Dateline: Halloween

It was late-October and Forest Park Private Detective Sam Diamond sat in his shabby Madison Street office. Business was slow, due to the pandemic. He was pleased, though, with his new mask, which featured his agency’s logo. When Diamond heard his buzzer, he quickly slipped it on. The visitors were a middle-age mother and her 12-year-old son. Blanche and Tommy were wearing masks.

“Mr. Diamond, I really like your mask,” Tommy exclaimed, “But it looks like you have three eyes.”

“Yeah,” Diamond said pointing at his mask, “But this one doesn’t blink. What do you folks need?”

Blanche opened her purse and pulled out a paper, “Someone put this inside our pumpkin.”

Diamond read the simple message, “To save Halloween, you must come to the circle!”

“I don’t understand. What’s wrong with Halloween?”

“We can’t go door-to-door trick-or-treating,” Tommy complained, “and my parents wouldn’t let me go to a haunted house because it was too crowded.”

 “Are there any other restrictions?”

“Yeah, we have to wear a mask under our Halloween mask.”

“That sounds uncomfortable. What are you going as?”

“A surgeon, what else?”

“I feel bad for you, Tommy, but what am I supposed to do about it?”

“Oh, Mr. Diamond,” Blanche implored, “We thought if anyone in town could figure out what this note means, it would be you.”

“OK, I’ll take the case,” Diamond agreed. “If you can’t afford my fee, you can pay me in peanut butter cups.”

The next morning, Diamond set off to save Halloween. The only clue in the note was “circle” so he headed to the Circle Bridge. Not only was it closed for repairs, it didn’t have any Halloween decorations.

He next walked into the Circle Inn. It was too early for a beer but not too early for a question.

“Do you guys have any plans to save Halloween?”

The bartender looked at him sadly. “We barely saved St. Patrick’s Day. How are we supposed to save Halloween?”

Diamond crossed the street to Circle Lanes. He asked the guy behind the counter if they had any special plans for Halloween. They were putting up some decorations but that was about it.

“No scary stuff?”

“We’ve had some customers get really scary splits on Halloween.”

“Really – the 7-10 split?”

“Worse than that – the 4-6-7-10 split.”

“Grandma’s teeth?” Diamond recoiled in horror. “You’re giving me chills.”

After exhausting his circle leads, Diamond called Blanche to see if she had any ideas. “Maybe that note wasn’t meant to scare you. Do you have any really nice people on your block?”

“Oh yes, we have the nicest couple. We don’t even ask him, but Mr. Hain snow-blows our sidewalk. His wife knits blankets for everyone on the block. She plays the accordion at our block parties. Every Halloween, she gives out big boxes of Lemonheads.

Diamond found Sam Hain’s address and parked near their house on Halloween. He watched Sam and Ruth loading the trunk of their car. Diamond could see they were up to too much good. They filled their car with jack-o-lanterns, candy and two brown choir robes. Diamond followed them to Forest Home Cemetery and watched them park near the United Ancient Order of Druids monument. The statue of Merlin gazed down sadly at the sacred circle of graves.

Mrs. Hain lit candles inside the jack-o-lanterns and placed them six feet apart in a circle around the statue. She placed a large box of Lemonheads next to each jack-o-lantern. Then they put on their brown robes.

Diamond sprang from behind a headstone to ask them what they were doing.

“We’re saving Halloween, Mr. Diamond,” Ruth explained. “The kids on our block have been through so much this year and now it feels like they’re losing Halloween. Here, we can safely social distance and celebrate the true spirit of the holiday.”

“But why the note? Why not just invite them?”

“We thought it would be more fun as a mystery,” Sam Hain explained. “Besides, we knew you needed the work.”

Diamond called Blanche right away and told her Tommy could invite nine of his friends to the cemetery. Tommy and his friends rushed there by bike, rollerblade and scooter. They were happy to see the candy and jack-o-lanterns.

Sam Hain explained how the Druids celebrated Oct. 31 as their day of the dead. They lit fires and sacrificed animals. They even dressed in costumes and went door-to-door to beg for food. While he spoke, his wife played the theme from “Halloween” on her accordion. Accordions were already scary instruments but that was haunting. Diamond felt reassured, though, by the smiles on the faces of Tommy and his friends.

Diamond hurried back to his office, hoping trick-or-treaters would stop by. Instead of candy, he would pass out his new masks.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.