Peccari’s Peril

Peccari’s Peril

©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

“Caesar, wait up!”

Benjy Baxter was just locking his car when he spotted Caesar Campbell, who was about to cross the street. He jogged to catch up with him.

“Get enough sleep?”

“Barely,” said Caesar. “I’m glad we told the staff to expect us late this morning.” After the events at the Leeway Lodge and the long drive back to East Kingsley, the two men needed the extra sleep. Now it was Tuesday and time to go back to work at BaxCam Coffees.

As they turned the corner on to Merchant Road, they stopped and looked ahead with a sense of vague apprehension. There was a long line outside of BaxCam Coffees—in itself not a total surprise—but many of the people in line were holding balloons, bouquets, and signs. Someone in the line saw the two men and cried out, “Look! They’re here!” The crowd burst into applause and whooped and hollered. Cell phones began snapping pictures. A chant began: “Cof-fee de-tec-tives! Cof-fee de-tec-tives!”

“Oh brother!” said Benjy. “What do we do now?”

“What can we do? Just smile and wave. We can’t turn around now.” They approached the crowd and were besieged with handshakes and autograph books and requests for selfies.

“Move aside! Oy, let me through!” It was Dainty, pushing her way through the crowd with Junnosuke. “These boys have got work to do!” She led the way, pushing people aside gently but firmly with her meaty arms. Junnosuke brought up the rear.

Once inside, they made their way to behind the counter. It was like being at a rock concert. “It’s been like this all morning,” said Cadence, a young woman they had hired a week before the convention. “Every time someone thought they saw you two coming, everyone went nuts.”

“But business has been good,” continued Alexandra. They had hired her when business began to boom after Licoricia’s murder. She was only 25, but shrewd and wise beyond her years, and they had left her in charge while they were away. “After #CoffeeDetectives began trending yesterday on Twipper, we’ve been going nonstop. I also took the liberty of hiring an extra hand. That’s Elijah.” She pointed to a one-man assembly line further down the counter. Empty cups with orders written on them were delivered to his left. The espresso machines and grinders were blurred by the motion of his hands. Measuring spoons whirled and rattled in his fingers like fidgets, clickety-clack, tap, tap, tap. Filled cups exited to his right. Elijah barked out customer names and drinks as if they were whole names: “Lisa Soy Latte! Bill Espresso! Maria Red Eye! Come on down! You’re the next drinkers at BaxCam Coffees!” And then the crowd burst into applause as Ms. Soy Latte, Mr. Espresso, and Ms. Red Eye made their ways to the counter.

“Wow,” said Benjy, a little stunned. “I shouldn’t complain. This is just going to take a little getting used to.”

As if there weren’t already enough commotion, another one began at the door. Someone was pushing his way through the line. The crowd registered its displeasure: “Get in line, man!” “No cuts!” “Wait your turn!” It was Collops, his arm in a sling.

“Collops,” said Caesar. “Good to see you. But I thought you were still recuperating.”

“Guys, I need your help. It’s Peccari—she’s been arrested for murder!”

The three men sat in a small room across a table from Peccari, separated from her by a thick pane of glass. A guard was in the room, and another just outside the door. Peccari looked like she hadn’t slept since she’d been in jail.

“I haven’t slept since I’ve been in jail!” she said. “But I didn’t do it!”

“Honey, we’re going to get you a good lawyer,” said Collops. “But I brought Caesar and Benjy along. I thought they could help.”

“What on earth happened?” asked Caesar.

“I don’t know! I went to a play Monday evening. The play ended, and I left the theater. I was cutting through an alley to get to the light rail station, and I saw a body. I didn’t want to touch him, but I said, ‘Hey, are you all right?’ He didn’t answer, and I could see blood. I ran out of there, and a block down I found a cop and brought him back. He called for help, and asked me to stick around. They asked me a bunch of questions. They said, ‘His name is Pearce Perdue, do you know him?’ I said, ‘Sure, he comes into the deli.’ I told them he’d come in a few days before and was being a real assho … a real jerk. Well, I guess that wasn’t the smartest thing to say, because the next thing you know, I’m arrested for his murder!”

“What time did all this happen?” asked Benjy.

“It was about ten o’clock. The play started at eight, and ran about an hour forty five. It probably took fifteen minutes to get out of the theater and to the alley.”

“And you went alone?”

“Yes. At my arraignment I even showed them my theater ticket, but they said that doesn’t prove I actually went to the show.”

“Do you know how Perdue died?”

“They said he was shot. They found a gun near him.”

“And you don’t own a gun?”


“You’ve got to help her,” said Collops. He turned to his daughter. “Listen, honey. I can’t stay. Ichabod is running the deli all by himself and I’ve got to get back. I’ll come back as soon as I can.” He kissed his fingertips, waved apologetically to Peccari, then left.

Caesar said, “Did you see anyone leaving the alley when you went in? See anything funny?”

“No, nobody else was there.” She thought for a moment. “Well, maybe a minute before I reached the alley I heard a few sounds like gunshots, but I just thought it was a car backfiring.”

“Did the cops say when they thought Perdue was murdered?”


“What else can you tell us about Perdue?”

“He comes in maybe twice a week. Always kind of a jerk, but hey, you get people like that and you just grin and bear it. And he’s sleazy. Half the time he was insulting me, half the time he was trying to hit on me. This last time, a few days ago, he started screaming at Ichabod and me about his order being screwed up. I really don’t know what the problem was. I double checked his order and it was right. Anyway, he was making a real scene so we asked him to leave. He stomped out, threatened to sue us, said we were gonna pay, et cetera.”

“Well,” said Benjy. “This seems like an awfully flimsy case. Circumstantial, with a pretty weak motive. We’re going to see if we can talk to someone here and get more information. Hang in there, Peccari. We’re going to do our best.”

“Thanks, guys. If you can, keep an eye on my dad. I know this is just stressing him out big time.”

“Will do.” They went into the corridor to the front desk to talk to the clerk when a familiar voice behind them said, “Well, if it isn’t the Coffee Detectives!”

“Lieutenant Tennant!” said Benjy. “What are you doing here?”

“I got transferred to East Kingsley. Sort of a half-promotion. What are you two doing here?” He lowered his voice and did a bad film noir detective imitation. “Are you on a case?”

“You might say that.” said Benjy. The two men related what had happened to Peccari. “Is there anything you can tell us?”

“One, I’m in charge of the case. Two, Perdue’s wife, Paula, called us around 3am, Tuesday morning. Said her husband was missing; that he went out on business Monday evening, the 17th, but never came back. He said he’d only be gone a short while.”

“Hmm,” said Caesar. “You know, this business about Perdue being an angry customer being Peccari’s motive seems pretty weak.”

Lt. Tennant looked around and said quietly, “I’m inclined to agree, but the district attorney likes his cases quick and easy and clean. Peccari knew Perdue, she threw him out of her store, so as far as the DA is concerned, she automatically has to be the killer, right? And she has no witnesses who can say she was in the theater, at least for the duration of the entire play.”

“What about the gun?”

“All six shots had been fired. No prints on it, but your friend was also wearing gloves that evening. The gun is registered, bought legally, by a guy named Peter Palomino.”

Caesar chuckled. “Sounds like a porn star.”

“What can we do?” said Benjy.

“Make sure your friend gets a good lawyer, first of all. Listen, I know you’re eager to help your friend. I can’t say you’re officially working with the police department, but here.” He handed them some of his business cards. “If you want to talk to people, show them my card. It doesn’t entitle you to anything, but it might help open a few doors.”

“Let’s start with the wife.” said Caesar.

They knocked on the door of the Perdue residence. There was no doorbell. They waited, but nobody came to the door. They were about to knock again when the door finally opened. “I’m sorry, I was in the backyard when you knocked.” said Paula Perdue.

They introduced themselves and handed her Tennant’s card. She ushered them into the living room and bade them sit. She looked at the card. “So you two are investigators?”

“In a matter of speaking.” said Benjy. “We just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.”

“Sure, but I don’t think there’s anything I can tell you that I didn’t already tell the police.” She repeated what Tennant had told them about her activity Monday evening. “And later, the cops called back to say Pearce was dead.”

“Did your husband have any enemies?”

“A few business rivals, maybe. He works … rather, he worked as an investment banker.” She hesitated. “I do think he might have … been seeing someone.”

“Seeing someone? You mean you suspected he was cheating on you?”

Paula looked at her hands. “It’s just like in the movies. Husband starts going out of town a lot, starts working odd hours, that kind of thing.” She looked back at the two men. “So I did what the wives do in those movies. I began going through his things.”

“Did you find anything?” She walked over to a bureau, opened a drawer, pulled out some papers, then handed them to Benjy.

“A receipt for a fur coat,” said Paula. “Credit card charges for hotels downtown. Kinda adds up, don’t you think? Say, you don’t suppose that girl they arrested was his mistress?”

Benjy handed the papers back. “The police are still interviewing her. Thanks for your time, Mrs. Perdue. We appreciate it.” They got into Benjy’s car. “Caesar, you know what else I saw in that stack of papers? A bank withdrawal for twenty five thousand dollars.”

“Oof! You think that was for his mistress?”

“Or maybe he was being blackmailed.”

Caesar’s cell phone beeped. “It’s Innocenzio.”

“The NPS driver? What’s he doing with your number? As if I didn’t know.” Benjy winked.

Caesar ignored him. “Hello, handsome, what’s up? Really? When can we meet? Great, see you soon, thanks.”

“Got a hot date?” said Benjy.

“Not today; Innocenzio says he knows someone who knew Perdue. He’s going to meet us at BaxCam as soon as he gets off work.”

“So I have this friend, Paige, who knew Perdue. She’s an escort.” Innocenzio and Caesar had squeezed into the back seat of Benjy’s car.

“An escort?” said Benjy. “That might fit with Paula’s suspicion that her husband was cheating on her. I bet that fur coat was for her. And how do you know Paige?”

“I know all kinds of people.” said Innocenzio coyly. “Turn left at the corner and start looking for a place to park.”

Eventually, the three men made their way to an apartment building. They knocked on the door on the third floor. A woman answered. “Innocenzio!” she said, and hugged him. “Who are your friends?”

“They’re friends. We need to talk to Paige. Can we come in?” She led them into the living room. “Guys, this is Petunia. She and Paige are roomies. Petunia, this is Caesar and Benjy. We’re doing a little investigating. It’s about Perdue.”

Petunia’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to get any help out of Paige. She’s gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?”

“She packed her bags in a hurry on Saturday and took off.”

Benjy and Caesar exchanged glances, then Benjy spoke. “A friend of ours has been arrested for Perdue’s murder. We’re trying to clear her name. Perdue was shot with a gun owned by … who was it?”

“Peter Palomino.” answered Caesar.

But before Benjy could continue, Petunia laughed ironically. “That gun is mine.” All three men stared at her while she lit a cigarette. “Paige and I work for Peter. He’s kind of like our … agent. After one of my clients got a little, shall we say, out of hand one evening, Peter bought a gun and gave it to me for protection.”

“You know for a fact that your gun was used to kill Perdue?”

“Not for a fact—Peter might have bought more than one gun—but my gun has been missing since Saturday.” She took a long drag. “I had a client on Friday, then came home, and the gun was still in my purse. Petunia left shortly after I got home for an appointment, then came back in the evening. She went out again Saturday afternoon, then came back early, packed her bags, and left.”

“Just like that? No explanation?” asked Benjy.

“She only said, ‘You haven’t seen me.’ I did overhear her on the phone though. She said something about peppers.”

“That’s Pepper,” said Innocenzio, “Her sister in Port Pétarade. I bet she went to stay with her.”

“Do you think she took your gun?” asked Caesar.

“Maybe. I mean, I had it Friday, then Petunia takes off on Saturday, and when I went out that evening I noticed it was gone. I hadn’t left the apartment between my Friday and Saturday appointments.”

“Well, boys,” said Innocenzio. “I guess it’s off to see Pepper.”

Pepper opened the door a crack and peered at the men. “Innocenzio? What are you doing here?”

“We’re here to see Paige.”

“She’s not here.” She turned away from the door to talk to someone behind her, hidden from view. They couldn’t make out what she was saying. The other person said something, and Pepper came back to the door. “Okay, come in quick.” She undid the chain latch and let them in. Behind her stood, of course, Paige. Pepper shut the door and relatched it.

“What’s this about?” said Paige after hugging Innocenzio.

“These are friends of mine, Caesar and Benjy. A friend of theirs is charged with murdering Perdue.” Paige looked at the men warily.

“Listen,” said Benjy. “We aren’t trying to get you in trouble or anything. We don’t care about Perdue. We’re just trying to help our friend.”

The sisters exchanged looks, then Paige said, “Sit down, boys. Pepper, could we have a little privacy?” Pepper left the room. “Okay, gentlemen. I’ll tell you what I know, but I don’t want anyone knowing where I am.” The men all nodded. “I guess you’ve been talking to Petunia?”

“Yes, but she didn’t tell us where you were. We figured it out ourselves. Don’t blame her for that.”

“No, of course not.” She stood up and looked out the window. “Petunia and I worked for Peter. He gets clients for us, and he gets a cut. It all works pretty well. As for Perdue, he was a regular client of mine but he had a bad temper. I really didn’t want to see him any more. The last time I saw him was Saturday.”

“The day you left town,” said Caesar.


“Obviously, you didn’t shoot him on Saturday.”

She hesitated and took a deep breath. “No, but I was going to.” She faced the men again. “I was at Petunia’s and was going to go to an appointment on Friday. I asked if she had any breath mints, and she said it was in her purse. I saw there was a gun in there. I went to my appointment and came home. Saturday I had an appointment with Perdue, and I took the gun with me in case he got nasty. And he did.” She took another deep breath. “We were at a hotel. He shoved me against the wall. He said Peter was blackmailing him and that I was in league with him.”

Benjy looked at Caesar. “Blackmail. I told you.” he mouthed silently.

“Honestly, I don’t know anything about Peter blackmailing any one. But Perdue didn’t believe me. He made a move toward me and I pulled out the gun. I was going to shoot him but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I moved towards the door, threw the gun down, and ran as fast as I could. He didn’t follow, or at least I don’t think he did. I rushed back to Petunia’s, packed my bags, and here I am.”

“So Perdue must’ve taken the gun. And you know nothing about Peter blackmailing him?”

“Nothing at all. Peter got us clients, he got a cut. That’s all I know.”

Caesar thought for a moment. “By the way, do you own a fur coat?”

“Am I supposed to?”

“Is that a no?”

“Yes, that’s a no.”

Benjy stood up. “Well, thank you Paige. We really only want to help our friend.”

“You know, it’s only because you’re friends with Innocenzio that I even let you in.”

“And we appreciate it. Come on, guys, let’s go.”

The preliminary hearing began three days later. Benjy and Caesar met Lt. Tennant in the hallway outside the courtroom.

“They’re just doing all the usual legal blah blah stuff.” he said to them. He opened the door a crack. A coroner was on the witness stand. “The victim was shot five times, once each time through his patella, pelvis, pancreas, penis, and pituitary gland.”

“In your experience, would any of these shots, individually or in tandem, be instantly fatal?” asked the district attorney.

“Well, if I’d been shot in the penis I don’t think I’d want to live, would you?” snickered the coroner.

“Just answer the question!” barked the judge. Lt. Tennant closed the door again.

“How does it look for Peccari?” asked Caesar.

“Not good. And there’s more news. On Sunday, someone shot Peter Palamino. And with the same gun.”

“If Perdue kept that gun after he saw Paige,” whispered Benjy to Caesar, “then he might’ve killed Peter.”

“Especially if Peter was blackmailing him.”

“Did you boys find out anything?” said Lt. Tennant.

“Yes,” said Benjy. “We think Perdue killed Peter, but we still have no idea who killed Perdue. We’ve run out of leads.” The men fell silent. Caesar started pacing. He turned at the sound of high-heeled footsteps behind him. It was Paula—and she was in a fur coat. She nodded at them then entered the courtroom.

“Hang on!” said Caesar. “Paula thought that fur coat was for Paige, so what’s she doing with it? How did she get it? Benjy, do you remember the name of the fur store?”

“Yes,” said Benjy. “Pangborn’s Pelts on Paso Pepinos.”

“Let’s go!”

The owner of Pangborn’s Pelts, a Mr. Percival Pangborn, eyed the two men suspiciously as they rushed in. He hovered his finger over the silent security alarm. Surely these two men in polo shirts and jeans weren’t there to buy a fur!

“May I help you, gentlemen?”

“We need some information about one of your customers.”

“I’m terribly sorry, but that’s confidential. We are not in the habit of disclosing such information to … gentlemen such as yourselves.”

Benjy produced one of Lt. Tennant’s cards and handed it to Pangborn, whose eyes popped. “Oh,” he said, coughing. “That’s a completely different matter. About which patron are you inquiring?”

“Pearce Perdue.”

“Oh yes. He placed an order recently for a fur coat. One like that one.” He pointed at a mannequin wearing a coat that reached to its knees.

“When did he come to pick it up?”

“He didn’t. It was to be delivered.”

“Do you know to whom?”

“Let’s see.” Pangborn went to a ledger and flipped through its gilt-edged pages. “Why, yes. It was to be delivered to Paula Perdue. His wife, I’m sure.”

“When was that coat delivered?”

Pangborn returned to the ledger. “It was supposed to be delivered Monday evening, the 17th, around 9pm. But the delivery boy brought it back.”


“Nobody was home.”

“Is he sure?”

“Yes, sir. He knocked several times and nobody came to the door.”

“And he didn’t leave it there.”

“Sir, one does not leave a $47,000 mink and sable fur coat by Panos Petrou on a doorstep!

Caesar and Benjy dashed back to the courthouse . They arrived in time to hear the judge call for a short pause in the proceedings. Peccari sat at a table with her attorney, who got up to powder her nose. Caesar and Benjy paraded over to Peccari, but a policeman tried to prevent them. Lt. Tennant came up and said, “It’s permitted, let them talk to her.”

“Peccari, how are you prospering?”

“I just can’t believe this is happening. I’m innocent, but I’m going to be put to death! I’m already pondering my final repast. A portion of plantain and paneer pakoras, a pu pu platter, a plate of perdeli pilav, port to drink, and plenty of pecan pie.” She seemed momentarily preoccupied from her predetermined doom by the appeal of such a meal.

Her attorney, a Ms. Persephone Primrose, had come back. “At what position are we in the presentation?” said Caesar.

“We’re practically done with Mrs. Perdue. I’m cross-examining her. I just have a couple more points to discuss.”

“Ask her this.” He leaned over and whispered in her ear, which was adorned with a pink pezzottaite earring, to preserve his privacy from the prying pinnae of proximate passersby.

“How does that pertain to the proceeding?” said Persephone.

“Please promise me you’ll perform this task!” Persephone decided to play ball. People were returning to the pews, and the judge called everyone to order. Paula put her petite posterior upon the witness platform. “Mrs. Perdue,” said the judge, “may I point out you’re still under a promise of no perjury.”

“Yes, your honor.”

Persephone stood and perched on her periwinkle polka dot pumps. “Mrs. Perdue, pray tell where did you procure that pretty fur coat?”

Paula looked partially perplexed, but responded placidly, “It was dispatched from Pangborn’s Pelts.”

“And did you purchase it yourself?”

“No, it was a present from my … late husband Pearce.”

“I see. Very philanthropic of him. It looks perfect on you.” Paula looked pleased. “You said it was dispatched. When was that?”

“When? It was Wednesday, a pair of days past Pearce’s perishment.”

“I see. But per the pelt emporium, they tried to dispatch your present Monday evening.”

“I must’ve missed it.”

“You didn’t hear a person pounding on your portal that evening?”

“Well, no. I don’t always hear the door.”

“The delivery peon said he tried plenty of times.”

“I didn’t hear it. Perhaps I was preoccupied in the powder room. What more would you prefer I say?”

Persephone pretended to be puzzled. “Well, this is particularly perplexing,” she said. “The delivery peon pounded on your portal plenty of times and you didn’t pick up on this, but when Caesar Campbell and Benjy Baxter came to parley with you on Tuesday and pounded on your portal, you proclaimed you were in your backyard, possibly on your patio, when you heard them pounding. Is that account precise?”

“Well … yes.” She bit her lower lip.

“Please, Mrs. Perdue. I am not of the position that you were in your place that evening waiting for Pearce.” Paula peered at Caesar and Benjy, who peered back at her pitilessly. “Make public your location!”

Paula grabbed the ponderosa pine perimeter of the witness stand and stood up. She pounded her piqued paws on the podium. “I wasn’t home! It was me! I used a pistol to put perforations in Pearce!” The district attorney choked on his percolated piping hot panda dung tea. Persephone primped her pageboy locks in triumph.

Paula sat back down. “Pearce came home Saturday. When he stepped out of the parlor, I went prying into his pockets like I’ve been doing lately, and I found the pistol. I don’t know where he got it, but I was pretty positive he didn’t purchase it himself. On Monday, when he said he had an unexpected powwow to pop into that evening, I got suspicious, and pursued him. I saw him talking to … one of those profligate painted women peddlers you see parading on the pavement. They proceeded to a hotel. I waited for them to emerge. He came out alone and started perambulating down the pavement. When he turned into a dark narrow passageway, I confronted him, and then I plugged him. I polished my prints off the pistol, you know, like they do in the picture shows, and pitched it to the ground. I presumed the police would point a finger at whoever purchased the pistol.”

The perturbed judge, whose name was Paulo Patricio Portela Pereira Pinhero Proença from the poor part of Portimão, Portugal, pummeled his gavel to pacify the pandemonium in the packed courtroom. “Place Mrs. Paula Perdue in protective custody for the murder of Pearce Perdue. The case pertaining to the prisoner Peccari Pancetta is put aside.”

Outside the courtroom, Caesar, Benjy, Peccari, Collops, and Lt. Tennant were celebrating Peccari’s release.

“So guys,” said Lt. Tennant. “What about Peter? Was he blackmailing Perdue?”

“Our guess is, if one of his workers snagged a particularly rich client, Peter would blackmail him for extra money. I don’t think Petunia or Paige knew anything about it. Perdue picked up the gun after Paige dropped it, used it to kill Peter, and then Paula used it to kill Pearce. But that’s just a presumption.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Dad, can we get something to eat somewhere? I’m starved!” said Peccari.

“What are you in the mood for, honey?” asked Collops.

“A portion of plantain and paneer pakoras, a pu pu platter, a plate of perdeli pilav, port to drink, and plenty of pecan pie.”

“That’ll cost a pile of pesos!” Collops pulled Lt. Tennant over to him and joked, “Could you possibly put Peccari back in the penitentiary? Her penchant for peculiar provisions will precipitate my poverty!”

And everyone laughed. Ha ha ha!

The End

Birthday or Deathday?

Birthday or Deathday?
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

The Prologue

Arihiro “Ari” Hashisaki

owner of House of Hashisaki
Peccari Pancetta daughter of deli owner Collops Pancetta
Our Heroes
Dainty Busch citizen at large
Junnosuke Hashisaki Ari’s grandfather
The Pickering-Tewksbury Household
Esme Walpole-Pickering-Tewksbury matriarch and widow
Cecilia Pickering-Tewksbury Esme’s stepdaughter
Lathrop Pickering-Tewksbury Esme’s stepson
Stanislaus Pickering-Tewksbury Esme’s stepson
Sylvester Pickering-Tewksbury the beloved family pet
Hattie Dankworth the maid
Archibald “Archie” Bresslaw-Tattersall friend of the Pickering-Tewksbury family

Ari handed the receipt to the woman in purple, along with her purchase, a bag containing a late 1700s imari bowl, secured in bubble wrap. As the woman left the store, she stepped aside to let Peccari come in first.

“Hey Ari.” said Peccari. “How goes it?”

“It goes well. How are you?”

“I closed the deli early; I have a ticket to see a play downtown tonight.”


She looked around the store. “Where’s your grandfather?”

“He and Dainty have a dinner date tonight.”

“Ohhh, so those two are an item.” Ari nodded. “But,” continued Peccari. “won’t they have a hard time communicating?”

“Well, they each hired tutors so Dainty could learn Japanese and my grandfather could learn English. I’m glad he got a tutor; imagine Dainty passing that Cockney accent on to him.” He winced.

Peccari looked at a clock on the wall. “I should go. I need to shower then I’m grabbing a bite on the way.”

“Have fun!”

The canary yellow Rolls Royce bounced its way along the road. It wasn’t that the road was rough or unpaved; it was due to Dainty’s rather exuberant driving style. Junnosuke didn’t seem the least bit disturbed, however.

“I can’t wait for you to meet Cecilia.” said Dainty. “She’s an old friend, very sweet. Can’t say the same for her brothers, though.”

“Her brothers? They aren’t nice?”

“Petty tossers.” She noticed Junnosuke looking puzzled, so she added, “Baka.” He nodded in comprehension. “It’s Cecilia’s mother’s birthday, so she invited us over. Her mother’s very sweet, too. How her sons managed to turn into such wankers, I don’t know.”

Junnosuke didn’t understand wankers, either, but guessed it was similarly explained by baka.

“Anyway, enough. We’re going to have a good time.”

Dainty turned onto a private road and they whizzed between rows of fir trees until they reached a manor house. Dainty parked at an odd angle right in front. Junnosuke walked around the car to open her door. “Arigatou.” she said. She rang the doorbell. Through the door they could hear a man’s voice shouting, “You idiot!”

The door opened and a weedy man in pince-nez and a comb-over going from one ear to the other was standing there, looking perturbed. “Oh, you must be Dainty and … her friend. I’m Lathrop, Cecilia’s brother.”

Junnosuke bowed and introduced himself. Lathrop ignored him and instead turned and shouted, “Cecilia! Your friend is here!” He turned back and beckoned. “Come inside.”

A handsome woman came down the stairs. “Dainty!” she cried out. The two women hugged.

“This is my friend, Junnosuke. Junnosuke, this is my good friend Cecilia.” He bowed to her. She almost began to curtsy, but changed her mind and bowed in return.

“Pleased to meet you, June … June-skee?” said Cecilia.

“Very good.” said Junnosuke, but Dainty said it again slowly—june no skay—and Cecilia repeated it. She turned to Lathrop. “Who were you shouting at a minute ago?”

“That stupid maid, who else? She just told me she dropped the birthday cake and it’s ruined!”

“Well, I’m sure she didn’t mean to. We can always get another cake.”

“I’m going to have a word with Stanislaus!” He stomped away.

“Stanislaus is my other brother.” explained Cecilia as she took their coats. “We hired a new maid a few days ago. Her name is Hattie. She’s nice enough but seems the nervous type.”

“How’s your mother?” asked Dainty.

“I’m afraid she’s not feeling well. She has a cold or something, and she just had cataract surgery too. She’s resting in bed right now, but you can go up and see her.”

“Not now!” said Lathrop, who had come running back. “She’s sleeping. Let her sleep.”

Cecilia shrugged and led the way into the drawing room. Two other men were there. Dainty guessed one was Stanislaus, judging by his combover which, unlike Lathrop’s, went from back to front. The other was a tall, refined looking man, in his 50s, with a huge brush of a moustache. He stood immediately upon seeing Dainty, whereas Stanislaus didn’t.

“I’m Dainty.” she said to the tall man.

“Or not.” sneered Lathrop under his breath.

“I’m Archibald Bresslaw-Tattersall.” said the tall man, bowing deeply.

“Retired captain, British Army.” added Cecilia.

“Now, now.” chided the man gently. “They don’t need to hear all that.”

Dainty indicated her companion. “Captain Bresslaw-Tattersall, may I …”

“Oh please, my dear, ’Archie’ is fine.”

“Right then, Archie. This is Junnosuke.” The two men bowed to each other.

Finally the other man spoke. “I’m Stanislaus. I’m afraid I can’t handle those Oriental names so I’ll just call you J, shall I?” Dainty started to protest but Junnosuke clasped her by the hand and shook his head slightly. Not worth the trouble for the likes of the two brothers.

“And look, it’s Sylvester!” said Dainty. She had walked over to a large terrarium in which sat a turtle. She waved at it. “Hello, Sylvester!” Sylvester, preoccupied with munching on some lettuce, ignored her.

After they all sat down, Junnosuke asked Cecilia, “How did you meet Dainty?”

Cecilia giggled. “Oh, it’s so silly. We actually met at bingo night, of all places. She’s English, I’m English, so we just started chatting and became good friends. It’s been what, three years now?” Dainty nodded.

“I don’t know about you, but I need a drink.” said Lathrop, bored. He picked up a small bell sitting on an end table and shook it vigorously. A moment later, a maid came running in. This was obviously Hattie. She was pretty in an unassuming way, but it was hard to tell.

“Yes, sir?” she said.

“Bring the drinks trolley, if you can manage that without breaking it!”

“Lathrop!” said Cecilia sharply. Hattie made a quick curtsy and left. “Lathrop, I know she’s a little clumsy …”

“A little?” He scoffed.

“… but she’s new here, and she’s only human. It’s no wonder she’s nervous, the way you bark at her all the time.”

“Well, if she can’t handle it, she can quit! I don’t know why Esme hired her.” There was an uncomfortable silence, finally broken by Junnosuke. “Your father?” he said to Cecilia.

“He passed away about five years ago, so it’s just mum, me, and my brothers.” Dainty whispered into Junnosuke’s ear: “Shinda.” “I’m sorry.” he said.

“He’d still be alive if it weren’t for Esme.” said Stanislaus.

“Oh?” said Dainty. Cecilia tensed.

“She’s not even our real mum.” he continued. “Our real mum, that’s Beatrix (he pointed to a portrait on the wall), died when my brother and I were in grammar school. Cecilia was at university. Our Dad, that’s Telford (he pointed to another portrait on the wall) married Esme and she killed him.”

“That’s not true.” hissed Cecilia. “Tell her the truth!”

Stanislaus crossed his arms in a huff and said in a singsong voice, as if reciting a nursery rhyme, “Esme and Dad went on a holiday and went skin diving and he drowned.”

Cecilia explained: “Mum had been a skin diving instructor, so she wanted to show Dad. He was so excited; he was fond of those old Jacques Cousteau shows. But there was a rip current and he got pulled under. Mum managed to get him to shore and started the kiss of life, but it was too late.”

“So she says.” said Lathrop. Cecilia was about to object when Hattie returned with the drinks trolley.

“Whiskey and soda.” said Lathrop. Junnosuke nodded and said, “For me also, please.” Hattie poured some whiskey into a tumbler. Her finger had barely touched the seltzer bottle trigger when Lathrop barked again. “Don’t drown it, girl!” He snatched the tumbler from her hand. She made another one for Junnosuke. Stanislaus waved her away.

Hattie turned to face Archie. “A gimlet, please.” he said.

“A gim … let?” she said hesitatingly.

“Gin and lime juice.” helped Archie.

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m afraid there’s no lime juice.” Archie could see Lathrop was about to castigate her again, so he cut him off. “A whiskey and soda is fine, thank you.” Dainty asked for the same, and Cecilia asked for a small sherry.

“Here’s to the birthday girl!” said Dainty. Everyone raised their glasses except Lathrop. “Hear, hear.” said Archie. There was another silence as they sipped their drinks, then Dainty finally said, “Maybe we can go see Esme now?”

“I’m sure she’s still asleep.” said Lathrop.

“Oh, Lathrop, if she is, we won’t disturb her.” sighed Cecilia. “Anyway, it’s nearly time for dinner so we should wake her.”

“I see.” He looked at Stanislaus. “Why don’t you go get us another cake since that girl ruined the first one?” Stanislaus nodded and hurried out without a word.

“So let’s go.” said Dainty. They all picked up their drinks and headed up the stairs. Hattie tried to follow but Lathrop looked at her and snapped, “What are you doing? I’m sure you’ve got something to do in the kitchen.” She looked disappointed, but turned and went back down the stairs.

At Esme’s bedroom door, Lathrop knocked and waited. There was no answer. “Let me just peek in.” he said. He entered and quickly shut the door behind him. A moment later he emerged. “Okay, she’s awake, but let’s keep this brief.”

The room was very dark, the only illumination coming from a slight gap in the curtains and a nightlight. In the gloom, they could see a figure in the bed, the covers pulled up to just under her shoulders. She was wearing a bedgown and her eyes were bandaged. She offered a little wave.

“Hello, Esme! It’s Dainty. I’m sorry you’re feeling so poorly.” Esme waved again.

“I’m here as well.” said Archie. Esme waved. “Can’t you speak?” Esme shook her head.

“It’s her cold.” said Lathrop. “She’s lost her voice. The doctor said she shouldn’t speak.”

“My friend Junnosuke is here.” said Dainty. Esme waved.

“I hope you feel better soon.” said Archie.

“Yes, we all do.” said Dainty. “Will you join us for dinner?” Esme shook her head no, then mimed yawning. “Oh dear, that’s a shame, but I suppose you need your rest. Well, love, when you’re feeling better we’ll get together again.” Esme nodded.

“Oh mum, isn’t there anything we can do for you?” said Cecilia. She moved towards the bed but Lathrop grabbed her by the arm and propelled her towards the door. “She really needs her sleep, so let’s all give her some peace and quiet.” Everyone else followed them into the hall, then downstairs, where Hattie had set the table for dinner.

“Ooh, pork pie!” said Dainty, clapping her hands with glee. “But it’s a little strange to eat this when it’s not Christmas.”

“Well, it’s mum’s favorite, so we made it for her birthday.” said Cecilia. “Hattie did most of the work.” Hattie smiled slightly, keeping one eye on Lathrop. Stanislaus came in. His combover had detached itself and was fluttering like an advertising banner, the kind pulled behind by small planes. Junnosuke’s usual reserve failed him and he waggled his eyebrows at Dainty. Dainty turned to see what he was looking at, then cried out, “Oh!” and stifled a laugh.

“Where’s the cake?” asked Archie.

“I forgot my wallet.” grumbled Stanislaus.

“Never mind,” said Cecilia. “Let’s eat while it’s hot.” There was a choice of condiments for the pork pie: mustard, chutney, and applesauce. Silverskin onions, red cabbage, and mushy peas accompanied the dish. Everyone except the brothers agreed it was delicious.

“It’s a shame mum can’t join us.” said Cecilia.

“Excuse me, ma’am, shall I take her a plate?” said Hattie.

“No, you may not!” snapped Lathrop. “Go get me another cup of tea.” She hurried into the kitchen. “What is that girl’s fascination with going upstairs?”

“I’m sure Esme won’t mind if I go up.” said Archie, beginning to stand.

“She’s asleep.” said Lathrop. “She’s tired.”

But Cecilia has already begun scooping small portions of food onto a plate, which she then handed to Archie.

“Don’t bother yourself.” said Stanislaus, standing. “I’ll take it up.”

“Sit down, young man. It’s really no trouble at all. She has to eat something. Keep up her strength, you know.” Hattie had returned with a tray, upon which was a cup of hot tea, which she put down in front of Lathrop. Seeing Archie with the plate of food, she held out the tray and he put the plate on it. Cecilia wrapped some silverware in a napkin and placed it on the tray. Hattie handed the tray to Archie, who smiled at her. He left.

“He’s a good man.” said Cecilia to Dainty. “I think he’s actually a little sweet on mum. He’d be good for her, I think. You should see his house. Lots of mementos from his campaigns in the army. He collects guns, you know. Some are very rare and valuable.”

“I should like to see that someday.” said Junnosuke.

They could hear footsteps pounding down the stairs. Archie came running in. “She’s gone.” he said, putting the tray on the table.

“Gone?” asked Dainty. “What do you mean, gone?”

“She’s not in her bed. I thought she went to the powder room, but she’s not there, either.” He held up the nightgown, the eye bandages, and a wig. “I found these by the bed.  Did she come down?”

Cecilia and Hattie exchanged looks. “No, she’s not here.” said Cecilia. “But where could she have gone?”

“We have to find her.” said Lathrop suddenly.

“It’s a big house.” said Junnosuke.

“We’ll find her.” said Archie. “You two brothers, check down here on the ground floor and outside. Dainty and Junnosuke, check the attic level. I’ll take Cecilia and Hattie to search the first floor where her bedroom is.”

The brothers stayed in their seats. “Move!” commanded Archie. The brothers jumped, startled, and trudged into the drawing room. Everyone else headed up the stairs to the first floor, then Dainty and Junnosuke continued to the attic level. The attic was actually quite spacious. Half of it had been converted to two guest rooms. The other half was used for storage. Junnosuke turned on the lights. Although there were two bare bulbs hanging from the ridgeway, it was still hard to see.

“Bloody creepy.” said Dainty.

“It’s bleeding?” asked Junnosuke.

Dainty thought hard for a moment before replying “Kowai.

“Not to worry, nobody will hurt us.” There were stacks of cardboard boxes of every size and several large trunks.

“D’ya notice somethin’, Junnosuke? There are cobwebs everywhere, but not there.” She pointed. Sure enough, there was one corner where the cobwebs had been cleared. There was a particularly tall stack of boxes there.

“Somebody is there, perhaps?” whispered Junnosuke. “Let’s go look.” He led the way, with Dainty clinging to his arm.

Archie, Cecilia, and Hattie had completed their search on the first floor. They came down the stairs to the drawing room, where Lathrop was having another drink and Stanislaus was pacing. As soon as they entered, Lathrop bounded to his feet.

“Well?” he demanded.

“Nothing.” said Cecilia. She thought about the nightgown and wig that Archie had found. “Why would she be out of her clothes?”

“You mean, she’s running around naked right now?” said Stanislaus. “Perish the thought.”

“Or she got dressed and went somewhere.” said Cecilia. “But where? Why wouldn’t she tell us?”

There was suddenly a loud, piercing scream from upstairs. “That’s Dainty!” cried Cecilia. All five of them went charging up the stairs. They were about to continue to the attic when they heard the scream again. It was coming from Esme’s bedroom. They ran down the hall and through the door. Junnosuke was standing by the bed, comforting Dainty, who was sobbing loudly. There was a figure in the bed.

“Dainty, my god, what happened?” demanded Cecilia.

“Esme’s dead!” wailed Dainty.

“Dead?!” said Stanislaus. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m bleedin’ sure!” spat Dainty. “D’ya think I’m bloody stupid or somethin’? She’s dead, she’s dead!” she keened.

Hattie fell to her knees and cried out, “No!”, and she too began sobbing. Cecilia tried to rush to the bed, but Junnosuke let go of Dainty and held Cecilia back.

“No, don’t look!” said Dainty. “It’s too horrible! She’s been murdered!”

“But what’s she doing in the bed?” said Stanislaus. “I thought Archie said she’d disappeared.”

Hattie was wailing inconsolably. “Oh, do be quiet!” shouted Lathrop. “What do you care, anyway? You’ve only been working for us a few days!”

Hattie stood up, wiped away her tears, and said, “She’s my mother.”

“Your mother?” exclaimed the group.

“Why, that’s fantastic!” said Cecilia. “But how … how did you come to be here?”

“My parents are Mr. and Mrs. Dankworth. I’m engaged to be married. When I told them the news about my engagement, they told me I had been adopted, that I was … illegitimate. I decided to try to find my birth mother, and that led me here.”

“Never mind all this.” said Lathrop. “It’s obvious what’s happened.” He pointed at Archie. “He went upstairs with that tray of food and he shot Esme in her bed. All that nonsense about her being missing was just a trick.”

Cecilia was still talking to Hattie. “But I knew nothing about this. I mean, why are you working here as a maid?”

“I came here three days ago, under the pretext of looking for a job. When Esme took me to the drawing room for an interview, I told her everything.”

“And she believed you?” said Stanislaus.

“Yes. I have a birthmark she recognized.” She rolled up her sleeve to reveal two strawberry marks on her bicep. “We both started to cry, and just then he …”—she pointed at Lathrop—“… barged in. We both tried to act like nothing was the matter, and Esme—mum—told him she was interviewing me and to please leave us alone.” She shot a suspicious look at Lathrop. “He left but he was probably eavesdropping at the door.”

“Mum told me she had gotten pregnant when she was 17; some boy in the neighborhood she never saw again. She ran away to hide the pregnancy from her parents, then gave the baby up for adoption.”

“You knew about this?” said Cecilia to Lathrop, who said nothing but glared defiantly.

“But what about Esme?” said Archie. “Who killed her? Why?”

“Spare us the feigned innocence.” said Lathrop. “You had the perfect opportunity to kill her. You kept wanting to go upstairs all evening.”

“It’s because Esme and I have been courting.” he said. He looked at the bed and tried to keep his voice steady. “I had been invited to dinner and knew she’d been sick and was obviously concerned, like anyone else would be.”

“Wait a bloody minute!” roared Dainty. Everyone fell silent and looked at her. She finally looked at Lathrop and said, “How did you know she was shot?”

Lathrop swallowed hard. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Archie shot her. He’s got all those guns.”

“But you can’t see the body from where you’re standing! She could’ve been stabbed for all you know.”

“Why don’t you mind your own business, you awful cow!”

Under any other circumstance, Dainty would’ve boxed his ears, but instead she said, in a surprisingly casual tone, “Why don’t we ask …”–she pointed to Esme–“… her!”

Esme suddenly sat up in bed and pointed at Lathrop. “Why don’t you tell everyone all about it?” she said. She wore a single bandage over her left eye.

Except for Dainty and Junnosuke, everyone’s jaws dropped. Nobody said a word. They all just stared at the suddenly alive Esme. Finally, Hattie and Cecilia simultaneously rushed to embrace her. Junnosuke didn’t try to stop them this time. “Mum!” they cried out in unison.

Junnosuke saw the two brothers moving towards the door, and he moved to block them, as did Archie.

“I wouldn’t try escaping.” he growled. “Otherwise, I …” He paused, searching for the right words. He looked to Dainty for help, gesturing towards his own eyes with his first two fingers.

“He’ll gouge out your eyes.” said Dainty.

“Yes, I will gouge out your eyes.” echoed Junnosuke.

“And he will.” chirped Dainty casually.

“I’d believe him if I were you.” said Archie.

“But I’m so confused!” said Cecilia. “Just what on earth happened tonight?”

“Do like your mother says and tell us all about it, Lathrop.” said Dainty.

Lathrop sighed. “After our father died, his money and estate naturally went to Esme. The three of us stood to inherit it after she died. But then along comes this … girl claiming to be her daughter. I was afraid Esme might’ve added her to her will, or given it all to her, since she’s her real daughter.”

“You boys never, ever gave me a chance.” said Esme. “I know I’m not your real mother, but I tried my best to give you love. I understand your resentment, but I never would’ve cut you out, even if I did make some provision for Hattie.”

“Stupid bastard girl.” muttered Stanislaus under his breath, but Junnosuke, guessing it wasn’t a compliment, grabbed his left arm and twisted it behind his back. “Ow!”

“You apologize.”

“All right, all right, I’m sorry!” Junnosuke gave the arm a quick jerk upwards for good measure then released it.

Cecilia gave a wry smile. “Funny you should look down on her for being illegitimate. She’s not the only one here.” Esme nodded, but the brothers looked stunned. “Father had an affair before he married Beatrix. The other woman died in childbirth, so Father adopted the girl—me—pretending I wasn’t really his child. So I’m only your half-sister.”

Esme had handed Hattie a tissue to blow her nose. “I’m so sorry to put you through this agony.” said Dainty to Cecilia and Hattie. “Junnosuke and I found her hiding in the attic, and we worked out this little plan to try to get the boys to confess.”

“But what exactly happened?” said Archie.

“Just before dinner,” said Esme, “I got into an argument with Lathrop over Hattie. He tried to smother me with a pillow, but he forgot I was a skin diver. I merely held my breath and played dead. He didn’t think to make sure I was really dead.”

“Stupid boy.” said Dainty. “But thank goodness.”

“After he left, I went to hide in the attic while I figured out what to do.”

Stanislaus spoke: “Lathrop told me what he had done and asked me to help him. When everyone was insisting on going up to see her, I said I was going to the store. Instead I ran upstairs to her room. I was going to hide the body and dress up like Esme to buy us some time. But the body wasn’t there. I assumed Lathrop had hidden it himself.”

“And Lathrop probably thought Stanislaus hid the body.” said Dainty. “So all this about losing her voice and being unable to see was just to help Stanislaus pretend to be Esme.”

Esme gave the brothers a withering look. “Well, you two, you can certainly kiss your inheritance good-bye.” said Esme. “I hope you spend a long time in prison.”

“Good riddance.” whispered Dainty to Junnosuke, who nodded.

“But you two,” said Esme, looking at Cecilia and Hattie, “are sisters now.” The two women regarded each other, then laughed and embraced. “I guess we are.” said Hattie.

“There’s more.” said Archie. He knelt by the bed. “I wasn’t planning on doing this tonight—I’ll get a ring later—but would you do the honor of marrying me?”

“Oh yes!” said Esme, and they kissed.

“Oh mum, you can’t!” said Cecilia. She looked upset.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

She suddenly smiled. “If you marry him, your name is going to be Esme Walpole-Pickering-Tewksbury-Bresslaw-Tattersall!” And everyone but the brothers laughed while Archie called for the police.

Downstairs, Sylvester, who had remarkable hearing, stopped munching on a piece of fruit just long enough to roll his eyes at Cecilia’s little joke.

The End

The Scarf and The Noose

Unlike the previous three stories, I did not try to turn this one around in 24 hours.

The Scarf and The Noose
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains violence, mild language)


Benjy Baxter and Caesar Campbell

co-owners of BaxCam Coffees
Maury and Maureen Basil co-owners of Java Juggernaut and Java Gym
Valeria Estefan owner of La Cafetería
Josefa Estefan Valeria’s grandmother
Jasper Numan owner of Two Lumps For Me
Connie Ridgeley owner of Coffee C’s
Timothy Thomas Tilbrook owner of Tim Tom Coffee
Bessandra Leeway owner of Leeway Lodge
Mickey and Gloria employees at Leeway Lodge
Lieutenant Simon Tennant Astley Hills Police Department

“Oh, my! I’ve been waiting for your arrival! Adds a touch of celebrity to the place, you know?” Benjy and Caesar regarded the woman at the front desk curiously.

“Celebrity?” asked Caesar.

“So modest—as if you didn’t know!” The two men seemed genuinely puzzled, so she added, “Go to Twipper and look for #CoffeeDetectives. That’s you! Solving murders and robberies in East Kingsley! Everyone here is dying to meet you. Oh, dear—maybe dying isn’t the right word, hee hee! I’m Bessandra Leeway, the proprietress of Leeway Lodge.” She shook hands with each of them. “Let me show you your room.”

She led them into a hallway, then up a narrow wooden staircase. At the top of the stairway was a hallway, going both left and right, leading to doors in either direction. “This house belonged to my great aunt Violet. I think she was a madam, so you can guess what went on in these rooms!” She turned left and unlocked the second door on the right, and handed Benjy the key. “Here we are!” The room held two twin beds. “It’s a little small, but you know, these rooms were only meant to hold a single bed, tee hee! Just outside your door to the right is a door that goes to a stairway that leads to a patio on the roof. I think some of Aunt Violet’s clients would hide up there during police raids!” She laughed, then took a deep breath and clasped her hands. “We serve three meals a day: breakfast at 7, lunch at 12:30, and dinner at 6:30. All included in the price. I know you’ll be at the convention over the weekend so be sure you let us know if you’ll be eating here or not. There’s also an informal coffee social at 3:30. Most of my guests right now are here for the convention, so it’s a chance to meet your fellow attendees. If you need a snack at any time, just let someone in the kitchen know.” She took another deep breath and looked pleased with herself, having recited her little speech with great aplomb.

A maid appeared in the doorway and cleared her throat.

“Yes, Gloria?”

“You’d better come, Ms. Leeway. He’s unhappy again.” Gloria tilted her head towards a door on the opposite side of the hallway.

As Bessandra followed Gloria, she said, “Enjoy your stay, gentlemen!” She swept out the door and closed it behind her.

“Quite a character, eh?” said Benjy.

“Yes.” Caesar looked at his watch. “It’s 3:30 right now, we can make that social.” Caesar changed shirts while Benjy splashed some water on his face. Caesar could hear shouting from the hallway. He pressed his ear to the door, and could just make out Bessandra saying, “Gloria, just make sure they always have extra soap.”

Caesar opened the door a crack and peered out. He could see Bessandra and another woman, presumably Gloria, turning to go down the stairs. A door across the hall opened and a couple stepped out. “I’ll behave.” said the man to the woman.

The door to the left of Jasper opened and an elderly woman appeared. “Hello, Connie.” she said to the other woman.

“She’s not Connie!” snapped the man.

“I’m Maureen. We met earlier.” said his companion. Caesar flinched when she spoke. Her voice was a loud, brassy blare.

Ay, I’m so sorry.” said the elderly woman. “From the back I thought you were Connie.”

The woman smiled. “We’re just going to the coffee social, shall we go down together?”

The elderly woman nodded and the three of them headed down the stairs.

“I’m ready.” said Benjy. “Let’s go!”

In the dining room, there was a large table set up in the center, with benches on either side. A number of smaller tables had been pushed against one wall. Another large table held three big urns—marked Columbian, Decaf, and Hot Tea—a bowl of oranges, bananas, and red and green apples, two platters of assorted pastries, a stack of small plates, and a basket with cloth napkins and silverware. A young man in an apron was folding more napkins. On the west wall was a large picture window offering a view of the garden which contained, appropriately enough, mostly violets. There were seven people at the big table, engaged in conversation.

“You can sit here if you’d like.” honked Maureen, waving at them excitedly. She scooted over to make room, pushing aside the man who had been in the hall with her.

As they walked towards the couple, the elderly woman, who was sitting at the other end of the table said to Caesar, “Excuse me, do you have any herbal tea?” Caesar looked at her. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she said, seeing his face. “I thought you were the server.” Caesar looked at the young man. Besides the fact they were both wearing white shirts and black slacks, there wasn’t any resemblance.

“No harm done.” he said. “I’m Caesar Campbell. This is my business partner Benjy Baxter.”

“I’m Josefa Estefan.” She indicated the young woman sitting next to her. “This is my granddaughter Valeria.”

“Of La Cafetería?” asked Caesar. Josefa nodded. “Pleased to meet you both. I’m sure we’ll talk later.” He and Benjy sat down next to Maureen.

“I’m Maureen Basil, and this is my husband Maury.” she said. “Are you here for the convention?”

“Yes. We own BaxCam Coffees in East Kingsley.” The two men introduced themselves.

“The coffee detectives! Our celebrities have arrived!” cried Maureen. Benjy forced a smile while Caesar shifted uneasily in his chair. “We own Java Juggernaut.” continued Maureen.

“Oh, now you’re the real celebrities.” said Benjy. “Twenty locations in the state, and two-time winner of the Coffeehouse Association Humanitarian Award.”

A woman wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and matching hair, sitting across the table, rolled her eyes.

“We also own Java Gym.” said Maury, and he flexed his tanned, sleeveless arms to drive the point home. “Twelve locations.”

“I’m Timothy Thomas Tilbrook.” said the man next to the tie-dye woman. “TimTom Coffees.” He offered his hand to Caesar, but before Caesar could shake it, Maury had stood up and put a card in Timothy’s hand.

“Here you go.” said Maury. “A free gym membership for a year. He walked around the table, handing everyone a card. “One for each of you!”

Josefa looked at hers and shrugged. “I’m afraid it’s not much good for me.” she said.

“We have special programs for our honored senior guests.” he said. “We want everyone to feel they can participate and keep fit.”

“Maybe I’ll check it out, then.”

Bessandra swept into the room. “Is there anything anyone needs?”

“I think you’re out of spoons. I need one” said Maury.

Bessandra turned to the man folding the napkins. “Mickey, take care of that, please.” He nodded and left.

“My turn!” said the woman in the tie-dye, taking advantage of the momentary distraction. “I’m Connie Ridgeley, owner of Coffee C’s. Three locations!”

The last member of the party said, “I guess that just leaves me.” He wore an oversized beret, with a long heavy scarf coiled around his neck like an anaconda. If his peacoat had been a smock, he would’ve looked like the stereotype of a French painter. “I’m Jasper Numan.” he said. “Two Lumps For Me over in Lead Valley.” He felt obliged to add: “Just one location.”

“I’ve been there.” said Caesar. “Nice place.” Jasper smiled.

Mickey returned, carrying a small white bundle. He went to the food table and deposited the contents—spoons—into the basket. He then picked up a spoon and presented it to Jasper.

“Not him, me!” cried out Maury, standing up abruptly, hands balled into fists. “What the hell is wrong with you? And I don’t want one that you touched!”

Maureen rested her hand on Maury’s arm and smiled self-consciously at everyone around the table. Maury saw that everyone was staring at him. He unclenched his scowl and his fists and patted Mickey on the back, the way one pets a dog when one doesn’t really like dogs. “Just a slight misunderstanding.” He handed Mickey a card. “One for you too. So sorry!” He patted Mickey again, who regarded Maury the way a dog regards someone who doesn’t like dogs.

“Thank you, Mickey.” said Bessandra. Mickey left. Bessandra followed him, giving Maury a disapproving look before she disappeared through the door.

“We’re nominated again this year.” said Maureen, as though nothing had happened. “I do hope we don’t win. It’s embarrassing. There are so many other deserving nominees.”

“Tell me more about this award.” said Caesar.

“Yes, do.” said Connie, with mock enthusiasm.

“Every year at the convention they present a Humanitarian Award, for the coffee owner—or owners—who have contributed towards the community.”

Maury, who had calmed down and sat back down, said “We’ve won it twice. Once for creating the ‘Homeless Work Research Grant’ to benefit our disadvantaged brothers and sisters, and once for our ‘Buy A Coffee, Save A Soul’ program.”

“Nice.” said Benjy. “Let’s talk later, maybe we’ll make a contribution.” Maury and Maureen exchanged glances. “That would be wonderful.” said Maury, more to Maureen than to Benjy.

Timothy’s eyes narrowed, and he was shaking his head “no” just slightly, but Benjy and Caesar were too preoccupied with the Basils to notice. Connie noticed, though.

The coffee social continued until about 5:30, when Bessandra chased everyone out so the staff could prepare for dinner. Caesar decided to check out the violet garden while Benjy took a nap.

and Benjy
Josefa and
(unoccupied) Bessandra
← door to roof HALLWAY
Timothy Maureen
and Maury
↓ stairway ↓
Jasper Connie

When they returned to the dining room, the larger tables were now against the wall and the smaller tables had been moved out. Jasper and Valeria were sitting at one table, Timothy and Connie at another, and Maureen and Josefa at another. “I think I’ll go chat with Valeria.” said Caesar. “Sure thing.” said Benjy, who saw Maureen waving at him again. He walked over, made a little bow to the women, and sat down. Josefa was looking over the menu. Maureen had a glass of wine in front of her.

“Hello, Benjy! You can borrow my menu.” said Maureen.

“Where’s Maury?” asked Benjy.

“He’s sleeping in the room. He said he has a headache. Bessandra said the staff could make something for him later.”

Meanwhile, Caesar had sat down with Jasper and Valeria, who had already ordered some wine. Mickey came over and handed Caesar a menu.

“Hello again,” said Caesar. “Are you two ready for the convention on Saturday?”

“Yes, indeed.” said Valeria. “I have a little time on Friday to check out the town and then it’s early to bed for me.”

“You’re all ready to go?”

“Oh yes. This is my fourth year attending. And the staff at the convention are really good at helping out.”

“I envy you both.” said Jasper. “Your stores are thriving and mine, well—not so much.”

“Beginner’s luck for us.” said Caesar. “This whole ‘coffee detectives’ thing was just a fluke.”

“And it wasn’t always easy for me.” said Valeria. “I’ve been in business for five years, and am only now showing any significant profit.” She touched Jasper’s shoulder reassuringly. “If you ever need advice, I’m happy to offer it.”

“Hang in there, Jasper. You’ll figure it out.” added Caesar.

“Thanks.” Jasper smiled. “I’ve tried all kinds of tricks to bring in a little money.” His mouth wrinkled. He took a deep breath, then sighed. “No more of that. I’ve been looking forward to the convention. I have a small booth and I brought some promotional merchandise.”

“Tell you what.” said Valeria. “Give me some business cards. I’ll put them up at my booth at the convention and send people your way.”

“Me too.” said Caesar.

“Thanks.” repeated Jasper. “I’ll bring you some after dinner.”

Benjy was inching backwards in his chair, trying to put a little space between him and the trumpeting Maureen. “We’re so fortunate.” she said. “We began with just one store, and in just a couple of years, BANG! (this caused Benjy and Josefa to jump) We had twenty.”

“That’s amazing.” said Josefa. “I know how hard it’s been for my granddaughter.”

“Do you work in her stores?”

Ay, no, not me. I’m afraid I couldn’t keep up. I’ve visited my granddaughter’s stores in the morning when everyone is lined up demanding their coffees. How her staff stays so polite and patient, it’s beyond me.”

“We’ve been lucky.” said Benjy. “Caesar and I have some good staff, and we get support and encouragement from the other merchants on our street. And, uh, the ‘coffee detectives’ thing hasn’t hurt, I guess.”

“Well, not everyone is so fortunate.” said Maureen. She looked over at Jasper. “I was talking to him earlier. I guess things are pretty grim for him. Business is failing. He …” She paused. “… well, I’m afraid he might do something stupid.”

“Really?” said Josefa. “Jasper didn’t seem like that when I spoke to him.”

“That was Timothy.” corrected Maureen. She looked at Timothy and Connie’s table. They looked back at her uneasily, then resumed their conversation, speaking very quietly.

“Was it? I was sure it was Jasper. That big scarf of his.” Josefa closed her eyes, trying to remember. Maureen looked at Benjy and shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“May I take your order?” said Mickey.

The next day, Connie and Timothy were heading down the hallway towards the dining room, when they found Josefa standing at the foot of the stairs, looking up expectantly. “Waiting for someone?” asked Timothy.

“Maureen. She asked me earlier to meet her here.”

“Oh yes,” said Connie. “I just saw her. Looks like she went shopping.” She gestured over her shoulder.

“Oh?” said Josefa. “I thought she was upstairs getting Maury.”

“Well, don’t be too long.” said Connie. “It’s lunch time!” She and Timothy walked to the dining room, leaving Josefa in the hallway alone.

Suddenly, someone shoved past her, nearly knocking her down. She looked up to see a familiar scarf trailing behind its wearer. She saw a rope in his right hand, which struck her as an odd thing to be carrying. “Jasper! Watch where you’re going!” He ignored her and ran up the stairs, turned right, and vanished from site. Almost immediately from the same direction, Maureen cried out, “Hey!” She turned the corner from the right and came down the stairs. “Josefa! What’s up with Jasper? He just ran past me!”

“Me too. He nearly knocked me down!”

“And was he carrying a rope? What would he need that for?”

“Yes, I wondered that myself. How odd.” said Josefa.

Maureen shrugged. “Well, I’m starved.” Maureen turned and bellowed up the stairs. “Do hurry, Maury!” She offered Josefa her arm. “Shall we?” She and Josefa then walked to the dining room.

As they reached the door, Maureen suddenly stopped. “My shoe!” she said. She crouched over her left foot. “You go in, Josefa, I’ll be there in a moment. My shoe is untied.”

Josefa saw her granddaughter sitting at a table and joined her. Mickey handed her a menu. Connie and Timothy were at another table, closest to the big window, and Caesar and Benjy at another. Josefa looked at Maureen, who had finished tying her shoe and had taken a step through the door. She stopped again and turned to look over her shoulder. “Come on, Maury!” A pause. “Well, go get them. They’re on the nightstand.”

“Shouting, shouting, shouting.” whispered Caesar to Benjy. “Does she not understand the concept of ‘indoor voice’?”

There was a sudden loud crashing of breaking glass. A large object had come smashing through the big window. Shards of glass flew everywhere, showering Timothy and Connie, who were sitting at the table nearest the window. They sat, frozen with shock, afraid to move lest they cut themselves. Everyone else looked past them. Hanging in the window, a rope around his neck instead of his scarf, was Jasper. Without his massive peacoat, he looked very gaunt. Bits of glass were tangled in his curly hair.

Maureen staggered and clutched a nearby chair. “Oh my God.” she moaned, and fell to the floor. Maury came running in. “What was that noise?” he said. Jasper’s swinging body and Maureen lying at his feet fought for his attention. He finally fell to his knees, breathing hard. “Maureen!”

Benjy ran to the ruined window and said to Mickey, “You and Caesar go upstairs, see if you can undo that rope!” They left. Benjy tried to hoist the body without much luck. He needed more muscle, and turned to Maury. “Help me here!”

Maury, however, was gulping air convulsively. “Can’t … I’m hyperventilating.” Benjy called out, “Timothy, help me! Valeria, get Bessandra. Connie, call 911!” Valeria ran from the room. Timothy grabbed Jasper and the two men tried to lift the body. But Jasper was clearly dead. Benjy tried to untie the noose but the knot was too tight. Bessandra followed Valeria back into the dining room. “Get me a knife!” barked Benjy.

Josefa watched all of this in horror. She clasped her hands in silent prayer.

Caesar and Mickey came running back in. “The rope is tied on the roof. We can’t undo the knot.” said Caesar. Bessandra came back with a large knife. Mickey grabbed a chair and stood on it to cut the rope while Caesar helped Benjy and Timothy hold the body aloft. Connie began kicking away some of the glass on the floor so they could lay Jasper down. Mickey grabbed a tablecloth and covered him. “I called 911. The police are on their way.” said Connie.

By now, the Basils had recovered. Maureen was sobbing. “How terrible! Poor Jasper!” She buried her face in her husband’s chest. Maury was still breathing a little hard. “My God.” he said. “I know he was feeling very depressed, but … why didn’t he reach out?”

The room was then silent except for the banshee wail of approaching sirens.

“Wow, the coffee detectives!” Benjy and Caesar tried not to roll their eyes at the police detective. “I’m Lieutenant Simon Tennant, Astley Hills Police Department.” said the man. “Not much of a case here for you, though.” He looked almost disappointed. “The others have already said he was very depressed. And just before dinner, Mrs. Basil and Mrs. …” He consulted his notes. “… Estefan—the grandmother, not the granddaughter—said he ran past them on the stairs, carrying a rope. I guess he decided to end it all. It’s a shame.”

“Jasper did seem a little stressed,” said Caesar, “but I wouldn’t have said he was depressed. I guess you can never tell.”

“Well, we might be in touch if we have further questions. Here’s my card if you think of anything.” He handed cards to both Benjy and Caesar. They all watched as the ambulance took Jasper away. By this time, Bessandra and the guests had joined them. Lt. Tennant tipped his hat to the group and left.

“Jasper didn’t give me an emergency number to contact when he checked in.” said Bessandra. “The police already looked in his room and said it was okay to remove his things. I hate to just toss his stuff. I guess I can wait a few days to see if any relatives or friends come looking for him.” She sighed. “But I get the feeling nobody will.”

On Saturday, news at the convention spread quickly about Jasper’s death. The organizers asked for a moment of silence before the public was let in. Valeria and Caesar and Benjy also set up donation jars at their booths and crowdfunding links on their websites. They felt helpless; would anyone come to claim the body? What if nobody did? At the very least, the money would help pay for a burial.

Dinner that evening at Leeway Lodge was a somber affair. Everyone picked at their food without enthusiasm. The big window had been covered with plywood.

At one point, Maury stood up and tapped his wine glass with a spoon. “I’d like to make an announcement. First of all, a toast to Jasper Numan. I know he was really struggling and on the brink of despair. I wish we could’ve helped him somehow.” Everyone raised their glasses.

“Secondly, Maureen and I wish to announce we are starting a new charity, to help those who struggle with suicidal thoughts. We’ve decided to call it The Numan Initiative.” Everyone raised their glasses again—except Connie and Timothy. They just watched Maury silently.

Maury sat down and Maureen stood up. “My friends, I feel especially bad. Jasper had come to me and was talking about …” She hesitated and dabbed her eyes with her napkin. “… he said he couldn’t see any way out of the mess he was in. We’ve all said things like that before and most of the time it’s just talk, but I guess he was serious about it. I only wish …” Her voice trailed off and she sat down again. Maury put a muscular arm around her shoulders. Everyone sat silently for a moment, then resumed eating.

The convention continued on Sunday. Maury and Maureen had repeated their announcement to all the coffeehouse owners. Valeria and Caesar had walked over to the Basils’ booth to see that a big monitor had been set up showing a website for The Numan Initiative. Nobody had a picture of Jasper to put on the site, so Bessandra let them have a copy of his driver’s license, which she had scanned when he checked in. From the big monitor, his face looked out at everyone dispassionately. Valeria mused that he would’ve been embarrassed by all this attention.

Monday morning, Caesar was up early. Benjy was still asleep. Caesar decided to take a walk in the violet garden. Josefa and Valeria were there. Connie came up beside them. “Hello, Maureen.” said Josefa.

“No, lita.” whispered Valeria. Josefa looked more closely at Connie. “Ay, I’m sorry. I get so confused.”

“Well, we’ve all had a nasty shock this weekend.” said Connie.

Caesar suddenly turned and raced into the hallway. Bessandra was at the foot of the stairs. She regarded him curiously. “I’m just going up to clear out Jasper’s room.” she said.

“Mind if I come along?” She nodded and they went upstairs. Benjy had awakened by now and was at the top of the stairs, about to descend. Caesar motioned to him to follow them. Bessandra unlocked the door and they all stepped inside. On the floor, just inside the doorway were Jasper’s coat, hat, and scarf. There were two suitcases on the bed. Bessandra opened each one. The smaller one contained an assortment of clothing and toiletries and what looked like a few letters and legal documents. The larger one contained business cards and promotional products like stress balls (“How ironic.” thought Caesar) and keychains. They all bore the Two Lumps logo.

Caesar picked the clothing up from the floor and said, “May I borrow these? Just for a few minutes.”

Borrow them?” said Bessandra. “Umm … well, I don’t see why not. But why?”

“Just a hunch.” he said. He put them on and raced back to the violet garden. The three women were still there, their backs to him. As quietly as possible, Caesar sneaked up behind them then abruptly shoved his way through.

“Hey!” cried out Connie. Caesar turned to face the women. Connie and Valeria looked annoyed, but Josefa’s eyes were wide with dread. When she saw that it was Caesar, she relaxed.

“Caesar, what a tasteless prank.” she said. “For half a second, I almost thought you were Jasper.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.” He went back to where Bessandra and Benjy were looking at the letters. “I’d like to get all the guests together in the dining room when breakfast begins. It’s important. I also need to make a call.” He pulled out his cell and a business card. “Benjy, come with me to our room for a minute.”

Everyone had gathered in the dining room. Mickey tried to hand out menus but Bessandra told him to wait.

“Is this going to take long?” said Maury. “We have a plane to catch.” Before Bessandra could answer, Caesar and Benjy walked in. Caesar closed the door to the kitchen and addressed the group. “Thank you for waiting, everyone. We wanted to talk to you all about Jasper’s death.” Josefa noticed uneasily that he was carrying Jasper’s scarf, beret, and peacoat.

“Three days ago we were all in the dining room when Jasper committed suicide. He had gone to the roof with a rope and hung himself.” Everyone nodded. Maureen closed her eyes and winced.

“Or was it suicide?” He gestured towards Benjy. “We don’t think so.”

“You mean it was an accident?” said Connie.

“But how does someone accidentally hang himself?” said Valeria. Caesar and Benjy stayed silent, then after a moment Timothy spoke. “You can’t. But then …”

“It was murder?” said Connie. “Oh, no, that’s just ridiculous. It had to be suicide. He was really depressed about his business.”

“That’s right.” agreed Timothy.

“Was he?” said Caesar.

Valeria thought, then nodded knowingly to him, but Maureen said, “But he was. I was really worried he might do something stupid.”

Caesar ignored her and said, “Josefa, when Jasper ran past you up the stairs, what was he wearing?”

“That big scarf and hat of his, and his coat. The ones you have right there.”

“Wait a minute.” said Timothy. “When he came through the window he wasn’t wearing any of those.”

“Yes, we found them on the floor just inside his room.” said Benjy. “So let’s see. He’s in a hurry to run to the roof and kill himself, but he stops by his room to take off some clothing. Why?”

“Well,” said Timothy uncomfortably. “Maybe it’s kind of hard to hang yourself if you’ve got on a big scarf.”

Josefa spoke up. “He turned right at the top of the stairs, towards his room. He ran into Maureen.”

“He didn’t turn left to head to the stairs to the roof?” asked Caesar.

“But it still couldn’t be murder!” protested Connie. “We were all here in the dining room.” She paused. “Well, not everyone.” She cleared her throat uneasily. “Bessandra and Gloria weren’t here.”

Gloria was about to protest, but Bessandra raised a hand to silence her, then pointed at herself in mock innocence and mouthed the words, “Who, me?” Benjy laughed. “You’re right, they weren’t here.”

“True,” said Caesar. “Bessandra and Gloria weren’t in the room, but there was one other person missing.” Everyone looked around at each other.

Finally, Timothy spoke: “It was Maury.” This time Maury did the wincing.

“But he was right behind Maureen.” said Josefa.

“Was he? Did you see him?” said Benjy.

“No, but I heard her talking to him.”

“So did I.” said Connie.

“But you didn’t actually hear or see him, right?”

Everyone digested this carefully. Josefa said, “Well, no.”

“Josefa, how do you know it was Jasper who rushed past you on the stairs?”

She looked doubtful. “It had to be.” Caesar stayed quiet to give her a chance to work it out for herself. She said, “But I only saw him from behind … that big hat of his. I never actually saw his face.”

“And as for being suicidal, he didn’t seem that way to me.” continued Caesar. Valeria nodded again in agreement. “True, one can contemplate suicide while appearing happy. I think the psychiatrists say it’s because once you’ve decided to do it, you feel relieved that your misery will soon be over. But only one person kept saying he was depressed and suicidal.”

Everyone slowly turned to look at the Maureen. “But he was! He told me so!”

“We only have your word for that.”

“So what? That doesn’t mean he wasn’t.”

“But this is ridiculous!” said Connie. “Why would the Basils want to kill Jasper?”

“Let’s go back a couple of years.” said Benjy. “The Basils had started a series of phony charities. It was a big scheme. They solicited donations, then returned 90 percent of the money to the donors with a receipt for the full amount so they could write it off their taxes, and the Basils kept 10 percent.”

“What does that have to do with Jasper?” asked Valeria.

“Seems he initially refused. He didn’t really have enough money to donate to significantly impact his taxes. But as things got worse for his business, he decided to try blackmailing the Basils. He’d tell the authorities what they were up to unless he got a cut. So they had to silence him.”

“Watch out everyone! The coffee detectives are hard at work!” said Maureen, smiling in feigned excitement. “I think you two have let this coffee detective crap go to your heads. You’re accusing us of murder and running a phony charity? Is this some kind of publicity stunt for your store? It’s all bullshit.”

“Actually,” said Timothy. “I’m one of the ones who donated to your charity and got 90% back.” He turned towards Benjy. “I’ll catch hell for this with the feds, but I will testify that the Basils were running this scheme.”

“Our word against yours.” said Maury, gritting his teeth.

“And against mine.” said Connie. Timothy took her hand and nodded.

Maureen smirked. “Well, that only proves we had a phony charity. That doesn’t prove we murdered Jasper. No way are you pinning a murder on us.”

“What about what Josefa saw on the stairs?”

“You’re basing all this on what that stupid old fool has to say?” said Maureen. Maury looked like a pot of porridge about to boil over. “She thought you were the waiter, after all. She thought I was Connie. Why should we believe anything she says? She’s clearly …” Maureen tapped herself on her head and crossed her eyes.

“No!” said Josefa. “I can’t swear I saw his face. But I will swear he, whoever it was, was wearing those clothes and I will swear he turned down the right hallway after passing me. I’m sure of that.”

“That still proves nothing!” snapped Maureen. Maury’s neck bulged as he gritted his teeth.

“You are awful, awful people!” cried Josefa. “How could you do that to that poor man? Pendejos!

“You bitch! I’ll kill you like I killed Jasper!” Maury leapt out of his seat and lunged at Josefa. Caesar, Benjy, and Mickey all rushed to her defense. Right then, the kitchen door flew open and Lt. Tennant and three uniformed officers hurried in. They all wrestled Maury to the floor, but even the six men found it a struggle to keep him there.

“This is your fault!” raged Maury at Maureen, his spit showering the men. “You said she was old and easy to confuse!”

“You’re both under the arrest for the murder of Jasper Numan.” said Lt. Tennant. Then, to the officers, “Read them their rights and take them away.”

“Are you okay, lita?” said Valeria.

“I just need to catch my breath.” said Josefa. Then, with a wink, “And it’s not because I’m hyperventilating.”

“I’m glad we were here.” said Lt. Tennant. “Caesar called me just before the meeting, and we were hiding in the kitchen. We heard every word.”

“But I don’t understand. Just how did they do it?” said Bessandra.

“At some time before lunch on Friday, Maury and Maureen probably went to Jasper’s room to pretend they were going to give him some money.” said Caesar. “Maury garrotted him with the rope so it would look like he had died from hanging himself. Maureen took Jasper’s clothes and the rope and headed downstairs. She asked Josefa earlier in the day to meet her at the foot of the stairs just before lunchtime. When the time was right, she put Jasper’s clothes over hers and rushed past Josefa to make her think she saw Jasper still alive.”

“Oh!” said Connie. “I knew I had seen her downstairs!”

“Maureen ran upstairs into Jasper’s room, stripped off Jasper’s clothing, then came right back down, pretending that Jasper had rushed passed her too. She and Josefa then go to the dining room, but Maureen stops at the door and pretends to tie her shoe, to let Josefa get to where she can’t see into the corridor. Maureen then turns to speak to Maury, but he’s not really there. He’s up on the roof with Jasper’s body, tying a noose around his neck. Maureen shouts into the empty corridor, ‘Come on, Maury!’, and this is her signal. A moment later, Jasper’s body comes crashing through the window. And a moment after that, Maury comes in, as though he were just outside in the corridor. All that guff about hyperventilating was just to cover the fact he was panting from running all the way from the roof.”

Benjy continued. “Meanwhile, all this talk about Jasper being depressed was generated by the Basils. They were trying to make his situation look more dire than it actually was, so his suicide wouldn’t look unexpected. We didn’t really have hard evidence against them, but we knew Maury had a temper. We figured it wouldn’t take much to ignite it and get him to confess. Sorry about that, Josefa. I didn’t think he was going to attack you.”

“Well,” said Timothy to Lt. Tennant. “I guess that means we’re both in trouble.” He looked at Connie.

“That’s between you and the IRS.” said Lt. Tennant. “But if you come clean and offer to repay, they might show a little leniency, especially since you’re willing to testify against the Basils.”

“We will.” promised Connie. “Still, poor Jasper. How did you two guess he was trying to blackmail the Basils?”

“Well,” said Caesar. “I could say it was because he said something about ‘trying tricks’ to make his business succeed, but mostly it was a copy of the letter he sent the Basils, threatening to blackmail them. We found it in his suitcase. I wish he hadn’t done that. I’ve been to Two Lumps. It’s a good place. It just needed a little help.”

“See? What did I say?” said Bessandra. “You two really are coffee detectives!” She pulled out her cellphone and began typing. “Hashtag … coffee … detectives … hashtag … Leeway … Lodge”. She snapped a picture of the two men and pressed send. Everyone applauded with approval.

“We’re never going to live this down.” whispered Benjy to Caesar.

The End

Mr. J’s Bronze Buddha

This is my third attempt at a one day mystery. However, I got halfway through the first draft and was completely unhappy with it, so I started over. Thus, it took more than a day to write it.

Mr. J’s Bronze Buddha
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains language, violence)

“Now, now, Mrs. Busch. You made me promise never to let you eat more than two pastries in one day.”

“I never bleedin’ said pastries, I said cinnamon rolls!” cried Mrs. Busch, as she reached for her third pain aux raisins. Curls of fiery red hair with white roots drooped on her head like a comatose Komondor. It was remarkable she was able to walk in her lime platform wedge mules without keeling over. And though it was the middle of a hot and humid August, she had wrapped her cylindrical figure in a brand new mink coat, which had been dyed a blinding shade of fuchsia. A recent immigrant from London, where it was rumored she had won a fortune in the National Lottery, she moved to East Kingsley to be near her daughter, who had married an American. What she lacked in height she compensated for in volume, and hers was the type of British English where words like “eye” are pronounced “oy”.

“And I told ya before, Julius, none of this bleedin’ ‘Mrs. Busch’ nonsense.” She drew herself up in a regal manner. “Call me Dainty.” she said with mock pretension, then cackled at her own joke.

“Yes, Dainty.” said Mr. Campbell. She knew his name was really Caesar, but he gave up trying to dissuade her from calling him Julius.

“You’re very busy again t’day!” she said as she dropped a ten dollar bill on the counter.

“Yes, as ghoulish as it seems, business is booming.” He rang up the pastry, put the bill in the drawer, took out seven dollars and tried to hand it to her, but she grabbed his hand and shoved it into the tip jar. “Everyone wants to see the coffeehouse where all the murders took place. We expanded into what used to be Licoricia’s candy shop and made it a second dining area.”

“It was nice of you to call it ‘Licoricia’s Lunchroom’. And ooh, I liked watchin’ those sexy worker men.”

“I can’t keep up with all the changes. The bakery closed since Kneady’s in jail. Peccari is running the deli while Collops is recuperating, and she’s hired a helper. What was his name? Ignatius?”

“Ichabod.” corrected Dainty.

“Ichabod, yes. And there’s a psychic now by the cigarette shop and a jewelry store, too.”

“And that new Japanese curiosity shop.”

“Speaking of which, Benjy and I were about to head over and check it out. Want to come with?”

“Ooh, any chance to see that young man who works there!” She cackled again and licked her lips.

The three of them made their way over. A big sign over the window said “House of Hashisaki / Grand Opening”. They stepped inside.

“Welcome! I’m Ari.” said a handsome young Japanese man. He shook hands with Benjy and Caesar. He tried to shake Dainty’s hand, but she seized him in a bear hug, patting his butt as she did. “Mmm, firm!”

Ari blushed. An old man in an expensive looking tweed suit hobbled up to him and said something in Japanese. Ari shook his head hurriedly and peeled Dainty’s arms from around him and said, “Everyone, this is my grandfather, Junnosuke.”

“I’m Halo.” said a woman behind them. All but lost in a whirlwind of shawls and beads, she wafted her way over to the group. “I am the proprietress of the psychic sanctuary a couple doors down.” She handed business cards to everyone.” Benjy looked at his. It read, “Halo Prairieflower, Psychic and Clairvoyant”, and listed a phone number, address, and website. It smelled faintly of patchouli incense.

Junnosuke looked at his card in puzzlement and nudged Ari. “Halo.” said Ari, slowly and deliberately. “Hay-Low-san” said the old man, and he bowed formally to her. As everyone introduced themselves, Junnosuke repeated their names in a heavy accent and bowed.

“May we ask about that statue?” said a new voice. A woman and a man, arms linked and wearing matching blue suits, approached. Her free arm was gesturing toward the register, where there was a bronze statue on a pedestal. There was also a sign on the front that read Do Not Touch, with presumably the same message in Japanese underneath.

Before Ari could answer, there was a loud thudding sound. Everyone looked toward the door. A young delivery man had dropped a large box which was now at his feet. Despite his fragile appearance, Junnosuke got right in his face and began yelling in Japanese. The group was amazed such a frail looking senior could deliver so much vituperative invective. Even more amazingly, the delivery man seemed completely unperturbed by this.

“Tough old geezer.” said Dainty admiringly. She let her gaze fall to his butt and said, “Ooh, I see where Ari gets it!”

Ari put himself between the two men. “Eric,” he said, seeing the name tag of the delivery man. “We get a lot of very delicate merchandise here. Please be more careful.” Over Ari’s shoulder, Junnosuke grumbled to himself, with every third word being “Eric”, which he spoke like a profanity.

“Yeah, whatever.” said Eric. “Where do you want this?”

“Behind the counter will do.” Eric started to pick up the box, then decided it would be easier to shove it along the ground. He grunted and swore while he did so.

“Anyway,” said Ari. “That statue is a reproduction of the Buddha at Asukadera in Nara. It’s about 1300 years old. My grandfather brought it with him from Japan.”

“A family heirloom?” asked Halo.

“Not exactly. It’s just for display; he doesn’t want to sell it.”

“A shame; it must be worth a fortune.” said the man in the blue suit.

Dainty cried out—Eric had shoved the box against her leg.

“Bloody cheek! Watch where you’re goin’!”

“It’s not the first time.” said the woman in the suit after Eric was out of earshot. “Oh, my husband and I run the jewelry store. I’m Jocasta Payne, he’s Haemon.” Introductions went around again, and Junnosuke repeated their names. “Eric is always dropping our parcels. We’ve complained to his company before.”

“I’d love to have that statue in my space.” said Halo. “Think of all the spiritual energy and history it contains!”

Eric finished his task and thrust a clipboard at Ari. “Sign here.” Ari signed and handed the clipboard back. “Thank you for choosing NPS.” recited Eric in a bored monotone. He headed for the door, where he collided with two people coming in. “Watch where you’re going!” he snapped as he shoved past them. In walked Peccari with another young man.

“We’ve closed the deli for the day.” she said. “Oh, everyone, this is my new assistant, Ichabod. He’s helping out while my dad recovers.”

“Hi everyone.” said Ichabod. He saw Junnosuke, bowed, and said, “Ichabod desu. Hajimemashite.” The old man didn’t seem surprised but he bowed in return and said, “Junnosuke to moushimasu. Hajimemashite.

“Ichabod,” said Benjy. “You speak Japanese!”

“Not really. When I was in high school I went there as part of an exchange program. I only remember tourist sentences now. You know, ‘my name is Ichabod, nice to meet you, where’s the bathroom?’”

“So tell us about your shop.” said Caesar to Ari.

“Well, I wanted to go into some kind of imported goods business after I got out of college but didn’t have the capital. Then, my grandfather moved here and put up the money about six months ago.”

“Why did he move here?” said Benjy. “I mean … he looks … well, only that such a move would be difficult for someone of his age.”

“He never said. It was kind of a surprise. He never even said anything about wanting to visit America, much less move here. One day he was in Japan, the next he was on my doorstep asking if he could stay until he got his own place. Oh, excuse me.” Ari reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell. He stepped away to take the call. Junnosuke bowed to everyone and busied himself behind the counter, unpacking the parcel Eric had brought. The group began exploring the store. Ari finished his call and was talking excitedly to Junnosuke. He came up to Benjy and Caesar, who were still taking to Ichabod. “Hey, you two are right next door, right?” Benjy nodded. “Listen,” said Ari. “I hate to ask, but I need a favor. I’ve got to leave town for a couple of days to handle an emergency. I don’t want to shut the shop when we’ve just opened. I’m going to leave my grandfather in charge, but can you guys keep an eye on him? He can run the register and everything but his English is pretty nonexistent.”

“Sure.” said Caesar. “Tell him to come get me if he needs help.”

“Me too.” said Ichabod. “My Japanese sucks, but I can try.”

“Great, thank you all.” said Ari. “We’re closing soon, then I’m leaving right after. I’ll be back Thursday.”

The next day, Dainty was finishing her third profiterole when Benjy came up to her table. “Dainty, would you like to go with me to check on Mr. J?” He hadn’t quite got the hang of pronouncing Junnosuke.

She gulped down the rest of her tea and wiped her mouth. “Ooh, that would be nice. If I can’t ogle that handsome son, I can at least look at his grandfather. He’s quite dishy himself!”

They stopped in the deli to see if Ichabod wanted to accompany them. Peccari said he was out on an errand, but should be back in a few minutes. “I’d wait,” said Benjy, looking at the clock on the wall, which read 11:58am. “But we’re getting busy at the coffeehouse and I need to get back as soon as possible.”

They entered Ari’s shop. It was empty. “Mr. J?” said Benjy. “Hello?”

“Looks like he sold the statue.” said Dainty, pointing toward the now empty pedestal.

“I thought he didn’t want to sell it. I wonder where he is?” Benjy headed toward the backroom, the door to which was past the counter. There on the floor behind the counter was Junnosuke, lying face up, a patch of blood under his head. “Dainty!” Benjy cried out as he knelt by the body. She joined him and looked.

“Bloody hell! Is he dead?”

“No—he’s breathing, see? Call 911! Mr. J? Can you hear me?” Then he noticed Junnosuke was holding a pencil in one hand and a sheet of note paper in the other. On it was scrawled a capital letter H.

A crowd of proprietors, customers and curious passers-by watched as the paramedics loaded the still unconscious form of Junnosuke in the ambulance. “The paramedics said he’s in a coma.” said Benjy. “Someone bashed him on the head pretty hard.”

“And probably stole that statue!” added Dainty. “Poor Mr. J!”

“Ari left is such a hurry we forgot to get his phone number.”

Halo, her fingertips pressed to her temples, said “I’ve been trying to reach out to his mind, but he is not responding.”

Caesar rolled his eyes and said to Benjy, “You said there was a note in his hand?” Benjy handed it to him. “The letter H—did he write that before or after he was attacked?”

“I suppose he could’ve written it after. Someone tried to steal the statue, Mr. J caught him, they fought, Mr. J got clobbered, but had time to write H before he lost consciousness.”

“May I see the note?” said Halo. Caesar handed it to her. She closed her eyes and pressed the note against her forehead, then made an odd cooing noise. “It wants to speak to me. Oh, note! I ask you to yield your secret!” She cooed again.

“Maybe he was trying to identify the attacker?” said Ichabod.

“That would mean he recognized him!” said Peccari.

“Someone whose name begins with H.” said Caesar. They all slowly looked at Halo, who still had her eyes closed. She finally opened them, then noticed their stares. “What?” she said. “I sense suspicion in your hearts.”

“You had your eye on that statue.” said Dainty. “Said it would look good in your shop!”

Halo sputtered indignantly. “What? Do I look like the type that would conk an old man on the head and steal a statue? I mean, go look in my shop. It’s not there!”

Jocasta eyed her. “Well, I’m sure you wouldn’t be so stupid as to display it right after the crime.”

“Or ever! But I didn’t take it!” Halo looked just over Jocasta’s shoulder. “Besides, I’m not the only one here whose name begins with H.”

Jocasta turned to follow Halo’s gaze and saw her husband. “You mean Haemon?” she said. “Don’t be absurd.”

“Why not? You were talking about it being worth a fortune.”

“I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone!” blurted Haemon. “I mean, anyone might’ve taken it for that reason!”

“Anyone whose name begins with H, that is.” said Halo.

“That still includes you!” Haemon took a threatening step toward Halo, who raised her arms in a poor imitation of a martial arts posture. And if there were anyone capable of staring daggers, it was Jocasta, who was sending a steady stream of trench knives toward Halo.

“Everyone, please calm down!” pleaded Peccari. Halo put her arms down, while Haemon took a deep breath and stepped back to stand by his wife, who had put all but one dagger away. Best to maintain a defensive stance, just in case Halo got out of hand again.

“Anyway,” said Haemon, clearing his throat. “I would not be so stupid as to try to sell something so unique and valuable. It would be like trying to sell the Mona Lisa.”

Peccari said, “Did anyone notice Mr. J was missing his left pinkie?”

“Uh oh.” said Ichabod. “I wonder if he was Yakuza?”

“Yacker-what?” said Dainty.

Yakuza. Japanese organized crime, like the Mafia. In Yakuza culture, if you screw up, you have to cut off your little finger and give it to the boss as a show of penitence.”

Halo shuddered. “My goodness, couldn’t they just quit?”

“You know,” said Caesar. “Ari was saying Mr. J came to America rather abruptly, and gave him all the money to start his business. Maybe he had to get out of Japan for a reason.” He tilted his head coyly and made a “hmmm?” sound.

“And maybe this robbery was Yakuza related.” said Ichabod. “You know, revenge or something. But I don’t see how that’s connected to the letter H.”

“Maybe he was writing a note to Ari.” offered Peccari. “H for Hashisaki.”

Ichabod shook his head. “He wouldn’t address him by his last name, would he?”

“Are we so sure it’s an H?” said Benjy. He took the note from Halo and looked at it. “Mr. J was about to lose consciousness, I’m sure he wasn’t trying for neatness. He turned the note around so everyone could see it, and rotated it a quarter turn. “Maybe—it’s a capital I.”

Everyone then turned to face Ichabod. “Oh, no.” he protested. “It wasn’t me. I wasn’t here. I was on an errand.” Not everyone looked convinced. “I went to the bank to drop off yesterday’s take for Peccari, then I went to have lunch.”

“He did.” said Peccari.

“You only know he was away from the shop. You don’t know where he actually went.” said Jocasta.

“Now that I think of it,” Halo said, pausing for dramatic effect, “isn’t Jocasta sometimes spelled with an I?” Jocasta brought all her daggers back out. Haemon was about to object when Ichabod said, “Look, I can prove it. After lunch I was heading for the deli when I ran into Eric. Literally. He was running down the sidewalk with a package and bumped into me. He said, ‘Fuck, man, I’ve got to make this delivery!’ and kept going. And then I walked into the deli shortly after that.”

“Well,” said Benjy. “He’s due here in a little while to make his deliveries. We can ask him to verify that then.”

“Look, we don’t know whether it’s an H or an I, so we can’t just blame Ichabod.” said Peccari. “At least he seems to have an alibi.”

“Unlike some people.” said Halo, as she tipped her head toward Jocasta and Haemon.

Haemon spoke: “Well, what about you? Where were you when all this was happening?”

“I gave a Tarot consultation at 11:30, then I took a nap. I have to recharge my soul after communing with the spiritual world.”

“How long was your consultation?” said Caesar.

“Half an hour. I have another appointment at 1:00 so I figured I had enough time for a quick nap and lunch.” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, it’s almost one!” She trotted back to her shop, leaving a trail of frankincense perfume in her wake.

“We should get back, too.” said Haemon.

“Just a minute.” said Benjy. “Where were you two just before noon?”

“You know, we’ve already given a statement to the police. But just to make you happy, we were both in our shop. We had a customer buying a particularly expensive emerald necklace. The register data will back that up.” He smiled in smug satisfaction.

Benjy was about to point out that it only takes one person to run a register, when a young man in an NPS uniform came up. He was holding a small padded envelope. “Are you Mr. Payne?” he said to Caesar.

“No, but I wish I were.” smiled Caesar.

The man smiled back and said, “You could be.”

Haemon cleared his throat. “I hate to interrupt your date, but I am Mr. Payne.”

The man winked at Caesar then turned to Haemon. “Nobody was in your shop and this is signature required.”

“Ah, thank you.” Haemon signed the clipboard then took the envelope. “What’s your name? Where’s Eric?”

“Innocenzio, at your service.” said the man, more to Caesar than to Haemon. “Eric, well, he got fired yesterday.”

“It’s about time.” said Jocasta.

“Fired? Why?” asked Caesar.

Innocenzio affected a dramatic pose and said grandly, “Why should we fire thee? Let us count the ways.” He chuckled. “I’m surprised he lasted this long. That imbecile was always screwing up. Anyway, they changed my route today so I could do his packages until they could get another driver. And now I’m running late. Ta-ta, my friends!” He winked at Caesar again. “See you soon.” He jogged away down the street toward an NPS truck.

“Fired?” said Peccari. “Why, that means …”

“He wasn’t making a delivery today.” finished Benjy.

“He was there yesterday when we were talking about the statue.” said Jocasta. “Maybe he got fired and thought Mr. J reported him, and he stole the statue for the money.”

“It would be the just the sort of stupid stunt he’d pull.” said Caesar. “Stealing something too valuable and important to sell. It’s probably on G-Bay right now.” He pulled out his phone and said into the microphone, “, search, Asian statue.” A minute later he showed an image to everyone. “There it is.” He scoffed. “His reserve price is only two hundred dollars!”

“What a bloody idiot!” said Dainty. “And to have beaten poor Mr. J for it. Makes me blood boil!”

“Let’s show this to the police.” said Caesar.

“So the doctor thinks my grandfather will be okay.”

“I knew he was a tough old geezer.” said Dainty as she munched on her third spanakopita. Ari had come back and they were all in BaxCam Coffees.

“He finally came out of the coma and yeah, he said it was Eric.”

“That’s great news,” said Benjy. “But I’m puzzled. What was he trying to write when he was attacked? Was it an H or an I?” He showed the paper to Ari, who looked at it and smiled.

“Neither. It’s a Japanese character that makes an ‘ehh’ sound. He was probably trying to write ‘Eric’.”

“Well,” said Dainty, sucking up a bit of feta cheese from her thumb. “You tell your grandfather I’m goin’ to pay him a visit soon! He needs a little tender lovin’ care and I’m just the one who can give it to him!” She tried to wink suggestively, but ended up looking more like she was about to sneeze.

Ari leaned closer to Benjy and Caesar. “I think he’s going to wish he’d stayed in that coma.”

The End

2 Victims, 1 Shot

I decided to try writing a murder mystery in one day again. The first one is here.

2 Victims, 1 Shot
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains violence)

“Champagne?” Mr. Campbell didn’t wait for a response and handed the glass to the man who’d just entered.

“Thank you. I’m Collops Pancetta. I run the deli about three doors down from you.”

“I’m Mr. Campbell. Glad you could make it!”

“I’ve been meaning to stop in but we’ve been so busy lately, what with the holidays upon us.”

“We? Mrs. Pancetta?”

“Well, no, it’s my daughter Peccari. Mrs. Pancetta died eleven years ago of the swine flu.”

“Oh, I am sorry.”

Mr. Pancetta looked around. “I’m glad this is a coffeeshop. We haven’t had any place nearby to get coffee since Koffee-normous …” Mr. Campbell choked on his quad, five-and-a-half pumps vanilla, sugar free syrup, extra hot, extra whip, extra large soy latte. “… shut down.”

A young woman half-skipped through the door. “Oh, what a mess you’ve made!” she cried out. She reached for a couple of napkins on the counter. She handed one to Mr. Campbell so he could wipe his face and used the other to clean the mess on his vest. “I’m Licoricia McTaffy. You must be Mr. Campbell. I met your partner Mr. Baxter this morning. Hello, Collops! How’s business?”

“Busy, busy.” he said. “But not nearly as busy as yours.”

“Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t believe it.”

“She opened her candy store six months ago and ever since there are lines around the block.” said Mr. Pancetta.

“Oh!” giggled Ms. McTaffy. “You’re exaggerating.”

“Not at all. Licoricia is the sweetest woman on earth, full of love, and that love comes through in her candies. How many varieties now?”

“I’ve lost count.” Turning to Mr. Campbell, she said, “My little store offers candies in any flavor imaginable, and everything can be customized. The kids just love it.”

“She’s also the queen of social media.” said Mr. Pancetta.

“And commercials on local TV! Well, I just want everyone to come down and try some candy. Sometimes the world can be such an awful place, but if I can make someone smile with my treats, then at least I’ve made a little difference. And speaking of treats …”

She gestured towards the door where another man with an apron was entering. “They can’t compete with yours, Licoricia!” he said. He held out a hand to Mr. Campbell. “I’m Kneady O’Dough. I run ‘The Yeast Infection’.”

“Ah, the bakery.” said Mr. Campbell.

“Except for yourself, Licoricia is the newest member of our happy family.” said Mr. O’Dough. “Most of us have been here for several years on Merchant Road.” He gave Ms. McTaffy a little hug. “I just can’t compete with her.”

“Oh really!” blushed Licoricia. “Candies and pastries are two different animals.” She looked around. “Where is Mr. Baxter?”

“Right here.” Mr. Baxter walked in from the backroom with a plate of cocktail wienies.

“Maybe a vegan snack exists?” said a voice. They turned around to see a woman in an enormous rainbow colored poncho. “Jewels Trinkette.” she said. “I’m from a gift store five doors down.”

“I do have some vegan food,” said Mr. Baxter. He handed the plate to Mr. Pancetta and returned to the backroom.

“I’m Mr. Campbell. That’s my partner Mr. Baxter.”

“It’s so bracing to see LGBT community members opening a business nearby.” said Ms. Trinkette.

“Oh no, he’s only my business partner. I’m gay, he’s not.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” said another voice from the doorway. Everyone turned to look. Long legs carried a tall woman across the floor; she moved like the most elegant of spiders. She might have stepped off the pages of Vogue. It was as if the air around her held its breath for fear of disturbing her royal promenade. Her golden earrings shimmered and the people upon whom the reflections fell imagined they could feel an invigorating warmth.

She held out a hand to Mr. Campbell. “Paige Byndyng. I’m the owner of Kente Books and Crafts.”

Even Mr. Campbell found her bewitching. “Very … very nice to meet you. I’m Mr. Campbell.”

“Yes, I know. I met Mr. Baxter earlier. I hope he is here.”

Lucky dog, thought Mr. Campbell.

Lucky dog, thought everyone else.

“Here I am.” said Mr. Baxter as he returned with a silver platter of almond coconut brittle. He handed it without looking to Ms. Trinkette. “Welcome to BaxCam Coffees!” He gave a little bow.

“You seem familiar.” She paused. “You owned a coffeeshop here in East Kingsley before.”

“Yes, indeed but it didn’t succeed, but my friend Mr. Campbell and I decided to go into business together and try again.”

“You won’t have any competition, now that Koffee-normous is gone.” said Mr. Pancetta. This time Mr. Campbell managed not to choke on his quad, five-and-a-half pumps vanilla, sugar free syrup, extra hot, extra whip, extra large soy latte.

“The less competition, the better.” said Mr. O’Dough.

“Well, everyone,” began Mr. Baxter. “Thank you so much for coming this evening. We’d been here about a week and have been too busy to meet our neighbors, so we sent an email to all the local shop owners for an impromptu housewarming …” He heard a gasp and saw a glint of light from the corner of his eye. Ms. Trinkette had dropped the tray. But Mr. O’Dough’s right hand, faster than humanly possible, caught the tray and the almond coconut brittle, all without spilling the champagne in the glass in his left.

“My goodness!” said Ms. McTaffy. “How did you do that?”

“I could say I was in the circus as a much younger man—a tumbler—but that sounds too far-fetched.”

“Yet it’s true.” said Ms. Trinkette. “In an office in back of Yeast Infection is suspended on a wall a print of Kneady juggling and doing a somersault.”

“You should do that for a MeTube video!” exclaimed Ms. McTaffy.

Another man stepped into the coffeehouse as Mr. O’Dough reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “Am I late?” asked the newcomer. Ms. Trinkette rolled her eyes at him. Mr. O’Dough mouthed “text message” to the group and stepped away, moving to behind the counter.

The man didn’t seem sure whom he should address, so he just smiled and said, “I’m Ammo von Rikochet.” and waved at everyone.

“Gun store owner.” muttered Ms. Trinkette to Mr. Campbell, who stepped forward to shake hands with him. They were all lined up along the counter now, sampling the various hors d’oeuvres. Ms. Trinkette was standing alone, giving Mr. von Rikochet dirty looks. She could overhear snippets of conversation. “Do you play golf, Mr. Campbell?” said Mr. Pancetta. “Kneady and I play about twice a month. “May I refresh your drink?” said Mr. Baxter to Ms. Byndyng. Foolish man, thought Ms. Trinkette. She’s way out of his league and he’s acting like some horny schoolboy. “You should join us sometime.” continued Mr. Pancetta. “We aren’t very good, it’s just an excuse to shoot the breeze and gossip.” “You didn’t come by this afternoon.” said Ms. McTaffy. “I wanted you to try my new kimchee cheesecake truffle bombs.” “Was I supposed to?” said Mr. von Rikochet. “I forget so many things these days. My son Melee—he usually runs the store—keeps wanting to put an app on my phone to remind me of things but I tell him it’s a waste of time. I can hardly figure out how to make a call.” “There’s a nice golf course not far from here, with a good clubhouse.” “I forget to make receipts, forget to take my pills. I’d forget my head if it weren’t screwed on!” Ms. Trinkette downed her champagne in one gulp and rolled her eyes again. Stupid gun nut, she thought. Stupid meat vendor. Stupid everyone!

Before she could stupid anyone else, the door crashed open and a man stepped through, wielding a gun. “Smoky?” cried out Ms. Trinkette. The man took two steps in and pointed the gun at Mr. Pancetta. “Screw around with my Nicotina, will you?” He pulled the trigger. There was a bang. Mr. Pancetta let out a loud wail and fell to the floor, clutching his right shoulder.

And Ms. McTaffy also fell to the floor. A red stain spread across her chest.

The gunman looked shocked, though it was hard to tell whether it was because he had shot Mr. Pancetta or from seeing Ms. McTaffy fall unexpectedly. Everyone else stood paralyzed and silent, except for Ms. Byndyng, who knelt beside Ms. McTaffy. Ms. Byndyng picked up her arm and felt for a pulse in her wrist. She looked at the group. “Dead.” Mr. von Rikochet said, “She can’t be.” He grabbed Ms. McTaffy by the shoulders and shook her. “Licoricia! Wake up!” Ms. Byndyng finally took his hands in hers and pulled him gently away from Ms. McTaffy.

“Someone call 911!” said Ms. Trinkette. Mr. O’Dough was breathing hard but dialed on his cell. Ms. Byndyng looked towards Mr. Pancetta, who was also breathing hard. Mr. Baxter and Mr. Campbell were kneeling beside him. Mr. Baxter had grabbed a towel from the counter and was wrapping it around Mr. Pancetta’s shoulder. “Just lie back.” said Mr. Campbell. “The ambulance is on its way.”

Ms. Byndyng then looked at the gunman. “Smoky, put down that gun.” The man looked at the gun in his hand, as if he hadn’t seen it before. He threw it on the ground and stared at Mr. Pancetta. “Collops … I’m sorry! I … I didn’t mean to.”

Mr. Baxter left Mr. Pancetta to stand next to Ms. Byndyng. “Who is he?” he whispered.

“Smoky Laudlikoff. He owns the little tobacco shop at the end of the block.”

“Oh yes, he was on the invite list. But why did he shoot Collops?”

Ms. Byndyng faced Mr. Laudlikoff. “Tell us why you did it, Smoky.” she said.

Mr. Laudlikoff swallowed hard. “He … he was fooling around with Nicotina.” “Wife.” whispered Ms. Byndyng to Mr. Baxter.

“I didn’t know you owned a gun, Smoky.”

“I … I don’t. I found it, just now.” He looked at the gun, as did Mr. von Rikochet, who said, “That’s a 900 Bolt Andalusian. We had one just like that in my shop.”

“Had?” said Mr. Baxter. “Someone bought it? When?”

Mr. von Rikochet suddenly frowned. “You know, I don’t know now. I seem to remember selling it recently. But when was that?”

“To Smoky?”

Mr. von Rikochet studied Mr. Laudlikoff. “No, I don’t think so. A different man.”

“Excuse me, but aren’t we missing the big question?” said Mr. Campbell. “How does one bullet shoot two people?”

“Maybe it went through Collops and into Licoricia?” said Mr. O’Dough.

“No, she was standing beside him, not behind him.”

“It bounced off Collops’ bone and altered its trajectory.” ventured Ms. Trinkette.

“No, no,” said Mr. von Rikochet. “Not a 900 Bolt Andalusian. Look at the wall behind where Collops was standing.” And sure enough, there was a hole in the wall.

“But who would want to shoot Licoricia?”

They continued to ponder this silently as the sound of sirens drew nearer.

= = = = =

“I see business did not suffer.” said Ms. Trinkette, bypassing the line of customers and stepping towards the counter where Mr. Baxter was finishing with a woman buying tea. Mr. Campbell was manning the espresso machine with cups lined up like soldiers on parade.

“Hi Jewels. Yes, surprisingly. I thought we were doomed. Who wants to have coffee where a murder took place? But—here’s your change—it seems to have had the opposite effect. We had to hire an extra clerk.” He gestured towards the other register, where a young woman in a BaxCam Coffees vest was handing a plate of cookies to a father with three young boys.

“Fiends. Vampires. It’s just a circus. Anyway. Is Collops doing okay?”

“He said the doctor said he’ll be fine eventually but it’s going to take a while. Peccari is doing most of the work in the deli now, but he tries to help out the best he can.”

“And Mr. Laudlikoff?”

“Arrested. I visited him in jail. I asked how he found out his wife and Collops were fooling around. He said something funny. He got a text that told him, and it also said ‘look by your back door’. And that’s where he found the gun. He picked it up and rushed over, and the rest you know.”

“Well, Mr. Laudlikoff was always very easily upset. But I don’t believe Collops was Nicotina’s first illicit lover.”

“So,” said Mr. Campbell from the machine. “The question is, who told Smoky? Who knew about this?”

“Collops knew.” said Mr. Baxter.

“Yeah, right. He’s going to go tell a hot-tempered guy, ‘Hey, I’m fooling around with your wife.’”

“Maybe Collops told someone else.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Are any of Collops’ associates also a trusted confidant?”

“And if so,” said Mr. Baxter. “that person then told Smoky. But who? The same person who left that gun for him to use, probably. But why?”

“Mr. X didn’t want to take any rap for murder, so Mr. X got Mr. Laudlikoff to do it.” said Ms. Trinkette.

“But Smoky didn’t succeed in killing him. Does that mean Mr. X will try to kill Collops again? And how does this tie in with poor Licoricia? And how did one bullet strike two people?”

Mr. O’Dough came in. “Any news?” They shared their musings with him. “We’re guessing there’s a Mr. X behind all this.” said Mr. Campbell. “That he wanted Collops dead and got someone else to do it, unwittingly. But we can’t figure out Licoricia’s death in all this. Who shot her?”

“Someone else in the room.” said Mr. Baxter.

“But East Kingsley Police examined and frisked everyone. Nobody was in possession of a gun.” said Ms. Trinkette.

“It did take a few minutes before the police came. Someone had time to get rid of the gun.”

“But nobody left the room until the police arrived.” said Mr. O’Dough. He looked out the window. “I need to get back to my shop. Mind if I use the back way?” He headed into the kitchen without waiting for a reply.

“If only Ammo’s gun’s buyer’s identity was known.” said Ms. Trinkette. As if on cue, Mr. von Rikochet burst into the coffeeshop, excitedly. He shoved his way through the line of customers, his eyes almost bulging from their sockets.

“I think I remember who bought that gun! It was two weeks ago, right after the local merchants meeting. Melee stopped by to say he had to deal with an emergency at home. The customer had on dark glasses and damn it, Melee is always telling me to get their IDs, but I keep forgetting. I was so confused, but I think I know who it was! It was …”

His expression changed abruptly to that of surprise. It coincided with a gunshot. Mr. von Rikochet keeled over onto the counter. Ms. Trinkette screamed. Mr. Campbell tried to roll him over while Mr. Baxter looked around for the killer. All he saw were the shocked faces of the customers. The new clerk was already dialing 911.

Ms. Byndyng ran in. “I heard a shot.” She saw Mr. von Rikochet slumped over the counter.

“He remembered who bought the gun!” said Mr. Campbell. “He came to tell us.”

“Fiends again!” cried out Ms. Trinkette. The customers were all talking loudy and pointing and staring at Mr. von Rikochet, and several were taking pictures with their phones. “A man is killed before your eyes and it’s just a circus!” she sobbed. “Don’t you care? Any distraction from your boring lives!” Ms. Byndyng looked behind the counter and found a large towel, with which she covered the body. She thought for a moment. “The whole business of Smoky trying to kill Collops was a distraction.”

Mr. Baxter saw where Ms. Byndyng was heading. “To distract us from Licoricia’s murder! The whole thing was a set up! Someone told Smoky about Collops and provided a gun, which he bought from Ammo.”

Ms. Trinkette had recovered a little. She blew her nose, and added, “Ammo said it was sold at meeting’s end.”

“I remember that meeting.” said Ms. Byndyng. “We were comparing notes. We were congratulating Licoricia for another great month.”

“Do you think someone there wanted to kill Licoricia?” said Mr. Baxter. “Mr. Campbell and I missed that meeting. Who else was there?”

“Well, all of us.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Everyone at your party, I mean.”

“There must be a motive.” said Ms. Byndyng.

Mr. Campbell suddenly stiffened. “Who would benefit from Licoricia’s death?” He paused for effect. “Mr. O’Dough.”

Only Ms. Trinkette looked surprised. “Impossible. Kneady wouldn’t kill Licoricia.” A pause. “Explain Kneady’s motive!”

Mr. Baxter began. “Licoricia was the new kid on the block, but she had both a good product and a knack for salesmanship. Her business took off unexpectedly like hotcakes. And who would be her biggest competition for sweets? The bakery.”

“Mr. O’Dough made that comment about not needing competition.” added Ms. Byndyng.

“So Kneady talked Mr. Laudlikoff into killing Licoricia?” asked Ms. Trinkette.

“Not at all.” said Mr. Campbell. “He was going to do the dirty work himself, but he needed a cover. He knew Collops was having an affair with Nicotina; obviously Collops confided in him while they were playing golf.”

“But describe Licoricia’s killing’s procedure.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Did Collops fake being injured?”

Mr. Baxter continued: “Obviously, after the merchants meeting, he made up his mind to do away with Licoricia. He knew Ammo had a foggy memory, and that Melee wouldn’t be in the shop. He left the meeting and bought the gun. He already had one of his own.”

“Then when the time was right,” said Mr. Campbell, “He left the gun by Smoky’s shop’s back door. Remember when he stepped behind the counter to answer a text? He was probably texting Smoky right then: ‘Collops is cheating with your wife. Look by your back door.’ Smoky found the gun and rushed over to shoot Collops.”

“Don’t forget, Kneady had lightning fast reflexes. With everyone watching Smoky, and Kneady behind the counter and behind everyone, it was easy to shoot Licoricia at the same time Smoky shot Collops. We were so distracted we didn’t think to look behind us. Collops had just enough time to run out, hide his gun somewhere, and hurry back.”

“He was out of breath when he called the police.” said Ms. Byndyng.

“And just now,” said Mr. Baxter. “He looked out the window and took off in a hurry. He must’ve seen Ammo coming in a rush and guessed Ammo had remembered who bought the gun. He hid somewhere and shot Ammo.”

“So terrible!” said Ms. Trinkette. “Kneady killed Licoricia for being joyful and successful? And Ammo too? I didn’t like Ammo or guns but nobody deserves to die. And Collops’ demise nearly was a possibility, too.” She walked over to a chair and sat down.

“She’ll be okay.” said Ms. Byndyng, and went to join her.

“Well,” said Mr. Campbell looking outside. “Here are the police. We can tell them to look for Kneady. But there’s just one thing still puzzling me.”

“What’s that?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Why does Jewels never use words containing the letter H?”

The End

The Costume Party Murder

Just for the heck of it, I challenged myself to write a whodunit murder mystery in one day. Here is the result; enjoy!

The Costume Party Murder
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains violence, mature language)

“Come in, darling!” said Mrs. Ringer. It was fortunate she had large French doors, for Mrs. Lucas was dressed in an enormous and elaborate hoop skirt. She stumbled and gasped as she crossed the threshold. “Maybe dressing as Elizabeth I wasn’t the smartest idea. I can hardly move in this thing!” She tripped a second time and added, “And with my sprained ankle too!”

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Ringer. Her own costume was nearly as cumbersome: two enormous wings protruding on either side of a white robe and a golden hoop was held above her head by a wire.

“I like your costume!” remarked Mrs. Lucas.

“Thanks! But I also can hardly move in it. And getting all the wrinkles out …” Mrs. Lucas’ eyes narrowed and she swallowed very hard. “Umm,” continued Mrs. Ringer, “Getting the wrinkles out was a challenge.” Mrs. Lucas looked almost grim. Not knowing how to proceed, Mrs. Ringer looked outside expectantly. “But where’s Mr. Lucas?”

“He had to drive to Wilberville tonight unexpectedly. Business. He sends his apologies.”

“Oh, dear. Still no luck selling his car?”

“We had a couple of emails about it, but nothing definite yet. By the way, I am so looking forward to seeing your flower garden tonight. You simply must show it to me!” Carefully, Mrs. Lucas made her way through the living room. “Am I the first to arrive?”

Mrs. Ringer rolled her eyes and sighed. “No. Mr. Reglof is already here and …” She brought her hand to her mouth and mimed someone chugging down a drink.”

“Who is Mr. Reglof?”

“My next door neighbor. I don’t like him much, actually. Every night, loud parties. He owns half the town and the police are in his pockets. But he overheard me invite Mr. Campbell to the party and he just sort of invited himself. The late Mr. Ringer would’ve rearranged his face by now but …” She paused and somehow absorbed the tear that was threatening to roll down her cheek. “I just don’t like confrontations, you know? And his wife left him too. Had a black eye the day she left, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose he deserves it, but I feel kind of sorry for people like that. I’m sure most don’t really understand why they act so cruelly. Probably an unhappy childhood. Still, it’s no reason to hit someone.”

The ladies jumped at the sound of a bike horn behind them. A clown in a rainbow tunic and curly red hair was honking the horn and winking at them.

“Mr. Campbell, hello! Come in!” said Mrs. Ringer.

“Oh rats. You mean you can recognize me under all this makeup? I feel like I’ve got a mudpack on.”

“Do come in, Mr. Campbell. Do you know Mrs. Lucas?”

“Oh yes, the lady just down the street from me.” Mrs. Lucas held out her hand to shake his, but he just honked at her.

“Silly man!” chortled Mrs. Ringer. Her smile vanished at the sound of “Damnit!” bellowing from the kitchen.

“Who is that?” said Mr. Campbell. Mrs. Ringer mouthed “Mr. Reglof” to him. His smile also vanished. He grew very quiet. There was a faraway bitter look in his eyes. Finally he blinked hard and took a deep breath and muttered “Lovely. I suppose by now there’s nothing left to drink.”

“What’s lovely?” said a voice. There was a loud clanking sound behind them and they all turned. A knight in full armor, armed with a shield and lance, had entered. He raised his visor and smiled.

“What’s lovely?” he asked again. He waved his lance suggestively at Mrs. Ringer and winked, causing her to blush.

“Mr. Reglof is here.” said Mr. Campbell. The knight stopped smiling.

“Well, Mr. Reglof is like a talisman! His mere presence erases smiles.” said Mrs. Lucas.

“You’d stop smiling too if you knew what he had done!” snapped the knight. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so rude. Reglof is just a sore spot with me, that’s all.”

“And me.” said Mr. Campbell.

“Ah yes, you probably have even more reason to despise …” The door to the kitchen flung open and Reglof stomped in. He was not in a costume, just the suit he had obviously worn to work that day. He peered at the group, searching, until his gaze settled upon Mrs. Ringer. “You’re out of gin.” He waved his glass menacingly at her. An ice cube fell out of the glass and onto the carpet.

“Oh dear. I think I have another bottle somewhere.” She lumbered into the kitchen, as quickly as her heavy wings would permit. The ice cube was left to melt. Mr. Reglof glared at the group for a moment longer, then wordlessly followed after Mrs. Ringer. Everyone else sighed. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“So.” said Mr. Campbell and Mrs. Lucas simultaneously. “Ladies first.” he said. She turned to the knight. “I’m Mrs. Lucas.”

“I’m sorry, forgot to introduce myself. I’m Mr. Baxter. I live over in Mercy.”

“What were you about to say?” said Mrs. Lucas to Mr. Campbell.

“About your husband’s car.”

“Still not sold. Are you interested?”

“I took a peek at it on my way over tonight. Definitely interested. I’m not employed right now but maybe we could work out some kind of installment plan?”

“I can ask him when he gets back from Wilberville.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Baxter. “If you’re hurting for money …”

“I’m good for now, but thank you. You’re hurting a bit yourself, though, aren’t you?”

“Oh my,” chimed Mrs. Lucas. “What is the matter?”

Mr. Campbell sat down, but Mr. Baxter replied, “You know East Kingsley?”

“I love it there! All those little shops and cafes.”

“Yes. But not so a few years ago. Bad area. Crime, poverty. I wanted to do something for the community, so I took a chance and opened a little coffeeshop there. ‘Pay what you can’, that kind of thing. Organized the neighbors, started a neighborhood watch. Eventually the area turned around and other businesses opened. Then Reglof came in with one of his chain coffeeshops, right next to mine. Name recognition, big advertising budget. I couldn’t compete. Had to close my shop. I wouldn’t have minded, except you know Reglof doesn’t care about the community, he’s just sniffing for dollars.”

“He owns Koffee-normous.” said Mrs. Lucas. Mr. Baxter nodded.

At that point Mrs. Ringer reentered. “Well, I found the gin and left him with it. Maybe he’ll knock himself out and give us a little peace for a while. Why don’t you sit down, Mrs. Lucas?”

“Err, I can’t. Costume is just too big.”

Mr. Baxter had put down his shield and lance and took Mrs. Ringer by the hand. “Might I have a word with you for a few minutes, milady?” He led her up the stairs. She didn’t seem to mind.

A moan suddenly flew out of the kitchen, followed by the sound of footsteps staggering down the hallway. A loud retching noise came forth. Mrs. Lucas suddenly said, “Oh! Mrs. Ringer promised to show me the garden!” and she headed towards the stairs.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.” said Mr. Campbell.

“Why not?”

“Don’t you see?” He motioned his head towards the stairs and made an exaggerated wink. Mrs. Lucas just regarded him quizzically. He repeated the gestures, with much clearing of his throat. She was still mystified. Finally he made a circle with the forefinger and thumb of one hand and drilled it with his other forefinger. Comprehension dawned upon Mrs. Lucas.

“I see! I had no idea that …” There was another retching noise, louder than before. “Well, would you show me the garden? I hate to go alone. Please say yes.”

Mr. Campbell shrugged but said, “Of course.” He led her through the kitchen and out the back door. She followed slowly, carefully. There was a little path, then an area enclosed by a low stone wall. There was a wooden gate, only about two feet wide. Mr. Campbell opened it and stepped through, but Mrs. Lucas stopped short. “I’m afraid my skirt won’t permit! But I can admire it from here. Why don’t you show me what she’s done with it?”

Mr. Campbell walked around the perimeter, pointing out the bougainvillea, the chrysanthemums, the rhododendrons. He ignored the hydrangeas, for he loathed them. There was a large hole dug in the center; he said Mrs. Ringer was having an oak delivered the next day. Every now and then he looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Lucas, who wore a rather fixed smile but didn’t seem to be paying any attention. As he completed the circuit he suggested they get themselves something to drink.

“No!” she cried out, so sharply Mr. Campbell was taken aback. Then, in a quieter voice, “I’m sorry. I mean, what’s that over there? Those white flowers?”

“The Shasta Daisies?” She nodded. Mr. Campbell walked over to the flowers and began to speak, but Mrs. Lucas let out a yelp and blushed.

“Just indigestion,” she said. “Let’s go get that drink.”

When they returned, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were in the living room. He had the smile of a lottery winner. Her smile was tempered by her blush. She thought she should say something before anyone got suspicious. “So … here we all are.”

“Not quite all of us.” smirked Mr. Campbell.

“Yes, where is ol’ Reglof anyway?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Probably passed out in the bathroom.”

“I’ll go look for him.” said Mrs. Ringer. Mr. Baxter went after her.

“Mrs. Lucas, how is Mr. Lucas?” said Mr. Campbell.

“Oh, fine, fine. Keeping busy with work. It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …” There was suddenly a half-scream, choked off, coming from the bathroom. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer rushed in.

“Oh my god,” gasped Mrs. Ringer. “It’s Mr. Reglof. Dead!”

“Dead?” said everyone else, except Mr. Baxter, for Mrs. Ringer’s announcement was not a surprise to him. They all moved to the bathroom to survey the body on the floor. Nobody spoke. A moment later, Mr. Campbell finally said. “Stabbed … maybe five times.”

“Stabbed?” said everyone else.

“Obviously,” he continued, “Someone here is a murderer.”

“Murderer?” said everyone else.

“But who would’ve wanted Mr. Reglof dead?” said Mrs. Lucas.

Mr. Campbell scoffed. “Who wouldn’t have wanted Reglof dead, you mean.” A pause. He nodded at Mrs. Ringer and Mr. Baxter. “Wait a minute. How do we know you two didn’t kill him yourselves just now?”

Mr. Baxter smiled grimly at him. “Yes, I just happened to have a big knife on me and we went to look for Reglof and decided to stab him in the bathroom in an unexpected fit of pique.” He swooned dramatically at Mrs. Ringer. “They’ve got us. We’re guilty, call the police, arrest us!”

“No.” she cried. “We didn’t do it! Look at all this blood! This couldn’t have happened just a few minutes ago. He’s been dead longer than that.”

“So where were we all between the time he left for the bathroom and the time you two went to look for him?” said Mr. Campbell.

“Wait a minute. I still want to know. Who would’ve wanted to kill Reglof?” said Mrs. Lucas.

“We all have our reasons,” said Mr. Baxter. “Don’t we, Campbell?”

Campbell looked at Mrs. Lucas. “I guess it’s time for my story. I was a junior high school teacher. Reglof was on the board of directors. I don’t know how he found out, as I’ve always been as discreet as possible, but he outed me. Well, people are afraid to have a gay man teaching their children, even in this day and age, so I was dismissed.” He smiled weakly. “Hence the installment plan. I’m just delivering pizzas until I can find something better.”

“But …” started Mr. Baxter. “This is a joke, right? I mean, nobody here liked him but we wouldn’t actually have killed him!”

“Mrs. Lucas liked him.” said Mrs. Ringer.

“I didn’t say that! I only said I felt a little sorry for him, just because his wife left him and he seemed to be drinking himself to …” Her tongue froze on the word “death”.

“Please.” said Mr. Campbell. “Where were we all while he was being murdered?”

Mrs. Lucas spoke first. “Well, I was in the garden with you.” She looked at him and he nodded. “We are each others’ alibis, I guess.”

“And you, Mr. Baxter?” said Mr. Campbell, pretending he didn’t know. Mrs. Ringer’s eyes widened and she shook her head almost imperceptibly at Mr. Baxter, who only said, “I was with Mrs. Ringer at the time.” If possible, her eyes opened even wider and she tried to look innocent. It somehow contrasted sharply with her costume.

“And where were you, Mrs. Ringer?”

With as much nonchalance as she could manage, she replied, “I was with Mr. Baxter at the time.”

“Oh, quit stalling!” said Mr. Campbell. “You were bonking upstairs.”

“Bonking?” said Mrs. Lucas. “I don’t understand.”

“You know,” continued Mr. Campbell. “Hiding the salami. Gettin’ some. Shagging. Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.”

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were …”

“Fucking!” ejaculated Mrs. Ringer. “Fucking! There, I said it! We were fucking! In my bedroom! Upstairs! On my bed!”

“Oh.” said Mrs. Lucas. “So all of us have alibis, and there’s nobody else in the house.”

“No,” said Mrs. Ringer, collecting herself. “Just the four of us, and Mr. Reglof.”

“Maybe it was suicide.” joked Campbell.

“Maybe a thief came in?” ventured Mrs. Ringer.

“Yes!” said Mrs. Lucas. “He came in, and Mr. Reglof surprised him, and he killed him.”

“Maybe,” said Mr. Baxter, “But it seems unlikely. I mean, Reglof was drunk and sick at the time. I doubt he would’ve been in any shape to pursue thieves.”

Mrs. Ringer looked at Mrs. Lucas and whispered to her. “My dear, step over here for a moment.” Mrs. Lucas followed her into the hallway. “Do you … I mean, are you … oh, this is difficult to say.”

“Says the woman who just yelled ‘fucking’ several times.”

“Oh, right. Well … is it that time?” Her eyes glanced downwards at the hoop skirt.

“Time? Time for what?”

Mrs. Ringer decided not to mince words after her dramatic confession a few minutes earlier. “Are you having your period?”

“My period? Whatever makes you say that?” Mrs. Ringer looked down again at the skirt and cleared her throat. Mrs. Lucas followed her eyes to a small blood stain on the front of her hoop skirt.

“Oh!” she cried. She tried to cover the stain with her hand but hesitated. By now the two gentlemen had joined them.

“What’s going on, ladies?” said Mr. Baxter.

Mrs. Ringer laughed gaily. How to spare her guest any embarrassment? “Oh, Mrs. Lucas has … injured herself.” she said, then realized this would only draw everyone’s attention to the bloodstain. The two men peered at it. “My word, Mrs. Lucas, what have you done?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Nothing, nothing!” said Mrs. Lucas, and she tried to run out of the room. However, she tripped on the edge of the hoop skirt and fell over, flat on her face. The hoop, lying on its side, resembled a clamshell stage. And inside, sputtering furiously as he clawed his way out from the confusion of petticoats, was Mr. Lucas. He was clutching a bloodstained knife. There was also blood on his arm and chest.

“Congratulations,” said Mr. Baxter. “It’s a boy!”

Mrs. Ringer was momentarily speechless. All she could do was point at Mr. Lucas and murmur, “But … but …” And then finally, “What the fuck?”

“So this is why you were so insistent on seeing the garden!” said Mr. Campbell. The others just looked at him. “With Reglof alone in the bathroom, this was the perfect chance to kill him! No wonder you seemed so distracted. While you were standing in the gateway, Mr. Lucas snuck out from under your skirt, went into the house, killed Reglof, then came back!”

“And why you wouldn’t sit down!” added Mrs. Ringer. “You were only faking the sprained ankle when you stumbled.”

“Must have been difficult to walk with Mr. Lucas under there.” said Mr. Campbell. “And pretending not to know Reglof. How would you have known he owned Koffee-normous?”

“But why?” said Mr. Baxter. “What did Reglof ever do to them?” They all thought for a moment.

The silence was finally broken by Mr. Lucas, who had broken down in tears. “Wrinkles! Wrinkles!” he sobbed.

Mrs. Ringer looked at her white gown. “Where?”

“Mrs. Lucas,” said Mr. Campbell. “What did you mean when you started to say, ‘It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …’ Ever since what?

Mrs. Lucas had climbed out of her skirt and knelt by Mr. Lucas, cradling his head in her arms. “Wrinkles … was our shar pei. Mr. Lucas had him ever since he was a puppy, about five years before we married. He loved Wrinkles.”

“But what does that have to do with anything?” said Mrs. Ringer, looking up from her gown inspection.

“Reglof killed him. Wrinkles got out of the yard and ran into the street. Reglof hit him with his car. It was an accident, but Reglof didn’t even stop. He just kept going. And Mr. Lucas swore revenge. He figured nobody would miss Reglof. And when Mrs. Ringer announced her costume party, we knew this was the perfect opportunity.”

“I knew nothing about this!” protested Mrs. Ringer.

“We knew Reglof would bulldoze his way into the party. We knew he’d be drinking. The costume provided a hiding place. And if I said Mr. Lucas was out of town, and I had an alibi in the garden, we would get away with it.”

“I should’ve realized he wasn’t out of town.” said Mr. Campbell. “I checked out his car on the way over.”

“Yes, not moving the car out of sight was an oversight.”

“So now what do we do?” said Mr. Baxter.

“Well,” said Mrs. Ringer. “None of us care that Reglof’s dead. We can swear, all of us, to secrecy. If you’ll help me hide the body and the knife, perhaps in the big hole in the garden?” She stripped off her angel gown; underneath she was in a t-shirt and shorts. “Let’s use this to clean up the blood, and I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin.”

“But Reglof is a major CEO!” said Mr. Campbell. “Someone will come around asking ques …”

“I said, I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin!” repeated Mrs. Ringer insistently. The others grunted in agreement and headed to the bathroom with the gown. “And toss that gown in the hole, too!” she added. “Now let’s see, where did I put that bottle?”

The End

Roadtrip Playlist

I’m about to embark upon a nearly 1100 mile road trip.  To where?  I’m going to keep that a secret for now, except to say it’s one-way.  😉  To keep me going, I’m taking some CDs along.  These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite albums, but these will keep me energized, alert, and happy on the long drive.  These should also be enough albums that I can listen to them all without having to repeat any.

Artist Album Title
Björk Homogenic
Chelmico EP
Cibo Matto Hotel Valentine
Matthew Dear Bunny
Matthew Dear DJ-Kicks
Jimmy Edgar Color Strip
Elbow Giants Of All Sizes
Filter Amalgamut
Jamiroquai Automaton
Chaka Khan I Feel For You
King Krule 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Lush Gala
Erlend Øye DJ-Kicks
Parliament Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome
Perfume Triangle
Pizzicato Five Happy End of the World
Robyn Honey
Safety Scissors In A Manner of Sleeping
Siouxsie Sioux Mantaray
various artists Even A Tree Can Shed Tears (Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973)
X-Ray Spex Germ-Free Adolescents

An alternative to Kouhaku?

For the past seven years or so, I’ve watched Kouhaku Uta Gassen  (紅白歌合戦 literally, Red and White Song Battle), Japan’s big annual New Year’s Eve musical extravaganza. Kouhaku runs from about 7pm to midnight in Japan, which is roughly 2am to 7am California time. Usually it’s a lot of fun, but the 2018 edition seemed to be a little tedious, and it seemed even more so this year—a combination of spectacle over substance, too many references to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (and I get it, the Olympics are a big deal), and not enough variety in the music.

After the 2019 show, I was heading for bed (having been awake for over 24 hours) when I saw what seemed to be another music show coming up on NHK, so I taped it to watch later. The show turned out to be Masashi Sada’s Midnight Talk Show (今夜も生でさだまさし). It was held in a large auditorium—possible a sumo venue—with the host and co-hosts sitting in the center. In some ways it was like a town hall, with the hosts fielding questions from the audience.

However, Sada and some guests did perform some music.

1. Sada sang and played guitar, accompanied by a small band.

2. Guest Hiromi Iwasaki (岩崎宏美) sang a song.

3. Sada sang again.

4. Guest Nira Shinji (新羅慎二) sang a song and played guitar.

5. Everyone returned to sing an ondo style song, and were joined by an older man (who was undoubtedly someone famous, but I didn’t catch his name) and four young women in sparkly dresses. The audience also sang and danced along.

I had never heard of Iwasaki or Shinji before—both were good but I was particularly impressed with Iwasaki.

Compared to Kouhaku, Sada’s show was a considerably more laid-back and casual affair. There were no screen captions, not even the usual karaoke style lyrics seen on every Japanese musical show. The guests carried handwritten cards with their names on them to show to the camera, and as each song began, someone off camera held up more handwritten cards bearing the song titles. While these performances weren’t nearly as glitzy as those at Kouhaku, they seemed much more sincere, and I would rather see an evening of performances like these than another overblown Kouhaku spectacle.

Romaji vs. Hiragana

For students of Japanese, unless you’re only learning enough to go on vacation—“Hello! Nice to meet you! Where’s the bathroom?”—you’ll eventually need to learn hiragana.

Japanese uses four writing systems: hiragana, a set of 46 characters and their combinations that represent syllables; katakana, a similar set usually reserved for writing foreign names and words; romaji, or the western alphabet of ABCs; and kanji, logograms that represent words and concepts.

Yokohama written in hiragana よこはま
Yokohama written in katakana ヨコハマ
Yokohama written in romaji Yokohama
Yokohama written in kanji 横浜

Adults typically know 2000-3000 kanji and learn them starting in first grade and continuing through high school. But first, everyone learns hiragana. Kanji found in children’s books, important signs (such as in a subway station), and kanji that’s rare or have nonstandard pronunciations often have small hiragana—known as furigana—next to them so they can be read by anyone.

But after Japanese-language students have learned hiragana, the continued use of romaji creates more problems than it solves, and can be a hindrance to learning new words and speaking Japanese properly.

Japanese uses double vowel sounds in many words. When an O sound is doubled, this is usually represented by adding a hiragana U (such as in the word Toukyou, the phonetic spelling of Tokyo), but there are many times when a doubled O is represented by adding another O (such as in the word Oosaka, which is the city of Osaka).

Japanese language books that use romaji do not always use the same system to represent doubled vowel sounds. You might see Toukyou in some books, but I’ve also seen Tohkyoh, Tōkyō, Tôkyô (or any number of other diacritical marks), Tookyoo (which looks like it should sound like “two cue”), or just plain Tokyo.

When an English-language publication that’s not a dictionary or teaching guide uses a Japanese word—for example, the city of Kobe—I have to look it up in a Japanese dictionary to see if it’s really Kobe, Koube, or Koobe (the answer is Koube) so I do not pronounce or spell it incorrectly. Similarly, bento is bentou, Noh is Nou, ramen is ra-men*, jiu-jitsu is juujutsu, sumo is sumou, tofu is toufu, and so on. A similar situation happens with double N syllables, which may be spelled with a single N. Someone not checking the spelling may say feathers (hane) for half-price (hanne), or ask a store clerk for his or her hand in marriage (kon’yaku) when all they really wanted were some yam cakes (kon’nyaku). And even romaji is not rendered properly in romaji:  it’s really ro-maji*.

But don’t these variations sound pretty much the same? Wouldn’t context tell the listener what the speaker means? It could, but you might still say to your friend that you spent a wonderful afternoon under the clouds experiencing a kuusou (daydream) but he might think you soiled your pants (kuso means shit). Or you may wish to tell the police you were the victim of an oshiiri (break-in) but leave them with the impression someone sat on you (oshiri means buttocks). Even if a mispronunciation doesn’t render an embarrassing word, it does sound odd to the Japanese ear, not unlike Allo Allo’s Officer Crabtree wishing everyone a “good moaning”.

Someone in favor of romaji said to me that each dictionary and study manual usually have guides at the beginning indicating how words are to be spelled or read in Japanese. That’s fine, but different books may use different systems, and many serious students of Japanese will use multiple dictionaries. It takes far less time to learn hiragana than an endless series of romaji systems.

Even if we get past the problem of proper spelling, by seeing words written in romaji, the learner may be tempted to pronounce it according to the rules of his or her native tongue. For example, mitsu (honey) consists of two Japanese syllables, MI and TSU, but seeing it in romaji makes it tempting to pronounce it MIT-SU. Doing so also makes the T sound like a germinate consonant, making it sound to Japanese ears like MITTSU (three). Arimasu (to exist) is A-RI-MA-SU, not AR-I-MA-SU; combining an R sound with the first A gives the speaker a distinctly Western accent, since Japanese R sounds tend to be flicked with the tongue, and it’s difficult to do this with a preceding vowel.

And despite our best intentions, it’s still easy to want to say the English spellings of shogun as show-gunn, Kyoto as KEE-yoto, futon as foo-TAHn, karate as kuh-RODDY, and karaoke as carry-oh-kEE. Seeing words in hiragana, even ones familiar to English speakers, forces one to sound them out and pronounce them correctly.

The more you rely on romaji, the more mistakes you’re likely to make (which can be difficult to unlearn), and the longer it will take to get used to reading Japanese. If you see Japanese words in newspapers or magazines and want to learn them, look them up in a furigana dictionary for the proper spelling and pronunciation. After all, if you work as a consultant for your boss and you make a trip to Japan and you’re eager to show off your new language skills to your Japanese hosts, you definitely do not want to introduce yourself as your boss’s koumon. Komon means consultant, while koumon means gate … or anus.

*In katakana words like ra-men and ro-maji, doubled vowels are often rendered not with a second vowel, but with a line called a chouonpu.

Creating Art with S Memo

In the last year or so, I’ve been creating art—mostly portraits—using S Memo on my cellphone. S Memo is like a simplified version of Microsoft Windows Paint: you get some drawing tools (pencil, brush, marker), an eraser, a text tool, a customizable color palette, and an undo function.

The whole thing began when I decided to surprise my friend Steve with a portrait of him. He has a bright smile and wears John Lennon glasses, so I did a quick portrait and texted it to him. He loved it, so I began doing other pictures and sharing them with him, and he encouraged me to keep doing them. He had a visitor from France and showed her some of my pictures, and she even commissioned me to do her portrait!

Left: the first S Memo portrait of my friend Steve. (Sep 2016)
Right: portrait inspired by Japanese entertainer Akiko Wada. (Dec 2017)

Alas, when I finished Steve’s friend’s portrait, I moved my finger to hit the save button. It got too close to the screen without touching it, but close enough to draw a gash of color right across her face just as I hit save. This is because my phone has a capacitive touchscreen, which relies on an electrical charge in my finger, so direct contact isn’t always necessary. This is also why I can’t use a stylus on my screen, thus limiting precision for drawing or creating custom colors. You can only save one custom color at a time and there’s no eyedropper tool to retrieve it if you need to use it again later. Even if I come close to recreating the custom color, the act of merely lifting my finger away from the screen is usually enough to cause the color to shift slightly.

Anyway, I told Steve’s friend I’d fix the mistake in GIMP and send it to her. After that, I began using GIMP to fix minor errors and mistakes, but Steve insisted that was cheating. The whole point of these portraits, he said, was they were done on a cell phone app with all the its limitations. Fixing them in GIMP was akin to fixing vocals in Autotune. I agreed and stopped using GIMP.

Since then, I’ve had to rethink how I do art with S Memo. I have to plan the order in which elements are drawn. I’ve gotten better at recreating custom colors, though they are never exact. I am much more careful about how I hit the save button. But despite these limitations, I can be more spontaneous and thus better enjoy the process, and not worry as much about creating an exact portrait of anyone.