Murders in Progress by Eldon Cene

Chipmunk in wild3

Things Get Squirrely

(Episode 53)

 Agent Hailey arrived about the time things got going.

More chairs had been set out.  Most of the Everlees and their friends and relations had arrived and gotten their drinks and snacks.  From the silence it sounded as though Ralph Bunch had gotten the microphone feedback solved.  Behind the microphone, hung in the place of honor and covered in black velvet, was the commissioned painting.

“George Everlees prize Guernsey won the Kimmel County Milkers Association Producer of the Year Award, and has done this three years running,” Leland told Agent Hailey.  “She’s quite a woman.”

“I’d imagine.”  Agent Hailey laughed.

“So they’ve had her portrait commissioned.  The Association is thinking of having this done for each of the yearly winners, to be hung in a place as yet to be determined.  So this reception is a big night for Ralph.  That might be why he appears so nervous.”

“Or it could be that he’s always been a screw-up and a loser,” Leland’s sour new acquaintance to the right said.

“Excuse me a moment,” Leland told Agent Bailey.

Leland leaned to his right.  “You’re going to walk to the restroom and stay there until you think you can sit here with your mouth shut for the rest of the evening – or I’m going to hit you in the ribs so hard with my elbow here that you’ll see spots,” Leland told his new acquaintance.

“I can keep my mouth shut,” the man said.

“Okay.”

Leland nodded towards where Ralph was chewing peanuts, and then, as if in a fit of rage, smashing the shells.  He looked as if he were trying not to eat more, first pushing the bowl of peanuts away – then pulling it back.  He appeared quite conflicted.  “He doesn’t look quite himself tonight,” he noted to Agent Hailey.  “But then, Ralph is an odd duck.  I think I’ll go up and have a chat with him, just to be sure everything is alright.”  He smiled at Agent Hailey and excused himself.  “And don’t you even glance at her,” Leland said to the man on his right as he left.  The man’s head snapped forward.

Leland walked up to where Ralph was seated.  “Ralph, how’re you doing?”  Leland asked, reaching to take a peanut from the bowl.

“Don’t touch those.”  Ralph pulled them away.

Leland thought Ralph was joking with him and reached again.

Ralph’s head shot forward and Leland jerked his hand back instinctively.  It looked like Ralph had tried to bite him!

“What the hell, Ralph?”  Leland laughed.

“Don’t touch my fucking nuts!”

“Okay,” Leland said with some levity.  “I’ll leave your junk alone.”

Ralph just stood there looking at Leland, as if Leland were a wild animal he didn’t understand.  Leland didn’t know what was going on.  “You pretty nervous, huh?  This time around, about the show?”

Ralph seemed to break down, almost in tears.

“Oh Leland, you don’t know.  My career is over.  My life is probably ended.”  Ralph grabbed at Leland’s hand like a lifeline.

This seemed more like the overly sensitive Ralph that Leland knew.  Leland sat down.  He nodded to Agent Hailey to indicate that this might take a moment.

“I can’t paint anymore!”  Ralph said in hushed tones.

Leland furrowed his brows.

“All it seems I can do is to chew and harbor nuts, like a squirrel.”  Ralph sputtered with wide eyes.

Leland reached unconsciously for another peanut as he listened.  And Ralph flew at his arm with his teeth.

“Shit!”  Leland said, shoving Ralph off.  There was drool left on his shirt.  Ralph’s teeth probably would have broken the skin if it hadn’t been for the tough fabric.  “What the hell?”

“I can’t control it!”  Ralph cried leaning back, eyes wide.  “I tried to warn you.”

“Control what?”

“I don’t know.  The mind, I think, of the chipmunk.”  Ralph was focused far off on some thought.  “He’s so….   feral.”

Leland was at a complete loss.  Finally Leland decided Ralph had been better left alone.

Leland walked back to the bar.  Agent Hailey asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know,” Leland said.  “I hope it’s not rabies.  He was going on about some chipmunk.”

“This might not have been the best night for you to have attended.  But I feel now, like I’d better stay and watch over things,” Leland added.  “You want to go?”

“No.”  Agent Hailey smiled.  “I think I can handle a chipmunk.”

“It sounds like Ralph can’t.”  Leland frowned.

Finally, it came time for the ceremony to begin.

PhotoArt by Carl Nelson

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