At the sound of the
voice in the hall, Thomas Jefferson Pierce returned John Doe No. 6 to his
morgue drawer – the unfortunate gentleman’s temporary accommodation on
the way to the Great Hereafter or whatever fate his personal belief system
assistant M.E. stripped his non-latex gloves, made a three-pointer into
the bio-waste receptacle, and shoved through the insulated doors into the
relatively warm hallway. Clear except for M.E. Quincy, embroiled in one
of his frequent tirades with the boss, Dr. Astin.
ventured a hypothesis and, averting the vociferous medical examiner, peeked
into the breakroom. The cop was there, crouched before a snack vending
machine as if either hoping to deliver an infant snack dispenser or praying
to the entity that provides sour cream chips and Kit Kats.
you see the head yet?” Pierce inquired with a broad smile. He enjoyed the
homicide cop’s eccentricities, respected his professional doggedness, and
warmed to his fundamental humanity.
looked up, startled. A sheepish grin spread across his five o’clock shadow.
“Hey, Tom, how’s it going?” He turned back to the machine, peering up the
snack delivery trough into its work. “I just put 60 cents in this gadget,
and the doggoned thing won’t give me my M&Ms. I punched the buttons
– E-1, like it said.”
stepped forward. “Let’s employ the diagnostic method, OK?” He examined
the gaping window of sweet and salty comestibles positioned on large rotating
coils. “Plain, peanut, or crispy rice, Columbo?”
plain,” the policeman responded. “The wife was reading about diverticulitis
the other night, and I’m trying to reduce my nut intake.”
not necessary, though I guess you could probably do without the cholesterol
and fat. Plain M&Ms still in their upright position, no candy lodged
in the lower intestine of the mechanism. Did the coil start turning after
you punched the proper number? Maybe a mechanical glitch.”
shook his head. “Didn’t do a thing, Tom. Just sat there.”
you’re positive you pressed the right numbers? No history of dyslexia –
you don’t wonder where James Bond is when you’re watching the 700 Club?”
looked baffled. “I think I did it right. It wouldn’t give me my M&Ms.”
my guess is this is a digestive problem,” the tall A.M.E. concluded, reaching
into the machine’s coin return slot. “Ah, the eternal story – beaten by
a woman again. Sacajawea, to be precise.” He handed Columbo the roughly
quarter-sized Sacajawea dollar. “Why is it whenever the Treasury tries
to pay tribute to the sisters, it winds up screwing us out of 75 cents?
Not that Susan B. Anthony was my idea of a hot babe. Here’s a quarter,
Columbo; my treat. And bring your plain M&Ms into the lab – I’ve got
something for you.”
paled. “Ah, Tom, I dunno…”
bloated, blue, or dismembered, I promise,” Dr. Pierce called, already out
keeping his eyes rigidly averted from the steel exam tables and the wall
drawers, found Pierce fishing in his coat jacket. “Yeah, here it is,” the
young man announced, pulling out a slightly age-browned envelope. “I told
you Grandad Hawkeye thought your name rang a bell when I told him about
the Prince case. You told me you’d been in Korea, so I had him root through
the letters he sent Great-Granddad during the war.”
a doctor, too, right?” Columbo asked.
beamed proudly. “Oldest working G.P. in Maine – still works a 12-hour day.
You remember visiting a MASH unit – a mobile army hospital – back in ’53?”
frowned, then recognition hit. “Hawkeye, of course,” the cop nodded, smacking
his forehead. “Yeah, yeah, the murder in the hospital. Your grandpa was
a big help in that case – I was just a kid, then, and I kinda got thrown
into the case…”
Just dropping a line
to let you know your prodigal son remains prodigalized, courtesy Gen. Mark
Clark, but is otherwise safe and sane. Mark Clark, Mark Clark – ever since
MacArthur took a tramp steamer out of town, I’ve been hoping a man of such
whimsically sensible nominal alliteration might see the folly of war –
pardon me, the folly of police actions – and drop me back (literally) in
the bowels of New England.
All goes swell at the
4077th – well, as swell as Hell can go, that is. The North Koreans,
selfish bounders that they are, launched a major offensive to the north,
and as a result, we just came off a 36-hour stint in the OR. A real Man’s
Inhumanity to Manfest. As I look down at the youthful faces on those tables,
I begin to fear next week’s warriors will be signing their draft papers
The gang sends their
regards, especially Col. Potter, who sends “a king-size kudo” for that
home-made salve you recommended. He’s back in the saddle again – at least
for the first time in three weeks without screaming in pain.
Had us an old-fashioned
bar-be-cue here last week. A company of Greeks – whose gratitude is as
boundless seemingly as their supply of ouzo – showed their appreciation
for patching up their commander by bartering some lambs from the locals
and ka-bobbing them to death. Finest kind.
Speaking of death,
a too-common topic in our corner of the Asian continent, we had an unexpected
guest at the E.R. Corral. Sort of the Sherlock Holmes of Brooklyn, the
Ellery Queen of Queens.
M.P. Columbo arrived
at our little outpost amid a miasma of seared mutton and murder…
The clerk was uglier even
than Olive Rizzoletti, who’d launched a massive but unsuccessful assault
on Columbo their junior year. Decked out in a very non-regulation chartreuse
angora sweater, wool skirt, and beret, she at least dressed better than
Olive, the young private thought.
“What can I do for ya,
Mac?” the clerk asked, pulling oversized hands from a drawerful of files.
“Hurry it up, though – Nurse Dish promised me a pedicure, and if miss my
appointment, I’ll have to wear open-toes for the next week.”
Columbo looked closer
at the lady, who indeed was no lady. “You’re the clerk here, mister?”
The clerk stuck out a
hairy paw. “Corporal O’Reilly’s taking a Nehi break. Corporal Maxwell Klinger
at your disposal, substitute company clerk. What can we do you for, um…?”
“Private Columbo, ma--,
I mean sir. I’m with C.I.D. —”
Klinger backed off a step.
“Chickie, the cops.” Then his dark eyes brightened. “Unless you’re here
to take me off to the laughing academy. I can have one of the docs certify
I’m certifiable, if you’ll wait right here…”
Columbo frowned in further
bafflement. “Maybe I better talk to your commanding officer…”
Klinger shrugged. “Like
to help you, kid, but Col. Potter’s in Seoul learning how to get phosphorous
burn victims back to the front quicker. And you don’t want to talk to Major
Winchester – he’s a major horse’s patoot, and he’s in full patootitude.
I think Captain Pierce’s who you need to confab with. Look, I’m working
a big deal here – a case of hooch for some sulfa – and if I don’t stick
by the blower, Supply Sgt. Rockford’ll find somebody with a little better
booze to barter for. Think you can find your way to the O.R.?”
“O.R. – the operating
room. The big building with the bloodstain décor. That’s where you’ll
find Hawkeye – Captain Pierce. Can’t miss it. See ya, kid.”
Columbo stumbled toward
the door, then turned. “Hey, sir, sorry to bother you, but could I ask
you just one more thing?”
Klinger smiled. “Sure,
kid. The sweater I got mail-order, and the—“
“Ah, no. I don’t ‘spose
you caught Tuesday’s Yankees score on the Armed Services station?”
“Sorry, kid. I can give
you the Toledo Mudhens scores for last month, if you can wait for my Cousin
Lenny’s letter to get here.”
Columbo sighed. “Thanks,
anyway, ma-, uh, sir.”
Private Columbo’s gut
was rumbling like a distant shelling attack by the time he made it to the
O.R. At the edge of the MASH compound, a group of foreign soldiers had
dug a pit, and a collie-sized corpse was roasting on a spit over it the
excavation. It smelled like a gamier version of the lamb Aunt Sophia used
to bring out around Easter every year, and the young soldier hadn’t eaten
anything but K-rations for the past four days. And judging from their color
and taste, K-rations that had probably been canned back when Hitler was
All thoughts of Sophia’s
lamb fled as a peeked into the O.R. A lone soldier was swabbing the floor,
and some of the wet, slippery things he was swabbing, well, Columbo didn’t
want to know.
He turned quickly away
and pushed through a curtain into the pre-op, which is what he wanted,
Nearly all the cots in
the room were full of bandaged, splinted, and largely dazed or despondent
men. A sturdily-built blonde was at a nearby desk, scanning paperwork with
a pencil poised against her scarlet lips.
“Um, ma’am?” Columbo asked,
The woman started. “That’s
Major. Major Houlihan. What do you want?”
The private was tongue-tied
by the stern words that came out of the major’s Hollywood face. “Uh, well,
Houlihan sighed. “Well,
spit it out, soldier.”
“Yes, ma-, I mean Major,”
Columbo whispered, so as not to wake the wounded men. “You got a Lieutenant
Maubrey here? Peter Maubrey?”
“You in his company?”
“Uh, no, Major. But I
do need to talk to him…”
The nurse glanced over
at a thirtyish man on one of the cots. Columbo had noticed he was sleeping
when he’d come in, but now he was staring at them.
“I don’t know…” Houlihan
“My foot!” a man’s voice
suddenly screamed from the far wall. “Whattayou fucking bastards done with
my goddamn foot? Gimme my fucking foot!!”
“Oh, my god,” Houlihan
exhaled, leaping from her chair. “Zale! Get in here, ASAP!”
The soldier with the mop
burst in from the operating room. “You OK, Major?”
“Lankowitz’ come off his
sedative,” the major yelled as she sprinted toward a large man attempting
to rise from his cot. “I’m going to need you to hold him down. You, there,
soldier, you see if you can get one of the doctors out there. Pierce, Hunnicutt,
or Winchester, preferably.”
Columbo was glued to his
spot for a split-second, but the look the blonde nurse sent him jolted
him toward the door.
“Hey, is there a doctor
here?” he shouted as fatigued men and women froze around him. “Doctor Hunnicutt?
pleasant-looking man dressed oddly in a red Hawaiian shirt and straw cowboy
hat jogged up and grabbed his arm. “What’s up? I’m Pierce.”
“There’s a guy in there wants his foot back,” Columbo puffed. “The major
says she needs you—”
Pierce murmured. “Damn it, I told Winchester the dosage wasn’t high enough…”
The doctor shoved into the building, and Columbo followed a few seconds
the mopper, and the doctor were simultaneously wrestling, injecting, and
trying to calm the now-blubbering man in the corner. The private quietly
moved to Lt. Maubrey’s cot. The soldier, his hand encased in gauze and
plaster, his right leg stiff before him, looked at Columbo impassively.
fella had his foot sheared off by a North Korean mine,” the lieutenant
informed the M.P. in a soft Southern tone. “He’s been unconscious since
they operated on him yesterday, so this is the first he’s known. Poor fella.”
that’s awful,” Columbo agreed. “Mine took my sergeant few days ago. Saw
him just disappear like twenty feet away from me.”
have my sympathy,” the officer offered, sincerely. “Suppose I should consider
myself fortunate – the doctor there tells me I’ll have a limp, and I suppose
my polo days are over, but at least I’m going home somewhat intact. I’m
Lieutenant Maubrey, incidentally. Understand you wanted to speak to me?”
sir,” Private Columbo began, clearing his dry throat. Sgt. Rowlston in
actuality had been what his commander had called a “blue ribbon son-of-a-bitch,”
but he knew how to stare down an officer if he had to. When the report
of a suspicious death had come down almost a week ago, Rowlston had barked
with apparent relish that he and the recently assigned Columbo were going
to “go rattle some pussy doctors.” Columbo braced himself for the perilous
ride and, even worse, the barrage of insults, bigoted and blue jokes, and
drunken tantrums he’d come to expect from the military cop.
had been a reasonably effective investigator, ever-vigilant for inconsistencies
and character flaws he could exploit for a confession or a recantation.
He was fearless, a result, Columbo suspected, of the copious amount of
grain alcohol in which he regularly pickled his brain. After an inebriated
misstep during an attempted nocturnal urination had led to Sgt. Rowlston’s
demise, Columbo, the guiltily mischievous former altar boy, reminded himself
of the sergeant’s “good” traits, then high-tailed it to the nearest company
he could find to radio in the bad news.
than reeling Columbo back in, however, Col. “Iron Knees” Kreutzer (Oklahoma
State star fullback, ’32-‘34) was adamant that Sgt. Rowling’s death not
be in vain and that Columbo, solo, bring one back for the team, in the
form of a successful resolution of the Shoop murder. Show must go on, and
Donald Shoop had been among the casualties in an infantry attack some 40
miles north of the 4007th, and he’d been flown eight days before
to the MASH unit. He’d taken some shrapnel in the chest, but, miraculously,
it had missed any crucial cardiac plumbing or organs. The patient’s prognosis
had been excellent – until, of course, he’d died in his sleep a few days
stranger things happened in a military hospital, the physician who examined
the body prior to its shipment, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, had noted
some curious fibers on the sergeant’s tongue. Those fibers, and a thread
fragment found between Shoop’s bicuspids led Dr. Pierce to a verdict of
death by misadventure. After being reminded by countless individuals that
there was a war going on and that young men were dying on a regular basis,
Pierce finally managed to get through to CID command that he wasn’t going
to just let this one go.
interim, the hospital’s patients largely had scattered to the winds – back
to their companies, stateside, in one case to his final reward by way of
know this Sgt. Shoop got killed a week or so ago?” Columbo began in what
was his best interrogatory style. “I’m investigating his death.”
a boorish, ungentlemanly swine,” the lieutenant drawled, then looked away.
“Very un-Christian of me, I know. One man’s death, I suppose.”
blinked. “What, sir?”
do you mean, what?”
sorry – what about one man’s death? You mean Sgt. Shoop?”
smiled in a kindly manner. “My apologies. One man’s death diminishes us
all, as John Donne said. Although how the sergeant’s death diminished any
of us is beyond my feeble comprehension. What’s amusing, Private, if I
looked alarm. Back in the neighborhood, Father Donnelly and Sgt. Gilhooley,
the beat cop, wielded the lion’s share of authority, and they were benign
dictators. Over here, there was a small army, you should pardon the expression,
of straight-backed men with far more stripes and stars and other thingamajigs
on their uniforms than Columbo figured he’d ever possess. He’d always enjoyed
a good prank, but over here, a little amusement bought you a weekend cleaning
amused or nothing, sir,” the private assured him. “It’s just you talk so
good. You been to college, haven’t you?”
Maubrey leaned back on his pillow. “One of the finest institutions of
higher learning the South has to offer, Private. Hardly matters in my current
circumstances, however. The great equalizer, war is. Now, may I ask you
why you’ve sought me out?”
you’re one of the few witnesses mentioned in Captain Pierce’s original
report of Shoop’s death, and I just wanted to ask you a question or two,
if that’s OK?”
Maubrey sat upright against the head of his cot. “Although I must say I
barely qualify as any kind of witness.”
you see or hear anything that night, sir?”
afraid I did not. I was sleeping the sleep of the dead. Or I suppose I
should say, of the seriously wounded.”
nodded. “I ain’t had time to talk to the docs yet. Were you doped up for
shook his head. “The pain was starting to go away, I’d started walking
a few yards a day around the hospital on my crutch, and it was the first
night since my injury I was able to fall asleep of my own accord.”
sir… Now, you were in this cot, and Sgt. Shoop was, what, next door here?”
unfortunate sergeant was two cots away, to my right. A colored fella, a
private, I believe, occupied the cot you’re now sitting on.”
I’m afraid, you neglected to call in reservations for,” a cheerful but
firm voice interrupted suddenly from above Columbo’s shoulder. He hadn’t
seen Dr. Pierce approach. “So I’m going to have to ask you to leave the
main dining room here, maybe go sit in the bar until we get a free operating
table. I think Guy Lombardo and the Royal Hematomas are playing tonight.”
gawped Columbo, who’d veered off the road at “reservations.”
Private,” Pierce ordered. “I don’t like your cotside manner.”
private was being a perfect gentleman,” Lt. Maubrey protested.
me rephrase myself: I don’t like him practicing his cotside manner here.
sir,” Columbo said, jumping up and hot-footing it to the Pre-Op door. He
stopped dead before disappearing through it. “There is just one thing,
turned toward him. “Validate your parking? Only if you parked in the hospital
lot. And on top of Major Winchester.”
sir. I just was wondering if you’d have a few minutes to talk about the
fell silent. “You with CID?”
inspected the short, unshaven, disheveled military cop. “Why don’t you
drop by The Swamp for afternoon cocktails?”
see any swamp around—”
sighed. “Just ask somebody out there to point you toward The Swamp, while
I tell this foot soldier back here why he isn’t a foot soldier any more.”
The Greeks were still
shouting and laughing and roasting dead sheep as Columbo wandered in search
of The Swamp. As he located Pierce’s tent, the sound of muscled and bawdy
Mediterraneans was replaced with the majestic tones of a doubtlessly fat
North European woman, emanating from within the assembly of poles, canvas,
Pierce’s unorthodox garb, Columbo expected to find the clinically tidy,
taut-sheeted quarters of a nimble-brained, quick-tongued physician. Instead,
he found The Swamp to live fully up to its moniker, down to a genuine still,
like something out of a hillbilly movie. The “damage” was focused around
two of the tent’s three distinguishable cots. On the third lie a corpulent,
balding man, an incongruous black velvet sleeping mask in place over his
eyes, his scrupulously neat fingers laced over his stomach as he murmured
blissfully to the operatic strains of a nearby record player.
sir?” Columbo attempted. “Sir?”
stopped, and a severe frown tightened the reclining man’s lips. “Please.
stopped. “Is that Wagner?”
the masked man, a major, corrected. His features then reconformed. “You
know, um, Wagner?”
sure,” Columbo responded. “My girlfriend likes this kinda stuff. She’s
always takin’ me to concerts and ballets and stuff. Hey, this is that Valkyrie
thing, ain’t it?”
aficionado bolted into a sitting position, ripping his sleeping mask away.
He gazed in horrified wonderment at the slovenly, compact soldier before
him. “You enjoy Der Valkyrie? Winchester, by the way; Major Charles Emerson
pronounced it Chahles, like some hoity society guy in one of the gangster
movies Columbo liked. “Private Columbo, sir. I’m with CID, the military
chuckled, seemingly to himself. “An operatic policeman. Shades of Gilbert
Mikado,” Columbo supplied. “Right?”
Winchester gasped. “Please, private, do have a seat. Would you like a beverage?
I have the last of a delightful German dessert wine that would go excellently
with our Wagner. Or perhaps you’d enjoy a sip of Dr. Pierce’s own home
brew and septic tank disinfectant, which happens to be the perfect accompaniment
to an evening of Spike Jones and, ha, cow-tipping.”
sir, I’m on duty, and I don’t think the brass at HQ would like it too much
if I got tipsy on the job.”
nodded. “Commendable dedication to duty. Now, precisely what brings you
to this garden spot of Southeast Asia? Is the game afoot?”
Holmes, man, Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Genre fiction, but
nonetheless of the highest caliber. Are we pursuing some mystery, a bit
dropped onto what he assumed was Pierce’s cot, exhausted. “I don’t know
about that, sir. Hey, wait a minute – you’re one of the doctors, right?”
stiffened. “The doctor, I should say. Yes?”
you around the night Sgt. Shoop got killed?”
left eyebrow arched. “Yesss, I was on duty that evening. However, I was
under the impression Pierce had abandoned his pathetic attempt at sleuthing.
Surely, the ‘good’ sergeant met his end by natural means.”
“Then you don’t think anybody pulled any funny business?”
business,” Winchester chortled. “Charming gangland argot. No, I do not
subscribe to Pierce’s belief that someone punched Sgt. Shoop’s ticket,
to borrow your quaint gangland argot.”
report Capt. Pierce sent us, he said something about a pillow, something
about some fibers or something.”
shook his head in amusement. “The man has read one too many Agatha Christie
novels. Private, I will concede that Pierce found fibers from Shoop’s pillow
in the unfortunate fellow’s mouth, but there are myriad explanations for
sighed patiently. “There are many possible explanations. Perhaps Sgt. Shoop
experienced some sort of seizure associated with respiratory failure that
caused him to involuntarily bite his pillow. Perhaps it was an example
of rigor – ah, muscular reaction following death. Perhaps the sergeant
slept with his mouth opened, and happened to aspirate some fibers. I will
attest that he most certainly was a mouth breather of the lowest order,”
he added with disdain.
sat up. “What do mean, sir?”
although I am wont to denigrate the deceased, I must say that Sgt. Shoop
achieved levels of reptilian repugnance unique even for this pit of proletarianism.”
Winchester held a hand up to still the baffled private. “In short, the
sergeant was a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal overly impressed with his manly
prowess and given to offensive racial humor, complete with amusing dialectives.”
care for Negroes?” Columbo interpreted.
not care for Negroes, Koreans, Jews, Catholics, the Irish, Italians – you
will pardon me -- or individuals of almost any non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.
A man of low breeding and bigotries. And were I of the Freudian ilk, God
forfend, I would surmise that neither was he enamored of the feminine sex.”
why’s that, sir?”
this wolf in non-comm’s garb was constantly harassing and haranguing every
nurse in sight and regaling every male he could corner with tales of feminine
conquest and degradation.”
looked momentarily as if he’d found a slice of Velveeta atop his foie gras.
He inhaled courageously. “For example, he informed me of the nimble and
double-jointed nature of a girl he had bedded in my native Boston, before
segueing into a delightful and medically fascinating case study of a Georgia
‘gal’ who could, quote, do things with her tongue one would not believe.
Not since the days of the Algonquin Round Table had there been such a sparkling
he get anywhere with any of the nurses?” Columbo inquired as cautiously
as he could.
certainly not. Our nursing staff, while given to excessive primping and
cosmetics use, is uniformly professional and immune to the odious charms
of creatures such as Sgt. Shoop.”
Chah-les, you sweet talker, you,” Pierce gushed, yanking open the tent
door and bee-lining to the still. He tapped a martini glass full of clear
liquid, quaffed an ounce, and sighed sublimely. “Wait’ll the nurses hear
about your poetic waxing, which reminds me, isn’t it time to touch up your
scalp, maybe in the Mess Tent?”
smirked. “Always the very model of social comportment, aren’t we, Pierce?
As a matter of fact, I am assisting our young Hawkshaw in his ill-conceived
investigation of our recent ‘murder.’ Honestly, Pierce, are things so tedious
around here that we have to contrive such melodramas?”
ignored Winchester as he riffled through his foot locker. He emerged holding
up a white pillowcase.
wonderful, we’re surrendering,” Winchester murmured. “Mayhap I can make
it home in time for the opening curtain of La Boheme…”
Chuck – it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings uncle. Shoop’s pillowcase,
Columbo, found at the scene of the crime. What do you make of that?”
accepted the pillowcase hesitantly, and peered at both sides, along the
seams, at the corners. “Welll, there’s these marks here – teeth marks,
right? Those have gotta be Sgt. Shoop’s.”
yeah,” Pierce encouraged. “Now, why would Sgt. Shoop have bitten his pillow
unless somebody was trying to smother him? Or of course he was dreaming
about eating a giant marshmallow?”
Pierce, rigor,” Winchester insisted, pinching the bridge of his nose.
you notice this, sir?” Columbo asked, holding the case up by the corners.
“On the other side of where the bite marks are. See how the cloth’s stretched
out, how the, uh, the threads are kinda pulled. Almost like something was
pushing into the pillowcase.”
Shoop’s throat, to block off the airway,” Pierce said, slapping his hip.
mind me, just keep on deducing.”
would have to plunk down a quarter to get suspense like this at home,”
Winchester sighed, laying back on his cot. “I wonder if we could take this
production on the road, perhaps to Mongolia?”
wash these pillowcases between patients, Doc?” Columbo inquired.
case-by-case basis,” Pierce confirmed. “And it’s Hawkeye, Columbo.”
sir,” the private nodded absently. “I was just noticing these marks here,
on the same side the cloth’s stretched. Kinda like dirt, but not exactly.”
He held the case to his nose. “Very familiar…Tires!”
Winchester rose from his cot.
held the pillowcase out. “My cousin Mo, he works at a tire plant out in
Queens, is piling up tires all day long, puttin’ tires on cars, patchin’
something out of Dickens,” Winchester lilted.
Mo comes over for Sunday dinner or Thanksgiving or something, his hands
always smell like tires. He washes ‘em and scrubs ‘em, but he can’t get
that tire smell off his hands. We let him carve the turkey last Christmas,
the turkey smells like tires. That’s what I’m smellin’ here, Doc – tires.”
Hawkeye grabbed the pillowcase and sniffed. “Yeah, I’m getting it now.
What’s that mean, Columbo?”
clapped his hands together. “I don’t have the slightest idea.”
campers,” a voice suddenly penetrated the air, accompanied by an electronic
squeal and heavy static. “The first annual 4077th Olympic Barbecue and
Greek Cultural Festival is now underway. All mutton gluttons, lam it over
to the Mess Tent, or ‘ewe’ll’ miss out.”
clapped his cowboy hat back on his head. “Well, Sheriff Columbo, you wanna
mosey on over to the chuckwagon. It’s usually called the upchuckwagon,
but we got a new chef. How ‘bout the new school marm? Coming, Miss Bluenose?”
stretched out, slipping his sleeping mask back over his eyes. “While the
prospect of alfresco ‘chow’ prepared by sweaty Mediterraneans sets my palate
to quivering, I believe I will remain here with my Vog-ner, thank you.”
barbecuing’s not the major’s aria,” Pierce punned, exiting the tent with
Columbo in tow.
Private Columbo was astonished.
There was practically a party atmosphere here, in the midst of an Army
hospital, in the midst of the war. Americans, Greeks, and Koreans (South,
Columbo hoped) filled the tent with a jumble of laughter, chatter, and
good-natured nationalistic bragging. Hawkeye ushered him to a long serving
table, where a tall, cadaverous man was dishing up fragrant slices of lamb.
“Igor, my friend will
take a drumstick,” Pierce ordered, “and I’ll have a couple of breasts,
hopefully attached to Hot Lips.”
Igor slopped sheep onto
a metal tray. “First time I’ve served up an animal I could identify.” He
deposited a dollop of purple goop beside the meat, Hawkeye lifted the tray,
sniffed the goop, and raised a brow.
Igor shrugged. “We couldn’t
get any mint jelly, so I mixed some of that special mouthwash Major Winchester
got from the States with some grape jelly.”
“I’ll pass on the scalloped
potatoes,” Hawkeye murmured. “C’mon, Sherlock.”
The pair shoved through
the throng; a huge Greek hugged Hawkeye and Columbo simultaneously, regaling
both with ouzo fumes. Finally, the private and the captain located a couple
of seats between the blonde bombshell in the pre-op and a pleasant-looking,
bespectacled man with a straw collar and, Columbo realized, a Roman collar.
“Father,” Pierce greeted.
He turned to the nurse. “Mom.”
The nurse turned with
a sour glare. “Why don’t you try a big mouthful of lamb, Doctor? It’s delicious.”
“Private Columbo, I’d
like you to meet Major Houlihan and Father Francis Mulcahy,” Hawkeye said.
“Majjr, Fddr,” Columbo
mumbled through a mouth full of roasted meat. He held up a hand as he masticated
his lamb. “Shorry, but dis shtuff’s shwell.” A huge lump moved past his
Adam’s apple. “Wow, this is the best chow I’ve had since I left home.”
Hawkeye stared at him
shoveling lamb into his maw, then turned to Houlihan. “How’s Lankowitz?”
Major Houlihan’s stern
features softened. “We’ve got him sedated again, but he’s in as bad shape
emotionally as he is physically.”
“Oh, dear,” Mulcahy breathed.
The doctor nodded soberly.
“Sidney Freedman’s coming in for tonight’s game. I’ll ask him to have a
word with the kid.”
“Hawkeye, do you think
maybe it might help if I…?” the priest inquired, rising.
appreciate it, Father, thanks,” Hawkeye said, grinning. “But why don’t
you finish your lunch first? I’d hate for you to sacrifice your lamb.”
smiled. “Oh, we quit doing that a few centuries back. Private Columbo,
you’re an M.P.? Are you here on, um, official business?”
Shoop death,” Hawkeye explained.
frowned. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Pierce. Are you still beating that drum?”
Columbo put his fork down. “Were
you on duty the night the sergeant died?”
straightened. “I was, but Shoop was alive when I did my end-of-shift check.
We’d just gotten through about 36 hours of surgery – a company of Marines
had just taken a hill 30 miles north, and the Pre-Op was packed with casualties.
I knocked off about midnight.”
you discovered Sgt. Shoop was dead when?”
a.m. or so,” Hawkeye supplied. “I couldn’t sleep, so I dropped by to check
a few charts. Shoop looked like he’d been dead a good hour or so. It didn’t
make sense, since his injuries had been pretty minor – a shoulder wound,
no damage to any of the major organs or arteries. He’d been having a lot
of pain in the shoulder, though, so we’d knocked him out so he’d get through
the night OK. When I checked him over for any signs of a reaction to his
medication, I discovered those fibers in his mouth.”
nodded, picking up his fork and spearing another slice of lamb. “Who was
on duty in the Pre-Op after you left, Major? Anybody who might’ve come
in or out between midnight and four?”
pursed her considerable lips. “Well, Nurse Kelly…Pierce, of course…oh,
and Mrs. Kee.”
Kee, ma’am?” Columbo pursued.
one of the locals,” Hawkeye supplied. “She’s about 50 or so. Widow – her
husband and son got killed in a mortar attack a month or so ago, and we’ve
been letting her sort of help around the camp until we can locate her family.”
“Isn’t that against regulations?”
Columbo asked mildly.
and Houlihan exchanged a glance. “Well, I know it’s not regular Army,”
the nurse began, “but it isn’t really hurting anything, is it?”
smiled woefully. “Look, H.Q. sends me to hell and gone – pardon me, ma’am
– and my sergeant gets killed before we even get here. Now, I got this
murder, or whatever it is, to worry about, and me with only about two months
with the military police. I think I’ve got enough to think about without
worrying about you guys running a charity for orphans and widows. Don’t
sighed, relieved, and Hawkeye relaxed.
besides Lt. Maubrey and Sgt. Shoop, what other patients were in the Pre-Op
that night?” Columbo half-shouted as a whoop rose from the rear of the
Mess Tent. “Especially in the bunks on either side of Shoop’s?”
get Radar – the company clerk – to get you a list,” Hawkeye said. “Maubrey
was two beds away to Shoop’s left, and a private, Henderson, I think, was
between Maubrey and Shoop.”
was the Negro?” the private inquired.
make a difference?” Hawkeye asked warily.
looked at the doctor, surprised by his tone. “No, sir, but Lt. Maubrey
mentioned a Negro being in the cot next to Shoop’s. I’m just trying to
get a picture in my mind. But I do gotta ask – this Shoop, I understand
he wasn’t a very open-minded fella. That he didn’t like Negroes too much.”
grunted. “‘Open-minded’ would imply the man had one. Surely you don’t
think Henderson would’ve killed Shoop just because he was a bigot?”
just looking at all the possibilities, ma’am,” Columbo shrugged.
Henderson’s an impossibility,” Hawkeye stated.
why’s that, Doc?”
captain breathed. “OK. Shoop was smothered with his own pillow. To smother
someone, you have to have something to smother with.”
don’t get you…”
was here because his company got pinned down on that hill up north. A Russian
grenade dropped in for the party, and Henderson tried to give it the heave-ho.
Unfortunately, he didn’t heave fast enough. He got shipped home to a veteran’s
hospital to have a couple of hooks installed.”
Columbo murmured, appalled. He sat quietly for a moment as the racket across
the tent grew. “Well, who was on the other side of Shoop?”
eggs there, too, Columbo,” Hawkeye said. “Went into a coma an hour after
he came out of surgery, and died a few hours after Shoop did without waking
rubbed a hand over his bristly face. “Whoo, boy. Lemme ask you something,
Doc. Did it seem to you like Lt. Maubrey and Sgt. Shoop knew each other
shook his head. “They came from two different companies, stationed about
a hundred miles apart. And even if they did know each other…”
A cacophony of Greek and American
voices erupted to the rear of the tent, louder than before. Hawkeye and
Columbo craned to determine the source of the noise, and the doctor slapped
the table before climbing to his feet and pushing through the crowd.
and one of the Greek soldiers faced each other over a table, their right
hands clasped and white-knuckled as they wrestled. A circle of men cheered
their respective countrymen.
Pierce admonished. “I said get a little exercise for your legs, not enter
the 1952 Olympics.”
looked up, gritted his teeth, and suddenly slammed his opponent’s fist
to the table. The crowd whooped.
apologies, Captain,” Maubrey offered as the Greek, grinning, slapped him
heartily on the shoulder. “In my part of the country, the manly sport of
arm-wrestling is a major recreation. These fellows were kind enough to
challenge me to a match, and I felt it was my duty to the United Nations
effort here to take them up on it.”
well, I’m giving you diplomatic immunity. Scat.”
sir,” Maubrey smiled, saluting his Greek friend and retrieving his crutches
from the bench beside him. Columbo and Pierce watched the soldier move
slowly but purposefully through the crowd, out into the camp.
Hawkeye probed, “Why did you want to know if Maubrey knew Shoop? You know
something I don’t?”
young private turned to the doctor. “Well, Doc, it’s like this. When I
first got here and went to the Pre-Op, I asked Major Houlihan about Lt.
Maubrey. From across the room. ‘Way across the room.”
I answer when I hear my name, too. I roll over, too, at least if one of
the nurses wants to scratch my belly.”
Lt. Maubrey said the night of the murder, he was fast asleep and didn’t
hear a peep, even while the guy two beds away was being murdered. Now,
I could understand if the nurse on duty didn’t hear anything from where
she was, across the room at that desk, but two beds away? I get the feeling
Lt. Maubrey’s the kinda guy that’s always alert, always pays attention
to everything going on around him. The way he woke up and looked at me
and Major Houlihan when I asked about him. It just seemed odd; almost like
he was waiting for somebody to show up.”
you can cross him off your suspect list, too, Columbo. Maubrey just got
those crutches four days ago. He came in here with both legs shot up pretty
bad. We patched up his femoral artery, and he’s going to have not too much
more than a noticeable limp and an honorary retirement from his polo club
when he goes home. But the night Shoop was killed, Lt. Maubrey couldn’t
do anything with those legs except play Dixie on ‘em with a couple of spoons.
He couldn’t stand, much less get two cots over to smother Shoop.”
Columbo said, unhappily. “So that would just seem to leave Mrs. Kee…”
doesn’t even speak enough English to know what a jerk Shoop was.”
may not be easy, but who definitely isn’t homicidal.”
looked at Columbo. “Hmm, Kelly does have a furtive manner...”
Lieutenant! Lieutenant Maubrey!”
dug one crutch into the dirt and turned to see the young M.P. running toward
him, out of breath. “Well, it’s the inquisitive Private Columbo. And how
are you this fine afternoon?”
gulped some oxygen. “Oh, I’m swell, sir. Especially now I’ve got some chow
lieutenant glanced back at the still-raucous Mess Tent. “Lot of the folks
I associate with, the brass, likely wouldn’t approve of this kind of do.
Not properly military, all that. I think it’s wonderful these folks manage
to keep their morale up in the midst of all this. Not easy to do when there’s
so much confusion over here.”
there’s a lot goin’ on here – lot more than at H.Q.”
shook his head with a kind smile. “No, Columbo. I’m alluding to social
confusion, ideological confusion. This is a whole new breed of war, my
friend, you mark my word.”
grinned sheepishly. “Now you’re losin’ me, sir.”
appraised the small man. “Now, I would doubt that, seriously. War throughout
the centuries has been pretty much entirely about real estate and who oughtta
own it, Columbo. Sure, there’ve been religious and political differences
between the folks, but it’s mostly been about our fellas versus their fellas
in a tug-o-war over some fertile parcel. Even the Big War a few years back
was about Hitler grabbin’ off prime chunks of Europe, least ways to start
out. Had Der Fuehrer opted to breed his virulent brand of hatred on his
own back 40, he’d likely still be shouting around like a rabid banty rooster.
winner takes the spoils: He gets to set the rules for the game, and he
owns the stadium where it’s played. You take our own War Between The States.
Y’all haven’t surmised, I’m a Southern boy, from Atlanta. Georgia.”
somewhere around there,” Columbo said.
after the war was over and our boys tossed it in, it was like a department
store after-Christmas sale: Most everything worth having was gone, and
the Yankees – you’ll pardon me, I mean no affront – the Yankees fell on
everything else wasn’t nailed to the scorched ground. Carpetbaggers, we
called them. They saw a killing to be made in land, industry, politics,
and they’d stop at nothing. Took what they wanted, hell with the price
or the consequences, and moved on.”
lieutenant had become more pensive as he stared at the hilly Korean countryside.
Now he blinked, and turned back to Columbo with an odd smile. “Sorry, Columbo
– didn’t mean to wander off on you. That’s the story I grew up with, that
my mama and daddy grew up with. But you know what? Wind had blown the other
way, we’d be flyin’ the Stars and Bars over New Jersey, and you’d be the
one with the funny accent.”
nodded thoughtfully. “I get what you’re saying, sir. I think.”
think about it, I ‘spose this’s just another land grab, no matter how we
dress it up in fancy ideological talk. Don’t get me wrong, Columbo – I
believe in why we’re here. The Communists have never been proper stewards
of their land or their people, and we just deed this place over to them,
in 20 years, it won’t be fit for raising rice or children. I’m just saying,
we have to know why we take up arms, and not blind ourselves to the consequences
of our actions.”
sir,” Columbo murmured.
again, my apologies, Private,” Maubrey said, digging a crutch into the
hard-packed dirt and propelling himself again toward the Pre-Op. “Last
few weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting more and more on the mortality
of the race, on issues of life and death.”
of Sgt. Shoop getting killed and all?” the MP prompted.
didn’t break pace. “Actually, as a result of my own brush with the Grim
Reaper, Columbo. While I lament the death of any man, Sgt. Shoop’s passing
was virtually inevitable.”
mean it was gonna happen no matter what?”
Columbo,” Maubrey confirmed without condescension. “A fellow like that,
filled with the poison of hatred and intolerance and unbridled self-indulgence,
was bound to meet a bad end from some quarter.”
you know him, sir? Talk to him?”
never saw his face prior to this war, and once I took the measure of the
man, I never exchanged so much as a single word. You see, Columbo, while
I may be a son of the South and of wealth, my father was a good Christian
man who believed devoutly in the bond between all men and women, regardless
of race or origin. I’d have little to say to a man such as that.”
scuffed at a rock. “Any idea who might’ve killed him?”
wouldn’t care to speculate. Of course, I was asleep a good part of the
you’re a sound sleeper, Lieutenant?”
had a spell of insomnia lately, but yes, as a matter of custom.”
sighed. “You see, sir, I’m having a real hard time with this one. I haven’t
been a policeman for so long, and the only real training I’ve had’s been
listenin’ to Philip Marlowe on the radio and a couple Lone Wolf movies.”
what’s troubling you? Perhaps I can help?”
was hopin’ you’d say that, sir,” Columbo said cheerfully.
is my cot, of course,” Maubrey pointed. His arm moved in an arc to a point
two cots away, where a young man with a bandaged head was engrossed in
a luridly jacketed copy of Manhunt. “This is where Sgt. Shoop was recovering.
Between us was Private Harrison, Henderson, that poor fellow lost his hands.
Hardly a candidate for murder, I wouldn’t think.”
sir.” Columbo frowned. With about two-and-a-half feet between cots, and
each cot about three feet across, Maubrey’s cot was a good eight feet or
so from Shoop’s.
be easy,” Maubrey sympathized. “Though it was dark here, and the nurse
was away across the room, it would take an audacious man to get up, walk
over to the sergeant’s bunk, and murder him. You agree?”
pulled off his cap and swiped his forehead. “Yes, sir. I can’t see how
one of the patients coulda done it. Of course, in a dark room a doctor
or a nurse mighta pretended to check him out and put that pillow on his
face while he was all doped up.”
likely,” the lieutenant insisted. “Why in the world would one of the staff
here have committed such an act?”
I hate to say it,” Columbo began, nodding toward the nurse now stationed
at the work desk. Nurse Kelly’s pretty, plump, very Asian features were
focused on the paperwork before her. “But folks have been telling me what
a wolf Sgt. Shoop was, and you said he didn’t care much for people who
weren’t his kind.”
Maubrey responded patiently. “I don’t know how long you’ve been over here,
but as the man said, it takes all kinds. There are a lot of men who get
very lonely in the company of nothing but other fellows, and there are
others who could care less about political ideologies and who signed up
to use our yellow brothers and sisters for target practice. I have observed
Nurse Kelly to be the very model of professionalism. Can you imagine she
doesn’t deal with both bigotry and untoward advances every day. No reasonable
person would kill a man like Shoop for no more than a few hateful or lecherous
about Hawk—uh, Capt. Pierce?” Columbo persisted. “He seems like a real,
um, you know, open-minded sort of guy. You think he coulda decided the
world might be better off without a guy like Shoop?”
lowered himself to his cot, placing his crutches on the floor to his right.
“Let me tell you something about Dr. Pierce. I’ve seen all sorts come through
this post-op in the last few weeks – North Koreans spitting hatred for
everything American; young men so knotted up in pain they can react with
nothing but anger and acrimony; old officers who have no use for anyone
doesn’t have a double order of fruit salad on their uniform. The man shows
equal regard and care for all of ‘em, as if his very life depended on protecting
theirs’. I can’t conceive of Dr. Pierce forsaking that reverence for human
sighed again, more deeply, and slumping onto the vacant cot next to Maubrey’s.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. You believe in ghosts, sir? Maybe the sergeant
killed himself, shoved a pillow on his own face.” His head dropped, and
he began rubbing his chin.
give in to defeatism, Private,” Maubrey said with a touch of the military
bearing that had been blasted out of him. “We’ve eliminated several possibilities.
You look hard at the ones that remain. I’m wagering the answer might be
right before you.”
looked up. “Um, thanks, sir. I’ll keep at it. Hey, I better let you get
some rest. Thanks for the help.”
need anything else, Columbo, you know where I’ll be,” Maubrey said drily,
patting his damaged leg.
in the old neighborhood, when I was growing up, people tended to say pretty
much what they meant,” Columbo told Tom Pierce. “There wasn’t a lotta playing
around or pussy-footing. Somebody had a problem with you, you knew it.”
lieutenant’s back was turned to the assistant M.E., who was weighing John
Doe No. 6’ liver.
I’m saying is, when you grew up with people like that, you learned to tell
pretty quick when somebody’s not being straight with you,” the cop continued.
“Now I maybe wasn’t the brightest kid in the world back then, but I could
tell Maubrey was playing some kinda game. He didn’t answer any of my questions
ask him does he knew Shoop. He says, no, he’d never saw the sergeant’s
face before the war. Why didn’t he just say he didn’t know him, he had
no idea who he was? I ask if he has any idea who mighta killed Shoop. He
doesn’t care to speculate. Then he tells me he was asleep ‘a good part
of the evening.’ Now, I can respect he doesn’t want to put the finger on
anybody, but why not just tell me to peddle my papers? And why not just
tell me he was sleeping when the murder occurred?
he tells me he hasn’t been sleeping so good lately. And he goes outta his
way to clear not just the guy in the next bed of the murder, but also the
nurse on duty that night and your granddad. Now, whattya make of all that?”
a prosecutable case,” Pierce said, his hand in the corpse’s abdomen. “But
just shooting from the hip, I’d say he was trying to tell you something.
He knew Shoop – maybe their paths crossed in Korea. And you look at the
nature of the murder. Very risky, right?”
Columbo clapped his hand on the exam table. He blanched, and turned back.
“Jeez, I don’t know how you can do this stuff, Tom. Yeah, you’re right
– the killer was taking a pretty big chance, smothering Shoop in a roomful
of soldiers, even a dark room. It was almost like he or she didn’t care
if he got caught.”
at that point, I had a pretty good idea it was a he. And I was pretty sure
I knew which he it was.”
hefted a spleen. “Even though he had a pretty airtight alibi. I mean, I
don’t know how severe Maubrey’s injuries were, but I can’t imagine him
getting up, crawling over, jamming a pillow over Shoop’s face, and crawling
back to his cot.”
was a problem,” Columbo concurred. “Plus, why give me all these little
indirect signals he did it? Why play games with me?”
dropped the spleen onto the electronic scale with a wet sound that made
Columbo’s stomach flip. “So what’d you do then?”
lieutenant grinned. “What we always did in my neighborhood when we had
when was your last confession?” Father Francis Mulcahy inquired, settling
onto his immaculately made cot. Everything in the tent was immaculate.
squinted. “Boy, I dunno...I talked to a chaplain a couple months ago, but
he was a Jewish guy, so I don’t know if that counts...”
was very likely kosher.” Mulcahy smiled gently at his ecumenical quip.
“Do you have any sins you’d like to confess, Private?”
I guess I feel a little guilty,” Columbo admitted. “I lost my sergeant
– Sgt. Rowlston – a few days ago, and I gotta admit, I didn’t much care
for the guy. He drank all the time, and he was a pretty mean bast— Jeez,
sorry, Father. Ooh, I didn’t mean Jeez. I...”
down, son,” Mulcahy said. “I think He can understand that your sergeant
was a difficult man, and that you’re only human in your feelings toward
him. Perhaps you could try harder to understand that all men suffer from
weakness and temptation. Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
I’ll try that, Father. Some of these brass, though...”
patted Columbo on the shoulder. “He doesn’t ask you to be superhuman. Is
there anything else I can do for you? We’ve got a half-price sale on commiseration
I guess maybe you could help me with something. You’re like an expert on
well, say this guy did something awful, and he starts kinda hintin’ around
about it, like he wants to tell you but something’s keeping him from spilling
priest leaned forward. “Is this about the murder? You can tell me if you
wish – we’ll keep it under the Seal of the Confession.”
sighed. “The guy I think did it just almost came out and confessed to me,
which is screwy enough, but he kept dancin’ around it. Why would a guy
want to confess but not want to confess?”
eyes narrowed. “Hmm, let’s see. Pride, envy, wrath... Perhaps he’s testing
you, seeing how close you are to nabbing him, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
if he’s testing me, he could be a little sneakier about it.”
right. What if he’s protecting a secret? Something worse than murder?”
than murder?” Columbo exclaimed. “I kinda thought murder was about as bad
as it gets.”
in the Top 10,” the father assured him. “But could this man have killed
Sgt. Shoop to keep this secret? What’s important to your suspect? What’s
valuable to him?”
I dunno. I guess his country, definitely. And he talked a lot about his
family. The Army? He seems like a good soldier, but he don’t seem real
gung ho about the war.”
a common symptom over here,” Mulcahy murmured. “What did he say about the
war? About war in general?”
he was going on a lot about the Nazis and the Commies and the Civil War.
A lot about the Civil War, about the Carpet Backers or something?”
that’s right. How these guys’s came and grabbed everything wasn’t nailed
down.” Columbo put his hands on his knees and pursed his lips. “Hey, you
think a guy would kill another guy just because he was a northerner or
smiled ruefully and nodded his head toward the camp outside, toward the
yeah,” Columbo conceded.
an urgent voice whispered, nearly giving the MP a heart attack. Columbo,
who’d been heading for the absent Col. Potter’s office, turned to find
a stone-faced, narrow-eyed man studying him intently.
tapped his own chest. “You talking to me, sir?”
man, who wore captain’s stripes, stepped even closer. “How you coming along
on the Shoop case, Columbo? Any leads. Any Reds behind the hedges?”
Commie collaborators? Any Bolsheviks in the woodpile?”
Columbo’s forehead began to throb. “Sir, don’t get sore, but I don’t have
any idea what you’re talking about.”
here, kid,” the stranger growled, yanking Columbo behind the shower tent.
“No need to play cute with me, Private. I’m Capt. Berlin, Irving Berlin,
with Army Intelligence. So tell me about Shoop and our friend, Comrade
Columbo scratched his ear. “Wait a minute, you mean Mrs. Kee? The widow
lady that’s been helping around the camp?”
huh?” Berlin grinned. It was the most frightening grin Columbo’d ever seen,
short of Olive Rizzoletti’s when she’d found out he was between girlfriends.
“The diabolical Mata Hari. You debriefed her yet?”
blushed. “I ain’t done nothing to her, sir. I thought she was like an old
lady or something. I don’t think she coulda killed the sergeant.”
smile vanished, and he came nose-to-nose with Columbo. “Wake up, Farm Boy.”
from New York – I never seen a fa—”
a hearty voice greeted. Hawkeye came around the corner of the tent. “You’re
on the wrong side. Major Houlihan always uses the last stall to the right.
I should know – I drilled the hole. So who’s your shifty-eyed buddy, Officer?”
is Irving Berlin,” the MP stammered.
grinned broadly. “Wow. Mr. Berlin, I loved your last five musicals, especially
Annie, Get Your Silencer.”
it, Pierce,” Berlin snapped.
it going, Flagg?” Hawkeye asked genially. “Private Columbo, this is Col.
Flagg, late of the CIA. Man of A Thousand Psychoses, Scourge of the Red
Menace and the American Mental Health Association. Grilling the private,
Flagg, or just on a weekend sightseeing and torturing tour?”
eye twitched. “Pierce, I could make you disappear in a heartbeat, and the
only thing they’d find would be a pile of ashes.”
snapped his fingers. “I saw that one. And then you pull a rabbit and a
certificate of insanity out of your hat. C’mon, Flagg; why so curious about
looked about furtively; Hawkeye lifted Columbo’s cap and glanced under
it. “All right, Pierce. But this is top secret.”
on my dear mother’s antimacassar. Not that I’m anti- or pro-macassar, mind
Shoop was a snitch for us, kept his eyes out for any information leaks
among the non-comms. Some of these enlisted types get a bit too cozy with
the indigenous Commie gooks.”
used to play with Tommy Dorsey,” Hawkeye informed Columbo, whose pain was
spreading rapidly to his temples and teeth.
ignored Pierce. “I’m investigating the possibility that your so-called
Mrs. Kee is part of a Commie cabal that snuffed out Shoop so he couldn’t
rat her and her comrades out.”
between boiling rice and de-flying the ox. Colonel, you ever consider a
weight-loss program? Like maybe 16 ounces of frontal lobe? I’ll give you
the military sociopath’s discount.”
course I’d expect a pinko leftie like you to buy into the ‘old widow’ routine.”
the severe arthritis and the face like my old Aunt Greta’s handbag help,”
Hawkeye said. “Tell you what, we’ve got this old guy in the village who
I think’s been hijacking hogs and selling them to a chop shop. Flagg, as
a physician, I have to advise you that you’ve furshloggin’ in the noggin’.”
like a fox,” Flagg murmured, glancing side-to-side. “I’ll flush this red
viper out of the brush, Pierce; you just mind your sewing.” He adjusted
his cap and strode back into the camp.
a good reason to brush your teeth and avoid blows to the cranium,” Hawkeye
said. “C’mon, the sun’s over the yardarm.”
doctor grabbed his arm. “Cocktail time, Columbo.”
gotta make a call at your colonel’s office first. You wanna meet back at
Hawkeye corrected. “Nah, I have to make a fashionable appearance at the
Officer’s Club. See you in 30?”
Columbo, head throbbing, entered Col. Potter’s office, he noticed the hairy
guy in the dress had been replaced by an 11-year-old. The kid started as
the MP started forward.
Mister, you shouldn’t oughtta sneak up on a fella that way,” the
boy breathed. “You almost scared twenty years off my life, and I only got
19 to start.”
gotta be Corporal O’Reilly, right?” Columbo guessed. “I need to make a
call to – ”
headquarters, ASAP,” the owlish little man nodded, reaching for the handset.
“And you can call me Radar, sir.”
guess so,” Columbo mumbled.
minutes and a lot of high-pitched shouting later, Private Columbo was talking
to Spenser at HQ. “Yeah, I’m still in one piece, but my head’s buzzin’
just somethin’ awful. You get that stuff I asked for yet?”
the MP’s easy Wyoming accent crackled across the line. “For what it’s worth,
anyway. Shoop was an Oldsmobile salesman stateside, Jersey; buncha jobs
before that, all sales, looks like.”
live in Georgia, down south anywhere?”
noise dominated for a moment. “Nope, no residence south of the Mason-Dixon.
Killer from down that way?”
don’t wanna say,” Columbo cautioned. “But could you check somebody else,
maybe without Kreutzer findin’ out? Lt. Peter Maubrey – Monkey-Alpha-Umbrella-Bravo-Rover-Eggplant-Yonkers.”
“I never can remember that military
spelling stuff. You check that out for me?”
grunted affirmation. “You going after a louie, you better be wearing your
it ain’t like that. I got the feeling this one’s almost chompin’ to get
on my hook, but he wants to see what kind of worm I got on there first.”
have an affinity for the language,” Spenser drawled. “Mm, hold on.” Columbo
heard a familiar bluster in the background. “That was Kreutzer. Wants to
remind you about Knute Rockne, about keeping possession of the ball.”
Columbo sighed. “Oh, I still got it, but I think its caught in a wringer.”
going so well, huh?”
I wouldn’t say that. I got a prime suspect don’t appear to have even know
the victim, and who as far as I can see couldn’t have killed him. See ya,
Spense.” He disconnected, catching O’Reilly peeking from behind a file.
“Hey, Corporal, Radar, whattaya know about Sgt. Shoop, that guy died about
a week ago?”
not much – I kinda mind my own business,” the kid offered coyly. “But he
was the kinda guy my mom always said I should steer clear of. I never heard
a guy with so many dirty jokes, an’ he was always making eyes at the nurses.
I don’t think they cared much for it.”
ever talk to him?”
day after he came in. He asks where I’m from – that’s Ottumwa, Iowa – and
he tells me how he knew this girl in Des Moines who could, geez, do I gotta
help. I won’t tell nobody.”
moved closer than Columbo might’ve liked – he could smell grape soda on
the clerk’s breath. “Well, he says this girl could, uh, um, suck like a
’48 Electrolux XXX. What do you think of that?”
think he wasn’t no gentleman,” Columbo stated. “Not like Lt. Maubrey, huh?”
blush faded. “Oh, the lieutenant is an A-1 gentleman type of guy,” he said
cheerfully. “I told him about my Aunt Geneva with the dropsy, an’ you could
tell he was real interested.”
ever see Shoop talk to Maubrey?”
squinted as he looked at the metal ceiling. “You know, that’s real funnylike.
I only seen the sergeant talk to Lt. Maubrey once, and then he steered
clear of him like a case of measles. Which was strange, seein’ how nobody
much liked Sgt. Shoop and that didn’t keep him from bugging ‘em, anyhow.
Like I said, though; I try not to get into other folks’ business.”
clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s a good quality, Corporal.”
it was mid-afternoon, the Officer’s Club was doing land-office business.
Columbo had figured that as a non-comm he’d have to do some fast talking
to gain admittance, but apparently the “club” was not restricted. The corpselike
guy from the Mess Tent was mopping around the feet of the assembled soldiers,
doctors, patients, and nationals. Hawkeye, at a corner table with Lt. Maubrey,
waved him over.
Lieutenant,” Columbo greeted cautiously, surveying Maubrey’s crisp uniform.
“You’re not checkin’ out, are you?”
Southerner, his crutch at his right shoulder against the wall, smiled.
“I don’t believe my physician will sign the papers yet, am I correct?”
shook his head as he drained a glass of Scotch. “Medical ethics wouldn’t
allow me, though for a half a sawbuck, I’ll review my medical ethics. Nice
to see you, Columbo – you meeting anybody, or you want to join us?”
Private Columbo opened his mouth,
then shut it. He was beginning to learn that in this off-kilter corner
of the universe, you played along. “Naw, I just wanted to wet my whistle
and think a little.”
Qwan,” Hawkeye called, holding his empty glass aloft. The Oriental man
in the bizarrely out-of-place bartender’s jacket looked up. “Another one
of these, and a turpentine julep for my friend the flatfoot?”
held up a hand, glancing nervously at the lieutenant. “Oh, no, Captain.
I think I’ll just have a Coca-Cola or somethin’.”
please don’t stand on ceremony because of me,” Maubrey said soothingly.
sir; thanks,” the MP answered slowly. “But booze, ah, bothers my gut, so
I think I’ll just stick to a pop.”
nodded agreeably, and the trio fell into a brief gully of silence. “So
why are you in uniform, sir?” Columbo ventured.
decided my recovery might be speedier if I got my mind back into a military
state,” Maubrey explained. “Got tired of stumping around the camp like
some old duffer in a convalescentg home. So, if I might ask, how is your
progressing,” Columbo assured him, unconvincingly. “My main problem is,
everybody who coulda killed Sgt. Shoop either wasn’t anywhere near him
or couldn’a got over to him to kill him. Outside of the doctors and nurses,
of course, and I can’t see them doin’ it. It’s a riddle, all right.”
have my empathy, Columbo,” Maubrey said. “But I’m sure you’ll persevere.”
Hawkeye said. “You interested in police work when this little soiree is
leaned back as the bartender set a Scotch before Capt. Pierce and a bottle
in front of the private. “Gee, I hadn’t much thought about it. I do know
a guy, swell guy, Sgt. Gilhooley. Walks the beat in my neighborhood, up
near Chinatown, helped get me on the straight-and-narrow. When I caught
the train for basic training, Sgt. Gilhooley, he said I needed any help
when I got back, just ask. Never thought about being a copper, though.
brothers and sisters, Columbo?” Hawkeye prompted.
just the one sister, Captain. But have I got brothers – we coulda adopted
DiMaggio, we’da had a major league team. Hey, you wanna see?” Columbo reached
for his wallet.
to,” Pierce grinned, relieved for some reason Columbo couldn’t fathom.
The doctor wrestled his own billfold from a back pocket. “C’mon, Lieutenant;
smiled enignmatically for a moment, then extracted an obviously expensive
wallet from his uniform. The trio passed their family portraits.
Columbo, you’re family is certainly, ah, productive,” Hawkeye nodded, riffling
through a thick portfolio of Columbos.”
hands, you know, sir,” Columbo beamed, misinterpreting the physician’ thrust.
The private began to sort through Lt. Maubrey’s wallet: A distinguished,
handsome older pair on a veranda Columbo took for Maubrey’s parents; several
photos, a few years old, of a vaguely familiar blonde girl; Maubrey himself
astride a polo pony, mallet held at bay; and Maubrey proudly displaying
an infant, a curly-headed moppet who could have been Shirley Temple’s twin,
rolling his tongue mischievously at the camera.
boy, Lieutenant?” Columbo inquired, tilting the wallet.
never married, except to the U.S. Army, Columbo,” Maubrey replied calmly.
“That’s my nephew, Schuyler. He’s about five now, I’d venture. And I would
assume this is your father, Captain. Very intelligent eyes; genetics favor
goodness,” Hawkeye said. “Our milkman was myopic.”
smiled, somewhat more coolly. “Well, gentlemen, I’ve enjoyed this little
respite, but I’m afraid its taken it out of me. If you’ll excuse me.”
returned the lieutenant’s wallet. Maubrey loosely saluted the pair and
stumped out the officer’s club door. The MP looked quizzically at Pierce.
I miss something, Doc, or did it kinda cool off in here?”
sipped his drink meditatively. “Yeah, you got that, too? I think my parting
comment hit him wrong. Oh, well – Hawkeye Pierce, winning friends and influencing
nurses. You see anything interesting, Columbo?”
“What do you mean, sir?”
Hawkeye gave the private the fish
eye. “We’re going to have to take away your Ellery Queen decoder ring,
Private. I guess if I’m going to play Dr. Watson to your Sherlock Holmes,
I’m going to have to make owl noises or something. The family photos, Columbo.
There’s no sign Shoop and Maubrey knew each other here, so I thought maybe
you’d want to look for any connection stateside. You see anything hinky?”
sir?” Columbo frowned. “Lemme think...”
Hawkeye called across the room. The cadaverous Mess Hall server looked
up from near the bar. “A little D-5, if you please.”
nodded, evaluated the distance to the big colorful box in the corner, and
retrieved a straw broom from behind the bar. He reached with the tool and
jabbed the jukebox twice. Within seconds, Sinatra’s bourbon-mellow tones
filled the room. Igor replaced the broom and slouched back over his beer.
energy for the mashed potato crowd,” Hawkeye explained. “Well, Mr. Holmes?”
dunno...I guess it is a little funny...”
when I asked the lieutenant if he was married, he set me straight that
the kid in the picture was his nephew, but he didn’t say the woman in the
photos was his sister, which I’m pretty sure is who it was, cause of the
resemblance to him. The lieutenant, that is.”
hurt yourself conjugating, Columbo. What’s that mean?”
I mean is, you see a bunch of different pictures of a woman, and one of
a guy with a baby, and you ask him if the kid’s his son. No, it’s not,
he says; it’s his nephew. But I’d think that’d be just part of the answer.
Cause if he’s like me, he’s gonna figure I think the woman in the pictures
is his wife. But he didn’t say nothing about her.”
looked blankly at Columbo. “You’re losing me. And besides, if the girl
had been Mrs. Lieutenant Maubrey and the kid had been Little Lieutenant
Maubrey, wouldn’t she have been in the photo with Maubrey and the baby?”
sir,” Columbo said enthusiastically. “Would you say Lt. Maubrey is rea
close to his family?”
don’t know; I guess.”
I gotta guess the woman in the photos is his only sister. Cause otherwise,
wouldn’t he have a picture of another one?”
logic is flawless, at least after another Scotch.”
that would make the nephew his sister’s kid, right?”
isn’t that a kinda funny picture? Maubrey posing with his nephew, instead
of his sister holding her own kid? I mean, isn’t that the way they’d do
slurped his drink.
while we’re talkin’, why’s he have so many pictures of his sister? You
know what it’s like? I got this Aunt Renata, her kid, my cousin Izzy, died
in Italy the last war. Well, she’s got five other boys, but you visit her
house, she’s got like 20, 30 pictures of Izzy plastered up all over the
Christmas, I ask my cousin Frank, Aunt Renata’s youngest, ‘It bother you
your mom’s got about 10 times more pictures of Izzy hangin’ around the
house than you or your brothers?’ He says, ‘Nah. She’s still got us. Those
pictures, they’re about all she’s got left of Izzy. He’s a smart kid, Frank,
but this is my point: It’s almost like the lieutenant’s got himself some
kinda shrine to his sister in that wallet of his. Like he’s gotta have
as many snaps of her as he can to keep her up here.” Columbo tapped his
suddenly clapped his glass onto the table, with a look of epiphany. “And
she didn’t pose with the baby because--”
wasn’t around to pose with the baby,” Columbo supplied, an abrupt glimmer
of intelligence appearing in his eye.
Pierce’s brow wrinkled. “But how’s that apply to Sgt. Shoop?”
glimmer vanished. “I don’t got the slightest idea, Captain.”
more drinks, Quan,” Hawkeye called out. “You got any more requests before
Igor gets too loaded to handle a broom?”
Columbo glanced over at the gloomy enlisted man, then at the broom behind
the bar. He sat transfixed for a moment, then slapped the makeshift table.
MP rubbed his chin. “I dunno. I think I got an inspiration. Either that
or the lamb didn’t sit too well on my gut.”
late afternoon Pre-Op was peaceful except for a few snores and an occasional
moan or unconscious cry from a soldier reliving a battlefield experience.
Nurse Kelly was on watch; a small, mustached man was in consultation with
the amputee Hawkeye and Houlihan had been so concerned about. Maubrey was
asleep in his cot. Major Winchester was moving from bed to bed, checking
stats and dosages.
Doc,” Columbo called quietly. The major wheeled about.
our young sleuth,” Winchester said. “And how might I be of service to you
a rich guy, right?”
major’s brow rose microscopically. “A Winchester does not customarily flaunt
affluence or breeding. But, yes.”
know anything about polo?” the private inquired. “That’s the one with the
horses and the clubs, right?”
Winchester recited. “The melding of man and equine in civilized competition.
And the implements of the sport are referred to as mallets. Are you considering
trading in your stickball paraphernalia for polo togs, heh heh?”
blanched. “Oh, geez, no, sir. My pop took me for a pony ride one time for
my seventh birthday, and I almost fell on my head. I think that horse could
tell I was afraid of him. No, sir; I was wondering about what kinda guy
plays polo. I mean, what kinda shape do you have to be in?”
Winchester considered. “Strength is not necessarily a prerequisite, though
a solid forearm certainly would be an asset. No, coordination and precision
are the keys, I believe – being able to pinpoint one’s shots and guide
the ball unerringly to one’s teammates.”
what you’re saying is, a guy who can handle the club – ah, mallet – real
well,” Winchester smiled tightly.
Hey, thanks, Doc.”
pleasure, Private.” The physician moved on to the next cot.
bee-lined to the nurse’s desk. The plump Kelly looked up pleasantly.
me, Nurse,” he began. “You remember Sgt. Shoop, the guy who died a while
nurse’s eyes flashed. “Are you the detective? The guy Capt. Pierce called
to solve the murder?”
nearly blushed. “I dunno if I’d call me a detective, but I am looking into
love mysteries,” Kelly breathed. “You ever read Ellery Queen? Agatha Christie?”
like The Flash and Batman,” Columbo offered. “What I was wondering was,
do you know who was in the cot next to Lt. Maubrey the night Shoop died?”
mean, who was next to Shoop? That was Private Henderson, the poor guy.”
I mean, who was next to Lt. Maubrey. I mean on the other side, not between
Maubrey and Shoop.”
frowned, then shuffled through some papers on the desk. “Oh, yeah, that
was Col. Underhill. He had the gout – common brass disease, too much desk
time and hooch.”
like when your leg’s all swelled up, right?” Columbo asked.
appeared pleased, and surprised. “So he mighta had a crutch.”
closed her eyes for a moment. “Yeah, he did.”
you think there’s any way you could tell me which crutch he was using?”
Kelly squeaked. “I don’t think so. I can show you the crutches, but I don’t
think I could tell you which one he was using.”
nurse slowly climbed to her feet, and led Columbo to supply closet near
the scrub area. A row of crutches and canes hung on wooden pegs. The private
began to pull the crutches from the wall, one by one, peering closely at
the rubber foot of each. Nurse Kelly watched him with mingled curiosity
Columbo finally cried. “Nurse, look at the end of this crutch. What does
that look like?”
she drawled, “it looks like threads caught in that crack there. And some
white lint on the side there.”
maybe fibers and thread off a pillow?”
you come with me for a minute?” he asked, tucking the crutch under his
arm and moving rapidly back toward the post-op. Kelly trailed him, baffled.
surveyed the post-op, nodded, and led the nurse to a group of three empty
cots. He selected the first, and stretched out. “Don’t take this the wrong
way, Nurse Kelly,” he cautioned, “but would you please lay down on the
cot two beds away from me?”
had wandered back over, and was looking on with bemusement. Kelly looked
to the major for guidance, help, whatever.
I assume he can do no damage to your virtue from two cots away, heh,” Winchester
chortled. Kelly grimaced, and climbed into bed.
just lay on your back, and pretend you’re doped up,” Columbo murmured,
wrestling the crutch for the optimum leverage. He twisted on his hip, legs
immobile, and reached with the crutch toward Kelly. The nurse watched in
somewhat horrified amazement as the private stretched and grunted. The
rubber tip of the crutch came no closer than two feet from her snub nose.
good,” Columbo finally sighed, pulling the crutch back and propping it
against the center cot. He pulled into a sitting position and scratched
his cheek. “Geez, I really thought I had it, there.”
Winchester clucked in sympathy, Columbo saw that Lt. Maubrey now was wide
awake, leaning on an elbow and studying him intently from across the room.
Was he mistaken, or did Columbo see a look of admiration on the officer’s
yet, though, huh?” Columbo mumbled.
I get up now?” Kelly implored.
ya just look at that?” Columbo exclaimed, awestruck, as he laid his cards
on the wooden “table” Hawkeye had erected in the swamp. “Two royal flushes
in one night. Who’da believed it?”
Klinger responded unenthusiastically. “My Uncle Tanoos was this lucky,
at least until five Teamsters found the ace in his sock.”
really my game,” the private continued, raking in his third pot with both
hands. “My pop would take me down to the local pool hall almost every day
now you’re taking us to the cleaner’s – very generous,” Hawkeye said cheerfully.
say luck is the residue of chance,” Dr. Sidney Freedman mused, smiling
gently at the assembled throng, which this night also included Father Mulcahy;
a pleasant but exhausted Californian named B.J., who’d just returned from
delivering shots to the local orphans; and Winchester, who sat placidly,
an incongruous snifter of brandy at his right elbow. “Perhaps this childhood
exposure to games of chance has heightened Private Columbo’s propensity
toward good fortune. What’s the theological view of luck, Father?”
a little less talk and a lot more dealing would greatly heighten my propensity
toward winning a little extra for the orphanage,” Mulcahy suggested.
pulled a few bills off the top of his pile. “Gee, Father, you shoulda said
so. I’d be happy to help the tykes.”
you, Private,” Mulcahy beamed.
no fair invoking God during the game,” Hawkeye said, feigning indignity.
Mulcahy shrugged, smiling beatifically. “So, Columbo, your theory didn’t
pan out, huh?”
it was a kooky idea, anyway,” Columbo sighed. “I was just trying to come
up with a way a man who couldn’t walk or get out of bed could smother Shoop.
When I put together the lieutenant’s polo and arm wrestling, and Nurse
Kelly told me the guy on the other side of Lt. Maubrey had had a crutch,
I thought maybe I had it. But even with the lieutenant being a taller guy
than me, he wouldn’t’ve been able to pull the pillow out from under Shoop’s
head, work it over his face, and press hard enough to kill him.”
however,” Winchester pondered.
sighed. “Well, Charlock, give. Still what?”
major straightened for his recitation. “Well, it would seem that most of
the ‘evidence’ would tend to back our good private’s theory. There was
a residue of fibers on the cap of the crutch. The smudge on Sgt. Shoop’s
pillow would appear to fit the pattern of the rubber crutch cap, and you
told me you smelled rubber on the aforementioned pillowcase.”
Hawkeye grinned. “You think Shoop was murdered now, don’t you?”
Gloating,” Winchester said frostily, through his flawless teeth. “I have
merely taken a substantive body of forensic evidence and arrived through
Aristophelean reasoning at a conclusion that happens to coincide with your
little Hardy Boys’ hypothesis.”
right,” Hawkeye sang gleefully. Then he sobered. “Except Columbo’s theory
offered up a Mona Lisa smirk. “Well.”
if the smug quotient in this tent gets any higher, we’re likely to float
over the Sea of Japan,” Hawkeye warned. “Spill it.”
it seems to me that Private Columbo, despite his demonstrated brilliance,
has failed to view his theory within its accurate con-text. Pierce, wouldn’t
you agree we’re currently enjoying a relatively slack period?”
things were a smidgeon more hectic the night Sgt. Shoop expired, were they
smidgeon? We were standing room only—” Hawkeye stopped dead, and crinkles
of realization formed at the corners of his eyes. “Charles, you crazy gumshoe,
you. Columbo, we’d come off a heavy load of casualties the night of the
murder, and we had to stack ‘em up in post-op. I’d guess we had about twice
the normal number of cots in the post-op that night.”
crammed together,” Columbo murmured. “So Lt. Maubrey coulda reached Sgt.
Shoop over Private Henderson, easy, seein’ Henderson was knocked out just
like Shoop. You’re a real brain, Major.”
MP nodded vigorously, then settled back into deep contemplation.
looked up. “Well, what do they say in the movies? I got the means, with
that crutch; I got the opportunity – Maubrey coulda killed Shoop without
leavin’ his bed. But if I’m gonna get Lt. Maubrey dead to rights, at least
in this man’s army, I’m gonna need a motive. I still haven’t worked out
why he woulda killed a guy who I don’t think he ever met before.”
crossed his arms and looked at the tent’s roof, as if beginning a therapy
session. “All right. What do you know about Lt. Maubrey and Sgt. Shoop?
Not one or the other, but both, together?”
Cpl. O’Reilly said the sergeant tried talkin’ to the lieutenant, then steered
clear of him like poison,” Columbo considered. “I’m guessin’ the sergeant
said something that ticked him off. ‘Cept from what I hear, that never
stopped Shoop before. So what would’ve?”
Freedman asked. “What scares a man like Sgt. Shoop? A man who’s spent much
of his adult life insulting his fellow man – and woman – and no doubt making
enemies wherever he went.”
looked straight at the psychiatrist. “Wherever he went,” the private stated,
as if a light went on.
held up a hand while he collected his thoughts. “OK, Shoop was a car salesman
back in the States. But Cpl. O’Reilly said he said something about nurses,
um, uh, doing . . . something. . . like an Electrolux XXX. That’s a vacuum
cleaner – my mom almost bought one. But it’s kinda screwy a guy like Shoop
would know about different kinds of vacuum cleaners. Unless...”
ma’am,” Radar began, cheerfully, lowering his voice an octave. He still
sounded like a kid. “This is Horace Walpoole of Good Houses and Gardenkeeping
magazine. We’re taking a poll for our September issue about what kind of
appliances and junk the lady of the house, being you, uses to keep her
house. Clean, that is.”
Maubrey ain’t in,” a husky-voiced woman, who sounded more masculine than
O’Reilly. “I’m the maid. Y’all gonna have to call back later, honey.”
that’s OK,” Radar rallied quickly, transferring the field phone to his
left hand and wiping the sweaty right on his pants leg. “They said we could
talk to maids and like that.”
I ‘spose I could help you out some, long as you don’t wanna know nothing
about the Maubreys’ business or nothing personal.”
you, ma’am.” Radar smiled at Hawkeye and Columbo, who waved encouragement.
“Uh, our first question is, what kinda refrigerator do you use?”
be a Coldspot. The mister bought it last April.”
look.” The phone clunked onto a table. The woman was back in a second.
“That’s a Roper stove, mister. You got any more questions, ‘cause I’m ready
to listen to my radio stories.”
just one more, ma’am. What kind of vacuum cleaner do you use?”
pushin’ it around all day. A Windmaster.”
Radar sang. “That oughtta do it. You’ll get a complimentary copy of Better
Gardens and Housework for answering our survey.”
the maid grunted, and the line went dead.
the corporal proudly supplied.
of a Thousand High-Pitched voices,” Hawkeye informed Columbo.
found him walking the compound on his crutch.
of habit,” Lt. Maubrey explained, staring at the morning sun rising over
the Korean hills. “Back home, I used to take a morning constitutional to
clear my head for the day ahead, maybe step down to the neighborhood diner
to share a story or a joke with a friend before closing time.”
ever hear the one about the traveling salesman?” Columbo asked.
halted for a moment, glanced sidelong at the MP, and moved on. “At the
risk of sounding pious, Private, I don’t particularly care for off-color
humor,” he replied, cooler than usual.
it’s no joke, Lieutenant,” Columbo said. “This is a real story, about a
real traveling salesman. His name was Shoop, and he sold vacuum cleaners.
He’d been sellin’ stuff for years, probably had a girl in every port, probably
girls who didn’t know their way around too good.
the time he was peddling vacuum cleaners, he’d worked his way south to
Georgia. Probably figured some of the rich folks would be easy pickings,
them or their servants.”
never met the man,” Maubrey stated.
I don’t guess you did. But I think your sister did, when he came around
your house. Likely when your folks were out.”
The lieutenant halted again, turning
toward Columbo. “You ought to be careful, Private.”
MP held his ground. “I don’t mean no offense, sir. I’m just tellin’ you
what I think. And I think you killed Sgt. Shoop.”
face was unreadable. “Proceed.”
then, they only sold Windmasters door-to-door and by catalog – one of the
guys at HQ found out. I found out your folks have a Windmaster vacuum cleaner.
If I gotta, I bet I could prove Shoop was workin’ the Atlanta territory
at about the time. . .at about the time your sister got in a family way.
No disrespect intended, Lieutenant.”
leaned on his crutch, and offered the ghost of a smile, mirthless and weary.
“You are a man to be reckoned with, Columbo. I, of course, was in Tokyo,
helping the Occupation forces, and Dinah, my sister, was at a willful age.
Once I realized who the sergeant was, I could tell he could be slick with
the ladies. But would you be so kind as to explain how you reasoned out
what happened to my Dinah?”
waited for a few nurses to pass on their way to the showers. “I just picked
up a little bit here and a little bit there. Little things Shoop said to
folks. What I’m gonna say may bother you, Lieutenant. You sure you wanna
it was mainly two things. Major Winchester told me Shoop made some remark
about a girl he’d met in Georgia who could... You sure, sir? OK. A girl
who could ‘do things with her tongue you wouldn’t believe.’”
face remained neutral.
that kinda hit me funny a little while ago, but I couldn’t think why. Then
I remembered. Can I look at your wallet again, sir?”
looked curiously at the private, then surrendered his billfold. Columbo
opened it and displayed the photo of his nephew.
I was thinkin’ how strange it was you had a picture of your sister – your
only sister, right? – and one of you and your nephew, but not one of your
sister with her boy, your nephew. Then I noticed something about your nephew.”
peered anew at his sister’s son on his lap, eyes twinkling as he rolled
his tongue into a tube.
know much about breeding, Lieutenant?” Columbo asked. “The reasons why
you got blonde hair and I got black? That kinda thing? Well, lemme tell
you, Captain Pierce knows all kinds of things about it. And you know what
he told me? Some folks, they got a gene in ‘em that lets ‘em roll their
tongue just like that baby is in that picture. You either can do it, or
you can’t – it depends on your breeding. An’ that got me wonderin’ if maybe
that’s what Shoop meant about the girl with the unusual tongue.
I wondered if maybe the reason why you had so many pictures of your sister
in your wallet when you only got one of your folks and one of your nephew
was because she wasn’t around no more. You’re from a rich family, sir.
I know if one of the girls in my neighborhood was to have a baby without
a husband, it’d be a disgrace. Her folks wouldn’t be able to look their
neighbors in the eye, an’ she’d probably have to go off to Jersey or somethin’
for awhile. An’ we ain’t rich people. Is that what all that talk about
carpetbaggers was about? Was Shoop the carpetbagger from the North?”
looked long at Columbo, and nodded. “After Shoop did. . .that. . . to my
sister, he made a hasty departure. You see, she was only 17, and she’d
had no experience in the world. My mama was old Atlanta society, and my
daddy even older. In the South, there is no more important code than ‘Death
before dishonor,’ except perhaps the code of silence. There was talk of
sending Dinah away, but of course she was not made privy to that conversation,
or any family communications.
up, Dinah and I were inseparable. She was the baby, I the protector. But
I had long since gone off to protect my country, and I heard what Dinah
did to resolve her predicament, to absolve her shame, by a letter that
arrived at my post two months after they’d buried her. Imagine my astonishment
when this man showed up here, a world away, almost as if delivered to me
by God himself.
that’s what plagues me more than the horrible act I’ve committed. I allowed
myself to fall so far from God’s grace that I could believe He had delivered
another man’s life into my hands. The folly of giving your life over to
war, I suppose.”
stood silent for a moment. “And that’s why you kept giving me hints about
carpetbaggers and tellin’ me how nobody else coulda killed Sgt. Shoop.
You felt guilty about the murder, but you didn’t want me to know about
your sister. You were protecting her again. You wanted to see if I’d fall
to it myself.”
the measure of the man,” Maubrey suggested somberly. “And I must say, Private
Columbo, you have measured up admirably.”
sir,” Columbo replied with equal gravity. “Now, I told you how I figured
out about you and Sgt. Shoop. You wanna tell me how you knew Shoop was
the guy who’d, um, well...”
reached into his trousers, and pulled out a strip of stiff paper. It was
worn and discolored, and Columbo could tell the lieutenant had carried
it with him through several battles. Captured in sepia tones, in four variations
of the same pose, were a lovely, fresh-faced blonde girl and an older,
roughly handsome man with a charming smile and eyes Columbo didn’t trust
even in two dimensions.
snuck out to the county fair carnival, I suspect,” Maubrey said. “He most
probably forgot they’d taken this photo, or figured he’d be long gone soon
enough. But Mama found this in Dinah’s bureau drawer. Didn’t know what
I was going to do with it, but I’ve kept it with me all this time. When
I ran across Shoop in the post-op, it was like some sort of supernatural
event. He was badly wounded, but he just started joking with me anyway,
‘man’-to-man -- filthy stuff as he was accustomed to telling. I simply
looked him in the eye and told him that his son offered his regards. You
should have seen the expression on his face.”
then the world exploded.
a familiar voice barked. “You wanna haul your sorry ass up, ASAP?”
looked up to see the grizzly, razor-nicked face of Sgt. Rowlston, scowling
and breathing Korean hooch in his face. Rowlston’s face was a bluish-gray,
and the sergeant bore a whiskey bottle under one arm and a foot – his foot,
to be precise – under the other. He wore ill-washed olive fatigues and
a Union Army cap.
private sat up to see a landscape of scorched earth and wedding cake Southern
mansions, with Korean villagers, Confederate soldiers, and doctors in surgical
garb busily transporting arms, legs, and heads to some unseen destination.
said, haul ass, you guinea wop nancy,” Rowlston yelled. “I gotta get this
foot sewed back on for the big game Sunday. Coach Kreutzer says I can’t
play less I got two feet, and he sure ain’t gonna pull a little Mary Jane
like you off the bench. That North Korean team’s sposed to be the top in
the league, can suck like an Electrolux Model 500. Get movin’, soldier.”
can’t, Sarge,” Columbo apologized, trying to move his legs.
hell, then.” Rowlston grasped the private’s left foot. “I’ll just take
one a’yours. Always did like Eye-talian, anyway...”
Columbo kicked out with his left leg, knocking Cpl. Klinger on his ass.
The corporal got up, dusted off his chenille frock, and smiled down at
to see you got some life in you, pal,” Klinger greeted anxiously, “But
Capt. Pierce says I gotta get your boots off so you can relax ‘til he looks
at your skull.”
happened?” Columbo sputtered, pulling the last few hours into focus.
don’t respect the ‘Quiet, Hospital Zone’ signs. Tossed a Russian grenade
about 20 feet away from you and the lieutenant, threw you about 10 more.
Lucky for you Maubrey hauled you inside.”
bolted up. He was in Pre-Op, along with about half the camp, from the looks
of it. A muffled explosion sounded outside.
long was I out?” the private demanded.
more’n 20 minutes or so,” Klinger guessed.
didn’t see Lt. Maubrey anywhere. Despite Klinger’s protests, he pushed
up and began searching the faces around him. Hawkeye, attending to a scratched-up
nurse, looked up disapprovingly.
get back in bed!” Pierce shouted. “I don’t know what’s rattling around
in your noggin yet.”
the private gasped. “He confessed to killin’ Shoop, an’ now I can’t find
face softened. “Columbo. Lankowitz – remember the guy who lost his leg?
– disappeared after the bombing started. I think maybe he wants to make
a date with a grenade. Maubrey went out to find him.”
I’ll be back,” Columbo said, brushing Pierce’s hand aside.
man,” said Col. Flagg, who’d been standing behind Hawkeye.
the doctor sighed. “Irving Berlin and his Bamboo Shoot Orchestra.”
aside, Ivan,” Flagg growled, pulling an alarmingly large pistol from his
belt. “The kid and I are gonna go gook hunting, then round up Comrade Kee,
the ringleader’s in the back there, wrapping bandages,” Pierce informed
him. “I’m sure Columbo can get killed without you.”
Columbo agreed. “I’ll be fine, sir.”
nodded. “That’s a boy. I’ll watch Kee.” He swiftly moved through the surgery
I’ll watch for the Wacky Wagon,” Hawkeye murmured. “Look, I think we got
things in hand here; I’ll go with you to see you don’t pass out in the
latrine or something.”
on, then,” Columbo said with uncharacteristic authority.
they spotted the shattered remains of said latrine. Another explosion caused
the pair to jump.
and they said Korea was boring in the fall,” Hawkeye commented. “Look,
I don’t think Maubrey’s gonna grab a bus out of town. I’m more worried
Columbo held up a hand. He heard voices, he thought behind the Mess Tent.
He grabbed Hawkeye’s sleeve, and they moved around the tent.
Maubrey was on his knees, holding a pale and fallen Lankowitz. The amputee
had reopened his sutures, and blood seeped into the dirt around himself
and his rescuer.
go,” Lankowitz wailed weakly and futily. A pair of crutches lie feet away
from Maubrey. “I got 43 bucks in my pack. It’s yours if you’ll just leave
me here. Please.”
moved to the patient, nudged a shoulder under his, and pulled him upright.
“We’ll talk about your finances later, son. Coming, boys?”
a minute,” Maubrey said. Columbo turned abruptly toward him.
dilly-dally,” Hawkeye warned. “We’ll be out of punch and plasma pretty
watched Pierce haul Lankowitz back to the Pre-Op. “C’mon, Lieutenant. I’d
like you to come with me. I bet if we talk to the brass, tell ‘em what
Shoop did to your sister, they’d take it easy on you.”
Maubrey smiled oddly. “I’m not one to pull rank, Private Columbo, but I
don’t think so. Southern creed and all.”
MP felt his heart quicken, remembering something Maubrey had said earlier.
“You’re under arrest, sir.”
nodded, then began to walk away. Columbo pulled his side-arm.
nearly blew his foot off as an ovoid metal object plopped, bounced twice,
and rolled to a stop before him.
charged, butting Columbo in the diaphragm and knocking him once again off
his feet. The lieutenant grabbed the grenade and began to sprint away from
Columbo, toward the outskirts of the camp.
Columbo wheezed, and he gave chase. He aimed his gun at the retreating
lieutenant, who was a half-football field away. “Halt! Throw it away, sir!”
turned, regarded the grenade in his hand.
rid of it!” Columbo screamed.
lieutenant pulled himself to attention, and his right hand snapped into
a sharp salute, directed at Columbo. The MP suddenly stiffened, and reluctantly
but resolutely returned the salute.
Hawkeye reached the point where he’d heard the last explosion, he found
Columbo attempting to crawl to his feet, dusting off his jacket and pants.
The doctor followed the line of the private’s vision to a newly blasted
excavation and the twisted body just beyond...
decided to just let sleeping dogs lie,” Lt. Columbo told Thomas Jefferson
Pierce, who had abandoned John Doe to listen rapt to the policeman’s tale.
“Your grandpa and I figured Lt. Maubrey’s folks had been through enough,
losing one kid already. They didn’t need to know their son had killed the
man who’d killed her. Plus, Maubrey had saved my life, so I figured I owed
him. It went down as a heroic accident.
turned out to be just one guy who’d attacked the hospital, some half-crazy
North Korean soldier, 16 or so. Most of his squad had got killed in a raid,
and he’d wandered around with a bag of grenades for weeks ‘til he found
anything looked American. One of our snipers got him, but Hawkeye patched
him up. When he woke up, the kid kept askin’ us to be sure and let his
people know after he’d been executed. Death before dishonor.” Columbo shook
Pierce took a deep breath, and hoisted himself from his chair. “You know,
Lieutenant, I’m too young to even have been in the Persian Gulf, so I don’t
know too much about military stuff. But I’ve worked a few cases with the
Bomb Squad, and it seems to me like there was an awful long delay between
that grenade landing and Lt. Maubrey getting blown to kingdom come. Columbo?”
homicide lieutenant pursed his lips as he stared at the young medical examiner.
Finally, he nodded, and rooted through his raincoat.
woulda been proud of you,” Columbo chuckled, finding what he’d sought.
He handed the object to Tom Pierce. “I was never one of those guys who
collected war souvenirs. Nothing much about the war I wanted to keep. But
I guess this one was special, and it was my first case, even if only your
grandpa and now you knows I solved it.
found that thing a few yards from where Lt. Maubrey was killed, not up
where the North Korean was holed up, where it shoulda been. See, the kid
was so tired and hungry and desperate, he was starting to get sloppy. When
I say Lt. Maubrey saved my life that day, I meant the first time, when
I wound up in the hospital. I wasn’t really in danger when that grenade
dropped at my feet. The lieutenant saw his opportunity, and stuck to his
creed. Death before dishonor.”
Columbo slipped the grenade pin back into his pocket.