By Rob Rosen
Detective Dock arrived at the scene at approximately nine hundred hours. He was winded. The hill had been a steep one, which explained the carnage down below. There were blood and brains splattered a hundred feet all around the victim. The detective leaned against the well and tried to catch his breath as he surveyed the mess.
"Bad spill," The attending officer commented.
"Spill? What makes you think it was a spill?" he asked.
"Conjecture. That's all. The hill is steep. The grass is wet. He ran up here to fetch some water from the well and slipped head over heels back down. From the looks of things, it happened some time in the last hour or so."
"Perhaps he fell," the detective said, scratching his head. "Perhaps not." He searched the ground around him and then peered down the well.
"Looking for something in particular, Detective?"
"Nope. Already found it. Look down there," he said.
The officer looked over the edge of the well. "It's a pail."
"Yep. The victim made it to the top. Plus, I know this guy. He's fallen down this hill before. I'd have thought he'd be extra careful climbing it. Looks to me like he might have been pushed."
"Pushed? You mean, like murdered?" The officer whispered the last word. It was one he wasn't accustomed to uttering.
Detective Dock didn't answer. "Where's the girl?" he asked, instead.
"Girl? What girl?"
"The girl. Jill, I believe her name is. The recently deceased's fiancée. Where is she? I see two sets of footprints up here, but only one corpse."
The officer looked at the prints in the grass and shook his head. "Think she pushed him?"
"Lover's spat maybe. I dunno. I do know we got a dead guy, who may or may not have been pushed, and a missing girl, who may or may not have done the pushing. Chances are, we find the girl, we have our answer. Put an A.P.B. out on her." Detective Dock gave the officer Jill's description and waited for him to return from placing the call.
"Done," the officer reported, minutes later. "We'll find her. Don't you worry, sir. Still, it's strange. I mean, we never had a female murderer before. Heck, I can't even remember a male murderer around these parts."
Detective Dock snickered and bowed his head. "Trust me, officer, this wouldn't be the first time one of these Rhymies was killed."
"It.it's happened before?" the officer stammered.
"Twice, that I'm aware of. Both unsolved, both promptly covered up by the powers that be. Not even all that long ago."
"Both, yes. Big ones, too. Humpty Dumpty didn't fall. He was pushed; like our dead friend, Jack, down there probably was. There was a witness. Old Mother Hubbard. She was out dog bone shopping at the time. Said she saw a woman up on the wall with Mr. Dumpty. One minute they were fighting, the next, splat, egg drop soup. Not a pretty sight, from what I heard. And the sole witness had forgotten her glasses at home, so no positive I.D. "
"And the second murder?"
"Solomon Grundy. Married on Wednesday, dead on Wednesday too. None of that Thursday through Sunday stuff ever happened, 'cept in the papers. Apparent heart attack, but the coroner found traces of poison. The wife was no help, either. Innocent, but useless to the investigation."
"But why cover up two murders, especially of such prominent men?"
"That's the reason exactly: two prominent men. Both killed under mysterious circumstances. It wouldn't have looked good for the rest of them. You know how powerful these Rhymies are."
Rhymies ran Toddler Town. Always had, probably always would. The officer wasn't all that surprised at the detective's revelation. Rhymies liked nothing more than keeping their reputations squeaky clean. It was good for business. It was even better for Toddler Town.
"So maybe both men were carrying on affairs with jealous women, perhaps even the same woman. Maybe this woman just killed for the third time. Maybe this woman is Jill, maybe not. Where do we start looking?" the officer asked.
"I'm on it. You go start looking for Jill."
Detective Dock, Dickory to his friends, of which he had very few, liked to work alone. This case was no exception. He hopped in his car and, minutes later, was pulling up to the home of the Widow Grundy.
She was surprised to see him. "Detective," she said, with forced conviviality. "What can I do for you?"
"Just a few questions, ma'am. About your husband."
"Jack? What's wrong with him? Is he alright?" She instantly became hysterical.
"Jack?" the detective asked. "No, Solomon. I'm sorry, have you remarried?"
"Oh, yes, about a year ago. My goodness, Detective, you had me worried." She put her hand to her chest and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Again, ma'am, sorry to worry you. It's you're first husband I was asking about. By the way, which Jack did you marry? Be Nimble or Horner?" He knew it wasn't Sprat, as he was already married, nor his Jack, who was clearly single and very much newly dead.
"Nimble," she replied. "I'm a registered nurse. We met when he came in to the hospital. Poor man's accident-prone. Jumped over a candle and burned his toe, God love him. Anyway, why are you asking questions about Solomon after all this time? I told you people everything I knew after his death."
"There's been a possible murder, ma'am. I just want to make sure there isn't a tie-in with your late husband's untimely death. After all, we don't see a lot of this sort of thing around here."
She seemed nervous. "Is something the matter, ma'am?" he asked.
"No, it's just that, well, I haven't really thought about Solomon in a long time." Detective Dock noticed that she looked less sad than mad. "And I don't like speaking ill of the dead."
Bingo, thought the detective.
"Solomon wasn't all he was cracked up to be?" he asked.
"Perhaps not, Detective." She frowned and paused for a moment. "Wait right here, please." She closed the door and left him standing there. He stood patiently until she returned. "Here," she said, handing him a slip of paper.
He read the note. It was brief and to the point. "Did you know he was having an affair, ma'am?"
"Not until I found this. It was many months after his death."
"Why didn't you report this to the police? It sounds like he was being blackmailed."
A tear welled up in her eye and trickled down her cheek. "I don't know. I was mad. At him. At me for not realizing anything was wrong. And he was already dead and buried. As far as I can tell, she never got a dime out of Solomon. So I put it to rest, just like I did my husband."
"Mind if I take this, ma'am?" he asked.
"Suit yourself. Now if there isn't anything else you need, Detective."
"Just one more thing, ma'am. Any idea who wrote this note?"
"No, Detective. And I don't care to." She started to close the door on him. "Good day," she said. And that was that.
"Okay," he said to himself as he walked back to his car. "Let's see what we've got here. Two men previously murdered. Well, one man and, technically, one egg. One gets married and promptly killed. The other gets into a fight with an unknown woman and meets the same fate. Now a third man is dead. So the question is, were they all being blackmailed by the same assailant, or are these three separate cases?"
He did, of course, know one thing: Rhymies married Rhymies. It was as pure and simple as that. The powerful stuck with their own kind. Same thing for dating. Same thing, he assumed, for sex. If there was, as he believed, one suspect, it had to be a Rhymie, and a female one at that.
"Guess I'll be calling on a few ladies this morning," he said to himself, and drove off down the lane.
His first stop was Twinkle Towers. Bo Peep, not so little anymore, resided there. Her sheep never did come home. She was now selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. As such, and with ample access to the homes of the rich and famous, she'd become a highly knowledgeable town gossip.
"Detective," she said, after opening her apartment door. "What a pleasant surprise. Is everything alright with your suction?"
"What? Oh. Yes, the vacuum works great. Thanks." She was wearing nothing but an exceedingly short bathrobe, showing off a fabulous pair of gams. The detective coughed and stared straight ahead. "Actually, I'm here on official business, ma'am."
"None of that ma'am stuff, please. Call me Bo."
"Okay, Bo, I was wondering if, in your various travels about town, you might have heard any valuable information about certain townsfolk?"
"You mean, have I heard any juicy gossip? And the answer, as always, is yes. About who in particular, Detective?" She winked at him and tossed her long, thick hair back. Again the detective coughed.
"Jack the water fetcher, for starters."
A smile spread across her lovely face. "Ah, Jack. He's a bad, little boy, huh? What a shameless flirt. He's, how shall I put this, he's."
"He's dead, ma'am."
The smile vanished. She motioned for him to come inside, and then she shut the door behind them. "Please, have a seat, Detective." She was, at once, all business. "How? When? Why?" She rapid-fired the questions at him.
"He fell or was pushed down a hill sometime this morning. The why is still unknown. I was hoping you could shed some light on that."
She paused before answering. "He's engaged to Jill. What did she have to say?"
"She's missing. Think she could have killed him? Think she had a motive?"
The smile briefly returned. "Anything's possible, Detective. But no, I don't think she was capable of it. Too timid. Meek as a kitten. As for the motive, now that's a different story." She went to the kitchen and returned with a cup of coffee for him. He gladly accepted it. She continued where she left off. "As I said, Jack was a shameless flirt. From what I hear, he may have been marrying Jill, but he was playing around on the side. As for Jill, I don't think she knew, but she certainly could've found out. Still, I seriously doubt she had the gumption to kill him."
"Any idea who these other women were that he may or may not have been seeing?"
"Far be it from me to cast dispersions, Detective."
"Well now, he was delivering water to plenty of lonely, single women. This town is chock full of them."
"You included, ma'am?
"Please, Detective, again, call me Bo. And no. Too young for me. I like men, not boys." Once more she flashed her pearly whites and shot him a sly wink. A lone bead of sweat trickled down the detective's brow.
"Again, Bo, any women in particular come to mind?"
"Hmm, I know of several he delivered water to: Miss Muffet, the two Marys, and the newly divorced Ann Peter. Peter Peter's wife, I hear, finally had enough of that pumpkin shell he called a home. All of them are single, lonely women."
Detective Dock smiled and nodded his thanks. "One last question, Bo. Were Humpty Dumpty or Solomon Grundy ever dating any of these women?"
"Ah, an interesting question, Detective. I thought their deaths were accidental."
"Please, Detective. The whole town knows they were murdered. Even an egg would find it difficult to fall off a wall as wide as that one. And Solomon Grundy was healthy as a horse. In terms of carrying on with other women, they were men, right? And this is, after all, a small town. I can offer you one clue, however, Detective. Up until their deaths, both men were buying vacuum products from me. Then they suddenly stopped. They stopped shopping altogether, I heard. And both had been stinking rich."
Bingo, Detective Dock thought, once again.
He headed back to his car after a quick thanks and a sweaty handshake. "Both men stopped spending money just before their deaths. Meaning their cash was needed elsewhere. Looks like both men were being blackmailed, not just Solomon. But by whom, and for what?" he asked himself. He headed for the farms on the outskirts of town.
He stopped by Mary's flower garden first. She was in the fields watering a crop of silver bells. She was smiling and whistling a happy tune; which was surprising, considering how ornery and contrary she normally came off.
"Morning, Mary," he said upon his approach.
"Morning Dickory." They were high school acquaintances. She rarely called him Detective. "What brings you all the way out here?"
She stopped watering and stared at him intently. "By the look on your face, I'd say it was sad business."
"Yep." He drew nearer to her. "Jack the water fetcher is dead. Did you know him?"
She gasped, but quickly regained her composure. "As well as I know anyone in this town - only in passing. Why are you asking me?" Her contrary side was quickly resurfacing.
"We think a woman might have killed him. Maybe a single woman. You were the first single woman I came across." It was only a partial lie. "It might have been a lover's spat, or something related."
She laughed, which, all things considered, was strange. That is until she hollered, "Mary, get your ass out here."
The detective watched as Mary Flocker emerged from the farmhouse. Her little lamb, Lulubelle, was following her, as usual. Its prized white fleece exactly matched her keeper's dressing gown. She approached the first Mary.
"Yes, dear?" she asked, catching Detective Dock off guard.
"Not so single anymore," she said to the detective with a grin. "Mary's lamb wandered into my field one day. She came looking for it, and we've been together ever since. So much for the lover's spat notion, I suppose." Both Mary's smiled at him, though the first one was smiling for an entirely different reason.
Flustered, Detective Dock asked, "Okay, just to make sure, where were the two of you between seven and nine this morning?"
"Together at breakfast. We were with Jack Sprat's wife. The woman eats like a horse. We were at the diner the entire time. You can ask her, if you like, Dickory."
"No need, Mary. I believe you." And that he did. Considering the blackmail evidence, and Mary's alibi, he had little choice. He was, clearly, barking up the wrong tree with these two women.
Again they smiled at him, and then the first Mary offered, "Try Miss Muffet. She lives a mile from here. She's single, you know. And she gets her water from Jack. Or at least she did." They exchanged knowing glances, and the detective hurried back to his car.
He arrived at Martha Muffet's home a couple of minutes later. He found her outside sitting on a stool. She wasn't alone. Willie Winkie was lounging nearby on the lawn. They were an odd looking couple. He was thin and tiny. Martha, with her strict diet of curds and whey, had grown big as a house.
"Morning," they both said to him with gracious nods of their heads.
He sensed, in an instant, that the trail had once again grown cold. He skipped the formalities and went right to the meat of the matter. "I know this might sound strange, but where were the both of you from seven to nine this morning?"
"An odd question, indeed, Detective," Willie said, and Martha nodded her head in agreement as she heaped spoonfuls of curd down her throat. "Still, an easy one to answer. We were both with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, helping the recently divorced Mrs. Peter build her new home. We got an early start of it so that the butcher and the baker could make it to their shops on time. Why do you ask?"
He answered their question with one of his own. "Where is she building her new home?"
Martha swallowed and said, "Behind the hill with the well atop of it."
Bingo, he thought for the third time that morning.
"By chance, did you see either Jack or Jill on the hill this morning?" he asked. His cheeks flushed and his heart raced.
"Neither, no," Willie replied. It was rather early in the morning, you see. And we were hard at work." Detective Dock's shoulders noticeably sagged at this remark.
"But we did see someone else," Martha interjected.
"Who? Who?" he almost shouted.
"That old woman. The one with all those screaming kids," she said. "She was headed up the hill."
"Which old woman?" Again his heart began to race.
"The one who lives in the shoe," Willie said.
Detective Dock was running to his car before he could even say his thank yous.
The shoe house was clear across town. He sped all the way there, and parked his car a block away. He didn't want her to see him coming, just in case. She was, after all, a single woman, like he was on the lookout for. And though she was older than the others, she hadn't lost her good looks. In other words, she was a desirable older woman. She was also a noted hothead. He'd seen her on more than one occasion soundly whipping various members of her brood.
"But why would she have been blackmailing the three dead men?" he asked himself.
Just then, a flock of children came pouring out of the shoe. They romped and frolicked and screamed and hollered as they began their daily chores. The old woman was nowhere in sight.
And then, in the dead center of the herd, he spotted it. That is to say, spotted her. One of the children was different than the rest. Rounder. Whiter. "Eggier," he whispered to himself. "Actually, many of those kids look like certain Rhymies I know."
And indeed they did.
One was thin, like Jack Sprat. One little boy was dressed all in blue. One sat in a corner eating what looked like a Christmas pie. One was crooked with a crooked little cat on his lap. And one kept kissing all the girls and making them cry. A strange lot, to be certain, but a familiar looking one at that.
"Oh man," Detective Dock groaned. "This involves more than three dead men. Obviously, they're just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg - one that's shaped like a really big shoe."
The detective snuck around to the back of the dwelling and crouched beneath an open window. He poked his head up and peered inside. He was stunned at what he saw: the inside truly was nothing like the outside. There were golden chairs and tables set grandly in the center of the room. To the side of this he noticed fine china, which had carefully been arranged inside hand carved, elegant cabinets. All of this rested upon expensive and colorful Persian rugs. And throughout the room, richly appointed brick-a-brack could be found from stem to stern - well, from heel to toe, anyway.
And that was when the old woman's plan became apparent to the detective.
That was also when he spotted Jill. She was chained to a bench, darning a stack of socks several feet high. She'd been badly beaten, and her face was streaked with tears.
"Psst," he whispered. "Where is she?"
She jumped in shock and then whispered back, "Upstairs. Please, help me."
He smiled and nodded. "That's what I'm here for, ma'am."
He crawled through the window, found the key to Jill's lock on the kitchen table, and promptly set her free.She hugged him and sobbed on his shoulder. Minutes later, the old woman came bounding down the stairs.
Detective Dock pointed his gun at her. "Ma'am, you're under arrest for the murder of Humpty Dumpty, Solomon Grundy, and Jack the water fetcher."
The old woman turned as white as Mary's little lamb. She sunk to her knees and cried out, "Damn you, Detective Dock. Damn you to hell."
The detective smiled and laughed. "Yes, well, I don't think I'll be joining you there any time soon." And then he turned to Jill and added, "Seems like crime doesn't pay."
She gazed around the opulent shoe and then gave him a curious look. "Okay," he amended. "It doesn't pay in the long run."
And so ended the case of the three dead Rhymies.
In time, each of the children was returned to their respective fathers or was handed over to the social services people. The Rhymies, being who and what they were, quickly adopted these poor little orphans.
The old woman eventually confessed to her crimes. Apparently, the detective learned, those who wouldn't pay, or stopped paying, for their paternal mistakes were taught a fatal lesson: never cross an old woman who lives in a shoe with a whole herd of bratty children.
Of course, none of this ever made the papers.
And as for Detective Dock, he ultimately became a very capable Captain. Then, of course, there was this.
"Bo," he said, on bended knee, several months after all this gladly came to an end, "will you do me the honor of being your devoted and loving husband?"
"Bingo," she cried out.
To which he replied, "You took the words right out of my mouth."
And a new Rhymie was born.
Detective Dickory Dock
Rob Rosen lives, loves, and works in San Francisco. His first novel, "Sparkle", was published in 2001 to critical acclaim. His short stories have appeared on the literary sites: SoMa Literary Review, Unlikely Stories, Hairy Musings, Strange Minds, Ten Thousand Monkeys, Thunder Sandwich, Willow Lake Press, Muse Apprentice Guild (M.A.G.), StickYourNeckOut, and in the coming months at Open Wide Magazine. Feel free to visit him at his website www.therobrosen.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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