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Caught red-handed

August 15, 2006|by LYDIA HADFIELD

In Pulse's first serial fiction story, a sketchy private detective on his first big case pursues clues and bad news.




Chapter 3: A Crash, A Clue



I dashed up the apartment building stairs toward the crashing sound. My pith helmet tumbled off in my haste, and I had to stop. As I swept it back onto my head, I caught sight of the notes I'd written on my hand about the Waskotts: "Construction noises, rumbling, strange (sort of sweet) smell."

The landlady had given me more information than I'd expected. Luckily, the noise had given me an opportunity to run off before she could berate me about filching a castoff vest from her garbage can.

My garbage-diving habit had certainly been fruitful. In my pocket, I felt the diamond ring I'd found nestled amongst piles of blood-stained cloth in the Waskotts' trash can.

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I reached the top of the stairs to find a small boy tangled around a skateboard, a saucepan on his head. A plywood jump, supported by gigantic instant-coffee cans, stood at the opposite end of the hall.

The boy nimbly scrambled to his feet. The pot fell off his head. He scratched his tousled hair briefly, staring at my unconventional attire.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Yeah ... Aren't you that person? That lives in the basement? That's a detective?"

"Yes," I picked up the saucepan, "Here's your hat."

"Helmet," the boy corrected. He swiveled his head, "See? I didn't even get hurt."

A door flew open at the end of the hall.

"Robbie, dear, how many times have I told you not to ride your skateboard inside the -"

An elderly woman gathered the boy in an embrace and shot me a suspicious look. "Who's this?

"He's the detective, Gram."

"Oh, the one from the basement," Gram paused, then resumed her scolding, "And where did you get that plywood board?"

"Mr. Waskott gave it to me," Robbie squirmed out of Gram's arms, "It's from one of the big crates they always take downstairs."

"Crates?" I interjected.

"Some men come and take the crates to a big truck," the boy answered.

"Every first Thursday of the month," Gram nodded, "They're strange folk, the Waskotts. Mrs. Waskott is always askin' me if she can have french fries. I make real good homemade french fries, mister detective. Robbie says Mrs. Waskott doesn't eat 'em."

"I asked," Robbie piped up, "I asked why she wanted french fries. She said, 'for testing'."

My mind reeled. I was on to something, though I wasn't sure what.

(To be continued next week)

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