Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the project I’ve been working on during National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo), wherein the participants try to amass a total of 50,000 words in a single month. The organizers of the contest suggest starting a brand new novel for the effort, but it’s also okay to continue an older project as long as what you submit is “new” material, and I chose the second route: I dug out a work-in-progress that I hadn’t touched since 2010, when I got distracted after scribbling out 30-odd chapters and then never went back.
“Oak Cliff Confidential” is essentially a sarcastic murder mystery set in an historic area of south Dallas. The plot is a bit complex, but all you should really need to know for this draft chapter (please note the “draft” bit) is that “Sharon” is our heroine, an obscenely wealthy and somewhat-spoiled woman tasked with trying to find out who the killer may or may not be, “Theresa” is an old friend from high school who is trying to help her, “Alejandro” is Sharon’s paid non-sexual companion, and “Alistair” is a possible suspect. But actually, I think (perhaps incorrectly so) this snippet is just fine without the background details.
I would really appreciate your comments on this one. Enjoy…
Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 45
Twenty minutes later, Sharon stepped into the near-scalding spray of her shower and let the water burn away all the places she had been in the last twenty-four hours.
Yes, she could have just hopped in the shower at Theresa’s when they all got up this morning, but Sharon had a thing about using other showers. It didn’t matter if the other shower was in an immaculate, germ-free condition or at the finest hotel in the really expensive part of Paris where a hand-servant scrubbed every line of grout each morning. She just never felt truly clean unless she was in her own shower.
This might have something to do with Sharon’s shower sporting eighteen precisely-aimed jets.
She hadn’t really expected or planned to have that many, but the option was in the brochure, much to her surprise, and after a decision-assisting gulp from her tumbler of whatever cocktail was her favorite at the time, Sharon had signed on the dotted line. In the days immediately following this aggressive choice, she did somewhat regret her “seize the day” moment, mainly because the contractors had to rip out most of the plumbing in her wing of the house in order to get those jets exactly where they should be. This was annoying. Sharon pluckily dealt with this heavy burden by hopping on a plane to St. Barths and staying there until the folks back in the States were done banging and adjusting.
Freshly rested and admirably tanned, Sharon returned home for the maiden run of her multi-point cleansing chamber. Standing in her “bigger than most apartments in Manhattan” bathroom, Sharon shed her silk dressing gown and marched boldly forth, proudly naked, just like Lady Godiva or Joan of Arc or whoever it was that felt her bared breasts would make a point or two. (The fact that most people march forth into their showers whilst clothing-free did not diminish the importance of her actions in Sharon’s mind, because she was all about the drama. Go big or hire someone to do it for you.)
Sharon surveyed her new aquatic mini-queendom, and the initial reports from the field were pleasing. She approved of the beautifully-veined marble tiles that actually had a soothing pattern to them instead of looking like random slices of bleu cheese that had been slapped on the walls by a sociopath. (The latter happens more often than it should, even in Paris.) She was rather fond of the three artful resting benches at strategic points along the walls, because one never knows when genetic weakness might strike and one needs a short respite. And the civic side of her was pleased to realize that, should a fallout shelter suddenly become a primary need for whatever reason, she could easily house half the citizens of Oak Cliff in this very locale, with plenty of room for a rousing game of racquetball to pass the time until the all-clear signal was sounded.
Then Sharon spied the remote control.
The brochure had mentioned something about this, but at the time she had been more interested in which of the color palette options for her comfort station would best complement her recently-acquired loungewear from Stanley Korshak. Then that whole mess concerning the eye-opening spigot-count decision had effectively obscured Sharon’s overview of what might be developing with her upscale lavatory, and she simply forgot about the remote control. But there it was now, hanging on a platinum chain accented with some white-gold bling that was actually more tasteful than bling usually tastes.
The remote quickly became Sharon’s best friend and default lover.
She didn’t plan for this development, of course. She rarely planned for anything, because she had a staff that could do that for her. But after an awkward meet-cute scene, wherein Sharon didn’t know what the all the buttons could do and was therefore afraid of commitment, she got out of her comfort zone and began to push. Before long, she had complete control of each of those eighteen spigots, accommodating and flexible devices that only lived to satisfy her every whim.
Sharon did not leave the shower for three days.
Well, in the interests of unbiased reporting, a concept that hasn’t occurred to most modern news agencies for quite some time, Sharon did leave the shower during the honeymoon, but never long enough for her hair to dry entirely. This led to Alejandro being concerned about wet rot, but he stifled his concerns, since he spent most of his time cleaning Sharon’s massive swimming pool (where the other half of Oak Cliff’s citizens could squeeze into a fallout shelter, if need be) and he wasn’t in a place to decry wetness.
Eventually the honeymoon ended, as they must (usually when one of the parties reads the fine print of the pre-nup and realizes that they are seriously screwed), and Sharon’s lust for unbridled cleanliness dried out. She still had her moments, missing important world events because she was programming spigot 13 to more properly stick the landing on her own Zone 13, but the newness did pale.
Which brings us back to the present day, because our story has not yet been fully told.
Sharon grabbed up a bottle of ginger-pepper body wash, handmade by impoverished citizens in a foreign country who hadn’t connected the dots that social activism could lead to fundamental changes, and she applied liberal squirts of said nectar to a body sponge. Thus equipped, she happily rid herself of the residue of Alistair until she reached her lower legs, where the sponge (hand-plucked from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia whilst officials looked the other way) encountered multiple speed bumps. Sharon sighed. If there was any hope for an amorous roundelay in the near future, she would need to shave her legs.
Sharon pushed another button and a discreet panel in the wall slid to the side, revealing all of the various bathing accoutrements that one normally hides from guests and people on the Tour of Homes. She picked up a ruby-encrusted case, plucked out the implement inside, selected the resting bench that was currently best-lit by the late-morning sun so she would appear moistly golden from all angles, started to assume the position, and then froze.
This was not her razor. In fact, it was one of those horrid plastic things that one normally finds bundled in a bulk pack at warehouse stores, where one can get 15 crappy razors for the price of a single decent one, with all 15 designed to snap irreparably after one use so that you soon have to buy 15 more. In the end, you spend far more money buying bulk than if you had just purchased a competent razor in the beginning.
Sharon stared at the slim imposter, with its unattractive molded-plastic pinkness and the crude image of a flower stamped inaccurately in the center of the handle instead of her initials carved by artisans who were bred to do such. How the hell did this get in here? And why did it look minimally familiar, even though it clearly didn’t look like anything she would ever purchase of her own free will? And then the memory triggered.
Once more, we were headed back in time, much further than the recent visit to Sharon’s past wherein she designed exactly how she wished to be squirted in the intimacy of her own palatial bathroom. Sharon was now at the tender age of ten, sitting at the emerald-encrusted vanity in her bedroom, a bedroom different and smaller than the future one which would require extensive plumbing work. (In the Horizons’ rambling domicile, you did not gain access to the larger chambers until you had done something to earn it, like wait for an older relative to pass on or at least get sent to a long-term correctional facility.)
Little Sharon turned to the governess. “But why can’t I have one?”
“I have told you of the why,” said the governess, also known more formerly as Mademoiselle Robichaux and less formerly as Nanny Brigitte. She was the latest in a long string of governesses for Sharon, with the lengthy string being the result of most of the prior nannies voluntarily terminating their employment with the Horizons family, convinced that Sharon had the mark of the beast on her somewhere, they just hadn’t found it yet. Sharon’s mother had located Brigitte Robichaux in the south of France, where the young potential governess had presumably not gotten wind of Sharon or her possible markings. “You are too young to want to be old.”
Sharon sighed dramatically, an art form she had already perfected by her third day out of the womb. “I didn’t say I wanted to be old like you. I just said I wanted a razor so I could shave my legs.”
Nanny Brigitte calmly set aside her coffee cup on a little cocoa bean-encrusted stand. (Sharon had never really seen Nanny Brigitte without a coffee cup nearby, which probably explained why Brigitte always seemed to be slightly vibrating, even in her sleep.) “You don’t have the hair on your legs. Are you to hold the razor in your hand until you do?”
Sharon sighed again. This governess business was really annoying, especially when she got one she couldn’t break. Luckily, there would probably be a new one next week, one with a weaker soul. Until then, Sharon was on a mission. “But Cassie Westmoreland is in my class and she’s already shaving. I might need to tomorrow.”
Brigitte picked her coffee cup back up, because life was too short not to be holding one. “Cassie Westmoreland has two years of age more than you. She is older, she is hairier. And she is clearly stupid, with the failing grades and the holding back.”
“But I just want to be ready!” protested Sharon, going for the big production number by walking over to her pillow-encrusted bed and falling face down on it, oozing deprivation and unendurable maltreatment.
Brigitte reflected, taking a healthy gulp of her coffee and slightly grimacing. (These Americans and their blasphemous coffee. You had to drink gallons of it for there to be any effect. Coffee simply wasn’t coffee unless the spoon could stand up on its own.) She set her cup down a final time. “Fine. We will go on a lark and perhaps you will learn something.”
Sharon raised her head just enough to peer at Brigitte with one distrusting eye. It sounded like she might have won this round, but the veiled threat of possibly being forced to learn something was very unappealing and fraught with danger. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Yes. Grab your periwinkle-encrusted coat and meet me out front. I’ll call Driver.”
Fifteen minutes later, Driver was whisking them toward a part of town that did not sit particularly well with Sharon. “Why are we going in this direction? I thought we would be going to Sanger Harris in downtown Dallas.”
“We’re buying you a razor, not a trousseau,” explained Brigitte. “Wynnewood Village shopping center will be just fine for that.”
Sharon didn’t know and didn’t care what a trousseau might be, since they weren’t buying one, but she did know and care that her friends might see her at Wynnewood Village. At one time, it had been a rather fashionable place to be, with lovely shops and restaurants, but its star was getting a bit tarnished of late. If word got out, she could be destroyed socially within seconds. She shared her concerns. “What if my friends see me there?”
“If your friends see you there, then they are there as well, and you are sailing in the same boat, yes?”
This was entirely too logical for Sharon, so she searched her still-forming mind for a good cover story that might save her reputation. Kidnapping? No, her parents would get too much pleasure out of that one. Feeding the homeless? No, Sharon never gave anything to anybody, that wouldn’t sell. Death in the family? That’s it! She was only here because it was the dying wish of a crazy aunt who wanted to revisit her favorite childhood store. Satisfied, Sharon leaned back in her leather-encrusted seat.
The limo pulled into a parking slot in front of a row of stores. Brigitte turned to Sharon and handed her a pair of oversized sunglasses. “Here, put these on.”
Sharon snatched them up happily, pleased that Nanny B was finally grasping the social stigma. “Is this to hide my face so my friends can’t see me?”
Brigitte shook her head. “Yes, to hide your face, but not from your friends. It is to hide you from the shame and humiliation of altering your body just to please others. Now come with me, it’ll be fun!” Brigitte hopped out of the car and held the door.
Sharon slowly crawled out and stood, hidden eyes darting fervently to determine if Cassie Westmoreland or Beverly Gibbs-Williams or Tanya Clarendon were stationed nearby, ready to point an accusatory finger and start wailing like a banshee and then the invitations to parties would stop arriving. Luckily, no one pointed, and Sharon rushed to follow Brigitte through a shop door. Once inside, Sharon was mystified. “What is this place?”
Brigitte frowned. “It’s a drugstore. Surely you must have been in one prior to now.”
Sharon shook her head. “No, I usually wait in the car while Driver gets what I need.”
Brigitte shook her own head, mumbling something about how parents who shelter their children will be the downfall of civilization, but it was in French, so the translation may be murky. She took Sharon’s hand. “Come, let’s begin with the learning and the body shaming.” They began to walk the aisles.
The first aisle was lined with deodorants and antiperspirants and combos of such, with the left side of the aisle smelling like flowers and the right side smelling like trees. “This is what you use when you start to smell.
“But I don’t smell,” protested Sharon.
“You will. And when you do, you will need to pick out one of these to spritz under your arms so chemicals can make your body not do what it should do naturally.”
“Daddy has a lot of these in his bathroom.”
“That is of no surprise to me,” said Brigitte, “having met the man the few times he bothers to show up at home. I’m sure his sweat is from the guilt.”
They walked to the next aisle. “And here we have more chemicals, this time pills that you can take when you get fat.”
“But I’m not fat,” protested Sharon.
“You will be. And then you will take these pills thinking they will make you skinny and beautiful and popular, but none of that will happen. You will just go to the bathroom more.”
“But Mommy is skinny and she doesn’t take pills.”
Brigitte nodded. “That is true. Because Mommy drinks instead of eating. That is why she is always very happy and friendly until after you go to bed, then she gets sad and breaks things because she forgot to stop drinking when the first bottle was empty.”
They marched into the third aisle. “These chemicals are for when you don’t feel very fresh,” explained Brigitte, somewhat woefully.
“But I always feel fresh,” stated Sharon.
“You won’t. There will come a time when your body changes, and there will be one week each month when things get very messy, and other times when you just need to do some personal housekeeping that the staff cannot help you with.”
“It smells like medicine and fertilizer,” observed Sharon.
“It will smell worse if you don’t do the housekeeping. You will never get invited to any parties if you don’t take care of it.”
Sharon pointed at artfully arranged boxes of tampons, adorned with pictures of happy women romping through fields and riding horses and climbing mountains, activities they wouldn’t be doing whilst using the featured product, at least not as happily. “And what are those for? Mommy used to have some of them, but she doesn’t anymore.”
“Well,” said Brigitte, “did you ever read the story about the little Dutch boy and the dike?”
Sharon nodded her head, recalling fond memories of Mommy and her gin-soaked breath reading aloud from story books at bedtime.
“It’s very much like that,” explained Brigitte. “But a little more complicated. Maybe after we leave here we can go to a bookstore and I can find a very special book all about special housekeeping. But first, one more aisle.”
Brigitte took them to the final aisle, lined with bandages and surgical tape and cotton balls and disinfectants. “Now, which of these should we get?”
Sharon looked around, unsure of what she might be missing that was important on this aisle. “We don’t need any of this.”
Brigitte skillfully arranged her face into an expression of utter shock. “But of course, we do. You want to buy a razor, right?”
“Yes!” Sharon’s eyes shone brightly. Well, they would have if she wasn’t still wearing the sunglasses.
“And you know that a razor has a blade?”
“Yes,” replied Sharon, a little less enthusiastically but still determined. “I’m not stupid.”
“So the blade means that you are going to cut yourself.”
“It does? Why would I cut myself?”
Brigitte nodded. “You will cut yourself because you don’t know what you’re doing at first. It takes a lot of practice and you have to be very careful. If you press too hard or you sneeze or you lose your balance, you could rip your skin open.”
“Rip my skin open?”
“Or even lose a leg.”
“Lose a leg!”
Brigitte nodded again, knowingly. “That’s what happened to some of those people you see in wheelchairs. They started shaving too early. Oh, and we also need to get a bucket and a mop, just in case.”
Sharon’s eyes remained wide but, for once, her mouth was firmly closed.
“But since this is what you want to do,” conceded Brigitte, sighing sadly, “I guess we should do it. Let’s go get a cart to hold all the supplies we’ll need. We might need an extra cart just for the plastic tarp to cover your bathroom floor.” Brigitte began to march away.
Sharon didn’t move.
Brigitte turned back. “Don’t you still want to do this? Or do you really even need anything in this store?”
“Sharon, do you need anything? Sharon!”
Sharon shook her head and the distant drugstore faded. She realized that Alejandro was speaking to her on the shower intercom. She pushed a button. “What was that, Allie?” She un-pushed.
“I asked if you needed anything. Are you alright? You’ve been in there a long time, and normally I wouldn’t intrude, terrified of what you and your appliances might be doing in there, but we’re behind schedule.”
Sharon pushed again. “No, I was just… it’s okay, I’ll be out in a flash.” Un-push.
“The car is already loaded. See you in a bit.”
One more push. “Alejandro, wait. Speaking of a schedule, add it to the list that we need to go to Wynnewood Village shopping center.”
Alejandro paused before replying. “Why would you want to go there? Have you seen it lately?”
“It doesn’t matter what it looks like. We need to go. I think we’ll find another clue there.”
Sharon turned off the steam-encrusted water.
Categories: Work In Progress