The Winner of the 2003 Seventh Annual Imitate Keeler Competition:
The Casket of Amun Tillado
by Jim Weiler
Armond and Mona Tillado watched in grief as the gravediggers shoveled the last spadefuls of dark earth onto their Uncle Amun's grave. The other mourners had gone. Only the two remained. Wrapped in their individual thoughts, neither suspected how nearly alike his--or hers!--were to those of brother--or sister. Siblings two, orphans, too, Armond and Mona had lived with their Uncle Amun since their father, Raymondo Tillado, had been killed eighteen years earlier in a freak accident--he had been smashed, flat as the proverbial pancake, between two colliding double-decker omnibuses being driven by two identical sets of Siamese twins--the fabled Siamese Quads of Canterbury.
"Just like Dad," Armond Tillado was thinking. "This can't be coincidence. There's foul play afoot."
"Just like Father," thought Mona Tillado. "There must be a connection. Something's rotten in Denmark."
They turned to face each other, Mona turning to her left, Armond to his right.
"Mona--" started Armond...
"Monty--" started Mona...
A mutual pause.
Again they both began.
Mona: "I think there's a connection between--"
Armond: "It can't be coincidence that--"
"You go first," Mona said, smiling wryly despite the seriousness of the day.
"No, you," said Armond. "I'm not all that sure about--"
"Neither am I. That is--I'm not entirely sure about what I think may be coinci--"
"Exactly!" exclaimed Armond. "There must be a connection between Dad's death between two double-decker British omnibuses and--"
"--and Uncle Amun's demise between two American Grayline busses, each driven--" Mona paused.
"--each driven by circus clowns in full regalia!" finished Armond, excitedly.
"Yes, yes--now that we've said it aloud I am sure there's foul play--not only behind Father's death, but Uncle Amun, as well. But foul play that spans 18 years!--" Mona's voice trailed off. "Oh Armond!" she exclaimed frightenedly, clasping her brother's hands. "Do you think they will come after us next?"
Armond scowled--thought--gave his sister's delicate fingers a reassuring squeeze. "Why should they?" he asked puzzledly. "Even if Dad and Unc had something going--some bit of subterfuge or intrigue worth, in the long run, their deaths--even if they were mixed up in some skullduggery, they never clued me in on it. Not even the slightest hint. As far as I know, Dad was just a circus accountant and Uncle Amun just a sub-sub-curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Human Oddities--so why--"
"But they've given themselves away," interrupted Mona, fear darkening her face. "Now that they've acted a second time--whatever individuals or whatever organization did act to bring about those deaths--now that we've seen the same modus operandi in play twice--and they know we've seen it--" She began to sob. "Oh, Monty--I feel certain they will come after us as well."
Despite the balmy summer breeze blowing in from the lake, Armond Tillado was shaken by a sudden chill. If his sister was right their lives were in danger at this very moment! He looked around agitatedly. The fact that he didn't see any busses of any sort reassured him a little--but only for a moment!--only until he realized that his cranium might be lined up in the crosshairs at that very instant!--that even as he thought it, the bullet that would end his days might be barreling faster than the speed of sound toward his now-suspecting brain which would soon bespeckle his sister's black hat and dress. With a hint of panic in his voice Monty whispered, "Come on, Sis. Let's vamoose--and pronto!"
Together they scurried toward their waiting limousine.
"So!--" hissed Sung Phu Phat, crouching inconspicuously behind a nearby mausoleum, listening intently to the duo, pressing the earpieces of a Munktonston Audionic Amplifier deeper into his earways. "You berieve that you have prumbed the depths of our prot. Ritter do you suspect that even now another pair of Grayrine Streamriners are barrerring arong the ranes reading to this cemetery--and reading to your mutual demises! Soon enough you wirr be joining your uncre and father in the Tirrado famiry prots..."
"Tsst!" hissed Moriarty Munktonston savagely. "Do you want them to hear you, your oriental ninny? If they fail to exit the grounds in precisely--he glanced at his wristwatch, attached eccentrically just above his right elbow--in precisely three minutes they shall miss their--shall we say--appointment? We have timed this ceremony to the second and their departure must be on schedule. All our plans depend on it. We must do away with these interfering siblings before they find the clew in the will leading to the message carved on Amun Tillado's coffin and return with an exhumation ord..."
"Hush!" growled Sandomar del Ponce. "They weel overheer you two's incessant yammering and maybe they weel deescover--and even decode--the message encoded into Sanskrit and hieratic by those loco Tillado brothers, and eef they get it into their cabezas to take eets meaning literally..."
"Nevah mind," drawled Colonel Ashley B. Mangham III. "Th'Tillados're leavin' 'n' th' busses ahn't ev'n in sight yet. 'S too late."
"What!" ejaculated Moriarty.
"Qué?" queried Sandomar.
"Curses!" hissed Phat.
"Will you boahs shut up?" admonished the Colonel. "Ah sweah Ah've nevah heared such a bunch o' squabblahs as y'all. Now, pack up that theah Mun'st'n Amp an' le's git a move on."
The limousine bearing the two last remnants of the once numerous Tillado family rolled up the cobbled drive to the Tillado mansion, located high on an artificially mounded hill made entirely of shredded newspapers tightly compacted and glued together with a mixture of pine tar and asphalt. Inside, the surviving Tillados commiserated.
"I tell you, Mona, those busses were meant for us. It was just dumb luck that in our panic we made Giles pull out a few seconds ahead of schedule. If we had hung about at the gravesite for just another half minute we'd be as pancaked right now as--as both Pop and Uncle Amun!"
"But how, Monty? How could they possibly have known exactly when we were going to--to leave dear Uncle Amun's--" A tear escaped Mona's eye, gliding to the end of her nose and dangling.
"I don't know," Monty said gravely. He pulled a kerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed the tear from Mona's nose-tip. "But if two pairs of colliding busses hint at something more than coincidence, then three pairs hint at--well--No! Three pairs confirms the plot! Someone--someone sinister and vile!--is out to extinguish the Tillado clan. And if there's one thing I've learned running Chicago's largest tabloid these last twelve years, it's this--behind every plot, there's money. Someone has a plan for squeezing moolah from the Tillado turnip and that plan hinges on extinctifying each and every last living Tillado--which amounts at this moment to just me--and you!
"But we're home--let's figure it out after we've chowed down."
Armond opened the curb-side door and slid out, holding the door for his sister. Taking his offered hand, she stepped onto the curb and saw an approaching bicyclist.
"Who's that, do you suppose, Monty?"
Armond Tillado squinted--the years at the newspaper had not improved his vision any--"Looks like a Northern Union messenger boy--Chi-town Enquirer business I'll wager--G'wan inside, Sis. I'll be in for supper presently."
As Mona ascended the steps and Giles rolled the Rolls into the detached garage-cum-guest house where he lived, the boy rolled up to Armond and announced chirpingly, "Telegram for Armond Tillado."
"That would be me," Armond replied, reaching for the bright orange envelope. "What do I owe you?"
"Prepaid!" Chirruped the messenger. "You don't owe Northern Union a red cent." He held out his hand expectantly--an expectation that turned into annoyance as Armond tore open the telegram and studied it obliviously of one, Chip Skagwag, messenger boy. An annoyance that engendered several clearings of the Skagwag throat and finally a loud, "ahem," pronounced pronouncedly enough to break even the trancelike absorption of the message's recipient.
"What? Oh!" Armond said, looking up. "Yes, this is for you--" He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out two crumpled bills which he jammed into Chip Skagwag's waiting grasp without so much as checking the denominations to make sure they were only ones and deuces.
"Much obliged, Mister," chirped Chip, chortling as he pocketed the two fins and rocketed off as fast as his feet could pump the pedals. But Armond Tillado was again oblivious to the outside world, engrossed again in this mysterious telegram from--of all people--his freshly dead Uncle Amun!
HELLO ARMOND STOP
IF YOU ARE READING THIS TELEGRAM THEN YOU MUST KNOW BY NOW THAT I AM DEAD STOP I KNOW YOU AND YOUR SISTER MONA ARE GRIEVING BUT YOU MUST PUT ALL SENTIMENTALITY ASIDE NOW AND DO AS I SAY IN THIS TELEGRAM STOP THERE IS A FORTUNE AT STAKE AND IT CAN BE YOURS DASH BUT ONLY IF YOU FOLLOW MY INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER FROM A TO IZZARD EXCLAMATION STOP
MANY YEARS AGO WHEN YOU AND YOUR SISTER WERE BABIES YOUR FATHER AND I STUMBLED UPON A SECRET THAT HAS BEEN KEPT FROM PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE FOR CENTURIES STOP A CIRCUS SECRET STOP WE WERE MAKING A PASS THROUGH A PLACE CALLED IDIOTS VALLEY AND SOMEHOW TOOK A WRONG TURN THAT GOT US ONTO A ROAD THAT HAD MORE TURNS IN IT THAN A PORCUPINE HAS QUILLS STOP WELL I AM NOT MUCH OF A NAVIGATOR AND BEFORE LONG I HAD BECOME HOPELESSLY LOST IN THE SWAMPS OF IDIOTS VALLEY STOP I STOPPED AT A RUN DOWN SHACK TO ASK DIRECTIONS AND WHAT YOUR FATHER AND I DISCOVERED IN THAT SHACK SHOOK US TO THE DEPTHS OF OUR SOULS STOP
WE WALKED UP THE KITTYWUMPUS STEPS ONTO A SKEWED PORCH AND KNOCKED ON A DOOR HANGING BY A SINGLE HINGE STOP FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE WE HEARD A SCRAPE AS THOUGH A CHAIR HAD BEEN PUSHED BACK THEN IRREGULAR FOOTSTEPS APPROACING THE DOORWAY STOP CLUMP FLAP TAP STOP CLUMP FLAP TAP STOP VERY IRREGULAR INDEED EXCLAMATION STOP BUT WHEN THE DOOR SWUNG OPEN THE SIGHT THAT MET OUR EYES CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS--
Armond felt a touch at his elbow and jumped startledly a full foot in the air, dropping the bright orange envelope he was holding, but managing to keep a grasp on the telegram.
"Dinner," announced Giles, standing at Armond's side, "is served."
"Great! I'm famished." said Monty, absently stuffing the telegram into the pocket from which he had fished the fivers he had handed messenger boy Chip Skagwag a few minutes before. "C'mon. Let's put on the feed-bag."
* * * * *
Why has the mysterious Gang of Four been exterminating Tillados for nearly two decades? Why with shiny new busses? And why driven by circus-folk?
What secret can an accountant and a curator have stumbled upon that would make them targets of murder?
What is the point of Uncle Amun's mysterious telegram? And what is the coded message he wrote on his coffin in Sanskrit and Hieratic?
Who are the mysterious Gang of Four? A Chinaman, a Brit, a southerner and a Spaniard, sure, but why are they together and what are they up to?
And what were the brothers Tillado really doing in Idiot's Valley more than twenty years ago?
These questions and more will all be answered in Mary Steven-Keillor's upcoming book, The Casket of Amun Tillado. Soon to be climbing the Chicago Times-Herald's best-sellers list. A fact! Reserve your copy today.
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