a princess in u-town (conclusion)

This story started here.

“So, mom, when did you know?”

We were having dinner that night with our daughter, Ron — after doing the paperwork for Ana’s arrest, and then, I confess, taking a nap — and Ron was, as usual, cutting right to the most important point.

“Well, of course I had the chance to go through their luggage…”

Ron rolled her eyes. “Their passports,” she said.

Jan laughed. “That certainly would have made it easy, but no. Their passports were not there, and they didn’t have very much cash, either. I believe that they left those things in the safe at the hotel where they stayed in the city.” She shrugged. “We do have a reputation for lawlessness around here, after all.

“No, the clue was their clothes. Ana is substantially larger than the princess was, and a princess’s clothes are not identical to an assistant’s. The items which were more luxurious, and in many cases handmade, were all the princess’s size, not Ana’s.”

Ron nodded thoughtfully. “Why did she do it? And why did the princess make her sleep on the floor? I mean, shit, I shared a bed with a girl at camp, and it wasn’t that bad.”

“Apparently it didn’t occur to the princess — the real princess — that they could share a bed. They were friendly, but they were not friends — although it seems that for a while Ana thought they were.

“Ana has admitted that she was offered money — a lot of money — not to interfere with the murder, but I believe that resentment played a part as well.”

“What will happen to her?”

“The court will decide. She betrayed the princess — I’m not sure if there’s enough evidence to establish that, but she’s admitted it — but then she did try to save her. She also admits shooting Glover, but that was in a struggle and apparently it was an accident or self-defense. We’ll see what the verdict is.”

Ron looked thoughtful. “Ana was gonna get stiffed, right? No money in her luggage, and all the cash was about to go out the window in whats-his-name’s pocket.”

Jan nodded, smiling. “I can’t argue with that. Very good.”

Ron’s smile was so fleeting that it may have been a trick of the light.

“So, can I come along with you guys?”

“Come along?” Jan asked innocently.

“Well, you’re gonna go see the king, right? To tell him what happened?”

Jan nodded. “One of his children has apparently been involved in the death of the other one. His majesty should hear the details of what happened as accurately as possible.”

Ron snorted. “The prince is going to be fucked.”

“We don’t know that it was him. It could have been somebody around him, somebody who thought they’d benefit.”

Ron made a face which said she was sure of the prince’s guilt, but she didn’t pursue the question. Instead she said, “And you’re going to find out whether the king’s son is killing him.”

Jan nodded. “That, too, of course. It does seem possible that the sudden decline in his majesty’s health, at a relatively young age, is not entirely natural…”

“So, mom, when did you know?”

Jan looked at me, and I shrugged. “If she’s coming with us, she’ll figure it out.”

Jan nodded. “That’s true.” She reached over to her desk and picked up a magazine, which she handed to Ron.

Ron looked at it. The cover was King Fernando — a photograph of his last official portrait. It showed his impressive mane of dark hair, his luxurious salt-and-pepper beard and mustache, a dark suit crossed by a red sash of state, and his striking, pale blue eyes. Which we knew he had passed down to both of his children.

Ron nodded. She knew that a world famous amateur detective would not want it known that she had solved a mystery by such a plebian method as noticing the eye color of two women.

After all, even I had spotted that.

The End

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papa’s got a brand new cahier

I had a friend once who used to worry that, with the advent of the personal computer, writers wouldn’t leave the same amount of material behind for scholars to study (early drafts, notes, outlines, etc.).

I thought about that when I read this article: “Hemingway Was a Pack Rat. Here’s What His Mementos Reveal.

It’s an interesting article, about what sounds like an interesting exhibition at the Morgan Library. We find out that Hemingway was as meticulous about tracking his daily word count as any participant in NaNoWriMo, and he had no problem starting to write a novel with no idea where he was going. And he often wrote first drafts in pencil, on loose sheets of paper or in notebooks (when he was in Paris, he used the French notebooks called cahiers).

And we see the perils of being a beta reader, as Hemingway dropped F. Scott Fitzgerald as a friend after Fitzgerald gave him too many good editing suggestions on his first two novels.

I’m not worried about future generations of literary scholars. For one thing, there will always be pack rats. I probably have every revision of everything I’ve ever written stored somewhere. None of it is particularly well organized (to say the least), but that’s the scholars’ job, not mine.

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a princess in u-town (part nine)

This story started here.

My employer smiled, briefly. “How did I know? Two general observations, really: the rule of the sheets, and the rule of traveling couples, I guess we can call them. Plus one very specific observation.

“Two people, sharing a bed, may use any number of pillows, pillow cases, comforters, and blankets, but they seldom use more than one top sheet and one fitted sheet. What would they use them for? But in your room, obviously in use, there were four sheets.

“And here’s the specific observation: The bedclothes were scattered all over the floor. Why?

“There was nothing in your account of the crime that would explain the way the bedclothes were scattered around the room, even apart from the question of the number of sheets.

“On close examination, though, it became apparent that someone had been sleeping on the floor. A comforter folded up as a mattress, two sheets, a blanket on top, a pillow, and then the whole thing kicked around to hide what was going on, probably right before we stepped into the room.

“Leading me to the rule of traveling couples. A couple at home may fight and one may end up sleeping on the couch or elsewhere in the house — but this almost never happens when traveling. That’s a big bed. No matter how bad the fight, you’d have just moved to opposite sides and gone to sleep.

“So, why did you pretend to be lovers?”

The princess nodded slowly. “We…I had started to become uneasy about Archie. We both felt it. Just… If he was loyal, we were very safe. But if he wasn’t, we were totally at his mercy.”

She shrugged. “It may seem odd to you, Miss Sleet — as a woman of the world — but I was suddenly aware that this was my first trip away from home, and sometimes it seemed like it was a big adventure…

“Anyway, I decided I wanted Ana with me at night, in my room, so it wasn’t just me, with Archie on the other side of the door. I was going to make up some sort of story, but then I found out that Vicki Wasserman was — you know — that way, and it seemed the easiest solution. We laughed about it, Ana and I…” Her voice trailed off.

My employer nodded. “I thought it was something like that. I wanted to establish that you were not lovers before I tell you how I believe she betrayed you. To be betrayed by a friend and companion is bad enough, but to be betrayed by a lover is worse, and I didn’t want you to feel compelled to act out a level of grief that you didn’t actually feel.”

The princess frowned. “She betrayed me?” she asked slowly. Then her voice sharpened. “Miss Sleet, may I remind you that she died trying to protect me?”

“That’s true… But let me start at the beginning.” The princess folded her arms, looking stern.

“A careful study of your room revealed more than your sleeping arrangements. Let’s look at the events from Mr. Glover’s point of view. He is prepared and he is a professional. He is ready to come quickly into a room and kill two sleeping women.” She shrugged. “There was no reason to keep Ana alive, and every reason to kill her, too.

“So, how did Ana get all the way across the room to struggle with him for the gun? How did he allow that to happen? The answer — the only answer — is that he didn’t see her as a threat.”


“Yes, but. She did get across the room to him, pretending to be on his side, and then she did struggle with him, to save the life of her mistress, so she must have had a change of heart.

“But then, her mistress jumped in to help her, and got knocked down and suffered a fatal injury, and somehow the bodyguard was killed, and then Ana was stuck with the fact that she and the princess had been pretending to be each other, another of their games.

“But then, why did she not say so right away, at the moment when it would have been natural for her to admit the truth, when Marshall and I burst into the room? Because of her guilt about her original plan to betray her mistress, and then it was too late to tell us, because why hadn’t she said at at first, and also there was the fear that I would discover it anyway, as I have.

“Isn’t that how it happened, Ana?”

More to come…

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the pleasures of vacation

1) Watching Moonrise Kingdom on Cape Cod — when the movie so reminded me of Cape Cod. And I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so double the pleasure.

2) Broiled scallops.

3) Not bothering with a car, but walking a lot, in some familiar (and some unfamiliar) places.

4) My generation of the family is now the oldest. That’s weird. (This isn’t a “pleasure,” actually — just an observation.)

5) Fried scallops. (Memo to self: The broiled scallops are better, although for some reason you don’t get as many of them.)

6) I brought a special stand for my phone, so I could have it at a good angle while I typed on my Bluetooth keyboard, and then I forget to pack the stand, but then I realized that the keyboard case itself is a stand (which I’d never realized in all the months that I’d owned the keyboard).

7) Making all sorts of plans to take various boats here and there, and then not carrying out any of them.

8) My room at the B&B had an enormous flat-screen TV, which I didn’t turn on once. That was a pleasure.

9) My mantra became: “Less doing, more being.”

10) I was walking down the street one day, around dusk, and a woman was walking some distance ahead of me. A wonderful breeze came up off the water, and she spread her arms wide and threw her head back as she walked.

Yes, I thought, that.

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a princess in u-town (part eight)

This story started here.

“The motive?” the princess asked vaguely, as if she’d been thinking of this entire situation as some sort of natural disaster.

“We can start this way: Is there any reason to think that Mr. Glover’s animus was personal? Did you have any interactions with him which could have resulted in enmity?”


“Rancor. Malignant ill will. Odier.”

She nodded. “No, definitely not. We… I never… I didn’t know him before this trip. He was assigned to come with us. We… Ana and I tried to draw him out — just out of curiosity — but he wouldn’t talk.” She gave a wry smile. “We made it sort of a game, to try to get him to react, to say something personal.”

My employer nodded. “Two girls playing — I understand. And I understand why he didn’t react. He was being professional, though not a professional bodyguard, as it turned out, but a professional killer.”

The princess drew deeply on her cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke.

“This sounds like a cliche, I know,” she said slowly, her eyes moving around the room, “but have you ever felt like you were waiting for someone to appear out of nowhere and kill you? At any moment? It’s… a very particular sensation.”

My employer shook her head. “I have never been in exactly your situation. I’ve had people try to kill me, but I’ve always known who my adversary was. And of course during the revolution in your country, during the days of the shelling in particular… But perhaps we shouldn’t talk about those days.”

The princess gave a slow and expressive shrug. “That was a long time ago. I was a child back then, really. I don’t…” She gave a half smile. “My father follows your career, you know. ‘My old adversary,’ he calls you at times. He respects you. It’s the United States that he hates — they… encouraged him to do terrible things–“

“And then abandoned him to his fate when the situation became difficult. That has occurred to me. Offering him a safe haven in Europe was no compensation for losing a kingdom, I would imagine.”

“And even that. They set it up, but most of the money comes from some corporations who are trying to figure out a way to clear out the rebels and reestablish a more business-friendly… That’s their term, of course.”

“They want to get their hands on the oil again.”

“Of course. And they think that, at the right time… well, their idea is that returning the king to the throne would make the whole thing seem more legitimate.”

“But the revolution was years ago — why haven’t they implemented this plan? Based on what I’ve read of your father’s health, and I was very sorry to read it, of course, it would seem to be too late now.”

“Thank you. I was not privy to the conversations — negotiations might be a more appropriate term — since I was underage and not next in line for the throne, but…”

“A man, a proud man, a real king, might not want to take on the role of an imitation king, as a performance, as an actor with no real power.”

“Exactly. He has never said this to me, but I believe that is how he feels about it.”

“Now, you said you were not next in line for the throne, I have been wondering about that. So, the line of succession is to the first born male — in this case your brother?”

The princess nodded. “That has always been the rule…”

My employer leaned forward. “But now it’s changed?”

The princess made a face. “As I said, my father was not willing to… be used — as we were just discussing. However, my brother has made it clear that he would be very willing, if enough money were involved. He has made this so clear that my father has become angry and has threatened to change the line of succession so that the crown would simply go to the eldest child. Which would be me, of course.”

“Ah. So you think it’s possible that Mr. Glover was hired to kill you by your brother, so that the crown would be sure to go to your brother no matter what?”

The princess sighed and nodded. “That would seem logical.”

“It does seem logical. Well, that’s probably as far as we can get on that question while we’re sitting here in this room. Before we go on to the next point, though, let me just ask two questions which I’ve been wondering about.

“Yesterday, you said you had come to U-town earlier than planned, because of ‘interest’ in your visit. What did you mean by that?”

“Almost as soon as we arrived, businessmen started appearing, offering to take me out to dinner, to the theater, to dancing clubs, and so on.” She grimaced. “Some of them were apparently chosen because they were young and attractive.”

My employer shook her head. “Just in case you should end up being queen someday.”

“Exactly. One even went so far as to hint that they thought I’d be easier to deal with than my brother.” She drew herself up. “You do not get on my good side by insulting my family.”

“I understand.”

“You said you had two questions.”

My employer smiled. “How did your luggage get here?”

The princess laughed, looking surprised. “My luggage?”

“You and Ana arrived yesterday with no bags, but your room — the room where you slept — contains several suitcases of your belongings and hers. How did they get here?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Well, look at it this way. Ana came here yesterday — the day before yesterday, actually — to make arrangements. Then she returned the next day with you and Mr. Glover. It is possible, of course, that you were followed, but otherwise, who knows where you are now, where you’re staying here in U-town? Well, whoever brought your luggage would know. So, that’s relevant to how much danger you might be in right now.”

The princess looked abstracted, and then she shrugged. “Ana made some arrangement — paid a couple of men. I don’t know the details.”

My employer leaned back in her chair, but I could tell she was far from relaxed. I felt a tingle, even as tired as I was. She was building up to something. I knew the signs.

“Three more things,” she said. “The first one is really incidental, but it has to come next. Why did you and Ana pretend to be lovers?”

The princess froze for a moment. “How did you know?”

More to come…

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words added in, words taken out

1) Someone I know posted a quote from Junot Diaz on Facebook.

Diaz was asked “Do you think using Spanish in your writing alienates some of your readers?”

His answer was: “Motherfuckers will read a book that is 1/3 Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we’re taking over.”

My comment on Facebook was: “My current story has a little Portuguese. In one story I have somebody quote Oscar Wilde in French. One of the Nero Wolfe mysteries has two suspects speaking Serbo-Croatian in front of Wolfe, under the impression that he doesn’t speak it (of course he does). And what would The Sun Also Rises be without ‘aficion,’ a word for which there is no exact English equivalent?”

2) Here is a very worthwhile, but long, essay on writing concisely, amoung other things: “Omission: Choosing what to leave out.

A few specific thoughts:

a) Puns. I can’t think of puns in writing without thinking of Roger Zelazny, who liked to throw a really awful one into his (otherwise pretty serious) books from time to time.

In one, the feudal lord the Shan of Irabek has had his consiousness transferred into a body that has seizures (long story), So:

“That’s when the fit hit the Shan.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Zelazny claimed at times that he wrote the book to get to that pun. Unlikely, but possible,

b) I do like to leave things up to the reader. The audience that’s paying attention should be rewarded, not bored.

For a quick(ish) example, in my currrent story, “A Princess in U-town,” there’s some byplay between the characters Marshall and Christy, as in the beginning of this scene.

I do not explain thir relationship in this story, though I know what it is (and so do regular readers), apart from the fact that they’re both in committed relationshps (with other people).

I also do not remind readers of this story that Christy is wearing a bathrobe and slippers and nothing else, so, by leaning over in front of Marshall like this, she is undoubtedly giving him a show (and very deliberately). Those who have been paying attention throughout will be rewarded by that knowledge.

c) The process of cutting things that will never be missed makes me think of this anecdote:

Orson Welles was recording a 30-second radio commercial for some product, and his first take ran some 42 or 43 seconds, The sponsor started to look to see what words to cut, but Welles asked to try another take, This one was a few seconds shorter, so they did a third, which was shorter still, until finally he got it down to 30 seconds,

The point, though, is that the person telling the story said you could not tell where Welles was cutting the time, None of the takes sounded rushed — they all had the same tone and emphasis and drama, but even so Welles, a long-time master of radio, managed to trim off over a quarter of the time.

That’s the same sort of thing that’s being talked about in this article with “Green 8” or “Green 12” — how do you cut eight or twelve lines from a piece of writing, already edited and polished, without losing anything important?

Especially in these days of web writing, when there are no restrictions of colunm inches to keep writers disciplined, that’s probably a very useful exercise.

And, of course, you can’t write about leaving things out of writing without including Hemingway and the Iceberg Theory.

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