“Never send a moose to do a lemur’s job,” Mortimer grumbled to himself, picking wood chips off his flannel shirt. His breakfast bourbon was chilling in his belly but still flowing through his bloodstream, if the toadstool in a lemony-yellow dress was any indication. He blinked his black-rimmed eyes and glared at the toadstool until it reverted to its usual red-and-white cap perched on an ordinary white stump.
He jangled the coins in his pocket contemplatively, staring into the stream. Burbling over stones and twisting through the field, the water eventually poured into the mill pond, where it became very handy when the mill exploded into flames yesterday evening. Smoke was still rising from the now-skeletal structure.
“Why it exploded is anyone’s guess,” Mortimer told the council when all six members called on him at six in the morning, before he’d even taken his first slug of bourbon. “Nothing in this town has caught fire in over sixty years, unless you count Willa burning the scones at the tea shop.” The council grumbled and eyed him suspiciously. Mortimer sighed. His last episode of hooliganism was over half a century ago, but memories were long, and Bertie the Rat’s whiskers had never been the same. He groomed them carefully, but they remained sparse and obviously plagued his sanctimonious little soul. Bertie was always the first to point a finger in Mortimer’s direction.
He strolled to the mill pond and gazed out over the burnt shell across the water. It was confusing. There was no earthly reason it should have accidentally gone up in flames, but Mortimer couldn’t fathom that one of the town folk had done it on purpose. Kids, maybe. A joke gone awry. A prank that got out of hand. But the younger members of the town tended to confine their mischief making to places with sweets. Mrs. Catchpole’s tea shop was being constantly plagued by sacks of dried cherries gone missing and cooling pies snatched. But given its utter lack of chocolate, none of the kids in town would have been interested in the mill.
Mortimer scratched his chin and began sifting through the rubble. Ernie the moose had been there first and tromped all over the wreckage, leaving the imprint of enormous hooves over everything. Rolling his eyes, Mortimer tried not to think too harshly of the dim but well-meaning moose. Why the council asked him to investigate anything was a complete mystery.
“Not that much of a mystery,” he muttered. “Short-sighted Bertie.” Yes, the elderly rat needed thick spectacles, but his sight was clogged more by his prejudice than by his corneas.
There. Near the once-gaily-dressed-now-entirely-normal-toadstool. Mortimer squat down and put his nose as close to the dirt as he could manage without tipping over. A bit of pink satin ribbon peeked out from a large foot print, unmistakably moose.
Since the mothers of the town were far to sensible to dress their girls in frills and furbelows - they always went missing or got filthy - Mortimer determined that an older girl must have been here in the past few days. Before the fire but after the rains. An older girl who wore pink ribbons.
“Not Willa,” Mortimer mumbled. He had a soft spot for her, as did everyone in town, and not just because she delivered their scones and jam. But she was the only one who both wore pink ribbons and had a bit of a history with fire. Plus, she’d been pulled out of the mill pond not long ago, sodden and coughing.
Mortimer straightened and, using the toe of his boot, buried the ribbon in the mud.
This is the second in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them.