“I’m worried about my friend.”
“Because she’s my friend.”
“No, I meant why are you worried?”
“Because that’s how people are supposed to act when their friends are in trouble?”
“I don’t know! I didn’t design human behaviour!”
The meshuggah hut fabrikant looked so discomboobulated I thought he might try to eat his own head, large hat with the “thirty pence” card sticking out of it included. I had dealt with excitable types before, so I offered him a bowl of chicken soup. Soothing, warm chicken soup I bought from the Just Like Bubbe Used to Make Deli down the street from my office. He thanked me but declined, saying that he was allergic to noodles made from chickens, and, would I, perhaps, have a little tea that he could borrow? When I told him that he could have the tea outright, no strings attached, he said, “But surely the teabag needs to have a string!” I said it was my mistake, and that, indeed it would (no use upsetting a potential client) and went about making the tea for him.
“So,” when that was settled, I tried to get back to the reason the man was in my office, “what did your friend do?”
“Nothing. That’s why I’m here.” As I counted to ten before trying yet again, he added, “You wouldn’t happen to have any biscuits to go with the tea, would you?”
Oy! The chutzpah of some people!
I got the man a biscuit.
“Ah,” he said, contented, as he took a bite of biscuit and dribbled crumbs all over the hardwood floor of my office. “Such wonderful times we had, the harey rabbit and I, drinking biscuits and eating tea. No, wait, I mean—”
“Perhaps,” I interrupted the impromptu reminiscence, which, you want the truth, I was afraid was going to go on all afternoon, “you could now tell me who your friend is and what she has been accused of doing …?”
“Mumph … ame is Al … urder! Mur … mumph, I tell you!”
I wanted to ask the meshuggah hut fabrikant why his mother didn’t teach him not to speak with his mouth full, but I didn’t want to get him verklempt all over again. So, instead, I asked, “Murder?”
“Yes,” the tea spilled over his cup; although he caught most of it in his mouth, some fell to the floor. I decided that I would bill him for any cleaning that might result from our consultation.
“Mmm …” he purred. “Alan White … Wonderland Circus … maybe you’ve heard of it?”
Of course I had heard of it. Everybody in Anytown had heard of it! Alan “King” White was the ringmaster of Wonderland Circus; his specialty was in taming wild beasts. Jabberwocks. Snarks. Jub jub birds. Bandersnatches. Crazy profession, you ask me. Wild beasts should stay where they belong: on nature documentaries. Far as anybody could tell, the animals loved him, only before one performance somebody had mixed pepper into the meal of Jello, the star bandersnatch, making him most frumius. Frumius enough, in fact, to lop off White’s head with a single blow of his powerful claw!
Animal Services put the bandersnatch down, of course.
The police arrested a sheina madelach named Alice. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old, but she was seen lurking around the animal cages an hour before the performance. She said Mr. White was an old friend who invited her to see the animals in private; the police had less savoury explanations for why she was there. Such a dirty imagination, the police have! I found it hard to believe that such an adorable young girl could be guilty of such a terrible crime: photos of her in the papers made you want to reach right into the picture and pinch her rosy cheeks.
One detail of the murder stood out: an index card had been found by the side of the bandersnatch cage on which somebody had written in a scratchy hand:
Up high, way high, a good egg did gamble,
But for all his trouble, he got his brains scrambled.
Unfortunately, that was not the worst of his fate
With little debate, he was summarily eight!