The Purloined Letter
My name is Deadbolt, Hasp Deadbolt. I’m a P.I. I try to stay away from family disputes, but somehow that is the kind of sordid crime that people persist in bringing me. I have to eat, and I’m not comfortable living off of Alma’s largesse. Fortunately for my bank account, this year had been very busy. In fact, I hardly had any time to pay the bills and buy groceries. For instance, I returned from my last court appearance in connection with the pumpkin murder case, to find a handsome young woman sitting on the bench outside my office door. “Good afternoon,” I said to her, “are you waiting for me?” She indicated that she was hoping to speak to Mr. Deadbolt about a potential case, and I invited her in to discuss it. It seems that she had mislaid a letter, a rather steamy love letter, and it had fallen into the wrong hands.
“My lover sent me that letter, Mr. Deadbolt, and I’m not ashamed of it. Unfortunately, his wife probably would take a dim view of the intimate nature of our relationship.”
Blackmail. One of the oldest tricks in the book. Not that there really is any such book, but if there were, blackmail would be covered pretty near the beginning. She wanted me to find the blackmailer and steal the letter back.
“I can’t break the law Miss...?”
“Daw. But you can call me Marjorie.”
“And what about your friend?”
“His name is John Sprat, but everyone calls him Jack. His wife is horrible. She’s this domineering, fat, selfish...”
“I get the picture Miss Daw. Let me do some scouting, and I’ll see whether I can find a satisfactory solution to your problem.” So it was agreed. I got a little more information from her, she thanked me and left, and I immediately got to work. It didn’t take long to find out where both Marjorie Daw and the Sprats lived. The problem was, Marjorie hadn’t had much of an idea of where she lost the letter, so I didn’t have a good lead about where to look for the blackmailer. I spent some time casing the neighborhoods where Marjorie and the Sprats lived, and nearby parts of the city, but I didn’t get any ideas. I decided to try a different approach. It was time to pay another visit to the Weasel. There might be word out on the street about who the blackmailer was, and if the word was out, the Weasel would know about it.
I slid into a seat at the usual place. When the waiter came over I ordered two drafts and asked about the Weasel. A few minutes later, the Weasel dropped onto the bench across from me.
“What is it this time, Deadbeat?” he asked.
“Information. I need information,” I replied. “Marjorie Daw had a letter in her basket, but she dropped it.”
“What color was the basket?”
“Green and yellow. Where’s the letter?”
“A little boy picked it up. He put it in his pocket.” If I wanted to know any more, it would cost me, the Weasel said. Soon I had all the information I needed. Next stop: the Pumpkin Eater house.
I walked up the four steps to the front door and rang the bell at a rundown brownstone in the old part of town. The whole neighborhood was dilapidated, but this house was the worst on the block. It looked like it was owned by someone who either was down on his luck or didn’t care enough to maintain it.
“Mr. Pumpkin Eater? Peter Pumpkin Eater?”
“I’d like a word or two with you.”
“Home maintenance. This place is about to be condemned. But I can help you.” Oldest trick in the book, but he went for it. Okay, maybe it’s the second oldest trick. Anyway, it got me inside, and that’s what counted. Once I made it through the door I confronted him about the letter. “Blackmail is a serious crime, Mr. Pumpkin Eater. You could go to jail for a long time. What’s it gonna be?”
“It’s my wife, it’s not my fault,” he wailed. “No matter what I do I just can’t satisfy her. It takes more money than I have. I already had to move into town and neglect my farm but it hasn’t done a bit of good.” I had an idea.
“I have an idea,” I said. “If I solve your problem, will you return the letter?”
“Mr. Deadbolt, if you solve my problem I’ll be forever in your debt.” He was actually wringing his hands. “I’m at my wits’ end.”
“Here’s what you’re going to do,” I said. “Put her in a pumpkin shell. There you’ll keep her very well. Trust me. Women go for that kind of stuff.” I was flying by the seat of my pants here, but he seemed goofy enough to go for it. Sure enough, he did.
“A pumpkin shell? Why, I have plenty of those on the farm. Thank you, thank you!” He gave me the letter, promised to never blackmail anybody again, and thanked me so many times that I started to feel guilty. But I had what I needed.
Marjorie Daw was very grateful. Almost too grateful, considering we both had other romantic attachments. But that’s another story. As for Peter Pumpkin Eater, I ran into him a couple of months later. Everything was fine between him and his wife, he said. Best advice he’d ever received, he told me, and he said I could have all the pumpkins I wanted every year at Halloween, free. Go figure. I guess if the P.I. business ever gets too low I could hire out as a marriage counselor.
If you like this story, you might want to know that there are plenty more where it came from. You can get the whole book (Nursery Rhyme Noir) as an e-book for less than $2.