“Perceptions are like waves. They ebb and flow with the moon.”
This was one of the many strange things Mr. Dupoil told Miriam while they waited for Sandoval Jorgi to return home. He also told her, “Men who wear gloves shouldn’t be trusted.” And, “Never eat refrigerated cheese.”
They had knocked on Mr. Jorgi’s apartment door every hour on the hour, so Miriam heard twelve of these pieces of Marcus Dupoil wisdom, each delivered directly after it was declared that Mr. Jorgi was still not home and they should try again in one hour’s time.
Beyond men’s fashion and cheese consumption, Miriam also learned much more about the Veuvian Colpetta painting, which had been missing for eight days.
“When did you first realize it was missing?” She asked Mr. Dupoil around noon.
“I always kept it in a locked safe, hidden in the wall behind my living room couch,” he explained. “Mr. Jorgi and I were planning our annual Gouda and Ghouls Halloween event last week and went to check on the painting, as we often did from time to time, only to discover it was not in the safe.”
“Did the safe have a combination lock?”
“Yes, and the combination to open it was kept only by the two of us. It was a very specific combination that wouldn’t make sense unless you knew.”
“Everything there was to know.”
“Now you see why I suspect Mr. Jorgi is involved!”
“I see why you might think him somehow culpable,” Miriam said, proud to use another word from one of her mystery-solving books. “Did you look for the painting anywhere else?”
“We were frantic and tore through my apartment checking everywhere it might possibly be. Sandoval stayed overnight to help me look for it in the morning when the light would’ve been better but even then, nothing.”
“Ah! Are parking laws strict where you live, Mr. Dupoil?”
“Notoriously so,” he replied. “Why do you ask and how could you know?”
Miriam didn’t answer either question and only smiled at the discovery that her Parking Ticket Case No. 1 was intermingling with Missing Painting Case No. 2. She thought she heard Mr. Dupoil mumble about her “brilliance as a Premier Private Detective,” and smiled to the idea she would detect something worthy after all.
Around 8:30 in the evening it was decided that Mr. Jorgi was not returning home anytime soon and that they might instead try to find him at The Thirsty Dog, a small pub down the block. Marcus Dupoil described it as, “Mr. Jorgi’s favorite place for a few slices of molded goodness and the drinks to match.”
On their way downstairs, Miriam and Mr. Dupoil almost collided with the smell of charred brisket and a frantic Mrs. Jeanette Windthrip, huddled in a blue bathrobe outside the door to Apartment 1.
“Miriam Baxter!” She screamed and Miriam came to a stop just before her trembling neighbor.
It was a kind of moment for the Premier Private Detective her books might call, “mind-altering.” At once, Miriam’s picture of a gruff, finicky but ever-elegant Mrs. Windthrip melted into a new image of a panicked and unstable 35-year-old woman on the verge of breaking down.
“I … I need help,” Mrs. Windthrip whispered. “Can’t speak of it here. Must go inside.” Her words came out as desperate snarls of air. Miriam couldn’t help but think about every time she had begged Mrs. Windthrip, editor-in-chief of the Snowflake Daily Dispatch, to place an ad in the back section of the paper and how her attempts had always been made in vain.
“Really, Miriam, I’m surprised you’d even ask! This is a serious publication with only serious stories and advertisements.” Mrs. Windthrip chided her like a mother scolding a child who wanted to eat ice-cream for dinner. “I refuse now and forever to include your silly play-thing of a business in my award-winning newspaper. Never insult me with such a request again!”
And still Miriam would help Mrs. Windthrip tonight because it was the right thing for a Premier Private Detective to do.
Miriam and Marcus Dupoil grabbed Mrs. Windthrip’s hands and led her to a kitchen chair dipped in the electric light of a laptop nearby. Nothing else in the apartment was lit but Miriam guessed her neighbor, on this shadowy night, preferred it that way.
“I’m a friend of Miriam’s,” he answered from inside the galley kitchen, crouching by the stove to make sure the burners were shut. “She’s helping me with a case and we’ve been waiting most of the day to speak with Sandoval Jorgi …”
“Sandoval Jorgi!” Mrs. Windthrip’s face contorted, thin lips bubbling into uneasy quivers, tiny eyes turning to squinty slits of blue. “Mr. Jorgi is the man who put me in this fit! He came by my apartment half an hour ago just as I was getting ready for my bath and stormed into the living room with a knife in one hand!”
“A knife?” Miriam stared at Mrs. Windthrip, a frazzled figure of unkempt red hair and teary eyes, all wrapped in terrycloth.
“Yes! He told me he was setting out to kill a man who had wronged him and that I would probably want to cover it in my paper the next day.”
“Did he say who the man was?”
“He was halfway out the door when he spoke but I think I heard something like, ‘Marcus Dupoil.'”
By the time Miriam got every detail from Mrs. Windthrip, it was almost 10 o’clock at night. It didn’t go unnoticed by the Premier Private Detective how quiet Mr. Dupoil grew as her questioning became more detailed – What time did Mr. Sandoval enter your apartment? What else did he tell you? Where was he going next? What kind of knife did he carry? – and how his face reddened with each answer as if he was the one to blame.
“Should we still go to The Thirsty Dog?” Miriam asked after they left Apartment 1. “I think from everything she told me, Mr. Jorgi wanted to lure you there to make his move. Maybe it’s a more … comfortable environment for him. It might be safer to stay here or else to call the police.”
“No! We will not call the police. This is personal not policeable,” said Marcus Dupoil, any trance of the man who earlier this morning happily entered her apartment now gone. “I came to you hoping for discretion and privacy. We will meet him at Thirsty’s tonight and let the cheese curds fall where they may.”