A fitting sub-title could be “The Case of the Lost Sheep.”
I’m Detective Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. My partner is Jim Wednesday. We work homicide in the big city of Tracy.
It’s sad when our phone rings every day, but sometimes, it doesn’t ring. It was December. We hadn’t had anyone shot for stealing someone else’s parking spot during the big sales in over a week. During these times, our conversation gets a bit sad.
On Jim’s computer, the screensaver came on. It was a picture of Tuesday Weld, about 40-50 years ago. Jim still had a crush on her. He wanted to marry her. She’d be Tuesday Wednesday, kinda fit.
Jim said, “No homicides in a while, Deviled. If this lasts much longer, I might retire.”
“Retire?” I replied, “You can’t retire. You are the only weekday in the police force. I mean, there ain’t no weekday, that I know of, in any police force around here. Forget the police forces around here and think of fictional detectives in print, TV, or movies. Nothing. Now the fictional detectives are all over animals like Nero Wolfe, Tecumseh Fox, and Perry Mason’s detective friend, Paul Drake. Tools of the trade are covered with Mike Hammer, Joe Pike, and Sam Spade. If you like the lighter side, fruit is covered with Agatha Raisin and Stephanie Plum. But weekdays? You are it, Jim Wednesday. You are unique.”
Jim gave me a look like I had just fallen off a turnip truck. Then the phone rang.
Jim got excited as he took notes. When he hung up the phone, he said, “Deviled, working homicide all these years, I have never been able to say this. We got a live one!”
What Jim meant by that remark is that without a homicide to work, we had been loaned to missing persons. It’s like we were given a new lease on life, the perfect Christmas present for a homicide detective. During this Christmas season, we would be looking for someone who might be alive. Jim was right. The thought of a live one brought a spring to your step. We were whistling a happy tune, off key of course, as we waltzed to the car.
Our destination was the First-Third Metho-Presby Church on the corner of Second and Fourth Streets. It was an old church, but a new denomination. The new denomination split off due to the unique belief that everybody is predestined to fall from Grace at one time or another.
We met the pastor out front. He was ringing his hands in anticipation. Sounded like the Doxology, but I wasn’t sure. He asked, “Are you the police?”
I didn’t know how to take that question or even reply to it. Did he ask the question because we were both eating donuts? If so, I would be offended if I wasn’t thick-shelled. If I complained, it might hurt my image of being the toughest hard-boiled dick Tracy had ever seen. I wondered if he picked up on the fact that we drove an unmarked car, too ugly for any self-respecting civilian to drive. No, I’d just ignore that and introduce ourselves.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. This is my partner Jim Wednesday. We’re from homicide.”
The pastor blanched, “Good heavens, is Sixteen dead?”
“Sorry, pastor, we’re on loan to missing persons, but I thought you only had one missing person. Now you got Sixteen?”
“No, no,” the pastor started to fumble with his words. His eyes darted here and there. “Sixteen Sheep is one of the sheep that they use in those mattress advertisements on television. He was volunteering to be an animal for our live creche.”
Jim asked, “What crashed?”
The pastor said, “How did you know about that?”
“I didn’t. You mentioned a crash.”
“No, the creche. A nativity scene. We have a live one. We have a family dress up as Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. We have people dressed up as the wise men and the shepherds. And we have animals. Well, we used to have animals. They are all gone now.”
I asked, “So we are looking for more than a single lost sheep?”
“No, no, the whereabouts of the others is well known. It is so hard getting volunteers these days. We’ve been using cardboard cutouts in their absence, but this thing is supposed to be ‘live.’” He used air quotes. “How pathetic can you get? Camel quit smoking a few years ago, but he passed due to emphysema. Elmer, the Bull, has been glued to the television for three years now. It’s all those football games this time of year. If they’d just make the football out of cowhide. Donald and Daisy Duck flew north for the winter. I know, I know. He is a contrary duck.”
The pastor continued, “Donkey, well Donkey would still be here, but we had to ask him to leave. You see, this live nativity scene is done without talking. Once Donkey figured out how to talk, we couldn’t get him to shut up. Once when there was a large crowd that had gathered, I thought a neighbor had turned on his radio really loud. It was an old jazz standard, but I couldn’t quite place it. You know, one of those songs where the chorus is the part you remember? Anyway, when Donkey got to the chorus and sang, “I’ve got a Creche on you, Sweetie pie…” I’m sorry, he had to go. It totally destroyed the ambiance, and some of the things he would say! We are considering church discipline.”
The pastor threw his hands to the sky. “All we had left was Sixteen. You could always count on Sixteen. He went everywhere that he was needed. He had a servant’s heart. That is until the crash.”
“I thought we were already discussing the creche?” I said to interrupt his tale of woe. My ears were starting to bleed.
“No, it was when the car crashed on Second Street. It was right after that when we noticed that Sixteen was gone.”
“So, you think Sixteen was abducted at the time of the crash? Could the crash have been a distraction to spirit Sixteen away?”
It took a moment for the pastor to gather his thoughts. “No, if the crash was meant as a distraction, the driver would not have been injured so badly. The driver was in so much pain. They gave him two different shots, but he was still screaming in pain when they put him in the ambulance. Besides, I never said Sixteen was abducted. Why would you think that?”
Jim asked, “No reason, Sir. We are trying to cover all the bases. So, there were no signs of foul play?”
“I already said that we lost our Ducks. We haven’t had Chickens or Turkeys in a long time, not since I have been here. And if they were playing around, we’d have them removed, just like Donkey.”
I tried to explain, “Jim means no sign of a struggle. Does the creche have odd tufts of wool here or there? Any unusual footprints?”
“The place has thousands of footprints in every direction. With all the people working on this project and all the actors, it is one jumble of footprints. It’s almost mid-summer each year before the grass grows in that area. The only thing left at the scene is Sixteen’s saddle.”
“You ride a sheep?”
“No, but we thought that the huge number 16 tattooed on his side was a little distracting. We had him wear a saddle.”
“You thought a sheep wearing a saddle was less distracting than a sheep with a big sixteen tattooed on his side?”
I started thinking that this case was a little strange, at least stranger than our usual cases. I thought that maybe I should take a different route in the questioning. “Tell me what people saw. Did anyone see Sixteen leave? Did anyone see someone talking to Sixteen?”
To each question, the pastor simply shook his head. “No, the ambulance left with the injured driver and it was like poof. Sixteen was gone. We have checked all the hospitals in town. Sixteen has not been admitted to any of them.”
I knew people had to be missing for at least 24 hours to be considered missing. There did not seem to be any foul play. Maybe Sixteen simply left during the confusion. We had to look into Sixteen’s character.
“Tell me about Sixteen. Is he old-school? Lives by the rules? Always available? Answers the phone on the first ring?”
The pastor beamed, “How did you know? He is all of that. That’s why we have a lost sheep. Sixteen always answers his phone, but it seems that his cell phone is turned off. He hasn’t been home. He hasn’t been admitted to the hospital. Where is he?”
“Don’t worry, pastor. I’ll have Sixteen give you a call within the hour. By the way, where did they take the driver in that accident?”
“Great idea! No one thought to ask him. The ambulance that picked him up takes everyone to Merci.”
“No, it should have been. They misspelled it. It’s Merci. Too much cost to change all the signs and reorder stationary. It’s five blocks down on Fourth.”
I thanked the pastor and we went to the car.
Jim said, “You shouldn’t have given the pastor so much hope. This case looks like a dead end. Sixteen probably wandered down the wrong alley and we’ll be doing our usual job tomorrow.”
I smiled, “Have faith, Jim. You said when this case started, ‘We got a live one.’ I only have one question for Sixteen once we get to the hospital.”
“What?” Jim asked. My only reply was a wink.
We found the hospital easily, but it took a while to find the driver since we didn’t have a name.
When we got to the room, the man was sleeping in his bed, and a sheep with 16 tattooed on both sides was jumping over the bed. Jump. Turn around. Jump.
I asked, “Sixteen, nice to meet you. Did you know that they let you keep your cell phone on in hospitals these days?”
Panting for breath, Sizteen replied, “No, no one told me. I’ve had my phone off ever since I got here. There’s still a sign in the emergency room. You know. This guy is in a lot of pain. Every time I stop jumping over the bed, he wakes up and screams for more medication. The only way he can go back to sleep is to count sheep. I’m getting tired!”
I laughed. “Do us all a favor and give your pastor a call. He’s worried sick. He thinks that without you, his creche is crushed.”
As we went back to the precinct, Jim asked how I figured it out. I told him it was easy. “The only thing anyone saw leave after the accident and before noticing Sixteen was missing was the ambulance. Sixteen always went where he was needed. The folks that are old school often do not keep up with changes in the rules. So, Sixteen turned his phone off when he got to the hospital. The hospital is so worried about spending money changing signs, the old sign is still up in the emergency room. Sixteen never went home and a check of the hospitals came up dry. Sixteen wasn’t admitted; he was helping someone who needed him. If Sixteen had another commitment, he would have let people know. He probably figured that he’d help this guy get to sleep and then run back to the church. Sixteen has a servant’s heart.”
I patted my partner on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Jim. We closed the case. We really do have a live one this time.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish you Joy and happiness this year. We serve Jesus. He’s the Ultimate ‘Live One.’