Inspector Goatlock Combes of the Crimes Against Gullible Persons Unit and his lanky assistant Lupine continue their investigation of a telephone scam perpetrated against the grandmother of a student studying overseas.
Alex’s parents, Dr. and Dr. Prettyman, lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a suburban development called Shady Grove Heights.
Goatlock and Lupine were met at the door by a sullen tweenage girl, Marnie. She was Alex’s younger sister.
“Good day young lady” piped a cheerful Lupine.
“Matter of opinion,” she muttered, closing the door behind them.
“What sort of day is it for you?” Goatlock inquired.
“Tenuous.” And that was all she said.
Marnie led them to a sunny breakfast porch where the Doctors Prettyman were just finishing their morning omelets.
“Alex has never been to Canada,” said Dr. Prettyman, the orthopedic surgeon.
“His Russian trip is really all about a girl,” said Dr. Prettyman, the chiropractor. “He fell in love with her on a trip to Wisconsin Dells. She was his water ski instructor. All that stuff about school is nonsense. Alex has no interest in studying Situational Ethics. He signed up for the course as a way to get close to Tanya for the summer. In a way, it was a perfectly situational move, ethically speaking. He spent our money, not for the stated purpose, but simply to increase the amount of love in the world.”
“Namely, whatever he could get going with Tanya,” said Dr. Prettyman the orthopedic surgeon as she stabbed a lump of cheesy egg with her fork and shook her head with obvious regret. “We should have taken the glass bottom boat tour. None of this would have happened.”
“You know I get seasick on glass bottomed boats,” said Dr. Prettyman the chiropractor. “I can’t look down while moving forward. It’s something in my neck.”
“You should see a doctor about that,” said Prettyman the orthopedic surgeon.
“I am a doctor,” said Prettyman the chiropractor.
“No you’re not.”
They glowered at one another as their omelets cooled.
Lupine cleared his throat.
“Sorry if we’ve come at a bad time. Our real interest is in identifying the scammer and recovering the money,” he said. “Is there anyone in Canada who might have known Alex was out of the country? Someone who thought they could get away with telling a preposterous story to his grandmother?”
“That’s a stretch,” said Dr. Prettyman the orthopedic surgeon. “We know some Canadians, but none quite so crafty.”
Goatlock gazed out the window, chewing the end of his pipe. He was thinking about how lovely it would be to take a few bites from such a lush, emerald colored lawn, although it would doubtless have a heavily chemical aftertaste. He noticed Marnie stepping methodically around the back yard, walking it like a maze.
“How cute,” said Lupine, rising from his chair for a better look. “Is she practicing to be a tightrope walker?”
“Not that I’m aware, but it’s a wonderful skill that develops excellent posture,” said the chiropractor.
“We don’t allow the children to take up dangerous hobbies.” spat the orthopedic surgeon, pulling a small chunk of eggshell from her breakfast.
“She’s looking for something,” Goatlock observed.
“Great,” sighed Dr. Prettyman the orthopedic surgeon. “Sarge must be out again.”
“A cat?” asked Lupine.
“Her turtle,” said Dr. Prettyman the chiropractor. “He squeezes through some tight spots for an animal with a hard shell. Should have named him Houdini.”
“May I ask,” asked Goatlock, “who prepared our omelets this morning?”
“It was Marnie,” said her father. “She needs to perform a task every day or she becomes morose.”
“And she likes breaking things,” added Marnie’s mother. “We go through a lot of eggs.”
“We will also take this opportunity to disappear,” said Goatlock, rising to stand alongside but well below the towering Lupine. “I recommend that no one in this family leave the country without notifying our office first. We might have more questions.”
“Does that include Sarge?” asked Dr. Prettyman the chiropractor.
“Especially Sarge,” answered Goatlock, as he and Lupine turned to leave.
What could the turtle be hiding?