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A PC Christmas Story

by Michael Z. Williamson

December 18, 2001

Ruth Washington shivered again under her coat. It had been two days since the heat had been shut off, because she had no money. She bundled herself tighter, sighed, and continued sorting. It wasn't a pleasant task, but had to be done.

Her husband of 56 years was dead. Poor Harry. He'd so wanted to see his great grandchildren born, but the first one was not due for another three months. She shivered again slightly, not noticing, as she opened up the last trunk. While she'd loved him dearly and still did, he was a packrat. Had been.

With him gone, her income was halved, she thought as she dug through the old wooden crate. While the food bill would be smaller, utilities and mortgage were unchanged. She had enough for a few staples of food, and the mortgage, but not for the insane cost of heating a rattletrap old house. She'd closed off most of the rooms, but it didn't help. She'd scraped enough to pay the electric, but not the gas. She doubted she could pay the electric next month.

With her own children far away, her dignity would not let her be a burden. Besides, it wasn't too cold a winter yet, and she did have wood and the fireplace. The living room would suffice for a while. And there was the spaceheater...

She found an odd-shaped canvas package, and paused. It wasn't something she recognized. Her stiff, cold fingers trembled as they unwrapped the greasy cloth. The shape was somewhat familiar. Long, L-shaped.

It was a gun.

She almost dropped it, then clutched at it. Would it go off if dropped? She didn't know. She'd never known. Harry knew she hated guns, and had hidden it from her for how long? And why? Gingerly, she laid it aside, rose with creaking joints, and headed for the steep stairs.

The phone still worked even though it hadn't been paid. Soon, that would go, too. But for now, it worked. And she recalled the public service announcement she'd seen in the magazine. If one found a gun, one should call the police. She sought their non-emergency number in the book, and dialed. While it rang, she looked around her spare living room. At least it was only cool and not chill, with the heater plugged in. It was even near the hearth, so no fire could start.

An answering voice startled her, and she brought her attention back. "Yes, Ma'am," she began. "I've found an old gun. I think it was my husband's. Could you send an officer to get it?"

The operator agreed, and Ruth sat down to wait. Then she realized it would be a good idea to have it ready. Sighing, she wearily climbed back up the stairs and retrieved it, wrapping it back up. She felt safer that way.

The officers arrived a few minutes later. She answered the door and invited them in. "May I get you coffee?" she asked, for her manners were firm. Guests deserved refreshment.

"Oh, no thanks, Ma'am," the younger one replied. "We've been drinking it all day. But we appreciate the offer."

"Certainly, Sir," she replied. She pointed at the bundle on the table and said, "Well, there it is. I unwrapped it to find out what it was. I hope there's no problem."

"Not at all, Ma'am," the other officer replied and scooped up the package. "You want to dispose of it?"

"Yes," she agreed. "I saw the ads in the church magazine. They said to ask you to destroy it, so it doesn't wind up back on the street."

"Sure thing," he agreed. "We do that anyway with the new mayor, and—" he paused as he unwrapped it.

He continued, "Ma'am, are you sure? This looks rather old. Might be worth a bit of money." The aged steel and wood showed from the canvas and over his glove.

"I'm sure," she replied. "I'd hate for someone to get killed with it."

"Okay. Well, we have to get back on patrol. Have a nice day, and Merry Christmas to you," he said.

"Merry Christmas. I hope your patrol is quiet," she said.

"Do we have to cut that up?" the younger officer asked his partner.

"'Fraid so," his senior said. "Seems a shame. You don't see many of those any more."

"Valuable?" he asked.

"Dunno. Some are. Most aren't really. It takes an expert to tell," said the sergeant.

"We could stop by the museum," the patrolman offered.

"Why? They won't know. Not their field. No, just fill out the sheet and we'll drop it at the shop."


"Probably not worth much anyway."

Of all the jobs the city street department got, this had to be the saddest, Bill Granger thought as he dragged the steel drum over. It was near full and heavy. Time was, he thought, that non-defaced weapons were auctioned to dealers, to be sold to honest people. Now there was a craze to "Get them off the street," where most of them had never come from and fewer would have seen anyway. So money was paid to chop them up instead.

He started the cutoff wheel, hearing it whine from a low buzz to an angry scream as the motor reached speed, and reached into the drum, sighing, for his first victim of the day.

He recoiled. Good God, NO! What blazing idiot had that come from?

He examined the piece. It couldn't be from a criminal; it was too nice, almost pristine. He turned it over and over, checking everything. Numbers, finish, markings. Old pistols had been a hobby of his for years, and he simply could not believe what he was seeing. There was one measly gouge in the wood, probably from being tossed unceremoniously in the bin.

He reached out and shut off the machine. Time to see the boss.

He knocked on the office door. "Heya, Mister Ayers," he started. "Check this ou—"

"Dammit, Granger, I'm working on the snow removal plans. What is that?"

"Well, it's a—"

"Oh, dammit, is it another little lost gun you want to save? Listen: they don't pay us to waste the Historical Society's time. They don't pay us to think. They pay us to cut the damned things up. Now get out there and let me hear sparks, or you're written up."



Sighing, he turned and walked back to the shop, shoulders slumped. He couldn't. He just couldn't.

But if they found it missing...

Sighing, he fired the cutter back up. He adjusted the jaws very carefully, allowing this one a good fit. It was the least he could do. Politics had displaced history and appreciation for workmanship on its mad dash to appear to be doing something.

He laid the pistol carefully into the jaws, said a prayer for it and the unknown craftsman who'd made it, and the lucky guy who'd owned it once. As he jerked the cutting arm down, he turned his head and closed his damp eyes. It was a mortal sin to chop a pristine Naval Officer's Luger into scrap metal. But his job wasn't worth the $2500 or so, if it was ever traced to him.

Across town, Ruth Washington smiled as she sat. It had been a long day of cleaning, but she felt she'd accomplished something. The attic was clean, the gun was gone, and David Jackson's boy had cleaned out her gutters to stop the walls from seeping. It was even a bit warmer. That nice officer had arranged for some civic group to keep her heat on.

It was a pity she didn't have any money to buy presents for the Jackson boy and his friends. They were good kids.

She leaned back and stretched her arthritic legs by the fire.

Copyright 2001 by Michael Z. Williamson. All rights reserved. This story appears for the first time at


Printer Version

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert Heinlein

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