Early that morning the phone rang. Logan was still sleeping, but Hank was on his second cup of coffee, so he answered it. "Berryman residence."
"Oh, good, Hank. I'm glad I got you." It was Tina.
"Tina, what has you calling at this time of the morning?"
"You know how I was bemoaning the fact that the station and my troubles are eating up your vacation?"
"I recall something along those lines."
"Well, I'm about to try to eat up some more of it. I'm in trouble."
"Just tell me what you need."
He heard her take a deep breath. "I hate to do this, since I know that this notoriety is starting to wear on you, but we had a director of an escort service scheduled to be on Good Morning, Glendale today. Well, they picked him up on pandering charges last night."
"So you won't have him on the show?"
"Oh, they'll have him on the show, all right. The titillation factor went through the roof. But we can't have him on TODAY. Bail won't be set till later today. I desperately need someone to fill in. Devin suggested I ask you to bring Chill Pill over."
"I'm going to have to remember to include Devin in my prayers."
"Please, Hank? You can't see it, but I'm giving you big eyes right now. Am I going to have to start talking about my trying to save up in case Chase needs braces?"
"I happen to know that Logan has excellent dental coverage, but you don't need to pull out the big guns. Is there going to be room in your parking lot for my RV?"
"I'll have security cordon off a spot in the front row for you."
"All right. If Chill Pill will co-operate, I'll bring him up."
"Even if he doesn't, you come. We have the Las Vegas tape, and you'd make a good interview even without Chill."
"If you say so, Tina, but I have to say that you people here in California are easily amused. I'll be up there shortly. And Tina?"
"I'm not wearing make up."
Hank changed into a less casual shirt, then wrote a note to Logan, telling him that he'd meet him at Choyez. He found a small Tupperware container and filled it with Chill's feed. He got a slice of bread, then took the pet taxi and Chill's harness and leash out of the kitchen pantry and went outside.
Chill had decided that he didn't feel like constructing an actual burrow in Logan's back yard (though how he knew this was temporary and not his new home, Hank couldn't say. The little animal had found himself a sheltered spot under a bush, and he retreated there whenever he wanted to sleep.
He was sleeping now. In fact, he was doing what Hank called 'dead 'dillo'. He was lying on his side with all four stubby legs sticking straight out. Hank was pretty sure that if the 'dillo ever figured out an easy way to get upright again, he'd lay on his back with his legs in the air. Hank also believed that Chill Pill did it partially for the effect it got from people who weren't expecting it.
Hank squatted near the back door and whistled. "Chill! Chill, wake up, you old lump." Hank heard the snort all the way across the yard. Chill Pill's feet twitched, but other than that he didn't move. "You heard me, you stubborn cuss. If you want breakfast, you'd better get up and haul your scaly behind over here." The tip of Chill Pill's tail twitched. "You prevaricating beast. I have bread." Chill Pill's head lifted slightly. "If you don't get over here, I'm giving Eloise more Cabbage Patch Kid clothes, and you know that she'd rather put them on you than Alicia Heather."
Chill Pill rolled to his feet and waddled toward Hank. When he arrived, Hank rolled the bread into pellets. As Chill Pill ate, Hank said, "I have to wonder some time if that threat would be as effective if Eloise had a boy doll. You have to admit that the little bitty cowboy hat looked pretty good on you at Halloween."
Hank buckled Chill Pill into his harness. As if sensing that Hank was in a hurry, and in no mood for nonsense, the armadillo placidly allowed himself to be placed in the pet taxi. He remained peaceful during the trip to BLAB! Tina had been as good as her word. There was a GUEST sign on a post sitting in the space closest to the entrance. The instinct to hunt for a good parking place is deeply ingrained in most drivers, and Hank didn't at all mind having to get out and move the sign before he could park.
Once he was parked, Hank started to unbuckle the pet taxi, then paused. "Chill, you know, I'm getting pretty tired of hauling you around. What say you walk in on your own four feet?" Chill grunted in what sounded like agreement. "Fine. You're going to hoof it. Or claw it, as the case may be."
Hank opened the taxi and eased Chill Pill out onto the floorboard, then clipped the leash onto his harness. The leash was one of the reel kinds--a handle that spooled cord out, and could be set to stop at any desired length. Hank set it to the maximum length, about twenty feet. He DID tuck Chill Pill under his arm and carry him to the entrance, since he didn't care to take all day getting there, but once inside he set him down and took a firm grip on the leash.
Chill Pill stood, legs braced wide, and lifted his head. He sniffed and turned his head slowly back and forth, orienting himself. Hank waited patiently for Chill to decide to move. He didn't want to risk scratching up the nice tile floor by dragging a stubborn armadillo. Hank thought that he might have to herd Chill away from the coffee shop, but the pastry smell wasn't strong enough to lure him. Instead he seemed to catch the scent of green, growing things just ahead, and began to waddle forward.
Beau, at his usual post, was watching them with an expression of mingled disbelief, amusement, and wonder. As Chill Pill headed for the ficus tree, he called, "Please tell me that critter isn't going to lift his leg to the tree."
"Dillos can't really manage anything but a squat, but they can put attitude into it." Hank tightened his grip on the leash, setting the brake and pulling Chill Pill gently away from his target. "Come on, buddy. We don't want to get the maintenance people into a tizzy."
Hank went to the desk and tucked the leash handle under his arm as he began to sign in while Beau looked for his tag. "I'm beginning to think I ought to just make you up a permanent tag, Mister Crank."
"Call me Hank, Beau."
There was a tug, a clatter as the leash handle hit the floor, and the rapid scrabble of claws on tile. Beau's voice raised. "Hank, your pet is making for the greenery!"
Chill Pill could move when motivated. By the time Hank had turned around the armadillo was already a couple of inches deep in the gravel that surrounded the ficus. The stones pattering down on the floor sounded like a hailstorm. "CHILL PILL!"
It only took Hank a couple of strides to reach the planter area. By then his legs were being showered with a mixture of dirt and gravel. Hank was astonished that Chill Pill had managed to dig that deep in such a short amount of time. The armadillo was so deep in the hole he'd begun that he was almost standing on his front feet, with his head down in the hole and his hind legs up on the tile. "I do NOT believe this!" Hank grabbed the handle on Chill Pill's harness. As flustered as he was, though, he was still gentle when he lifted his pet. Chill Pill's stubby legs continued pumping energetically, trying to dig in mid-air. "What has gotten into you?" He looked back at Beau. "I am SO sorry about this."
Beau shrugged, smiling. "Hey, I don't have to clean it up. And I figure it's about damn time they changed the gravel or turned the soil, or something. That booger is shedding leaves ninety-to-nothing, and it's probably going to pass on to the compost heap in the sky soon, anyway. Then maybe they'll put in a nice rubber plant, and I won't have to listen to house keeping bitch about it."
Hank eyed the mess on the floor. "I'm afraid you're going to have to listen to a good bit of fussing over this."
Beau waved off the apology. "With that pet show, they have to expect to have a few unusual messes every now and then. Besides, that's all pretty dry. A broom and pan will take care of most of it. Maybe we should just set some barricades up around it till we get word. Maybe they'll want to go ahead and change the thing out, since Chill Pill has half the excavation done for them."
Hank started to walk back toward the desk, and his foot bumped something, kicking it before him. It tinkled and sparkled as it tumbled. Hank paused and squatted down, reaching for it. It was a heavy gold band, etched with the capital letters TCB. Hank brought it to the desk and showed it to Beau. "I know this building is too new to have ever had Elvis come through." He showed the ring to Beau.
"But wouldn't the initials be EAP?" asked Beau.
"Good man, you remember the middle name. Anyway, Elvis used to wear and hand out jewelry with TCB, especially to his Memphis Mafia. Taking Care of Business?"
"Oh. Cool. No, The King was definitely never here. I'm sure old man Clutterbuck would have put up a plaque if he had been."
"No one's reported losing one of these around here?"
"Not that I know of, and I've been here since the beginning."
Hank turned the ring in his fingers, examining it thoughtfully. "It has to belong to SOMEBODY, but I suppose there's no telling how long it was there."
"No telling," agreed Beau. They don't rake the gravel. There's no smoking in the building, so they don't have to worry about picking butts out of it. Every now and then a gum wrapper ends up there, and they pick it out, but that's about it."
Hank put the ring down on the desk top. "Why don't you hang on to it for the time being? Maybe Tina or someone else on the production staff will have heard of it."
Beau unlocked a drawer and dropped the ring in, then relocked it. He reached for the phone. "I'll call house keeping, so maybe you might want to get our armored friend upstairs for his guest shot."
Any sensible person knows that sometimes retreat is the obvious choice, and Hank was nothing if not sensible. He made his way to the elevators. He went directly to the studio that he'd first visited, and found things pretty much the same. The same set dressing was in place, and once again Cerise and Devin were sitting in make up chairs, with the Toombs fussing over them.
Devin actually put away his newspaper and got up to meet Hank. "If it isn't Texas's answer to the Marines. You're making a habit of saving the bacon for this station, aren't you? Gave me first aid, caught product tampering, wrangled a rattler, gave the World's Most Obnoxious Gimp laundry advice, and now you're doing emergency guest duty for the second time. If you can sing, you're a Renaissance man."
"Choir at the First Glenwood Southern Baptist Church, twice every Sunday."
Cerise smiled. "Why doesn't that surprise me? Oh, Devin? Are you coming down with a rash or something?"
"What?" He looked concerned. "Carl, I thought you said that I looked fine."
"It's just that your skin tone is kind of uneven. Don't you think so, Hank? Give him a once over."
"I don't know anything about make up," protested Hank. "Heloise asked me to pick up some face powder for her once, and she said that the shade I picked up made her look like she should be doing Kabuki theater."
Carl said, "Now, hold on, hold on. Wanda, come here and give me a second opinion."
The two make up artists debated and fussed for a few moments, insisting on asking Hank's opinion despite his protests. When it was finally decided that Devin's complexion was as even as it was possible to get without an application of actual paint, everyone headed over to the coffee table on the other side of the room. It held a perpetually busy coffee maker (along with supplies), and a couple of plates of pastries. Tina came in just as Hank was pouring a cup of coffee, and he fixed one for her. She took it, saying gratefully. "He fills in for me at a moment's notice, and he gives me caffeine. You're a treasure, Hank." She reached toward a small plate of large, chocolate chunk cookies.
Before she could take one, Devin snatched the plate away. "No you don't, Tina! You know better than that."
"Devin, there's a dozen cookies there. Can't you spare just one?"
"No way." He pointed to a plastic label on the plate. "Devin Tarnower." He hugged them to his chest. "I have an anonymous groupie, and they're all mine."
Cerise shook his head. "Another plate arrived yesterday, and now he thinks he's a superstar. Man, I wish someone would send ME chocolate chunk cookies. They're my favorite, too."
"I mentioned on air once that these are my favorite, and someone picked up on it."
Hank was studying the plate of cookies with a thoughtful look. Then he glanced at Cerise. Hank said, "You know, Devin, I can understand being a little greedy about your favorite things. I bet you'd normally gobble up about half of those before you went on air."
"Aren't you worrying about getting sick?"
"Nah. You wouldn't believe the tolerance I have for chocolate. I'm an addict. It's a well known fact."
Hank nodded. "Tell you what, you've said you're grateful about my help."
"You bet. Anything I can do..."
"Oh, it's just one little thing. I hate to see a lady denied something that she really wants. Would you allow the ladies to have a cookie each?"
Devin frowned, then shrugged. "I guess I can spare that much. After all, I'll probably get another plate tomorrow." He held out the plate to Tina.
Hank watched her select one, thinking *I don't think so.* Devin offered the plate to Cerise as Tina started to lift the cookie to her mouth. Hank, hand down at his side, tugged at her skirt. She looked at him questioningly, and he shook his head minutely.
Cerise was staring at the cookies. "You know, I had a danish earlier. I really shouldn't."
"Oh, come on," urged Devin. "As much as you tease me about being stingy? Now you won't have any excuse."
"Yes," said Hank. "There's no excuse, Cerise."
"Well..." She took a cookie and gingerly nibbled the edge. "Delicious."
"Are you kidding? You didn't even get any chocolate. Take a BIG bite."
"I really..." She looked at Hank, then took a healthy bite and started to chew. "Terrific," she mumbled around the bite. Reaching for a napkin, she said, "I have to go to the ladies room, so I'll..."
Hank took hold of her wrist firmly. "It isn't polite to talk with your mouth full. You ought to go ahead and swallow that." Cerise stared at him. "You know, that chocolate is going to melt, and you're going to end up swallowing it instead of spitting it out."
She glared at him, then spat the mouthful of half-chewed cookie into the napkin. Hank picked up the cookie that was missing a large scallop, and handed it to Devin. "Devin, what type of chocolate was used in that last batch of cookies you got?"
He frowned. "Ghiridelli, I think."
"Look closely at those chunks. I don't think they have an 'EX' in Ghiridelli."
Devin examined the cookie, His face paled, and he looked at the other cookies. "Son of a bitch! This is chopped up Exlax."
Hank nodded. "That's one of the oldest pranks around, and a pretty nasty one."
"Wow, thank you for saving me," said Cerise. "I might have been dosed, too."
"Devin," said Hank. "Put that plate down. I expect that the police can probably get some fingerprints off it. You ought to have used a paper plate instead of a plastic one, Cerise," he told her. "Those are a little harder to lift prints off."
"You can't prove that accusation," she fumed.
Devin scowled. "Which is exactly what every guilty person on every cop show says."
*notes*--Walter Humphries is one of the top personal injury suit lawyers in the universe. I think that his share of the settlement in the tobacco company lawsuit came to double digit millions.