Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Gift

The story was a gift. A literal knock at my door. I opened up. A young woman stood wrapped in a trench coat. London Fog, I think. She wore a fedora pulled over her eyes.

"Honey," I called to my wife. "Some dame from the 1940s is here."

The woman looked at me like I was crazy. No one ever gets my humor. I invited her in anyway.

"What'll it be, toots?" I said in my best Humphry Bogart. I whipped a washcloth over my shoulder. It wrapped around me like a tight hug. "The name's Christamar, see. And who might you be?"

I winced. Bogey would never rhyme.

Instead of answering like a civilized person, she strode around me and led the way down the hallway to my living room. Along the way, she reached into a large red leather handbag and pulled out a manuscript.

Oh no, I thought, horrified. She's going to want me to read that.

Sure enough, after balancing the manuscript on her knees as she squatted in front of my coffee table moving toys and magazines out of the way so she could the could (eventually) slap the material against the Formica tabletop in the most dramatic way possible.

"Read this," she said.

"Can't you just tell me your name and state your business." I said. "Young dames don't just get to push their way into my home and order me around. Come to think of it, neither do dames of other ages. And what's the opposite of a dame? A doughboy? They don't get to push me around either. Things were turning around in a bad way.

She stood with her arms crossed in front of her. Her wavy brown hair was starting to pull loose from her ponytail. I put her age at between twenty-eight and thirty-two but there was a weathered look to her face, as if she'd been beaten up by years of worry and maybe something more. She was very serious, and her hands shook as she held them out in front of her and started to tell her story.

"You know the story of the Reverend and you know about her connection to [AUTHOR'S NAME REDACTED]."

Sure I did. I wrote a book about it didn't me. I'm cited by name in that book by the New Yorker writer and that contributor to Vanity Fair, used my research as the basis for a long article he published in Scribd. 

The Reverend, of course, was the voodoo preacher, alleged to have killed off at least five members of his family for insurance money he split with a charismatic country lawyer. I knew as much about that story as anybody, and I told he so. "I know the story."

"And you know how to publish a book."

"It's not very hard these days."

"It can't be me that does it. You can have my half. The other half goes to charity as stipulated under contract."

"A contract with who?"

"That's the thing," she said. "I'm not allowed to say."  

I pikced up that pages and started to thumb through them. It was the book within a book that jumped out to me..The title. The Author's name. The copyright date. I read the first page just to be sure. Could it be?"

I looked at the woman. This stranger who had dropped into my house unannounced. "This is the lost manuscript."

"It's mine," She said. "I own the rights fair and square."

"But how?" 

"Read the book," she said. "It's all in there." And so I did. And now so can you: