This week I’m revisiting my four-item-prompt private eyes, White and Wong, with a bit of a twist––a fifth item has been added to the writing prompt list. As in prior White and Wong posts, the challenge is to ensure that each item on the list is mentioned somewhere within the story and relates to the plot. The items this week are:
An 1873 Colt revolver
Antique opera glasses
A copy of Gone with the Wind
A pewter mug
A Hohner harmonica
Enjoy Part I of THE GRANDMA CAPER. Thanks for stopping by.
The Grandma Caper
From a child’s perspective, grandmas are one of the most wonderful beings on earth. As children age through puberty into adulthood, however, their views of their family matriarchs may often range from mostly tolerable to a delightful source of memories. No matter my age, what I did, or how hard I tried to overlook her shortcomings, my grandma was a pain in the patootie.
I’d spent over an hour on the phone with Grandma White the night before, reviewing all her troubles, especially with noises and her “rotten neighbors.” Telling her to move to a more compatible neighborhood was like trying to reason with a wall on fire. Took several shots of Jim Beam to settle my nerves enough to fall asleep. After showering, shaving, and downing a quick breakfast without interruption this morning (I even remembered to get dressed) I figured that I was safe for the rest of the day.
The telephone was ringing when I stepped into the office of White & Wong Investigations. My partner, Peter Wong, was standing beside my desk, grinning ear to ear, and waving notes fanned out in his hand like poker cards.
“You gonna get that?” I said.
He plopped the notes on my desk like a high-stakes player calling my bluff with a royal flush. “These are for you.” Then he pointed to the phone. “I’m wagering this call is, too.”
The ringing continued as I quickly scanned the messages––all from the same person. I sighed, then lifted the receiver. “White and––”
“It’s about time. I’ve been calling all morning.”
“So I gathered. Hello, Grandma.”
“Hello, yourself. You need a secretary. No, that probably wouldn’t help either.”
“Nice hearing from you again, too, Grandma.”
“You being a wisenheimer, Barnabus?”
I rolled my eyes. “Never, Grandma. What can I do for you?”
“Didn’t you get my messages?”
“I just got in…and had to answer the phone.”
The line became silent but not for long.
“It’s that noise again,” she said. “Drives me batty.”
I was tempted to tell her not to worry, the drive would be really, really short. But I restrained from voicing my opinion. “The same noise you talked about last night?”
“Yes. But now it’s screeching in the daylight hours, too.”
“Sure it’s not just a couple of old alley cats going at one another?”
“How should I know? You know I never had cats or kept any pets in my house.”
I sighed again. “Maybe you should try calling the dog catcher.”
“A euphemistic name for Animal Control.”
“Never mind. Did you go outside like I suggested and check where the noise is coming from?”
“Are you crazy? What if they jump out and grab me?”
Wong was listening in from his extension. Though I didn’t think it possible, his grin had stretched a bit wider.
“Who’s going to jump out and grab you, Grandma?” I said.
“Like I told you last night, probably those danged neighbors of mine. In and out of their houses at all hours of the day and night. Who knows what they’re up to?”
When it came to conversations with Grandma, I routinely felt like a man caught in a revolving door. I often wondered whether that same scenario had anything to do with why Grandpa had disappeared many years ago. “Did you call the police like I suggested?”
She huffed. “Lotta help they were. Came out twice and said they couldn’t find anything or anybody making noises. They think I’m just hearing things…like I’m a nutty old coot or something.”
Trying not to agree with the cops, I inhaled and shook my head. Wong was now silently chuckling. After exhaling I said, “Is the noise happening right now?”
“Well, why else would I be calling you?”
To hear yourself rant, maybe? “Okay. Raise a window and hold the receiver there so I can hear the noise––just like last night. Please.”
“Well…because you said, please.” Grandma’s telephone receiver thunked to her dresser. Her footsteps shuffled across her hardwood floor. Weights thumped in the sash as her bedroom window squeaked open. More shuffling, thunking, then the receiver scraped against the screen. “Hear that?” she hollered.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on listening. Intermittent screen scratching made it difficult, but what sounded like the Stephen Foster tune, Oh, Susanna, filtered through the phone line. The night before, cooler air had intensified Grandma’s “jitters” and made deciphering anything but the grid pattern of a metal screen impossible.
“You hear that?” she hollered again, this time directly into the receiver.
I massaged my left ear and switched the receiver to my right. “Yes, Grandma, I heard the noise. But to me it sounds like someone playing music.”
“Music? Hell, Barnabus, you’re battier than what everybody thinks I am.”
Wong nearly fell off his chair laughing.
I sat back, stared at the ceiling, and started counting to ten. “Tell you what, Grandma, Peter and I will––”
I really wanted to hang up. Visions of her calling back right away and spanking me with a severe tongue lashing kept me on the line. “Peter Wong…my partner.”
“That Chinese fella? What’s he got to do with any of this?”
… three, four, five, six… “As I started to say…Peter and I will drive up to your place this afternoon to check out your issues.”
Wong’s expression sobered as he sat up straight and hung up his extension. He swiped his hand across his throat several times––his signal for NIX! NIX!
It was my turn to grin, and I did. “We need to grab a few things, then we’ll head up to your place. Can you put us up overnight?”
Wong stood and shook his head.
Grandma hesitated. “If it means getting this danged banshee howl taken care of, I guess so. Your China man friend eat regular food? I don’t have any of them chopsticks, ya know.”
…seven, eight, nine, ten. “We’ll take you out to eat, Grandma––your choice. See you in a few hours.”
Though it was rude, I hung up without saying goodbye.
Wong immediately chimed in, “Whatta you mean draggin’ me along to chase down some figment of your grandmother’s imagination?”
I sat back and chuckled. After all, it was my turn. “Not sure what we’ll find, but I did hear something.”
“Like an old harmonica?”
“Playing Oh, Susanna. So you heard it, too.”
Wong nodded. “Guess it has been kind of slow around here lately.”
“Right. A road trip would do us good.”
“Just as long as it doesn’t involve another screwy relative of yours pulling a gun on us again.”
I recalled the phony life and death excursion my sister had conned Wong and me into, and how my gimpy Uncle Harry had pulled Grandpa’s 1873 Colt revolver on us as part of the Thanksgiving gag.
“Grandma lives alone,” I said. “My uncle has all of Grandpa’s old guns.”
Wong scoffed. “Great. So, we go nosing around, at least your grandmother won’t shoot us. What about her unruly neighbors?”