Note: For this year’s NaNoWriMo project, I’m working on a book that will be a mashup of detective story and travelogue. (Those things go together, right?) As I piddle around with this effort, I plan to post excerpts here on Bonnywood, hoping that some of you fine folks will step forward with opinions and suggestions and general camaraderie. (Please don’t flee immediately upon hearing this, as I plan to make it as painless and fun as possible, with “plan” being the operative word.)
The following is a modified version of what might become the first chapter. (I behoove you to keep the term “rough draft” in mind as you read.) Your mission: If you opened a random book to find this scene, would you be inspired to continue? Enjoy.
“Detective Oskopy?” asked a voice at the door.
Collin paused in mid-perusal of the coffee-stained file on the desk in front of him, sighing. It was the third time he had tried to read this file, and the third time that some fool had made it past the underlings who were supposed to stop annoying people before they got to his office. Clearly, it was time for an intimidating staff meeting wherein accusations were made and no refreshments were served.
Collin sighed again, just in case his first dramatic exhale had not been properly noted by his unexpected and immediately-unloved visitor, then he turned his head toward the door, fully prepared to unleash a scowl that would leave psychological scars. This act of retribution, however, was quickly scuttled once Collin’s eyes focused on the woman who had somehow breached the many layers of security and bribery that normally prevented such an intrusion.
She was quite lovely.
Not in the traditional sense, of course. There was none of that supermodel business, with the wafer-thin beings frolicking about on a pristine beach whilst a sexually ambiguous photographer captured her every nymphet move, the ocean breezes caressing the stick figure’s amazingly-voluminous mane of hair. No, Collin’s visitor, who had just been mentally upgraded from Coach to Ultra-Platinum Status, was built of sturdier stock, and her hair was severely but artfully restrained in an exquisite bun, nary a strand out of place.
Collin was quite pleased with this, the restraining of the hair. In fact, there was a bit of stirring in the nether regions, a stirring that should not be occurring in the workplace, or at least not in workplaces that hoped to gain positive reviews from organizations that rated workplaces on the potential for the occurrence of unrequited stirring. Perhaps Collin had perused the wrong movies during his formative years, or he had somehow managed to develop an affinity for industrial-strength hair products during an unsupervised summer at camp. The foundation of his proclivities is murky, and it’s really not all that important to the story. All that you really need to know is that Collin preferred his conquests to be streamlined.
And the Vision at his door was just that.
“Yes, I’m Detective Oskopy,” said Collin to the Vision. “How may I service you?”
The Vision at the door was apparently not accustomed to such a multi-directional response, and she briefly paused to consider the ramifications of Collin’s words, with fleeting images of her chaste body being hoisted upwards in the service bay of a local automotive-maintenance establishment. (Perhaps Vision had also watched the wrong movies at pivotal development points, resulting in an affinity for hoisting and aggressive tinkering by sweaty men in coveralls. It’s not our place to judge.)
“My name is Virginia Wolf,” said Vision, thus allowing us to give her a specific identity rather than a vague, demoralizing reference term that could easily be overlooked when casting the movie that will hopefully be made of this book. “I’ve been sent by the Home Office to assist you in your endeavors to find the culprit of this heinous crime.”
This gave Collin pause. Heinous crime? There were so many investigation files on his desk, most of them ignored because it would require footwork in parts of town that he really didn’t cherish. He had no idea what the focus might be in the aerodynamic head of his future beloved, but he was well aware that any missteps at this critical meet-cute moment could cancel any possibility of a movie sequel. He couldn’t let this happen. He had to play it cool.
“Ah, the heinous crime,” said Collin, with an oratory air that he hoped invoked both great wisdom and his sexual availability for the upcoming weekend. “I hope that we can get to the bottom of this dastardly deed.” (Collin’s anarchic and misguided use of long-dead terms was balanced out by his insinuation that he and Virginia were already partners, whether as investigative professionals or mattress-testing paramours. This was a good psychological move.)
Sadly, Virginia was a complicated individual, with one of those complications being that she had obtained not one but two doctorate-level degrees in Human Behavior, along with a trendy Liberal Arts minor in Female Empowerment Studies. Without even blinking, she was able to get to the root of the matter in mere nanoseconds. “Detective Oskopy, I understand that you wish to engage in ribald and naughty behavior with me, preferably in a setting with opera playing in the background, and I cannot rule that possibility out because I have needs of my own. But we have both been hired to do a job and the primary thrust of that responsibility is that we nail some criminal bastards to a wall. Then we can discuss fornication. Are you with me?”
Collin did not have an immediate response, mainly because so many psycho-sexual triggers had just been activated in his cranium that words completely failed him. Luckily, an immediate response proved unnecessary right at that particular moment, as the phone on Collin’s desk began to clamor for attention, a diversionary development courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell. Collin snatched up the functional end of said device with an air of alacrity that would have inspired admiration in the hearts of people who look fondly upon the brisk completion of duties. However, there was no in the room with such proclivities, and instead the action looked awkward rather than award-worthy. “Yes?”
Voice on phone: “Is she there? Have you made her mad yet? It’s very easy to do.”
Collin: “Who are you?”
Voice on phone, sighing: “It’s your boss, dumbass. This means you’re already smitten, if you can’t recognize my voice after twenty years. I don’t want you smitten, that’s not the plan. I want you to keep it in your pants and get this case solved, that’s why I brought her in, to figure out what happened on that boat, not for you to get another notch on your crappy-ass Ikea bedpost. She’s good, Collin. She can help you.”
Collin, glancing at Virginia before responding: “Perhaps you could have brought up this… arrangement… when we were discussing my cases just an hour ago.”
Boss: “What would have been the point? You would have just argued with me and who has time for that? Work with her. I need results. Now. The deputy mayor has been banging on my door all afternoon like there’s a prize in here.”
Collin: “That’s really not my problem.”
Boss: “Yes, it is.” Click.
Collin slowly returned the receiver to its faded and cracked nesting place, pondering his next words to the sultry vixen (in his mind) who was still standing innocently at his door (in her mind).
Virginia was not a fan of pondering, preferring instead to have immediate results and non-pensive moments. “Who the hell was that? Were you talking about me? I sense that you were talking about me. Is there some kind of issue? Because if there is, we need to clear the air and get over it, because I don’t care for that mess. It’s annoying, it’s unproductive, and people end up writing insipid poems about their emotional conflicts.”
Collin continued to not say anything, which gave the impression of pondering, when what he should have been sharing in this digital world was the emoticon for “befuddlement”. He still found her enticing, of course, because of the tightly-bound coiffure and the way her power suit spoke of tidiness and precision in the boudoir. But still, she was already exhibiting warning signs that one usually doesn’t encounter until the third date, after the unbridled purely-sexual exhilaration of the first two dates has faded slightly, and you begin to wonder if perhaps you made a misstep somewhere amidst the feverish conjoining and you are now dating a serial killer.
Collin, balancing his personal alarms with his professional self-interests, chose to take the diplomatic path, which is a good thing, or we wouldn’t be able to move this story forward. “The phone call was unimportant, really, we were talking about another woman who appeared unexpectedly. Perhaps we should review the case files?”
Virginia also chose diplomacy, because who doesn’t want to be in the aforementioned movie sequel, and she strode forth briskly, plunking her designer briefcase on the edge of Collin’s desk, in the exact spot where Collin would normally position his bottle of bourbon once the nosy cleaning staff had left the building. (Collin dutifully noted that the monogram on said briefcase included what appeared to be a serpent nestled amongst the V-W initials. This was another sign that he should ask for the check and then scurry into the night, post-haste. But circumstances were not in his favor at the moment.)
Virginia somehow channeled this unspoken dining reference, and she whipped out her phone. “Do you mind if I order sushi before we get started?”
Collin, not having had the opportunity to partake in departmental training that dealt with raw fish entering the equation, was taken somewhat aback. Still, self-preservation prevailed. “That would be fine. Order away.”
Virginia pressed a single button, waited for some type of celestial connection to be made, then simply said “The Usual” before immediately disconnecting, shoving said phone back into one of her many previously-unnoticed pockets. She marched over to a chair that had been relegated to a dusty corner of the office, paused to pluck something off the seat that she found unsatisfying, hurling the offensive object towards another dusty corner, then she shoved the chair with considerable force so that it whizzed across the room and banged into the side of Collin’s desk. (A neurotic paperweight sitting on said desk decided that all this commotion was simply too much to endure, leaping off the back of the desk and skittering under a filing cabinet where it could presumably seek counseling.)
Virginia plopped into the rezoned chair, creating a noise that was akin to a grizzly bear falling out of a tree rather than the sound one would expect from a well-educated woman who tightly controlled everything around her, including gravity and sound. “Show me what you’ve got.”
Naturally, Collin’s mind flitted through a number of responsive options, both oral and physical. But since he hadn’t partaken of the bourbon just yet (the cleaning staff was still here this evening, he could hear them beating the hell out of something in one of the bathrooms), he wisely chose to keep things on a level with the least potential for lawsuits. “Sure, we can do that. Where would you like to start?”
Virginia: “Let me see your suspect list.”
Collin: “But isn’t that going at it backwards? Creating bias? Shouldn’t we look at the crime scene first, get a grasp on that, and go from there?”
Virginia, smiling a non-smile: “Dearest Collin, let me catch you up a bit. Perhaps you weren’t listening to the narrator a few pages back when he explained that I have two doctorates in the behavioral sciences. He failed to mention the other doctorates I have, many of them, universities are practically throwing them at me because I’m so astonishingly good at what I do. So this means two things. One, I have an entire wing of my house that has nothing but diplomas on the walls, which is actually something of a bitch when it comes to utility bills. And two, I was brought on this case to help you get your ass moving because everyone knows about the bourbon, Collin, not just the cleaning staff, although they were the first ones to make a status update on social media about it.”
Collin, not smiling at all, knew a third thing: He was most definitely not sleeping with this woman. It would be far too much pressure and the fallout risk was enormous, and what sane person would welcome that into their life or their bedroom? Granted, his own libido had led him down the very same path a few times. (Okay, a lot of times.) But you would think at some point that a man with any decency would finally learn the warning signs and quit making testicular-based decisions and stop-
Virginia was staring at him, this time with a real smile.
Virginia: “I’ve been here twenty minutes and you’re already having an epiphany. I told you I was good.”
Collin: “I’m not having a… whatever that is. I was just thinking about something.”
Virgina: “Exactly. Now get that list of suspects. I already know about the crimes on the boat. I just need to look at the people who might have done those deeds and narrow down the list. Because really, in the end, it’s not about who had the opportunity, it’s about who would take advantage of the opportunity. Most people are too humane or too lazy to commit an injustice. It’s the energetic sociopaths that we have to worry about. Get the list.”
Collin walked over to his filing cabinet and pulled out one of the drawers with a resounding bang. (The paperweight cowering beneath the cabinet let out a whimper of social discomfort, and his newly-hired therapist, a dust bunny who had somehow managed to become certified via the internet, rolled into view to raise a fuzzy fist in objection. Collin unknowingly crushed said bunny with his high-dollar shoe as he wrangled a bulging file out of the storage facility. The paperweight lit a votive and began praying.)
Collin walked back to his workstation, lugging the bulging, and dropped the whole mess on the big-ass calendar covering most of his desk, a calendar he never actually used but still ordered every year. (Habits are habits). He then upended the folder and began to rummage about, resulting in a few of the binder-clipped components falling behind his desk and lodging themselves betwixt the office furniture and the wall, immediately forgotten and forlorn, at least from Collin’s perspective. Luckily, Virginia, with her profound expertise and supernatural abilities, was able to read the entirety of each document before it tumbled into the abyss, thusly preserving all aspects of the case in her steel-trap mind.
Collin, latching on to a single sheet of well-wrinkled paper: “Ah, here it is.” He thrust the document at the Woman Who Now Scared Him.
Virginia, accepting the handoff: “This smells like Chung-Yu’s on Maple Avenue. Have you been outsourcing?”
Collin, his mind more agile now that the primal urges had been temporarily put at bay, possibly for the first time in his life: “I have an affinity for bicycle-delivered Chinese, and perhaps there was an unintended transference of some kind. I would think you would know about this, what with the sushi you just ordered from what appeared to be the Japanese mafia. Speaking of, where is that sushi? It’s not like they have to cook it. You hack off a piece of fish and you roll it in some rice. What’s taking so long?”
Collin’s phone rang, somewhat muffled by the various documents strewn about his desk.
Virginia: “Perhaps that’s the sushi.”
Collin: “Why would they call me? You’re the one that ordered.”
Virginia: “I was merely making a joke to see if you have the slightest amount of whimsicality about you. The answer is no, and my research in that area is finished. Now answer the damn phone. I’m already annoyed that you use a landline in the first place, and now that your antique is bleating miserably and incessantly, I could easily cut someone. Save a life, and make it stop.”
Collin just stared at Virginia, perplexed.
Virginia accepted the optical challenge and stared back, although from a lower elevation, reclining artfully as she was in a dusty, mundane office chair that no one had bothered to utilize since the Korean War. After all, she had chosen to use quality hair products on her severely-disciplined mane, and any good stylist will tell you that high-end styling gel trumps anything else in the room. Virginia exuded confidence, despite sitting atop a chair cushion most likely composed of asbestos and the deadened souls of underpaid workers.
Collin exuded an air of confusion. “I’m at a loss here. What were we talking about before Paul Mitchell did a voice-over about salon essentials?”
Virginia responded first with a rather athletic realignment of her legs, which may or may not have been a tribute to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct but it was too murky to tell in the government-funded, substandard lighting. As the possible sneaky-peek was quickly shuttered, Virginia resorted to her Matron of Discipline persona. “Answer the phone, Collin. Or we’re never going to be able to end this chapter.”
Collin stumbled toward his desk (was that a paperweight on the floor that he just tripped over?), shoved yet another document out of the way (which Virginia thoroughly scanned before it hit the floor), and snatched up the apparently old-school receiver. “What do you want?”
Caller: “Really, now? Have we truly lost all social etiquette when it comes to answering the phone?”
Collin, finding at least a smidge of fortitude in this mind-bending moment of potential cooter-flashing and the troubling unknown status of sushi delivery, chose to take a stand: “Who are you, why are you calling, get to the point.”
Caller: “Well, then. If there’s to be no witty foreplay, which saddens me, I’ll get right to this point you relish, without any slap and tickle. I expect you to drop this case immediately and find something less troublesome to pursue.”
Collin glanced at Virginia, who appeared to be on the verge of another ribald display of muscular and uninhibited legwork, and he turned his back on her, because one can only process a certain amount of stimuli at any given time. “Let me try this again. Who are you, and why should I care about what you think?”
Caller, apparently knocking over a martini glass based on the sound effects, but this is probably not important to our story: “You shouldn’t care at all what I think. You should care about the photograph I have of you doing that thing that you shouldn’t have been doing.”
Collin, fully aware that his personal volume of indiscretions could compete in size with the Boston phonebook, hesitated slightly. Then again, this person could just be a nut job, with his vague reference to nothing. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Caller, now presumably martini-less, which was unfortunate, even if he was en evildoer: “Oh, I can give you an idea with just one word.”
Collin once again glanced at Virginia, who was thankfully no longer invested in tawdry leg aerobics and was instead sitting chastely, her eyes focused on what appeared to be a paperweight near Collin’s right foot. Collin was a bit perplexed at the intensity of her scrutiny, but as long as she was occupied with stone-gazing and hopefully not with eavesdropping, then he was fine with it. He brought the business end of his outdated communication device back to his mouth. “And what word would that be?”
Caller, chuckling, despite the loss of an adult beverage: “Croutons.”
A chill raced through Collin’s heart.
The line went dead.
Originally published in “Bonnywood Manor” on 06/27/14. Revisions are constantly being made as I pummel this mess into book form. Story behind the photo: A small pond with oddly-colored water near our latest cabin rental in Oklahoma, somewhat obscured by trees. It has a nice thematic fit as I slowly reveal the story details of the book…
Categories: Work In Progress