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Friday, April 1, 2016

An April Fools' Misadventure

April Fools' Day falling on a Friday was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Yet, for the longest time, I had no idea for a story related to the occasion.  Then, as so often happens in this crazy business, one popped up at the last moment.  I hope it entertains you.

An April Fools' Misadventure

Harvey Smiley was the sort of practical joker people wanted to strangle. He aroused this propensity in his victims through his ill-considered acts of puerile foolery.

Among Smiley's circle of friends was a certain philatelist named Arthur Meacham. Meacham was a most serious sort of person; he pursued all his affairs with ferocious intensity and never in his life so much as cracked a joke. He also possessed considerable wealth and indulged himself in his favorite hobby of stamp collecting.

Among the valuable items in Meacham's collection was a 24-cent Inverted Jenny airmail stamp. This particular example was part of the U. S. Postal Service's initial airmail issue of 1918. Somehow, in the printing process, one sheet of 100 stamps ended up with the Curtiss JN-4H biplane image upside down. It's one of the rarest U. S. issues and Meacham shelled out $150,000 for his specimen. In commemoration of this famous error, the U. S. Postal Service has re-issued the Inverted Jenny in a two-dollar denomination.

Meacham boasted of his ownership of this stamp at every opportunity and never failed to show it off to visitors. So it was that Smiley learned of it and made it the target of his April Fools' joke.

Thus, it transpired on the evening of April 1st that Smiley appeared at Meacham's door. Concealed in his jacket pocket was a glassine envelope with one of the re-issued inverts. After drinking and chatting with Meacham for an hour in front of a fireplace in which blazed a cheery pyre, the latter excused himself to use the bathroom. It was the opportunity Smiley anticipated. He hurried to the bookcase, retrieved Meacham's stamp album, and with great dexterity switched Meacham's Inverted Jenny for his own. He then settled back into his seat to await Meacham's return.

“Oh, by the way, Meacham, I almost forgot. I brought you a little gift that I'm sure you'll appreciate.” And with a flourish worthy of a professional conjurer, Smiley produced the glassine envelope and handed it to Meacham.

Meacham's brow furrowed. “What's this, old boy? You're giving me a stamp?”

Smiley grinned. “Indeed, I am. And have a look at it, will you? It's the real thing, my friend.”

Meacham reached into his desk and picked up a pair of stamp tongs. Perhaps it was the bourbon they had been sipping or Smiley's history as a prankster which caused Meacham to see what he expected to see instead of what lay before his eyes, because when he extracted the Inverted Jenny from the envelope, he smirked. “Nice try, Smiley, but these are a dime a dozen. You didn't think you could fool an old hand like me, now did you?”

“You'd better look closer, Meacham. It's the real deal.”

“Rubbish! I don't have time for your fool pranks.” And with that, Meacham flicked the stamp onto the blazing embers in the fireplace.

Smiley gasped. “Look what you've done, you fool! I told you, it was REAL!”

Meacham scowled. “You're still trying to trick me. There's no way that stamp was genuine. See here.”

He fetched his album from the bookcase, opened it on the desk, and pointed to the stamp that Smiley had slipped into the mount moments earlier.

“You see, you can tell by the denomination. The genuine Inverted Jennys have a '24' in each bottom corner while the re-issues have a '2.' As you can see, this one has a...” His face turned as white as the pages of his album. “You filthy scoundrel!”

As Smiley bolted from the apartment, he heard Meacham slam open the doors to his gun cabinet.

Alas, poor Smiley; although he sprinted down the hallway at Olympic speed, Meacham's bullet proved faster than his fear-inspired legs could propel him.