The title is a bit misleading. The story starts on Christmas Eve and runs through the early hours of Christmas morning. Plus, there are plenty of people with last names different from the Mallory's as part of the story. At the Beverly Hills hacienda, we'll find names like Burmeister, Bennett, Rogers, Garth, Davis, Copps, and Neilsen as guests at our Christmas Eve party. However, they're all family, named Mallory or not.
1922 was a busy year for MG&M Detective Agency. So, when December rolled around, it was with great pleasure that we didn't hear the phone ring from another client. Even Woodie Garth was delighted to spare his gray brain cells from pondering another case. He wanted to spend some time with his fiancé Victoria Davis during the holiday.
Garth and Vicky had just arrived for the evening. They were escorted in through the front doors by Fred. They stood motionless in the foyer and gazed around the front room. My friends and life-long caretakers, Fred and Elizabeth Burmeister, lent tireless support in decorating the house. A huge wreath hung gaily on the front door, which was surrounded by multi-colored electric lights.
Inside, they set a nativity scene in the front room with life-sized figures. Holly adorned all of the windows and shelves, and stars dangled from the walls and ceilings in the front room and the sunroom at the back of the house. Every table and ledge in the front room, the sunroom, and the dining room held an array of lit candles. Pine boughs with red berries attached were used to surround their base.
Merry Christmas, Jim!" Vicky smiled gaily as she handed her wrap to Fred. “This should be a fun party. Your whole California family should be here.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “All will be arriving except my brother Phillip and his clan. The Rogers family are coming down from their ranch in Chino, and Reed and Greta Bennett are driving in from Venise Beach.”
“Who else will be joining us, Major?” Garth asked while straightening his black bow tie.
Carita and David Neilsen have closed Tilda’s Swedish Restaurant for the holidays.” I replied. “They wanted to treat their three waitresses to tonight’s dinner and party.”
“You mean the three girls from the boarding house?” Garth scoffed. “They’re just children.”
“You forget, Woodie,” Anneka corrected. “That case was three years ago. Allison Walsh is eighteen now, and the other two girls, Anita Collier and Gilda Page, are both seventeen. They’re old enough to join us.”
“Time does fly.” Garth rubbed his chin as his eyes gazed absently around the room. “Where are they now? Have they arrived yet?”
“Long before you showed up, Woodie.” Anneka had just stepped off the staircase from our second floor. She wore a snug, emerald-green, knee-length, satin dress. The long sleeves and high neckline made it suitable for winter wear. Her Tiera was adorned with a spangle of tiny rubies that gave her a holiday festive look. “Carita is in the kitchen helping Liz prepare the dinner. The three waitresses are upstairs in Emma’s room. I just heard them giggling as I passed the bedroom. Hello, Vicky,” Anneka shouted. It’s wonderful that you and Woodie could come.”
“Oh. You know we wouldn’t have missed it,” Vicky took Anneka’s hand and squeezed it. “But where are all the movie people you like to have around?”
“Not for Christmas, deary,” Anneka answered. “This party is for family and close friends only. Christmas is a family event. Don’t you think so?”
Anneka probably forgot that Vicky’s parents had passed on, and her only sibling, Purcival, is in prison for life. Vicky had no one but the household staff, her employees, and us. I looked at Victoria and saw tears well up.
“Oh my,” Anneka whispered. “I’m sorry. I should have known better than to bring that up.”
Vicky smiled; her blue eyes twinkled under the bangs of her black-bobbed hair. “Never mind. It’s silly of me to dwell on them. Let’s just have some fun, Anneka.”
“Besides,” Woodie chimed in, apparently wanting to change the subject. “I wouldn’t want to miss one of Elizabeth’s wonderfully cooked meals.”
“I’m surprised you’re not as big as a horse,” Anneka said with a wink. “The way you gobble down Liz’s food and not gain weight is amazing.”
“Well, I work it all off jogging on the Santa Monica beach. Not like your husband who sits around all day eating bonbons.”
I heard his Ludacris comment and was about to respond when I heard the doorbell ring. “I’ll deal with you later,” I snarled and walked to the foyer.
Fred had beat me to it. He opened the door to Blair and Jeannie Copp. They were Anneka’s two employees at the office. Blair was a popular chiropractor, and his wife Jeannie was the receptionist in the office. The young-at-heart, middle-aged couple greeted Fred warmly with smiles and firm handshakes. Blair wore a blue suit with a green and red striped tie. Jeannie looked gorgeous in her equally festive lime-green chiffon dress.
“Over here, Jeannie!” Anneka called out from the front room. Mrs. Copp waved back and joined the ladies by the makeshift cocktail bar.
Blair, Woodie, and I went out to the sunroom, where a keg of Fred’s homemade beer was sitting in a barrel of ice. “Help yourselves,” Fred announced as he waved his hand toward the keg.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Blair said. He picked up a frosted mug and let the beer flow from the keg. “So, what do you folks have planned for this evening's festivities?”
Before I had a chance to answer, Garth said. “Oh, didn’t you hear? The major hired the Ziegfield Follies girls to entertain us. They’ll be dancing around the swimming pool within the hour.”
“Is that right, Jim?” Blair looked at me, his eyebrows raised. “How did you pull that off?”
“Don’t listen to Garth.” I waved my clenched fist at my partner. “It’s all wishful thinking on his part. Now that he’s letting Vicky put the shackles on him in a few months, he wants to sow as many wild oats as he can.”
“Don’t spread rumors like that, old man. Vicky will hear them, and I’ll be in the dog house before we’re even married.”
Blair and I laughed. I then noticed the rest of the party coming through the foyer. My brother-in-law, Clint Rogers, strutted in with his wife Gerda, the mother to Tyrus, my nephew. Along with them were his younger brothers, Aaron and Dale.
They were followed by my other brother-in-law, Reed Bennett, and Gerda’s twin sister, Greta. Once they were introduced, Anneka went to the foot of the steps and called up, “Come on down, girls. Everyone has arrived.”
Emma swooped down the steps with her friends close behind. “That’s no way for a lady to enter a room,” Anneka admonished her. “Show a little decorum, please.”
Emma came to an abrupt stop to steps from the floor. “Oops. I’m sorry. I forgot myself. You know, with Christmas and all.” The other three heard Anneka and slowed their pace before reaching Emma.
I failed to recognize them when David Neilsen introduced them to us. He came from the kitchen and met us in the front room as we walked in from the sunroom. The first time I saw the girls, they were three years younger, malnourished, filthy, and wearing rags for clothes. Now, all three have thrived. The healthy shine In their faces glowed a thousand words that didn’t need to be spoken.
Allison Walsh, the oldest at eighteen, was now a tall, voluptuous girl with blonde ringlets folding over her shoulders. Seventeen-year-old Anita Collier was a sleek, tall girl with short, dark, flaxen hair cut in a bob. Gilda Page, also seventeen, was a short, girlish-looking woman with curly amber hair. All of them seemed healthy, happy, and well-adjusted after the ordeal they suffered three years ago.
“Now that we’re all here,” I said to the restaurant staff, Let’s join the others in the front room.”
Before leaving the sunroom, Clint and Dale had picked up a mug of Fred’s specialty. Aaron, attending a Christian seminar, needed to be a teetotaler. He and the others picked up either lemonade or iced tea.
After entering the front room, Aaron Rogers, who had a relationship with my daughter Emma, quickly forded the room and found her. Dale, his older brother, who was about to graduate from law school, followed him. As he did, Emma gathered her three friends from Tilda’s Restaurant over. I saw Dale’s reaction. It was the same as mine would have been if I was approached by three lovely young girls. Hmmm, Which one do I want?
Allison, wearing a short, simple chemise of white, was first to step up. “Emma, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” She asked, batting her eyes at the handsome Dale. Anita and Gilda were right on Allison’s heels. Anita added, “She means us. Would you like to introduce us to your two friends, Emma?”
And there it started, three against one. I needed to retreat to the adult, married people. They were all congregating around the front window. On either side of the window sat tables covered in appetizers. Deviled eggs, puffed cheese, shrimp cocktails, platters of cheese, mixed nuts, and Christmas cookies were there for the taking. Everyone grabbed a plate and started filling it. However, there was an empty space before the window and between the tables. It was apparent that the guests noticed what was missing.
Garth, not being the shy one, was the first to ask. “Major, this is a Christmas party, right?”
“So it would seem.” I placed my hands behind my back, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I’ve been to many Christmas parties over the years,” he went on with the others in silence. “Not one of them failed to include a Christmas tree in the decorations.”
Fred stepped forward and relieved my discomfort. “Well, I suppose it’s my fault that there is no tree. The major bought a tree the other day. It was a fine evergreen tree, at least six feet tall. He asked me to place it right where you are standing, Woodie.”
“And, where is it?”
“It was stolen. I had left it out by the garage overnight. I intended to set it up this morning.” Fred sounded apologetic, but he had no reason to be. He doesn’t answer to Garth.
“When you came out this morning, it was one?” Garth asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. I was appalled that someone would steal a Christmas tree.” Fred pursed his lips and shook his head. “But there you have it. We have no tree.”
I heard sighs around the room. I could understand. The tree is the centerpiece of Christmas decorations. Nonetheless, there you have it. No tree. “Now brighten up people,” I called out. “It’s Christmas! We have plenty to do for fun, and we have presents to exchange later in the evening. Don’t let the missing tree get you down.”
“He’s right,” Anneka chimed in. “Dinner will be served shortly. While we wait, we’ll play a game of charades. How does that sound?”
Vicky stepped up and put her arm through Garth’s. “That sounds good to me. Let’s go out to the sunroom. There’s more room to play out there.”
Anneka and I followed Vicky’s lead and joined her. The others did likewise. However, the young people decided to stay in the front room to play what Dale called ‘their own games.’ That comment worried me, but I was only a few rooms away and would pick up on any shenanigans being played.
Emma led them to the far side of the front room, where a large gramophone sat. “What do you want to hear first?” She spun around to face her friends.
“How about some of Al Jolson’s music,” Allison said, stepping up to a pile of .78 record albums. “Here’s Bombo.” She held up the album jacket with Jolson’s smiling face on it.
I heard them all speaking at once as I left the room for the sunroom. There, I found four card tables set up and the men moving them to the side.
“We don’t need tables to play charades,” Garth announced. “We’ll play men against the women. We shouldn’t have any difficulty defeating the women. Right?” He looked at me, but David Nielsen answered, “Right you are, Woodie.” He smiled at the ladies, but no one smiled back.
“Let the games begin,” I called as we moved chairs and sofas across from each other, and we took our seats. ”Ladies first!”
It took a half hour to get through three rounds for each team when Liz announced dinner was ready. The men were just warming up. The score was ladies three, gentlemen zero. It was a good thing dinner was ready, or we would have embarrassed the girls by overtaking them.
While walking into the dining room, I heard the strains of Ray Miller and His Orchestra playing The Sheik of Araby. I poked my head into the front room. “Are you guys hungry? Dinners ready.”
“Be right there,” Dales announced as he held both elbows out. Anita and Gilda grabbed an arm each. They held on tight, each smiling up at the debonair-looking Dale. Aaron, not to be outdone by his big brother, held out his elbow and caught the blushing Emma and Allison on either side of him.
I shook my head and looked toward the ceiling. “Youngsters!” They had left the gramophone on, so I went in. Turning it off, I found the music of Prince’s Orchestra, who played Christmas music. I put the vinal album on loud enough to reach the dining room. I then joined my guests at the table.
Standing at the head of the table, I felt a warmth in my heart as I gazed around the table. There were no place cards, so everyone sat where they pleased. Of course, the young people gathered at one end of the large oak table. The adults sat with their partners in life. I volunteered to say grace, asking God’s blessings on my family and friends. Ending with, “Now dig in!”
Unlike high society dinners of the earlier era, no one served the courses. Everything was placed on the table, and we served ourselves. Parsnip and celery root bisque and Oyster Rockefeller were the first items my guests placed on their plates. The main course that was enjoyed by all was the Cranberry-orange roast ducks that were placed around the table by Liz and Carita before they sat down to join us.
“Well,” I said to the table. “There is an announcement to be made.” I looked over to Gerda and Clint.
Gerda put her fork down. “I don’t know how you found out, Jim.” She frowned at me. “But I suppose I better admit it. I left the water running in the bathtub before leaving the house today.”
Everyone looked at each other, their eyes covered with befuddlement. However, Clint came to her rescue. “No, Gerda, not that news,” he grumbled. “I suppose I better call the hands quarters and have someone turn it off. Jim meant the good news.”
Gerda looked confused, so Clint finished. “We’re expecting a second child.”
“Oh, that!” Gerda giggled. “I forgot! Yeah, I’m gonna have a baby sometime in July.”
Everyone at the table called out and congratulated the couple. Even fourteen-month-old Tyrus, their son, applauded from his high chair.
“That’s great news, Gerda,” Blair Copp said. “What do you want, another boy or a girl?”
“Yes. It will be either one,” she replied.
Clint laughed. “She means we’ll be happy with either a little buckaroo or a filly.”
“We’ll have to have a shower in a few months for you, Gerda,” Carlita said, smiling at the expectant mother.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I can take a bath all by myself. That’s awfully silly.” She waved her hand in the air. Then went back to her duck.
“I was wondering, Emma,” Reed Bennett said from across the table from his niece. “Why didn’t you invite your friend Grazia Gabriella to the party?”
“I did, Uncle Reed. But the San Carlos Business Association is having a Christmas party tonight.” Emma looked at Vicky Davis as she spoke. “Her family is hosting it at her dad’s Benito’s Italian Restaurant.”
“That’s right,” Vicky added. “We were invited, but I thought a small, intimate gathering like this,” she waved her hands around at our guests, “Was more to our liking. Right, Woodie?” She looked at Garth, sitting next to her. He merely nodded after sticking a piece of roasted duck in his mouth.
The rest of the meal, up to the desert of vanilla white chocolate mousse, went smoothly. I, on behalf of the guests, thanked Liz and Carlita for such a magnificent dinner. “That was some dinner, Carlita. I know where Liz gets her recipes from, but you came up with a winner tonight.”
“Thank you, Jim. You forget David and I have served as chefs at some of the finest restaurants in New York City.” Show blushed with pride as she spoke. “I saved some of the best recipes for myself, and now you.”
“You should see how fine we eat at home every night,” David smiled toward his wife.
“And you bake the finest pastry ever,” she returned the compliment.
“Now that we’re finished here,” Anneka stood and observed her guests. “Let’s return to the sun room for some games. Since the men are incapable of competing in charades, we’ll play some table games.”
The men hemmed and hawed at her comments. “What do you have in mind, young lady?” I asked.
“We have Bunco, Parcheesi, or Dominos,” Anneka replied. “You can choose what you want.”
“I’d rather play some penny-ante poker,” Clint grumbled.
“I’m with you,” Blair said.
After some discussion, we divided up into small groups to play the games we wished to participate in. I chose Parcheesi with Anneka, Jeanie Copp, and Liz. Garth and Vicky joined the men for poker. The young people went back to the front room and took over the gramophone again. This time, I heard The Joseph C. Smith Orchestra playing Three O’clock in the Morning.
The rest of the evening went wonderfully. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and nobody got ossified. Most drank non-alcoholic beverages, but even those who had a Gin Fizz, a mint julep, or a beer kept their heads clear.
In our frivolity, we lost track of time. We had no time to open the presents we brought for each other. It was decided that we would exchange the gifts but open them the next morning. That way, we could now return to our homes at a decent hour.
“That was a lot of fun, Jim dear,” Anneka whispered to me while snuggling up to me in bed.
“I must say, I agree. Even though you cheated at Parcheesi, dear.” She had won three of the five games we played. Liz won one game, and Jeanie won the fifth game.
“Poor loser!” Anneka laughed as she slid her arm under me and hugged me.
All was quiet around the house. We left the dishes in the kitchen to be washed the next day. Liz and Fred went to their apartment at the far end of the house, and Emma was tucked away in her bedroom down the hall.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. I snickered as I remembered Clement Clarke Moore’s poem. Then I heard it. It sounded like footsteps above us. “Anneka! Do you hear that?”
“Hear what, dear?” she groggily replied.
The sound now was like something being dragged over our heads. “That!”
She sat up with a bolt. “Yes, what is it?”
“It certainly isn’t old Saint Nick and his reindeer.” I jumped from the bed and slid into my slippers. “If it is, he’s gonna spend Christmas Eve in the hospital.” I grabbed my Colt and hurried to the door. “Stay here.”
“The hell I will! Anneka jumped from her side of the bed as fast as I did. I glared at her and saw that she had on a slip of a negligee.
“You’re not confronting burglars like that!”
She looked at herself in the full-length mirror. “I suppose not.” Then, she threw her house coat on, reached into the end table, and brought out her .38. “Let’s go.”
We crept down the hallway and listened to the sounds of footsteps, something scrapping across the ceiling, and mutt voices as we went. We reached the stairs that led to the roof and skulked up silently. When we reached the top, I placed my hand on the doorknob.
I looked at Anneka and whispered, “You ready?”
Her voice shook slightly as she nodded and said, “Go for it, big guy.”
Turning the knob, I thrust the door wide and jumped onto the roof. The night was bright with stars and the air chill. But what with my wondering eyes appeared? It wasn’t any damned reindeer! Anneka barreled through the door and stood next to me, her mouth open as she gasped.
“Do you intend to shoot us, old man,” Garth said. “Put your guns away. Christmas morning is no time for murder.”
He and all the rest of our guests stood around a fully trimmed, eight-foot Christmas tree standing in the middle of our roof. They were putting the finishing touches on the tree when Fred plugged in the long strand of lights to the applause of the small crowd on the roof.
Emma came out to see what the clatter was. “What’s going on, Papa Jim?”
“I’ll answer that for you, little lady,” her Uncle Clint replied. “When we saw there was no tree, we figured, in private, that we best get one.”
“Yeah, it ain’t Christmas without a tree,” Allison chimed in.
“So, we got ya one,” Dale added, putting his arm around Allison’s waist.
“Well.” Anneka stepped forward. “That’s awfully nice of you. But why on the roof? It’s cold out here.”
“Yep, just as cold as it was in a stable in Bethlehem all those years ago.” Aaron came over and took Emma’s hand. “If He could handle the cold, so can we.”
The crowd on the roof laughed and started to congregate around the tree. It was a beautiful sight against the dark night in the hills around us and the vast stars above us.
“Where’s that big star the wise men followed?” Gerda said, looking up.
“On the other side of the globe,” her husband said, holding her in his arms.
“You know what I haven’t done in years?” Emma said, looking at Liz and Fred. “I haven’t sung Silent Night since I had with my parents back in the old country.”
Fred and Liz came up to her. Fred looked into her pale blue eyes. “Then let us file in for them.”
The three of the Germans harmonized beautifully. Fred’s baritone voice and the soprano voices of Liz and Emma wafted over the hills of Beverly Hills.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
When they finished, Emma broke down in tears. Liz put her arms around her and held her tight.
“Our turn,” Greta announced. She motioned for her sisters, Gerda and Anneka, to join her along with Corita. The three Swedish ladies sang, Jul jul strålande Jul, an old soul-stirring traditional song.The three harmonized as they sang the haunting song in their native tongue. I’d never heard it before and couldn’t understand the words, but I felt a chill running up my spine as I listened. I looked around at our guests and saw that they must have felt the same. They fell silent, and a calm, peaceful expression came on their faces. Garth nudged me as they sang and nodded to the homes surrounding us. The lights were on, and people were leaning through the windows.
When they concluded their short Christmas concert, I heard faint applause from the hills and calls of “Merry Christmas” coming from my neighbors.
“That was beautiful, Anneka,” I said, holding her in my arms.
The silence was broken by the young people on the roof as they broke out in song. They started singing, We wish You a Merry Christmas. Then everyone else joined in.
That was Christmas Eve and Morning, 1922. We stayed on the roof, singing, laughing, and loving one another. Just like the Christ child would have wanted His birthday celebrated. Merry Christmas, Jesus!