The meaningless but symbolically meaningful scrawls decorating the mollusk shells of our neighborhood had been placed there by this young crab tagger for his own selfish reasons--a fact that (he was right) I would NEVER understand.
That the mollusks of the neighborhood had worked a lifetime to make their shells as beautiful as they could was not a consideration for this young tagger.
He would mark them--cowardly and unknown at night--so the good residents of the neighborhood would fear the something that prowled at night.
He was the opposite side of the coin from me I guess--I worked to bring a little peace and happiness--he wanted to bring fear and anger and frustration.
Well, so it was.
I thought my way was better and he, no doubt, thought his way was better--strange isn't it?
So--though I had solved the mystery--I had failed to find a solution.
But they say "failure is a better teacher than success"--so at least I had perhaps learned something from this case.
As I expected, my old friend Al the Used Shell Salesman popped up as soon as I got close to his shell lot. He smiled broadly and welcomed me warmly, also as I expected--I guess used shell salesmen are all pretty much alike...
"Constable Crab, you old son-of-a-gun! Good to see ya again! REALLY GOOD! Now--What can I do ya for?"
"Al there is something suspicious going on around here and I want to get to the bottom of it!"
"Why sure, Consatable! I'm yer man--as always! Shoot yer request!"
"It is simple, Al--I need to borrow one of your shells."
"Surely yer not gonna become a HERMIT crab, Consyable? Not after all these years as a lawman!?"
"No, Al--much simpler than that! I need a shell to use as a DISGUISE. I am going to have to go undercover to find out what's going on!"
"Anything I can do, Constaboil! I'm yer man, as I said before! No charge! Free Gratis! Take yer pick! I suppose yer wants one of the latest models? Right over hear I've got some DOOZIES! They're LOADED!"
"Just something simple, Al. And I expect I'll only need it overnight. And could you deliver it over to a place near the Opihi Colony, please?"
"Natch, Constabibble! I'm yer man! How about that white number over there at the back of the lot! It's NICE! When shall I drop it off?"
"That will do just fine, Al. If you drop it off this evening before nightfall, please. I would like to be snugly installed inside it before dark..."
"DONE, Constabill! It shall be there or my name is NOT Al the Used Shell Salesman, Ha! Hah!"
We shook on the deal and I went off to prepare for the night's adventure.
I walked over to the largest Opihi shell and knocked.
"Hello, deah!" answered the opihi and looked out of his shell. "W'at's happenin' Bro?"
"Good morning." I replied, "I am Constable Crab and I would like to know the meaning of the markings on your shell--and on the shells of all your colonist friends."
"Ain't no markin's on US, Bro!"
"Oh, but there ARE! Just look around at all of your fellow colonists!"
"Well, pop my makas! They ARE marked--but I got NO idea what it all means, Bro! We nevah done nothin' like dat befo' !"
"If it is all right with you, I would like to look around here a bit--there is some mystery going on in this area--several of your mollusk neighbors have also been marked and I would like to get to the bottom of it!"
"O' course, Bro! Look around all you like! We got nothin' to hide!"
You couldn't miss the strange markings on Sally Scallop's shell.
It was perplexing, but I thought I should ask her what she thought about it--and since she was just setting out on a slow scallop stroll, I walked along beside her.
"Do you have ANY idea about these shell markings--what they mean or who is responsible for them?" I asked her.
"No, Constable--I really haven't the foggiest--but if you think My case is odd, you should take a look at the opihi colony down at the end of the sandy path! They take the cake, as they say, for MARKINGS!"
We were seated quickly and efficiently at a small table--front and center again--right below the cozy club-sized stage. ( VERY different from the immense arena stage at the clam shell, of course, but also VERY nice.)
The audience was in a thrill--waiting for what they expected would be one of the memory-making experiences of their lives--the debut of a new act: "The Mable and Cody Show"!
Starry and I were eager too.
The house lights dimmed and the stage lights came up--red plush curtains parted and the crowd burst into applause.
Mable, alone at first in a single dazzling spotlight, looked totally stunning holding a silver microphone and gazing smilingly out at the packed house--Cody looked dashing and pleased as he soon took his place behind the keyboard.
"Dear Friends!" she said, and at her first words the audience hushed to absolute silence. They didn't want to miss a single sound from this famous sardine!
"Cody and I thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for your applause and for coming out to welcome us here this evening..."
"We loves ya Mable!" shouted a lone voice from somewhere in the darkened room.
"And I LOVES ya too--Alls of ya!" Mable laughed back happily..."But we are going to start our program with a new song I wrote for a certain special Crab--he knows who he is--without whom we would not be here."
As Cody played a few introductory notes I must admit I blushed when she glanced down at me. Then she began to use that marvelous, unusual voice of hers to sing:
"A friend is one who is always there-- Who picks you up when you are down-- Who lets you know that someone cares-- Who smiles when every else will frown.
And even when you make Some dumb and selfish mistake Will stay by your side 'Til the change of the tide
A friend in need--
That friend indeed--
"My friend!" She quietly spoke these last two words looking right down at me and it WAS one of those memory-making moments which life sometimes brings.
The audience was silent for a moment and then there was a storm of applause. Mable and Cody were a sensation!
The crowd was enthusiastic and gave the Seven Sardines huge applause after every number.
And most surprising--I found myself enjoying the sardine music too!
It wasn't classical whale singing, but it DID have it's place for the standard musically untrained fish and seemed to serve a purpose. After all--the masses need music too--and this was obviously THEIR music of choice!
When the concert was over, but before we left our seats, I asked Starry how he liked it.
"Great! Wonderful!" he enthused, "and I am SO glad you invited me to help you occupy these excellent seats!"
"But did you miss Mable's autoharp?" I asked him.
"Autoharp? Mable? No--now that you mention it! The music sounded just fine as they played it! I didn't notice any difference at all! Isn't that strange?"
"I suppose it is." I said, smiling inwardly. "But shall we stop by Father Neptune's restaurant before we call it a night--just to see how Mable and Cory are doing with their new gig?"
"Good suggestion, Constable! We shouldn't drop them flat as a flounder! By all means--let's go!"
I'll say this for the freebie seats we were enjoying--Starry Starfish and I-- for the Seven Sardines Concert at the Clam Shell show--they were first class!
Front Row Center--and for one of THESE concerts it doesn't get any better!
The enormous crowd was lively and restless--there were all sorts of denizens of the deep there--mostly young, of course as I expected. There were even a few squid off in a far part of the balcony--and THAT surprised me since I know they are NOT partial to the sort of "music" produced by sardines!
There were young crabs there, of course--since there are young crabs everywhere these days.
Just a few minutes late and before the crowd got too restless, with a musical flourish, the lights on the stage blazed up and the Seven Sardines launched into their signature number:"My Sammy Sardine".
THIS tune was so popular that even I knew it--though it is a LONG way from my classical whale singing!
Most of the crowd delightedly joined in singing the chorus and most could even hum the stanzas.
I did too! The mood was absolutely infectious!
Surely you know it too--
My Daddy don't like him He says he is lazy-- But he's so CUTE It drives me crazy!
My Sammy--My Sammy Sardine!
My Momma don't like him She says he's a bum-- But if he should whistle He knows I will come!
My Sammy--My Sammy Sardine!
My sister don't like him Neither does my brother-- But he's the only sardine I want for MY lover!
My Sammy--My Sammy Sardine!
There are lots of sardines They say, in the sea But there's only one Sardine for me!
My Sammy--My Sammy--- Oh, You're so CUTE, Sammy-- Oh, Sammy--you're so NICE... (etc. as it fades.)
I had a lot to do before the dress rehearsal in the afternoon because I had an idea of how to ease the pain for Mable of getting fired from the Seven Sardines.
First I needed to pay a visit to my favorite restaurant, Father Neptune's, where I was having dinner when this whole affair began as you will remember--not for lunch, but because I wanted to discuss a business proposition with the restaurant's owner, Antonio Vivaldi--a halibut friend of mine.
But I was back at the stage door entrance of the Clam Shell Concert Hall in time to intercept Mable and Cody--catching them just as they were about to go in.
They did NOT look happy!
"Oh, Constable Crab! How could Sharko DO this to me?" wailed Mable grasping my claw.
Cody, in a tightly controlled voice, said: "We heard it on the Gossip Grapevine that Mable was OUT and another sardine was IN, Constable--is it true?"
"It is true." I answered simply. "I never even had a chance to tell him about your contract wishes, Mable.
Sharko had already picked a replacement for you when I arrived at his office this morning. It was a fait accompli! There was nothing--absolutely nothing--I could do about it...BUT, I continued, "I DO have some GOOD news for both of you!
My friend Antonio Vivaldi, the owner of the fine restaurant, Father Neptune's, wants BOTH of you to come and work for him as entertainers for his afterdinner guests at the restaurant--starting this evening!
He is willing to pay you what you are making now and will raise your salary if the crowds--which I assured him you would draw--do indeed come in!"
There was a gasp and a moment of shocked silence-- then Mable squealed: "Oh Constable Crab! You are SUCH a DEAR!
It is a wonderful offer--and we'd be fools not to accept! Thank you a million times!"
She dropped my claw and grabbed Cody by the fin.
"Come on, Cody! Let's go down to Father Neptune's NOW! We'll show that shark what we can do!! Who needs those six common sardines--from now on it's just US:
How was I EVER going to convince Sharko to cater to the whims of Mable Sardine?
I didn't sleep much that night and the next morning I walked slowly down to the Clam Shell, where I expected Sharko to be, thinking about how to tell him about his "missing sardine".
I went to his office and, bracing myself, knocked on the door.
"OPEN IT!" Growled Sharko's unmistakable voice--and I did.
"CRAB!" Sharko yelled--and was that his happy tone of voice?
"CRAB, ya old rascal! Get in here and meet da newest sardine sensation--Sylvia! Sylvia Sardine! Da NEW seventh Sardine!!
My knees felt weak.
"But Sharko--I've FOUND Mable--the seventh sardine!"
"Dat has-been?" Sharko snorted! "Who needs HER?? We got da real thing here, Crab! Silvia here sings like a angel and dances better'n Ginger Rogers--besides being such a CUTE li'l thing an' she plays the accordion like nobody else on earth--" (This last he said with a sentimental quiver in his voice.)
"Accordian?" I said, "But I thought you needed an autoharp player!"
"Crab--ya got a lot to learn about this moosic bizness--da marks what buys tickets to dees concerts don' know a bass drum from a clarinet--dey come fer da noise an da mob scene! An dat's da troof!"
"But Mable said she was willing to perform tonight with a just few small changes in her contract..."
"Ahhh--Nuts to dat dame! She was gettin' too uppity fer her own good anyway, if ya ast me! Good riddance ta dat bag a trouble! We GOT A REAL WINNER HERE wit' Sylvia!!"
"Well..." I began feeling somewhat relieved.
"Ya did GOOD anyway Crab! How much do ya want fer yer services?"
"Well..." thinking that I really had not done very much!
"Tell ya what, Crab! I'll comp ya a couple a' FREE tickets to t'night's show--they're worth BIG BUCKS--an' we'll call it square, OK?"
"Sure Sharko--that's fine with me! I really want to see the show. I'm looking forward to it very much!"
I suspected--no--KNEW--that Mable's contract demands would certainly be hard on a LOT of people.
I thought that the first big problem would be to sell Mable's ideas to Sharko--and hammerhead sharks are not known to be easy to deal with even on the best of terms! Giving in to these egotistic demands by a sardine--even a sardine so obviously different as Mable--would NOT be easy for a shark!
AND even if he agreed, how would the rest of the "Seven Sardines" take it?
There was bound to be some hurt feelings to say the least!
And how about the thousands of people who had already bought tickets for tomorrow night's Clam Shell show? Would they be happy to see "Mable and the Six Sardines" or would they want their money back?
But I would have to try.
"OK, Mable!" I said quietly, "I don't think it will be easy--but I will do my best to convince Sharko--the other sardines in the group and the friends and customers--that YOU are different and worth the changes you want. I will do my best and I will be responsible for EVERYTHING!
But I want YOU to promise to show up for tomorrow's final dress rehearsal for the Clam Shell concert--on time and ready to perform!"
"DEAL, Crab!" Mable said with a smile. Cody and I will BOTH be there and ready for business! "You have my word of honor as the World's Greatest Sardine!"
"You certainly are YOU, Miss Sardine--but just WHAT does that have to do with your 'disappearance'?"
"OH, NOT YOU TOO?!"
"I'm sorry to be dense, but I don't see the connection."
"Oh, let's GO, Cody! I Knew this wouldn't work!"
"Hold on, Mable!" Cody interjected desperately, "Break it down! Constable Crab will understand if anyone will!"
"OK, I'll try one last time. Look, Constable, I am ME-- Mable Sardine! I am ONE of a kind--and NOT just one of the Seven Sardines! If it wasn't for MY talent and MY voice--there wouldn't BE Seven Sardines. I AM THE SHOW!!"
This sardine WAS pretty hard to handle--and I could certainly see why Cody thought 'Some sardines were more trouble than they were worth', BUT hearing her most unusual voice and sensing her overwhelming personality--I began to see her point--she was NOT just another sardine!
"I begin to understand. So what do you want, Miss Sardine?" I asked very politely and calmly.
"Ahhh, Call me Mable, Constable--everyone else does.
What do I want? Number one: I want top billing! I want MY name in lights, like this: Mable and the Six Sardines.
Number two: I want more money than the rest of the sardines put together.
Number three: I want Cody here to be MY personal choreographer.
Number four: I want to chose ALL the music I do with ANY group--including the other six sardines--and have I got some terrific numbers I personally wrote!
And that's what I want OR you won't see ME at the Clam Shell Concert Saturday night. Period!"
"Then, Mable--you are no longer missing?" I asked.
"I have never BEEN missing, Constable Crab--except to a few fairly unimportant people."
"Unimportant people such as your business manager and the rest of the members of the Seven Sardines entertainers--and all their friends and contacts--such as MY friend Starry Starfish--and perhaps even ME?"
"Well, maybe I am being a little too strong about the unimportant, Constable. And I am sorry if I caused some people to worry and even to call YOU in to locate me. But, as you can see, I am in no danger and am quite all right!"
This young sardine was quite a talker AND quite a charmer as I COULD see. But I DID have a job to do and a client to answer to--Sharko! So I continued with my questioning.
"Where HAVE you been? And WHY did you disappear just now when you have a very important date and a contract to fulfill?"
"I have been in seclusion at a very private place Cody Cod and I know about in the Kelp Forest--as for WHY--well the contract for the huge show at the Clam Shell with the so-called Seven Sardines are the reason I have chosen to "disappear".
"Is THAT any any to talk about some of your dearest friends, Cody Cod!" said another quite remarkably delicate but robustly female fishy voice--and I realized that I had let TWO strangers into my apartment.
Because right behind the cod--shadowing him you might say--was a small sardine!
"Oh, all right, Mable," Cody spoke to the petite sardine behind him, "But you'll have to admit that SOME sardines can be almost more trouble than they are worth!"
"NOT my friends! They are great--and SO AM I!"
"Then YOU, I take it, Miss, are Mable the missing sardine?" I inquired of the sardine politely.
I ate a light snack and then lay back on my comfortable moss covered stones to read a bit and listen to the classical music I loved best--the lovely deep singing of the whales---when I heard a light tapping at my door.
Who could it be at THIS hour, I wondered as I went to answer the door.
"Constable Crab", I heard a fishy voice whisper, "Please let me in--we need to talk."
"And WHO might YOU be?" I asked through the door.
"Someone who desperately needs your help. Cody Cod!"
There was no way we would ever find him in the kelp forest!
And I felt it was pointless to return to the Clam Shell to talk to the rest of the sardines--besides I was tired and it was time for me to go home and get some rest.
I knew Sharko would not be pleased about any delay--but I really felt this was the best thing for me to do--so I promised Starry and Sharko I would return to the Clam Shell Concert Hall early the next morning and went alone, slowly and thoughtfully, back to my place.
"QUICK!" Sharko yelled at the cleaning shrimp, "Where's the COD?"
"I dunno I'm sure, sir--he were HERE not two minutes ago--but he took off like a shot when he heard you-all comin', as it were..."
"AFTER HIM!" Sharko shouted flipping around and back out the dressing room door like lightning--and those hammerhead sharks CAN move like lightning when they need to. "If we can only catch him before he reaches the kelp forest--we'll make him squeak--but if he beats us there he'll vanish like a ghost in a snowstorm!"
I thought that was a very poetic simile for a hammerhead--but it was true enough--if the cod reached the kelp forest first we would never catch him, so we put on all our speed in a real chase mode!
Sharko seemed to know the way to Cody's dressing room very well and we were soon standing outside the closed door.
"Open up, Cody!" Sharko bellowed, banging on the door, "We gotta Talk!"
After a short pause the door opened a crack and a timid face appeared--a shrimpish face--and NOT a cod at all!
"What's goin' on?" Sharko asked, and NOT very politely. "Who're YOU?"
"I'm only Mister Cod's cleaning lady." said the face, opening the door a crack wider.
"Well, git outta da WAY, cleaning lady! We wanna talk to Cody Cod NOW!" Sharko yelled and he pushed the door open. We all followed him into the small dressing room--but it was plain to see that there was NO COD or anyone else besides the cleaning shrimp in the room!
We immediately went down to the huge stage where the remaining six of the famous Seven Sardines were just finishing a rehearsal.
The entire group came over--thrilling with excitement--to greet us.
One rushed a bit faster than the others and arrived breathlessly first. "Is this the famous Constable Crab which is gonna track Mable down? Is it Sharko? Tell us QUICK!"
"Hi, Shoiley!" Sharko growled to the impetuous young sardine, "Yeah he's the one."
"Oh Constable Crab! We have heard SO much about you! Are you going to find Mabel and get her back before our big show?"
"I will do my..."
"Come on you sardines!" Sharko interrupted, "We got work to do!
"Well, at least you could introduce us!" sniffed the young performer.
"Shoiley, Crab. Where's Cody?" continued Sharko in the same breath.
But by this time the rest of the sardine performers had arrived and they wanted to be introduced too.
"We ALL wanna meet the crab!" They squealed.
"OK! OK! Hold yer horses! Crab, this is Dagmar and Dougie and Sylvia and Ralph and Isabelle! Did I miss anybody? Now Come on! We got serious biznes. ya know--now WHERE'S CODY?! "He was takin' us through our new routine just a minute ago." Shirley murmured cautiously--"I think when he saw you-all coming he excused himself and said he would be in his dressing room if he was needed."
The other musical sardines glanced at each other meaningfully.
"Well, he's needed NOW!" Sharko barkeled. "Come on Constable and Starry--lets see what dis character has to offer by way of info!"
And we headed backstage with Shirley tagging along behind us at a discrete distance.
"Dis is Monday, roight Mr. Constaboil Crab? And we got dis huge concoit at da Clam Shell on Satoidy, also roight? An deres several tousand tickets sold awready fur da show, also roight Mr Crab? An da customers wanna see dair fav'rite perfoimers da Seven Sardines, roight?
BUT da trouble is--DIS ONE SARDINE SKIPPED TOWN a couple a days ago! We got only SIX SARDINES!"
"All this I know and understand, Sharko. But I need some solid information--like who saw the missing sardine last? And, by the way, what is the name of this missing sardine--and what instrument did he or she play which is so important to the group?"
"Da sardine's name is Mable--an she's a girl sardine--and she plays da autoharp like no one else on dis planet!" Sharko was more enthusiastic and animated than I had ever seen a hammerhead.
"An I'm purty sure the last one to see her was the choreographer fur da show, dat creep Cody Cod !
Outside Neptune's I was a bit surprised to discover that Starry's friend--the Manager of the Seven Sardines--"SHARKO" by name-- was in fact a hammerhead shark--not the prettiest denison of the deep, perhaps--but one that gets a LOT of respect. I
"Crab!" rumbled the shark, "Pleased ta meet'cha, I'm sure."
I could tell he was using his best manners and--what the heck--any friend of Starry's is a friend of mine.
"Likewise." I replied simply.
"Do this mean you're wid us?" Sharko asked.
"I will do everything I can to assist in finding your missing sardine." I said, formalizing our compact.
"I suppose, old friend, the first thing to do is to gather some facts as to the sardine's disappearance. Where do you think we should start?" I asked.
"I am SO relieved you decided to come on board on this investigation, Constable!
I think we should start NOW, because every minute we delay could have very grave consequences! And as for facts--I was so hopeful that you would help find the missing sardine that I brought the person with the most facts right with me--the Manager of The Seven Sardines, Daniel Sharky!
He is waiting right outside this restaurant and will he ever be happy to see YOU and to know that you are going to findthat sardine!"
Now hold on, Starry," I cautioned, "I will do my best of course. but..."
"No "buts", Constable Crab! With YOU on the case--we'll find that sardine! Come on--lets go!"
"I don't know, Starry--I am extremely busy with my other duties as you know..."
"Constable, I don't ask you for many favors--but this is VERY important to all of us music lovers. The Seven Sardines are bigger than just about any other musical group in our time--they are LIVING CLASSICS!
You've just GOT to help us FIND THAT MISSING SARDINE!"
I had never seen poor Starry so upset. One sardine missing among the millions and trillions of sardines in the sea? Really!
But I also realized that I couldn't let this old friend down in what he thought was an emergency.
I pushed myself back from my excellent dinner--signaled Alfonse the Waiter for my check and rose from the table--touching my old friend affectionately on the shoulder.
"All right, Starry. I'm with you. Let's find that missing sardine!"
"I am distressed to hear it." I answered urbanely, "But why are you so excited and what difference could one sardine musician possibly make to me?"
"I am a BIG FAN of the Seven Sardines, Constable!
Their music is really much better than you think!
They are booked to play at the huge CLAM SHELL CONCERT in just a few days and HUNDREDS of tickets have already been sold!
Their manager, Daniel Sharky, who is a friend of mine, is desperate! He has to have ALL SEVEN SARDINES or his show will be a failure and he has requested ME to ask YOU to help find the missing sardine!"
I was having a leisurely dinner at my favorite sea-food restaurant, "Father Neptune's" when my friend "Starry" Starfish (you will remember him from my "Twisted Claw" story) hurried up--looking very distraught.
"Hello, Starry." I said. "Is something the matter?"
"Something certainly IS the matter!" Starry said. "You have heard no doubt, Constable, of the famous rock music group, "The Seven Sardines" ?"
"Yes, I have, though I must admit I am not overly fond of their music." I honestly replied.
ONE OF THE SARDINES IS MISSING!" Starry blurted excitedly in one breath.