41 Rock Tuff, P.I.: Purloined Papers


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“I’m William Rendell Hearse.” I knew him. Everyone in Blandsville did. He was the owner, publisher, and editor of The Sound and the Fury, the town’s daily newspaper. People familiar with Macbeth like to extend the name to include more of the quotation: “It is a tale told by an idiot … signifying nothing.”

This was the source from which we learned about a new street (named for the mayor) or a new park (named for the mayor), or weddings in which all of the brides were beautiful an all of the ceremonies moving, even the one in which the groom and the bride’s ex-boyfriend had a fight and the bride’s mother ended up face down in the cake.

Funerals were equally emotional, including one at which the enemies of the dearly departed sang bawdy songs they had composed about him.

To save money, articles were often written not by reporters but by people involved in the events. Stories about BHS teams by the coaches were, readers soon noticed, done to the formula: “Coach Willie Reid’s boys won another game Friday night” or “The BHS boys lost this weekend.” Winning scores were given, losing scores were omitted.

A mother told me that to improve her son’s literacy they would search a page of the paper, looking for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Usually, they gathered a bumper crop.

An unfavourable mention in the paper was called “a curse of Hearse”.

I wondered why Mr. Hearse was in my office. Surely he would not go to this trouble to get me to subscribe to his newspaper. I hoped he did not want me to write anything for him.

“How may I help you?” I asked apprehensively, ready to invoke my senior-clients-only rule, a rule often more honoured in the breach than the observance.

“You know my newspaper, of course.”

“Of course. I sometimes buy copies.” The pages, crumpled, were very good for starting fires in my woodstove.

“As you probably know, we have boxes of papers around town – fourteen of them. A person puts in their money, it unlocks, they open it and take out a paper – or are supposed to – but lately someone had been opening the boxes and cleaning them out. I am losing money I can’t afford.”

I had long wondered about this problem. Nothing but honesty prevented a person from taking more than one copy and honesty is a weak deterrent. The price was posted on the box, but was taking more than one copy strictly illegal? It was a moot point.

“Where is this happening?”

“All over.”

“It could be more than one person. In Ali Baba there were forty thieves.” But why, I wondered, would anyone want more than one copy of The Sound and the Fury – unless he or she had more than a single woodstove or fireplace? Cynics might ask why anyone would want even one copy.

I agreed to look into the matter for my usual fee, and Mr. Hearse gave me a list of the locations for the fourteen boxes. The thefts were more likely to occur in less busy areas, but it was easier to watch a box in a busier venue, so I ensconced myself with a coffee in the food court of a mall. Two hours and four coffees later I was Rip van Winkle in reverse, but all I had seen were two or three buyers and not one had taken more than one copy.

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Newspaper stands on street

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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