There aren’t many people I dislike immediately, on sight, but Kennard Uffitt was one. He came into my office looking arrogant, smug, condescending, self-absorbed. The Germans have a word for a mug such as his: Backpfeifengesicht—a face that’s badly in need of a fist. He sat across my desk from me before I could invite him to do so.
“You’re Barry Pool?” he said.
“The one and only,” I said. “Who are you and what can I do for you?”
He introduced himself and said, “You can get someone off by back.”
I recognized the name. He had made his fortune in cheese. “UFFITT’S CHEESE—WISCONSIN’S BEST” according to the ubiquitous ads.
“And who might that be?” I said.
“I wish I knew.”
“Tell me what you do know.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and screwed up his face in distaste.
“One of my pet peeves,” he said, “is people who take up two parking spaces.”
I nodded. “Very annoying.”
“Absolutely. Especially when those two spaces are the last two available.”
“Leaving no place to park.”
“Absolutely. That’s why I’m here. Last week I pulled into the Walgreens parking lot on North Avenue, and there was this beat-up, rusty Ford pickup, straddling the line separating two spaces at a skewed angle.”
“Were those the last two available spaces?” I said.
“Well, no. But still …”
I waited for something to follow, but it didn’t come. “But what if they had been?” I said. I was beginning to feel like a straight man.
He said he found it so irksome that he decided to do something about it.
“I wrote a note and put it on the windshield of the truck.”
“What did you say in that note?”
“I wrote, PARK MUCH, STUPID?” He seemed pleased with himself at the word choice. “The problem is, the driver of the pickup came out of the store as I was lifting the windshield wiper to put the note under it.”
“Let me guess. He saw you.”
“I’m afraid so. And he didn’t take it too kindly. He called out to me: ‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing!’ Something along those lines. I guess he thought I was vandalizing his truck. He was a scary looking guy, and probably would have assaulted me if a cop hadn’t pulled into the lot in a squad car just then. The cop went into the store, so I guess he was just there as a customer.” He screwed up his face again. “That’s another pet peeve of mine—cops taking care of personal business while on duty.”
“But of course you don’t dare say anything,” I said. “Who wants to get on the bad side of the cops?”
“Absolutely. In this case, though, I was glad he showed up. The guy in the pickup held back while the cop got out of his cruiser and went into the store—enough time for me to get in my car and take off.”
“Without getting what you went to Walgreen’s for.” He didn’t say what that was, but I assumed it was something to relieve constipation.
“That’s right. I checked in the mirror to see if I was being followed, but I wasn’t. A couple of days later, though, I got a threatening message in the mail.”
“It sounds like he figured out who you were.”
An abashed look came to his face. Combined with the smugness that was still there, the effect was downright weird. He said, “I guess I was a little too eager in writing that note. I wrote it on the back side of one of my business cards. He included it with the threat he sent.”
I cringed. “Did you get the guy’s license plate number?”
“No. I wish I had.”
“Did you tell anyone about what happened?”
“Yes. My wife. I showed her the message and told her to watch out for a rusty Ford pickup out front. As if telling her anything ever helps.”
I didn’t ask him to elaborate on that. He seemed to be at the end of his spiel, so I said, “What is it you want me to do?”
“I want you to find the guy and get him off my back. I know I haven’t given you much to go on, but you’re a private detective, you ought to have some tricks up your sleeve.”