Years ago, I was a great fan of Mickey Spillane. Mike Hammer was the toughest dude ever to hit the literary scene. Could anybody ever be tougher? Maybe.

My name is Mike: Mike Toughshizsky. Remember that name, because I’m not going to repeat it. I’m a private eye. I live in a tough neighborhood in a tough town surrounded by tough people. Needless to say, I am the toughest of the tough. I only cried once in my life, when I was six. The local bully knocked me down and took my candy. I ran home crying to my dad. He beat the hell out of me, gave me a baseball bat, and told me to go get the candy back. I didn’t get the candy back, but I did bring back two of his teeth. Dad was proud.

My office is in the old neighborhood in a ramshackle, falling-down two-story dump. I’m on the top floor. The sign on the door says: PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS — IF YOU GOT THE MONEY, I GOT THE TIME. I arrived at nine o’clock sharp. Hazel, my secretary was waiting for me. Hazel is a perfect ten. Ten…ten…ten. She’s so damn skinny; I thought she was a floor lamp until she moved.

“Mr. Butz is waiting in your office,” she informed me.

“Oh yeah,” I replied, tossing her my coat. She toppled over. I forgot that I had two .45s and a hand grenade in the pocket. I walked over to her and bent over. “Coffee ready, sweet-lips?” I asked. She shook her head no, so I slapped her. “Shape up, or ship out.” I told her.

Butz was sitting across from my desk smoking a pipe. Not too unusual, except the stem was over two feet long. I guess his doctor told him to stay away from tobacco. He had bright red hair and was every bit as skinny as Hazel. He reminded me of a giant match, but not nearly as pretty. I recognized him from a picture in Newsweek: Red Butz, owner of BUTZ TOILET PAPER INC., just recently married to Rosie Rearend, former Miss World. I remembered them because they made such an unusual couple. Her boobs alone outweighed him, and I had a real good reason for remembering her. There was a roll of BUTZ toilet paper sitting on my desk.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Sample,” Butz replied. “I hand them out everywhere I go. Good for business.”

I threw it in the trash can. “Not my brand. Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Butz? Problem with the little lady?” He frowned and blew out a cloud of evil-smelling smoke. It smelled like he was burning some of his own toilet paper. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels. I tapped one out and lit up. I can hardly stand the damn things, but it goes with my tough guy image.

“Could be, could be,” he repeated. “I have invented a new super-soft toilet paper that will make all other toilet paper feel like newspaper. I believe that someone is trying to steal the formula.”

“And who might that be?” I asked, blowing a cloud of smoke back at him.

“I suspect that it might be Cornelius Cobb, Jr., owner of COBB TOILET PAPER. He is a devious sort of a young man. There are rumors that it was he that pushed his father into the wrapping machine. Turned out good for the business, however; his father was rolled up into the largest roll of toilet paper ever made. He’s in the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS. I think he overdid it on the tombstone, though. A giant marble roll of toilet paper. A bit tacky, I dare say.”

“Is it possible that your wife might be involved? Let’s face the facts, Butz. You’re getting old. You’re skinny and you’re ugly, and you smoke that rotten-smelling pipe. You’re wife is a young, voluptuous, sensual beauty. I’ve seen this scenario before. Young beautiful broad marries old sugar daddy. It doesn’t take long before he’s six feet under, and she’s got all the marbles; or, in your case, all the toilet paper.”

“There have been a few incidences that aroused my suspicions.” He took a long draw on his pipe and started talking while blowing smoke out of his nose. “But I don’t think there is anything there.”

I picked up a magazine and started fanning the smoke away. “Suppose you let me decide that, Butz. I’m the detective here.”

“Okay. Last week, at about two o’clock in the morning, I was awakened by a noise coming from the hall. Since I have a snoring problem, Rosie and I have separate bedrooms. I opened the door, and there was Cobb coming out of Rosie’s bedroom. I said, hold on there, Cobb! Why are you coming out of my wife’s bedroom at two o’clock in the morning? He explained to me that he was out collecting donations for the children’s home, and he was just about ready to knock on my door. He also apologized for the late hour, but he was so concerned about the little children that he lost track of the time. I too have a fondness in my heart for the little children, so I wrote him a check for two hundred dollars.”

“Butz, you boob. That’s the oldest scam in the book. He ripped you off for two C-notes, and who knows what he got from your wife. What else you got?”

“About a month ago, I set Rosie up with her own line of toilet paper. It’s pink and it’s called ROSIE BUTZ’S FINEST. She has her own office at the plant. I walked in her office one day shortly after she had moved in. She was sitting behind her desk. There was a paper clip on the floor. When I bent over to pick it up, I spied a man’s foot under her desk. Rosie, I said, is there a man under your desk? Of course, she told me. It’s Mr. Cobb. He came by to congratulate me on our new product, and clumsy me dropped an earring, and he gallantly offered to look for it. I personally never considered Cobb to be the gallant type, but she was missing an earring.”

“I don’t think you got anything there, Butz. Me, being the gallant type, I would have done the same thing. But if you got suspicions, and you want to spend the dough, I’ve got the time.”

He answered my question with a wad of dough big enough to choke a horse. He tossed it on my desk. ”There’s five thousand there, let me know when that runs out.”

I played it cool. I wanted to snatch the money from the desk, run out, and pay Hazel for the last two months she’s worked, pay the rent, and most important, pay Nick the Bookie. Instead, I said, ”That’ll do for starters.” I calmly picked up the five grand and tucked it in my inside pocket, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

The window behind my desk shattered, and I heard the familiar whine of a bullet as it zipped through my hair. It caught Butz right in the middle of his forehead. The poor sap was dead before he hit the floor. The shot had to have come from the two-story building across the street. I had my .45 out in a heartbeat, but I knew it was too late. Whoever fired the shot would be gone before I could even get out the door. I was really getting ticked. I just replaced that window last week.

“Hazel!” I yelled, “Is that coffee ready yet? Oh yeah, call the cops. Tell ‘em we got a homicide here.” I was faced with a problem. I had a dead client, but I had his money in my pocket. I don’t know if the bullet was meant for Butz or me. But I’ll tell you one thing: you don’t mess with Mike Toughshizsky.

I got out of there before the cops arrived. They’re always asking stupid questions like how come every time someone is shot, you’re involved? Not every time, most of the time perhaps, but certainly not every time.

When Butz got plugged, his foul-smelling pipe shot out of his mouth like a Roman candle. Ashes and bits of burning tobacco, if that’s what it was, flew all over my jacket. Polyester doesn’t hold up well to burning tobacco. I had little holes in the sleeves and the shoulders. I loved this jacket. It belonged to my dad.

He was almost buried in it twenty years ago. I slipped it off him just before they closed the casket. I figured it was time for a new one, so I headed for Sears.

I stopped by Al’s garage and picked up the Nash. This was the second time in three weeks that he had replaced the windshield. Nick the Bookie had a nasty habit of shooting at people who owed him money. The parking lot at Sears was packed, but I found a spot near the door. Last week, I caught a guy with a handicap tag parking in a regular spot. I made him move it and he didn’t like it one bit. After he parked, he tried to hit me with his crutch. I easily outran him.

I love Sears’ clothes. They’re cheap and they last forever, just like their tools, only you can’t bring them back if you screw them up. I found what I was looking for on the sale rack: black, and two sizes too big. Black, because I don’t want to stand out in a crowd; too big because I need to conceal my weapons beneath it. I grabbed it and headed for the checkout. I was just about there when this hippo of a woman came thundering down the aisle and pushed in front of me. She tossed a huge full-length coat onto the counter. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me madam, would you tell me where you found that? I’ve looked everywhere for a car cover for my Nash.”

She was the fastest fat lady I’ve ever seen. She wheeled her four hundred pounds around and knocked me backward. I tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my ass. She wasn’t finished with me, though. She let out a loud bellow and charged. The next thing I knew, she had me pinned to the floor. I couldn’t even move my arms, and she was starting to bounce up and down, no doubt trying to crush me. I had to do something fast or end up like a pancake on Sears’ floor. Then I remembered an old trick that Mike Tyson taught me. I raised my head up and bit her ear. She screamed and rolled to one side. That was the break I needed. I pulled my left arm free and planted a left hook to her jaw. She went out like a twenty-five-cent light bulb. It took four clerks to roll her off me. I staggered to my feet and picked up my jacket. I threw a ten spot on the counter and walked away. “Keep the change, doll face.” I told the clerk. He looked surprised. This was not a good way to start a day.

The Butz office building was a monument to ugly. “Butz ugly,” you might say. I wheeled the Nash into Mr. Butz’s private parking place, seeing as he wouldn’t need it anymore. I was parked beside Mrs. Butz’s rose-colored Jaguar. The license plate said “ROSIE.” Parked beside Rosie’s heap was a black Lincoln with a vanity plate that read “CORNELIUS,” no doubt belonging to Cornelius Cobb. I peeked in the window looking for clues; nothing but a rifle with a scope lying in the back seat. Young Cornie must be a hunter. I then looked in Rosie’s Jag and hit the jackpot. Lying on the front seat was a file folder. The writing across the folder read: “Red’s secret formula for super soft toilet paper.” The handwriting was definitely a woman’s; all the O’s were little smiley faces. I think Rosie has some explaining to do.

It was time for some surveillance. I went back to the Nash and got comfortable. A large part of a private eye’s work is surveillance, and I’ve got it down to a science. I popped in a Stone’s tape, fixed a cup of tea, and ate a few crumpets. An hour went by when young Cornie came waltzing out of the building. He went directly to the Jag, unlocked the door, and picked up the file. He was so engrossed in the file that he did not hear me come up behind him. I grabbed a handful of hair and slammed his face into the roof of the Jag. He slid to the ground; blood covered his face. His nose looked broken. “Breaking and entering, huh? I reached down and grabbed his collar and pulled him up. Come on, asswipe. We’re going to see Rosie.”

I marched him up the steps and into the building. Rosie’s office was easy to find: the rose carpet and the giant rose-colored door with a large gold R were dead giveaways. Seated in front of the door was a bare-chested young man, no doubt a bodybuilder. I walked up to the door, dragging Cornie behind. “Move it, pattycakes!” I told the hunk. He even smelled pretty.

“You can’t go in there, pops!” he said in a squeaky voice.

“Says who?” I countered.

“Me! That’s who!” he said, jumping to his feet.

He moved in close—too close—a lot of guts, but no brains. I twisted my body and caught him in the jaw with my left elbow. Before he went down, I got him in the solar plexus with my right. He lay on the floor gasping. I grabbed the fancy gold handle and yanked the door open. I pulled Cornie in behind me and then tossed him across the room like a bag of dirty laundry. He slid to a halt at Rosie’s feet. She stood there in her thong bikini looking like a Greek goddess.

“Hi, Mike,” she whispered in a husky voice. “Remember me?”

“Sure, baby: 44-28-38. I never forget a number. What’s with the bikini?”

“Casual Friday,” she said with a smile. “You like?”

“Yeah. Looks like the one you wore on our wedding day. The day you walked out on me. The sight of you running down the aisle is etched forever in my brain.”

“Mike, that was over five years ago. You know what happened. That was the day I got the invitation to compete in the Miss World Contest. I couldn’t be married and be in the contest. Now that Red is gone, maybe we—“

“Hold it right there, baby. How do you know Red was gone?”

I knew I had her by the look on her face. Those big beautiful blue-green-aqua eyes couldn’t look at me. “You had him capped, didn’t you, baby?”

“No…no,” she stammered. “He did it!” She pointed at Cornelius, who was still lying on the floor.

“Yeah, I did it,” he smiled a bloody smile. “For her, and the secret formula.” He raised a shaky arm; a gun was clutched in his hand. “But nobody will ever know.”

Rosie had slowly moved her arm behind her back. She had a Colt Magnum .44 tucked in her thong. Suddenly, the gun was in her hand and she put a slug through Cornelius’s head. She then turned the gun on me. “Sorry it’s got to end like this, Mike. We could have had a wonderful life together.” Her finger tightened on the trigger.

“Hold it, doll. The safety is on.”

“Impossible!” she answered, but her eyes looked down at the gun.

The split second she averted her eyes was all that I needed. My .45 came out in a flash and both guns thundered simultaneously. Her bullet ripped the shoulder pad off my new jacket. My bullet found its mark. She was knocked backward into a display of pink ROSIE BUTZ toilet paper. I walked over and looked down at her dead body lying on a bed of pink tissue. Even dead, she was gorgeous.  “That’s showbiz, sweetheart.”

Back in my office, I sat staring out the shattered window, wishing things had been different. If her bullet had been an inch higher, it would have missed my new jacket. Hazel came in and set a cup of coffee on my desk.

“How did it go today, Boss?” she asked.

I sighed deeply. “Tough: real tough,” I answered.