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.

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RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #21- Guest Shot

Fix it in the mix

A saying widely used both facetiously and in earnest in the music biz. Generally alluding to a high suck factor in a recorded performance that can be buried or overdubbed.

Here’s David Limitre’s take on FIX from a shotgun come-read-my-blog email. But I liked it. Because it is about word power. How we associate, how we interact with a word.

FINALLY! I may be getting a handle on this color thing. At least, what I want to do with color. I experimented with toning the ground first. Then the color seemed to appear quite naturally. You be the judge. 11”x 8”, collage, acrylic and graphite on wood. © 2019 David Limrite

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford

Hi Phil,

Eliminating The Word “Fix”

If you use the word “fix”, as in, “Something is wrong with my painting, so I need to fix it”, I would like to suggest that you eliminate the word “fix” from your vocabulary.

To me, the word “fix” implies that my painting is broken and needs repairing.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with your painting. If you are having the thought that you need to “fix” your painting, all it really means is that your painting is not “there” yet. It means that your painting is currently not looking how you want it to look. Yet.

All it really means is that your painting is unfinished, and that you have more work to do.

It probably means that you want to re-work some parts of the painting. But, it definitely does not mean those areas are broken.

Eliminating the word “fix” from my vocabulary has provided me with a much healthier way of self-evaluating my work in progress. And, it helps me have a better attitude about going back into my paintings to re-work them.

Eliminate the word “fix” and let me know how much better you feel.

Best,

David

David is here: 

For all I know he’s the Dan Alatorre of painting, but I don’t care. Painting is one of those things like singing. You get it or you don’t. You can or you can’t. Kind of like writing. Some would be better off dictating. Remember when Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach tried to sing? Like totally thank God for like Dionne Warwick, right?

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.

THG 3 – CH N/A – The Gangster, the Hooker and a Roll of Quarters

From Jackson’s vantage point on the piano bench it appeared Frankie, the “bartender” who’d hired him three months ago, knew everyone in Vegas. The big-shot gamblers, gangsters, movie stars, musicians, comedians, the “dolls.” For a barrel shaped boulder with a 24/7 five o’clock shadow he moved with an incongruous grace in a perfectly tailored tux and custom Italian loafers through the shoulder pats, two-handed handshakes, inside jokes, giggles, kisses on his cheeks or blown with a wink. It took him twenty minutes to work his way through the dense people cloud in the anteroom to the piano. He set his drink on one of the dozen or so coasters Jackson kept spread out on top, hitched his slacks up, lowered himself onto the piano bench and interlaced his fingers between his thighs.

“You been good for me, know that?” He looked around the anteroom between the lobby, restaurant and the Stiletto at the plush ‘gay-cor’ upgrades made over the last three months by Johnny’s girl Lou and Savannah the hooker. “Damn good.” Frankie drained his rocks glass full of Coke. “Lookit,” he turned his head in a slow arc. “Who’da thought you an that smart-ass whore would be the ones brought me some romance back to a corner room in Lost Wages.” He snorted, flipped Jackson’s Paul Revere ponytail. “Hippie motherfucker. Sure you wanna go?”

“No.” Jackson killed time while he kept loose track of ‘All the Things You Are.’ “But I need to amount to something besides Vegas lounge lizard and hooker houseboy.”

“Some guys, that’s their dream.” He jiggled the ice in his dead Coke, tried for the last drop while he side-eyed Jackson. “Lounge Lizard’s icing.”

“When I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to tell my mother playing piano in a whore house was my big dream. She told me not to tell her if it came true.” Jackson’s turn to hit Coke in a tall Collins glass. “So I haven’t. What’d you tell yours?”

“She run off with a Portuguese door-to-door knife sharpener, I was seven. Followed him out the door laughing, no suitcase, nothin’ in her hand but a bottle of vodka. My old man threw all her shit down the trash chute except a big stack of records. Put him sour on women for a while.” A waiter cut from male underwear model cloth glided up, replaced their Cokes and vanished.

“With two brothers, a sister, all workin’, at seven I got my houseboy job. I listened to that stack of her records while I cooked, cleaned, folded. Kept me sane. I was seventeen, figured if I had some money I could make a go of a restaurant. ‘Course everybody knew better. Laughin’, callin’ homo an shit on me. ‘Little men an queers run restaurants. Big boy like you should box.’ Since I was twelve, I hit a man he stayed down, where’s the kick for me in that? Fuck boxing, I wanted a restaurant.” He killed the new Coke.

“You should get a bigger glass.” Jackson let a passing chord hang forever before he dropped on the major 7 resolve.

“That shit there,” Johnny said, “you do that, everybody in the place is holdin’ their breath and they don’t even know it. You let it fall the whole room relaxes, wants to kiss somebody. Subliminal is what Savannah calls it. You do it on purpose. You ever get in a hurry?”

“Driving. Playing something plugs in the wall. Houseboy duty. What’d you do about the restaurant?”

“Somebody killed a friend of mine and his old man. Mindin’ their own business workin’ in their shop. For twelve lousy dollars. Had to do what had to be done. Things took off on their own after that, I never got my place. Why you been good for me. This is the place I wanted. The food’s lousy ‘less you like Savannah’s whore’s-derves, but nobody cares. I come in here and everybody’s glad to see me, see each other. Even the asshole Jews complain about everything are happy. Friendly. Like outta some movie. Good, y’know? Everybody needs a place don’t feel like sandpaper to some part of their soul.”

“You goin’ soft on me?”

“You ain’t tellin’ nobody if I am. San Francisco, Philly, Kansas City. Tulsa even, you can find places like that. Quiet, friendly, good music. All the time I’m sayin’ Vegas is a cheesy, no class fuckin’ carnival. Except here. I wasn’t scared of catchin’ somethin’ I’d kiss that whore brought me your picture.”

“Can’t sell that one. You’d kiss her in a heartbeat just to say you’d let her suck your tongue down her throat, ran off without paying her and got away with your balls.”

“Godammit…” Frank slapped high thigh, shook a little with a Santa Claus chuckle. “That’s what I’m gonna miss. You and Savannah don’t give a fuck I get pissed off at people bust my chops. So I don’t when it’s you two, and the doc says that’s good for me. The coasters tell me you expect visitors. Who you recognize in this room?”

“Nobody.”

“When you’re gone?”

“I played piano in a blind corner of an old hotel lobby. Never knew anybody. Except I might keep the one about the roof party and the guy that looked a lot like a movie star who tipped me a thousand dollars to play Grand Canyon Suite while the sun set.”

“He got drunk with a doll half his age in his lap. He ain’t gonna complain to me maybe you faked it. You and the doll both fucked him, ‘cept you kept your pants on and made two, three times what she did. Lookit, I’m not here to do memory lane with a fuckin’ hippie. People might get the wrong idea, like I’m maybe gonna miss you.” He clicked a black lacquer pen he’d pulled from inside his tux, wrote a number on the back of a coaster, slid it over in front of Jackson. “Any trouble on the way to bein’ somebody I’d still like to know,” he stood, drained Jackson’s Collins glass of Coke, looked around for a waiter. “Pick up a phone.”

***

The only word he could find for the way Savannah smelled was ‘expensive.’ He’d tried to justify that around her profession, couldn’t. It wasn’t what she did, or looked like or wore, she simply smelled like what diamonds would smell like if they had a smell. Barely there, nothing tangible he could pick out. Amanda’s hair always smelled that far off exotic way, like where magic carpets came from, Alix like a spring garden floating in through a window. Deanna…Ivory soap and lavender and a touch of Chanel. Clean. Even when she sweat. She smelled like…Deanna –

“I asked you a question.” Savannah had narrowed her eyes, knitted her brows together, pulled herself closer to him on the piano bench. “Am I dead? Disgusting? Bothering you?”

“No, no. Not…I don’t need anything.”

“Take this anyway. Don’t lose it.” She pushed an upside-down coaster with a number written on it in front of him. “In case.”

“Of?”

“In case you get lonely in La La Land.”

“I couldn’t afford –”

“You let me worry about ‘afford.’ Call, tell them you’re mine, done.”

“I thought my deal with pros was no contact. Or minimal contact. Besides, me and professional sex?”

“You’re not a houseboy anymore. And don’t go all romantic or pious on me, it’s the oldest profession for a reason. The best girlfriend in the world is one who listens like she cares, fucks your brains out and leaves. What did Frank want?”

“He gave me a coaster. Kinda like yours.”

“Yeah?” She looked over her shoulder, the twist brought her left thigh full contact with his right. His foot slipped and the piano pedal banged. “You have a problem, he’s the one to know.”

“I thought Johnny –”

“Johnny’s a puppet. He doesn’t make the PTA and apple pie people look mobbed up when they get their picture taken with him. Frank’s the man.” Her boobs brushed his arm. “God, can you imagine the Sisters of Hope selling prime geo at two-x market and trying to look angelic in their hard hats with Frank?” She stopped halfway back around, her lips an inch from his ear, breathed “What’s my name?”

“Savan-uhhhh….” He had to lean slightly to his left before her breath set his right ear on fire.

“Don’t forget it. It won’t take much of the L.A. Woman syndrome before you’ll want to use it and the number, trust me.” She tapped the coaster with a fingernail. “So when it gets that way, pick up a phone.”

“That’s what Frankie said.” He dropped his voice about two octaves. “Pick up a phone”

“Yeah?” She turned all the way back, put out a cigarette in the piano top ashtray with her left hand, let her right fall on his thigh. “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have that roll of quarters in your pocket when I sat down, babe, or I’d be worried about you two. Silly me,” She slid off the bench, leaned down and planted a bright red lipstick tattoo on his cheek. “For a minute there I thought you weren’t paying any attention.”

I must have 15 different ways in the can to get Jackson out of Vegas. Thoughtful, touchy feely, philosophical head time. This one cuts to the chase before he packs his car. It could have been considerably more elaborate, based on what I’ve read lately form some best sellers, but it gets where it needs to be and nobody has to have tags to show who they are, or how they’re feeling. I think…

 

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

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #20 – More Is Too Much

If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art and reject it. – William Morris

I’ve had a theme in my head for some time now. It escapes editing and goes off down the rabbit hole. Because it is ill-defined. Excess? (yes, to me) Sloppy? (not always) Lazy? (lots of toil involved in some cases) Self-serving? (difficult to say). Style? (close, but…) Wanking? (depends on sloppy or lazy)

What I’m trying to get to is superfluous content, author agendas (preaching), and the middle of the road. By MOR I mean clichés, weak language, lack of logic. Which brings me to Lester Dent. If you don’t know Lester Dent there are numerous websites dedicated to the man who prototyped the superhero, much as Morris did for fantasy. Dent’s “Doc Savage” was better looking and more charismatic than all the 007s, had more toys than Batman or M dreamed of. Without Doc Savage Stan Lee would have had no one to put in multicolored spandex. Dent’s take on pulp construction is short and explicit. It should be studied for no other reason than the discovery of truth in short noir-ish fiction formatting. To the point –

Dent told a funny story about setting, and fooling editors (and readers). If you want a story set in an exotic locale, foreign land or someplace you’ve never been you had to sell it. The editors were fearful of misrepresentation and exposure of the author as a phony. Dent’s example was Egypt. To con an editor into believing you’d been to Egypt, or were an amatuer Egyptologist, throw in a local character saying something in Egyptian. Use the old ploy of having another character translate it, or the main character translate it himself. “Yes, Afkhan, I know it’s a tree.”  It also helps to find some pictures of the area to recreate, if only briefly. I would suppose along the lines of the distance between two pyramids a character had to cover without being shot. Palm trees or whatever, a crazy colorful bazar (Indiana Jones). A little of that and the editor signed off on Egypt. Note – a little. Just enough to sell it, not a full-blown travelogue for Egypt (or wherever).

I mention this because I have read some books lately that are more travelogue than story. I enjoyed Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand save for the scheduled injections of rural Sussex that rivaled the output of the Romantics. She said in an interview that those parts of the book were a romanticized paean to her homeland. At least she owned it. And she could have pushed a real modern race/bigotry agenda in the book. Instead she made it a classic shot of Jane Austen-ish satire of manners with a touch of romantic fairy tale for the 21st century. Good for her. But I still flipped through the many pages of pastoral mist on England’s green and pleasant getting to the story. I should add I learned a couple of things about backstory insertion and character exposure tricks from that book.

Another glaring example is James Lee Burke. The man has sold a gazillion books. I picked up his Creole Belle at the library to see why. After maybe forty pages I have a couple of story, a lot of opinions about New Orleans, way too damn many descriptions of plant life. Characters can’t step out of a door without witnessing a half page laundry list of flora and bugs and snakes and the various states of the water – black in the shade, green with algae, glistening from a streetlamp and rain drumming in various quantities on every surface imaginable. I shouldn’t have had to get out my iPad and Googled botanical pictorial lookups to refresh my memory on caladiums and rhododendrons and fifteen other types of plants on the patio of an office building we’ll never go back to. Everything is described in massive detail. Substance rehab, stinky trailers, all a reason to go off for a page or more on philosophy and agenda and the evils of the world, the nasty yanks and the brave confederates. Some with not so transparent preaching ascribed to them. Do we really need all that shit to find out where Creole Belle went?

Tony Hillerman can put you on a rutted road in the New Mexico desert without all that. Robert Parker can put you on a corner in Boston, all you need. He can even wax good versus evil. You know Spenser and Hawk are hard guys without constantly being reminded of it. Yet Burke throws it in every couple of pages. Maybe because his big tough guys talk, on occasion, like teenage girls. “Isn’t that neat?” Like a couple of tough guys I read about trapped by gunfire saying, “What shall we do?” That wasn’t Burke, but he gets close. By page 40 we have been reminded 5 or 6 times the detective’s sidekick’s secretary is an ex nun. And the only dialect is Cajun Creole, from Creoles or Blacks. Everyone else reads exactly the same. Even the lady detective we’ve been reminded 4 times makes people uncomfortable because she’s a lesbian. You think we got the nun and the lesbian by now?

When people write like that, I wonder what they’re selling. Simonson admitted it. She also admitted to no liking the weather, the food and warm beer. All things she left out of her postcard from Sussex. All things Burke overdoses on. Minutiae. I find myself wanting to shake the book to get the crap out of it and get to the story. How much description do we need? How much clutter, how much crap?

***

The William Morris quote was taken out of context to sound elitist. I did that on purpose. It is offered below as contextual. Had I used it all up front it would have obviated the need for this post. That is, if you get it.

Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls, and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside; or a grimy palace amid the smoke with a regiment of housemaids always working to smear the dirt together so that it may be unnoticed; which, think you, is the most refined, the most fit for a gentleman of those two dwellings?
So I say, if you cannot learn to love real art; at least learn to hate sham art and reject it. It is not because the wretched thing is so ugly and silly and useless that I ask you to cast it from you; it is much more because these are but the outward symbols of the poison that lies within them; look through them and see all that has gone to their fashioning, and you will see how vain labour, and sorrow, and disgrace have been their companions from the first — and all this for trifles that no man really needs! – William Morris, speech in London 1880

Two Updates –

1 – Someone asked me where I got the trite rant from – Here you go.

Thick tendrils of mist embraced the thick bases of the gnarled trunks transforming them into tortured faces. Deep knotholes became dark, hooded eyes and missing chunks of bark, sighing mouths. Frothy fronds of foliage framed  (Say that fast three times) the desperate looking figure like wild unkempt hair.

Margaret stood for a long, immobile second at the top of the stairs. The cellar, with its gradually unfolding secrets and strange silence, attracted her. She knew she couldn’t go there, but it sang an alluring siren song that was difficult to resist.

Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Look for Roberta’s book The Nethergate to be published in September. I smell my favorite internet “editor” all over that. I made a comment about the redundant use of thick, the alliteration and the complete lack of logic in the second bit. I was told “We all like different things.” Count me in the group that likes things to make sense. My wife reads me excerpts from her freshman comp students. I considered them expert at stringing words together for effect not sense. Now I know published authors do the same.

2 – If you wondered, which I doubt, what I did to fix my own perfect sounding but illogical line in Octopus! you may go see the whacked version.

If you’d like to know William Morris The William Morris Society is a good place to start. He is considered by many, including Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as their greatest influence on fantasy, utopia/dystopia and faerie stuff. Be advised do not go into that Morris lightly because a lot of it is in honest to God Olde and Middle English which is a lot harder to read than the pidgeon/pirate talk we have today. Plus it’s like really long. His speeches, though, rock. A consummate, if reluctant, rhetorician.