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...


At 10:44 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Very good so far. I highly anticipate part 2.


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