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Backpage Baby-Fiction by Robb White
Elegant on the Outside-Fiction by Bruce Costello
A Life Examined-Fiction by Doug Hawley
Run, Baby, Run-Fiction by J. Brooke
The Pursuit of Presley Penguin-Fiction by Michael D. Davis
Neighbors-Fiction by M. A. De Neve
Strange Attractors-Fiction by Jeff Houlahan
The Ghost of Christmas Never-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Best Enemies Forever-Flash Fiction by Walter Giersbach
Glitter in the Dark-Flash Fiction by Dini Armstrong
Spirit Intoxicating Babe in the Woods-Flash Fiction by Monique Saier
My Only Christmas Story-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Ode to Old Brooklyn-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Bacardi Taillights Machine Gun Farewell-Poem by John Short
Pearl Diver-Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Abandoned Sofas-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Kafka Museum-Poem by Henry Bladon
Elegy for Frank-Poem by David Spicer
Schmoozy-Woozy-Poem by David Spicer
Dangerous-Poem by Marc Carver
Eternal-Poem by Marc Carver
The Race has Just Begun-Poem by J.J.Campbell
The Endless Nightmare-Poem by J. J. Campbell
The Last Word-Poem by Meg Baird
Vision of Steel-Poem by Meg Baird
Zen-Poem by Meg Baird
Estrangement-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
First World Herd-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
Christmas Morning in an East Hollywood Hovel-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
A Season of Bailing Wire and Duct Tape-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Steve Cartwright 2019

The Pursuit of Presley Penguin

By Michael D. Davis


          It was four days till Christmas and Quartertown was blanketed with snow that turned to mush upon hitting the ground. Count Whorley Whorton sat in front of his television in his small apartment, attempting to soak up the heat and survive another Iowa winter. Through the pocket doors behind him in the office, Count’s love and partner in every endeavor, Irma Side, sat trying to pay a few of the red lettered bills. Kenny, a giant from the tip of his toes to the bridge of his nose, sat across from Irma and complained.

          “I tell you I’m doing my best but I lose’er every time,” Irma didn’t look up at him or respond which frightened Kenny more than if she chewed him out. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry Irma, but I’m not cut out for shadowing somebody. I ain’t good at it. Why don’t you get Alfred Box over here to do it?”

          Irma still didn’t look up, but she did respond, “First of all, Alfred just started this week at the paper as well as working at the Supermart and you can do it yourself if you stop fuckin’ whining and mebbe keep your eyes open. I’m not gonna tell our client, hey your wife mebbe cheating, but we couldn’t fuckin’ follow her and find out. Get your head outta your ass, dumb shit.”

          “Yeah, you’re right Irma…so, Alfred started at the Times Zephyr? That’s cool.”

          “Uh-huh, I’m trying to work here, leave me the hell alone.”

          Kenny got up and walked through the pocket door saying, “What ya watching, Count?”

          “Nothin’ at all,” Whorton took a sip from a large pop and turned the channel, “every year I watch ‘A Werewolf Christmas’, but this year I keep missin’ it.”

          “That old crappy cartoon special with the narration and all?”

          Count was on his feet faster than Kenny had ever seen him. “How dare you? ‘A Werewolf Christmas’ is the best Christmas special of all time. All those old cartoons are the best. What is wrong with you?”

          Just as Kenny was about to respond there came a knock at the door. Not the apartment door, either, but the office door. All the while looking down at what she was doing, Irma called out for whoever it was to come in. Quickly, before the knocker entered, Kenny and Count Whorton slipped into the office, closing the pocket doors behind them, hiding the messy apartment.

          A man in an expensive wool coat and Homburg hat with flecks of snow about him came into the office, shivering. Without moving from the entryway, he said, “Is this the… um, The Bloody Whorehouse Detective Agency?”

          “It’s what it says on the door,” said Irma looking up for the first time in this story to eye the man in the coat, “what can we do you for?”

          “Yes, my name is Doug Astor and I was given your card by a lady at the police station. She said you could help me.”

          Irma gave Count a side-eye look, and said in her high-pitched screechy voice, “Told ya givin’ those cards to Miss Pinky was a good idea.”

          Count didn’t respond and Mr. Astor continued. “I’m only passing through town, but last night I was robbed. I am staying at the St. Belvedere hotel and an item has been taken from my room.”

          “What kind of item, Mr. Astor?”

          “I have a bronze statue worth roughly fifty thousand dollars that was taken.”

          “Shit a biscuit,” said Count Whorton, “why would you travel with such a thing?”

          “Well, some pay to see it, but I’m traveling with it now because it looks like it’s going to be my father’s last Christmas. In actuality, it’s his statue. I just handle it for him since he doesn’t get off the estate anymore. You see, I’m taking it to him.”

          “Why didn’t you put it in the safe?”


          Irma repeated her question saying, “I’m sure a fancy joint like the Belvedere has a safe for such things, why wasn’t your statue in it?”

          “Oh, good question, I’ve had some trouble with past hotels and their safes, so I’ve acquired an impenetrable bulletproof case for it. However, last night I took it out for regular cleaning, then in a moment of stupidity that I regret, I dozed off. When I awoke my wallet and the statue were gone.”

          In an attempt to be more of a detective rather than the strong arm he was Kenny asked a question. “What’s the statue of?”

          “It is a statue of Presley Penguin,” said Mr. Astor making Count jump forward in alarm.

          “You don’t mean,” said Count Whorton, “the wisecracking cartoon penguin with top hat and bow tie?”


          “Hot damn, he’s my favorite cartoon. His creator, Chuck Freleng, also made my favorite Christmas special, ‘A Werewolf Christmas’.”

          “Yeah,” said Mr. Astor, “Chuck Freleng created a lot of the older cartoons.”

          “Wait a minute,” said Irma, “a cartoon penguin is worth fifty thousand dollars?”

          “Correct. The creator, Chuck Freleng, hand-sculpted four different statues of Presley Penguin that were cast in bronze. One is with his children. Another is in a museum in California. The third was supposedly given away to a friend, but no one knows exactly where it is and the fourth was in my possession until last night.”

          “We’ll do what we can to retrieve your statue, Mr. Astor,” said Count Whorton.

          After discussing the situation and price some more Mr. Astor left. As he crossed the threshold Count beamed, a crooked yellow smile was spread from ear to ear on his ghostly white face.

          “This is great,” he said.

          “What’s so great,” said Irma, “it’s just another case.”

          “Oh, Irmie baby don’t you see? We are living Dashiell Hammett’s dream. You, me, chasing down through the city streets the statue of a bird, Irmie, we are in ‘The Maltese Falcon’.”

          “For you, every day is a Humphrey Bogart Picture.” Irma got up from behind the desk and made her way to her purple fuzzy coat on the rack. “I got an appointment across the alley I gotta get to. Kenny, keep following what’s her name and don’t be a dumb fucker, you’ll get the hang of it. Countie, you start thinkin’ up ways to work this penguin case. Tomorrow morning, we can go out to the St. Belvedere and see if anyone saw anything.”

          “No use in that,” said Count, “Mr. Astor said he went to the coppers before he came here and that’s the first place they’ll start. He ain’t payin’ us to shadow the blue boys, not that I think Kenny’d be able to do it.”

          “Hey,” said Kenny making a face.

          “Then figure out where to start.” Irma walked over and gave Count a kiss before saying, “Gotta go, client’s already probably outside my chamber door.”

          After Irma left, Count poured some booze into his pop and lit a bent cigarette while asking Kenny if he wanted to join him in front of the television.

          “Naw, Mrs. DeSilva gets off work in an hour, I gotta see where she goes.”

          Count nodded then said, “That’s an idea, or we could watch Presley Penguin cartoons for the next fifty minutes, givin’ you enough time to get wherever DeSilva works. And if Irma asks, we were just doing research on the case.”

          Kenny thought for a moment then agreed.

          Count Whorton slept most of the next morning, but by early afternoon he and Irma were on the case. Their first stop was the only gay club in town, Dynamite Dotty’s. A tight-jeaned man taller than most pine trees escorted them back to Dotty herself who sat behind a big desk in an even bigger office. Before Stretch left them to their business, Count said to him, “Would you bring me back a glass of something? My tonsils are itchy.”

          When Dotty saw the hunchback in the hat and the fuzzy coat with the scratchy voice coming into her office she said, “I knew this was going to be a bad day. You’re never here this early without wanting something, so what the fuck is it?”

          “How rude, yet how accurate. Dotty, we need to see Wilmer.”

          “Fuckin’, why?”

          “He still works for Kasper French, doesn’t he?” Irma said taking a seat in front of the desk.

          “Actually, he doesn’t, but he does have dealings with him. Fuck, most the town does.”

          “Well we need to get to French and the only way I thought of was your brother Wilmer,” said Count, also sitting. 

          “How fortunate for me and Wilmer, fuck.” Dotty leaned back in her chair, “Knowing my luck, Wilmer would get you to him. Then you’d piss him off drinking his booze and generally being your fuckin’ self, then we’d all end up floating in the fuckin’ Iowa River.”

          “You don’t have more faith in me than that?” asked Count just as Stretch came in carrying his drink.

          “You gonna pay for that?” said Dotty.

          “Don’t I always?” Count smiled and sipped as he looked straight at Dotty who wore a less amused expression.

          “Look Dotty,” said Irma, “we need to get to French for a case. So, we need Wilmer. You gonna call him or not?”

          “Fine,” Dotty picked her phone up off the desk. “but I’m leaving the decision up to Wilmer. I’m not going to fucking force him to do it.”

          “Thank you,” said Irma, taking Count’s glass and finishing it off for him.

          After a few minutes of semi-pleasant talk on the phone, Dotty hung up and said, “He said he’d do it. Meet him here around eight and he’ll take you to French.”

          Count stood up saying, “Thank you, Dotty. It’s been a pleasure as always, leaving me feel all warm and special inside.”

          “Stop spoutin’ bullshit.”

          “Alright then, I think I’ll be moseying on over to the bar since we got a few hours to kill.”

          “Fuck you are,” Dotty said getting up, “you’d drink us out of house and home.”

          “Don’t worry, he won’t,” said Irma, “thanks again and see ya later.” She ushered him forward and out the door.

          Wilmer was short, with a forever puffed-out chest. He had more spit and fire than sense, shown by his right ear, which was lopped off in a fight before he got out of grade school. When eight o’clock rolled around, Count Whorton and Irma were already at the bar, it was a good twenty minutes after that Wilmer sauntered in.

          “Ya ready to roll?” Was Wilmer’s greeting.

          Irma started saying, “We’ve been ready,” when Count cut her off, asking to have a word with Wilmer privately. She made her way to the door to wait and Count said, “Wilmer, I’m looking for somethin’.”

          “What kind of somethin’?”

          “The kind of somethin’ that falls off the back of a truck.”

          When Count and Wilmer were done talking, they found Irma and went out. When they hit the street Wilmer said to them, “One of youse is drivin’.”

          Irma got behind the wheel of their old Buick station wagon and Wilmer told her when to turn. A few minutes later they were pulling up to a little old diner. The place was mostly empty inside. Next to a door on the back wall sat an old man in a suit reading a sleazy paperback, highlighting the smutty parts. When they walked up to him the old man looked at Wilmer then hit his fist on the door. A moment later it opened.

          On the other side of the door, Wilmer spoke to a man who looked like he’d been hit one too many times in the head, then left saying they’d get in to see Mr. French in a few minutes. It made Irma nervous, Wilmer leaving before they saw the big man behind the curtain, but true to his word they were ushered into his office only minutes after Wilmer left.

          Kasper French was a heavy-set man who wore expensive suits and a dead-rat looking toupee. It was said that when his own mother made fun of the animal hide on his head, he had her shot. Count and Irma were directed to large leather chairs opposite his desk, all while trying to keep their eyes off his horrendous hairpiece.

          “Thank you for seeing us, Mr. French,” said Irma.

          “You’re welcome, I hear Wilmer’s with you.”

          “He left after Orville Redenbacher let us in,” said Count gesturing towards the door.

          Mr. French stared at Count under furrowed eyebrows, making Irma think dotty was right, they were going to end up in the Iowa River. Then he burst into laughter, bouncing in such a way that the squirrel on his head came back to life flipping this way and that way.

          Addressing Irma but pointing at Count, Mr. French said, “that’s a funny guy.” Sucking back in his chubby finger, talking through a big smile, “I’ve said before the bastard’s anywhere from sixty to a thousand years old. All he does is sit there all day highlighting pages. So, what can I do you for?”

          “Well,” said Count, “we are private investigators and are on the search for a statue that has been stolen.”

          “And you want to know if I heard anything or even better have it in my possession.”

          “That is what we were hoping Mr. French.”

          “Well, umm… names?”

          “I’m Count Whorton and this is Irma.”

          “Well, Count, Irma, let’s see what we can do.” Mr. French hit a button on his desk and spoke into a speaker, “Get me Luxor.” A few moments later a small man in a tuxedo with a cigarette stuck on his lip came swaggering in. “This,” said Mr. French, “is Peter Luxor, my right-hand man and the knower of all things.”

          Luxor simply tilted his head in greeting to Count and Irma.

          “Peter, these people are looking for a statue that’s recently been stolen, I thought you may be able to help.”

          “What kind of statue?” said Luxor.

          “Bronze,” said Count, “about a foot high. It was pilfered from a man who was staying at the St. Belvedere. It’s worth roughly $50,000.”

          Mr. French whistled, “That’s a pretty big chunk of change.”

          “That’s why our client wants it back,” said Irma.

          “Client?” said Luxor, “You people cops? Or what here?”

          Count smiled showing crooked dog teeth, “Private investigators, Mr. Luxor.”

          “P.I.’s looking for a statue, what is this? ‘The Maltese Falcon’?”

          “Oh, stop joshing, Luxor,” said Mr. French, “and tell us if you know anything.”

          “There is only a handful or two of people in town that would go after a fifty-grand job. But I haven’t heard a thing.” As he spoke Luxor kept his eyes on Count and Irma. Even when Mr. French addressed him, he didn’t look away.

          “Looks like we can’t be of any help tonight,” said Mr. French holding up his hands.

          “Well, thank you,” said Irma getting up to leave.

          “Yeah,” said Count doing the same, “thanks a lot.”

          “No problem, come again,” said Mr. French waving them out the door.

          Out in the station wagon, Irma steered them from the parking lot saying, “Now what do we do?”

          Count, laying down in the back seat, sipping from his flask said, “Head around the block then park it at that gas station over there.”

          “Why, Countie?”

          “Had a thought.”

          Irma parked the rusted old Buick station wagon at the gas station and they waited. Count remained in the back propped up just far enough so he could see out the window while Irma stayed behind the wheel praying she didn’t get hypothermia.

          “What are we waiting for, Countie? It’s colder than a witches titty out here.”

          Just then he saw it and said, “We were waiting for that.”

          Irma looked in the rearview mirror and saw Luxor exiting the diner, heading for a big black car. He had with him the guy that looked like he took one too many to the head and a couple of others that were probably born with bloody knuckles. Irma started up the station wagon and slowly followed them through the dark winter night.

          Where the big black car finally stopped was as seedy a place as the diner it originated from. Parking just outside what looked like an abandoned garage, Luxor walked up and banged on a dented metal door. A ways away on a street corner Count and Irma watched from the station wagon.

          “What is he doing?” said Irma.

          The dented door opened and a skinny guy with more tattoos than clear skin peeked his head out.

          “Leopold there is asking the homeowner a question,” said Count.

          After they seemed to have had some words back and forth, Tattoo shut the door on Luxor. Turning towards the car, Luxor made a hand gesture that had the other three exiting in a determined fashion. One of the knuckle draggers forced the dented door back open and they all rushed in like a swarm of bees in spring with Luxor following behind lazily like the queen bee he was.

          “I don’t think he liked the answer he got to that question,” said Irma.

          After the better part of an hour, the dented door opened once more, all four of them streaming out, the queen bee leading the workers. They loaded up in the big black car and drove off. This time Irma didn’t start up the station wagon.

          The two of them crossed the snow and slush-covered street on foot. When they got close to the garage, they slowed up to listen. There wasn’t a sound, not a voice. Count opened the dented door hesitantly then went in followed by Irma.

          Shit was everywhere. The whole place had been trashed, glass broken, shelves overturned. Then in the middle of the room three bodies lay in a large pool of blood. Tattoo, who had come to the door was one of them. They were beaten to death with a couple of hammers, which lay next to the pile of bodies.

          “Well, I think we know what they were looking for,” said Count.

          A radio in the corner played faintly, the speaker was saying, “I’m Six-fingered Sally bringing Quartertown all the hits. Next up, Bobby Darrin singing to all you with the Christmas spirit.” Count and Irma knew that wasn’t going to be anyone in this room.

          As they drove through the cold winter night the only thing Irma said was, “Home, right?”


          At two in the afternoon the next day Count rolled off the bed onto the floor causing the feeble old thing to fold back up into the wall with a smack, then come catapulting back down with a thud. Irma, sitting on the couch, said, “About time you’re up. Alfred dropped off the list about an hour ago.”

          You see, after they made an anonymous call into the Quartertown police department and quickly fled the scene of the crime at the old garage, Irma and Count came home. Count then proceeded to call multiple times Alfred Box, it being the middle of the night, he was working his shift at Sweeney’s Supermart. That didn’t phase Count much. He needed some information and knew Alfred could get it from his new part-time job at the paper.

          So, like Irma was saying, “He came in, gave me the list, cussed you out then left. For a little man, he’s gotta lot of anger in him.”

          Count chuckled, laying on the floor, “Naw, he’s just riled up.”

          “Whatever, Countie. Here’s the list of every hoodlum and lowlife that Alfred thought could pull the fifty-grand job. He said the paper has pretty good files.”

          “Lucky us… you know there’s mebbe a body at every place on that list today.”

          “Think they worked all night?”

          “If French told ‘em to and the cops didn’t get too close. The Screaming Mimi can cause people to do crazy things.”
          “Oh, and Countie, Wilmer dropped off a box for you.”


          “What’s in it?”

          “Mutant cucumbers with a taste for human flesh, I’m thinking of making a salad.”

          “You’re a witty one,” said Irma in a sarcastic tone.

          Less than an hour later the pair were in the station wagon marking off addresses. The first one brought them to an empty house. They probably had the right guy at the second place, but he was drunk and angry. Apparently so was his dog who kept showing his teeth and Count felt like they were getting bigger and bigger with each curl of the gums.

          The wind had picked up, blowing snow everywhere, making it hard for Irma to see anything out the windshield. It just wasn’t their day, it didn’t help that Six-fingered Sally on the radio kept playing the same carols over and over again, pissing both of them off. When she asked for requests, Count took Irma’s cell phone and made a call. Soon out of the speakers Sally was saying, “I’ve just had a profane call from what I would describe as a disgruntled listener and I agree with him. Count wherever you are, no more carols. This is Six-fingered Sally playing a classic from Queen. Have a merry musical Christmas.”

          The third place on the list seemed to be a nice-looking house only missing a few shingles. Irma and Count knocked on the door till their fingers had frostbite then they kicked in the door. Well, not as much kicked in the door as paraded through the snow bluffs beside the house to an unlocked back door. They entered a dark empty kitchen, meeting a rotten putrid smell. Going through a small hallway to the living room they found the origin of the stench. A man lay dead on his couch, beaten to death like Tattoo and the others, his little heater still running at his feet. The small machine was on oscillate, warming the dead body and spreading his odor all over the house.

          “It looks like there’s not going to be any good moments today,” said Count turning Irma, “so, I guess we’ll just have to make our own good moments.”

          “Don’t we always, Countie?”

          “That we do, Irma.” Count looked at the dead guy and smiled, then turned back to Irma. “I gotta say I didn’t know what to get you, this Christmas. Not a clue. Then it hit me like a brick to the temple when I was watchin’ cartoons with Kenny none the less. Because I’ve had some rough years, but today is good because of you. You are good, Irma. I couldn’t love anyone more, I couldn’t be happier with anyone more, and I couldn’t need anyone more than I need you. So, Irma E. Lanchester Side, in the presence of this dead man would you agree to marry me?” Count Whorton took from the pocket of his overcoat a small box and presented it to Irma.

          At first, Irma didn’t move but soon her lips twitched into a big smile and she jumped forward onto Count, nearly throwing him to the floor. She kissed him over and over finally stopping to say yes. When they finally regained control of themselves Count gave her the ring. It was a gold band with a large gold question mark on the front of it.

          “I’m sorry about the ring,” said Count, “I got it last minute from Wilmer. He said it’s all he could get and its real gold, not that I believe him. Sorry, Irmie.”

          “Sorry nothing, I love it and it fits perfectly.” Irma gave him another kiss just as the furnace kicked on making the smell that much worse.

          Eventually, there was a call made to the Quartertown police detective Klunkel. They even stayed around to answer a few questions and deflect a few accusations. When they were back in the station wagon with smiles on their faces the sun was turning it in. Looking brightly out at the dark night, Count said, “Where’s the next address?”

          “I just had a thought about that,” said Irma.

          “Hit me with it.”

          “We’ve been assuming this was a professional job.”

          “Well, fifty-grand is pretty professional.”

          “Yeah, but it’s a fucking statue of a cartoon character. No one in their right fucking mind are gonna think a statue of Presley Penguin is worth that much. There’s Presley Penguin knickknacks at garage sales all the time. What if small-time asshole looking to knock off Mr. Astor’s wallet, which he did, broke in, saw the statue and thought Merry Christmas.”

          “That makes sense. Son of a bitch could work there, maid, manager, whatever.” Count took out his flask and drank saying, “Irmie, hang a u-ey we are headin’ for the Belvedere.”

          As they turned into the parking lot of the hotel Count said, “Like I told ya before, we may not learn much here because this is where the blue boys would have started. But I think you’re on to something, Irmie and another thing to our advantage is Luxor and French don’t know what the statue looks like.”

          “That’s the spirit Countie, although you know if we find the statue this way then, I was right. And if we started the investigation off at the hotel, like I said, things would have been over in a snap.”

          “Yeah, yeah we didn’t find nothin’ yet,” said Count getting out of the car and going into the Belvedere.

          Sitting at the front desk in dark makeup with a jet-black Santa hat was a girl who looked barely out of her teens. As Count and Irma approached the desk the girl said in an unenthusiastic tone all while looking at her phone, “Checking in?”

          “No, we just need to ask a few questions,” said Irma.

          “What kind of questions?”

          “Well, firstly, what’s so damn important on your phone you can’t look at me when I speak?”

          The girl sighed and put her phone away saying, “I was just watching ‘A Werewolf Christmas’, okay?”

          “Oh my God,” said Count, “I love ‘A Werewolf Christmas’. It hasn’t been on like any fucking channel this year.”

          “I know,” said the girl, looking at Count, “I’m watching it online. They have the other ones on a fucking loop, but not the one I watch.”

          “I’m right there with ya, that fuckin’ blond-haired elf and red-nosed son of a bitch are everywhere. But no Werewolf Christmas.”

          “Exactly…so, what questions?”

          “There was a statue stolen from a room here the other day, did you happen to see anything?” Said Irma.

          “No, I was off that night, but I heard about it. Apparently, the police were here talking to everyone. Even talked to me and like I said, I wasn’t here.”

          “Do you know of anyone on the staff or otherwise who has a tendency to take wallets from rooms? Or other items?”

          “Not like statues or anything but this night supervisor that used to be here. I know he got fired for taking money out of rooms and stuff. We’re not supposed to let him come around the building but he’s dating on and off one of the maids.”

          “And what’s his name?”

          “Dicky Hazen.”

          Irma and Count thanked the girl at the desk, gave her a card and left. Out in the station wagon, Irma drove while Count took a phone book that he’d left on the floor of the backseat and read by the dim illumination of an old flashlight. There was only two Hazen’s in the book, neither of them was named Dicky, but they both had the same address.

          It was well after midnight when Count and Irma rolled onto the Hazen’s street. The snow had been cleared well and there was only one car parked out on the curb. When Irma saw the car, she had to believe she was mistaken, but she wasn’t. They pulled up behind the vehicle and proceeded to get out of their car and into the one with the hulking figure behind the wheel.

          When they got in Kenny said, “What the fuck are you two doin’ here?”

          Irma said, “I was about to ask the same question.”

          “I followed Mrs. DeSilva here, didn’t lose’er once.”

          “You’re shittin’ me,” said Count.

          “No, I’m not, didn’t lose’er once.”

          “Good boy,” said Irma reaching forward from the backseat to pat Kenny on the shoulder. “But I believe Count was referring to the fact we think the guy in that house has the statue.”

          “Really, now what are the chances? So, what we gonna do?”

          Count opened the door, “I don’t see why we can’t knock.”

          At the front door, Count allowed Kenny to knock and crack the house’s foundation. Quickly there was a response as a thin man came to the door in his boxer shorts with a bat. As he opened the door Kenny took it upon himself to pluck the bat from the swearing semi-nude man’s clutches, it proved to be not that difficult. From there Count said a cheery hello and the three of them pushed their way inside.

          “Who the fuck are you people?” said Mr. Boxer Shorts.

          “We,” said Count, “are private detectives. I’m Count Whorton, this is Irma and that is Kenny. What is your name?”

          “Dicky Hazen, now get out.”

          “We could, but you see we have two cases at the moment. One where a woman seems to be runnin’ around with the local fool. And another where a statue was taken by what we assume was a low life, small-time, two-bit moron and wouldn’t you know both cases brought us here.”

          A woman covering herself with a man’s dirty old robe came into the room asking what the interruption was. Irma leaned over to Kenny and said, “Is that?”

          “Yup,” said Kenny taking out his phone and snapping a shot of Mrs. DeSilva with Dicky in his underwear (no pun intended). “For the client,” he said.

          “Would you fuckin’ people be quiet,” said Dicky, “you’ll wake my grandma.”

          “This keeps gettin’ better,” said Count, moving to sit down in a recliner next to a brightly lit tree. “Well, look here, Crabapple, I know you got all the brains of a snowman with a yellow block of ice for a head, so I’ll lay it out for ya. That statue we know you took, from the Belvedere where we know you used to work, is worth more than your puny ass organs at a blackmarket yard sale. If I were to call the big blue men in matchin’ caps right now, your ass wouldn’t be gettin’ out of the slammer until you had grey hair on your toes.” Count stopped speaking for a moment and looking at Dicky, the man was trembling in his shorts. “However, I’m thinking of playing Santa because its, what? One AM on Christmas eve morning and there’s no reason to disturb Nan Nan Hazen. If you give us the statue, we will leave you in peace, not calling in the coppers.”

          “Its under the tree,” stuttered Dicky, pointing a finger.

          “Well, go get it then,” said Irma urging him on.

          Dicky stumbled over to and around the tree knocking off ornaments and kicking presents. Finally, he stood up holding a badly wrapped green and red box. “Here it is. I was gonna give it to my Grandma, she likes little statues and things. Honestly, I was just gonna take his wallet then I saw this.”

          “Yeah, yeah,” said Count standing up and taking the box. “I tell ya, ya fool, if we find that it isn’t in here the only one coming back here is him.” Count threw a thumb at Kenny. “So, don’t be on our naughty list, fool.”

          After they left the Hazen place Count and Irma went back to the Belvedere, the girl at the desk didn’t seem to have moved since they’d last been there. She called up to Mr. Astor’s room and he came down to the lobby wearing a pair of striped pajamas that must have been from the Cary Grant collection.

          “Mr. Astor,” Count said, “we want ya to open your present early.”

          Doug Astor pushed up his glasses and ripped open the wrapping paper right there at the front desk. In an old shoebox smothered in green tissue paper was the bronze cartoon penguin. Presley Penguin was grinning under his top hat, the little bow tie he wore glinted in the light.

          “It looks great,” said Mr. Astor, “not damaged or harmed at all.”

          “What is it?” said the girl at the desk.

          Before anyone else could answer, Count said, “It’s the stuff Saturday mornings were made of.”

          Once they were paid and Mr. Astor was on his way again with his statue safely secured, Count and Irma went home. On the way, they stopped to send a nice card to Mr. French and Luxor thanking them for their help in the retrieval of the bird, hopefully, they’d appreciate the sarcasm. Christmas morning, they headed over to Mother Whorton’s. She was found stirring a pot of something that smelled wonderful while a cigarette hung from her lip and oxygen tubes swung from her nostrils.

          As always Mother Whorton’s was the beacon for every stray dog in town bringing in Miss Pinky, Kenny, Dotty, and her new girlfriend. Even the little goth girl who worked the desk at the St. Belvedere showed up, Irma being the type of person to invite any and all. At least with Mother Whorton’s cooking, there was no shortage of food, including when Wilmer showed up late, ate three helpings then left with a wave.

          Before dinner Count and Irma announced their engagement and showed off the ring. They were met with excitement and questions about the question mark ring. Mother Whorton’s only comments were, “Son of a bitch, I thought I’d be dead by the time this happened, it’s been taking forever. But Irma, are you sure you thought about this, my son’s an idiot. I’ll pray for you.” 

          As Christmas day started to wear to a close, Irma took Count aside and gave him his present. When the first bit of colored paper tore, Count Whorton knew what it was and the hunchbacked old man became a kid again.

          “Oh, Irmie,” Count said, “a VHS copy of ‘A Werewolf Christmas’. You know me so well.”

          “Now, you know you can watch it every year.”

          “I love you Irmie,” he said pulling her close.

          “I love you too, Countie and Merry Christmas.”

          “Merry Christmas,” said Count, “to everyone.”

The End

Michael D. Davis was born and raised in a small town in the heart of Iowa. Having written over thirty short stories, ranging in genre from comedy to horror from flash fiction to novella he continues in his accursed pursuit of a career in the written word.

It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com.    He's done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.

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