Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Case Of The Foamy Bats

Call me. I'm under "A. Dick For Hire".

It was a dark and stormy night when I got the call.

I had just finished retrieving a pair of conjoined Siamese cats who had somehow gotten separated from each other and then from their owner.

That owner was an elderly collector of rare books and odd cats. He never went out himself and had no idea how his cats had come apart or where they'd gone afterward. Once free of each other the cats hightailed it off in opposite directions.

Cats. You know the story.

All I had to do was drag a sardine around the neighborhood on a string and after a couple of minutes I had more cats than I could count.

I picked the two best looking ones and delivered them to my antiquarian friend. He looked happy. I must have guessed right. Or he was ready for new cats.

Either way it was all over pretty fast, so I didn't bother charging him. I just shook his hand, wished him a more interesting life, and headed back to the office after brushing the fur off my tie.

When I got to the office the phone was ringing off the hook. I answered it. On the other end of the line was a woman. I could tell by the voice.

Her name was Craft, Jo-Ann Craft. She ran a shop. A fabric shop. One that also sold hobby supplies. The kinds of hobby supplies that appeal to people. The kind of people who buy zippers and buttons.

Jo-Ann had problems.

She had bats.

Rabid bats.

Dead rabid bats.

Bats had been turning up in her shop lately and she wanted to know where they came from. And how to get rid of them. She asked if I could investigate.

I said sure, that's what I do.

I'm Richard A. Dick, but I go by my middle initial: "A. Dick For Hire". It's on my business card.

Shortly after entering Jo-Ann's fabric shop I noticed something odd. Dusty tracks on the linoleum.

The tracks led straight to the bins of ripstop nylon, and then they looped around to the thread department, ending with a flyby of the cash register after skimming the Halloween display.

I asked Jo-Ann if she'd seen any odd customers lately. She said they were all odd, so I asked about any odd customers that were new.

She remembered one. A guy. He had lots of hair, all over, and had a thing for the outdoor fabrics. And he was dusty.

I had a hunch so I decided to wait, and see this guy.

Before long there he was. You couldn't miss him. I was pretty sure I was on to something.

I went over to talk.

When I introduced myself he said his name was Maggot, Dirty Maggot. That was his trail name. His real name was Joe Periwinkle, but on the trail he was Dirty Maggot. He was what they call a "thru-hiker".

He looked the part. Whatever that was.

He looked like he hadn't had a bath in years, or changed his clothes either. And had no idea what a fixed address was.

While I stood there and shot the breeze, trying to get a fix on his m.o., I noticed something. Right away I saw a couple of spiders jump ship and scuttle off. They went straight for the lace trimmings and burrowed in.

Then there was a small avalanche of dust. Several of them. I was afraid that if all the dust fell off this guy, he'd be standing there naked.

And that was one sightseeing tour I didn't want to be on.

So I told him that the owner, Jo-Ann Craft, had been having a few odd problems over by the Halloween supplies.

Then I popped the question.

How about him?

Ever been over there?

Sure, he said. He was thinking of decorating the tent for his girlfriend, Snake. But he hadn't decided anything for sure, so he cruised by there every time he was in the store.

Despite all this he seemed like a decent enough guy.

We strolled over and stood in front of the cotton ball spiders and cardboard ghouls. Just as we turned away again I saw something move. In his hair.

It was a bat.

It fluttered out of his dreadlocks and attacked some crepe paper bats hanging from the ceiling. Tore them up pretty bad too. Then it fell down the wall behind the display. After that everything was quiet except for a few flecks of foam drifting in the air.

I was sure I had my man.

"Buddy," I said, "Here's my advice. Hiking season is over. Get a haircut. Take a bath. Lose the bats."

After he left the store I talked to Jo-Ann again.

I said if she locked the door when she saw him coming she'd be done with the rabid bats.

She seemed grateful to have the mystery solved, but then she did a funny thing.

She went and stood by the door, and watched Mr. Maggot hike back down the road.

Well, that seemed to be the end of the story. Another case solved and I even managed to make a profit. Rabid bats are bad for business, so Jo-Ann was glad to toss a few bills my way.

I didn't see her again after that, until one day.

I was in the neighborhood.

So I dropped in.

Guess what?

No, not more bats. The bats were gone. For good.

But I was met by a pleasant young gentleman who seemed to recognize me. "Joe," he said, "I'm Joe. You probably don't recognize me."

He was right. I didn't.

I've see a lot of guys named Joe in my time but this appeared to be a new one.

Cleaned up, he had no resemblance to the former Mr. Dirty Maggot. Dirty Maggot was now Joe Periwinkle, and he was working at the store. He and Jo-Ann had fallen in love too.

His former girlfriend Snake had slithered back to college when he got tidied up. Something about selling out, I guess. He said she's working on Wall Street now.

Joe has a new life too.

He and Jo-Ann are planning to go backpacking soon. She got him interested in business and he got her interested in dirt.

Another match made in heaven.

And free of bats.

Just one of those stories you run into.

If you're a Dick like me. Give me a call. Just check the phone book for "A. Dick For Hire".

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