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The Last Gathering

by Christopher Stires

Scoop Thomas, the fourteen year-old newspaper vendor, followed the hook-handed seaman down North State Street toward the new Reliance skyscraper. The seaman glanced back over his shoulder and Scoop ducked quickly behind the tethered Chicago Dairy wagon. The milk horse neighed as he moved beside her.

Stroking the aging mare’s neck, he watched the seaman stop outside the Reliance. There was no mistake this time. The seaman was the first mate of the SS Abercombie which sank on Lake Michigan last week with all hands lost. Including the first mate.

He had to get back to the Bulletin offices and tell Mr. Barlow. The gray-haired editor would yell like he always did. He would tell Scoop, at the top of his editor lungs, that Scoop’s job was to sell newspapers not to investigate some imaginary bunkum crime. Then, with the entire newsroom looking on, Mr. Barlow would sit Scoop down and order him to tell everything he saw.

But first he had to know who the seaman was going to visit inside the skyscraper. Only people with money had offices in the Reliance. Slowly, ever so slowly, he peeked over the horse.

The seaman jumped passed the aging mare and raised his hook hand.

The world trembled.

The seaman fell to the ground. “What’s happening?”

Scoop gripped the horse’s harness to keep from falling. He knew and he was frightened.

* * *

Dressed in her wedding-night negligee, Angeline stepped into the hotel bedroom and saw Harcourt aiming the big .45 revolver directly at her heart.

“We’re married now, honey,” she said. “You don’t need a gun.”

Harcourt cocked the pistol’s hammer. “The perfect crime and you almost pulled it off. The fact that I was in love with you and that I was the lead detective on the case must have made it so easy.”

“You think I’m the killer?”

“Ten minutes ago, you made your only mistake. I didn’t want to believe it. I kept telling myself that I misheard. But I didn’t. You said that Jimmy Q had wrapped the money in an old Army shirt. Only three knew that — Jimmy Q, me, and the killer.”

“Fifty thousand dollars,” she said quickly. “It’s all ours. No one will ever know.”

“I will.”

Angeline untied the sash of her negligee. “Decide in the morning, sweetheart. Decide then if you want to be a poor dumb cop or a rich-.”

Scoop stepped through the wall.

Angeline stared, dumbfounded, at him.

The world rumbled and shook.

Angeline and Harcourt rushed to each other. Outside their hotel room window, the 1939 San Francisco skyline vanished. Then the furniture and the room itself slipped into the void.

The world turned as blank as unmarked paper.

“What’s going on?” Harcourt demanded.

Scoop wiped his moist eyes. “David’s granddaughter passed away.”

“No,” whispered Angeline.

“The family is going through her belongings,” Scoop continued. “They’re burning her old papers and books in the fireplace.”

Harcourt sighed. “This is the end then. David’s granddaughter was the only one left who still read our adventures. We’re done.”

“Nell Collins the Jungle Princess and the Texas Tyler boys are gone,” said Angeline, gazing into the empty horizon.

“David Morgan was a good writer,” Scoop stated. “His books deserved better than this.”

Angeline shook his head sadly. “I kept hoping that some university professor would discover David’s books and save us. They rescued Fitzgerald, Melville, and several of the Black Mask crowd. They even saved Lovecraft and Howard. Why not David?”

“We lasted longer than most,” Scoop reasoned. “And, don’t forget, there was David’s granddaughter. She treasured our adventures as much as she cherished the memory of her grandfather. That counts for a lot.”

“It’s still not fair.”

Scoop back-stepped as Angeline and Harcourt began to dissolve. The two clutched each other’s hand.

“So long,” Scoop called.

Angeline waved.

Then the two vanished. Forever.

Scoop jogged toward the characters from 1890 Chicago. He wanted to say goodbye to Mr. Barlow, Mrs. Pickens, John the cop, and his best pal, Tony. He wanted them to know how much he enjoyed their company. Perhaps, if he was fast enough, there’d be time to kiss Miss Marianne on the cheek and tell her that he loved her. In twenty-four adventures, he’d only been allowed to kiss her once. That, without a doubt, was his favorite story.

The world shifted and Scoop froze.

What was happening?

Suddenly a flagstone sidewalk appeared beneath Scoop’s feet. Then the street came alive with people and carriages. A dog barked.

Someone was looking at the opening lines of his very first adventure!

Scoop smiled and grabbed a Bulletin newspaper from his bag. He thrust the paper high into the air and shouted, “Read all about it!”

Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Stires

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