Thursday, December 27, 2012
A Lonely Profession - Patricia Moyes
Story: A Lonely Profession
Author: Patricia Moyes
Source: Who Killed Father Christmas and Other Unreasonable Demises
This Crippen & Landru collection features 20 short stories and 1 mini novel – the earlier stories written for the Evening News and the later ones written for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Only 2 stories has any detection involved in them – most of the others fall into the category where the characters are plotting the murder of their near and dear ones; sometimes successfully and at other times with unimaginable consequences – but all stories culminate with a twist; sometimes guessable and at other times genuinely surprising! The best story in the collection with one of those unusual and surprising twists happens to be ‘A Lonely Profession’.
Having won numerous prizes for marksmanship in the army, the protagonist who narrates the story in the first person is in the profession of being available as a paid assassin. The assassin has set up an office under the alias of H. De Quincy and the clients are accepted only if they have a reference from one of the previous customers. The story goes on to show the various measures and the methods that the assassin uses to be on top of the profession without getting involved with the law enforcement agencies. Being a lonely profession, a young lady by the name of Lottie, who is not that intelligent to figure out Quincy’s real name or profession is brought into the household. Such a set up welcomes some of the high paying clients and one such client wants Quincy to take up a political assassination of the President of the Arab country Bashara.
The plan is set in motion by the Arab general(the client) and all Quincy has to do is to pull the trigger. The plan also includes another man taking a shot at the President standing next to Quincy – that man who is an awful shot would draw the attention of the security and police authorities and take responsibility for the murder allowing Quincy to escape. This would also give an impression to the general public that the assassination was not a politically inclined one. The general also requests Quincy to bring Lottie along, though he doesn’t say why she is required. Everything goes according to the plan except two things: the other man is not captured but is shot down and all the exits from the main square are blocked by the police.
Even then, Quincy and Lottie have no problem in escaping to their homeland and the reader is left wondering about two things: Lottie didn’t previously know Quincy’s profession and yet there is no objection from her and if all the exits were blocked, how did they escape without being questioned? Therein lies the twist of the tale!
1. Who Killed Father Christmas?
One of the two stories which involves genuine detection. The toy department at the store of Barnum & Thrums has received a consignment of Teddy Bears from Hong Kong. The employees of the store, including the temporaries are allowed to buy gifts at discounted prices. All the 4 employees and 2 temps have their eyes set on the Teddy bears. The store also has the tradition of having Santa distributing gifts to children. And Santa also goes in for the teddy with a blue ribbon (the only one of that kind) as soon as he comes in to gather the gifts for distributing to the children.
They soon realize that the man in Santa’s costume is not the usual man that they hire, somebody has requested by phone to present a teddy to a child when she approaches Santa and pretty soon Father Christmas is found stabbed to death. It turns out that the person who came in as Santa was a policeman - the police having received a tip that one of the teddies contained drugs, who now have a murder on their hands with the staff of the store serving as the suspects.
2. Hit and Run
Dr. Roger Ashburn’s wife has run away leaving a message that she can’t tolerate him, his place and his poor earnings. Police investigation fails to shed any clue on her whereabouts. The doctor must have done her in runs the rumor mill. Not able to withstand the pressure, Dr. Ashburn moves to a different location as a Pathologist. A few months down the line, a woman’s body from a hit & run accident turns up in his morgue. And the doctor is shocked to see that the body on the slab is none other than her wife – with their wedding ring intact! So was it just a case of the women not wanting to accept her failure and return back to her husband? Or was there a much sinister plot?
3. The Faithful Cat
Herbert has only two options open to him: kill his wife or confess and ask her to pay off his debts. A third option opens up when his wife is operated and her uterus is removed. Being childless, her love is channeled to the faithful cat, Pakdee. Being emotionally week, Herbert decides to drive her insane by threatening to kill the cat and the story unfolds with some bitter complications and an ending which Herbert certainly wouldn’t have bargained for!
4. Family Christmas
Mr. Runfold and his wife have invited their 2 daughters and their husbands to stay with them for Christmas. Mr. Runfold strongly suspects that one of the menfolk would try to poison him (he already has a weak heart) during Christmas dinner and instructs his wife to not let anyone into the kitchen. He has even changed his will so that the money doesn’t pass on to his wife who would easily give in and part with the money. The money would go to their daughters on the death of both the parents or when the youngest daughter reaches 40(the youngest is only 20). Both the daughters have their own sob story and request for money from their Father which is duly rejected with contempt. After the Christmas meal, Mr. Runfold is found dead. The doctor brings in a verdict of natural death but Mrs. Runfold strongly believes that one of the four killed her husband.