When Emerson Cod was 5 years, 8 months, 3 weeks, nine minutes old he had a very bad day. Not because of school bullies or broken toys, but because of something much sadder still. For on that day as the first snow of the year started falling, Emerson’s father walked out of the house and the lives of Calista and Emerson Cob.
At this very moment, years after that event, Emerson Cod was once again watching the first snow of the season falling outside of his window. “Oh, hell no,” he said as he hung up his phone. For he had just spoken to the coroner who gave him the news he had feared. No new stiffs.
For at the first snow it was his tradition to bury his head into work until it passed, especially since thoughts of absent fathers made him regret losing his Penny even more. (Penny, of course, being his daughter, not a coin.) For now she was, like he had, growing up sans a father.
Unfortunately Coeur d'Coeurs was suffering from a distinct lack of crime, and so he needed to find another distraction. He walked down to his car then drove down to the Hole. The Pie Hole, that it is.
He left, however, just minutes too early. For delivered to his door, twelve minutes, three seconds after, was a newspaper with its headline story blaring: 'No news in the case of the murder spree committed by Lady Gaga and Honey B!'
"Gimme a slice of the peach. And maybe an apple while you are at it?" Expecting a retort about his waistline, Emerson looked up from the book on pop-up book marketing he had been reading in his booth at the Pie Hole. However, after looking over, he had to look up. For his server, while small, was more than pint-sized. "Where's Olive?"
"Hi, I'm Stefani, and I'll be taking your order today!" replied this new waitress with a smile. "Olive is out back in the kitchen, would you like me to pass along a message?" Her hair was mousy and her Pie Hole uniform buttoned up to the top, a very picture of modesty with coke-bottle eye glasses to boot.
Not prepared for this impersonal, if cordial, service, the PI just grimaced and waved her away with his hand. Behind him he heard the bright jangle of the bells which adorned the round door. It was followed by a bark, accompanied along with two laughing voices. Emerson relaxed, though he would never admit it.
"Hi Emerson," said the girl called Chuck. Her voice was lively and the flush in her cheek was bright. These facts belied the fact that Chuck was once dead, only brought back by the power of the Pie Maker's finger. “Isn’t it wonderful out? The snow is making everything so pretty.”
“Doesn’t it just make you want hot chocolate?” added Ned as he unwound the scarf from his neck.
But before Emerson could give a rebuttal featuring the reasons this snow was no good, awful and really not wonderful at all, and he would stick to coffee, please and thanks, he was interrupted by a musical number.
Over the speakers blared out a poppy, if canned, instrumental, and out from the kitchen came Olive and Stefani, their voices belting out a song about service and pie. Twirling plates of pie in their hands while doing a dance step, they were quite the sight. In fact, all of the customers were watching and smiling.
They ended the dance with a flourish, each depositing a plate in front of the PI. Applause broke out all over the Pie Hole, Except, of course, from one Emerson Cod, for on this day not even that sight could delight him. In fact, even before the ‘bravo’s and ‘encore’s had died down, he was pushing his plates away, uneaten.
Sanding up with a scowl he said, “I object. Can’t a man just get some pie without a literal song and dance?”
“Oh, Emerson,” cooed Chuck, trying to be soothing.
“Don’t you ‘Oh, Emerson’ me, Missy. I don’t even want to get started on you and your ridiculous fondness for this weather.” On that note, Emerson stormed out.
Left behind in the wake of this outburst of temper, Olive, Ned and the girl called Chuck looked at each other in surprise, not knowing what had brought the temper tantrum on.
Still wanting to escape the snow, as well hopefully fix his grumps, Emerson went somewhere he could buy happiness by the skein. Happy's Craft Emporium was a hole-in-the-wall shop selling all the things needed by a modern craft enthusiast from glitter to poster-board to varieties of birdhouse making kits. It also included, most importantly to Emerson Cod, a wide selection of hand-spun yarn ripe for knitting.
Ducking his head down to miss the door-frame, he heaved a sigh of relief as he entered. The lighting was soft, and the air scented with huckleberry. With a nod to the proprietress, Harmony Anne Happy, he walked straight to the aisles in search of some soft consolation. His search, however, was impeded.
For he was not the only one trying to make it down the small aisle. A woman, tall and striking, was also walking through. Her long hair was swinging, except for Bettie Page bangs which seemed glued in place, and her skin was glowing --Basically, she was a complete beauty. Since Simone was away at a dog show, Emerson let himself look, just a little, at her long legs. (He wouldn't do more, being not only a man besotted by another, but sincerely afraid of what Simone would do should he stray.)
"Why hello there," he said, realizing his silent staring was not quite appropriate.
"Hi, I'm Honey," was her reply. "Picking something up for your wife and/or girlfriend?" Her smile was very wide as she nodded to the skein of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in his hand.
Though usually he did not admit to his knowledge of knitting needles, today Emerson wanted the distraction of talking weights and shades with another yarn lover, so he admitted, "Pleased to meet you Ms. Honey. However, while my significant other is not a knitter, I am."
"Oh and what is he-"
"She," corrected Honey, "doing this day? If I could be snuggled in with my girl I would not be out in the snow. Unfortunately, she has started working, so I am trying to find something to do to pass the time." Her voice was flat, almost monotone, though her smile seemed sincere.
"Well, I can recommend knitting as a most pleasurable pass-time." Emerson then gave a speech almost as long as he was tall. It was quite a doing for a normally taciturn gentleman. But seeing the snow out the window and still trying to avoid the memories it brought about, he was happy to explain why knitting, and how. "So you see, getting to knit almost makes up for the unfortunate rash of non-murders we have been having," he finished.
"Isn't it better if no one is killed?" replied Honey. Her attention had not drifted during the spiel. For she, too, had something she was trying to escape and knitting, as described by Emerson, seemed like a good way.
"Oh, I don't think I introduced myself, did I. Emerson Cod, PI. Murder is my specialty. But no bodies are falling these days, just snow."
Looking kindly at the stranger who was introducing her to knitting, Honey B offered a smile as well as her words. "Would you like me to go out and kill someone for you? I'm sure one of these knitting needles could do the trick in a pinch." The last part of the sentence was said softly, with not a little bit of consideration.
Emerson huffed out a chuckle, joined eighteen seconds later by the bright tones of Honey's laugh. Had Emerson's detecting abilities not been delayed by his current depression, he might have realized he already had a case. However, they were, and so all he said was, "That won't be necessary, I'm sure. Plus, knowing it was you who committed the crime would take out the fun of the chase."
That exchange finished, he grabbed a final tightly wound ball from a basket and decided it would do. "Nice meeting you, let me know if knitting works out for you. Here's my card." Leaving Honey still browsing, he checked out, walked out, and went back to the office hoping for a case, not realizing he had left one behind him.
That changed when he picked up his paper. Seeing the faces that graced the cover he let out a fervent, "Oh, hell no."
10 minutes, 43 seconds later he found himself once again at the Pie Hole.
"Emerson, you're back!" "You forgot your pie!" "Are you feeling better?" The questions were flying at him in stereo, from Ned, Olive and Chuck. Even Digby deigned to bark his censure at Emerson for the fuss he had caused when he had stormed out.
But Emerson didn't reply to any of these. Instead he began tearing through the kitchen. Peering in every little nook and cranny in which a small waitress might possibly fit with increasing impatience, he searched the place from top to bottom. All the while he was trailed by the concerned trio of Chuck, Ned and Olive, who did not cease their questions. (It must be noted the other customers in the Pie Hole, accustomed to such lapses in service, simply ignored the scene.)
Finally, Emerson grimaced and said, "Well, she isn't here anymore."
"Who?" asked Olive.
"Stefani, of course."
"Why do you want her? I thought you didn't like her? Or possibly the change she represented. I wasn't really clear on that matter," said Ned. He reached onto the turntable full of pies until he found the one he sought and began to cut a piece, careful not to touch any of the filling. "Here." He handed it to Emerson, fully believing troubles might be solved by the slice and the taste of home it would bring.
Emerson pushed back the plate, not bothering to take a bite. "No. Now where is her paperwork? Or did you just pull her off the street and say 'here, you already have the outfit, why don't you serve some pie.'"
"Oh, Emerson, why won't you let us help?" asked Chuck. Her voice was soothing, like warm buttered rum on a snowy day. But Emerson did not like winter days, even with rum, and he ignored her as he looked behind the counter, going through papers.
"Looking for these?" Olive dangled the pages from her hand, safely ensconced on the other side of the counter. "I was going over things with her earlier, during her interview."
"Give them to me," said Emerson abruptly.
However, for her reply, Olive only tutted, accompanied by a wag of her finger. For she might indeed be itty bitty, but she also knew how to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was Emerson to explain. Why the anger, the quick exit earlier? And now all the rushing and tearing about, disrupting the flow of pies out to customers. It simply wouldn't do. So Olive did not give them over, but stood her ground.
Emerson made as if to snatch them from her hands, but she merely moved back. "Uh-uh."
"Will you tell me if I tell you that this is for a case?"
"What case? I haven't touched any-" Ned paused, looking over at Olive. "I haven't touched any paperwork for one of your PI cases. For that is what I do: paperwork!"
"Your services aren't needed in this scenario, being as there aren't any bodies nearby, and even if they were, I already know the killers. In fact, you know at least one as well, being as you hired her."
"Olive?" Ned's voice was full of shock. "Is that why you are so mad; did Olive kill someone? And if so, why didn't you give me the chance to fix it?"
As Olive (and Chuck too!) began squawking out denials, Emerson answered him. "No, you dumb-ass, I mean Stefani. Short, with brown hair, served me my morning pie along with a bonus song?" In order to refresh their memories, or perhaps just to make his point, Emerson reached back into his pocket and whipped out that morning's front page.
There staring down, in crisp black and white contrast, was the face of the soon-to-be former pie waitress. But the label did not say Stefani, but Lady Gaga.
Gasps came from Olive, Ned and the girl called Chuck all in quick tandem.
"See, I told you something was off. And here is what was,” Emerson said.
The facts, as he explained, were these. One Lady Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, pop star and fashion sensation, had been arrested, rightly, for killing off her boyfriend. This murder, however, did not occur in a vacuum. For not only had he pushed her off a balcony, she also suffered from being a starlet, a puppet for the paparazzi. This, however, is just a reason, not an excuse for the murder spree she continued.
For after being placed in prison, she was soon sprung. Released on bail paid by one Honey B, producer, singer and all around power in the world of music that popped. For Honey B and the Lady called Gaga were close in ways that their boyfriends would seem to belie. So after a detour to poison an abusive ex-boy of Honey, accomplished with a carefully laced dose of her namesake, as well as the customers of a diner, the two went on the run.
After months of moving every day, hour and even minute, they finally stopped in the town of Coeur d'Coeurs. For not only was it a quite a lovely place to hole down for the winter, it also had an unusual level of murders. Where better for two charismatic killers to lay low than among a town that seemed almost entirely comprised of people willing to commit homicide?
Gaga, née Stefani, had grown tired of being cooped up in their small sublet. Attracted to the Pie Hole by its dramatic look and wonderful aroma, two things she valued highly, she managed to find an occupation there as a waitress without mentioning the last place she had worked, where all of the customers had ended up dead.
Her pal Honey, however, was left to loose ends, and so went looking to something to do and found in addition Emerson Cod, private dick. And now he was on the hunt, wanting the fat reward, not to mention the money he would make off the referrals the media frenzy would send his way.
This tale now related, Emerson stopped talking. His throat, already dry from the cold winter air, had already made one long speech that day, and was rather tired.
"I sang and danced with a celebrity. An infamously murderous celebrity even. I wonder if anyone caught that on camera?" wondered Olive, her mind full of thoughts of Internet stardom and record deals.
At the same time Ned was mumbling, almost to himself, "She poisons people? What if she did something to my pies?" He swept the slice nearest him right into the trash and began eyeing all the rest that remained.
Not bothering to reply to either of these off-topic comments, Emerson instead just turned to leave. He did not get to move a step before Chuck said, "Just where do you think you are going?"
He just glared, "I've already spent too much time telling you all about it, and not enough time actually catching them." Emerson walked around and snatched the papers from Olive Snook's grasp, as she was still too caught up in her thoughts of stardom to keep a firm grip.
Reading the address written on the application, he let out a grin. They were not that far away. Dollar signs danced behind his eyes as he rushed out of the Pie Hole. He did not notice he was tailed on his way to the apartment.
Twelve minutes, four seconds later, Emerson Cod was doing what did best (besides knitting). He was detecting. More accurately, he was casing out the small sublet that Lady Gaga and her Honey B called home. Using his height to his advantage, he carefully peered into the upstairs windows. Seeing movement, a flash of white skin and a flick of brown hair, he decided it was time to get out of the snow and to make his move.
Making sure no other exits were possible, he pressed a button. This button did one thing only, and that was to start a sound clip that simulated sirens. However, this did not have the effect Emerson Cod would have wanted. For the fugitive did not flee. Though he could see her face crumple, her spine still seemed to be made of steel and her shoes of cement.
Puzzled, cold, and still annoyed by the snow, Emerson decided to do something rash. Rather than call for back-up, or making a new plan, he simply walked up the stairs and put fist to door in a very calm knock. Three times he repeated the motion while waiting.
This wait was not made in vain, for soon the door opened to frame Lady Gaga posed there with poise borne of long familiarity with paps. (The ones who took pictures, not the smears.) “Why hi again,” she purred.
“The gig is up, Gaga.”
“OK then, arrest me.” Her voice was insouciant, but her eyes spoke another story, for they showed a young girl who was tired.
But Emerson didn’t whip out his cuffs or even make a move towards her. Instead he simply asked, “Why didn’t you run? You had to know someone who you served at the Pie Hole would see the paper.”
"I couldn't leave my Honey B, who went off without her phone. Besides, no one would suspect I really was a celebrity when serving slices of heavenly pie. The image is too homey." The lady called Gaga kept her tone light, especially on the latter suggestion but tension threaded through it still. The first part, well, to Emerson's keen detective senses, that rang true.
Suspected (almost certainly confirmable) murderess, and yet she wouldn't leave her lover. The thought was at odds with Emerson's mood and the feelings the falling snow brought with it. People leave, or are left. Devotion, love, while they come into consideration, did not change that fact. He reached behind his back where he kept his cuffs, but before he could complete the motion, he heard a sound behind him.
He look around and saw quite the sight. For trying to hide, it must be said, not-so-skillfully, in the yard were three people and a golden retriever. Ned, Chuck and Emerson's Itty Bitty, also known as Olive, had followed him there, worried about their friend.
Looking out at the yard and the three figures who were trying to conceal themselves, Emerson forgot about the snow, and only thought about the devotion. Because while some people leave, others not only stay, like Lady Gaga, but will follow if you leave.
Spotting Honey walking down the street towards the sublet apartment, Emerson found himself doing something strange. Pulling his hand from behind his back, he instead reached it out in front and grabbed Gaga's hand and shook. "Sorry about the trouble, lady. Look forward to your next performance at the Pie Hole." Emerson turned and began walking down the steps, away from the shocked face of the girl born Stefani.
"You all need to learn the stealth. Really, how can you work my next case with me without any kind of spying skills?" Though the question was rhetorical, he received an answer as he was rushed into a hug from all sides by the friends who had followed him, who would never leave him, not ever.
Emerson looked up at the falling snow and smiled.