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Case Of The Missing Candlestick Maker

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Jack Vine PI case book
From The Files


Jack Vine

A Jack And The Giant

P I Case File

Case Of The Missing Candlestick Maker

“Jack be nimble Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candle stick.”

It had been a couple months since Tiny and me cracked the caper of The Lost Little Lamb, and yes I was sort of seeing Mary on the side now. Her sister Terri, also a knock out, had fiery red hair, an hourglass figure and surprisingly a PhD in physical education. Now, for the life of me I’ve never heard of anyone, even a dame, having a PhD in PE, yet Terri proudly showed Tiny and me her diploma. I wondered just what she had to learn to get that degree. Hmm...

My partner Tiny was smitten right off by the dazzling young wench and promptly asked her out that night. I understand they went and saw a Humphrey Bogart flick, her being a diehard Bogey fan. Then they hit one of the dives down in the Meadow district afterwards for drinks. Still hung over from his PE lesson, Tiny had slept in late, so I was holding down the fort with the help of my other two companions Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

It was around ten o’clock and I was kicked back in my chair, my hat pulled down, my eyes closed, when in burst a little old lady with a cane. Now I know what you’re thinking, little old ladies don’t burst into rooms, especially ones toting a walking stick. Well this was no ordinary little old lady, let me tell you.

“Are you Jack?” the old biddy demanded to know.

She stood all of four feet and some leftover change, yet she hit me as a woman that usually got what she wanted. She was dressed elegantly in a turn of the century sort of way wearing a powder blue silk dress with a white shawl to accentuate her duds. Her jewelry looked handcrafted and probably, like the style of the gown, was very old. But it was the walking cane that got my attention.

“I said young man, are you Jack?” she reiterated in that quiet old way southern relics her age used back in the Civil War era. She slammed her cane down across my desktop standing as untouchable as Mary Magdalene holding a .357 Magnum. It got my attention all right, though I wasn’t impressed and politely told her so.

“Look sister,” I growled, “you do that again and I’ll put that stick of yours where the sun doesn’t shine and only your proctologist will venture to retrieve it. See?”

Startled, she backed off somewhat to reassess her strategy; clearly, I wasn’t responding, as she was used to. I tilted my hat back and gazed into her four eyes, two of them green, the other two glass. The lenses of her spectacles looked more like the bottoms of coke bottles magnifying her orbs three times their normal size. It sort of creeped me out; like a mouse being considered as an appetizer by a hungry cat.

“What’s eating you Gamms?” I asked pointedly. We’d gotten off on the wrong foot, something that seemed to happen quite often when it came to pushy dames and me but I wouldn’t let it interfere with a case.

“Well I never," she stuttered in mock shock. This doll could really play her part I thought, but I wasn’t fooled.

“I doubt that sister.” I told her honestly. She was old as dirt for sure; still, she had the signs of once being a hot looking gal in her time. Probably when Pharaohs ruled Egypt, but signs never the less. She did set her cane against the side of my desk however, a fact I took to be a good omen. An unarmed old bitty was a safe old bitty in my book.

“Why don’t you park it sister.” I offered graciously, pointing to the antique chair against the wall; the same chair that had been in the joint when Tiny and me first started. It was covered with an inch of dust and was probably manufactured the same time the old gal was.

She turned and looked to where I pointed, spotted the rickety old chair, pulled it in front of my desk and seated herself as told. “You’re not what I expected in a private investigator.” She said with just a hint of a grin on her lips. Tilting her head she checked me out with those telescopes on her nose, I shivered involuntarily. Was she playing me like a fiddle I wondered?

“Mr. Rodgers is in another neighborhood sweetheart.” I answered. “I’m the real McCoy on this block, so if you’ve got a job for me I suggest you cough up the facts and let me do my job; that OK with you grandma?”

“Humph.” She grunted as unimpressed with me as I currently was with her. Just then, my partner stepped through the door and headed over to his desk. Actually staggered over in a comatose state would be more accurate. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot from, I assumed, one wild night of PE lessons. He didn’t notice the fossil sitting in front of me and promptly relieved himself of some excess gas. It’s a habit giants have, sort of like a dog marking a tree in its territory, but I digress.

“Morning,” he mumbled incoherently. He held a large mug of coffee in his hand; giants were partial to strong brews, almost sludge in fact, so beware. He downed several gulps of the thick dark liquid and sighed contentedly.

“Morning Tiny.” I replied with as straight a face as I could. I pulled out my handkerchief and tossed it to the old relic, indicating for her to put it over her nose and mouth as quickly as possible. She did so with surprising speed for someone as old as she looked. I upped my opinion of her one notch.

“How’s Terri?” I asked the oblivious giant.

He gazed my way, finally realizing there was a client sitting in front of me; his face promptly turning several shades of red with embarrassment. “I uh, I uh.” He stuttered foolishly; the noxious fumes formed a cloud layer above our heads and spread out like a virus crackling the ceiling paint above.

“How’s Terri.” I repeated again for his benefit.

He refaced me and for a brief moment, I saw he had one heck of a story he wanted desperately to tell me.

“Umm, demanding," he supplied vaguely and grinned.

I put that subject on the back-burner knowing I’d get the scoop on it at a more convenient time and turned back to the old lady in front of me. “This is,” I began to fill him in until I realized I never did get her name. “I’m sorry Ma’am,” I apologized, "I didn’t catch your name.”

“Gladice.” She supplied, between gasps of air. Her face had turned green and she looked as if she was going to hurl her breakfast, so I leaned back and opened the window. A sparrow perched just outside on a tree limb got a dose of the noxious fumes and hightailed it to a better smelling location; the city dump would probably qualify.

“Gladice is it.” I responded, trying to get back to the old woman’s story. “Would you care to fill us in as to the reason for your little visit?” I was being careful not to push her too hard; one good whiff of Tiny’s volatile fumes can have unusual side effects and I was starting to like the old gal.

Dabbing the water pooling in her eyes with the handkerchief, she filled her lungs with the fresher air coming in from the opened window next to us. “As I said young man, (cough, cough) my name is Gladice, I live over by the big creek in a shoe.”

“Come again?” I responded, not believing what I had heard. It was my partner however, that filled me in.

“Hey, Jack!” He spoke up. “She’s that little old lady everyone talks about; the one that lives in a shoe with all those kids. You know, been in all the papers and stuff.”

Tiny was right of course, I had heard of her, everyone had. She was considered one of the 'social elites’ in her quest to help those less fortunate, in her case orphaned children. She was well known for taking in stray kids from dysfunctional families and raising them with outstanding morals and manners. Something you don’t see nowadays.

“So,” I said, “you’re the little old lady are you?” It was a dumb question of course and didn’t need to be answered.

“Yes, I am.” She replied none-the-less. “Your gaseous friend over there has it right.” Tiny blushed but remained quiet. “I run a kind of orphanage for children,” she said. “Those in need of a place to stay you see. I’ve got so many right now that I had to buy several more pairs of shoes to house them all.”

I was tempted to ask why she didn’t just build a house like everyone else, but thought better of it, her cane still within easy reach and all.

“I even took out insurance on them.” She went on. “You never know who’s going to try and swipe your shoes you know.”

“I see.” I told her, though I did not. “Could you get to the point of your story toots; the sun's not going to stay up all day you know.”

She looked at me with annoyance yet went on anyways. “It’s Jack.” She told me. “My Jack that is; he’s missing.”

I looked over to Tiny wondering if this was going to turn out to be another Mary’s lost little lamb case, and groaned.

“Is there something wrong young man?” the relic asked with those penetrating eyes.

“No Ma’am.” I told her as professionally as I knew how. “So, you’re the little old lady who lives in a shoe and you’ve lost someone named Jack, is that right so far?”

“Yes.” She said tossing my handkerchief onto the desktop and smoothing a wrinkle out of her dress, it was Armonty I noticed.

“This Jack,” I continued, “is he one of you kids?”

“Oh no, Jack is the candlestick maker.” She looked at me as if I should already have known that, though I didn’t see how that was possible.

“I see.” I lied once more. I wondered where this was going and if it would end anytime soon. I was starting to get that throbbing behind my right eye once more, but hoped for the best. “Who is this Jack to you then granny,” I asked, “a grandchild, a great grandchild maybe?” It was a question that needed answering, though I was thinking a few more grand’s needed to be added to the child.

“He’s my lover.” She said matter-of-factly.

I was shocked, but not as much as Tiny, who fell back in his chair knocking over the coat rack in the process. Embarrassed, he stood up, looked at me and darted out the room in a mad dash. The sound of his laughter was audible even though the giant had waited till he’d gotten outside. He obviously forgot I had opened the window moments before.

The old bitty was getting pissed off by the minute. I apologized for my partner’s behavior and with as straight a face as I could, asked her how old this candlestick maker named Jack was; I was thinking three digits?

“He’s twenty-six.” She supplied with eyes like daggers.

I could see I was walking on thin ice and wondered if I could come at this from a safer angle. As hard as I thought, it still came down to the same set of questions. “Why don’t you just tell me about this lover of yours yourself, sister.”

The old lady was about to comply when in walked my gal Mary. “Hey Jack.” She greeted me enthusiastically. Her blue eyes were sparkling like diamonds, her smile like the sun. How a dame like her could stay happy all the time was beyond me.

“Hi ya toots.” I greeted her warmly. “What’s new up in the pasture?”

Before she could respond, she looked over at my client, her eyes going wide with surprise. “Grandma!” She exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

It was my turn to fall out of my chair and I hit the floor hard. Had I heard Mary right or was this all some kind of bad psychotic dream? Maybe I was dead and this was my punishment for living a fast life of loose dames, booze and good times. Wait! I never had any of those, well the dames and the good times anyway. Booze I had plenty of. When I came too, Tiny had just reentered; he saw me on the floor and came over to see what happened; Mary, he noticed was by my side. “Hey Mary,” I heard him ask hesitantly, “what happened to Jack?”

Mary looked from the old lady to me to Tiny, “I don’t know.” She responded all confused. “What’s grandma doing here?” She asked him.

Everyone in the room stayed quiet, everyone that is but Tiny. He darted back out the door choking and sputtering in a vain attempt to stifle another fit of laughter. I groaned under the intense gaze of Mary’s grandma, stood up and reseated myself behind the relative safety of my desk. The two women were watching me and waiting for me to make the next move, they didn’t have long to wait. I reached down into my desk drawer, pulled out my bottle of Scotch and took a couple good swigs, forgoing the glass.

“OK, let me get this straight, sister.” I said facing the old dame. “You’re the little old lady who lives in a shoe, you’re looking for your twenty six year old lover named Jack, who is a candlestick maker that has disappeared and you're Mary’s grandmother, is that about it?”

“Great grandmother.” She corrected me.

I looked over to Mary who nodded; she then looked back to her grandmother. “What’s this about Jack?” She asked baffled.

Had she caught what I had said about the old dame and this candlestick maker rolling in the sack? I wasn’t sure. Mary had that way about her; sometimes it took a bit of time for things like that to register in that area between her ears. I waited about ten seconds before her eyes went wide. Bingo!

“LOVER!” she exclaimed.

I dashed over to her just in time to catch her from hitting the floor; she was out cold. Carrying her voluptuous body over to the couch, I gently laid her down. Had we been alone I’d have been there with her making love to her, conscious or not. As it was with Cleopatra’s mummy looking over my shoulder all I could do was put a cold damp washrag on Mary’s forehead and hope for the best.

“She’ll be OK in a bit,” I said. “We should let her rest awhile though.” I turned to Mary’s grandmother and asked, a bit harsher than I should have, if she had any more surprises to tell me. Concern for her granddaughter was clearly in her eyes when she looked at me, it changed quickly to a sneer.

“So,” she said ignoring my question, “you’re the knight in shining armor are you?”

“Huh.” I answered. “Come again?”

“Little Mary told me about her new boyfriend.” She informed me. “She refers to you as her knight in shining armor.” She looked me up and down reassessing me. “Where she ever got that idea is anybody's guess,” she said. “A knight you don’t seem to me.”

“Maybe that’s because you haven’t seen my lance.” I growled angrily in response. It wasn’t the smartest thing to say, revealing to your girlfriend's pissed off granny that you were doing her granddaughter in the sack, and I was sure I was going to pay for it now. Maybe another slug of Scotch was in order.

“Well then,” she said throwing me a curve-ball, “you should know then that Jack’s lance, my Jack that is, is just as inspiring to me as yours is to little Mary.”

The clouds parted and the sun shone through the window illuminating the room; “I see Gladice,” I said, and I actually did. “Why don’t we get back to finding your knight in shining armor then, OK toots?” She smiled at me and I actually saw years slip away; she really did look nice when she smiled. “When was the last time you saw your candlestick maker, I asked?”

“Yesterday.” She told me, her eyes actually sparkling now that we had come to a mutual understanding.

“And where was that?” I asked.

“Down in the Meadow district, near all those small shops. Jack and me were window-shopping you see.” She spoke now in a quaint voice reminiscent of her time decades past, I rather liked it. “It's something we’ve done for quite some time now,” she went on. “I’m always looking into pawnshop windows looking for deals on children’s clothing and used furniture for the orphanage you see.”

I found myself actually enjoying our talk of Jack and their intimate pastimes together. Gladice really was an unusual woman. Could a dame like Mary and me find such happiness?

“After our walk, Jack got kind of fidgety,” she said. “He told me he had to take care of some business and would be back that night; we had a dinner date set up at a very romantic restaurant we like.” Tears started to form in her eyes and I reached for the handkerchief she had tossed on my desk earlier and handed it to her. “But he didn’t show up,” she cried, “and I’m afraid I might have done or said something wrong to him.”

“Hmm.” I said thinking the facts over. “I kind of doubt that, sister. You’re very careful with what you say, though sometimes you can get a bit opinionated.” I grinned when I said that, bringing a needed smile to her face. “Still, you have a good heart; you’d have to, to raise so many children as you do and do it unselfishly. That’s probably what your candlestick maker finds so appealing in you.”

“Thank you.” She said blowing her nose and wiping her eyes. “But why did he leave me then?”

Before I could venture a guess to Gladice‘s question I heard Tiny call to me. “Hey Jack,” he said hesitantly. I turned to see what he wanted; his massive head had a bewildered look on it.

“What is it?” I asked.

“There’s a young gentleman out here looking for Gladice,” he informed me. “Says he’s been looking for her all morning and was told she might be here. Should I send him in?”

I looked over to Gladice and saw her eyes light up. “Please do Tiny.” I said, taking her hand and standing her up. In walked a good-looking young man with a small box in one hand and a large piece of paper in the other. When he saw Gladice, he smiled brightly and came over to us.

“There you are Cricket.” He greeted her affectionately. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Sorry, about missing our dinner date last night, but negotiations took a lot longer than I had expected.”

Gladice, I could see was completely baffled. “Negotiations?” She inquired, confused.

“Yes.” Jack told her. “I sold off part of my business last night.” He replied and handed her the large piece of paper.

“What’s this Jack?” She asked.

“It’s the deed to your orphanage, Cricket.” He said proudly. “Paid in full.”

“What!” Gladice exclaimed in shock. She would have collapsed right there on the spot had Jack and myself not caught and steadied her. Guiding her over to the antique chair, we set her down. Then Jack, the candlestick maker, did something no one expected; he got down on one knee holding the little box in one hand and her hand in the other.

“Gladice my love,” he said gazing into her huge green eyes, “would you be my wife?” As he said this he opened the small box revealing a modest ring of gold; taking her quivering hand, he slid the ring on her finger. “It’s not much of an engagement ring,” he whispered, “but it’s paid for by an honest man.”

“Oh!” She tried to choke back tears of joy: her smile making her look eighteen again and she jumped enthusiastically into his arms sobbing uncontrollably.

“I believe that’s a yes.” I told the grinning young man.

Both Jack and Gladice, smiling foolishly, strolled out hand in hand babbling about where and when to have the wedding. “How about this June?” Jack suggested as he closed the door behind them.

I heard a moan then from over by the couch and looked to see Mary open her eyes. “What happened?” She asked a bit confused. “Where’s granny?”

I grinned, ignored her questions, and with a straight face asked; “Are you doing anything in, say June?”

“Huh.” She answered, and I began to fill her in.


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