A Very Muppets Mystery

(The Illustrious Crackpot)

Dateline: The Box Seats
From: The Hecklers

STATLER: Hi, and welcome to A VERY MUPPETS MYSTERY!

WALDORF: I know you'd love to get rid of us, but I'm afraid you're stuck here.

STATLER: Why, I'll bet you're just GLUED TO YOUR SEATS!

. . . . . . . . .

WALDORF: That must be pretty powerful glue you used, Statler. They haven't gotten up.

STATLER: Well, this is a Muppets story you've never seen the likes of before.

WALDORF: ...And with luck, you'll never see the likes of again.

STATLER: It's a MYSTERY!

WALDORF: Well, I hope it's nothing like that awful THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER. We only showed up three times in the entire movie!

STATLER: There's only one thing I'm worried about...

WALDORF: What's that?

STATLER: Well, I...I've never heckled a MYSTERY before. I don't know how I should go about it!

WALDORF: What do you mean you've never heckled a mystery before? You always said it was a MYSTERY why anyone thought THE MUPPET SHOW was funny!

STATLER AND WALDORF: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

———

Chapter 1: The Client

Any private eye can tell you that the job ain't pretty. You'd need a seeing-eye dog or two if you thought that the detective business was the easiest sailing in the world. Phyllis Pepper's my name, and I know better than anyone else how hard the business could push you. A guy I knew, he wanted to become a detective though his parents expected him to be a doctor. He was never seen again.

He'd gone to art school.

I had entered the private detective business on a whim—it was that or college. Lots of people expect the affair to be glamorous, with loaded guns, beautiful women and, most of all, tons of drink. I don't pack a gun, and if you asked anyone about my looks they'd tell you I didn't pack much more than the nonexistent peashooter. I have less curves than a telephone pole, and I'm also a lot less pretty. Any Bogart saving me from certain death would have a rude awakening the second he looked into my eyes. But thanks to "Draw Mickey Moose and Ronald Duck and get an Authentic Detective License", I went into business. Soberly, I might add. Never touch anything stronger than a triple-chocolate milkshake, unless it's a really wild occasion—that's when I go in for the Shirley Temple.

To tell the truth, I was never fascinated a bit by the movie detectives. So when I started up my agency, I threw out the complimentary offer of a fully-packed carbine (complete with six cartons of whiskey and a ravishing girl who just happened to be in dreadful danger) and set up shop in a rented office. Soon it became apparent, however, that there were simply too many P.I.s in town for me to get more than one three-dollar case a week. So I moved, and set up shop in Muppetburg. But why did I, a natural, red-blooded human being, establish my enterprise as well as myself as the only things human in this entirely Muppet town? Maybe it's because I'm not prejudiced, maybe because I have an underlying Napoleon complex and need to make myself feel taller by being around Muppets? Maybe. But probably for the terrific rates.

See, Muppetburg is the only place in the entire universe where all I just said about detective work isn't true. Nothing but nothing happens here of momentous import, and the rates are amazing! Other towns, you could get maybe one lost cat a week and earn five bucks for it. Ohhhh, not here. Three or more lost cats a week (sometimes even a cat who's lost their owner), coming in to a general grand total of twenty-five big ones. All that for a bunch of cats! Yeah, the weeks get kinda slow sometimes when no one shows up, but when someone does bring in a case—jackpot!

The client today was lucky number one in the middle of a week longer than a presidential speech. This one was a bear, with fur the exact right shade of lightish brown nobody likes to see in their daily cup of coffee. He had on a felt-looking hat that would fit the shape of your head to the tiniest details but would fly away like that in the slightest breeze. Plus, even for a Muppet bear, an ascot looking like a pair of cut-up spotted boxershorts shouldn't exactly be used in public unless you were searching for plenty of laughs. And this guy's appearance without the tie was a practical barrel of monkeys. ...Well, no weirder than that "Uncle Deadly" guy from last week—but I shouldn't be comparing clients to my apartment's landlord.

The bear took off his hat and stood in front of my fancy oak-mahogany desk. I liked that desk; it was the only thing the evictioners had let me keep the last time they threw me out. I myself was seated in a chair the size of which could have fit a whole football team at once. My client glanced around for something on which to sit his behind, but I was using the only chair available, so he just stood. If a client wasn't able to survive without a seat, they probably needed some kind of psychiatrist more than a private eye.

"Hey, um, are you Phyllis Pepper, the detective?" The bear had a voice you could pave a road with, if you didn't mind the funny bumps and detours along the way.

"That's what it says on the door," I replied, looking through my papers with a sort of indifference I liked to use to see how the client would react. ...It's like the chair thing, but a lot more fun.

He turned his head to make sure, then turned back. "Yeah yeah yeah, I know that. But are you her?"

Impatience to get himself heard, though cautious of upsetting someone, as well as perhaps a bit of imbecilism—though every Muppet had a little of the latter. I made a tick on a handy notepad, but in such a way that the bear's attention wasn't attracted to the fact that I was taking notes. "Yeah," I replied slowly, cagily. "I thought the trenchcoat was a dead giveaway. And what about you?"

Hurriedly replacing his hat, he began, "Well, Miss Pepper, I—"

"No need to tell me," I interrupted, leaning forward. "I know all about you."

He seemed somewhat taken aback. "Huh?"

With infinite confidence (and maybe some smugness) I launched into the tale. "You're Mike Oznowicz, a carpenter from New Orleans. You were married once to a fan dancer from the Lonely Hearts breakfast bar, but she left you for life with a chartered accountant. Your only daughter ran away from home seven years ago, and unbeknownst to you invested all her savings in the Mars Rover, only to go bankrupt and become a nun for the San Franciscan Catholic Church. You yourself, in need of some kind of guidance, became a movie producer and adopted the false last name Goelz. Your boss fired you and stole your dog, therefore repossessing everything you once owned. And now you're involved in a passionately romantic love affair with the detergent lady at the laundromat, who you just found out is the best girl of a biker gang leader. So you need my help to find out some dirt on your biker rival to get him out of the picture so you can pitch some woo with the gal of your dreams." I settled back in my chair, satisfied. "So, where should I start?"

"My name's not Mike Oznowicz." He was looking at me a little peculiarly, but mostly just seemed sort of confused.

"Oh." There was really no reply for that. Scooter the shoeshine boy gave you detailed, accurate information that was (best of all) cheap, but if I couldn't match a name to a face I could probably count those two bits wasted. But Scooter probably charged more for eight-by-ten autographed glossies.

Using an old detective trick, I swiveled my chair around so that he stared at the red canvas back and not my equally red face. He defied the intent of the maneuver, though, by plodding around the desk and right back in front of me. "Please, Miss Pepper," he said, "my name's Fozzie Bear, and I have a problem. You see, I have an act at this nightclub." Fozzie paused to smooth down the fur on either side of his face. "Yeah, that's me, Fozzie."

He looked up at me expectantly, but like a complete idiot I couldn't tell for what. Then I realized what it was he was waiting for, and I replied perhaps a little guiltily but with the most extreme of delayed reactions. "Oh yeah, I've..." I scrambled for a story. I couldn't tell him that I've never heard his name in my life, because that might ruin the dealings with him, and I needed a case. "Uh...which nightclub, Mr. Bear? I've been to...quite a few in my time..." A lie.

"It's called 'Mahna Mahna'," Fozzie answered. "Actually, its name is 'Uncle Henson's Theater', but we all call it Mahna Mahna because that's the most famous act."

I'd never ever even heard of Uncle Henson's Theater, but Fozzie was looking at me so expectantly that I had to answer. "Well, I...I must have missed your act, then," I answered precariously. His face fell, and I knew I had to do something quick. "B-but a friend told me about you, and he said you did brilliantly. Quite tear-jerking, actually. It was very emotional for him."

He stood there blinking for another moment. "Miss Pepper, I'm a comedian."

Whoops. "Ah, well, that is—" I thought like lightning, "Um, it's just that his—his mother was a stand-up too, and, uhhh, she was hit by this rubber chicken and, eh, died just before she could perform the best routine in her career, so—yeah. But after he got over the emotional part he thought you were very entertaining."

"OH!" The last time I'd seen someone this ashamed and wildly repentant he was trying to apologize to a herd of cows for ordering a hamburger instead of a garden salad. "Oh, I'm so sorry," Fozzie flustered, waving his hat in the air and covering his eyes. "I didn't mean—oh Miss Pepper, I—"

"How about just Phyllis?" I suggested quickly, putting up a roadblock before his speeding car of thought inspired self-guilt in me for making up such a phony story. "And I'll call you Fozzie if you don't mind, Mr. Bear. It makes things a bit easier."

The prospect of gaining first-name terms was a source of more pride for the bear than a child's first words for a couple of parents, and it thankfully got him off the topic of rubber-chicken-caused death. "All right, Phyll-IS!" he cried. Then he faltered. "Now, uh, where was I?"

It looked like it was going to be one of the proverbial "one of those days". "How about telling me your case, Fozzie."

"Oh yeah, right." Fozzie took his hat off again, then put it back on. I realized that he was doing this quite a lot. He cleared his throat. "Eh-heh-heh-hem. Anyways, my boss at the club, Sam, has this thing that's going on, you see." He paused.

I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes. You pick that knack up easily in this town. "No, actually I don't see."

"Oh." He seemed disappointed. "I just thought if I knew, everybody must know." Fozzie cleared his throat again. "Anyways, Sam (my boss you know) has been acting kinda weird, the past few weeks. And he's been treating this one act with more, appreciation than all the others, even than mine. Now," he rushed on, "I'm not going to say that someone else shouldn't take the spotlight, because I know, see, I know that all the most famous TV acts started as unnoticed little sideshows in clubs and that sort of stuff."

"Uh-HUH." Could anyone take much longer to get to the point?

"Well," he continued, "my agent, Irving Bizarre, says something's going on, and I think he's right. See, Sam is usually this fair kind of guy, I mean he doesn't like any of our acts or anything, but he still plays them all. But then all of a sudden these two guys, actually a guy and a girl, Wayne and Wanda, show up out of nowhere and now they're getting all the breaks from him! See, he puts them on three times a night and gives them all sorts of amazing reviews and doesn't act like he notices that we, the rest of his"—he paused for emphasis—"loyal performers, are getting paid less and less." Fozzie pantomimed his rates with his hands. "Wayne and Wanda, on the other hand—see, not this hand but the other one—keep getting more money. And being put on stage more." Fozzie stopped there, hat in hands once more and seeming to expect me to know automatically what the case was supposed to be. I tried my best.

"So," I began, "Could this possibly be because Wayne and Wanda are a better act than the rest of you performers?"

The comment acted with the effect of a personal insult. "No, no no!" he insisted. "Wayne and Wanda are horrible, you hear that, they're terrible! They're the Frank Sinatra of music! They're the Marx Brothers of Hollywood! They're the Jack Benny of radio!"

I felt an urge to put a checkmark in a box next to "never use for clarification". "Fozzie, sir—kid—bear—...Foz?" I began tentatively. "All the people you just listed were really successful in each of those fields."

"Oh." He paused to think about this new revelation. Then he looked up. "Then they're the...uh...the Brady Bunch of TV reunions?"

Close enough. "Are you sure this isn't just professional jealousy?" I queried.

"I'm not jealous!!" He was a very insistent character, too. "Those two are the worst! I would be better than them with, with one hand tied behind my back!!" Fozzie then held one hand behind his back to demonstrate his point.

I sighed resignedly, then reached up and pulled down a sheet of paper from a high shelf behind my desk. "All right," I acquiesced, "I'll take your case, but first you have to fill this out."

Handing the sheet of paper to him across the desk, I surreptitiously slid half the other paperwork off my desk and into the wastebasket. I didn't really think that George, my janitor, would be interested in clearing my desk of the numerous bills himself. Fozzie took the paper and held it up at every angle. "What is this?" he asked.

I also whipped a pack of cigarettes off the desk and into a bottom drawer. I never used them and neither did my clients, but sometimes lighting them gave an impressive smoke-like effect in my harder dealings. ...Not that I had larger dealings than all these cat cases (this Fozzie business was a first), but they were always just there anyway. "It's a form, nothing legally binding, just saying that you did ask me to take your case, as well as stuff like your phone number and where you live, and how I can expect you to pay me."

Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw him flinch. "What's the matter, can't read?" I asked. Hey, it was always a possibility, even with Sesame Street dominating Muppetburg airwaves.

"No," he replied, then hurriedly changed his answer, "I mean, YES, I can read, it's—" He shook his head and pulled out a ballpoint pen, scratching away.

I waited patiently while he filled it out, then checked the form over when he'd finished. He had bold handwriting, but a bit on the sloppy side. It reminded me a little of mine, sad to say. I did a swift reconnaissance of the information and found to my satisfaction that it seemed mostly accurate. I had expected a guy like Fozzie to live somewhere in the rooms above his nightclub—comedians were notoriously poor—and the phone number checked out as well. His signature also appeared authentic, so I was happy enough. "Good," I replied, shelving the form, "Thank you for your business, Mr. Bear. I'll start as soon as possible." I began shuffling my in-office belongings around as I prepared to close up shop for the afternoon, but was interrupted by an outburst from Fozzie.

"Ah ah ah, hold it!" he cried out. I whirled around, expecting a gun of some sort at my shoulderblades, but found only the bear with his silly grin. "You call me Fozzie, not 'Mr. Bear'."

Oh yes, how could I have been so careless? "Well then, good day, Fozzie," I amended, trying very hard (but not succeeding) to not sound sarcastic. "I'm sure your case will be wrapped up before you know it." I wasn't actually planning on investigating the matter, as I was sure that it was only a case of professional rivalry, but I did find in Fozzie the qualities I needed in a client: a big-sounding, probably over-exaggerated case that I could charge to the fullest (within reason), and enough gullibility to most likely accept any story I gave him as an explanation—providing I didn't take it too far. Fozzie was still standing in my office, so I motioned for him to leave. "Now, please vacate the premises. I'm off to 'lunch'."

"Oh, right! Sorry," he apologized. He ambled out, giving only one backward glance. "Goodbye, Phyllis!"

When he was out of sight I allowed myself a grin, wrapping my trenchcoat even tighter around me. A case at last. The money wasn't exactly rolling in, but I was sure I'd soon be in it as far as I could go.

———

WALDORF: So, how do you like it so far, Statler?

STATLER: Well, that was a good beginning. I always love good beginnings!

WALDORF: I liked it too. It was wonderful!

STATLER: Bravo! Encore!

WALDORF: More!