If you haven’t been following … How Dare You! Kidding. This is part 5 of a 6-part short story entitled “Crazy Magnet.” I’m looking for feedback as two whether the two main characters, Foss Cain (narrator) and Jeanne Dark, could carry a (series of) suspense novel(s). The questions are 1) do Dark’s gifts of observation and synesthesia present an interesting framework for an investigator, and 2) does Foss’ narrative voice and chemistry with Dark hold sufficient promise to carry a book?
Enjoy (and comment). By the way, this, and other short stories can be found in my anthology, The Juice and Other Stories, on sale now. Less than $1 for all 13 stories.
“He must eat a considerable amount to remain such a healthy size,” Dark says.
“You mean given how he rushes around like a headless chicken.” I’m being insulting on purpose, trying to draw her out. She doesn’t take the bait.
“He is quite agile for his size. On the walk from the car, I told him to go ahead and order and I would catch up. He seemed quite stressed by my slow pace.”
She is offering to talk about the accident. I take her up on it. “Are you in much pain?” I ask. The details are not what matters. What I’m interested in is how she reacts to things.
“Not so much,” she says, sipping her coffee. “I have an implant that tamps down the discomfort, so you needn’t worry about my having an addiction to medication.” She smiles and steals a peek over her glasses. I see her eyes are a rich chocolate that she quickly squints closed.
Now I am curious about the details. I know that look – I saw it plenty in my years of service. That was pain. “Does the light hurt your eyes?” I ask.
“Oui,” she says. It comes out sounding like “way.” That tells me she is probably from Paris, or thereabouts. “It is one of the more unfortunate consequences of my accident. My eyes were left permanently sensitive to light. But there were benefits, as well. We play the hand we are dealt, no?”
She’s being stoic, eking out info a bit at a time – I can’t help feeling on purpose – and I get a fleeting notion that this interview is a two-way process. It would not be out of character for that fat snake Hardesty to have me be the one on the hot seat, while telling me it’s the other way around. I decide to shake up my normal routine, which is to get the subject talking about herself. Instead, I switch to what I like to call tact two, which is to ask seemingly random questions geared to keeping the subject off kilter. Give a non-linear subject a rambling conversation and constant positive reinforcement, and you would be surprised what comes out.
I am beginning to refer to her in my head as “the subject” because that damned accent and the smile below those glasses is rocking my boat. Need to keep my head straight.
She’s looking at me again, sipping her coffee, and smiling.
“You take your coffee black?” I ask.
“Yes. I don’t like the colors when you add sugar and cream.” She makes a face.
Alarms are ringing in my head. “Colors?” I ask.
She smiles. “Oui.”
I actually wait ten seconds, giving her enough time to get uncomfortable and begin filling in the blanks. She does neither. “You going to explain what you mean about colors?” I ask. Point one to her.
“Sugar is bright yellow in my head, like the sun. Cream feels like gravel in my ears, a buzzing, like a mosquito-sized headache, and is gray. You add the two to a strong French roast, and your lovely brown coffee is the color of vomit.” She sips her coffee; I put mine down. “I don’t like seeing vomit when I drink. Do you?”
I agree that I do not. We pause for another fifteen seconds while I wait for her to explain the previous explanation. Point two to her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You mean the color of the coffee bothers you?”
She looks serious this time, shaking her head. “No, I am a … how you say, synesthete.”
It takes a few seconds for the word to register; then I get it. “You see colors,” I say. I shake my head; that is too simplistic an explanation. “I mean, your senses combine.” I have heard of it, but have never met a synesthete before. That alone would explain why a conservative government agency would be a little hinky about hiring her.
“Oui. But it is more than that and less than that. I have what is considered to be an extreme form. I do not precisely see the colors. Instead, as I sip the coffee, for instance, my brain reacts as though the colors are there.” She dips her pinkie in the small vial of cream Hardesty left, and inserts it into her mouth. Very. Slowly. Part of me wants to be her pinkie. “Even with my eyes closed, it tastes gray. Not very pleasant.”
There is another pause where I catch myself staring at her pinky. She catches me too and lowers her head, pretending not to smile. Time to rattle the cages a bit again. She is ahead three points to nil. “Well, seeing colors with coffee and declaring people purple is pretty extreme, I must agree.”
Lines crease her forehead. “You are being rude on purpose. You are not very good at it.” She stands.
Now this is a bit of a predicament and not only because she just swept the series four games to none. If she’s upset enough to leave an interview of this type at the first bit of discord, she’s certainly not stable enough for a sensitive operation. On the other hand, it’s kind of crazy behavior, and yet she doesn’t seem to like me much. Maybe this damned magnet is broken after all. She stops about two paces from the table and looks back over her shoulder. “Are you coming?” she asks. It is not a question, but a command. I rise and obey. As I catch up to her, she adds, “Good. The light in this place smells of butter. It is making me ill.”
I open the door and we step out into the sunlight. “How’s this?” I ask.
“Lilacs.” She smiles, inhaling a deep breath. “It suits you.”
“Because I’m purple. You want to explain that?”
For the first time, she looks uncomfortable. I don’t press the point. We walk down Connecticut Avenue, the pace normal, not at all slow. Still, she leans on the cane enough for me to notice. When she finally speaks, I am surprised, as I have almost forgotten the question. “If you do not mind, I would prefer not to answer. There are some things I need to keep to myself … for the sake of my work.” She pauses. “If you think not knowing jeopardizes our involvement …”
I hold up my hands. “It’s okay, no explanation needed. Just curiosity.”
“Merci.” She looks up at me, as we sit on one of the benches that surround the small park in the midst of the circle. “If it means anything, purple is a very good color.” Her voice becomes soft. “I have not seen purple before.”
Here, in the deep shade of the summer trees, under a partly cloudy sky, she looks at me, and removes her glasses. It is a brief glimpse, as if she is taking a photograph. She raises her head, eyes closed, and then they open, and flash … they grow wide, and she shuts them again. The glasses are replaced, and now, the magnet be damned, all I can think of is how much I need to taste those chocolate eyes again.
I am not certain, because the light is dim, but she seems flushed. Maybe the walk was too much. I do walk quickly, unless people remember to slow me down.
“Do you enjoy this kind of work?” she asks.
“What kind of work is it that you think I do?”
“I understand you are a security consultant, specializing in deception detection and behavior modeling.”
I nod. That is the company line.
“I think, however, you want to know if I am insane and whether you will have to babysit me if I am not.”