Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Gumshoe Gazette

It’s Tuesday morning, the air’s a little chillier than I’m used to, my back’s a little stiffer than I’d like it to be. I wake up early, real early. Couldn’t sleep last night, because the questions just kept running over and over again in my head. Why? Who would do this? What motive could they have? But let me back up a bit and explain: I received a disturbing package in the mail yesterday: a plain white envelope with my name written in neat, block letters. For a return address, there was simply a large red question mark.

My immediate thought was, “Anthrax!” But then I remembered reading in Us Magazine that anthrax is so five minutes ago. Still, I held my breath as I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. Inside the envelope was a blank piece of plain white card stock carefully folded around a small package of gum. But it wasn’t just any kind of gum – it was a little plastic wrapper containing two red pieces of hot dog shaped bubble gum, aptly labeled “Hot Dog! Bubble Gum.” I immediately noticed that there was an exclamation point after the word “dog,” which seemed to be mocking me.

Ha! Does someone really think I’m stupid enough to eat gum I received in the mail in an unmarked envelope? But what sort of deviant would have sent this to me? Who knows I like hot dogs? I suppose anyone who has read my blog, so that gives me at least three suspects right off the bat. Do I have any enemies? That list is substantially longer. Fortunately, my time away from work has left me with many hours to learn the finer points of criminal investigations by watching Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, CSI, and CSI: Miami, so I knew exactly what to do.

The postmark was from Chicago, so it seems that this was an inside job. That potentially rules out a long list of East Coast suspects, unless they had an operative working here in Chicago, which I suppose is certainly possible. I dusted the envelope for finger prints, but most were too smudged to get a good read. The card stock and the gum wrapper both tested clean for prints, so I suspect that the perp wore gloves. I therefore deduced that the prints on the outside were most likely made by my grubby mailman.

Clearly, this was not the work of an amateur. What kind of a sick, twisted mastermind would do something like this? Sending anonymous bubble gum through the US Postal Service? That very well could constitute a federal offense.

A closer inspection of the gum wrapper revealed my first big clue. Printed right on the plastic, plain as day, was a phone number. It said, “For nutrition information, questions, or comments about this product, call toll-free weekdays 9-4 EST.” This was exactly the lead I was looking for. I immediately called the number and a smoky-voiced woman named Joyce answered.

Joyce: “Thank you for calling Hershey Foods consumer hotline. This is Joyce, how may I help you?”

Me: “Joyce, hi. My name isn’t important right now, but I have a few questions I’d like to ask you. Have I caught you at a bad time?”

Joyce: “Uhh… no. This is… this is my job. What can I help you with today?”

Me: “I’m inquiring about one of your products – it’s called Hot Dog! Bubble Gum. There’s an exclamation point after the word ‘dog,’ if that helps. I’m interested in the nutrition information. Does this gum, to your knowledge, contain any rat poison?”

Joyce: “I’m sorry, did you just say rat poison?”

Me: “I’m asking the questions here, Joyce. Does it contain rat poison, or any poison of any type?”

Joyce: “Of course not! This is bubble gum, ma’am. Intended for human consumption. I can read you the list of ingredients if you’d like.”

Me: “Fine, you want to play it that way, let’s go. Sure – read me the list.”

So Joyce went on to read some long list of ingredients that included corn syrup, gum base, FD&C Red 40, but nothing that sounded particularly deadly. I do have a call in to a lab, though, to find out what exactly BHT is. Once Joyce rambled through this long list, I continued with my line of questioning.

Me: “Okay, here’s my next question. I need to find out exactly where you distribute this gum in the Chicagoland area. Can you fax that list to me today?”

Joyce: “You want a list of every single store where this gum is sold in Chicago? I don’t have access to that type of information. I mean, I don’t even know where you would get that from. Did you maybe want to see a brochure on how the Hot Dog! Bubble Gum is manufactured? It’s actually made in Canada at a state of the art fa-“

Me: “Joyce, Joyce, Joyce. Look, honey. We can make this easy, or we can make it hard. Personally, I like you, Joyce. You seem like a smart dame, and I sense that you really want to help people. Just tell me where the gum is sold, and I’ll be on my way. Simple as that.”

Joyce: “Ma’am, I really don’t have that information, and even if I did, it’s not something I could just hand out to people. Hold on please, I’m going to let you talk to my supervisor, Adam.”

During the two minutes I was on hold, Joyce and Adam obviously did a great job of getting their stories straight because Adam fed me the exact same line of bull that Joyce did, complete with the offer to send me their brochure. The only difference was that Adam tried to sweeten the deal by throwing in a free pass for a tour of their Toronto plant.

Now that Joyce and Adam had lawyered up, I knew I would have no choice but to do this the old fashioned way and start pounding the pavement. So today I’ve been working on a list of all the possible locations that might sell this type of gum. I know that I’ve seen it for sale at a few of the hot dog stands in Chicago, so that’s where I’m going to start. A quick Google search on “hot dog stands” + “Chicago” revealed that there are over 2,257 hot dog stands in the city, and I’ll hit every one of them if I have to. Next I’ll move on to grocery stores, corner pharmacies, and gas stations. I will not rest until this mystery is solved.

In fact, if I don’t post any new entries for the next few weeks, it’s because my focus needs to be on catching this criminal. I don’t know, maybe that’s what they were hoping for. It wouldn’t be the first time someone has broken the law in a vain attempt to stifle my writing.

Is that what you wanted? Was that your master plan all along? To lead me on a wild goose chase so that I would stop speaking the truth? Well, then I guess your plan just might work, but only temporarily. Only until I pick up your scent and track you down like a mongoose after cobra eggs. (Point of clarification: in this analogy, I am the mongoose, and you are the cobra eggs. Or possibly the cobra. Either way, I’m tracking down you and/or your eggs.)

I will consider calling off my hunt if you post a comment here coming clean, and tell me if it’s okay for me to eat the gum. Barring that confession, the mongoose gloves are off!

You messed with the wrong person, anonymous gum sender. The wrong person, indeed!