A short story by Jackie Houchin
Norma Pink, or “Pinkie” as her husband used to call her in romantic moments, is a senior Private Eye, a mature female Dick, a golden oldie detective, who looks into the indiscretions of others and reveals them to the authorities – any one of several entities.
Norma’s most recent case involved a farmer selling avocados that had been dropped from the tree. This is a colossal no-no, as fruit that can be sold MUST BE PICKED. By hand or otherwise.
Why this is so, is not known, except there may be inherent bruising resulting from the drop, although this farmer had never seen any bruises and many of such had graced his table over the years. It could be that a fungus might attach itself to the tiny indentation where the stem used to be and spread it’s malicious evil within the fruit. Again, the farmer had eaten many, many fallen fruit, with no bad side effects.
So Farmer Martinez, as we will call him, decided to try to sell a small percentage of these droppers. It would be a lot easier, he reasoned, to simply pick them up off the ground than to climb ladders. But at the end of the day, his back ached terribly and he felt light-headed and dizzy although he’d only gathered up five boxes. But… hey… what the heck. Why not try to sell these very adequate avocados at the local farmer’s market and sort of “test market” them there.
It just so happens that Norma Pink was perusing the stalls at her local farmer’s market that Friday when she came on the farmer’s large pile of green “alligator pears” as they are sometimes called in fun. They looked great, still firm, no blemish that she could see, and at a “Good price!” the sign read.
She leaned her Lucite cane – a prop that came in handy now and then in her work – against the table and picked out four avocados. She put them in a plastic bag and waited while the man made change for her five dollar bill. Her eyebrows rose as she saw what he gave her back. Surely these buttery beauties cost more than a quarter each!
“On special today, ma’am,” he said, and smiled.
Before turning away, however, our eagle-eyed sleuth noticed a film of fine sweat drops across the man’s upper lip. She pulled into herself, testing the weather on her arms and face, and found it to be quite cool. Why the sweat, she wondered. Was he ill? He must have a fever, she decided, for a small fan had been mounted under the canopy and blew down on him.
She smiled, holding her breath against stray germs, and walked down the row of stalls. Her cane tapped lightly on the ground as she went, making her seem perhaps more vulnerable than she was. She stopped at a stall that sold gorgeous tomatoes, several peppers in various colors and shapes, and strings of fat round onions. “Hmm,” she thought, picturing homemade salsa, guacamole, and those delish chicken Taquitos at Costco that she loved.
Carefully she picked out three red-ripe, but still slightly firm, tomatoes, a pepper from each of the varieties offered, and a large Spanish onion. She paid the clerk and mentioned her plans for a fresh Mexican meal that night. She held up the plastic bag of avocados and pointed to the farmer down the way. “This was a real steal,” she said.
The salsa-makings stall owner frowned. “Did you smell them first?” she asked.
“Si, those have a very suspicious smell.”
Puzzled, Norma opened the plastic bag and leaned in to sniff. They DID have a different odor… something herbal and earthy. She’d never bothered to sniff avocados before, so she didn’t know what to think.
“You smell it? Yes?” asked the woman. “I could tell even from here that these are illegal avocados.”
Norma’s detective third sense kicked in at the mention of something illegal. She sniffed the bag again, and indeed the odor became apparent. Marijuana. Weed. Grass. M-J. The Magic Dragon.
Okay, Mr. Avocado-Marijuana seller, we need to talk.
Norma marched back to the stall where the massive pile of alligator pears suddenly seemed more reptilian than ever. Now she saw why the small fan had been positioned above the fruit. The man was not sick but anxious, worried… scared! She hadn’t caught a whiff earlier, but now she bent and strew a few down from the pile’s top. That earthy odor appeared briefly before the fan whisked it away.
“Where did these avocados come from!” Norma barked at the cowering man, striking her cane sharply on the ground.
“From my trees… I have an orchard,” cried the farmer.
“Why do they smell like Cannabis?”
“Canna–?” His eyes whipped over the pile of deep black-green fruit. “What is Ca–?”
“Cannabis! Weed!” Norma’s gaze was sharp on the man.
“Weeds?” At that, the man broke down, slumping over his avocados, weeping. “They are perfectly good avocados! They only fall off the tree that day! They are not bruised! Yes, there are stinky weeds growing under the trees – my lazy brother does not mow them like I tell him! But the weeds make the falling soft, yes? These are GOOD fruit. How can I see them go to waste just because they fall off the trees instead of I pick them?”
Norma was confused for a minute. What was this about falling or picking fruit? What was the difference? She’d picked up many a “windfall” apple in her childhood for her mother to make into apple pies. And the farmer was right, these were not bruised at all.
Then…. she caught what the man had said. Stinky plants growing under his trees… his brother refusing to mow them. And when he did…
“Do you have barns on your farm?” she asked him.
The man stood upright again. “Yes. We have three small barns. One for our tractors and pickers. One for the boxes of avocados we pick, and the other one….”
“Yes, the other one?”
“My brother uses it as a studio. He is an artist and very sensitive about people seeing his work before it is done. He won’t even let ME take a peek. But people like his art, many come and buy it.
“I’ll bet!” thought Norma and turned away from the booth. She hooked her cane over her arm, drew out her cell phone and punched in the number of the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration. When she’d connected, she turned to the farmer.
“Where is your farm located?”
Confused, Farmer Martinez gave her the directions. “But I promise I will never try to sell fallen fruit again!”
Norma gazed at him carefully. A lot more than fruit would be falling at his farm in just about an hour. Was he complicit? She sensed he was not.
She looked at all the future guacamole and shrugged. “Nothing wrong with these that I can see. But turn that fan up to high.”
She walked towards her car, carrying the plastic bags of salsa and guacamole makings over one arm, then hesitated and turned.
“But in the future, no more selling fallen avocados.”
She grinned and began walking again, “because I guarantee that they will be bruised next time.”