Let's get this straight from the get-go. I don't want any ambiguosity. My name is Lester. Lester Bledsoe, Pet Medium.
I've been a pet medium for eighteen years, ten of which my name's been red in the phone book. Not bad for a guy whose diploma came with a frame from Wal-Mart.
You might have heard of me. I'm the Joe who's put so many weeping owners in touch with their dearly departed Fidos and Whiskers -- just so they can settle up that all-important unfinished business.
I've seen it all: rabid Chihuahuas, two-tailed tomcats, parakeets with sex fetishes. I had one bitter old broad who wanted me to put her in touch with the bacteria that gave her husband pneumonia. Wanted to thank them for setting her free.
But in all my years in the game, I never seen a dame like the one who sashayed into my office that rainy Wednesday afternoon. The old ticker went off like Tito Puente on amphetamines. Longest gams I'd ever seen, wrapped in sheer tights with little gold dollar signs all over them. I'd have given anything to be those tights.
"What can I do for you, er ... Miss ..." I said, tucking in my shirt and shaking the Twinkie crumbs from my lap.
"Frenchy," she said so low I had to bend down to hear it. "The Countess of Gimlet."
I swallowed a couple of hard ones and shook her hand. Just from the pictures painted on her fingernails I could tell this gal never worked a day in her life. "You got a dead pet, Countess?" I was mentally figuring up how much cash she had in that leopard skin purse.
"My baby ocelot, Rasputin," she said, lighting a Virginia Slims on the end of a twelve inch ebony stem. "The poor dear crawled into the Cuisinart to take nap. The cook mistook him for a shank of roast beef she was going to paté."
I put on my usual face. "Terrible, Just terrible. I feel your pain, Countess."
"I'm certain you don't," she said letting a crisp hundred flutter to the floor at my feet. "I just I want to be sure he's happy in pet heaven."
If I heard that one once, I heard it a million times. Pet heaven? Who do they think is up there with them? Saint Pooper Scooper? Well, I ain't in the theosophic business. I'm just here to make 'em happy.
Now I didn't know an ocelot from an ocean liner, but I didn't let that get in my way. We settled down in my parlor, her shoveling around her mascara in a pocket mirror and me staring into my dime-store crystal ball.
I'm no fake. Sometimes I do get these hunches about things, mostly after my clients spill their guts about their dead chums. It's usually easy to put two and three together and come up with something that sounds good and starts the old ducts leaking. I've seen a two hundred and fifty pound drill sergeant flow Niagara Falls down his cheeks when I told him Poopsy said she'd never forget that old butcher's bone she got for biting the kid next door.
So I went into my trance routine, eyes rolling, upper lip shaking, tongue doing the Electric Slide. But that time, something weird happened. Not strange. Not unusual. Freakin' weird.
"She murdered me!"
I heard it as clear as last call at Murray's Allnighter. In my mind, that is. A voice that sounded like Ricardo Montalban choking on mashed potatoes. "That you, Rasputin?" I said aloud.
"No, you dimwit. "I'm Caligula Augustus, Count of Gimlet. That foul female sitting across from you murdered me."
"Are you getting anything? Is that him? The dame asked.
"Ah, I'm not sure," I said. My head felt like I was doing a Linda Blair imitation. "Speak to me," I said, but not to the dame.
"She buried me in the back yard of the mansion," the voice said, "between the aspidistra and the ilex vomitoria. Dig me up and notify the gendarmes. My soul won't rest until justice is done."
"What's in it for me?" I asked, not the dame, but she reminded me about the hundred on the floor anyway.
"Do what I'm telling you," the Count said, "and I'll give you the number of my secret Swiss bank account. That should keep you in Twinkies until the day you die from high cholesterol."
"Can't say fairer than that," I said. The Countess asked me what the hell I was talking about and ground out her cigarette on my left wrist.
"Okay," I said. "Rasputin says he's thrilled to be in Pet Heaven where he'll forever stay an ocelot puppy ... what's that, oh, yeah, where he'll forever stay an ocelot kitten. And he wants me to have you thank the cook. Said he had the ride of his life. Thanks, Countess," I said, scooping the Ben Franklin off the floor. "Come again sometime soon."
That night I betook myself, spade in tow, to the Gimlet mansion. A cozy little 40,000 square foot cottage for one.
If I ever had plans to have kids, I scotched them shimmying over the iron-spiked wall that kept out the riff-raff. I was halfway to the backyard when lights came up all over Hell's Half Acre.
"Who's there?" came a voice filled with nubile sexiness and Virginia Slims nicotine.
On the porch outside French windows stood the Countess, draped in a puce negligee that flapped in the night breeze around her jugs.
I chucked the digger into the shrubbery. "Just me, Your Countesship," I said giving the dame the smile that got me in the sack a dozen times with the lady riveters down at the munitions plant.
"Mister Bledsoe, what are you doing here?"
I ain't nothing if I ain't quick on my feet. "Got a last minute message from Rasputin," I said. "Seems he's been swapping stories with a bunch of his ocelot buddies in the great beyond and they all decided you was the best mistress an ocelot ever had this side of the mortal coil. Couldn't wait until morning to tell you."
"How sweet of you, Mister Bledsoe. You must come in for a drink."
I didn't need to be asked ten times. She hit on my three most favorite things in the world: booze, a rich widow in a negligee, and a chance to take my off shoes on dry ground -- the last one being damn important since the sprinkler system had been running ever since I landed in her yard.
It wasn't much more than three or four seconds later I was standing in her parlor, eyeing the length of her couch to see if the two of us could fit on it. Horizontal-wise, that is.
"Do you like the taste of Provence champagne?" she said, reaching into a crystal liquor cabinet.
Of course, my tastes usually bend toward whatever will get me there the fastest, but I liked the idea of seeing how the other three-quarters got their buzz on. "Love the stuff, your Ladyness. Pour me up a mugful."
I was just about to make a comment about how she must be getting cold, judging from what I could tell was going on inside that negligee, when I felt something grab me by the throat. Well, not exactly. It was more like something grabbing me inside my throat.
The world started to do a Four Flags Over Houston ride, everything turned to ink, and a twenty-megaton nuclear explosion went off in my stomach. Just as I started down that long dark tunnel toward the unearthly light, I heard the voice of Count Gimlet. "You moron! The woman is a Lucretia Borgia. She poisoned me, just as she did you. Now my revenge will never be complete. To hell with you!"
* * *
I swear that's the way I heard it. Word for word. Who am I? Derrick Dumfelder, Pet-medium psychic. I've channeled pet mediums all over the world for years, but I never heard a story like that one.
What am I going to do about it? Report it to the police? I thought about it, but at the last minute decided against it. Afraid? Not me. In my business you learn to be tough.
Oh, hold on a minute. "Oh, hello, Countess. Good to see you again. Yeah, just leave the check in the usual place. Thanks, babe. See you next month."