Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect – #209


Narrator: “The mind boggles at the myriad symbolic interpretations that can be made about the activity in this photo, but we’ll simply suffice it to say that Clark is apparently better at it than Carole.”

Nancy Drew suddenly arrived on the scene, despite no one asking her to do so. (She was a rather strong-willed lass with little regard for boundaries or proper invitation etiquette.) “I hope there’s more meat on your barbecue than that.”

Narrator: “I’m not sure that I follow. Or that I want to.”

Nancy: “The rest of the script you’re reading. Surely there’s more substance to come.”

Narrator: “Um, I’m going to guess that there’s not much more. Because I just finished reading it. Done.”

Nancy: “Well, somebody clearly didn’t do their job.”

Narrator: “I certainly did mine. I read what they gave me, in a soothing baritone. Now I just wait for the paycheck.”

Nancy: “But that didn’t even solve the mystery. I could sense the incompletion as I was driving past this house and I knew I had to intervene.”

Narrator: “Honey Blonde, not everything involves a mystery.”

Nancy: “Of course it does. How else do you think I’ve managed to appear in four hundred little yellow books over the years?”

Narrator: “Maybe you should go somewhere and get ready for the next one.”

Nancy: “I simply cannot leave a scene without careful analyzation. Unlike you, as you’re apparently in it just for the money.”

Narrator: “If you knew how little I made from these voice-overs, you wouldn’t have punched that button. I have a hard time keeping food on the table.”

Nancy: “Then maybe you should start analyzing things. Or find a therapist who can help you do that. Now, stick with me while I break down the evidence.”

Narrator: “I really need to be going, so…”

Nancy: “Oh, stuff it. I could tell from the expression on your face, as you glanced at your watch whilst I walked up, that your taxi will not be here for another twenty-seven minutes. We have plenty of time. Now, let’s start with that fancy oil lamp on the end-table in the upper right. It’s not lit.”

Narrator: “And that’s important because…”

Nancy: “It’s night-time.”

Narrator: “But Clark and Carole are brightly lit.”

Nancy: “Oh, I’m sure they’re lit, because it’s a cocktail party. But the bright is coming from the flash of the camera that took the picture. That’s what happens with cameras. How long have you been in the entertainment industry?”

Narrator: “Well, it’s a temp job, so…”

Nancy: “Thought as much. That lamp should be shining so the lit guests can find that door there that eventually leads to the bathroom. Cocktails involve recycling. That part I’m sure you know about. Okay, moving to the bottom right, we have that interesting little box thing.”

Narrator: “It looks like one of those lightbulb containers.”

Nancy: “Exactly. It clearly won’t work on the oil lamp. So it means one of two things.”

Narrator: “There are some stupid people at this party?”

Nancy: “That’s one thing. The second? Somebody doesn’t want that lamp lit, so they set out the lightbulb instead of matches, hoping that the lit people would be confused and they would remain in the dark until after the crime was committed.”

Narrator, suddenly more invested than he intended: “And why does Carole have an empty dinner plate in front of her and Clark does not?”

Nancy: “Good eye! Why didn’t he eat? Is he aware of some type of food-based malfeasance?”

Narrator: “Then again, Clark has a stack of fashion magazines in front of him, featuring glamorous models. Maybe he was ordering his dinner from that menu.”

Nancy: “Wait, look at that little cup-bowl next to Clark’s wish list.”

Narrator: “What is that? Did somebody order a soft-boiled egg?”

Nancy: “It could very well be arsenic pudding.”

Narrator: “That seems a bit extreme.”

Nancy: “Oh, it happens more often than you think. Deadly desserts were critical plot points in 17 of my 400 books. But who was the pudding meant for? It’s right between Clark and Carole, so the target is not clear.”

Narrator: “Hold up. Why is that one man in the upper left middle staring over the little wall at the two melon-munchers like that? That seems kind of strange. Is he waiting for one of them to eat the pudding?”

Nancy: “What’s even more strange is the wall itself. It’s stark and sleek and it doesn’t fit the architectural style of the rest of the house. That wall was clearly added recently. Is somebody trying to hide evidence of the real crime here?”

Narrator: “Wait, look at the man in far upper left. He’s crying into his linen napkin, clearly upset about something that has recently happened. Maybe the man staring over the little wall isn’t doing so out of anticipation, he’s doing so out of accusation.”

Nancy: “I think you might be on to something. Well, I’m marching over there right now to see what’s behind that architectural violation of a wall. Coming?”

Just then, there’s a honk from the driveway outside Malfeasance Manor.

Narrator: “Oh, that must be my taxi. I’d love to stick around, but…”

Nancy: “I get it. The taxi service is terrible at this time of night. You go do you and I’ll go do me.”

Narrator: “Could you let me know what you find? Here’s my card.”

Nancy: “You have a card? I thought you were a temp.”

Narrator: “It’s Hollywood. Everybody has a card. And an angle.”

Nancy: “Some things never change. Here’s my card as well. You aren’t such a bad guy after all. Maybe we can do dinner some time?”

Narrator: “Sure thing. But I gotta run. I’ll call you if you don’t call me.”

Nancy tromped her confident, boundary-less way toward the suspicious wall and the eventual body behind it.

The Narrator tromped his confident way to the honking taxi and slipped into the backseat. Five miles down the meandering road in the Hollywood Hills, he whipped out his primitive cellphone, punching in numbers from a certain card. The call went to voice mail, which he fully expected, what with the discovery of the bludgeoned body and all.

“Hey, Nancy. It’s Frank Hardy. From just a bit ago? You might want to take another look at that photo. There’s another guy in the far upper left, next to Crying Man, mostly out of frame. He’s clearly got a lighter, one that he could have used to activate the oil lamp. But he didn’t. I wonder why that would be?”

Frank ended the call and pulled out his own lighter.

Taxi Driver: “Hey, buddy. I don’t mind you smoking in here, but could you crack a window?”

Frank did. After all, it wasn’t the first thing he had cracked open tonight.


Previously published, massively revised and expanded. (The original was just the narrator’s opening lines.) Sometimes it’s fun to go dark, as long as we don’t stay there…


19 replies »

  1. Clark Gable hmmm? And here I was thinking that Jim Nabors had gotten an invite to the semi swanky party with dialogue included. Maybe it was the melon munching that threw me off. Most folks know that “Gomer” probably didn’t eat his melon with such enthusiasm, but that Clark was known for it. Carole? Now that’s another puzzle for me to chew upon. Excellent post, even if you did go a bit dark. I had the same questions and thoughts though, so to me? It’s all good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you kindly. I like the Jim Nabors angle, so that concept will probably surface in the inevitable rewrite.

      Speaking of Clark’s munching, a bit of trivia: Some actresses refused to work with him because he wore dentures (he got them at the age of 32!) and he apparently did not… keep them tidy. I know this is idle gossip, but I also find it fascinating.

      I think we would all be in a better place if folks would question the details in any scene instead of just making decisions at first glance…

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s fairly disgusting about the choppers. But now I know why he never smiled cheesily (open mouthed) very much in any film I ever watched that he acted in. Maybe he frankly ‘didn’t give a damn’? LOL Thirty two doesn’t shock me greatly, people of a certain age and generation weren’t devoted to chasing down the illusive “best smile’ award complete with unnaturally white teeth which were straight (no gaps or wonky looking teeth allowed) and so forth that they do today. My own Ma had a full set by the time she was 36. She told us she took rotten care of them, they rebelled and after my last sibling was born, they were in such awful shape the dentist (read torture master – segue – have you ever heard those stories of dentistry in the 1920s and 30s? I’d NEVER have allowed anyone to touch my mouth had I endured that) pulled them all out. She had dentures as long as I remember, and she used to delight in scaring the crap out of her children by “popping” them out of her mouth. Some party trick.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I always thought he was pretty shifty, even way back in the day, as a wee bairn, when I would read ancient copies of the brothers adventures. (My granny had a dusty stash of them in one of her storage rooms; it was never explained to my why.) The covers were brown, then, before they transitioned to the blue covers that became symbolic of the series…

      Liked by 1 person

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