And now for something completely different. One Thursday morning, around lunchtime, an oversized grouse landed on the steps of apocrypha with this manuscript woven in its wings. In exchange for plucking it out, the grouse told us if we published it, we would get three wishes. Since nobody bothered to ask how a grouse could talk, we're still a little unsure about those wishes. But here's the story, just in case...
nce upon a time, around mid-morning, a princess arrived in New York City.
She was young and beautiful, her eyes sparkled like the diamonds she wore around her neck, but she was unhappy. As the royal assemblage disembarked from her special airplane, the crowds cheered and waved flags and pictures were taken for the newspaper. She waved, and smiled, but this was just how she had to pretend to be. Inside, she was still very sad. Behind her trailed her two young sons, and they whispered things to each other so softly no one could hear them.
The eldest son, William, said to his brother, "We must find some way to make mother happy."
His brother Harry said in reply, "We will. New York City has everything in the world a person could want. We'll think of something."
They wanted to help her, for though they were young, they were at heart good boys. When they grew up, they would rule their country. But they were not supposed to talk about their mother like this, and they made sure to speak very quietly.
Still, someone heard them.
"Think of it this way," Lenny Briscoe nudged his partner. "The food'll be good at the reception."
"I'm underwhelmed," said Mike Logan, and studied Lenny's stomach. "You look like you've been having too much good food."
Lenny shrugged. "So what? Anyhow, it's one weekend out of your life. What else you gonna be doing?"
Mike shrugged and adjusted his bow tie. He knew the answer to that, same as Lenny. Nothing. "It's overtime," he begrudged.
"There you go," said Lenny. He turned to face the bathroom mirror. "How do I look."
"Same as me," said Mike, twisting his mouth. "Like a penguin. Come on, Cragen'll chew our asses if we don't get out of here."
It wasn't a request, it was an order, and it came from above their precinct Captain's head that morning. Take the tuxes out of the mothballs, boys, you're playing Secret Service to the Princess of Wales for the weekend shift. No complaints. Though it wasn't their normal detective work, at least it was overtime money, it was good for the bank. And, as Lenny pointed out, what else was Mike planning on doing?
They were halfway down the hallway of the Waldorf Astoria, heading to the main ballroom when Mike shook his wrist and remembered. "Crap," he told them. "Left my watch in the can. Be right back."
"You'd lose yer head if they hadn't bolted it on in the factory," Briscoe quipped and shrugged, continuing without him.
Mike found the watch, waiting on the small table inside the private stall of the bathroom. Classy place, he thought again; every john had its own sink and mirror. Quickly, Mike clipped the Timex on, running his hands through his hair one last time, examining himself in the mirror. Definitely not royal material, he figured, but so long as nobody noticed his cuffs were a little frayed, he'd pass.
From outside his stall he heard the bathroom door open and he froze, listening, alert even though there was nothing to worry about. Two very proper voices, young, a little quavery, very definitely English. He pulled himself further into the private cubicle, letting the door sway shut. He didn't want to get caught preening, and didn't want to have to answer any questions from some British brats.
"Have you thought of anything new, Harry?" one voice asked.
"Nothing," Harry, he guessed, answered back. "Mum's just so terribly difficult. There has to be something we can do."
"What makes it difficult," said the first voice -- by now Mike knew it had to be William, Prince William, and he covered his mouth, thinking of the old joke about Prince Albert in a can. Only this time...the Princes were in the can, "is we know what she wants. But I can't think of anything we haven't already tried."
"I wish Dad was here," said Harry.
William's voice twisted. "He'd only make things worse."
A soft grunt of grumbling assent from his brother, and then the sounds of the two of them disappearing into the other toilets. Mike heard the locks latch and quickly darted to the bathroom exit. This'd make a great story to tell Briscoe once they had a free second later. He jerked the bathroom door open and stepped into the hallway.
And straight into a procession. More tuxedos striding down the carpeted hallway, long solemn pale faces taking even, accurate steps to the ballroom. Mike plastered himself against the wall and waited as they passed, four, five, six of the penguins -- only these, he knew, were British penguins.
What he wasn't expecting was the Princess, who held the arm of yet another tuxedoed bird. She stood tall, straight, and glittered from the gloss of her lips to the shine of her coifed blonde hair to the jewelry which dangled cleverly from all other points of her body. And she was slim, so slim he had not expected it -- in her pictures she always radiated more size, somehow, larger than life. He gazed at her with an awe he had not expected and never experienced before, not necessarily for the fact that she was royal, but because she so fit the part. He watched her face as she passed him, and for just a half second their eyes met, she staring at him as if watching something at the zoo, he just transfixed. But there was something else there -- something almost missing, something sad. Then she glanced away and stared forward again, disappearing in a shimmer of gown and dazzle into the ballroom.
And then Mike began to breathe again.
"I am bored," said young Harry around ten in the evening, folding his arms and watching as the rest of the room danced, ate, laughed, joked. He had been in a surly mood all evening, and rebuffed anyone's attempt to speak to him, so by now he had been left entirely alone, except for his brother.
"You're always bored," said William. "You're tiresome that way. Go to bed, then."
"Let's escape," said Harry. "In the American movies the heroes always run away and have exciting adventures."
They ducked unnoticed into the hallway, which was completely empty save for a tuxedoed guard standing at the open end. "I wish we had cigarettes," said William.
"You don't smoke," protested Harry.
"No," said William, "but if this is the movies we should be sneaking about for cigarettes."
"I haven't got anything," said Harry, pulling his hands from his pockets. "Just a mint from dinner."
William leaned up against the wall. "All I have are matches from the party," he said, turning the book over in his fingers.
Harry pointed to the guard at the end of the hallway. "We could insist he buy us cigarettes," he said. "That's not one of our usual men."
William eyed the figure down the hallway, catching the profile of the tall, dark-haired guard. "Hmm."
They were so lost in thought that when the voice came up behind them they both jerked and wheeled around, most un-Prince-like. "Could you help me, please, young sirs?"
The voice came from a direction lower than themselves, and as they turned both boys gazed down at the tiny man who stood before them. They had no idea where he had come from -- there was only one exit to this hallway, and that was back into the ballroom. And this little man had definitely not come from the ballroom -- he was dressed shabbily, with a white beard that needed trimming, shoes that needed patching, and teeth that needed cleaning. Both Princes stood up straight and lost all expression.
"He's a homeless man," said William softly to his brother. "I've heard of those."
"If you would be so kind," the man continued, "I'm hungry and it's very cold out there. Can you spare anything for me?"
Harry opened his mouth but William spoke first. "Get away from us," he waved at the little man. "We have nothing for you."
Harry took his hands from his pockets and held up the chocolate mint. "I have --"
William snatched the candy from his brother and popped it in his mouth. "You don't have anything, my brother."
"That was cruel," said Harry.
"Yes, it was," said the little man. "Then at least give me your matches."
William crunched down on the candy. "I don't have any matches." He glared at his brother. "You bore me." And he strode back into the party.
Not certain what to do, Harry trotted back after him.
The little man watched them go, and narrowed his eyes.
Mike glanced down at his watch. Briscoe was late. He should have been out here to relieve him of the post ten minutes ago. And Mike was sick of standing around watching an empty hallway, as he had been doing for the past three hours. It was dead out here, not a soul had so much as passed by in all this time, and his feet were getting tired. Plus, there was something good going on back in the ballroom, and he was missing out on all of it. On top of all of that, he smelled some of the greatest food he had ever come across, wafting out of the ballroom, tantalizing him. His stomach rumbled. He was going to have to kill Briscoe.
"Excuse me, sir, could you help me?"
The voice came from somewhere down by his knees, not an American voice, but not exactly British either. He glanced down at a scruffy little dwarf and wondered how he managed to sneak in without being noticed. Mike frowned. "How'd you get up here?"
"It doesn't matter," said the little man. "Can you help me?"
"What do you want?"
"I'm hungry and it's cold outside. Do you have any food or matches?"
"Well, I don't smoke, but I'm pretty damn hungry myself." Mike scanned the hallway, thought of a quick plan. "Look, watch this place. Be right back."
He ran inside, glancing around for Briscoe and had no luck. But the room stunned him for a moment, glowing with wealth, beautiful people swaying on the wooden dance floor. The band kicked into an old Glen Miller tune as he approached the buffet table. Quickly loading up two plates, he was glad for the excuse to get some food. If Briscoe didn't show, he wasn't off duty, and could get in trouble for abandoning the post. But for just a minute, it was okay, wasn't it?
The little man was patiently waiting for him when he came back out, and they ate in silence, Mike standing, his guest perched on the edge of a planter. When the little man had finished, he said, "Thank you very much."
Mike shrugged. "No problem." He dug into his pocket. "Here," he said, tossing a packet of matches to the little man. "Got those inside."
The little man hopped down from the planter and strode up to Mike. The man beckoned to Mike, who crouched down to his level. "Because you have helped me," the little man said, "I will tell you how to help the Princess."
"Oh, she doesn't need my help."
"She does," said the little man.
"How do you know?" Mike became suspicious.
The little man touched the side of his nose. "She is a very sad person."
"She didn't look sad to me," said Mike, but he thought about her eyes, how under all the sparkle the color seemed to be draining from her. She was dying inside, and couldn't show it. "Well, maybe she did."
"She wants to laugh. She wants someone to make her laugh."
"So hire Robin Williams."
The little man was silent.
"Anyway," said Mike, "I saw her on that TV interview. She laughed."
"That was not real. That was television. And this is not television, Mike Logan."
"Hey. How do you know my --"
The little man waved him quiet. "She has made a vow, and told it to her sons, that whoever can make her laugh can have anything he wants. They want to help her because they are her sons, and are good boys, but they cannot think of anything in the world that would make her laugh. They have tried everything. All she does is smile."
Mike shrugged. "Don't think I can help. I'm not a funny guy."
The little man smiled. "Oh, well, that's where I come in. Now. Go into the ballroom. Take the place of your partner. Behind where he is standing there is a planter like this one. Inside the planter you will find something. Take it out. It will help you."
"What makes you think I care about making some woman laugh?"
The little man touched the side of his nose. "Because she is not just any woman. And because she has enchanted you."
Behind him he heard the tread of feet and Mike stood, turning to catch Briscoe. "Sorry, man --" his partner began.
"Hey, Lenny," interrupted Mike. "Listen to this --" and he turned back, but the little man had disappeared.
Mike stood by the planter in the back of the room where Lenny had been all night, watching, and almost forgot about the little man. Almost. After all, the ballroom, the dancing, the pageantry had him caught up. He was wrapped up in the cloak of it, standing still with his hands clasped in front of him, watching, but dreaming at the same time. His eyes were always on the Princess, who charmed everyone she met, glowing and smiling. And then she laughed. He saw it, from across the room he almost heard it, this tiny, tinkling laugh.
Watching the Princess he thought, well, guess that wasn't a real laugh. And with that he remembered the little man. Backing up a step, Mike's leg brushed the planter and he frowned. The little man was right. She had enchanted him, he felt under some strong unreasonable compulsion to do exactly what made her happy. This was the stupidest thing he had ever done, but the idea of making the Princess really laugh contained more and more appeal. How he was going to do it he had no idea; what Mike thought funny involved something around the Three Stooges, or Lenny parading around with a lampshade on his head. Somehow, he suspected that wouldn't get much more than a tired smile out of the Princess, and it would probably get his ass kicked at work the next day.
He felt the rim of the planter. It was real, this plant, which meant the dirt was real too. He darted quickly behind it, patting down the heavy terra cotta pot, tapped the sides, wondered if maybe something was buried under the soil. He sighed, and plunged his hands in, feeling around the roots, and then brushed up against something soft. Pulling on it, he realized it was a canvas sack, and he thanked the darkness of this corner when he removed it fully from the planter, soil spilling everywhere. He pulled out his handkerchief and brushed off his hands, watching the sack.
Mike rested his hand on his gun, then felt stupid for overreacting. Reaching forward he undid the bow tie holding the sack closed, and out jumped a small yellow puppy.
"Oh, jeez," said Mike, reaching forward. The puppy yelped softly once and ran right for the center of the room. Thinking how embarrassing it would be if a dog suddenly ran out in the middle of everything -- and completely ignoring the biological impossibility of a dog surviving buried in a planter in a hotel, Mike scrambled to his feet, crashing past tables and chairs, pursuing the puppy half-bent over, trying to excuse himself and still keep his eye on the streak of lightning.
The puppy disappeared. And then -- there he was, sitting in the middle of a space between the tables, panting, grinning that way retrievers do. He waited for Mike this time, and allowed himself to be picked up. Mike sighed, holding the furball under his arm, and the puppy licked his hand. Mike hoped no one had noticed.
But they had noticed. Lady Cynthia saw it first, and skittered right over to Mike. She had donated thousands to the ASPCA and had to pat every animal which came her way. Resting one gloved hand over the hindquarters of the animal she bent around Mike, cooing the entire time. "Oh, how darling," she said.
"Um," said Mike.
"Come here, Marie!" cried Lady Cynthia Eldicott to her friend, waving her over with her free hand.
Marie St. Vincent, who kept twelve cats and eight dogs in her Sag Harbor mansion, trotted over and took one of the puppy's paws in her fingers. "So darling!" she cried.
With that it seemed most of the room turned their way, and soon Sir Byron Benedick had put his hand on Marie St. Vincent's shoulder to peep over, someone else rested her hand on Lady Cynthia Eldicott's waist just because...well, because it was Lady Cynthia's waist.
"What's this?" cried the great painter Joseph Stripplehorn, whose works of the sculpture of newts were currently selling for more than a million dollars each. Catching sight of the dog he craned forward and smoothed out the puppy's tail. He waved at his friend, actress Goldie Hawn, and she came over, taking his hand in hers, smiling at the dog.
At once they all moved closer for a better look and Mike felt claustrophobic. This would not do; he was supposed to be on post. He had to fix this right now, before real trouble got started.
"Um," he said again. "Look," he continued. "I gotta get this dog out of here." And he pushed forward, through the crowd.
The problem was this: Lady Cynthia Eldicott did not remove her hand. And Marie St. Vincent did not either. Neither did Sir Byron Benedick, Joseph Stripplehorn, or Goldie Hawn. They all followed Mike.
He whirled around. "Come on, people, let go." And he strode forward again.
"Wait!" cried Lady Cynthia. "I'm stuck!"
"You're stuck?" cried Goldie Hawn. "Let go of my hand, Joseph!"
"I can't!" cried Joseph. "I'm stuck, too!"
"We're all stuck!" wailed Marie St. Vincent, who always had a strong grasp on the obvious.
And it was true, whoever had touched the puppy found they could not let go, and whoever touched someone who was touching the puppy was equally as glued on. They dragged behind Mike, moving like some great awkward twelve-legged monster. "Oh, stop, stop!" cried Goldie, but Mike didn't listen. He didn't know what kind of joke they were pulling, but he had to remove himself. Behind him all six people stumbled and tried to keep up with his loping steps, their legs getting intertwined as they wailed and moaned.
"This is awful!" cried Lady Cynthia, waggling her hand.
"Don't touch me there!" Marie St. Vincent snapped to Sir Byron.
"That wasn't me!" he insisted.
"Whatever will we do?" shrieked Goldie Hawn.
The protests attracted the attention of two small boys on the side of the room who had been standing speaking to their mother. They saw the puppy first, as boys are wont to do, and hurried forward.
"Stay back!" cried Lady Cynthia.
"Don't come near!" begged Joseph.
"I wouldn't do that, Harry," warned Sir Byron.
"You'll be sorry!" wailed Marie St. Vincent, who always managed to wail no matter what she was saying.
But the boys saw no reason not to pat what was obviously a very charming puppy, and reached forward, tickling the dog by the chin. Mike handed the puppy to them, having no problem with being stuck himself, and each boy curled an arm around it together. The puppy licked their hands. Mike wiggled out and frowned: didn't all of these people have something better to do?
"Hey!" cried Harry, "I can't let go of the dog!"
"Neither can I!" said William, pulling so hard everyone stumbled forward a few steps.
"Well, I'm getting out of here," insisted Sir Byron, and took the lead, heading to the back door.
"No, this way!" insisted Lady Cynthia, pulling the other way.
"My dress!" wailed Marie St. Vincent.
Mike had no idea what was going on, only that he was suddenly aware that the music had stopped and everyone was looking at the spectacle on the dance floor of seven people going in eight directions.
And then he heard it, just behind him, not a bell, or a tinkle, but a generous, rich laugh, one that came completely without reservation or hesitation, and Mike turned to the sound that made a sweet ringing in his ears, turned and saw the Princess hugging herself, covering her mouth, and laughing, laughing, laughing.
Mike grinned and turned back to the sight, and it was quite a sight -- all seven people adhering to this little puppy, who was furiously licking Harry's face, all seven of them in their fancy dresses and well-done hair teetering precariously, all tangled like a ball of thread, all talking, their faces red and apoplectic. And it was pretty damn funny, actually. Mike's grin grew larger and larger, and then he couldn't hold it in either. He laughed and laughed and laughed.
When the spell was broken and all hands were allowed to disengage, Harry cradled the dog in his hands and he and his brother went up to their mother. The entire room was buzzing with what had just occurred, and all of the so-called injured parties were mumbling about lawsuits, but someone very correctly argued that it would be difficult to sue a dog, so their complaints simply faded into background noise.
The Princes spoke quickly to their mother, who nodded, and wiped a final tear from the corner of her eye. They then approached Mike, Harry still hugging the dog.
"Your name is --" William insisted.
"Mike Logan," he told the boy, his eyes darting to the Princess.
"Our mother --" said Harry.
"The Princess wishes to know what you desire," said William. "She has told us she would give whatever she could to the person who could make her laugh. You did so."
Mike gazed over at the Princess, whose face was still lit up and lively. She seemed to have the color back. And she dazzled him yet again. He leaned down and whispered something to the boys.
They nodded, and stood back. Mike swallowed hard and strode up to the Princess. Up close he thought she even smelled better than any woman he had ever met, completely unreal, absolutely like a pure spring day. She seemed to radiate an inner light. He had no idea what to do, his mind racing.
A light touch fell on his arm and he turned. Harry had followed behind him, and whispered something back.
Now he knew. Mike bowed just a little before the Princess. He tried to remember what he was just told, but his mind had blanked. "If you don't mind -- I mean -- if it pleases you...." he swallowed again. "Would you dance with me?"
He offered his hand.
She took it.
And they danced happily ever after.
graphic by Harlan Wallach ęcopyright 1994