Aachoo Voo, Private Eye
So, I’m sitting there watching “Howdy Doody” and eating a banana sandwich, when there came a sharp knock on the front door. I wasn’t expecting anybody. I had taken the last three days off to recuperate from my non-existent head wound and I was enjoying the relative peace and quiet. I had almost convinced my mother to stop calling me every time her fingers got the itch, pleading a terrible headache and needing silence to recover. She had been pretty good, (for her anyway,) paring the calls down to every four and a half hours instead of the usual hourly check in. Once, I had ripped the phone out of the wall in frustration but within minutes, her butler had arrived with a new phone and had it installed before I could think to slam the door in his face. Peter K. McPeters, his name was, dignified, calm to the point of dead, and full of upper crust piety and disapproval. (Later on, I would discover that he was the son of an undertaker and a scrub woman, but that’s somewhere in the future at the present…. . I mean, let’s face it, the butler always does something, doesn’t he?)
Before he left, he brought in a box full of Beef Wellington, caviar, pate’, lobster bisque and an assortment of vitamins and tonics. My mother burdened herself with the notion that people who lived in apartment buildings were slowly starving to death. I had been raised properly in high society, (at least I had been after the age of 10) gone to charm school for an entire week, had the best education money could buy, done the whole “coming out” thing (and then turned around and went back in) and had even been presented to royalty. (The queen’s third cousin.) Yet, in spite of all my mother’s best intentions and my father’s low profile-standing-in-the-background mumblings, here I was, making my living with the dregs of society.
All those summers in Louisiana with my grandparents had rubbed off on me in ways that could never be erased. MiMi and Poppi Voo were my heroes. MiMi was a country girl, Cajun through and through and Poppi was a transplanted Englishman with a dubious pedigree, who loved her, raising vegetables, the challenge of detection, (his father’s father’s father’s uncle had been a protege’ of (as we now know) the non-existent Sherlock Homes) (not a typo) and me, more than life itself. My father had been a late-in-life surprise and not quite a bundle of joy, but nevertheless, mercifully loved, if not actually liked.
Three years ago after a terrible flooding of the family estate, excuse me, the swamp land known as Voo Bayou and the run-down but comfortable cabin that Poppi referred to as The House of Voo, MiMi and Poppi had been forced to move to New York, much to the chagrin of my parents but to my everlasting delight, and so now family get-togethers are no longer the boring, tedious affairs that they have been in times past. MiMi is convinced that my mother, Patricia LaVonne Paramore Voo is indeed too good for my father and she despises her with a passion that only a Cajun can produce.
She’s a sweet old lady full of fire and vinegar and has never passed up the chance to humiliate “the Lady of the Manor” as she says in a fake hysterically funny English accent. Never mind the fact that for the first two years of their marriage, my parents had lived with MiMi and Poppi down south after “the incident.” I’m just glad that I wasn’t there to witness the atrocities that I’ve been told about by both sides. Knowing my mother, I’m sure she made MiMi’s simple life a living hell. Knowing MiMi, I’m sure she gave back just as good as she got and saved up enough vengeance to last her for the rest of her life. Three years in a row now, she has shown up at my mother’s inherited Fifth Avenue mansion, on Christmas morning, carrying a live chicken.
Like I said, I’m sitting there wasting the afternoon with my cat, Weiner and my dog, Toulouse, the parrot is in his cage in the kitchen carving a handgun out of a peanut, the fish are trying to watch television through an inch of algae encrusting the sides of their tank, and there’s this knock on the door. I finish my sandwich, swallow a swig of coffee and take a quick look-see in the mirror in case it’s Andy calling. (Surely he was out of the hospital by now. Hopefully, he has gotten my flowers and all my messages. I thought the Singing Clown get well telegram was inspired.)
Dabbing on some lipstick and smoothing back my hair, I tripped over Phantom, the ferret and opened the twelve locks on the sturdy front door. There were two men in hats standing on the stoop. Looked like detectives. Probably Homicide. You could usually tell by their wary expressions and the fact that they were wearing badges that said.... Homicide.
“Afternoon, ma’am.” the taller of the two said, pushing back the brim of his hat and taking a snapshot of me with his worldly eyes. “Name’s Coyote, John Coyote, Third Precinct. This is my partner, Neil Yettimann. May we come in?” I was momentarily flustered. “What’s this all about?” I asked, pushing the door closer to closed than open. The guy cleared his throat and gave a look around. “You are Miss Voo, aren’t ya? Miss Aachoo Voo? You have an office in this building, don’t ya?” “Well, yeah,” I replied, “So I do. What’s it to you?” The other guy spoke up, “We just need to ask you a few questions about a homicide, miss. It’ll only take a couple minutes.” Feeling on the defensive, I opened the door and the two men stepped inside the apartment. Weiner was standing upright at the coffee table as he was wont to do and Toulouse gave them a sniff and remained where he was on the divan.
“You’ll never take me alive, Copper!” the parrot warned from the kitchen and a peanut came flying through the doorway. I turned red with embarrassment and bent to pick it up. “I’m sorry. He’s been watching too many arrests outside the window. Please, sit down. What can I do for you fellas?” Toulouse gave me a dirty look and climbed down from the couch and ambled across the room on his tiny hairy legs. The detectives watched him go and one of them said, scratching his face, “That’s the shortest dog I’ve ever seen in my life! His chin hair actually drags on the floor. Where did you get that thing?” “He’s from France.” I said haughtily. “His name is Toulouse, after the painter. He’s sweet as honey but he’s got a mean bite when he thinks you’re making fun of him so be forewarned!”
I motioned for them to sit down and made a half-hearted offer of coffee or tea. “No thanks,” they declined. “We’re here to investigate the murder of a man found dead at Marshall’s Hardware and Hat Emporium a few days ago. We’re following up all leads. Your name was found on about thirty-two receipts for Shellac and various other furniture refinishing chemicals, tools and products. Also, your name and number was on the back of a matchbook in the dead man’s pocket. Plus, there was a grainy photograph of you going into a sandwich shop in his wallet and several mentions of you notated on a calendar in his locker. Name was Si. Si Philbrook. What can you tell us about him?”
I frowned and touched my hand to my forehead. “I’m sorry. I just got out of the hospital. You must excuse me but I have no idea why the man would have any of those things except the receipts. He occasionally delivered purchases to my home here, at his insistence, of course, when they were too heavy for me to carry. He was a salesman, nothing more, we had no personal relationship and I really have no idea why he was killed or who killed him. I certainly had nothing to do with it, I can assure you.”
Forty minutes later they left, after many questions, looks around the apartment, checking out the furniture refinishing projects, equipment and chemicals in the back room where I always had one thing or another going on. At the moment, my neighbor’s old hope chest stood half finished in the late afternoon sunlight. I made a mental note to get that project done and get it back to him. What an old guy named George needed with a hope chest I had no clue, but it seemed to mean a lot to him and it was quite a valuable piece. There was also that buffet belonging to MiMi in the corner that needed work. It looked like a sway-backed mule, having seen way too many buffets served there upon it’s tired, stained finish. I didn’t know if I could save it or not. It had come through the flood and a fire and forty years of Cajun cooking and deserved a chance to be restored.
There was a small table that I had made myself, carved and polished and displayed proudly atop a larger table waiting to completely dry. I didn’t know who I would give it to or if I would keep it myself but it was a beauty. “Made that yourself, did ya?” Coyote asked with appreciation on his whiskered face. “You’re quite the carpenter. I’m impressed. Don’t see that much, a female furniture maker. I’d like to send you over to my ex-wife’s place. Maybe restore all the stuff she took in the divorce back to it’s original condition: Kindling!” And he snickered and the other guy snickered and somewhere in the kitchen the parrot snickered, which was his favorite thing to do. (Besides blessing me.)
I saw them out, locked the door and pulled Weiner into my arms and snuggled up with Toulouse on the couch. Phantom made himself a nest in my hair and Manny, the mouse climbed into my lap, much to Weiner’s chagrin. “You boys will protect me, won’t you? You won’t let the big bad policemen get me, will ya, fellas? I’m innocent, I swear it! I wouldn’t hurt a fly. You believe me, don’t you?” They all gave me stunned looks and ducked their heads and made little whining noises that could be interpreted in any of several dozen ways. I was hurt. But that didn’t bother me half as much as what the parrot did. He began making trumpet sounds (for he was quite the mimic.)
Slowly, I began to recognize Chopin’s 'Funeral March' and when we all trouped into the kitchen to see what was up, the bird was out of his cage turning the pages of my scrapbook full of pictures of old boyfriends and acquaintances and pointing an evil eye toward a heap of dead flies that I had dispatched to another world only this morning and placed in a bowl for the Venus Flytrap’s supper. I was properly chastised. And worried that my reputation had preceded me. “Get packed!” the bird cried, flying back to his cage and locking himself in, “You’re on your way to the Big House!”
(Funeral March played badly on a trumpet)
To Be Continued in Episode 8.........................
……..my mother’s butler, Peter K. McPeters with his ever present tray
and my dear friend, Peter Kelly as Peter K. McPeters....
Detective John Coyote and........
and you know what
Neil the Yeti....Man as Detective Neil Yettiman
the still deceased Shellac salesman, Si,
MiMi Voo wearing her usual expression…
Marjorie Main as MiMi
trying to detect if there are any more stamps
Peter Cushing as Poppi Voo
My favorite snapshot of MiMi Voo and Beulah the chicken
down in Voo Bayou, Louisiana on the farm when I was a girl…
Special thanks for the use of names: George, Si Philbrook, John Coyote, Peter Kelly, Chopin, Neil, Beaulah, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing, Marjorie Main..........