By Mike Stevens
An Oren Trough Mystery
My lure arced through the air like a silver flying deal, and splashed down right where I'd aimed my cast, just like I was a professional fisherman, instead of what I was, a private investigator on vacation. I'd come to the tranquil shores of Lake Bakeman to get away from the gut-churning stench of society. I opened another beer, and gazed around at the peaceful, relaxing scene. The water was as clear as something opaque, and the orange sun beat down hotly, like an open blast furnace. This was the first day of my vacation, and I was totally relaxed, almost like I'd taken too many muscle relaxers like I did when my back went out that one time; I felt almost like my head had become unhooked from my neck. It didn't exactly feel normal, but I enjoyed the feeling anyway. Most people would call me a workaholic, but that's just because I work so hard. But I could stand not having to put up with the b.s. that went on around me. Lately, it seemed that the b.s. was going right over me.
I decided that what I needed was a vacation, so I'd come here. After three more hours of broiling under the hot sun, like a mermaid under a heat lamp, I rowed back into the fishing lodge where I was staying. The boat had a motor, but lately my arms had begun to resemble flabby things attached by ligaments to my shoulders, so I vowed to row everywhere. I started walking up the dock, on my way to the lodge, where I thought their must be an ice-cold libation with my name on it, waiting for me. Well, unless there was an Oren Trough Beer that I'm unaware of, someone else's name. I trudged my way into the restaurant that was part of the lodge, and flopped down like a sunburned flounder into a seat at the bar. A mustachioed waiter, who looked like he should be the waiter at restaurant for silver-haired people who didn't like to cook, asked,
"What'll it be sir?"
I answered, "What do you have that's cold?"
He replied, "Well, we have orange sherbet, or a nice hot fudge sundae."
"If I slam 8 hot fudge sundae's, will I catch a good buzz?"
He gave me a look that would peel the paint off the fuselage of a 747, and said, "I'm sorry sir, did you want a drink?"
No, I wanted a jackhammer! "Yeah, that would be nice, please bring it to me out on the deck, 'cause I think I'll sit out there."
As I grabbed the ice-cold beer the waiter had rocket-sledded out to me on the deck, I heard a loud 'crash!' from the front of the restaurant. Then I heard,
"Someone stop him!"
I wondered briefly what was going on, before remembering that I didn't care; I was on vacation! Then a man who looked like he sharpened knives with his face, ran up on the deck like he was late for his briss, and ran inside the restaurant. Followed closely by a man who had the red face of a clown, except without the bulbous fake nose, and floppy, oversized shoes, who shouted to me,
"Did a man just run by here?"
I thought 'now what's this all about?' "Yeah, but maybe you should tell me why."
"Because he just broke into my car and stole my wallet, in which I had over $2,000 dollars!"
I remembered the "crash!" I'd heard, and wondered if that could be related to this. "Well," I replied, remembering that when I'd come in, they had sealed off the door behind me so that repairs could be made, and then put up a sign saying,
"Door closed, Please use the door off the deck.",
"if he did run in there, he's still in there, because they're doing repairs on the front door. I'm a private detective; let me investigate."
We had gone inside, and I said to the crowd inside, who looked at me with ignorance written all over their faces,
"Everyone, I'm a private detective investigating a theft, and I'll have to ask you to please remain in you seats."
Then I asked the victim, "Do you see the man who stole your wallet?"
He looked around at the people herded together like a bunch of human cows, and answered, "No, I'm afraid I don't see anyone wearing a mask."
"He was wearing a mask?"
I immediately thought, 'It couldn't have been the man I saw run inside, because he wasn't wearing a mask.'
"Yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that."
You forget your car keys on the coffee table, you forget to send a birthday card to your Aunt Eunice for her 60th birthday, but you don't forget to tell the private investigator who's trying to find the thief of your wallet about the suspect wearing a mask. "Don't you think something like that would be important?"
"Yeah, I guess, but I was upset."
Oh well, I'd just have to question everyone, and rely on my sleuthing instincts.
I looked around at the people gathered inside the restaurant and picked out a likely-looking suspect. I went over to him, sat down in the chair opposite him, stared right into his eyes, and started my interrogation.
"Please state your name and occupation."
The occupation part was irrelevant, but I wanted him to be nervous.
"Ah Jimmy Braswell, and I'm in the 3rd grade at Shiner Elementary."
I immediately thought this guy was lying, as he looked to me to be older than a 3rd grader.
"I don't believe you; you're older than a 3rd grader."
He shook his head sadly, and replied, "Well, that's because I was held back a year."
I still didn't like the looks of him, but decided I could always come back to him. "Well, I guess that will have to do for now, but I might want to ask you some more questions, so don't go anywhere."
A blond lady sitting at the same table interjected, "We have to give him a ride home, so I don't think he's going anywhere."
"Lady, do you mind? I'll get to you in a moment."
"But you said the victim identified the suspect as a full grown man. Unless my son was wearing stilts, I doubt he could have possibly be your man."
She had a point, but I wasn't about to admit it. "You never can tell. Looks can be deceiving."
She gave me a 'you're an idiot' look, but I'd seen a lot worse looks on people's faces, so I let it go.
I looked around again for a likely suspect. I pointed to the guy with the knife-face and an 'I'm a criminal!' look, and said,
"Okay, you're next." It looked to me like he wanted to say no, but he reluctantly stood, and started to walk over to where I was sitting.
"Hold it, sit down. I'll come to you." That statement really looked to have shaken him up, but he returned to his seat. I walked towards where he was sitting, my eyes burning a hole in his face. I sat down opposite him, and said,
"Okay, your name and occupation."
"Ah, the name's John Smith, and I'm a freelance photographer."
"Well, Mr. John Smith, being a freelance photographer, it would be easy for you to have enough free time to smash in the window of a car, and steal something of value!"
He looked at me like a guilty-looking guy, and answered, "But I didn't do it!"
Ah, ha! How did he know something had happened? "Nice try, but how do you know what I want to know?"
He looked at me like I must be a slow-witted stump, and replied, "Because you just said you were investigating someone stealing something valuable!"
He had me, but I bluffed my way out of the situation. "I knew that, but I was hoping you would panic, and say something stupid"
He gave me a weird look, and answered, "I am not going to say anything stupid, because I haven't done anything wrong!"
I desperately tried to think of my next move, when he shifted in his seat, and a wallet fell to the floor. I quickly said,
"Hold on there mister, you dropped this!" and handed him back his wallet.
Then I heard the victim gasp, and exclaim, "That's it!"
"That's what?" I asked.
"My stolen wallet!"
Then Mr. Smith bolted for the door. Before anyone could react, he was out the door, and ran out of sight. I wondered if he was late for something; he had left in such a hurry.
"My wallet!" the victim wailed.
I quickly answered, "Now, you didn't get a good look at the wallet, maybe you're wrong!"
It's been 2 days since I wrapped up my investigation. Sure, I hadn't solved the case, but I had almost two weeks worth of vacation left, and I was bound and determined to forget the case, and enjoy the rest of my vacation!