If you thought grilling Skumm was down and dirty detective work, thou hast as yet seen naught…
Emeraude a’Right clutched her bell to her bosom, chewing her nether lip as she peered with trepidation at the Bristol hotspot known as Tuscany Tavern. “I know not if I can do this, cousin.”
“Wherefore not?” Dorcas Oddpick asked in perplexity (a state which, in truth, was by no means atypical for her). “You do appear to be clutching your bell to your bosom, chewing your nether lip, and peering with trepidation rather well.”
“Nay, Dorcas, I know I can do that. I meant I feel ill-suited to parley with yonder lightskirts, harlot, and trollop.”
“Such name-calling!” Dorcas tutted. “I’m surprised at you, Emmers. Is that any way to speak of a person?”
“One person, nay,” said Emeraude. Pointing to the tavern, she said, “Those three persons, aye.”
As a general rule, Emeraude was not easily intimidated. After all, she was a Town Crier, an occupation in which bellowing charmingly at complete strangers was only routine. She felt herself a social match for just about anyone who ranked lower than the gentry. …except for Bristol’s women of professional ill-repute, Ginny Lightskirts, Jezebel Harlot, and the reason Emeraude was contemplating this confrontation at all, Chastity Trollop. (Not to mention Roxy Coxcomb, but the cast of this story is sprawling enough, so let’s stick with a lovely literary three.)
Official status-wise, employees of the town trumped floozies. Unofficial otherwise, the bawdy women dominated. During the last floozy/Crier encounter, it had been all Emeraude could do to keep Ginny from running off with her cousin Harold Angel, prevent Chastity from convincing Dorcas to embark on what the guileless girl had misconstrued as a career comprised of napping and cuddling, and absorb half the superficially innocent remarks made by Jezebel about trampolines and bananas. Emeraude had only barely gotten the Crying family out unscathed, and that had been without trying to run a murder investigation.
But there was a murder investigation on now, and Chastity Trollop was a “person of interest” in the case. Word was that the murder victim, Jasper Trustworthy, had made a nuisance of himself in connection with Trollop and her favorite customer, Captain Sir Martin Frobisher. The matter had to be gotten to the bottom of, and if Emeraude a’Right wouldn’t see it done, who would?
“Lady Crier!” a Romantically-accented duet called from behind.
Emeraude turned, and was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of her foreign friends. “Good den, Columbina! Pedrolino!” she greeted. “How goes… whatever you Italians do all day?”
“Not-a so good,” said Pedrolino, his expression behind his custom artisan-made mask as sad as the strumming upon his ukulele. “We have-a lost Antonio.”
Dorcas gasped in sympathetic dismay. “Not the oversized fish who so heroically saved your lives during your gondola ride to England?”
“Si, the very same,” Columbina nodded, prettily batting her enormous lashes. With expansive, ballerina-like gestures, she elaborated, “Stupino and Arlecchino are-a looking for him all over town; and Dottore… well,” she waved dismissively, “he’s just-a being old, somewhere.”
“And in the meantime,” said Pedrolino, “we are-a looking for gainful employment.”
Emeraude’s face brightened as if from the glow of the Elizabethan equivalent of a light bulb flashing on above her head. “Of course!” she said, smiling widely at the sign borne by Columbina which proclaimed “Servants for Hyre”. “I can end one of your two searches here and now with a highly important assignment, if you’d like.”
“If-a we’d like?!” cried Pedrolino.
“We always-a like!” sang Columbina.
“We are At,” they said with a clap and a bow, “Your Service!”
“Brilliant,” said Emeraude. “Don your detective hats, Italians: You’ve got an interrogation to perform.”
Will enlisting foreign aid turn up any case-cracking evidence? How likely is it that the floozies’ double-entendres will translate for those speaking English as a second language? What is the Italian word for “banana”, anyway? For answers of relevance, stay tuned for the next episode in Bristol’s serial whodunit!