To Kill A Mocking Bird, Chapter Three

Posted: December 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

No, I’m not going to address the absence of my blog. Life, that’s the answer. No, this time I’m just posting an exceprt from the CCC Novel for those people who said they wanted to offer feedback. This is a scene I’ve had in my brain for over twenty years. In the context of the novel, this is a chapter from a serialized story published in the magazine that the novel is about. The structure of the novel alternates between the real life story of the magazine’s lastest editor and excerpts from the magazine itself. Imagine if Lost flashbacked to the books the characters were reading, that sort of thing.

Aaaaanyway, I was hoping to get a sense from people if (a) they could follow the story in the format it’s presented in: a little background, and then just a middle chapter of a larger tale, (b) it’s actually entertaining, despite having no beginning or ending, and (c, if you’re really ambitious) does it seem anachronous for having been “published” in 1988.

Oh, and tell me what you liked. I really need the emotional writing boost!

Doug

 

 

(From “Dalton Mensa: To Kill A Mocking Bird, Part Three,” Chimerical Tales #302, September 1988)

 (SIDEBAR: THE BEST HISTORY NEVER READ! logo;

Generally regarded to be the first of the “New Chimerical” series, making a break from the staidness that many of the early serials had fallen into, Calvin Holloway’s DALTON MENSA radically altered what people expected from the now twenty-year old Chimerical Tales. The magazine’s third editor, Cliff Borden, took advantage of the book’s lowered sales to rationalize more experimental series.

DALTON MENSA was a spin-off from Holloway’s one-shot “Writer’s on the Storm” (CT #246) about bored incarnations of concepts from the collective subconscious. The new series told the eponymous story of Dalton Caroline Mensa, a hard-boiled detective/hitwoman who took cases where she hunted down (and possibly assassinated) missing ideas. Holloway reportedly got the idea from his wife. “I had made some sort of snide comment during an episode of Moonlighting and she said that she wished she could hire [the detectives] Maddie and David to find my missing childhood innocence. I immediately knew I wanted to write that story in my Writers [on the Storm] universe!” (Cincinnati Magazine Vol. 26 No. 2, November 1992, “Cincinnati’s Nicest Writer Tells All About The Subconscious’ Toughest Detective”)

DALTON MENSA’s third outing, “To Kill A Mocking Bird” followed on the success of “Schrodinger’s Elvis” and “Anarchy Gordon” with a loving homage to Chuck Jones. It won Best Story for 1988, the series’ first win. END SIDEBAR)

 

It was day three of Dalton Mensa’s observation of the coyote. From her vantage point on top of a high butte she watched the action from a comfortable burlap camping chair with a pair of Nikon x1000 binoculars. The desert wind blew dust in stochastic swirls around her brand new hiking boots. Far below, two tiny figures raced along an unused highway. One was her client, the other, her target. The road runner. The bird who mocked.

Dalton watched, and in watching, she had already come to several conclusions.

The first of these was personal; the desert hated her hair. Her long ash-blond locks were matted with sand and dust, and the lack of humidity made her hair brittle and frizzy. As soon as this case was over, she was going back to New York and spending at least a day at a salon and spa.

The more important of her revelations, though, concerned the odd laws of physics and rules of engagement that surrounded the coyote/road runner rivalry. From what the coyote had told her about their ongoing battle (and the damage that the poor creature had taken in his pursuit of the devious bird), Mensa had imagined a more aggressive, bellicose road runner. What she had observed, however, was that the bird actually did nothing at all to damage the coyote aside from occasionally coming up behind it and taunting it with its hauntingly nasal “meep meep” cry. At no time did the bird actually touch the coyote at all.

No, the truth of the coyote’s contusions and injuries seemed far more related to the amount of times he fell off a cliff. In fact, ninety-nine percent of the time, if he wasn’t falling off of something, something was falling on him. It occurred to Dalton that if the coyote operated in a zero-g environment like space, he would avoid a great amount of pain. Even the flat heartlands of middle America would serve him better. Relocating to Kansas or Iowa, perhaps. Dalton made a note to look up what sort of flightless bird game was found there.

The other obvious problem the poor coyote had–repeatedly–was his choice of weapon. No, Dalton corrected herself, not weapon… weapon supplier. While the beast was apparently a master of Rube Goldbergian deathtrap design, for some reason every part bought for these came from the same company: Acme. Invariably, these Acme products failed in such a way that not only did the road runner get away, but the coyote was either humiliated, grievously injured, or both. Most often both.

Researching on her hypernet laptop, Mensa had pulled up a record of a court case from several years in the future, “Coyote v. Acme Products Corp.” but beyond the transcript of the attorneys’ opening statement, there was no record of the outcome. Still, she noted “possible r.r./acme connection” in her file.

After her legs had tanned appropriately and the coyote had knocked himself unconscious trying to run through a train tunnel painted on the side of a butte, Dalton decided it was time to try some direct action.

She opened the aluminum case that had been resting next to her chair and began assembling the Remington M24 sniper weapon system she used for conventional assassinations and snipe hunting. After a second’s consideration, she picked the lighter .300 Winchester Magnum over her preferred .338 Lapua, reasoning that the smaller cartridge would give her the edge in speed… and really, how much bullet did you need for a bird with a head the size of an avocado? Resting the gun on a tripod at the oddly perpendicular cliff edge, she brushed the hair out of her sighting eye and began scanning the road below for her target.

It only took a few minutes before she found the telltale dust cloud that always followed the hypersonicus contempticus. From this distance the bird would have looked like a dot to the naked eye, but through the telescopic sight Dalton could make out every blue and purple feather. The road runner was closing in quickly on the unconscious coyote, and Dalton knew from her psych profiling of the bird that it wouldn’t be able to resist stopping long enough to beep triumphantly. Seconds later, that was exactly what it did.

Dalton squeezed the M24’s trigger calmly and the report of the shot echoed off the canyon walls at the speed of sound. The bullet fired from the .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge was almost three times faster, and yet before it could perforate the target’s skull, the road runner chirped twice triumphantly and all the bullet passed through was a dust cloud in the shape of the suddenly-absent bird.

“What the fuck?” Dalton said. Pulling a calculator from her hunting vest, she did the math. There was no possible way that the bird would have been able to hear the shot, and even if it did, in the amount of time it took to taunt and raspberry her, the bullet would have travelled at least a mile past the big bloody exit wound under the big purple feather. And what was with the dust cloud?

With reflexes born from years of confirmed paranoia, Dalton swung around, her free hand pulling her SpyderCo butterfly knife, blade flipping open. The sharp edge missed the road runner’s elongated throat by millimeters, and that only because it somehow knew to retract its smirking head.

“Meep meep!” it said to Dalton, and before she could snap its twiggy neck, it was a blur in the distance.

“Oh, game on, bird,” Dalton muttered under her breath at the diminishing dust trail.

Despite her newly personal reasons for wanting to smash the road runner’s head with a magnetic anvil or rocket powered slingshot boulder, Dalton remembered her personal rule against letting her emotions interfere with assassinations, Usenet postings or love affairs.

Obviously there was something more than physics at play here.

She recovered her binoculars from the dust and looked back into the canyon. The coyote had awakened, and while the bird had been up here sneering at her, he had been putting together an Acme Frictionless Steam-Roller. Dalton winced. The poor desert beast didn’t even need an undefeatable nemesis to seriously hurt himself with that thing. She lowered the binoculars. Some things even an ice-hearted killer couldn’t watch.

Still, it had given her an idea. Obviously, attempting to attack the road runner directly wasn’t going to work. There were metaphysical laws at work here; the key was obviously going to be finding a way to work around them.

Dalton got on her portable phone. Thanks to a favor owed to her by Thor, Norse god of thunder, her phone got reception everywhere in the Nine Worlds. It took a few calls to some dubious friends to plant the contraband in the apartment of Randolph Avellone from Jacksonville, Mississippi, but only one to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to get him arrested at his place of work an hour later. Dalton made a note to make it up to the poor man when all this was done, but she needed him out of the way.

While Dalton sat atop the cliff arranging this, the coyote flattened himself twice, ran off three separate cliffs, and somehow managed to use an Acme Can Opener to skin himself. While a casual observer might have chalked this all up to incompetency on the mangy creature’s part, from her vantage point on the butte, Dalton could see the bird’s subtle involvement in all of it. It lurked, as if offstage, waiting for the exact moment to speed past the hungry coyote. Somehow it could calculate how fast it would have to run down the road so that when a boulder fell from the top of a cliff, the coyote would be in pursuit at just the right place to be crushed. It would run in front of a truck causing the driver to slow momentarily… only to cause that same truck to drive around a corner as the coyote stepped onto the road to cross. Sure, the coyote made a lot of dumb moves, but Dalton was surprised–maybe even impressed–at how much the object of the coyote’s hunger manipulated its pursuer.

Finally her phone rang. It was her office assistant Gail.

“I have confirmation on the Jacksonville, um, incident, ma’am,” she said with all the certainty of a computer shopper.

“They picked him up at work? In front of everyone?” Dalton asked.

“Yes, about twenty minutes ago.”

“Great. And did you get me the number I wanted?”

“Yes, Miss Mensa. It’s–“

“Just tell me in indirect quote, Gail. Otherwise it’ll turn into one of those 555-numbers.”

Gail gave her the number and Dalton hung up. After a pause, she dialed it and waited casually while the phone rung. Six rings later, a shaky voice answered.

“Uh, hello, Acme Products?”

Dalton smiled.

“Hi, is this the quality control department? I just heard you might have an opening in management, and I’d like to know where to send my resume.”

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