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Stumped in Stumptown

2008 submission by Amy Minato

“Oh my God she’s been mauled!” shrieked one of many gawkers gathered around the tiger’s pen at Portland Zoo blocking Detective Sauvie St. John’s view of the crime scene. “What kind of sicko would do something like that?” St. John, disguised in a chipmunk costume, sidled through the crowd, her petite stature simultaneously a great advantage in her profession and a pain in the whatsit.

The female body, twisted at impossible angles, had been chewed and tossed away by the big cat like a Barbie left on a porch step. Zoo officials shooed the crowd away, the tiger lounged in a shady corner, eyebrowed Sauvie and licked his striped jowls. “See if you can pull this off.” his look implied.

But Sauvie couldn’t officially work on this case. Already notorious for ‘blundering’ the sledgehammered scooter job, she would have to concede this one to her nemesis and the cause of her recent demise – the squat and patronizing Inspector Fremont Morrison. If he hadn’t dissed me to Willamette Week, she thought, I’d have had that hummer owner in jail by now.

A guard hoisted the body over his shoulder and headed back into the concrete rock cave. A woman crossed her heart with a rosary. Her friend slapped her. “Helen, it’s only a mannequin for chrissake.”

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

Back at the Rose Hip Detective Agency, housed in the Writer’s Dojo, St. John’s assistant Marquam “Steel” Hawthorne was buffing his nails (he had to admit it, it was the finest manicure he’d ever had) when Detective St. John returned. Sauvie had discovered Marquam lifting weights at the Y. With muscles that lightninged across his chest, a body that could double as a relief map of the Cascades, and the gentlest nature this side of the Columbia River, Marquam provided the perfect protection and companionship for Sauvie. This morning he served his boss her favorite breakfast – a hempseed hazelnut scone from Black Sheep Bakery and Ginger Kombucha from Peet’s Coffee and Tea (items they’d researched on the BreakfastinBridgetown website). On a slower morning they may’ve strolled platonically down to Pastrycat for a Danish, or taken the Max to Old Wives Tales for fruit salad, picking up some mushroom soup to have later, for lunch, chatting all the while about the latest case. Their relationship balanced this way, like kids on a teeter-totter, one three times the size of the other, but still the plank held even. Because Sauvie was smart and small, and Marquam was sweet and strong, and together, they were invincible.  Invincible, at least, until the scooter affair.

“Pink nails Marq? Are you sure?”

“Not pink, muffin, dusky rose. And what a lustrous sheen! What was in that little bottle, I’m just not sure, but it makes my hands feel like doin’ ballet.”

St. John long accepted her assistant’s preoccupation with beauty, his delight in shimmery fabrics and feminine colors, his flair for fashion, which, like her diminutive size, worked sometimes in their favor (during the fashion model affair for instance) but sometimes sabotaged the work. No way Marquam was going to put on those scratchy atrocious orange safety vests during the road worker investigation last summer! In turn he tolerated her propensity for trouble and tedious drab uniform – brown sweaters and jeans.

“Hey, we need to get on this mannequin murders thing.” St. John started, “There was another found today at the zoo. With the one thrown off Broadway Bridge that was discovered by the Dragon Boat team and the one hanging from the Sellwood Mausoleum that a birdwatcher in Oak’s Bottom found yesterday, things are getting crazy and that idiot Morrison can’t tell his behind from Rooster Rock. He was at the zoo this morning blabbing away to the press as if he had the case solved and was on his way to Macy’s to collect his reward!”

Morrison had only been an arm’s length away from her at the tiger’s pen, but her chipmunk suit had worked super-duper, except for the toddlers who kept running up and pulling her tail. Having her photo taken with each third grader from Rosa Parks Elementary School had also just about blown her chance at gathering clues, but in the end she heard everything the Inspector had said, and her interest, really, was focused on that. She hoped this case would crack him, instead of the other way around. Only if he toppled, Sauvie thought, could she work in Puddletown again.

“Because one of the mannequins was found with a note tied to her neck that read ‘the clothes I wore yesterday afternoon are lying in a black twisted heap at the foot of my bed, like some burned-out wreck.’ He claims it’s a political act: a feminist making a stand against pornography, a socialist bringing attention to sweatshop labor or an environmentalist pissed off about consumer culture. Since the mannequins were ‘stolen’ from the Rebuilding Center, after being donated by Macy’s, and money was left as compensation, he’s convinced it’s all about PR and making a statement. As if a true activist would pull a gig like that without claiming credit! But Macy’s is uncomfortable with the whole idea and that honkin reward money calls to our Inspector like Mt. Hood calls to climbers.” She soaked her scone in tea, took a tentative bite, and waited to be scolded by Marquam.

“Oh, no Bossee-Boo. We are laying low right now. No more nasty TV shots for you now, no more cheesy attacks by Mr. Moron-ison. And just what were YOU doing at the zoo this morning during your so-called sabbatical? It’s nothin’ what tiger boy did to that mannequin compared to how the Oregonian will mince you into paté if they catch you sniffing around another weird Portland pervert crime!”

Sauvie swallowed and wriggled her lip. She couldn’t respond because her studly friend in the satin shimmy was exactly right and his dusky rose polished fingertips pointed at her were doing some kind of dangerous ballet.

*                                  *                                              *                                              *

“Well, now, where ya goin’ with all that gear?” Marquam winked at a man in lycra carting a bag full of water bottles and bike tires, he couldn’t get enough eyeful of that form-fitting sleek material on those fit biker-bods. St. John thought they looked like sea lions on wheels, but she knew not to counter Marq. “Common Circle bike tour today, then a runners group, Terwilliger will be closed for the next couple hours.” Sauvie groaned, these kinds of group athlete events mesmerized Marquam who was now setting down his chiffon scarf on the sidewalk but she managed to coax him back toward the entrance to the tram, where Sauvie figured they could get an overview of the case. Once above the city she pointed out to Marquam the current crime scenes: “Sellwood Mausoleum to the south, zoo the west, Broadway bridge to the north. Should be something soon to the east. Let’s head to Mt. Tabor!” Marquam stared at Sauvie and ran his hands along his silk pants to calm himself down. This gondola trip was supposed to be just a fun adventure. Through the tram window behind the tiny detective Portland twinkled and the Willamette River freckled with boats. She needs to do this he thought. She needs her city back. “OK, Miss Marple. after you.”

Sure enough when they got to Mt. Tabor a crowd had gathered. A mannequin in a bikini, perched coyly on the lip of the reservoir with the lipsticked words “All Girl Summer Fun” across her belly was just being apprehended by a policeman. This time the crowd cheered and wolf-whistled. “Keep Portland Weird!” called out a guy in a beanie cap with a twirly on top.  Editorials ran the gamut, but most celebrated the trend with only a few outraged disgruntles. Either way, they were united against Morrison, calling him ‘inept’ or a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ Some called for that “spunky gal detective” to take the case. Sauvie was beginning to feel her job returning like dawn sun sneaking up doug fir bark.

From then on Portland jived on Mannequin Mania. Mannequins were found sitting in front of plates of steak-‘n-cake at the Original Hotcake House, reading Bear Deluxe in Powell’s café, waving from streetcars, riding the back of Portlandia, the statue on the Portland building that overlooked the city like an archangel. Most of the mannequins had a replica of Inspector Fremont Morrison’s badge in their hands.

Later Marquam found Sauvie at their favorite lunch haunt – Mizu Sushi Bar – after visiting the new vegan strip place he claimed ‘helped him think’. “Where are all these mannequins coming from?” he asked, arranging a purple velvet shawl on his chair back and nodding to the Sushi Chef before sitting down. Roz Sellwood pushed up her glasses, light flashing off her knife, and smiled back. Sauvie blew on her green tea. “Craigslist. A dress store going out of business saw the new craze as a chance to unload merchandise and make a buck. Macy’s withdrew the reward offer and has been putting smartly-dressed mannequins in public places to advertise new fashions. Fremont is fumin.’” Speak of the devil…” Marquam whispered as he spotted the Inspector glaring from the sidewalk through the window beside them and waving his gun. Fremont Morrison pushed his pudgy face against the glass and knocked like a storm on the pane.

*                                  *                                              *

“Do you think Fremont would really have fired at you if Roz hadn’t threatened to slice him into sushi?” Marquam asked that evening, his bejangled arms full of goodies from the Blackbird Wineshop. “I wonder what got his undies in a bunch anyway?” They were waiting to get into the newest Gypsy Caravan Dance Company mannequin-inspired performance ‘Limbs Akimbo’. Sauvie wondered if she should confess to her good friend and assistant but an arc of his heavily painted brow signaled to her that he already knew.

© 2008 Amy Minato

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