a story completed, and some links

Well, “The Bus Station Mystery” is done, and I will admit that it took quite a bit of doing. It’s been a somewhat trying year, though things are better now, but I think it discombobulated the story somewhat. So, now that it’s done, I’m going to step back and take my time to look at it.

It’s not quite what I expected, but of course that’s not always a bad thing…

Here are some links that I’ve found interesting recently:

1) “Alexa, Where Have You Been All My Life?“: The thing that strikes me about the current acceptance of Siri and Alexa and the rest is how primitive they are now. In ten years, how will we relate to these voices?

(This part of the article did strike me funny, though:

Ms. Quinn realized the device had reached a tipping point in the collective consciousness when she was on vacation in March with some of these friends in the Dominican Republic. During a dinner, one suddenly blurted out, “Alexa, what time is it?”

Ms. Quinn was incredulous. “Wait, you brought your Alexa?” she said.

“No, I just really miss her,” the friend said.)

2) “Facebook’s war on free will“: Long, but interesting (and it kind of goes with the first one).

3) “Darren Aronofsky Says “Mother!” Is About Climate Change, But He’s Wrong“: The idea of seeing the movie Mother! doesn’t really appeal to me, but I do enjoy reading all about the different interpretations people have for it. Biblical allegory, climate change metaphor, critique of how male artists often exploit the women in their lives, etc.

Of course, as we can see in the films of David Lynch, for example, there are often no definitive answers to these questions.

Which is fine.

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the bus station mystery — conclusion

This story started here.

Mr. Randall stood up as Stephanie and Kelly came into the waiting room. “Mrs. Coe went to the rest room,” he said, gesturing in that direction, “but she didn’t come back. When Miss Powell went to look for her, she wasn’t there. We were–”

“Mrs. Coe is outside, in the bus, handcuffed. And she’s not Mrs. Coe. Mrs. Coe is dead, in your office.”

Mr. Randall shook his head — almost a shiver. “What?” he demanded after a moment.

“Let’s sit down. Billy, is there any coffee? Or tea?”

Billy looked as if he wasn’t sure what to say, and Stephanie smiled. “The case is solved, the murderer is caught, and there’s no more danger.”

Billy nodded. “There’s some hot coffee, which is now lukewarm, and there’s iced tea, which is probably also lukewarm, and it’s nasty (the tea).”

Stephanie laughed. “You’ve sold me on the coffee, though feel free to make it a small cup if we’re running out.”

“Never mind all that–” Dr. Grassi began.

“You’re right,” Stephanie said. “The short story is this: Cody was killed by his wife, Amelia. She had climbed out the window of the ladies room and surprised her husband on the bus after the passengers all came in here. She was then surprised by Mrs. Coe when she climbed back into the ladies room.

“She — Amelia Nugent — killed Mrs. Coe and switched identification and outer clothes with her. She left Mrs. Coe’s body in Mr. Randall’s office and passed herself off as Mrs. Coe, who nobody here knew.

“When I said I knew who it was — who the murderer was — she went to the ladies room and climbed out the window again. She saw someone, or something, moving around in the bus — which was not lighted — and tried to shoot, but I subdued her. What she saw was Kelly moving an overcoat around, draped over a pole. Kelly herself was crouching down, to be safe.”

“Wait a minute,” Lombard said. “Was she just assuming that nobody would be in there? In the ladies room?”

“No. I don’t think she expected to come back, after she killed her husband. It sounded like her plan was to leave after the murder. Her car was in the parking lot. But she hadn’t planned on the storm getting so bad. She should have dropped the plan, but apparently she was determined to carry it through, no matter what. So, she snuck back into the ladies room, and then apparently had to kill Mrs. Coe.

“Then, as I said, she had her big idea — to switch places with Mrs. Coe. After all, if she was discovered here, as herself, everyone would figure out she was the killer. And they did look a little alike. So, she switched the clothes and so on, and she put the body in Mr. Randall’s office. She could move it there without being seen from most of the waiting room, and she wanted to shift attention away from the ladies room, so nobody would think too much about the window.”

Kelly frowned. “But that window is always locked. Last year there was a pervy guy who used to lurk around outside, trying to peek in.”

“The lock is on the inside,” Mr. Randall said. “It’s easy enough to unlock it to get out — the point was to keep people from getting in, not out.” He shrugged. “Fire regulations, too.”

Stephanie looked around. “Wait. Where are…”

Lombard held up three fingers, pointed at the rear of the building, where the garage was, made a hand gesture indicating drinking, and then, before he could bring his other hand into action for a further gesture, Kelly quickly brought up both of her hands to signal “Time out.”

“Is she dead?” Ms. Powell asked after a moment.

“Who?” Stephanie asked. “The murderer? No, of course not. As I said, she’s handcuffed on the bus.”

“Has she admitted anything?”

“No. She’s denied that she killed her husband, and she’s trying to figure out a reason she was lurking around in the rain with a gun in her hand. When I asked her about that, she decided that I didn’t have enough authority to question her, and she’d wait until somebody arrived who did — by which time maybe she’ll have figured out a story.”

“Where did you get handcuffs?” Billy asked.

“From my luggage. The same place I got my gun.”

“So, how did you figure it out?” Dr. Grassi asked. “Or were you just saying that you knew who did it?”

She laughed. “I was going to try to hide that part, because I really just got lucky, but here it is. I hadn’t been paying close attention on the bus — I didn’t know two people were going to be killed, after all — and I got Mrs. Coe and Ms. Powell mixed up.

“Mrs. Coe’s most obvious identifier was her bright yellow rain slicker, which of course she didn’t wear on the bus. Ms. Powell’s was her large purse, which she’d stowed away somewhere. I knew one of them had slept — fitfully — and the other one had been reading a book, but I got confused about which one.

“When I mentioned that Mrs. Coe had been sleeping — which she hadn’t — the false Mrs. Coe seized on that and added the very convincing bit about working in the hospital all night. She knew about the hospital job because she had Mrs. Coe’s wallet, including her hospital identification.

“But then Ms. Powell said she’d been sleeping also (though in fact it wasn’t ‘also’ — she was the only sleeper), and I suddenly realized that I’d made a mistake. I’d set a trap, entirely by accident, and she — Amelia Nugent, pretending that she was Mrs. Coe — had stepped into it. Because I knew one of the two women had not been sleeping. She’d been sitting right in front of me, her reading light on, reading her book, and she’d got up at least once to go to the toilet. But of course Amelia had no idea what had happened on the bus — she’d been right here, hiding in the bus station, waiting for her husband to arrive so she could kill him.

“But then what? That wasn’t exactly evidence. So, I said I’d solved it, and set up a trap, with the brave assistance of Kelly here, to lure her into making a move.”

“That sounds pretty dangerous,” Billy said, frowning. “Why not just wait for the police to come and solve it?”

Stephanie ducked her head. “I have reasons,” she said slowly. She looked up, smiling awkwardly. “Stupid reasons, maybe, but reasons.”

“So, ‘reasons’?” Kelly asked Stephanie later. They were sitting on a bench outside of the building. The overhang shielded them from the rain, which seemed to be letting up.

Stephanie nodded. “Yeah. I mean, there was also the possibility of another murder — that she’d kill again. So, I was trying to make sure that didn’t happen, too. I didn’t want to just wait around. But there were also the reasons.”

She made a face. “My father is the sheriff of Huron County. I grew up wanting to be his deputy. So, he got me the ID and everything, and he trained me, though I was too young to be a real deputy back then.

“But then… some things happened, and I ran away… I left home, and then I wasn’t going to be his deputy.” She paused, and Kelly made a “keep it rolling” motion with her hands.

“I would have been the first girl deputy in our part of the state — as far as I could find out. Anyway, my roommate — where I live now — is still in touch with her father, who is one of my Dad’s deputies, and she found out that one of my sisters is getting married.

“I decided to call, and maybe I’d go home for the wedding, if I’d be welcome. I called… and, well, my dad and I talked for a long time. He said that everybody would be very happy if I was there. So, I was going back for the wedding, and he knew which bus I was going to be on, because he was going to pick me up.”

Kelly nodded. “That was him on the phone before, calling you, right?”

Stephanie nodded. “When he found out that I’d made it this far, he wanted to make sure I’d shelter in place here until the storm died down. The flooding was really bad, he said, and they expected it to get worse.”

Kelly nodded slowly, then she looked up.

“So, you’re not a detective, right? Though you did pretty good here. And you travel with a gun and handcuffs — and who knows what else — even to a wedding.” Stephanie started to say something, but Kelly held up her hand. “So, you’re not a real detective — even though, yes, I know, you’ve met Jan Sleet — and you never really became a deputy. And I… I’m pretty sure you’re not a crook…”

“I’m involved in law enforcement, a little, in kind of an unofficial way, where I live, and…”

“And you knew your dad would find out what happened here. That’s the point. But let’s get back to you. Not a cop, or a deputy, or a crook, and you leap from tall buildings–”

“It was not a ‘tall building,'” corrected Stephanie, who was starting to turn pink. “It’s a bus.”

Kelly ignored her. “If it wasn’t for the fact that there isn’t any such thing, I’d almost think you were a…” Her voice trailed off.

Stephanie put her hand over Kelly’s mouth.

The End

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solve the clues, not just the crime

I’ve been listening to an old-time radio detective show called Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. It was on for many years,* but the episodes I’ve been listening to most recently are from the period when it was on for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. Each story ran for one week, starting on Monday and ending on Friday.

Yesterday I was listening to one story, and I thought it was surprisingly weak and disorganized. I was listening at work, and I thought maybe I had allowed my attention to wander (to, you know, work stuff). So, I listened to it again from the beginning. And it became obvious (since each episode ends with a teaser for the following day’s installment) that the five episodes were mislabeled — they were out of order.

One, three, and five were correct, but two and four were switched. No wonder it hadn’t seemed to hold together.** I reordered the files and listened to the story again.

And I was still dissatisfied, so I tried to figure out why. I find you learn a lot about stories by trying to figure out why the bad ones don’t work, and how they could be fixed.

(By the way, I finally figured out a satisfying — at least for me — ending to the movie Suicide Squad. It took a while.)

In the Johnny Dollar story, there is a murder, in the victim’s apartment. One wall of the apartment is full of photographs, of the victim’s past life. But when the body is discovered, some of the photos are missing, and some are defaced.

This is confusing, because it seems that some photos were removed in an effort to conceal a certain fact, and other ones were defaced in order to highlight the same fact.

So, had two different people been in the apartment that night, with different agendas? Johnny Dollar and the local cop investigating the murder toss around different explanations over the course of the story.

But at the end, when the murderer is revealed, the pictures are never mentioned. There is an explanation that you can figure out — though not a really great one — but you have to go back and piece it together yourself (and remember, radio audiences back then wouldn’t have had that option).

In real life, I imagine, if you’re looking for a criminal, you’re happy when you succeed. But in a story, if there’s a clue, there needs to be an explanation at the end, particularly if the clue has been built up over the course of the story as the thing that’s particularly baffling about the case.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar ran much longer than most of the detective shows that I listen to — clear to 1962. The broadcast of the last episode, followed by the show Suspense right after it, is generally regarded as the end of old-time radio. Television had taken over drama and comedy and variety by then, and radio was focused on music, news, and talk, as it is today.

** This reminds me of the time when my father was reading a mystery novel before bed every night. He said that he thought the writing was good, but the plot didn’t really hold together. He was most of the way through the book, reading a little bit before sleep every night, when he realized it was not a novel at all but a book of short stories.

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new language thing! 

I’ve been reading some articles about Game of Thrones recently, though I’ve never read any of the books or seen any episodes of the TV show.

It’s apparently a very complex universe, but it seems to be easier to follow things now, at least in my casual way, because so many of the characters are dead at this point.

(There’s one point that caught my attention recently, given my interest in royal rules of succession: your legal parentage can determine your right to a throne, but it’s your blood, your actual parentage, that may affect whether you can ride a dragon.)

But it was when reading the comments on an AV Club article about Game of Thrones, that I came upon this:

The stress or accent on a word usually varies in a consistent way depending on whether it’s being used as a noun or a verb:

Noun: INcrease “There’s been an increase in the number of students.”
Verb: inCREASE “Numbers are increasing.”

Noun: DIScount “Is there a discount on this?”
Verb: disCOUNT “They discounted the theories.”

What’s better than royal rules of succession? Language things! 

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Apparently the blog was down for a bit. Someone notified me this morning, and now, thanks to some quick work by the excellent tech support at my hosting company, everything is now back on.

(I didn’t notice at first because the mobile site was fine. Only desktop was affected, and I’m usually looking at the site on mobile.)

If you continue to see any problems, of course, let me know.

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the monozygotic mystery

This morning, I took my laundry to the laundromat, as I do on a pretty regular basis.

There’s a woman who works behind the counter on most mornings — let’s call her Maria. Maria was there this morning, and when she saw me come in she was doing something else, so she called into the other room, and Maria came in to take my laundry.

So, obviously, twins. Not identical like movie special effects — they had different blemishes and different clothes — but clearly twins.

It was a little weird — I think partly because they were both on the same side of the counter. If “Maria” had been on that side of the counter, helping customers, and “Maria’s twin sister” had been on my side of the counter, visiting, that wouldn’t have been that surprising.

But it sparked off some other questions for me. For one thing, obviously, which one of these two women was the “Maria” who had been taking my laundry for a while? Or did they both work there and I’d just never seen them together before? Is this why on some days “Maria” would remember my name, but on other days not?

And was there a story in all this…

In mysteries, at least, there are limits on how you can use twins. If you establish them at the start, or at least early on, you can do it, though of course you leave the reader with the question about whether one twin ever substitutes for the other.

But a third-act twin, a twin who is suddenly revealed to answer a major question? Not impossible (nothing is), but I don’t envy the writer who tries it.

Christopher Nolan directed a film which did that, and it was certainly a negative for me. Some people defend it, but Nolan has fans who pretty much defend anything he does. I suspect that if another, less prestigious, director had tried it, they’d have complained, too.

Still, there might be a story there.

By the way, the Nolan movie does something else which is also sometimes regarded as a cheat — a genre shift, where the movie you’re watching is not actually the type of movie you’ve been led to believe it is. I think it does that fairly well, but it’s something that I sometimes enjoy anyway, as I talked about here.

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