Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dark shadows, Detectives and Dame Curried Iguana - Judge's Report by Brian Falkner

What an exciting week for FABO, the last round! The theme this week was detective and the contributors showed a fantastic flair in creating stories that fitted within that genre.

There were dark shadows and dark alleys, trench coats and fedora hats, all the elements of the classic noir hard-boiled detective story.

This week was a really great test of the writer’s ability to write in a particular style. As well as the elements that have become standard in these kind of stories there is also a taut style of writing that goes along with it. Short sentences, pithy comments, sudden action. Well done to all the contributors who managed to combine these things with clever storytelling.

There were some great lines too. How about this from Arabella: “Shadows decorated the room like souls having a bonfire.”

Or this funny line from Matilda: “A strong man with a golden cape and bright pink fluoro pants riding a wave of monkeys that were pushing him into lava as he ate KFC. It was very, well, RANDOM.”

Here’s my favourite opening line. It fits very well within the genre. This from Caroline: “The alleyway was dark… too dark… Sam Spader thought, as the darkness leered at him.”

And the overall winner this week: Caroline Moratti and “Ain’t no Coward.” (Read it here).

Code words, great villains, humour, and a neat reversal of the usual tough guy hero. Well done Caroline.

Congratulations everyone on a great bunch of stories.

My own story is below.


The Opera singer

She walked into my seedy west-side office like she was auditioning for a role in Fabowood. She was tall and elegant, with legs that went all the way up to her body. Which was fortunate. She’d fall over otherwise.

She wore a moonstock fur cape and a hat made from fluorescent pukaheke leaves. Around her neck a large gloomstone hung from a silver chain. She was a real classy dame.

‘Sam Spader?’ she purred my name in a voice like molten chocolate moose. She could be an opera singer with a voice like that.

‘Who wants to know?’ I asked. It was a silly question. Clearly she wanted to know. You didn’t have to be a private detective to work that out. I guess I was just a little intoxicated by her beauty. Or maybe it was the bottle of twelve-year-old pomato juice in my filing drawer.

‘I’m Dame Curried Iguana,’ she said.

‘Dame Curried? The famous Opera Singer?’

She nodded.

A Dame and an opera singer. I’d been right on both counts.

‘What can I do for you, Dame Curried?’ I asked, gesturing for her to sit. She did so, elegantly.

‘I have been sent here by the Fabo Over-Council,’ she said. ‘They need your help.’

‘Really? My help?’ I fixed her with a gun barrel stare. ‘Have they forgotten who it was that fired me as the Erewhon Chief of Detectives?’

‘Ah yes,’ she said, ‘That unfortunate business at Glottis Castle. That’s in the past now. Grand Moff Mewburn himself sent me to find you.’

That didn’t make sense. Why would the grand moff send an opera singer to hire a private detective. There was more to this case than met the eye.

I pulled my diary out of a drawer and pretended to study it. It was empty, but I wasn’t going to let her know that.

‘I might be able to fit in an appointment on Thursday of next week,’ I said.

‘They need to see you now,’ she purred. The light from the window reflected off the gloomstone around her neck, it sparkled, like her eyes.

‘I’ll rearrange my schedule,’ I said, grabbing my trench-coat from the coat-stand, my hat from the hat-stand, and my hand from the hand-stand.

The Over-Council

Twenty minutes later we were pulling up outside the Council Chambers in my classic ’73 Ford Moustache convertible.

I trotted up the ornate marble steps, trying not to slip over on the ornate marbles, and walked in the main entrance.

The building was strangely quiet. There was nobody on reception. The guard’s desk also was empty. It was as if a swarm of suckerpunch spiders had just swept through, leaving nothing in their wake.

‘I got a bad feeling about this,’ I said.

There was no reply. I turned. Dame Curried was gone. I was alone.

The hairs on the back of my neck started to rise. I drew my weapon. There were few problems on this planet I couldn’t solve with hot lead from cold steel.

I found my way into the council room. I stopped. I put my gun away. I wouldn’t be needing it.

Whatever it was they wanted me for I was too late. I was half past too late.

The Fabo council were slumped in their seats. They were dead. All of them. Deader than a ghost in a slime pit.

Tania; Kathy; Maureen; Melinda; Michele; Elena; Brian: all of them. I didn’t need to check their pulses. The wide vacant staring eyes, the drooling mouths, the pale, waxy skin: they looked like a bunch of children’s authors who’d just had their latest manuscript rejected.

In the middle of the table was a jar of jelly beans. Red ones. I hate those ones. I looked again at the body of Vice-Moff Colston. One of the jellybeans was still lodged between her teeth. There was a red smear around Treasurer Beale’s lips.

I picked up one of the jelly beans and sniffed at it. A strong smell of cinnamon.

Next to the jar was a yellowed envelope. A piece of parchment was half-tucked inside. I picked it up and was about to read it when there was a commotion by the doorway. I tucked the envelope into my coat pocket just as a squad of police stormtroopers burst through, weapons drawn.

The new Chief of Detectives, Angus Smith followed them into the council chamber.

‘Caught you red handed,’ he said in a voice that cracked like a whip, ‘Sam Spader you ‘re under arrest for the murder of the Fabo Over-Council.’

‘I guess it wouldn’t help to point out that I only just got here,’ I said. ‘The councillors were dead when I arrived.’

He shook his head. I figured as much. I knew a stitch up when I smelt one and this one smelt like a bad Moonbeast curry.

Speaking of curry, where had the lovely Dame got to?

I put my hands in the air while one of the red-shirted stormtroopers relieved me of my weapon. They frisked me, but didn’t find the envelope. I decided not to advise them of their oversight.

I spent the night cooling my heels in the Fabo City Jail.

The Interrogation

It was the next morning that they finally hauled me in for interrogation. My hands were cuffed securely behind my back. A single light bulb swung low over a table in the darkened room. Video cameras whirred in the corner, capturing everything.

Chief Smith sat opposite me. He stared at me.

‘Why’d you do it?’ he asked.

‘I’m not going to be your fall guy,’ I said. ‘You know I didn’t do it. But I know who did.’

‘You might have a hard job convincing a jury,’ he said. ‘Come on, let’s hear your story. Who did it?’

‘Mr Groat,’ I said.

‘Mr Groat?’

‘Yeah. He believed that the Fabo Over Council was brainwashing all the citizens of Fabo. Blocking out their creativity and imagination.’

‘Why would he think such a thing?’ Smith asked.

‘Would you believe me if I told you that an alien named James Bond who spoke only in movie quotes gave him a letter telling him so, and freed him from the brainwashing?’

He answered with a single word. ‘No.’

‘Well it’s true,’ I said. ‘It’s all in the letter. The Fabo Over Council tried to snare him again, and thought they had succeeded, but Groat was only pretending to be brainwashed. The letter told him that the only way to free the people of Fabo was to murder the Over Council, and that is exactly what he did.’

‘Totally preposterous,’ Chief Smith said. ‘A feeble excuse to try and get yourself off the hook. You’ll be sent to the slime pits, or cast into the great crater for this, Spader.’

‘Somehow, I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘In fact, I’m going to walk out of here in just a few moments.’

‘And how exactly are you going to achieve that,’ he said.

‘You’ve seen the strange scar on my hand,’ I smiled at him, ‘I got that when a sucker punch spider bit off my hand a few years ago at Glottis Castle. Fortunately Dr Bixley was able to replace it with a bionic hand, and it’s detachable. It makes getting out of handcuffs real easy.’

He stared in shock as I brought my arms up from behind my back and clicked my artificial hand back into place.

‘Now let’s go find Mr Groat,’ I said.

Smith was quick. He ran for the door. I was quicker. I got there first and kicked it shut as he tried to open it. He stabbed a finger at an alarm button and a shrill siren filled the room. There was a banging on the door, but I threw my weight against it, preventing it from opening.

‘You won’t get away with this, Spader!’ Smith yelled.

‘You’ve got it all wrong,’ I said, ‘It’s you that won’t get away with it… Mr Groat.’

I grabbed at the skin under his chin and the rubber mask that he was wearing came off like old milk. I moved away from the door, and the stormtroopers burst in. They looked at me, then in shock at Mr Groat, the remains of the Angus Smith mask in tatters around his neck.

‘You’re going away for a long time,’ I said. ‘You and Mrs Groat. Disguising herself as an opera singer fooled me at first, but I don’t stay fooled for long.’

He laughed maniacally. ‘I don’t care what you do to me. The people of Fabo are now free. Free to let their creativity run wild. Free to have inspiration and imagination once more!’

‘That may be true,’ I said slowly, ‘But you’ll still have to answer for your crimes.’

I turned to the captain of the stormtroopers. ‘Here’s your murderer, book him. ’

I pushed past him out of the room.

‘Where are you going?’ I heard Mr Groat call out behind me.

I raised the collar of my trench coat and pulled my hat low over my eyes. I muttered under my breath as I walked away without a backward glance.

‘I got a dame to catch.’

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