Mustard Stains and Pigeon Poop - A Craven Danger Mystery
“Thank you,” said Craven Danger.
Betty flipped the switch on her intercom.
“Who ya thankin’ in there, Mr. Danger? Ain’t nobody in the office but us. Ya got one of them invisible friends? Like the one ya always blamed for wetting yer bed. Yer ma told me his name was Jerome. If ya do have a pal in there, ya ought to tag him with a name. This way I know who you’re talkin’ to, and we could avoid torturous conversations like the one I'm about to walk into, Mr. Bedwetter.”
“Ma’s got a big yapper! I never wet no bed, Betty! Ma’s always been a little one-sided on this. Jerome was my baby brother’s invisible friend who used to come over to my bed to do his business so’s he and my brother could get a good night’s sleep. My kid brother was Ma’s favorite, which always left me with wet sheets and a rotten disposition. And how in heck did you hear that ‘thank you’ when my intercom ain’t on?”
“Never mind that, Mr. Danger. Ya still ain’t told me who ya was thankin’.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Betty. Some things are private. And what happens in Craven Danger’s office gets locked in the safe and kept secret till I got enough material for a memoir.”
“Bless you,” said Craven.
“Hey! You spyin’ on me, Betty? My intercom is still off! That ‘bless you’ was private!”
“You’re only a wall away, Mr. Danger. An’ these wall’s are as thin and brittle as Saltine crackers. If ya must know, I only use the intercom for show. Makes me feel like I mean business. But I pretty much hear every word you say with or without it.”
“Now you’re scarin’ me, Betty. How long has this been goin’ on?”
“Since I started workin’ for ya, Mr. Danger. I can even hear ya scratchin’ yer chin when you ain’t had a shave in a couple of days. Like now. Which I’m thinking ain’t too good for business. Yer startin’ to look like one a them scruffy no good cheatin’ booze hound husbands that a client pays good money to catch in the act a smoochin’ with some gin swillin’ floozy. She ain’t gonna pay good hard cash to a private eye that looks like the gang leader in some hobo-for-hire racket.”
“Yeah, hobo. From the tips of yer mustard-stained shoes to top of yer pigeon-soiled fedora.”
“Them things are all signs that I’ve been out on a job, Betty! The mustard stains are from hot dogs I gotta eat on the run, and the pigeon poop from havin’ to stand with my back to the wall, for hours at a time mind ya, in some stinkin’ dark alley while tryin’ to get the drop on some no-good cheatin’ perpetrator!”
“If ya'd spend as much time cleaning yourself up as ya do talkin’ to invisible friends, ya’d look a lot more like the man I thought ya was when we met. As it is yer startin’ ta look like the kind a guy I kicked ta the curb years ago. He started dressin’ like a bum. Then he started actin’ like a bum. Then he made the mistake a raisin’ a hand ta me. Only the bum didn’t know me too well and I’ll bet, to this day, he’s still walkin’ funny.”
“Hey! No fair, Betty! I ain’t got a mean bone in me! Unless of course ya wanna count the bone spur in my big toe. Otherwise? I’m a pretty good fella!”
“I’m know, Mr. Danger. I know. I shouldn’t compare, but ya need to take better care a yerself. ‘slothfulness leads ta brainlessness ’ is what my ol’ man used ta tell me. So I gotta figure there’s only meanness ta follow when ya ain’t got control a yer wits. An’ if ya don’t start carin’ for yourself, Mr. Danger, pretty soon you’ll stop carin’ for me. An’ even though you’d never be mean enough - or dumb enough - ta raise a hand ta me, fallin' from my good graces, when there's somethin' ya coulda done about it, would be pretty darn mean.”
“Ya talkin’ ta me now or yer invisible friend?”
“Of course I’m talkin’ to you, Betty! I sure got no reason to apologize to Jer— I mean I got no reason to apologize to nobody but you! You are a shinin’ star in my organization! And right after lunch, and after I’ve takin’ my nap, and then done a crossword or two, I’m headin’ first thing to the cleaners with all two of my suits and fedoras. And on my way back I’ll have a little sit down with Billy the shoeshine guy. We ain’t had any good neighborhood gossip since the last time he put a little spit on my oxfords. Then to round out the day, me an you is goin’ to the Radio City Musical Hall to see Great Expectations. I think it’s about a guy whose girl is expectin’ maybe a little too much of him, even though it’s all for his own good. I’m also guessin’ he’s the kind of fella don’t see the forest for the trees on account of it was too close to Christmas and they was all chopped down for the holidays. Somethin’ like that.”
“Ya shoulda read the book, Mr. Danger. Not as interestin’ as your tellin’ it. but a few night’s with a good book might spark a few brain cells and give me hope for the future.”
“I told you she was the best thing ever happened to me.”
Betty didn’t bother asking Mr. Danger who he was talkin’ to. She was too busy smiling, and making sure see had enough cash in her purse for the price two movie tickets and a box of hot-buttered popcorn. Just in case.
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