Speaking truthfully, before getting those Finnish telegrams in the mail—and stumbling on the corpse of my old professor in his library stacks hovel—I had not had many cases as a private detective. I could count them on my left hand. I will, because there were five.
Two of them were joke cases. One of the Scandinavian Literature TAs once asked me to solve the Case of the Missing Sense of Humor, a jibe directed at me every time she called me “ljósbrúnt fífl” behind my back. Meanwhile another professor in the English Department asked me to solve the Case of the Disappearing Lunch; it later turned out that nobody had been stealing his lunch, a fact I learned after three weeks of footwork and meticulously timed stakeouts.
Otherwise there had been two missing cat investigations and a case involving two jealous paramours trying to smoke out nonexistent infidelities. I caught a lot of heat from professor Rice about those cases.
Regardless, I had cases now: finding the Tenny Bros. and figuring out why Rice was holding a picture of a bull crane when I found him in his hammock. I seemed to be on the up-and-up, understandingwise, after getting some surprising help from a woman wrapped in a tartan bedsheet. I was on my way to see one Karenina Montgomery, although apparently she went by the name “Das Schloss.”
“Das Schloss” is German for “The Castle.” And walking toward Regent Apartments, in my fatigue and mental anguish, I felt like K from the Franz Kafka novel: weary, unsure of whether I’d ever get there.
It was getting late and I was getting hungry. Although I tried never to eat as a rule, it wasn’t something I could keep up very easily. I was more or less broke too, which did not help matters. Speaking truthfully—again—I was down to the last of my fluid cash. The rest of it had to go into keeping my apartment. Unlike Schlep, I couldn’t sleep in my office without causing a stir.
Still, I had to fix matters or I wouldn’t be able to answer my calling. So I stopped at the 7-Eleven just next to the apartment complex.
It was pretty empty, save for two brotherly fellows with chin stripe beards and a gentleman whose back was turned to me, staring at the rotating hot dog machine. From behind, it looked like he was wearing a suitcoat and a hat, both black but somehow possessed of an unearthly pallor.
At any rate, I bought a turkey and cheese sandwich and paid quickly, leaving behind that motley crew. As I sat on the curb to eat my turkey, I heard the door open behind me. A voice like thunder cracking in a wind tunnel spoke to me.
“Goddamnit,” I said. Turning around, I saw a vision of Rice. He was deathly pale, ashen even, with blank eyes, wearing a shabby suit and a bowler hat. He even had a mustache now. “You weren’t kidding about driving the point home. Where’s the suit of armor though? You look like Leopold Bloom”
He looked himself over. “Oh blast. Well there are dramatic parallels”
“Say, I thought King Hamlet was supposed to be Shakespeare, according to Stephen Dedalus. Or was Hamnet Shakespeare the ghost of King Hamlet?”
“Well, lad: if Hamlet in ‘Ulysses’ is represented in the figure of Dedalus and both those figures are anteceded by Telemachus in ‘The Odyssey,’ who of course was the son of… you got me rambling.”
I had to laugh. It was a classic strategy to make class time pass more quickly, getting Rice to go off on tangents.
“No. Now listen to me, Terry. Look at what I’ve been reduced to: ‘Doomed for a certain term to walk the night/ And for the day confined to fast in fires/ Till the foul—’”
“Do you have to recite ‘Hamlet’ just now?”
“Yes damnit, it’s part of the plot!”
“Shut up! You’re not even here, are you?”
“You’re damn right I’m not here. You’re yelling at a sandwich outside a 7-Eleven.”
“Well.... are you going to tell me anything new?”
“It’s the ‘Ratatouille’ rule of death: I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.”
“Could you just go? I have a castle to visit. And honestly, at this point, I’d rather have you ask me to avenge your ‘foul and most unnatural murder,’ rather than just throw in the towel.”
“What you need to do is to stand up and walk away. You hear me?”
I closed my eyes and waited for him to dissipate. When I opened them I found myself staring full on into Rice’s dead, nacreous eyes.
“You know… you can’t see it well with living eyes in all this light, but the heaventree looks lovely tonight. Remember that.”
I closed my eyes again. When I opened them, the white pallor of my sandwich greeted me. I ate the rest of it out of spite.
Check back for the next installment of Terry Olivier next week.