I suppose I should lay out a little background for you. I am Sheriff James D. Stone of Swimmer's Lake, Montana. I will bet you have never even heard of Swimmer's Lake, Montana. That is of no surprise because the town is not all that big. Usually a lake next to your berg means a resort town teaming with tourists looking for some good swimming, fishing, and boating. The sad truth is that our "lake" is not so much a lake as a big stagnant pond infested with mosquitoes and leeches. In fact, the town's original name was Swimmer's Itch Lake, but sometime ago our Chamber of Commerce thought that dropping the offending word may help increase our tourist revenue. It did not.
I will not bore you with the results of the last census taken of our small town, which is nestled between the peaks of the Rockies. Suffice it to say that between me and my score of deputies we can maintain the peace in our little hamlet and the surrounding Summit County. Nonetheless, I have been witness to some mysteries as puzzling as one might expect in some of the bigger cities.
Unfortunately, we don't have the same resources as one would find in more populated areas. It can take weeks or even months to obtain the results to a piece of evidence sent to the crime labs in either Missoula or Great Falls. Therefore, in order for us to move quickly on a crime, we are encouraged to rely largely on old police methods of investigation and our own small crime lab.
During the day there are usually only myself and two or three deputies on duty at one time. My deputy sheriff is Dan Easton, a young man still trying to find his calling in life. He owes his position to the fact that his mother happens to be our town's mayor. I'm not saying Dan does not exhibit some good qualities as a law enforcement officer. He is a crack shot on a nonmoving target and hotshot driver on straight-aways.
However, Dan's main flaw is that he needs a hefty dose of self-confidence. He tends to chose flight over fight and that is not good in a pinch. There was this time when the two of us responded to breakup a bar brawl at the Stockman's. Dan and I entered the smoke filled room to find men and some women punching, throwing bottles, and cursing at each other.
"Hold it right there!" I yelled at the top of my voice. The barroom quieted down and everyone turned towards me. "Now let's settle things down before my deputy and I have to run you all in."
Everyone started laughing at this moment. Unknown to me Dan had discretely made himself scarce leaving me alone with two dozen angry drunks. Fortunately, the levity of the situation pacified everyone's mood. However, it is still the humorous story told around town, and it does nothing to inspire confidence in the department.
Now I am going off on a tangent. To bring us back on course I was explaining that even though we don't have a large population we still get our share of some real puzzlers. One case comes to mind that really had our department stymied. 7B973 is the case file's official name; unofficially it is the Case of the Bloody Knife. The name will make sense as I tell the story.
It all began one June afternoon. Dan called in saying that he found Brent Underwood covered in blood and staggering along side Lower Country road. According to Brent's initial statement, some unknown assailant had beaten him up. Dan was now taking Mr. Underwood back to the station to get a more detailed report.
Being that I was on Upper Country road, which is just a few miles up from Lower Country road, I was about to radio in that I would join Dan back at headquarters when our day dispatcher Jeanie Carson broke in suddenly.
"J.D. you better get out to Victoria Drummond's place. There's a body out there."
"I'll be there in five minutes Jeanie."
Yeah, you probably noticed that our radio protocol is a little informal. But, as I said, we are a small department. We tend to be more like an extended family.
In less than five minutes I had my black and white Blazer pulling into the gravel drive of Victoria Drummond's little house nestled in the trees just off the mountain road. I saw Johnny Blake sitting on the front porch with his head in his hands. He looked up at me as my truck pulled to a stop. The man's face was ghostly white and his eyes were bloodshot.
"Johnny, you alright there?" I said as I stepped out of the Blazer.
Johnny weakly rose up from the steps, his body was shaking uncontrollably as I approached. "I dunno Sheriff," He stammered. "I…I was just doing some fishing in the river there when I thought I heard some arguing from Victoria's house."
Johnny used to run the local hardware store before he retired a couple of years back. Now he spends all his free time fly-fishing the local rivers. He knows everyone along the riverbanks and though he is mainly catch and release, he will share his occasional catch with whoever's land he is fishing.
"Just sit down and take it easy," I consoled Johnny as I eased him back down on the top step. "I'll need you to tell me everything you know. But first I need to see what's up in the house."
Johnny nodded and returned his head into his hands. As I approached the screen door, I noticed Johnny's rod and gear lying on the porch. The flies where buzzing around the basket containing his catch. There were a couple of bloody footprints leading out toward where Johnny sat.
The screen door opened with a screech of rusty hinges. I walked through the dining room. The table and chairs lay strewn across the room. Broken dishes littered the floor. I saw a few spatters of blood on the floor along with some bloody smudges and footprints leading from the kitchen.
The next room I searched was the kitchen. The window above the sink had been broken out. More smashed dishes were scattered across the countertops and the floor. However, the worse mess was the blood. Blood covered everything. Splatters of it covered the cabinets' doors and even the ceiling.
On the floor, lying in her own pool of congealing blood was the butchered body of Victoria Drummond. Her tangled blond hair matted in places with blood, her dead gray eyes stared at the ceiling, and the flies were thick around her throat that someone had savagely sawn through.
Victoria Drummond was the daughter of Victor Drummond, the Victor Drummond of the Victory Lumber Company. Victor had made his fortune by cutting and selling logs from around the area. Besides agriculture, timber is Montana's chief industry.
Now Victoria was a bit of a floozy. She tended to sleep around with anyone she fancied. As you can guess this didn't sit too well with her father. He threatened to have her removed from his will, sent away to a boarding school and such. Alas, none of it worked to tame the young girl's wild ways.
Finally, in an act of desperation after Victoria graduated from high school, Victor decided to remove his daughter from the temptations of town by buying her a small house in the mountains and granting her an allowance that exceeded my annual pay. The results were not exactly what Victor wanted but at least now, her trysts were discrete and removed from the public eye.
Victor also has a son, Victoria's younger brother, Victor jr. or just Vic. Vic had a gambling addiction. He would spend all he had in the casinos. It wasn't long before Vic had run up some sizable debts. There is a rumor, which Vic, who at the time ran one of Victory Lumber's smaller operations, started to embezzle money from his father's company. The rumor continues that Victor quietly removed his son from the company and enrolled him into a gamblers recovery program.
It must have broken Victor's heart to have two children fall so far from his high expectations. Now, one of them lay dead in her own home.
After making a quick survey of the house, I called in two more of my deputies and began to question Johnny.
"Now Johnny, I need you tell me what you heard and saw." I said to the still shaking fisherman.
Johnny nodded weakly. He stared off into the trees as he began his tale, only occasionally looking up at me. "I fish Miss Drummond's place every Monday. She doesn't...ah, didn't mind. I would always share my catch and she'd happily accept it. Sometimes her latest boyfriend would be here. They would argue sometimes over stuff. I never paid attention to what it was they argued about. None of my business, I'm just here to fish.
"I got here early this morning. I had caught a couple of nice rainbow when I heard arguing coming from the house. Nothing new I figured. Her boyfriend was probably here again. So I continued my fishing."
"About what time was that?" I interrupted.
"Oh, I'd say about two hours ago, maybe eleven." I nodded for Johnny to continue as I scribbled notes down in my notebook. "Then I heard some really loud screaming. I didn't think anything of it at first. She and her boyfriend always argued.
"You know her father didn't like her boyfriends. She being the heir of the lumber tycoon in these parts, her father didn't think it was proper for her to be cavorting around with such men.
"I guess that is what finally made me decide to see what was going on. Her boyfriend hadn't been around for weeks and suddenly he shows up. Plus, even when they did argue she never screamed like she did today.
"I probably thought it over for ten minutes before I went up to the house. By this time the screaming had stopped.
"I saw the kitchen widow had been busted out. It was fine this morning. So, I stepped up to the door. I could see through the screen door the mess in the dining room. I knocked on the door, but there wasn't any answer. I called out for Miss Drummond and still only silence.
"So, I stepped into the dining room. I remembered the window in the kitchen so that was where I went next and...Oh God! The brutality of it all."
"That's quite alright. Did you see anyone else enter or leave the house?"
"No," Johnny shook his head, "Not a soul."
"Did you recognize any of the voices in the argument?"
Johnny sat straight up as if shot through with an electric bolt. "You know sheriff. I remember only hearing her voice."
"Did you hear anything she said?"
"No, I just remember her yelling at someone."
"Did you remove anything from the house?"
"No, I just used the phone to call you guys and I came back out here."
"Johnny, do you remember who Victoria's boyfriend is?"
The older man sat there and scratched his chin. "I was never properly introduced. But, I've seen him around town. Let's see I believe his name was Bart...no that's not right. Brent...yeah that's right Brent Underwood."
I immediately called the station to ask Dan to arrest Brent. After I gave the order, I waited until the coroner and Deputies Ed Douglas and Lars "Sonny" Thomas arrived. Both deputies quickly contained the crime scene and were thorough in gathering any evidence at the scene. I had a few words with Mike Harris, the coroner, and some last minute instructions for my deputies before I headed back to town.
Back at the station, Dan had Brent locked away behind bars. Our jail is not large, so there are only three cells that sit behind the main desk. Dan sat behind the desk leaning back in the wooden swivel chair resting his feet upon the desk's large top. Jeanie sat across the room from Dan at her dispatching station. The two were in conversation when I walked in.
Dan nearly fell backwards trying to compose himself. He knew I did not care for him having his feet upon the desk. In any case, he managed to regain his feet without killing himself. I hid my smile with a rough smirk.
I looked over to the first cell to see Brent Underwood in the blue jail digs sitting on his bed at the far side of the cell. He had his head bowed low, so I did not immediately see the bruises and scratches on his face. When he looked up at me, I then saw the beaten Brent had taken. His left eye was nearly swollen shut, a butterfly bandage held a cut above his right eyebrow together, and there were a series of five parallel scratches on his left cheek.
"Did you find anything on Brent?" I asked.
"Yes sir, in his backpack I found a letter from Victoria. You can read it. It is on your desk and this bloody hunting knife," Dan pointed over to the knife sealed away in a baggie on the desk. The knife was the standard hunting knife one could find in any outfitting store. Except it had a nice polished bone handle with B.U. engraved on the pommel.
"I assume you gathered the suspect's clothes as evidence as well?" I usually don't second-guess my deputies, but with Dan, I had to make exceptions. The boy was still learning. Once he almost had a suspect's clothes cleaned, fortunately we retrieved them before we lost the evidence on them to the washing machine.
"Sheriff, I have them separated and sealed up nice and tight."
"Have you read Brent his rights?"
"Yes sir," Dan smiled in his youthful and a naïve way.
"Have you questioned him yet?"
"Just his initial statement. He claimed that some unknown jumped him on Lower Country road while he was out for a walk. I had just finished it when you called to have me place him under arrest."
"Good Dan, we may make a lawman out of you yet," I didn't think Dan's smile could get any bigger. "Take the evidence down to the crime lab, have Floyd look it over."
Our crime lab would have many other departments laughing. It was more of a garage run by Floyd Jenkins. Nevertheless, he and his two assistants ran an efficient operation. He was good at taking fingerprints, typing blood, and a lot of science stuff that I could never comprehend in school.
Dan trotted off for Floyd's while I pulled a chair up next to the cell containing Brent. He looked up at me with his one good eye. It contained all the sorrow and misery of the world.
"You know why you've been arrested right?"
"Yes, sheriff. Dan said there was a murder on Upper Country road and he found a bloody knife in my backpack. I don't know how..."
I held up my hand to forestall him. "Before I ask you a few questions I want to make sure of a couple of things."
"Did Dan give you your one free phone call?"
"I hope you called your lawyer. Because my second question is whether you want to talk to me now or with your lawyer present. It would really speed things up if he was on his way in either event."
"No, I called my girlfriend."
"Dan told you who was murdered right?"
"Well no, he just mentioned something about a murder on Upper Country road."
"Did he mention that it was your girlfriend who was murdered?"
"That's impossible; I just talked to her ten minutes ago!"
It took me a couple of seconds to regain my composure. The last thing I expected to hear from Brent was that he had just spoken to the deceased. I cleared my throat before I began again.
"I think that we need to clear something up. Who did you call?"
Brent's face reflected the same confusion that I'm sure I wore on my own. "I told you sheriff I called my girlfriend, Betty Vermont. Please, tell me she's alright!" his voice pleaded.
I let the air out between my lips, "I owe you an apology, as far as I know Betty is doing just fine. It was just a case of mistaken identity."
"Thank God," Brent sank back down on his bunk.
"Now, I must ask you again if you'd like to waive your right to have an attorney present during questioning."
"Sure, I have nothing to hide. In fact, I'm the victim here. I was the one attacked."
"Do you know Victoria Drummond?"
The shock on Brent's face told me he did. "Vicky? What happened to Vicky?"
"Miss Drummond was found dead at her residence. How well did you know Miss Drummond?"
Brent's face now turned a deep red as he turned his face away. "We were...lovers I guess. You know how she was. I was her latest fling. Anyways, I was until I broke things off weeks ago. Look sheriff, Betty doesn't know any of this. But, we are engaged now. I broke up with Vicky when I realized Betty was the one. Please don't let her find out."
"I'm sorry, but she's going to find out once the press gets a hold of this story."
Brent buried his face into the thin mattress of his bunk and began to sob uncontrollably. I left the young man to his inner demons and walked over to the desk.
It was not long before Betty walked into the station. I approached her before she could ask about Brent.
"Miss Vermont," I said as I ushered her to a bench at the far end of the room. Jeanie's desk was far enough away that we could talk in confidence.
Betty sat down on the wooden bench and looked up at me as I took a seat next to her. Concern and anxiety fought for control over her facial expression. "What's going on? How's Brent?" she finally asked.
"He's alright, but I need to talk to you first. Do you know anything about Victoria Drummond?" A dark cloud passed over Betty's face at the mention of the victim's name.
"What has she gone and done now!" Betty said in a harsh whisper as she looked around to make sure that no one could hear her. Before I could say anything, Betty started whispering in an angry voice. "Yeah, I know her. I also know about her and Brent. Brent doesn't know that I do and I don't want him to find out if you know what I mean.
"She's been calling around for him every since he picked me over her. I think I've intercepted all her calls so far. Just last week she called a couple of days after Brent proposed to me. To tell the truth sheriff, I don't think anyone has ever dumped her and it hurt her pride. Anyways, she just calls and demands that I let her talk to Brent. We get in this yelling match on the phone. Fortunately, Brent had to go into work for an emergency job. You know he's the top mechanic at Ace's Garage. But, she won't take no for an answer. I finally tell her that if she ever shows her face around or even talks to Brent again I will personally kill her. Well, I really took care of her she'll never bother us again."
"You do realize that Victoria Drummond is dead." The shock of my statement took the fury out of Betty. She appeared frightened and took a couple of minutes to find the right words.
"I didn't kill her, honest sheriff. It was just a threat to keep her from bothering us." Betty looked on the verge of tears when finally it all sunk in. "Wait a minute. Is that why Brent is here? You think he did it! That's impossible. He...he..."
I stood up and looked towards the cell. Things were starting to look less cut and dry than they did in the beginning. Brent was still sobbing in his bunk oblivious to Betty's and my conversation. I looked over towards Jeanie; the dispatcher was currently on the phone. I returned my attention to Betty who had been studying me the whole time. Her face told me she had many questions to ask me. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to have any answers.
"Now, now, why don't you compose yourself and I'll let you talk to Brent. It looks like he could really use some cheering up." I escorted Betty over to the cell. I gave her a chair so that she could sit next to her fiancé. Of course, I had to make sure she didn't have anything she could pass to him. The file in the cake may have gone out of style, but you never know when someone may try a variation on the theme.
It was just the tonic Brent needed, the young man perked up when he saw Betty. He dried his eyes and slid down the bunk toward the bars. They started to talk in low voices through the cell. I went over and sat behind my desk. I read the letter written to Brent by Victoria. It pretty much said that he was making a big mistake by getting engaged to Betty and that she still loved him. I leaned back in the chair deep in thought. I absently watched Jeanie on the phone. She hung up the phone and looked over at me. She started to say one thing and then she stopped.
"J.D. what's the problem?" It was clear I must have been advertising I had a lot on my mind.
"The water just got a little murkier," was all I replied. "You have a message for me?"
"Sonny just called. He delivered the unfortunate news to Victor Drummond. I guess the old man took it pretty hard. Mr. Drummond would like to talk to you as soon as you can.
"Also, Eddy called to say they were wrapping things up at the crime scene and was heading back to the station."
I smiled there was only one person in the world that got away with calling Ed Douglas, Eddy outside his own mother and that was Jeanie. Jeanie was a young woman right out of the academy. She was cheerful and got along with everyone. It was well known to everyone that she had eyes for Dan, well known to everyone, that is, except for Dan.
As if I had conjured him up by thinking about him, Dan walked through the door. Jeanie immediately flashed a smile that she reserved only for Dan. Dan smiled back in his own goofy way and gave her a little wave.
"Sheriff, Floyd typed the blood found on the knife and it is a match for Victoria Drummond," Dan said a little too loudly. Fortunately, Brent was too engaged in his conversation with Betty.
I walked over to the Deputy Sheriff and talked in a low voice. "Keep it down a little, okay. We don't want everyone to know about the investigation until it is complete."
"Oh, sorry sheriff," Dan said sheepishly.
"Did you get any prints to tie this thing all up?"
"Sorry, but Floyd said that there are none on the knife. He thinks that they may have been wiped off."
"Wiped off?" I said to myself more than to anyone else.
"Actually sheriff, I believe maybe Brent was wearing gloves so maybe there were never any fingerprints," Dan offered optimistically.
"Did you find any gloves on Brent?"
"No, but I bet he threw them away."
I walked around behind the desk and sat down. I looked at the letter again. Things were not adding up here. Dan just smiled at me from across the desk holding his Smokey Bear hat in his hands. After awhile he started to brush some lint off the front of his brown shirt, and then he started to polish his badge when a thought struck me.
"Was there blood on Brent's clothes?"
"Yeah, there was a little on his sweatshirt, but that is all I noticed. Floyd is looking into that now."
"Nothing on his pants?" I probed.
"No sir, just on the sweatshirt."
"This doesn't make sense," I said thinking aloud.
"How so sheriff? He had the knife in his backpack, he was fleeing the scene of the crime, and he had blood on his sweatshirt." Dan pretty much tied everything up. It looked good. However, only on the surface, when everything was examined more closely it started to unravel.
"Why would Brent wipe prints off a bloody knife and then throw it in his backpack?"
"I told you sheriff, I believe he used gloves. I bet if we looked around the area we'd find them," Dan said smugly.
"Maybe, but why throw out gloves and then keep the knife?"
"I dunno? Maybe he forgot to throw the knife away?"
"Perhaps, people get absent minded. But, if he didn't have gloves and he wiped off the prints, why didn't wipe off the blood also? He could have done both at the same time."
Dan just shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe he was in too much of a hurry and forgot?" The excuse did not sound very likely.
"Plus, I saw the crime scene and it was covered in blood. It was all over the place including the ceiling. Brent's clothes should have been covered in the stuff." I continued.
"I think he changed his clothes and tossed them with the gloves. I tell you sheriff they are out there, probably on the side of the road."
"Dan, did you notice the scratches on Brent's face?"
"Yep, right down his left cheek. Probably when they were fighting, Victoria scratched him. You know how women tend to claw in a fight," Dan smiled and folded his arms across his chest. He believed he had me on this.
"You read Miss Drummond's letter, correct?" I shot back.
"Yeah, so what does that have to do with anything?" Dan queried.
"When most people write, the letters in their words tend to slant to the right; Victoria Drummond's don't because she is left handed. If she were to scratch Brent he should have the wound on his right cheek."
Dan was about to come up with another excuse when Ed walked into the office. He smiled over at Jeanie who was working on the daily paperwork that comes with the job. She flashed a smile back.
"Well, sheriff I'm sorry I took longer than expected to get back. Mike Harris wanted me to give you his preliminary autopsy report. So I had to wait around the coroner's office until he was done."
Ed Douglas was a little older than I was. In fact, he was the oldest deputy I had on staff. He was tall and stocky. You could tell by his height and build that he used to play football during high school many years ago. He used to be darn good too. If he wanted, he could have probably gone off to play for a college team. However, instead he went to the academy and pursued a career in law enforcement.
Ed made a great deputy. He got along with everyone, was easy going, and he rarely lost his cool. The only times I have ever notice Ed to lose his temper was a couple of times around Dan. For some reason Dan would occasionally get under his skin. Like the time Dan started banging around the coffeemaker Ed brought from home. Dan could not get it to work and when he can't get things to operate for some reason he thinks banging them around will fix the problem. Well, Ed said a couple of harsh words and then proceeded to plug the coffeemaker in. It has worked great since.
Don't get me wrong. Dan and Ed get along great, most of the time. They even spend a lot of their off time together.
"Well, what do we have?" I asked Ed as he slapped a file folder onto my desk.
"Miss Drummond died from someone slitting her throat with a sharp instrument. Most likely it was a knife of some sort."
I was paging through the report looking for anything that might catch my eye. "Ed, did Mike find any skin scrapings under Victoria's fingernails?"
"No, none. In fact, Doc Harris believes that there wasn't even a struggle. She has no signs of bruising or lacerations. It looks like she was caught by surprise."
"This case is getting stranger by the minute. You saw the crime scene. The place was busted up. You think it was staged?"
"I don't know sheriff? Johnny said there was a lot of yelling."
"In all that blood did you find any footprints?"
"The only footprints or fingerprints for that matter we found around the crime scene were the ones belonging to Johnny and you and of course the deceased. Everything else was smudged."
Dan's eyes widen. You could almost see the 15-watt light bulb blink on over his head. He snapped his fingers and then started to wave it around. "I got it sheriff!" he blurted out excitedly. I motioned for him to lower his voice. Even Brent and Betty looked over at us. We waited until they returned to their conversation then I motioned for Dan to continue.
"It's so obvious," Dan moved in closer to Ed and me before he began to share his revelation with us. "I think Johnny and Brent were working together. Johnny kills Victoria with Brent's hunting knife. He wipes off the handle in a hurry, but forgets to wipe off the blade because he's in a rush. He breaks up a few things inside the house. Runs out and hands the knife to Brent. Brent tosses it inside his backpack and starts off down Upper Country road not paying attention to the bloody blade.
"Johnny waits a little while so Brent can get down to Lower Country road before he calls in the body. I find Brent. He makes up this story of being assaulted and you respond to the call. You find Johnny and he tells you some story. Therefore, you never suspect it's him. You'll dismiss his footprints because you think it's someone else. Pretty cleaver right?"
"Dan, you amaze me," I said looking at Ed who was rolling his eyes. Brent started smiling his goofy smile again. "You absolutely amaze me. I don't know where to begin. Your story is so full of holes and is pure speculation."
Dan's smile disappeared from his face. "Well, I uh..." Dan began to stumble for words. "I was just brainstorming."
"Yeah, that was a real cloud burst," Ed started to laugh.
I stood up and grabbed my hat. "Dan, I want you to check out everything about Brent Underwood. I want to know about his daily routine. I want his work records and I want you to interview his coworkers, friends and family."
"Where are you going sheriff?" Dan asked.
"I have to talk to the grieving family."
I pulled up to the Drummond Mansion on the outskirts of town. For a mansion, it really wasn't too ostentatious. It was still twice the size of your average large home, but Victor didn't like to show off his wealth. He loves his job, the wheeling and dealing is what really gets his heart thumping. Of course, naturally the man was going to accumulate some wealth.
I pulled the Blazer up the brick paved driveway. The sun had half an hour before it would dip behind the mountains so I still had plenty of light. By the time I was done with interviewing Victor, it would be dark out and the night crew would be starting their shift at the station.
I noticed the new red Mercedes convertible parked outside the mansion. It wasn't like Victor to own an import. He tended to love to get around in his old '78 Ford F-10 pickup truck. I stepped out of the Blazer and started to approach the mansion. I noticed two auto ramps placed parallel to each other by the garage. Being naturally curious, I sidetracked over to the red ramps. A small stain covered the bricks at the base of the ramps and a small trail trickled up between the tops of the ramps to a large leak stain. There was a toolkit sitting next to the ramps. Its top was open and tools lay scattered across the drive in front of the garage. Next to the kit, there was a Haynes repair manual.
I turned away from the tools and headed back to the front door. Before I could knock or push the doorbell, it opened. Vic, Victor jr. stood in the doorway. "Good evening sheriff."
"Vic, I'm sorry. How's your dad doing?" I held my hand out and took his in a firm grasp. I noticed Vic wince in a little pain as we shook.
"I'm sorry sheriff; I kind of bruised my knuckles working on my car." Vic pointed out towards the Mercedes parked next to my truck.
"My apologies Vic, you know you may want to pick up those tools before it rains."
"Yeah, I'm learning I'm not much of a mechanic," Vic said as he escorted me into the house. "A week ago my transmission started leaking fluid. I thought I could fix it on my own. I think I made it worse, had to take it into town to get it repaired."
Vic led me to his father's bedroom and stopped outside the doorway. "Ah, sheriff it is not common knowledge, but my father is very ill."
"Oh, I hope he recovers soon," I offered.
"I'm afraid it's cancer -- terminal. I fear this latest bad news isn't going to help father out," Vic said solemnly.
Vic opened the door and ushered me into a large bedroom. A nurse sat next to Victor monitoring his symptoms on the myriad of machines registering his body signs. The old man (strange to say but, Victor never looked old until now) lay in his bed. Wires and tubes led from his body to the various machines beeping and blinking alongside him.
"Sheriff," Victor said weakly as he feebly waved me closer. "I wish I was in better shape to receive you."
"Don't worry about it, Victor. You just get well you hear me," I said as I walked over to the bed.
"Lisa," Victor looked over at his nurse, "Vic, I want to talk to the sheriff alone." The two quietly left the room leaving Victor Drummond and me alone.
As soon as the door closed, Victor looked over at me. Fury burned in his eyes as he looked over at me. "Sheriff, I want you to nail that bastard to the wall." It must have taken all his strength to spit out all that anger. The heartbeat monitor sped up as his pulse quickened. "They say I don't have much time left. But, I am going to live until I see justice done for my little girl," Victor vowed. Then he slumped back into his pillow and started to weep.
I didn't get too much new information from Victor or Vic Drummond. They both knew about Victoria and Brent's affair. Neither much cared for the mechanic, the shame of having a Drummond cavorting around with a person of such lowly status brought shame upon the family name.
Victoria did confide to her brother that Brent and her relationship was fiery in and out of bed. Their passions ran hot in both directions. Often after a passionate roll in the sack, they would both be at each other's throats. The two would often scream and throw objects at each other before Brent stormed out of the house.
The two met because Brent loved to hike up and down the Country roads nearly every day. It was his way of burning off steam and relaxing after a hard days work at the garage. Every day Victoria would see Brent hiking past her house in his sweat suit with the small backpack on his back. They started talking one day and one thing led to another.
Brent claimed that he always left his clothes and backpack in his truck. He never locked the doors because he believed nobody would break into someone's property in a small town like Swimmer's Lake. He worked everyday except Sundays and Mondays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the garage. Occasionally, his boss called him in if there were an emergency because he was that good and fast.
Brent's friends and neighbors did not add too much more about Brent and Victoria's relationship other than what Vic had offered. They did mention that recently Brent proposed to Betty. Betty had a jealous streak in her that could lead to violence. She had a couple of assault charges on her record while she lived in Missoula when she beat up her rivals to former boyfriends.
After that, everything rather dried up. Floyd did not have any new evidence other than the blood found on the knife was definitely Victoria's and the blood on the sweatshirt belonged solely to Brent. Harris was unable to find any new evidence on Victoria's body that could help things out either.
We were pretty much at a stonewall. I had to keep Brent behind bars because the evidence, no matter how strange and circumstantial, still pointed to Brent as the prime suspect. The judge did offer bail at $500,000 but the only people with that kind of money were the Drummonds, and they had no desire to see Brent walking the street.
After a week of nothing, Dan rushed into the office. He was excited as he nearly flew over to the desk. The excitement nearly burst the poor boy. However, he did keep his voice down when he spoke to me.
"Sheriff! I found it!" he pumped his head up and down with that goofy smile on his face. His hat nearly flew off his head as he spoke. "I've got the evidence we are looking for."
My jaw dropped in disbelief. I climbed out from behind the desk and led Dan further away from the cells. "What did you find?" I asked in a low voice.
"Follow me," Dan waved for me to follow as he took off like an excited puppy out the door. I had no choice but to follow. Dan led me out to his patrol car.
He opened the back door to his black and white and pulled out some clothes. "Look sheriff. I found these alongside Upper Country road. They were hidden in a tree, but I found them."
"Are you sure they are what we are looking for?" I asked skeptically. Dan wasn't known for his abilities to sniff out clues.
"Yes sir, look they are covered in blood." I looked more closely and I noticed dried blood all over the clothes. "And sheriff look." Dan reached into the backseat again and pulled something out. He nearly waved them under my nose in excitement, "Gloves!"
I hated to admit it, but it looked possible that one of Dan's hairball schemes may be true. The bloody work shirt and pants were the same size and color that Brent wore at Ace's. The bloody driver's gloves resembled the ones you could find in any gas station. Just like the one Brent worked at. The most telling evidence produce was a pair of bloody socks. It was apparent that the killer wore them and slid his feet across the floor leaving the tell tale smudges on the floors. However, in doing so they left nice bloody impressions of the killer's feet on the socks.
I immediately had everything sent off to Floyd's for analysis. Within a couple of hours, Floyd sent over one of his assistants, Judy McCall to trace Brent's hands and feet. She also spread ink over the bottom of his feet and had him stand upon a sheet of white paper leaving behind some nice black feet impressions. Brent by now started to take everything in stride. Floyd had already collected samples of Brent's blood and DNA. If Floyd could find any samples on the clothes he would send them off to either Missoula or Great Falls for analysis, depending on which lab had the smaller workload.
Judy finished her work in a businesslike manner. When she finished she gathered her evidence into a briefcase and then left the station only nodding a goodbye on her way out. Sometimes I felt Floyd hired robots instead of people to work for him. But, I figured the people who excelled at this kind of work tended to be very methodical and down to business. They were the, sorry to use the cliché, "Just the facts, ma'am" type.
I don't know who the waiting bothered more me or Brent. I suppose it had to be Brent, after all it was his future on the line and not mine. Nonetheless, time just crept on in tedious beat. The deputies, David Scott and Manny Kitter would drop by occasionally to check in with me. Though they could have done it over the radio, they still stopped in. They too were curious as to what Floyd would glean from the evidence. Even Sonny and Ed, who had the day off, stopped by.
Probably the most annoying though was Dan. He was excited to see if his pet theory paid off. He could barely contain himself, he was sure he had single handedly cracked the case. I suppose I couldn't blame him. This was his first big case and his efforts did result in some vital clues. Nonetheless, his grin and the "I told you so" look in his eye were starting to wear on my patience.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity Judy brought over Floyd's labs results. It was nearly sundown and though it was half an hour after the shift change, everyone gathered in the small office. I anxiously opened up the file that Judy had placed on my desk before she left never uttering a word.
As I read along a smile broke out across my face. I slapped the file down on my desk, "Hot damn, I believe we broke this thing!" I exclaimed. Brent rushed towards the bars.
"Am I free sheriff? Who did it?" he exclaimed while Dan yelled, "Did I break it sheriff?"
I patted Dan on the back, "I think we'll make a lawman out of you yet." Dan's smile spread even further across his face. "I'm sorry, Clyde and Bill, but you guys have to go on patrol. I'll fill you in later. Dave, grab Mr. Underwood. Manny get Miss Vermont."
Scott and Manny looked at me questioningly. "This is highly unorthodox, but I want everyone involved in this case to hear this at the same time. We are heading for the Drummond Mansion."
I had Jeanie Carson call ahead to the Drummond Mansion to okay my request to gather all interested parties into Victor's bedroom. Vic was at first apprehensive, but his father overheard us and overruled Vic's decision.
As expected, I was the last one to arrive at the Drummond Mansion. It was important that I make a couple of stops first to double check some theories. As I pulled up onto the estate, the sun had long since dropped behind the western Rockies. I noticed Dave was reclining against his patrol car with Brent Underwood still sitting in the back seat. Manny's patrol car and Betty's Camry were also on the brick drive.
I jumped out of the Blazer and walked over to Dave, "You can bring Mr. Underwood in with us." Dave just nodded and opened up the rear door and escorted the handcuffed suspect up to the Mansion.
I rang the doorbell, and was surprised on how quickly the door flew opened. "Gee, sheriff it sure took you long enough," Dan said as he greeted us at the door. "Everyone is waiting for you. Did you get a flat?"
"Naw, nothing that dramatic. Is everyone in Mr. Drummond's bedroom?"
"Yes, sir," Dan was excited. He nearly ran up the stairs to the upstairs' bedroom.
Everyone was assembled once Brent and Dave walked in behind me. The glares that Victor and Vic gave could have killed. Victor's heart rate increased rapidly, he pushed himself up higher in bed and was about to yell and curse at Brent. However, I held up my hand to stop him.
"Please, if everyone will please calm down," I said looking at Victor, but I meant it for everyone. "Mr. Drummond, I believe you wanted justice for your daughter's cruel murder. I will now administer that. First, everyone please have a seat. Deputies please remain standing and alert."
I couldn't help but smile to myself seeing everyone taking seats around the large room. The deputies stood near the door keeping an eye on everyone. I started to pace back in forth as if in thought. I could not resist being a little theatrical at a moment like this. Hell, this was right out of an Agatha Christie novel.
"I know for some of you this will be very hard to hear. However, let's go back over the facts. A few weeks ago, Dan Easton found Mr. Underwood staggering along Lower Country road. It was not long after that when I got a call about Miss Drummond's body, which had been found dead on Upper Country road.
"Mr. Underwood claims that he was jumped by someone and roughed up. On further examination, we find a hunting knife belonging to Mr. Underwood in his backpack that has the victim's blood all over the blade. There is no denying the knife is the crime weapon and that the weapon belongs to and was found on Mr. Underwood.
"A witness claims to have heard some screaming coming from Miss Drummond's house. He only heard her screaming, but no other voices. He never saw anyone enter or leave the house of the victim.
"This same witness pointed out Mr. Underwood as the victim's lover." I noticed Victor Drummond physically flinch when I mentioned this.
"However, there were no fingerprints on the weapon. Neither, were there any fingerprints nor footprints of the suspect near the body of the victim. The assailant thought they did a good job covering their tracks.
"But why would Mr. Underwood keep a bloody knife in his backpack? Why weren't there any fingerprints? These questions have been bothering me.
"Now, my sheriff deputy Dan Easton had some crack pot story about Mr. Underwood wearing gloves and changing clothes and conspiring with another person. I even thought at the time it was crazy.
"Miss Vermont even admitted that she threatened to kill Victoria and has a police record to back up some of her previous jealous behavior." Betty let out a loud gasp and was about to protest. Once again, I held up my hand to forestall any interruptions.
"Please, let me continue. Thanks to the help of my second in command," I pointed over to a beaming Dan Easton, "who continued to look for clues when the rest of us gave up. He found something quite interesting. Some gloves and some blue work clothes." Brent's head dropped even further as I mentioned the clues.
"But one of the most important clues he found were some bloody socks. By the assailant dragging their feet across the floor, all they left were some smudges. However, on the socks they left a nice set of footprints.
"I had Mr. Underwood's hands and feet traced. The gloves will fit, sorry Mr. Underwood." Brent even sunk lower; Victor's face broke out in a smile.
"However the socks won't. At least the footprints won't. I started checking some things out a little more closely. Brent's feet are too big he wears a size 11, and I know Miss Vermont's feet are smaller than the men's size 9 1/2 of the socks' impressions.
"Also, at first glance, the gloves appear to be your common driving gloves you pick up at your local gas station. But, if you look on the inside cuff you see that they are Berletti's an imported glove. In fact, the only place you can get them are at Andy's Imported Luxury Cars. There is only one person here who drives an imported luxury car, isn't that right, Vic?"
Vic looked around the room shocked; he started to laugh, "Surely this is a joke sheriff. Why would I kill my own sister? That's a terrible thing to say."
"Is it Vic? You only bought your Mercedes a couple of weeks before the murder. I have a sales receipt showing the purchase of one Mercedes and one set of Berletti driving gloves."
"This is absurd, sheriff. Brent had the murder weapon not me."
"That is true, but I notice the week before the murder you had to have an emergency transmission repair done at Ace's Garage."
"What the hell does that prove? I told you I had transmission problems!" Vic was starting yell. Sweat started to bead on his brow.
"Your car was under warranty, but you didn't take it back to the dealership. No, Vic you needed an excuse to get to Ace's Garage. If you pay close attention to the ramps, you left out the majority of the transmission fluid spilled between them at the top. You punctured your own transmission pan and then pushed the car off the ramp. If you did it in reverse, you would never have been able to get the car onto the ramps. It's pretty hard to get those cars pushed up those ramps by yourself."
"It was a small leak sheriff. I accidentally punctured the pan trying to fix it, so the dealership would not cover something that was my mistake," Vic said condescendingly.
"Perhaps, but here's what I think. You had to get to Ace's Garage. You knew from talking to your sister that Brent was the top mechanic, and thus, he would be the one to do the emergency repair. Furthermore, we live in a small town and few people lock their doors. In addition, you knew he kept his hiking stuff in his truck.
"You went into his truck and borrowed his knife. From talk around town, you figured out what Brent's hiking schedule was, so all you had to do was visit your sister. She must have been surprised to see you dressed up like Brent. She started to yell at you. You killed her before she knew what was going on. You broke a few things up and smashed out a window hoping to attract Johnny's attention. In the process, you found a letter that Victoria wrote but never delivered to Brent. Unfortunately, Johnny didn't see you flee the house in your work clothes.
"Nonetheless, you proceeded with your plan. You stashed your bloody clothes in a tree and then you drove down Upper Country road and hid in the woods along Lower Country road. You attacked Mr. Underwood, that was how you bruised your knuckles and after knocking him silly, you scratched his face and hid the knife in his backpack.
"I think you forgot that your sister was left handed. Anyway, you planted the love note in Brent's backpack as well and then you took off. By the time Brent recovered his wits you were long gone and he unwittingly carried the evidence needed to shift the blame to him."
"That is a nice story sheriff, but it'll never hold up. Why would I need to kill my sister? I am quite wealthy and her death doesn't help me out. I am appalled at your accusations and you will hear from my lawyers."
"I am sure I will. But you are wrong about something," I paused and waited.
"Ok, I'll bite. What am I wrong about?" Vic said sarcastically.
"You are not wealthy; in fact you are in a lot of debt. Just from the few inquiries I made into your favorite gambling spots, it looks like you owe millions. I have a feeling you owe even more to loan sharks. Your debt is higher than many small African nations. No, you needed an inheritance and bad. Your father has only a few weeks to live and you could not afford to share your inheritance with your sister. You needed the whole thing."
Vic looked at me with rage and hatred burning in his eyes. "I'm afraid you will have a hard time proving this when I get my lawyers in court."
"Again you may be right. But I have a feeling that once Floyd makes an impression of your feet they'll fit into those socks like Cinderella's did in a glass slipper."
I had Dave and Manny arrest Vic. Victor Drummond Sr. lay in bed, he looked worse than he did before. I felt sorry for him, but he needed to know the facts first hand and not second.
After Dan removed the cuffs from Brent, the mechanic ran over and gave Betty a huge embrace. "Thank you, sheriff," Brent said never taking his eyes off Betty.
"Don't thank me, thank Deputy Easton. If it wasn't for his determination, we would never had found those last clues."
Both Brent and Betty looked over at the deputy sheriff and smiled. Dan just presented them with his usual goofy smile. Dan was puffed up with pride. Though his theory was wrong, his doggedness was what saved the day.
Well, Brent and Betty got married soon after the whole ordeal. They act like other married couples; sometimes they get along great and at other times, they fight. However, so far, they still seem to enjoy each other's company.
Vic was true to his word in making it hard to prove things in court with his expensive lawyers. However, Floyd's forensic work was what turned the trick. There was just too much evidence placing Vic at the scene of the crime. His 9 1/2 sized feet fit perfectly in those socks.
Vic is now down at the Deer Lodge State Prison serving a life sentence. I have a feeling he has to keep a sharp eye out. He owed the underworld a lot of money and was unable to deliver.
I like to say that after Victor Drummond died from his cancer he wanted to make up for the time and suffering Brent Underwood spent in jail and made him heir to his estate. I would like to say that, but that is not what happened. Victor Drummond died the day after Vic's sentencing. His estate was sold off by the state to cover the debt accrued by his son's gambling debts.
After that, things returned to normal in Swimmer's Lake and Summit County. Dan still hasn't figured out that Jeanie is after him. I still have to break up the occasional barroom brawl. Last time it was at the Mint. But all in all it is a pretty quiet area.
Every year San Jose State University's Department of English & Comparative Literature holds a contest "where WWW means Wretched Writers Welcome". It is a contest in "honor" of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who was known for writing "It was a dark and stormy night" fiction.
Thus, I have taken the "winner" of this year's contest, and expounded upon it to make a complete story. Enjoy!
Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."
Which was quite coincidental since his name was Sam DeLaney so his last name was DeLaney, and he was from Piscataway, N.J., but he did not have anything to do with forging manhole covers; in fact, he worked like so many other hard working people in Eden Prairie, MN at one of the many retail outlets, but this one was selling sweaters to high school girls.
Mary Ellen, who with Sam DeLaney made up the couple, purchased a sweater from him with puppies on it that she thought was quite fashionable when she was in high school but that time had long passed and in reality it was never fashionable and now it was threadbare and worn because of the intervening years but it was a memento of their first meeting so she wore it often whenever they got together.
The pair were like a Burlington Northwestern Santa Fe freight train and a Metrolink train in Placentia, CA, at the intersection of Van Buren Street and Orangethorpe Avenue, near the Atwood Junction; they were bound to run into each other eventually, and they did at a convention of sweater wearers sponsored by Sam's store.
Nonetheless, not everyone was a fan of checkered taxi ride burning rubber love; however, not because she lived approximately 1,027 miles from New York City or that she was against east coast elitism, but because she was not the recipient of such love from her husband Sam DeLaney, and that woman was named Samantha DeLaney which caused all kinds of difficulties when the someone asked for Sam DeLaney on the phone.
Just like Isaac Newton's and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's independent invention of integral calculus, Sam's and Mary Ellen's affair was bound to be discovered sooner or later, but the pair was hoping for later; however, those hopes were dashed when Sam DeLaney, Sam's wife, came home early from work on a sunny but unseasonably warm autumn afternoon in October with what could be described as a rather bad case of projectile vomiting.
Needless to say, Sam's day was going to get a great deal worse, but in actuality both Samantha's and Samuel's days were going to get worse, but Samantha's day was already going bad with the vomiting and all, where as Samuel's day was going pretty well, what with the rendezvous with his mistress, and the fact that he was not currently selling ugly sweaters to demanding teenage girls.
While the situation was quite embarrassing with the yelling and the vomiting, what made it worse for the two women was that they both had the same sweater with the puppies that they liked so much which made them realize that they had more in common than just the man in their lives, but on the other hand, it could just be that Sam the sweater salesman used the same sweater salesman technique on both women, which was clearly effective.
It was your standard love triangle, it may have been an acute, obtuse, or even a right angled triangle, but the problem is that it was not a triangle at all because there was another person involved making it a love rectangle or at the very least a love quadrangle because the definition depends on the angles, and who knows, it may have been a love pentangle or hexangle or even more people may have been involved as who can ever tell in these types of things.
Easton Leuer, which is pronounced 'lower' not in a lower and deeper voice but as in the word 'lower' such as 'lower level of the parking garage' which is where Easton worked as a parking attendant making sure the basic sports utility vehicles, like the Cadillac Escalades, were not parking in the compact spaces which happened to be a very common occurrence at this garage and was quite a parking hazard to other patrons with these big cars sticking out too far into the isles and using two spaces where the space was designed for one.
Since the early bird gets the worm, Easton believed he could get whatever he wanted because he was up earlier in the morning than just about everybody because he had to be at work before everyone else due to him working at a busy parking garage where so many parked their cars for work, but the thing that Easton never realized was that the early worm gets eaten by the bird; thus, getting what you want because you were early was not necessarily a good thing which perfectly exemplifies his relationship with Mary Ellen.
Easton and Mary Ellen's love was like an invisible six foot white rabbit named Harvey who could only be seen by one person and that person would have to be Easton because Mary Ellen had know idea who Easton was let alone that he had any type of crush upon her, but he was under the impression that they had a very serious relationship from her daily parkings in his garage despite the fact that they had never spoken.
With all of the players set up like characters in a bad detective story where everyone has a motive to kill everyone else, but not all of the motives have been expounded to the audience and not all of the details have been given but nonetheless, the audience is expected to guess the outcome of the whodunit even though no one has actually done anything wrong at this point in the story.
Nevertheless, when a headless women, who was wearing an ugly but remarkably very worn sweater with puppies on it, was found in the Mississippi river occupying a 1978 two-tone brown Chevrolet Chevette with expired New Jersey plates, authorities believed that foul play was involved, but the first order of business was to determine who the occupant of this classic vehicle was and why she was attempting to drive in the Mississippi river.
Finding the identity of a headless corpse is like finding a particular blue fin tuna that was caught the day before but was released because it had this scary gash in its side, but your engagement ring was lost and perhaps this tuna got a hold of it and you need to get it back; fortunately, this was not going to be like this because she had her driver's license with her.
It is really hard to match a driver's license photo with a person without a head, but with a record of height and weight and home address there was a place to begin for getting a proper identification of the person although she probably lied about her weight and perhaps even her height because that is what people do, but without the head perhaps they were in the ballpark on the weight.
After a few days of investigation, they were sure it was Mary Ellen since she missed a few days of work, she did not show up at her apartment ,and the fact that her parents positively identified her from a scar on her left side she got as a teenager backing into their 1976 Sea-Island Green Mercury Comet's car door which was slightly rusty, and she had to get a tetanus shot, so they went to a fancy sweater boutique and got her a nice sweater with puppies on it.
Like putting together a Great American Puzzle Factory 550 piece jigsaw puzzle of dogs playing with a football under autumn leaves, the police investigators were beginning to get the picture as to what happened to Mary Ellen, who was the girl who liked a sweater with puppies upon it which was quite ugly in the opinion of all of the police personnel who saw it.
Like in the 15th century when there was an unknown continent between Europe and Asia and some person convinced the Queen of Spain to provide provisions to sail west to get to the east and finds North America which was named after a map maker rather than this Italian sailor, the affair between Sam and Mary Ellen was bound to be discovered by the authorities.
The good cop / bad cop interrogation technique, where one cop acts all friendly with the suspect and the other acts mean, is an effective method for finding out information on criminal suspects but was completely ineffectual on Sam DeLaney because he was so frightened and distraught that all he did was wail like a spoiled child whose parents have decided to not give into the tantrums so the child gets increasingly louder until the parents give in.
The police investigators had more luck with Mrs. Sam DeLaney as she went on and on like the same spoiled child explaining the proper tantrum technique to the kids on the playground and how it worked the time a highly sought after "Tickle-Me Elmo" was obtained, and fortunately for her she had an alibi at the time of the crime because she was at the emergency room of the local hospital with what could be called a bad case of projectile vomiting.
From interviewing some of the individuals Mary Ellen's work, the police discovered the relationship between Easton Leuer and Mary Ellen, and when they went to his place to ask him a few questions, they discovered the shrine of Mary Ellen in one corner of his room where he hung photos taken with his Nikon D-60 digital SLR camera with autofocus 75-300mm zoom lens and printed on his HP Color LaserJet CP1215 and placed in frames purchased at Walmart for $1.99 plus tax.
Like a Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraph with a palladium dial, an 18k pink gold face, oblong watch buttons, and a black alligator band with tongue buckle, the case was ticking along very nicely as they already had three suspects and eliminated one who, as the hospital stated, had a very bad case of projectile vomiting, but the other two had motive and opportunity to do the deed but they wanted to follow up on the 1978 Chevrolet Chevette that she was found in.
Following this particular lead was like driving the 1978 two-tone brown Chevrolet Chevette in question on Lombard Street in San Fransisco with the twists, turns and the bumps in the road which became quite a fascinating journey that led to a certain crime family in New Jersey that for reasons of an on-going federal investigation will not be mentioned here.
The Chevette was formerly registered to a William DeLaney Jr. who, with his brother Lester, run a company that forges manhole covers in Piskataway New Jersey, but he had reported the car stolen several years previously and it was a shame because he wanted to give it to his son on his 16th birthday but instead gave him a used slightly rusty 1976 sea-island green Mercury Comet.
When the classic Chevy Chevette was stolen it had 25,672 miles on the odometer and since it only had 5 digits William DeLaney Jr. explained that it had 125,672 miles on the car and since it had 27,411 miles on the odometer at the time it was retrieved from the river it was either driven 1,739 miles or 101,739 miles in the intervening years; thus, the police concluded that the car was driven to Minnesota and parked for when it was needed.
The long term storage led the police to the previously mentioned crime family and also to Mary Ellen's considerable gambling debts which were aggravated when she placed a large bet on the 13 point favored Minnesota Viking against winless Detroit Lions and while the Vikings managed to win, they only won by 2 points and Mary Ellen was unable to come up with the money she owed the said crime family.
With more investigation, both Sam DeLaney and stalker Easton Leuer were cleared from the murder investigation of Mary Ellen as Orlando "The Flamingo" Jackson confessed to the crime as a part of a greater on going federal investigation in exchange for entering the federal witness protection program and testimony against other members of the flamboyant crime family.
It was a dark and stormy night, but not like those puny storms on that planet earth. Oh no! This one was a real ground shaker. Back in the old days, people were afraid of hurricane force winds. Those fragile little babies! They did not have the 600 kph winds of the storms here. Also, there is none of that puny water falling from the sky. "Oh it may be a little acidic," cried the spoiled little children. No sir! We are talking about liquid methane rain here. So it was a balmy 90 K (-297.4 ºF) outside. Those infants would not last two seconds outside -- well neither would I. That is why I am inside.
You would expect a world where rocket fuel rains from the sky to be populated. At least, that is why my grandparents moved here. It was a chance for a better life for them. For me, it is just the place I call home. Most of the people here work in the rocket fuel business. It is a rough life on the fringes of civilization. People come here to refuel, and sometimes they cause trouble. Thus, there are those here to keep the peace, and there are those of us who live in the gaps between chaos and law and order.
My name is Dwayne Thompson. I have lived here all my life. I am a jack of all trades, and yes, master of none. I get by. Like many that live here, I did not choose this as my home. However, it is as good as anywhere, and I make a living as a freelance troubleshooter.
On this particular night, she walked in. She had long legs. They went from the ground all the way up to her chin. That is how these Larsentients are built. Their face is just above their legs with their arms coming out where there should be ears. They have a bit of a body above that with the rest of their anatomy. It is kind of disturbing looking at someones eyes that are where our naughty bits are. Furthermore, if you look at them where our eyes are, you are looking at their naughty bits. They will be all like, "Hey, my eyes are down here!" It is a wonder there has not been a war between our species over this very thing. Oh wait, we have had wars with them. Never mind.
Her name was Qx&M@x%lmmnwz^zppklIN3nnw9RL$#kkngfFF. Those Larsentients have completely unpronounceable names. In fact, it is almost impossible to even spell them. She walked into my office and the first thing she said to me was, "Hey, my eyes are down here!"
"You have recently lost something," I said looking into her baby orange eyes.
"It was very important to you."
"I'm getting an 'M' ... or ... an 'N' perhaps?"
"She's a Maltese Sparrow."
"A Maltese Sparrow? What is that? Is it some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in an enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable?"
"No it is my pet."
"You're here to see if the Great Thompsoani can get in touch with it using my incredible psychic powers! Is that it?"
"What? No. I am looking for Dwayne Thompson the Wingtip!"
You see, when they built this world, they did not want to be caught in the epidemic of obesity like earthlings are prone to be. Thus, if you walk out of your front door to visit your neighbor, you will have to walk at least a mile to get there even though the houses share a common wall. Since private detectives visit many places, they hitch rides by grabbing the wings of passing flying machines. Thus, they call those in the private investigation business wingtips.
"Are you sure that you are not looking for a psychic?"
"I am sure."
"My powers are remarkable..."
"I am sure."
"Good! You passed my test," I told her. "I am Dwayne Thompson."
"Test? Were you trying to be Sherlock Holmes or something?"
"Never mind. Will you find my Maltese Sparrow?"
"You mean those huge carnivorous flying monsters that chased humans off the earth? They haven't discovered space travel have they?"
"What? No! You are thinking of the Maltese Great Blue Tit. My Mable is much smaller."
"Are you telling me that the Maltese Sparrow has discovered space travel? Then it is only a matter of time before these huge man-eaters come after us! We must get ready!"
"Calm down! I bought my little sweetheart from a pet trader. He risks life and limb to obtain species from earth for earthlings and others to have as pets. I am sure these birds do not have the ability to leave earth on their own."
"Okay, but if an enormous Maltese blue tit comes to my door and kills me, I'll blame you and never speak to you again."
"Fair enough. So, are you taking my case?"
"I don't know. I never thought of myself as a pet detective."
"I'll make it worth your while Ace," she said with an alluring look in her eye.
"I bet you will!"
"My eyes are down here," she added.
"1000 credits a day plus expenses," I replied.
"12 credits a day plus a 30 credit per diem."
"Done!" a said victoriously.
"Here is a picture of Mable."
"This is a picture of a bird," I announced.
"Mable is my pet bird," she said in a I want you voice. "She is who you'll be looking for."
"Right. Just testing you again. So, when was the last time you saw her?"
"I left her in my hotel room as I went to the store to purchase food for the needy," she said as her eyes shifted right and left. "And, my eyes are down here."
"Go on," I urged, but not believing her story.
"This was Twosday."
"Do you know how the galactic calendar works?"
"Of course!" I insisted.
"Onesday, Twosday, Threesday..."
"Wednesday? Tuesday? Thursday? What are you talking about?"
"It was one day ago."
"All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in..."
"Why'd she have to go? I don't know,"
"She wouldn't say? You said something wrong and now you long for..."
"Yesterday, after I dropped the food off at the local food shelf. I stopped for a sesame bagel and a schmeer. I saved some of the seeds for Mable, but when I returned to my room..." she said and began to cry.
Crying. I had a crying client. I hate that. I pushed over a box of tissues, and she stared at them wondering what they were. I thought it best to continue the interview.
"Did it look like someone broke in?" I asked.
"The room service personnel were there. They were cleaning up, so who could tell?" she said with a sob. She grabbed me and cried on my hip because my shoulder was much higher than her eyes.
"There there," I said while patting her on the back in an attempt to reassure her.
"Where?" she asked with a start.
"It's just and old earth expression."
"Oh," she said dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.
"So, who knew you had this valuable bird?"
"The hotel staff, of course."
"Ooooh Daniel Butler!"
"Do you know him?"
"He is the pet broker."
"Ooooh *that* Daniel Butler!"
"So you do know him!"
"There are some off-world friends," she continued. "The waitress at the bagel place, my neighbors at the hotel, everyone along the route from Daniel's to my place..."
"Perhaps it would be easier to list the people who didn't know," I replied. "Is there anyone here who would want to harm you?"
"Not that I know of," she replied sobbing some more.
"Okay. I want you to go back to your hotel and think hard about it. Could you do that for me? Then, write down anyone you can think of that you think might do this."
"All right," she said opening her bag. "Here is my card. My earth friends call me Maxine."
"Okay Qx... Qx&M@... Maxine," I replied walking her to the door.
I am sure she could find her way out, but it was the polite thing to do. Besides, I needed a few minutes to decide on my course of action. Would I go interview this Daniel Butler? Should I see the hotel staff? Should I go out for a sandwich or order something in?
I sat in my office mulling over these difficult questions, but decided that I should go ahead and get started. I would go out for that sandwich and make my way over to Daniel Butler's place of business. Despite it being next door, it was going to be quite a hike.
I walked out my building door into the winding habitrail tube that led to the main corridor. When it rains methane on your planet, there is no outside. At least, no one goes outside. We travel in tunnels, and because the planets founders did not want the inhabitants to be out of shape, the tunnels twist and turn. Thus, after I grabbed my sandwich, I grabbed the wingtip of a passing flying car to take me to the tunnel that led to Daniel Butler's place.
I guess flying car is a bit of a misnomer. The freight and other fast transports travel along cables above the pedestrian areas. Thus, you have to go fairly high to grab a wingtip. It takes a bit of practice, but sometimes it sure beats walking. Although, one of the downsides is that it is difficult to eat a sandwich on the way.
I dropped in front of the tunnel that led to the business center where Daniel Butler did business. It was very much like the place where my office resided. Okay, it was exactly like it because they were all built at the same time for the same purpose. I rang the bell and entered.
Immediately, I was met by two enormous Maltese blue tits! Their sharp beaks snapping at me. I turned around and ran out of his office, but they followed. Why did I not close the door behind me? Their loud tweets and their flapping wings were right behind me. Suddenly they stopped, but I did not. Why did they stop? I was not going to turn around and find out. My decision was made and it was final. I would interview the hotel staff first.
I shot out of the tunnel and grabbed the first wingtip I could find that was going my way. I easily made my way to the high-rise hotel building. At the tube running into the hotel, I solved my first mystery of the day. The monsters from Malta stopped to consume my sandwich. That was one less mystery to be solved that day.
I entered the hotel and made my way to the staff lounge. That room was easy to find. I just kept entering the doors labeled Employees Only. I asked around and found out that Mlm3$63 ... Mle3$ ... Manny opened the door to Maxine's room.
"So -- er -- Manny," I began. "Did you notice anything unusual when you opened -- um -- Maxine's room this morning?"
"She is a slob," he replied. "Her room is always a mess!"
"Did you find anything out of the ordinary?"
"Not that I recall..."
"Is there any way you could get me a sandwich?"
"Fine. What can you tell me about her pet?"
"Pet? There are no pets allowed in the hotel."
"So, you have never noticed a bird in the room?"
"Bird? What is a bird?"
"It's an earth creature. Looks like this," I replied crossing my thumbs and flapping my hands in birdlike fashion.
"What?" he replied.
I then showed him a picture that my client supplied. I said, "Does this help?"
"Oh Miss Mable!" Manny replied. "Do you know where she is? I have not seen her in days."
"I thought you said the hotel does not allow pets..."
"Certainly not, but we do allow sentient companions."
"Wait! What? Sentient?"
"Sure, I have had several conversations with that ... bird you say?"
"You have?" I asked. "What language does it speak?"
"It has a series of tweets and chirps. It is whatever language it speaks."
"And you understand her?"
"Certainly," was the reply. "Say, you do not suppose something has happened to her?"
"That is what I'm trying to find out. That is why I was asking you these questions."
"Oh! That makes sense. Let me think. I did notice that her door was slightly ajar when I entered her room."
"Who has a key to her room?"
"Key? What is a key?"
"How do you control who has access?"
"The computer identifies the person and allows or disallows them to open the door."
"So, who has access to the room?"
"The hotel staff, of course."
"Ooooh Daniel Butler!"
"Do you know him?"
"He was the previous companion of Mable."
"Ooooh *that* Daniel Butler!"
"So you do know him!"
"There may be some various others."
"Why would there be so many allowed entry? Come to think of it, why would Daniel Butler have access?"
"He was an expert on Mable. He needed to make sure she was getting along well. Access is so easy to grant."
I thanked Manny, asked again about sandwiches, and decided to schedule an appointment with Daniel Butler after I got myself another sandwich.
Daniel Butler was a human. He could be described as average in every way. He was of average height and weight. He had the usual pink hair like so many Earthlings. I guess it helped him blend in with the rest. His pale lavender skin also helped him in his business affairs as it was the most common color. He was an average Joe.
When I arrived at Daniel's office, he was busy cleaning it. It looked like two enormous birds had a wrestling match in it. Things were knocked over. There were feathers all over. It was quite a mess. I wonder how it happened.
"What can I do for you wingtip?" asked Mr. Butler
"I've come about -- Mable. Is this a bad time?"
"No it is all right. Someone broke in and ransacked the place. Whoever it was let out some animals to cover their tracks."
"Ummmm -- are all the animals back in place?" I asked with probably a lot of worry on my face.
"Yes. I could have been in big trouble, but the pair of birds ended up fighting over a sandwich."
"Not to bore you with my troubles, but a customer of mine requested a pair of -- er -- rare birds from Earth. These birds were released, and got out of the door some how. However, instead of causing me and others lots of problems, they found a sandwich to fight over. Perhaps one of the perpetrators dropped it on the way out. So, Mable?" Daniel asked to change the subject.
I had trouble bringing my mind back to the task at hand; however, I replied, "Who?"
"You mentioned the name Mable."
"I did? Oh yes, Mable. Where is she?"
"Who is Mable?"
"Mable is a Maltese blue tit -- er -- uh -- Maltese sparrow."
He seemed to not notice my slip and asked, "What?"
"A Maltese sparrow! Yeah, that is what I said -- a Maltese sparrow."
"What do you know about Maltese blue tits?"
"Only that they now rule the earth and make it completely inhabitable by humans and if a breeding pair were released on some planet it could be taken over by them eventually chasing that population away and thus would be a useful item to smuggle...."
He seemed to not notice my rambling and asked, "What?"
"Nothing!" I replied with the most innocent face I could muster. "I don't know anything about them."
"Well played wingtip. What do you want?"
"Information. I want information on Mable."
"A Maltese sparrow named Mable?"
"Yes. She is owned by my client -- she's a Larsentient if that helps."
"We are not talking about some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in an enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable are we?"
"No, it is an actual living bird from earth. Here is a picture."
"Oh! it is actually a *living* bird," Daniel stated.
"Yes, Mable is a bird."
"I have not sold any birds recently, but I can check my records."
Mr. Butler looked around the disarray of an office. He looked and looked, but was unable to locate what he was looking for. Eventually he replied, "Well it appears that someone took those records."
"So, you don't have any information about a Larsentient that you sold a Maltese sparrow to, but that you would frequently visit and have free access to her apartment."
"Oh! Maxine," he replied all innocently.
"The identity of my client is confidential," I replied as a stern warning.
"Oh sorry. She named the bird Mable?"
"That is indeed the Maltese sparrow's name."
"While I have no records of the sale of the sparrow in question, if it is the Larsentient that I am thinking of, the sparrow was a gift."
"Do you go around giving away such valuable birds?"
"I do -- to individuals I am involved with."
"I like the cut of her jib."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do I have to spell it out?"
"Ummm -- yeah."
"We have had relations."
"Zounds man! Are you daft?"
"I'm still not getting anything."
"Maxine and I have been known to engage in sexual intercourse."
"Wait, you're having sex with a bird?"
"No! The bird's owner."
"And the bird doesn't mind you cheating on her?"
"Okay wingtip, let me spell it out for you."
"I wish you would."
"I met Maxine about a year ago at Rick's Café Américain. I was meeting some clients there, and she was out with some friends of hers. After I finished my business, I sat at the bar to wet my whistle. She walked up to me and she asked me to dance. I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said..."
"Wet your whistle?" I interupted.
"I ordered a drink."
"Oh! You ordered a drink. Why didn't you say so?"
"In any event, we hit it off pretty well. After that meeting, we went on several dates and have been intimate on numerous occasions. Her birthday was a few weeks ago, and for her birthday I gave her the Maltese sparrow in question."
"We had sex."
"You mean you and Maxine were in a relationship?"
"Are! We are in a relationship, and as far as I know it is going pretty well."
"You are in a relationship with a bird?"
"Maxine is the Larsentient, and Mable is the bird."
"And I am in a relationship with the Larsentient. The bird was a gift."
"And the bird is missing?"
"Then perhaps she has other suiters that are jealous of me. Perhaps one of them is involved."
"Birds can get jealous?"
"No! You are exasperating sometimes! Maxine -- the Larsentient -- could have jealous suiters."
"And they could have taken the bird in spite."
"Do you have direct knowledge of this?"
"It is just a theory that you can look into," he replied.
"Are you a private investigator?"
"No, but I..."
"Then leave the theorizing to the professionals. I'll take my leave of you now."
I left his office to allow him to continue to clean up. He seemed awfully confused, so it appeared that my interview with him may have been a waste of time. It was time to get back to my office and think about dinner.
I left Daniel's workplace and grabbed another wingtip to my office's tube. I had a bit to digest. This case started like so many -- lots of unanswered questions and leads that led nowhere. Thus, it was not new territory.
What was new was the shape of my office when I returned. It looked like two enormous birds fought over a sandwich in it. Was this case nothing but a wild sparrow chase to get me out of my office? There was plenty Maxine did not tell me. She never mentioned that her and Daniel Butler were in a relationship. What would she want out of my office?
I began straightening the place up. I had it mostly presentable when I noticed something out of the ordinary. There was a body in my office. I would say it was a dead body, but that seems redundant to me. Nevertheless, it was a body, it was dead, and it was in my office. I guess it is cold to keep referring to the body as it. It was a Larsentient male. His eyes were closed -- wait his eyes were down there -- they were closed now.
I had to decide what to do. I had a pretty good alibi -- if Daniel Butler would back up my story. That could be a big if after I thought about it. Perhaps I should not call the police. What if that is what the perpetrators wanted? Maybe they were counting on me to dispose of the body. There were lots of unanswered questions; such as, who was this guy?
Thus, I called the police. They sent over a detective. Detective Weston D'Cheuer was the type of guy who, in a tough situation, would back you up by running away. You would have to face the bikers by yourself. At least, that was the impression I got.
"How do you know the deceased?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"I don't," I replied.
"Do you often let strangers into your office?"
"It is a place of business. Strangers come in all the time."
"Do they come in and die on a regular basis too?"
"It is a rare occasion."
"The place looks awfully tidy for any type of struggle."
"I cleaned up the place before I noticed him."
"For a detective, you're not very observant."
"It is not everyday someone leaves a dead body in my office."
"Let me get this straight. Your statement is that two people entered your office, fought, and the alive one left and the dead one stayed behind. When you returned, you straightened up and eventually noticed the body. At that point you called the police."
"That sums it up nicely."
"It is rather hard to believe."
"So is your ability to rise to the rank of detective."
"Oh! So, you're a smart guy. I should take you in for that."
"But, you do not have any evidence that I committed a crime, so you're kind of stuck."
"Listen, I know how to do my job. I don't need any guff from some wingtip."
"You'll take the guff and like it!"
"Okay, I'll take it, but I won't like it."
"Now, are you going to get this guy out of here?"
"The coroner will be along shortly. Is there anything you would like to add to your fantastic story?"
"I hope I get enough evidence to stick this one on you."
"Good luck with that. Let me know if you find out anything."
"Don't hold your breath."
"You're right! What was I thinking? You couldn't find your own shadow -- let alone a murderer."
"Funny man! I should get your license revoked."
That was the usual type of conversation between private and public detectives. It was just a lot of friendly banter. Now we could both get down to business. I had to go see Maxine to fill in some holes, and the detective had to follow his own leads for his case. Most likely, our paths would intersect again.
However, before I find Maxine, it was time to find another sandwich or some other type of food. Dealing with the police is time consuming work, and it had been hours since I last ate.
Fortunately for me, Manny, a staff member at Maxine's hotel, had not spoken to anyone else. Thus, the kitchen was willing to give me a sandwich before going to Maxine's room. I made my way up to her room and knocked. I waited for several minutes with no answer.
I tried the door and it let me in. Was there no security at all in this place? Did she not even enable her security? It is no wonder that things went missing.
I briefly pondered this when I noticed that her place looked like two enormous birds fought over a sandwich in it. I then remember Manny remarking how sloppy she was. That is when I spotted the enormous Maltese blue tits looking greedily at me.
For being on planet illegally, that pair got around pretty good. Their piercing tweets could only mean one thing. They wanted to eat me -- or my sandwich. I thought for a couple of seconds. I reluctantly threw them my sandwich as I ran from the room. Fortunately for me and everyone else on the planet, I remembered to close the door behind me.
This case was getting stranger by the moment. With enormous blue tits attacking people for sandwiches and missing sentient sparrows, what could happen next? It's time like those that I regret thoughts like that. After all, that is when things go from bad to worse. Worse being, in this case, Detective D'Cheuer walking down the hallway.
"What are you doing here?" I asked nonchalantly.
"What are you doing here?" he replied with a bit more emphasis.
"I asked you first."
"Well if you must know, I'm here on that murder case involving you. I cannot discuss it. Now you."
"Ditto," I replied but tried to side track him. "Would you like to go get a sandwich? I'm so hungry I could eat a 6 foot killer bird."
"Were you not listening? I am on a case."
"I just thought you might want to talk about it."
"With you? Wait. What are you hiding?"
"Hiding? Me? Why would I hide anything?"
"Is there a dead body involved?"
"No! No. Of course not. No. Never."
"Oh, just giant killer birds?"
"Yes -- I mean no -- I mean -- where did the topic of giant birds come from?"
"In Maxine's room?"
"Yes -- I mean no -- I mean -- who is Maxine?"
"I will check it out."
"I don't know where they got that sandwich," I said as he walked down the hall.
The detective opened the door, and the room was empty. It still looked like two enormous birds fought over a sandwich in it, but other than that it was empty.
"Where is Maxine?" asked the police detective.
"Your guess is good as mine. Can we get that sandwich now?"
Detective D'Cheuer was reluctant to discuss the murdered person with me or the case. Thus, he was not going to get a sandwich with me. However, while the identity of the dead Larsentient was unknown to me, I now knew that the poor chap knew Maxine. Thus, I had more to discuss with Maxine, but first some sort of food.
Sadly, Manny had told the kitchen staff about me by the time I returned, and they were unwilling to give me another sandwich. Nevertheless, I went to see Manny. Perhaps he too knew the Larsentient in question. I could possibly get something to follow up with him. He also may know where Maxine was.
I made my way to the staff lounge and waited for Manny. It was not long before he showed up.
"You seem to spend a lot of time in the lounge taking a break," I said.
"I heard you were looking for me," he replied.
"It occurred to me that Maxine might have a jealous suitor."
"I am the one who told you there may be others interested..."
"You were just blindly speculating, I am dealing with facts."
"Yes," I replied. "The fact that there was a dead Larsentient in my office."
"Who was he?"
"What makes you think it was a he?"
"Well, if you were looking for suitors..."
"There you go -- jumping to conclusions again. Leave that to the professionals."
"Only professionals can jump to conclusions?"
"This is not going anywhere. I was hoping you may know a name or two."
"The names I would give you would be speculation -- and I would not want to step on any professional's toes."
"I will handle the sarcasm."
"M111k%3e&@jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll* and 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll were both interested in her."
"Could you write those down for me?"
"They are spelled just like they sound."
He wrote down the names for me and I thanked him for his time. I had a few more leads, but first things were first. It had been too long since I last ate. I made my way to the nearest place where food was served.
There was a nice little bistro across town from the hotel, which meant it was the closest place. It is one of the flukes of making people go long ways for things close by -- the far places are sometimes closer. I was given a seat at a table in the corner.
"My name is 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll, and I'll be your server today."
"Where have I heard that name before?"
"I cannot say that we have ever met, but most Earthers call me Marty."
"Okay Marty, how is the khal-khalash?"
"It is excellent today. Would you like crab juice to go with it?"
"Ew! Who would drink that? I think I'll go with a fermented goose liver smoothie."
"Very good sir."
"Hey -- do you know Maxine?"
"You mean Qx&M@x%lmmnwz^zppklIN3nnw9RL$#kkngfFF? Yes, she is a regular here, and she is sitting right there."
She gave a little wave and it appeared that she winked at me. I went over and sat down at her table.
"My eyes are down here," she said warmly.
"I was just at your place looking for you."
"With this place being so far, I spend a lot of time here. Have you ordered?"
"Yes -- thank you."
"Their crab juice is divine," she added.
"So," I began in an attempt to get on topic. "Why did you not tell me about your relationship with Daniel Butler?"
"Relationship? He's an Earther."
"He is under the impression that there is more between you two."
"What a silly thought."
"He states that it is why he gave you Mable."
"Gave? I paid for my dear bird. I spent weeks with that man."
"Did you give him anything of monetary value?"
"Time is money."
"Fair enough. Why did you not tell me that Mable was sentient?"
"Sentient? Who puts these crazy thoughts into your head?"
"The hotel where you stay has a policy against pets."
"Did Mlm3$63@nN1ekjhggH^ghjknni3 tell you that?"
"He just has to say that so I can keep Mable in my room."
"He claims it talks to him."
"That is just silly. Who can speak sparrow -- with that odd Maltese accent."
"I said -- um -- who could speak sparrow with that series of tweets and chirps," she said with her eyes going back and forth. "I mean the idea is just silly."
"So, you are looking for your pet and not your valuable companion."
"Why -- uh -- yes I guess, and my eyes are down here."
"Have you thought about who may have done this?"
"Yes, but I just cannot think of anyone."
"Perhaps there was someone jealous of you spending all that time with Mr. Butler."
"It was just a business transaction. Why would they be jealous?"
"Do you know a M111k --- er -- uh -- 2m@..."
"Never mind -- it is not important."
"Your food is here. I will let you eat in peace."
"That would be a first."
That was a first, I ate my meal without interruption. Not by a client, the police, or even two giant birds. I wished that type of thing would happen more often.
Nonetheless, I had plenty to think about. I was no closer to discovering the identity of the dead Larsentient in my office or finding the location of the missing Maltese sparrow. Was Maxine telling me the truth. Her mouth was saying one thing, but her eyes were saying something else. At least, I think it was her eyes. She just seemed to be hiding something, but I do not know what.
I would have to do some research on the two Larsentient names Manny gave me. Perhaps there would be something from them. However, I felt that they were just dead ends. This case was getting more and more difficult. On the other hand, I was getting paid by the day. Thus, it could take months and months to solve and I would be happy with that.
I had some leads in which I would need to follow up. I had a few Larsentient names. It should be easy to find out if either name belonged to the dead man in my office. I could do that in the comfort of my office. I paid for my food, and headed across town to my office -- it was a relatively short walk.
When I arrived, I half expected it to look like two giant birds had fought over a sandwich in it. However, it was close to the same state as I had left it. The dead Larsentient was removed, and my office was back to normal. At least, it looked back to normal.
I sat at my desk and put my feet up. It was nice to have some income. I reveled in that fact for a while before getting to work. I turned on my super-video-detecto-set, which most people call a computer.
After a little bit of internet browsing, it was down to business. It was all over the news that a Larsentient male was killed. His name was on my list that Manny had given me. Thus, there may be something behind this suitor business. At the very least, Maxine knew the person who died in my office.
However, then I continued to read. The cause of death was Avian Influenza. He was not murdered at all; the guy died from the flu. How did this happen? How did a Larsentient get an infectious disease that supposedly only infected humans? Oh, and earth birds....
I decided to dig into the man's background some more. After a brief search, I found out that he was an exotic animal handler who specialized in earth birds. With his regular exposure to earth birds, he could theoretically catch this disease. However, he would have to have a great deal of exposure to an infected bird. Perhaps, even exposure to the insides of an infected bird -- the blood.
Would this be an indicator that Mable was dead? If Maltese sparrows were prone to bird flu, then perhaps this would explain how such an infection could spread from a bird to a Larsentient.
Continuing in my research I discovered that this disease was fairly rare. There had not been a reported case since the abandonment of earth. Furthermore, this particular strain could only be found in the large birds of earth. Thus, he would have to have regular exposure to a large bird -- like a Maltese blue tit.
Birds seemed to be the common thread through this entire case. Funny how a missing bird case would end up involving birds. The pair of blue tits were definitely tied up in the Larsentient death somehow, but did this case tie into the missing Maltese sparrow case?
I knew that the dead man may have been involved in the importation of the missing bird, but did it go deeper? What was he doing in my office? Was he left in my office for some purpose? Was he a clue or a distraction? Perhaps it was a threat.
I continued my research on the dead man. He was a Sagittarius. He enjoyed bowling, cycling, and kriffling on the kamblitz. His favorite movie was "Kriffling, I've Never Kriffled." His favorite band was "The Beatles." Oh, and the dead man was survived by a brother. The brother's name was the other name on my list.
The brother was a Libra who enjoyed meeting people, skateboarding, and zamploshuns. He worked at a fancy bistro on the other side of town. A bistro frequented by Maxine. Perhaps the pair had a quarrel over Maxine. However, that would not explain the bird flu. How would someone catch a deadly avian flu? There were lots of questions to be answered.
It seemed best to me that I should revisit Daniel Butler. However, it was late -- really late. Holy cow! look how late it is. It had been quite a day! I should get some sleep, but my living quarters would be quite a hike. I should not have asked to have my living quarters so close to my office.
My place was not much. It was just a comfortable bed crammed into the largest place I could afford. Thus, it was tiny. There was not much room for anything else beside the bed, but I had shelves suspended from the ceiling. It was not much, but I called it home. At least it was away from my office.
I contemplated sleeping on the couch in my office, but a dead man was lying there just a few hours ago. He had deadly bird flu. I felt I had spent too much time in the office anyway. Thus, I would make the long trek home.
There were no wingtips to catch at this time of night. Hence, it was an old fashioned walk. I took about an hour to make it to my place. My eyes could barely stay open when I reached my door.
To my surprise, my door was open. How did that happen? I am sure I closed it. I pushed the door open more. I would say that it looked like two birds had fought in there, but it was pretty much as I left it. There was nothing to throw about and scatter. Thus, if someone broke in, there was nothing to find.
I did find a sticker note on my mirror. I do not know where the note writer learned to write. It looked like a bunch of chicken scratches. With my tiredness, it seemed pointless to attempt to decipher it until morning.
I fell like a heap on the bed and was instantly asleep. I slept soundly for a majority of the night. However, towards the morning, the vivid dreams of giant birds began negatively impacting my sleep.
I dreamt that I was on old earth. I was sleeping in an open field next to a giant tree. In the tree was a sparrow flanked by two enormous birds. They were perched in the tree and were chirping, tweeting, squawking, and making all kinds of racket. How could the inhabitants of earth enjoy the sounds of birds chirping?
I could almost feel their hot breath on my neck. It seemed like they were right on top of me while I relaxed on the grass trying to sleep. Suddenly, one of them began whistling Stars and Striped Forever, and that is when I realized my phone was ringing. It was a new day, and time to get to work.
One of the things about being a private detective is that you seldom get plenty of sleep. You stay up late following leads, and someone calls you early in the morning. It is the nature of the business. Thus, when I answered my phone, I put on my most professional voice despite my grogginess.
"Is dis Dwayne Thompson -- da wingtip?"
"Who wants to know and why?"
"Lets us just say dat I'm a friend lookin' out fa his best interests."
"He doesn't have any friends like that..."
"It sounds ta me like yous is da wingtip all right."
"So what if I am?"
"I haves a message fer ya -- er him -- uh -- whatever."
"Okay pal, spill it."
"Oh right! You should leave off da Maltese Sparrow case."
"Who told you to tell me that?"
"It was a little birdie!"
"In other woids, I ain't tellin'."
"Oh! And, if I don't stop investigating this case, then what?"
"Dare'll be serious consequences."
"Dats what I said."
"Like what what?"
"Like what kind of consequences?"
"Oh! Like -- um -- er -- I don't know! Dat ain't my department."
"That's not your department?"
"No. I'm in da communicatin' department. Someone else handles the serious consequences department."
"But trust me, the consequences will be serious."
"You just deliver the messages."
"Dats right. I'm good at da communicatin' thing."
"And you are?"
"My name is -- hey! My name is not important."
"Okay Mr. Not Important."
"Yous a funny man."
"Thanks I try."
"Anyways, leave off da case or else."
"Okay. Thanks for calling and have a nice day!"
I hung up the phone wondering what that was all about. Surely I could not be getting close. I was nowhere with the case. Why would someone try to chase me away? Was I getting close and not aware?
It was at this point that I remembered the note on my mirror. It was time to decipher the chicken scratching. I looked at it and squinted. I turned the left and right. I tilted my head right and left. I held it in the light. It was possibly the worst writing I had ever seen. However, the best I could tell it read, Stop the investigation. It was either that or Slap me in a vest you gator. It could go either way.
That was potentially two warnings to stop this case. I must be getting close, but how? What was I missing? I had to think on it, but I should not do any thinking on an empty stomach. That could be really dangerous. Thus, I showered and made myself presentable to the public. Then I headed for Rick's Café Amé ricain.
It was a popular place for my client to go, there was a person of interest there, and they served food. It was the perfect combination. It had the added bonus of being across town, so it was quick and easy to get there.
Maxine was not there, so I was given a table for one in the back facing the wall. I turned the table around so I could keep an eye out for Maxine. My server came to my table and said, "My name is 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll, and I'll be your server today."
"Hello Marty, do you have a waiter by this name?" I pointed to the name 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll on my slip of paper.
"That is my name sir. Have we met?"
"My name is Dwayne Thompson, I'm a private investigator. It is my business to know things and ask questions."
"I see. Are you going to order something? I cannot answer any of your questions unless you are a paying customer."
"I'll have scrambled eggs with bacon -- baked beans, sausage and spam -- lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce served in the provencale manner with shallots and aubergines, garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and..."
"Sir, you will have to stick to what is on the menu."
"Oh! Sorry. What do you recommend that is breakfast-ish?"
"We have a lovely crab cake and mucilage combo plater."
"Mucilage is a gooey polar glycoprotein, an exopolysaccharide if you will. Thus, the dish is a polymer produced by most plants and some microorganisms served with goat cream and the sap of the humonkulous tree."
"That sounds good. I'll order that with a fermented goose liver smoothie."
"Very good sir."
Marty put my order in with the kitchen and came back to answer my questions.
"Your brother was in my office when he died. Do you have any idea of what he was doing in there?"
The Larsentient stared straight ahead and said, "Sir, my eyes are down here, but I do not know what he had gotten himself into."
I had the feeling he was not exactly honest with me, so I asked him, "What are you afraid of?"
"I am terrified of giant birds -- just like everyone," Marty replied with a cold stare.
"I see. Do you know how Maxine is tied into all of this?"
"Maxine? Oh! You were the guy in here yesterday looking for her."
"That is when we met!"
"That's right. Anyway, Maxine is just a customer."
"So, her and your brother weren't mixed up in any shenanigans."
"You know -- monkey business -- hanky-panky -- frolicsomeness..."
"Were they involved in any type of scheme that would be a danger to one life or the other?"
"Is that what that means?"
"Huh!" he remarked with a blank look on his face and then continued, "My face is down here, but I really did not get involved in my brother's affairs."
"Why does everyone want me off this case?"
"I have no idea about which you are talking."
"I'll pretend that sentence made sense. Do you have any idea who would kill your brother?"
"Do you think it was murder? They said he died of the flu."
"I'm just spit-balling here."
"Never mind. If Maxine shows up, would you bring her here?"
"Certainly sir. Your food should be ready shortly."
Marty left without shedding much light on my case. Hopefully, Maxine would show up so I could ask her a few more questions. Daniel Butler was known to come here as well. If I were lucky, I could get all my work done in one location with the bonus of eating something!
The food arrived just as Daniel Butler did. That is the usual case of things. Most private detectives miss several meals, or in this case, I was forced to share. The nature of the missing bird was unclear.
"What can you tell me about the Larsentient that died of the bird flu?" I asked him as he munched on one of my crab cakes.
"What makes you think I know anything about him?"
"Do we really have to do this the hard way?"
"I am just concerned about your health and well being."
"You are not concerned?"
"Should I be?"
"Large earth birds are carriers."
"Don't you have a couple of Maltese blue tits?"
"I have seen them with my own two eyes."
"Oh! Those birds -- they're gone."
"You are a clever one," Daniel Butler admitted as he started in on the mucilage. "You got me talking again."
"Where are the birds?"
"I do not know. I think your Larsentient friend was attempting to get them off world."
"He was a smuggler?"
"Amateur! He got sloppy -- drat -- you're good!"
"So, it was murder."
"How else? It is a rare disease."
"Who do you suppose did it?"
"I have not one clue -- perhaps his partner."
"Oh no! You cannot get that out of me."
"Because I do not know who it was."
"Were they trying to get anything else out?"
"Like what?" he asked washing down my meal with some of my goose liver smoothie.
"A Maltese sparrow perhaps?"
"Possibly, but a small bird like a sparrow should be easy. Nothing elaborate would be necessary."
"Has anyone contacted you about the birds?"
"Well possibly because you smuggled them onto this world. You certainly would have the capacity to get them off."
"The sparrow would have none of that."
"He will not travel in a confined space."
"So, it there is something special about this bird."
"It is not a jewel encrusted bird covered in enamel to hide its value if that is what you are driving at."
"No. I am talking it about its abilities."
"You have been listening to that hotel man -- Manny -- I can tell."
"Do you actually believe that the bird is self-aware?"
"I cannot say, but there is definitely something special about the bird."
"If not awareness, then what?"
"It is not my job to say, but a man is dead over it."
"It could just be revenge," he stated finishing off my meal.
"You have quite the way of getting people to talk. Perhaps someone wanted him dead for something he did, and used a convenient method to do the job."
"If I knew -- then -- I -- would..." he said turning an interesting shade of blue.
"What is it?" I asked, but I got no answer as he keeled over.
Detective D'Cheuer was there almost before he hit the ground. He was poisoned. So much for the Butler doing it. Since he ate my food, I could only assume that the poison was meant for me. I did ignore the warning to stop investigating the case. I knew I was getting close, but I still did not know how.
On the other hand, the police did not believe that he ate my meal. Thus, they arrested me for the murder of Daniel Butler. Someone said we were arguing and that I threatened to kill him or asked him if he was concerned for his health. Someone definitely wanted me out of the way, but who?
"This could not happen to a nicer guy," stated Detective D'Cheuer.
"Do you think Mr. Butler was so bad?"
"Not him wingtip -- you!"
"I did not kill him."
"The evidenced points to you doing it."
"It is pretty slim evidence."
"It will hold up."
"What was my motive?"
"When you are dealing with a known smuggler, it is easy to invent something."
"Such as?" I asked.
"Perhaps he cheated you on a deal. Perhaps he was extorting money from you for that mail order bride you ordered. With a little investigation, we can build a motive."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm getting close on my case. You cannot stop me now."
"Oh! I cannot can't I?"
"Don't tell me. You want 24 hours to clear your name."
"Actually, I was hoping for 240."
"Ten days? Are you crazy?"
"Come on detective. Be a stand up guy."
"You know the drill. If you make bail, you can continue your investigation then."
"No buts. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up this right, anything you say can be used against you in your trial. You have the right to attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?"
"Ummm -- no."
"Shut up and put your hands behind your back."
I did as he asked, and he attached my hands together. He put me in his vehicle and took me to the police station. With the design of the world, everyone was close to a police station. Thus, it took quite a while to get to the destination.
I was fingerprinted, photographed, and had some DNA taken. It was the normal booking procedure. I was almost an old hand at it. They gave me my one phone call. Since Maxine was the only one I knew with any money, I called her.
My client came down and bailed me out. She did it on the condition that I would continue the case, and any further expenses would be counted against my bail.
I explained that I was getting close to something big.
"I am not interested in your big case," she explained. "I just want my bird back."
"But, nothing! I am paying you to find my bird and return her to me. The rest of your investigation does not appear to be headed in that direction."
"I suppose you are right."
"I am," she said emphatically. "You solve your poisoning case on your own time. My missing Mable comes first."
"Would you like to return to your cell?"
"No," I said as an uncontrollable shiver shook my body.
"Then find my bird!"
I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I needed to find out who killed Daniel Butler -- or who tried to kill me. However, if this did not lead me to the missing bird, then I should not pursue it. If I did not pursue it, I could end up in jail for a very long time. I was getting close to something, but I did not know what. The only thing I could do was carry on.
A great detective (perhaps fictional) once said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
I would have to take that to heart with this particular case. I had to start eliminating things. I was clearly getting too close for someone's comfort. However, I had not one clue as to how I was getting close. It would take all my brain power to come up with the solution.
That is when I thought of it. Perhaps, there was some sort of earth cat on the planet that had taken the bird. Everyone knows cats and birds are mortal enemies. The cat wanted to conceal his or her crime and was removing all obstacles.
Everyone knows that cats are ruthless killers. They would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. The only problem with this theory was that there were no cats on this world. In fact, cats were thought to have been wiped out by the Maltese blue tits before these birds went after humans.
However, no one could be sure they were extinct. They could be like the ivory billed woodpecker or the coelacanth. They were thought extinct only to kill a human before they finally disappeared for good.
Perhaps that is not the best way to go about solving this case. There were plenty of improbable scenarios to be found. How would I determine which ones were actually impossible?
Naturally, my thoughts returned to the most logical course of action. There was only one thing to do now. My next move was clear. It was time to go to Rick's Café Américain. It was true. I was really hungry.
My last meal there was less than satisfying. This was probably due to the fact that someone else ate it. Since that person was no longer with us, I could potentially eat this one. A thought occurred to me that perhaps someone would attempt to poison me again. Nevertheless, my stomach overruled any objections my brain had.
It did not take me long to arrive at the restaurant. My stomach grumbled and growled the entire way. Perhaps my stomach was responsible for the disappearance of the Maltese Sparrow. It was certainly trying to do me in.
I was seated and a waiter I had never seen before came to my table.
"Hello, my name is Joachim and I'll be your server today," he stated flatly.
"Where is Marty?" I asked.
"Marty, he normally waits on me."
"Oh! You mean 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll."
"Yes -- I guess so."
"If you find him, would you let me know. Apparently he did not show up for work, and I have to cover for him. What can I get you?"
"What do you mean he did not show up for work?"
"Well you see, he has this job waiting tables at this place. It just so happens that when he was scheduled to work, he did not show up!"
"Where is he?"
"If I knew -- he would be here returning your inane questions instead of me."
"Do you mean he just disappeared?"
"That would be a cool trick, but it is just that no one knows where he is. Are you going to order something?"
"I'll have the special with a fermented goose liver smoothie."
"Very good," he said walking quickly from my table.
"Could I get that with extra lima beans?" I yelled after him.
"Certainly" he replied without stopping.
As if it was scheduled, Detective D'Cheuer arrived just as the food did. Perhaps I should stop eating at this café. Rarely do I actually get to eat my food when it is ready.
"May I join you?" asked the detective.
"Why? Am I coming apart?" I laughed because I really love that joke.
"You are awfully jovial for a murder suspect."
"Gallows humor I suppose. What do you want?"
"What can you tell me about 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll?"
"Never heard of him -- or her -- or whatever..."
"He was your waiter here on a couple of occasions."
"Oh, you mean Marty!"
"Yes. Marty. What do you know about him?"
"He was my waiter here on a couple of occasions."
"Still with the jokes. I think you missed your calling. Anyway, he is wanted for questioning in your murder case."
"He was here that night. He could have seen you put the poison in the food."
"He could have poisoned the food himself," I asserted.
"Yes, he could have been an accessory to your crime," Detective D'Cheuer replied.
"He could potentially clear my name!"
"Possibly ... but only if he is around to testify. However, no one knows where he is."
"How could you let a material witness get away?"
"We were tailing him. He just gave our guys the slip."
"How did that happen?"
"Let just say a couple of birds helped him fly the coop."
"What kind of birds?"
"It is just an expression."
"So, you have not seen him."
"Sadly no. Have you seen a Maltese Sparrow around?"
"A Maltese Sparrow? What is that? Is it some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable?"
"No it is just a regular earth type bird."
"That type of thing is illegal to have here. If we found such a bird, we would have to take it back to earth. Why are you looking for such a thing?"
"It was a joke -- ha ha," I lied. "I am still cracking the jokes."
"That one -- not so funny. If you see Marty -- and if you are innocent -- it is in your best interest to let me know."
"Whatever," I replied curtly as Detective D'Cheuer left.
As a private investigator, I was not savvy to the ins-and-outs of law. Thus, the illegality of owning a Maltese Sparrow put an entire new spin on the case. I would have to figure out how to spin this in my favor.
Nonetheless, first things first. The interview did not last long, and Detective D'Cheuer did not partake in any of my food. Thus, I could eat in peace. Unless someone else came along. Oh, and that waiter forgot my extra lima beans.
Boy, do I love eating! I guess if you ask anyone that knows me, they will tell you it is true. It is too bad that whenever I am on the job, my eating become erratic. Thus, after Detective D'Cheuer left me, Maxine walked up.
"How is it going wingtip?" she asked.
She had a sorrowful look upon her face, so I told her, "I am getting close."
"My eyes are down here," she replied.
"Please... join me," I insisted.
"Why? Are you coming apart?" she asked but did not laugh.
Unfortunately, I laughed hysterically.
"How can you laugh at a time like this?" she asked.
"I am sorry, but I love that joke!" I laughed.
"Daniel Butler is dead! 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll is missing..."
"Who? Who is missing?" I asked attempting to suppress a chuckle.
"The waiter here."
"Oh! You mean Marty."
"Yes," she sobbed as she sat at my table and began eating my food.
At that point I stopped laughing. "Take it easy," I asserted.
"What is this? It is delicious."
"That is my fermented goose liver smoothie," I replied as I started to sob.
"I wish I had tried it earlier."
"You know -- the last person to eat my food died a short time later because of poisoned food."
"Is that so?" she asked without stopping.
"Yes. Daniel Butler."
"That is a sad thing," she said after she drank more of my smoothie.
"You know it is against the law to have an earth bird here," I stated sternly to change the subject.
"Your human laws do not apply to us," she retorted after more of my food.
"I had not thought of that."
As she finished up she asked, "Did you say you were close to solving my case?"
"Yes, I am close," I sobbed.
Once my plate was clean, she did not fall over or anything. She simply smiled and wiped her mouth off with a napkin. "Thanks for the food and the conversation," she said as she arose. "I do feel better now."
She left me there hungry and with an empty plate. Shortly afterwards, the waiter, who was not Marty, gave me the check. It is times like that where I am in a less than agreeable mood about my career path choice.
I paid the bill and decided to get a sandwich on the run. If I am moving, no one can take my food from me. Unless, of course, I run in to a pair of enormous Maltese blue tits. I would think twice about giving them my food, but I think in that circumstance I would relinquish my sustenance.
I ate my sandwich and went over the facts of this case. First, we had a missing bird -- the Maltese sparrow. It was not a jewel encrusted bird coated in enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable, but a living bird. Supposedly Manny, part of the hotel staff where the bird lived, could communicate with her. However, the owner was willing to pay large amount of money to get her back.
Second, we had a dead Larsentient who died in my office. He was the brother of the now missing waiter. I had heard he had some sort of relationship with the owner of the missing bird. Also, the dead man may have been involved in the smuggling of illegal birds onto our world.
Third, there was the trafficker Daniel Butler. He gave the bird to my client. He thought he had a relationship with my client, but she denies it. Perhaps he was spurned and took his gift back. However, before I could make the joke that the Butler did it he died. I do not understand that joke, but it is an ancient joke in mystery stories, and when possible it must be used. However, Mr. Butler was poisoned from eating my food, and while not a joke, it served him right.
Finnally, there was the aforementioned missing waiter. While he had a steady job, he may have been involved with his brother's nefarious activities. He knew my client, and by his disappearance, must be involved somehow.
How they all fit together was still a mystery. It was a jumble of incidents that somehow involved a missing bird. I needed to put the puzzle together in order to find said bird and resolve the case. I had just spoken with Maxine, and that left the only other person who knew anything about the bird -- Manny. I should go see him.
I went without a much needed nap to to Maxine's hotel. Since it had worked on several occasions before, I just went into the staff lounge. I waited. I sat there for quite some time. Manny had never left me waiting this long before.
After quite a long wait, a security guard entered and said, "Dis room is for da hotel staff only."
"I am here to see Manny," I replied coolly.
"I don'ts knows any Mannys. Yous'll have ta leave."
"Save it fer da funny papers Mac. Yous is leavin' now."
The huge security guard grabbed me by the collar and lifted me out of my chair. He threw me over his shoulder like I was a rag doll and carried me out of the hotel. He casually chucked me into the tube and said, "Staff only means staff only!"
I got up and walked towards the door, but the mountain of a man would not move. He glared at me with a pair of dark beady eyes. I thought about challenging his authority, but I decided against it. I grabbed a wingtip and headed to the next tube.
I walked into the next facility and asked to use the phone. They looked at me like I was crazy. On this planet, if you wanted to talk to someone you had to walk to where that person was and speak to him or her face to face. They were serious about us not getting fat.
Thus, I grabbed a wingtip and headed back. The behemoth of a guard had left the doorway, so I shyly walked into the building. Carefully looking around for the guard and as casually as I could, I went to the front desk.
"Could I speak to Manny?" I asked the attendant.
"Manny? Oh, he is on vacation. He will not be back for about a week."
Manny was gone too? With the security guard's voice sounding familiar, something happened. That is when all the pieces to the puzzle fell into place. I knew everything about the case. I knew what happened to the bird, and what happened to the now dead people. I just had to gather everyone up, and present my case.
I believed that I knew where the Maltese Sparrow was, but I could use more evidence to persuade others. With two people dieing during this case, I also knew what happened to them. The bird flu death was not just one of those things. Also, the poisoning of Daniel Butler, which was supposed to be me, was clear.
Further, the missing waiter was no mystery to me. I knew he would show up soon. All the pieces fit together. The only problem was that I could only prove bits and pieces of it. Thus, I had a week or so to gather as much evidence to prove what I could.
I began with the threatening note that I received. I had a friend, who was in the forensics business, check the paper for me. She could compare samples and other properties to possibly determine its source. In any event, she confirmed that the paper matched the paper from the hotel where Maxine was staying.
Her friend was a handwriting expert. That expert said the handwriting was from someone unaccustomed to writing. Perhaps the individual was just beginning to learn to write. That is how she explained the illegibility of it. She stated that she believed that it could have been someone writing with their off hand, but she had never seen anything like it. She stated that the strokes were short, unsure, and very off-balance. She would love to meet the individual who wrote the note.
After the note investigation, I turned to another easy aspect of the case. With so few phones on the world, it was easy to determine where the threatening phone call originated. I had a friend at the phone service go over the records for me. It came as no surprise to me that it originated from Rick's Café Américain.
I just had to place the person I believed to have made the call at the location at the time. I asked around, and indeed the hotel security guard was at Rick's at the time. Thus, the who, what, and where of the phone call was solved. I also believed I knew the why of it. I could get that from the guard at the gathering of everyone.
Those things went very quickly and easily. If the rest of the investigation went that smoothly, I would be in good shape.
The next order of business was to get into the dead brothers residence. Like so many places during this case, it looked like two giant birds fought over a sandwich in it. Actually, it looked like they had fought for several sandwiches for several days. I took a few pictures and gathered a few feathers. All of it was going to help me make my case.
That was the kind of thing that I looked into while Manny was away on his little vacation. I attempted to find out where he went, but rather than flying commercial, he had chartered a spaceship. Thus, he could have filed a bogus flight plan. He may not have indeed gone to the Planet Risa, but he could have gone anywhere. To me, the charter, the flight plan, and all could only mean one thing -- smuggling.
With the length of his trip, I calculated where he could have reached in his week. There were plenty of destinations, and a few, I found quite fascinating.
Further, all of the evidence I gathered confirmed my suspicions. The more clues I followed, the more it all made sense. However, I could only prove some things, but it was not enough to prove everything. I would need a few confessions. That is what the meeting was all about. I would confront the ne'er-do-wells with the evidence, and hope they confessed to the crimes.
In any event, it was a great week. I felt like I accomplished a great deal during Manny's time away. Furthermore, most of my meals went uninterrupted. When Manny returned from his trip, I had gathered as much as I could. However, there was the problem with the missing waiter, Marty. He was just as much a part of this case as everyone else.
I did investigate his sudden disappearance, but it seemed he did not tell anyone he was leaving. No one knew where he went or why. To his friends, it was a big mystery. However, just as I calculated, he showed up at about the same time as Manny.
Hence, I had all the pieces gathered, and all of the individuals were available for questioning. Thus, I invited everyone involved to Maxine's room. Perhaps, some of them were lured under false pretenses.
"I know you are probably wondering why I invited you all here this evening," I began.
"I thought Maxine invited me here -- what is all this?" asked Marty.
I ignored him and went on, "The Maltese Sparrow case has been my most difficult case, but now we come to its conclusion."
"You have had other cases?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
I did not let anyone distract me, so I continued. "From the beginning, there were forces attempting to persuade me from stopping my investigation. However, I persevered."
"Where are da strippers?" asked the security guard.
"I was hired to find a missing sparrow, and this was not some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in an enamel to hide the fact that it was very valuable. No it was a living animal."
"You know where Mable is?" asked Maxine with hope in her eyes.
"I do, and others in this room know too" I replied.
"My eyes are down here," she responded.
"Before I go into the whereabouts of Mable, I would like to point out some interesting facts about this case. After I began, this case quickly changed from a missing bird case when some people involved began dieing from mysterious circumstances."
"They call it murder where I work," explained Detective D'Cheuer. "When is your trial?"
Again, ignoring the comments from the peanut gallery, I continued, "So what is important about a missing bird? Was it just a pet gone lost? Or, was the bird valuable in other ways?"
"Is this going somewhere?" asked Manny.
"My first clue that there was more to this was when Manny confessed that he conversed with the bird," I stated staring into his fearful, unblinking eyes.
"His eyes are down there," asserted Maxine.
"Maxine hid this fact from me," I stated. "About the relative intelligence of the bird, not the location of Manny's eyes. Why did she not want me to know this? Who else knew?"
"What on Seti-alpha-five are you talking about?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"Detective, you are the only one in this room that did not know about the sentience of the sparrow."
"What?" the detective asked.
"So, no strippers den?" asked the security guard.
"Bare with me now," I told everyone gathered in Maxine's room. "It is very important that we accept the idea that Mable was sentient to arrive at the proper solution."
"If we have to accept this," muttered Detective D'Cheuer "then perhaps the solution is wrong."
"I said bare with me, and it will all become clear as to what occurred in the investigation of this case," I repeated.
"Where is my Mable?" asked Maxine.
"I will get to that in time," I assured Maxine. "It is just one piece in this puzzle of a case."
"I'm outta here if'n dare ain't gonna be no strippers!" explained the security guard.
"Currently, they are caught in traffic," I lied. "They'll be along shortly. I hope you like Chippendales..."
"I don't really care for chipmunks," muttered the security guard as he sat back down.
"I do not have to stand for this!" stated Manny boldly.
"Then by all means, sit down," I stated even more boldly with an icy stare to go with it. "You are not going anywhere."
"Let him continue," insisted Detective D'Cheuer.
"Are these disruptions out of your collective systems?" I asked. "Can I continue? To use an old earth phrase, this all began when the Maltese Sparrow flew the coop."
"He means the bird went missing," explained the police detective.
"Right!" I added. "That is when I was hired to find her -- the bird that is. However, this particular world may be small on a grand scheme of things, but it is still a big place. Further, the bird in question is quite small."
"And intelligent," interjected Detective D'Cheuer.
"Can I tell this?" I asked.
"Sorry. Please continue," he said with a flourish of his hands.
"Daniel Butler was going to be my first stop in my investigation, but his place was guarded by a pair of enormous monsters."
"Monsters?" everyone asked in unison.
"Maltese blue tits are a ferocious beasts that rule my home planet of earth," I explained.
"Is'n yous afraid of a little boid?" asked the security guard.
"These are two meter tall feathered fiends with razor sharp beaks that eat anything that they catch," I said defending myself.
"All's yous have ta do is trow dem a samwich," replied the security guard.
"I know that now," I replied. "However, these boids -- I mean -- birds provided a big clue. Daniel Butler was a smuggler. Moreover, he brought illegal birds onto this planet. This included the monsters and Maxine's friend Mable, for whom I was looking."
"And for that you killed him?" asked the police detective.
I just glared at Detective D'Cheuer, and he withdrew his question.
"Anyway... Since I was not going to get anything from Bulter's office, I went to Maxine's hotel to ask Manny here a few questions. He explained to me that the hotel did not allow pets -- only companions. He talked about how smart Mable was and how the two of them used to converse. He also informed me that lots of people came and went into Maxine's room. Thus, anyone could have taken the bird."
"That is not true!" protested Maxine.
"I know," I replied.
"His story was a lie," surmised Detective D'Cheuer. "He was covering something up."
"Exactly," I asserted. "It was quite early on the case, and I was already getting too close to the solution. However, that solution eluded me for quite some time."
"So, the man who died of bird flu in your office was a threat in order to get you off the case," asserted Detective D'Cheuer.
"Yes," I replied. "The Maltese blue tits are carriers of the lethal flu. It could have been easily obtained from these vicious birds and injected, ingested, or inhaled by the victim. However, that was not the only threat I received. There was also this note."
"Let me see that," demanded the policeman.
I passed around the note for everyone to see. Like me, many had difficulty reading it. However, Manny did not even look at it.
"What does it say?" they asked.
"My guess is Stop the Investigation."
"Oh! I thought it said, Slap me in a vest you gator," replied Detective D'Cheuer perhaps with a bit of sarcasm in his voice.
"I also received a call from our security guard here telling me to halt my investigation," I said as I pumped up my chest.
"Is that true?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"Who wants to know and why?" replied the security guard standing up.
"He does," I asserted bravely and pointed to the policeman.
"Who told you to make this call?" Detective D'Cheuer said in his best policeman's voice.
"A little birdie told me," replied the guard in his most feminine voice.
"That is what he told me! That could only mean Mable," in a triumphant voice I said to the doubtful detective.
"In other woids, I ain't tellin'," resumed the security guard.
"We have ways of making you talk," returned the policeman.
"I ain't afraid of yous copper!"
"What are you afraid of?" I asked. "Because, that would really help us out a lot."
"It is all right," Detective D'Cheuer said. "If we need that information, we can get it. This has been most enlightening -- please continue."
"In any event," I continued. "I was getting these threats of my life if I did not stop my investigation, but Maxine was pressing me to find her boid -- er -- bird."
"Do you think this explanation will get you out of your murder charge?" asked the detective.
"I am just saying that I was being threatened," I replied. "I assume that the poison in my food was an attempt on my life or simply another threat."
"And you expect me to believe that?" retorted the detective.
"You can ask Marty here," I replied. "He is the one who brought me my food."
"Okay Marty," the detective said as he turned to the waiter. "You have been awfully quiet. What do you have to say about this? Marty? Marty?"
Marty looked like the dead man in my office. After all, they were brothers. However, like his brother, he was also dead. It appeared we had another death from the bird flu. This case was hazardous to people's health.
This case was hard on several people. I know because they are now dead. I, fortunately, have managed to avoid such a fate. However, if I continue with my expounding of the facts of the case, perhaps I would not stay that way for long. Luckily for me, an officer of the law was participating in the review.
Despite Detective D'Cheuer's presents, it did not save the waiter, Marty's life. I half expected him to become a victim. He was now a loose end in this case. His usefulness ended when he returned from his trip.
"Medical personnel and more police are on their way," asserted Detective D'Cheuer.
"I guess I can continue until they arrive," I replied.
"Dis is going to negatively impact da strippin' ain't it?" asked the security guard.
"I am afraid so," I admitted. "However, you cannot leave because the authorities will wish to speak to you."
"Dats just my luck," he muttered.
"Many people may not be aware of this," I began. "Our waiter friend and his brother were very successful smugglers."
"Smugglers?" asked the police detective.
"They were both competent space pilots," I continued. "The brothers had their own space bay, and they could get practically anything on or off world."
"Even rare birds?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"Where did they take my Mable?" asked Maxine.
"They had made quite a bit of money with their exotic pet trade," I resumed. "Sadly, with their help, Mable was taken back home. She would be impossible to locate on Earth. Further, it is wrong to keep intelligent creatures captive. She needed to fly free."
"I guess that means that I do not have to pay you then," Maxine replied.
"You hired me to find your bird," I said. "However, you did not mention anything about returning her to you. I have a rough idea where she is."
"Do you have any idea what such a bird is worth?" she asked with a bit of frustration in her voice.
"You would have been better off with some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in an enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable, because everyone involved in that particular transaction is now dead," I responded. "Clearly, a bird like that is hazardous to your health."
"I am still here," asserted Maxine.
"Can I finish?" I asked.
"By all means," replied Detective D'Cheuer.
"Where was I?" I muttered. "Oh yes! Our waiter friend was primarily the go between. He would arrange a meeting between the interested party and his brother. To be honest, who knows who was who because the two Larsentient brothers looked quite similar. They could have regularly switched places."
"Did you just say all Larsentient look alike?" asked a miffed Maxine.
"Well no," I replied defending myself. "Just those from the same brood. Are you going to let me finish?"
"Sorry," Maxine replied.
"Daniel Butler regularly used them in his important business transactions. In that way he could avoid import hassles. Further, as was pointed out to me, human laws do not apply to the Larsentients. Thus, if they were caught, there would be little in the form of consequences."
"You are onto something," inserted the policeman.
"Thus, we know how this illegal bird got on world," I declared. "We also know how it got off. We also know how the killer Maltese blue tits got here and where they went. There is only one question left in this case."
"Why?" asked the detective.
"Because then we'll have the case solved," I replied.
"No!" he responded. "Why? is the only question left in the case."
"Oh! Right," I asserted. "From all that has been said about the intelligence of the bird, it is clear that it wanted to go home. It communicated this fact to whoever would listen. Our friend Manny here listened."
"Of course!" exclaimed Detective D'Cheuer.
"That is right," I asserted. "The mastermind of this entire disappearance of Mable and the death of the two -- er -- now three -- people was the Maltese sparrow herself."
"What?" asked the policeman.
"Huh?" asked Maxine.
"Really?" asked Manny.
"Ummm, if'n yous says so," added the security guard as to not be left out.
"Sure!" I continued. "The bird was homesick and communicated this fact to someone who did everything in his or her power to return the bird home. This, as yet unknown person, must have been a real animal lover to go through all of the trouble to free this bird."
"What about Manny here?" asked the detective with a bit of sarcasm in his voice.
"It could have been Manny," I replied with a nod.
"After all, he recently took a trip," continued the policeman. "Further, he would see the bird regularly."
"You might be onto something," I responded.
"While I think your intelligent bird theory is -- um -- for the birds," added the detective. "I do think Manny here is responsible for everything."
"Can you prove it?" I asked.
"Parts of it," he replied. "Our Larsentient friend here, had opportunity, he had access, he got this security guard to threaten you."
"Dat's right!" exclaimed the security guard who quickly realized his mistake when Manny glared at him.
"You will never take me alive police guy!" declared Manny.
However, the authorities that were called to take care of the dead waiter had just arrived and grabbed Manny. They restrained him and took him away at the detectives request.
A doctor briefly examined the dead Larsentient, put him on a stretcher, and took him away also. All the pieces of this case had been wrapped up. While I think it was Mable who initiated the events, Manny was probably responsible for the consequences.
In Detective D'Cheuer's later investigation, Manny had suddenly come into a great deal of money. This was probably how Maxine, the Maltese sparrow, rewarded him for his service. However, Detective D'Cheuer believes it was a particular smuggling ring's reward to him for taking care of their competition. I think that explanation is crazy! In any event, the case of the Maltese Sparrow was concluded to the satisfaction of everyone. Well, except Maxine whose pet was never to be seen again -- oh -- and the dead people.