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Cold Winter Caper Bang, bang, bang. Just a minute, Ernest shouted across the living room of his one bedroom apartment. He began muttering, No one respects that Ive got a bad head cold. Its been over a week and I cant seem to shake it. And I never will if I dont get some rest. Who is it? Ernest shuffled his lankly frame to the door and bent to peer through the peep hole. If his visitor had been looking through the other end of the peep hole they would have noticed his dark brown eyes and mousy brown hair. Ernest...its your friend Calum, with a can of chicken soup and some news for a story. I heard from our university crowd that that you were sick and have come to cheer you up. Eyes too blurry to focus properly, Ernest easily recognized the voice but he hesitated to open the door. Coming to the door and letting you in...I must be out of my mind. Ernest muttered to himself. Cold winter wind howled outside and Ernest could think of nothing else but curling up in bed with a warm cup of tea. He turned the door knob and heard the usual jiggle sound as it came full circle. I must remember to fix that handle. thought Ernest. It seemed like he never had the time to fix anything these days. He was too busy trying to come up with the latest and greatest idea for a story for the local university newspaper The Complete Unknown. On top of his journalism courses, Ernest took on a part-time job to write stories each month for the paper but he had yet to find anything interesting in the past few weeks and his deadline was looming. Ernest opened the door so see his informant and fellow student, Calum, standing at the doorway. Calums big blue eyes met him, wide with excitement, matching the huge grin crossing his face; his blond hair tussled from the rough winter wind. Okay, Calum. What do you have for me this time? Ernest listened with head lowered, then shrugged his shoulders in disbelief as he shook

his head. Bad move, as it started pounding. He could not even think about trying to research any new stories when he had his own head case to worry about. He didnt laugh or share this joke with his friend. Calum put the can of chicken noodle soup on the chair next to the front door. Bothered by even the slightest mess, Ernest took the can off the chair and carried it over to the kitchen pantry. Not much else on the shelves to keep it company though; he hadnt been shopping for awhile. It was a nice gesture, so despite feeling crappy he listened as Calum told his story. It is unbelievable. The towns supply of mead has just disappeared! One moment the barrel is there at our university pub and the next moment its not. Calum stopped his story, headed into the living room, and plunked himself down on the overstuffed brown couch. Do you mean vanished, as in stolen? Or vanished, as in completely gone like a magic trick? Ernest asked with some concern as he gingerly sat down in a rocking chair across from his friend. He knew that usually students preferred the local beer, mostly because it was cheaper. He had heard through the grapevine that lately many on campus had started to enjoy the buttery taste of mead on tap instead, despite the slightly higher cost. I don`t know, continued Calum. I mean, its completely gone without a single trace. It was there last week when I and my mates went to celebrate Saint Pattys day. You should have been there when Keith ordered green beer on the house. I passed out trying to consume a gallon of that stuff. Ernest could see that this was getting off topic and tried to get Calum to focus. Ernest had a strong distaste for beer and believed any sort of alcoholic beverage was detrimental to both his health and brain power. He believed a sharp reporter needed all faculties working 100% so avoided all extremes that might steer him away from his goal of being top reporter

by the end of the year. His friend Calum was much more suited to check out any stories related to the bar scene or wild parties. Youre my informant and have dragged me from my sickbed. So...what did you find out to justify this interruption? Calum took a deep breath and launched back into his story. Id had a few, and had nodded off in the corner of the university pub. The bartender woke me at closing time as my friends were gone. He didnt look too happy to have to escort me out so he could lock up. Not wanting to get barred from coming back I gathered up my stuff and got out of there. A bit wobbly, but luckily, I managed not to throw up and caught the last bus back home. The next morning I found out that I went straight to bed without even getting changed. Serves you right Ernest said, trying not to sound too preachy. When do we get to the newsy part? I remember going into the pub and trying to order mead like I have been recently. But they wouldnt serve it to me. I asked why not, and they said they were all out. I didnt believe them so kept asking the waitresses, and finally one admitted that their supplies mysteriously disappeared this week and they havent figured it out yet. The barrels are all gone. Not just empty, gone. They want to keep it quiet though so they dont lose student business. However Im just devastated. Why? Why? Why? Those barrels cant have walked out of the storage room by themself! Calum struck a dramatic pose with his hand across his forehead like a drama queen. Not far off, thought Ernest, but looked around anyway for a notepad to jot down some details. It is unusual that they didn`t have any mead left, when the pub manager should be good at reordering, he said. But as you know, running out of things is completely ordinary around here. Did anyone happen to see anything suspicious?

What do you mean completely ordinary? Not ordinary at all! I cant focus without my weekly dose of mead? Calum whined as he slouched farther into the couch. He enjoyed playing the clown and annoying his friend. Yes, you can. You just need some positive reinforcement, like this. Ernest got off his chair and leaned forward to slap at Calum, but his visitor was too quick and leaned to the side to avoid the playful blow. Okay, okay. said Calum laughing as leapt out of the chair. You`re sick and crankier than usual, so obviously need some rest. Let`s get this investigation started soon though. You`ll get a good story and I will get my favourite booze back. Ill call you first thing in the morning. Without waiting for an answer Calum headed to the door and let himself out. The next morning Ernest awoke from a restless nights sleep to hear ringing. Not sure where the sound was coming from, he shouted to the empty room Coming. He slowly rolled out of bed and clumsily walked to the phone on the end table. Still half asleep he said, Hello. Hello, Ernest. Ready to start our investigation? It was Calum. How could he be so cheerful this early in the morning? It had been freezing all week. Who wanted to go out in this weather? Where are you? Ernest quizzed his friend. Outside your apartment. Did you eat that soup I brought? Have you have gotten over your head cold yet? Im feeling better today. Just need to wake up a bit still. As Ernest looked out his window he could see Calum on his cell phone, standing beside his small blue VW Beetle, stomping his feet to say warm. As usual he parked in the no parking zone. He was going to get towed if Ernest didnt move quickly enough. I just need to throw on some clothes and Ill be down in a flash. Ernest

grabbed a note pad and pen from his desk, and slipped both into the pocket of his overcoat hanging near the door. As he exited the building and walked over to Calum he saw that his friends eyes were drooping with tiredness. What? Did you not get enough sleep last night? Out again with the boys? Correct, replied Calum. I was trying to find out what could have happened to the mead supply. I guess I forgot to eat, which didnt help. Then when I got home it was hard to fall asleep as every time I closed my eyes I keep thinking about crazy reasons the mead disappeared. It might seem over dramatic, but my friends and I now live for that buttery smooth taste of mead. No one could accuse Calum of not liking a bit of drama now and then, but Ernest sensed that his friend was really upset this time. Ernest`s exceptional nose wrinkled as he noticed that Calums breath gave off a highly pungent aroma when he spoke. Calum noticed Ernests cringed face and steeped away saying, My breath smells because I ran out of cereal so finished off some leftover garlic pasta in the fridge. Keeps the vampires at bay, he joked. `Why is it you smell things others don`t? You can use my bathroom. I have an extra toothbrush from my last dentist checkup that is still in the package. Ernest felt it would be a long morning if Calum didnt take the hint, or at least chew some gum to freshen his breath. Calum agreed and headed back to the apartment. Once that was done they would hit the road to check out the mead story. In a few minutes both students were back at Calums car, with him now smelling strongly of mint toothpaste and aftershave. Ernest was keen to get going and didnt complain about Calum taking liberties with his shaving supplies. Ready? No more interruptions. Lets go. I still have a bit of this head cold and dont want to stay out too long.

Righto, said Calum. And...Were off in a cloud of turtle dust as my mother used to say. Their pace was further delayed though, as not only did Calum not take time to brush his teeth at home, but it also seemed that his VW Beetle needed some gas and air in the tires. At the gas station Ernest sat with his long legs bent to fit the small interior. Exasperated and losing patience he asked, When did you last get an oil change for your car? I never hear about you doing any routine maintenance. Your tires seem to be on their last bit of rubber. Dont take any corners quickly or youll end up peeling them off the rims. Hed seen that once in an action movie and didnt want it to happen in real life, especially not with him in the car. Id say 6 months ago, Calum replied nonchalantly. It was obvious that he wasnt worried about his car getting them around safely this morning. Do you keep any spare oil in your car? asked Ernest. Hearing that Calum did, Ernest carefully got himself out of the car and went around and opened the trunk. He looked around for a minute, then took out a can of oil and gazed at it with surprise. How can car oil expire? Its safe. I never believe in those dates. I think that`s just when they are supposed to sell it by, Calum said as he took the can from his friend and walked around to the back of VW bug, adding You worry too much Ernest. Ernest shrugged. If Calum didnt care, then why should he? He still looked on in amazement as Calum opened the car hood, unscrewed the oil cap and began pouring the thick oil. Ernest closed his eyes and wondered if it wouldnt have been safer to walk or use the bus. There. All done. Calum announced cheerfully as he screwed the oil cap back on banged and the hood shut. He started to walk to the garbage can and then disappeared from view slipping on some black ice and crashing to the ground. Im okay! Calum announce as he climbed back up upright, using the car bumper for assistance. Anything broken? Ernest asked, feeling sorry that he had been so critical of his friend.

Just my ego, Calum replied rubbing his sore backside. He climbed back into the drivers seat and started the car. Waiting until Ernest had folded himself back into the passenger seat he put the car into gear and headed off to the university pub, scene of the great mead mystery. Lets begin asking if anyone might know about the most recent delivery of mead. Each person may not know the whole story, but if we collect bits from the bartender and waitresses, we might figure out the answer to both the location of the missing mead and who took it, Ernest said to Calum as he turned his mind to the case. They needed answers but wouldnt only get them by asking just questions and being nice. They had to keep their eyes and ears open.

Going up to the bar both students climbed onto stools and waved the bartender over to take their orders. Ernest asked for his usual sparkling water and Calum reluctantly ordered beer on tap. He seemed a bit sulky that he couldnt get any mead and Ernest hoped Calums attitude wasnt going to be a problem. Ernest quietly asked bar tender if the pub now had any mead, and if he had heard anything about where the last shipment went. The answer to both was no, and the bartender seemed to get edgier, avoiding eye contact with both students and then moving to the other end of the bar. Ernest felt he might have been told by someone to keep his mouth shut.

At that very moment a shadow came up behind Ernest and he turned around to find that it was none other than Norman Defold, another creative writing student from his old high school. Ernest hadnt seen Norman since then and thought he looked like a million bucks. He certainly looked healthier than Ernest felt today. Hey, Norman. What have you been doing since we left high school? He glanced at Calum to see if he should introduce them, but his friend seemed to be ignoring them.

I work for an international winery. Cant complain. Business is good these days, said Norman. Norm, have you heard anything about missing mead? I know that it isnt wine, but since you go to other pubs and restaurants you might have heard something. Ernest hoped that this was his lucky day. I write stories for the university newspaper The Complete Unknown and am trying to see if this would make a good story. Do you have any information I could use? I`ll keep my eyes open. If I find out anything I`ll give you a call. In response Ernest handed Norman his newspaper business card. Please give me a call if you hear anything. Anything at all. Every bit of information helps me figure this out. Ernest explained. Norman said that he had to go talk to the pub manager but that they should get together sometime soon. Ernest knew that being in journalism he had to be careful of his sources. He hadnt seen Norman in years, but always thought he was a trustworthy sort.

Norman had said that he would share information, but at the same time his presence out of the blue, and something else didnt sit right with Ernest. It was niggling at his germy brain like an annoying mosquito ready to be swatted out of the air. Ernest had noticed that Normans eyes and manner seemed too calm, rather than curious. He didnt ask any questions himself and just stared over at the bartender, causing Ernest to suspect that Norman was up to something. It felt like he knew the answers and was just stringing Ernest along. Calum was still nursing beer and frustration, and it seemed like he was ignoring them as he continued writing notes. Ernest slid off the bar stool,

Were done. Its too quiet and none of the usual waitresses are around. In reply Calum said, But I havent even finished my drink yet!

Leave it, Ernest replied. Youve had enough beer this week anyway.

With that they

left the pub and headed to the VW bug parked in the lot across the street. However this time it was sober Ernest who took the wheel and drove safely back to Calums apartment building, to drop his friend at the curb. Telling Calum that he would return the car the next day, Ernest then drove off leaving his friend talking to himself about having the munchies and needing a fast food fix. Ernest didn`t think he could get into much trouble on foot though, and with the cold weather would probably just head inside.

Back in his room later Ernest took his notebook out and laid it on the kitchen table. He knew that he had something, but wasnt sure exactly how the pieces fit. A smile came across his long face as it hit him. Ernest remembered that Normans breath had a distinct smell. He had trouble placing it at the bar because it was being masked by the other alcohols behind the counter. That smell was honey. Ernest grabbed the phone hanging on the kitchen wall and speed dialed Calums cell number. It rang a few times with no answer. He tried again, and this time on the third ring Calum picked up. Hello. Who is this? Whoever is calling should have a really good reason to wake me from my beauty sleep. Its me, Calum. Ernest. Did you head off to bed? I was. I did. What do you want? Im half asleep. I wanted to make sure I left nothing out from our investigation down at the pub and just need to check a few details with you, Ernest said with growing excitement in his voice. So, I was looking through my notes that I scribbled down. Hold on. You took notes while we were at the pub? asked Calum.

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Yes, I did. I guess you were just busy working on your next hang over to realize. With effort Ernest held onto his patience as he needed his friends support. So, what did you find? asked Calum, not bothering to stifle a yawn. Stay awake Calum! Did you see me talking with that old classmate of mine, Norman Defold? I think he is not the person I used to know. I have reason to believe that he was the one who stole the mead from the university pub. Really? responded Calum, now seeming to wake up and pay attention. How do you know? You still have your head cold and may not be thinking straight. Because, I noted his breath had the faint odor of honey in it when he spoke to me but at the time I did not realize thats what it was. Now get out of bed and meet me outside your building in 15 minutes. We need to get this story sorted out. Ernest hung up the phone and put his faith that Calum would be sobered up and motivated to act as his accomplice again. Ernest pulled up in Calums car and picked up his friend looking frozen at the curb. Why are you driving my car? Calum asked, and then answered the question himself. Oh yeah, I guess it wouldnt have been smart to drive after drinking those beers, eh? After buckling his seatbelt Calum turned to face his friend. Are you sure about your assumption, Ernest? I have this gut feeling that we are not going to be welcomed with open arms if you call the police on Norman. Ernest looked straight ahead and kept driving. The clues only point to one person, Calum, and thats Norman. Driving to Normans place took longer than expected: Calums car had developed a flat. At least it wasnt peeling tires off rims like Ernest feared, just a stray nail that

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finally worked its way through the thin rubber. Two students got the flat switched with the spare tire and managed to avoid hypothermia. They were off to Normans again as the winter sun dropped quickly, leaving only a few rays peaking over the horizon. Calum and Ernest parked and slowly got out of the VW. Neither was looking forward to this meeting with Norman.

Trying not to trip any alarms that might be on the premises Ernest and Calum carefully made their way to the back of the house. Norman had the old root cellar converted to storage where he kept his entire collection of prize winning wines. Now the problem facing the two was a locked door. Calum, do you think you can climb those vines that lead up to that second floor window? Ernest asked as he pointed upward to a window that was no bigger than a small coffee table. Calum looked perplexed, as if he had not done something like this before. But Ernest had faith in his friends climbing ability as he had seen Calum easily scale the university gym climbing walls for sport. This should be no problem for him. Ill give it a go, said Calum as he started climbing the ivy. After a few minutes Calum reached the window, which fortunately was not locked and had no trouble getting in. For the next few moments Ernest waited anxiously below as he heard noises coming from inside the house. It sounded like the hiss of a cat and then a noise of metal meeting a hard wood floor. Ernest wondered if Calum was alright so called out. Calum. Are you okay? Then he heard the door bolt slide and unlock. Never better, Calum replied with a cheeky grin on his face. As both students made their way down into Normans cellar they could not help but think that this was too easy. It was almost as if someone had set them up. As they rounded the corner they came face to face with a barrel of mead perched up against three other casks of what seem to be very expensive wine. Calum. Ernest asked

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seriously. Do you find that up till now our little escapade into Normans cellar has been all too easy? Well, yeah, Calum replied. I mean, its almost as if someone wanted us to take it. At that moment Norman came out from his hiding place: behind a door which Ernest and Calum had not noticed because of the dim lighting. Now I have you Ernest. You and your friend Calum are both going to jail for breaking and entering. After Norman had finished speaking he started to dial for the police. Ernest replied, I dont think so. You see. While I was outside waiting for Calum to let me in, I informed the police of your shady business. I told them how you paid off the university bartender and made off with all the mead just after Saint Pattys day. Its true, Norman replied loudly. I did all of it just so I could add that one of a kind mead to my collection. It`s also worth a bundle on the black market. Stealing it created demand. Now I can ask whatever I want. Or just keep it. I hadn`t decided.

At that moment the police car pulled up to the house with lights blazing. They came barging in and put Norman in handcuffs. He gave in easily. Obviously Norman was an opportunist criminal, not about to risk his life in a fight or high speed chase. After giving their side of the story and filling out some forms the two boys tiredly headed home to bed. One to get well deserved rest to end his head cold and the other to recover from a pending hangover. Ernest would write the story tomorrow and submit it to the university newspaper The Complete Unknown by his monthly deadline. The two of them made a good team, and there would be other adventures to share in the future.