Private detective Rogie Bresson is obligated to return to Vanderville’s most loathsome suburb despite Mother Nature's most concerted efforts to stop its contagion from spreading
The Far too Many Bridges of West Woodrow
Rogie Bresson had thought he had seen the last of West Woodrow. That, of course, was from the perspective of vaguely drowning forty yards off its rocky shoreline in that One and Only Time with Vanessa six years before. Perhaps the experience had prejudiced his view. The sensation of cold, unfriendly water filling his clothes, closing over his face, and blowing out of his nose like an asthmatic geyser was bad enough, but to do all this in the middle of the prissy little suburb’s most exclusive marina, Boodle Harbour, was just too much. There he was, bobbing and gargling along between the custom yachts, their oblivious owners leaning over the rails, and clinking their martini glasses as they stared into the sunset like they owned the thing, which was probably true. Did they pay him a bit of attention? Of course not--except to hand off an empty glass when he’d put up his hand in time-honoured tradition to signal his going down for the third and final time. This could put anybody off a locality and maybe the planet it’s located on. Or maybe Rogie’s unconscious fear of imperious aunts had come into play without his knowing it: for pound for awesome pound West Woodrow boasted more blue-rinsed matrons in lamé and open gold sandals than the earth’s crust should be expected to support.
Or maybe it was simply the bridge over Bountiful Bay that he had to cross to get there.
This was the last in a series of crossings that had been first initiated in the roaring twenties. Back then the famous manufacturer of a highly taxable commodity had needed to draw more attention--and customers--to their rain-slogged development on the shoulders of Souse Mountain. There, acres upon acres of prime distillery frontage, rendered useless by Prohibition, were now made available at scandalous prices to the general public. With a massive print and telegraph campaign utilizing the baffling slogan Wet in Arcadia We Go,1 the better sort of client was encouraged to abandon the stony Vanderville plains, not to mention their dry saloons, in favour of the rich and aromatic--200 proof aromatic--loam of prestigious West Woodrow.
However, finding that not enough of the right kind of people were making the two-mile swim across the inlet, or felling trees for rafts, it was reluctantly decided upon that a bridge had to be built to help them get there. Of course, it needed to be constructed at the lowest possible cost. For that reason it was built entirely of wooden match sticks, as they were a very cheap material given away for nothing by every local shop. Some doubts were raised as to the safety of such material, but these detractors were put down by the engineers who pointed out that one could hardly fear any combustion in the city’s perpetual downpour. Unfortunately, however, a mix-up in materials resulted in part of the bridge’s foundations being constructed of the fail-safe “All-Weather Brand” of match.
Since this was Vanderville nobody noticed or cared.
But one day a riverboat captain, having mislaid his tinderbox and itching for a smoke one foggy morning, drifted into a pier and said in pleasant surprise, “oh look! a mat--”
Fortunately, the predictable result took very few lives anybody cared about, but as by then the Great Depression had begun, no one had even the price of free matchsticks to rebuild the bridge, and the community of West Woodrow was effectively isolated for many years. It was this isolation, social historians believe, which led to the inbreeding and fermentation of those peculiar social mores which gave rise to the development of the blue-haired women, their strongly cologned mates, and the astonishing paranormal predisposition to create money just by thinking about it.
In time the bridge was replaced, not once, but many times. Still in the grips of the Great Depression, very little could be spared for materials. So the first structure after the Matchstick Bridge was not so much a bridge as a floating causeway constructed of vast accumulations of rubber bottle cap liners collected by thrifty housewives. This was covered with loose sawdust from a mill in East Woodrow, the poor relation of West Woodrow down the country road.
Sadly, with the blinkered hauteur that was characteristic of the newly mutating West Woodrovians, they failed to account for several key phenomena, not the least of which was the onslaught of shipping traffic that had to plough through the causeway at frequent intervals. Old photographs exist of small boys in flat caps who were employed to bob around in small punts with rakes to keep the bridge together, but it was a hopeless task. Anguished realtors petitioned that the steamships and barges should be portaged overland at the entrance to the inlet, but this was scoffed at. In the end the bridge simply scattered into small rubber islets and floated out to sea where they became effective staging points for seagulls to raid hapless pleasure craft owners.
In the late 1930’s the remaining property adjacent to the bridge was bought up by the Harper Brothers, daredevil children’s game manufacturers. Their latest board game, Off the Auntie!, went one up on their competitors by including real ammunition and poisons for the players re-enacting crimes dictated by the cards. This made them millionaires, of course, and as usual they wished to draw attention to the fact by orchestrating lavish engineering projects about which they knew nothing. They did not make one new bridge, but three in rapid succession. There was the Domino Bridge, which, predictably, did not last very long. Then came the Marble Bridge, which was not constructed of real marble--far too expensive--but of marbles--8.4 billion of them, to be exact--glued loosely together by eccentric folk artists imported especially from California. Unfortunately, colourful as this bridge was, it too, was doomed. Two years after completion the clouds parted unexpectedly and the sun came out. That such a thing should happen in Vanderville was never taken into account by the engineers, and the infinitely complex refraction and magnification of the sun’s rays through the marbles not only caused the bridge’s own spectacular meltdown, but incinerated several square miles of the city and boiled the ocean directly below. This resulted in the spontaneous creation of a new form of deadly, psychotropic fungi, which some say, entered the ground water and is the true source of what researchers charitably describe the “unique” Vandervillian outlook on life.
Following this disaster the Harper Brothers lay low for a while, only constructing a makeshift cantilever bridge of playing cards until they could hatch a better plan. It was not a bad bridge: the waxed playing cards were exceptionally resistant to the wet weather and were very flexible to allow high-masted ships to pass through underneath. But local residents were becoming disgruntled: high winds in the strait shuffled the deck incessantly and they thought they were getting a raw deal.
Unfortunately for the Harper Brothers, in the 50’s milieu of self-satisfied consumerism and commie-fearing paranoia, their latest board game, Anarchist, turned out to be a bomb. They declared bankruptcy, leaving nothing but their real estate holdings and a warehouse of twelve billion jacks. They had been stockpiling these for some time on the pretext that they were to be included in a new series of games, but many believed they were intended to be used against the government. The real estate and the now traditional responsibility to build the bridge was taken on by Drastic Plastics, the munitions company which invented the bizarre children’s toy, Chili Putty. The accidental by-product of military research into developing an artificial tortilla, this substance could be bounced, mangled, stretched wall to wall, pick up newsprint and be eaten over and over again without noticeable ill effect. However, before construction could begin on the Putty Ponte, the principal shareholders were killed in a freak accident in a trial demonstration of a new depth charge based on potato puff technology. Control of the company passed to the relation least likely to have it succeed, an eccentric mystical physicist who wore leis and spoke to rabbits in their own language. He acquired the jacks and took on the job of building the bridge, which he commenced by throwing fistfuls of the jacks into the air from the promontory of the mainland and letting them fall where they may. When they did the jacks locked together in beautiful geometric patterns of surprising strength. Turning his energy to other projects, the eccentric genius let the bridge be finished by the crazed efforts of the local lacrosse team, whose sticks were ideal to scooping up barge loads of jacks and hurling them through the air until they formed the shape of a crystalline steel bridge. This proved to be the final bridge design, serving the local residents well for many years with few complaints--except from the bridge painters, who found the seventy-two billion arms of the twelve billion jacks exceptionally tedious to paint.
But now, forty years later, the Jack Bridge was showing its age. Many areas of the bridge were becoming unstable. There were rumours that not a few vehicles were swallowed up or fell through the bridge deck far to the water below, but since following each accident the remaining clusters of jacks simply fell and merged into each other, repairing the hole seamlessly, it was impossible to verify these reports. Nevertheless the bridge components were discernibly rusty, and shifted uneasily beneath the tires or feet of those crossing over. For many years the civic authorities were disinclined to make any serious work on the bridge, hoping that in some Kafkian twist of reality, one morning everyone would wake up and the problem bridge would simply not be there anymore, its absence unnoticed and unremarked upon. On the other hand, some interest was being shown by Al’s Amalgamated Aluminium Unlimited in acquiring the whole of West Woodrow for an open pit mine and smelter. Though it was unlikely they would actually construct such a thing in the world’s most exclusive neighbourhood, for a tax dodge they would have to rebuild the bridge. This created fears that the whole thing might be replaced by a monstrosity of twisted foil wrap, screen doors, or aluminium siding. So this spurred the local government to at least reinforce the jacks by wrapping them round with twist ties, steel wool and about sixteen million Brillo pads. In what passes for faultless logic in these parts it was presumed that the impregnated detergent would merrily seep away in the rain, keeping the bridge sparkly clean for summer tourists. But in reality the pads rapidly disintegrated to spidery traceries of red powder that swirled in a perpetual rust storm around the bridge and seeded the atmosphere to produce yet more unending rain.
1 The classically educated reader--The Author will accept no other--will of course recognize the famous line et in arcadia ego, the lamentable reality of death overshadowing Paradise. The irony of associating Paradise with Vanderville is of course, beyond mortal calculation, and The Author’s personal computer has, in fact, not ceased its attempts to quantify the equation in eighteen years of continuous operation.