15 January 2023

Dying Declarations I

I. Famous Lost Words

train steam engine

Above the rumble of the Trois-Rivieres – Montréal night train, an agonizing scream rent the dark. Two world-famous criminal experts rushed into the compartment of their secretary, M. LeJeune. They found him seized in death throes, struggling to whisper.

Hercule Gaboriau knelt. He loosened LeJeune’s collar.

“Speak, mon ami.”

Before he expired on the threadbare carpet of the rumbling carriage, three faint syllables fell from the dying man’s lips. Hovering above them, Professor S.F.X. Van der Dyne frowned. Awaiting an impromptu autopsy by the train’s multi-talented conductor, the traveling companions adjourned to the next car where they debated the murder.

“Porky Pig?” Van der Dyne said. “What could that mean?” He lit his pipe. “What a puzzle. Good God, man. If LeJeune wanted his last words taken seriously, he shouldn’t have mumbled ‘Porky Pig.’”

“Incroyable.” The great egg-headed detective shook his head. “Sacre bleu.”

The on-board autopsy revealed LeJeune’s brain had been penetrated by a thin, needle-like object.

“Obviously penetrated by a thin, needle-like object,” said the professor. “But what does Porky Pig mean?”

The great detective drew himself up. “It’s all so obvious. En français, he say porc-épic.”

“Right you are, old man, Porky Pig. We all got that.”

“Non, non, mon ami, you misheard.”

“The least LeJeune could have done was enunciate before popping off.”

Mais oui, bacon brain. He say porc-épic.”

“D’accord, my friend. We agree he said Porky Pig. So what?”

“Pork-ee-peek, you lumbering lump of lardon. Eet means zee porcupine.”

“But Porky Pig’s a hog, not a hedgehog.”

“Non, you swaggering, swollen swimbladder of a swineherd. Porc-épic. He was killed by a quill.”

“Bah! No one’s written with quill for three hundred years, not even our secretary who believes, er, believed his antiquated Underwood comprised the pinnacle of word processing technology.”

Gaboriau gritted his teeth. “I… said… a quill… killed him, you boarish, bloviating, bumptious, barbarian biographer of balderdash. He was murdered with a quill.”

“You didn’t get the memorandum, old man. Geese got quills. Pigs– porky or otherwise– no quills.”

Merde du taureau, you pretentious, pompous, porcine proletarian.” The great detective palmed his face. “It means nothing, this shirr knowledge in my egg-shaped head. That Belgique fellow, at least he got respect.”

train racing across Canada

Huh? What? Why? Wait! There’s more.

Leigh here:

In my nightmare, I collapse in a restaurant. People gather ’round. Struggling to breathe, I point to my throat and gasp out the words, “Heimlich maneuver.”

Puzzled patrons scratch their heads.

“What? Vancouver? What does he mean?”

“Something about an Uber.”

“An Uber to Vancouver? No prob, I’ll call for a Lyft.”

“Frankly, I thought he asked for a lime-rickey mover.”

“Hey, dat’s a Brooklyn drink. Waiter, gin and lime with a cherry, one for us all. Put it on his bill.”

train trailing car

That’s how I end up half conscious in British Columbia with drink in hand.

It’s Dale’s fault.

You remember Dale Andrews? He’s the one person-to-person writing friend I have and an early SleuthSayers member. He also has a way of making me eat my words.

  • I don’t care much for pastiches. ➝ He writes damn fine Ellery Queen stories to prove me wrong.
  • I declare mysteries that hinge upon dying words unfair and unrealistic. ➝ He writes a clever one, the best I’ve encountered. It’s called ‘Four Words’ and oooooh, it is smart.

Inspired at the time and in anticipation of Dale’s story being published, I wrote a couple of vignettes for either Ellery Queen’s blog or SleuthSayers that never made it to press. Waste not, want not, so the first of those scenarios plays out above.

Next time: Another vignette to try your patience.

With the possible exception of James Lincoln Warren.


  1. To avoid these situations all of us should remember at the close of our lives this one admonition: Enunciate. (Thanks for the [sort of] kind words Leigh! Anyone interested in my Ellery Queen pastiche "Four Words" referenced by Leigh can find an audio of it over at the EQMM website -- https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/eqmm/episodes/2021-08-04T10_57_33-07_00)

    1. Dale, I always enjoy when we meet up and a lot hinged on that session. I'm glad you wrote the story and I had a great time exchanging ideas. Thank you for the link!

  2. This is Abbott and Costello funny.

    1. I hadn't thought of A&C. The vignette started writing in my head when I climbed upon a train in DC. I realized I was conflating four famous golden/silver age detectives into two bodies, and they rest they took care of. It was fun.

  3. Replies
    1. Porc-épic is one of my favorite French words. It's impossible for me to hear it without hearing Porky Pig. One evening, along the perimeter of Le Bois de Boulogne (one of the city's forests) when my superhearing picked up a rustling along the fence line. I knelt, parted the weeds, and there was a little hedgehog in the middle of Paris. His/her offspring are probably still there, calling out to other porc-épics.


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