Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Murder and Betrayal, plus vegetables

I wrote a series of murder mysteries based on nursery rhymes. I used a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated volume, inherited from my mother, for my source material, These short stories are about as serious as you'd expect, but some are unsuitable for young children.

Jack and Jill. They were into a lot of stuff besides drinking water!

The Hilltop Caper

After that nasty business with the pussy in the well it was almost a relief to be between clients. But it didn’t last long. My next job fell into my lap before I had properly recovered. I had been walking in the park after lunch, because the weather was so nice, and I sat down on a bench to admire a bank of daffodils. Before I knew it, a small brunette came hurtling through the air and landed right on me. Broke the bench and didn’t do my back any favors. As I had cushioned her fall, she recovered before I did, and helped me to my feet.

Help me find my boyfriend,” she demanded, “he’s around here some place.”

That didn’t seem to be quite a complete explanation, but I figured I’d learn fastest by complying with her request.

I’m always delighted to help anyone who should happen to drop in,” I replied, “what does he look like?”

He’s about so high, brown hair that’s never combed, blue eyes, he’s about my age, and his name is Jack. I’m afraid he’s hurt himself tumbling down this hill.” She pointed back up the way she’d come. It looked pretty steep.

You crazy kids,” I said, “what we you doing up there? Couldn’t you find a secluded spot that wasn’t so life-threatening?”

We just went to fetch some water,” she replied, holding up as evidence the remains of a wooden bucket that had apparently journeyed with her down the precipice. “Please help!” So we split up, each going around the hill in opposite directions. We met on the other side. I had seen no sign of Jack, or anyone like him.

No luck?” I asked.

Nothing,” she said, “all I saw was a smashed rhododendron and a lot of blood. No sign of Jack at all.” She burst into tears.

There, there sweetie,” I said, patting her on the shoulder, “let’s walk back around together and take another look. There’s just the outside chance that the bush and blood will provide a clue.” So we walked back around the way she had come, and sure enough, there was every sign of the impact of a resilient body weighing about 150 pounds. Looking up, I could see a trail of ruined vegetation and sharp rocks, and glancing out across the lawn I observed traces of fresh blood forming an erratic path away from the wrecked rhododendron.

I was beginning to suspect foul play. Nobody could be as stupid as this chick pretended. I asked her name, ready to add it to my mental list of suspects.

Jill,” she said.

Come on,” I replied, wanting to keep her in my sight, “let’s follow the bloody drip road.” The trail led to a bucolic residential neighborhood. Spreading oak trees shaded postage-stamp yards in front of small white houses, many in need of fresh paint. Almost no one was around: kids were still in school, and parents at work.

The closer we got to our destination, whatever it was, the more nervous Jill got. I was beginning to form a theory. A theory that the twin tumbles down the hillside had been an attempt to establish an alibi, that the two lovebirds had been having an affair, and that they had murdered Jack’s wife. But if that were the case, where had Jack gone, and why? I would soon find out. In any case, Jill had made a mistake when she had chosen to fall into the lap of Hasp Deadbolt, Private Eye.

And speaking of bolt, that’s what Jill looked ready to do at any moment. I caught her wrist, and was soon almost dragging her along the sidewalk, still following the trail of blood left by her injured lover. We turned in at a walk. We went up to the house. I raised my hand and knocked on the door. Jill let out a small shriek, muffled by her left hand, which she had crammed into her mouth.

What’s the matter, honey?” I asked her. Just then, the door opened. There stood a young man, his head wrapped in brown paper. The odor of vinegar was in the air.

May I help you?” he asked. Then he noticed Jill. “I thought I told you never to come here,” he hissed. I pushed past him, dragging Jill with me.

Where’s the body?” I demanded, scanning the living room. No sign of a struggle here. Jack had sidled around to block my view of the kitchen, so that’s where I went, still towing Jill, who was now wailing incoherently over Jack’s indignant protestations. “What have you done to your wife?” I asked him, but the kitchen gave me my answer. There were guts everywhere: the counter, the table, the floor, the walls, even the ceiling. A double row of canning jars held pumpkin guts, and chunks of the rind of a truly humongous pumpkin filled the trash can to overflowing. I was a bit nonplussed, but now Jill was angry.

Why you cheating little weasel!” she shouted, pulling free of my momentarily slackened grasp, “this isn’t your wife! You’ve been two-timing me with the teenage slut next door!”

The next door neighbors are giant pumpkins?” I asked.

Shut up,” Jill suggested, and she picked a slimy butcher knife out of the mess on the table. “What’s the matter? She was pregnant? The kids would have had your loathsome face, and everyone would have known what you’d done? Is THAT why you killed her? And where IS your wife? Did you kill her too?” She advanced menacingly on Jack, who was soon backed into the corner by the fridge, pleading with his hands and eyes; all that would come out of his mouth at this point was gibberish. Just then, a giant egg entered the room. It was all dolled up in a muu muu, flowered hat, high heels, lipstick and all the rest, and it carried a large shopping bag.

Hi honey, I’m home,” it said as it walked in the door, then “Aieeeeeeeee! What have you done! Have you been screwing that pubescent pumpkin kid from next door again? Oh my god, what will we tell her parents NOW?! And who is this?”

This your wife?” I asked Jack, who was evidently trying to squeeze behind the refrigerator. He whimpered.

The egg turned to me, and I recognized her. Yes, Marjorie Dumpty had been on the society pages quite regularly a few years back. Rumor had it she’d married some human and settled down as a housewife in suburbia. I guess rumors are true every now and then. Jill was now hissing audibly and waving the knife back and forth about an inch from Jack’s nose. I had seen enough.

Ma’am, I’ve seen enough. I’m Hasp Deadbolt, P.I. I’m on this case.” OK, a little white lie. Nobody had hired me to do anything, but somebody needed to prevent any further murders from taking place in this kitchen. There simply wasn’t room for it. “Please call the police. I’ll handle this excitable young lady.” For a wonder, Ms. Smith nee Dumpty (I’d seen the name on the mailbox) did as she was told. I managed to calm Jill down enough to pry the knife from her white-knuckled, trembling fingers. Jack appeared to have soiled himself, but had not been cut. The police arrived after about a half an hour, and I turned the whole thing over to them.

I’m sure you saw it in the papers, though it wasn’t in the society section. It seems that Jack had married Marjory for her money. “Who could love a giant egg?” he was quoted as saying in court, by way of explanation. Moron. He’d been having an affair with Jill since she was his student in the high-school band. It came out during the trial that several other former students also had not resisted his advances, including a talented young banana named Chiquita, whose parents had shipped her to South America halfway through her senior year just as the fruit of their liaison was beginning to show. His appetite for fruits and vegetables didn’t end there. The young pumpkin next door had apparently enjoyed his attentions at a very early age. However, she had become pregnant, and was blackmailing him by threatening to go public. This would have cost him both his teaching job and his wealthy wife, so he convinced Marjorie to take a shopping trip to New York, lured the young vegetable into his house, where he butchered and canned her, and then cleaned up and met Jill in the park for an alibi-making tryst, in case the murder was discovered. This is where things began to go wrong. He hadn’t had time to clean up the kitchen―the young lady had put up more resistance than expected. Then, he had apparently fallen right off the hilltop in the park, bumping into Jill on the way and sending her tumbling after. He’d hit his head on a rock and the injury had made him forget his plans for an alibi. He’d stumbled home to mend his head, and the rest you know. And you know what? I even got paid, after all. Marjorie was grateful to me for saving her husband’s life. I guess she still loved the murderous cheating little worm, though I can’t imagine why. At any rate, she paid me a handsome fee. I felt sorry for her; despite being a smooth prolate spheroid she was quite a classy lady. I hear she’s doing better for herself lately, though she hasn’t been featured in the newspaper like she used to be. High society can be so unforgiving.

The end

The book is available from Alban Lake: http://store.albanlake.com/product/nursery-rhyme-noir/

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