From "Nursery Rhyme Noir," now available in print and electronic forms.
Also available from me, signed, at the price of the print version
Give your dog a bone
I was cutting through an older residential neighborhood on the south side when I ran into a scruffy little black-and-white mutt hitchhiking with a battered brown suitcase.
“What's up, pup?” I asked.
“I'll tell you,” he barked, “I used to live with an old woman. I thought she liked me, but she doesn't feed me anymore. I need to earn my own money to get food.”
“I'm getting around on shank's mare myself,” I replied, “so I can't help you there. But I could talk to the old lady. Where does she live?”
“It's no use,” he replied, but he gave me directions. It wasn't far. The house was small, painted white, and in need of repairs. Daffodils bloomed in the front yard. I knocked. After a few minutes, the door opened and a stooped white-haired old woman appeared blinking at me.
“Can I help you young man?”
I cleared my throat. “Ma'am, are you missing a dog?”
She peered around me. “Why yes I am. Did you find him? I've been worried sick.”
“If you are so worried, then why didn't you put up “lost dog” posters around the neighborhood? I haven't seen any. Also, was there some reason your dog would run away?”
She couldn't think of a thing. Finally I suggested that he might have felt neglected.
“I don't think so,” she responded. “He did say he was hungry, but it had only been a little while since I fed him. I went to the cupboard to get him something, but it was bare. I don't get my Social Security for another week, so there was nothing I could do.”
She could have been on the level, but my instincts were tingling over this one. My name is Hasp Deadbolt. I'm a P.I.
"Ma'am, what kind of dog are you missing?"
"Well, you know, he's some kind of spaniel, little and fluffy, not too little. Have you seen him?"
"What color is he?"
She said he was brown.
"The real Mother Hubbard would know what her own dog looked like."
All of a sudden I felt something cold on my neck. I raised my hands slowly.
"That's good," said a deep voice. "Step inside."
I did that thing. Directed by pokes from the gun barrel I walked to the back of the house. Whoever he was, my captor was staying way to close to me. He was an amateur. He was breathing hard, and smelled like he needed a shower. I thought I could control the situation, but I wanted to learn more. I played along. Following instructions, I sat down in a plain wooden chair, and "Mother Hubbard" tied my hands behind me and my ankles to the chair. I continued to play along. Finally, I saw the guy with the gun. He was a wolf, walking upright. He had an overdeveloped chest. The gun was a carved bar of soap. A couple of choice expletives slipped out, and the wolf grinned.
"What if your girlfriend heard you talking like that?" he asked me.
"Shut up," said "Mother Hubbard." She turned to me. "Why are you here?"
"Well, I, I was walking, see, and I met this dog. He said you didn't love him anymore and..."
She slapped me. Hard. "The REAL reason."
"This going to be loooong night," I said. I had no idea what she thought the real reason was.
An hour later, I had picked up quite a few bruises, most of them on my face, and the wolf was pacing back and forth, its tail twitching.
"He doesn't know anything," it burst out. "And even if he does, he's not talking. Lemme just plug him, and we'll get back to work." She nodded, and he raised the pistol, pointing it right at my face. "Say your prayers Deadbolt," he growled.
"I'm an agnostic," I mumbled, "I don't do prayers."
"That's interesting," said the wolf. "That you remain agnostic in the face of imminent death. I admire the strength of your lack of conviction."
"Thank you," I replied. "I've always tried to stick to my uncertainty."
"It seems to me though," said the wolf, "that the odds are against you."
"How do you mean?" I replied.
"Simple. Suppose there is no deity. Believe anything you like, it doesn't make a difference."
"I follow you so far," I said.
The wolf held up one finger. "Ah. But what if there_is_a deity? Suppose he, she, or it wants to be worshiped. You ought to do that. Simple matter of self-preservation."
"I think you're missing something," I said. "I don't know if there is a deity or not, and I don't know (supposing there is a deity) which one is the real one. I don't want to worship a false god. That might anger the real god even more than agnosticism."
"No," began the wolf, "I think you'd get E for effort if you sincerely worshiped some sort of god, and"
"Mother Hubbard" grabbed the pistol from the wolf. "You make me sick," she said. "I'll do it myself."
"Oh no you don't." Three little pigs had slipped into the room while my captors were distracted with my execution. The pig in front was armed with a 357 Magnum, trained on "Mother Hubbard." "Elizabeth Porgy. I might have known. Also known as Elspeth Porgy, Betsy Porgy, and Bess Porgy. The terror of three counties. And B.B. So nice to see you again. Not! My brothers and I have been watching this house for days, and now we've caught you red-handed. You'll never find the pudding or the pie ... in jail!" His brothers fanned out behind him. One was armed with a quarterstaff; it looked like the other was carrying a half dollar one.
"You were barking up the wrong tree here anyway," I said. "The real Mother Hubbard never has any food in her house. But what have you done with her?" The pigs all looked at me.
One of them said "Hasp Deadbolt! Wow! When this is over can I have your autograph?" Amateurs.
The pig with the gun said to his brothers "Focus, people." And that's when it happened. The false Mother Hubbard hit the floor and rolled, firing as she went. The pigs screamed and dropped their weapons.
The autograph hound clutched his chest. "I'm hit, I'm hit! Um, no, I'm not. What happened?"
"Because it's a carved bar of soap you idiot," I said. "They're getting away." The wolf had already gone out the window, taking the sash with it, and "Mother Hubbard" was stuck in the hole the wolf had left behind.
That all happened a few weeks ago. Liz Porgy is doing time for assault with a non-deadly weapon, kidnapping, pet neglect, and several other things. No one found the wolf, and no one found the pudding or the pie. The authorities have upped the reward for their recovery, but it's my opinion they've been eaten long since.
We found the real Mother Hubbard in her shed, thirsty, hungry, and covered with spiderwebs, but otherwise none the worse for wear. She and her puppy were reunited, and, so far, are living happily ever after. I even got paid: eight jars of home-made strawberry preserves. Not as versatile as cash money, but quite tasty when spread over freshly made toast.