No Pie for the Dead

A Duke Wulfenschlitz Mystery

No Pie for the Dead

“No pie for the dead,” said the clown-dame. Her red nose and curled wig twinkled in the candlelight.

“What do you mean?” I knew I wouldn’t get an answer but asking questions people don’t want to answer is part of the job.

The clown just laughed. Her laughter grew louder and louder, and I set down my bottle of bourbon and clapped my hands over my ears to block it out. It did no good; the sound rang inside my skull.

I reached for my pistol and aimed it at the clown. “Shut up,” I said, “or I’ll shut you up.” I could barely hear my words over her cackling, even though I shouted. The light flickered and the clown seemed grow, huger and huger, and she loomed above me and her gaping cackling mouth descended toward me. I fired and fired but she did not stop, and she swallowed me.

Then I woke up.

It took me a moment to realize where I was. Instead of being devoured by a monstrous clown, I was at home. Safe in my bed above the China Terrace restaurant, and Carl and the Dame slept beside me.

I pulled the blankets up to my chin. I’d broken into a cold but manly sweat from the nightmare, and happy as I was to see Carl and the Dame, they wouldn’t help warm me up, because they were dead. The warmest they got was at Thanksgiving when the Dame had the oven running all day long. But they’d never get above room temperature.

I wasn’t with them for that kind of warmth.

The Dame stirred, and whickered in her sleep. Her shining horn clinked against the bottle of bourbon by my pillow. I grabbed the bottle and drank until I was warm again. When I finally fell asleep, I did not dream.


  The dame and Carl were on me from almost the second I got up. I didn’t know what day it was till I stepped into the office and all those crepe paper streamers hit me in the face. Orange. The streamers, not my face. Orange everywhere, glowing like the guts of a pumpkin had been spilled every which way, and well–

I lifted my shoe from the floor. Made a face. Carl was all apologies, my desk spread with newspaper, pumpkin guts, and an assortment of carved pumpkins. Carl was wielding two knives and the Dame two fun size candy bars. I scraped my shoe clean and sank onto the couch as Carl was in my chair. Carving pumpkins. The Dame flowed into my lap like moonlight, all curvy and soft and smelling like chocolate. It wasn’t so bad, then she started talking.

“I know what you’re thinking, and well, alright, look at this place, but it’s not what you’re thinking.” She leaned in, kissed my cheek, and left a big lipstick smear. Glutton Mouth, that was the name of the color. I could nearly feel it burn into my skin. “It’s gonna all clear out, baby, I promise. On occasion of how we know exactly how you feel about this upcoming…holiday.”

That left me with more questions than not, because if it wasn’t staying here, but Carl and the Dame were involved…

“But,” she said.

Carl laughed, the bastard. I just waited, still thinking about the clown in my dream. Could smell pie, too, or maybe it was just pumpkin innards.

“Nnngaha t’th Rarrace!”

I blinked at the stream of chatter and drool from Carl. We really had to work on his zombie English so that he might prove himself useful for things that didn’t involve knives, but I got the jist of it.

“There is no way in hell this is going to the Terrace!” I hollered. The Dame sighed and Carl just went back to carving a jagged grin into the side of a pumpkin. But that’s when I saw it–the thing he was carving. “What the–” I moved off the couch, dumping Dame to the cushions. I grabbed Carl’s pumpkin with both hands and drew it against my chest. “What the hell…”

The clown’s face grinned up at me, red nose and all.

I shoved the pumpkin back into Carl’s decaying hands. My wolf’s hackles were raised in anger, anger to cover fear, and I struggled for control. This close to a full moon, it was tough, but eventually the snarl crept out of my voice and the danger passed. I wasn’t going to let some damn dream clown pie-seller make me lose it. Not ever.

“Come on, Baby,” the Dame said, snuggling up against me, long and lean like red licorice ropes. “It’s a full moon, so you’ll be getting your wolf on. Let me and Carl have some fun.”

“Grawwdfr bazznsss,” Carl agreed. He was probably right; it would be good for business. I had to think about business now, the business of running the China Terrace. I’m a private investigator and that was plenty of business for me, but then Carl and the Dame came along, and suddenly I had an undead family to support. I ain’t complaining, but I never set out to run a food business. Carl’s got a good mind for restaurants, but he doesn’t talk so great, and the Dame, well, let’s just say her skills lay elsewhere. In my lap, just like her.

“We thought we’d make it a party,” she purred, and if you think zombie unicorns don’t purr, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. “You’ll be hunting, so we didn’t think you’d mind. Get some trick-or-treaters in for a real treat.”

Of course I mind. I mind like hell. Halloween is my least favorite so-called holiday. People get to play werewolf — but werewolf is my life, not just some damn costume. I don’t like tourists.

“Let me show you my costume!” she said, and she sounded so excited I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. Getting soft, Wulfenschlitz, I told myself. But really, nothing about the Dame ever made me soft.

A moment later she flounced back in. She was dressed as the clown from my dream — red nose and all.

Carl held up the pumpkin, close to the Dame’s face, as if to show me the likeness he had captured and well, alright, it was fucking eerie, because somehow–

I can’t. Can’t talk about that. Here’s where the cut away comes.


I went down to the restaurant, which was quiet and dark and also smelled like pumpkin. They’d been down here already. Decorating. Had a stack of posters, too, and I wondered how long I had actually been asleep.


I exhaled but didn’t turn around to look at the Dame, because I knew what I’d see. Those lips and that body and her horn  and–

Her hands slipped around me, and she hugged me from behind. I closed my eyes, but instead of feeling every curve of her mashed into every plane of me, I saw that clown. She had stopped laughing and was holding something in her hands. Something that looked like a pumpkin, but was a diamond.


My eyes snapped open. The Dame wasn’t cuddling up anymore. She was peering out the blinds, across the street.

“What now?”

“You come look at what the hell now.” Her baby tone was right out the window, slaughtered in the street.

I came to look at what the hell now. The joint across the street–where I’d hung before I’d had this place. Everyone called it Blues Bar, but they had changed the lighting. It was no longer blue, but orange. Gleaming orange, every window in the place lit like a thousand pumpkins were on fire inside a dragon’s mouth. COSTUME CONTEST!!1! the signs screamed.

But there was more. One of the pumpkins in the window…it was carved in the shape of a diamond.

Of course it was. This whole town had gone insane for diamonds. The Pumpkin Diamond, see, a rare orange diamond big as your fist and worth an obscene amount of money. It was on display in the museum, and the Mayor’s trophy wife was going to wear it to their fancy costume ball. Like putting lipstick on a pig, I thought. Glutton Mouth lipstick, to be exact. Most people wouldn’t agree with me — she was all classy-like — but most people didn’t know the Mayor’s wife nearly as well as I did. Back in the day her name was Sandi Winkelstein, and though she could blow like a hurricane, she was just another dame, struggling to make her way in a cold world. She used me, I used her, and look at us now.

I shrugged. I’d made my choices, and now I had Carl and the Dame and the China Terrace and my agency. No missing persons. And what did Mrs. Mayor’s Wife, nee Sandi Winkelstein, have? Besides a new name, wealth, fame, and power? Nothing. She had nothing.

My invitation to the fancy dress ball must have gotten lost in the mail.

“We gotta do something about that, Baby,” the Dame said. She startled me — I’d almost forgotten she was there. My thoughts don’t often drift to other women when the Dame’s around. That dream last night must have really gotten to me.


She stomped her foot and swished her tail. “They’re competing with us. It’s not fair!”

I was pretty sure it was fair, but she was so damn cute when she was angry. “You’re right,” I said. “Why don’t you and Carl go over and talk to them?”

“Oh, can we?” she gasped, and her face lit up like it was Christmas and she just got a new Barbie Doll or a hairbrush or whatever it is ladies like. A few minutes later, and they were gone.

I went back up to my office. Carl had cleaned up most of the mess, but it still smelled like pumpkin pie in there. I poured myself a mug full of bourbon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Then I opened the paper to the racing section, and started working on my retirement plan.

The door creaked open, and an acrid perfume cut right through the pumpkin pie scent. I’d know that perfume anywhere.

“Mr. Wulfenschlitz,” a dame — not The Dame — lisped breathily, chest heaving enticingly. “I need your help.”

“No missing persons,” I said.

A frown crossed her lovely face. “I’m not missing. I’m right here!”

I sighed. “I know, Sandi. Hello.”

She had a kind of je ne sais quoi, which is a fancy way of saying I didn’t know what the hell she had. In French, I think, but really, you could use any language. I still wouldn’t have a clue. I could take her husband, that’s mostly what I knew. Pin him down like he was a rag and not the mayor, but I had manners, right? Mostly.

“I’m not missing, but the diamond is. Oh, Duke!” She pressed her delicate hands into her heaving bosom and she turned the color of a candy apple under all that sweet, hot caramel. “I mean….Mr. Wulfenschlitz.” She ducked her head, but peered at me under that sweep of blonde bangs.

“Missing!” I snapped my paper shut and stared. Then, she shushed me. Shushed me and closed the door and crossed to my desk like she was on wheels and not feet. She sank into the chair there, oozing je ne sais quoi. It possibly smelled like pumpkin pie, or maybe that was the seeds stuck to her shoe.

She went on to say a bunch of things–how she regretted this and that and the other thing, and had we ever found the terrace–but I wasn’t listening because I was thinking about a pumpkin diamond and a red nose and–

“–there will be pie, you know, and if I remember right, you…you…”

“Don’t talk about pie. Don’t talk about me and pie.” I closed the paper proper, creasing it perfectly. Staring at her. “Tell me about the diamond.”

She told me about the diamond–I should have been more specific, because I didn’t need to know where it had been mined, or how many men it took or that they had been dark skinned natives swaddled in skins of animals that people could not rightly identify and that their local governments disavowed any knowledge of what had befallen them afterward, because well, people just didn’t like to talk about such horrors, Sandi said, but of course they did, I said, people were all about scandal and lust and blood and… And. We were standing nose to nose. Mine wrinkled. Her eyes slid shut, lips parting.

I stepped back. “Is it cursed then, this diamond?”

Her lip trembled, in a way that made me want to kiss it. Tears welled up in her giant blue eyes, and threatened to spill over. “Y-y-y-es,” she said, and bit her lip.

That was cute, but private investigators don’t believe in curses. But we do believe in missing diamonds. “So how’d it go missing? Tell me the story.”
Her chest heaved like she had the last of the passenger pigeons tucked in there. “I was supposed to wear it to the party tomorrow,” she said. “But it was so shiny! So pretty! I just wanted to borrow it.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “You snuck into the museum, distracted the guard with your timeless skills, and while his pants were down, you slipped the diamond into your pocket?”

“Something like that,” she said, and in that moment, she was 100% Sandi Winkelstein, and looked nothing like the Mayor’s wife.

“Then what?”
“I tucked it under my pillow last night, and in the morning, it was gone!” She started to wail. “I don’t know what happened! I don’t know what could have happened. It must be the curse!”

“Who cursed the diamond, Doll?” I asked.

She looked away, suddenly fascinated by the carpet. Either she didn’t want to come clean, or she was trying to figure out where the scent of dead pumpkin was coming from. Maybe both. She always had been the kind of gal who liked to keep her options open. Wide open, if you know what I mean. I topped up my bourbon, and filled another mug for her. The bottle was running low, but that was no problem. Yesterday had been delivery day, and we now had enough booze to ride out a hurricane if we had to. As long as the hurricane didn’t last longer than a few days. And as long as Carl and the Dame took it easy on the bourbon. Yeah, we had enough.

She took a deep, shuddering gulp, and I waited patiently for it to ease her mind and loosen her tongue. It didn’t take long; a tongue that naturally loose doesn’t need more than a little encouragement. “My past,” she said. “It has secrets.”

I gave her a look full of my own je ne sais quoi. “I know all about your secrets, Dollface. It’s me, remember?”

Another gulp of the bourbon, and she set the empty mug back down. “Yeah, you knew me before I was Mrs. Mayor.” That really was the Mayor’s name: Gerald Mayor. Mayor Mayor. “But you didn’t know me before I was Sandi Winkelstein.”

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll bite. Who were you before that gig?”

Another wonderfully trembling breath. “Sparkle Bozowitz.”

“That sounds. . . ”

She nodded. “Yes. The truth, Duke Wulfenschlitz, is that I was born a clown! I escaped that life and fled into your arms, and loved you the best I could.” Her best was pretty damn good, I have to admit. “But now my past has caught up with me — for my twin sister, Beep-Beep Bozowitz, is jealous of my success, and has cursed the diamond so that my life will be destroyed!” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small envelope. “Here,” she said, pushing it toward me. “It’s a picture of Beep-Beep.”

I opened the envelope and pulled out the picture. Staring back at me was the clown-dame from my dream — red nose and all.

I stared at it a long while. Impossible! I thought. But, it clearly wasn’t, for the woman looked me in the eye from that glossy square. She seemed to look through my very soul. I slid that photograph back into the envelope before she could do just that, because some things weren’t meant for dames.

Looking at Sandi… Sparkle… It wasn’t much better. She had eyes that knew too much, that also knew how to swallow a man and spit him out when he was only bones. Eyes could do all manner of dastardly things. “So. You claim we have a stolen diamond–”

“–stolen pumpkin diamond–”

“–and that your sister is–”

“–jealous, TWIN sister…”

“Mmph.” I turned to get more bourbon. Pouring more than I needed but less than I wanted. “So your jealous twin sister has cursed this pumpkin diamond–and after you tucked it under your pillow–” I didn’t want to imagine her pillows, but there they were, all pale and soft. “–it was gone come morning. Did you check between the headboard and wall? The mattress? Your husband’s…pockets?”

“Gerald doesn’t–” She flushed, maybe with pride or fear, I couldn’t tell; with dames it was hard to know. “He’s not involved in this.”

Which meant that he was, even if he didn’t know it. Dames, see, they had  way of viewing the world different than we men did. They turned everything into corners and intrigue when it never had to be like that. When it wasn’t like that. A thing was blue, a dame called it midnight.

“Beep-Beep must be here, Duke.” Sandi’s arm curled desperately into my sleeve. I didn’t pull away lest I spill my bourbon. “Only she could have taken–”

“Your jealous twin sister crept into your bedroom and slipped her hand under your pillow, where you slept with your husband–didn’t trip security, didn’t alert your dog–you still have Rufus?” Her smile told me yes and I didn’t let her get any further. “I’m not buying it, Sandi. Woman like that breaks into the mayor’s house… She staying with you, Dollface?” That didn’t exactly make sense, either.

But before Dollface could answer, Carl and Dame returned, and Dame saw Sandi standing there with her hand curled in my sleeve and well. That’s when I drank down my bourbon and poured some more.

“Thuuuke!” moaned Carl, clutching at the Dame in despair.

“It’s not what it looks like,” I said, standing up and pushing Dollface aside, but I could see they didn’t believe me. An instant later, they were gone. “No!” I howled, and started after them, but Sandi pulled me back.

“Duke. You have to help me!” she said. “You owe it to me.”

“I don’t owe you anything,” I snarled.

“The pie…”

I stopped short. It was true. One cold night in the streets, I’d been on the verge of starving to death, but Sandi found me and fed me pie and nursed me back to health and fell in love with me. Then I shattered her heart by moving on.

“Aww, Dollface. That was the best damn pie I ever had, and you know it.” I moved in close, close enough to smell her perfume. Innocence Springs, that was the name of it — the only thing innocent about Sandi. “But I couldn’t stay with you. Pie’s not enough. I knew you were destined for better things, and you wouldn’t have become Mrs. Mayor if I’d stuck around.” It had been a pumpkin pie, warm and rich with spice, cool with whipped cream.

Just one more reason for me to hate Halloween. The holiday of heartbreak.

“Really, Duke?” she breathed, looking up at me with those eyes, big and blue as the ocean in a cheap post card from Hawaii. “That’s so beautiful! But still you have to help me.”

“Not until I fix things up with Carl and the Dame,” I told her, and then I was gone.


The streets were mean. Hard too, rutted with potholes and strewn with debris. It made the walk to the blues bar across the street vexing and exhausting. Fucking bar didn’t even have a terrace. I stared at the place a long while, bourbon coursing through me, all that orange light puking down like neon rain. This place had to go down and then, I’d get the diamond, and then I’d get…

I had too much to do. Thinking of Carl and the Dame was like a splintered unicorn horn in my rotting heart. A howl broke from me, ratting the bar windows.

I stepped inside–the joint reeked of pumpkin, worse than the Terrace–but that’s not what turned my stomach. It was the sight at the bar, that figure drawn in hard silhouette against the spill of more neon. The curled mop of hair, the bulbous nose, the ruff around the neck, the big cuffs that dragged through the bowl of Spider Chex, the shoes that were too large to fit against the brass footrail.

Goddamn clowns.

She turned to look at me then, that clown with her painted on face, and goddamn if she wasn’t smeared with Glutton Mouth, lips and cheeks and even her eyes and I had no idea what it meant, but I drew my pistol–I’d left quick, sure, but a town like this, you never go unarmed–and approached her.

“D-duke! Hey man, stop with the–” The owner approached me–fucking Willie Loomis (you know, the fictional character on the ABC-TV gothic horror soap opera, Dark Shadows, which aired from 1966 until 1971) of an owner, and I swung my pistol into his face.

“I got business with this clown.”

His hands went up, he took a step back, but not far enough for my liking. I drew my other pistol. You got two hands, you carry two pieces. Plain and simple. The clown-dame put her hands up too.

“The diamond. Where is it?”

Her eyes widened, skipped around the joint and then back to me. “D-diamond? Who…who are…you?” Oh but the clown-dame knew. I could see it in her rouged eyed.

“Who are you?” I asked. I didn’t wait for any answer. I closed the distance between her and ripped her curly wig off, to find myself staring at the woman from Sandi’s photograph. She gaped at me. “Sparkle’s a bit put out, you understand, Beep-Beep,” I said, and that’s when the clown-dame made a foolish move. They always do.

She wrenched herself off the barstool, making a break for the pumpkins that cluttered the front window. The owner cried out as she swept them to the floor where they broke open, scattering candles and one gleaming orange diamond. Madness.

“She’ll never have it!” the clown-dame cried, clutching the stone against her chest which I could not admire for the surprisingly modest cut of her costume. “Never!”

She raised the stone, Scarlett O’Damn Hara for half a second before I shot her dead. Beep-Beep crumpled where she stood, the stone rolling from her hand, to the owner’s feet. He scooped it into his own hand and thought he’d run with it, but a bullet in his back stopped him. Dead, as it were.

I plucked the diamond free and wiped the random blood from its facets. In the doorway, Sandi cried.

“Sorry about the mess,” I muttered to the beautiful round stone in my palm. Then I flicked it to Mrs. Mayor. Mrs. Goddamn Mayor.

“Oh, thank you, Duke!” she simpered. The sound made me sick. Two people were dead — and two other people might never love me again — all because of her. This dame was trouble. I hoped for Mayor Mayor’s sake that she was worth it. “That slut! That’ll teach her to flirt with my husband!”

I stepped behind the bar and opened a fresh bottle of bourbon and drank long and hard. Ah. “What?” I said.

Sandi just laughed, as cold and hard as that diamond. “She’s Mr. Mayor’s secretary,” she said, “and I know the little whore is sleeping with him. But I’m not going to put up with that.” She tucked the diamond into her cleavage.

“You lied,” I said. “You never had a twin. You never were a clown.”

She laughed again. “Happy Halloween, Duke! Thank you so much for your valuable assistance.”
That’s when the Dame stepped through the door, and stabbed the Dollface right through the heart with her horn. I sat at the bar and worked on that bottle of bourbon while she worked on dying. We both took our time.

Finally Sandi stopped squirming and moaning, and Carl helped the Dame ease the body off her horn. I got busy torching the place, and then we walked away, back into our home at the China Terrace.

“Wait, what about your dream?” the Dame asked, raising her voice to be heard over the crackling of the fire and the sirens of the approaching fire engines. “That bit about no pie for the dead?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, Babe. I guess it was just a dream.”



Like what you read? Then kick over some cash. Times are tough for werewolf private investigators, and now I have a family to support. Every little bit helps refill the bottle.


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