3. Rock Tuff, P.I.: The Mail Animal

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I was in my office, reading one of Georges Simenon's many Maigret detective novels, when the telephone rang. I was glad to hear it because I was afraid it might have been disconnected. Business wasn't good for a geriatric detective who specializes in non-violent crimes.

"Rock Tuff," I said in my deepest voice.

"Oh." The female voice was apologetic. "I'm trying to reach Elmer Petty who used to teach English at Blandsville High School."

"I am he," I admitted reluctantly, using pedantic grammar as if to prove my identity.

"This is Willa Dewey, Elmer. I was the librarian at Blandsville High."

Of course I remembered Willa. When I wasn't reading student writing, as I was much of the time, Willa kept me supplied with a stream of books on a variety of topics.

"How are you, Willa? And what are you doing?"

"I'm retired, but unlike you I haven't found a new career. I'm living in the Golden Sunset Seniors' Home. It's in a cul-de-sac inappropriately named Endless Way. Anyway, I have a small problem here and I'd like to employ you because I hesitate to hire a real detective." (Oh Willa, that was "the most unkindest cut of all," although you are probably right.)

Willa gave me directions and I drove to the Golden Sunset, a new, red-brick building with well-kept lawns and young bushes and trees. It was a pleasant place, but I am always a little uncomfortable in retirement homes, hospitals, and at funerals. Could Rock Tuff operate out of a seniors' home?

At the reception desk, a young lady betagged "Marilyn" -- her real name or a pseudonym? -- was being berated by a captious old man. "The food is terrible! And the mail delivery is always late."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Complin. Herman takes the mail up as soon as it arrives. But I'll convey your complaints to the management immediately."

"That's not soon enough," he grumbled and hobbled away.

She smiled at me. "Oh, dear, I hope you're not here to inquire about our one-week trial stay for only a hundred dollars."

"No. I'm here to visit Miss Dewey. I think she's in suite 315."

Marilyn called Willa. "I'll send him right up. Take the elevator to the third floor and turn left."

I found 315 easily, knocked, and moments later was drinking coffee and sharing updates on former colleagues, too often lists of depression, dementia, and death. Former students would have appreciated the Ds, if they had forgotten the plethora of Fs. Willa, thank goodness, was still alive and lucid and, in her early seventies, looking younger than she had fifteen years before. Retirement often removes years from a teacher's appearance.

On our second cup of coffee, we got around to business. "It sounds silly, Elmer, but something is happening to my mail. I still get the junk, but personal letters and cards never reach me. People call to ask why I haven't answered their mail and I haven't received it."

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The Mail Animal

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.
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