The following alert was issued on the morning of February 3rd by the Waterville police: “City police are searching for the sanity of a local resident. The wife of John Clark, age 73 of Waterville, hasn’t seen her husband’s sanity since late Friday evening when it was wandering around in their garage. It’s described as warped and twisted, uttering frequent puns, while laughing ominously. It is not considered dangerous, although it has been known to make conservatives extremely uncomfortable. If found, please bring to the Waterville Police station.”
A couple years ago, Kate and I contemplated starting a cozy mystery series called the Bodice Repairs. The idea was sparked by remembering when the phrase ‘bodice ripper’ was in vogue as a description for semi-seamy paperbacks. Since we now face a double bind (I’m writing this while the blizzard wails and moans outside my window) of extended COVID isolation and cabin fever, I started thinking about obscure, colloquial, and forgotten phrases. After putting some in a list, I decided this blog would be an exercise in seeing how many I could use in a story without it going completely off the rails. Read on to see how it turns out.
Ichabod Mantel liked spats. Not those you had with paramours, but ones encasing his pedal habiliments, unlike the clodhoppers so many in mixed society were wont to don. He also fancied bowlers and bumbershoots, but seldom espoused his likes in the company of others. In fact, the current debasement of the King’s English, with everyone ejaculating loud and frivolous opinions in the presence of strangers, sent endless chills down his spine.
This evening, Ichabod was on a mission and refused to be deterred by layabout guttersnipes or the crepuscular hordes of harlots and harridans congregating in the immediate environs surrounding his destination, the Lewd and Lascivious. Despite its sensational name, the elegantly appointed club was the epitome of the halcyon times all were currently enjoying and was famed for several things, its lucullan fare, terpsichorean ecdysiasts, and the gobsmacked expressions on those experiencing its ornate aura for the first time.
He walked up the polished marble steps and stopped in front of Suky Tawdry, who was one of the ladies hired to equalize a longstanding gender disparity the previous year. My stars and garters, Ichabod thought, remembering how the women employed in stereotyped roles had suddenly rebelled on a night when the place was stuffed like a ripe sausage. “No more,” they’d roared, alternating between defenestration, giving more portly patrons the bum’s rush, and shouting “out, you lily-livered pantywaists” at those still standing in shock. The end result was a thoroughly cowed owner acceding to the ladies’ demands.
“Evening, my lady,” he said while slipping a tenner into her ample bodice. There weren’t many patrons who could get away with being in such proximity to Suky’s charms, but they both knew that Ichabod was not only still chaste in mind and body, but the epitome of decorum.
Suky smiled demurely, patting him on his ample backside as he passed. “Mind yourself, love, some of the ladies are feeling the effects of that full moon tonight,” feeling a need to alert him, despite whatever innocuous predilection he favored.
Ichabod nodded, not in the least concerned about possible paramours. While he was aware of the plethora of new terms fashionable among his peers in terms of gender and sexual preferences, he hadn’t bothered to determine where on that spectrum if that was the correct term, he belonged. Give him a good cheroot, a glass of French cognac and an interesting tome every time. “Do you know, by chance whether he’s arrived yet?”
Suky nodded quickly before returning to glare at a brace of fops attempting to ogle her charms. “He is waiting in the third floor private room, I believe.”
Ichabod slid past her, entering the gaudily decorated main hall. The Lewd and Lascivious wasn’t your typical nightclub. It was at the very least a sensory emporium, the likes of which couldn’t be found anywhere east of Las Vegas. It was comprised of three floors of constantly changing sensuality, with increasingly orgiastic and libido stimulating shows the further one went into its maze of debauchery.
He’d arrived well over an hour before his appointed meeting time. Past experience had taught Ichabod the wisdom of allowing himself ample time to reach his destination. He shuddered, partly in ecstasy, partly in remembered shock at what transpired during his last excursion through these halls to meet a different contact. Why anyone in their right mind would find pleasure in nude octopus wrestling in a vat of rum-laced lemon jello was beyond him. He’d managed to escape, but when unable to find his clothes, Ichabod had been forced to make do with a hastily constructed g-string thanks to a kindhearted cleaning woman who lent him a number of strings from her still dripping mop head.
Even after such an experience, Ichabod couldn’t resist giving in to his curiosity while passing by open doors. Dialect uttered at machine gun speed, accompanied by pelvis pounding backbeats halted him at the last door by the stairs leading to the second floor. He peeked in to see four very thin black onions singing and dancing under a strobe light. The Rapscallions are in rare form tonight, he thought, as he climbed to the second floor.
He scampered past the Orgone Theater where an X-rated version of The Wizard of Oz was being performed. It was an entertaining production, but time was a-wasting.
One perk of having access to the top floor were the exotic drink carts set at random intervals in the hallway. Ichabod paused to examine the label on a straw slowly swirling in a light purple cocktail. “Hotter than a mermaid on a half-tide ledge,” he read aloud. “Well I most assuredly cannot pass up something so intriguing.” Its initial sensation was sweetness, followed almost immediately by a kick that would make a mule jealous. “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” He muttered while staggering down the hall.
Mingo Snitchmus was old Boston money, like Ichabod, but had the unfortunate fate to have been created by his father and an immigrant chambermaid in a moment of passion, hence his name. He was huge without being fat and had a deceptive appearance. When most met him for the first time, they assumed he must be the most laid back fellow in Bean Town. Ichabod knew differently, the man was wound up tighter than a teddy bear, thanks to a couple bad discs and incipient paranoia.
Were it not for the debt Mingo could help him erase, Ichabod wouldn’t come anywhere near him, but each had something the other coveted. Mingo was obsessed with the heirloom diamond stickpin, Ichabod sported. Ichabod coveted Mingo’s inherited recipe for the candy coating that gave Boston Baked Beans their unique, addictive flavor.
The exchange went smoothly with Mingo being so happy to have acquired the stickpin, he tossed in a couple tons of ingredients for the shells. “I doubt you’ll be willing to tell me why the recipe is so covetous to you, but your zeal to obtain it piques my curiosity.”
Ichabod shrugged, he had no incentive to be coy or evasive about his motive. “I have a cousin who lives in the williwags, or boondocks of northern Maine, I can never determine if there’s a demarcation between them, or not. In any event, despite our vast social and financial gaps, we’ve always been close. Let it suffice that I owe him a debt for his grace and understanding in the past when he helped me survive a terrible experience that was of my own making. I must away, good sir. When next we meet, I will sate your curiosity.”
Two days later, a honking horn dragged him from slumber. Ichabod hurried to gather appropriate sartorial accouterments for a rural excursion while shifting his mindset from proper Bostonian to one more akin to that of his cousin Bub.
Suky’s Jamaican cousin Sucha Dande, dressed in a ripped wifebeater and oversize cargo pants, sat behind the wheel of a van rented for the trip. “Yo, man, did you forget which side of the bed to exit?”
Ichabod shrugged. “We’re headed nearly as far north as one can go sans passport, so we must blend in as much as possible. You’ll understand when we arrive, but in the meantime I must prepare. Get on I-95 and keep going. I’ll provide directions once I’ve shifted to my alter persona.”
If mother could see me now, she’d mess her silken drawers, he mused as he let his mind morph into secret redneck mode. He kept his eyes closed until he felt Sucha stop to pay the toll in Kittery. Ichabod was wearing a Red Sox cap turned backward, a ripped Celtics t-shirt, and pants and sneakers from a thrift shop that he’d paid a buck for on bag day. “Put pedal to the metal, Bro, we’re beating feet for the County.”
When Sucha gave him a puzzled look, Ichabod elaborated. “We’re going to a town north of Patten in Aroostook County. Some folks up there are too poor to pay attention, are a few hamburgers short of a picnic, and only trust real cash money. I owe my cousin a big favor for the time I made him break into my uncle’s cellar and steal a gallon of hard cider. I kept insisting we should go skinny dipping in the farm pond and Bub kept saying I’d be sorry if I did. Of course, I had to show him up, but he was right. That cursed place was infested with leeches on steroids. It took him two hours to rid me of them, and some had muckled onto places that still bring a shiver to my spine.”
“What, exactly are we transporting that fits the repayment requirement?” Sucha asked.
“I traded my fancy stickpin for a recipe and the ingredients we’re hauling. My cousin and his father can’t grow anything but green peas. I figure with all this vegan, gluten-free and GMO nonsense, if they can coat their crop with a sweet shell like our beloved Boston Baked Beans, they’re resourceful enough to use the old potato barn to run the operation and they’re right off route eleven, so trucks pass by all the time headed south. If all goes well, I’ll never have to think about leeches or repayment again.”
If you’re still with me, ponder me this…What caught your eye more? The frosting (descriptions), or the shoe (the story), both, or neither. I had fun cobbling it together.