Τρίτη, 23 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

[The Night Before Christmas] by Raymond Chandler



It was the night before Christmas, when I first saw the red man. I was settled in my chair in the midst of a long bourbon nap, hand still clutching a highball glass of the stuff, when I heard a clatter, like a body tumbling down a flight of stairs.
I sat up in the chair to see what was the matter. The room was dark, save for the glow of Christmas lights on the tiny tree by the window. At first I thought it was nothing but a dream, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but the outline of a heavyset man creeping slowly out of the fireplace and into the room.
Then I thought about my gat, but it was in my suit coat, which was hanging by the doorway with care.
I sized him up as he moved closer. He was about six-foot-even, dressed from head to toe in a heavy red suit, like some two-bit hustler. His face was hidden under a thick, white beard. Under the suit I could see he was a big man. His belly jiggled like a bowl of jelly as he crept through the apartment. He moved quiet for his size and age. He had a big bag slung over his shoulder. I pegged him for a professional cat burglar or something.
He was halfway to the Christmas tree by the window when he spied me sitting in the chair. We had a nice, quiet moment where we considered each other’s presence.
“Expected me to be in the bedroom, I’m guessing,” I said. “What’s in the bag, Mac?”
He turned his head and laid his finger aside his nose with an impish grin. I stood up slowly from the chair and put the glass on the table.
“Okay, funny guy,” I said. “Okay.”
I went for the coat. He was on me as quick as a flash, awful fast for a big man. The bag clocked me in the back of the head as I reached the coat. Lights popped behind my eyes, and stars and sugar-plums and other silly things danced in front of them.
When I could see straight again, the red man was hoisting me to my feet. He spoke not a word, but went straight to work, planting one of his big, gloved mitts in my stomach, which doubled me over, and another on my chin to straighten me out. Then he tossed me, casually as he probably tossed that bag around, across the room.
“Merry Christmas, shamus,” the red man said real jolly like, throwing me a wrapped package from his bag as I sprawled on the floor. “Have a swell night.”
“How about next time just mail a card,” I said, rubbing my jaw.
He ignored that, walked over to the table, drank my bourbon, and walked out my door, leaving it swinging open.
The package was addressed to me from “St. Nick.” The name meant nothing to me. Inside was a new hat and an emptiness that only gift boxes on dark, solitary nights possess.
I put the tag in my pocket, the hat on a hook, closed the door, and poured another couple fingers of bourbon into the glass. Sat in the chair and waited for dawn or sleep, whichever found me first.

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