(This is a work of fiction, and takes place in the imaginary town of Abdera, Florida.)
I’ve never met Cindy, but she’s probably my closest friend in Abdera. We speak over the phone first thing every weekday morning. She’s sweet and fun to talk to even if there’s rarely something I can use for the news site, and we sort of have a little flirty thing going on. My name is Gomez Goldenham and I work the police beat for the Abdera Intelligencer, which maybe sounds more impressive than it is.
When she picked up the phone she started with, “Here’s something weird.” Every morning I try to imagine what Cindy looks like and every morning I imagine her looking different than I imagined the day before.
“Finally! You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.” Usually when I’m talking to Cindy I’m eating a breakfast burrito and drinking a giant iced coffee. This morning was no different. A black rhino everything burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck is my go-to choice.
“Well, the weirdness is a personal thing,” she said. “I feel happy because I finally have a crime to tell you about. Then I thought that it’s really macabre to be happy, because what happened is super sad. Isn’t that weird? To have these different places in your brain so that you can be happy about something at the same time you’re sad about it?”
“I get it. Like you said, it’s two different parts of your brain. Sorry to prompt the conflict. What happened?”
“Oh, it’s not your fault. At least it better not be! Sorry. Bad joke. Jean Ferrybridge is dead.”
I realized I should be taking notes. I rooted through the remains of take-out and not-quite-finished coffees until I found a pen in an aging donut box (I would throw these things in my trash, but the wastebasket is full and I’m too lazy to take it to the dumpster). I pulled a piece of paper from the printer sitting on the corner of my desk. “Tell me again what happened.”
“We got a 911 just after midnight. Someone driving by Jean’s house saw the door was open and called us. Roger answered the call. She was already dead when he got there.”
“What was the cause of death?”
Cindy paused. “You know what? I’m not sure what I can say about this. I should probably check with Pollux.”
Pollux is James Pollux, chief of police of Abdera, Florida. “I understand. How about off the record?”
“And you won’t report it? I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Promise. Not until we get official word from Captain Pollux.”
“Somebody beat her to death, Go. Roger said it was bad.”
“That’s horrible. Was it a robbery?”
“It didn’t look like it as far as Roger could tell. But, they’re out at the crime scene now.”
“Thanks, Cindy. Do you think it’d be OK if I head out there?” That may sound like I’m asking permission to do my job, but I’m really making sure I don’t get her in trouble. I like Cindy.
“I suppose so. Just tell the Captain that I didn’t tell you nothin’.”
I asked for the address and she gave it to me.
“Thanks, Go. Like I said, I’m happy I had something for you this morning, but I’m also sad I had something for you this morning.”
“I appreciate it Cindy. I might call later if I have any follow up questions.”
I couldn’t remember how I knew the name Jean Ferrybridge so I googled her.
Lambert, the editor, publisher, and lead reporter for the Abdera Intelligencer walked into the office two minutes after I started my search. Lambert was my boss and hired me right out of J-school. She was a weird combination of cynical and sincere, and oversaw everything printed in the paper and on the website.
“What are you doing here?”
I was a little thrown by her comment. I was always at work on time, and today wasn’t my day off. “Working. Guess what?”
“They found Jean Ferrybridge dead last night.” She dropped her bag on her chair. Lambert has her own office, but mostly we all worked in the large central space. Not that there were many of us.
“That’s right. How did you know?”
“I’m a fucking reporter, Gomez. Shouldn’t you be at the crime scene?” Lambert was texting someone on her phone while talking to me.
“I was looking up Jean on the internet.”
“Let me rephrase that – get out to the crime scene. Talk to the captain, the deputy, then talk to the neighbors to see if anybody heard or saw anything last night. The internet will still be here when you get back.” She shot me a look that asked ‘are you still here?’
“Got it.” I hesitated. There was something I had to ask. “Lambert, do you want to take this? It’s probably a pretty big story.” My few minutes of googling revealed that the Ferrybridges had been influential in Abdera for generations.
“I do not. You have the police beat. This is your story. We all have to start somewhere, Gomez. If you have any questions, or need anything, give me a call. Actually, check in with me in about an hour and let me know how it’s going.”
“Don’t thank me. Get the fuck out of here and get to work.”
“Hey, hey, it’s Hambone. How’s the reporting, Goldie?” My first week on the job Lambert took me to the police station to introduce me as the new police beat reporter. Cindy was out picking up lunch that day, something I learned later she was expected to do every day. Roger couldn’t stop laughing when he learned my last name was Goldenham and started making fun of my name immediately. He thinks he’s funny, but he’s an asshole.
“Hi, Roger. I heard about Jean Ferrybridge. I’m here to report on it. Find out what happened.” Jean’s house was on a small man-made bluff overlooking the bay in a cluster of fancy old-for-Florida homes.
“That’s Deputy Tiger to you and right now this is an ongoing investigation. We have no comment for the press. Why don’t you go grab yourself a couple of burritos, Hamhock. We’ll call you when we have something to say.”
I pulled out my phone and turned on the audio record.
“Can you tell me what happened to Jean Ferrybridge?”
Roger chuckled. “No comment, Goldenboy.” I felt my face turning red. I’d been bullied all my life because of my weight, and I still didn’t know how to deal with it. My go-to solution was to avoid people, but I couldn’t avoid Roger Tiger if I wanted to do my job.
“Gomez Goldenham! I thought we’d see you soon.” Chief Pollux walked out the front door and across the lawn. Pollux I could deal with. If he wasn’t interested in politics and running for office, he was missing out. He was easily the most charismatic person I’ve ever met.
“Hi Chief. I heard what happened to Jean. I came to see what you’ve learned so far.”
Roger smirked at me. “I’m going to finish up inside, Chief. Adios, Hammyham.”
“Thank you, Deputy.” The Chief turned his full attention to me. He was impossibly handsome and had a way of making you feel special. “Right now we have nothing to report. I can confirm that Jean Ferrybridge is dead. I can tell you that we are treating this like a murder, and we have no motive.”
“How did you find out about it?”
“We received an anonymous tip sometime after midnight.”
“Do you know when you’ll have a more complete statement?”
“Right after lunch. I’ll call you personally. Right now, though, I need to get back inside and wrap up this part of the investigation.”
“Will you be bringing in any outside resources? I mean, are you contacting the FBI?”
Pollux smiled and held out his hand to halt my questioning. “I’ll be in touch.”
I shook his hand and walked back to my aging Hyundai. Roger’s comment about burritos had me craving another breakfast burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck. I promised myself I could stop by Ghostfood for at least a coffee once I’d talked to the neighbors.
None of the neighbors I spoke with admitted to seeing anything the night before, or to being the person who called 911. They all agreed it was horrible and everybody presumed it was a robbery gone wrong. Jean was well-known in the community, and while not precisely well-loved, no one hated her enough to kill her, and no one could imagine she had any enemies that would resort to this kind of violence.
After walking up and down the block and knocking on doors I squeezed into my rattletrap Hyundai and drove to the Ghostfood Food Truck.
Marco runs the Ghostfood Food Truck which is usually parked in the Gaspar Business Park parking lot outside of downtown. He tries to recreate foods and recipes that have been lost. For example, it’s the only place in town you can get hardtack. He sprinkles it on his chicken chili, which he calls the Dodo Delight. The truck is covered with info about animals and plants that have gone extinct, or about to go extinct, and he features pretend extinct dishes, like Dodo Delight (chicken chili) or Sabretooth sandwiches (pulled pork). Maybe not the greatest marketing idea, but he makes up for it by having the best coffee in town.
If Cindy was the closest of my nonexistent friends, Marco was a close second. I saw him almost every day and we usually chatted for a couple of minutes when I ordered my coffee or breakfast burrito.
“What’s up, Primo?” I fought the temptation to get a mid-morning snack and ordered a large coffee.
“Jean Ferrybridge was killed last night, and I’ve been talking to neighbors.” I don’t know how he managed to make his coffee so good, but I wanted it to rest on my tongue for eternity.
“No shit? Fuck. I knew Jean.” Marco handed me my coffee.
Instantly my mind was off the coffee and on Marco.
“Really? I’m sorry man. I would have been more sensitive if I’d known. I didn’t mean to blurt it out like that.”
“No, that’s alright. I mean, it sucks. I mean… I don’t know what I mean. I need to take a minute.”
Marco came out from the truck and sat at one of the nearby picnic tables. He pulled out his vape and took a drag. I sat across from him, blowing on my coffee and taking tiny sips.
“I’m real sorry. How did you know Jean?”
“She comes… used to come to the food truck. She loved it. She was always telling me about exotic recipes I could make if we really had extinct animals. She was crazy about food. In fact, we belonged to a supper club together.”
“A supper club? What’s that?”
“Weird shit. She thought I’d fit in because of the truck, y’know?”
“What kind of weird shit?”
“Well, like one time we all went and got fecal implants.” Marco grinned at the memory.
“What. The. Actual. Fuck? How does that have anything to do with food? That’s like the opposite of food.”
Marco nodded, still smiling. “Yeah. I told you it was weird shit. Ha! I guess in that case literally. She said it was a way to feed our microbiome. That it would give us a whole new outlook on what it meant to nourish ourselves.”
“Yeah. I guess so. I didn’t even know what a microbiome was before that. You know we’re mostly not us? We’re mostly microscopic organisms like bacteria. More than half of us is not human.”
“I had no idea. That IS some weird shit. Anything else?” I had about a thousand questions about fecal implants, but it felt inappropriate to grill him at that moment.
“Sometimes it was exotic meals. One time she had Seema Surly from Drinkwater Labs bring us some glow-in-the-dark chile peppers she had gene-spliced together from some bioluminescent fish. One time we had a meal with the recipes completely created by an AI, but then a person cooked it. That was crazy. Most of that shit was inedible. There’d be like a pound of salt and a teaspoon of chicken.”
A beat-up burgundy Impala drove up into the lot and two guys who looked like carnival workers got out.
“It looks like I got customers.” Marco put his vape away. “Oh yeah,” he pulled a pill from his pocket where he kept his vape. “Jean just sent these out. They are supposed to be a part of our next supper party.”
“Can I see it?”
“Sure.” Marco handed me the pill and went inside the truck.
Then things moved really fast. The two men did not move to the order window. One of them walked up to me, moving quickly. The other followed Marco into the truck, pushing him through the door.
I’ve never been hit in my life. My mom didn’t believe in corporal punishment, so I’ve never even been spanked. Bullies taunted me mercilessly, but no one has ever hit me. As long as you don’t count getting your ears flicked or the occasionally slap across the head by a high school bully. This was nothing compared to that. This was a full-on punch in the face. It hurt really bad and I started to cry. I could hear Marco scuffling in the truck. I tried to stand up, but the man pushed me down by the shoulders.
Both men were shouting something, asking questions, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. There was too much confusion. Too much pain.
Finally I understood the man in the truck as he shouted out “He doesn’t have it. He said he gave it to fatty there.”
“Where’s the fucking pill?” Through bleary eyes I could see the man with his fist cocked back. He was short and burly, bald with a long thin black ponytail, and a pockmarked deeply tanned face. For some reason it seemed weird to me in that moment that he was wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts. He also scared the shit out of me.
The pill was in my hand. Without thinking I put it in my mouth and bit down.
“You dumb fuck.” He tried to get his hand in my mouth, but I bit him, then I kept chewing the pill. As we wrestled I fell off the picnic table and onto the pitted blacktop.
This isn’t actually much of a surprise if you knew me. I’m a compulsive eater. During one of the last conversations I ever had with my mom while I lived at home she said “Do you have to put every goddamn thing into your mouth?” That was the day I knew it was time to move out. We’ve talked since, but not much. What WAS surprising was the pill. It sort of exploded in my mouth. Not exploded in a fizzy way like an effervescent candy, but exploded with flavor like it was filling my mouth with food. It was shocking and disconcerting and I might have spit it out, it was so unexpected, except for the guy trying to stick his fingers in my mouth to scoop it out.
I couldn’t tell if I was really eating food, or if it was just some sort of flavor explosion. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening in my mouth. It was like I was eating a whole meal. Literally. First was a strong taste of bibb lettuce with a raspberry and balsamic vinegar dressing. I kept chewing and swallowing, keeping my face away from the guy poking at my mouth. Next was the taste of steak, then buttery potatoes, then steak and potatoes. It was amazing, and amazingly delicious.
“Goddamn it! He ate it.”
At the very end I could taste Key Lime pie. I burped.
“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.” It happened in slow motion, but I was frozen, like I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about moving. He punched me again. This time I felt my nose shift and heard a crunch.
Weirdly, the breaking of my nose didn’t hurt as much as the earlier punch. My guess is because my body flooded with endorphins and other pain killers to keep me from going completely mad. Instead I felt really itchy on the inside of my face, like a swarm of ants were trying to make their way out.
The two men got in their car and drove away. Marco knelt beside me and turned me on my right shoulder.
“Spit out the blood. We don’t want you choking.”
I spat. “The pill. They wanted the pill.” It was hard to breathe and I kept spitting blood, letting it drool out of the side of my mouth.
“Did they get it?”
I spat some more. The blood in my mouth was starting to make me feel sick. I wondered if I vomited if I’d see meat and potatoes and key lime pie. It crossed my mind that I should vomit just as an experiment to test my taste experience against the contents of my stomach.
“I ate it.”
“I didn’t mean too. When I get nervous I eat things. I put it in my mouth without even thinking.”
“Do you feel alright?”
My head ached and my face hurt a lot, but my nausea was settling down and the bleeding seemed to be bothering me less, though it was still flowing profusely and I was still spitting. But, I knew he was asking about the pill.
“It was like eating a whole meal.”
“You mean because of all the blood you swallowed?” Marco looked confused and a little worried. I could see he was thinking that punch knocked me loopy.
“No. The pill. It was like a meal in a pill.”
His eyes opened wide like he understood something. “I bet that’s exactly what it was. Jean sent it to us for the next supper club meeting. I bet that was going to be our meal.”
“It was intense. I didn’t know something like that was possible. It’s like a pill out of Willie Wonka.” The blacktop was starting to feel uncomfortable and I wondered if I should move.
“Yeah. Pretty wild. I wonder where she got them. Hey, do you think those guys maybe killed Jean?”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I needed to call Lambert. I also probably needed to call Chief Pollux. “Can you help me up?”
“You just lie there. You might be concussed. Let me get you some towels and put some pressure on that nose. It looks like he broke it. You look fucked up, Primo.” Marco left to get some towels and I idly wondered where my phone was.
Then I puked up what felt like a bucket of blood. There was some breakfast burrito in there, but no steak and potatoes. And, no key lime pie.
He came back with towels. I wiped my face, spit, and he handed me a towel full of ice I put on my forehead as close as I could get to my nose. The coolness felt good, but I couldn’t touch my nose or my cheeks.
“Wait a minute. You said us. You said Jean sent it to us.”
“Yeah, for the next supper club.”
“How did those guys know to come to you? How did they know you had the pill? Do you think they know who Jean sent the pills to?”
“I don’t see how.”
“Did she send an email about it? Maybe she had an address list at her home.”
“No, dude, she totally sent us an email. I bet you’re right. I need to let everybody know.”
“I need to call too. Do you see my phone?”
“Yeah. It’s here on the table.” Marco handed me my phone. “I’ll be right back.” He went to his food truck, I assume to start making calls. I wondered if I might be bleeding to death. There was a lot of blood still flowing from my face.
I didn’t know whether to call Lambert or the police first. I called Lambert.
“Start calling those people immediately. Text me the names. I’ll contact Captain Pollux and let him know about the assault.”
I did exactly as Lambert suggested. Marco and I didn’t reach everybody, but he at least left a message, or texted everyone in the supper club and managed to speak to two members.
I wanted to race to warn someone, but Marco closed up the food truck and drove me to the emergency room in his pick-up truck. I laid down in back, bleeding all over the bed of his truck. I was quite dizzy from all the blood loss, and my headache kept getting more and more intense.
As I was getting checked for a concussion Lambert texted me to let me know the police arrested the attackers.
The next day I was coping with a profound headache. Lambert took over the story. It turned out that a research scientist named Seema Surly had been killed at Drinkwater Labs the same night as Jean Ferrybridge, though no one discovered her body until the next night; the night I was hanging out in the hospital.
Surly’s killer was Drinkwater’s attorney. She was trying to steal the recipe for the meal-in-a-pill invention Surly created. Surly shared a batch of prototype pills with Ferrybridge and Ferrybridge’s supper club. That was the pill I ate when attacked at Ghostfood.
A few days later I was back at work with a healing nose and two glorious shiners. I was feeling really down about myself because the first big story I had to break I instead broke my nose. Lambert was the best, but I still felt gloomy.
As I brooded about what a loser I was I got a text from Marco: Meet me at the food truck when you get off work. I have a surprise.
After work I drove to Ghostfood thinking maybe he made me a special treat. Marco told me he was taking me somewhere and directed me to his truck. I sat in the front this time. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I wondered if Marco and I might be on our way to being friends. That would be nice. I’d never had many friends, but I’d never felt lonely until I moved to Abdera and away from Mom.
Eventually I realized we were driving to the Drinkwater estate. I realized it as we passed the open gates with DRINK on one gate and WATER on the other. My journalistic powers of super deduction at work.
“Why are we going to Drinkwater’s?”
“You’ll find out.”
I followed Marco through the front door and into a huge dining room. A group of people holding an assortment of wine and cocktail glasses mingled near a bar at one end of the room.
“Here he is! The man of the hour.” Harlen Drinkwater separated from the group and came to me and shook my hand. “Let me get you a drink.” I recognized Harlen from the news website. We wrote a lot about his charitable work, which always included pictures of him toasting or drinking.
I blushed, but it was probably impossible to tell given the state of my face.
“Thanks, but I didn’t really do anything.” I felt a little embarrassed to have all this attention on me.
“Nonsense. You broke the case wide open.” Like my nose, I thought. “If you hadn’t been at the food truck, only God knows what those creeps might have done to Marco. And, if you hadn’t eaten the pill, they might have stolen it and made their getaway. And, the two of you managed to contact everyone and get the police to understand the seriousness of the situation.”
“Okay. Thank you. Still, I feel like I was just doing my job.”
“Here’s to doing your job. Cheers!” Everyone lifted their glass and we drank a toast.
Drinkwater’s face turned serious. “This isn’t all a celebration, however. We lost two wonderful amazing people a few days ago. Both were important to me, but one especially was important to this group. Here’s to Jean.” We drank another toast.
Drinkwater gestured for us all to sit down at the dining room table at the other end of the room, and I took a seat next to Marco. Each of us had a silver service set in front of us with a gleaming lid covering a silver plate.
“Tonight’s dinner is in Jean’s memory. And tonight we also welcome, if he will have us, a new member to the supper club.” Drinkwater focused his attention on me. “Gomez Goldenham, on behalf of the supper club I’d like to ask you to join us as our newest member. I think you will find it a rewarding experience.”
I felt awkward and flattered. “Yes. That would be nice. I’d like that a lot.”
“Then welcome!” We drank another toast. “And now, tonight’s dinner.” Drinkwater gestured and we removed the silver covers from our plates. Sitting on the gleaming silver was a single pill. A pill like the one I ate at Ghostfood.
“What you see before you is the last batch of the Drinkwater Meal-in-a-Pill invented by Seema Surly. Seema was a brilliant scientist and a dear friend and I miss her deeply. Unfortunately when Seema died the secret of their production died with her. She wrote many notes, but she kept a few secrets locked away in her head. I don’t know yet if I’ll keep the labs working on unlocking those secrets, but even if I do there’s no guarantee anyone will ever match Seema’s singular genius. I admit I don’t know what we’re eating tonight. The pills have been distributed randomly. Please describe your sensations as we eat.
“Gomez, as our newest member and tonight’s guest of honor will you do us the honor of eating the first pill?”
I nodded silently and awkwardly popped the meal-in-a-pill in my mouth. This time I chewed slowly and enjoyed the strange sensation. I described everything I tasted to my new friends.
AFTERWORD: As I started the current iteration of this blog at the beginning of 2019, I posted some fictional entries as if from a young man newly arrived in Abdera. Regular posting, as has been the case for nearly a decade now, became untenable as the semester got underway and sucked up all my time. However, I kept writing notes and ideas about that character, and he eventually became Gomez Goldenham, the protagonist of this story.
Initially this story had a lot more future food stuff. It was more of a quest/mystery where the protagonist had to go from person to person, place to place and getting his clue card stamped until he solved the mystery. In the end I ditched the mystery-solving and decided to write a story about meeting new friends.