NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away

“I really appreciate this, Harp.” Cheryl pushed the baby carriage back and forth, a clock pendulum on half time. “My baby girl loves her some big wooly dog, but not…”

“Reckon that’s what brothers are for.” He reached in the back seat of his pickup, pulled a stack of old bath towels, dropped them on the gravel drive. “Not that hosin’ off stinky-ass dogs was ever on any list or anything.”

“Me, too Uncle H. I really ‘preciate it.”

Harper checked the lanky eight-year-old girl in cut-offs and faded red tank top sitting on the back steps.

“You in some kind of trouble over this dog stank, Whacko?”

“Harper, you know that makes her mad.”

“What happens when your parents give you a stupid name like Waco, huh, kiddo? Runs in the family, though, stupid names.” He winked at the girl. “Trouble?”

“Double trouble. Double stupid.” She gave her mom a glare, stood and brushed the back of her cutoffs. “But, um, yeah. It’s kinda my fault you’re here ‘cause Flower, um, sorta got out the way back gate. When I was, um…”

“Bein’ a space cowgirl?”

“Before you go callin’ anybody names it was you bought her that Kindle thing all loaded up with crazy books about smarty pants little girls who can’t behave.”

“Yep. An I hear she’s readin’ like three grades ahead now.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Uncle Harp an Miss Gunnison get along.”

“Of course they do.” Cheryl shook her head, Harper pulled off his work shirt, tucked his undershirt back in, picked up the towels and carried them to a warped, wooden in-need-of-paint all-in-one picnic table set up in dry grass off the back patio of his sister’s house.

“Randy ever wants some help loadin’ this piece of shhh-” he glanced at the baby carriage and his niece, “…crap off somewhere, tell him to call me.”

“’Crap’ ain’t all that much better, little brother.”

“For this piece of crap, it is.”

Cheryl barked a short laugh, put her finger to her lips, tilted her head toward the carriage.

“She slept through my truck, big sis. She’s not wakin’ up for nothin’ any time soon.” He checked back with his niece. “Where’s Flower, kiddo?”

“Side of the house. In his kennel.”

“Dawn and a bucket?”

“By the hose. There’s a wash mitt, too.”

“You not comin’?”

“Well, I…” her eyes bounced between her mom and uncle.

“She almost barfed puttin’ him up, Harper.”

“Aha. So Flower got himself into some righteous stank.” He nodded toward the towels. “You gotta help dry, kiddo. Can’t count on other people, even Super Uncle, to clean up your whole mess.”

“Yes sir, I know, but, but,” she ramped up some righteous kid sized indignation. “I didn’t make him go off, go off an… an waller all over in old man Morgensen’s pigs’ shit. He done that himself!”

“Oh. My. God.” The carriage pendulum stopped. “Young lady, that is–”

“Probably exactly what you or Randy said when Flower showed his stankiness at the door.” He raised an eyebrow. “Huh, Cheryl?”

“You stay out of this, Harper. Waco Justine, we will talk later.”

“Yes ma’am.” She rolled her eyes, did the hands in pockets kid amble around the side of the house with Harper. He leaned toward her, lowered his voice.

“Find a way to wake your baby sister up and get her hollerin’ before your mom gets too wound up on you repeatin’ her. She’ll forget all about it.”

Her eyes widened. “Ya think?”

“I know. Your dad and I did it to her when you were a baby. Take the long way around the house, meet me at the towels.”

***

The last post was about surprises. I have said many times I put the characters together and keep up. Only this one had a premise going in, built into the old dog towels. About how there was this one-stoplight-and-it-didn’t-work town in nowhere west Texas called Lost Socks. Where towels and socks that go missing from the dryer end up. Well, the best laid plans and all that took a hard left at the picnic table. But I thank Cheryl, Harper, Waco Justine and Flower for the ride.

Sit down, listen, and off they go. No wonder I never get anything done.

NVDT Random – Inviting Surprises

Guest Episode

I subscribe to and follow few things, but I receive a newsletter from David Limrite, a graphic artist. I’m not sure I would even like his art hanging in my space, but he has a consistent style. It’s obvious he’s looking for something, and his newsletters are positive without a saccharin component. I thought his latest was a good take on “the muse”, something universal to creative. Writers should have no difficulty reading this cross curriculum. The bolding is mine.

***

I love when surprises show up in my work. You know, when something appears in a painting you are currently working on that you didn’t expect.

It could be an unusual texture, a completely different color that you don’t normally use, or an unplanned juxtaposition of elements that end up working in a quirky way.

I love when this happens. And I welcome it.

However, these surprises don’t just happen by themselves. They only happen when I show up in front of my easel and work. Surprises only happen when I am trying stuff, experimenting and taking risks.

In order for surprises to present themselves, I have to set up situations that invite them in. I have to be applying paint to canvas. I have to be making marks with charcoal on paper. I have to be gluing collage on a wood panel.

I also have to be looking for and be open to surprises showing up. And welcoming. And willing for them to make a surprise appearance.

I must be present during the creation of my pictures. I have to be watching what is happening on the surface of my painting while I am working on it. I have to pay attention.

Show up, make your art, pay attention, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Best,

David

NVDT Random – STFU and Running Stop Signs

I mentioned in the last book review that the author’s novella was a blessed relief from some epic wordiness. I have two indie books on my Kindle that are good stories. Well, one might be three good stories.

STFU #1 – This is a grimy, well painted modern noir where I had to give up after a couple of chapters and tours around the characters’ heads reached graduate level school of redundancy school. I get it already. After the second or third tour of the head time gallery chapters following on the heels of a meaningless ‘how to set up a web-site’ minutiae chapter written solely for ramping up a co-protagonist’s anxiety? We know she’s uptight and out of options from 30 pages ago. I don’t care anymore. Where’d the conspiracy story this is setting up go? STFU already. It’s a great setup, well described, we understand the characters after they meet in chapter one. If the characters were only making scale, they’d still bankrupt the entire production. Put their asses to work. Ephemeral Noir doesn’t require extra words on the same subject.

STFU #2 – This one is War and Peace, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything and baseball all go to lunch, meet a bunch of their friends who talk over each other and can’t figure out how to get home. There are three good stories in this book. One of them, sans all the peripheral crap, would be funny as a rom-com caper without the gold watch and baseball. As the gold watch component and baseball would be a great rom-com caper sans the background noise. As it is, nothing is central to the story except a season of baseball games full of authorial direction, and as many adverb laden tags as a Nancy Drew. I think because this book is the author’s baby, he wanted nothing left to chance so we’re never participating, simply waiting to be told what just happened and what’s next. I discussed this reading effort, without name, with a friend of mine and described the story line as resembling a clothesline, complete with a ton of loosely related shit hanging off it. All they have in common is being in the same load of laundry.

The author gets off some good humorous licks and some outright funny direct and indirect puns, but sadly, like the socks you really need, they’re buried in the laundry basket. I’m almost finished with this one and I want to like it, but I’m not sure which book of the three will win. As a cheat, I read the last page –

Last note on STFU – detail. Both specific to scene and specific to era. Some is good. An editor told me, “Unless you are operating in a specific costume drama time frame, drop the time capsule bullshit.” What she meant by that is what something costs and how to build a website and how to fix a lawnmower is all outdated by the time you run spell check. A contract for stealing your life savings is no more than that, and it’s all us readers need. Think about this. If you changed a few things, like mode of transportation, most classic entertainment lit would stand up today. Jim kicks Bill. Detective Foonblat made a call. We don’t need what rev iOS the phone has, or even if it was a cell phone. Readers will put a phone in his hand. Didn’t you? How simple is that? I could change the names and a few scene details and publish Gatsby by another name tomorrow because it’s a freaking story, not a head time playground or someplace to dump useless specific information. So get the funk out and tell the damn story.

Running Stop Signs – It’s over when it’s over. Does no one read, or study chapter endings? Or scene endings? I ask because regardless of style or wardrobe construction certain things (metafiction and postmodernists may stop here) are gifts to the reader. If the scene changes, let us know. The *** works, double space, anything except the sudden jolt. WTF? We were just in the bar and now it’s raining at Jane’s house a week later? Huh? When a scene stops, stop. And let us know.

I don’t know about you, but I want to turn the page to see what they get up to next, I don’t want the last bit tied up with a bow and told what I just read and what’s about to happen. Here’s a rule I learned. The last couple of lines I want to write? I don’t. Or I whack them and see how it reads. Regardless of what you write, study the best as that’s the bar to hit. I know it’s a painful buzzkill for “damn mom, I just want to write,” but whack that shit. Readers don’t need it, authors don’t need to write it. I want the flavor of the book I just read to hang with me.

What I’m talking about is, for lack of a better word, “portending”. Author tells reader what to expect. Often found in conversational cozy type tales, it is acceptable, almost a bonding experience in first person, but I still don’t see the point. I take a line from Laura Levine’s Death by Pantyhose – Nothing, I thought, could possibly go wrong on such a spectacular day. I’m sure the gods had a hearty chuckle over that one.

I’m a Laura Levine fan, but did we need that telegraphing last line to keep reading? No. I’d have turned the page without it. And been more involved than with it.

Here’s some other recently encountered classics. From Jim Thompson’s Texas by the Tail – “And then they all had a drink together. Or maybe two, who knows…” That’s pure author. Could have ended more satisfactorily with an edit of the last line of dialogue preceding it. A good mid-century Noir killed by cliché.

I’m going to drop attribution for a few of the next ones, for the author’s sake because it’s not my intention to embarrass anyone. “You live and learn, and boy have I learned.” That is the last line in a final scene that cheats the intensity of the book. Several lines from the last scene could have been added to its predecessor for added emotional impact, done.

… she had groped for her cell phone. (female) recorded a short message on (male’s) phone, “You are the luckiest man in the world.” And he was.

Not only was this exchange prefaced with a hundred words of He thought and She thought author direction and miscellaneous peripheral action getting to it that could have been reduced to one good line, and since by now we know what’s up between these two when it’s not being buried in separate story lines, “You are the luckiest man in the world,” says it all.

Stop when it ends. Here’s the story to this point. Make me turn the page or end the book. But stop all the portending and telegraphing and telling me how I should feel and how everybody else feels because outside of a few chatty styles it’s a reader loser. Let me see the characters, not the author. Think about it – Oh, you’re telling me things are going to get shitty? Well, I can wait for that instead of turning the page to find out. Oh, turn the page and discover this book is going to repeat like the coda of “Hey Jude” or “Message in a Bottle” for fucking ever? I must read a contract, build a website, learn about Gulf Coast flora or stamp collecting to get through this? Never mind. Jim broke the gun down. Bill collects stamps in his spare time and seeks out stamp shops when he travels. Hank’s girlfriend says she loves him in dialogue.

Even Jane Austen used the page turn convention of hang time. It’s not difficult, just stop. Don’t ‘splain, don’t speculate for us, don’t tell us what we just read and its import. Show us the story. Anything else is an insult. To the reader and the work.

Jim, crouched over the glass shards, chanced a look through the splintered window frame. “Whataya think they’re up to out there?”

“Dunno,” Bill shoved shells in his pistol, spun the cylinder. “But they’re gonna have to come up with somethin’ new. We done run outta glass for ’em to break.”

or

Harper sat, fingers crossed and watched the ball sail end over end through the uprights with no time on the game clock. He hunched over, pounded his fists on his knees. “Yesssssss.” He knocked the coffee table over. “Yes yes yes.” Somewhere his phone beeped a voice mail alert. He scrambled through pizza crusts and Shiner cans, found it. Jackie? Holy shit, Jackie! He punched the screen, held the phone to his ear. “You, Mr. Harper Crosschambers, are the luckiest man in the world.”

The End of Part 1/ Chapter 3/ Scene 7 / Book

How difficult is any of that? All we gotta do is STFU.

NVDT Random – Lemme Tell Ya How it Feels

Emotion Tells – I have discovered this subject is fraught with division. Some consider a lengthy interior monologue to be “showing”. I disagree, but if you’re a regular you know how I feel about head time.

My experience with emotion tells involves things like “heard,” “felt,” and “smelled.” The first time an editor told me to pull a “felt” I was angry. What? You want emotion, yet you’re telling me not to let the primary protagonist “feel”? Worse, I wasn’t offered any solutions. Like, well Phil, you ignorant dumb fuck, work it out. Which I did. Here it is, simpler than all the histrionics of fiction experts. Felt, heard, smelled, touched – they’re all weak. Worse, they’re filters. Using one and thinking, “Bill felt Jim’s kick” puts us in touch with Bill is fallacy. It’s pushing us (the reader) further away. Add an adverb and it’s patronizing. For the slightest moment. Emotion tells reside in the same place with explanatory dialogue tags.

Erlene hesitantly touched the stove. It felt cold. She called for Larry to come have a look. See that? I just told you about Erlene and the stove. There is no investment for the reader.

Erlene caught a breath, held it, sidled up to the stove. She closed her eyes, reached out and tapped it with her index finger. Cold. She relaxed, opened her eyes, hollered, “Stove’s colder’n a whorehouse fulla nuns, Larry. Ain’t nobody been around here any kinda recent like.”

Okay, not genius. But you get the idea. Plus, we get to know a little about Erlene. The point – Get rid of weak, lazy verbs in storytelling. Not just in tag-land but emotion-land. There are times to add some word count, and times to put gas in the weed eater. Long flowery sentences full of extra words, adios. Lengthy descriptions, adios. (Mor-on that in a later post). Words that engage and get the action out of the character’s head? Hell yes. I read an example somewhere – Bill thought the ladder might be unsafe. Well, yeah, it’s boring. The ‘Splainer went on to write an epic paragraph about Bill scaling the rickety ladder. Which was overkill for me, but if used as a tension builder, sure.

There’s still an early Deanna tell I need to fix where she “felt” her grandmother’s cold, bony hand. That was the one I got busted for. After I learned that “Deanna thought she might be pregnant, but thankfully wasn’t” was only a placeholder I had to force myself into an exercise in interior and exterior emotional shows. Liked to killed me.

Without the pill Deanna was used to irregular, but not twelve days late irregular. She wasn’t sleeping or following any of her health and scholastic regimens. She paced, worried, and cried off and on for eighteen hours before she called Alix.

Allo oui?”

“Alix, I… I did… Something. Stupid… I think…”

“Thought is most desired, my love. What thoughts most recent bring tears to your voice?”

“I… I might be… I mean I could be…”

“You have spoken with the doctor, no?”

“No. I…”

“Instead of knowing you have made an illness of yourself with worry? You must know of your condition, my love, as worry most becomes the solution of nothing.”

“I know, I know. From facts we discern issues and from issues we discern action. But -“

“Your ‘but’ arrives without relevance, my love. Make no excuses. Discover your condition as fact first, no?”

“I haven’t gone because I know if I hear it for real, I’ll have to… decide. Something. And I’ll have to talk. Mom, Amanda, Jackson… They already hate me… “

“As you have spoken in our work, part of being a woman is to make the decisions most difficult. Without knowledge we become reckless, no? Attend the doctor. After you will know and decide as your heart speaks. Think, my love. Call me as you wish. Decide. What you need, regardless of decision, I make available to you. Do not think of the time most proper to call. Or of your mother, or of Amanda or le petite amor. We are agreed, oui?”

Deanna settled the phone, lay sleepless on her bed another seven hours hoping what she thought were cramps really were, not phantoms or from her stomach churning. She crawled out of bed as the sun turned night into a lighter shade of foggy Cambridge gray, showered and was on her way to the doctor she wished she’d never had to meet, ever, when she felt the cramps take over her abdomen. So strong she stumbled into an alcove out of the freezing mist to sit. If the cramps would just stop long enough for her to catch a decent breath… Goddammit, I have enough to explain without being late… She doubled over on the steps, her body exploded in release. She convulsed, wretched up bile, leaned against the cold, damp stone, choking back sobs.

She forced herself upright and ran. Ran like she’d die if she didn’t outrun the demons that had wrapped themselves around every moment of her life for the last month. She passed her flat and kept running, north up the river walk, past Trinity, across her baby bridge and the river into St. John’s Chapel where wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and thankful she landed on her knees two sections from the Altar. Too wasted to pray, she simply was. Extant between exhaustion and sleep. She stayed that way until her thighs locked up and she fell on her side, curled up in a ball on the padded kneeler and passed out.

A woman swishing a mop banged it on the short wooden wall separating the pews from the main aisle. “Canna fetch a priest, lass?”

“No.” Deanna pulled herself to her knees. “Hell no.” She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. “No men. No priests. No lovers, no liars, no pretenders, no perverts. No nothing. Ever. From any of them. Never. Ever.”

“There’s dead men gone six hundred years and more beneath our feet.” The woman stabbed her mop in the bucket, sloshed it onto the floor, chin pointed to a stone wall broken by stained glass. “Some woman in the ground a’side with grass for a gown as knew them would say six hundred and a stone wall’s not long enough away. Count your blessings, child.” She maintained the rhythm of the mop. “It’s a game to them, love, but our lives to us. More careful you’d be at putting it about in future, I’d say. That’s advice true as no vicar can give. Free offered, to be free taken.” She leaned her mop and walked around the corner, returned with a worn but functional lady’s Mackintosh. “’Ave this against the rain. Wrap your sweater about your waist as you leave. You’re a right mess below.” She turned, reloaded her mop. “I’ll have my Mack back and clean when you come next for a proper go at Mass.”

NVDT Random – Know What I Mean?

After the post on weird words and stranger meanings, Leggy Peggy offered a comment on how a friend of hers from Morrocco sends her notes where nothing is spelled properly, but she has no difficulty understanding them. While cleaning out and organizing files this week I ran across the scan below from my music daze and found it a fitting example. Even if no one ever spells my name properly, I knew it was for me.

At the time I worked for a distributor into Mexico and South America. The gentleman who wrote the letter got me out of more messes on my clinic tours than you can imagine. He also served as my interpreter when I got past ankle deep in Spanish. That’s the real gist.

We understood each other well enough to have a good time, and not piss anybody off. When my canned Espanol routine would get derailed by a question I didn’t grasp? It became a comedy routine. He’d translate the question. I’d answer as best I could in Spanish before he’d shake his head and take over. I’d ask, in front of 5,000 people, “Say what? I need to learn that one,” and he’d repeat it. I’d repeat it back, look to the audience for a yay or nay. A good deal of what got yelled back at me was in fun and unprintable. Even if I understood I’d come back with “¿Qué tiene que ver tu hermana con esto?” (What’s your sister got to do with this?)

If my wife had to grade this as an English 1301 project, Marco would fail. But I know exactly what he’s saying. Wawt madders is kontint, wee kan fix the rust. Know what I mean?

NVDT Random – Housekeeping and a Thank You

This blog was a mess. Of opinion, “tips”, silliness, and craft. Here’s a sad truth. A number of the craft pieces end up with more edits on here than the Word or other scratchpads where they originated. Even stuff pulled out of Scrivener is fresher here than there.

It has been in the back of my mind for a year to assemble a handful of shorts from the better of these blog posts. Trying to search them on WP is frustrating at best. Particularly if I know the title or a content trigger word and WP offers up forty posts. Thirty-nine of which are not relevant, nor do they contain the triggers or the title.

The other day I did some research on converting blogs to PDF/Word and found BlogBooker. This is not a pitch, nor am I a compensated spokesperson or an actor portraying a user. I tried several of the options out there on the “free tial” and for me BlogBooker worked the best. The caveat is if you want your whole blog you will need to pay. I found the princely sum of $18 for 6 months and a few passes and 30 minutes of processing time reasonable to save me at least one cut and paste step of 380+ documents. In under a minute, I had this entire blog down to five Word Docx files, one per year. Complete with graphics and comments.

I have been going through the files, copying out singles of the short stories by title and active character. Okay, in all honesty I went through and blew out all the comments so I could tell what was content and what was me blowing. I want to thank everyone (except that asshole Australian Nicholas whatever) for your comments. Good, constructive, critical – All of them. I had forgotten what I learned about Deanna and Jackson from you, what characters and their antic/conversations resonated and what was a reach even when I was experimenting. And how what crap I think my “poetry” is, it was the biggest hit.

I’m through two years of shorts and poetry. I haven’t pulled any of the goofy stuff or the Writerly Concerns/thoughts. I was on the verge of recycling myself, or reposting and what a waste of time. The point of this was to create a canvas with artificial deadlines to put product up and look at it. A virtual dress rehearsal. Hence the reason there’s a finer point on most of what was up here than anywhere else. Like playing live or putting a demo together or creative for $. I don’t see or hear the clams unless the volume’s up.

I used the word “was” in reference to content here. After I ran BlogBooker I dumped 99% of my content. Not because of any paranoia, but to keep me from hitting on something and tweaking it in one too many places. I’ll have one main folder with subs for shorts by character and the “poetry”. I will make various assemblies of content and port them to epub or Word or whatever format required and ask anyone interested to go through and say yay or nay to content selections. I have so much junk I could do several variations, with mini novellas in the middle. Deanna collection, Jackson collection, conversations with Lamar… Or print them for fish wrapping.

Coming up on this site will be more originals, ’cause I can’t quit, and I had a lot of fun with SepScene and the bad detective pulp and creating. But there will be a lot less nonsense.

Truth? I belonged to this blog hop. Nobody wanted to discuss craft, they wanted cover reveals for crap.* I mentioned that more than once and they invited me to go away. I still get notices from a few of them and, by and large, they are still writing long tomes once a week about nothing but how grand their shit is when they could be fixing their work or helping each other. When I saw all that, and all the time I’d spent participating and writing long tomes about why don’t y’all give a shit I was sick.

Thanks! Back to your regularly scheduled blogs.

*Stevie Turner is exempt from this description. Just sayin’.

NVDT #100 – Writerly Concerns – Word Games

Words, as a topic, have cropped up a good deal lately. If I’m not arguing with ProWritingAid, I’m hunting through the Urban Dictionary or trying to figure out why three spellings of ‘chauffeur’ all seem to be correct as none of the three variations generate a red bad spelling squiggle.

I don’t really argue with PWA. Arguing with software is a waste of time and downright stupid. I will eyeball the running report in the sidebar and go “Oh yeah?”. The latest was dealing with a split infinitive. Their suggestion was “Never! You’ll look like the world’s biggest dumb ass if you don’t rewrite it!” It wasn’t in dialog, so I had to check it out. However, it was a character summarizing the contents of a letter. What I wanted required the adverb between the to, and the verb, or it didn’t “read” correctly. I recalled Elmore Leonard’s wisdom–“I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”–and I split the damn infinitive. After all that, I remembered the most famous infinitive split ever, “To boldly go…”. Boldly to go, to go boldly. Nah. Split that fucker, and carry on.

Here’s another one (unless you read YA fantasy or are under, say, 30). Voidless. Contextually, it described someone’s sleep. I thought, WTF? Voidless? Void is nothing. The suffix -less implies without. Sleepless. No sleep. Weightless. No weight. My logic said “Don’t use this word in Scrabble”. The logic voice also said voidless would mean without void (nothing), so whoever it was had sleep without void. Troubled, bothered, disrupted sleep. Hell no. It means less than void. Like nothingness compounded. Don’t believe me? Here’s the Urban Dictionary definition, complete with original poor grammar.

adj. A noun and or verb that is simultaneously negative and void being that it is lesser than nothingness.
The examples that were given are classic “let’s make up a word because we have no vocabulary” because in each example given, the word devoid (without) would have sufficed. Except this one–This week’s writing assignment-fix this-  The voidless tone of the mans voice confirmed that he was both shaken and enraged by his current situation.

But wait-there’s more. I mentioned the word chauffeur. Depending on what software is checking, it can have 2xf,  1xf, fer, fuer, feur. Huh? Forget that. What about (on my computer) three different variations on combos like window sill, door post, air conditioning or conditioner, hand brake. I don’t recall which is which, but in those and many other instances they can be split as above, combined or “didn’t you mean to hyphenate?”. And not remembering which I believed last time means I have to pick one to proof my documents.

Grammar is a form of retentive insanity and I’m glad I don’t understand it. I’m curious if there’s a free standing grammar checker. I just got the choices to combine or hyphenate both free standing and grammar-checker. I’m going to leave them as a literary middle finger. I’d like a grammar engine that pushes all the others aside and takes over. Or maybe, since I haven’t paid for it in a couple of years, I should uninstall Grammarly so I’ll only have to watch PWA, Microsoft and Scrivener duke it out.

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – Follow-up 2

Another hole filler – Evidentiary and the chauffeur asked for more page time. He’s a decent kid so I obliged.

There was a familiar name on The Bishop’s slip of paper. Brock Holland, one-time All-American quarterback and point shaver at UCLA. He broke a lot of connected gamblers’ hearts when he flopped as a pro. His address in San Francisco didn’t ring any bells, but it wouldn’t. Mr. Holland was going to have to wait till tomorrow, though, because tonight I had another fish to fry. Lorelei’s boyfriend Trevor.

I called the Gilmour Arms independent on-call chauffeur who’d driven Lorelei and me on the night of the murder, asked if he was busy. He wasn’t and agreed to meet me in my parking garage as soon as he could swing it. I dropped Frisky’s .45, minus ammunition, down the trash chute on my way to the elevator. The chauffeur rolled up in under ten minutes, windows down, radio blaring. I put my hand on the doorpost. The radio volume dropped.

“Your name really Huntley Bryston?”

“What momma said.”

“Great Expectations, eh?”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. This your car?”

“Mine and the bank’s.”

“Insured?”

“To the hilt.” He pushed his chauffeur’s cap back. “What’s on your mind, Mr. Meyers?”

“I need to go back to the dump on Fairfax, but my car needs to stay put.”

“You in some kinda jam, or just paranoid?”

“Can’t tell yet.”

“Better safe than sorry? Works for me.” He checked his teeth in the mirror, adjusted his cap. “We stoppin’ for the babe?”

“Not tonight.” I opened the back door, slid in.

“I’m startin’ to lose some enthusiasm.”

“She thinks if you’d wash your hair you’d be a Rafael.”

“Yeah?” He perked up. “It ain’t dirty, I keep it loaded with vitamin oil. So when I wash it out for date night I got a sheen without no stinky products.”

“Might rethink the vitamin grease for off hours. No telling who you’ll meet in this job.”

“That’d be stuck up women and dry-cleaned puckerbutts, mostly.” He smiled in the mirror. “You bein’ the exception.”

I laid on the back seat until we were well on our way. I raised up and we were coming up Sunset from the west.

“You get lost?”

“Too many headlights pullin’ in behind us. I took a page outta your paranoia book, drove around till they peeled off. I’m gonna drive by the Hacienda Javier one more time, run us around a couple blocks.”

I reminded myself to tip this kid while I watched a few blocks of Fairfax sail by, a left on Ogden, up through an alley and a parking lot and we rolled back up Fairfax to Trevor’s last known address.

No one answered when I knocked. I tried the door. Unlocked. The switch brought back the feeble bedside lamp, but this trip I’d brought along a flashlight. The light switch in the bathroom had functional light, so Trevor’s barf in the dark theatrics were intentional or he couldn’t hack the sight of his own vomit. I ran the light around inside the bathroom wastebasket, found a cheap single-edge razor, a wad of gooey gauze, half a pack of lidocaine lozenges and a broken black eyebrow pencil.

The closet turned up empty, as did the dresser. The wastebasket by the bed contained a sandwich wrapper from Tommy’s Deli with Lorelei’s address written in a loopy female hand and an empty chicken minestrone soup can. I held it for a minute, wondered how in the hell anyone could eat cold soup before it hit me like a sledge on a thumbtack. The little son of a bitch had faked the puke and splatter and sold out his girlfriend.

I killed the lamp at the same time a muffled gunshot thumped from outside and a bullet splintered the door. Another shot came on its heels. I dropped, crawled across moldy, crumbling carpet, pushed the door open and out onto the breezeway. I waited. Nothing. I duck-walked to the stairwell, took the stairs sideways and low. From the direction of Fairfax, two more shots thumped, followed by tires squealing and the unmistakable BOOM of a shotgun. I sprinted to the street, found Huntley on the sidewalk, shotgun pistol in hand, the front passenger door open.

“You hit?”

“Scratched me’s all.”

“The shooter?”

“Couldn’t see. But there’s a saddle oxford Ford out there damn sure missin’ some glass.” He ran his hand over his ribs. His fingers came back with traces of blood. “This kinda shit a regular thing with you?”

“I wouldn’t call it regular, but it happens. You want me to drive?”

“Nah. Nothin’s broke or bleedin’ much.” He pushed himself up, walked around to the street side of his car, fingered a bullet hole in the driver’s door. “Goddammit… I just waxed her.”

“I know a bullet hole specialist who’ll throw in a wax,” I climbed in the open passenger door. “And a woman who’s an artist with tape and gauze that’ll make you feel better just looking at her.”

“Yeah?” He dropped behind the wheel, winced, hit the starter. “You got their numbers memorized?”

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – Followup 1

I’ve been filling holes in the SepScene project. I jumped from the body to the police station with information out of the etherhere’s a rough of that ether chapter. Long read. Blow it off if you want. This fulfills my need for deadlines.

I pulled the bottle of Scotch Ms. Lorelei Laurier left behind out of my bottom desk drawer, wiped out a coffee cup, and poured myself a quick drink. A dead fat man, an edgy client related to same, knowing I’d have to tell the cops what I knew about it which was next to nothing. None of that required sticking my nose in a bottle looking for answers. Although it was a nice bottle, and the liquor was liquid gold.

I thought I’d have a while to wait, wished I’d eaten something and was working out what that might have been when Lorelei let herself in. She turned to shut the door and swished, the way women move when they are secure in who they are, what they’re doing. Even in an evening coat at one AM after finding her grandfather dead in the family digs. She sat across from me, deliberately, without pretense. Like we’d known each other for years, not since roughly twelve hours ago.

“I should apologize for getting you mixed up in this.”

“In this what?” I leaned across the desk, lit her cigarette. “I haven’t been on the job long enough to know what I don’t know, much less what I should know.”

“Elliptical, but well said.” She watched me take a hit from the coffee cup, glanced around the office. “Is that coffee?”

“Scotch. Your Scotch.”

“Is there another cup, or do we share?”

I pulled a cup out of my desk, wiped it down.

“On second thought,” she rose, brushed imaginary wrinkles out of her coat. “I think coffee would be better. And you will want to speak with Trevor. Coming?”

“Who’s driving?”

“I don’t know his name, but he seems competent. Sullen. Could stand to wash his hair.”

“You took a cab?”

“Our building has several limousines and drivers on call. I asked for the least ostentatious model available. They obliged.”

***

Lorelei had no preferences in coffee shops, and the driver knew squat except for franchises. I gave him directions to a Brazilian place called Lito’s, a few blocks off Sunset in West Hollywood where the coffee will stand your hair on end. It’s in the same block as an infamous after-hours bar so the clientèle ranges from hard partying movie stars, musicians, lost dopers, drunks of all types and people like Lorelei and me, all looking for some jet fuel to finish out the night. A small, dark man with wiry hair named Bernie, or Barney or Barley runs the place. In five or six years I haven’t been able to make out his name exactly because everyone who works there speaks some blend of Mex and Portuguese at speeds approaching the sound barrier.

We took a seat on worn, red-vinyl-topped stools at a cement countertop littered with mismatched dining accessory and condiment holders all overloaded with sugar, fake sugar, dried milk packets, bent forks and dull knives.  I held up two fingers, and within seconds, two large coffee cups with a dark muddy mix in the bottom landed along with a small white beaker of cream. Lorelei tilted her cup, inspected the muddy paste in the bottom.

“Americain!” She snapped her fingers and again in a matter of seconds a small white and blue refugee from a Japanese restaurant teapot full of boiling water appeared in front of us. She poured cream and a sugar packet in her cup, added water, and stirred.

“Been here before?”        

“In Italy. Spain. South America. Nowhere else do they drink coffee the way we do.”

I mixed my coffee without the sugar. “The pie is worth the atmosphere.”

“It better be.” She held the cup with both hands, let the steam warm her face. “I thought you’d take me somewhere intimate. For our talk.”

“We can talk here. If they understand us, they’re too wasted for it to register, or they don’t care. The help has no idea what we’re saying.”

“I’m starting to appreciate you being unpredictable.” She tested her coffee. “There’s nothing much to tell that you don’t already know. Someone had been sending my grandfather telegrams and letters, and they upset him. Upset him enough to meet with his lawyers after a visit from a tall, younger man.”

“You’d recognize this man?”

“No, I only saw him from the back. He was going down the hall to the rear elevator when I got off the lobby car.”

“You know he was young how?”

“No hat, a full head of sandy hair. Square shoulders, long stride.” She glanced down. “Noticing physiques is… habit. I’ve studied horses since before I can remember.” She turned, her expression earnest. “I didn’t know he’d been in the apartment until I walked in. Grandfather and Grandmother were in a real scrap. ‘Do you know what that bastard wanted?’ and ‘So what’ was the gist. The old man gave me a shot of his steam, so I heeled it long enough for them to get sorted.”

“Did they?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. They’d wrangle, they’d get over it. It’s been worse since the Sausalito trip.”

“The picture you showed me. Their troubles heated up after that? April or May?”

“That’s when Grandfather heated up, started leaning on her harder.”

“More often?”

“What’s more often than often?” She’d finished what she wanted of her coffee, stared at her hands in her lap.

“Pie?”

“Not tonight.” She opened her purse, laid three times more folding money on the counter than needed, swished off the stool. She stopped at the door, checked her lipstick in the glass, pulled the handle. “Let’s go to Trevor’s and get this night over with.”

***

Trevor’s place was a weekly apartment in an adobe-being-replaced shotgun style two story off Fairfax called Hacienda Javier. It was outfitted with clinging-for-their-lives window unit air conditioners and a few plywood-covered windows. The sign out front stating “Pardon Our Dust – We’re Improving!” looked weathered. In this part of town, and this time of night the crime rate required an elevated level of vigilance, so I removed my pocket .380 from its holster, put it in my jacket pocket, safety off. After he’d parked, the chauffeur opened the glove box and lifted out an old war model pistol that took .45 slugs or .410 shotgun shells. We made eye contact, but no conversation. I’d need to get his business card before everyone unhooked for the night.

Lorelei knocked on the door of #8. From behind it came the sounds of deep coughing, bolts sliding and chains rattling before the door cracked open. Lorelei waited a few seconds, pushed the door inward.

“Trevor?” Lorelei spoke with a gentleness I hadn’t heard. He answered with more coughing. I hit the light switch and got a feeble yellow glow from a table lamp by the bed for my effort. Trevor leaned out of the bathroom in a hooded bathrobe, a scarf around his neck, black circles under his eyes.

“Sorry, Lori…” He wheezed, coughed, turned, and treated us to puke and splatter toilet noises. He coughed out, “Still feel like shit, girl.”

I moved closer to the bathroom door. “Tell me about tonight, Trevor.”

“Who the hell are you?” His voice a mixture of concrete mixer scratching and mouth marbles.

“Trevor, this is Mr. Meyers. The man I told you about?”

“Fuck him.” He spit into the toilet. “You, too. Sorry Lori, I can’t…” he broke into a coughing fit. “Tommy. Tommy S… I can’t talk, Lori. To nobody.”

She edged closer to the bathroom, turned her confused face my way.

“I told you he’d back out of it.” I wanted to rip the door off the bathroom, grab him by the throat, make him man up, but didn’t want to get that close to his cough and splatter routine. It’s also bad practice to thump a client’s sick boyfriend for being a jerk. At least in front of her.

While Lorelei pleaded with him, I went through his closet and dresser. One good, new suit and a pair of recently shined shoes in the closet. Socks, underwear, and a week’s worth of folded shirts with a cleaner’s band around them. His wallet was reasonably new, contained a Pennsylvania driving license, $311, and a receipt from a drugstore. After the fifteenth repetition of his “I can’t, Lori. It’s Tommy, I can’t” litany I stepped over, caught Lorelei’s arm. “He’s useless.” I raised my chin to the front door. “And we’re done.”

She backed away from the bathroom door, and Trevor reappeared. His macabre appearance enhanced by chunks and light orange stains on the front of his hooded bathrobe.

Outside, Lorelei paused in the breezeway to fumble her cigarette case open. She broke the first one on the way to her lips. I took the case away, held a cigarette up in front of her face. She took it, hand trembling; I lit it.

“Professional card man, you say?”

She nodded.

“Known him long?”

“A little over three years. I met him when I was finishing at Bryn Mawr.”

“I thought that was an ivy league college for women.”

“It is. I was out one night… A hotel party in Philadelphia. I was in the hall. He saw me.” She dropped her head, raised it back and further up at the inky sky. “He invited me into the room where he was playing cards.” The exhale was deep and slow. “For luck.” I let that and all it implied settle.

“He lives light.”

“He moves around a great deal.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Trevor’s door.

“Where’s his car?”

“He… He doesn’t own one.”

“How’s he get around?”

“Cabs, mostly. Except when he’s here and then I make arrangements for him.”

“Hmmm…” I took her cigarette away, hit it, returned it. “I could go back in, straighten him out.”

“No, please…” Her hand was on my arm again. Her eyes tired, bloodshot saucers.

“He’s hanging you out to dry, lady.”

“I didn’t kill my grandfather, Mr. Meyers, nor did I have anything to do with his death. I’m trusting you to prove that for me.”

DICHT!

I’ve mentioned I own this book. There are more Dicks inside than a whorehouse on Dollar Day. And there our story begins –

In the heyday of early to mid 20th Century detective stories, the private eye and legitimate detectives were called “dicks.” The etymology has many tangents, but the most believable to me is criminal slang from 1800’s England used “dick” to mean “to look or see”. Derived from the Gypsy word “dik” meaning the same. The activity of looking, possibly surreptitiously, was known as “dicking”. The descriptive noun for one who dicks is, no surprise, a dick.

I have been reading stories from The Black Mask, as well as Hammett and Chandler shorts. I would occasionally snicker aloud over some lines.

We’ll take your dick along so you don’t try to get wise – Your dick’s got quite a mouth on him – Who let that ugly dick in here – What’s the matter, dick? You not get enough of us earlier? – Come on, dick. Show us what you’ve got – the house dick was short and fat – that dick’s sure got a hard head – Watch your back. The last thing this department needs is another stiff dick – And those are the tip of the iceberg. (Unintentional pun)

I started thinking of all the ways dick gets used now. Much the same as fuck. Transitive and intransitive verb, noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun. Dick ‘em down, we got this dicked, he dicked her, she got dicked, stupid (etc) dick, don’t be a dick, just like a dick, dick, dick it, grow some dick, pencil dick, dickin’ off, dick breath, the test was dick hard, stiff as a dick.

Bearing in mind these various uses is it any wonder when we see a word or series of words that our minds slip straight into the gutter, or the locker room? I mean, come on, what’s the first thing that crossed your mind when you saw TubenASS?

Well, they got it dicht for you, right here.