by Thomas H. Hunter
Fort Riley, Kansas - 1966
"Chewing tobacco," said Dave Park as we sat on either side of the campfire in front of our tent on a misty November evening, "is relatively unpopular in certain parts of the British Empire as indicated by sales, which are far below those of smoking fuels such as pipe tobacco, cigars and filter cigarettes. It's obvious, of course, from these observations, that some people just don't like to chew. But tell me Doctor, does the name Zeke mean anything to you?"
"Nope," I answered, after a moment's hesitation.
"That's too bad. I never heard of it either. But you might be interested in this message I got the other day."
So saying, he fumbled for several minutes in the pockets of his smoking jacket (Actually it was a hunting jacket, but he was sitting too close to the fire.), finally producing a paper which he held out to me in a gloved hand. I smoothed out the letter and read it by the flickering firelight.
Dear Mr. Parks,
As I have traveled over three hundred miles to request your services,
only to find an "OUT TO LUNCH - BACK IN TWO WEEKS" sign on your door.
I was able to secure from your landlady (with the help of a five-pound
note) your present location. I expect to arrive at the lakeside camping
area on the Thursday, five o'clock bus.
My partner, Zeke, and I run (or rather ran) a carnival. We had been
here in Higher-Flier-Shire for about thirteen days cleaning up on the
local suckers. This was about three days ago. Zeke was in the office
trailer counting the money when he suddenly lept six inches into the
air, clapped both hands to his throat then fell to the floor quite
I put the body on ice in a sideshow where I charge a shilling a look.
It's what he would have wanted.
I, however, suspect foul play. I sincerly hope you can bring forth the
villian who is behind this dastardly deed.
Thanks a lot,
As I have traveled over three hundred miles to request your services, only to find an "OUT TO LUNCH - BACK IN TWO WEEKS" sign on your door. I was able to secure from your landlady (with the help of a five-pound note) your present location. I expect to arrive at the lakeside camping area on the Thursday, five o'clock bus.
My partner, Zeke, and I run (or rather ran) a carnival. We had been here in Higher-Flier-Shire for about thirteen days cleaning up on the local suckers. This was about three days ago. Zeke was in the office trailer counting the money when he suddenly lept six inches into the air, clapped both hands to his throat then fell to the floor quite deceased.
I put the body on ice in a sideshow where I charge a shilling a look. It's what he would have wanted.
I, however, suspect foul play. I sincerly hope you can bring forth the villian who is behind this dastardly deed.
Thanks a lot,
I read the letter through twice before handing it back to Park who casually held it to the fire, igniting one corner which he used to light his cigarette. He held the paper before him, intently watching it burn and only spake after the flame had finally singed his fingers.
"Ouch!" he conjectured. "That can't happen when you chew.
"Be that as it may, I don't suppose we'll have an opportunity to quench our curiosity until Mr. Charlie arrives. Tell me doctor, since I'm not currently familiar with the public transportation system, when does the five o'clock bus get here?"
I glanced at my watch then at the lone figure which preceeded a cloud of dust down the dark road to our small camp. "If I'm not mistaken." said I, "This is our guest coming now."
Park and I stood up as a well dressed old man plodded wearily into the camp, tipped his hat and used his gold-tipped cane to rap me smartly on the head to get my attention, then to indicate that he disired a place to sit. I rolled a large log into the ring of light that encircled our fire.
The newly arrived gentleman extracted a copy of the London Times from his rear pocket and proceeded to spread it carefully on the log. Removing his white gloves and bowler and placing them beside him, he sat down. In the meantime Park and I had returned to our lawnchairs.
"Allow me to apologize for our rudeness," said Park. This rugged life in the wilderness makes one tend to forget one's social graces. As you obviously have observed, I am the great Dave Park and this is my very good friend and accomplice, Doctor Ferdinand."
Charlie nodded solemnly to each of us. I waved in return. Then he spoke.
"I am Charlie. I trust that my carrier pigeon arrived safely."
"Indeed it did," said Park, picking his teeth. Then added as an afterthought, "It was delicious!"
"Hrumph!" hrumphed Charlie. "And the letter?"
"An interesting letter it was," continued Park, stretching his legs toward the diminishing fire. We were burning the last of Stram Drocer's diminishers in an effort to keep warm. "But in order to refresh my memory and possibly bring out some points you overlooked, would you mind repeating your story?"
"I suppose not," Charlie muttered. And by the fading, flickering light of the campfire and the mournful sounds of crickets, hoot-owls and asparagus in the distance, Charlie unfolded his strange tale.
"Zeke was just sitting on the safe and he dropped dead."
"I see," said Park, leaning forward with his fingertips on his knees and his elbows together. "I want you to answer two questions Mr. Charlie."
"No, no!" said Park. You seem to be harmless. Besides we used our last bullet at supper. We shot the p..." I hit him in the shin with a burning log to get his attention and shook my head unobtrusively. He continued, "We, er, shot a pumpkin... for pie.
"Be that as it may, did Mr. Zeke say anything before he died? Anything at all, no matter how unimportant it may seem? And," he added, "do you use any form of tobacco?"
Charlie paused to reflect before thinking. Putting his mirror away, he said, "Yes, now that you mention it, I remember that just as he clutched at his throat he made a noise that sounded like 'GAK'."
"GAK?" repeated Park. "Well, that's obviously not important."
"GAK?" said I, incredulously.
"GAK!" emphasized Charlie. "And, although it don't see what connection it could possibly have with Zeke's death, while I dislike tobacco smoke, I enjoy cigars tremendously. So I eat them."
"GAK!" said Park, leaning farther forward in his chair.
"Oh, yes. I just started a few days ago. In fact is was the same day that poor Zeke punched out.
Leaving Park to deduce his deuced deductions, I rose to escort Charlie to the edge of the woods. Scarcely five minutes later, as I returned to the camp, I heard the lilting melody of Oh Susanna booming through the trees. Park had obviously finished his deductions and put his taxes aside to enjoy his bass viol.
Before resuming my lawnchair, I picked up Charlie's abandoned Times and added it to the dwindling fire. As the fire dwindled brighter, Park rammed the end of his bow into the ground and left it quivvering uselessly like an arrow fired straight down.
"What does he want to know anyhow?" he said irritably.
"I think he wants to know why Zeke croaked," I replied.
"What does he think I am? Anyway? I don't know what happened. He grabbed his neck. Maybe it was natural neck failure or something.
"Nonetheless, I think that this Charlie is awaiting an answer. We had best catch the earliest tram to Higher-Flier-Shire to inform him of your conclusion and, of course, to collect your fee."
"Of course, the fee!" echoed Park, retrieving his bow from the ground and brandishing it in the air. Without further comment he crawled into his tent, dragging the viol behind him.
Leaning back in my lawnchair as the melodious strains of Oh Susanna once again echoed from the trees, I stared at the dying fire and thought of better uses for the viol.
As dawn groped blindly through the fog, Park and I were speeding across the hidden countryside huddled into opposite corners of the airy coach. By noon we had arrived in Higher-Flyer-Shire and walked the short distance to the carnival.
As we strolled carelesssly among the booths, stands, tents and trailers, I puffed heartily on a favourite cigar, something the landlady never permits in the flat. Park muttered abstractedly, "Interesting. Very interesting. He despises smoke yet he is addicted to cigars...
"Doc, I think I have it!" he yelled, slapping me on the back.
"Well, lay down quietly and maybe it will go away," I choked, trying to disengage the cigar from my windpipe.
"Here we obviously have a fellow who should be introduced to the possibilities of chewing tobacco. It's apparent that..."
He stopped abruptly as he walked into an open door that blocked the path between two trailers. Unable to stop in time, I walked into him, simultaneously burning the back of his neck, extinquishing my cigar and driving it once more into my windpipe.
A head appeared in the open doorway and demanded, "Who knocked? Ah, Mr. Parks and the no-good doctor. Won't you please come in?"
"Park! Park! No 'S'," muttered Park as we stepped carefully around the door and into the small office trailer. After casual greetings, the carny owner returned to his desk while Park occupied the guest-stool and I perched myself atop the safe returning my cigar to its proper position. Remembering our hosts distaste for smoke, I refrained from lighting up. It was broken in a couple places anyhow.
Park spake, "My dear Mr. Charlie, after much thought and dissipation, I have come to the inalienable conclusion that your former associate - may he rest in good health - died an extremely natural death. It was indubitably due to some common disorder like collapsion of the windpipe or reverse osmosis of the lungs. Now, my usual fee for..."
This last interjection was interjected by your chronicler. The events leading to it, which I shall describe, occured while Park was speaking.
As I said, I had returned my cigar to a cigar's proper station. Then I began watching our host to note his reactions in the hope of later aiding Park to polish his pitch. While listening to my friend's words, he absentmindedly acquired a cigar from the humidor on his desk and bit off the end, which he deliberately chewed and swallowed.
Now, being a cigar smoking man myself, although admittedly unable to explain why I smoke the foul things, I was properly offended by such improper and disgusting actions. The mastication of the severed length of cigar simply caused my own mouth to drop open in amazement. And when he proceeded to swallow it, I had an automatic impulse to look away, which I did. Unfortunately, in so doing, I banged my chin on the window catch in the cramped trailer and jerked my head upward in pain. My previously released cigar fell again into my throat, this time entirely obstructing the breathing passage. It was in clutching at my throat and attempting to take a breath that I produced the sound which can best be rendered by the letters GAK.
In an instant Park had leapt across the room, grabbed me by my bowler pulling my head down to my knees and begun to pound with his free hand on my back. Within a minute he had suceeded in dislodging the cigar while I had suceeded in producing a series of expletives such as "grrk," "arrgh," "dbguk," "bacg" and "d--n"!
Through all this Charlie sat like a statue solemnly devouring his cigar. I quickly excused myself, leaving Park to complete the financial arrangements.
Later, after the long ride back to our wilderness camping spot, during which I had refrained entirely from smoking and Park had sawed merrily at his bass, stomping his big feet in accompaniment, we sat once again in the cheery glow of our campfire discussing the day's disgusting events.
"Yes," said Park, "I have no doubt Mr, Zeke died a healthy death and is quite happy now in a sideshow. The only thing I can't figure out is how Mr. Charlie happened to pick up his habit of eating cigars on the very day of his partner's demise. Indubitably a coincidence."
Still unnerved from my close call, I said' "He probably ate one in front of Zeke and the poor guy croaked the way I nearly did."
A sharp glance from Park silenced me before I could say more. He has little patience with those who do not share his remarkably developed reasoning ability, especially when their conclusions conflict with his own.
Seeing my dejected look, he added, "By the way, Mr. Charlie is sending his checque by carrier pigeon. I expect it around lunchtime tomorrow."
My spirits somewhat improved, I stared into the fire as Park picked up his bow, sharpening one end and notching the other to fit the largest string on the viol.