A Nose for Danger, part 29

Suddenly there was a commotion at the door.

“Sorry chief,” an officer said, poking his head in. “This tortoise here claims he’s an old friend of yours. I think he’s some kinda foreigner. Says he’s got a present for the Smellephant.”

“It’s ok, let him in,” the chief nodded.

It was Tommy, and he was holding a gun. The pointy end of the gun was aimed at a very upset looking ferret. “He’s got no right to do this. Tell him chief.”

Tommy ignored the ferret’s outburst. “Was like you say, Smellephant. Ferret shows up at hospital, looking for Sam.” The tortoise was looking very pleased with himself. “Finds me instead.”

The chief turned to me. “Well well. Looks like the ferret went straight for the chimp, as soon as he heard Sam was still alive. You know what this means, right?”

“I think,” I said, “it means you can uncuff the lady.”

“Thanks,” Lulu said, flashing me a big smile. “I don’t know how I can ever thank you. Or maybe,” she said slyly, “I do.”

“So the ferret was behind everything?” the chief was starting to put the pieces together in his head.

“Nah, ferrets don’t read du Maurier, everybody knows that. He’s just a hired hand, working for the real perp, the one that created a false paper trail, then killed Winthrop, Manny too when the parrot was about to sing, and paid the ferret to plant Winthrop’s glass at my place to implicate me. Then shot Sam when the chimp got wise to the forged records, and used that number sequence to make sure the trail would lead back to Rebecca.”

“So who’s the perp?”

“Someone who knows how to forge documents well enough to make a pile of money once Winthrop’s out of the picture. Someone we all thought was dead — because the ferret told us he was. But our mastermind couldn’t resist leaving a signature — the first animal mentioned in the novel “Rebecca”: A rabbit!

“So,” the chief said, “it was Whiskers all the time! Now that we know he’s the one behind this harebrained scheme, we’ll catch up with him soon enough. But Smellephant, how could you remember something like that, an old book mentioning rabbits?”

“Haven’t you heard?” Lulu said, “An elephant never forgets.”


A Nose for Danger, part 28

The chief took us down to the station. I wore a fedora, Lulu wore handcuffs. The desk sergeant started processing the precinct’s number one murder suspect.

“By the way,” the sergeant said, “those lab results came back.” He handed the chief a folder.

After studying it for a moment, the chief stared at me long and hard. “When I heard you had those prints lifted, I sent them down to central for a full ID check. Just standard procedure. Guess who prints were on that glass, Smellephant?”

“Ok, I give up,” I shrugged.

The chief nodded toward Lulu. “This gal’s dead dad.”

I gave him a steady look. “What are you implying?”

“Isn’t it obvious? This puts the victim at your place, and we know you and the dame have been playing patty cake. We also know she’s been impersonating her sister.”

“Chief, are you’re saying…”

“You know exactly what I’m saying. You two were in this together, killed Winthrop for his dough.”

“But I’m the one who brought the prints to Hu in the first place.”

“Thought you were being cute bringing in that glass and teacup, didn’t you? We find the same prints on both, and everyone thinks there’s only one dame. But you got unlucky — you picked up the wrong glass.”

“But why would Winthrop come to my place?”

“Not for me to say. I guess that part of the story died with him. But it connects you to the murder. Looks like you outsmarted yourself this time, Smellephant. Sarge, book him.”

A Nose for Danger, part 27

“As you have already decided that I am guilty of these murders, what would be the point of speaking in my own defense?”

“Look, Rebecca,” I said. “You had motive and opportunity. As your father’s heir, you stand to gain the most from his death. The gaps in your sister’s records suggest you were in the process of planting false info about her, which you hired Whiskers to forge. Then you killed the hare to cover your tracks, and Manny because he got wise to what was going down. It would have been a perfect crime if Sam hadn’t found some records you missed. The chimp is the missing link.”

She shook her head. “I am sorry that Sam is dead. I … I know he was your best friend.”

“Well, I guess the truth can come out now. Sam’s still hanging in there, although he’s in a coma. We don’t know if he’ll wake up.”

“Hey Smellephant,” the Ferret asked, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but do you mind if I go? I don’t need to be here for the dramatic parts.”

I nodded. What was coming next probably wouldn’t be pretty.

“Miss Winthrop,” the chief said to Rebecca, “I’m afraid I’ve got to formally charge you with these murders.”

“Yes,” she said, “but which Miss Winthrop do you mean?” Suddenly I realized her accent was gone. In fact her whole way of carrying herself had transformed. Right before our eyes, Rebecca had turned into Lulu.

“So,” I said, “you’ve been the same gal all along.”

“Apparently,” Lulu explained, “I am a classic case of a split personality. That’s what the doctors say anyway. Rebecca doesn’t know. This personality comes out in times of stress.”

“Yeah,” the chief said, “I can see how being arrested for homicide can be stressful.”

I had to admit I was glad to see Lulu. I’d kind of missed her.

But the chief looked troubled. “Hu showed me the lab report.”

“Who showed you the lab report?”

“Yeah, exactly. And the prints didn’t match. So how does one dame,” the chief said, looking hard at Lulu, “have two different sets of finger prints?”

A Nose for Danger, part 26

Chapter 6

“How do you know elephants are afraid of commitment?”

Rebecca just stared at me. I don’t think she was in the mood for a joke.

Fortunately the chief saved the moment. “Because,” he jumped in, “wherever they go, they take their trunk with them.”

She looked from me to the chief and back again. “Was that supposed to be clever?”

“I’m not sure clever is the right word,” I shrugged. After all, maybe I was afraid of commitment. Some joke. “We asked you here,” I said, attempting to move on, “to figure out what happened the night that Sam got shot.”

“I really don’t know what you are talking about. Of course I am saddened that your friend was killed, but I cannot see how that has anything to do with me.”

I had to hand it to her, either she was innocent or she was a very good liar. “I asked you the other night if you recognized the sequence of numbers 4514295. Got anything to say about that?”

“I told you Mr. Smellephant, it’s just a meaningless string of digits.”

“I figured you might say that. I asked the ferret here to get a certain book. You might recognize it. After all, it’s got your name on it. Also the last message of a shooting victim.”

The ferret was only too eager to hand her the book. The publisher was Victor Gollancz of London, the author Daphne du Maurier, the title “Rebecca”. It was a first edition too, 1938, original dust jacket. I’d had the ferret bring it here from the city archives. Maybe that was my real idea of a joke. She turned it over in her hand, like she was afraid to open it.

“Go ahead,” I said, “read the first line.”

“Last night,” she said slowly, reading the words aloud, “I went to Manderlay again.” When she looked up there were tears in her eyes.

“Sam didn’t have the use of his right arm,” I said, more to the chief than to Rebecca. “All he could do was type a sequence of numbers on the adding machine. But maybe that was good enough to finger a perp.”

The chief looked at her. “4514295, perfect match for the letter count of the words in the opening sentence. Not much chance it’s a coincidence. Rebecca, you got anything to say for yourself?”

A Nose for Danger, part 25

“Chief,” I said, “you know I would never do anything to hurt Sam.”

“Right now I don’t know anything, except where we found that gun.”

The clock was ticking, and I didn’t want to stay in this jail cell one minute longer than I needed to. Sooner or later the killer was going to figure out Sam was still alive. “Suppose,” I said, “I could prove to you it wasn’t me.”

“I’m listening Smellephant.”

“The evening Whiskers got shot, I was at the Crow Bar, drowning my sorrows. I was there until closing time that night, running up a tab. You can check it out.”

Fortunately the chief was smart enough to send somebody to check out my story. And that was all it took. Since all the murders were from the same gun, I needed only one solid alibi to knock me out of the running for everyone’s favorite murderer.

For another thing, the chief knew me long enough to know that at the end of the day, I would never shoot Sam. And that, I figured, might count for even more in his book.

It took a few hours, but eventually I got my name cleared, and I was a free elephant. But that wasn’t the end of things. It was just the beginning.

Because now the finger was pointed squarely at Rebecca. After all, somebody had to plant that gun in my office, they did it just around the time she was sleeping on my couch. Which meant there were several possibilities: One was that Rebecca was our murderer. Another was that somebody had planted the gun in my office to frame her.

The chief and I talked it out, and we went over all the angles. In the end, we figured the best thing was to bring her in and let her talk. One way or another, we would find out something.

A Nose for Danger, part 24

While I was cooling my heels in the town jail, I had a lot of time to find out from the chief why they brought me in. It seems they got an anonymous tip earlier that evening. While I was wandering the streets, lost in my thoughts, and then visiting Sam in the hospital, the cops had gotten a warrant, entered my office, found a gun, done a ballistic match, and had concluded that it was the same gun that killed Winthrop, Whiskers and Manny, as well as wounding Sam. I was impressed they’d moved so fast.

Well, I figured, the good news is we now know there was a single gunman. The bad news is the cops think it’s me.

There wasn’t any point telling the chief I’d been framed. They had me fair and square on planted evidence. No, I was going to need to find a way out of here so I could crack this case. prove my innocence, and nail the real perp.

I asked the chief if they’d seen Rebecca, and the answer came back no. Seems she’d woken up by then, left me a note, and gone on her way. The chief was nice enough to hand me the note:

Dearest Mr. Smellephant,

Thank you so much for your kindness and consideration earlier this evening. Partaking of your proffered “medicine”, unorthodox as it was, has certainly served to calm my nerves, which is a great blessing in this time of trials and ordeals.

I shall endeavor not to make a habit of indulging in such medicine in future, tempting as it may be. That being said, it is wonderful to know that you are such a thoughtful and constant friend.

I remain yours, as ever,

Rebecca Winthrop

I remember thinking, while I read the note, that Rebecca was a sweet kid, and it was a shame that she had to be messed up in this kind of nasty business.

Meanwhile, I had problems to solve. It wasn’t just that I needed to prove my innocence. It was also the problem that sooner or later the killer would find out that Sam was still alive.

If that happened while I was still stuck in this jail cell, I had a hunch Sam wouldn’t be alive for much longer.

A Nose for Danger, part 23

I had several places to go, but first I stopped off to check in on Sam. The chief and I had agreed to keep his whereabouts on the lowdown. Somebody had wanted the chimp dead, and we figured it was safer not to let on that he was still alive, let alone where he was. So as far as anyone else knew, this was just another chimpanzee in a hospital ward.

By this point I was fairly convinced our perp was Lulu, as much as I hated to admit it. There were just too many threads pointing to her. The murder of Winthrop was an obvious clue — I was starting to think that was more than self-defense. For one thing, the shooting of Whiskers, given that I now knew him to be a forger, suggested an attempt to change Winthrop’s will. Only Sam, keeper of the records, would know for sure, and he wasn’t talking.

Then there was the death of Manny the parrot — just about to sing when his wings got clipped.

None of this would have swayed me, until Sam got shot. It wasn’t just that my best friend was now lying in a coma, with the evidence he’d found gone missing. It was also just one too many shootings for all of this to be a coincidence, and the Smellephant does not believe in coincidences.

And it all led back to one place — Rebecca’s elusive sister. I was starting to think Lulu had been taking me for a ride. A great ride, sure, but one that wasn’t going anyplace I wanted to be.

If only I could figure out how that sequence of numbers fit together. I was still adding up the angles in my head, trying to piece it all together, when the chief came in.

“Smellephant?” he said.

“Yeah Chief?” I said, lost in my thoughts. I hadn’t been expecting any visitors.

“Sorry to do this, but I’ve got to bring you in.”

“For what, Chief?”

“For the murders of J. Chesterton Winthrop, Whiskers the hare, and Manny the parrot. As well as the attempted murder of Sam the chimp. Smellephant, you’re under arrest.”

A Nose for Danger, part 22

Whiskey has a different effect on everybody. Some it makes happy, and others it makes sad. Still others just go right to sleep. I once met a mongoose in a dive bar outside Phoenix who started singing Puccini after his third drink. Which would have been ok, except I’ve never known a mongoose that could carry a tune, even when sober. It wasn’t pretty.

In Rebecca’s case, drink made her talkative.

It was fun for a while, watching Rebecca under the influence. I was surprised how little time it took her to get smashed, until I remembered that she never drinks. Some dames really can’t hold their liquor. Although one thing I hadn’t expected was that she’d start reciting poetry.

      “He’s admired and loved, although misunderstood
      By all of the creatures that live in the wood.
      They know they are safe, for wherever he goes
      The Smellephant follows his nose.”

This went on for quite a while — there are a lot of verses to that damn poem. By the time she got to that particular verse she was standing on the table with her shoes off. I gotta say I’d never heard the poem in an English accent. It didn’t sound half bad either, if you go for that sort of thing.

After that, it didn’t take long before Rebecca passed out on my office couch. I thought of waking her and sending her on her way, but then I figured maybe the poor kid needed the rest, after all she’d been through.

I got a blanket for her, made sure she was nice and tucked in, and turned down the lights. She’d be ok for a while. Quietly I put on my trench coat and fedora.

I slipped out the back way, through the alley, so I wouldn’t be tailed. I needed to check out a hunch, and it would be a lot better if nobody knew where I was going.

A Nose for Danger, part 21

When I got back to my office Rebecca was waiting. Which wasn’t surprising, since I had asked her to drop by. I needed to know what she knew.

“You wanted to see me Mr. Smellephant.”

“Yeah, I’d like to talk to you about your sister.”

“You’ve found Louisa?”

“You could say that.”

“Then I assume you can tell me where she is.”

“Well, not exactly. You could say I found her and then I lost her again. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Mr. Smellephant, you have a strange way of conducting a missing person investigation.”

“Sister, you don’t know the half of it. Don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth. Meanwhile, I’ve got a question for you.” I took a folded piece of paper out of my pocket.

“Of course, if there’s anything I can do to help with your investigation. I suspect my sister is in trouble, and I believe she might even have killed our father. She may require our help.”

“Yeah, maybe. We might have a clue in the murder case. What do you make of this?” I held out the piece of paper.

Rebecca took the paper and unfolded it. She stared at the nine numbers and scowled. Then she looked at me with an unreadable expression. “What is this supposed to mean?”

“It seems to mean something to you.”

“What it means to me,” she said, after a pause, “is an unreadable string of digits. Is this all a big joke to you?”

“No, I…”

She didn’t let me finish. “My father is dead, my sister remains missing, and you are playing games with numbers. Do you take me for a fool?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. What could I say? “Can I offer you a drink?” I knew she didn’t drink, but it was the best I could do.

She sank slowly down into a chair, crumpling the paper into a ball. “I’m sorry Mr. Smellephant, I … I don’t know what came over me. The stress, I suppose. These recent events have been very difficult. Have you ever lost someone near to you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “and I know how hard that can be.”

“Thank you for being understanding. I believe I will take that drink. Please make it — how do you say it — a stiff one.”

A Nose for Danger, part 20

“That’s a nine digit number. What do we know about nine digit numbers?”

“Social Security?” I suggested.

“The first thing we thought of, had it checked out this morning. That’s not a valid range for social security numbers.”

“Good point Chief.” I nodded. “Besides, It’s not like Sam would have that kind of thing in his head. Whatever he was thinking, it had to be something he could come up with right then and there.”

“Yeah,” the chief added, “even after he’d taken a bullet.”

“Maybe it’s the beginning of a phone number. He could have passed out before he got to the last digit.”

“We checked on that too. No such area code. Nearest number is 450 — Quebec.”

“Somehow,” I said, “I doubt Sam was fingering a perp in Quebec. So where does that leave us?”

“A kind of substitution code maybe. But a code needs a key.” the chief shook his head. “There’s something missing.”

“Maybe if we could see the files Sam told me about.”

“Our men looked thoroughly. No files left lying around. Very neat. Maybe too neat. Whoever the killer is, he sure did a good job of cleaning up the crime scene.”

“Or she did,” I said, under my breath.

“What was that, Smellephant?” the chief said. “I didn’t catch that.”

“Oh nothing. I just remembered I have an appointment.” I grabbed my hat.

“You’ll keep thinking about this right? We’ve got 451614295 reasons to catch this killer.”

“Yeah, lots of reasons Chief,” I said, thinking about my friend Sam. “But I only need one.”