Couple of weeks ago I picked up some inexpensive paperbacks at Half Price Books big headquarters store. I purchased the books as study in the shorter version “three acts” so prominently hawked by all the “how to write (insert genre)” people. One of the books was John D. MacDonald’s The Dreadful Lemon Sky, written in 1974, which killed two birds with one stone. It’s MacDonald storytelling, and being MacDonald the backdrop is a perfect rendering of the cultural era. A timeframe and the years following that I worked in my first return-to-writing project.
None of that was important. It’s called “the setup.” I could have gone directly to the point and filled all that in or left it.
No, this is not a discussion of style.
I opened The Dreadful Lemon Sky in the porcelain upholstered library. I read a few more pages at my desk. Last night I wanted to read more, but was too lazy to retrieve the physical copy of the book. Also, too lazy to two-step an epub into my Kindle. I found the book on my OneDrive and hit “open in another app” on the not-aging-so-gracefully iPad. Worked like a charm.
However. (Cue Twilight Zone theme)
I tapped the book to open it. BAM. It opened.
Not on the credits, publisher, the chapter list or dedication page.
It opened exactly where I left the physical copy open, face down on a shelf in the “library.”
Like the man said when the paint shaker machine shut off. “How do it know?”
I sure as hell don’t know. But I was kinda “all shook up.”
FYI – If you’d like some intellectual writing discussion and advice Google Rod Serling. Find his interview/class discussions with some college kids where he addresses topics and writing issues generally only available from expensive editors. Not only that, he talks the workarounds. From “art” to where ideas come from to soapboxes and unavoidable though unknown plagiarism to how none of us invented the wheel.
In 1938 archeologists in China discovered hundreds of stone disks in caves in the Baian-Kara-Ula mountains. Each one measured 9 inches in diameter and were etched with tiny hieroglyphics that tell a story about aircraft from distant worlds crashing in the mountains. They say the disks are thousands of years old.
I have a feeling that’s all speculation.
They simply haven’t haven’t found the turntable yet.
Once upon a time, someone suggested that I couldn’t write the gross stuff. So I reworked a ‘Jackson recruiting for the softball team’ bit into Russian Interference and forgot about it. Fast forward. This morning I had a post in the can about why bother writing fiction, but in that post, I read something that triggered something else, and what follows just fell out. Another thousand words to a vehicle on blocks in the weeds. Exercise is exercise, right?
Burke nodded at the two uniforms tying off yellow tape, pulled on his gloves. At the front door of the overgrown, desperately-in-need-of-paint 1920s Pasadena craft house a short, squat crime scene suit handed Burke a suit of his own, turned him around, and sent him back down the front steps with “Don’t care who you are, put this on.” He stepped off the cracked walk into dead grass and weeds to avoid the plastic evidence storage bucket brigade and shook out the disposable Tyvek suit with built-in booties. He wrote BURKE – MCD on the front and back of it with a Sharpie, struggled into and zipped it, hit the sidewalk in step with the in-bound parade. Inside, the first person he encountered was his FBI Task Force partner, her arms folded.
“About time, Burke.”
“Miss much, Lachelle?”
“Words will just get in the way.”
“Gloria Estefan. Nineteen-Eighty…?”
“Six. I was thinking Leon Russell.”
“What the hell do you know about Leon Russell?”
“As children, my sisters and I sang oldies for our supper. Everybody knows about the Wrecking Crew. White people, backing black girl groups? All the rage in El Lay back in the day.”
“Is that an issue now?”
“Could be the reason I can’t find a young brother anywhere can keep time without a damn drum machine.”
“So it was all a conspiracy to neuter black people’s natural rhythm?”
“That’s why you went to college, joined the FBI? To sort that shit out? You do, they’ll put your face on a collectible stamp. Right in there with Thurgood Marshall, Lena Horne, Louis Armstong –”
“If they do, picture me in a tile-lined, state-run eldercare, toothless, in diapers, licking the back of your head to stick your face on my Publisher’s Clearing House entry form.”
“You’re more disgusting than the crime scene, you know that?”
Burke wasn’t sure if it was his pee yellow Major Crimes Division suit or Laschelle’s emblazoned with FBI that parted the crowd of forensics bumping shoulders in the narrow halls while she led him through the restored once upon some time just after World War II house to the kitchen. The door of the fridge stood propped open with a found-on-site broom handle wedged between the door and the frame. Blood dripped from the bottom of the refrigerator into forensic collection Tupperware.
“Fuck. Me.” Burke turned from the gray-haired head thawing in the freezer compartment. Another, younger head with red not-found-in-nature hair sat on a Thanksgiving-themed serving platter over the vegetable bins. An almost full jug of Florida’s Natural Lemonade and a half-eaten Subway sandwich perched on the top shelf. “Can’t we make lemonade in California?”
“We used to be in the orange business.”
“I feel a ‘Disney is the evil empire’ sermon coming.”
“Not from me. I like my mice in underpants. And my orange juice from Florida.”
Burke glanced at the expensive coffee/grinder/espresso machine. “I don’t suppose there’s coffee…”
“There’s a Starbuck’s jug on the doughnut table. Out there,” she thumbed toward the back door. “On the driveway.”
“Espresso would be nice.”
“If you’re telling me you’d put anything made in this house into your mouth …”
“Couple of heads and a leftover meatball sandwich in the fridge, dirty coffee cups in the sink… Tells me it didn’t seem to bother whoever lives here.”
“Sick fuck.” She grabbed his arm, pulled him down a short hall into a taped off but unoccupied by forensics bedroom furnished in a stainless-steel table slightly larger than a twin bed with a commercial-grade meat grinder bolted to one end. Under the grinder, half a dozen empty five-gallon ice cream buckets hosted flies. By the hundreds.
“Now we know why no early morning Pasadena dogwalkers have called in any headless corpses for us. Was that anyone we should know in the freezer?”
“The freezer is her mother. The –”
“The day-to-day things found here say female.”
“I should go take a –”
“Bagged, tagged, gone. You don’t need to be prowling around in feminine hygiene products and thirty tubes of lipstick when there’s real crime scene material here requires your particular brand of investigative ju-ju. Besides, we’ll for damn sure get more CSPs of minutiae out of here than we can look at in a fucking year. And before you get all pissy, I made them hold up on moving the hard stuff until you’d seen it, gotten your ‘vibe’.”
“How thoughtful. The mother. She had on lipstick. Makeup.”
“I think we’ll learn she was dead, probably from natural causes, before being decapitated and frozen for posterity.”
“ID on the other one?”
“This was in the fridge by her head.” Lachelle pulled a small forensic ziplock from the pocket of her hazmat, held it up. The bag contained a lapel pin. Suthapali Grenada, MD. Oncology.
“Rage. This is rage, Shell. It’s been about rage all along. Fuck. How’d we miss it?”
“Overtrained to ignore the obvious, maybe? Her mother tapped out, the girl lost it. After that, anybody having too good a time? AMF.”
“And you already know who ‘the girl’ is?”
“Waitin’ on you to catch up. It’s the Venice ice cream lady.”
“You said that already. You can keep at it, but you’re not my type.”
“I don’t know if that was sexist, racist, or age-ist.”
“Get over yourself. Care to know what she did with the bodies?”
“Hamburger patties. Maybe breakfast sausages.”
“Damn. You’re good for an old white man.”
“There you go again. There was a six-pack patty press and a half-empty Costco size Cajun Spice jar on the kitchen counter.”
“I knew that. Making sure your eyes were on this early of a Sunday.”
“Goddammit…” He toed one of the ice cream buckets. “You know this has to be the biggest DNA cluster fuck ever. How many heads now, total? Thirteen, plus the two in there. Fifteen?”
“You’re still wanting the freeway ramp cactus head in this. I say no.”
“I say you want a different obsessed, fucked up whackadoodle for that one, for job security. Sorry, they found cactus head’s charm bracelet in the garage.”
“Shit. Now there’s trophies?”
“My Ontie used to say if you’re going to lose it, be textbook about it.”
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”
This quote came to me via David Limrite’s weekly ‘Go get ’em, tiger’ email for graphic artists. I found it not only timely but very applicable. The post is here if you need some encouragement to shoot high and suck and not feel bad but learn from it. Been there so many times I became my own cheerleading section.
What I really want to know is how did Mike even see that stuff, much less nail it? And Beethoven. Get out. These people should be illegal.
No shit, really. It’s already a fact that Event Brite handles the free “tickets” to Mass. In order to maintain social distancing requirements, only a certain number are allotted.
Well, found out this week that reserved seating (tickets) to Christmas Eve services are available, social distancing math and everything. The catch is, since everybody wants to make a good show of holiness to the relatives, that reserved seating will set you back $500.
So I figured I’d go ask an authority, and who better than Robert Plant, the man who wrote the last word on the subject. I got his answer.
If you hear a rustle in the hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, It’s just the clinking of the dolly’s wheels…
Nothing hidden or deep, meaning-wise. Simply the clinking of the dolly required to haul the cash box back to the rectory. Which is far less obscure than the sprinkling of the May queen. I mean seriously. Why’s she ‘sprinkling’ in the hedgerow?