The first in a series of short young adult mysteries...the mystery being why would anyone want to read them?
A Tommie Nicholas Trent story
Happy day to you! I'm Tommie Nicholas Trent and I am known to strangers as young mister Trent, to acquaintances as Tommie, and to close intimates as Ned. Don't ask.
But also don't expect to be on my "A" list if you refer to me as TNT. If said to my face, you'll suddenly see how I go walleyed on you. "Walleyed" is the affliction (or ability) to move the eyes away from the nose with the effect that an observer feels that the person is no longer looking right at them.
It's an ability I picked up early in life as I was forced to listen to my father's harangues and tirades. An unfortunate side effect was that that look really drove him nuts and he even punched me a few times in frustration.
But that's definitely another story. Right now I'm unloading the few boxes of my personal possessions, having just moved out of the tyrant's quarters. I'm taking up temporary residence in a garage apartment at the home of my high school buddy, Luke Vygnt, whose house more resembles a castle in design, complete with a cylindrical tower capped with what my mother calls a witch's hat - a broad red cone.
What occasioned my sudden move was yet another bashing by my father. The next day - today - when he was at work, I loaded up five or six old cartons with some clothes, a few LPs and record player, my favorite books, and some odds and ends. I called Luke and asked if I could camp out at his place for a couple of weeks until I got my bearings. He said sure, then asked his parents, who agreed just as my ratty old 1952 pickup drove up the long driveway to the house.
Now this was 1962 and in those days, people didn't ask questions about domestic problems, especially if there were visible marks. However, Luke's father, Dr. Vygnt, was quite concerned when he saw me. He promised to discuss this further at an appropriate time but heartily welcomed me into the garage apartment. I told the kind doctor that I'd be pretty unobtrusive and would even do odd jobs around the house to pay the debt of gratitude. Again Dr. Vygnt suggested that the topic be taken up later.
The apartment had been used by an old caretaker for years but his health became such that he moved to the warmer clime of Arizona. The rooms weren't what one would call spacious but for a 20-year-old without much choice, they were great! The apartment consisted of a main room, which was a studio - meaning it had a foldaway bed and a small efficiency kitchen, a fairly roomy closet, and a bathroom with shower. The main room came outfitted with a small desk, some shelves built into the wall, a small formica table, two chairs that looked like rejects from Goodwill, and the sofabed. There were two small windows which were hardly enough to let in much light.
However, one can't complain when there isn't anything else now can one?
So you know that I'm 20 years old and you'll probably be asking what on earth I'm doing for myself two years out of high school. The truth is, I haven't the foggiest idea what I'm going to do with my life. I've bummed around, worked as a delivery driver for several shops, drove a coin box route for the local afternoon newspaper, and was even a busboy at a renown local hotel. I say "was" as I lasted exactly two weeks. I quit suddenly when the bartender made a pass at me. However, I did form an early interest in wine in those two weeks as the somelier guessed that I might have the inborn ability to recognize fine wines after he shared the leftovers of a particularly excellent vintage. Of course at that time he had assumed that I was of age, and he certainly had no "funny" feelings toward me.
Now Luke is a couple of years younger than I and has just graduated from high school. He's one of those rare and fascinating kids who know exactly what their field of study will be and at which school they'll attend by the time they're sophomores in high school. Luke is a brilliant boy but he also has a strain of wry humor. That's probably why the two of us hit it off so well. Luke has been accepted at the California Institute of Technology where he intends to major in math and something he calls quantum physics. Good for him. He'll be the next Einstein and then some, and I mean that as a high compliment.
Did I mention that the local country club's golf course runs right behind the Vygnt residence? Yes, indeed, it does. The 12th hole is off the the left and the 13th tee is near the garage. In fact, one of the two small windows has a beautiful if constrained view of the 13th tee. As I was moving my boxes into my rooms, I contemplated getting an old chaise lounge from Goodwill and sitting out behind the garage sipping something cool while reading a good spy novel, all the while keeping an eye cast toward the groups of golfers playing their rounds.
It was while moving my last box that I was in the middle of this reverie when a loud report rang out from the direction of the gold course. Not a second later some sort of missile fell from the sky and landed not two feet from where I was standing. Had I not paused while daydreaming a moment ago, I could truthfully state that whatever the flying object was, it would have beaned me good.
I dropped my box and bent over to look at this strange object: It was gray but partially covered with some whitish corrosion. It was vaguely disc-like in that it was about four inches thick and had a diameter of some 12 inches. It had a distorted hole at one edge of the disc and directly opposite it looked like the whole contraption had been forcibly removed from some sort of anchoring material, perhaps a one-and-a half inch pipe.
On one face of the object was the remains of what appeared to be a crank while inside was a smoking blob of Goodyear's finest.
I quickly deduced that the object was a mechanical golf ball washer, something that was usually more at home near golf course tees and which rarely (if ever before this moment) fly through the air.
I dropped it and quickly sprinted to the 13th tee to see what else might be happening.
I was soon in the company of a foursome of middle-aged gentlemen. Not all of them appeared to be in the pink of health as one lay quite still and quite pale on the ground some yards downhill from the tee, and another man who was rather burley, was hopping around holding his left hand as he screamed bloody murder. The other two were standing like a pair of statues so I yelled at them to attend their fellows. I ran off to the main house to telephone in the emergency.
Now as an aside here, in those days we didn't have the luxury of the 911 emergency service. Oh no, what I had to do was dial "0" for the Operator at the local telephone exchange. I had to calmly but forcefully tell her to get an ambulance and doctor up here as quickly as possible. I gave her the location and general directions on how to get here.
By this time young Luke and his father, Dr. Vygnt, came out and without a word, hastened with me to the tragic scene. Now you must understand that Dr. Vygnt was an otolaryngologist - an eye-ear-nose-throat specialist. Yet withal, he still had had the basics all those years ago in med school. After ascertaining that the ashen-faced man was still alive, he started to attend to the loud burly man. It turned out that the left hand's index finger had recently decided to leave its host - a rather messy separation let me tell you. With the doctor and Luke taking the medical matters in hand, I went over to check out the stump of the post that had supported the ball washer. Phew - it still smelled something awful, and not just from the ball washing solution.
After clearing out my nose, I began thinking about our high school chemistry class as well as some reading I had done. I ran over to Dr. Vygnt and asked him to check the throat of the ashen-faced one. He did and acted rather surprised as he said that in a small area it looked like it had been burned by acid. Told him what I had smelled at the ball washer and my conjecture about the compound.
When the police and ambulance arrived, Dr. Vygnt had taken care of the loud burley man who lost his finger, and had fully examined the ashen-faced man. He gave the police a full report, including my conjecture. We knew, of course, that wit would take time for the lab experts to come out and examine the evidence, but Luke, his father, and I felt the evidence overwhelmingly pointing to the loud burley man as having attempted murder on his companion. He apparently had slipped some compound into the ball washing liquid before his companion washed his ball. When the quiet older man washed and retrieved his ball, his fingers came in contact with the polluted washing solution. As was his habit, he put a finger to his lip before drying it off. It was a superstitious move that nearly cost him his life as the solution on his finger reacted with the mild acid from his saliva and formed a near-lethal substance that burned his throat before it traveled into his stomach.
What happened next was simply the careless attitude of a would-be murderer. He dropped the first vial that had contained the poison into the ball washer, then followed this with a pinch of powder from his trousers pocket. This powder's original purpose was to act as a counter to the original poison in such a manner that it wouldn't be detected. He was correct in that assumption, but he didn't take into consideration the makeup of the washing fluid, which reacted violently with the pinch of powder as soon as he started twirling the crank to wash his ball. This action mixed everything together and it turned out that the rubber fins inside that propel the ball around acted as a catalyst, and the whole thing exploded.
When Luke summarized the situation for the police, he was heard to say, "That's the way the ball washer washes."
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