The hinges creaked as I swung the office door open. It looked like my first order of business was going to be to find an oil can.
Actually, I thought, that was going to be the second order of business. I walked over to the desk, kicking up dust bunnies as I went, and opened the bottom drawer. There it was, faithfully awaiting my return, the private eye's best friend: a pint of Old Overshoe.
I uncapped the bottle and took a drink, wondering if age had improved the stuff. It hadn't. The rotgut whiskey still had a kick like an angry chorus girl with a black belt in karate.
It was good to be back.
There was a knock at the door.
A young couple stood there, looking around nervously. They were young, well-dressed, and polite. I vowed not to hold it against them. At least if they were paying clients.
"Can I help you folks?" I asked.
"Are you Mr. Tundra?" the woman asked.
"That's me, toots," I answered. "Sluice Tundra, Private Eye. An honest gumshoe, out on the mean streets, where the lead is hot and the women are...are..." I stopped.
"Are what?" the guy said.
"Dang," I said. "It's been so long, I forgot the rest. Anyway, come on in. Pull up a chair and tell me how I can help."
"Thanks," the guy said, eyeing the client chairs that were covered in cobwebs. "We'll stand."
"Suit yourself," I said, plopping down in the chair behind the desk. They immediately vanished in the cloud of dust that puffed up. I really had been away a long time.
When we all stopped coughing, I wheezed, "So what's the trouble?"
"It's Senator McCain," the woman said. "Something's happened to him."
"And what's your interest in the case?"
They looked at each other. "We're moderates," the man said. "We were big fans of Senator McCain. But we don't recognize the guy that's running for president."
I sighed. I knew what kind of case this was going to be. "Let me guess," I said. "He's taking positions that are different from what he's said before."
"Well, yes. "
"For example, where he once said that detainees at Guantanamo Bay 'deserve to have some adjudication of their cases,' now he says the Supreme Court decision giving them the right to contest their imprisonment in the federal courts was 'the worst in the court's history.'"
"How did you -- "
I interrupted him. "Where McCain once said we were going to have to negotiate with Hamas because 'They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another,' now he says that Barack Obama's proposal to hold talks with the terrorist-supporting government of Iran shows 'naïveté and a lack of judgment.'"
"Exactly," the woman said.
"So you're wondering if maybe the straight-talking John McCain you voted for in the primaries might have been replaced by some sort of right-wing robot, or maybe an evil clone."
"Wow," the guy said. "you really are good, Mister Tundra."
"Let's just say I've been around this block a few times. Sorry, kid, but the guy you voted for has been at this a while. This is a guy who once said, 'I think that gay marriage should be allowed,' and then 'I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal,' and said both of them at the same campaign appearance. This is a guy who called the Confederate flag 'a symbol of racism and slavery' in South Carolina in 2000, then backpedaled so fast he left skidmarks."
"Are you saying he's a ... a flip-flopper?"
"If the shoe fits, kid."
"But he's a war hero!" The guy said. "He flew fighter planes!" His jaw tightened. "You can't criticize a war hero. You just hate the military."
"Not really," I said. "Look, I can hardly blame the guy. He's trying to get elected. To do so, he has to come up with a position that satisfies both ends of the Republican Party: the one that thinks the government should have limited power and a practical foreign policy, and the one that thinks government needs to be the all-powerful Big Daddy who keeps us safe from evil gays and Scary Brown People. Problem is, he can't do it. No one can. Not even a war hero."
"But if Senator McCain is making all these flip-flops, why isn't the press pointing it out?"
"Now there," I said, "is the real missing persons story."
"I guess you're right," the guy said. He turned to leave.
"Wait!" I called out. "What about my fee?"
He turned back. "There's no mystery," he said. "You said it yourself. No mystery, no case, no fee." He and the woman walked out.
"Dang," I said.