With the help of The Pie Maker, the detective hoped to find the truth.
"Sorry, last-minute rush." The Pie Maker was late, but mercifully, alone. Although the detective had come to like Charlotte Charles (whom he felt should have been returned to death), her presence made him uneasy. Perhaps, like the Pie Maker, he feared the risk of her accidentally dying again. Most probably, it was that if such a thing were to happen, Detective Cod felt that the ideal timing for it would be when he was somewhere else.
"Dead Girl in the car?" the detective asked.
"Chuck is helping Olive with the backlog of holiday orders. It's our busiest season."
Emerson Cod sniffed. While Ned considered The Pie Hole his life's work, the detective could not help but regard it as a hobby that served to occupy Ned's time between cases. Ned had a gift, Emerson Cod had a need, and there were clients with alluring amounts of money who were all too happy to pay for the results.
The usual morgue attendant was on duty—the one who could be reliably bribed to give the two men access to the victim of a given crime.
"Do you have cash?" the attendant asked.
"Do you hear a coffee break calling?" Emerson Cod countered, holding up a reasonably thick envelope.
"Mmm-hmm." The attendant pocketed the money and left the two men on their own.
They located the body, and Ned pulled back the sheet.
"God," Emerson said, "can't we ever get a simple poisoning case?"
"The police would figure those out on their own," Ned said. "Got the watch?"
"Let's do it."
Ned touched the broken mass on the morgue tray, and Johnny Wirkle sat up crookedly. "Who are you?" Wirkle asked. "Hey, where's my other leg?"
"I'm sure it'll show up," Ned said. "Listen, we don’t have much time. Do you remember anyone being around when you fell in front of the train?"
"Fell?" Wirkle struggled to lean forward, his tattered body squelching beneath him. Emerson Cod looked up at the ceiling and tried to pretend his stomach felt empty and unthreatened. "My business partner got into a shoving match with me at the station, about what percentage of shares each of us owned. He practically threw me onto the tracks, that son-of-a—"
"Okay!" Ned touched the man again, and Wirkle plopped wetly back onto the table. Emerson Cod leaned out of splattering range with practiced timing.
"Murderer and motive," the detective said. "Can't ask for more than that."
"Good thing, too, because I have to get back to work." The Pie Maker hurried to the door. "I'll see you later."
Emerson Cod, who had duties of his own, pulled the sheet back over Johnny Wirkle's body and then drove home.
It was not billing night, that glorious celebration of balance sheets and invoices the detective enjoyed so well. It was not time to renew licenses or rotate linens or even purchase weekly groceries. Emerson Cod had far more seasonal activities in mind.
He packaged up his first Christmas gift and addressed it carefully, leaving no traces of himself behind. The gift was a hand-knit hat with matching gloves and scarf, to be sent to a widow he'd helped on one of his earliest cases. Every two years, he knitted her a new set, the last time in pale blue. This year's offering was white, and made use of an intricate, new cable stitch, of which the detective was particularly proud.
He had bought books to be shipped to the town's orphanage, along with a large turkey for the children's Christmas dinner. The detective never left notes or any other evidence in his packages—nothing that could identify him as the benefactor. Such knowledge might result in him receiving gratitude or kindness, to which he was particularly ill-suited. So long as there were people who would deliver anonymous packages for the right price, Emerson Cod's secret would be safely kept.
His final gift was for his mother, Calista Cod, the private investigator who had introduced him to the detection business from his earliest years and who had once worked alongside him. Calista Cod, who was not at all like other people, loved fruitcake. Every year at Christmas, she requested and received a homemade fruitcake from her son—a food Emerson himself did not enjoy and would never ordinarily have inflicted upon anyone else. That gift, and all the silent oddnesses surrounding it, said a great deal about Emerson Cod's relationship with his mother.
Then, with all of his Christmas errands tidied away, Detective Cod cleaned his apartment just as he had cleaned his desk earlier that day. With less than a week left before the holiday itself, the detective fully expected break-ins and muggings to rise and overwhelm the resources of the local police. The city usually saw more murders this time of year as well.
Emerson Cod would be rested and ready for the influx of cases that was surely headed his way.
On Tuesday, Detective Cod located the missing Julie Ann Preston for her parents, a case in which all parties were fortunate enough to live in an area where such teenagers were usually found a few towns over in the company of a boyfriend, rather than murdered and discarded in a ditch. On Wednesday morning, the detective finished knitting a pair of house-slippers he planned to wear often in the cold nights ahead. Thursday, he enlisted the help of The Pie Maker in solving the case of a dead farmer who had made a rather unforgiving acquaintance with a pitchfork, and on Friday he took a week's worth of cash payments to the bank and then combatted the ensuing melancholy with a clandestine visit to Cake Masters' Master Cakes, home of the triple-chocolate pistachio-cream torte.
"Haven't seen you in a while," the man at the cash register said.
"Hmm," said Emerson Cod. Although he had once been a loyal customer, his habits had shifted toward pies since beginning his business partnership with The Pie Maker. Emerson Cod could not entirely silence the occasional yearning for cake, nor when he indulged could he then quiet the feeling of having betrayed his allegiance toward pies and the people who made them.
It was a conundrum, and the detective had never been particularly fond of such things.
After finishing his cake, Detective Cod stopped by The Spinnery to lay in a supply of yarn for the projects that would help him get through the cold holiday weeks ahead. It was mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and he was unlikely to have walk-in clients at the office who might need his attention, so he had closed his doors early. The detective examined the bulky-weight yarn, which was perfectly suited to making a large, loose sweater-jacket. Emerson Cod hated the cold but dearly loved money. He kept the heat low in his apartment, despite the discomfort. A sweater jacket might be the solution to both problems.
Armed with ten skeins of yarn and a full stomach, the knitting detective went home. He built a fire and poured some eggnog, then spent the rest of the evening watching It's A Wonderful Life and knitting the basis of the first panel of the jacket.
It snowed overnight. Emerson Cod awoke to blanketed streets and glistening trees under a sunny sky. He made a large pot of coffee and a plateful of pancakes, and enjoyed a nice, leisurely breakfast. Then he examined his collection of old movies and selected several for the day's viewing, with a marked leaning toward Bogart and noir.
"Here's lookin' at you, kid," Emerson Cod said as he placed Casablanca on the pile next to the DVD machine.
Detective Cod straightened up the kitchen and living room and got dressed. The Pie Maker and Charlotte Charles had mentioned stopping by, and the detective did not like being caught unprepared. He put on Sunrise Boulevard and took up his knitting, settling in for a quiet, cozy morning.
At eleven-thirty, the doorbell rang. The detective hid his knitting inside an ottoman, and answered the door. Smiles, pies, and heavenly aromas greeted him.
"Merry Christmas," the Pie Maker and Charlotte Charles said.
"Triple plum, yes." The Pie Maker held the pie out in offering, and the detective thanked him and gladly accepted it.
The detective glanced at Charlotte Charles. "Thought Jews didn't celebrate Christmas."
"We don't. I'm just helping Ned with some of his deliveries. After all, who doesn't like pie?"
Emerson Cod certainly liked pie, perhaps entirely too much. "Would you like to come in for some coffee?" he asked, more for the sake of manners than any real desire for company.
"No, thank you," the Pie Maker said. "We still have a few other stops to make. I hope you enjoy the pie."
Detective Cod's smile was genuine. "I know I will."
The Pie Maker and Charlotte Charles went on their way, and Emerson Cod took the beautiful, golden-baked pie to the kitchen. He briefly considered putting it in the oven for later reheating, but its intoxicating aroma triumphed over his willpower. Instead, he cut the pie into quarters and declared one of those quarters Lunch.
"Mmm, mmm, mmm," said Emerson Cod.
He put Double Indemnity in the DVD player, and savored the delicious pie. The fire was warm and the movie's hero doomed, and it all made for a splendid and relaxing afternoon. Still, when the doorbell rang again around four o'clock, Detective Cod was not surprised. It almost seemed inevitable.
Instead, it was Olive Snook.
"Itty-bitty, what're you doing here?" the detective said.
"Merry Christmas." Olive had a pie of her own, a perfect pecan marvel, and she presented it to him with a bashful smile.
The eternally-overlooked Olive Snook was the exception to many of Emerson Cod's rules, including the ones involving crotchetiness and the tendency to spend Christmases alone. "Come on in," he said, holding the door wide.
"Thank you!" Olive quickly slipped inside, as if the detective might change his mind. Her gaze veered over to the television. "What 'cha watching?"
The detective took the pie from her and placed it on the kitchen counter. "I just finished Laura, but I was thinking of switching it up a little and going with The Fugitive next."
"Oh, I love that movie!" Olive Snook said. "Oh, but I didn't mean—"
"Would you like to join me?" Emerson Cod asked. "I was planning to order Chinese takeout for dinner. It's a personal tradition."
Olive beamed. "I'd love to."
"All right, then." Emerson waved her toward a comfortable spot on the couch.
Olive sat, and pulled a wrapped present out of her purse. "The pie wasn't the only thing I brought," she said.
Emerson turned the package over in his hands, gauging its underlying shape. He tore the wrapping open with a reasonable amount of care. Inside the reindeer-festooned paper lay a brown, leather-bound book. Its pages were blank, and it was of a particularly useful size. "This is really nice, Itty-bitty." He felt a sudden, unfamiliar pang. "But I don't have anything for you."
"It's all right," Olive said, reaching into her purse again. "I have one of my own. They match!"
They did, indeed.
"I wanted them to be the right size for your pockets, for taking notes when you're out on a case."
Emerson went into the bedroom and got one of his suit jackets from the closet. He brought it back to the living room and tried to put his new book into the inside pocket. It fit perfectly. Detective Cod envisioned lines upon lines of helpful notes being written into that useful book. "Thank you, Olive."
"You're very welcome."
"Care for some eggnog?"
"Don't mind if I do!"
After sampling the eggnog, both agreed that it was made better by the addition of rum. The detective stoked the fire and then sat down with Olive Snook to enjoy the movie. Chinese food was ordered and delivered, a feast of spring rolls and Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken. The detective and Olive chose the next movie with very little debate.
"I just love Tom Hanks," Olive Snook said.
Emerson Cod nodded. "Who doesn't?"
Midway through the movie, Olive Snook and the detective partook of Olive's pecan pie and The Pie Maker's Triple Plum offering. They drank hot coffee and savored sweet filling and flaky crust, and the fire crackled in the background as the film played on.
When it finished, Emerson Cod made his final movie selection, the one he had watched every year since he was a child and still warmed to despite age and experience and life itself:
How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
It might have been that the knitting detective saw something Grinch-like in himself, or simply that he liked the nonsense rhymes and the message of hope and friendship, however much an abstraction of reality the movie's setting.
By the time the final Whoville celebrations were sung, Olive Snook was asleep on the couch. Emerson Cod brought a pillow for her head and covered her with a warm, cream-colored mohair blanket he had knitted himself.
He turned off the television and stood there for a moment, watching the glow of the firelight against Olive's skin there amid the decorations and the dessert dishes he would leave for morning.
It had not been precisely the day the detective had anticipated that morning, but not even a Grinch could begin to regret it.
It was unusual and unscripted, and it most definitely was not at all the worst Christmas Emerson Cod had ever spent.
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