Friday, January 19, 2018

Elliot's Leap Day Birthday Party

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why? (Caveat: I added one, for numerological balance.)

For my first topic of 2018, I'll keep in the realm in which I'm currently working. If it's a dinner party for eight, I'd make it the birthday party for the protagonist of my mystery series, Elliot Caprice. It couldn't be a party including me as that would subject me to omnipotence. The invited characters would all behave according to my expectations and biases. Where would the fun be in that? The party is the evening of Leap Day, 1956. I envisioned Elliot's breech birth to occur on a phantom day that would allow him only one-quarter the birthdays the average person enjoys. "I won't live long enough to give a shit," he would probably say, as he checked whatever gifts he received, silently noting who knew what he'd like and who didn't.

It'd happen in the kitchen of the Caprice Family Farmhouse because this is the Midwest, where dining rooms are for operating businesses and the fronchroom is off limits to food and drink, sacred space for a Midwesterner as it is. Table settings for nine would mean extra chairs would have to be brought in from the covered porch, except not everyone would fit, and someone would have to eat leaning against the counter.

Rex Stout's agoraphobic Montenegran Nero Wolfe would be invited, although he certainly wouldn't attend, as there'd be too much fresh air. And black folks. I'd have him send along legman Archie Goodwin in his stead. I'd sit him between Chester Himes' Grave Digger Jones & Coffin Ed Johnson. To the right of Coffin Ed would be Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, at the opposite head of the table, which would seem appropriate to her, if not everyone else. This would put her to the left of Barbara Neely's Blanche White, who would be so not bothered with passing anything across the table, as it's a party and she was invited to enjoy herself and not work. She ain't passin' dishes, and she ain't solvin' murders, so no one better wind up dead.

Blanche needn't worry, for she is seated next to Robert B. Parker's Hawk, who is impeccably dressed and impeccably mannered. He attends sans Spenser because, frankly, it's an African American's birthday party and Spenser has a funny habit of figuring he's the protagonist and Hawk is the sidekick when everyone in a black household knows it's really the other way around. Besides, it's Elliot Caprice's house, therefore no Jazz and no scotch. Blues and bourbon only. He wouldn't be able to stand it. Henry Chang's Jack Yu would be seated near the head of the table and he'd be totally cool with being the only Asian, so long as no one brought up Charlie Chan, Dr. Fu Manchu, Earl Biggers, or Sax Rohmer.

At the top of the table, in a place of honor, would be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. He would bear an uncanny resemblance in both appearance and voice to Gerald Mohr. He'd obviously be uncomfortable with a seat of such prominence in the home of the man who'd be honored on his birthday, especially when he won't have another for four years. Elliot would shrug it off.

"No one thinks I'd be here without you, anyway."

Coffin Ed and Gravedigger would jaw it up with Archie, enjoying their banter about beating the streets of New York, at least until class and color lines would keep them from relating. Coffin Ed would ask Archie if he got up to Harlem at all. Archie would say, "Oh, you mean 135th and Lennox. I changed cabs there once." Then he'd be clowned. Jack Yu would cosign from across the table and wonder alound how, although New York City is filled with citizens from all parts of the globe, the black detectives are assigned to Harlem and the Chinese American detective is stuck in Chinatown.

V.I. would give the side-eye to Archie and mention to him that he should be more conscious of black Americans. Then she'd lean over and start rapping with Blanche about her days attending peace rallies and civil rights marches. Once she mentioned the black Chicago police detective she dated, Blanche's eyes would gloss over. Elliot would notice and break it up.

"You know we black Chicago police detectives love us some white women!"

V.I. would take the occasion as an opportunity to hit the bar cart for some Johnnie Walker Black. Blanche would stare at the back of her head as she walked away. Then she'd turn to Hawk and start a discussion about the chronic condition of the reluctant private eye. Laconically, she'd express how she can't help it if everyone around her goes all stupid at the appearance of a dead body. Hawk would mention how Spenser would be so much sharper in the racket if he wasn't around to help him all the time. That, or he'd leave investigations altogether, alive or dead. He'd compliment Elliot on being a 'black man with his own land.' Elliot would mention something about redlining. Folks would get uncomfortable.

Marlowe would take out a pack of Camels, look over to Elliot to ask if it was okay to light up. Elliot would mention no one in the room but he was created before the 1999 anti-tobacco initiative and, if he didn't care, why should anyone else? He'd refill his glass with Four Roses, ask Marlowe if he knew there was better bourbon to be had. Marlowe would mention how it wasn't for the taste but the feeling. Elliot would drink to that. The cake would finally come out. Elliot cuts everyone off after the first few bars of "Happy Birthday To You," as he knows my publisher can't afford to clear expensive copyrights. Then on to the gifts, except Elliot would politely refuse them.

"Each of you has given me enough."

He'd show everyone to the door. Once the coast was clear…

"You can come out now, Danny."

"Nice party?"

"Nice enough."

Elliot would go to the cupboard and retrieve a bottle of Old Boone's Knoll that was almost as old as Uncle Buster. We wouldn't get glasses. Just tip it. Once we were both loose enough, he'd ask me the hard question.

"So," he'd say. "You created me out of all of them?"

"Everyone thinks so, but nah," I'd say. "I created you out of my frustrations."

"Frustrations, of what?"

"What ain't on the page, Elliot," I'd say. "Of the shit that just never seems to make it onto the page."

I'd grab the bottle of Old Boone's once more, slam a slug, and hand it back to him.

"You done?"

"Yeah. I gotta write."

Elliot would put the bottle away, say goodnight, but before he'd walk down the long hall to the uninsulated covered porch where he deigns to sleep, he'd stop and turn back to me.

"You're writing…"

"Your next outing, yeah."

"Do I…you know…"

"Nah," I'd say. "I'm fairly certain you'll make it out of this one."


"Don't worry. You're here as long as I'm frustrated, and I'm pretty sure that's gonna be for a long while. You just may outlive me."


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner



Susan C Shea said...

Nice party, Danny. Dear Blanche. I miss her, and keep hoping Barbara Neely will get the itch to turn from poetry and write just one more. But I have one question about the guest list: Elliot's uncle? It's his house, right, and he keeps Elliot from getting too full of himself, so I think he should be invited. I'd invite him to my house in a New York minute.

RJ Harlick said...

Haven't we had such a super week of partying. And a great post to end it on.

Danny Gardner said...

Thanks, Susan. I had considered having just the residents of Casa Caprice hang out with, say, Marlowe, but this was more of a fever dream/holodeck/Matrix construct type of deal. It's more of a mood piece than an actual happening. Composed according to how I felt at the time.

Danny Gardner said...

Thank you, RJ. Sometimes we take on the pieces we write. Other times, we get taken along to where they want to go.

Unknown said...

It's been a week of strange and exciting parties, wow - and a great ending with yours, Danny. I don't know at least two thirds of the characters in all these dinner parties combined, so it was an education for me too. Thanks!

Danny Gardner said...

Thanks, RM. Funny you mention that. I've found that most folks don't know all the characters I do, and I can freely admit I haven't been exposed to a lot of the works cited as essential classics for genre enthusiasts. I think we all just get in where we fit in.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Danny. You sure know how to throw a party.