the word is “paltering” (apparently)

This article caught my eye: “When telling the truth is actually dishonest.”

The distinction between deliberately lying and deliberately making a true statement in order to deceive is — it seems to me — pretty arbitrary. Certainly if I was the person being deceived, I’d be pissed off either way.

But it does matter to some people. I remember that some of the Quaker jokes I heard growing up (Quaker jokes are only told by Quakers — who else would bother?) involved Quakers, usually businessmen, getting the better of someone in a business deal by paltering.

Maybe this is why I’ve used this with The Golden, who, as far as anybody can tell, always tell the truth, because in the story where they’re introduced they to this exact thing.

And it turns out there’s a word for it, which is cool.

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so, a blog post

Well, it’s been a while, obviously. Stuff in real life is particularly challenging right now, and will remain so for at least the next couple of months. Little time for blogging — particularly on any regular schedule.

So, what do I want to focus on, in my more limited time?

Really, I want to get back on track with my current story, “The Bus Station Mystery.” I just listened to the whole thing and made a few very minor changes (fixing bumpy sentences). So, now I’m eager to get on with part six and so on.

I think that will be my main focus for now. I like how it’s shaping up. Like my most recent stories, I think it stands by itself nicely — you could read it without having read anything else of mine before it. I’m really aiming for that these days.

Other than that, I plan to post links. Just one at a time, as they occur to me — rather than what I’ve usually done, which is wait until I have a few and post them together with some connective comments.

For example, there’s this: “A Small Point of Usage Concerning those ‘Alternative Facts,’” in which Mary Norris, the Comma Queen, points out that, whatever the other drawbacks of “alternative facts,” at least the term correctly observes the distinction between “alternate” and “alternative.”

Unlike, for example, “alternate reality.”

Oh, and up there where the links are (assuming you’re on a computer)? There’s a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be there, like “Lost Password” and such. (I seldom see that stuff because I’m usually on mobile.) That’ll get fixed at some point. Probably not soon.

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the bus station mystery — part five

This story started here.

Billy had been moving around the waiting room, bringing coffee and food to the passengers. When he heard Mr. Randall yell, he started to run to the office, but Stephanie got there ahead of him. He has always maintained that she picked him up bodily and moved him aside in order to get there first, but that’s not how she tells it.

Mr. Randall’s office was small and spare. There were no pictures on the wall, just a company calendar. A cheap desk chair behind a cheap desk, two straight-backed chairs that didn’t match, and a file cabinet. And a dead woman, lying across the desk.

Stephanie went and took her pulse, but that seemed to be a formality, since she had a knife sticking out of her chest.

Mr. Randall was sitting on one of the chairs, looking like he might be about to be sick. Some of the passengers were crowding around the doorway, as if there was a force field there preventing them from stepping into the room. Only Stephanie, Billy, and Kelly had come inside.

“Does anybody know this woman?” Stephanie asked. Mr. Randall shook his head, not looking up from the floor. Some of the others shuffled into the room, staying some distance away from the desk, getting just close enough to look and shake their heads and then back up again.

“Was she on the bus?” Stephanie asked.

The general consensus seemed to be that she hadn’t been, though nobody seemed to be entirely certain.

“The tickets that Cody collected are probably still on the bus,” Kelly said. “We can compare them to the stubs that the passengers have.”

Stephanie nodded. “That makes sense. First I’m going to see if she has any ID.”

She and Kelly looked at each other. In a moment, they both understood some things. Their conversation, unspoken, took but a fraction of a second, but laid out in words it would have gone like this:

Stephanie: If you don’t trust me why are you letting me be in charge?

Kelly: Because, with Mr. Randall here, I can’t be in charge. He’s my boss. And better you than him.

Stephanie: This is his office, right? Do you think he did it?

Kelly: No I don’t think so, but I know he shouldn’t be in charge. Not of anything important. If he gives you trouble, feel free to accuse him of the murder.

The dead woman was wearing jeans, a sweater, and a corduroy jacket. She did not seem to have a purse. Stephanie went through her pockets. and pulled out a wallet. She looked at the cards, and then she turned to face the others.

“Her name is Amelia Nugent,” she said slowly, watching for reactions.

This didn’t mean anything to the passengers, as far as she could tell, but Kelly, Billy, and Mr. Randall all reacted.

“Cody’s ex-wife,” Billy said, frowning.

“Wife,” Mr. Randall said, looking up. “They were separated, but not divorced.”

“He always called her his ex-wife,” Billy said.

“Wishful thinking.” He looked at Stephanie. “They hated each other.”

“He hated her…” Kelly said slowly. She shrugged. “We never heard her side of the story.”

“Nobody knew her here, except for Cody,” Mr. Randall said slowly. “And he did hate her…”

“But if he killed her, then who killed him?” Billy asked.

Stephanie shook her head. “The knife is here, and I didn’t see a knife on the bus. The wound in Mr. Nugent looked about the same size. Unless there are two knives, this murder must have happened second.”

“Somebody should search the bus more carefully…” Kelly’s voice made it a question.

“We have quite a few things to do,” Stephanie said slowly, looking around the room. There was another crash of thunder.

“And there’s going to be a lot of time in which to do them,” the older man said, turning away. “I’m going to go finish my coffee and have another donut.”

 to be continued…

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adventures with alexa

(Wow, it’s been a while since my last post, huh? Sorry about that. There should be another one in a day or two.)

Well, “adventures” is probably a little strong for my experiences with Alexa so far.

I have no desire to own one of those devices that listens to everything you say, waiting to hear a key word. I talk to myself a lot, and nobody needs to be listening to all that.

But now Amazon has rolled out Alexa, its “intelligent personal assistant,” to its tablets, so I’ve been experimenting a little. On the tablet, Alexa doesn’t listen all the time (it would kill the battery) — you have to press a button.

So far, the best use for me seems to be weather reports. I press the button, ask what the weather will be today, and I get a reply in words, plus a display on the screen that gives more detail. That’s helpful.

I can also ask her/it to set an alarm, and that works fine.

I can put something on my To Do list, but I can’t set a reminder for it. The To Do list and the alarm are completely separate, unfortunately. I’ve already sent feedback about this, so maybe it will be fixed at some point.

She (let’s call it “she”) can also do web searches and look things up on Wikipedia. If I say, “Good morning,” she greets me in return and tells me a (possibly) interesting fact.

If I ask about her quest, she tells me that she’s searching for the Holy Grail.

I think there’s a way to get her to say that she’s Inigo Montoya and she’s about to kill me, but I’ll leave that to people who are more entranced with The Princess Bride than I am.

So, useful (or at least entertaining), for a few minutes in the morning, but that’s about it.

So far.

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the bus station mystery — part four

This story started here.

“Who are you?” Kelly demanded.

Stephanie pulled out a card and showed it to her. “Sheriff’s deputy, Huron County.” She was continuing to examine the body of the dead bus driver. Billy had taken the passengers back into the building, and the two women were alone on the bus.

“Wait a minute,” Kelly said. “Let me see that.” She squinted to read the laminated card in the gloom. “According to this, you got this ID when you were fifteen years old, which seems unlikely. And it’s expired.”

Stephanie shrugged. “I put the wrong card in my wallet.”

“And, unlike the passengers, you know that the phone is dead, so I can’t check up on you.”

“Are there other phone lines?”

“We’ll deal with that later.” Kelly sat on the arm of one of the seats. “Now that I’ve questioned your credentials–” She handed back the ID card. “–what are you finding?”

Stephanie grinned. “Now that you’re wondering whether you should have let me touch the body at all.”

Kelly looked suddenly upset. “Look, I… I know, I’m only a ticket clerk, but… I’m responsible for those people in there — to protect them from this storm, and from…”

“A murderer.” Stephanie’s voice was calm. “Yes, this man was murdered. And I have quite a bit of experience, and I also want to protect those people in there, and you, and me.”

She looked at Kelly, who wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “I know,” Kelly said, “that we’re supposed to not mess up the crime scene, but, in my opinion, that’s less important than trying to make sure nobody else dies. The cops aren’t coming now–“

“And when they do come, you don’t want to have them find all of us dead, our dead bodies in a series of very carefully preserved crime scenes.”

Kelly nodded. “Exactly.” She smiled. “Is this where you do like Jan Sleet and say, ‘And I know who the murderer is!’ and then point him out? That would be nice.”

Stephanie laughed, moving to sit on the chair arm across from Kelly. “No. I’m just a trained investigator — not a genius amateur detective.”

“Fair enough. What have you… ” She frowned at Stephanie’s expression. “What…”

Stephanie stood up, looking over Kelly’s shoulder. “There’s a car coming.”

Kelly looked around quickly. They watched as a pair of headlights moved very slowly down the ramp from the street, into the parking lot, and around the terminal building toward them.

“Come on,” Stephanie said as she walked to the bus door and stepped down to the wet pavement. Kelly followed her, feeling that everything was getting further and further out of her control.

She wasn’t sure if she felt better or worse when she recognized the car that was pulling in next to the bus.

Mr. Randall reached the door at the same time they did.

“Damn bridge is out,” he said, taking off his hat and wiping his wet hair. He held the door so the two women could precede him into the building. “Couldn’t get home — they were closing it when I got there. Ten minutes earlier and I would have made it. I–” He looked around at the passengers, and at Kelly. “Forty-two couldn’t leave, huh? Have you spoken to the passengers? I can take over — that’s okay.” He drew in a deep breath, preparing to address the room.

“Cody Nugent, the bus driver, has been murdered,” Stephanie said, stepping in front of him and pulling out her ID. “Stephanie Monroe. Sheriff’s deputy, Huron County.”

That stopped him. He froze for a moment, and then he said, “Have you called the cops? The police?”

“The phone is dead,” Kelly said, gesturing at the ticket counter. “We haven’t–“

“Did you check my phone?” He shook his head at them. “You should have checked all the phones.” He turned — the passengers, who were all watching this, apparently forgotten — and walked down the short corridor to his office.

They heard him open the door, and then shout “Shit!”

to be continued…

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lessons in telling a serial story…

…or any story, really.

(This post contains spoilers for the comic book series Empress.)

I don’t know why I started reading this series, and I sort of lost interest partway through, but I kept buying it because it was a seven-issue mini-series. I would have felt pretty silly stopping at issue five or six in a seven-issue series.

But I just read the last issue, and it really impressed me in a couple of ways — and now I want to go back and read the series from the beginning.

In very broad strokes, this is the story of a huge galactic empire, ruled by a king. One day, the king is in a restaurant (or some such place) and takes a fancy to his waitress, deciding to make her his queen. She explains that she’s not really a waitress — her real job is quite a bit more disreputable — but the king stops her, saying that what she was before doesn’t matter. Her life is starting now.

Years later, she has had three children, ranging from a teenage girl to a baby, and she’s decided that life with the king is no longer tolerable (I forget the details, but he’s evil and despotic and cruel and evil and so on). So, she runs away, with her three children, and an officer of the king’s guard who’s devoted to her. And a very short guy with a mustache — I’m not sure who he is.

Anyway, the series — including the issues I never read — involves the captain guy flying them around in various space ships, shooting various of the king’s forces with ray guns, and other thrilling space opera events as he protects the queen and her children. And there are some quieter moments, like interactions with the queen’s sister, who is not really friendly to them (she disapproved of the queen’s former, disreputable, occupation).

In the final issue, the king finally catches up to them. Along with about a hundred of his elite, heavily-armed soldiers.

The captain guy stands up to defend the queen, as usual, but the king beats him badly — not surprising, given that the king is much larger and also armored. But before the king can kill the captain guy, the queen tells him to stop — it’s her that he wants to kill, so he should fight her.

He starts to laugh at this possibility, but then she challenges him, asking if he wants to be known as the king who was afraid to fight his own queen. He tells his soldiers not to interfere, and asks what weapons she prefers. She says no weapons — she wants to fight him with her bare fists. He says that this will be fast, and then she knocks him down.

The next two pages are her beating the crap out of him. At the end of the second page, as he’s lying on his back, stunned, he asks her how she’s doing this.

Then there’s a page of flashbacks of the various times in the series when the subject of her disreputable former occupation was mentioned, but never actually described, and, at the top of the following page, she explains that she was a cage fighter, the best cage fighter. 400 victories, no losses. “I can’t fly a space ship, and I can’t hit a target. But when it comes to fighting? I never lose.”

And this works because the king, and most readers, I’m sure, assumed that, because she’s a woman, her disreputable former occupation must have been something related to sex — a prostitute or a stripper or whatever. But this was never stated — it was just an assumption we were allowed to make. That’s playing fair, like introducing a character and allowing the readers to assume that the character is white and straight — until you tell them otherwise.

The king points out that if she kills him his soldiers will kill her and her children — but she says this will be worth it, and she kills him.

So, there’s the queen, her children, the badly-injured captain guy, and the short guy with the mustache, surrounded by a hundred royal soldiers who are realizing that the “Do not interfere” thing probably doesn’t apply any more. And she says that one thing she has learned as a queen is how to accept whatever happens. They are about to die, no matter what, so they shouldn’t fight or beg — they should accept it.

And her older daughter stands up.

Nobody is going to die, she says, and that’s an order.

She faces the soldiers, telling them that the king is dead, so she is their queen, and they should drop their weapons.

And this works also, because it’s right there in how the story is built, though even the queen didn’t figure it out.

And then, in the ultimate serial story twist, on the very last page, the queen, who recently started sleeping with the captain guy, learns that her devoted protector and lover is not at all who she thought he was. But that’s all she (and the reader) learns, because they’re setting up the seconds series of Empress. Which I will pay more attention to. After I go back and read the first series all the way through.

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