Chapter 5

“Who are you?” demanded Ari, keeping a firm grip on his yardstick.

Apparently, the stranger in the deli booth either ignored or didn’t notice the question and continued smiling at the chihuahua, whose antics he obviously found very entertaining. The man’s hair was a curly mop and stuck out from under his cap in random directions. Tortoise-shell spectacles sat halfway down his pointy nose. Ari thought he looked like an owl. And, like the dog, he had a peculiar tendency to reflect the streetlights which made him stand out a bit from the other objects in the deli.

“Kipper,” said the man, tapping the end of his ball-topped walking stick on the floor. “Git over here varmint!”

Kipper gave the air a disdainful sniff, then trotted proudly to the man in the booth and jumped on his lap.

“Dewey,” said the man in the booth.

“Do we what?” said Ari, wondering whether he should be waking up Uncle Ellery.

“Dewey Daylatch,” said the man. He looked around the room, squinting. “What do y’all sell here anyway? Funny little place, ain’t it?”

“Daylatch?” said Ari. He didn’t know Wilton Daylatch had a family, other than his wife Dreama, the new bank manager, but supposed, once he thought about it, that most people did. “So…did Wilton Daylatch send you here?”

“Wilton?” exclaimed Dewey. “Willy? Rapscallion, that one. He’s a grifter…a grafter. That one’s a bad egg all right.”
Kipper growled as if in complete agreement.

Ari was confused. “So, you’re not here because of Wilton?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m here on account o’ Willy all right,” replied Dewey with a chuckle. “Don’t like his style, that one. Don’t like the cut of his jib, if ya catch my drift. That just isn’t how my school for boys was meant to be run. It sure isn’t.” He shook his head, as if to clear the dust away, then chuckled again. “So what is this joint? A commissary or somesuch?”

“It’s a deli,” said Ari.

“Right,” said Dewey, as if he’d known it all along. He pulled something out of his pocket which resembled a watch or a compass that sparkled magnificently in the streetlight, and squinted at it. “Right…” Then he looked more befuddled than before and stared straight at Ari. “Used to be a speakeasy you know. So what was I goin’ ta tell you?”

“I don’t know,” replied Ari.

“Yep,” continued Dewey. “I was gonna tell y’all somethin’ all right…somethin’, somethin’, somethin…” He was concentrating so hard, Ari thought he might be in pain, but then his expression relaxed and he laughed.

“Who was it as said dead men don’t tell tales?”

“I don’t know,” said Ari again. He had a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“What a crock,” said Dewey. “Well here’s a tale. I lost somethin’.”

Ari didn’t think that was much of a tale at all, but it seemed rude to say so.

“Oh, I ain’t all that stupid,” continued Dewey, “but they were always sayin’ I was a little distractible…didn’t they Kipper, didn’t they?”

Kipper looked bored, but Ari had a hunch that he agreed.

“Don’t know what I lost, don’t know where I lost it,” said Dewey. “But here’s what I do remember…” He paused for a moment, staring at the the wall behind the cash register as if it were a lovely picturesque horizon instead of a wall. “A home for the fleas at three-hundred degrees.”

“What?” said Ari. He seriously wondered whether this conversation was going anywhere.

“Just what I said,” replied Dewey, as if it should have made perfect sense to anybody. “A home for the fleas at three-hundred degrees. Thing is, I never got around to tellin’ anybody. Which is why I’m tellin’ y’all.”

Ari looked around wondering if he’d ever figure out who “y’all” was. Then he turned toward Dewey and Kipper because he wanted to say “Why are you telling me this,” but there was no-one to say it to. The booth was empty.

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