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May 20, 2024

Margo Embargo, P.I. 02

By Alexandra Queen

Two hours later, we were sitting on the cheap chairs in Solgar's slightly smelly little office, having a conference call with a detective over in Dorset. The voice was a little tinny, but the words were coming through plenty clear. The big picture in my head was taking shape, and it wasn't one I'd want to look at in front of my mother.

"Remarkable. At first we thought it was vandalism by a group like S.M.A.D...."

"Hold on," Agent Hertz held up a hand, despite the gesture being lost in a teleconference. "What's this S.M.A.D. group. Organized crime?"
"No, activists. Soccer Mommies Against, well..."

"Well, what?"

"Well, they're offended by certain aspects of the Cerne Giant."

"The what?" Hertz turned to look at me, scowling. "What the hell is this guy talking about? I thought they spoke English over there."

"You mean in England?" I said dryly, running a quick Google query on Solgar's desktop PC. "I was under that impression, but you know more about international matters than I do, Agent Hertz." The page I had clicked on finally finished loading, giving me an eyeful of ancient art that showed a little more history than I cared to see.

"You see, the Cerne Giant is a large figure cut into the ground, down to the chalk beneath the top layers of soil, then filled with more chalk," the detective explained. "It's been maintained that way for hundreds of years. Some of the local mothers find certain aspects of it, well, indecent, and they've been lobbying to have a particular region refilled and covered again with grass."

"Wow, that's quite a tallywhacker," Hertz peered over my shoulder at the computer screen, impressed.

"Yes, it is. The Giant is thought to be an ancient figure associated with fertility rites..."

"Hold on a second," Hertz cut him off. "Are you telling me someone dug up the Cerne Giant's tub thumper and shipped it to Des Moines?"

I looked down at the white substance all over my good wool dress suit and had a sudden jonesing to get to a dry cleaner.

"It appears that way, yes."

Fighting back a shudder of revulsion, I murmured, "Ask him to read the poem they found."

Hertz squinted down at me. "What's that?"

"The poem. The report said there were a few lines of verse found at the site."

"Dames," he rolled his green eyes. "This ain't poetry hour, honey."

I glanced at the time at the lower corner of Solgar's screen. "Any information can be important. You never know."

"In this instance, I'm afraid I'm inclined to side with Agent Hertz," our overseas contact said apologetically. "It was just a quick quatrain of doggerel."

"Humor me, gentlemen."

"Whatever blows your skirt up, dollface," Hertz leaned on the edge of the desk while a sound that could have been shuffling papers came from the phone.

"Here it is: 'Out near Britain's oldest road / In barrels emptied of their ballast / You'll load the Cerne Giant's...' er," the voice on the other end of the line hemmed in embarrassment. "You know. 'And remove it hence in several loads.' There, you see? A joke, perhaps, but there's really no new information there. Would you like a .gif done of it for handwriting samples?"

"Yeah, why don't you do that," Hertz told the phone as I flipped open my notebook and added to the growing list of notes. "Thanks for your help."

"Will you be shipping the barrels back to us?"

"I think the Giant's going to have to take his leaks sitting down for a few more days. The name on the bill of lading was bogus, so if we want to catch the freak who did this, we're going to have to see who comes to pick up the freight in..." he glanced at the papers scattered across the desktop for a shipping destination, but I already had an answer for them.


Hertz frowned up from the forms on the desk. "Yeah."

"It was in the second poem, remember?"

"I got news for you, dollface. Dallas ain't a secret hidden island."

I glanced at my watch again. "Then I guess we'll just have to see if whoever comes to pick up the barrels knows more."

"'We', huh?" Hertz's artifically green eyes gave me a critical once over as he hung up the phone, lingering a bit where my dusty suit showed the most curves. "Well, let's book a flight, sweetheart. I've got some rumors of tuna trafficking I need to investigate down there anyway."

I paused, pen in mid air. "Tuna trafficking?"

"There's rules to this business, honey, with serious consequences. Or do you not recall the nine year Tuna Embargo of 91-00?"

"You must be... very proud of your work."

Hertz nodded, his face the very image of determination and fiery pride. "I do what needs to be done."

Two days later found me roasting on an airstrip in Texas. Airport security and Dallas P.D. were everywhere, cleaning up after a shootout that I had been locked safely away from, stuck in an office with several concerned administrators. Still, I was wearing a badge that marked me as an official consultant for the case and a suit that had never known giant, so the day wasn't a total wash.

Hertz was already on the scene, flipping through sheets of triplicate like an orca in a school of penguins and dressed like he had just walked off a different kind of runway.

"Sir," a man in a suit walked briskly over to him, holding something. "One of the suspects had a poem on him, just like you said."

He waved a hand. "Send it to Miss Silicorn Valley, over there. She's our local poetry expert. Ask her to whip up a Hallmark card for you some time."

I had enough time to glance at my watch before the detective brought me the slip of paper. It was already enclosed in a protective plastic baggie, but still easily legible.

"When other authors seem obnoxious
You'll find within the Piker Press
Skilled writers like that Cheryl Haimann.
Ship the contents of these boxes
To the following address:
100 Oak Street in..."

Appearing over my shoulder, Hertz frowned. "That's it? Oak Street where? Every freakin city in the United States and Puerto Rico has a goddamn Oak Street."

I flipped through my notebook and compared it with the previous poems. Definitely had the same hackneyed style.

The detective looked apologetic. "We're running a background check on this Cheryl Haimann right now, sir. Apparently she's an author. Does a column on amateur astronomy, written a few articles on poetry, and an opinion piece or two. No fiction. We're looking for a connection, but it's going to take some time."

"That's all right," I said, looking up from my notebook. "I know where we'll find our mastermind."

"Oh, really," Hertz looked at me skeptically.

"The Cayman Islands. And they're small enough that there should only be one Oak street."

"I got news for you, sugar. Cayman doesn't rhyme with 'address' or with 'boxes'."

"It doesn't have to. There aren't three poems, there's only one. It's a sonnet. A Petrarchan sonnet, to be precise. An octave with an a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a rhyme scheme, followed by a sestet. C-d-c-d-c-d or, as in this case, c-d-e-c-d-e. Listen:

Out near Britain's oldest road
In barrels emptied of their ballast
You'll load the Cerne Giant's phallus
And remove it hence in several loads
You'll have it shipped to my abode
First through Des Moines and then through Dallas
To my secret hidden island palace
Whose location I shall reveal in code:

When other authors seem obnoxious
You'll find within the Piker Press
Skilled writers like that Cheryl Haimann.
Ship the contents of these boxes
To the following address:
100 Oak Street in the Caymans."

I closed my notebook and looked up. "The Caymans are the only islands that rhyme with Haimann."

The two men stared at me for a long moment, then Hertz gestured to the detective. "You heard the lady. Get a move on."

Three hours later, as I stood watching the sun set over a row of 747s, Hertz walked up to me, standing so close I could have worked up an estimate of the hefty orthodontic bill he had to have paid for the perfect teeth he was baring in that triumphant grin. "You were right, angel. That was the key we needed to bust this case wide open. When the cops knocked at the door of 100 Oak Street in the Cayman Islands, you'll never guess who was home."

"And yet I'm certain you're going to tell me."

His green eyes gleamed. "Right again, sugar. It's apparently the getaway for humble geek turned multi-billionaire Bill Schmates."

Now it was my turn to be impressed. "Bill Schmates? Head of Macro-soft? What would the richest man in the world want with the world's biggest penis?"

"I think you just answered your own question, doll. Apparently he's a software expert in more ways than one. Seems like the Maseratis and the Hummers just weren't compensating enough anymore."

Which reminded me. "Oh, Agent Hertz. Speaking of compensation..."

"You're right, sweetheart. I do happen to have a little something for you." Before I could clobber him, he swept me into his arms and pasted me with a deep, passionate kiss. It wouldn't have been too bad, except for the fact that I could have sworn I tasted lip gloss. Plus, he was a creep. "Call me Dick," he said, coming up for air and staring intently into my eyes.

"That's quite all right," I replied calmly, placing a hand on his forehead and applying firm pressure until he released me and stepped away. "My name, incidentally, is Margo. Mz. Embargo to you. And don't ever touch me again."

Six months later, Bill Schmates had been brought to as much justice as was possible with someone that insanely wealthy. He had paid quite a sum of money to stay out of jail and keep the crime quiet. He wasn't the only one.

I was doing a little investigating in the Caymans on my own, funded by a lovely settlement from the Department of Commerce for the sexual harassment case I agreed not to take them to court over. My little list of over a twenty instances of inappropriate references and demeaning implications, culminating with sexual assault in front of witnesses -- several people were there for that ill-fated kiss -- all with exact times and dates carefully noted, were more than they wanted to deal with in front of a judge.

As for Agent Dick Hertz, formerly of the Department of Commerce, I have no idea. Part of my arrangement with the DoC was that he never come with 100 yards of me again.

"Your bourbon, ma'am." A well oiled cabana boy handed me a glass.

"That's Mz. Embargo to you, young man," I took a healthy pull and soaked in the view of the waves gently lapping at the shore. "Margo Embargo."


The End.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-09-25
1 Reader Comments
12:14:57 AM
Extraordinary, from start to finish. And what's amazing is that you've described the hard-boiled, observant Cheryl to a T.
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