21 December 2015

An Early Christmas Present


by Susan Rogers Cooper

In my latest Milt Kovak book, COUNTDOWN, I told three stories that were mostly connected.  The first half of the book deals with Milt's wife and all his female employees and wives of his male employees being held hostage at what was supposed to be a surprise wedding shower.  But while this is going on, Milt's son, Johnny Mac (yes, Johnny Mac Kovak -- it rhymes, get over it) and his friends ride their bikes into the woods after a teenager who they believe is going to kill a dog he's dragging in there.

The reason why I'm telling you this:  My grandson who is eleven -- the same age as Johnny Mac in this story -- has always wanted to read one of my books.  I've always thought they were a little too adult (read boring) for an eleven year old boy.  But Johnny Mac's story has him and his friends getting caught in a tornado and having to survive.  My grandson is way into survival stories.  So I thought:  Yay, an early Christmas present!  I took the book and highlighted just the portions dealing with Johnny Mac and his friends and gave it to him to read.  It took a while -- he was reading two other books at the time and, oh, yeah, there was homework, but we won't go into that.

Finally, the day came.  He brought the book back and handed it to me.  I had to ask: "What did you think?"

He shrugged.  "It was pretty good," he said.  "I mean I liked the part with the tornado and all.  But--"

"But?" I queried.

"Yeah, you know.  Where were the zombies?"

Have I failed as a grandmother?  Or, even worse, failed as a writer?  Yes indeed, where were the zombies?  Or at least an alien or two?  What was I thinking?  So for Christmas next year I'll write him his own story full of zombie aliens caught in the snowy wilds of Alaska trying to survive.  Think he'll like it?

20 December 2015

O Henry Meets the Magi


Norman Rockwell : The Gift of the Magi
© Norman Rockwell
by Leigh Lundin

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.

19 December 2015

Move Over, Capt. Ahab



by John M. Floyd



The idea for my column today came from two things that happened recently. First, I bought a book at a Books-A-Million last Saturday during a lull at one of my signings there (I know, I know, I'm supposed to be selling my own wares at these events, not buying the books of others--what can I say?). Second, I read with great interest Art Taylor's SleuthSayers column a week ago Friday, in which he talked about some of the differences between (and differences in attitude toward) reading fiction and nonfiction.


The book I bought was called In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, which has been adapted into a new movie of the same name, directed by Ron Howard. I've not yet seen the movie--but I know the book is good because I just finished reading it. And the only thing unusual about the fact that I bought and read it in the first place is that it's a true story.

I do seek out and read nonfiction from time to time, notably Seabiscuit, The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, Unbreakable, The Right Stuff, In Cold Blood, etc.--but I confess that 99% of what I read (and write) is fiction. The reason for that is simple: I see and hear about reality all the time, especially in the morning paper or on the Nightly News, and when I read a book for pleasure I don't want reality. I want to be entertained. I don't want to be educated or illuminated--if that happens as a byproduct, fine, but first and foremost I'm looking for suspense and emotion and entertainment.

Here's my point: some nonfiction, especially that which falls into the delightful category of creative nonfiction, IS entertaining. That's certainly the case with Philbrick's book. Just as an author would do in a good novel, Nathaniel Philbrick introduces the characters (with all their flaws), puts them in a dire situation, makes their predicament even worse (and worse, and worse), and finally brings the story to a conclusion that's satisfying to the reader. The icing on the cake is that the reader learns something about life as well as something about two things unfamiliar to most of us: (1) the legendary whaling capital of long-ago Nantucket, Massachusetts, and (2) the fascinating process by which daring men with tiny boats and large harpoons hunted and killed and butchered and boiled (to extract the oil from) leviathans measuring eighty feet in length and weighing sixty tons.

I won't give away any plot goodies here, but I will say that this is the true story of the officers and crew of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which in 1819 was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale two thousand miles off the west coast of South America. And, ultimately, an engrossing story of courage and leadership and survival. The Essex tragedy served as a young Herman Melville's inspiration for Moby Dick, which was published 32 years later, and--according to Philbrick--was as familiar a story to nineteenth-century schoolchildren as the sinking of the Titanic was a hundred years later.

As for the movie, it opened on December 11 to mixed reviews, but I still look forward to seeing it. One reason is that I'm a fan of Ron Howard's films (Ransom, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Backdraft, Splash, Cocoon, etc.), and another is that I want to find out how these characters and the action that thrilled me in the book will look on the big screen. Besides, what other good movies are out there or coming up for me to see right now? The newest Star Wars? The newest Hunger Games? Spotlight? Bridge of Spies? Spectre? The Hateful Eight? Revenant? (Okay, you're right--I want to watch all of those too.)

Have any of you seen In the Heart of the Sea? Would its classification as nonfiction deter you from reading the book? In other words, does the fact that it was a real occurrence matter ro you? I've already admitted a personal preference for fiction over non-, but I've also said I enjoyed this tale. I'm not sure the reading process would've been any more fun if it had been fiction. Maybe it wouldn't have been as much fun. Maybe it actually helped to know that such amazing things really did happen.

I realize I'm resurrecting a subject that Art has already covered eight days ago, but I must ask: what are your feelings regarding fiction vs. nonfiction, in general? Are you as biased as I am? What are some nonfiction books you've read that you feel are as good or better than well-known novels you've read? Any recommendations?

Bottom line is, if you feel so inclined, check out In the Heart of the Sea. Nathaniel Philbrick did a fine job with that book, and I suspect that good old Opie created a fine movie from it as well. Sheriff Taylor would've been proud.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to novels and shorts. Can't stay away from fiction for long . . .



18 December 2015

Why I Never Met Bob Crane


By Dixon Hill

On Thursday, June 29th, 1978, not long after my fifteenth birthday, my parents told me I would be getting a late present.

The night before, they had seen Bob Crane (perhaps best known for portraying "Col. Hogan" on Hogan's Heros) in the play Beginner's Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theater about five or ten miles north of our home.  After the play, Mr. Crane came out to meet the audience, shaking hands with those who had stuck around.

My parents -- habitually about the last to leave anywhere -- chatted with him for a short time, during which they mentioned my recent birthday.  Crane told them to bring me by the theater after the play on Friday night (July 1st), so he could shake my hand and give me an autographed photo as a late birthday gift.

No, I don't recall him offering any free tickets.  But that's okay; I thought the idea was kind of neat. My dad insisted it was Crane's idea, telling me, "He actually seemed to be a nice guy, son.  He says he's looking forward to meeting you, and he sounded as if he meant it."  Then he joked, "Of course, he could just be a good actor."

I enjoyed Hogan's Heros and looked forward to meeting him -- secretly hoping one of the women who played one of the bar maids on the show might somehow be there too.  (I was a fifteen-year-old boy, after all, and had no idea that he had married one of them.)


Such, however, was not to be.

That evening, the Phoenix Gazette carried a story: earlier that afternoon, Bob Crane had been found murdered in an apartment not far from where we lived.

He was murdered in the early morning hours, his skull crushed by a camera tripod as he lay sleeping in bed, and an electrical cord tied around his neck later -- all this, only hours after speaking with my parents.

His body was found by Victoria Berry, his costar in Beginner's Luck.  She went to find him around 2:00 pm.  When Crane didn't answer her knock on his door, she picked up his newspaper and entered his apartment.  The lights were off, with the drapes drawn, and she had just come in from the bright sun. Nonetheless, she says she closed the door after entering the apartment, then she looked around for him.

His body lay on the bed in apartment 132-A, at the Winfield Place Apartments.  Berry told police: "... At first, I thought it was a girl with long dark hair, because all the blood had turned real dark.  I thought, 'Oh, Bob's got a girl in there.  Now where's Bob?...'  I thought, 'Well, she's done something to herself.  Bob has gone to get help.'  At that time, I recognized blood ... "

Then she looked closer.

"The whole wall was covered from one end to the other with blood.  And I just sort of stood there and I was numb.  Bob was balled up into a fetal position, lying on his side.  He had a cord around his neck which was tied in a bow."

While Victoria Berry was giving her report to the police, inside the apartment, the telephone rang. Police asked her to answer it, but not to reveal that Crane had been murdered. The caller was a video production salesman named John Carpenter.

When Lt. Ron Dean of the Scottsdale Police Department took the phone, identifying himself, he told Carpenter there had been "an incident," but not that Crane was a dead. Carpenter called back, later, and spoke to Lt. Dean again.  The detective was surprised that Carpenter never asked what the "incident" was that police were investigating in Crane's apartment, or if he could speak with Crane.

In 1978 the Scottsdale Police Department did not have a Homicide Unit, something often overlooked in articles about this murder.  However, this fact was very shortly on the mind of everyone in Scottsdale, because the investigation didn't seem to be getting anywhere.  And, at least one piece of potential evidence -- an album of pornographic photographs that Berry had seen when she arrived -- had disappeared!

Surprising evidence also began to surface. Police found about 50 pornographic video tapes or films in the apartment, along with video cameras and film cameras.  A bathroom had been turned into a darkroom with an enlarger, and there were photos of a nude woman on negatives inside.

Reports soon circulated about Crane's fetish of filming himself having sex with multiple women. Police learned that he had obtained the equipment for this hobby from Carpenter, and that Crane had told family members that he planned to break off his friendship with Carpenter on the day of the murder.  The two men were last seen together at the coffee shop in the Safari resort around 2:30 that morning.


Several potential suspects also came to light: Crane's angry estranged wife, husbands angry about Crane bedding their wives, even a fellow actor who had threatened him in Texas.  But, police continued to focus on Carpenter.

Scottsdale's lack of a homicide unit may have made its mark, however, as Carpenter was not put on trial until 1994!  Carpenter was acquitted after a two-month trial, and died four years later, still maintaining his innocence.

The strange upshot?

Sleepy little Scottsdale, Arizona -- my home town -- finally established its own Homicide Department not long after Crane's murder.

As for myself: I never got to meet the guy, because he was murdered the day before I was supposed to.

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon



17 December 2015

Christmas is Almost Always Murder


by Eve Fisher

Seriously, Norman Rockwell has a lot to answer for. All those pictures of Mom and the turkey, the family gathered around... All those "Old Home Folks" stories about the perfect Christmas, and how sweet it was when children were grateful for a penny, and grownups didn't get anything, but they all ate like horses and loved it. All those Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (I mean, really, 24 hour a day Christmas movies starting on THANKSGIVING??????) Okay, back to those, where it's all about love, love, love, love, love, with red and green and what is the deal with all those movies about a "Prince/Princess for Christmas"?

I really am turning into a grinch, right?

Wrong.

We're No Angels - 1955 - poster.png I love a good Christmas movie or story, but I take my entertainment with a little salt, thanks. Or at least a shot glass. And a little murder just adds to the fun.

Here's a list of my favorite Christmas movies, the ones my husband and I watch every year, and yes, we know the lines by heart:

We're No Angels, (1955), Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, and Basil Rathbone. For my 2012 take on this movie, complete with synopsis and begging everyone to go to Netflix and get it immediately, see here: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/12/were-no-angels.html

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Monty Wooley, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, and more. The worst house guest in the world is also the most erudite, witty, arrogant, and popular man on the planet. Sheridan Whiteside was Kaufman and Hart's masterpiece (especially as played by Monty Wooley), based on (of course) the Algonquin Club's founder, leader, gatekeeper and spoiled child, Alexander Woollcott.
Jimmy Durante, Mary Wickes (in her breakthrough screen role), and Monty Wooley
The play - and the movie - are chock full of characters who were based, almost libellously, on real people. Banjo = Harpo Marx. Beverly Carlton = Noel Coward. Lorraine Sheldon = Gertrude Lawrence, of whom Beverly Carlton says, in my favorite movie line of all time,
"They do say she set fire to her mother, but I don't believe it."
And Mary Wickes as Nurse Preen, who has to nurse the impossible Sheridan Whiteside:
"I am not only walking out on this case, Mr. Whiteside, I am leaving the nursing profession. I became a nurse because all my life, ever since I was a little girl, I was filled with the idea of serving a suffering humanity. After one month with you , Mr. Whiteside, I am going to work in a munitions factory. From now on , anything I can do to help exterminate the human race will fill me with the greatest of pleasure. If Florence Nightingale had ever nursed YOU, Mr. Whiteside, she would have married Jack the Ripper instead of founding the Red Cross!"
Reborn (1981). Directed by Bigas Luna, originally titled Renacer, "starring" Dennis Hopper as the snake-oil selling Reverend Tom Hartley, Michael Moriarty as Mark (a thickly-veiled Joseph), and (I kid you not, spoiler alert!) a helicopter as the Holy Spirit. While it has horrible production values, and was obviously made (in Italy, Spain, and Houston, TX) on rather less than a shoestring (I think all the money was spent on the helicopter), this still may be one of the most interesting versions of the Nativity that's ever been done.
"You're going to have a baby? I can't have a baby! I can't even take care of myself, much less a baby!" Mark.

The Thin Man (1934). William Powell and Myrna Loy. Machine-gun dialog, much of it hilarious. A middle-aged peroxide blonde and an incredibly young Maureen O'Sullivan. More drinking than anyone would dare put into a movie today, at least not without a quick trip to rehab for somebody, especially Nick Charles. And mostly true to Dashiell Hammett's plot.
"Is he working on the case?" "Yes, a case of scotch!"

Okay, a quick break for myself and the grandkids: A Muppet Christmas Carol (with Michael Caine), A Charlie Brown Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (narrated by Boris Karloff). Love, love, love them ALL.




Okay, back to more adult fare:

Listed under secret pleasures, Love Actually (2003), mostly because I start laughing as soon as Bill Nighy starts cursing. (What can I say? I'm that kind of girl.)
"Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don't buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!" Truer words are rarely spoken in a Christmas movie...

Totally NON-secret NON-guilty pleasure: Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988). Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder), Tony Robinson (Baldrick), Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Miram Margolyes as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and Robbie Coltrane as the Spirit of Christmas...
"Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop." God bless us, everyone.
Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) (1951). Alistair Sim. This is my favorite version, mostly because it feels like Dickens to me, because I love Fezziwig's sideburns, because of the hysterical charwoman, but mostly because Mr. Sim's Scrooge really ENJOYS being a hard-hearted miser from hell. Which makes his delight, after coming back from his Christmas travels among the spirits, more believable. Or at least I always find myself grinning from ear to ear...



"I don't deserve to be this happy. But I simply can't help it!" Hit rewind, while I make another cup of tea and pull out the Christmas cheer…
Merry Christmas, everyone!

16 December 2015

From the shiny new desk of Robert Lopresti


Old writer at old desk
by Robert Lopresti

I am working mostly at home for the next few months, and my wife said: "We've  had this desk for thirty years.  Let's get you a better one."  I  thought that was a great idea and added a detail: let's make it a standup/sit down desk.

Down
And that's what we wound up with.  You can see it in the pictures.  There are four pre-set buttons.  If I want to work standing up I press 3 and it floats to the proper height.  Press 4 and it sinks down again.  Terri touches 2 to get to her perfect standing position.

All of which is nice, but how exactly does it relate to the business of this blog: reading and writing mystery fiction?  Well, we'll get to that.

Up
Back in October I mentioned that something happened at Bouchercon which I wasn't going to describe because I intended to turn into a short story.  A couple of weeks went by and that basic idea had refused to turn into a story plot.  Then I remembered a book I had picked up at Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention, I attended in August.
From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds is a little paperback by Ken Rand.  The title attracted me because I have a notebook containing a few hundred ideas that have never resolved into stories.  I wasn't expecting Mr. Rand to supply any miracles, and of course he doesn't.  Mostly he offers some interesting metaphors (although he describes himself as "metaphor challenged") and some exercises.

He spends a lot of time working on ways to get the Left Brain (the Editor) out of the way of the Right Brain (the Author).   "Why is your left brain such a jerk?" he asks.

Personally, I don't like the hemisphere stuff; it strikes me as biological reductionism (in normal people the two halves of the brain do communicate, after all).  I prefer to use the terms Miner and Jeweler.  But I do understand the importance of giving the Miner as much room as possible, and Rand has some useful thoughts about that.

For example: "The best drug ever prescribed, in my opinion, is placebo.  (Until recently.  I've switched to New, Improved Instant Placebo (R), in mint-flavored gel caps.)"  

In other words, when it comes to stoking creativity, whatever you think works, really does work.  And in that sense my new desk (remember my new desk?) can be seen as a placebo.  I know that I can't give the creative part of my brain orders but I can flatter or if you prefer bribe it by spending money.  Go to a conference.  Buy Ken Rand's book.  Get a new desk.


Old and cramped
Why does that work? I think in most people the creative part of the brain, the Miner, is lazy because it has been trained to be lazy.  You say that if you got a great idea you'd run like a cheetah straight to the keyboard, but when a light bulb does present itself you turn on  a Simpsons rerun instead.  Spending money and/or time convinces the Miner that you will take its work seriously.  (And of course, if you spend big bucks you will feel obligated to do something to justify it... see how it all comes around?)

 Of course, there's more to my desk than that.  It's a better work station and that helps with organization and writing.  Plus the stand-up aspect is great for my increasingly middle-aged back.

But lets get back to Rand.  How did his 90-seconds approach connect to my Bouchercon-inspired story idea?   Well, what follows combines his method with my own.

* I sat down with a pen and paper, far from my magical stand-up desk.  (Rand recommends separating the Author tasks from those of the Editor in as many physical ways as is practical.  Generally I Write analog and Edit digital.)
Old desk's moment of fame
* I wrote down my original idea.
* I wrote down in one sentence each the three unsatisfactory story plots I had hatched so far.  (Rand says: throw out the first few plots you get from an idea; those are the easy cliches.  In songwriting we say, when you start with a set of lyrics, throw out the first few tunes that come to mind.)
* With an eye on the clock I started writing down a new story structure, using pieces of those first three plots.


So, did I really come up with a satisfactory story plot in ninety seconds?

It only took seventy.  And, of course, I don't know whether I will really shape up into something publishable.  In a few years, we will find out I guess.

And now if you will excuse me, I have to go back to my desk...

15 December 2015

Being a bestseller is *sick*


by Melissa Yi

The good news: Stockholm Syndrome hit the bestseller list on Kobo less than two weeks after its debut.
NUMBER ONE IN ESPIONAGE!!!!!!!! highlighted & craziness
The bad news: I was willing to grind myself to powder to get there.
Most people hit the brakes before they get to either point. They’re smarter than me.
Me? TL; DR: I got the flu, then pneumonia, then side effects from medications that landed me in the ER as a patient for two nights with palpitations while raving on dexamethasone. My colleagues were worried about me. And I’m still heading back to the hospital for another work-up today.
Meanwhile, I was still trying to do it all. So far this year, I hit Utah, Oregon, New York (twice), Los Angeles, Boston, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal. Drive to Boston solo with my kids? Sure. Make a two-layer homemade birthday cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday party? Of course. Stay at an acting class in Montreal despite getting assaulted with the flu? No problem.
Yeah, baby!
Us wrapped in Rush Couture
Max in Kingston
Max in Kingston
<–I bought this dress when I was pregnant with Anastasia, and now she can get inside it with me because it has peek-a-book cutouts on the sides. It’s from Rush Couture. This dress is popular on Facebook.
It looked weird on me when I was pregnant. Here it looks normal. 😉
BTW, at one of my Stockholm Syndrome book launches, one woman told me I had love handles. “Or maybe it’s your shirt.” As an author, I tell you, NEVER say mean things to a writer at a book launch.
Natalie Goldberg always brings someone who tells her she’s beautiful. Doesn’t matter if she messed up. Tell her she rocked it hard. As a fashionista and a physician, I present this dress as evidence that I did not detect love handles. If I had love handles, I would not choose to wear a peek-a-boo dress. QED.
I was doing it “all.” Except I ended up so sick, I couldn’t work the ER any more. I had to ask for help. And one of my colleagues started lecturing me how much I was burdening the group, and I’d better not take more than a week off.
I started yelling at that doctor. Which made him worry about my mental health. Which is a whole other worm-can.
In truth, I am not the best doctor right now. Not only on December 7-8th, when I was high on dexamethasone and short of breath with palpitations of up to 200 (my husband was upset that I couldn’t figure out how to dial the phone. In my defence, it was a new phone, and I was more interested in getting my clothes together for my scheduled appearance on Rogers TV the next morning). That night, the doctor kept telling me I shouldn’t go on TV. I was like, “I’m supposed to be on TV! That’s why I took the dex at night, to heal my vocal cords enough to sing! I’ll take the train if you really want, but geez. I also have a recording for CBC’s White Coat Black Art scheduled for the afternoon.” I was all set, even though I couldn’t find the Imovane they’d just given me to sleep, but RN Rebecca stopped me. She said, “You look pale. And sick.”
Suddenly, I was shocked into cancelling. I can’t be ugly on TV. That would be bad. It was like, if you want to get young women to quit smoking, you can try and reason with them about how it’s expensive, and selling out to the man, and giving you lung cancer and emphysema, but the real money is in telling them they’ll get wrinkles. No way!
I knew I needed to sleep. My husband was mad at me for getting up in the middle of the night and working. I knew, logically, I’d never get better that way. And yet I couldn’t stop.
I tried to work with the flu until I was seeing double and forgetting to order chest X-rays, and the other doctor sent me home. Then I made myself pick up my Stockholm Syndrome books and ended up dehydrated and nearly delirious when they detained me at the border for 1.5 hours (hint: if the government sends you the wrong business number, you’re screwed. If the border guards are chasing after illegal cigarettes and the remaining guard has no clue what to do with you, you’re screwed). Even yesterday, when my friends and colleagues are like, “Are you much better now?”, I’d have to say that not only did it seem like my pneumonia came back with a vengeance after we stopped all antibiotics for a few days, but I’m not completely compos mentis–at the children’s Christmas party, I answered a page from the neurologist and forgot my purse on a bench in the hallway. RN Annie was too tactful to say anything, but I knew she’d noticed I wasn’t right.
The good news is, I managed to get to Ottawa to record an interview with Fresh Air’s Mary Ito, and it was pretty cool. You can listen to it herehttps://soundcloud.com/cbc-fresh-air/final-melissa-yuan-innes-6287325-2015-12-12t04-21-11000. They’ll keep it up for two weeks.
CBC Fresh Air main w- soundcloud Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 2.21.58 AMI was able to put a good game face on for the 3 h drive and the recording, although I did lose my parking pass immediately.
I was taking selfies in the booth. Scared the heck out of the next group coming in to record.
I was taking selfies in the booth. Scared the heck out of the next group coming in to record.










I hadn’t checked Kobo recently–too nervous that I sucked, especially since they hadn’t mentioned the free code during the interview–but I nerved up and did it. And guess what I saw?
#8 IN MYSTERY! highlighted
#8 in mystery overall. Not just #4 in thrillers. All of mystery and suspense, people. Maybe you’ve heard of Tom Clancy or Lisa Jackson? Or James Patterson?
But, greedy Gus that I am, I wondered how I was doing overall. I was euphoric when Mark Leslie Lefebvre told me Terminally Ill (Hope Sze #3) had broken Kobos’ Top 50 after my interview with Wei Chen on CBC’s Ontario Morning. Terminally Ill ended up hitting as high as #27 for all of Kobo’s books. Not segmented by genre. Every. Single. Book. On. Kobo.
Could Stockholm Syndrome repeat the magic? Even if Fresh Air hadn’t given out the time-limited magic Kobo code of STOCKHOLM100 during the interview, only on Facebook and Twitter?

#12 overall BIGGER cropped
NUMBER TWELVE, PEOPLE. That’s better than Terminally Ill.
I was freaking out, didn’t sleep (again), high-fiving Max.
OMG. Look at it. Fifteen Dogs just won the Giller Prize. Mary Ito interviewed Andre Alexis, too. NFW.
Should I not tell you about the bad stuff? Probably. But for those of you who already know my protagonist, Dr. Hope Sze, we’re pathologically honest. I could pretend to be perfect, but I’m no good at lying. So here you go.
In other words, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. And I’m my own worst enemy. But mostly the best, because my husband, my friends, and my colleagues are rallying around me. And because I feel like telling near-strangers, I love you.
Because I do. Because we’re alive. Including me, despite myself.
Take care of yourselves. I care about you.
Love,
Melissa
“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.”
“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”
“The loner who looks fabulous is one of the most vulnerable loners of all.”
“The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.” —Maya Angelou
“I can paint a barn with someone else’s blood. I just can’t stand to see my own.”―Colonel Henry Blake, a surgeon on M*A*S*H Episode Guide TeamM*A*S*H EPISODE GUIDE: Details All 251 Episodes with Plot Summaries. Searchable. Companion to DVDs Blu Ray and Box Set.
“Some people should not be allowed to see beyond your surface. Seeing your vulnerability is a privilege, not meant for everyone.” ― Yasmin Mogahed
“Being an open and vulnerable doesn’t mean you are weak..” ― Jayesh Varma
“A heart that can break is better than no heart at all.” Marty Rubin
“There is more hope in honest brokenness than in the pretense of false wholeness.”
People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.
People that go through serious illness – you can either go one way or the other. You can either become despondent about it all. Or it kind of rejuvenates you, makes you focus on what’s important.~Jack Layton

14 December 2015

See You In The Funny Papers


by Jim Doherty and David Dean

There’s an old saying that goes, “See you in the funny papers,” which, I have to admit, I never quite got. I mean, how are you going to see me in the funny papers? I’m a real, live, three-dimensional sort of guy. I must also be a literal kind of guy because now I find that the impossible has happened—I’m in the funny papers! That’s right. I find that I’ve been reduced (some might say enhanced) to two dimensions and basking in the reflected glory of none other than that venerable crime fighter, Dick Tracy! Lest you doubt, I’ve attached proof of my brief appearance.


There, see me? I’m the thin dude in the Hall Of Fame box. It appears that amongst Dick’s many skills and talents at detection, he has also honed an appreciation of fine crime writing—mine… amongst others it seems. Can you believe he also honored some dude named Wambaugh in a previous issue? What kind of name is that for a writer? Get a clue, Wambaugh.

When I got the news it was via a forwarded email from Janet Hutchings at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It being a weekday, I was hard at work hammering out my next story when, during a brief lull in my creativity I checked all my social and communication media. Half an hour later, I’m reading a very kind note from a police sergeant named Jim Doherty telling me of my inclusion in Dick Tracy’s Hall of Fame. He had also attached the comic strip. Jim, as I learned, is the police technical advisor to the comic strip’s creative team.

To say that I was blown away would be putting it mildly. Having spent a big part of my adulthood as both a cop and a writer, this inclusion rang all the bells and blew all the whistles for me. I loved it. And it’s great fun to boot.

But that’s enough about me. Though you probably couldn’t tell, I intended my little victory dance to serve as an introduction to my new friend and colleague, Sgt. Jim Doherty, the person most responsible for my induction into the Hall of Fame. On my honor (which is now unquestionable), Jim and I have never met, and he only knew of me through my writing. It was he that submitted my name and bio to the editors, and it was on his recommendation that I was accepted. May his name be sung in the mead halls of Valhalla forevermore.

Jim, as mentioned earlier, is both a police sergeant and technical advisor, but he is also a writer of crime fiction himself. So, I thought it might be interesting if he shared with us a bit about his own background, as well as his relationship with the square-jawed Detective Tracy and his crime-busting comic strip. I think you’ll find it interesting.



Thank you for the introduction, David.

It might seem odd to be discussing a comic strip character on a blog devoted to the mystery genre, until one considers that Dick Tracy’s as important a figure to crime fiction as he is to the comics medium.

Leave aside the obvious fact that, with the exception of Sherlock Holmes himself, Tracy’s the most famous detective in any fictional medium. Leave aside that, like Holmes, he’s a multi-media star, successful in movies, novels, TV and radio, stage productions, and just about any other story-telling medium you can imagine.

Forget about all that and look at him:

The rugged features. The snap brim fedora. The trench coat. Comics are a visual medium, after all, and that being the case, it’s clear that our whole idea of what a hard-boiled sleuth is supposed to look like comes to us direct from Tracy. Every time we think of how cool Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Alan Ladd, Jack Webb, or Dick Powell look in that particular ensemble, we’re admiring a look that Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, invented, or at least connected to crime fiction, as indelibly as Sidney Paget connected the deerstalker cap and the Inverness cape in the pages of The Strand Magazine.

And imagine about how many people must have been introduced to crime fiction through Tracy. Most mystery fans, at least in the US, will probably mention the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew when asked how they first got started, but, how many of them, even before they knew how to read, thrilled to the four-color adventures of the most famous of all fictional cops. I know one of my fondest memories is of my dad reading Dick Tracy to me years before I even knew how to read. Aside from turning my into a mystery fan, and eventually a mystery writer, Tracy also clearly had an influence on my choice of day job (though, being Irish, and having a lot of law enforcement types in my family Tracy was, perhaps, not the only influence).

I was fortunate enough to get involved in with Tracy professionally, or at least semi-professionally, when two guys I knew through the Internet, both of them well-known comics professionals, decided to start a web page called Plainclothes as a tribute to the famed law enforcement icon. (When Chester Gould first conceived the strip, he called it Plainclothes Tracy).

Mike Curtis, who had briefly been in law enforcement himself (he once served as a deputy in the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office), started in the business writing scripts for Harvey Comics about character like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, and Wendy the Good Little Witch. Later he would form his own company, Shandafa Comics. Though an admirer of Dick Tracy, Mike’s first love is really Superman, and he owns one of the biggest collections of memorabilia devoted to the Man of Steel in the country.

He’d formed a friendship with legendary comics artist Joe Staton, who, since he got his first professional job in 1971, has been so active in the business it’s easier to list the characters he hasn’t drawn, than those he has. From Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern for DC to the Hulk, Captain America, Phoenix, and the Silver Surfer for Marvel, to say nothing of work for just about every other comic book company in the US, including Charlton, Western, Comico, First, etc., etc. etc.

The one character Joe always longed to draw, but never got a chance to, was Dick Tracy. Or make that rarely got a chance to. He’d done a comic book story for Disney in the early ‘90’s to tie in with the Warren Beatty film, but it never got published due to the rights being clouded. And he’d done some covers for books collecting reprints of the old strips. But he’d never gotten a chance to do the strip, or even a regular comic book series.

Mike had heard that Dick Locher, the Pulitzer-winning artist/writer who had been drawing the strip since 1983, and writing it since 2005, might be retiring.

He suggested that he and Joe do the website, not only as a tribute to the character, but as a sort of high-tech audition, in case Tribune Content Agency, the syndicate that distributed the strip, really was looking for someone to replace Locher. The main attraction on the Plainclothes website was an original Tracy comics story, done in daily newspaper strip format. This was accompanied by articles, original artwork, and prose stories about the character.

Knowing that I was a cop, a Tracy admirer, and a mystery writer, Mike invited me to contribute two prose stories featuring Tracy. I was at the point where I was actually getting paid to write stuff. I’d had two books published, a collection of true-crime articles, Just the Facts, which included a piece called “Blood for Oil,” about the Osage Indian Murders of the 1920’s which won a Spur from the Western Writers of America, and a study of the creator of iconic private eye Phil Marlowe, Raymond Chandler – Master of American Noir. Writing for free seemed, on the surface, like a step back.

On the other hand, my only novel, An Obscure Grave, though a finalist for a British Crime Writers Debut Dagger Award, was still unpublished, and how many chances would I ever get to write about my favorite detective?

It turned out that the Tribune folks were aware of us. And, though our use of the character could be construed as a copyright violation, they were inclined to look at it as an audition, just as we hoped. It turned out that Mr. Locher really was retiring. On the basis of the work displayed in Plainclothes, Mike was hired to write the actual strip, Joe to illustrate it. Mike invited me to be the police technical advisor, since I’m still an active cop, and I live in Chicago (the unstated, but obvious, setting for the strip).

The first person to have that job was a fellow named Al Valanis, a respected detective in the Chicago Police who has the distinction of being one of the first forensic sketch artists in the history of law enforcement. He created a new feature in Tracy that’s become almost as familiar to fans as Tracy’s two-way wrist communication device. “Crimestoppers’ Textbook,” a panel at the beginning of every Sunday strip that gave safety tips for cops, crime prevention tips for citizens, and the occasional pithy editorial comment. As the new technical advisor, I was also to write the copy for “Crimestoppers.”

A few months into the gig, I had an idea for a new feature that would occasionally replace “Crimestoppers.” A feature that would profile a noteworthy real-life police officer, to be called “Dick Tracy’s Hall of Fame,” appearing roughly once a month. Over the years, we’ve honored such famed law officers as Eliot Ness, Frank Serpico, Robert Fabian of the Yard, Mary Sullivan (the first-ever female homicide detective), Eugene Vidocq (the founder of the Sûreté), and Bill Tilghman (the greatest of all frontier lawmen).

During this last year, being a policeman who writes crime stories, I had the notion of building the “Hall of Fame” entries for 2015 around a particular theme, cops who also write cop fiction. A few of the more obvious choices have been Joseph Wambugh, William Caunitz, Maurice Procter, and A.C. Baantjer.

But police work isn’t carried out exclusively on big city streets. And crime fiction doesn’t exist only in novels. And so, when I conceived the notion of devoting a year’s worth of Hall of Fame inductees to cops who were also fictioneers, small-town police chief and short story ace David Dean was one of the first persons I thought of.

I’ve admired David’s stories for years, and was pleased to learn that, upon retiring from the Avalon Police in New Jersey, he intended to start writing novels. His first book-length fiction, The Thirteenth Child, was a first-rate genre-crossover, effectively blending the elements of a realistic police procedural thriller with a supernatural horror novel. I couldn’t put it down.


I was also struck by the fact that, when I saw a picture of David, tall, lean, ruggedly handsome, square-jawed, he seemed to remind me of someone.

Maybe if his hair was dark instead of sandy, or if he changed out of the uniform and into a business suit, trenchcoat, and snap-brim fedora, I’d be able to put my finger on just who it is he puts me in mind of.

13 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes meets O Henry, 2


O Henry
by Leigh Lundin

If you thought last week’s story featuring O Henry’s Shamrock Jolnes was dull, er, droll, wait until you read this week’s clunker.

I admire O Henry’s stories, I really do, but his heavy drinking shows, drinking that led to an early death by liver failure. But that’s just my opinion. These turkeys managed to get published posthumously.

The ‘O’ in William Sydney Porter’s O Henry pseudonym originally stood for Olivier. He used that pen name only once and changed it to simply ‘O’ to disguise the fact he was writing while in federal prison for bank embezzlement. A friend forwarded manuscripts to publishers to further obscure Porter’s whereabouts.

Athol, Margaret, William Porter, 1895
Without doubt, he loved his wife, Athol. Porter married her knowing she suffered from consumption, the disease tuberculosis that would eventually take her life.

Athol encouraged her husband to write, which he began while working in Austin and Houston. After a boy who died in childbirth, Athol bore a daughter, Margaret.

After Porter’s indictment for bank fraud, he fled the country, arriving in Trujillo, Honduras. Porter planned for his wife and daughter to join him, but upon learning she was dying of tuberculosis, Porter returned and gave himself up. While serving three years of a five-year sentence in an Ohio federal prison, he wrote short stories to help support his young daughter, Margaret.

After prison, Porter moved to New York where he commenced his literary career in earnest. These Shamrock Jolnes stories were written shortly before his 1910 death at age 47.

The Sleuths

by O Henry
(© 1911)


In the Big City a man will disappear with the suddenness and completeness of the flame of a candle that is blown out. All the agencies of inquisition – the hounds of the trail, the sleuths of the city’s labyrinths, the closet detectives of theory and induction – will be invoked to the search. Most often the man’s face will be seen no more. Sometimes he will re-appear in Sheboygan or in the wilds of Terre Haute, calling himself one of the synonyms of ‘Smith’, and without memory of events up to a certain time, including his grocer’s bill. Sometimes it will be found, after dragging the rivers, and polling the restaurants to see if he may be waitng for a well-done sirloin, that he has moved next door.

This snuffing out of a human being like the erasure of a chalk man from a blackboard is one of the most impressive themes in dramaturgy

The case of Mary Snyder, in point, should not be without interest.

A man of middle age, of the name of Meeks, came from the West to New York to find his sister, Mrs. Mary Snyder, a widow, aged fifty-two who had been living for a year in a tenement house in a crowded neighborhood.

At her address he was told that Mary Snyder had moved away longer than a month before. No one could tell him the new address.

On coming out Mr. Meeks addressed a policeman who was standing on the corner, and explained his dilemma.

“My sister is very poor,” he said, “and I am anxious to find her. I have recently made quite a lot of money in a lead mine, and I want her to share my prosperity. There is no use in advertising her, because she cannot read.”

The policeman pulled his mustache and looked so thoughtful and mighty that Meeks could almost feel the joyful tears of his sister Mary drooping upon his bright blue tie.

“You go down in the Canal Street neighborhood,” said the policeman, “and get a job drivin’ the biggest dray you can find. There’s old women always getting’ knocked over by drays down there. You might see ‘er among ‘em. If you don’t want to do that you better go ‘round to headquarters and get ‘em to put a fly cop onto the dame.”

At police headquarters, Meeks received ready assistance. A general alarm was sent out and copies of a photograph of Mary Snyder that her brother had were distributed among the stations. In Mulberry Street the chief assigned Detective Mullins to the case.

The detective took Meeks aside and said:

“This is not a very difficult case to unravel. Shave off your whiskers, fill your pockets with good cigars, and meet me in the café of the Waldorf at three o’clock this afternoon.”

Meeks obeyed. He found Mullins there. They had a bottle of wine, while the detective asked questions concerning the missing woman.

“Now,” said Mullins, “New York is a big city, but we’ve got the detective business systematized. There are two ways we can go about finding your sister. We will try one of ‘em first. You say she’s fifty-two?”

“A little past,” said Meeks.

The detective conducted the Westerner to a branch advertising office of one of the largest dailies. There he wrote the following “ad” and submitted it to Meeks.

“Wanted, at once – one hundred attractive chorus girls for a new musical comedy. Apply all day at No.–- Broadway.”

Meeks was indignant.

“My sister,” said he, “is a poor, hard-working, elderly woman. I do not see what aid an advertisement of this kind would be toward finding her.”

“All right,” said the detective. “I guess you don’t know New York. But if you’ve got a grouch against this scheme we’ll try the other one. It’s a sure thing. But it’ll cost you more.”

“Never mind the expense,” said Meeks; “we’ll try it.”

The sleuth led him back to the Waldorf. “Engage a couple of bedrooms and a parlor,” he advised, “and let’s go up.”

This was done, and the two were shown to a superb suite on the fourth floor. Meeks looked puzzled. The detective sank into a velvet armchair, and pulled out his cigar case.

“I forgot to suggest, old man,” he said, “that you should have taken the rooms by the month. They wouldn’t have stuck you so much for em.”

“By the month!” exclaimed Meeks. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’ll take time to work the game this way. I told you it would cost you more. We’ll have to wait till spring. There’ll be a new city directory out then. Very likely your sister’s name and address will be in it.”

Meeks rid himself of the city detective at once. On the next day some one advised him to consult Shamrock Jolnes, New York’s famous private detective, who demanded fabulous fees, but performed miracles in the way of solving mysteries and crimes.

After waiting for two hours in the anteroom of the great detective’s apartment, Meeks was shown into his presence. Jolnes sat in a purple dressing gown at an inlaid ivory chess table, with a magazine before him, trying to solve the mystery of “They.” The famous sleuth’s thin, intellectual face, piercing eyes, and rate per word are too well known to need description.

Meeks set forth his errand. “My fee, if successful, will be $500,” said Shamrock Jolnes.

Meeks bowed his agreement to the price.

“I will undertake your case, Mr. Meeks,” said Jones, finally. “The disappearance of people in this city has always been an interesting problem to me. I remember a case that I brought to a successful outcome a year ago. A family bearing the name of Clark disappeared suddenly from a small flat in which they were living I watched the flat building for two months for a clue. One day it struck me that a certain milkman and a grocer’s boy always walked backward when they carried their wares upstairs. Following out by induction the idea that this observation gave me, I at once located the missing family. They had moved into the flat across the hall and changed their name to Kralc.”

Shamrock Jolnes and his client went to the tenement house where Mary Snyder had lived, and the detective demanded to be shown the room in which she had lived. It had been occupied by no tenant since her disappearance.

The room was small, dingy, and poorly furnished. Meeks seated himself dejectedly on a broken chair, while the great detective searched the walls and floors and the few sticks of old, rickety furniture for a clue.

At the end of half an hour Jolnes had collected a few seemingly umintelligible articles – a cheap black hatpin, a piece torn off a theatre programme, and the end of a small torn card on which was the word “Left” and the characters “C 12.”

Shamrock Jolnes leaned against the mantel for ten minutes, with his head resting upon his hand, and an absorbed look upon his intellectual face. At the end of that time he exclaimed, with animation:

“Come, Mr. Meeks; the problem is solved. I can take you directly to the house where your sister is living. And you may have no fears concerning her welfare, for she is amply provided with funds – for the present at least.”

Meeks felt joy and wonder in equal proportions.

“How did you manage it?” he asked, with admiration in his tones.

Perhaps Jolnes’s only weakness was a professional pride in his wonderful achievements in induction. He was ever ready to astound and charm his listeners by describing his methods.

“By elimination,” said Jolnes, spreading his clues upon a little table, “I got rid of certain parts of the city to which Mrs. Snyder might have removed. You see this hatpin? That eliminates Brooklyn. No woman attempts to board a car at the Brooklyn Bridge without being sure that she carries a hatpin with which to fight her way into a seat. And now I will demonstrate to you that she could not have gone to Harlem. Behind this door are two hooks in the wall. Upon one of these Mrs. Snyder has hung her bonnet, and upon the other her shawl. You will observe that the bottom the hanging shawl has gradually made a soiled streak against the plastered wall. The mark is clean-out, proving that there is no fringe on the shawl. Now, was there ever a case where a middle-aged woman, wearing a shawl, boarded a Harlem train without there being a fringe on the shawl to catch in the gate and delay the passengers behind her? So we eliminate Harlem.

“Therefore I conclude that Mrs. Snyder has not moved very far away. On this torn piece of card you see the word ‘Left, the letter ‘C,’ and the number ‘12.’ Now, I happen to know that No. 12 Avenue C is a first-class boarding house, far beyond your sister’s means – as we suppose. But then I find this piece of a theatre programme, crumpled into an odd shape. What meaning does it convey? None to you, very likely, Mr. Meeks; but it is eloquent to one whose habits and training take cognizance of the smallest things.

“You have told me that your sister was a scrub woman. She scrubbed the floors of offices and hallways. Let us assume that she procured such work to perform in a theatre. Where is valuable jewellery lost the oftenest, Mr. Meeks? In the theatres, of course. Look at that piece of programme, Mr. Meeks. Observe the round impression in it. It has been wrapped around a ring – perhaps a ring of great value. Mrs. Snyder found the ring while at work in the theatre. She hastily tore off a piece of a programme, wrapped the ring carefully, and thrust it into her bosom. The next day she disposed of it, and with her increased means, looked about her for a more comfortable place in which to live. When I reach thus far in the chain I see nothing impossible about No. 12 Avenue C. It is there we will find your sister, Mr. Meeks.”

Shamrock Jolnes concluded his convincing speech with the smile of a successful artist. Meeks’s admiration was too great for words. Together they went to No. 12 Avenue C. It was an old-fashioned brownstone house in a prosperous and respectable neighborhood.

They rang the bell, and on inquiry were told that no Mrs. Snyder was known there, and that not within six months had a new occupant come to the house.

When they reached the sidewalk again, Meeks examined the clues which he had brought away from his sister’s old room.

“I am no detective,” he remarked to Jolnes as he raised the piece of theatre programme to his nose, “but it seems to me that instead of a ring having been wrapped in this paper it was one of those round peppermint drops. And this piece with the address on it looks to me like the end of a seat coupon – No. 12, row C, left aisle.”

Shamrock Jolnes had a far-away look in his eyes.

“I think you would do well to consult Juggins,” said he.

“Who is Juggins?” asked Meeks.

“He is the leader,” said Jolnes, “of a new modern school of detectives. Their methods are different from ours, but it is said that Juggins has solved some extremely puzzling cases. I will take you to him.”

They found the greater Juggins in his office. He was a small man with light hair, deeply absorbed in reading one of the bourgeois works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The two great detectives of different schools shook hands with ceremony, and Meeks was introduced.

“State the facts,” said Juggins, going on with his reading.

When Meeks ceased, the greater one closed his book and said:

“Do I understand that your sister is fifty-two years of age, with a large mole on the side of her nose, and that she is a very poor widow, making a scanty living by scrubbing, and with a very homely face and figure?”

“That describes her exactly,” admitted Meeks. Juggins rose and put on his hat.

“In fifteen minutes,” he said, “I will return, bringing you her present address.”

Shamrock Jolnes turned pale, but forced a smile.

Within the specified time Juggins returned and consulted a little slip of paper held in his hand.

“Your sister, Mary Snyder,” he announced calmly, “will be found at No. 162 Chilton Street. She is living in the back hall bedroom, five flights up. The house is only four blocks from here,” he continued addressing Meeks. Suppose you go and verify the statement and then return here. Mr Jolnes will await you, I dare say.”

Meeks hurried away. In twenty minutes he was back again, with a beaming face.

“She is there and well!” he cried. “Name your fee!”

“Two dollars,” said Juggins.

When Meeks had settled his bill and departed, Shamrock Jolnes stood with his hat in his hand before Juggins.

“If it would not be asking too much,” he stammered , “if you would favor me so far – would you object to ––”

“Certainly not,” said Juggins, pleasantly. “I will tell you how I did it. You remember the description of Mrs. Snyder? Did you ever know a woman like that who wasn’t paying weekly instalments on an enlarged crayon portrait of herself? The biggest factory of that kind in the country is just around the corner. I went there and got her address off the books. That’s all.”



Trivia: Kids of yesteryear might remember The Cisco Kid, a popular movie and western television series. The name, although not the plot, was taken from a short story by… O Henry.