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Chapter Seven: A dark green star is reborn

Posted on August 8, 2017 by Nora Parks

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The continuing saga of a beleaguered Sonoma mother of five on the trail of a missing emerald necklace – the legendary Green Tara.

Colin cleans his glasses with his handkerchief and smiles to himself as his colleague Professor Philip Atwater — The Eeyore of the English Department’s One Hundred-Acre Wood — materializes in the doorway.

“It’s Friday, Phillip. Aren’t you supposed to be at cooking classes with Sandra?” Colin asks without looking up from his dusting. Sandra is Phillip’s wife but Colin knows Phillip rarely sees her because her vegan cookbook career has recently taken off.

“It’s not easy being married to a test kitchen.” Phillip looks around the office, dismayed at the disarray. “Anyway I’m skipping. She’s doing peppers and eggplants today. I don’t do deadly nightshades. They make my throat itch.”

Phillip picks up a book on forensic entomology Colin ordered from Amazon. “Of Maggots and Men? I thought you were done with crime fiction. And anyway, the wine country – that seems more Pynchon than Chandler.”

“I disagree. Corporate wineries are nothing if not organized crime rings.”

“So what about your old widow sleuth, Mrs. Burgess? How are you going to move her from Sussex to Rohnert Park?”

“You have a point. She would never make it in the States. I guess I’m going to have to get rid of her.”

Philip is the only one in the department that knows Colin is none other than the famous cozy mystery writer Martina Cornish, or at least Colin thinks nobody else knows. Colin is still baffled by how successful these cozy mysteries are, despite the fact that he conceived the real Martina Cornish as a shut-in with halitosis and a goiter. Set in a quaint English country village, his Cornish mysteries feature a cantankerous widow named Mrs. Audrey Burgess who, despite a tiny schnapps problem, has a keen instinct for solving country crimes.

Mrs. Burgess was conceived during a period of intense discord between Katherine and him, and he had intentionally written Burgess as a bitter, moralizing scold with a black cat called Behemoth. Cornish’s readers love her; Burgess is not only his bread and butter but also the sole reason he was able to buy out Katherine’s half of their little wine country cottage. But lately Cornish has been unable to write a word. The cat, it seems, has her tongue.

Colin tosses a cheap paperback copy of Gulliver’s Travels to Philip, who fumbles with the book and finally catches it between both hands, sending up a puff of powdery dust towards his nostrils. “I always loved that book,” says Colin. “Katherine used to say Gulliver reminded her of me — full of tall tales and gone most of the time. Keep it.”

“I’ve had enough of Swift. My students think Swift’s Yahoos were named after an internet portal.” Colin lights a cigar he’s been saving and stands by the window to avoid triggering the smoke alarm. Phillip sneezes, tosses the book in the wastebasket. His eyes are watering from the dust and now the smoke. He says to Colin, “I thought you gave up cigars.” Colin shrugs. Phillip makes gestures to show how obviously bothered he is by the smoke but he won’t come out and say anything directly because Phillip is a true Californian. “You know we’re a tobacco-free campus,” is what he offers instead. Colin ignores him and puffs on his cigar.

Phillip opens a window and fans out the smoke with a few ungraded essays. He changes the subject. “What are you going to do, Colin? Is there a woman? There’s always a woman.”

Colin considers the question. “First, I am going to put in a proper garden. Then I will finish writing my new book.”

“Right. Just as soon as you start it.”

“There is no woman, sorry to say,” says Colin, who feels suddenly alone and rudderless in a world he can no longer navigate.

Philip looks at Colin with what Colin thinks is the sincerest amount of concern a person of Philip’s naturally gloomy disposition can muster. Searching his memory, Phillip’s expression is one of both worry and distraction. Then, unexpectedly recalling his purpose, he shouts, “Oh! I forgot to show you something. I knew I came here for a reason.” He removes a folded piece of paper from his pants pocket. “Have you seen this? I’m sure you’ve seen this.”

Phillip hands Colin a printout of a newspaper article.

“Oh. Yes. Saw it just before you came in. Someone hand delivered it under my door.” Few knew about Colin’s first failed novel Dark Green Star, with the exception of a thirty-two year-old night student named Gina with whom Colin had become unprofessionally familiar.

“I guess you were right,” says Phillip.

“About what?”

“That there was a double heist. You said so in your book.”

“As you might recall, Dark Green Star died like a slug in the Sahara. It’s out of print, I believe. In fact, as a writer of true crime, I can say with some authority that it killed me, which is why I’ve been reborn as Martina Cornish.”

“Maybe you’ll find a new muse.” Colin knows that Phillip only wishes to console him.

“She’s out there,” Colin replies without conviction. “I just need to find her.”

 

To be continued…



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