Recently someone mentioned on my Facebook page that he was reading Deception and laughed his way through the chapter where the main character Detective Ollie Chandler interviews an eccentric lady named Becky Butler. I really enjoyed writing that scene, which I’ve included as an excerpt in this blog.
Here's a little known fact: Becky Butler was the maiden name of Rebecca Ekstrom, a good friend who volunteers for Eternal Perspective Ministries, our ministry. Now, Rebecca is not even REMOTELY like the woman in the book, but I thought she would get a kick out of seeing that a notorious character had her name. I also named the most awful woman in the book, who appears near the end, after Brenda Meyer, another friend. She loved it. :)
Lots of friends and our kids' friends have had their names in my books. In fact, the year I wrote Deception, I put in the names of every varsity tennis player on the high school team I helped coach. I refused to tell my players where to find their names. That way they had to read it. Trust me, some of them I put in very late in the book!
Though it may still be another few years, I want to come back to Ollie. And meanwhile I am collecting Ollie-isms like this. Some are original with me, but many I have seen elsewhere and I am compiling them as candidates to use in the book. Anybody who wants to send me a possible Ollie-ism, please do so!
Excerpt from Deception, chapter 6
“There’s a possible witness here at those apartments with the view of Oak Street,” Manny told me on the phone. “She saw something, but she’s a case. Maybe you can charm her. She’s your type. Second floor. 205. Name’s Rebecca Butler.”
Twenty minutes later Clarence and I were standing outside apartment 205. Painted lime green, the hallway was a fake clean with the smell of heavy chemicals that sterilize dirt without removing it. Four decades of cumulative neglect.
“Who’s it?” a woman’s voice shouted.
“Detective Ollie Chandler. Police.”
“That spic send you?” Still shouting.
“Officer Domast? He’s my partner.”
“Too bad for you,” she said, now peering through the fish-eye. “Don’t look like a cop. Why should I believe you’re a cop? Show me a donut.”
“Crack the door, and I’ll show you my badge.”
“After you tie me up and rob me. Hold it up to the peephole.”
I held up my badge.
“Move it to the right. No the other way. No, not that close. You’re dumb enough to be a cop.”
Finally the dead bolt snapped back, but the door didn’t open.
“You didn’t open the door,” I called, not letting my voice in on my attitude.
“You can’t open a door yourself? It’s not much harder than pickin’ up a donut.”
Two donut cracks and we weren’t even in the door.
“We can come in?”
“It’s unlocked,” she called. “I’m watching my soaps.”
We walked into a living room that looked like it had thrown up on itself.
She was sitting, curled up in a seventies recliner, wearing sweatpants and a mustard-stained undersized T-shirt that showed way more than I wanted to see. She was surrounded by a bag of Lay’s potato chips and a jumbo bag of Cheetos, a liter of Pepsi plus two empties, and stained paper plates.
Her eyes were close-set, squinty and mole like, as if she hadn’t seen the sun for a year. Her age was a difficult call. Forty-five? People don’t age as much when they don’t see the sun. Cheetos and Lay’s probably help the skin too with all that oil. Like her apartment building, she was showing forty years of cumulative neglect. If she’d been painted lime green, it would have been a perfect match.
She didn’t look up until the commercial, ten seconds after we entered. “I’m Ollie. This is—”
“Who’s the black guy?”
“Clarence. He’s studying to be a cop when he grows up. Pretend he’s not here. He’s used to it.”
“Can you dunk it?” she asked him.
“I used to be able to,” Clarence said.
“Too fat now, huh?”
He said nothing, but his eyes spoke volumes. Forgoing handwritten notes, he flipped open his PDA, stylus in hand.
“I thought you people could dunk it even when you’re old and fat. Hey, do you know Stevie Wonder?”
“I like his music. Tell him for me, would you? ‘Tutti Frutti’s my favorite.”
“That was Little Richard,” Clarence said.
“And ‘Hit the Road Jack.’”
“You know them, too?”
“Yeah. Stevie, Richard, Ray, and I meet for chitlins and cornbread every Friday night.”
Not bad, I nodded to Clarence. “Mrs. Butler, could you—”
“I’m not a Mrs. My no-good husband left me.”
“Ms. Butler, could—”
“I’m not one of those either.”
“Do I look like I’m nineteen?”
“No,” I said. “You certainly don’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Only that you are a youthful yet mature woman. May I call you Rebecca?”
“Friends call me Becky.”
“All right, Becky, did you—”
“We’re not friends.”
“Okay... did you see a man come out of the professor’s house last night?”
“Who’s the professor?”
“The man who lives in the house where you told my partner—”
“We prefer to call him Hispanic. You told my partner you saw a man come out of the professor’s house.”
“What did he look like?”
“The spic? Short and wiry. Burr under his saddle.”
“No. I mean the man coming out the professor’s door... the man you saw. What did he look like?”
“Like Abraham Lincoln,” she said.
Now we were getting somewhere. Abe Lincoln wouldn’t blend into a crowd. “Tall?” I asked.
“No. Medium. About my brother’s size.”
“How tall’s your brother?”
“I’m not on trial here. Neither’s my brother.”
“You mentioned your brother. I’ve not had the privilege of meeting him.”
“It’s no privilege.”
“Is he six feet tall?”
“You’re still on my brother?”
“I’ll get off your brother as soon as you answer my question. Is he six feet tall?”
“My brother? You crazy?”
“Look, ma’am, I’ve never seen your brother. I can’t begin to guess how tall he is. I’m assuming you have seen him. Could you just take a guess?”
“Six inches taller than me.”
“How tall are you?”
She was still sitting, like she’d been poured into the recliner. “You going to ask me how much I weigh, too?”
“Only if you tell me your brother weighs forty pounds more than you.” She glared at me.
“Could you stand, please?”
“I’ve been up and down all day, answering the phone and the door and trying to fix the antenna for my soaps, and now you’re asking me to stand?”
My face, if it was following orders, looked earnest and sympathetic. “I’ve got all day, but I don’t want you to miss your soaps. How about you stand just for a second then answer a few more questions, and we’ll leave you alone?”
She stood slowly, but it didn’t take long for her to get straight.
Five-foot-one, at most.
“Then your brother’s about five seven?”
“You tell me.”
“If he were my brother, I would.”
“Don’t get smart with me, Kojak.”
She aimed a frown at me, and when I wouldn’t let it land, she aimed it at Clarence. It landed.
“I’m not getting smart,” I said. “You’ll know when I get smart. So was he thin?”
“He used to be, but he’s been laid off and watches lots of TV. Loves the soaps and Oprah and Dr. Phil. He’s put on fifty pounds.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“My brother!” She looked at me like I was a finalist on American Idiot.
“Let’s forget about your brother, okay?”
“It’s about time. I told you he has nothing to do with this. He’s written bad checks and spent time in the pokey, but he’s no killer. And for sure he doesn’t know any professors.”
“I’ll bet he doesn’t. How about the man who was at the professor’s door? Was he thin?”
“Nope. Pudgy. Like you.”
Clarence looked up from his PDA. He folded the lid.
I paused, putting my tongue between my teeth to keep them from locking. “Did I miss an episode?”
“Whatcha mean?” she asked.
“I mean...in what way did this man remind you of Abraham Lincoln?”
“He had a beard!” she said, with a look that confirmed I wasn’t merely a finalist for American Idiot, but had been crowned.
“Lots of hair?”
“He was bald.”
I stared at her, giving the words time to go through my universal translator. It wasn’t working. “Bald... like Abraham Lincoln?”
“Don’t know if Lincoln was bald. He always wore a hat.”
“Not when he bathed.”
“What are you, a pervert?”
“No, ma’am. So, you’re saying he was short, mostly bald, pudgy, and looked like Abraham Lincoln? I’m glad to hear he had a beard.”
“Of course he had a beard. How could he look like Lincoln and not have a beard?”
“Nope. I told you, he was a white guy.”
“Do you think he could dunk it?” I couldn’t resist. It was worth it to see Abernathy. “What I meant is was his beard black?”
“Not many blacks in this building,” she said.
“How fortunate for them,” Clarence muttered.
“I repeat—was his beard black?”
“No way. This guy was... maybe Swedish. A pale face. What’s that other country that’s part of Sweden?”
“Yeah, he looked sort of like one of those cow milkers with their red barns. Yellow hair. Funny accents. Go out naked in the freezing water.”
“You heard his voice?”
“How could I hear his voice? He was across the street, and Law & Order was on. It was during the last commercial.”
I jotted it down. That put it around 10:50.
“You said he was bald, but he had yellow hair?”
“Yeah. The part that wasn’t bald was blond. You know, like what’s-his-name, the football announcer... Terry Bradshaw? The guy that played for the Cowboys?”
“Steelers. He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
“Did too. So the beard was blond?”
“Grayish. Salt-and-pepper. But more salt than pepper. More like Lawry’s seasoned salt. You know, sort of orangish.”
“An orange beard?”
“Just a tint of orange, that’s all I’m saying.”
“What was he wearing?”
“Jeans. Coat. Shoes. I dunno. Plus the stocking cap.”
“Yeah. It was black. Or green. Could’ve been blue. Hard to tell it was so dark out.”
I paused, sorting it through. “If he had on a stocking cap, how do you know he was bald... and blond?”
“Look, don’t try to make this my problem. I didn’t kill Dr. Einstein.”
Sometimes you keep fishing; sometimes you just cut bait and walk. “We’ll be going now,” I said. “We have business elsewhere.”
She waved her hand, grabbed the remote, and turned up the volume.
“Where’s our business?” Clarence asked as we shut the door behind us.
“On planet earth.”
He scrunched his face. “Maybe you cops earn your pay after all.”
“I may be King of the Idiots,” I said, “but my kingdom is vast, and my subjects are everywhere.”