Friday, May 26, 2006

Mayberry Code Ch. 5

All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.

Barney and Thelma Lou stood on the porch of the house, nervously glancing at the street, fearing the long silhouette of the deputy’s powerful patrol cruiser. Barney felt exposed on the porch, our of his own vehicle, and it made him nervous enough he missed pressing the doorbell button the first time.
“Calm down, Barney,” Thelma Lou said. “I’m sure it’s all right.”
“Easy for you to say, Thelma Lou,” Barney said sharply. “That deputy’s looking to make a name for himself and apprehending a murderer who happens to be a former officer of the law himself will go a long way towards that.” He stopped, softened when he saw Thelma Lou’s eyes mist up. “Aw, shucks, Thelma Lou, I’m sorry. I’m just on edge. We’ve got to get this thing worked out before he finds us, or I may never get my name cleared.
“That’s OK, Barney,” Thelma Lou said, smiling. “I understand.” Barney smiled back, then squared his shoulders, breathed deeply, and pressed the buzzer. After a minute or so, the light came on and a familiar face showed in the doorway.
“Barn?” the man asked. “Thelma Lou? What are you all doing here so late.” He pushed open the screen door and ushered the pair in.
“Good to see you, Ange,” Barney said, shaking his old mentor’s hand. “I sure hope you can help us. I told Thelma Lou that if anyone could help us, it’d be Andy.”
“Anything, Barn, anything,” Andy said. “Just tell me what’s going on.” He motioned to his bodyguard, a tall, lanky man with drooping eyes, to clear some newspapers off the sofa. Barney and Thelma Lou sat down.
“Ange, it’s Floyd,” Barney started. “He’s been murdered.” Barney then proceeded to tell the whole story, including their harrowing escape from Ernest T. Bass. “He was a nut,” Barney concluded. “So I thought we should come here.”
Andy had been nodding. “Coming to me was the right thing to do,” he said. “The right thing to do.” He motioned to the bodyguard. “Bring us some iced tea,” he said. The man left for the kitchen.
“What do you think’s happening, Ange?” Barney asked.
“What do you think is happening, Barney?” Andy asked in response.
“I haven’t got a clue,” Barney said. “Wasn’t any time to gather any evidence; that deputy was all over us. And you know you can’t solve your crime without your physical evidence. All of your great sleuths use their physical evidence. Your Nero Wolfes, your Sherlock Holmes, your Sam Spades…What?” broke off as Thelma Lou elbowed him sharply. She pointed to the kitchen door, which had just produced Ernest T. Bass. He grinned malevolently over his gun.
“Andy!” Barney shouted. “Separate! He can’t get us both!” But Andy didn’t move. And when Barney saw the bodyguard follow Ernest T. into the room, also holding a gun, he knew why.
“You’re in on it!” he shouted. “Aw, Andy, what’s going on?”
“Shazam,” the bodyguard said.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mayberry Code Ch. 4

All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.

Unknown to the deputy, the pair were now blocks away, sitting in the wide bench front seat of Barney’s car. “If only we could have deciphered the rest of that code,” Thelma Lou said. “I felt we almost had it before Deputy Dum-dum broke in.”
“Not to worry, Thelma Lou,” Barney said, tapping his head just under the turned-up brim of his fedora. “I’ve got the entire sequence committed to memory. And I have near-photographic recall. All your greatest sleuths have it. Your Sherlock Holmes, your Nero Wolfes…”
“Barney!” Thelma Lou interrupted. “Floyd’s message?”
“Right,” Barney said. “Here, breathe on the windshield and I’ll recreate it as best I can.”
When this had been accomplished, Barney squinted at it. “So it’s a rhythmic pattern, in groups of syllables,” he said, refreshing his memory by repeating what he and Thelma Lou had already reasoned out.
“And the letters stand for words,” Thelma Lou added.
Dum da da dum dada dum¬da,” Barney said. Then he froze. “I know where I’ve heard that pattern before,” he said. He slowly turned to Thelma Lou. “So do you.”
She looked at him, puzzled.
How do you do, Mrs. Wylie?” Barney said, the horror creeping into his voice. Thelma Lou blanched in shock.
It had been an experiment, to help a hopelessly unrefined and backwards man “fit in” with Mayberry’s high society, in order to impress his beloved. The details had faded through the years, but Barney still remembered the high, nasal voice repeating the mantra, the key phrase that would convince everyone that he was a real gentleman, and not just crazy old…
Ernest T. Bass.
“But Barney, he’s harmless,” Thelma Lou said. “All he ever did was throw rocks.”
“He’s a nut,” Barney said. They both jumped as a heavy weight thumped on the car hood. A grinning face leered through the windshield, distorted by the coded message Barney had traced on its interior surface.
“It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T!” he sang, leaping from the hood to the street. “And I gots me a see-cret that I won’t tell, and I gots me another see-cret that I will tell!” He held up his gun. “I done reloaded my pis-tole and I’ve got a bullet ready to shoot!”
Barney reacted without thinking. He knew they had to get away from the maniacal mountain man, and even though Ernest T. was likely to miss, the way he waved his gun around, Barney couldn’t take that chance. So he floored the accelerator and the car leaped forward, breezing past Ernest T. Barney knew that every second he drew further and further away from the madman, and he prayed he would have enough before the pis-tole spoke and he had to take his chances with a bullet. Even as he thought, the gun roared in the night, and Barney waited an awful second before realizng the bullet had missed both he and Thelma Lou. He turned the corner, heading for the only place he knew he could find help in puzzling through the riddle, before the deputy tracked him down.

Mayberry Code Ch. 3

All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.

The deputy stared at Barney, who smiled knowingly at Thelma Lou. She nodded. “Of course,” she said. “It has to be.”
“But why did Floyd do this?” the deputy asked. “If he had all this time, why didn’t he just name his assailant.”
“Because he’s afraid of a coverup,” Barney said. “That’s why he has the barber’s cover on. He knew that it was possible your department is compromised, and he wanted to be sure only someone he could trust could decipher the identity of his killer.”
“That someone being you,” the deputy sneered. “I’ve heard enough. What you don’t know, Mr. Fife, is that Floyd actually wrote a fifth line in shaving cream, at the bottom of the mirror, and it said, ‘Have Clara ring Barney Fife.’ I’m taking you in.”
“What’s that?” Thelma Lou said suddenly, pointing to the window.
“What? Where?” the deputy said, and as he whirled to look, Barney and Thelma Lou ran out the back of Floyd’s shop. By the time the deputy had turned back from Thelma Lou’s clever diversion, both she and Barney had completely vanished.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mayberry Code Ch. 2

All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.

Barney and Thelma Lou stared together at the letters and numbers Floyd had left written on the mirror in shaving lather.
“The agony he must have been in,” Thelma Lou said. “Waiting for the machine to heat the lather so he could use it to write on the mirror.”
“And not knowing if he would be found before it faded away,” Barney added. “It’s just an outline now.” He shuddered to think of the sharp smell of ammonia and squeak of the paper towel that could have erased everything Floyd had tried to do.
“But what does it mean?” Thelma Lou asked. There were letters and numbers, arranged in rows:
“It’s some kind of grouping,” Barney said. His high forehead furrowed as he tweaked at his bow-tie. He really only owned one good suit and he’d long been planning to buy a full-length tie to go with the gray and white tweed. He’d been needing a haircut, too. Both would have to wait.
With his hat, Barney covered first one line of characters, and then another. “There’s got to be something.” Outside, the Mayberry deputy glowered at Barney through Floyd’s shop window. He wasn’t happy to see Barney here. He’d always felt like a replacement, and he resented the way everyone always talked about Andy and Barney, Barney and Andy. People barely remembered his name. He’d been resentful ever since Thelma Lou had shown up and said she needed to talk to Barney. Alone.
“Could the letters be words?” Thelma Lou asked. “Abbreviations, where one letter stands in for a whole word?”
“Probably,” Barney said. “But what words?” Floyd hadn’t just left the message in shaving lather. He had managed to lather his own face as though he were a man ready for a shave, and even had a barber’s cover snapped in place over his body, Making that last snap and tucking in the disposable collar guard must have been excruciating, Barney thought. And although he couldn’t be sure, the floor looked freshly – albeit unsteadily – swept. It had to have meant something. Again, but what?
The numbers obviously correspond to words, Barney thought. Somehow they were the key to revealing what words the letters represented, and the words in turn would tell them who had killed Floyd the barber.
“Wait, Barney!” Thelma Lou said, excited. “What if the capital letters stand for emphasis? What if there’s a rhythm to the phrase, and they tell us what it is.
“Then the first number goes over the first word, represented by the ‘H’,” Barney mused. “And the second number over the second letter, and so on…aw, Thelma Lou, it’s no use. We’ve got numbers left over, see? Your three and your four are just out there with no letters under them.”
The deputy, who had just come back into the shop, barked a short laugh. “Not so clever, are you then?” he said to Thelma Lou, and her face darkened at his mockery. “Look, Floyd was out of his mind with pain or shock or whatver, and he wrote down something he thought meant something, and then he got ready for a haircut. Case closed.”
“Not so fast, Deputy,” Barney said, and hitched up his pants as he strutted to the mirror. “You see, words are sometimes divided into what we call ‘syllables,’ which are pieces of words or maybe even words themselves. You know what I mean, Thelma Lou.”
“Yes, Barney of course,” she said, and turned to the deputy. “Sometimes a word has only one syllable, and sometimes it has several. A word is always at least one syllable, but a syllable isn’t always a word.”
“So the last two numbers, grouped like this, aren’t words at all,” Barney declared. “I believe the last two numbers represent two words of two syllables apiece.” He held up the long and slender first two fingers of his right hand as he did so, for emphasis.

The Mayberry Code Ch. 1

All names, organizations, characters, etc., in the following are the property of their respective creators, and no connection with same is implied or stated.

Renowned barber Floyd the barber staggered down a shadow-dappled Mayberry street. He lunged for the nearest door he could see, that of his own shop. Inside, he collapsed in a heap in the nearest barber’s chair. He stayed still for a moment, gasping for breath.
A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Don’t ya’ll move a whisker, now.”
Clutching the black leather-padded arms of the chair, the barber froze, turning his head slowly. He had forgotten the cardinal rule of Mayberry: The doors don’t lock.
He could see the silhouette of his attacker framed in one of Mayberry’s streetlights, just inside the doorway. Small, agile, restless. The small man drew a pistol from the waistband of his trousers. They were held up by a piece of rope threaded through the beltloops.
“Y’all shouldna skee-daddled like that.” His accent was difficult to place. “Nowsir, tell me wherdja put it?”
“Oh, I told you,” the barber said, sliding backwards in the chair. “Oh, I don’t think I even know what you mean, you see.”
“Y’all gots a see-cret, and it’s a see-cret you shouldna got,” the small man said. “Now yer a gonna tell me and I’ll have a see-cret too.”
The barber couldn’t breathe. His heart hammered. How could he have known? He stared at the gun, which spent as much time pointed at the ceiling as at him, while the small man agitatedly shifted back and forth in the doorway. “I should have a see-cret too!”
“Well, OK, then,” the barber said, rehearsing the lie he had to tell. When he finished, the small man beamed like a child. “That’s a right nice see-cret, too,” he said. “And now I’m gonna be the onliest one what knows it!”
The pistol barked, and Floyd felt flame sear his stomach. The small man danced a bit on either foot, and then was out the door, capering down the street, singing about his new “see-cret.”
Floyd knew he had one chance to pass on what he knew – the real secret, the one his lie had hidden. Minutes remained before the acids of his punctured stomach seeped into his chest cavity and he digested his own lungs. One chance, because the attacker had chosen to aim low. He started to move, slowly, painfully, realizing that what he had to do would take every second remaining to him. Realizing the irony that the same rule of Mayberry that had left the door unlocked for his attacker had also given him this chance. Guns in Mayberry had only one bullet.