1. Rock Tuff, P.I.: Uncle Henry Vanishes

My retroactive cynicism was in high gear by the time we reached Uncle Henry's house, 7 Eden Street. The small place had been painted recently and had a neatly trimmed hedge, a manicured lawn, and a border of flowers. Ms. Friend hesitantly unlocked the door and we entered. The house was neat an clean and nothing was disturbed.

"No sign of violence. Not likely a kidnapping. Maybe he just went away for a few days."

"Without telling me?"

"Well, Ms. Friend, he didn't plan to be away long because he didn't suspend mail delivery. Let's see." I picked up a pile of letters from the mat and leafed through them. There were the usual fantastic offers: new car deals, window-washing, hair restorer --hmm, maybe I could use that -- telephone and hydro bills, and something from a credit card company.

"I don't think you should snoop through Uncle Henry's mail. He wouldn't like that."

"I'm not snooping, I'm detecting." But to pacify her, I asked the standard questions. "Did he have any enemies?"

"No, everyone loved him." (Obviously not a teacher.)

"Did he have problems with alcohol or drugs?"

"No. He led a very quiet, regular life." (Like mine: dull.)

"Any financial troubles?"

"No." (Lucky man.)

"This credit card statement might tell us something. We could steam it open and reseal it."

"That would wrinkle the envelope. He could tell."

She finally agreed to let me open one envelope. As she filled the kettle, she asked: "As long as I'm boiling water, would you like some tea?"

"No, thanks."

Two charges interested me: regular payments to Love in Bloom Florist and a large sum to the Go Away Travel Agency. I made some notes on these two items.

"Uncle Henry often sends flowers to Aunt Bea's grave. He loved her very much. I can't explain the other charge. "

We resealed the envelope. "There. It's in better shape than much of the mail Canada Post delivers."

Ms. Friend drank her tea, washed the cup thoroughly, and drove me back to my office. I promised to call her soon.

"I don't think we've met." I said to the man in the florist shop, hoping I was right. "I'm Henry Homewood."

"It's a pleasure to meet you. You're one of our best customers. Everything is satisfactory, I hope."

"Oh, yes. You are still delivering the weekly bouquet to my late wife's grave?"

"Of course. And the half dozen red roses." I tried to picture the roses by a tombstone. I couldn't.

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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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