(Author’s Note: This is episode 3 of an ongoing series. To start at the beginning, click here: Episode 1. )
An antique phonograph sat in the corner of the offices of Messrs. Grundy, Dooley, & Smarr, esquires. From its dented and rusted brass bell came the scratchy whispering static of the needle scraping across the end of the record, over and over again. Mister Dooley preferred absolute quiet while he worked. Mister Grundy needed noise. This was their compromise, and it worked quite well to to cover up the disturbing snores of Mister Smarr who was to then be found, as he was most often if one were lucky, dozing in the shadows by the fireplace. There were lots of shadows in the gentlemen’s office. It was a byproduct of the gas lanterns evenly spaced across the walls. Both the lanterns and the shadows helped immensely in adding to the atmosphere.
The office itself was of a studio sort, a large single room divided up by virtue of strategically placed furniture instead of separated into unique spaces by the walls. To one side of the front door there was a coat stand with an umbrella depository beneath it. There were two black overcoats on the rack, one considerably shorter than the other, and two black bowler hats at the peak, one considerably larger than the other. There was a single black umbrella in the stand, as well as a baseball bat, a crowbar, and a Remington pump action shotgun. A skinny side table of wrought iron and glass stood on the opposite side of the door. It held two trays marked “Incoming” and “Outgoing”, both empty though presumably for the mail. There were also two large sets of assorted keys, the obligatory potted rubber tree plant in a spittoon, and a rather authentic looking and well used spiked flail.
Beyond the entryway, a comfortable reception area dominated the first half of the room, marked out by a shabby oriental rug of muted blues, burgundies, and golds. At its center was a square coffee table of polished oak planks and thick iron hardware. In three of the corners stood mismatched overstuffed chairs; one in dark leather, one in a pinstriped canvas, and the last one in a faded Victorian floral print. A dark green love-seat, upholstered in once rich yet now threadbare velvet, squatted astride the fourth corner, facing inwards toward the table as did the other three.
Aside from the large brick fireplace, every other inch of wall space was covered with shelves upon shelves of books, bottles, and a morbid collection of unsavory knickknacks. On the exterior wall, the one with the fireplace, there were also two tall windows that would have given an excellent view of the street if they were not barred shut from the inside and the moth eaten curtains kept perpetually closed. There was one other door in the room, about two thirds the way down the interior wall. It was secured with a heavy padlock and displayed a small sign that simply said, “No Admittance”.
The back half the room held two large desks, their faces one against the other, as would partners’ at a police station or gossip rag. They were covered with assorted papers, a small globe, a decanter of amber liquid, a Smith and Wesson revolver, a scattering of ink pens, and a gigantic fishbowl of a wine glass, in which a single flame colored Siamese fighting fish swam. At the desks sat Mr. Dooley and Mr. Grundy, respectively.
Dooley was a tall, thin, and sallow skinned fellow, with a sharp nose and long silver hair that tumbled down around the collar of his starched linen shirt. Grundy was considerably shorter and wider, with an oft broken nose, a bald head, and a cleft chin. Nobody quite knew what Smarr looked like, or at least they could never describe him afterwards. This is because most people who did manage to meet him, did so in a darkened alley and woke the next morning beneath six feet of dirt. Or more precisely they didn’t wake up at all, because they were at that point quite dead.
The matter of occupation for these gentleman was questionable at best and unsavory at the worst. It was understood that they were important men, as it said so very plainly on their sign, and that people came to them with troubles. The sorts of troubles that needed unique solutions. They did not fancy themselves as criminals, but held the firm belief that laws, while certainly good for the whole of society, often got in the way of acceptable resolutions, and thus were, at the heart of the matter, simply suggestions. And so long as their recompense was generous, everyone usually walked away from the situation unscathed.
Unless scathing was in fact, the job they were hired to do. That was Smarr’s department. He was an expert scather. While the aforementioned fellow snoozed safely in the shadows, Messrs. Grundy and Dooley were engaged in an exploratory debate regarding their current case.
“But most folks out there simply don’t possess two freezers.” Grundy protested aloud as he skimmed the steno pad of their notes.
“I do agree, sir.” Dooley replied, “But the fact of the matter is thus, one freezer must be used for the butter, peas, milk, and bread. You won’t find find a dead body inside, not unless the family eats out every night, which is patently untenable in today’s modern economy. Thus, the need for the second freezer. And that is where we should be looking. Basements.”
Grundy shrugged and tapped his thick fingers on the paper. “They eat. They squabble with each other, after which, they eat some more?”
“No, I don’t think we are looking for cannibals, not this time at least.” Dooley corrected. “Besides, we already know one, and he is mostly harmless. Apples to dead people, so they say.”
“You cannot be guessing…” Grundy sighed and set the pad of notes back down on his desk.
“Indeed. I fear we are in this one for the long haul. So we just sit, and wait, and see what other developments might pop up.” Dooley leaned back in his chair, gazed at the ceiling, and steepled his fingers under his chin. “Does it seem to you that the fog is growing thicker?”
“I don’t even understand how I ended up here.” Grundy sighed and placed his head in his hand, massaging his temples with his thumb and ring finger as his palm stretched over his heavy brow. Clearly, the stress of their current conundrum was starting to wear on him, not that he ever managed to make much sense even on a good day. Dooley tended to have no trouble understanding his gist though. They were partners after all, and had been for more years than they had fingers to count on. Nineteen, if you put their hands together. Grundy had lost his right pinkie in bar fight.
Dooley sighed out a stream of frustrated commiseration, which buffeted his lips and had the rather amusing effect of making him sound like a horse. This led him to the awareness of his equally rumbling stomach, though he pushed such thoughts aside and rose from his chair to peruse the bookshelves.
Smarr’s snoring fell silent for a moment, as if pausing in anticipation. But neither of the other two gents gave him any notice, and so after a few moments he started up with his snuffling slumber once more. Clearly, his services were not yet needed.
“Waterloo… Weaponry… Well Being… Wild Animals… What, what? This is quite unacceptable! I could have sworn I borrowed the book I want from those nuns in the nineteenth century… Where is it?” Dooley turned with a scowl and cast his eyes up and down the stacks, searching frantically for the missing tome.
“The sheer suspense and mystery…” Grundy rolled his eyes and went back to ruminating over his notes.
“Aha! Here it is. Weather: The Weird and Wonderful.” He pulled the oilskin wrapped journal from the shelf and shook his head. “Misfiled between ‘Wooing Historical Women’ and ‘Wool: Sources, Uses, and Recipes.’ I think it prudent at this juncture to raise once again the motion of hiring a secretary. I simply cannot work in this disaster. All in favor?” He raised his own hand. The others did not.
“Paper book holdout.” Grundy muttered with a grim satisfaction. The motion was denied.
This brief moment of relative sanity from the squat gentleman brought a sneer of scorn to Dooley’s lips, but he bit his tongue as he carried the book back to his desk and set it down there with a thump. Flipping through the pages, he huffed silently for a count of ten and pulled his own frustrations back into control. “Fog… Persistent, unrelenting, perspiration… Do you hear shouting?”
All three men fell silent and looked upwards, listening intently and waiting with baited breath. The sound did not repeat itself.
“No. I could have sworn… But never mind.” Dooley said. He returned to his book. After a few minutes of nothing but the scratching of the phonograph, his stomach rumbled once more, this time much more persistent and publicly audible. “It is of no use! I motion that we adjourn for lunch. All in favor?” Three hands shot up into the air, one for each of the gentlemen. Despite his vote, Smarr continued to snore in the corner. He knew it would be a while longer before they actually left.
“Motion carries. Ergo friends, where shall we dine today?” Dooley asked. He held up a finger to delay any forthcoming answers and tilted his head to the side in consternation. “I say… Did we lock someone in the basement and forget about them again? I do think I hear crying now.”
“Weather in Vegas?” Grundy asked, not at all bothered by the implications of a forgotten guest weeping somewhere below their feet and completely ignoring his partner’s request for a moment of silence. Smarr, however, stopped snoring in an effort to oblige, and then casually let the front legs of his chair fall to the floor with a sharp thud.
“Hot, I expect.” Dooley answered absently. He closed his eyes and held his breath for a moment, straining to discern the source of the sound he had heard. A mask of perpetual perterbedness settled onto his face, but he resisted the urge to snap at his less than silent partners. That soft of confrontation never ended well for any of them. “Nope. No good. It is gone again… Ahh well, spicy food it is… Thai, then?”
With a nod of agreement, the three esquires rose from their chairs in unison and ambled towards the door at their own particular pace, Dooley first, Grundy second, and Smarr bringing up the rear. Just as their de facto leader’s spidery fingers were lifting his coat and hat from their hooks, a loud banging on the front door gave them all a startled pause.
Dooley lifted a thin brow and nodded to Grundy, who strode forward and strained on his tiptoes to peer through the peephole. “I do not recognize…” He began, but then quickly changed his tone to one of wary recognition. “An old familiar blooger!”
Smarr snuffled deeply at the door frame and then nodded in agreement.
“Really? Is it Tuesday already? Are we late? I did not know that the fellow made house calls. And here I was actually starting to look forward to the idea of Thai…” Dooley sighed and stepped forward to place his hand on the door knob. It was clear that despite his better judgement, he intended to let the hotdog vendor inside.
Grundy however placed his own gnarled appendage atop his partners and shook his head. “Collateral losses.”
Dooley pulled his hand back and frowned, “Quite right you are! We ate with Grue just three days past, and my plumbing is still battling with the aftermath. Perhaps the poor chap is confused. I motion we simply delay until he goes about his way. All in favor?” Three hands shot up and the gentlemen nodded to each other and took up positions to wait out the unwelcome guest.
The banging continued, but the three men stood there in silence and attempted to ignore it. Dooley occupied his time by tapping his foot impatiently. Grundy began to dig in his nose after a particularly troublesome nodulation. And Smarr did that which he was most fond of, namely, looming. There was, however, no thought of giving in to the temptation to open the door and putting an end to the racket. These were men of principle and eventually, as they knew it must, the knocking stopped.
Grue’s familiar cries slowly faded off down the street as he sought to peddle his wares elsewhere, and the gentlemen breathed a collective sigh of relief. Actually, Grundy simple blew his nose on his sleeve. But he was in fact relieved, as the bothersome boulder inside his nostril had at last been dislodged.
Dooley donned his coat and swung open the door, while Grundy and Smarr situated their respective hats atop their heads. Dooley was not a hat person. He was however, an observant person, and thus caught himself before stepping out the door and directly onto the package that had been left most carelessly, in the middle of their stoop. The package in questions stunk and it was making quite a bit of noise.
Smarr, ever the one for temerarious actions, swiftly scooped the package up in his enormous claws, tore aside the soft and fluffy duck patterned wrapping, and then held the squirming contents out to his partners… upside down and by its feet. For whatever reason, the squiggling thing was covered in mustard and chopped onions. It also smelled distinctly of fresh manure.
“My word! Has he lost his ever loving mind? Does he really expect us to eat that… that…” Dooley sputtered and waved his hand at the dangling offering upturned before them.
“Baby… Yeah.” Grundy interjected. “Including snacks.”
Smarr glowered at the other two men and withdrew the child, for a child it most certainly was, close against his chest. He glowered at his partners and rumbled with a wordless warning deep in his terrifying bowels. Never mind the fact that such actions risked contaminating his own clothing with an abundance of condiments transferred over from the babe. Smar was oblivious to the trends of fashion, and woe betide any who dared criticize him for a lingering mustard stain.
“Easy now, Mr. Smarr. We aren’t going to eat the baby! No matter what toppings that lunatic might think suitable for such a dish of depravity. However, this also means lunch is unavoidably postponed.” Dooly sighed the sigh of the long suffering and gestured them back inside. “Please, do something about the stench though, if you would be so kind.”
The minutes ticked by as Smarr bathed the babe in the sink of the washroom that hid beyond the padlocked door. Dooley paced the floor in consternation and Grundy sat back at his desk and poured over their notes. They said nothing about the cooing noises Smarr made to the child from behind the door. They both valued their spleens, as unbecoming as such attachments might be, and they dared not intervene.
“One tricky method.” Grundy mused and scratched at his head.
“Indeed, good sir. Indeed! I must confess that I am entirely flummoxed by the implications. Is this a warning? A clue? Perhaps is it only a distraction! Have we in fact gotten too close to the truth, and are now being led astray? Confound the wiles of an innocent mustard covered babe!” Dooley slammed his fist on the side table in frustration. When that failed to produce any noticeable change in the situation, he swept the empty baskets off onto the floor, and then kicked one across the room for good measure.
As he emerged from the washroom with the freshly scrubbed infant in one claw, Smarr caught the basket in midair with his other. It was, to be particular, a boy. The baby, not the basket. Baskets tend to not have any specific biological leaning. The basket did however have the perfect dimensions for a makeshift cradle, so Smarr set it down on the love-seat, took a dry hand towel from the washroom, wrapped the baby in the towel, and then set both inside the basket. He lifted a finger to his lips, glared at Dooley and whispered a sharp, “Shhhsh!”
“Quite right. Quite right.” Dooley whispered and drew up beside his lumbering, talon handed associate. “But he can’t stay here. We have work to do gentleman. Cases to close, antiquities to acquire, and murders to… mete. This is no life for a mewling baby!”
Smarr nodded and gave a despondent shrug. Dooley patted him reassuringly on the back. Grundy cleared his throat at the odd moment of affectionate companionship between his partners, and they both turned to see what sort of plan their balding unstable third had concocted. Dooley might act as the boss, but Grundy was usually the one with the most interesting plans.
“The usual girl.” Grundy declared with a stoic finality and headed to the door to retrieve his coat and hat once more. “That you love… And you do not love.”
Dooley and Smarr glanced at each other in confusion, then shook their heads. This one wasn’t clear to either of them. Neither knew anything of Grundy’s usual girls.
“With sister, Olga?” Grundy puffed up his chest, placed his hand against his forehead in a mock swoon, and did his best impression of Olga’s husky voice. “Men only look for body and feet!”
Dooley snapped his fingers and nodded in sudden understanding, “Oh, that usual girl! Brilliant, sir! Quite brilliant! She must be excellent with babies. After all, she has so many of the dreadful things. I thought Olga died though? Quite a sad run in, wasn’t it? With a luchadore?”
“Hummingbird.” Grundy clarified. “Tattoos sneaking through.”
“Ah yes… Tragic end. Most tragic.” Dooley replied. The men stood there for a moment in silence, out of respect for the dead, then Dooley gave an indifferent shrug and continued on. “All in favor of taking the babe to Miss Mary, then?” All three of them raised their hands. “Motion carried.”
Smarr picked up the basket and handed it off to Grundy, giving the baby inside one last goodbye coo. Dooley rolled his eyes, but refrained from any commentary. Again, he was rather fond of his spleen, and preferred that it remained safely out of sight. Grundy took charge of the basket, and nodded to his partners.
“Off you go then, sir! Godspeed and good luck!” Dooley patted him encouragingly on the arm. “Oh! Lest we forget.” Dooley darted back to his desk, grabbed the Smith and Wesson and returned it to his partner. “Always carry protection! And this time, try not to be all night about it… Work to do, cases to solve. Tut tut!”
Grundy snickered at his partner’s unwittingly naughty implications and slid the revolver safely into the pocket of his coat. He squashed his hat down onto his head and set off into the fog to deliver the child to Miss Mary’s house. It might be more precise to say, that he set off towards the house which Miss Mary presided over. She was the headmistress of the establishment, among other things, and the sign outside her domain bore a rather lengthy, if perhaps overly optimistic, name:
“The Smiling Faces Sanctuary for Waifs, Strays, and Unwanted Surprises.”
Dr. Fade looked up from his pile of scribbles and papers and turned towards the window with an irritated scowl. It was the skittering on the roof, and an incessant tapping on the glass, that had finally pulled his thoughts back to the matters at hand. Once he had acknowledged the noise, he realized that it must have been rattling at his window for quite some time.
He rose from his desk with a languorous air, made his way slowly to the gable window, and slid open the sash. Outside, well hidden in the shadows and the fog, a plethora of arachnoid messengers awaited his attention. He leaned closer and tilted his ear out towards the gloom, the better to hear the missive these strange couriers had come to deliver.
“A baby… How interesting.” The doctor mused as the heralds chittered on. “Yes. I think so… Tell your mistress that I am on my way.”
For Episode 4, click here: http://wp.me/p5O6c7-6W
Copyright 2015 by Robert A. Turk – All Rights Reserved