After a Lengthy Digression, My Sweet
And now, another exciting installment in the thrilling adventures of Veronica Crowe, Expounding Detective! When we last left our intrepid girl gumshoe, she had paid a call on the sinister Dr. Song, who spun her a yarn about the existence of a buried treasure, until Ronnie, in the course of a 72-minute lecture about precious metal trading routes and the opening to western trade of modern China, saw through his cunning ruse. Now, back at her office, she’s barely had time to contemplate all that she’s explained, when a mysterious knock sounds at her door…
It was just after high noon when someone rang my office bell. Of course, I was indoors, in my office on the 6th floor of 932 Michigan Avenue, and couldn’t see the sun overhead, but I’m not simply estimating the time. It so happens that earlier, in the cab over from District Attorney Crane’s office, I had been thumbing through the Farmer’s Almanac (not Benjamin Franklin’s famous tome, but an annual reference book in the same vein, published by a small publishing house in Boston, MA) and noted that ‘high noon’ means not the approximate time at which the sun is highest in the sky, but rather exactly and precisely 12:00PM — which time, according to the desk clock I happened to be glancing at in aid of finding my stapler, had just then passed in my home city of Chicago, IL. And, just to make myself clear, and for the sake of setting the tone more precisely for my listeners, I mean ‘high noon’ in the meteorological and literal sense, not in the descriptive or metaphorical sense of the zenith of one’s professional or creative career. Of course, I may well be at the ‘high noon’ of my years as a private investigator, but it would be premature — not to mention a tad egotistical — to make such a boast while I am still in the midst of the process.
I buzzed him in — ‘him’, of course, being a personal pronoun denoting that it was a man. Perhaps you think I’m trying to convince you that I have some sort of psychic powers — precognition, perhaps, or clairvoyance, or ‘secret knowledge’, as it is sometimes termed. For how else would I have known it was a man outside my office door, before I buzzed him in? Well, the truth, dear listener, is that I did not. It was only after I saw the gentleman (for such it was — in the person of my client of the moment, Mr. Henry Q. Jackson, a prominent local businessman and noted philanthropist) that I was able to surmise his gender. However, when beginning this paragraph, I thought it infelicitous to say “I buzzed in the person who had rung the bell, whom I would soon discover was a man, and not just any man, but in fact my client of the moment, etc., etc.”. Of course, had I done so, I would not have actually said “etc., etc.”, but replaced that with actual things I would say. I eliminate the repetition in the interest of brevity.
“Mr. Jackson,” I said, after first saying “hello”, “come in”, “have a seat”, and various other social niceties of only minimal relevance to the purpose of my narrative. “What brings you around here?” I regretted the phrasing; while my offices are in a well-maintained professional building, I felt that my choice of words contained an imprecatory tone, and could perhaps be interpreted as questioning why Mr. Jackson would be in such ‘fancy digs’, as the common phrasing would have it. Of course, Mr. Jackson was a man of great wealth who could easily afford (depending on the disposition of some outstanding debts, cash to hand, and the performance of the stock market at that time) to have bought the entire building, let alone my offices. In fact, it occurs to me that he could, perhaps, have even taken it in the opposite way — as if I were asking why a man of his fortune and standing would deign to ‘slum’ in my (from his perspective) no doubt inadequate offices. However, social embarrassment was avoided, as he seemed instinctively to discern my intent rather than the awkward phrasing of my greeting.
“Detective Crowe,” he began, heedless of the fact that since I am a private investigator and am not affiliated with the police department, ‘Miss’ would be a preferable form of address to ‘Detective’, which, while accurate, is better understood as an official designation of rank in police terminology, “I was just wondering if there were any new leads.”
“Well, Mr. Jackson,” I replied, “there you’re really asking me two questions. In a sense, I might say, there may or may not be new leads. This is largely out of my hands; the existence or not of new leads is contingent on the behavior of the principals in the case, over which I have little or no control. I think, in truth, you mean in the smaller sense — your question may be better phrased not as ‘are there any new leads?’, but rather as ‘have you discovered any new leads?’. As a construct, the question is perhaps…”
He interrupted me before I could explicate my argument in more precise (and, therefore, less ambiguous) detail. “Detective, please! I need to tell you…I received a call from my blackmailer last night.”
I considered correcting him on a definitional error — the crime being committed against him was, to be legally correct, extortion and not blackmail, given the particulars of the case, which definitional error might be of increased importance as we came closer to its resolution and eventual prosecution in a court of law — but this was important news indeed, and I judged that it was best to let him continue. It’s a questionable choice, I realize, and one which may later prove to have been incorrect, but for the time being and in the absence of a rational model of projected alternate outcomes, I stand by it. “Really! You spoke to him at last? Tell me what happened. Be cogent.”
“Well,” said Mr. Jackson nervously, or at least in a manner both vocal and physical that I would characterize, based on my academic training in psychology as well as practical experience in the interrogation of witnesses, as nervousness, “he had a very odd way of speaking. He was terse, almost truncated. He would only answer questions ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and when he volunteered information, it was in a very concise and abbreviated fashion. For example, when he told me where to make the money drop, he used no traditional subject or verb structure, but only said the place and time.”
My heart sank. Not literally, of course, although perhaps, given my posture and certain physiological factors, it’s possible there was some physical change in its disposition. “Mr. Jackson, I think we may be dealing with my old nemesis,” — and here I paused, partly out of the dread I felt at the potentiality (if not absolute certainty) of the villain’s involvement, but, I must grudgingly admit, with the intent of enhancing the dramatic impact of what I was about to say — “The Exscinder.”
Will Veronica Crowe, Expounding Detective truly come face-to-face with The Exscinder? Will the crusading damsel of discursus meet her match at the hands of the Editor or Evil? Will Chicago’s finest digressive detective find herself deleted from the text of her very own story by the Blue Pencil of Doom? Tune in next week…and find out!