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The Toe Ring Caper

This week’s blog post returns to spinning another yarn that features my four-prompt private eyes, White and Wong. This week’s prompts are:

Twelve roasted yams

A slotted spoon and spatula

A load of steaming compost

Two Egyptian toe rings

Always fun spending time with a seat-of-the-pants challenge and seeing where my PI duo might lead me. Hope you enjoy their adventure as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Toe Ring Caper

Peter Wong was standing at my desk when I entered our office––White and Wong Investigations. He was scratching his head, his brows scrunched into a V, his almond eyes squeezed to a squint.

“What, you forget which desk is yours?” I said.

Wong stopped scratching and looked up. His brow relaxed, allowing his eyelids to become slits. He glanced at his watch. “At least I know what time the office opens.”

“Touché. So, who or what prompted your confused gander?”

He jerked his head toward my desk. “A package came in the mail yesterday while we were out solving Percy Kilbride’s problems.”

I grinned. “That was some kinda party, eh?”

“Yeah, Who’d have thought Marco Santini was so jake?”

“Marco’s daughter is something else, too.” I batted my eyebrows.

“Yeah, she really played her part–– Wait a minute. I don’t recall seeing you two after…”

“After going outside for drinks on the patio.”

Wong’s confused glare reappeared. “You telling me you and…and…”

“Roberta.”

Wong rolled his eyes. “Great. Just when I was feeling okay about Marco Santini, you snuggle up with the mobster’s daughter and piss him off.”

“Nothing happened. We stepped out for coffee and talked––’til one a.m.”

“Oh, right. So, that’s why you were late this morning?”

“What’s your beef? I left you the car keys.”

Wong shook his head. “Next thing you’ll be telling me you’ve got a date with her.”

I winked. “As a matter of fact we’re going to the opera Saturday. She’s a nice lady.”

Wong groaned and flopped in my chair.

I shrugged, then stared at the manila envelope addressed to Barnabus White and Peter Wong, c/o White & Wong Investigations. No return address. “So, what’s in the package?”

Wong huffed. “Damned if I know what they mean. Probably a different kinda threat from Santini.”

I frowned. “Whatta you mean they?”

“See for yourself.”

I pinched and tilted the envelope. Two gold rings fell out and rolled across the blotter. I caught both before they nosedived to the floor. I’d seen them before. Two Egyptian toe rings––part of the six-piece set that had been in my family for several generations.

“Any idea what they are?” Wong said.

“Egyptian toe rings.”

“Toe rings? But who sent ’em? What they mean?”

I snickered. “My sister and I talked in code when we were kids. Guess we still do.”

“Your sister sent ’em?”

“They were my mother’s, and a gift to my sister shortly before Mom passed. I’d better give Sis a jingle and find out what’s on her mind.”

Wong shook his head and leaned back while I flipped through my Rolodex for Sis’s upstate phone number. After a brief chat with one of Ma Bell’s finest, I got connected. A cadenced buzz vibrated the receiver’s earpiece. Someone’s hammering offered competition and rattled the office door. I glanced at Wong. He took the hint.

While the receiver continued to buzz…buzz…buzz, Wong escorted an overall-clad gent inside. Dirt-smudged and unshaven, the man’s face and hands were a shade less crusty than his denim garb and light blue shirt. Apparently he’d used the smudged, red bandana that hung from his pocket to wipe off. An earthy, post-digestive odor wafted in behind him.

Wong sashayed to the windows and eased them from the sills. The breeze from outside posted a counterattack against the man’s eau-de-poop bouquet. With no response from my sister, I disconnected to determine the man’s reason for perfuming our office.

Wong took the cue. “Mr. Bertrand, here, says he has a delivery––just for you.”

“And you couldn’t handle it?” I said.

Bertrand cleared his throat. “The buyer said to deliver to this location and make sure only Barnabus White got it. You are Barnabus White, right?”

“Might be one time I’d rather be Wong,” I replied. “So what sort of package do you have, Mr. Bertrand?”

“Silas Bertrand. You can call me Silas. The order’s downstairs.”

“Well, Silas bring it on up then.”

“I, uh can’t, sir, it’s…it’s on back of my truck. An’ I was to make sure only you got it.”

I wondered whether Wong might be right, whether Silas Bertrand’s special delivery might be another mafia-style, dead-fish warning from Marco Santini. With my partner’s wavering doubts about the mobster, I was pretty certain Wong was considering the same notion. Then again, after receiving the toe rings, Bertrand could be delivering another message from my sister.

Although Silas seemed cozy, for Wong and me, the elevator ride to the ground floor tensed every olfactory nerve in our bodies. Folks waiting in the lobby for a lift upstairs backpedaled several steps once the doors parted.  Wong and I hastened toward the front entry and fresh air.

Bertrand stopped us. “Where ya goin’? My truck’s out back.”

“Of course it is,” I muttered.

Wong and I performed an about-face and scurried past the odiferous gent toward the rear entrance. A one-ton, flatbed truck was parked in the alley. Yellow lettering on the green door panel read: Bertrand Farms. The steaming source of Silas’s unique aroma was piled in back. Like bologna trapped between two slices of bread, Wong and I became sandwiched by the stench when Silas stepped up from behind.

“This is my special delivery?” I said.

“Yes-sir.” Silas replied.

“A steaming load of compost?”

“With a bit of manure.”

I coughed. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Best you’ll find in the next three counties.”

“I have no doubt. If only I had a garden.”

Covering his nose with a handkerchief Wong inquired, “Remember whose name was on the order, Silas?”

“Well…” Bertrand stalled. “The lady said not to tell. S’posed to be a surprise for––”

I intervened. “It’s a surprise alright. Was the lady’s name Genevieve Halloran?”

“Huh? How’d you know?”

“She’s my sister.”

Wong stared at me. “Another coded message? Like, maybe she’s in a world of sh––”

“Seems to indicate she’s got some sort of trouble.” I confirmed. “Guess we’ll be hitting the road.”

“What about the compost?” Silas asked.

“Donate it to the City Garden.”

“But…”

“Tell ’em it’s from a secret admirer––for the splendid work they do. That’s true enough.”

I looked at my partner. “C’mon, Wong, it appears we’ve got some traveling to do.”

 

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