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Tom Swiftly and the Case of the Million Dollar Collar (a Short Story: Part One)

Updated on February 8, 2021
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John has many years of writing experience in poetry, short fiction and text for children's books. Basically, he just loves to write.

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Thanks to Daisy Mariposa

I recently read a wonderful hub called "My Favorite Tom Swifties" by Daisy Mariposa. I had never heard the term "Tom Swifty" before but found it very interesting. Thank you Daisy for introducing me to this special type of humorous pun in which an adverb or adverbial phrase refers to how someone said something.

Classics of early science fiction, the first Tom Swift book, "Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle" was published in 1910. This cover is from the 3rd book, published later that same year.
Classics of early science fiction, the first Tom Swift book, "Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle" was published in 1910. This cover is from the 3rd book, published later that same year. | Source

Brief History of Tom Swifties

In the original series of stories created by the prolific American writer Edward L. Stratemeyer under the pseudonym Victor Appleton II, a young scientist hero named Tom Swift was drawn into adventures involving rockets, giant cannons, photo-telephones, electric rifles and various other things he had invented.

The first book Tom Swift and His Airship was first published in 1910.

Not many dictionaries define "Tom Swifty". One that does is The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1st edition (1966):

Tom Swiftie, a play on words that follows an unvarying pattern and relies for its humor on a punning relationship between the way an adverb describes a speaker and at the same time refers significantly to the import of the speaker's statement, as in "I know who turned off the lights," Tom hinted darkly (http://www.ccp14.ac.uk/)

Since many adverbs end in "ly" this kind of pun was originally called a Tom Swiftly, one clear example being "We must hurry," said Tom Swiftly. Another humorous example is: "They had to amputate them both at the ankles," said Tom defeatedly."

Traditionally Tom is the speaker, but this isn't really necessary for the pun to classify as a Tom Swifty. Sometimes the pun lies in the name, in which case it will usually not be Tom speaking: e.g."Who discovered radium?" asked Marie curiously.

It appears that the name of these puns was changed for the 1963 publication of the book "Tom Swifties" by Paul Pease and Bill McDonough which introduced the term to the United States and they have been known as that ever since.

My Attempt to Write a Story Using Tom Swifties

This is my attempt at writing a story using "Tom Swifties." I have very loosely based it on the series of books by Victor Appleton II but I have called my character Tom Swiftly to differentiate from the original Tom Swift character. This is somewhat experimental in the practice of writing the puns successfully so hopefully they don't appear too corny. Hopefully you enjoy this first installment. I welcome constructive feedback.

*See Links at the Bottom of This Hub for a New Hub Challenge

Public domain: original artwork by James Gary 1939. (no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed)
Public domain: original artwork by James Gary 1939. (no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed) | Source

Tom Swiftly and the Case of the Million Dollar Collar

Tom turned off the lights and locked the laboratory door behind him. Unfortunately this would be his last visit to the University Science Centre, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Government had cut funding and, ultimately University staffing levels had suffered. Tom's dual positions as Assistant Biochemist and Lecturer in Robotics were among the casualties.

Investigative research had always interested him and Tom had occasionally dabbled in a little unofficial detective and forensic work on the side. Why, well because although lecturing and lab work was fruitful it was also often quite dull. Sometimes he needed a kick, or an adrenalin shot. Now, the opportunity to pursue that field had been presented to him unexpectedly.

At 35 years of age and single Tom figured he wasn't too old to try a change of careers, at least until science research funding started to pick up again. He had already decided to start up his own Private Detective Agency, and although he wasn't sure how, he imagined having degrees in robotics and biochemistry must give him some advantage over other private investigators.

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Tom walked downtown to where he had rented an office for his new venture. He had a licence but rarely drove, couldn't understand how people could put themselves through the stresses caused by city traffic.

The outer building was a little shabby and run-down, probably quite opulent in it's heyday but that was well passed. Anyway, it was centrally situated and in quite a lively part of town. Some may call it seedy, but Tom figured it was the perfect place for a private detective to set up shop.

The building had an elevator of sorts but an "OUT OF ORDER" sign was propped up in front of the doors so Tom walked up the two flights of stairs leading to the first floor. He stopped outside a room marked 5B and stared at the sign above the door, "SWIFTLY SOLVED INVESTIGATIONS". He thought the name quite clever, and smiled proudly, before opening the door to his new office.

Tom Swiftly settled in and took no time hiring a receptionist come investigative assistant named Rita Smart. He had interviewed a handful of hopefuls, but Rita had been the standout applicant. She was 27, divorced, with no kids, which meant she was free to devote most of her time to work, and she was enthusiastic. Previous experience in administration within the Police Department was invaluable and the fact she was easy on the eye, though not a determining factor, wasn't detrimental.

In just the first day on the job Rita had set up an office filing system, arranged the previously drab room so that it looked quite professional, had printed up an impressive batch of business cards, and was busy networking online for business. Tom very much doubted his ability to have done all that on his own. He even toyed with the idea that if he ever made Rita a full partner in the Agency that he could change the catch phrase to something like: "Cases Solved, Smart and Swiftly."

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Business had been quiet for the first week, in fact non-existent, and Tom was wondering if he'd made the right move or if perhaps he should have set up business in a different location. He was about to discuss some marketing options with Rita when there was a knock on the door. "Can you open that please?" Tom said, entranced to find out who the first client was.

Rita opened the door to a tall grey haired man about 60, who entered tentatively. Rita greeted the Agency's first prospective customer with a genuine smile, "Good morning Sir. Welcome to Swiftly Solved Investigations. How can we help you?"

The man's eyes darted about nervously, "I .. um ..need a private investigator, and the matter is urgent." Tom stood up quickly and interrupted.

"Tom Swiftly, at your service," he offered the newcomer his hand, "What exactly would you like us to investigate, Mr ....?"

The man shook Tom's hand reluctantly. "It's Kendrick-Ward, Alistaire Kendrick-Ward, and I'd like you to find my wife's missing dog."

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"Missing dog!" Tom muttered, surprised and glancing around at Rita. "I'm sorry Sir, this is a private detective agency not the RSPCA. Have you contacted them or the pound?" his voice strayed a little sarcastically.

"It's not just any missing dog," dismissed Kendrick-Ward. "It is a pedigree prize-winning toy poodle named 'Franelle Gingerbelle'. We call her 'Ginger,'.. besides ...," he said red faced, and stopping mid-sentence.

Rita saw the frustrated look on Tom's face and decided to intervene. "Mr Kendrick-Ward, I am sure Ginger is a lovely dog and very important to you and your wife, however our business is searching for missing people, not animals," she battered her big brown puppy dog eyes at him.

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The tall older man withdrew his wallet and placed ten $100 notes on the counter. "Maybe this will convince you. Is $1000 enough for a retainer?" he offered.

Rita and Tom stared at the money in shock. Well this was their first possible client in a week of opening so it was hard to turn him away. "Person..dog, dog .. person, what's it really matter I suppose," Tom's voice wavered briefly, "After all there is always room for one more case."

Kendrick-Ward was confident the money would win them over, "Besides, it's not just the dog!" he barked. "Ginger is wearing a diamond studded collar worth $1.2 million," his voice attaining a rich confident tone.

"Yes, the retainer is fine," Tom said brightly as he handed the money to Rita to put in the safe. "We'll do the investigation. However, I can't guarantee we'll find both the poodle and the collar intact."

Kendrick-Ward frowned, "W..what do you mean .. not find them.. intact?" he stuttered.

"Well, it's quite likely that 'Franelle Gingerbelle' was nabbed for the collar, and not for her doggy charm," replied Tom as pleasantly as possible.. "Whoever dog-napped her probably removed the collar and dumped the pooch."

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"They are both microchipped. The dog has one on its ear, and on the collar in among the diamonds.That should make them easier to find, right?" asked Kendrick-Ward. Before Tom could answer, he added, "Don't tell my wife I said this, but the dog's not important. She's a cranky, whining, spoilt thing anyway, but for God's sake get the collar back," he begged.

"We'll keep you updated," Rita said holding her palm up, "Do you have a business card or something?"

"Here are my contact details," he addressed Tom but handed a business card to Rita, "Kendrick-Ward Associates..blaa, blaa, blaa.. phone number, fax, email.

"Very well Sir, we'll get right on it. The name doesn't lie," Tom Swiftly said, pointing to the sign on the door.


(to be continued)

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