Venetian Springs is a new crime serial here at Edward Trimnell Books:
Two couples—one idealistic, the other criminal. A ruthless drug kingpin. A gym bag filled with heroin and cash.
They all come together one night at a casino called Venetian Springs.
Mark and Gina Baxter, two married public high school teachers, are down on their luck. When the Venetian Springs Casino & Resort offers them a free suite and some “free” gambling money, they decide to take the casino up on the deal.
After all, they may strike it rich.
But as every experienced gambler knows: “the house always wins”. The Baxters’ evening at the casino doesn’t go as planned.
Then Mark and Gina’s paths intersect with Jim Garrett and Eve Mosley, a lawless pair who are on the run from a murderous Mexican cartel.
Jim and Eve pitch the Baxters a way out; but their promises turn out to be lies. By the end of the night, Mark and Gina Baxter find themselves going for broke, and fighting for their lives.
I live in Southern Ohio, where deer hunting is a way of life in November for many people.
Hunting animals for food (or anything else) isn’t my thing. But I see no reason to be self-righteous about this: I regularly eat animals who live much worse lives in the industrial settings of Tyson and Cargill. Ms. Teeters’s deer, at least, lived wild and free until its final moments.
The deer’s natural predator, the wolf, is no more in most of the United States. Deer are everywhere in Southern Ohio nowadays, and hunters help trim the herd.
Deer sausage, I might add, is quite tasty when properly prepared.
This was one of the big teen movies of my youth. I saw it when it came out in the mid-1980s. I recently watched it again as a middle age (51) adult.
The basic idea of The Breakfast Club is immediately relatable: Five very different teens (a nerd, a jock, a princess, a basket case, a criminal) are thrown together in the enclosed space of their high school’s library. They are then forced to interact over the course of a day-long detention period on a Saturday. This is a small drama, but also a much larger one: The setup for the movie provides a concentrated and contained view of all teenage interactions.
Why we like The Breakfast Club
I liked The Breakfast Club, for all the usual reasons that millions of people have liked the movie since it first hit cinemas in February 1985. Everyone who has ever been a teenager can relate to feeling awkward and misunderstood; and The Breakfast Club has teenage angst in spades. The cast of characters is diverse enough that each of us can see parts of himself in at least one of these kids.
The Breakfast Club is free of the gratuitous nudity that was somewhat common in the teensploitation films of the era. There is no Breakfast Club equivalent to Phoebe Cates’s topless walk beside the swimming pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (There is a brief glimpse of what is supposed to be Molly Ringwald’s panties. But since Ringwald was a minor at the time, an adult actress filled in as a double for this shot.)
Nor are any of the actors especially good-looking or flashy. They all look like normal people. No one paid to see this movie for its star power or sex appeal. The Breakfast Club succeeded on the basis of its script, and solid acting and production values.
What I didn’t see in 1985
I enjoyed the movie the second time around, too. I have to admit, though, that teenage self-absorption can seem a little frustrating when viewed through adult eyes.
I’m the same age as Michael Anthony Hall and Molly Ringwald; we were all born in 1968. The other actors in the film are all within ten years of my age. Nevertheless, this time I was watching their teenage drama unfold as an older person–not a peer. Teenage drama is, by its very nature, trivial (and yes, a little annoying) when viewed from an adult perspective.
The movie also makes all adults look corrupt, stupid, or craven–as opposed to the hapless and victimized, but essentially idealistic– teens. Every young character in The Breakfast Club blames his or her parents for their problems, and these assertions are never really challenged.
We get only a few shots of the parents, when the kids are being dropped off for their day of detention. The parents are all portrayed as simplistic naggers.
The teens’ adult nemesis throughout the movie, Assistant Principal Vernon, is a caricature, a teenager’s skewed perception of the evil adult authority figure. The school janitor, meanwhile, is no working-class hero–but a sly operator who blackmails Vernon for $50.
A movie written for its audience
One of the reasons you liked this movie if you were a teenager in 1985 is that it flattered you–without challenging your myopic, teenage perspective of the world. If you weren’t happy, it was probably because of something your parents did, not anything that you did–or failed to do.
That may have been a marketing decision. Who knows? The Breakfast Club goes out of its way to flatter its target audience–the suburban teenager of the mid-1980s. I suppose I didn’t see that when I was a member of that demographic. I see it now, though.
The guard grabbed Barry by his shirt collar. The other big Korean—the one whom Jung-Ho had identified as Sgt. Park—squeezed into the cell to help manhandle Barry.
They picked him up. Sgt. Park slammed a fist into Barry’s abdomen. Barry would have vomited, if there had been anything in his stomach.
The guard slipped a little plastic tie around Barry’s wrists.
Jung-Ho shouted something else in Korean. Then Sgt. Park and the unnamed guard pushed Barry out of the cell.
“Stop!” Barry shouted. “I want to speak to the Swedish embassy!”
No one answered him.
Now he found himself in a long corridor with stone walls. The kind of decor one would expect in the hallway of a prison in North Korea.
The corridor was almost completely dark. There were bare bulbs spaced at wide intervals in the ceiling. But as was the case in the cell—they didn’t give off much light.
Barry was jostled around a corner, where he saw a wedge of daylight just ahead of him. A few steps further, and he saw an open doorway, lit up with the obscured sunlight of a cloudy day.
Sgt. Park and the guard kept shoving Barry forward, while Jung-Ho walked calmly alongside them.
Barry shouted more protests. But Jung-Ho would give him no response, and the other two Koreans didn’t even understand him.
Another shove, and he was outside, in a muddy courtyard enclosed by brick walls.
The courtyard was barren, but not empty. There were two groups of people out here.
One group was wearing rags. They looked like prisoners in a concentration camp, which—Barry supposed—was exactly what they were.
The other group was wearing military uniforms. They had guns.
Something, Barry could tell, was about to take place in this courtyard—something very bad.
And he was going to be a part of it.
Perhaps twelve or fifteen prisoners—all of them Korean, apparently—were lined up against a wall. Four more Korean guards were watching them with scowling faces.
Three of the guards carried AK-47s. The fourth guard, who might have been an officer, carried a pistol like the one that had been used to threaten Barry.
The prisoners were a mix of age and gender. The youngest of them was a woman who appeared to be in her twenties. The oldest was a man who looked old enough to be a great grandfather.
Sgt. Park and the guard who had helped jostle Barry outside now shoved him to the nearer end of the line, and against the wall.
Barry had some idea what was going to happen here. He shouted, “Wait!” and tried to resist. The big Korean, Sgt. Park, smacked Barry with his open palm.
It was only a glancing blow across Barry’s head. But after being struck by the truncheon in a similar manner, his head was already ringing. He also now realized that he was famished and dehydrated…Not to mention the shock of waking up from a drug-induced slumber in North Korea.
And now this: His captors were pushing him toward what looked like preparations for a mass execution. Toward the target line.
Stunned, Barry had little choice but to let himself be pushed. He looked down, and saw one of his two hundred-dollar loafers sink briefly into the muck of the courtyard.
This couldn’t be real.
But it was real, impossible though it seemed.
They shoved him again.
Sgt. Park and his helper finally pushed Barry into the place where they wanted him. Barry turned around and saw a crumbling brick wall that was punctured with bullet holes. There were also dark stains that could only have been dried blood.
The smell out here was wretched. A mixture of the oozy mud beneath their feet, and the reek of the prisoners’ unwashed bodies.
His own unwashed body.
Barry glanced over and saw Jung-Ho, waiting and watching impassively. Jung-Ho was at the very edge of the courtyard. He had not stepped out into the mud.
Opposite the wall, Barry could see the four Korean guards talking among themselves. The sky was a white-grey, the air warm and fetid. From a flagpole in the center of the courtyard hung a North Korean flag.
Barry could hear some of the prisoners beside him begin to whimper and sob as the guard with the pistol approached the line.
The guard with the pistol now stood at the end of the line farthest from Barry.
Barry looked around: There was nowhere to run. In every direction, was a brick wall, a North Korean with a gun, or both.
Barry had a sudden realization: He would be dead within a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
The guard with the pistol shouted something in Korean. Barry watched in disbelief as he placed the muzzle of the pistol against the head of the first prisoner—a middle-aged woman.
There was a loud crack, and Barry saw the pistol buck in the guard’s outstretched hand.
The female prisoner fell to the ground. A section of her head was missing. Her blood was gushing out onto the mud.
A few seconds ago she had been alive. Alive in this hellhole, yes—but alive.
And now she was dead.
Just like that.
Before Barry had even absorbed this horror, the guard with the pistol moved on to the next prisoner: the great grandfather.
The old man looked stoically ahead, not looking at the officer.
The guard held out the gun and the gun went BOOM! again.
The top of the old man’s head seemed to have been sheared off. He toppled forward into the mud.
The next prisoner was a youngish woman. Under different circumstances, she would have been pretty. But now she was crying, babbling hysterically in Korean. A line of mucus ran down from one nostril.
She fell to her knees. Barry couldn’t understand her words, of course, but he understood their import well enough: She was still very young, and she was begging for her life.
The gun went off yet again.
The top of the woman’s head collapsed inward, in an explosion of blood, and her body fell forward.
Now there were three dead bodies, their heads ruined by that terrible weapon that the guard wielded with such cold efficiency.
Life and death means nothing to these people, Barry thought.
They’re going to kill me.
They aren’t kidding around.
It’s really going to happen.
Barry hated himself for what he had just decided to do, but he was still determined to go through with it.
The guard with the pistol probably didn’t speak a word of English. Moreover, he was obviously not in a listening mood. He was in a shooting and killing mood.
Barry looked in the other direction. He saw Jung-Ho, still standing at the edge of the courtyard, the massive Sgt. Park at his side.
Barry broke out of the line and ran in the direction of Jung-Ho.
What was the worst that could happen? They would shoot him?
Jung-Ho watched him approach, but he did not react.
A short distance from the edge of the courtyard, Barry tripped and fell in the mud. With his hands bound, he had no way to break the fall. He struggled to his knees, aware that the front of his body was entirely caked with mud.
“Okay!” he pleaded. “You win! You want me to perform a task for you? Serve your Supreme Leader? I’ll do it!”
Even as Barry spoke these words, he loathed himself anew for his desperation, this voluntary surrender of his dignity.
Without looking directly at Barry, Jung-Ho said something in Korean.
Sgt. Park stepped forward, into the muddy courtyard, and lifted Barry off the ground. The big Korean yelled something incomprehensible at him.
“I—I don’t understand,” Barry said, as he struggled to his feet.
Sgt. Park punched Barry in the stomach. He doubled over, and fell back into the mud.
Barry heard Jung-Ho say something else in Korean. Sgt. Park lifted him up again—but this time he spared him the punch.
It didn’t matter. Barry’s stomach felt like it had been struck by a cannonball. But that pain was minor, compared to his terror of that guard with the pistol— the one who liked to shoot unarmed prisoners in the head.
Jung-Ho looked past Barry, and summoned another guard. Barry turned and saw the guard running, double-time, in their direction. He was a young guy, looked like a new enlistee.
Barry heard the pistol crack again. More cries of anguish. Behind him the killing continued.
What is wrong with these people? Barry thought. But he knew that he had other, more immediate problems of his own.
The young guard stood at attention before Jung-Ho, as Jung-Ho issued a set of instructions in staccato Korean.
“You will go with this guard and Sgt. Park,” said Jung-Ho in English, his words obviously intended for Barry.
“What?” Barry said. “Where are they taking me?”
Then a new prospect occurred to Barry: Maybe the North Koreans had an even more horrific means of killing him in mind—something worse than being shot in the head with a pistol.
Perhaps this nightmare was about to get even worse—if that were even possible.
Barry had a dreadful feeling that it was possible.
Not far from where I live, there is a stretch of Ohio State Route 125 that has been dubbed Dead Man’s Curve.
The spot is just a few miles from my house, in fact. I’ve been by there many times.
According to the urban legend, if you drive this section of rural highway a little after 1 a.m., you might see the faceless hitchhiker. From a distance, this male figure may look relatively normal. Once you get close, though, you’ll see that he has no face.
Sometimes the hitchhiker isn’t content to stand there by the side of the road and watch you. There have been reports of the phantom actually attacking cars.
Yeah, I think so, too….
Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio State Route 125 has a long and macabre history. Route 125 is the main road that connects the suburbs and small towns east of Cincinnati with the city. But much of the road (including Dead Man’s Curve) was originally part of the Ohio Turnpike, which was built in 1831. (Andrew Jackson was president in 1831, just to put that date in perspective.)
That section of the Ohio Turnpike was the scene of many accidents (some of them fatal), even in the horse-and-buggy days. The downward sloping curve became particularly treacherous when rain turned the road to mud. Horses and carriages would sometimes loose their footing, sending them over the adjacent hillside.
In the twentieth century, the Ohio Turnpike was paved and reconfigured into State Route 125. In 1968 the road was expanded into four lanes.
As part of the expansion, the spot known as Dead Man’s Curve was leveled and straightened. (As a result, the curve doesn’t look so daunting today…unless you know its history.) This was supposed to be the end of “Dead Man’s Curve”.
But it wasn’t.
In 1969, there was a horrible accident at the spot. The driver of a green Roadrunner—traveling at a speed of 100 mph—slammed into an Impala carrying five teenagers. There was only one survivor of the tragic accident.
Shortly after that, witnesses began to report sightings of the faceless hitchhiker during the wee hours. (The hitchhiker is said to be most active during the twenty-minutes between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m.) There have also been reports of a ghostly green Roadrunner that will chase drivers late at night.
Oh, and Dead Man’s Curve remains deadly, despite the leveling and straightening done in 1968. In the five decades since the accident involving the Roadrunner and the Impala, around seventy people have been killed there.
Is there any truth to the legend of Dead Man’s Curve?
I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that I’ve heard many eyewitness accounts from local residents who claim to have seen the hitchhiker. (Keep in mind, I live very close to Dead Man’s Curve, and it’s a local topic of discussion and speculation.) Almost none of these eyewitnesses have struck me as mentally imbalanced or deceitful.
I know what your last question is going to be: Have I ever driven Dead Man’s Curve between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m. myself?
Uh, no. But perhaps I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll let you know in a subsequent blog post!
For me, publication is about more than just Amazon. I am also a big fan of the ezine/webzine concept. That means lots of stories and other content here on Edward Trimnell Books, for you to read online.
I don’t want to beat on Seth Godin here. (Well, not too much, anyway.) I’ve read a few of the glorified PowerPoint presentations that Seth Godin publishes as books. They contain a few worthwhile nuggets. The guy has been saying stuff about marketing for 20 years now. It can’t all be wrong. But let’s not forget that Seth Godin mostly markets himself.
The obsession with audio/video
And of course, Seth Godin isn’t alone in his obsession with noise, and his relative disdain for text. Many of the marketing gurus are telling us that in this short-attention span, post-literate world, you have to hit them with some form of electronic noise. No one has the time for text anymore! If you must use text, make it an emoji! That’s the way Gen Z does things, after all!
(Twenty years ago, these same gurus were telling us to ape the Millennials, until the Millennials lost their luster.)
Text or voice/video? It depends on what you’re selling, and whom you’re selling it to, of course… If you want to demonstrate the performance of a new sports car, then video is perfect for that. Likewise, a vacation spot. No one can describe the beauty of Hawaii like an image or a video can show them.
But there are many marketing situations in which the current obsession with yammering in people’s ears, or bombarding them with video, can be counterproductive. If I’m going to invest in a stock, for example, I’d rather read a prospectus. If I want to learn about the causes of World War II, I much prefer a well-written text to a YouTube video, or even a podcast.
I do listen to podcasts, because they’re a handy way to consume certain kinds of information when reading is impractical (such as when I’m driving a car).
But if I need to absorb something complicated, I prefer text.
Text also permits us to skim, and easily backtrack–something that is much more difficult with audio and video.
I still read print magazines, too–and I’m not the only one– because they provide a depth of information that you simply can’t get from a 5-minute YouTube video, or even a 1-hour podcast.
Audio and video can be annoying.
While we’re on the subject of print versus audio/video: I know you’ve had this experience: You navigate to a website that you’ve found in a search result, and the website contains one of those autoplaying videos that immediately starts talking at you. Shut the #$@! up! you shout, and hit the mute button on your computer.
But what do the gurus preach? More audio! More video!
Text: more “high-tech” than talking
There is nothing wrong with podcasting. (There is nothing wrong with video, either.) There is something wrong with the sudden trendiness of declaring text obsolete, as if forgetting how to organize one’s thoughts into text somehow represented an advancement.
Remember that verbal communication is nothing new. On the contrary, it is the oldest, most primitive form. People have been yammering at each other, and yammering before crowds of others, since the invention of language.
Written language (text) developed because it allowed more complex ideas to be expressed in more systematic ways. If we must be trendy here, then it is text that is more “high-tech”. We should not be too eager to let text go, in the pursuit of more primitive noise.
As he drove home, Tucker savored the triumph of the job offer. But he couldn’t shake the eerie feeling left over from that conversation with Joel French.
Why couldn’t Joel have told him the truth?
The mere fact that the firm had been founded by a man named George Washington was an interesting tidbit, but nothing extremely unusual. In the more than two hundred years since the real George Washington had died, countless American men had been named for him, after all.
One of the most famous of these was George Washington Carver. Born a slave in the waning days of the Confederacy, George Washington Carver had become an accomplished botanist, and carried out groundbreaking experiments on the cultivation of peanuts and soybeans.
Carver’s connection to his namesake had been merely incidental. The George Washington who had founded George Washington Investments, by contrast, had obviously wanted to turn the associations of his name into a commercial gimmick.
Joel, the general manager of the firm, had gone along.
Fine and good. But why carry an inside joke so far? Tucker had been led to believe that that sort of pranking was for teenagers and college kids.
“Grown adults” didn’t do that sort of thing.
Except…some apparently did.
When Tucker arrived back at his apartment, he immediately started googling George Washington Investments. He was able to find a bare-bones corporate presence website, with Joel French listed as the general manager. There was an obligatory portrait of the Father of His Country, but nothing that hinted at the strangeness that Tucker had seen and heard during his interview.
On a whim, Tucker started googling the real George Washington. He thought he already knew much about the man, but apparently he hadn’t known everything.
He came upon an article entitled “Washington’s firing squads”. Apparently, Washington had been responsible not only for the deaths of British soldiers—but for some of his own men, as well. And not only deaths on the battlefield.
Washington had been a stickler for 18th-century standards of military discipline. Continental soldiers who were charged with gross insubordination, assault, or desertion were subjected to drumhead trials. Those found guilty were sentenced to death by firing squad.
Anyone charged with treason, meanwhile, was sentenced to hang.
Those were hard times, to be sure, and Washington had been fighting a war. Nevertheless, this presented a portrait of Washington that belied his image as the almost saintly, fatherlike figure.
“I wonder if Joel French knows about all that?” Tucker said aloud into his empty apartment.
The George Washington Investments firm occupied a sprawling, converted plantation mansion. Joel’s first-floor office, with its high ceiling and Persian rug floor, had at one time been one of the mansion’s multiple parlors, Tucker supposed. It wasn’t like any corporate office that Tucker had ever seen.
But then, neither was the rest of the building.
The doorway of Joel’s office was just a wide open space, with no physical barrier. Tucker stepped across the threshold, off the Persian rug, and onto the hardwood floor of the main hallway of the mansion.
He came immediately upon a large staircase with an ornate balustrade. He had briefly noticed both on his way in.
He was about to walk past the stairs, when the sound of footfalls came from directly above him, on the second floor.
Two distinct thumps. Then silence.
Tucker paused, feeling a slight chill in the stuffy air.
He glanced up the staircase. He could see only to the first landing, where a large antique mirror permitted a partial view of the next landing up.
Tucker looked in the mirror for any sign of movement. He held his breath. All he could hear, though, was Joel talking to a client in his office across the hall.
Seeing nothing and hearing no more, Tucker continued on toward the main exit.
The main foyer of the house had been converted to a small lobby. There was no receptionist or security guard. There were two chairs and a sofa for visitors. A glass-topped coffee table was covered with recent copies of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated, arranged in a fan pattern.
Tucker heard a creaking sound, and looked up. High above his head was a large crystal chandelier.
The chandelier was moving, just a little, from one side to the other.
A house this size would have drafts, Tucker thought, its own interior weather patterns, practically.
There was a rational explanation.
Without lingering any further, Tucker hurried out the main exit of the building.
On the other side of the front door, Tucker found himself on a long covered portico. A series of four doric columns supported a white wooden awning, two stories above his head.
The air out here was humid in the late May sunshine. Also thick with the scent of pollen.
No wonder. A row of blooming magnolia trees lined the front perimeter of the main yard, just before the rural highway that connected the old plantation with the present century. Blooming rose bushes rimmed the front porch. Bees and wasps buzzed everywhere.
Hay fever weather.
Tucker started as something thumped against the front door, from the inside of the house.
Joel, perhaps? Had the general manager followed him out, for some reason?
Tucker stood still, waiting for the doorknob to turn, waiting for another thump.
It was just the old architecture settling, he decided. Nothing more.
The parking lot was a cleared and blacktopped rectangle beside the mansion. It didn’t take much suggestibility to imagine this space being used as a parking area for horse-drawn carriages in another era. From the carriages there would have emerged men in frock coats and top hats, women in crinoline dresses and whalebone corsets.
Attended by slaves, of course. This had once been a plantation, and Virginia had been the heart of the old Confederacy.
A lost world, Tucker thought. He started his car, and reached for the knob that controlled the air conditioning.
Although he would be back here in two weeks, he had had enough of George Washington Investments—and this plantation house—for a single day.
I’ve read Fahrenheit 451 several times. This is a short novel, and it won’t take you long to read. (Bradbury was more of a short story writer than a novelist. The novels that he wrote tended to be on the short side, too.)