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V

Hog

 

Hog had grown up in Los Angeles in a tight-knit, close family of actors.  Both his parents came from a long line of vaudeville performers; his upbringing was filled with constant change, moving from stage to stage; he was put to work early in his life, joining his parents, and his older two sisters, Jane and Violet, on the stage at the age of five, dancing and singing his way into the hearts of the audiences.  Sometimes he would even upstage his parents and they took to calling him “little hog” instead of his given name of Seán Flanagan, because people just loved the boy who could do everything adults could do.  This nickname slowly evolved into simply “hog” and then finally the capital letter was added as he grew up, so that Hog became his preferred name by the time he reached adulthood.  

 

Performing was in his blood, and he had planned to follow in his parents’ footsteps and continue his acting career in Hollywood, but then the war interrupted his life entirely and he was forced to enlist in 1941 at the age of 21, ending his dreams.  Unlike Foil, he managed to enter the military with less trepidation and fear.  Perhaps it was having two older sisters and the fact that he was already familiar with caring for others.  His sisters were both married and had children of their own.  Hog loved being an uncle, having a natural affinity for children and helping people.  Hog was a good man, plain and simple.  And his steadiness served him well on the fields of war.

 

Most men who went to war were soldiers, and Hog was no different. He joined the Army rather than the Marines or the Navy, the last being out of the question since he had no sea legs at all.  Basic training was hard but nothing prepared him for what was to come.  Still, he fared better than Foil, mostly because he had not grown up with much and the Army provided little.  The physical aspects of performing on the stage in some ways helped him understand how to think quickly on his feet and how to work well with strangers.  He always had a joke for the other soldiers and when they were most down, it was Hog who could make them laugh.  But this didn’t alleviate the deplorable conditions that the soldiers faced, the hunger from lack of food, the wounded, the bloodied, the suffering.  Hog faced all of this with the aplomb of someone who simply knows how to adapt and survive.

 

Foil and Hog had crossed paths briefly in the war, before meeting again at UCLA in 1947 with the support of the G.I. Bill; going back to school as older and wiser men.   It was a fleeting moment and one that they only remembered much later.  They wound up in the same medical dispatch unit for a 24-hour period, caring for a group of men who had come under shell fire from the Germans on Omaha Beach in Normandy in 1944.  For those brief hours they were simply one well-oiled machine of movement and care, doing what they were trained to do.  Some soldiers could walk, but many had to be dragged away from the landing, most so wounded that they would die there on the beach.  It was like a dream, and then it was over and Foil and Hog did not see one another again for many years.  And by then life had changed considerably for them both.

 

When the war ended Hog came back home and like Foil received a hero’s welcome, but there was no way to go back to anything like before.  Acting seemed so far away in another lifetime, yet Hog was a “put one foot in front of the other and keep going” sort of man.  He was also an independent man with a good head on his shoulders; he made friends easily and he kept a positive outlook on life despite the hell that he had experienced in the war.  He simply compartmentalized and set all of that aside in order to function.  His internal strength prevailed and he found a way forward.  

VI

Three Friends

 

Swine’s Detective Agency (their motto: think first, shoot later) was created after Arms’s favorite uncle on his mother’s side, who ran a small pig farm in central California, was found murdered in his pig shed.  The police bumbled the case, and it wasn’t until Arms discovered the bloody pitchfork lying under a pile of straw – so easy to find, it’s a wonder the police force even manage to get out of their fucking beds in the morning – with fingerprints and blood all over it that the case was solved.  

 

The murderer was picked up the same day, a drifter who had stopped to ask for some food and shelter, but found it just too easy to pick out his mark.  Uncle Jim was simply too nice, he always had been, and as he lived alone with only his pigs for company there was no one around to sound the alarm.

 

Arms mourned for the requisite amount of time, and then took his rage about his uncle’s death to where he took most of his rage, a bottle of good whiskey and his blues music.  Then he sat down and made a plan to get the lowlifes, drifters, junkies, and whores off the streets of LA once and for all.  

 

He drafted in his best friends, Foil and Hog, whose nickname was just a nice coincidence, and the deal was set pretty quickly between the three, no need to discuss too much or labor over too many details.  They had first met at University of California, Los Angeles, attending on the G.I. Bill after the war, where they all studied subjects that they would never use.  Not exactly born with silver spoons in their mouths the three still managed to get a decent education, and find average jobs.  

 

After graduation Arms traveled for a bit, but then settled down in Southern California and waited for something to happen.  He tried his hand at various jobs, at one time even being a lifeguard, but nothing lasted too long.  At one point he had an on again, off again girl, Shirley, who he thought he loved.  She said she would wait for him but after two years it was over.  She left him for a used car salesman named Frank something, and moved out to the suburbs somewhere.  Since then he had nobody, but wasn’t looking.  Occasionally, there was a whiff of something sweet in the air with a woman at a club or standing on the corner, but he didn’t take the bait.  Arms was a loner and he preferred it that way; more time to devote to his detective work. 

 

Foil always had good intentions with his jobs, but then he never quite managed to stay away from the ladies and that inevitably ended in disaster.  There was a string of waitresses, secretaries, hostesses, and girls in nightclubs.  He was a player, and a smooth talker; women gravitated to him like bees to a honey trap and he loved every one of them in his own way.  He wasn’t a mean man, nor was he desperate, he treated them all well, but he always strayed and forgot that they cared about him too deeply.  He was just downright good looking and too easily distracted.  But the ladies could never get enough; he left many broken hearts along the path of his carousing love life.  But in many ways, they saved his life, too.  

 

Hog had, of course, found a good woman and settled down just like he and his friends knew he would. 

 

The post war boom had helped the boys along considerably, and even though they didn’t particularly like their jobs, they weren’t exactly dissatisfied in life either.  But then Arms’s uncle Jim was murdered and life changed considerably.  It didn’t take Arms much time to convince his two friends to join forces; they were all on equal footing he said, and in fact that proved to be true. And Swine’s Detective Agency had quickly evolved into more than ridding the world of the desperate and depraved as Arms had initially intended; soon they were taking on much more challenging cases and the boys were getting a reputation for results.  

VII

Bette

 

Foil was just rolling over in bed when the phone rang.  The girl beside him stretched, her brunette hair gently caressing his back, as he picked up the receiver.  

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You awake?” It was Arms and he didn’t sound best pleased.  On his good days, Arms’s voice was like blue velvet sliding over a naked girl’s shoulders, but when he was irritated and angry, he could make a man fear for his soul.  This was one of those times.

 

“Get the fuck over to the office Foil, we got a new case and I need you here pronto.  Big Sam is involved and we can’t take any chances with that kettle of fish.  You know what you need to do . . .”  

 

He trailed off, waiting for Foil to respond.  

 

“Yeah.  Okay, I’m comin’.  Just gotta get rid of the girl,” Foil said quietly into the receiver, even though “the girl” or Bette, as she was known to her regulars, was right there next to him.  He hung up and lay there for a few minutes adjusting his brain to what was ahead of him, and not who lay beside him.

 

Foil stared at the ceiling and knew he had to get out of there and fast or Arms would be a bastard to handle later.  He knew Arms had a plan already and that was why he was irritated.  “Get the fuck over here . . .” only meant one thing: Big Sam had made a request for a job and Arms had said yes.  It was up to the three of them to make things right, whatever the case may be, and Foil knew it.

 

He sat up and moved to put on his clothes.  Bette sighed, and traced the line of muscles along Foil’s back with her eyes, as she lay for a few moments in the bed.  She knew her time with him was over for now, and she would need to get out, but she lay there staring at Foil and marveling at his physique.  He was blonde and well built, muscular and always had an inviting air about him.  He took pride in his fashion; ladies liked a well-dressed man.  Today he was all in black: trousers, shirt, tie, brogues, and a silk waistcoat completed his look.  

 

He and Bette were an on again, off again thing, never quite on enough for her liking but then she was in the wrong line of business and she knew she was the wrong kind of girl.  Still, she had a real fondness for Foil and he sensed it.  He treated her well, took her out, and the money he gave her was always just a little too much for what she offered.  But there was something under his hard demeanor that she could soften and they seemed to genuinely like each other.

 

Of course, she understood it wouldn’t last.  He would be off to the next young thing or surely be searching for a nice wife to settle down with eventually.  Right now, he played the field and she could reap the rewards of that, but no, it wouldn’t last.  She knew it.

“Come on Bette, you gotta get outta here.”  He wasn’t gruff with her, but she understood his ways, and knew it was time to go.  

 

VIII

Laura

 

Across town from the Swines Detective Agency Hog was already up and dressed.  He’d gotten Arms’s call before Foil and heard the irritation in his voice right away.  

 

No need to ask too many questions about the case, Arms would fill him in at the office, and anyway, he was sure it would involve some kind of intricate plan.  All the cases that came to Arms had a plan.  

 

Hog looked out the bay window of his LA bungalow and marveled at the heat radiating off the pavement.  It was going to be a scorcher of a day; he was dressed in his usual blue suit, white shirt, neat bow tie, and dark loafers.  Hog was always impeccably dressed.  No need to be sloppy even in this heat.  A sharp dresser was equated with a sharp mind and that was Hog’s sensibility about life.

 

His wife, Laura, was already up and out the door with the kids to school.  He was the stable one of the three: house, kids, white picket fence, Packard in the garage, and a steady job.  

 

Or at least a job that paid well enough to keep his family in relative comfort.  Laura wasn’t quite sure what he did, and she didn’t ask.  

 

She had loved him from the first, and he her.  They had met at a nightclub where she had been brought by her friends for the first time.  She hadn’t wanted to go, it seemed a little risqué and wrong, she being a good Catholic girl, but she had been persuaded by her best friend Patty and so she went.  “Just this once,” she thought, “nothing’s going to happen.”  The night was uneventful with the exception of meeting Hog.  He bought her a drink because he liked the look of her legs, and though she didn’t go home with him that night (good girls never do), she did let him kiss her.

 

That was a racy moment for Laura whose Catholic upbringing condemned such behaviors, but she found herself unusually attracted to this man who seemed safe and kind to her from the start.  She couldn’t understand herself, really.  She had never felt such a strong attraction to a man before, but Hog (she called him by his Christian name, Seán) swept her off her feet and she never looked back.  Laura was a loving mother, a devoted wife, and a phenomenal cook.  

 

She had no complaints and neither did he.  And he loved her deeply and unconditionally.  Laura, with her plain brown curly hair, her solid, calm demeanor and beautiful dark eyes suited him perfectly.  Yes, he was a happy man as he stood looking out of his bay window at the hot, shimmering heat on the grey pavement of the sidewalk.

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