What's that, buddy? You say you want a private eye, somebody who bites down hard and doesn't let go? Listen, sweetheart, in this burg you're gonna need somebody who can take the heat and isn't afraid of a little hardball, you know what I mean? Forget the fast fists, chump, you need somebody wired, somebody who knows how the whole Washington machine works. s

Maybe you need Arlene Crane.

Yeah, you heard me right the first time: Arlene Crane, wife of Illinois congressman, the guy who ran for the Republican presidential nomination last time around as the dark horse of the Right.

Arlene is the one the polite press always calls "outspoken" on account of how she's got a lot of opinions she doesn't mind telling you. Sure, I know she's also got eight kids and lives in a big house in McLean. But word is she's in the trouble business now. Just finished the private eye course the state of Virginia requires. Getting her license through International Investigations Inc., Dick Bast's place.

You've heard about Bast. Big buddy of Jack Anderson's. Worked on that messy Barbara Howar divorce case. The guy Chuck Colson went to for help when he thought Nixon was being done in by the CIA. That Dick Bast. wBig voice, big Cadillac, big house. Lives just around the corner from the Cranes, matter of fact.

Well, anyway, Arlene has a thing about cops. She's a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Applied to become a G-man when whe was 18 in Chicago. Told them to forget it when they said she could be a secretary.

Couple of days ago Arlene told me she was "born to work puzzles," and talk to anybody who knows her -- she's always asked a lot of questions and kept up with the inside stuff. Once told a reporter that she loved the deviousness of politics, "the scheming, the power grabs, the ego of it all." Told me she's got "everything going for me but being psychic." Swore she'd "tackle each case with doggedness, persistance."

What's the husband think about this caper? Listen to what the congressman says when I ask him: "She's had at least 20 years experience as a sleuth. Our oldest child is 20, and the behavior patterns of eight kids, with all the little conspiracies at home . . . like she says, she's been stalking the Cookie Monster here for years. Anyone who has the opportunity as a mother of bringing up eight children is a keen student of human behavior. And you add to that the normal intuitiveness of women . . . I just hope her work doesn't involve anyone on the Hill that I know personally. But let the chips fall where they may."

You can bet your heater the congressman knows the chips will fall, too. Bast has a way of pulling in big cases -- murders, coporate funny stuff -- for big fees. (Try this on for size sometime, sport: Last year he got a $321,000 fee from the Church of Scientology for investigating the private life of a federal judge the Scientologist thought didn't much like them.)

Now, Bast knows that no matter how much Arlene might chatter, how much she laughs loudly and skips from subject to subject, well, she doesn't miss a slip. "When Arlene goes out for information," he says, "she doesn't take 'no' for an answer." He says he'll start her on divorce cases.

And the way Bast sees it, Arlene won't hurt in the public relations department, either. You gotta figure People magazine and the talk show circuit will love her right off the bat. I mean, how many congressmen's wives you got walking around this city with a private eye license?