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Cause and Effect, or The Nose Knows – 18 January 2013

I woke up this morning, and said to myself, ‘Come hell or high water, I’m gonna write a story today.’ So I did. I like to give myself pep talks. I don’t care if it makes me look like a madman, I can and do talk to myself. So what?

Anyway, this is what I came up with today.  It’s titled “Cause and Effect, or The Nose Knows”.


Laurence Dorval had an exceptional sense of smell; he could introduce himself to anyone, and instantaneously know all about them – favorite foods, colors, movies and the like, but also what kind of approach would be most likely to afford total access to the inner reaches of their psyches, men and women alike. He always said that his ability to communicate with the reptilian center of his brain gave him such an affinity, and once people saw what he could do no one doubted it. It was this innate gift that allowed him to live the life of a jet-setting yuppie; he’d grifted cougars and trust fund babies and politicians and the nouveau riche; he’d been the bloodhound for many a despondent family or stymied private investigator. He’d given them exactly what they wanted – sometimes it was sexual, sometimes it was dangerous, sometimes it was dull, but he knew what they wanted from him, and they gave, gave, gave in return.

Today, though…

Laurence stepped into a tiny dive of a diner, sat down and removed his sunglasses. Surely, the last person to walk into this place wearing Hugo Boss, Armani and a flawless pair of Bruno Maglis had burned them upon leaving, this place was so run down. But the aromas caught his attention so he stopped.

The Living End. This was the place.

An old man approached him with a ratty menu, and placed it on the table in front of Laurence. “Hiya,” he said, making Laurence wince at the familiarity. “Never get anyone as sharp as you in here. Would’ya like a drink, mister?” His white eyebrows quivered in place, bushily anticipating Laurence’s response.

“A screwdriver,” he said, never touching the menu. The old man gave a slight bow and went off to make the drink. Laurence looked around the dimly lit diner, at the paint peeling from the ceiling and walls, at the ancient bar where the old man had gone to make his drink. The bottles were coated in a film of dust at least an eighth of an inch thick, and the bar itself was in dire need of a good waxing. The half dozen or so tables were just as in need of attention.

The old man returned with the drink, another glass, the bottle of vodka and the decanter full of orange juice, and sat down across from him. Laurence took a sip and was surprised at how well made it was. He admired the glass – it’s charming thickness, reminiscent of bygone days when this place was a fixture in the neighborhood, a neighborhood which was now as run down as the bar itself.

“You’re a lucky fellow,” the old man said. “This just happens to be the last day I’m in business. Guess I’m finally too old to be coming into work every day, even if it is the only thing I have to do nowadays.” He made one for himself, and Laurence did the same. The old man took a healthy sip, and let out a long, satisfied sigh. “Even I’m surprised at how well this vodka’s held up,” he said. He took a moment to study Laurence’s face. “So. What brings you in? You see the flyers around?”

“No,” Laurence said. “My nose told me to come in, so I had to come in.”

This caught the old man by surprise. “Well, I haven’t made anything yet today, so maybe it’s one of the other places nearby you smelled. Either way, I’m glad—“

“That’s not what I mean.” Laurence took a long glance around the place, then opened the menu for the first time. “I think I’ll have a club sandwich, if it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Of course,” the old man said, getting up from the table and taking the menu with him. “Ten minutes, tops.”

After he had disappeared in the kitchen, Laurence took a deep breath and held it for a few beats before releasing it. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

After a time, the old man returned with the sandwich. “Here ya go,” he said. “Anything else I can get for ya?”

“No, this’ll do for now,” Laurence told him. The old man smiled and returned to his post behind the bar. Laurence lifted the plate to his face and gave the sandwich a long thoughtful sniff. The old man watched this curious act, and asked if something was wrong with the food.

“No,” Laurence told him. “But there’s something I’d like to do for you, Mr. Kellerman.”

“How’d you know my name, son?” the old man asked as he walked over to the table again.

“You’d be surprised what I know about you, sir,” Laurence said, “and also that I am in an excellent position to help you. Please, have a seat.”

Mr. Kellerman sat down.

“I know your full name is Oscar Leonard Kellerman. I know that you were born on the seventeenth of June, nineteen thirty-two, in Absecon, New Jersey, the fourth child to Irish immigrant parents. You are left-handed and flat-footed, and were surprised when the Army took you to fight in Korea in fifty-one. It was there you met your wife, Edith Doltire, the one who nursed you after you took some shrapnel in your right leg at Unsan.

“I know that you and Edith were never able to conceive. I know that you bounced around from place to place after the war, working as a welder, a mechanic, a garbageman, before finally finding steady work as a short-order cook, working for twenty years before you had saved up enough money to open this place here. I know it lasted for six years, six shaky years wherein you’ve had to watch your wife grow frailer and weaker, and declare Chapter Eleven bankruptcy twice. Twice.

“I know that you’re closing your restaurant because your wife is dying of bone cancer. I know that you have no money, and I know that you’re now nursing her as she once did for you. What would you say if I told you I could help make sure that her and your final days were ones of comfort, and peace?”

Beads of sweat and a look of confusion crept down Mr. Kellerman’s face, but he remained silent.

“I have a unique gift, sir, and I try to use that gift in the best way possible. I’ll admit I haven’t been the greatest person, but I do believe that karma is a very powerful thing. We all should do what we can to attract the best of it as possible, but alas, too few of us actually do.” Laurence reached into his jacket pocket and produced an aquamarine envelope. “Here I have two one-way plane tickets, a charter to Nice for Oscar and Edith Kellerman, and two passports in your names, as well as a check for twenty-five thousand dollars. I’d like you to have these.”

Oscar’s hands trembled as he opened the envelope and verified its contents. “But… but why? Why us?”

“I know this seems strange, but cause and effect are very powerful things, sir.  Besides, why shouldn’t you take these? You want to, I’m sure. So take them.” Laurence stood to leave.

“Wait,” Mr. Kellerman said. “Tell me, how’d you know all this?”

“Surely you know it’s rude to ask the giver why he gave you a gift, sir,” Laurence said. “Suffice it to say, however, the nose knows.” He thanked the old man for the untouched sandwich and the drinks, and left.

Oscar Kellerman watched the door for a long moment after Laurence had left, then looked at the table, the club sandwich, the orange juice and the vodka, the two glasses, the blue envelope. He made another screwdriver then walked over to the telephone and dialed, hands still shaking.  He took a deep breath to steady himself.  “Edith?” he said into the receiver. “Yeah, yeah. I’m okay. You’ll never guess what happened. This kid came into the diner today…”


3 responses

  1. Brilliant pacing and wonderful use and control of language. Two questions and don’t read further if you are easily offended. 1) What is Dorval’s problem? 2) How does he smoke and smell (a contradiction too obvious for you not to address in the story)? By Dorval’s problem I mean what motivates him? Great characters act because they are trying to resolve some inner conflict though they are most often unaware of that conflict. External events generally prod that problem from its inner hiding place into the open through actions such as Dorval’s. But the action is not an end in itself. More often the action is a step forward or back in the rising conflict toward resolution of the character’s psychological imbalance. I know this sounds like Fiction 101 rhetoric, but it is a valid consideration and most often the addressing of a character without a conflict results in a more compelling plot. Dorval is a very good creation worthy of continuing stories but he will need to be acting to resolve his own problems as he deals with others for him to become epic. Write on, brother.

    February 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

    • Thanks, donkey! I guess I have to go back and revise this more thoroughly. To be honest, I never put any thought into what Laurence’s inner conflict ought to be, and that definitely should be the major driving point of this and every story. This probably also means that I should put more consideration into stabilizing the character a great deal more… Lots and lots of work to be done, for sure. As far as the cigarette goes, he had analyzed the room before he lit the cigarette. I don’t really see the contradiction there.
      I really appreciate your comments, buddy. Trust me, I’m pretty thick skinned. How else’re we as writers gonna get any better if we can’t accept what someone finds as fault in our work? This is perfect criticism – you pointed out valid points, and gave good ideas on how to fix them. This is what I live for, why I write. Thanks, again, donkey.
      May I call you donkey?

      February 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      • Donkey is cool. If I am not making something of an ass of myself I am not pushing hard enough against my comfort zone.

        February 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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