dog manning the office in the middle of the night? When I was planning my break-in, puppies just weren’t on my mind. What was on my mind was getting in and out of Comfort & Company as quickly as possible, with the file I’d been hired to steal.

Armed with the wrenches, picks, hooks, and rakes of my old lockpicking kit, I had arrived at the Spring Street address well past midnight. The agency was located above a watch shop, and as expected, the street, like all of L.A.’s business district, had gone to sleep for the day.

Two doors stood in my way, one outside, one inside. The outside door, protected only by a Yale lock, opened onto a staircase, which in turn led to Kit Comfort’s second-floor office. It’d been a while since I had picked a lock, and the last-minute nature of the assignment gave me no time to reacquaint myself with the moves I could once do in my sleep.

To steady my nerves, I studied the watches on display in the shop’s lighted window. The hands on all of them were set at 10:10—like the letter V—and the sign above them read: “Celebrate the Allied Victory with a Timeless Gift from Timex.” Corny, I thought, as I swiveled back to the Yale. I took a deep breath, pulled the toolkit out of my utility bag and prayed that my fingers would remember what to do.

The task took longer than I would have liked, but eventually the lock gave, and I slipped inside and hustled up the stairs to the detectives’ office. The office door boasted two locks, but somehow, I managed to pick both within a few minutes. With a little dusting off, some skills, I realized, really do stay with you. “So far, so good,” I whispered to myself, oblivious to what lay ahead.

From the street, the office had looked deserted and dark. But as I pushed open the door, instead of darkness, I saw a dim light coming from a small desk lamp. I hesitated on the threshold, one leg in, one leg out. Was someone still in there?

Before I could assess the situation further, a dark-furred puppy appeared at my feet, greeting me with small yelps and big tail wags. I gave it a few useless shushes, then scooted inside and closed the door. The presence of the puppy seemed to explain the light, but what explained the puppy? I stood motionless, telling myself that the dog was just a minor obstacle. I had many bills to pay and a job to do.

The puppy quieted, then darted between my legs, nearly toppling me and prompting another round of yipping. I fought an impulse to thwap the dog with my utility bag. While surveilling the building earlier, I had noted a fire escape and the nearby alleyway as well as the hours of business, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The street was a graveyard at night, but I worried the puppy’s sharp barks might alarm unexpected passersby or even the cops.

I pulled from my bag a small brass bell tied to some twine, a warning device I sometimes used when surveilling targets, and hung it on top of a battered dartboard mounted on the door. Instantly, the dog—a female, as it turned out—got up on its hind legs and tried to swat the bell with its paw. Though the bell was too high to reach, the pup kept swatting at it with surprising determination.

Taking advantage of the distraction, I adjusted my deerskin gloves and eyeballed the layout of the room. Three chairs and two desks—one executive-sized, one compact—took up most of the agency’s small space. My own setup on Main was, if not as profitable, bigger than this, a fact I took some satisfaction in.

The Comfort & Company detective agency had popped up during the war, willed into existence by Kit Comfort, an ambitious gal in the Kate Hepburn mold. Once a real detective’s Girl Friday, Comfort had taken advantage of both the wartime manpower shortage and her boss’s drug overdose to become Gumshoe No. 1 on South Spring Street.

Gumshoe No. 2 was the shape-shifting Henry Richman. From LAPD tough guy to insurance investigator to City Hall reformer, Richman had done it all. He had survived a LAPD car bomb and, just recently, a gun battle with escaped Nazis. The man had more lives than the proverbial cat. How he had ended up playing second fiddle to Comfort was a mystery. Had both of our stars somehow fallen?

This story appears in our MAY 2024 Issue
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