|The Case of the Pickled Herring
by Dashweld Hamlet
My name is Shovel. Clem Shovel. My
friends call me
I used to be a cop. After fifteen years on the force, the mayor
of my town, Portland, Oregon, a butch named Verna Klutz, hired a new
Chief named Sybil. She said I needed to get rid of my trenchcoat
and wear Dockers, a black turtleneck and tassel-loafers. I told
to take a long walk off a short pier. That's why I used to be a
Now, I'm a private dick. My office is just above La Belle Aurore,
on 2nd street, south of the Goodwill. It's one of those sleazy
being targeted for gentrification. You know the type.
designing brand new classic french bakery shoppe restaurants with
brick doorways where former advertising executives drink MD2020 after
time and pass out against the wrought-iron entry gate.
When she walked into my office, I smelled
She said her name was Persephone Fouler. Her money was American.
She could call herself Steve for all I cared. The job was
locate a missing friend who she had worked with. A guy named
Herring. A fishy name if I ever heard one. She was one of
society dames, slim, dark-haired. A climber. I took the five
bucks and told her I'd call when I got something.
When you're a private dick, the only thing you believe
is the money, but you've got to start somewhere, so I checked missing
Nobody had ever heard of anybody with the name Hassle Herring.
had said he had been a newspaper editor somewhere down the Willamette
so I made a few calls to some newspaper guys I know. One of them,
Flash Harte, works for Portland's biggest rag, the Oregonian. He
knew about Herring.
We met at the Goose Hollow, a worn,
of saloon that had been a hangout for hippies in the Sixties. The
propietor, Whoop-Whoop Clarke, had earned local standing by exposing
to a famous statue of a Greek goddess. He became Portland's next
After a couple of terms, he felt the need for reality and left
For the past thirty years, the sound system had been stuck on a
rendition of "Demon Alcohol." Nobody cares in a place like
They're not there for the art.
Harte said that Herring was a lefty journalist whose hobby
was Nordic cuisine, and who had made some kind of big mistake, and
suddenly. He was a Circassian Arab from some place called Al
in one of those desert emirates on the Red Sea. I figured the fat
man would know something about that, so I went to see him, next.
The fat man runs the Blue Parrot, a dive on the north side of
east of Chinatown. He wears a fez and looks a jolly sort, but he
has his fleshy paws in a lot of dirty business.
"I have never heard of this Hassle Herring," he said, swatting a fly on
the table. The revolving fan above us blew part of the fly onto
"You're a fat hypocrite," I said. "How about twenty
"My memory seems to have improved," he said, chuckling.
He slipped the bill off the table and into his pocket faster than
"He was a newspaper editor in Albany, Oregon, for many
He became something of a media star when he was made a regular panelist
on the public broadcasting program, Seven Days. Then, as the
goes, he made a mistake."
"A mistake," I said. Harte had been right.
"A serious one," said the fat man.
"Are there any other kind?" I asked.
"Not in this part of Oregon," said the fat man, swatting
That was all my twenty bucks was
worth. I decided
to dig in that direction. Albany is forty or fifty miles south of
It's a former mill town where newsprint was made, and smells a bit like
Old Spice aftershave that's gone bad. I got nothing from
old newspaper, the Democrat-Herald. They said he had headed north
to Portland for an appearance on Seven Days and simply never came
His landlord said that some guy who smelled like gardenias had come to
ask about Herring. He had a badge the landlord didn't recognize.
He had cleaned out Herring's apartment, and that was that.
Dead ends happen a lot in my business. The answers
mostly come from people. I put the word out. Two nights
I was working late when there was a knock on my office door. I
smell the little darling before I opened the door.
He stepped inside and pulled a gun on me.
"I want the black bird," he said. I took the gun,
a short-barreled .38, then slapped him across the face several
"It's not a black bird," I said. "It's a Red Sea
"Of course," he said. "I did not wish to give you
information which you might not have. May I sit down?"
I waved him to a chair, then dumped the shells from the
gun and gave it back to him. "What's your interest in Herring?" I
"Why should I tell you anything?" he asked, his round,
soft face and round black eyes as empty of guilt as the man in the
"Because my gun is still loaded," I replied.
"Yes, but how do I know you would use it?" he said.
"You would figure that out sometime after I started
your face in," I said.
The next afternoon, I sat at my desk, two
the street. Down below on the sidewalk a drunk ex-advertising
was arguing with a longshoreman about graphic design As far as I
could tell, the investigation was going nowhere fast. Mr.
hadn't told me anything I could use. He claimed to be a former
of Herring's. They had been working on a deal to turn carp into
lutefisk and market it to gay Norwegians when Herring had disappeared.
Gardenia said he was worried about his partner. It was probably a
pack of lies, but even if it wasn't, I had no way of knowing what was
and what wasn't..
There was definitely something rotten in Spitzbergen.
That's when it hit me. With a grin of stone on my
hard-bitten, square-jawed face, I made a series of phone calls.
the time I had finished the third one, I knew I was on to something.
The problem with my idea was that I didn't have a good
reason to take the next step. The next morning, when they fished
Herring's body from the Willamette, I had my reason.
The most dangerous man in Portland is
He has his fingers in every pie being baked from Portland to the
border. Like most
men who run large, mostly invisible empires, he had strong ties to
Union bosses with shady connections, politicians who front for the
shadow government, urban renewal construction projects -- all sway in
direction Goldspit points.
I knew him from the early days, when he was a small time
hustler working his way up as an enforcer for the Oregon Bar
In time they gave him the ultimate test by installing him as the
governor. Having passed that test, he moved up to positions of
power and eventually reached the very top. He now runs the entire
He owed me a couple of favors. It is better to have
men like that owing you one. Cashing in debts like that can leave
you vulnerable. But, I had no choice.
When I walked into his huge 40th floor
the river, he glanced up and smiled. Cobras have friendlier
"Clem Shovel," he said softly. "It 's been a long
"A long time," I agreed, walking the thirty feet to his
chrome and glass desk. He got up to shake my hand. When we
touched palms, there was an electric discharge. It was from the
acre of carpet I'd crossed but it felt like a contact that gave him all
the data in my brain. The man is scary.
He sat down and waved me to a chair. "What can I
do for you, Razor?" he asked in that soft, modulated voice. Every
word reeked of danger..
"I need to know something," I said.
"Anything," he said softly, with a faint cold smile.
"Did you do Hassle Herring?"
It was incredible. He didn't even blink. "No,"
he answered softly.
"Do you know who did?" I continued.
"Yes," he said.
"I won't ask for the name," I said. "What I want
to know is if it had anything to do with that mistake he made."
"I believe it did, Razor. It has been good to see
you, again. Don't be such a stranger in the future."
I got up, shook his ice cold hand again and got the hell
out of there.
The next step was simple.
I bought a videotape copy of the past ten Seven Days
and studied them. I found what I was looking for in the June 7,
show. I found the mistake. I called Persephone Fouler and told
we needed to have a talk.
Fifteen minutes later I was standing at the window,
a drunk ex-advertising copywriter mumbling to himself as he guzzled his
fortified wine while sitting on the fender of a Porsche. She
past him, then crossed the street in my direction. I continued to
watch. Gardenia was following her, just as I expected. When
she knocked on my office door, I opened it quickly and pulled her
The hall was empty, but the elevator made a dinging sound. I
the door and put my finger to her lips.
Gardenia's shape was visible as he stood on the other
side of the scalloped glass of the office door window. Suddenly,
the handle twisted and he lunged inside, his gun out. I slapped
from his hand and popped him in the jaw. He went down like a
He woke up ten minutes later when Fouler poured a cup of water over his
head. He moaned, then his eyes focused. There was hate in
"What did you do that for?" he said in his nasal voice.
"Shut up," I said. "Miss Fouler, have you seen this
man anywhere before?"
"I don't know," she said.
"You're lying," I growled.
She started to sniffle. A tear ran down her cheek.
"You're good," I said, grinning. "You're very
I think I like the way you use your eyes when you do it. It's an
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm such a liar."
I laughed out loud. "Now," I said, "you are
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," she
"Listen you two," I said, going to my desk
up the phone. "I'm dialing the cops right now. They'll be
in ten minutes. When they get here, I'm going to give them one of
you or both. So, you better give me straight answers now, or
both going down for the murder of Hassle Herring."
"You wouldn't," she said.
"I won't like it," I said, "but I will." I dialed
the number and told the desk sargeant to send some troops. When
started to get up, I pulled out my piece. He sat down, again.
I put down the phone and said, "Well? It's now or
"She did it!" snarled Gardenia. "She hired you to
try to pin it on me."
"Liar!" she yelled.
"I'll decide who's the liar, here," I
sweetie, tell me. Where were you on the evening of June the
after Seven Days?"
"I don't remember," she said.
"She's lying!" cried Gardenia. "I saw her at
park with Hassle. The Rose Festival carnival was going on.
All of a sudden all the lights went out. When they came back on,
they were both gone. She killed him and pushed him in the river!"
The cops came in when she attacked Gardenia. We
got them apart. The Detective was a friend of mine from the
His name is Friday.
"What's going on here, Razor?" he asked.
"This is Mr. Gardenia and Miss Fouler," I said.
"If you go through the files at Miss Fouler's office, you will find a
recipe for making pink lutefisk out of carp. Gardenia tried to
it from Hassle Herring, who invented it, but when he couldn't, he was
financial ruin. Miss Fouler learned of all this from Herring, and
used her contacts in the Oregon Democratic Party to steal the recipe
his safe. Then, she used that to blackmail Gardenia. into pulling
a fuse at the Rose Festival Carnival at just the right time. She
lured Herring to the park and gave him a glass of '54 Delkin
Chateux Briand spiked with MD2020. He was pickled by the second
and when the lights went out, she killed him and pushed his body in the
river. Then she told Gardenia she didn't have the lutefisk
That she'd lied about having it. But Gardenia went down to
Albany apartment and discovered that it wasn't there. He knew she
had lied about not having it. He went after her. She hired
me to find out who killed Herring, knowing I'd spot Gardenia sooner or
later, and tie him to the crime."
"The Oregon Democratic Party?" said
"You're running with some dangerous people, Razor."
"It's not me, Friday. It's her."
"Why would she want to kill Herring?" said Friday.
"She had to," I said. "I've got a tape of the
Without thinking, she said that Phil Bradbunny, the Secretary of State,
had intentionally gerrymandered a voting district so as to guarantee
for a Hispanic candidate. It would have been the seat that
the legislature to Democrat control. But, Hassle suddenly
when he heard her say it that he had been a pawn of the Democrats all
life, and on the spur of the moment stood up and said that rigging
districts to guarantee minority success was wrong!"
Friday whistled. "Herring said that
to guarantee minority wins was wrong? Was the man nuts? You
don't say something like that in Oregon!"
"Hassle did," I said. "In a moment of sanity, he
saw the truth, and made the last mistake of his life."
Text © 2002 Oregon Magazine
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