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Hickory, Dickory, Doc: Case Of The Missing Mouse

Another Javk Vine case file

From The Files
Of
Jack Vine
A Jack And The Giant
P I Case File

Hickory, Dickory, Doc: Case of the missing mouse

“Hickory, Dickory, Doc. The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one the mouse ran down. Hickory, Dickory, Doc.”

It was a Tuesday, sometime in the middle of winter and it was cold; the kind of bone wrenching cold your dad told you about when he was a kid. You know that lame old story; that, "I used to walk seventeen miles to school in a blizzard so cold the snot running down my nose clogged up forming a massive block of ice on my upper lip", story. Yes, it was supposedly thirty degrees below zero and yet he was glad of it. Sure and pigs can fly too. Today may not be thirty below, but damn it sure felt like it.

I’d forgotten what month it was and didn’t really care, cold is cold after all. What I did care about was snuggling under several quilted covers with Mary’s soft and warm body next to mine. The alarm I’d set the night before went off sooner than I would have liked and to my dismay kept on ringing even after I had hurled it onto the floor. Damn them Chinese peasants making them cheap wind up clocks even better. I reluctantly rolled out of bed and quickly put on some clothes keeping as quiet as I could. As I was heading out of the room, I saw Mary’s hand reach out from under the mountain of covers. It was like a snake, its mouth opening to snatch the electric heating pad off the nightstand and disappear back into its cave of cloth. I smiled; the thought of my body heat being so easily replaced seemed somehow humorous.

At six, I strolled into the office and promptly turned up the thermostat to 210 degrees, Ok, so maybe not that high but 80 anyway. I heard the steam hissing through the old pipes and promptly kicked my feet up onto the radiator to thaw out. By six-thirty, I was feeling much better, a cup of warm scotch in my hand and a smile on my face.

The paper I was reading didn’t have anything that caught my eye and I soon put it down. Tiny I figured wouldn’t be in for at least another hour at the earliest, so I decided to go through yesterday’s mail having put off reading them until just now. You see mail and me don’t go well together either; If I wanted to talk with someone I’d use the phone. The bills, well they just didn’t interest me all that much.

As I shuffled through the stack, I counted a total of six envelopes to keep me occupied. Two were those notorious bills, one electric, one rent, which I promptly tossed into the ‘May take care of tomorrow’ pile. The third was a lengthy letter from Rocci and Hazel. They, as you may remember from the Gingerbread Caper, had hit it off in a big way, Rocci all dizzy over the new hot looking dame, Hazel. Sasha as we now know, laid that juju spell of hers on Hazel, literally turning back the ol’ clock. Now the two them, or should I say three, were somewhere off in the Bahamas getting better acquainted and warm I‘m sure.

Hazel and Sasha, you see, are sort of inseparable; two sides of the same coin you might say. Rocci found that to be kind of kinky, like making love to twins only with these two they shared one body so you didn’t know which you were doing at any given time. Hmm, I thought, my imagination taking off. I shook my head and set the erotic thought to the side along with the letter, figuring on finishing it up at my leisure.

The next letter, the fourth in the stack, was from Charlie and Clare. They had gone on a romantic second honeymoon having cashed in some of their stocks to do so, why not I thought, they weren‘t getting younger and they deserved a little fun in the sun. Clare said in the card to notify Hazel and tell her that her gift had arrived and was being put to good use each night. What the gift was she didn’t go into and I could only speculate, hmm.

The fifth was from the local cable company wondering why I hadn’t become a customer yet. Sure, I thought, pay them three times the money for the same crap I was getting when watching TV was free, no thanks. I promptly filed it with the rest of the garbage in the old circular filing cabinet.

The sixth and last letter was from a clock shop somewhere over in the next county. It was called Hickory, Dickory, Doc’s for clocks; a catchy name I thought. I was about ready to toss it in the can with the others when I noticed the first line. Please help us, it read, Otis is missing and we don’t know whom else to turn too. You are our last hope finding our friend.

Hmm, a missing person, been awhile since Tiny and me had a normal case. I thought back on our recent run of bizarre yet profitable cases in the past year and grinned. A dame with a lamb, a misplaced candlestick maker, a skirt and a spider; the list went on of course like a bad rap sheet, yet I digress. I decided to wait for my partner then head on to overlook this clock shop and its proprietor to get the scoop. Tiny, I was sure wouldn’t be too much longer, so I poured myself one more glass of scotch to wait. Mmm, it was good. Sure enough, he popped in an hour late as usual.

“Hey ya Jack,” he said, a smile on his face like the Cheshire cat. “Beautiful day out isn’t it?”

I was stunned to say the least.

“Tiny.” I responded. “How come your so, um… rested?” I settled on diplomatically. He stood there all thirteen feet and some change tall, looking more like a boy in a candy shop. His face and eyes bright and cheery; this wasn’t the Giant I knew. He chuckled giddily, that too seemed strange coming from someone, as massive as he was.

“Terri’s got a terrible cold.” He informed me excitedly. “Really has her laid up.”

“Oh.” I responded back. “And this makes you happy why?” The question was a valid one. One I didn’t think would get a logical answer; sure enough, I didn’t.

”She’s taking some of that green stuff to fight it off.” He said, his grin getting more pronounced. “You know that foul tasting nighttime stuff?”

I was of course familiar with the product though I rarely used it myself. To me scotch with a lemon squeezed in it did about the same. I waited for him to go on, but for some reason he assumed everything was Jake. “It’s a bit early for twenty questions.” I told him, “You’re going to have to throw me a bone.”

“Oh, sorry.” He said, happier than he should have been. “That stuff carries a real wallop, ya see, knocked her out like a fixed fight. Best night sleep I’ve had in weeks.” He finished, while giggling some more.

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow, “Well, first off.” I replied. “I’m sorry Terri is under the weather. Second, these things don’t last and with a dame like Terri, she’s going to demand payback for your time off.” I grinned, as what I was hinting at took hold. “The sleep you enjoyed last night won't make up for what‘s to come” I could see him mulling over what I said, his grin slowly turning into a frown.

“You know Jack.” He groaned. “You really know how to ruin a good morning.”

“That’s ok big guy, that’s why I’m here, to keep you informed.” I grinned and stood up. “Don’t take your coat off.” I told him. “We’re going to see a man about a missing person.” As I went past, I handed him the letter to browse over, grabbed my coat and hat off the rack and headed out the door to my old jalopy.

The drive over to the clock shop wasn’t that long. Even so, I had the heater going full blast. With my car that meant a few degrees hotter than the outside temperature. One of these days, I vowed I was going to get a better-used car. Tiny I saw, as I looked over at him, was still sulking quietly.

“Who’s this Otis character?” He finally spoke up.

“Beats me.” I replied. “You read the letter same as me. Could be an employee or even a family member.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Guess I should have called first to find out, huh.”

Ten minutes later, we pulled up to the address written in the letter. We looked up at a wooden sign hanging from two chains over the porch overhang. It read, ‘Hickory, Dickory, Doc’s for Clocks’, just as it had said in the short note. The sign was faded indicating the store had been there for some time.

We got out and entered the front door; it too was old with peeling paint. Once inside we noticed a fairly large room dim and filled with clocks of every size, shape and color all ticking away; it would drive me bonkers.

“Good day gentleman.” Said a voice from behind a counter. I looked over spotting an older man sitting in a chair behind a desk. Though up in age, he was large and in good shape. I figured he could hold his own in any bar brawl and may have done so in his youth. His face was meek however denoting a gentler side and was probably from an aristocratic sort of family. He wore spectacles on his nose with a small light clipped to them.

“How can I help you?” He said politely, standing and putting the innards of a brass clock to the side. “My name is Mr. Hickory.” He informed us as he walked around the desk and counter both. He stuck out his large hand and shook mine firmly, I got the feeling he could have crushed it in a heartbeat.

“Hello Mr. Hickory.” I replied, returning, as firm a handshake as I could. He didn’t seem to notice. “I’m Jack; this here is my partner Tiny.” He looked over at my partner and nodded to him. “I believe you sent us a letter.” I went on. “One claiming you needed help locating some Joe named Otis?”

“Oh yes!” He said, his face getting brighter. “The detectives. So glad you could come so quickly though I was expecting a call first.”

“Actually we’re private investigators, not detectives.” I clarified. “And I apologize for not buzzing you on the horn beforehand.”

Just then two other men of about the same age and proportion stepped into the room from behind a curtained off doorway. Mr. Hickory looked their way and motioned them over. “Doc, Dickory.” He called in a gentle voice. “These are those two detectives we wrote to.”

I let his misconception slide realizing it would do no good to correct the old coot. Besides he seemed harmless enough, like the pastor of your local church only built like a brick wall. I reached out my hand yet again shaking theirs in turn.

“Would you look there Doc!” The one said to the other, as he eyed Tiny. “A Giant.” Doc looked at my partner and nodded his head in greeting.

“So good of you to come so soon” He said.

“I understand you have a missing person.” I stated hoping to get right to the case.

“Yes.” The one called Dickory said. “Otis has gone missing for three days now and that’s not like him at all.”

“Hasn’t eaten any of his cheese either which is how we know he hasn’t been around.” Doc added.

“Uh, come again?” I replied, unsure if what they said really was what they said. “He hasn’t eaten any cheese.”

“Yes, that is correct.” It was Hickory who spoke this time. “Otis loves his cheese you see and works very hard to earn it.” They all looked at me, as if that explained everything; it did not, so my gaze turned to Tiny to see if I was missing something. My partner simply shrugged his large shoulders as confused as I was.

“Maybe we should start from the beginning.” I suggested. “Just who is this Otis character anyway?” The question was an important one though I could see the old men didn’t understand why. My gut told me this Otis dude would turn out to be someone strange. I mean what kind of nut gets paid in cheese.

“Otis fixes most of our smaller clocks.” Dickory took up the narrative. “A real genius too, able to fix a clock in half the time it would have taken one of us. Our hands are very big you’ll notice; not only that we’d have to take most of the clocks completely apart first.”

“Not our Otis.” Doc said. “He’d just put on his miniature tool belt and climb right on inside you see. After about an hour he’d have it running like new shear genius.”

“He climbs inside of clocks.” Tiny repeated, his eyebrow rising. They all nodded.

“This may seem like a strange question but just what is Otis?”

All three eyed me with confusion. It was Hickory who answered for the trio. “Why Otis is our mouse of course.” He replied as serious as any sane person would. My gut feeling seemed to be batting a thousand.

“A mouse.” I repeated. “As in a small furry rodent with whiskers and a tail, kind of mouse?” Again all three nodded yes, as if having a mouse on the payroll to fix clocks was an everyday occurrence. I looked over at Tiny who just rolled his eyes.

“Say Mac.” I said. “Isn’t having a mouse as an employee just a bit unusual?” Unusual really wasn’t my first choice, goofy or wacko were more on the mark. I kept my eye on the door figuring a fast exit may be in order. Who knows they could believe in the boogieman too.

Doc grinned however, “I know this sounds weird to you and believe me we were just like you are now. A mouse after all isn’t usually so gifted.”

“Not only that”, Dickory added, “Otis wasn’t always an employee. He just sort of showed up one day. Took to fixing things when we weren’t looking.”

“We each thought the other had done the work.” Doc went on. “Took us some time to realize it wasn’t; it was most unnerving you see. We started to think we had a ghost or maybe Elves. But one day Hickory spotted him repairing a clock, which had just come in that day. The little nip had it ticking before I could call my brothers over.”

“It was Doc who made Otis his own special tools.” Dickory told us. “Even made a tool belt he could crawl into and hold his tools.” Doc I saw blushed with the praise.

“I see.” I told them, not really believing their story just yet. But I had to admit to myself that Tiny and me had seen some pretty bizarre cases recently so who’s to say their story was hooey. Besides, they believed it and were willing to back that belief with a wad of dough.

“Ok then.” I said ready to get started. “Exactly when was the last time anyone saw this Otis. Please be as detailed as you can.”

The three old men looked at one another to gather their thoughts. “Well”, Doc started, “I suppose I was the last to see him.” He looked me directly in the eyes, “It was late Friday evening and he was just finishing up the Conrad’s brass wall clock and was taking his little belt off.” Doc grinned as he related the memory. “I gave him a nice piece of smoked cheddar cheese and he hurried away into the front room.”

“The front room?” I asked. “You mean this room we’re in now?” He nodded to me.

“Yes, you see we think he has a little home setup somewhere in this room where he sleeps. We’ve never looked for it of course, that would be rude.” The other two nodded in agreement.

“Of course.” I agreed too. “You believe he’s still somewhere in the shop then?” Each shrugged noncommittally, “It is hard to say for sure Dickory told me. “A mouse comes and goes in different ways. He might have a hole in one of the outer walls to leave I suppose, we just don’t know.”

“Hmm.” I began to sort the facts in my head, what would I do if I were this rodent? Would I leave the warmth of a nice dark shop? Not likely, with the temperature in the teens, then again I’m not a mouse. “How did he seem to you Mr. Doc?” I asked, surprised that I was starting to think of Otis as a regular Joe.

“Well maybe a little agitated.” Doc said thinking it over. “Kind of like his mind was on something else.”

I turned and glanced around the room noting all of the different kinds of clocks here and there. “What do you think Tiny?” I inquired looking at my partner. “If you were a rat would you head outside or stay in?”

“A mouse, Jack.” Tiny corrected me. “Hmm. If I had it good here I don’t see why I’d want to leave. No Jack, I think I’d still be in the shop where it’s warm.

“What would keep him from coming to work then?” I asked no one in particular as I scrutinized the floor. I really didn’t expect an answer but Tiny gave me one anyways.

“Well, I might be off base here, but maybe Otis has a squeeze some where? You know like Terri and me.” He blushed as he glanced over at the older men.

“You mean a dame with a tail?” Could be I thought as I rubbed my chin.

The three old men looked from me to Tiny and back again stunned at the notion that their friend might have himself a female companion. “You suppose”, Doc pondered to the others, “that could be true? He has been eating an awful lot of cheese lately.”

“Come again?” I asked.

“Well, it might be nothing at all.” Doc replied speculating. But I have noticed he’d eat his usual amount but then pick up another chunk and scurry off. I just figured he wanted something to snack on for later, but I suppose…” He didn’t finish so I finished for him.

“He’s got a lady friend.” I grinned. “Could be.” The idea did seem plausible, at least as plausible, as any other idea. I scanned the room one more time and noticed something odd. “Gentleman.” I said. “I assume clocks come and go all the time in this racket; is that correct?” They nodded giving me a strange look. It was one of those looks that spoke volumes yet they kept their traps shut. I appreciated that for I wasn’t to sure where I was going either, but my gut told me the answer was in plain sight. “Is there any clock or clocks which have never left?” I asked knowing this question was important.

The three considered my question and whispered among themselves. Finally it was Mr. Hickory that filled me in. “As a matter of fact there is one.” He said looking over to an area dim and dusty. “That one there is just a shell”, he explained, “the innards and faceplate being removed and use in another clock long ago.”

We walked over to the giant old clock gave it the once over. The floor in this area didn’t get swept like the rest of the room and I spotted little mouse prints going behind the old clock. I then stood on my toes and gazed into the open section where the faceplate went. Grinning I said, “Would you look at that.”

Tiny and the three old men took my place and easily peeked in for a look. Inside was a nest made of cotton, bits of paper and straw. What lay in the middle of that was Otis, a female mouse and seven little babies. The new mommy and daddy eyed us with pride in their little black eyes.

“Why Otis!” Doc chuckled. “You little devil you.” Congratulations were given out along with a small bowl of milk and a generous piece of Swiss cheese.

“Why don’t we leave our new parents to rest up.” I said to the grinning brothers. They all agreed and we headed into the back room to continue our celebration. Dickory, to my surprise, not to mention my pleasure, pulled out a bottle of thirty-five year old English Scotch and poured everyone a glass. “To Otis!” I said raising my glass in a toast to the little varmint. “May he and his family live a long and happy life.” Tiny along with Hickory, Dickory and Doc all raised their glasses in salute and downed the smooth liquid.

Tiny smirked at me saying, “You think her name could be Terri?”

“Could be sport.” I replied with a grin of my own. “Could be.”

THE END

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