The stone ’n’ bone peddlers from out of town needed an experienced gumshoe with moxie, and I was their man. Sure, ruby heists and sapphire thieves were on their mind, but nothing made the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show organizers sweat diamonds like bad wordplay. Puns were the worst.
Behind the big tent, the big boss adjusted the brim of his pith helmet. “Everybody in this town thinks they’re a comedian. The dealers can’t take it anymore.”
“I’m like an abacus, pal. You can count on me.”
I was in the main exhibit hall on Friday when I heard them, next aisle over, rattling a vendor’s cage. The husband struck first. “Hey, you got any quartz? Or will I have to settle for pints?”
The dealer ignored him. “We do have some fine quartz, sir. Would you like to check out the specimen in the case behind me?”
“Spec-i-men?” He enunciated each syllable slowly for effect. “What do you think I’m looking for? Italian astronauts? No thanks, pal.”
He winked at his wife. She came to his defense. “He won’t do it again, I promise, sir. Really. The man has a heart of gold.” She took a breath. “It’s in our safe at home!” The dealer winced.
I leapt over the malachite display and pulled out my badge. “All right, Abbot and Costello! Muzzle your yappers.”
Feigning shock, the joker backed up. “What did I say? It’s not like I was using foul language.” Channeling Dangerfield, he tugged at his collar. “Did I say something obsidian?”
“You’re over the lip limit, smart guy. Let’s see some ID.”
Funny boy fished for his wallet while Joan Rivers in ski pants dug through her purse. He handed me a cheap plastic ID card.
“Rubble? That’s your name? Where’d you get this card?”
“Says right on the back, Columbo. Bedrock. It’s a tourist trap on the way to the Grand Canyon.” He leaned in. “Now there’s a place where the customer service is eroding.”
“Where’re you from?”
“Rockville! Don’t shoot. I’m kidding.”
She leaned toward me. “We’re from Colorado.” They paused and together said, “Boulder!” Looking at each other, they laughed out loud. The crowd gathering around us chuckled.
“We’re just pulling your leg! We’re really from Arizona.” They looked at each other, then back at me. In unison they both said, “Quartzsite!” Once again they slapped their knees and guffawed like jackasses. Through tears he said, “Look, pal. We’re just having a little fun here. Question for you. What kind of watch does a dinosaur use to tell time? A Fossil watch!” He looked down at this bare wrist. “Uh-oh, it’s already the Cretaceous Period! Time for us to be moving on.”
“Not so fast.” I grabbed his arm.
“Look at me! I’m at the Gem and Mineral Show five minutes and already I’m between a rock and hard place!”
Buddy Hackett in heels elbowed her way in between us. “Lighten up, tough guy. He’s a good man.” She dropped to a Groucho Marx crouch. “You might say he’s a diamond in the rough. You might — but apparently you can’t because that would be a crime!”
The crowd cheered.
“Besides — we only came here to look at the dogs.”
“Yeah. Rockhounds. Seen any?” At that point Lucy and Ricky fell apart. The crowd started clapping. The vendors, gritting their teeth, reached for million-dollar gems to throw.
“Look officer, we don’t want to rock anyone’s boat! We just needed to get out of the house.” He threw up his hands in mock despair. “The missus said I was getting too sedimentary in my old age.”
The crowd moaned. “Know what I told her?” Someone in the crowd shouted, “No, what did you tell her?”
“My sediments, exactly.”
I noticed Lady Rubble was wearing more rocks than a Santa Fe drag queen. “Where did you get that turquoise?”
“It’s mine. Do you like it? It’s musical turquoise.” She bit her lip. “Know what it was doing when I found it?” Tears welled in her eyes. “Playing in a rock band.”
“Look, man. The jewelry is hers. She’s never told a lie in her life. She’s as onyx as the day is long.”
“You’re out of here.” I grabbed them by their shirt collars and dragged them down the aisle, past vendors, past shoppers and past the food court.
“Hey, what was the name of that famous chef who was a real gem?”
“Talk about a multifaceted talent!”
“Shut up. Just shut up.”
“Hey, come on, pal, lighten up. As the great geologist Rocky Balboa once said, “Don’t ever take anybody for granite!” I hustled the duo through the exit door and out into the sunlight.
“Yeah, right, pal. Like they say in China — it’s time for the two of you to cool off.” I dusted my hands clean and winked. “In the jade.”