Monday, December 11, 2017


Check the Bathwater

I should've known I was in trouble the minute she glided into my office. I should have known I was in trouble when I saw the narrowest trace of brown roots in her luxuriant blonde hair, and the plunging “V” of her tightfitting dress. I should have known I was in trouble when she leaned on my desk and looked me straight in the eye, her generous bust burning holes in my faux-leather blotter. I should have known I was in trouble when she reached into her dress to pull my retainer out of her bra and I could see that she wasn't wearing one.

Is 500 enough?” She murmured in a voice like chocolate eclairs, a voice that could not only launch a thousand ships but burn them to the water line and sink a thousand careers in a single night. I blotted my forehead and raised the window a little higher. Not that it would do any good. The air outside was so thick you could squeeze 8 ounces of water out of a double handful.

I cleared my throat. “That's more than enough ma'am, for the ordinary run of cases. What seems to be the problem?” Anyone who's read my stories knows how I feel about beautiful women, but this was business.

Oh!” She said “I am hardly old enough to be a 'ma'am.' My name is Susie and there is a problem with my baby.”

This was almost too much information and yet nowhere near enough. “Okay. What happened to your baby, Miss Susie?”

She leaned forward again and I scooted my chair back, hoping for a cool breeze.

It all started when I tried to give Tim a bath.”


Because he was so tiny and all. That's his name. Anyway,” she unbuttoned the top button of her dress. It only had three buttons. “It's really hot in here. Do you have air conditioning?”

It's hot.” I said. “Wish I could afford air-conditioning. But please, keep your clothes on anyway. The bath?” I had to do something, so I walked across the room and got a glass of water. I offered her some and she said thank you. Finally she gave it to me. The baby had eaten the soap and drunk the water. Where he put it all if he was so tiny I have no idea. Apparently he even started chewing on the fixtures and this was when his mother started to suspect there was a problem. I'm sorry, but the woman was no genius. I believe that she loved her son, but she definitely was not playing with a full gallon. More like three quarts. Possibly 3 ½. Or 3 ½ liters. But isn't that about the same? I was babbling, but at least I wasn't doing it out loud. Anyway, the kid wasn't able to get the bathtub down his throat but he was frothing at the mouth, looked like he had rabies, and she called the doctor. He shows up with his nurse and some broad who at first I thought was a neighbor, but then it turned out Miss Susie had never even seen her before. She doesn't know her name, only that she carries an alligator purse and that she was the only one of the three with more than two brain cells firing.

The doctor concluded the kid had some communicable disease and wanted to quarantine the house. The nurse felt much the same, except they got in an argument about exactly what Tim had and Miss Susie thought they might come to blows. In the end, she kicked both of them out, but when she went to thank the other woman, she was nowhere to be found.

So what, exactly, do you want me to do?”

Find my boy, Mr. Deadbolt. Did I forget to tell you he was missing? He disappeared with the lady with the alligator purse. Find him! Find him!” She was gripping my lapels, her face buried in the front of my shirt. And she was crying. I always hate that. Eventually I pried her off and promised I would look into her problem as soon as I finished a couple of other pressing tasks. I had two pairs of pants at the cleaners being pressed and I picked them up on the way home.


I was in trouble.

I'm sick and tired,” my fiancée declared, “of beautiful young women trying to play games with you.” She's particularly lovely when she's angry. “Smearing their lipstick on your shirt,” she continued, “and for all I know other places that are easier to clean.” She picked up the laundry basket. I had tried to sneak the shirt past her, but I'd been too slow.

Alma, no matter how they try they won't get through to me,” I assured her. “Besides, Miss Susie was distraught. I'm sure it won't happen again.” I tried to kiss her a few times, and eventually she relented. We shared a bottle of wine on the balcony overlooking the practice field where the cabbages were working on their offense.

After a while, she laughed. “They really are pretty bad, aren't they.”

Terrible! The eggplants are going to blow their leaves off. They'll never get out of the vegetable league.”

She snuggled closer and I put my arm around her. We were cool again. Now if I could just keep Miss Susie off me.


I didn't want to, but I had to visit Miss Susie at home. I needed to see the scene of the abduction. I did not dare go alone, so I took Jack Spratt with me. He owed me a favor because of the Olive Oyl incident. And he would sympathize; he had had his share of trouble with women.

My client lived in a small brownstone squeezed into a space tighter than her dress. I walked up the steps and knocked on the door of 69 ½ Spradlin Street. Miss Susie answered the door, wearing the kind of T-shirt you buy in the entertainment district, the part that's open all night long. As far as I could see that was her only garment.

Good afternoon ma'am,” I said, “Jack Spratt is helping me on the case.” I could see beads of sweat starting from Jack's forehead and I had to elbow him in the ribs to get him to close his mouth.

She gave him the once over. “You married, Mr. Spratt? You need a good woman's cooking to put some meat on your bones.” That brought a little frown to his forehead.

He's a little sensitive about food. Ugly divorce,” I said and invited myself in, dragging Jack with me. “Where did you last see Tim?”

In his bed,” she replied. Eventually I got her to show us just where they had all been when the baby was abducted. I didn't see anything that would help me crack the case. Jack was trembling and seemed to be trying to speak. I said my goodbyes and got us out of there.

Back on the street I took Jack into a little café a few blocks away. I ordered him a big chocolate no-fat milkshake.

Stop drooling,” I said. “The milkshake isn't that good. Did you see anything? Anything that would help me find the kid?”

He moved his hands in suggestive curves and grinned sheepishly. He was hopeless. Miss Susie could have had the University of Michigan marching band in there and he wouldn't have seen them.


I spent the rest of the day tracking down the lady with the alligator purse. I eventually located her in a three-story brownstone about a mile from Miss Susie's. She was a hard nut to crack. She didn't seem to have any close friends, but by canvassing the residents of whole neighborhoods I discovered that she took a walk of several miles each evening. She passed right by Miss Susie's house. Her name was Knapps.

I knocked on the front door.

Who is it?”

Hasp Deadbolt, ma'am. I'm looking for Lavinia Knapps. May I come in?”

I'm sorry, Mr. Deadbolt, but I'm afraid not.” And nothing I could say got another word out of her.

I was getting pretty worried about what she might be doing to the baby, but the house was built like a fortress. I needed help.


There are only certain times when I have a use for Sergeant Satyrday, but this was one. I had to sit through the usual snide diatribe about THE DEPARTMENT, and “rent-a-dicks”, but the mayor was up for reelection and he didn't need a baby-napping to spend time on the front page of the newspaper. The sergeant followed me back to Ms. Knapps' house with two burly flat feet and we were inside in five minutes. Lavinia Knapps was seated in her front room, knitting a baby blanket. She denied knowing anything about the disappearance of Tiny Tim. Something seemed wrong to me. The police made a halfhearted attempt to search the house, but they didn't find anything. The oddest thing we found was a bunch of stuffed heads mounted on the wall in the dining room. There was quite a variety represented, and I thought I recognized a few of them. A large mouse with unusually big ears kind of reminded me of a former client, and a black duck was the spitting image of one who had caused quite a stir the previous Thanksgiving. Still, this was a far cry from absconding with a child. Satyrday was about to leave when I put it together. I snapped my fingers. ”I've put it together,” I said. The Sergeant knows me well enough to pay attention when I say something like that.

She doesn't have any children. Why is she knitting a baby blanket?”

It's for my niece,” she put in, but she looked uneasy.

Hold on to her!” I shouted, “and you (I pointed at one of the patrolmen) come with me.” I raced out the back door and started crisscrossing the backyard. It didn't take long to find the baby. I brought him back in and confronted the kidnapper.

We found him lying in the grass. He was completely unharmed, but any kind of wild animal could have found him there before we did!”

She shook her head grimly. “Not at all. Wild creatures know better than to enter my yard. It isn't just alligators who have learned to keep their distance from me.”

She had a point.


There was one more thing I had to do. A week later I stopped by Miss Susie's house. She answered the door with her son on her hip. She was as fetching as ever, if slightly more demure than the last time we met.

I can't thank you enough, Mr. Deadbolt, for finding my son.” She handed me a check.

Well, it's what you hired me for ma'am. But you're welcome.”

There's something else,” she said. I leaned backwards a little, almost imperceptibly, protecting my shirt and my reputation, and she laughed. “No, silly. Thanks to you I'm seeing someone.”

Thanks to me? No. It couldn't be.

It was Jack. “Ain't this the greatest?!” He gave me the victory sign over her shoulder. “And she's a vegetarian, too!”

I shook my head and waved my hand at them as I turned away. Some stories turn out right. But I had to hurry. Alma was waiting in the car with a loaded picnic basket, and that was a potent combination.

The end

Here are the two children's rhymes referred to in this story.

Miss Suzie had a baby

Miss Lucy had a baby 
She named it Tiny Tim 
She put it in the bathtub 
To see if it could swim 
It drank up all the water 
It ate up all the soap 
It tried to eat the bathtub 
But it wouldn't go down its throat 
Miss Lucy called the doctor 
Miss Lucy called the nurse 
Miss Lucy called the lady 
With the alligator purse 
Measles said the doctor 
Mumps said the nurse 
Nothing said the lady 
With the alligator purse 
Miss Lucy kicked the doctor 
Miss Lucy punched the nurse 
Miss Lucy paid the lady 
With the alligator purse

(there are several distinctly different versions of this song.)

Jack Sprat

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean
Jack ate all the lean,
Joan ate all the fat.
The bone they picked it clean,
Then gave it to the cat
Jack Sprat was wheeling,
His wife by the ditch.
The barrow turned over,
And in she did pitch.

Says Jack, "She'll be drowned!"
But Joan did reply,
"I don't think I shall,
For the ditch is quite dry.".

This is one of those political nursery rhymes. You can look it up.

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

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