Thrilling Detective is pleased
to present this seasonal, non-P.I. tale.
And what do you want for Christmas?
A Gift for the Conklin's
by Kim Sellers
. ..He stood
hidden in a dark corner of the lobby, waiting. It was cold, too,
what with people coming and going every two minutes. For the
umpteenth time he checked his watch. It flashed 7:23 P.M. "I
should've worn a sweater, " he thought, "I'm freezing
my ass off."
the doors opened, and again there was a piercing shock of cold
wind. The lobby Christmas decorations flapped uncontrollably
like plastic pennants over a used car lot. The visitor, a well-bundled
woman, stomped the snow from her boots, as she slowly made her
way to the elevator, leaving behind her a trail of small, dirty
puddles. Pointing a long, red-tipped finger she stabbed the elevator
button, and then, watched impatiently as the floor numbers blinked
on and off on the display panel above her. She was tall and attractive,
but she was not the woman he was waiting for. A chill of dread
shot through him, and stuffing his trembling hands into the oversized
pockets of his raincoat, he felt the cold, hard steel of the
gun. It made his stomach turn.
wife usually gets home by a quarter till eight," he'd said.
"It depends on whether she stops for a bottle of wine or
not, but usually, she's home by eight at the latest."
. ..The husband
was short and squatty with thinning hair. From inside his coat
pocket he removed a photograph of a woman and showed it to him.
tall," he said, "five foot nine or ten. And as you
can see, short black hair, green eyes, and very little makeup,
except for lipstick. Her name is Emily."
. ..He looked
at the picture deliberately, the man had forgotten to add attractive,
he thought, which made him wonder why he wanted him to do this
terrible thing. But, then, knowing the man as he did, he wasn't
surprised. The woman's picture slipped neatly into his shirt
. ..The two
had been talking in a dark, sleazy bar in Hollywood. On the radio,
in the background, Bing Crosby was singing, "I'm dreaming
of a white Christmas."
. ..Just six
months before, he had worked for the man. Then came the lay off.
Now, sitting across from him, the man plying him with drinks,
telling him that he needed a shower, shave, and some decent clothes,
he handed him a thick roll of bills.
ten thousand dollars."
a lot of new clothes," he replied.
. ..The man
added: "It's worth it." No-shit.
told you that I'd be out of town that night, but I'll be home
Sunday morning, after 4:00 A.M. I want to see you then, okay?"
. ..He agreed,
the man reaffirmed, "I need to trust you. I've just given
you a lot of money, I'd like to know that I can trust you?"
can trust me," he said. "For Christ sake I use to work
. ..What he
really wanted to tell the man, was that he was an idiot that
he'd always been an idiot. But the guy was paying him ten thousand
dollars for doing him this favor. Favor, that was a joke. Well,
favor or not, he'd do it. He'd do it because he didn't have a
choice. The man knew that he was about to lose his house, and
maybe his car. Worse, he'd have to skip child support payments
and the kid's Christmas gifts. Ha! That was laugh. He knew that
his Ex- would have him thrown in jail, if he even hinted that
he might miss a support payment.
. ..'Tis the
season to be jolly. He hated himself.
. ..Perry Como
was singing, "Little Drummer Boy." He asked the man,
"Is your wife close to anyone in her apartment building?"
neighbors," he said, "Richard and Marie Conklin. But
they're vacationing in Europe."
"Good," he commented.
. ..It was
7:38 when he saw her exit the cab outside the apartment house.
He thought that he'd looked at her picture so often that he'd
have recognized her in a pitch-black alley. The gift-wrapped
package that had been resting at his feet fit nicely under his
arm, and he stepped out from the dark obelisk to meet her at
. ..His sudden
appearance startled her, and she asked: "Where did you come
from, the lobby looked empty."
been waiting," he shivered. "I don't live here, and
. . ."
poor thing, you look frozen to the bone."
. ..She was
carrying a small grocery bag. Sticking out of the top of it,
was the dark narrow neck of a wine bottle.
got that right," he said. "I've been freezing my butt
off." That made her laugh.
. ..The elevator
landed, he held the doors for her. Inside, her finger poised,
she asked: "Floor?"
she said, punching the button. "Are you visiting?"
wanted to surprise the Conklin's."
she squealed, "it'll be a surprise all right."
my neighbors, but I'm afraid they are vacationing in Europe."
my luck," he groaned convincingly.
. ..She glanced
at the elaborately wrapped package.
the gift for Marie and Richard?"
it's special too."
. ..The elevator
doors opened. She studied him.
you'd like you could leave the gift with me. They'll be back
in a week or two."
course not. Don't be silly."
. ..He followed
her down the hall to her apartment. Watched her as she carefully
inserted her key into the deadbolt-lock. Then, hesitating, she
said: "Here I am letting you into my apartment and I don't
even know your name."
. ..He smiled,
earnestly, "Derrick, Derrick Gardner.".
. ..She opened
the door, and stood aside for him, "Hi, Derrick, I'm Emily."
. ..The apartment
was blessedly warm, but what made it even warmer was the extravagant
Christmas decorations, and the large, white artificial tree that
dominated a corner of the apartment. When she switched on the
lights, the tree exploded with bright, colorful lights, and shining
he remarked sincerely.
you, I'm glad you like It."
. ..She moved
briskly from the doorway into the living room.
love decorating for the holidays," she said, as she turned
on the stereo, filling the apartment with the sound of Christmas
. ..She said:
"Let me take your raincoat,"
he replied, remembering the gun. "No, I can't stay."
. ..It was
clear that she was disappointed. But extending both hands, she
offered to take the gift for the Conklin's. She pleaded:
least you can have a glass of wine with me, can't you?"
I can do that," he said.
. ..The softness
returned to her face, and hurriedly, she removed her long winter
coat and while brushing the dampness from it, she hung it carefully
in the hall closet. Watching her, he noticed an envelope sticking
out of one of the pockets. She closed the closet door and turned.
down and relax. I'll be right back."
. ..He sat
on the couch. On the coffee table in front of him was a smelly
ashtray overflowing with stale cigarette butts. None of the butts
had lipstick on them.
with their wine, she noticed the ashtray, too. She blushed.
a friend spent half the night with me last night." Shaking
her head disapprovingly, "Nasty habit, smoking." Then
she removed the ashtray to the kitchen.
. ..When she
returned, she sat in the leather recliner across from him, slipped
off her shoes, crossed her long, slender legs, and took a healthy
swallow of wine. Again, he watched her. It was as though he couldn't
take his eyes from her. She closed her eyes and when she swallowed
her taste of wine, her neck quivered sensuously.
feel embarrassed," he said.
"I find you extremely attractive."
. ..God! He
thought. But before he could retract a word, Emily said, "Thank
you, Derrick, but if you don't drink your wine, it'll get cold."
. ..They laughed
was nice of you to say that Derrick. To be honest, I haven't
had many nice things said to me lately. You see, my husband and
I have just recently separated and -"
sorry," he interjected. He really didn't want to hear it,
but she continued undeterred.
the contrary, my husband is the one who should be sorry. I think
he's seeing another woman." She looked straight at him,
"Please don't say you're sorry."
. ..He didn't
say anything, but nervously turned his wineglass over in his
hands until he noticed the greasy fingerprints. He'd have to
make sure that he took care of that. What was bothering him,
was her husband's story. He'd said that Emily was having the
affair that when he had found her out and asked for a divorce,
she'd laughed in his face and told him, "Never."
. ..He'd also
said that it hadn't been the first time she'd had an affair,
either, and that she'd given him the clap twice.
trash," he'd said.
. ..Emily broke
his digression. "I know I shouldn't bother you with my troubles,
I don't even know you."
it sounds like you could use someone to talk to." She smiled.
like to talk to you. You're a man and maybe your point of view
would help me to understand my husband."
thinking, he asked: "Was this your husband's first affair?"
. ..She laughed
aloud, "Oh yes, let's talk, you're funny."
did I say that was so humorous?"
asked if this was my husband's first affair, it just struck me
. ..A tear
was poised at the corner of her eye; slowly he reached out and
dabbed it away. Emily grasped his hand, thankfully.
husband thought he was good in bed, a real lover. And I guess
that'd be okay, except that he was always trying to prove it
with other women . . ."
you squeaky clean?" She dropped his hand like a hot rock.
. ..Then taking
a deep breath, she said, "I guess I deserved that, but it
hurts just the same." She lifted her wineglass and took
another healthy swallow. "I've never cheated on my husband,
Derrick. Until recently, I loved him. But the second time he
gave me the clap, well, I had to leave him."
. ..He sat
dumbfounded, wondering why her husband would have blatantly lied
to him. Was it really he and not Emily, who had done all those
wine?" She asked.
thank you." Then, "Have you considered divorce?"
The question seemed to surprise her.
My husband's totally against it. He knows it would cost him a
small fortune." She lowered her eyes. They were beautiful
know I should," she continued. "But I've been reluctant.
Maybe I'm just holding on because I'm afraid to call it quits.
We've accumulated so much: the two homes, the stocks, the classic
cars he likes to collect, and, of course, his business."
. ..He whistled,
"Maybe I should get to know you better, Emily."
. ..She smiled,
coyly. "Maybe you should."
From the stereo Nat King Cole began singing, "Chestnuts
Roasting on an Open Fire."
she cried, "I love this song. If you'll stay Derrick, I'll
make us some snacks and build a warm fire-"
me," he said, "I make a great fire."
. ..Her eyes
shined, "Okay, but, please, let me take your coat."
I'll hang it up. You make the snacks."
. ..He built
a cozy fire. She spread out a blanket in front of it, added pillows,
snack plates, and another bottle of wine. She told him that the
wine was something she'd been saving for a special occasion.
do you do for a living?" Asked Emily.
an unemployed engineer."
. ..She looked
shocked, "I don't believe it, my husband owns an engineering
company. Maybe he'd hire you. Of course I couldn't recommend
you, because that'd kill your chances."
I wouldn't want the job."
please don't be prideful."
not. After what you've told me about your husband, I don't think
I like him."
it'd be better than being unemployed wouldn't it."
much as married would be better than unmarried?"
. ..She raised
her hand at him in jest, "You cad!"
. ..He seized
it in midair and held it tight. They stared into each other's
what are you going to do now?" She asked.
. ..They kissed.
Then kissed again.
. ..Later the
next morning, while he was retrieving his coat from the hall
closet, he again noticed the envelope sticking out of Emily's
coat pocket. Up close, he recognized the familiar corporate logo.
That's interesting. Without a second thought, he transferred
the envelope to his own pocket.
. ..They were
standing at the front door, when he asked her the time.
past two in the morning," she said. "And what have
you been doing young man?"
never tell," he said.
I see you tomorrow?"
. ..They laughed
wish I didn't have to go, but there's someone I have to meet.
Don't worry, I'll be back to wake you."
. ..He walked
a short distance down the hallway, stopped, squeezed the gun
Christmas," he told her. She smiled softly.
gift is my passion."
have given each other much more, Emily."
do you mean?"
given each other new life." And he wasn't kidding.
. ..She closed
the door, leaned against it, and thanked God.
. ..Then, springing
from the door, she moved directly to the telephone, dialed, and
waited. When the party answered, she said, hurriedly:
he just left. You can pick me up outside in ten minutes. Of course
he's going to see him. I made certain of that. It's none of your
business how; I did what I had to do. Please, honey. Let's don't
argue. We have less than two hours before our flight. No, by
the time he gets back here and figures everything out, it'll
be too late. Because you and I, darling, will be on our way to
. ..But he
had already resumed his place in the dark corner of the lobby.
One hand tight on the gun, the other clenching the envelope and
the Pan American airline tickets for two.
. ..The elevator
doors opened - the Christmas decorations flapped - violently.
Copyright (c) 1998 Kim Sellers
Kim Sellers recently relocated to Charlottesville,
VA. He is employed with Value America, a growing internet store.
He relocated from Los Angeles,where he worked with The Hollywood
Thesbian Company and Upward Bound Productions. He's had several
poems published and has written a screenplay, which was actually
touched by an agent.
And head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct comments on the above story
and inquiries about submissions to
the editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking
to a man that likes to talk."
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