My short story protagonist Brianna Yamato—newly minted reporter for The Sweetwater Register, the fictional newspaper of Sweetwater, Texas—is on the story once again. Her latest exploit, “The Ring of Truth” is published in the August 2022 Mystery Magazine. Previously, she solved a four-person homicide and the death by rattlesnake bite of a wind-turbine repairman who had the makings of a potential boyfriend, but . . .
In this story, Brianna is a volunteer with the local community theater group putting on the comedy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This is a show my family and I have seen on stage a half-dozen times in various-sized productions—from amateur theater to Broadway (Nathan Lane). And the Zero Mostel movie is a perennial favorite when we need a pick-me-up.
Alas, in the Sweetwater production, the high school senior playing the romantic lead dies one night during rehearsal, and Brianna starts to dig into her story.
Because I’ve written four short stories about Brianna (three published), I have to keep in mind certain details about her world. Since I can’t count on my memory, I created a Word document titled “Facts about the Sweetwater Stories,” which lists the stories in chronological order and when they took place. It has bulleted facts about Brianna, not just her physical description but her way of working (“she tends to let interviewees talk” and “she matches their body language and expressions”), that she lives in a house—not an apartment—with her friend Ruth.
Brianna, being Japanese, tiny (and female) has to hold her own in a sea of big and tall Texas men. They’d love to patronize her, if she’d let them. In several of the stories, she gets comments like “you don’t look like a Brianna” and remarks about immigrants. So I established that her family arrived in California, where she was born and raised, in 1880. Similarly, in the current story, she receives an earful from an interviewee, father of the dead girl who wants her to stop her “medding.” Here’s how she sets him straight.
“You people—” He started to walk away.
“We journalists? Or we twenty-somethings?”
He came back and barked in my face. “You Orientals start your wars, let us settle your hash, then leave your crappy countries and move here, to enjoy everything America offers.”
Oh boy. I said, “My granddad and his brothers served in the US Army in World War II. You’ve heard of the Purple Heart battalion? His youngest brother was killed in Korea. And my dad and uncles fought in Vietnam. What was your unit?” I could hear my editor now.
To break off his death-stare, I said, “Kayla’s friends say nice things about her. I just wondered whether you’d noticed any change, anything unusual, before she died.”
“No. You people saw more of her than we did those last weeks.”
“Oh. We thespians.”
I also keep a list of the businesses she visits—the Triple Joe Café next door to the newspaper, the Southside Grill with its homestyle cooking and the names of its friendly servers, the Egg ‘n’ Oink where Brianna likes to track down police chief Hank Childers while he’s having his Sunday brunch.
When I was a kid, I had family who lived in Sweetwater and visited them every year. The picture in my mind of the community is no doubt vastly different from what the town is today. I read the newspaper online when I’m working on a story to bring myself forward a few decades. But the rattlesnakes are the same.