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

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…”

 

 

 

 

Gambits #6

Read the Emergency Room Reports + Imagination =

There are an estimated 11,250 sex-related deaths each year in the U.S. Feel free to take your flights of fantasy global. No kidding, back when there were newspapers the San Francisco Chronicle ran the weekend emergency calls. All you need is time, perhaps an intoxicant, stupidity and a light bulb…air compressor optional.

“Time” to Revamp the Setting of Your Latest Dystopia or Historical Treatise

The Phantom Time Hypothesis suggests that every calendar on Earth is off by 297 years. Google it. Talk about your effed up time machine. Set the controls for May 22, 2316 and BLAM, in the blink of an eye it’s today. Again. When was the potato famine? How old is Christianity? How long have women been second class citizens? (Forever). Jeez, work this and you can figure out how the guy who played Harry Potter got to be a teenager for like 15 years. And how celebrity birthdays drop numbers.

Or how your heroine walked through a castle door in 1981 as a tourist and ended up in the dungeon of the same for helping Mather protest King Charles II planned revocation of the Massachusetts Charter. 1684 was a leap year in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. One could have all sorts of fun with this.

Gambits #5

Poison is So-ooo Passe

Naegleria fowleri is found in 70% of US lakes. Nicknamed “The Brain-eating Amoeba,” it hijacks the victim’s brain causing confusion, hallucinations and loss of motor function. Death can occur in as few as seven days.

All you need is a jar of lake water, a hot tub and a little playful “dunk that pesky, fickle bachelor” and he’s history.

Up your game. Poison? Puh-leeeeze…

Dusk in Douala – Rev 3

Dusk in an abandoned-by-Eminent-Domain Douala, Cameroon Ghetto / August 1998

A pair of mud caked motorcycle taxis pulled up in front of the overgrown, abandoned, dirty white cinder block house in the sweltering Douala ghetto. Two Anglos in wilted white tuxedos backed off the seats, the younger of the two, athletic, thirtyish with longer hair said something quietly in French to the drivers, paid them, watched them disappear around a corner. He looked up, scanned the 12 x 12 two-story structure encased in tropical greenery. Hung above the missing door a once colorful sign featured a smiling African woman, her head surrounded by vegetables. The abandoned structure, minus the sign, repeated all around them. An eminent domain ghost town.

“This is what economic development looks like in Cameroon, eh?” The older Anglo, slender, maybe 40, clean cut and early gray nodded toward the gleaming forest green Ford Expedition pulling up. “Nun in a knocking shop.”

“Part of his act.”

“Shit, Cas. It’s the only thing big enough to drag his fat ass across Douala.”

They both watched a fat man in overdone military garb, complete with double gold rope wrapping his armpits from both epaulets, exit from the Expedition’s back seat. A smallish, bald, black as midnight man in a bright yellow shirt covered in printed orange pineapples, an aluminum briefcase handcuffed to his wrist stepped from the front passenger side. The fat man’s “military escort,” a tall, thin blond man in a black uniform somewhere between Roaring Twenties chauffeur and Nazi goose-stepper swung from the driver’s seat, a Chinese Glock nine knock-off in his right hand that he used to direct the Anglos to the door. Inside, with its boarded windows, missing second floor and roof, the place was an oven.

Monsieur Caswell?” Saying it Kays-Weel, the fat man’s voice wet, full of spit and bullshit. “And Kar-kleen.” He held his eyes on the older Anglo, enthusiasm diminished, before turning to Caswell. “You know, how I have said of heem, and yet…” he shrugged.

“What you say, Colonel, has no bearing on how or with whom I conduct business.” He shrugged in return, mocking the self-imposed rank of the Coalition of some bogus Liberation Front’s front man. “You have my money?”

“I have your money, Kays-weel, but these man of yours, Kar-kleen? To me? He reeks of betrayal. Shoot heem, for the cause, for all of us.” His smile beamed in the dusk’s semi-darkness. “Do so, the money is yours.”

“I’m a businessman, Colonel, not a gangster. I’m not armed.”

“No? A businessman you say? Or a spy? Perhaps a clever American?”

“I could be a Martian for all it matters. You’ve seen the weapons, have guards posted on the container. I want my money.”

“You exude the aroma of an anarchist, but retain the soul of a capitalist. I’m afraid we –”

“If I’d wanted a sermon from a hypocrite, Mon Colonel, I’d have found a church. We do the money, now, or this gets uglier than your Momma’s dog.”

The fat man’s laugh went off in the stifling heat like a small bomb full of ego, gold teeth, curry, cigars and spit spray. “You – You keel me. These is why I liked you, Kays-weel. In the face of a most unprofitable death you make jokes. As you are,” he gestured to his Glock clone wielding driver with a minor wave of his hand, “how should you propose to make it, as you say, uglier –”

Caswell grabbed chauffer Nazi’s sweaty wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up under its owner’s chin with enough force the chauffeur pulled his own trigger. The sound of the muffled shot went straight up with the bullet and brain spray into the palm branches overhead. The chauffeur gurgled, fell away, relinquishing the gun to Caswell who waited in the sticky thickness of cordite and blood mist while the Colonel fumbled with the flap of a shiny, black military holster. From it, in slow motion, he pulled an equally shiny black pistol. It cleared the holster, Caswell’s nine popped, the Colonel screamed, dropped his pistol, blood staining the sleeve of his uniform.

Kirklin knelt, collected the gun from years of packed down squat debris and rat shit, racked the slide, jammed it above the bridge of the Colonel’s nose. “Not so bloody funny now, eh, your Momma’s ugly dog.”

“You…Never.” He grimaced, blew air out of his nose. “You weel never leave Douala alive. You two, not so clever of you to bring your own whores, leave them alone. Not know who you are dealing with!” He looked at the blood oozing between his fingers, half laughed, half screamed. “You have to let me go. I need…I’ll be…missed. And I have your women. They –” The shiny gun went off, a cannon in the close confines of the concrete room. The Colonel backed up, the cross-eyed surprise on his face a cartoon trying to look at the hole in his forehead. He sat down, hard, fell over on his dead military escort.

Caswell collared the sweat-soaked pineapple print shirt, pulled the small black man up from wretching, stuck the nine in his ear. “Open the briefcase.” The little man bent again, vomited air and noise. “Jesus.” Cas stuck his free hand in the man’s pockets, fished, pulled out a pearl-handled .25 Saturday Night Special and a key ring.

“Just cut his fucking hand off, Cas.” Kirklin said, fanning the powder smoke.

“Newwww…Puh-leeze.” The black man snatched the key ring away, freed himself from the briefcase and handcuffs. “I am, I, le courrier, pour le financier.” He thumped his chest. “Seulement! There is, family, I –”

“Shut up,” Cas jammed the nine back in Black Baldy’s ear, kicked the briefcase Kirklin’s way. “Open it. See if the little man was running his own game.” Kirklin squatted, went through the keys, flipped the lid on the case.

“Money.”

Cas dragged pineapple shirt to the empty doorway, put his foot in the small of the man’s back and pushed. “Kiss your family for us.” They listened to him dry heave down the empty street. Kirklin lit a black cigarette, blew a smoke ring.

“Shoulda killed him, too.”

“I have locals following whoever walked out of here alive. We need to know where he goes.”

“Mmm. You worried?”

“About?”

“Elise. Oriana?”

“No. You?”

“No.” Kirklin blew another smoke ring. “I’m sure they neutralized whatever these refugees from acting school sent before they became an issue. No doubt with a good deal more finesse than we put up here.”

“Not much of a trick.” Cas jiggled the little finger he had in his ear. “What the hell is that?”

“Beretta.” Kirklin held up the Colonel’s pistol. “M9. Forty-five. A right argument stopper. I might keep it.”

“It’s too fucking loud.”

Kirklin moved his lips, mouthed soundless nothing. Caswell slapped him in the chest with the back of his hand. “I was just asking what about these two?” Kirklin pointed the Beretta at the two dead men.

“We’re gone five minutes,” Cas nudged the Colonel’s glossy boots with his foot, “they’re picked clean, teeth pulled and carcasses set on fire. You ready?” Kirklin nodded, Caswell stepped through the door, saw the kid on the corner vanish, heard the put-put of the motorcycle taxis fire up a street over.

“You cheap out, Cas,” Kirklin flicked his cigarette into the dusk, focused on the corner, “not tip them enough?”

“Too much, and they didn’t thank me. Showtime.” The motorcycle taxis rounded the corner, drivers with guns drawn. A pop from the Glock clone, a BOOM from the Beretta and the motorcycles were put-putting on their sides in the street.

“Goddammit that thing’s loud.”

“A bit too heavy as well. The Ford?”

“No one, even after dark in Douala, jacks a pair of thirty-year old Honda Sixty-fives.”

“Right.” He patted the hood of the Ford. “Lottery night in the squats, then.” Kirklin squeezed the handlebar clutch on the closest bike, lifted it. Caswell pulled up the other, let it skitter around him till he knocked it out of gear with his foot.

“What were the locals you enlisted supposed to do if we hadn’t walked out of here?”

“A note at the hotel, a cold phone coded to the Oxford drop for Dunning.”

“One of these days,” Kirklin straddled the duct-taped seat, briefcase between his legs, “someone will need to kill Richard Dunning.”

“Don’t try it from a motorcycle,” Caswell shot Kirklin a clipped smile, dropped on his own duct-taped seat. “Be a shame if the bastard heard you coming.”

Gambits #4

Didn’t Your Mom Tell You About Girls “Like That?”

In 2016, a seventeen-year-old Mexico City boy suffered a fatal stroke after receiving a hickey from his girlfriend. A pathologist determined the love bite caused a blood clot that traveled to the young dude’s brain

I can’t believe this hasn’t been riffed by every screenwriter and fluffy mystery novelist out there. This is a teen secret agent or a treehouse detective agency YA waiting to happen.

“What happened to Tommy,” Rodrigo asked. It stayed quiet, the wind and the fall leaves brushing against the garage door the only sounds.

Finally Jimmy volunteered, solemnly, “Dead, man. Tommy’s dead.”

“No way!” Rodrigo protested loudly.

“Way,” Becca said, gloomily. “And it was like totally gross how.”

Rod waited, waited a little longer. “Cough, Bec.”

She looked around the circle of friends, sighed heavily. “He and Cindy, uh, Castaneda…” she blushed, hard.

“Yeah?” Rod queried with some push in his voice.

“Yeah…” Becca looked around again, then at the floor. “He, uh…Well, she…” Becca took a deep breath, raised her head and tried to cop some street before saying  “they were deep skiddilypoo in front of her house and she lip branded him, and, and…”

“He got a blood clot from it and it went to his brain,” Jimmy snapped his fingers.  “D.O.A. The dirt nap is scheduled for Thursday after school.”

“Ridicurageous!” Rodrigo was almost in shock. “I saw him at Franco’s like Friday, he was jackin’ on some date he had. It was Cindy Castaneda, she did a fangless vampirella and he’s dead?”

Jimmy looked up from the floor, fiddled with his USB programmable fake Apple watch that told him the time and when to eat lunch, take his allergy meds. “That’s what the cop doc said.”

“There’s gotta be more to it,” Becca said pensively. Becca was always looking for conspiracies, even where there weren’t any. Her dad sold lingerie to department stores and managed all the outlet mall hose and girdle stores, but they all knew he was a secret agent of some kind, and what went on in the back room of the biggest outlet mall store had nothing to do with bras and panties and six packs of B stock pantyhose. She’d pull a Dad, I wanna come next time he was going to Crockett Falls, get on the computer. Cindy Castaneda had been trouble since she’d shown up last summer. Well, trouble, and kind of a, well slut was a bad word. Maybe a prick tease ’cause everybody talked about how hot she was and how she could kiss the shell off a walnut, but nobody was talking about had they done it with her or anything…

Y’all like me all adverbly and commercial with proper tags? I coulda gone on about how cool the garage was, maybe an old B&O stereo with big wooden speakers and no bluetooth, kids like that. But hell, the watch was a stretch for me.