Monday, December 18, 2017


Take it on the Mutton

The City is my usual beat, and I tend to stay there. I don’t even own house plants. There’s nothing green in my office unless I’ve just been paid. However, one Saturday Alma wheedled me into agreeing to a picnic. She knew this enchanting little park she said, right by a river. “Secluded?” I asked, as I slid into the passenger seat of her convertible.

Completely,” she told me, taking both hands off the wheel and violating several ordinances. “Good,” I said, as soon as I could speak.

The park was quite pretty, I’ll give her that, and the view of the river from the grassy slope we picked for our assignation was what you might call picturesque. However, the level of seclusion was not quite what I’d been promised. I began unpacking the basket, which is a process that is more complicated than you might think when Alma is involved. She had packed us a lunch straight out of The Wind in the Willows: cold cuts, sourdough loaves, pickles, pears, peaches, peanut butter, pistachios, and plenty of stuff from the rest of the alphabet as well. We needed three blankets just for the grub. Luckily, that left very little room for the two of us. Things were just getting interesting when I heard a scream. Well, a P.I. is always on call, so I leaped to my feet, spilling Alma into the grass. “Stay here,” I said, and ran across the grass towards the source of the noise. Just as I crested the hill there was another scream.

In a bowl-shaped valley a pretty young shepherdess stood, clutching her crook tightly enough to turn her knuckles white. She was alone.

What seems to be the problem, Miss,” I asked.

My sheep,” she sobbed.

I don’t see any sheep,” I replied, perhaps a trifle obtusely.

Exactly,” she snapped, “they’re missing!”

My keen, analytical mind raced quickly through the ramifications of her remark. “Your sheep have disappeared,” I observed, “what you need is a sheep finder.”

In the absence of such, you’ll do,” she replied. “Go that way, I’ll look over this way. The poor dears just cannot make it alone. They’re utterly dependent on me.” I kept my doubts to myself, and detoured back to Alma. My mind was conjuring up visions of the sheep being led off to slaughter by a mustachioed ruminant nabber, or tied to the railroad tracks with wool made from their own coats. Alma was standing by the picnic paraphernalia, keeping the ants at bay. I explained the situation, and told her that the shepherdess had asked me to help her search for her sheep.

She’s a fool,” Alma said. “If she just leaves them alone they’ll come home, probably dragging their damn tails behind them. Meanwhile, the jello’s melting.”

Maybe you’re right, but I can’t turn down a pastoralist in distress,” I answered nobly, and was off on the scent. Or, not being a canine, I actually went in search of visual clues. They were not hard to come by. I’m a pretty fair tracker, if I do say so myself, and I caught up with the errant flock a few miles down the road, in a small and somewhat dilapidated drinking establishment. The sheep were gathered around a table, drinking heavily.

Your mistress was looking for you,” I said to one, which appeared to be the bellwether. The creature ignored me. “She was worried about you,” I added.

Baa!” the sheep said. “She won’t leave us alone.” It took another big slug of ale. “We can’t take it any more.”

Would you like to ... talk about it?” I asked.

You don’t know what it’s like,” the sheep continued. “She’s always pestering us. ‘Where are you going? When will you be back? You’re not going to meet those shiftless no-good goats down by the tracks are you?’ Bah!”

She doesn’t respect us as livestock,” another sheep chimed in, “to her, we’re just walking wool. It’s demeaning.”

We’re adults,” added a third, “and if we want a pint of ale, by God we’ll have one.” It drained its mug and burped loudly.

I let them blow off steam for a while, just nodding every now and then and buying another round or two of ale. “Are you taking it on the lamb?” I asked finally.

And what if we are?” the bellwether replied cagily.

Well, how will you survive? Do you know a trade?” It shook its head, and I pressed my case. “You’ll look pretty sheepish dragging back in, hungry and dirty, a few weeks from now. Far better to return now, and make out like you just wanted an afternoon away from the daily crop and chew.” I went on in this vein for quite a while, and must have sounded pretty persuasive, because the sheep soon began nodding their heads and baaing agreeably. Finally, the bellwether drained its mug and set it down heavily on the table.

Let’s go,” it admonished the herd, and trotted out the door. I watched after them long enough to see that they were indeed headed for home, and then set off in search of Alma. I found her soon enough, but that’s another story.

Reprinted from Nursery Rhyme Noir --

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