Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Sample: "The Look of Murder"

I guess it's time for some more reading fun -- so how about another writing sample?

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I've been working on a series at the Creative Copy Challenge.  I hadn't planned on putting any of it here since it was a series, and I want to focus on stand-alone pieces here, and besides, I'd be done with it soon because I was planning on making it around ten episodes or so.

Well, so far it has grown to thirteen episodes long*, and it seems clear that it will go to at least twenty* before I get to the final whodunit reveal.  Since it has expanded so much, I thought I'd go ahead and post the first segment here, to give you a taste of a larger piece of my work.  If you like, you can visit the CCC to follow along with the on-going story.  This first episode was HERE and I give a link to part two* at the end of this.

The story is a retro private-eye murder mystery, and gives me a chance to have some fun with a Raymond Chandler / Dashiel Hammett type hard-boiled protagonist.  I kind of call it my "Detroit Noir" series since its set in Detroit in 1949.

Of course, because this is being done at the CCC, each episode incorporates the ten prompt words from each day.  When I do a stand-alone piece on the CCC, its fun to improvise a story out of whatever comes to mind based on the words.  But with this series, I have set up some definite plot points I want to get to, so it becomes a case of trying to work the words into that pre-conceived story line -- definitely a different way to deal with the words.

For this first episode, the prompt words were

1.         Grim
2.         Gravy
3.         Gravity
4.         Sultry
5.         Torrid
6.         Frigid
7.         Blistering
8.         White
9.         Tempest
10.       Blizzard

Thank you very much for reading!  I hope you enjoy it, and your comments are always welcome.

* 6/13/11 UPDATE:  This series is now complete, having spanned 24 episodes and over 28,000 words.  It is also now fully assembled into one place HERE.  Enjoy!


"The Look of Murder -- Part 1"

I was nearly broke with few prospects, and had my feet up on the desk, debating my options over a warm shot of cheap bourbon, when the door opened and a ritzy brunette sashayed in.  She was a sultry broad, dressed to the nines, and completely over my pay grade.  I figured she must be lost.
"Yeah? Can I help you?"  I said, pulling my feet off the desk to at least be polite.
She scowled slightly at the half-empty bottle on the desk, glanced around my office, and then turned her dark eyes to me.  "I'm looking for Vanguard Investigations.  Could you tell me where they're located, please?"
I set the glass on the desk.  "You found it."
She tucked her purse under one arm and put her other hand on her hip.  "You're Mr. Sharpe?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'm Nick Sharpe."  I stood behind the desk and offered my hand.  If this dame was looking to hire me, I wanted to show my best manners.  If the size of the rocks on her hand were any indication, then she might just be driving my gravy train.  "What can I do for you?"
She hesitated then delicately shook my hand.  "Samuel Dotson is one of our attorneys.  He suggested that I speak with you."
I gestured to the chair next to her and she sat, crossing her legs and giving me a glimpse of a silky white slip caressing a supple calf.  I tried not to stare and sat back down behind the desk. 
"Dotson's one of the few decent lawyers in Detroit," I said.   "Most of the sharks out there would rip your heart right out through your chest if they thought they could make a buck on it.  At least Dotson would ask 'please' first."  I smiled at her.  She didn't smile back.  Her face was grim, but even with a frown she was still a blistering beauty.  She turned to gaze out the window. 
I slid the bottle off the desk and tucked it into the drawer.  "I've done some work for Dotson the last couple of years," I said, trying to prod her to spill the beans.  So far she hadn't given me much to go on.
"He recommended you highly."  Her voice was soft as she looked outside.  There wasn't much to see out there besides the rusty fire escape on the rear of the dingy building across the alley.  I guessed it was a bit different than what she saw through the windows wherever she lived. 
She turned to face me again.  "I'm sorry.  I should introduce myself.  My name is Margaret Thurston.  My husband is Charles Thurston.  Have you heard of him?"
Charles Thurston?  Christ, who hadn't?  He'd taken the small auto company his father had started and turned it into a giant, thanks to a blizzard of military contracts during the war.  With the war over they were making cars again, but still churning out tanks for Uncle Sam, just in case we ended up fighting it out with Stalin and the Russians.  This doll had to be worth millions.
"Of course," I said.  "He builds cars, right?"
This made her smile.  I don't normally go all goo-gah over a swanky dame, but she was hitting me like a ton of bricks.  I felt like someone had just turned off the gravity in the room.  Maybe it was the bourbon.
Her smile quickly faded.  "Yes, Charles is president of Thurston Motors.  He's very well-known and respected in this city."  She uncrossed her legs, set her purse on the floor next to her, and leaned forward.  "Which is why I can't go to just anyone, Mr. Sharpe.  Mr. Dotson assured me that you could be...discreet."  She made it sound like she was asking me to rub out some poor schmuck or something.  For her, maybe I would.
"Of course, Mrs. Thurston.  All my clients expect discretion.  It's part of the business.  Whether I'm helping Dotson dig through the trash to keep one of his clients out of the joint, or hired by some sap to find out if his frigid wife is really having a torrid affair with the milkman, I always remain discreet."  
She nodded and leaned back in her chair.
"So what is it you'd like me to be discreet about, ma'am?" I said.  "Do you think Charles is fooling around with someone else's wife?"  I had to ask, even if I couldn't picture it.  If he wasn't coming home at night to be with her, I would have to assume he was insane.
"Oh no, Mr. Sharpe.  I assure you that I have no concerns along those lines.  Charles is much more interested in other men's money then other men's wives."
"Then how can I help you, Mrs. Thurston?"
She crossed her arms in her lap and lowered her eyes.  "Charles is missing.  I'm...  I'm afraid to imagine what may have happened."
I sat back.  "Missing?  Why not go to the police?  Especially if you have reason to think something's wrong.  The cops have better resources than I do.  Radio cars.  Teletypes.   Hundreds of flatfoots pounding the street."
"I can't risk the news coming out if I'm wrong.  It could embarrass Charles or affect his business.  But...  I have to find him.  He could be hurt.  Or worse."
She looked up to meet my eyes with hers.  They were as dark as a starless night and just as deep.  You could dive in and get lost in them and never want to be found. 
"I--," she hesitated.  "I just want you to find him, Mr. Sharpe."
Just what sort of tempest was this temptress trying to pull me into?

( HERE to read the entire 24 episodes... )

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© Copyright 2011, Christopher J. Fries

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