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Dance With The Dolly
About the Author: Gary Alan Ruse has five earlier novels published: "Houndstooth," "A Game of Titans," "The Gods of Cerus Major," "Morlac: The Quest of the Green Magician," and "Death Hunt on a Dying Planet."

“Dance with a dolly with a hole in her stockin’,

Dance by the light of the moon.”

“I’ll just bet that’s my package!” said Matilda Gray, quickly rising from the upholstered wingback chair in her living room and heading for the door. “I’m so excited!”

The doorbell had rung three times in rapid succession. That normally would have been annoying, but Matilda suspected that it signaled a delivery, so the sound was a welcome break in her daily routine.

“The gift for your granddaughter’s birthday?” asked Jennifer Seymour, also rising from her seat.

Jennifer had been Matilda’s best friend for years and often dropped by for tea in the afternoon, as happy to spend time in the cozy old house in the suburbs outside New Haven Connecticut as she was to see her friend. The house was compact and filled with antique furnishings, and the bookcases in the living room were crammed with books of all types, befitting a retired librarian for Yale University. There were four full shelves of mystery novels by such authors as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Highsmith, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich and Emma Jameson. There were also several textbooks on forensic science and an Encyclopedia Britannica set.

Matilda peeked out through the window just to be on the safe side, then she unlocked the front door and opened it. The young man in his brown shirt and matching shorts with the UPS logo and the embroidered name “Bennie” on his chest stood there holding a medium sized box. He had been there many times before.

“Do I need to sign for it?” Matilda asked him.

He was already extending the stylus for his electronic pad. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“There you go,” she said, signing her name with a flourish and taking the box. “Thank you so much. Oh, and how’s that new puppy doing?”

“He’s great!” Bennie brightened, then looked puzzled. “How … how did you know I have a new puppy?”

“Just a guess. When you delivered something here three days ago your shoelaces looked new, but today they look as if they’ve been chewed on, with the ends frayed. I’ve had puppies that did that.”

Bennie smiled and gave a nod. “I bet not much gets past you.” Then he turned and hurried back to his waiting truck. He pulled away, heading off to his next delivery.

Jennifer studied her with a raised eyebrow. “So … you were looking at his shoes?”

Matilda grinned. “Truth be told, I was looking at his legs. He’s kind of cute in those shorts.”

Jennifer gave a knowing laugh. “I thought so too.”

Matilda secured the door and brought her package to the table in the middle of the room. “This is it,” she said, glancing at the shipping label from Aladdin Direct, the huge merchandise company that had a distribution and fulfillment center in New Haven as well as many other cities. She picked up the decorative letter opener from the table and cut through the tape along the box’s top seams, folding back the flaps.

Jennifer, who was a few years younger than Matilda’s 67, edged closer, eager to see. “When did you order it?”

“A few days ago.” Matilda reached into the box and pulled out the packing list. It was printed on adhesive backed paper on a slick surfaced layer. Below the invoice was an empty spot where the shipping label had been. There was another empty spot as well. As she glanced at it a frown formed briefly. “That’s odd.”


“The return address label is missing, in case I needed to send it back,” said Matilda.

Jennifer shrugged. “Oh, some of my packages are like that. Hopefully you won’t need to return it.”

Matilda reached into the box and gently lifted out the object inside which was wrapped in plastic. Carefully unwrapping it, a 12 inch high doll was revealed. It was a childlike figure of a little girl in a gingham dress, with a sweet face and green eyes. Red hair was braided into pigtails, and visible beneath the bottom edge of the dress was a ruffled petticoat, white socks and shiny black shoes.

“It’s adorable!” said Jennifer. “Little Annie will love it!”

“Oh, I hope so.” Matilda turned the doll around in her hands, inspecting it for any damage. “With children you never know.” She looked closer at one of the legs and frowned again. “There’s something wrong here.”

“Is it broken?”

“No,” said Matilda, sliding the sock down a ways. “That’s not what’s wrong.”

This story appears in our APR 2024 Issue
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