By John Rice
The following is based on true events:
Forest Park Private Detective Sam Diamond relaxed on his front porch after another grueling day. He had just finished his report on a shopping cart collision at Ed's Way. There were no injuries but the front wheel of one of the carts now wobbled. Diamond's phone rang. It was his friend, Walter Neff.
"Diamond, you gotta get here, right away," Neff began excitedly. "I've been robbed!" Diamond said he would be right over. "Thanks, Diamond — I hope you have a strong stomach."
Diamond had seen crime scenes before but nothing prepared him for the mayhem in Neff's backyard. A perfectly-innocent pear tree stood there. It had been carefully pruned to yield low-hanging fruit. Diamond was shocked to see there wasn't a single pear on the tree. No pears on the ground either.
"We were all set to pick them," Neff said sadly. "My wife was going to make brandied pears." Being on a strict no-fruit, no-vegetable diet, Diamond had never tasted a pear. "I think it's the same guy that hit us last year," Neff said.
He pointed to the tall privacy fences that protected both sides of his yard. "I put these up right after it happened." Neff had also nailed a "No Trespassing" sign halfway up the trunk with "Do not pick the pears" scrawled in black. Gazing up at the tree, Diamond saw it had been a second-story job. The thief knew his way around ladders.
A tall hedge protected the front of the yard. Diamond pointed to the 5-foot-wide gap in the hedge. "That's probably where they got in," Diamond said and asked if Neff had any enemies — or a disgruntled landscaper. Neff said he questioned the mower guy, the guy with the trimmer and the leaf blower guy, but they denied stealing the fruit.
"Oh, I almost forgot — the thief left this behind on one of the branches." Neff showed him a tiny plastic partridge. Diamond recoiled — a hate crime against Christmas songs! The Feds might be interested.
The next day, Diamond sauntered into the office of Oak Park Detective Craig Crenshaw. He headed the Special Victims Fruit Unit. Years of solving citrus crimes had made the grizzled detective bitter. He always wore a sour expression — like he'd just bitten a bad lemon.
Crenshaw said they hadn't had any pear cases lately but were concerned about another fruit-crime wave. Reading from a report, "In 2016, we had 250 peaches stripped from a backyard tree. In 2018, over a hundred peaches were stolen from another backyard. We're worried we'll get hit again this fall."
Diamond asked what they'd done about the thefts. "We picked up Peaches Malloy. His name was all over the heist, but he was tougher to crack than a coconut. We later caught him selling hot mangos on the black market. He's doing a two-year stretch at County." Diamond said he would pay Peaches a visit.
At County, guards brought Malloy into the break room in handcuffs.
"Diamond, I'm still not talking about that Oak Park caper."
"I'm not here about that. What do you hear on the Forest Park streets — Marengo for example — any big shipments coming in?" Malloy's face hardened.
"This might help you talk," Diamond said, holding up a nectarine.
Malloy licked his lips and reached for the nectarine. Diamond pulled it back.
"Diamond, I've got the shakes. We can't get any fresh fruit in here. I just traded a carton of cigarettes for a bowl of Raisin Bran!" Diamond said he could have the nectarine — but only after he talked.
"OK Diamond, I hear there's been a big score — don't know what kind, but plenty of Vitamin B is hitting the streets. Everyone's going to get well." Diamond handed him the nectarine, which Malloy frantically peeled it with his manacled hands.
Diamond's next stop was the local hardware store. He asked Rich, the owner, if there had been any suspicious ladder purchases lately. "Come to think of it, I had a guy last week, there was something wrong about him. He said he was a painter but his overalls were spotless. I showed him a 28-foot extension ladder but he said he needed something shorter. He picked out a 12-foot wooden ladder — like they use in orchards." Rich pulled the bill-of-sale and Diamond copied down the man's name and his Oak Park address.
Diamond parked in the alley behind the home of Rusty Regan and stole into his backyard. He spotted a half-eaten pear on the ground and carefully examined it. The bite marks showed that the person was missing their left canine. He slipped the pear into a plastic bag.
Diamond strolled around to the front and rang the bell. The man who answered was wearing overalls with no paint stains. He was missing his left canine and holding a half-eaten banana. Diamond could tell at a glance the bite marks in the banana were identical to the ones in the pear. "What you want?" the man asked in a prickly manner.
Diamond flashed his badge. "I'm the village ladder inspector — got any around?" The man admitted to having a 12-footer in his garage. When Diamond saw the ladder, he ran his hand over the surface, "It's slippery — there's pear juice all over it. I'm going to have to write you up." Before the man could respond, Diamond held up the pear in the plastic bag.
"Bite marks, plus DNA," Diamond announced triumphantly. Then he showed Regan a photo of the shocking crime scene.
"OK, Diamond," He said, resigned. "But what's the big deal about a bunch of pears?"
"Neff's wife was planning to can them."
"What are they, Amish?"
"No, they're Forest Parkers, a simple people of the soil. They eat fresh from their gardens. They don't let fruit rot on the ground. They turn them into preserves for winter. They're kind of like squirrels."
"I can't go back to the joint, Diamond," Rusty pleaded. "They don't even have apples!"
"I'm not turning you in, Rusty. You need help, not more fruitless years behind bars. We have a group in town to help guys like you. They serve fruit rollups at every meeting to get guys off the hard stuff." Diamond wrote down the address and warned Rusty to stay away from Neff's backyard.
Afterward, Neff asked Diamond what he owed. "Nothing — except for a jar of your wife's brandied pears." A week later, Diamond sat on his porch sipping from the jar. The brandy was smooth, but no way was he going to eat the pears.