Suggest a different climax for the story "After Twenty Years."

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here us a suggestion for a different ending to "After Twenty Years."

Bob tells the policeman a lot about himself but doesn't introduce himself by name. If he had done so, Jimmy Wells might have felt obliged to do the same thing. So O. Henry intentionally does not have either man mention even his first name. But one might insert a single sentence in which Bob does tell the officer his full name and then have Jimmy remain silent.

Bob has a twenty-minute window of opportunity to get away after Jimmy leaves him. If Jimmy did or said anything that made Bob the least bit suspicious, then when the tall plainclothes detective arrived at the doorway at approximately twenty minutes past ten, he might find the doorway deserted and nothing but a still-smoking cigar butt.

Bob might have even left a note addressed to Jimmy Wells in which he writes that something the cop had said or done, or something he had not said, such as his name, make Bob suspicious. And then he realized he had been talking to Jimmy Wells all along when he thought he was talking to a beat cop.

One of the things that might have made the crafty, experienced Bob suspicious was this dialogue extracted from the text:

“I'll be on my way. Hope your friend comes around all right. Going to call time on him sharp?

“I should say not!” said the other. “I'll give him half an hour at least. If Jimmy is alive on earth he'll be here by that time. So long, officer.”

Another possibility would be to have Bob leave a note addressed to Jimmy Wells telling him that he knew who he was all along and was wondering why he didn't arrest him. Then when Jimmy left him he knew he was going back to the station either to get help making the arrest or to get someone else to do it. He knew he had a good fifteen or twenty minutes, so he finished his cigar, wrote his note, and disappeared into the night.

The note addressed to Officer Jimmy Wells might be as simple as this:

Dear Jimmy,
I knew it was you all along. Nice to see you again.
Your old friend,