A Death in Brooklyn
Detective Sorghum surveyed the scene. The beloved Muppets character, Beaker, sat slumped over a small table in a spare kitchen. He was dead, and sported an ugly golf ball-sized lump on the back of his head. A heavy black cane—maybe too short to be a cane—lay on the floor. A hand-written note lay under the Muppet’s three-fingered hand. Maybe it was a four-fingered hand, but Sorghum supposed that the fat inner digit was a thumb. He wrote “cane? wand?” and “three-fingered + thumb” in a small, dog-eared notebook.
Still breathing heavily from the exertion of climbing four flights of stairs, the detective pulled a second chair from under the table and sat. He examined the note. Written in pencil with an unsteady hand, it consisted of three words and a number, “Meep, mee, meep” and “34,969.” The note was written on the backside of a copy of the periodic table of elements. Sorghum wrote “per. tbl. elem.” in his notebook.
The small Brooklyn brownstone apartment was quiet but for an annoying hum emanating from an older model refrigerator and the quiet “tock, tock, tock” of a wall clock. Through closed windows, the muted sound of street traffic was barely audible. A large pigeon landed clumsily on a ledge and stood staring into the apartment and bobbing its head to an irregular beat, but the detective didn’t notice it. He did find himself silently counting the beats of the clock: tock-one, tock-two, tock-three.
Sorghum wiped his brow, put the clock out of his mind, and studied the note. It appeared likely that Beaker had written it: the Muppet clutched a #2 pencil in his left hand (“L handed?” noted the detective). But could he have written it after receiving the blow to the head? There was a half box drawn around the number. Maybe the unfortunate carrot-topped lab assistant was working on a long-division problem before he was hit. It looked something like that. Or maybe it was a square root problem? More scratching in the notebook.
The pigeon remained outside the window, bobbing its head and occasionally pecking at the glass. The detective stared at it without seeing it, still puzzling over the note. He looked around for a calculator but didn’t see one, so he used his department-issued smart phone to call the division secretary.
“Thelma,” he said while thumbing through a book of anagram puzzles found sitting on an end table, “do me a flavor would’ja. Calculate the square root of 34,969. Google it or something.”
The pigeon beat a tattoo on the window.
“Sure I know there’s a calculator on this thing. Google too? Yeah, okay, I’m going to learn to use it. Sure. The answer is 187? Okay, thanks Thelm.”
Sorghum walked to the window and slapped it with a fleshy palm. The pigeon fell away, flapping angrily and expectorating a tablespoonful of heavy white paste onto the window sill, and another load that might have decorated the head of a passing pedestrian.
“187,” he wondered. Could it be a clue to something? It did appear that Beaker died while writing a cryptic note. Poirot would find this significant.
He flipped the note over and scanned the periodic table. It was described as “an extended periodic table” and included a list of undiscovered elements. In the “superheavy” group of these putative elements, unoctseptium (Uos) was listed beside its atomic number of 187.
The pigeon returned. Sorghum sat on the worn green couch next to the table where earlier he had found the book of anagram puzzles. He picked it up again as he thought about unoctseptium. Clever name. Un oct sept. One eight seven. Why always somethingium? Sorghumium or anagramium might be next. Unoctseptium, a twelve-letter word. Wonder if it’s good in Scrabble? Probably not. Anagrams? Let’s see. I don’t see an “out-” word. First five letters spell “count”. How ’bout phrases? There’s “count up items,” that’s not bad. “Count smite up?” Funny somehow, but not as good.
A sharp “bang!” on the window interrupted Sorghum’s train of thought. The pigeon struck violently again, bobbing its head furiously before raising tail and punctuating its display with the launch of an impressive liquidy exclamation mark.
“Odd bird,” thought Sorghum as he hefted his bulk off the couch and tidied up a bit. He’d leave the scene to Forensics and recount the scene in a short report back at the office.
Click on the photo at right to see a screendump excerpt from BBC online, featuring my answer to the question: why is the square root of 34,969 the Count’s favorite number? Who knows how long it will remain online, but the link may be still available on the BBC site. (The relevant portion of the article is buried halfway down a long page. Look for the highlighted “And why did the Count pick 34,969?” after the list of reader’s favorite numbers.)