Big Trouble

Episode 15

Arilin Thorferra

When I called the number Lambert gave me, the voice that picked up wasn’t Joey’s. “Hello?” A man’s voice, light, worried, careful.

“I need to get a message to Joey Meloni.”

“And who is this?”

“Freddy Waterman needs to meet with him. Eighth Street Diner tonight at six. Get a booth in the back.”

I got a long silence, followed by a soft, “I’ll give Joey your message.” He hung up.

When I got to the hash house a few minutes before six, Meloni wasn’t there yet. Assuming he was going to show up at all. I headed to the phone booth by the restrooms, where I still had a good view of the front entrance, and waited.

The weasel did show up, though, and by my watch he walked in right on the dot. He glanced back and forth nervously until he and the hostess headed to the back.

After she left him alone, I waited a few seconds, then slid into the booth across from him. “Hi, Knives.”

He almost jumped in his seat. “Who the hell—wait, I know you! You’re the private dick for that dime store lawyer who got iced a few years ago.”

“It’s sweet you remember. Now I’m an independent dime store private dick.”

“Bully for you, toots. Now vamoose. I’m waiting for someone.”

“I’m the one who called you.”

“But—” Knives groaned, and started to stand up. “I don’t got time for—”

“Tawny Thorne found out about your little side hustle, and I saw what she did to Freddy Waterman for it. He didn’t just get whacked, he got swallowed whole. So while she said she didn’t care about his ‘flunky,’ if I were that flunky, Knives, I wouldn’t take the chance. Now sit down.”

He sat down slowly, eyes getting bigger. “Are you saying Tawny ate him?”

“Alive and screaming.”

“God. I knew she was a nut job, but…God.” He rubbed his face, then jumped when the waitress came over to take our orders. She was a ratel, a honey badger, and smiled at me but gave Joey a few suspicious looks.

After she left, I leaned forward. “Look. Elsa Lambert is dead and her husband’s being hung out to dry by his own lawyers, all to keep her—and now me—away from what’s really going on at Starling Studios and East-West Imports. And none of this would have happened if you galoots hadn’t decided to set Edgar Lambert up to squeeze him for a few bucks.”

“That’s sad. My heart bleeds. But I don’t want the rest of me bleeding. Or digesting. Why should I keep talking to you instead of hopping the next train to Boise?”

“Because if you do, you might save both your hide and Lambert’s. You might help bring down people who I don’t think are any better for your business than they are for mine. And—”

“Thanks, toots, but we both know I’m not the white knight type.” He started to stand again. “Gotta go.”

I stood up, too, then stood up, growing to about eight feet high. He had just enough time to look wide-eyed before I lifted him off the floor and shrank down to four inches—bringing his size down to not quite three. I let him go, zapped back to my normal size, and picked him up in a hand as he started to run away. “And,” I repeated, bringing him up real close to my muzzle so he could see all my pretty teeth, “you won’t be in a jam with two size-shifters.”

“Hey! That’s not fair! You can’t—”

The waitress was approaching with our plates, so I closed my hand around him to shut him up. “Thanks.” I beamed at her.

The honey badger squinted at my hand. “Where’s your…friend?”

“Oh, he’s not my friend.”

“Huh.” She shrugged and ambled off.

“Okay. So.” I dropped Joey on the table right at the edge of my corned beef hash. “You were about to spill on what’s really happening at East-West Global, right?”

He hopped in place, balling his fists. “Make me big again right now!”

“You weren’t big to start with, Knives.” I picked up a piece of toast and started buttering it.

“That’s not funny! Dammit, Mallory!”

“Was Don Woodley in on your blackmail scheme, or did he just toot the wrong ringer?” I picked up another piece of toast and buttered it.

“Make! Me! Big!”

I pointed my butter knife at him, a dull blade much bigger than his body. “Joey, this is how it’s going to go in the next few seconds. You start being helpful and I spread some nice marmalade on this toast, or you keep being obstinate and I make you into a weasel sandwich.”

He snorted, crossing his arms. “You’re not that crazy.”

Sighing, I picked him up and dropped him on one piece of toast, then put the other one on top of him.

“Oh my God oh my God oh my—”

I started lifting the “sandwich” up, opening my muzzle wide.

His voice got even higher and shriller. “Woodley isn’t in on it but he knows about it!”

I held still for a couple of seconds, then set the bread back down, pulled him out, and started spreading marmalade on one half. “Keep talking.”

He shook himself off, grimacing at the grease left by the butter. “He just…God. He’s friends—was friends with Waterman ’cause of his dad’s business, right?” As he spoke, he rubbed at his clothes frantically. “He made friends with Lambert, and he knew Waterman was kinda, you know, into giants too.”

“He’s definitely in one now.” I took a big bite of toast, making the tiny weasel flinch as I crunched noisily. “Mmm. Marmalade. So, who came up with the blackmail plot?”

“Waterman! Not me!” He held up his hands defensively. “Him and the photographer guy.”

I lifted my brows. “Bob Starling?”

“Who do you think took pictures of Lambert and Psycho Bunny?”

“I know he snapped the shots, Knives.” I brought my fork down much closer to him than I needed to as I started in on the hash. He squeaked, stumbling back. “But he made it sound like he’d taken those pics for Edgar, and Waterman stole ’em.”

Knives took a deep breath, steadying himself. “Well, he’s bullshitting you, toots.”

I rapped the fork on the plate, making him jump again. “That’s Miss Toots to you.”

He huffed. “Look, your man Starling wasn’t just in on it, he was taking most of the money. Sixty percent for him, thirty for Waterman, ten for me.”

“None for Tawny Thorne?”

“I figured he was giving a cut to her.”

“So how’d you grift in on this?”

“I do…uh, did…some other work for Waterman at East-West Imports. We’re business associates.” He tried to straighten his lapel and puff up, but the crumbs in his fur made it difficult.

“What’s the business?”


“I won’t really eat you, Knives, but I will absolutely leave you here at this size.”

“That’ll wear off eventually!”

“Yeah. Eventually.”

He sighed. “Not everything they import is on the up-and-up. You know how it is.”

“So they’re smuggling. Dope?”

“That’s what I figure.”

“You figure.”

Knives shuffled his paws, grimacing. “Look. They don’t wanna tell me. I don’t wanna know.”

I drummed my fingers on the table. He watched them nervously. “Okay,” I finally said. I picked him up and wiped him off more with a napkin, which muffled more than a few curses. Then I stood, set him down on the floor, and reversed the size-shift trick I’d done before. He wobbled, squeaking dazedly. He looked like he’d just come out of a war zone.

“So, you’re going to sit and have your food, and I get you on the next train to Boise.”

He sat and slouched, looking miserable. “I can’t leave Bobby.”


“My—my friend. You spoke to him on the phone.”

The waitress came over and refilled my coffee, and gave Knives the once-over. “What happened to you?” She turned to me. “This bum’s not giving you any trouble, is he, sugar?”

“Me? Me? Lady, didn’t you see—she’s—I’m not…” Joey trailed off as the honey badger narrowed her eyes, giving him a clear just try me, matchstick glare. He sighed, slouching again. “No, ma’am, no trouble at all, I promise,” he mumbled.

“Good boy.” She ambled off.

“She seems nice,” I said. “Can you get Bobby out of town with you?”

“He won’t like it.”

“He might like both of you getting a clean start somewhere.”

He smiled wanly, and started eating his lukewarm supper.