I knew they were desperate when they consulted me, because the contempt that Les Trade and Greg Son had for me was surpassed only by my lack of respect for them. But here they were, Blandsville's detective duo in my office. If I had known they were coming, I would have invested in a couple of whoopee cushions for my client chairs.
"We have a problem and maybe you can help," said Trade.
"There's a serial vandal at work in Blandsville," Son added more specifically.
"Serial vandals aren't unique," I reminded them.
"But this one is different," Trade explained. "He leaves an envelope at the crime scene addressed to us with a word or two inside. We don't know what they mean, but it's almost like he's mocking us."
"Oh, I'm sure no one would do that," I said, struggling to keep a straight face as I broke the ninth commandment.
"There are no fingerprints on the envelope or paper and we can't identify the handwriting." Son handed me a photocopy of the note: it said merely "Timon."
"The envelope was taped to the door of a convenience store. The perp had thrown a brick through the window, but nothing was stolen."
I knew that "perp," which rhymes with "twerp," is coptalk for "perpetrator." The only Timon I knew was Timon of Athens, the protagonist of one of Shakespeare's less well-known plays. To Trade and Son, I suspected, the play was completely unknown. They had checked the Blandsville and district telephone book for Timons and, of course, had found nothing. But the "perp" did seem to know his Shakespeare.
I agreed to help them, but I did not mention a fee because, knowing them, I was sure there would be none.
The next day, I did visit the crime scene where the shattered window was being replaced; an expensive job, I thought.
I had made no progress when, two days later, Trade called to inform me of another act of vandalism, this time a fire in a dumpster behind a drug store, and there was another envelope taped to the door for the detectives, this time containing only the word "Hamlet." One thing was now clear: the phantom felon had some familiarity with the works of Shakespeare. That fact eliminated most of my former students as suspects.
Three days later Trade called again: someone had thrown several cans of paint onto the front of a coffee shop. This time the envelope contained the title "Pericles." The Shakespearean element was clearer, but nothing else was.
Over our strong-as-Louis-Cyr morning coffee, Hank and I mulled over the case. "We know two things about the vandal," I said, "he knows Shakespeare and he dislikes Trade and Son." Hank frowned for a moment, then broke into a big smile. "I know who did it!" I waited. "You did!" I was about to protest that unless I were into sleep-vandalizing, I was innocent, when he grinned broadly and I realized that he was joking. "But I do have a friend who lives near the convenience store that was attacked."
Hank's joking had given me an idea, however. Streets are sometimes named by themes: trees (Elm, Oak, Pine) or authors (Austen, Bronte, Conrad, Dickens) or Prime Ministers (Borden, King, Trudeau). A quick check of the telephone book revealed that the first target was on William Street, the next two on Athens Street and Denmark Avenue. So the vandal was mocking the detectives, telling them where he would strike next, but with clues he knew they would not understand. Having Hank and me help them seemed almost like cheating.