The Case Of The Pilfered Pickle Part 3

Another “Nick Nesbitt—Private Eye” Mystery

This Week’s Installment: “Service With A Smile”

By morning I was ready to take my first steps toward cracking the caper. I had spent the night laying out my moves, one by one. I figured my opening gambit was to grill the erstwhile pals of the late Mr. Ingebretson. Since I’d had a run-in or two with the Norwegian Mafia, I decided to start with Ole “Bull” Olsen. Lead from strength, that’s my motto.

Not wanting to tip my hand, I cruised into his repair shop in a Volvo I had borrowed from a former client. Combined with the pink polo shirt, khaki Eddie Bauer trousers and Topsiders that I had donned for the ruse, I appeared to all the world to be an orthodontist from Wayzata, or a professor of Applied Logistics from Kenwood. The bait looked good; now all I had to do was reel in the big fish.

I tooted the horn twice, and out of the door slithered a small man with shifty eyes. He was wearing dark sunglasses, but when you’ve been in this racket as long as I have, you can spot a pair of shifty eyes through 8 inches of Spancrete.

He wasn’t exactly what I had expected from a guy nicknamed “Bull”. For one thing, he was about five feet tall, and if he weighed 120 he had a lot of silver in his pockets. But there was something else. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but all my nerve endings were sending out alarms on the Sleazoid Early Warning System.

“What do you want?” he croaked.

“Got a bit of a problem with the old family bus,” I said cheerily as I exited the Volvo. “I heard Ole Olsen’s the best in town when it comes to fixing Volvos, so I was wondering if you could take a look at it.”

He looked around quickly, and then said, “Yeah, okay. C’mon in.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside the small but seedy office. By the time my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, he was already trying to get rid of me.

“Look, pal,” he said quickly, “You leave the jalopy, I’ll take a look. See you later.” He rose to escort me out, but I wasn’t biting.

“Just a moment, Mr. Olsen,” I stalled. “Or may I call you Ole?”

“Why would you…er, yeah, sure. Ole’s fine.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry,” I said, as he sat back down. “I was hoping you could take a look at it right now. You know, while I wait?”

A trained observer of the human condition could spot the wheels turning in his head. I am just such an observer, and even in the dim light of his office, I could see that Bull Olsen was sizing me up.

“Okay, I’ll look at it,” he finally said. “It’s probably just the timing. Fix it in a jiffy. Got a stopwatch right here.”

“I appreciate it, Ole,” I said. “My wife’d kill me if she couldn’t drive the gang to the Uptown Art Fair this weekend.”

“Well, I ain’t exactly Mr. Great Wrench, but I’ll take care of it for ya.” He rose again. “I’ll just pull it into the garage. Got the keys?”

“In the ignition,” I replied. He headed for the Volvo, and I remembered what Boots Ingebretson had said. She was right…there were too many holes in Ole’s story. For one thing, any jamoke knows you don’t use a stopwatch to time a car. At least not a foreign job like a Volvo. And why had he referred to Mr. “Great” Wrench? Slip of the tongue? Malaprop? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. And another thing…why didn’t Olsen have any grease on him? Sure, it was still early in the day, but I never met a mechanic who didn’t wake up filthy. Ole was spotless.

My thoughts were interrupted as I heard tires squealing across the lot. I burst out the door in time to see the Volvo take a corner on two wheels and then disappear. Ole had played me for a sucker, and I was left with a handful of nothing. I made a mental note to avoid underestimating Norwegian auto mechanics in the future, and decided to search the joint.

As I entered the garage, I heard a low moan. It was coming from the grease pit. I looked over the edge, and there at the bottom was a huge form lying face down in the slime. He was wearing mechanic’s coveralls, though it was hard to make them out through the grease and oil. I silently wrote off my clothes as a business expense, and jumped down next to the body.

It took every ounce of muscle I had to roll the pile of humanity over. I smeared the grease away from the hulk’s face, and he opened one eye.

“Nnggh,” he mumbled. I had flunked Mumble in college, so I asked him to repeat it. “Nnggh,” he sighed, and then was quiet. Real quiet.

I grabbed a portable shop light and gave him the quick once-over. I didn’t find a pulse, but I did find something else. Just under the embroidered name patch marked “Ole”, there was a splotch of red. As in blood. And just under that was the proverbial “foreign object.” I pulled it out and held it up to the light. It was one of those auto air fresheners, made in the shape of a Christmas tree. Ole had been deodorized to a fair-thee-well.

I climbed out of the pit and found a phone in the office. I had a connection on the Minneapolis Police Force, and I figured he’d be interested in Ole’s murder. It rang twice before a soft voice answered. “Gretchen? It’s Nick Nesbitt. No time for small talk. Let me have the big guy.” I hated to be brusque, but I was on a case, and the meter was running.

A voice came on the line. “Yeah?”

“Tony, it’s Nick. Got a Norwegian auto mechanic named Ole Olsen who just took a brody into his grease pit. I’m afraid he wasn’t much of a diver. From the looks of things, the degree of difficulty was low and his form was bad. I’d say the judges aren’t going to score this one too high.”

“We’ll be right there.”

I hung up the phone and sat down on a stack of tires to wait for the cops. I didn’t have much, and what I did have confused me. Who was the short guy? And why had he given Ole Olsen the air freshener injection?

I only knew one thing for sure.

Like the man said, this was no boating accident.

Next Week: Larry The Loser sings like a birdie, and Boots decides to take a powder.

Today’s Fact-Cetera

90% of all Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

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