21. Rock Tuff, P.I.: Paradise Punch Lost

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With her pretty face and trim figure the woman in my office was distractingly good-looking, but I managed to concentrate enough to get her name and her problem.

“I'm Lorna Burns, Mr. Tuff, and I created a non-alcoholic drink called Paradise Punch, and it's delicious. It even comes in several flavours: orange, strawberry, banana, chocolate. Foolishly, I agreed to let Roger Ferguson make and sell it in his restaurant, the Jolly Roger, for twenty-five percent of the profits. It was a gentleman's agreement and Roger, it seems, is no gentleman. Can you help me, Mr. Tuff?”

I wanted to because nothing arouses my chivalry like a beautiful damsel in distress, but she didn't meet my seniors-only requirement. However-

“How old is your grandfather?”

“He would be ninety, but he's dead. Why?”

“It doesn't matter.” Lorna could be my client as his proxy, in loco grandparentis.

She gave me her address and telephone number and left. I headed for the Jolly Roger to investigate.

The restaurant had, of course, a pirate motif: skull-and-crossbones flags adorned the walls. the menu was on a pseudo-treasure map, the waitresses wore eye-patches, boots, imitation swords in their belts and anachronistic short skirts, and the TVs showed a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I ordered a chocolate Paradise Punch. It came in a large mug. It was good. To investigate further, I had a banana, then a strawberry Punch. With all that liquid sloshing around in my stomach, I was able to resist the hardtack sandwich and seafood stew and leave.

At home, I thought about the case: there seemed to be no way to force Ferguson legally to share his profits from the Punch with Lorna, but perhaps we could make him stop serving it. In a previous case, a butler had gained revenge by spiking the food and drink at his employer's parties with a nauseating substance.

I called Lorna. “I have an idea, but it's not entirely... legal. Does Roger have a security system?”

“I don't think so. He's too cheap.”

I didn't want any witnesses in Blandsville, so we drove to the liquor stores in several nearby towns and separately bought a couple of bottles of over-proof rum in each one.

“Goodness, Mr. Tuff, I know private investigators are supposed to be heavy drinkers, but you must be the profession's boozer par excellence.”

“It's not for me. I'm practically a teetotaller.” I explained my plan.

At two a.m. we parked in the alley behind the Jolly Roger, now closed and dark. It was locked, of course, but sometimes people have the most amazing hidden talents. A man I know plays the ukulele and sings; another does very realistic animal imitations; a woman speaks Russian and Mandarin fluently; and Lorna, I discovered, was an expert at picking locks. In less than two minutes, we were in the kitchen of the restaurant, emptying the bottles of rum into the vats of Paradise Punch, finger-prints wiped off, of course. Then we left quickly.

As I was about to drive away, a police car came down the alley behind us. Desperate situations require desperate remedies. “Cooperate,"  I said, and I seized my comely cohort and kissed her hard. The driver slowed, looked at us, and drove on. I hoped he wouldn't remember the make of my car or the licence number. It was lucky we weren't teenagers or he might have stopped to check.

“That was ... unexpected,” Lorna said.

“It was necessary. We couldn't be caught here.”

The next day I telephoned the police station anonymously – or tried to. I thought of speaking French, but Trade and Son probably don't speak French, and neither do I, so I used the old trick of the handkerchief over the mouthpiece.

“Detective Trade here.”

“I have a tip for you.”

“I can't hear you.”

“I have a tip for you,” I said more loudly.

“I still can't hear you.”

I repeated more loudly.

“I still can't hear you.”

I removed the handkerchief and tried to change my voice. “I have zee importante tip pour vous.”

“Son, are you trying to play a trick on me?”

“Mais non, monieur. Zee cafe Jolly Roger eez putting alcohol in zee Paradise Punch drinks.”

“I'll check on it.”

Later that day Trade and Son went to the Jolly Roger, each drank a glass of each flavour of Punch, then tipsily arrested Ferguson and closed the restaurant. He denied knowing anything about the empty rum bottles in the garbage.

The Blandsville newspaper and the radio station, often desperate for news, featured the story of the closing of the Jolly Roger, making it sound tantamount to the outbreak of World War III.

Two days later, Lorna called with the news that an independent brewery, Fool Proof, had offered to manufacture and distribute Paradise Punch for her and give her one third of the profits.

Trade and Son were commended for discovering the illegal sale of alcoholic drinks, then reprimanded for drinking while on duty.

All's swell that ends swell.


Paradise Punch Lost

Gary E. Miller spent 29 years trying to teach English at several high schools in Ontario. In 1995, he made his greatest contribution to education by retiring. He now spends his time in rural Richmond, reading voraciously and eclectically, and occasionally writing stories and poems which do nothing to elevate the level of Canadian literature.