the heron island mystery (part one)

It was around six-fifteen in the morning. The trees, the ground, the grass, and the windows of the car were still dripping wet from the thunderstorm which had ended around four-thirty.

There were three of us in the car, and we were waiting for a road to appear so we could proceed.

The driver — the owner of the rusty white station wagon — was named Mary Sanders. She was a college student, and she was the reason for our being there. She was slim and blonde, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

I was in the passenger seat, and, in the back seat, frowning, with her arms folded, was my employer, Jan Sleet.

There were several reasons for my employer’s rather dark mood:

  1. She’d had to get up early.
  2. She’d had to get up unnecessarily early (there was no reason for us to have arrived here before the moment that the road was scheduled to appear, after all).
  3. Mary, our hostess — so to speak — had made it clear that she did not want anybody to smoke in her car. (I could tell that my employer was getting some small satisfaction from her mental countdown to the moment when she was going to light a cigarette anyway.)
  4. There was apparently going to be a case for her to investigate, but it was not (based on what we knew so far) going to be her preferred kind of case.
  5. Nobody had laughed at her joke about Tír-na Nog’th.
  6. She’d had to get up early.

My employer suddenly leaned forward and pointed. “It looks like some people are as eager to get off the island as we are to visit it.”

“That’s not surprising,” Mary said. “With the storm, and the power and the phones out all night…” She leaned forward also, her voice trailing off, then she reached across to the glove compartment, popped it open, and took out a pair of binoculars.

I heard my employer grunt at the convenience of binoculars suddenly appearing when needed, but I found out later that one of Mary’s housemates was enthusiastic about “birding” at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

“I see Jo,” Mary said. “Waiting to get off the island.” She put the binoculars away. “We’ll have to let the other cars come this way first, before we go across. That’s the rule — it’s only a one-lane road.” She started the car and backed up out of the way.

Then, when the water was down to just an inch or so, revealing the narrow dirt road through the marsh to the island, the first car started to cross toward us. It was the blue sedan that Mary had identified as belonging to one of her housemates. Mary got out of the car and waved, making sure that Jo saw her and didn’t just drive past us.

Jo’s car pulled into a space on the far side of the road and two women got out. They looked very upset and one nearly bolted across the road to our side, even though cars were passing (very slowly) between us.

My employer looked across at the other car and motioned to me. I quickly got out, opened her door, and helped her to her feet. She was so impatient that she almost slipped on the muddy ground, but I steadied her and we moved to the side of the road, next to Mary.

I could tell that my employer was thinking about barging into the middle of the road, relying on an imperious gesture to stop the traffic, but she glanced at me and I shook my head. Whatever had happened, she could wait another forty-five seconds to find out what it was.

Then the last car passed and the two women rushed across to us.

“He’s dead! Stabbed!” the taller one blurted out to Mary. “Knifed! And we– The phones are out–”

“Please,” my employer said, stepping forward, “I am Jan Sleet–”

“You’re Jan Sleet!” the shorter woman said. She’d been driving, so I assumed she was Jo.

“The sleuth, yes. First, the person who was stabbed — is he alive or dead?”

“Dead, ma’am,” the taller woman said. “Some time last night. Becky checked him — she’s pre-med — and she said he was stabbed hours ago…” She looked like she was about to cry.

‘So, you were not leaving the island in order to obtain medical assistance?”

“We were going to call the police — if we could find a working phone–”

“The phones are out — all over the island — and the power–”

My employer held up her hand, and I knew what was coming. And, I had to admit, it did make sense.

“The police do have to be called, obviously,” she said, “but you don’t have to call them. This is Marshall, my assistant, and he will go and make a preliminary report from the first available phone.

“Meanwhile, the rest of us will go to the house and I will start to ask questions. To help the police, of course. And I’ll take charge of the crime scene and the evidence.”

She glanced at me, and we both smiled. I had no counter-argument, and she knew it.

She turned to Mary. “We can go back with your friends. Please give Marshall your car keys.”

Mary looked somewhat stunned. She nodded and reached into her pocket, pulling out a ring that held several keys, a whistle, a very small plastic teddy bear, and a tag with her name and phone number on it.

I waited for Jo to get the sedan turned around, then she backed up off the road again to let another mainland-bound car pass by, then she pulled out to return to Heron Island.

To be continued…

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some things make me laugh (out loud, sometimes repeatedly)

(Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.)

1) There will always be a CMOS:

In the Chicago Manual of Style Q&A, someone posed this question (more of a challenge, really) about capitalization:

Q. Elsewhere in the Q&A you wrote, “The day I was introduced to the The was the day I learned that irony was finished.” This is just wrong and makes no sense whatsoever. To call The The “the The” is absolutely wrong. Further, The Who should be “The Who.” It’s a proper name, and “the Who” is just wrong. Fix this.

The response, as you can see, was two paragraphs explaining the CMOS rules for capitalizing “the,” followed by one paragraph admitting that, in this specific case, writing “the The” or “the Who” or “the Band” is pretty silly, and, yes, “Our rules are not laws. They are meant to be adjusted for the unusual case or to suit a particular context. And that’s The Truth.”

2) From the New York Times: “I’m working remotely. Can I keep hiding my secret baby?

Not so much for the question, but for the answer, which still makes me smile.

3) I stumbled on this great advice from Gomez Addams (I was a huge fan of the Addams Family TV show when I was somewhat younger):

“Never go to bed angry or on fire.”

Words to live by.

I also remember a wonderful moment on the show when the family was facing some sort of crisis, and Gomez drew himself up and said, “This is the moment of truth!”

Morticia, his loving wife, simply asked, “What do you mean by that?”

Gomez, somewhat abashed, admitted, “I didn’t think you’d ask.”


Also, for things that don’t make me laugh, here’s a little followup to an earlier post called “It’s Totally Awesome Les Miz Singing Day!

I just found a rehearsal video of the Les Misérables performance at the Academy Awards. I like the way all the non-superstar performers are busy taking selfies with each other and filming the thing (until the moment comes that they need to sing). And at the end they get the “very good” from Cameron Mackintosh, the producer who first had the idea that a French-language concept album of Les Misérables (by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, who are also present here, along with Tom Hooper, the movie’s director) might work on the stage.

Of course that’s a very compressed and medley-ized version of “One Day More.” Here’s the whole thing.

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knives out (again)

I just watched this movie again, and it’s still pretty terrific. It sags somewhat in the middle, partly because of how excellent the beginning and the end are, and partly because of how quickly it becomes clear who the guilty party is (long before you can be exactly sure of “what” or “how,” “who” becomes way too obvious). But the movie still has many, many virtues, including that all of the detective’s “processes,” and his blatherings about his processes, are complete hooey. Which includes this wonderful exchange:

Benoit Blanc: Harlan’s detectives, they dig, they rifle and root. Truffle pigs. I anticipate the terminus of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Marta Cabrera: Gravity’s Rainbow.

Benoit Blanc: It’s a novel.

Marta Cabrera: Yeah, I know. I haven’t read it though.

Benoit Blanc: Neither have I. Nobody has. But I like the title. It describes the path of a projectile determined by natural law. Et voila, my method. I observe the facts without biases of the head or heart. I determine the arc’s path, stroll leisurely to its terminus and the truth falls at my feet.

And that’s positively profound compared to his repeated nonsense about doughnuts and doughnut holes. But that’s the point — he’s playing the part of an eccentric gentleman detective, and mostly the other characters accept this, even if they don’t like his conclusions, because this is what movies and television have taught them to expect from detectives.

In fact, at one point someone wonders why he was even intrigued enough to show up to investigate this (possible) crime in the first place, and he has to remind them that he received a stack of cash in the mail (he holds his fingers apart to illustrate how big a stack of cash). Because of how he’s been performing for them, they’d lost track of the fact that this is how he earns his living.

The best thing, though, is that any weaknesses in the mystery itself (and even I know that some of the legal points are wrong) are more than compensated for by how funny the movie is. And the ending, completely plausible or not, is magnificent.

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you are not shakespeare

I admit I laughed out loud today. Several times. In a way that might have sounded, to an objective observer (listener, I guess) somewhat unhinged.

From the New Yorker interview with Fran Lebowitz:

Q: One thing that’s been going around is this idea that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” while he was under quarantine for the bubonic plague, as a way of inspiring people to use their time productively. Have you felt any of that pressure?

A: Other people have tried to put that pressure on me. For instance, I’ve already read and heard this thing about Shakespeare fifty times. I’ve heard it from writers, and I’ve had to point out to them, “You are not Shakespeare.”

Well, that settles that. 🙂

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comfort, though not comfortable

No major updates from me.

It seems that — according to newspaper reports — a lot of people are looking for new TV shows and movies and whatnot to binge and stream and so on.

I’m finding the opposite. I’m returning to old favorites. Comfort food, I guess, if you can refer to Resident Evil (zombie apocalypse) movies as “comfort food.”

But, going back to the RE movies after a while, for “comfort” (hey, it’s my all-time favorite movie franchise), what I hadn’t really thought about is that the series is really about a global contagion.

It’s about a zombie plague (transmitted by blood), and there’s a lot of emphasis on infection, and staying clear of infection, and helping, and hoping to cure, those who become infected. So, it’s more topical than I would have thought.

For other media:

Radio: News radio (1010WINS) as always during a crisis (and also when there isn’t a crisis — I was basically raised on 1010WINS). Very helpful and informative, and also some amusement from the commercials (they apparently book commercials well in advance, resulting in a lot of ads for things that people aren’t doing or can’t do right now — like, for example, going out and meeting other singles without going to bars!).

Music: Still Tangerine Dream. A lot of Tangerine Dream. Oh, and a special playlist that I made up based on Lorde’s final concert on her last tour (I like the sequence much better than her last album).

TV: Nope (other than four selected episodes of Game of Thrones, for some reason)

Other movies: Some. Still re-watching Clue, and Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Just bought Knives Out.

Social media: None.

I’ve written around 3,000 words of my next story — I’ll start posting it as soon as I figure out the answer to one question.

Also, this just in (I got a notification as I was writing this):

Fiona Apple Unveils Release Date for New LP ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’

For background:

Fiona Apple’s Art of Radical Sensitivity

Ironically, I’m very excited about this, though I know I may not listen to it much under current conditions. Ms. Apple is seldom, if ever, comforting.

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information, some more useful and some less

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of information about the current situation, and I found this to be particularly clear and helpful:

How to Practice Social Distancing

And it links to this:

How to Wash Your Hands

Other than that, I’m working at home, and going out for walks when I can. Keeping informed without drowning in information (I learned that after 9/11 — keep the radio on for a while, then turn it off for a longer while). I thought I’d want music when working, and sometimes I turn it on, but I’m also fine with silence.

I’m still thinking about my new story, and I plan to start posting it soon.

One thing I’ve been enjoying is a movie called Clue. The TV Tropes website said it’s “[q]uite possibly the best movie based on a board game ever made in 1985.”

What can I say — sometimes you want a carefully constructed, thoughtful, well-acted murder mystery. Other times you want to see Martin Mull get hit on the head with an ironing board.

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