On Tuesday, I provided the teaser of a new mystery I am working on. Today, I will reprint that teaser along with the first installment of the tale. First, a little background:
The Making of a Mystery
I have spoken at length about the way experience feeds writing (and my author interviews confirm it)–but often our experiences don’t translate point for point into fiction. To explain: I am a vivid dreamer. Really. I rarely go a night without some concoction of aliens, dragons, flying babies, talking bats and–my favorite–hot-air-balloons navigated by animated egg noodles (white and wheat varieties). Dreams are great siphons, translating our lived experience into strange polyglots of imaginative material. The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles came from a dream (I thought I was watching the story on television). The main event sequence of Here Comes Troubelle also came from dream material. It’s hard to say what exactly from life caused me to imagine the complicated murder of a network producer, but there you have it.
Now, for the second part of translating experience: characters. Knowing the plot only takes you so far. Personally, I always find character-driven narratives more compelling–I will suspend disbelief a long time if I love the main characters of a story or series. (Give me Holmes and Watson first–mystery second, so to speak). The Here Comes Troubelle narrative is intended to be part of an ongoing series of semi-serious (partly “cozy”) mysteries, so I needed to create a team of characters that 1) would be easy to imagine and easy to draw from and 2) would be funny and compelling. Fiction, like charity, begins at home…so the husband and wife team are loosely based on myself and my husband, Mark. He’s the engineer. I’m the professor. But the characters depart pretty widely from the real after that: starting with home-base provided containers; since then, I have let the characters take root and flourish in the direction of the story. My husband has some investment in this one, though (of course), and so he is actually helping with the brain-storming process.
Well… He almost always does, whether he likes it or not… Fiction authors tend to talk about their work all the time. Out loud. Over dinner.
Enjoy the next bit of story–and write your own and tell me about them! Also, don’t forget, we have an interview with author David Bain this Thursday, and I am still accepting suggestions for the Friday Feature.
Here Comes Troubelle, installment 1
Stanley Troubelle creased his brow and rubbed one forefinger across his chin. At last, he leaned forward over his coffee mug.
“The woman was actually Robert’s twin sister, but she was left out of their mother’s will—so she hired Irish mobsters to knock him off while he was vacationing in Florence. Then, she could impersonate him, stealing his identity and getting all the money.”
It seemed as good an explanation to Stanley as any, but across the coffee table his wife Kathryn was glaring at him.
“Now you aren’t even trying,” she said, crossing her arms. “It already says that Robert died after returning from Florence, and besides, she was too short to impersonate him.”
Stanley leaned back and puckered his lips.
“Read me the details again,” he said, a little deflated.
Kate held up a small poster-board card and read it once more in the precise manner of television anchormen—and English professors.
“Robert Fishman was found dead in an airport men’s room after returning from a trip to Florence. He had been struck once, on the back of the head, and in his hand he clutched a souvenir broach from Dublin. A few days later, police arrested a petite woman as she attempted to board a plane at the same airport. Who killed Robert, how and why?” Stanley ran a hand through his short, curly hair.
“All right,” he said. “He was returning from Florence, so he shouldn’t have an Irish souvenir broach. It must have belonged to the killer, which I guess means the attacker was the woman—even though she was petite.”
“Size isn’t everything,” Kate said, sitting up straighter and fixing him with her brown eyes. “And neither is gender.”
“Is that a clue? Or just basic feminism?” Stanley asked and Kate stuck her tongue out at him. “So the attacker is the petite female, fine. And she’s Irish? Wait—where was the woman headed when they arrested her?”
“Back to Florence,” Kate said, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“Aha!” Stanley thumped his knee. “She isn’t his sister, she’s he wife! His other wife…let me think. He’s leading a double life, and must have families in Dublin and in Florence. His Italian wife finds out about his infidelity and kills him, and then plants the broach to implicate the Irish widow!”
Kate leaned forward, cracking a half-smile.
“And? How did the police know it was her?”
Stan grinned back.
“Because a woman from Ireland would not be wearing a tourist-trap souvenir broach!” Stanley laced his hands behind his head and leaned against the sofa cushions. “And let’s face it, as soon as we know an Italian woman is involved, it’s practically a closed case!”
Kate tossed her dark hair and struck a femme-fatale pose.
“Something you would do well to remember, Mr. Troubelle.”
“Give me some credit, here,” Stanley said, reaching into the board-game box. “I’m Italian too; my family would kill me if I married Irish!”
It was true, Stanely was Italian, even though “Troubelle” was a mixed-up sort of name. When it was pronounced correctly, most people thought it was French. But of course, it was rarely pronounced correctly. Stanley’s father, brother and uncles never seemed to mind the mix-up—they were all in the police force and enjoyed being known among the criminal classes as just plain trouble. Stan was an engineer, however, and Mr. Trouble wasn’t the most confidence-building name to be going about with.
“Shall we have another?” he asked, holding up the printed game card. Kate shook her head.
“Five more essays to mark,” she sighed, getting up and stretching long limbs. Kate was something of a swiss-army-person. Taller than Stanely, she could nonetheless fold herself into impossibly small positions. She took up only a fifth of the sofa–precisely. She had figured that out by mathematical formula on a rainy Sunday… One more reason Stan felt she was “wasted” in the field of English.
“How long will that take–five essays?”
“Too long. I saved the worst ones for last. At least twenty-seven minutes a piece.”
Stanely made a face and then stroked her shoulder reassuringly.
“They might surprise you,” he suggested. Kate’s left eye-brow darted upward.
“Only with their untiring ability to commit egregious errors of grammar,” she sighed. “Walk Mycroft, would you?”
Kate pointed and Stan turned his attention to the enormous dog sprawled by the fireplace. Front legs longer than the back ones, overgrown tufts of fur around the face, uneven ears and huge block head; Mycroft was what you might get if a lusty German shepherd fancied a Yeti.
“Hrumph-mumph,” Mycroft muttered, the sound of air fluttering the extra skin folds of his hound-like mouth.
“You heard the Sergeant,” Stanley said, pulling the galvanized steel leader from its hook by the door. Mostly an unnecessary precaution. Mycroft would never run after anything. He did run from cats on occasion, though.
The walk was not a long one. Twice around the big-block, enough time for Crofty to mark a half-dozen lamp posts and the neighbor’s fence. Stan bristled against the cold. Seemed like an early winter was on the way, still two weeks from Halloween.
Beside Stanely, Mycroft drooped his over-sized shoulders; he wasn’t keen on the cold, either, really. Kate had named him after the elder Holmes brother from Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries in hopes that his huge head would have an equally sizable brain. Not so. The only point of comparison was that Mycroft the dog and Mycroft the character were lay-abouts who would rather be by the fire than traipsing about in a sharp wind.
“So would I,” Stanley muttered, puffing great clouds as they turned the first corner. The street was mostly empty. There was only one car meandering slowly along. Stan could hear it’s tires crunching against the dirty asphalt… but it didn’t pass him.
Off course it didn’t. Stan groaned in irritation–and three, two, one–
BLARRRRRRRRR! The utterly nerve-shattering whoop of a police horn.
Mycroft went stiff in the limbs and fell over on the grass.
“Holy shit–we killed the dog again!” A voice full of chuckle (and piss and vinegar) gurgled from the passenger side.
“You’re a piece of work, Porkchop,” Stan grunted, ignoring his nephew and rubbing Mycroft’s ears. “Do you want to give him a heart attack?”
Thomas Porkchop Troubelle had been on the squad for all of two months. In that time, he’d managed to give Mycroft a near coronary five times (and a half, if you counted the bull horn incident).
“Sorry Bro,” said the driver of the vehicle, a broad-shouldered plain-clothes officer about Stan’s height but twice his weight in muscle. If it weren’t for the hair, broad nose and a tendency to look mischievous (at all the wrong moments), there would be almost no family resemblance between them.
“For the love of God, Luke, can’t you put a halter on that kid?”Stan grumped, thumbing in the direction of Porkchop (who was still chortling happily).
“S’my fault this time,” Luke admitted, getting out of the car. “I was on my way to your place anyhow, wanted to get your attention–” He looked down at Mycroft, who was getting woozily to his feet. “What’s wrong with that dog, anyhow?”
“Fainting goat syndrome,” Stanley sighed. “Why couldn’t you just knock at the house? Have coffee or something normal?”
“Can’t stay,” Luke sniffed and chuffed his hands together in the cold. “Still an hour on duty. But thought you might like to know–you an’ Kate don’t have to go to that fundraiser anymore.”
Stan felt two competing tingles down his spine.
The first was joy. The fundraiser was being put on (and held-up) by a local television producer. A man with money, the kind that “used to be somebody.” A lot of glitz and glamour and basic annoyance, just to produce one crummy documentary on the police department (with corresponding funding activities and hoopla). Stan usually got roped into these things anyway–being related to the police force was like being related to the mob. But this time, his company was involved too; camera equipment of that sort was complicated to run and needed controllers. Ugly stuff. Stan hated the hub-bub, but Kate hated it a lot more, and putting up with her hatred was almost worse than the thing itself. He’d have given anything to get out of it…
But the second tingling sensation was something more practical, a detective twitch ingrained in his genetics: the creep of dread.
“Great, Luke,” Stan said, watching his brother cautiously. “But why are you telling me this–on a sidewalk–in the middle of the freezing night?”
Luke put his hands in his pockets.
“There’s been an accident–nasty one. Car in the river.”
“Good God! Who? One of the boys?”
“Uh-uh, we’re all fine. But you know the film-maker, don’t you?”
“The loud guy?” Stan asked, tugging on Mycroft’s leash. Luke nodded, then gave a low whistle for Thomas to re-start the engine.
“The dead guy,” he said. “Yup. That would be him.”