Oh hey a chance to bloat my wordcount and make SH hate herself.
I will finish crits for The War, On Christmas week before I submit a story this week.
|# ¿ Jan 10, 2017 10:39|
|# ¿ Dec 7, 2023 01:30|
War, On Christmas crits
Hello youse. Before I begin with the crits proper, let's have a little CYOA. If you're trying to write a story, go to (1). If you're trying to write a vignette, something artsy or otherwise not-a-story, go to (2).
(1) For a story to work, you need to pique and hold my interest, and you need to do it fast. Do this in the first twenty percent of your story to leave enough time to deal with plot and character development, tension building, climax and refractory period/denouement. Remember, this isn't a novel, this is flash fiction. If I splash out for your selfpub werepire gayrotica, you can get away with fifty pages setting up the brilliant plot twist where, despite all protestations to the contrary, Dracuwolf really does want it up the butt from Count Chocula.
In your average Thunderdome entry, you have 1000 words. In the first hundred, I want to know at least some of the following:
* WHO is involved?
* WHAT is at stake?
* WHERE is the story set?
* WHEN does it take place?
* WHY is this moment important?
By the third hundred, I should have a good handle of all five, and you'd better've started down the path to your plot development and climax, because poo poo, kid, you've only got seven hundred words left.
(2) Go gently caress yourself.
And now for our feature presentation...!
Boaz-Jachim / Flight: This is a very longwinded way of writing about a guy being chased by another guy, more focused on finding "clever" ways of obliquely describing the action than actually informing the reader about either the runner or the shooter's actions, and it ends with the wet fart of the shooter letting the runner go without so much as a hint of why. Why is this chase interesting? Why does the runner get away? Why do I care about this hazy, gray world you've implied? I have no idea what's at stake, beside the immediate "runner is gonna get shot" -- that sort of thing can work, if I care about the runner, but I don't, so this is kinda like watching a Natural Geographic special where a lion stalks a gazelle, except I'm high on paint thinner and watching it on a smeary black & white TV from the sixties with bad reception. Work on clarity and pacing.
The Unholy Ghost / System Memory: Like the previous entry, this one commits the sin of trying to be writerly and profound without having earned the privilege. For nearly two thirds of your overly-verbose entry, you bore me with tedious irrelevancies trying to build a dystopian near-future but without so much as a whiff of why this event is interesting. Then a gun gets pulled in an artificial attempt to inject some tension and action, but since I can barely distinguish any of the bland papercraft dolls you're passing off as "characters", it falls flat. Worse, the ending that reveals that this is some guy blandly trying to replay the depicted event over and over again also shows us that this particular iteration had no gravitas -- look, this is an idea that could work in a longer piece, so long as you didn't mind aping the poo poo out of your average Philip K Dick novel, but you haven't the time in 1000-2000 words to convey the horror of being trapped in such a loop, nor the redemption of breaking out or the misery of surrendering to one's fate.
Mrenda / Christmas to Forget: The cardinal sin this piece commits is withholding information that's crucial to the plot until the end. I cannot sympathize with two characters barfing backstory at me without the contextual information that their Earth is about to get nuked from orbit; hell, up until the final paragraphs, I didn't even know this was a sci-fi story. Really, the characters are sockpuppets through most of the story.
Please stop using dialogue as a longwinded substitute for exposition.
Thranguy / A Snowball's Chance: I got an immediate smile from the juxtaposition of military verbiage with a children's snowball fight. Your story's action and scenario are clear and well-presented. I like the terse, declarative style of your sentences here; it compliments the theme of the piece without jumping up and down screaming "LOOK AT ME" like so many overt styles do in TD stories. Where it falls down is in the final 2-3 paragraphs, this twists around from being a weird, lighthearted snowball fight into something that's attempting to build character, and I don't really quite get the moral you're looking to put forward, unless it's "always wear safety equipment like a square, kids". It feels like you just didn't know how to tie up this piece.
Also, there's a few proofing errors. A few turns of phrase (esp. "Geneva-Conventions-violating snowball") are too awkward to come off as cute or clever. Overall, though, I didn't hate this.
GenJoe / Eris: For gently caress's sake, leave off the enter key! You do not need to put every loving sentence on a new line; it makes the prose harder to read and immediately distracts me from the actual writing. Which is stilted and muddled. I barely know who these characters are or what they're involved in, but I do know that they love shouting emotionally-charged yet narratively-empty dialogue at one another. When you're writing dialogue, like any other kind of sentence in a story, ask yourself: how does this line reveal character or advance the plot? A bit of flavoring is all right, but your characters do not need to precisely imitate the cadences of a real conversation; we do not need every single "hmm" and "yeah" and "what?", we need meaning.
The "don't tell Charlie I'm Santa" device is clever and cute, but the rest of this story is muddled garbage.
Benny Profane / A Saturnalian Carol: I was originally predisposed to liking this story, because it'd be cool to see a biopiece that delves into Cicero's hatred of Carthage and the politics of the Punic Wars. And then you wrote a whole lot of pretty-but-empty words that depict the literal images of a weird pseudosupernatural rite without any context or tie back to the rest of the story. Too much heady detail, too little character or plot movement. I have no idea how scene two ties into scene one, at all.
Lead out in Cuffs / The Necessary: Despite the ugly formatting, I'm inclined to enjoy a story about the struggle of a woman to get by during the London Blitz. The dialogue could use some fat-trimming while the descriptions of setting and action could use some fleshing out; I need more meat to really get into the desperation of the characters to really empathize with their struggle. You need more than one minor plot beat where Mary grits her teeth and does the necessary before you really earn the gruesome ending.
Good job on making something I didn't immediately hate.
Baleful Osmium Sea / "Father...": This story is directly in my wheelhouse. The contrast of fantasy-fairytale bombast with wry Pratchettian ridiculousness is exactly what I like. The only thing I wasn't totally sold on was the violence paragraph immediately following the "god of Wha" joke; that violence paragraph is muddled and unfocused and feels out of place. Still, I found the jokes amusing and the pacing good.
Only reason this didn't win is that both my co-judges didn't like it. Sorry-notsorry.
Entenzahn / Live the People: The failure of this piece is that it's all action. The characters feel like marionettes instead of people, and the plot like a series of events instead of a meaningful narrative. 'm guessing you were trying for something like this but without a "happy" ending. Without more plot for the action to hang on, it's too hard for me to get invested or interested.
katdicks / Ashes: Another all-action vignette. There's lots of words spent on motion and noise, but too little on motivation or character. The "crying baby" bit feels like a cheap attempt to tug at the reader's sympathy. There's numerous places where the use of language changes oddly: heartfelt at one moment, mechanistic at the next, and I'm not inclined to say that those choices were intentional.
Setting your piece in the Syrian Civil War was a courageous choice, but in the end I still need a good strong character for this narrative to be more than sockpuppets prancing on a stage.
Chili / Memories in Blue: This feels like a small part of something larger, and that feeling doesn't help the piece. I feel like I'm expected to know more about these characters than I do; Macy just seems like a slab of cardboard to me, a bland everyman protagonist meant to stand in for the reader, but it doesn't work. I'm really missing a reason to care about these characters. The "Jews" phrase feels tacked on, like you're trying too hard to be edgy. The worst part is that Mama Sue's death really doesn't do much for the plot, and also feels predictable. Perhaps you foreshadowed it a bit too hard?
sebmojo / Goodwill to all men (and ultramen): I got some good "WTF" chuckles out of this one; its gleeful ridiculousness is its saving grace. Thing is, it's rife with proofing errors that distract from the humor, and there's a few places where the continuity seems out of whack: I did a double-take and had to reread the sentence where a character "flung the twin dogs aside", and Pertinax shows up far too soon after Thraggo for Thraggo's earlier comment to not seem directed at Pertinax. The revelation of their relationship doesn't really feel like it naturally emerges from their earlier behavior; I'd expect more love/hate playacting to really sell it.
This feels like something you rammed out without going back to edit for consistency or syntax. It'll win because it's at least second place for all the judges.
ThirdEmperor / Fifty Years and a Wakeup: This story combines the sins of GenJoe and Mrenda: it willfully and clumsily obscures the information needed to really make sense of its plot and characters while also consisting mostly of tedious dialogue that two characters shout at one another. In the end, I got that you were trying to go for some kind of Forever War thing, but by the time I figured it out, the piece was over and I'd ceased to care. All the shouty dialogue makes this a real slog to read through, and "freezerburn" makes me think Gramps needs to store his dentures in better Ziplocs -- find a different name for the affliction? Work on your clarity, work on your dialogue (see GenJoe's crit for more on this), work on delivering exposition in a timely manner.
BeefSupreme / A Christmas Feast: A vignette that's again mostly concerned with delivering action; I see that you're trying to deliver some characterization with the action, but it's spread too thin, and the sausage device is too one-note to work. Gimme more than just "my gramma makes the bestest sausage". Also, who the hell is going to eat sausage that's been rotting in the hold of a military cargo ship for the better part of a year? Dude's going to be hovering over the latrine for days. Anyway, this needs more character for its plot to hang together, or a tighter, better-paced plot than "gotta win back gramma's sausage" to earn its gunplay.
SkaAndScreenplays / Throw Another Yule Log On the Ceasefire: The idea of a kid giving a squad of soldiers gifts for Christmas is cute, but it's not executed well enough for this to be a satisfying vignette, and there's no real development -- you spent the entire time going through the presents and not enough building this character up for me to have empathy for your conclusion. Also, I generally dislike vignettes. Give me some plot or development to give this gift-giving scene some impact.
|# ¿ Jan 10, 2017 19:12|
Flush with Cash (2,597 words)
The number-two problem in the world, according to Gerald Lindemeier, was that Americans didn't want hot jets of water blasting their anuses clean. This fact was amply demonstrated, he thought, by the thirty-two thousand surplus bidets currently occupying his basement, garage and the plurality of his yard. This state of affairs was inconvenient for Gerald as (a) the neighbors were getting testy about the piles of potties and (b) the loan he'd taken to seed his butt-cleaning empire had grown past due. His creditor, Jellicoe T. Whipple, was insisting on prompt repayment. This was Gerald's number-one problem.
Gerald was frantically attempting to renegotiate the terms of his loan. Had Mr. Whipple been the small-business banker his name connoted, this might have been a staid stamping of paperwork. However, Mr. Whipple was not a pleasant middle-aged man in a suit purchased at discount from the Men's Wearhouse in Paramus, New Jersey. Mr. Whipple was a loan shark and the span of his patience was inversely proportional to the girth of his biceps.
Mr. Whipple could bench four hundred pounds. He did, however, wear suits purchased at discount from the Men's Wearhouse in Paramus, New Jersey. Mr. Whipple was both strong and thrifty.
This was also why a straight razor, its blade honed to a shining surgical edge, was hovering beside Gerald's genitals, close enough for curly hairs to drift away whenever he swallowed. Gerald was a nervous swallower. The past five minutes had left his balls almost bald.
"You do not have my money, so you will offer me something of equal value," said Mr. Whipple.
To keep his testicles unsevered, Gerald blurted out: "I'll get the cash by midnight!"
This was a terrible proposal. Mr. Whipple, like every other loan shark born since the eighties, had seen enough heist movies to know how Gerald would attempt to satisfy such a promise. Without professional planning, such heists rarely ended as they did in cinema, and federal imprisonment would further diminish Gerald's already-paltry net worth to sums sufficiently microscopic to require scientific notation.
"No. I will tell you how to employ your merchandise, and you will agree, or schnick-schnack." Mr. Whipple waved the razor menacingly, which is the only way a razor can be waved while adjacent to reproductive organs.
He explained the plan to Gerald, and when Gerald agreed, he closed the razor and bade the failed businessman farewell. "Don't worry, Gerald. When we are done, the streets of Paramus will run with gold."
Whipple's plan was bold. Whipple's plan was audacious. Whipple's plan was daring. These three affirmations Gerald repeated as he paced back and forth in his garage. His therapist had told him it was a good way to break negative thought cycles. Gerald needed to break negative thought cycles, because whenever he wasn't muttering one of those three statements, the descriptor that sprang to mind was stupid, and such negativity would not long maintain the integrity of his vas deferens. To help him execute this stupid plan, Gerald had gathered his two closest friends.
"You need me to what?" asked Buzz Rockjaw USMC. Buzz was not, and had never been, a Marine; he merely had an unfortunate surname. At bars, Buzz told attractive members of his preferred gender that he was drummer for a band called Cyclopean Fucksnake. This was not altogether untrue. What Buzz did not mention was that Cyclopean Fucksnake had eighty followers on Twitter. They were all middle-aged midgets who worked in some sort of construction cartel. These men anesthetized the ennui of menial labor with loud music and narcotics. When Buzz was not smashing sticks into strained animal hide for the amusement of overpaid half-pint cokeheads, he ran a a mall.
Running a mall was a good career choice in Paramus. There were many malls. They all needed running, except on Sundays, because the citizens of Paramus had yet to accept the patriotic American idea that shopping was an acceptable form of worship on the Sabbath. This annoyed many, including Mr. Whipple, who occasionally found himself in urgent need of a new suit — particularly when his old one acquired sticky, red stains.
For the plan, however, this inconvenience was a godsend. On Sunday, there would be a surplus of men in questionable physical shape who were nonetheless dedicated to proving their masculinity through idiotic feats of physical prowess. Generally these needs were sublimated into supporting tribal groups of other men who demonstrated their masculinity and physical prowess by torturing a spherical or ovoid object live on national television. Support, in this case, was a euphemism for sitting on one's couch and consuming beer.
Beer is well known to the medical community to be a diuretic and intoxicant. Bidets are well known to confuse Americans. Americans are prone to believe bidets to be urinals. This is particularly true of intoxicated men.
"I need you to open the mall, the bars especially," said Gerald.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC snorted. "The city will sue my shorts off. Besides, the NFL's playing the Rain Bowl tomorrow, and I have a show right after. Here, you should come. Bring some friends." He handed Gerald an envelope of concert tickets.
"I don't think Cyclopean Fucksnake is going to draw in a crowd, Buzz."
"Either way, you'd need a miracle to get anyone to show up."
"Exactly." Gerald turned to his other friend. "Pepe, I need to see your ex."
"gently caress her," said Pepe, and his nose fell off. Pepe spoke in the gravelly, pack-a-day voice of a diner waitress. His mouth did not move. Pepe was not a ventriloquist; Pepe's mouth did not move because it didn't exist. It'd fallen off years ago. Pepe was a leperchaun, an chimera of degenerative disease, folklore and outmoded racism. He picked up his nose and stuck it back on.
Pepe's voice operated through the personal and direct intercession of the Virgin Mary. This was a miracle. It was also a miracle, Pepe believed, that he had survived seventeen years married to that bitch without one of them ending up dead. He hadn't gotten through the marriage to Mary without scars: he'd become a devoted fan of Cyclopean Fucksnake.
"I know where you can find a bag of finest Colombian," said Gerald.
"Get your car keys," said Pepe.
Pepe directed Gerald to an IHOP just off the interstate. It was almost midnight and the place was empty aside from its traditional clientele of long-haul truckers and indolent students. Neither of these were known for tipping.
Gerald got out of the car and directed Pepe to search the glovebox for his reward, then shut the door and hurried away to avoid the inevitable stream of high-pitched expletives when his friend discovered a Ziploc of coffee beans. They were, as Gerald had promised, the finest Colombian.
Inside, he found a booth in the back, as far away from the windows as possible in case Pepe got too angry. Pepe was bad at anger management. He had a habit of projecting. He mostly projected nine-millimeter slugs into the things that angered him.
The area was empty aside from a bearded senior in a funny red suit. Gerald hunched down and didn't make eye contact with the man; he wanted to keep this business as private as possible. Soon, an aged woman came around the counter with coffee in hand. She was wearing a blue server's apron and a saintly halo, slightly tarnished. The well-worn nametag on her blouse said Mary. She gave Gerald coffee and then smiled at him. "Hey, Gerald. Next time you see my rat-bastard of an ex, tell him he's an rear end in a top hat."
"And yet you're still letting him speak."
"Legally obligated. I should never've signed that loving pre-nup," said the Blessed Virgin.
"Can't get out of it?"
"Where in heaven do you expect me to find a lawyer?" The Mother of God slapped down a menu. "Much as I like you, I'm on shift. You going to order something or should I go serve paying customers?"
"Listen, I need a miracle. I got a ton of work and I only have one night to do it. Can you stop time for a couple days, like in Joshua?"
"Oh, sure, I'll just snap my fingers." Mary shook her head. "It's my baby-daddy who did that sort of time crap, and in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not on speaking terms with Pepe, let alone Him." The Madonna glared at Gerald, then glanced at the man sitting at the adjacent table and sighed. "But you wanted a miracle? I do have a friend with experience doing one-night jobs. Usually he lives up north, but today he's in town."
"Thanks, Mary. Where do I find him?"
In the next booth over, Saint Nicholas turned around. "I'm right behind you, young man. Just what sort of work do you need?"
Gerald explained: he had to retrofit an entire mall with hundreds of bidets and custom plumbing. "It has to be done tonight, all of it."
The old man stroked his beard. "Hmm! Well, I'm in the couriering business, my boy. I'll give you a hand, if I can, but what you need is cheap labor! I have some contractors who are quite excellent at building things on the quick, but I'm afraid they're seasonal workers and there's not many jobs up north right now. They usually come down here on the sly, so if you poke around, you should find them."
Gerald thanked Santa, bought him a plate of milk and cookies and left a nice tip for Mary. He snuck out the back and peered around the corner. His car was still there. Pepe was gone and his passenger-side window was smashed. Odd. Pepe didn't usually run off, but Gerald was relieved; one less person to placate.
He got in and started the engine. There was one place in Paramus where undocumented workers congregated to accept short-term construction gigs. He pulled out onto the highway and headed for Home Depot.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC stood outside the door to a unisex restroom, tugging at his collar to adjust a tie that didn't exist. He had already opened the mall illegally, on a Sunday; he'd be damned if the cops also caught non-union labor on the premises. He rapped on the door. "Game starts in five minutes, Gerry."
A clang, a screech, a scream and Gerald popped out of the washroom, wiping his hands down on a rag. "All done."
"Good. Get them outta here." He looked up the hallway. "gently caress."
Crisp footfalls echoed off the floor. The well-shined boots of the Paramus PD crashed down as they marched on floors power-waxed just hours earlier. Buzz winced. He heard his janitorial bills rising with every step.
"Buzz, why in God's name are you open today?" shouted a sergeant.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC cupped a hand towards Gerald. "Find another way out." He spread his arms wide, smeared a poo poo-eating grin on his face and approached the police. "Our boys in blue! Come with me, please. We'll be showing the Rain Bowl in just a few moments on the mezzanine Jumbotron, and may I offer you each a free pitcher of beer?"
Gerald ducked back into the washroom. A dozen dripping, grease-faced elves glared up at him. "Well, mister? Job's done, where's our cash?"
"I don't have it right this second—"
The elves looked at each other. "Money. Now." A pipe smacked Gerald's knee. He doubled over. Tiny hands grabbed his coat, sprawled him across the floor, dug through his pockets. They smashed his wallet open: Amex, Discover card, checkbook — nothing anyone would actually accept.
One elf hoisted his fist high, clutching a bunch of Cyclopean Fucksnake tickets. "Jackpot, boys!"
Gerald played dead until the elves departed, then gathered up the scattered shreds of his stuff. A man staggered into the room, his eyes unfocused. He slouched to the line of freshly-installed bidets and grunted in confusion. There was a zip. As Gerald left, he was rewarded with the music of piss on porcelain.
As the Rain Bowl wound down, Gerald followed Mr. Whipple into the bowels of the mall. Mr. Whipple's hand traced along freshly-installed pipes. They terminated in a large room. In this room was an enormous, enclosed cistern, encircled by catwalks. Both pipes and tank were disgustingly warm and sloshed with foul cargo.
Situated on the catwalk was a small television. It was showing football.
"One last job for you, Gerald, and then we'll be done. You're to sit right there and tell me precisely when the game ends. Not a second too early or too late, or else, schnick-schnack." Mr. Whipple made snipping motions with his fingers.
Gerald did as he was told, but in minutes he was bored. Gerald did not affirm his masculinity and physical prowess through football. He affirmed his masculinity and physical prowess through the intense consumption of alcohol while trying to tolerate the music of Cyclopean Fucksnake. He called this feat "getting wicked wasted." He and Buzz would often "get wicked wasted" after a show. It was an unspoken agreement between them that "getting wicked wasted" would be followed by another feat through which they could affirm their masculinity and physical prowess. They referred to it as "picking up chicks." They were bad at it.
Feet clattered on the catwalk. Gerald turned.
Mr. Whipple approached, carrying a burlap sack over his shoulder. The sack writhed. Mr. Whipple wagged his finger. "Now, Gerald, I said to watch the screen."
"Thirty seconds left," said Gerald. "Twenty. Ten."
"Good." Mr. Whipple flicked open his razor and sliced the sack apart. Out fell Pepe, his hands and legs bound, duct tape on his mouth. His nose was missing again; Gerald considered this a blessing when perched above a cistern half-full of urine.
Five seconds left in the football game. Mr. Whipple wound up. He was about to drown Pepe in piss, and Gerald realized the trick: Mr. Whipple was going to make a chamberpot of gold at the end of the Rain Bowl.
Gerald charged. Whipple shoved. Time seemed to slow down.
Then it stopped. Everything was frozen in place: Whipple, arms outstreched. Pepe, plummeting over the edge. The game, one second to go. The one second stretched on, and on, and on.
A red streak slid down the pipes, leapt onto the catwalk and exploded into a red-faced, red-suited man. "Like I promised, a gift for you. This should settle your debts," said Santa Claus, and handed a box to Gerald. "I must say, I'm more used to chimneys than drainpipes. Now hurry. Time doesn't like standing still." With a bow, Santa vanished back up the pipes.
Gerald opened the box. There was nothing inside. And then Gerald realized what he'd been given: an opportunity. He shoved Mr. Whipple over the edge and grabbed Pepe by the shoulders.
Time clanked back into motion. Whipple shrieked and careened into the air, toppling and tossing and turning. He splashed down in the cistern. The buzzer sounded. Thousands of men cheered as their masculinity and physical prowess were elevated by proxy. Other thousands groaned and got up to relieve themselves.
Gerald cut Pepe free and stood the leperchaun up. "Come on, buddy. We can still catch Buzz's show." And the friends walked off, enjoying the one thing worth more than gold while Whipple stood in the cistern, trapped, surrounded by a rising tide.
|# ¿ Jan 15, 2017 22:41|
|# ¿ Feb 21, 2017 10:02|
Detective Williams leaned over the rain-soaked corpse while I gave the crime-scene boys a big bill and suggested they enjoy a drink later. Williams turned her back; she made a show of peering over the body, made it clear she wasn’t watching me pay off the cops. After all, you never know who’s watching. I returned with a wallet fifty bones lighter.
“Ten minutes,” I said, without enthusiasm. No one wanted us back here, least of all ourselves. We shouldn’t be behind the police tape. In the same sense, the weatherman said it’d be clear, so it shouldn’t be raining, and Chief Bernard Black was supposed to be safe at home after a hard day covering for the mob. At this hour he should’ve been serving his wife her postprandial beating.
Instead, thanks to a respect for Truth and Justice that only President Grant can inspire, we were trespassing on a murder scene, Black was entering livor mortis, and it was goddamned pouring.
“Already looks like the same perp,” she says.
“Garrotte marks, piano wire. Guy stood behind the victim, nearly yanked his head off. Couple of stab wounds in the back, but not much blood. Heart must’ve stopped before they were made.”
I didn’t need to look; I’d already seen the deep purple bruises ringing the stiff’s neck.
She brushed mud off her coat. “Sooner we’re out of this alley the better.”
We slipped under the police tape, and I nodded at the returning crime-scene team. Williams ignored them, went to the car. It’d been five years since she’d resigned her badge and gone private, but she’d never gotten used to the so-called dirty part of the job. That’s where I came in. It was an arrangement that worked for both of us; she had cleaner hands, I got cleaner streets.
“Who called it in?” I asked the cops.
“Old lady who lives up the street. The greengrocer.”
I expressed my thanks with another few bucks and headed for the car. A thin shadow staggered out of the dark, hands in pockets. I stepped back, then relaxed, but Williams jumped out of the car, gun drawn. “Hold it!”
I motioned for her to back off and addressed my assailant. “Careful, Charlie. You’re gonna get killed one of these days.”
Charlie the Worm was built like a sapling, face and breath soured by whiskey. He stared hangdog at Williams’ gun and said, “I done seen him.”
I gently turned the conman around by the shoulder. “Why don’t you head back the tavern and let us do our job?”
Williams holstered her gun. “Tape recorder’s at the office. We’ll hear you out there.”
Charlie nodded, gazing at the police down the street. He itched a boil on his chin. “I saw you an’ the cops, detective. Rent’s coming due…”
I snorted. Charlie slept in dime-a-night flophouses; the only thing he rented was liquor. But Williams inclined her chin; that was my cue. Sighing, I fished a filthy fiver from the bottom of my pocket and flicked it at Charlie. “Get in.”
I unlocked the frosted glass door to our one-room office. On the glass, Williams & Pruner, Associates. From above, I heard the telltale bedspring creak that told us the brothel’s clientele was undeterred by rain.
Williams flicked on the sole electric light, a bare bulb hanging from a naked cord, pulled two chairs to her desk and got a reel of tape from a drawer. I poured Charlie two fingers, which he sniffed before sipping. Williams started the tape.
“I was in the saloon celebrating ‘cuz I’d just had a horse come in,” Charlie said. “But the barman don’t like me and kicked me out. I was walking, paying no mind to nobody, thinking about where to drink next, and that’s when I seen it.
“There was two men, one tall, one short but in a real nice jacket, and I thought to myself, golly, Chief Black! I just heard him on the radio, talking about how he’s gonna clean up the city. So I hurry along to get a better look, and I see the two o’ them go into that alley. I had a real bad feeling.
“Then the tall guy comes back out, and he tucks a pipe into his jacket. I hide an’ he leaves an’ I peek in the alley. There’s Chief Black lying on his back with his face broke in.” He sniffles and blows his nose on his sleeve. “That’s it.”
“You get a good look at this tall man?” Williams asked.
“Sure did. Taller’n you or me, Miz Williams.” Charlie looked at me and then at Williams. Neither of us were smiling. A drop of greasy sweat plunked into his whiskey, and he took another sip. “People like Black, or you, detectives, you’re the big fish. Guys like me, we’re the little fish. We take the leftovers after you big fish make the kill. But that means we know where the big fish are eating.”
I shoved the whole bottle of rotgut towards Charlie. “Gift from us to you, my friend.”
“Thanks, detective. I guess I didn’t really see him. Maybe from the side, that’s all.” Charlie drained his glass, tucked the whiskey into his jacket and scurried out the door.
Williams shut off the tape. “You think he actually saw anything?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe he just wanted some dough. Guys like him, they don’t see it like we do. We see an opportunity for justice, a chance to right a wrong. He sees the guy at the top of the ladder getting bumped off, and he thinks he’s about to move up a place or two.” I got my hat. “C’mon, let’s visit the grocer.”
The widow Barton lived above her vegetable shop. She showed us to the rear window in her bedroom. It overlooked the alley. I leaned out and, craning my neck, I could see the scene. The cops were finally hauling the corpse into a van.
Williams got her notepad out.
The widow fidgeted with her thick-lensed glasses as she spoke. “I was just listening to the radio, and that nice Chief Black was on with Mister Mayor. I was so glad to hear him speak. No one wants to say it, but it’s about time someone stood up to the mob and told them enough is enough. Why, just this week two gangsters were murdered. And right in this neighbourhood! It used to be so nice here, but then all those Italians moved in and now I get woken up every night by their guns and fighting.”
Williams cleared her throat. “What did you see, ma’am?”
“Oh, yes. I heard the guns, pop pop! So I go to the window to give them a piece of my mind, but I look in the alleyway and there’s no one outside. I look up and down, and there, just up near the street, I see Chief Black come in. There’s someone else in the alleyway, and I hear Chief Black shout — that’s how I knew it was him, he has such a lovely voice.”
“What did he say?”
“Oh, well, I didn’t hear that much. Maybe it was hello? It’s so noisy these days, with the automobiles. But Black was surprised to see him. It was an ambush! The man in the alley stabs Black in the chest, and Black falls right down. I called the police straightaway, and look how fast they came! They’ll catch the murderer, I’m sure of it. They’re professionals.” The widow glared at Williams. “Unlike some people.”
The widow rambled on about the good old days for another ten minutes before Williams and I managed to edge our way out the door.
We circled the neighborhood for another few hours, asking drunks and dealers what they’d seen, but even dead presidents couldn’t draw out any more witnesses. It was quarter to four when we got back to the office. We were both baggy-eyed, but we had to review the facts, as they were known, to make sure nothing slipped through.
Two witnesses, two very different accounts of the murder, both of them reliable as a lame racehorse. There was one thing both agreed on.
There was one murderer. Whether he’d guided Black into the alleyway or ambushed him there, whether he used pipe or knife, whether he struck from front or back, there was one killer.
The official modus operandi remained the garrotte, the same as a half-dozen other murders in our district. The victims varied: small-time felons, mafia made-men, bent cops. But Chief Black towered over them all; a keystone had been yanked out of the bridge that connected City Hall with the mob.
Williams looked tired beyond her years, but I knew her mind was whirring. She glanced at me. “The widow’s just a crazy old lady. But Charles worries me.” She hitched up the collar on her coat and bade me goodnight.
I knew my cue. I tucked a length of piano wire in my pocket and left via the fire escape, headed towards the tavern in which Charlie always drank. I tucked myself into the shadow of a doorway, waiting for Charlie to get kicked out. Around the corner, Williams would be shivering in the alleyway, hand on knife. Conman by conman, chief by chief, we’d clean up this city.
|# ¿ Feb 26, 2017 21:12|
Inicated by the violence.
|# ¿ Mar 1, 2017 07:28|
Inicated by the violence.
ing because it's god-damned time and I'm not backing down on this SELF FLASH RULE: Pectorals wriggling with fury.
|# ¿ Mar 1, 2017 19:07|
|# ¿ Dec 7, 2023 01:30|
Duke Guncock and the Golden Funnel (1242w)
Boos resounded in the Brolosseum as Duke Guncock, broken and bruised, crashed to the mat. Chasun, the victor, stood in the cockpit of his mech, its i-beam arms crossed over beer-barrel chest, and raised the prize to the sky: the Golden Funnel, the drink-vessel of the gods. The broletariat shouted allegiance to their new leader, acclaimed him with the sacred chant: “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
Duke stared at his hands. How had he lost? He’d charged Chasun’s mech, flown at it feet-first. Legs glowing with power, he’d bashed heels against hull. This was his special technique, a kick that punted his enemies through time. It was flawless, it was foolproof, and it had failed.
Chasun had turned aside, tossed dust in Duke’s eyes, hurled Duke down. The mech’s legs had battered him, flashing in the sun until Duke had thrown up the horns, signaling defeat.
Now Chasun raised his voice. “No longer will we toil at the yoke of Brocialism. My brobots will do the hard work. For us it will be Halo, Mario Kart, red cups overflowing — forever!”
Tradition made Duke kneel and acknowledge the new Broligarch, but Chasun, grinning, placed thumb and forefinger on Duke’s forehead. In Sharpie he traced the sign of the L.
“I can’t believe he exiled you,” said Doctor Freedom as she and Robot Lenin hauled Duke from the stage. “We’ve never cast out our opponents.”
Duke shook his head. “All that matters is winning back the Funnel. Ideas, Doctor?”
“No,” said Freedom. “But I’ve been reading about Chasun. They say his mech is invincible, but if you dig back into the archives, there’s tales of a man, with a plan.” He lived far to the south, across lands from which no bro had returned.
Duke listened as the Doctor gave him directions, and with only the hoodie on his back he departed.
Doctor Freedom watched him go. “The master… Do you think he’ll help?”
Robot Lenin nodded. “It is at moments of need that one learns who one’s friends are. Defeated armies learn their lesson.”
Exhausted, Duke tore through the thick underbrush of the Amazon. He’d been storming through sweltering jungle for days with no sign of the master. Then, a bear roared and Duke sprinted towards it. In a clearing, he found a hand-hewn log hut, barbells, and benches of stone. On one reclined a muscular man.
His feet whirled; with kicks alone, he battered the bear, cartwheeling it in midair. Spotting Duke, he punted the animal across the horizon and adjusted his pince-nez.
Duke knew him. This man was a legend of high Brociety, a master of Brozilian Jujutsu who’d defined manliness for generations. His bicep-shaped mustache flexed as he grinned. He approached with silent steps, carrying a quarterstaff.
Duke offered the highest honor: he extended both fists, and bumped them with Theodore Brosevelt.
“Duke! Have you finally decided to put away ignoble ease and live the strenuous life?”
Standing in the sweltering sun, Brosevelt listened as Duke explained his quest. Theodore’s face was a mask; his six-pack did the frowning. “This boy Chasun is mean, cruel, wicked. His physical strength and force of mind merely make him so much more objectionable. But why do you fight him, Duke?”
“For the Golden Funnel. If I take it back, my bros will make me Broligarch again.”
“You bicker over an artifact?” Theodore shook his head. “You’ve forgotten the manly way to live, Duke. Chasun is not your enemy, merely an opponent. Decency and virtue are what you need: you must master the Bro Code.”
The training was harsh. They boxed, they ran, they fought bears barehanded. Every evening, as the sun set, Duke and Brosevelt stood knee-deep in rapids, boulders on their backs, and squatted one thousand times. “This is the second rule, Duke: Never skip leg day. Before you fight Chasun, though, you must rediscover the first.” Theodore handed him gardening tools. “Till the earth; let nothing stop you.”
Grumbling, Duke furrowed a field.
One evening, a bear strode from the forest. Duke threw down his hoe and charged, but the bear sneered and ambled back into the woods. From across the camp, Brosevelt shouted, “Duke! Never interrupt your training!”
Duke went back to work, fuming. Domestic toil hardly seemed like the glorious strife Brosevelt spoke of. Already Duke was running further, jumping higher, punching harder than ever before. What more did Theodore have to teach? That evening, he asked to depart.
Brosevelt grinned. “Is surrender one of the manly virtues, Duke?”
The next night, Duke was yanking a blade through dirt while Brosevelt squatted in the river, counting. “Two-thousand-nine. Two-thousand-ten!”
Duke grimaced. He was gardening while Theodore struggled manfully through reps. Hadn’t Brosevelt said to never skip legs?
A twig snapped. A bear crept from the jungle, perched on a cliff above the river just above Brosevelt’s head. Duke watched the animal and held onto his tools, unwilling to earn another rebuke, but he saw murder in the animal’s eyes. Theodore was focused on his squats, oblivious to the danger.
The bear leapt towards Brosevelt claw-first. Duke dropped his hoe, crouched, sprang. The master looked up, brow knit, and Guncock bashed into him. The two men tumbled into the water. The bear sailed past.
Later, as they skinned the animal’s carcass, Brosevelt said, “It’s time.”
“Guncock.” Chasun, seated comfortably in the cockpit of his mech, held the Golden Funnel aloft. “Still looking for this?”
“Put away the toys, kid,” said Duke. On the sidelines sat Doctor Freedom and Robot Lenin. Duke saluted them with tattooed fists: on the left Liberté, Egalité on the right. Today was their day.
Sneering, Chasun spurred his mech forward, swung a leg made of kegs. Steel flashed in the sunlight. Clang! Duke parried the blow with his forearm, spun between the mech’s feet, leapt, punched. Fists met metal. Steel buckled, beer leaked from fresh dents in the mech’s knees.
Chasun spun and the mech’s fists lanced out. Duke rolled beneath them, punching as he passed, and the mech’s elbows sprung leaks. Duke sprang backwards and jogged in a circle as the mech’s hybrolics drained.
In the cockpit, warning lights flared. Chasun silenced them and chased Duke. Duke glanced over his shoulder, then shot his foot out and tumbled, feigning a slip. Sprawled on his back, he watched Chasun approach.
Chasun raised the mech’s leg. “Kiss your fists goodbye, Duke.” The metal foot plunged down.
“Sorry Chasun, but I don’t skip leg day. And remember—” Duke drew his heels up and handsprung feet-first at the oncoming column of kegs. “Every day is leg day!”
Metal splintered, pipes shattered. The keg-leg blew apart and Duke landed in the shadow of the brobot. It teetered.
Chasun cradled the Golden Funnel in the mech’s metal palm. “Don’t forget what you came for, Duke. Surrender! Or should I crush it?”
Duke gazed up. The cockpit was above him, the Funnel higher still. Its sacred bowl gleamed in the sun, promising power. “That’s not why I’m here.” He nodded to his friends. “They are.”
He planted a foot, pivoted, smashed his heel into the brobot’s ankle. As the mech fell, he launched himself towards the cockpit. The golden beer-bong plummeted past, tube flapping; Duke ignored it and kicked through glass. As he brought his leg down on Chasun, he roared the First Rule: “Bros before hose!”
|# ¿ Mar 5, 2017 22:43|