Another “Nick Nesbitt—Private Eye” Mystery
This Week’s Installment: “Aisles Of Anxiety”
The mysterious caller had sent a chill up my spine. Someone didn’t want me nosing around in the pickle biz. But you can’t afford to scare easily in this game. Besides, my erstwhile client was in the wind. But I didn’t have time to find Boots Ingebretson right now. I had to get the lowdown on pickles and pronto.
I hopped in the De Soto and headed down Main Street. The clock outside the bank read 1:40 AM. If I was lucky, someone else would be working late, too.
15 minutes later I arrived at the home office of The Food Industry Research Council. There was a solitary light shining from a third story window. I pulled out my Swiss Army Burglary Tool, but the front door lock had already been picked. I headed up the two flights of stairs to the laboratory of Dr. Mortimer Snodgrass, Food Researcher. As I approached the lab I could hear muffled moans. I knew the sound. I had made the same one myself in a previous case, when I had been forced to wear a gag courtesy of the Deli Counter Desperadoes.
I wrapped my hand around the roll of quarters I’d brought along, just in case. I’d have felt better with my hand wrapped around my trusty .38, but regrets are for saps, and besides, Elmo’s Pawn Shop was closed for the night.
Deciding that subtlety was in nobody’s best interest, I burst into the room.
Dr. Snodgrass was in an office chair, bound and gagged. He moaned again.
“Take it easy, Doc.” I quickly removed his gag.
“Thank God it’s you, Nick.” he rasped. “I thought they had come back!”
“Why don’t you tell me who ‘they’ are while I undo these ropes.”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “There were two of them. One tied me up while the other rifled my files. They seemed to find a file that interested them when the phone rang. I assumed it was you calling, so I tried to yell. That’s when they gagged me.”
“You get an “A” on the assumption, Doc, but only a “D” on smart moves.”
“Anyway, they left in a hurry after that.”
“Did they say anything?”
The old professor thought for a moment, then said, “Why, yes. I remember that one of them said ‘We’ve got him now.’ Now, what do you suppose that meant? Who’s ‘him’, Nick?”
“Him is me. About the file they took — I have a hunch that you might find something missing under the letter ‘P’.” Dr. Snodgrass made his way shakily to his file cabinet and began fingering through the drawer marked “P”.
“You’re right, Nick! My ‘Pickles’ file is gone! But how did you know?”
“Call me Kreskin. Do me favor, Doc. Call the cops. Ask for Lt. Torkillson. Give him the scoop on what happened here, and tell him I’ll connect the dots as soon as I check out a hunch.”
“Will do, Nick. But what’s your hunch?”
“I’ve got a date with a couple of palookas and a missing file. And I don’t want to keep them waiting.”
– – – – – – – – – – –
I made it back to my office in record time. Just as I figured — the door was ajar. It was a little late for a social call. My guess was that these jokers meant business.
“Come in, Mr. Nesbitt. I’ve been expecting you.” The voice rang a bell, but the face didn’t. I looked the well-tailored gent up and down.
“Sorry, pal, but you’ve got me at a disadvantage. I didn’t catch the name when we talked on the phone.”
“Forgive me. I seem to have forgotten my manners. The hour is rather late, and it has been a busy day.”
“Yeah. Breaking and Entering can really wear a guy out.”
A sneer curled under his pencil-thin white mustache. “I’ll ignore your cheap attempts at sarcasm for the time being. My name is Palmer Peterson. Perhaps you are familiar with my company — Peterson’s Premier Pickles?
“Can’t say that I am.”
Palmer Peterson sighed. “Tragically, you are in the majority, Mr. Nesbitt. But that all will change very, very soon. Because in a matter of days every grocery store in town will be carrying my pickles, and only my pickles.”
“I don’t think your elevator’s going all the way to the top, Peterson. Ingebretsen’s Pickles are #1 in these parts.”
“Not for long.”
So that was the game. Seeking pickle preeminence, Peterson had erased Old Man Ingebretsen. Now I knew why. What I didn’t know was how. Or what would come next.
“I hate to be brusque, Mr. Nesbitt, but time is of the essence. Please be kind enough to tell me the whereabouts of Ms. Ingebretsen.”
So, he didn’t know where Boots had gone, either. I figured my only play was to let him think I knew more than I did.
“Tough luck, Palmer. It seems that my old amnesia has kicked up again. For the life of me, I just can’t seem to remember where Boots said she was going.”
“How unfortunate,” he said menacingly. “But perhaps you are not familiar with the restorative powers of pickle brine. After being submerged in it, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly the details of Ms. Ingebretsen’s little vacation come back to you.”
Time was running out. I had played a lot of poker in my day, and the pompous pickle profiteer didn’t strike me as a bluffer. But I still had one ace in my pocket. My right hand closed around the roll of quarters. But before I could make a donation to his dental fund, Palmer Peterson spoke.
“I wouldn’t try anything rash if I were you, Mr. Nesbitt. Look behind you.”
“That’s the oldest trick in the book, Pickle Boy. The greenest rookie in the Grocery game wouldn’t fall for that one.”
Suddenly the back of my head felt like it was being kicked by the Rockettes. I felt a lump the size of Mount Ranier rising just as the rest of me was falling. Palmer Peterson’s laughter filled my ears as I struggled to fight back the spreading darkness. But it was no use. I couldn’t stop the crazy roller coaster ride that was taking me deeper and deeper.
It looked like my shelves were being re-set for the last time!
Is Nick about to take an unscheduled vacation in the Brine Islands? And what about Boots Ingebretsen? Is she missing…or dead? Will Peterson’s Premier Pickles become #1?
For the answers to these questions and more, don’t miss our next thrilling installment!
In Houston, Texas it is illegal to grunt when moving boxes.