UNITED STATES—The green-hued hands, led by two bony thumbs, viciously pinched Zorba’s windpipe for one fierce second, that felt like five in front of a firing line, and then dropped at the side of the bulbous form of the figure whose shriveled head of a sinful raisin lolled to one side of the mountain of pillows that propped The Leader on the bed. He heaved a sigh borne from a bronchial grotto.

The members of the family, all clad in identical plaid shirts, the majority of a tan and red pattern, one blue and black the sole exception in their ranks, drew close to the figure who was breathing his last. The girl with the close-shorn hair grasped a listless forearm under the papal robes that shimmered iridescent blue and scarab green in its silken depths against a wine-red brocaded by astrakhan flourishes. The Leaders sons, daughters, grandchildren and even pets seemed unified in impending grief. So it seemed to Devon Zorba.

Then as the disgraced detective was ready to launch into the solution of the crime, one of the family’s hounds snarled at Zorba’s knee. The dog transmitted a doggy neurosis to him.

It led the normally cool-tempered Zorba to leap backwards a step.

“Worry not,” a little girl said to him, “He’s friendly.”

Tongue slobbering the husky dog retreated docilely enough. The case-hardened, baby-faced detective on leave, knew enough about humankind to take that assertion about canine nature—ever so much more candid and naïve than Homo Sapien—with a massive grain of salt. The jitters withdrew as soon as the strapping yet careworn sons of the leader grabbed the smooth pit bull’s leather collar and held firm. Zorba nodded thanks.

“He’s alive!” squealed a matron in Osh Kosh overalls. “He knows his name.” “Ethan…”

At once a wave of pride swelled up in Zorba; he hooked thumbs in his pockets—in awe shucks gesture, through there was terror in the pit of his stomach. Now the delirious hubris of having solved the cold 25-year-old case “up here” made his legs sway like a drunken sailor. He needed the smelling salts they’d brought to revive him once as a high school freshman and got a concussion when tackled on the ten-yard line. What a fine line walked the young detective on the outs with his department and kidnapped from the Underground Cities by the plaid brothers. What is he didn’t fare any better with the family dog than as a magnet of snarls?

Meanwhile, the tall son with the blacked out teeth got down on his knees and prayed silently by the row of empty cranberry juice bottles.

“There were two brothers. One was Ethan and the other Elam.”

“Ethan!” corrected the from the brocaded ramparts of his dressing gown. His eyes flicked to life and, as soon, faded.

“Elam, the firstborn was thought to be what they then called ‘mentally challenged.’ The defective detective could tell none of them know a blessed thing of what he was saying in the euphemistic lingo of the times he had studied when the murder took place.

In the first third of the ‘Special Period’ which had the whole world at breaking point, and falling both into mawkish delicacy when it came to labeling people shortchanged when it came to brains. Zorba rejected the term they all used in the Underground Cities, ‘gifted,’ and opted for the following:

“The older Elam was slow to learn speech and garbled his words. They say he didn’t say a word till he was four years old. The mother struggling with a second son and raising a family on her own, as a truckdriver, turned him over to another family, who hadn’t been able to have a child of their own. They discovered that he wasn’t slow, but merely deaf.

When he got a hearing aid, Elam blossomed. Became a debater in Underground Model United Nations and had gotten a college scholarship..”

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection “The Havana Brotherhood,” https://amzn.to/29ak9Nr

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)