short story, published 1973
[Dr and Mrs Cahoon are reporting an abduction to the police]
‘Officer,’ Mrs Cahoon said, ‘an hour ago I woke from a sound sleep wondering why it was suddenly so light in the bedroom. Then I saw this woman standing there with a gun pointed at me. Then I saw another woman on the other side of the bed pointing a gun at my husband, and a man getting some of my husband’s clothing from the closet. I t was horrible. It was like a bad dream…’
‘Can you describe them?’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Cahoon. ‘The women wore house-dresses. The one pointing the gun at me was short and stout. At least a size 18. She had curlers in her hair. Large pink plastic rollers. The other woman could have been a size 12. She had grey hair done in a very unattractive permanent…’
observations: One of the many delights of Margot Kinberg’s Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog is that she can take the most unlikely topic and use it as a starting point for a fascinating blogpost, and whatever aspect of life she chooses, she can always think of half a dozen crime stories that feature it. I sometimes think we should have a Challenge Margot improv game, where people suggest some odd idea, and she has to think of books to go with it. Trouble is, she would always win.
A recent column took doctors and housecalls as its theme, and as always Margot’s readers added their own suggestions in the comments. My own response was ‘I’m trying to remember the name of a Stanley Ellin short story about doctors and housecalls: it’s hilarious and pointed. Let’s just say that a doctor is abducted… It’s a perfect short story.’ Margot said she’d be interested to know what it was – so voila, here it is.
When I found it again it was even better than I remembered. It’s short, but combines a nice plot with an unreliable narrator and some very funny moments. Mrs Cahoon wants to report that her husband the doctor was kidnapped. He is strangely reluctant to take the matter further. Two patrol cops have come to the house: one is a long-time experienced policeman, while the other – our narrator, Officer Avakadian – is very new, and is very keen on sticking to the rules.
Their interactions are hilarious, but my favourite moment in the story comes when Mrs Cahoon is asked what these dangerous and threatening abductors said, while holding a gun on her.
‘She did ask me about my bedroom drapes.’The abductors carry the doctor off to see someone, and the rookie cop immediately guesses why:
‘Your bedroom drapes?’
‘Yes. She asked how much they cost, and when I told her, she said in a very sneering manner, “They really took you didn’t they?”’
Inspiration struck me. I said “That young man was suffering a gunshot or knife wound, wasn’t he? And you were expected to treat him without informing the authorities.’Let’s just say that Officer Avakadian is quite wrong.
Stanley Ellin was a great crime writer – his short stories were his best work, which may be why he is not better-known, although he has a high reputation among aficionados. Mind you this story is not at all typical of his work: he’s not usually quite so light-hearted.
Anyway I am delighted to present this entry to Margot. The story appeared in an old Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and I read it in an EQ anthology called Murdercade.
The picture shows a long-time icon of British soaps – Hilda Ogden, played by Jean Alexander in Coronation St, and always famous for wearing curlers and an overall. The picture was produced by Central Station Design for a celebration of the programme.