Hello. My name is Archibald Cherish.
And therein lies a story. It began, I suppose, as all stories do, on the day that I was born, but the portions relevant to my current situation had their origins only last week, on New Year’s Eve.
I had moved into my fourth floor apartment the previous month, on November 1st, to be exact. I did not know anyone in the city, although on my second day here, just as I was walking up the stairs, I encountered a beautiful, slim, green-eyed goddess living in apartment 3-North. She was dramatically dressed in a black leotard and tights under a black velvet, red satin-lined cape. I smiled at her hopefully, and said, “Hi. I lived in the apartment above yours.”
She returned a terse, insincere smile, and said, “Good for you.”
My apartment isn’t really mine, as it belongs to my Uncle Dave, who decided to spend a year teaching English at a high school in Spain and said that I could stay here until I found my own place in Manhattan.
I’m a freelance journalist, which, since there are practically no newspapers left in the universe, means that I am unemployed and unemployable. So I work at Sullivan’s Hardware, selling hammers, Borax, and electric heaters. It’s a good job, but I’ll never get a Pulitzer Prize sharpening scissors and repairing screens.
Other than living in New York, I do favors for my sister, Rhoda, who is a curator at the Nelson Rose Museum of Art in Los Angeles. Since L.A. (eyes left) is very far Over There, and the Sotheby Park Benet Gallery (eyes right) is just blocks away from me Over Here, Rhoda asked me to go to that auction house and bid on a painting by a famous French Impressionist I’d never heard of, and (if the bidding didn’t go over a certain amount), to purchase it for her museum.
Which is why at 11:33 p.m. on December 31st, I was sitting alone in Uncle Dave’s kitchen with a glass of sparkling cider in my right hand, a plate of oatmeal cookies on the table in front of me, and a $103,000 masterpiece leaning against a rocking chair in my living room.
I was lifting a glass to toast myself and the New Year when I heard a terrifying crash coming from not ten feet away. Seconds later, two tall, wide-shouldered men were standing in the opening where my door had been. They were pointing guns at me and wore ski masks and disposable gloves, so other than their heights, I could ascertain very little about their appearance. One seemed to have pinkish-white skin around watery blue eyes. The other had dark brown skin around black-specked gold eyes. The guy with the blue eyes had a narrow pointed head, and the guy with the gold eyes had only nine fingers, evident since the pinky finger on his gloved left hand was empty.
I dropped my wine glass, and it shattered against my wide-plank wood floor. Half-a-heartbeat later, Pointy Head bellowed, “All your money and valuables on the table. Now!”
In retrospect, I can’t boast that I am cool under pressure. I can say, however, that I have a huge repertoire of movie scenes catalogued in my brain, and in a crisis, one or another often pops up to tell me what to do. At that instant, I was not remembering any particular film, but a collage of movie confrontations wherein our hero glances over the shoulder of his attacker as if horrified by what he is seeing, and when the bad guy turns to see what it is, aforementioned hero knocks the gun out of his hand.
Which might have worked if there were only one of them. Not two.
But I used my eyes as a distraction in a different way, and upon being ordered to surrender all of my valuables, I cast an openly covert glance at the kitchen window, and the floorboard beneath, which was protruding a fraction of an inch above the horizontal. As I hoped, the eyes of both bad guys followed my gaze. But when I shifted my eyes back to them, they redirected their attention to me.
I pushed my plate forward across the table.
“Oatmeal cookie?” I asked.
Pointy Head growled, “You have 30 seconds.”
I rose to my feet, dug into my pockets, and pulled out four crumpled twenty dollar bills, three quarters, two dimes, and five pennies. Nine Fingers swept them into his hands and growled. “What else?”
Again, as if inadvertently, my eyes flicked to the elevated floorboard. This time, though, not only did their eyes follow mine, so did their bodies, and they stomped to the window to see what was so interesting.
Pointy Head snapped at Nine Fingers, “Get me a knife!”
Nine Fingers ransacked my cutlery drawer, returned to his partner, and together they knelt and began to pry up the wooden plank.
Now, lest you think they were acting contrary to my wishes, I should mention that the purpose of all that eye movement was to keep their focus on me and in the kitchen, so that they would ignore the rest of the rooms. I love my sister, and I didn’t think it would do Rhoda any good if her idiot brother managed to get a $103,000 painting stolen from an apartment for which his name isn’t even on the lease.
Now I’ll tell you about the six by 18 inch floorboard (with a recess about five inches deep) currently occupying my intruders’ attention. On the day that I moved in, Uncle Mike showed it to me, and laughingly said, “It was probably created by a bootlegger during prohibition to stash his loot in case his apartment got raided.”
Uncle Mike had kept a spare set of contact lenses and the keys to his mother’s Scarsdale condominium there. After I moved in, I put my sterling silver naming cup in that long-gone moonshiner’s repository, secretly hoping, despite its value, that someone would come along and steal it.
Speaking of naming cups, it has long been a family tradition, upon the birth of a baby, to have a silversmith engrave a cup with the infant’s name and date of birth, and present said object to his or her parents within a reasonable period of time. Since I was an only son (I have four sisters), my cagy mother thought that if she named me after Great Uncle Archibald – unmarried; no children – he would make me his heir.
Suffice it to say, Great Uncle Archibald sent my mother the naming cup. Years later, he died at the advanced age of 97 and left his money to the Society for the Preservation of Pygmy Goats. All I got from him was his name, which I hate, and that damn cup. My mother, though, loved it and thought that it represented generational continuity. And since it also commemorated my birth, if I had lost, sold, or given it away, it would have broken her heart.
However, I mused hopefully, if it was stolen...
Back to the action in my apartment.
Just as Pointy Head and Nine Fingers were crouching over the bootlegger hidey hole, I saw a flash of red at the entrance to my kitchen. I turned, and who should be standing there but the dramatically caped green-eyed goddess from one flight below! Like the miscreants who had broken down my door, she was armed. But her firearm was more menacing. Based upon the experience I had gained from watching action-adventure movies, I decided that it was an Uzi submachine gun. She aimed it at my assailants, who (bless their little hearts) had laid down their guns to probe the hole in front of my window.
“Hands up,” she shouted, and darting her eyes at me, commanded, “Get their weapons.”
Obedient to a fault, I scurried forward and kicked both guns, like hockey pucks, into the hall, past my defending goddess’s feet. Then in quick succession, she snapped, “I’ll cover them while you call the police.” So I pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket, jabbed “911,” conveyed all pertinent information to the emergency dispatcher, and asked my fearless leader, “Now what?”
She yelled at the bad guys, “On the floor. Face down. Legs together. Arms behind your back.” She tossed me the Uzi and snapped. “Cover them. If either moves, shoot him.”
I caught the weapon and aimed it at Pointy Head and Nine Fingers, who instantly dropped to the floor. Meanwhile, the goddess whipped a length of white chord (where had that come from?) out of thin air, and within seconds, had them trussed together like a two-headed sausage.
My doorbell rang. Still aiming the Uzi at the interlopers, I reached for the intercom, and demanded, “Who?”
I buzzed them in. Meanwhile, the goddess was tearing off her captives’ ski masks, revealing that Pointy Head was bald, with a slack jaw and big ears, and Nine Fingers had caterpillar eyebrows and a squashed nose. Instead of projecting defiance, both men appeared crestfallen, and Pointy Head looked as if he was going to burst into tears.
While the cops were still mounting the stairs, my caped avenger snatched the weapon out of my hands, slid it over the threshold, and called out, “Officers, the thing coming at you on the fourth floor landing looks like an Uzi submachine gun, but it’s just a paint gun. I use it in my act. I’m a magician.”
Not to be outdone, one of our gift-wrapped outlaws stammered, “And ours are water pistols.” But they could hardly call “breaking and entering” a magic act to justify their behavior.
The next hour in my apartment was like a TV detective show where someone had arbitrarily slipped pages into the script from a comedy being filmed across the street, and despite their great efforts to be professional, I was certain that both patrolmen were trying very hard not to laugh. As they exited my kitchen dragging the bad guys behind them (by then, both were openly weeping), one of the cops asked my downstairs neighbor, “Where did you learn how to tie knots like that?”
She replied, “Most magicians are also escape artists. Knots are my specialty.”
Then they were gone. I turned to the goddess who, like Mighty Mouse, had come to save the day, and asked, “Are you really a magician?”
She pursed her lips, but instead of kissing or answering, she blew lightly against an open palm, and next thing I knew, she was thrusting a white rabbit into my arms.
“His name is Snowflake,” she said.
I scratched Snowflake behind the ears. “Do you have a name, too?” I asked.
“Not Cassandra or Yolanda or Majestica or Wildini?”
“No. Just April. And my last name is Flowers.”
I thought, “How wonderful! I’m falling in love with April Showers.”
Snowflake started to squirm, so I gave him back to April. A blink later, he had disappeared.
It was time, I decided, for an explanation. So I jerked my head in the direction of my window and said, “Follow me.” I led her to the board in the floor about which such a commotion had been made, reached down, lifted out my sterling silver naming cup, and handed it to her. She held it up like a small crystal ball. “Archibald Cherish” she read aloud from the engraving along its side. “Is that your name?”
“Yes. But call me Archie. I hate the name Archibald, and I hate that damn cup.”
April nodded. Her green eyes glittered, and she gave me what, for the first time, I considered to be a real smile. I gulped. She lifted my naming cup higher in the air, waved a hand, and I swear, without any additional effort at misdirection, the cup disappeared.
“Do…do…do you think,” I stuttered optimistically, dazzled by her presence, her magic, and did I mention? She smells like lilacs, “that you could manage to keep it disappeared?” I murmured under my breath, “and later, maybe, marry me?”
April Flowers, Lady of Magic (that’s how she bills herself), did not hear that last part of my proposition, but from then on, my dreaded vessel was gone. And it stayed gone.
The next day, two Very Official Men knocked on my door, and in exchange for a Very Official Receipt, they removed the problematical $103,000 painting from my apartment. The following morning, my sister Rhoda called to thank me on behalf of the Nelson Rose Museum of Art in Los Angeles. We chatted for a while before she said, “You sound happy, Archie. Did you have a nice New Year’s Eve?”
“As a matter of fact, I did.”
“What did you do?”
I thought back to the thugs who had broken into my apartment, my caped avenger, a pseudo Uzi, two cops, a dead bootlegger, and a naming cup. And because I knew that within hours, for the first time, I would be watching April Flowers perform her Lady of Magic show … I smiled. Then I sighed happily (actually it was more of a purr) and replied, “Nothing, Rhoda. I did absolutely nothing at all.”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com