The band honks and bustles in the corner of the bar, its brass noise reminiscent of the flies and wasps flitting through the still hot air.
Summer came too early this year. It comes earlier every year, or so they tell me. At the farm where I now frequent, wrinkly yellow grasses bloomed green overnight like they’d been hit by a reverse apocalyptic blight.
I hadn’t made much headway on the chicken case. But a hundred dollars a day plus “expenses” meant I didn’t have to.
The turning point came at this stuffy, puke-scented bar, where Stiffie came to me with the case’s biggest break.
Stiffie’s my main connection to the criminal underground. He knows the Turkeys, Dogs, Fox, Red-tails, Crios, Iodes, Ocho Gang, and between them he doesn’t get a wink of sleep. His juggling act is absurd. Someday he’ll get canned – but then again, says who? He knows what he’s doing. Plenty of crooks never get caught.
I was downing cherry Coke and trying to remain unnoticed by the tougher guys at the bar, when Stiffie came up from behind and smacked me on the back.
“Ciao!” he said, still stuck in a Mexican accent from his time with the Ocho Gang. “Long time no see, eh?” He grabbed the stool next to me.
“What do you know?” I asked. I’m not one for chit-chat. The chat never goes anywhere and the chit just stinks up the place.
“You remember Rosie?” Stiffie said.
“Guy in New Oxford says he knows who killed your chicken. Says he wore this symbol.”
He held up a drawing in pen. An I overtop a U, incribed within an O – a pattern like the pattern on the side of a basketball.
I winced, and my thoughts flashed from the sweltering tavern to a frigid January night in the most artless place in the Maryland agraria. I’ll do the reminescing for you, because you don’t know what I’m talking about.
A friendly P.I. named Dave received a frantic call from a hen named Rosie who was squawking that people were after her. The police weren’t allowed to help. Dave was worried about the danger level, so he enlisted me on the drive up to the chicken’s residence.
Life’s an exhausted shade of brown in northern Maryland (the same in southern PA), but then a few inches of snow had completed the wasteland. The chicken’s home was a squat little pen behind a squat little house that looked more like an inside-out icebox with one door.
We approached the pen.
We reached the pen. No hen in here. No feathers, no sign of a struggle, pen in tip-top shape. Wasn’t half an hour since we’d gotten the call. We thought it was a prank.
It was Dave who first noticed the snow-tracks leading away from the pen.
They weren’t chicken tracks. They looked like I’d described, like this:
We followed the tracks. We stomped through black forests and crossed frozen, rotting cornfields on an expedition that, at 9:00 at night in the dead of winter, my Crocs and I were less than willing to take.
Yes, I wear Crocs. With socks if necessary. They’re the perfect stealth shoes. Ideal for every situation except the one I’m talking about.
So we followed these symbols in the snow for an hour, me with a knife and a flashlight, Dave with a gun and a thermos of coffee, and I’m sure we were becoming easily trackable by the fallen toes which I left in our wake, when we ran across another house. Middle of another black forest. No road in sight. Its Christmas lights were still up.
We didn’t go in.
We didn’t even knock.
We almost pissed our pantslookingat the thing.
We turned right around upon seeing that dark home.
We are pathetic private investigators.