The Girl with the Fu Manchu

by Sheldon Hanner

The first time Pico Abernathy saw the girl with the Fu Manchu he was standing at the trolley stop. It had started to rain and the girl commenced disrobing. As it was late in December and a strong chill was in the air, Pico thought this was quite extraordinary. Pico, who was never without an umbrella, raincoat, galoshes, bowler and pocket handkerchief, immediately took off his raincoat and put it over the shoulder of the girl. He did this all without actually looking at the girl. Pico for the most part was a shy and introverted man, a lifetime bachelor who lived alone, in a one-bedroom apartment on top of a used bookstore which he owned and operated, his only companion, a sixteen-year-old cat, a calico with the ridiculous name of Braveheart. Pico, who had never in his life had a romance, often wondered what a relationship between a man and a feline would be called.

The very fact that Pico was at that moment waiting for the Number Six trolley, was a curiosity in itself. For this was the first time in 364 days that he had ventured from his neighborhood in search of a rare book on antique serving spoons that was on display in the shop of one Astro Humperdinck, his former partner and owner of Humperdinck’s Used Books and Umbrella Shop on Canal Street.

The girl was very beautiful in spite of her hairy lip. She was exactly sixty-two inches tall which made her a foot shorter than Pico. Her brown hair touched her slim shoulders with the grace of a pigeon landing on a park bench in search of bread crumbs. After what seemed like an eternity, but was only a moment or two, Pico got the nerve to look at the girl’s face. Her nose was small, her eyes a deep blue. They were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Those eyes reminded Pico of the color of the Adriatic Sea in early summer. Pico had never seen the Adriatic Sea, in any season, but owned several books which featured beaches of the world, and he was sure that the Adriatic was a deep blue. The girl’s eyes were even more pronounced and striking than Braveheart’s. Her skin was blemish free; her arms slim but solid, and she possessed long, muscular and shapely legs. She smelled like honeysuckle at dawn, and since she had managed in a few minutes to take off most of her clothes, Pico’s middle-aged heart began to palpitate in slightly irregular beats. It was the happiest day of his life.

The girl’s name, he was to find out later, was Velda Amanda Consuelo Santiago. She was a stranger in a strange land, only recently arrived in the company of a Gypsy band led by one Irving Lombardo who was wanted for crimes against the state in several countries. The price on Lombardo’s head was several thousand blotkis. The only thing it can be said that Velda had in common with Lombardo was they both had rather long Fu Manchu moustaches.

Lombardo was a large man, about seventy-eight inches tall, with a massive neck and hands like wheel barrels. He weighed 260 pounds and had approximately sixteen wives, ranging from the age of fourteen to forty-nine. Velda was not one of these wives and didn’t want to wait around and become number seventeen. All of Lombardo’s wives sported Fu Manchus and two of them had even longer ones than the Gypsy chief. One even had a beard. But none were longer than Velda’s.

In the few minutes between placing his raincoat over the slim shoulders of Velda, Pico Abernathy made a life-changing decision, one that would prove to be a dangerous one, but in years to come, one he would never regret. He asked Velda if she would like to dry off in his shop and have a cup of tea. But because he was so nervous, he really said, “Woyalikahavacupatee?”

“Oh I think that would be all right,” replied Velda. “Do you have something to smoke, a cigar perhaps?”

This request caught Pico off guard, but since he enjoyed a small cigar at the end of the day, he replied, “I have a box of Domingo bluffs, in the back of the shop. Please come with me. It’s only a few blocks from here.” At that moment Pico’s blood pressure, if it were to be measured, was 200 over 150, he was on the verge of having a stroke, but the pure happiness of the moment prevented any tragedy from occurring.

In the next few hours over several cups of mint tea and a cigar, Pico, with Braveheart stretched on his lap in a cat yoga position, his soft white underneath belying the fact that he weighed twenty-four pounds, listened intently as Velda told her life story to him. She was orphaned at the age of three when her parents were killed in an earthquake. Lombardo and his band found her and made her their own. Lombardo, she explained, was a rogue and a charlatan and, far worse, was suspected of murdering a rival who wanted to take control of the band. She wasn’t certain how the Fu Manchu grew, but almost every person in the band, man, woman, and child had a hairy lip by the time they reached the age of twelve.

“Maybe it was the water, the wine, the curses, I’m not sure; all I know is that I must get away from Lombardo and his band and I must get this moustache removed. And I know what you are thinking,” she continued, “Why not just cut it off? If only it was that easy,” she sighed, “but no scissor, knife or blade can do the trick. Once Miranda, who is a friend of mine and Lombardo’s sixth or seventh wife, I forget, managed to remove part of the moustache with a magic blade she found—or was it a present? The facts are foggy. Well, her moustache grew back while she napped and turned the color of bright green too! Miranda was banished from the band and now works for the Traveling Sullivan Circus and Menagerie. Maybe you heard of it?”

Pico, his lap mate now rubbing his many-colored coat against Velda’s curvaceous legs, was about to say he had never heard of that particular traveling circus, when Velda, twirling her finger lazily through her moustache, looked into Pico’s eyes and said something that Pico would never forget, “Would you, kind sir, be my hero?”

Pico, who had never had much luck growing a moustache, had no choice but to answer, “Yes, and I will if necessary die trying.”

As it was nearing evening, Pico faced a dilemma, which prior to this astonishing day would have left him immobile, standing in the middle of his living room, confused, bewildered and panic stricken. He wanted Velda to stay the night. Not that he thought he had one chance in a thousand that she would, but he was now a new man or at least a man who was falling in love with a woman in need. “Velda, tomorrow is Monday and I’m going to close my store and we will concentrate on finding a cure. I’ll put up a sign, ‘Closed until further notice,’ or ‘Closed Gone fishing.’ I don’t really care. You see,” he said, turning his head towards her but not looking at her face, “I don’t have more than three paying customers a day and that’s on a good day.”

“But you own a business. What kind?”

“It’s downstairs. I’m the owner of a rundown second-hand used bookstore.” Pico sheepishly replied.

Velda licked the upper lip of her Fu Manchu. (Pico nearly fainted at the sight). “But, perhaps you have a book on removing Gypsy curses. Could we start looking now?”

Pico looked at his pocket watch; it was nearing eight p.m. He was suddenly hungry, tired, and reminded himself that he had not fed Braveheart since early in the morning. “We need some food and shut-eye. Let me prepare something for us to eat, and tomorrow we will tackle the book search.”

Velda looked around the small apartment. “Why, Sir, there is only one bed. What shall we do?”

Pico, his gaze directed at her feet, responded, “Please take my bed. I will sleep with Braveheart on the couch.”

* * *

The next morning at eight o’clock, Pico led Velda down to his little shop. There was not a customer in sight. Pico placed the closed sign in the window, and turned on the forty-watt bulb over his small desk.

Velda sat in Pico’s favorite leather chair which was adorned with numerous claw marks, compliments of Braveheart. Pico went into the small kitchen in the back of the store and soon appeared with a tray of toast, jams, butter, cheese and a pot of hot tea.

“I hope you don’t mind, but this is all I could find in the kitchen.” He said. “Perhaps tomorrow we can find time to go to the shop on the corner and buy something to eat for dinner.”

“Oh, good sir, this is too kind of you,” Velda said between large bites of the warm toast.

Pico turned and looked at his shop as if seeing it for the first time. There were books piled high to the ceiling. There may have been thousands of books stacked on shelf after shelf, waiting to topple over at the first brush of an errant elbow or a misplaced tug of a book or even an inadvertent sneeze.

The shelves groaned and moaned and creaked and squeaked as he walked around looking for a clue as to where to find a book dedicated to the removal of curses. He was embarrassed at the amount of cobwebs that dangled with pieces of dead flies and other unlucky insects that the shop’s spiders feasted on.

“Egad, there’s enough silk here to start a tie factory,” he murmured to himself.

“Don’t worry, dear,” he whispered to Velda,” but secretly he was afraid that a black widow spider would pounce on him and add his scrawny body to the maze of silken webs gleaming in the early morning light.

Velda put down her tea cup, and looked at the mountain of books.

“Where should we start, sir?”

“Perhaps we should split up to save time.”

“Velda, there is an aisle near the window next to the front door which has books I believe on the occult. Witches, warlocks and dragons.”

“Sir,” Velda turned and looked at Pico and her eyes started to become wet with tears,” I have a confession to make. Please don’t cast me out.”

“Never. What?” he said.

“I cannot read. Oh, I know how to recognize my name and a few letters, but we moved around too much for any of us to go to school.”

This remark stopped Pico in mid thought. He had never met anyone who couldn’t read, but the first thing that came to his mind was being called “sir” over and over again.

“Velda, dear, it is not necessary for you to be so formal and polite.” He said quietly, “Please call me Pico. Not being able to read is not a problem; when this is all over I will teach you to read, not only in English, but in French, Spanish and Latin too.”

It occurred to Pico as soon as the words left his mouth that he did not read French, Spanish or Latin, but since he was not planning to survive the inevitable meeting with the evil giant, Lombardo, he didn’t think it too cruel to promise such a thing.

So throughout the day and into the night, pulling books from this shelf and that, coughing from the dust that accumulated over the years, sweeping away cobwebs, dodging an occasional mouse, and taking a couple of tea breaks, the two searched for a book to break the spell.

They found books that Pico had no idea he owned or where or how he got them.

There were books on: Astrology, Anthropology, Archeology and Arachnids. (Pico browsing the book on spiders was happy to find that the black widow was only found in North America.)

There were books on the Amazon, Indian head arrowheads, Alfred the Great and Asteroids, but no books on how to remove a moustache placed by a gypsy curse.

At eleven o’clock in the evening the pair looked at each other, and with a mutual groan collapsed on the floor, causing the shelves to sway and tilt. Crashing down and all around them came dozens and dozens of books. Amazingly not one landed on them with the exception of a large leather bound book that fell on Pico’s lap.

Serendipity! He thought this is a sign from above. His hands trembled as he turned over the large book, cleaned off the dust on the cover and read the title. The letters were faded but the words were clear enough to read, How to Remove Mold from your Kitchen and Bathroom Walls by Ms. J. Z. Garber.

“Pico, Is this the book we are looking for?”

“No, I am afraid it is not; our quest still continues.”

So the two seekers left the shop and went up the rickety stairs to the little apartment Pico called home.

That night while Velda slept in his bed with Braveheart snuggled in the curve of her back, Pico, his long scrawny legs hanging over the couch in his little living room, could hardly sleep. It wasn’t Velda’s snoring intermingled with Braveheart’s wheezing, coughing and purring that kept him up, but the thought of his inevitable meeting with Irving Lombardo and his Gypsy band. Pico was not a brave man and never had the opportunity to face adversity, nor was he inclined to take risks, travel, or try new foods. His legs spontaneously jerked, and as he turned his head, he came face to face with a rather large person looking at him from a ladder outside his living room window. “What!” he screamed, “Who goes there?”

At that moment Velda was at his side a weapon in her hand which turned out to be a small table lamp. Braveheart also came to his defense and stood hissing at the creature who had managed to open the window and was now in the room. “Lombardo, you knave, what do you want?” Pico shouted.

Velda shrieked with surprise, “No, it is not him. Can’t you see it is one of my band, my friend, Miranda?”

The sight of Miranda, whose green eyes matched her green moustache, standing a good twelve inches taller than Pico, and whose broad tattooed arms were as thick as hams, was too much for Pico, and he collapsed on his little couch. Velda put down the lamp and ran to Miranda and they began to hug. After two cups of mint tea, Miranda began her story as Pico, now awake, and Velda listened intently.

“Three nights ago, after the carny show was over and the rubes had all gone home, I met Hilda the Elephant Lady and we shared several bottles of beer. Well you remember how that brew affects me and I just passed out, dead drunk.” She continued. “While I was out Lombardo came to me in a dream, but he seemed so real. He said, ‘One of my lambs is missing, she is your friend who was to become my next bride. Do you know who I am speaking of?’

’Velda’ I replied, and I was crying and shivering all through the dream.

Lombardo, his green eyes flashing, said, ’That is the one. Find her and bring her to me. You have three days.’”

Miranda, now grasping for breath, said, “He also knows about your skinny male friend, and even about that large cat of his. You must get out of town,” and pointing to Pico, she added, “Leave this timid man behind.”

Pico, who was indeed a timid soul and always had been, stood up, and placing himself between the two women, simply said, “There is a carrying case in my closet, Velda. Grab the cat and put him in there and let us leave this place.” And so in the middle of the night the three (with Braveheart) left Pico’s apartment, not knowing if they would ever return.

Pico in his entire adult life had one friend he could turn to. Many years before while a freshman in school he was paired with a large outgoing, boisterous Astro Humperdink, who became his school roommate.

While Pico was quiet, studious and humble, Astro was loud, indifferent to his studies and a ladies’ man although he had not any more experience in the art of love than Pico did. In other words, they were both sixteen year-old virgins and would remain virgins, in Pico’s case at least, for many years to come. The two were as different as salt and pepper, but somehow bonded and, after school went into business together, thanks to a small inheritance Astro received from his parents. Astro’s parents liked Pico, who would often find himself in their home during school breaks and holidays, and they knew it was Pico’s influence that saved their lazy son from flunking out.

Astro like Pico never married but did conquer his fear of women and managed to have several lady friends, most of whom ignored Pico. He also managed to gain a considerable amount of bulk, reaching 252 pounds although he stood only five feet six inches. The two ex-roommates managed to start up a used bookstore and remained partners for ten years before a falling out drove Astro to start his own business across town. They remained cordial, but their once close friendship was in the past. Nevertheless, it was to Astro that Pico took his small band to ask for shelter.

Through the night they walked single file, in and out of alleyways, evading the few people they saw on the streets, with Pico leading the way and switching the heavy carrying case every five minutes, while Braveheart meowed and hissed each time they stopped. Velda walked steadily behind Pico, often banging into him when he abruptly stopped to catch his breath. Miranda kept up a steady stream of curses under her breath and sometimes shouted out loud, “Where are you two going? Do you have any idea?”

It was almost daylight when they reached Astro’s apartment. On the third knock he opened the door, smiled and simply said, “Greetings, my old schoolmate and friends, what took you so long?”

Astro was wearing what looked like a circus tent with sleeves, and on his right shoulder was a large yellow and brown cockatiel. Astro had gained possibly 30 pounds since Pico had last seen him and was sporting a heavy red beard which had streaks of gray. In his mouth was a long stemmed pipe and in one hand was a glass of brandy. The four runaways entered the living room. “Come sit down, my friends, and have some mint tea. I have been expecting you as you may have assumed,” Astro said.

Velda, now holding Pico’s hand, was the first to ask, “Sir, how could you know we were coming to ask you for help?”

“Strange as it may seem,” he replied, “I had a dream last night. I heard a voice; it was a woman, who told me you were in trouble and to expect your arrival this very night.”

Velda sat with Braveheart on her lap and Pico and Miranda on either side of her. Each attempted to tell their stories to Astro. But Astro waived them off, “Time is of the essence, my friends, but first we should eat and get some rest. Tomorrow we take on Lombardo and his gypsy band.”

* * *

At that moment, a large man and Lombardo’s trusty second in command, Horace the Knife, appeared in Pico’s abandoned apartment. “Your sense of direction is still admirable,” said Lombardo. “They left in a hurry, didn’t even pack clothes. Maybe three-four hours head start on us, three of them, the two women and the used book dealer, and a cat. They couldn’t have got far. Get word to the others, to meet us here in one hour.”

At one time Lombardo’s band had counted almost one hundred members, many of them his wives, but several had been picked up for loitering, others for begging and a few for petty crimes. Only Velda had escaped, although others had tried, but were captured easily, brought back to the band, and mysteriously “vanished.” There remained twenty-five members, not all of them enamored with Lombardo. And although most of them had moustaches, none possessed Lombardo’s gift of telepathy, nor Horace’s expertise with the knife.

Meanwhile, Pico and his own tiny group were in a heated argument. Pico and Velda wanted to run, hide and seek a new life away from Lombardo. Miranda and Astro wanted to stay and fight. Braveheart was content to clean himself by licking a spot on his right shoulder about seventy-five times; he remained non-committal.

“The band is too large, and Lombardo is mean-spirited and crazy. We do not stand a chance against such odds,” said Velda. “We need to go to the police.”

“But they haven’t done anything to be arrested for, and who would believe us, two men and two women with moustaches?’ said Astro. “We must stand and face the enemy. And what about your Fu Manchu, and Miranda’s? I believe if we defeat Lombardo, your faces will be clean forever.”

Pico felt faint from stress, and started to wobble and would have fainted if it wasn’t for Miranda and Velda grabbing his arm. Astro, seeing this, shouted, “Pico, we must stay and fight. If we run, we shall sooner or later be discovered—we need to be brave.”

Before Pico could utter a sound, Astro continued, “Who was there for you in school? Remember that bully, what was his name, Gumbo, Gordo—the guy with the scar on his lip?”

“Sidney,” Pico croaked. “His name was Sidney and he had only one ear. I think it was his left ear.”

“Left ear missing or was it only his left ear remaining?” Velda asked, lost in thought and pulling on her own left ear.

“Velda, what does it matter which ear was missing or if he had three ears?” Astro asked. “Geez Louise, the point is, was, I chased that boy all over the school, caught him in the girls’ bathroom, and told him that if he ever bullied my friend, Pico, there would be hell to pay. I was there to protect you then Pico, and I will be there to save you now. All of us as one force against Lombardo, and his nasty bunch.”

“What’s with the storytelling? You two want to play kissy face?” cried Miranda. ”We have a madman chasing us with a group of crazies and that nut job, Horace the Knife, too. Lombardo isn’t a sixteen year old with pimples. He is not sixteen years at all; he is a massive hunk of horror, who may have strangled his own mother. We have to fight him, but on our own terms. You are not going to chase all over your wimpy school, catch him in the bathroom and hold him till he says he’s sorry.”

Velda looked out the window; it was starting to snow. “We need a plan; we need a plan,” she said, looking up at the sky.

“Our plan is survival,” Astro said. “We also need something to defend ourselves with, weapons, fire, and a knife maybe.”

“A great idea,” screamed Pico.

“What is it?” they all cried.

“That’s what we need is a great idea,” Pico said, and he chuckled in spite of himself.

“We do have an advantage,” said Pico, regaining his composure. “I think I have a plan that can save us.”

So it was decided to stay, although the decision would prove to be a bloody one with horrible consequences.

It seemed strange to Pico that it was less than two days before that he had seen an amazing young woman at a trolley stop removing her clothes in spite of the December weather, and had invited her to his little shop to recount her tale of woe. And now he and his old school roommate and an Amazon of a woman sporting a green moustache were about to face a menacing band of thieves and murderers.

Velda got up and stood still in the middle of the room; she talked as if in a trance and stared directly at Pico, ignoring the others. “In the end, it must be me against Lombardo, a fight to the death. But I must be wary of Horace, his second in command.”

* * *

“Our band is gone,” cried Horace, his usual beady eyes now open with fright.

“Yes, you fool, but we will find them soon,” said Lombardo.

“No boss, the band is not in camp—they have fled.”

This was true. The remaining members, sensing doom if they stayed, had run for the hills leaving just Lombardo and Horace to search for our heroes.

“So it is just the two of us against two women and two ordinary men. Are you afraid? Horace? Do you too want to leave?” As Lombardo spoke, he slowly placed his hand in the small of his back and removed a small pistol. His second-in-command’s reaction was to go for his blade, but he stepped back.

“Boss, you know you can trust me; we will catch them, skin them alive and start a new band, with that young beauty, Velda.”

“Maybe you would like that green she-lion. Miranda?” purred Lombardo. “She’d make a lovely bride, if you could hold her down. I have read the thoughts of the used bookstore man,” roared Lombardo. “He has run for help. He has an old friend, who lives in town near the forest. If we leave now we will be there in an hour.”

It took about two hours for them to walk to the street where Astro lived. The snow had turned to sleet, and the wind was in their faces the whole time. Lombardo and Horace’s hatred was so intense that neither seemed to notice the weather. While they stood outside, weapons at hand, the little group of four waited in the dark in Astro’s apartment.

“I can smell their fear,” said Lombardo, “but I am unable to read any of their thoughts. Horace, you need to go to the back of the building and see if there is a way for us to climb up into the apartment.”

Horace, always the obedient second in command, did so. But the snow and ice that had not ceased for two hours causing him to slip and crash into some garbage cans with a loud BANG, alerting the four waiting in the upstairs apartment.

“They are here,” Astro whispered.

And so the four waited, weapons in hand, but not for long.

Lombardo pulled Horace off the ground and the two entered the building through the back stairs. Their heavy footsteps hardly masked their movements as they approached Astro’s apartment. Lombardo ran and slammed into the door, not knowing it was unlocked. He crashed to the floor. Horace, on his heels, fell on top of him. As the two gypsies struggled to get up, Astro slammed one and then the other with a golf club (the driver). Velda joined in the battle by throwing a boiling pot of water on the two.

Lombardo screamed with pain as Horace, looking for his lost blade, got up and slipped on the rug that Pico yanked from under him. Horace hit the floor hard and this time was knocked out cold. The battle seemed to be going well for the four until Astro called out, “Miranda, where are you?”

“Behind you, my dear,” she said, as she slammed a cast iron pot on top of Astro’s head.

Pico and Velda looked at each other with horror, as Lombardo lifted himself off the ground. “Thought you weren’t showing up, my dear,” he said to Miranda. “Well, well, look here, we have the two little lambs in a corner and that fat one out like a light.”

“I can’t believe it, Miranda, why?” Velda said, too tired to cry, now holding Pico’s hand.

Miranda, her neck turning a bright shade of scarlet, her green moustache twitching, said, “I have always hated you since your arrival. You and your sweet smile and innocent ways, the way you would sing and help watch the children . . . just disgusting. Lombardo located me and promised to reward me if I found you. I have been on your trail since you vanished. When we did locate you, Lombardo and I were about to pounce on you, but then you sought refuge with the book dealer and then his fat friend.”

At that moment all seemed lost. Pico gazed at the two villains. “I wash my hands of all of this. You can have the girl. Just let me see to my friend who is in need of help.”

“You take us for a fool, little man; you and your friend are going to die before the night is over,” said Miranda.

Velda started crying. Pico retreated back towards the window, separating himself from her.

Lombardo moved towards him while Miranda grabbed Velda’s arms tightly. A few feet separated the men, when Astro grabbed onto Lombardo’s leg and pulled, forcing the gypsy king to slip and hit his head on the floor. Down like a mountain he fell and Pico rushed the pair of women and threw his arms around Miranda’s throat. Miranda was able to swing and hit him in his eye and pull at his hair. “Timid man you call me, I’ll show you what I am,” he said.

Just then Velda slammed her knee into Miranda’s mid-section. Down Miranda went, gasping for breath, with Pico on top of her. To add insult to injury, Braveheart, who had witnessed all the action from under Astro’s bed, jumped on Lombardo, scratching and clawing his face. In the fracas, Lombardo rolled over on the cat, but was so injured he fainted because of loss of blood.

The fracas attracted the neighbors who called the police to Astro’s apartment. When they arrived they were astonished to find the notorious Lombardo and his henchman out cold and they carted the evil pair away. Astro tried to laugh off the seriousness of his injuries, claiming, “My parents always told me I had a hard head. Do you remember that time I chased that bully around the school and caught him in the bathroom?”

In spite of his hard head and gallantry, Astro was deemed in need of a hospital stay.

In the end Pico and Velda found themselves alone in Astro’s apartment sitting on the couch. She held Braveheart who was in pain. “We must get him to an animal doctor now, my love,” she said.

And so they left the apartment, but not before Pico took her face in his hands, and they kissed for the first but not last time that night.

Pico was confused and delighted at the same miraculous moment. Velda’s lips were soft and her moustache tickled his face. He was sure the curse was lifted, but the kiss did not remove the curse, and the Fu Manchu remained. Pico tried to kiss her again, but Velda turned her head, her eyes glistening.

“Darling, I am still ugly,” she cried.

“You are my life and astoundingly beautiful,” he said. “I would not have you any other way.”

They stood holding each other for a few moments.

“Velda, I have a question,” he stammered. “Will you, could you possibly think of being my bride?”

“I think that might work,” she said.

“And one more question: when I first saw you at the trolley stop, you were undressing. Remember I gave you my coat so you wouldn’t catch cold?”

“I remember.”

“My question is: why?”

“I can’t recall,” she said, “I think I was in a daze. Did you like what you saw?” she asked coquettishly.

“And how!”

* * *

And so it was over. Lombardo was in chains awaiting trial for several murders. His band of gypsies was scattered, leaderless, never to return again.  Braveheart, his broken leg in a cast, was on the mend, and had actually lost a pound although he was still a massive specimen.

That night alone in Pico’s apartment, Velda cried, “You brave man. When we first met, I asked you to become my hero. Well, you have saved me!” Velda sighed and her eyes started to glisten. “Even though I still have my moustache, I now have you, my love. You not only have a cat named Braveheart but you, my darling, possess a brave heart too.”

Pico, his left eye nearly shut, his scalp showing patches of baldness, could only manage a smile, but his heart was beating with joy. “Oh, all’s well that ends well,” he managed to mumble before falling in a dead faint on the floor.

It took several days with Velda’s loving care and Astro’s support, to bring Pico back from his injuries. He was ready to continue his life, not alone but with the beautiful Velda as his partner. No longer an empty man with no purpose in life, Pico was now happy.

* * *

Fourteen years later. . .

With the loving help and guidance of Velda, the book store began to thrive and in time made money. Not that they became rich, but they were rich in love and understanding. Braveheart continued to thrive until the age of twenty, old enough to see the birth of their first child, a boy. Then a second boy came into their lives and finally a girl they named Astrid. This child inherited her mother’s stunning looks and personality and in time became an incredible beauty, which wasn’t diminished when at twelve years old she began to sprout a Fu Manchu.

And they all lived happily ever after.


© 2021 Sheldon I. Hanner  All rights reserved.

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