.

t was almost five A.M. Outside the window of my office the gray residue of morning light was sifting down the brick wall of the building across the alley like soot from the chimney two stories up. I shucked my sports coat and let myself into the old leather chair that creaked like a flophouse cot when it felt my weight. I barely noticed: I was busy. I pulled open the deep drawer on the right, the one where I’d keep my good shoes if I could afford a second pair, and took out the bottle of cheap scotch I’d bought instead. I had a paper cup left over from last time. I filled it to the top, returned the bottle and let the chair screech as I leaned back to take the first moment of relaxation I’d enjoyed in more than two weeks. That’s when the dame stuck her head in the door and said, “Are you Mr. Dimwit?”

“No,” I told her.

She looked back at the door where my name had once been stenciled. The bulb in the hall was fainter than the light in the alley and she had to squint. “Oh, no, of course you aren’t,” she said. She pressed her hand to her mouth and giggled. “It really says you’re Mr. Dimwist. Is that what it says? Dimwist?”

 
 

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“Yeah.”

She suddenly looked very serious. “Well, that’s just as bad, isn’t it? I mean, Dimwist . . . Dimwit? Don’t people think it’s the same thing all the time? Don’t they think that?”

“Do you always say everything twice?”

“Well, I guess they do. Yes, of course. And, oh yes, I do. I always say everything twice. Don’t you? Say everything twice, I mean?”

The hell with it. I drank off half of what was in the paper cup.

“Come to think of it, maybe you’re not. Mr. Dimwist, I mean. Why in the heck would a private eye be in his office this hour of the day? I mean, what reason could bring you here?”

“Lady, this is where I reload my gat.”

“Couldn’t that wait?” she said, scowling. Then suddenly her whole face just sort of crinkled up like a grabbed Kleenex and I thought she was going to burst into tears. I can’t stand when dames do that, so I did what had to be done. I finished the cup and took the bottle out of the drawer again.

“‘This is where I load my gat,’” she said, repeating me now for cripes sake. “That sounds just like him.”

 

“Him? Who we talking about now?”

“My boyfriend. The Armadillo. Don’t you know about the Armadillo? No, of course you don’t.”

“You always answer your own questions, too.”

“Usually twice. He’s missing, you know.”

“This Armand geek?”

“Armadillo. I can’t believe you don’t know him. You and him, you’re in the same business, you know.”

“You mean he’s a shamus? A flatfoot? A private eye?”

“He’s not exactly a private eye. I mean, he is, but he isn’t. He’s a – why did you call him that?”

“Shamus? Flatfoot? Private eye?”

“Geek. Why’d you call him a geek?”

“Just a hunch,” I said. I pulled my notepad and pencil over and got down to brass tacks. “Okay, tell me about this missing boy friend. First thing, are you sure he’s missing?”

“What does that mean? Am I sure he’s missing?”


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“Missing is when he don’t want to be gone, lady.”

“Well, that’s not a nice thing to say.”

I leaned back in the chair. It sounded like an alarm cock. “This time of the day I’m not at my nicest. How long you known him?”

“Well, not too long. Just two weeks. Maybe half a month. I remember it well. Who wouldn’t? A person doesn’t get kidnapped every day, you know.”

“In my line I average about every three weeks. You say this Armadillo geek kidnapped you? I thought you said he was a private eye.”

“I didn’t say either one.” She gave me a nasty look. “You’re twisting my words. He’s not a private eye; he’s a crime-fighter. And he didn’t kidnap me, he rescued me.”

“Crime-fighter? You were kidnapped?”

“A man in your line of work ought to just listen better to people. Of course I was kidnapped. Why would he rescue me if I weren’t kidnapped? That wouldn’t make any sense at all.”

“Tell me about this guy.”

“He rescued me when I was kidnapped.”

“No, I mean tell me about it. Give me details.” I reached into the drawer again. “Tell me what he looks like.”

“Is that mouthwash?”

“Not really, Blondie. You were gonna tell me what he looks like.”

“It’s a little early if that’s not mouthwash.”

“Until eight o’clock it’s nice and late, not early. I got three hours. Now tell me –“

“Well, if you’d let me. It happened maybe two weeks ago, or half a month, I forget, but it was in all the papers. Don’t you read the papers? They were holding me for ransom. It was eight million dollars. My daddy, you don’t know him, I haven’t even told you yet, but he’s well to do. Well, anyway, I was being held in this abandoned warehouse and no one could find me. No one but the Armadillo. He could find me.

“These men who kidnapped me weren’t very nice. They had me nailed up in a barrel and they were going to throw it in the river and they weren’t going to tell my daddy. So he’d go ahead and pay them all that money anyway. There were six of them. Seven if you count their boss. That’s how the Armadillo found me.”

“By counting their boss?”

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“No, he followed them. You have to listen to me better. He figured out there was only one crook big enough to pull a job like this and so he tacked him out or whatever –”

“Staked him out.”

“Let me tell it, please. He followed him to the warehouse. He knew that no master criminal would trust an underling to collect a ransom that big, so he followed this guy until he led him to where I was. It was scary, believe me. But the Armadillo isn’t scared. In he comes sailing though the air –”

“Hold it. How do you know this?”

“Well, I was there.”

“You were nailed in a barrel, Blondie. You know, it’s beginning to sound to me like this Armadillo geek was working some sort of set-up. How do you know he wasn’t behind this whole thing and the whole point of it wasn’t just so he could rescue you and get close to your inheritance or something, which I’ll bet will be a whole hell of a lot more than any measly eight million.”

“Boy, if you ask me you’re one sorry excuse for a private eye. You sound just like my father.”

 

“You were still nailed in that barrel, weren’t you?”

“There was a hole just big enough for my neck. My head was sticking out. It wasn’t very comfortable, either, let me tell you. So I saw it when the Armadillo flew through the air –”

I leaned forward. The screech of the chair caused her to stop talking. I said, “Just tell me like it happened.”

“Well.” She sniffed. “Well, there I was, in that barrel they were going to throw into the river or something, and all these gangsters standing around making bets on how long I’d float and whether they’d have to punch holes in the barrel – and me – with their Tommy guns.”

I leaned back in the chair.

“Aren’t you ever going to oil that thing?” she asked, giving me the sort of scowl she probably normally saved for child molesters. “It’s very annoying. Anyway, there I was and there they were, and then the big boss comes in. He was the one in the suit. He starts to tell how the plan is going so well. You know, my daddy is about to pay the ransom, the pick-up’s all arranged, that sort of shoptalk. It was very boring; I hate it when men talk about business, so I didn’t pay much attention. And then –”

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Her little round face took on this blissful expression and she clasped her hands and sighed. I just waited for her to start up again and after a second she did. “And then, the Armadillo arrived!”

“Tell me about this Armadillo geek.”

“He’s not a geek,” she said, mad. “Well, actually, I don’t think he’s a geek. We never ate chicken together. Actually, he never took me to a good restaurant and I never – ”

“The story, the story.”

“Oh, yes. Oh, it was so wonderful. I looked up. Behind the crooks there was this big stack of boxes, just like in a movie warehouse, and standing on top of them is – the Armadillo!

“He was magnificent! His back cape billowed around him. Sunlight through the big skylight in the roof of the warehouse glinted off his steel armadillo mask. He held a gun in each hand, and –”

“Hold on a minute. Cloak? Mask? Armadillo mask?”

“- And he laughed,” she said, scowling and rushing on to drown

 

me out. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard the famous laugh of the Armadillo.”

“A steel mask? The guy wears a steel mask?”

“And very useful it is, too. Not only does it hide his secret identity – which is Ronald Faldaytonworthington, by the way – from the bad guys, but it saves his life a lot.”

I was busy fighting with writing down his name, but I managed to say, “It sure sounds practical.”

“Well, it is. It’s the most practical mask in the whole world. Just let me tell you. When they hear his laughter, the bad guys all turn around and look up at him and boy are they scared. I’d always heard about the smell of fear, but let me tell you I learned what it is when those guys saw the Armadillo, and it’s not a nice thing. So all of them –”

“Six or seven.”

“Give or take some. All of them except their boss, the guy in the suit, remember, all of them take their Tommy guns and shoot.”

“They shoot? Wait a minute, Blondie. Am I supposed to find this guy or solve his murder?”

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“Find him. They can’t kill the Armadillo, you ninny. But they try. Oh, they try. And their bullets just bounce – ping, pang! – right off his mask. He weaves and bobbles and ducks to catch the ones that were going to miss him entirely. Oh, it was wonderful.”

I put my elbows on the desk and pointed a finger at her. “Let’s just take a break right here, sister. Now, you’re telling me this Armadillo uses this steel mask to catch bullets? What’s he do when he’s not the Armadillo, rent his head out as church chimes?”

“No, he’s a famous international playboy. I told you that. Well, they empty their Tommy guns at him and all the bullets bounce off his mask, so he grabs this big rope and swings – ”

“Wait another. Where’s this ‘big rope’ come from?”

“He has a pocket in his cloak. He pulled the rope out – there was this grappling hook on the end – and he tosses it up over this rafter, this beam, and uses it to swing –”

“A pocket in his cloak? A big rope and a grappling hook in a pocket in his cloak?”

“Sure. There are lots of pockets in his cloak and he carries all sorts of things in them. He’s got his own Tommy guns, you know,

 

and his famous twin automatics, and shotguns, and rocket launchers, and knives, a tool kit, a complete albeit small crime lab, just lots of things.”

“Lady –“

“Well, he swings down and he does it in this big sort of circle so he slams into all the crooks, one after the other, except the boss.”

“Lady –“

“Well, with all that stuff in his cloak he must just weigh a ton and all these crooks, these what-you-call-’em, henchmen are just flying right and left, and just lying there knocked out on the warehouse floor – which none of them had swept in ages, believe me – and he sort of stopped in front of the boss.”

“Sort of?”

“Well,” she said, shrugging. “He kind of crashed into this big wooden crate first, but after he stopped staggering, he was standing in front of the big boss.”

“Who just stood there, waiting?”

“Well, he was as amazed as I was.”

“That’s the first thing you’ve said that makes sense.”

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“Listen, if you’re not going to at least be polite about it, I’ll go somewhere else.”

“No you won’t, lady,” I said, leaning back. And she wouldn’t. There are some advantages to the kind of hours Irwin Dimwist, Private Eye maintains.

She sniffed. “I’m your client. You ought to be polite to me.”

“I’ll think about it, Blondie. But it won’t be easy. Half the leggy blondes who come in here turn out to be killers, you know.”

“Well, not me. The killer part, I mean. The leggy part – well, I don’t like to brag but –”

“Maybe it would help if you said anything that made sense. Get on with your story.”

“So there he was standing in front of the Big Guy. Well, you should have seen it. The Big Guy just stood there, his mouth hanging open, his eyes popping, his bow tie bobbing up and down on his Adam’s apple. It was just a sight.

“The Big Guy says, ‘Who are you?’

“’My identity’s kept secret by this steel mask,’ the Armadillo says, in this deep voice he’s got (and don’t forget, his words are

 

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echoing around inside that steel mask of his), ‘I am the Armadillo.’ Well, the crook just turned green.

“But he’s game, he’s game. I see his hand sneaking around to his back pocket where the handle of his revolver is sticking out and I quickly surmise he plans to shoot somebody.”

“You’re a detective, too,” I said.

She thought that over a moment. “Yeah, I guess you could say that about me. The Armadillo and I have a lot in common, you know? Well, I see him – the bad guy - reaching for this gun and I shout a warning and the Armadillo fires both his automatics and blows that sucker just to kingdom come and gone. If you know what I mean. And rescues me. It was very romantic.”

“And that’s the story?”

“Not all of it. All the crooks were dead or unconscious. So the Armadillo gets me out of the barrel – it’s amazing the equipment you can carry in a big, billowy cloak –”

“I’ll bet.”

“- And he calls the cops. After a while I hear the sirens and there he goes, across the rooftops of all the warehouses with his big black cloak flaring out behind him as the cops drive up. I thought I’d never see him again.”

 

I started to gesture at her with my cigarette, then remembered I don’t smoke. “But you did see him again, didn’t you?”

“It was nine days later, just nine days. I was having lunch at a very exclusive restaurant – Daddy was so grateful he hadn’t had to spend eight million dollars that he gave me part of it to go shopping with - and on my way out, I took a wrong turn and I was in this awful alley. Really, they shouldn’t have alleys like that in respectable parts of town. Well, there was this mugger and he grabbed hold of my purse but I didn’t want to give it to him, so I held on and he pulled and I pulled and I started screaming and he screamed louder than me, so I suppose that’s what the Armadillo heard. Anyway, he comes running into this alley, his great black cloak streaming out behind him –”

“The cloak with all the tools and guns.”

“Yes, that one.”

“Streaming out behind him?”

“And he says, ‘Unhand that woman’s purse, you scoundrel,’ or something like that. But the scoundrel, who hasn’t taken a bath in weeks, that was for sure, just held on, partly I think to keep his balance because he was jumping around on one leg because I kicked his shin. But the Armadillo wasn’t afraid and he took him by the scruff of the neck and tried to lift him up and toss him aside.

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It wasn’t easy because the thief must have weighed something like ninety-five pounds and besides he was holding on to my purse strap. So the Armadillo reached into his cloak and takes out this little leather thing on a strap that looks like it has all this metal inside? And he tap-tap-taps on the guy’s knuckles until he lets go of my purse and then the Armadillo tosses him into some garbage cans that already look like they’ve been beaten to death with muggers, and this thief person knocks them over and scatters them as he scrambles to his feet and takes off lickety-split down the alley and I never see him again, not that I care.”

I remember that part vividly, because she paused to take a breath before she continued and there was actual silence.

“Of course, the Armadillo gets ready to go, too. He pulls his cloak up over the snout of his mask and starts to turn. Did you ever see ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space?’ You know how Bela Lugosi’s double, who I understand was really a chiropractor, always hid his face from the camera by pulling up his cape? That’s how the Armadillo did it.”

“You think maybe he’s a chiropractor in civilian life?”

“No, he’s a man about town. Don’t you listen? I told you that.” Her little fist hammered the top of my desk. “Anyway, he starts to turn away from me but I grab him and press my body against his and I tell him, ‘Thank you, thank you, Armadillo. You’ve saved my life again. Do you know that makes twice in less than a week?’ And I sort of kiss him.”

 

“Nine days --,” I started, but she cut me off.

“Well, he wears that mask. Anyway, I won’t let him get away. I drag him back into the restaurant and order Perrier at seven dollars a bottle and we just sit there and talk. It’s this corner table and he had to go past me to leave. Anyway, there we were and we just talked and I got to know him real well and he told me all about being a famous masked crime fighter and that sort of thing and how his real identity was Ronald Faldaytonworthington, the international playboy known in every haunt of the very rich from Paris to Honolulu. He wouldn’t take his mask off until I got him to my house – actually, Daddy pays the rent, but I get to call it my place - and by that time, we’re engaged.”

“You’re engaged to a masked crime fighter?”

“He’s very famous. It’s an important job. You know how corrupt the police are. Daddy says you just can’t buy one for a reasonable price these days.”

I took the bottle out of the deep drawer again and poured the last of the booze into the paper cup. She said, “Do the Pinkertons work in offices like this?”

“Blondie, you won’t find them standing on street corners. Tell me about this Armadillo guy being missing.”

“Well, at least he’s a guy now, and not a geek.”

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“I still haven’t seen him eat a chicken. Now tell me your story.”

She gave me an indignant sniff and said, “I always like a whirlwind courtship. Daddy says that if a man cares for something, money’s no object and playboys and big time crime fighters all have such good credit, anyway. So we go to all the best clubs and are photographed for the society sections of the paper. You know.”

“But no restaurants.”

“No, other than the one when he stopped the mugger from mugging me. He doesn’t like to eat in public because he doesn’t want to take his mask off.”

“To hide the fact that he’s Ronald Faldaytonworthington.”

“That’s what he said. But I think the real reason is he’s such a shy bunny.”

I shook my head. “These crime fighter types.”

“Well, it’s been three days and we’ve gone everywhere together, been seen in all the right places, except the restaurants. He was willing to go to clubs and bars because he could drink with a straw. He’s quite a dancer, too, let me tell you. Well, except when his cloak slams into one of the other people on the floor, of course. Once or twice he had to answer his beeper and go fight crime,

 

but he always came back, so that’s how I know he’s missing.”

“Well. Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do I say ‘well’ too often?”

“Well – yes.”

“But is it attractive. A girl has to be attractive, even in her speech mannerisms, you know?”

“You were about to tell me about him being missing.”

Oh yes. Well, he missed a date.”

“That’s not much to go on, Miss Tonneville.”

“It is too,” she said, angry. “Men don’t miss dates with me, you know. It isn’t done, it just isn’t. I got real scared and I went to his place to –”

“His place?”

“The apartment where he lives in his playboy guise as Ronald Faldaytonworthington.”

“You went there.”

“And I found it empty. The furniture was gone, the pictures were off the walls. There was no sign he ever lived there.”

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I rested my chin on my hand and said, “Yeah, that sounds like missing, all right.”

“I’m worried.”

“You know,” I said thoughtfully, “crime fighting’s a serious and dangerous business. It’s more than a business. It’s a way of life. A dangerous one.”

There were tears in her eyes now but she held her little chin up bravely. She said, “You’re trying to tell me something, aren’t you?”

“Uh, yeah. How you want to hear it, Miss Tonneville?”

“How else? As gently as possible.”

“The geek’s dead.”

She yelped and started bawling. I fished my handkerchief out of the back pocket I’d stuffed it into a week ago and passed it over the desk to her. She took it, gave it a look, and handed it back with just two fingers. But it worked: she stopped bawling.

“But – but who -?” she said with a sniff.

“What does it matter? A man like him makes a lot of enemies.

 

A lot of enemies means a lot of people going after you. Take it from me,

I know. And they don’t all aim at your head with the steel mask on it.”

“But he could bob and weave so well!”

“It only takes one good ambush and he’s a mess of blood and guts like a run-over cat on the highway.”

She started up bawling again but when I reached into my hip pocket, she stopped. I said, “There’ve been rumors. I got a lot of contacts.”

“You mean – you mean, he’s really dead?”

“Like a cockroach under a fat man’s shoe.”

“Oh!”

I looked away from her. It was growing lighter in the cheap alley outside my window. The sunlight bounced against the wall across from my desk, making abstract patterns which I looked at while I spoke. “I got my sources. I’m a shamus, after all. Half my life is spent picking up dirt from scumbag informers. They don’t give me the specific stuff unless I pay for it, of course, but they try to keep me posted on what’s going on in this town, sort of let me

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know how well up they are in the info game so I’ll come to them when I need to. They know that’s when I’ll pay. I heard some stuff.”

In her ladylike way, she snorted a snort of derision. “You can’t be getting too much good information. You didn’t even know who the Armadillo was.”

“I heard about him once or twice. But he’s not a crook, he’s just competition, so I don’t pay much attention. This town’s lousy with crime fighters. Who can keep track of every geek running around in a cloak and steel mask?” I paused, shaking my head slowly back and forth while she thought that over. “Anyway, there was some talk last night. I barely paid attention to it, but I heard enough. The Armadillo’s been offed. Seems someone with an old score to settle lured him into an abandoned subway tunnel and ambushed him.”

“But he could have gotten away -”

“Well he didn’t,” I said. “He just didn’t. It was a good ambush. This guy hired a hit man to stand at one end with a machine gun and spray the tunnel with bullets. And just to make sure, he takes a second Tommy gun himself and stands at the other end. He and the hit man wait until the Armadillo is between them and they cut loose. Old steel mask didn’t have a chance.”

“How horrible. And how fiendish! The perfect murder plan –“

 

“Well, it needed some fine tuning. Seems that while the hit man and the guy who hired him managed to get the Armadillo, they got themselves as well. When the police showed up, they found three corpses.”

“This is awful!” She was in tears. “I had all these plans. We were going to raise championship poodles and give charity balls and Ronald was going to work in my daddy’s investment house. Ronald was going to retire. I mean, crime fighting isn’t really dignified enough for a Tonneville, you know? It’s so sad, so awful.”

I said, “Life is a bitch.”

“And then you reincarnate. At least my guru Nandor says you do. Ronald was going to learn all about yoga and vegetarianism and reincarnation and UFOs and the like, We were going to have a very wonderful life together.”

She was searching in her purse for a hanky but didn’t seem to be having any luck. I reached for mine again and she stopped sniffling. I said, “That’ll be twenty-five dollars.”

“Twenty-five dollars?”

“Consultation fee.”

“But you didn’t do anything.”

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“You brought me a problem and I solved it for you.”

“You told me the man I love is dead! If I’d just waited for the newspaper it would have cost me fifty cents.”

“Daddy’s little girl, aren’t you?”

“I don’t suppose you take any damned credit cards, do you?” When I shook my head she said, “Maybe I can remember how to write a check.” She took her checkbook out of her purse and scribbled my name, the date and the amount, and handed it over, ungraciously. Just as ungraciously, I handed it back for her signature. “You should have told me when I came in that I could find it all in the newspaper,” she said, and handed it back.

“You hadn’t told me what you wanted yet.”

Closing her purse, she got up. “What difference does that make? You’re a detective, aren’t you?”

After she was gone, I sat there for a long time, licking the inside of the paper cup. The light in the alleyway brightened as the sun rose so that the scum on the bricks across the way could be seen as well as smelled. Finally, I got up, put on my jacket, walked out, locked up and went downstairs.

 

The long black limousine sat inconspicuously at the curb. I let myself into the back seat and began tearing off my face. Lefty, watching in the rear view mirror, said, “Where to, Boss?”

“Just drive while I think over our options,” I told him, opening the hidden compartment in the back of the front seat. I took out the cloak, which weighed a ton, and draped it around my shoulders.

“That’s much better,” I said.

“Yeah, I know what you mean, Boss. I never can get used to you in that Dimwist disguise.”

“Yeah, that’s the truth,” I said, as the great car pulled away from the curb. “But it worked. I thought I’d given it away when I called her ‘Miss Tonneville,’ but she didn’t catch the mistake. It worked rather well.”

“Hey, look,” said Lefty. “That guy’s making off with that sweet little old lady’s purse. You want me to pull up so you can leap out at him?”

I leaned forward to see. My hand touched the steel mask in the hidden compartment. Then I thought of Iris Tonneville.

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“Hey, the old lady’s catching up with him,” Lefty said.

“Good,” said I, leaning back comfortably. “I don’t think I’d better indulge in any crime fighting again until we’re safely out of town.”

From Blazing Armadillo Stories. (c) Copyright 1988.

ARMADILLO NOTES

ANYway, as the header to the right points out, Army has been around for fifty years! He first appeared in Dean Grennel's Grue in 1956! Gerald Page's mind is always bubbling out more, and aren't we glad?!

The Armadillo logo was created by Paul McCall. The Armadillo silhouette was done by Roy Coker.

--ShelVy

CONTENTS

 


The End

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