Karen Cantwell

The Dame and Thaddeus Birdwhistle

This story originally appeared in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: INVITATION TO MURDER, published October of 2020 by Wildside Press

I hope you enjoy the read!


Amelia Birdwhistle rarely regretted her quiet life in Back Bay as wife and mother. The job, while lacking sparkle and excitement, did provide comfort and stability. She never wanted for anything, really.

She had married Angus Birdwhistle in the spring of 1945 and their son, Thaddeus, was born the following year. He brought great joy to their lives. Although only six years old, Thaddeus was notably precocious. He read newspapers with a voracious appetite, and he followed the stock market religiously. His favorite playwright was William Shakespeare. At night, before retiring to bed, he would stand on a small stage and recite soliloquies from Hamlet or Macbeth or Othello. But not from Romeo and Juliet. He actually did not care much for that one.

Ah, yes, Amelia and Angus Birdwhistle were most proud of their gifted young son. What parent wouldn’t be?

So imagine their surprise when Thaddeus appeared at the breakfast table one bright Sunday morning, hair uncombed, shirt misbuttoned and untucked, and his usual smile replaced by a scowl.

He crumpled into a chair, rubbing his bloodshot eyes. “Lady, pour me a cup o’ joe, would ya? I was up until dawn with a dish in a dive.”

Amelia spilled her tea.

Angus lowered a corner of his newspaper to see what alliterating hooligan had stolen into their home an hour before church. When he saw the hooligan was his own son, he raised an eyebrow.

Thaddeus’s coarse tone had Amelia perplexed. He had always been such a pleasant and well-behaved boy. Even at two years old, when other children were being terrible, Thaddeus was agreeable, never arguing when it was time to practice piano or his times tables.

Amelia felt her son’s forehead. “Are you feeling all right, Teddy?”

Thaddeus placed a book on the table. “Listen, precious, I’ve got a lot on my mind. Mac’s lookin’ for a dame, and I don’t know how he’s gonna find her.”

Angus looked from his son to the book and then to his wife. “He has picked up the vernacular and attitude of those blasted dime novels Mary gave him. What was she thinking?” He shook a finger at his son. “Thaddeus Birdwhistle, you will address your mother with respect and enunciate clearly at all times in this house.”

“Please don’t yell at the boy,” Amelia said. “Angus, dear, I’ve been schooling myself on the nuances of raising a genius child. Let me handle this.” She sat at the table near her son. “Tell me, Teddy, what exactly is a ‘dish in a dive’?”

“Amelia!” Angus scolded.

“The experts say to encourage creative play,” she told Angus. “Watch and learn.”

Thaddeus shook his head. “A dish is a broad, a lady, but you know, not a fancy lady. And a dive is, I don’t know, a joint, a place with cheap drinks and greasy food, and tunes playin’ on the juke. Not a place for the likes of you, I’m pretty sure.”

Angus huffed and returned to his newspaper.

“That is very interesting,” Amelia said, lifting the small paperback book from the table. The cover was slightly tattered. Their maid, Mary, had found several of them in a bin at a yard sale. Four for fifteen cents. She thought Thaddeus would enjoy them, which he did, immensely, much to Angus’s dismay. Amelia read the title of this one aloud. “Invitation to Murder, a Mac Hardcase Mystery. Did you learn those words in this book?”

 “I’m not readin’ that one. I’m writin’ it.”

The crude diction bothered Amelia greatly, but intent on encouraging creativity, she did not correct him. She flipped through the pages to discover they were mostly blank with the exception of Thaddeus’s pencil longhand on the first few. “This book was blank when Mary gave it to you?”

“That’s what I’m sayin’. So I’m writin’ Mac’s next case.” He snatched it from her hands. “But I’m not ready for you to read it yet. Don’t need the slam to muddle me up.”

Amelia was desperate to help her son in this obvious hour of need, but his new lexicon confused her. “Slam?”

“Play it like a zapper,” Thaddeus said. “You know, throw me a bad review.”

“Goodness, Teddy, I would never criticize your artistic endeavors. But if you like, you can tell me about your story as written thus far. Paraphrase for me.”

Thaddeus straightened some in his chair. “Sure. I can do that. Chapter one, Mac gets a call late at night from his buddy Jimmy Jiggs. Jimmy can’t talk on the phone—he wants to meet Mac in person right away.”

“Why?” Amelia asked.

“No reason given,” Thaddeus said. “Jimmy doesn’t always run the straight and narrow, but they’ve been pals since primary school, so Mac doesn’t question. They’re supposed to meet at a joint on Main, only Mac hears two gunshots, boom, boom, comin’ from an alley when he’s just a block away. Mac has a bad feelin’ it’s Jimmy. He hoofs it to the alley, and finds Jimmy on the ground. Croaked. Lethal dose of lead in his chest. The killer’s long gone.”

“My,” Amelia said. “Poor Jimmy Jiggs.”

Angus huffed again from behind his paper, this time with a bit more force.

“Is there more?” Amelia asked.

Thaddeus nodded. “Chapter two: Mac can’t let the coppers know he’s there—it’d be bad for business, so he slips into a dive to wait it out. While dippin’ his bill, he finds out from a dish at the bar that Jimmy’s been seein’ a dame by the name of Ziva. The word is she’s champagne and caviar—a high-class sort. But Jimmy is beer and nuts. For Mac, this doesn’t add up, so he wants to find this dame. Put the screws to her. See if she’s the reason Jimmy got bumped.”

Amelia applauded. “That is a thrilling story, Teddy. A bit crude, but captivating. Ziva is a daring and imaginative name. Maybe we should enroll him in creative-writing classes, Angus.”

Thaddeus rubbed his temples. “Suddenly I’m not feelin’ so good.”

“You are not the only one, sir,” Angus muttered.

“Well it isn’t long until church, and we must attend since Daddy and I are ushers. So upstairs you go to dress, little man. Possibly try splashing some water on your face first.”

“I certainly don’t like being bossed around by a skirt, but water on my face sounds like a good idea right about now.”

Amelia laughed, albeit with a hint of discomfort. “Thank you for sharing. Now, uh, get yourself a movin’ . . . cowboy.”

When their son was gone from sight, Angus lowered the newspaper barricade and spoke. “First, you find a cowboy on a range, not in a dime whodunit novel, but more importantly, I am not sure you should be indulging the boy like that, Amelia. I mean, do we really want to encourage such uncouth and boorish expression? What happened to Shakespeare? It is so much more pleasing to the ear.”

“I’m not without my own reservations, but experts agree a genius at work should not be suppressed. Obviously, Teddy has great literary talent, and we must assist by allowing his brilliance to blossom. For all we know, he could be the next Dashiell Hammett.”

“I am conflicted, Amelia. Our brilliant son just referred to you as ‘a skirt.’ This disturbs my need for decorum.”

“Give me time to see this through, Angus, please.”

“Fine, but we can’t have him uttering vulgarities in church today. We’ll be the laughing stock of Back Bay.”

Amelia patted her husband’s arm. “Maybe the splash of water on his face will calm him down some.”

In fact, when Thaddeus returned downstairs some minutes later, his hair was combed, his face was clean, teeth brushed, and he sported his crisply ironed Sunday suit. He sat once more in the same chair, but with proper posture this time, and folded his hands on the table. “I feel much better, Mommy and Daddy. Might I have a cup of tea and a muffin before church?”

“Thank God, the affliction has passed,” Angus said.

Amelia shushed Angus while placing a tea cup in the saucer for Thaddeus. “Certainly. Tea and a muffin. I see you have cleaned up nicely, Teddy.”

He nodded with a smile. “Yes, Mommy.”

Amelia felt assured she had the situation under control. “Thank you so much. And do know, that while we fully support your desire to play act as an outlet for your creative nature, maybe, just be yourself in church today. Others may not understand Mac Hardcase the way we do.”

“Speak for yourself,” Angus grumbled.

Thaddeus accepted the muffin Amelia offered him. “Yes, Mommy. I understand. He is a rough sort of man, it is true. If I promise to be good though, can I bring my manuscript with me to church, should I be inspired while waiting for the sermon to begin?”

“Why not take a classic to read instead, son?” Angus proposed. “I have it: Moby Dick. You have adventure, symbolism, proper words found in a dictionary. . . .”

The expression on Thaddeus’s face did not covey enthusiasm. In fact, he appeared rather sad.

“How about you bring both, Teddy?” Amelia suggested.

Thaddeus brightened with a smile. “Thank you.”

Angus frowned.

“Compromise, Angus,” Amelia said. “Good parents know how to compromise.”

“Fine.” Angus folded his paper. “Let’s all be ready to leave in ten minutes.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Thaddeus replied after swallowing a bite of muffin.


The world seemed normal once again as the Birdwhistles took their place in their customary pew. Pastor Smith inspired as usual. And Thaddeus joined the children’s choir to perform a mesmerizing rendition of “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” A sense of Sunday peace enveloped Amelia when he returned to his seat beside her and Pastor Smith continued with the sermon. Only once did she become somewhat concerned when she caught Thaddeus staring strangely across the aisle at Norbert Emerson. The Birdwhistles had a dispute with the Emersons, and Norbert in particular, but Amelia was almost certain Thaddeus had no knowledge of the situation. She and Angus had been careful never to discuss the problem around their son. Amelia whispered in Thaddeus’s ear, reminding him it was not polite to stare, yet the boy could not seem to break his trance. At least, not until he picked up his Mac Hardcase book and began scribbling. She chose to allow the scribbling as it was better than the staring.

After service, Amelia sent Thaddeus to sit on a quiet bench at the far side of the church lawn while she mingled with fellow parishioners. Sarah Clifford asked if Amelia might bring her famous deviled eggs to the weekly bridge game, and Ethel Hastings stopped her to ask how Angus’s dear mother faired after her bout with pneumonia. Ethel was always caring that way. On her way to collect Thaddeus, Amelia ran into Ruth Bates and complimented her on how well she looked after the recent scare with appendicitis, which everyone knew was really euphemism for a face-lift. As face-lifts go, Ruth did look decent. Yes, life was upright again, and the crazy morning was becoming a distant memory.

While Angus stayed behind to fulfill his vestry duties, Amelia turned to collect Thaddeus. They’d be walking home together as usual.  Her blood began to boil when she discovered Norbert Emerson and his wife, Vera, engaged in conversation with her son. Norbert had once borrowed a substantial sum of money from the Birdwhistles—a sum which had yet to be repaid. When Amelia had suggested to Vera that a monthly payment schedule be instituted, Vera announced her offense and became most disagreeable. To her credit, however, Vera did put on a good face in public. Amelia preferred to avoid them both, but this seemed impossible at the present.

“What is that you are writing, Thaddeus?” she heard Norbert ask.

“A book,” Thaddeus answered, eyeing Norbert with the medicine-in-the-pudding suspicion she’d seen many times over.

Stepping closer to Thaddeus, Amelia noted his unusually restrained response. Unaware of the Birdwhistle-Emerson conflict, Thaddeus seemed to like the Emersons and generally chatted freely with them most Sundays. Amelia, pleased to be raising such a polite and social child, never discouraged him, despite her tartness toward the defaulting couple.

Amelia greeted Vera dispassionately. “Hello, Vera.”

Vera gave a nod matching the lukewarm tone. “Amelia.”

“What is your book about?” Norbert inquired of Thaddeus further.

“Do you really want to know?” Thaddeus asked.

Norbert laughed with hearty vigor. “Certainly, I want to know or I would not have asked, now would I? Go on, give me a synopsis.”

“Well, the story is not complete, but it revolves around a murder.”

“Sounds grisly,” Vera said.

“Yes, a bit,” Thaddeus agreed. “And you are in it, Mr. Emerson.”

“Me? I am a character in a book? I am honored.”

“You are ancillary, but still, because you know the dead man, Jimmy Jiggs, Mac Hardcase wants to talk to you.”

Norbert’s jovial smile fell. The color drained from his fat face.

A feeling of dread overcame Amelia.

Thaddeus opened his book and began reading his own creation before she could intercede. “‘Hey, buddy,’ Mac shouted at Norbert Emerson across the sidewalk. ‘Aren’t you an acquaintance of Jimmy Jiggs?’ The stiff upper crust tried to ignore Mac, but he wasn’t having any of that. ‘Yeah, I saw you with Jimmy at Handsome Eddie’s strip joint. You got a doll there dances for you special. Kitty Kats is her name, am I right?’”

Norbert Emerson’s bulbous face registered horror. He began backing away, nearly tripping over his own feet.

Vera was not at all amused. She pursed her already-thin lips. “Such vulgar rubbish coming from a little boy.”

Bewildered by Norbert’s reaction, Amelia felt she should probably stop her son, yet something in her could not end the scene unfolding.

Thaddeus continued reading with dramatic flair. “Mac kept on Emerson like a mosquito on a healthy dog. ‘Don’t play stupid with me, buddy. Jimmy Jiggs wasn’t just an acquaintance o’ yours. He was your bookie and now he’s dead.’”

By now, Norbert had turned in the opposite direction, and if his physique had allowed, Amelia was sure he would have sprinted faster than an Olympian gold-medalist. “Come, Vera. Let’s not engage the rapscallion any longer.”

Left in the dust of Norbert’s hasty retreat, Vera made off after her husband, complaining. “Norbert, what on earth? Norbert?”

Thaddeus had been so engrossed in his own narration that he had not noticed the Emersons’ departure. “‘Just tell me if you know where to find a dame named Ziva,’ Mac urged Emerson. ‘A sophisticated dame with long blond hair and a roller-coaster body.”


At home, Amelia sent Thaddeus upstairs to change out of his church clothes and into his Sunday play clothes. Angus would be home shortly, and after a quick lunch, father and son would step outside for a rousing game of croquet.

While heating water for a cup of tea, Amelia pondered on the most recent Mac Hardcase development. Was it possible that Teddy knew of Norbert Emerson’s gambling problem by overhearing her and Angus discuss the unfortunate debt? That had to be it, of course. But why in the world had Norbert reacted like a frightened rabbit to Teddy’s storytelling? He behaved as if there was some terrible truth in the tale.

On a whim, she retrieved the telephone directory and turned to the H’s. Right there on the first page she found it: Handsome Eddie’s Dancin’ Bares Gentlemen’s Club. The raunchy establishment was real, but outside of Back Bay in a very undesirable part of town. Teddy would never have known of its existence from viewing it in passing. That was for certain. Of course, he could have pulled the name from the directory himself. It wasn’t as if they kept it under lock and key. She considered dialing Handsome Eddie’s and asking for Kitty Kats to see what the response might be, but at that very moment, Angus walked through the front door, so she set the directory aside and made a beeline for Teddy’s room. She found him at his desk, pencil in hand, staring out the window.

“Are you writing again?” she asked him.

“In a manner of speaking. It seems crafting a plot can be very difficult.”

She sat on the edge of his bed. “So, tell me, how did you think up this story, Teddy?”

He turned in his chair to face her. “I guess you could say, it just comes to me. I have an idea, and I write it down. But other times, like now, the idea just is not . . . available. But do you know what is really fun, Mommy?”

“What’s that, darling?”

“When the characters seem to write themselves. My pencil just moves and they come to life, talking and making their own choices. I would say it feels somewhat like magic, really.”

“And Norbert Emerson in your book—is that how he appeared? He just ‘wrote himself’?”

“Yes, Mommy. I probably should not have read him that part of my book though, should I have?”

She laughed. “Probably not. Well, my young author, why don’t you put the book aside for now and come down for a bite.”

After lunch, Amelia washed the dishes and ruminated more about Teddy’s story and about Norbert’s response to it. As if Jimmy Jiggs and the stripper Kitty Kats were flesh and blood—people with whom he cavorted. She wondered if strip clubs were opened on Sunday afternoons. Appalled at the possibility but also a tad intrigued, she decided to go see. If nothing else, the outing would clear her mind. She covered her head in a scarf and her eyes with large sunglasses and left a note saying she had gone out for a country drive.

In fact, Handsome Eddie’s Dancin’ Bares Gentlemen’s Club was open when she arrived. It was only then that Amelia asked herself what she really intended to accomplish here. Even if there actually were people named Jimmy Jiggs and Kitty Kats, and even if Norbert knew them, what would that matter to her? Except that somehow, inexplicably, her six-year-old son also knew these people—or knew of them. This was a conundrum Amelia felt compelled to investigate.

Fearful of germs or other, well, diseases, she pulled a tissue from her purse and wrapped it around the door handle before letting herself in. Immediately, a cloud of cigarette smoke overwhelmed her nasal passages while the blaring music, if one could call it music, assaulted her eardrums.

When she removed the sunglasses, she realized a large man loomed in front of her. Both tall and wide, his arms were crossed over his bountiful middle.

“You ain’t the kind we see in here most days,” he said. “You lost, lady?”

Amelia coughed. “No, sir. This is my intended destination.”


Amelia sneezed this time. The thick air did not agree with her.

“Bless you,” the large man said.

“Thank you, thank you. What is your name, sir?”

“They call me Killer.”

Amelia felt her throat clinch. She swallowed with some difficulty but continued. “Um, Mr. Killer, I am wondering, would, by chance, a dancer hailing as Miss Kitty Kats be employed by this Handsome Eddie fellow?”


Amelia attempted to match the man’s dialect. “I’m lookin’ for a, uh, dish named Kitty Kats.”

“Yeah, she’s here.”

“Really?” Amelia asked, thrilled and excited and a little frightened all at the same time. “There really is a Kitty Kats?”

“Are you playin’ some kinda game lady, cuz I don’t like games.”

“Oh, no sir. I assure you I am not playing a game at all. See, my son Teddy . . .” Amelia stopped herself once she realized the man in front of probably did not have an interest. “Well, it is quite a long story, as they say. I would love to speak a moment or two to Miss Kitty Kats, but first let me ask you this: do you know a man named Jimmy Jiggs?”

“Never heard of him,” the bouncer replied. He jerked his thumb toward the stage. “Kitty’s workin’ her set right now. She’ll be done soon enough.”

A nearly naked young woman with long legs and abundant bosom appeared to be mating with a metal pole in the middle of the stage. Amelia had trouble watching.

“Maybe I should just wait here until she is done then,” Amelia said.

“What exactly you want with her, lady?” the man asked.

“Just to, you know, talk. Have a little chat.”

“Then I suggest you get your keister down to the stage and let her know. Last I heard, she ain’t no mind reader.”

Taking his advice, Amelia made her way to the stage. She placed three more tissues from her purse neatly onto a chair at the nearest table. When she sat, she tried to touch as little of the chair as possible. Peeking at her watch, she made note that her time was limited. Angus and Thaddeus would be finished with croquet soon. She did not want to be gone too long. Amelia surveyed the smoky room. As far as audience went, she seemed to be it. A group of men smoked like chimneys at a table in the far back of the club, but they paid Miss Kitty Kats no heed. They appeared to be embroiled in some heated discussion. When the music ended, Amelia watched the woman—naked except for purple underpants (if you could call them that) and red heels—retrieve a silk robe from the back of a chair.

Amelia waved her hand in the air to catch the woman’s attention. “Hello? Miss Kitty? Or is it Miss Kats? Hello?”

Cinching her robe, the dancer squinted in Amelia’s direction. “Yeah?”

“Might I have a moment of your time?”


“I would like to ask you a couple of questions.”

“Lady, this is my break. I need some fresh air and a smoke.”

“I assure you, I am in a hurry as well. I shall make it quick. I can join you wherever you take your rest.”

The stripper gave Amelia a few moments of suspicious consideration, finally making a counteroffer. “Bring Mr. Jackson with you, and I’ll give you five minutes and no more.”

Amelia stood, pleased the stripper had agreed. “Where will I find Mr. Jackson?”

“In your wallet, lady. Twenty bucks.”

“Oh.” Amelia laughed. “Yes, I understand now. President Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill. I will have to remember that one. That is quite a high price, but yes, I can pay you twenty dollars.”

Kitty Kats rolled her eyes and pointed to a door to the left of the stage. Amelia followed her down a narrow, smelly hallway and out a door where the sunshine and clean air greeted her once again.

Kitty lit up then held her hand out for payment, which Amelia provided.

“Whaddya want, lady?”

Where to start? “Do you have a, um, I’m not sure how one refers to it. A fan perhaps? A man named Norbert Emerson?”

“I go out of my way not to ask last names, lady. But I know a Norbie. He comes around. And sure, you can call him a fan.” Kitty laughed and smoke billowed from her nose. “You his wife?”

“No,” Amelia protested. “No. It is just that he seems to be connected to a certain problem I am having. How about Jimmy Jiggs? Do you know a Mr. Jimmy Jiggs?”

“Never heard of him.”

“How about a private investigator named Mac Hardcase?” This seemed an even more ludicrous question given that Hardcase was fictional, but perhaps the character had been based on an actual person.

“Definitely never heard of him,” the dancer said.

Amelia thought the response interesting. Was Miss Kitty not “definitely” sure she’d never heard of Jimmy Jiggs?

The door pushed open and Killer stepped out, using his body to keep it from closing. “Kitty, Skunk wants ya. Says get yer keister in here now.”

Kitty stamped out her cigarette on the gravel. “You heard the man,” she said to Amelia. “Break’s over. You’d better scram.”

Not sure how her newfound knowledge would help her, Amelia decided to take the young woman’s suggestion and return home. She was short on time anyway.

“It has been a pleasure making your acquaintance,” Amelia said. “If I follow this gravel path around the building, will that lead to the lot where I parked my car?”

“Not so fast, lady,” Killer said. “Skunk wants ya both.”

“Damn,” Kitty said. “You shoulda scrammed faster.”

Amelia was bewildered to say the least. “I am wanted as well?”

“Yeah.” Killer grunted.

“Who is this Skunk, if I might ask?” The name had an ominous ring.

“He’s a guy.” Detail did not seem to be Killer’s strong suit.

Amelia was getting the distinct impression that her options were limited, but she attempted an easy escape in the off chance she was mistaken. “Please thank him for the invitation, but I must be getting home. My family is waiting for me. Once their croquet game is complete, Angus will garden and Teddy will want me to listen while he practices reciting the Gettysburg Address. Sunday rituals you know.”

“Nice try,” Killer said. “Now, if you don’t want those legs of yours broken, use ’em to follow Kitty into Skunk’s parlor. Kitty, show her the way.”


Skunk’s parlor turned out to be a poorly lit room with purple walls and gaudy furniture upholstered in faux animal fur. The “guy” himself, however, appeared to be a missing feature. Though Amelia knew she should be afraid for his eventual arrival, somehow she was not. Perhaps, she thought, this Mr. Skunk would provide the answers she sought.

Kitty made her way immediately to a bar in the corner where she poured herself a drink, appearing far less calm than Amelia.

“I’ll be right outside, so don’t think about makin’ for it.” Killer closed them in.

“This has gotta be about Jimmy,” Kitty said after downing her drink in single swig.

“Jimmy Jiggs?” Amelia asked, trying to decide if taking a seat on one of the faux fur sofas would bring risk of parasitic insect infestation.

“Yeah, Jimmy Jiggs.”

“So, you do know him?”

“More like, I knew him. You know Jimmy is dead, dontcha?”

“Yes, I have heard.” Amelia, having poor circulation in her legs, sat on the edge of a sofa. “Shot dead in an alley, so I am told. Why did you lie to me?”

“Cuz I’m scared for my life.”

“Of this Skunk fellow?”

“Sure. He probably thinks I know where Jimmy hid the scroll.”

“This tale certainly ripens with age,” Amelia said. “What is the scroll?”

“Jimmy said it was worth lots of dough. More than I could imagine. Somethin’ about it bein’ a handwritten invitation from one king to another king. Egyptian times or Roman maybe. I ain’t real keen on history, so it goes over my head.”

“Did Jimmy have the scroll with him while waiting to meet Mac Hardcase?” Amelia almost laughed at her words when she heard them aloud.

“Now him, I don’t know. I definitely never heard of no one named Hardcase.”

“Truly?” Amelia asked.

“Yeah, I swear on a stack.”

“I am so confused.” So Mac Hardcase was fictional, but Jimmy Jiggs and Kitty Kats were real. Could Teddy have overheard Norbert mention them sometime and then used their names in his story? Amelia guessed that was possible, but Miss Kats just said that Jimmy Jiggs had died, and Teddy had known that as well. It would be too much of a coincidence for Teddy to have imagined Jimmy’s shooting so soon after it actually occurred. But how could he have possibly known? Amelia shook her head. “Maybe I need a doctor. Maybe you and this establishment are all a figment of my imagination.”

Kitty poured another drink and walked it to the sofa. “This is as real as it gets, lady.”

“Call me Amelia.”

“Okay, Amelia, you look like you could use a stiff one.” Kitty handed Amelia the highball glass. “Here’s the line: Norbie is deep in with a loan shark named Rat Man.”

Amelia inspected the contents of the glass with some skepticism. “Who names these poor men? No wonder they have turned to a life of crime.”

Kitty sat next to Amelia. “Norbie’s vig was due and he didn’t have the cash.”

“Well that doesn’t confuse me in the least,” Amelia said, finally testing the drink with a small sip. She winced and set it on a table beside the sofa. “Norbert Emerson owes us money as well. Perhaps this Rat Man can help us collect. But what does this all have to do with Jimmy Jiggs and the scroll?”

“Norbie gave the scroll to Jimmy, told him to sell it, and said he’d give Jimmy a cut and pay off Rat Man.”

“So, someone killed Jimmy for the scroll.”

“That’s right,” said a man emerging from the shadows. He wore a pin-striped suit and dapper pair of dress shoes. His most defining feature, however, was his long black hair striped white, right down the middle. “Someone did kill Jimmy.”

Amelia felt sick at the sight of the shiny pistol he had aimed at her and Kitty Kats. She raised her shaking hands instinctively, the way she’d seen people do in the movies.

“You were here the whole time?” Kitty asked.

“I have a talent for blending in to my surroundings. Very interesting story you are telling about Jimmy, but here is a little fact: Jimmy Jiggs didn’t have the scroll on him when he died. I want that scroll, Kitty. Tell me where it is.”

“I don’t know, Skunk. I swear on a stack.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Skunk, sir,” Amelia said with a quivering voice. “How do you know he didn’t have the scroll when he died?”

“Because I killed him myself. We met in the alley to make the deal. He said I could have it for thirty G’s, but I didn’t want to pay that much. Two bullets seemed a better price.”

Amelia swallowed hard. “That does explain how you would know.”

A massive vein bulged down the middle of Skunk’s forehead. “You crackin’ I’m some kind of dope?”

Unsure of what he just asked, Amelia tried to stay calm and think fast. “Well . . . about that scroll—the one worth 30 G’s—why don’t you ask Ziva if she knows where it is? She’s Jimmy’s girl, right?”

Both Kitty Kats and Skunk looked at Amelia with questioning brows.

Amelia offered information to clarify. “A sophisticated dame named Ziva. With long blond hair and a roller-coaster body.” Amelia hoped to heaven she wasn’t fictional.

“Do you know this Ziva?” Skunk asked Kitty.

“Nope. Never heard of her.”

“Mr. Skunk, I think I have an idea, but would it be all right if I put my arms down now?”

“I never told ya to put ’em up, doll.”

Amelia found herself oddly flattered that Skunk had called her a doll and that worried her greatly. But she had more on her mind at the moment, like how to get herself out of this potentially deadly scenario. “As I mentioned, I am aware of a dame named Ziva with whom Jimmy had been keeping company. If you would allow me a phone call, I could contact this Ziva and ask her about the scroll.”

“Seems like you’re the kind who’d call the cops,” Skunk said.

“Sir, you have a gun and I do not. My only intention is to assist you in locating this Egyptian or Roman relic as quickly as possible so I might return home to my child and husband.”

Skunk tapped a dapper shoe a few times while sizing up Amelia and her offer. “All right. One ring on the blower. That’s all ya get. Make it profitable.” He reached over the bar with his free hand and produced a black telephone with a gold dial, then motioned her over.

Amelia stood and inched her way warily toward the telephone which, in her opinion, was far too near the weapon held by an admitted killer.

“You tell me the number, I’ll do the dialin’,” Skunk ordered.

After giving him the phone number for her own home, she put the heavy receiver to her ear and said a silent prayer. One ring, two rings, three. Her prayers were answered before the fourth ring. “Hello, you have reached the Birdwhistle residence, Thaddeus Birdwhistle speaking.”

Teddy only answered the telephone if she or Angus was unavailable; it was the key rule in their household. This made her job much easier. “Hello, Teddy, this is Mommy. Where is Daddy at the moment?” She felt Skunk shove the pistol into her side, reminding her no monkey business.

“He is in the garden tending to some weeds. Will you be home soon?”

“Hopefully, darling. Tell me, where is your book? The one you are writing?”

“I have it in my hand. You caught me in the middle of what I feel will be a turning point in the plot. A gangster named Skunk has Mac and Kitty Kats on the ropes. He’s copped to killing Jimmy for an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Golden Scroll.”

This was an interesting turn of events, indeed. Amelia had rung Teddy hoping his story would be further written to the point of revealing Ziva’s whereabouts or, even better, that of the scroll. But it seemed that while he penned his tale, she was living it. Playing the role of Mac himself. She found this both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Of course, there was also the possibility that she teetered on the brink on insanity, but she’d deal with that later.

“Do you have your pencil handy?” she asked Teddy.

“Get to it, lady, I ain’t got all day,” Skunk warned her.

“Yes, I have my pencil,” Thaddeus answered.

“Teddy, listen carefully. I need you to write Ziva into the story right now. Have her walk into Skunk’s parlor—have her walk in and offer the Golden Scroll to Skunk in return for the release of Kitty and me—I mean, Kitty and Mac.”

“That would make for a very short book,” Thaddeus argued.

“Just do it. Trust me. Write the words in the book now, I implore you.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

Amelia listened in the receiver as Teddy put his end down. She heard the faint scratching of pencil on paper.

“I ain’t so sure you’re on the up and up here, lady,” Skunk said. He appeared ready to take some action to end Amelia’s call when his attention was drawn to commotion on the other side of the door across the room.

A woman’s voice could be heard through the door. “Out of my way you brute. I am here to see a man by the name of Skunk.” The door opened with a swoosh. In the entrance stood a striking woman with long blond hair, and yes, a roller-coaster body. In her hands, she held a wooden box only slightly larger than one that would hold a set of cigars.

“Are you Ziva?” Amelia asked.

“I am. I have brought the Egyptian scroll for you, Skunk, in exchange for your hostages.”

More commotion rang from the hallway, and before the exchange could take place freeing Amelia and Kitty Kats, a sickly thin man with a rat on his shoulder appeared with a gun in his hand. “Not so fast, there,” he said. “I’ll be taking that, if you don’t mind.”

Kitty gasped. “Rat Man!”

Amelia whispered into the phone. “Teddy, I told you to bring Ziva in with the scroll. Why are you sending the Rat Man in as well?”

“I told you, Mommy, these characters just seem to write themselves.”

“Teddy, I don’t like being cross with you, but I am telling you now, young man, take control. You have the pencil, not Rat Man. Erase him now.”

“But Mommy . . .”

“Now, erase the Rat Man!”

A moment later, the thin man collapsed on the floor in a heap. Skunk, thrown off guard by the sudden turn of events, knelt to test Rat Man’s pulse, and conveniently, his pistol went with him, allowing Amelia to whisper further directions to her son.

“Here, Kitty!” Ziva said, throwing the box to Kitty Kats. “Jimmy would have wanted you to have the Golden Scroll. Sell it and use the money to start a new life in Paris like you’ve always dreamed. You won’t have to remove your clothes and writhe in front of foul men any longer.”

A smile blossomed across Kitty’s face. “Thank you, Ziva!”

Right then, three uniformed policemen pushed through the doorway, guns drawn. “William ‘Skunk’ Snodgrass,” one of them announced. “You are under arrest for the murder of Jimmy Jiggs and the Rat Man.”

“I didn’t kill Rat Man. He just croaked right here in front of me!”

“Yeah, yeah,” another cop said. “Likely story.”

Ziva sashayed out of the parlor with the same grace as she had entered.

“I guess this is goodbye,” Kitty said to Amelia. “Here, have your twenty back. And thanks. I hear Paris is beautiful this time of year.”

“Goodbye, Kitty,” Amelia said. “Be well.”


Amelia drove home in a daze after leaving Handsome Eddie’s. The police didn’t ask her questions. In fact, it was as if they did not even know she was there.

Upon arriving home. She snatched the paperback book from Thaddeus’s hands and threw it into the fireplace, lighting a corner with a match, and setting the dreaded thing ablaze.

She took her son into her arms. “Teddy, I love you very much, but I had to do that.”

Angus wandered in, and his eyes widened when he saw the book on fire. “What’s this?”

“Angus,” Amelia said. “You were right. I am not so fond of these Mac Hardcase novels. Our son is only six years old. And I think it is time we introduced him to some literature meant for six year olds.”

That night, before tucking him in for an evening slumber, Amelia read Thaddeus the first few pages of Winnie-the-Pooh, which they both enjoyed immensely. That Winnie-the-Pooh was such a silly bear.


The next morning, Amelia rang Vera Emerson. “Hello, Vera, I would like to apologize for Teddy’s behavior yesterday. He was most out of place.”

“What do you mean?” Vera asked.

“The crude story he read to Norbert, after church.”

“Amelia, are you quite all right? We weren’t at church yesterday. Norbert was ill with a terrible flu. I stayed home to nurse him.”

“Oh, I am sorry. I must have been thinking of . . . well, it doesn’t matter. Never mind. Do tell Norbert I hope he recovers quickly.”

“I will be sure to do so. And Amelia, we recently came into some money and are able to repay your loan. I’m sending a check by courier today. You and Angus have been so kind, waiting patiently. When Norbert is well, we would love to have you, Angus, and Thaddeus over for dinner.”

Amelia hung up the phone befuddled but relieved. She could put the entire Mac Hardcase horror tale behind her.

In the quiet peace of her parlor, she relaxed in her favorite chair with a cup of tea while listening to some Vivaldi. Mary arrived promptly at ten and went straight to the kitchen as usual. She appeared in the parlor doorway not long after. “Mrs.,” she said. “I have made a shopping list. We are low on flour and eggs. Do you need anything else while I am out?”

“No, Mary, that will be fine. Thank you.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Mary added before leaving. “I found some more of those books Mr. Thaddeus likes. Two for a nickel. I left them on the kitchen table.”

She was out the door before Amelia could catch her breath. Making her way into the kitchen, as if entering a war zone, Amelia spotted the books on the table just as Mary had said. She lifted one, and read the title. A Good Day for a Bad Murder, A Mac Hardcase Mystery. “Oh dear,” she muttered.

Were the inside pages printed with a story already told, or were they blank? Amelia was about to look, when the doorbell stopped her. Book still in hand, she walked from the kitchen to the front hall.

Somehow, sensing dangerous adventure in the air, Amelia turned the doorknob slowly and pulled. “Oh, double dear,” she said when the door was open fully.

The caller, standing on her stoop, was no stranger.

Amelia’s skin tingled as if touched by the lightest electric current.

The caller was a dame.

A dame with long blond hair and a roller-coaster body. “I’ve heard rumors that an honest Joe got into a crooked deal and died with a knife in his gut.” She handed Amelia a freshly sharpened pencil. “Would you like to help me find the killer?”

Amelia paused for but a moment. If she could fan the flames of Teddy’s creative fire, certainly she could set her own imagination alight as well. She accepted the pencil, found some gravel in her voice, and channeled the great Mr. Mac Hardcase. “Babe, I may be batty, but with your looks and my brains, we could really turn this town upside down.”

She laughed at her own wit, but Ziva did not appear amused.

Realizing comedy was not her strong suit, Amelia cleared her throat and opened her door wider. “We shall certainly locate and bring to justice the brute of a murderer as well. Please, do come in.”