The World's Greatest Guesser
He's a carny legend who can tell you your weight, your profession, or your favorite brand of whiskey with nothing but a glance and a grubby dollar. He uses his flamboyant style of deduction to peer into small-town secrets and unravel his favorite puzzles of all... murders.
Primrose Whistler is just seventeen years old, a trailer park firecracker with green hair and a talent for trouble. After she witnesses a murder at the county fair, she and Odin must forge an unlikely partnership of sprightly wits and masterful detection, to stop a killer before he silences Prim for good.
That's GUESSWORK, a debut murder mystery featuring the detective duo of Prim and Odin. It's a suspense-driven story with quirky characters and a sense of humor, set amidst a travelling carnival. The novel was a quarter finalist in the Amazon.com 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award
and a finalist in the 2011 Southwest Writer's Contest
. It was then picked up for publication by Martin Brown.
Below is a brief excerpt from the book. I hope you enjoy it.
“Who the heck is Odin?” asked Prim.
“He was here last year. He's... well, you just have to see.“
“Lightning Lord o' the north? Hammer and all?“
Emma blew a raspberry. “Thor's the one with the hammer, silly.“
Prim whistled. “They grow nerds on your farm?“
“We got comic books here, too, you know. Come on!“
As Prim and Emma pushed through the crowd, there came a powerful, unamplified voice. Ahead of them stood a tower of steel, held by balloon-covered wires. Above it soared a sign:
“Joe Odin, the World's Greatest Guesser.“
The two girls ducked low and darted into a wall of backsides and belt buckles, emerging at an invisible force field where no one dared step. The force field came from that voice, the voice of Joe Odin. He was tall, all line and flow, dressed in a garishly green corduroy suit. He addressed the crowd as if he were holding court, his lips shaping each syllable in a practiced cadence. The faces regarded him as one would a prophet.
He was the silliest man Prim had ever seen.
“Ladies and gentlemen, who will face me in the ultimate challenge, the ageless arena of truth and secrets? The game is simple. The stage is set. I am the Guesser. Who will be the Guessed?“
Pausing, Odin rested elbow on palm, fingers touching dark beard and Cheshire lips. He scanned over the crowd, and his challenging eyes landed on Prim. She felt suddenly naked. She became aware that everyone was looking at her. A small guy a few faces down, notable for wearing the only necktie in attendance, leaned to his buddy to make a private joke at her expense. The two of them laughed. Prim's face burned. Mercifully, Odin released her from his gaze and returned to the larger crowd, drawing their attention with him.
“Behold! The rules.“
Odin turned dramatically and feathered his fingers over a tall, ladder-like case made of wood. But instead of books, its seven shelves held a progression of gleaming treasures.
“Each question costs a dollar. One wrong guess from me and you may claim any prize from the first rung. Two wrong guesses and you claim the second, and so forth. You can stop at any time, but if I guess correctly you shall go home empty of hand. Stump me with seven questions in a row and you have earned a pick from my personal treasures, all of singular beauty and inestimable value.“
The bottom rung held silver-plated rings, hand mirrors, and lockets. The top shelf was locked behind thick glass. There were gold coins, diamond rings, and dusty bottles of brandy and wine. It was remarkable, if it was true. Prim squinted at a chalkboard hanging next to the prizes. It had a list of ten questions written in a flourishing hand, reminding her of a specials board at a restaurant, Odin's own catch of the day, the questions that a dollar would buy.
He bowed to light applause, his arms open in invitation. A portly contestant stepped forward and handed him a dollar. He leaned close to her and whispered something in her ear, and she blushed. Then she looked at the board of questions and chose her fate.
“Age,” she said.
Odin bowed and walked around her like the second hand on a watch. The crowd regarded neighbors and proffered quiet bets. Three o'clock, five o'clock, six o'clock, nine, Odin looked her up and down. As his perfectly-polished shoe reached the twelve, he spoke.
“You, my dear, are thirty seven.“
The crowd murmured. The woman gasped and nodded, showing her driver's license, shrugging in happy defeat. She thanked Odin, thought Prim, thanked him for taking her money. Then the woman melted into the crowd and a spindly man with a bald spot held out the next dollar. Prim recognized him--Floyd Bridgestone, the farmer she and Vern had passed yesterday on his tractor.
“Weight!” he said.
“One twenty one, if you've recently won a pie,” smiled Odin, garnering light laughter from the assembled.
Clearly nervous, Floyd stepped up to the gigantic, steel-and-chrome scale that stood under the tower. The big dial settled at one hundred and twenty one pounds. The crowd gasped, the man shrugged, but at that moment a bubbly old woman looking like Mrs. Clause--had to be Dollie Bridgestone--dashed up and handed him a freshly won pie, popping the needle to one-twenty-two, a single pound over Odin's guess. Everyone burst out laughing. Odin laughed, too, and demanded that she take something from the bottom shelf. She selected a set of silver spoons (“My brother'll eat the pie with 'em!“) and walked off stage to much amusement.
A nasally voice was the next to come. “Model of car!” it demanded. “Try and guess that, carny!“
Odin turned to his new challenger. It was the short man with the necktie who had gawked at Prim, stepping out of the crowd and waving a dollar. Odin took it from him and, without a breath, “Chevy Caprice.“
“Wrong! It's a Monte Carlo. SS.” The man pulled a ring of keys from his pocket and offered them to Odin, expecting an argument for proof. Odin merely smiled, but where he was amused before, he was now focused, unblinking. It was the most intense look Prim had ever seen outside a soap opera.
“I believe you, good sir,” hissed Odin. “Would you like another guess?“
The crowd clapped and Necktie handed over a second dollar. “Weight.“
“One thirty two,” clipped Odin.
“Wrong!” The man's eyebrows narrowed in self-satisfaction. He made for the scale, but Odin placed his hand on the shorter man's shoulder and held out his other to take more money.
“I believe you, good sir. Would you like a third guess?“
“Ha! You bet I would.” He handed over the cash and eyed the prize shelf with obvious satisfaction.
The man challenged and beat Odin four more times. Age. Service area in the military. First job. Country of mother's origin. In none of these cases did Odin demand proof beyond the man's word (though he did ask for the correct answer each time.) Through all of it Odin maintained that same intensity. And while Necktie and much of the crowd were reveling in his success, Prim had the distinct impression that Odin was missing on purpose. His fingers tapped out numbers on his chin. Jesus Christ, she thought, he's counting. He's calculating.
“It is extremely rare for anyone to reach the seventh shelf,” said Odin dramatically, gesturing to the crowd. Again, strangely, his eyes rested on Prim. “The items nearly in your reach, sir, are mine own--items of great value for which I have combed the world over. For the final time, sir. Are you absolutely sure you want another guess?“
Necktie licked his lips, valuing the items arrayed on the 6th shelf that he had already earned right to claim. Maybe the mink scarf, maybe the pearl necklace? All of them were worth far more than the $6.00 that he'd wagered thus far. If he went for it and Odin guessed right, he'd get nothing. He squinted at his adversary, and Odin showed teeth. “You can choose any question remaining on the board. Or! You may up the ante.“
The crowd murmured. There was sweat on Necktie's forehead. “What's that mean?“
“You think of a question, any personal fact where you can prove the answer. But what you pay is negotiated... before I guess.“
Prim reread the questions from the board. The remaining ones were easy or had been partially revealed by the earlier guesses. Marital status, political party, birth State, current profession. Tie man looked in his wallet like a poker player double checking his hand. His head snapped up. “Okay, how's this, carny? Which city does my Pops live in? I got a letter from him, right here in my pocket!“
Odin's smile practically crackled. “Five dollars,” he said.
Necktie chuckled and reached into his wallet. He handed over a rumpled bill. In a flash, Odin spun toward the crowd. He raised up his hands, holding the five dollar note between his fingers. “What shall I guess?” he implored them. Most of the crowd was on Odin's side by now. There were cruel laughs and random suggestions.
“Bum end of nowhere!“
Prim could swear that Odin winked at her, and then he pointed at Necktie with a steady finger.
“Tampa Bay,” he guessed. “Show the letter to anyone you like.“
The man's lips drew tight. His cheeks got red.
“How the hell?“
“For another five dollars I shall reveal how I guessed.“
Necktie shook his head in disbelief, fumbling with his suit jacket to produce the grubby letter. He offered it half-heartedly to a few craning necks, and the crowd applauded Odin's victory. To his credit, Necktie forced a smile and offered his hand, which Odin took with feigned humility, but then he leaned in close and kept squeezing, his lips coming so close to the man's that Prim thought he might kiss him. His voice held the threat of secret, carny violence. “I believe that you owe the young artist from Florida an apology.“
“Uh,” muttered Necktie, all eyes on his red face. He followed Odin's gaze to Prim. “Oh. Sorry. Sorry for what I said, miss.” He yanked his hand free and fled the circle as quickly as he could. Prim's heart pounded.
“Who is next?!” Odin boomed, his triumph as big as the sky.