everyone was gathered around the fireplace.
even colonel waters, who had been wheeled in, sniffling and grumbling, by a ferociously scowling nurse jaspers.
the windows had been thrown open to the night.
a wolf howled in the surrounding hills.
clyde took one look around the room and got down to business.
maxwell was seated on the blue divan, nonchalantly murmuring to colette, but turned when he felt clyde’s eyes on him.
“it was a sweet setup, maxwell, “ clyde began, “and you almost got away with it.
everybody was looking for the hinkydink. and they thought they needed the birkenstock to find the hinkydink.
what nobody cottoned to was that the birkenstock was the hinkydink.
how did i figure that out? it was the postcard. the same postcard that seemed to seal the deal once and for all against eberhart. the postcard that was written in red ink - “
suddenly hogan burst into the room.
“clyde! stop right there, old buddy!”
clyde smiled tolerantly. “what is it now, hogan?”
“it’s miss wildwood.”
“you mean you found out where she came from?”
“no, we found her! in a motel in bakersfield - a little buzzed, but alive as you or me.”
“you mean - ?” clyde gasped.
“that’s right. the body in the burned yellow camaro wasn’t her at all - never was. it looks like we all are starting from scratch.”
the people gathered in the room - mrs cora davis, jenny white from the chronicle, colonel waters and nurse jaspers, and of course maxwell - began to snicker and giggle.
maxwell leaned back and let out a loud guffaw. “well, mister clyde, it looks like your carefully constructed case has blown to the proverbial smithereens.” he looked around. “by the way, does anybody know exactly what a smithereen is? no one has ever properly explained it to me.”
mrs cora davis and jenny white laughed out loud.
“so that’s the great clyde…” someone in the back of the room said.
clyde looked down at the cold fireplace. he wished there was a fire in it, and he could jump in it.
his case had been blown to bits like a nest of dead wasps dropped from the top of the taj mahal…
later that morning, in maggie’s diner.
hogan put his coffee cup down. “well, got to run. i am on the public payroll, you know, and have to put in an appearance.” he tossed a half dollar on the counter, and got up.
he slapped clyde on the back, gently. “don’t take it so hard, clyde. today is another day. and you might get another case - some day. ha, ha !”
clyde didn’t look up as hogan went out the door.
neither did the waitress leaning on the counter down by the cash register.
there was no other customers in the place. the waitress, whose name probably wasn’t even ruby, did not come down from the end of the counter to offer clyde any consolation, or to speculate on the unpredictable nature of existence.
it wasn’t like the old days.
so it’s come to this, thought clyde.
the big case - the big case that was going to him back on top -
just another spider web in a hurricane.
just another cat up a tree that was cut down forty years ago.
outside it was a gray day, with the threat of rain.
a cold rain.
there was a quarter of an ounce of coffee in clyde’s cup. did he want to finish it?
or didn’t he?
he couldn’t make up his mind.
behind him, the door opened. the little bell above it jangled.
clyde didn’t turn around.
a shadow fell across his coffee cup.
the guy who had sat down beside him - and who had six other stools and three booths he could have chosen - weighed at least three hundred pounds. and that was without his bowler hat and camels hair coat.
“can’t say that i do.”
“i didn’t think you would, but no harm in asking.”
the waitress appeared. “what will you have?” she asked the newcomer.
“we have more than one special. we have - “
“i’ll have the special with the most calories. i tell you what, i’ll have that and i’ll have the special with the next most calories too, how’s that?”
“that sounds good, mister. coming right up.” the waitress scribbled something on her pad.
“i didn’t think you would remember me,” the stranger said, after the waitress had moved away to hand the order through to the kitchen.
“i give up,” clyde told him. “who are you?”
“pleased to meet you, randy,”
“ha, ha! but you don’t remember me?”
“i am sorry, i don’t.”
“walter j abbott elementary school in springfield, ohio?”
“see - i told you you wouldn’t remember me.”
“and you were right.”
randy peterson smiled, but fell silent when the waitress brought him a cup of coffee and a big plate of toast as the first installment on his two specials.
“but i’ve been following you, clyde,” randy resumed, when the waitress departed again.
“following me? clyde looked up.
“ha, ha! i mean following your storied career in the papers. not following you down the street, ducking behind doorways, ha ha!”
“oh.” clyde looked back down in his coffee cup.
“i kept track of all the famous cases you were involved in - the silver walrus case, the beheaded peanut case, all of them. one in particular - the redheaded buzzard case, i had my own views. i am not so sure you got it right.”
“i think all those cases are closed,” clyde said.
“oh, i know that. i didn’t follow you here to talk about old cases.”
the waitress came back with a plate heaped with pancakes and put it down in front of randy peterson.
“thank you, sweetheart.” randy grabbed his fork and prepared to attack the pancakes. “don’t worry, clyde, i will get to the point.”
“i hope so.”
(to be continued)