The sticky Case of the Disappearing Syrup
By Bill Donnelly
It was a dark and stormy night! Well, to tell the truth, it wasn’t actually night, more like five of the o’clock in the afternoon, so it wasn’t really dark yet, but just not sunny out since there was a drizzling rain, the kind that makes you damp through and through, so I guess you could say it wasn’t stormy either. I just always wanted to start a story like the first line I used in this tale. So I guess to be truthful, it was a drizzly gray day when Diane (that’s my assistant and main squeeze who I take along with me on tough cases), and I set off by automobile, leaving the mean streets of Buffalo behind us, heading for the wide open expanses of Eastern Canada, that being Saint John, New Brunswick to be exact.
You see, I’m a Dick, that is to say, a private eye. During the day I work for the local natural gas company, keeping people in gas when they need it, or turning off the juice when the deadbeats decline to pay what’s owed my bosses. That’s right, a mild mannered Mr Gasman by day, but by night, I take on cases that prove to be too tough for the local flat feet to figure out, or maybe I just take on the tedious work of following some skirt because her old man don’t trust her and pays me to provide the proof of her indiscretions. Rotten work, but it keeps providing me with enough whisky so I can wash the taste of the street out of my mouth each night. I gotta get out of that unhealthy habit of licking the street every time I get out of my car.
Name’s Bill, but to my friends and enemies, of which I got many, I go by Gumshoe. The nick-name actually goes back to a very embarrassing and painful time for me I’d rather not go into. OK, let’s just say it had to do with my high school senior prom and me stepping on a big wad of gum on the dance floor and ending up with my foot stuck to the top front of my date’s dress and her being exposed for all the world to see and me running after her with the top half of her dress flopping behind me still stuck to my shoe thanks to the gum, but that’s all I’m going to say on that subject.
So anyways, the reason for us heading out towards Canada on that drizzly Saturday afternoon was that my sister, who goes by the name of Elizabeth, but who’s nickname is Gumshoe-Dress (since she was the dame what was my date at that prom so long ago, and I’ll never forgive my mom for making me take my little sister to my prom, nor will Elizabeth ever forgive my mom for her humiliation that night at the hands, or should I say foot, of her big brother, but that’s all I’m going to say on that subject), anyway, Elizabeth had thrown a big fat mystery my way. It seems that, for no reason them Mounties out there could figure out, all of New Brunswick was in the midst of an extremely severe shortage of maple syrup, and what with the biggest Canadian National holiday, which we all know is “Pancake Day, Eh”, coming up on the first Monday of September, people were understandably nervous about what a shortage of maple syrup would mean to the economy.
Why, there was a very real fear they would be reduced to asking their big brother, the good old US of A to step in and declare all of
the 51st state. Not a bad thing for them, if you was to ask me. First off, they would get a bailout like everyone else here, plus they could stop using their play money, and stop carrying around so much darn change but rather be able to stuff their wallets with paper dollar bills. Also, they can finally tell what the weather outside is because they would use real temperatures for reporting the weather (imagine thinking 30 degrees is a hot day), and distances would get shorter using miles instead of kilometers (it’s much easier running just six miles instead of all of ten kilometers). The advantages are endless I tell you, while the one advantage to the US of A is we would have more English speaking Americans to off-set all those Latinos here. Of course, there is the problem of all them Frenchies, but I figure we could just ship em all off to Canada and declare that a PEI Third World Island nation.
So anyways again, what with me being the big hearted magnanimous guy I like to think of myself as being, off we head, taking two and a half days to traverse the
900 miles to get to my sister’s lair, which actually sits right on the shore of the gorgeous Saint John River in Grand Bay-Westfield, Canada, just outside of Saint John, a city what’s seen more than it’s fair share of hard times, and the maple syrup shortage wasn’t helping.
So me and my main squeeze Diane arrive at the abode of my sister just in time for some much needed grub and relaxation before taking on the case. We are greeted at the door by Elizabeth, who I thinks ekes out a living teaching little brats to deal in black-market pottery and other various arty-types of endeavors. She is with her main squeeze, her brand new ball and chain who goes by the name of Phil Nelson. A big, strapping hunk of Canadian manhood, Phil makes his living on the high seas, just like most of his ancestors, going back to his Great, Great Uncle Admiral Lord Nelson, the famous British slave trader.
My sister proceeded to fill us in on what was happening with the maple syrup case while filling our bellies with a delectable seafood chowder, made with bits of seafood that I suspect was hand caught by Phil on one of his recent expeditions on the high seas. After getting our fill of both food and information, it was down to the shore to watch the stars, drink mass quantities of
’s national sport drink, which goes by the name of Schooner, and just shoot the breeze and catch up on the goings on of our family and friends, those few who remain above the sod. Canada
The watch on my wrist told me it was time to stop flapping our gums and hit the sack, that and Diane’s snoring in the beach chair next to mine. Needless to say, but I’m saying it since this is my narrative; I was tossing and turning all night with visions of poor Canadian brats going maple syrupless. I had to solve this case before we had a country full of squealing rug rats not able to keeps up with USA kids in the obesity race because they aint getting their daily fix of pancakes.
The next dawn found me wide awake, and over that first cup of joe, I found out Elizabeth had to get into town to run her weekly water-boarding class, a little side gig she had going to keep her in enough whisky to help wash the taste of the street out of her mouth every night (she had that same darn habit of licking the street I did-I think we inherited it from our great uncle Frances who died at a young age when he wasn’t looking while licking the street in front of his house and he got himself squashed flat by a street sweeper).
I decided Diane and I should tag along, as I learned long ago, you find clues to a mystery in the craziest places. Now I call this class water-boarding, because that’s what the local yahoos call this perverse form of torture my sister dishes out.
likes to call it water-aerobics, but after giving it a whirl, I’ll go with what them locals who see it for what it is. Elizabeth
So we arrived bright and early at the work out joint in the heart of
, a pretty nice place since it was built for the Canada Games of a few years ago. There was an Olympic size pool, that by my calculations, must have been frozen over for the games, since ice hockey and curling are the only games Canadians know how to play, as far as I know. So this is a senior class that’s to last 45 minutes, and looking over the group as they were putting on their floatation devices, I’m thinking this will be a breeze, kind of treading water for the better part of an hour while these old timers struggle to just stay afloat. Saint John
You see, Diane and I consider ourselves to be in pretty good shape thanks to all the running and bicycling we do, and this group of 70 to 80 year-olds didn’t look to be in too good a shape, if you know what I mean. And what I mean is while they came in all shapes and sizes, the majority size was somewhere between large and whoa-mamma, look out below. I mean, they didn’t let these dames jump into the pool for fear the tsunami they would create would wash the kids in the other end of the pool right out into the street and on into the Bay of Fundy. And they was all dames, other than me and this old codger who limped into the pool area with a cane.
I’m standing there licking my lips, thinking that during this easy workout I can keep my eye on all these dames and maybe get an idea about the maple syrup. But then I notice one skirt in particular who had a smirk on her face that sent shivers down my spine as if the iceberg that sank the Titanic was giving me a back rubdown. To say she was big would be a gross understatement, why that dame looked like a rhino on steroids. Weighing in at least 375 if she weighed an ounce, her bathing suit looked like a circus tent on steroids, and she was 85 years old if she was a day. She had on a most colorful bathing cap that looked like a bowl of Fruit Loops on steroids, and as she eased herself into the water, the pool level rose and began to gently overflow the sides. Her name was Gertrude Starchesski, or just plain Gerti to her friends. I decided, for my own well being, to keep from getting between her and the side of the pool.
So now we’re all in the deep end of the pool, not able to touch bottom, and Elizabeth, who is safely out of the pool, starts us off easy, she says, with running in place. I’m telling you, a minute of this and I’m looking forward to the end. But no, now she picks up the pace, having us go through all sorts of routines, a minute at a time, all the while narrating what we should be imagining what our arms and legs are doing. Pumping your legs like you’re crushing grapes into wine, then moving them so fast that your creating bubbles like you’re in a hot tub (I just expelled a bit of gas for the same effect, but then Gerti smacked my head for doing it, so it was back to work crushing the grapes), then it was scissor kicks from the waist down, keeping your legs straight, imagining you’re slicing butter for chocolate chip cookies, and now I’m sweating and I sees that Diane is struggling to keep her head above water, and after what seems like a half hour of this water boarding, she says to ease off back to a running in place for one minute and I finally spot a clock on the wall and am dismayed to see we are only three minutes into the drill and Diane is already floating on her back and I’m thinking of joining her when Elizabeth says alright, let’s intensify, and I’m thinking of quitting but then I see Gerti with that smirk on her face and I just have to keep going.
So it’s off to work we go, and now we are scissor kicking again, you know the drill, slicing butter for the cookies, but I notice that while everyone else is making a swish-swish sound, I notice Gerti’s swish-swish sound sounds more like a swish-swish sound on steroids, sorta like SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH. I also notice that, besides that dang awful smirk on her mug, she has her hands above water wiggling her fingers, while I’m desperately using my arms in the water to stay afloat. Then
says in fifteen seconds we will all intensify by putting our hand above our heads and wiggle our fingers for one minute. Thirty seconds in I’m sucking in water, and I see Diane is floating face down in the water, and all I hear is SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH, and I try to rouse Diane, but she gives me the stink-eye and tells me to leave her alone while she naps. Elizabeth
At this point the other guy in the class gets out, tells
his hip is bothering him, and limps off with his cane (I later see him running down the street to catch a bus, no cane anywhere in sight, so I’m on to him, but that doesn’t help me at the time). Finally, after what seems like four hours, and thousands of SWOOOSH-SWOOOSHES later, the class mercifully comes to an end. The other dames give my sister a round of applause in appreciation if you can believe that, but I’m busy trying to find Diane at the bottom of the pool, and I get her to the surface none too late. Elizabeth
By the time I have enough energy to get out of the floatation devise, most everyone else is long gone, so I stagger to the locker room, and being quite out of it, I lurch into it and round the corner into the shower. Imagine my shock to see Gerti there, wearing only what God gave her, except fortunately she was totally lathered up, but with that smirk. My first deduction was what the H E double hockey sticks was she doing in the men’s shower, but then it hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m in the ladies shower, so I skedaddled out of there and made my way to where I belonged, showered and got the H E double hockey sticks out of that workout joint. Unfortunately, I was no closer to solving the mystery of the maple syrup.
So the rest of the day I was too tired to look for clues, so it was back to my sister’s digs to recover from the water boarding. After a while of feeling like I’d been in the ring with Mohammad Ali for fifteen rounds, with me getting the worst of it,
says it’s time to head back into town for a track workout. Despite Diane’s protestations, I figure it’s the best way to meet some new mugs and maybe rustle up some evidence as to what’s going on here, maple syrup wise. Elizabeth
So off we meander into
heading for the local track where these masochists head when they wants to suffer the pleasures of tough running. It’s hot (I don’t care the temperature says 28 degrees, it don’t take no private dick to know it’s way above freezing) and it’s muggy, but we get right down to business and start warming up with laps. There’s plenty of runners here, and as far as I am concerned, everyone of them’s a suspect. Saint John
There’s Marta, a dame with a pretty mug and a quick laugh, but all that sweetness just smells of maple syrup to me. And the two guys running so fast I figure they gotta be running from something. And what about Alex, who owns a running store that would be the perfect cover for moving hot maple syrup.
Along about 5:30, just as the shadows of the trees would be giving us some welcome shade if it weren’t raining out and there then could be shadows, along comes the coach of these here suspects, a cat that goes by the name of Darryl, aka Coach. The mug has on a sports coat and slacks and an easy going manner that cries out ring leader. We gather round him like a pack of jackals around a dead zebra, waiting for words of wisdom, or at least to find out what the workout’s to be.
With a demonic glint to his eyes and a wicked grin, he simply declares today we are doing Crazy Eights. When everyone groans and starts looking for rocks to throw at him, I deduce we’re in for a long and hard evening. I deduced right. And what’s with this “we” business, he had on a sports jacket, slacks, and an umbrella no less.
The workout consisted of us doing
800 meter runs, and with just a minute rest between them. After finishing each, coach would tell us how to run the next, which could be the first 200 all out, followed by a moderate 400, followed by another all out 200. As we gulped for air, he would give us another variation of what to run, and off we ran, 800 after 800. Finally after running somewhere less than 40 of these (I lost count because of pain) but more than six, he said the last one was to be a full out time trial for 800 meters.
I’m moving along, going as ok as one can while gasping for air, being passed by Phil, then Elizabeth running with Marta, followed by Diane, and even Coach passed me by, smiling and keeping the rain off his sports jacket and slacks by holding up his umbrella, yelling to me he needed to jog one 800 just to get his blood flowing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, with
200 meters to go, behind me I hear SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH, and sure enough, who passes me but Gerti, slicing the butter with her scissor kicks, hands above her head while wiggling her fingers, and with a smirk on her face as she went by.
After that workout, it was back to
’s dwelling, where we partook of some mighty fine carrot soup she whipped up, along with a mess of grilled corn. Then it was down to the shore for some much needed Schooner, which, if you recall is Elizabeth ’s national sports drink. After a massive number of bottles of Canada’s national sports drink, which is called Schooner, and after much reflection on how the day went, which as of then hadn’t yielded many clues, just a lot of suspects, I hit the sack reflecting on how the H E double hockey sticks was I going to survive three more days here after barely making it through the first day. Canada
The sunshine pried my eyes open about in the AM, and after a couple cups of java, I checked my vitals and found I was still alive, if just barely. I was going to have to take a different track if I ever wanted to see
again. So we planned a shindig for that evening to be held at my sister’s pad. I figured this would kill three birds with one stone, as the saying should go. First, Diane and I volunteered to get the supplies in town, which would give me a chance to case the joint. Second, the party would bring together under one roof most of the suspects, and what with plying them with a lot of Canada’s national sports drink, which is called Schooner, I might get someone to inadvertently spill the beans, as those of us in the private dick business say. And the third bird killed with that proverbial rock you may ask? Why, that bird would be keeping Elizabeth from killing me with any more workouts that day, as we had to spend time preparing for the party. Buffalo
That afternoon we found we had the preparations for the party well in hand, so I suggested we go on the river to case things out there. Like I always say, you never know where you might find a clue. So Diane and Elizabeth take out a couple kayaks to search the shores, while Phil and I took on the more rigorous job of searching the river far and wide in their boat, which they named the Zodiac. It actually looks like a kids wading pool on steroids, and is powered by a Mercury outboard motor. Taking along some of
’s national sports drink, called Schooner, we search high and low along the treacherous Canada Saint John River, but to no avail.
So now we got ready for the party, and what a blast it was. The food was great, the night beautiful, and the Canadian national sports drink, called Schooner, flowed freely. Many suspects were there, but the couple that really caught my attention went by the aliases of Earl and Gina. This couple had some strange ways about them that cried out “suspect!”
Take for example this little ditty. They want to take a trip to
, but they feel they need a reason to go. So what do they do, you ask? Why, they enter this event called the Iron Man Triathlon, which, if you can believe it, involves a competition in which one swims two and a half miles in open water, then rides a bike for Hawaii 112 miles, followed by running a marathon, and all in one day, and all one right after the other. To get to the Iron Man in , you have to do this somewhere else to qualify, and we won’t even go into how much it costs to enter one of these events, let alone the cost of equipment and time. My goodness, just use your air miles and be on your way. But more on them two suspects later. Hawaii
After a bit Phil built a bonfire, which I figured was a good subterfuge, as it would put everyone at ease, and maybe make someone open up. When he threw a match on the wood, it exploded in a huge ball of fire, and we had an instant bonfire, and a beautiful time was had by all. When I mentioned to Phil how amazingly fast Canadian wood caught fire, he told me he used a liquid accelerant to help it along. I later learned he had poured vast quantities of
’s national sports drink, called Schooner, onto the wood for this purpose. Canada
We spent the evening flapping our gums, and I, in my most subtle manner, brought up the topic I most wanted to scrutinize, that being the maple syrup shortage, but I wanted to do it without raising suspicion of my intended motive, which was to figure out which one of these wise guys was the guilty party. In a way so as not to arouse their suspicion or to put them on guard, I simply threw out: “So, which one of you birds is responsible for the disappearing maple syrup? Don’t try to be coy with me now, I got my ways of finding out, so the guilty party may as well spill the beans now!”
And with that the party quickly dissolved as the suspects all scurried away to their dens of iniquity, throwing out the usual lame excused such as they had to go to work in the morning, or in the case of Earl and Gina, they had to get up at 3:10 in the morning to do their two kilometer training swim in the river before biking
100 kilometers (see, 62 miles would sure would be shorter) after which they had to run 20 kilometers to work. A likely story. I dragged myself up to bed for another night of tossing and turning, trying to make sense of all I had learned at the party, which was that ’s national sports drink, called Schooner, sure makes a good fire accelerant. Canada
After dragging my sorry self out of the sack at 7:30, and drinking several dozen cups of joe in order to clear the cobwebs out of my head, Elizabeth decided we might make headway into finding clues by closely examining the roadways of Grand Bay-Westfield, and what better way to do it than to run seven miles in what felt like 90 degree temperature, even though the thermometer at my sisters place said it was only 30 degrees out, so I was wearing sweats. Those sweats, plus imbibing of too much fire accelerant, also called Schooner, the night before, made for a rough run. Add to that the many hills we ran (I heard that the word Brunswick, as in New Brunswick, was a French Canadian word that meant friggin’ hills) I was a bit worn out and didn’t pick up many clues.
So after a great breakfast of omelets and bacon
whipped up, we relaxed until a lunch of grilled burgers were whipped up. So now of course we had to work off all the food, so off we went on a Elizabeth 16.6 mile bike ride. They wanted to ride 30 kilometers, but I convinced them I was only up for the miles since they were fewer. But it was still only 31 degrees out, so I was bundled up in even extra sweats, and did I work up a sweat. The mountains we were riding on didn’t help. Did I mention that is the French Canadian word for friggin’ high hills? And of course Diane had to be a show off as to what great shape she was in, so she used this special device she has which puts pressure against her rear tire so she has to pedal much harder than us, and of course she beat us all in. Nothing like a dame who has to always be showing us guys up. Brunswick
Well that evening we had another spectacular dinner by the shore of the beautiful
Saint John River. Why, we had grilled shrimp and grilled corn and pasta, washed down with ’s national sports drink, called Schooner. Then it hits me as the sun was soon to go down, lets go out on the river and try to catch the maple syrup culprits red handed, as by now I figured whatever was going on had to be done under the cover of darkness, probably on the water, since even I hadn’t been able to figure out this caper. Canada
So we loaded up the Zodiac with life vests and a supply of
’s national sports drink, called Schooner, for Elizabeth, Diane and myself, and off we went with Phil handling the big Mercury and doing the steering. By the time the sun had almost set we reached out destination, a small tributary to the big river that was about two miles west. Going in we passed great masses of the water reed they call goose tongue. Now it’s my understanding, after doing much deductive research, that this reed is called goose tongue because it is edible, and when prepared properly, it can taste quite a bit like the famous Canadian national dish, which is fried Canadian goose tongue, which is usually served with pancakes, and with “Pancake Day, Eh” coming soon, there are a lot of very quiet Canadian geese flying about the skies of New Brunswick, and it’s sort of a case of “cat’s got your tongue”, if you know what I mean. Canada
So it’s getting dark, but we’re seeing bald eagles and ospreys circling above, and now and then we pass beaver huts, and we even see the occasional beaver right before it slaps its tail in warning and disappears beneath the surface. We go deeper and deeper into the tributary, and it’s getting so dark we can hardly see. Suddenly we see a dark shape ahead, and as we get close it slaps the water with its tail and goes under, another beaver. But close by is a very strange shape in the water, and as we near it, there are guesses of it being a porcupine or perhaps a deer, or as Elizabeth said, after enough Canadian national sports drink, called Schooner, it might even be a porcupine on a dears head. As we get close it submerges, and Phil explains that it was just another beaver, and it looked so strange because it was carrying a large amount of leaves to its den to eat.
I wasn’t buying it. Because of my highly trained deductive powers I saw and heard things they missed. First off, this so called beaver did not slap its tail on the water before submerging. Second, even though it was very dark out, what looked like leaves to Phil, with my eagle-like vision I saw something much more colorful, more like a bowl of Fruit Loops on steroids. That’s right, and when I saw a pair of hands sticking up above the waters, wiggling it’s fingers, I was almost certain, but what nailed it for me was that, even above the roar of the Mercury outboard motor, I could hear, thanks to my ultra sensitive audible range, the SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH as if someone was slicing butter for chocolate chip cookies.
Only one creature with an MO like that, Gerti, but I knew enough to keep my observations to myself, so I did suggest we head back as it was pitch black out and a fog was starting to settle in. So back we went, and as Phil fired up another bonfire, my mind was racing, putting together all the clues I had just gathered out on the dark waters of the mighty Saint John River. Another night of tossing and turning lay ahead of me, but that’s just what I do best.
The next morning dawned sunny but bitter cold, with the temperature hovering around 31 degrees. I had my parka on and was toasty warm; in fact I was sweating buckets. After more delicious omelets, we decided to try a new track, since this was to be our last full day in this beautiful area. We decided to check out an area we hadn’t searched yet, so we went to the Irving Nature Preserve, for which the big oil and gas company from this area must have been named.
We had to get home to rest up for a busy evening. It started with a visit to Earl and Gina’s abode, which was high, high up a very high French Brunswick behind where
lives. They have a stunning view of the river, but any time these two kooks go out running or biking from home, they end with an amazingly, excruciating climb to the end of their workout. Elizabeth
We had had enough of the Canadian national sports drink, called Schooner, and the two of them offered us wine or his homemade beer. It was a nice change, but during our visit I had to eliminate the both of them as suspects. You see, at first they seemed to be so serious, what with all their training, and that, in my book, made them very suspicious.
But being at their house with them, I found them to be just a couple of very playful little minx with each other. Before he got his homemade brew out of the refrigerator, I saw Gina shaking it up violently, and when he opened it, the look on his face as it spewed all over was priceless. Almost as priceless as when she tried to drink her wine from the special dribble glass he substituted for her original glass. Oh how they both laughed as wine dribbled down her outfit and onto the brand new counter top. Yeah, much too playful to be suspects.
We had a blast there, but soon made our way to Leo’s Italian Restaurant, which specialized in Thai food. Very good, but strange, which is why we cased the joint. No luck there either, so finally it was back to the beach in front of
’s place to gaze at the many stars and watch the meteor shower going on. It was the perfect end to our trip, but disappointing in that we had failed to solve the dilemma of the missing maple syrup, or so I thought. Elizabeth
After sleeping soundly, and a breakfast of strawberry pancakes, covered with a bit of maple syrup Phil obtained on the black market that exists on the high seas, Diane and I packed up and bid a sad farewell, for despite the disappointment of not solving the case, we had had a most amazing visit. While driving away along route seven, I spotted a shop I had totally overlooked before. It was the Grand Bay-Westfield-St John, New Brunswick Canadian House of Pancakes, or GBWSJNBC-HOP for short.
When I saw the sign in front promising an all-you-can eat pancake bar with maple syrup for only $25 Canadian (that’s $1.13 US currency), I had to stop and check it out. As I was entering, I could see the back of the pancake bar, and it blocked my view, but what I heard stunned me. I heard a voice in sing-song mode singing “slicing the butter, pouring the syrup” over and over, accompanied by the rhythmic SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH-SWOOOSH of two large but very powerful legs, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I didn’t waste a minute, but we drove straight to the nearest Mounties station, I found a bloke in a red uniform on his horse, gave him my information, and off he went, and off we went, shuffling off to
. We made it in two days, and a couple bits of news awaited us when we arrived home. Buffalo
The first was that Gerti had been apprehended, and “Pancake Day, Eh” was saved. It took ten Mounties to nab her, and she fought hard and furiously when she realized they would be depriving her of her beloved pancake bar. In fact, three Mounties and two of their mounts were seriously injured and had to be sent to the hospital. One victim, Sergeant Joe Friday, said he was squeezed by her legs, and it was if giant scissors were trying to slice the butter to make chocolate chip cookies. He just wanted to get hold of whoever got this woman’s legs into such great shape.
The other bit of news was
finally sent us wedding pictures from the July ceremony. Phil did look so very handsome in his suit, and Elizabeth looked positively radiant in her wedding dress. She had, in order to save money, worn the dress she wore to the prom with me so many years ago. She had repaired it quite nicely, but she could not get my shoe unstuck from the front of her dress, so she used it to hold her bouquet, and it worked beautifully. That shoe was the right half of the best pair of penny-loafers I ever owned, but that’s all I’m going to say on that subject. Elizabeth