1. Shirley, The Car-Hop Detective
“Johnny? Johnny, are you there? I need a ride,” she said. She hated to be in the shop, so I knew she was serious. She claimed that more deadly accidents happened in proximity to auto work than any other profession, but I always suspected that she knew squat about cars and didn’t like not being the smartest person in the room.
“I can’t now, Shirley,” I explained. “I’ve got three oil changes I have to get done before we close up. Can you wait until then?”
I looked up to see Shirley predictably staying put at the entrance to the shop. She was clad in an angora sweater and poodle skirt. She wasn’t wearing her roller skates, so I knew she was really serious.
She shook her head. “There’s been a murder at the Baskerville Inn. Officer Strode called me in.”
“Shirley, if somebody got killed, I think they’re gonna still be killed if we wait until six,” I said.
“Hmm…” she said. She thought for a long spell and then snapped the gum in her mouth. “It’s an odd reversal of roles for you to try to use logic to flummox me.”
“I know,” I agreed.
“Even though you used it incorrectly.”
She snapped her gum again. I started wiping the grease from my hands. I didn’t know how yet, but I had a feeling I would be on chauffeur duty soon enough.
“While the cadaver is highly unlikely to regain consciousness, vital clues about the case are likely to be inextricably altered by Strode and his bumbling band,” said Shirley.
“Inextricable, sure,” I said. I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about half the time. “Honestly, Shirley. Give me an hour? I’ll take you then.”
She hoisted a bag of burgers from Baker’s Drive In, her employer. “They’re fresh,” she said.
She had me. She knew she had me. I grabbed the keys to my T-Bird, and we were off to the Baskerville Inn.
2. Officer Strode’s Problem
The squad cars surrounding the hotel made me nervous. Having spent some time in one of those sad-sack reform schools—long story, don’t ask—I knew that cops were the first stop to the hard life. I had to remind myself that I was with Shirley, and that probably kept the heat off me for the time being.
The inn had twelve rooms, all of which were unoccupied except room four, which still had cops swarming around it.
“Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies, right, Shirl’?” I asked.
Shirley said nothing. This happened a lot. “We all go a little mad sometimes…” I tried, but she still gave me that blank stare that she used a little too often if you asked me. I gave it all one final shot and flung my arm in a stabbing motion while making the “ree-ree-ree” noise that still woke me up in a cold sweat.
“That’s not a very efficient way to stab someone,” she explained.
“It’s from a movie.”
“Oh,” she said. I should have known better. She didn’t like movies much.
We crossed the crime scene tape and entered room four. It was a horror show, minus the Anthony Perkins. Blood streaked the walls, and the poor sap who had tried to stay the night—or what was left of him—lay slumped over in the nearby closet. Officer Strode hunched over the stiff, trying to look like he was close to solving things. I’m pretty sure even he knew he wasn’t.
“Oh,” Strode said. “You’re here.”
Shirley was indeed here, and she was already working her magic. She ran her finger across the frame of a nearby mirror and took a big old sniff of the dust she retrieved. “Okay. So, he smokes Lucky Strikes, and…” she sniffed again and then eyed the night table. “That means he’s been staying here for the better part of a week. It would also appear that he was attacked by some kind of animal. The animal would be massive.”
Strode frowned, but he didn’t argue. “Come with me.”
We all took the short walk to the inn’s office. “Naturally, Mr. Baskerville would like to resolve this matter as quickly and quietly as possible. That family practically built this town a hundred and fifty years ago. Back then it was a trading village for hunters. His son’s got a decent shot at becoming the next Lieutenant Governor. Hell, the whole family knows the Kennedys pretty well. My ulcer doesn’t need this.”
The door to the office swung open, stopping us dead in our tracks. A woman came through the doorway, and she was dressed to the nines. Capri pants and a starched shirt. Her hair was firm like a flaxen wall. She looked like Marilyn Monroe. And yet, her eyes darted frantically between us, completely betraying the precise image she tried to show us. Nothing had ever terrified me more.
“Officer Strode!” the woman shouted. “Are you prepared to do something about this? If anything untoward happens to this hotel, Mr. Baskerville will hold me personally responsible!”
“Miss Telson, I’ve got my best people on this. I’ve consulted them on a number of cas—”
“Save it, sir. I know who they are,” she proclaimed. “Everyone knows about the carhop and her little pal who can solve any mystery. Everyone also knows the problems here, and why that man was killed. This hotel has been haunted by a pack of dogs from hell, and they’re going to kill us all before the devil retrieves them. Not you, or some greaser and his poodle-skirted pal will be able to save us.”
My eyes went wide, and for some relief I looked to Shirley. She had no expression, beyond snapping a new supply of pink gum.
“Well,” Shirley said as she resumed chewing. “This case now has my undivided attention.”