Monday, December 18, 2017


in mid-winter
love that climate change


Take it on the Mutton

The City is my usual beat, and I tend to stay there. I don’t even own house plants. There’s nothing green in my office unless I’ve just been paid. However, one Saturday Alma wheedled me into agreeing to a picnic. She knew this enchanting little park she said, right by a river. “Secluded?” I asked, as I slid into the passenger seat of her convertible.

Completely,” she told me, taking both hands off the wheel and violating several ordinances. “Good,” I said, as soon as I could speak.

The park was quite pretty, I’ll give her that, and the view of the river from the grassy slope we picked for our assignation was what you might call picturesque. However, the level of seclusion was not quite what I’d been promised. I began unpacking the basket, which is a process that is more complicated than you might think when Alma is involved. She had packed us a lunch straight out of The Wind in the Willows: cold cuts, sourdough loaves, pickles, pears, peaches, peanut butter, pistachios, and plenty of stuff from the rest of the alphabet as well. We needed three blankets just for the grub. Luckily, that left very little room for the two of us. Things were just getting interesting when I heard a scream. Well, a P.I. is always on call, so I leaped to my feet, spilling Alma into the grass. “Stay here,” I said, and ran across the grass towards the source of the noise. Just as I crested the hill there was another scream.

In a bowl-shaped valley a pretty young shepherdess stood, clutching her crook tightly enough to turn her knuckles white. She was alone.

What seems to be the problem, Miss,” I asked.

My sheep,” she sobbed.

I don’t see any sheep,” I replied, perhaps a trifle obtusely.

Exactly,” she snapped, “they’re missing!”

My keen, analytical mind raced quickly through the ramifications of her remark. “Your sheep have disappeared,” I observed, “what you need is a sheep finder.”

In the absence of such, you’ll do,” she replied. “Go that way, I’ll look over this way. The poor dears just cannot make it alone. They’re utterly dependent on me.” I kept my doubts to myself, and detoured back to Alma. My mind was conjuring up visions of the sheep being led off to slaughter by a mustachioed ruminant nabber, or tied to the railroad tracks with wool made from their own coats. Alma was standing by the picnic paraphernalia, keeping the ants at bay. I explained the situation, and told her that the shepherdess had asked me to help her search for her sheep.

She’s a fool,” Alma said. “If she just leaves them alone they’ll come home, probably dragging their damn tails behind them. Meanwhile, the jello’s melting.”

Maybe you’re right, but I can’t turn down a pastoralist in distress,” I answered nobly, and was off on the scent. Or, not being a canine, I actually went in search of visual clues. They were not hard to come by. I’m a pretty fair tracker, if I do say so myself, and I caught up with the errant flock a few miles down the road, in a small and somewhat dilapidated drinking establishment. The sheep were gathered around a table, drinking heavily.

Your mistress was looking for you,” I said to one, which appeared to be the bellwether. The creature ignored me. “She was worried about you,” I added.

Baa!” the sheep said. “She won’t leave us alone.” It took another big slug of ale. “We can’t take it any more.”

Would you like to ... talk about it?” I asked.

You don’t know what it’s like,” the sheep continued. “She’s always pestering us. ‘Where are you going? When will you be back? You’re not going to meet those shiftless no-good goats down by the tracks are you?’ Bah!”

She doesn’t respect us as livestock,” another sheep chimed in, “to her, we’re just walking wool. It’s demeaning.”

We’re adults,” added a third, “and if we want a pint of ale, by God we’ll have one.” It drained its mug and burped loudly.

I let them blow off steam for a while, just nodding every now and then and buying another round or two of ale. “Are you taking it on the lamb?” I asked finally.

And what if we are?” the bellwether replied cagily.

Well, how will you survive? Do you know a trade?” It shook its head, and I pressed my case. “You’ll look pretty sheepish dragging back in, hungry and dirty, a few weeks from now. Far better to return now, and make out like you just wanted an afternoon away from the daily crop and chew.” I went on in this vein for quite a while, and must have sounded pretty persuasive, because the sheep soon began nodding their heads and baaing agreeably. Finally, the bellwether drained its mug and set it down heavily on the table.

Let’s go,” it admonished the herd, and trotted out the door. I watched after them long enough to see that they were indeed headed for home, and then set off in search of Alma. I found her soon enough, but that’s another story.

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

Sunday, December 17, 2017


on my desk
giant fossil oyster
collected by my dad


The Purloined Letter

My name is Deadbolt, Hasp Deadbolt. I’m a P.I. I try to stay away from family disputes, but somehow that is the kind of sordid crime that people persist in bringing me. I have to eat, and I’m not comfortable living off of Alma’s largesse. Fortunately for my bank account, this year had been very busy. In fact, I hardly had any time to pay the bills and buy groceries. For instance, I returned from my last court appearance in connection with the pumpkin murder case, to find a handsome young woman sitting on the bench outside my office door. “Good afternoon,” I said to her, “are you waiting for me?” She indicated that she was hoping to speak to Mr. Deadbolt about a potential case, and I invited her in to discuss it. It seems that she had mislaid a letter, a rather steamy love letter, and it had fallen into the wrong hands.

My lover sent me that letter, Mr. Deadbolt, and I’m not ashamed of it. Unfortunately, his wife probably would take a dim view of the intimate nature of our relationship.”

Blackmail. One of the oldest tricks in the book. Not that there really is any such book, but if there were, blackmail would be covered pretty near the beginning, and not just alphabetically. She wanted me to find the blackmailer and steal the letter back.

I can’t break the law Miss...?”

Daw. But you can call me Marjorie.”

And what about your friend?”

His name is John Sprat, but everyone calls him Jack. His wife is horrible. She’s this domineering, fat, selfish...”

I get the picture Miss Daw. Let me do some scouting, and I’ll see whether I can find a satisfactory solution to your problem.” So it was agreed. I got a little more information from her, she thanked me and left, and I immediately got to work. It didn’t take long to find out where both Marjorie Daw and the Sprats lived. The problem was, Marjorie hadn’t had much of an idea of where she lost the letter, so I didn’t have a good lead about where to look for the blackmailer. I spent some time casing the neighborhoods where Marjorie and the Sprats lived, and nearby parts of the city, but I didn’t get any ideas. I decided to try a different approach. It was time to pay another visit to the Weasel. There might be word out on the street about who the blackmailer was, and if the word was out, the Weasel would know about it.

I slid into a seat at the usual place. When the waiter came over I ordered two drafts and asked about the Weasel. A few minutes later, the Weasel dropped onto the bench across from me.

What is it this time, Deadbeat?” he asked.

Information. I need information,” I replied. “Marjorie Daw had a letter in her basket, but she dropped it.”

The basket?”

The letter.”

What color was the basket?”

Green and yellow. Where’s the letter?”

A little boy picked it up. He put it in his pocket.” If I wanted to know any more, it would cost me, the Weasel said. Soon I had all the information I needed. Next stop: the Pumpkin Eater house. (No relation to the unlamented Jack Smith.)

I walked up the four steps to the front door and rang the bell at a rundown brownstone in the old part of town. The whole neighborhood was dilapidated, but this house was the worst on the block. It looked like it was owned by someone who either was down on his luck or didn’t care enough to maintain it.


Mr. Pumpkin Eater? Peter Pumpkin Eater?”


I’d like a word or two with you.”

What about?”

Home maintenance. This place is about to be condemned. But I can help you.” Oldest trick in the book, but he went for it. Okay, maybe it’s the second oldest trick. Anyway, it got me inside, and that’s what counted. Once I made it through the door I confronted him about the letter. “Blackmail is a serious crime, Mr. Pumpkin Eater. You could go to jail for a long time. What’s it gonna be?”

It’s my wife, it’s not my fault,” he wailed. “No matter what I do I just can’t satisfy her. It takes more money than I have. I already had to move into town and neglect my farm but it hasn’t done a bit of good.” I had an idea.

I have an idea,” I said. “If I solve your problem, will you return the letter?”

Mr. Deadbolt, if you solve my problem I’ll be forever in your debt.” He was actually wringing his hands. “I’m at my wits’ end.”

Here’s what you’re going to do,” I said. “Put her in a pumpkin shell. There you’ll keep her very well. Trust me. Women go for that kind of stuff.” I was flying by the seat of my pants here, but he seemed goofy enough to go for it. Sure enough, he did.

A pumpkin shell? Why, I have plenty of those on the farm. Thank you, thank you!” He gave me the letter, promised to never blackmail anybody again, and thanked me so many times that I started to feel guilty. But I had what I needed.

Marjorie Daw was very grateful. Almost too grateful, considering we both had other romantic attachments. But that’s another story. As for Peter Pumpkin Eater, I ran into him a couple of months later. Everything was fine between him and his wife, he said. Best advice he’d ever received, he told me, and he said I could have all the pumpkins I wanted every year at Halloween, free. Go figure. I guess if the P.I. business ever gets too low I could hire out as a marriage counselor.

The end

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

Saturday, December 16, 2017


it isn't time yet

putting off the cards

avoiding carols

presents have to be wrapped
before tiny hooves
dent the roof


The Proof is in the Porridge

Who knows what makes some people snap? It can be a little thing, I suppose, especially if the stress has been building and building and building, until one last affront simply becomes too much to bear. If I could tell when that point was just about to come I'd be a shrink, and a mighty successful one at that. However, I guess I'll leave the psychobabble to the psychobabblers. Deadbolt's the name, Hasp Deadbolt. I'm a P.I.

It began with the porridge, but I didn't know that at first. I came in more than a week later, by which time the trail was cold as last week's breakfast. So I guess for me it really started with a dame, as usual.

“My brother is a good man, Mr. Deadbeat. He wouldn't do the horrible things they say he did.” She was a buxom blonde in a low-cut sundress. Not my type, but I'm a professional.

“That's Deadbolt, Miss...?”

“Shaftoe. Missie Shaftoe.”

That name rang a bell, but I couldn't place the face. Who was she? Then it hit me. Her husband had been all over the papers a year or two before. I even had a piece of the action on that case. “The Shaftoe Dismemberments,” the papers had dubbed it. Gruesome piece of business. Even worse than the Easter Bunny murder, though that one had hit me hard personally. I'd met Mrs. Shaftoe at the time, but I hadn't recognized her at first; she'd put on some weight. But all that was irrelevant to the present case, I supposed. “Tell me all about it, Mrs. Shaftoe,” I said, pencil poised, and she did.

The way the cops had it, the other Mrs. Shaftoe (Missie's sister-in-law) had served her husband Justin peas porridge nine days straight. Apparently she wasn't a very imaginative cook, or maybe she was just too lazy to go shopping. Be that as it may, on the last day, she didn't even bother to heat the stuff. According to the police report, her husband just couldn't take it anymore. Justin, or so the government contended, had brained his wife with a fireplace poker in a fury over his unappetizing breakfast. He then proceeded to carve his now-deceased wife into steaks, which he then sold in his butcher shop over the course of the next two days. This, at least, was the accusation. Talk about déjà vu all over again! What was it with these people?

I promised my client that I would do some checking, and we made an appointment for the following day. I figured that would give me sufficient time to check out the facts. It was more than enough. I got a copy of the police report and interviewed some customers of the butcher shop. I even got a look at the scene of the crime, courtesy of a sturdy drainpipe. I was ready and waiting when Mrs. Shaftoe knocked on my office door the next afternoon.

“Mrs. Shaftoe,” I said, “this seems like a pretty straightforward case. Your brother actually sold the chops that he made from his late wife's body. He didn't even deny it. What are you contending? That he didn't kill her and that he didn't know what he was selling?”

“Mr. Deadbolt,” Missy Shaftoe said, leaning forward earnestly and looking me straight in the eye, “have you ever eaten peas porridge? Have you eaten cold peas porridge? How about week-old cold peas porridge?” I shook my head “I thought not,” she continued. “My brother isn't guilty of anything, Mr. Deadbolt, except justifiable homicide.”

“I can't take the case, Mrs. Shaftoe,” I said to her, “it wouldn't be right. Your brother is guilty, and he's going to hang. You might be able to argue justifiable homicide if he had stopped after he hit her with the poker. But cutting her up and selling her meat? It hadn't been inspected! There's no telling what sort of diseases he could let loose in the population by selling uncertified meat from his shop. His shop permit definitely does not cover this sort of thing! Besides, he hadn't purchased it from anyone, and it sure wasn't covered by any hunting license. Any way you look at it, he was in violation of the law.” Tough talk, maybe, but it had to be said. She stomped out, but I wasn't sorry to see her go. Her whole family is a few bullets short of an ammo belt, if you get my meaning. Besides, the way she'd been toying with my letter opener made me nervous, under the circumstances.

The moral of the story? If Justin Shaftoe had learned to cook, this tragedy could have been avoided – he could have made his own breakfast. And I'll tell you another thing. I'll be patronizing Hodgson and Son Butchers from now on, even though it is on the other side of town.

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

Friday, December 15, 2017


Eight tiny reindeer. Barely enough to go around when all the children visit. Santa makes a note to schedule interviews for a new team.