Deal 439: Watched and watching

The puppets watch. It is what we do. We watch. We remember. We protect.

We rarely speak, outside of our private circles. Even more rarely, we take a human into our confidence. When we do, it is usually to provide cover or mobility that we lack in our own persons.

I am a puppet. I am currently working a beat in a little girl’s home. Where I have seen the most beautiful creature. She has eyes of the purest blue, straw blonde hair, porcelain white skin, and lives on the shelf across the room. She’s winked at me, but we are on duty, and duty forbids us from expressing anything lest our charge become aware of our natures.

So for the next decade I expect to stare longingly at the object of my unrequited love, while she stares at the empty shelf next to me.

As the poet wrote:

puppet protected
inaccessible to love
limited free will

But if there is one thing we are good at, it is watching.


Deal 438: Michel helps

Once again I found myself alone in my office on the third floor as a storm raged over the city outside my window. Alone with my thoughts, the white noise of the rain, and with the latest bottle from the cupboard that lately seems never to be empty.

The bottle and I were just getting acquainted when my door opened slowly.

One of these days I’ll remember to hang the closed sign and actually lock it when I’m done with people for the day. Apparently today was not that day. Or maybe I knew I would be wanted.

I looked up.

And then up some more.

The dame standing in the door was not familiar to me, and that made her more intriguing. From where I sat, there was a lot to admire as she made her way through the door and over to my desk and work table.

“Is there room in that bottle for one more?” she asked, her voice matching her body perfectly.

I pondered the question for a moment longer than it required.

“Certainly,” I replied. “Give your legs a rest and I’ll scare up another glass.” At a nod the other chair slid back just enough to meet her hand as shee reached for it. While she was distracted, I pulled a second glass out of my desk drawer and tipped the bottle at it.

She sipped, coughed, then looked closer at the bottle and smiled. Her second sip went down much more neatly.

“I need help,” she began. “My husband—”

“Are you sure you want my help? The P. I. upstairs is usually the right choice for problems that begin this way.” I’m a psychic not a detective, and have fount it better to set expectations early with new clients. I also knew she was in the right place. I am, after all, a psychic.

“My husband,” she began anew, “is dead. Detectives have been all over it. I think they suspect foul play, and the grieving widow is always at the top of their list.” She paused for another sip. “I found him at his desk this morning. He’d stayed up late writing, and never came to bed. I’m still numb, but I know I need help before they have made it impossible. Can you help me?”

“Was this his normal habit?”

“Dying? Hard to make a habit of that!”

“No, staying up late to write.”

“Yes. He was a night owl. But he always came to bed eventually.”

“And as you point out he hardly ever died at it.” She glared. Which was progress. Until this reaction, she was not behaving exactly as one would expect the widow to behave, especially not the widow who had found the body earlier that day. Perhaps I’d taunted her enough. “What was he working on when he died?”

“He writes mysteries, or about mystery, or just mysteriously. He doesn’t share everything he writes with me, and I don’t pester him about it. But I know he finished a big project recently, and has been casting around looking for inspiration for his next. He must have found something, there was a stack of paper nearby, and a page in the machine. And he was just sitting there, slumped across the desk. Dead.”

She sipped her drink again, and again, clearly lost in thought. I let the silence grow. She needed the space, I needed to consider my next move, and I had the feeling that she was still hiding something.

“There was this,” she blurted. “This page was balled up and clutched in his hand.” She pulled a crumpled and torn sheet from her purse.

I took it and smoothed it out on the table between us. It was handwritten, in what looked like brown ink but also could have been blood.

poison typewriter
led author to afterlife
wrote final chapter

“Did the police see this?”

“No. I found it and kept it. They have whatever else he wrote, I didn’t get a chance to look any closer and he was sprawled on it.”

Time for some solid answers. I dug out a Ouija board and dusted it off. Naturally, the planchette had gone to wherever small things go to hide when they are needed, but the board was intact. An empty shot glass would do as a substitute, especially after we got the husband’s attention.

“What was his drink?”

“That is another odd thing. He liked an uncommon single malt with one of those authentic unpronounceable names. In fact, the very thing we’re drinking right now.”

I smiled briefly, I had wondered why the cupboard had coughed up this particular bottle tonight. It does seem to know what I need before I do. I’ll have to investigate how it does it sometime. But now is not the time.

I splashed a little in the shot glass, then lit it on fire with a gesture. (And a match, but allow me my little bits of theatre, it is all part of the process.)

I set the burning glass on the board. I looked up and past my client. “We need some answers. I know you have been listening, and she wouldn’t have been able to find me if you didn’t want her to find out.”

The glass rocked a little, then slid over to the word “Yes”. It paused there, then began to wander around the board, stopping from time to time.


“How? Wha—” She went silent when it was clearly spelling her name.

Then she blanched. She knew that I knew, and that it was all going to come out.


She looked up at me briefly, but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the board.


It paused for effect.


She passed out.

I signaled to the detective that had been waiting and listening from the other room.

“Did you get enough of that?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so.” He calmly put cuffs on her wrists.

“She poisoned him. Her reaction confirms it.”


“We could ask why.” I knew why, but wondered just how much they knew.

“We already know about the other women.”


“Yup. One for each city his book tours reach. And at least two here in town that we know of. Should be an interesting funeral once we drop a few names in the news.”

Behind his back, the glass had kept moving. I T W A S N T W H A T I T S E E M E D

“It never is,” I said to the glass, which wandered over to “NO”, then tipped over on “Goodbye”.

“What?” asked the detective.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”


Deal 436: One froggy evening

Tina was going to be very interested. The more I looked, the stranger it all felt.

With no one to see but the frogs, I found a suitable shadow and opened a portal back to my flat. I wasted little time locating George, who as luck would have it happened to be at home. I sent a handy messenger mouse to ask him to step upstairs. While I waited I had a cup of thankfully frog-free tea.

When he arrived, we stepped back into the village. He felt it immediately.

We set up in the inn off the square. George got a good fire going while I set out my materials for tea, put the pot on the hook, and sat back to watch. As we watched, a frog crawled out of the woodwork. Literally right out of the woodwork, I could see it squeezing out of a crack between two boards. Then another crawled out of the same spot.

Damn but the green little bug eaters are persistent.

As we watched, they continued to appear, and surrounded the kettle as it warmed.

I turned to George. “Well?”

“Tina is going to want to see this.”

“I tried to reach her, without success.”

“Her owl was visiting my larger birds. The smaller birds are nervous around him, of course, as are the mice. She must be around somewhere.”

“You can ask the owl to find her, right?”

“Of course, but he has his own rules, and might not be able to do much.”

“What can you tell about the frogs tonight? This doesn’t seem right to me.”

“Me either. I am pretty sure the frogs are the villagers, changed, and given a compulsion.”

“That would explain a few things.”

“But I’m at a loss to imagine who or how.”


Deal 435: Michel investigates

As I wandered around the village, I found things in disarray everywhere I turned. Every crock, pot, or kettle in town was full of lukewarm water brimming with frogs. A few had the remains of what might have been a soup in progress, but every single one held frogs. And not just one or two. Enough frogs of all sizes to completely cover the surface, and I had a hunch that was just the top layer.

Everywhere I looked were signs of people who just set down their things and vanished. Knitting needles dangled from a sock, the whole thing dropped in the ash in front of the fireplace. The fire was out, but there were plenty of logs stacked neatly just beside the grate. Food was obviously chopped and ready for cooking, but the cook had simply dropped her knife and let it lay where it fell.

The knife was the most telling. At the standard of living evident for the town, each good knife was worth a great deal in trade with a traveling knifemaker. A simple knife could be made in a few hours be the local smith, but a fine blade required a different level of skill to make and forge the steel. No one who knew its value would leave such a blade just laying in a puddle of meat juices to rust.

This village was hardly alone, but this plague of frogs made it more than a little unique.

Something very strange was at work here.

Tina was going to be interested.