A condensed verson of this story was published on HumorPress.com - the April/May 2011 edition.
The Daily Herald
How the West was Framed
Reporter: Sir, aren’t you the attorney who defended the Wicked Witch of the West?
Attorney: I handled her appeal, yes. Quite successfully, I might add.
Reporter: What's she doing now?
Attorney: I believe she’s on Broadway.
I read those words from a yellowed newspaper as my host Wanda set a cup of steaming, fresh brewed coffee in front of me.
Wanda sighed. “I can still remember reading that interview as if it was yesterday. For the first time in years I began to feel hope. If The Wicked Witch of the West’s conviction could be overturned after all these years, then maybe I could get justice too. That’s one of the reasons I called you.”
“But I’m not a lawyer.”
“Oh I know. West’s hot shot lawyer has offered to take me on as a client pro bono.”
“Pro bono? That’s surprising. Usually he only represents wealthy clients.”
“No kidding. West had to sell off most of her flying monkeys – she was heart broken. No, I called you because I read the biography you did for The Big Bad Wolf. I was mesmerized - couldn’t put it down. I had no idea he had such a traumatic childhood.”
“Thank you, I’m flattered. Did you know him well?”
“Only in his later years, when he was just a shell of a canine. By that time all his teeth had fallen out. Quite sad, really. Kind of hard to gum grandma to death, ya know?”
I ignored her bizarre observation. “Why choose to write your biography now?”
“Because I’ve got a great story.”
“The end being?” I always asked that question, because that’s what it always came down to. If there was no strong ending, I usually didn’t take on the project.
"We’ll just have to wait and see.” The gleam in her eyes fascinated and repelled me at the same time. Maybe I could work with a cliff hanger ending.
I had done the biographies of some scary characters in my time. It wasn’t easy being known as the biographer – not to the famous – but the infamous. I prided myself on my steely nerve, but there was something about this woman that was creepier than usual. I’d gotten this lead only this morning, when Wanda called; but I knew my editor would approve the story once he returned from vacation. I wanted to get right into it. If it went smoothly, I could probably still make my tennis lesson at eleven.
“Weren’t you at one time successful in the confections business?”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago. Before all this.” Wanda waved her hand expansively around the cold, grimy studio apartment I assumed was a weekly rental.
“Tell me your story.”
I pulled the ancient cassette recorder from my briefcase and placed it in the middle of the table. The casing was cracked and dingy, but I resisted the urge to buy more modern equipment. I got a strangely visceral excitement from pushing the large square button and hearing the antiquated device click to life. The hypnotic whispering of the rotating tape reminded me of a last breath confession and always had the power to put me in a trance. It was almost as if I could see the wheels turning inside the mind. I could feel the blood coursing through my veins, and my heart start to race. This was the moment I lived for – the beginning of the interview. It was a huge adrenalin rush. Being “on record” affected everyone differently. A verbose windbag of a man might clam up; or a tiny mouse of a woman could become the life of the party. You never knew.
Wanda must have sensed my excitement. She looked amused. Her laugh was brittle - hollow. “What? Tell you I was framed? Is that what you want to hear? Isn’t that what they all say?”
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I wondered if this was how the mouse felt when he was caught frolicking in the open because he thought the cat was away.
“I can only write the truth.” I hoped she didn’t have any false illusions as to what I could do for her. “And not everyone believed West.”
“No, of course not. I don’t even expect that, really.”
“If I could just get my house back, I’d be happy.”
“You haven’t seen this house. It’s like no other. Rich gingerbread roof, sweet butter cream icing trim, crystal clear sugar windows and juicy gum drop shingles – oh baby! Those brats were always jealous of it. Prime real estate it was – still is for that matter; although I hear the little beasts have sold it. I had to hand it over to them in the civil suit.”
“Isn’t that where you ran into trouble? All those sweets are pretty hard for children to resist.”
Wanda snorted. “Entrapment, you mean? It was vandalism plain and simple.”
“The prosecution said your actions were premeditated; your defense said you just snapped. What's the real story?”
“Come on – it’s a public record. Do your homework. There were 3 doctors that testified to my low blood sugar condition. Those terrors they call children stole and ate everything I used to help control it. You should have seen the greedy vermin – climbing on the roof, hanging out the windows, grabbing and devouring every sweet morsel in sight – it was disgusting. Their parents should have taught 'em some manners. It’s not like they even asked. Jiminy Crickets - of course I was a little grumpy, wouldn’t you be too?”
“Ah, do you have any donuts lying around?”
“Why – you hungry?”
“No, no. I just thought –.” I cleared my throat nervously. If this was any indication; I was starting to buy her story. I didn't know if I'd be called upon to administer emergency donut to mouth recessitation. But it was clear she misunderstood my intentions.
“I keep the stuff locked away now”. Her beady eyes locked on mine in a suspicious squint. I wondered how short I could make this interview.
“Anyway, how much time did you do?” I asked, wanting to get to the meat of the story.
“Four years. Doesn’t seem right, you know? It was my house, after all. They said I tried to push them into the oven, but look at this…”
She stretched out her arm. “Do they have burn marks? No. Singed hair - that's all. Is it my fault they were roasting marshmellows too close to the stove?”
Was it my imagination, or did some of those burn marks look pretty recent? Shaken, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “When did you first become addicted to sugar?”
Wanda slammed her palm down on the table and I jumped a foot in the air. Mismatched crockery rattled in the cupboard. I was struck by the latent power in what appeared – though only on the surface - a thin, wasted body of an old woman.
“ I told you – low blood sugar!”
I picked up on this subtle hint and steered the conversation to a more neutral topic.
“So, where do you want to go from here?”
“Career wise?” Wanda shrugged her boney shoulders. “I’m not sure. I might try my hand on the stage. Tell the story from my perspective, you know? It’s working for West.”
“Aren’t you afraid the subject matter would be a little intense for people – especially after that Child Protective Services report came out?”
“I don’t know, those flying monkeys are pretty scary and people are eating it up. But I guess I see your point.”
Wanda’s eyes became dreamy. “I’ve always wondered what happened to some of the old timers. Intolerance now a days is brutal. Toward Ogres, especially.
“I hear the Billy Goat’s Gruff have dropped the charges.”
“Well, that’s something, then.”
“ And who knows – maybe Ogres-R-Us will catch on.”
“I don't know about that - but witches, now – we’re making a come back – thanks to all the publicity West is getting. Did you know that Maleficent and Cruella have started clothing lines?”
“Have any of them contacted you since you’ve been out?”
“Well, Ursula –
“Wait a minute – wasn’t she stabbed through the heart and killed?”
“Off the record?”
Intrigued, I reached over and pushed the stop button on the recorder.
“Her death was faked – for the insurance money, you know.”
“But Prince Eric…”
“Wasn’t even there. It was really Gaston in a mask. Same build, you know – both guys are pretty buff. He stuck a manikin – not Ursula. Pretty convincing though. All the newspapers reported her as dead.”
“But what if Eric been sent to jail?”
“Plu – leese. You don’t think Gaston or Ursula care about that, do you? Besides – they knew he had immunity.”
“Wow.” I mulled it over. “Ursula and Gaston. They still together?”
Wanda shook her head. “Ursula was an old fool. As soon as the money ran out, so did he.”
Out of the blue, Wanda suddenly started cackling like a – like a – well – witch, and said, “You know what I thought would have been funny? If they’d made it look like King Triton stabbed her with his Trident ….Oh, that’s better than Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick. Ooh that’s a good one! Hey, do you want some gum? Get it? Trident?”
Oh boy – she was really coming unhinged. I didn’t share her sense of humor, but I smiled to play along.
As abruptly as the crazed mirth began; it subsided. Wanda wiped the tears off her face with a tattered black sleeve. “But neither of ‘em have any imagination.”
“So, yeah - Ursula. She’s definitely alive and well. I think she’s calling herself Debbie now. We got together a while back when she asked me to be the spokesperson for her new perfume – she doesn’t quite have the figure for it, you know.”
“Really? What’s it called?”
“Poissons – French for fish, you know. Pretty clever, I thought. We were going to brew it ourselves.”
“Any money in that?”
“Nah, I had to back out. Not really my thing. I still can’t get the odor out. Ruined a perfectly good cauldron, too.
“I thought there was something different about the coffee.” My stomach lurched in response.
“Yeah, sorry about that. Where was I?”
I switched the recorder back on. All hope of getting a decent story was gone. My only goal now was to wrap this up pronto and put some distance between me and this pyscho.
“Oh, yeah - Snow’s step-mother, though, she’s got a line of candy apples I think I could market – more my style. A couple of her recipes really make a strong first impression.”
“Yeah, I've heard that. Well, this has been very interesting-
“And then of course there’s Gepeto.”
Okay, now I was hooked. “Gepeto? I didn’t know you knew someone like Gepeto.” Too late, I realized the slip as soon as it was out of my mouth. “I mean-
“Oh, I know what you meant. I’ve lived with this stereotype all my life! But did it ever occur to you that Gepeto might not be such a goody two shoes after all?”
“I guess I never thought about it. What’s he up to these days?” I felt my chest constrict but I kept my voice casual. Did she buy it?
“Sorry, I’m just a little overly sensitive these days.”
“Understandable”. I released my breath slowly.
“He’s doing all right. Became a plastic surgeon.”
“Yeah, there’s not much market for puppets any more – even one’s that come to life. Sims have replaced all that. But the demand for plastic surgery is always growing - not that I’ve ever needed it, of course.”
I tried unsuccessfully to keep my eyes off the hairy mole winking at me from the end of her long nose.
“It’s a beauty mark!”
“Very nice. Well, I’ll get this written up and run it by you for approval.” I hurriedly packed up my recorder, and rose to go.
“Are you a DIY kind of guy?”
“I beg your pardon?” The sudden shift in conversation caught me off guard.
“You know- home repairs and such?”
"Well, I don’t like to brag, but my wife says I’m quite handy. In fact”, I admitted with pride, “I just finished remodeling the kitchen.”
I wondered where she was going with this. Her apartment was a dump, but that wasn’t my problem. “Well, best of luck to you.” I backed toward the door.
“Hey, before you go, you wouldn’t mind having a look at my oven would you?”
“Your oven? I really don’t think…”
“Yeah, it’ll just take a minute.”
I felt the iron grip of her boney fingers digging into my flesh as she dragged me into the kitchen. I tried desperately to think of who might know where I was. I drew a blank.
“I think it’s a problem with the pilot light….”
The Daily Herald
Famous Journalist Missing! Witch-hunt Underway!