The Ol’ Switcheroo

Ursa needs her father’s pills, but nothing is where it ought to be.


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“Find my pills, I’ll write a beautiful blurb for your second novel,” my hairy Dad says, curled on the kitchen floor like a bear getting ready to hibernate.

“You already wrote one.”

“I’ll pen one as Jeffery Deaver,” he says, wincing on the last word.

His breaths are short. Quick. And he has chest pain. Given Dad’s medical history, 9-1-1 advised keeping him still. And talking.

“Dad, the ambulance’ll be here soon.”

“How soon?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“Thirty! You realize that’s 18 homicide victims worldwide?”

“Just relax, Dad.”

“I get pizzas delivered faster than 30 minutes.”

“Where’s your medicine?”

“Pill organizer. Table.”

The kitchen table drowns in papers, magazines, and books, which surround four red-capped spice bottles. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I smile, guessing Dad made his amazing Simon and Garfunkel chicken.

Damn, forgot to buy him a spice rack.


Making a mental note to later put the spices away, I shove literature piles aside searching for Dad’s pill organizer, a multicompartment box with a different slot per day. “It’s not here. Where else could it be?”

I check the fridge and freezer while waiting for Dad’s response. No pills. Leftover Simon and Garfunkel chicken in Tupperware, but not enough for a meal. Or for me to hint for some.

“You’re eyeing my chicken.” Dad’s so large and hairy, in my peripheral vision he looks like a bearskin rug.

“I am not eyeing your chicken.” I’m totally eyeing that chicken. “Pill organizer, Dad. Where else?”


Books pack the wall shelves. Name any mystery writer; Dad’s library has books by them, about them, or both.

Including my one novel. I’m currently working to avoid a sophomore slump.

And, of course, including Dad’s many novels. The last four cracked the top ten of various bestseller lists.

And were all beaten by whatever Jeffery Deaver had out at those times.

Dad loves and loathes Mr. Deaver.

“You have one of those fake books where people hide stuff?”

“I can’t tell you. You’ll steal my money.”

“Dad, fake book?”

“You were planning to steal my chicken leftovers.”

“Okay, I’m going outside and letting nature take its course.”

“You do and I’ll haunt you!”

“Dad! Fake book or no fake book?”

“No fake book.”

On one shelf, there’s the designated space for Dad’s Bible.

But no Bible. In that gap sits Dad’s renewed car registration.

“It’s not here. Where else could it be?”

“Bathroom. Or bedside table.”

The bedside table has a lamp, its shade decorated with the boardgame Clue’s weapons, all six killing one another. Rope is garroting Lead Pipe, Lead Pipe is bonking Candlestick, and it continues all the way around, ending with the dying Revolver (stabbed by Knife) firing a bullet through Rope.

Six victims. Or by Dad’s math, ten minutes.

Beside the lamp lies one of Dad’s umpteen pairs of reading glasses.

“Don’t look under the bed!”


“It’s scary.”


“That’s where I hide my pornography.”

That is scary. But not as much as, say, a large clown under the bed. Or even a small one.

I look, cringing.

No pornography, clown, or pornographic clown lurks under the bed. The large dust bunnies there could conquer a small city. But not hide a pill organizer.

Dad’s bathroom drowns in scarlet, the redecoration new. Red wallpaper. Crimson ruffles on the toilet seat and tank. Even coral toilet paper.

But no pill organizer, red or otherwise.

“I don’t think your bathroom is red enough.”

“Like it? Figure if I ever need to dismember a body, no bloodstains.”

“Oh, Dad, just use plastic sheeting like everybody else.”

“But then you get castoff. And cleaning blood off ceilings is hard at my age.”

In the medicine cabinet sit a comb; a nose hair trimmer; that super expensive mustache trimmer I got him for Christmas; a brush with a handle; a brush without a handle; a brush with dual handles — Did I mention Dad’s a very hairy guy? — everything but the pill organizer.

“Everything” includes a pair of underwear.


No, wait, his beard trimmer is missing. Weird part two.

Good Lord! Did Dad kill someone with his beard trimmer?

Are these red walls hiding innumerable sins?

And has anyone seen Jeffery Deaver lately?

I check on Dad. He tries smiling, but instead says through gritted teeth, “I’m fine, Ursa.”

I wanted to be a nurse when I was little. But growing up, I realized I couldn’t spend my life being called “Nurse-a Ursa.”

Dad’s sweating.

Gotta find those pills.

“Where’s your coat?”

“Back hallway.”

That hallway ends at the door to the garage. On a coat rung hangs his spring coat.

Does the man who’s been on the cover of Hirsute Magazine three times need a coat?

No, no he does not.

I search the superfluous coat.

No pills.

But there are keys. “I’m checking your car!”

“Don’t look under the driver’s seat.”

“More pornography?”

“Hey, in case I die, who’s the better author? Me or Deaver?”

“You’re not gonna die, Dad.”

“Yeah, but who’s the better author?”


“You are the worst daughter ever.”

“I was about to pick you!”

“I heard you pause!”

“If it helps, you make better Simon and Garfunkel chicken. Probably.”

“Oh, go steal his chicken!”

The stink of oil permeates the single-car garage. I search Dad’s forest green Corolla. In the glove compartment. Under the seats. (No, no dirty magazines, much less clowns.) Even within the covered spare tire well.

No pills. But the glove compartment contains Dad’s Bible.

Why’s this here?

Maybe he brought it to church? And he left the registration in the library’s Bible spot as a reminder to put it where the Bible is?

Or … he’s leaving stuff in the wrong places, but there’s an association between them?

Back to Dad, who’s still sweating. “Ursula, I feel funny.”

When he uses my full name, I know I’m in trouble. Or he is. “What kind of funny?”

“Clown funny.”

“Clowns aren’t funny.” Coulrophobia. It’s real.

“Funny as in their smell.”

“Their smell?”

“When they’re trapped in a clown car. In ninety-five degree summer heat. And found a week too late.”

Dad smiles. Maybe he’s coulrophobic, too. Maybe the 18-homicide wait for an ambulance is tolerable if the victims have red noses, wear ridiculously large shoes, and are packed in a much-too-tiny car.

“You feel funny as in … ?”

“Dizzy.” Even though he’s resting.

“Just lie still. You’ll be okay.” Gotta find those pills!

I scan the kitchen. Wastebasket?

Half full, so Dad hasn’t recently put out the garbage, and maybe his pill organizer. I dump the contents onto the white linoleum floor.

The man who has been misidentified as a grizzly twice — and shot with a tranquilizer dart once — growls, “I just swept that!”

“When you’re up and about, you can sweep it again. So you’ve got that to look forward to.”

As I study the spilled garbage, Dad mutters about haunting me.

Crumpled tissues.

A plastic container for chicken breasts.

Seven pill bottles. All empty.

“I’m checking the other cans.”

“Sure, dump them, too. Jump up and down on the contents. Really mash stuff into the carpeting.”

No pill organizer in the other wastebaskets.

In the bedroom, I rummage through his Victorian dresser. One drawer holds underwear and socks.

And a beard trimmer.

This should be in the bathroom.

The underwear should have been here.

He is switching things. Like the title of his last novel: The Ol’ Switcheroo.

I hustle back to Dad. “Do you take pills in the morning? Or evening?”

“Round the clock. Before meals. Schedule is …” He ruefully smiles.

“In the pill organizer.” My eyes scan the kitchen garbage, stopping at the plastic chicken container. “Dad … ?”

My face must light up, because Dad says, “Guess Jeffery Deaver’s writing that blurb. ‘Ursa is a brilliant mystery writer. And solver. She found Dad’s pills.’ But where?”

“You’re switching things, Dad. Your Bible and your car registration. Your underwear and beard trimmer. And you left the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme oddly on the kitchen table, where the pill organizer normally goes. But you don’t have a spice rack. So the spices go … ?”

“Kitchen cabinet right of the fridge!”

I pull that door open. “Bingo! One pill organizer. I’ll get water, and you can start imagining what Jeffery Deaver would say when I ask for a blurb.”

“That’s easy. He’d say, ‘What are you doing in my house?’”

I hand Dad a glass of water. “Maybe we should invite him here, then ask for the blurb. What do you think he’ll say?”

Dad swallows the medicine that will save his life. “Don’t know about the blurb. But if it goes poorly, he’ll say something like, ‘Why do you want me to step into this very red bathroom?’”

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  1. I laughed. I identified. With. A thoroughly enjoyable piece. It brightened my day.

  2. Good grief Mr. Castro, this may be the craziest story I’ve read here yet! Very well written, blending humor and shock at the same time. It’s also a cautionary tale about how important it is to keep one’s home well organized. Meanwhile. I have the lovely S & G classic ‘Scarborough Fair’ going round in my mind like a carousal. Thank you.


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