Showing posts with label free story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free story. Show all posts

25 March 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
Front Row Seat, part 2


Jan Grape
Yesterday, we brought you a treat, an Anthony Award-winning Best Short Story. That was Part 1; today we give you Part 2.

Crime family Jan Grape and her husband Elmer have enjoyed a long, varied, and storied career in the mystery business. Besides writing, besides winning awards, besides running a bookstore, besides getting away with murder, Jan knows everybody in the business… everybody.

This tale from Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II, originally appeared in Vengeance is Hers (Signet 1997). Pour a cup of coffee and enjoy this, the second part.

— Velma

A Front Row Seat
Part 2

by Jan Grape

The next morning we drove to work separately in our respective vehicles. My partner is a morning person and her energy and excitement greeting a new day bugs the hell out of me. I needed time for my body to wake up slowly and the short drive without her helped.

Last night we’d checked all the emergency rooms without turning up the doctor. I’d called a friend, Jana Hefflin, who worked in Austin Police Department communications to see if her department had taken a call regarding a John Doe of anyone fitting Dr. Randazzo’s description. She checked with the 911 operators, the EMS operators and police dispatch, all at APD headquarters. It was a negative on our man.

Finally, I called Marta Randazzo to report that there was nothing to report. It was almost two a.m. when we made up the bed in the guest room for C.J. and called it a night.

The new day was filled with sunshine and blue skies - reminding me of why I love central Texas.

Austin’s built over the Balcones Fault, an ancient geological plate that eons ago rumbled and formed the hills, canyons and steep cliffs around west Austin. The land west of Austin is known as the Texas Hill Country. The city’s east side slopes into gentle rolling hills and fertile farm land. Our office is in the LaGrange building which sits on a small knoll in far west Austin near the Mo-Pac Freeway and from our fourth floor office there’s a fantastic view of limestone cliffs and small canyons to the west.

At the office, C.J. ran computer checks on the Davises. Ellen Davis had never sued anyone before and neither she nor her husband had a police record. She also ran three other names: Sonja and Hirum “Bernie” Bernard and Christopher Lansen.

Mr. Bernard had a DUI and a resisting arrest charge pending. He also had a couple of business lawsuits resulting in settlements. Sonja Bernard had called the police recently in regard to a domestic dispute. Dr. Lansen had one bad debt on his credit record and a couple of unpaid parking tickets. A bunch of ordinary people, nothing to set off any alarm bells.

C.J. learned from a friend on the computer network that Ellen and Herbert Davis had left three weeks ago on an extended vacation to Hawaii. “That lets them out as revenge seekers,” she said.

“You got that right,” I said, using one of her favorite sayings. I called Mrs. Randazzo to see if she’d heard anything. She hadn’t, and afterwards I made follow-up calls to the hospitals.

I told C.J. a trip to Dr. Randazzo’s office might be helpful. “Maybe the doctor has a girlfriend and someone from his office knows about it.”

“Maybe he even plays with someone from work.”

Having spent a few years around doctors myself, I knew the long hours of togetherness sometimes bred familiarity. “This whole thing just doesn’t make good sense to me. If Randazzo and his wife had an argument and he stormed out, why didn’t he go off in his Jag, not just head out on foot someplace?”

“Unless,” said C.J., “he wanted to stage a disappearance. That malpractice suit left him in bad shape financially except for those assets in his wife’s name.”

I liked it. “What if he has other assets, hidden ones, and worked out a scheme? What better way than just walk off? Leave everything. And if another woman is involved she could meet up with him later. Intriguing, huh?”

“Yeah, but what about someone trying to kill Marta? If the Davises are out spending their new found money, then who?”

“So,” I said, “Randazzo hired someone to scare Marta in order to throw suspicion off of his own plans.”

We couldn’t come up with any more ideas, so I left to talk to the doctor’s employees.

Randazzo’s office was in the Medical\Professional high-rise building next door to Set on Hospital on Thirty-eighth Street, a few miles north of downtown and only a fifteen minute drive from my office.

Years ago, I had worked at an X-ray clinic in this building. My husband, Tommy, used to pick me up for lunch and we’d go around the corner to eat chicken-fried steak. The restaurant went bust a while back and of course, Tommy was killed a couple of years ago. Nothing stays the same, I thought, as I pulled into an empty parking spot and got out.

Randazzo’s suite of offices were on the second floor. A typical doctor’s suite. Comfortable chairs in the waiting room, popular magazines scattered on tables and modernistic art prints hanging on the wall. A curly-top redheaded young woman, about eighteen, sat in the glassed-in cubicle.

Were receptionists getting younger or was I only getting older? After I explained who I was and what I wanted, I was asked to wait. Ms. Williams, the head nurse, would be with me in just a few minutes, I was told.

It was a good half-hour before Ms. Williams called me. Her office was small, more like a closet under the stairs, but there was a desk and secretary-type chair. A telephone and a computer sat on the desk and file folders covered all the remaining space. She was about my age of thirty-five and every year showed on her face today. I’d guess a missing boss could upset routines.

“Ms. Williams, I’m sorry to bother you but if you’ll answer a few questions, I’ll get out of your way.”

“Please call me Tiffany. Ms. Williams reminds me of my mother and I’d just as soon not think of her.”

“I hear that,” I said. “And I’m Jenny.” Even though she didn’t ask me to, I sat down.

“I don’t know if you’ve talked to Mrs. Randazzo today, but she’s hired my partner and me to try to find her husband.”

“Wow, I’ve never talked to a private detective before. It must be exciting.” Tiffany Williams ran her hand through her brown hair which was cut extremely short and was two shades lighter than my own chestnut color.

“It’s not exactly like it is on TV. Most of my work involves checking backgrounds on people. Nothing too exciting there.”

She looked disappointed. “Dr. Lansen told us Mrs. Randazzo had hired someone to try to locate Dr. Tony. How do you go about finding a missing person?”

“Pretty much like I’m doing now with you. You talk to friends, family and co-workers. See if they have any knowledge or ideas.”

“I don’t know where he’s gone. I just work here.”

“I understand. But sometimes co-workers overhear things and that chance remark might give a clue.” She nodded and I continued, “Tell me about Dr. Randazzo.”

“Tell you what?”

“What kind of boss is he? It helps if I can get some feel for the person. Did he seem unusually upset or worried about anything lately?”

“He’s always upset about something. He’s a very intense person. A control freak. He got upset whenever people wouldn’t do as he said.”

“You mean his patients?”

“Everyone. His wife, his employees, the hospital staff.” Tiffany Williams began chewing her fingernails. They looked red and ragged as if she’d already spent a lot of time gnawing. “Everyone is afraid of him and no one would knowingly cross him - about anything.”

“When I worked in X-ray I ran across doctors like that and I always called it the prima-donna syndrome. Some doctors let a little power go to their heads.” Tiffany was nodding in agreement after her initial surprise that I’d once worked in medicine.

 “Yes. And when a second doctor comes in and is so nice, you see how things could be.”

“You mean Dr. Lansen?”

“Yeah, he’s so easy-going, but a great doctor, too. The patients all love him and the employees, too.” She thought a moment, “I think everyone responds to his kindness but that didn’t go over with Dr. Tony.”

“I can imagine. Do you know how Marta Randazzo got along with Dr. Lansen?”

“I don’t know if I should say. It’s not professional.”

“I understand and I don’t blame you. Let me tell you what I’ve observed and see if you agree.”

She nodded and I said, “There’s an undercurrent of something between them. It goes deeper than an…”

“Very definitely,” she interrupted. “I think Chris hopes to get ahead by being attentive to Marta.”

“That doesn’t sound too smart or ethical.”

“I never said Chris is an angel. He has his faults. He wants a partnership with Dr. Tony and he wants to reach the top as quickly as possible.”

Okay, I thought, the young Dr. Lansen is ambitious. But was that enough to have caused Randazzo’s disappearance? “How did Tony feel about Chris’s ambitions?”

“Pleased as long as Chris kept Marta occupied.”

“Oh?”

“Our patients are mostly female and women find Dr. Tony’s bedside manner quite charming. If Marta’s attention was elsewhere then…” Realized she was saying too much, she stood. “I’ve got to get back to work. It’s gonna be one of those days.”

I stood also. “Okay, but one more question. Was there one lady Dr. Tony was especially close to lately?”

She walked to the door, looking as if she were a little girl who’d just tick-a-locked her mouth shut. She then sighed. “I probably shouldn’t, but you’ll find out anyway if you keep digging. Dr. Tony is having a relationship with a patient - or was. We all knew about it.”

“Who?”

“Sonja Bernard, a neighbor of theirs. He did surgery on her and they got involved a few months ago. They were going hot and heavy and it was beginning to get sticky.”

“Did Marta know?”

She nodded. “Chris let it slip but I’m sure it wasn’t by accident. Chris always does things for a reason.” Tiffany went out into the hallway. “I really do have to get busy.”

“Okay and thanks.” I turned to leave, but remembered something she’d just said. “You said Dr. Tony and Sonja were going hot and heavy?”

“Yes, but they broke up last week. And remember you didn’t hear any of this from me.”

“My lips are sealed.”

On my way back to the office I wondered why Lansen had wanted Marta to know about Tony and Sonja. Somehow, that didn’t fit with my image of the young doctor on his way up. You can get fired for getting the boss’s wife upset.

I pulled onto the street behind the LaGrange and Jana Hefflin from APD communications rang my car phone.

“Jenny, I’ve been listening in on a call one of my 911 operators is working. Dr. Randazzo was located about an hour ago -he’s dead.”

“Damn. What happened?”

“He was shot. Body was in a deep ravine about a half-mile from his house. The police aren’t calling it homicide yet, they’re still investigating.”

“You’re sure it’s Randazzo?”

“Yep. He had identification. Sorry, Jenny.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. I owe you one,” I said. I knew Jana had an abiding affection for chocolate-covered strawberries made by a local candy company - Lamme’s. I’d make sure she received a box the next time they were offered for sale.

When I got inside, I plopped in a customer chair in front of C.J.’s desk and told her our missing person had been found dead.

She was pulling apart sheets of computer paper as they came out of the printer. “Should we call Marta Randazzo?”

“We’ll wait. The police have to make their notifications.”

We discussed my conversations with Tiffany and when the printer’s clatter abruptly stopped, C.J. held up the pages. “I came up with more info about Mrs. Randazzo. She comes from an old West Texas ranching family. She inherited more money than you or I could ever imagine.

“I think,” she added, “Dr. Lansen changed horses in mid-stream. When he realized Randazzo was losing the lawsuit and the medical practice would go down the tubes, he figured Marta was his best bet. She’s got enough money to set up two or three practices.

“And personally, I think young Lansen is involved right up to his pretty blue eyes,” said C.J.

I thought about how Marta and Chris Lansen had acted when we were there. C.J. could be right. If Chris wanted to get ahead and if he felt Marta could help. But I didn’t think Marta was involved. She had seemed genuinely worried about Tony’s disappearance and, besides, I liked her. “No, I can’t buy it.”

“Why not?” C.J. prided herself on her judgement of people and she got a little huffy because I didn’t agree. “Look, he’s hot after the missus and he probably saw a quick and dirty way to take out the husband.”

She was working up her theory hoping to convince me. “He probably began stalking Marta to use as a cover for his real target…”

When I said I couldn’t buy it, I meant I couldn’t buy Marta’s involvement. I did have many doubts about Chris Lansen. “Possibly. He says he went out looking for Randazzo. Maybe he found him and killed him.”

“The stalking tale could have been just that, a tale.”

 “What about your ‘Good Buddy,’ Bernard?” I asked. “His wife’s infidelity could have sent him into a jealous rage. Or what about the woman scorned, Sonja Bernard?”

C.J. said, “Bernard might strike out in the heat of passion if he caught his wife with Tony. But he’s a drunk and I doubt he’d have the balls to plan anything sophisticated.

“And Mrs. Bernard is cut from the same mold as Randazzo. She’s played around for years, but she always goes back to her husband. He needs her.”

“Surely you didn’t find that out from your computer,” I said.

“No, I called Carolyn Martin, she filled me in on the Bernards.”

My friend, Carolyn, who’s hip-deep in society happenings, knew all about the skeletons in the jet-setters closets. If Carolyn said Sonja had the morals of a rock-star groupie, then it was true. “Okay, so where does that leave us?”

C.J. stared at me. “Back to Marta Randazzo. She’s one cool bitch.”

 “No, I think she’s putting on a front. Acting cool when she really isn’t.” The more I thought about it the more I felt I was right. “Marta couldn’t kill…”

“Listen to you, Jenny, listen to that nonsense coming from your mouth. The husband abused her regularly, he played around - even had an affair with a friend.” C.J.’s tone was curt.

 “Chris Lansen and Marta Randazzo together,” she said. “They have the best motive and Chris sure had the opportunity…”

 I thought about the vulnerability I had seen in Marta’s eyes and was determined to give her every benefit of the doubt. “If Chris did it he was acting alone.”

“No way. Marta is involved, believe me. She was fed up with her husband.” C.J. shook her finger at me and raised her voice. “Randazzo acted like a horse’s ass routinely. Now he’s lost his medical practice - suddenly, Marta and Chris both see a solution to all their problems.”

“Dammit, we don’t even know yet that it was murder. Maybe Randazzo killed himself. What do the police say?”

C.J. shrugged.

“Take it from me - if Randazzo was murdered Marta didn’t do it.” I stood and walked out of the reception area and into my inner office, slamming the door behind me.

Once inside I started cooling off immediately. I’ve always been that way. I can get angry enough to chew nails, spout off, then quickly my anger subsides. When C.J. began to get angry with me, I should’ve backed off. It was stupid and I knew it.

My partner can stay mad for hours - days even. The only way to head it off was to try and make her laugh. If I could get her to laugh things would smooth out quickly.

I stayed in my office for about five minutes, rehearsing what I would say to C.J., but when I went back out to her desk in reception - she was gone.

She’d left a note saying she’d gone to APD to see what she could find out from Larry Hays. Hoo-boy, I thought. When she’s too angry to tell me when she’s leaving, she’s really mad.

Lieutenant Hays worked in homicide and he’d been my late husband’s partner and best friend. After Tommy died Larry took on the role of my brother/protector. For a private investigator, having a friend on the force was a huge bonus. If Larry hadn’t worked on the Randazzo case, he’d know who had and would be able to give C.J. all the inside dope.

Talking to Larry was another good way for C.J. to get over her anger. If she could talk shop with him - she’d chill-out fast.

I tidied up my desk, set the answering machine and left.

But instead of going home, I found myself heading to the Randazzo’s. Something about Marta pushed my buttons and I had to see if I could find out why.



Marta Randazzo wasn’t particularly glad to see me, but she didn’t slam the door in my face. She just said, “Come in, if you like.” I followed her down the hall to the den.

Once again I had the feeling I’d been in this room before, the Indian colors and Kachina Dolls and arrowheads were so familiar it was spooky. I refused the drink she offered and sat down.

Marta certainly didn’t look like a woman who only a few hours ago had learned of her husband’s death. Her make-up was impec-cable. No red eyes or tears. Her whole demeanor was changed, she acted poised and self-assured. She picked up her glass and drank, standing regally by the fireplace, and then stared at me over the rim. “You expected tears?” Her tone was defiant.

“Everyone handles grief differently.”

“I can’t pretend grief when there’s nothing there. I can’t pretend when deep down I’m glad Tony’s dead.”

Suddenly, I was ten years old again and memories came flooding back. My mother and I were at my aunt’s house, in her living room decorated with Indian artifacts. Decorated much like this room was.

I could even hear my mother’s voice. It sounded tearful and sad. “Everyone handles grief differently.

I recalled Aunt Patsy saying, “I can’t pretend grief when deep down I’m glad Stoney is dead.”

My mother said, “But Patsy, I don’t understand. What did you do?”

Both of my aunt’s eyes were blackened and she had a plaster cast on her arm. I’d never seen anyone look so defiant. Aunt Patsy said, “I killed him. I got his pistol and I shot him. I just couldn’t take the beatings any more. Not with this baby coming.”

“Shhh,” said my mother turning to me. “Jenny, why don’t you go play outside. Aunt Patsy and I need to talk grown-up stuff.”

I could now remember everything I’d blocked out. My aunt being arrested, and there was a trial or something. Later, she was sent away, probably to a women’s prison. She didn’t even come to my mother’s funeral three years later. Maybe she couldn’t if she was in prison, but as a child I didn’t know that. I only knew how hurt I was because she wasn’t there. I’d been crazy about Aunt Patsy and I guess I couldn’t deal with all the emotional trauma and had buried it. Until I met Marta Randazzo.

I looked at Marta, “You killed him, didn’t you? You killed him because he beat you and cheated on you and you’d finally had enough. His affair with Sonja Bernard was the last straw.”

Marta began shaking her head no, but I continued. “You wanted a way out.”

“No,” she said. And for the first time since I’d met her, she stood straight with her shoulders back. “He scarred Ellen Davis’s face, but he wasn’t sorry. He even laughed about it. Just like he laughed over what he did to me.” Marta pulled her sweater up and off her head in one fluid motion. She was braless and I winced at the misshapen breasts and the hideous-red-surgical-scar tissue.

“See! See what he did to me?” She was crying now and could barely speak. “I… I killed him…be-because I didn’t want him to get away with ruining another woman.”

“But he didn’t…”

“Y… you think giving Ellen Davis thousands of dollars could ever be enough? And it didn’t even faze him. He was going to disappear. Move to another state and start all over. Start butchering women again. I couldn’t let him. I-I had to stop him.”

“So, that’s why you had a blind spot about her. What did you do when she just up and confessed?” asked C.J.

“I told Marta I knew one of the best defense lawyers in Texas. I called Bulldog Porter. He came over and together they drove downtown to police headquarters.” I looked at C.J. “Thanks for not reminding me how right you were.”

She shrugged. “What about Marta being stalked?”

“Randazzo probably set that up for his disappearing act.”

“And Chris Lansen wasn’t involved?”

“Bulldog wouldn’t let Marta talk to me. I believe Chris dumped the body for her, but killing Tony was her own solitary act.” I thought about that Dinah Washington song, then. “Marta sure had a front row seat for her revenge.”



Many thanks to Jan and those who made this possible. If you enjoyed the story, let Jan know. We might make this a monthly feature.

24 March 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
Front Row Seat, part 1


Jan Grape
Set in March, we bring you a rare treat, an Anthony Award-winning Best Short Story, also nominated for a Shamus Award. The first half runs today, the rest tomorrow.

Originally published in Vengeance is Hers (Signet 1997), this story also appears in Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II. Pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine, and lean back. A fine Grape ages very well.

— Velma

A Front Row Seat
Part 1

by Jan Grape

I awoke on that cold wet March morning with a fierce sinus headache over my right eye. Things went downhill from there. I broke a fingernail and tore a run in my pantyhose. I had to dress twice because I snagged my sweater and had to change. When I walked out the front door I banged my little toe against the potted plant I’d inside brought for protection from the cold. “Damn Sam.” I limped out to my car and sank into the seat gratefully.

Some mornings should be outlawed I thought, but I managed to get to the office which I own and operate with my partner, Cinnamon Jemima Gunn, at eight-thirty a.m. on the dot. C.J., as she’s know to all except a few close friends, would have killed me if I’d opened up late. With the way things were going, death didn’t sound half bad.

At nine a man pushed opened the door with its distinct sign, G & G Investigations. He stopped cold in the middle of the reception area and looked around as if searching for someone.

He wasn’t handsome. His nose was too long and it hooked at the end, ruining his overall attractiveness. Dark, blue-black hair waved across his head and curled down over the tips of his ears. His eyes were blue-gray and crinkle lines radiated outward from the corners. He was probably no taller than five feet ten with a rounded abdomen and torso, like he’d rather sit in front of the tube and veg-out than work-out. I’d guess his age around fifty.

“May I help you?” I asked.

His navy suit looked expensive, but off-the-rack, and he added a floral print tie to spiff up his white shirt. He wore a black London-Fog-style raincoat, open and unbelted and a perplexed look.

“Do you need an investigator?” I asked when he didn’t answer my first question.

“Is Mr. Gunn here?” His voice was husky, like he had a cold.

“There is no Mr. Gunn. Only C.J., but she’s in court…

“She? I don’t understand. I want to talk to Mr. C. J. Gunn.” His annoyance was obvious in his derisive tone.

“C.J. isn’t a Mister. C.J.’s a woman.”

“I’ll speak to your boss, then.”

“I’m it,” I smiled. “I mean, I own this agency. Well, C.J. and I are co-owners actually. I’m Jenny Gordon.”

“You mean this detective agency is run by a bunch of damn women?”

“That’s about it, sir.”

“Well, shit.” He turned, walked out and slammed the door.

“Up yours, fella,” I said to his retreating footsteps.

I didn’t waste time wondering about him. It happened occasionally - some macho pea-brain unable to hire a female private eye because of his own ego. I shrugged and turned back to the computer terminal.

Electronic technology baffles me. I think I’m a little intimidated to think a machine is smarter than I am. But C.J., who’s a computer whiz, had set up a program for our business invoices and all I had to do was fill in the blanks, save, and print. I could handle that much.

G & G’s bank account was dangerously low and unless we collected on some delinquent accounts or came up with a rich client or two, we were in deep do-do.

We’d worked too hard for that, but it meant sending out timely statements and following up with telephone calls. Our biggest headaches were large insurance companies who always seemed to run sixty to ninety days past due.

I got all the blank spaces filled on the next account and saved the file, but before I could push the button to print, the telephone rang.

“Ms. Gordon, this is Dr. Anthony Randazzo.” The husky voice was familiar. “I want to apologize for the way I acted a few minutes ago.”

So, the piggy chauvinist was a doctor. His name rang a bell in my head, but I couldn’t connect it. My first impulse was to hang up in his ear, but he kept talking fast - as if he could read my mind.

“Ms. Gordon, I’ve been under a lot of stress…” He laughed, sounding nervous not jovial. “Boy, does that sound trite or what?”

I waited, unsure if he expected an answer.

“I honestly am sorry for storming out of your office. I acted like some idiot with a cave-man mentality. I need an investigator and your firm was highly recommended.”

I’m not a die-hard feminist, but the emotional side of my brain was yelling hang up on this bastard while the practical left brain was reminding me we needed a paying client and the doctor could be one. I wondered who was wicked enough to send this clown in our direction. “May I ask who recommended you?”

“My niece works as a receptionist for Will Martin’s law firm.”

Oh, hell. Will and Carolyn Martin were counted among my closest friends. Good friends aren’t supposed to send the jerks of the world to you.

“I’ve never met Mr. Martin,” he continued, “but my niece thinks highly of him.”

Whew! That explained it. When asked, Will automatically would have said, “G & G.” Knowing this guy wasn’t a client of Will’s made me feel better. “Dr. Randazzo, perhaps I should refer…”

“Please, Ms. Gordon, don’t judge me too quickly. My wife and I desperately need help. It’s a matter of life or death.”

Now that he was contrite he was much easier to take, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to work with him. “I’m not…”

“Please don’t say no yet, let me explain briefly. Two months ago, I was involved in a malpractice suit. You probably heard about it.”

The bell in the back of the old brain pinged. Anyone old enough to read or watch television had heard. Because of the high costs of health care nowadays which the medical profession tried to blame on things like malpractice suits, the media had talked of nothing else. Randazzo was a plastic surgeon. A woman had sued him for ruining her face. She hadn’t looked too bad on TV, but the jury awarded her a huge amount. Mostly for pain and anguish, as I recalled. The doctor had lost and lost big.

“Yes, I recall,” I said, wondering why he needed a P.I. now. “But the lawsuit’s over, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Except for working out the payment schedule.” He cleared his throat, “But I think our problem has a definite connection. I’m really worried and will be happy to pay a consulting fee for your time.”

“I, uhm.mm…”

“Would five hundred be appropriate?”

He got my attention. Five big ones would certainly help our bank account. I could probably work for Attila the Hun for five hundred dollars. Okay, so I can be bought. “Would you like to make an appointment?”

“If you’re free this evening, my wife and I are having a few friends over for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. If you and Ms. Gunn could join us - whatever you decide to do afterwards is entirely up to you, but the five hundred is yours either way.”

“What time?”

“Seven, and thanks for not hanging up on me.”

Dr. Randazzo gave me directions to his house and we hung up.

I had the invoices ready to mail by the time C.J. returned.

 She remembered the Randazzo lawsuit. “Five hundred dollars just to talk?”

“That’s what the man said.”

“Are you sure he’s not kinky?” A knowing look was on her cola-nut colored face and her dark eyes gleamed wickedly.

“Maybe. But he said his wife and other people would be there. It didn’t sound too kinky.”

“Hummm. Guess the lawsuit didn’t bankrupt him if he’s got five C notes to throw around.” C.J. worked her fingers across the computer keyboard.

“He probably has hefty malpractice insurance,” I said.

I watched as she punched keys and letters appeared on the monitor in front of her eyes. C.J. can find out the most illuminating information about people in only a matter of minutes. With my technology phobia I don’t understand modems, networks and E-mail and have no idea what it is that she does. I’ve also decided I really don’t want to know any details.

“Let’s just check on his finances. I’m sure he has investments, stocks and bonds, real estate and what have you. Never knew a doctor who didn’t.” A few minutes later she muttered an “Ah-ha. Looks like Randazzo was shrewd enough to put a nice nest egg into his wife’s name, but his medical practice is close to bankruptcy.” She printed some up figures, stuck the papers in a folder, and we closed the office and left.

Since my apartment is only a few blocks from our office and her place is half-way across town, C.J. keeps a few clothes and essentials there for convenience. We took turns showering and dressing.

C.J. wanted to drive. Since she liked to change cars about every six months she’d recently leased a Dodge Dakota SE pick-up truck. As roomy and as comfortable as a car. But what she was proudest of was a fancy sound system, tape deck and CD player. She popped a CD in and turned up the volume.

A woman sang, “I wanna be around to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart.”

“All riiight.” I laughed and she raised an eyebrow. I picked up the box and read about the songs and the artists. These were golden oldies by: Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Judy Garland and others. It wasn’t her usual type of music.

“That’s Dinah Washington,” she said. “I knew you were gonna get a kick out of this one.”

I’d been hooked on country music forever but a couple years ago I discovered Linda Ronstadt singing ballads from the 30s and 40s. And the funny thing is, I remember my parents playing records and dancing to music like this. It’s an early memory and a rare one with my parents having fun. Somehow my mother’s long unsuc-cessful battle with cancer had wiped out too many good memories.

I listened to Dinah singing about her old love getting his comeuppance, and how sweet revenge is as she’s sitting and applauding from a front row seat.

“Cripes,” I said. “That really knocks me out. I’ve gotta have a copy.”

“I’ll give you this one, Girl, after I’ve listened to it.”

The Randazzo’s house was located in the hills above Lake Travis, west of Austin. After a couple of wrong turns we found the brick pillars which flanked the entrance of the long drive. The black-top curved into the front of the house and ended in a concrete parking area. C.J. pulled up between a dark green Jaguar and a tan Volvo.

The Spanish-modern house was large and rambling, made of tan brick with a burnt-sienna tile roof and built onto the side of a hill. The arched windows were outlined in the same color tile as the roof and black wrought-iron bars covered the bottom halves. The Saint Augustine grass was a dun-muckle brown with little shoots of green poking out - normal for this time of year.

We got out, walked up to the ornately carved double doors and I pushed the oval lighted button beside the facing.

“Some joint,” C.J. said, as we waited.

A young man dressed in a cable-knit sweater with a Nordic design and charcoal gray slacks opened the door. Late twenties, blond and blue eyed with a Kevin Costner smile. He was so handsome my breath caught in my throat to look at him.

When I said Dr. Randazzo expected us he frowned, but stepped back and said, “Come in.”

We were in an entry hall which ran across most of the width of the front and was open ended on both sides. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a house where you entered into a width-wise hallway.

We were directly in front of and looking into a large square atrium. Behind the glass wall was a jungle of green plants, shrubs and trees, with a spray of water misting one side. The darkening sky was visible through the roof and I saw a couple of small green birds flitting back and forth between some trees.

The scene was exquisite and several moments passed before I could find my voice, “I… I’m Jenny Gordon and this is C.J. Gunn. We were to see Dr. Randazzo at seven.”

 “I’m Christopher Lansen and I work with Tony Randazzo.” His voice was nasal and high-pitched and it sure didn’t go with his looks. “And I’m sorry, Tony isn’t here at the moment.”

“Oh?” I asked, “A medical emergency?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know exactly.”

“I’m sure Tony will be back shortly, please come in,” said a woman coming into the hall from the right side. Her voice was soft and there was no trace of a Texas accent. She sounded as if she’d had elocution lessons and had graduated at the top of the class.

She was dressed in a soft blue silk shirtwaist dress, belted with a gold chain, and wore gold hoop gypsy ear rings. She was tall and willowy with dark hair pulled severely back into a bun. She would have looked elegant except she hunched her shoulders instead of standing straight.

She had high cheek-bones and almond-shaped dark eyes. There was a hint of Spanish or American Indian in her tight, unlined and unblemished face. Her age could have been anywhere from thirty to sixty. Probably has had a face-lift, I thought.

“I’m Marta Randazzo. Are you the investigators my husband hired?”

“Uh, . .yes,” I said. “And please call me Jenny. My partner is C.J.”

The young man put his hand on her arm. “Marta, why don’t you go back inside and I’ll talk…”

“No, Chris. I, I want to speak to them now.” Her voice sounded tentative, as if she hated to contradict him. She turned abruptly and walked down the hallway towards the left, leaving us no choice except to follow.

 “Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J., who was walking directly behind the woman. “I should clarify something. Your husband asked us over for a consultation only. He hasn’t actually hired us.”

Marta Randazzo entered a huge den/family room. At least half of my apartment could fit into this one room, but maybe it seemed bigger because of the glass wall of the atrium. Another wall was taken up by a fireplace large enough to roast a side of beef. The room’s decor was in Southwestern Indian colors. Navajo rugs and wall hangings, Kachina dolls, framed arrowhead and spear points, Zuni pottery, turquoise and silver jewelry knickknacks were everywhere. In a small alcove to one side of the fireplace was a wet bar. A sofa, love seat and three chairs were covered in Indian-design fabrics.

It felt like deja vu until I remembered I’d once been in a living room decorated with Indian things. Inexplicably, I couldn’t remember when or where. “It’s a lovely room,” I told her. “I like it.”

“Thank you.” She motioned for us to sit, indicating the sofa and she sat on a chair to our right. Christopher Lansen took a spot standing near the fireplace.

“I believe Chris told you Tony isn’t here at the moment,” Marta said. “He should be back soon.”

But she didn’t sound too certain, “I’m sure…I, uh, know he didn’t forget you were coming…”

Chris Lansen said, “Marta, I don’t think…”

“Chris?” Marta Randazzo stiffened. “Let me finish, please.”

Lansen turned away and walked to the window staring out into the darkness. His body language indicated he didn’t like something she’d said or was about to say.

“Tony mentioned you were coming.” Marta got up, walked to the mantle, ignoring Lansen, and took a piece of paper out from under a Zuni bowl. “He had me write out a check for you.” She walked over and held it out to me.

I automatically reached for the paper and looked at her. I glimpsed a flicker of something in her eyes just before she turned and sat down, but then it was gone. Fear maybe? Or despair. I couldn’t be sure.

The check was made out to G & G Investigations for five hundred dollars and signed by Marta Randazzo.

“Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. “Perhaps we should wait until your husband returns and we can talk to him.”

“I agree,” said Chris. He looked at Marta with a stern expression. Some battle of wills was going on between the two of them. “He’ll be back soon.” Lansen’s tone was emphatic. “He and I planned to talk about the surgery I’m doing on Mrs. Franklin tomorrow. He wouldn’t forget about that.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor, too?” I asked, hoping to ease the tension. He and Marta were definitely uptight.

“Yes. I’m an associate of Tony’s. A junior partner.”

“We could wait a little while for him if it won’t inconven-ience you, Mrs. Randazzo.” I tried to hand the check back to her. She ignored it, so I placed it on the end table next to me.

“Please, call me Marta,” she said. She jutted her chin slightly. “That check means you are working for me, doesn’t it?”

“We’re here on consult. That was my agreement with Dr. Randazzo.”

“Then, in that case I’m consulting you. It must be obvious to you both…I should explain.”

Chris Lansen cleared his throat and Marta Randazzo looked at him, her face creased with a frown. Her chin jutted out again briefly before she relaxed. “Jenny, C.J.? Would you like something to drink? Coffee or something stronger?”

“Coffee would be fine,” said C.J. and I agreed.

“Chris? Would you go make coffee for my guests?” Her tone sounded like an order, but she didn’t raise her voice.

He gave her a look as if she’d just asked him to wash the windows or something equally distasteful, but he left the room without speaking.

“Jenny, my husband has disappeared,” she said when Lansen was gone. “I was taking a shower. After I dressed and came out here, Tony was gone. I assumed he gone for a walk, but that was at five o’clock and he still isn’t back yet.”

“Have you looked for him?” I asked. She reminded me of someone, but I didn’t know who.

“Yes. Chris came over about six and when I mentioned I was getting worried about Tony, Chris got into his car and drove around looking. He didn’t find Tony.”

“Your husband walks regularly?” C.J. asked.

“Yes, if something is bothering him. It’s his way of reliev-ing stress. But he’s usually back after about twenty to thirty minutes.”

“Could his disappearance have something to do with why he wanted to hire us?” I noticed out of the corner of my eye that C. J. was poised on the edge of her seat.

C.J. got up, muttering something about going to help with the coffee and went in the same direction Chris had gone. I knew she was using the old divide-and-question-separately technique.

“Maybe,” said Marta.

“Do you know why he…”

“Yes,” said Marta. “Someone’s trying to kill me.”

“What makes you think someone is trying to kill you?”

“Someone followed me all last week. The same man I think, I’m sure it was the same car.” She began twisting the hem of her skirt as she talked and I noticed bruises on her inner thigh near her left knee.

“After I became aware of this man,” she continued, “I realized he’d probably followed me even before that. Then night before last that same car tried to run my car off the road. You drove up here and saw those treacherous curves. And the cliffs are pretty steep. I almost went over the edge It scared me silly.”

“Why would anyone want you dead?”

“I don’t know, uh…maybe it’s someone from the Davis family - wanting to get back at Tony.”

“The Davis family?”

“The people who sued my husband.”

“But why? They won their case.”

C.J. and Chris came back into the room. He was carrying a silver serving tray with four china cups sitting in saucers.

Chris said, “My thoughts exactly. Why would anyone from the Davis family…”

“Money might not be enough,” said C.J.

“What?” asked Marta.

“Revenge can be sweeter than money.” C.J. sat on the sofa where she’d been before while Chris placed the tray on the coffee table. “Mrs. Davis feels she has suffered,” she said. “And now it’s Mrs. Randazzo who must suffer.”

Chris carefully handed a saucered cup of coffee to each of us and then took his and returned to the fireplace. “That’s what Tony thought,” he said placing his coffee on the mantle. “But I think it’s all hogwash.”

“I know what you think, Chris. You’ve been vocal enough about it.” Marta’s voice got lower and that made her words sound more ominous. “You think I’m imagining all this, but you don’t know. You just don’t know.” Marta began stirring her coffee, banging the spoon against the cup. “Tony believed me. And now something has happened to him.”

“Oh, Marta,” said Chris with a there, there, little lady tone. “Tony’s only been gone a couple of hours. He’s gotten sidetracked, that’s all.”

“Maybe he twisted his ankle and fell into one of the canyons,” I said. “He could even be unconscious.”

“I looked in all the likely places,” said Chris.

“Maybe you should call the search and rescue squad,” I said.

“Law enforcement won’t be inclined to do anything until he’s been missing for twenty-four hours or so,” said C.J.

“I want to hire you to find my husband and find out who…”

The doorbell rang and Chris, without asking Marta, left to answer it. He acted as if this were his house not hers.

“Will you try to find Tony?” Marta asked, ignoring the interruption.

C.J. and I glanced at each other and I saw her imperceptible nod of agreement.

“Okay, Mrs. Randazzo,” I said. “You’ve just hired us.” I picked up the check. “Consider this a retainer for two days.”

My partner, who believes in being prepared said, “I have a contract with me.” She pulled papers out of her shoulder bag, handed a page to Marta Randazzo who scanned it quickly, and took the pen C.J. offered, and signed it.

“Marta?” I asked. “Does one of the cars out front belong to your husband?”

“The Jag is his. My Caddy is in the garage.”

“And the Volvo belongs to Chris?”

Marta nodded.

Chris walked in with a man and woman trailing behind. The man was stocky, about fifty with heavy dark eyebrows and a hairline that receded back past his ears. The strands left on top were plastered to his reddish scalp. He was dressed in a three piece suit and looked as if he’d rather be anyplace else except here. He walked straight to the bar without speaking and poured a drink.

The woman came over to where Marta now stood. “Chris told us Tony is missing.”

She was short with a voluptuous figure and blonde Farrah Fawcett hair. “Oh, Marta, you poor dear.” The woman put her arms around Marta and kissed the air near Marta’s cheek.

“I’m fine, Sonja.” Marta recoiled from the woman’s touch, but forced a smile. “I’m sorry, the party is canceled. Chris was supposed to call you.”

“Oh, he came by about six-thirty. Said he was looking for Tony,” said the woman. “He called back later and left a cancellation message on the infernal machine. I just thought we’d drop by on our way out to eat.”

The woman noticed C.J. and I for the first time. She looked at Marta and said in a stage whisper as if we weren’t there, “Are they from the police?”

“No, uh, Sonja Bernard, “ she nodded, and we stood. This is Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. They’re private investigators.”

The man who’d come in swayed over, a double shot of amber liquid in a glass. I assumed he was Sonja Bernard’s husband.

 “Private dicks, huh?” He said and laughed uproariously at his unfunny joke. From his slurred words it was obvious this drink was not his first. “Don’t think I’ve ever met a female dick before, black or white. How do?”

He took a big swallow and said, “Tough gals, huh? Do you carry guns? Which one is the dyke? I’ll bet it’s the black one.”

“Bernie, don’t be crude,” said Sonja. “Their sexual preference is none of your damn business.”

Marta’s face turned red. “I apologize…”

I hated it too, because I knew C.J.’s sharp tongue would slash and trash Bernie before he could stagger another step. And that was if she decided to only chew him up instead of knocking him on his can. My partner’s an ex-police woman, six feet tall and trained in Tukong Martial Arts. She could put him down and out.

I felt her body tense and spoke quickly, “C.J.? We probably should go.” But I wasn’t quite fast enough.

“He doesn’t bother me, Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. She smiled sweetly at the man, and then back at Marta. “His whiskey-soaked minuscule brain is ruled by his own penile inadequacy.” Her next words were directed to me and spoken through clenched teeth.

“You’re right, Jenny. We must be on our way, but perhaps Marta will show us out. I have a couple more questions.”

“What did she say?” asked Bernie. “Did she just insult me?”

“Of course, Bernie,” said Chris, who walked over and took the man’s arm. “But turnabout’s fair play, wouldn’t you say? Let’s refresh your drink.” Chris took the man’s arm and turned him towards the bar.

The man needed another drink like a cowboy needed a burr under his saddle, but the maneuver had moved him out of C.J.’s reach.

The man followed, muttering something about how he’d bet a hundred dollars Tony was shacked up with a blonde someplace.

“I’m terribly embarrassed…” said Sonja.

“And I’m terribly sorry for you,” I said to her.

Marta Randazzo looked as if she’d like to climb into a hole someplace, but she walked out of the room instead.

C.J. and I followed. Marta veered off into a small sitting room where we stood and asked our questions.

C.J. made notes as Marta gave us descriptions of the car and the man who had followed her. She hadn’t seen the license number. She said the people who sued her husband were Ellen and Herbert Davis.

“First,” said C.J. “we’ll check the local hospitals and emergency clinics, in case Dr. Randazzo has been brought in unconscious. And we’ll try to check-up on who’s been following you. It won’t be easy without that plate number.”

“Will you call? No matter how late?” Marta asked. “I mean even if the news is…”

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll call if we hear anything.” She gave us a recent photo of her husband.

“This could turn into an all night job,” I said as we got into the truck and headed to town.

“Did you catch that last remark from old Bernie?” I asked.

“No, I was having too much trouble trying to keep from decking the guy.”

“I figured. Bernie mumbled something about Tony being shacked up someplace.”

“Which is why the police are reluctant to get involved in domestic squabbles,” said C.J. “The missing usually turn up the next day looking sheepish.”

“Did you learn anything from Chris?”

“Only that he knew his way around the kitchen.”

“You think the Randazzo’s quarreled?”

“Didn’t you see the bruises on Marta’s neck?”

“No, I missed those, but I saw bruises on her leg. That muddies up the waters a bit, doesn’t it?”




See you tomorrow for Part 2!

09 November 2018

The Power of Prepositions


Far away and four times a thousand and one nights ago, this tale appeared in Criminal Brief. Dial in a little Rimsky-Korsakov and read on.


The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the génie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady has to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

17 December 2017

The Happy Prince


Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Christmas not merely invokes joy, it also implies poignancy and sometimes brings tears when we look around us.

Our house not only featured a crowded library, books cascaded into four barrister bookcases and shelves in every bedroom. One thick tome contained the complete works of Oscar Wilde, and one story in that book my father read to us.

As a pre-school child, I felt stuck by the immense sadness of ‘The Happy Prince’. For some reason, Victorians deemed it necessary to remind children of sorrow and wretchedness. Perhaps they had a point– I never forgot the parable. From time to time, I’ve gone back to reread it.

‘The Happy Prince’ was hardly the only children’s tale of pathos. When I was six or so, I saw the film ‘The Little Match Girl’ based on the fable (‘Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne’) by Hans Christian Andersen, published four decades before Wilde and referenced in today’s story. Try to read without weeping for those souls and for ourselves.

The Happy Prince

from 1888’s

The Happy Prince and Other Tales

by Oscar Wilde

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
He was very much admired indeed. “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.
“Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?” asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. “The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.”
“I am glad there is some one in the world who is quite happy,” muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at the wonderful statue.
“He looks just like an angel,” said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.
“How do you know?” said the Mathematical Master, “you have never seen one.”
“Ah! but we have, in our dreams,” answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.
One night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful Reed. He had met her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her.
“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples. This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.
“It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.
After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady- love. “She has no conversation,” he said, “and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.” And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys. “I admit that she is domestic,” he continued, “but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.”
“Will you come away with me?” he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.
“You have been trifling with me,” he cried. “I am off to the Pyramids. Good-bye!” and he flew away.
All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city. “Where shall I put up?” he said; “I hope the town has made preparations.”
Then he saw the statue on the tall column.
“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.” So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince.
“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him. “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining. The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful. The Reed used to like the rain, but that was merely her selfishness.”
Then another drop fell.
“What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?” he said; “I must look for a good chimney-pot,” and he determined to fly away.
But before he had opened his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up, and saw - Ah! what did he see?
The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.
“Who are you?” he said.
“I am the Happy Prince.”
“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”
“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”
“What! is he not solid gold?” said the Swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.
“Far away,” continued the statue in a low musical voice, “far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passion- flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen’s maids-of- honour to wear at the next Court-ball. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.”
“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow. “My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus- flowers. Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King. The King is there himself in his painted coffin. He is wrapped in yellow linen, and embalmed with spices. Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade, and his hands are like withered leaves.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”
“I don’t think I like boys,” answered the Swallow. “Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller’s sons, who were always throwing stones at me. They never hit me, of course; we swallows fly far too well for that, and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility; but still, it was a mark of disrespect.”
But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry. “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.”
“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.
So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.
He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing. A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover. “How wonderful the stars are,” he said to her, “and how wonderful is the power of love!”
“I hope my dress will be ready in time for the State-ball,” she answered; “I have ordered passion-flowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy.”
He passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts of the ships. He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old merchants bargaining with each other and weighing out money in copper scales. At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings. “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber.
Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.”
“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince. And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy.
When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath. “What a remarkable phenomenon,” said the Professor of Ornithology as he was passing over the bridge. “A swallow in winter!” And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper. Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.
“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow, and he was in high spirits at the prospect. He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on top of the church steeple. Wherever he went the Sparrows chirruped, and said to each other, “What a distinguished stranger!” so he enjoyed himself very much.
When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince. “Have you any commissions for Egypt?” he cried; “I am just starting.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”
“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow. “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract. The river-horse couches there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon. All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent. At noon the yellow lions come down to the water’s edge to drink. They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets. His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes. He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.”
“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, who really had a good heart. “Shall I take him another ruby?”
“Alas! I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left. They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago. Pluck out one of them and take it to him. He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood, and finish his play.”
“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”
So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret. It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof. Through this he darted, and came into the room. The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the withered violets.
“I am beginning to be appreciated,” he cried; “this is from some great admirer. Now I can finish my play,” and he looked quite happy.
The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbour. He sat on the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes. “Heave a-hoy!” they shouted as each chest came up. “I am going to Egypt”! cried the Swallow, but nobody minded, and when the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.
“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”
“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here. In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them. My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other. Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”
“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.”
“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”
So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.
Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.”
“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.”
“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet.
All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands. He told him of the red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch gold-fish in their beaks; of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants, who walk slowly by the side of their camels, and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon, who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey-cakes; and of the pygmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.
“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”
So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another’s arms to try and keep themselves warm. “How hungry we are!” they said. “You must not lie here,” shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.
Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.
“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.”
Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street. “We have bread now!” they cried.
Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost. The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses, everybody went about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.
The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well. He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.
But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”
“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”
“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”
And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.
At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.
Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors. As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.
“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.
“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is litttle beter than a beggar!”
“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councillors.
“And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor. “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.” And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.
So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.
Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.”
“Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled. When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still.
“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying.
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony (1882)
“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”



‘without worry’ or ‘carefree’

The beauty of Christmas opens it to everyone regardless of faith, politics or polemics. Even secular celebration cannot stifle the underlying, embracing message that caring, sharing, and love are meant for all.

13 March 2016

The Boorn Brothers


Leigh Lundin Last month, we brought you stories by Abraham Lincoln and Wilkie Collins about actual cases of wrongful conviction that nearly resulted in hangings. As mentioned in the articles, a few critics assumed the Collins novella, The Dead Alive, might have been based upon Lincoln’s own defense as a young lawyer. However, Collins premised his story on another American murder trial that took place in Vermont, 1819-1820.

The Boorn Brothers
Boorn Brothers
PDF
I stumbled upon the case in an interesting book published in 1932 by Yale University, Convicting the Innocent. Whatever your views regarding capital punishment, the chapters read like fiction and, apart from footnotes, don’t come off the least bit academic.

Here now is the actual case that Wilkie Collins fictionalized into his own story.

21 February 2016

Wilkie Collins - The Dead Alive


Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins, 1853
So often the stories we enjoyed as kids don’t hold up when we reread them as supposedly mature adults. Dale Andrews discussed this in particular about the Hardy Boys and I’ve noted this recently while rereading S. S. Van Dyne.

One of the earliest novels I read in the 4th or 5th grade was a battered copy of The Moonstone, one of the many hundreds of books my family hoarded in case of cultural collapse and literary starvation. At the time, I didn’t know The Moonstone was special, that it was considered the first modern English mystery novel. I simply enjoyed it so much I would remember it for decades.

Its author, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889), is recognized as one of the great authors of the Victorian era, reaching his peak during the 1860s. It was during this decade he published The Woman in White (1860), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866), and The Moonstone (1868). Also during this time his friendship with Charles Dickens grew and developed to the point of collaboration.

Bully

Many of us feel a particular distaste for school bullies, but Collins credits a class tormentor for awakening his creative talent where he “learnt to be amusing on short notice.” When Collins was 14, he appeased his in-residence persecutor with stories. “It was this brute who first awakened in me, his poor little victim, a power of which but for him I might never have been aware. … When I left school, I continued story telling for my own pleasure.”

The Dead Alive
The Dead Alive ebook PDF
ebook PDF

The Dead Alive
The Dead Alive print PDF
print PDF
Today’s The Dead Alive, sometimes called John Jago’s Ghost, features at least one bully and arguably a second. Note Collins’ smooth, modern style. While not as ‘deep’ as his friend Dickens’, Collins’ writing isn’t nearly as dense. Some Victorians require intense mental mastication, but Collins’ words dissolve on the tongue like a well-made pastry.

A few reviewers believe Abraham Lincoln’s Trailor Murder Mystery was answered by this Wilkie Collins’ story. That assessment is likely a mistake. While it’s impossible to determine whether Collins was aware of Lincoln’s case, it’s far more certain Collins based his story on another American case, that of the Boorn Brothers in Vermont. Not only will readers will find the parallels irrefutable, but Collins himself admits such in his afterword.

And now, a tale by Wilkie Collins…

14 February 2016

Abe Lincoln's Mystery


Lincoln
Abe Lincoln: rail splitter, a riverboat crewman, an inventor, a country lawyer, a congressman, a poet, a president, the great emancipator… and murder mystery author.

Tomorrow is Presidents Day in celebration of our great presidents, Abraham Lincoln (12th Feb), George Washington (22nd Feb), and in some states, Thomas Jefferson (13th Apr). To honor them, SleuthSayers brings you a murder mystery written by our 16th president. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)

We normally picture the lawyerish Lincoln involved in contracts and torts, bailments and agreements, the dry essence of civil law. The man also practised criminal law. He’s particularly recognized for winning what became known as the Almanac Case, in which he looked up the position of the moon in lunar tables to discredit a witness.

Lincoln
Earlier, Lincoln wrote “A Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder” back when he was still a country lawyer. To be candid, it’s not a murder mystery in the expected sense, but based upon an actual 1841 case in which Lincoln defended one of three brothers accused of murder.

His client didn’t pay him, so Honest Abe monetized the experience in a different way… by selling a story about it. Fortunately, he went on to other pursuits and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unlike traditional murder mysteries, the story doesn’t contain the customary dénouement. It’s written as a puzzling happenstance without a true resolution.

Some contend Wilkie Collins’ charming 1873 novella, The Dead Alive (a.k.a John Jago’s Ghost) suggests a solution for Lincoln’s story, but in fact Collins based his tale on another American true crime story known as the Boorn Brothers murder case.


Now, from the Presidential of the United States…

24 January 2016

Flash Fiction– The Gamble


Leigh Lundin
Imagine a game I invite you to play. Here are the rules:
  1. You put down $1. Me, nothing.
  2. We flip a coin.
  3. If you win, you get 50¢ back.
  4. If I win, I get your $1 bill.
In a nutshell, I’ve described exactly how lotteries work. Simply substitute ‘the state’ for the first person pronoun and ‘the public’ for the second person ‘you’.

Astonishing, isn’t it? You could make it more accurate by substituting ‘the poor’ for ‘the public’, because that’s the lottery’s primary target.

The lotteries like to tout the advantages. “It allows people to dream for a little while,” says Florida’s own lottery commissioner.” “It pays for education (sorta, kinda)” insists New York’s. “It allows the public to join in a social exercise,” claims a professor.

But for all that, the lottery has one, sole purpose: It’s a cynical tax on the poor. Do politicians honestly believe states implemented lotteries to entertain the masses? Or even benefit their citizens in some way? They’re put in place to shift taxes away from those who don’t want to pay– the wealthy.

A young woman named Cinnamon represents the lotteries’ prime target. Convinced she couldn’t lose, she blew her family’s $800 (or much more depending upon the source) rent and grocery budget buying tickets. I feel sad for the girl, even sadder for her family, victims of the lottery culture.

But she’s got chutzpah. She went on Go Fund Me, where some of us might donate a little to people with serious medical issues. (Consider helping writer Kevin Tipple’s wife Sandi for her cancer treatment.) Our plucky girl Cinnamon wrote this:
Please help me and my family as we have exausted [sic] all of our funds. We spent all of our money on lottery tickets (expecting to win the 1.5 billion) and are now in dire need of cash. With your small donation of at least $1.00, a like, and one share, I’m certain that we will be able to pick ourselves up from the trenches of this lost [sic] and spend another fortune trying to hit it big again! PLEASE, won’t you help a family in need. DONATE NOW.

The rational among us might have expected her to have learned a lesson, but notice the words bolded by me.

As you might imagine, people were scathing, but– surprise– some donated until Go Fund Me took down her donations page. Now she claims it's all a joke, ha-ha. Thing is, I've personally known desperate people who empty their wallet at the local lottery store.

My friends Sharon and Cate, seldom at a loss for words, managed a few choice ones. Inspired by them, this little bit of flash fiction came to mind. Our colleague Vicki Kennedy tells me this form is called a ‘drabble’. Please don’t confuse our fictional Nutmeg with the real Cinnamon whom we prefer to believe is much classier.


The Gamble
by Leigh Lundin

After the lottery tops a stratospheric billion dollar pot, Nutmeg wagers her family’s rent and grocery money. To her surprise, she loses. Even her car’s repossessed. She visits the local charity, which shoos her out the door.

Matters go from bad to worse after she’s arrested for prostitution. Police visit charity officials.

“Miss Nutmeg claims you sent her to WalMart to peddle her ass.”

“For a job, sir. I told her to pedal her ass to WalMart.”

20 December 2015

O Henry Meets the Magi


Norman Rockwell : The Gift of the Magi
© Norman Rockwell
It’s the Christmas season. The countdown to the holiday stands at -5 until we begin the twelve days of Christmas. In recent weeks, I’ve been uncharacteristically uncharitable to an iconic American author, O Henry, revisiting Shamrock Jolnes parodies that might be better forgotten (here and here). But frankly, I admire O Henry’s tales. To make up for past sins, here is one the most famous Christmas stories ever.

William Sydney Porter wrote it in 1905, possibly in the second booth from the front at Pete’s Tavern, Irving Place and East 18th in New York City. O Henry apparently spent a lot of time at Pete’s place, which now honors O Henry on its awning: “The Tavern O Henry made famous.”

The New York Sunday World published the story 10 December. O Henry reissued it the following spring of 1906 in the collection The Four Million.

You know the tale, but Christmas is about tradition. Take a sentimental journey with us as we read…

The Gift of The Magi

by O Henry
(© 1905)


One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling– something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation– as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value– the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends– a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do– oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two– and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again– you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you– sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year– what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs– the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims– just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men– wonderfully wise men– who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Gift of the Magi (© illustrator unknown)
I don’t know who the illustrator is, but he managed to capture the poignancy and joy of the story.



Be safe, be warm (no problem for our friends in South Africa and New Zealand) and have a wonderful Christmas holiday! See you here next year.