Monday, June 1, 2020

Mystery Writers Conspire as the Plot Thickens

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by Sherry Morris

A voice broadcast over the public address system: “Good afternoon, ladies. This is your conductor Andrew Faire. We have departed exactly on time at 2:57. Our scheduled arrival in Washington, DC is at 8:46 tomorrow morning barring any unforeseen glitches. You’ll notice the train stop from time to time to allow freight traffic to pass through or to make a regularly scheduled stop for the North American Passenger Railway. Please do not place anything in the toilets but the supplied toilet paper as the plumbing system is very sensitive and if one clogs then all toilets in the car will back up. In the evangelists’ lounge there are over-the-counter pain relievers, sleeping aids, cold and allergy formulas and motion sickness medications available for purchase as well as a limited selection of toiletry items. If we can be of any assistance please don’t hesitate to contact me or my fellow volunteer crew members from the Central Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society: Big Marc Clinger and Jimmy Tamales. Enjoy your conference.”

“Ladies, if you will open your folders you’ll find the packet with our speaker schedule,” said Rosemary. “Unfortunately, our keynote speaker Tony O’Rourke, the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen police procedurals including The Naked Detective, has been unavoidably detained. He hopes to join us later in the trip, although that shall pose a problem with sleeping accommodations. We only have allotted room for two speakers per day. They each travel with us until the next big hub stop.”

I perused the schedule: Orlando to DC to Chicago to Albuquerque to Los Angeles. I couldn’t wait to dip my big toe in the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.

Rosemary opened a cardboard box and passed hardcover copies of Tony O’Rourke’s latest release down the table. I nearly squealed. My favorite author. He was the reason I became a writer. I took one and flipped to the back and searched the last few pages then the first few. No photo or any about the author page.

I envisioned a white-haired portly recluse clad in a golden smoking jacket with leather patches on the elbows. He relit his pipe as he navigated the narrow path to the desk through a jungle of ceiling-high crumpled white paper. He hunted and pecked on an old Remington typewriter in his family’s dank Irish castle. Tony O’Rourke, gifted genius. My idol.

“Nevertheless,” Madame President Rosemary continued, “Our first speaker is aboard, Anna Deerstalker. A science fiction author and online writing coach. She will present a workshop on the richness of conflict, precisely at 6:00 P.M.”

I glanced at Tinker Bell. It was nearly 3:30. I shook the pixie dust as I flung my hand in the air and waved.

“Yes, do you have a question?” asked Rosemary.

“When is dinner served?”

“There is not time to prepare and serve a formal meal this evening. There will be hors d’oeuvres available throughout the trip in the parlor car at the end of the train. Feel free to indulge yourselves.”

My stomach burned. I hadn’t ingested anything today but the three Hershey’s Kisses I snatched out of the candy jar on Igor’s desk. That’s what I get for skipping breakfast, and then the darned floater set me behind schedule so I didn’t eat lunch. I should call the lieutenant about that soon…

“Ladies, we have a few rules here. No smoking, alcohol or recreational drugs allowed. No wireless internet devices. No cell phones,” said Rosemary.

Dina raised her hand.

“Yes?” asked Rosemary.

“What about our portable word processors?”

“Of course you can keep whatever technology you use to write. Laptop computers, netbooks, word processors, etc. Just be sure you disable any wireless connections. We have much work to do.”

She held the cardboard box up. “I’ll pass this along. Empty all banned items into the box.”

I watched incredulously as the ladies sucked up to her and thought it such a good idea to help us focus on our craft. No way would I store my phone in the box. I’d just pretend I didn’t bring…

The Pink Panther jazzed from my shorts pocket.

Everyone looked at me. I sighed and pulled my phone out. I missed the call. Mom. I switched it off and gingerly placed it in the box. Just as well, I didn’t need Mom pestering me.

Then I remembered what had happened that morning. Waves lapping the happy corpse crashed in my mind. As the box slid down the table past me, I said, “No, wait. I need my phone. I discovered a dead body today and the police may need to contact me.”

The business car fell silent except for the chug-a-chug of the train.

Bicep Betty blew a big black bubble, popped it with her pen then whispered to Tabloid Tilly. Tilly locked eyes with me as she fondled her camera. There was something witchy about that girl from down under and I didn’t trust her. I kept my composure, glanced down at Tinker Bell and shook some pixie dust.

“Sandra, you really do need to get a proper job and stop cavorting with the underworld.” Rosemary voiced what some were no doubt thinking.

“That poor lost soul. I’ll bet no one stops to think about how terrifying it must be for the victim in the horrific moments before being murdered,” Weepy Wendy boo-hooed.

“Of course we do,” Pat-the-Pirate squawked. “We all do. We’re writers.”

Pat was a popular historical adventure novelist with a ruddy wrinkled face, wooden leg and a glass eye.

Dina kicked back her chair and clopped over to me. “Who, what, where, when and how? Do tell!”

“I discovered him washed up on the beach this morning. In front of the Copacabana—”

“It was Ricco!” Dina blurted.

“Ricco?” I asked.

“You know, Tony shot him because he was jealous Ricco had made a move on his girl Lola at the Copacabana.”

I grinned and shook my head. “I didn’t find any yellow feathers in the sand. You should audition for the show where you need to know the correct song lyrics.”

I turned toward the others. “Anyhow, he was a good-looking young sailor and I’ve probably revealed more than I should have.” Clear packaging tape screamed like fingernails on a chalkboard as Rosemary sealed the box. Chico, her Cuban-American pool boy/hairdresser/paid companion, carted it off. With my phone inside. My plea hadn’t impressed her.

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