Cold Case October 1993

© Christopher Allen 2018 All Rights Reserved

It was a day like any other day when Frank’s phone rang. He was driving along West 63rd near Midway Airport and took the call over the car’s audio system.

            “DeGrae Investigations”, he said. “Frank speaking.”

            “Is this Mr. Frank DeGrae?” came an unknown voice over the speakers.


            “Mr. DeGrae my name is Willard Smalley. I wanted to speak with you about the murder of my mother.”

            “Oh? Do you know who did it?”

            “Oh no sir. That’s why we need you.”

            “Where did it happen?” Frank asked as he turned north onto South Cicero Avenue.

            “She was killed in her home on West 78th Street.”

            “So when did this go down and have the police been notified?”

            “Oh, I’ve got most of the file. It happened in October back in 1993.”

            “1993? Are you serious? Over twenty five years ago?”

            “I’m afraid so. The police call it a ‘Cold Case’ and I think they’ve quit looking. I’ve checked with them once or twice a year for several years and I just hear the same story. Another family member who lives in Chicago told me about you. I thought since you were near Midway you would know the area better and could help us.”

“Look, you do know when a crime goes unsolved for a long period of time the likelihood of a successful conclusion gets slimmer and slimmer?”

            “I know.”

            “Alright then. We’ll need to set up an appointment to meet face to face at my office.”

            “Thank you Mr. DeGrae.”

Two weeks later they were in Frank’s office drinking coffee and poring over Willard’s file. Frank finally asked, “Are these crime scene photos all you have? There aren’t very many and they don’t show much.”

            “I’m not sure they gave me all of them but I do have this disk. There’s supposed to be many more photos on there.”

            “Well, well… let’s take a look at that.”

A few days later, “Carnations!?” said Frank’s horticulture buddy over at the university.

            “Yes Jerry. Carnations. Look at this picture, will ya’?”

            “Alright”, he said as he craned his neck to look. “Now what can I do with this?”

            “Tell me what you know about this particular flower. Everything.”

Early the next morning Frank set out for Cleveland, Ohio. On Friday morning Frank arrived at his client’s residence about midway between Cleveland and Alliance. Ringing the doorbell Willard Smalley opened the door and with a startled look he excitedly said, “Frank!? Frank, what are you doing here!?”

            “Well Willard, I think I’ve found something I needed to run by you as soon as was possible. I couldn’t wait for you to come back to Chicago and I certainly didn’t want to discuss this over the phone. May I come in?”

            “Certainly. Come on in”, Willard said as he backed away from the door and stepped aside.

Sitting on the couch Frank opened his briefcase, pulled out the photos, and handed them to Willard. “What do you see Willard? Take your time and look closely.”

Reaching out toward Willard, Frank said, “Here Willard. I’ll show you.” With a quizzical look he handed them back.

“Here Willard”, Frank said as he pointed to the photo. “Do you see these flowers strewn all about the room?” Willard nodded in silence.

“Look closer. You’ll notice they were not purchased at a florist but rather picked by hand.”

Willard scowled a bit and asked, “Now how do you know that?”

            “Look at the different stems. Some appear to have been pulled from the soil. Here’s one with tiny roots. They’re very small but the hair like strings are roots. Then look at this one. Broken and torn stems. These flowers were pulled by hand from someone’s flower bed or garden.”

            “Alright. What does that mean?” asked Willard.

            “Nothing, by itself. Did you know Carnations have not always been in this country? Did you know they come in many, many different colors but there is a reason for that?”

            “What are you trying to say? Just get to it.”

            “Did you know there is no such thing as a blue carnation in nature? All blue carnations are the product of genetic engineering. And only since the 1990’s. It’s also noted, at least in nature, certain colors are the product of their surroundings or the soil conditions they grow in.”

            “Are you going to tell me about my mother’s murder or give me a lesson in carnation horticulture?”

            “Willard, these carnations are red.”

            “I can see that. Why are we talking about blue flowers?”

           “Willard… this specific shade of red has been determined by an expert I know to have originated in this part of Ohio. A politician and doctor of the nineteenth century by the name of Levi Lamborn was also an avid amateur horticulturist specializing in carnations. He developed this flower, or this color for the carnation and it was even later adopted by the State of Ohio as the official State Flower. It is unique to this part of the country. The flowers on the floor in these photos came from here.”

            “Are you suggesting I had anything to do with this?”

            “I spoke with your aunt. Your mother’s sister. She still lives south of Cleveland and after a while she did recall just before the news of her sister’s death you came by and pulled some red carnations from her flower bed next to the house. She didn’t ask why and thought nothing more of it.”

About this time more vehicles eased to a stop in front of the house. Willard craned his neck attempted to get a better view of who arrived. “What is this Mr. DeGrae?”

            “Willard, they’re here with a warrant. A search warrant for your house and your DNA. The judge seemed to agree there was probable cause for at least a search warrant.”

            “Alright Mr. DeGrae. Alright. Those are my flowers. The rest of this will not be necessary.”

“Over the years how many other officers or investigators have you tried to get to develop a suspect to cover you? No one could quite do it and your fear and guilt would rise back up. You couldn’t rest with this remaining an unsolved cold case. Someone had to be nailed down to give you peace. Well Willard, you can rest easy now.”


Heritage Not Hate or is it

By Christopher Allen ©2019 All Rights Reserved

Jim had put the last bag in the car and was finally ready for the big trip. For the last eight years he and several of his buddies made the convention their annual vacation. It was a time of fellowship, relaxation, celebration, and a lot of fun lasting for more than a week. The guys lived their whole year for these two weeks.

This year promised to be the best yet. For starters, Jim was headed out to meet the guys on Friday and the festivities at the lodge would start on Saturday morning. The whole conference officially kicked off on April 20th and would conclude on April 30th. The only people required to attend every day were the officials and board members. They incorporated association business into the conference days so most brought their families along and truly made it their vacations.

The group traveled convoy style from the Carolinas to an undisclosed private reserve near the Gulf. The association purchased the property near the panhandle many years ago when their membership was much higher. Due to their early strength as an organization and a few wise investments they were able to create a world class vacation spot. The main lodge was most impressive as were the smaller outlying individual cabins. And this place was set aside for the exclusive use of its members. It was specifically billed as not for the general public.

Trying to press on and get there they finally decided they did need to make a stop. Near Valdosta the caravan stopped at one of the mega chain truck stops figuring it would be easier for the number of vehicles traveling together. Everyone needed to refuel. All ‘non-essential’ personnel immediately egressed the vehicles and stormed the store.

            “Jim?” was heard coming from a nearby fuel pump island. Jim looked around as he refueled his own car. Locating the source he replied, “Bill?”

            “Didn’t you say your Great Grandfather was enlisted in the 12th North Carolina?”

            “That’s right. Company C.”

            “Company C? I thought it was B.”

            “No. It was C.”

            “It must be Dave’s who was in B Company.”

            “I think you’re right”, finished Jim as the rest of their families were seen running from the building back to their respective modes of transportation. They were all anxious to get to the lodge and they knew they were getting closer.

Bill concluded pumping his gas and as he was hanging the pump handle back on the hook he said, “I’m thinking of writing up an official roster for the entire unit but I’m starting to see what a project that’s going to be.”

            “I’m sure a lot of that work has already been done Bill. Try some online searches first. No need to re-invent the wheel you know”, said Jim.

            “I guess you’re right. I guess I’m so old I didn’t really think of that. I don’t spend much time playing on the computer.”

Concluding the group’s rest break and visits to the privy the convoy eased back onto the highway and were once again on their way. As is usual the younger kids began to show signs of elevated animation. The excitement grew to become a distraction for the driver of said automobile.

A few hours later they arrived at an unmarked gateway to what appeared to be a remote wooded area. They were in the tri-state area near the panhandle a few miles from a large Federal prison. Not much else was nearby other than a couple of small towns. The nearest of those was also more than just a few miles away.

Turning off the paved highway onto the property they followed the dirt road for about a mile when the array of flagpoles at the compound entrance finally came into view. Arranged in a neat semi-circle span around a large marble memorial marker were the entire series of Confederate flags. The Stars and Bars, Stainless Banner, and the final official Third National know to some as the “Blood-Stained Banner”. Also arranged with the historically correct official national flags of the Confederacy were the Bonnie Blue and Southern Cross. The group was “home”.

After checking in and making their way to their small encampment of cabins everyone was busy unloading vehicles and moving into their new temporary homes. The anticipation of a fun week was bubbling over. Jim found a flyer lying on the kitchen table as the rest of his brood ran about the place like mad hatters. As he stood quiet reading it his wife walked to him.

            “What is it Jim?”

           “Oh, nothing really. It’s a note from the ‘Families of Confederate Veterans’. It’s an itinerary for the week. Starting Sunday with a church service over at the auditorium with Pastor Len Powell of the First Baptist Church of the Nazarene presiding. I guess today and Saturday are just free days for everyone to arrive and sign in and get settled in.”

            “Oh”, is all June said and then continued on with whatever she had been doing.

At sunset a thunderstorm was moving in. The occasional lightning flash and accompanying peal of thunder was observed in the dark western distance. Things were oddly peaceful here and now, but everyone knew that would change as the night went on.

A few hours later the day had officially ended for the crew. It was late, the storm roared about the settlement, and everyone was simply exhausted and ready for some sleep. The day concluded with everyone snugly tucked in to their beds as the storm outside raged.

No sooner than Jim dozed off he was awakened by someone pounding on the door. As he emerged from his deep sleep and realized someone was beating on the door he bolted upright and swung his feet off the side of the bed and onto the floor. The pounding came again. Jim hastily pulled on his clothes and ran to the door. The storm was also still moving through with high winds and thunder rolling.

When Jim flung open the door he faced a young man of about 19 years wearing a period costume of a grey clad Confederate soldier. He also immediately noticed there was no rainfall and no wind. Silence. Once again he noticed the distant flash of light and rolling thunder miles away.

            Through sleepy sandy eyes Jim said, “May I help you?” in a most annoyed tone.

            “Please sir, I beg you, may I have a morsel and tin of water. I won’t be long. The front is moving this way.”

            “The front is moving this way? Son, the storm has already hit and passed us by.”

            “Storm? What storm? It hasn’t rained for days. I’m talking about the Yankees. They’re coming straight away. Here. You need to flee too. They’ll burn you out just like everywhere else they’ve been.”

Another large flash of light and boom went off much closer and louder than before shaking the ground. Both Jim and his visitor flinched.

            “Wow. That was some thunder”, Jim said.      

            “Sir that was no thunder. That was a return volley from our batteries right over there. For now they’re holding fast giving the rest of us ample time to pull back.”


The young soldier pushed in and Jim pulled the door closed not expressing any resistance to the invader. Before pulling the door closed Jim looked back out into the dark silence. Once the door was closed total silence fell. The young man turned around to face Jim and simply said, “Son, please have a seat. I have some very important things to tell you.”

            “Did you just call me son?”

            “I did.”

            “Have you lost your mind or what? What do you want?”

            “Jimmy, do you hear any storm or battle or anything outside?”

After a moment of silence and twisting his head straining to pick up on any sounds Jim acknowledged he did not. “Who are you and who do you think you are calling me ‘Jimmy’? You don’t know me.”

            “Oh Jimmy, that’s where you’re wrong. I do know you and moreover you know me too.”


            “Jim. I’m Private Eli Davidson of the 12th North Carolina Infantry.”

            “You mean… you’re…”

            “Yes Jimmy. I’m your Great Grandfather and tomorrow I will be wounded and taken prisoner by the Union Army. I’ll spend the rest of the war at the Elmira Prisoner of War Camp in New York. The next year will be the worst of my life but it will also permit me to survive this war and eventually allowing you to exist.”

            “This is crazy.”

            “Yes Jim, it is. But I only have a short time with you and you better listen.”

            “Alright, alright! Go ahead. What’s on your mind?”

            “Jimmy, I was given the opportunity to give you my thoughts on all this. Where you’re about to make a critical mistake. In fact you already have. But it’s not too late to correct. To help make my point we’re now in the year 1864 near what will be the Battle of the Wilderness and I appear as my 18 year old self of the time.”

            “No. I’m still asleep.”

            “You have come back 155 years with me. You also know I died at the ripe old age of 82 on my farm. From this point forward until I reached 82 I learned and realized a great deal. Things you need to know.”

            “I’m not believing this.”

Eli stood from his chair, walked across the room toward Jim and stopped directly in front of him. Jim looked up as Eli stared down. Eye contact was held for just a moment when Eli, using the physique and strength of a farmer and soldier of the era, grabbed Jim by the shirt collar and jerked him up from the chair with almost no effort. Jim let out a gasp almost as if the air was snatched from his lungs from being pulled to his feet too fast. “Shut up and listen already! We don’t have much time.”

            “Yes sir”, Jim replied wide eyed and his feet still lifted from the floor. Eli eased him back down and released his grip. They returned to their respective chairs and sat back down.

            Jim, this thing you’re doing; this so-called ‘Historical Society’ is not what it seems. Look deeper into what their message is and what it’s based on. Listen carefully. I was just a kid when this started. I had no idea what the politics were. All I knew was my home was being invaded. We weren’t rich. We didn’t own slaves. In fact we didn’t own anything. We were poor people struggling to get by. We were used. Used by the rich who did own the plantations and slaves. Regardless, I fought as a soldier for a government that existed to maintain the ideals of people owning other people for the main reason of becoming wealthier. What you’re involved in now is not a noble venture to honor the Confederate Bravery of your ancestors. It celebrates a time when men owned other men as property.

            “No. That’s not it…”

            “Yes. It is. At the time I had no way of knowing but Robert E. Lee even said, ‘I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union’ and after the war he said, ‘Don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

            “He did?”

            “Look it up. Stop teaching hate. Do not bring up your sons to detest the United States. We are one nation now. Make your sons Americans. This sort of organization only fosters the opposite. Get out. Go home and rethink what this is really all about. There has been enough hate and killing for the sake of hate. With you this can start to be reversed.” The conversation continued for hours.

The morning came and the cabin was buzzing with excitement. Standing in the kitchen Jim leaned close to his wife who was standing at the stove. “June, can I ask you something?”

She just turned and stared. After a moment she replied, “What?”

“Would you mind if we just loaded the car back up and took the kids on down to the beach for the week?” She smiled.



The Times Have a’ Changed

by Christopher Allen

©2019 All Rights Reserved

The day was a particularly nice day, at least weather wise, considering it was mid-July and normally too hot or rainy to spend much time outdoors. It was a day made to order. Clear blue skies with no hint of a cloud or much less rain. All things considered… a perfect day.

The family decided to make their patriarch the man of the hour so the entire clan made the pilgrimage to the Air Force Museum. An elderly man of eighty-four years and an Air Force veteran he was much beloved and this, of all days, would promise to be a-once-in-a-lifetime event. They weren’t sure how many more days they would have with him so they pulled out all the stops to make this happen.

As the day progressed the crowd steadily grew but since it was a Wednesday everyone figured the attendance could have been much more otherwise. The crowd was very large but not stifling.

Little Bobby tugged at his grandpa’s sleeve. The old man looked down. “Grandpa?”


                “Grandpa, is it true you were my age when you saw this happen?”

                “You know, come to think of it, I was. Sometimes it seems like yesterday and others like a lifetime back.”

                “You mean when you watched it you were only nine?”

                “That’s right Bobby. I was nine years old at the time.”


                “Yeah, wow is right.”

The family flowed right along with the assembly to the nearby flight line adjacent to the museum’s main building. More buses could be seen shuttling in more visitors. It seemed the crowd would exceed the initial estimates. Today was indeed a red-letter day in aviation history.

The occasional pole-mounted loud speaker could be heard playing martial music distorted by the wind of a lightly moving breeze.  “Grandpa?”

                “Yes Bobby?”

                “How long have they had a base on the moon?”

                “Not long son. I think the one there has only been going for about four years. They spent decades before that just sending people to space stations. That went on so long I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see us go back to the moon.”


The shuffling stopped and other adult family members started breaking out folding chairs. This was where they would establish their own base camp for the day. The steady stream of patriotic and military music stopped. An announcer took their place.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we here at the Air Force Museum would like to thank you all for coming out today. Mark your calendars for posterity. Today, Wednesday, July 20th, 2044 we’ll be receiving a most important item to be placed on display here. Something only a few years ago we thought would be lost to us forever. We’ve gotten word that if you all would look to the west… or to your right, you should see the aircraft appear in the distance in just a few minutes.”

The music resumed and there was slight humming of various conversations occurring simultaneously around Grandpa and Bobby.

“Grandpa! There! Is that it?” Bobby said with an outstretched arm pointing to the sky.

                “I really can’t tell but I would guess it is. This is getting exciting.”

The huge bulky cargo shuttle floated closer. It was the fifth-generation Dyna-Soar Heavy Shuttle with the silent ultra mag-lev propulsion system. Few people had actually observed one in person. Not that it was such a well-guarded secret but because there were only three in existence and they had been busy with trips to the moon to build the first lunar base.

  “It looks like it isn’t moving”, Bobby said.

                “I know. But it’ll get here.”

The music stopped again. “Ladies and gentlemen. If you look just to the left of the marker flag near the outer fence near the highway you will see a small dark spot in the sky. That is the shuttle coming direct to us from its last mission to the moon.”

“Wow Grandpa. It’s coming here straight from the moon.”

                “Yeah Bobby. Wow is right.”

Over the speakers came more. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the three heavy hauler shuttles the Space Administration has running building materials and supplies to the moon. As it moves in closer you will see its immense size and notice it is virtually silent. It’s almost two football fields in length, half a football field in width, and uses a nuclear powered magnetic generator for power.

The craft maneuvered into position along the airfield and to the array of buildings until stopping in front of the assembly. It made no noise. The crowd was also deafeningly silent. It was a most strange moment. It lowered a series of landing gear and settled in until touchdown was achieved and a series of lights seemed to indicate it was shutting down.

As a large side cargo door opened the speaker resumed from his script. “If you will look closely at the open side bay door you will see the lift sliding out the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module Base onto the elevated flatbed vehicle that will move it to the prep building where it will be readied for its true final resting place here for all to see.”

“It looks like a big spider”, said Bobby.

                “Yes. I guess it does. You know Bobby, this seems real now.”

                “I don’t understand Grandpa. It is real.”

“I know you don’t really know what I mean now. But you will one day. I remember watching that spider on our small black and white television set when I was only nine years old. Now here we stand watching it again just across that field seventy-five years later. And it makes me recall everything that has happened in between and I don’t know where all that time went. It passed in the blink of an eye.”

                “Really?! The blink of an eye?”

                “I promise son. One day you will know exactly what I mean.”

The End

The Traveler

By Christopher Allen

©2019 All Rights Reserved

It was just after midnight and passing through the interchange of I-40 and I-55 at West Memphis seemed effortless since the normal volume of traffic was not there. It seemed the trek to the West Coast would be uneventful. As our friend continued westbound and passed College Boulevard the lights of civilization began to fade in the rearview mirror. Darkness grew darker and began to close in tighter around the rolling stock.

Pushing on through the night he kept telling himself he was on a schedule and must press on. No stopping allowed. As the blackness turned to gray and silhouettes of the landscape began to take shape the wheels continued their whirring sound as they turned on the pavement. Press on… press on.

Hours had passed. Time stood still. The wheels were still turning. Arkansas was long gone and the path across Texas was winding through Abilene. The next stop would find him in El Paso.  After a quick resupply and refueling the traveler rolled out toward Las Cruces in the land of enchantment to embark across the Chihuahuan Desert. For a brief time crossing vast areas of open hostile terrain the traveler paused to check his maps. There were just enough small criss-crossing roads to cause concern.  Highway 549, Akela, Deming, 418, 517, 146 from Wilna. If you were complacent and made a wrong turn it could be very costly.

After passing through Steins it wouldn’t be long before crossing into Arizona although it would happen without noticing. Along the way toward Tucson you realize from the billboards ‘The Town Too Tough to Die’ is a real place and is still around. About now you ask yourself, ‘How did I get out here?”

The real estate looks like you’re traveling across the moon and the feeling of such remoteness creeps in on you. The traveler presses on.

The traveler doesn’t note the real cities. He takes in and savors what isn’t seen. What you never hear people talking about. Driving through Tucson and on toward Phoenix what is really noticed is you’re now in the Sonoran Desert. You begin to take notice of the giant saguaro cactus looking like extraterrestrial sentries standing guard duty to the desert and the occasional adobe structure. This is the wild west. Not what was, but what is. The Tohono O’odham Nation, Gila River Indian Community, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, and the occasional Hotel California style mission building. This is still the wild west.

The traveler starts westbound out of Phoenix and the Gila River Region beginning the last leg across Arizona to the California border. Again, the traveler is aware there is vast open nothingness but at the same time a rich incomparable history to the surroundings. The region mostly consists of the Colorado River Indian Reservation. The official U.S. designated home of the Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi, and Navajo.

Pushing on the traveler finally arrives. The sun had been slowly descending throughout the entire afternoon as if in a race to see who would get to California first. California was in sight and this time the traveler may be the victor of the contest. Until.

As daylight was waning traffic up ahead began to slow. There was a backup developing. It was noticed there was a structure blocking the roadway. Gradually the traveler inched closer to the obstruction as the ambient light slipped away. Eventually it was realized this was a California Border Protection Station. The State of California must be considering the return of its independent Republic days. Not only are visitors from a foreign nation to the south required to enter through check stations it is also required of visitors from the nations of Arizona and Nevada to the east and Oregon to the north.

Granted entry to the Republic of California the traveler makes a brief stop at an official roadside rest area. It’s still the same desert and while walking to the facilities a posted sign is observed. CAUTION. There May Be Rattlesnakes In This Area. Reasonable Watchfulness Should Be Sufficient To Avoid Snakebite. The traveler doesn’t tarry.

Pushing deeper into California the goal of Los Angeles seems to be within reach. Firmly in the grasp of the Moreno Valley the traveler passes through Riverside; the place the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially launched the Orange industry in California.

With the mission to Los Angeles completed the traveler turns north. Following I-5 and navigating around Bakersfield the traveler commences the return trip eastbound out of California along I-40. After a short traverse of the eastern California desert the traveler once again crosses the Colorado River while passing into Arizona. While doing so it is only a reach to Lake Havasu, which is only a wide spot in the Colorado River, and the world famous London Bridge.

Pushing hard to meet another deadline the traveler reaches Flagstaff. As far as most are concerned Flagstaff is memorable for only two things. The elevation is seven thousand feet as opposed to Phoenix just to the south at just over a thousand feet. During certain times of the year the temperatures between these two cities can be forty to fifty degrees apart. Flagstaff is even higher than the “Mile High City” of Denver, Colorado at five thousand two hundred eighty feet. And the second, and most important feature is, I-40 is in such disrepair it will beat your teeth out and damage your vehicle.

The traveler stopped at Winslow for a respite from the toil. At a distance thick clouds of dust and sand could be observed looking almost like heavy dark clouds at ground level. The immediate area remained clear but the breeze was stiff. The occasional bit of debris and dead gray tumbleweed would rush past as if they too had somewhere else they needed to be. It was time to remount and press on.

The traveler eventually arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas exhausted from the hard non-stop trip to the west coast. Pulling into the terminal and getting shut down seemed to take forever. The time for relaxation and real sleep finally arrived.

After a solid all night sleep the traveler awoke to the sounds of a slowly ringing engine bell, the clip-clop of the slow gait of horses, and the buzz of distant conversations. Jumping from the bed and dashing to the second floor window a small town of all wooden structures, a train station with engine standing ready, and dirt street full of wagons, coaches, and ridden horses came into view. The traveler cleared the webs out and thought; “Wow, what an incredible dream that was.”

Once back at the coach station the traveler told the dream to a fellow driver. “You’ve been on this Butterfield coach route way too long. You might need to head up to St. Joseph and take up Pony Express riding.”

“No way. That’s even worse. Besides, on the coach route you can at least get oranges out there.”

“What’s an orange?”


Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Thin Man’, Chapter Two

Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Thin Man’

Chapter 2

I finally made it to Macauley’s office around ten Wednesday morning. Everyone knows Mondays are a bad day for new business, with all the filings and pleadings, and posting bonds. It’s catch up day from the weekend. And Tuesday isn’t much better. That’s the day everybody is double checking what they did on Monday. So Wednesdays work for me. Sometimes I wonder why Macauley struck out on his own. When he worked at the firm life was much easier for him. Oh, now I remember. Money.

       “Mr. Macauley will see you now,” his secretary said almost as soon as I closed the door behind me.

I said, “Thanks,” as I walked past her desk to his door.

       “Nick, how are you this fine morning?” he asked as I entered.

       “Fine Mac, just fine. You’re awfully cheerful today.”



Macauley leaned into his phone on the desk and pressed a lever. “Miss Jacobs?”

       “Yes sir?” came her voice over the speaker.

       “Would you bring Mr. Charles a cup of coffee? Black please.”

       “Yes sir.”

I hung my hat and overcoat on the tree next to the door and took my usual seat across the desk from him. Mac slid some papers into a drawer and looked up. “Thanks for coming Nick. I’m afraid I really will need your help on this one.”

       “So what is it? Not Clyde again I hope.”

       “You can relax. No.”


       “Here’s a dollar,” he said as he opened his wallet. “You’ve been retained. Now I’ll fill you in.”

       “Alright. It’s official. Go ahead.”

       “Have you heard of Consolidated Transcontinental?”

       “‘The’ Consolidated Transcontinental Enterprises? Sure. Who hasn’t? That company has its hands in just about everything.”

       “Well, you may not know there are only two real owners. One lives here out on Long Island in the old money section and the other partner lives in San Francisco.”

       “No, I didn’t know that much.”

       “Colonel Burr MacFay has been a regular client of mine for several years.”

       “Lucky break for you.”

       “Well, it’s mostly just boring business filings and such, but yes, this business is the primary reason I decided to leave the firm and start my own practice.”

       “Well good for you Herbert.”

       “Now the reason I’m telling you this is-”

       “I thought there might be a point to all this.”

The office door opened and Miss Jacobs walked in with my coffee. I stood up from my chair and turned to meet her as she walked over.

       “Thanks Miss Jacobs. I’m sure it will be as good as always.”

       “Thank you, Mr. Charles. Please let me know if there is anything else you may need,” she said with a smile.

       “Oh, I will. I’m sure this will be fine though,” I said while slightly raising the cup as a sign of approval as she walked back to the front office.

       “So Nick, how’s the coffee?”

       “Oh, uh, I’ll let you know. Where were we?”

       “Consolidated Transcontinental.”

       “Oh yes, that’s right.”

       I was only now aware I was still standing and lowered myself back into the overstuffed throne of a chair.

       “Nick, she has a fiancé. Focus.”

       “Tell her she can trade up. Only kidding, never mind. I’m not exactly the marrying kind anyway.”

       “Like I said Nick, these men are the bulk of my business so I need to pull out all the stops to help them with this. I’ll give you a clue as to how valuable these clients are.”

       “I think I get the idea.”

       “I’m not sure you do. They’ve helped Coolidge get in the White House. And I mean seriously helped. With Al Smith leaving office to run for President, they’re organizing for a newcomer to run for governor. His name is Franklin Roosevelt. And yes, he is one of those Roosevelts.”

       “I see. Wait a minute. Isn’t Coolidge a Republican?”

       “Yes he is.”

       “I thought so. Aren’t the Roosevelts Democrats though?”

       “They are. Don’t scratch your head about that. Like some other very wealthy business men, they don’t really have any political party loyalty. They back the man they think can help the most.”

       “Help what the most? Them or the country?”

“You’d have to ask them that. I’ve heard them say if he’s a good governor they’ll put him in the White House.”

       “Alright, I get the picture. These guys carry some weight. Or should I say, have influence?”

       “I would say that’s putting it mildly. I’ll hit the high points on this thing Nick. They want both of us to meet with them and give you the details themselves.”

       “I’m flattered.”

       “Well you can thank me then. I recommended you. Mr. Finhaden will be coming from San Francisco by train in a couple of weeks. We’ll meet him at Grand Central Terminal when he gets in and we’ll travel out to Colonel MacFay’s on Long Island together.”

       “Going out to Long Island? If it’s for a meeting that would mean an overnight stay.”

       “Yes. You’ll need to pack for the weekend. It’s somewhere between Calverton and Westhampton. I’ll let you know the exact dates when they tell me.”

       With eyebrows furrowed and one slightly raised I said, “Herbert, now you know I’m a little busy with another case or two. I still have an agency and my other clients may think otherwise how I manage my time. And I do have overhead too. Plus I have Wynant going on about his Chicago dentist friend.”

       Macauley slid open the center desk drawer and pulled out an envelope. “Here is your real retainer. I haven’t seen it. It was given to me sealed. You look at that first before turning the job down. If after looking at that and you want out just hand it back and say goodbye. Nick, this could be the window of opportunity for you to branch out. Just think about it. Besides that, when did you really care about Wynant or any of his crazy family? You know they’re all nuts. Everyone one of them. Except maybe Dorothy. Strike that. She is too.”

       I took the envelope as I nodded in agreement. I held and looked at it for moment in silence.

       “I never said anything about turning it down but—”

“Well?” he asked.

Without answering I tore it open and looked at the check inside. “This is only the initial retainer?”


       “Is this check real?”

       “It is.”

       “I’ll be waiting on your call.”

       “I’ll call out to Colonel MacFay’s and let him know everything is proceeding. Between his staff and us we’ll pull this all together and make a long weekend retreat out of it. And you can rest easy.”

       “Rest easy? About what?”

       “The Colonel keeps a nicely stocked bar.”

       “A man after my own heart. I guess I’ll head out now,” I said as I stood and started for the door, “I need to get a few things out of the way before we go.”

       “Stay close to your phone.”

       Taking my hat and coat from the tree I turned to Mac. “You know you can usually get me with no more than a couple of calls even while I’m running the streets. I’ll be looking for the call and give Carol a heads up on it. She’ll get the message to me.”

       “Good,” was all Macauley said as he went back to sorting through the pile of papers on his desk.

Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”, Chapter One


the Thin


The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man

This novel’s story and characters are fictitious and any similarities to real persons, living or deceased, are purely coincidental. Although certain long standing institutions, businesses, agencies, and public offices may be mentioned, the characters involved and story are wholly imaginary.

© 2018 Cris A. Cannon. All Rights Reserved

For Linda


I was sitting at my regular table at a speakeasy on Fifty-Second Street waiting to meet up with Clyde Wynant. He called me earlier in the week telling me something about a business deal gone sour, and his new business partner running aground. He wanted to see me to consult about his options and learn what he should already know about his new colleague. I don’t usually get involved in these sort of matters but I’ve known Clyde for some time and he’s a good customer. I tried to tell him on the phone he would probably be wasting his time and money and just bail out of this thing while he could. His lawyer, Herbert Macauley, was going to meet with us too. He’s an old army buddy of mine from the war and has brought me plenty of business with several of his other clients. My bourbon arrived by the time Clyde had walked in and took off his coat and hat. He walked over when I waved and as he pulled his chair out, I sampled my drink.

“Nick, how’ve ya’ been?

       “I can’t complain Clyde. Especially now that my drink order came out. What are you having?”

       “Did Macauley fill you in?”

       “More or less.”

       “Good. I’ll try to fill in the details without taking up the rest of your day.”

       “Slow down Clyde, we’re not in that much of a hurry. What are you drinking?”

       “What are you having?”


       “Sounds good to me.” he said.

       “Neat, with water, soda, any particular pedigree?”

       “Just the same as you, thanks.”

I waved over to the bartender and raised my glass letting them know to send over another. 

       “So, how did this start?” I asked.

       “Well, you know about some of my projects. Mostly in metallurgy and precious metals smelting and alloying processes.”

       “Well, sort of.”

“Anyway, I was working on a project using silver in a photographic process-” he said. After a short pause he restarted. “Never mind all that. To make a long story short, I was working on a new thing for the dental field using radiation to image patients’ mouths. It basically miniaturizes the photographic plate so it will fit in the mouth. The main thing I was working on is the silver based emulsion used in the slide.”

       “Okay,” I said, not really clear about what he was going on about.

       “A Chicago dentist by the name of Dwight Rosewood called me not too long ago. He told me he read about my experiments in the science and trade journals and wanted to contact me about trial runs and possibly partnering with me as a consultant, and with financing too. I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time.”

       “I take it, it wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

       “You take it right.”

       “Clyde, did you do any checking on this guy before you got in too deep?”

       “Well, you see—”

       “That’s what I thought. You know you can’t just jump into things like this.”

As Clyde began to explain further I noticed Macauley at the door. He was checking his coat and hat. Then I saw Mimi walk in and start yipping at him like an angry Chihuahua. It was apparent this confrontation had started outside and she followed him in refusing to be ignored. All I could think of was ‘Poor Man’. I said to Wynant, “Never mind right now.”


       “Look Clyde, you’ve got to go. And I mean now.”


       “Mimi just walked in and she’s got Macauley cornered. She must have stalked him and followed him in. They didn’t walk in together.” I leaned in close. “She must be hunting you.”

       “I’m not running from her.”

       “Yes you are. We don’t have time for your house keeping troubles and quite frankly, I’m not sticking around to watch you two dance around the May Pole. I don’t care how many girlfriends you have or boyfriends she has, or vice versa, and I sure don’t want to sit here and listen to you two go over it. If you want to talk to me and Mac go duck in the men’s room now. When we get rid of her we’ll get you. Then we’ll finish our real business here.”

       “Alright” he said as he glanced back in her direction and eased his chair back from the table. He seemed to strain to walk slowly and blend with the other patrons as he egressed toward the end of the bar.

As Clyde slinked off one way Macauley approached from the other. Mimi still nipping at Mac’s heels. She was so wound up and snapping at Mac she never noticed Clyde making his retreat. As they approached I stood and extended a hand. “Herbert… Herbert Macauley, it’s good to see you again. How’ve you been?”

       “Well, hello Nick. Small world bumping into you here.”

       “Yes, isn’t it?” I said. “Won’t you pull up a chair?”

Mimi stood quiet now but was shooting daggers at me with her eyes. “Well if it isn’t Nick Charles. Aren’t you going to say anything to me?”


       “Oh! I never!” she huffed.

       “Oh yes Mimi, you have too,” I replied.

       “I will not stand here and be insulted like that,” she said, crossing her arms.

       “Well then Mimi, bye.”

She stomped one foot on the floor, spun on her heels, and stormed back out the front door. As she made her way off, Herbert and I settled back into our chairs.

       “Thanks for rescuing me Nick.”

       “Think nothing of it. I’m glad she’s gone too. What did Clyde ever see in that woman?”

       “Where is he?”

       “I gave him an early warning and he ducked out. I told him we would get him out of the men’s room when the coast was clear. What are you drinking?”

       “What are you having?”


       “Sounds good to me,” he said.

I waved over to the bar and raised my glass letting them know to send over yet another, only this time I raised two fingers. I needed a refill. “We’ll let Clyde sweat it out for a minute. Serves him right for getting us in the middle of his headache.”

       “You must mean nightmare. Besides that, there’s another client I wanted to talk with you about anyway. I think I need your help on this one too.”

       “Okay, fire away.”

       “We really don’t have the time to go into here like I need to,” he said. “For now I guess we really should get Wynant out of the men’s room. Call my office and have Miss Jacobs set up a meeting. That way we won’t be bothered by other things and I can go over it with you without distractions.”

       “I guess you’re right.”

“When do you think you can you drop by?”

“You name it Mac. I can always work you in.”

“Will do. Do you think we should get Clyde back out here?”

I raised my glass, half hearing him, and was somewhat dreading getting Clyde. Knowing how he is I wasn’t sure what tales he had in store for us. “I’ll go get him. You enjoy the drink for a peaceful minute. Then we’ll listen to the old bird beat his gums again.”

Sticking my head in the men’s room I called out, “Clyde!”

“Is she gone?” he asked as he emerged from a stall.

“Come on Clyde. Let’s go back out to the table. Mac’s waiting on us.”


When we finally got settled in I asked Clyde to fill us in on his situation again. “Okay, now tell us about this Rosewood fella. You said he was a doctor?”

“He’s a dentist.”


“He phoned my office several weeks ago from Chicago. He left a message with Julia-”

“Julia? Julia Wolf? Is she still around?”

Macauley interjected, “She’s Clyde’s secretary now.”

“Oh, I see. That’s what we’re calling it these days?”

“I thought you didn’t care about—”

“I don’t Clyde. Go ahead with your story.”

“Anyway, he left a message with her saying he was interested in my project. When I finally found the time to call him back he verified knowing about my work from reading the journals. Looking back on it, I can’t remember anyone talking with me about it for such an article. But I can’t keep up with all that sort of stuff.”

“They probably didn’t. This is starting to sound just a little fishy to me already.”

Clyde went on for a little while longer running the story down to us until he got to the part where Rosewood said he was going to bomb his house and kill his family.

“Did you report this to the police, Clyde?” I asked.

“Well, no. I didn’t think they would believe me. Or it would do any good.”

“That may be, but you still should have let them know something. It, at least, needs to be on record. I know blowing up houses is no big deal but letting somebody know might help a little.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“If something did happen they’d at least have somewhere to start looking.”

“I see your point.”

“Look Clyde, you go down to the Precinct near your shop and get someone to write this up. Me and Mac will figure out what we need to do on our end, alright?”

As he stood, he said, “Thanks Charles, I’ll go ahead and get that done,” as he shook hands with Mac and me.

“We’ll be talking soon. Take care Clyde.”

Wynant made his way back out the door and Macauley and I sat back down.

“So Mac, what’s your take?”

“There could be something to this. The world is full of confidence men, you know.”

“Yeah. There is definitely no shortage of grifters. Hey, do you know anything about that so-called accountant Clyde’s got working for him? That, ah, ah-”

“Tanner. His name is Tanner.”

“That’s right. Tanner. What’s his story?” I asked.

“I’m not sure where he originally comes from, but he does have a bit of a record. And that secretary he’s taken on is no prize either.”

“The Wolf girl? He’s been seeing her on the side for a while.”

“Yeah. Julia Wolf. I’m not sure that’s even her real name.”

“I’m not either. What does Mimi think of all this monkey business? I mean, are they still under the same roof?”

“I think she’s already kicked him out. Not sure.”

“Oh, really. Wow. I didn’t think that would ever happen. They love to fight.”

“They’re still married but I don’t know for how much longer.”

“I guess Julia’s talents extend beyond typing and making coffee to rate getting hired. Clyde doesn’t need a secretary. He’s got Tanner working in the office.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if Tanner or Julia knows this Rosewood guy and they’re setting Clyde up. Or Tanner and Julia are both in it with Rosewood.”

“Clyde might eventually link Tanner to Rosewood, if they are working together, and it’s not too late. But, he’s not too bright when it comes to a smiling pretty face. I’m guessing Mimi knows this all too well too.”

“It would seem. She tries to use the same tricks, but with much less effect. And she’s just about the most incessant and garrulous women I’ve ever known.”

“You really don’t like her, do you?”

“What gave it away?”


Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”

Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”

The original The Thin Man detective novel by Dashiell Hammett was originally published (in a condensed form) in Redbook, an American women’s magazine published monthly by the Hearst Corporation. It was first published in December 1933. It was believed in the beginning to be a feature to be published in serial form over an extended period of time but was published as an independent book the following month. 

Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” was written and published independently in early 2018 and has received a modest support from readers primarily in the Kindle ebook format.

It seems there is still a substantial interest in classic movies and these type stories. Take for example Joe Gores, also a former private eye, had his book Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON published in 2009. Gores’ story is set in 1921—seven years before Sam Spade will solve the famous case of the Maltese Falcon. The Thin Man prequel is set in 1928 – five years prior to Nick Charles solving The Thin Man Case.

At about the same time Gores’ book came out there was buzzing about a big screen remake of Hammett’s The Thin Man. This project was to have Johnny Depp in the lead role of Nick Charles. By 2010 and 2011, for completely unknown problems and issues, the project was eventually shelved. There is a UK produced movie titled The Thin Man due out in 2019 but shares nothing with the original except the title. There also seems to be a few small local theater groups performing some form of Hammett’s work live on stage around the country. One in particular, The Limelight Theater Company in Illinois, has recently performed a play titled Before The Thin Man and is billed on their website as: See how it all began for Nick and Nora in this prequel, an original Limelight radio production based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett, a mystery set against the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. According to their website it was scheduled to be performed on November 24, 2018.

From the Limelight Theater Company website 2018

I began writing the novel, ‘Before the Thin Man: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”, based on the characters created by Dashiell Hammett, in October 2017 and completed and published it in the Spring of 2018. It was registered with the Writers Guild of America East on April 16, 2018 and US Copyright registration was effective April 23, 2018. I recently completed a screenplay adaptation of the book and registered it with the Writers Guild of America West. The book is available in print or ebook on Amazon. The intent of this project was simply to bring the originals to the attention of a new generation.  The stories, dialogue, and movies are terrific and I’ve seen many young people today rule out watching any ‘old and black & white movies because they’re boring.’ I believe, given a fair shake, the CGI super hero whizz-bang crowd would come to appreciate these classics as much as we do. All they need is a proper catalyst. I believe the prequel novel, and hopefully a well-made movie, will fill that role.

Back Cover

I have decided, in order to get this project in the hands of interested parties, to publish the text, again, here in this blog format in serial form over time. This one will be reverse of the original. Book first, then in serial form. If you wait long enough you can read the book here at no cost. It is, of course, available as a paperback or an ebook at Amazon. 

“Let me share with you the early days of Mr. Nick Charles and Miss Liticia Lenora Finhaden. Nick is known throughout New York City as a great private detective. Now owning his own agency, Nick is making a name for himself. His attention to detail, and sometimes with a bit of luck, has allowed the police force to close many high-profile cases. And now he has just been invited to work a case which promises to forever change his life.

Miss Lettie is a head-strong, independent, and highly capable young woman. Having majored in art, she is mere months away from becoming a Vassar graduate. While awaiting her father’s arrival at Grand Central Terminal, Lettie gets her first peek of the legendary Nick Charles.

I enjoyed watching Nick as he cleverly pieced together the puzzling mystery. I loved listening to the interaction between Nora and him. She maintained a playful banter. He recognized he would never meet anyone like Nora. She was a special kind of someone he knew he could take care of.

I loved taking this quick journey into the past. A romance as unique as this could only be told of Nick and Nora.”

Sandy Vattimo, Book Reviewer The RAC Magazine, Connecting Readers and Authors, September/October 2018, New Beginnings Issue #1 review.

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