Category Archives: Uncategorized

2016 . . . a tough year

 

 

People come, people go. But this year in particular seems to have been a pretty tough one. A lot of cherished faces gone. We’ll see them all again of course, in the sweet by and by. At the late-night movies, cable re-runs, and in our dreams. God speed to all these dear souls. And thank you for the memories, and the good times.

 

We've lost so many great ones this year. We are adding a number of people to tomorrow's In Memoriam broadcast which will be running both tomorrow and Friday. Please add anyone you'd like to see included in the next video and leave your condolences below. RIP

Posted by Do You Remember? on Wednesday, December 28, 2016

 

To all the readers of APROPOS OF NOTHING, we would like to wish you a most Happy and Prosperous New Year, in the light of love of family and friends.

See you all again, in 2017.

Mark Twain’s letter from Santa Claus

 

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), well known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has been called “the Great American Novel”, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Twain was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. His elder daughter, Suzy Clemens, was born in Elmira, New York, and lived a short life, dying at the age of 23 from meningitis. In childhood, Suzy often had poor health, similar to her mother. At 13, she wrote a biography of her father, which was included as par of Twain’s Chapters From My Autobiography. Mark Twain wrote a letter to his daughter, which he sent from Santa Claus, during one of her childhood illnesses.

 

Mark Twain’s Letter from Santa Claus

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands–for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples’ alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters–I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself–and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: “Little Snow Flake,” (for that is the child’s name) “I’m glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I.” That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn’t hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy. MY DEAR SUSIE CLEMENS:

There was a word or two in your mama’s letter which I couldn’t be certain of. I took it to be “a trunk full of doll’s clothes.” Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o’clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak–otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse’s bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, “Welcome, Santa Claus!” Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say “Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens,” you must say “Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here–I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, ‘I know somebody up there and like her, too.’ ” Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall–if it is a trunk you want–because I couldn’t get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all–so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven’t time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag–else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus’s boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call “The Man in the Moon”

Mark Twain

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

 

Published 1845

The Little Match Girl

 

by      Hans Christian Andersen

 

Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening– the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.

One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single farthing.

She crept along trembling with cold and hunger–a very picture of sorrow, the poor little thing!

The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year’s Eve; yes, of that she thought.

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant’s house.

Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.

“Someone is just dead!” said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.

She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an expression of love.

“Grandmother!” cried the little one. “Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!” And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety–they were with God.

But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.

Hans Christian Andersen

The Gift of the Magi . . . by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

This story was originally published on Dec 10, 1905 in The New York Sunday World as “Gifts of the Magi.” It was subsequently published as The Gift of the Magi in O. Henry’s 1906 short story collection The Four Million.

 

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 left 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 look-out 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, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as 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 grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow 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 honour 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 Bat. 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 colour 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 of 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 cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One Eight 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 78 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 of saying little silent prayers 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 with out gloves.

Jim stepped 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 it 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 labour.

“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 a 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. I his 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 for 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 then 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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

O. Henry

 

The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Five and Epilogue

reckoning-cover

 

obrien

 

 

   CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

 

The days after the mine passed quickly as they also dragged by—in a complete contradiction of terms. Days full of hope, and lots of love and laughter. Also, a fair amount of sorrow and sadness. A lot of blood had been spilled, and a lot of life lost in the pursuit of the madman Saal Moradi.

So much of it had been innocent.

I woke up in the hospital. Saint Mary’s in Tucson, to be exact. A couple of days had passed. This time, no visits to the afterworld for me. The entire space of time was just a complete blank.

And no more visitors from the netherworld either. The voices that I had heard below the old Carson Mine had belonged to real enough people. Two men who, like us, were attracted to the sight of the vultures and the smell of death. Local retired gentlemen, they loved to spend their mornings panning for trace gold in the many dry washes of the area. When they had ventured into McCafferty Canyon that day, they had gotten a lot more “fun” than they had bargained for.

They had made a possible connection in their minds with the body they had discovered near the road, to the mine on the canyon wall above them. Once up there to check it out, they were fortunately able to spot Matt and I on the desert floor below. The fact that we had survived, was in the end, mostly just plain dumb luck, rather than our own so-called superpowers. That was often the case with Matt and me.

It was good though, that I had been able to carry Matt the short distance that I did. Without that, we would have never been visible. Apparently, we two had the old guardian angels working a lot of overtime—as usual.

I guess Matt and I couldn’t really fault ourselves too much for finally running out of gas. It had, after all, been a rough couple of weeks.

They had found us in late morning. The darkness, and the cold that I had experienced, was only in my own mind. Part of my extremely ill body and brain beginning to shut down—according to the doctors. We had been air-lifted in to the hospital, none too fast for either of us, as they had explained.

Things were going well for me. It took them a while to figure out exactly what was going on with my body while I was out. Radiation poisoning, it turned out, was not all that common in southern Arizona. Finally, they were able to get the right mixture of drugs into me to begin to dissipate the poison. I was going to make it all right, but they warned me of the possibility of long-term bone-marrow damage. One specialist said that he thought it would probably come back to haunt me in my old age. Another said that I would probably die of that old age long before that happened.

Doctors—what the heck do they really know anyhow?

The docs all asked me how it had happened. I simply replied that it was a really long story.

I would carry a couple of keepsakes of the experience. One, my time-travel abilities were gone—and they looked likely to stay that way. Hard as I tried in the hospital, I couldn’t move even a second in time. The other was that somewhere between Calvert Cliffs and the old Carson mine, what was left of my rapidly thinning hair had turned snow-white. Maggie, echoing me, said it just made me look even sexier. I was pretty sure that was not the total truth, but I loved her for the lie.

Maggie, Linh, and newborn little Albert joined us a few days after we were rescued. Maggie, to try to look after me, and Linh to care for her husband. I had gotten pretty lucky, considering some of the long odds I had been up against at the Cliffs.

Not so much with Matt McCabe. He was hurt very badly.

All of the injuries that I had observed when I found him at the bottom of the cliff were in fact true. Plus a few more. Fortunately, his neck was all right, or my moving him might have finished killing him. Along with two fractured hips though, was also a rather badly broken back. It was in all likelihood, going to put him in a wheelchair they said. That was, if he woke up from the coma he had slipped into.

They were wrong on all counts, as it turned out. But then of course, the doctors didn’t know what a determined son-of-a-gun they were dealing with. Matt did come out of the coma after only about ten days. And he also came out of the rehab center they sent him to, about four months after that. And he came out on working legs, albeit piloting an old guy walker.

The three of us made no end of fun about that to him. He didn’t care, because he knew, as did we, that it was only temporary. He finally threw it away a couple of months later on. Matt would walk, and speak, a little haltingly for the rest of his life. But walk and talk he would. And, he and his lovely wife, would remain my dearest friends until my last day on earth.

Matt would continue on, aging from where he was, for the rest of his life. He always retained his most excellent good looks, but when he and Linh showed up months later for our double marriage vow renewal ring thingy ceremony with Maggie and me, I was happy to note just a sprinkling of gray hair mixed with the black on the top of his head.

Dashing.

The cow-lick, along with his own time-travel abilities, were gone forever.

My boy was growing up. He blamed the head injury for the fact that he couldn’t “travel” anymore. Me, I thought it probably had a lot more to do with a higher power. One that had been watching over us both for a very long time. I had some proof of that fact. The two men that had found us said they had started out for another famous area mine, out on Ruby Road. But for some strange reason, they both said, they were at the last minute, attracted to the Carson diggings.

The re-commitment ceremony was sweet. Back home in Bellevue, and out on Lake Washington. Behind my house on Mercer. On a fine summer day. All four of us lined up in a row—smiling idiotically. It made for some great pictures.

Maggie and I had been married as soon as I was released from the hospital, in a small private ceremony. We both decided that we had waited just about long enough to be with each other in the biblical sense. I still wobbled a little walking down the aisle, and Maggie was still hurting plenty from her wounded side, but we did just fine on our wedding night, albeit very carefully.

And it was well worth waiting for. Waking up for the first time with Maggie the next morning was just about the finest moment of joy I had ever experienced in my life.

We were able to join with the wheelchaired Harold Wiggins about a month later back in DC for a joint memorial service for both his gallant grandson Trey, as well as the equally brave and stalwart Brick Wahl. It was a pleasure to be there to honor these men, and another one to be asked to speak and tell the world what I thought of the two of them. Wish I could tell you I got through it without tears—but why lie?

Shahida Faris, recently promoted to special agent, was there too, along with Dallin Weeks. He had survived his wounds, but had lost quite a bit of one of his lungs. He was also still in a wheelchair the day of the memorial service, but indicated that he didn’t intend to stay there for long. He was happy to accept my offer of employment with my detective agency. I convinced him that I was intending to expand it greatly on my return home, and would benefit from another skilled special investigator.

And as a bonus, that even turned out to be true.

Howard Carter had returned home to recuperate from his leg wounds, and was finally making good on his old threat to retire. The city council of Bellevue was only too happy to comply with his request to appoint his suggested replacement. It sounded good too.

Bellevue, Washington Chief of Police, Linh McCabe.

I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with him when I got home. He wanted to know just what happened to his pistol. I told him I had accidently dropped it—just before the atomic bomb went off. I told him I had slightly more important things to worry about right at that particular moment. Old Howard didn’t consider that to be much of an excuse though, and made me buy a brand-new replacement for him. I was happy to do so, and right while I was at it, got a second one for myself. Howard had been after me for a long time to upgrade my armament. After the Moradi affair, I had to confess he made a good point.

Besides, I had to admit it looked pretty darned good on me in a spanking new leather shoulder holster. My homburg was a total loss with the holes and bloodstains, and as I didn’t want to admit to Sam McCabe and his girlfriend that I had accidentally destroyed their Christmas present, I simply bought another exact copy for a replacement.

They never knew the difference, and I intentionally left that part out of my many retellings of the story.

The President made it out of the country, but he wasn’t about to be coming back. He emailed, of all things, a resignation to the new United States President, Jonas John Watkins. America was in good hands again. And the old President? Well, those in the know didn’t really believe he was going to last all that long in the bug and malaria infested dark corner of South America that he had ran to. He was wanted for high treason. It also seemed that Shahida Faris was able to file a criminal complaint with the US Justice Department against the man that had once been the most powerful person in the world—for the murder of her housekeeper. Probably wouldn’t have held up in court—but the President didn’t know that.

Poetic justice in action.

Like I always said; Karma—she can be one nasty lady.

I was also pleased to note that not a single solitary American-Muslim person had a thing to do with all that had transpired—radical or otherwise. They had simply been a fall-guy. Or more accurately, I guess—a fall-people.

The good lady at the Detroit Airport that had loaned her bullet-proof vest to Linh never did get it back. Linh decided to keep it as a souvenir of the occasion. She did send a brand-new replacement though. Along with a heartfelt thank you card. And a check for the old vest.

Large enough for the good lady to buy a new car.

And a new house.

And college educations for her two children.

And a month-long vacation for the entire family.

Like I said—Linh had some kind of class, and some kind of grace. One of a kind. And the only one that would ever exist. We had come pretty close to losing her. Her miraculous survival was enough to make me rethink myself on bullet-proof vests. You can only tempt guardian angels so much, and I thought mine must be getting pretty darned tired.

So, I bought myself one too.

I purchased the old Carson mine. It turned out that it had always been on private, not public land, and was owned and held as an investment by a Mesa real-estate developer. That fact made the deal easy. He told me he always considered the property to be pretty much a dog, and was only too happy to part with it for a more than fair price.

Before the ink was even dry on my new deed, I hired a construction company to go up there and blast the thing shut. The ugly face was now gone, and no human would ever go inside of it again. The land would never be used again either, and I would hold the deed forever to make sure that was true. The history of that place of sorrow was closed for good, and the hellish pocket-watch buried and gone for all time.

Or was it?

I knew that I was going to have to make sure.

Roan McCabe was exhumed from his crude grave, and along with the bodies of Aedan and Joshua, air-shipped overseas to the McCabe family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.  Aedan and Roan were back home where they belonged. And Joshua, we figured, in a place where he could rest comfortably. He had become a madman. But not all of that was completely his own fault. In the end, his remains were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved.

The long summer of recovery at last faded into Autumn and the first of the color was already showing in the trees out on Mercer Island. The time had finally come for me to make a couple of trips. The first was to the west coast—with Maggie. California to be exact. The warm, sunny, and very pleasant city of San Diego. To see a lady, as it were—about a girl.

A girl by the name of Jennifer Joyce Ames—the daughter of the woman Brick had accidentally killed years before in Deadwood, Colorado. It hadn’t been too terribly hard for my newest crack investigator Dallin Weeks to come up with the name and address. I remembered that Brick had told me that he regularly sent money to the kid’s aunt to help out with things. It was a tradition that Maggie and I intended to keep up.

We weren’t nearly prepared for what we found when we finally got there.

We walked in on a funeral. That of the aunt. Turned out that she had been sick for quite some time, fighting cancer. I felt more than a just a little out of place and uncomfortable as I described who I was, and what my relationship had been with their late financial mentor, Brick Wahl.

Maggie, with her amazing and disarmingly wonderful women’s ways, helped considerably in breaking the ice.

The girl, Jenny, as everyone called her, was everything and more that Brick had said she was. Bright, articulate, wise, poised beyond her years, and cute as a button to boot. Both Maggie and I fell in love with her instantly. Turned out she didn’t have a lot of options facing her at the moment, with her dear aunt gone. She had been entertaining an offer from a relative in distant New York, to live with them for the next two years, until she reached the age of majority.

Jenny was a sixteen-year-old at the moment; legal, according to California law, to make decisions concerning her own future, on her own behalf. After only a couple of hours talking with Maggie and I, she decided to accept an employment offer on our part with Watchmaker Enterprises, my detective agency. She would be joining Emily Hatcher, as yet another under-worked, but very much over-compensated employee of the firm.

Hey, it was a tradition with me, the world’s dumbest and most overly-generous boss of all time. Truth of the matter was, I loved the role, and played it to perfection. Part of Jenny’s compensation package would include her own nearby apartment and transportation—just as soon as she learned to drive, that was.

For her part of the bargain, she was only required to finish her high-school education while she did part-time secretarial work for the company. If she wanted to go on to college after that, she would most certainly be encouraged to do so, fully paid for by the “firm,” of course.

We were so happy that she accepted. Jenny would never be made to feel like a charge, or a burden. Although she would become as close to Maggie and I as a daughter, she would be supporting herself, and paying her own way in life—while at the same time, Maggie and I would be keeping a good close eye on her.

We both thought Brick would be happy with the arrangement.

I had my attorney draw up the necessary papers and contract. Jenny would be returning to Bellevue with Maggie.

Me, I had one more journey to make. I talked to Maggie about it, and she agreed.

This one, I had to do alone.

This one, was just between the watch—and myself.

 

arm-and-gun

 

    EPILOGUE

 

The taxi finally came to a complete stop. I took a look around before I finally opened the door, anxious and yet not, to see and to do the thing I had come to this place for.

I paid the cabbie off and started walking up Virginia Park Street, and to the house there that I remembered so well. I had been a guest in it once—around three quarters of a century or so before.

Now I owned it. The keys jingled in my pocket. It had been empty and on the market for some time. The purchase had been a piece of cake.

Finally, the old Victorian came into view. Surprisingly, little had changed in all those years since the days of Kid McCoy, and the spectral and ghostly love of his life, Theresa Mors.

I was sad that I hadn’t been able to find out what had happened to their daughter. It would haunt me, and I knew that someday I was going to have to do something about that.

The house, unlike so many in the once great and now fallen city of Detroit, had been well taken care of. The Kid’s hardwood floors were now carpeted, and the stylish wallpaper had turned to paint.

The color scheme wasn’t all that great, but it was all fixable—and would provide a little employment to a local home improvement company. My small contribution to rebuilding the economy of the city.

The house itself would do the same. I intended to rent it out—dirt cheap—to the first young, deserving, and hard-working area family that I could locate. The local Salvation Army post was already helping with the search for just such a family. The fact that I intended to charge rent was not to benefit me, an already far too wealthy old guy. It was to benefit them. The money received would go straight back to the Salvation Army—to help many more.

But first, I had a job to do here this day.

I opened the door to the Kid’s nursery—this time with little effort. Memories of that long-ago night, not all that terribly long ago, flooded my mind. It had been well cleaned and fixed up over the years.

It held no ghosts now—friendly or otherwise.

I made my way to the backyard, and to the stately oak tree that I knew would be there. I had already confirmed that fact from Google street view, at the time I decided to buy the property. It had grown considerably in all decades since the Kid, Brick and I had entombed Matt McCabe’s pocket-watch into its interior.

In 1940, the oak had been a young tree. One that wasn’t quite growing the way it was supposed to. The tree had developed a hollow—fairly unusual for a younger oak. Anyway, it was getting large enough, back in the year 1940, that it was probably going to kill the tree. The Kid told us that day that he had been intending to fill it with concrete. He said that generally saved the tree’s life. Since we needed a safe place to stash the watch, the Kid had suggested that it go in the hole first.

So, that’s just exactly what we did. It turned out to be a pretty job. The old hollow had closed around the cement plug over the years. I could just now make out where it had been, an exposed tip of seventy-six-year-old concrete still visible. I had little doubt that the watch was still in there, just as it was also at the bottom of the old Carson mine—covered with thousands of tons of solid earth and stone.

Common sense would tell a person that a single object cannot exist in two places at the same time. But those who would say that did not know the pocket watch from hell. I had put it in this tree. Matt and I had buried it in a mountain. Where was it now? In one place or the other? Or in both at the same time.

I intended to take no chances.

The tree removal service that I had hired arrived right on time. It was a big outfit, with a big job to do. It would take a large piece of equipment to do the job I requested—the complete removal of the old tree, and complete chipping of it, right here on the property, and right before my eyes. Even with the enormous rig, it was going to take several hours. It had cost me a fortune, but it was worth it.

The operator informed me that I need not be concerned about the old concrete in the trunk of the tree. He said that “Big Nellie,” their chipping monster machine would happily digest it too, along with any old chains, nails, and/or  screws that it might come across. They, and any other metal objects in the tree, would all come out in the end, tiny pieces—not one, larger than an eighth of an inch or so.

I made myself comfortable, sitting on the back porch with my feet up on the rail and quietly sipping soda as I observed the tree coming down. Again, as in days of yore—it was mighty pretty work. All the chips would be hauled away and dumped. Since it bio-degradable matter, the operator explained, it was all going into the fast-flowing Detroit River.

I was a little sad about killing the grand old tree, but I consoled myself that it had died for a worthwhile cause. No one would ever possess the watch again. No one would ever use its powers—powers for both good and evil.

You see, in the end I re-learned an age-old lesson.

It’s not good to fool mother nature.

And it’s not good to play with time either.

By the time the afternoon began to fade to night, the oak was gone. It was time for me to be that way too. I packed up my few things, turned the key again in the front door, and headed back out to Woodward Avenue, there to catch an easy cab to the airport and my flight back to Bellevue. There were people waiting for me there.

People I loved. One of those was that infamous scalawag Jack McGuire. I needed to get that guy back to work. Christmas was coming too, not far off. I had lights to string, and trees to decorate.

The house on Mercer Island was dark and sullen no more. It was airy and light, and full of love and laughter.

It was home.

As I walked up the street, I turned and looked around once more for what would be my last time. First, I saw the street and the house the way it was at the moment. And then my mind drifted back to 1940, and the way it had been. And then the fifties, the sixties, and so forth—it constantly changing and the scene shifting before me. At first I thought it was just a trick of my mind. It wasn’t. My body was going along for the ride.

My time-travel abilities were returning. And why shouldn’t they?—it was never really about the watch anyway. It was about my mind. As the poison of the radiation slowly cleared from the tissue of my brain, the ability was slowly coming back.

Besides—I was still displaced.

Nothing was ever going to change that.

I wondered what to do with my re-found ability. I wondered who to tell. In the end, I decided to tell no one. I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to stop being an annoying and crafty old white-haired private investigator. Such an “extra” little ability as was mine was sure to come in handy from time to time in that pursuit.

Besides—I had always thought that every man should have at least one little secret that he kept all to himself. One tiny little tidbit of information that was all his—and all his alone.

This was mine.

 

detective-2

     

     And that is the conclusion of THE RECKONING. Please watch these pages for an upcoming announcement of it’s publication on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other outlets. Thank you so much for reading. APROPOS OF NOTHING will soon begin again posting entertainment, and other blogposts of general interest.

     Looking forward to the new year, and continuing friendship with the readers that we love.

     Goodnight . . . 

 Dumb Joke of the Week:

 

dumb-joke