Friday, April 30, 2010

Writing Quotes

The famous Saul Bellow satirized Hemingway's style as "Do you have emotions? Strangle them."

But, Hemingway had his own way of expressing emotion. Here are some wise words that every writer should keep in the back of his/her head:

"Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Warehouse Job (FFF #29)

It's once again time for Friday Flash Fiction.  In case anyone missed it, I posted part 2 of "Band on the Run" last Tuesday.  You can read it here and refresh yourself with part 1 here.  Anyway, this week's prompt started with two simple ideas, and I was able to incorporate both.  Hope you guys enjoy it.

The Warehouse Job

"I said that you don't have to believe me, and I certainly wouldn't if I were in your shoes."  Burkle cradled the Styrofoam cup in his hands and sipped the coffee.  It looked funny, but it was the most efficient way to drink with handcuffs on.

"Listen, Burke..."

"It's Burkle."  He stared at the cop with the crew cut.  He was trim, in a dark blue suit that fitted him like a glove. His partner was a heavy, beaten down veteran.  Burkle figured Crew Cut was the hardass and figured Pops had the better-honed bullshit detector.

"You were apprehended leaving the scene," said Crew Cut.  "There was nobody else around.  You tested positive for gunshot residue.  Do you still stick by the fact that you didn't kill Mel Maltese?"

Burkle looked over at his lawyer.  The lawyer said, "My client has offered to name the man who killed Mr. Maltese in exchange for dropping the larceny and weapons charges against him.  Might I remind you that you have no physical evidence linking him to the crime and doesn't have to offer you anything."

"Yet," said the older cop.  "Nothing physical yet.  The lab still hasn't gotten back to us."

Silence hung heavy in the harshly lit interrogation room.  Crew Cut finally said, "All right.  Tell us your story."

Burkle took a deep breath and said, "It all started a couple days ago.  I stopped off at my neighborhood bar for a quick drink when Maltese came in....."

----

"Hey, I got this really big score tomorrow night.  You want in?" he said.

I took a sip of my scotch and said, "I'm getting a little old for heists.  Thinking of hooking up with Jimmy O'Flaherty and getting into the numbers game.  Maybe just retire."

Maltese looked shocked. "You're the best in the game.  The best I've ever seen.  Hey, maybe you can become a planner. You know, plan the heists for us and I'll get a couple guys to do all the muscle work.  How's that sound?"

I didn't commit to anything because, truth is, I'm getting a little tired of the game.  I'm not even 40 yet, but this has always been a younger man's racket.  "We'll see."

"Come on," said Maltese, "I'll show you the place and tell you all about it."

We got into his car, a late model Volkswagen of some kind, and drove to the warehouses down by the docks.  We parked across from one next to those big cranes and he pointed to it. "That's the one.  It's an import location for some kind of wholesale distributor.  They sell everything.  Catch it on the wrong day and you get linens and kids toys and shit.  Catch it on the right day and jackpot.  I heard tomorrow night they got a shipment of electronics coming in.  Flat screen TVs, DVD players, iPods, shit like that."

"You got a fence lined up?"

"Yeah, a guy I know outside the city.  Real good.  Discreet."

"What's the plan?"

"They don't have any guards around here at night.  Just lock the front gate.  I figure all we got to do is get a van, get in here early and hide out until they pull the gate shut.  Then we can load the van up and drive right out."

"Security cameras?"

Maltese chewed his lip.  "I didn't think about that.  There aren't any back here, but I didn't check by the gate.  I guess we'll have to check that out.  I got some guys that I can call for muscle."

I said, "I wanna meet them before the job.  I like to know who I'm getting involved with."

Maltese nodded, "Sure, sure.  Makes sense."

The security cameras by the gate were nothing to worry about.  Cheap little jobs.  I would've been surprised if they were even hooked up to anything.  The hitch was they were high up and hard to get to.  Nothing we couldn't handle, though.

I met the two goons the next day.  Bobby Capp and Titus.  I didn't catch if Titus was a first or a last name.  Not too bright, but seemed level-headed.  The best you can hope for with muscle is someone who won't fly off the handle without warning.

I made a couple changes to Maltese's plan, but overall it was sound.  We got in early and hid out until dark.  Since we showed up well before closing time, dock security probably figured they forgot to clock us out.  Exactly what I planned.

Titus used pincers to break the lock on the warehouse.  He slid the door open while Maltese pulled the van up to the loading dock.  We found exactly what we were expecting to find inside.  Capp and Titus loaded the heavy stuff like TVs while Maltese and I stacked the DVD players and PS3s in as tightly as we could.  Everything was going according to plan until Maltese opened his fucking mouth.

"What did I tell ya?" he said.  "Great score.  These HDTVs will go for a bundle.  I think I saw some 52" ones around.  The bigger the better."

"Shut up," said Capp.

"All I'm saying is...."

"Keep your mouth shut."  Capp put down the TV he was carrying.  "Why you gotta talk so much?"

"Take it easy," I said.  "That's just the way he is.  He doesn't mean anything by it."

"Yeah," said Capp.  "Who's asking you?  I thought we were all here to make some fucking money.  Not to chit-chat and share beauty secrets."

Maltese said, "I'll shut up, OK.  Will that make you happy?"

Capp said, "I don't know why you wanna talk so damn much.  You wearing a wire or something?"

At this point Titus had stopped moving and started watching us.  Capp grabbed Maltese and shoved him deeper into the warehouse.  He said, "I think this guy's wearing a wire."

Maltese put his hands up. "No, no.  Come on, guys.  I'm not wearing a wire.  This is my score.  Why would I be wearing...."

Capp pulled a gun from out of nowhere and shot Maltese through the forehead.

"Shit."  I looked down at Maltese's body as it twitched and then went still.  "Shit.  Why'd you do that?"

Capp turned the gun on me and said, "Be quiet or you're gonna be next."

It was at that point we heard the sirens.  Titus said "We gotta go" and jumped in the van.  Capp followed him, keeping the gun trained on me the whole time.  He slammed the back door of the van closed and they sped off, leaving me alone in a warehouse empty except for Maltese's cooling body.  So I ran.

---

"And that's where you guys came in," said Burkle.  "I guess I'm not as fast as I used to be."

Crew Cut gave Burkle a hard look while his partner sat there like a sack of potatoes.  Burkle's lawyer said, "Now if there isn't anything further, you need to release my client."

Pops uncuffed Burkle, who rubbed his wrists to get some warmth back into them.  He said, "You wouldn't happen to know where we could find Bobby Capp or Titus would you, Mr. Burkle?"

Burkle shook his head.  "The only time I saw them was at a pool hall on 53rd.  I don't know if they were regulars.  I'm afraid I can't help you much."

Burkle took a copy of his immunity agreement and signed his release papers.  He and the lawyer walked though the cop bullpen and pressed the "down" button to call for the elevator.  Once inside, the lawyer said, "Was that really wise, Mr. Burkle?  You might get a reputation of helping the cops.  Don't you think Capp and Titus will come looking for revenge?"

Burkle laughed. "There is no Capp.  I put the bullet in Maltese myself.  He was a no good dirty snitch who needed to be dealt with."

"But you just told the cops..."

"I know what I told the cops."  The elevator dinged for the lobby and Burkle stepped out.  He turned to look at his lawyer and said, "The first thing I told them was they shouldn't believe a word I said."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Quotes

From George V. Higgins, author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle and others:

"If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a writer and you never will be."

And

"The secret remains that there is no secret. The way to determine whether you have talent is to rummage through your files and see if you have written anything; if you have, and quite a lot, then the chances are you have the talent to write more. If you haven't written anything, you do not have the talent because you don't want to write. Those who do can't help themselves. We do it for the hell of it, and those who raise a lot of hell, and then get very lucky, well, we make a living, too. There are worse ways to travel through this vale of tears than by doing the things you love, and making a living at it."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Band on the Run, part 2 (FFF #28.5)

Due in part to the tremendous feedback on last week's Friday Flash Fiction entry, I wrote a follow up story.  I figured since Cormac is taking a vacation this week, Tuesday would be a good time to post the second half.  I feel expectations are running high, so I'm hoping I haven't let you guys down.  Enjoy!

Band on the Run, Part 2

The pain was starting to get to me.

I hadn't been waiting that long, but the bullet in my shoulder and the image of what Travis was doing to Brenda wedged in my mind made it feel like the world was moving in 12/8 time. I checked the makeshift bandage on my shoulder and leaned against the wall.

I had waited a couple minutes to make sure Bernstein was gone before I sat up. Then I went into the store and tore open one of the trumpet polishing kits they kept along the back wall. I put two of the soft polishing cloths on either side of the wound and tied it tight with a couple guitar strings. Not an easy task with just one arm.

Opie's beat up red pickup pulled to the curb and the door opened. "Shit, man. What happened?"

I got in and said, "Take me home as fast as you can."

The key to reading Opie was his eyes. They were pretty much the only part of his face that you could see. He always wore a bandana pulled down close to his eyebrows and his bushy beard stood up nearly two inches from his cheeks. "No way, man. We gotta get you to a hospital."

"Brenda's in trouble. I'll explain on the way."

He peeled out and we were off.

Opie looked like the bastard son of a biker and a roadie, only twice as surly. We met in prison through an inmate known only as The Bishop. Prison has all sorts of programs to rehabilitate convicts, but if you were serious about staying straight, you went to The Bishop. Opie got paroled a month before I did and gave me a place to crash while I looked for work.

"When you called me, you didn't mention anything about you getting shot."

"I didn't want to worry you."

"Gee, thanks."

I told him what happened and what Trevor was doing to Brenda. Opie ran a red light.

"What about Bernstein?"

"I'll come up with something. The priority right now is to save Brenda."

Opie gripped the wheel tighter and his muscles made the woman tattooed on his forearm dance a striptease.

We pulled up to my apartment and Opie jumped out and grabbed a tire iron from the bed of his truck. He bounded up the steps to my second-floor unit and crashed through the door. In the bedroom, we saw Trevor with his pants around his ankles, plowing my girlfriend.

Opie pulled him off Brenda and threw him into the closet door. He set about tenderizing Trevor's ribs with the tire iron as I pulled a sheet over Brenda. I looked over at Trevor and it took all the self restraint I had not to shove a drum stick through his eye.

I said, "Where's Bernstein?"

“Fuck you.”

Opie swing the tire iron a couple more times.

“Listen, dipshit,” I said, “I know you're not ambitious enough to come up with an idea like this yourself. Tell me where Bernstein is or we'll start to get rough.”

"I don't know. I swear, I don't know."

Opie looked at me and said, "Is he a rightie or a leftie?"

"Rightie."

Opie straightened out Trevor's right arm and laid it palm down on the floor. He put his thick-soled work boot on top of the hand and started to press down.

"OK, OK," said Trevor. "Victory Gardens. Apartment J2."

We tied Trevor up and threw him in the bed of Opie's truck.

---

Bernstein's lights were out, so Opie parked his truck across the street, and we waited for Bernstein to come back. I hated waiting.

I drummed a beat on Opie's dash with my right hand and I felt a numbness starting to set in in my left. I looked at the bandage and saw the wound was still bleeding.

Opie said, “After we do this, you're going to the hospital.”

“You'll get no argument from me.”

Around a quarter after two in the morning, Bernstein stumbled home with a girl on each arm. They bobbed and weaved up to the front door like they were one giant drunk beast with six legs. He dropped his keys twice before he was able to open the door. He didn't shut it after them and that gave Opie and me our opportunity.

Bernstein must have heard us because he turned around just in time to get a right cross to the jaw from Opie. The two hookers were worn out old hags with dead eyes. They gave each other a look and walked out, leaving us to our business.

Bernstein started to say something, but Opie punched him again, sending him backward onto the couch. I said, “What did you do with the money?”

“Ha! Thash funny.” It was hard to understand him the way he was slurring so much. He was obviously drunk, high, and full of himself. “It's my money. If you said yes, you could've had a cut. But noooo. You made me get nashty.” He waved a hand in the air. “Bye bye. No money for you.”

“Do you think I want it? I'm going to kick your ass and put it back where it belongs.”

He tried to stand up, but Opie shoved him back on the couch. “You kick my ass? Don make me laugh. Tell him to back off and I'll show you an ass kicking.”

I grabbed his Martin, the only acoustic guitar he owned, and said, “How about one more joke? What's black and blue and laying in a ditch? A guitarist who's told too many drummer jokes.”

I smashed the guitar over his head, splintering it into a hundred pieces.

---

I hadn't told Bernstein the whole truth. I didn't put the stolen money back in the safe. Instead, I put something even more valuable.

It wasn't hard to find where Bernstein put the money – at least the part he hadn't spent. The remaining money we laid out on the kitchen table, making it look like they were divvying up the take. We left him and Trevor, still without his pants, unconscious and handcuffed to each other in Bernstein's apartment.

After Opie dropped me off at the hospital, he went back to The Den to clean up my blood and anything that might have my fingerprints on it. He took a crowbar and scuffed up the safe so it would look like amateurs tried to open it. He then gave the police an anonymous tip that he saw two suspicious men walking out of The Music Den.

The police called Erik, The Den's manager, and asked him to get to the store as soon as possible. They looked at the damage and made Erik open the safe. That's when they found my present.

Bernstein and Trevor's driver's licenses were inside.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Question of Tone

As I mentioned in the comments the other day, I'm working on a follow up to Tuesday's Friday Flash Fiction story.  I'm struggling a little bit with it.  The narrative this time around seems to be taking on a bit darker tone, which isn't how I heard the original in my head.  Then again...if your lead has been betrayed/shot and his girlfriend kidnapped, anyone would probably want to go Death Wish on their enemies.

Act 2 is a kind of shift from heist story to revenge story, so maybe I should just get out of my own way and let the story tell itself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Band on the Run (FFF #28)

This week's Friday Flash Fiction starter sentence comes from good old Paul D. Brazill.  You may remember him from such stories as the SPINETINGLER nominated "The Tut", "Smudge", and "Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!" (ok....that last one's not real).  Had a couple different ideas about this one that I merged together.  I also tried to get back to a shorter story after a few long ones in a row.  Hope you guys enjoy it.

Band on the Run

The trouble with me is that I never realize how deep in the shit I am until I'm choking on the stuff. And this was probably the steamiest, foulest pile of shit I've ever found myself in.

“What's it gonna be, Weaver,” said Bernstein.  He looked like a ghoul under the garish glow of the emergency lights.  His skin was a pale orange and his eye sockets were pitch black under the shadow cast by his forehead.  He rubbed a bony hand across his closely shaven scalp.

“All right.”  I stuck out my hand and he gave me the bag of tools.  I unzipped the outside pocket and picked the back door of The Den in under three seconds.

The Music Den had been a second home to me for the past couple years.  After my parole, I wanted to do something with my time to keep me on the straight and narrow.  I chose music.  It worked for a while, too.  Until Bernstein found out about my former line of work.

“Come on.  Come on.  Let's go.  Let's go.”  Bernstein almost ran to the manager's office.  He'd been jittery all night.  I couldn't see his eyes, but I knew he was high.

He tried the handle of the door, but found it locked too.  Instead of waiting for me, he kicked it in, sending the doorknob through the flimsy drywall that separated the office from the rest of the store.  I looked beyond the racks of sheet music to all the drum sets and pianos on the showroom floor.  I had a feeling this would be the last time I would be in the store.

“Shake a leg, Weaver.  We haven't got all night.”

The manager's office was a dinky little ten by ten square with a desk shoved against one wall and two ratty chairs for guests.  The most interesting thing about it was the Amsec B2200 floor safe in the corner.  Which was the reason he brought me along.

“I was planning to pry the fucker open, but I figured since we've got a safecracker hanging around, might as well earn your keep.”

I said, “You couldn't have pried this thing open.  It was designed with very few pry points.  And there's a dead bar behind the hinges.  Even if you got the hinges out, you still couldn't get the door off.”

“Can you open it?”

I nodded my head and knelt in front of the safe.  Unzipping my bag, I exposed the tools.  It wasn't as nice as the set I had before I got sent away, but I didn't expect numbnuts to know anything about quality.

“Good,” said Bernstein.  “Cause I'd hate to have to give Trevor a call.”

I'd kicked around a bit before hooking up with Bernstein and Trevor Nixx, our bass player.  We formed a band and called ourselves Earth in Grayscale.  Covers, mostly.  We played dive bars all around the state and got a decent following.  But Bernstein played the rockstar role to the hilt - hookers and blow.  He must have run up a pretty big debt with his dealer to want to knock off The Den.  I don't know what pissed me off more:  him getting me involved or him wanting to rob the only place in the area that gave us practice time for free.

“Hey, Weaver.  How do you know when there's a shitty drummer at your front door?”

I didn't answer him.

“The knock speeds up.”  He laughed his head off.

“Hey, Bernstein.  How do you confuse a guitarist?”

“I don't know.  How?”

“You put sheet music in front of him.”

His face got mean and he stalked over to where I was.  He pointed the gun at my head and said, “That's not fucking funny, man.  Now open the damn safe.”

“Look, this is an Amsec B2200.  It has a group II key changeable lock with relock and 1 million possible combinations. The primary locking mechanism has five 3/4” diameter locking bolts that are drive resistant, chromed steel with a long throw.  It's a pretty decent safe for a second rate music store in a third rate North Jersey strip mall.  If you understood even half of what I just said, you'd know that it's going to take me some time and some quiet to open this thing.  The way I see it is you can either go stand by the door and keep your mouth shut or you can shoot me now.”

Bernstein stared at me for a second, then slumped his shoulders and walked away.

I took a deep breath and snuggled close to the safe.  I put my right hand on the knob and gave it a gentle turn.  I couldn't hear the tumblers as clearly as I remember.  It was probably a combination of the 3/4” solid steel plate door and the few years of drumming that muffled them.  Sure, I wore ear protection, but every drummer suffers from hearing loss of one degree or another.

The first number clicked into place and all the old sensations came rushing back.  I closed my eyes and started to breathe through my mouth.  I teased the knob at first.  Then I turned it more forcefully.

The second number clicked.  She was reluctant to my charms, but I persisted.

The third number.  We were locked in a sort of tango.  I pulled her body close to mine.  My heart beat faster.

The fourth.  She was nearly mine.

Fifth.  Seduction complete.

Spent, I gasped for breath as the door slowly opened.  I opened my eyes to see Bernstein standing above me.  He said, “Do you two need a room?”

He flung open the door and started stuffing his backpack with the cash inside.

“That's it?”  I said.  “You'll tell Trevor to let Brenda go?”

Bernstein stood up and zipped his bag closed.  “Yeah, about that...”

He leveled the gun at me and fired.  I felt the bullet rip through my left shoulder and I fell flat on my back.  I gritted my teeth against the pain as blood oozed from the wound.

Bernstein took out his cell phone.  “Yeah, Trevor.  It's me.  It's done.  Have your fun with the girl and get rid of her.”

Bernstein tucked the gun into his waistband and walked out the office door.

The only mistake the bastard made was leaving me alive.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Iceberg! Right Ahead!

The Iceberg Theory, popularized by Ernest Hemingway, is to know more about what you're writing than what you tell your reader.  If your knowledge is deep enough, the subtext will communicate that unsaid information and emotion to the reader.

To us mere mortals, the Iceberg Theory can also refer to that huge mountain of self-doubt that creeps up on us after we've written some crap and wonder why we didn't spend more time picking up a more marketable skill like flipping burgers or washing windows or accurately guessing the number of jellybeans in a glass jar.

In other words:  stay in school, don't do drugs, and use the Iceberg Theory.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Apology (FFF #27)

With Good Friday and Easter and lots of traveling, I didn't have time to write something that I really liked for this week's Friday Flash Fiction.  As a way of apologizing, I've composed a short poem.  If you dare to read it, you'll come to understand why I don't write poetry.

Excuses are normally something I eschew,
But, you see, I found a cache of cashews.
When I finished, my time for writing was through.
There'll be no tales of noir from me this week.
I hope I've not made you blue.