If you have not yet read Goldilocks, a Very Cold Winter Night, And a Strange Sense of Empty-ness then please do so now. Only then will you have the background necessary to understand and appreciate The Mystery of the Returned Outboard Motor. As told to us by Jimmy James Watson Bettencourt …
I came as quickly as I could on Laden’s request. He was at the cabin, and the note dropped off at my practice by one of his boys was terse. “Come Watson!” and that is all I generally need to be compelled to arrive at my friend’s side. When I entered the cabin he did not acknowledge my presence at first, which was not at all unusual. When something was on his mind, he would sit for hours poking at the fire in the hearth or casting a lure off the dock, as though his mind was totally empty. But I knew from experience that it never was. His mind, indeed, was often filled with … stuff.
“Watson!” he ejaculated, looking up from the fire. “You’ve arrived, how good of you. You must accompany me to the boat house where I will reveal to you the particulars of a most singular mystery!” And with that he raced past me, throwing on his cammo duck hunting jacket and flinging open the cabin door.
As I followed him outside I took occasion to notice that the lawn had been mowed very evenly, which was unusual, but not recently. Perhaps a week ago. I had also noticed that in the cabin were new table covers and a new coffee pot. The place had been cleaned up rather nicely, and aside from the growing mess Laden himself was making … various books and papers, and several dozen distinctly different computer and electronics cables for what purpose I could only imagine … was more or less spotless. I took note of these things knowing they may well be clues but also knowing that I would never truly understand them until they were explained by my friend. And that, I was certain, would happen only at a time and place of his careful selection.
As we approached the recently constructed boat house, he half turned and said, “Need I remind you Watson, that this structure was only recently built, and when it was built it was equipped with a front door,” he paused and with a flourish of his arm indicating the front door, “that can only be locked and unlocked from the inside, and that automatically locks whenever it is closed.”
“Well, Laden, no, actually I didn’t know that. How interesting….”
“Not really,” he admonished. “But what IS interesting is that the side door..” and by now we were around to the side of the small rectangular log-sided structure, and again my friend indicated a door with a flamboyant gesticulation “is normally locked as well, but with the sort of lock that can be left open when the door is closed, locked from within, or locked before the door is closed, then with the door pulled shut from the outside, locked from the outside WITHOUT a key.”
“Interesting,” I replied.
“Indeed Watson! You are starting to catch on to my methods!”
“And, of course, this door can be locked or unlocked with a key as well. It is a standard door knob with a key hole in it, and there is no dead bolT. Do you understand, Watson!?!?”
“Ah, yes, I think so, Holmes, I mean Laden, but I fail to see the significance of any of this..”
“Of course you don’t, Watson! I would not have expected that of you! Now, let me show you the truly singular part of this whole mystery.”
Still wondering what the mystery could possibly be, I followed Laden as he rushed into the boat house. The inside of the boat house was rather well organized, with very nicely made shelves and hangers all around, and all manner of garden tools, various boating and water skiing appurtenances, and some tools and sundry objects hanging neatly or sitting on shelves.
“Watson!” Laden pointed at an outboard boat motor sitting on the concrete floor near the front door of the boathouse… “… What exactly do you make of THAT!”
“That’s a boat motor, Laden! That’s what I make of that! I really do fail to see what all the fuss is about. This is a boat house, that is a boat motor. What could be more natural?”
“Watson, as usual, you fail to grasp even the simplest of concepts. Do you remember what you saw down by the lake as we walked here from the cabin?”
“Well, I saw the lake! And a couple of docks. A speed boat with an inboard motor, and the old fishing boat. What else was I supposed to see?”
“Watson, my dear friend,” Laden ejaculated. “You saw everything you needed to see. But seeing is only half the battle when it comes to my art of deduction. The rest of the matter is not just what you see, … ” he paused for effect ” … but what you observe….”
I never got this. He was always saying shit like that and it never made any sense. But I played along anyway.
“Well, OK, Laden. What exactly was it that I was supposed to observe???”
And as I said that, he flung open the front door of the boat house. “See the old fishing boat, Watson? Do you see the motor affixed to it?”
I looked down by the lake where I indeed could see the old fishing boat pulled up on shore, and attached to it was a recently purchased motor. I remembered that the motor had been purchased because the original motor, a smaller affair with a blue stripe and a different number of horsepower … 8.6 as I recall … had mysteriously disappeared two winters ago. Then, suddenly, slowly, like an old coal train looming out of a foggy mine, the thought came to me.
“That” pointing at the motor on the floor before us “Is the stolen motor!!”
“Exactly, Watson! And it only took me dangling all the blatantly obvious clues before your benighted eyes for several minutes to comprehend!”
“But how .. .why … who…”
“I understand your confusion, Watson. I myself was momentarily put off by the singular and unexpected presence of this motor when I happened upon it earlier today when I entered the boat house in search of seven hundred cans of root beer.”
“Never mind that. The point is to solve the mystery of the returned motor. And I think I am prepared to do so!”
At this point Holmes, I mean Laden, launched into a narrative of explanation while I settled down on a pile of old life jackets and made myself comfortable.
“You will recall the incident of the emptied out empties, of two winters ago. A person in the mistress of the houses’s employ was allegedly stranded in these parts in the dead of winter, with record low ambient temperatures and a stiff wind, bringing the wind chill temperature to more than 200 degrees below zero.”
I nodded that I remember the incident as he continued his narrative.
“You may or may not also remember that several weeks after that incident, when much of the ice and snow had cleared, it was discovered that the outboard motor for the old fishing boat was missing. At the time it was understood that the only key to that shed that contained the motor was in the very same cabin that had been entered by the liquor cabinet raiding culprits.”
“Now, I must emphasize that there was never any proof positive, but it seemed reasonable to guess that the same people who drank the dregs of the vodka, the gin, and the chocolate elixir which I had been hoarding for my chocolate Martinis were the very same individuals who had absconded with the motor. But, again, without proof positive nothing could really be done about it. You will also recall that at the time, we changed all the locks and when this very boathouse was built, we made sure its doors would be secure against any such future entry.”
“But Laden,” I interrupted. “If that is the case, then how did this motor get into this boat house, and who did that, and why would they…”
“Patience, my dear Watson, it will all be understood in time…”
“You see,” he continued. “Even though the doors are almost always secure, there was a family staying in the cabin where you found me on your arrival here, all of last week.”
“Indeed!” I ejaculated. “That explains the overall neatness, the new table covers, and even the new coffee pot!”
“Exactly, Watson, you begin to grasp, in your own very limited way, how my methods work! These things were done to accommodate the guests, who arrived at the beginning of last week. The place was fixed up and things generally tidied in preparation.”
“Well that also explains that the entire lawn was mowed about a week or so ago!”
“Well, no,” my friend interrupted. “That was a random event. But in any case, the basic framework is correct. The place was fixed up for guests, and I arrived hours after the guests had left, and that is when I found the motor in the locked boat house.”
“Realizing that this was a mystery worth focusing my acute powers on, I started to formulate various hypotheses. I considered first that the Master of the house had found the motor stuffed away somewhere when his wife had him doing some sort of maintenance in preparation for the guests.”
“That’s it!” I cried out, happy to have the mystery solved, and I started to get up to leave, finding the old life preservers a bit uncomfortable.
“No, no, Watson,” he replied, pushing me back down. “I had my assistant talk to the mistress of the house. No such discovery was made. The motor was not accidentally mislaid for two years. That would be absurd.”
“Though possible,” I interjected.
“Sadly, so,” he replied. “But in this case, no. Another alternative was that the motor had been loaned out to someone, and this was forgotten. The person to which the motor was loaned would have called upon discovering that they still had the thing, and then dropped it off.”
“Indeed, the case is solved!” I cried out, struggling again to my feet, wanting to be pretty much anywhere else but sitting on a pile of old damp life preservers in a dark boat house.
“No, no, no, Watson,” he replied, shoving me back into the pile. “Eventually, my assistant was able to check with the master of the house. The boat motor was not loaned to anyone, and no one called to indicate that they had the motor and were ready to return it. But, I did find out how the motor got into the locked boat house!”
“Excellent!” I replied, not even trying to get up again. “How did that happen!”
“The boat house was left unlocked on the arrival of the guests, in case they needed … a life preserver or anything” he said, eyeing the pile of life preservers I was now lounging on, practically asleep with boredom. This mystery was not getting any more interesting and it had been a long day.
“So, someone, we don’t know who, returned the motor and placed it surreptitiously in the unlocked boathouse,” I said.
“Not just someone, Watson,” he slyly replied. “It could not have been just anyone, and by careful deduction I’ve ruled out all possible explanations but one. And you know what I say, Watson!”
I knew. So I repeated the words together with him as he said them: “When all other possibilities are ruled out, that which remains, however inconceivable, MUST be the truth!!!!”
“Well, then, what is it? Who put the previously stolen outboard motor in the unlocked boathouse, and why?”
He paused for a moment for effect. He looked around to see if anyone else was in ear shot. He got down on one knee and leaned in close so only I would hear his answer. And he quietly, but excitedly, told me ..
“It was the chipmunks, Watson, the chipmunks! And they did it … for Nefarious Purposes!”
Oh, Christ, it was the chipmunks again. Whenever he couldn’t figure out a mystery he always blamed it on the chipmunks.
“But this time Watson, it is a bit different than the last time I caught the chipmunks up to no good!”
“Really?” I said, rather incredulous, and finally lifting myself out of the pile of old life vests and standing to leave. “How is it different than last time?”
“These were Moriarty’s chipmunks!!!! Moriarty!! I can sense it!!!”
As I left the boat house and headed back up the drive to my car, I could hear him chanting Moriarty’s name. Moriarty was the owner of the gas station, general store and bait shop down the street. Holmes, I mean Laden, had grown suspicious of Moriarty some years back when he, Laden, had stopped catching fish whenever he bought his bait at Moriarty’s store, and over time, began to suspect the poor, surely innocent man, of somehow causing this misfortune. And he always has suspected the chipmunks of stealing the bird feed out of his precious bird feeder. Now, finally, he had gone totally off the deep and and combined his two psychotic obsessions: Moriarty’s chipmunks indeed.
I drove away sad for my friend, but glad that the outboard motor was back.