By Ingvar: Trigger looked at the street outside his office. For once it was utterly calm and no dust in the air. To the extent it was visible, this far out in the Solar System, the Sun was providing some comfort light, although not much heat. It looked like a perfect day to visit the Coffee Emporium.
“Coraline, darling? I am walking down to the Coffee Emporium, would you like to come?”
“Sorry, Trigger, I have a few things to finish up. By all means try their new Softly-Softly roast, I understand that it is delicious.”
“Thank you, I will. I may be an half an hour, maybe a full hour?”
“Don’t you worry, I have plenty to keep me busy.”
Walking down the street, Trigger nodded his head and touched the wide brim of his hat at the people heading the other way. It was not long until he arrived at the Coffee Emporium. Once inside, he took his hat off and strode up to the bar.
“Ms Dimatis, it has been said that you have a new roast in?”
“Ah, the Softly-Softly? Yes, Coraline was in only yesterday for a cup. Would you like one?”
“That sounds like a marvelous idea.”
“Would you like a grilled synthecheese and a vanilla Danish to go with that?”
“Ms Dimatis, you…”
“Oh, I think you are allowed to call me Barbara now.”
“Barbara, you know me too well. Maybe it is time that I patronize another coffee shop.”
“You jest, Sheriff Snowflake, you jest.”
Trigger headed for an empty table, and had just sat down when his coffee and a pastry was placed in front of him. He lifted the cup, savouring the pungent smell of the bean extraction. It did smell quite delicious. He took a sip, and the coffee rolled over his tongue, coating the inside of his mouth with a rich, earthy, warmness. Coraline was right, this was coffee well worth having. He took a bite from his Danish, and as he returned the pastry to its plate, his grilled synthecheese arrived. It was made just the way he liked it, one slice of wholemeal sourdough, one slice of rye, both toasted, with a healthy chunk of synthecheese between them. Then fried, on both sides, in plenty of butter, with just a hint of black and white pepper. It was a flavour that paired surprisingly well with the coffee.
He was just about done with his late morning snack, when Barbara Dimatis, the proprietor, walked up to his table.
“Sheriff? Mind if I sit down?”
“Oh, no, not at all Ms Dim.. Barbara. What’s the matter?”
“Well, I am sure it is nothing, really. But, there’s this weird thing starting to go around in the periphery of the literature comment-sphere. And I don’t quite know what to make of it.”
“Oh? Weird thing?”
“Yes, it’s nothing, I am sure, but there’s a few of the Sulphur crowd, you are familiar with Sulphur artists?”
“I am, indeed, aware of them. I’ve even had a few run-ins with some of them.”
“Ah, yes, ven Fleerbo, wasn’t it? So, in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a few of them refer to me, as far as I can make out from context. But they keep calling me ‘Meltsy’, and it is making me slightly uncomfortable, the whole thing. And I was wondering if I should do something? Or if there’s something you can do?”
“I don’t know Barbara. But if you can forward me some of the letters-of-coment, that’s what you call them, yes? I can have a look in my office. It’s not quite the thing I normally deal with, since it’s clearly out of Fort Corallium and I am only charged with enforcing the law here. But, as you know, I know law-keepers elsewhere, and if there’s something that seems to be dubious, I can always ask if there’s something someone else can look in to. And my beloved Coraline has spoken quite highly of you, and how you’ve stepped into her shoes here at the Coffee Emporium. So, certainly, forward me these comments and I will have a look for you, it’s the least I can do.”
Barbara Dimatis sighed with relief, stood up and started back towards the counter. About halfway back, she stopped, turned back to face Trigger and said “Thank you, Sheriff Snowflake. It lifts a heavy weight off my heart.”
“Trigger, darling?”, Coraline’s voice easily carried to the upper floor. “Barbara Dimatis is here, with some papers for you?”
“Thank you, beloved. I will be down in but a few moments.” Trigger hastily put his bolo tie on. It would not do to greet Ms Dimatis in such an informal state of dress. He quickly descended to the ground floor, and the Sheriff’s Office proper.
“Ah, Ms Dim… Barbara. These are print-outs of these letters?”
“Yes, Sheriff Snowflake, these are the relevant letters-of-comment from a variety of magazines dealing with literature and poetry over the last six weeks. Plus one that arrived only after you’d left the Emporium. Coraline, you may want to look through them as well. Based on the latest, this very much is all of our concern. It seems like one of the Sulphurs, not one I’ve seen much from before, but he’s done some inspiring poetry, in a cross-over Sulphur/Beat style, quite a challenging form really… Where was I? Oh, yes, ven Fengsler claims to have irrefutable evidence that I am actually Trigger Snowflake.”
Coraline looked at her husband, then looked at Barbara. Then looked back at her husband, for a few seconds more. Then, slowly, turned her head back to Barbara.
“You? Married to me? What is he basing this fantasy on?”
“As far as I can tell, it’s because he’s seen a copy of an envelope, from a letter I posted, that was clearly stamped by the Fort Corallium post office, not long after the SysLiCon security report was published, last week.”
“But, you live and work here?”
“Yes, I know. Apparently it is obvious that because I like coffee, don’t write frequent LoCs, have once or twice mentioned legal matters, as well as now that you’re on the SysLiCon board that I must be a legal professional, married to a former coffee shop manager, and live in Fort Corallium.”
Trigger took a deep breath. Then a second. And, for good measure, a third.
“Ms Dimatis, can you please step into my office. We should probably not continue to have this conversation half on the street. I think we need to look carefully at these. If nothing else, this ven Fengsler is accusing you of being a lawman impersonating someone else. Or me. I am not sure. But it does not sound right.”
Barbara stepped through the door, and closed it after her. Trigger walked to his chair, clearly surprised and concerned by the news he’d just received. Before he sat down, he swept his right hand, indicating the chairs in front of his desk.
“Please, sit, both of you.”
Coraline shook her head. “No, I will make a pot of coffee. And I may just bring down one of the bottles of Saturn Sippin’ Whisky, this all seems like coffee would not quite be enough.”
Trigger waited to sit until Barbara was safely in one of the visitor chairs.
“Let me get this right? Because you know about coffee, and have posted a letter at our post office, and Coraline is on the SysLiCon board, you are me?”
“That is how I understand these letters.”
They both furrowed their foreheads, deep in thought, when Coraline came down the stairs.
“There is coffee and sandwich in the kitchen. And please tell me what is going on.”
Trigger and Barbara both stood up, and as Barbara headed for the stairs, Trigger picked one of the magazines off the pile. They seated themselves around the kitchen table, Coraline and Trigger sitting next to each other, opposite Barbara.
“So,” said Coraline, “what is this whole identity confusion thing?”
“Well…”, said Trigger. “As far as I can tell, this is something that started in, and is mostly contained within, Sulphur Artist circles. Here is a letter to a publication called ‘Yellow Flowers Of An Elemental Nature’.”
“Aha!”, said Barbara. “Yellow Flowers is a poetical allusion to flaky, elemental sulphur. And it is indeed a publication that most frequently circulates in the Sulphur crowd. But one of my contacts mentioned that I should look at the latest number, so I had it facsimiled on the far-sender network. Pray tell us, Sheriff Snowflake, what it says?”
Transcription of a round-table conversation of the Elemental Smartalec Group, planetary day 7643
John ven Fengsler: To the matter of Meltsy. I have, as you all know, spent some time researching this “Barbara Dimatis” and there is no question that Barbara is actually just a cover identity for Trigger Snowflake.
Rick ven Fleerbo: Are you sure? No question or doubt?
JvF: No doubt indeed. I have, no expenses spared, managed to retrieve a true copy of the envelope in which last month’s letter from Meltsy to “The Jupiterian” arrived. It is very clearly post-stamped in Fort Corallium, where we all know that Meltsy lives.
Anna min Scortch: This sounds a bit thin?
JvF: Not in the least. We can see from multiple letters that this “Barbara” is well educated in coffee. And Meltsy married that Hoyter woman, you know. The one who sent Rick packing, for no good reason. And she, I tell you, was the proprietor of a coffee shop. So, the link is clear and indisputable.
RvF: Indisputable indeed. That Trigger, he’d stoop low enough to use a woman’s name as a gym, every day of the week. Or at least days that have both consonants and vowels.
AmS: Ah, so every day.
AmS: I… Yes, the evidence seems fairly clear. Anything else?
JvF: Indeed there is. These “Barbara” letters became more frequent after Trigger had that court case on the Moon. Clearly an event that would fuel his anti-Sulphur resentment. And they’re all, or so I have from reliable sources, post-stamped in Fort Corallium. Incontroversible evidence, the post stamps do not lie!
AmS: And what do we do with this information?
RvF: We destroy him, and his career, and his marriage! I believe that Coraline Snowflake will NOT stay married to a man that stoops to impersonating a woman.
JvF: We are all clear, then, that we need to spread the good word, and terminate Meltsy’s letter-writing career, once and for all?
AmS, RvF: Sulphur! Sulphur! Sulphur!
End note: Anna bestowed John ven Fengsler with an admiration gift mostly composed of Martian Ares-fruit compote, with a fetching hint of Venusian bacon from her breakfast. Rick ven Fleerbo, due to his current circumstances, was forced to limit his admiration to just Venusian bacon and beans.
“This… This… This makes no sense”, sighed Trigger.
“Post-stamped in Fort Corallium. Of course my letters are post-stamped in Fort Corallium, that is where the Coffee Emporium is, and since I live in the rooms above, I would of course use the post office across the street”, said Barbara. ” Anything else would be deranged.”
Coraline sniggered. “At least they haven’t, yet, decided that we are the same person, Barbara.”
Trigger flipped pages in the magazine. “Ah, there’s another letter about that specific fact.”
Transcription of a round-table discussion at the Elemental Smartalec Group, Planetary Day 7652
Anna min Scortch: John, I have spent some time digging into this Meltsy business. You are clearly right. Not only does Meltsy have a passing knowledge of gourmet coffee. Not, I might add, as good as yours, but decent nonetheless. But, look, in this letter to “The Plutonian Argus”, there’s this one sentence that gives no doubt to the theory that Meltsy has an interest in the law. And do you know who has an interest in law? A sheriff!
John ven Fengsler: Anna, my dear, it’s good that you have found this further evidence. I know that it has been said that we may be wrong, but the coffee, the law interest, and the post-stamps all paint an undoubtable picture. And, furthermore, that very same letter is also clearly written y a man. Look, it uses forceful words. And it is rude, something that we all know is outside the scope of any planet fearing woman’s vocabulary.
AmS: Yes, I saw that. But I was never in doubt that this “Barbara” was secretly a man, all along. It’s just like those lily-livers to hide behind a woman.
Rick ven Fleerbo: I say, should we get Slem involved? This might just be the crowbar we need to break open that disgusting verdict Meltsy masterminded on me?
JvF: If you think that is the right course, we shall of course proceed with this excellent move in our hyper-dimensional game of Walk.
RvF: I will send him a missive, anon.
End note: Rick again could only provide Venusian bacon and beans for admiration. John bestowed a gift of Saturnian plum wine to Anna, and the same for Rick. Both Anna and John provided gifts on Rick, for his excellent idea of contacting Slem ven Pocketry.
The three of them continued to peruse the letter columns, growing more and more amused, and in Barbara’s case, distressed, at the confusion spreading through the Sulphur community.
Trigger suddenly lifted his head, staring into infinity.
“Beloved Coraline, Miss Dimatis… I have a seed of a plan. We know they’re completely wrong. We also know that Sulphur artists never miss a chance to gloat. And it’s been months since we last had a poetry slam at the Emporium. So, my thought here is that we arrange one for next month, and make sure all three of us are there to introduce it. “
Barbara thought for a few moments. “Yes, as long as there’s enough time to come out from the inner system, we can be assured there will be at least one Sulphur artist in attendance, for an attempt at some sort of public unmasking.”
With preparations made, and the Poetry Slam duly announced in the relevant magazines, the day finally arrived. As the start time of the event finally ticked on the clock, Coraline Snowflake walked up to the microphone in front of the counter.
“Hello, and welcome everyone. I am Mrs Coraline Snowflake, the former proprietor of the Coffee Emporium. It is my honour to bid you all welcome to Fort Corallium’s fourth Poetry Slam.”
From among the crowd, someone yelled “Where’s Trigger, then?!”
Trigger walked up to the microphone. “Hello, all. I am Trigger Snowflake, and I am the sheriff of this town.”
The same voice yelled again, “Trigger? Hah! What about Barbara Dimatis, Meltsy? What about Barbara? We know that’s what you go by in the magazines!”
Barbara walked up to the microphone. “Hello, all. My name is Barbara Dimatis, I am the proprietor of the Coffee Emporium and I have arranged this Poetry Slam, with some help from my predecessor and good fried, Coraline.”
It was at this point that the proceedings were interrupted by someone rapidly standing up and running out of the Emporium, shouting “Ooooh! Oooooooooh! I can’t believe I believed ven Fengsler!”