This was the beginning of would turn into the "Bright Lights" series. It actually started out as a sort of contest. I wanted to get back into writing stories, and made a game of it. Challenging others to drop of little "snippets" to see if I could incorporate them into a story. Like troopers, they did. And not to be outdone, I did. This story actually introduces a couple of main characters I used in "Lights".
It was great fun and made for an intersting story. I originally titled it "Story Idea Story", but added "Dancer" to it. I think dancer would have been a much better title. And still do, after 4 years.
I asked if anyone minded if I included their contributions and I didn't any complaints, so the "snippets" I received are included at the end of the story along with who contributed them.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Story Idea Story: DANCER
Billy had the worst case of the munchies. He was in the kitchen putting together some tea and crumpets when the doorbell rang. "Get the door will you, Buffy?"
"Get the door yourself! I've the worst month coming up at work, being stuck on third shift, and I don't need you nagging at me."
"Alright, sorry. I'll get the bleedin' door"
Oh, great. It was that chatterbox, Dizzy, from across the hall. "Can I borrow your computer? A big plaster foot from the Doc's office down the street fell on to the power lines and shorted everything out. And I almost got electrocuted by the alarm system at the flats' door. The worst thing is, it blew up my computer. Sorry excuse of a surge strip on it. I'm going to bitch at the guys at "Comp Shop" about faulty merchandise. But first, I have to check for an important e-mail."
"Uh, yeah", billy said, a little bewildered at the verbal machine gun at the door.
Looking at the still smoking bong on the table in front of Buffy. Dizzy asks for a hit to calm her nerves down.
"Sure", Buffy replies, as Dizzy snatches it up and takes a hit that threatens to drain the water out of it.
"OK, hand over the bong, man!" billy is not in the mood for things to go any further. His tea has boiled dry and his crumpets are burning. His mood is going the way of the kitchen: dark and smoky.
Taking the bong away from Dizzy, Billy takes a hit himself to level his mood as he heads for the kitchen to rescue what is left of the food on the stove.
Dizzy drops in the chair in front of the computer and is logged on, almost immediately. "Damn, the e-mail isn't there. I'm supposed to be getting a response to an interview I had for a new job." Glaring at the screen, she starts bringing up the local news.
"Oh, wow! There's the Doc's office I was telling you about. There was a fire in one of the apartments above it, and that is what caused that big foot to fall."
Late the night before:
Detective Frankin was looking at the scene of the accident at the Cabaret Club. One of the big name strippers of the club had been laying on the floor, just off the stage, unconscious, still partially dressed in a Roaring 20's outfit; rhinestone skullcap, high top lace up shoes, flapper dress, (half off) and a sash wrapped around her hips, until the ambulance crew took her to the hospital a few minutes ago.
The paramedics said she was lucky, a little harder, or a little to one side and it would have been the coroners’ office working, and not them.
Looking back at the manager, Frankin said, "Now let me see if I got this straight; Miss Vivian Doffer was doing her 'routine' when a patron became enraged and attacked her with a cane? Where were your bouncers?"
"I can't say if he, attacked her, per say, but he did get upset, and as he was standing up, he stuck out his cane. Now, the stage is a bit higher than the floor, if you hadn't noticed, and as the cane came forward, it got tangled in her feet and over she went. A quick dancing spin one second, then off into the end of the table the next. No way for her to catch herself."
"As for our bouncers, both were walking the room keeping an eye on people you would expect to cause trouble. Certainly not a little old man with a cane. By the time any of us got there, she was our main concern. The old man was gone when we next looked up."
The manager then gave Detective Frankin the security video of the area around the stage. Frankin told the manager they would be in touch with him.
Walking over to the other officers doing interviews at the scene and comparing notes, all the stories agreed. Detective Perkins however, did have a little more information to add. "The bouncer, Johnny", Perkins said, motioning to a big gent to the side, "mentioned the old guy had an accent, British. He said the old guy yelled something about how she should be dancing with him like she used to, and not 'sullying' her reputation like this."
"A real crackpot, if you ask me." Frankin replied.
"Officer Switt, did you get the girl’s belongings?" Frankin called towards the dressing room behind the stage.
"Yeah, not much though", replied Switt. The female officer brought over a purse and a set of basic street clothes: jeans, tank top, a tweed jacket and some sneakers. "Not much in the purse either," Switt said, "just the basic stuff you'd expect; tips, billfold, drivers license."
"Drivers license says her name is Delores Caulfield, age 29. I would have guessed, maybe 19, by the looks of her. Guess 'Vivian Doffer' is just a stage name." Commented Frankin.
"No. She has ID for Vivian Doffer as well", Switt remarked. "I checked the phone book while in the back and there are two Vivian Doffers in there. One at the same address as Miss Caulfield, but with a different phone number, "business" number probably. And the other Vivian Doffer lives just two blocks away. Think they could be related? You know, daughter using mom's maiden name or something like that for the stage?"
"Could be, Switt, could be", Frankin said, looking at the address on the license.
Frankin turned and said, "It's a pretty upscale area she lives in, Perkins. What do these girls bring in a night to live in such a nice place?"
"'Vivian' took in at least six hundred a night on slow nights. Ask the manager." Switt interjected before walking off.
"What's with her?" Frankin asked.
"I think she has inside knowledge, outside our precinct, or at least that’s what the rumor mill says." Perkins answered.
"Oh, so that's how she affords that car of hers; and that nice apartment. This ought to liven things up for I.A. if her name gets on their list." Frankin thought with a smile. "Those I.A. jerks will chase anything that looks below board."
Looking over in the direction Officer Switt headed, Frankin caught her in conversation with the manager. "Switt", Frankin barked.
"Yes, Detective." Switt responded, standing in front of Frankin.
Handing over the security tape, "This needs to go back to the precinct. We need a good picture of this old guy. The tape is set at the time and area he was sitting at the stage. And once we get the picture, I need someone from Immigrations to see if they can match it up with any passport or visa records, find out who this guy is."
"Yes, Detective." she responded, and headed towards the door.
"And, Switt," she stopped and turned back. "What did you get from the manager", hoping she might have gotten something to add to the case.
"Um, he has two openings, three nights a week." She said in an almost inaudible, embarrassed, wisper.
"Watch out for I.A." Frankin responded in the same tone she used.
"Now, get going on that tape, and let me know when you have something", loudly enough for anyone listening, and then quieter, "including a schedule." Frankin raised an eyebrow for emphasis.
She responded with a quick smile and wink.
Now, THAT caught Frankin off guard.
"Perkins, let's check out that "other", Vivian Doffer. Maybe they are related." Frankin headed for the door, with Perkins in step right behind.
The brown stone had a rich elegance to it, one you don't find anymore in the newer homes and condos. Frankin noticed it was a "split", it had been turned into a two-family setup. Not unusual for older people to do this to supplement their income. Off the books, of course.
Frankin rang the bell and waited. It wouldn't disturb anyone, as the lights were still on and the TV could be heard in the background. An elderly lady looked out a side window by the door and Frankin held up a badge for her to inspect.
A moment later, both detectives could hear the series of locks and chains being removed and released. The door opened and the same grandmotherly face was now standing before them, much taller than they were prepared for.
"Vivian Doffer?" Frankin asked.
"Yes?" answered the lady quizzically.
"Do you know another Vivian Doffer from the neighborhood?"
"Yes, my granddaughter. Is everything all right?"
"She's in the hospital at the moment, an incident at work." Frankin hedged.
"She fell off the stage, didn't she?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
"Occupational hazard, when you dance, exotically."
"I'm being a terrible host, excuse me, but do come in. I'm sure you have either more questions, or more information, and standing on the stoop is not the place for either." She held the door open to let them in, then lead them to the parlor. She moved, Frankin noticed, with a grace that belied her age.
The television had on an old black and white movie, and the male and female actors were in an embrace, when the male says, "at no stage does anyone 'ever' mention what happened 3 years 2 months ago –we all know what happened and we don't need to be reminded - but it is the most important thing that keeps us tied together - the reason we shall never drift apart...," The elder Vivian hit the "off" button before the female lead could reply, leaving yet another mystery.
A nicely done expansive parlor with requisite divan, easy chairs, and a coffee table covered with plants including these horrendous long stem, "Pom-Pom" mums. Golden yellow, the kind that the leaves curl in toward the center came into view. A TV took up part of one wall with a piano filling in the rest. A gas fireplace added character and warmth to the room. And everywhere were photos, hanging, propped up, or slid under glass table coverings.
Vivian sat in the easy chair where she had the TV remote, and motioned to the detectives to have a seat. Frankin sat in the other easy chair facing Vivian, while Perkins wandered the room looking at the photos and other trappings.
"If you would like, we can take you to All Saints Hospital where your granddaughter is." The detective offered.
"Quite all right, really. I'll get by in the morning. I'm sure she isn't up to company tonight, and the doctors are probably busy with her and don't need me underfoot."
"Is there anyone else we could notify for you?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm quite able to make calls myself." The older Doffer replied. "Besides, there isn't anyone else to notify. Unless you count the aunts and uncles that would rather not be associated with her."
"No parents or siblings then."
With a slight smile on the corner of her lips, Vivian looked at the detective and said, "You must get your hearing checked. I already said there was no one else to notify. Delores had no siblings. And her mother passed twenty years ago, overdose. A FATHER was never mentioned, or named. I've been her whole family for twenty years."
"And her occupation doesn't bother you?"
"Which one? Her dancing at night, or her being an accountant during the day?" The same grin was on her lips again. "Didn't know about her being an accountant, did you? Of course not, wrong time of day for the wrong kind of work."
"As for it bothering me? No, it doesn't. She loves dancing, as do I. And in a roundabout way, I think I taught her most of the steps she knows. I could dance from dusk to daylight, and never feel tired. Dancing is how she put herself through college to become an accountant. She isn't that established at her day job to make as much money as she does at night. Even then, I doubt if she would give it up, it's in the blood. As is her lack of inhibitions. I was just as flamboyant at her age, but maybe a bit more reserved when it came to showing skin," Vivian finished with a faraway look in her eyes. Frankin could feel that the old lady was on the dance floor at that moment.
Just then, before Frankin could say anything else, Perkins touched Frankin’s shoulder and handed over a photo. It looked like the younger Vivian in the same outfit as tonight. Next to her was a gentleman in British uniform, holding a cane.
"Mrs. Doffer, who is this gentleman with your granddaughter?" Frankin asked.
"It's MS. Doffer." She replied with a laugh. "Been widowed close to thirty years. And, that's not my granddaughter that’s me. The man’s name is Brice Woodrow. The picture was taken in the late fifties, in England. He was a nice gent. He was in the R.A.F. We both loved dancing and would go out every night if duties allowed. Big Band and swing were our favorites, though the Roarin' Twenties were just as good. That's when I wore that dress. Out at a local hall. They had a great band and played only the old stuff."
"The outfit, including the shawl are the same as she had on. You could be twins." Frankin said with amazement.
"Yes, we could have been twins, in every way. I helped her modify that outfit after I gave it to her." With a conspiritorial look in her eyes, she added, "you don't get out of that dress easily when you're an exotic dancer. It needed work for quick removal."
"And the shawl?" repeated Frankin.
"Now the shawl, was a gift. It used to be the covering for the band’s piano in that hall we danced at. It was a plain black piano scarf made of silk. But Brice wanted something different for me. He promised me 'that the gift would be special. That it would be unique and come from the heart. He added the finishing touches and prayed that it would fit the bill'. That night he presented it to me."
"I was floored. He bought the cover from the piano player and had taken it home. He did all the embroidery and fringe work himself. Men weren't that concerned about their image back then. None of this macho garbage going around."
"A pretty gift with the red roses and green leaves. He said the roses were as red as my lips. The greens were as bright as our lives. And the black, the black was for the nights it would be worn, long and pleasant."
"Was he your husband?" Perkins asked.
"Oh, no. He shipped out for war about the same time the family was calling me home. We lost track of each other. I was home for a while when I discovered Delores' mother was on her way. Hell of a parting gift. Like I said, my granddaughter and I could be twins, leading the life of a gypsy."
"I do have a recent photo of him though. Some friends were in England recently and bumped into him at a school they were thinking of sending their grandchildren to. They said they mentioned me and it took a moment for him to remember. He let them take a picture of him, to bring home to me."
Getting up, Vivian left and returned a minute later with a photograph. "Here he is, as of last year. The typical headmaster of the typical English boarding school."
Frankin looked at the picture and had to agree. It showed an older, balding version of Brice Woodrow, wearing a vest, standing in front of a blackboard covered with geometric shapes in red, orange, blue and green, highlighting the different functions going on in the equations to the side. In his hand, was the same cane.
"May we use this for a couple days?" Frankin asked. "This picture might be of value to us."
"Of course. I have another picture of him, if you need it. It is from the school he runs." She handed the detective a brochure from the school, with Mr. Woodrow leaning against a farm tractor tire. The caption for the school read, 'This Field Has Been Good For Growing Crops, Now It's Good For Growing Minds'.
"I think the photo will be enough. Thank you for your time, Ms. Doffer." Frankin and Perkins headed for the door.
"The injury wasn't bad was it?" asked Vivian.
"Doc said it was a concussion, maybe a few stitches to the scalp. You're sure you don't want us to drop you off?" Frankin offered again.
"Let me get my purse."
Back at their desks at the precinct, Frankin and Perkins were finishing up the paperwork for the case so far. The sun had been up for an hour now, and both were ready to call it a day, when Switt walked up with a handful of papers.
"Photo the old lady gave you and the tapes match. Even got a good shot of the cane and it's identical also. The British Constabulary sent some other information to help you out."
"Seems Mr. Woodrow retired six months ago, age and health related. He has the beginnings of dementia, and goes back in time every now and again. Seems the governing body of the school thought it best if he retired and didn't introduce the school to criticism."
"Officials say he updated his passport and came to the States about six weeks ago. Here is the address. It's a walk up apartment downtown."
"Great job!" said Frankin. "We owe you one."
"Oh, don't worry Detective, I'll collect. Now, I'm off for home unless you need anything else."
Frankin and Perkins looked at each other, and shook their heads at the same time. "Nope, that'll do it. Have a good weekend."
Frankin looked at Perkins and said, "Looks like we have one more stop before calling it a night." Both grabbed their coats and headed out the door.
The manager of the apartments was used to the police asking for room keys. He had his share of "shady" people renting the cheap flats over the street level stores. So Frankin, Perkins and two uniforms had no trouble getting to the door of Woodrow’s apartment. The manager only grumbled to himself about low-lives as he led them to the right door.
An officer and detective on both sides of the door, and the manager way to the right side. Looked a little funny when you considered they were there for a little old man, but policy is policy. One never knows what will happen when they knock on a door.
Frankin knocked on the door from the side and called his name, "Mr Woodrow, this is the police. Would you open the door please."
Nothing happened. Frankin repeated his request to the same reply.
The manager said, "Hit the door bell. The apartment curves around, and if the window is open, he might not hear you over the street noise. The doorbell is in the kitchen though and he'll hear that."
Frankin placed a finger on the bell and when the button was pushed, lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and Frankin was thrown backwards by the floor and what used to be the door. Frankin watched as other doors flew past at a dizzying speed; then the floor came up and hit a second time, this time as Frankin slid into the far wall.
When the room quit spinning, Frankin turned around on hands and knees. The roaring in the ears would quiet down any minute Frankin knew though that didn't make it any less painful. Perkins and the rest were getting up slowly as well, all being blown in different directions from the door. Where the door used to be was now a scorched hole in the wall.
No one said this guy was a demolition expert, Frankin thought angrily, while checking on everyone. The manager was the worst off, not having the luxury of a flak vest to absorb a lot of the blast. Frankin sent Perkins down to call it in on the car radio.
When Perkins got outside, he swiped his forearm across his sweaty forehead and leaned heavily against the streetlight, waiting for a break in the traffic. This was harder than he had ever imagined. In the state he was in, rushing across traffic would be suicide. Once the call went in, he waited in the car for help.
Frankin and one of the uniforms went into the apartment to see if Woodrow was inside, and maybe, alive. It was doubtful, looking at the condition of the apartment. It was blast scorched, and stuff was still floating in the air that had blown there. No sign of fire though, as the explosion used up all the oxygen and kept the fire from starting. Like when they blow up an oilrig fire, you remove the oxygen and the fire goes out, no matter how big. Gotta love the fire triangle.
Time moves strangely when you're in a situation like this. It seemed like the two of them were in the apartment for only a minute when the Fire Department was dragging them back out and giving them oxygen. How did they get here so fast, Frankin was thinking.
After a while on oxygen, the Fire Captain came over to check on them. "You're lucky we got here when we did, another couple minutes and both of you would have been in 'bags'. Gas line was pulled free by the blast and depleted all the air in the apartment. Our preliminary investigation shows the deceased did himself in, the old fashion way. He blew out all the pilots and stuck his head in the oven. Stinky but effective. He also went to the trouble of making sure no one found him in time by sealing the doors and windows with towels. No chance of the gas odor giving him away"
"The cause of the blast, was the door bell. The bell was an old one with the old style coil magnet in it. When you hit the button at the door, it caused a spark. The rest is history. They are getting ready to bring him down, so if you want to see him Detective, you better get over there. If you're feeling all right, that is."
"Yeah, I feel a lot better now. Besides, I can ID the deceased, if there's anything left of his head." Frankin said sourly.
"Well, you're lucky in that respect," added the Captain, "when the blast happened, it only touched off the pockets of gas in the room. He happened to be one of those pockets, but a lot lower. His head and face are OK, but the rest of him is a mess. Kind of ironic really. The same kitchen appliance that he used to kill himself, was what kept him intact enough for ID. The stove took most of the blast and protected him from the shoulders up."
"Oh," the Captain remarked, as he was walking off, "the rest of the area has been cleared, so your people can get in and finish looking around."
Frankin took off the oxygen mask and headed back towards the apartments. Perkins and the Chief were standing there, and Perkins had the cane in his hand. "Already ID'd the deceased," Perkins said. "And there was a note, confessing to his suicide, that somehow survived the blast, unlike him. Here, read this." Perkins handed over a slightly singed piece of paper.
It read, "When I saw you display yourself in such a disgraceful way, I knew we were through. That wasn't the way we were supposed to dance. Dancing is like a dazzling pool of water, and while a butterfly sips on crocodiles tears, my cup has gone dry."
Handing back the note, Frankin asks what Perkins has in mind for the cane. "Well, as he has no relatives, I thought I would see if young, Miss Doffer could use it, in one of her routines. That's provided she wants the cane that could have ended her career. From her father, 'The Exploding English Headmaster'."
"Detectives," the Chief says, "you've had a hell of a day. Most of your reports are written, you look like someone beat the stuffing out of you, and I'm sure you could use some rest. Go home. Finish the reports in the morning. Then take a couple days off to clear your heads. OK?"
Even a little muzzy headed; neither Frankin nor Perkins was going to turn that down. "Ok, sure, Chief. Sounds good."
As they turned to leave, there is a loud cracking noise. Looking up, they watched the giant foot, over Dr. Nugatory's Podiatry Clinic, break free from the wall of the building. All three dove back into the doorway of the apartments. The supports holding the giant foot were damaged by the blast earlier, and now gravity had taken its toll. The foot broke free and swung out over the sidewalk before falling. Its path took it directly into the power lines above the street. The power lines tried valiantly to support its weight, as it bobbed several times, before they broke. There was a shower of sparks, followed by falling wires and a foot, before all came to a rest. Then the fuses on the transformers blew, making the wires harmless, and knocking out the power in the area.
Looking out the doorway and shaking his head in disbelief, the Chief said to the Detectives, "You'd better go now. And quickly, before anything else happens."
"WOW! So that's what happened at the doc's office today." Turning to Billy and Buffy, Dizzy went on, "A big explosion, and a fire, and a guy died, and the foot fell knocking out all the power. WOW!"
Billy wrapped his arms around Dizzy and led her to the door. "Really Diz." He said with little disguised sarcasm, "It's been nice having you over. Now, bye." He pushed her out the door before she could respond, and closed the door. Leaning against the door, he looked over at Buffy. She looked back at him with a look of disgust.
"What? I did what I had to. She was driving me crazy. All that non-stop chatter."
"It's not you, it's me. She irritates me also, but I always wait for you to throw her out."
"Now, now. Don't worry about it. Let me get some tea for us, and I'll refill the bong. You'll feel better, and I don't mind throwing her out anyway."
Later that night:
Switt was walking from the dressing room area at the Caberet Club when a hand touched her shoulder. Turning, she was surprised to see Frankin standing there. "I caught your act. You're good."
Blushing slightly, Switt responded that, "It was an audition, not an act, yet."
"Well, if you ask me, it's a good act and you should be hired."
"Well, I didn't ask you, and it is a good act, and I have been hired", she said, as she slipped her schedule into Frankin’s hand.
"Want a ride home?"
"Sure." Switt replied
In the car, Frankin brought Switt up to date on the happenings of the day. The conversation was over by the time they got up to her door.
Stepping into the living room, Frankin could hear the faint chirping of Switt’s finch. Switt gave the door a nudge. The door swung shut with a faint click and the bird was quiet. Moonlight caught a small movement behind the sofa just before all went dark. "Damn cat. Second lamp she's knocked down this month." Switt swore.
Reaching behind her, Switt turned on the hallway nightlight. Turning back, she reached out and loosened, then removed Frankin’s tie. While working on the shirt buttons, they both tumbled onto the couch like a couple of high school kids.
After a moment, Switt propped herself up, and said to Frankin, "Now, what would your husband say?"
Frankin smiled, "He'd say, I work too damn much overtime." Licking her lips and raising an eyebrow, Frankin continued, "And, he doesn't know I have the next couple days off. So don't make plans for after dancing."
IDEAS BORROWED OR SUBMITTED
1. Talked about being on third shift and having a computer that blew up.
2. A farm-tractor tire
3. How about a chalkboard (with chalk of different colors; red, orange, blue and grean).
4. Oh, by the way, you have to add "Nugatory" to the list. That was my 5,000th visitor and I promised that whoever hit that number would be in the story.
5. Mentions having a rough month coming up and nagging.
6. An antique black silk piano scarf. A large square of silk, embroidered with red roses and green leaves, with long trailing fringe on all four sides of the square. They were used to decorate baby grand pianos, and occasionally a flapper would wrap one around her hips.
7. Add one of those immense pom-pom mums that we used to get at Homecoming to the story. The ones I'm talking about had a long stem that had streamers with school colors tied just below the flower head. Make it a golden yellow, with petals that curl toward the center.
8. "OK, hand over the bong man."
9. "He was making tea and crumpets when the doorbell rang. "billy also mentioned being electrocuted by an alarm system and getting squashed by a BIG FOOT.
10. A butterfly sips on a crocodiles tears.
11. It's not you, it's me.
12. At no stage does anyone *ever* mention what happened 3 years 2 months ago –we all know what happened and we don't need to be reminded - but it is the most important thing that keeps us tied together - the reason we shall never drift apart.
13. Well in that case could you add an exploding headmaster - just for old times sake.
14. He swiped his forearm across his sweaty forehead and leaned heavily against the streetlight, waiting for a break in the traffic. This was harder than he had ever imagined.
15. He promised her that the gift would be special. That it would be unique and come from the heart. He added the finishing touches and prayed that it would fit the bill.
16. The door swung shut with a faint click and the bird was quiet. Moonlight caught a small movement behind the sofa just before all went dark.