CHARLIE CHAN AND THE CASE OF THE PURLOINED SOCK
by Earl Dear Beggars

He was great grandson of the Charlie Chan known to generations of detective story aficionados. He was also the first to abandon the crime business. The glamour was gone and his many talents were much too powerful to waste on tracing errant spouses or tracking down dishonest employees, the lot of a contemporary private detective in the United States. The same, innate abilities that allowed the Chans to catch miscreant after miscreant enabled him to amass a fortune. Most of it acquired through a number of Chinatown enterprises. He liked to believe that he wasn't involved the criminal tongs, but he had interests in a multitude of restaurants, gambling parlors, and brothels. His only worries were his Number One Son, just out of his college, who had just discovered his Chinese roots, and the Chinatown amusement arcade that he owned which wasn't showing anything near a healthy return. As he thought, "Time to close the arcade and put in a fast food place, I can sell the dancing chicken's contract," the telephone rang.

"Wai", said Chan into the telephone expecting a reply in Cantonese. A rather high toned voice on the other end of the line replied, "Mr. Chan, Charlie Chan? The famous detective?"

"No, have wrong number! Too many Chan in telephone book. This laundry!" replied Chan in his most illiterate voice, thinking, "Another nut! I haven't had one of these calls in years!"

"But ..., " stammered the voice on the other end of the line, "Your son called this morning and gave me this number!"

"My son, my Number One Son?" moaned Chan.

"I've decided to let you take the case!"

"Case what case? I don't do that any more!" Chan slammed down the telephone. More than just incensed, he slipped hurriedly into his suit jacket and then rushed down the stairs, the hallway alive with the clatter of Mah Johng tiles, and dashed across Pell Street. The Chinatown amusement arcade, which his son managed, was just a block away. Chan stormed in and shouted at Miss Fung, the cashier, "Where's my stupid. Number One Son?"

She gestured towards the office. Chan flung open the door and without even making sure that his son was in the room shouted, "You stupid ass, get the god damn detective thing out of your head! That was your grandfather and great grandfather. I'm a businessman. You're going to be a businessman. This tradition crap is going to far."

"I want to be a famous Detective like grandpa."

"Forget about it! There's no money in the detective business. We make more from the dancing chicken in a month then my father earned from his most famous case 'The Trail of the Golden Lotus.'"

Number One Son stood and approached from behind his desk. "A six million dollar robbery. A one million dollar reward. How many dancing chickens can come up with that?"

"Bull crap,? said the senior Chan, "Nobody pay more than five percent! And try to collect once you get the goods. You have to squeeze the Gai Low by the balls before you see a nickel."

Number One Son picked up a tabloid newspaper and slapped it into Chan's hands. He couldn't avoid reading the headline, "Six Million dollar robbery in the Hampton's."

"Chicken feed!" said Chan. "Our family's worth a lot more than six million. You know what I'm going to do with this newspaper. Line the dancing chicken's cage. You probably haven't cleaned it all week."

Charlie Chan was doing just that when the subhead of the crime story caught his eye. It read "Rare American sock stolen from mansion!" The elder Chan gasped, turned white, and then froze in place as an image of all his ancestors appeared before him. His father's ghost lambading in mockery.

"What's wrong pop?" asked Number One Son. "You look as pale as a Gai Low!"

When the elder Chan regained his composure, he whispered, "You didn't tell me it was a missing sock case."

"So?"

"Nobody in our family has ever found a missing sock!" said Chan. "This would really give it to all our ancestors up the gazoo."

"You mean," said Number One Son breaking into a grin.

"Yes," said Chan, "I'm going to take the case." He hurriedly finished cleaning out the cage and then replenished the dancing chicken's food and water. More than just determined, he took his son by the arm and led him back to the arcade office. "First we call this millionaire and make sure we get paid. Rule number one of a private detective. Never do anything for nothing."

Ernest Blake Rutherford listened to Charlie Chan, letting him say whatever he wanted to, and then hung up the telephone slowly. He had no intention if paying anyone a million dollar reward for the sock He never made that statement to the press. What he actually said was, "The sock is worth a million dollar reward." "Worth it, yes," chortled Rutherford, "but no one is going to get it out of me, I'm tired of being taken by everybody in sight." What worried him even more was the fact that he had slipped during conversation with the Chinese detective and said he would reimburse him for expenses. Chan said he was driving and driving meant gas money. "Gas money," gasped Rutherford. "What if he's driving a big car? - - I'll tell him the limit is two cents a mile and he'd better have had his mileage indicator notarized."

"No one, anyplace, is getting a red cent out of me," thought Rutherford. "I worked hard for my money. Before I inherited the Rutherford Manufacturing Company my father insisted I go into the office everyday. It was hell! His father, a martinet, was always asking trick questions like, "Ernest? Did you figure out what we manufacturer yet?"

Ernest never remembered what his company made. He did recall writing down a list of its products on a slip of paper in case anybody asked but he misplaced it. "The God damn board of directors. They never gave me credit for any of my ideas. They stopped me cold when I tried to pare down the operating expenses. What the hell did we need a payroll for? My father left me that company, If the employees expected somebody to support them, they should have gotten night jobs and not take it out of my earnings." Ernest tried to counter the rejection of his idea to eliminate the payroll by imposing a ten dollar an hour surcharge on the workers' parking lot. That was the first time his relatives had him put away. He thought, "God damn socks. If they weren't a good investment I wouldn't have one in the house." Ernest preferred panty hose. In fact, the only idea of his that his company did adopt was the relaxed dress code for the main office. Ernest was the only executive to come to work in a dress.

Chan opened the large safe deposit box in which he kept his ancestors tools of the trade as Number One Son looked over his shoulder in awe. "Pop," he said, "Do you really think that it'll be dangerous? Will we really need that pistol?"

"I am not taking the revolver. I am taking a Wang Fu sock"

"A what?"

"A Wang Fu sock. The most powerful artifice in the World. Marinated in secret ingredients by Kung Fu monks at the Shaloin monastery and only given to the elder sons of elders sons of the our family." Chan removed a sealed package and held it up. "Ah hah, here it is."

"What are we going to do with it?"

"If you're going to be a detective the first thing you must learn is that takes a sock to catch a sock. A magically endowed sock." He handed the package to Number One and then said, "Here .... you put on!"

When Number One Son removed the sock, a horrible odor premeditated the tiny cubicle in the bank, "Pop, it stinks like hell."

"That's why you're going to wear it. Hurry up and put it on. Mr. Rutherford is waiting.

Number One Son, holding his nose, slipped off his right shoe and sock , and, with an obvious look of revulsion hurriedly put on the new sock. When he was shod again, he exclaimed, "Now my socks don't match. One is black and one red."

"If Wang Fu sock is worn with matching sock it's loses all its power. Yin and Yang must remain unbalanced. It is a sock of evil!"

When the Chans reached the Rutherford estate in the best section of East Hampton a woman came out the front door and waved them towards her. "That couldn't be Mrs. Rutherford. She's dressed like a hooker."

"Not Mrs. Rutherford, Mr. Rutherford. Mr. Ernest Rutherford," said the senior Chan.

"I would never guess," said Number One Son.

"He's wearing flats with a low cut evening dress and the colors clash with the cheap blonde wig."

"Brilliant, pop! You saw through the disguise from this distance."

"I also noticed the beard, dumbo."

Leading the Chans into his house Rutherford said, "I hope you'll excuse my attire. I'm allergic to men's clothes."

"Business is business," said Chan. "How you dress is no concern of mine."

"Good!" replied Rutherford. "And talking about business I have been thinking about your compensation for finding the Franklin Sock. If you are successful, I have will pay you the grand sum of five dollars and hour for your time and part of your expenses."

"What," gasped Number One Son.

The elder Chan motioned for him to remain mute and said, "You offer is accepted."

"Good," replied Rutherford "Now allow me to see about some refreshments. You must be tired after the long drive."

As soon as the millionaire left the room, Number One Son whispered , "Pop? Five dollars an hour. The sock is worth millions."

"I know what I'm doing, " said Chan. "Now shut up!"

After a brief lunch, Rutherford led them down into the vault that housed his collection of antique socks.

"When was the last time you saw the Benjamin Franklin," asked Chan.

"The day before yesterday. I had just acquired a Theodore Roosevelt at auction and was putting it away when the Franklin caught my eye. I picked it up and admired it."

"Could it have been one of your servants?" asked Number One Son.

"They're not allowed down here!"

"And you locked the door vault door behind you securely when your butler rang you and told you you had a visitor."

"Brilliant," said gasped Rutherford. "How did you know that I had a visitor?"

"Because I'm Charley Chan and .... because most socks are lost on account of carelessness."

"But I've looked every place," said Rutherford. "I turned the house upside down."

"Tell me, Mr. Rutherford. How were you dressed when you had this visitor?"

"Cute!" replied Rutherford.

"Cute!"

A Marilyn Monroish style playsuit and pumps. But a brunette wig."

"Garter belt and stockings?" asked Chan.

"Of course!" said Rutherford.

"And," asked Chan not hiding the excitement in his voice. "The visitors had something to do with your relatives' long time effort to have you put into a mental institution."

Rutherford poked his nose up into the air patronizingly and said, "How do you know about that?"

"It was in the newspaper story!"

"The court does have a psychiatrist look in on me once a month. I am not crazy. My cousins are very greedy."

"And .... the psychiatrist comes on the third Thursday of every the month. The very day you lost the sock!"

"Right!" said Rutherford more than just awed by Chan's power of deduction.

"And you forgot all about the visit. When you were informed that the head doctor was at the door, you panicked."

"Yes!" gasped Rutherford.

With a yelp of triumph, Charlie Chan shouted, "Mr. Rutherford. I know where your six million dollar sock is."

As Charlie Chan flipped opened laundry hamper in the mansion's palatial master bathroom, Rutherford said dryly, "I didn't throw a six million dollar sock in with the other wash."

"Yes, you did," said Chan reaching into the container. And here it is!" His hand withdrew holding a natural blush nylon stocking with the Franklin sock clinging to the foot.

"My Lord," said Number One Son. "How did you know, Pop?"

"Most socks, including six million dollar ones, are lost in the laundry. When Mr. Rutherford realized that he had forgotten about the court appointed psychiatrist he rushed to his bedroom to put on men's clothes."

"I'm allergic to them," said the millionaire.

"You were holding the Franklin sock when your rushed to the bedroom to change. You took off the playsuit and the wig, put on pair of pants over your stockings and garter belt. And then put the Franklin sock on your foot by mistake."

"I took a pair out of the drawer."

"If you look on bedroom floor you will find the mate to this!" said Chan removing another stocking from the hamper which had a new, brownish, green sock adhering to it. Chan handed both socks and both stockings to Rutherford. "The case is closed."

"I guess I owe you fifteen or twenty dollars for your time," said Rutherford. "God! I probably won't even be able to take it off my taxes."

"No charge!" said Chan. "Number One Son! Take off Wang Fu sock!"

Number One Son hurriedly took of his shoe and removed the sock. It repulsive, sweet odor was sickening. Holding it at arms length, Charlie Chan shoved it under Ernest Rutherford's nose. "I will trade this sock for the Benjamin Franklin!"

Rutherford brushed the reeking red thing away and shouted, "I'm not totally crazy. Get that thing out of my house and the both of you leave. I will not be taken advantage of."

As the Chans drove back to the city, Number One Son said, "You didn't even take the twenty dollars."

"But I'm the first Charlie Chan ever to find a missing sock."

"Then there's more to life than just business. You're still a detective at heart!"

"No, business man. You see, Ernest Rutherford will be waiting for us at the office when return to the city. He is at the moment renting a helicopter for the flight."

"Why?" asked Number One Son.

"Wang Fu sock highly addictive to anyone but the males in our family."

"So?"

"He'll not only give us the Benjamin Franklin but he'll sign over his entire estate to sniff it once again."

"Once?"

"I am not that cruel. I have an idea"

Before went to sleep every night, Charlie Chan would sit on his bed and the ghosts of a thousand of his ancestors would kowtow before him because he was the first detective in his family to ever find a missing sock. He never turned the Chinatown Arcade into a fast food place. Business was booming since they gave the dancing chicken the sack and replaced him with:

PUT FIFTY CENTS IN THE SLOT AND WATCH THE DANCING TRANSVESTITE MILLIONAIRE SNIFF A SOCK.

Of course, they had to build a bigger cage.

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1995 Joel M. Reed
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