A Nose for Danger, part 9

I got back to my office fully intending to get right down to work, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I got a surprise. Rebecca was waiting for me.

Except it wasn’t Rebecca. It was like seeing Rebecca through some kind of crazy mirror. The face was the same, and the long lean body, but everything else was different — somehow tougher, more hard edged — the hair, the clothes, the attitude. Especially the attitude.

“You must be Louisa,” I said, looking her up and down, not at all minding what I saw.

“I see you’ve been hanging out with my sister,” she laughed. She sounded nothing at all like her sister. The voice was the same, but minus the posh British accent. I was starting to get the picture. One sister grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth, private schools, everything Daddy’s money could by, and the other one on her own, getting the kind of education they don’t teach you at St. Mary’s.

“You can call me Lulu,” she said, tossing her dark hair and looking at me they way an elephant likes to be looked at.

“Why’d you give your sister the slip?”

She laughed. “You don’t waste time do you? The usual reasons. I found out my dad’s trying to have me killed.”

I hadn’t figured that, but it fit. Winthrop was one cold bastard, and he didn’t like surprises. “And your sister would’ve led you right to him.”

“Rebecca’s a dear, but there’s a lot she doesn’t know about the world. Got a light?” I was starting to like this dame. I lit a cigarette for her, and another one for me. I’d quit a few months back, but right now a cigarette felt just about right.

She was looking around the office. “So this is where the famous Smellephant hangs out.”

“You like it?”

“Depends. Where do you keep the booze?”

From the bottom drawer I pulled out two glasses, and one bottle of JD Single Barrel I’d been saving for a special occasion.

She looked at the bottle appraisingly while I poured. “Tennessee Whiskey? I figured you more for the Macallan type.”

I shrugged. “Used to be.”

“Yeah,” she said, “I get it.” She took a long slow sip, never taking her eyes off mine. “Then you got your heart broken.”

That surprised me. This dame was sharp. I didn’t say anything — what was there to say?

“She must’ve been something,” she said.

“Mind if we change the subject?” I said.

“Oh, I can think of one or two things to keep us occupied.” She came close, took my whiskey drink and put it down on the desk. I didn’t mind.

Then she came a lot closer, and I didn’t mind that either.

A Nose for Danger, part 8

“Look Smellephant, tortoise, hare, everybody got the racket, no?”

“No,” I said agreeably. “I mean, um, yes.”

“Today hare beats tortoise. Maybe tomorrow tortoise beats hare. Is good for everyone.” Tommy gestured expansively. “So far is all good. Is big town. Is plenty lettuce to go around.”

I nodded. He was making sense.

“Then one day somebody new comes in, messes with things. Upsets the cart of apples.”

“Sure, the apple cart.”

Tommy looked at me sharply. “You got a problem with cart of apples?”

“The cart of apples,” I said hastily. No point in quibbling.

He sipped his tea, looking reflective for a moment. “Whiskers and me, got long history. Is good history. Sure ok, differences between hare and tortoise. But always we work it out.”

“You guys went way back, huh?”

“Da. This town used to be different. Honor among thieves was more than just nice words.” For a moment I thought Tommy was going to lose it. “OK, what’s past is past. Now hare is dead. But not from Tommy.”

“Yeah, I get it,” I said. Tommy’s old school — if he says he didn’t kill you, you can believe him. “So the hare was iced, and you’re being set up. But why? Who else is in the lettuce racket?”

The tortoise shook his head sadly. “Is different kind of lettuce. Whiskers was, how you say, branching out. Faking the papers.”

“Counterfeiting? That’s a new angle.”

He gave me a long searching look, and I could tell he was deadly serious. “Yes, is new angle. You follow that angle and go straight. Find real killer.”

I suddenly thought of Manny. Maybe this is what the parrot was trying to tip me off about. Maybe I was looking for a single killer. Maybe it was time to get out of Turtle Town and find out who had really iced Whiskers.

A Nose for Danger, part 7

When I left Sam, he was still poring over a stack of birth records and old papers. He told me it would take a while to sort out, and that was fine with me. I had an appointment to keep, one that might just get me some answers. Or might get me killed. You never know.

Turtle Town isn’t the friendliest place, at least not when you’re an elephant with a nose for danger. As I walked down its narrow twisting streets, I could feel all eyes on me. For the first time since I’d handed over my gun, I missed the feel of it in my pocket. These streets held unwanted memories, and with every step those memories were coming back. I turned up the collar of my trench coat. It was a cold night, and I had a feeling it was about to get colder.

When I finally got to the old Tortoise Shell, I tried to slip in quietly, but that wasn’t going to happen. The moment I stepped through the door, all conversation stopped dead. The bartender took one look at me and silently gestured to a booth in the back. The feeling in the room when I made my way through the bar was definitely not hugs and kisses. But I figured I was safe. If Tommy had wanted me dead, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.

“Smellephant!” Tommy’s rich accented voice rang out, and as I slipped into the booth, I could hear conversation gradually resume. If Tommy wanted me there, nobody was going to argue. Nobody ever argued with Tommy.

“It’s been a while,” I said quietly.

His face broke out into a broad grin. “Too long my friend. I am old Russian tortoise, ok so I know, I am keeping all day in the shell and I hide.”

He gestured to the samovar on the table between us. I’m not much of a tea drinker, but this wasn’t the time to argue. “I’m listening.”

“So what tortoise thinking all day in that shell? I’m thinking, I tell you, I’m liking this Smellephant. I got news, I should share with my old friend, yes?”

I took a sip of tea, wishing it was Jack Daniels. “Yes,” I said. Maybe I was about to get some answers.

A Nose for Danger, part 6

Chapter 3

“How many chimps does it take to type the works of Shakespeare?”

“Shakespeare was a hack,” Sam shot back, without even bothering to take the cigarette out of his mouth. As usual, he was typing away, one hand on his old Remington and the other flying over the adding machine he always used to check his figures. He was pretty unflappable, for a chimp.

I looked around the vast and dingy space. The Hall of Records was in the basement of City Hall, showing just how much respect it got from the powers that be. But truth was, this town couldn’t survive without Sam. The stacks of papers piled up from floor to ceiling of his domain, room after room, were the city’s life blood, the collective memory and final arbiter of all legal questions, land disputes, contested wills, claims, writs, liens, copyrights, defamations, and assorted mayoral proclamations long forgotten.

And Sam somehow kept it all in his head. Ask him about the baseball team that set up shop in this town back in 1923. The franchise lasted just six months, but if you ask Sam about any random player’s contract, he could get his nimble simian fingers on the original in under two minutes flat.

So I figured I’d come to the right place. “Sam,” I said, “got anything about identical twins?”

Sam didn’t even look up. “Sure, they come around about one every two hundred fifty births. Gotta figure we’d have a few of those in this town by now.”

I wasn’t really getting his attention. “Suppose I told you I was looking for my identical twin sister.”

That stopped him. “Smellephant, you been hitting the sauce again?” He sounded genuinely concerned. He was, after all, my best friend.

“No. Well, yes,” I said, “But it was just a joke. Maybe not a good one.”

Sam turned away from the typewriter to face me, taking the cigarette out of his mouth. “I know when you’re like this. You’re mixed up with a dame, I can tell.” He didn’t wait for a rebuttal. “You really think that’s a good idea? I mean, you’re not even close to being over…”

“No,” I said quickly, cutting him off. I didn’t like where this conversation was going. “It’s a case, that’s all. Client’s named Rebecca. She’s got me on retainer.”

“Rebecca what?”


Sam whistled. “You’re hanging out with a dangerous crowd, aren’t you? You’d be better off sticking to thieves and murderers. It’s safer. What’s she want?”

“Claims she has an identical twin sister, just showed up in her life one day. I think she’s telling the truth.”

“That’s impossible. No, wait a sec,” Sam got that faraway look in his eyes, the one I’d been hoping he’d get. “I remember something … The Winthrops, about twenty years ago… I think I’ve got it.”

And with that he was gone, vanished into the back room.

A Nose for Danger, part 5

So how come nobody knew Winthrop had two daughters, I wanted to know. He’s a pretty public guy, and that kind of thing is hard to hide. There was a mystery here alright.

“All I know, Mr. Smellephant, is that Louisa showed up in my life one day, nearly a year ago. Until then I never even knew I had a sister. Heaven knows why Daddy would keep something like that a secret. Mother passed away when I — when we — were born, so he’d be the only one who could explain it. But Louisa made me promise not to tell him anything.

That took me by surprise. “Your pop doesn’t know?”

“Well, what could I do? Imagine finding out one day that you have a sister — an identical twin. What would you have done?”

“If I found out I had an identical twin sister? I’m pretty sure I’d be more surprised than you are.”

“Well, yes,” she said, thinking that over, “I imagine you would. Anyway, dear Louisa had just walked into my life, and it was all so wonderful. When she made me promise not to tell, there really wasn’t much to do but agree. Frankly, I was afraid…” she hesitated.


“Yes…” She gave me a searching look. “Afraid that if I didn’t honor her request, she would simply disappear, and I would never see her again. And that … that seems to be exactly what has happened anyway!”

And then she broke down and started to cry. I hate when dames cry. Makes me feel all stupid and useless. I would’ve offered her a tissue, but I’m not the kind of shamus who keeps tissues on his desk. So I did the next best thing.

“Sounds like a good case. I’ll take it.”

“Oh Mr. Smellephant, you are so wonderful!” she said, throwing her arms around me. It felt good. Real good.

But in this business an elephant needs to be professional. So I gently pulled her off me. “You better go home, Miss Winthrop, get a good night’s sleep. I got a feeling I know how to crack this case.”

I saw her to the door, trying hard to ignore the part of me that wanted her to stay. I had a different kind of date planned for tomorrow morning — with the office of county records.

A Nose for Danger, part 4

“You mean the Rebecca Winthrop?”

“If by that you mean the daughter of J. Chesterton Winthrop, indeed I am. Why do you ask?”

I did some quick mental calculations. Winthrop was not only filthy rich, he was also filthy. I’ve been around enough to know that the guy was behind pretty much every crooked racket in this crooked city. All hidden by a well maintained veneer of respectability. I looked at the dame standing in my office, at the high class cut of her clothes, her haircut, the way she carried herself, and I realized that she wouldn’t know about any of this. Daddy had probably sent his little princess to the finest English boarding school money could buy. Just one thing though. If all of that was true, how the hell had she made it to the office of a shamus like me?

I didn’t share any of this of course. It wouldn’t do to make daddy mad. “No reason,” I said. “Just that your dad’s a great guy. Gives a lot to charity. He’s kind of a hero in this town.”

She gave me another one of those million dollar smiles. “Yes, daddy is a wonderful man. He has helped so many people.”

“So what’s the case?”

“A missing person. I … I knew you were somebody I could trust with this.”

Now I was genuinely curious. “Why is that?”

“Why, because you are the Smellephant. We learned about you at school:

      “He is loyal and sturdy and awfully kind
       Beloved wherever he goes
       Whatever you’re looking for, he’ll help you find
       The Smellephant follows his nose”

There it was again, that damned poem, bane of my existence. There were a lot more verses too, and it was clear my new client believed every one. Well, maybe that wasn’t so bad — being a legend could be good for business.

“And who is it I’ll be looking for?”

“My sister.”

“You got a picture or something?”

“She shouldn’t be all that difficult to recognize, Mr. Smellephant. We are, after all, identical twins.”

A Nose for Danger, part 3

Chapter 2

“How many elephants does it take to change a light bulb?”

That’s what I was asking myself as I balanced precariously on on my desk on one foot, screwing in a replacement for the burned out light overhead.

It wasn’t like there was much else I could do in the next day or two. The Chief had been apologetic about it, but they needed to impound my gun and suspend my license while they ran a match against the bullet inside poor Manny. I’d been at the scene, and I’d been packing heat. Rules are rules.

No law though against being in my office. It’s a small space, but that suits me fine. Just a door with a shingle opening onto a little side street in the sketchier part of town, but that’s never stopped cases from finding their way to my door. Seems trouble has a way of finding me.

So I shouldn’t have been so surprised when a voice behind me in the darkness called my name. But I was so focused on fixing that damn bulb I nearly tumbled right off the desk then and there. Which would’ve been a helluva way to make a first impression.

Trying to recover what was left of my dignity, I finished screwing in the bulb, got down off the desk and turned to face my new client. And what a client!

She was dark haired and slender, with eyes as big as saucers and legs that seemed to go on forever. She had a look all her own, and somehow the whole package fit together like God was having a really good day. I could’ve spent all day just drinking in the sight of her, and I probably would have, if she hadn’t spoken up again.

“Are you the Smellephant? Or do I call you Mr. Smellephant?” She had a lilting English accent that reminded me of tea cozies and old castles, of wild brambles and cottages by the sea. I could feel myself falling, and falling hard.

But rule number one in this business is don’t fall for the clients. So I pulled myself together and put on my best tough guy face. “Sister, you can call me whatever you want. How can I help you?”

That’s when she smiled, and I knew I was a goner. “I think I shall call you Mr. Smellephant. It suits you quite nicely. I must say you are far more handsome in person than in the picture books. And I have a case for you.”

“And you would be?”

“My name is Rebecca. Rebecca Winthrop.”

A Nose for Danger, part 2

If Tommy was back in town, he’d be needing lettuce. So my first stop was the shop of Manny the parrot.

I could tell right off that Manny wasn’t too glad to see me. If a parrot could go pale, he would’ve turned about fifty shades of white.

“Well if it isn’t the Smellephant. Sorry, I’m just closing up.”

I got my trunk in the door just in time. “Not so fast Manny.” I took a quick glance around the shop, enough to tell me my hunch was right. “Looks like you’re a little low on lettuce today. Got a new customer?”

“Look, I don’t want any trouble. You know I can’t talk.”

“Waddya mean you can’t talk? You’re a parrot.”

“OK, you got me there. But I gotta watch what I say. I’m walking on egg shells here.”

“You mean tortoise shells, don’t you?”

“Hey, give me a break. Tommy’s not a guy you want to cross. Somebody could be listening.”

“No chance of that,” I said, “I wasn’t followed. I know how to shake a tail.”

“All due respect Smellephant, that’s not an image I want to think about.”

“Whatever.” I was getting impatient. “You know I’m the only reason you’re not doing time in the coop right now.”

“Hey, I’m no chicken. I’ll talk, but nobody can find out where you got this from. We got a deal?”

“Yeah,” I said, “We got a deal.”

Finally he started to sing. And I could tell right away he was gonna name names. Only he got about ten seconds into it when a shot rang out. Got Manny right between the eyes.

Just then somebody came through the door. I spun around, my trunk automatically reaching for the gun in the pocket of my trench coat. Then I saw who it was. “Hey Chief,” I said.

“Hey Smellephant.” The police chief looked down at the lifeless body at our feet. “We got a call down at the station there was trouble at Manny’s shop. Thought I’d check on it personally.” He looked at me, and then he looked at my gun.

“It’s not how it looks.”

“It looks,” he said, “like trouble was the right word.” He gave me a hard look. “Trouble just seems to follow you around, doesn’t it?”

I knew better than to argue. So I figured the best thing to do was cut right to the chase. “Chief, Tommy’s back in town.”

“Damn,” he said. “Well, I’ll need to call this in. Don’t leave town for the next few days.”

“You really think I had something to do with this?”

The Chief shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.”

A Nose for Danger, part 1

Chapter 1

“Elephant walks into a bar.”

“Yeah, I know.” I downed my whiskey in one gulp and turned to face the ferret. “It’s a joke to you. But you haven’t seen the things I’ve seen. Sometimes I think,” I held up the shot glass appraisingly, “that Mr. Jack Daniels here is my only friend.”

“You got lots of friends,” the ferret said, looking around nervously. “But I don’t think you’ll find many of them here. This ain’t friendly territory.”

“That’s the way I like it,” I shrugged. “Keeps me on my toes. Don’t want to start getting lazy. Sam, hit me up with another double.”

“Hey, I know you’re the Smellephant and all, but aren’t you going a little fast with the rotgut tonight? Thought you were on a case.”

“Damn right I’m on a case. Otherwise why would I be hanging out with a ferret? No offense.”

“None taken.”

I looked appraisingly at the golden elixar before downing it. “Whisky helps me think. Anyway, there’s nowhere near enough JD in this bar to get me as drunk as I’d like.”

The ferret looked at me sorrowfully. He knew better than to mention the reason I’d want to get stinko. Or even to say her name in my presence. When somebody does that, what happens next is not pretty.

I tossed the drink back, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. It never does. “Well my friend, what’ve you got for me?”

The ferret looked around one more time, his eyes darting about in the darkness. He needn’t have bothered. I chose this bar for a reason. “Word on the street is,” he said, “the Tortoise is coming back.”

“How the hell would you know a thing like that? Tommy never tips his hand.”

“Cause a hare was found this morning. Iced.”

I shrugged. “You know how many hares there are in this town? No wonder, the way they multiply.”

“This wasn’t just a rabbit. This was Whiskers.”

“You’re kidding me. So the Tortoise finally caught up with the Hare. Damn. At this rate he’s going to control all the lettuce on the south side.”

“That’s kinda what I figured. You need anything else, boss?”

“Nah,” I said, paying him off. “You can go now. Me and Mr. Daniels here need to think this through.” I signaled again to the bartender.

When I was done, a few drinks later, I paid my tab and slipped out unnoticed. To anyone on the street I would look like an ordinary Joe — just another elephant wearing a fedora and a trench coat. But just to be safe I took the back alleys. I needed to be damned sure I wouldn’t be followed.

Not tonight anyway. I finally had a lead and I was going to make the most of it. That’s my job — just ask any little kid in this town: The Smellephant follows his nose.


“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

      — Daphne du Maurier

Nobody seems to know the exact date the original manuscript was written. All we can say for certain is that it arrived at the offices of Scribbs and Scribbs Ltd of London wrapped in a plain paper parcel, with 50p postage due. The rest, as you are well aware, is history.

Although it is difficult to believe now, the verse-tale of the Smellephant had a very modest initial print run. Mr. Scribbs senior was never in favor of the venture. In fact, in his estimation it was (to use his precise phrase) “pachydermic poppycock”. Nonetheless the first printing sold out quickly, and then the next, and the one after that as well. What had begun as a curiosity quickly mushroomed into a genuine phenomenon.

Now, of course, all former schoolchildren of a certain generation know well those opening lines:

“There once was a creature who lived in a wood
Most terribly sad, and misunderstood…”

Yet it was not always thus. Even now, not much is known about the Smellephant’s creator, the mysterious L. Ward. There is some evidence that this personage comes from Hong Kong, although other sources trace both a British and a Malaysian influence. What we can state for certain is that L. Ward’s apparently simple tale has captured the hearts and minds of millions.

If that were all, there would be little to add, and even less to remember. Yet recent documents have surfaced which cast doubt upon the entire matter. In full consideration of the natural curiosity of the public, we have collated these manuscript fragments into what appears to be a consistent narrative sequence. And therein begins a tale…

Your humble editor,
J. Wittfred Pennyglot, Esq.