The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and her Exceedingly Tiny Dog)
by Alex Acks
It was a perfectly ordinary parlor, nicely decorated, pale lace doilies sitting atop furniture done in heavy brown and gold brocade. The general color scheme was maroon and brown, with enough pink and yellow accents to keep it all from seeming too heavy or dark. While many such parlors were given to clutter as the wealthy owners attempted to display both their taste and overflow of cash with countless bits of frilly golden bric-a-brac, this one was neat and carefully tended, enough empty space around objects to draw the eye and invite inspection without being overwhelming. It was austere and quietly dignified.
The careful effect of the decorating was, quite unfortunately, spoiled by the body majestically putrefying in the center of the rich carpet, a petite pistol with a mother-of-pearl grip still sitting in its lax hand. Even more disturbing to the serenity of the parlor was the shockingly tiny dog that stood next to the body, the white fur of its muzzle rusty with old blood. The little animal growled in what was presumably a threatening manner, though it sounded more like a teakettle burbling than anything else.
“You didn’t expect this, did you, Captain?” asked Meriwether Octavian Simms, known by preference as simply “Simms” to friend and foe alike. He did his best to take only shallow breaths, one hand meditatively smoothing down his generous ginger muttonchops.
“There were many possibilities I considered for this particular break-in,” Captain Marta Ramos replied in a thoughtful drawl. As they were in the city, she dressed as a common workman: dark, sober clothes and her masses of curly brown hair hidden under an utterly disreputable hat. Her normal, far more flamboyant, and classically piratical scarlet frock coat tended to draw too much attention from the Grand Duchy of Denver’s police and security forces alike. “I am utterly unashamed to admit this was not one of them.”
Simms cleared his throat. “Did the dog…?”
“Yes, so it would seem.”
“Ah…well…hah. I suppose we can’t blame the little fellow if it’s been days and no one to feed him, can we?”
“Hm. Well. Yes, I concur.”
“I would have thought if the old girl were planning to off herself, she might have sent her dog out for a walk.” Well, it could have been worse. If she hadn’t been kind enough to shoot herself in the head, they would have been confronting a much different scene with a much different source of growling. The tiny dog would have been eaten rather than eater after Infection had seen to the resurrection of its mistress, mindless and ravenous.
Ugh, what a thought that was. Simms sometimes wished his imagination weren’t so finely tuned.
“Mmm.” Captain Ramos rasped at her chin with fingers covered in rough leather. “Well, might as well carry on. We needn’t even be quiet now.” She gave the dog a long, assessing look, as if gauging just how much damage its small teeth, driven by an obviously outsized ego, would be able to cause. Then she gave Simms a long, equally assessing look. A faint shrug of one shoulder and she dug around in her pockets to disgorge a twist of string, a bird’s nest of a fake beard, and then a packet of jerky wrapped in newspaper.
The burbling growl abruptly stopped, the tiny plumed tail beginning to wag with canine hope.
Captain Ramos snorted, untying the twine that held the packet closed. “Mercenary little thing, isn’t it?”
“From what I’ve seen, most of ’em are,” Simms observed mournfully. And indeed, the little animal fell eagerly on the leathery strips of venison the Captain tossed onto the carpet nearby, completely forgetting their presence in the bliss of chewing.
“All right.” Captain Ramos nodded, folded the half-full packet neatly, and tucked it back into her pocket. “I’ll unlock the wall safe. See to the unfortunate Miss Nimowitz, Simms. There’s a good chap.”
He eyed the body doubtfully. “Are you certain that’s who it is?” Clementine Nimowitz was a somewhat eccentric but still highly respected lady of great society, the owner of the well-appointed townhouse, and the intended victim of their robbery. Simms knew that much. Or perhaps had been would be a more accurate way to consider all of those qualities. “She doesn’t have much of a face left.” He grimaced. “Or much of a throat.”
“I almost hope she isn’t. My life would be so much more interesting then.”
“I vote for boring, if it’s all the same to you.” Simms sighed. Somehow, the moment the dank and earthy scent of decay had hit his nose, he’d known he’d end up dealing with the body. Unfortunately, as he lacked the Captain’s skill with safes, he could hardly argue that they should trade jobs. He looked down sadly at his gloves. “I only just got these.”
“You can have a pair of Miss Nimowitz’s to replace them,” Captain Ramos suggested in an overly sweet tone, before heading for the safe.
Simms scowled at her, which was no doubt precisely what she wanted, and moved toward the remains. While the unfortunate Miss Clementine Nimowitz might have been a grand lady of impeccable taste in life, death had done her no favors. In the darker, more proletarian depths of Simms’s heart, he found that obliquely comforting.
Her dress, heavy blue silk with cream lace, was curiously undisturbed by blood but for the areas—neck, face, forearms, calves—that the dog had felt free to nibble. Simms cautiously moved his hands over the fabric, trying to breathe shallowly through his mouth. A crackle caught his attention at her breast. He dug for it gingerly, face turned away, and came out with a sheaf of messily folded papers, one corner stiff and gluey with a stray red rivulet.
Something tugged at his trouser leg. He glanced down to see the tiny dog. At his attention, it tugged again, tail wagging.
“Toss the jerky over here, if you please.” He caught the packet, tucked the papers under his arm so he could open it, and pulled out a few more bits of dried meat. The dog gleefully snatched up the venison, which had the side benefit of forcing it to release his trouser cuff. It was probably a good sign it preferred that to a fresh round of human flesh.
The unpleasant task of rifling a corpse’s pockets was thankfully abbreviated by the fact that Miss Nimowitz, as a refined, nearly cloistered lady, didn’t have any. Simms took from her a bracelet, black with dried blood; a cloisonné pin; and a set of earrings. Feeling strangely guilty, he picked a series of gold hairpins from her blood-stiffened coiffure, finishing the destruction that bullet and dog had begun. He nearly discarded her fan, but the ribs and guard sticks seemed to be made of delicately carved ivory even if the cloth sail was ruined.
He retreated from the dizzying stink of the corpse and laid out the few items on a nearby end table, next to a small china tea set. At first he thought the teapot, single cup, and tray upon which they sat were a display piece, but when he tapped the side of the pot it proved to not be empty. Simms peered under the lid to find the pot half-full of brown liquid. “Huh. Guess she had a cuppa before shooting herself. Civilized, I suppose.” Bemused, he turned his attention to the papers he’d retrieved.
“Captain?” he asked after a moment, “I seem to have found Miss Nimowitz’s… er… last will and testament. Shall I put it back?”
“Curious, Simms, since I seem to have found it too.”
He eyed the document with a new sort of dubiousness. “Right.”
“Let me have a look.” Captain Ramos walked over and tossed him an empty jewelry box lined with black velvet. “See if the spaces in this match the jewelry you removed from her. That box is for the most expensive pieces of her collection, so I can only hope she was wearing those pieces at the time of her death. Going out in style and all that.”
Simms handed over the stained sheaf of papers, and then cracked open the box. The earrings did indeed fit perfectly, as did the bracelet, but the box still had more space, another neat slot. The pin definitely wasn’t part of the set. “Should there be a necklace?”
“Hm? Wasn’t there one on her?” Captain Ramos glanced up from the papers in her hands.
“Not that I saw. But…” Simms grimaced. “I’ll have another look.” Wincing all the while, despite the fact the lady was long beyond all pain or caring, he drew out his pocket knife and began to poke around the blackened mess that marked all that was left of her neck.
“Simms, the will you found on Miss Nimowitz is two and a half weeks old, which puts it as relatively new at the time of her departure from the mortal coil. And approximately one year newer than the one I found in the safe.” There was a pause, the sound of papers shuffling. “They’re nearly identical, but for the fact that Miss Nimowitz is now legally leaving the bulk of her estate to a fellow by the name of Mister Morris Emmett Nimowitz, rather than…” Another crackle of paper. “Deliah, of the same last name.”
“Hm.” All the digging had unearthed nothing. “Not really our problem, is it?”
“Hm?” Oh, he didn’t like the sound of her tone at all.
“Well, not our problem, yes. But concern…”
“No,” he said firmly. “Not our concern either. Unless we’re named in the bloody will—and you already said we’re not, which I’m actually quite glad for since I don’t think I want to live in a world where suicidal elderly ladies are gifted with precognition—then the disposition of her estate isn’t our concern at all, except for the more portable bits.” Frustrated, he prodded the corpse’s head aside and spotted a delicate metallic glitter, amidst a sea of not quite dry enough blood.
“It could be interesting, Simms.”
“The affairs of the rich are ghastly and boring to anyone but themselves,” he said stiffly as he bent to pry the bit of metal from the carpet.
“Your delight in boredom is something I will never understand, Simms. And—”
“—Captain, is this…” He interrupted the all-too-familiar speech by straightening, the metal bit in his fingers.
She leaned forward and eyed it. “The clasp of a necklace? Yes.”
“Broken off, then.” Simms frowned. “But how…”
As one, they turned to look at the tiny dog and its bloody muzzle, which had no doubt all too recently been in the vicinity of Miss Clementine Nimowitz’s neck.
“…oh,” Simms finished in a faint tone.
The dog, canine instincts addressing what to do precisely in this situation, wagged its tail, and lifted one little paw adorably, asking for a shake.
What pulled both Marta and Simms from their reverie was the dog emitting a high-pitched yip, presumably in protest that the two humans weren’t complying with its reasonable request for attention.
“Well,” Marta said, considering the problem of an expensive diamond and pearl necklace versus the digestive tract of a small dog and its many twistings and turnings, “the answer seems simple enough.” She pulled a small pistol from the inner pocket of her workman’s coat and pointed it squarely at the little animal, which only cocked its head in a curious fashion, ears flopping.
“You can’t be serious!” Simms, without so much as a by-your-leave, yanked the pistol from her hand.
Marta shook her smarting fingers and gave him a narrow-eyed look. “That was quite unnecessary.”
“You are not,” Simms said, biting off each word, “going to shoot a tiny dog in front of me.”
She couldn’t help but give him a wolfish smile. He was so fun to prod at times. “You could turn your back, if you like.”
“Dolly has a stuffed toy that looks just like that. I swear.”
“Really, with the blood and everything?”
Simms threw up his hands in exasperation. “You know what I mean!”
She shrugged, one eyebrow arching up delicately. “You’re the one who seemed so eager to see us out of here quickly, Simms. The Roost is hardly an appropriate place for an animal of this sort.” Many would say that Devil’s Roost, their regular home and hideout, built into the depths of an abandoned silver mine, wasn’t really suitable for any type of inhabitant. But really, she found the quiet but constant hum of the ventilation fans and the mechanical tick of the doors rather restful.
“Shooting it isn’t…isn’t…appropriate either.”
Idly, she wondered if this time she might push him into a full apoplectic fit. Who would have known that a little white dog would be what took Simms down in the end? But now, he seemed to have gotten his rather dangerous huffing down to a more manageable level, one hand stroking at his muttonchops. “Have it your way, then. We shall have to remain down here until the necklace has passed. Though it may well get tangled up in the dog’s intestines, you realize, in which case shooting it would be a mercy of the highest order.”
“Fine,” he ground out. “But only then.”
Marta waved the two copies of Clementine Nimowitz’s will in one hand. “Since we’ll be down here and at loose ends anyway, we may as well do something with our time. I don’t really want to stay closeted with a moldering corpse, if it’s all the same to you.”
Simms took the revelation that he’d just fallen into a trap of his own making with more grace than Marta had come to expect from a grown man; he cast her a dire glare, nostrils flaring as he huffed out an exasperated and long-suffering sigh. He jerked a rolled-up satchel from his pocket so he could fill it with the fruits of the morning’s labor.
Rather than poke the metaphorical bear with a stick one more time, Marta took a quick circuit around the room, looking for anything else that might be of interest. A quick pop up to the lady’s bedroom yielded a prettily jeweled headband, really more suitable for a younger woman, but nothing else worth the trouble. There were a few pictures arrayed around the room, mostly well-done daguerreotypes of people whose clothing style marked them as decades old. The two newest pictures proved to be anthotypes with delicate lacings of color, one of a young man with a weak chin and a thin mustache in full cricket whites, the other of a striking young woman posing primly next to a globe—though, despite the pose, she also seemed to be about to wink at the photographer. The two anthotypes were as widely separated across the various bits of furniture as possible, as if the images might somehow come to blows if in proximity.
More interesting were the late Clementine’s bookshelves: while there were the standard penny dreadfuls and slim volumes of absurdly turgid poetry, horticulture volumes occupied several of the shelves. Upon inspection, Marta recognized a few of the titles, scientific volumes that she owned herself and had found quite useful in the past, including one slim book on natural poisons: A Compendium of Psychoactive, Medicinal, and Toxic Plants of the Continents of North and South America and Their Myriad Uses, Second Edition by George L. F. Kensington. Odd that she had such a collection of books and no plants to go with them, not even the orchid that was ubiquitous to the bedroom of a lady.
“Unexpected,” she murmured, pulling the book out and idly flipping through, pausing to look at lightly penciled notes—minor corrections for the most part—written in three distinct hands, two neat copperplate and the third shaky to the point of incoherence. Bemused, Marta added the book to her satchel. No doubt an odd choice for an ordinary thief, but she imagined whoever finally found Miss Nimowitz’s body would be more concerned with the theft of valuables than the removal of one peculiarly specialized book.
Back in the parlor, Marta spied a curved white shape under one of the little tables, thanks to the new angle of perspective. Curious, she bent to retrieve what turned out to be a china teacup, mate to the one Simms had found on the end table, a brown stain dried on its bottom and side. Marta took a curious sniff, only to detect something bitter, hinting of almonds. “Oh my.”
“I’m still not going to let you shoot the dog,” Simms grumbled.
Marta crouched down, looking from table to corpse. It was too far for the cup to have rolled there on its own unless Miss Nimowitz had flung it in some final seizure, and that seemed unlikely since a few drops of tea had remained within. But perhaps it had been prodded by an unwary foot and sent skittering aside. More importantly, she somehow doubted that Miss Nimowitz would have prepared tea with two cups if it was just a final drink for herself.
“I’m less inclined to shoot it now,” Marta said, rising back to her feet. “The dog is a witness to murder.”
Simms gave her one of those looks at which he seemed to excel, his expression caught somewhere between disbelief and resignation. “Did you really just say that with a straight face?”
“I’ve rarely been more serious in my life.” Marta waggled the teacup at him. “Miss Nimowitz was poisoned.”
“Tough old bird.” Marta smiled. She checked the teapot on the end table, but could detect no hint of poison in the liquid still within. “Unless our little friend there has developed opposable thumbs, she had outside help with at least one of those activities.”
“Murdered twice and then robbed. Not a good week for her,” Simms commented, but his expression had become markedly less grudging. While the man wasn’t averse to firefights and throwing the occasional security guard off a train, his feelings about murder were generally in line with Marta’s—it was the sort of thing that gave honest criminals a bad name.
Particularly when someone had tried so very hard to make it look like suicide. The murderer had even gone to the trouble of locking the house up after, presumably, since Marta had been forced to pick their way in. “We’ll have to go a bit more high society for this one, I should think.” She held out a hand toward Simms. He obligingly tossed her the half-full satchel. She tucked the teacup inside after wrapping it carefully in a handkerchief.
Excavating a set of goggles equipped with extensive loupes of magnifying lenses and filters, she dropped to her knees on the carpet. “This is certainly the neatest murder scene I’ve ever come across. I’ll have a quick look around and see if there’s anything else of interest to find. Why don’t you ask our little friend his name?”
The little dog turned out to be male and named, at least according to the tag on his rather fine collar, “Chippy.” He also turned out to be amenable to being picked up, to the point that he attempted to lick Simms’s face, his tongue heralded by a blast of breath that could have knocked a black fly from the air at twelve paces. Chippy was notably less amenable to being hauled to the kitchen and having his muzzle wiped free of blood, squirming and yelping as if he were about to be murdered himself the whole while.
Captain Ramos gave Simms and his new best friend a raised eyebrow upon their return to the parlor, but then nodded at the sight of the wet dog and only slightly less damp man. Good—Simms hadn’t thought she’d want to explain to anyone on the street why her ladyship’s pet looked like a site of carnage. “Find anything interesting?” Simms asked. “Such as this little fellow’s lead?”
Captain Ramos tossed a fine leather strap to him. It was dyed a shade of royal purple to match Chippy’s collar. “I found more ammunition for the pistol and a bill of sale; it seems to have belonged to Miss Nimowitz for the last two weeks. There’s a bit of dirt about, a hair here and there. I’ve picked it all up, but it seems to me her parlor hasn’t had a good clean in a few weeks so it’s all a bit muddled. Though upon careful examination, I am led to believe she was shot by someone else, perhaps unsurprisingly. The angle’s not quite right.” Captain Ramos held up the pistol and demonstrated. “If she’d held the gun entirely by herself, I would have expected it square under the chin, or in the mouth, or even the temple. Right between the eyes is rather unusual and—while possible—rather awkward.” She tucked the pistol away in the satchel. “Though I will say, this is definitely the best angle to make absolutely certain post-mortem Infection won’t set in.”
“Hm. Seems like someone was looking out for you, little fellow.” Chippy the dog squirmed in his arms; Simms set the little animal down and hastily clipped the lead to his collar. The dog immediately began to bound back and forth over the short range offered by the lead, yipping excitedly. Hastily, Simms picked him back up. The yipping ceased, but the squirming resumed as if the noise were fighting to escape. “Enough of that, I say.”
Captain Ramos stared meditatively at the fluffy white handful—Chippy, whatever his ego might say, certainly didn’t qualify as an armful—and then smirked. “Remind me, Simms. Who among our crew has annoyed me recently?”
His eyebrows went up at that. “Pardon?”
“There’s a bit of information gathering we must do, I think. Definitely a talk must be had with both Deliah and Morris Nimowitz. Bringing little Mister Chippy along wouldn’t be all that advantageous right now. There can’t be that many dogs like him about.” Her expression became particularly sardonic. “Or at least I certainly hope not.”
“They do tend to run in litters, you realize,” Simms observed dryly. He quickly held up a hand. “But I think it’s a marvelous idea. In fact, I was about to volunteer to look after him, myself.” Given the option, he’d much rather walk a hyperactive fluff ball in the park than have an uncomfortable afternoon tea with the objects of Captain Ramos’s interest while she constantly trod on his foot to remind him to not say out of character things. He wished Captain Ramos would acquire a real husband so he’d no longer have to play the part for her, but he couldn’t begin to imagine what sort of neurotic genius with shins of iron and nerves of titanium alloy would be required to deal with her regularly in that capacity, let alone where such a man could be found. And as far as he could tell, neither could the Captain.
Captain Ramos laughed, nice try there, Simms, in the angle of her grin. “Oh no. Both Morris Emmett and Deliah Nimowitz must be questioned to see if they had any part in this. And then there’s the interesting matter of this lady’s maid, as she’s more than well off enough to have one of those full time, and I find the absence rather suspicious. There’s a lot of ground to be covered and I will require your help on this. You’re not nearly as hopeless as the rest of the crew, you know.”
Simms sighed. He should have guessed he wouldn’t squirm his way out of the Captain’s favorite hobby so easily. And it was true, even his limited skills at theater were miles ahead of anyone on the rest of the crew. He’d pretend he didn’t feel proud about that, though. “Fine. If you give it a moment’s thought, I’m sure Mister Masterson will present himself to you as the most likely candidate.”
Not entirely true—Gregory Kinzer was probably higher on the Captain’s bad list than Elijah Masterson, thanks to the incident with the lemonade in Berthoud. But Elijah had recently managed to blow out a piston in one of the smaller railcars through sheer drunken negligence, something that seemed to set the Captain’s nerves completely on edge. And, more to the point for Simms, during that same escapade the man had ruined his best pair of boots by vomiting into the left one and then throwing it off a bridge.
Simms had been quite the drunken scoundrel at Elijah’s tender age. But he’d always limited himself to normal things, such as brawls. And more brawls. And brawls of the sort that gave his nose its rather unique shape. He’d never done anything that determinately, stupidly creative.
“Ah yes,” Captain Ramos said, looking for all the world like a cat that had just spotted a small and unfortunate rodent. “Mister Masterson. I have gotten the impression he needs extra employment for all that spare energy of his. Let us summon him via telegram. While we wait for him, we can acquire suitable clothes for our investigations.” She eyed Chippy in a speculative way that had Simms fighting the urge to cradle the little dog a bit closer to his chest. “And a laxative for the little beast, I think.”
Suddenly, Simms was glad that little Mister Chippy was about to become someone else’s problem.
End of Part 1
About the Author
Alex Acks is an award-winning writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. Angry Robot Books has published their novels HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF (winner of the 2017 Kitschies Golden Tentacle award) and BLOOD BINDS THE PACK under the pen name Alex Wells. Their steampunk novella collection, MURDER ON THE TITANIA AND OTHER STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES, was nominated for the Colorado Book Award, and the sequel WIRELESS AND OTHER STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES is available from Queen of Swords Press. They’ve had short fiction in Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Giganotosaurus, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and more, and are a contributing editor at Book Riot. They’ve also written several episodes of Six to Start’s Superhero Workout game and races for their RaceLink project. Alex lives in Denver (where they bicycle, drink tea, and twirl their ever-so-dapper mustache) with their two furry little bastards.
About the Narrator
Sandra is a New York born and raised voice actress with a background in literature and writing. After a childhood where video games were banned from the house, she one-eighty’d so hard she’s finally in them and never leaving.
Some games Sandra’s voiced for include Heroes of Newerth, Marvel’s Avengers Academy and the critically acclaimed Wadjet Eye Games adventure RPG “Unavowed” as Mandana. Catch her on Twitter or Facebook under the handle “DustyOldRoses,” obsessing over good food, good games and the color pink.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.