I didn’t see one brown, chewed-up stub around, or even an ashtray to explain the unmistakable odor of a stale cigar. It’s funny that would be the first thing I would notice as I entered the cold, damp, basement. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness and I took a few more tentative steps inside, I became aware of a few other things. There was a large metal desk that hadn’t seen a dust cloth since Custer’s Last Stand, which was the name on the huge picture hanging on the wall behind the desk.
At first, I thought the basement was empty, but then I saw him sitting there.
He looked like a middle aged guy sitting in a dirty office chair with his feet propped up on the filthy desk, so I surmised that’s what he was. Without being too obvious, I tried to count the holes in the soles of the well-worn shoes. “I have boots to wear when I work,” he says rather nonchalantly. He’s also sporting a brown felt hat that’s actually in pretty good shape. He reaches for a small fan and shuts it off. On one of the blades is the answer to my burning question. A stale cigar.
“I haven’t actually lit this cigar in ten years, so I try to offset the stale smell with the fan, which I turn on between non-smokes,” he tells me in the way of an explanation.
I’d heard the empty rooms in this basement had once been a showplace, but that must have been a legend that had taken on a life of it’s own… unless a washer, dryer, and a metal filing cabinet suggest showplace to you. I heard the town was taking donations to bury the basement just to get rid of the smell. Too bad…I rather like the smell of a bad cigar.
He finally saw me standing there. He didn’t seem surprised, “You look like your mother,” he said. “But you have your mother’s eyes.” (Huh?) “Life was hard back then. You and I had to really work to find time to spend together.”
He went on…and on..
“I tried to teach you how to drive, and you drove us straight into the ditch. Some farmer had to haul us out. I made you take the hunter’s safety course. I thought it was the right thing to do, but hunting wasn’t your thing. Your brother was a good shot. What were you good at…anything? I looked for some natural talent, but other than seeing you dancing to Lawrence Welk in front of the TV, nothing really sticks out in my mind.”
“You were a gymnast without a gym,” He said. “A professional ice skater without the cool skates… a country western singer who could only play two chords on the guitar, not to mention a voice that could make a snake cry…. and who could forget, a Queen without a Court!
“Whatever happened to that cousin, Lav, who loved my cooking? Does she still wash dishes for a good meal? I always thought that was the funniest thing. I could use every dish we had in the house to cook Sunday dinner, and she would happily clean the whole mess up just to eat my fried chicken.
“Murdo had everything you needed, didn’t it?” He said rather wistfully. “You just had to pretend a lot.”
“Dad?” I asked.” Do you always do all of the talking? Because if you do, this story isn’t going to work for me.”
“You can’t begin to fathom my disappointment,” he said. “I was looking forward to being a gumboot. Murdo needs a good William Spade.”
“They’re called gumshoes, Dad.”
“I prefer detective, like the old days. Let’s dig up a cold case and solve it like they did on Gunsmoke. I’m sure there’s something going on south of 16. We’ll get your cousin to drive. Wait, let me get my work boots. These gumshoes stick to the floor.”
Tune in for the first episode of the new show, Riveting Crime Stoppers as they flush out the perps who give us a bad rep and keep Murdo from getting the big stores like they have in Pierre.
But first…anyone for a Rhubarb Shake?