Thursday, July 16, 2009

Makeshift Murder: Page Fifty-Six Redux

The start of a crime novel, following these instructions from a Facebook friend:

Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS. AND POST these instructions in a comment to this status.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST book....

Working in a crime lab might not seem like a dream job to others, but for Shönbrun--dubbed 'Schön' by his younger sister Malva when she was first learning to talk-- that's exactly what it was. Since adolescence, which was but a blur now, Schön had spent his free time devouring crime novels--except when he was watching the crime dramas on TV or in the movie theatres. Now, at last, he'd savor the opportunity to put his vicarious experience to the test. He was working at the morgue.

Schön and Malva had lost their mother when he was only five years old and she was a little over two years old (Much later would they learn what had cut her life short so prematurely.). He and his sister had been raised by their father, a well-intentioned but rather fatalist, German-American shopkeeper who never felt quite right in his own skin. In those years, his father believed that a nation's lifestyle, history, technology, culture, art, and literature could change, but there was no chance that the gestures could be altered--like the hand gestures that accompanied his speech, whether he was aware of it or not; and it was those gestures that would drive Schön more than any of the other elements his father valued so much and tried so hard to provide for the two children before post-war disillusionment, ever more serious alcoholism, impending mental and physical collapse, brought him almost to the point of self-destruction. What this meant to Schön would become clearer only later.

Schön's boss Jon Hartley definitely ran a tight operation. Though he was several layers down from the top, he'd been in charge at the city's Morgue since the beginning of time--or so it seemed to all who worked there. A grey-haired, tight-lipped, deliberate, just-the-facts-m'am kind of guy, there was something troubling about the boss. Something portentous that could bubble up at any moment, sinister and unexpected. As with Roger Williams' charming little metaphor about the commonwealth as a ship,there was also a sinister subtext, namely, that a ship has a captain and a captain's orders are to be obeyed. But what if the orders ran you into the rocks??

Nonetheless, when Schön asked Jon if he'd break him in, he got the expected answer: Jon hesitated, then nodded slowly. After about an hour, Schön felt like he knew what he needed to do. The next night, with an air of quiet confidence, Schön soon convinced a colleague who offered to show him the ropes that he knew his way around in the lab. He was definitely 'in' the morgue now.

A fresh corpse had just arrived. Awaiting the autopsy crew, they followed the time-tested, cross-disciplinary instructions: "Cover and chill overnight."

References, p. 56, sentence 5:
Plastic Fantastic (2008). S. E. Reich
The Wordy Shipmates (2008) Sarah Vowel
A Game of Thrones (1997) George R.R. Martin
A cookbook of unknown origin.
A potentially boring computational linguistics text.