This is the sixth in this series of the adventures of Sylvester B Stilldumm, entrepreneurial investigative engineer, and his associate, Butch.
Without a Clue
My name is Stilldumm, B Sylvester. I’ve taken to introducing myself with my last name first, my first name last, and that pesky B right in the middle, but not acting as a verb. I mean, Sylvester B Stilldumm, sounds a bit too questionable to attract serious clients. I was parked in my office, with my feet occupying a prominent place on my desk, when my saintly mother burst through the front door of my office, and barked out, “Get those clodhoppers off of my desk.” Saintly may be stretching it just a tad.
“Ma. How nice to see you, from behind MY desk, thank you very much. What brings your smiling face to my front step, on this fine Monday morning?” My legs had dropped to the floor of their own accord, almost landing on Butch, my trusty associate, he of the multi-toed front paws. Yes, Butch is a cat, and his throaty growl warned me, that I had come close to drawing back a stump-or two-just now.
“Other than the fact that it’s TUESDAY, nothing BRINGS me here, so much as it drags me, scratching and clawing, every step of the way.”
“Monday, Tuesday...don’t go technical on me. And if you came in with your claws retracted, I wouldn’t know who you were.” I accompanied that last bit of witticism, with a broad smile, to keep her off the track. She didn’t really listen to words, so much as she listened to your tone of voice. You know how moms are. I don’t know how many times had I heard, “Don’t you use that tone of voice with me, young man!”
“But, Ma, I was telling you that I loved you, and I’m 57, for Buddha’s sake.” I may as well have been talking to a light-pole; at least things would be more illuminating.
Now I asked her, “So, what brings you into my office this morning? And are you sure it’s Tuesday?” I was certain that I would know if it was Tuesday, because that would mean I had survived Monday. “Never mind. We can figure out the complicated stuff later, if and when we ever need to. Why are you here?” I was getting nervous because Ma usually avoided my office like the plague, and when she showed up, well, it was sort of like a visit from that same plague, if you will pardon the analogy.
“Why do I need a reason to come and see you? Have you been misbehaving?” She stared malevolently at me.
“Ma, you know better than that. I am just trying to make a living, working overtime, and keeping on Butch’s good side.”
“You have to work first, Sonny-Boy, in order to make any loot. Unless you gat paid to droop your feet over your desk, I suggest you start right now, because I have a job for you, concerning your no-good brother, who just got out of San Quentin’s home for wayward boys. And as for that...cat...just keep him away from me.” Butch turned haughtily, at the sound of his name, and twitched his tail, just as a reminder that he had felled [literally] more than one dastardly deedster, doing his distinguished duties.
My mother had a thing about work measuring up to the task, or something like that. Hell, she had regularly balked at paying my allowance. Why I would ever expect her to pay me a retainer, was beyond me, as I nonetheless put a standard contract in front of her, and watched as she picked up a pen and scrawled, “Mom.”
Damn, she was tough. “OK, Ma, what’s up? I’ll get back to the retainer, when I have gotten to the bottom of your problem, which is?”
“It’s about time you stopped babbling, and let me start. Wait a minute-that’s not what I meant. I meant that I’m here because your brother filed a lawsuit against me, claiming I ripped off his baseball card collection, when he left home.”
“How long ago was that?” I was a little fuzzy with family history.
“Well he ended up in the big house in 1972, and he hasn’t been back since, thank my lucky stars. So now he wants his baseball cards, and I don’t have a clue.”
“Listen, Ma, no sense dwelling on the obvious; being clueless has never stopped me. What about these alleged baseball cards? Did he itemize which cards were missing?”
She sneered at me, that upper lip curling like a dead caterpillar. “He gave me this, and said, one of each.” She handed me over the latest copy of Beck’s baseball card listings. I got the message. He wanted some cards and he wanted to make sure that what he got, matched his idea, of what he had once had. It was all too clear to me, even if it was not all too clear to him also, that he had his head stuck in a porcelain bucket.
That could be the reason he has no memory of the business that was conducted the night Archie Fenwick breezed into our garage, on his Sting-Ray bicycle, his knobby knees, sticking out on either side of the 20-inch tires, like a middle schooler riding a tot’s tricycle. I had been following Archie, and that’s where he led me. I had been peering through the open garage door, as Archie and Bubba conversed.
“Ma, Bubba’s living in a dream world; he has electricity, but the light's still off. He coughed up his baseball card collection, in the fall before he went away, to Archie, who had a little Ponzi scheme going, which netted him every single baseball card in the neighborhood. I ought to know; I held out on my Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale cards for a month, but Archie eventually nailed me in the alley, and forced me to give them up. So I was keeping an eye on Archie, to see who else got burned.”
Mother was righteously indignant. “What the fudge? I’ll let that little weasel have it right in the gizzard, when he has the audacity to present his whiskered face in my house again.” It did me good to see my mother on a mission, especially if it involved pounding Bubba’s head into pulp.
“You do that, Ma. Meanwhile, could you make the check out to Sylvester B. Stilldumm, please? I was just on my way to the bank.”