Eons ago, I recall reading novels with mini-scenes and mini-conversations in paragraph format. This was never confusing to me. But the current standard format is paragraph marks between quotes and much shorter paragraphs. Is this sample chapter confusing?
Everything went fine for several weeks.
Then one night, the cook from the picnic walked into the tent with his family. I had no idea he lived in this city. Dr. Wilson gave me a photogenic memory, but his cautious friend at the picnic distracted me before I could memorize anything on his card. He introduced himself at the picnic, so I remembered his name: Robert. Before I left the facility, I reminded Dr. Scott of Robert’s offer and asked for the card. “That’s a bad idea,” he said, “for reasons I can’t reveal.” By then, I had given up trying to guess the Society’s secrets and had given up trying to get any information from Dr. Scott, so I quickly forgot about the card.
“George, my man! What a way for us to meet again!” “Robert!” I said, “What a pleasant surprise!” “We almost didn’t come. We didn’t even know the circus was coming to town until I got a letter from my father suggesting I take the kids. Well, you never got introduced to my family. This is my wife Ginger, my son Bobby, and my daughter Amber. So what are you doing here, razzle dazzling everybody with your Herculean strength?” “I’m not familiar with the term razzle dazzle,” I said as my mind dug the word Herculean out of my vocabulary. “Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re not up on idioms. Well, I asked you at the picnic what you wanted to do with your life. I assume this is a temporary gig.” I searched for the word gig in my mental dictionary and remembered a circus worker using it when he told me which city we would visit next. “Yes, temporary,” I said answered.
Then Bobby said, “Put me on your shoulder!” “I have something better than putting you on my shoulder,” I told him. “Why don’t I throw you way up there,” I said pointing to the ceiling. “Will you catch me when I come down?” he asked. “Of course,” I answered.
“Bob!” he wife cried. “Let the kid have some fun,” he told her. “I don’t understand,” I said, “Your card says you’re name is Robert. Why did your wife call you Bob.” “Bob and Bobby are abbreviations of Robert. My father’s name is Robert, too. So I’m Robert Jr and he’s Robert 111. Got it?” “I think so,” I said.
“Fly! Fly!” Bobby screamed. So I grabbed him under the armpits and tossed him up. “One more time!” he said when he came down. “Bob!!!” his wife cried again. “Alright, alright, once is enough,” Robert said. “If you do it again, you’ll make things complicated for me when I get in bed tonight.” “I don’t understand,” I said. “I guess the military didn’t tell you about the birds and the bees,” he answered. “I’m guessing they didn’t make a female version of you, either.”
Before I could express puzzlement over the term birds and bees, every voice in the tent went silent and every head turned to Robert. “Oops,” Robert said looking around. “You didn’t hear that,” he told the crowd. One of them walked up to him and said, “Is he a military clone?” “We’re not supposed to talk about that,” Robert said. “Bob!” his wife whispered to him. Then the man turned to me and said, “Did you run away?” “Not exactly,” I said. “Well, that’s kind of like being a little bit pregnant. Either you ran away or you didn’t.” Getting an explanation for the idiom a little bit pregnant was at the bottom of my list of priorities. “I can’t talk about it,” I said. “So you know this guy?” he asked Robert. “Hey, neither of us know you and maybe you shouldn’t be so nosy.” “Sorry,” the man said and turned around. “It’s illegal,” he said as he walked out of the tent, “even for the government.”
Me and Robert breathed a sigh of relieve once he was gone. But then I noticed the tent photographer leave in a hurry. I had a pretty good idea why. He was rushing to tell the circus manager the bad news. Some of the crowd left too.
“So George,” Robert said, “why don’t we get together before the circus leaves.” But his wife was getting agitated and obviously wanted to get the family out of the tent. “Bob!” she whispered again. “I just want to chat for a while and say goodbye,” he told her. “This isn’t the ideal place for a reunion, you know,” he added. “The circus closes late tonight and leaves early tomorrow morning.” I told Robert.
Then another photographer walked in and called out, “Alright, who’s next?!” “Us,” Robert answered. “Bob!” his wife whispered a third time. “It’s not a crime to have your picture taken with a clone,” he answered. After taking the picture, the photographer transferred it to Robert’s handcom and took his money. Then I had him transfer it to my handcom. “I could ask the manager to close my tent early so I can visit you tonight,” I suggested. “He probably wants to talk to me immediately anyway. Why don’t you come with me.” “OK folks, that’s all for tonight,” the photographer said. Then we all left the tent.
“This is Robert,” I told the manager. “We met before I joined the circus, but we didn’t get a chance to exchange cards, so I didn’t know he lives in this city and he didn’t know I was working for the circus.” Fortunately Robert kept silent about why we didn’t exchange cards. “Tonight might be my last chance to see him for a while. Can you close my tent early.” “Sure,” the manager said. “But I need to talk to you about what happened in the tent a few minutes ago.”
“I can explain about that,” Robert offered. “It was me and my big mouth.” The manager ignored Robert and said, “It’s only a matter of time before word spreads to the media or the military or both. We can’t have the circus dragged into this. You need to make plans to leave in a few days. You might want to leave tonight and stay with him.”
“You can stay with us for a few days,” Robert said. “Bob!” his wife said again. I began to wonder if the name Bob was the only word in her vocabulary. His name was the only word I heard her say at the picnic, too. “Yeah!” Bobby said. “Mommy,” Amber asked, “is he going to come home with us?” “Not if I have anything to do with it,” Ginger answered. Then she glared at Robert. “He just needs a place to stay long enough to regroup. That will give us time to get reacquainted, too.” “But our house isn’t big enough for him,” Amber said. “He can stay in the tent in the back yard. Your brother can camp out with him.” Ginger rolled her eyes and groaned. “Yeah!!!” Bobby said again.
“I have to tend to the circus, George,” the manager said. “Let me know what you decide.” “I’ll go get my things from my trailer,” I answered. “I’m sorry about this,” I added. “It’s happened to us more than once,” he answered. “Good luck George.” “I’ll be right back,” I told Robert, then I went to my tent.
While I was packing my bag, I heard two sets of footsteps approach my trailer. I heard the manager say, “He told us there weren’t any warrants for him.” Then I heard an unfamiliar voice say, “I’m not going arrest him. I’m just going to talk to him.” I threw my bag in the corner so it wouldn’t look like I was packing. The door opened. The stranger was standing on the steps and the manager was standing on the ground. “Don’t do anything rash, George,” the manager said, then he left.
The stranger waited long enough for the manager to get out of earshot. Then he said, “Hello, George.” “Who are you and what do you want.” “I’ll ask the questions.” He took a badge out of his coat pocket and threw it at me. I glanced at it, memorized the name, agency, and number, and threw it back.
“I haven’t committed any crimes.” “I didn’t say you committed any crimes.” When he lit up a cigarette, I said, “Don’t come in here with that.” I couldn’t stand the smell of cirgarette smoke any more than I could stand the smell of alcohol. “I’ll stay out here so your circus buddies can eavesdrop.” He spoke slow and deliberate. Between each sentence he puffed on the cigarette. He was trying to convince me that he was unintimidated and apathetic. And maybe he was.
“Where’s Dr. Wilson?” “I don’t know.” “What about Captain Miller?” “Who’s Captain Miller?” “It was obviously an inside job.” “What’s an inside job.” “Oh yeah, I forgot, they told me to use regular vocabulary.” “Who’s they?” “Dr. Wilson promised to answer all your questions in due time.” “How do you know what Dr. Wilson said to me?” “I read your file, stupid. You think because you confiscated all the records in the facility, there aren’t any files on you?” “I didn’t confiscate any files.” “If it wasn’t anybody working in the facility, then who helped you escape?”
I refused to answer. Telling him about the Society would endanger the only group of people who could guarantee my safety. Besides, he might not believe a story about such a secretive and influential group.
“Kidnapping is a felony. So is stealing government property.” I stood up. “I didn’t kidnap Dr. Wilson, I didn’t confiscate any records, and I don’t know who Captain Miller is!” He stepped back to the ground and shouted, “You don’t want to arrested, George, then tell us where Dr. Wilson and Captain Miller are.” I sat down and he walked up the steps again.
Then I had an idea. I didn’t have to tell them the Society’s whole story, just the part about protecting the world from dangerous science, then let them use their imagination. Since I was working for the circus, they would conclude that the Society had no further involvement with me. “If you tell me who commissioned me, I’ll tell you who helped me escape.”
He flipped the cigarette butt on the ground and walked into the trailer, but left the door open so I wouldn’t get suspicious. I thought he was going to take me up on my offer. Instead, he said, “You chose a good way to survive and good way to stay out of trouble. The best way to avoid the wrong kind of attention, too. But is this what you’re going to do for the rest of your life?” Apparently the manager didn’t tell him I was planning to leave or that I was planning to visit Robert.
“They can’t take the risk that the wrong people will discover what you are. The media might discover who commissioned you, enemies might use your body to build their own superclones to fight us. They don’t want Barbara Taylor on their trail - ” “Who’s Barbara Taylor?” “You’re a clone and you don’t know who Barbara Taylor is? Don’t you have a com? Don’t you surf the web? I’m surprised the other clones in the circus haven’t told you about her.” I wanted to ask how he knew other clones were working in the circus, but I knew he wouldn’t tell me. So I asked, “Who is she?” “Do your homework. They don’t want her on their trail, so they’ll have to find a quieter way of bringing you back or getting rid of you. You’re safe with the circus for now, but they’ll deal with you sooner or later, one way or another.” Then he walked out.