Challenge 588 Response
Perception of Frailty
with Gary Clifton
“Perception of Frailty” appears in issue 588.
[Gary Clifton] Hello, Don. Many thanks for the recognition of “Perception of Frailty” in the Third Quarterly Review, although it appears to have been received with some differing opinions. Controversy is good, a sign someone’s thoughts were tweaked.
Flannigan notes that Shimanski has no vehicle large enough to carry the replacement machine from Cleveland to Dallas. How was the original machine transported?
[Gary] Shimanski’s truck would not carry the load necessary for delivery, but many trucks exist which will carry extreme weight. Flannigan had no way to know how the machine was originally delivered, nor was it material.
[Don] Quite so, Gary. Shimanski had to ship the original machine to Dallas somewhow. Either he had a vehicle big and strong enough to carry it, or he hired a third party as a carrier. And Flannigan knows that the same goes for the replacement machine, if there was one.
Therefore, Flannigan has no reason to attach any importance to the absence of a heavy-duty vehicle in Shimanski’s motor pool. Flannigan can simply ask who transported the second machine.
What is the dramatic function of Flannigan’s ailment? Why does it disappear suddenly? Vertigo causes severe loss of balance. How can Flannigan walk, let alone drive a car?
[Gary] Flannigan got off the airplane with a slight case of vertigo, a condition which is aggravating, but not necessarily incapacitating. The whole vertigo idea was simply backstory intended to show the mighty arm of the Feds has daily problems like anyone else.
[Don] Understood, Gary. However, Flannigan’s ailment is magically cured at the same time as he comes to a conclusion about the facts in the case. Therefore, the ailment functions as a symbol, even if it only dramatizes Flannigan’s discomfort with facts that don’t seem to sit right. And it provides a kind of counterpoint of “frailty” to go with Shimanski’s missing leg.
Readers will assume that characters are human beings unless told otherwise; you needn’t worry about that, even if some readers think of federal agents as superhuman in some way. Rather, vertigo strikes me as a bad choice of ailment, because Flannigan moves around a lot. Even if his vertigo is mild, it is chronic; putting him behind the wheel of a car seems downright reckless. I recommend giving him some other trouble, such as a stomach ache or an ear ache.
Shimanski is shaken by Flannigan’s report of the casualties in the fire and yet he already knows of them. Is Shimanski’s remorse genuine or is it an act for Flannigan’s benefit?
[Gary] Of course Shimanski knew details of the fire. Appellate courts have ruled a man is expected to lie to protect himself and Shimanski certainly had a right to remain silent or lie by omission as was the case here
[Don] Quite so, Gary. However, the point is that Flannigan puts Shimanski on a guilt trip about the victims of the fire, and Shimanski reacts as though this is the first he’s heard of them. But he had to know of them before Flannigan even arrived. Therefore it’s hard to believe Shimanski can have the emotional reaction he does even if he’s putting on an act for Flannigan’s benefit.
Can the gasoline cans found in Dallas plausibly be traced to Shimanski’s workshop?
[Gary] In both criminal and civil law, evidence bounces between the material and the weight. A gasoline can from the crime scene matching a similar brand in Shimanski’s custody is fully admissible as material, but the court and or a jury must evaluate the weight of that evidence. Such evidence, standing alone, carries little weight, but is nonetheless material and in the glut of additional evidence, can affect a trial.
[Don] Again, quite so, Gary, but I’m afraid the cans carry much less weight as evidence than Flannigan implies. The similarity between the gas cans found at the site of the fire and those in Shimanski’s shop proves only one thing: the arsonist used the same kind of gasoline containers as Shimanski’s. That means Shimanski is still a suspect, but so is anyone who had the same type of gas can.
Why did Shimanski have to drive to Dallas to forge a new serial number on the original machine? Couldn’t the Botlers have done it themselves and simply pretended to pay for new equipment?
[Gary] In the real case on which this is very, very loosely based, the Shimanski character was actually paid, did travel interstate and stamp the machine in the presence of the other defendants, who later murdered both him and his daughter. The involvement of a real manufacturer seemed necessary then, and in order to fictionalize a complete yarn, I needed to leave Shimanski in the loop. The only real similarity is that a machine was in fact restamped by a desperate businessman who had to travel interstate to perpetrate the fraud.
[Don] As we like to say, “There is no story so truly bewildering as reality”!
When the Botlers reneged on paying the bribe, could Shimanski have exacted a safer and surer revenge by reporting the fraud to the authorities?
[Gary] Shimanski could have dumped on the other conspirators, the fictional Botlers, but would have fallen on his sword and exposed his daughter in the process. In Flannigan’s presence, he did just exactly that.
[Don] Just a thought: might Shimanski have kept both himself and his daughter out of the case by informing the authorities of the bribe offer? Could the feds have set up a “sting” operation by having Shimanski pretend to go through with it, whereupon they would arrest the “Botlers” on the spot? Or would that constitute entrapment? Or have I been watching too many TV thrillers?
[Gary] Thank you again for publishing my ravings and for the recognition. Bewildering Stories is an outstanding publication with “professional” written all over it, and I’m delighted to be a part.
[Don] And we thank you for the kind words, Gary! We’re equally delighted to have you with us. And I urge all newcomers to read “Perception of Frailty” and, especially, “The Never Index,” which is your first story with us. Now that one is really made for TV!
Copyright © 2014 by Gary Clifton
and Bewildering Stories