So, when we left our intrepid hero, he was on the verge of solving the mystery of the haunted donut shop. The original version was a skin-tight 500 words (the limit I was given, you may recall), while this version is slightly longer (about 700 words). While I can see the advantages of editing, I also felt a little constrained in places I wanted to let the narrative breathe. And while some might cry “Long-winded!,” it’s not like I’m approaching Faulkneresque heights here. I’m just adding some lousy Chandler-like similes. (All private-eye parodists must bow and pay homage to the master.)
Given the sour look on his face, I'd imagine
Chandler just read the story below.
So, presented for your edification and (hopefully) entertainment, I give you the “official” unexpurgated version of Houdini’s newest adventure. See you on the other side.
HARRY AND THE DONUTS
I sat in my office, staring at a calendar that was older than Methuselah’s great-uncle Max. Even that felt like it was newer than my last case, though. I hadn’t had a new client Einstein needed remedial math.
If I smoked, I’d’ve lit up a coffin nail. If I was a drinking man, I’d’ve poured a shot from the bottle I would’ve kept in my desk drawer. I have my vices, but those ain’t among ‘em, so I watched the cobwebs and dust hang sleepily in the humid summer air. Even they seemed to lack purpose.
That’s the thing about my business; not a lot of people need you, but when they do, they really need you.
And what is that business? When I tell you my name, you’ll know. Or you think you will.
My name is Harry Houdini.
I know what you’re thinkin’: “Oh, the handcuffs guy.”
That’s just what I do to pay the bills, though; it’s not my passion. It’s not what I was put on this planet to do. Y’see, I’m what they call a “ghost breaker.” Or, more accurately, I’m the guy people call when they want to find out if a ghost is real.
And they never are – ever. I’ve traveled from Cairo to Kalamazoo, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that ghosts are the bunk. I’ve seen too many people who were desperate to contact dead loved ones get taken by quack “mediums” to take any of it lightly, though.
My reverie was broken by the explosive ringing of the phone. I grabbed the earpiece and drawled into the mouthpiece: “It’s your nickel.”
“Harry?” It was a dame. “Holly Halliwell here.” Brother, was it a dame.
Holly ran the donut shop down the block. “Ran” was a relative term – as was “donuts.” While her looks made Rita Hayworth look like Moe Howard, her cooking would have made Moe Howard look nauseated. Even though the donut shop was all hers, she could make only two kinds: jelly donuts and long johns, and even those were dicey.
I could read the terrified tone in her voice the way a rabbi reads the Torah. She stammered that her shop was suddenly haunted. Her donuts, which were better suited to being used as doorstops or ship’s anchors, were suddenly lighter than air – literally. “Harry, they’re flying out the door!”
After telling her I’d be there quicker than a fat kid with the key to the ice cream locker, I jammed my fedora on my noggin and hoofed it the two blocks to her shop.
I walked in, expecting to see evidence of a disturbed or fraudulent mind, but nearly got pounded in the puss by a jet-propelled jelly donut zooming its way out the door. That pastry was followed by a baker’s dozen of the same, all in a hurry to get some fresh air.
Holly explained that she’d tried a new recipe only that morning, and as soon as she pulled the first batch from the fryer, they’d started flying around the shop. “Poltergeists” was her only explanation.
Using my world-renowned powers of observation, I quickly cracked this cruller caper. “It ain’t pastrygeists, Holly; it’s yeast.” Clearly, these sinkers were being souped-up by the superheated yeast trapped inside. “It’s leavening, not levitation, doll.”
The solution was simple: instead of jelly buns, she needed to make the traditional ring type; the hole would not only allow the yeast to escape, but it’s well-known in my business that those treats were blessed by St. Honoré, the Patron Saint of Bakers, himself and were thus impervious to any kind of demonic possession.
Holly’s grateful face lit up like a “Hot Now” sign. “You mean …?”
“That’s right, doll,” I said. “Those donuts? They’re wholly holy holey, Holly.”
I didn’t know if she was gonna paste my kisser with her fist or her lips, but fortunately, she chose the latter.
Didn’t see that tag line coming, did you?
For which, you should probably consider yourself lucky.
The thing was, when I was originally given the assignment, my first thought was to cannibalize one of my Houdini plays, but – and you can probably guess this, given my verbosity in this form – the plays are pretty talky and plot-heavy. (They are pretty funny, though.) So, I thought, “Okay, I’ll write a new Houdini story. But I need a plot.”
I decided to follow the inspiration that led me to the original play, which was trying to figure out what the connection between Harry and Macbeth was. In the same way, I thought “I’ll just let the first thing I see be my inspiration,” so I looked over the top of this very laptop and saw a poster that the inestimable Rob Dario did for the cast of “Superior Donuts” at the Custom Made Theatre Company. “Okay, then; a haunted donut shop it is.”
It wasn't easy to find a shot from the show with me in it.
My immediate thought was “holy” and “donut hole,” but how I was going to get there was anyone’s guess.
Whether it succeeded, I have no idea, but you have to admit, it’s unique.