Flippin’ Stones

Keys. If you’re very young, or very old, it’s whatever you just had, but for an adult it’s keys. Keys are the most lost and often misplaced item an adult can own. There’s no official science here, no study brought to you by your favorite pharmaceutical company or current government, just an observation. You need keys for everything, cars, homes, safes, hotels, etc. The list is daunting. All because people are dishonest.

What do they look like?

They look like keys.

Where did you find them? You couldn’t have, I looked there.

I don’t get it.

Because you missed the key to understanding, the most oft lost key, hands down.

I spent the last few days wearing the numbers off my phone. I love pushing the buttons. The clicking and beeping satisfy to the point where sometimes I wish phone numbers were longer. A dial phone person might disagree with me, but I would argue that trogging your way through longer numbers with a dial phone might give you more time to think of things to say. Maybe answer the question yourself before you ask, before you had to waste that person’s time checking seedy motels, casinos, and park benches. There are only so many favors I was willing to call-in to have a guy I know flip and finger the bum with the newspaper blanket behind the nunnery.

Family would have been helpful, if in one case he had any, and in the other if they cared. John Blake has a cousin who was surprised to know he still existed. Seems their prospective families became estranged when both men were children. Marty Fischer lived a couple of hundred miles away and had little intention of caring about his cousin’s disappearance besides hollow placations and virtue signaling strong enough that he could sleep at night.

I was so hopelessly irritated that I tossed almost half a cup of perfectly good coffee against the brick wall outside the cop shop. Dead ends I could handle but asking Czerneski for help hurt like my soul stubbing its toe.

Turned out both of their places were clean. Normal guy stuff, messy, not much food, filthy bathrooms, a dead goldfinch, and a couple of dirty magazines. Correction, one of them had a parakeet, emphasis on had.

They only had one thing in common, the mall. I already squeezed Betty for anything useful, personnel files, habits, favorite foods, known hobbies, and sexual preferences. My only option was obvious, MawMaw said it more than once, ‘If you wants to find bodies, you gots to flip a few stones.’

Staring into the hobby shop window without the mannequin didn’t have the same mesmerizing effect. I tried, thinking maybe I could de-focus my eyes long enough to get into it, but all I got was an empty store.

Across the mall I felt as if I was seeing an old friend, the unspoken bond sort of friend. The friend who you don’t talk too often, but you can pretty much catch up with a glance and glass of something with alcohol. I liked his outfit, right down to the boots. Tempest didn’t sell boots. The store was about as busy as you might expect.

“Hi Tempest, remember me?” I asked.

“Why yes, how’s the leg?” she asked back.

I reached down and rubbed my leg.

“Oh, great, really good stuff, really got in there,” I said.

“Great, I’m so glad for you. What can I help you with today?” Tempest asked.

“I’m not sure if I made it clear last time, let me re-introduce myself. Philippine, Philippine Maximine. I’m a private detective hired by the owners of the mall to look into the history of a man who used to work here,” I told her.

“A man? Here? Oh no, I’m sure you’re mistaken. I’ve never had a man working here,” Tempest said.

“No, not here in the store, in the mall. His name was Roy, Roy Manis, he was the security guard,” I explained.

Tempest Seely took a deep breath, one step back and braced her arm against the sales counter behind her.

“I will tell you I have wondered, but not aloud. I didn’t want to curse it. Whatever the reason that man is gone is good enough for me,” she said.

“So I’m assuming you were not a fan?” I asked.

“A fan? Of a pig? No more than I am a fan of one cooked,” Tempest said.

“I see. Maybe you can elaborate?” I asked.

“Ms. Maximine, you could walk this mall day and night for weeks and never find a more terrible person.”

“Is that right?” I asked.

A loud crash and bang drew our attention to the front of the store. A small, gray, painted box, the type that holds shoes for sale closer to eye level tipped over in the display window. The mannequin must have been leaning on it for he too was pushed against the glass. The unique position of his landing place almost made it seem as if he tried to catch himself. He pointed forward, at a man who happened to be watching the whole episode unfold, John Buries. He tipped his English countryside gentlemen’s hat to us and came inside.

“Oh no, what have we here?” he asked.

“The box tipped over and hit the glass,” Tempest said.

“I’m so sorry, I must have left it uneven,” John said.

“Why John Buries, fancy meeting you here,” I said energetically.

“I assure you there’s nothing fancy at all. Just doing my due diligence, and it appears it’s a good thing I did,” he said.

“Actually, I’m glad you’re here John, I was going to get ahold of you anyways. In your time here, do you remember the mall security guard? His name was Roy, Roy Manis. From what I understand if you’d have met him, he’s the kind of guy most people remember,” I said.

“No, I can’t say that I have, especially considering his anecdotal repute. Did you say his name ‘was’?” he said.

“Um yeah, as a matter of fact it appears he has flown the coop so to speak. Can’t find hide nor hair of him,” I said.

“I wish I could help you, I really do, but like I said,” John repeated.

“Okay, well, if you don’t mind, I have a few more questions I’d like to ask Tempest away from prying ears. That is, of course, if you have a few minutes, Ms. Seely. May we use your office?” I asked.

“Absolutely, honestly though, when it comes to that man, I’m not even sure where to start,” she said disgusted.

“No problem at all. That’ll give me a chance to freshen up this display. I will, of course, do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again as well,” John said.

“Great, and hey, thanks again. See you later?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” John said.

John worked his job like a busy little bee until Tempest and Philippine were out of sight.

“So, Roy Manis huh? What did you do to deserve this, Mr. Manis? I told you bringing you here was a good idea. It appears, Mr. Manis, we have found your witch. And if not her, then definitely her voodoo queen friend. Stay tuned, keep your place. We have to let the world know who you really are but, first, we have a few loose ends to tie off. One of the last things we need is a private dick sniffing around,” John said.

No! Not her!

Roy dropped his arm and pulled on John’s coat, doing his best to portray concern.

“Don’t worry, I said she’s the last thing,” John said.

You son-of-a-bitch.

While Tempest was busy with Philippine, John bought every last voodoo doll in the boutique, then put them in the public trash can out in the mall in front of the store. He kept one, flashing it from his inside coat pocket to Roy, like he was selling hot watches.

When the women returned John was waiting by the store’s front sales counter to greet them.

“It’s all taken care of, my sincerest apologies, Ms. Seely,” John said.

“It’s no problem really, thank you so much for your help with everything,” she said.

“Ms. Seely, as long as I have your attention, I have to ask you about this doll I purchased from your store. The authenticity is beyond measure, and frankly I’m enthralled with it. I would love the opportunity to purchase more of them. I know for certain that I have some family and friends who would absolutely love them, well with the holidays coming on,” John gushed.

“Oh, well I’m sure we have quite a few more right over…” The shelf was of course empty. “My, wow, I wasn’t expecting that. Tell you what, let me make a quick call and I’ll find out when I can get some more,” she said.

“That’d be great. I, or rather, we’ll, just hang out for a few minutes,” John said.

“Honestly, Mr. Buries I didn’t take you for the gift giving type,” Philippine said.

“I guess you just never know about some people,” John quipped.

“Good news, I just got off the phone with my supplier and she said she could have more here by Friday,” Tempest said.

“Hmmm, any idea what time? My schedule is filling up fast,” he said.

“Oh, she is usually pretty prompt. I’d say 10:30 would be on time and by 10:45 she’d be unusually late,” she said.

“Great, I’ll see you then. And what about you, Ms. Maximine? Would you have time for a lunch engagement this day?” John asked.

“Uh, I would love to, and thank you for asking but I’m not really having much luck tracking these guys down. I’m going to talk to some other people in the stores and see if I can’t put together some sort of working theory,” she said.

“Very well then, la prochaine fois mon amour,” he said.

Philippine was shocked into stunned silence. She knew the words. French was common where she grew up, but it had been awhile.

“My love? A bit presumptuous are we not, Mr. Buries?” she asked.

“I presume nothing, and reap the benefits of surprise,” he said walking away.

In the mall world, Christmas is the big season, the time of year when most retailers hope to make their nut. Having a properly decorated mall which is tasteful and inviting to customers without being over-bearing is crucial. Post close is the best time for crews to get the job done, especially the night before Thanksgiving.

“Not sure they could pay me enough to do that job, am I right Paul?” John asked.

“Oh, hey, yeah, no kidding. Hi, I forgot your name but what are you doing here?” Paul asked.

“Same thing as these guys, just finishing up downstairs,” he said.

“Oh, I didn’t know you worked here too. Yeah, you said it. No way you’re catching me up there on those lift things hanging decorations. I have a hard-enough time hanging lights on my gutter at home. It’s gotta be thirty feet,” Paul said.

“Fifty, I’d say. Hell, it’s probably twenty-five from the railing,” John said.

“Yeah, I guess they’re going to string holly up and down all those too,” Paul said.

“That would be a nice touch, don’t you think?” John asked.

“The more the merrier,” Paul said.

“Indeed,” John said.

Friday morning Lady Pireau was ascending slowly up the glass elevator with her burlap bag of dolls at 10:25 AM. She seemed pleased with the holiday decorations and stopped occasionally to notice and admire them. In front of the boutique, amidst the occasional pub table and plant boxes with tiny Xmas trees, the holly strung along the outer rail began to ring.

One lone bell drew her gaze, as it was tied to the leg of one of her dolls. She would have normally dismissed its presence as simple ironic ornamentation if not for its coal black face. Lady Pireau would never, not ever.

The situation demanded further inspection, she approached the doll and attempted to tug it free of the strand. Her mind dismissed the sensation of the holly tugging back. She tried but could not let go. In an attempt to preserve the doll as an ornament as well as add an embellishing shine, some enterprising soul coated it with a clear varnish that most obviously had not had time to dry.

Investigators believe she most likely never noticed the nearly clear oil on the floor, most likely leaked from the scissor lift the night before.

As she folded over the railing, the holly wrapped her neck. She hung there for a few moments, obliged by the screams of holiday shoppers patiently waiting for Santa below.

Once the strand finally broke, she caught the back of a metal chair on her way to the ground ironically breaking both her fall as well as her neck.

John sat at a small round table along the railing a few festive bows down the length of the holly strand, patiently waiting for his dolls to arrive. He joined the hordes gaping over the edge, taking in all the horrifying scene had to offer. He gave Roy a wink and a nod before disappearing into the crowd.

A few of the lucky kids in line received free voodoo dolls as consolation for Santa having to unexpectedly leave to feed his reindeer.

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