The Chewing Gum Caper

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.

“It’s Peggy.”

“Go on.”

“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.]

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10 thoughts on “The Chewing Gum Caper

  1. I best go get some of that gum. It obviously is laced with speed, of which I need right now.Terrific film noir story. You are such a great writer!___Barbarahttp://ifididnthaveasenseofhumor.blogspot.com

  2. Sure, they'll tell you it's America's good habit…'til they get ya hooked. By then they'll have hidden beneath the murky waters of corporate buy-outs, mergers, and name changes so that nobody can tell who is culpable.Leaving you, a helpless hopeless littering sap wandering the streets at all hours, jazzed-up & jacked-up…with a trail of windblown gum wrappers marking your descent into Hell. Next stop: jaywalking…while your mother spins in her grave.Goodness me, I don't know what got into me there for a moment. It's hard to stop once you start down that little path, isn't it?Thanks, this was a corker. One of your best.

  3. Barbara – I was thinking that too; I'll have what she's having! ;)Bill – Thanks. It was fun to write – who knew such evil lurked in one little piece of gum?Tori – The ad made it fun, it is so totally film noir and silly :)

  4. I want to know what was in the gum. Those people back in the olden days had it great, coke in their Coke and heroin and speed in everything else. Damn the FDA!

  5. I chew gum all the time…but I don't see that it works magical powers for me. Wrong brand, I guess…sugar free, what one I choose. Maybe I need sugar!

  6. Kath – Or make meals out of it, like Willy Wonka, when cooking just sounds like a drag (i.e. most every night, lol)Jen – So do I! Maybe it had Dodd's in it, that stuff was supposed to really pep you up (too lazy to link but I have a soft spot for Dodd's ads)Mr S – The 30s ads are wonderfully silly.James – And the funny thing is, it's still a mystery, we don't know what's in that gum.Carmen – Mine's sugar free too, and all the firey cinnamon in the Dentyne factory wouldn't make me a Peppy Peggy!

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