My Aunt Harriet’s idea of having it “all worked out” was roughly akin to a schizophrenic’s notion of an improvised therapy session.

“Lettitia is having a party to celebrate the theft of the trophy. You’re invited.”

“I can’t be. I don’t know them.”

“I know them and it’s all arranged.” Reaching into her pocketbook, she pulled out a piece of paper that proved on closer examination to be an invitation, though it was badly crumpled (no doubt from being unceremoniously shoved into the handbag crushed between her brass knuckles and her home-made thumbscrews) and equally badly stained. I tried not to notice how much the stain looked like dried blood but its decidedly darkish red color was…unhelpful in that regard.

She passed it over and I held it between my thumb and forefinger so as not to compromise any fingerprints that might later prove helpful to the police when whatever crime it represented was discovered. My stomach was rehearsing the last scene of The Sinking of the Andrea Doria . I could see no escape from my impending Doom, though I considered for a moment setting fire–accidentally, of course–to the rag of paper. It wouldn’t have worked, tempting though it was. Aunt Harriet would see through that old wheeze in a NY minute and Agnes De Renville would be at my door dressed in white before you could say “I do, damn your eyes!” But then, just as I was about to surrender, I saw on the invitation something that made Hope Dawn again.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “The party’s in Brewster, not here, and I don’t have a car. Did I forget to mention that? It was run over by a tank. The tow truck driver scooped what was left of it up with a spoon and put it in his pocket. It’s gone. Pfffft! Tsk tsk, what a pity. And just when I was beginning to look forward to doing this simple service for my most favorite and beloved aunt. Ah well, that’s how the cookie crumbles, I guess. Better luck next year.”

Aunt Harriet fixed me with the stern eye of an overseer suspecting flim-flammery among the hired help. “You can take the bus,” she announced firmly. “It won’t kill you.”

“Undoubtedly not,” I said, smiling (which I was happy to notice unnerved her to no end). “I like buses, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, they’re on strike.”

Her jaw dropped but she recovered nicely. “A train, then.”

“I like trains even better than buses, but no–the train line shut down last week. Bankrupt.”

She was visibly shaken, so much so that she actually bit her lip, although, alas, not hard enough to draw blood. I held the invitation toward her at an angle carefully calculated to show utter dejection and disappointment. She didn’t take it.

“You will go,” she said, much as an undertaker might say, “The casket is in the next room–the one with the dead body in it.”

“Be reasonable, Aunt Harriet,” I said reasonably. “It’s over a hundred miles. I can’t very well walk there.”

She held something toward me that she had taken from her hideous pocketbook. Keys. Car keys. “Here. Take–” She almost choked on the next words so dearly were they ripped from her very soul. “–my car.”

I could hardly believe my ears. Her Ferd Turd was her most prized possession. I had never before been allowed to so much as touch it and now she was going to let me drive it. The supremacy of her sacrifice moved me. “You must want that trophy awful bad,” I said, genuinely impressed.

She stood imperially, raising herself to her full height and in the process resembling not a little Godzilla squaring off against Mothra. “I value that trophy more than life itself,” she thundered, increasing her likeness to a Japanese lizard. “Particularly,” she noted for the record, “your life. Get me?”

I got her.

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