Tuesday, August 30

Chapter 26

"There are Three Things I Hate... no wait, four... no, wait..."

The water splashed on the newly mown lawn, lightly sprinkling my trouser cuffs as I carried my blanket and picnic basket of edibles to the drier section of the park, now shaded by the giant oaks and spruce.Gingerly I unfolded the blanket beneath an Elm -- close enough to hear the brook, but far enough from the pathway not to hear the incessant joggers conversations -- smoothing the corners down on the dry patch of lawn I se the basket on a corner and stepped back to admire the picturesque view of my future picnic with Julianne: everything looked brilliant as the sunbeams splintered through the leafy canopy high overhead creating a patchwork of light and shade across the blanket, ground, basket, tree and squirell.

"What do you want?" I asked the large gray squirell now climbing on the lid of the picnic basket."Hey, leave that alone!." I said charging the basket by a step.The squirell looked up briefly, then went back to trying to pry the lid off the basket to get to the food inside.

"Raaaaaar!" I said to him waving my arms at the little gray. Nothing."Ooga Booga Booga" I cried, charging him a bit closer with back hunched and limbs flailing at the furry beast. He looked up and chattered at me as he began to fiddle witht he latch that held the basket shut.

"Get away from there." I called, chucking a pine-cone deftly at him... but missing by a yard.

"That's not yours!" I shouted rushing up another step and hucking a rock at him, but hitting th basket. He chirruped at me angrily, and went back to the latch.

"Leave it alone you stinking..." I swung my foot at him, and landed a blow sending the squirell flying into the trunk of the tree behind him. I was stunned. I didn't think I was htat close to him. I didn't think I would connect. But I did, and now there he was, lying un-conscious on the corner of my blanket... or was it dead?

I looked right and left, and, seeing none, I slowly walked over and nudged the thing with my shoe. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I bent down and poked it with a finger. It limply responded as though dead.

I picked it up by the tail, gently and slowly, and chucked it in the bushes two yards behind the tree, then wiped my hands on a napkin from the basket.

"You are a jerk, you know that?" The sound was behind me.

"Julianne... I can explain..." I stammered out, but she just shook her head, turned and left.

I watched her form receed from view, then turned back to the blanket. There was the squirell. He was staring at me. I could almost see a grin on his face for the ploy it had just pulled. Then, without a word, he was off leaving me, my perfect picnic, and the sunlight all alone.

Stupid squirell.

Saturday, August 20

Chapter 25

In Which We Again Discover the Long and Short of Spatula History

Few people know the true history of the spatula -- mostly because the literature on said subject is sadly lacking. So, to enlighten all who enter these shallow halls, I will expiate on the subject at hand.

The first spatulas date back to ancient Summaria in the Fertile Crescent to a date of 300 BC (or, 6.533478 BCE) to king Hashuarioun who was known for throwing a great Bar-B-Q (or, the ancient equivelent). The meat was prepared in strips as long as a man's arm (1 and 3/4 cubits), and doused in seasonings sprinkled on lightly with a sage branch. The main ingredients to the sauce are not well known, and so I will not bore you here with how they discovered the recipe, but will just list the main ingredients: Onion root, Barley, Beaten Maggots, and Soy Sauce.
The meat, when done, was removed using long swords, which often caused the meat to slip from the blade and fall intot he raging inferno below the clay grills on which they were placed. This mainly happened because of the amazing sharpness of the blades of the Summarian cooks. They kept them always polished to a sheen and razor's edge for filets and slicing up theives in the market-place. One day, one of the cooks realized that, were his blade a bit flatter, he could fit more ofthe meet onto the blade without the probability of it slipping off being as great (good thinkers, those Summarians). Thus began the Spatula (in the Summarian dialect: "cacgh'meg-fagh" spelled [*^^H;] because they were still using Cuneiform).

In 56 BC (26.4 BCE) the Greeks had conquored the world and spread the love and language everywhere known to man (except Oklahoma for some reason). The Polis of the Greek City-states were thriving, but the Greeks were almost done with their empire and making way for the Romans. The Summarians had long since been captured and their Bar-B-Q recipe stollen, and the technology of a flatter blade was picked up by the Turks by this time, though their blades were curved and better for skinning than Filleting. The original use for the [*^^H;] had long since been forgotten when a Roman citizen by the name of Dinarius was making flat-bread one afternoon. In those days, the lower-class citizens had very few cooking utensils, most of which consisted of long sticks. Dinarius, on the other hand, was rich, so his cooking utensils were long metal sticks: very long, and very annoying.
Dinarius was fed up with only using long metal sticks because they always made holes in his flat-bread when he was removing it from the cooking stone. He took his metal sticks (Called Volxitania) to a local Ironmonger, and had a hook put on the end of the thinner of the two, and make the other flat as he could. Using this method, he was able to first seperate his flat-bread from the coking-stone, and using the hook, to drag it towards him and the plate which would receive it.
Through trial and error on the part of the Romans, they discovered that a wider and flatter Volxitinia created a great way to pull the flat-bread out of the fire, thus reducing their number of needed cooking utensils to one... and a spoon. The two together were called the "Valtulia et Spon." From which we now derive their titles today.

The slotted spatula was a more recent discovery -- only invented in the 1750's in France.
It ssems the French chefs at that time cooked in greese, and tended to pull things right out of the oven and onto the plate using their "S'patulie" -- As wide as an oven, and as hefty as a bowling ball. This caused the hot greese to either splatter the cheff, causing him to curse in French and lose his head, or serve it to the master with hot greese, causeing the master to burn himself and the cheff to lose his head. A lose-lose situation for French Cheffs.
At the same time in Germany, the meat dumplings (Gerfingergrubben Heikenforscht) were just being invented. These were meat dumplings cooked in a tall canister of hot greese or oil; the dumplings were dropped in, and pulled out using a solid ladel, or a hooked metal rod (much similar to the Volxitania). This was a rather unpleasant way to do it because so much of the greese came up with the dumpling, that it was served as a soup, and allowed to cool for a good half-hour before serving. People did not like the greese, but the dumplings were excellent; however, there was so much complaining, that people only rarely ordered the Gerfingergrubben Heikenforscht, much to the dismay of the inventer: Heinrich Fingergrube.
In Norway there was a problem with their fish-soup having too many eye-balls and intestines floating around, and, to scoop them all out would take two days, durring which the soup went cold, and people got tired of waiting for the soup.
Enter the English inventer, Bertram the Just. He was on a vacation in Belgium at the world's first cullinary tasting expo. Each of these countries -- France, German, Norway -- were there with their dishes, and, as part of the entertainment, they were supposed to show how they made their foods (because cheffs don't really like being entertained anyhow).
The first country was Norway. Bertram saw the problem, and instantly devised the solution: cut slots in the ladel. This being done, the Norwegians were thrilled... until he tasted the soup, and found it was merely fish and water.
The next country was Germany, and Bertam solved their problem the same way: slotted spoons. The dish was re-prepared using the slotted spoon, and the Germans were very happy... until Bertram tried their dumplings... which were awful. It seems the greese it was served in actually kept the meatball tasting, if not god, at least better then the greese.
The next country was France, and the cheffs splattered greese all over themselves, and Bertram. He told them that they needed slots in their S'patulie, and, when once created, caused the creese to flow away before they removed it entirely from the oven, saving many a cheff, and patron. However, their food wasn't very good either, and Bertram left for England with his new inventions: the slotted spoon, the slotted ladel, and the "Spatula."

Little innovations have been made over the years, changing the spatula into the three main groups we see today: spreading spatulas (rubber, removable head: good for frosting cakes and scraping bowls because of the bending head -- invented by Cardinal Dorian Melbourne, of Ireland), slotted spatulas (typically plastic in entirety, or just thehead: good for frying eggs), and solid metal (good for removing pizzas, flipping sausage, bar-b-q-ing).
Many variations have also endured, such as the "fries basket" first developed for use in Happy Burger restaraunts across the nation, and the Solar Powered Seive which contains a small motor and two cross-action grates to sift flour -- though this is usually only available custom-order, or, often, on E-Bay.

Next week: the Spork.

Saturday, August 6

Chapter 24

In Which We Hear A Brief History of Outer Spulvaria, and Her First King, Torvald the Great

Not many of you have probably heard of Outer Spulvaria, and with good reason: it was conquored by Norwegians under Chief Vjirk Demersson (in the days before King Dygve Domarsson, there were not titles of "king" in Scandanavian culture), the grandsire of Odin (of mythological fame, but truly the first of the great Chieftans of Norway).

Outer Spulvaria was situated in the plains of the northern scandanavian penninsula (Modern Norway and Sweeden, but also including the connecting part of Finland on the mainland). It was founded by Dunke (chief) Frivjald Kiesmorgin ("the frivolous wolf-child"), who, along with his mother, three wives, and sixteen children and four grandchildren fled from Southern Fingflichd(Finland) because of religious persecution. They were vegetarians.

The first Spulvariads were reindeer ranchers who sold the reindeer for meat to neighboring tribes (mostly nomadic Eastern Jutlanders and Southern Scandanavians), but for themselves, only for dairy. The Spulvariads were innovators in reindeer by-products: seven types of cheeses, milk, butter, and curds. One of the reindeer cheeses was most famous because of the after-taste of cinnimon, as is recorded by Djorkdisvol (an oral story-teller):

[Spulvariad Transliteration] [English Translation]

Mikeo-fivbondit adyo ean (The cheese of Spulvaria)
asgvzyi hjzo av, tibijk (That makes your mouth water)
.tu xanztkul b. yaglrt anig op (Is soft like goat butter)
zh-ajg ginv .asb, djold (But tastes so much better)
val avibou ghsel thkuz (They make it quite fresh)
ypo zagfli rzpo at. (And they sell it much later)
Yan gaivor asg Mizhgozh (This cinnimon tasting)
Mikeo-fivbondit adyo lorjk (Spulvarian Cheese)

After Dunke Frivjald Kiesmorgin had ruled for twenty years, he died under mysterious circumstances: some still contest to this day that he choked on deep-fried Carribou, and others say it was a heart-attack, while others hold to the "acid reflux" version.

After him, his son Edgor the Translucent became the Dunker. He was a good ruler, and turned people from their vegetarian ways, and showed them the proper way to cook reindeer. All were happy, and they lived prosperously as they became gradually more famous for their barbeques and Reindeer and cheese dishes. Edgor made peace with the neighboring clan of Suomi, and they exchanged citizens (it was customary to exchange trustworthy men who would give good council on diplomatic matters to keep peace), and Thorgald Mismarkinsson was appointed in trade for Wally Smarkman (a strange little Finn).
However, Thorgald was no good, and gave bad advice once to often, and his head was shipped back in a box to Edgor who had sent him there because he was not wanted in Spulvaria. This was how Edgor got his nickname "the translucent" -- because he had no poker face.
Edgor died because he was hung from a tree by a short rope, and his son, who had hung him there, took his place as Dunke. His name was [at this point there was a large gap in the manuscript I found containing the history, so I will just say that it must not have mattered much].
Then his son Ipfab zhorix Hegeios (Ipfab "who had splotches on his skin") reigned as Dunke.

At this point, Chief Vjirk Demersson of the Southern tribes attacked, because he wanted the land and reindeer-and-cheese recipe, and conquored the Spulvarian people, totally anhillating them and their cheese recipe (of which only the famed "Hjorkilod Fragment" remains in the Natural History Museum in Dunkirk), and wiping the memory of the Spulvarians almost entirely off the map.

In 1947, two American explorers (Dan Hammersmith and Andy Fjordsson) happened upon a document carved into a stone tablet -- now referred to as "SPF-50" -- relating the history of the Spulvarian people as written above. This tablet is kept in the public library in Kiev... and nobody knows why.

How I happened upon the narrative was through complete coincidence which I will not here relate (though I will say it is a rather amusing annecdote involving monkeys and a plaid t-shirt).

Friday, August 5

Chapter 23

In Which We Encounter a Man Alone In the Dark,
and We Leave Him There

His eyes, though now fully dilated from lack of light, saw nothing. He had stopped stumbling about hoping to find out where he was, and now simply stood still moving his arms about him feeling through the empty spaces, yet finding nothing.

His mind raced once again as far back as he could remember trying to account for his being in this dense blackness about him, but remembered nothing. Possibly the panic of the immediate surroundings and the feeling of utter nothingness he was experiencing clouded his mind, but nothing in him could fathom how he had come here... wherever here was, or how long he had been in this pitch-like air... he could almost feel it.

Earlier he had thought of finding a wall from which he might attain, by feeling, a door, and had begun walking under this proposition. He had walked in what he assumed was a straight line, though his perceptions may have been mistaken – the majority of his life lived through sight. He first came across a puddle of something on the floor which, upon examination, turned out to be pure water. From there he walked again until he came to yet another puddle... or was it the same one? There were no distinguishing features he could find in this sightless environment, and his ears detected nothing. How, he wondered, could he find out if it was the same puddle? Then it struck him: he would leave his shoe next to the puddle, and head in the same direction as before. He began walking, and soon felt water soaking into his sock. He got onto his hands and knees, and began searching. His shoe was right next to the puddle... or was it his shoe? He hadn’t remembered the exact position he had set the shoe down in when he left it, and when he picked this one up, had not marked how it was laying. It felt like his shoe. He remembered his shoe was gray... but what color was this one? He sat down and tried on the shoe. It fit. Surely it was his shoe... but what if it was red?

What if this shoe was left by a previous traveler? While he hadn’t heard any sounds but his own footfalls, that didn’t mean there wasn’t someone else out there. What if there was someone just ahead of him who was trying the same experiment? He decided to call and see if he could get a response, but just as he inhaled for a shout, a loud machine started up, and drown out all sounds, even his loudest yelling. He decided to wait until the sound died down to try again. But what of the shoe?

He took off the shoe again and lifted it as close to his eye as he could without touching it to his cornea, but could not see anything at all. He sniffed the shoe. It smelled bad. Didn’t all shoes smell that bad? Maybe the other person was out there right now shouting under this deafening roar; standing at the next puddle with someone else’s shoe in their hand and a wet sock. He felt the shoe, but, having never compared it to anything, he was a bit lost as to what to make of this shoe. He tried tasting the shoe, yet without previous knowledge of how his shoe usually smelled or tasted... then he remembered his other shoe.

He took off that shoe as well, and began tracing the sides, tread pattern, and material to compare it in this darkness, and realized that the two were similar, if not, in fact, of the same pair. He smelled the shoes, and they smelled about the same, but, without knowing if the left and right foot actually smelled differently, could not compare it well enough to satisfy himself. As to the taste, they both tasted of rubber, leather, dirt, and oil. He spat out the taste on the floor, then stooped and drank of the water in the puddle. But were they the same color?

The sound continued to deafen him of anything. He sat back down and decided to try one more experiment: he would leave the other shoe – the right one – and trek the way he had come until he came to his shoe again. He started walking, after setting down the shoe at a ninety-degree angle to the pond, and soon came to another pond – or the same one – where, upon searching, found a shoe. It was for the right foot, and was set at a ninety-degree angle just as he had left it... but... what if someone else had done the same thing while he was gone? What if there was someone behind him trying the exact same experiment as himself at approximately the same time, and, as reference, had left the right shoe at a ninety-degree angle to the pond as well... why had he chosen the ninety-degree angle in the first place? Because it was an obvious distinction from any other angle. But what color was this shoe?

Wednesday, August 3

Chapter 22

In Which the Tale of Teapot-man-man-man is Continued and Concluded (We Hope)

Part 2

"I thought I’d be seeing you again soon," Michael said as I ran up the steps to the Root’s house. "She said something that started your thoughts."
"It was the ring." I said, holding up the engagement ring for him to inspect. "This was the ring I was looking at in the jewelers the day I met her." The two of us sat down inside at the table while Shauna brought us all some water and a bowl of popcorn.
"Yes," Michael said somewhat disinterested, "what about it?"
"She knew it was the one I looked at in the shop."
"Well, she was there." Shauna said. She had heard the entire briefing from Michael earlier that night.
"But that’s just it," I said setting the ring on the table. "She never saw me looking at it. She and Michael came in when I was across the street, and I didn’t look at the ring after I returned."
Teapot Man’s eyes lit up, and he stood to his feet. He started pacing back and forth with his chin in his hands. Shauna and I watched him for a moment as we waited for something to happen.
"What does it mean?" Michael asked sitting down again and putting his forehead on the table. "It all adds up... but to what?"
"What exactly are we adding up?" Shauna asked.
"The clues." I said thinking.
"Which clues though?" Shauna asked, "there are so many."
I took out a piece of paper and began writing down the clues we had, but stopped immediately because the first thing I wrote down was "ring."
"That’s it!" I yelled jumping up. "What do Lisa, the jewelry shop and Emily and this ring have in common?"
"This sounds like a bad joke I heard the other day..." Shauna said.
"Of course!" Teapot Man said leaping up. "The jeweler!"
The three of us leapt into Michael’s truck and started off toward the jewelry shop, but instead, we turned and drove to Emily’s house instead. "I have a feeling that one of the clues is still hidden," Michael said as we pulled up in front. "I just hope that it is still there."
We practically ran up the steps to the door and flung it open.
It was cleaned out. Every piece of furniture, and every scrap of paper had been taken out of the room. I ran to the laundry-room and found what I was looking for... a full laundry basket.
Our next stop was at the uncle’s house, and as we ran up the drive, I hung back and headed toward the back gate because we noticed a light was on, and we weren’t about to lose another clue.
I waited as they fumbled with the lock. I could hear the back door open, and footsteps -- irregular footsteps -- coming toward the gate at a fast pace. I braced myself, and saw the gate open.
It was the balloon man. His torn and dirty jacket fluttered behind his quick pace as he barreled into me and fell headlong down the drive, rolling, and then stopping altogether.
I walked slowly over to where he was struggling to stand. I offered him a hand and he gratefully took it.
"I didn’t see you standing there," he said in his gravely voice as he stood. "Please excuse my haste, but..."
"But you were fleeing the scene of a crime?" I suggested. He looked for an excuse to run, but then stopped and asked. "Weren’t you the one I saw in the alley?"
"Yes." I said. "The first Thursday of..."
"It wasn’t the first Thursday." He said. "My brother had been missing a week before that."
"His brother?" Michael exclaimed when I introduced him to the balloon man. "Then..." Michael wandered off into his own world as he began pacing.
"I thought you might have been some of the kidnappers." He said. "That was why I ran."
"You run pretty fast for having a club foot." Michael said, "especially a nine-iron club."
"What?" Shauna asked.
The balloon man lifted his pant-leg and showed off his false foot made out of a nine-iron. "I had it done after I lost my lower leg to a snake-bite. Roger drove me to the hospital in his Mustang."
"I knew it was a sports car!" Michael said, jumping in. "Did they take it?"
"No," the balloon man said, "it is in the shop."
"Why did you think it was a sports-car?" I asked.
"He was an engineer," Michael said.
"He liked going fast." The Balloon man said.
"What does being an engineer have to do with going fast?" Shauna asked a bit befuddled.
"An engineer," I said, the light coming on in my head. "For the railroads."
"I have a question." Michael asked just as a thought struck me like a flash of lightning. "Why were you outside the jewelers?"
"Because," I said, "they were in it together! Lisa, Emily and the Jeweler!"
"That’s why they are connected with your ring!" Shauna cried, "they all were in on the kidnap... murder!"
We all stared at each other in amazement at the fresh turn of events. We weren’t solving a kidnapping; we were working on solving a murder.
The will was to be read the next day, so we all planned to attend, but Michael said he would be a bit late, and we excused him.
The lawyer sat us all, under some hesitancy -- he not being used to having people other than family present when the will was read -- and began.
"I, Roger Lucas Alexander, being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath all my earthly belongings to my only living relative, Emily Klein..."
"Isn’t that odd," Shauna said out loud interrupting. "That he would say his only living relative was Miss Emily?"
"Why?" Emily asked quickly. Since I had left her so abruptly last night on what may have been our engagement, she seemed a bit nervous.
"Because his brother is still alive Miss Emily." I said. "Or should I call you Elaine?" There was a sudden knock on the door and Michael and the uncle stepped in and nodded at me. "That was why I broke off our engagement last night. I noticed what you said about the ring, and clues started dropping into place from there."
"We have detained Lisa and the jeweler," Michael said. "So, in effect, Elaine," he smiled and leaned on the lawyer’s desk, "The gig is up!"
"I think you mean ‘jig’." Elaine said. "And you can’t prove a thing."
"What about your finger-prints?" I asked, "and the fact that Emily has two uncles."
"And maybe you can explain this," Michael said, holding up a set of keys. "These are the keys to your ‘uncle’s Mustang which was delivered to the shop three days before you kidnapped him."
"Not to mention the fact that your apartment was rented out to one ‘Elaine McIntyre.’ You."
"But what did the other clues have to do with the mystery?" Shauna asked as the three of us sat straining at Big Al’s Milkshakes the next day.
"Well," I said, "the book I found in the uncle’s apartment told me he wasn’t blind because it was a new copy and was book marked on the third chapter -- not in braile."
"The oil stains showed that there had been a car there recently." Michael said.
"The laundry basket was filled with men’s clothes." I said. "Which means that Lisa wasn’t doing her laundry because she isn’t married, and besides," I took a long drag on my Peanut butter milkshake, "they were still dirty which means that Lisa merely made them wet instead of washing them when she brought them into the house for us to see."
"And the phony will was made up in his name a few days ago and mailed in a post-dated envelope to the lawyer." Michael took a long drag on his Pineapple and Banana milkshake.
"So why did she... Emily or Elaine, whoever... why did she do it?" Shauna asked.
"Insurance money." Michael said. "The real Emily has been dead for over a year now. She died in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Her real last name was Emily Franklin. Because Emily had us working on the case, all suspicion was thrown off her, and we only had her and Lisa’s word that she was who she said. There was no picture of the uncle because they couldn’t find one. The death of the parents a year ago was also a phony: only her mother was killed, and her father lost his foot."
"So the balloon man was really Emily’s father?"
"The real Emily’s father." Michael said slurping the last of the milkshake through the straw. "That’s a nice sound, don’t you think?"
"Sure is," I said slurping as well.
"There’s just one thing bothering me," Shauna said. "Who paid for all of our milkshakes?"
"The police department," Michael said. "When they saw how nicely we had wrapped all this up, they gave us a reward."
"I’m sorry you didn’t get the girl Josh," Shauna said.
"You know, it’s funny about that," I said. "She was only falling in love with me for a front. If we were married, I could testify of how broken up she was over the death of her uncle, etc., but wouldn't be able to testify against her. She was never really in love."
Shauna gave a knowing, but wry smile as she thought of her Canadian boy-friend and slurped the last of her pimento and orange milkshake.

The End

Tuesday, August 2

Chapter 21

The Adventures of Teapot-man-man: Part 1

Nothing in this story is true. It is all a farcical allusion to nothing in particular, with no moral conclusions or logical deduction needed to find out that there is no point to the tale. Any connections to any conclusions of truth contained within this work are simply your imagination trying to master the reality of indecisive nonsense contained herein.

Michael was his name, and he was an ordinary man -- merely an ordinary man who aspired to phenomenal greatness.
When he moved into town, he knew no one; but, in time, he came to know many -- mainly through knowing the Root family. In their house, anyone and everyone and their neighbor eventually ‘dropped in’ for a meal, or conversation -- both of which were readily available at any time of day.
The first time I met Michael, we were at the Roots for an Easter party, and there he was. It was only his first week in our city, and he seemed, at least to me, shy. However, first impressions are often misleading, and I soon became better acquainted with this extraordinary man and some of his antics -- he even told me of his plans to become a super-hero.
"I’m Teapot-Man, man, man, man..." he told me, his voice fading off like a dying echo as he held up a T-shirt with a cape attached and a large letter "T" on the front.
"I see," I said, slightly perplexed at the absurdity of a 20-year-old flying around town. The truth was, though, I couldn’t see: I couldn’t understand how a grown man could abscond the normal in search of insanity. But I was mistaking my premises for his, and it wasn’t too long after that I discovered my error.
"Hello?" A woman’s voice said as I picked up the phone one afternoon.
"Hello." I replied. I had never really liked the phone, and if it was a telephone solicitor, I wasn’t about to give them my name. "What can I do for you?"
"Meet me at the Thursday Night Market downtown -- tonight!" She said quickly. "Be at the corner of Broadway and Fourth at exactly seven tonight."
"Who is this?" I asked, trying to determine my future plans for the afternoon. I had been planning on watching the ‘World Network Premier’ of the new movie My Mother The Antelope on Satellite for the last week, and if I missed it tonight, I’d have to rent it on video, and it wasn’t a good enough movie to spend a few bucks on it. Who knows, I thought to myself, maybe this lady’s just desperate for a date, and I’m the man of her dreams! Yeah Right.
"It’s a matter of life and death!" She said.
"Life and death?" I repeated, trying to figure out why she called here. "If it is, than you should call the police or an ambulance instead of me."
"I can’t trust the police! Please come," she said desperately into the phone, "you are the only one I can trust Teapot-man!" The phone went silent.
"Teapot-man?" I said to myself putting back the receiver. "Well what do you know about that: someone actually thinks Michael’s a real super-hero."
I didn’t know his number off-hand... or his last name for that matter, so I called the Roots. If anybody would know, it would be them... they knew everybody.
At six fifty-four, we arrived at the specified corner downtown -- Michael had asked me to accompany him after I had given him the details of what transpired over the phone, because, as he said, "two heads are better than one, especially when solving a mystery." What mystery? The only mystery right now was who was the woman, and could I get back home in time to see the movie if this turned out to be a lark.
Michael wore his costume, and insisted that I call him by his hero moniker while we were "on the case." He wore his costume -- the T-shirt with cape, and also a mask that covered the upper portion of his face, but that sported a child’s toy teapot fastened on top. He asked me to wear a costume as well, but I refused on two grounds: one, I didn’t have one; and two, it was ridiculous.
"We will have to remedy that through time," He said. "You will also need a good side-kick name."
"How about Josh?" I suggested dryly.
"You can’t use your real name," He said, "It’s just not kosher."
"I’m here to help," I said looking at my watch -- it was six fifty-eight. "Not to become a super-hero’s side-kick." I watched a man selling balloons across the street from us.
"But I want a side-kick." He mumbled. "All the good super-heroes have one. Batman had a sidekick; Captain America had a sidekick; the Tick had Arthur, but he was close to a sidekick. Superman... okay, bad example. But..."
"It’s seven O’clock." I said, interrupting his train of thought -- hopefully for good. "I don’t see anyone coming over to talk to you."
"No," He said. "And you won’t. She’s probably waiting for you to leave and me to be alone before coming over. She did say I was the only one she could trust, right?"
We agreed that I would wait in the jewelers around the corner and that he would bring her in to meet me as soon as he could; so I stepped quickly around to wait for them to arrive. I started passing the time slowly looking at engagement rings. There was one in particular I liked: it was a gold band with a silver stripe down the middle, and had a mirage set 14k diamond the size of a pencil lead set in it. I was nice, and I imagined slipping it over the finger of my... I turned away to look out the front windows of the store to wait for Teapot-man.
"I noticed you admiring one of our engagement bands," the woman behind the counter said, hoping to make conversation, or at least a sale. "Who is the special person you’re thinking of buying for today?"
"I don’t know yet." I said. I saw something strange across the street, and my attention was averted to it. It was a man carrying a bunch of helium balloons into the alley across the street -- he looked like he was in pain by the way he limped.
"Would you do something for me?" I asked the woman as I hastily scribbled a note about what was happening, "If a man wearing a mask and a cape comes in here, could you give him this note?"
There was something not quite right about the balloon man. Maybe it was my imagination, but with a woman asking help from Micha... Teapot-man with a very worried tone to her voice, and me missing my movie, I thought I should investigate. I didn’t want to take any chances... and besides, what could it hurt? I had nothing better to do.
I left the note with the woman and headed across the street. You have heard of a ‘dark alley’ before, right? Well, so had I, but there’s just something truly ominous about following a suspicious character into one that sends shivers down your back. My imagination took over as I slowly entered the alcove; it was covered by the second floor of the buildings, and dead-ended at a brick wall. With the sun, slowly sinking on the horizon, and the direction I was coming, I couldn’t see a foot into the shadows. As I entered and looked around, I expected not to see him -- maybe he had entered a doorway -- but there he stood, leaning against the wall, staring at me.
"Hi," I blurted out, unsure of what to do now that I was discovered. I had been found out, and felt naked and exposed. I had wanted to get the upper hand in the situation, but found myself being dealt a hand from the bottom of the deck. "Did you... umm... Hi."
He simply stared at me -- glaring a mix of... was it hatred and humor, or pain and annoyance? Whatever it was, his unblinking stare held us both suspended, for what seemed an eternity, in an awkward silence.
"Yeah..." I said, trying to think of what to say next. "Well..."
He said nothing.
I wanted to ask him what he was doing there, but his stare held my tongue bound.
"See, what I wanted was..." I said, formulating an escape. "I saw your balloons there, and..." He blinked. "...and I was wondering if you were selling them, or..." One of his eyebrows lowered, and his head tilted slightly, like a mongrel dog. "Because if you are... then..."
"I’m not." He said. His voice grated over the back of my neck like sandpaper.
"Ah." I said. "Well. So, umm... where did you..."
His eyebrows took on a menacing shape showing I should simply leave him alone.
"Okay." I said, backing out of the alleyway toward the street. "Have a good evening then."
He simply watched, as I tried not to look suspicious or hurry, or look scared while making my way into the sunlight of the street again. Once out into the street, I turned and hurried across to the jewelers where Teapot-man and a woman -- not the woman from the jewelry shop -- were waiting. I guessed that this was the damsel in distress.
"So what did you find out about the ‘little lame balloon man’?" Teapot-man asked me, much to my astonishment as I entered the shop.
"What?" I stammered, "how did you..."
"I read the note you left for me," he said, "along with the testimony of the lady behind the counter, I pieced together exactly what transpired. So what did you find out?"
"He wasn’t selling." I said sheepishly. I had failed, and felt bad about it.
"Then you have done well in your endeavors," He said, much to my astonishment, "because not ten minutes ago, he was selling them. Do you remember? We saw him across the street while we waited for Miss Klein." He waved his hand at the new woman. "Miss Emily Klein," he announced with much fervor, "meet my sidekick, Taco-boy!"
"Call me Josh." I said, offering her my hand.
"You can’t use your real name!" He said, "It’s just not done! Teapot-man, man, man, man can’t have a side-kick named ‘Josh’ -- it’s too boring!"
"I was the one you talked to on the phone," I explained to her while I kept one eye on the alley, "Teapot-man’s number is unlisted. What seems to be your trouble?"
She seemed a bit hesitant, but Teapot-man quickly reassured her. "It’s all right Miss Emily," he said, "you can trust him as you do me. Please proceed."
"It’s about my uncle," she said pulling a pink handkerchief out of her black purse. The color didn’t suit her; her with red hair, tanned skin and five foot five frame which spoke of grace and beauty and bordered on perfection. She wore dark green pants, a gold and silver bracelet and a khaki shirt. "I think my uncle’s been kidnapped."
"Don’t worry Miss Emily," Teapot-man interjected quickly, striking a heroic pose that would have gone good in front of an American flag. "We’ll find your uncle, and..."
"What makes you think he’s been kidnapped?" I asked, interrupting Michael’s enthusiasm.
"I found this note taped to his door this morning." She said handing me the note as she continued. "I go to his house every Thursday morning to clean."
I hastily read the note, which told of him going to Reno for an extended vacation. What’s wrong with that?" I asked, not really seeing any reason to worry. I handed the note to Teapot-man. "Lots of people drive to Reno every day."
"But that’s just it," Emily said, "the note says he ‘drove the car’ to Reno, but my uncle is blind."
"Stay off the sidewalks then." Teapot-man said to me quietly.
"This is serious!" She said, taking the letter back from him quickly. "Why would my uncle say he was driving his car to Reno?"
"Does your uncle have a car?" Teapot-man asked.
"Than we have an even bigger problem." He said.
"What’s that?" I asked.
"At this point," Michael began, "it is inconsequential, but later on..." He stopped and examined Emily’s face, which now held a frightened tint of pale white. I hoped Teapot-man would pick up on her fear, and reassure her that everything would be fine, but he did not.
"Don’t worry Emily," I said as Teapot-man began examining her gold bracelet with a silver stripe down the middle, "Your uncle will be all right. We’ll find him, and bring those responsible to justice." I waited for Teapot-man to jump in, but his focus was absorbed with the alley across the street. "Right Teapot-man?"
"Miss Emily," he said, turning back to us, "do you have a sample of your uncle’s writing: a letter he has written, or a journal, or something?"
"He’s blind," I said.
"He wasn’t always." He replied.
"That’s true," Emily said, "but how did you..."
"I shall need a sample of his writing." He said.
I pulled him aside, and told him that Emily was scared and still needed his reassurance that everything would turn out right, but when I did, he pulled me further away.
"Miss Emily," he whispered, "is in grave danger even as we speak, and her uncle may be in even greater peril. It is best to keep her on her guard for the time being, even if she has to be a bit scared." He looked at her, then across at the alley. "I fear that she may need protection." He turned back to her, and, smiling politely, said, "I think it would be best, considering the present circumstances to keep you at an undisclosed location until we have word back from a few sources of which I will inquire presently. I propose that you will accompany us to a ‘safe house’ of sorts until you hear word from us." As we left the building, Teapot-man stopped to examine a set of gold earrings that had a silver stripe down the center of each.
After dropping Emily off at the Root’s house, Teapot-man and I headed over to her house in his truck. There was very little activity this evening, except a couple of men from PG&E driving in the opposite direction. Emily had given us permission to search her home for any relevant clues, or anything that could have a bearing on the case, and gave me a copy of her key.
"What are we looking for again?" I asked him as we stepped inside her apartment. He would have answered, but for what sight greeted our eyes. Everything was out of place: tables were overturned and broken, drawers were emptied on the floor, the entire front room and bedroom were taken apart thoroughly.
"Looks like someone beat us to it." Michael said, picking up a pair of pants from the dining-room table. "I’ll look in the bedroom, you check the rest of the house."
"For what?" I asked again.
"Clues." He said vaguely.
Clues, I thought to myself, could he have been any more vague? I mean, what would we be looking for that whoever was here first wouldn’t have already taken? I stepped gingerly over the television lying face down on the Venetian rug, and proceeded toward the kitchen.
There was an envelope on the floor that diverted my attention to it before I reached the kitchen, and I picked it up. Its wasn’t sealed, so I took the letter out and read it:
Dearest Emily, 6/5/02
I am almost done with my project, and when I am finished, my life may be in jeopardy. If I am discovered missing some morning, know that I am gone for good, but that I have thought of nothing but your welfare since the death of your mother and father last year. Please take care of my dog, and remember that I love you.
Uncle Roger
"I think I found something!" I shouted through the house. My call was heeded and Teapot-man came bounding over the TV after me.
"Hmmm..." He said, not even looking at me, "You’re right, you have found an amazing clue here!" He stepped past me into the kitchen.
"Do you want to read it?" I asked him as I entered the kitchen.
"Read what?" He asked.
"The letter." I said.
"What letter?" He asked as he stooped and touched the clean kitchen floor, and picked up the only thing there -- a moldy piece of cheese -- and threw it away.
"The letter!" I said, "The clue I was telling you I found!"
"Then you found two clues." He said, taking the letter into the next room, "Good work!"
I was about to say something, when it dawned on me that the kitchen was in perfect order. Not a kitchen knife out of place, not a drawer open, not a speck of disorder to be found in the room. Odd I didn’t see this before, I thought to myself, and then remembered that I had been distracted by the letter, and hadn’t even seen the kitchen.
"Michael," I said, leaping over the TV toward where he sat on the overturned couch. "I think the letter is a..."
"Fake." He said. "Quite so. Where did you find it?"
"On the floor just where I was standing when you found me." I said, sitting down next to him, "I was so distracted that I didn’t even notice the kitchen until just now."
"Exactly their point." He said, handing me the envelope. "If I hadn’t noticed the kitchen before the letter, I may not have noticed it at all." He smiled at the cunning of our adversary. "Tell me what you think about the letter." He said, "Why do you think it is a forgery? Be specific!"
"Well," I began, holding the envelope. I licked my finger and touched it to the sticky part. It still worked -- it had never been closed. "The envelope was never sealed for one," I said. "The address if clearly legible, so we can easily follow it to the supposed residence of the uncle." I looked harder at the envelope, "there is a stamp, but it is not canceled... and why would he send her a letter when she sees him every Thursday?"
"All very good deductions Watson!" He said, patting me on the back, "keep going!"
I took the letter out, and re-read it again. "There’s something not right about it that I just can’t seem to put my finger on." I said, scratching my head.
"About what part?" He prompted.
"Well, for one," I began, "It was written last Wednesday. He wouldn’t have tried mailing a letter the day before she comes to clean for him."
"True!" He said.
"Why does he make it a point about her mother and father dying?" I asked.
"Good question."
I kept looking at it... There was something I was missing. Something that would tell me for sue that it was a fake. Something that... "It’s hand written."
"Precisely." Teapot-man said standing. "To be honest, that was the only thing I had found wrong with it, but you brought out some very valid points. The placement on the floor, and the contents are one." He said mysteriously as he plodded off toward the bedroom.
"The... what?" I asked. He wouldn’t say, but continued looking in the bedroom. I stood and headed back toward the far end of the house again, thinking about what he could have meant by that.
I next came to the bathroom, which was not clean. It was filthy. Nothing was really out of place, but it simply needed a good cleaning. I wiped my finger along the top of the wooden trim that separated the wainscoting from wallpaper, and saw more dirt than I had ever had in my dorm at college. "Why would she clean for her uncle, and not for herself?" I wondered out loud.
"Good question." A voice behind me said.
I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"Did I scare you?" Michael asked, laughing at my reaction. I have never been a scared person, but sudden, unexpected surprises do give me a turn. "Sorry about that. I just couldn’t resist."
I sat down on the toilet seat to catch my breath and regain my composure.
"We’ll have to ask her about that when we get the Roots tonight." He said moving out into the kitchen again.
I stood again and walked cautiously to the laundry-room. There were a washer and dryer sitting next to the backdoor, with an empty red laundry basket in front of them. Nothing unusual there. I decided I wouldn’t let Michael surprise me like that again, so I looked back to the kitchen.
"Excuse me?" A voice from behind me said, making me jump.
This time it wasn’t Michael, but a woman. She was blonde, four foot six and slender.
"Who are you?" I asked, trying to calm myself down. "What are you doing here?"
"My name is Lisa Marrow," she said, extending her hand. "I live next door. I heard voices, and saw the front door opened, and came over to make sure everything was okay. It looks like it’s not."
"Mi..." I was about to shout out his name, but thought better of it. "My name is Josh. I’m working on a case with Teapot-man."
"Did somebody call?" Teapot-man said, swishing around the corner with a flare for drama -- melodrama.
"This is Lisa," I said, "she lives next-door and was just being a good neighbor."
"Really?" Teapot-man asked quizzically. "So why didn’t you use the front door?" He asked.
"I was doing my laundry at the back door." She said, pointing to a full load of wet laundry in a basket sitting on the dryer. "Emily gave me a key, because we share the washing. Today’s my day."
"Oh." Teapot-man said. "Well, what can you tell us about Emily’s uncle?"
"Not much," she said, "I only saw him once a couple weeks ago. He came over with his dog to have lunch."
"What did they eat?" He asked.
"We all had tea and tuna sandwiches." She said. "I was doing laundry, and they invited me to stay for lunch."
"What color was his hair?" Teapot-man asked. I thought his line of questions was a bit askew, and seemed a bit too blatantly interrogative, but I held my tongue.
"I don’t remember," she said, "because he was wearing his hat."
"Did Emily have a photo of her uncle anywhere around?" I asked.
"In her top drawer." She said. "I remember because one day I was here and saw her put it back in after looking at it for a while."
"Only one more question, then we’re done," Teapot-man said. "You see, the uncle was kidnapped," the woman gasped, "and I thought you may be able to help us with one certain point."
"I’ll do anything I can to help." She said.
"Were there any people here today other than us?"
"Not that I saw," she said, thinking, "just a guy from PG&E who knocked a few times, but then left." She thought for a moment, "he drove across the street, and somebody else took the truck from him to drive away. He stayed there." There was something in what she said that sounded like a recording. "But I’ve been pretty busy all day working on a paper for class, so I haven’t been at the window much."
"Oh, you’re a college girl?" He asked casually, "Where do you go?"
"Chico State," she said, "I’m studying to be a nurse." She began fidgeting with a small ring on her pinky -- it was gold with a silver band.
"Great." Teapot-man said, "you may have just given us the clue we need! Let’s go Josh!" And with that, he ran for the front door.
"By." I said, walking after him.
I walked over to his truck where he was sitting, waiting for me. I was going to say something, but he stopped me with a look that said, ‘not here’ and we took off.
"What did you think of Lisa?" He asked me once we were on the road.
"I thought she was lying through her teeth." I said.
"Why?" He asked incredulously.
"Well, for one thing," I began, "Chico State doesn’t have a good nursing program. Butte does. For another, that whole story about the PG&E guy..."
"That one I want to check out," He said, "but I think she was telling the truth... or, most of the truth."
"Oh." I said. "But what about the laundry?" I said.
"What about it?" He asked.
"I’ll tell you as soon as I can figure it out." I said, "But her whole story about the ‘tea-time with uncle’ and the picture were just to throw us off. I’m sure of that!"
"Why?" He asked.
"Are you just prompting me, or do you honestly not know?"
"Prompting." He said, smiling at me, "but go ahead anyway."
I sat in silence for a moment, trying to come up with a good story to throw him off, but decided against it and sat silent for a moment or two. "So what about the ‘PG&E guy’ story did you believe?"
"Just this," He said, "that you were right, and she was feeding us that clue, as well as the one about the picture in the top drawer. I know because I found the frame broken, and the picture taken."
"What do you think about the bathroom?" I asked.
"I still don’t know." He said, shaking his head.
Michael offered to drop me off at the Root’s house to stay with Emily, but I opted to help with the investigation, and so we split up the researching: he would check out PG&E and Lisa’s background, and I was to check out the uncle’s house. Since my car was parked at the Root’s house, we traveled there first, and Michael took off.
"Josh?" Shauna, one of the Root family’s daughters, hailed me as I was getting into my car.
"What’s up cousin?" I asked.
"What’s going on?" She asked, "who is this Emily girl we’re watching?"
"It’s a long story," I replied.
"Try me."
"All right," I said. "Get in, and I’ll tell you on the way."
"Where are we going?" She asked as I started the engine.
"To the house of a kidnapped uncle." I said.
By the time we had arrived, she was caught up on the more relevant points of the case as I saw it, and she agreed to help out all she could by asking Emily questions. We parked in the street, and walked up the drive toward the front of the house. The weeds grew thick around the edges, but none encroached to the point where it would touch a car driving up to the house. There were no oil stains on the cement drive, which showed there were few cars that had ever made their home there.
"That’s strange," Shauna said, stopping and looking toward the house, "there’s a light on inside."
"Lights are on, but nobody’s home?" I suggested.
We came closer and a cat ran out of the bushes toward the street. Shauna and I watched it run, and then turned back toward the house only to discover that the lights Shauna had just seen were now turned off.
"I thought the uncle was kidnapped?" Shauna asked quietly.
"He was," I said quietly. "So when we get inside, touch the light-bulbs to see which one was on. It will still be hot."
"Why should we do that?" She whispered.
"Clues." I said. "If somebody was just in there, we may find something."
"Why are we whispering?" She asked quietly.
"You started it!" I whispered back.
We made our way quickly to the door, and tried the handle. It was locked. I took out the key Emily had given me and Teapot-man earlier, and we went in. The entry ended in a hallway heading to the left and right, so I motioned for Shauna to check left, and I headed right.
"Wait," Shauna put a hand on my shoulder to stop me. "What do I do if I see somebody?"
"If they see you before you see them," I said, "scream. But if you see them before they see you," I started walking right again, "you’re on your own."
I began touching the end lamps and standing lamps, but all of them were cool to the touch. I looked around me quickly, and found that there were papers scattered throughout the house -- nothing important, just magazines, unpaid phone bills, and a book missing its front cover. I picked it up and found the title on the ribbing: Charade. That was a Cary Grant film, wasn’t it? I asked myself, I think Audrey Hepburn was in it too. That was a good one. What was it about again?
Before I could answer myself, I heard a voice behind me. "Take a look at this."
Shauna lead me back to the Master bedroom, which was absolutely filthy. It obviously hadn’t been cleaned in weeks; there was dust everywhere, and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. But that wasn’t what Shauna pointed out. Instead, she pointed to a book laying open on the bed.
"I started looking at the entries," Shauna said. "You may want to do the same."
It was opened to a journal entry dated two weeks previous -- it was the last entry into the pages, but the pages preceding it were filled with entries for every day -- not one was missed -- for more than three months.
"Why would he stop writing in his journal two weeks ago when he was only reported missing yesterday?" Shauna asked. "It just doesn’t add up."
"Maybe he was kidnapped earlier..." I started to say, but stopped, remembering that Emily said she saw him last week when she cleaned his... but did she clean his house? Shauna and I headed into the rest of the house to look around, and found that it had, indeed, been cleaned about a week ago. Not thoroughly, mind you, but enough.
We kept searching the house, but found nothing important. When we examined the garage, however, we made a startling discovery: the concrete was stained with oil. We also found, what looked like plans for building some kind of weapon or other high-tech gadget, with the last two pages torn off.
"This must have been the project he was working on when..." Shauna started to say, but stopped. I wasn’t sure exactly why she stopped, but something in the suddenness of it left me with an eerie feeling.
Out the back door, we found a small yard -- barely large enough to mow, but not large enough to plant anything. It had a gate that lead outside, and as we started heading that way, I looked around for footprints, or anything out of the ordinary... like fragments of a helium balloon.
"Do you think it belonged to that balloon man you saw in the alley?" Shauna asked me as I ran out the gate in time to see... nothing. He was gone, if he was there before, and the only trace we had of him was a popped balloon.
I went back inside and locked up the house. Before leaving, I picked up the journal and turned out the lights we had used... I had forgotten to check the hall light when we got there to see if it was hot. I just hoped that it wouldn’t be too important.
Michael had already been back at the Root’s house for a good while when we returned. He had seated himself in the gazebo facing the creek thinking by himself with his back to our approach. He didn’t ask what I had found, but I told him anyway. He listened carefully to every detail Shauna and I mentioned, but said nothing until I said we went into the garage.
"And there were oil stains." He said.
"Yes," Shauna said, somewhat taken aback. "How did you know?"
"I guessed." He said.
"When we went out back I found this," I said holding up the balloon fragments I had found for his inspection. "I thought they might have been..."
"You thought right," he said, cutting me off quickly. "But let us not discuss that here." He quietly pocketed the fragments. "We should talk of more pleasant matters, shouldn’t we Miss Emily?"
I turned around, and found Emily approaching with glasses of lemonade for all of us. What is he up to? I wondered, but we were soon absorbed in conversation, and my troubling thoughts turned to pleasant conversation about Chico. As it turned out, Emily had only been in Chico about a year so far, and had moved out here from her family’s home in Rock Springs, Wyoming. She sat there talking about her house, and my thoughts followed to my times there, and I was lost in reminiscence before long. Only one thing drew me back into the conversation, and that was the mention of the uncle.
"You say you cleaned for him every week?" I asked her, remembering the quandary over the bedroom. "Did you clean the entire house each Thursday, or did you just do certain portions of it?" Immediately upon saying it, I got a reproachful look from Teapot-man. It was as if he told me with that look that I had given out too much information.
"I did most of the house." She said sheepishly. "My uncle was somewhat particular in his ways, and there were certain rooms he wouldn’t let me in."
"That would explain his bedroom then," I said. "It was filthy."
"Yes," Teapot-man said quickly, "but I’m sure Emily doesn’t want to talk about the kidnapping right now, it may be too much for her to handle -- what with her emotions over the loss of her only uncle." The way he stressed the word made me wonder what Michael was up to, but I held my peace... for the time being. When we were alone again I would give him what-for.
"It is very hard," Emily said, "I don’t know how I’ll get along without him. He was my father’s only brother, and... and..." she pulled out her pink handkerchief and held it to her eyes, "he was more like a father to me since my parents accident. He’s all I have." Her eyes sparkled with the mist forming in the corners of her eyes, and I moved myself closer to her and placed my arm on her shoulder.
"Don’t worry," I said as she buried her head into my shoulder with sobs. "We will find him. I promise."
"How can you be so cold to her?" I asked Michael after he had stopped his truck at Jon and Bon’s. He had suggested he and I go out for yogurt after I had comforted Emily for a nice while.
"The question really is," He began. "How could I not?"
"What?" I said, "what exactly did you mean by that?"
"That’s not important now," He said, pulling out the journal and turning to a page somewhere in the middle. "What is important is this." His finger rested on an entry from two months ago. It talked about his job as an engineer, and how he hadn’t actually retired from it, but had done so officially.
"Yes, I know." I said, "I found some sort of plans in the garage. I think it was something important he was working on when he was kidnapped."
"Read the page again." He said as he took another bite of yogurt.
"Can I ask you a question?" I said, setting the book down on the table, "how much of this are you just pulling out of your hat, and how much is real?"
"Va ho fing if reaow." He said with his mouth full of yogurt and gummy-bear topping, "You, me, da kidnabed ungle... jusd..." He started choking a bit, and had to stop talking. I started reading the entry again.
"By the way," I asked, looking up after the third line. "What did you find out about the PG&E guy?"
"There really was a PG&E guy there today." Michael said, pulling his mask off. "This thing gets so hot!" He set his mask down on the table and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "What I found out was this: A PG&E man went to check on Miss Emily’s power situation, because she had called to complain about it." Michael smiled knowingly and raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Well what do you think of that!"
"What about him going across the street and changing drivers?" I asked as I watched a young woman buying a yogurt. She wore a ring on her left hand -- on the pinkie. It was a gold band with a stripe of silver running down the center. I wonder if she bought it at that jeweler downtown? I thought to myself as I stared.
"Hello?" Michael said, waving his hand in front of my eyes. "Earth to Josh?"
"Sorry, I was just noticing a woman’s ring." I said sheepishly. "What was it you were saying?"
"Not yet," He said, looking around the room. "Not here. At least, not if... what kind of ring was she wearing?" The woman took a seat across the room from us. She somehow looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her.
"It was a gold... like Emily’s bracelet." I said, remembering the first day when he stared at it in the jeweler’s.
"I’m done," He said, standing to leave. "Let’s go see a movie." His yogurt was barely touched, but he hid it with a napkin, and tossed it in the trash on our way out. "We can’t be too careful," he said to me once we were back inside his truck. "They have people watching us... I know that for sure now."
"Who?" I asked. I turned to look at the store where the woman with the ring was just exiting holding her yogurt and talking on a cell-phone. "You don’t mean... her?"
"Which her?" He asked.
"What do you mean, ‘which her’?" I asked him.
"The PG&E man was on a crew and had come over to check on the power." Michael said, "when he got back to the truck, the other man had wanted to drive, so he walked around the truck -- seeming to leave -- while the other man got in to drive."
"No clue there." I said. All the clues seemed to be turning up empty today.
"Not exactly," Michael said with a smile. "If you know what you’re looking for. Fortunately for us, I do."
"So what movie are we going to see?" I asked as we pulled onto the road.
"What?" He asked. "Oh, that. It was merely a ruse."
"So where to now?" I asked, as we turned left onto Mangrove instead of right.
"A quiet spot where we can reflect on our clues in peace and quiet." He said with a smile, "The food court at the mall."
While I waited for my Orange Julius, Michael selected just the right seat where he could watch al that went on around us, and not have his back to anything much. He sat down in one chair, then the other, then finally settled in the first chair and began eating his Mrs. Field’s cookie.
"So," He began. "Tell me your list of clues from this case, and I’ll tell you mine, then we’ll see how well we are doing."
"Hi guys!" A woman’s voice said from behind us.
"I hope you don’t mind if Shauna joins us," Michael said, "I made a phone call while you weren’t looking."
"Why don’t we let Shauna go first?" I said. "‘Ladies first’, right?"
Shauna began by telling what she knew of the case, then of the clues she came across in the house: the plans in the garage, the dirty bedroom, the balloon fragment, the mysterious light in the uncle’s house, and the journal. I was next and listed the oil stains in the garage, the fake letter, Emily’s clean kitchen, the mysterious balloon man, the ransacked apartment, and the fact that, as of yet, there was no ransom note.
"What about the uncle’s dog?" He asked. "Didn’t it strike you as a bit odd?"
"There was no dog," Shauna said.
"Exactly!" Michael said mysteriously.
"Okay, hot-shot investigator," I said, "what are your clues?"
"There are quite a few, so hang on." He said, sitting back. "First, the phone call."
"What phone call?" I asked, not remembering any that had been made in my presence. "Do you mean the one that lady made at Jon and Bon’s tonight?"
"No, the one before that." Michael said, but he obviously didn’t want to dwell on that, so he continued. "Next, the fact that the uncle is blind."
"You don’t believe he’s blind?" I asked. This would be too hard for Sherlock Holmes to deduce, let alone a super-hero based on a children’s song.
"If you don’t let me finish, this will take all night." He said. "Thirdly, the dirty bathroom in Emily’s house. Fourth, the PG&E man. Fifth, the uncle’s dog, which I already mentioned, and fifth-B, the uncle’s car."
"Shouldn’t that be sixth?" Shauna asked.
"I believe the two are connected." Michael said. "They may, in fact, be one and the same for all I know right now. There’s just one or two things we all are missing that will bring this case to a head, and I don’t know... or I can’t remember what they are."
"Like what?" I asked.
"Like..." he began, then sat back to think a bit. "Like, why was the TV on its face?"
"Hello?" I said, "excuse me, the TV?"
"Oh, you may not think it important," Michael said very seriously, "but I believe it may hold a vital clue if I could just... remember why." He put his head down on the table in despair.
"One thing that puzzles me," I said, "is about the laundry basket."
"What laundry basket?" He said, sitting bolt upright.
"Lisa’s laundry basket." I said. "I could have sworn it was..."
"Yes?" Michael said on the edge of his seat. "Sworn it was what?"
"On the floor."
"AHA!" Michael yelled, and leapt to his feet.
Shauna and I were both so startled by this that we nearly fell off our chairs. What could be so important about the placement of a laundry basket? I asked myself.
"What puzzles me," Shauna said, "are the plans we found in the garage. Why were those two pages missing, and what was he designing?"
"Nothing." Michael said confidently. "Nothing at all. The plans are fakes, and the pages torn out are inconsequential."
"How can you be so sure?" Shauna asked, "They looked real important. Like some type of weapon, or something."
"Of course they did," Michael said. "Don’t you see? They are trying to lead us to the wrong conclusions which we are ready and willing to follow because we examine each clue separate from the quest."
"The quest to return the uncle, right?" Shauna asked.
"No," Michael said. "If the uncle were kidnapped, say, by a group interested in his scientific skills, we would have no ransom note, but we would also have no plans because they would have taken them. So we can rule that out as a possibility."
"Sounds logical." I said.
"But," he said, pointing his finger at me, "everything points in that direction! The letter from the uncle, the plans -- two pages torn off: why? To make us think they were important. The ransacking of Emily’s house..." His mind took a detour and he stared at the Merry-go-round. "That, is us." He said, standing and pointing at the Merry-go-round. "The kidnappers have us running around in circles, which can only mean one thing..."
Shauna and I waited to hear what that ‘one thing’ was, but he never finished it. Instead, he paid for a ticket and got on the Merry-go-round. Shauna and I looked at each other and shrugged.
My dreams were shattered by miscellaneous fragments of clues from the previous days. The balloon man, the missing dog/car, the letter from the uncle, the journal and the laundry basket. I woke several times during the night wondering what it was about the laundry basket that I couldn’t comprehend. Since I couldn’t really sleep, and I had nothing else to do, I hopped in my car and went for a drive. My mind was only really concentrating on not hitting anyone or running a red light, and I soon found myself outside her apartment. Since I had a key, I let myself in to have another look around.
I unlocked the door and stepped inside to find everything as we had left it. The couch still overturned and the bottom ripped -- possibly whoever did this was looking for... for what? I stepped over the TV toward the kitchen and stopped. I stepped over the TV. I said to myself. I stepped over it. There has to be something about that I’m not getting. I repeated the phrase again. I stepped over the TV. Why hadn’t I stepped around it? That was when it dawned on me. Everything in the room was placed specifically in its place -- the couch was placed by the door so we could sit on it to think. The drawers were taken out and most of them dumped in the living room because they wanted us to find the one in the bedroom with the broken picture frame. The TV was placed where it was because you had to step over it. It was on stepping over it I had discovered the letter... that was a fake. I sat down on the floor and laughed.
I picked up the phone to call Michael, but changed my mind. Was he really any better at solving a mystery than I was? I didn’t think so. I could solve this mystery myself. I hung up the phone and sat down on a dining room chair to think. My eyes were getting heavy, so I rested them a bit while my brain struggled with the facts, and in no time at all I had fallen fast asleep.
I awoke with a start Saturday Morning, and found myself still at the table. What was it I came over here to look at in the first place? I asked myself as I began stretching and yawning. It wasn’t the TV, I thought, remembering the revelation I had before falling asleep. What was it? I tried replaying what happened when Michael and I came, but my mind wasn’t working yet. I need breakfast.
I went into the kitchen and started looking through the cupboards for anything edible, but there was nothing to be found. Not a crumb, not a scrap, not a box of cereal of soda crackers. The refrigerator was just as bare. Odd, I thought to myself as I opened the last cupboard and found one can of pineapple and a box of Ritz Crackers. I wonder why she doesn’t keep any food in her cupboards? I took my Leather-man off my belt and started eating.
There was something wrong that I couldn’t put my finger on, and it was staring me in the face -- I knew it, but I just couldn’t see it. I started retracing my steps from the day before, and as I stepped over the TV, I remembered what it was I was looking for. I lifted up my eyes and looked into the laundry-room, and there, on the dryer was the laundry basket, still full of clothes... it was blue.
I picked up the phone and called Michael.
Within fifteen minutes he was crossing the threshold of the house and leaping over the TV. I showed him the laundry basket, and he shrugged. It was where we had seen it the day before full of clothes.
"Yes," he said, "it’s still here. That certainly is on odd bit. If she was really doing laundry, she failed."
"No, not that," I said, "it’s the color!"
"What about it." He said. "It was blue yesterday when she pointed it out."
"But not when I first saw it on the floor." I said. "It was red!"
"Are you quite sure?" He said stepping up and looking closely at the basket.
"Positive." I said.
"And then the red basket was replaced by this blue one?" He asked.
"Exactly." I said smiling. Finally I had one up on Michael.
Michael kept looking at the laundry basket for a few moments, then walked over to the couch and sat down. He sat thinking for a moment, then stopped and looked up.
"This couch was closer to the door yesterday." He said.
"I know," I laughed, "I moved it last night when I realized it was all a set-up."
"What do you mean?" He asked, slightly puzzled.
I told him my theory and he laughed heartily when he saw it as well. I then took him to the kitchen and showed him the cupboards bared of everything but settled dust. He simply smiled and walked back to the couch and sat down.
"So have you figured out who kidnapped the uncle yet?" I asked as I sat down next to him.
"No." He said, but there was something in his voice that simply didn’t convince me. "Who do you suspect?"
"The balloon man." I said. "I’m almost positive."
"Hmmm." He said smiling. "You’re completely wrong, but you just gave me an excellent idea."
"How do you know he didn’t do it?" I asked as we both headed toward the door to leave. "He’s the only person we know nothing about, but we know he was there the first day watching us, and he was at the uncle’s house the day we were there."
"Are you sure he was there?" Michael stopped walking and turned to me. "We have other clues leading us to believe the uncle was an inventor as well."
"He was." I replied. "The journal said he was an engineer."
"What type of engineer?" Michael prompted as we started walking toward our cars again. "Ponder that while we drive our respective cars to the Root’s house."
"It’s strange," I told Emily as we sat and watched the creek flowing past the gazebo. "I thought it was a simple case, but now... I don’t know what’s going to happen."
"Do you think we’ll ever find my uncle?" She asked, leaning onto my shoulder.
I put my arm around her and neither of said anything for a long time -- time seemed to stand still, and it was just us sitting there watching the water’s ebb and flow past us. I wanted to say something, but there was nothing to say.
"What did you find at my uncle’s house?" She asked suddenly, breaking the serene stillness of life.
"Nothing but his journal." I said. "He had stopped writing in it two weeks ago."
"That was when he lost his eyesight," she replied. "He was experimenting with something and... it was an accident."
"That would make sense," I said, holding her a bit closer.
"Did you look in the attic?" She asked after a short pause of uninterrupted bliss.
"We didn’t know there was one."
"Would you like me to show you?" She asked.
Emily and I arrived at the uncle’s house a few minutes later, and started walking up the drive to the house. There was a light on inside. I raced for the door and opened it as quickly as I could only to find the door unlocked. Whoever it was inside made a break for the back door, and I gave chase. I heard the back door close, as I entered the hallway, and heard the gate closing as I opened the back door. I was not more than a few yards behind the intruder, and kept running. As I left the back yard, I tripped, and was sent sprawling. I looked up only to find I had lost them... or had I? An engine fired up around the corner and I sprang to my feet to pursue, but with a screeching of tires, all I could see was the license plate. BM44D1... what was the last letter? I couldn’t read it. In my haste, I had failed to look at what kind of car it was... but it was green. I tracked back to the house trying to catch my breath and discovered, caught a glimpse of light reflected into my eyes. I looked around to discover its location, and found a helium balloon caught in the branches of a tree, high overhead.
That was when I heard the scream.
I found Emily in tears below a ladder leading into the ceiling. I asked if she was hurt, but she simply pointed into the attic. Something smells in here, I thought as I grabbed a flashlight from the nearby end table and proceeded to climb the steps. What I found up in the attic turned my stomach.
The police were called, and they dubbed it a suicide. They said that the uncle had hung himself in the attic approximately three days ago. Thursday. When I saw him, he was still hanging from the rafters.
Emily wanted to be alone the rest of the day, and was heard from time to time crying from inside her room at the Root’s. When she emerged later the next morning, I was waiting for her, and she ran into my arms for me to hold her. Teapot-man gave his condolences, and left immediately, but there was something in his demeanor which both surprised me, and confused me -- he acted as though she were not truly grieving, and that the case was still going on. I wanted to have words about him with this, but Emily needed me, and I gave myself into her company for the rest of the day: walking, holding, drying her eyes.
"It’s strange," I said to her as the evening drew to a close and we sat on the Root’s porch and watched the stars twinkle above us. "I feel like I know you, but we only met four days ago."
"I know," she said, calmer now. "I think it’s... Josh? Do you believe in love at first sight?"
"I sure hope so." I said bending down to kiss her.
Two days later, the funeral was held, and Emily did the eulogy. Michael was there, but he stood in the back with a pencil and paper, and half way through the service, he left and came back at the end. Emily didn’t cry; she was trying to be strong, but I knew how she must have been feeling inside -- losing your only uncle a year after losing your parents... Only uncle? The thought seemed strange as it pried its way into my conscious mind. Teapot man had asked if she only had one uncle, I said to myself as they lowered the coffin into the ground. Maybe her other uncle was too far away to be here. I turned to see if Michael was back, and noticed a small group of helium balloons behind a tree behind the ceremony. So that was what Michael was doing, I said to myself turning back to see the first handful of dirt being thrown onto the casket. Maybe there’s a bit more to this mystery after all.
I took Emily to the park two days later. She was now back in her apartment, and Shauna and I had gone over to set things straight. I hadn’t seen Michael since the day after the funeral when he wanted to discuss the case and I had brushed him off. He was no super-hero. He wasn’t even a detective. We had both been playing Colombo trying to solve a kidnapping that never happened. He was diluted -- we both had been.
I had packed Emily and I a picnic luncheon, and we sat to eat it under the shade of a giant oak near One-mile. It was the perfect day, and, as the afternoon turned to evening shades, we began to walk down the trails.
"Thank you for the perfect day," she said. "I... I... O, Josh."
We embraced.
"Emily," I said. "There’s something I’d like to ask you." My palms were sweating, and I wiped them on my trouser-leg.
"What is it?" She asked, looking up into my eyes with hers, sparkling like emeralds.
"I know we haven’t known each other for very long," I began. "But in this short time, I have come to know and appreciate you... and I think... love you."
She said nothing, but there was a twinkle in her eyes that said I had better ask now, or it may be too late. I bent one knee and opened the small box in my left pocket. Inside was a gold band with a silver stripe down the middle, with a mirage set 14k diamond the size of a pencil lead as its main attraction. It matched her bracelet.
"Emily," I asked, my voice shaking, "will you marry me?"
"It’s beautiful," she said as I slipped the ring over her finger. We both started to cry. "It’s just like the one you were looking at the first day we met!"
"What?" I asked. Something jogged my memory.
To Be Continued...

Chapter 20

In Which, After a Long Absence, The Ranting Continues

There are few things more frustrating to a writer as not having the time or inspiration to write... or, worse yet, a combination of the two; and yet, such has been the case for me recently.

It started in my early childhood -- I was a small boy then. I didn't like to write, and followed the saying of Alice from the story:
What's the use of books, thought Alice, without any pictures in them?
But in time I cam to realize the truth:
Pictures cost less money than words do.
Yes, the money is not in some fancy-schmancy kids book fad that will pass in a year, or once somebody makes a stupid knock-off film about it, but in writing paperbacks where you can recycle everything but the name of the main character, and sell millions of the same story with different titles.
Take your average dime-store novel, and break it down.
First, the Hero. His name starts with a "J" if the book is to be popular. Not a fanciful name like Jerome, or Jethro, or Jephzibah, but something common. Jon, Jim, Jack, Joe, Jake, Jip, or Jeff. The shorter the name the better. This leading male is tall, dark haired, fair complexioned, and has a nose like a hawk, or, even better, "acqualine" -- which is French for "worn close to the face" -- he is usually handsome and has a chisled jaw. He doesn't wear Hawaiian shirts, but at one point he wears a tuxedo.
Next comes the side-kick. His name can be unusual, in fact, the more bizzarre the better. He or she is your selling point. Dorminander is a good unisex name, so is Samonilla, for that matter. The sidekick is shorter, and has a lisp, or severe overbite, or is a moron, or wears thick coke-bottle glasses, or is a Democrat. They are to be described as "non-descript" so that they can, at some point in the story, slip in and out of a large crowd to lose the villians. But, whatever you do, DO NOT KILL THE SIDE-KICK! This ruins the story, and gets rid of your comic relief, and a quick way to add "back-story." ("This reminds me of the time Jock and I saved the Queen from the Head-hunters while we were backpacking in Mogadishu...")
Third comes the villian. Now the villian can be named anything, but it helps if he is a jerk, and a bit of a snob, and has lots of money to hire "hired assassins." He will look "sinister" and wear black, or a nice suit -- even in the middle of the desert -- and will have monologues from time to time to tell how he does everything so it doesn't become a guessing game for the reader ("I'm going to saw you in half then feed you to my robot-monkeys! I am the greatest! Buy Coke-a-cola! Then I will conquor the world!" Etc.).
Last, but not least, the love interest. This is a simple girl with a name saying "I'm old fassioned, but can fight my way out of a cardboard box if I need to." Clementine, Molly, Hepzibah, Alice, Dorcas, or Norma are good names -- Jan, Sam, Lynn, Bo, or Ivy are not (she needs at least two syllables in her name for believability). Also, don't spell her name funny ways, because the reader will have trouble with it (i.e., if the character is named "Jennifer," don't spell it with silent J's or K's, and no adding extra E's or H's). She is to be a "rather homely girl" who turns out to be a "rare beauty" whenever she puts her hair down -- think Clark Kent and Superman...
The basic plotline is this:
  1. Something gets stolen, or someone is kidnapped by "henchmen"
  2. Hero hears about it, and gets involved by accident
  3. Side-kick slips through a crowd "un-noticed" and discovers vital information from a monologue from the villian.
  4. Love interest gets kidnapped.
  5. Hero has to make the choice between saving the girl he loves, or saving the other thing/person
  6. Hero kills/captures villian, and saves both.
  7. Side-kick says something pithy
  8. Ending is vague, leaving room for a sequel, or series deal.

So, there you have it. A sure-fire money-maker novel!

But you didn't hear that from me...