a princess in u-town (part six)

This story started here.


My employer enlisted a couple of people from neighboring rooms to help, and they quickly brought Fifteen, our young aide.

Fortunately, whoever had rousted Fifteen out of bed had apparently mentioned that the emergency had involved gunshots, because Christy came with him. Her ensemble consisted of a big fuzzy bathrobe, some puffy slippers, and a large revolver.

We clustered in the doorway. My employer addressed her comments to Fifteen, but they were for Christy and me also.

“Priorities: We need a medic for the princess — to make sure she’s okay. We need security for her also, since her bodyguard has been murdered by person or persons unknown. We need to move her to a safer location, immediately. Marshall broke the lock here so that we could get in, and I need to do a thorough investigation of this room and the next one. And we need to get the bodies to the hospital — I’ll need at least a preliminary autopsy as soon as possible.” Fifteen nodded.

“Christy and I will take the princess to our room,” I said. “The door and the windows have good locks–“

“I don’t need a doctor,” the princess said. She’d come up behind me without making a sound. She was still wrapped up in the blanket, looking like a refugee from some sort of natural disaster. “I would like to get out of this room, though.”

“Clear the hallway,” my employer said, then she turned to Christy. “We have to assume that the princess is in immediate danger. Please don’t leave her for a moment.”

Christy nodded.

When the hallway was cleared of the curious, we started moving quickly to our room. As we reached the door, the princess suddenly grabbed the door frame and started crying again. I scooped her into my arms and got her into the room. Christy closed and locked the door as I lay the princess on the bed. She curled up, as if trying to occupy as little space as possible.

Christy made sure the window was locked and the drapes were closed while I got a robe out of the closet. Christy took it from me and twirled a finger, telling me to turn my back. I did, and she helped the princess put on the robe.

After a few minutes, the princess recovered and sat up. Even with the robe on, she still kept the blanket wrapped around her.

There was a knock on the door, and Christy went to open it a crack and look out.

“It’s coffee,” she said.

The princess frowned as if she’d never heard the word before, and I found myself trying to remember if I’d ever met anybody named Coffee.

Christy, seeing our perplexed expressions, raised a hand and mimed drinking a cup of coffee. Then her eyes met mine and she frowned. Probably I did also.

“Is there a problem?” the princess asked.

I went to the door, keeping it half closed so that the princess wasn’t visible from the hallway. Christy was behind me, her gun in her hand.

A man who I didn’t recognize said, “Fifteen asked me to–“

“Very thoughtful, and please thank him for that, but not now. Thank you, also.”

I closed the door, and the princess frowned. “Do you really think–” she began.

“No, it’s unlikely, I admit, but it’s not impossible. i had somebody get poisoned right in front of me once. It’s not–“

She nodded and sighed. “I would appreciate some coffee at some point, though. I…” Her shoulders sagged.

“But not enough to die for it, I know,” I said. I went to my desk, opened the bottom drawer, and pulled out a small electric tea kettle.

Christy shook her head. “Isn’t there a rule…”

I nodded.

“Because of the wiring in this place…”

I nodded.

She watched as I filled up the kettle in the tiny bathroom, set it on my desk, and plugged it in.

“Well, I guess I’ll have some, too,” she said, which got a small smile out of the princess.

I was glad to see that smile. Knowing my employer, her investigation of the crime scene could take hours, and, having spent a lot of time with people who were recently bereaved in my career as a detective’s assistant, I knew that the earlier you can introduce at least a tiny bit of humor, the better in the long run.

Christy caught my eye. She didn’t need to do any more than that — I’d attended her father’s funeral with her, fairly recently, and we’d had quite a long discussion of this question.

I suppose I should add that her father had died of natural causes, aided by a lifetime of heavy drinking.

More to come…

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today’s awesome fact

So, here’s today’s awesome fact (it comes in two parts):

1) I am a big fan of the novel The Diamond Age.

2) I’ve noticed the word “fiona” here and there on the Amazon website, mostly (as far as I can remember) as a directory name.

But then, when I was randomly reading the Wikipedia entry for The Diamond Age, I saw this:

During the early stages of its development, the Amazon Kindle e-reader was codenamed “Fiona”, as a deliberate reference to the Illustrated Primer and Fiona Hackworth.

So, the Kindle was deliberately the first step toward the Primer?

Very cool indeed.

In other, completely unrelated awesome news, I may just need to go see Les Miserables again. :-)

In other, also unrelated, news, I’m starting to investigate the Fast & Furious movies. More to come about that, but so far so good.

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semicolons (like giant commas)

As I’ve talked about before, I’m fascinated by commas and related matters, so this new video at the New Yorker website caught my eye: “The Semicolon; or, Mastering the Giant Comma.”

Definitely worth watching (Hey, you get to find out who invented the semicolon — imagine inventing a piece of punctuation that actually gets adopted by the language :-) ).

However, as I’ve also reported before, the idea of videos from the New Yorker seems sort of wrong. And I really like my language-related information to be in text form, so I can refer to it easily. And it turned out that Mary Norris, the “comma queen,” has written a book: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.

So I bought the book.

Wait, do you think that was the idea all along…

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a princess in u-town (part five)

This story started here.

I was awake before I was aware of it.

Jan was awake also, sitting up in bed.

It was still dark out, and I glanced at the clock on the bedside table by habit. 4:42 a.m.

Then we heard the sound again. Faint, as if there were several walls between us and the gun, but we knew that sound.

“Robe,” I said as I quickly pulled on a pair of pants, knowing that modesty was pretty much the last thing on her mind in situations like this.

I opened the locked case in my bottom bureau drawer and took out a pistol, carefully locking the case again as she pulled on her shoes.

Out in the hall, a couple of people were poking their heads out of their rooms and looking around. I gestured and they stepped back..

The princess’s room was down the hall from ours, and I think we were both sure, with no real evidence, that that’s where the shooting had been. Then we heard a scream.

I moved to knock on the door, but my employer gestured as she limped up and I tried the door. It was locked, but I knew how lousy most of the locks were and I gave it my shoulder, hard.

That popped the lock and I was in, my employer right behind me.

My brain was still figuring out how one apologizes for breaking into a princess’s bedroom in the middle of the night, and what I might quickly say if it turned out that her bodyguard was present, when my eyes informed my brain that it had a whole different set of problems to worry about, since the bodyguard was stretched out on the floor, obviously dead.

My employer limped in and quickly closed the door to the hall. She scanned the room as I went to the princess, who was sitting on the bed, shaking and staring at something on the floor, on the far side of the bed.

My employer and I hurried around, and there was Ana, on the floor. I kneeled and checked her, knowing what I would find. I could hear my employer moving around the room. I knew she’d see everything there was to see, so I turned my attention to the princess.

It looked like another scream was coming, so I said, “Don’t look, Val.” I was standing beside the bed, trying to block her view of Ana’s body. I took her shoulders and gently turned her so that she was facing the foot of the bed.

“Val,” I said again, trying to get her to look at me, “Are you hurt? Are you okay?”

Then the deluge came. She buried her face in my stomach and cried — great, heaving sobs, her hands clutching at my lower back.

This was somewhat awkward, since I was only wearing slacks and shoes, and she was naked, so I put my hand on her back and held it there, not moving it, as I looked around the room.

The bodyguard lay on his back, blood on his white shirt. A gun was lying in between the two bodies. The bed clothes were all tangled around, and some were scattered across the floor.

The princess’s grip had loosened enough that I was able to bend over, grab the corner of a blanket, and wrap it around her shoulders. She clutched it around her, as if suddenly aware that she was naked. She was looking down at the mattress and I couldn’t see her face.

“I’m going to get help,” my employer said, limping toward the door. “Pick up the gun.”

I did (checking it — two chambers empty), and dropped it into my pocket.

I now had a heavy gun in each pocket, and I hitched up my pants, wishing I’d put on a belt.

More to come…

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here’s a couple of links

I’ve written before about both Captain Marvel and Ronda Rousey, but separately. Now, for the first time, together!

It would be interesting to see this, if it happens, but the fact is that usually acting is better done by actors. Rousey has been in films, but never in a lead role. (I haven’t seen the films she’s been in, but I do want to start to check out the Fast & Furious series at some point.)

But, as Henry James teaches us in his classic story “The Real Thing,” just because you are a thing doesn’t mean you’re the most qualified to portray that thing. But we’ll see.

Oh, and this, nothing to do with combat sports or superheroes, but still funny:

Things That Will Happen If I Don’t Take My Phone Out Right Now

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ellery queen part two

Part one of this post is here.

These days, Ellery Queen is probably known mostly for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which I read all the time when I was young.

By the way, unlike some of the books I wrote about last time, this was not a case of EQ selling the Queen name. Frederic Dannay, one of the two men who comprised “Ellery Queen,” was the editor of the magazine from the beginning in 1941 until his death in 1982. His name was never mentioned within its pages, though — his editorials and other notes were always signed “EQ.”

(This is the funny bit, by the way. It all starts with two Jewish kids from Brooklyn, cousins, named Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky. Wanting to be writers, and not wanting to be perceived as two Jewish kids from Brooklyn, they changed their names to Fredric Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee. And then they proceeded to never use either of those new names, since everything they did professionally was under the name “Ellery Queen.”)

Anyway, when writing the first half of this post I started to think about Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and to my surprise, even in these difficult days for magazines, it continues to chug along. Still digest sized, and apparently pretty much the same as it ever was.

I’ll report in more detail after my first copy arrives (I subscribed immediately, natch). It comes in digital format now, too, but I want it, at least for now, the way it always was.

But I had another thought, beyond mere subscription.

1. They publish mystery stories.
2. I write mystery stories.
3. They accept submissions over the transom.
4. They are flexible about other genres mixing in with their mysteries (I remember reading a story way back when about how alibis could work in the future when people get places by teleporting).
5. A regular feature of the magazine has always been the Department of First Stories — publishing writers who have never published professionally before.

Okay, why have I never submitted a story to this magazine?


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