novelties when business is slow. Good gag, huh?”

A patient walked in, the reluctant Mr. Stange, who took one step back for every one he took forward.

“Wasn’t going to come back,” he said, “but it hurts like chicken hell.”

“A powerful image,” said Shelly, getting out of the chair and pointing to it to show Mr. Stange the way. “Enter and be sanctified.”

Mr. Stange went to the chair and got in, ready for another fearful trip. I had no intention of watching.

“Any calls?” I said as Shelly began to hum and rub his hands together as he looked for a tool or two in the rubble. He scratched his little finger pensively as he mumbled, “Calls, calls. Yes, you had a call, but it was nothing, just some clown playing a joke. You’ve picked up a lot of cuckoos in your line, let me tell you. Mildred thinks-”

“I know,” I said. “What was the message?”

“On your desk.” With that Shel shrugged and gave up his search for the elusive proper tool. He settled for second or third best, a long thing with a pincer at the end, which he cleaned by blowing on it and rubbing it against his soiled smock.

“When duty calls, a Minck will always respond.”

I left and closed my office door behind me, hoping it would drown out some of the more terrible sounds from Mr. Stange and some of the more gleeful ones of Sheldon P. Minck. It was somewhat effective, but it could have been better.

Among the pile of bills, mailers for a few dozen products to make me a more patriotic citizen and a handbill telling me to save all my chicken fat so it could be turned into explosives by my local butcher, I found the scrawled message Shelly had taken:

Guy called. Sounded funny. Said someone had electrocuted an elephant. I told him someone else had fried an eel. Guy on the phone said, someone had killed the elephant and I think we’re in danger. Guy said his name was Emmett Kelly, and you should come to San Diego right away and meet him with the Ringling Brothers Circus. I told him you’d be there in a few hours riding on your pet lion. Ha. Ha.

I put the note in my coat pocket, shoveled the mail and bills into my bulging top drawers and went into the outer office.

“I may not be back for a few days,” I told Shelly and Mr. Stange. I was feeling pretty good. In fact, I was feeling damned good. It sounded strange, but it didn’t have the ring of a gag. I could smell a gag as far away as I could smell Shelly Minck.

“Where are you going?” asked Shelly, his eyes in Mr. Stange’s gummy mouth.

“San Diego, to see who killed an elephant,” I said with a foolish grin.

“Waste of time,” said Shelly. “I tell you, it’s just some clown.”

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