Aachoo Voo, Private Eye
I was sitting in my office filing my nails when there came a soft knock on the door. My office was on the first floor of my apartment building, situated between a cafe/sandwich shop/dirty ole man hang out called Clapsaddles and The Sit and Spin Automated Laundry Mat and Lost Sock Depository and somewhat adjacent to the Alaskan Relief Charity foundation thing. (What kind of relief Alaska needed, I wasn't quite up to par on yet) (more blubber, perhaps?) but I dropped the occasional quarter in the donations bucket shaped like an igloo out in front of their door. There was rarely anyone ever in the office as far as I could tell. (They were probably up in Alaska, delivering the quarters, no doubt.) But I believed in the sowing and reaping principle myself, and only hoped that should the occasion ever arise, that Alaska would be there for me.
Getting to my office was like running through a maze, everything was at all angles, the elevator rarely worked, washing machines flooded the hallways on a regular basis, little old ladies got mugged bi-weekly for their dimes as they sat waiting for the dryers to stop and hoping their flannel undies didn't catch on fire.The wastrels that frequented Clapsaddles roamed around at all hours trying to catch some girl wandering in the maze looking for a way out. (And let's face it, it was usually me.) All that whistling and pinching and groping got annoying after a while and I'd let out a good scream and the little old ladies would run out of the S&S and beat the hell outta them with their dime filled purses. I kept complaining to Harold, the manager/cook/under the counter bartender/pt time therapist/owner of the dump but he just grinned and wiped his hands on an apron that had seen it's share of battlefields and did nothing. (Imagine my face when I was eventually told that he gave free buttered toast to anyone that could make me scream the loudest.) They said he actually kept a graph.
The one small window my office boasted faced a lovely alleyway with a breath taking view of trash cans and cats of every size and description. In fact, that's where I had found, excuse me, rescued, my own crazy feline pet, Wiener. I had noticed a commotion one day while sitting at my desk doodling and moseyed over and discovered that a veritable gang of hoodlum-like kitty cats was mauling the stuffing out of this one skinny orange character and screaming like a pack of seagulls after a meal with gills. He was lying there holding on for dear life to this long, red frankfurter, fur was flying, people were throwing pails of water down out of windows trying to shush the racket, trash cans were overturned, whistles were blowing, winos were stopping in the middle of their hangovers to watch. I swear, if they could have, those cats would have been wearing black leather jackets and carrying switchblades. They were that mean.
"Shoo!" I yelled at the mob, waving my arms and kicking at them with my high heels. "Stop it, you pack of rat eaters! Leave him alone!" And I swooped down and picked up the poor little guy and ran back to my office with him, wiener and all. And you know the rest of the story. (Don't you?) I named him Wiener. Duh!
But I digress, as usual.
I was supposed to be working on my filing cabinet that day but I just couldn't get into alphabetizing and opening drawers and stuff. It seemed like too much work. So I had pulled out a nail file instead and began working on my long sharp nails. I was going for the scratch-your-eyes-out look. The knock came again. "Yes?" I said, perturbed at the interruption. "Come in." And in walked the strangest little man I had ever seen. He was barely three feet six if he was that, he had shaggy dark hair, big ears and enormous blue eyes. He was wearing short pants and a heavy coat and his huge hairy feet were shod with the most bizarre furry sandals. At least, I thought they were sandals. I couldn't stop staring. I sat there in amazement, nail file suspended in the air, my mouth open. The little man was holding a brown bowler hat in his hands and his bottom lip trembled with emotion. He looked at the floor and waited for me to get over my astonishment. (He seemed to be familiar with the reaction.)
"Hello. What may I do for you, Mr....Mr......" and I stopped. "Arehte," he said softly, "Mr. Bilbo Arehte." "Mr. Arehte!" I smiled, "What an unusual name! What kind of name is that?" "It's Elvish, ma'am." he answered and he looked up and his big blue eyes were brimming over with tears. "Elvis?" I asked, puzzled. "No, ma'am, Elvish." he replied."Oh!" I said, "Of course. Elvish. R.r..right........" And I put away the nail file, clasped my hands together and sat up straighter in the swivel chair. "Please. Have a seat, Mr. Arehte." I offered, pointing to the tall, velvet chair to the left of my desk. "And then you can tell me how I may be of service." For some ten long minutes or so, I watched as the little man attempted to get up into the chair and seat himself. It was quite comical, at times alarming, and finally, he gave it one more shot and jumped up and turned himself around and gave me a look that said, "A small triumph! And it is mine!" and then looked down at his feet in humility. I was strangely touched and ducked my head and pretended that I hadn't seen a thing.
"What seems to be the problem and why do you have need of a private investigator?" I asked as seriously as I could. "Because the police won't help." he said matter-of-factly. "I've begged them and all they do is laugh at me and refer me to Children's Services!" Then he huffed. "Madam, I am muchly aged ! I have been robbed and I mean to have my possession returned to me!" I tried not to widen my eyes but they did anyway and I cleared my throat and leaned forward in what I hoped was a compassionate pose. "And what was the item that was stolen from you, Mr. Arehte?"
He looked at the floor again and then at the ceiling and then again at the floor before finally meeting my eyes. Then he kind of whispered and I had to listen very closely to hear what he said. "It's an original unpublished J.R.R. Tolkien manuscript." And when I didn't respond, "It was his first book, written when he was a mere child in West Midlands. Way before The Book of Lost Tales. Long before Lord of the Rings! It's titled "Saruman and the Coal Truck! And it's priceless!" And when I still didn't respond, he shouted in his high pitched little voice, "Don't you know who Tolkien is?!"
And I had to be honest. I said, "Sorry, I've never heard of him. Is he a big band leader?" And he gave me a disgusted look and then fidgeted on the chair for a moment and then apologized and said in a controlled manner, "I'm sorry, ma'am, I keep forgetting that humans cannot see into the future." And I said, "What?!" And he jumped down from the chair and put his pudgy hands on the desk and looked me straight in the cleavage. "Are you going to help me or not?" and I kind of looked around helplessly for a moment, totally taken aback and stuttered, "Sure. I'll do my best. I mean, it's only a book, right?" And he gave a small groan and said, "Right! And the Taj is only a Mahal!!
So I ran next door to Clapsaddle's and bought him some milk and a cookie and tried to calm him down as best I could. I was sure that I was interacting with one sick puppy in desperate need of medical attention. (Of the shrinky kind.) But I was fascinated. He ate the cookie very politely and drank the milk slowly and deliberately like he was trying to decide how much to tell me. When he had finished, he looked at me from where he had seated himself on a box of paint thinner that I had neglected to take home the week before. The milk mustache was distracting but he wasn't aware of it and began giving me so many details concerning the case that I had to take down notes in order to keep up.
My shorthand was not very short but I was using my own personal scribble that no one but myself could decipher (and sometimes even I had to run upstairs and ask the parrot to interpret the squiggles.) He waited patiently for me to finish writing and then asked again in a much softer voice, "So, Miss Voo, can you help me or not?" "I think I can, " I answered, "You've given me a lot of information, which is always helpful. When did you say the theft occurred?" "Day before yesterday at my hotel." he said as he got to his feet.
"I'm positive that it was Saruman's grandson, Sauron. He followed me from New Zealand when I booked passage on the ocean liner. I never saw him on board but I caught a glimpse of him as I checked into the hotel. My neighbors had seen a strange man in black, with long wild hair and reddish eyes lurking about my garden back home and I knew that they had somehow discovered my whereabouts. The Sarumans, that is.
You see, they own all the coal mines in England. They are very wealthy, very despicably evil people. John Ronald had found them out and wrote about them in his book. Reuel, ( I called him Reuel,) and I were very close as children. His family lived near mine, all the boys and men in the village worked at the coal mines, you see, and then we began to notice that many of them went to work and never came back. Reuel and I would sneak away and watch the coal trucks going to and fro, with all those strange letters and words on them, and wondering why our friends' fathers were vanishing like that. Well, Reuel found out why!"
"Why?" I asked breathlessly, hooked line and sinker now. The little man paced back and forth, holding his hands behind him and told a story that was half fairy tale, half science fiction and half.....oh, wait, you can't have three halves, can you? Okay, let's make that a third fairy tale, a third science fiction and a third, uh...a third, um...... Oh, rats! Whatever it was, it made my heart-pound and I almost half believed it. Apparently, the Saruman empire was huge and their lavish but gloomy estate was laid out in the isolated countryside, yet not a great distance from the boys' humble lodgings in the village.
My client's description of the gigantic black castle with it's high towers and loud and fearsome furnaces was quite terrifying, even if it were fairy-tale-ish. (Actually, I found him a better story teller than The Shadow Knows play actor on the radio drama.) I found myself wishing I had some popcorn. "One day I heard the sad news that my friend and his family was moving away." Mr. Arehte continued. "His father had passed away in South Africa and my old dad and granddad had kind of taken him under their wings, so to speak and we were all quite fond of him. He had such an imagination, he did! I was very distraught to hear the news. The night before the family left, Reuel came knocking on my window at midnight and when I opened it, he appeared very agitated and frightened. He produced a brown paper wrapped bundle out from under his coat, tied with string, (the bundle, that is,) and handed it to me and told me to hide it where no one could ever find it. He said that the Sarumans could never know about it and must never find out what he had discovered about their evil empire. Then he shook my hand and said to me, "Don't ever grow up, Bilbo." and fled into the night."
"Uh- huh." I said, enthralled and motioned for him to go on with my nail file. Unfortunately in the doing, I poked myself in the eyebrow with it and then caught it in my hair. I tried to extract it gracefully and he tried to pretend he didn't notice but we both failed miserably in our attempts. Embarrassed, I dropped a pencil on the floor and dropped down behind my desk and fought valiantly to get the nail file out of my hair without making too much noise. Victorious at last, I popped back up holding nail file and pencil, plopped back down in my chair and clasped my hands under my chin and murmured, "Do go on, Mr Arehte."
Moments later, I glanced at the window, caught my reflection and to my horror, saw that my usually neat and wavy hair now resembled a movie werewolf's in mid transformation! I grabbed a comb out of the desk drawer and went to work frantically on my coiffure. Mr. Arehte had been busying himself inspecting the paint thinner box and my paperback detective novel collection, all the while hiding a tiny smile as best he could. Finally he turned and continued. "The package contained a manuscript. The one I now ask you to retrieve for me. It contains a complete expose on the goings on in West Midlands and thereabouts. A complete history of our village and the townspeople. It's written in novel form but believe me, miss, it's really more of a biography about my family and our friends."
"I had no idea that Reuel was writing it in his spare time or that we had inspired him so. It's a wonderful book and one that probably gave birth to all his other books and stories but one that, up until now...... was never meant to be published. At least, I've never thought that J.R.R. would want it published. I don't know. Maybe he's forgotten that it even exists. Maybe it was meant to be a gift to me and nothing more. At any rate, the time has come to act. That's why I came to this city seeking a publisher and a journalist who could help me expose this corrupt family and all their heinous deeds. There is a young lady, an old family friend, who works at one of your largest newspapers here and she's promised to help me. I was bringing the book to her to read. That's what....." And he stopped and let the tears fall down his face, washing away his little white milk mustache and looking so forlorn that I wanted to put my arms around him and hug him but I was afraid I'd break him.
"I will help you, Mr. Arehte." I assured him, wondering if that were true. "I promise!" "Thank you for your kindness." he whispered and wiped his face with a small white handkerchief. "After losing my parents last year in the mountains, I've been at a loss as to what path my life should take. Now, I've just recently learned that my cousins and nephews back in the village have gone to work for the Saruman Mining Company and several of them have gone missing....I must do something! I know what is happening to them and I have to stop it! I must!" "There, there." I comforted him in my most soothing voice as he stopped and stood before my desk in the late afternoon light. "Tell me, what happened to your parents? Was it a mountain climbing accident?" He was silent for a long time and then turned to look out of the small window, thoughtfully. "No. It was dragons." he said barely above a whisper. I shook my head twice. I could have sworn he'd said....dragons but that was ridiculous. "Did you say....?" I gulped but he combed at his mustache and gave me a sweet and curious smile. Then he handed me a sheaf of notes and papers out of his pockets and said, "This should help you find the fiendish Sauron and get my manuscript back. And this is for your trouble."
And he withdrew a beautiful shiny object out of a small velvet bag and laid it on my desk. It was exquisite. A long silver chain with a pendant shaped like a vine and flower. In the center of the flower sparkled a jewel more brilliant than a diamond. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I took the object in my hand and electricity ran through me and light and joy and visions of riding through the forest on horseback with my long hair blowing in the breeze. The moon was full and shining and I was laughing at a man who rode a silver horse running in front of me. There was a stream and a bird and a........
"What did you say?" I asked pulling myself out of the fantasy. I suddenly felt very lightheaded. More so than usual. The little man was standing in the open doorway about to depart, turning to look at me, smiling that curious smile. "I said, thank you, Miss Voo, for accepting this quest. I knew I had chosen wisely and I know you'll find my precious treasure and return it to me. You know where to reach me." And he put his little bowler hat on his head and said softly just before the door closed, "Namaarie..... Amvanya heri nartyë." And he was gone.
TO BE CONTINUED in episode four...........
(my apologies to my beloved J.R.R.Tolkien................................smile)
btw: Arehte is pronounced Ar-uh-tay which means.......uh......um.....something.
psst!!!! Rodger??? What does it mean???
Points for those who find the reference and/or references to another of my online stories in this episode!!!!