Bumper Stumper (L)

“Would you look at that weird bumper sticker?” Marvin was pointing to the hybrid stopped in front of them at a red light on Granville. “What do you suppose it means?”

Amy squinted at the sticker, her middle-aged eyes crying out for progressive lenses. STOP the POP was written in pink lettering on a blue background. There was no little line of print underneath to indicate who had sponsored it or what it might mean. She considered pop music or pop-up ads on websites, both sources of intense annoyance for her. But the 3 Ps looked more like bellies in the late stages of pregnancy. “I bet it means stop population growth,” Amy said.

“As in stop your stomach from popping out? That’s the first one I’ve seen like that. I wonder if they get much flak.” Just as Marvin said that, the passenger door of the hybrid swung open and the driver pushed a woman out onto the road. She didn’t move. The door was pulled shut, the light turned green, and the hybrid took off.

After a second of paralysis, Amy switched into park, turned on her 4-way flashers and jumped from the car, leaving Marvin to call 911. The woman at the curb wasn’t breathing and was very cold to the touch. Marvin, seeing Amy shaking her head, told the dispatcher that there was no rush. The woman was as dead as an idea before its time.

*

Amy recognized Detective Roger Arnold when he showed up on the scene. She’d bumped heads with him on a couple of cases, and from the look on the Detective’s face, he wasn’t thrilled to see her.  In fact, he pretended not to know her and asked for her ID.

“I’m Amy Sinclair, and we’ve met before. Here’s my business card, and I will just jot my home phone number on the back for you.” He took the card and looked like he might say something, then changed his mind. She handed him her driver’s license and told him what she could remember about the car, which wasn’t much.

“You call yourself a Private Detective and you missed the plate number?”

Amy shrugged. “Sorry about that.” Her disappointment was reflected on the Detective’s tired face. “What about the bumper sticker?”

“Next to useless, just like a “green or blue hybrid” in this city, he said. Amy swung her streaked blond hair back and forth, something she did when annoyed. Marvin said she looked like a horse when she did that. Mind you, a very attractive horse, he’d added.

“Any traffic cameras?”

“Not near this intersection, but maybe we’ll get lucky and see someone speeding through the one at 70th. “Is this your son?” asked the Detective, smirking. Marvin smiled and Amy frowned.

“I’m Marvin Brenner. I work for Amy, and here’s my address and cell number.” I’m pretty sure the first letter on the licence was an H.

“British Columbia plates?”

“Yeah. Definitely Beautiful B.C.,” Marvin answered.

“Thanks. At least that’s something useful.” The Detective closed his notepad, returned their licences. “We may have follow-up questions and you will have to appear if there’s an inquest.”   Amy watched with more than curiosity as he turned and got back into his unmarked car. The man was damn good looking, she thought, but she couldn’t interpret his parting expression, a strange mixture of embarrassment and annoyance.

“I think he likes you,” Marvin said. “But not at his crime scene.”

*

Back at the office, Amy had no luck tracking down the bumper sticker on the internet. It annoyed her that the Detective had discounted what she saw as a critical clue. If it was a unique slogan as she suspected, it could help to identify the car. She did find it curious that most of the environmental messages available as bumper stickers were negative, but she caught herself chuckling over one: If environmentalists breathed their own exhaust, there’d be no global warming.

There was no web site for Stop the Pop, but there were dozens of sites that would sell bumper stickers made to order. She tried out an idea on her only available test subject, Marvin. “What if I make a bumper sticker the same as the one we saw and put it on my car bumper? Maybe I’ll flush out our prey, or find out if there are other stickers like that one.”

“Yeah, if you want your tires slashed, go ahead.” Marvin advised. “There’s a better way. We can make a Stop the Pop website using the same swollen P’s. Maybe someone will complain that it was their idea first or send us to the right place.”

“Great idea, Marv. And you’re the guy to do it.”  Marvin enjoyed web site designing just a little too much. Amy still felt guilty when he fell so easily into her traps. To be honest, she also found it easy to be sidetracked from the jobs she was paid to do.

*

The whole episode slid to the back burner which was already simmering with unsolved cases. Meanwhile, Amy tied up a couple of loose ends for a customer who might just pay their bills this month. Marvin’s new Stop the Pop web site had attracted two regular visitors a day: Marvin and his mother who suffered from dementia and enjoyed clicking on Marvin’s favourite sites to see the changing colours and expanding bellies.  She would not have been pleased with the written content. Marvin was slumped down at his desk, looking as if he’d lost all his baby teeth and couldn’t expect to see another dime.

“So the web site’s a bust?” Amy asked, lounging on the corner of his desk and narrowly missing squashing a SpongeBob SquarePants collectable doll.

“Apparently if people don’t find your site, you don’t find them,” Marvin complained, echoing a slightly modified version of their agency’s logo. “I’ve tried getting other sites to link to this one, but there’s no interest.”

“Surprize. Surprize. It’s not a popular position to take, and it’s political suicide to link to something that could remotely recommend abortions. Do we go back to the bumper sticker idea?”

Marvin reluctantly pulled out an envelope and placed it on Amy’s lap. She slid out two pink and blue bumper stickers. As far as she could remember, the stickers looked much the same as the one they’d seen. “Two stickers? Is one for your bicycle?” Amy asked.

“Ha.   There’s one for the front and one for the back bumper,” Marvin said, “so they’ll see you coming and going.”

“Just as long as they don’t see me coming and keep going,” Amy said. “And thanks for this.”  She knew it was a long shot, but it cost nothing.

“I still think it’s a waste of time, but hey, go for it,” Marvin said, as his shoulders rounded the third thoracic vertebrae and headed home to his desk.

*

Five days later, Amy pulled off the bumper stickers, or what was left of them. They’d been defaced several times.   The first change had been “STOP the POOP” accompanied by two used doggie-bags tied to the back bumper. Later this morphed into WE STOOP to POOP. The front bumper sticker lasted a little longer, having gone through various iterations and paint-overs that eventually led to the simple command: POO. Then some imaginative kid had added the letter H and an outline of a bear. The age of the defacers was pretty obvious.

“Apparently the medium is the message,” Marvin quipped.

Amy leaned back against the bumper and studied the courthouse that was being consumed by green vines growing from an over-fertilized roof garden. The inquest into the death of the woman they’d witnessed had just ended. “OK. I guess they were both bad ideas,” she said. “But the inquest concluded that Carla Perez died a suspicious death.”

“Yeah, I’d say it’s suspicious to die from poisoning and be shoved from a car in the middle of a city. Did you catch the name of the poison.”

“A mixture of something. One was an opioid, fentanyl. The other I’d never heard of.”

“Her sister said she was an environmental activist. I couldn’t believe she didn’t know what groups she was associated with. I suspect they didn’t spend much time together.”

“She’d never seen her in a hybrid with that bumper sticker,” Marvin said, perching precariously on the tiny bumper of Amy’s Zenn electric car. “Mind you, she didn’t look like someone who’d know a hybrid if she saw one. Did you see that fancy outfit she was wearing? Prada if I’m not mistaken, and bedecked by jewels to die for,” Marvin said, waving his hand like a fan to cool his fevered head.

“So the car is still a non-person of interest,” Amy said, ignoring his blather.

“Ha. A hybrid driver against population growth. Got to be an environmentalist,” Marvin said.

“The dreaded E-word. Yes, and we know they’re all terrorists, or so sayeth our government,” Amy said, wondering if she should remove her own bumper sticker: May The Forest Be With You. “With our new anti-terrorism legislation, they could have files on all the environmentalists and know who’s sporting that bumper sicker.”

“I’ll pass that brilliant idea on to Detective Arnold, shall I,” Marvin said, looking skyward and flicking a bit of bird poop off his pants.

“Shelve that one, kid. I’ve got another brilliant idea instead,” Amy said, getting into the car. Marvin moaned and followed.

*

“Our perp won’t come to us, and we can’t find him. What do we do?” Amy had assumed her teacher’s pose in front of Marvin’s desk .  This involved carrying around an ancient wooden yard stick to rap knuckles when required.

“Give up?” Marvin replied, getting a sigh from Amy followed by a poke in the ribs.

“Think, don’t just cave,” Amy said. “The sister’s got access to much more information from the police than we have, and as you so droolingly noticed, she’s loaded. I say we get her to hire us and divulge some secrets.”

“Just how do we get her to do that?” Marvin said, twisting SpongeBob’s arm and eliciting a yodel.

“I’ve done my research. She’s already hired someone, so that means she’s motivated to find out more about her sister’s death. And before you ask why she needs us, I already know who she’s hired. Blakley.”

“That ass? Why would she hire him?”

“Blakley’s an ass but his ass is connected,” Amy replied.

“Yeah, to his frontal lobes.”

“Granted, but that means we can move in on his turf and she’ll be more receptive. And after all, we’re the ones who reported the incident. We can tell her what we discovered with the fake bumper sticker ploy.”

“And what would that be? Doggie do comes in little baggies?”

“No. The stickers were defaced, perhaps by the perp.”

“I’ll give you one thing. That idea is thin enough to be called transparent.” Marvin said.

“Well, what else do we have? The only thing they didn’t talk about at the inquest was the temperature of the body,” Amy mused. “I touched her and she was as cold as Pluto. Blakley won’t know that.”

“They did say she’d been dead a while before she was tossed out,” Marvin said.

“Dead where? In outer space?”

“She couldn’t have been dead long. She’d only been missing two days.”

“So, why put a body in a fridge or freezer if you’re just going to toss it out?”

“Good place to hide it?”

“I happen to know you haven’t got room for ice cubes in your freezer,” Amy said.

“Maybe the perp was in the cold storage business,” Marvin suggested. “He put her in with the sides of beef for a while.”

“Until he came up with the brilliant plan to shove her out the car door on Granville Street?”

“OK, there are some parts of the scenario that don’t fit yet.”

“Yeah, like the part where an environmentalist owns a cold room with sides of beef.”

“Maybe it was fish. Not tuna either.” Marvin had slouched down again.

“We’re getting nowhere. Let’s just talk to the sister and see whether she’s interested in telling us what she knows.”

“And if she’ll pay us,” Marvin said, whipping out his wallet to display his lack of folding money.

*

“Well, that worked out better than expected,” Amy said. She crunched down on her reward for a job well done, a large bag of caramel corn with yummy caramel-coated almonds.

“If you’re expecting nothing, then I suppose you’re right,” Marvin replied. Amy waited for him to say something about her junk food choice. He opened a bag of raw almonds and waved them at her instead. “She won’t pay us unless we find something out. That doesn’t seem fair.”

“That’s because she won’t fire Blakley, and I see her point about hiring a second agency,” Amy said.

“Yeah, she already bought the bull,” Marvin said sourly.

“Still, we have more information than we did before. We have Carla’s computer. Blakley got it after the inquest and said it was a blind end. Of course, that just makes me more interested to find out what he missed.”

“You and me both, but it’s going to take a lot more time to go through all the stuff on here. Maybe I’ll start by doing a quick search for STOP the POP.”

The office was quiet with the exception of the crunching of almonds, so Amy jumped when Marvin shouted, “It’s here. A big document on STOP the POP. It’s inside a folder inside a file on carbonated beverages.”

They both looked at each other and said simultaneously. “Carbonated beverages.”

“Like pop.” Marvin said.

“Yeah, like pop. You know, there’s a lot of evidence linking soda pop to heart attack and stroke, not to mention diabetes. Why didn’t I think of that? Remember when the mayor of New York tried to ban the stuff? So did a lot of school boards,” Amy said. “But that bumper sticker, the pink and blue, the swollen bellies. What was that about?”

“I’m having trouble remembering what the sticker even looked like, except it was damn hard to make out,” Marvin said “That website I made. I’m such an idiot.”

“No way I’m an idiot. I just rode around with poo written on my car for a week.” For a few moments, the room was as silent as a chipmunk under a cat’s paw. “Let’s start again and think about what we know. A dead woman was thrown from a car. Her body was cold, as in kept somewhere cold after she was killed. The car she was in was a hybrid with a logo that promoted banning carbonated drinks.   Her sister says she was an activist, and the file you’ve found proves she was working against the soda industry. So I’d say she knew, maybe worked with, whoever was driving that car.”

“OK. I’ll read everything in the file and see if I can come up with some names, or at least a place to start looking,” Marvin said.

*

“She belonged to a group called the Food Police, and she has an email contact with them called Jake. She’s also got the names of two soft drink lobbyists in her file,” Marvin reported.

“I say we hit the Food Police first and see what they can tell us,” Amy said.

“They’ll tell us not to drink sugary beverages.”

“Too late,” Amy said, slurping down the last of an energy drink. She had a quick glance at the glucose level printed on the side of the can and avoided Marvin’s beady eyes. “The lobbyists may be strong-arming the Food Police.”

“Sugary syrup doesn’t get you killed,” Marvin said.

“Tell that to the bugs swimming in my hummingbird feeder,” Amy said. “Besides, this probably has nothing to do with the job and everything to do with the people she knew.”

“So this Jake guy at the Food Police is suspect numero uno?”

“I wonder if the Detective might tell me whether he interviewed him.”

“I don’t think Arnold is going to tell you anything,” Marvin said.

“Why not? If he hasn’t looked at Jake yet, he might thank us for the idea.”

Marvin shrugged. “I think he’s shy with you. Why don’t I call?”

“I saw him first,” Amy said, and they both laughed and grabbed their phones.   Amy sent Marvin a glare and he put his phone down. The call was short and Amy frowned when she put hers down.

“They’ve already got a suspect. It isn’t Jake, and he says to leave it alone.”

“Did the police even interview Jake?”

“You just heard what I heard. So I have no idea.”

“See. He gave you nothing.” Marvin gloated.

She wondered why the Detective had been so gruff with her. What had she ever done to get under his skin? Her phone beeped a minute later with a text, “Sorry, boss hovering. Jake wasn’t interviewed.”

She lifted her head up to tell Marvin the news, but he was laughing and waving his cell phone. Looking down at her phone, yup, the text was from Marvin. She really needed those progressives. She let her annoyance die down before grabbing her bag and heading for the door. Marvin jumped up to follow. Amy glared at him and he said, “You need me. I know where he lives.”

*

Jake Cain lived in one of the condos built for the Winter Olympics and abandoned when the athletes feet left town.   He didn’t answer his buzzer, so they camped out on the railing opposite the building and took turns watching the front door or the dragon boats in False Creek. There wasn’t a lot of action on either side.

“Try the buzzer again, in case he parked underground,” Amy said after the novelty wore off.

Marvin crossed the road, buzzed and waved her over when Jake answered. They took the elevator to the second floor and Jake was waiting at his door when they exited. He was thin, young, and nervous-looking.

“Hi, I’m Amy Sinclair and this is Marvin. We’re private investigators looking into the death of Carla Perez.” His hand was clammy.

“I told the police what I know,” Jake said as he twisted a woven friendship bracelet around his wrist. “I didn’t really know her.”

“Maybe you can tell us about the Food Police,” Amy said, trying to appear friendly and calm when she felt like helping him twist the bracelet tighter. She followed him into a tiny bachelor pad loaded with electronic stuff and not much else. There were takeout boxes spread liberally around the level surfaces like objets d’art. Clearly he didn’t police his own food, she thought. They all squeezed down onto the sofa.

“I joined the Food Police a couple of years ago. A few of my friends joined, and we all thought it was important. Safeguarding the food supply, making sure industry looked at nutrition and not just cost. Anyway, Carla joined a year later. She wanted us to be more active, but the Food Police have their ways of doing things. Slow and steady. After a while, she didn’t bother coming to the meetings.”

“Did anyone else want to be active?” Amy asked.

“Nah, not that I remember,” Jake said.

“Well, did anyone else stop coming to meetings when Carla stopped?” Amy asked.

“Now that you mention it, there was one guy who stopped coming about the same time Carla left. Mind you, that’s not uncommon. Some people lose interest when they find out they can’t manipulate the group. We already have our own agenda.”

“Do you mean this guy had his own agenda?” Marvin said.

“Yeah, he wanted us to make bumper stickers. We have a tiny budget, and some of the slogans he came up with were pretty lame.” Amy pulled out a print of the bumper sticker Marvin had made and showed it to Jake. “Yeah, that was one of them, although the Ps didn’t look like the ones on here, they were just regular Ps.” Amy heard Marvin snicker from his end of the sofa. “It took everyone too long to figure out what Stop the Pop meant, like pop culture, popcorn, soda-pop, or even fireworks.

“Do you remember his name, maybe where he lives?” Marvin asked.

“Sure do. He’s in this building, two floors up. Name’s Ivan something. I see him in the basement parking lot. He has a new bumper sticker every other week, and they’re still lame.”

Amy and Marvin thanked Jake and took the elevator back to the lobby. Marvin went outside to get the apartment number and buzz Ivan. When he didn’t get an answer, Amy let Marvin back in and they both went up to #404. Ivan didn’t answer their knocks so Amy sent Marvin down to the underground parking lot to look for the hybrid.

“There’s a blue hybrid with a sticker, I drive fast for slow food,” Marvin said. “So either he’s in there or out somewhere on foot.”

Amy knocked loudly this time, rousing a neighbour who said he hadn’t seen Ivan in days. When asked if he knew where Ivan worked, the neighbour said he thought he had a job at a bottling plant in Surrey. Amy and Marvin took the elevator back to the ground floor. The dragon boats were still dragging their loads back and forth under the Cambie bridge.

“Do you think he took a runner after he killed her?” Marvin said.

“That, or maybe he’s been put into cold storage,” Amy replied. “I suppose I should tell the Detective what we’ve discovered.”

“No. We go to the sister first and get paid for this,” Marvin said, his body speaking in a language that didn’t need translation.

*

“Well, that worked out better than expected,” Amy said, sensing déjà vu. She licked the icing off half of the Oreo before consuming the cookie parts. The bag was half gone.

“Not much money for our effort,” Marvin said, placing a slim bit of folding money into his wallet.

“We’ll get more money if we locate Ivan. That’s what she agreed,” Amy said dangling the Oreo bag at Marvin and getting a grimace in response. “They do tours in that bottling plant. You could take the tour and keep an eye out for cold storage facilities. I’ll go talk to the employment office and see if they know where Ivan went.”

“I’m surprised you don’t want to do the tour and get free samples of their healthy beverages,” Marvin said. Amy gave him the finger. It was her pinky finger because she considered herself a lady, but they both knew the pinky held the same profound meaning.

“Let me finish my repast and we can be off. There’s a tour at two o’clock. Wear something warm.”

*

The employment office confirmed that Ivan was employed but hadn’t appeared at work since the day Carla was shoved from his car two weeks earlier. His job was to drive the refrigerated sample truck around the city. Meanwhile, Marvin discovered that the Pepsi challenge was rigged. The Pepsi he got was colder than the other brand.

“There’s only one cold storage unit on site, and it’s mobile. There’s a little truck they drive around and hand out samples of their beverages, and they ask people to fill in comment cards. Guess what? It’s been missing for a couple of weeks,” he said.

“Guess what back at you? Ivan drove that truck,” Amy said. “Find the truck, find Ivan. The timing’s right. Carla could have been in the truck for a while before she ended up in Ivan’s car and he tossed her out.” Amy looked at Marvin, eyebrows raised expectantly.

“OK. We can go to the Detective. But leave him a message that you’re coming in with information.”

“Why, so he can avoid us?”

“No. So he can prepare for you.” Marvin said cryptically.

*

“We found the hybrid, we know who the owner is, and he’s been missing for two weeks, just like Carla,” Amy said, allowing herself to enjoy some satisfaction at their masterful sleuthing. The Detective was nibbling on one of the donuts she’d bought to the station on Marvin’s suggestion, and he seemed to be ignoring her. She wouldn’t have picked him for a sprinkles man. “I need to know if you’re even looking for Ivan or maybe the police have run across the soda truck? He could have been driving it.” The Detective kept nibbling and examining his donut. “It was the bumper sticker that led us to him.” Remember when you said that was next to useless information? Clearly it wasn’t. Well?”

“Are you done yet?” Detective Arnold asked, wiping his lips. A couple of sprinkles on his upper lip made Amy smile and his eyes lit up.

“Are we done what? Solving your case?” Amy said. Marvin let out a small gasp behind her. OK, she was doing it again. No wonder the Detective reacted to her the way he did. But he was so patronizing, even when he didn’t speak.

“Maybe you’d like to know that our suspect, not this Ivan that you’ve found, has just confessed.”

“Oh.” Amy said, deflated.

“Yeah, and we didn’t need a bumper sticker.”

“What about Ivan? He’s missing. The pop truck’s missing. His car fits the description.”

“Could be that he pushed a dead woman from his car. But he didn’t kill her.”

“You seem pretty sure.”

“We have the drug used to kill her, handed to us by our suspect.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of nailing it, I suppose.” Amy’s shoulders drooped, more in annoyance than surrender. “What’s the motive?”

“The suspect won’t give us a motive.”

“But you need a motive to make your case.”

“Don’t worry. One will turn up.”

“Maybe it’s in the back of that soda pop truck with Ivan.”

“OK. We’ll put out an APB for the truck. Let me guess. You don’t have a description or a plate number.”

“Get them from the company. I don’t work for you. I work for Carla’s sister.”

“Carla’s sister? You mean the woman who just confessed to her sister’s murder?”

*

“Wow. I didn’t see that coming,” Marvin said, squeezing SpongeBob for support.

“Why did she offer to pay us to find Ivan? It doesn’t make sense.” Amy said, noticing a slight whine to her voice which she was trying to hide by filling her mouth with a chocolate donut. All she could think about was the grin on the Detective’s face. He clearly loved it that she’d screwed up big time. Then, how pitiful was it for her to grab the remaining donuts when she left?

“It makes sense if she wanted to keep us busy and out of the way,” Marvin said.

“Why did she confess? And why hold back the motive when you do confess?”

“The Detective had her in his sights a while back, and he must have had a reason.”

“OK, how did Ivan get involved with disposing of the body? What’s his relation to Carla’s sister?” Amy was pacing now, the sugar in the donuts doing their usual thing with her brain chemistry.

“Ivan’s got to be the key to this. Find the truck. Find Ivan.”

“And find the motive,” Amy added.

“Amy, maybe we should let this one go. The money’s dried up.”

“Don’t be so sure about that. She said she’d pay up if we found him.”

“That was before they arrested her.”

“Also before she got out on bail. I just checked and she’s gone home.”

“Well I’m not going over there to question a murderer.”

“I didn’t ask you. I’m going alone,” Amy said. She picked up her bag while Marvin said what sounded like a final farewell to SpongeBob before reluctantly following her.

*

“She’s not home,” Marvin said, his face pressed to the bars of the wrought iron gates. The buzzer had gone unanswered, and the driveway was empty. “Do you think she jumped bail?”

“I’m surprised she got bail, but maybe she killed Carla accidentally,” Amy said.

“She accidentally gave her sister an overdose of fentanyl?”

“Could be she got a wrong prescription?”

“She thought she was giving her botox, maybe?” Marvin said. Amy had to laugh at the thought, then she remembered poor Carla lying next to the curb. Her gaze focused on the refuse near the gate. She bent to pick up one of a half a dozen cards, smeared with dirt and tire tracks. Marvin took it from her.

“These are the cards we filled out at that bottling plant when we did the sampling,” he said. “What are they doing here?”

“This could be a link between the sister and Ivan,” Amy said.

“Or Ivan’s truck,” Marvin said. “The truck would carry these cards.” They both peered through the gate hoping to get a glimpse of the truck. “It could be around the back or in a garage.”

“No way,” Amy said. “The police would have searched this place.”

“Maybe it wasn’t here when they searched.” Amy watched as Marvin pulled himself up, using the iron curlicues to support his trim frame. He was over in an instant.

“A quick look, that’s all,” Amy said, but she didn’t think it would be quite that quick. Marvin was back over the fence in less than a minute, followed at his heels by a black Scottie with an angry bark.

“What? It’s big for its type,” Marvin said. “And look at those teeth. Well, OK, maybe it likes you.” Amy was scratching the dog’s head between the bars of the gate.

“Now you say hello and scratch her head,” Amy said. After the Scottie passed approval on Marvin, he hopped the fence again and the two took a walk to the back of the property. Amy could see Marvin talking to the dog, and the dog appeared to be listening. He was gone longer this time.

“No truck, but there are tracks too big for a car, and there are a couple more of these sample cards round back.”

“So the soda truck was probably here, and maybe not that long ago.”

“It hasn’t rained for a couple of days, and the cards are muddy.”

“Do I see more cards over there?” Marvin said, pointing down the road. They walked over and kept walking for half a mile, finding a couple of cards littering the curb every hundred or so feet. “Let’s go back and get the car.”

They followed the trail of cards, lost it twice and picked it up again. The trail ended at a dead end under the Granville Street Bridge. “I’m beginning to think we’re going to find that truck pretty soon,” Amy said, scanning the line of hybrid taxis, parked cars and delivery trucks filling a huge parking lot. “What a mess under here.” She turned to follow Marvin’s gaze. He was staring at a small truck under a tarp, bumper exposed, with a sticker: Friends don’t let friends drink Coke.

“Hmm. Double meaning there for someone against the soda industry,” Amy said. “That looks like our truck and our boy.” They walked over to the vehicle and pulled up the tarp on the driver’s side. The door was open and the keys were in the ignition. “Try the back,” Amy shouted.

“Don’t need to. I can smell him,” Marvin said. “It’s too bad we didn’t find the trail sooner.”

“Let’s look inside anyway. It could be a pack of dead Scotties,” Amy said. Marvin grimaced and they opened the door. The once-refrigerated truck, now at ambient temperature, was full of large bags of test sodas ready to fit in the sample dispensers. Wedged into a far corner was a curled up body with a distended belly. “Don’t go in,” Amy cautioned, causing Marvin’s face to turn from green back to pink. “I’d sure like to know if it’s Ivan and how he died.”  Marvin turned green again.

“Overdose of botox maybe?” Marvin suggested when his colour had normalized.

“It could be the sister’s handiwork since we followed the truck from her house, but we need to know the timing. Maybe she was in police custody when this happened.   Could you call the Detective?”

“What? We’re not going to fight over who gets to call him?” Marvin said.

“The Detective and I aren’t speaking,” Amy said, emitting a small sigh.

*

“I have to admit, that’s good work,” Detective Arnold said. He was still avoiding her eyes, and Amy gave him a cool reception right back. “It was lucky the guy in the back, Ivan as you probably guessed, left that trail of cards for you to follow. He was sitting on another hundred or so cards.”

“Thanks,” said Marvin, turning to Amy and opening his eyes. She knew he wanted her to acknowledge the complement, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She nodded instead.

“I’ll let you know when we find out the time and cause of death,” he said.

“You will?” Amy blurted, incredulous. She couldn’t believe he would give up information without her even asking. Then again, maybe her asking is why she didn’t get much from him.

“It’s probably the work of Carla’s sister and we have her for one already.”

Amy bit her tongue and tried to smile instead. It probably looked more like a grimace, she thought. Marvin wasn’t fooled, but apparently the Detective was because he blushed a bit and then left in a hurry to talk to the Crime Scene Investigation Unit gathered around the soda truck.

“I’m going home,” Amy announced. “I’m bushed from following the berry trail through the forest.”

“What about us getting paid for finding Ivan?”

“You still think she’s likely to pay us after what the Detective just said?”

“What if she’s not responsible for Ivan’s death? What if the death has the same signature as her sister’s but she didn’t do it?

“That’s a lot of ifs, Marvin. “She confessed, remember? Besides, we’d need to find her first.”

Marvin took off on the run. Amy watched as he caught the Detective, they exchanged a few words, and he ran back to her. “She’s been arrested again,” Marvin said. “I got the name of her lawyer,” Marvin said, looking contrite. He knew how Amy felt about dealing with lawyers.

“Isn’t there some way we can talk to her directly?” Amy asked, not expecting an answer and not getting one. “I don’t suppose you could talk to the lawyer?” She watched Marvin’s eyes light up and wondered if she dared release him on the unsuspecting lawyer. No, she remembered, she was the one who shouldn’t be released.

*

When Marvin returned, Amy was searching her desk for something sugary or salty or both. She’d already finished off the Oreos, but something more was required to stimulate her pink brain cells. She figured she wasn’t old enough to have little gray ones.

“I was right, Master,” Marvin said, bowing low in either respect or mocking, she could guess which. “The sister has recanted her confession. The lawyer says finding Ivan was key to her defence, and she’ll be writing us a check. And before you ask, I couldn’t get any information from him about why she confessed in the first place and handed over the fentanyl.”

“What about the trail of sample cards leading from her place to Ivan’s body?”

“She’s got an alibi for every minute, apparently, so if Ivan went to her place in that truck, someone else must have taken him or maybe found him there. Guess the best news?” Marvin said, rubbing his hands together. “The lawyer said she’ll pay us the big bucks if we find out who killed her sister and Ivan.”

“That’s good news. Any bright ideas about where to start? Assuming she’s innocent which seems a bit unlikely at the moment?”

“No. You’re the boss. I just do what you say.”

“Since when?” Amy said, putting up her pinky. “But I do have one idea. It has to do with someone we’ve met and we should look at more closely.”

“Blakley, the private dick.”

“No. I can’t see a connection there.” Amy gave Marvin time to ponder while she continued her search for a sugar fix.

“Ah-ha. Jake, the guy in the same building as dead Ivan, the guy who knew Carla.”

“Bingo.”

“I could do my pizza thing,” Marvin said. “You saw all that junk food in his apartment, and it’s almost dinner time.”

“Remind me again? What’s your pizza thing? An impersonation based on that shirt you’re wearing?” Jackson Pollack could have designed the shirt to look like a pizza with all the fixings, and she chuckled when Marvin stuck up both pinkies. “Let’s save that talent for a special occasion,” she said. “This time, I want to do a little more research and some pre-planning before we go knocking.”

*

While Amy spent time on the phone with various members of the Food Police, she sent Marvin to surf the web for Jake, the guy he had first picked out as suspect numero uno.

“We had that all wrong. It turns out Jake was the one pushing the bumper stickers, not Ivan,” Amy said. “Ivan was just trying to interest Carla in going out with him, according to two of the Food Police members. When Carla left the group, so did Ivan. I suppose Jake could have given bumper stickers to Ivan at some point. When I asked about the STOP the POP sticker, both people I talked to couldn’t remember that specific one. They did remember the one that said ‘I drive fast for slow food’ and they didn’t like it because they said it advocated speeding.”

“I found out something interesting about Jake,” Marvin said. “He’s got a degree in organic chemistry and he’s working on a Master’s. That would make him a good fit for the drug angle.”

“Fentanyl’s a street drug. The sister could have bought it. But there was another drug in the mixture, so you could be right. What we really need is a link between Jake and the sister.”

“The police could get phone records,” Amy said, “although they probably don’t know about Jake because we didn’t tell them.”

“Jake would have a burner phone anyway, if he’s involved in the drug trade,” Marvin said. Amy imagined him honing his detective skills by watching Breaking Bad and The Wire.

When Amy’s phone rang, she saw Arnold’s name pop up and she signalled to Marvin that the Detective was calling. She listened for a while, but when she started to ask questions, he hung up. “Great,” she said. “Conversations with him have to be one way. His way. There wasn’t enough fentanyl in Carla’s system to have caused her death. It was the other drug that did it. I scribbled down the name: 5-thio-D-glucose, and apparently it killed Ivan too. See what you can find out about it.”

 

“The poison is interesting. It tastes just as sweet as sugar but it causes convulsions and death at high doses. Not a sweet way to go at all,” Marvin said.

“So they both died of a toxic sugar overdose.”

“Looks like it, and the Detective says they’re hunting for the chemical now. Without it, and with the retraction of the confession, they’ll have trouble holding Carla’s sister. They’re also having a problem with the time of death because of the refrigeration.”

“Sounds like Jake is still in the frame,” Marvin muttered as he pulled up information on the modified glucose molecule from the web. “Heck, you can buy this poison from a dozen chemical companies, if you have an account that is.”

“Can you find it in a university chemistry lab?”

“OK, I see where this is going. But even if I find it in a lab where Jake worked, how will that help us tie him to the deaths?”

“Where would you hide a tree?”

“In a forest,” Marvin said.

“Where would you hide something that’s as sweet as sugar?”

“In the second drawer down, left side of your desk.”

“Snooping again, Marvin? Actually, I was thinking about the sample truck that Ivan drove. I know it’s full of bulk bags of sugary soda, but what if the poison was in one of the bags, hidden in plain sight.” Amy said.

“The police have the truck. Won’t they be looking for the poison?”

“They definitely will if we tell them what we know. They can check for Jake’s fingerprints in the truck while they’re at it.”

You go girl,” Marvin said. “We’ll still collect from Carla’s sister if Jake’s the killer, right?”

“Yeah, but we’d have a better chance of getting paid if we can figure out why Jake did it,” Amy said.

“We still don’t know why she confessed,” Marvin said.

“I’m thinking she shared some fentanyl with Carla and she thought that’s what killed her, so she confessed out of guilt. Then when it turned out fentanyl wasn’t responsible, she retracted her confession.” Marvin’s head moved back and forth before it nodded agreement. “Now let’s say Jake hides the poison in the truck. We don’t know why yet. He doesn’t mean to kill Carla and Ivan, but they drink the Kool-Aid by mistake.” ”

“I’m supposed to imagine that Ivan’s idea of a fun date is taking Carla for a ride in the sample truck and sharing a cola?”

“I’ve had worse dates,” Amy said, glaring at Marvin. “Can you call the Detective and tell him about Jake?”

*

“Look at that dragon boat. I didn’t know they could to that.”

“Capsize?” Amy asked, her eyes still on the front door of Jake’s building.

“No, go that fast.”

Amy glanced around. “That’s a two-seater kayak, you fool.”

“Who’s the fool. Jake’s sitting up front.”

They both watched Jake reach behind him to lift up a plastic bag occupying the back cockpit, open it, and dump the contents into False Creek. Then he grabbed his paddle and made for the dock down at the Community Centre.

“That’s a littering offence,” Marvin said.

“More like a poisoning offence,” Amy said. “He’s now officially a serial killer if the poison was in that bag and we see fish pop to the surface.” She phoned the Detective whose name now appeared at the top of her popular list. When he answered, she didn’t say a word, just listened and hung up. It was becoming their thing. Marvin was staring. “He’s standing across the street and he saw it all,” she said. The police cruiser will be here in a minute.” She watched as the Detective gave her a lame wrist wave. Even his wave annoyed her.

Amy watched Marvin run across the road to touch base with his new buddy. They spent time laughing at something, then talking a lot, both of which she found annoying. Marvin finally ran back with a smile on his face. “I told him that the poison is very soluble. It’s too late to recover it but they should get a water sample to test,” Marvin said.

“Well, what did he say?” Marvin could be really annoying too, she thought.

“Oh. Sorry. They’re going to take Jake in for questioning while the lab does the tests for the poison.”

“No. I mean, did they find poison in the soda in the truck?”

“No. No poisoned bags of soda, and the truck had been wiped clean of prints.”

“Damn. I liked that idea too,” Amy said.

“But,” Marvin said and stopped talking until Amy gave him the evil eye, “there were traces of the poison dried on the floor, maybe from a liquid spill.”

“Goodie. Jake cleaned up and left Ivan in the truck.”

“Why not leave Carla there too?” Marvin asked.

“Maybe they didn’t die together,” Amy suggested. “Can you go back to Dudley Do-Right and find out how long Ivan’s been dead.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” he said, looking contrite. “The Detective said they could have died at the same time, but because they don’t know how long Ivan was in the refrigerated truck before the refrigeration died, the time of his death is fuzzy. So Carla’s sister could have done it, I suppose, only Ivan only had the sugar toxin, not fentanyl in his system.”

“Maybe the combination killed Carla sooner,” Amy mumbled, pulling her iPad out of her bag. “My little list here is going to come in handy,” she said. “You should keep one too, if you want to grow up to be a detective.”

“I’ve got a brain instead,” Marvin replied, tapping his temple. “Just ask me a question.”

“OK, why did Jake lie to us about the bumper stickers. If they were his idea, why not claim them? Why did he give Ivan the credit?”

“Because you showed him Stop the Pop. Maybe he realized that someone saw the sticker when he pushed Carla from the car. Ivan became the fall guy.”

“That’s OK as far as it goes. But remember what Jake said? All Ivan’s ideas were lame. Why did he say that?

“To make us think they were lame?”

“Now go back to the first day. What did we think that bumper sticker meant?”

“You thought it meant stop population growth.”

“And what did Jake say people at Food Police thought it meant?” She watched Marvin hum and haw.

“I don’t remember.”

“And that’s where my notes come in. Jake said no one at Food Police could figure out what it meant, and he mentioned pop-music, popcorn, soda-pop, and fireworks. What he didn’t mention was population. Plus, there was something very odd about those Ps that made me see swollen bellies, but Jake said the Ps on the sticker were normal. I know they were weird, so why did he lie? When he said that Ivan made the stickers, it didn’t bother me, but now we know it was his design. What does that tell you? ”

“He’s a lousy artist?”

“It tells me that I was right all along. The sticker was advocating a stop to population growth.”

“Why would the Food Police be interested in a sticker like that?”

“They wouldn’t, and the people I spoke to don’t remember seeing that sticker. That’s in my notes too.” Amy patted her ipad. Notes are good things.”

“There is something interesting about this sugar poison that I remember,” Marvin said, tapping his head and smiling. Amy shrugged, hoping that his memory was better than it seemed. “The poison sterilizes mice.”

“What? You said it caused convulsions and death.” She knew that when her brows met in the middle, the way they were doing now, she looked scary.

“If you eat a lot of it, sure. Just a little bit sterilizes mice.” Marvin said defensively. He was looking anxious about the monobrow, she thought.

“Does it sterilize humans?   No forget that. No one would know.”

“Yeah, it’s not exactly been tested. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it worked the same way.”

“This could be our motive.”

“Motive for murder?”

“Say Jake’s plan is to sterilize people, and he has to guess what concentration of the poison to use. He puts too much into Ivan’s cola bag. His plan may be to use Ivan’s sample truck to test it, then who knows, get a job in the bottling company to spread it further. Ivan and Carla are the first to sample the stuff and they die.”

“So he jettisons the rest of the poison in False Creek so he won’t get caught with it.”

Amy nodded. “Maybe we need to work on it a bit, but it fits.”

“I think he should confess to the lesser charge of killing sperm,” Marvin said. “Look, there’s the police cruiser now taking samples of the water.” Amy got in the car and motioned for Marvin to follow.

“Why don’t you give the good Detective a call and see if they’ve got Jake in custody yet? Then we can let that lawyer know we’re expecting payment,” Amy said. I’m just going to make a quick stop at that nice little restaurant up here on Burrard,” she said, waiting for Marvin to groan when he saw the name of the restaurant: Death by Chocolate.

*

When she got back in the car with a suspiciously large box, Marvin was smiling. “Jake’s in custody and he admitted to adding the poison to the cola.”

“And? Was I right about the population part? We’re you right about him using the poison to cause sterility?

“Right on both counts. We make a good team, boss. The Detective wants you to come in for debriefing,” Marvin said, giggling. He loved the term debriefing.

“Now? Before I have my cake?”

“You have your cake. You just can’t eat it too. It shouldn’t take long and we’re only a few blocks from the station.

Amy backtracked to Sixth Avenue and drove to the station near the Cambie Bridge. “Feed the meter, would you, Sugar?”

“Who are you calling Sugar?” Marvin asked.

“It seems fitting, for today anyway,” Amy said.

“You’re going to give him your cake?” Marvin said when he saw her carrying the large box.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling bad about taking back my donuts the other day. It’s a peace offering. Besides, there’s another one in the case back at the restaurant.”

“Lucky it’s a big cake is all I can say.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are we feeding the force?”

“No. Just a Detective’s ego, and that’s even bigger than a police force.”

When they exited the elevator, the Detective was waiting to escort them to his office. Private detectives were treated very carefully here, as in most stations. It made Amy laugh to think how the competition engendered by those who worked within a command structure and those who avoided one, like Amy and Marvin, often ended up in a quicker resolution to a case. “More donuts for me? Oh, I mean donut,” the Detective said.

“No a cake this time, and sorry about that,” Amy said, deciding not to finish the sentence. That way sorry could be used for anything offensive that she’d done. She handed over the box, sending her saliva back where it started. There would be other cakes.

“Jake has confessed to accidentally poisoning Carla and Ivan, but I need you to go over how you worked this out.”

“You mean, how a useless bumper sticker led us to the suspect?” Amy said. Marvin coughed.

“OK. You got lucky there. A licence plate would have been even better.”

“Except you might have missed Jake that way.”

“How did you find Jake?”

“It was Jake who lied about Ivan being responsible for making the bumper sticker. So we followed Ivan to the bottling plant, the sample truck, the sister’s place, and then the trail of cards to the bridge. We would have had a harder time finding the truck without the third bumper sticker.”

“The third?”

“The second one was on Ivan’s car in the underground, and the third was on the sample truck bumper.”

“What are you, a bumper sticker buff?”

“No, just observant,” she said, trying to look demure. Thank goodness Marvin had hounded her into pulling off May The Forest Be With You a few days ago. You never know when you might want to hurl someone from your car, and at the time, Marvin was a candidate.

“So Marvin, you picked up on the fact that the poison causes sterility?”

“Yeah, not that it matters if you’re dead.”

“It’s important because it looks like Jake’s motive wasn’t to kill but to sterilize.”

“I supposed they’ll have him evaluated by a psychiatrist?” Amy asked.

The Detective shrugged, as if he lost interest in what happened on a case once his part of the job was done. Amy figured that might let him sleep better at nights, especially when a perp got off on a technicality. Amy and Marvin filled in what details they could, signed their reports and stood up to leave.

“Yeah, well thanks for your help on this case. The lawyer’s pleased his client is free, so I expect you’ll get paid.”

“Just what we deserve, not what we’d like,” Amy said, wondering what it would be like to have the security of a regular salary. Oh yeah, she’d done that and this was way better.

“Before you go, would you like to have a piece of your cake? A piece, mind you?”

“Well, if you insist, I won’t say no,” Amy said, sitting down faster than a golf ball in a sand trap.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to leave. I hear my mother calling,” Marvin said. Not outside the realm of possibilities, but Amy knew exactly what he was doing.

“Are you sure, Sugar?” she said, getting the flash of a pinky from Marvin on his way out, and a stunned look from the Detective.

“It’s just a little joke. About the case.”

“Yeah. Around here, they’ve started calling it Sugar Blues.”

“Good one. Talking about sugar, should I cut?” Amy said, whipping out a large Swiss Army knife. “It’s got a special blade just for cutting cake.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yup.” He had a smile to die for, and if that wasn’t worth a Black Forest cake, what was?

***

Amy and Marvin have appeared in another short story, My Mother’s Foot. The idea for this case came from seeing a bumper sticker promoting population control and from knowledge about the properties of 5-thio-D-glucose from my years as a scientist. Yes, it, does cause sterility in mice, but it would need to be given daily. Cola, anyone?

2 comments

  • Thanks Lora! Amy and Marvin may live again.

  • Your story was awesome! Couldn’t stop reading it. And I love the characters…I could see a whole series about them. Just one note….the name of the show you refer to is “Breaking Bad”. I don’t think it matters, but just thought I’d mention it. I’ll look forward to the next installment!

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