Murder in Port Isaac: A Patricia Ida Mystery

After yesterday’s discovery of a corpse on the north beach the small seaside village of Port Isaac was all abuzz, including the Seagrape Café where P.I. Patricia Ida and her partner Bonita (Bunny) Hopper were at their usual table overlooking the harbor trying to have breakfast.

Port Isaac, located about 50 miles from the nearest major city of Westfalia, is mostly a tourist destination and get away for folks who are fortunate enough to afford second homes. The town has only two full-time police officers and a dispatcher who spent most of their time handling domestics, bar brawls, and DUIs. Occasionally they would call in help from Westfalia but they depended mostly on Pat and Bunny to do any major gumshoe work.

“Hey pi pi, any news yet on the dead guy?” asked a local passing by her table.

“Not yet,” answered Pat.

Everyone in town knew Pat as pi pi owing to the combination of her business as a P.I. and her initials P.I. She didn’t like it much but what could she do, besides it was good for business even if she was the only licensed P.I. around these parts.
Pat and Bunny were no strangers to murder investigations and it didn’t bother them to discuss the details, no matter how grizzly, during their daily meeting over breakfast.

“So let’s review what we know about our John Doe,” said Bunny. “We know he was obviously murdered since the dagger was still stuck in his chest.”

“Not so fast,” said Pat, “We think the body washed up on the beach sometime during the night since it was discovered by some early morning beach walkers and we don’t know how long it had been in the water, also we can’t easily tell if the stabbing was pre or post mortem.”

Pat’s favorite cousin Kathy who waitressed at the Seagrape came by to refill their coffees and asked, “Any progress yet?” Pat remembered her days as a waitress. It was honest hard work but she was glad she was now a P.I.

“No, but we are working on it. By the way, I almost forgot,” handing Kathy a flyer with an artist’s rendition of the victim’s face Pat continued, “could you please post this somewhere. Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will recognize him and call the police hotline.”

“No problem, anything to help,” Kathy said as she left to continue her rounds.
“Now where we,” Pat said. “Oh yes, there is the issue of his arms and legs which by all indications were devoured by sharks so that leaves out any chance of a fingerprint ID.”

“We still have a chance with the DNA,” Bunny said.

“Yes, but that and the tox screen will take weeks to get back from Westfalia.”

“Wasn’t the shirt he was wearing a hoot?”

“Yes, only the tourists wear those loud Hawaiian shirts around here. But that gives me an idea. What if our dead body went missing from a passing cruise ship or was thrown overboard from one of the boats now docked in our harbor? I think it’s time to pay our harbormaster a visit.”

Leaving the Seagrape they walked the short distance down to the harbor stopping briefly at Josie’s Confectionery to get Bunny her daily fix of a chocolate covered strawberry.

The harbor master’s office consisted of a long bar similar to one found in a tavern that Jake, a slim, energetic old seafaring man, kept smooth and glossy. Local folklore had it that the counter was made of wood salvaged from his handcrafted sailboat. Behind the counter was Jake’s desk which faced out the large front window with a clear view of the entire harbor. Along the back wall was a bank of radio equipment that he used to monitor the constant chatter from boat and ship captains and to radio back any harbor directions.

Completing a phone call Jake said, “Hey pi pi. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Unfortunately, not so much pleasure. It’s about the body, or what was left of one, that washed up on the north beach yesterday.”

“Aye, grizzly business that,” Jake said.

Bunny pulled a copy of the flyer from her satchel, pushed it across the counter and asked, “Do you recognize this man?”

“No, can’t say as I do.”

“We were thinking that maybe you could show it around the boat folks.”

“Will do and I will do you one better. I will fax it to all the cruise ships that have passed by here for say the past two weeks. See if they are missing any passengers.”

Later that day Jake heard a vicious quarrel come over the radio, “you bitch, he may have been a dishonest lecherous lout but you didn’t have to kill him” said one voice. Another said, “What was I going to do? The more he drank the meaner and more abusive he got. You of all people should know what he was like. Besides, he was pawing all over me and I’d had enough.”

Somehow the radio mic must have gotten keyed by accident, Jake thought. Zooming in the lens of the CCTV camera and looking around on his monitor he saw several people apparently involved in an animated argument coming from the yacht Anger Management tied up at buoy 15.

A short while later three people from the Anger Management boarded a zodiac and started toward the docks.

Jake called Pat and filled her in. Pat and Bunny made it to the dock ramp just as the zodiac arrived.

As the three passed them on their way into town Pat showed them the flyer and asked, “Do you recognize this man?”

After they passed by Pat said to Bunny, “Did you see that? They passed us by with their heads down as if we were Hari Krishna asking for a handout.”

Their suspicions raised, Pat and Bunny grabbed a dinghy and went out to the yacht. Bunny dropped Pat off at the stern ladder of the yacht then moved the dinghy out of sight on the far side of the boat where she was hidden but could still be a lookout.

Pat quickly looked around for any evidence of an altercation. Finding none she made her way into the main salon. On one wall she saw a photo of two couples. One of the men in the picture was none other than that of their dead body. Pat quickly took a picture of it with her cell phone.

Returning to the docks Pat and Bunny conferred. “I think it’s time we turned our evidence over to the police,” Pat said.

“Now what do you say we get another chocolate covered strawberry at Josie’s to celebrate?”

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Kilroy Girl

Pam popped up like a prairie dog from its burrow at the sound of a loud commotion coming from the end of our row of cubicles. With her nose appearing to rest on the top of the cubicle partition and her hands griping it on either side she reminded me of that old iconic graffiti cartoon “Kilroy was here.”

Pam was new to our cubicle farm and unaccustomed to these regular disturbances which the rest of have learned to ignore.

“What’s happening,” she asked in a near whisper.

Looking up into her wide brown eyes I replied, “It’s just another firing.”

“But it looks like Don has gotten into a physical altercation with someone, they are screaming at each other and there are a couple of big security guys—” Continue reading

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Tina

Tina was not quite five years old, but she knew Mr. Binkley was up to no good when she saw him in her backyard at three o’clock in the morning. In the full moon light she could see he was on his hands and knees on the grass digging with a small garden shovel. Was he burying something and why in my yard? Tina thought.

At breakfast Tina told her mom, “Mama I saw Mr. Binkley digging in our yard last night.”

“You must have been seeing night shadows and what were you doing awake in the middle of the night, young lady?” Ellen said as if scolding her daughter.

“I could not sleep and got up to look at the full moon but just for a minute, I promise. That’s when I saw him.” Continue reading

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Balconodes

Sorting through my late parent’s memorabilia I came across the recording, pictured at the left, among the hundreds of what I call “war letters.” Actually these were love letters spanning the period from before they were married in 1941 until about 1945. But this story is more about the record than the letters.

The record label indicates that it was recorded on an instantaneous recording machine. This may seem not so unusual in this era where recording on a smart phone is common place. However, from the 20s to the 60s coated acetate [1] or lacquer discs were used to make recordings either for personal use or commercially by radio stations to record events for later broadcast.

Presto and Voice-O-Graph were two companies who were in the business of making the recording machines or lathes, as they were called, because they cut the grove in the disk to record the sound. The three extra holes in the record were necessary to keep the disc from slipping while the grove was being cut during the recording process.

An article describing the Voice-O-Graph company reports that “the Voice-O-Graph was invented in the 1940s, and for the better part of two decades it was a popular feature at fairgrounds, arcades, bus stations and tourist attractions. The booths originally were used more for audio telegrams than making music. Messages ranged from marriage proposals to correspondence between soldiers and their families during WWII.”[2] Dropping 35 cents or a token into a slot in one of these booths allowed you to make a 35 second recording. At the end of your session a 7 inch diameter 78 rpm record was delivered to you through a slot in the front much like a vending machine.

The hand written portion on the record label by my father says “Maybe – Balconodes – Nov. 19, 1940 Bob.” But what is the meaning of “Maybe” and what is/was the Balconodes? About the only thing I know for sure is that the date indicates the record was made some five months before my parents were married and almost two years before I was born.

Since the record had deteriorated so badly over the years making it unplayable I can only speculate that it was a recording of “Maybe.” This song, recorded by the Ink Spots, was ranked number two according to the American Music Charts for 1940. I can’t imagine that the recording was of my father singing the song any more than I could the four Ink Spots crammed in and around a phone booth sized recording studio to make the record for him. Perhaps he was just saying the lyrics as a message to my mother. After all my parents at the time were still in the courtship phase of their relationship.

A bit of research into the mystery of the Balconodes has revealed that it seemed to be a night club in Pittsburgh. In the 50s it was mentioned in the local newspapers that it was a venue for a popular Miami based female impersonation show called the “Jewel Box Review.” So there is a good possibility that it was also some sort of popular night spot in the 40s but is it possible that the club had a recording booth for patrons to make records? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the club had the ability to make acetate disc copies that were sold to the patrons.

References:

1 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetate_disc

2 – https://www.louisville.com/content/studio-squeeze

http://www.vinylmeplease.com/magazine/history-those-recording-studio-booths/

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Giorgio

Running along the beach as is my morning habit I often pass by an old man standing at the edge of the water with the gentle waves licking at his bare toes. From his tracks in the sand leading back to the state run nursing home up the beach I suspected that he was one of their residents. I see him looking longingly into the surf and doff his mushroomed shaped hat to nothing in particular that I could see. Does he remove his hat to let the cool sea breeze blow over his bald head or is he waving at some imaginary ships?

After reaching my quota of words for the day I usually head down to the local tavern to celebrate this modest accomplishment.

I had no sooner gone through the door than Sal the bartender had my pint waiting for me on the bar. Continue reading

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The Last Skip

Bob Brantly spent most of the morning cleaning up the mess resulting from a violent row he and his wife, Jill, had over what was supposed to be a pleasant breakfast. It was the usual fight over money that left the kitchen of their small apartment strewn with scrambled eggs and shards of broken dishes. The last Bob saw of his wife was her back as she stormed out the door saying that if things didn’t improve she was filing for divorce, as if their cash flow problems were all his fault.

Yes, money was tight. Bob’s work, if you want to call it that, as a freelance writer with a bad case of writer’s block was not going well and Jill was not generating much in the way of billable hours as a freshly minted lawyer working for a small law firm.

“Hi Sarah,” Bob said as he approached the desk of the receptionist at the law offices of Singer and Singer with a bag of take-out lunch sandwiches and some flowers he had picked up from a street vendor all in the hopes of smoothing things over with Jill.

“Good afternoon Bob,” Sarah acknowledged.

Bob and Sarah knew each other from the several office parties he had attended with his wife.

“Is Jill in?” Bob asked.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Your wife hasn’t worked here in several weeks.”

In an instant Bob went from feelings of hope to confusion and despair.

“Can you tell me where she is?”

“Sorry Bob, Jill just up and left in a hurry one day. No two weeks’ notice, no nothing. Just walked out. It was all rather strange and not typical of Jill.”

———————-

“Here’s a new case for you. This one should be easy,” Jesse said as he handed Jill a folder with the paperwork for another skip.

Jill had met Jesse, owner of Jesse’s Bail Bonds, at the courthouse and he convinced her to hire on with him as a skip tracer. The pay could be good if you brought the skip in and it sure beat office work. Her only problem was keeping her beater of a Toyota on the road long enough to track the skips. Oh, and then there was Bob who she was sure would not approve but how long could she keep this new job a secret from him?

Jill knew that she acted in a hasty rage leaving the law firm, burning her bridges as it were, but maybe she could use this job to round up some clients and open her own practice.

Breakfast at the apartment had been a disaster and she was still shaking. Reviewing the case file on Elmore “T. Blue” Owens as she relaxed with her latte at a local cafe she had to agree with Jesse that this would be an easy one grand bounty and today she needed easy.

T was a small time gang banger and drug hustler with a long rap sheet who lived with his mother in a rundown broken windows kind of neighborhood. Jill had to pick him up for failure to appear in court.

Driving up to T’s house Jill parked her beater on the street, walked up to the house pretending to deliver a package and knocked on the door.

T opened the door wearing a dirty white tank top shirt and baggy pants hanging so low that they would have fallen off if not for being held up by his gentiles.

T was about to turn and run, not from Jill, but from the fast moving car coming down the street its occupants spraying his house with automatic rifle fire.

———————-

Bob answered his phone hoping that it would be his agent with a writing contract offer instead of the usual annoying bill collector or telemarketer.

The voice at the other end of the line identified himself as Detective Sam Pederson from the police department.

“Mr. Brantly I have some bad news. Your wife has been shot in a drive by shooting and I need you to come to the morgue to make a positive ID. Sorry for your loss.”

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Mystery At The Carter Theater

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The early morning fog was rolling into town like a thick wet blanket as my two colleagues and I were walking through our small town on the way to work. Heavy fog was not unusual this time of year in our coastal community. But things were about to turn strange.

Jennifer was the first to notice. “Did you guys see that?” she said, interrupting our heads down daily slog down Main Street.

“What?” I replied with a bit of annoyance.

“The movie theater doors are open and there is not a soul in sight. Mom and Pop Carter would never leave their theater open especially at this hour. They probably don’t wake up until 10.” She said with a bit of humor. “Should we call the police?”

“Call the police? You’ve got to be kidding,” Joe said, “he probably doesn’t wake up until 10 either.”

“Let’s take a look around,” I said, “it’ll only take a minute and we’ll still make it to work on time.”

The theater was dark and vacant except for the lighted menu above the refreshment counter and a lone stage light casting an eerie glow across the empty seats.

“Anyone here?” I hollered several times but there was no answer.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jennifer said, “this is spooky and besides we may get into trouble.”

As we were leaving a plain white panel van pulled up in front and came to a halt in a swirl of fog and two men jumped out.

“What are you kids doing here?” One of them said in a gruff stern voice.

I briefly explained the situation and asked just as firmly, “What are you doing here at this hour?” fully expecting us to be kidnapped, brutalized or worse.

The other man introduced himself as Charlie and explained in a more friendly tone that they were here to do some work on the projection system but since they were way early decided to go to Stoner’s Restaurant on the nearby highway for breakfast but the place was closed. “We were starving and in our rush we must have forgot to lock the doors,” Charlie said. Looking us over it was then that the men noticed our uniforms.

Charlie seemed to feel that he owed us more of an explanation and told us that the Carters were converting the theater from film to digital. “Since 35 millimeter film is no longer available it’s either convert or go out of business,” he said.

“For a town left behind in the 50s this was progress,” I thought.

I introduced myself as the morning manager at the restaurant and told the men to give us about an hour and then come back.

“Don’t get lost in this pea soup,” I hollered over my shoulder as we continued on down the street.

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Homeless

homelessIn the early morning we were awakened by a shattering crash. Though blinded by flashlights pointed at me I could make out four heavily armed masked intruders standing on the splintered remains of the front door, I didn’t need to ask the meaning of this invasion: I knew already. These assaults had been going on in our desert village for about a week. Sweating in the cool air out of fear and without a word I put up my hands then went into the bedroom to gather my wife and two children.

We had prepared for this eventuality by wrapping some clothes, a few bottles of water and some belongings in a blanket. With a sweeping motion of their weapons the thugs motioned for us to go outside. I bent down to pick up our bundle expecting a sharp blow on the back from the butt of a rifle but it didn’t happen so I picked it up and went outside.

Dawn was approaching and it was a clear full moon night. I could see hundreds from our village pouring out onto the dirt road that led north into the low hills. I winced at the sound of frequent gun shots because I knew that meant that another elderly or infirm village member had been executed by the terrorists.

The line of people carrying their few meager belongings, many in bundles on their heads and others in bags, stretched as far as I could see ahead and behind.

As we reached a rise in the road above the village we heard and felt a series of explosions. I didn’t need to turn around to know that our village had been reduced to rubble, burying those who had been murdered. It was then that I knew that we had become victims of a plague of homelessness and that we could never return.

Trudging mechanically along the road into the unknown I became enraged thinking that all I ever wanted was the simple life to work and provide for my family. The feelings of resentment boiled in the realization that we are now caught up in a misery caused by so-called leaders using us as pawns in their struggle for power in service to some misguided ideology that means nothing to me or to most of my fellow villagers.

It was about mid-day in our exodus when my 8 year old son began to falter. He looked up at me saying “Papa I can’t go on.” We hunkered down in the swirling dust and shared a sip of water trying not to be noticed for fear that desperation in others would result in us being robbed. I told him that I loved him, that we must go on and that we need to stay together as a family. I knew that these words meant little to him but after a short rest, a rest that we all needed, he got up and we rejoined the march.

The long slog was taking its toll. People who had taken too much with them became weary of their load and dropped their belongings on the side of the road only for them to be quickly scavenged by others.

Near dusk we reached the end of the line at the border. People were pressed up against the six foot high coiled barbed wire fence that stretched for miles in either direction. On the other side soldiers scurried back and forth between the fence and a brightly lit field of tents some with colored letters and designs that had no significance to me.

It must have been midnight by the time we were allowed into the tent village where we had to show our papers and get fingerprinted. Finally someone took us into one of the crowded tents and showed us to a spot on the ground where we could rest next to others who had made the long walk this day.

The officials in this tent village called us refugees, but to me we are hopelessly homeless and dependent on others for our survival. What will happen to us: will we be relocated, will we have to make do here and live out our lives among these tents or will we be terrorized again?

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Fortune Cookie

fortune cookieThe Bellview Tea Garden was a narrow store front restaurant located on California Avenue. About 10 years past its prime it was long with booths along the left side, tables on the right, a counter with the register in the front along with a few chairs for take away customers to wait for their order. About half way back in a booth sat the business’s only patron: an attractive young woman.

The waiter had just removed the plates including the half eaten plate of Chow Mein and fried rice that was sitting in the now empty place across from the woman. The woman opened her fortune cookie desert, read the message, dropped it into her handbag, and then in a brief fit of rage smashed the cookie on the table muttering, “Fucking asshole. I’ve had enough of this shit.”

A few minutes later when the waiter returned to deliver the check he noticed that the woman was crying and with her long blond hair pulled back he also saw the black and blue swelling above her right eye

“You awr right?” the Chinese waiter said.

“Fine. Just fine,” the woman said.

Composing herself she got up and on her way out slapped down the check and some cash on the counter next to the register not bothering to count it or wait for the change.

She stepped outside and was grabbed roughly on the arm and dragged down the sidewalk by a man who had been lurking in the shadows. It was the same man, her boyfriend, who had left her table earlier. “Bitch,” he said as he backhanded her across the face. “You’re mine and no one else will have you.”

The public skirmish between the two attracted a small crowd of merchants, who had come out of their shops to see what was going on, along with some passersby. As they moved down the street the people cheered her on like cheerleaders at a football game.

Perhaps it was because of the crowd’s encouragement that she finally gained the advantage and she stomped so hard on the man’s instep that she could feel his bones break, she then followed through with a kick to the groin. As the man doubled over grabbing his injured privates with both hands she delivered the final blow, a knee into the face. To the cheers of the crowd the man crumpled to the ground writhing in pain screaming, “Fucking bitch, I’ll kill you!”

Amazing what a little martial arts training will do for you, she thought.

A police patrol car arrived and Officer Pete Wilson approached the woman and asked, “Julia, what’s going on here?”

After Julia described the situation to the officer, whom she had known since high school, he said, “How many times have we been to your trailer responding to a domestic abuse call and now you are carrying your problems into the street? What we have here is a misdemeanor public disturbance. When are you going to get some help? Julia, you have a choice: I can place you under arrest or I can have a patrol car take you to a women’s shelter now. What’ll it be?”

Remembering the message in the fortune cookie Julia replied, “Shelter.”

Julia was beautiful; so much so that she was viewed more as a trophy and had a hard time keeping the boys at bay. Her big fault, if you could call it that, was that she was a pleaser. This often resulted in making bad choices when it came to men, men who had no interest in her, only themselves.

After two weeks at the shelter Julia was on a bus traveling 2000 miles to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where she would start a new life. This time, she vowed to herself, she would be more careful in her choice of men.

As the bus eased out onto the road for the first leg of Julia’s trip she reached into her handbag and fished out the fortune cookie message. Reading it again made her smile. It readAt this very moment you will change the rest of your life.”

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Rockie

macawWithout any warning the bird let out an ear splitting SQUAAAWK and everyone in the room, except the owners of the big Scarlet Macaw, jumped. Then the bird said, “If you ever tell anyone what you saw, I’ll kill you.”

“Don’t mind Rockie,” Paul said as he brought the bird out of the cage. “She gets bored easily and needs to make her presence known.”

“Well she sure got my attention. That loud squawk in a closed room could wake the dead,” Larry said. “But do you know what she meant about something we saw and about killing us?”

“Not really. We got the bird from a rescue shelter and know nothing of its history.”

“Is that all she knows?”

“As far as we can tell. We have tried to teach her other words and phrases without any success. Macaws aren’t known for developing language skills like other parrot species.”

History indeed, Rockie thought, recalling life with his previous owner. You humans take me out of the rain forest and I end up here where it is cold and not an almond tree in sight. Well I’ll show you, SQUAAAWK.

This human brought me to a cabin in the forest. One day a vision of another human looking object appeared out of nowhere. It shimmered and glowed and appeared to change shape until it settled on the appearance of the human who brought me here though a bit more transparent. I was squawking like crazy and hopping around in this cage not knowing what was going on.

“Shut up bird,” the human said.

Addressing the glowing object the human asked, “And who are you and what are you doing here?”

The glowing object just looked quizzically at the human then proceeded in silence around the room examining everything closely including me. The human appeared paralyzed and just looked on in amazement.

The glowing human then went up to the other human and the human who brought me here just disappeared in a flash of light. SQUWAAAK!

The glowing object then came over to my cage, looked at me eye-to-eye and said, “If you ever tell anyone what you saw, I’ll kill you,” then it simply vanished. I will never forget it.

I managed to get free of the cage and after several days some humans came by looking for one of their kind called Ann. They put me back in that cage and took me to a place where there were other birds.

So here I am stuck in this room with my wings clipped and these humans feeding me table scraps like a dog and think that I like it. SQUAAAWK.

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