Close, but not Quite

This was written by Sailor Jim Johnston and published on alt.callahans. That makes us fortunate.

Sailor Jim shuts his laptop and, ordering a fresh drink, addresses the bar. “I arrived in the small European country of Vlorridia three weeks after the death of the Puzzle King and found myself in the middle of a wide spread depression.”

Several patrons scramble for positions and many refills are ordered while SJ pauses to take a gulp of his. “I see by the various looks being passed about that y’all don’t remember the Puzzle King; so a little background might be in order. I’ll be as brief as I can.

“Frederick was his name and he was an elderly bachelor monarch, whose only passion in life was puzzles. Big ones, little ones, crossword, box, word, crosses; but especially jigsaw puzzles. He had the world’s largest collection of jigsaw puzzles, including one that occupied one full acre of countryside. As a matter of fact, it was of the very countryside it sat on … which, as I was informed, made it, quite the bitch kitty to put together.

“It also may have been the inspiration for the King’s final puzzle.

“For three months prior to his death, the King had his burial site behind the castle created. He would be buried in the midst of the royal gardens, there to become one with the beauty created by the royal gardener, Chadworth. A monumental headstone was ordered to the king’s specifications and all was made ready for the sad event.

“Two days after it was all completed, he died.

“The entire village, which comprised damn near the entire country, showed up at the services, there to learn that the King’s final gift to his people was to be their country! Upon his proper burial (since he’d left no legal heirs), the country would be deeded to the people and they’d be free to make it a democracy.

“So with joyous hearts, they all turned up for the burial behind the castle … only to discover that the royal gardens were missing! In its place was a perfectly edged hole in the shape of an immense rectangle, five foot deep and flat as a pancake at the bottom. As they tried to understand this, their attention was directed by the royal attorney to the side of the hole, where there were several hundred … something’s had been placed.

“Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be boxes. Oddly shaped boxes of exactly the same height as he hole, each topped with grass or bushes. The royal attorney informed them that this, these boxes and that hole, was the royal funeral and that the remains of their beloved king were scattered between all the boxes, a little in each. All they had to do was to complete the giant jigsaw puzzle, which would not only properly bury the entire king, but would result in an electric circuit being completed.

“Which would then show the location of the ancient deed to the kingdom, without which they’d never be able to take their place as a country at the U.N. They had one month to complete the jigsaw/burial and, were it not completed within that time, then the kingdom would be handed over to the king’s nearest relative, even if it meant sending for one out of the country.

“They set to the task with happy souls, realizing that democracy sat as the prize, and completed the jigsaw in only three days … and nothing happened. No deed, nothing. So they got the royal attorney and all he could do is shrug and tell them that they must have gotten something wrong … try again.

“Which brings us to when I happened into the small kingdom. Three weeks had passed and they’d put the silly thing together several times to no avail. After hearing the story, I offered my slight services, explaining that I often saw things that others didn’t. (Omitting that this generally happened after I drank too many Blessings.)

“A small committee led me to the site, a lovely garden, edged with … green roses? I commented on the odd flowers and the royal gardener, himself, proudly explained that these particular roses only grew in this one garden. They were the fabled Ballad Roses, the one’s sung of in the oldest national ballads they had.

“I wandered over to better smell the verdant blooms and, looking down, noticed a gap in the center of the bushes I was bent over. I called over the committee and announced that I’d found the problem; like so many jigsaw puzzles, this one had a missing piece!

“The gap was in the shape of an irregular two foot square and was dead center of the bushes. After a brief discussion, all but one of the committee set to plucking the blooms of this striking shrub, while the leader and I headed to the master of the hounds.

“We returned with the master and his best tracking hound at about the moment when the rest of the committee finished cramming the flowers into a burlap sack. We handed the sack to the master, who spoke in low murmurs to the dog, letting the hound smell the flowers in the bag.

“Within seconds, the hunt was on. Every house in the village was searched by the sensitive nose of the hound, seeking out the unique fragrance of the Ballad Roses. When the last house was cleared, we turned our attentions to the castle. Room by room was searched until we entered the chamber of the royal gardener … And there the missing bush and box sat, right out in the open, on his worktable!

“The constable was sent for to find and arrest the missing Chadworth, while the rest of us rushed the box out to the gardens. It took two tries, but it fit and, the second it did, trumpets sounded from concealed loudspeakers and a small and hitherto unsuspected door opened on the headstone monument … and out popped the deed at the end of a silk draped rod.

“The celebration dinner that night was marvelous, with myself seated at the head of the great table as guest of honor (a gesture I attempted to back out of, but finally acceded to). I asked the royal attorney of news of the thieving Chadworth and discovered that he’d been caught within minutes of our discovery. As soon as the jig was up, he admitted to being the bastard son of the dead king and, thereby, the nearest relative to resume the throne once the burial couldn’t be completed.

“He was sentenced to be hung for his acts. I thought of that dimpled chin jerking at the end of a rope and sighed. To spend your life creating perfect plots, then to fail with your last one … What a tasteless end.

“The next morning, as I prepared to depart their small country, a handpicked group begged a few minutes of my time to ask how we, as Americans (practically the inventors of Democracy), elected our presidents?

“I laughed and explained the unpleasantness that marred the last election, letting them know that they’d be better off studying the works of Jefferson and Payne, than taking our most recent example to heart. With that, I took my leave and continued my tour of the continent.

“Two months later, my leave up and sitting once more in my own ship’s office, I was shocked to read that Chadworth had been elected the first Democratic President of Vlorridia! They’d released him and, in an all but unanimous decision, made him President.

“I was so baffled that I actually paid for a transatlantic call to their once royal attorney, now Chief of State, and – after exchanging pleasantries – asked him if the entire country had gone mad! How could they possibly have elected the very man they were going to hang for damn near costing them democracy, entirely!”

Sailor Jim pauses to finish his drink and to pull on his coat before explaining, with a deep sigh, “He sounded a tad confused when he explained that they had only done what I explained to the election committee just before I left. This was the only Ballad box scandal they had, and the ex-royal gardener was the only hanging dimpled Chad available … and wasn’t that what was required for a democratic election?

“I hung up without comment, once again having my basic mistrust of any committee reaffirmed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I hear my wife calling.”


Previous Post
Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *