It was the end of a long day and I was just about to close the office down when she walked into the joint. She was a good looking dame, but I could tell something was on her mind. Something dangerous. Something dark. She asked me if I was the guy who’d solved the Chiclets Caper back in ’37. “That’s right,” I told her. “Brought the Mars Bar Murderer in, too.”
“And the Case of the Pancake Makeup?”
“That wasn’t me. I deal in candy and gum crimes only. Cases I can really get my teeth into. So why don’t you just cut to the chase – tell me what’s on your mind.” She hesitated for a moment. I waited.
“Well – Peggy’s my best friend. I mean, I always thought she was, until…it’s just that – Peggy’s always on the go. I mean, always! And yet -”
I leaned forward. “And yet?”
“She seems so – so well rested! But she claims that she only gets two hours’ sleep a night! How – how does she do it? It’s a mystery to me. That’s why I came here.”
I leaned back in my chair and tried not to spin it around. This was going to be a tough one. Maybe the toughest case I’d ever had.
I made a list of suspects and started leaning on them – hard. This Peggy was a whirlwind all right. Stayed out dancing all night in the shadiest dives. Worked ten-hour shifts selling lousy hats to bargain-basement Betties down at the Five and Ten. And when I say those hats were lousy, I mean it. But Peggy always made the sale. Her supervisor said she even sold that turquoise and yellow parrot hat that had been on the top shelf since before the stock market crash of 1929.
And then I caught a break. Everywhere Peggy had been, I found Beech-Nut Gum wrappers. Dame got careless. See, that’s where they start making mistakes – leaving evidence behind like it was garbage. Well, to a detective, it’s not garbage – it’s clues.
I told my client that I’d broken the case. “Your little pal Peggy has been keeping a big secret from you,” I told her. “She’s a gum chewer. Beech Nut Peppermint Gum. She must have seen those ads about how busy people can stay rested yet peppy all at once. They even call it a good habit. That’s how they lure them in! And now she’s hooked on it. “
“I did notice her chewing something pretty well all the time,” said the dame.
“See, that’s the way it is with a mystery. Clues right in front of you, but ordinary people don’t know how to read ‘em.”
She paid me, thanked me profusely, and was on her way. I stuck the check in my pocket and reached for a pack of Black Jack – the tough guy’s gum that promises nothing but a little bit of licorice. Another case, another day.
[From that great mystery publication, Life, October 23, 1939. Want the big version? Right this way. Tell 'em Sam Spade sent you.]