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The Blow

Crack!

The detective takes a blow; the butt of a pistol against the back of his skull.

Now several things can happen.

Perhaps the detective wakes up tied to a chair, is interrogated, outwits his captors, and escapes to solve the case.

Perhaps he dies. That was a mean blow. Look, he’s fallen to the ground. He’s still. There’s blood. There’s blood inside his skull.

Perhaps he’s crippled by the blow. Paralyzed on one side. His speech will be fuzzy and inarticulate. He will sit in the chair by the window at the managed care facility. They will keep him well shaven. He will wear a bib and shudder.

The femmes fatales will not visit. The hard-eyed policemen who respected and resented him will come once a month to sit in dull, dutiful silence. His pretty, sad assistant will come every Sunday and read him the paper. Or Dickens, his favorite.

The villain comes to gloat but stays to mull it over, awed: what a little thing can bring us down so low. There but for the grace of God go I.

The case is not clear in the detective’s mind. Not quite yet. There are a few outstanding details. He counts his peas. Forty-five peas. The caliber of the murder weapon. It may be a clue. He makes a note on the napkin.

It becomes a comfortable routine over the years. At Christmas the villain has the detective wheeled up to his mansion. The pretty, sad assistant comes as well. She has succeeded the detective; she and the villain are enemies. Sometimes she foils his plots; sometimes he goes to jail. But not for long. He has good lawyers.

But on Christmas they put all that aside. The detective eats his sweet potatoes with molasses and hums. The assistant strokes his hair. After a few witty barbs between the villain and the assistant, a bit of bravado, they eat, and then they sit in silence and listen to the carolers. It feels like family.

They put the gramophone on and the villain and the pretty, sad assistant waltz. The detective looks on with shining eyes.