Thursday, December 7, 2017


The Derby Ram

I was at loose ends that Saturday. I had completed a case recently, and had been rewarded by none other than the Queen of England. I'm afraid I can't say much about that one, except it involved a unicorn, a lion, and lamb smuggling. I pray the world never becomes so blasé about death that that particular tale can be told. At any rate, Alma had some time as well and so we decided to go to Derby. A farmer there had a ram so big it blocked the sun, or so people said. I had heard he was bringing it to market and we thought we would check it out.

"If nothing else," I said, "he can become a commercial mushroom grower if he can't sell the thing." She just gave me a look. Women never appreciate my jokes. Nor do men, or even farm animals, for that matter.

A few miles outside of Derby I came suddenly upon a long string of stopped cars. Alma squeaked and hurled her drink at the windshield. “At least you’re not wearing a white dress,” I said. A chilly silence descended on the car. I need to learn to stop making that kind of joke. After about 10 minutes I got out and walked up to the vehicle in front of me. A little black sheep was carrying three bags of wool in the back of his pickup; I assumed he was headed to the market.

"You know what's going on?" I asked. He didn't answer.

"Well, bringing some wool to market?" I nodded my head towards the back of his truck, hoping to draw him out.

"Nope." At this point I was getting a little irritated.

"Well, then, you got some for me?"

"One for my master, and one for his dame, but none for assholes chatting in the lane."

I went back to the car.

"What did you find out?" Alma asked me.

"Nothing," I said, "except that is one surly sheep."

"The black ones often are," she said.


After another half hour I made a U-turn. I knew another way to Derby. Wouldn't you know it, the whole town was sealed off. I eventually ran into a policewoman I knew. She told me that somebody had murdered the giant ram.


"Can you believe it!? All that was left was the tail! The town was going to buy that to replace the old bell rope, but now of course we've impounded it as evidence and no one knows what time it is anymore."

"Bummer. Well, congratulations on your promotion. And thanks for the tip."

"Promotion?" Alma raised an eyebrow. I have to admit that Rita is a looker.

"She used to be on the parking-ticket beat."


Naturally I was disappointed that our outing had been spoiled, but I wasn't desperate enough to try to horn in on a case so soon after getting paid a bundle for the last one. I was laying drop cloths over my furniture, getting ready to paint my office, when there came a knock on the door. It was Rita's boss, Jack Horner, the chief of police of Derby. He shut the door, turned around, then stopped dead.

"Sorry I can't offer you a seat," I said. "I'm thinking a light avocado wash for the walls. Do you think that would look more professional?"

"I'll make this quick," he growled, "what do you know about the Derby ram case?"

"Only what I read in the papers," I replied. "I never even saw it. Alive or dead."

"I hear Farmer Brown hired you to find the killer. You trying to tell me that's not true?"

Before I could answer there came another knock on the door. Two in a day is a bit unusual for me at the best of times. Before I could get up to answer it the door flew open and a portly middle-aged man wearing a pair of faded bib overalls and a patched plaid red and yellow shirt lurched into the room. "I want you to find out who killed my ram!" He shouted.

"I guess it is true," I said, "and I'm afraid I can't tell you anything without consulting with my client first."

From then on, the conversation turned kind of ugly. After the police chief left I did learn a few things from Farmer Brown. The ram had not really been big enough to blot out the sun, unless you were a child, a dwarf, in a wheelchair, or lying on the ground. Or really close to the ram. Nevertheless, the critter really had been impressive. I would have liked to see a ram that stood more than 7 feet at the shoulder.

Farmer Brown had brought the ram to market early, about sun up. "I needed to get him to the stock area before the market got crowded, or I knew I would never get him there" he said.

"Who wanted him dead?" I asked. One doesn't usually get much from questions like these, but it's always worth a shot.

"Nobody. He was just a sheep. A really big one." He turned to go, and then he turned back. "There is one thing," he said, rubbing his chin. "There was an old lady hanging around the stock area. She looked kinda hungry. But there's no way she was big enough to eat an entire ram."

It was better than nothing. "Can you describe her for me?"


Back to Derby, this time for business rather than pleasure. I asked around at the fairgrounds, but got nowhere fast.

"Are you kidding?! How many tiny hunchbacked little old ladies in black dresses do you think there are around here anyway? There's one on every block. You have to sweep them out of your way just to get from one place to another. I'm tellin' ya deadbeat"


"Whatever. Anyway, good luck!" The young man at the vegetable stand was more sarcastic than most, but I met some variation of this response everywhere I went.

I sat down to eat an apple in the shade of the Burnside Oak (named after Colonel Burnside, who refrained from burning Derby after eating one of the justly famous local apple pies).

"I know which old lady it was, Mister." The urchin’s clothes were ragged, his face was dirty, his hair stood straight up, and he was barefoot.

"Oh yeah? What's your name?"

"Puddin Tame."

"I mean really."

"That is my name," he insisted. "Somebody's got to have it, and it's me."

"Whatever. So who was it then?" He leaned over close to whisper in my ear. "She lives in a shoe. Has a bunch of kids. I'm friends with one of 'em, that's how I know.

"Billy, that's one of her kids, told me today that all they had last night was plain broth. They'd eaten all the rest of it already. Bet it was good, too."

I got directions to the shoe. Figured it wouldn't hurt to try the story on for size. If the kid was telling the truth I could tie the whole case up today. I was the sole of discretion as I came sneaking up behind the heel. A lot of people in the lower class neighborhoods dump garbage out behind their houses and the shoe family was no exception. Like everybody they had a few chicken bones mixed in with the apple cores, potato peelings, carrot tops, rags, and 3-foot-long femurs. Yep, two of them.


Later, as the cops were hauling the old lady away, I had a moment to speak with her. She looked like my grandma; she didn't look hard-core. She didn't look capable of grand theft mutton.

I only asked her one question. "Why?"

"I had so many children," she replied, "I didn't know what to do."

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

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