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Holidays are bad for business, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are the worst of them all. Especially here in the Twin Cities. It's not enough that the serial adulterers who are the mainstay of our business, cursed with the occasional twinge of conscience, opt to stay home with their families over the holidays. No, at this time of the year we also have to contend with blizzards and snowdrifts, which really ruin a wayward doctor's day, not to mention his nights. I ask you … how is the jerk supposed to interview the cream of the latest nursing school crop at a sleazy airport hotel down on the 494 Strip if the road's impassable? And even if by some miracle the highway department deigns to roll with the plows, where's he supposed to park? Leave the Volvo on a city street during a snow emergency, and you get towed. Put the BMW in the motel parking lot, and there's a fighting chance it'll still be there when the snow starts to melt sometime in March, or maybe April. Minnesota winters are not exactly predictable.

No, there's no doubt about it: holidays are bad for business. Year after year, Twinkletoes and her trusty Olympus 35mm camera with its handy dandy collection of lenses and filters go their separate ways in mid-November, not to be reunited again until New Year's Eve, when things will finally start to get back to normal around here. Come early January, aggrieved wives will be storming through the door, eager to get the goods on their wayward spouses en route to a big payday in divorce court.

Our paydays are somewhat more modest. Twinkletoes will cost you seventy five bucks an hour, plus expenses. Pat and I charge three hundred an hour, and we bill in six minute increments. Get the picture?

Anyway, on the plus side the two of us have six weeks a year to catch up on our reading. Pat favors Playboy and Hustler. My taste runs to crossword puzzles. Anybody know a five letter Zulu word for an eland?

Oh, and as for Julia? What can I say? The week before Thanksgiving is when she renews her acquaintance with the kitchen. It's an annual tradition. For six weeks, she cooks up a storm, and we all loosen our belts another notch (it's the Minnesota way). In any event, Twinkletoes is married to this really nice guy, so we'll overlook the fact that Herb Canon is a cop with more than twenty years on the force. Alas, it's impossible to overlook their winsome daughter, Priscilla. Pris is also a cop, of the campus variety, and she packs a mean right. A guy in a bar up nordeast recently called her Prissy, and she laid him out with one punch. No one paid much attention, this being a cop bar and all, and to his credit the guy got up, rubbed his jaw, apologized, and then offered to buy her a drink. She accepted graciously, and all was forgiven.

He was lucky that Pris didn't break a cue stick over his skull.

So here we were, Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, and nary a client in sight. Still, there were pluses, and the three of us did have reasons to be thankful. For one thing, we didn't have to worry about paying the rent because we owned the building. Our office was on the top floor-- all right, already … a second floor walk-up-- and there was a very good delicatessen down below. We shared Two with a guy selling insurance, and he had a dry cleaner's underfoot. We all did well because we were directly across the street from one of the largest hospitals in the state. Desperate nurses made periodic forays to the deli, the weekly pastrami on rye an antidote to what passed for food in the hospital cafeteria. The dry cleaners specialized in blood, vomit and assorted gore. The insurance guy did a booming business writing policies for the boats tied up along the St. Croix, including the houseboats that a small troop of physicians used for extracurricular activities all year round. And of course the soon to be ex-wives, most of them nurses past and present, were the mainstay of our own thriving concern. Julia got the goods with her trusty Olympus, and we nailed the cheaters to the proverbial courthouse wall. Over the years, from Stillwater to Prescott, many a houseboat title had changed hands thanks to our diligent efforts. In our experience, long suffering wives definitely had a thing for houseboats.

To make a long story short, we were just marking time when the door opened and the Incredible Hulk filled our line of sight. It took the Hulk a few moments to figure out that he needed to do the sideways shuffle, or remain forever condemned to stand in the hallway. The sharpest stick in the bunch the Hulk definitely was not, and his jacket was at least two sizes too small. Still, the cannon that he was packing in a shoulder holster looked like a good fit for his hulk like hands.

The second guy through the door was a celebrity, although not one whom we had had the honor of representing in court. In fairness, though, Spats Belmondo tended to favor extralegal solutions for his more pressing problems. You could buy a lot of lead for three hundred bucks an hour.

“You want I should frisk them, Boss? Maybe look for a wire?”

“Fuhgeddaboudit, Walley; deese guys ain't wearing no wires … not in their own office. Besides, dey didn't know we was comin'.”

“Right on both counts, Spats … right on both counts. But what gives with the muscle?” I was nodding at the Hulk; a third fellow was now standing just inside the door. Short and wiry, wearing a fedora with the brow too low, he was sporting a mustache that looked like an oil slick. The black shirt and white tie were straight out of Hollywood. The guy couldn't pull off Bogart, but maybe he was going for Alan Ladd.

“I mean, seriously. You've got a walleye on the payroll? Since when did the gorillas get shoved to the curb?”

“Ha, ha; very funny, shamus. I like your sense of humor.” Spats settled into a chair on the opposite side of the desk and crossed his right leg. He studied the shine on his shoe, pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket, and flicked an imaginary piece of dust aside.

“Julia's the shamus, Spats; I'm a mouthpiece, and my esteemed associate here is a legal eagle.” Pat had set the latest issue of Hustler aside, reluctantly joining the conversation.

“It speaks,” Spats laughed. “For a moment dere, I thought yous was a potted plant!”

The two bodyguards laughed politely.

“Twinkletoes I get,” Spats continued, “but what's with Aardvark and Platypus? Those your real names?”

“Andrew Jones and Pat Smith at your service,” I said. “Aardvark puts us first in the phone book, and I have absolutely no idea how Platypus came about. Pat, you remember?”

“I was drunk at the time. I don't remember a damned thing.”

“Smith and Jones? Jeez … yous was right to scratch 'em off the list. Smith and Wesson? Yeah, now that I could see.”

The Hulk and his oily friend once again laughed politely.

“To business,” Spats announced as he slapped his hands firmly on my desk. “I wanna hire da Twinkie to help me out with a lidda problem.”

“Seventy-five dollars an hour, plus expenses, with a retainer of five hundred samolies, payable in advance and in cash.” I was not big on beating around the bush.

Spats snapped his fingers, and the oil can stepped forward. He pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket, and handed it to the mobster. Spats casually threw it on the desk.

“Dere's a G in dere; if the Twinkster needs more, have her call this number ...” Spats slid a business card across the desk.

“Lullaby Adult Diaper Service?” I stared at him blankly.

“One of my more profitable enterprises,” Spats smirked. “We supply all dah nursing homes in the Cities, and we even got regular joes as customers. Why, we even got us a university guy, a regular war hero who got shot to pieces over there.” Spats nodded vaguely in the general direction of the Pacific coast. “Makes us look real classy.”

“You mean Viet Nam?”

“Yeah … maybe … hell, I don't know. We're fightin' so many wars in so many places … who can keep track?”

“You have a point. And with whom at your diaper service are we supposed to speak?”

“My niece, Harriet. Nicolo's little girl, only she's all grown up now. She fronts dah whole operation, and she runs a real tight ship.”

“Ah,” I said, the truth dawning as I looked more closely at the card. “Miss Harriet Belmondo.” Fingering the card, I leaned forward, just a fellow conspirator trying to get an update. “So, what's the play, Spats? How can we help?”

“Somebody's stealing my diapers,” Spats growled.

. . . .

“No, Ian, really … there's no need to apologize. Many of our individual customers suspend service for a week or two, especially during the holidays. If you're going out of town for a family gathering, you can't very well carry a diaper pail on the plane with you.”

Sitting at an adjoining desk, Francine Sullivan could hear the young professor's voice through the phone, but she could not make out what he was saying. Still, it was easy enough to fill in the blanks.

“No, no, there's no inconvenience. Your service is on Wednesday; giving us notice two days in advance is more than enough time. Can you call Monday next to confirm resumption of service?"

More mumbling on the line.

“That's a good idea. Give me a number next Monday, and I'll adjust your order. No sense in paying for three dozen if you will only need two. How's your car doing? Still down for the count?”

Mumble, mumble.

“It must be so hard for you, this being your first winter. And I got used to you driving out here on Wednesday afternoons to process your order in person. Do you realize that you are the only customer I've ever met? Everybody else is just a name, address and telephone number in the files.”


“No! I appreciate how embarrassing it was for you to leave two bags of dirty diapers sitting in the hallway all day long when you left for work, where your neighbors couldn't help but see them. And then there's our brightly colored delivery truck pulling into the parking lot of an adults only complex. None of this could have been easy for you, so I was happy to help.”

Ian started to mumble yet again, but Harriet cut him off.

“No, Ian, it's never been an inconvenience, and please, stop apologizing for the day you came in just as we were closing. It's not every day that a guy apologizes for something so trivial by taking a hungry gal out to dinner! And my offer still stands. I can drive down on Wednesday nights after you get home from work, and do the pick up and drop off in person. I would be barely going out of my way, so it would really be no trouble at all. So, will you at least think about it?”

One last mumble.

“You will? That's great! Enjoy Thanksgiving!” Harriet hung up the phone with a long sigh.

“Not going out of your way?' Francine had a very knowing grin. “Harry, you live on Lake Minnetonka, and he's down in Bloomington, which, the last time I looked, is half way to Iowa! The two of you are barely in the same time zone!”

“I know, I know, but what can I say? He told my uncle that the tagliatelle was to die for, and the gnocchi the best he's ever eaten. He praised the wine list, raved about the Valpolicella … and he did all this in Italian so polished that my uncle mistook him for an aristocrat from Milan or the lake district. He even tore up the bill-- and Rudy never comps anybody for anything! It was the best date I've ever had!”

“Someone's got a crush … nah de nah de nah nah,” Francine teased. “But he's not Italian, he's not Catholic, and he not only wears diapers and pees in them … he poops in them! Sorry, Harry, but this guy is definitely a no-no. Your uncle would have a fit if he found out about your date, and you can count your lucky stars that Rudy chose to keep his lip zipped.”

“I know, Francie; I know. But a girl's entitled to the odd fantasy, isn't she? And you don't know what it's like! Every, single Sunday after Mass, Ariana rubs it in … 'you're twenty-six and still no husband? My Francesca is your age, and she's expecting her third bambino any day now'. I am so sick of it!”

“Shitty diapers,” Francine countered. She knew that Harriet needed to get out more, but being a Belmondo was a social curse as well as a financial blessing. No one wanted to date a notorious gangster's favorite niece-- at least, no one respectable.

“True, and believe me … I've peeked into his dirty diapers. Yuk!!! But you forgot something. Ian's a professore! Uncle Vinnie would kill to have a professor in the family!”

. . . .

“I can't believe how easy it is to rip these people off,” Cindy crowed. “I mean … seriously? The driver drops off bags of clean diapers at the front door, picks up the used and walks off. He doesn't even bother to ring the bell. Who are these morons, anyway?”

“The gift that keeps on giving,” Melanie laughed. “Just think. A week's worth of adult diapers for one of their customers is enough to keep one of our pigeons in diapers for a week as well, and the baby diapers make wonderful stuffers! The photographs should be enough to keep them in line, but if need be, we can always up the ante by threatening to send them to class with a dozen baby diapers stuffed inside their already bulging pants!”

“And I can't wait to track them down in the laundromat,” she added as she checked the mirror, making sure that one of their sisters in a trailing car would be stopping to execute the snatch and grab. “I'll be there offering to help them fold their nice, clean diapees! God, how I love humiliating these jerks!”

“A pigeon here and a pigeon there,” Cindy hummed, “means easy A's in physics, chemistry, astronomy, calculus … am I leaving anything out?”

“Why stop there? Beg, borrow and steal the diapers … invest a little of our own cash in lovely, pink baby pants … seduce the brainiac with a blow job, promise him real sex if he just indulges a teensy, weensy innocent little fantasy, click, click-- don't worry, dear, the photos are just to remember you by-- and then blackmail the twerp for four years to do all of our coursework! Our house ends up with the highest GPA on sorority row, and we get to spend four homework free years partying like there's no tomorrow. The frat boys will love us, especially if we get our pigeons to do their homework as well.”

“And our misbegotten parents will be so thrilled when we all graduate Phi Beta Kappa!”

“The ultimate bang for their tuition bucks,” Melanie concluded, watching the diaper delivery truck round the corner and ease to a stop at the next house on its route.

. . . .

“Give me the skinny, Spats. We looking at a B&E at the laundry? Or did somebody hijack one of your delivery trucks?”

“Nah, nuttin like dat. It looks like somebody's tailing the driver. He makes the pick up an drop, an takes off. Before yous can say 'Frank sent me', somebody runs up and puts the snatch on my diapers. I want da Twinkster to find the guilty party, and den get back to me.”

“No police involvement?”

Spats gave me a sour look. It was eloquence itself. “Dey even ripped off Fredo's load. Can yous believe it? My brudder … my poor brudder … some asswipe stole his diapers right offa da front porch!”

“How's Freddy doing these days? Getting any better?”

“Nah. Dey held his head under water too long.”

“Toothpick Charlie,” Pat suddenly exclaimed. “That's who he reminds me of,” he went on, nodding at the walking oil slick. “Toothpick Charlie!”

“Yeah,” I said, snapping my fingers, “the resemblance is astonishing! And you, Spats; did anyone ever tell you that you look just like George Raft?”


“Spats Colombo … you know … the Windy City hood that got bumped off by Little Bonaparte down in Florida at the annual Friends of Italian Opera convention.”

“I don't know nuttin bout dat. And da convention was in Vegas, not Florida. We ain't been to Florida since the Commies took Havana. Dat bearded guy ain't no friend of Italian opera.”

“So, when did Fredo lose his diapees, anyway?”

Spats turned to look over his shoulder.

“Last Monday.” Toothpick Charlie's voice was as lugubrious as his mustache. “There has to be a gang of diaper thieves out there, because they followed the driver from stop to stop, and stole everything that wasn't nailed down.”

“Dis here's Pauly, my Consigliere. He keeps an eye on things for me.”

“Any chance that a rival gang is trying to muscle in on your territory, maybe another diaper service?”

“Geesh! Come on guys, act yours age. If we was dealin' with a competitor, I wouldn't need da Twinkster, now would I? Geesh!”

“Point well taken, Spats … point well taken.”

“Wally rode shotgun on Tuesday and Wednesday.” The oil slick nodded at his companion the Hulk. Now that Spats had taken off his muzzle, Charlie seemed determined to talk us to death. “We knocked on doors, and if somebody answered, we delivered the diapers and best wishes for the holidays. But every drop where there was nobody home? On both days, they all went missing. The hit to our inventory, both baby and adult, has been significant. If we don't get our diapers back, service will be interrupted, and we'll lose customers. Can't have that, gentlemen; the diaper business is very profitable.”

“What about the university guy? Was he condemned to spend Thanksgiving peeing in his pants?”

“Nah. He called Harriet on Monday. He was goin' outta town or somethin', so he got no service. Unless somebody broke into his pad, his stash is safe.”

“Good to know. Well, here's what we're going to do. I'll phone Julia and get her ass in gear. She'll start tomorrow. What time's your first truck roll?”

“Eight sharp.” The Toothpick was obviously in command of the details.

“Okay. Best guess is that she'll want to tail your driver, and see if she can spot somebody else clinging to his fender. However, at some point she'll want to drop by the shop and have a chat with Harriet. You know the drill, Spats … always look for an unhappy employee, or one down on his luck. Nine times out of ten, these capers turn out to be inside jobs.”

“Good thinkin', Aardvark. I'll get Harriet on the blower, and let her know what's up. She's a good kid, and she's takin' this personally. She wants her diapers back, period, end of story.”

Spats climbed to his feet, tipped his fedora, and strolled out of the room with the same casual grace that he had displayed entering it. His spats were spotless.

. . . .

So there we were, Pat and I, alone once more, but with an envelope stuffed with hundred dollar bills sitting quietly atop my desk. I looked over at Pat, wondering if he was also thinking that having Spats Belmondo for a client was about the stupidest thing we had ever done. Pat shrugged, picked up his copy of Hustler, and resumed reading, or looking at photos of naked ladies, whatever it was that Pat actually did when he opened the covers of one of his dirty magazines. I didn't really want to know, and so far had managed to refrain from finding out. Instead, I picked up the phone and dialed the Canon residence. It was time to let Twinkletoes know that we had a client who was rich and appreciative of her expertise. It remained to be seen whether she would be less than enthusiastic about solving the case of the missing diapers on behalf of the shadiest mobster in the Twin Cities.

. . . .

“We need more diapers,” Cindy summed up. “We simply do not have the resources with which to blackmail the braniacs who can make all of our academic problems go away, for the simple reason that the list of our academic shortcomings is inexhaustible. If we don't want to lose our charter, we need more diapers.”

Cindy was addressing the sorority's brain trust. Trailing the diaper service truck for the first three days of Thanksgiving week had netted them a huge pile of baby diapers, but precious few of the adult variety. In fact, they only had enough to entrap three pigeons, which would nicely cover physics, chemistry and calculus, but the rest of the curriculum was a gigantic black hole eager to swallow the sorority whole.

“We could all spend more time hitting the books,” Joyce suggested helpfully. “You know … reduce our exposure.”

“Oh, please,” Melanie snorted. Joyce was only in the house because she was a legacy, and she was only on the Council because her older sister had been on the Council. In Melanie's opinion, Joyce Wiggins was proof positive that something had gone terribly wrong with the whole fraternity system.

“Does anybody else have any bright ideas?” Cindy shared Melanie's opinion of both the fraternity system in general and Joyce Wiggins in particular.

“I have a suggestion,” Tippi started to say.

“Who the fuck let that cat in here,” Janis screamed. “Everybody in the house knows that I'm allergic to cat hair. And who the fuck would name a cat 'Blofeld' in the first place? That's just plain sick!”

“As I was saying.” Tippi tried again.

“Blofeld is an oriental shorthair, and they don't shed,” Melanie sniffed. “So, calm down, already.”

“And what's with you and psychopaths, anyway? I mean, really … you boo Batman, and cheer for the Joker. You don't get Smart, but you write fan letters to Siegfried. And you name your fucking cat after the creepiest guy ever to crawl across the silver screen. And who put you in charge of this meeting, anyway?"

“Actually, Cindy's in charge.”

“Would anyone like to hear my idea,” Tippi asked yet again. A tall, slender, hauntingly beautiful nineteen year old blonde from New Ulm, Tippi rarely spoke up. In fact, she worked hard to stay out of the limelight. Tippi's parents had not done their daughter any favors when they named her for New Ulm's most famous export. From elementary school to university, every boy who crossed her path had asked her the same, dreary question.

“Tippi has the floor,” Cindy proclaimed, pounding the table with her gavel in a bold attempt to restore order.

“Laying low today was a good idea because we have to assume that whoever owns the diaper service will now have someone shadowing his delivery truck. For the same reason, we should back off tomorrow as well. Rather than trailing the truck, we should send a team to hang out at three different addresses on his route-- addresses widely spaced. If we spot one car at all three locations, we'll know what's what. Then, we get back to work on Wednesday, but we only target one drop … the large, adults only apartment complex down in Bloomington that he hit late in the afternoon two weeks ago. There'll be at least a week's worth of used diapers waiting outside somebody's door, which I am going to steal before the driver gets there. We'll stuff some dirty, old rags into the bag so that it looks and feels the same, and once he's gone, I'll also grab the clean diapers. We get two weeks worth of adult diapers in one go, and give these creeps the middle finger in the process. Then we give our pigeons enough diapers for three or four days, forcing them to visit the laundromat twice a week … for double the humiliation. We'll end up with maybe nine guys doing our coursework, and the Great Diaper Heist of 1979 will be just another unsolved crime.”

“Any other ideas,” Cindy asked as she scanned the room. “No? Then we'll vote on Tippi's proposal in accordance with house rules. All in favor so signify by touching the tip of your nose with your right hand; all opposed so signify by grabbing your left ear lobe with your left hand.”

Cindy once again scanned the room.

“The ayes have it, and the vote is unanimous. Tippi and I will take care of business tomorrow, and on Wednesday. The rest of you get to work drawing up a target list. Finals are just a couple of weeks away, and some of us have term papers. We need to trap our pigeons this weekend, and have them in diapers by Monday next at the latest!”

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Great new story.  I seemed to notice that there are some referenced to a group of folks I am familiar with.  I love the mix 😁.  
I will be looking forward to more. 

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4 hours ago, kerry said:

Who knew that Babypants was starting a whole new "universe" of interconnected Minnesota diaper stories?

Thanks!  From the beginning, An Homage to Vincent Vega was designed to allow prequels, sequels and spin offs.  Each of the three narrative arcs in Homage to date (Rita's house / psych ward / campus) was designed to have continuing characters like Ian and Vickie anchor the whole, with new characters being introduced in each arc.  New characters in new settings create new story lines, like Aardvark.  This is a satiric piece; I wanted to inject a little humor into this "universe" (neat way of characterizing the whole ensemble of stories) to complement the often wacky characters populating Homage.  Rest assured that Ian and Vickie will continue to spread mayhem wherever they go, much to Sarah's dismay.  

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I'm definitely on intrigued by this story, but I'm on the fence as to whether I'll enjoy it more then the main story or not or if I'll enjoy them the same. It's a little early to tell.

As for the students, they better watch out. They shouldn't be messing with organized criminals. I read this right after you posted it so I don’t remember if they even know who runs the company they're stealing from. Now the one student that tried to get them to stop better watch out. If they think of her as weak she'll probably find herself on the receiving end of the sorority paddle, if she doesn't already and probably get to test some of those diapers out that they're stealing first hand.

Can't wait to see how Ian and Vickie show up in this story.

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1 hour ago, Guilend said:

As for the students, they better watch out. They shouldn't be messing with organized criminals. I read this right after you posted it so I don’t remember if they even know who runs the company they're stealing from.

The students don't have a clue.  After all, who would expect a diaper service to be owned by a kingpin of organized crime?  

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16 minutes ago, Babypants said:

The students don't have a clue.  After all, who would expect a diaper service to be owned by a kingpin of organized crime?  

Yeah, I figured they wouldn't. Besides it's not like they even think about organized crime, or anything like that, apparently all these girls are thinking about is cheating, sex and alcohol.

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57 minutes ago, Guilend said:

apparently all these girls are thinking about is cheating, sex and alcohol.

Holy Cat Whiskers, Batman!  Commissioner Gordon says that college girls are cheating on their exams, having sex, and getting drunk!

To the Batmobile, Robin!  We have to investigate this in person!  Quick!  There's no time to lose! 

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6 minutes ago, Babypants said:

Holy Cat Whiskers, Batman!  Commissioner Gordon says that college girls are cheating on their exams, having sex, and getting drunk!

To the Batmobile, Robin!  We have to investigate this in person!  Quick!  There's no time to lose! 

They SHOULD be studying. There needs to be a strict sorority mother that's heavy handed with the sorority paddle. Maybe even get some of those diapers and locking pants from Sara's crew so those sorority sisters that can't keep their hands or body parts to themselves won't have to worry. Lol

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1 hour ago, willnotwill said:

Does anybody here have an aardark. Evereyone here has a right and left ear, but nobody here has an aardvark.

Actually, the only state that forbids having an aardvark as a pet is Maine.  If you are in North Carolina, you would have to check with your local police chief or country sheriff to get an answer.  In An Homage to Vincent Vega, our main character (Ian) has a Burmese elephant (Toby) and a Burmese python (Pete) that he keeps in northern Thailand.  He could not keep either in Minnesota, where the story is set, but to this day he can do so in South Dakota, which is right next door.  

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The attached map will help readers follow the action in the slushy streets of southwestern Minneapolis.  The key scene is centered on the corner of France and 54th in a very upscale neighborhood.



Julia gave it a good thirty seconds after the diaper service truck rolled by before she exited the parking lot. She was driving what in the Upper Midwest is known as a “beater.” Rusted out, covered in snow and the sludge spooled up from driving on plowed roadways, the car was anonymous. In the Minnesota winter, a new car freshly washed stood out like a sore thumb. Like any private investigator, Julia prized anonymity. Religiously, she went out and bought a new “beater” every other year. The floor board on the passenger's side was missing in the current edition, but then, resting one's feet on the exhaust manifold did tend to ward off the cold.

She pulled up behind the truck at a stop sign, and made the turn onto the main highway in its wake. She speeded up, and without a sideways glance left the truck behind. She had started running the route at six, and had calculated where to park stop by stop. Her first destination was the parking lot of a fast food restaurant on the corner, and eight doors away, from the driver's first stop of the day. If there was a vehicle trailing the Lullaby Diaper Service truck, she would spot it instantly.

There wasn't.

She moved on to the second stop, with similarly disappointing results. Now several minutes ahead of the truck, at her third stop she had the luxury of time, and used it to study the vehicles parked within two blocks of the scheduled stop in either direction. She was looking for a car bleeding exhaust from a running engine, and saw none. She was looking for a driver sitting behind the wheel, freezing his or her butt off, and saw none. Julia did not think to check the side streets that the delivery truck would pass.

. . . .

“Do we really have to sit here and freeze our butts off,” Cindy complained.

“We do,” Tippi answered. “At this hour, a parked car with the engine running can be seen from a mile away. We freeze our butts off, but we keep our eyes open, and we note every car that comes down that street.” Tippi nodded at the road that the delivery service vehicle would take.

“Here comes one now. Jee … zus, what a wreck! I swear, Tip, that wasn't a car; it was motorized rust pretending to be a car! Jee … zus!”

“A gray, four door sedan,” Tippi noted, “mid-sized. Maybe a Mercury or a Ford … a “beater” to be sure.”

Several minutes later, the diaper service truck put in its scheduled appearance. Cindy and Tippi endured the cold for an additional ten minutes, without seeing another car passing in either direction. Then Cindy fired up the engine, and they moved on to find a spot where they could survey the traffic at the driver's seventh stop.

. . . .

When she pulled away from the sixth stop, Julia shook her head in frustration. She had spotted no one, and she was too good at her job not to admit the truth: if she had spotted no one, it was because there was no one to be spotted.

So, what am I up against? Is this just a bunch of teenagers looking for a break from toilet papering trees? Some kind of bizarre initiation ceremony? Somebody's answer to “I dare you?” In which case, the diapers will probably end up in a landfill.

Julia turned the corner, switched lanes, and raced past the truck.

Could it be some weirdo with a diaper fetish? If last week's haul was enough to satisfy his needs, then the trail's already gone cold and I'm just wasting my time and the client's money … Not good, Twinkletoes, not good at all.

Making the right turn, Julia cruised slowly down the street, once again checking for exhaust from a running engine, or a driver slouched down in his seat, trying to stay out of view. She saw nothing. With an illegal U turn several blocks farther on, Julia reversed course, thinking that she might catch something that she had missed the first time through. Coming up empty, she pulled into the curb a half dozen houses west of the address where the driver would make his next stop. Turning off the ignition, she adjusted the rear view mirror to give herself a better view of the road, and then leaned back against the head rest. She was ready to take a break, however brief.

. . . .

“Hey, hey, hey,” Cindy cried; “look what just rolled by!”

“Houston, we have liftoff,” Tippi laughed triumphantly. “It's the same rust bucket that we saw earlier!”

“The tail?”

“The tail,” Tippi confirmed. “Okay, here's what we're gonna do. Go up a couple of blocks, and make a right.” Tippi nodded at the windshield. “We know the guy's route, so we lay in wait in a parking lot along the way to his next stop. If the rust bucket follows, we follow the rust bucket. I wanna get a look at the driver, just in case he gets cute and changes cars tomorrow.”

“Hey, I've got an idea. We know where the diapers are going to be left at the door, so call Melanie and tell her to get her butt in gear. Once the tail bugs out, we give her the 'all clear', and she moves in and grabs the diapers. Aren't car phones great?”

“And it will drive whoever owns the diaper service nuts! And this bozo will lose his job! What a bunch of morons!”

. . . .

Deep in thought, on the spur of the moment Julia decided to let the diaper service truck go, and dive into Mickey D's. Her thermos was empty, and she needed caffeine, as in coffee very, very black. She was also reasonably certain that her arteries were up to the challenge posed by an Egg McMuffin. She would catch up with the truck later.

Julia was third in line, and it continued to grow behind her.

. . . .

“Huh?” Cindy rapidly scanned the parking lot, but there was no sign of the truck. The driver was still on his appointed rounds, not stopping for a quick coffee break.

“Maybe we're following the wrong car,” Tippi mused. The rust bucket had been the last vehicle to make the light, but it had turned into a parking lot on the opposite corner. They could see the driver getting out and walking away, but at this distance they couldn't decide whether the shadowy figure was male or female, young or old. The bulky winter coat and longshoreman's cap effectively disguised their quarry.

“There's no way this is the wrong car! I'm pulling in,” Cindy said as the light turned green. “Get the plate number, and then let's join the maddening crowd. I need something to drink, and maybe we can spot the bozo inside.”

Clearing the intersection, Cindy turned in and drove slowly down the aisle. She passed the beater, one of several in the lot, and parked in the first empty space. Four cars separated the two vehicles.

Keeping a wary eye on the slush beneath their feet, the two girls entered the restaurant, Tippi having first memorized the license plate number. There was a line waiting to order, and their target was bringing up the rear. Grinning mischievously, Cindy and Tippi decided to join the queue.

. . . .

Julia stepped up to the counter, placed her order, and fished her wallet out of a coat pocket. She paid, gathered her change, and stepped a few feet to her left to wait for her food and drink to materialize. She idly noted that the two young women who took her spot at the counter were placing an order identical to her own. They were well dressed and well made up; indeed, she thought, far too well dressed and too well made up for a fast food joint in this part of the Cities. Watching money exchange hands, Julia could tell from the expression on the face of the young man behind the counter that he shared her thought.

When the unlikely pair turned toward her, Julia studied them more carefully. They looked like college kids, which was hardly unusual in a metropolitan area home to a dozen public and private colleges and universities. But most of the institutions were in upscale neighborhoods, where these two would have been right at home, and the closest was more than five miles away on busy, slush filled city streets. When the girls moved to stand beside her, Julia debated politely asking the tall and exquisitely beautiful blonde in her stylish Patagonia parka what had brought the two of them to this part of town. If they were looking to score drugs, they were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. But her food arrived, and instead she made a spur of the moment decision to ask for it to be bagged as a to go order. There was just something about these two that felt way, way wrong, and so she took her time at the condiments stand, collecting sugar and cream for her coffee, and packets of salt, pepper and ketchup for her muffin. A few napkins later, she headed for the door, but just as she reached it she turned aside and took a seat at a window table-- a seat facing the counter she had just left in her wake. She was curious to discover whether the pair would react to her movements, or simply ignore her.

. . . .

Cindy and Tippi took their time at the counter, pretending to scan the overhead menu, before finally opting for coffee and Egg McMuffins. In turn, each of them casually glanced to their left, confirming that they were indeed tailing a middle-aged woman whose heavy but well worn coat was a good match for the rust bucket that she was driving. After collecting her change and stashing it away in the pocket of her parka, Tippi decided to be bold and go stand beside her. She wanted to get close enough to determine whether the woman was wearing perfume; the scent that a woman favored spoke volumes about her education, income, and social standing. To her intense disappointment, Tippi could detect nothing, not even one of the heavily perfumed soaps that so many women favored in the shower. She concluded that they were dealing with someone who worked at the diaper service, possibly in the front office but more likely in the laundry room. She wondered if the clothing underneath the woman's winter coat reeked of dirty diapers.

Cindy and Tippi were both taken completely by surprise when the lady suddenly asked for her order to be bagged. As she walked away, they looked at one another, both unsure of how to proceed. It would look odd if they suddenly changed their order as well, but they would probably lose her if they didn't. What to do, especially since the woman was taking her damned, sweet time loading up on cream and sugar-- and who the hell put ketchup on an Egg McMuffin?

Their order suddenly appeared on the counter, and quickly thinking it through, Tippi decided to have their food bagged as well. They could take their time sorting through the salt and pepper … the woman was finally heading for the door. And then, at the last moment, she turned aside and walked to a window table. Sitting down, leaving her bag on the table untouched, looking straight at them, she removed the lid from her coffee cup and took a sip. Tippi thought that not bothering with the sugar and cream that she had harvested mere moments before was an especially nice touch.

“She's a pro,” Tippi whispered as she grabbed packets of salt and pepper, “and she's made us.”

“You think,” Cindy retorted. “Memo to the boss: the next time we come to this part of town, we need to dress down. We stand out like a sore thumb; hell, even the kid at the counter knows that we don't belong here.”


“Cut our losses. Get in the car and wait for someone to drive in. If we time it right, she'll be boxed in when we back out and take off. Once we're sure she's off our tail, we catch up with the truck at the twelfth stop, just as planned.”

“And if she follows us out the door?”

“We keep our cool. We stay put, turn on the radio, and listen to some tunes while we eat and drink our fill at a leisurely pace. If she dilly dallies, we lead her to that upscale mall on the west side … make it look like we were just stopping for a snack before heading to a place where we fit in. If she takes off, we let her go. Either way, she'll be able to run our plates, which will get her exactly nowhere because the car is registered to your home address in New Ulm.”

“And now that we have her plates … tah dah … Amanda's mother works at the DMV. A name and address are just a phone call away!”

. . . .

Julia didn't know what the two girls were hiding, but one thing she knew for certain: they were hiding something. College kids didn't make a habit of putting their heads down and whispering in conspiratorial tones in the aisle of a fast food joint. That's why restaurants had booths. The sideways glance that the tall blonde cast her way as they walked out the door was not the sort of thing that a detective with Julia's many years of experience was likely to miss. Snapping the lid back on her coffee cup and grabbing her bag of food, Julia charged out the door, delaying just long enough to give the girls a decent head start. She wanted to get a look at their car and, if possible, write down the license plate number. Julia kept a scratch pad and pen in her coat pocket for precisely this purpose.

She watched the girls climb into a late model Ford Pinto, a nondescript two door coupe with enough slush caking the rear end to make it invisible in a lot filled with similar vehicles. Julia had actually expected them to be driving a sportier and more expensive number, but the coupe made sense if they were in fact college students. It was the sort of car that hard working parents on a budget would buy for a daughter's eighteenth birthday, christening her journeys from adolescence to adulthood, and from high school to university. Julia wrote down the license plate number, and debated opening the trunk to retrieve her trusty Olympus, but then it dawned on her that the driver had not fired up the ignition. She watched the tall blonde in the passenger's seat unwrap her Egg McMuffin and take a bite. She faintly heard music coming out of the speakers mounted in the rear; it sounded like Donna Summer was belting out Dim All the Lights.

Not for the first time, Julia asked herself whether the paranoia that went with her job was getting to her. To all appearances, these two were just a couple of college girls who had stopped for a quick bite in a part of town well outside their usual haunts. And yet she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong here. Getting into her own car, Julia dialed Herb on her car phone. She asked her husband to track down the registration, and pull the driver's license on the owner. Starting the engine, she backed out and drove slowly down the aisle, taking one, last look at the Pinto. She figured that she could catch up with the diaper service van at its tenth scheduled stop.

. . . .

“Let her go?”

“Let her go,” Tippi agreed. After a moment's thought, she picked up the receiver on her car phone and started dialing. “Mel, it's Tip. You out and about?”

“Heading south on 35 … just cleared downtown.”

“Great! Head west on 62 highway, and head north on France. Make a right on 54th and park anywhere. Be on the lookout for a gray rust bucket with a woman driver. She's following the diaper truck, and she's spotted us, so we're gonna hole up at a pizza joint a few blocks to the north and pick her up southbound. We think she's a lady cop, so keep your head down and your engine off. It's a good neighborhood; your Charger shouldn't look out of place. You got all that?”

“Ten four, good buddy; I've got your six!”

“Yeah, yeah, you and the Bandit both. Stay off the phone, and I'll call you back if we see her coming.”

. . . .

Julia caught up with the delivery truck at its tenth stop, but she didn't have time to do more than a quick pass up and down the street. No matter. She raced ahead, determined at the eleventh stop to search out the Pinto or any other suspicious vehicle within a wider radius. She checked each side street for three blocks in both directions, then crossed the main thoroughfare that the truck would use to reach the delivery address. She was trying to gauge the distance at which the brightly colored truck could be seen, and she reckoned that six blocks was a safe bet. When the Lullaby driver finally rounded the corner, he was driving away from her, but was still visible from almost seven blocks away. She adjusted her search pattern accordingly, and made haste for his twelfth stop. It was one of the houses that had been ripped off a week earlier.

. . . .

“Mel, get your head down! She's making the turn now!” In a well-to-do neighborhood, the rust bucket could be easily seen from blocks away.

“She's going by right now,” Melanie whispered excitedly. She hadn't had this much fun since her high school sweetheart rolled his hot road in a beery drag race on Prom night.

“Count to twenty, and then have a look,” Tippi advised. “This one's tricky, and could do a flip.”

“Wait one.” Melanie peered cautiously over the steering wheel, but saw no one. “Nothing at my twelve; you got my six?”

“Affirmative. Your back door is shut tight.”

Tippi and Cindy both rolled their eyes; Melanie had a thing for the Snowman that just wouldn't quit. Humoring her was the easy way out, although both wondered whether she knew what a back door shut tight really referenced.

“Got her,” Melanie yelled. “Mama-bear just did a nine to three!”

“She's working the cross streets,” Tippi explained. It was obvious that Cindy didn't have a clue what their Sister was talking about. City girls rarely spoke Trucker.

“Give me the damned phone,” Cindy growled. “Mel, you got a pad and pencil?”

“That's a big ten four, good buddy.”

More rolling of eyes.

“Here's her plate number. When you get back to the house, have Amanda pass it to her mom. This wreck has got to be her car, so I want name and address. If her mom asks, tell her that we were grazed by a beater that just kept going. We need the info for the insurance claim. You got that?”

“Ah … firmative.”

“Keep your eyes open; she may double back on you.”

“Copy that.”

A few minutes passed, with Melanie alternately filling the silence with reports of Mama Bear's latest nine to three or three to nine, all the while humming the first stanza of East Bound and Down.

“Mel … heads up! She just crossed France two blocks to your north. I'm guessing that she's gonna flip and sit on your six. When the truck shows up, stay put until we give you the all clear. You copy?”

“That's a big ten four … got me a Smokey knocking on my back door!”

Tippi shook her head in despair, and looked over at Cindy. “What are the odds that she'll do a pass through, drive off, and then double back one more time?”

“It's how I'd play it,” Cindy agreed. “She has to know that we struck out until the seventeenth stop, so I expect her to play games here and then head straight over.”

“And there goes the Lullaby man,” she added as the delivery truck rolled past them.

Tippi advised Mel that the truck was inbound, and again advised her to keep her head down. Melanie acknowledged with another cheerful ten four.

. . . .

Thankful that for once the plows had cleared the road all the way to the curb, Julia parked alongside an auto parts store on the corner of 54th and France. From here she had a clear view, and she watched quietly as the Lullaby service truck made the turn and proceeded east to its destination. The driver exchanged clean diapers for soiled, and drove off. From here, his route would take him southwest, into the affluent southwestern suburbs.

Knowing that someone would be home at his next four stops, she was in no hurry to follow. And so she sat quietly, and waited.

And nothing happened.

No car came down the street.

No one was walking on the icy, treacherous sidewalk.

She gave it a full ten minutes, and then decided to switch tactics. She fired the ignition, gave the unhappy engine a minute to warm up, and then made the turn to drive south on France. She passed a cemetery, crossed Minnehaha Creek, and then abruptly made a left on 57th. Driving slowly and keeping one eye glued to her rear view mirror, she used a cross street to turn north, and approached 54th from the southeast. Still another left turn put her two blocks to the east of the target address. Cruising slowly, she eyeballed every car on the street, and confirmed that the load of diapers was still sitting on the front porch. As she turned onto France and headed south in pursuit of the delivery van, Julia was rapidly coming to the conclusion that hers was a wild goose chase.

. . . .

“Mel, you got your ears on?”

“Hear you five by five,” she replied.

“The coast is clear. Grab the damned diapers off the porch, and make a beeline back to the house. Once you have a name and address, call me back.”

“This is going to drive somebody nuts,” Cindy laughed. “Especially when the mouse is chasing the cat!”

. . . .

The rest of Julia's morning proved frustratingly uneventful. Over lunch at yet another Mickey D's, she questioned the driver, but he had also seen nothing untoward as he traveled his route. She got the bad news when she returned to her car. It was Harriet, calling to let her know that the client on 54th Street had come home during the lunch hour, only to find that for the second week in a row there were no diapers waiting on the porch. She had taken out her frustration on poor Francine, who was currently en route to the address in question, using her own car personally to make the delivery.

. . . .

The phone call caught Tippi and Cindy shortly after lunch in the Southdale Mall food court.

“Her name is Julia Canon, and she lives on Minnehaha Parkway. That's a very upscale part of the Cities; what the hell is she doing prowling around in an old beater?”

“Probably camouflage,” Tippi guessed. "She made us in a fast food joint because our clothing was way too good for the neighborhood. But she blended in, which makes me think that she's a cop moonlighting to pick up some extra dough. What did you bag?”

“More baby diapers,” Melanie sighed. “Which we don't need. Damn it, we've got to have more adult diapers; our GPA depends on it!”

“We'll get them tomorrow, when we raid that apartment complex down in Bloomington. But right now, it's time to call it a day. Word is that PISS has put a bounty on a first year prof in East Asian Languages. He's got office hours at two, and I want to be there to check him out.”

. . . .

Julia put the receiver back in its cradle and then savagely lashed out, driving the edge of her fist hard into the steering wheel. She was frustrated, and she was angry. It was one thing to go up against a worthy opponent, but someone was going the extra mile … someone was sadistically rubbing her nose in it. Taking a deep breath, trying to calm down, Julia began mentally running her options. Looking at her watch, which now showed ten past one, she decided that her best bet was to hopscotch it back to the office and start combing through the personnel files of current and former employees. This would give her about two hours before Priscilla showed up with her well diapered young professor in tow.

The car phone rang just as she was pulling into Lullaby's parking lot. It was her husband. “The vehicle is registered to Miss Tippi Anne Bjornsen, age nineteen … a New Ulm address.”

“Thanks, Herb. You okay with takeout tonight?”

“Pizza sounds good. You paying?”

“My treat.” Julia ended the call.

College kids for sure. But why aren't they in class?

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21 hours ago, Babypants said:

Actually, the only state that forbids having an aardvark as a pet is Maine.  If you are in North Carolina, you would have to check with your local police chief or country sheriff to get an answer.  In An Homage to Vincent Vega, our main character (Ian) has a Burmese elephant (Toby) and a Burmese python (Pete) that he keeps in northern Thailand.  He could not keep either in Minnesota, where the story is set, but to this day he can do so in South Dakota, which is right next door.  

Darned kids.   The line was a kids song...


  • Haha 1
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11 minutes ago, willnotwill said:

The line was a kids song...

Let me revise the lyric:

Does anybody here have a python, does anybody here have a python?

I raise my hand and cry it out ... yes! Yes, I have a python!

He sleeps all day up on the roof,

But at night prowls the ground, the ground afoot, keeping the rats, yes, keeping the rats at bay.

If the rats don't run, he hunts them down, hunts them down and swallows them whole, has himself a rat casserole.

Yes, yes ... I have a python!



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16 hours ago, littlebopeeper said:

Wish I had a map of the city streets to follow all the action.

Many thanks for bringing this up.  I have inserted a link to a map of the Cities just above the title.  It should open to the area around 54th and France, where the action is centered.  As a further point of reference, the burger joint is several miles to the north, in a working class neighborhood northwest of downtown Minneapolis.  The diaper service is in an industrial suburb still farther northwest.  

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