41 Rock Tuff, P.I.: Purloined Papers

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I shifted my stakeout to a more remote location, but again saw nothing nefarious. My third vigil was equally futile. I realized that catching the culprit was a matter of luck with odds similar to those of winning a lottery.

The next morning I was back at the mall, thinking I should switch to decaffeinated, which I detest, when I had a stroke of luck. I saw a man about thirty put a coin into a newspaper box, open it, and smoothly remove all dozen or so copies.

I approached him. “Excuse me, sir. Do you have the time?” I hoped that he wouldn’t notice I was wearing a watch. He tried to look at his wrist and dropped the whole sheaf of papers.

“I’m sorry. Here, let me help you.” As we gathered the scattered papers, I remarked: “You seem to be a great fan of The Sound and the Fury.”

“I buy them for friends.”

“you must have a lot of friends. Let me buy you a coffee.” I didn’t want to end up in a sprint through the mall, a race I knew I would lose.

A few minutes later, we were seated at a table with coffees and the stack of newspapers. In case honesty really is the best policy, I decided to try it. “I’m a private detective and the editor of The Sound and the Fury hired me to find out who is stealing his papers and why. Now I know who, but I’m curious why.”

After a moment, he said: “My name is Vincent Picasso and I’m an aspiring artist, I scrimped and saved for months and finally, two weeks ago, I rented a hall for my first show. I framed my paintings – no small expense – organized my sketches, and put up signs. The night before, I invited a few people, including The Fury’s art critic, to a vernissage.” I knew the word, but I had never heard anyone use it before. I like a person with a large vocabulary.

“The critic wrote that my work had less artistic merit than a kindergarten child’s drawings, and that I should be painting washroom walls.” I remembered the review; it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “hatchet job”.

“Only a few people attended the show and no one bought anything. I was bitter and angry and I wanted to get even with the art critic and the newspaper and its editor. I suppose what I did was petty and ineffective, but I couldn’t think of anything else. Now if you want to turn me over to the police…”

I didn’t. I told Mr. Hearse that I thought the thefts would stop and collected my fee. I gave him no details.

A couple of days later, I was saddened to see signs on lampposts and store bulletin boards:

“Housepainting. Bathrooms a specialty. Call Vince at…”

The newspaper boxes were still around, so I put a coin into one, opened it and took a paper: then I whispered: “This if for you, Vince,” and surreptitiously removed two more and deposited all three in a box for recycled paper.

 

Newspaper stands on street

author
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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