Double Inanity (a Sam Suffix Mystery)

Scott Gardner

I knew she was going to be a difficult client from the moment I saw her. For one thing, she shattered the frosted glass pane in my door when she knocked, along with the new white stenciling I had paid for just a week ago. The oversize S’s were probably still damp. For one brief, self-aggrandizing week the world knew that this was the office of Sam Suffix, Private English Investigations. Now it was just a nondescript corner cubicle again, with poor phone reception and a missing window.

She looked at me through the newly emptied frame and asked, “Are you Sam Suffix?” I’d been waiting a week to be able to tell someone, That’s what the sign on the door says, friend. But now, staring at the shards of glass on the floor, all I could do was nod. She opened the door and stepped impatiently around the debris, clicking her tongue like I should have cleaned up before accepting guests.

“I expect it is viable that you would exhort me,” she blurted after reaching the chair at my desk, inspecting it, and sitting down. “I have a complex of an expressive quality, and it was blazoned to me that you are an expert in...bizarre word varieties.” Her voice died to almost a whisper at the last three words, and she glanced nervously around the room.

I took a moment to process her statement. “Well, I don’t know about ‘expert,’ but I’ve been known now and then to scare up a forgotten connotation from a vegetating idiom. In fact, . . .” But I had to cut my résumé short, as I could see she was fumbling with the reading magnifier on my desk and visibly repressing an urge to lunge it at me.

“No time for quixotry! We must zip,” she forced herself to say calmly, between annoyed breaths. “This weekend I am to join in a verbal expression joust, and there exists the hazard that I might fizzle in...obloquy.” She was whispering again. Another hyper-vocabbed speech contest case, I gathered. But something about her was positively scary.

I asked if she had considered seeing an ALT, an assistant language teacher. For a few bucks more she could try a DEL, a deputy educator of language. Or if she was really gung-ho, a CTRL: communication trainer and roving lexicon.

She nodded irritably. “I did briefly employ a skivvy, yes, but I could not survive his vagary, and it was required to expel him.” 

Good for him, I thought. It was just about time to shake this nutcase off. “Look, the contest is almost here, right? Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’ve got the speech down pat. But if you need a little extra help, there’s this old buddy of mine, Mike Grammar, Private Dictionary. I’ll give you his number . . .”

“You fail to divine the quandary! I am anxious that my jaw manoeuvres have waxed too puzzling for any but the most zealous inquirer!”

I’d had enough. I’d been tempted to cut her a break, but her blatant British vowel-exhausting manoeuvres put me over the edge. I could see all the signs of a paranoid scrabblephreniac, and I was finished messing with her.

“You don’t need an investigator, you need an analyst! You’re a tile junkie, and you’re bad news!” I jumped up from my chair for effect. “Get out of my office! Forget the window—you’ll need your money for therapy!”

“Bah!” she snapped. “I never savored the veneer of your phiz, anyway! A pox on you and all the squiffy crystal flakes strewn about your faux parquet flooring!” And with that she stomped out of the room, making sure to crack a few more shards on the way.

That was a close call, I thought. Scrabblers were some of the scariest word game freaks out there. I went to get a broom to clean the floor, and started doing a little math in my head. Q is 10, two F’s, a Y...and seven letters, to boot. That’s an extra 50 points. I grabbed a pencil and wrote “squiffy” on a legal pad, then went back to sweeping.