Note: Continuing with our theme of “people who are underappreciated for their appreciation of the performing arts” that has somewhat permeated the last two posts, here’s an excerpt from one of my work-in-progress books, “Cruise Control”. Setting the scene: Detectives Collin Oskopy (beleaguered, overworked, possibly alcoholic) and Virginia Wolf (vain, ego-centric, definitely high-maintenance) are about to review a list of suspects for a yet-unnamed crime committed on a cruise ship. Enjoy.
Collin poked about on his desk until he found the tattered list and then waved it in Virginia’s direction, releasing another whiff of Chung-Yu. Virginia snatched the page from Collin’s fingers, glanced at it briefly, and then hurled it back on the desk. “There are fifteen suspects. That’s entirely too many. Have you done any work on this case?”
Collin: “I really don’t like you.”
Virginia: “Neither does Jesus. But that’s beside the point. Why are there still fifteen suspects?”
Collin, taking a deep breath and trying to remember why he had chosen this career: “It was a Carnival Cruise. There were thousands of people on the ship. I think that whittling it down to fifteen is pretty damned good.”
Virginia: “Of course you would think that. And how did you do this whittling? Was it lottery-based? Star charts? Wait, I bet you went to a psychic. You seem like the type of person who would squander good money to watch a woman fondle glowing balls.”
Collin’s eyes wandered to the window over his desk. They were ten stories up. With properly-applied physics, this scene could quickly be over for one of the cast members. But he was too tired to figure out which of them should get the express pass. “I narrowed it down to one particular family that was travelling together on the boat. They have a particularly shady past.”
Virginia was intrigued. “Really? Mafia connections? History of violence? They don’t recycle?”
Collin: “Most of the family lives in Oklahoma. And the rest of them live in Texas.”
Virginia could not stifle a gasp, even though she valiantly tried. “I somehow missed that, which means the planets must be out of alignment. Give me back the list. It’s clearly got to be one of them, those people ain’t right.”
Collin, his eyes still focused on the Window That Could End All of This, snatched up the paper and held it out behind him so Virginia could take the hand-off. She promptly did. “Okay, tell me everything that you know about each one of these people. In three sentences or less per suspect. Go!”
Collin finally ripped his eyes away from the Glorious Escape Hatch and looked at Virginia. “What? How can I possibly-”
Virginia: “Just do it. It makes you focus on the primary facts. Trust me, it works. I learned this technique back in kindergarten when the Sit-and-Spin suddenly disappeared from the playground of my highly-expensive, eco-friendly boarding school. I had a love for that thing which knew no boundaries, and my relentless pursuit of the horrid person who absconded with it made me the woman I am today.”
Collin, after a long pause in which he reconsidered everything he thought he knew about anything: “I think I actually get you now. And that scares me.”
Virginia: “That’s cute. You really don’t, but bonus points for trying. Now, first suspect on the list?”
Collin: “That would be Brian. From all indications he’s something of a neurotic, with a tendency to launch into odd stories about whimsical things that may or may not have happened. This, of course, makes him a primary target of suspicion because he may not be able to discern reality from fiction. Or he has a very active imagination, which, as we all know, is very suspect in these modern times where vapid people are expected to believe vapid websites and vote vapidly in public elections. And he has a fondness for excessive margaritas.”
Virginia, with that wry smile indicating that she was about to say something cutting: “Well, then. Collin, are you not able to count? Your rambling thoughts, although insightful in ways that you probably don’t realize, ran five sentences in length, or at least appeared to do so based on the punctuation I perceived in your oratory. You are clearly not following the Rule of Three, and this makes me clench. I don’t appreciate having to clench during moments when I do not wish to clench. Limit your responses to three sentences or less so that I can follow my award-winning investigative protocol, a procedure which has been patented in most countries, at least those countries with decent copyright bylaws.”
Collin, again glancing at the Window of Eternal Solitude, and then back at Virginia: “Fine. But I think I should point out that your response contained six sentences, and at least one of them had a clear transitional error and should have been two sentences, thus upping your quota to seven. If I have to follow the Rule of Three, you should as well with your rebuttal. Fair?”
Virginia opened her mouth with the initial intent of proceeding with more cutting, but then paused. Despite her own self-love which often escalated into moments of self-worship and the emasculation of surrounding males who weren’t quick on the draw, she did appreciate a good intellectual challenge, even if she did feel impelled to test the limits of her own regulations. “Fine. Agreed. Suspect number two?”
Collin: “Terry, who is the partner of the whimsical margarita drinker. He has an abundant amount of disdain for the stupid people of the world, and since there are so many of such running amok, he could easily have been the perpetrator behind the crime, especially since he enjoys videos of stupid people getting hurt for being stupid. And he likes to take selfies.”
Virginia, making notes in a slim book that no one had noticed before now: “Splendid. I feel his pain. Number three?”
Collin: “Tiffany is the best friend of Brian, although at times she appears to be tighter with Terry, a shifting alliance that often happens with three-way friendships. She is a world traveler, at least in her own mind, and she has the amazing ability to quote dialogue from any movie produced during the Eighties. And she has a fondness for coffee that has never been equaled throughout recorded history.”
Virginia: “Ah, the caffeine element as proof of guilt, good catch. I have never trusted anyone who uses stimulants wantonly. Four?”
Collin: “This would be Dee, also sometimes known as Mom to at least five members of this parade of hooligans, and Grandma to at least four others. She wants nothing more than to have her family enjoy life but, as we both know, enjoyment of life often leads to litigation. And she has a penchant for playing the nickel slots whenever possible.”
Virginia looked up from her slim notebook of unknown origin. “Gambling is involved as well? I’ve never trusted people who just spin the wheel and hope for the best. Just knock over the damn wheel and take what you want, nobody’s going to give it to you willingly.”
Collin raised one eyebrow. “Were you on the boat as well? Because you certainly fit the profile of the person who did what they did on the cruise. Give me back that list so I can make an update.”
Virginia promptly did not give it back. “Don’t be annoying. I have a perfect alibi for the dates in question, as I was supervising the destruction of an organic farm that was operating without proper licensing. Nothing against chemical-free consumption, mind you, but I really didn’t care for the logo on their entrance sign. I don’t find bunnies cute in any way.”
Collin wisely chose to not venture forth on that dangerous sideline path. “Anyway, we have a salt-and-pepper duo for suspects Five and Six. This would be Dawn, sister of Brian and daughter of Mom, and her husband, Darrin, who would normally not be an immediate suspect because he married into the family and was not formed by it. Still, Darrin is extremely tall and he never says anything in social settings. So, he has to stay on the list, just for that.”
At this point there was a knock on the door, an intrusion that was not in the writer’s notes for this chapter, so even he was surprised by the development. There was a moment of silence in Collin’s office as everyone considered the implications of something happening that was not part of the intended plot. (Even the neurotic paperweight paused in the midst of his paranoia to reflect and ponder.) The knocker at the door, however, did not have time for such pensive dalliance. So, she knocked again, more forcefully.
Virginia, to Collin: “Make that woman stop before someone gets hurt. And it won’t be me.”
Collin strode toward the door and flung it open, a door that had actually never been closed at any point in the narration, so we’ll have to overlook this mishap in continuity to keep the story moving. “Yes?” asked Collin, in a tone which he hoped implied that some people were busy doing things other than opening doors.
The small woman at the office portal got directly to the point, because she was raised to be efficient in all circumstances by parents who had extensive training in efficiency and emotionless child-rearing. “I have a telegram. Would you like me to simply read it to you, or do you require that I belt it out Broadway-style whilst I tap-dance in a manner that would make the gays proud? The cost is the same either way.”
Collin, astounded: “People still send telegrams? What century are you from?”
Virginia, affronted: “There will be no singing. Just read it.”
Small Woman, apathetic, but clearing her throat in preparation, because this was still a performance in her mind despite the lack of jazz hands: “For the love of God, dispense with the extended character descriptions. Stop. The reader is not going to remember this part. Stop. Add the necessary details as the characters come on the scene, that’s how you do it. Stop. Please tip Annabelle as it took me a long time to find someone who still does what she does. Stop. Signed, the Person who would be your editor if you didn’t have so many structural issues with plot development.”
Annabelle then smiled winningly at them, because she really hoped the tip part would come to fruition so she could eventually save enough money to get away from her efficient parents.
Virginia crushed that dream. “There will be no tipping. Flee at once.”
Annabelle fled, disheartened for now, but taking comfort in the fact that she had managed to fully memorize Virginia’s appearance in a manner that would allow her to create a very special voodoo doll as she languished in her cold attic bedroom. After a bit of skillful pricking of said doll, and the anticipated personal destruction of Virginia and her streamlined cruelty, Annabelle would then move on to her next mission: the commitment of her parents to a mental institution where nothing was efficient, ever. This is the sad psychology that happens when you make offspring live in attic bedrooms.
Originally published in… oh, wait, I haven’t shared it anywhere. Unless you count NaNoWriMo, where all they care about is word count and not content. (Not judging the process, I enjoy participating in such, just saying.) I have shared other stories from this WIP, and it seems one of them involved Tiffany nearly meeting her demise at the porcelain hands of a high-end, programmable toilet. Suffice it to say that the whimsy in this evolving book exceeds all expectations…
Story behind the photo: Another shot of Pato de Pavo and Ducky Bob, which some of you should recognize from our international travels. In this instance, the duo has been plunked into a lacquer bowl at my sister’s house in Broken Arrow. She asked me what the hell I was doing. I told her she didn’t appreciate the performing arts. And with that, we bring this post full circle…
Categories: Work In Progress