Hello my green fingered friends! Autumn is a time to celebrate our harvest. And what better way to celebrate nature’s bounty than with a little “friendly” competition with our fellow gardeners? As you probably know, Bear Creek had the honour of hosting the Tri-state Organic Marrow Competition this year, and as the “local boy” and the favourite to win (even if I say so myself!) I had hoped to write with a record-breaking fifth Golden TOM on my desk. Alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t my marrow-growing techniques that were at fault. I am certainly above the other contestants. No, I was a victim of sabotage, an evil campaign of marrow-napping, an invasion of the marrow snatchers!
I did all I could to represent Bear Creek against the humans from the great towns of our beautiful Tri-state area, including Vulture Gulch, Rat Ravine, and Parasitical Worm Gulley. I even asked Mrs Brimley to cover my journalistic responsibilities to this great organ (thank you for the delicious cake, dear!) so I could put all my efforts into my gardening, influencing the marrows from above and below by…
Well, hold on there! A gardener’s got to keep some secrets, you know! Suffice to say, it took many weeks of patient digging, tossing, and tickling.
So, without further ado, dear reader, I present…
MURDOCH BRIMLEY AND THE MARROW MURDER MYSTERY
Dozens of Bear Creek residents have come to the field to support yours truly, and are wandering in and out of the marquees clutching marrow-based treats. I enter the main marrow arena with my specially-selected and freshly-picked marrow tucked under my arm. I have carefully wrapped it in cloth to protect its identity. I pass Marlon Bramley at the entrance capering about with his “melon in a box.” I try to tell him this is a marrow competition. Last year he removed his cloche to reveal two tiny zucchinis taped together. I don’t know why he bothers.
Within the tent is a circle of tables, each with a card showing the competitor’s name. Mine is at the back and to reach it, I have to make a choice. On the left are two other marrothletes: Colonel Malcom Bramdrabble of Rat Ravine and snide old Michael Banks, the Butcher of Vulture Gulch. (That’s not a military nickname. He and his brother own a butcher shop in the town.) On the right are the bizarrely-dressed Bukowski twins, Melissa and Martha, also from Vulture Gulch. One of them, Martha I think, waves at me excitedly. This is something of a red flag. They tried it on with me at a previous after-marrow party and I had to tell them to mind their own beeswax, I was married! So, much as it pains me, I turn left toward the two men. I try to shuffle past quietly, but Colonel Bramdrabble waves his pipe at my sizable marrow.
“Ah, Brimley! Come to amaze us all again I see.” His moustache is yellow with pipe smoke.
“I bet it’s all padding!” Michael Banks sneers, “Under that sheet is a ream of bubble wrap and a marrow the size of a chipolata!”
“Why don’t you stick to carving up carcasses, Michael,” I reply. “What’s the news on the people going missing in your town, by the way?”
“What are you suggesting?” he stammers, “Vulture Gulch is entirely respectable. We don’t do the weird nonsense you indulge in around here. They’ve probably just been murdered or something normal like that.” Before I can defend fair Bear Creek, the Colonel taps my covered marrow with his pipe.
“This looks like a fine fellow,” he says, “How do you do it, Brimley?” I move my marrow away from him, protectively.
“It’s all in the fingers, Colonel.” I waggle my free hand at him and then look at Michael, “and you can’t have them.” I smile politely and move on.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Colonel. He comes from a great line of prestigious marrow growers, but he doesn’t have the knack. I think he now regrets spending so much time overseas instead of learning the family marrow secrets.
I carefully manoeuvre my marrow under its presentational cloche until the time comes for me to reveal my vegetable. As defending champion, and representative of the host town, I am to go last. I am quietly confident. This is the biggest marrow I have ever grown. A personal best!
The judges move from table to table as each marrothlete removes their cloche with a flourish. The Bukowski twins pose in their matching flamboyant outfits before revealing their marrow. It’s a good one. Firm. Long. Pleasing to the touch. But size-wise, I am way ahead.
The Colonel is next. He has the size and an impressive girth, but I know on sight that he doesn’t have the texture. I fear what will happen when the judges give it the squeeze test. And, indeed, the first judge to do so puts his hand right through it, covering him in a spray of funky-smelling green pulp. Poor Colonel.
The Butcher reveals a passable effort, but I remain unruffled.
The penultimate exposure is by Marlon. I see him giggling and wonder what sort of joke he is going to play this year. I half expect an exploding jack-o-lantern or some such mischief. But much to my surprise, it’s a marrow - the biggest yet! And firm. In fact, it looks strangely familiar. But I have no time to worry about that. It is my turn.
Local people gather round to see the grand finale, many holding marrow-dogs from the stalls. There is a buzz of excitement as I lift the cloche with a practiced flick of the wrist. The crowd gasp and even the judges break from their normal stoicism to express excitement.
“Look at the size of that fella,” says Colonel M. The judges move in to make the usual tests with marrow protractors and callipers. A pre-emptive patter of applause goes round the audience and I nod modestly to acknowledge it. The head judge turns to me and reaches out, I assume, to shake my hand and award me the Golden TOM statuette. Instead, he wags his finger.
“Disqualified,” he says.
“Dis-what-ified?” I cry.
“Murdoch, I don’t know what sick joke you are playing on us. But this marrow is not eligible for the competition.
“Bless my beard! How can you say that? It’s natural! It’s nurtured! By mine own sweet hand hast it been tickled these many months!”
“Murdoch! It’s made of meat.”
I turn to look. One of the judges is removing his hand from the gory innards of my marrow. The crowd are muttering and harrumphing now.
“I’m not sure,” the second judge licks the raw offal from his fingers. “It could be human.” He licks them again. “Or it could be pork… some sort of herby sausage mix.”
The crowd boos. Mere seconds ago, I was their champion. Now, I am a sham to them. I see a happy face amongst the angry crowd and lock eyes with Michael Banks, the Butcher of Vulture Gulch. His smile is pure evil.
“I didn’t do this,” I cry, “I’ve been set up!”
“I’m sorry, Murdoch. I cannot accept marrow rind wrapped around a parcel of meat – even if it is organic.”
I am crestfallen. Whether they comprise the meat marrow, or have just created it, human beings have taken to impersonating vegetables. Disgusting! Who would do such a thing?
The judge continues, “Marlon Bramley, I announce you to be this year’s winner of the Tri-state Organic Marrow competition!”
For the first time in five years, the Golden TOM is going home to Parasitical Worm Gulley! The crowd cheers Marlon, flocking around him as he is awarded the Golden TOM. Oh, my fellow Bear Creekers, how could you abandon me so!
A thought strikes me. I only picked my favourite marrow on the morning of the competition and it had been with me ever since. I take out my phone and ring Mrs B.
She goes to the garden and confirms my worst fears. They’ve all been replaced with meat-marrows.
“Is there any evidence, my sweet? Footprints? Fingerprints? Pawprints?”
“No, MurDOCH, NOne.”
I hang up and push my way through the crowd to inspect Marlon’s marrow. It could be one of my own. It’s hard to tell. They grew so well that any one of my lesser marrows would ensure victory to another.
Marlon is my prime suspect. But surely, he is too stupid to pull this off? The meatiness of my marrows seems to implicate the butcher. That seems too obvious. Maybe it’s a double-bluff? Melissa and Martha Bukowski are announced as second place. What if they are expecting me to blame Marlon, causing him to be disqualified, so that they can win the Golden TOM? A triple-bluff!
I look around me. I am getting paranoid. I know I can trust most of my Bear Creek folk. It’s the outsiders infiltrating the town I have to worry about. Or am I missing something?
My phone rings. It is Mrs B.
“I have found a CLUE,” says my most wonderful wife. “There were a number of SPECIAL marrow satchels left JUST OVER THE GARDEN WALL. They must have transported your marrows within THEY!”
“So, they removed my marrows, kept one, filled the rest with meat and returned them? This is a very impractical and convoluted scheme! Were there hairs left in the satchels? Skin cells? A hand?”
“No, my dear. But the MARROW SATCHELS were made from a RARE AND EXPENSIVE leather – albino hide. And they had the initials ‘M.B.’ sewn in them.”
“Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit. But why leave them behind? Why did they not steal my marrows and leave it at that?”
“Every answer just brings up further QUESTIONS,” says Mrs B.
“An astute observation, my dear.”
I hang up. Well, this does rule out one suspect, I think, and that’s Iris Wrought. She is the only suspect whose initials are not M.B. (They are I.W.) I have been keeping a close (disembodied interdimensional) eye on her and she never sets foot outside her house in Vulture Gulch. She’s boarded it up from the inside. It’s very hard for anyone to reach her… and I should know!
I phone the Sheriff. Surely this is his jurisdiction. But he is away. It is down to me!
Well, reader, you are probably wondering how I cracked this marrow murder mystery. The truth is, I am no Miss Marple, I am no Magnum P.I. What I am is a gardener. I can always rely on the vegetable kingdom.
“Friends, Bear Creek residents, marrow-men!” I cry, “Many here now doubt me. But I am no cheat! I am of the garden through and through. Perhaps, if you would follow me and bring our guests, I will show you how my marrows were grown.”
The residents of Bear Creek simultaneously drop their marrow-lollies and marrow-burgers. They follow me through the exit, jostling, bustling and generally dragging the judges and out-of-towners with them. Soon we find ourselves in my garden and I lead the entire crowd of people to my tiny garden shed.
I loosen the third floorboard from the left to reveal a handle to a trap door, open it and lead the crowd down into the catacombs. Here is where I influenced my marrows from below.
Every Thursday night, when Mrs Brimley went out for her Bear Creek Women’s Institutionalisation meeting, I came down here to tickle the roots of the marrow. It makes all the difference! The catacombs are also a great place for my fungi farm. The internet of Eave’s Ear Fungus stretches out beneath the town so I can still listen to people’s gardening conversations. I can’t talk to the D.I.Es though. There seem to be none down here. Nothing to see, I guess!
The marrothletes appear awed by my secrets, and to show there are no hard feelings, I press a free vermillionwort plant into their hands and encourage them to stay with me for a couple of days.
TWO DAYS LATER
Their stay here seems to have done them the power of good. The people that left today are different from those that arrived. Marlon is not so silly, Mike is less bitter, the Bukowski twins are respectful of my personal space and the Colonel has developed an allergy to smoking. More importantly, they were willing to share their memories of all that transpired.
So, whodunnit? Who stole my marrows? It turns out it was… all of them. They met quite by accident when buying supplies from the Tri-state Inorganic Garden Supplies Depot. They saw that each of them was prepared to break the rules to beat me so they decided to pool their efforts.
Between them they had it all: the Colonel had the military experience to capture my marrows; the Butcher had ample ground meat he wished to dispose of (I could have used it for my Soil and Green!); Marlon was stupid enough to be the fall guy; and, the Bukowskis had access to the marrow-bags from their jobs in the fashion industry. They didn’t care which of them won the Golden TOM, as long as it wasn’t me!
It seems human beings cannot control themselves. They will overthrow the very tenets of organic gardening, burn the Earth itself, if it means they get their petty desires. Something must be done to combat this menace.
…of snails, of course. The menace of snails. I have been influencing the marrows from above by individually plucking these creatures out when they annoy me and dashing them against the wall. But I have a new method - another fungus which I’ve found right here on Earth: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It invades Earth insects and renders them like zombies to do its bidding.
I have adapted it to work on other species. The fungus consumes the internal organs and fruits through their back of the head to produce spores and infect others. Mrs Brimley is against me releasing it. She says once it spreads around the globe, their species will be finished. I say they may look furred and pustulant, but it will maintain their species against their own violent, destructive behaviour.
This year’s marrow competition has been annulled. I shall continue to tickle my marrows every Thursday night while Mrs Brimley is out. Once all the pests are under my control, I will win that fifth Golden TOM. I think I have found the perfect vector for dispersal.
Keep reading Bear Creek Gazette to find out more. Did you know you can use mushroom spores as a kind of ink? You can even use them to make print on paper! See for yourself in my next column.
Please contact Bear Creek Gazette if you would like to purchase a (possibly not human) meat marrow. Mr Brimley has many he wishes to dispose of.