Chapter One

HI. MY name is Maitland Carter.

“Hey, you! Cuddleumpkins! Get your bony white ass out here and give me a hand!”

Sorry about that. That’s my partner, Lenny Fritz. He’s black and proud. And noisy.

Before we go any further, let me clear something up. Yes, we’re the two dicks in the title of this little masterpiece. But don’t get the wrong impression. We’re not dickhead dicks. At least I don’t think we are, although I might know a few people who would disagree with that assessment. We’re not anybody’s pets either, in case you’re wondering. No, we’re just dicks. As in private investigators.

For pets. Lost pets. Get it?

And while we’re in the process of clearing things up, let me clear up something else. When I say Lenny is my partner, I’m referring to his position as my business partner only. While we are most certainly as gay as geese, the two of us, we are not lovers.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had sex now and then. And when I say now and then, I mean every chance we get. But mind you only under the direst of circumstances. Like when we’re mutually horny and maybe between boyfriends and quite possibly on stakeout, and it’s late at night and there’s nothing else to do but watch some fatass bulldog sneak out of his enclosure with the intention of playing hide the Milk-Bone with the cute french poodle up the street, whose owner happens to be a client who is paying us good money to keep her precious Fifi’s hymen in place until she pays the stud fee on an animal worthy to impregnate the mutt. Yes, there are people who will actually hire people like us to do that.

So to recap—stakeouts are boring. Anything to alleviate boredom is a good thing, right? Thusly, in our quest to alleviate that boredom, Lenny and I may have hid the Milk-Bone a few times ourselves. In fact, we most certainly did. But we’re men. What do you expect?

Let me answer that question for you too, if I may. As far as men go, here’s what you can expect: Straight, homo, fruitarian, or Jehovah’s Witness, it all boils down to one thing. Men are ruled by their peckers and have no more sense of restraint than a swarm of whiteflies chowing down on every hibiscus blossom that crosses their path. Or a horny bulldog going after a french poodle. Trust me. I see it every day. After all, I’m a dick. I mean, private investigator. I understand the human condition. At least I tell myself I do.

Lenny and I stand six feet tall. We both weigh in at one seventy-fiveish on a good day and we both have all our teeth and those teeth are fairly even and straight. My hair is red and curly and Lenny’s is black and frizzy. His skin is a rich umber and mine is vanilla cream. There’s not an ounce of fat on either one of us except quite possibly between our ears. If you’re interested, Lenny is circumcised and I’m not. In both instances we’re rather impressive to behold, if I say so myself. We’ve been told we’re good-looking dudes, and while modesty forbids me to praise my own appearance, I can certainly attest to Lenny’s, for he is indeedy-do a good-looking dude. I wouldn’t be porking him in the stakeout van if he wasn’t, and I assume that goes for him with me as well. He admires my red hair, he says, and I admire the way he goes into an orgasmic meltdown with such enthusiastic fervor his come can fly right through the van’s side window and hit a mailbox four feet away.

But enough about us. Let’s get on with the story.

Lenny hammered on the storefront window with both fists, rattling the glass and making an unholy racket. He was standing outside in the pouring rain, and he didn’t look happy. I figured if he pounded on the glass any harder, the rain outside would be inside, and we’d all be drenched to our skivvies.

I stormed through the front door of our newly rented office space and stepped out into the deluge. In the time it takes to tell about it, I was as soaked as Lenny.

“There!” I screamed. “I’m wet! You happy?”

“It’s a start!” Lenny roared over the downpour. He had a hammer in one hand, and it looked like he was using considerable willpower not to bonk me on the head with it. “I need you to hold the ladder while I hang this shingle!”

A sizzling bolt of lightning shot across the sky above our heads, and we both ducked. Thunder followed about two seconds later. It was a fairly impressive celestial display, especially for San Diego, where it hardly ever rains.

“Are you nuts?” I yelled above the storm. “You’re holding a metal hammer and you want to stand on a metal ladder to hang a metal sign in the middle of a lightning storm! What could possibly go wrong?”

“Shut up and do it!”

I squeegeed the rain off my face like one of the Three Stooges and traipsed through a puddle to do as he asked, mumbling to myself as I did it, “Fine. I’ll be incinerated, but what do you care? No skin off your nose.”

“Stop mumbling,” Lenny snapped, ducking through my arms to climb the ladder in front of me. He climbed until his ass was in my face, natch, and there he stopped.

“Now hold the ladder!” he bellowed down at me.

No sooner had he said it than his foot slipped on the rung and he muttered, “Oh, crap,” as the hammer fell from his hand and banged me on the head.

He looked down at me reeling around, stomping through puddles, holding my head. “Maybe you should stand on the other side of the ladder,” he suggested.

So as soon as the last twirling star disappeared from before my eyes, I growled something unkind and quite possibly racist, fished around in a mud puddle to retrieve the fucking hammer, and handed it back to him.

“Just finish,” I growled. “I’m drowning here.”

Considerable hammering ensued, a few cuss words about the rain followed, and then a triumphant “Oho! It’s done.”

I stepped out to the curb as Lenny descended the ladder. He joined me, and together we gazed up through the downpour at the brand-new sign proclaiming a brand-new business in town. Two Dicks, the sign read. And that’s all it read. We couldn’t afford a sign big enough to add the words Private Investigators for Pets. Or even Pets. So the sign read simply Two Dicks.

Lenny and I stood in the gutter with what felt like the Mississippi River flowing over our shoe tops and stared proudly at the sign, the storefront, our very own door, and our very own shop window.

“Open for business,” Lenny proudly proclaimed.

I turned to him and saw his dark face beaming back at mine. His coal-black eyes, framed in curly lashes, were wide and excited, the whites as white as white can get. “We did it,” he said. “We finally did it!”

I felt a lump rise in my throat, and pressure behind my eyes started working its way toward my tear ducts. I figured it was either from the emotion of the moment, or the fact I was already coming down with pneumonia from standing in the rain like a fool. Lenny and I had been talking about this day, this joint venture, forever. And now it was a reality. Or at least it would be as soon as we snagged a few clients.

Lenny looked down at his hands. “I’ve lost the hammer again. Where’d it go?”

I patted my still-aching head and gazed skyward. “Beats me.”

“Screw it,” he said. “Let’s get inside before we wash away.”

“About time,” I grumbled.

Draping his arm over my shoulder, he led me through the front door out of the rain, and as we stood in our very own brand-new office, dripping water all over the nice clean floor, which rented for ninety-three cents a square foot, he pulled me into his arms and gave me a hug so enthusiastic it might have killed a lesser man.

“Partner,” he said and kissed me on the mouth. And he kept kissing me on the mouth until I was beginning to enjoy it.

“What are you doing?” I asked, licking his taste from my lips. “We’re not on stakeout.”

“What can I say, Mait? Grand openings make me horny. And we’re both between boyfriends.”

“Yes,” I groused again, “because our two boyfriends ran off and eloped with each other after you introduced them in the bar that night.”

“How was I supposed to know they were such sluts?”

“Well, they were with us. That should have been your first clue.”

“True.” He ground his crotch against mine. I have to admit it felt nice. Crotch grinding is always a pick-me-upper.

“There are no curtains on the window,” I said around his tongue, which was burrowing its way down my throat. I tried to swallow a gasp of desire before it got away from me. I mean, our two snuggling peckers really felt nice bumping heads down below. And Lenny’s strong brown hands on my ass felt pretty nice too.

Lenny smiled as if he knew exactly what I was thinking, which I’m sure he did. He ground his crotch against mine a little harder. “It’s a monsoon out there, honeybuns. There’s nobody on the street to look in.”

“Don’t call me honeybuns.”

“Okay.” Lenny’s voice had ducked down an octave or two, like it always did when he was feeling amorous. We were both as hard now as the handle of the hammer we’d used to hang the sign, which, as far as I knew, was still lying in a puddle somewhere outside. The hammer, I mean, not the sign.

Lenny was already going for the zipper on my fly, and he had that sexy look on his face I knew all too well, so I figured there wasn’t much point in trying to turn the course of future events. Licking my lips, I reached for his fly as well. What the hell. When in Rome….

And that’s when the front door opened behind us, and Lenny and I practically jumped out of our skins. Thank God the door hadn’t opened twenty seconds later or the Two Dicks sign hanging outside would have been right on the money.

While Lenny and I struggled to hunch inward to camouflage the erections tenting the front of our slacks, I threw myself into my desk chair and used the desk to hide my crotch while Lenny quickly plopped down on top of the desk amid a flurry of papers and hurriedly crossed his legs.

“May we help you?” we said in unison, as innocent as cherubs.

The woman in the doorway blinked back a wee bit of confusion, then proceeded to step in out of the rain, closing her umbrella as she came inside. She wore an expensive handmade Stutterheim raincoat with matching hat and a calfskin Gucci handbag on her arm. If the handbag wasn’t a knock-off, it must have cost more than Lenny and I had in our two bank accounts together.

“Gucci,” I said to Lenny under my breath.

“Money,” he whispered back.

The woman was in her well-maintained forties and appeared to be the type who was used to getting her way. She had a no-nonsense glint in her eye that said she would emasculate any man without thinking twice if he did anything to piss her off. Being gay, as I mentioned before, women pretty much scare the bejesus out of me anyway. Our visitor was certainly no exception.

“Are you the two dicks?” the woman asked.

Lenny turned to me and frowned. “Maybe we should have rethought that sign.”

The woman stood in the doorway and whipped her hat off, shaking out a long flowing mane of ash-blond hair like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model crawling out of the surf. For an old broad, she was a knockout. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The woman eyed first Lenny, then me, as if trying to gauge who was in charge. Good luck with that. The fact that we were sitting there soaking wet trying to hide our hard-ons didn’t seem to impress her at all.

“My name is Lorraine Johns. I’d like you boys to help me find Frederick.”

The way she said “you boys” made me think Lenny and my sexualities were not as well concealed as I might have hoped. Not that I cared much. What I cared about was acquiring a paying client, and by jingles, Lorraine Johns might be it.

“Who’s Frederick?” I asked, trying to appear businesslike and competent. An uphill grind at the best of times.

“My lizard.”

I dug a pound of imaginary earwax out of my ear. “I’m sorry, I thought you said your lizard.”

“Yes. That’s right. My husband stole him.”

“Your husband stole your lizard.” As an aside, I nudged Lenny in the butt and whispered, “Close your mouth, love, you’re dribbling.”

Lenny slapped his mouth shut like an oven door, and as soon as he did, I turned my attention back to our visitor.

“That wasn’t a very nice thing to do,” I commented because, well, come on. What are you supposed to say when some woman drops in out of the blue and tells you her husband stole her lizard?

Lorraine shook the raindrops from her coat and peeled it off. Underneath the coat she wore a skirt so short it barely covered her doodah. Once again, not that I cared. Doodahs are of very little interest to me. What goes into doodahs I find much more fascinating.

Lorraine looked around for a chair, and Lenny kicked one toward her with his foot. Always the gentleman. She sat, primly crossing her legs as if trying very hard not to show off what was pretty much already hanging in the wind anyway. If she was expecting a slavering response from either of the two men in the room to the fact that her legs climbed all the way up to her neck, I’m afraid she went away sorely disappointed.

“My husband hated Frederick,” she said, pulling a Virginia Slim out of her Gucci bag and setting the tip of it on fire with a gold lighter I noticed was embossed with an onyx L and J. Lenny crawled off the desk and walked around her to open the front door and let the carcinogens out. Lenny wasn’t totally stupid. She ignored him and went on, “Actually, he’s my ex-husband, or he will be as soon as the divorce becomes final.”

“Why did he steal the lizard?” Lenny asked as he climbed back on the desk, thinking maybe he should get in on the interrogation, I suppose. Why should he let me have all the fun?

“To get back at me.”

“And why,” I asked, “would your husband feel he had to get back at you?”

Lorraine blew a perfect smoke ring between peach-colored lips and almost smiled. “Because I set fire to his Camaro.”

“Get out!” Lenny exclaimed, obviously impressed. I was less than impressed. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if the woman was perhaps no saner than we were, which would be a disturbing development.

“Why’d you set fire to his Camaro?” I asked.

She blew another smoke ring. The office was beginning to stink. “Because his Rottweiler ate Rosemary.”

Lenny snatched the words right out of my mouth. “Who, might one ask, is Rosemary?”

“Rosemary is—was—Frederick’s mate.”

“Ah,” I said, stroking my chin, squinting my eyes, and doing my best Charlie Chan impression. “Honorable lizard number two.”

Lenny turned to me and asked, “Do we have any Tylenol?” Sometimes Lenny’s needle skips a groove.

I ignored him. The woman had a Gucci bag. And there was probably a very nice calfskin checkbook holder inside that matched the Gucci bag. And she probably had a pen in there with which to write a check to retain the services of the two nice pet detectives. And if she didn’t have a pen, I’d loan her one. We needed the money.

“What year?” I asked.

Lorraine blinked. “This year, of course.”

I sighed. “I don’t mean what year did he steal the stupid lizard. I mean what year was the Camaro.”

“Oh. A ’69 Z28 RS.”

“No shit!” Lenny barked. “That’s a classic!”

She appeared unimpressed with that observation. “Yeah, well, now it’s a classic piece of toast.”

“Wow,” Lenny said. “You take your amphibians seriously. What kind of lizard are we talking about?”

“A Gila monster,” she said, giving her long blonde locks another shake, a la Rita Hayworth. “A big one.”

“Holy crap!” Again Lenny and I spoke in unison. Maybe we’d been together too long. “Those things are poisonous, you know,” I added.

It was her turn to say no shit. “No shit. I have rattlesnakes too. And a small asp and several other species. I’m a herpetologist.”

“You mean like a bleeder?” Lenny asked, and Lorraine and I stared at him as if he’d beamed himself into the room through the back wall.

I rolled my eyes. “That’s hemophiliac, you twit. She means she’s a reptile expert.”

“Oh. Well, uh….” Lenny flailed around as if trying to find a way to redeem himself and not look so dumb. “I’m sure it’s a very nice asp,” he said. “Even if it is small.”

Lenny is great in a fistfight or a fuckfest, but put him in any sort of cerebral situation, and he sinks like a rock.

Lorraine took three drags off her cigarette in quick succession, never taking her eyes off Lenny’s face. I suppose during that time she made a few tactical decisions because from that point on, she stared at me and tried to pretend poor Lenny wasn’t in the room at all.

I heaved a sigh. “So you want us to find your poisonous lizard. Just how poisonous are they exactly? Deadly, I presume.”

She pshawed. I hate it when people pshaw. “Gila monsters aren’t deadly at all. You might get sick from the venom, but that’s about it. Basically, Frederick is harmless, although he is a little cranky and can inflict a reasonably nasty bite if you’re dumb enough to stick your finger down his throat and leave it there long enough for him to chew on it. You’ll never die from the bite of a Heloderma suspectum. Although you might wish you had.”

“Good to know,” Lenny commented. “Uh, what does this guy look like? Give us a description in case we run into a convention of the little fuckers and have to pick Frederick out of a lineup.”

Again, Lorraine Johns turned her attention to me—after staring at Lenny for a minute as if wondering what subdivision of the human species he might have hailed from since his genus had apparently escaped her attention during her years of herpetology training. “He’s twenty-three inches long, weighs approximately five pounds, and has orange-and-black spotted horizontal stripes from his head to the tip of his tail. He looked chubby the last time I saw him. He’d just eaten a rat and two eggs. He’s twenty-one years old, and he likes show tunes.”

“Really?” I asked. “He likes show tunes?”

“Yes.”

“Wow,” Lenny said. “Maybe he’s gay.”

Lorraine glanced skyward as if beseeching help from a higher power. “Jesus God, help me,” her eyes seemed to say. She heaved a sigh and stifled a growl, but she didn’t do a very good job of it. She was obviously getting upset. Not because of the frigging missing lizard, but because Lenny was really starting to get on her nerves. I knew because he was starting to get on mine too. I could only pray she wasn’t packing heat.

“We’ll take the case,” I quickly said, heading off the approaching homicide I could see burning in her eyes. I handed her a business card. “Everything is on there. Home address, home phone, cell, every contingency you might need to get in touch with us in a hurry. We require a three-hundred-dollar retainer, which covers our expenses for a week. If we haven’t found the little beaded handbag by then, we’ll require another week’s retainer to keep looking for him. If your check bounces, all bets are off.”

“I’ll pay cash.”

“Even better. Cash never bounces.”

We had her jot down all pertinent data concerning her lizard-stealing louse of a husband and her own personal contact information, and after that there was nothing to do but count the fifteen twenty-dollar bills she laid in my hand before sliding into her Stutterheim raincoat, plopping her Stutterheim hat on her head, popping her umbrella open with a snap, and heading out the door, determinedly ignoring Lenny while she did it.

Lenny still hadn’t caught up to reality. The moment Lorraine Johns closed the shop door behind her and stepped out into the rain, he turned to me and said, “Golly. A gay lizard. Who’d a thunk?”