Stuffedby Brian M. Wiprud
Leaping fishes. Prowling bobcats. Frosty penguins and mute moose heads...These are the things that fill Garth Carson’s life as he buys, sells, and rents exotic taxidermy from his funky New York City storefront. But now Garth and his gal, Angie, have acquired the most sinister stuffed critter in the world: a certain white crow in a bell jar that Angie
Leaping fishes. Prowling bobcats. Frosty penguins and mute moose heads...These are the things that fill Garth Carson’s life as he buys, sells, and rents exotic taxidermy from his funky New York City storefront. But now Garth and his gal, Angie, have acquired the most sinister stuffed critter in the world: a certain white crow in a bell jar that Angie swoons over–and that other people are dying to get their hands on.
When the crow is stolen, along with $50,000 worth of their best taxidermy, Garth and Angie are plunged into the spooky heart of old New England and a realm of crazed carnies, bumbling feds, and a couple of freshly snuffed collectors. To save their bird–and their lives–these two reluctant sleuths must penetrate a zany, highly illegal international treasure hunt...and confront a freak who has a thing for murder.
“The funniest tough-guy writer there is.”
“Audacious and always original. Wiprud twangs funny bones I never knew I had.” –T. Jefferson Parker
Stuffed is a delightfully zany follow-up to Brian M. Wiprud's action-packed debut mystery, Pipsqueak, featuring professional taxidermist Garth Carson and his quest for strange and wonderful collectible stuffed critters.
As a New Yorker, Garth Carson is used to his fair share of hassles, and he's not accustomed to backing down! He bought the albino crow in the bell jar for his girlfriend, Angie, and he isn't about to give up such a perfect present for anything less than a whopping big profit. A ticked-off college boy and vague threats from an Asian yuppie aren't enough to change his mind. But a pistol-whipping by a gang of thugs in black ski masks proves harder to brush off, especially after the goons depart with the coveted crow -- plus a painfully large chunk of the most valuable exotica in Garth's taxidermy collection. After that, it seems like everyone is interested in Garth's business…from his closest friends to a hostile local cop, a cold-blooded conservation agent, crazed carnies, and more. Soon this free-spirited entrepreneur is entangled in a plot involving the seamy underbelly of his chosen trade, searching for an acquisition that could be more trouble than it's worth…and may be worth more than Garth ever imagined. This award-winning new author really knows his taxidermy, from aardvark to zebra, and he has a remarkable flair for comic crime writing as well. Sue Stone
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 4.31(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.69(d)
Read an Excerpt
I was walking down the creaky steps of a shop called Gunderson's Odds N' Ends. In my arms was a heavy bell jar with a white crow in it. The albino Corvidae was dead, had been for a long time, but was still around thanks to the noble art of taxidermy. I was intent on not dropping the bird and was focused on my footing. Ice patches lay in my path, and an impromptu Eskimo cha-cha would likely send the crow to the scrap heap and me into traction.
My '66 Lincoln was close at hand, top down. A nine-foot Pacific sailfish lay on its back in the rear seat. Fish tail sticking out one side of the car, sword out the other. Cut a corner too tight in Manhattan, and I'd have some pedestrian shish kebab on my hands. But I was far from home, in the boondocks of Vermont, and didn't expect much foot traffic.
The backseat was full, so I dodged slippery swaths of snow and heaved the bell jar into the car's front seat. Stretching my back, I groaned and smiled at the bird. It was a birthday gift for Angie, one I thought she'd really like.
The salutation went right by me. "Mister" is some dude with a pipe, a fedora, and a cardigan. "Mister" is Fred MacMurray, Ward Cleaver, Robert Young, or that dyspeptic Wilson guy next door to Dennis the Menace.
Just the same, my attention was drawn to a husky kid with a portland college sweatshirt. He was running toward me across the village square, past the gazebo and white picket fences and lawns where crocuses were still snoozing.
I am not "mister." I'm just over forty-three, chew bubblegum, and still think of myself as being cardable at the package store, however much of a fantasy that might be. So I looked around for a handy fifties' TV dad and came to the unhappy conclusion that this husky kid was aiming at me. I was already feeling old that day, and this wasn't helping.
I flashed on all the mundane things a stranger could want: the time, directions, possibly to sell me a subscription to Grit.
But when he stopped in front of me, panting, I never imagined he would say:
"That raven is mine."
He forced a smile.
And now that the bird was mine, I wasn't going to let it be insulted.
"It's not a raven, it's a crow. A raven is a big bird, with a wedge-shaped tail, coarse feathers, and a taller beak with a slight hook at the end."
"My name's Fletcher," he panted, ignoring my lecture. "My mother gave the bird to Gunderson to sell while I was away. She didn't ask or anything. It's not for sale. I just come back and"
Frat Boy seemed a little desperate, which naturally made me more possessive. I drifted between him and the bird.
"Sorry. I just bought it from Gunderson." Damn nice-looking bird it was too. Angie loves crows.
"How much you want for it?" Fletcher started fishing in the pocket of his sweats.
"Well" In keeping with local Yankee custom, I looked to the sky for a divine price check. I would have thumbed my suspenders too, had I been wearing any. "Five hundred dollars." Sorry, Angiebusiness is business.
Fletcher paled as he picked up his two twenties from the ground.
"You paid Gunderson"
"Never mind what I paid Gunderson. The crow belongs to me, and the price is"
"But my mother, she"
"Well, she shouldn't have"
"But it's mine, dang it." Now he sounded insistent, if not a little hostile, the fingers of his left hand fidgeting with a bulky silver high-school ring. Dang? To me, that's a western expression, not something you hear down east.
I turned and drew the seat belt across the bell jar to secure it.
"What do you think you're doing?" He took a step forward. "Don't you understand"
He was standing a little too close, and I put a hand on his chest, easing him back.
"Look, I had a mother, and she threw out dead things of mine too. Did she ever! That's just a part of life. Like hitting a baseball through a car window or finding out the Easter bunny is an elaborate conspiracy to sell cheap chocolate. You live with it, eat the jelly beans, and move on."
He stood there looking completely devastated, which didn't seem odd to me at the time. I hoped the bit about the jelly beansparticularly clever repartee, I thoughthad floored him. As a kid, I would have gone ape shinola over this bird if someone got it away from me, so his mortification seemed an entirely normal reaction. But I should have wondered why a lad like Fletcher would be so attached to an albino crow in a bell jar. Instead, I sympathized and softened my tone.
"Look, Fletcher. I really, really like the bird. You had it for a while. Now it's my turn to enjoy it for a while. If you're ever in New York, you can come and visit him."
He didn't much like that. His face reddened, his left fist clenched, and Fletcher went for my jaw. Completely telegraphed. I dodged to the right and watched that big silver ring streak past my eye.
"Whoa, kid, whoa!" I backed away toward the car. Seemed to me I kept a tire thumper somewhere under the driver's seat. Not exactly handy at that moment.
Fletcher pointed a finger at me. "That bird is mine."
The shop proprietor, Gunderson, and his nor'east shop gal were suddenly on the porch, watching dumbly.
I had no idea what he was on about, but I wasn't letting him near the crow. Fisticuffs are way down at the bottom of my bag of tricks, especially when my opponent is significantly younger and stronger than me. If he'd come at me again, I guess I would have kicked him in the shin. But what with the midlife green meanies eating at me, my first move was to play the commanding adult. Hey, as long as he thought of me as "mister," why not indulge him?
I put a hand on the bell jar, hummed up a good resonant tone like Dad might use, and pointed a stern and reproachful finger at him. "Now, son, just simmer down."
One minute I think I'm eighteen, and the next I think I'm sixty. I sounded like a complete idiot, of course. But as I said, it seemed like the thing to do at the time.
And then, quite suddenly, Fletcher crumpled in a heap on the ground. Straight down, like one of those little plastic push-button puppets, you know, where you depress the button and the horsie goes limp. Flump.
I guess you'd have to say he fainted, but it was oddly instantaneous, no staggering or blinking or anything.
Wow. I gave my stern and reproachful finger a look of approval and figured I should use the Dad routine next time I want to move to the head of the line at the DMV.
Just then, the local constabulary happened to roll around the corner in a mud-spattered Jeep. The red strobes on the roll bar and gold seal on the side gave it away. It stopped, and I saw the silhouette of the driver peer our way. He was probably just making his rounds or something. I waved him over.
Gunderson and the shop gal were at Fletcher's side trying to revive the kid by the time the Jeep sputtered to a stop next to me.
A craggy man slowly unfolded from the Jeep. He was the weathered, thick-fingered kind of lout. Looked like he rolled his own cigarettes. His uniform of the day? Brown Carhartt bib overalls and a round badge pinned to one suspender. The law eyed me suspiciously as he bent down and helped slap Fletcher awake. His slaps were more forceful than Gunderson or the maid seemed willing to muster. While they worked on their patient, I helped myself to a stick of sugarless bubblegum.
"What happened, Gunderson?" the cop asked.
"They was arguin' over that thayah raven when Bret, all the sudden like, drops to the ground."
"Fainted dead away!" the nor'east maid marveled.
"It's not a raven," I hissed, mainly to myself.
The kid came around, confused, but quickly picked up where he left off.
"He's got a, uh, thing of mine, that Ma gave to Gunderson," he complained, his finger stabbing in my direction. "Gunderson sold it to this guy, and, like, he won't give me my thing, Constable Bill!"
"Thing? Thing? What thing?" The sheriff pawed his white shock of hair with one hand while helping Fletcher up with the other. "For the love of Sam! What's this about, Gunderson?"
"A crow," I said, snapping a bubble. "A stuffed crow. I've got the receipt." I held the invoice out for inspection. "The kid here wants to buy it with his fists."
"That so, Gunderson?" The cop glanced at the invoice and then locked eyes with me.
"Well," Gunderson shrugged. "Yeah huh."
Constable Bill eyed me a moment longer, my car, my license plate. "That's a big fish, mistuh. You from New York?"
"Yup. Name is Carson. I deal in taxidermy. Just came from Brattleboro, and I'm on my way to Rangely."
I nodded. "I'm on a trip through the northeast buying stock."
He whistled, as if Rangely were a planet just beyond Pluto. He wasn't half wrong, come to think of it. Gets mighty cold there, and it's definitely in an orbit far from New York.
"Didya let Bret here take a shot at buying it back?"
"Yup. He doesn't"
"He's trying to rip me off!" Bret honked. "He wants five hundred dollars for"
"Sheriff, what can I say? I bought the bird, I like the bird, I want the bird. It's a birthday gift for my girlfriend. Five hundred dollars could make me get over it."
"For her birthday?" The maid whimpered, and I thought she might faint.
"Odd gift, I'd say," Gunderson added bitterly. He was just peeved that I'd conned him out of the bird.
"Five hundred dollahs." Constable Bill whistled again. "S'lot of money. Well, Bret, if you don't have five hundred dollahs, then I guess this fellah don't have to sell it to you." He gave me a cold smile. "Even if he did pay, what, thirty dollahs for it?"
"Fifty." I snapped another bubble, waved the receipt, and got into the Lincoln. As I started the car, I could see Constable Bill trying to reason with Bret in my rearview mirror. Frat Boy wasn't having any of it.
Okay, so maybe I'm a stinker. More than that, I'm a dealer. All in a day's work.
When the Great White Hunter returned from his safari through the northeast, he'd bagged a plethora of raw caribou racks, the somewhat grim vestige of Alaskan spring floods. The skullcaps smelled a bit funky, but after a good emulsifier bath, a stiff brush, and a thinned application of antler stain, I'd mount the twenty racks on hardwood plaques and unload them for perhaps three hundred apiece. Also in the larder was a bobcat with his butt ripped off. He was only twenty bucks and otherwise a nice mount posed in a sitting position, head tilted, paw raised, fangs bared whimsically, or so I thought. I figured I'd stick the bad end in a nicely finished stump and sell him for two hundred, easy. What can I say? I was feeling cheap and creative. Which is not to say that I didn't nab a few finished pieces.
African stuff is always prime cut, so I sprang for a stout kudu head with massive, curving horns and a matching pair of hoof bookends. In fact, I had to break the bank on that deal because I bought him as a set with a howling coyote, a nasty-looking barracuda, and a wolverine with a small marmot in its jaws for two grand.
And of course it was my pal Rodneythe guy who'd turned me on to Gunderson'swho sold me that whopper of a sailfish. He's not a taxidermy specialist but a sleigh/carriage/sea-chest restorer and dealer. I like Rodney, but sometimes he's a little over the top, the very character flaw that got him booted out of college in our senior year for commandeering a university police car for a trip to Biffy Burger. We were pretty tight in those days, memorable mostly for every extracurricular idiocy possible in a sleepy North Carolina town. You know, like painting ourselves in luminous poster paints and lurking around the cemetery. Or Saran-Wrapping roadkill and slipping it into the meat case over at the Dixie King. And I've still got a snapshot of the giant cardboard squid strangling the college clock tower.
After Rodney's untimely departure, he bought a motorcycle and went off to Alaska to find his destiny. The exchange of postcards dwindled, and in the decade that followed college we lost track of each other. I rediscovered Rodney some years later nestled among his sleighs and sea chests at the Brimfield antiques fair. Two wastrel English majors reunited, not only by our dubious past association, but by our shared passion for swindling people out of their junk. We're buds, and I stop in on him when on safari whether he's got anything for me or not.
My safari came to an end in Rangely, with my billfold ransacked. I loaded up the trailer and got home in time for Angie's birthday.
Birds like me and Angie roost on Manhattan's somewhat cheaper, industrial fringes, which in our case is the west teens. Way, way west. However, we're lucky enough to be on the ground floor of a soot-streaked tenement. Hey, 150 years of grime lends a unique patina to the brick, an architectural style we call brownstain. It's near enough to the corner to have a storefront, which is where we live. Used to be a soda fountain, and when we signed on it still looked like one inside.
Nowadays the marble soda bar along the living room is an open kitchen and the back, off the storeroom, is the bedroom. We partitioned half of the main room into Angie's and my studios, and the front where booths still sit in bay shop windows is the living room. We frosted the huge front glass panels halfway to the ceiling for privacy. Metal grating shadows a diamond pattern on the frosted glass from the outside, just to keep folks from throwing a trash can into our living room during the next blackout. What had been a really cool black and white tile floor was destroyed, but a yellow pine floor lay beneath, which after a titanic effort and a bunch of polyurethane now looks like butterscotch.
Yeah, we know it wasn't too bright sinking moola and effort into a place that isn't ours. But how else are wea couple of freelancersgoing to get the apartment of our dreams without a sizable down payment? You can only imagine the look a loan officer gives you when you say that you freelance in used taxidermy. He doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Meet the Author
Home: New York City
Age: Wears red tennis shoes
Physical Description: Diabolical
Profession: Mystery Author, Outdoor Writer, and Photographer
Publisher: Bantam Dell
Agency: Trident Media Group
*2002 Lefty Award for Most Humrous Novel
*2003 Barry Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original
*2004 Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Bestseller
Favorite Books: I, Squid, Chuck Flink
Tubing Badgers for Fun and Profit, Bubbles Tenzer
Favorite Movies: Bowanga! Bowanga! Eegah!
Favorite Albums: Arrg! Johnny Neanderthal & The Cave Dwellers
Hobby: Cutting Edge Top-Secret Devices
Favorite Lines: "What a gorgeous day. What effulgent sunshine. It was a day of this sort the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an axe." WC Fields.
Favorite Scotch: Bourbon
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