The Brooch and the Pooch

The Brooch and The Pooch
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains violence)

Our Heroes
Caesar Campbell BaxCam Coffees
Dainty Busch citizen at large
The Roving Heirloom Show
Chitra Gupta show producer
Dale Tuonela show host
Richard Pluto appraiser
Erlik Jacoby appraiser
Mary Lethe greeter
Laverna Davies friend of Dainty
Orcus Davies brother of Laverna
Donn Flanagan
Yomi Kaneko
Tia Ruddock
Anubis Tia’s dog

“Welcome to this week’s edition of The Roving Heirloom Show. I’m your host, Dale Tuonela, and this week we’re at the Katherine Ker Convention Center in East Kingsley.” Dale stepped out of the shot while a cameraman panned past a long line of people holding various treasures: a 17th century Korean musket, a painting that might be by van Gogh, a painting that was definitely not by van Gogh (no matter how much the owner insisted), an 18th century umbrella by Jean Marius, an elegant wooden Chiwara mask with horns from Mali, and so on.

Outside, a bright yellow taxi was disgorging four occupants, one of whom immediately made a run for the big double doors of the convention center. Upon reaching the reception desk, Laverna Davies struggled to remove her coat and keep a small box from dropping from where it had been stuffed under her armpit. In her haste it hadn’t occurred to her to put the box on the desk. She jumped around so much that the event greeter, a Mary Lethe, was having a hard time pinning a name badge on Laverna’s blouse. “I’m sorry, I’m so nervous!” stammered Laverna.

“It’s okay, just relax,” said Mary. “Everyone is always a little nervous when they come to the show. You’ll be fine.” Two more of Laverna’s fellow taxi passengers, Dainty Busch and Caesar Campbell, had caught up to her.

Caesar was nearly as excited as Laverna. “I love this show!” he said to Mary. He turned to Dainty. “I’m sorry Junnosuke has the flu but not sorry you let me have his ticket!” Mary tried to pin a name badge on his shirt, but he took it from her and pinned it himself with a flourish.

“Is someone missing?” Mary asked, looking at her monitor. “It says here you ordered four tickets.”

At that moment, the final member arrived—Laverna’s brother, Orcus. “That would be me,” he said.

“What kept you?” asked Laverna.

“I’m famished. I stopped at that restaurant by the convention center to see if I could get something to eat, but it hadn’t opened yet.”

“Well, if you hadn’t overslept this morning you would’ve had time for breakfast, and we wouldn’t be running late!”

“I didn’t oversleep, I had to make a call.”

“Why didn’t you do that on the way? And yes, you did oversleep!” Laverna looked at her companions. “He was out late at the casino. Again.”

“Oh, did you win anything?” asked Dainty, who stood still while Mary pinned her badge.

“Well, we had to take a taxi, didn’t we? No Rolls yet for me.”

“Maybe you should spend less time at the casinos and more time looking for a job.” said Laverna.

Mary moved closer to Orcus to pin his badge. Orcus regarded it and rolled his eyes. “Is this really necessary?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” said Mary, brightly. “You won’t be allowed in without it, and you don’t want to miss out on the excitement, right?” Orcus snatched it from her and undid the pin. When Mary turned her back to return to her desk, he mimed jabbing the pin in her back. “Do you suppose they have voodoo dolls here?” he wondered aloud.

“Orcus, there’s no need to be peevish,” said Laverna. “Why did you even want to come today? I wouldn’t think antiques would be your cup of tea.” She looked at the box she was carrying. “Oh, I wonder if I’ll be on TV?”

“Maybe!” said Mary. “You’ll want to enter the main hall, and the line for appraisals will be on the left. Good luck!” When the foursome entered the main hall, they saw a long line of people. Laverna made a beeline for it.

“Looks like this could take a while.”

“Let’s look around,” said Caesar. “We can catch up to her later.” They walked past several tables, all roped off, with various appraisers. Caesar ooh’ed and ahh’ed at all the antiques. In the adjoining exhibit hall, vendors had set up booths. Caesar was practically drooling by now.

“See anything you’d like, Julius?” asked Dainty, her Cockney accent rendering “anything” as anyfing and “like” as loyk. Caesar had long given up on dissuading her from using that nickname.

“Oh, well, sure, but nothing in my price range.” He looked wistfully at a booth selling vintage teddy bears.

“Don’t you worry about that. If you’re a good boy today, Auntie Dainty will treat you to something.”

“Oh, you can’t do that! I wasn’t trying to …”

“Never mind that. I was going to get a little something for Junnosuke and Benjy, too, so why not?”

Caesar looked uncertain. Of course he would love to go home with a little goody but didn’t want to seem like a leech, especially since Dainty was so generous with her tips at BaxCam Coffees. Finally, he said, “Well … thank you. That would be really nice.” He gave Dainty a hug.

“How sweet,” said Orcus. “While you two are sharing warm fuzzies, I’m going to look for food. There’s got to be something to eat here. Ta-ta!” And he strolled away.

“You can help me think what Benjy might like,” said Dainty. “But let’s see how Laverna’s doing.” The two went back to the line in the main hall. It had moved noticeably, and Laverna was now about sixth in line. She was holding her box in one hand and a dog leash in the other. On the end of it was a rather anxious lhasa apso, gazing towards the right. Laverna was chatting with two people behind her, a man and a woman. The woman was carrying a small pink shopping bag, and the man had a long, narrow cardboard box.

“Hello Laverna!” said Dainty. “Who’s your little friend, then?”

“This is Anubis. His owner was standing in line in front of me and had to run to the restroom.” The mention of his name only momentarily distracted the dog from his vigil. Caesar followed the dog’s line of sight and sure enough, to the right, in one corner of the main hall, were the restrooms. “I hope she gets back soon,” continued Laverna. “She might miss her turn!”

“I’m Yomi.” said the woman behind her.

“And I’m Donn Flanagan,” said the man.

“By the way,” said Laverna. “Where is Orcus?”

“He went to find something to eat.”

At that moment, Orcus returned, carrying something. “This is what they call a ‘hot dog’, which puzzles me, for it is neither hot nor made from a dog.” He took a bite and made a face. “At least, I hope it isn’t.” Anubis had picked up the scent of the hot dog and was looking up at Orcus. “Oh, who is this? Does widdle man want a bite?” Anubis wagged his tail hopefully.

“Don’t,” said Laverna. “His owner will be back in a minute. I don’t think we should give him any food.” But Orcus had torn off a piece of the hot dog. He knelt beside Anubis and held it out. Anubis sniffed it and was just about to take it when Orcus snatched it away.

“Orcus, that’s mean!” said Laverna.

“But you said not to feed it! We wouldn’t want to upset its owner, right? It might not be good for the dog, right?” He ate the piece and tore off another. He offered it to Anubis, who again tried to take it, but Orcus popped it into his own mouth. “Oh, I nearly forgot, I’m not supposed to feed you. I’m sorry, widdle man, but big mean sister says you can’t have any.”

Dainty was about to box Orcus across his ears, but just at that moment a woman with a backpack walked up to them. “Oh, thank you for watching Anubis!” said the woman, taking the leash from Laverna. Orcus stood up suddenly, the picture of innocence. Seeing the three new arrivals, the woman said, “Hi! I’m Tia Ruddock.” Dainty and Caesar introduced themselves and shook hands with her.

Tia offered a hand to Orcus, who jumped back. “Oh no. Greasy hands.” He waved his hot dog by way of explanation and shrugged. Laverna rolled her eyes.

A bearded man in a navy sports jacket came up to Tia and escorted her to an appraiser’s table. “I’m next!” said Laverna.

“May I ask what you’ve brought?” asked Donn to Yomi. She opened her bag and pulled out three necklaces.

“These are layered seed bead necklaces from Japan.” She held them up. “These were made in the late 40s, during the Occupation. Goods made in Occupied Japan are worth something.”

“Yes, they are,” said Donn, fingering the beads. “But not those. Those are worth about twelve dollars apiece.”

Yomi snatched the beads away from Donn. “Are you saying these are fakes?” she cried.

“No, not fakes, but they’re still not worth much.”

Yomi stuffed the necklaces back into her bag. “And what about you, Laverna?” she said, though she was less interested in what Laverna brought than in making a show of ignoring Donn. Laverna began to lift the lid of her box. Yomi caught a glimpse of something glittering inside, but just then the bearded man returned.

“Your turn,” he said to Laverna. She put the lid back on. “Follow me. We’re going to table 34.” The man saw Laverna’s companions. “I’m sorry, only those who have something to be appraised can come to the tables. You can stand outside the ropes and watch if you’d like.” He led Laverna away.

“Shall we?” said Caesar.

“Yes,” said Dainty. “Are you coming, Orcus?”

“In a minute.” He abruptly ran off.

“I suppose you have something worth millions in that box of yours!” cried Yomi, suddenly deciding she didn’t want Donn to have the last word.

“Maybe,” said Donn coolly. “But I’m certainly not going to show it to you.”

Dainty and Caesar shrugged, then left to find Laverna. But they hadn’t paid attention and weren’t sure which way to go. After wandering around a few minutes, they asked an usher for help. The usher led the way to table 34. Like all the other tables, the area surrounding it was roped off, but they could get close enough to see and hear easily. Laverna was seated at the table. Except for the cameraman, she was alone. She looked around, and then at the cameraman, who shrugged. She waved at her friends, and Caesar crossed his fingers and smiled.

Finally, a distinguished man in a tasteful plaid jacket came walking up, then sat at the table. He mouthed the words, “Sorry to keep you waiting.” He pointed to the cameraman, who began filming.

“I’m Richard Pluto, welcome,” he said cordially. “Nice to meet you. I run The Antique Boutique. We specialize in small British antiques, like jewelry, letter openers, hand mirrors, and so on, all from the Tudor period and onward. So let’s see what you have.”

Laverna pulled a brooch out of the box and put it on the table. Her hands were shaking so much, Richard clasped them gently in his and said, “There there, now. Try to relax.” He picked up the brooch. It was golden and star-shaped, with a large diamond in the center, surrounded by a halo of smaller diamonds. Little stems protruded from between each ray of the star, and at the end of each stem was another diamond. It resembled a tiny elegant chandelier, and the diamonds caught the lights in the hall and sparkled.

“Now, tell me what you’ve brought today.”

“This was given to me by my mother,” said Laverna, “and I think her grandmother had given it to her. Our family is British so maybe it’s Victorian? Anyway, I think it’s beautiful and I wanted someone to look at it.”

“Any idea what it might be worth?”

“I never really thought about its value. With all the diamonds, I don’t know, a couple thousand dollars, maybe?”

Richard pulled out a loupe and placed it over one eye, then held the brooch up to the light. “Well, I agree, it’s beautiful, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is just imitation. The diamonds are quite convincing and the details on the brooch design are impressive, but …”

“Convincing? You mean they’re fakes?” Laverna looked disappointed.

“You said your mother got it from her grandmother?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I think that’s what she said.”

“I’m afraid it’s not Victorian.” He picked up the brooch and turned it over. “See how the pin is shaped here?” He pointed. Laverna nodded but didn’t really understand what he was trying to show her. “This is definitely 20th century. It’s a remarkable imitation of Victorian jewelry, and for that it’s worth a little something.”

“Oh. Uhh, how much?”

“A collector might pay $200 for it.”

“Oh,” said Laverna, clearly disappointed.

Richard took her hands in his again. “I’m really sorry. Are you okay?”

Laverna suddenly felt vulnerable in front of the camera, which was filming her disappointment for all the world to see. Richard turned to the cameraman and waved him away. Laverna tried to force a smile. “It’s not just because it’s not worth very much, but I was so excited about being on the show, and now …” Her voice trailed off.

“I feel so bad!” said Richard, squeezing her hands reassuringly. “Honestly. It happens from time to time. Not everything brought in is a treasure. Look, you don’t have to sign the release for the video, so it will never be on TV.”

Laverna smiled more sincerely. “I appreciate that.” She took the brooch and dropped it into the box and put the lid on it firmly.

“Okay, now take a deep cleansing breath and try not to let this get to you too much, okay?” She nodded and stood up. Richard also stood and shook her hand. “Take care now, Laverna.” He unlatched the rope so she could step out. Dainty went up and gave her a big hug.

“We heard everything, darling. I’m so sorry!”

“Me too. Oh well, c’est la vie, I guess.”

“Look, here comes Orcus. Let’s grab something to eat. My treat, everyone.”

“How about that restaurant next door?”

The restaurant had outdoor seating, and since it had warmed up considerably since they first arrived, Caesar suggested they eat al fresco. They were led to a table and handed menus.

“Wow, this looks amazing,” said Caesar. “Early morning special, every day, 6am to 8am, twelve ounce steak, eggs, hash browns, coffee, only twelve dollars.” They all continued to peer at their menus.

“Hello again,” said a voice. They looked up—it was Tia and Anubis. “Time for lunch?”

“Yes,” said Dainty. “Why don’t you join us?”

“Thank you. Outdoor seating is good when you have a dog.” A server saw Tia and brought a chair from another table and set it between Dainty and Orcus. Tia tied the leash to her chair and sat down. Anubis started sniffing at Orcus’ hand. Orcus was about to kick him when Dainty grabbed his arm.

“Don’t you bloody dare kick that dog.” she hissed under her breath so Tia wouldn’t hear.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” smirked Orcus. But by now Anubis had climbed up Orcus’ shin and was humping it. Orcus grabbed him by his dog collar and was about to yank him off his leg when Tia saw what was happening.

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Anubis, naughty! Come sit next to Mama.” Orcus let go and Anubis curled up at Tia’s feet.

At that moment, Yomi came running up to the table. “Hello, Laverna. Did you have any luck? Can I see what you brought?”

Laverna shrugged and showed her the brooch. “I’m afraid things didn’t go very well,” said Laverna. Yomi plucked the brooch out of the box and admired it, a gleam in her eyes.

“Laverna?” It was Richard Pluto. “I’m sorry to interrupt your lunch, but do you mind if I talk to you for a moment?”

“No, not at all.”

“I wanted to make sure you’re okay. You seemed so upset.”

“Yes, I was, but it’s okay, you were just being honest.”

“Excuse me,” interrupted Yomi, moving to stand between Laverna and Richard. “Would you sell me this? I’d like to have it.”

Richard looked at her. “Oh. How funny.” He turned back to Laverna. “I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“You want to buy it? But you said it’s a fake.”

“It is a fake, but I think I have a customer for it. It is a good duplicate, after all.”

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe.”

“I’ll give you a seventy-five for it.” said Yomi.

“She’s not selling it.” said Orcus.

“I was going to offer you two-fifty, cash.” said Richard.

“Good idea, sis,” said Orcus. “Take the money.”

Laverna ignored him. “Two-fifty? But I thought you said it was only worth two hundred.”

“It is, but I could probably get three-fifty for it from my customer. She’s a regular and would love something like this, even if it’s a copy. Consider the extra fifty as my way of apologizing.”

“There you go, sister dear. You can’t beat that.” said Orcus.

“But I asked first!” said Yomi. “You said she wasn’t going to sell it!”

“She’s not selling it to you.” said Orcus. “This nice gentleman is offering much more than your little bid.”

Laverna shrugged. “Well, that’s two-fifty more than I had this morning. Okay, Mr. Pluto, you have yourself a deal. I’m sorry, Yomi.”

Orcus snatched the brooch away from Yomi and put it back in its box. Richard reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to Laverna, and Orcus handed the box to Richard. “Now, if you’ll just sign this,” said Richard, handing her a receipt book and pen. Yomi tried to grab them, but Orcus blocked her hands with his arm.

“I’ll give you a hundred!” cried Yomi.

“But I’ve already made up my mind to sell it to Mr. Pluto here.” She showed Yomi the now signed receipt.

“You … you can’t! I must have it!”

“I’m sorry, but it’s Mr. Pluto’s now. Maybe he’d sell it to you.”

“Sorry, but I already have a buyer.”

“But I want it!” Yomi thought furiously. “If you give me some time I might be able to match your buyer’s price.”

Orcus stood up and took Yomi by the elbow. “Now, now, let’s not make a scene. Time to say bye-bye, thanks for dropping by, have a nice life.”

Yomi wrested her arm away. “Let go of me!” She looked at Richard defiantly. “Give it to me!”

Poor Mr. Pluto, thought Caesar. He’s upsetting all the ladies today.

“Really, I bought this for my customer. It’s not for sale.”

Yomi glared at him, then at Laverna. Finally, she turned on one heel and stomped off back towards the convention center.

“And I must get back to the show too,” said Richard. “Thank you again, Ms. Davies.” And then he too headed back towards the convention center, only in a less stomping manner.

“My goodness, what was that all about?” asked Laverna.

“I guess she really liked your brooch,” said Dainty.

“I bet she’s used to getting her way,” said Caesar.

“Spoiled brat,” added Orcus. Everyone pondered the irony of his opinion.

The server came and the group ordered. Tia had a little plastic container in her backpack with some food for Anubis, though she did ask the server for a bowl of water. They dined and chatted at a leisurely pace. Orcus helped himself to several Bloody Marys. Laverna looked at Dainty apologetically, who shook her head and said, “You just enjoy your lunch.” Eventually they finished. Once Dainty paid the bill (“Madame is far too generous,” said the delighted server), she suggested they all go back to the vendors’ hall.

“You go ahead,” said Orcus. “I must find the little boys’ room. One too many drinks, I’m afraid. I’ll catch up.” He left.

“Sure,” said Laverna to Dainty. “Let’s go.”

In the vendors’ hall, Caesar was considering some mid-century teddy bears. “Which one would you like?” said Dainty. Caesar was torn between two: one was a dark brown Schmuco bear that had an elaborate lavender ribbon around its neck, the other was a light tan Stieffen bear wearing a green sweater. But Caesar knew if he took too long to decide, Dainty might end up paying for both, so he showed the Stieffen to the vendor.

“I’ll take this one, please.”

“What are you buying?” said Orcus, coming up to join them.

“Dainty has very graciously offered to buy this bear for me.”

“How nice. You should give it to A-Nui-Sance. He could use it for a chew toy.” Fortunately, Tia didn’t hear this, for she had move on to the next booth, admiring an Imperial Aarhus porcelain figurine of—what else? A lhasa apso.

“Now what about Benjy?” asked Dainty. “What might he like?”

Caesar was about to answer when a commotion began in the main hall. A hubbub of voices chattering all at once, getting louder and louder. Some were shouting. Convention center employees in the vendor hall were suddenly all on their walkie-talkies. And then, the sound of sirens outside. Dainty trotted off towards the main hall. Caesar went chasing after her.

They entered the hall and looked. The commotion was coming from the corner where the restrooms were situated. A group of paramedics came in, followed by several police officers. They pushed their way through the crowd. Dainty, not one to miss an opportunity, followed in their slipstream into the men’s bathroom. There, at the urinal furthest from the entrance, was Mr. Pluto. His throat was cut, and a dagger lay nearby. One hand was on the rim of the urinal, as if he had tried to haul himself up. The paramedics tried to revive him, but judging by the amount of blood all over the floor, that wasn’t going to happen. A small cloth bag lay near him, almost completely soaked with blood. Finally, one of the police officers noticed Dainty. “Hey! You can’t be in here! Get out!”

She exited the restroom. Just outside the door was Caesar, who had made his way through the crowd. Donn was also there, talking to an officer, who was taking notes. Donn was still carrying the long, narrow box.

“… and when I went into the bathroom, there he was,” said Donn.

“Was he still alive?”

“I don’t think so. I saw the blood and panicked. I ran out here and called for help.”

“Did you see what might have killed him?”

“Yes. It was on the floor next to him, an antique dagger.”

“Dainty, did you see anything?” asked Caesar. “It sounds like someone got murdered.”

“It was Mr. Pluto!”

“Oh geez, we just saw him at lunch!”

The officer happened to hear this and approached them. “Sir, just how long ago was that?” Caesar told him about how Laverna had sold Richard the brooch at the restaurant. After asking a few more questions, the officer went into the restroom.

“Julius,” said Dainty, “Something tells me that bleedin’ brooch is gone!”

“I wonder if Donn had that dagger?” said Caesar. He pointed at the box in Donn’s hand.

“And he found the body. He could’ve done it himself. But why would he steal that worthless brooch?”

“Maybe it’s not so worthless.”

“But how did he even know about it? Only the four of us, plus Tia, were at the restaurant.” said Dainty.

Caesar’s eyes suddenly widened. “And Yomi.”

“And she was pretty bloody intent on getting it!”

“But would she kill him for it? She knew it was a fake. Seems hardly worth killing someone for a fake.”

If it was a fake,” said Dainty, echoing Caesar’s earlier thought.

The officer returned and said, “Well, if he had that brooch, it’s not on him.”

“Wasn’t there a bag?” asked Dainty.

“How did you know about … oh, right, you’re the woman they chased out of there. Well, it had a few antiques in it. A brooch—a cameo style, not the one you described—an old notebook, a gold band.”

“Interesting,” said Caesar. “The thief only took the brooch, not the other items.”

At that moment, Laverna had found them.

“Laverna,” said Dainty. “It’s Richard Pluto. He’s dead. Murdered!”

“Oh, my god!”

The officer spoke. “Ma’am, were you the one who sold Mr. Pluto a brooch while you were having lunch?”


“Ah. My superior officer will want to have a word with you.” He led her into the restroom. Now Orcus came up to them.

“Can we go now?” he pouted. He looked around. “Where’s my sister?”

“She’s in the loo talking to the coppers. Oh, here she comes now. I say, Laverna, what did they want?”

“Never mind that, let’s just go!” Orcus put his hands on his hips and tapped his foot.

Laverna ignored him. “They just wanted to ask about the brooch. I showed them the receipt and the cash. Well, hello—it’s Anubis.”

They all looked down. Sure enough, Anubis had come up to them. He stood next to Orcus, looking up at him and wagging his tail. His leash trailed behind him. Caesar looked around: “Where’s Tia?”

“He must’ve gotten away from her.” said Dainty. She watched Anubis as he began climbing Orcus’ leg once more. “There’s no accounting for taste. He’s been nothing but mean to that poor dog.”

Orcus overheard her. “Not nearly as mean as I’m about to be.” He shook his leg hard, and the tip of his shoe caught Anubis in the side. Anubis yelped and sat down. He regarded Orcus quizzically, but kept wagging his tail.

“I can’t believe that dog still likes him,” said Caesar.

“Stupid dog,” said Orcus. “I’ll make a hot dog out of you.

“Hang on a bloody sec,” said Dainty. “Didn’t you say that restaurant was closed this morning.”

“Yes, of course.”

“But they’re open for breakfast,” said Caesar, remembering the early morning special.


“So,” said Dainty, “It sounds like you didn’t actually go this morning. Otherwise you would’ve known it was open.” She shot a look at Caesar, who nodded in return.

“Again, I say, so?”

Suddenly, without warning and as quick as a flash, Anubis lunged and sank his teeth into Orcus’ crotch. Orcus made an odd wheezing sound, trying to inhale to get out a good scream, but not quite able to draw in enough air. He waved feebly at the group with one hand, and pointed the other at Anubis, who had a surprisingly good grip. Orcus tried to say something but could only gasp.

Dainty looked at Caesar. “I don’t see anything, do you, Julius?”

Caesar suddenly found the ceiling of the main hall fascinating. “What kind of lighting do you think they use here?” Dainty too suddenly found the ceiling fascinating, and they both studied it, saying “Hmm.” repeatedly.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Laverna. “Not that you deserve any help, brother.” She knelt down close to Anubis and tried to pet him, which was difficult, considering how he was swinging to and fro, his body dangling from Orcus’ crotch like the pendulum of a grandfather clock—a grandfather clock with a particularly distressed face. “Now, now, I know you think my brother has something tasty in there, but I’m sure there’s nothing worth getting excited about (despite pretending to be absorbed in the ceiling, Dainty snickered), and if you let go of him, I promise I’ll find something better for you.”

Anubis considered his options, then slowly let go, landing rather gracefully on all fours. The pants were ruined, shredded all around the crotch. Orcus fell to his knees, and there was a metallic clinking sound. Something had fallen out of Orcus’ torn pants pocket and bounced across the floor several times before coming to a stop—at Yomi’s feet. She bent down to snatch up the item but Anubis dashed over and beat her to it. He picked it up in his teeth and brought it to Laverna.

“My brooch!” exclaimed Laverna. Dainty and Caesar abandoned their examination of the ceiling to take a look. “But … what were you doing with it?”

Orcus was lying in a fetal position, moaning and shaking. Dainty took the brooch from Laverna. “Oy, coppers!” she called out. She prodded Orcus in his ribs with the end of one of her lime platform wedge mules. “No wonder you were in such a bloody hurry to leave!” The officer who had spoken to Laverna earlier came over, followed by Donn.

“Where did you find that?” said the officer. Dainty indicated the still-trembling Orcus. The officer hauled him to his feet. “Well?” he demanded.

Orcus cleared his throat. “Fine, I confess. I did it. Killed Richard, stole the brooch.”

“But why?” said Laverna. “It’s worthless, isn’t it?”

“Not so,” said Orcus. “You see, sister dear, I always suspected that brooch was worth something. When you said you were coming to The Roving Heirloom Show, I contacted the jewelry appraiser. He was to pretend it was a fake, buy it from you cheap, then resell it, and he and I would split the proceeds.”

“Ah,” said Caesar. “No wonder you weren’t going to let Yomi buy it.”

“So what happened?” asked Laverna.

“I bet that call this morning was to Mr. Pluto,” said Dainty. “When we arrived and Orcus said he was going to the restaurant, he was actually trying to find Pluto. Then when he dashed away from the line it was to let Pluto know Laverna was on her way.”

“Oh!” cried Laverna. “Is that why Mr. Pluto was late for my appraisal?”

“Probably, “ said Caesar. “And then after lunch, Orcus took off again.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” snapped Orcus impatiently. “I went to see him. He was going to double cross me. He said he was keeping it for himself. If I didn’t leave him alone, he’d go to the police. We argued, then I followed him into the restroom. I tried to take that bag from him but we fought over it and that dagger fell out.”

“So the dagger wasn’t Donn’s,” said Caesar.

“Why?” said Donn. “Did you think I murdered Pluto?” He opened his box. Inside was a green narrow band with a woman’s face carved on one end. “I know a lot about antiques, but this I couldn’t quite figure out, so I brought it in for an appraisal.”

“Probably a fake.” seethed Yomi.

“It’s beautiful,” said Laverna. “May I?” She took it out and admired it.

“Antique my foot.” said Yomi, a bit more loudly.

“Turns out it’s a Chinese hairpin,” said Donn. “Jade, 18th century, worth about five hundred.”

“Five hundred pennies, maybe!”

“Look here! Just because you brought worthless trinkets doesn’t mean the rest of us did.”

Dainty had taken the hairpin from Laverna and held it up to her hair. “How does it look?” The cool jade color made a startling though flattering contrast with Dainty’s blaze of red hair.

“It suits you,” said Caesar. Laverna and Donn nodded in approval. Dainty began parading around with it, gesturing grandly. Everyone, even a few passersby, clapped.

“Excuse me, may I finish?” barked Orcus. Donn put the hairpin away. Orcus cleared his throat again. “I slit his throat with the dagger, then took the brooch.” He looked at his crotch. “There, I’m done. Now would someone get me a doctor?” The police began to lead him away. “Not so fast!” he barked again to the officers, as he hobbled along. “Wounded man here!”

“Are you Ms. Davies?” said a new voice. The group turned to see a man and a woman standing behind them, both wearing suits. The woman stepped forward. “I’m Chitra Gupta, executive producer for The Roving Heirloom Show. I heard what happened, and I want to apologize for Mr. Pluto’s unethical behavior.”

“I’m afraid he’s paid for that, the hard way,” said Laverna.

“Nevertheless, I am not going to have any scandal attached to this program.” She turned to indicate the man next to her. “To make amends, let me introduce Erlik Jacoby, another jewelry appraiser.”

“May I see the brooch?” he asked. Laverna handed it to him. He pulled a loupe out of his pocket and examined the brooch. Everyone held their breath, except Anubis, who had decided to take a nap. Finally, Erlik said, “This is definitely Victorian, definitely authentic, and the diamonds are definitely real.”

“My goodness,” said Laverna. “How … how much is it worth?”

“I’d say, ten, maybe eleven thousand dollars.” Laverna swooned. Caesar and Donn stepped forward to steady her.

“That could’ve been mine.” grumbled Yomi.

“I will speak to the police, see if there’s any way you can get the brooch back,” said Chitra. “After all, Richard committed fraud to get it.”

Just then, Tia came running into the hall. “Anubis! Anubis! Where are you?” The dog heard his name and ran over to her. “There you are! Naughty boy making Mama worry!” She got a firm grip on his leash and looked at the group. “Oh, did you find him? I hope he wasn’t any trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” said Dainty. She told Tia what had transpired.

“Well,” said Tia, petting Anubis. “Aren’t you Mama’s clever boy?”

“After all the teasing he got from Orcus, and especially for finding that brooch, I think Anubis deserves a special treat,” said Dainty.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” said Tia, tugging playfully on Anubis’ leash.

“I insist. It’s the leashed I can do.” And they all went back to the restaurant—except Yomi, who went home and sat in front of her collection of faux Victorian jewelry to have a good sulk. Dainty treated Anubis to a twelve-ounce steak. As it was past eight o’clock in the morning, she had to pay full price for it, but she could well afford it.

The End

Black Coffee, Blackmail

Black Coffee, Blackmail
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

(contains language, violence; story also contains a spoiler for The Costume Party Murder)

“Caesar, can I have a word with you? It’s important.” The morning rush at BaxCam Coffees had slowed to a gentle stream of customers. Alexandra was talking to a man at the far end of the counter. Elijah was outside on his break, soaking up some rays. Cadence was wiping the tables. The three of them could easily take care of things until lunchtime.

“Sure, Benjy, what’s up?”

Benjy was about to suggest they go into the office for privacy, but just then Jocasta Payne tore through the door and slammed her eggplant clutch with the silver clasp on the counter in front of the two men. “It’s an outrage!” she snapped.

“Jocasta, what’s wrong?” said Caesar.

“Dolo Road in Soadamm Park! My car is in the shop so I took the bus to a dental appointment near the park. And after, I was crossing Dolo Road to get to the bus stop, looking both ways, and halfway across, this car came …”—she searched for the appropriate verb—“… roaring through and almost hit me!”

“You poor thing!” said Dainty. She and Junnosuke were at a nearby table.

“It’s a blind curve. Why don’t they put a light there? I shall talk to the city council about this.” She took a deep breath and looked like she needed a cigarette.

“Ah,” said Benjy, not knowing what else to say, and not all that interested anyway. He turned back to Caesar and started to open his mouth again when he was interrupted by the sound of a shouting voice. The man with Alexandra slammed a large brown portfolio on the counter.

“Is it National Slamming Day?” wondered Caesar to himself. He looked at the man, whose face was dangerously close to matching the color of Jocasta’s clutch.

“No! You need to put these up!” he cried. He jabbed his finger repeatedly on the portfolio.

Alexandra looked at him coolly. “I said,” she said slowly, in a carefully measured tone. “I will speak to the manager and get back to you.”

The man would have none of it. He slammed the portfolio on the counter again. “Don’t give me that shit! Don’t you know who I am?”

“Sir, that’s enough. You need to leave now.”

“Don’t you fucking tell me what to do, you bitch!”

At that, Junnosuke leapt from his chair. Before the man could say another word, Junnosuke had his arm twisted behind him. He gave it a sudden jerk towards his shoulder. The man yelped.

“I think you need to go.” said Junnosuke. He propelled the man towards the door and shoved him out. Dainty picked up his portfolio and threw it after him. It landed at the man’s feet. Sketches fell out all over the pavement. The man scooped them up, stuffed them back in the portfolio, and stomped away, around the corner. A moment later, there was the sound of tires peeling against the pavement. A blue car went racing by, just missing the mail carrier, who was crossing the street. There was the smell of burning rubber.

“What was that all about?” asked Caesar.

Alexandra handed Benjy a business card. “He wanted to know if we’d display his art in our shop. I said I’d have to talk to you guys, and he went nuts. Said we should be honored …”–she made air quotes and rolled her eyes—“… he chose us for displaying his art.”

Benjy looked at the card. It read, “Bill Katmeacher, Artist”. There was a phone number and a web address. Benjy tossed it into the trash. “Don’t let him back in, Alexandra.”

She gave him a look as if to say, “Did you really think I would?” She turned towards Junnosuke, who was back at his table, and said, “Thanks, Mr. Hashisaki.” He nodded in response.

With the commotion over, Caesar turned to Benjy and asked, “Now what was it you wanted to talk about?”

Benjy managed to get the word “Let’s” out.

“Here’s the mail. Mostly bills.” Elijah had come inside. He handed all but one of the envelopes to Alexandra. “This one’s marked personal, to you guys.”

Caesar took the envelope and opened it. Inside was a sheet of spiral bound paper. It had been torn out of the notebook in a hurry, giving it a shape that looked like Minnesota. On it was written “Pay $50K or I talk to the cops. Details to follow.” The writing was crude, as if a child had done it. The fact it was written in menacing red crayon only reinforced that impression.

Caesar stuffed the paper back into the envelope and took Benjy by the arm and led him to the office. He shut the door and locked it. “Benjy, look at this.”

Benjy did. “Is this a joke? A blackmail note? From a kid?”

Caesar thought. “Who would be blackmailing us? What did we do?”

“Well,” said Benjy, somewhat contritely. “We are accessories after the fact.”

“To what?” Caesar thought for a moment more. “Wait, you mean Reglof? But nobody knows about that except the Lucases and Mrs. Ringer.” He paused. “Do you think one of them is blackmailing us?”

“They have a heckuva lot more to lose than we do. That kind of rules them out.”

“What are we going to do? We don’t have that kind of money!”

“Until the blackmailer sends us a note with the details, there’s not much we can do for the moment. But let’s go talk to the others.”

“Mrs. Ringer is closer to the shop.”

“Fine,” said Benjy. “I’ll drive. Let me just tell Alexandra we’re taking off.”

They knocked on Mrs. Ringer’s door. There was a long wait, and then it finally opened, slowly. Mrs. Ringer peered out uneasily.

“Hello, gentlemen. What’s up?” But by her nervous tone, they could tell she already knew something was up.

She led them to the kitchen and they sat down. They declined her offer of tea. “Mrs. Ringer,” said Benjy. “Do you know anything about this?” Caesar pulled out the note and handed it to her. She read it and sighed.

“I received one too.” She put down her teacup and left the kitchen, then returned a minute later with a similar piece of paper, roughly torn, with the same message scrawled in crayon. She laughed bitterly as she sat down. “When I first read it, I wondered if you two were behind it.”

“Oh, no. Not us.” said Caesar. “Does that mean it’s from the Lucases? But they’re the actual …”—his voice dropped to a whisper—“… killers.” He swallowed. “Why would they blackmail us?”

“It’s not the Lucases.” said Mrs. Ringer. “They came over yesterday accusing me of blackmailing them. They had the same note.”

“Then it’s from someone else,” said Benjy. “But who else knew about it?” At that, Mrs. Ringer dropped her teacup. It clattered on the table and tea spilled. She started wiping up the mess with a napkin. Caesar noticed she was avoiding eye contact with them.

“Come on, Mrs. Ringer!” said Caesar. “Spill the tea! What do you know?”

She put the napkin down and moaned. “Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have done it!” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. “I’m so stupid! I really didn’t think I was doing any harm!”

The two men exchanged glances. Benjy pried one of Mrs. Ringer’s hands away from her face and held it. “Now, now. Just tell us what happened.”

She wiped her tears with her free hand. “Promise you won’t be mad.”

“We promise,” said Benjy, although Caesar didn’t look as amenable.

“I ran into Mrs. Reglof last week. I hadn’t seen her since she left her husband. Anyway, we got to chatting, and you know, considering how he used to beat her, I thought …” She hesitated. “Oh, I know we all swore to secrecy, but I thought she’d be happy to know he was dead. And uhh …” Her voice got very tiny. “… and how it happened.” She paused, then added, “But I haven’t told anyone else.”

“How could you be so …” barked Caesar.

Benjy cut him off. “Quiet, Caesar. You can yell at her later.” He leaned back in his chair. “So it’s Mrs. Reglof blackmailing us?”

“Well, no,” said Mrs. Ringer firmly. “I decided to pay off the blackmailer. I was to leave the money in a paper bag in a trash can in Soadamm Park. I pretended to walk away, and then I hid behind a tree. A few minutes later, a man ran up, grabbed the bag, and took off.”

“What did he look like?”

“I didn’t get a good look at him. He was facing away most of the time. Maybe five foot ten? A little on the thin side.”

“Anything else you know?” sneered Caesar.

“No, no, nothing at all!” She sighed again. “I’m really sorry. Honestly. I thought it would be all right if she knew.”

“It’s okay,” said Benjy reassuringly, though Caesar still didn’t look as amenable. “We’ll figure this out. Meanwhile, don’t talk to anyone else about this.”

“Yeah!” shot Caesar.

“And if you find out anything else, let us know.” He gave her hand a comforting squeeze and the two men left.

It was the next day. Neither man had slept much. Benjy was sitting at a table at BaxCam Coffees eating his breakfast when Caesar walked in and sat down at his table.

“So now what?” said Caesar.

“This just came.” Benjy handed a note to Caesar: same torn out spiral bound paper, same scrawl, same crayon. This time the blackmailer instructed them, as he had done with Mrs. Ringer, to put the money in a paper bag and drop it in a trash can in Soadamm Park. There were dozens of trash cans in the park, but the note specified the one about two hundred feet away from the bus stop at Dolo Road, near the modern art sculpture. The note said to do so at 4:30pm, the following day.

“Well, we have a few options,” said Benjy. “We could pay him off, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t keep asking for more money.”

“Not to mention we don’t have that kind of money.” Caesar pondered for a moment. “We could go to the police, but we’d get in trouble, not to mention Mrs. Ringer and especially the Lucases.”

“We might eventually have to do that.” A pause. “We could try talking to a lawyer.”

“How about that Persephone Primrose? She seemed pretty smart.”

“Did you boys need something?” The two men jumped. They hadn’t seen Persephone enter the shop and walk across to their table. “I heard my name.” She tapped her left ear, causing her green tourmaline earring to sway.

“Nothing!” said Caesar, a little too quickly.

“We were just saying you did a great job at Peccari’s hearing,” said Benjy.

Persephone beamed. “Thank you!” She pointed at the counter. “I was just coming in for a snack. I’ll see you boys later.”

“Did you think she heard what we were talking about?” said Caesar.

Benjy shook his head. The two men fell silent again. Finally, Benjy said, “I have an idea. Let’s just put some paper in a bag and drop it off as instructed. We’ll watch and see who takes it, then maybe we can talk to him.”

“And then what? He’s holding all the cards.”

“I know, but I can’t think of anything else. I don’t think we’ll be much worse off if it doesn’t work.” He set his mouth grimly. “And if it doesn’t work, I guess we’ll talk to …” He gestured towards Persephone, who was smearing cream cheese on a bagel at another table. Caesar sighed and nodded.

The next afternoon they were in Benjy’s car again, driving to Soadamm Park. The most direct way from the coffee shop was to take the Pwenttay Bridge over the Fluss River, which divided East Kingsley roughly into equal halves. Traffic was a little heavy, and Caesar wished they had left a little sooner. On his lap was a bag full of memo pad paper. The radio was playing. Neither man said much. Finally, Caesar said, “Say, you were going to tell me something important the other day. What was it?”

Benjy took a deep breath and turned off the radio. “I’ve given this a lot of thought. I don’t think I want to do this detective thing any more. It was kind of a novelty at first, but honestly, I just want to get back to my original goals: running the business and helping out the community. This chasing around and tracking down killers and people asking for pictures and autographs, it’s just not for me. And now look at the mess we’re in.”

“I see,” said Caesar.

“Listen, I’m not trying to tell you that you can’t do it. You seem to enjoy it, right? Or don’t mind it as much.” Caesar half-shrugged, half-nodded. Benjy tried to put a positive spin on things. “You could work with Dainty. She’s solved a couple of mysteries on her own, right? Or what about Innocenzio? I bet he’d love to do it. He seems to have a lot of connections. He’s got—what do the kids say nowadays? Street brains?”

“Smarts. Street smarts.”

“Right. And Lieutenant Tennant doesn’t mind when we help out. He’s a good resource.”

Caesar looked out the window silently at the passing cars for a moment. “Well, I haven’t really thought about it one way or another. I mean, I enjoy helping run the coffee shop, though that’s more your baby than mine. I was a teacher originally, but I haven’t thought about going back yet. But you’re right, I do kinda like playing detective. It’s fun, sort of.” He noticed the car was decelerating. “Why are you slowing down?”

Benjy pointed ahead. “Look. A ship is coming near. They’re going to raise the drawbridge in a minute.”

“But we’re already running late. We’ve got to get there in time for the drop off or else we might miss the blackmailer.” The car kept decelerating. “Benjy, just gun it! You’ll make it before the gates come down.” Benjy seemed unsure, but then someone behind him began leaning on the car horn.

“Fine, fine!” said Benjy. He stepped on the gas just as the gates began to come down. Benjy got through, but not the car behind. Benjy could see in his rear view mirror that the driver was flipping him the bird and screaming his head off. He bit his lower lip on every other word, which would suggest words that began with F. The woman sitting next to him was screaming too. “Sorry, guy!” Benjy chirped. He looked again at the blue car. “Say, isn’t that the crazy guy who was trying to put his art in our store? What was his name? Bill something?”

Caesar turned to look. “I can’t make out his face any more. But the car does look similar.”

They parked the car and half-jogged to the garbage can, reaching it with only a minute to spare. They looked around but didn’t see anyone suspicious, or anyone watching them. Caesar shrugged and tossed the bag into the can. A swarm of gnats and flies flew out momentarily, then re-alighted in the can. Caesar pointed to a copse of trees about twenty yards away and suggested it would be a good hiding place.

They stood watching behind the trees. The park was crowded but the trees were on a knoll so they had a mostly unobstructed view. Benjy had also brought a pair of binoculars and he peered expectantly through them. After a few minutes a man approached the can.

“Is that him?” asked Caesar.

“Shh. I don’t know. It could be. He does look kinda skinny, and the right height. He looks like he might be homeless.”

Meanwhile, Caesar was distracted by something else: a man and a woman, on another path nearby. The man was carrying a paper bag.

“Benjy, look! Is that the Lucases?” Benjy was trying to concentrate on the skinny man, who was now standing by the can, looking around furtively. Caesar tapped Benjy’s shoulder excitedly. “It is them! I wonder if they’re here to make a payoff, too?” He was about to go talk to them when Benjy grabbed him.

“Look! Look! He’s taking the bag! We’ve got to go after him!” The man began walking away quickly. Benjy and Caesar ran after him. The man didn’t seem to notice them, and they were able to catch up to him.

“Stop!” cried Caesar. The man jumped and whirled. “We want to talk to you!”

“Why?” said the man, clutching the bag to his chest.

“Listen, we just want to see if we can work this out some other way,” said Benjy.

“What’s your name?” asked Caesar.

“It’s Garren Heird, if it’s any of your business!” The man scowled at them.

Caesar pointed to the bag. “You know, that bag …” he began.

The man’s grip on the bag tightened. “Oh, no. This is mine now.”

“Okay,” said Caesar. “But before you go any further, you should look inside.”

“You’re trying to trick me!”

“Well, yes we are, but …” At that, the man took off, running full speed.

Benjy and Caesar gave chase. “Wait! Wait! We just want to talk to you!” They struggled to keep the man in sight, but he was running like a quarterback whose receivers had all left the field for a potty break during a tie game at the end of the fourth quarter with only seconds on the clock. Benjy and Caesar weren’t paying attention and nearly knocked over a mother pushing a baby stroller. “Sorry, sorry!” they cried. But the distraction was enough—they lost the man.

Suddenly Benjy’s cellphone beeped. It was a text, which he read to Caesar. “‘Thanks for nothing! You’re going to get it now!’ He must’ve looked in the bag!”

“He’s texting us?” said Caesar. “How can he text and run like that?”

Benjy hit “call” on the phone and waited for an answer. Meanwhile, Caesar saw a figure dashing across the park, far ahead.

“Look! There he is!” The two men started running, but Benjy still had the phone to his ear, making it difficult to run. Someone on the other end picked up.

“You son of a bitch!” cried the voice on the phone. Benjy had stopped running, letting Caesar pursue the man on his own.

“Look, let me explain!” begged Benjy. Meanwhile, Caesar was closing in on the man. Up ahead was Dolo Road. The man was heading straight for it. Without stopping to look, he ran into the street.

“We’re going to the cops!” screamed the voice. Benjy could hear a car engine revving.

“He’s in a car?” wondered Benjy. “Did he grab a taxi?”

A woman’s scream came from the earpiece, then the sound of brakes. A very loud, sudden thud, then silence. “Hello? Hello?” said Benjy. He looked at the phone. It said, “Call Ended.” He tried to call the number again. It didn’t ring, but instantly rolled over to voicemail. He looked around for Caesar. There was a commotion ahead, in the direction Caesar had run. People had their phones out, snapping pictures of something, and all chattering at once. Benjy looked around. “Caesar!” he cried out. “Caesar!”

Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to see Caesar. “What’s happening?” From a distance approached the sound of an ambulance siren.

Caesar motioned for Benjy to keep silent as he led him through the crowd towards Dolo Road. “I was on the phone with him.” whispered Benjy. “It sounded like he was in a car with a woman. I heard a loud noise and the call ended.”

Caesar leaned towards Benjy’s ear and whispered back. “He wasn’t in a car. I was chasing him. He ran right across Dolo Road. A car was coming too fast and it swerved to miss him. Instead, it ran over a couple then crashed into that building.”

They reached the road. There were two people on the pavement, their bodies twisted out of shape in a pool of blood. They were dead. Benjy and Caesar then looked at the car. It was blue. The front half was completely pulverized by the concrete wall of the building. There was no way an air bag could’ve saved the passengers.

“Caesar, look. Isn’t that the blue car that was behind us on the bridge?” He thought for a moment. “I remember his name now. Bill Katmeacher.”

Caesar pointed at the two bodies on the pavement. “And isn’t that the Lucases?” He didn’t see the bag Mr. Lucas had been carrying, but of course the force of the accident could’ve knocked it far away.

“So what happened to the man you were chasing?” asked Benjy.

“He got away. The car swerved to miss him and he kept going.”

“Then I don’t understand. Who texted us?” As the emergency vehicles approached, they decided to beat a hasty retreat. They slipped away through the crowd. They reached Benjy’s car, and drove away in silence.

The next morning, Mrs. Ringer paid a visit to BaxCam Coffees. She ordered tea from Cadence, and Benjy brought it to her table. He beckoned Caesar over, and the two men sat down. Mrs. Ringer was about to say something but stopped when Jewels Trinkette walked by their table on her way to the counter. She waved at them but didn’t stop. When Jewels was out of earshot, Mrs. Ringer handed Benjy a newspaper, folded back so page ten was on top. “This is him.” she said. “The blackmailer.” They looked. It was Bill Katmeacher. There was a woman in the photo. The caption identified her as his wife, Ali Katmeacher. The headline read, “Four deaths in car accident in Soadamm Park.”

“That’s Mrs. Reglof.” said Mrs. Ringer. “Or rather, the former Mrs. Reglof.”

“Aha,” said Caesar. “Mrs. Reglof told her new husband, the ‘starving artist’, about what happened and he decided to blackmail all of us.”

“Did you know she had remarried?” asked Benjy.

“Yes, but …” She stole a look at Caesar. “You were so upset when you found out I had told her, I was afraid to say anything more.”

“Sorry about that,” said Caesar.

“I deserved it. I made a lot of trouble for all of us.” She sighed sadly and shook her head. “And now the Lucases are dead, too.”

“But I still don’t understand what happened,” said Benjy. “Who was the guy who took our bag in the park? Was he working for the Katmeachers?”

“Garren Heird? I bet he was just some random homeless guy, digging through the trash.” said Caesar. “We assumed he was the blackmailer, and he just thought we were trying to take his loot away. I think what happened was, we made the Katmeachers late because they couldn’t get across the bridge. When they got to the garbage can in Soadamm Park, Heird had already taken the bag, so Bill thought you weren’t going to pay. He texted you to say he was going to the police. And the Lucases must’ve been there to make a payment, too.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Ringer. “The article says there was a big bag of cash found in Katmeacher’s car.”

“Remember when Katmeacher threw a fit at the counter? He had a bad temper. He was already pissed he was going to be late to pick up the money. When he got there and there was no money, then he really got pissed.”

“And so,” continued Benjy, “he went tearing down Dolo Road in a road rage. He wasn’t paying attention and nearly hit Heird, and hit the Lucases instead.” They all nodded.

“And you,” said Caesar to Mrs. Ringer. “You’re going to keep your mouth shut about all this, right?”

“Oh yes,” she said fervently. “I promise. Cross my heart and all that. I’ll never say another word to anyone about this whole affair!” She was about to toss the newspaper into a nearby recycling bin when Jewels walked over, carrying her coffee.

“Are you guys talking about Soadamm Park’s awful car accident?” she said, pointing to the newspaper. “Did you notice an odd aspect regarding Bill’s name?”

“No, what?” said Caesar.

“You can make a good anagram from it. Funny, isn’t it? I wonder if certain familiar names would also make good anagrams?” She chuckled and headed for a table of her own, thinking aloud to herself. “Caesar Campbell, macabre scalpel. Benjamin Baxter, beat jinx barman. Jewels Trinkette, jeer twinkle test …”

The End

The Coffee Detectives (reference page)

I wrote the first story, The Costume Party Murder, just for the heck of it, to see if I could write a murder mystery in 24 hours. Little did I realize this was going to be a continuing hobby! After the second story I gave up on trying to turn them around in 24 hours.

Here is a list of the stories I’ve written so far, with links, dates, and synopses. Eventually I might expand this page to include a list of characters and locations.

The Costume Party Murder – May 25, 2020
  A man is stabbed to death at a costume party, but everyone has an alibi.

2 Victims, 1 Shot – May 30, 2020
  A man fires a single shot but two people, standing nowhere near each other, are struck.

Mr. Hashisaki’s Bronze Buddha – July 6, 2020
  Mr. Hashisaki is beaten unconscious and robbed of a priceless statue, but what does the note in his hand mean?

The Scarf and The Noose – Aug 1, 2020
  At a bed-and-breakfast, a man commits suicide—or was it murder?

Birthday or Deathday? – Aug 22, 2020
  A matriarch, sick in bed on her birthday, suddenly disappears.

Peccari’s Peril – Sep 13, 2020
  Peccari is arrested for the murder of an investment banker.

And With Soft Deceitful Wiles – Oct 8, 2020
  A woman at a catering company is poisoned when a box of chocolates arrives at the office.

Black Coffee, Blackmail – Nov 1, 2020
  Benjy and Caesar receive a blackmail note.

The Brooch and The Pooch – Nov 24, 2020
  An imitation Victorian brooch goes missing during the taping of a TV show.

And With Soft Deceitful Wiles

And With Soft Deceitful Wiles*
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.

Our Heroes
Dainty Busch citizen at large
Eupatoria Plant Dainty’s daughter
Kasket Katering
Victor Kasket owner and manager
Mary Dryhurst
Marek Hamolka
Gabin Lefevre
Robert Pyott
Soo-Hyeon Urquhart
Lieutenant Simon Tennant East Kingsley Police Department
three unnamed paramedics

“Just have a seat. Soo-Hyeon will be with you in just a few minutes.” Dainty and her daughter Eupatoria sat down in the reception area, which overlooked East Kingsley Bay from the twelfth floor of a coupled sheer wall high-rise building. Eupatoria helped herself to a cooking magazine while Dainty admired the serene view. Sailboats drifted lazily across the bay. Dainty took a deep meditative breath …

There was suddenly a shout of “Oh, my god!” from down the hall past the reception desk, followed by “Call 911!” Dainty and Eupatoria exchanged looks. The young man who had welcomed them went running towards the commotion, then almost immediately came back out. He grabbed the phone and stabbed at the buttons. “Come on, come on, pick up!” he seethed, and then, “We need an ambulance! Someone here is sick! It’s Kasket Katering!” He gave the address. “Yes, I’ll meet them at the elevator.” He hung up and flew out the door.

Dainty started to walk down the hall, but her daughter grabbed her by the wrist. “Mum, don’t.

“I only want to see what’s goin’ on.”

“Just stay out of the way.” Dainty sat back down in a huff, arms crossed. A few minutes later, they could hear voices from the elevator lobby. The young man charged in and held the door open for three paramedics, who were carrying a variety of pristine white plastic and metal boxes. The young man led them to the back. After a couple of minutes two of the paramedics jogged back out the front door.

“My goodness, what could have happened?” said Dainty. She began inching her way down the hall again, but her ever watchful daughter once again grabbed her wrist. The paramedics came back, pushing a gurney. They disappeared again down the hall, then all three reappeared with a woman on the gurney. She had on an oxygen mask and IV tubes snaked into her arm. The group was followed by several people, presumably the employees.

Dainty stood up to open the door. As the paramedics filed out, she said to her daughter, “I need to go to the loo.” Before Eupatoria could object, Dainty followed the paramedics into the lobby, where they were waiting for the elevator to appear.

“I say, what happened to her?” she asked.

“Sorry ma’am, we can’t comment except to family.”

Thinking quickly, Dainty said, “I’m her next door neighbor. I came to take her to lunch.”

“Oh. Well, I guess it’s okay to tell you. It looks like cyanide poisoning.”

“Cyanide?” blurted Dainty. “Oh dear! Will she be okay?”

“We’ll do our best.” The elevator arrived and the group disappeared. Eupatoria came up next to Dainty. “Mum, they’ve asked if we can reschedule our appointment until tomorrow. They’re all kind of shaken right now.”

They returned the next day. “Thank you for being so understanding.” said the young man at the desk. “I’m Robert Pyott. Soo-Hyeon will be with you in a minute. May I ask how you found us?”

“A friend recommended you. We saw the name and we thought you sold coffins.”

Robert chuckled. “Oh, we get that all the time. The owner’s name is Victor Kasket. We’ve been in business for about five years now.”

“What happened yesterday? Is that woman okay?” asked Eupatoria.

“She’s in the hospital but they think she’ll recover. They said it was potassium cyanide poisoning.”

“Potassium cyanide?” cried Eupatoria. “How on earth does someone get potassium cyanide poisoning in a catering office?”

“Well,” said Robert, shifting a little nervously. “A box of chocolates was delivered yesterday, addressed to Mary. That’s the woman who got sick, Mary Dryhurst. A note said, ‘Thank you for your great work!’ She assumed it was from a client. She brought it into the break room at lunchtime and offered it to everyone. She took a chocolate, took a bite, and a few minutes later she got sick.”

“Did you see the box arrive?” asked Dainty.

“Oh yes. NPS dropped it off. Naturally, after the paramedics told us they thought she’d been poisoned, we didn’t touch the chocolates. After they took Mary away, we called the police, and they took it.”

A woman in a grey sweater appeared. “Hello, I’m Soo-Hyeon Urquhart, are you Dainty and Eupatoria? Please come back.” She led them down the hall past several offices, a kitchen, and a copy room. Her office was the last one. It did not overlook the bay; rather, it overlooked the parking lot of a big supermarket. “Have a seat, please.” She sat down behind the desk. “So, welcome. I’m glad you came back. We’re all a little distressed about yesterday, especially since the police seemed to think the chocolates were poisoned. I mean, any one of us could have eaten those chocolates.” She winced at the thought.

“Robert said Mary thought they came from a client.” said Dainty.

“Yes. We get gifts like that all the time, so we didn’t think anything of it. But Mary’s one of our best people; she’s been here the longest except for Victor. And as far as we know, she didn’t have any problem clients.”

“But you get those,” said Dainty.

“Sure, but Victor is really good with clients and bends over backwards to make them happy.” Soo-Hyeon mused for a moment, then suddenly perked up. “Oh, but I’m sure you don’t want to talk about that. Actually, we’re just waiting for Victor.” She cleared her throat. “I’m the new kid on the block so he just wants to sit in on this meeting. I started about a month ago.”

As if on cue, a man in a lime sweater appeared at the door. He walked in and shook hands with Dainty and Eupatoria. “Hello, I’m Victor Kasket, welcome. My apologies about yesterday. I just got off the phone with Mary. She’s going to be okay. The hospital cleared her to come back in a few days.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear.” said Dainty.

“Eupatoria—did I say that right?”

“Yes,” said Eupatoria. “Daddy was a botanist. Eupatorium is a genus of perennials in the aster family.”

“Nice! So, you said on the phone you were looking for catering for a birthday party, right?”

“Yes. Basil—that’s my husband—is turning 40 in two weeks, so we want to have a little surprise birthday party.”

“Sweet,” said Soo-Hyeon. “How many guests are you expecting?”

“About twenty. I told him I was taking him out for dinner that evening when he gets home from work, but we’re all going to be at home waiting for him.”

“Surprise parties are the best,” said Victor.

Suddenly, another man appeared at the door, his head almost touching the door header. He had a full beard that hid his neck and intensely piercing eyes. Eupatoria suspected if the lights went out, those eyes would glow like embers. “Victor,” he rumbled like distant thunder, “You wanted to know when that last quarterly report was finished. It is on your desk.”

“Thank you. Ladies, this is Marek Homolka. He’s our accountant and manages event waitstaff.”

Marek nodded his head silently at Dainty and Eupatoria. He turned back to Victor. “I am sorry to interrupt.” He nodded at Victor and Soo-Hyeon, then disappeared.

The meeting continued for fifteen minutes. Soo-Hyeon and Eupatoria did most of the talking. Victor only spoke to make the occasional suggestion. Dainty and Eupatoria said good-bye to Soo Hyeon and Victor walked them to another office. Inside, a man was talking on the phone. He saw the group and smiled and waved. He pointed to the phone and mouthed silently, “Almost done.”

“That’s Gabin Lefevre.” said Victor quietly. “He joined us about a year ago. He’s in charge of menus and food prep. He’s absolutely amazing. We’re lucky to have found him. And he just loves working with people.”

Gabin hung up and walked to the door. “Hello,” he said. “I trust Victor and Soo-Hyeon are taking good care of you two?”

“Oh yes,” said Eupatoria. “We’re very excited about the party.”

“Wonderful,” said Gabin. They all introduced themselves.

“Ladies, it was a pleasure to meet you both,” said Victor. “I’m going to leave you in Gabin’s very capable hands.” He shook their hands and left.

“Let’s talk about the menu,” said Gabin. He gestured to two chairs in front of his desk, and sat in his own chair. “Do you have something in mind?”

“Well, not really. Since this is a very special occasion we wanted to do something a little different.”

Gabin pointed to a monitor on the wall. “Let me show you a slideshow of some of the menus we’ve done in the past, just to give you some ideas. We specialize in all kinds of menus: vegetarian (like me) and vegan, a variety of world cuisines including Asian and Latin American, low-sodium (also like me, have to watch my blood pressure), low-fat, kosher, halal, diabetic …”

“I say, the more sugar the better,” said Dainty with a grin.

“We can do that too!” said Gabin. “Anything you can think of.” This meeting also lasted about fifteen minutes. It might’ve been shorter but for Dainty’s insistence at seeing the slideshow a second time. Gabin was happy to oblige. After Eupatoria chose the courses, Gabin said, “We will put together a formal contract. Can you come back in about three days? We can make final all the details then and we’ll ask for a deposit.”

“Yes, absolutely.” said Eupatoria. She looked happy.

“Good. I’ll walk you to the front desk and have Robert set up an appointment time.” Up front, he shook their hands and returned to his office. Robert pulled up the calendar on his computer.

“Do you have any other questions today?” he asked. Eupatoria was about to say no when Dainty cut her off. “Seems like a very good staff here. I hope Mary will be okay.”

“It sounds like she will be. But yikes, what a thing to happen. It’s unnerving.”

“We really liked Gabin.” ventured Dainty.

“Oh yes, he’s great, isn’t he? Our assistant manager, Della Pali, left about a week ago. Confidentially, I think Victor is going to promote Gabin.”

“That’s great,” said Eupatoria. “Well, we’ll see you again in a few days.”

Dainty was sitting at a table at BaxCam Coffees, quaffing a large iced rhubarb tea while a half-eaten cremeschnitte waited patiently in her other hand. Lt. Tennant walked over with a cup of coffee.

“Hello Dainty, may I join you?”

“Be my guest, lieutenant.” She moved her purse off the table, out of his way.

“Caesar says you were at Kasket Katering the other day.”

“Yes, with my daughter Eupatoria. Did you hear about the poisoning?”

“Yes, indeed. I thought you might like to know about the chocolates.”

“Potassium cyanide, right?”

“Yes. But the funny thing was, only one chocolate was poisoned: the piece that Mary ate. She only took a bite of it. If she’d eaten the whole thing she’d probably be dead now.”

“But if someone wanted to kill her, why not poison the whole box?”

“Maybe the killer didn’t want to hurt anyone else.”

“Come now,” scoffed Dainty. She bit off a mouthful of her pastry and kept talking. “He’s committing cold blooded bleedin’ murder and he’s worried about anyone else? How would he know Mary would get the poisoned piece?”

Lt. Tennant discreetly brushed a crumb off his jacket. “When we talked to her, she did mention a fondness for raspberry creams, and that was the poisoned piece.”

“But that doesn’t mean she’d actually get the poisoned one. What if someone else grabbed it first? Or what if Mary wasn’t in the mood for a raspberry cream that day?”

“Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Maybe the killer wasn’t too bright. Mary says she has no idea who sent the box. There were no fingerprints on it. We talked to NPS but they can’t give us any information on who brought it in. There was a return address but it turned out to be fake. And the sender paid in cash.”

“Do you suppose someone in the office was trying to kill Mary?”

“We thought of that. We interviewed everyone, but it doesn’t seem likely. As far as we know, nobody had a grudge against her. And cyanide is hard to get. You can’t just go buy it.”

“How would someone get it?”

“Well,” said Lt. Tennant. “If you worked in a chemistry lab, you could get it. Or some industry that uses it. Photo developers used to use it, but not so much these days. Gold mining. Electroplating. Fumigation. And no, Kasket Katering hasn’t had any recent clients working in those industries.”

Dainty slurped the cream from her fingers. “You’re right, it doesn’t make any bleedin’ sense.”

The next day Dainty and Eupatoria were at the East Kingsley mall, shopping for birthday presents. “Let’s grab a bite to eat,” said Dainty, spying the food court.

A man at one of the tables stood up and began waving at them. “Who is that?” said Dainty. “Why, it’s Robert from the caterers.” She peered more carefully. “Oh, Soo-Hyeon and another woman are with him.” They walked over.

“Guys, this is Mary,” said Robert.

“Oh my goodness!” said Eupatoria. “We were at the office on the day … it happened. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine,” said Mary. “But no more chocolates in the mail for me.”

“Are you guys getting lunch? Why don’t you sit with us?” said Robert.

“Capital suggestion!” said Dainty, plopping herself down in a chair. She let all the bags she was carrying fall to the floor.

“I’ll get us something,” said Eupatoria. She put down her bags with more care and headed for Palacio del Pollo.

“Been shopping?” asked Soo-Hyeon, eyeing the bags.

“Oh yes, for Basil’s birthday.” Dainty saw a large bag next to Mary. “And you?”

“Also birthday shopping.” She reached down and pulled a large wooden frame with a pane of glass out of her bag. Inside the frame were three vividly decorated blue butterflies, carefully pinned down. Labels indicated their names: Heliconius sapho / Sapho Longwing; Morpho menelaus / Blue Morpho; Kallima inachus / Indian Oakleaf. “It’s for my best friend.”

“I say!” said Dainty. “How pretty!”

“Yes, blue is her favorite color. I didn’t actually get the butterflies here at the mall. I ordered them by mail, but the frame they came in wasn’t very nice, so I had it re-framed here.”

“Where’s everyone else?” asked Dainty.

“Victor is at an appointment, Gabin is watching the phones while we’re at lunch, and Marek is eating lunch on his own,” said Robert. He indicated a bag on the table. “Gabin asked me to get him a sandwich.”

“Marek didn’t come with you?”

“No, he never joins us,” said Robert. “We invite him but he always declines.”

“He’s a bit scary, that one,” said Dainty.

“Yeah,” agreed Soo-Hyeon. I think I’m finally getting used to him. When I started there, he sorta creeped me out.”

Mary smiled and said, “His bark is worse than his bite. He’s just all business. Keeps to himself.”

“No sense of humor,” added Robert.

“Well, that no-nonsense attitude is good for keeping the waitstaff in line. Nobody messes with him.”

“What did he do before he came to Kasket?” asked Dainty.

“You know, I don’t know,” said Mary. “He never talks about himself. Victor interviewed him and hired him, and so far he does his job very efficiently.”

“Sorry mum, no iced tea. I got you a soda instead,” said Eupatoria, carefully balancing two big trays of food and drinks. Robert jumped up to help her. She sat down. Robert put the tray he was holding in front of Dainty.

“Thanks, luv.”

“So what are we all talking about?” asked Eupatoria.

“Soo-Hyeon was about to tell us where she came from before Kasket.” said Dainty.

“Was I?” Soo-Hyeon thought for a moment and shrugged. “Anyway, I worked in a bakery in a market. I took cake orders and decorated them. When I saw an opportunity at Kasket, I jumped on it, and here I am. Much better than the market. You’d get some really nasty customers, and the boss wasn’t very sympathetic. I’d go home crying sometimes.”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” said Eupatoria.

“Do you live alone?” asked Dainty.

“No, I live with my dad. I was going to talk to Victor about him.”

“What about him?”

“Well, he’s a hobby photographer, but he’s strictly old school.” Soo-Hyeon scrunched up her face and said in a creaky voice, ‘I hate digital!’ he says. He actually uses 35 millimeter cameras and does his own developing. I thought maybe we could have him do some photography for our clients, but I think he’s too grumpy.” She muttered something in Korean while shaking an old man fist in the air, then laughed.

“Wow, that’s impressive,” said Eupatoria. I didn’t think anyone used film any more.”

“He has a darkroom?” asked Dainty.

“Yes, we converted an extra bedroom.”


“Yes, of course.”

“Like potassium cyanide? Don’t photographers use that?”

Soo-Hyeon seemed puzzled by this line of questioning. “Oh, no. That stuff’s dangerous. Most darkrooms use …” She searched her memory. “Sodium thio … thio-something these days.”

“But if he wanted to, he could get his hands on …”

Eupatoria would’ve kicked her mother under the table if she had been in a position so to do. Instead she cut her off. “Robert, how about you? What brought you to Kasket?”

Robert shrugged casually. “I needed a job and I applied.”

“He’s good with computers,” said Mary.

“And graphic design,” added Soo-Hyeon.

“Yeah. I’m going to night school right now. Eventually I’d like to start my own little graphic design company.”

“Victor will be sad to lose you.” said Eupatoria, keeping one eye on her mother. Fortunately, Dainty was busy devouring her chicken dish.

“Actually, he’s really cool about it. He’s always telling us to follow our dreams, even if they lead us away from Kasket, and he supports us 100% in helping us succeed.”

“Yes,” said Mary. “We all want to succeed.”

“Gabin is going to, I think,” continued Robert. “It’s really not much of a secret anymore.”

“Oh,” said Eupatoria. “His being promoted to assistant manager.”

“Yes. He deserves it, though I’m a bit surprised he didn’t choose Mary. She’s been here the longest except for Victor.”

Mary shook her head. “Well, that’s true, but I’m happy for Gabin. He’s lucky. He started at a rival catering company. Frankly, they’re much bigger than we are and probably pay better, too. I really don’t understand why he had to come to Kasket.”

Dainty noisily sucked air through her straw as she finished her drink, “It’s not always about money.”

Mary nodded. “True. I’m just happy to have a job in this economy.”

“Yes,” said Soo-Hyeon. “The catering biz can be very fickle.”

“I’d sure like to get ahead, though.”

Dainty began pounding the bottom of her cup to slide some ice into her gaping mouth. Eupatoria smiled apologetically at everyone.

“Can you guys swing by after lunch?” asked Robert. “Victor had one little concern about the contract. Nothing serious. He was going to call you but since you’re in the neighborhood …?”

“Sure,” said Eupatoria.

They all walked back to the Kasket Katering office. Gabin was sitting behind the reception desk. Robert handed him the bag; Gabin took off his headset and handed it to Robert. “Thanks, I’m starved!” He headed for the kitchen, followed by Mary. Gabin came right back out again. “I left my phone at the front desk.”

“Why don’t you grab yourself some coffee in the kitchen?” said Soo-Hyeon as they headed down the hall. “Victor should be back any minute now.” Dainty and Eupatoria walked into the kitchen. Mary was sitting there alone. Across the table from her was Gabin’s lunch, a veggie sub sandwich, lying face open on the paper wrapper. Next to it, there was a foil pouch of vinegar, torn open and squeezed empty. A little stream of vinegar crisscrossed the sandwich; salt crystals were dissolving in it. Mary was admiring the frame of butterflies.

“Your friend is really going to like that,” ventured Dainty.

“Oh yes. She’s an entomologist. Total bug geek. Even her clothes have bug designs on them.”

Gabin came back in and plopped down in his chair. “I’m famished,” he declared. He closed his sandwich and picked it up with both hands. He opened his mouth …

“PUT DOWN THAT SANDWICH!” bellowed Dainty. Gabin froze, unsure how to react to this peculiar command. Dainty took the paper wrapper, then using it like a mitten, grabbed the sandwich away from Gabin and put it down on the table.

“Mum!” cried Eupatoria. She tried to hand the sandwich back to Gabin. “I’m so sorry about this.” But Dainty parried her hand away and turned to Mary. “He shouldn’t eat that sandwich, should he, Mary?”

Mary put down the frame. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Victor and Soo-Hyeon came in at a run, followed by Robert.

“What’s going on here?” asked Victor.

“Ask Mary,” said Dainty. “She’s bloody trying to poison Gabin.”

There was a chorus of “What?!” from everyone. Gabin picked up a fork and used it to open his sandwich.

“I don’t see anything funny,” he said, peering inside.

“Mum, have you gone mad?” said Eupatoria. But Mary had stood up and was inching her way towards the door. Just as she was about to bolt, Marek appeared and blocked the doorway.

“Don’t let her get away, Marek!” ordered Dainty. Mary tried to duck past Marek but he grabbed her by the wrist and held her tight.

“I spoke to Lt. Tennant the other day,” continued Dainty. “And nothing he said about the poisoned candy made any sense. Why would someone only poison one bloody piece? How could they be sure Mary, assuming she was the intended victim, would get it? And who wanted to kill her? Or if he was just a serial killer, why not poison the whole box?”

Mary tried to wrestle free from Marek but he held her in an iron grip. Dainty continued: “It finally all came together just now when Mary said her friend was an entomologist.”

Victor spoke. “I don’t understand what’s going on but I’m not going to have you hurling accusations at my employees.” But Mary was starting to hiss like a wildcat.

“Bitch!” she snarled. “Why don’t you mind your own business?” She tried again to break free.

“You wanted that assistant manager position, didn’t you?” said Dainty. “You’ve been here the longest except Victor. And then along comes Wonder Boy Gabin, and zoom! He’s the favorite to get that assistant manager job. So you wanted to kill him, and maybe you’d get it instead.” She pointed forcefully at the sandwich, her bracelets jangling. “That bleedin’ sandwich is laced with potassium cyanide!” Gabin’s eyebrows crept up his forehead. He looked like he might be sick.

“But that’s what was used to poison Mary,” said Victor. “Are you saying she poisoned herself?” He thought for a moment. “But why?”

“It would’ve been too obvious to just poison Gabin, especially with cyanide, which is hard to get. That is …” She drew herself up and pointed righteously at Mary. “… unless you have a friend who’s a bleedin’ entomologist!”

Realization slowly dawned on Eupatoria’s face. “That’s right. They use them in killing jars. I remember Daddy mentioning that before.”

“So by setting herself up as a victim, it would throw all suspicion off her. Make it look like a serial killer or somethin’. She knew what the killing dose would be, so she was careful how much she put in, and she only ate half of it. Just enough to make her very sick, but not to kill her.”

“But that’s ridiculous!” cried Victor. “Nobody would do something so foolish, even for a promotion.”

“I saw what looked like salt crystals on Gabin’s sandwich, but isn’t he supposed to be on a low-sodium diet?”

“So if Gabin died of poisoning after Mary had been a victim, we would’ve just assumed there was some mad serial killer with a grudge against us,” said Robert.

“I still don’t believe it,” said Victor. He seemed oblivious to the fact Mary was breathing hard, nostrils flaring, and giving Dainty dirty looks. “Mary, it’s not true, right?”

Dainty picked up the sandwich with the paper wrapper and thrust it at Mary’s face. “Go on, luv. Take a bite. Prove me wrong!” Mary stared at the sandwich for a moment, then used her free hand to knock it away. She leaned against a wall and slid to the floor. She kicked the sandwich away from her with the heel of her shoe.

“Oh, just call the police and get me out of here!” she moaned.

“Do you think Mary’s friend knew what she was going to do with the cyanide?” asked Soo-Hyeon after Mary had been taken away. “I mean, who goes around asking friends if they can borrow a cup of deadly poison?”

“The police will probably question her,” answered Eupatoria. “I’m guessing she didn’t know. Mary probably stole it from her.”

“I hardly know what to say,” said Gabin. “You saved my life! Thank you!” He hugged Dainty. Dainty hugged back and grabbed herself a handful of Gabin butt appreciatively.

“Well, I know what to say,” said Victor, beaming. “Your birthday catering is entirely on us. The deluxe package, anything you want.”

“Ooh, lovely,” said Dainty. “In that case, we’ll want that nice pink ruffle cake Gabin showed us. And a dozen donuts for each guest. Long Johns with bacon and lovely apple fritters, not that boring glazed rot.”

“Mum, our guests are not going to eat a dozen donuts each!”

“Well, they’ll just have to leave them behind!” cackled Dainty, licking her lips in anticipation.

“Okay, assistant manager,” said Victor to Gabin. “You heard the lady. Start writing this all down.”

“And a crate of champage. Can you do flies’ graveyards? And ooh, some of those lovely Creepy Suzettes, and …”

The End

*The title comes from a line of a poem entitled “The Poison Tree” (1794) by William Blake.

Exceptional Children’s Television Shows in Japan

When I was a boy, I used to watch Schoolhouse Rock, a Saturday morning television series of short animations produced in the 1970s that taught children about grammar, science, multiplication, and American history with the use of catchy songs. The “Hey Little Twelve-Toes” segment (multiplication by twelve) included an explanation of the base 12, or duodecimal, counting system. The network told the producers the concept was too advanced for children, but the producers held their ground and said if children weren’t challenged, how could they be expected to learn anything?

Alas, so many children’s shows on either side of the Pacific seem to be more about keeping one’s attention than being educational or challenging: the art direction is simply every color imaginable (like someone pasted Skittles all over everything), the music is bland and trite, the editing is rapid fire combined with careening camera work, and the performers are usually shouting and mugging for the camera. There’s no artistry or subtlety or sense of wonder, other than when someone bashes it into your head—“Hey kids, isn’t this GREAT?!” Viewers aren’t given the opportunity simply to explore what they’re seeing.

Recently I caught a children’s educational show on NHK, Design Ah!, which was a complete and delightful surprise. As the show began, I instantly recognized the music as that of Cornelius, one of my favorite musicians.

The show, which ran about twelve minutes, featured several segments:

1. “Tsukuru” (to make)
A wordless mini-documentary about how acoustic guitars are made. The craftsmen didn’t narrate or chat amongst themselves: they simply measured, cut, planed, assembled, and tested.

2. “Kaisan” (dissolution)
Stop-motion animation that disassembled some framed artwork into all its component pieces.

3. “Dessan-A” (sketch, from the French word dessin)
Twelve people from kids to seniors sat in a large circle around an Eames chair and stool and began sketching them. Halfway through, the artists took a break to see what everyone else was doing and to get a closer look at their subjects. They resumed sketching, then the artists showed their works to the camera. Because they were drawing from regularly spaced intervals around the circle, it was possible to assemble their sketches into an animation of a “camera” doing a revolution around the furniture.

4. “Medetai” (auspicious, happy)
Beautifully animated illustrations of decorative knots used in tying gifts, set to a rap song describing what we’re seeing. Music by Kakato (Tamaki Roy and Chinzai Dopeness).

5. “Mienai Mono wo Miru” (to see something invisible)
A camera looked at an iron being used. My guess is the camera is infra-red, as it showed the heatwaves emanating from the iron.

6. (no title)
Animation of a swirling red line which finally formed the hiragana character あ (a).

7. “Nokori” (remnant)
The segment began by showing a metal form with several identical pieces punched out of it and a narrator asking what it is. Eventually it was revealed that the pieces were for making house keys.

8. “Watashi no Maru to Shikaku” (my circle and square)
A short film showing round and square shapes on a bus, finishing with a portrait of the bus driver.

9. “Ugoki no Dezain” (movement design)
An animated sequence with two narrators watching people move through a train station’s turnstiles. Eventually they explained that some of the turnstiles become one-way when pedestrian flow is heavier in one direction.

10. “Minna no A” (Everyone’s A)
Drawings by people of various ages using the hiragana character あ as a motif.

11. And during the end credits, there is a recap of everything presented in the show.

The show is a work of art in itself. No wonder: besides Cornelius’ contribution, one of my favorite designers, Taku Satou, also worked on the show, along with web designer Yūgo Nakamura. The live action sequences are crisply and professionally photographed. The guitar and bus sequences especially made me think of 1970s Sesame Street, which often featured short films showing design elements or how things are made. The gentle editing and lack of dialogue make them serene and almost meditative.

I watched a few more episodes to make sure this one wasn’t a fluke and was happy to see it wasn’t—one featured music by the group Cibo Matto, yet another favorite of mine. Cornelius has released at least two albums of his music from the show. My only criticism is the show tends to recycle segments heavily. I’ve seen episodes made up entirely of segments from previously viewed shows.

There is also a sister series, Japangle, for which Cornelius and Taku Satou also contribute. It seems to be for slightly older children, and includes a narrative (delivered by two puppets) that discuss history and aspects of design.

Two other children’s shows of note include Korenande Shoukai, also known as Chatty Jay’s Sundry Shop. The show takes place in a curiosity shop run by a human (Jay) and his puppet assistants, and features songs and skits. It boasts contributors such as illustrators Seijirou Sou, Machiko Miroko, Ryuuji Fujieda, and composer Kei Shimoyama. Like with Design Ah!, the music is above average, including traditional folk songs, American jazz and standards, and original tunes. What impresses me the most about Korenande Shoukai is the striking use of color, proof again that every color of the rainbow blasted all over everything doesn’t make things more eye catching.

The other show is Nihongo de Asobo—roughly, “Let’s Play With Japanese”, a show that impossibly blends traditional Japanese and modern avant-garde aesthetics in its art direction. Skits featuring wordplay and short stories are presented, as well as songs and dance numbers. Former sumo wrestler Konishiki Yasokichi and performer Akihiro Miwa are among the regular presenters, with music contributed by artists such as Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hattori Takayuki.

Bonus activity: draw your own あ here and watch what happens! (instructions only in Japanese)

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. Hashisaki’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. Hashisaki’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. Hashisaki?”

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. Hashisaki?” 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. Hashisaki? 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. Hashisaki!”

“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. Hashisaki caught him, they fought, Mr. Hashisaki 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. Hashisaki 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. Hashisaki 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. Hashisaki 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. Hashisaki 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. Hashisaki 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