06 April 2016

Hearing Bells


by Robert Lopresti

There is probably not much point to this piece except some information about how the mind of a writer works as compared to that of, say, a normal person.  But here goes.

A while back I had a dream in which a crime was committed.  What the crime was, I do not recall, but a detective was called in. I don't know if he was supposed to be a cop, a P.I. or an amateur sleuth, but he dressed - and spoke - like a British gentleman from the 1920s.

And the wealthy owner of the house obviously knew him.  "Thank heavens you've come!"

The detective was cheerfully casual.  "Oh, you know me.  Any bell is the captain's!"

At which point I woke up.  Then I grabbed for the pen and notebook which - like many authors - I keep next to my bed for just such an emergency.  I wrote down: Any bell is the captain's?

I should explain that based on the tone my detective used, this was clearly an old saying or catchphrase.  The sort of quotation you don't bother to put in quotation marks, because everyone knows it's a quote.  All's well that ends well.  You can't win them all.  Any bell is the captain's!

Of course I went to the web and searched for the phrase.  No luck.  I asked friends about it without explaining why.  One thought it was from old sea movies.  Maybe so, but I can't find any evidence to that effect.

So I told some people the context (if I can use such a word for that dream scrap).  We wound up with two possible meanings.

* Because of my rank I can pick any assignment I want.  The captain answers any bell he chooses. 

* I treat every request as the highest priority.  I answer every call as if it is from the captain.

Which are nicely contradictory, aren't they?  Perhaps some night I will return to that dream and ask the smug twit what the hell he was talking about.  In the mean time don't be surprised if that phrase shows up in one of my stories.  And sweet dreams.
 


8 comments:

Robert Lopresti said...

Blogger seems to be in one of its moods re comments. Our apologies. Barb Goffman put hers on Facebook and I will try to copy it here:

> Barb Goffman: I just tried to comment, but Blogger is being cranky. Anyway I think the dream comment meant he'll come wherever he's needed, just like a bell captain.
"The smart bell captain sets an example of hard work and good service by performing all bell duties when needed." http://work.chron.com/role-bell-captain-20038.html

Dale Andrews said...

If the phrase were to be found in a Golden Age Mystery it might well have a secondary connotation that is intended to blow past the reader. Perhaps what you heard was "Annabelle is the Captain's." I googled that phrase and was immediately pointed to a novel described as follows on the Barnes and Noble site:

Captain Blackheart & Lady Annabelle - High Seas Pirate Adventure, Adult Erotica Romance http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/captain-blackheart-lady-annabelle-high-seas-pirate-adventure-adult-erotica-romance-constance-cummings/1119171924

And that is as far as I am going with this, except to wish Rob sweet dreams.

Eve Fisher said...

Or it could be connected to Whitman's "O Captain, my captain", for whom the bells are ringing... I love dreams like that. If I'd had the dream, I'd interpret it as the detective answers any call as that given him by his captain, who would [of course] outrank him whether he were in the military, or civilian police force. Even if the detective was a P.I., maybe he had been in the police department / military...

Then again, there's always Captain Blackheart & Lady Annabelle.

Anonymous said...

My first thought was like Barb's, but the other ideas are intriguing! Whatever its source, I like the phrase and commend your Dreaming Self for providing it! :-)

B.K. Stevens said...

Your second interpretation is the one that immediately occurred to me. Maybe you could write a story in which several characters use that expression, but each means something different by it. Or the expression is the vital clue in a case: The detectives break into a room and find a man dying of a gunshot wound, and he gasps out, "Any bell is the captain's" before expiring. Now the detectives have to figure out what he meant.

Velma DiVine said...

I agree with Anon. My first thought was like Barb's and Bonnie's, but Eve's point is intriguing and leave it to Dale to come up with that! Amazing.

Bobby, you're now creating your own Thoughts for the Day!

Jeff Baker said...

To quote another catchphrase: "Verrrry Interesting!" And I can't wait to read the story that comes out of this!

Robert Lopresti said...

Thanks for all the fascinating comments. B.K., you remind me of Harry Kemelman's masterful short story "The Nine Mile Walk," in which one character makes up a sentence and the other uses it to prove a murder has taken place on the other side of town...