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Murder at the Condiment Museum - an absurd comedy
By Aaron Hoopes
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Rated "G" by the Author.
The night watchman at the Condiment Museum has gone missing and there is blood on the floor in the Mustard Room. An absurd comedy.
Murder at the Condiment Museum
“What is going on here?” A deep voice bellowed from the entryway.
Ethel Thumpingstone, Gladly Hoplenut and Inspector Nadaklu turned from the viscous blood stain to find a large rotund man wearing a bright yellow shirt with blue suspenders and a long handlebar moustache walking towards them. In his wake trailed a frail mousey woman carrying a teetering stack of papers in one hand while her other hand, index finger extended, was under her pointed nose trying to hold back a sneeze.
Professor Delburton DeJohn was the Chairman of the Emeritus Society of Mustard. His famous dissertation on Asclepius, the Greek god of healing who is believed to have created mustard, had brought him fame and fortune in the condiment world, and he flouted his notoriety with gusto. The woman behind him was his assistant, Blanche Moutard.
“Professor,” Gladly exclaimed. “The night watchman is missing and we’ve found a pool of…” he turned back to the blood stain that was now a sickly brown color. “…oh yuck.”
“And who would you be, sir?” Chief Inspector Nadaklu addressed the Professor, flipping his notepad to a new page and licking the tip of his yellow pencil. Standard operating procedure required that he use a separate page for each potential suspect.
“Harumph,” the portly Professor hitched his suspenders up, the buttons of his bright yellow shirt straining to hold the material together. How was it possible that this man did not recognize him? His eyes grew cold. Was this a ketchup lover? The Professor was not fond of ketchup lovers. His life had been devoted to mustard and he felt that mustard often got a bad rap when it was compared to the other condiments. Relish was fine, mayonnaise was okay they knew their place, but ketchup was arrogant and not to be trusted.
The Professor believed that anyone who chose ketchup over mustard had been brainwashed, by a hungry public that preferred the color red over yellow. And that was what it was all about wasn’t it? Color. Mustard had gotten second choice. Ketchup came along and got red so mustard had been left with yellow. Sure, relish got to be green, but who wanted a green condiment? And that left what? White…mayonnaise, salad dressing? No thank you.
Before things could get out of hand, Gladly quickly made introductions. He knew the Professor’s idiosyncrasies and felt it important to keep things moving smoothly for the Inspector’s investigation, an investigation that would have gone much smoother had not Blanche Moutard taken that exact moment to sneeze and send the stack of papers fluttering in every direction.
“Bless you” everyone said in unison.
Blanche stood in shock. It was the first time in her whole life that she had actually sneezed. And that would have been remarkable, even if she had not immediately sneezed again. But sneeze again she did …and again after that.
“Bless you, bless you,”
Shaking off her initial shock at having sneezed for the first time in her life Blanche made to gather the scattered papers…but this only set off another round of sneezes and she gave up.
The Inspector didn’t want any more disturbance of the crime scene anyway. A stack of irrelevant papers scattered everywhere was more than enough disturbance. He grabbed Gladly by the elbow. “Can you take everyone to your office so I can question them?”
“Gladly,” said Gladly, but as he turned to usher the group out of the room his eyes fell on a large glass display case on the far wall. “Oh, my heavens!” he exclaimed. “It’s gone.”
All eyes turned to the display case. It sat upon a carved marble pedestal with a red velvet stand inside it. The door to the case was ajar. Ajar meaning that the door was slightly open and not that there was a jar of mustard. In fact a jar of mustard was exactly what was not there. It was gone.
The jar not in this case was the only known jar of Mustid Crusticus, the royal mustard of King Louis XI. The rarest of rare mustards. The holy grail of mustard. The last single solitary…well, you get the idea. This jar of Mustard had been bottled (jarred?) in the year 1471. And while it may be debatable as to the palatability of a condiment made over 500 years ago, it was certainly unique and a special treasure for the Mustard Museum.
Faced with the theft of such a valuable artifact as well as the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of the night watchman, Inspector Nadaklu needed to regain control of the situation. He cleared his voice and motioned Gladly toward the door. Gladly slowly herded the group towards the entryway. But not before casting one quick glance back at the empty display case.
“And what about my coffee?” Ms. Thumpingstone inquired.
Blanche sneezed again.
“Bless you,” everyone said.
As the group shuffled off Chief Inspector Nadaklu’s deputy, Oscar Weiner arrived. Nadaklu gave Deputy Weiner orders to secure the crime scene, clean up Blanche Moutard’s papers and get the “blood” back to the crime lab while the Inspector interviewed the suspects.
“And determine if one of those,” he pointed to the blood-covered jars. “Is the missing one from the case.”
Deputy Weiner nodded and gave a weak smile. He was unsure as to how exactly he was going to determine the origin of the jars since they were all covered in blood and apparently broken and leaking mustard all over the floor. But he would give it his best.
“What’s that?” Deputy Weiner asked pointing to the floor beyond the blood stain.
Inspector Nadaklu and Deputy Weiner maneuvered around the blood stain and found themselves looking at a bloody footprint. This, however, was no ordinary footprint. It was huge - size 48 as the rather busy crime lab would later report.
“That,” Inspector Nadaklu said pausing dramatically, “is a clue.”
Making notes on yet another page of his notepad, he left Deputy Weiner to his tasks and headed toward Gladly’s office. Before he could get there he ran into a man emerging from the cellar stairs carrying a mop and a bucket. The man was wearing brown overalls and his equally brown hair was rather disheveled.
Senf Schwarzer was the Museum janitor. He was new to the job, having only been hired three weeks earlier at the behest of millionaire philanthropist Brassica Alba. Brassica, or Brass as everyone called him, was the world’s foremost authority on condiments. Brass had spent years traveling the globe seeking out rare and unique jars of condiments wherever he could find them. He had been the anonymous donor (well, not very anonymous any more) of the only known jar of Mustid Crusticus Mustard to the Condiment Museum. Why he had wanted the museum to hire Senf Schwarzer as its janitor was the subject of much speculation by those same locals who typically minded other people’s business.
“What are you doing?” Inspector Nadaklu asked Senf.
“Well, you see,” Senf began, his voice was rather gruff and gritty and he spoke slowly, as he pulled the door to the cellar closed. “There’s a big puddle of ketchup on the floor of the mustard room, you see, and ketchup doesn’t really get along well with mustard, you see. So I was going to clean it up, you see.”
“I see.” Inspector Nadaklu’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Senf, using all his willpower to refrain from entering into a debate of the compatibility of condiments. Instead he took the mop and bucket from the man and gently, but firmly, directed the janitor towards Gladly’s office.
In the office Ms. Thumpingstone was on the phone explaining to her editor why she wouldn’t be filing her story that day and that she didn’t even know when she would be able to return because of the ongoing investigation. The editor was trying to explain to her that he didn’t want her to return. Instead he wanted her to write an exclusive story on the strange disappearance of the nightwatchman. So Ms. Thumpingstone began explaining that she was not an investigative reporter, but a food critic. Whereupon her editor quietly explained to her that she was being paid to write whatever she was told to write.
And while there was a lot of explaining going on, there was very little actual communication. At least until Gladly presented her with a steaming cup of coffee.
“Thank you,” she said to Gladly.
“Why do you keep saying that?” she asked. And then back to the phone as her editor asked her to explain, “What, no, not you. It’s this man here, He keeps saying…oh never mind.”
Professor DeJohn was trying to console an inconsolable Blanche Moutard, who was trying to weep into her hands but kept getting disrupted by the sneezes that had grown in both frequency and volume.
“Bless you,” the group said for the umpteenth time.
Inspector Nadaklu and Senf arrived and squeezed into the room. It was the office of the Assistant Curator of the Mustard Museum and was, therefore, quite small. In fact it was so small that the Inspector couldn’t actually enter the room and had to be content with standing in the doorway as he observed his suspects.
“Look here, my good man.” Professor said squeezing past Senf Schwarzer to face the Inspector. “Surely this is unnecessary. I arrived after you did. You can’t think I had anything to do with this disturbance.”
Professor DeJohn was a very large man and he alone was enough to fill Gladly’s office, so with the whole group of them there it did seem a little claustrophobic. He towered over Inspector Oslo Nadaklu, puffed out his chest and proceeded to glare at him in the hopes that his imposing presence would gain some leeway with the staid police officer.
It was right at that moment that the fourth button on the Professor’s XXXL shirt was no longer able to maintain its tenuous hold on the bright yellow fabric and popped off. The errant button bounced off the Inspector’s eyeglasses and fell to the floor between the men.
Blasnche Moutard sneezed.
“I have to agree with the Professor,” Pricilla Thumpingstone said. She had hung up the phone and picked up her coffee. “I arrived here when Mr. Whatshisname opened the door.”
“Whatever,” she waived her hand dismissively. ‘I’m a journalist here to interview the Curator about how different kinds of mustard are made from the mustard plant.”
“Madam,” the Professor exclaimed trying to turn back into the cramped room. “It is the condiment, not the plant that is called mustard. It was originally made from mixing unfermented wine with the ground seeds of the Senvy plant.”
“Really?” Ms. Thumpingstone said. She set down her coffee and pulled a notebook from her purse and began to scribble notes. “That’s fascinating.”
“Yes,” the Professor smiled, warming to his subject. “Nowadays the plant is called the mustard plant but it is a misnomer. And instead of unfermented wine they mix the seeds with various things like vinegar, fermented wine, and sugar. But back then it was a raw and exciting time for mustard.”
While it is debatable that the mixing of ground Senvy seeds with grape juice classify the times as raw and exciting, there was no doubt that Professor DeJohn was passionate about mustard. He became very animated as he spoke waving his arms about with grandiose gestures. And while this would have been fine in any number of locations, the cramped office of Gladly Hoplenut, Assistant Curator of the Condiment Museum, was not the proper venue. As a result one of the Professor’s hands swatted Gladly’s double earflap hunting hat from his head while the other nearly collided with Senf Schwarzer’s nose. Senf managed to shift out of the way at the last second, but his movement backed him into the desk knocking Ms. Thumpingstone’s coffee to the floor.
Blanche Moutard shrieked. Which was notable simply for the fact that it was something other than a sneeze.
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