It had to happen, I suppose. Les Trade and Greg Son, two detectives with Blandsville’s finest, were sitting in the two client chairs in my office. If I had known they were coming, I would have removed a chair, forcing one of them to stand and thus shortening their visit.
“Some doubt has arisen, Mr. Tuff,” said Trade, “about your qualifications as a private investigator.”
I had anticipated this problem, so that my brief, infrequent ads in the local paper carefully avoided any claim of training or licensing. Besides, I had not been paid for a number of my cases, although they had not begun as gratis gigs. They were like the Christmas shows that the staff put on when I was teaching. We advertised them as “Free—and worth every penny of it.” The home ec. teacher juggled (and fumbled and dropped) three balls; luckily we had persuaded her not to use knives or she would have ended up looking like a victim of Jack the Ripper. A phys. ed. teacher dribbled a basketball with his forehead . . . and broke his nose. I did animal imitations and, knowing they were unrealistic, produced a meowing pig, a mooing dog, a clucking cat, an oinking cow, and a barking chicken. The shows were well received because students love to see their teachers make fools of themselves.
“Someone has lodged a complaint about you,” said Trade.
“Actually, Les did it,” said Son. Trade shot a dirty look at his partner.
“We have enough to do without some dumb amateur wasting our time,” complained Trade.
“What’s the latest crime wave in Blandsville?” I asked.
“Someone has been stealing books from the library.” As he said this, Trade eyed the crowded shelves of my bookcases.
“Check them,” I offered. “There are no library stamps on them.” Stealing books in this technological age seemed as anachronistic as a highwayman trying to rob a horse-drawn carriage. “Any specific books or just eclectic titles?”
“No electric books. All stuff by and about that bore Shakespeare.”
Trade had piqued my interest. “You can eliminate ninety percent of the students. They hate the Bard.”
“I’ll make you a deal: if you stop these thefts by Saturday night and get the books back, I’ll drop the complaints against you.”
“Yeah, permanently,” he said reluctantly.
It was Tuesday morning, so I had four and a half days to catch the literary larcenist. I hate working to deadlines, but my amateur profession was at stake.
As soon as the dynamic duo of detectives left, I hurried to the Blandsville Public Library and Art Gallery, a gift to the municipality by local millionaire and philanthropist Waldo Googleheimer. The BPL and AG was ruled over by Miss St. George, known to many as “The Dragon.” Topping her job description seemed to be to keep people, especially children, away from reading books. It was rumoured that she told young people that reading causes cancer. Maybe the institution should have been renamed Fort St. George. I was surprised there was no portcullis.