Department of Suspense… The Case of the Runaway Pomeranian
by Vivian Landers
"Hello, dear. Is it Saturday already? Did you remember my soup bones?"
"Soup bones. Yes, yes. Aunt Anna, what happened to Maurice?"
"Maurice? Why? Is Maurice not well?"
"Maurice is dead, Aunt Anna."
"Maurice? Dead? Good heavens! When did this happen?"
"Couldn't have been more than ten minutes ago. I just checked his pulse, and he was still fairly warm."
"Oh, his pulse. Well, you can't always go by that, dear. People get old, and they don't have much of a pulse anymore. Your Aunt Gladys fell asleep once in that fabric store on Union Square, and you know she never had much of a pulse at all. They draped a half a bolt of brocade over her and called the Coroner's Office. Well, in those days, the Coroner's Office was all the way on Bryant Street. Well, it was the week before Christmas, and with the holiday traffic..."
"No, Maurice is dead. I'm quite sure of it. He's down there on the sidewalk. Go out to the terrace. You can see for yourself."
"Dead? I just can't imagine. Seems like we were just having coffee. Well, naturally Gladys woke up before the van ever got there, and she came out of the elevator holding the brocade and saying thank you so much it's just what she'd been looking for, and it gave them all such a start they didn't think to charge her. Well, don't you know Herb Caen got a hold of the story, and... Oh, that does look like Maurice. Oh my. Look at his head. Such an unnatural angle. Doesn't seem to have much color, does he?"
"Aunt Anna, what's happened to the railing?"
"The railing? Oh, it is frightful, isn't it? The whole building's in a shameful state of disrepair."
"But it's completely broken through here. Split apart. Oh, Aunt Anna, the police are going to have questions. It looks as if someone might have *pushed* Maurice off the terrace."
"Well, I suppose someone did, dear. Here's the terrace, and there's Maurice. Someone pushed him all right."
"But who? You said you were having coffee with Maurice. Was anyone else here with you?"
"Not as I recall, no. Well, except for Tippy, and I know Tippy didn't push him off the terrace. Tippy's such a little thing."
"I think we can safely rule out Tippy."
"Yes. Yes, we can rule out Tippy. Too small."
"Tippy's been dead for twenty years, Aunt Anna."
"And if Tippy didn't push him off the terrace, I suppose it must have been I."
"But why would you push Maurice off the terrace? Did the two of you have an argument?"
"An argument? Yes, I suppose we did."
"You and Maurice had an argument?"
"A quarrel, yes."
"And what did you quarrel about?"
"I can't say that I remember."
"You can't remember what you quarreled about?"
"Then what makes you think you had a quarrel?"
"Well, I pushed him off the terrace, didn't I?"
"All right, let's not jump to conclusions. I suppose it's possible he fell."
"Fell, yes. I hit him over the head with the samovar, and he fell. Crashed through the railing and tumbled to his death."
"Now, Aunt Anna, when have you ever hit anyone over the head with a samovar?"
"Well, where do you think that samovar came from, dear? Dmitri was his name. Or Petrov. Or Vasili. You know when Gladys and I were young, Hillsborough positively swarmed with of a lot of rather disreputable Russian nobility. Well, Dmitri's parents had gone off to Catalina or Pebble Beach or somewhere, and he invited the two of us down to Hillsborough for a visit. We were having a lovely time, drinking Champagne, listening to phonograph records. Then Petrov tried to take some indecent liberties with me, and I hit him over the head with a samovar. Or was it Vlad? I wasn't trying to kill him, just slow him down a little."
"You killed a Russian?"
"With a samovar?"
"Yes. That samovar there, in the dining room."
"You killed him, and you stole the samovar?"
"Well, I wouldn't call it stealing, dear. I couldn't very well leave the murder weapon at the scene. Gladys wanted me to toss it into the ocean with the body, but that didn't strike me as the most prudent course of action."
"You tossed the body into the ocean?"
"Oh, heavens no, dear. We put him in his car and let out the brake. Out at Half Moon Bay. The Highway Patrol didn't find him for months, and, when they did, they just assumed it was an accident. I never did get around to disposing of the samovar. It's such an unwieldy thing to carry around you know, and you can't just park in the middle of the Bridge and toss a samovar over the rail. The authorities take a rather dim view of that sort of thing."
"Unwieldy, yes. And the wallpaper is faded around it. The samovar doesn't seem to have been moved from its current location for quite some time."
"No, I suppose not. Well it's never operated properly. It sustained some damage, naturally, on the evening in question. If you turn it around you can see the dents."
"Aunt Anna, what's this bowl of water doing here?"
"Next to the ficus. Why is there a bowl of water on your terrace?"
"That's for Tippy, dear."
"Tippy is dead, Aunt Anna. Tippy died a long time ago. Here, I'm going to put this bowl away. The police are going to be here soon, and, if they find out you've left a bowl of water out for Tippy, they're going to think you've gone dotty. Now, we've got to think, Aunt Anna. We've got to think what we're going to tell the police."
"Well, I hardly know what to tell them. We were having coffee there in the dining room, and... Perhaps I poisoned him."
"Now, Aunt Anna, where would you have gotten poison?"
"Under the kitchen sink. Bottle of strychnine. Been there for ages."
"A bottle of... You couldn't possibly."
"Look for yourself."
"A bottle of strychnine? Under the... Of all the... What on Earth would you be doing with a bottle of strychnine under the kitchen...Is this it?"
"Yes. Oh my, I must have had it fifty years. You used to be able to get it in the hardware store. It's for rats. Of course, it works on people, too. You remember your cousin Linda was married to that horrible brute? I put a dash of strychnine in his *mousse au citron*, and that was the end of him."
"Oh, don't be silly, Aunt Anna. The man had heart disease."
"That's the lovely thing about strychnine, dear. If you get the dosage right, it looks just like heart failure. Well, take it home. It's just the thing for those rats of yours."
"I don't have rats, Aunt Anna."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that, dear. Look. They've gone after your soup bones. You can see the little tooth marks in the bag.
"No no no. That's not rats. That's from that Pomeranian. He was running around loose in Jackson Square. I thought he was lost. I tried to coax him over. He went running for the bag. Took a little nip out of it. That's all that is."
"Oh the poor dear. What became of him?"
"Turned out he belonged to some woman in the park. She stuffed him into her purse and went on her way. You would think no one in this city ever heard of a leash."
"Look, we can use this Grenache."
"Use the Grenache? For what?"
"For bait, dear. For the rats. I was just frosting a cake with it. I whipped it for five minutes. That's the secret to getting a light consistency. You just fold the strychnine in with a spatula."
"Aunt Anna, let's forget about the Grenache for the moment. Now, is there anything else we should remove before the police arrive? Anything we'd rather they not find?"
"Well, perhaps the gun."
"In the piano bench. Colt .38 revolver."
"Aunt Anna, what are you doing with a gun?"
"Well, sometimes you're in a hurry, dear. You don't always have time to make dessert every time you want to kill somebody. Of course, when a firearm is involved, you generally want to make the victim disappear entirely."
"Well, you're right there is a gun in here. And a rope. And these look like handcuffs."
"Yes, those are handcuffs, dear, and this is a blackjack. Heavy thing, isn't it? And these are security clearances and Argentine passports, all forgeries of course. August, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt came through town on her way to the Pacific Theater, and Gladys got herself mixed up in the most ludicrous plot to kidnap the poor woman. 'This is what comes of dating those South American playboys of yours,' I told her. I managed to straighten things out before Mrs. Roosevelt's arrival, but I can't tell you how many trips I made to Point Bonita with a fifth columnist in the trunk. Then there was the blackmailer to take care of. Point Bonita, now there's a place to dispose of a body, dear. Between the undertow and the bottom feeders..."
"It's a little late to think about Point Bonita now, Aunt Anna. We'll just try to convince the police Maurice's death was an accident."
"Or a suicide."
"A suicide is a much more straightforward thing to stage, dear. Now, we'll need to compose a suicide note. On the typewriter. No use trying to fool the handwriting experts."
"We are not going to compose a suicide note! Besides, what reason would Maurice have for committing suicide?"
"Well, his marriage, for one thing. It was a terrible disappointment."
"Maurice was married?"
"Oh yes, dear. You know Maurice must have asked me to marry him a dozen times. I always said no, and then he'd go off and marry someone else. Every one of his marriages was a dreadful failure, especially this latest one, to Francie. No, Peggy. No, Peggy was the one before. Gigi! Gigi was her name. She was much younger."
"A wife. Yes. That does complicate things.
"Now, Aunt Anna, besides the poison and the gun, is there anything else we don't want the police to find? What about that on the settee?"
"Oh, that's Maurice's coat. And his newspaper. That Maurice! Always leaving things in such a disarray!"
"No, on top of the coat and the newspaper. That cord. I suppose that's for strangling unsuspecting Jehovah's Witnesses."
"No, that's a leash, dear. That's for Tippy. No, Shatzi. No, no, not Shatzi, Coco."
"Coco? A leash? Why...yes, it is. It is a leash! Aunt Anna, you said Maurice's wife was younger. How much younger?"
"Oh, much much younger! Forty or fifty years."
"Forty or fifty years. That would make her... The woman in Jackson Square! She put the dog in her purse! The dog wasn't wearing a leash! The little Pomeranian!"
"The little Pomeranian, yes. Coco, the little Pomeranian! Just about every morning Maurice would take Coco for a walk. I'd make us a pot of coffee, we'd put Coco out on the terrace, and we'd visit, Maurice and I."
"Just about every morning, yes. And Gigi no doubt became suspicious of Maurice's regular absences. She scoured Jackson Square this morning, expecting to catch Maurice in a *rendez vous*. She found no trace of Maurice or a paramour, but when she reached the far end of the park, she heard a familiar 'Yip! Yip! Yip!' Gigi looked up. There was Coco! On the terrace! 'Yip! Yip! Yip!' Under the ficus! Yip! Yip! Yip!"
"Yes. Yes, I do seem to remember..."
"Gigi crossed the street and entered your building through the rear. The back door's always unlocked in these buildings. Anybody who's read Dashiell Hammett knows that."
"Do you know mother once sailed all the way to Alexandria, and came back with the most atrocious doorstop. Well, Dashiell Hammett wrote a whole book about it, and I told him 'Mr. Hammett, I don't know how you expect anyone to make mittens or kittens out of this story about mother's doorstop, and he tore his newspaper apart and told me here was Louella Parsons' column and maybe I should try making mittens or kittens out of her."
"You must have gone into the kitchen."
"I did, yes. I went right into the kitchen and got the strychnine. Put it in his coffee while he was absorbed in some lurid story in the *Examiner*."
"You put strychnine in his... Aunt Anna, you mean you poisoned Maurice?"
"Oh heavens no, dear, not Maurice. Dashiell Hammett. I never understood how mother could abide the man. I must have poisoned him half a dozen times. Of course, he always had such a sturdy constitution."
"Where was I? Gigi came through the back door, walked up the stairs and down the hall, following the sounds of Coco's yipping, eventually reaching your door."
"The door! Yes! There was a knock on the door! I heard a woman's voice. Maurice suggested I excuse myself. I gathered he must have been anticipating some sort of unpleasantness. I went into the kitchen."
"You went to the kitchen, yes. Now try to remember, Aunt Anna. What happened after that?"
"Well, I remembered that today was Saturday. And I always see you on Saturday."
"Oh, good heavens. I started making you a Waldorf salad. Poor Maurice, I must have forgotten all about him."
"That's all right, Aunt Anna. I think I can piece it together. Maurice tried to explain away his and Coco's presence in the apartment, but Gigi, faced with the obvious evidence of a tryst, became enraged. She stormed out to the terrace to retrieve Coco. Maurice followed Gigi. They quarreled. Gigi pushed Maurice. The railing gave way. Maurice tumbled to the sidewalk, perishing instantly. Gigi set off for home with Coco in her arms, overlooking, in her pique, the leash there on the settee. Out on Jackson Square, Coco, unnerved by the gruesome spectacle so recently played out, scrambled out of Gigi's grasp and scampered away, stopping only to nip at my bag of soup bones. That's what we'll tell the police, Aunt Anna. Where did we put that bag? We'll want to point out the dental impressions on the..."
"No, no. That's not it. That's not it at all."
"What do you mean that's not it?"
"Coco was the wife, and Gigi was the Pomeranian."
"Aunt Anna, listen to me. When the police get here, I think you'd better let me do the talking."
"That's fine, dear."
"And if it's all the same to you, I think I'll put away the samovar."Vivian Landers
23 sep 2015