A Young Guy and His Career [Fiction]

by David Vardeman

Due to several anomalies of life, I hadn’t been able to find or stumble across that career to catapult me someplace. Everybody needs a career that’s got a real catapult to it. You can’t do much without a catapult. You want one with a real spring to it, one you can lay back into like it’s a nice padded chaise lounge and say over your shoulder to the guy back there, “Okay, you can pull the lever now. Send me flying,” and he does.

When I was in school, they didn’t talk about catapults. It was like they didn’t exist. Best kept secret. They should have had classes like “Catapulting to Your Next Level,” or, God forbid, “Catapulting For Dummies.”

But did they? Heck no. They had classes like Trigonometry, Earth Science I + II, History of the Russo-Japanese War. Pain in the butt stuff that never heard of a catapult. There should have been a mandatory catapult rating, you know, 0 to 5 for each class, giving its catapult potential. I must have taken 15 to 20 classes with no catapult potential whatsoever to them, and the others were so boring I can’t veracitously say I attended them all that much. But I think that was entirely owing to instinct. Some built-in part of me, the part put there in my gut to sniff out catapult material, knew there wasn’t any in those classes, that they were time and money wasted.

So then there were the obligatory couple of years sitting at home getting to know the folks better, walking the dog, tending the yard, trying to figure it all out. Looking at the eternal question from all sides: why is the world rigged to favor the mediocre, the lesser lights, the charlatans, when guys with real potential, real originality and actual qualities are shoved to the sidelines and turned into mere witnesses of that Fools’ Parade called Life?

So I decided to become a detective. I figured why not. The world could use a detective or two. I put an ad on Craigslist offering my detective services. And what do you think? It worked, just like that. Within fifteen days a lady called me and said could I possibly come over and help her with a case, so I said sure. I came over and found her in the place she said she’d be. She was a lady inside a house with a problem. This being a detective thing was working out pretty well so far. I wasn’t just eye candy as I was going about my business as a detective. I was in high gear in the fast lane moving toward my destination: answers.

“I am Duluth Pigge,” she said. Then she tipped her head like either I should have known that already or it should have made a deep impression to find out.

“I’m sixty-three,” she said, and she sighed. “But I’m not living the crybaby life.”

“No, of course you’re not. Now, to be specific, I am a detective. What can I do for you in that line of business?”

She’d been carrying around two huge cats. At that point she threw them in the kitchen sink among the dirty dishes (we were in the kitchen).

“Would you like to see my credentials?” I didn’t have any, but I could explain.

She lit a cigarette and pointed it at a pinkie lying on cotton in a bracelet box on the table. I’d seen it there but didn’t want to say anything. Some things are not your business when you’re a detective. I would wait and see if this severed pinkie had anything to do with me or if it was a personal item.

“I don’t want to know about you, Hon. I want to know about that. It came in the mail today, Hon. The box was wrapped in plain brown paper, nothing fancy, Hon. It was addressed to Miss Duluth Pigge or Current Resident, Hon. What kind of sandwich would you like? I’ve got all kinds of cold cuts, Hon, and cheese. Look in the fridge if you don’t believe me.”

I looked and was amazed. She let me make my own sandwich. I had pickle loaf and baloney and cheese with mustard. As I ate I examined the finger using a pair of chopsticks. It was a very clean finger with no dirt under its nail, no nail polish.

“You’re very good with chopsticks, Hon,” she said.

“Do you know anyone or have any relatives that have been kidnapped lately? Normally a finger is sent as proof that the kidnap victim someone is being extorted with is still alive or at least had his pinkie cut off and mailed over.”

“I don’t have any relatives, Hon. I’m the last of a breed. I’m alone in the world, Hon. I haven’t received a ransom note either. Besides, if it was addressed to “or Current Resident” it wouldn’t necessarily be from anyone I know, would it, Hon?”

“These are all very good questions,” I said. “Chances are we’ll never know the answers to them.”

In the absence of real clues, there was only one thing to go on. The finger came in a JC Penney bracelet box. I would begin my investigation by heading over to the JC Penney jewelry counter and asking a few pertinent questions.

“Do you mind if I take this finger and go to JC Penney?”

“You’re the expert, Hon. That’s why I hired you, Hon.”

When I got to JC Penney, I went up to the jewelry counter lady and started to question her without letting her know she was actively involved in a criminal investigation. At first it was hard getting her attention. She was busy arranging cut-rate jewelry on a revolving rack. Finally she was done. “Whew!” she said and wiped her forearm across her forehead. “Bane of my existence, arranging cut-rate jewelry on a revolving rack. What can I do for you?”

“Hi, yes. This is just a general inquiry of customer interest in finding out if you know what this is?”

I put the box down on the glass counter.

She smiled and jangled her bracelets. “Why, yes, sir. That is a JC Penney gift box. You can give that special lady in your life a bracelet or an extremely tight necklace in such a box, if her neck is, say, the size of her wrist. Not many ladies’ necks are that small anymore. Ladies’ necks have grown progressively bigger over the past fifty years.”

“Does anyone know why?” She’d gotten me interested. I shook myself. “But never mind. I have business here that has nothing to do with ladies’ necks. What do you know about this?” I removed the lid from the box. The finger had rolled over on its face. I borrowed one of the counter lady’s pens and turned it over. “There. What do you know about that?”

I studied her face to gauge her reaction. She seemed to be hiding something behind her face. I wanted to reach over and shake her and say, “What’s going on behind that face of yours? You’re hiding something, and I’m going to shake it out of you if it’s the last thing I do,” but I didn’t. I have what is called masterful control of myself. I waited. I knew she’d spill her guts sooner or later. That kind always cracks eventually.

“I have no idea,” she said, and she yawned into the back of her hand and moved a necklace tree to another counter.

She was a cool one, a lot cooler than I’d given her credit for.

“You have nothing to say about that?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You have any idea how it got there?” I said.

“You brought it here.”

“Before that.”

“No.”

“You think it just spontaneously generated in that JC Penney box?”

“Maybe.”

“It doesn’t concern you at all that somebody’s using JC Penney boxes for sinister purposes?”

“No. Why should it?”

“What kind of person are you? You work here. This is your special area. JC Penney puts faith in you. You should care what people do with JC Penney jewelry boxes.”

“Well, I don’t.”

Boy, did I have her pegged wrong. It was like she’d divined by secret telepathy that I was a detective and this was my first case and, through some perversion in her nature, she’d made it a point of honor to see that I failed to solve it.

“May I speak to your superior?” I said.

“Excuse me one moment.”

She returned with the manager, a man with bangs like the bristles of a whiskbroom.

“What’s all the excitement?” he said.

“Mr. d’Pigeon,” the counter lady said, “this young man is complaining that an alternate use is being made of JC Penney’s bracelet gift boxes. I’ve tried to explain that it’s not store policy to follow customers home and make sure they don’t put items like severed fingers in them.”

“Mrs. Frings is quite right,” Mr. d’Pigeon said.

I took offense. “In other words, someone could dismember an entire village and put the pieces in JC Penney gift boxes?”

“In a certain sense, yes,” Mr. d-Pigeon said. “But we don’t stand over our customers’ shoulders and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, Buster. You can’t put that ankle into a JC Penney shirt box.’ It’s not what we do around here.”

“Then I’d like a list of persons to whom you’ve given JC Penney bracelet boxes over the past fiscal year.”

“I’m afraid that information is confidential.”

“In other words, it’s JC Penney policy to protect criminals.”

“If you want to put it that way.”

“Criminal?” Mrs. Frings said. “What about a criminal?”

“Do you think this finger got in this box without criminal involvement?”

Mrs. Frings got all over that. “Isn’t that jumping to a massive conclusion? The biggest saint on the planet could have stumbled accidentally on that finger and decided to put it in a spare JC Penney’s gift box for safekeeping.”

She was a wily thinker, this Mrs. Frings. She knocked me slightly off my game. I got a little flustered at that point and lost some of my brazen confidence. “Oh, yeah? Well then why did this big saint send the finger to my client—‘or Current Resident’—through the US Postal Service wrapped in plain brown paper?”

“Obviously,” said Mr. d’Pigeon, batting his eyes, “because this particular sainted individual’s phone book was four years out of date and he—or she—wasn’t sure your client would still be at that address. Hence the ‘or Current Resident’ addendum. So, it’s a phone company matter. You’ll have to complain to them about not distributing phone books on a regular basis. I think you’ll agree that JC Penney is not responsible for phone book distribution. You’re not a very good detective if your immediate thought when you saw that severed finger was to contact us and not the phone company.”

“I see,” I said.

I went back to Miss Pigge’s and handed back the box. “Miss Pigge,” I said, “I have detectively determined that this is not a case for a private investigator but for the phone company.

She looked surprised. “But I don’t have a phone, Hon.”

“Yes, but you have a computer and can conveniently email them and ask what this is all about.”

“What did JC say?”

“They blamed the phone company like the old buck-passers they are. But in this case I have to side with them.”

“I don’t see the connection, Hon.”

“That is because it is very mysterious, very tenuous. You might never get the phone company to admit their connection to this finger. That is one of the most frustrating things about being a detective. Very often the people or entities you identify as the culprit will deny any involvement. And then you’re at a stalemate.”

Miss Pigge paid me $75 for my detective work. Plus she gave me the finger as a souvenir. “Get this thing out of here, Hon. I never want to see it again. I don’t like the effect it has on me. It’s made me jittery, Hon. I’m a nervous wreck. I hope I never get another one, Hon. It’s really taken a toll on me. I’m going to have a bath and go to bed. I’m going to pull down the shades too, Hon. You should too when you get home. It’s a supermoon tonight, Hon. Very treacherous. Don’t go out, don’t drive anywhere. It’s going to be treacherous, Hon. Pull your shades down, Hon. Don’t let any supermoonlight inside your house.”

Back at home I showed Mom and Dad the finger and asked them what they knew about the supermoon.

“We don’t know,” they said, “but it sounds mighty creepy. Where did you hear about it?”

“From the woman that gave me the finger.”

“We were wondering where you got that.”

“Mom, Dad, sit down. I have some news.”

They sat and folded their hands and smiled with understanding acceptance. “Yes, Darling. What is this?”

“Mom, Dad, I now have a career. I have begun a career, and this is a token of my first day on the job. I didn’t tell you about my career at first because I wanted to get it off the ground first. But now that it’s off the ground, I can tell you.”

“That’s marvelous, Dear. We’re so proud of you. A career! Think of it!”

Then suddenly they changed gears and looked fastidious and ready to impeach my career. “And what is your career, Walter? Cutting people up?”

Boy, did I get a good laugh out of that one. I could see how they might take a piece of evidence like a finger out of context and completely miss the mark. They weren’t detective material. I explained that I was a detective now and that this severed finger was both my first mysterious case and a strong reminder that not all cases can be solved.

“So you told Miss Pigge to email the phone company? That was how you solved her case?” they asked.

“The whole thing weighed on her so much that, in the end, all she wanted was for me to get the misdirected finger out of her house.”

“So all you really did for her was to haul it off. So you’re really a dump man and not a detective? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No. I am one hundred percent a detective. The fact that I took the mysterious finger under my wing is symbolic and has nothing to do with dumps.”

It was a little odd that the two parents from whom I’d sprung had such difficulty grasping the basic concepts of investigative pursuance. I could only conclude that I was a genetic anomaly Dad’s pretty sharp,despite the fact the AMA cut his medical balls off. And Mom, uncredited inventress of the salad bar, is no slouch either.. But for some reason these two exceptional minds could not appreciate my detective talents.

Still they were supportive. The next day Mom and Dad gave me a little career-launching gift. I’ll get to the gift in a minute. First, though, a thorough explanation.

They had disappeared the night before around 7 pm. I noticed their absence, so I went through the house calling, “Mom! Dad! Are you here?” Naturally I expected for them to pop out any second and say, “Yes, Wally, here we are. What do you want?” But they didn’t. So that was weird happenstance #1.

Being a detective I thought, “Holy moley. I wonder if the disappearance of Mom and Dad has anything to do with the supermoon and everybody’s astrological chart being thrown out of whack by it.” Then I thought, “Great. Now I’ve got to investigate my own parents’ disappearance. But how do you start investigating a crime or mystery that has astrological significance?”

But then they saved me a bunch of trouble by showing up about half an hour later of their own initiative. I was in the middle of a re-run of The Honeymooners, thinking deeply about the whole supermoon-parental vanishment connection.

“Where the heck have you been?” I said. “I was worried sick and about to eat supper alone.”

They had sly smiles and glazed cunning eyes. The fact they were pleased with themselves was smeared all over them. “That’s for us to know and for you to find out,” they gloated.

“It’s nearly eight o’clock. That supermoon is up there wreaking big-time havoc on all our fates, and you two sneak off without a word leaving me to think the powers of Luna have something to do with it?”

“We knew, Wally, that being a detective, you would soon figure out we had driven off without you.”

It’s pretty bad when your parents go driving off without telling you on the night of a supermoon, but they were being so flippant about it. How could I make them see that there are certain things you just don’t do during astronomical crises? They didn’t get it. I was wasting my breath.

“All right, smirk all you want,” I finally said, “but let’s eat this pizza.”

Mom took one look at Jackie Gleason on the TV and said, “I hate that man.”

So the next day, which is both tonight and now, Mom and Dad took me out to Big Ethel’s Pig Roast, a very popular watering hole in town where you have to wait with about a hundred other people in this place that looks like a pig pen for your disc to buzz and light up.

When the waiter came, he spelled his name upside down in barbecue sauce on the paper table covering. “My name is Seth,” he said. “All of this meat packing paper is extremely sanitary. You may use some of the plastic spoons to scrape off my name and eat the sauce when the time comes.”

Dad ordered the Pork Three Ways Platter. I ordered the Burly Farmhand, and Mom ordered the All-You-Can-Eat Farm Wife’s Suckling Slaughter.

“Just think!” we marveled. “We’ll be able to try each of seven sauces!”

About twenty minutes into our wait, to keep us all het up for the pork to come, Seth dropped off a bucket with seven squirt-bottles of sauces. It was also during this wait that Mom and Dad decided to give me a career-launching gift. I was pretty excited. “What can you give a budding detective that’s rectangular in shape?” I’d been wondering.

I tore off the paper. After the paper, there was a box, a deep rectangular JC Penney box, of all things. Was this some kind of joke? I wondered. So I asked.

“No!” my parents shouted.

I lifted the lid, and inside was a beautiful glass box with the finger in it, crooked at a forty-five degree angle like one of those fake fingers they display rings on at jewelry counters.

“There is a little knob at the base we had to slightly screw the finger onto, but we succeeded,” they said. “A very nice Mrs. Frings sold us the box. She said that with these ring display boxes, normally people place their rings on the manufacturer-supplied fake finger but that if we wanted to install a more personal finger it was all right by her.”

“I am glad to know Mrs. Frings was so congenial to you. She was practically indifferent to me.”

To the front of the box they had affixed with cellophane tape a brass plate with these words etched on it: Walter Ballou, on the occasion of his first case as a detective.

It would have been nice if they’d put “superdetective.”

I’m still not sure what made me do it (I guess I was trying to cover my embarrassment at receiving an award), but I lifted the lid of the glass display box and started to unscrew the finger. It turned and turned on the little anchor but wouldn’t come off. So instead of merely screwing, I pulled and screwed in concert. Then the thing suddenly pulled off. With the unexpected release, my arm flipped back and hit a waiter who was passing behind me at that moment. The sudden contact caused my hand to open in reflex, and the finger catapulted out of my grip and through the air and went somewhere.

“Oh, my,” I said. “I have lost the finger.”

Mom patted me on the hand. “It’s all right, Walter. I followed the finger’s trajectory with my eyes. It landed on top that gentleman’s pork platter.”

She pointed to a table where a family man with his wife and three hungry children were about to tear into the mounded pork platters that had just been set down in front of them. His wife was slapping the children to make them stop squirting each other with the seven bottles of sauces. The man shouted from his crumpled beefy face, “Would you please try to reach their brains, Latrice?”

“You heard your dad, “Latrice said. “Use your brains.”

“My brains stink,” said the boy that appeared to be the middle child, about eleven.

Mom said, “Would you like me to handle and extricate this situation, Walter?”

It had reached the point it probably required a mom’s touch, so I said, “Sure?” But I went with her to the table of the ravenous family to back her up.

The man of the house was slicing into his hill of pork when Mom tapped him on the shoulder and introduced herself and her business. “Excuse me, Sir,” she said. “I am Mrs. Edna Ballou, wife of former doctor Wilbur Ballou. And this is our son, Walter.

“Hello,” I said.

The man looked at us with unwelcoming eyes. The whites of the man’s eyes were an unpleasant copper color.

Despite a discouraging start, Mom plowed on. “I’d like to discuss your pork platter with you if I may. First of all, which of the many named platters did you select?”

“The Bloated Shoat.”

“I see. I considered the Bloated Shoat. But I finally chose the Farm Wife’s Suckling Slaughter.”

“The Bloated Shoat comes with a pig’s tail.”

“I have to alert you that something belonging to my family has wound up in your Bloated Shoat.”

He glared at his Bloated Shoat and appeared satisfied with it as it stood. His wife and three children were well into their platters and chewing rapidly. They watched and chewed.

Mom pointed to the pinkie that had catapulted onto his mountain of pork. “That pinkie there actually flew from our table to yours.  Please don’t eat it.”

The man thrust his mouth and chin forward. “What are you talking about? That’s not a finger. That’s a pig’s tail. A pig’s tail comes with the Bloated Shoat. Hey! What are you trying to pull here? You trying to get my pig’s tail by claiming it’s a finger from your table? Go back to your own table and get your own pig’s tail.”

“Sir, if you will just allow me to retrieve the finger and wipe some of the barbecue sauce off it you will see that it is just your ordinary finger that has catapulted over here from our table. Anyone could have mistaken it for a pig’s tail.”

As Mom reached for the pinkie, the man jabbed it with his fork and crammed the whole thing in his mouth and chewed like crazy. He stared triumphantly at Mom and me.

She looked at me. “Oh, Walter, I’m so sorry. I tried my best, but this man has eaten your finger.”

Just then their waitress delivered a pig’s tail in a white bowl. “I’m sorry. I forgot your pig’s tail. Here it is now.”

“No, you didn’t forget my pig’s tail,” the man said. “I just now ate and swallowed my pig’s tail. But I don’t mind eating two.”

Mom said to the waitress, “He doesn’t seem to realize he has eaten my son’s finger, not a pig’s tail. He is on an altogether different plane psychologically.”

The waitress had slightly crossed eyes that made her look like she considered everything deeply and from many angles. Thus it was a shock when she said bluntly, “All I know is they said table 6B didn’t get his pig’s tail.”

Latrice whooped and threw her hand over her mouth to keep from ejecting pork when she heard her husband described as a troublemaker. The kids bounced on their buttocks and sang, “Dad’s a troublemaker! Dad eats people’s fingers! Dad’s a cannibal!” and various things.

The waitress got out of there. She was very busy and frazzled and did not have time to adjudicate disagreements between customers, especially when one of the parties was already a by-word at Big Ethel’s.

Dad had gotten lonely sitting by himself, so he came on over, all smiles and congeniality as usual.

“Excuse me while I take up a moment of your time, but I am Doctor Wilbur Ballou. Everyone knows the AMA is a joke and has smeared the reputation of many a medical innovator. Be that as it may, I couldn’t help noticing from my chair over there that you ate my son’s pinkie and refuse to acknowledge the same, stubbornly clinging to your false notion that it was a pig’s tail.”

The man’s children took the opportunity to squirt each other with sauces again. Instead of calling them off, their mother gaped at us and stuffed pork in her mouth and chewed and washed it down with beer. Finally the youngest kid, a girl, got squirted in the eye with hot sauce and started bawling, “It burns!” Latrice took time out from eating and staring at us to slap the middle kid, the boy that said his brains stank, and say, “Didn’t I tell you? Look what you’ve done! Putting out your sister’s eye with hot sauce…”

And the two oldest boys sang, “Let’s sue the socks off Big Ethel! Big Ethel’s sauce made Dana go blind!” Then the oldest girl got into a struggle with Dana, trying to tip her head back so she could invert a glass of ice water onto the eye and wash it out.

Mom folded her arms and tapped her toe and shook her head. She said to the man, “Your children have got to learn how to behave in public, or what’s next? Television? Prison?”

Dad cajolingly said, “As a man familiar with internal organs, I’d like to suggest immediate extraction of that finger from your gut. At the very least an x-ray. We often eat things we shouldn’t. Even pork might not be advisable under certain conditions. In my basement I have a table, some ether, and a scalpel, if you’d like to try a few things.”

“How much?” Latrice said, her fork poised in mid-air with pork.

The three little monkeys shouted, “We want to watch! We want to watch Dad get cut to shreds!”

Mom said to the man, “It’s not so hard to relax and go with it if you tell yourself it doesn’t have to be fun.”

The family man got pretty bellicose about the whole thing after that. He raised both hands and waved them. He didn’t care how much pork came out his mouth or that sauce ran down his chin or that his three bulging offspring were sniggering. I’d never seen a man so determined to look stupid. “Maitre d’!” he screamed. “Get the maitre d’ over here right now.”

A man in a long white apron showed up. He was holding a meat cleaver. He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. He had a corncob pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth. He looked more like a mascot than a maitre d’ to me. I didn’t feel like arguing about his station in life with him. I just thought, “Well, here’s one more hurdle toward finally getting to sit down and eat our pork platters in peace. Just let it happen, Walter, and then you can move on with your life.”

“What seems to be the problem here?” the maitre d’ bellowed over the general roar of the place. “There’s no standing in the aisles at Big Ethel’s. Either sit down or move on.”

The family man pointed at Dad like he was murder itself. “This guy’s over here going around offering to do surgery to see what’s down there.”

The maitre d’ shoved his cleaver against Dad’s gut, not to injure or eradicate him so much as to put him on alert. “Listen, Buster, people come to Big Ethel’s because they want their share of pork and then some. God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’ and the pigs took it to heart. People began to wonder, ‘What are we going to do with all these pigs? They’re everywhere getting into everything.’ And so Big Ethel’s came into being. And the pork-lovers and the people that were worried because there were so many pigs everywhere saw it, and it was good.”

His build-up was pretty pompous. I was ready to explode after two seconds of it. He didn’t understand that the whole purpose of a maitre d’ was to shine.

Dad was trying his darnedest to smile through the rain, but through years of coming to know him, I could tell all he wanted was for the maitre d’ to take that cleaver out of his gut. But he was too polite and scared to death to ask.

“And because people come to Big Ethel’s to have the times of their lives and to forget all their troubles, the last thing they want is to plan a surgery. Now, I suggest you get back to your table and enjoy yourself, or I’ll start doing some surgery of my own.”

He nudged Dad a couple of times with the meat cleaver. That gave us the idea the maitre d’ wasn’t our kind of surgeon.

“All right,” Dad said, “but I feel I’ve been misrepresented all the way through.”

“Tell it to the wife and kid. I haven’t got time for it. Do I look like I have time to stand around and listen to a sob story?”

The maitre d’ went back to his podium and we returned to our table.

We were pretty silent, collectively pensive over the loss of the finger, I guess, but the guy that had eaten the finger just wouldn’t let up. He kept making asides from his mouth full of pork, like “Hell if I’ll have surgery just because some big shot surgeon comes on to me. I haven’t eat anybody’s finger. Why should I have some big shot’s surgery like I’d eat his kid’s finger?”

“It was a finger! It was a finger!” his middle kid piped up. “I saw it fly from over there to here. And then you put it in that old meat grinder of yours and pulverized it. You pulverized it is what you did.”

“Hush up, Ethan, and eat your corn,” Latrice said. “That’ll be the day, your daddy eats a finger from another table. I guess if anybody knows a pig’s tail when he sees it, it’s your daddy.”

The man stared at his wife coldly and said, as if he meant something else by it, “I sure do know a pig’s tail when I see it.”

Mom cleared her throat and stared at her restless fingers. “I think next time we celebrate something we should probably celebrate it at home. What do you two think?”

I said I thought this place probably wasn’t like this all the time, that the supermoon had to have something to do with it.  But Dad said he had to agree with Mom: Big Ethel’s was probably the sort of place where any night of the week, moon or not, there’d be a family man at the next table ready to eat your finger.

It was pretty sad to look at the beautiful glass box with no finger in it and know the finger that represented my only success in life was buried under pork in the gut of the guy at the next table.

When the pork finally came it tasted funny, like maybe they’d substituted chicken or some really stringy tofu for the pork. Was it possible the world was running out of pigs, that some sneaky substitution was going on? I had begun to think like a detective, plagued by insight and suspicions. Chewing, I longed for the days when I would have taken that pork at face value. Too late for that. I looked at my parents across the celebratory table. They chewed contentedly. It never occurred to them they might not be eating pork. The power of suggestion had them in its narcotic grip. They were not detectives.

I kept my big fat detective mouth shut and pretended Big Ethel’s wasn’t pulling a fast one. Sometimes you just have to turn off the detective in you and pretend you’re dumb as an ox, just like Dad should learn he can’t go around being a doctor and offering basement surgery every time he sees somebody crying out for the scalpel. You can’t carry your career on your sleeve, or, to put it bluntly, throw your pearls before swine.

So we were eating our brains out, minding our own business, me playing dumb, when the family man paid our table a visit. He and the family had plowed right through their pork dinners and were on their way out the door when he stopped by with his white bowl and dropped it on the table. “Here. Here’s your finger back.” We looked and of course it wasn’t the finger at all but the pig’s tail the waitress had delivered after he’d eaten my finger.

He was swallowed by the crowd before we could say, “Please remove your tail from our table.”

That is succinctly how I wound up with a pig’s tail in a glass box, the very one that now sits on the fireplace mantle. It has to stand for the finger that so auspiciously began my detective career and so quickly came to its ignominious end at Big Ethel’s. I don’t know exactly where the finger came from or why the sainted person that found it chose to send it to Duluth Pigge, of all people. Random selection, maybe; the old run-the-finger-down-the-phone-book-and-stop-suddenly technique.

Theories abound, but life is a mystery, and maybe it’s okay if some questions remain unanswered. Detectively speaking, Duluth seemed pretty happy to get the little finger out of the house, and I got paid for my part in the investigation. And remuneration (a beautiful word) equals success.

No, I don’t know with GPS accuracy where the finger came from, but I know where it will wind up. You sometimes have to pay acute homage to the scientific side of life. Ugh.

I bet we are the only family above a certain economic level in town with a pig’s tail on its mantle. But I don’t mind being a member of that family.

 

***

David Vardeman is a fiction writer who lives in Portland, Maine.