Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sluice Tundra, Private Eye In: The Case of the Bothered Bird

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The street was clean, colorful, brightly lit. The doors were painted a vivid, friendly green, and cheerful red curtains hung in the windows. The place looked welcoming and warm, a neighborhood anyone would want to live in.
It gave me the creeps.
My name is Sluice Tundra. I'm a private eye. I usually make my living on meaner streets, where the only thing hotter than the dames is the lead that flies when the bad guys meet the badder guys, where the only thing darker than the night is the evil that lurks in every alleyway, where men's lives are often measured out in intervals shorter than this monologue.
But it wasn't the contrast between this street and the ones where I ply my usual trade that sent a shiver of warning up my backbone. It was the fact that the street, which you'd expect to be full of happy people doing happy things, was empty. I knew there were people behind those doors and windows, but no one moved. No one made a sound.
Something was seriously wrong on Sesame Street. And I was here to get to the bottom of it.
"Hey, buddy," a growly voice said behind me. I looked around.
The guy addressing me from the trash can was covered in green fur, with a bushy unibrow over wide, bulging eyes. He looked a lot like my brother-in-law from my first marriage. Or my sister-in-law from my second.
"My name's Tundra, not buddy," I said.
"What's your business here?" he demanded.
"My business is my business," I said. "And it's not with you."
"Awright," he said. "You had your chance to play nice."
I felt a sudden sharp pain in the back of my leg. I looked down. Another little furry guy, this one covered in what looked like crimson shag carpeting, was whacking the back of my leg with a lead pipe.
"Hey!" I snapped. "Cut that out!"
He ignored me, just kept waling away, as if he was trying to chop me down like a tree. I reached down and picked him up by the scruff of the neck.
"I said -" I began, before I realized my mistake. I'd raised him to head level. He nailed me right on the forehead, and everything went black.
I awoke on a hard concrete floor. As I sat up and rubbed my head, I noticed the guy who'd hit me a few feet away. But it was the figure next to him I'd come to see. Eight feet tall, covered with bright yellow feathers, and sporting an absurdly long beak.
"Big Bird, I presume," I said.
The little guy spoke first. "Elmo's really sorry, Mister," he said. "But Elmo can't be too careful."
"That's OK," I said. "Elmo was just doing his job." Dang, now he had me doing it.
"Sorry," Big Bird said. "But with you-know-who gunning for us, me in particular ... well, we're all a little jumpy."
"I get it," I said.
"Well, I don't," said the bird. "What did I ever do to him? We take up less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget."
"He's trying to make an example of you," I said.
"Why?" he said bitterly. "To scare other puppets?"
"No," I said, "because he won't be specific about any other things he wants to cut, except ones that don't add up. He said he wants to save money by repealing Obamacare, but the Congressional Budget Office says that while that would reduce spending by $890 billion, it'd cut revenues by $1 trillion and increase the deficit.
"He says he wants to cut taxes, raise military spending, and maintain Medicare and Social Security at the current levels for people 55 and older. To do that, he'd have to cut all other government spending by at least 53 percent. On everything. Student loans, national parks, cancer research, food and drug inspection, environmental protection, small business loans, highways, the State Department ..."
I was running out of breath. When I recovered, I went on. "If he talks about the rest of the stuff he'll need to do to make his promises come true, he'd be about as popular as stomach flu. So he name-checks you."
"This doesn't make me feel any better," Big Bird said.
I shrugged. "Cheer up. The way this guy flip-flops, tomorrow he may be claiming he'll nominate you for secretary of education."
"So what can we do?"
"One, hope the president's on his game enough to try and pin you-know-who down on his claims. Two, get out the vote."
"We can't vote," he said. "We're Muppets."
"What, no photo ID?"
He shook his giant head. "You're really not from around here, are you?"