The Journey

Dispatches from the Wasteland #5: Crack-Houses and Sushi and Texas, Oh Why?


Note: Here’s another snippet from one of my books-in-progress. You may or may not recall (it really isn’t important) that at the end of the last snippet, Collin had just received a mysterious phone call from a whiny man who threatened to expose a dark secret about Collin that involved croutons. Enjoy, and let me know what you think if you have the time…

(Click here if you’d like to read the snippets from the beginning.)


Collin slowly returned the phone handset to the non-biodegradable base unit on his desk, trying to do so in a manner that appeared nonchalant, willfully exuding a secondary air of supreme unconcern with the conversation that had just transpired. Perhaps Virginia would accept his third-rate acting with some degree of professionalism, and they could smoothly transition to the next act in this play.

Virginia wasn’t accepting anything. “What horrible thing have you done that involved salad toppings?”

Collin sighed. “So I guess you heard all of that.”

Virginia: “Of course I heard. Let’s put aside the fact that I can normally hear someone scratch their ass three counties over. It’s a gift, I judge it not. But you were standing right in front of me, so your words were doomed to enter my cranium, despite your amusing attempt to turn your back on me, as if sound only travels in one direction. And Truman Capote, or whoever that was on the phone, was bellowing away like anyone would when their martini goes AWOL. So yes, transmission was received.”

Collin did not have an immediate reply, as it had been a very long day, and there was that whole mess with the cleaning staff not leaving in a timely manner, resulting in the non-use of the bourbon in his upper right drawer. Still, Collin managed to rally himself and offer a compromise resolution to the unwelcome introduction of personal blackmail into the plotline. “Let’s just ignore the phone call. That way we can focus on why you’re here, which is to assist me in determining what, exactly, happened on that cruise ship this past October.”

Virginia proffered a wry grin, and wry grins never lead to a pleasant destination. “Dearest Collin. You could probably be a loveable schmuck in a certain genre of romantic comedies, but that’s not what’s going on here. You will be assisting me, because I have the more impressive title on our respective business cards, a fact that you would have noted had you bothered to check my credentials in any way when I sashayed in the door.”

“Ah, that fateful moment when you appeared in my doorway,” said Collin, as he plunked into his office chair, a battered thing that had seen a lot of plunking. “The dividing line between when I was happy and when I was not.”

Virginia made a noise with her mouth that may have been an indication of disapproval, or perhaps it was merely the result of her tongue seeking out an errant bit of spinach that had lodged itself in an unsatisfactory refuge. “How quaint of you to think that I am concerned about your happiness in any way. I’ll duly not make a note of that. Now, there are two things that we must immediately attend to, and then we can get started with our inquest in earnest.”

Collin leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, psychologically reverting to the childhood misbelief that if you couldn’t see what was happening then it really wasn’t. “And those two things would be?”

“One, there appears to be a paperweight under you chair with the distinct ability to move itself about. I’ve seen more alarming things in my lifetime, of course, what with having once unwisely chosen to drive through the state of Texas with a Democratic emblem on my bumper. Still, I’d rather not be concerned about inanimate objects in your work environment not understanding that they are inanimate.”

Collin did not immediately respond vocally. Instead, he merely flopped forward so that his head was hanging betwixt his legs and he could review the scene of apparent poltergeist activity. Yes, there was indeed a paperweight nestled amongst the wheels of his plunk chair. No, it did not appear to be doing anything that was unexpected of a paperweight, but as he had just arrived at the venue, who knew what might be next on the entertainment program. It was probably best that he not debate the proclivities of the paperweight, as there were more pressing matters at hand. “And the second thing we have to do before we do anything else?”

“I must pee,” said Virginia, rising to her feet as if such a proclamation required the waving of a ceremonial flag and a military salute of some kind.

Collin flopped back upright, with the resulting redirection of blood flow making it appear as if there were three Virginias standing before him, a sight that terrified him more than anything else in his life. After a quick prayer to whatever god might have an opening in his or her soul-saving appointment book, Collin proffered a truly profound response. “You need to do what?”

“Tinkle,” said Virginia. “It may come as a surprise to you, Collin, but the vagina has more than one function.  Where might I find the nearest comfort station?”

Collin, his vision finally clearing and thus reducing his Three Faces of Eve anxiety, gratefully latched on to the possibility that this woman would leave his office and never return. “Out the door, to the left, second door on the right. Wait, you would be the third door. Unless you would prefer the second door, I really don’t know.”

Virginia smiled again, in that wry way that was so unnerving. “I’ll decide when I get there.” Then she marched forth, intent on her recycling campaign. Throughout all of this, nary a hair on her massively-gelled head broke protocol and became wispy. It was a defining moment for stylists everywhere.

“Wait!” hollered Collin, part of him immediately regretting such an intervention, because that part of him would be fine with her falling down an elevator shaft. “I think the cleaning staff is still in there. They spend a lot of time doing something with bleach and you may not be able to use it.”

“Don’t worry,” said Virginia, not breaking her stride. “I’ve peed in front of a lot of people in my life. You would have known this if you had checked my work profile online like any decent person would do. I shall return unscathed. You should be more concerned with the phone call you are about to receive.”

Collin was perplexed. “What phone call? Will it be about the sushi?”

The antique on Collin’s desk began to ring.

Oh god. He reluctantly picked up the receiver that he now rather hated. “Yes?”

Boss: “This is your boss.”

Collin: “I’m aware of that.”

Boss: “Well you weren’t aware of it when I called in the last chapter, just making sure. Isn’t Virginia great? Unless you make her mad. Did you make her mad? She looked like she might have been mad when I walked by a few minutes ago.”

Collin: “What are you doing on this floor? I thought you never came out of the Executive Penthouse unless your PR guy said it was time for your yearly photos with the common people. And I didn’t see you walk by. Do you even know where I work?”

Boss, sighing: “Of course I know. The PR guy has this really great GPS thing on his watch, that’s why I hired him. And you probably didn’t see me because I was undercover. I’m acting like I’m one of the toilet paper people.”

Collin, regretting the act of even having to ask for clarification: “The toilet paper people? Do you mean the cleaning staff? Why are you doing that, Melvin? Was there nothing on TV to watch?”

Boss, apparently also known as Melvin: “Ohhhh, so that’s what ‘cleaning staff’ means on the budget reports. I thought it was a thing and not people, and I always wondered why we had to keep buying one every year because they were so expensive. But yes, I’m a cleaning staff right now, if you mean the people in uniforms who bring extra toilet paper when I push the right button in the Executive Washroom. My name is Raul.”

Collin: “Raul? Isn’t that a little bit racist there, Melvin?”

Melvin: “It’s not racist. I didn’t pick a black name. I had to have my stylist put something on the name tag, so I just used the name of the last guy who brought the TP when I pushed the special button.”

Collin realized that he now had a sharp pain developing behind his left eyeball. “Melvin, I’d really like to end this conversation, for my own sanity, so just tell my why you’re spying on me.”

Melvin, apparently also known as Raul: “I’m not spying. I’m checking up. That’s why I’m the boss and get to push special buttons. I just didn’t want Virginia to know that I was checking up, because we need to keep her happy. We need to get this case solved.”

Collin, indignant: “I was solving the case just fine on my own.”

Melvin/Raul: “No, you were not. You haven’t filed a report in decades.”

Collin, more indignant: “I filed a report last Friday!”

Melvin: “That’s decades to me, I have a short attention span. And I have very wealthy donors with even shorter attention spans. And that trumps everything. So be nice to Virginia, and let’s get this done. Preferably tonight, because I have to get this uniform back to the employee locker room before the next shift. I don’t want people bringing me toilet paper if they aren’t wearing a uniform, it makes me nervous.”

Collin, the stabbing behind his eye intensifying: “Melvin, there is no way in hell we can solve this tonight. There are so many suspects and so much evidence to bang around and-”

Melvin: “Now do you understand why I brought Virginia in? You’re not getting anything done. Well, except for that bourbon bottle, that thing’s a worn-out mattress. So, play nice with Virginia, figure it out, and call me in the morning. But not too early. I have a thing with the City Council, somebody’s pissed off about some crack-houses or something.”



To be continued…


11 replies »

  1. I need a re-read as well. Well, liar liar pants on fire. A new read. My daughter and son in law are down the road in Sachse, TX where there are golf courses and no real crack houses and teenagers only kill each other over a girlfriend that didn’t like any of them, but they imagined she did after she sent an update photo of duck lips out to 26,000 followers on FaceBook. Which I understand is a lot like crack for bored people. And the whole bit about “We are from France…” If they’re wearing ten gallon hats, ask that they be removed before they consume mass quantities of Christmas fare.

    That toilet paper button. Is that a Before thing, like “Oops, gonna need some” or is it an After button? Like is the real Raul is going to have to walk through the weapon grade olfactory side effect of executive poo to deliver TP by rolling it under the door?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I can’t really speak to to the true nature of the TP button, as Melvin has never allowed me into his office, let alone his personal comfort station. He could have Jimmy Hoffa in there for all I know. But it’s good that you are pondering minor details, as this will come in quite handy when the final book is published. It’s the tiny details that turn the plot. (And yes, I’m turning this comment into a shameless plug. I can’t afford a publicist, so I might as well pounce on every opportunity.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought in the Internet age publicists were passé. That all you needed was a webcam, a sophomoric heartbreak song and auto-tune. Under 20 and on the verge of perky nerd helps. I bought a vocoder. Just in case I get rock star hair for Christmas.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ” Et tu Crouton ? ”
    ” I ate ’em all, left one cherry tomato. ”
    “Cheri Tomato will bounce back.”
    “I think her salad days are over.”

    Love your work. It does send my mind spilling off in many directions. Just finished watching Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix, which adds to the reverberations. May the holidays bring merriment to you and those you hold dear. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the end, it will be the condiments who destroy humanity, assisted by people named Cheri who depend on the apathy of strangers. As for Dirk Gently, I haven’t seen the show, but I worship Douglas Adams. He was a god, and I’ve read the Hitchhiker “trilogy” at least 42 billion times, give or take. Here’s hoping that you and yours have a splendid holiday season as well, and may all your condiments remain docile and pleasing…

      Liked by 1 person

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