Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 19, 2016

My Toughest Case: Ye Bigge Sleepe

It was cold in Los Angeles. I’d never felt it as cold as that.

Only 5 o’clock on a Sunday and the streets were almost empty. Angelenos need Ugg boots and parkas to survive when the mercury dips to 60. At 36 degrees, they were all probably locked in their saunas or lying on their tanning beds to stay warm.

I’d dropped off The Counselor at home and was on my way back to my office on the 4th floor of the Guntharp Building. I had work to do.

She’d talked me into another Sunday afternoon matinee at the theater. Still trying to civilize me. Me and Huck Finn, always getting civilized by women. I figure Huck’ll crack first.

She told me to at least let her know when I was done working and heading home.

“And if you need me,” she said, “Just text. You do know how to text, don’t you? Just press your fingers on the keyboard and type.”

Women. Always after you about something. Especially the smart ones. Smart brunettes? Forget it. A blonde’ll let almost anything slide. A redhead’ll act like she doesn’t give a darn. And she won’t, either. A brunette? The more you try to shake that lasso, the tighter she’ll twist it. My first crush was a brunette, and every one after her, too. I never learn.

She’d hauled me along to a one-act play at a little 70-seat hole-in-the-wall theater up in Little Armenia . Where does she find those places? It was only about a block away from the apartment Bukowski’d lived in a few years ago and I’d never even noticed it. I’ll guarantee you Buk never went there. He had better things to do.

The show hadn’t been half bad. That doesn’t mean it was more than half good, but it gave me an idea for my current quagmire. The case was so cold it made 36 degrees on Vermont Avenue feel like midsummer: dead in the water, out to lunch. At least I might’ve come up with an angle.

I walked up the stairs, keeping my eye open for the landlord. Even on a Sunday ol’ Nickel & Dime was likely to show up looking for the rent. Cash only at the Guntharp. I didn’t have the cash on me. Or in my bank account. I needed to crack the case, and it wasn’t going to crack itself. It was like one of those pistachios you get in every bag: the ones you need a hammer to get open and then it’s inedible after you smash it.

In all the detective stories you read, the private eye unlocks his office and there’s some good-looking dame with great legs who has a rich old man; she’s always eager to spend the old man’s moola as fast as he can make it. Not mine: dark and empty.

I sat at the big desk, facing the door. At least if ol’ Nickel & Dime showed up I’d see his silhouette through the frosted glass in time to beat it out the window.

All the famous P.I.s had a bottle of booze in the lower left-hand drawer and a service .38 in the upper right. All I had was a big Swingline stapler and about 50 boxes of staples I’d snuck out of my last corporate gig in lieu of severance. You take what you can get. I don’t drink and I hate guns. Not much call for drinking or gunplay in my corner of the gumshoe racket, anyway: Medieval manuscript theft and forgery. I figured if things got tight I’d just staple any bad guys to within an inch of their lives.

I thought through what I had to go on so far. Some destitute old lord or marquess or baron in the English Midlands had been sorting out the library of the family estate before turning it over to the National Trust. He’d turned up (so the tale went) a copy of the Middle English verse romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, from about 1400.

Every 1st-year graduate student in Medieval Studies knows the only existing copy of SGGK is in the British Museum, MS Cotton Nero A.x. A miracle it survived centuries unnoticed in another old library before being noticed in the 19th Century. It was an almost impossible coincidence that another copy had turned up — if this new one was genuine.

That’s where I come in. I’ve cracked a few tough ones: a manuscript of the Divine Comedy, supposedly by Dante himself, with an entire second half never circulated in which the Narrator goes back through Paradise, Purgatory and Hell to find Beatrice alive on earth. A little late for my period of study, but I sorted it out. A clever forgery.

My toughest case took me nearly 8 years and a lot of time eating mediocre food in university cafeterias in places like Göttingen and Heidelberg: 14 manuscripts supposedly from the long-lost Library of Charlemagne. After that, I don’t care if I never see another page in Old High German again. But I scotched any claim to authenticity and came away with a nice souvenir beer stein from the grateful prior at the Aachen cathedral. No beer, just a stein.

Now this. Right up my alley. The forensics panned out: the parchment, ink — all the right age. But some serious inconsistencies in the text, especially the scribe’s use of instrumental case, as well as some fundamental differences in descriptions of clothing and armor from the Cotton Nero manuscript .

Not much to go on, but that play had given me an idea. I put in a good couple of hours bending over the manuscript, making notes, sent a couple of emails to contacts. One half-line bothered me … a lot:

ye bigge sleepe

At about 7:30 I texted The Counselor that I was coming home and asked if there was anything to eat.

She texted back: A mystery 2 me. U R the detective. Please solve.

See what I mean? Civilizing me.

Click here to read the next episode, “Stolen Parchment.”

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017

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Responses

  1. Brad, what a great piece! I don’t know you well enough to know if this is fact or fiction (although I do see noir fiction in the tags…) but either way, I’m awaiting the next installment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Stacy. Stay tuned, and be ready to help me decide what to do next as the 2nd installment closes with a number of possible outcomes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Stacy, you are an acute observer! Yes, this is noir fiction. Very noir. Beware the jabberwock! I see Chatty Kerry playing a part in this series. The drama continues . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, on reflection, this story is a bit of a hybrid. If this were a movie script, it could be film noir. But as it’s a short story, or maybe a novella (we don’t know yet!) I’d call it UWS Noir.

        However, nice detective work, Stacy!

        Like


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