By Dan Leicht
“There’s no way this is a real case,” he said over the phone. “You’re serious? What is it you expect me to do exactly? Fine. I want fifty dollars to put me on this thing, another fifty when I solve the case.” He hung up the phone and pulled the bottle out from his desk. He poured a bit into what remained of his cold coffee and took a swig before heading out the door.
“What was all that about, Splints?” asked his secretary Jimmy.
“The zoo seems to have misplaced a peacock. They think it was stolen.”
“Shouldn’t they call animal control instead?”
“Tried that apparently, didn’t do them any good. Stick around in case the phone rings.”
“One of these days I’m coming with you on a case.”
“One of these days.” Splints pulled his coat over his shoulders and shut the door behind him.
It was an unusually warm day in March. Splints got into his car, turned the radio on. He listened to jazz as he drove to the zoo.
Waiting for him at the entrance to the zoo was a man wearing khaki shorts and a safari hat.
“I can’t believe they make you wear that ridiculous getup,” said Splints, walking up to the entrance.
“What? These are my own clothes,” replied the man.
Splints placed his hand out and shook the man’s hand.
“Have you got any clues yet, Edgar?”
“We found this in the cage.” He handed Splints a small plastic comb.
“I used to use one of these things,” replied Splints, “back when I cared how my hair looked in the morning.”
The man looked at Splints and noticed his shaggy, greasy hair. “How long ago was that?”
“At least twenty years ago. A man can only care for so long about trivial things until it becomes clear what’s really important.”
“What’s the most important thing to you?”
“Paying the rent. Do you have my fifty bucks?”
“What? Oh, yes, right here.” He fished out a wrinkled check from his pocket and placed it into Splints’ hand.
“I’d like to take a look at the cage.”
On the way to the peacock exhibit Splints’ noticed the zoo looked barren.
“Where are all the people?” he asked.
“Most people came for the peacock and would just meander to everything else,” replied Edgar. “We had to put a sign at the entrance that it’s gone missing.”
“What was so important about it?”
“Oh it’s beautiful. Most peacocks are blue, but not this one. This one is gold, with a beautiful rose colored train.” They arrived at the exhibit and Edgar motioned for Splints to look at the informational sign. “See here, there’s a picture of Ace, that’s the name of our peacock. You can see how lovely he is, it’s no surprise someone would want him for their very own, but we’ve taken many precautions against such a thing from happening.”
“So you think it was an inside job?” asked Splints.
“I’d like to meet some of your employees if that’s all right.”
“Certainly, right this way.”
They walked into the small canteen area squeezed between meager office spaces. There was a microwave, toaster oven, mini fridge, and coffee maker all crammed into a six by six foot kitchen. Sitting at a table off to the side were three employees. One bald, one with long blonde hair, one with a buzz cut.
“None of these people would use a comb,” replied Splints. “What about the rest of your employees?”
“Some of them are tending to the animals. There’s John and Francis, they’re probably in the tiger exhibit about now. Would you like me to take you there?”
“I’ll find my way.” Splints walked over and poured himself a cup of coffee. “I figured this would taste like a…”
“Zoo,” replied the woman with long blonde hair. “We’ve heard it before, you’re nothing original. Are you here to find out what happened to Ace?”
“Like a pile of elephant shit. Since no matter where you go in this place you can’t escape the smell. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Hello, Rosalie. The name’s Splints. I’ll find your bird.” He dropped his empty cup into the trash and walked out the door.
Splints made his way to the tiger exhibit. There was a small group of people with their faces pressed up to the glass. He found a spot and looked on as John and Francis were getting ready to feed the two Bengal tigers, one of which was white with soft silver stripes.
“The white coat on that Bengal tiger is most likely the result of breeding with a Siberian tiger,” said a young boy standing beside Splints. “In the wild they’re almost always orange. I like the orange ones. Orange is my favorite color. Did you know the color orange was named after the fruit?”
“You here with someone, kid?” asked Splints.
“I came here with my mom and little sister, they’re probably still in the polar bear exhibit. The tigers scare my sister. She’s only four. They don’t scare me, though. I’m almost ten and I can do a hundred push-ups with my eyes closed.”
“That’s fascinating stuff, kid.” Splints looked down to notice the kid combing his hair back with a small plastic comb. “Where’d you get that comb?”
“The last guy I talked to said he’d give it to me if I left him alone. It’s neat, huh?”
“What’d this guy look like?”
“He looked fancy. After he gave me the comb I showed my mom and she described him as ‘smarmy’, but I don’t know what that means. Do you know what it means?”
“I’ve got this friend Webster. He knows all the words. I’ll have to ask him. So was he wearing a suit?”
“He had on a nice jacket that looked like a suit, but his pants were jeans like my dad wears. I haven’t seen my dad in a long time. He should be home any day now my mom says, but I can’t tell if she’s being sincere. Sometimes I imagine he joined a gang who steals jewelry and sells it to the highest bidder and uses the money for big boats and parties. Other times he’s a knight and…”
I’m going to have to stop you there, kid. Thanks for the tiger facts. Find your mom, she’s missing you.”
“No she isn’t. I’ll go with you. Have you seen the polar bears yet?”
Splints sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “If it means getting you back to your mom let’s go look at the polar bears.”