The Decoy Effect: How You Are Influenced to Choose Without Really Knowing It
Think you got a good deal? Look again.
The decoy effect is the phenomenon where consumers swap their preference between two options when presented with a third option.
Price is the most delicate element of the marketing mix, and much thought goes into setting prices to nudge us towards spending more.
There’s one particularly cunning type of pricing strategy that marketers use to get you to switch your choice from one option to a more expensive or profitable one.
It’s called the decoy effect.
Imagine you are shopping for a Nutribullet blender. You see two options. The cheaper one, at $89, promotes 900 watts of power and a five-piece accessory kit. The more expensive one, at $149, is 1,200 watts and has 12 accessories.
Which one you choose will depend on some assessment of their relative value for money. It’s not immediately apparent, though, that the more expensive option is better value. It’s slightly less than 35 percent more powerful but costs nearly 70 percent more. It does have more than twice as many plastic accessories, but what are they worth?
Now consider the two in light of a third option.
This one, for $125, offers 1,000 watts and nine accessories. It enables you to make what feels like a more considered comparison. For $36 more than the cheaper option, you get four more accessories and an extra 100 watts of power. But if you spend just $24 extra, you get a further three accessories and 200 watts more power. Bargain!
You have just experienced the decoy effect.
The decoy effect is defined as the phenomenon whereby consumers change their preference between two options when presented with a third option – the “decoy” – that is “asymmetrically dominated”. It is also referred to as the “attraction effect” or “asymmetric dominance effect”.
What asymmetric domination means is the decoy is priced to make one of the other options much more attractive. It is “dominated” in terms of perceived value (quantity, quality, extra features and so on). The decoy is not intended to sell, just to nudge consumers away from the “competitor” and towards the “target” – usually the more expensive or profitable option.
The effect was first described by academics Joel Huber, John Payne and Christopher Puto in a paper presented to a conference in 1981 (and later published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1982).
They demonstrated the effect through experiments in which participants (university students) were asked to makes choices in scenarios involving beer, cars, restaurants, lottery tickets, films and television sets.
In each product scenario participants first had to choose between two options. Then they were given a third option – a decoy designed to nudge them toward picking the target over the competitor. In every case except the lottery tickets the decoy successfully increased the probability of the target being chosen.
These findings were, in marketing terms, revolutionary. They challenged established doctrines – known as the “similarity heuristic” and the “regularity condition” – that a new product will take away market share from an existing product and cannot increase the probability of a customer choosing the original product.
How Decoys Work
When consumers are faced with many alternatives, they often experience choice overload – what psychologist Barry Schwartz has termed the tyranny or paradox of choice. Multiple behavioural experiments have consistently demonstrated that greater choice complexity increases anxiety and hinders decision-making.
In an attempt to reduce this anxiety, consumers tend to simplify the process by selecting only a couple of criteria (say price and quantity) to determine the best value for money.
Through manipulating these key choice attributes, a decoy steers you in a particular direction while giving you the feeling you are making a rational, informed choice.
The decoy effect is thus a form of “nudging” – defined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (the pioneers of nudge theory) as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options”. Not all nudging is manipulative, and some argue that even manipulative nudging can be justified if the ends are noble. It has proven useful in social marketing to encourage people to make good decisions such as using less energy, eating healthier or becoming organ donors.
In the Market
We see decoy pricing in many areas.
A decade ago behavioural economist Dan Ariely spoke about his fascination with the pricing structure of The Economist and how he tested the options on 100 of his students.
In one scenario the students had a choice of a web-only subscription or a print-only subscription for twice the price; 68 percent chose the cheaper web-only option.
They were given a third option – a web-and-print subscription for the same price as the print-only option. Now just 16 percent chose the cheaper option, with 84 percent opting for the obviously better combined option.
In this second scenario the print-only option had become the decoy and the combined option the target. Even The Economist was intrigued by Ariely’s finding, publishing a story about it entitled “The importance of irrelevant alternatives”.
Subscription pricing for The Australian today replicates this “irrelevant alternative”, though in a slightly different way to the pricing architecture Ariely examined.
Why would you choose the digital-only subscription when you can get the weekend paper delivered for no extra cost?
In this instance, the digital-only option is the decoy and the digital+weekend paper option is the target. The intention appears to be to discourage you from choosing the more expensive six-day paper option. Because that option is not necessarily more profitable for the company. What traditionally made print editions profitable, despite the cost of printing and distribution, was the advertising they carried. That’s no longer the case. It makes sense to encourage subscribers to move online.
Not all decoys are so conspicuous. In fact the decoy effect may be extremely effective by being quite subtle.
Consider the price of drinks at a well-known juice bar: a small (350 ml) size costs $6.10; the medium (450 ml) $7.10; and the large (610 ml) $7.50.
Which would you buy?
If you’re good at doing maths in your head, or committed enough to use a calculator, you might work out that the medium is slightly better value than the small, and the large better value again.
But the pricing of the medium option – $1 more than the small but just 40 cents cheaper than the large – is designed to be asymmetrically dominated, steering you to see the biggest drink as the best value for money.
So have you just made the sensible choice, or been manipulated to spend more on a drink larger than you needed?
Gary Mortimer is an Associate Professor in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Queensland University of Technology.
Barf! Megabarf! Your brand is not your logo. Branding is about positioning strategy. The shortcut to buyers motive. What you name your product is always more important than what you call your niche business. To make a logo have meaning requires too much energy, ego, time, and money. It’s nonessential to success. It is a fairy-tale.
Artistic or creative expectation Gold plating (overworking)
Point of diminishing returns
“Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.” Wikipedia
People producing intangible or original ideas – or building new things – are creative professionals. If their creative idea or product sells, they then qualify as innovators. Innovators introduce new methods, ideas, or products. If the products don’t sell doesn’t mean they aren’t creative.
Creativity comes first , then innovation.
Merely producing creative work doesn’t qualify as innovation. It’s a concept *in waiting* – much like jewelry or art. Waiting for what? Audience acceptance. It’s an idea produced out of season – or undiscovered. Not wrong or bad. No one cares enough – yet. That changes as world needs or perception alter.
Who’s an accepting audience? People who get out their wallet and pay for the perceived new idea. Why *perceived*? Sometimes the combination of old ideas or off-the-shelf technology is imagined as new or exciting by the audience – but not necessarily unique to the creator.
When two old ideas or pieces of technology are combined into a new idea or product, we may then say, “Wow! That’s innovative.” But it isn’t raw imagination, rather it’s found or borrowed. That isn’t bad either. But if it doesn’t sell, it’s just news.
Imagining original ideas, like an artistic work or new product is creativity.
Converting imagined ideas to money – specifically profits – is innovation.
Creativity with an ROI is innovation.
So if you don’t make money, you’re not innovative? Not by my definition. Can you innovate without being imaginative? Perhaps by good fortune or accident. But you still must recognize what you found as valuable before you throw it away again.
Innovation requires valuation to a point that people buy it. They may not want it. But they must feel they need it or want it. They must have motivation to buy.
Creativity is a subset or foundation of innovation.
An example: Upcycling.
Upcycling is “reuse.” It converts junk into something of worth. It’s as old as time. “Look. I found this discarded object. Can I change it from a mangle spoon into decorative sculpture?” This is also sometimes referred to as found art. Found art is repurposing something old or free into something new and valued. Imagination is still used.
Building websites from free or open-source components is a form of found art. The found digital elements (objects) might include: free clip art, free photography, open-source themes, plugins and free third-party software or services. These free components may be modified or customized much like an art or photo montage.
Creativity is the inverse of dollars (C=1/$).
The more resources you have the less creativity is need. If you have limited energy, time, or money; then creativity is needed most. For me, setting self-imposed limitations stimulates creativity. For example, a financial budget, a deadline, or no external help (subcontractors or employees). Many have thought me crazy. Why not throw money at the problem and solve it the easy way? Well, for me, there is no challenge or sense of mastery in doing things the easy way. And no new path is discovered. Little or no imagination is required. No sense of clever victory for solving the mental puzzle.
For example, I once wanted to mass produce an adapter for boomstands and digital cameras. The self-imposed limitations were: It used common-standard threads, all parts were black (no reflections and camera-accessory inference), all parts were off-the-shelf, no machining, no drilling, no custom molds, and no cutting or sawing. It had to use simple hand tools for assembly. Was this possible? Yes. It took creativity and searching to live within these limits. Development went through various iterations and experiments over months. There was no time limit but there could have been one made to make things even tougher.
So was it creative, yes. Was it financially successful (innovative)? To a degree, it made some money and had no losses. But it wasn’t widely accepted. Why wasn’t it accepted? It was accepted by hundreds of people. But most people didn’t even know a problem existed. A solution without a problem isn’t usually innovative. You usually need to replace an existing solution that’s more expensive, harder to use, or some other negative.
People with digital cameras weren’t necessarily thinking about how to improve studio still-life photography. With no direct competitor, it’s hard to describe a product.
Henry Ford’s genius wasn’t in inventing the assembly line, interchangeable parts, or the automobile (he didn’t invent any of them). Instead, his initial advantage came from his vision for the first durable mass-market automobile. He adapted the moving assembly line process for the manufacture of automobiles, which allowed him to manufacture, market and sell the Model T at a significantly lower price than his competition, enabling the creation of a new and rapidly growing market.
But in doing so, Henry Ford froze the design of the Model T. Freezing the design of the Model T catalyzed the speed of this positive feedback loop, allowing him to better refine the moving assembly line process, which in turn allowed him to cut costs further, lower prices even further, and drive the growth of Ford Motor Company from 10,000 cars manufactured in 1908 to 472,350 cars in 1915 to 933,720 cars in 1920.
Eventually, this freeze was detrimental when he got competition.
How Good Is Good Enough?
Long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity. Myths about overwork persist because they justify the extreme wealth created for a small group of elite techies.
In 17th-century England, work was lauded as a cure for vice … , but the unrewarding truth just drove workers to drink more.
Millennial workers [will] eventually revolt against the culture of overwork.
The Minimum Viable Product is a strategy of experimentation. A minimum viable product is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development. Seeing what people actually do with respect to a product is much more reliable than asking people what they would do. The primary benefit of an MVP is you can gain understanding about your customers’ interest in your product without fully developing the product. The sooner you can find out whether your product will appeal to customers, the less effort and expense you spend on a product that will not succeed in the market. This helps them avoid working on a product that no one wants.
Prayer as a creativity tool
precarious, meaningless work and a mountain of student loan debt.
Iterative design and compromise MVP
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcXgtki3MlA Peterson on creativity
Jan Tschichold (1902–1974) is a person of interest in the world of graphic design. He worked hard perfecting – or searching for perfection – in various project. One of my favorites was his creation of the Sabon type family in 1964.
Tschichold was a typographer, book designer, teacher and writer.
ONE OF THE THINGS I found fascinating about him was his research of ancient books to find how to divide a page in pleasing proportions. He studied the page layout of ancient monks and Gutenberg’s 9×9 layout and eventually demonstrated the geometry and published about his findings.
I then did an experiment to see what the “grid” would be for 8.5 x 11 inch pages. The dimensions are shown below.
So, you may ask, “What good is this esoteric information for what I’m designing?”
If you are attempting to create a historical theme with a “feeling” of being “old, ancient, or spiritual,” – perhaps even wise – this is a good format. It’s great for storybooks and fairy tales. It may be appropriate for a thematic brochure. The idea is the page layout alone creates a subconscious “reminder” of days gone by. In reality, it’s not “perfect” for every application. But trying it out on your page dimensions can give you new perspective.
“1” Nicole – English (Australia) – young woman
“2” Russell – English (Australia) – tough sounding guy.
“16” Raveena – English (India) – a little more mature woman – intelligent sounding.
“34” Amy – English (UK) – young woman throaty? proper cut-glass sounding
“35” Brian – English (UK) – slow deliberate articulate
“36” Emma – English (UK) – higher timber, younger girlish? sounding Engish
“37” Joanna – English (US) – young woman, no accent, confident voice
“38” Joey – English (US) – slower, deliberate, young man 1.25 speed is better
“39” Salli – English (US) – slow, lower voice tone, young woman
“40” Justin – English (US) – young teen girl, high timbre, early teen sounding
“41” Kendra – English (US) – middle-age woman, lower voice, authoritative
“42” Kimberly – English (US) – middle age, medium timbre
“43” Ivy – English (US) – very high timbre, almost fairy-like girlish
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UgpfSp2t6k (Amy Walker)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NriDTxseog (AMy Wlaker)
if your accent broadens, you start to speak with a more noticeable accent.
cut-glass UK. used about a way of speaking in which words are pronounced very clearly and carefully, in a way that is typical of someone from a high social class: a cut-glass accent.
a slow, lazy way of speaking or an accent with unusually prolonged vowel sounds.
“a Texas drawl”
Estuary English is an English dialect or accent associated with South East England, especially the area along the River Thames and its estuary, centering around London. it has some of the phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of southeastern England.
types: Cockney, Essex, Berkshire
The United States does not have a concrete ‘standard’ accent in the same way that Britain has Received Pronunciation. Nonetheless, a form of speech known to linguists as General American is perceived by many Americans to be “accent-less”, meaning a person who speaks in such a manner does not appear to be from anywhere. The region of the United States that most resembles this is the central Midwest, specifically eastern Nebraska (including Omaha and Lincoln), southern and central Iowa (including Des Moines), parts of Missouri, Ohio and western Illinois (including Peoria and the Quad Cities, but not the Chicago area).
AKA rhotic: relating to or denoting a dialect or variety of English, e.g., Midwestern American English, in which r is pronounced before a consonant (as in hard ) and at the ends of words (as in far ).
Warm, silvery baritone timbre in native British ‘Received Pronunciation’ English similar to actors Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, particularly suited to documentary and narration. Concise, crisp, clear…
British English, RP, warm, friendly, BBC style, with no discernible accent.
Cultural and ethnic American English
African American Vernacular English (Ebonics)
Cajun Vernacular English
Latino Vernacular Englishes
Pennsylvania Dutch English
General American English
General American: the “standard” or “mainstream” spectrum of American English.
Regional and local American English
Eastern New England
Boston and Maine: Greater Boston, including most of eastern Massachusetts
Mid-Atlantic (Delaware Valley)
North Midland: Omaha, Lincoln, Columbia, Springfield, Muncie, Columbus, etc.
South Midland: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis (in transition), Decatur, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton, etc.
Southern Appalachian: Linden, Birmingham, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Asheville, and Greenville
Texas Southern: Lubbock, Odessa, and Dallas
New York City
Inland Northern: Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Western New York, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and most of the U.S. Great Lakes region
Western New England: Connecticut, Hudson Valley, western Massachusetts, and Vermont
North Central (Upper Midwestern): Brockway, Minot, Bismark, Bemidji, Chisholm, Duluth, Marquette, etc.
Upper Peninsula of Michigan (“Yooper”)
Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh)
to talk posh:
means that she speaks with an accent which is of a higher class to her natural accent. It could also mean that she phrases things in a different way to how she would normally say things, for example by using impressive or long words and avoiding slang.
classified as a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto (alto) if you are a woman, and a countertenor, tenor, baritone, or bass if you are a man.
voice for women is a better indicator of age than voice type
weight – light voices, bright and agile; heavy voices, powerful, rich, and darker
timbre or color – unique voice quality and texture
The podcast is a relatively new form of media that has truly revolutionized the world of the spoken word. Thanks to the development of the podcast, listeners can now access interesting and important information on a wide array of topics from wherever they happen to have smartphones or other mobile devices. The amazing vocal artists at Voices.com know how to take material on any subject and turn it into a fascinating podcast. It won’t be long before your listeners are clamoring for more!
Ready-to-use Voice Talent
No editing required.
Unlimited, no word-count limitations.
PODCASTS – OPENER AND CLOSER
2 x 15 seconds or less cost $100 free
Minimum audio book: $280 free
How many words does a voice talent read per minute? As a general guide; reading slow – 100, regular – 150, fast – 200.
Estimates – 300 words = 2 minutes | 900 words = 5 mins | 1,800 words = 10 mins | 2,750 = 15 mins | 3,500 = 20 mins | 5,500 = 30 mins | 7,500 = 45 mins | 9,500 = 60 mins
10 Types of Voice Over Styles
Voice over artists can work in many different industries. This is what makes the work of voice over artists so exciting. In each industry, voice over artists must have a voice over style. The following are 10 types of voice over styles to be aware of when seeking work in this industry or looking for an artist for your project.
According to Edge Studio Voice Over Industry Center, about 8 percent of voice over artists work in television commercials. It’s a small part of the industry, but it can be the most lucrative. Breaking into this market means opening the possibility of getting more commercials, and soon your voice is well known among producers.
Most voice over artists work in narration; it makes up most of their income. Actually, 92 percent of voice over artist’s work comes from narration. Usually, this work comprises of making audiobooks.
Voice over artists work as announcers. They can work for airports, stadiums, train stations, malls, and other large public places.
Similar to the narration field, voice over artists work in biography by telling the life stories of celebrities and politicians. They can work in biography films by telling the stories of the people in them.
Character and animation work is fun for many voice over artists. They must speak like a child to make toys talk or cartoons come alive. Character/Animation voice over artists often work as narrators for children’s books, videos and video games.
Voice over artists work in the corporate world. They are the voices in training videos, promotional material and human resources videos. They also work for trade shows as announcers.
Business owners are now seeking voice over artists to explain what they are selling and how to use their website. Voice over artists create videos for website tours, banner ads, and online tutorials.
A voice over artist with a motivating voice can be perfect for an exercise or inspiration video. This voice is calm, soothing, and powerful in a peaceful way.
Like voice over artists who work in the corporate world, those working in education are in training and educational videos. They can work for schools, universities, and other educational institutions.
Some films are not biographies, but they still want a voice over to explain what is going on in the scenes. Voice over artists can have a large or small part in these films.
This is just 10 of the most types of voice over styles available. As you probably noticed, some of them overlap. As you’re looking to choose a style of your own, consider these options. If you’re seeking a voice over artist for your project, now you know which style to request.
Contact me today by phone or email for more information about my experience in these types of voice over styles. I would love to work with you on your voice over project.
1. Instructor (formal, didactic voice over)
2. Real Person (informal voice over)
3. Spokesperson (advocate, authoritative voice over)
4. Narrator (omniscient storyteller)
5. Announcer (sets the stage and calls for action)
Let’s explore these types of character roles in detail.
When teaching someone on what to do, for example, a corporate training video or children’s game, the voice over best suited for this kind of project is a straightforward, didactic and educated voice. The role of this particular voice talent is to instruct or provide information to fulfill a specific goal or purpose.
2. Real Person
Projects requiring a more casual approach often benefit from relatable, genuine voice overs. These voice overs are referred to as “Real Person” voice overs, commonly known as the “regular guy” or the “girl next door”. The character is homegrown, sensible, and friendly with a touch of familiarity and provides a more intimate interpretation that instills trust.
A Spokesperson can be on camera or off camera depending on the medium you are using. The role of a spokesperson is generally played by a confident, charismatic person able to promote a cause, product, or service with ease and authority. A voice over of this nature needs to be driven, optimistic and assured.
Storytelling is where the Narrator is most at home. Omniscient, courteous and honest, a Narrator’s job is to provide an audio landscape for a listener, briefing them on background information, posing questions, and providing solutions as they guide their audience through a program or documentary. Narrators can be male or female, and the most important factors are that they can communicate clearly and engagingly.
The Announcer, often heard live at events, on commercials, promos or introducing segments for podcasts, is a product of the broadcast age, most celebrated at its height in the Golden Age of Radio and early television broadcasts. Announcers can introduce an idea and assertively make a call for action at the conclusion of a commercial advertisement or short video. One common misconception is that an announcer has to sound like an announcer from decades ago, however modern announcers act more like Narrators, and in many cases, adopt the Real Person approach.
Here are some of the best voice over markets to find work:
Narration: Narration makes up a huge portion of voice over work. For many in the voice talent industry, narration voice overs comprise the majority of their work. There is a lot of work out there in the form of recording audiobooks.
Commercials: Voice over work for commercials is a smaller industry. Estimates show that only around 8 percent of voice over actors find work in commercials. But we’ve added it to the shortlist because of how lucrative the commercial industry can be.
Announcement: Ever wondered whose voice you’re hearing in airports, stadiums, malls, and other large public spaces? In many cases these recordings are the work of a voice over artist.
Corporate: The corporate world has plenty of need for voice over work. You have training videos, human resources material, or similar such material that warrant the need for voice over talent.
Education: There is a seemingly endless need for schools, universities and educational institutions in the form of voice over work. In this realm you can expect your voice over work to cover training and educational videos.
if your narration demo is simply tagged “narration,” it won’t show up in as many search results as a demo that is tagged “corporate, warm, trustworthy.” If the system can’t tell what you offer, it won’t know what auditions to put in your inbox! Beef up your profile with specifics on your vocal age range, styles (perky mom, corporate trainer, casual best friend), and tones (friendly, sympathetic, wry, sincere, etc.). These same descriptors need to be on your website, and ideally will be reflected in the overall look of your logo and website design.
Tips and Tricks
native voice actor is the unquestionable answer in order to make a trustworthy explainer video. Make your video native by speaking in regional language if necessary.
Using silence in the right places.
I’m still seeing Lato. How long does the CDN take to refresh with new changes? I’ll keep trying.
Meanwhile, I have other information to share.
Attached is a screengrab of a page under test: http://tearelabs.com/last-rocket/ This is a page with one graphic header and about 7,500 words of content. It is a short story. I’m using the voice #2 Russell an Aussie accent.
What it tells us in when a player (Speechkit.io) is installed, performance (speed) is borderline mediocre for mobile. Google estimates their will be a 20 percent visitor loss dues to loading time. More on that in a minute.
I’ve thought about your question as to how much a service like this is worth or how much would I pay for it. Here’s my observations based on experience and intuition.
Market size: The WordPress world is big. But not as big as Automattic claims. There are bloggers who debate the accuracy of the reported number of sites actually using WordPress. Half the users are North American. The rest tend toward usage by English speaking countries. Automattic claims over 30 percent of the web is using their CMS. This statistic is regurgitated over and over by unknowing and apathetic reporting.
Automatic’s estimates are inflated by sampling the better “creme” from their own trough. More realistic estimates from other sources say perhaps best-case 15 to 19 percent of the web is using WordPress. 77 million blogs are hosted on WordPress.com. It’s estimated that half are abandoned and still floating as Internet zombies. This artificially inflates user numbers.
But the majority of users appear to be bloggers who are self-publishing their ideas, philosophies, stories, and information.
75 percent of the domains registered in the US are speculative reselling. They are unused waiting for purchasers (suckers) to need or want them. This also inflates or skew statistical reporting of the size of the Internet.
My experience is that 99 percent of WordPress users expect all things word press to be free. Free plugins. Free themes. Free CMS. Even free images and graphics.
How to monetize your plugin? Can a company make money using a freemium plugin? Unknown. Three things are necessary:
1. The plugin must solve a niche problem or need.
2. The niche must have a community (AKA The List). This is the method of communicating with them.
3. The offer must be good. That includes terms of sale, specifications, duration of service, price, and service (and probably more).
So there things: need, list, offer.
You’ll notice that didn’t include branding or logos or any other expressive decoration. While I am a designer at heart, you can get those things “out of a can” or “off the shelf” nowadays that are sufficient for starting or testing. Don’t waste money on this stuff. Save your resources for other more valuable things.
My gut says your plugin should be classified as a competition to voiceover talent especially those focused on podcasting (online platforms). the growth rate of this industry is 35 percent by the end of 2024.
You are pricing against live voice over talent. And the BIG need you fill is optimization of digital mobile user experience. And would be described as a marketing automation product.
Voice over talent (or actors) is used for various mediums and deliverables but those I feel your plugin is best suited for include: E-learning, Podcasts and Audiobooks: Mixed Messages. Podcasts and audiobooks continue to be mediums that stir interest, but seem to lose participants just as fast as they gain them.
In the US: Voice Over market is I quote:
Gen X and Millennials are the Top Focus.
Buying power: Overwhelmingly, Gen X (35- 64 yrs old) and Millennials (18 – 34 yrs old) fall within the bullseye that media is targeting. Interestingly, Gen X (54%) is slightly ahead of Millennials (40%).
Meanwhile, Gen Z is still emerging at 3%, while Baby Boomers and the Great Generation are balancing out the scales at the other end of the spectrum, with 2% and 1% respectively.
Buyers: The vast majority of the respondents opted for a voice actor who could sound like a peer (73% want a ‘same age’ voice).
Increasingly, this peer must clearly represent diversity – so their voice, and the brand they’re voicing by extension, can be perceived as relevant, no matter where in the world the message is sent.
The Conversational Persona is Dominating Personas that are approachable and conversational in nature have risen significantly in popularity. The ‘executive’ persona, which is professional and friendly, has risen in popularity by 102%, and the Girl Next Door had become 48% more popular in 2016 compared to 2015.
The conversational ‘type’ of persona includes those such as ‘everyman, mother, narrator and storyteller.’
The announcer persona is dwarfed in comparison.
The Most Desirable Vocal Qualities
A persona that held authority, while remaining approachable, friendly, warm, and informative.
In essence, this persona embodied the qualities that most characterize as ‘conversational, a voice that speaks to the listener as a peer – albeit, a peer with the clout of an expert.
The new type of voice that everyone will be hearing in 2017 is one that isn’t perfect; it’s slightly flawed and more real, like that of your best friend. It’s the guy or girl next door. It’s genuine, and sounds nothing like a celebrity endorsement.
At the same time, 14% share that they are increasingly needing a more neutral sound, perhaps so as not to alienate anyone in a larger customer base. 40% report no change at all (that is, they’re still needing neutral English). The rest simply don’t worry about this.
While Amazon Alexa (26 percent of voice-first users) has done well for “reading” news and podcast applications, are the they one to compete against? Essentially you are turning any browser into an Alexa competitor.
Many of these applications allow users to download podcasts or stream them on demand as an alternative to downloading. Many podcast players (apps as well as dedicated devices) allow listeners to skip around the podcast and control the playback speed.
Podcasts are usually free of charge to listeners and can often be created for little to no cost, which sets them apart from the traditional model of “gate-kept” media and production tools.
Podcast creators can monetize their podcasts by allowing companies to purchase ad time, as well as via sites such a Patreon, which provides special extras and content to listeners for a fee. It is very much a horizontal media form: producers are consumers, consumers may become producers, and both can engage in conversations with each other.
Podcasting, once an obscure method of spreading information, has become a recognized medium for distributing audio content, whether for corporate or personal use. Podcasts are similar to radio programs, but they are audio files. Listeners can play them at their convenience, using devices that have become more common than portable broadcast receivers.
On November 16, 2006, the Apple Trademark Department stated that Apple does not object to third-party usage of “the generic term” “podcast” to refer to podcasting services.
A podcast novel (also known as a serialized audiobook or podcast audiobook) is a literary format that combines the concepts of a podcast and an audiobook. Like a traditional novel, a podcast novel is a work of long literary fiction; however, this form of the novel is recorded into episodes that are delivered online over a period of time and in the end available as a complete work for download. The episodes may be delivered automatically via RSS, through a website, blog, or another syndication method. These files are either listened to directly on a user’s computer or loaded onto a portable media device to be listened to later.
The types of novels that are podcasted vary from new works from new authors that have never been printed, to well-established authors that have been around for years, to classic works of literature that have been in print for over a century. In the same style as an audiobook, podcast novels may be elaborately narrated with separate voice actors for each character and sound effects, similar to a radio play. Other podcast novels have a single narrator reading the text of the story with little or no sound effects.
Podcast novels are distributed over the Internet, commonly on a weblog. Podcast novels are released in episodes on a regular schedule (e.g., once a week) or irregularly as each episode is released when completed. They can either be downloaded manually from a website or blog or be delivered automatically via RSS or another method of syndication. Ultimately, a serialized podcast novel becomes a completed audiobook.
Some podcast novelists give away a free podcast version of their book as a form of promotion. Some such novelists have even secured publishing contracts to have their novels printed. Podcast novelists have commented that podcasting their novels lets them build audiences even if they cannot get a publisher to buy their books. These audiences then make it easier to secure a printing deal with a publisher at a later date. These podcast novelists also claim the exposure that releasing a free podcast gains them makes up for the fact that they are giving away their work for free.
The advent of user-generated content marked a shift among media organizations from creating online content to providing facilities for amateurs to publish their own content.
Mobile Knowledge Transfer: Podcasting is also used by corporations to disseminate information faster and more easily. It can be seen as a further development of Rapid E-Learning as the content can be created fast and without much effort. Learners can learn in idle times which saves time and money for them and the organizations. Audio podcasts can be used during other activities like driving a car, or traveling by train/bus. A group often targeted is the salesforce, as they are highly mobile. There podcasting can be used for sales enablement (see case study) with the goal of having the sales employee aware and knowledgeable on the companies products, processes, initiatives etc. An often-used format is expert interviews with statements of experienced role models to bring across also informal/tacit knowledge.
Professional Development: Professional development podcasts exist for educators. Some podcasts may be general in nature or may be slightly more specific and focus on the use of interactive white boards in the classroom.
Fiction. Podcasts like Escape Pod are used to distribute short stories in audiobook format. Other podcasts distribute stories in the format of radio drama.
Podcasting as a Business Content Marketing Strategy. Podcasts create brand fanatics, people who are deeply invested in who podcasters are as people and as business professionals. This is essence of long-form content marketing. Every minute that a customer or prospect listens to a podcaster speak with authority the podcaster is establishing themselves as a thought-leader. Conceptually the more time an audience spends with the podcasters content the more authority the podcaster will acquire.
Today there are more than 115,000 English-language podcasts available on the internet, and dozens of websites available for distribution at little or no cost to the producer or listener.
(AudioFeast shut down its service in July 2005 due to the unwillingness of its free customers to pay for its $49.95 paid annual subscription service, and a lack of a strong competitive differentiation in the market with the emergence of free RSS podcatchers.)
In March 2007 after being On Air talent and being fired from KYSR (STAR) in Los Angeles, Ca. Jack and Stench started their own subscription based podcast. At $5.00 per subscription, their loyal fans had access to a one-hour podcast, free of any commercials. They have had free local events at bars, ice cream parlors and restaurants all around Southern California. With a successful run of 5 years and over 1200 podcasts (as of March 2012) The Jack and Stench show is among the longest running monetized podcasts.
The BBC noted in 2011 that more people (eight million in the UK or about 16% of the population, with half listening at least once a week – a similar proportion to the USA) had downloaded podcasts than used Twitter.
For example, podcasting has been picked up by some print media outlets, which supply their readers with spoken versions of their content.
Although firm business models have yet to be established, podcasting represents a chance to bring additional revenue to a newspaper through advertising, subscription fees and licensing.
Veteran podcaster Gary Leland joined forces with Dan Franks and Jared Easley to form a new international conference for podcasters in early 2014 called Podcast Movement. Unlike other new media events, Podcast Movement was the first conference of its size in over a decade that was focused specifically on podcasting, and has tracks for both new and experienced podcast creators, as well as industry professionals. The fourth annual conference is scheduled for August 2017 in Anaheim, California.
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“I am going to count from ten to one, and as I am counting, I want you to
concentrate on becoming more comfortable and more relaxed. If at any
moment, you feel like coughing, laughing, passing gas, scratching or moving
in any way so that you are more comfortable than you currently are, do it.
As in life, if something is bothering you, fix it, and it will immediately
go away and stop bothering you.
“For a moment here, I want you to move all your toes, then move your
ankles, then flex your legs at your knees, and then your legs at your hips.
Take a deep breath and then exhale fully. Now move and rotate your neck.
Roll your eyes. Smile. Now move and rotate your arms at your shoulders.
Now move at the elbows. Now at move and rotate at your wrists. Now move
all your fingers.
“Good. By moving these muscles, your body applied electrical energy which
cause the muscles to tension. This gives you something you can feel, and
now, as you are here, you are feeling these muscles relax … feeling that
electrical energy lessening from the muscles. This relaxation feels really
“Let us begin. If your eyes are not already closed, please close them
“Ten, just concentrate on relaxing your feet. Let all the muscles in your
feet feel really comfortable. You are letting them be comfortable. Let all
the muscles in your toes feel very loose and limp; very relaxed. You can
only hear my voice. And this wonderful wave of relaxing pleasure runs all
the way down your ankles, past your heels, all the way down to your toes.
Very relaxed and very comfortable.
“Nine, now just relax your leg muscles, knees, thighs, and shins. Don’t
worry about your feet. Just let all of the muscles in your legs get very
loose and limp; very comfortable and very, very relaxed. Very relaxed. Let
your thigh muscles relax. Let all the muscles in your shins get very loose.
And this wonderful wave of relaxing pleasure runs down your legs, past your
knees, past your ankles, all the way down to your toes. Very relaxed, and
very, very comfortable.
“At eight, relax your neck, back, chest and stomach muscles. Take a really
deep breath … and as you exhale, feel how your body naturally relaxes. It’s
a good feeling. Let all the muscles in your neck feel really loose. You
can only hear my voice. Let your stomach muscles feel very, very relaxed.
And this wonderful wave of relaxing pleasure splashes onto your neck, then
runs down your back, past your chest, past your waist, past your knees,
past your ankles, all the way down to your toes. Very relaxed, and very,
“Seven. Now relax your arms, hands, and all your fingers. Let all the
muscles in your fingers relax. If something is bothering you, fix it and
become more comfortable. Let all the muscles in your arms feel really
comfortable. And this wonderful wave of relaxing pleasure comes in from
your fingertips, pushing all of the stress and fatigue out of your body. It
feels so good. It comes up your arms, splashing on your neck, running down
your back, down your legs, all the way down to your toes. Very relaxed and
very, very comfortable.
“Six. You might feel like you are awake, like you are not hypnotized, but,
for some reason, you are very relaxed. If you feel this, this is what
hypnosis actually feels like. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it. You
might feel like millions of cotton balls gently pressing down all over. If
you feel this, this is gravity. Don’t worry about it. I want you to
imagine that you’re floating down on a cloud. The farther down you float,
the more relaxed you get. The more relaxed you get, the better you feel,
and the better you feel causes you to float down even more. Always getting
more relaxed. Always feeling better. Always floating farther and farther
“Five. Your feet and your legs feel great, just the way they are. Take a
really deep breath. And you find that you can only hear my voice.
“Four. As you exhale, relax. Your neck, back, chest, and stomach muscles
feel really good, just the way they are. Your arms, hands and your fingers
feel just fine, just the way they are.
“Three. And you are floating even farther down, always more relaxed. The
more relaxed you get, the better you feel, and now you are feeling really
“Two. And you will remember everything you choose to remember. To forget
means you know something and then have to black the thought out. On the
other hand, it is so easy to not remember some things, like losing your
keys. We will try to remember things you have had to forget, and if need
be, make them so that you just don’t remember them. Take a deep
breath … and relax …
“Now, in your mind’s eye, I want you to find yourself in a most vividly
imagined place. This is an exercise in imagination, and the more details
you allow yourself to see, the deeper you will get into a subconscious
state. I want you to find yourself in the middle of a safe and wide open
field. This is more a valley. There are trees on the hills around it.
There’s a stream that’s a safe distance away with a bridge. There’s a
house in the distance. I want you to look around and tell me about
everything you see, and as you do so, allow your imagination to add
infinite details, so as to make this more real … so much more real than
“Look at the stream. What do you see?”
“You have a cup with you. What does the water taste like?”
“There’s someone you recognize coming out of the house. Who is it?”
“You enter the house and smell something cooking in the Kitchen. What is
“As you go out the back door of the place, you find yourself in a room with
white walls, florescent lighting, a white vinyl floor, and in the middle of
the room, a garbage can with a hinged, though tight fitting, lid. As you
lift the lid and look inside, you see it’s absolutely clean. Looking to
the wall, you see a friendly looking red button, much like you would find
on an arcade video game, and as you press it, you hear a light squeak from
inside the garbage can.
“As you now look inside the can, you see that there is an electric elevator
lift inside it. You climb in and press the down button, and it takes you
to a well lit concrete basement room. It’s clean and huge, going on for
many hundred feet in all directions. This is the place where you will now
move each and every memory that bothers you. By moving any memory here,
you will have the ability to retrieve it at any time, but until you need
it, you will find that you will effortlessly not remember anything you
place here, and so, by not remembering it, you will have control over the
memory … and it will never affect you in any way ever again.
“Take the lift back up and climb out of the can.
In your mind, you find yourself relaxing in a most comfortable chair and
watching a TV show about your life. Notice, as you are sitting here, there
is a remote control in your hand, and on this remote you will notice a big
red button, similar to the one on the wall. This button, upon pushing it,
will allow you to take the memory that you are seeing on the television
screen and placing it, by your choice, into the garbage can as a memory
that you do not want to remember.
By going back in your life’s memory, find yourself watching the point of
where, in your life, this was the first time where something happened to
you, in your life, that you disliked the memory enough to try to black it
out, that you wish had never happened to you, and you have done everything
that you can to forget it. So, as you press and hold down the red button,
the tape backs up a bit and you find yourself at the beginning of this
experience. For this moment, we will call this, “The Beginning.” Using
your current age in life state of mind (CAILSOM), review what happened in
this experience without actually reliving the experience, so as to analyze
exactly why you wanted to black it out. Now, using your wisdom, I want you
now to see if you can come up with a different way to deal with this
situation, starting at “The Beginning,” so that you stop forgetting the
memory, and, instead, move the original memory into the garbage can, while
replacing it with this new, revised way to handle this memory.
As you release the red button, the garbage can, which is an automated
system, places this memory into it. Immediately after you release the
button, you find that you are released from the memory. The original
world of this memory will forever be lifted off your shoulders. For a
moment, give yourself forgiveness for having held this memory against
yourself for so long, and if you need to, cry, but instantly feel courage
to push the fast forward button, which will take you now to the next such
memory that you have tried to forget or wish had never happened to you, so
you can tackle next memory … and the next and next … in this manner, until
you reach that point in time where we are now at this age, at your age,
that age you were when we began this session. This will happen faster
and faster until all you have to do is press and release the red button.
Raise your left hand when you’re done.”
“Lower your left hand. Okay, now, on your remote, I want you to push the
rewind button, which takes you instantly to the beginning of your life
memory, and now, I want to introduce you to the blue button. This time
through your entire life memory, press and release the fast forward button.
It will automatically stop at each time in your memory wherein you felt
guilt or fear. Guilt is typically someone else’s value structure that is
superimposed over your own. Fear is often a reactive state. So, by using
blue button, your mind will automatically invent a proactive way to deal
with the memories of these situations using your CAILSOM. What you will do
is press and hold the blue button when you come to a memory wherein you
ever felt guilt or fear. As you analyze the TV’s story of what happened to
cause you to feel guilt or fear, and, then, the tape will go back to the
beginning of this current blue button experience and, this time, using
your CAILSOM, you will create an alternative decision on how you would,
right here and right now, deal with this situation, so as to conclude
without feeling either guilt or fear, and instead enact the choice of
having learned something, and subsequently, forever more, to turn off the
guilt and fear. This is your life … you are in total control. So, as you
release the blue button, your mind will automatically place that guilt-
inducing or fear-inducing memory into the garbage can and replace this
newly revised version into your life memory. This will happen faster and
faster until all you have to do is press and release the blue button.
Raise your right hand when you’re done.”
“Lower your right hand. Okay, now I want you to go back to the first time
something wonderful happened to you. I want you to relive this memory as
if it is happening to you right now. When that memory is through, go to
the next and next, so you refresh and relive your entire, wonderful life.
Wave your left hand when you’re done.”
“You can stop waving your left hand. Now that you have taken control over
your life memory, let your self-esteem increase. You’re worth it. You
have nothing from which to fear anymore. Those memories which controlled
you … are now controlled by you. They are safely away. Build your self-
esteem and self-love. Forgive yourself for any self-deflating fear or
emotions you have had. You don’t need them anymore. You’re stronger than
From now on, if anyone ever says anything or does anything to hurt you, the
very instant you realize they are intentionally doing so is the instant you
realize that they are not that important at this moment. Be careful with
this. Learn what you choose to learn from the experience, if you believe
the criticism to be constructive, and immediately adapt whatever lessons
you feel the need to act upon, but if the person is being hyper-critical or
abusive, you will notice that suddenly everything else in the room is far
more important and so you hear everything except whatever is being said by
this person. However, in all cases, you are responsible for your own
actions, so be wary of your choices.
“Through this process, you have set up a series of mental machines, or, if
you will, computer programs for your mind, that you have used to process
information which you have stored. You will find that they will serve you
now for the rest of your life, just as you have used them today, so that
instead of having a reactive existence, you will have a proactive
existence, and your life will go along more smoothly, for you will be able
to digest any situation at your leisure, that no one can ever bother you,
and you will no longer be giving up control in any way. You have total
control, but at your leisure.
There is one last routine you need to run. Once again, I want you to
imagine a TV screen with the face of the person about whom you have the
strongest hate memories. In your hand is a remote control, and on the
remote is a friendly looking green button that reads “Clear all.” When you
press and hold the button, all feelings you have for this person are
forever removed so that you have no feelings for this person at all as well
as no memories of this person, ever. No positive emotions, no negative
emotions, no feelings whatsoever. It’s not that you’re numb, its just
that, through their own action, they must be returned to that group of
people whom you don’t know and don’t want to know. As soon as you release
the green button, that face disappears and is replaced with the next person
for whom you have either only hate or both love and hate feelings. As you
look in their eyes and see them, then press and release the green button.
Automatically, you will eliminate them from your life, from all memories,
ever. Wave your right hand when you are done.
You can stop waving your right hand. From now on, if you meet any of these
people, you will treat them as if you are meeting someone new, and though
you will have this flag to remind you that you don’t want to know this
person, at least you’re in control over yourself and they will have no
emotional impact on you whatsoever, for they have earned the distinction of
being unworthy of your love, of your life, and of your memories.
“From now on, let yourself enjoy life, one moment at a time. Take time to
look at the clouds and let your imagination go. Be a kid again, and let
your heart be free. This being a grown up concept is for the birds. You
can be mature without being ancient. Live a little … heck, live a lot. At
any time that you want, squeeze your fist for a moment and turn up your
happiness. You’re in such control, you don’t even need to squeeze your
fist … just do it. Your emotions are at your control … not the other way
“Through this process, you have spent time reorganizing the way you process
information. It will come to you, as it always has, but now you can relax,
identify it, digest it, process it, and live it. You’re safer for you
will, by your own will, be a new person, not because someone told you to
be, but because you read through the script, you edited it to your wants
and desires, you found someone you trusted to help you do the session, or
made this tape, if this is an audio tape of your own making, and you know
that this is what you want. You are in control of the best part of you.
“I want you to set a key word. This word can only be used by you,
internally. The only way this word can work is for you to take a deep
breath … then take a couple normal breaths … and when you choose to take a
second deep breath, you say this word as you exhale. As you say this word,
to yourself, you will immediately close your eyes and slip down into a
deep, relaxing sleep, all the way to as far down as you are currently rested … or
even further. Every time you do this form of self-relaxation … self-hypnosis … meditation … or whatever word makes you feel better … you find
that you can go even deeper than you did the last time.
“No one can ever speak this word to you and have any effect upon you. Let
us set this word now … and the word is ‘Soma.’ ”
I am relaxed.
“Okay, now I am going to count from five to one. When I get to one, you
will totally awaken from this place, this state of mind, and you will feel
energized, you will feel love, you will feel great joy and happiness, and
it’s all because you simply want to feel that way.
Rocket fuel stank up the air. Amazing it didn’t explode in the boiling heat. It evaporated too fast. I couldn’t smell the chemicals but I knew they were there. I observed the scintillation of vapor near the rocket fuel tankers. My metallic sun-suit processed cool-air inside preserving me from sizzling death and poisons. My suit reflected a brilliant glare from an enormous, sky-born fireball. It filled the sky. The killer sun.
Planet Solstice – or Longday – to former inhabitants. It slowly slid into the deadly gravitational pull of it’s blazing sun. It took eons, of course. But now heat and poisonous gas on the planet surface were unlivable. The ground once fertile and covered by vegetation now baked dry and cracked. Every visible thing cooked dark brown or black. Except for white reflections glinting off sun suits and metal – and the last rocket. Drab and lifeless planet, I thought.
Automated robot loaders were lumbering. The squat, heavy robots appeared more like military tanks than any intelligence. The last rocket’s robot crew struggled conveying salvage cargo preparing to remove us from this inferno. It’s like hell I imagined. Former lakes and rivers evaporated. Bony skeletons of large fish. Their flesh decayed with shriveled scales. Smaller fish mere dust marks of discoloration in the cracked orange powder. There were no birds, no ground creatures, no plants. Scientists claimed primitive life dwelt deep beneath the surface. But no one ever measured or saw anything. It was theoretical. Hard to believe a creature might survive. Perhaps there existed liquid – somewhere. Perhaps.
The last survivors drilled in vain for water. None located. The drills could go no deeper. The project abandoned and planetary evacuation commenced. I am a driller. Millennium from now, when this cursed planet eventually explodes, will shrieking buried life cry out in desperation? Never heard in the quiet of burning space. I felt sad for them, if they existed. All life precious. Even if suffering in pain.
There were only a half dozen passengers. We all knew each other. But I didn’t recognize a new individual – a female. Hard to distinguish gender in these bulky suits. But her smaller size and frame with a tight belt around the waist revealed the fact. I couldn’t make out her flight suit’s name tag. But it was military colors. Still some military personnel left on this space lump? Odd. She must’ve landed aboard the rocket. Trained military occupied the first rockets out of here. Well workers – like me – left last to disconnect the final power systems for loading. My mind persisted; curious. She must be in Intelligence, I thought. Final witness for the last moments of this doomed planet’s occupied history?
I’d been on Longday three years. I was single. Three years. I was lonely. Is she alone? Don’t be stupid. You can’t even see through the reflecting glare on her visor. Does she see me? The sun was roasting. Normal rocket takeoffs were in the dark of night. But this was the last one, no ground power to light the area. All salvageable equipment removed. It must occur during the daytime.
Daytime departure meant a more dangerous leaving. Anything could explode – including my suit. Suit accidents happen. One minute your buddy’s there. The next minute, he’s pink vapor. I looked over the small band examining for sun-suit leaks. A leak was death. My eye caught something. The new young woman’s suit – small puffs of vapor were out-gassing from her suit. Where was the point of origin?
She sensed it now. The air heating up in her suit. The suit showed a slight swelling. She twisted and bent frantic to find the small slash. Like a pinhole in foil. That’s all it took. She’d be dead in moments. I reached in my refrigerated side pack and pulled out a roll of adhesive. I snapped off a hands-length piece and slapped it against her inner left thigh. The leak stopped and the adhesive instantly cured hard in the heat. I knelt for a moment in her shadow. I looked up through the visor glass and saw her warm brown eyes. They weren’t fearful. I saw kindness. I hadn’t seen that expression in – well – over three years.
Her communication link came on. “Cowboy, watch the hands,” she said. I smiled. I saved her life – and she made a joke.
“This cowboy’s name is Jackson,” I said.
“Pleased to meet you Jackson. Is that your first name – or your last?”
I hadn’t used my first name for over three years!
“Sorry. My name’s Guy Jackson. Please, call me Guy.”
Others in the small group were now attentive as they stepped back a few paces. A sun-suit explosion could ignite someone else’s suit.
“All your friends are giving us privacy,” she joked again.
“All passengers must board now,” barked a mechanical robot voice through the comm-link. Everyone hustled forward anxious to escape this planet. There I still knelt – her shadow gone.
I didn’t even know her name yet. She saw the life-threatening danger – with no panic. But she didn’t stick around to make conversation. Why was she here? Yes. I grew more curious. Three years instilled a burning curiosity in a man.
I stood and glanced one last time around the dying planet. I wished I could save it – but it was too late. I turned and boarded the shining rocket. Goodbye and farewell.
The windowless rocket interior was a cylindrical cigar-like tube. Some odd music played through the comm-link. I’d never heard it before. Three years away from popular music? Of course.
Seats for twenty people on each side ran lengthwise attached to the outer curved walls. Too many seats for this small passenger list. The dim lights flickered. The humming main engine was hot. There were six of us. Myself; the driller. Ramirez; the mechanic. Winkler; the cook. Fisher; the toxicologist. And Schmidt, the scientist – and of course, the mysterious brown-eyed young woman. Robots sealed lifeless in the back cargo area. There were no pilots. Everything was computer controlled. Automated flight plan.
I noticed the new young woman strapped into the farthest most seat. About 5 times the length of my sleeping bunk on Longday. Twelve paces away. Alone time was what she wanted? Not approachable on this trip. Lonely, I plunked into the seat nearest the heavy boarding door and locked my shoulder straps. The door slammed shut. The remaining four others were milling around in the center floor of the rocket. It lurched forward. And jerked again. The unexpected motion threw those standing to the floor. Without warning, the engine roared to life and we sailed off in a fast spinning spiral. Bodies and gear flew outward from wild G-force. Winkler’s helmet cracked open and he gasped struggling for his last air. The cabin hadn’t pressurized.
Impaled on the ceiling sensor shaft, Ramirez swore some crude Spanish in the comm-link. He bled copious amounts. The red fluid spread outward against the curved ceiling – like puke in a spinning carnival ride. Pinned in place like a butterfly.
The rocket soared vertical now. And – bad news – the power snuffed out. Everything. Lights, engines, life support. All off. The instant drop made my stomach jump in my throat. Overbearing G-force pulling me into my seat. We plummeted nose down spinning again toward Longday’s rock-hard surface. I fought blackout.
Ramirez and Winkler were dead. Fisher and Schmidt’s bodies tossed like rolling limp rag dolls. Blood covered the inside of their visors. Endless slamming back and forth from wall to wall. Rotating like wet flesh bags of slurry in a wild cement mixer. I braced for impact. Counting the seconds. Soon I’d be dead.
The rocket collided upside down. The crashed tube distorted and the doors blew out like explosives. The mangled rocket bounced upward for the height of a well tower. Then fell lifeless shuddering against stone. Sliding in loose sand and rock. The surface heat blast and toxic atmosphere roared inside. Death!
Upside down, I snapped loose the harness straps. I dropped and slid in blood. I sprawled dizzy – sliding across the former ceiling toward what I sought – the young woman. Was she alive – or dead? My suit was still intact. Was hers? Her helmet hung down limp but attached. She slumped against the straps. I popped loose the belts and lowered her to the former-ceiling now an upside-down floor. Her suit held together. I hefted her unconscious over one shoulder and inched toward the door – and the blazing light. Not much time until we expired. But – I grimaced – dying together was better.
Ironic. So close to it’s own sun and still freezing as the planet rotated. Night was only made bearable by the residual heat radiating from rock and sand. Our desperate situation: nowhere near shelter, power, or water. I lay the brown-eyed young woman gently in coarse red sand. Her eyes remained closed but she was still breathing. She’d live.
I returned to the ship to scavenge supplies. The four crumpled bodies were motionless. But I checked for life signs to be sure. All dead. I found a supply of water bottles – and stole Fisher’s candy. He didn’t need it.
Back in the cargo hold, I started one of the boxy robots. They were more like clunky vehicles than human form. Strapped upside down in the rocket, the problem was dropping the massive robot. It could cause robot damage – or crush me. I pulled a knife from my sidepack and flicked it open. A few slices and the robot crashed upside down and rolled on it’s side. It was too heavy to upright. “Right yourself!” I commanded. It flopped and struggled. I kicked it and finally strained levering it right-side up with a broken support beam.
I crawled inside a small panel to an opening inside the robot and commanded it again, “Forward!” This time it lunged through the damaged rocket wall like a sharp bottle opener. It teetered and then stabilized on the steep slope. “Stop and remain,” I said. “Acknowledged,” it replied in a smooth female voice. It shocked me. Never heard a female robot before. New experience.
I went back through the ragged hole and came crashing back with the other robot. They both still worked. It was a miracle. These two could provide metal muscle to cross some distance. To where? I had no idea. But it was reassuring. How long their power cells lasted? I returned to the wreck and got as many spares as I could locate. I piled them on top of the robots.
I examined my companion on the ground. She moved an arm. I scrutinized her name tag: Thomas. That’s a start, I thought. “Thomas, can you hear me?” I said through the comm-link. Her eyes fluttered open. The previous kindness was gone. She squinted at me and scowled, “What’s happening?”
“We’ve crashed. Everyone’s dead. But you and I – and two lucky cargo robots,” I said.
She was silent.
“Did you hear me? Is your comm working OK?”
“My comm is fine. Where are we?” Our mutual desperate situation was soaking in.
“No clue. Surface of Longday. But I couldn’t tell you where.”
I noticed the radioactive detector flash on her suit. But, odd, not mine.
“What’s up with your suit?” I asked. Pointing at the blinking red light.
She glanced at it, puzzled. And nodded as if connecting the mental dots.
“I must have sat closest to the bomb,” she said.
“Bomb? Radiation?” I asked.
“Yes. We weren’t supposed to leave this floating rock. Not alive anyway.”
It was my turn to be silent.
“That’s right,” she said. “Sabotage.”
“Four of my friends are dead. You and I may not make it. Who’d do something so evil? And, why?”
“No time to explain. We need to find a cave or crevice. I’ll explain more details then. We’re in danger here in the open. They’re looking for wreckage – and any survivors,” she said.
“You mean – whoever they are – will hunt us and kill us. Because there’s something were not supposed to know.”
“You’re smarter than you look,” she said. I tried not to smile.
We found a canyon crevice with a cave inside the rock wall. There we hid and also concealed our robots.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Thomas, the young woman, sent by Military Intelligence explained. And get this, she’s a captain. Just my luck. Fortunately, drillers don’t have to salute. But the real shock was the myth of something living deep in the planet’s core was true. At least, according to Thomas it’s true. And not one solitary thing – but millions. The military interest? Weapon potential.
“But how can creatures be weapons? Especially on a dying planet?” I asked.
She was silent looking at me – assessing my trustworthiness. “I don’t know everything … yet. But anyone who knows the truth about the story is gone.”
“You mean gone as in … dead?”
She didn’t say anything. “I think so,” she replied.
“How much of a role do you have in this conspiracy? Did you know they’d kill me?” I asked.
“I knew they’d try to kill me. Remember that hole in my suit? I doubt they had interest in killing you. I had found out too much. As for the rest of your friends, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Sorry? You might have warned us. You suspected danger.”
“I didn’t know they’d crash the rocket. But it all makes sense now.”
I thought for a moment.
“I didn’t sign on for any military operation. I’m a low-class driller. I’m no warrior.”
She looked into my eyes. It seemed like forever. It felt – uncomfortable.
“The only way were getting off this planet is if you become a warrior. We have to fight or die.”
For the first time in three years, I thought I was raving mad. I’d experienced many hardships. They were nothing by comparison to this. I’m just a driller, I thought hoping that title would release me. But, we had to find the secret of the underground life forms. Then we’d know how to save ourselves.
“OK. I’ll think about it,” I said, “But, listen, I haven’t had a woman friend for over three years. Could you at least tell me your first name – so I don’t have to call you Thomas?”
“Thomas, is what I’m called. It bothers you?” she said.
“Well, sort of. It’s a man’s name. I’d rather not think of you as a – man.”
“Very well. My name is Cahira. It’s an Irish warrior name – for women. But not women friends.”
“Cahira,” I repeated. Testing it’s sound from my mouth. It echoed in my helmet.
“Now you know why they call me Thomas,” she said.
“Cahira, I like your name. It’s unique,” I said.
“Fine. But knowing my name doesn’t make me your woman friend. I don’t care if it’s been 5 years.”
“Three years,” I corrected. As if it mattered any more.
“What do you propose we do?”
“There’s an entrance. We have to get there. It’ll take us below the surface to a military base.”
“Is it occupied?” I asked.
“We’ll find out,” she said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Nothing – practicing your name.”
“You’re a desperate idiot,” she said. And gave me a look that stirred my hope.
“We can travel inside the robots while we sleep. But they will need planetary coordinates. You got anything?” I asked.
She winked. I knew it. This woman was special. Bless her and her self-reliant spirit. We would survive I hope.
“Here’s how you get inside these robots,” I instructed Cahira. She smirked.
“I know that. I’ve had survival training,” she said.
“OK. Once inside, you can recharge your suit through this cable,” I pointed at it.
She gave me a look like I was a dunce.
“Got it. You know that too” I said. “Do you know how to load the planetary coordinates to get us to this entrance?”
Now she was glaring at me. Either I was a lousy teacher or she was a lousy student. Or both. She plainly didn’t like being told stuff she already understood. I’d best assume she knew everything imaginable and proceed with another approach.
“Fine. Show me you know all this stuff by doing it right now.”
She hesitated and stiffened. Oops! I thought, that sounded too command like. I added, “… please.”
She slipped inside the robot and connected the charger. She programmed the coordinates as if she did this everyday. I was impressed.
“Sorry to have doubted your abilities,” I said. “One last thing, here is a flare gun. I have no other possible weapon – but it might do. And if we get separated you can use it to help me identify your location.”
She nodded and accepted the flare.
“You’re forgiven. We better get moving,” she said. And, I was surprised by her smile. She closed the metal hatch. I loaded myself in the other robot and we began our journey.
We traveled inside the mechanical robots that night. I in one. She in the other. We communicated through our comm-links.
“How long do you estimate it’ll take to get to our destination?” I asked. I wondered if I needed to say, “Please.” Her voice crackled over the link.
“A long time. Hours most likely. I recommend getting some sleep,” she said.
The ride was rough. I was rattling and bouncing against the robots inner panel. It made a hammering sound resonating inside my helmet. Sleeping would be difficult.
“Can we talk?” I shouted above the rattling.
“No. Sleep,” she replied. And she silenced her comm-link.
I was disappointed. In the din, I reflected upon the last three years on this forsaken planet. Somewhere on another planet was a fat bank account waiting as compensation for my labors. A lot of good it did me now. The stuff I wanted to buy was meaningless. My dreams evaporated in the crash. Survival was all that mattered now. There was no one in my disposable life – except Cahira. And we were strangers thrown together by fate – not choice. I thought of the tragedy of my dead friends. Left in the arid desert, their bodies would turn to dust by morning. It wasn’t right. Some of them had suffered on this hellish planet longer than I.
For what? Death? That was their reward? Senseless. Wasteful. Evil.
My head bounced and nodded to the mechanical aboriginal-like drumming surrounding me. I was beginning to either dream or hallucinate. I couldn’t decide which – it didn’t matter. My pounded body let go and finally relaxed from exhaustion. I dreamed of a beautiful place. Lots of water. Well diggers dream of water. It’s like gold and rubies. Water is treasure. Precious wealth. Cahira was there. Her suit was gone and she wore a loose-weave colorful fabric wrapped around her body. She was standing in water up to her waist. “Join me,” she said. I’d never wanted something so bad before.
The robot suddenly stopped. That’s when I awoke. I shook myself and clicked on the comm. “Cahira? Your comm on?” I asked. Silence. “Cahira, you there?”
I struggled to get out of the robot. I was stiff and sore from the torture of being slammed around in the rocket and then all night in the robot. I dropped down to the red sand and slowly walked over the rocks around the robots huge body. I stood speechless. I was alone. The other robot nowhere in sight. Not even tracks as evidence it arrived. I dropped to a sitting position and scanned the horizon. Nothing. Not even a little dust cloud or glint of metal.
It was the loneliest of moments. All I had were questions and more questions. But no answers.
Nearby was a large cement box or shelter of human origin. That would be the entrance to the hidden military base, I thought. How long should I wait? Would she arrive before I was discovered?
After several hours, there was still no sign of her. I decided the only choice was descending below the surface.
Into the dark pit, I descended. The military-transport elevator – for heavy equipment and vehicles – was easy starting. I figured it’d stop when I arrived at the bottom. How far that might be? I had no idea. The solid rock walls were glassy smooth. Fired by natural, intense volcanic heat – or by man-made rocket fuel. It was difficult to tell. The smooth traveling elevator descended as if well maintained. But no creature life existed. I grew tired of standing during this lonely and hollow experience. I couldn’t sit comfortably – so I lay on my back and stared up at the shrinking sliver of surface light. How far would this rock tunnel go into the belly of Longday?
I dropped into a deep sleep. And I dreamed.
I awoke gasping for air. The elevator stopped surrounded by unseen light sources. I was suffocating. In desperation, I yanked at my helmet. The seal wouldn’t release. There was atmosphere pushing outside locking my helmet in place. I rolled over, lifted my head, and pounded the helmet visor against the metal platform. No luck. I did it again and again until tiny cracks formed. Finally, it broke and breathable air poured into my lungs. I lay there gasping – face down – scratched by the visor’s sharp remains.
The air was fragrant. Rich plant life and moisture – the real stuff – not artificial. In my enthusiasm, I sprang forward and fell from the platform into soft grass, weeds, and flowers. Vegetation! I must still be dreaming, I thought. How could this be? Small birds sang and a furry tiny animal scurried into a wooded brushy clump. Life. Here was life? How? The surface was dying and dead. The inside alive?
I couldn’t see the distant light source I’d stared at for so long from above. It was as if the surface world disappeared. There was no “above” – only this wonderful place. In this space, real clouds floated full of water vapor. How could there be sky in the middle of a planet? I hadn’t seen clouds … for three years. Three long years. Then I remembered: the crash, my missing Cahira, my dead friends. The temporary wonder lulled me into false safety. Was I in any danger? I saw none. Only the sounds of nature. I released the remnants of the broken helmet and dropped it to the ground. There’s normal gravity here, I thought. I pulled and struggled to get out of my metallic sun suit.
And that’s when I noticed the most heavenly lullaby: the babbling of water. It called to me like magic and I ran a short distance discovering a rocky brook. The banks were lush and verdant. Green plant life dropping down over the banks. The tips touching the slow wandering clear water. In spite of it’s shallowness, I threw myself into the water. What a feeling – buoyed up floating in water. Precious surface water so fiercely rationed we bathed with a damp sponge. Drinking water – tasteless, distilled, and ionic to remove toxins. I slurped this sweet brook water. Holding it in my mouth, I finally swallowed. It tasted of minerals and a hint of salt. It was beyond belief. Natural clean water. Untouched by poisons.
How could this place even exist? I wondered, bathing myself in the warm pool.
That’s when I heard the elevator engine whir and it began again to rise back to the surface. Was it on a timer? Or was this Cahira descending? Or enemies sent to kill me? Whoever it was, I had time to prepare for their arrival. I’d be ready. But first, I’d float a few more amazing minutes.
When the elevator platform again reached bottom, I’d fashioned some “combat” clothes from the cloth-like linings of my sun suit. The metallic suit I disposed of in a convenient hole and hid myself in thick vegetation. There were five figures in shiny sun suits on the platform. I recognized Cahira. It was the first time I’d seen her without a helmet. She had long, dark hair tied in a ponytail. Same as my dream. Why did I like her? I couldn’t tell if she was the leader or a captive. She had no restraints. I wondered, was she friend or foe? There was no clue from her regal stance. They’d removed their helmets previously and conversed freely. But even straining, I couldn’t make out any precise words.
Surely, they’d seen broken visor shards on the platform. The debris was cleaned off. Could Cahira have done that before the others arrived? That might mean she covered my trail. Still the robot sitting at the top indicated I was here. Did she hide it?
Once off the platform, they walked single file on a secluded path. I missed seeing that ribbon-like path. They knew the direction well. But I didn’t. There were no signs they suspected I was present. No searching or calling for me. Perhaps Cahira played a quick deception and protected me? There was no way to know. So I remained silent and waited. As they advanced, I slowly followed through the trees and brush. My well-workers knife my only weapon. It felt puny drawn in my fist.
One thing was certain, the others knew Cahira’s identity and her rank.
The group of five walked a long distance with me stalking. The trees became more sparse. I could hear a distant hum like machinery or ground vehicles. We approached a large city – I realized this remarkable city remained concealed from the universe. For fear of discovery, I couldn’t enter the city. I watched as they prepared to enter via a roadway. Then an odd thing, they removed the sun suits and dawned civilian clothing. What was going on? The little path long gone. The group hid their suits and entered the city. I wasn’t sure what to do next. How did the city inhabitants look and dress? How could I camouflage or disguise myself?
I sat behind a tree watching and waiting. A man staggered out and began urinating on a wall. Luck was on my side. I approached behind him and knocked his head against the wall. He went unconscious. I traded clothes and entered the city. The clothes were ill fitting and the owner low in station. But no one noticed me as I milled among people in the street. I wonder if it’ll get dark? I thought. They must simulate night and day. But I hadn’t noticed any change in light since my arrival. My question was answered. The city went pitch black. It was as if someone flipped a switch. There was no gentle dimming as a natural sunset. No gradual change in coloration. One moment bright white. Next second, darkness. Unnerving. But no one paid attention to this abrupt change – a common daily occurrence.
Small artificial lights twinkled in windows and open doorways. No open flames from candles. No illumination on the streets or walls. Rationed energy like precious water on the surface. Darkness was my advantage, I could explore in stealth.
Buildings were rough masonry brick. No wooden components. Not even for window or door frames. Roofs were dark tiles. Windows were glassless and unshuttered. Open air passed in freely. There was no glass or metal doors. They must not have bad weather or extreme temperature changes, I thought. Forever mild and temperate. A storm-less tropical island inside a sea of planetary rock. Houses were plain but businesses were painted natural color pigments.
There must be no crime or violence, I thought, anyone can enter any building or room at anytime. Could such a society be so completely safe? How did Cahira fit in this peaceful community? The warrior woman. Wasn’t she from off planet? Was she even military? Why her secret entry to the city?
I followed the sound of music. Not recorded music but real musicians playing in harmony. Voices singing an old Earth tune. Were these lost colonists? I recognized the rhythm. It took me back to happier times. Good memories. The lights unexpectedly switched to bright again. I heard a commotion outside the city. The unconscious man! He was discovered. An alarm sounded.
I was soon surrounded by angry people grabbing and holding me. Pushing me to the ground and dragging me through the street. I was captured.
They held me in an interrogation room. The chairs, the light, the table, the bars on the open window. It was plain I’d soon be questioned. They weren’t happy with my hurting a citizen and stealing his clothes. Bad actions weren’t tolerated. At least, I understood the words they spoke. They hadn’t lost their language to gradual corruption. That meant the existence of a library and books somewhere. Maybe even schools and children. Intelligence. Where there are books – there is recorded history. I wish I could read them. Perhaps those books even spoke of mercy. I prayed there would be mercy.
My interrogator finally entered the room. He carried no weapon. I thought of the knife in my boot and decided to let it rest.
“Who are you?” the interrogator asked.
“My name is Guy Jackson. I’m a well driller from the surface,” I said.
He scowled. “The surface? Absurd. Nothing lives there.”
I found this interesting. Did he know everyone was dead?
“Have you ever seen the surface?” I asked.
“I do the questioning. Not you,” he replied. “I’ve seen the Great Death above.”
He was pompous and lying. He’d never even seen the elevator.
“That’s where I come from,” I said. “Up there.”
“Don’t waste my time. No one exists above. It’s poison. Stranger, why are you here?”
“Why don’t you ask Thomas?” I said exploring the interrogator’s knowledge.
“Thomas? Thomas who? Who’s he?” he snapped.
OK, I thought, he doesn’t know Captain Cahira Thomas. Nor that he’s a “she.” Is that good or bad?
“Thomas, was on my crashed rocket. He must be dead,” I bluffed.
“What’s a rocket? Speak clearly,” he commanded.
“ A rocket is for space traveling from planet to planet,” I said.
“You’re mad as a rock mole,” he muttered. “These things aren’t possible. Stories to entertain children.” I was tempted to ask what a rock mole was. But provoking him deliberately would make things worse.
“Take me to your leader,” I said. I’d always wanted to say that. But drillers didn’t get those opportunities often. I smiled.
“You smile?” he eyed me with suspicion.
I burst out laughing.
“Why do you laugh? Well digger, you’re strange,. For what do you dig?”
“I drill,” I said, catching my breath. “I drill for water.”
With this comment, the guard stood and pointed a threatening finger in my face.
“Water thief!” he shouted it as if he decreed my death sentence. His chair tipped over backwards and clattered noisily on the stone floor. He stumbled over it – and fell. The sound reverberated sharp and clear in the tiny cell. Guards burst into the room. I saw opportunity in the mayhem and bolted past the guards – and through the door. I ran to the left corridor. Dashing fast as drillers do when towers come loose – and explode in all directions. You run. Your life depends upon speed and shelter. And I was the last driller. That meant I was without question the absolute fastest.
I ran until I outdistanced the guards and was winded. I gasped for air. Frantic, I searched for a hiding place. The lights were off again outside. I could chance the darkness again. Or I could stay in this building. This was where the action was happening. I sensed it and slipped into a doorless room.
Crouched in a dark corner, my eyes grew accustomed to the dark. Someone was asleep in the deep center of the room occupying a huge bed. I heard the lumbered breathing of a heavyset man. The slumberer’s presence reduced my chance of discovery. No one would disturb us. I took a moment to think.
The authorities questioning me: they don’t know Cahira or at least they don’t know her by the name Thomas. Nor do they know Thomas is a woman’s last name. That was interesting. Did she have an alias here? Or was Thomas her surface alias? Was she a spy? Why did they discard their sun suits before entering the city? Maybe sun suits are evidence the surface exists. Were her elevator comrades friends or enemies? Was she forced to play a role of deceit? She knew about the surface but these city men didn’t. Not the truth anyway. They thought the surface mythical. As we did about their hidden abode. And drilling for water was definitely a crime here. Why? Again I asked questions clouded in mystery.
And why was Cahira even in the doomed rocket?
I needed a library and some history. Knowledge is power especially if your life depends upon it. Was I in mortal danger? For some reason, I didn’t think so. The worst they could do was send me back to where I came from – or kill me. They were the same.
My jumbled mind spun in confusion. The sensation overwhelmed me. Life seemed paradoxically slow and fast. In the still darkness, the quiet made me conscious of my every breath. My breathing was too fast. I focused to slow it. I exhaled and took a long deep breath. I held it a moment and released it.
I felt I could hear my every thought. My old life erased – gone. I was in a new land – even a new inner world. It was mysterious and beautiful but frightening. So many things I thought false were now proven true. There was life still in this planet. With enough time – several millennium – planet Longday must burn up and perish. But these people didn’t know that. They lived unaware. They didn’t know the dead surface was a foreboding to their own fate. And not knowing allowed them blissful existence. They lived without fear.
On Longday’s surface, we only knew fear. Survival was our daily goal. Life exploded with the mere hissing sound of escaping oxygen. I wished to belong to these carefree people. How could I integrate into their strange society? I must learn their ways.
“We have a tradition of not lingering long in the dark.”
I startled at the voice so close to me. “Their ways?” I thought, “Traditions.”
“Yes. Our ways are not your ways,” the unseen voice said.
I recognized her voice. It was Cahira.
“Are you reading my mind?” I whispered.
“Obviously. And without a machine!” she voiced in my inner mind.
They can read minds with – machines? And without? I marveled.
I felt her touch. But it was not her hand. It was the barrel of a weapon jabbing my side.
“Are you friend or enemy?” she asked with her natural voice.
She was inside my head. Listening. For how long?
I decided to test her mental prowess and thought my answer.
I am your ally.
She lowered the weapon. I heard it holstered in a clothsheath – a hidden pocket in her clothing.
How did you find me? I thought.
“You have a noisy mind,” she whispered.
I nodded and smiled.
The dark lump of sleeping man snorted – I startled awake. My chin rested on my chest. My throat dry. When did I fall asleep? Was Cahira’s voice a dream? I touched my side where she jabbed me with the weapon. It was still tender. It was real. She was here and left. I was holding my breath. I let it out slow. Elusive woman. Blessing — or curse? I was more curious than ever.
I stood up from my sitting position. Something scraped against my chest inside my shirt. I smiled. A crude map. She hadn’t left me without hope.
I was losing track of time. I couldn’t remember how many days or nights I wandered. I followed her map as best I could. The surroundings – once lush and green – turned brown and dry. Water was not prevalent away from the city. Was the city water supply unnatural after all? Or this inner earth possessing varying climate? The loamy soil underfoot was sandy and loose. The vegetation was sparse and coarse. I saw a few lizards and snakes but no mammals. Everything screamed “thirst!” Ahead I imagined there were only cactus and sage brush. Where was she sending me? To a frying death in the desert?
Without warning, it was dark. No rising dawn or gentle dusk. No temperature change. The abrupt light changes still unnerved me. My eyes grew used to the dark. I saw small lights on the horizon. Little beacons of expectation. That must be my goal. I trudged on stumbling and swaying in the dark path. It seemed to take forever.
There are moments in life altering your course for eternity. When rockets explode, when sun suits leak, when water surrounds you. There are other moments completely insignificant. You never know which until you pass through the moment and step into the future. Then you are aware of the gravity of choice and consequence. You accept your fate and play the game hoping to end well.
This is where I am. Trapped in a brutal game. I can’t return to the world I came from and yet I slowly walk daily towards a future of death or life. No clue which. I was hating Cahira for playing with my life. Torturing me. Not telling me where and why I suffered these deprivations. Was she my ally – or not?
“I am with you always,” she said in my inner mind.
It spun me around as I searched for the source of her voice. There was no one but tumble weed and grasshoppers.
“I hate it when you do that,” I said, “Where have you been? Where are you now?”
“I’m in the encampment ahead of you – the lights you follow at night.”
“What do you want with me?!” I shouted to the dead wind.
There was a silence. A long pause.
“I don’t want anything. I need,” she replied.
“What is it you need?” I asked.
She was quiet. “I need – you to rescue me.”
“Rescue? Is this another trick?” I said.
The silence was longer than before.
“No trick. I’m held captive.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m bait,” she said.
“You can’t be serious. For what purpose?”
“Bait for you. They want you. They know you’ll come for me.”
“Why would I come for you?” I asked.
“Because – you love me.”
“What??!” I sputtered.
Now it was my turn to be silent. It was true. How could this be? How could I love someone I didn’t know. I sensed she was smiling at my delayed response.
“Why do they need me?” I asked.
“You’re the last driller. They need water. They’re desperate for water – more than they need my life.”
“You’re mad. These people have the technology to drill for water.”
“Guy, this world is backwards.”
Hearing her say my name felt weird. Sickness grew in my gut.
“Were you sent to trap me and sacrifice the others on the rocket?”
“I don’t know. I only know they want your capture,” she said.
“I’m insignificant. Nobody. Why would they kill my friends to grab me!?”
“Water. That’s all I know. They believe you can provide them water.”
“But there is so much water back at the underground city,” I said. “Why not take that?”
“It’s not the same. It’s not genuine.”
“What do you mean not genuine? It can’t be fake. I floated in the stuff.”
“It feels real. Tastes real. But it can’t assimilate by the body. Not enough to sustain life.”
“But the people in the city seem healthy enough.”
“Seemed. Yes. They appear fine. But they aren’t. They all must die.”
I thought for a moment.
“Are you saying they’re expecting me, Mister Nobody, to save this dying world. Boy they made a big mistake.”
She was silent again.
“They will sacrifice me. You must arrive soon. Then they’ll force you to find water – if you don’t – we’ll both die.”
“Cheery news. Thanks. There’s no water from the planet surface. It’s dead. Baked to cinders.”
“There must exist pockets of water between the world surface and here. There must be something.”
“Not a drop,” I said.
“But you didn’t think there was life beneath the surface either. You’re wrong about the water.”
“I hope I am,” I said as I began running as best I could.
And then her thoughts were gone from my mind. And I still ran. Thinking of her words.
Soon the lights were visible in the darkness again. They were closer now and I wondered what I should do. I had no machinery or engineering tools. Drilling for water would be impossible. It was preposterous I should save a dying world. It was not of my making. But I could save Cahira from death. Or I could die trying. That seemed worthwhile. These people sealed their own fate when colonizing into this inner space. It was not my calling to save their nation. They made a wrong assumption. One driller is insufficient.
In the dark, I now saw mud and clay huts. Small fires inside made the openings in the walls glow bright. One of these huts held Cahira.
“Where are you?” I thought. Trying to contact her.
“I’m in the third hut. The one with the guard outside. There’s another guard inside.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m OK.”
“Is there a way out of this place? Do they have a rocket hidden down here somewhere with a launching silo?”
There was silence.
“Yes. But how did you know? No one knows but a few.”
“Why do you know?” I asked.
“I was the ruler of this people,” she said.
“Was?” I asked.
“Overthrown. Exiled. That’s why I was at the surface. I’m exiled and was making my escape – or deportment. Didn’t work out so well.”
“Understatement!” I said. “Total disaster.”
“Someone sabotaged the attempt. I’m sorry,” she said.
I detected remorse in her voice. It surprised me for some reason. I thought her tough. I was wrong about a lot of things.
“Can you distract the inner guard and get him outside?”
“Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“They’ll take a long nap – while you and I find that rocket.”
“We don’t have to look for the rocket. It’s here.”
“Is it fueled?”
“Then we’re taking a trip tonight.”
There was a silence.
“But these are my people. You must save them,” she said.
“I can’t. It’s beyond my capabilities. I’m only a driller. I don’t have super powers. It’s you and me and that’s it.”
I could tell she was thinking. It was a big change. It was one of those not-going-back moments.
“OK. I’m ready,” she said.
I ran unseen into position and when the second guard emerged, I clubbed them both into dreamtime.
Cahira stood before me dressed in fine materials.
“You look beautiful,” I said.
“You look – horrible,” she said. I looked down at my ragged clothes and dirty skin. I was a mess.
“I don’t travel as well as you,” I said.
She led me to the rocket launch area and we donned sun suits for the flight.
“I can’t believe you’ll leave with me,” I said.
“These people betrayed me. You saved me. Why would I do anything else?” she said.
“Because I’m a nobody,” I said. “- a silly driller.”
“That’s good enough for me,” she replied. And she kissed me.
Three years was worth it.
We entered the rocket awaiting all the automatic checks – the last rocket.
The surface survivors drilled in vain for water. None located. The same happened here. The drills could go no deeper. The project abandoned but planetary evacuation didn’t start. Left to die.
I am a driller. Millennia from now, this cursed planet will explode. The shrieking buried life will cry out in desperation. Never heard in the quiet of burning space. I felt sad for them, because they exist. All life precious. Even if suffering in pain.
The dim lights flickered. The humming main engine was hot. There were only the two of us. Myself; the driller – and of course, the mysterious brown-eyed young woman, Cahira. Robots sealed lifeless in the back cargo area. There were no pilots. Everything was computer controlled. Automated flight plan.
I sunk into the seat nearest the heavy boarding door and locked my shoulder straps. The door slammed shut. Cahira strapped into the seat nearest me.
We looked through our visors at each other. There was sadness in our eyes. The engine roared to life and the vertical ascent began. Shaking up and up through the rocky shaft. We punctured our way to the surface and into space beyond – and our new life.
Like a burst bubble, water began rushing down the rocket’s earth conduit. The rocket’s metal shell pierced a huge pocket of subterranean fresh water. It descended in a torrent toward the planet’s center.
I’m only a driller, I thought, the most famous and beloved driller on this cursed planet.
Jelly Belly and Bone Magic by Steve Teare, Christmas 2016 for my son, Brody and his son, Zelner.
Jelly Belly knew the magic of bones. He kept a wishbone in a small drawer knowing someday he’d need that saved wish. But tonight he needed greater bone magic.
Someone tossed another pine log into the campfire. Long tongues of fiery flames licked high in the black, Idaho night sky. Orange and red shooting sparks floated toward the bright stars.
“Tell the one about The Bone Monster,” Piccolo Pete said. Piccolo was one of Jelly Belly’s many good imaginary friends. Piccolo poked a slim stick in the deep red – almost blue – embers. The end of the long stick ignited. He slowly pulled it out and blew out the long flame. The white smoke curled.
“I don’t know a story of any Bone Monster,” Jelly Belly said. He wanted a fun stick to poke in the fire, too.
“Sure you do,” Piccolo said, “Only brave and strong people tell it.” All-the-Pete’s were staring at the squirming Jelly Belly.
“I don’t remember,” Jelly Belly said with a shoulder shrug. He looked at the dark ground. Here was a stick but it was too short for comfort. He might singe his fuzzy fur holding it.
“Well then. I’ll tell it,” Piccolo said. He gazed upwards, “It was a dark night like this one – and not-so-far away …”
“But the stars are out tonight,” Pete Moss said. He was Piccolo’s brother. He pointed at the wide sky. Piccolo glared at him for interrupting the story so soon over mere trivialities.
“Yes. A dark night. With a few stars,” Piccolo began again, “But dark enough – you couldn’t see too well – and no fire.” He glanced at Moss who nodded in approval.
“The kind of night when the Bone Monster was most likely to appear – and appear he did.” Piccolo paused, raising his eyebrows and faking a smile.
“You didn’t tell us what the Monster looked like. You know. All made out of bones and such.” It was Ree Pete – another brother – interrupting this time.
Piccolo was indignant. He folded his arms and perused the twinkling stars. Someone broke the moment of awkward silence.
“The Bone Monster’s made of bleached bones of dead forest animals. Their bones dried white in the sun. And then they join the huge monster’s body like magic. Made entirely of bones,” Peter the Great – yet another brother – said. He stood posing. He swallowed down a choking throat-lump after speaking and then weakly smiled. His knees went wobbly and he plopped down again. Feigned bravery.
Piccolo glared at “The Great” with a capital “G.” He shook his head.
Jelly Belly tossed his found short stick into the scorching fire. It delightfully flamed. He didn’t want to hear this unpleasant story. His imagination was too big. He thought about covering his ears and closing his eyes. But that wouldn’t be a courageous example. He too swallowed a lump in his throat and made a weak smile at Peter the Great for being so brave.
“The Bone Monster is twenty feet high.” Kom Pete – still another brother – said competitively, “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s … It’s …”
“Monstrous?” Jelly Belly asked. The shadows played across his pudgy face.
“Yes. That’s right. Monstrous,” Kom Pete said, “Perhaps – even bigger than that.”
Everyone glanced back and forth at each other. It really was too scary already.
“What does it …,” Jelly Belly started to ask.
“Eat?” Piccolo finished, “Why – it eats …” He swept his arm at them all – pointing his finger with drama, “your – imagination!” He brought his sweeping finger to his temple and stopped. He nodded.
Horrified, Jelly Belly knew no one had a bigger imagination than he did. If the Bone Monster was looking for a midnight snack, Jelly Belly’s imagination was best. That was it. Jelly Belly was leaving. He jumped up.
“I just forgot. I need to let the cat out,” Jelly Belly said. And he started stomping off into the blind dark.
They all knew Jelly Belly had no cat – but said nothing.
As Jelly Belly advanced slowly on the darkening trail, he heard a funny noise. At least on any other night, it would have been funny. But tonight it was not. Much like the rattle of a wooden wind chime; or dead tree branches scraping together, it made a clattering sound. But the cool air was still with no breeze. Jelly Belly waited fidgeting to control himself. He held his breath and listened hard. He heard nothing.
That was all he needed. Hearing nothing scared him just as bad as hearing something. He broke out in a bouncy gallop.
“It’s just my imagination,” he repeated over and over. But that was his mistake. For that was what the Bone Monster had come for. It would gobble up his entire imagination. The bigger his imagination grew the more and faster the Bone Monster would chase him.
With this realization, Jelly Belly halted. He imagined the hot breath of the Giant Bone Monster whooshing straight down his skinny neck. He shivered. Jelly Belly’s panicked mind raced searching for a hopeful escape. But his body couldn’t budge – frozen in place immovable as a heavy pond stone.
Focusing his mind with all his might, Jelly Belly conjured in his imagination a pack of hungry hounds. Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs. First just a few and then a thousand hungry dogs swarming forward and surrounding him. His puny body fell to the ground face down and lay motionless as the spill of dogs brush racing by. Hands over his head, Jelly Belly heard the imaginary, silent dogs baying and growling. They circled the huge, unseen Bone Monster round and round. Jelly Belly couldn’t look squeezing his eyes shut tight. He was so afraid his imagination wouldn’t be strong enough.
But it was.
He peeked out. The dogs were gone. The bone Monster was gone. Every dog taking an imaginary bone and running off to bury it as all imaginary dogs do.
“I made it,” Jelly Belly whispered. He lay on his back for a restful moment sprawled under the stars. His breathing slowly returned to a steady rhythm.
He imagined a flower. A nice yellow one. With a long green stem. His imagination was still intact. The Bone Monster didn’t eat it. It felt good to be alive.
Elated Jelly Belly ran back to the campfire. But all his Pete-friends were wildly running over the hill. They had seen the Bone Monster rushing into the firelight. It was Jelly Belly, of course.
Jelly Belly laughed. And sat alone near the warm fire. He lit a long stick. Fearless.
IT WAS SUMMER. Yet, her body was stiff and cold. A few police guards stood solemnly at the crime scene. The victim deposited face down on a marble floor; struck dead from behind. This is how a man snuffs out a woman, Lissette thought. The prey was Glenda Canon, a billionaire’s 25-year-old daughter. Her wet hair was still tousled. Rigor mortis was stiffening the body. She wore a short bathrobe and not much else. Fresh from the bath, not a very glamorous way to die for someone so snobbish, thought Lissette.
Lissette Zeller squeezed the mean thoughts out of her mind. A good investigator was analytical, not a social commentator, she recited in her head.
Lissette was clothed in the customary dress for detectives on the force. Her camel hair blazer contrasted with her navy-blue pleated skirt; almost a schoolgirl’s uniform – except for the black stiletto high-heels. Too high for comfort, Lissette’s black spike heels were a statement of her unmistakable hunger for male attention. In her late twenties, her shape was graceful and attractive, a Looker who couldn’t find Mister Right.
“Earl, come here. Take a note of this,” Lissette said. Earl Gressi was Lissette’s superior and her investigative partner. She didn’t enjoy male bosses, but Earl was more opened-minded than many. A stuffy middle-aged bachelor, he appeared clumsy compared to Lissette’s light shape. They both wore the same status of clothing except Earl wore blue slacks and black penny loafers. Lissette hated it when his apparel colors matched hers. It was as if he deliberately was embarrassing her. The truth: they both just had small wardrobes.
“What’d ya find?” Earl asked. He pushed his large glasses up with one finger.
“Look. The victim’s only got nail polish on one hand,” Lissette replied.
“So where’s the nail polish?” Lissette questioned.
“Good point, Zeller. Let’s look around for the bottle of greenish – it’s green, isn’t it?”
“Sort of an iridescent color, I’d say, but tinted green.”
“OK. Green it is.”
Lissette knelt down by the bed and lifted the dust ruffle. Peering under, she came to a quick conclusion: Glenda definitely had a maid. The floor was spotless. Not a single dust bunny.
“Nothing under here,” Lissette said, “I’Il check the balcony.”
When she stood up, it was apparent the men in the room were all staring. She chuckled. She relished this startling power she felt – as always. The men shifted their gaze – sheepish. Earl frowned and shook his head. Lissette clacked elegantly across the hardwood floor knowing the “boys” were still secretly gawking.
She stepped outside and eased off her suggestive performance by slipping off her shoes. I should be so lucky as to have a balcony, she thought, there I go again: more class envy. The balcony was gray cement railing with a black-and-white marble floor. Plants garnished the ends. Fake plants, she noted. There was no green fingernail polish bottle on the balcony but there was polish remover. It lay tipped over on a round cast iron table. Yet no nail polish.
“Earl, do you have your field glasses with you?” the barefoot Lissette shouted.
“You know I always do, Zeller.”
“Well, be a dear. Loan them to me for a moment, please?” Lissette said in her most honeyed voice.
“Please don’t use your female manipulations on me. It makes me ill,” Earl said.
Scowling, he tossed the battered glasses to her from the balcony door. She caught them and feigned slipping them over the edge.
“Hey! Careful We’re on the top floor!” Earl was always nervous about loaning his things. Lissette enjoyed playing on his paranoia. She pushed back her dark shoulder-length hair from her face. Peering through the field glasses she scanned the grass and concrete far below in the courtyard. Something gleamed in the grass.
“Earl, I need your help.”
He popped his head out from behind the sliding glass door. He had a quizzical and astonished look.
“I suppose you want me to fling myself down and retrieve my demolished field glasses.”
“Nothing of the sort. I need you to go down the elevator. Then retrieve whatever is glinting in the grass there. Do you see it?” She pointed down. He stepped over, took the glasses and peered down.
“All right. There is a reflection. You keep looking for more clues.”
“Of course,” Lissette said, “I’ll be looking for a brick to throw when you’re on the lawn.”
He glared at her and left. Lissette went back into the apartment and reclined on the couch. She was tired. Her five foot six inch frame fit perfectly on the soft leather couch. She ignored the ugly corpse on the floor and the few silent guards. After awhile, Earl return from the courtyard. He was out of breath and perspiring. He stopped walking the instant he saw Lissette. His mouth dropped open in disbelief. Lissette was asleep on the leather couch. Earl paled.
“Zeller! Wake up!” Earl shouted, “The elevator’s out of order. I’ve been hustling my fanny off for you – and you’re sleeping!”
Lissette yawned and stretched. She’d known the elevator was on the blink.
“This is a great couch,” Lissette said, sitting up, “Would you like to try it?”
“I can’t believe you. I’ll report you one of these days for your insubordination!”
“Such a frightening word. Earl, does it mean you want me – to submit to you?” she said in a throaty voice. Lissette tilted her head back, shook her dark-red mane, and smiled. Earl blushed at his visible excitement.
“Please! Stop! Don’t even elude to such notions, Zeller! Forget I said anything at all.”
Slowly without a word, Lissette stood up – too close for Earl’s comfort. Earl floundered gulping air. His breathing rhythm was off.
“Don’t you dare… ,” He glanced around to see no one was observing. Earl hiccuped.
Lissette grinned. Earls hiccuping was merely applause verifying Lissette’s charms. Such a risky game she played with poor Earl’s nervous system.
The coroner was preparing the body for removal. A dull thump sounded when he moved the corpse to the black body bag. Earl and Lissette both cringed. “What did you find in the garden? The nail polish?” Lissette said.
“No. This.” Earl held out his hand. He clutched a plastic sample bag containing a large silver-ladle. A tag dangled from it marked ‘Evidence’.
“Fantastic. Did it fall from the balcony?”
“Because of the distance, better said, tossed. The deceased name is engraved on the handle.” The large knob at the end was bloody.
“The murder weapon,” Earl said proudly and nodded at Lissette, “Good work, Zeller.”
“Still – where’s the nail polish?” Lissette asked, ignoring his compliment with calculation.
“Who cares about nail polish? We’ve got the murder weapon. This thing has fingerprints all over it.” Earl’s hiccups were disappearing with his growing irritation.
“But no suspect and no motive?” Lissette raised an eyebrow and produced a coy smile.
“You are so arrogant sometimes,” Earl said. She said nothing, but turned and sashayed out of the apartment. She jogged to exit ahead of the men removing the cocoon body bag. Earl shook his head. He’d let her take off this time – again. They both knew nothing more could be done until after the coroner’s report. Still, her smugness ate at him. Lissette was so beautiful but such a prankster.
NAILED Scene Two. Day One PM, Homicide Division.
IT WAS LATE NIGHT. The office was silent and empty. Lissette stared at the coroner’s report. She rocked her chair back dangling her shapely legs. She stretched and flexed, exercising her sore calves. Accursed heels, she thought. A low cough sounded at her side. She dropped the report and grabbed the hidden pistol from under her desk and spun the chair around. Her gun barrel pointed at a man she didn’t recognize.
“Not so fast,” he said, with both hands in the air, “I only cleared my throat to let you know I’ve been … waiting.”
“Who let you in?” She took note of his motorcycle boots, faded blue jeans, long white hair, and black leather jacket. He looked like a mugger’s twin. Gaging his age, Lissette put him near death. Suspicious fellow.
“I’m from downtown. Here. My badge and I.D.” He reached in his bulging coat pocket. Lissette instantly cocked the gun hammer. He stopped motionless. Slowly he pulled out a leather wallet and flicked it across the floor to her bare toes. She left the wallet on the floor and flipped it open with her foot.
“You’re agent Eli Temple? Have we met before?”
“Lots of women ask me that. Can you put down the forty-five magnum?”
She kicked the wallet back to him. Lissette released the trigger and eased the hammer slowly back to it’s metal home with a soft tap. He knows his weapons, she thought.
“Is sneaking up on women, when they’re alone, your routine?” Lissette asked. He stooped to pick up his I.D.
“Not armed ones … you caught me off guard,” he said. He evidently had been there awhile giving her the once over more than once. Lissette sneered. Slime. She didn’t like him.
“So, Temple, what brings you here … besides sight seeing?” Lissette asked. He fumbled a smile.
“I’m replacing your partner, Earl, for a few days on the murder case.”
“Aren’t you a little old to play cops and robbers?”
“I’ve not retired yet. Experienced men are the best, they say.”
Lissette smirked. She hated seducers; all brag. “So, which murder case you interested in?” Lissette prompted.
“The Glenda Canon murder case. Ring any bells?”
Lissette scowled. This guy’s a jerk. I gotta get rid of him, she thought.
“On who’s authority were you assigned to my case?” Lissette asked.
“By the Chief. I’ve my orders from the top. You can be reassigned if you like?” Eli said.
“Not a chance, Temple.”
“Good. Let’s get to work.” Eli, uninvited, pulled up a chair.
Lissette, sulking, dropped her gun with a resounding thud on the desk top. A not-so-subtle reminder who’s turf Eli was invading.
“You’ve got the Coroner’s report?” Eli said.
“Sure. Here. Help yourself,” Lissette retorted. She tossed the report into his lap. Eli stared at her a moment and picked up the report. After perusing the summary, Eli spoke, “Was she married or living with a man?”
“No,” she replied. “An immaculate conception, I suppose.”
“So it appears. The report said the victim was three months pregnant.”
A double murder. A motive perhaps? Lissette thought.
“Why did they send you?”
“Excuse me?” Eli said, peering over the top of the papers.
“Temple, why send you?” Lissette repeated loudly; mouthing her words as if talking to a deaf man.
“It’s a hot case.”
“So, I’ve supervised hot, cases before – unassisted.”
“Words out; you’re impulsive, Zeller. An unmanageable feminist vigilante. Get the picture?” Eli said.
“So they’ve sent you to baby-sit because this case is too high society and blue blood.”
“You are smart. There’s big money behind this murder. You know that. You’ll make lots of unpleasant waves for some big players unless we’re diplomatic.”
“Diplomatic? Okay, fine. I’ll be diplomatic. You’ll see,” Lissette said. Inside she was fuming. She should’ve shot Eli when she had the chance. Eli tossed the report on the desk and left. When he reached the door, he turned and said, “See you tomorrow … Diplomat Zeller.”
The door clicked shut behind him and resonated in the emptiness. Lissette winced.
“Jerk!,” she blustered. She dreaded tomorrow already. She picked up the phone and punched some buttons.
“Hello, Earl, I’ve gotta see you right away. Yeah, your place is fine. 15 minutes, sounds good. Bye.”
NAILED Scene Three- Day Two, Early AM, Earl’s Place.
LISSETTE KNOCKED AGAIN, only louder, on the third story door marked #308. She was growing restless. Finally Earl cracked the door and looked out.
“It’s me. Open up,” said Lissette. “Gimme a minute, Zeller,” Earl replied and closed the door.
Lissette could hear Earl talking to an upset female. The door popped open and a young woman exited quickly. She was pretty. She sniffed at Lissette. Lissette stood, her mouth wide open in surprise, not knowing what to say. The thought of Earl entertaining ladies never occurred to her.
“Did I interrupt something? Something … personal?” Lissette asked.
“Of course you did. But you sounded desperate on the phone, Zeller. We are partners, you know. Come on in.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even check the time before I called,” Lissette said. She walked through the door in a daze.
“See. You were upset. It’s 2 AM.”
“Do you frequently have women at your apartment at two in the morning?”
“Seems that way tonight … you’re number two.”
“Earl, there’s a side to you I didn’t realize existed. You don’t even have hiccups.”
“What side do you mean?”
It was Lissette’s turn to blush for once. “I’ve flirted, flaunted and taunted you. I’ve been cruel.”
“Yes. You’re very beautiful but unfortunately cruel, also.” Earl looked down at his bare feet. The floor was cold. “You think I’m … cruel?” Lissette implored. Forgetting she just pronounced herself cruel already.
“Yeah. You’re very cruel. But you’re not here for psychotherapy. You’ve come to ask me about Eli Temple. Right?”
“How did you know?”
“Chief called me earlier tonight. Asked how long since I’ve … vacationed.”
Lissette plopped herself on the couch. It was old, worn, and still warm from it’s recent occupants.
What was Temple doing at 2 AM in the station? She wondered.
“Earl, I don’t know what to do? I want to solve this case but I hate this creep Temple. What should I do?”
“Use your extraordinary secret weapon: your femininity. It’s worked before. You got me to climb down and up all those flights of stairs today.”
“Oh, Earl. I wasn’t your … motivation … to do that.”
“Sorry, Zeller. But it’s true. If you were a man, I’d have told you to fetch it yourself.”
She sat thinking. “You’re right. Being female gives an incontestable power over men,” Lissette stated.
“Well, use what God blessed you with to your best advantage.”
Suddenly, glass shattered all over the carpet. At the same moment, the window drape bloomed out. Earl slumped over. Lissette scrambled to the door in time to see a tan four-door speeding away; an unmarked patrol car. Eli was curled in a ball on the floor. His breathing labored.
“I don’t think … I’m gonna … make it this time,” Earl said.
“Oh, quit the dramatics. You’ll be fine.”
The slug had punctured Eli’s right lung. Lissette picked up the phone and pressed 9-1-1. Why would a cop try to kill my partner? Or were they gunning for a different target? … me.
NAILED Scene Four – Day Two AM
THE SPEEDING AMBULANCE. “Where am I?” Earl wondered out loud.
“You’re in the back of an ambulance being rushed to County Hospital,” Lissette responded. She was bored already.
“What? How’d they let you come along? Don’t they know you’re cruel?”
“I told them I’m Mrs. Earl. Sorry. Just play along, okay?” Lissette explained.
“Liar. You should’ve gone into crime. Not law enforcement.”
Lissette brushed her dark-red hair away from her face. Steadying a medical mirror, she daubed pinkish lipstick on her rounded lips and rolled them tight together. She turned to face Earl.
“Earl, it was a unmarked patrol car outside your place.”
Earl stared at her, stunned. His brow knotted. “Why would anybody on the force want to kill me … or was it you they wanted?”
“You’d better think long and hard on that one,” Lissette said.
“That senseless Canon case,” Earl said.
“Probably. A lot of suspicious things going on.”
“You sure hit the nail on the head. So, what are you gonna do?” Earl asked.
“Make sure they don’t finish you, for starters.”
“I’m flattered,” Earl said. He sneered a weak smile.
Lissette was surprised. At that moment, she actually felt some fondness for Earl.
“Secondly, I’m gonna interview the maid from the Canon apartment.”
“Good idea but, Zeller, you’re still thinking like a woman.” The ambulance jolted hitting a pot hole. Earl grimaced with pain.
“You deserved that,” Lissette said. Her face was stern.
“You’re right. Do it your way. You usually do.”
“Why? What would you do different, Mr. Man?”
“I’d verify Temple’s credentials.”
“You mean – you don’t think he’s a cop?”
“Now you’re thinking like a man.”
She punched his bandaged wound. Earl blacked out from the pain. Consequently, their conversation ended.
“I am cruel,” Lissette muttered, “but I’m just being … honest.”
NAILED Scene Five- Lissette’s Apartment. Day Two. Noonish.
SHE DRUG HER weary bones to the bathroom. Lissette’s bladder could explode any minute. She was up all night with Earl arranging guards for his room. The guards were people on the force who she trusted with Earl’s life. Maybe not her own, but definitely Earl’s.
She flushed the toilet. Time to change the roll again. Bother.
“Oh, look. What a mess,” Lissette frowned at her reflection in the mirror. She examined the circles under her eyes. She shook her mane. Bummer, sleeping in my good clothes again, she thought, lipstick and mascara smeared in odd places.
“A long, warm shower’s what I need,” she muttered. She stripped and tossed her clothes out on the unmade bed. Circling in front of the mirror, she complimented her saccharine physique. She leaned over the sink checking her eye corners for telltale signs of crows-feet. Lissette posed with her hair pulled up on top of her head. Alas? No genuine man to praise her beauty; she could only enjoy the luxury of private narcissism.
Adjusting the shower temperature, Lissette stepped into the tub and slid the frosted glass closed after her. It felt good to get clean. She enjoyed the invigoration of the tiny water droplets pulsing against her. Even with spraying water reverberating off the hard shower walls, Lissette startled as the front door snapped shut. Jimmied! She sucked in a quick breath. Leaving the water running, she stepped instantly out. Fast, Lissette lifted the cover off the toilet tank. Taped inside was a loaded pistol for emergencies. As she gripped the gun, Lissette felt a change over her wet skin. Someone was blocking the air flow through the open bathroom door. She spun around gun raised. A spinal-chill spread goose bumps over her soapy body.
“Don’t shoot!” It was long-haired Eli Temple, weathered black leather jacket and all.
Lissette cocked the pistol.
“Don’t shoot! I can explain!”
Lissette fired. Eli dropped to the floor wincing in pain.
“See! And you wanted diplomatic,” Lissette shouted.
She hadn’t killed him, just nailed him through his left thigh.
“That one was for breaking and entering!” she shouted. She cocked the weapon again. “And, this bullet is for being a Peeping Tom!”
“No! No!” he yelled.
Lissette kicked Eli’s head against the hard tub. He lay unconscious. She kicked him again for good measure.
“I should’ve shot you last night, pervert!”
His body twitched but the old boy stayed out, stone cold. She put the Pawnshop Special back in the toilet tank, found a warm robe, and dialed 9-1-1 once again.
What was he trying to find in my apartment? She wondered. “The nail polish?”
Lissette thumbed through a glamor magazine as she gave her address, name, and other particulars. Lissette finally was permitted to say, “A stranger broke into my apartment. He’s wounded and needs medical attention. Send an ambulance, please.” While waiting for the ambulance, Lissette emptied all of Eli’s pockets. Eli Temple remained senseless.
NAILED Scene Six- Homicide Division. Day Two P.M. Fourish.
LISSETTE WAS AT THE DOOR to welcome Anita Maria Rodriguez del Aguila. Anita wasn’t what Lissette expected in a maid. Anita was tall, fit, and stately. She was the kind of woman Lissette immediately disliked. Anita was beautiful. Her brown skin and brown eyes with long black eyelashes made Lissette stare to determine if they were all real. She wondered if the rest of her equipment was real, too. Anita wore a flowing pastel summer dress.
“Hello, Anita, thanks for coming down. I know these are difficult times for you,” Lissette uttered with an icy voice.
“Yes. Who knows what will become of me?” Anita said.
Give me a break, Lissette thought, this gal’s got whimpering down to a science.
Anita stood in front of the bright glass door. Lissette smiled. Anita had neglected wearing a slip under her now translucent dress. In front of a really bright light, the Empress’s clothes were absolutely transparent! Such a wicked thought.
“Come on back to the conference room. It’s a little quieter and private,” Lissette said. Lissette observed the “Maid’s” body language. Anita had been in a police station before. Lissette led Anita through the bullpen full of noisy male detectives. Some discretely glanced out the corner of their eye. But, most heads spun. Anita was the focus of lecherous attention.
Let her be the star, smirked Lissette. Lissette stopped in front of the floor length glass window. The blazing sun was streaming in. “Could you wait right here?” Lissette asked, “Maybe you’d like something to drink?”
“No. I’m fine,” Anita said.
“I’ll be back in just a minute. You’ll be okay?” Lissette asked.
“Sure. No problem. There’s a nice view from here,” Anita said.
“Yes. I’m sure there is!” Lissette laughed. Lissette dashed into security. “Hey! You guys! Wake up! Put a 5-minute video tape in. Give me one minute on camera 5 and four minutes on camera 6. Don’t screw up or I’ll kill you.”
“What’s the deal?” asked one of the men.
“She’s a suspect. Don’t ask questions. Give me a copy in 15 minutes in the conference room,” Lissette commanded.
Lissette went to the case files for a timed 3 minutes.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Lissette apologized upon returning.
“Oh, this warm sun is so great. Don’t you think?” Anita asked. Lissette noticed the fragrant perfume Anita was wearing. It was almost intoxicating. They both stood there soaking in the rays and watching the motion of traffic.
”I’m sure many here really enjoyed the sun this afternoon,” Lissette responded, “Come on this way.”
Lissette sat at the conference table next to Anita. Lissette watched her for a moment.
“So what did you want to talk about?” Anita asked. She fidgeted with a paper clip on the table.
“Did any men ever visit Glenda?”
“You want the name of the father of Glenda’s unborn child?” Anita said.
Lissette raised an eyebrow. “So. You knew about the pregnancy?”
“Yes, Glenda confided in me.”
“Really. What was your relationship like with Glenda.?” Anita paused her paper clip fidgeting and smiled. “Are you asking if I prefer women to men, Detective?”
“No. That’s not what l … ” Lissette stammered.
“We’re you involved with Glenda?” Lissette asked.
“Yes,” Anita said, “But, I’m not the father.” She grinned.
She suckered me, thought Lissette. She smoldered and held it in. “Did she ever tell you who the father was?”
“No. She was pretty secretive about that.”
One of the security boys appeared to deliver the video. Lissette nodded a thanks when he set it quietly on the table. Anita stared at it wondering if it contained something important.
“Well, I’ll ask again. Did any men ever visit Glenda?” Lissette asked.
“Yes. Her father visited her regularly.”
“Do you think he’s the father of her baby?”
Anita’s eyes widened. “That’d be unspeakable!”
Gotcha! Lissette thought gleefully.
“Stranger things happen,” Lissette said with a straight face. “Did he ever stay the night?”
“I think you’d best give a complete description of Glenda’s father.”
“You think he might not really be her … father?”
Lissette weakly smiled and said, “One can hope.”
“Well, he’s medium build. He has long white hair. I don’t know his age, but he looks oldish, you know. He always wears a beatup, black leather jacket …” Anita recited.
“Wait. Did you say, ‘leather jacket’? Did you ever hear his name?”
“Glenda called him by name occasionally. He always got mad about it.”
“One last question before we look at evidence on this police video,” Lissette said, “Did you ever have intimate relations with Eli Temple?”
Anita’s mouth dropped open. “How’d you know his name’s Temple?”
“I ask the questions. Could you respond to my last one?” Lissette asked.
“I want to see my lawyer before I answer any more questions.” Anita folded her arms across her first-rate torso.
I’ve read this body language before: End of Interview. I hit a nerve, thought Lissette.
“Anita, you’ve been very helpful. We’ll save this video for court. By the way, this place could use a maid. Think about it. Here’s my card. Call if you think of anything else,” Lissette said. Anita got up and left in a hurry.
She’s a maid? Right! More like gold-digger, thought Lissette.
Lissette picked up the video. I guess we’ll watch this at the annual Christmas party, she thought. She inserted the cartridge into the conference room video player. The video appeared on screen. There were the gawking men. The camera switched to what they were staring at. There was Anita in her transparent summer dress. Her silhouette, a beautiful curvaceous body and smooth, slender limbs. The camera focused on a small twenty-two caliber firearm taped to the inside of one lovely thigh.
Lissette eyes opened wide. That hussy. Then appeared Lissette in an even more transparent straight white skirt. The camera lens moved in for a closer view. Her video image leaned toward the window. Lissette held her hand over her mouth in disgust. Oh, save me! The close up revealed brilliant sun lighting Lissette up like a spotlight. Lissette laughed at herself, “Wait ’til Mr. Hiccup sees this.” The camera panned across toward pretty Anita. Her fine hand and fingers filled the screen. Her long green metallic fingernails glittered in the sun. Lissette jumped up knocking over her chair.
“The nail polish! Anita, you tramp!” she exclaimed, “She’s got the stuff.” Lissette ejected the cassette. Damn, she thought, how could I miss those green nails while interviewing her? I was distracted by her mental jousting.
NAILED Scene Seven- Anita’s house. Day Three – 3 A.M.
HMM? BROKEN GLASS BITS crunchy on the floor. Lissette yawned. Anita’s modest house – seems nice, Lissette thought. A crime photographer’s flash swallowed the small bedroom. Lissette stepped over Anita’s outstretched red hand. It had green polish on her neatly trimmed nails.
Lissette wandered sleepily toward the bathroom. She always started an investigation in the bathroom. It revealed so many personal details about the victim. Stuff you couldn’t find elsewhere. The emergency call came from a neighbor who heard gun shots. Shots most likely from Anita’s twenty-two.
Lissette stepped in and flicked on the bluish florescent light, the bathroom was jumbled. Pill bottles, cosmetics, toiletries everywhere … and lots of fresh blood.
“Hey! Joey!”‘ Lissette yelled at the photographer, “Get in here quick.” Geez, whoever trashed this place was wounded pretty bad, Lissette thought. Joey poked his head through the doorway.
“Wow! Gross!” Joey exclaimed. It was his first commentary of the morning. He, too, woke from deep slumber.
“Take a couple photo shots, Joey. Then, let me check things out,” Lissette said.
“Yeah, sure thing.”
Joey is a sicko, Lissette thought, he enjoys his nauseating job, too much.
“That ought to do it. I’ve got to shoot a few more facial-wound close-ups on the mark,” Joey said and vanished back into the bedroom.
This mark had a name, Joey. It was Anita. Lissette scanned the room; poking things around a bit with her traditional black stiletto high-heels. She yawned. No green metallic nail polish. Lissette paused staring at the white toilet tank. She slowly lifted the cover and peered inside.
There was a six-shooter taped in the tank. She shuddered and fumbled the heavy lid. It shattered on the floor. Joey came running.
“What happened?” he panted. Lissette stood there one hand spread on her throat as if voiceless. “There’s … there’s a … gun in the toilet,” Lissette croaked.
Joey stared at her confused.
Fright-tears spilled from her eyes. “She never made it … to the gun. She was pulled back – into the bedroom.”
Lissette’s finger tips were blue and numb from the shock. “Anita was a cop …” Her circulation was tightening up involuntarily. The intense reaction strangled her breath. “… like me,” she weakly whispered.
Joey walked over as if approaching a bomb. He peered into the tank. Lissette’s unexpected and odd behavior was spooking him.
“So? What’s the big deal? A gun. We’ve seen guns before,” he puzzled.
“She was a cop,” Lissette mumbled. Dazed.
“Who?” Joey asked.
“Anita was a cop! That’s why she had a gun taped on her thigh. That’s why she was at home in a police department,” Lissette roared, “She played out her part to her dying end. Anita thought I was a suspect!”
“What are you freaking out about?” Joey asked, “You know this iced chick?”
“I met her today, Joey. She worked undercover as a maid.”
“You’re kidding? This gal? She was a knockout. Who’d believe her as an ordinary maid?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a set up.”
“By who?” Joey asked.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. But, whoever did this is looking for the same thing I am.”
Joey looked at her with a furrowed brow. “You need sleep, Zeller,” Joey said, “What do you mean ‘the same thing’ ?”
“Anita wore metallic green fingernail polish today. I can’t find the bottle,” Lissette stated.
Joey’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t you say so. There’s a bottle in the vic’s purse in the kitchen.”
“You went through her bag without telling me?” Lissette fumed.
Joey squeezed his lips together and shrugged one shoulder, “Okay. I lifted twenty bucks. I’ll put it back.”
Lissette punched Joey so hard in the face he staggered back a few steps.
“Sorry,” he whined, rubbing his jaw.
Lissette marched into the kitchen. She picked up the purse and yanked opened the catch. She rummaged amid the usual handbag clutter, it wasn’t there.
“Joey, where is it?” she yelled. She dumped the purse contents on the table. Joey stood beside her. A blank expression hung on his face.
“I swear it was there. I didn’t take it.”
The room seemed unnaturally chill. Lissette shivered.
“Joey, preserve me. The killer was still here – in this house – when we arrived. And took the bottle after you examined the purse,” Lissette said. She stared Joey in the eye. The cold silence burned.
“The murderer … was still watching us?” Joey wheezed. He sat down missing the chair and fell to the floor.
NAILED Scene Eight – County Hospital. Day Three – 9 AM.
FLASHING HER BADGE at the nurses station, Lissette strode into Earl’s room. Earl lay agitated in his white and gray hospital bed. “Praise be Lissette, I’m so glad to see you. See. They took away all my guards. I’ve been without protection for hours,” Earl said. He was perspiring.
“Yeah. I guess you won’t need protection any more,” Lissette said. She put her badge back in her purse. She flopped it on the edge of Earl’s bed. The black purse looked like a big bug against the white linen.
“How come I don’t need protection?” Earl questioned. His anxiety level was increasing.
“Anita’s dead,” Lissette said.
“Anita who? I don’t know any Anita?” he responded.
“Anita Maria Rodriguez del Aguila, the beautiful maid who worked for Glenda Canon,” she said.
Earl stared out the door as if he hoped someone would save him.
“Earl, Anita is dead,” Lissette repeated. Earl began weeping. Lissette hadn’t anticipated this reaction to the grim news. She handed him a white tissue. Lissette waited a moment before proceeding.
“I stopped by the office before I came here. There were two fax reports on my desk. Both from the FBI. One about Eli Temple and another about Anita Rodriguez.”
“So. What do they have to do with me?” Earl asked.
“Earl, you were shot by Eli Temple. He’s confessed. He wanted to kill us both. The tan patrol car was stolen. Temple was an ex-cop gone bad; a scam artist. Anita was an undercover Federal Agent investigating him on charges of racketeering, extortion, and bribery. He was swindling Glenda and her father,” Lissette said.
“Why did he want to knock us off?” Earl snuffled.
“He was afraid we’d pin Glenda’s murder on him. Bad record, you know.”
“Where’s he at now?”
“He’s in custody of the FBI. He was extradited yesterday for crimes in a different state. He still can’t walk yet,” Lissette said. She chuckled.
“So how could he dust Anita?”
“He didn’t. But, you know that don’t you?” Lissette said. There was hardness in her voice. She was coiling for a strike. Earl flopped his head back on his pillow and blubbered.
“I never bumped anybody off.” He pounded the bed with his fists. Lissette waited for his tantrum to end.
“You gave Glenda my nail polish. Why?” Lissette questioned. Earl hung his head, “It was just a little present. She liked stuff like that. I couldn’t ask you for it. So I took it. I was afraid you’d ask questions and figure things out.”
“Like the fact, you and Glenda were secret lovers or about her forbidden pregnancy?”
“I swear. I didn’t know she was pregnant until the coroner’s report,” Earl whimpered.
“You knew she was being swindled by Temple, but you never said a thing. Earl, you’re man of too many evil secrets,” Lissette said. She clenched her teeth, “Were you in league with Eli Temple?”
“Zeller, I detest the man. I’m glad you nailed him.” Lissette sat on the bed. Earl tensed up.
“I’m not gonna hurt you, Earl. Calm down. I know you didn’t murder Anita. I don’t know if you murdered Glenda. But, I think you … you Bad Boy, were having worldly delight with both. Am I right … or am I right?”
Earl looked at the wall and nodded his head, “I loved them … both.”
“So answer this question, how did Anita end up with my nail polish? Did you give it to her?”
Earl looked blank, “I don’t know how she got it. Maybe she felt it was murder evidence. I don’t know. Maybe she stole it. I’ve got no idea.”
“Unfortunately, she’s dead. Now we’ll never really know,” Lissette said.
Earl fiddled nervously with the bed sheet. “How did Anita die?” he asked.
“Earl, I’m sorry. I can’t tell you that. You’re a suspect in the murder of Glenda Canon and her unborn child.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Nope. You heal here for awhile in the hospital,” Lissette said, “Then you’ll be arrested.”
“Lissette, please don’t leave me … defenseless,” Earl begged. Earl had never called Lissette by her first name before. Earl was scared.
Lissette smiled, “Good-bye, Earl. She’s still out there, isn’t she?” Earl lay his fingers on his mouth. A muffled hiccup betrayed him. Lissette leaned forward and kissed Earl on the forehead. Earl hiccuped again. She slung her purse strap over her shoulder and click-clacked down the hall.
At the entrance, a sexy young creature set foot into the hospital lobby. Unquestionably, she was expert at providing something for the needy. She wore a fitted bomber jacket; unzipped to hang daringly off one shoulder. It was a deliberate unveiling of a red bikini top brimming with summer bronze tan. She stopped and peered at Lissette over her black sunglasses.
She’s pretty in a cheap sort of way, Lissette thought. The well-proportioned darling wore skintight black Spandex pants with bright yellow platform shoes. Wow! Lissette thought, how – precious.
Miss Haughty approached. A large brooch was pinned on the girl’s breast pocket. The gaudy jewelry simulated a pink rhinestone cupcake with the letters C. C. in white stones. Lissette was familiar with her fragrant perfume. It was almost intoxicating. The girl sniffed at Lissette as she passed by. This trollop was Earl’s 2-AM visitor at his apartment, Lissette thought, poor Earl, such grouchy indulgences.
NAILED Scene Nine – Homicide Division. Day Three – 2 PM.
She sat at her desk, spikes off, feet dangling. Lissette was going over the reports. She was feeling bad about Anita’s demise.
”Excuse me,” a male voice said, “Are you Lissette?”
Lissette spun around in her chair. There stood a tall, good looking man extending his hand. She reached out her hand and they shook. Nice hands, she thought.
“Most people call me Zeller,” Lissette said.
“May I call you … Lissette?” he asked.
“Well, I suppose it depends upon who you are.” she replied.
Gosh, he’s got a face like a model, Lissette thought. She tried not to appear noticeably excited.
“My name is Boz Bronkam. I’ve been assigned to be your partner,” he said.
“I’ve heard this story before. Let see some I.D. and transfer papers,” Lissette said.
He opened his jacket wide so she saw his 9mm Uzi and shoulder sling underneath. She liked a man who’d show his steel. His blue shirt stretched tight across his torso. Boz had an athletic body shape. He handed Lissette his I.D. and papers nipping her daydream.
He grinned, “I’ve got a special anti-terrorist court order.” Lissette examined the documents. She checked his age and marital status. Perfect.
“Everything’s in order,” she said, “Pull up a chair. I need your help.” He seemed pleasantly surprised.
“Already? Great.” He drug a chair over and sat near the metal desk.
“If you call me Lissette, … may I call you Boz.”
“Sure. My real name is Boseman. But you probably saw that on the I.D.,” he said. She missed that. She was too busy checking his “eligibility.”
“Does your name have a story?” Lissette asked.
Ouch, that sounded dopey, she thought.
“It’s pretty simple. I was born in Boseman, Montana, USA.”
“Oh,” Lissette said. She was at a loss for words. She was tempted to say several things – but they were all cruel. There was an awkward silence.
“Well, what kind of help did you need?” Boz asked.
“You and I are working on a murder case,” Lissette stated.
He whistled. “No kidding. Today’s my first day as a detective. This is too good,”
“This is your first day … as a detective?” Lissette repeated. Again she held her tongue from saying several mean things.
“Sorry. I guess, I should’ve told you. I’m just a greenhorn,” Boz said. He stared at his feet and slowly looked up at Lissette.
Lissette smiled at him. There was silence again.
“Well, for a greenhorn, you have great … muscles,” Lissette said. Boz sounded a nervous but hearty laugh.
“Listen, Boz. Let’s take a break. We can walk down to a little Cafe I know. I’ll fill you in about the murder on the way. What do you say?” Boz relaxed his broad shoulders.
“You know, Lissette, I could use something to eat. I missed lunch.” Lissette was in bliss.
The black phone on Lissette’s desk rang. She picked it up and listened. She didn’t say a word and slowly hung up.
“What’s up?” Boz asked, “Why the sad face?’
She sat silent for several minutes.
“My former partner, Earl, … a drug overdose. They claim it’s suicide.”
“Suicide? But you think somebody popped him?” Boz questioned.
She didn’t reply immediately. She scowled.
“A serial killer is still at large. Whether she killed Earl or not, I don’t know. We’ve got to flush her out.”
“How do you propose to do that?” Boz asked.
“I think I’m next on the hit list. I’m bait.”
Boz leaned his chair back and put his hands behind his head. With admiration he said, “You know, Lissette, you’ve got moxie.”
She smiled at the quaintness of “moxie” and wondered if Boz ever got hiccups. She would miss Earl.
NAILED Scene Ten – Lissette’s Apartment. Day Three – 8 PM.
FOR HIS FIRST DAY ON THE JOB, Boz went the second mile. He took Lissette out for a simple drive-thru dinner; hamburgers, shakes, and fries. She was glad. After hearing about Earl’s death, Lissette didn’t feel like doing much; least of all cooking.
She stood in front of her yellow apartment door and waved good-bye to Boz. I like him, she thought, Boz is unassuming, even a bit old-fashioned. Where’d I put those stupid keys? She rummaged through her purse. Odd. They were here this morning.
Wait? Earl?! Earl lifted them when I kissed him. But why? Double crossing fool!
Lissette drew the gun from her purse. She kicked off her ubiquitous black spike high heels. Slipping around the side of the building, she saw the window to her bedroom was aglow. She slid to the window’s edge and took a quick glance in. Standing with her back against the wall, she analyzed what she had seen. Nothing was out of place. But the nightstand light was switched on low. I remember turning that off; I’ve had a visitor, she thought. Lissette made a mobile call to Boz’ smartphone. “Boz? Hi, It’s me. Looks like I’ve had an intruder. Can you come back?”
She listened, “Yeah. I won’t go in. Promise. Pick me up at the gas station on the corner. OK. Bye.” She hung up. What a protective hero, she thought.
With her hidden spare key, Lissette and Boz entered the apartment. Both had weapons drawn. They quickly patrol searched the small apartment. Investigating by the book, they found things safe and sound. “You know what really creeps me out, ” Lissette said, “That stupid light was off this morning. Do you believe me?”
“You’re my partner,” Boz said, “So, yep, that light was off when you left.” He went to the light and turned it up bright.
Lissette smiled, “Thanks, Boz.” Suddenly, the hot bulb exploded spraying shattered glass. Lissette’s mouth dropped open.
“Tell me that was coincidence,” Boz said.
“Are you all right?” Lissette asked. “Yeah. Weird for the bulb to burst like that.”
“An old trick” Boz said, “Stick a piece of gooey gum on the bulb – when it gets hot – the temperature difference makes it crack and shatter.”
Lissette went pale, “Anita’s bedroom floor was crunchy with glass particles.”
“Anita? Oh, yeah. The FBI agent,” Boz remembered, “So what are you saying?”
Lissette was silent from the horror of how Anita died. She never told Earl or anyone how Anita was butchered.
“Are you okay?” Boz asked.
“No. Not really. Thinking of poor Anita makes me ill.”
“Are you gonna puke?”
“No. I’ll be all right. Just gimme a minute,” Lissette said, “It’s only fear.”
“The guys told me you’re not afraid of anything,” Boz said.
“Well, they’re exaggerating again.”
“How about I make something to drink?” Boz said.
“Go ahead. I’m thinking.”
“Wouldn’t want to interrupt that,” Boz said.
“Now you’re being cruel,” Lissette said. She smiled.
“Sorry. I’m not normally that way. I guess you bring out the worst in me,” Boz said.
“Well, you’re not the first to say that,” Lissette said thinking of Earl. Lissette sat on the bed as Boz puttered in the kitchen.
“Anita had a light bulb blow up when she switched it on. The glass shards were in the carpet in her bedroom. She then struggled in the dark to get a gun in the bathroom. There was a lot of blood in there. She lost that battle. She was hauled back into her bedroom where she was wasted. The murderer was still in the house when we arrived. We just didn’t find out soon enough,” Lissette said.
“And you think the killer’s a woman? How come?” Boz said.
“Instinct. Woman’s intuition,” Lissette said. She stood and stretched. “And because of how she hacked the victim’s body. A man wouldn’t mutilate the same way. A jealous hellcat was the murderer.”
“You think she’s here?” Boz asked.
Lissette shook her head. “We’ve already searched my place completely.”
Boz shrugged and nodded in agreement.
Lissette frowned. “Where would she hide in this tiny place?”
On a hunch, Lissette glided into the bathroom and turned on the light. The light blinked and startled her. She swung the medicine cabinet open. There on the second shelf sat a small bottle with “CC” written on the side in metallic green nail polish.
Lissette took it gently by the cap and closed the mirrored cabinet door. My nail polish! she thought. She changed her eye focus from the small bottle to the mirror. In back of Lissette, a shape behind the frosted glass shower door slid it noiselessly open. Lissette stared down both barrels of a smooth-bore, sawed-off shotgun. She dove for the floor. The weapon roared – scattering shot in a wide pattern. Dust and debris went flying. Lissette heard Boz scramble in the kitchen.
“You’re under arrest,” the unarmed Lissette shouted. She jumped grabbing the barrels of the cut-off side-by-side. Lissette twisted the shotgun toward the ceiling. It discharged again powdering the room with chalky wallboard. Lissette knuckle-punched her attacker twice in the windpipe. The woman staggered back releasing the gun. Lissette decked her in the head once more for good measure with the gun butt. The “alleged perpetrator” was down and out for the count.
“Who?! Who is this spitfire?” Boz shouted. He stared in the dusty tub.
“She – this spitfire – has the right to remain silent,” Lissette said, “Give me a minute – to catch my breath.” Lissette bent over with one hand on her knee waiting for her body to stabilize.
“Her name’s Cupcake, CC.” Lissette wheezed picking up the nail-polish bottle and showing the initials, “Gloria must have written this clue before she died.”
Lissette dropped the scattergun on the cluttered floor.
“Every murder connected with my old partner Earl, but he didn’t do it.” Lissette was silent.
Boz and Lissette stood vacantly staring at the unconscious young woman sprawled in the dusty tub.
Boz raised an eyebrow, “Are you all right?” He smiled. She gave him a friendly hug.
Lissette sipped her cocoa. She dialed 9-1-1 and waited. C.C or Cupcake was Earl’s 2-AM assassin girlfriend. Lissette sighed, Earl was just way too desperate. While holding the phone to her ear, Lissette surveyed Mr. Montana slowly sipping his hot drink. Boz winked at her. Lissette beamed back.
I’m not cruel any more. I can control my anger. And I’m not afraid. I’ll never wear my black stiletto high-heels again. No bewitchments. No seductions. A slight curve became visible at her mouth’s corner. She eyed Boz. He relaxed leaning against the wall and the dwindling light from the window played across his face.
Her natural, beautiful self sparkled. Gratitude permeated the room. The case was finally solved and over – with a brighter, new future beginning.
Still holding the 911 call to her ear, she stepped close to Boz – and slowly reached to touch his hand. It was a bold move. He gazed at her soft touch and wrapped her hand tenderly in his. “You’re not so tough,” he said.
She nodded silently, shut her eyes – unbolted her fresh heart – and leaned into a warm but not-so-cruel kiss.
Steve is the creative director and author of Nailed. For usage permissions or purchase of creative rights, please contact: