Wednesday, February 09, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Love reads rough:
The 2011 Hibbing Winter Frolic Medallion Mystery
Winter’s the name. Sal Winter. Hibbing is my town.
It was the kind of January you only read about in Dante, so cold it’s hot with the devil’s touch. I winced as the radiators clattered to life in my office on the roof of the Androy Hotel. I was warm with whiskey and steam heat even though my heart beat with the cool, dull rhythm of a man with no future. Now was the “me” of my discontent.
The New Year had come but not quick enough. What started as a lark, the last 12 months latched like an albatross around my neck. Sal Winter, private eye, still single after all these years. My inability to commit sent my girl Mystery packing and I was back here, on the couch, watching the spiders weave webs on the walls that read “Lonely” in spider talk.
Just then the stairs outside the door started grumbling with the sort of protest you usually only hear when you compare a gal to her mother. I knew from the groaning that the portly mayor, Preston T. Sneed, was testing the mettle of those wooden steps.
Sneed burst into the room the way your foot bursts into a child’s sock. Not fast, but eventually, with effort. Huffing like the wolf in the story of the 3,000 Little Pigs, he was the color purple.
“Winter,” he wheezed. “We’ve got a problem. (wheeze) The Winter Frolic (wheeze) Medallion (wheeze) has gone missing and (wheeze) we need your help.”
It was just like last year, only this time the beautiful woman who sought my aid was, in fact, a 300-pound politician who smelled like hot sticks at the deer shack. Anyone wearing a Winter Frolic button who found the translucent medallion outdoors on public land would win a prize. They could, if we found it in time.
This was going to be a long week.
“Oh, Mystery, if only you were here,” I thought to myself.
My girl, or my ex-girl, Mystery was the divorcee who sought my help and won my heart last year when the medallion was nabbed by a rogue Parks and Rec board member. The resulting scandal led to the election of Mayor Preston T. Sneed, a gargantuan man with a reinforced scooter and a t-shirt that read “Also, Progress.” Now, the medallion was gone again and Sneed had poured himself into one of my chairs like the blue liquid in one of those adult diaper commercials, wicked into the fibers and locked tight.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“This,” said Sneed, handing me a picture postcard of George Washington crossing the Delaware on the front.
“Where’d you find this?”
“In the medallion vault beneath city hall,” said Sneed, whose odor suddenly changed from beef to cheese. “I thought we stopped this from ever happening!”
I ignored his outburst. It was his rather substantial derriere on the line, not mine. My heart was flatter than the clear, translucent medallion located outdoors on public land in Hibbing. That kind of hurt doesn’t get fixed in an election.
At Hibbing City Hall the trouble was thicker than the mayor’s torso, which itself was rounder than the clock at the top of the building, which, further, was more pointed than this description. Officials were atwitter over the missing Winter Frolic medallion, nabbed from the expensive new vault beneath the storied city hall built by the Oliver Mining Company years ago. By tradition, a person wearing a Winter Frolic button who found this medallion outdoors on public land would win a monetary prize. Mayor Preston T. Sneed was holding court in his office as city leaders gathered around to admire the problem.
“What’s this deal about the postcard,” said one belligerent city father. “The one with Washington.”
“I hear that Washington is just a deeper clue,” said some guy with a moustache. “It seems this whole enterprise is just a clue wrapped within an enigma. I’d rather focus on something that matters, like the news of the day. For instance, have you heard about the outrage in …”
The man trailed on. Me, Sal Winter, I was still missing Mystery, the beautiful woman who left when I wouldn’t settle down on her terms. If I could do three things over again in my life, the first two would both involve decisions made shortly after automobile accidents, the third would be never letting Mystery walk away after our last fight.
“If you can’t settle down for me, then who?” she had said to me. I didn’t have a good answer. There was no one else but her, but no one but I knew the life of a private eye in a mining town where there were always problems with medallions and the human heart, and also mining. This was a town where things moved and they never move back the way they were, not even for Carnegie.
“Winter, Winter!” bellowed Sneed. “Wake up, man. What do you make of this?”
He jabbed the postcard at me the way he normally approached a plate of bacon.
There were numbers on the back of that postcard. Important numbers, with a decimal.
“Well, look at the back of this postcard,” I said, finally engaging the private detective portion of my brain, a corner of the brain where sadness meets an angry fist. “There are numbers. Look here, you see 551.555.”
The postcard was the only clue so far in the case of the missing Winter Frolic Medallion. The person who found this medallion would win a prize and glory, or they would if some no-good hadn’t stolen it, providing this necessary conceit.
“That sounds like a bunch of gibberish,” said Mayor Preston T. Sneed, the portly leader of our town, elected as a medallion reformer.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. Those numbers seemed important, or at least orderly.
It was a clue, and if it bore fruit a person wearing a Frolic button could find the medallion outdoors on public land for a monetary prize. If only a clue could solve my love of Mystery, the gal who left me cold after I clammed up about the future.
Unless it had?
I check out a lot of books at the Hibbing Public Library every year, titles about pistols, scotch and male menopause, but that’s neither here nor there. They all have numbers on the back, much like the numbers found on our clue in the case of the missing Winter Frolic Medallion. Something about those numbers seemed familiar, like an old friend who you haven’t seen in a long time but who still remembers how you look naked, or at least how you used to look naked, which is probably for the best.
“Mr. Mayor, didn’t we have a big snowstorm last night?”
Sneed peered around at heaps of snow. A plow scuttled by on 21st Street for effect.
“Yes, Mr. Winter. There was a snow emergency. Where were you?”
“I was in my office, wrestling demons,” I said. “But I now suspect that the thief was at the library before the snowstorm and then dropped this card in the vault when he or she lifted the medallion.”
There was only one way to know for sure. I fled the mayor’s spacious office, flew down the stairs and out the door. The library was just across the street. Maybe there would be another clue there.
Entering the library, I approached the front desk. Then I saw her, filing archaic index cards into the catalogue of my desire. Her hair was pulled back and she was wearing glasses, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“Mystery!” I called out. “You work at the library now?”
She looked surprised at first, glancing down at her delicate feet, which looked like two doves who really loved each other.
“Yes, Sal. After we broke up I didn’t want to face the prospect of dating again, so I committed myself to a life of reading and sorting books. I’m an intellectual now.”
“That sounds like rationalizing,” I said. “The Mystery I know understood that a woman can have a self-realized identity separate from that of her husband or life partner. Even if her husband is a stubborn old lug like, well … me.”
She looked up at me, eyes welling with tears. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying, Sal?”
“I think so. Mystery, will you marry me?”
“Oh, yes, Sal! There’s just one thing. I stole the medallion last night, got upset and chucked it out in front of the library before the snowstorm. What should we do?”
There was only one thing to do.
“Mystery, I’m so glad to have you back and share my life with you, but you stole the medallion and hid it by the library. They’re going to throw the book at you. If you’re lucky, only one book.”
“I know, Sal. I’m sorry. I thought maybe taking the medallion would lead you back to me. I was a fool.”
“No, you were no fool. I was a fool for not marrying you right the first time.”
Just then Mayor Sneed walked over, pausing dramatically to catch his breathe halfway up the front steps of city hall. He scratched the underside of his belly hoping no one would see, but everyone did. He began to speak.
“The medallion was found and the good citizens who helped find it will be rewarded. It seems to me that there is no crime here, except the crime of love. And in this, we are all guilty, some more than others.
The mayor’s pardon was as generous as his portion of gravy at that night’s celebration dinner.
As for me and Mystery, we’re doing fine. We got married at the courthouse and bought a house downtown, a nice little two bedroom with a yard and a future. I hardly ever sleep at the office anymore. Sometimes I watch her sleep and ask myself, between her angel breaths, how did I get so lucky? But then I also wonder, how did Mystery get into the vault?
TO BE CONTINUED IN 2012.
The medallion was hidden on the south lawn of the Hibbing Public Library a few feet from one of those trees. I chucked it over there a few weeks ago and was worried because a little medallion nubbin was poking out. Then about a foot of snow fell the next few days. It's been that kind of winter.