NVDT Book Review

Falling – Stevie Turner

Last summer I started reading waaaaay out of my usual Reading For Entertainment sphere. Falling was the jumping off point.

4.5 Stars Is it my kind of book? Not really. Is it ambitious and well executed? Yes.

First off, this is a long book. Back in the 80s it would have been in the Jackie Collins Sweeping Saga category. However, unlike Collins, this is an Epic Character Study, not an excuse for the what-a-web-we-weave with sexual indiscretions across multiple generations.

As an Epic Character Study, I stand in admiration of the author’s tenacity and ability to maintain continuity. Other than that, anything I say about this book would be a spoiler. Indeed, the last line of the blurb is tantamount to a spoiler. I quote—

James Hynde, fortified by several tots of whiskey, climbs up onto the roof of Parker Mews’ multi-storey car park and peers over the parapet. The game is up. The police will soon seize his millions, the Maserati, the London townhouse, and the Caribbean mansion on Windjammer Island.

Should he jump feet first or hold out his arms and topple over and over like a somersaulting gymnast? He closes his eyes, feels the breeze on his face, and pitches forward into the unknown.

Sixty feet below, Olivia Benet, a budding ballerina, rushes along Parker Mews towards the entrance to the multi-storey. Her interview for the Royal Ballet had taken much longer than expected, and she has but a few short minutes left before her parking ticket expires.

James has no idea of the consequences his action will have on his and Olivia’s lives.

See? I’d just as soon not know anything but a suicidal dude’s on the top of a car park and a ballerina is running for her car… I should have to open it to hear the thump.

When I read this book, after the initial BAM, I kept being reminded of a line from Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

“What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity.”—Big Daddy.

I say that because every character in this book oozes mendacity. In fact, after a while when the two leads might appear to be honest, as a reader you are cautious to believe them. Which is a feather in the author’s cap. Telling you why the deuteragonists court each other, ultimately leading to marriage, divorce, a run-in with the London Deli Sandwich Mafia, ex-wife, more deli chicanery and misbehaviors In the country, which are only a few in a long string of broken and super-glued dreams, would spoil the book.

The character cast is deep, well drawn, and in keeping with the mendacity theme. Nobody shows up not wanting something and willing to tell a lie or three to get it. The ensuing Epic Character Study wrestling after each introduction is enough to keep you paying attention. And I don’t read this kind of thing.

The author does an excellent job hiding both the leads’ motivations for the first third of the book, so when the mendacity driven by avarice seeps out, it’s both startling and rewarding. In an Oh Dear, these people are kinds of fucked up way. After that, I felt like there was some occasional redundancy, as no one seems to learn anything from their misadventures and the same ol’ shit lands them in yet again another mess. Short version, male lead has a bad habit or two, and it fucks them up. Repeatedly. And often

I will confess to several trifles with Falling. Everyone takes way too many deep breaths, exhales, holds their breath, blows out a breath, sucks in a breath. I know everyone needs to breathe, but hardly a page goes by without someone breathing as a tag. Breath as a modified noun, breath as a verb. Rarely with an adverb, though. There are a few ‘whens’ and ‘thens’, nothing out of the ordinary. There are some chapter/scene endings that suffer from the same authorial leading as the last line of the blurb, but nothing major. What I call Very Acceptable Book Practices, personal preference aside.

My major trifle was with the male lead, whose addiction, though well written umpteen different ways in umpteen situations that drive the trials of this book, is a one-trick pony. Save for the female lead’s few encounters with shit heads who aren’t the lead. Yep, he’s pretty much bad news from page one and plays ‘the won’t do it again’ guilty puppy routine to the hilt, even from jail, but keeps doing it. Well enough for all but a few to keep buying it.

My favorite part of this book is toward the end when the deuteragonists discuss turning their diaries of life as a disappointing series of lies and cons and lost opportunities into a book, a work of Misery Lit that at once seems to explain this book and gives a post-modernist nod to breaking the fourth wall without coming right out and winking at us.

About Falling. These are some Contagiously Engaging Very Sick Puppies and if the human drama is your cup of tea, the author does a great job of portraying them. You’ll turn the pages just to see who will tell what lie or run their trip on whom next.

This is also, by far, including the few minor gripes, the most well written of Stevie Turner’s books. While I dislike most of her cover art and feel they do a disservice to her content by putting clip art people on the cover instead of leaving them to the reader, this one is so Escher-esque and outside that I can handle it. Take that comment with a grain of salt because Stevie’s books are about people. With at least one character who has a socially predatory psychology. And an author with a dry, dark sense of humor about some of the worst behaviors.

NVDT Writerly Thoughts – That AI Thing

ChatGPT. What’s all the noise about? I’ve been hearing about it indirectly as the better half is a comp and lit professor. Most of her students are literacy victims of no child left behind. The “fear” is that ChatGPT and other such programs will perform a wide variety of scholastic writing assignments, creating a dreadful and dire scenario of allowing the marginally literate to pass into the workplace unhindered by any absorbed education in written communication.

I got news for everybody. They hired the nurse who works for my urologist on her big smile. sing song voice and ability to fill out a size too small scrubs, not her ability to transcribe the Doc’s notes in anything resembling English, or any other language. Trust me, I’ve had to decipher them. And Chat GPT had nothing to do with it. I’m sure her aunt, her sister, her boyfriend or the untraceable resources on the dark web only students are aware of got her through a community college MedTech program that requires at least two semesters of C or better in English comp.

Enough of that. Curiosity and need sent me to ChatGPT. I knew how the ending of Murder in Sepia should go, but I wanted to see how AI would handle it.

Below are the two AI and my version, which I edited to the flow of AI. What I will give ChaptGPT that should be noted by all is that the AI engine writes logically and in a straight line. No elliptical redundanies in the body of text. No bad logic. Too many passive verbs, and I really dislike AI’s tie-it-up endings which reek of author leading. The last line of both generative examples are amateurishly redundant and/or leading. Things we already know, or the characters (should) have resolved between them, stuck instead to a character like an author’s “here’s what to get from this scene” post-it note. Otherwise? I borrowed the intro from #1, the mouse pad and the straight line.

Here’s my AI prompt – write a scene of a woman very angry about Barbie decorations in her office.

AI #1 – “What the hell is this?!” Maria stormed into her office, a pile of pink and purple streamers clutched in her hand. She slammed the door behind her and glared at her coworker, Rachel, who was standing in the corner with a sheepish expression on her face.
“I, um, I thought it would be a fun surprise,” Rachel stammered.
“A fun surprise? A fun surprise is a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, not a goddamn Barbie-themed office!” Maria threw the streamers onto her desk, where they landed in a tangled heap.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just thought it would be a fun way to brighten up the place,” Rachel said, trying to placate her irate boss.
“Brighten up the place? This is a professional office, not a kindergartner’s playroom! And what is this?” Maria gestured to a plastic Barbie doll that was propped up on her bookshelf.
“I, uh, I thought it would be cute,” Rachel said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Cute? This is not cute, this is disrespectful and condescending. Do you think I’m some kind of child who needs to be entertained by childish decorations? I can’t believe you would think this is acceptable.” Maria was fuming, her cheeks red with anger.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I’ll take everything down right away,” Rachel said, her eyes welling up with tears.
“You’d better. And if you ever pull a stunt like this again, you can find yourself another job,” Maria said, her voice dripping with fury.
Rachel nodded meekly and quickly set to work removing the offending decorations, while Maria sat down at her desk and tried to calm her racing thoughts. She couldn’t believe that someone would think it was okay to decorate her office like this, and she was determined to make it clear that she would not be disrespected in her own workplace.

Regenerate response

AI #2 – Samantha stormed into her office, fuming with anger. As she slammed the door shut behind her, she took in the sight that greeted her. Every inch of her office was adorned with pink and purple Barbie decorations. There were Barbie posters on the walls, Barbie figurines on the bookshelves, and even a Barbie-themed mousepad on her desk.
Samantha’s face turned red with rage as she stormed over to her desk and grabbed the mousepad, tossing it across the room in frustration. “Who the hell decided to turn my office into a Barbie wonderland?” she yelled, pacing back and forth.
She couldn’t believe that someone would have the audacity to decorate her space without her permission. It was her office, after all, and she should have the final say in how it was decorated.
Samantha was so angry that she could hardly think straight. She grabbed one of the Barbie posters off the wall and tore it down, crumpling it up into a ball and tossing it aside.
“This is ridiculous,” she muttered to herself, still pacing around the room. “I’m a professional, not a six-year-old girl. I refuse to work in an office that looks like this.”
Samantha made up her mind then and there to have a serious talk with her boss about this disrespectful and unprofessional behavior. She was determined to put an end to the Barbie madness once and for all.
*****ME – Friday, Late Afternoon
Bash made sure the parking lot door latched behind him, turned, took two steps, got body slammed into the wall by Candi storming out of her office. “You!” She shook a handful of pink and purple streamers in his face, her eyes on fire. “What the hell is this?!”
“Uh… dunno?” A shrug and mock serious appraisal. “Birthday leftovers?”
“Try again, genius.” Another shake of ribbons. “Well?!”
“‘Well?’ Well, hell, Candi. I just got here.”
“Just got here? It’s five-thirty, Bash. Where the hell have you been all day?”
“Uh… Court?”
“Bullshit.” She reached back, slammed her office door, glared him out.
“Okay, court,” he dodged the fist of ribbons, “and a complaint. Couple of early weekend drunks out on 337 plinkin’ mailboxes with a hand cannon.”
“Yeah? So where are they?”
“Last I saw? Cuffed to a concrete parkin’ lot barrier behind the Parlo cop shop.”
“Not your problem, not your business?”
“Just like these ribbons you need to get outta my face.”
“Useless,” she stomped off down the hall. “God damn useless.”
He leaned across the hall, opened her door to a full-on World of Barbie. Two-foot-tall pink Barbie ponytail silhouette logos on the walls, a Welcome Home Barbie banner stretched across the room, pink and purple streamers hung everywhere. A dozen Barbies in as many outfits strewn across the desk. Several perched on the computer monitor, the desk phone receiver hung from a surfboard between two more. Streetwalker Barbie in a short skirt leaned provocatively against the desk lamp, one in scuba gear stood inside the pencil cup while golf Barbie set up a for a putt on top of a Barbie waving from her Jeep mouse pad. He shook his head, laughed to himself, eased her door shut.
SHERIFF?” Candi’s voice echoed in the hall. “You can’t hide, Harden.” She threatened the empty hallway with the clutch of ribbons, opening the few doors that lined the walls. “I know this was you. CHIEF!? Goddammit, where the hell are you?”
“Candi?” Betty stuck her head out of the foyer. “What’s the matter, girl? All ribbons and no kiss goodnight?”
“Betty?” Candi stopped, let the clutch of ribbons drop to her side before offering them for view. “Kiss goodnight my ass. I tell a story on myself, and suddenly, BAM, I’m a fucking laughingstock.”
“I, um… I’m not sure I follow…”
“I stole a Jeep, Betty. A long time ago. Unfortunately, it was a custom-built, one-off Barbie Jeep.”
“That’s, um… News. To me.” Betty’s chin kicked out sideways, her eyebrows crawled together.
“I didn’t take it because it was a fucking Barbie Jeep. I took it as collateral. And now,” she shot frustrated looks around, “Now,” she held her finger and thumb together, “I let a teeny, tiny bit of myself out and what do I get? HA, HA, Candi’s got a Barbie fetish.”
“Um, you know, AC, you might be readin’ a tad too much into the uh… Barbie stuff. In fifteen years, I’ve never known the Sheriff to be, well, mean, so I’m pretty sure he, if all this,” she flipped the ribbons with her hand, “is his doin’, he must’ve reckoned it would be a fun surprise.”
“A fun surprise? Fun? A fun surprise is a nice bottle of wine or a box of Swiss chocolate, not a goddamn Barbie World office!” Candi threw the streamers into the Sheriff’s empty office, where they landed in a tangled heap on his desk.
“Anything you want me to tell the Sheriff if I see him?”
“Betty, I wouldn’t put those words in your mouth. Just tell him… You know what? Don’t tell him shit.” She wheeled around, saying over her shoulder as she went, “Let him think he got away with his embarrassing little shit show.”
She hit a solid, purposeful stride to the next-to-last door, threw it open. “Bash? You never saw me today. Don’t say a fucking word to—”
“Me?” Harden rubbed his nose while extricating himself from behind the door. “Sorry, Cotton. I didn’t mean to piss you off. I thought you’d appreciate some more redecoratin’ around here.”
“Re decorating?! I try to bring a hint of professionalism to this office, and what do I get? A fucking third grader’s bedroom! And this!” She pointed to a life-size inflatable Barbie doll in a Team USA tank top and American flag bikini bottoms leaning drunkenly against Bash’s guest chair. “What the hell is this?”
“I kinda figured we could put it out front by Betty. You know, like a mascot.”
“Mascot?! MASCOT?!” Her cheeks flushed, “This… THING, is the most disrespectful, condescending piece of man world bullshit since—”
“Gettin’ screwed outta bein’ paid for T n A disguised as professional beach volleyball?”
“Yeah,” she fumed. “Since that.” She stomped out, slammed the door. Harden yanked it open.
“Look, Cotton,” the Sheriff, hands wide, open
“Don’t try to apologize,” she kept her back to them, held up a double handed one-finger salute, “Fuck both y’all.”
“Hey, I was just ribbin’ ya, you know? Like a welcome home surprise. I’ll take it down as soon as—”
“The hell you will.” She spun around. “GOTCHA!” She hit them with a wide, toothpaste commercial quality smile neither had seen before, honk-snort laughed, threw her arms around the Sheriff’s neck. “It’s nice to be home. It’s nicer to have someone take time to do the nicest thing anybody’s done for me in forever.” She reached one arm out to Bash, pulled him in behind the Sheriff and into an awkward group hug. “This is one of those times winning does look like it oughta. Thank you,” Betty stuck her head in the room, got a wagging fingers wave. “All of you.”
Harden, still flushed from the sheriff sandwich hug, followed her out the parking lot door, Bash on his heels. She broke into an easy jog, turned, jogged backward, called out, “Last one to Earl’s gets the check.”
“So,” Bash put on his sunglasses. “Looks like you’re buyin’ barbecue.”
“You’re still a little short in the britches around here to know all the shortcuts, Cochise. But,” nonchalant, “if I happen to be the last one there,” Harden held his sunglasses out, checked them with a squint. “I’ll make a point a writing both your asses up for speedin’.”

Bottom line? I think if a writer is struggling with a scene’s flow, or is stuck on behaviors or actions, this is a great tool. I also think there is much to be learned from a bare bones structural presentation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve opened books written on the same level, with the same “bad” habits and less dynamic range. And if you use this technology to get past a roadblock and take the time see it as a suggestion, knead it into your own voice it’s free education, not a substitute. Any agrees or disagrees, get after it.

The graphic is also AI from Dall-e

NVDT Book Review

Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

Two and a half stars. The author is a Nobel winner and these shorts are damn close to a waste of time. Like being on a cross-country flight stuck in the seat next to the mad dude reciting his boring, banal, nobody understands my life situation in a dull monotone.

I read Nocturnes because it was a gimme from the publisher’s rep that my wife left lying on end tables around the house. I picked it up when it stopped moving as it was a heavily promoted “must read.” I don’t know who decides those things, but by reading it, I felt I was doing my literary due diligence. My reaction to finishing it was a resounding “Huh?” I showed it to my wife whose best professorial assessment was “When I finished it, I didn’t feel like I’d read anything.”

I tried, in vain, to find some inner artistry, some deeper meanings, some exotic form of construct and couldn’t. There is nothing in Nocturnes resembling nightfall or music. Save for music serving as a vocational commonality between characters in most of the stories, never as a metaphor or form of construct. No deeper than it played, it could have been any vocation.

In my eyes, Nocturnes appeared flawlessly vapid. A Superficial work about Superficial People, deliberately drawn without a hint of narrative passion. However, in all the reviews and criticisms I read, not one mentioned the thematic thread that slapped me in the face. Selfishness. Every character has their own variation of being under-or-completely unappreciated and the center of their own universe. Marital partners, guitarists, a saxophonist, a cellist and old “friends” all perceive themselves as imposed on, internally or externally, with some mostly indirect discussion/perception of what-is-success.

The flat style made suspending disbelief during the few moments of slapstick difficult. In fact, one scene reminded me of the same sort of one minor thing leads to a real mess in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim but here the pages (seriously) of activity feel forced and the protagonist’s perceived dilemma ultimately leads to nothing. They’re both British, and the humor was on the order of Fawlty Towers, however Nocturnes’ timing was off. I am not one to flip through pages of humor, forced or otherwise, but here I fanned forward a few times just to see how much more I had to endure to get back to a story.

Dialogue and narrative never popped. The style of the book, which I’ll call flaccid, was understatement taken to an extreme. Uber flat, correct, almost clip art construction. The only way I can explain it, and I hope this isn’t too farfetched –

In music, every note played by a human is nuanced. Timing and dynamics. These two things can be captured by technology. Such a capture gives one the ability to adjust a performance to spreadsheet grid “perfection.” What happens when all the timing is corrected to the nearest perfect timing grid and all the dynamics flattened to the same velocity? The music, now perfect and sterile, is no longer musical. That’s this book. To me. And I’m not alone, although I feared at first I might be. That’s sad as the author has a musical background and a Nobel prize for literature. But this ain’t how he got it.

Many, and I mean a LOT of critics, basted this book with more venom than I could mount towards it. I suppose the author’s rep and pre-sales for a letdown performance were grist for the WTF mill. I went into it knowing the author was a Nobel winner and was sorely disappointed. But then they tagged Bob Dylan, so who’s next? Paul Simon? Bruce Springsteen? Ice-T? Before I quote from the New York Times, I should note that the dust jacket claims the book to be a NYT Bestseller.

Excerpts from Christopher Hitchens in his October 1, 2009 NYT Review  – “I became dispirited as I noticed that Ishiguro almost never chose a formulation or phrase that could be called his own when a stock expression would do… But these five too-easy pieces are neither absorbingly serious nor engagingly frivolous: a real problem with a musical set, and a disaster, if only in a minor key, when it’s a question of prose.” You can read the entire in-depth review here.

The washed-out nature of this book, while harping on selfishness and them-using-me-using-them themes and having nothing to do with a genuine sense of place or music, begs the question of expectations of authenticity. Do we read all of a Nobel winner’s work expecting to be bowled over? Do we expect the title to have something to do with the structure? In this book, the only Nocturnes, or that time of day when daylight is slipping away, and the moon is rising, are only evidenced in several stories where the relationships are waning from sunny days through that time when everything is gray and colorless. Now, if that’s what Ishiguro was looking to convey, he made it. He could even now be laughing his ass off that only a few got it. But it turned off even those who went that way. Hitchens again – “Understatement is one thing, but in aiming for it, Ishiguro generally achieves the merely ordinary.”

Worth a ‘note’ – Hitchens also commented on a dialogue habit in these stories and I am, as a student of dialogue, obligated to quote him. I’ll go first. I have discovered there has to be a conversational trigger to get back story in. Even my most verbose characters need a trigger, some give and take. And I have been shamed in the past for backstory dumps. In Nocturnes there is no such warmup. An old crooner pulls up a chair to chat with a roaming pickup band guitarist in Venice and dumps his guts. A guy who hasn’t seen his “friend” in years dumps his guts. This (non-musical) motif repeats so often Hitchens writes – “As if in recompense for this banality, Ishiguro does like to afflict his characters with something like Tourette’s syndrome. Whether it’s Venice or Malvern, it is perfect strangers who are told, without any appreciable loss of time, that the long-standing marriage of the person who is doing all the talking is coming to an end.”

The takeaways -Trickle that backstory. Write like you mean it. Modulate intensity. Look for the word, not the first or easiest, particularly when using an adverb. There are many instances in this plodding book that resemble the lazy Indie where everyone’s action tag is to take lots of deep breaths. What we can learn here is damn near perfect sentence and paragraph structure, in the most boring and technical sense. Almost like AI. That someone needed to inject some peaks and valleys and personality into. That discussion is coming.

NVDT Writerly Thoughts – Books

For the next week or so I will try to regain my rhythm from the last six weeks of chaos. And what better topic than books? I fell behind in reviews both random and owed. I can spend time getting caught up with opinion and observation on those and other things while devoting a few minutes a day to fixing what’s in the can.

The books in the photo are the variety I dislike taking to Half Price Books. I shouldn’t, because they fetch more revenue than run of the mill fiction. But in truth, as I have come to learn, they could be of enormous value to anyone who wants to be an “author”. That points directly back to what I have learned about the Indie species and their 8 million books a year (like the 8 million songs a year on pick your streaming). That is the want to be, or by golly I am because I have a cover authors who, without much background or training throw money and effort at what can be an unrewarding, often hostile hobby. Which leads, loosely, into-

I recently read a pair of reviews from the prolific and industrious Robbie at Roberta Writes. One was about some dysfunctional sisters, the other sounded more like fun than psychobabble. I mentioned to her that the sisters book reminded me of Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, a work widely anthologized in prominent English texts for (many) years. By an author who won the Pulitzer and runs with the likes of Faulkner, Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Connor. Robbie’s comment was she’d never heard of Welty or the story but would look them up. This on the heels of words about Virginia Woolfe that were on the shady side of superficial (no offense intended). It left me thinking. Holy shit, Virginia Woolfe is like Mozart or Beethoven. And that’s where the last two books on the right would make a huge difference for all the chartered accountants, software and hardware and nuclear engineers, rocket scientists and volleyball coaches and ballroom dancers and medical assistants and geothermal mineral hustlers and rig hands out there who write from a shallow well of exposure. Which isn’t a condemnation, merely an observation. I couldn’t do most any professional gig that didn’t involve audio or niche marketing.

But I’ve read and been beaten with these books since elementary school. Which is when a lot of folks won an award for writing something. Like my daughter who got published in a national anthology of grade school bards for her poem “Goodbye Eight”. It’s pretty cool for an eight-year-old. However, had she not improved she’d never have made it through law school. I say that not to denigrate early acknowledgements, but to put them in perspective. You know, how come, if we were such brilliant kids, there’s not a Pulitzer among us?

That’s why I hate to drop these books off when I’d much rather give them to someone who could use them. Because I know when I cringe at the output of all these “authors” with stars in the eyes and a cacophony of bad writing habits, when I read published short stories with more holes than Swiss Cheese and half a dozen voice changes or is so stiff and formulaic as to resemble stone masonry, that the “author” is not to blame. Nor are these authors bad, stupid people or hopelessly misguided. They are underexposed. If you want to fix race cars you have to learn how to take them apart and put them back together and work. If you want to write a good story, read a thousand. Read them analytically. Study them like a mechanic, not a worshipper. That’s what the sort of books in the picture teach. Like how Woolf collapses time in Mrs. Dalloway or uses musicality in her short stories. I mean disemboweling art is a prerequisite to understanding it.

I had a professor once say to a room full of us aspiring creative correspondents of the human condition, who all squirmed under the reading load of “lit-tra-choore” that the reason we had to read and write and then read and then write was because no matter how clever we thought we were… dig this…”Ladies and gentlemen, it is because you currently approach the process of ‘authorship’ from a broad base of ignorance and an overabundance of conceit.”

To the 8 million new “authors” a year out there, read. Then read academic criticism, which really isn’t criticism. Here’s a great take on short story writing, tone, construction, and Virginia Woolfe. Not only did she work at it, she elevated it. This is how it’s done. By an artist, and someone who understands mechanics on a higher level. https://journals.openedition.org/jsse/690

We can’t all be Virginia Woolfe. Nor should we feel like failures if we aren’t. But we should learn to broaden our base of ignorance and give the story its best shot, regardless of style or genre.

Oops, here’s a PS to all those who think they’ve invented genre bending and world building by taking a little from here and a little from there and invented something “new”. The mechanics for doing exactly that, (along with a LOT of other stuff) with examples, are laid out in the Norton Field Guide. In fact, while I folded clothes on Saturday I watched an example of how that blending and bending can make money and be terrible at the same time. Cowboys and automobiles. The Three Mesquiteers. Jeezus. John Wyne, on horseback, chasing cattle rustlers in trucks. Now would I have known to call that without having expanded my broad base of ignorance? Hell no, I’d have been happy as pig in poop after I dropped my nickel at the cinema.

Go write something. Unlike me, be sure to write something worth reading!

NVDT RANDOM – Bob Ross on Meth

I am not on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook or any of the many other ways to waste time or turn my brain to Jell-O. YouTube is the one trap I fall into. I can start out learning a piece of software and somehow end up watching a skinny redneck kid clean up overgrown properties no one else will tackle. For Free.

Forget that. Someone sent me the link below. Bong with Bob on Sunday afternoons. Too bad this doesn’t have the snow and orange sky sets.

Kind of like the franchise authors. Get a little momentum and “beat the devil out of it.”

NVDT – Post Notes on Murder in Sepia

First – Not one, but many old friends from my home state sent me this.

https://kfor.com/news/local/court-docs-say-an-oklahoma-man-killed-noodling-partner-over-bigfoot-fears/

Second – I enjoy Ben Rehder’s Blanco County series. Very Hiaasen-esque. ( https://philh52.wordpress.com/2022/04/05/nvdt-random-another-book-review-3/ ) However, I agree with several “mainstream” reviewers who complained that often in these types of caper novels a likeable protagonist gets lost in the shuffle of characters and side plots. Even if the author comes close to tying it all up. The same can be said of Hiaasen. The truth is, I’m not sure Rehder’s lead protagonist is really my kind of “guy”. A very square, sincere, black and white, kind of socially awkward strong silent type game warden in central Texas. I wonder if more exposure might not overpower him and his cast of law enforcement buddies and a handful of repeater redneck ne’er do wells even more slovenly than Jimmy Pierce and Virgil Green from Sepia.

I mention all of that because Sepia began life as the dude who killed his buddy over being abandoned to be eaten by Bigfoot. But that character wasn’t one I wanted to follow around, nor did I think anyone else would. I started out with country/county cops, wireless video cameras, and a weaponless murder. I had no idea where it would go or who would come to play. “They” say if there’s a book you want to read and it’s not available, you should write it. Sepia is my version of some not as dumb as they sound country cops and the peripherals to a mystery murder.

Cutting Room Floor – What follows are the unedited backstory dumps that got yanked for one reason or another. Generally, for length or they got off in the weeds and I didn’t want to edit them at the time. Most of these will find their way back in, slimmed down, for the sake of continuity. You will be relieved to know this is only about half. I lost most from the first half when I reconfigured the cache for Ditto, not aware that such a move would zap everything in it. There are two bits about the Barrbie Jeep.

***

She stood back, arms crossed, waiting.

“Can’t be true or you wouldn’t be here. Much less with Barbie’s Jeep. Unless you did steal it and that’s a whopper you gotta tell.”

“It’s not a very pretty story.”

“Confession is good for the soul, or so the missionaries told us. If Indians were cars, know what kind missionaries would want us to be?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Convertibles.”

“Goddammit, Bash,” she snorted, “I’m trying to be serious here.”

“Nobody can be serious standing by a lifted, white with pink trim Barbied out Jeep Wrangler sitting on balloon beach tires. Clock’s running.”

“There was supposed to be a professional women’s beach volleyball league. In 2013, after the 2012 Olympics. Lots of hype, lots of promises, not much consumer interest. It folded after three games.” She released an arm to point at the Jeep. “This belonged to the league, or a sponsor, to this day no one knows exactly. I got an early earful of ‘Sorry, dolls, tear up your contracts. There’s no entity, no money, no league.’ I was supremely pissed, because they used us Olympic girls as unpaid promotional material for the league. When I found out it was done, and the checks bounced, I climbed in this Jeep with Jackie and drove it off.”

“Jackie being?”

“The girl in the Barbie Jeep poster. She was the only one of us who got paid anything. She didn’t want it,” again pointing at the Jeep. “I put it in a self-storage unit in California until I finished my Masters. Then I had a friend stick it in the back of a moving company van that was rolling this way with half a load. They dropped it, covered, at a truck stop west of the City. I bribed the manager with a hundred bucks to let it sit for a few days, wrangled a flatbed from a next-door neighbor of my parents’, hooked it to Dad’s truck, drove up and hauled the covered Jeep home between rolled bales of winter hay.”

“No one was paying attention because their checks were bouncing, too. There were, well, entities is a nicer word than shit heads, who wanted it, but had no idea where it was.”

“But people in California saw you drive it away.”

“Obviously they had no valid claim or couldn’t find it.”

“Every ‘entity’ shithead from the custom car shop who did it to one of the league honchos tried and none of them could prove they had any standing. The last one was Mattel, for the ponytail logo. Since no one could confuse this Jeep with a Mattel Jeep, and a female silver medal holder owning and driving this thing posed no threat of injury to their trademark…”

“That’s a bunch of lawyer speak. They all went away?”

She nodded, her upper lip pushed out by her tongue.

“We coulda used this at the river. It’s set up for beach runnin’. Is this what you meant by ”

***

Harden moved a stack of empty clay flowerpots, grabbed a broom from it’s resting place against the wall and swept leaves and funk off the two wood-slat rockers on Candi’s parents’ front porch, said “Pick your poison.” She chose the furthest from the steps. The Sheriff scooted his up, sat and propped his feet on the railing, accepted the cold beer she’d been holding. “You were sayin’?”

“When we got home from the Olympics and we were still, off balance I guess you’d say, there were promoters and managers everywhere. Volleyball isn’t swimming, or any other sport that makes headlines other than we got as far as we did, but everyone was buried under these people. What happened to us was we were pitched on a professional volleyball league. Sand and bikinis, sexist junk, but they were talking money, so most of us listened.”

“A publicity high, money talk and no time to think?”

“Exactly.” She took a drink, cradled the bottle between her legs. “There was a development time frame where we got paid just enough to stay on the hook if we lived on top of each other, but we were used to that. The Jeep was a part of the overall production and marketing. Half a dozen volleyball chicks in bikinis hanging off a white and pink Jeep, cruising the sand.”

“That’s hindsight talkin’.”

“I know. But in it, and this is going to sound cheap and pathetic…”

“It beat the hell outta goin’ to work?”

“Why am I telling you this?”

“Makin’ sure I don’t arrest you till I see the whole paper trail?”

“Possibly…”

“This ain’t gonna take all night, is it? ‘Cause all I need is the big picture.”

“No, the whole thing… I could draw that out for days. After all the smoke blowing and waiting and signing this and that contract complete with behavior standards and curfews and where and what was acceptable and representing the league at all times we got in four games of the first season. The checks started bouncing after game three. At game four they told us it wasn’t going to float, that it was our fault but the cameras were up and running and we had to play that fourth game or a dozen different factions with a hat in the thing could sue us.”

“You played?”

“We did. We all talked about what we were going to do to the bastards because we were suddenly broke, jobless, kiting checks ourselves and completely screwed over. I walked off the court, climbed in the Jeep and drove off. To this day, I can’t believe a camera didn’t follow me. But the broadcast crew’s checks were bouncing because the league’s checks bounced, so I drove off into the sunset in the Barbie Jeep unseen, unfilmed and unfollowed. I drove it across Ocean Boulevard into a garage size U-Store locker where I’d stashed everything I owned since I went full time Olympic practice. I moved some things around, parked it and dropped the door. I had a week left on the month to month for that place, and in California if you don’t pay on a month to month there’s no grace period. They auction the locker or dump your shit in the driveway. Which was good because I knew they’d come looking for me and the Jeep and I needed to get it gone in a hurry.”

“Okay. I see bein’ pissed, an drivin’ off in an asset. But it had to cost more to fight to keep it than it was worth.”

“I argued, or had it argued legally by a woman who came out of the woodwork, that a not quite finished and not street legal custom car wasn’t worth what they owed me, which was, the way I figured it and after some calculator work with the contract in front of me, was in the neighborhood of fifty-one thousand dollars.”

“For Volleyball? Sweet Jesus …” he whistled softly.

“That, and all the real and punitive for the bounced checks and other public embarrassment. And you have to realize they were only paying us about a third of our contractual per game, trying to keep the thing afloat without putting their own capital at risk and feeding us a line of shit about recoupable expenses at startup when that was nowhere in the contracts.”

“What you’re sayin, then, is you an your lawyer could cook up any figure you needed to make that Jeep look like chump change compared to what they owed you.”

“I think that was her leverage angle with everyone but the Barbie brand. With them, it was a cease and desist. My attorney’s ‘How can an upstanding Olympic Medalist driving a vehicle with only four small and one large pink silhouette logo and the word Barbie nowhere to be found possibly be bad for their image’ argument won them over. We went to their West Coast office, shook hands with a bunch of people shorter than me, everyone smiled big, phony, toothy smiles and they dropped the last suit.”

“This attorney of yours a female?”

Candi nodded

“She resemble Barbie any kinda way?”

“Down to the ponytail.”

“Women ever get organized, us men are a buncha screwed pooches. I’d ask how you managed to transport a highly recognizable stolen object halfway across the country, but I don’t think I wanna know.”

“In the empty back end of a partially loaded moving van. And a midnight transfer in Kansas where it got tarp-covered on a flatbed trailer behind a Dually Dodge that belonged to the man watching us from his porch down the street.”

“Now Candi, what’d I just say?”

“Couldn’t help it. Now you know. Most of it, anyway. Besides, Chief, removal of property for relief of a contractual debt, without intent to deprive the owner of their property for my personal gain isn’t considered theft. I’m actually not a crook.”

“You know, Cotton, outta everything you told me tonight, that’s what I most needed to hear.”

***

Candi exited the elevator in the parking garage of her condo, a thick, satiny garment bag draped over her arm that went to Bash and a rolling suitcase that went to Ivy. She clicked a key fob and halfway down the aisle, a shiny, black ten-year-old Lexus SUV lit up.

With one hand on the lift gate and the suitcase loaded, she checked Bash. “No comments?”

“Not what I’d have put you in, but…”

“But you have no idea what you’d have put me in?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“It belonged to my mother.” The liftgate closed.

“Interesting. This one have the original GPS and the shifter in the middle of the dash?”

“Yes. If you can call this,” she made a small square with her thumbs and forefingers, “a display. Next?”

“I’m surprised is all. After what I’ve heard about your parents.”

“So was I. My mother drove dad’s five-year-old hand-me-downs. He bought a new car every five years. He died and instead of selling her Ford and driving his, she traded them both in on a loaded Japanese luxury SUV. Hang the dress bag on the passenger side, if you would.” She walked off down the driver’s side, stopped. “Unless you have more questions?”

“One,” reaching in the back door Ivy held open. “When was the last time you took what’s in here to the dry cleaners?”

“That’s important because?”

“My arm’s gonna smell too good for me to go in anywhere usual on the way back without gettin’ my ass kicked,” Ivy, wrinkled eyebrows and nose,. kicked his ankle. “So, uh, if you see me sittin’ on the side of the road with a gas can be kind enough to stop, will ya?”

***

“You look some worried, Chief,” Betty set a freshly reloaded cup of coffee on the desk. “Those two got you bothered? Her takin’ off outta here like a scalded cat, him trottin’ over to the courthouse to see what happened?”

“You’re a mind reader.”

“That’s why I get the big bucks. Nothin’ you can do. Times like this I pray.”

“Times like this, I wonder would it help? You know how you take one a them little jars a salsa home from Lucia’s an let it sit a few days in the fridge an you go to open it an the damn top blows across the kitchen? That’s what I’m worried about. They’re the mirror image of each other. All bottled up sportsmanship ethics and half-cocked middle fingers aimed at injustice an not enough goddam patience between ‘em to keep a fat cat’s eye on a lazy bird.”

“Heard that one as a sunbathin’ coon hound on a fat squirrel. Anyhow, he seems to be holdin’ his own, keepin’ the lid on. An that poor girl’s just dyin’ to talk to somebody, be around somebody who’s country themselves, but’ve seen the big bad world and have the same taste in their mouth over it. I figure it’s him. Birds of a feather, like you said.”

“You’re not worried?”

“Nah. An you shouldn’t be. What was it, ‘sportsmanship ethics’? They figure out it’s them against the world and not each other? All you’ll need to do is to keep your handle on the brake so they don’t go vigilante together over the price of free-range eggs at the farmers’ market.”

“You reckon?”

“I just told you. You gonna drink that coffee, Sheriff, or do I need to reload it? Again.”

***

“Daddy, you know the only thing I wish? I wish you’d have stopped Momma from sayin’ that ‘my youngest’ nonsense every time she introduced me. The way she says it, you know, like you can hear her eyes rollin’. ‘This is Ivy, my youngest’. Like I’m some sorta lost cause failure and there’s this whole passel of her other Green kids out there that’re all doctors and lawyers and the like.”

“Ivy, if I’d a knowed, or you’d a said…”

“Daddy, you never could tell momma squat. But I don’t hold that as any sorta fault of yours ‘cause nobody ‘cept a man throwin’ money at her could ever tell momma nothin’. I guess I’m sayin’ I wish somebody’d been able to tell her to stop trippin’ on me. You know what Ms. Cotton calls it? Appropriation.”

“I don’t think I…”

“It means people using you to enhance their fabrications, make themselves look better so people will think more of ‘em.”

“Sounds like bullyin’. But you gotta understand, some people’re just mean natured. Not completely, not like a man kicks a dog or beats a woman for jollies, but how they gotta be better’n you. I put up with plenty a that with Jimmy. Weren’t really no hard feelin’s, he just made it a point to make me feel stupid, so he’d feel better.”

“Accepting it still don’t make it right. And the worst part is momma’s not the only one.”

“No?”

“No. That goddam Aiden, telling everybody he’s my boyfriend an all that. An even Jimmy, his own daddy, goin’ on like it’s true. Just like momma. Droppin’ me inside their trips like I’m some kinda footstool or somethin’.”

“Now you’re wishing somebody’d tell ‘em all? As a nobody sittin’ here, I’m bettin’ that lady policeman could shut ‘em all the hell up. If you were to ask her. An she just might, for you. But I reckon you don’t want that.”

“I guess not. But there’s times it’d nice.”

“Then as your daddy, an a sorry one I am for not seein’ this botherin’ you nor sayin’ nothin’ when you was comin’ up that’d help, an seein’ as how now you ain’t so inclined as to let it run off like water on a duck. An seein’ as you’re grown to a point and lived with that woman we call your momma, here’s what I have to say. Next time somebody pulls their shit on you, you hold up a hand an stop ‘em in the middle, or maybe you gotta punch ‘em in the face to get their attention, and when you have it you say, ‘Who said you could drag me into your bullshit? Stop fuckin’ with me or I’ll start fuckin’ back.’ Might not hurt none to take some karate lessons, but most times just bein’ in their face sayin’ your piece is enough.”

***

“I understand. Believe me, I do. I’ve lived like a refugee since I left my parents’ house.”

“I don’t think you could sell The Rose, or your’s and Carson Locke’s luxe condo as refugee camps to anyone with less than a boatload of money.”

“Carson and I are not—”

“Didn’t say you were. Don’t think you would, hope you wouldn’t, but his name pops on your address.”

“Why would you be looking up my address?”

“I remembered reading a case report about him, written by you as both eyewitness and investigator. Yesterday I went back to it. I ran the address and surprise! Carson Locke and Candi Cotton, involved in an event that occurred outside a residence you share ownership of.”

“That wasn’t an answer for ‘why’.”

“Before I wasn’t a BIA cop anymore, I got tagged as a local security asset to hold hands with the State Troopers assigned to protect that waste of skin when he was campaigning over on the wild side of the interstate. Twice.”

“You don’t have a very high opinion of him.”

“Your politics are your own. For me, the man’s a three-time loser, for good reason. He needs to be absorbed back into the trust fund or get a real job.”

“My comment was a statement, not a question. I’m not much of a fan, either.”

“Yeah? Couldn’t prove it by the pictures. You think hangin’ your future on Locke might be part of your ‘compatibility’ problem with the job?”

“I wasn’t ‘hanging’ anything on him, and this conversation isn’t going anywhere near where I wanted it to go. I was trying to empathize.”

“With?”

“Your… austerity. Don’t start it again. Furnished doesn’t necessarily imply comfort.”

“Is this the ‘alone in a crowd’ justification?”

“Goddam, you are the perpetual ass buster. NO. The Rose is designed to imply homey-ness. But it’s manufactured, it’s not me. I make a lousy guest because I know who designed it the way they did and why. The condo is the same. Just the right couch, the right amount of complementary metal, leather, glass and textiles. The right rugs, the right… everything. Being there isn’t being home. It’s a place to live. Convenient arm candy slash hostess was the price I paid to have a nice place a few blocks from the statehouse where Carson could throw evening networking hors devores parties for lobbyists and local party leaders. The trouble was they all liked his shrimp cocktail better than they liked him.”

“You mean they liked your shrimp cocktail better than they liked him.”

“I never cooked for him. I don’t cook for me. And I damn sure didn’t walk around with a drink tray or a plate of designer meatballs. I said, ‘How do you do’ and ‘How nice to meet you,’ and ‘Have you met so and so’ and held the same drink for a couple of hours till it was over.”

“You’re either a champion cheapskate or a lightweight.”

“It wasn’t my money, Bash, I just… Are you laughing? God dammit. You are!”

“Look, you floated ‘arm candy’ out there like nobody would nail you for it.”

***

“I don’t have much to do at the non-profit during the summer. What I have to say is seasonal. Colleges in fall and pre-graduation. Young and old after Christmas.”

“‘Don’t Let Your Parents Fuck You Up is a college tour?”

“There you go with that shit-eating grin. I have a niche that works for young women, and men, out on their own for the first time, or have been on their own and are having trouble with the baggage. Colleges, institutional giants, public and private schools, fraternities, sororities, Chambers of Commerce…”

“So these ‘institutions’ pay you to make it look like they’re conscientious.”

“My take on that is ‘Yes, probably.’ But if I get just one Ivy Green out of a weekend, I did something valuable for someone’s life.”

“Who did it for you?”

“No one. That’s why I’m doing it for anyone who lives with their crazy parents in their back pocket and will listen.”

Don’t Try to Apologize

Fingers crossed that the last two weeks of chaos have let up. This has been waiting for me to get to a computer that works. Tomorrow I’ll post the backstory cuts and the “prompt” for this lengthy tome. I’ll pull it all into Scrivner and clean it up and see how it reads “cover to cover.” Thanks for being here.

Wednesday Morning

“Bash? Tell me you have some idea,” Sheriff Harden examined the breakroom from the door, “if Cotton’s got anything else up her sleeve for this building?”

“All I know is secondhand from Uncle Cleve.”

“That’s more than I have…” He took several apprehensive steps into the room. “Take this couch… Please.” A nervous laugh sold out his confidence in the ancient joke. “Why us, Bash? Why here?”

“The entrance to this place is a security door into a bulletproof concrete and glass foyer and another security door getting to Betty’s crescent desk with one crappy chair to the side as a ‘waiting area’. I heard Candi’s take was our presentation was a long way from welcoming. Since we didn’t have a reception area, only the baby ‘modern policing’ conference room and the interview rooms, there was no place else for what she called ‘The Sheriff’s informal chats.’ My guess is this is her idea of dual purpose break and reception once a visitor clears the front-end bunker.”

“My ‘informal chats?’”

“The way you question people without questioning them. You gotta admit this is more conducive to waitin’ or eatin’ or Sheriff Harden’s Coffee Talks than the chipped thrift shop table and rusty folding chairs.”

“I was savin’ budget for other things. An nobody in this county ever objected to Formica, or,” he gestured toward toward the countertop lineup of modern kitchen gadgetry, “or a regular coffee pot or watercooler or folding chairs.”

“Nobody you heard object. We still have the coffee pot and water cooler. And now no one who visits or works here has anything to complain about.”

“She still gonna office at the end down there? Or does she have more painters an other surprises?”

“This and the storage closet were all I heard about for paint and rehab. Her office is her telephone. When she’s here, yeah, she’ll use the office down there where we’ve been storin’ office supplies.”

“I noticed earlier Betty’d already cleaned out that office, so the hunt for where paper and scotch tape and paperclips is on.” Harden made several passes of his forehead with his wrist, frowned at the cappuccino machine. “You have anything you’d care to share with me about whatever talk you had with Cotton? Somethin’ might shed some light on what sent her through here Monday afternoon like a Tasmanian Devil?”

“She told me she had some logistic and personal issues with turning her life inside out. I listened, told her we were on her side, gave her Uncle Cleve’s card and she hauled ass outta Birdsong.”

“Birdsong?”

“Creekview, Castleview, Castlerock, whatever. West, just this side of the Chickasaw show and tell?”

“Castleview. Where kids get to play in the castle and normal people used to go to think or give gettin’ romantic a little shove or play hide the sausage and modern folks go meditate, do yoga in the weeds and climb the ruins in expensive boots. Birdsong, huh?”

“It’s an Indian thing. For some reason there’s no frogs or crickets to get in the birds’ way and when the sun goes down, the birds cut loose.”

“But you didn’t do, or say anything that would cause Cotton to run wild through the county orderin’ painters and plumbers and turnin’ our breakroom into a designer coffee shop and the storage room into a laundromat?”

“A stack washer and dryer is hardly a laundromat, Chief. As for sayin’ anything that would incite all this, there’s nothin’ I recall.”

“He’s being—”

 “Goddammit, Candi,” the Sheriff clutched his chest. “You’re the second woman to sneak up on me in the last two days. Y’all tryin’ to give me a heart attack?”

“It’s only a conspiracy if both parties are aware of each other’s intent. I was saying,” Candi flashed a smile, dropped her hand on the Sheriff’s shoulder. “He’s being way too modest.”

“Bash? Modest?”

“He told me to pull my head out, get over myself and get after it.”

“So, he said you were stuck with us?” He squinted in Bash’s direction. “And to get over it?”

“More like you were stuck with me. That being the case he suggested I cut the wallower routine and hit it.”

“That’s not what I said at—” Bash caught the look she gave him over the Sheriff’s shoulder.

“Yes, it was. In so many words. Chief, you should know your deputy was good company for a full-on self-pitier. He fielded all my whines, turned them around as positives, then gave me Uncle Cleve’s card. I took off skeptical and not sure what happened to sympathy as a consolation method, but somewhere along the way, in that thirty-mile drive back, what he’d said sunk in. I wasn’t a believer until Uncle Cleve turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to a lady in distress. After that? I did get over myself and realized what I had to do.” She gave the Sheriff’s shoulder a light squeeze. “I called in a couple of days off, so I’m going out to check on progress at the house. If anyone needs me for anything, too bad. I’ll check back later this week and look, you know how I hate to ask for anything,” she came close to smiling again before she bit her bottom lip. “If anything catches fire or calls my name, can y’all handle it?”

***

“He’s ‘Uncle’ Cleve already?” Harden’s eyebrow went up.

“He gets shit done, which is right up her alley. I can see her standin’ eye to eye, directin’ Cleve and the Swiftwaters. A tall, attractive white woman who knows what she wants and’ll break a sweat carryin’ her share? They’d lasso the moon for her if she asked.”

“Well, if she’s off workin’ on her own place, I guess we’re off the remodelin’ hook. But she needs to understand this decoratin’ business is a two-way street. Where’re you off to?”

“Karla Pierce’s. Deliverin’ the coroner’s report and a copy of Virgil Green’s admission of criminal guilt in Jimmy’s death. Her insurance man’ll be out there today and she’d like to wrap it all up at once.”

“She hadn’t filed for Jimmy’s Life Insurance yet?”

“Nope. Karla said she didn’t want anything ‘undignified or inconclusive’ bein’ attached to her cashin’ in on his policy.”

“No grist for the gossip mill, huh?” He shook his head, disgusted. “I was Karla, though, an close to a million-eight was barrelin’ down on me like a Mac truck? I wouldn’t give a flyin’ fuck what anybody in this county thought.”

“Me, either. For future reference, do we call ‘don’t give a shit’ situations a Mac truck flyin’ fuck? Or a Flyin Mac truck fuck? Say you ask, ‘What’re we eatin’ for lunch?’ I can say Mack truck flyin’ fuck? Maybe shorten it to Flyin’ Mac Fuck. Or just MacFuck? Maybe even MTFF? ”

“MacFuck. Didn’t I hear you say there was somewhere you needed to be?”

***

Friday, Late Afternoon

Bash made sure the parking lot door latched behind him, turned, took two steps, got body slammed into the wall by Candi storming out of her office. “You!” She shook a handful of pink and purple streamers in his face, her eyes on fire. “What the hell is this?!”

“Uh… dunno?” A shrug and mock serious appraisal. “Birthday leftovers?”

“Try again, genius.” Another shake of ribbons. “Well?!”

“‘Well?’ Well, hell, Candi. I just got here.”

“Just got here? It’s five-thirty, Bash. Where the hell have you been all day?”

“Uh… Court?”

“Bullshit.” She reached back, slammed her office door, glared him out.

“Okay, court,” he dodged the fist of ribbons, “and a complaint. Couple of early weekend drunks out on 337 plinkin’ mailboxes with a hand cannon.”

“Yeah? So where are they?”

“Last I saw? Cuffed to a concrete parkin’ lot barrier behind the Parlo cop shop.”

“Not your problem, not your business?”

“Just like these ribbons you need to get outta my face.”

“Useless,” she stomped off down the hall. “God damn useless.”

He leaned across the hall, opened her door to a full-on World of Barbie. Two-foot-tall pink Barbie ponytail silhouette logos on the walls, a Welcome Home Barbie banner stretched across the room, pink and purple streamers hung everywhere. A dozen Barbies in as many outfits strewn across the desk – Perched on the computer monitor. The desk phone receiver hung from a surfboard between two. Streetwalker Barbie in a short skirt leaned provocatively against the desk lamp, one in scuba gear stood inside the pencil cup while golf Barbie set up a for a putt on top of a Barbie waving from her Jeep mouse pad. He shook his head, laughed to himself, eased her door shut.

SHERIFF?” Candi’s voice echoed in the hall. “You can’t hide, Harden.” She threatened the empty hallway with the clutch of ribbons, opening the few doors that lined the walls. “I know this was you. CHIEF!? Goddammit, where the hell are you?”

“Candi?” Betty stuck her head out of the foyer. “What’s the matter, girl? All ribbons and no kiss goodnight?”

“Betty?” Candi stopped, let the clutch of ribbons drop to her side before offering them for view. “Kiss goodnight my ass. I tell a story on myself, and suddenly, BAM, I’m a fucking laughingstock.”
“I, um… I’m not sure I follow…”

“I stole a Jeep, Betty. A long time ago. Unfortunately, it was a custom-built, one-off Barbie Jeep.”

“That’s, um… News. To me.” Betty’s chin kicked out sideways, her eyebrows crawled together.

“I didn’t take it because it was a fucking Barbie Jeep. I took it as collateral. And now,” she shot frustrated looks around, “Now,” she held her finger and thumb together, “I let a teeny, tiny bit of myself out and what do I get? HA, HA, Candi’s got a Barbie fetish.”

“Um, you know, AC, you might be readin’ a tad too much into the uh… Barbie stuff. In fifteen years, I’ve never known the Sheriff to be, well, mean, so I’m pretty sure he, if all this,” she flipped the ribbons with her hand, “is his doin’, he must’ve reckoned it would be a fun surprise.”

“A fun surprise? Fun? A fun surprise is a nice bottle of wine or a box of Swiss chocolate, not a goddamn Barbie World office!” Candi threw the streamers into the Sheriff’s empty office, where they landed in a tangled heap on his desk.

“Betty, I wouldn’t put those words in your mouth. Just tell him… You know what? Don’t tell him shit.” She wheeled around, saying over her shoulder as she went, “Let him think he got away with his embarrassing little shit show.”

She hit a solid, purposeful stride to the next-to-last door, threw it open. “Bash? You never saw me today. Don’t say a fucking word to—”

“Me?” Harden, rubbing his nose, extricated himself from behind the door. “Sorry, Cotton. I didn’t mean to piss you off. I thought you’d appreciate some more redecoratin’ around here.”

“Re decorating?! I try to bring a hint of professionalism to this office, Sheriff, and what do I get? A fucking third grader’s bedroom! And this!” She pointed to a life-size inflatable Barbie doll in a Team USA tank top and American flag bikini bottoms leaning drunkenly against Bash’s guest chair. “What the hell is this?”

“I kinda figured we could put it out front by Betty. You know, like a mascot.”

“Mascot?! MASCOT?!” Her cheeks flushed, “This… THING, is the most disrespectful, condescending piece of man world bullshit since—”

“Gettin’ screwed outta bein’ paid for T n A disguised as professional beach volleyball?”

“Yeah,” she fumed. “Since that.” She stomped out, slammed the door. Harden yanked it open.

“Look, Cotton,” the Sheriff, hands wide, open

“Don’t try to apologize,” she kept her back to them, held up a double handed one-finger salute, “Fuck both y’all.”

“Hey, I was just ribbin’ ya, you know? Like a welcome home surprise. I’ll take it down as soon as—”

“The hell you will.” She spun around. “GOTCHA!” She hit them with a wide, toothpaste commercial quality smile neither had seen before, honk-snort laughed, threw her arms around the Sheriff’s neck. “It’s nice to be home. It’s nicer to have someone take time to do the nicest thing anybody’s done for me in forever.” She reached one arm out to Bash, pulled him in behind the Sheriff and into an awkward group hug. “This is one of those times winning does look like it oughta. Thank you,” Betty stuck her head in the room, got a wagging fingers wave. “All of you.”

Harden, still flushed from the sheriff sandwich hug, followed her out the parking lot door, Bash on his heels. She broke into an easy jog, turned, jogged backward, called out, “Last one to Earl’s gets the check.”

“So,” Bash put on his sunglasses. “Looks like you’re buyin’ barbecue.”

“You’re still a little short in the britches around here to know all the shortcuts, Cochise. But,” nonchalant, “if I happen to be the last one there,” Harden held his sunglasses out, checked them with a squint. “I’ll make a point a writing both your asses up for speedin’.”

A Half-Melted Stick of Green Spotted Butter and Some Science Experiment Yogurt

This is one of the wraps they performed, or 1/2 the denouement. Over the next couple of days I’ll throw up the backstory dumps/cuts and some other cutting room floor junk. Also – as this all happened over the course of a week and a day. I’ll go back through it and add days and rough timing before I rush out to buy an ISBN… Thanks for being here.

Early Monday Afternoon, continued –

“Here, before you go,” Bash reached inside the Tahoe, handed Candi a business card.

“Cleveland the Indian. Anything For a Buck.” She flipped the card. “General Contractor, Roofing, Framing. Cement. Paint. Backhoe and Dirt Work… Who? No.” She held up her index finger. “Why?”

“On down that list is ‘Moving’. I think Uncle Cleve knows every Indian in three states with a box of tools, a truck, trailer, tractor or dirt mover.”

“I’m not sure, Bash. I’m on a tight timeline. Locke is being a prime asshole about me getting out, and if I’m going to stay at my parents’ old place, even temporarily, it’ll need a complete—”

“Call Cleve on your way out of here. Tell him your name is, no shit, Candi Cotton. You’re six one, almost blonde, an ex-Olympic volleyball player, an OSBI agent and a friend of mine. Your condo can be empty by tonight if need be. Your parents’ house can be painted, inside and out, gardens reloaded and everything that was in it containerized in two days.”

“Seriously? How much is all… Well, hell, it doesn’t matter. Locke just dumped half a condo in my account.”

“Leave negotiating the ‘how much’ to me. It’ll be better than fair.”

“No commission for the nephew?”

“Never.”

“You understand, fully, that I’m between a rock and a hard place here?” Eyes even and locked. “I’m going to have to trust you on this one.”

“Time you started trustin’ somebody.”

She studied the card, muttered “Oh hell,” came off her lean on the dusty Lexus, whispered “Thank you” and kissed him on the cheek. When he opened his eyes his nose was unsure if it had actually encountered the faintest hint of the cleanest scent on Earth, her SUV was throwing dust out of the ruts between the pine trees, and Birdsong had begun its return to simple, uninterrupted grandeur.

***

Early Tuesday Morning

Sheriff Harden stood in front of the breakroom sink, his hand wrapped around a strange device with a wire sticking out of it, an even stranger look on his face. “Betty?” His voice at room-to-room level.

“Right behind you.”
“Godammit, woman…” he turned, red faced. “Sorry, Betty, but that kinda thing could scare a man to death.” He opened his hand, showed her the device. “What the hell is a fro-thur? And should it be in here, by the sink?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Because it looks like some kinda crazy, European, lady razor. Or something from a kinky sex hardware store, that’s why. Who knows where these little wires have been?”

Froth-er, Chief. Froth-er.” She thumbed down on the top to get it spinning. “It’s for milk, or one-off whipped cream. Think fancy coffee and deserts. Does your mind always go straight to the gutter?”

“Not always,” Bash interjected. “He’s just been a cop so long he’s seen too many things that aren’t what they started out to be. Right, Chief?”

“Yeah… Right,” still flustered. “Who moved the coffee pot?”

“We have two, now.” Betty fingernailed the original drip machine and the combo coffee and dual espresso machine.

“That damn thing looks like a miniature refinery, not a coffee pot. And this,” he tapped a brushed aluminum dish drainer. “Where’d it come from? And this smiley face sponge thing… And the old coffee stand. What happened to it?”

“Agent Cotton happened to the coffee stand,” Betty, rinsing a coffee cup. “And to everything else that’s in here. I should add everything that’s on the way and not in here yet.” She dried her hands on an impossibly white dish towel, hung it on a towel bar over the sink that matched the dish drainer before she opened the cabinet door closest to the sink and knuckle-tapped a sheet protector containing a bulleted list. “New rules. My favorite is do your own, well, you can see what she called the dirty cups and dishes.”

“When?”

“Last evenin’, nine-ish.”

“But without the stand, how’s the coffee girl gonna know where—”

“She’s gone.” Betty used her fingers in the universal throat cut sign.

Gone?
“We can go on the honor system or pony up however often it takes to buy ourselves tasty and responsible coffee and save a bundle.”

“The honor snack tray?”

“Same place as the coffee girl. You can buy fifty tiny bags of munchies at the Membership Warehouse if you want ‘em that bad. For next to nothing compared to a dollar fifty a bag.”

“Damn.” He looked up from the coffee stand used to be. “The phone. Where’s our phone? And the sheet fulla numbers for orderin’ lunch?”

“Phone’s being swapped for a cordless. You need to store the numbers of all those dives in your phone. Not writin’ them on a greasy piece of paper bag hangin’ on the wall.”

“Dives?”

“Her word, not mine.”

“No coffee stand, no coffee gal, no little bags of Oreos, no phone, no phone numbers…”  

“But we have a linen and plant service for what half that Daisy Dukes wearin’ coffee girl of yours was costin’ us.”

“Linen? Plants? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…” He scanned the room for a chair, didn’t find one.

 “Not even a goddam chair. Bash, you got any idea—”

“Nope. Best guess would be Uncle Cleve’s crew will be deliverin’ whatever Cotton tells ‘em to from her old digs to right here.”

“Godamighty…”

“We’d best go to our separate corners,” Betty, checking her watch. “The paintin’ and plumbin’ fellas’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“Painters? Plumbers?”

“This room and the storage closet are gettin’ painted. Did you know we have hot water in here nobody ever turned on? And how easy it is to tap a freshwater line from the men’s room into the storage closet?”

“Why do we need fresh water in the storage closet?”

“‘Cause we’re done rinsin’ and hangin’ towels and whatever else y’all men and the occasional prisoner get dirty and feel the need to drape over the stair rails out back. What I gathered from ACC’s email—”

“ACC?”

“Agent Cotton. I looped her into our email system as ACC. She said there’s one of those apartment style over-under washer-dryers goin’ in the storage closet. Seems like it’ll be plenty roomy in there once all the, well, you know what she called it, gets organized instead of thrown all over. Plus, she’s gettin’ a kick outta how the man bought out her condo had no idea what he was sayin’ when he said ‘all’ her, you know, ‘things’ needed to go. She’s takin’ it down to walls and floors. No drapes, no appliances, not even a shower curtain or a roll of toilet paper. Only leavin’ the stuff in her fridge that’s gone off.”

“Like to be a fly on the wall when Locke shows up in there Friday evenin’ after a liquor and shrimp cocktail hand shaker needin’ to bury some pipe and she hadn’t left him a scrap of anything except a half-melted stick of green spotted butter and some science experiment yogurt.”

“Bash, this ain’t funny. Who’s payin’ for, for…”

“Same people as buys us our toilet paper and pencils. You and me,” Betty, both hands on her ample chest, “and everybody else pays taxes. She waltzed right over to the maintenance and supply yard when she come back from wherever on Monday afternoon,” she shot Bash a look, “and had the County to reschedule some work release convicts who do the landscape and mechanical and maintenance work. They may be convicts, but a lot of ‘em have licenses for this or that and quite a few have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior while bein’ incarcerated. Under the influence, I might add, of our pastor Rev—”

“Jesus? This is a Sheriff’s office, Betty. They’re still convicts. Who knows what they’ll fuh—”

“Now Sheriff,” Betty, one eyebrow up, hands on hips. “Don’t you go gettin’ upset an cursin’ at me. Do you honestly believe any a those people’d ‘eff up’ somethin’ Agent Cotton an a half dozen muscled up Indians are wantin’ done?”

Indians?”

“Uncle Cleve,” Bash, from his lean against the counter. “Sounds like he didn’t want anyone messin’ with our Paleface Warrior Princess.”

“Cotton can take care of herself. Who the hell is her movin’ crew, anyway?”

“The Swiftwaters.”

“The wrestlers?” He hung his head. “Godamighty…”

NVDT RANDOM – A Writerly Thought- Bracketing

For short form read only…

There is a third thing I thought of yesterday when I hit Publish on “Birdsong”

You might not get it if you’ve never been a religious, or in some sections of a society a secular lector, or a scripture reader of any sort or read scripture from a missalette, Sacred Epistle or lectionary, even given a time windowed speech, but here is the solution for ten pounds of words for a five-pound scene.

The chosen scripture etc. is the same as a scene in fiction (Duh). That scene might have a point that can be reached without all the begats and sidebar stories and scene setting or personal anecdotes. (That Paul. He was a real corker). When that happens, and the presider wants to get everyone out in time for a noon kickoff or an early spot in the buffet line, they take advantage of an “abridgement without abridging” trick. I quote directly –

The Revised Common Lectionary, 2012 edition, states “Owing to the overall length of the[se] readings, options in versification are provided for several passages.”

In plain speak that relates to “for short form read only bracketed text(s)” or “for long form include bracketed text(s)” depending on how the editors decided it should be marked. This is not a matter of parenthetical content, but one of ‘for a quick read, skip the hooptdoodle, writerly flights of fancy and excess set dressing and get to the miracle, murder, or other plot point.’

We need such a thing in modern fiction. Like yesterday’s long, downhill brakes-on bit from me. Myself as example of “for short form exclude bracketed text(s)”

***

“He figures what people tell each other is between them. [Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”]

In fact, this single example could have several bracketed chunks, pick one, following a simple “No” to the question asked by the deuteragonist. Or, heaven forbid, stricken in total save for “No.”

I do know better. I’ve already made my excuses for tempo…

***

The result is that as a reader we could be reading along, hit the bracket and skip down to a continuation of what’s necessary and not get mired in backstory, historical context, wordy ‘splainin’, bunny chase dialog and all the other ways we insert ourselves to broadcast, “Look at me, I did some research, memorized a postcard or gramma’s kitchen and I’m writing now!”

Don’t get me started on books that need a bracket on the first and last page. Around the first and last words. I’ve read a few recently.

Birdsong

Long read alert. 3k. I thought of two things as I sat on the grass with these characters while they wrangled and wrapped this story’s main themes. One-Steinbeck’s commentary on Hooptedoodle in the prologue for ‘Sweet Thursday‘, and TwoArgue your limitations and they are yours – Richard Bach. Sheriff Harden’s wisdom counters that with a fresh take on an old addage. Thanks for being here.

Candi, aware but without acknowledgment, swept the flagstone to her left free of debris, brushed her hands together. A conditioned and imminently futile act as she returned them to their proper sides, palms down in the grass and dirt. Bash hitched up his jeans and sat. Unlike her cross-legged seat, he dropped his feet over the rim of the natural amphitheater where Buffalo grass, sprinkled with fiery red and yellow Indian Blankets, sunflowers, random clusters of wild lavender and purple bluebonnets spread out, sloping away from them for fifty yards to a creek. It’s listless glisten a mix of groundwater from below and spring water that ran clear and quiet from a two-foot-wide waterfall through the flagstone further to their left to tumble down the hill in a narrow, rock lined trench. Cattails waved at the water’s edge, disturbed on a breezeless mid-day by eddying schools of unseen minnows. A variety of birds let out short, fitful bursts of abbreviated song from the trees behind them and those on the far side of the creek that spread upward on the craggy, red face of an ancient mountain long since eroded into the red hills around them. The trees grew sparse and random on that side, some asserted themselves through the crumbling remains of a dead oil magnate’s monument to himself. They sat together in silence, surrounded by a fraction of eternity.

“The birds only sing,” her voice reverential. “I mean really sing, at night.”

“It’s worth the wait. Birds, no frogs. Stars and sky forever.”

“Frogs…” she wrinkled her nose, eyes crinkling. “We had this pond at home,” her eyes now a thousand miles away. “Summer nights? I imagined it was a Venetian festival, the blazed faces of the cows their masks. Or that I could hear Dixieland in it, like I thought Mardi Gras should sound. One summer, when I was a teenager, I heard Feste Romane on Public Television, because ‘educational’ television was what we did at my house for entertainment on Sunday afternoons when it was too hot or too cold. A man in a tuxedo said it was the sound of too many things going on at once, and I thought ‘Buddy, that was nothing. If you want some racket, come listen to my pond.’ Birds, frogs, crickets, bugs whizzing around, all the livestock… I used to come here because it was just the birds. I must’ve wished a thousand times the sun didn’t bottle them up.”

“Hard to get out alone at night?”

“Out period at night…” She shooed a fly from her knee. “I’ve been told there was a time you could drink the water over there straight out of the ground. I was always afraid to try it.”

“You should. Won’t hurt you or ruin your reputation.”

She glanced at the trickle of water, acknowledged him with a question marked “Hm.”

A hawk that had been making a wide, lazy circle overhead swooped down several hundred feet to screaming inches off the ground across the buffalo grass like a fighter jet, snagged something smallish and furry, rose and banked gracefully into the trees across the creek.

“Nature’s drive through,” a flash of smile. “The kids will eat tonight.”

“No fried pie with a la carte field mouse.” Bash stood as slowly as the hawk rose, walked behind the ridge above the water, counted pine trees, and, behind the one he’d singled out, lifted a rock a foot around and four inches thick. He toed a whip scorpion into the needles, bent, came up brushing dirt from a piece of glass in the shape of a seashell. He took the glass to the mini waterfall, rinsed it several times at the point of the water’s exit, let it fill, and drank. He wiped it, filled it again and offered.

“Come here often?” She took the glass shell, gazed out over the amphitheater, tasted the water in sips.

“Birdsong tries to be a well-kept secret,” he took his seat again. “The tourist trap west of here hasn’t put it on their ‘trails to hike’ list because the Chickasaws said no, but with all the tribes who lay claim to these five counties I don’t think the Indians even know whose land this is.”

“Birdsong. That’s what you call it?”

“What I’ve heard it called. I’m pretty sure as a Legitimate Indigenous Person I could make some calls to different Indigenous Tribal Historians and get as many names as calls.”

“Does that make you an Indigenous cynic?”

“There are far greater things to be cynical about than inter-tribal cultural appropriation of a name for a landmark a billion and a half years old. What I do remember of my training in the Ancient Ways is that beautiful things don’t require a name.”

“You get a lot of mileage out of that with the girls?”

“My sisters and mother put me off bullshittin’ girls. Told me not to bother. That y’all were inherently smarter than men and could see right through it and occasionally accepted it only to be polite. Told me to try anything I thought was lady killin’ quality on them first, to save me embarrassment. I’d lay one out, and they’d say, ‘Aw, Jesus, Bash, that all you got?’ I had to get dates the old-fashioned way.”

“Which was what? The strong, silent baseball star?”

“No. I had to ask. They say bein’ shy, skinny and mostly Indian askin’ girls out helps you learn to cope with rejection later in life.”

“I asked a guy out. One time. To a sweetheart dance. Because nobody’d ask me.” A sardonic smile and almost imperceptible one shoulder shrug. “I was at least a head taller than most of them. He wasn’t my sweetheart, but he took me.”

“Scared not to, I imagine.”

“You know,” side eyes, “I still have to get used to you… and the Sheriff. Even Betty. I tend to take everything too personally. I mean, I know better, been coached and therapy-ized to know better. I preach knowing better, but personally… You guys aren’t going anywhere, though, are you?” A quick look over her shoulder. “Not in the ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ in life way, but not deserting me, walling me out. Not taking the pieces of me that fit, that you like and…” She let the thought trail off into silence.

The hawk returned, or another one in the first’s place having heard about the buffalo grass cafeteria. Candi stood when the shade from behind them shifted and it was move or roast. She walked down the flagstone rim to the other side of the water, stopping to take two shells’ full before she held it up to catch the sun.

“This thing looks like an ashtray.”

“It was.” He said, taking the shell. “Stole it out of a box of ‘em off a maid’s cart at a motel in Seabrook, Texas. I was twelve. We went down to League City south of Houston to a regional playoff game.”

“You win?”

“Nope. I blamed it on stolen ashtray karma. Which I figured out later, when I looked at it in perspective, was crap. We got beat because they were better than we were. And bigger. Like high school ringers.” He drank, set the shell down between them. “Is that what you’re scared of? Everything in your life running an endless loop of the politicians and that house full of only-the-daughter-dad-wanted-to-see pictures, not the whole enchilada?”

“The Chief didn’t tell you the Jeep story?”

“He figures what people tell each other is between them. Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”

“Well, there’s a story in the Jeep about a stupid girl believing she didn’t have to grow up and be what she’d been telling herself and everyone else she was working toward.”

“I’d call that a romanticized notion, or naïve. Not stupid.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I know. Stupid is how you feel, after. But if you bought your ticket not knowin’ it was one way and a dead end, that’s hope. Which, in hindsight, kind of looks like stupid, but isn’t.”

“So, stupidity is the personal takeaway, not part of the original equation that got you to feeling stupid?”

“If you wanna get technical. Stupid would be the next time, when you see it and know better, but do it anyway.”

“I was ready to say something full of self-pity, but somehow taking stupid off the front and tacking it on the end made me feel better. When did you bury the ashtray?”

“School year after the game. Coming here was a science teacher and a history teacher everyone thought were cozy’s idea of a field trip.”

“Cozy?”

“You know.”

“You aren’t going to say it, are you?”

“Unless it’s required, no.”

That got a light snort and a smile.

“One of them told us about the spring, and the creek, and the water at the top was probably cleaner than tap water. Nobody thought to bring cups, but the history teacher told us cowboys would drink out of their hats, or boots, and then load ‘em up for their horse to drink out of. The few of us in boots weren’t sold, and hats, if there were any, were ball caps with holes. The next chance I got to come over here was with my younger older sister and her boyfriend and they told me to go play in the castle across the creek till they whistled. Before I left that day, I buried myself a cup because this place and that water are addictive and I knew I’d be back. Plus, I got a ‘what’s this?’ ashtray mom hadn’t found yet out of the house without explaining how it got there. The only person I’ve ever told the truth about it is you.”

“Like a sacred bond?”

“Tell anybody and I’ll swear you’re lyin’.”

“That’s fair. How did you know where to find me?”

“I asked Yates. I figured he went to school with you, had to know a spot where the thinky kids went. He said you wrote a poem about a place where only the birds sang. Had to stand up and read it in class. I’m from the other side of the interstate but, like I said, Birdsong isn’t anybody’s secret.”

“Birdsong…” Wistful, tasting the word. “I went to college in California…” her chin up, an edge of the eye wipe with a knuckle. “There were days… Years… I’d get out of volleyball practice, showered, squeaky clean, damp hair. Sweats and red Connies. I’d roll out of the gym that way on an endorphin high, wanting, more than anything, some bigger world for myself. A hundred yards of shrubs and sidewalks later, I was in the thick of it. But it was all the ‘normal’ students. Popping out in packs from coffee shops and fake pubs, dressed in magazine hipness and being clever with each other about a Sundance film or Ferlinghetti or underappreciated music from a short-lived band named after a vegetable.” She turned his way, not noticing she’d disrupted the shell. “They sounded like the pond.” Her eyes begged to be understood. “I wanted to shush them, like sunshine shushes the birds’ songs. Shush all of them. I wanted to tell them about this place. This very place we’re sitting now… How it’s so quiet you’re not sure you’re even breathing, and wonder… Wonder if the next breath will come, it’s so quiet, and then it does and it’s like finding out you’re free of all the pond noise and the, the mean, meaningless shit people dress up their lives with. Empty words and empty personal dogmas. Playing their parts like stone faced actors, completely ignorant of what their own tragic plays are costing everyone around them…”

He waited to see if there was more, but none came.

“You’re havin’ a hard time comin’ home.” He set the shell behind them.

What? I’m closer to home than I’ve been, in, in…”

He touched her shoulder, light and off. “Listen,” he said. “This,” he touched his heart, “this is home.” He touched his temple. “This is noise.”

“How,” her index finger on her temple, “do I get from here to there, huh? How? I’ve made such a fucking mess of, of every—”

“Of nothing. You made noise, Cotton. Maybe you made a lot of it, but it didn’t follow you to Birdsong. Or,” hand on his heart again, “in here. It’s nothing but head noise now, so shake it off. You’re almost home. You won.”

“Won? Jesus, Bash. I have nowhere to live. I emailed my investment partner at midnight, told him he could buy me out. The asshole had the money in my account this morning, but he wants the furniture and all my shit out by Friday so he can move in. The place, well, you never saw it, but it was as sterile as an upscale department store, and he knows that damn furniture is leased. None of my ‘shit’ in there is worth keeping. My B&B will have to evict me and Ivy by Thursday because they’re booked up with weddings. That closet with a shower in the non-profit office isn’t the answer. I’ve essentially flushed my career, would have lost my job if I hadn’t capitulated, and even though I got a raise, it’s all on for how much longer, you know? I can’t be in my parents’ house for more than an hour, but I can’t sell it… I guess I could bulldoze the house and put up some storage buildings. I’ve heard that’s a money maker and a tax write off, but the neighbors… I couldn’t see to solve a simple case. I got filthy and, and I know I trashed your sister’s Jeep no matter what you say. And before I came out here, I had to come face to face with what a beautiful job you’d done on mine…”

Had done on yours. It’s not finished. You could chrome it out. The undercarriage, under the hood. Turn it into a trailer queen. That’s a write off that might make pocket money.” He flicked a baby pinecone into the field. “You’d have to dress up like Barbie at car shows.”

“I’d have to find a Barbie figure first.”

“You could do it with prosthetics. In your case, probably Hollywood quality.”

“Ha ha. I lived in California. You can rent fleshed out ready to go Barbies by the hour for car shows or anything else. Anyway, you kicked me off track. I have such a huge backlog of noise and failures, you know? I don’t want a pity-party. I just want out from under it. All of it. Except working here. I’ve had more fun making an ass of myself for the last week than I’ve had in forever. I told the Chief that, too.”

“He kept it to himself. He told me he thinks I’ve been an unconscionable prick.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, tell me why you didn’t want to make the Virgil Green collar?”

“Human factor. Ivy was worried about her dad. You two have a friendship. If you were concerned and she was concerned, then I didn’t need to go out there all puffed up, rattlin’ handcuffs. Virgil claimed you two were angels. I doubt he’d have felt the same about me.”

“I was ready to be that puffed up cop, but I took a page out of your book. You got shot at and didn’t arrest anyone.”

“Because they didn’t need it. Look, Cotton—”

“Candi?”

“Candi. You solved a case. I learned a lot. You rescued a smart girl from perpetuating the redneck hell of her mother’s life. A smart-ass on his way to Master Chauvinist kid learned when dealin’ with women the truth is the best option, regardless of how stupid it makes you look and that a woman you figure for a righteous bitch might just demand to have your life saved. You freed Betty from long days of solitaire and boredom and searchin’ casserole recipes, taught her to make decent coffee and made her a team player. In two days. And, like me, you’re out of a place that would have buried you alive if you’d stayed and fought a losing battle, no matter how good you looked in expensive clothes and holdin’ a champagne glass.”

“Flute. Rented those, too.”

“Smart girl. Smart enough that you’re your own boss for almost a quarter of a state, you make your own calls. Forget the noise. So you have to clean up a little. You have friends, a purpose, and a place to get your head right. I’m tellin’ you, you won this round.”

“You solved the case and—”

“We’re not playin’ that game. Teamwork solved it.”

“Okay. I was saying… There’s a lot of noise and a big mess. How is it I’ve won? How did I ever win? I’m a second. A Silver Medalist. An intimidating, too tall, unwanted nuisance. Cheated, ignored, lied to, and swept under the rug. What have you got for that?”

I don’t have much, but I said the same things you’re sayin’ a few months back, and the wise old man I’d come to work for, he did have somethin’.”

“The Sheriff?”

“Yep. When I finished unloadin’ all my noise without realizin’ I was in a better place to find my way home, just like you are now, he said, ‘Well, son, I cain’t believe you never had a coach nor nobody else tell ya this, but here ya go.’ He put his hand on my knee the same way I’m doin’ to you, looked me in the eye just like this and said, ‘Partner, here’s a solid truth you’d best remember. There’s gonna be all kindsa times when winnin’ don’t always look the way we think it oughta.’”