Snores echoing loudly off the sneezeguard, Max Hardigrew slept with almost ostentatious abandon in the still-new salad bar, his wool-stocking’d feet wedged under a mound of celery and carrots, and a crude but fresh blanket of lettuce and romaine covering the rest of his body. He showed no intention of getting up, despite all the screaming.
Constable Bladderworth parked his unmarked AMC Matador patrol car close to the big, garish illuminated sign and slammed the door as he stepped out. His shoulders drooped visibly as he let out a long, ragged sigh.
He was at this miserable fast-food joint at 7:30 a.m. for two reasons, and he wasn’t happy about either of them.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say he was there for one solution, but with two very separate reasons. First, the owners of the Gonzo’s Tubeburger Hovel (home of the Grape Shake!) had only just installed the salad bar, and they’d had just about enough of Max Hardigrew sleeping in it, which had been going on for the better part of a week. No one was exactly sure how he kept getting in.
The second reason was that Constable Bladderworth had another murder to deal with, and it involved a car. There was simply no way anyone other than Max Hardigrew could be of any service. He needed Hardigrew’s brains, and fast.
The Constable pushed open the doors and ignored the red-faced, bellowing franchise owners and headed straight for Clamford, Max Hardigrew’s valet.
“What the hell, Clamworth?”
“It’s Clamford. Are we really going to do this again, Constable Bladderford?”
Constable Bladderworth and Clamford stared at each other for a few tense moments, then rolled their eyes and shrugged, in unison. Clamford went in for a kiss, but Bladderworth caught his face in the palm of his hand.
“Look, you know why I’m here, right? He can’t sleep in the goddamn salad bar,” Bladderworth said, exasperated, to the staring eyes between his fingers.
“Sure he can — look at him! He hasn’t slept this well since his summer coma.”
“I don’t care. The owners here are demanding I arrest him, for both trespassing and for what he did to that tuna salad, which they say they have on surveillance tapes. Plus, I need him to help solve a case.”
“What kind of case?” Clamford asked, extracting his face from the constable’s hand.
“It involves a Skoda.”
At the mention of the Czech name, Hardigrew’s eyes flew open and he bolted upright, striking his head hard against the sneezeguard with a loud, solid-sounding thunk.
“Son of a bitch!” growled Max Hardigrew, now fully awake. “Motherfuck.”
“Max, get the hell out of there,” said Constable Bladderworth in a bored, beaten voice.
“Who said something about a Škoda? And, idiot, it’s Škoda, not Skoda,” Hardigrew replied, swinging his legs down over the side of the salad bar and rummaging in a big tub of cottage cheese for his glasses.
“How do you say it with that little ‘v’ over the ‘S’ like that?” asked the Constable.
“You have to hold your tongue like this,” Hardigrew demonstrated, displaying his tongue out to the Constable. From behind the constable, a little girl saw Hardigrew’s contorted face and began to weep uncontrollably.
“Fine. Whatever,” Bladderworth said. “Let’s just get you and Clamford the hell out of here before they realize I’m not doing any of the police stuff I need to do to actually press charges.”
The Constable waved and made some hand gestures to the restaurant’s owner, and smiled and shrugged at them as if to say “that’s life, right? Sometimes weirdos sleep in your salad bar.”
The trio exited the restaurant and walked through the parking lot. “Hardigrew, we need to get this crime scene as soon as possible. No one’s touched it since we found it. Do you want to follow me? How did you get here?”
“Autogyro,” Hardigrew said, and waved his arm vaguely off to his right, where a still-smoldering propeller-driven vehicle was crashed into a dumpster and a small Opel Manta.
“Please help me. I’m trapped!” called a small voice from the Opel.
The Constable shook his head. “You two can ride with me. I’m over here.”
After arguing with Max about making Clamford ride in the trunk (they compromised — he could ride in the back seat, but he had to remain turned to the back window), they soon found themselves barreling down the road in the Matador, as the Constable explained the situation at hand.
“We found the body about an hour ago,” he began. “Harpoon right through the chest. Pinned the poor guy right to the garage wall. There’s a hole in the hood of the car that looks like it was made with the harpoon. A witness says the victim was unloading some supplies from the car’s trunk—you know, the front trunk—when the murderer ran by and chucked the harpoon at him.”
The constable continued his grisly story. “It looks like the open hood kept the victim from seeing the harpoonist until it was too late, and the hood must have slammed shut when our body was hit by the harpoon. The guy is still warm—this just happened—and we haven’t disturbed anything so we can hopefully pull some prints.”
Hardigrew was clearly interested. He hadn’t even attempted to strike his valet. Hardigrew pulled a slice of mortadella from his pocket, and began to fill it with tobacco, peyote, and cumin, rolling everything up into a fat, oily cigarette. Lighting it with the dashboard lighter, he inhaled deeply as the Constable coughed and retched.
“What do you know about the victim? I only know of one Škoda in town, a 120, and that’s owned by that guy who runs that big Quaker school. Is that him? For some reason I also feel like mentioning that it’s 1978 and Škoda 120s exist,” Hardigrew said.
“Yep. That’s the one,” Constable Bladderworth said. “Name’s Chegs. Lionel Chegs. He’s the head of the Gurneyite Quakers around here. See, after the Gurneyite-Conservative split of the Quakers in the 19th century —”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Hardigrew shrieked. “Are you about to lecture me about the Gurneyite-Conservative split among the Quakers? What, are you going to fucking remind me of the Second Great Awakening and Joseph John Gurney and the Five Years Meeting? What the fuck is this, preschool? I KNOW ABOUT THE GOD DAMN QUAKERS. Just get on with it.”
“Okay, okay,” muttered Constable Bladderford. I mean Bladderworth. “Anyway, we’re here, so, look, just calm down already.”
“Telling me about fucking Gurneyites,” Hardigrew turned and muttered to Clamford, who rolled his eyes, or at least that’s how it looked from his face’s reflection in the back window.
Hardigrew and the Constable exited the car. A stern look and a breaky-stick hand motion directed at Clamford kept him in the car. Hardigrew and the constable walked over to the open garage, where, sure enough, the victim, Lionel Chegs, was pinned to the wall by a large iron harpoon. And just as the Constable described, a good-size hole was in the center of the Škoda’s hood, which looked to be made by the harpoon as it presumably passed through the hood and into Chegs’ chest.
The witness, Malpert Winches, was Chegs’ second-in-command of the Gurneyite Quaker compound, and saw everything happen from a window that opened into the garage from the main building.
Winches was in the conference room, awaiting the arrival of Sinclair Froth, the Conservative Quaker leader, whom Winches and Cheg were scheduled to meet with in just a few minutes. Chegs had just returned from the grocery store, and was about to unload the bags of tepid chowder for the meeting’s refreshments.
“It was horrible,” Winches told the Constable. “He had just opened the hood, and was about to grab the first bag of chowder when that harpoon came streaking out from the road. It punched right through the hood, and right into his chest. He didn’t even have time to scream.”
“It’s pretty clear what happened, if you ask me,” Winches continued. “These Conservative Quaker bastards still follow that fucker John Wilbur, and they can’t stand to see us succeed. They figured if they killed our leader, we’d cave into their territory demands and give them the muffler shop and the arcade. But that’s not gonna fucking happen, especially not now. I don’t care how many goons with harpoons they send at us.”
“A harpoon is a pretty symbolically insulting weapon for Quakers, what with the way they were portrayed in Moby Dick,” the Constable whispered to Hardigrew.
“No shit,” Hardigrew responded, stubbing out his mortadella stogie in the palm of his hand. “What is this, Romper Room? Only an idiot would look at this and not see Herman Melville’s dead-man’s piss all over it. Metaphorically, I mean. Anyway, it doesn’t even matter, because I know who the murderer is.”
“What? But you haven’t even examined the body! You’ve just looked at this crime scene for five minutes!” exclaimed Bladderworth.
“No need. Everything I need to know is right there in that Škoda. Constable, arrest the alleged witness, Malpert Winches!” Hardigrew pointed to Winches, who, standing right next to Max, ended up with Max’ finger inserted into his ear, up to the second knuckle.
Winches turned ashen, and attempted to make a break for it. Winches ran into the parked Škoda, which still had its keys in the ignition, and threw it into reverse.
Thinking quickly, Max grabbed Clamford out of the Constable’s Matador, and flung him headfirst into the passing driver’s side window of the Škoda. Crazed with shock and pain, Clamford’s wild kicking and shrieking were enough to confuse and subdue Winches, who may have been bitten by Clamford a few times as well.
In a few moments the Škoda crashed into a hydrant, and the two panicked men came tumbling out in a kicking, whimpering ball that reeked of both panic-urine and fear-urine.
After separating Winches from the still shaking Clamford, the Constable cuffed him, then turned to Max Hardigrew, one question burning in his head:
How did Max Hardigrew know who harpooned the Quaker?
Even though Max had no idea that Winches was planning to derail the peace talks between the two Quaker factions and blame Chegs’ murder on a Conservative Quaker assassin, Hardigrew did know something about Škoda 120s, which is that their front trunk lid opens sideways, almost like a grand piano.
Since the hood opens sideways, there’s no way Winches’ story could have been true. A harpoonist on the street would have been easily visible to Chegs, looking back over the car and down the driveway, and there’s no way a harpoon thrown from the street would have gone through the hood and then into Chegs’ chest, unless it made a 90° turn, which, generally, harpoons don’t do.
What really happened was Winches surprised Chegs as he first exited the car and walked around front to the trunk. Winches stabbed Chegs with the harpoon, then punched the harpoon down into the still closed trunk lid to make it look like the harpoon had punctured it. Winches either didn’t know or remember how the hood actually opened. Winches then stuck the skewered Chegs into the wall, and concocted his story about a harpoonist passing on the road.
That’s a pretty clever Quaker—but not clever enough to fool Max Hardigrew!
Stay tuned for another Max Hardigrew Car Mystery, hopefully coming sooner than this one!
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.