Saturday, December 16, 2017


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 --

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