THE INTROVERT CONFOUNDS INNOCENCE continues the story of the eponymous anti-hero introduced in THE INTROVERT.
With his life disrupted by an unscrupulous work colleague and a bully at his son Toby’s school, things go from bad to worse when his neighbor’s abusive boyfriend goes missing, plunging the introvert into the center of a murder investigation.
Increasingly hounded by a meddlesome detective, and with his thoughts continually urging him to make people “red and open” and to “achieve it” with his girlfriend Donna, what follows is a sometimes brutal, oftentimes hilarious, and absurdist account of the life of one very anti-social and unexpected anti-hero.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Introvert Confounds Innocence by Michael Michaud, our hero is now living with his girlfriend, Donna, and their son, Toby. When his neighbor’s boyfriend turns violent, and then ends up missing, our hero becomes involved in another murder investigation, this time with an overly chatty and highly irritating new lead detective.
Like the first book in the series, the story is fun and utterly charming. A really great read!
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Introvert Confounds Innocence by Michel Michaud is the second installment of his Introvert series. Our introvert doesn’t do well mingling with people, and this time he has three problems he must deal with: the neighbor’s abusive boyfriend, a bully at his son’s school, and a new colleague at work who is rather unscrupulous. It doesn’t take long before the desire to make the bad men “red and open” throws him into the middle of another murder investigation.
Like the first book in the series, The Introvert, The Introvert Confounds Innocence is charming, fast paced, and thoroughly enjoyable.
“And what can I get you, young man?”
The gentleman behind the counter was speaking to Toby, who had his face pressed up against the glass, as children are apt to do at ice cream shops.
It wasn’t much of an ice cream shop. The line was too long and the glass was terribly smeared and the prices seemed excessive for a simple dairy product, but at least the air conditioning worked well.
The clerk was a thin, older man with a chocolate-smeared apron and a small white cap on his head and a plastic nametag that said “Steve,” and I immediately figured that this must have been his name because the chances of him wearing the wrong nametag by mistake or perhaps even wearing a fake nametag on purpose as an alias seemed low, and though I didn’t completely rule out those possibilities, I settled it in my mind that the gentleman’s name was almost certainly Steve.
As Toby hemmed and hawed over what to order, it gave my mind time to think, which seemed to be something that it liked to do, so I wondered what Toby was going to order. Then just as quickly I started wondering why I was wondering what Toby was going to order. Then I started thinking about why I think the way I do and why I’m always wondering about why and how certain things happen, and then I even started wondering if everyone else in the world was like this or if it was just me, and if it was just me, that maybe that made me special, and just as I started wondering about how special I might be, I suddenly shifted to thinking about global warming because it was mid-September and unseasonably warm, and I’d only just thought about the melting icecaps when Toby finally said “Chocolate,” pointing as he did.
“A fine decision,” said the man who was presumably named Steve.
He was smiling and seemed awfully happy with Toby’s decision, and I wondered if he would have reacted the same way had Toby ordered Vanilla, or Pistachio, or Rocky Road, and I also wondered if there was a flavor Toby could have ordered that might have caused him to become despondent, or perhaps even enraged, but then I figured I’d never know for sure unless I stood by the counter and continually watched people order different flavors of ice cream, and though I was somewhat curious about it, I wasn’t curious enough to actually do it.
After Steve handed Toby his cone, I paid the cashier and we started for the door. Just then a man walked inside with two young children. One of the children looked vaguely familiar, but then most children looked the same to me so I thought nothing of it, only Toby seemed to startle at seeing that boy, then grew quiet. After they passed we exited through the door and found a table outside with two chairs and an umbrella where I’d earlier tied up my dog Molly. Toby was still holding his cone and had not yet started licking, which was very unlike most children holding a chocolate ice cream cone, or even most adults for that matter.
“Is anything wrong?” I asked.
Toby didn’t answer.
“You will have to eat your ice cream if you don’t want it to melt,” I said. I said it because it was true.
Toby finally started to lick his ice cream, but I could tell by the way he was eating it that something was bothering him because he didn’t seem to be enjoying it as he normally would, so I figured it must have had something to do with the people who’d just come in.
Toby had recently started pre-school, and the first two weeks had seemingly gone by without incident. By then we had settled into a routine, which was something that I preferred. Donna or I would walk him to school before going to work, and sometimes we’d both walk him if there was time enough before our shifts and it wouldn’t get us in trouble with our bosses. Donna would then pick him up from daycare after work and then go home and make dinner, and when I got home, I’d take Molly for a walk. Then we would all have dinner and watch television and then go to bed, and if Donna had had a good day at work and if I hadn’t upset her in some fashion, she would usually help me to achieve it, though sometimes she wouldn’t help me to achieve it even if she’d had a good day at work and I hadn’t upset her in any fashion. I’d read about this being a normal trend in relationships from magazine and newspaper articles, and though I’d initially thought these articles might be joking or exaggerating, it turns out they were actually true.
I watched Toby continue to eat his ice cream slowly and quietly. He finished after five minutes and then I asked him again if anything was wrong. Just then the same man and two boys exited the ice cream shop, and I saw the way that Toby looked over and how his expression changed. The adult was a large, loud man who seemed both strong and flabby at the same time. He was telling a story to the boys and laughing obnoxiously. Once they’d walked away, I again asked Toby what was bothering him.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Is that the truth?” I asked.
Toby nodded, but it was a weak nod.
“I see,” I said.
I’d started saying “I see” some years ago when I’d heard a police officer say it several times, and soon after I’d incorporated it into my own language. As it turned out, this was a short, easy phrase to say, and it seemed to convey more than just the two words, so it seemed very efficient. I’d sometimes thought about finding that officer to thank him for his contribution to my talking, because I’d read somewhere that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but then I wasn’t sure if the officer would feel flattered since he’d been investigating me for two local murders at the time, and maybe he’d even think I was taunting him, so I decided it wouldn’t be worth it. I was thinking about all this when Toby started to talk.
“Timmy picks on me.”
I figured that Toby wasn’t actually commenting on the boy’s intelligence but was just saying this as a childish, immature reaction to someone causing him distress. Though I kept open the possibility that Timmy might actually be stupid.
“Which boy was it?” I asked.
Toby didn’t answer. By then Molly had come up beside him and he’d started to pet her.
“Was it the red-haired boy?”
He nodded, after a while, still looking down at Molly.
“What has he done?”
“He pushes me,” said Toby.
“He grabs my hair.”
He didn’t say anything else, so we sat silently for several minutes. Finally, we got up from the table, and I took Molly’s leash in one hand and Toby’s hand in the other, and we started walking to where I’d parked the car.
For Christmas last year, Donna had given me a subscription to a child psychology magazine to help me better understand children, and though I felt that I understood Toby well enough already, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to understand him better starting in January when the first issue arrived, so I wasn’t too fussed about it. It also turned out to be helpful in that moment because the June issue had an article called “Bullying Is The New Purple,” and even though I didn’t understand what the title meant, the article itself was very informative. It said that most bullies were just unhappy people who learned this same behavior from their parents–who were often cowardly, weak-minded people themselves with low self-esteem. There was more to the article than that and a lot more words, but that was the general gist of it. This led me to conclude that Timmy might not only be stupid but also unhappy, and with a cowardly, weak-minded father or mother, and all of this briefly made me feel sorry for Timmy. Only then I started thinking about the effect this could have on Toby, and I thought back on my own childhood and how some of the boys had been mean to me and picked on me, and I wondered what effect that had had on me and if it had perhaps made me the way that I was. Of course, it was possible I was the way I was already and maybe that was why they chose to pick on me in the first place. This was a paradox–which was to say that it was impossible to determine which came first, like the chicken and the egg.
I thought about discussing “Bullying Is The New Purple” with Toby, but then I figured he was likely too young to understand the nuances of the article, so instead I just told him that bullies were mean people, which seemed to be more or less what the article was saying anyway.
Suddenly, Toby stopped walking.
“I don’t want to go to school anymore,” he said.
I knelt down to his height and explained that school was a government-regulated activity and that he was statutorily obligated to attend, and though I didn’t say it exactly that way because he was four years old, I did say it mostly that way because I wanted my response to be as fair and accurate as possible. Toby just stared at me when I said it, and I thought that maybe he didn’t understand what I’d said, but then he started crying, so I concluded that he must have understood it well enough.
He stood defiantly and kept repeating “I don’t wanna go,” over and over before I finally took his hand and pulled him along the sidewalk, and I saw people looking over at us as if they were fascinated by this and even Molly had started to bark, and it was apparent that things had soured very quickly since we’d first arrived at the ice cream shop and ordered chocolate ice cream from the man whom I believed was named Steve.
As we approached the car, I saw a man standing in front of it, and, as we got closer I could see that it was a parking attendant. He’d been pressing some buttons on a small black device, and just as we arrived beside the car he walked up to the front of the windshield and placed a ticket beneath one of my wipers.
“We are just ready to leave,” I said.
“Meter’s expired,” is all he said.
I looked at my watch and saw that we were just a couple minutes late.
“Something happened with my son,” I said.
The man didn’t respond.
“He has been bullied by a child at school,” I said.
“Is that right?” said the man. He was already looking at the car parked in front of ours and was again pressing buttons on his device.
I told him that it was indeed true, then asked if he’d read the June issue of The Child Psychology Magazine, but he didn’t respond to that.
“I would like you to take this ticket back,” I said.
My father used to say that you couldn’t even spit in the wind without it costing you money, which was to say that life was expensive and almost anything you did cost money, and the more life went on the more I found this to be true. Things were already tight at home, what with the cost of having a four-year-old and a cat and a dog. I had found Toby in particular to be a significant financial liability, and as the years went on, I felt increasing pressure to sell more vacuums to make up for it. Donna also cost money, but then she also made some money herself, so I figured that part was a wash, even if it actually wasn’t.
“Oh would you?” he said.
He laughed when he said it, so it made me wonder if he was mocking me, but then I thought maybe he was just jolly, or perhaps he’d just thought of something funny at that precise moment, so I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I would,” I said, and I thought maybe now he would truly consider it.
Instead, the parking attendant shook his head and laughed even louder, and this time I was satisfied that he was indeed laughing at me because I figured the coincidence would have been too great for him to have thought of two funny things both times I’d mentioned the ticket. He then turned around to face me where I was still standing on the sidewalk holding Toby’s hand and Molly’s leash. Then he told me that my problems weren’t his problems and that if I had an issue with it, I could contact the city.
He wasn’t much of a parking attendant to be saying these things. Toby was still crying beside me, and Molly had again started to bark, but I could barely hear either one of them because by then my patience had thinned and I was already picturing the parking attendant as red and open.
He still had the smirk on his face, and though I didn’t have a weapon on me, I saw a half-brick by the curb, and for a moment I wondered how the brick had ended up that way, and what had happened to the other half, but those thoughts didn’t last long because when I looked back up I saw the smirk on the attendant’s face, and I figured that as soon as he turned away with his stupid grin and his small black device with the buttons that I could scoop up the half-brick in my hand and move up swiftly behind him and before he could react I’d smash it down into the back of his head, knocking him down instantly and perhaps even rendering him unconscious with that single blow. And then I thought about how I’d nestle down beside him and smash the brick down onto his head over and over and over until his skull caved in and the blood was rushing out from the open wound and how both my hand and the brick would be slick and red and how by then any onlookers would be running away in horror, but then, before I could do any of that, I heard Toby yell “Ouch!”
I looked down and realized that I must have been squeezing his hand so tight that it had caused him pain, so I immediately let go. The parking attendant was looking curiously in my direction by then so I quickly got Toby and Molly into the car, retrieved the ticket from the windshield, and drove away without saying anything further.
I could see the attendant looking curiously in our direction through the rear view mirror as we drove away, and I immediately felt bad for thinking of him as red and open because I knew that he didn’t deserve it, even if he hadn’t been very understanding and had perhaps even been mocking me in front of my son.
He might not have been much of a parking attendant, but he certainly didn’t deserve it.
© 2019 by Michael Paul Michaud