Gambits #11 – Rattlesnake, Whiskey and Uranium

Plus a Handgun, a Suspended License and a Stolen Car

Character Study +

John D MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Dashiell Hammett, Laura Levine, Fitzgerald – A few words and a reasonably complete picture. From characters to towns. Solid. You know who and where and aren’t bogged down in details. His suit looked dirty but wasn’t. Avocado appliances, a small box-store table for two. A Grand Canyon dishtowel hung from the oven handle. A big man. Pink. Rubbery. Thin and nervous enough to make it contagious. Yellowish skin. Dark circles under unsteady eyes.  He was wide and plodding. Neckless, shoulderless, bald. His necktie short, loose, the knot partially buried by a third chin.

Okay, enough fun. Gambits is about writing prompts, cues, unusual manners of death. Here’s another one from an old friend of mine. From The Daily Oklahoman. A paper I threw in my youth (quite accurately) from a red Sting Ray.

GUTHRIE (AP) — Police in Oklahoma say they found a rattlesnake, a canister of radioactive powdered uranium and an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey during a traffic stop of a vehicle that had been reported stolen.

The traffic stop happened June 26 in Guthrie, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. Guthrie police Sgt. Anthony Gibbs told Oklahoma City TV station KFOR that police don’t know why the uranium was in the vehicle or how it was obtained, though uranium ore can be bought on Amazon.

Gibbs says police also found a gun in the console and a terrarium in the backseat containing a pet Timber rattlesnake.

Gibbs says the driver, Stephen Jennings, was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, transporting an open container of liquor and driving with a suspended license.

There’s the setup, here’s the character – What the hell was this guy up to? A hit man gone to seed?

 

Trivia – Guthrie was the original state capital of Oklahoma. A handful of bu$ine$$ men wanted it in Oklahoma City. Guthrie, the original territorial capital didn’t want to give it up. The capital is where the state seal resides, by God, and it’s in Guthrie. As bu$ine$$ men will do, they arranged to have it stolen from Guthrie. When it arrived they removed it from a canvas bag and set up shop in a downtown OKC hotel. Where there were smart enough to keep it locked up and guarded.

Gambits #10 B

Why Make It Up When It’s All Right There?

Friends send me strange news bits knowing I will find a use for them. I believe to distract me from using anything personal they might have told me that would read like great fiction. Here’s the real story about the dead woman and the TV from last week. Straight from The Daily Mail. 

“A woman has been killed after falling from the ninth floor of a block of flats in Russia while having sex – but her partner survived after landing on top of her.

The woman, aged 30, was found dead at the base of an apartment block in St. Petersburg on the night of July 5 during what neighbors described as a wild party. Witnesses said they saw a television thrown from the window of the flat, after which the woman and her 29-year-old lover plunged to the ground below. The woman landed head-first on the asphalt and died instantly, local media reported, but the man survived after his fall was broken by her body and nearby bushes. Witnesses told local media that the partially clothed man then got up and went back to rejoin the party.

Police were called, and when they arrived the revelers allegedly threw a mop out of the windows at them. Initial reports suggested the woman had been killed by the falling TV, but images from the scene clearly show her naked from the waist down. After interviewing witnesses, investigators concluded that the couple were having sex on a windowsill when they fell. Two other men were in the flat when the fall happened, but are not thought to have been involved.”

In my Dick Derringer PI version the cops walk away from it because of the TV, no one comes forward about the partially clothed dude for pick-your-reason. In the cop’s interviews the party dudes paint the girl as depressed and despondent over a break up, and the dude who landed on her has bailed. Derringer sets out to uncover the cover up after a scared old lady with an ankle biter dog throws a mop out her window to get his attention. A mop later used in a funny fight scene.

There you have it. Who’s writing it?

Gambits #10

If I Were A Procedural Writer – This One is as Perfect as They Come

Set up for Dick Derringer, Private Eye – A woman, naked from the waist down, falls 9 stories out of an apartment window. So does a television. Both are dead. Investigators do a perfunctory inquisition. Satisfied it’s accidental or suicide they walk away. Bruising on the body is from the fall or the TV landing on her. Doesn’t matter, she landed head first. Splat.

Next – Attractive woman, well dressed, composed (or wild haired wild eyed young woman in sweatshirt with too-long sleeves) walks into Dick’s office. “It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t suicide. Find out what happened.” Dick, the consummate formula PI is always looking for opportunities to 1) get laid, 2) embarrass the cops, 3) strong arm some smart asses, takes the case.

The assignment – What really happened?

Next installment, the real answer. Lets hear it from you plotters out there.

Gambits #9

Get Your Forensics Chops On

In 2013 a Colombian man checked himself into a hospital in Medellin complaining of fever, weight loss and difficulty breathing. Tests revealed he had cancer cells in his lungs but they were 10 times smaller than human cancer cells. More tests and they figured that a tapeworm had infested his body and subsequently contracted cancer, or had already been infected, and passed it on to its host. The man died three days after being diagnosed.

I can see this one. Opening – sweaty emaciated week old stubble man in dirty shirt, his belt obviously cinched to hold up too big pants stumbles in and clutches ER counter. “Hehhh…heh…help…meeee.”

Okay, mystery buffs, who is the victim? How does the murderer do it? Conspire with a restaurant employee, shoot the tapeworm full of radioactive material, active cancer cells, some dread disease? Procedural from hell y’all, promise. Unless you approach it from the ‘shouldn’t have eaten that street vendor cheeseburger in Boys Town’ angle, and then it’s just a case of stupidity complicated by Hepatitis and a random STD.

Source – Rachel Rettner, “Tapeworm Spreads Deadly Cancer to Human”  Scientific American November 2015

Rather See Than Be One

“Hold up.” Crocker handed me the Prince Albert tobacco tin, reached over to cut up his daughter’s slab of flank steak. “Just got her dinner on the table.”

“You need to eat?”

“I can wait,” Crocker said. The unasked question was did I bring beer. I set the paper bag on the table.

“Miller. Quarts.”

“Man of his word.” He picked up the bag and put it in his fridge. “I said two was fine.”

“My mother says do more for people than they ask.”

“Your dad still around?”

“Yeah.”

“Shame. I was startin’ to like Mom.”

I took in the upstairs apartment, one of 8 in a two story red brick box, in a block of red brick boxes not far from where we worked. Small. Old. Wood floors. Thirties probably, like where I used to have to collect for the paper from old people. Unlike those, that smelled like ancient carpet, dust, mold and pee, these smelled like Pine Sol and incense. I wondered if the teenage version of my dad had delivered the lumber. The chrome and Formica kitchen table was by a window, the curtain plain, off white with a wide band of lace holes across the bottom. It was clean, like the rest of the place. Couldn’t have been called a place with “a woman’s touch” but clean. A naked Barbie and some stuffed animals, coloring books, Golden Books scattered around, and a well-loved green dragon on the kitchen table next to a petite, clean little girl with messy blonde hair.

“Shell, this is Harper. We work together.”

“Hi.” Loaded mostly with disinterest and a touch of mild, corner-of-the-eye curiosity. She might as well have said, “So?”

“Shell’s six. She doesn’t talk to strangers. Idn’t that right, Shell?” He rearranged her food with a steak knife, moved the plate in front of her. “Harper’s not a stranger, okay?”

“‘Kay.” She was infinitely more interested in dinner than in me.

Crocker looked back at me, winked. “She figures that, you’ll be stuck reading books about talking racoons and listening to her go on forever.”

“Nunuh,” she said, around a mouthful of dinner.

“Shit.” Crocker put a tired pair of hands on his thighs, got up to answer the knock on the door.

I was 16. Summer job building Bureau of Indian Affairs houses, pre-fab. Aside from the drunk cowboy who drove the big forklift, the office boss and me the rest of the crew of about a dozen were Native American Nam vets from Anadarko. Living loud and large on working man’s wages and making it out of the jungle alive. They arrived in a caravan of three and four to a muscle car every morning. Even a lime green Daytona Charger with the clothesline spoiler. Crocker was from Anadarko as well, the only white eyes. They’d all served at the same time. Crocker had been a conscientious objector, but he had a wife and a baby and wasn’t interested in Canada or shooting one of his toes off so he went along. They made him a medic. Tail end of the Tet offensive, 1968. He got the call to come home late May 1969, after Hamburger Hill with no field hospital and nothing but a bag full of gauze and morphine to use up on over 400 screaming wounded in ten days.

The story I got about him coming home, all jumbled up, was Crocker’s Dad had a farm outside Anadarko. And a crush on his son’s wife. Crocker went to Viet Nam, Gramps’ itch got the better of him. Gramps made his move out in a field one day and Crocker’s wife said hell no and she was going to tell. A shotgun and a tractor got involved. She died, maybe from the shotgun or run over by the tractor, Gramps killed himself, shotgun or tractor rolling over on him, take your pick. It was a convoluted, disjointed telling after a joint at lunch, then dodging heavy machinery in a prefab wall plant while the story was told and absorbed. At 16, it was all over my head. Like Crocker being twenty something, having a kid and living in an old apartment and being cool and kind of Robert Redfordish in a country way, experienced like Hendrix, wise, with a lost, sad look in his eyes sometimes. He took the apartment not to have to commute to Anadarko every day, or drink everyday with the Kiowas, Shell being his priority.

Crocker opened the door, let his neighbor in. A guy closer to his age than mine, going bald early, horn rimmed glasses, thin. A younger, shabby version of Dennis the Menace’s father. He sits in the window chair next to Crocker, across from Shell.

I should say here that Shell was named after her mother, Michelle. She was a baby when Crocker went off to be subjected to the conscientiously objectionable. He came home to the shotgun and tractor story, his crazy mother blaming him and his dead wife for all of it, after saying she and the baby could live with her and horny Gramps, be around family while he was away. All that just before she finished a bottle of vodka and blew her brains out in her kitchen when he was walking out the door. He’d jumped at the prefab job and the opportunity to get the hell out of Anadarko. He never said, but after the shotgun and tractor and Mom story no way he could have stuck around, lived in that.

Crocker pulled a pack of ZigZag whites out of the Prince Albert can. “You bouncin’ on her belly yet?” I knew he was asking about an overbuilt blonde girl who’d picked me up from work a couple of times.

“No. Not her. Not yet.”

“Slow starter?”

“Her brother knocked up a Federal Judge’s daughter. She said it wasn’t much of a party, but the girl told her his dick felt like a telephone pole. First time they did it they got pregnant. So she’s cautious. But a little curious about the telephone pole.”

He stuck the joint he’d rolled one-handed in his mouth, pulled it through his lips. “Not too bright.”

“Her or her brother or the Judge’s daughter?”

“At least the brother. Girls get heated up they aren’t thinking. Bagging the swimmers is our job.” He smiled, small, soft, almost chuckled, tapped my leg. “Rubbers are always a good idea, believe me.” He nodded toward his daughter, “Right, Shell.”

“Nnhhh.” I was starting to worry the kid was nonverbal, but she was doing some damage to her dinner, a heaping plate of mashed potatoes, green beans, beets and the kid-sized flank steak.

“You got a somebody else or three, to relieve the pressure?”

“Yeah.”

“Figured you to be that way. Best to let a first timer pick her moment. She gets it when she really wants it she’ll die with your name on her lips.”

I’m not sure I believed that, but Crocker lit the joint, proceeded to tell me the story of how his ’68 Camaro came to be purple sparkle with the wide racing stripes in silver sparkle. He and some guys were drinking, he was fresh back from the war, being wild.

“Don’t you ever swap out with your copilot?” I must have looked lost. “We were cresting this hill, about 70, gave the wheel to my man, I laid the seat back, threw my legs up, plan is my buddy slides over. We swap out. I’m in the back seat, he’s driving. You never done that?”

“No…I uh…”

“Don’t. It’s fuckin’ stupid.” He let a contained laugh out through a smoky exhale. “We’re halfway through the swap, come flyin’ up over the top like fuckin’ Steve McQueen, and there’s a goddam Fritos truck pokin’ along about halfway down the hill. Flat spotted the tires, my buddy an me both standin’ on the brakes. Didn’t help much. Still don’t know if it was him or the wreck broke my foot.” He took the joint back from his bogarting neighbor, handed it to me. “When they’re done puttin’ my car back together they say it can be whatever color I want. Shell and I were into singin’ that nursery rhyme, about the purple cow? Rather see than be –”

FUCK!” Neighbor screamed, one hand clasped inside the other. Across from him Shell had a severely pissed-off Shirley Temple face, fork in her fist. Crocker turned to check them out.

“Goddamit! She stabbed me! With her fuckin’ fork!”

Crocker gives Shell a dad question mark look. Shell keeps her glare, doesn’t back down.

“Motherfucker stole my steak.”

Crocker, back to neighbor. “That right?”

“Well, yeah. A piece. I started for another, and…” Neighbor opens his hand. The one inside is a little swollen and bleeding from what looks like a four toothed snake bite. “You got any bandaids?”

Something happened in Crocker. The Hamburger Hill medic, the blood, the shotgun and the tractor, I didn’t know, but he went cold as ice and thousand-yard stare. He took the neighbor’s hand, twisted it to look. “You’re ain’t hurt for shit, and I’m not dealin’ with it. Need to go on to the house, fix yourself up.” He dropped neighbor’s hand. “Fix yourself some dinner while you’re at it.”

Neighbor looked longingly at Shell’s steak and the dead joint between my thumb and finger, but he didn’t say anything. Shamed by Shell’s unrelenting glare and the icicles he got up, made his exit.

Crocker came back from the stare, checked me to see if I had made any judgements. I hadn’t. I was a little shocked, but the whole scene, like I said, was beyond anything I could understand at the time. I said nothing, offered him the joint. He took it, relaxed back into the chrome and red vinyl kitchen chair, looked at his daughter. He took the fork she’d stabbed the neighbor with, tossed it in the sink behind him, got a fresh one from a drawer. He leaned in toward his daughter, eye to eye, handed her the fresh fork.

“Good girl, Shell. I don’t give a fuck who he is, don’t ever give any man a chance to start any kinda shit with you. Always stand up for yourself.” There was a telepathic aspect to their communication. She knew exactly what he was saying, knew exactly what had happened to her mom. Six years old.

“Okay.”  She stabbed a small square of steak. “He’s an asshole.”

“Yes, he is.”

“Will he come back?”

“No. Harper probably will, if that’s okay.”

“He don’t talk much. But I guess it’s okay.”

Crocker let a flash of amusement cross his face. “I didn’t roll this to smoke it by myself.” He re-lit the joint, handed it to me. “Was that beer cold when you bought it?”

 

It would be nice to live in a Norman Rockwell sit com/rom com world where the problems are small and stupid, and the solutions come in under half an hour. Where nine-year-olds don’t shoot each other over dope turf, twelve-year-old prostitutes are an urban legend and pregnant eleven-year-olds are the figment of some pervert’s imagination. Where thirteen-year-old girls don’t get killed in a weed stash-house rip-off. Where middle school girls don’t shout “Bitch! Seriously?” and throw a hospitalization required beat down on their vice principal. Where small town high school football players don’t take steroids and acid and rape and kill a couple of cheerleaders, cut up and burn their bodies. Where the chasm between street people and the yard of the week people wasn’t wide and unfathomable.

But we don’t. So I populate my fiction with those from the perimeter that I have known, broken bread with, overheard, observed. I find them far more interesting to listen to as they develop than finding dialog for stereotypes. To me a black dude who is street wise and on a photography scholarship/intern program from the Smithsonian and his neighbor, the potty mouth “Fuck that” daughter of a hard working single mom, a daughter who gives the dopers in the parking lot behind her apartment crazy nicknames, are all as real as the crabgrass in not the yard of the week. 

Gambits #8

Death By Hygiene and What’s Good For You

The case for roll ons- In 1998 Jonathan Capewell, 16, died from a heart attack brought on by the buildup of butane and propane in the blood after excessive use of deodorant sprays. He was known for an obsession with personal hygiene. His blood level of butane was. 37 per litre, the same for propane. .1 per litre is fatal.

Ladies, if you want to off him for overuse of mismatched man whore products simply over pressurize his Right Guard.

There will be no commentary on how many in WalMart are highly unlikely to die this way.

Eat the Liver. It’s good for you.

Consuming even small amounts of Polar Bear liver can be fatal for humans. Polar Bears, like many arctic mammals livers, contain excessive amounts of vitamin A and can lead to acute hypervitaminosis A.

You know the person. The one your age who has 2% body fat, a weave, and brags about playing soccer with 20-somethings and offers to set you up on a regimen of his bucket a day of vitamins for slightly more per month than the lease on a Maserati?

Liver was a staple in school lunch cafeterias when I was young. I never participated. Keep your eyes peeled for that crazy cafeteria lady signing for a cooler packed in dry ice…If it’s not shrimp or crawfish stick with the green Jell-O full of banana slices.

 

 

 

 

Gambits #7

Hey, Let’s Go To The Museum!

Body disposal 101 – The Smithsonian keeps an army of flesh eating beetles on staff. Their purpose? To strip any flesh remaining on skeletons before they go on display. Or anywhere else.

“Mummy!”

“Yes, I know, Norm. It’s a Mummy.”

“NO! IT’S MY MUMMY!”

“Mr. Bates, is there a problem?”

“No, little Norman here thinks every skeleton he sees is his Mummy. A Mummy, I mean. A Mummy.”

“Of course. After all it couldn’t be his Mummy, could it?”

No, no. She’s at home in her rocking chair, rotting, er, uh knitting away. Knitting. Away. Come along, Norm, let’s go look at the airplanes…”