31 December 2012

Five Red Herrings IV

by Robert Lopresti 

1.  Scientists find cure for writer's block

Well, not really.  But my advice to anyone struggling for an idea: go to this collection of photographs captured by the Google Street View cameras.  Pick one at random, and write an explanation of what you are seeing, and what happened next.  Extra credit: start with one photo and finish with another.


2.  Word needed

There are wonderful terms for certain quirky errors of speech: spoonerisms, maleprops, mondegreens.  I suggest we need one for the weirdities that autocorrect and spellchecks occasionally throw our way.  Maybe: malcorrects?  For instance, I had a tough police chief unholster his gun.  Microsoft word suggested that he might upholster his gun instead.  Gave me a whole new insight into the guy.

3.  Rube Goldberg meets John Dillinger

If you don't read Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine website (and why not?) you probably missed this feature from Cracked Magazine: The Six Most Needlessly Overcomplicated Crimes Ever Planned.  Reminds me of a dream I had once about breaking a man out of prison by filling a fast food restaurant with Jell-o.  No, I have no idea how that was supposed to work.

4.  Her Little Corner

And while I am plugging websites I hope you are all reading Sandra Seamans' My Little Corner.  Not only intelligent commentary on the mystery field, but a great source of marketing information.


5. A glorious opportunity



Are you a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society?  Free to join.  All you have to do is subscribe to the list.  Join by the end of the year (that is, TODAY) and you can vote on the Derringer Award nominees in a few months.  Think of the power!  The glory!  The chance to read some really good stories.  Cheers.

30 December 2012

Snapshot Descriptions

by Louis A. Willis 

I had a difficult time finding a word to describe the kind of descriptions I’ll discuss in this post. It’s those short, sometimes one word, sometimes two or three, and sometimes a sentence or two, descriptions of characters and objects. I thought of calling them “generic,” but that didn’t seem quite right. I tried “minimal” but that seem too much like the minimalist school of art. How about “stock” descriptions like stock characters? No. Finally, lying in bed one night unable to sleep, it hit me: they are more like a photographic snapshot--short descriptions that leave an image in the memory for later reference.

The idea about such descriptions came to me while I was reading Trip Wire, a novel by Charlotte Carter, and read this description of Oscar, the father of one of the characters: “He was considerably shorter than his wife, but in his severe dark suit he cast a long shadow.” The wife’s height is never given, and Oscar’s face is never described. Whenever he is mentioned in connection with his estranged son Wilton, only his name is given, and I would see a short, severe man in my mind’s eye. 

Snapshot descriptions work best in short stories. For a look at how they work, I read a story from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine (Volume 1, No. 6, June 1975) and four stories in the May 2012 AHMM by SleuthSayer members. 

In “Manna From Heaven” a story by Edwin P. Hicks in McBain’s Mystery Magazine , one character, Deacon Joshua Jordan, describes his enemy Big Bill Yandell: “You’re a big man, Bill Yandell, a head taller and twenty pounds heavier than me.” Joshua is never described physically, so I had to picture Big Bill first and then imagine Joshua’s size. I imagined Big Bill as a six three to six five foot, 200 to 250 pound tight end, and Joshua as a five eleven to six foot, 180 to 230 pound line backer. The description worked so well that all the author had to do for me to see both men when they finally confronted each other  was use Big Bill’s name. 

The narrator in “Lewis and Clark” by John M. Floyd describes two bad guys through the eyes of one of the young protagonists. He turns at the sound of a voice and sees “two men in denim jackets, one wearing a cowboy hat and the other a mane of long red hair.” In this case, I referred in my memory to the old cowboy movies that I saw every Saturday at the Gem Theater when I was a kid. What I saw was one bad guy in a black hat and the other with no hat but with dirty red hair down to his neck, and the jackets were also dirty, having, maybe, not been washed in months. I even pictured both in muddy cowboy boots. 

In “Spring Break” by R. T. Lawton, a guy who is supposed to work with thieves in a Florida heist during spring break is “The Thin Guy.” More specifically and sinister, he is “That skinny undertaker,” just like the tall man in a black suit whom we kids would see sitting in a chair in front of Old Man Wheeler’s Funeral Home as we walked past on our way to the Gem Theater every Saturday to watch two cowboy features and a short, probably the Three Stooges. 







In “Wind Power” by Eve Fisher an older man panting after a younger woman “…dived into the dating ocean with all the grace of an aging walrus. Or maybe a bear with a potbelly, and, as you can see, a comb-over that rivals Donald Trump’s.” This is funny and better than merely saying a dirty old man chasing after women young enough to be his daughter. 

I have given examples of snapshots of characters, but they work as well for objects. In Robert Lopresti’s “Shanks Commences” the narrator describes a desk in the library as “a big antique desk,” kind of like the desk in my junior high school library. 

I like snapshot descriptions because they sneak up on you. Sometimes I don’t realize until I’ve finished a story that I didn’t get a full description of a character or an object but just enough to print an image in my memory bank.

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

29 December 2012

Amateur Night

by Elizabeth Zelvin

The winner of last week's drawing for a signed copy of John Floyd's short story collection, Midnight, is Vicki Kennedy. Vicki, please email your mailing address to velma(at)secretary(dot)net so John can send you the book.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have a special name for New Year’s Eve. They call it Amateur Night. It’s the night when everybody else goes out and tries to behave like genuine drunks. Being amateurs, of course they fall short.
They drink ghastly punch with sweet juices and chemical sodas and who knows what ill-conceived combination of hard liquor, cheap champagne, and cloying liqueurs thrown in. They throw up and pass out. No self-respecting alcoholic who values his or her sobriety would be caught dead out on Amateur Night. Who needs New Year’s Eve? As my protagonist Bruce says in Death Will Get You Sober, it’s a holiday with no traditions whatsoever, apart from getting blitzed and counting backwards from ten. Glad to let everybody else make fools of themselves, recovering folks may stay home or drop in on one of the AA meeting marathons that offer round-the-clock support on major holidays to those who have chosen living over drinking.

Most working people get the holidays off, including Christmas and New Year’s. A friend of ours used to count it as the busiest time of his working year. Was he a caterer? A salesman at Walmart? Nope.
He was a blood tech in the emergency room of a hospital. Around midnight, when his shift began, on Christmas Eve and again on New Year’s Eve, they would start wheeling in the bodies. Statistics confirm that alcohol-related traffic deaths soar on New Year’s Eve.

Cars are not a big issue in Manhattan, where I live. But the noise on the streets long past midnight and the increased number of passengers being sick on the subway make New Year’s Eve a good time to stay home. Since the kids, now long grown up and moved out, started making their own plans for the evening, we’ve usually made ourselves an elegant dinner to eat by candlelight. Manhattan! you may say. Don’t you ever go to Times Square to watch the ball drop? Nope. Never.


My son went once, I think it was his first year in college. Wisely, he neither asked my permission nor told me he’d gone till New Year’s Day. With typical city-kid aplomb, he reported: “It was one-third tourists, one-third college kids, and one-third muggers—and even the muggers were friendly.”

One reason to go out on New Year’s Eve in the past was that it was a rare opportunity to dress up, whether for a party or dinner in a fancy restaurant, in our increasingly dress-down culture. Since I became a mystery writer, I no longer need that excuse. The holiday parties of the organizations I belong to, MWA and Sisters in Crime, are long past, having taken place early in December out of concern for people’s crowded holiday calendars. At MWA events, they even tell guests to “dress to kill.” And nobody even gets hurt.

So two nights from now my husband and I will finish our delicious home-cooked meal, get into our jammies, and may or may not turn on the TV. And at midnight when the ball drops and all the frostbitten tourists (and college kids and muggers) sing Auld Lang Syne, we will probably be fast asleep.

28 December 2012

Five Years to a Cactus Christmas





























by Dixon Hill

For those of you who had a white Christmas:  We salute you!

Because we never do.  Well . . . almost never.  After all, we (my family and I) live in the Sonoran Desert.  A great place, in my opinion.  But, not a location that gets a lot of snow.

As a kid, I always dreamed of a white Christmas.  And, one year, my friends and I were overjoyed to discover that we'd finally gotten one!  On Christmas morning, we discovered the ground covered with a thin layer of sparkling stuff that HAD TO BE SNOW!  Right up until our parents explained that it was actually just frost on the grass.  Oh, well.

My kids keep up the tradition, however.  Quentin, our 9-year-old son, being the latest to lament snow's absence.  And to opine that he's never even seen the stuff, because we -- his parents -- are too cruel to drive him a couple-hundred miles up to the northern regions of our state during the winter months.

Some things never change.

But some things do change, and you wish they hadn't.

Back when I was a kid, there was a house four or five miles away, with three Saguaro (pronounced "su-hwar-roe) cactus in the front yard.

My dad drove us past, every Christmas, to see those cactii, which the owners always turned into The Three Wise Cactus (seen right).

Unfortunately, the house sold several years ago, and the new owners don't keep the tradition.  The Valley is poorer for its absence, in my opinion.  If we ever have the wherewithall to own both house and import three mature Saguaros, the Wise Cactus will ride again.

But, don't hold your breath.

It's been an interesting holiday season here.

To start with:  We managed to get the homestead decorated.

Inside my wife and kids put up the tree.

Outside, I got the Christmas lights running along the front of the house until, at the far end, they dropped onto the orange tree in the corner of the yard -- where I changed the lights from multi-color to white, in honor of Dan Pitzer (more about him below).  And, since our Holiday Penguin sidewalk lights finally bit the dust over summer, I splurged on a 7-foot length of snowflake lights that I hung across the roof eave over the front entryway.

The street sign that sits in the front corner of our yard, a few feet from the orange tree, has been festooned with Ornaments (you can't see 'em in the picture, but they're there!), and the pole holding it up is wrapped in shiny red and green garland, topped with a large red bow.  Everything is capped off (or made much more garish, depending on your point of view) by a large pinebranch wreath (I bought it off the Boy Scouts at church) mounted on the column arch nearest the entryway.

Of course, I still couldn't figure out what to do with the small hay bale and uncarved pumpkin we had left hanging around after Halloween and Thanksgiving.  So, I left those out front, thinking maybe the Druids would like it.  I don't know.

For a short while, I did contemplate using a piece of string to hang the pumpkin from the eaves, by its stem, as sort of a "natural ornament," however visions of Quentin and his friends grabbing bats to play a quick round of "Pumpkin Pinata" put a quick end to such ruminations.

About a week before Christmas, the fuse that controlled the 220-volt electricity for our drier blew out, taking a chunk of the busbar with it.  And, this morning, I lost all power in my home office -- located where a previous owner (whom a buddy of mine calls "The Handyman from Hell") walled-in the carport, and ran all the wiring through the outlet reset button he installed in the bathroom he built there.

That's right.  The guy built a two-room apartment, plus bathroom and kitchenette, and ran all the wiring through a reset button in a bathroom outlet.  But, to give credit where it's due, it worked fine -- right up until the busbar in the main fusebox blew up.  LOL

Which is why, as I'm writing this, my computer is powered by a 100-foot extension cable I've run over from the house.  It's also why I'm wearing a coat and have a blanket over my legs, where they stick out below my shorts (and I really wish I could see my keyboard).  But, these hardships pale in comparison to those being suffered by so many others, this holiday season, and past seasons, which brings me back to explaining why I put little white lights on our orange tree at Christmas time.

I met Dan Pitzer at SERE School.

Sgt. Major Dan Pitzer long before I met him.
SERE stands for Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape.  The real name of the course is:: "The SERE 'High Risk' C Course", and it's considered "High Risk" in psychological terms (I still can't remember the bank account PIN I used for five years before I went through the course; it just vanished from my head.).  Well, maybe there is some physical risk, too, since you do things like putting a thing on your arm and getting attacked by an attack dog, so you can learn the best way to handle such a situation -- and what NOT to do.  You also practice negotiating some large, tall obstacles, similar to walls, with broken, jagged concrete chunks lying about on the ground, thirty feet or so below -- not a healthy place to fall..

This is the course that concludes with a "laboratory" in which you get turned loose, with two or three other soldiers, on an Escape and Evasion Lane.  You spend a few days, with no rations or equipment, except a map and compass, working your way cross-country to a specific location, while trying to avoid soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division who are out there trying to "capture" you.

When you finally reach the grid coordinates in question, of course, instead of being "rescued" you get captured and taken to a POW camp that's been built out near Camp MacKall, NC.  And, this is what you've really come here for.  This is the thing you've been sitting in classes, over the past few weeks, studying to prepare do deal with.

Because this is where you're going to get tortured, beaten, brainwashed and interrogated.  Which is what puts the psychological "High Risk" stamp on the course.

Fun stuff.

And, this is where I met Dan Pitzer, because he was a civilian instructor at the school.

Back when he was a young sergeant in Viet Nam, on October 29th, 1963 to be precise, Dan was captured by the Viet Cong -- along with Colonel  "Nick" Rowe, a name that's probably familiar to some of you.  I met Dan at SERE School, but I'd known who he was for long time.  Because, I'd read about him in Col. Rowe's book Five Years to Freedom.

Dan Pitzer was held in the jungle -- usually in a small cage -- tortured and mistreated by the VC, until he managed to be released on 11 November, 1967.

Years later, when the army asked Col. Rowe to help design its new SERE Course, the colonel brought Dan on board to help out.  And, that's where I met the guy.  He taught several classes to us, explaining in great detail what he had dealt with as a POW, warning us against the pitfalls he had seen others fall to, and giving us tips on how to make it through, if we ever wound up in a similar situation.

Dan Pitzer bared his soul to us, in those sessions.  His words were deep and brimming.  He shared many things with us, but one of the most poignant (and I can't do it justice here) was this one:

Dan told us a personal Christmas story

It happened one dark night, when he had reached his lowest ebb as a prisoner, heartbroken and dejected.

Among other things, he'd been left naked against the mosquitoes -- again! -- as punishment for some small infraction.  And now he lay huddled in his cage, being bitten continuously . . . when he looked up.

About six feet away, he saw a beautiful Christmas tree.  It was all lit up with white lights, winking on and off. He stared at it, wondering how this Christmas tree had come to him, in the middle of the jungle, on Christmas Eve.  Oh, God, he silently asked himself, Have I finally gone mad?

And then, he realized:  He was looking at fireflies -- hundreds of them -- collected on a nearby bush.  They had collected in an inverted V-shape, just like a Christmas tree.

In SERE School, they constantly stress the importance of "The Little Victory Each Day Brings."  For Dan Pitzer, that Christmas tree made of fireflies gave him the "Little Victory" he needed that Christmas Eve -- a victory that healed his heart and steeled his mind, enabling him to live through the rest of his captivity, and emerge whole.

After his release, he made it a practice to always fill the tree in his front yard with little white lights each Christmas, to remind him of that tree.  To pay homage to it, and to the way it had come to him.  And in honor for any POW being held far from home in enemy land.

Dan is gone, now.  But, that's why I carry on the tradition -- as do several men I know -- in honor of our mentor Dan Pitzer.  And for any POW being held far from home, in an enemy land.  Perhaps the loneliest existence known to humankind.


See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

27 December 2012

A Different Story about Santa

 by Deborah Elliott-Upton  I enjoy discovering a new-to-me story and wanted to share this one with our readers as my last gift of 2012 to you all. (I am so glad the Mayan thing was wrong!) Everyone, enjoy the story, count your blessings and we'll see you next year! -- Deborah
  A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the big, rambling castle in which his toys are manufactured. His workmen, selected from the ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, live with him, and every one is as busy as can be from one year's end to another. It is called the Laughing Valley because everything there is happy and gay. The brook chuckles to itself as it leaps rollicking between its green banks; the wind whistles merrily in the trees; the sunbeams dance lightly over the soft grass, and the violets and wild flowers look smilingly up from their green nests. To laugh one needs to be happy; to be happy one needs to be content. And throughout the Laughing Valley of Santa Claus contentment reigns supreme. On one side is the mighty Forest of Burzee. At the other side stands the huge mountain that contains the Caves of the Daemons. And between them the Valley lies smiling and peaceful. One would think that our good old Santa Claus, who devotes his days to making children happy, would have no enemies on all the earth; and, as a matter of fact, for a long period of time he encountered nothing but love wherever he might go. But the Daemons who live in the mountain caves grew to hate Santa Claus very much, and all for the simple reason that he made children happy. The Caves of the Daemons are five in number. A broad pathway leads up to the first cave, which is a finely arched cavern at the foot of the mountain, the entrance being beautifully carved and decorated. In it resides the Daemon of Selfishness. Back of this is another cavern inhabited by the Daemon of Envy. The cave of the Daemon of Hatred is next in order, and through this one passes to the home of the Daemon of Malice--situated in a dark and fearful cave in the very heart of the mountain. I do not know what lies beyond this. Some say there are terrible pitfalls leading to death and destruction, and this may very well be true. However, from each one of the four caves mentioned there is a small, narrow tunnel leading to the fifth cave--a cozy little room occupied by the Daemon of Repentance. And as the rocky floors of these passages are well worn by the track of passing feet, I judge that many wanderers in the Caves of the Daemons have escaped through the tunnels to the abode of the Daemon of Repentance, who is said to be a pleasant sort of fellow who gladly opens for one a little door admitting you into fresh air and sunshine again. Well, these Daemons of the Caves, thinking they had great cause to dislike old Santa Claus, held a meeting one day to discuss the matter. "I'm really getting lonesome," said the Daemon of Selfishness. "For Santa Claus distributes so many pretty Christmas gifts to all the children that they become happy and generous, through his example, and keep away from my cave." "I'm having the same trouble," rejoined the Daemon of Envy. "The little ones seem quite content with Santa Claus, and there are few, indeed, that I can coax to become envious." "And that makes it bad for me!" declared the Daemon of Hatred. "For if no children pass through the Caves of Selfishness and Envy, none can get to MY cavern." "Or to mine," added the Daemon of Malice. "For my part," said the Daemon of Repentance, "it is easily seen that if children do not visit your caves they have no need to visit mine; so that I am quite as neglected as you are." "And all because of this person they call Santa Claus!" exclaimed the Daemon of Envy. "He is simply ruining our business, and something must be done at once." To this they readily agreed; but what to do was another and more difficult matter to settle. They knew that Santa Claus worked all through the year at his castle in the Laughing Valley, preparing the gifts he was to distribute on Christmas Eve; and at first they resolved to try to tempt him into their caves, that they might lead him on to the terrible pitfalls that ended in destruction. So the very next day, while Santa Claus was busily at work, surrounded by his little band of assistants, the Daemon of Selfishness came to him and said: "These toys are wonderfully bright and pretty. Why do you not keep them for yourself? It's a pity to give them to those noisy boys and fretful girls, who break and destroy them so quickly." "Nonsense!" cried the old graybeard, his bright eyes twinkling merrily as he turned toward the tempting Daemon. "The boys and girls are never so noisy and fretful after receiving my presents, and if I can make them happy for one day in the year I am quite content." So the Daemon went back to the others, who awaited him in their caves, and said: "I have failed, for Santa Claus is not at all selfish." The following day the Daemon of Envy visited Santa Claus. Said he: "The toy shops are full of playthings quite as pretty as those you are making. What a shame it is that they should interfere with your business! They make toys by machinery much quicker than you can make them by hand; and they sell them for money, while you get nothing at all for your work." But Santa Claus refused to be envious of the toy shops. "I can supply the little ones but once a year--on Christmas Eve," he answered; "for the children are many, and I am but one. And as my work is one of love and kindness I would be ashamed to receive money for my little gifts. But throughout all the year the children must be amused in some way, and so the toy shops are able to bring much happiness to my little friends. I like the toy shops, and am glad to see them prosper." In spite of the second rebuff, the Daemon of Hatred thought he would try to influence Santa Claus. So the next day he entered the busy workshop and said: "Good morning, Santa! I have bad news for you." "Then run away, like a good fellow," answered Santa Claus. "Bad news is something that should be kept secret and never told." "You cannot escape this, however," declared the Daemon; "for in the world are a good many who do not believe in Santa Claus, and these you are bound to hate bitterly, since they have so wronged you." "Stuff and rubbish!" cried Santa. "And there are others who resent your making children happy and who sneer at you and call you a foolish old rattlepate! You are quite right to hate such base slanderers, and you ought to be revenged upon them for their evil words." "But I don't hate 'em!" exclaimed Santa Claus positively. "Such people do me no real harm, but merely render themselves and their children unhappy. Poor things! I'd much rather help them any day than injure them." Indeed, the Daemons could not tempt old Santa Claus in any way. On the contrary, he was shrewd enough to see that their object in visiting him was to make mischief and trouble, and his cheery laughter disconcerted the evil ones and showed to them the folly of such an undertaking. So they abandoned honeyed words and determined to use force. It was well known that no harm can come to Santa Claus while he is in the Laughing Valley, for the fairies, and ryls, and knooks all protect him. But on Christmas Eve he drives his reindeer out into the big world, carrying a sleighload of toys and pretty gifts to the children; and this was the time and the occasion when his enemies had the best chance to injure him. So the Daemons laid their plans and awaited the arrival of Christmas Eve. The moon shone big and white in the sky, and the snow lay crisp and sparkling on the ground as Santa Claus cracked his whip and sped away out of the Valley into the great world beyond. The roomy sleigh was packed full with huge sacks of toys, and as the reindeer dashed onward our jolly old Santa laughed and whistled and sang for very joy. For in all his merry life this was the one day in the year when he was happiest--the day he lovingly bestowed the treasures of his workshop upon the little children. It would be a busy night for him, he well knew. As he whistled and shouted and cracked his whip again, he reviewed in mind all the towns and cities and farmhouses where he was expected, and figured that he had just enough presents to go around and make every child happy. The reindeer knew exactly what was expected of them, and dashed along so swiftly that their feet scarcely seemed to touch the snow-covered ground. Suddenly a strange thing happened: a rope shot through the moonlight and a big noose that was in the end of it settled over the arms and body of Santa Claus and drew tight. Before he could resist or even cry out he was jerked from the seat of the sleigh and tumbled head foremost into a snowbank, while the reindeer rushed onward with the load of toys and carried it quickly out of sight and sound. Such a surprising experience confused old Santa for a moment, and when he had collected his senses he found that the wicked Daemons had pulled him from the snowdrift and bound him tightly with many coils of the stout rope. And then they carried the kidnapped Santa Claus away to their mountain, where they thrust the prisoner into a secret cave and chained him to the rocky wall so that he could not escape. "Ha, ha!" laughed the Daemons, rubbing their hands together with cruel glee. "What will the children do now? How they will cry and scold and storm when they find there are no toys in their stockings and no gifts on their Christmas trees! And what a lot of punishment they will receive from their parents, and how they will flock to our Caves of Selfishness, and Envy, and Hatred, and Malice! We have done a mighty clever thing, we Daemons of the Caves!" Now it so chanced that on this Christmas Eve the good Santa Claus had taken with him in his sleigh Nuter the Ryl, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie, and a small fairy named Wisk--his four favorite assistants. These little people he had often found very useful in helping him to distribute his gifts to the children, and when their master was so suddenly dragged from the sleigh they were all snugly tucked underneath the seat, where the sharp wind could not reach them. The tiny immortals knew nothing of the capture of Santa Claus until some time after he had disappeared. But finally they missed his cheery voice, and as their master always sang or whistled on his journeys, the silence warned them that something was wrong. Little Wisk stuck out his head from underneath the seat and found Santa Claus gone and no one to direct the flight of the reindeer. "Whoa!" he called out, and the deer obediently slackened speed and came to a halt. Peter and Nuter and Kilter all jumped upon the seat and looked back over the track made by the sleigh. But Santa Claus had been left miles and miles behind. "What shall we do?" asked Wisk anxiously, all the mirth and mischief banished from his wee face by this great calamity. "We must go back at once and find our master," said Nuter the Ryl, who thought and spoke with much deliberation. "No, no!" exclaimed Peter the Knook, who, cross and crabbed though he was, might always be depended upon in an emergency. "If we delay, or go back, there will not be time to get the toys to the children before morning; and that would grieve Santa Claus more than anything else." "It is certain that some wicked creatures have captured him," added Kilter thoughtfully, "and their object must be to make the children unhappy. So our first duty is to get the toys distributed as carefully as if Santa Claus were himself present. Afterward we can search for our master and easily secure his freedom." This seemed such good and sensible advice that the others at once resolved to adopt it. So Peter the Knook called to the reindeer, and the faithful animals again sprang forward and dashed over hill and valley, through forest and plain, until they came to the houses wherein children lay sleeping and dreaming of the pretty gifts they would find on Christmas morning. The little immortals had set themselves a difficult task; for although they had assisted Santa Claus on many of his journeys, their master had always directed and guided them and told them exactly what he wished them to do. But now they had to distribute the toys according to their own judgment, and they did not understand children as well as did old Santa. So it is no wonder they made some laughable errors. Mamie Brown, who wanted a doll, got a drum instead; and a drum is of no use to a girl who loves dolls. And Charlie Smith, who delights to romp and play out of doors, and who wanted some new rubber boots to keep his feet dry, received a sewing box filled with colored worsteds and threads and needles, which made him so provoked that he thoughtlessly called our dear Santa Claus a fraud. Had there been many such mistakes the Daemons would have accomplished their evil purpose and made the children unhappy. But the little friends of the absent Santa Claus labored faithfully and intelligently to carry out their master's ideas, and they made fewer errors than might be expected under such unusual circumstances. And, although they worked as swiftly as possible, day had begun to break before the toys and other presents were all distributed; so for the first time in many years the reindeer trotted into the Laughing Valley, on their return, in broad daylight, with the brilliant sun peeping over the edge of the forest to prove they were far behind their accustomed hours. Having put the deer in the stable, the little folk began to wonder how they might rescue their master; and they realized they must discover, first of all, what had happened to him and where he was. So Wisk the Fairy transported himself to the bower of the Fairy Queen, which was located deep in the heart of the Forest of Burzee; and once there, it did not take him long to find out all about the naughty Daemons and how they had kidnapped the good Santa Claus to prevent his making children happy. The Fairy Queen also promised her assistance, and then, fortified by this powerful support, Wisk flew back to where Nuter and Peter and Kilter awaited him, and the four counseled together and laid plans to rescue their master from his enemies. It is possible that Santa Claus was not as merry as usual during the night that succeeded his capture. For although he had faith in the judgment of his little friends he could not avoid a certain amount of worry, and an anxious look would creep at times into his kind old eyes as he thought of the disappointment that might await his dear little children. And the Daemons, who guarded him by turns, one after another, did not neglect to taunt him with contemptuous words in his helpless condition. When Christmas Day dawned the Daemon of Malice was guarding the prisoner, and his tongue was sharper than that of any of the others. "The children are waking up, Santa!" he cried. "They are waking up to find their stockings empty! Ho, ho! How they will quarrel, and wail, and stamp their feet in anger! Our caves will be full today, old Santa! Our caves are sure to be full!" But to this, as to other like taunts, Santa Claus answered nothing. He was much grieved by his capture, it is true; but his courage did not forsake him. And, finding that the prisoner would not reply to his jeers, the Daemon of Malice presently went away, and sent the Daemon of Repentance to take his place. This last personage was not so disagreeable as the others. He had gentle and refined features, and his voice was soft and pleasant in tone. "My brother Daemons do not trust me overmuch," said he, as he entered the cavern; "but it is morning, now, and the mischief is done. You cannot visit the children again for another year." "That is true," answered Santa Claus, almost cheerfully; "Christmas Eve is past, and for the first time in centuries I have not visited my children." "The little ones will be greatly disappointed," murmured the Daemon of Repentance, almost regretfully; "but that cannot be helped now. Their grief is likely to make the children selfish and envious and hateful, and if they come to the Caves of the Daemons today I shall get a chance to lead some of them to my Cave of Repentance." "Do you never repent, yourself?" asked Santa Claus, curiously. "Oh, yes, indeed," answered the Daemon. "I am even now repenting that I assisted in your capture. Of course it is too late to remedy the evil that has been done; but repentance, you know, can come only after an evil thought or deed, for in the beginning there is nothing to repent of." "So I understand," said Santa Claus. "Those who avoid evil need never visit your cave." "As a rule, that is true," replied the Daemon; "yet you, who have done no evil, are about to visit my cave at once; for to prove that I sincerely regret my share in your capture I am going to permit you to escape." This speech greatly surprised the prisoner, until he reflected that it was just what might be expected of the Daemon of Repentance. The fellow at once busied himself untying the knots that bound Santa Claus and unlocking the chains that fastened him to the wall. Then he led the way through a long tunnel until they both emerged in the Cave of Repentance. "I hope you will forgive me," said the Daemon pleadingly. "I am not really a bad person, you know; and I believe I accomplish a great deal of good in the world." With this he opened a back door that let in a flood of sunshine, and Santa Claus sniffed the fresh air gratefully. "I bear no malice," said he to the Daemon, in a gentle voice; "and I am sure the world would be a dreary place without you. So, good morning, and a Merry Christmas to you!" With these words he stepped out to greet the bright morning, and a moment later he was trudging along, whistling softly to himself, on his way to his home in the Laughing Valley. Marching over the snow toward the mountain was a vast army, made up of the most curious creatures imaginable. There were numberless knooks from the forest, as rough and crooked in appearance as the gnarled branches of the trees they ministered to. And there were dainty ryls from the fields, each one bearing the emblem of the flower or plant it guarded. Behind these were many ranks of pixies, gnomes and nymphs, and in the rear a thousand beautiful fairies floated along in gorgeous array. This wonderful army was led by Wisk, Peter, Nuter, and Kilter, who had assembled it to rescue Santa Claus from captivity and to punish the Daemons who had dared to take him away from his beloved children. And, although they looked so bright and peaceful, the little immortals were armed with powers that would be very terrible to those who had incurred their anger. Woe to the Daemons of the Caves if this mighty army of vengeance ever met them! But lo! coming to meet his loyal friends appeared the imposing form of Santa Claus, his white beard floating in the breeze and his bright eyes sparkling with pleasure at this proof of the love and veneration he had inspired in the hearts of the most powerful creatures in existence. And while they clustered around him and danced with glee at his safe return, he gave them earnest thanks for their support. But Wisk, and Nuter, and Peter, and Kilter, he embraced affectionately. "It is useless to pursue the Daemons," said Santa Claus to the army. "They have their place in the world, and can never be destroyed. But that is a great pity, nevertheless," he continued musingly. So the fairies, and knooks, and pixies, and ryls all escorted the good man to his castle, and there left him to talk over the events of the night with his little assistants. Wisk had already rendered himself invisible and flown through the big world to see how the children were getting along on this bright Christmas morning; and by the time he returned, Peter had finished telling Santa Claus of how they had distributed the toys. "We really did very well," cried the fairy, in a pleased voice; "for I found little unhappiness among the children this morning. Still, you must not get captured again, my dear master; for we might not be so fortunate another time in carrying out your ideas." He then related the mistakes that had been made, and which he had not discovered until his tour of inspection. And Santa Claus at once sent him with rubber boots for Charlie Smith, and a doll for Mamie Brown; so that even those two disappointed ones became happy. As for the wicked Daemons of the Caves, they were filled with anger and chagrin when they found that their clever capture of Santa Claus had come to naught. Indeed, no one on that Christmas Day appeared to be at all selfish, or envious, or hateful. And, realizing that while the children's saint had so many powerful friends it was folly to oppose him, the Daemons never again attempted to interfere with his journeys on Christmas Eve.

26 December 2012

Boxing Day Special

by Robert Lopresti

It is December 26th, Boxing Day, the Day of Christmas Past, and I am guessing you are not looking for intense intellectual stimulation.  No, you are suffering from figgy pudding bloat and egg nog hangover, and would probably prefer something light.  I aim to please.

Take a look at the wonderful gifties your friends have provided you this holiday season.  Perhaps you are now thinking "before next year I have to get a better class of friends."

Now, now.  Behave yourself.  Consider what they could have imposed on you instead.  At these pages here and here you will find hundreds of actual books that are (or were) available for purchase.  And yet they didn't give you any of them.  For example:



Looking at these classics you did not unwrap may make those chartreuse socks look better by comparison, I hope.  Happy holidays, folks.

25 December 2012

Joy To The World

by David Dean


MY BEST WISHES FOR A JOYOUS DAY AND A HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO MY FELLOW SLEUTHSAYERS AND ALL OUR READERS!

AND A SPECIAL PRAYER FOR THE FAMILIES OF THE SLAIN CHILDREN AND TEACHERS IN NEWTOWN THAT, SOMEDAY, JOY MIGHT ENTER THEIR LIVES AGAIN.

24 December 2012

Copping Out

by Fran Rizer


It's Christmas Eve, and I'm far too busy to write a blog today, but when bloggers simply use their column to pass along something they received in email, I think they are copping out. I self-righteously say, "I would NEVER do that!" I also feel disappointed (read that as "cheated") when the blog is very, very short. From all those years of teaching, I have a tendency to want to work lessons into my writing.  I fight that, but there may be a lesson here.  It's this:

NEVER say NEVER because here's my short, short blog taken from an email one of Callie's fans sent me.


During an interview with Walter Edgar on SCETV public radio, he mentioned sex in the Callie Parrish mysteries. I immediately told him, "Walter, I believe you're confusing sex with underwear." As some of you know, my protagonist Callie Parrish abstains during the first several books, but she does talk about her inflatable bras and trips to Victoria's Secret with her sidekick Jane. Who can blame her? Callie's bra actually saves her life in one of the books. For that reason, Callie's fans send me all kinds of emails and advertisements about bras. This one made me laugh so hard that if I'd been Dixon, my cigar would have shot out of my mouth, so I'm sharing it with SS readers.


What Religion is That Bra?

A man walks into Victoria's Secret and shyly walks up to the woman behind the counter
.

"I'd like to buy a bra for my wife," he says.

"What type of bra?" asks the clerk.

"Type?" inquires the man, "There's more than one type?"

"Look around," the saleslady says as she waves her arm toward a sea of bras in every shape, size, color and material imaginable!

"Actually," she says, "even with all of this variety, there are really only four types of bras to choose from."

Relieved, the man asks about the types. The clerk replies, "There are the Catholic, the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian, and the Baptist. Which one would you prefer?"

Now totally befuddled, the man asks, "What's the difference?"

The saleslady responds, "It's really quite simple...

"The Catholic type supports the masses; the Salvation Army type lifts the fallen; the Presbyterian type keeps them staunch and upright; and the Baptist makes mountains out of mole hills."

When I was a little girl, my daddy told me ladies never talk about sex, politics, or religion because they might offend people. This is not about sex, but if the religions mentioned offend you, please don't take it personally. I've been Baptist and Catholic, and I sometimes ring the bell in front of Wal*mart.

The Alphabet

Have you ever wondered why A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, G, and H are the letters used to define bra sizes? If you have pondered this, but couldn't figure out what the letters stood for, it's about time you learn.
Just like people, bras come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
(Leigh, please note the lovely white mats I've
used on my clips.)
 
  • {A} Almost Boobs...
  • {B} Barely there...
  • {C} Can't Complain!....
  • {D} Dang!...
  • {DD} Double dang!......
  • {E} Enormous!...
  • {F} Fake...
  • {G} Get a Reduction...
  • {H} Help me, I've fallen And I can't get up!


If I've offended anyone now, I apologize, but if so, it's not the first time and certainly won't be the last. Right now, I've got to consider whether or not to change the name of this blog from Copping Out to Cupping  Out.

On a more serious note, may the holidays be peaceful and joyful for each of you regardless of your religion.
 
If you have to do any last minute shopping, let this
 tree of ladies' lingerie and accessories
remind you that females enjoy receiving
these items as gifts during the holiday season.


 

23 December 2012

Literary Mystery

by Leigh Lundin

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway, 1927
Here's sort of a Christmas gift, a famous author's award-winning story, four times turned into film and the subject of stage plays. Despite reams of reviews and scholarly study guides, I find it deeply dissatisfying. But, thanks to other clues left by a 16-year-old boy, that may be alleviated.

SleuthSayers from time to time discusses literary fiction versus genre. The topic brings me back to an Ernest Hemingway story, The Killers, a Nick Adams ugly-truth coming-of-age. It's sort of Waiting for Godot with Guns, a nothing-much-happens character study.

It contains details critics love and genre readers don't care about: George, not Henry, runs Henry's diner. Mrs. Hirsch, not Mrs. Bell, runs Mrs. Bell's boarding house. It's a parable, see.

The dialogue is casually racist, which raises a question: Is it a product of its times or is Hemingway revealing something else about Sam, the only character with on-point instincts?

The problem for crime writers and mystery readers is that the plot doesn't go anywhere. Nick, George, and Sam don't do anything clever to thwart the hit men. Indeed, they have less sense of self-preservation than a mussel drying on the beach. The Swede has even less.

We don't know why the Swede's life's threatened, why he doesn't care, why the killers do, why they don't report it to the police, or why the landlady employs a surrogate, because we're at a disadvantage. Readers at the time might have recognized a tantalizing clue in the Swede's name: Andreson. Months earlier, the Chicago mob killed a popular boxer of the time, Andre Anderson who'd once knocked Jack Dempsey off his feet. Clever word play.

For a man of action, Hemingway put a lot of menace but remarkably little action into the plot. He once said he'd omitted most of the tale: "That story probably had more left out of it than anything I ever wrote."

Joe Gans
the real Joe Gans
The Hidden Back-story

In other words, classic literary fiction. But Hemingway kept a secret from the world at large. When he was 16, he wrote short fiction for his Illinois Oak Park High School literary magazine, The Tabula. 'A Matter of Colour' featured one of the earliest of his boxing themes: in this corner, the challenger and great white hope, Montana Dan Morgan, versus the first black World Lightweight Champion, Joe Gans (an actual historical boxer). When Morgan injures his right fist– he has no left to speak of– his manager, Jim O’Rourke, takes matters into his own hands and hires 'The Swede' to shut down Joe Gans.

The boxing ring backs against a drape. O’Rourke expects Morgan to force Gans against the curtain where the Swede, standing by with a baseball bat, is paid to conk Joe Gans, knocking him out. Except the Swede is colorblind (I know, I know, bear with me) and bops Morgan instead. It's a small step to imagine retaliation for the bungling, manager O’Rourke or the local Chicago mob to take out a contract on the Swede.

At last we have a glimmer why killers were after the Swede. With that back-story, read on. It's a bit early but, pardon the pun, happy boxing day.

The Killers

by Ernest Hemingway
The door of Henry's lunchroom opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter.
"What's yours?" George asked them.
"I don't know," one of the men said. "What do you want to eat, Al?"
"I don't know," said Al. "I don't know what I want to eat."
Outside it was getting dark. The street-light came on outside the window. The two men at the counter read the menu. From the other end of the counter Nick Adams watched them. He had been talking to George when they came in.
"I'll have a roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes," the first man said.
"It isn't ready yet."
"What the hell do you put it on the card for?"
"That's the dinner," George explained. "You can get that at six o'clock."
George looked at the clock on the wall behind the counter.
"It's five o'clock."
"The clock says twenty minutes past five," the second man said.
"It's twenty minutes fast."
"Oh, to hell with the clock," the first man said. "What have you got to eat?"
"I can give you any kind of sandwiches," George said. "You can have ham and eggs, bacon and eggs, liver and bacon, or a steak."
"Give me chicken croquettes with green peas and cream sauce and mashed potatoes."
"That's the dinner."
"Everything we want's the dinner, eh? That's the way you work it."
"I can give you ham and eggs, bacon and eggs, liver----"
"I'll take ham and eggs," the man called Al said. He wore a derby hat and a black overcoat buttoned across the chest. His face was small and white and he had tight lips. He wore a silk muffler and gloves.
"Give me bacon and eggs," said the other man. He was about the same size as Al. Their faces were different, but they were dressed like twins. Both wore overcoats too tight for them. They sat leaning forward, their elbows on the counter.
"Got anything to drink?" Al asked.
"Silver beer, bevo, ginger-ale," George said.
"I mean you got anything to drink?"
"Just those I said."
"This is a hot town," said the other. "What do they call it?"
"Summit."
"Ever hear of it?" Al asked his friend.
"No," said the friend.
"What do you do here nights?" Al asked.
"They eat the dinner," his friend said. "They all come here and eat the big dinner."
"That's right," George said.
"So you think that's right?" Al asked George.
"Sure."
"You're a pretty bright boy, aren't you?"
"Sure," said George.
"Well, you're not," said the other little man. "Is he, Al?"
"He's dumb," said Al. He turned to Nick. "What's your name?"
"Adams."
"Another bright boy," Al said. "Ain't he a bright boy, Max?"
"The town's full of bright boys," Max said.
George put the two platters, one of ham and eggs, the other of bacon and eggs, on the counter. He set down two side-dishes of fried potatoes and closed the wicket into the kitchen.
"Which is yours?" he asked Al.
"Don't you remember?"
"Ham and eggs."
"Just a bright boy," Max said. He leaned forward and took the ham and eggs. Both men ate with their gloves on. George watched them eat.
"What are you looking at?" Max looked at George.
"Nothing."
"The hell you were. You were looking at me."
"Maybe the boy meant it for a joke, Max," Al said.
George laughed.
"You don't have to laugh," Max said to him. "You don't have to laugh at all, see?"
"All right," said George.
"So he thinks it's all right." Max turned to Al. "He thinks it's all right. That's a good one."
"Oh, he's a thinker," Al said. They went on eating.
"What's the bright boy's name down the counter?" Al asked Max.
"Hey, bright boy," Max said to Nick. "You go around on the other side of the counter with your boy friend."
"What's the idea?" Nick asked.
"There isn't any idea."
"You better go around, bright boy," Al said. Nick went around behind the counter.
"What's the idea?" George asked.
"None of your damn business," Al said. "Who's out in the kitchen?"
"The nigger."
"What do you mean the nigger?"
"The nigger that cooks."
"Tell him to come in."
"What's the idea?"
"Tell him to come in."
"Where do you think you are?"
"We know damn well where we are," the man called Max said. "Do we look silly?"
"You talk silly," Al said to him. "What the hell do you argue with this kid for? Listen," he said to George, "tell the nigger to come out here."
"What are you going to do to him?"
"Nothing. Use your head, bright boy. What would we do to a nigger?"
George opened the slit that opened back into the kitchen. "Sam," he called. "Come in here a minute."
The door to the kitchen opened and the nigger came in. "What was it?" he asked. The two men at the counter took a look at him.
"All right, nigger. You stand right there," Al said.
Sam, the nigger, standing in his apron, looked at the two men sitting at the counter. "Yes, sir," he said. Al got down from his stool.
"I'm going back to the kitchen with the nigger and bright boy," he said. "Go on back to the kitchen, nigger. You go with him, bright boy." The little man walked after Nick and Sam, the cook, back into the kitchen. The door shut after them. The man called Max sat at the counter opposite George. He didn't look at George but looked in the mirror that ran along back of the counter. Henry's had been made over from a saloon into a lunch counter.
"Well, bright boy," Max said, looking into the mirror, "why don't you say something?"
"What's it all about?"
"Hey, Al," Max called, "bright boy wants to know what it's all about."
"Why don't you tell him?" Al's voice came from the kitchen.
"What do you think it's all about?"
"I don't know."
"What do you think?"
Max looked into the mirror all the time he was talking.
"I wouldn't say."
"Hey, Al, bright boy says he wouldn't say what he thinks it's all about."
"I can hear you, all right," Al said from the kitchen. He had propped open the slit that dishes passed through into the kitchen with a catsup bottle. "Listen, bright boy," he said from the kitchen to George. "Stand a little further along the bar. You move a little to the left, Max." He was like a photographer arranging for a group picture.
"Talk to me, bright boy," Max said. "What do you think's going to happen?"
George did not say anything.
"I'll tell you," Max said. "We're going to kill a Swede. Do you know a big Swede named Ole Andreson?"
"Yes."
"He comes here to eat every night, don't he?"
"Sometimes he comes here."
"He comes here at six o'clock, don't he?"
"If he comes."
"We know all that, bright boy," Max said. "Talk about something else. Ever go to the movies?"
"Once in a while."
"You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you."
"What are you going to kill Ole Andreson for? What did he ever do to you?"
"He never had a chance to do anything to us. He never even seen us."
"And he's only going to see us once," Al said from the kitchen.
"What are you going to kill him for, then?" George asked.
"We're killing him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend, bright boy."
"Shut up," said Al from the kitchen. "You talk too goddam much."
"Well, I got to keep bright boy amused. Don't I, bright boy?"
"You talk too damn much," Al said. "The nigger and my bright boy are amused by themselves. I got them tied up like a couple of girl friends in the convent."
"I suppose you were in a convent."
"You never know."
"You were in a kosher convent. That's where you were."
George looked up at the clock.
"If anybody comes in you tell them the cook is off, and if they keep after it, you tell them you'll go back and cook yourself. Do you get that, bright boy?"
"All right," George said. "What you going to do with us afterward?"
"That'll depend," Max said. "That's one of those things you never know at the time."
George looked up at the clock. It was a quarter past six. The door from the street opened. A street-car motorman came in.
"Hello, George," he said. "Can I get supper?"
"Sam's gone out," George said. "He'll be back in about half an hour."
"I'd better go up the street," the motorman said. George looked at the clock. It was twenty minutes past six.
"That was nice, bright boy," Max said. "You're a regular little gentleman."
"He knew I'd blow his head off," Al said from the kitchen.
"No," said Max. "It ain't that. Bright boy is nice. He's a nice boy. I like him."
At six-fifty-five George said: "He's not coming."
Two other people had been in the lunch-room. Once George had gone out to the kitchen and made a ham-and-egg sandwich "to go" that a man wanted to take with him. Inside the kitchen he saw Al, his derby hat tipped back, sitting on a stool beside the wicket with the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun resting on the ledge. Nick and the cook were back to back in the corner, a towel tied in each of their mouths. George had cooked the sandwich, wrapped it up in oiled paper, put it in a bag, brought it in, and the man had paid for it and gone out.
"Bright boy can do everything," Max said. "He can cook and everything. You'd make some girl a nice wife, bright boy."
"Yes?" George said. "Your friend, Ole Andreson, isn't going to come."
"We'll give him ten minutes," Max said.
Max watched the mirror and the clock. The hands of the clock marked seven o'clock, and then five minutes past seven.
"Come on, Al," said Max. "We better go. He's not coming."
"Better give him five minutes," Al said from the kitchen.
In the five minutes a man came in, and George explained that the cook was sick.
"Why the hell don't you get another cook?" the man asked. "Aren't you running a lunch-counter?" He went out.
"Come on, Al," Max said.
"What about the two bright boys and the nigger?"
"They're all right."
"You think so?"
"Sure. We're through with it."
"I don't like it," said Al. "It's sloppy. You talk too much."
"Oh, what the hell," said Max. "We got to keep amused, haven't we?"
"You talk too much, all the same," Al said. He came out from the kitchen. The cut-off barrels of the shotgun made a slight bulge under the waist of his too tight-fitting overcoat. He straightened his coat with his gloved hands.
"So long, bright boy," he said to George. "You got a lot of luck."
"That's the truth," Max said. "You ought to play the races, bright boy."
The two of them went out the door. George watched them, through the window, pass under the arc-light and across the street. In their tight overcoats and derby hats they looked like a vaudeville team. George went back through the swinging door into the kitchen and untied Nick and the cook.
"I don't want any more of that," said Sam, the cook. "I don't want any more of that."
Nick stood up. He had never had a towel in his mouth before.
"Say," he said. "What the hell?" He was trying to swagger it off.
"They were going to kill Ole Andreson," George said. "They were going to shoot him when he came in to eat."
"Ole Andreson?"
"Sure."
The cook felt the corners of his mouth with his thumbs.
"They all gone?" he asked.
"Yeah," said George. "They're gone now."
"I don't like it," said the cook. "I don't like any of it at all."
"Listen," George said to Nick. "You better go see Ole Andreson."
"All right."
"You better not have anything to do with it at all," Sam, the cook, said. "You better stay way out of it."
"Don't go if you don't want to," George said.
"Mixing up in this ain't going to get you anywhere," the cook said. "You stay out of it."
"I'll go see him," Nick said to George. "Where does he live?"
The cook turned away.
"Little boys always know what they want to do," he said.
"He lives up at Hirsch's rooming-house," George said to Nick.
"I'll go up there."
Outside the arc-light shone through the bare branches of a tree. Nick walked up the street beside the car-tracks and turned at the next arc-light down a side-street. Three houses up the street was Hirsch's rooming-house. Nick walked up the two steps and pushed the bell. A woman came to the door.
"Is Ole Andreson here?"
"Do you want to see him?"
"Yes, if he's in."
Nick followed the woman up a flight of stairs and back to the end of a corridor. She knocked on the door.
"Who is it?"
"It's somebody to see you, Mr. Andreson," the woman said.
"It's Nick Adams."
"Come in."
Nick opened the door and went into the room. Ole Andreson was lying on the bed with all his clothes on. He had been a heavyweight prize-fighter and he was too long for the bed. He lay with his head on two pillows. He did not look at Nick.
"What was it?" he asked.
"I was up at Henry's," Nick said, "and two fellows came in and tied up me and the cook, and they said they were going to kill you."
It sounded silly when he said it. Ole Andreson said nothing.
"They put us out in the kitchen," Nick went on. "They were going to shoot you when you came in to supper."
Ole Andreson looked at the wall and did not say anything.
"George thought I better come and tell you about it."
"There isn't anything I can do about it," Ole Andreson said.
"I'll tell you what they were like."
"I don't want to know what they were like," Ole Andreson said. He looked at the wall. "Thanks for coming to tell me about it."
"That's all right."
Nick looked at the big man lying on the bed.
"Don't you want me to go and see the police?"
"No," Ole Andreson said. "That wouldn't do any good."
"Isn't there something I could do?"
"No. There ain't anything to do."
"Maybe it was just a bluff."
"No. It ain't just a bluff."
Ole Andreson rolled over toward the wall.
"The only thing is," he said, talking toward the wall, "I just can't make up my mind to go out. I been in here all day."
"Couldn't you get out of town?"
"No," Ole Andreson said. "I'm through with all that running around."
He looked at the wall.
"There ain't anything to do now."
"Couldn't you fix it up some way?"
"No. I got in wrong." He talked in the same flat voice. "There ain't anything to do. After a while I'll make up my mind to go out."
"I better go back and see George," Nick said.
"So long," said Ole Andreson. He did not look toward Nick. "Thanks for coming around."
Nick went out. As he shut the door he saw Ole Andreson with all his clothes on, lying on the bed looking at the wall.
"He's been in his room all day," the landlady said downstairs. "I guess he don't feel well. I said to him: 'Mr. Andreson, you ought to go out and take a walk on a nice fall day like this,' but he didn't feel like it."
"He doesn't want to go out."
"I'm sorry he don't feel well," the woman said. "He's an awfully nice man. He was in the ring, you know."
"I know it."
"You'd never know it except from the way his face is," the woman said. They stood talking just inside the street door. "He's just as gentle."
"Well, good-night, Mrs. Hirsch," Nick said.
"I'm not Mrs. Hirsch," the woman said. "She owns the place. I just look after it for her. I'm Mrs. Bell."
"Well, good-night, Mrs. Bell," Nick said.
"Good-night," the woman said.
Nick walked up the dark street to the corner under the arc-light, and then along the car-tracks to Henry's eating-house. George was inside, back of the counter.
"Did you see Ole?"
"Yes," said Nick. "He's in his room and he won't go out."
The cook opened the door from the kitchen when he heard Nick's voice.
"I don't even listen to it," he said and shut the door.
"Did you tell him about it?" George asked.
"Sure. I told him but he knows what it's all about."
"What's he going to do?"
"Nothing."
"They'll kill him."
"I guess they will."
"He must have got mixed up in something in Chicago."
"I guess so," said Nick.
"It's a hell of a thing."
"It's an awful thing," Nick said.
They did not say anything. George reached down for a towel and wiped the counter.
"I wonder what he did?" Nick said.
"Double-crossed somebody. That's what they kill them for."
"I'm going to get out of this town," Nick said.
"Yes," said George. "That's a good thing to do."
"I can't stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he's going to get it. It's too damned awful."
"Well," said George, "you better not think about it."

22 December 2012

Jawdroppers and Tearjerkers


by John M. Floyd


First, I'd like to announce another drawing for a SleuthSayers giveaway.  The prize this time is a copy of my second book, a hardcover collection of thirty mystery/suspense stories called MIDNIGHT.  To enter, leave a comment on today's post anytime this week and check back next Saturday (above Elizabeth Zelvin's post) to see if you're the winner.  And I hope everyone has a great holiday!


Those of you who know me know I'm a huge fan of suspense fiction---who wouldn't be?--but I'm also a certified, card-carrying movie maniac.  I absolutely love 'em.  Our three children, probably thanks to me, are almost as movie-crazy as I am.  One of them even has a media room at his house, complete with 70-inch TV and surround-sound and reclining seats that vibrate during earthquakes and shootouts and cattle stampedes.  (Our kids' toys were always as much fun for me as for them, and that hasn't changed.  What's even better now is that I'm not the one who has to pay for them.)

My wife and I were over at our younger son's home a few weeks ago for "movie night,"and I was reminded how much I've enjoyed certain scenes, over the years--mainly scenes that were either surprising (think The Sixth Sense), emotional (think Old Yeller), or visually stunning (think Lawrence of Arabia, or Avatar).  Some scenes--maybe the best ones--manage to be all three, or at least two out of three.  And I fully understand, by the way, that opinions differ a lot in this area.  I remember feeling incredibly sad during the movie Love Story, but only because I had paid good money to sit through it.

Having said that, I've put together a quick list of some of my favorite scenes, in those three categories: (1) surprising, (2) emotional, and (3) pulse-pounding.  If the first group doesn't affect you, you're smarter than I am and have figured everything out already; if the second doesn't, your heart is considerably harder than mine; and if the third doesn't . . . well, maybe you're asleep, or gone to the restroom.

Here they are.  I've forced myself to stop at a dozen each:


Jawdroppers (surprise! version)

Final scene, The Usual Suspects
Fruit-cellar scene, Psycho
"She's my sister AND my daughter" scene, Chinatown
Graveyard (final) scene, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Final scene, Escape From New York
"Write everything exactly as I say it" scene, The Book of Eli
Butcher knife scene, The Stepford Wives (1972)
Final scene, Primal Fear
The death of Jack Vincennes, L.A. Confidential
Statue of Liberty (final) scene, Planet of the Apes (1968)
Final scene, Presumed Innocent
"Here's what really happened" scene, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Tearjerkers 

The death of John Coffey, The Green Mile
Boo Radley's appearance, To Kill a Mockingbird
Forrest talking to Jenny at her gravesite, Forrest Gump
The penny on the door, Ghost
"Did somebody save me?" (final) scene, Signs
Mother elephant singing to her baby, Dumbo
"He was smilin'" (final) scene, Cool Hand Luke
Primroses (final) scene, The Last Sunset
"Goodbye, little Joe" scene, Shane
The death of Carl's wife, Up
"O Captain, my Captain" (final) scene, Dead Poet's Society
"Goodnight, you princes of Maine" (final) scene, The Cider House Rules

Jawdroppers (edge-of-your-seat version)

Chariot race, Ben-Hur
Opening scene, Raiders of the Lost Ark
Final scene, Aliens
Car/train chase, The French Connection
Knocking out the stadium lights, The Natural
Countdown inside Fort Knox, Goldfinger
T-Rex attack, Jurassic Park
Crash of the alien spaceship, Prometheus
Final scene, Blood Simple
Buffalo hunt, Dances With Wolves
San Francisco car chase, Bullitt
Clarice and the killer in the basement, The Silence of the Lambs


I suspect a lot more of these memorable scenes are coming up in the near future--notably in films like Life of Pi, which--if it's anything like the book--will have plenty of surprises, emotion, and goosebumps.  And for action of the guilty-pleasure/Jerry Bruckheimer sort, I'm looking forward to the 2013 remake of The Lone Ranger.

Question: Which film scenes are the ones you remember most?  And don't worry--if none come readily to mind, that's probably a point in your favor.  It means you don't do as much movie-watching and/or daydreaming as I do.  (I think about that stuff all the time.)

I'll close with a line from another of my favorite scenes, one that goes along with the Christmas season: "Look, Daddy.  Teacher says, 'Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.'"


That one jerks a tear every time.