In the Ajax Building
A dame shaped like Centerfold Barbie glided into my office. “Mr. Blank,” she purred in an upper-class English accent, “I’m Josephine Toy. My family has lost its family tree. Can you help us?”
“I know nothing about English trees, Mrs. Toy,” I answered. “Just the ones in northern Minnesota.”
“It’s Miss.” She tossed an envelope onto my desk, then turned to leave. Her jeans were so tight I could read the tattoos on her buttocks: “Right,” “Left,” in that order.
“Those are instructions, Mr. Blank,” she said over her shoulder. “So you can get in touch with me.”
In the Airport
As I deplaned at Heathrow I was met by a tall, balding man wearing a tuxedo and a wry smile.
“Mishter Blonk?” He held out his hand. “Bomb. Jamezh Bomb. Jo shent me.”
“That’s some speech impediment,” I observed.
“Shcawtish occnt,” he explained. “Thish way, pleazhe.”
We crawled into his torpedo-shaped sportscar and Bomb zoomed south to Sussex at 120 mph, leaving a flaming oil slick for pursuing police to negotiate.
“Great Shcawt!” he exclaimed as we entered the courtyard of an ancient estate. “The cherry tree’zh gone mishing!”
“That’s why I’m here,” I said, lighting a Lucky.
In the Drawing Room
“How do you take your tea, Mr. Bomb?”
“Shtirred, mum. Not shaken.”
“With bourbon,” I said.
“Mrs. Britches’s scones are simply scrumptious,” Lord Peter Flimsey declared.
“Eazhy for you to shay.” Bomb winked at Josephine.
Lord Peter winked too, dropping his monocle into his teacup.
“Where are the others?” Dame Agatha Crusty wondered.
“Skulking about the Ngaio Marshes,” said Josephine.
Suddenly a tall, caped chap entered the room, followed by a stout, smiling sidekick. “We heard them!” the shorter man exclaimed. “The Nero Wolves! Deucedly chilling, what, Homes?”
“We’re all here,” Dame Agatha pronounced. “Let us begin.”
In the Kitchen
“Well, if you ask me—of course who asks a cook anything nowadays but what’s for dinner, thank you very much—it was that Bomb bloke what nicked the family tree. Lord knows it wasn’t sweet Miss Josie, even if she does walk about half naked, and it couldn’t have been Master Peter, such a sweet lad he was once. Frankly, Mr. Blank, I think this family’s better off without that bleeding tree. The cherries was sour, if you take my meaning. What say you, Mr. Hammer?”
Bob, the butler, looked up from polishing silver. “What was that, Mrs. Britches?”
In the Billiards Room
“Wotsh thot shupposhed to mean?” Bomb lit another Sobranie.
“Simply that you’re after Josephine’s money.” Lord Peter chalked his cuestick. “Won’t do you any good, old man. She’s betrothed to me.”
“But you’re first cawzhinzhe!”
“May I remind you, sir, this is the English aristocracy.”
I stubbed out my Lucky, watching Sherwood Homes puff his brier. Suddenly his aqueline nose twitched and he turned upon his companion. “Washington, do take that filthy thing out of your mouth,” he thundered.
“But Homes,” the surgeon protested. “Sometimes it’s only a cigar.”
“I say,” said Lord Peter. “Shall we join the ladies?”
In the Parlor
“I’m no detective,” Sherwood Homes remarked, “but I couldn’t help remarking there’s something missing in the library. There should be a coat of arms hung over the fireplace. Looks naked, frankly.”
“How clever of you,” Dame Agatha remarked.
“Elementary,” Homes shrugged. “I am an interior decorator, after all.”
“The coat of arms was stolen,” Josephine explained. “The Crusty family tree.”
“Wait,” I said. “I thought the missing tree was the cherry out front.”
“That horrid thing?” Doctor George Washington said. “I chopped that wretched tree down myself. No sense lying about it. I am a tree surgeon, after all.”
In the Library.
The butler brought coffee to the library, where we were all staring at the empty space over the mantel. “Pardon me, Madam,” he said. “I couldn’t help overhearing that you’re concerned about the Crusty coat of arms.”
“Distraught,” she replied.
“It’s been in the solarium for three weeks,” Bob Hammer said. “I’ve been trying to clean it. Someone’s defaced it, I’m afraid.”
“Heavens!” cried Dame Agatha. “Call Constable Sargent Turner!”
“Do we need to bother the police?” Lord Peter winced. “So shabby.”
“He’s not the police,” Josephine retorted. “He’s the artist who designed and painted the Crusty family tree.”
In the Solarium.
Constable Sargent Turner examined the Crusty coat of arms with a magnifying glass. “It’s true,” he said. “Some blighter has painted over the lower sinister quadrant. Look here, Dame Agatha: do you see this rather inept painting of a monocle? Well, that covers over the area I devoted to the saga of your long-lost daughter, Amanda, the one who eloped with your butler’s brother, Michael Hammer. They emigrated to America, as you may remember, and settled in some woebegone village in the state of Minnesota.”
The room became deathly silent, and I could feel all eyes on me.
In the Spotlight.
“What wazhe yrrr fawther’zhe name, Mishter Blonk?” James Bomb asked.
“And your mother’s?” asked the chubby surgeon.
“Mandy. But their last name was Blank.”
“Of course it would be,” said Sherwood Homes. “Forged immigration papers and all that.”
“You know what this means, don’t you?” purred Josephine Toy.
“That we’re cousins?”
“Bob’s your uncle.”
“I always regarded Amanda Crusty as my heir,” Dame Agatha said. “Since you’re her son, and my grandson, I shall will the Crusty estate to you.”
“The Dickens,” the doctor ejaculated.
Homes said, “Washington, don’t be an ass.”
Josephine said, “Where’s Peter?”
In the Garden.
Munching a crumpet, Dame Agatha squinted and said, “Here comes my bothersome neighbor, Miss Marbles.”
A spinster arrived, holding Peter Flimsey by the ear. “In my potting shed,” she muttered. “Drinking my Rex Stout.”
“My heart is broken,” Flimsey whined. “Yes, I defaced your family tree, hoping to inherit Crusty Manor, but only because I wanted Josephine. But she’s in love with that Bomb bounder—”
“Whoa,” Josie said. She took my hand. “Blank’s the guy for me.” She planted on my lips a kiss sweet as saxophones on a cold dark night in a city that keeps it secrets.