Monday, March 10, 2008

What a Bunch of Characters

Although I got a lot of movies watched this past week, my brain is currently mush, and so you'll have to wait a few days for my semi-coherent reviews. In the meantime, I'll provide you with one of the reasons my brain is such mush: this past Saturday the Singles had another Murder Mystery dinner, this time set in the Wild West. The Murder Mystery game we were provided -- The Good, the Bad, and the Guilty -- had only 8 characters, and we were planning on having at least 20 people show up. So I, in a fit of borderline OCD behavior, volunteered to create character names and backstories for all of the people who had signed up beforehand. What made it even better is that I had to try to come up with names as pun-worthy as those of pre-existing characters:

Legendary Butch Chastity is the first lady of outlaws. Her all-woman gang are the Amazons of the American West. There's nothing coy or dainty about Butch. She can drink her fellow outlaws under the table; she can hold her own in a game of poker; she can rob a stagecoach in record time; and she can kill a man just as soon as look at him-and often does. In her secret hide-out, a place called the Hole in the Mud, Butch plans the most daring of heists, including her many famed train robberies. It has been rumored that Butch has gotten away with more gold than any outlaw alive.

When a mysterious lone gunslinger rides into some dusty western town, it's usually P'elvis Swagarin. Solemn, poker-faced, bowlegged-he's a cowboy's cowboy. Born Peter Elvis Swagarin, he's P'elvis to those who know him. He's a man with no belongings but the shirt on his back, his gun and his saddle....a man who sleeps beneath the icy stars, a horse his only companion. P'elvis appeared out of the prairie heat just two days ago, and ever since he arrived, the whole town of Roadkill has been whispering in hushed tones, wondering who he is and what he wants...

Matriarch of the Handcart clan, Helena is the mother of the Handcart boys: all thirteen of them. Billy-Bob, Bobby-Rae, Little Ricky, Martin and Lewis, Harpo, Groucho, Sleepy, Sneezy, Manny, Moe and Jack. Oh-and, of course, the Beav. Unfortunately, she had to bury all thirteen of her sons after they were tragically killed in a shoot-out at a dairy farm. The now infamous gunfight at the Parkkay Corral left her with nothing but memories. A strong woman, she has been able to survive, although most of the time she remains secluded on the sprawling Handcart Ranch, managing the family cattle business. Helena owns half the territory and never lets anyone forget it.

Chief Breaking Wind is the distinguished leader of the Cowpai tribe-an honorary position these days, since the entire Cowpai tribe fell victim to a mysterious disease several years ago and perished. Still, the stoic chief keeps his traditions alive, trusting that, with his help, the Cowpai will rise again. Unwillingly relieved of his tribal responsibilities, the chief has since opened a successful barber shop in town and, ignorant historical references notwithstanding, hasn't scalped a soul. Still, no one ever angers the chief.

Elvira-Lynn is the consummate soiled dove and makes no bones about it, so to speak. She's known throughout the territory, and there's even that famous saloon song written about her- My Heart Burns for You, and Other Places, Too. She's the proud madam of the Pigeon Ranch, the best little you-know-what in Roadkill. Since Judge Waylon Payne is one of her steadiest clients, the law does a good job of looking the other way. To look at her now, you'd never guess she was born in the gutter and suffered a sickly childhood, battling everything from consumption to bubonic plague. But now she spreads, among other things, sunshine wherever she goes.

Wyatt Hertz is by far the most famous lawman in the West. He kept the wild frontier town of Roadkill under tight control, keeping the locals in line with an iron fist of fear. That is, until a shotgun blast caught him in the tender parts. Legend has it that Wyatt was ambushed by the vicious Partridge Family gang, and he didn't stand a chance. That was a year ago. Since then, he's retired, letting Judge Waylon Payne reign as both sheriff and justice of the peace. Now Wyatt runs a lucrative rent-a-horse business. He never lost a gunfight, and some folks believe he could take out a whole gunslingin' gang with a single round from his six-shooter.

She is known as just Adela to her friends. Adela is a Mexican beauty with the most pious of spirits but is plagued by bad luck. She's been thrice-widowed-each time as a newlywed. Her first husband, a local politician, died shamefully during one of his secret outings to the Pigeon Ranch. Her second husband, the town pastor, died while preaching, and her third husband, the town undertaker, keeled over from exhaustion while planting the thirteen Handcart boys. Now poor Adela is left to deliver Sunday sermons and forced to become town undertaker. Still, she knows that she will rise above her misfortune. Until then, she'll continue to wear her black mourning veil.

Young Elias is an up-and-coming heart-throb gunfighter. He can dazzle spectators with his quick draw and a spin from his guns, and when he's not showing off his slinging skills, he's demonstrating his pugilistic prowess. He's known as the best brawler west of the Mississippi and comes out of every fight with nary a scratch. Orphaned as a boy, Elias was raised under the firm, wise hand of Judge Waylon Payne. After a patriotic stint with the U.S. Cavalry, Elias returned home to Roadkill and to the women who adore him.

So, with some help from Cap'n Bubbles and Blondie Blaarrrgghhh I constructed the following brief character sketches.

WILD BILLIE HICCUP : Like lots of other folks, "Wild" Billie Hiccup caught gold fever and headed out west; unlike most folk, however, Billie followed the siren call of gold to the badlands surrounding the town of Roadkill, which have never shown a sign of gold, be it fools or otherwise. Still, Billie has stuck to her guns, telling one and all that there's gold in these parts, if one just knows where to look.

LIL BIGHORN : As a servant for the well-off deFields family, Lillith "Lil" Bighorn has seen and heard more than her fair share of gossip-worthy goings-on, gossip that she is more than willing to share with anyone who cares to reciprocate. An orphan, Lil holds an almost irrational loathing of Chief Breaking Wind, the sole surviving member of the Cowpai tribe, whom she blames for the death of her family.

SUZE JABLYND : One of the most talented lawyers in the territories, Suze never lost a case until she came to the town of Roadkill, and discovered that, where Judge Waylon Payne is concerned, the most important law to remember is Payne's law. The highly competitive Suze refused to be deterred and began trying to find ways to beat Payne at his own game.

LIZA LOTTS : Owner of the local watering hole, The Monkeyhog Saloon, Liza is a shrewd businesswoman, and has her fingers in dozens of different pies throughout the county, but has a special place in her heart for the town of Roadkill. Strong-willed and stubborn, she sometimes butted heads with Judge Waylon Payne over what was best for the town, and always butts heads with Elvira Lynn-Fekshin, owner of the competing saloon The Pigeon House, which doubles as the local House of Ill Repute .

BELLE REENGS : All the children of the town of Roadkill love the town's schoolmarm, Belle Reengs. Belle's devotion to her pupils is admired by all, but few suspect that her passion for teaching hides a desire to fill a void in her life left by the passing of her own child under mysterious circumstances years before she moved to town.

NICK O'THYME : If anyone in town of Roadkill needs to now just how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B on the map, all they need to do is ask the local railroad clerk Nick O'Thyme. A paragon of punctuality, Nick does everything he can to keep trains running on time, and detests disorder of any sort.

"DOC" TORA L. THEESUS ; As the resident sawbones of Roadkill, "Doc" Tora is quite possibly the busiest person in the whole county; just treating the wounds of the poor souls who fall afoul of Elias Truit-Heath's short temper and quick fists is practically a full-time job, and when you add in the victims of Butch Chastity's gang of outlaws, not to mention those who've been unfortunate enough to tangle with the Malevolent Seven. Still, the doc plugs away, hoping against hope that maybe someday she'll get a chance to rest.

BRUCE ENDBATTERT : As bartender at the Monkeyhog Saloon, Bruce also serves as his boss Liza Lott's chief bouncer, trying to keep the rowdy residents of Roadkill in line, at least as long as they're in his place of employment; once they stumble out the swinging saloon doors, he washes his hands of them. A former boxer whose promising career was cut short by a scandal he doesn't like to talk about, Bruce has little patience for most, including big-wig Judge Waylon Payne, but will occasionally display a soft-spot for those he feels have been unjustly wronged.

GRAIZE DeFIELDS : While his property holdings may not be as extensive as that of the Handcart family, Graize more than makes up for it in the ostentation of his palatial family homestead, reluctantly financed by his wealthy parents from the seemingly bottomless pockets of the DeFields fortune. A widower, Graize spends what free time he has away from managing his cattle trying to corral his foster daughter, Frida Rhome

FRIDA RHOME : The high-spirited foster child of wealthy land-owner Graize DeFields, Frida does not think of herself as a rebellious girl, just independent. Having lost her mother at a young age, and never having known her father, Frida often feels herself trapped by her guardian's good intentions, preferring to ride freely across the plains rather than study her lessons with her tutor, Eve L. Aystare. The only thing that makes life in the DeFields household bearable for her is her friendship with DeFields servant and fellow orphan Lil Bighorn.

KIM O'SAWBEY : Owner of Roadkill's only General Store, Kim sees herself as a vital force in the growing community, although she has come to accept that that viewpoint is not shared by some others in town, most notably the powerful Judge Waylon Payne. But Kim refuses to let the dismissive attitude of Payne and his cronies deter her, and continues to push to establish some influence of her own.

EVE L. AYESTARE : The stern Eve was hired by Graize DeFields to keep his high-spirited foster child, Frida Rhome, in check, a task whose appeal for Eve has increased the more challenging it has become; to Eve, simple tasks breed simple minds. A firm believer in the use of a firm hand in instruction, Eve has nothing but contempt for the sweet-natured schoolmarm Belle Ringz.

ACE UPPIS-LEAF : An inveterate gambler, the card sharp who insists on being called "Ace" claims he was born under a lucky star, but many of those he plays against think he was born with a few extra cards tucked here and there. After being banned from the Monkeyhog Saloon for causing a disturbance (i.e. winning one too many hands one too many times causing one too many fights to break out), Ace moved his gambling ways over to the Pigeon Ranch, where he seems to have met his match in the man who makes his own luck, Judge Waylon Payne.

RED E. HORNAUGHT : A long time ranch-hand for the Handcart clan, Red is almost slavishly devoted to his boss-lady, Helena, and has become even more so since the death of her 13 sons. Formerly a regular patron of both the Pigeon Ranch and Monkeyhog Saloon, Red now hardly leaves the Handcart ranch except to attend the local church service by Dee Adela Muerte.

RAY HOFFKEY : Despite earning his living playing piano at the Monkeyhog Saloon, Ray spends most of his wages at the Monkeyhog's chief competition, The Pigeon Ranch, where he feeds his gambling addiction. Ray's nimble fingers on the keyboard don't quite translate to nimbleness elsewhere, either with playing cards -- which is why he never beats Ace Uppis-Leaf or Judge Waylon Payne at poker -- or with firearms -- which is why he never has drawn a gun on either of the suspected cheats, no matter how sure he is that he just got rooked. Instead, Ray merely heads back to the Monkeyhog and pounds out his frustrations on the keyboard, although some are sure that someday it will take more than tickling the ivories to soothe his temper.

MAY SHIREZ-TINPEESE : Innkeeper of the only hotel in Roadkill, May prides herself on maintaining an air of sophistication even in the middle of a town populated by bandits, cutthroats, and cheats. Assiduously avoiding patronizing either the Pigeon Ranch or Monkeyhog Saloon lest her reputation be damaged, May instead spends her spare time cultivating relationships with the rich and powerful members of the community in hopes that some of their luster may rub off on her.

And last, but not least, the character I created for myself:

TOM BULLWEED: The town's resident drunk, Tom was once a respected lawman and deputy in Roadkill, until Judge Waylon Payne stripped him of his badge on what Tom insists were trumped up charges. Despondent, Tom turned to drink to find his solace. Not taken seriously by much of anyone in town, Tom spends most of his time bemoaning his fate to the staff of the Monkeyhog Saloon, some of whom are more sympathetic than others.

Of course, due to the structure of this particular Murder Mystery, creating 17 extra characters led to even more work, since I had to take the clues that were provided for the original and parcel them out to all of the new characters so that everyone could be included. I hope to be recovered enough from the experience to blog about the pros and cons of that decision before the week is up, but no promises.