"Stork Trek"

written with Edward Wellen

Of the dozen or so Partners in Crime collaborations I worked on, this one was the most fun. In response to my suggestion that we write a story together, Ed Wellen sent me a two-line newspaper clipping which mentioned that storks migrate back and forth between South Africa (where diamonds are mined) and Holland (where 'raw' diamonds are cut into gemstones). What about using a migratory stork, he suggested, to smuggle diamonds into Holland?

As it happens, I am fluent in Dutch, and the Dutch word for "stork" is a word I particularly like: "ooeivaar," with its four consecutive vowels. So I sent Ed a list of 20 or so of my favorite Dutch words and suggested he come up with a plotline which would allow us to use them all. He did, I added some additional twists and turns, and we each wrote about half of the story's scenes. (The words on my list included "gaaieeieren," which means "the eggs of a seagull" and has seven consecutive vowels, "angstschreeuwen," which means "a cry of anguish" and has eight consecutive consonants, "tweeën" and "Churchilllaan," which respectively mean "twos" and "Churchill Lane" and each contain triple letters, and so on. How do you put the eggs of a seagull, a cry of anguish, a rhinoceros, a skycraper, a jet plane, a vacuum cleaner, orange juice, someone or something pacing back and forth, and so on, all into the same story? You'll have to read "Stork Trek" to find out!)

About two-thirds of the way through the story, there's a scene set during a protest demonstration in the streets of Amsterdam. One of the protesters is described as "that kid in the army jacket, looks like an American escapee from the '60s." That's me, making a cameo appearance a la Alfred Hitchcock himself in his films. The character is carrying a picket sign reading "PERSHING 1-5314," which the two Dutch police officers watching the demonstration suspect might be a set of missile coordinates for the controversial US Pershing missiles then based in Europe. Nah. PErshing 1-5314 was my phone number when I was growing up on Long Island, NY.

Ed and I loved this story, and submitted it to every magazine we could think of, but they all turned it down. I even sent it to Bird Talk, and got a lovely letter back from the editor, telling me that the staff had enjoyed the story, but they unfortunately only used fiction about caged birds. Sigh.

Finally, we realized that each of us thought the other had submitted "Stork Trek" to AHMM but neither of us actually had. One of us did, and editor Cathleen Jordan snapped it up. Ed and I thought it had a real chance at winning the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe award for best short story of the year — but, wouldn't you know it, we were both on the selection committee that year, and we agreed that it'd be inappropriate for us to nominate our own work. (Three years later, though, it was included in Hitchcock's Most Wanted, a collection of the best AHMM stories from the years 1980-85.)

This first publication of the story featured a beautiful pen-and-ink illustration by Jim Odbert. For the first and only time in my career, I had the magazine editor put me in touch with the illustrator and purchased the original artwork, which I framed and proudly hung in my home office in West Germany. When I moved back to the US in 1991, though, I lost almost all of my possessions in the move, including Odbert's marvelous drawing. There's room to reproduce it over there on the left, but I've only got one copy of the magazine and I don't want to break the binding to scan it in. If I can ever dig up another copy, though, I will! Until then, you'll just have to come over to my house if you want to see the picture....

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