Christmas Puzzle by Kenneth Weene
Hello everyone. Today the author Kenneth Weene has joined me in exile. Kenneth, the man who gave us the quote, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single frustration”. Yes, Kenneth has written a very special story for us today called Christmas Puzzle. Thank you for joining me today Kenneth! Everyone enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas!
The cold, wet night was made more miserable by the reflection of Christmas lights in the puddles. The blare of carols echoed flatly off buildings. The racket of harried cab drivers filled the streets.
Matt Desmond was interviewing witnesses. Their stories were the same, not so much the same as would raise a flag, not as if they had been practiced. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Pieces fit; and when they did, the picture got clearer.
Matt Desmond liked puzzles. Twenty-three years on the force, the last fifteen and a half working homicide, and that was what he liked about his job—the puzzles.
He had loved doing puzzles with Sally. They would spread the pieces in the middle of the living room floor while Jaquie groused about the mess and his teaching their only kid to be as big a slob as he.
“Daddy, when I grow up, I’m going to marry you,” Sally would peep.
Matt would laugh and say, “I love you, too, Sally-Sweet.”
He had shared her tea parties and gone to her school assemblies and games. Not a lot of fathers did, especially not fathers who were also cops; but Matt and Sally were different.
And they talked—about everything. He never told her she was too young, too little. When she asked, he shared cases: Maybe he shouldn’t have, but Sally never seemed upset. They were just puzzles, and she loved puzzles.
Then without warning, those days were gone. Sally was gone. That was a puzzle Matt had never solved. Neither had the entire New York City police department.
“Maybe somebody’s got her in Mexico or Haiti or one of them other countries?” Morrison’s comment had not been helpful. What the hell could the light of his life be doing in some other country, some other world? Matt had thought of drugs and whorehouses and wept.
The girl whose body was splayed on the road—bones broken and her body contorted—appeared to be about the same age as Sally, as she had been—fourteen-fifteen?
Matt hated days like this, days that reminded him.
“Just exactly what happened?” he asked the next one, a young guy who was scarcely bundled against the cold.
“Dunno. Didn’t see.”
“Your friend dies and you ‘dunno?’” Matt tried to mimic the boy’s tone. He took note of the piercings; for Matt they were just another offense.
Nose, both ears—not even the same size holes, chin, left eyebrow, and that big thing in his tongue. What the hell is the matter with them?
“That’s right, Chief. I dunno. See I was in the can taking a dump. I mean you wouldn’t want me going out here.”
Matt grimaced. “Over there,” he commanded pointing in the direction of the kids he had already questioned.
The next was a girl, maybe a bit older than the dead girl maybe not. Thin, dull-eyed, long hair needing a wash. Something insubstantial about her.
“Who the hell’s Ralph?” she responded to his first question.
Matt pointed to the piercing-pocked youngster he had just questioned.
“Oh, Slim Jim, he was in the john. Missed it all.”
“What was he doing in the john?” Even as he asked, Matt regretted the question.
The girl didn’t crack a smile. “Taking a crap.”
“You call him Slim Jim?”
“Cause he eats them, Slim Jims. You don’t want to be around him when he farts.” Her tone stayed flat, her face unchanged.
“So, tell me about the accident.”
“Your friend, she’s dead.”
“Not my friend.”
“But you were here.”
“Duh. Yeah, we were all here.”
“We was car surfing, she wanted to try, she slipped. End of story. End of her.”
“What’s her name?” So far nobody had known.
“Don’t know. Never seen her before. That’s how it happens.”
“How what happens?”
It was gnawing at Matt: the absence of caring, of involvement. Not a tear, not a smile, not even a grimace. He glanced over at “Slim Jim.” The boy was staring at him. They all were. They weren’t talking, not the way kids should, not the way Matt expected.
“How we join up. People drift in. People drift out. Some stay. Them that stay got names; the rest don’t.”
“Everybody has a name.” One name kept repeating itself in Matt’s head, “Sally, Sally.” He would never give up loving her, wanting to find her. That was what had ended their marriage. Jaquie had had enough. Matt figured any sane woman would have. No, it wasn’t that I missed her so much. I did. I do. But I can’t put it together. I got to figure—
“Sure,” the girl responded, “we all got the names our Moms and Dads gave us, but those aren’t our names, not once we’re here.”
“And you don’t know her name?”
“Nah. Not here long enough.”
“What about you?” Matt asked. “You got a name?”
“Sure. They call me Homer.”
“Homer? Why’s that?”
“’Cause I tell the stories.”
“’Bout the first ones.”
“The first ones?”
“Yeah, the first ones.”
Uncomfortable, Matt did something he often did, something of which he was usually unaware. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to the photograph, the one he always carried. The one that gave him a moment of—not peace, but respite. Yeah, it gave him relief.
Sally and him at Coney Island. That had been the summer before. They had ridden the Cyclone and eaten hotdogs, and laughed. He had felt good, young, alive. Father-daughter time. Then she had told him about Harris, her first love, her first lover. Matt had taken it well, only threatened to kill the bastard twice, cut off his balls—well that was a few times.
But they had laughed. At the end, they had laughed and asked one of the Japanese tourists to take their picture. That had been outside the House of Horrors. “Monsters, Zombies, Vampires,” the loudspeaker had proclaimed in tinny loudness. And Sally held the orange-rag dog he had won throwing rings at soda bottles.
“I hope your mother won’t be too jealous,” he had said; and they had laughed some more.
Coney Island: that had been her choice. Not Great Adventure or a water park. Sally loved New York. Matt figured that came from him, certainly not from Jaquie. His ex had remarried and moved to Atlanta. What the hell was in Atlanta?
Then Sally was gone, disappeared. Matt had found Harris, just a kid who had a new girlfriend. No leads. Nothing.
“Where’d you get that?” Homer demanded, breaking into Matt’s reverie. Her voice was louder, but it contained no hint of emotion.
“You know her?”
“Sure. That’s Her.”
Matt stood dumb.
The girl reached out for his wallet. Matt handed it over.
“That’s Her,” she repeated.
“Mrs. Drac. You know, Her?”
“That’s my daughter. Do you know—”?
He had no time to finish. The girl had wrapped her arms around him. With strength that belied her slight frame, she pulled him to her and sank her teeth into his neck.
Then Matt understood. He thought of weeping, but his feelings had died. At least his Sally hadn’t forgotten. She had sent for him. It would be a good Christmas. That much he finally understood.