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St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge: From the Rubbish Bin: Case of the Misplaced Sister by D.E. Harlander

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Alex Rubbish reclined in a roller chair, his feet on the desk. A swirl of smoke curled from the cigarette between two fingers on one hand. The other clutched a dirty napkin. He stared up at the pictures posted on the wall connected with bits of string trying to make sense of his latest case.

It had all begun in the typical way, with a pretty dame. She was the kind of girl that had a face with a nose and legs that went all the way to the floor.

“Please mister, you got to help me find my sister,” she had breathed.

The dame handed Rubbish a picture of a girl nearly identical to herself.

Rubbish had asked her the usual questions and gotten the usual responses all which had lead to where all crime in this godforsaken city lead to, the Cat Scratch Lounge.

He had gone there that night. He ordered his regular, a Singapore Sling, from the bartender. The bartender fixed him the fruit punch with an orange slice like Rubbish liked.

“Listen, Johnny,” Rubbish had said sliding the photo of the girl toward him. “I’m looking for this girl. Have you seen her around?”

“Alex, you know she has never stepped foot in here. There is nothing for you find. And for the last time, my name isn’t Johnny.”

Rubbish caught what Johnny had meant from the moment the words left his lips. She never had had a chance to step foot in the Lounge. He finished his drink and followed his instincts to where Johnny was directing him, the back alley.

The alley had been as dark as high noon in Death Valley which meant it was well lit. He found the clue there. That was where it all got very interesting.

When he had shown the dame what he had found, she had said, “That’s not a clue. That’s just some trash.”

“You know why they call me Rubbish,” he had said to her examining the napkin.

“Because you take out the trash?”

“Yes, but the other reason.”

She had known not to speak.

“Because one man’s trash is another man’s rubbish. And one man’s rubbish is another man’s clue.”

Her face nodded yes, but her eyes told him there was more to this case than he had thought. She had looked at him as if she was slowly realizing something.

He took a deep drag off his cigarette and started to cough. He quickly took a drink of cold coffee out of the mug on the desk.

“Rubbish,” bellowed his boss. Police Chief Crane burst into the office. “How many times have I told you to stay out of my office? I don’t know why I put up with this.” The Chief stormed over to the wall and started ripping off the pictures. “If your father wasn’t the best detective this department has ever seen, you would have been fired years ago. Now take your junk and get out of here.”

“Yes boss,” Rubbish said collecting his evidence.

“Are you smoking? It’s 2017. You can’t smoke in here.”

Rubbish dropped the play cigarette into the coffee mug. He started to head out, but the boss said, “Rubbish.”

“Yes sir?”

“You know you are the janitor. You aren’t a cop.”

“Sure boss,” he said, but he knew it wasn’t having a badge that made a detective. It was using the things God had given mankind to find justice in an unjust world.

“Rubbish, stop internal monologuing. You’re not in some goddamn movie. And for God’s sake stop investigating. You’re not a detective.”

“I understand sir,” Rubbish said pulling the door shut. He took another look at the picture. The Chief was right. He wasn’t a detective, and it was time to stop acting like one. This case had found him because he wasn’t a detective. He wasn’t bound to any code but his own. It was time to go where the law wouldn’t allow someone with a badge and crack this case.

From the Rubbish Bin: Case of the Misplaced Sister by D.E. Harlander was a submission of the St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge, part of NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley. NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. All submissions for St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge were judged by a committee of St. Croix Valley writers and readers.