Summary: Jake investigates the possibility of another career. [Composed 1/3/05]
This latest obsession has really gone too far, thought Helen Morgendorffer. She had measured out her marriage in her husband's quirks, shifting from time to time, from capturing taped fragments of his past to squirrels. ("They're a menace, damnit!" The words remained with her.) The key was staying with them until the next sudden change. Throughout the course of married life she had weathered many, but even the most patient person must reach their limit, and Helen had almost reached hers.
Across the living room paced Jake, snooping and investigating, moving back and forth. A magnifying glass in his hand, Jake peered into corners seen by few and that few wanted to see. No corner was left unturned. This was not an unusual event in the Morgendorffer household. It hadn't been for weeks.
At first, it had almost been cute. The day Jake boldly strode in wearing a trench coat and fedora was one to remember, Helen reflected. Since then, his rants about life, the military school and everything had almost ceased. On the surface, he had finally mellowed out. The old ineffectual anger had vanished as Jake grew in confidence. Perhaps agency had been the answer.
Starting his own agency was not exactly what Helen had in mind. This new Jake also came with new habits. There was the constant pacing, the paranoia, the gruff manner, and the continual talk of 'crime'. Even conversation at the dinnertime now took on the air of an interrogation. Discussion was pointed. Behind every question was the look of one gathering evidence, for some unknown cause. The notepad did not help the impression.
A fortnight ago, Jake had occupied the Morgendorffer guest room. This became his new base of operations. Soon after, Jake had taken a lengthy leave of absence from his consulting position, citing 'more important things' as his reason.
Back then, Helen had thought that Jake may have wished only to bring the spice back into their marriage. He had appeared to understand her desires and was reaching out, becoming a caring husband, finally confronting problems, their relationship becoming ever closer, ever more romantic-
Or so it had seemed. Almost lost in thought, Helen reflected in the reality emblazoned upon the guest room door;
Jake Morgendorffer, Private Eye!
Even the sign sounded excited.
'It's a calling honey' Jake had explained. Ever since that day, he had anticipated the calls of citizens in need of a detective. Criminals were everywhere, and he was going to do something about it.
Originally dismissed as an elaborate cry for help by his family, Jake's agency continued to search for those in need. Outside, the street posts were festooned with advertising. It was difficult to walk the streets without being confronted by Jake's smiling image. Few calls came. Jake took matters into his own hands, closely scanning the newspapers for potential cases (A temporary measure, he thought).
Through a combination of persistence and minimal fees, Jake Morgendorffer Private Eye had investigated several cases. In some he had even saved the day.
Most memorable was 'The Case of the Stolen School Spirit Banner'. The culprit, Andrea, (always the quiet ones, Jake mused) soon returned the stolen banner, the detective being rewarded by a grateful school in a special assembly. By receiving this reward, he knew that his daughters would be thrilled at their old man's success... Although their horrified reactions did not show pride. A triumph nevertheless.
But that was in the past... Jake thought. A more important case was now occupying him. It struck close to home. Two nights ago, a Morgendorffer family dinner (With Daria's friend Jane as a guest) had ended in mystery. For the dinner Jake volunteered to cook one of his ol' specials, closing the agency earlier than usual to begin.
After much effort, he had briefly left the room. When he returned, the meal was gone.
Somehow, the stew he had spent hours painstakingly preparing had disappeared before it could be eaten.
It had hit Jake hard. His efforts ruined. Everyone *loved* his cooking, he thought, and now a malicious someone had expressed their distaste. What had happened? Everyone was a suspect. Only he had left the room. Helen, Daria, Jane, even Quinn could have committed the dastardly deed.
'That meal was like a child to me. I must avenge it!" said a distraught Jake soon after. Immediately, he put aside all other cases (That one involving a Maltese Falcon would just have to wait) and set to work. Large areas of the household were set aside for close inspection. All suspects had been exhaustively interviewed. In some instances, repeatedly.
Initially, it had seemed hopeless. All suspects professed their innocence, and evidence was not forthcoming. No family member appeared willing to betray another. For a brief while, it appeared as if the mystery would remain unsolved. A case for the archives, for future generations to solve, if they had the inclination. Then, a single piece turned the tide.
While searching through the garden for a fifth time, two days after the event, Jake found his beloved stew. Much of it had evaporated, but enough remained to indicate its sad fate. He collected the remains. A test in his personal crime-lab (Known to some as the kitchen) had indicated the time of displacement. 7:04 pm, Wednesday June 16th.
Suddenly, inspiration hit like a bolt of lightning.
'Daria!' Jake recalled her presence near the window at that time. Unusually, she had even offered to carry over the steaming bowl of stew. An offer he had uncritically accepted. It all made sense. My daughter, the culprit!
Jake was a tumult of emotions, pleased at his work and distressed by Daria's betrayal.
None of this internal struggle showed upon his stoical face. To let it show would fail the principle lesson of his training watching film noir and reading Sherlock Holmes. A good detective does not betray emotion.
Sounding as if the events of the past two days had not occurred, Jake called, 'Gather round at the table for a family meeting. You too Jane!"
Daria pleaded for more time, ostensibly to call Jane. A likely story, Jake thought. Nevertheless, he allowed her this indulgence. Afterall, this would only be delaying the moment of revelation. Giving it more tension. According to his teachers (Arthur Conan Doyle and Raymond Chandler), this was a good thing.
Within minutes, Helen, Quinn, Daria and Jane [hastily summoned for the occasion] assembled in the kitchen.
With a well-rehearsed stride, Jake theatrically began his announcement;
Before he could continue, Daria interrupted;
'You want an oration for your stew?" she uttered.
'Thats exactly the attitude I expected from you Daria. For I have discovered that you...threw away my stew!' Jake responded to a collective gasp.
"Well yes- but how?' Daria stammered in an unusually nervous tone. Her usual calm was not present.
'Yes, I had anticipated that question. Your plan was ingenious, but you forgot about reckoning with ol' Jakey! Your alibi of being 200 miles away in a holiday house seemed hollow, a joke perhaps. Then I started thinking. Who would have the cold-hearted desire to destroy my pride? The answer was obvious, but I had no evidence.
That changed this afternoon, when I found the remains of my stew, cold, uneaten, unloved, damnit! Initial testing revealed the time of departure, triggering a memory of your being by the window at 7:04 pm on June 16th. Questioning of other witnesses confirmed my impression of your absence from the dinner table. Next time, don't commit your crimes in front of your sharp gumshoe dad!"
Daria, wavering, tried to maintain her composure. Jane and Quinn sat quietly, concealing their complicity in Daria's fiendish plot.
'Daria! Is this true?' accused Helen.
'I did it, and I'll do it again' a defeated Daria responded.
Despite his exhaustive training, Jake missed the joke. He was too focused upon the confession, and the statement of further intent. If stew a-la Jake could be thrown out the window, whose meals were really safe? Could Daria have joined a gang set out to ruin meals for everyone? The question would have to wait. Another announcement was being made:
'Daria Morgendorffer, I am shocked...Well, actually not, but, you are to face the Family Court for sentencing. Your trial begins at 7:00 pm tomorrow night. Even the harmonica won't save you this time' detailed Helen. Practice was always useful.
'And Jake, dear, congratulations on a case well done.' As Daria, Jane and Quinn rapidly fled, Helen moved across to kiss her successful husband. She still planned to confront him about this habit becoming an obsession.
Unexpectedly, Jake second-guessed her;
"You know, maybe I have taken this a little too far, and my leave has almost expired. Back to the office for me.'
He really does care, Helen thought. This was the answer. Jake's previous habits had never been brought to their conclusion. He had shifted too quickly. This time, Jake reached the end of his profession and knew to go no further. He smiled. His stew had been avenged, and he had rekindled his marital relationship. (Until the next time) The memories would remain.
The next day, Jake closed his agency. A quiet event. The agency made little profit, but that was not the point. In his own way, he had helped others in need. In fighting for his stew he had fought for himself. He could bring moments to their conclusion.
Jake was home alone as he removed the proud 'Jake Morgendorffer' sign. Remaining the consummate sleuth, there was one more convention to fulfil. Walking away from his near-obsession he whispered
'My work here is done. '
Throwing away the fedora and allowing it to drift in the air, he set off, to search for an old railway set.