All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty
'Tis the Season To Be Dead Part Two!
For a moment I was too surprised to speak, which is unlike me. I picked the book up off the floor and, after I brushed off the bloodstain, examined the flap. The title was Fowler’s Fortunate Folly and was about a swashbuckling spy named Fowler who had gone on a secret mission and somehow ended up with a ravishing bride and a claim to a played-out gold mine. Turned out that the gold mine was ravishing and the bride was played-out, but it was selling pretty well as the kind of series where you pretty much know what you’re getting before you turn to the first page.
I said, ‘Your name is Fowler and you’re a freelance spy?’
‘My name is Myrna Hofsteder and I want this book pulled from the shelves right now!’ she screeched. That was a better plan than burning the thing, but no more feasible. But wait a minute now. Wasn’t--it was! The name of the bride in the book was indeed Myrna Hofsteder.
Foolishly, I tried to placate her. ‘Lady, if you’d just--’
‘All right, I won’t sue if you do me a favor.’ Now I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure if anyone was going to sue anyone, it was going to be me for Assault With a Deadly Book (ADB), but if I could do something to calm her down and shut her up without any more throwing, then I would. With some trepidation, I asked ‘What’s that?’
She pointed out the front window across the street, apparently at nothing.
I peered out the window and saw the storefronts and the parked cars and the litter and the busted up sidewalk and the construction stuff, but other than that, nothing. ‘So?’ I inquired.
‘So look,’ she came back. I looked again, and again I just saw the usual downtown detritus. Myrna came up behind me, put her hands on either side of my coconut, and turned my field of vision to the right. ‘There! See?’ And again, I saw nothing except one of those Salvation Army kettles on the tripod, but no one was staffing it. ‘So?’ I inquired again.
‘I won’t press charges for you people selling this lousy book with my unauthorized character if you fill in for Jack, who is supposed to be collecting for the Army.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ I backpedaled. ‘For one thing, you haven’t got a leg to stand on if you try to sue us. For another, how do you know I won’t abscond with the money? And in case you didn’t notice, I already have a job of work to do!’
‘Abscond. That’s pretty good,’ Myrna reflected. ‘Did you read this trash? Good old Fowler--she spat the word--absconded with the gold claim and me!’
‘Turned out he only wanted the filthy lucre, didn’t it?’ Probably I should have kept my big bazoo buttoned, for she visibly seethed at me and for an uneasy moment I thought that she was going to throw something else at me, but with an effort she calmed herself and said, ‘Look, bud, just stand out there and make sure nobody including you takes anything from the collection, and we’ll call it even. If you don’t, I’ll make your life even more miserable than mine!’
No doubt that was true. I did think the ‘including you’ part was uncalled for, but after all, I had mentioned it first. And it was just about quitting time.
‘What’s in it for me?’ I queried. Might as well get something out of the deal, and anyway it’s against my religion to work for free.
‘You’re all the same,’ she muttered. That made me wonder. Men? Booksellers? Tall skinny guys covered in warts? Then she sighed and said,
‘Just do this for me and I’ll take care of you.’
‘You already took care of me!’, I exclaimed, indicating my swollen, bloody nose.
‘Look, I’m sorry about that, but you shouldn’t go around selling this slanderous material! But forget about that! I’ll give you twenty if you stand there another hour.’
Forget about my nearly busted nose? Easier said than done. I checked my watch. Ten past seven. I was supposed to have been out of here ten minutes ago! Still, twenty for forty-five minutes of standing around sounded ok, so I shut the lights and locked the door, and at seven-fifteen I found myself standing in front of a bright red kettle wearing a Santy shirt that was about twelve sizes too big, presumably for the insertion of a pillow, and clanging one of their bells. And then I waited for something to happen. And then it did.
What will happen? Tune in next time, have a Happy Merry, and check out our holiday themed mystery tales!
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