Olive Snook was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
This particular day was a Thursday, bright and cloudless and shining, air sharp with fresh mown grass and baking pies. A Thursday, though the precise number of Thursdays that had passed since Olive Snook first found her way into this world, glimmer-eyed and howling, tiny out reaching hands grasping for parents already distracted, the precise number of Thursdays were unimportant for reasons that will be explored at a later juncture.
This particular Thursday, with its wide blue skies and sweet early morning breeze, had all the makings of a good day, which made it somewhat more intolerably horrendous, in that way that only failed expectations can. To Olive Snook and her throbbing head, it felt almost as if the fluffy white clouds were taunting her with their softness. “I cannot believe this!” she spat, spinning. Her heels clacked ferociously on the floor, her fists rested on the orange polyester of her uniform. She was in a righteous fury, and the sight of the Pie Maker, trying not to laugh as he slid back into her line of vision, only stoked the flames. “Hey! This is not funny!”
“Of course it isn’t,” Ned agreed, nodding. The corners of his mouth twitched. For the record, it should be noted that it was not the circumstances themselves that amused him but the sight of the diminutive Olive Snook, chin held high and eyes flashing and steam near coming from her ears.
“Look, bucko,” Olive said, striding in front of him with arms crossed. “This was an attempted robbery, and I should point out that you are not the one who got hit in the head with a flying cheese grater!”
For the record, it should also be noted that Ned is still in a bit of shock. “You’re right,” he said, sobering. “You should take the day off.”
Olive almost wished that she had not brought that up, given the way Ned’s face fall. There was a tiny part of her, somewhere, that took a small bit of joy in the fact that he cared enough for her for the concern to show in his face that way. “Oh, I’ll take the day off! And I am going to find that son of a –“
“Olive, please –“
“And we are going to have ourselves a bit of a chat.”
Ned’s hands were on her shoulder, squeezing tight. She looked up slowly from his fingers against the orange polyester to his face, deadly serious, and he pulled away sharply. That tiny piece inside of her thrilled again, despite the rest of her brain telling it to sit down right this instant and mind its manners. “Go home,” he said, arms tucked tight into his stomach and she couldn’t remember the last time she had heard him sound so tired.
“I could stay,” she offered, ire settling as she looked around the Pie Hole, at the flour still hanging in the air, smelled the sharp scent of sugar and pastry starting to burn. “Help clean up.”
“Just – go home, please. Take the day off.”
“Okay then,” she said, pausing at the door on her way out, one hand resting on the handle as she waited for a backward look that never came.
The thing about bad days, Olive thought, was that they were so hard to shake. She lay in her apartment, running her fingers through Digby’s soft fur, staring blankly at the ceiling, feeling shaken and unsure and unsettled in her skin. Once, while she was still a jockey, some thug had tried to mug her in a park and she had given him such an ear thrashing he had ended up turning himself in to the police. (He now ran a home for wayward boys in Mississippi.) She had felt unsettled then, but not like this. Truth be told, she would rather have stayed at the Pie Hole, with Ned and the customers that would have slowly filled in, a warm and comforting presence.
Olive Snook has always enjoyed the company of others.
A walk, she decided, would be just the thing. Or rather, she decided as Digby picked up his head from her knee and returned, tags jingling, with his leash held softly in his mouth. “Oh, all right then,” she murmured, and followed his bouncing steps down the stairs. The morning air seemed full of scents she had never noticed before, perfumes and flowers and exhaust and the warm clay smell of sunlight on bricks. Through her diminishing headache, she tried to appreciate them. It was far too lovely of a day to be so horrible, she decided, putting a smile on her face and a spring in her step that only jostled her head somewhat. It was then, of course, that Digby turned from the sunlit street and into a dappled alley, a burst of energy that pulled her along with somewhat more spring than she had intended.
He stopped at the edge of a dumpster, pawing at the peeling red paint and whining. “What you got there, boy?” she asked. “Nothing in there that you want to eat,” she said, making the logical assumption that there was something in there that he would find delicious and she would have to quickly avert her eyes from. “Come on.” But Digby would not move, settling down low to the ground and butting his head against the dumpster with pleading eyes.
Sensing that this dumpster was a battle she was not going to win, and that trash diving did seem to be a logical progression of her day thus far, Olive Snook acquiesced. She tried jumping to see over the edge, straining to leap as high as she could, but her height betrayed her and mutter, and she dragged a nearby box of wooden slats to the edge of the dumpster, touching it as little as possible. “I hope that you appreciate everything I do for you,” she told Digby firmly, balancing carefully to peer over the dumpster’s metal edge.
In one thing at least, she was right: what was inside the dumpster made her quickly avert her eyes.
Olive Snook was beginning to think she did not know what a no good, horrible, very bad day was.
“You have to help me,” she told Emerson Cod as the door slammed closed behind her.
Emerson looked up slowly from his paper, pen clenched between his teeth. “That’s a lot of ground right there,” he said, tucking the writing implement behind his right ear.
“There’s a body in a dumpster three blocks from the Pie Hole,” she said, and she saw his eyebrows raise.
“A body, you say. Is there some sort of financial compensation related to finding of said body?”
“Or of deciphering the fine details of how it came to be a body instead of a person?”
“Then, Itty Bitty, I don’t see—“
“You have to help me get rid of it,” Olive said, all of the tension leaving her body in a rush.
The facts were these: The body Olive Snook found in the dumpster was half turned toward her, light brown hair obscuring is face. Male. She took this in in the fraction of a second it took her to look away, taking away mainly a haunting familiarity. She stood there, on the wood slat box, with her eyes squeezed shut and trying not to hyperventilate, as she worked up her nerve for another look. This one was longer, and when she again had to quickly turn her head, it was for different reasons entirely.
Staring blankly at the glass of a telephone booth she found her way to, she called the Pie Hole and asked Ned if he’d already reported the attempted robbery, or if he’d like her to do it.
He hadn’t, she was told. And he wasn’t sure he was going to, as he thought the change in insurance premiums would cost him more than the insurance payout. There wasn’t really much damage, he insisted, but how was her head? Headache gone?
Fine, she had whispered in return, voice trembling. She did not point out that a crime had been committed and it was their civic duty to report it. My head is fine, she said, before she hung up the phone with shaking hands.
The facts were, the facts about the body were these: It belonged to a man Olive Snook had seen that morning, as her day took a decided turn for the worse, a man Olive had seen only as flashes through an airborne cheese grater.
And the body had pale handprints along its sides, one in the middle of its back, as if someone with floured hands had hauled it up and rolled it into a dumpster.
There was again a small part of Olive Snook that would like to believe that if it came down to it, the people she loved would do near anything to protect her, as she would them. The rest of her brain pointed out that murder was not in the list of ‘anything,’ that Ned had never loved her like that, and that she should try to be a better and less selfish person. The tiny part of her told the rest of her to mind its own beeswax.
It was okay to be a bit selfish once and a while, she decided, and did not listen to Emerson when he told her to say in the car. She knew, of course, that he was not just moving a moving a body, but that he had gone to speak to Ned of yet more things they hoped to keep from her. She sat for a moment, fingers wound tight in Digby’s fur and though about the fact that he had been so distracted he did not even tell her to keep the dog off the seat. She carefully closed the car door and walked down the street, Digby leading her, towards the window of the Pie Hole, where she could see Emerson gesticulating wildly and Chuck perched atop the counter. She knew that there was again something going on that that they were all keeping from her, but she found a body in a dumpster and she was knocked unconscious with a cheese grater, and she has been nothing but loyal and understanding and at this point, this time, she really deserved to know.
It was at this break in her internal monologue that she discovered she had at some point entered the Pie Hole, and everyone was staring at her open mouthed. “How much of that did I say out loud?” she asked, the only sound in the restaurant the still chiming bell over the door.
“Just about all of it,” Emerson replied.
“You are going to tell me, right now,” Olive said, because it was a Thursday, and she had been having a horrible, no good, very bad say. It was Ned she zeroed in on, because the floured hand print on the poor, would-be robber’s back was too large for Chuck and too small for Emerson and it was only Ned’s hand that was just right. “You are going to explain to me, right this instant,” she said, advancing, poking him in the chest.
And he fell away before her, stumbling back a little, but that only made her stride double to keep up with his longer steps. “Tell me,” she said, raising her finger to poke him in the chest again, or grab his forearm to make him talk to her. In almost slow motion, she saw his face contort in a strange kind of fear, as he slipped a little and her finger started moving not towards his chest but his chin, and he closed his eyes as he slipped and turned his face from her; but then Digby was between them.
Digby who never even growled in his sleep, was between them as time sped up again, and his lips were pulled back from his teeth. Digby was between them, Ned crashing gawkishly to the floor, and Digby was growling.
When Olive looked back around the restaurant, Emerson had a look of slowly dawning horror on his face and Chuck was shaking her head and reaching out for Olive, for she knew just what kind of day Olive had had.
For you see, Olive Snook was truly having the Thursday to end all Thursdays, a Thursday so horrible, no good, and very bad that even she herself was unaware of depths of its awfulness. It did not matter how many Thursdays it had been since Olive Snook came into this world, because on this Thursday, at seven forty-five in the morning, seven forty-five and seventeen seconds, she had left it, courtesy of a flying metal cheese grater to the left temple.
And the pie maker, who loved Olive Snook dearly and deeply (though not in the same way he loved the girl called Chuck) could not bring himself to do anything but stare at the implacable tick of his watch, at the second hand as it swept inevitably back around to seventeen seconds past the minute.
“Oh,” she said, as Emerson led her to a booth, and Chuck set down triple berry pie before her as Digby pressed against her knee, and Ned hovered at the counter, staring at her deeply as he gnawed at the corner of his thumb. “Well, get over here,” she told him finally, after she had finished her pie and stared out the window at the beautifully blue Thursday sky outside.
And maybe it was not such a horrible, no good, very bad day after all, she thought, as she spent it with the people she loved and who loved her, as she would most of her remaining Thursdays – and there were a good many Thursdays yet to come.
There would come a day, another Thursday actually, some year yet, where Emerson Cod would have the same sort of very bad day, because despite his protests he was full of courage and bravery and self-sacrifice; and because they all loved him as he loved them, it would not be the last of his Thursdays, either.
So there would be many Thursdays for them all, yes, because Ned was to discover that his Thursdays would go on for as long as those of the people he loved.
And so, my good friends, if you ever find yourself in trouble, if you find yourself in fear; listen for the tinkle of laughter and search the air for the delicately wafting scent of pastry rising, for you might just find a band of traveling Pie-vate Investigators, no case too small or large, rates reasonable and negotiable.