Sunday, December 18, 2011


Finding something online turned out to be harder than I imagined. About the time I zeroed in on a pair of red long-handle underwear for Eddy’s Christmas present, I heard a knock at my backdoor.
           My neighbor grinned at me through the window. I could have sworn I heard his truck leave earlier that morning. A blast of frigid air enveloped me when I pulled the door open wide to let him inside.
           “Hi, Eddy. Come in. I thought you’d already left for work.”
He stepped by me and unzipped his coat. "Darla's car wouldn't start this morning. She had to take the truck in to work. This cold spell must have wiped her battery out last night. Would you mind, if I borrowed your car to run an errand?”
          “Not at all," I said.
My wife had left earlier in the morning to pick up a gift for Darla. On her way out the door, she gave me specific instructions to find something suitable for Eddy. That's not as easy as it sounds. What do you get a man who stacks varmint traps on his front porch? As cold as it was, that long-handled underwear might be a suitable present for Eddy. "I plan to stay here this morning and do my last minute Christmas shopping online.”
“Thanks." He gave the thumbs up sign. "I’ll have your car back by noon.”
When Eddy gives a thumbs up, it means he has a plan. Some of his previous plans have ranged from won't work to dangerous, depending on how much thought he cares to put into them. From the expression on his face, he was eager to tell me about something.
           “How about a cup of coffee, before you leave?”
He nodded and followed me over to my kitchen counter. I pulled two mugs from our twenty-seven-year-old oak cabinets and set them by the coffee pot.
“I only have time for one cup, because I need to go to the Pawn shop.”
Last summer, after they spent $400.00 on a five-day Florida vacation, I knew Eddy and Darla's finances were fragile, but I had no idea things had gotten so bad they were pawning their stuff to make ends meet.
I filled both cups with hot coffee and held one up for Eddy. “If you need a new battery, I don’t mine helping you out.”
 He grabbed the cup and took a sip. “Thanks, but Darla's dad is giving her one for an early Christmas present. He was having trouble figuring out what to get her anyway. He's going to drop one by tonight after he gets off work.
Now he really had my curiosity climbing Mount Everest. Eddy works for Darla's dad down at The Co-Op Store. If he didn't need to borrow my car to get a new battery, and he wasn't going in to work, what did he have planned?
As if he could read my mine, Eddy blurted out, "I’m going to sell my cuff links so I can buy a Christmas present for Darla.” He wrapped his other hand around the mug and took another sip.
Lifting my cup to my mouth to take in the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, I thought about the cuff links. Eddy was referring to a pair of gold cuff links his grandmother had given him when he graduated from high school. They had belonged to Eddy's great-grandfather and a remnant of the Great Depression. His grandmother told him she would have let herself starve to death, before she sold her father's cuff links. As far as I could tell, Eddy had only worn them once, at his wedding. I hated the thought of him selling something his grandmother had prized so highly.
“You shouldn't sell them, Eddy. Your grandmother would roll over in her grave.”
 “Oh, man. Why did you have to say that?” He took another sip of coffee and stared out the window. A Redbird picked sunflower seeds from our bird-feeder.
 How stupid could I be? His parents were killed in a car accident when he was a young boy, and his grandmother had raised him. I knew how much he missed her. My comment was both heartless and totally uncalled for in the holiday season. A time, when he probably misses her the most.
 I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry I said that about your Grandmother."
 He turned back around. Tears had formed in his eyes. “Darla is the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to give her something really nice this Christmas, for a change. Something better than socks, or pots and pans. If I have to sell my cuff links to get the money to buy her a nice gift, I think Grandma would understand.”
           "I'm sure she would," I said, feeling a half inch tall. Okay, so his plan had merit, but that didn't solve the problem.
“But a pawn shop won’t give you anywhere near what they’re worth.”
 Eddy put his cup down on the kitchen counter, and tilted his cap back like I had said something else wrong.
He gazed at me. “I know, but I called every jewelry store within fifty miles of here. Not one of them was interested. Then I called Ron at Ron’s Pawn Shop on Third and Ripple. He said if they're real gold, and not scratched up, he might give me as much as $25.00 for them. They aren't scratched up, so I'm going to take them over there and let him have a look.
 I knew what Darla had ordered for Eddy’s gift. He was going to be shocked when he opened it. If he thought twenty-five dollars was going to buy Darla a nice gift, I wondered what kind of pots and pans he’d given her in the past. Made in China with superior lead alloys came to mine. So much, for eating black-eyed peas at their house on New Year's Eve.
 I couldn’t let him sell those cuff links to a sleazebag like Ron. “Eddy, I’ll give you twice that amount.” He could get a pretty decent set of pots and pans for fifty dollars. I had seen a set advertised in the Sunday paper. The same kind of pots we had.
He shook his head, zipped his coat up, and pulled his cap back down. I had offered him twice the price, and he was going to walk out on me. Apparently, he wouldn't sell them to me at any price. I regretted saying what I did about his grandmother rolling over in her grave. Before he reached the door, I said, "Eddy, I'm sorry. I know they're worth a lot more than fifty dollars to you."
He stopped and turned around. "Do you have any shirts with holes in them?"
He apparently had a strange way of negotiating the price. Sure, I had a couple of old worn out shirts, but my wife wouldn't let me wear them out in public. I didn't want him going out and buying a shirt for me, especially with my own money. Helping him get something nice for Darla was my goal, but I didn't want have to drain my bank account to do it.
“Have you ever seen me wear a shirt with holes in it?”
“No, and that’s why I can’t sell my cuff links to you. They only work with shirts that have holes in them.”
Oh, that's what he meant, instead of buttons. When misinterpreting a friend's words, the best way to straighten things out is to tell the truth, or in my case lie. “The only reason I don’t have a shirt with holes in it, is because I don’t have a pair of cuff links to wear with it.”
           He pressed his lips together for several seconds and looked down at the floor. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out two gold cuff links. He held them out.
“Okay, I’ll sell them to you.”
I took them and examined them, as if they would be my most prized possession. I didn't want to do anything else to hurt his feelings. They were one-eight inch thick by one inch squares of 18 carat gold. Heavier than any cuff links I owned. Three lines ran parallel near the edges forming a smaller square in the middle were his great-grandfather’s initials ER had been etched. ER were also Eddy's initials. Even the half-inch studs and swivels used to lock them in place were gold. In my estimation, based on their weight and a sheer guess, they were worth several hundred dollars.
 Just because Ron was willing to take advantage of the situation, didn't mean I could. Eddy is a twenty-two year old kid with a high school education and a good heart, but more importantly, he was my friend. “Eddy, I can’t give you fifty dollars for these."
           He opened the palms of both hands. "Why not? There's not a scratch on them."
He was right about that, but I knew he wasn't trying to negotiate a higher price. "They could be worth as much as a thousand. I think you should hang on to them. The price of gold has gone up quite a bit.”
A deal is a deal. Give me fifty bucks. That plus the fifty I got for my shotgun will be just enough to buy that nice coat Darla had her eye on last Saturday at Dillards. I can't wait to see the look on her face when she opens her gift.”
I carefully placed the cuff links on the counter and gave Eddy fifty dollars. After he left, I called my wife and told her to take the coat back to Dillards and get Darla a nice set of pots and pans instead. If we were going to eat black eyed beans at our neighbor’s house, I wanted to make sure we didn't get lead poisoning.
A few days later, my Christmas shopping was complete. I attached the cuff links to a pair of red long-handle underwear and placed them in a box. After wrapping it with silver paper, and sticking a red bow in the middle, I wrote Eddy's name on the corner of the box. I hoped he liked getting underwear and cuff links for Christmas. What could be more suitable for a man who stores varmint traps on his front porch? The underwear will help keep him warm during the winter, and the cuff links his grandmother gave him will go well with the blue pin-point cotton shirt, with holes in it, from Lands' End. The one I helped Darla pick out online for Eddy. She wanted to get him a shirt his grandmother would've been proud to see him wear with those cuff links.

Friday, December 9, 2011


       Leon and I leaned back in a couple of old tattered club chairs and rested our stocking feet on the natural rock hearth.  The crackle of oak logs surrounded by flames in his open fireplace was as soothing to our emotions as our warm drinks were to our stomachs.  We’d been outdoors building a Christmas present for Eddy and Darla. It felt good to come inside from a shivering wind and warm ourselves. Leon’s small cabin only has four rooms, but its rustic appeal could challenge any abode for a great place to call home on a cold winter afternoon.  
       I sat my empty cup down on the round table top between us.
       Leon stood. His big toe punched a hole through his old wool sock. “You want some more hot chocolate?”
       “No thank you, I’m good.
       After refilling his cup, he retook his seat. “Had any luck with your query?”
       I’d bragged a little too much to my friends about my latest novel, Murder and Mayham. Somehow a new story always brings renewed hope for a struggling writer. Apparently, the literary agents assumed my title was misspelled.
       “No, but I’m confident I’ll receive a request for a manuscript before Christmas.”
       That was my way of putting on a good front for my friend’s benefit, since he had suggested the title.
       “That’s too bad. I was kinda hoping me helping you with that title would do the trick this time.”
       My history of failed attempts to secure representation by a literary agent permeated the Boston Mountains like cold air in a harsh winter. My friends tried to help me anyway they could. I’d had nibbles here and there over the years, but the number of requests for full manuscripts topped out at zero.
      “Nothing would make me happier than for one of those literary agents to want read one of your stories before Christmas.” Leon paused to take a sip of hot chocolate. “That would be all the present I’d need this year.”
       That was his way of telling me not to spend any money on a gift for him. Things were tight all around, for everyone in our little community. My friend didn't even have a decent pair of socks to wear, and he was concerned about me. There were still a few days left before Santa made his visit. Not enough time to write a new novel, but I had an idea that just might work.
       As soon as I left Leon’s cabin, I went home and searched under my bed for one of my best stories, one which had been rejected less than fifty times.  I removed it and dusted off the top of the box. All the manuscript needed was a new title and a few revisions to meet my needs.
       Two hours later, with the rewrite complete, I prepared a query letter.

The Peterson Literary Agency
Attn: Mrs. Helen K. Peterson
12545 Fifth Avenue, Suite 598
New York, NY 100010

Attn: Ms. Peterson:
       When a rejected manuscript, removed from a recycle bin, turns out to be exactly what its author claims, Ellie Jenson hopes to change her uneventful life.
       Ellie, twenty-three, unattached and still cleaning offices for a living, peruses the recycle bin every Friday night in search of suitable reading material. She finds what appears to be an intact manuscript, THE TREASURE TROVE, a romantic suspense by Vargo Stalinski. All of the pages were in the original order with no hand written comments in the margins. NON-REQUESTED MATERIAL stamped in red on the cover page was a clear indication the manuscript was not to be read by any of the agents working at The Kartersan Literary Agency.
       The following day, Ellie is deep into her latest grab from the recycle bin and flips the page. The story was so much better than other ones she'd retrieved from the bin. When she finishes reading page 200, the next page has a hundred dollar bill taped vertically in the middle of it. She checks the next one. It too has a hundred dollar bill taped the same way. She soon discovers the manuscript is a treasure trove, literally. She removes a total of 300 bills from the remaining pages. While staring at the stacks of hundred dollar bills piled on top of her small bed, she realizes they total $30,000 dollars in cash, more money than she has ever seen in her life. Ellie knows what she wants to do with the money, be somebody. Somebody people want to be around, instead of a person no one notices. After placing the cash in a plastic trash bag, she hides it under her sink, and decides to wait a full week before she begins her transformation.
       A week later, so as not to cause suspicion, Ellie returns to the literary agency and begins her duties that evening. When she walks into Mrs. Kartersan''s office to begin cleaning it, she notices an unopened package on top of the agent’s desk. She leans over and looks at the return address. Mailed from Grand Cayman Island, the package appears to be the size of a manuscript box.  In the lower left corner is a handwritten note: FINDER'S KEEPERS, the sequel to THE TREASURE TROVE. I promise this manuscript is also worth reading.
       When Ellie returns to her flat later that night, she can't believe she has become a thief. How could she stoop so low? She looks at the unopened package mailed from Grand Cayman and tries to decide whether to take it back or open it. It was probably placed on Mrs. Kartersan's desk after the agent had left for the day. It had been stamped like the other one, non-requested material.  It would be discarded. That's how it works, isn't it? She had retrieved lots of non-requested manuscripts from the recycle bin. No one had ever complained. What was wrong with reading them? So what if she read this one, and then took it back and placed on the agent’s desk. What harm would there be in that? No one would ever know she had read it, would they? She opens the package, removes the manuscript, and turns to page 201. Ellie is about to become somebody, somebody on the run. 

       THE TREASURE TROVE, a romantic suspense novel, is complete and ready for your review.  I promise the 500 page manuscript is worth reading.
Jack LaBloom

       My wife entered the room. “Have you decided what you’re going to get Leon for Christmas this year?”
       I looked up. “Wool socks."