I was listening today to Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing when she suddenly started talking about an idea she had using the words “Instant Cowboy”. Talking about how it probably means that putting on a hat or some boots would make you an instant cowboy, she instead suggested that another way to have this would be to “just add water.” How do you pull off something like that?
I decided to go about this by asking for story ideas from people. (Source for the idea.) I made the following announcement using Pownce:
Give me your ideas! I want to write a short story about… something. I just don’t know what. So, here’s what I need you to do, powncers: reply with a subject on any topic. Story elements offered up to now:
Subjects, statements, sentences, phrases only, please. Premises need not apply, as already sort of have one. Sort of. Which I won’t tell about here.
I will use ALL those topics to write up a short story, sources will be credited, and a good time will be had by all. Also, this announcement will go up a few times over the next few days, in case some of you with 200+ friends missed it the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or any other time.
I got the following suggestions:
- Sex scandals (Nils Geylen)
- Seal hunting (Nils Geylen)
- The old lady had it in for him. (Hrafn Thorisson)
- Rotting fish (Hrafn Thorisson)
- Burning greenhouse (Hrafn Thorisson)
- A large, strange and deep hole that suddenly appeared somewhere. (Hrafn Thorisson)
- A monkey that’s a junkie (Matt Murchison)
- “…and she was hardly aware of what lurked around the corner.”(Esther Tseng)
So then, let’s see what I was able to come up with.
Note: The story isn’t particularly well researched, so if you see some discrepancies with reality, sorry about that.
Rotting fish, Monkey thought. It was just his luck that his life would end as it had started: surrounded by rotting fish.
It all started about a week ago, when Nancy Langston enlisted the services of private investigator Chivas Monkey (pronounced “mon-KHE-y”). Mrs Langston suspected her husband, the Honorable Senator Peter Langston, of being involved in some dishonorable dealings, and she suspected he might be having an affair with a staffer at the Capitol Building. Monkey had been hired to find out whether he had been unfaithful, and whether there was something else afoot. If there was anything to know she wanted to know about it before the newspapers.
At first Monkey didn’t want to take the case: he didn’t get a good feeling about it. But the money was too good. What she offered to pay, in cash, was more than enough to cover both his debt to his stint dealer (someone he knew only as Yevon), and for the rehab therapy which would finally get him off his addiction to stints. Stint was an increasingly common drug used by people in time consuming professions: doctors, lawyers, law enforcement. In small amounts stints simply lowered the required amount of sleep, allowing the user to function normally for extended period of times. This was referred to as becoming an “instant cowboy,” since the lack of sleep often coincided with a temporary increase in both bravado and intelligence. They were made illegal due to their highly addictive nature: once addicted, stint junkies couldn’t stop taking them, and would altogether lose the ability to sleep, as well as become immune to any intelligence gains. If a stint junkie went off stints cold turkey he would soon enter a very deep slumber, and likely end up comatose. Without proper medical attention he would die within a matter of days, since if undiscovered, the victim would simply die of dehydration. Because of this, the street name for stint was “water”, leading to the joke, “Instant Cowboy: Just Add Water.” Chivas Monkey was a junkie.
It wasn’t long after Monkey started working on the case that he found his first clue. Senator Langston had been working late every night since the beginning of the year, right at about the same time as the High School Paige program was re-introduced. Assigned to his office were six students from the local high school, ranging in ages from fourteen to seventeen, and working in the office as part of their OJT, or On the Job Training program. Monkey discovered that two of the students, Tara Ells and Francis Sagan both sixteen, would often work late nights alongside the Senator. At first these were unscheduled stays, but in less than a month these overtime hours were officially made part of the schedule.
Monkey decided to go in deeper. He started by interviewing the other students. Using his old police force badge, Monkey was able to get information from the students, who during their questioning believed they were under oath. The most interesting evidence came from one Vic Mann, who gave Monkey his second clue.
Vic told Monkey that the Senator was friendly with all of them. He would take them all out to lunch and dinner, even take them with him on various state-related trips. However, he seemed to take a special interest in Tara and Francis. Young, attractive, and attracted to power, scuttlebutt was that they had caught the Senator’s fancy. In fact, he revealed, a weekend trip had been scheduled for all three of them. The Senator had said he needed go on a fact-finding mission to Alaska, and the two girls quickly volunteered.
Monkey could see where this was going. Did the press know about this? He called Al Frost, a columnist with the Capitol Post, and an old time friend from the force, to tell him what he was up to. Al was about to run a story on the Senator, alleging the Senator had been receiving gifts from industry heads who would benefit from his policies. He agreed not to run it until Monkey was done with his investigation. After all, this would give him one hell of a story: a Senator gaining favors from industry, involved with sixteen year old staffers. It was a good story, almost too good.
Monkey decided that if there was something to the rumors, it was best to catch the Senator in the act. If indeed his suspicions proved true, this could tear not only the Senator’s marriage, but his career. Monkey didn’t like seeing cases like these, he liked to believe the best in people, but people screwed up more often than not, especially those in power.
Instead of going by commercial carrier, Monkey decided it would be safer and faster to hire a private jet. This trip, he knew, might take a lot of stints to get through, and trying to bring them into a commercial carrier guaranteed trouble. Under the pretense of costs and covertness, Monkey decided to ask Mrs. Langston to fund the private jet flight, which she quickly agreed to. He then gave a call to Yevon.
The weekend trip took Monkey to the Aleutians, where the Senator had recently been spending a lot of his political capital. Monkey observed the Senator and the two girls getting into a fishing boat. The crew accompanying them consisted mostly of men in their late thirties and early forties. Surprisingly, one of the girls, Tara, was seen to be extra friendly with some of the crew, especially an older man who looked to be in his late fifties. Who was this girl, and why all the attention?
Monkey discovered that this boat, and the company to which it belonged, was property of Ells Sealers, a fur trading company based in Canada, and owned by Marcos Ells, Tara’s father. He was the mid-fifties man she had been with before they took off. The company’s vice president was Carlos Andropov, the uncle of Francis Sagan. Monkey found it impossible to believe that anything would be going on between the Senator and the two girls, at least here, if their family members were present.
That night, Monkey searched the Senator’s legislative record. The Senator had been voted in as a Republican, but later dropped the affiliation and became an independent, citing discontent with the direction the party had been taking, especially in light of his own libertarian views. He had been pushing for legislation which allowed American firms to begin working with seal hunters in Canada. This type of collaboration had been outlawed by the previous administration, and the Senator strongly believed that it was not the government’s job to regulate which groups companies can and can’t work with. This, in addition to his stated goals of the decriminalization of certain narcotics and re-legalization of assault rifles had made him popular with his constituency, and very, very unpopular with his opponents.
For the rest of the weekend, Monkey observed the Senator. He tapped his phone, video taped his movements, and noted his whereabouts. The Senator’s trip, it turns out, had been to observe a seal hunting expedition, though no one on the ship took part in it. Although this was in itself onerous, Monkey concluded that if there was a sex scandal involving Senator Langston, it wasn’t here. In fact, it was beginning to look as if there wasn’t a sex scandal at all, at least not one involving the Senator. Could he be covering up for someone?
The evening following his return, Monkey met with Mrs Langston to share his findings. “Congratulations Mrs Langston, your husband seems to be clean, at least as far as infidelity is concerned. But… do you by any chance know Mr Ells?” he asked. She said she did, that he had been a family friend since long before Mr Langston was elected. “The only concern I have,” he continued, “is that your husband may be getting freebies and kickbacks from industries which would benefit from his legislation. Still, as it stands now, it doesn’t look like he’s really done anything wrong.”
“I’m very… glad to hear that,” said Mrs Langston. Her tone was careful, Monkey noticed. “Well then, now that that’s over with, Mr Monkey, mind if I take a minute of your time? There’s something here I believe you might find interesting.”
Monkey followed her through Southern-styled plantation mansion. There, in the back yard stood a large, but simple greenhouse. Mrs Langston entered it, then, noting Monkey’s hesitation, looked back and signaled for him to follow her in.
“Do you know what this is, Mr Monkey?”
“A greenhouse?” he answered, joking because he wasn’t sure where she was going with this.
“No, no. Look closer.”
He looked around, looked at the plants and walls, and looked at the bench at the other end of the greenhouse.
“There was a reason I called you, Mr Monkey, the reason I asked you to spy on my husband, wasn’t to find out whether he’s out screwing sixteen year olds. I know he’s screwing around. You’re just too burnt out to see what’s right in front of your eyes.” She continued. “I hired you because you, my dear, are an easy scapegoat.”
Monkey looked at her in silence.
“The reason you don’t know what this is,” she began to explain, walking slowly towards the bench, “is because you only know what it looks like after we’re done with it.” She reached the bench and grabbed something off of it, too quickly for Monkey to notice what it was. She turned around, holding up a small, clear globule. “Do you know now what this is Mr Monkey? It’s millions of dollars. It’s gold and silver and more precious than both. It’s what keeps people like you from being the complete failures you truly are.”
“Yes, Mr Monkey. Stints. The same stints you’ve been calling me about for months now.” She let out a slight laugh. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking a him with mocking wide eyes and her hand to her chest, “the same stints you’ve been calling Yevon about.”
A sudden pain shot through Monkey’s body, bringing him immediately to his knees, then to the floor. His right leg had been shot. Looking around, he saw a dark figure at the entrance to the greenhouse, getting closer. It was Vic Mann.
Standing above him, Vic pointed the gun down at Monkey. “So, what do we do with him?” he asked.
Mrs Langston headed to the oil filled convection heater. “Nothing,” she answered. “He won’t be in a position to do a thing once this place goes in flames.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked Monkey.
“A fair question. But don’t think I plan to monologue about this. This isn’t some cheap story like you’d read on a blog or some such thing.
“My husband’s been fighting for the decriminalization of certain drugs, including stints. The bulk of the stint trade in these parts goes through me, sweet little Mrs Langston, or rather, through ‘Yevon’.” She looked at him intently. “Once the drug is decriminalized, how long do you think it will be before people start cutting into my trade? I make millions as it is, and this isn’t something I care to give up.”
She increased the temperature in the convection heater and increased the amount of methane output from the methane tanks. “My plan, and it’s a simple one — all the good ones are — is to blow this place up, with you in it. I’ll say that you had been tracking my husband because you believed he did you wrong on a deal, and that you tried to plant evidence on him to make it seem like he was involved in a sex scandal. Then I’ll say you showed up here and you tried to kill me, with Vic here coming to my rescue. My husband will be suspected of producing and supplying stints, weakening his position on the matter, and sending the issue back ten years. He’ll probably be arrested, and will definitely be forced to resign. Meanwhile,” she walked close to Vic, who still held the gun pointed at Monkey, “Vic and I will spend that–”
In a moment, Mrs Langston fell limp unto the floor, her head now covered in blood.
“Actually I don’t need her,” Vic said, again pointing the gun towards Monkey. “The network’s already been set up. Once Francis finishes with the… Honorable Senator,” Vic said that with a spiteful jesting tone, “we’ll be set. That, by the way, was Francis’s part in all this. There doesn’t actually have to be sex in order for there to be a sex scandal, Mr Monkey. Just the allegations, and we have enough of those. The old lady had it in for him, you know.”
“Well no shit, kid. I hadn’t noticed,” responded Monkey, taking a sarcastic tone.
“Yeah well she was hardly aware of what lurked around the corner of her own plan. Now I just need to keep Yevon around, and that’s easy enough. As for you, Mr Mon–”
Monkey jumped at Vic. Immediately, Vic pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the methane tank, which instantly became a ball of fire. As the greenhouse became engulfed in flames, Monkey and Vic fought for control of the gun. Monkey bit Vic’s arm, causing him to drop the weapon. Vic kicked Monkey’s gunshot wound, got up and ran. Pain wracked Monkey’s body.
Monkey, having bled heavily in the past few minutes, picked up the stint globule and swallowed it. Normally, stints were applied directly into the bloodstream at the neck, but lacking any way with which to inject himself, and realizing that dropping it into the hole in his leg wouldn’t help him much, he decided his best shot was to swallow it. Instant cowboy, he thought. Just add water.
The gun shot had missed his bone, and with the sudden burst of energy from the stint Monkey was able to stand. The flames had by now engulfed the entire greenhouse, and he hobbled toward the exit as fast as he could. Vic was already gone.
As he made it outside, a large, strange and deep hole suddenly appeared below Monkey. He felt weightless for a second, then he hit bottom. The surface he landed on was soft, slimy, and smelled like old fish. Old lady Langston had been using old fish as fertilizer. And now he was in it. Better than shit, I guess.
Monkey looked up and he saw Vic, pointing a gun at him. Monkey, frantically, began checking his pockets.
“You’re looking at it,” Vic said. Monkey knew he had dropped the gun Vic now held, pointed directly at him.
In resignation, Monkey closed his eyes. Rotting fish, Monkey thought. It was just his luck that his life would end as it had started: surrounded by rotting fish. All he could hope for now was that Al Frost received the copy of the information. And that Vic was a bad shot.