I am Detective Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. I work homicide in the big city of Tracy. My partner is Jim Wednesday.
It was three in the morning when my phone rang. Half awake, I failed to say hello. Instead, I grumbled something about this better be good – forgetting to look at caller ID.
She said, in a frantic voice, “Don’t have much time. Remember. Aerosol. Acid Rain. Deadly gas. Disappears in the sunlight. Hurry. She’s going to die!”
“No, who’s calling?” But I was too late. She’d hung up. I called the guys on night shift and gave them a full report. They said they’d start looking for a Parasol, but they made it sound like a joke. I anticipated a frilly umbrella on my desk when I got to work. I tried to return to sleep, but I was wide awake by that point. I got on the internet and cross-referenced women with the name of Parasol. I got nothing.
Jim Wednesday called about dawn and asked if I needed a little breakfast before going in. I agreed to meet him at our usual haunt. As we made our order, my phone rang. It was Poached.
“Long time, no see, Poached!” Jim got up to tell the waitress to hold the order for a few minutes. He sensed something was about to go very wrong.
“Uncle Deviled, I don’t feel so good.”
I replied, “Poached, you’re a grown man. At least, you are of age to make your own decisions. If you feel sick, call your boss, not me.”
“No, Deviled, I found another dead body. I met this girl. We were going on a date. I know. It’s strange, but she and I mostly work at night. I was going to take her out for breakfast, do a museum or two, and then after a quick lunch take in a matinee. But, Deviled, I showed up to her door. The door was ajar. When I went in, she was lying on the floor, dead. Her skin was in the oddest shade of blue that you could imagine, periwinkle. But, Deviled, I don’t feel so good. I feel like throwing up. I’ve never done that around a body before…”
Jim saw the look on my face and cancelled our breakfast order. Jim asked, “Is the dead body magnet at it again?”
“Poached, don’t throw up at the crime scene. Go outside! Don’t touch anything! And stay outside!”
Jim called the squad room while I drove. Before Poached got off the phone, he gave an address.
George Evident, Poached’s old partner, had answered the call to secure the scene and was the first officer on the scene. Jim had given the order for no one to enter the apartment without a Hazmat suit. George met us in the hallway. He smiled and said, “Lt. Haskins is in there with two of his guys. He was down the block at another scene when the call came. By the way, my aunt says hello.” I nodded in reply. His aunt was an old classmate of mine, Shirley U-Jest Evident. She’d married a no-good bum by the name of Alfonse Lee. He had a long rap sheet. We all called him Ugly down at the precinct. Shirley insisted on a hyphenated last name. She must have liked having fun with names, Evident-Lee.
My focus was getting to Poached before he had to leave. The EMT was tending to Poached in the hallway. Poached was on oxygen. They wanted to rush him to the hospital, but he refused to go until I got there.
I asked the EMT how much time I had. He said that Poached was stable, but they should get him to the ER. I promised to make it short.
“Poached, who is this girl?”
“Her name is Brunhilde Bumbershoot. She was a sex-worker. I was part of a sting. I pretended to want her services. She had me come over here. The money was exchanged. The arrest team came in to arrest her, but there was something strange about her. She wasn’t like the others.”
“Wait. All this happened this morning?”
“No, last week. This morning was a real date. I asked her out. She made bail after the arrest and then she saw me in the hallway and said that I was cute.”
“They all say that, Poached.”
“No, this is different. She was an excellent musician. She’d been named after an old aunt in the family, Brunhilde Sonntag. She was going to quit the business…”
“They all say that, Poached.”
“No, Uncle Deviled, this was different. She had an escape plan. She was going to teach music, like her namesake had. She was a good girl at heart. And before you say it, they all say that, Poached.”
“Ummm. You’re Poached. I’m your Uncle Deviled, and I’ll let you call me that just this once, because you are out of here. Did Brunhilde go by any other names?”
As they were rolling him down the hall toward the elevator, Poached squeaked, not realizing that yelling was beyond him at that point, “She went by no other names, but the other girls on the street called her, ‘Parasol’.”
It all clicked. I walked into the apartment to talk to Lt. Haskins.
He exploded, “You can’t come in here. Deadly gas! We haven’t cleared it, yet!”
I calmed him a bit with some hand gestures. “Lieutenant, calm down. We called for the Hazmat, but I have a feeling that the gas used to kill her decomposes in sunlight. It’s pretty bright through the windows now. Did you get an air sample and keep it in the shade when you got in?”
“Yeah, it’s in the satchel with the other evidence bags. Why are you so sure?”
“I got a call this morning, but it was too cryptic to know what it meant. Check the walls and ceiling and furniture for an aerosol distribution system. Now, in case I’m wrong, I’ll get out of your hair. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Lt. Haskins changed his demeanor. “Thanks, Deviled, for the heads up. We’ll treat the sample differently, based on your suspicions. We’ll get the ME to dress in Hazmat. The gas out here may be safe now, but who knows what is inside this young girl when they start the autopsy.”
“Yeah, and I’ll be there for that.”
Two days later, we had Macoun Apple in for questioning. Macoun ran the sex-worker trade for the Rotten Apple Gang. He was a cousin of Red Delicious, the mob boss that had been sent up the river sharing a cell block with my old man. Macoun came prepared. He was all lawyered up. He thought this would be the usual dance around a bunch of ‘no-comment’ answers and then release due to lack of evidence. For a while, I went through the usual questions, not hinting that we had anything concrete.
When he looked at his lawyer to nod that he was tired and ready to leave, I sprung a bit of what we had. “Not so fast, Macoun. You were afraid that you’d lose your cash cow. Brunhilde Bumbershoot was the best you’ve ever had. She was young. She looked even younger. She was a good actress, pretending that she was inexperienced. She was worth big bucks, but you got wind that she was leaving. You knew Ms. Bumbershoot’s routine. Bumbershoot is too hard to say. Let’s call her Parasol. Parasol always left before dawn each morning for a walk in the park. It was raining that morning, so she took an umbrella. She had a bad habit. When she returned to the apartment, you knew she would open her umbrella, and give it a few pops to shake the water onto the large mat near the front door.”
Macoun chuckled, “I’ve read about your cases in the paper. You think she died because she opened her umbrella inside the house. That may cause bad luck, but it doesn’t kill anybody. Even if that could get someone killed, there’s no way you can pin it on me. It would be accidental death. We’re outta here.”
“Sit back down, Macoun. We traced the call that came to me at 3:00am that morning. It was one of your girls, and she’s willing to talk. We have her in a safe place. She only heard part of the conversation. She knew you were setting up Parasol’s apartment. Crime Scene found three air fresheners plugged into the living room, but there was no overpowering aroma. They analyzed the contents. It wasn’t a dangerous substance inside, but if you mixed it with nitric or nitrous acids, it would form a deadly gas. The gas that it forms is unstable and breaks down into harmless components when exposed to UV rays. Odd, Parasol always kept her shades closed, since she worked in the night and usually slept after her morning walk, but the shades were drawn for the sun to come through. Our snitch knew so little. She said, ‘Acid rain.’ But it wasn’t acid rain, was it? You tricked out Parasol’s umbrella to release nitric acid into the room in a mist. Parasol didn’t have long to live, but she would have thought it to be an extra wet umbrella when she shook it. The acid mixed with the room full of odorless gas that you had created using the plug-in air fresheners. Parasol never had a chance to close the door. She took about two steps and collapsed. Your plan was foiled by Poached Yeggs making a social call. If we had discovered the body after the sun came up, there would have been no deadly gas left in the room, but our Crime Scene guys were on another call in that block and got a sample before the sun had destroyed all the evidence. Poached wasn’t supposed to foil your plan, but he got there too quick.”
Macoun snarled, “You are such an idiot, Yeggs. She didn’t die because she wanted out! She died because she was getting too friendly with your nephew, the one you call a dead body magnet.” Macoun’s lawyer was groaning and shaking his head. “And your nephew, the moron, buys a sex-worker flowers! Who in their right mind buys her flowers? Of all things, he buys her periwinkles! That put him ten minutes late getting there. The sun had just broken into the room. There was enough deadly gas to make him sick, but not enough to kill him. You got that part wrong too. Poached didn’t get there too quick. He was supposed to find the body and die along with her.”
I almost came over the table to punch him. Poached was a pain in the neck, but he was family, twice over. He was my brother’s son, and he was a fellow brother in blue.
Not only does NOx (gases containing nitrogen and oxygen) create smog and are duly regulated, NOx can also create acid rain. The gas in the atmosphere mixes with the water in the rain, creating nitrogen acids. This is usually in the range of parts per million and would not cause such a chemical reaction as mentioned in the story, so Macoun Apple had to add more acid, enough to make the deadly gas. There may be such a gas, but for this story, the gas is fictional, but there are chemicals that quickly break down when exposed to UV light.
As for the victim’s skin turning periwinkle: With a loss of oxygen, the body does turn blue, but not periwinkle. In carbon monoxide poisoning, the body can turn a cherry red, but it is said this reaction is rare. I chose periwinkle, due to 1) the deadly gas being fictional, 2) not wanting to confuse it with carbon monoxide, and 3) an easy tie-in with the flowers that Poached purchased.
With most mild exposures to a deadly gas, the acute symptoms usually include headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Maybe that’s why Poached wasn’t feeling too good.
I did not have the “Credits” section when Shirley U-Jest Evident-Lee was introduced in the second installment, but I ‘borrowed’ it from either the Police Squad TV episodes or the Police Story movies with Leslie Nielsen. The person Nielsen interviews will say, “Surely, you jest.” And Nielsen replies, “I don’t jest, and don’t call me Shirley.”
Brunhilde Sonntag (1936-2002) is a famous German composer, musicologist, and music teacher.
Macoun Apples are a cross between McIntosh and Black Jersey apples, created in 1923 at the Geneva, NY agricultural experiment station and named for a Canadian apple breeder. You might know the offspring, by further hybridization, of the Macoun, the Honeycrisp.
Of course, bumbershoot and parasol are names related to umbrellas. “Bumber” is a slur of “Umbr” and the shoot is like the “chute” of a parachute. The old classic parachute and the umbrella kind of have the same shape. A parasol is just like an umbrella, but it is designed to be both decorative and a means for shade, not a rain shield. So, they may look alike, but you use them in opposite types of weather.
I will have to thank Rev. David Robertson, the Wee Flea, for the idea of making the victim a ‘sex-worker,’ thus evolving the entire tale. He wrote an excellent post a week or so ago regarding how we have become so cavalier with the sex trade as to make it sound like any other job. I used the term in this post, but I strongly agree with Rev. Robertson.