Professor Stanwell Briar

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A&M Gazette Cover Logo, Courtesy Neil Murray

Neil (Professor Stanwell Briar, that is) was the publisher and creative force behind the Agricultural and Mechanical Gazette, a bimonthly tabloid published privately that began in November 1988 and lasted until 1997 (Vol. 9, Issue 1). Neil has lifted the Dirigible Pirates series from the Agricultural and Mechanical Gazette and polished those stories into a novel - The Dirigible Pirates. Since then he's written Tales from the Black Hart and The Revenge of Dr. Minneapolis St. Paul. (yes she is far more evil than anyone named "Madison") available on Amazon.

And he's recently been busy writing new material with four novels published in a series featuring a number of characters who smoke pipes and cigars:See Professor Stanwell Briar on Amazon

Here is an example of the Professor's writing from the start of his new novel, coming to Amazon in December 2023, which is titled, Ttemperance's Temporal Detective Agency (the double "t" is intentional - a bit like Welsh). Here is the updated chapter 1:

Chapter 1 A Light Snack

Ttemperance was dragging the long-barreled, single-action .44 from her matte black leather shoulder holster, shouting, screaming, "Bran, shoot it, shoot that fucker now!" as she palmed the hammer back to fire. She was shouting to be heard over a radio program that was blaring from the console radio standing against the far wall as well as the sound of her receptionist, Todd being eaten by the alien. I think that it was that popular radio show, Al Dente - Space Ranger (brought to you each week at this time by Pittsburgh Pasta) but then I’m easily distracted when under stress and I could be wrong.

It had only been seconds earlier that the shimmering iridescent greenish-colored, blob-like alien had burst into the outer office through the receptionist’s door from the dingy hallway outside. Ttemperance and I were in her back office, having just made our introductions when it engulfed and devoured her receptionist to the sounds of screaming, slurping and crunching. It then flowed across the floor and slowly made its way to the doorway separating the two office areas, that is the outer office from the inner office. Todd hadn’t even had time to offer tea or close the door between the two offices as would be customary, giving us full view of the nightmare.

The Todd who had been manning the receptionist’s desk in the outer office. Todd Blank, according to the brass nameplate on his desk, who was supposed to provide the initial screening of undesirable clients had failed at this job and was gone except for the hat on his desk. And the name plate. And a bit of iridescent slime. It was all quite traumatic, possibly more-so for him than for us. Later in hindsight, I questioned this perspective. But this was the view from what I could see as I frantically searched for a weapon and considered the thought that it was a nice felt hat with a ribbon band. Not that I wear a hat all that often, but he wouldn’t be needing it any longer. I had only met Todd moments before, but I just didn’t quite take to him. I had the sense from his handshake that there was something wrong with the man. I just couldn’t place what it was that disturbed me. For all I knew, he was a serial killer in his spare time. Or a devotee of the Whig Party. But I would never get to know him any better. This was evidently an angry alien but not one of the more generally feared variety from the lower colonies.

I quickly noticed a Winchester rifle slung under the desk. But I gave up on trying to free the Winchester from the leather holster like affair and grabbed the pump shotgun from the wastepaper basket. Wastepaper baskets as it turns out are a handy place to store shotguns with shorter barrels. The open box of donuts on the corner of the desk was knocked to the ground while I was thus engaged which I instantly regretted since they were the really good ones; the delicious jelly filled Bismarck donuts, which we just can’t get where I’m from. I didn’t know Todd well as I've said, but darn, these were great donuts with sprinkled sugar coating and I was going to miss them. I’m not from around these parts as you might infer and don’t often get a good donut. But, as I have often emphasized, this is not my story.

I spun around in the guest chair that I occupied, bracing myself against the desk and fired. I pumped and fired again. I could hear Al Dente’s rocket ship engine roaring from the radio speaker, punctuated with each balst. Ttemperance stood there in the creature’s way. She was shorter than I had expected from the stories of her adventures. She stood there apparently without an ounce of fear, feet spread wide on the floor, and she held the pistol in a double-handed grip. From what little I knew from her reputation, she didn’t enjoy shooting things, but if there was shooting to be done, why she was going to be overly thorough about it. Ttemperance kept firing all the rounds in the cylinder as the creature advanced and then calmly ejected brass. I kept pumping the shotgun, apparently to minimal effect as well. Ttemperance stood there calmly and reloaded as if she does this before lunch every Wednesday, and for all I know, perhaps she does. In the past there have been occasions when a forensic audit of unhappy clients has come to this, and she knows the two possibilities of how this is going to end. The stories about her adventures would fill books and that is why I had brought my problem to her. The damned creature shook with each blast of OO buckshot and .44 slug that struck it. But it was a lot like shooting gelatin for sport – not terribly satisfying and it continued to slowly advance on us. The last shotgun shell in my shotgun’s tube magazine must have been loaded with rock salt. Very different kick and the pattern was quite broad with a bit of white fog. From all appearances this actually had some effect on the creature, and it paused in its tracks as if surprised. The disagreeable creature shook and flailed and then apparently decided that this was not a favorable welcome. Possibly like the common garden snail, it just didn’t like sodium chloride. It turned and slithered out the door into the dingy hallway, leaving behind a slimy trail that quickly dissolved the black and white check patterned luxury linoleum into a fizzing, misty cloud of organic polymers.

It was clear to me that Ttemperance was going to need a new office manager.

Her curly auburn hair is pulled back tightly and tied with a fuzzy red pipe cleaner, and she has that wild look in her eyes of someone who has narrowly avoided being served for lunch. She’s dressed in pinstripe slacks; white dress shirt and pinstripe vest as is appropriate for the forensic accounting and detective business. The stem of a Peterson system pipe protrudes from one of the vest pockets.

She returns to her office desk, takes her pipe from her vest pocket and begins methodically filling it with pipe tobacco from a small glass humidor on her desk. I notice that her right hand is shaking ever so slightly. She looks at me over the spectacles that have slid down her nose and quietly asks in her soft voice, “So, Bran, how can I help you today? I would offer you a cup of tea, but Todd is …….”, and her voice trails off.

A simple enough question and I wish I knew where to begin. Having finished my education at KAaT U – Kinkerdine Agricultural and Technical University with a degree in the physix and Babbage Engine design, I’d made the jouncing journey by rail back east to Windsor where her office is located.

I had a question, but I couldn’t remember what it was. I could remember that this was an important question, I’d even left myself a note in my lab notebook stating that fact, and that it was a matter of life or death. Whose life or possible death was not explicitly stated. I was not clear on that fact and I’m really not that self-centered, but I was guessing that I was somehow involved. It occurred to me that I really did need to leave more thoroughly descriptive lab notes. In the future, who, what, where and why will be my watchwords. But I just couldn’t quite recall what this might involve. I had this feeling, lurking in my brain that I really ought to know, that the information is there but ‘tis like looking through a dense fog at a passing ship - I just couldn’t quite see it. Possibly one of those physix lab experiments gone wrong, but who can say?

I suppose I should clarify that I’m not originally from around these parts, as they often say out on the prairie provinces. I’d started at Danube Research Institute in Magyarorsag and then later transferred to the KAaT, but as a starting point, it was really Danube University in Budapest where my parents had dropped me. To say that I was abandoned in my sleep on a park bench with a wad of clothing and my slide rule stuffed in a dusty old duffle bag from my military service days would be an understatement. The socks weren’t even properly matched for size or color and there were only three of them at that, just haphazardly thrown in. I suspect that I was also possibly drugged during that last dinner with my folks on their ship and woke up talking to myself – apparently in the mellifluous Hungarian language - with a sheaf of university acceptance documents gripped in my hands. This was unusual in that I have never previously awakened in the morning and enunciated a hearty, “jo reggelt” to greet my family, lovers, or friends. But, passersby were apparently accustomed to finding university students sleeping on park benches throughout the campus each morning due a previous evening’s intoxication and they really took no special notice of me. As I said, I was drugged, not drunk. My head felt like carillon bells being rung….with a sledgehammer. I hardly drink at all, no, not any more since the war.

Unlike my two dozen or so older siblings, I’d lost count of them myself and I suspect my parents had as well, I had not excelled in my first year at the local and highly prestigious university near our home. Hence being dumped at a university on some backwater planet. But I digress.

If I’d had the same six fingers on each hand as was normal for our people, counting my brothers and sisters would have been easy, but being some sort of genetic throw-back, I only had the five. Yes, just a thumb and four fingers. In a society of people with six fingers, one becomes somewhat of an outcast with only five on each hand. I wish I could say that they never held it against me, although they did dump me where five is more the average, so win-win from my perspective.

She strikes a wood match on the edge of her desk, holding the flame over the bowl of her pipe, she begins puffing, the flame dipping with each puff. Little clouds of smoke begin to fill the office.

“Blank is an unusual family name, isn’t it?” I ask in a roundabout fashion.

She exhales a puff of cherry pipe smoke and smiles, “He left the last name field on the employment application form empty. Hence the name, ‘Blank’. I’d just bought the name plate for his desk last week from the stationer’s shop down the street. You probably passed it on your way here when you walked from the train station. It’s the shop with the oversized rubber stamp on display in the window display. Unlike the others I thought that he would be around for a while.”

“Others?” I’ve learnt, from my years at the university, to ask these simple, obvious questions.

“Dead, most of them. The second one, or was it the third, hard to remember now, but he went out to get the morning newspaper and didn’t even make it all the way across the street. Couple of the recent ones ran away screaming,” she replies as she clenches the pipe stem between her teeth and extinguishes the match with her fingers.

“Ah, right. Do you have any more of those shotgun shells filled with rock salt? That last shot seemed to slow it down a bit. I’ll alternate rock salt with double-aught.” I take the offered box and begin sliding shells into the magazine tube, keeping one watchful eye on the shattered door. I tuck a few in my jacket pocket for good measure.

“’Todd’ was likely an alias anyway. You know how it is, don’t you,” she comments as her face takes on a stern look. “But he wasn’t wanted for anything…… at least not here in Windsor,” she replies as she slides her glasses back up her nose. “Are you?”

“Magazine’s full,” I reply, placing the shotgun barrel down in the trash can. “Just in case our visitor returns.”

“Delicate but necessary question, Bran’s not your real name, is it,” she states with confidence, based upon her powers of observation. “How would you feel about being a ‘Todd’ for a while? I seem to have an employment opportunity at hand. I’ll even throw in his hat since you don’t seem to have a proper hat. University students never own proper hats. That way I wouldn’t even need to buy a new name plate.”

“Ah.” This is not part of the plan.

“Right then, cards on the table, I bought the nameplate for Todd’s desk on credit. I just thought he was going to be the one to stick it out. But, I’ve two more payments before its paid off and then I can buy one with a different name. Unless you would like to be a Todd, as I was suggesting.”

“Let’s slow up here a minute, I’ve come about some detecting work, and I’m fully prepared to pay you,” I reply as I stare at the Doorwayz@ unit fastened to the dark walnut paneled walls with stove bolts. The safety block is installed so no need to worry about visitors from that direction. “I just finished my education at Kinkardine Agricultural and Technical and I’m ready to go out into the world and shake some sugar maple trees. But first I have a problem to solve with the remaining cash I have on hand.”

“In Canadian dollars or pound sterling?” She skips right to the important part. “It’s hard to argue with a sack filled with pound coins.”

“I, ah…”

“Prevarication,” she says between puffs on her pipe, exhaling little clouds of cherry smoke as she stares sincerely over the top of her spectacles, “Or is it equivocation? Either way, I love it. You would be perfect for this job.” A stray swirl of curly hair springs down over her forehead.