Of all the dishwashers in the neighborhood, mine had to give up on New Year’s Eve. I called in The Warranty, and eventually—all things in their own time—they sent out the Operative.

He was a jovial man, with a hard light in his eyes.

Well, there was a knock on the door, and at first I thought it was the tin knights who do plumbing. I staggered for the door and found the Operative, who greeted me heartily.

Neither of us seemed hungover. That was a good sign.

The dogs were barking, and he gave the kitchen a once-over. “Ain’t too good with under sink,” he said.

“That’s all right,” I told him. That was a different problem.

It was an afternoon like all the rest, except for the sounds as he wrenched the bottom off the dishwasher. Now, I’m no doormat…but I began to feel a little green.

You work in this business long enough, you get to know all the types. I just couldn’t suss this fellow out. He got right down with the drill and accepted my offer of coffee with a grin cold as winter itself.

“Oh…hmmm…yeah,” he said. “Look at that. A whole gin joint down here, and this padding just had to walk into it. That’s this town for you, ain’t it. Something just always has to go wrong.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “but is it fixable?”

“Sure thing.” That wintry gaze twinkled, and a chill touched my nape. “Or I ain’t the Operative, dame. You just let me go to it.”

I did. I know when to leave a man alone.

So I got the dogs to stop barking by putting them up on the bed, and listened to the traffic outside.

This is a hard town. You’ve gotta know people to get anything done.

Well, that gumshoe knocked heads and spat bullets. He used that drill like it was a tommygun, and he told the dishwasher that if it wouldn’t play nice, why, he’d just have to *encourage* it.

“Just a miscommunication,” he said finally, wiping his hands and taking a swig of his coffee. I’d’ve offered him bourbon, but he said he never touched the stuff on the job.

I took a slug, and prayed.

“See, this fellow got here down pinched,” the Operative said. You got the idea he was used to laying out the landscape for dames like me. “Happens when the door swings, you get me? I gave him a chat, but…”

“But there’s more?” I asked.

“There’s always more,” the Operative said grimly. “See up here? I had to put the screws to it. This joint won’t be fallin’ out from under your counter anytime soon, ma’am. You can count on it.”

“Golly.” I felt a bit faint.

“Any time this fellow starts misbhehavin’, you just give us a call. I made a note on the file too. I moved those wires. That weasel shouldn’t bother you no more.”

“You’re a very effective operative.”

He touched his hat brim.

“Can’t I offer you something else?” All of a sudden I was uneasy to see him leave. “You went to a lot of trouble, all that.”

“Why, you’re a real nice dame,” he said. “And that’s some fine coffee. I’ll be fine.”

He had to get back across the bridge, he said. Trouble brewing in the ol’ hometown.

But before he left, he gave me a card.

I pray I never have a jam like that again. But if I do, the Operative’ll be waiting.

He promised as much.

Yeah, for a dame like me there’s always problems. But sometimes a real good Joe of a gumshoe crosses your path as well, and then it’s a beautiful thing.

He was a real one.

(I promised you all a noir tale for the dishwasher, didn’t I? Bottom line: the sink pipe is still leaking, but the damn dishwasher appears to be behaving. And if it stops? Why, we’ll just give that gumshoe a ring.)

Of course I coulda called Sam Spade, or the great Bogart. But a dame like me knows what men like that are for, and it ain’t the dishwashing racket.

So now the joint under the counter is humming like a Friday night at the Cocoanut Grove, and business is back to usual. This town is a hard place, sure, and somethin’ always has to go wrong.

But we’ve got the Operative.

I guess it ain’t all bad.

There ain’t no double indemnity on this job, and no Maltese falcon singing on the stool. It was just another day in this city, just another dame seeing some hard times. Dime a dozen, these days.

And somewhere out there, the Operative is still at work.

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