“You can’t put cocks on the teevee like that.” It’s a lie of course. You see, that’s acting. Because I know that you can put cocks on the teevee. Like that, or in any way you dream. This is America, after all. Jim must have known it too. He heard me scream that and he asked me to be in his greatest videographic undertaking to date: Jimsaw.Read More
So, a few days ago, author Chuck Wendig posted a writing challenge on his blog. The premise: A 1500 word story using characters out of They Fight Crime, a website that generates two quirky crimefighters.
I did far too much research for 1500 words. My characters?
"He's a disco-crazy opera singer with 35 hours left to live. She's a hypochondriac paleontologist on a tiny horse. Together They Fight Crime!"
How could I not call this "Staying Alive?"
Philadelphia - July 12th, 1979
Tony Uomo was shutting down, and so was the Discotheque. The lights dimmed. The music quieted. The disco ball slowed.
Tony fell to the glowing dance floor, grappling with his white suit, gasping for air, opening the huge collar ever wider, chest hair glistening with sweat.
Each breath was less than the last. The colored tiles throbbed in time to his heartbeat, slower and slower.
“Tony. Nobody here can help you.” Elizabeth Philpot knelt beside him. She was scared to touch him. “We’ve got to take you to a hospital. Maybe they can take a look at my eye, too.”
Tony took a rattling breath. Elizabeth looked at her watch. Thirty five hours.
“You did it. You saved them. Everyone in that opera house owes you their lives.”
“Disco will never die, Liz. Disco will never die, but I…”
The music stopped. The lights went out.
In the cavernous red brick basement Ruvido Pugno circled Tony in a swirling cloud of plaster dust, guns pointed at each other, the bomb between them.
“The Academy of Music ruined me! You can’t know how it is! You’re just a baritone!” Ruvido shouted.
“Just a baritone!? I should shoot you for that, Ruvido! You tenors are all the same, think you’re so damn important! Important enough to blow up the Academy just because it didn’t have the acoustics you wanted!”
“Drop your gun.” Ruvido said, moving toward the switchboard. Cheers and applause were a muffled roar over their heads.
“Okay, fine.” Tony said. He’d been sweating before, now he was cold, his breathing shallow. He couldn’t hold the gun much longer. “It’s empty anyway.”
“You son of a….”
Ruvido was cut short when Elizabeth Philpot hit him in the temple with the heavy end of a crescent wrench.
He fell to the floor, Tony right behind him.
“That was for Mr. Snugglesocks, you bastard.” She said, wiping grease from her eyes. “I hope that stuff’s not an eye irritant.”
“Tie him up. Cops. Hospital… there’s no time, Liz. Just take me to Club Verrazano. There’s something there that can help.”
Squealing wheels and screaming shocks drowned out the cacophony of obscenity pelting Tony Uomo’s baby blue 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass as it charged through the traffic of Locust Street, going the wrong way.
“You were right. He’s headed for the Academy of Music!” Tony’s once beautiful voice was now a hoarse rasp.
Liz swerved toward Ruvido Pugno’s bright yellow 1974 Chevy Chevelle. Tony leaned out the window, fired the last bullet from the automatic, and hit the rear tire. Pavement and shredded rubber erupted as the Chevelle spun toward the sidewalk, eliciting a change in the pitch of profanity.
“He’s going through the service entrance! We’ve got to warn security!” Liz shouted, ears ringing.
“There’s no time! The opera house is packed! We’ve got to stop him ourselves! You find the bomb, it’s in one of those plaster molds! I’ll stop Ruvido.”
“You don’t understand, you’re just a musician.” Liz said. He was sweating, heart fat in his chest. Tony could fit his apartment into Liz’s house three times with extra bathrooms, but without Mr. Snugglesocks in the back yard, it seemed too big, too empty.
“I’m a scientist. I study dinosaurs. We use a lot of plaster to make the casts. You could hide something in plaster like this, like all the ingredients of a bomb!”
“I’m not arguing with science! I’m arguing with you, about a madman! He poisoned me at Club Verrazano, Liz.” Tony said, chugging down another glass of water.
“Can’t you let disco go, Tony? It’s dying, Tony, just like you. Ruvido Pugno poisoned you because you’re an opera singer, not a dancer. He’s trying to get you out of his way!”
“He’s a tenor, I’m a baritone, I’m not in his way, Liz, he wants to blow up Verrazano to kill disco! He’s not after opera!”
“I swear you’re just trying to kill time.” Liz said.
“Alright, we’ll go to the warehouse again, just keep an eye out for a banana-colored Chevelle, there can’t be too many of those in Philadelphia.”
“Jesus, Liz, you almost shot that guy.” Tony said, taking the revolver from her shaking hand. Two shafts of light came through the hole in the corrugated metal warehouse wall. Smoke was curling off the barrel.
“He’s the one.” She said.
“Mr. Snugglesocks?” Tony asked. His stomach was queasy. Whatever Ruvido had done was making it’s way through his system. “Shoulda winged him, at least.”
“What is this stuff?” He asked, rubbing his foot in the white dust that the man they’d run off had tracked across the floor.
“I’m a scientist, let me get a sample.” Liz said. She regarded the powder then thought again. “Actually, you get me a sample, I think it might set off my allergies.”
“You’re a dinosaur scientist.”
“A paleontologist. And this smells familiar. I think I know what he might be up to.”
“Whatever that guy shot me up with at the disco, it’s given me a fever.” Tony said, shivering.
“You… don’t think it’s contagious, do you?” Liz asked. The light at the 24 hour Vet cast a sickly green pallor over the parking lot.
“Nah, just… don’t get shot with a dart full of it, I guess. Seems to be the way I caught it.”
“I’m sorry about Mr. Snugglesocks. We’ll get the bastards.”
“We should get you to a doctor, Tony.” Liz said.
“I’ve got 12 hours at least. I’m fine, just a little chilly, you know?” But the reason they were at your house in the first place, Liz, is because they know you can ID the bastards who stole those explosives from the dig site.”
“It’s not enough to do any real damage, Tony, they’re small charges for ground penetrating radar.”
“Maybe if he wrapped them up in some casing? Or used them to set off another charge?”
“Not right now, Tony. I… I can’t think. Not while Mr. Snugglesocks…”
He went to hug her, but she twisted away.
“Sorry, it’s just that you’re feverish, and you’re covered in sweat.” There was a pause. “I don’t want to get sick. Look, there’s only so many places a guy like that could store the gear from the dig. Let’s go check some of them out.”
Tony hoped the suburbs would provide some quiet, but as soon as he pulled into Liz’s driveway, he heard her scream.
He jumped out of the car, ran to the backyard, jumped Mr. Snugglesock’s miniature fence. The tiny horse was sprawled out at the feet of the man who was putting some brass knuckles on. Liz was screaming. He reached into his pocket for the little Davis P-38.
“Small. But big enough.” Was what he’d said, and Tony couldn’t help but think of Mr. Snugglesocks. He held the gun up over his head and fired, twice.
This got the thug’s attention. He was thick, with big eyebrows and beady eyes. "Ruvido!" He shouted when he recognized him.
Tony didn’t dare point the gun at him. The shots into the air had done the trick. Ruvido took off over a tall fence, and Tony couldn’t muster up the energy to run.
“They punched Mr. Snugglesocks!” Liz screamed. The first time he’d met her she’d been riding that tiny pony. She loved it like a dog. Or a kid.
“Uh, is he… ok?” The tiny horse was breathing hard, and looked concussed, Tony thought - as if he could tell when a horse had a concussion.
“We’ve got to get him to a vet, hurry!”
Tony pocketed the the five shot handgun his dad had given him when he’d moved to Philadelphia and sped toward Club Verrazano. Liz’s dig site had been robbed - not of the valuable dinosaur bones, but of something explosive - and the wires and electronics needed to use them.
The bombs, the phoned in threats to the Verrazano, the poison coursing through his veins. And Liz was worried that his apartment’s air filter didn’t meet her high standards.
“Mold is a serious problem.” She said. Elizabeth Philpot was getting on his nerves, he didn’t think they could work together much longer - but then, he didn’t have much longer. He poured himself a drink.
The poison was working. Making him dizzy. The girl he’d seen at Verrazano, the paleontologist, Elizabeth Philpot, riding the tiny pony on the dance floor, she’d called. He hadn’t picked up, let the machine take it. Ruvido was on her trail, gone to the dig she’d told him about, heroics in his head, the operatic climax like something from the stage.
“Thirty five hours.” Tony said.
Ruvido watched him, shocked, as he withdrew the syringe. “After your heroics, opera will never die.”
“Our music will never die.” Tony said.
At least, he thought, “Not after disco saves opera.”
Rain had come, dampening my prospects of exploration both figuratively and literally. Dampness does not dissuade me, personally, but the camera doesn't like it, and people demand pictures.
The thought had occurred to me that I might just take pictures from earlier and use them in a current entry. However, it seemed dishonest, and I only partake in the utmost of honest, direct journalism as I get to the beating heart of truth. Usually, I discover that it's just some kids with a burning steel drum beating on it with their scavenged crutches, but sometimes it is the tattle-tale heart. Of truth.
It was in this overcast mood and weather that I ventured to the local branch of a nefarious global conspiracy - the Mississippi Humanist Association. Humanism. The mere word itself conjures up terrifying phantoms in the overwrought imagination. Secular folk, gathering in dark lairs, hiding their foul plots behind disarmingly unsophisticated websites, shady concepts such as "public service" and a general lack of diabolism.
Finding the secret lair was difficult, given the high-tech nature of the security that these secularists deployed. There was a lock, and a door, and a secret knock. Well, it was a knock.
"Greetings!" They greeted me at the door in their entirely nonreligious apparel. My keen senses immediately scented a weird odor, some exotic narcotic, perhaps?
"There's hummus." The ringleader said. "And pita chips. They're baked."
Baked! I scowled at this hideous affront to my tastes.
"What's the primary pernicious plan?" I asked.
"Well, we're working on a blood drive." The ringleader said.
"Blood! Blood!" I howled, eyes wide with this brief taste of the global power these Humanists undoubtedly wielded. "Rivers of blood! Geysers! Sanguine waterfalls submerging the faithful!"
The woman next to me gave pause, clearly astonished by my innate grasp of their fiendish and ungodly plot.
"We got a few pints last time, and we learned to coordinate it so that people who give blood regularly aren't locked out because they gave too recently. Are you alright?"
"Yes, I, just, uh..." I offered everyone beers from inside the sleeve of my robe. This went over well.
"So, uh, what other malevolent masterpieces are in the pipeline?" I asked, sipping my beer. I was drinking directly from the can.
"Oh, the Adopt-A-Highway thing. That's almost done." Another woman spoke up, referencing papers I can only assume were written in blood, though it would have had to have been blood inserted into the cartridge of an inkjet printer. I imagined that task to be incredibly difficult. "The only thing left is..."
"The mind controlling sign technology?" I asked. They stared at me with growing concern. "Hacking into traffic signals to cause red-asphalt style carnage?"
"The sixty-seven dollars for a highway sign..." The ringleader said, trailing off as though, at any moment, I might start making sense.
"Why are you wearing a robe?" One of the women asked.
"I thought we wore robes?" I tested this explanation out, and found that even with my own bias, it was unacceptable. No one else, for instance, was wearing a robe, even though we were in a fairly sporty apartment, the sort of apartment one might well wear a bathrobe in.
"Are you some sort of spy?" No one asked. I may have asked it to myself, but despite the fact that no one asked it, I felt the urge to respond.
"My religion is my own business! I've fallen into too many rivers and that means I'm baptized!" I shouted, recalling the smattering of insane justifications the jabbering old Seventh Day Adventist had blathered at me while trying to drown me back in 2007.
"The River knows all! Listen to it!" I yelled, heading for the door. "You'll never take me alive, thought-police!" I grappled wildly with the uncooperative doorknob (undoubtedly designed as some sort of Humanist Plot) before throwing the door open.
"Wait!" The woman behind me cried. "Did you bring a science book? We're trying to help a local science classroom build a library!"
I threw down my weatherbeaten copy of Charles Ellet Jr's "Report of the Overflows of the Delta of the Mississippi River" like so much chaff and fled into the night.
Before long, I reached the river, my concealed kayak and supplies in position. Jackson was forfeit. I headed down my beloved River towards the Gulf of Mexico, with not a doubt in my mind that the humanist hounds were nipping at my wake.