Archive for November, 2012

A Nose for Danger, part 19

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Chapter 5

“What did the adding machine say to the chimpanzee?”

“I give up,” the chief said. “What did it say?”

“You can count on me.”

“Oh, that’s bad even by your standards, Smellephant. Let’s hope we can count on what this adding machine has to tell us. To me it just looks like string of digits.”

“I’m telling you Chief, if Sam typed it, it’s gotta be something. He’s one smart chimp.”

“I don’t know. You’ve been running your own private investigation,” the chief said. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“I thought it was. A private eye can go places the cops can’t go.”

“And how is that working out for you?”

I looked down at the spot where I had found my friend lying unconscious. “Right now I’d have to say I’m not so sure. Maybe if I’d worked with the cops — with you — Sam would still … ” I didn’t finish the thought.

“Sorry Smellephant, I shouldn’t be taking this out on you. None of this is your fault — it made sense to try doing this on the low down. I’m just frustrated because we’ve got dead bodies piling up, and nothing to go on but some numbers from an adding machine.”

“Sam’s not dead,” I said quietly.

“Sorry. Look, I know you two were — are — good friends, and we all want Sam to pull through. But we’ve got a chimp in a coma, and we’re not going to be getting any answers from him for a while. Meanwhile, the killer might strike again.”

“Not if we can figure out Sam’s message first.”

“Yeah,” the chief nodded, “if you can call it a message. It would have been so much better if Sam had been shot in the left shoulder. Then he could have used the typewriter.”

“It would have been so much better if Sam hadn’t been shot.”

“Yeah,” the chief said, “very good point. What’s that number again?”

“I’ve got it memorized: 451614295”.

A Nose for Danger, part 18

Monday, November 19th, 2012

“Sam?”

I didn’t hear any answer, and Sam wasn’t at his usual place between his adding machine and typewriter. This didn’t surprise me, since sometimes he can get lost in all those stacks of records. That’s one of the things I like about him. Sam’s got the curiosity of a chimpanzee. Which makes sense, when you think about it.

Eventually I got tired of waiting and wandered in. Still no sight of him. Seemed like as good a time as any to take a stroll among the stacks. I kind of like them, the years and years of records of everything that has happened in this crazy town.

In a way, I thought to myself, a city is like a person. Layers upon layers of history, and everything ends up in a back room somewhere, filed away, until one day it all comes out. Then everyone wonders “where the hell did that come from?”

Sam didn’t seem to be anywhere. I was thinking maybe he’d wandered out, maybe he thought he had time to go for a coffee before I came around. I was actually about to leave when I finally thought to look down. And there was Sam, unconscious, lying in a pool of blood.

I rushed to his side, felt for a pulse. The chimp was still alive, but not much more than that. A bullet had caught him in the right shoulder, had spun him around till he landed on the floor. Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that our perp was not a crack shot. But that could wait until later. Right now, I had other things on my mind. For one thing, my best friend seemed to be dying.

The strange thing was that his left hand, the one attached to a working shoulder, was reaching up, resting on the keys of the adding machine. Curious, I looked at the adding machine, and that’s when I saw what was written there.

A Nose for Danger, part 17

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

I went back to my office around noon, and made myself useful, putting things in order. I had a feeling I’d be spending a lot of time here until I found the killer, and I wanted my office to be a place where I could think clearly. I even did the dishes.

The phone rang a few hours later. I picked it up eagerly, figuring Hu had the print results. But it was Sam.

“Smellephant, you’ll never believe this. I dug up some more evidence in the city records. This really ties things all together — Whiskers, Manny, Winthrop, there’s a pattern. And I think it’s all one perp. One very clever perp. You’ve gotta see this for yourself. When can you get here?”

“Hu in the crime lab is running some tests for me — mums the word. I told her I’d wait for her call. Just give me until five, and then I’ll come over.”

“It’s not like Hu will be upset,” Sam said. “Pandas are always happy.”

“Wait, Hu’s a panda?? I knew she was from China. But I thought she was a bear.”

“Technically,” Sam said, “A panda is a bear. Unless you’re talking about a red panda.”

“Maybe,” I said, “we should stay away from politics.”

“Um, sure,” he said. “fine with me. Anyway, come over as early as you can.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be there soon. Thanks for staying on this. I’m looking forward to seeing your evidence.”

Hu called about half an hour later. “Guess what I found?” she asked with her usual cheerfulness.

I wasn’t feeling so cheerful. “Like I told you, I’ve been hoping you’d tell me.”

“Whoever they are,” she said, “the prints are definitely not from the same individual. So, am I telling you good news or bad news?”

“I’m not sure,” I said slowly, thinking. “It’s definitely, um, interesting news.” With my best theory blown, it looked like I might be back to square one.

Now I had to hope that whatever Sam had dug up would give me some solid answers.

A Nose for Danger, part 16

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

I’m not the neatest elephant you’ll ever meet. Sometimes it can take me up to a week just to wash the dishes. Not saying I’m proud of this, just telling it like it is. But on this occasion, I made sure to have a clean cup and saucer for my guest.

“Good morning Mr. Smellephant.” Rebecca greeted me with a big smile. “I’m glad you wanted to chat. It’s a bit early in the day for you, isn’t it?”

“I’ll manage,” I said brightly, trying to look more awake than I felt. I had a long day ahead of me. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?”

“That would be lovely, yes.” She sat prettily while I boiled some water.

When at last we were sitting down — tea for her, strong coffee for me (with an added shot of something even stronger, and very uncoffee-like) — I went over the progress of the case, and the search to find the whereabouts of her mysterious sister. Omitting, of course, the inconvenient fact that at one point I had known her sister’s whereabouts rather precisely.

After seeing Rebecca to the door, I carefully wrapped the teacup in a clean white cloth. I’d already wrapped up the glass Lulu had used earlier in the week. It was time to test my theory. The coffee was already clearing my head, and a good brisk walk to the crime lab finished the job.

“Smellephant, it’s always great to see you.” Hu was her usual chipper self. Surrounded by beakers and lab instruments and various mysterious pieces of glassware, she seemed completely in her element.

“You’re in a good mood today,” I observed.

She laughed. “I’m often in a good mood when I see you. You bring me interesting stuff.”

I put the two wrapped items on her desk. “Think you can pull prints from these?”

She carefully unwrapped the two bundles. “Sure, it’s what I do. I like this real crime stuff. Better than filling out reports all day. When do you need them?”

“How soon can you get them?”

“Sometime later today I think. Shiny things are easy. What are we looking for?”

I smiled. “Don’t want to influence you. You’ll tell me, ok?”

“Sure thing! Did the owl send you?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“For some reason he ends up steering a lot of work my way. Lord knows why. Maybe it’s my winning personality.”

“Yeah Hu,” I nodded, “that must be it.”

A Nose for Danger, part 15

Friday, November 16th, 2012

While talking with the owl, I took a look around. As always, his digs were simple. The room was empty except for two cushions, with a low wooden table between them. There were no pictures on the walls. Nobody knew for sure, but I’d heard the owl came from somewhere in the Far East. Seemed like as good a guess as any.

The lack of clutter was helping me think, and now the pieces were starting to come together in my mind. If Rebecca was pointing the finger at Lulu, what did that say about Rebecca? Maybe she wasn’t as innocent as she looked. I needed to figure out a way inside her head.

“Owl, what do you think is the biggest mystery about these murders?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Who.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that’s it, the big question: Who’s our killer? Is it really Lulu, or am I being played? Something’s going on between those two sisters, and I’ve gotta find somebody with the right angle to help me dig out the truth.”

The owl seemed to think deeply before replying. For a long time he just sat upon his cushion in silence. Finally he looked at me, and uttered a single word. “Hu.”

“That’s it, of course!” I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this angle before. “Hu, down at the crime lab. Hu owes me a favor, and is one of the few people I can rely on to keep quiet. Owl, you’re a genius.”

The owl looked please, but wisely chose silence.

“Before I go,” I asked, “is there anything else you think I should know?”

There was another silence, even longer than the one before. Then the owl spoke. “Smellephant,” he said, “as an anthropomorphic personification representing a genre archetype, you necessarily exist within a specific dialectic framework. Rebecca and her counterpart Louisa personify the antipodes of this dialectic, inasmuch as they comprise two intrinsic and complementary aspects of a single unifying principle. Your essential quest is to find the unity within these apparently antithetical forces, thereby achieving a state of clarity and balance that will serve to illuminate your very existence.”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “I already knew that.” The owl was a smart bird, but he could say the most obvious things. Guess we all do sometimes. I got up to leave.

But it looked like the owl had one more question for me. “What do you get,” he asked, “when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros?”

“Hell if I know.” It was time to go. I put on my trench coat, drawing it tight against the cold, pulled down the brim of my fedora, and stepped out into the night.

A Nose for Danger, part 14

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

“What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros?”

“Who?” said the owl.

“No, what,” I started to explain, “It’s a joke,” as the owl stepped aside to let me in. Then I remembered that the owl doesn’t do jokes. Might as well get down to business. “I need your advice. There’s been a murder.”

“Who?”

“Good question. J. Chesterton Winthrop. In his own bedroom.” Owl just shook his head sadly. I went on to fill in the details, the death of the hare and the parrot, what Sam found in the hall of records about the two Winthrop girls. I hesitated for a moment, and then decided to admit that I had moved beyond an, um, professional relationship with one of the sisters.

Owl fixed me a disapproving look. “Who?”

“Lulu. I’m not even sure Rebecca goes in for that kind of thing. I can’t say I’m sorry about it. Of course, if Lulu turns out to be the prime suspect in a murder, a certain party is going to step in and take over, sooner or later.”

“Who?”

“The chief of police. And he’s going to tie it back to the murders of Whiskers and Manny. But there’s one thing I can’t figure: Why would she tip me off like that — about her own sister?”

“Who?” the owl asked politely.

“Rebecca. You’d think she’d keep a thing like that to herself. You know, maybe there’s bad blood between those two. Say, just talking about this is helping me think everything through — it’s all starting to make sense. I knew I came to the right bird!”

“Who?” said the owl, with a faint smile.

“You of course. Don’t be so modest.”

A Nose for Danger, part 13

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

By the time I’d sent Rebecca home she had calmed down a lot. It probably helped that I didn’t mention my little encounter with her sister. I just told her that I had no idea where Lulu was. Which was, in fact, the truth. I needed time to think, and meanwhile, the less she knew the better.

Rebecca was clearly shook up, but she would be ok. As for me, well, I can put on a pretty good show when I need to, but now that I was alone in my office again, it wasn’t so easy. Sometimes the old shadows have a way of getting a little too close, and it can get hard to think with all the crowding. When that happens, I’ve got a system.

I took out the bottle of JD Single Barrel, and put it on the desk in front of me. Then I got a clean glass and poured myself a very generous shot. After I’d tossed that one back, I poured myself another. This one I would nurse for a while, while I thought things through.

Until Rebecca had made the connection, I hadn’t thought of Lulu as a suspect. But it made sense — she certainly had motive, and there was one obvious way she had opportunity: She could have gotten past all the security by posing as her sister. Once inside, a single shot with a silencer would finish the job. Then she could have gotten out the same way she came in. All very neat and easy.

What bothered me more than anything was that I hadn’t even thought of this angle until Rebecca spoke up. Was I getting too close? It was hard for me to think of Lulu as a killer, but the shamus in me couldn’t deny the possibility.

Yet there was something nagging in my gut, something that didn’t add up. I just couldn’t put my nose on what it was. What I needed was a little shot of wisdom. And Mister Jack Daniels wasn’t doing the trick.

It was time to see the owl.

A Nose for Danger, part 12

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

I hadn’t figured on Winthrop getting iced. When a guy’s that powerful, it’s not so easy to get to him. “How’d it happen?”

“That’s the strange thing,” the Chief shook his head, “the guy was found in his own bed, in his P.J.s for crissake.”

“Why is that strange?”

“Because he had a bullet through his head.”

That surprised me. The Winthrop mansion is loaded with security — guards, alarms, trip wires, all the good stuff. What kind of killer could get in, ice the head guy, and then get out again, all undetected? Who the hell were we dealing with here?

I could tell the Chief was thinking along the same lines. It looked like there might be a new player in town, one who didn’t play fair.

As I made my way back to my office, I thought back to the first time I’d met Winthrop, a few years ago. By then the guy was already at the top of his game. I been summoned to the mansion because he’d heard I had a nose for danger. Wanted me to track down one of his runners who’d been dumb enough to start dipping off the top.

It was a really classy place — curving stairs, crystal chandeliers, fancy chairs lifted from the old court of some French king. That didn’t bother me. It’s not like the poor bastard would be needing them anymore.

It was kind of hard to face up to a guy like Winthrop, in a place like that, and say no to his face. But I’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I knew all too well what they’d have done to that runner if I’d tracked him down. I shuddered just thinking about it. If he was lucky, they would show him some mercy — kill him fast and got it over with. But I also knew Winthrop wasn’t the kind of guy to show any mercy.

After that, Winthrop pretty much left me alone. I’d like to think he respected my principles. More likely, now that he had me figured, he thought an honest elephant could be useful some day.

I was still thinking all this when Rebecca showed up at the door. I took one look at her face and I could tell she’d been crying. I gestured for her to take a seat.

After she’d gotten herself together, she just squared her shoulders and fixed me an intent look. “Mr. Smellephant, I think my sister may have done something awful.”

A Nose for Danger, part 11

Monday, November 12th, 2012

I had a hunch the cops knew more than they were letting on, and just maybe I could get some answers. When I got to headquarters it was late, but I could see the light was on inside. I knocked on the big brass doors, and the Chief himself answered.

“Burning the midnight oil, Chief?”

He looked tired. “What can I do for you Smellephant?”

“Well, for one thing, I believe you’ve got a gun here that belongs to me.”

The Chief shrugged. “Follow me.” He led me back to the evidence desk.

It felt good to get my gun back. I don’t like to use it, but I like the feel of it in my trench coat pocket, just in case.

“You’ll need this too,” he said, handing me my license. “Everything checked out. Your gun didn’t kill Manny.”

“I could’ve told you that. Got any ideas whose gun did?”

“You know we don’t discuss that kind of thing.”

“Sure Chief, whatever you say. What about Winthrop’s gun?”

He gave me a long look before he answered. “You’re fingering J. Chesterton Winthrop for the murder of Manny the parrot? You might want to rethink that.”

“Oh,” I said casually, “You mean it could be dangerous? And just why would that be?”

“I’m telling you Smellephant, you really don’t want to bring Winthrop into this.”

“Really? Seems to me he and I are about even. I’ve got this gun in my pocket, and Winthrop’s got you in his.”

The Chief shook his head. “Look, I don’t know what you think you know, but you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

“Elephants don’t bark. How can you be so sure Winthrop’s not our guy?”

“Well, for starters, Winthrop’s dead.”

A Nose for Danger, part 10

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Chapter 4

“Why do elephants drink so much?”

“To try to forget. Smellephant, you already told me that one. What, you don’t remember?”

“Yeah Sam, I remember. I remember everything. That’s what we elephants do.” I looked at the empty whisky glass in front of me, and I thought back on the night before. I would always remember that night, which was a good thing. I would also remember waking up alone the next morning, which was not such a good thing.

“Why can’t we just remember the good parts, Sam? It would make life so much easier.”

“Nah,” he shook his head. “We need those bad parts. Makes us human.”

“Last time I checked, I was an elephant and you were a chimpanzee.”

“I was speaking metaphorically.” He took another shot. Gotta say this for him, Sam could handle his liquor like no chimp you’ve ever seen.

The bartender set us up another round of Jack Daniels. “Sam, remember when I used to drink single malt?”

“Yeah, but you were boring then. Way too happy. I kinda like you better this way.”

“Thanks,” I said, “You are a true friend. And thanks for checking on the birth records.”

“No problem Smellephant. It was all right there — two healthy twin baby girls. The weird thing is, soon after that the trail goes cold. Lulu just disappears — no dental records, no kindergarten enrollment, none of the usual stuff.”

“What’s your theory?”

“Well, you’re the shamus, but my guess is Winthrop found out Lulu was back, and hired Whiskers to make her disappear from the record.”

“And that way when he gets rid of Lulu…”

“There’d be no paper trail. It’d be like she was never born.”

“Bastard,” I said. “Yeah, I had it figured pretty much the same way. Except why would Winthrop ice Whiskers before the job was done?”

“Dunno,” Sam shrugged. “Maybe he thought the hare was finished.”

“Yeah, and maybe Whiskers talked to Manny before he got iced. The parrot was ready to squawk, so he also had to be taken out of the picture.”

“That’s a big pile of maybes, Smellephant. How do we know for sure?”

I downed my last shot for the evening. “I’ve got an idea.”