Nothing keeps the authorial engine sparking quite like a shiny new work in progress. Introducing SHELL GAME, an “Enigmatic, subversive, feline, who dunnit.” Thank you #WIPjoy for making me say it in five words!
Begun during NaNo 2015, SHELL GAME’s genesis stems from a form letter plunked down on the doorstep of every home in a quiet neighborhood. To whit, the letter from animal control singled out one street as a source of roaming, free range kitties of the type not tolerated within municipal bounds.
I immediately took umbrage. The letter warned that if homeowners did not keep their kitties indoors, they’d be fined $5,000 / lose their kitties to THE MAN. I thought: Is it not cruel and unusual to confine a feral kitty, jeopardizing its spirit along with the carpets and throw pillows? I had to know.
After months of scribbling down “pop scenes” and filing them away in a folder along with some awesome character names, SHELL GAME is emerging. My kitty protagonist has just escaped the confines of a really awkward feline fetishist sex cult devoted to the films of Pilson Gudderammerung. I can’t wait to see how it ends.
March 17, 2016
November 24, 2016
It’s that time of year again, where writers stay up night and day to get the next NaNoWriMo project underway. In my case, attention is divided between SHELL GAME and DIRTY DALE. Happily, both are coming along nicely. More on DALE later. For now, let’s take a look at SHELLGAME…
The year 2015
In a liberal democracy
On September 6, 2015, a letter was received. In it were a set of instructions and a veiled threat. “Dear Home Owner: It has come to our attention that residents have not been cleaning up after their pets. This is particularly true of Saffron Drive where cats have been roaming freely without proper branding and/or licensing.”
The homeowner frowned.
“City bylaws are explicit. Failure to comply shall result in seizure and a fine of up to and including $5,000. All pets seized by the municipality shall be considered forfeit, property to be retained pending appeal or adoption by an appropriate third party.”
Bronagh Caley scowled. It was barely past sunrise, the morning air still carrying on it that vaporous layer of moisture from a cool night mixing with above average day time highs. The missive in her hand wrinkled with the wet of it. Plain stock, Helvetica lettered and bearing the stamp of the nascent city’s newly minted coat of arms, it was not franked, but hand delivered. Her tax dollars at work.
She crumpled the paper in disgust. The assessors would be out soon to see if they could raise the levy on her building renovation. Meantime, she could recycle the plain stock paper. What else could she do with it? She didn’t own a goddamned cat.
“Good morning!” a voice called out across the shared lawn with its overgrown wheat grass and scrubby clover patches. Bronagh’s neighbor Poonam Khanzada Rajput was up early.
“Good morning, neighbor,” Bronagh replied, happy to have one remaining friend on the street. “Looks like we’re in for a nice day after all.” She stuffed the paper into her pocket, making a mental note to place it in her blue box bin next to yesterday’s newspaper.
Poonam, short, svelt and unbelievably gorgeous, read her thoughts with aquamarine green eyes. “They say he’s going to win.” She crossed her arms, a gesture that in one so fine and small appeared uncharacteristically aggressive. The ‘he’ she referred to was a fine young man of impressive stock, with wealth and family achievements dating back to the founding of the country. Rarely a day went by when his beautiful face and boyish head of hair didn’t cover the front page of every newspaper. He had been anointed to succeed the current administration, which had bogged down in a morass of negativity and self defeat.
“It’s what the polls say,” Bronagh shrugged, her Limerick accent creeping out from under a consciousness not yet fully awakened owing to a lack of caffeine. “But the polls have been wildly wrong before, so I won’t believe it until I see it.”
Poonam nodded, though she seemed unconvinced.
What the beautiful boy politician lacked in credentials, he made up for in lineage. A prince among mortals, his paternal grandfather was elected to lead the nation sometime after the Indians had left, while the other, on his mom’s side, commanded the high bench well into his nineties, incontinence taking him away before his diminishing faculties could.
Poonam shifted from slippered foot to slippered foot, her rapid eye movements betraying a great weight. “Your renovations almost done?”
There is was: a hardened segue into shaky territory.
Poonam’s parents came over from Madhya Pradesh after the war with Pakistan in ’65. Raised on PacMan, MuchMusic and Madonna videos, Poonie was progressive in her politics, but intransigent where home improvement was concerned. The dust coming off the concrete pour for the Caley’s new basement, combined with the mounds of earth from the excavation that dappled the front garden, killed off a lot of the new grass growth both women had worked so hard to cultivate. The loss of green drove Poonie crazy.
Bronagh didn’t blame her neighbor for hating the dirt piles. She hated them too. But what she really hated was the extra large campaign sign erected on her neighbor’s patch of earth just days after the first shovel left the ground. For Bronagh Caley, politics was like religion—best left in the chapel where it cured among the policy wonks and crisis junkies who eked out poor livings writing about it. There was no place for grandstanding among the rank and file—certainly not here on the Caley/Khanzada Rajput shared front lawn. Poonie’s sign called her out, demanding that she declare herself. The older woman would have none of it.
“Not yet,” Bronagh muttered. “We’ve hit a snag and that’s going to delay us, no doubt.”
The Free Range Party—Poonam’s party—pushed hard for legal dope and higher taxes while declaring a moratorium on public holiday celebrations and Halloween costumes. Free Rangers opposed anything that made anyone feel bad, including things offensive and dangerous, like wearing kimonos in October when one wasn’t Japanese or allowing kids to play baseball on the now grassed over city diamonds. There was a lot of support behind these prohibitions: community action groups poo pooed the wearing of costumes because they mocked the unsuspecting, while insurance companies condemned balling in any form because the exposure was simply too great.
Poonie batted her long eyelashes for several seconds, announcing very clearly her complicity in the plot to topple Bronagh’s renovation dreams. A letter from the Department of City Works, also hand delivered to the Caley’s front door, this time on September 10, bore the news like a bad omen. A cursory sidewalk inspection had been performed, confirming that Bronagh and her husband Bill had violated several ordinances despite all the paperwork done and dutifully filed well in advance of all deadlines. They had dug too deep and the water table was compromised. They weren’t complying. If they didn’t fall into line, they would be fined.
“That’s too bad,” Poonie trilled. “The dust must be driving you crazy.” She took a pull on her oversized coffee mug. “My Uncle Jin had similar difficulties years ago when he tried to install a sauna in his basement. The carpet rotted and the mold crept out to the street.”
Bronagh, fingering the crumpled paper in the right pocket of her chenille bathrobe, felt the heat rise up through the follicles in her scalp.
“…If only he had hired a proper contractor in the first place. You know? You should always hire a contractor. But I suppose it’s different for you with your Bill being so handy and all. But you know the wiring, if it isn’t done properly, can lead to smoke and then fire.”
Poonie’s effort at covering her tracks with vapid blather sort of worked, distracting Bronagh long enough to enable her to crack a smile at her frenemy. But the facts were clear: someone had ratted them out to the city, and that someone had revealed herself over an oversized mug of coffee and a pair of fluffy slippers.
“Someone complained,” Bronagh said, her attention veering off to something across the street on another neighbor’s lawn. Under a pile of crayon colored leaves, something moved; something dark, sleek and too clever to be caught up in the absurdities that plagued the humankind of Saffron Drive.
Bronagh watched the black cat zig zag across Zoltan the gardener’s lawn onto the street and across, cutting a precise path directly to her. She looked down at him. Beautiful, innocent and falsely accused, he steeled her resolve.
“Someone has ratted us out,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “And that is not right.”
Thanks to NaNoWriMo and the broad array of 1 line games out there in the Twitterverse, SHELL GAME has had an opportunity to share a small but very favorable spotlight. Feedback has been tremendous, so I keep going! Here are some blip ads already out there.