Saturday, April 10, 2010

Books as Time Machines for Nostalgia

Scott D. Parker

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can trigger the most powerful of memories by the merest whiff of a familiar smell, a snippet of text, a bar or two of a song, or the brief glimpse of an old object. You can’t prepare for nostalgia, nor can you prevent it’s influence. All you can do is make a choice: ignore the feeling and stay in the present or remember the event with fondness or displeasure and analyze how it changed you.

Usually, I go with the former. The other week, I reviewed a thirty-year-old KISS record, one I bought as a youth. I’d been in a KISS mood before that review and I’m still in one. As I jam to their songs on my commute, I remember my childhood, the sepia-tinged visions of my life in the 1970s. I freely wallow in nostalgia and recognize its ephemeral nature. Before I know it, I’ll be listening to something other than KISS and, before long, the feeling this music gives me will pass.

My son surprised me yesterday by asking me to go to the garage and pull down some of the toys he enjoyed when he was younger. I’m one of those dads who allows the child to determine when it’s time to retire certain toys. Last fall, we had a garage sale and my boy decided it was time to give up one of his toys that, frankly, I wasn’t ready to part with yet. It was his decision so it’s gone. Conversely, I recognize how nostalgia can wash over him, too. As I got those toys, all I did was ask him triggered the memory and made him decide to play with them again. He said he saw a picture and these toys were in the photo.

In the garage, I have a few boxes of old books I owed thirty to thirty five years ago. Mostly they are Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, paperback collections of Marvel comics, stuff like that. On top of one of the boxes sits an old paperback. It’s thirty-three years old. It’s held together by two rubber bands, one vertical, one horizontal. The spine is shorn right down the middle. You see, there were photos in the center of this book and I gazed on them for hours, the spine finally succumbing. The cover is dog-eared and there’s a distinctive fold on the front cover where I’d crease the thicker paper of the cover while I read.

The book in question: the novelization of “Star Wars.” It’s a time machine. I look at it and I’m nine again. I remember with startling clarity where I was when I read it. I read it more than once so those sunny summer days tend to blend together. I remember the crinkle of the photo pages and how they felt different than the text pages. I remember showing the photos to friends and debating not only the fictional aspect of Luke Skywalker’s universe but how the filmmakers crafted the shot.

Of all the promise of e-reading, I’ll admit that some of the nostalgia of reading a story or book will be lost. (Yes, here’s where I extol the virtues of the physical artifact that is a book.) I have the ebook version of the Star Wars novelization. When I open the file on my Palm Pilot, I don’t get the waves of nostalgia you might expect. Those who heard me write about the wonders of e-reading these past few weeks might snarkingly point out that the text is the same so what’s the big deal. They’d be right. But there is something missing.

Oddly, audiobooks, for me, are exempt from this discussion. Even though I only own the e-file, I can get nostalgia in the unlikeliest of places. As I mow the lawn, I can remember books I was listening to at certain places in the yard. It’s like walking through time when I mow each week.

Interestingly, the device become the thing from which nostalgia comes. I’ve had my Palm Pilot for seven years now and I’ve used it as a reading device for about six-and-a-half years. I remember the big deal when, for a vacation, I only took the Palm. It was liberating. Now, looking at the Palm, I remember that vacation and the ones subsequent. Nostalgia now comes from the device. Thing is, I don’t remember just books with the Palm. I remember games played and books listened to. Weird.

I picked up the iPad at the Apple store this week. First thing I did was go to the iBook app and play around with it. The thing’s dang cool, I’ll admit. I can easily see myself with one, reading until all hours of the night just like I do with books. While the reading experience will change and the added value of e-reading increases, nostalgia will likely be harder to come by with digital reading. As space-aged as e-readers are, they lose their time capsule quality to some degree. That’s something books will always have over e-reading.

My bookshelves are filled with time machines. I look at a book and I’m sent to that time and place where I read it. There is, however, the ultimate time machine for me. It’s a novel I was reading during the days just prior to and after my son’s birth. His birth announcement is a funny one with him propped up on my lap, my glasses over his face, and him “reading” that particular novel.

I never finished that book. My bookmark is still in place, where I put it one night. Perhaps I needed to feed my son, perhaps I merely fell asleep on the couch. I don’t know. But I’ll never finish that novel. To do so would strip away the precious memory that book has for me. Time, in the form of that book, has stopped for me. As my son grows and leaves home, I’ll treasure that book like few other things.

That’s what’s missing from digital reading. And, yet, I move to it more and more, knowing full well I’m leaving behind a certain part of reading. Some days, I wonder why.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Free The Mangel One

A few words from your regular Friday Host, Russel D McLean (this week's post contains some very strong language, so send the kiddies out the room)

A few years ago, I crossed the border to England, ostensibly on some gig that had to with me writing. Now, I have some skills in life, but map reading ain't one of them. Suddenly I found myself completely and totally off the map, and I noticed something very strange - all road signs pointed to one place, a town called Mangel. Only on some of the signs, some chancer had spray painted, "shit hol" in great big, wobbly letters. This particular grafitti only worsened as I got closer to this mysterious town, hoping they might have a tourist information or at least a friendly pub where I could find a way back onto the main roads.

I wound up standing outside a pub called The Paul Pry. Some big fellow was on the door, so I asked if he knew how to get out of Mangel. He just looked at me like I was insane. I told him I had to get out of here because I was already late for meeting the bloody talented writer Charlie Williams, chronicler of some of the funniest, foulest and smartest British noir ever published. The bouncer - his name was Royston Blake - told me that if I did meet Williams, I was to "bash his swede in" for "saying he made me up."

I never did meet Williams that trip, but I was always haunted by the words of that doorman. And then, when the invitation came through to Free The Mangel One* on facebook, I knew something serious was happenning. Even more so when I got an email from one Royston Blake, telling me if I didn't give him a voice on this blog and get folks to sign up to the Free The Mangel One group then he'd be "sending a few of them computer mails" to some important publishing types to tell them about what really happened in the Pry that evening. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Doing Some Damage for Mangel, Mr Royston Blake:

I am Royston Blake, hardest pound-for-pound doorman in the Mangel area (currently out of a job, though), all-round community pillar and fictional character, if you’ll believe certain cunts. Personally I choose not to. I mean, what would you think if some wanker comes up to you and says ‘Oi, mate, you ain’t real. You’re just a pretend person thought up by Charlie Williams so he can get you to tell stories for him and make him rich and famous.’ Serious, what would you do if you heard that? You’d have a chuckle, wouldn’t you? You’d laugh long and hard and then give the bloke a smack for being cheeky. That’s what I did anyhow, leaving him out cold on the deck and possibly sporting a bust cheekbone, unless he was like that already. Then I went away and got on with my day-to-day affairs, going down the arcade and popping into the bookies and sinking a few down the Paul Pry and ending up here at the library, where they let you on the computers all day if you’re claiming dole.

But all the while it stayed with me, the thought that I might not be a proper person. In the Paul Pry I went to the bog and looked down at my tadger, asking myself if this was a real tadger I saw before me or a fictional one? Course it’s fucking real, I replied. Look - piss is coming out of it and everything, you daft twat. Then I did myself up and caught a bit in the zip and nigh on put me swede through the wall, so chronic was the fucking pain. But was that pain real?

‘What I say is this,’ Nathan was saying, pouring me another. I was back out by the bar now and I’d just asked him if he’d ever posed himself the "am I a fictional character?" question. ‘A heart that speaks is a heart that beats.’ He winked and put the full pint of lager in front of me.

‘Fuck sake, Nathe,’ I said, after thinking about it for a couple of minutes, ‘just tell it straight, will yer? I fuckin’ hate riddles.’ Straight away I set to work downing my pint in one. I wasn’t even thirsty, just wanting to avoid Nathan’s glare that I could feel on me just then, me having spoke out of turn. And I didn’t wait for his answer neither, going straight out into the sunlight and telling myself aye, of course I ain’t a fictional fucking wossname. Did I not just offend Nathan? Did I not spray piss out of my cock? And did that cock not hurt like Billy-O when I caught it in me fucking zip?

I was in the library when the next bit of shite hit the fan. It was the Writer AKA Charlie Williams AKA him who is meant to have made me up, which is bollocks. He’d sent me one of them computer letter wossnames, and in it he said we got a fucking problem, Royston. The publisher feller ain’t gonna print our fourth book, known as Wrongun. He reckons too many cunts failed to buy the last couple, meaning it ain’t worth shelling out for the new one even though it is fucking brilliant.

A bit later, after I’d put me fist through the computer and they’d called the coppers and I’d told em all to fuck off and walked the streets for a while, Nathan’s riddle came back to me. I understood what he meant now, I think. If I could tell my stories, and folks listened, I’d be real. The blood would pump through my ticker and the wind through my lungs, and out my arse. But if no cunt was listening, or they shut my stories down, I’d be a shadow.

I walked around town for a couple of hours, thinking about that and despairing. Then I went home. Then I went out again and got wasted down the Pry. Life goes on. Don’t it?

*A fourth book following Royston Blake and his misadventures in Mangel (to find out what I thought of the third book, go here) is being touted, and to prove there's an audience, Blakey wants to get as many followers as possible to show their support for the publication of Wrongun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


by Dave White

Sorry, I'm about 7 hours late posting my latest Do Some Damage entry... but I have good reason.

See, some things are clicking writing wise, and when that happens, I kind of drift off an forget some of my responsibilities.

I'm about fifty pages into my fourth book and also putting the finishing touches on the revisions of my third book. So my brain is all over the place.

Part of me is wondering about the layout of Glen Ridge, NJ and how certain emergency personnel respond to things.

The other part of me is worrying if I'm telling not showing, and do I need to revise that sentence?

And my brain is funny, it doesn't focus on one of those items until the situation revolves goes back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. It keeps me from focusing on things I should be doing (like cleaning my room or making coffee or writing my Do Some Damage post.)

But once I figure out the answer... it's like a muscle releasing after being tensed for a long time. Everything relaxes, I'm easy going... and then I remember all the stuff I have to do...

(Plus, seeing Weddle tweet this morning reminded me I had to write a post...)

Good thing I'm on Spring Break or you would have seen this post at about 4 in the afternoon.

Anyone else have their writing or reading experiences completely distract them?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

East Coast - 2

John McFetridge

Here is part two of my pilot for a proposed TV series, East Coast. For part one please go here.

Last week was the teaser, the little bit before the opening credits, and now we’re back from the commercial break with Act I. (Anyone remember those old Quinn Martin Productions like FBI that introduced each section by Act number?)

Moncton, New Brunswick

Sgt. Jerry Northup was standing in font of the dresser in his bedroom putting on his funeral tie. He’d worn it less than a month ago but that funeral was for the eighty-seven year old father of a friend, next door neighbour really, Ray, nice enough guy he barely knew. When Jerry and his wife bought the house in the sub-division five years ago, Jerry told Isobel it would be nice and anonymous, now that he was a detective and didn’t wear a uniform none of the neighbours would ever have to know he was a cop and she’d rolled her eyes at him and he’d said, what? But while they were unloading the truck Ray comes over with a beer in each hand and says, so, can you fix speeding tickets?

Now it was Henry Bergeron’s funeral and Isobel was coming out of the shower wrapped in a towel saying, “His blood alcohol was three times the limit,” and Jerry said he’d be shocked if it was any less than that.

She said, “Kovalchuck said he won’t put that in his report.”

“The least he can do after all those times Henry took care of him.”

Isobel said, “Will it make any difference if he puts it down as ‘Fell asleep while driving,’ as if anyone will think he was sober.”

“He was sober, he had a couple of beers, that’s all.”

“He had a bottle of scotch in his lap.”

Jerry pulled his tie tight, perfect knot, and said, hey, “We’re lucky he didn’t have a cheerleader in his lap.”

Isobel came over to the dresser wearing a nice black dress and looked at Jerry in the mirror and said, “He was a good guy wasn’t he,” and Jerry said, yeah, he was, “Taught me everything I know.”

“Honey, you passed him by years ago, you’ve been teaching him, carrying him. He was the boss in name only and now I guess you’ll really be the boss.”

That surprised him and he said, run the whole narcoics division, “Not at my rank, they’ll bring someone in from out of province,” and Isobel said, you sure, and Jerry said, yeah, “They’ll have to, unless they promote me,” and she stared right at him and he said, “Not gonna happen.”

She said she didn’t care one way or the other, but, “You deserve it,” and Jerry said, “What did Clint Eastwood say? Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” and she said, “Now do we have to watch Unforgiven again,” and he said, “Have to?”

He was pulling on his suit jacket then, his funeral suit jacket, and Isobel said, “Did you at least get something at your big cross-border drunk,” and Jerry said, yeah, “Edwards got something from a DEA guy.”

“Tell her we can treat it anonymously at the clinic.”

“Nurse Isobel, thanks. Did I ever mention a guy, Mickey Goodwin, busted him selling pot in the playground?”

“He have an older sister Melody, I went to high school with her.”

“I think that’s his mother, was she pregnant then?”

“She dropped out, junior year, could’ve been.”

“Mickey’s trying to move up. We knew he was moving a little coke and some meth but we thought he was buying it from the bikers in Montreal.”

“And he’s not?”

“Well, he is, but here’s the thing, this DEA guy tells Edwards he’s seen little Mickey Goodwin down in Maine, buying from some guys they’re watching but he wasn’t buying enough to make it worthwhile for them to go after him.”

“So now you’re little information exchange is working and you can pick him up.”

“Better than that, we can threaten to tell the Saints in Montreal what he’s doing, scare the shit out of him, get him to work for us and go after bigger fish.”

Isobel looked at her husband and said, wow, “I don’t know if that’s clever or slimy,” and Jerry said, hey, “Always remember, we’re the good guys.”

And walking out of the bedroom Isobel said, “You’ll have to remind me once in a while.”


Portland, Maine

They watched the guy park his beat up minivan in the lot of the Union Station mall and Michaels took a picture of the license plate and said, “Canada’s Ocean Playground, that’s your boy all right,” and Dawson didn’t say anything, watching the guy walk away from the Dollar Store and out through the lot towards the street.

Michaels put the camera down and drove slow, a row over, saying, “This must be some hot cop, got you all the way out here on your day off,” watching the guy walk out to St. John Street and Dawson picked up the camera saying, “This is international relations, we’re talking about co-operating with law enforcement over the world’s longest unprotected border.”

Michaels said, sure we are, “I just hope this one’s not married,” and Dawson said, “I had no idea that chick was married,” and they both watched the guy cross St. John Street and go into Spot Shot Billiards, between a Thai restaurant and the Al-Amin Halaal Market and Dawson said, “Okay, that’s all we need.”

“You don’t want to get him coming out, you’ve got nothing? You can’t get a warrant with that, it’s not even enough to get a wire tap approved.”

“No, I don’t want to spook the local boys, we’re still looking at following them up the chain to Boston, this isn’t really for anything official.”

“Is it for something could come back and bite us in the ass?”

Dawson said, “Don’t you worry about it, you were never here,” and Michaels said, you got that right.


Moncton, New Brunswick

The Loose Moose was packed, every cop in the city, even the ones on duty, and a lot of their friends.

Alphonse Turcotte was standing on the little stage bythe karaoke machine with the microphone in his hand, saying, he was the boss, sure, “But he knew every single man and woman who worked for him, knew every one of them like a friend,” and people murmered agreement and nodded and Alphonse said, “because each and every one of you bailed him out of some kind of trouble,” and every body laughed.

Jerry and Isobel were sitting at a table by off to the side by themselves. It’d been a good funeral, but everybody was anxious to get here, the place where Henry spent so much time and where they could say what they really felt about him, how much they liked him, warts and all.

Alphonse was looking around the room saying, “Who wasn’t working an overnight, didn’t get a call from some woman, come and get your boss?”

Everybody laughed and Alphonse pointed at Jerry and said, “Remember Northup over there, drove around this whole province, an entire eight hour shift looking for the rest stop Henry called him from, some chick kicked him out of the car? Oh yeah, we all went through that shit with Henry.”

Oh yeah, everybody in the bar with their own memories.

“And the truth is,” Alphonse said, “we’ll never get that lucky again. The next boss we get will expect us to do some work,” and the place filled with people saying, no way, and, work, what’s that, and I’d like to see him try.

And Isobel looked at Jerry and said, “Are you going to be a tough boss,” and Jerry said, “I told you, I’m only going to be the boss until they send in someone else,” but he could see Isobel didn’t believe him and he wasn’t sure how she felt about that, maybe she wanted him to be a little more ambitious.

He said, anyway, “Come on, let’s hope not. Imagine if we both have to work overtime? All that pressure, the kids and everything. No, I like it where I am,” and she said, “Where you were, and there’s no going back.”

Jerry looked at her, thinking about it for the first time, that he might actually get the promotion and not knowing how he’d really feel about it. Could be good, but it would be a big change.

And then before he could say anything, Evelyn Edwards was at their table saying, “Sgt. Northup, Mrs. Northup,” and Isobel said, “Doesn’t everyone call you Jerry,” and he said, “See, I’ll never be a real boss.”

Then he looked at Edwards and she said, “So, um, yeah, I heard from Agent Dawson, the DEA guy, and I guess our guy’s on his way, he should be at the border in a few hours.”

“Then I guess you better get down there and meet him.”


“Yeah, you and Leonetti, go tell him.”

Edwards said, yes, sir and rushed off looking very happy about it and Isobel looked at Jerrry and said, “You’re going to like being the boss,” and he said, “I’m not going to be the boss.”

And they looked at each other and neither one was sure.


Calais, Maine – St. Stephen, New Brunswick Border Crossing

Leonetti was sitting behind the wheel of the unmarked car, an Impala of all things, watching a line of cars making their way across the Milltown International Bridge over the St. Croix river.

In the passenger seat Edwards was talking quietly on the phone, saying, “Bangor’s not half way, it’s not even halfway to the border and then I have to drive all the way from Moncton.”

The Impala was parked across the street from the customs offices in the parking lot of a Tim Hortons and, of course, Leonetti and Edwards were drining coffee and eating Timbits.

Leonetti said, “Is that him,” and Edwards looked up at the line of cars and then said into phone, “Dodge Caravan, sort of brown?” Then she looked at Leonetti and said, “Yeah, that’s him.”

“Looks like he’s getting into the longest line.”

Edwards was still one the phone with the DEA agent who’d put the GPS on the minivan in Portland, making her date to get together with him.

Leonetti said, “I wonder if he has a favourite customs agent these days,” and looked sideways at Edwards who was turned away from him now and cupping the phone by her ear, whispering, and he leaned close to her and said, “He’s got some money these days.”

She glanced at him and then whispered into the phone and then ended the call.

“Okay, here he comes, that was quick.”

Leonetti said, yeah, “We’ll look into the customs officer later,” and then followed Mickey Goodwin in his sort of brown Dodge Caravan through St. Stephens and onto Highway One towards Saint John and about fifteen minutes later pulled up beside him and Edwards showed him her badge.

Mickey pulled off on the shoulder of the two lane highway and said, “I wasn’t speeding,” and Edwards said, “I don’t care, pull into that motel right there,” and Mickey said, “What for,” and she said, “Just do it.”

Then she said to Leonetti, “What a moron,” and he said, “Who did you expect to be trying to pull an end run around the Saints, bringing dope into their territory.”

Forty-five minutes later Leonetti opened the door of room #7 and let Sgt. Northup in, saying, “Hey boss.”

Jerry looked at him sideways and then saw Edwards whisper into her phone an dend the call.

Mickey was sitting on the end of the bed watching TV and Jerry walked over saying, “Look at you, you’re all grown up,” and turned it off.

Mickey said, hey, “I was watching that,” and Jerry punched him in the face, knocking him off the bed, blood pouring out of his mouth. Then while Mickey was rolling around on the floor, Jerry walked to the bathroom and came back with a towel and dropped it on him.

Edwards hadn’t moved, sitting there with her mouth open, shocked, looking from Leonetti to Jerry and back.

Then Jerry said, “So, Mickey, on your way back from Portland with a kilo of coke you bought off a guy named Glen in a pool hall. Did you know he bought it off a guy named Hector in Malden, Massachusetts?”

Mickey was still on the floor, holding the blood-soaked towel to his face and Jerry kicked him in the stomach and said, “Well, did you?”

Mickey moved further away, a few inches anywhere, there wan’t much room in the motel room and Jerry said, “No you don’t know shit, do you. Maybe we should rip your van apart, that might be fun. You didn’t just leave the coke on the seat, did you?”

Mickey said, no, but he didn’t say where it was.

Jerry said, So, “We could pick you up for that,” and he looked at Edwards and said, “What would he get for that?”

“Posession with intent to traffic, looking at five to ten at least.”

“Ten years, wow, punk like you, Mickey, you’ll come out wearing a dress, thinking you are a chick you’ll have been screwed so many times. I wonder how long it’ll take you to like it?”

Mickey said, screw you, but his heart really wasn’t in it.

Jerry said, “Some of those guys, those lifers, they might knock your crooked teeth out, make it easier for you to go down on them,” and Mickey just sat on the floor, leaning back against the bed holding the towel to his face.

“Or, you know what,” Jerry said, looking at Edwards and Leonetti and then back at Mickey, “maybe we’ll wait till you drive back up to Montreal and buy another kilo there, bust you with that one.” Then Jerry looked at Edwards and said, “Would he get any more time for that one,” and she said, maybe, “If he still had them both.”

“Or, if we didn’t want to waste time on a trial, maybe we could just tell the guys in Montreal that they aren’t your only supplier. They don’t care about that, do they, they aren’t territorial, are they? They don’t think they’re exclusive, do they?”

Mickey said, “You got nothing, you got no proof,” and Jerry crouched low and looked him right in the eye and said, “Mickey, we’ve got video, we could put it on YouTube.”

“Screw you.”

“There’s no way out for you.”

“Screw you, I’ll do the five.”

“Yeah, it’ll feel like fifty, getting your ass pounded everyday. You get out, you won’t have anything, you’ll be broke, what’ll you do? No one’ll sell you anything, you tried to double-cross the Saints and you got caught way too easy.”

“So why don’t you just bust me?”

“Not good enough, you got yourself in too deep. There’s only one way out now.”

“What’s that?”

“Somebody bigger than you.”

Mickey looked around the room, saw Edwards and Leonetti looking at him like they felt sorry for him and he said, “No way.”

“We'll even front you a little money. Tell the boys in Montreal you can buy four, five kilos a month. Hell, you’ve been moving two, it’s not such a big stretch.”

“I’m not a rat.”

“You get a little higher up in the organization, you feed us enough info and you’ll walk. You might even get enough money to go out to Alberta, get yourself set up with a real job.”

Mickey looked interested, probably more about going to Alberta than a real job and Jerry said, “Or you could head out west and try dealing coke there, we don’t care.”

Mickey said, “No way, there’s no way,” and Jerry said, yeah there is, “It’s the only way.”

Then Jerry stood up and looked at Edwards and then Leonetti and said, “I don’t know, he’s probably too stupid to pull this off, let’s just let the boys in Montreal know what he’s doing, let them take care of him.”

Leonetti said, “Cheaper for us,” and Edwards said, “Would get rid of a dealer in our territory.”

Jerry looked at Mickey and said, “You think you could pull this off?”

“I set these guys up, you’re just going to screw it up anyway.”

“Then what do you care? You’re just going to try and double-cross us, aren’t you?”

Mickey said, no way, and Jerry started walking to towards the door, saying, “Oh yeah, this has success written all over it.” He stopped and looked back at the motel room, Leonetti and Edwards looking so young and eager and Mickey Goodwin sitting on the floor holding the bloody towel to his face and Jerry said, “Okay, set him up, you two are going to run him,” and walked out the door.

(Commercial break)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

DSD Flash Challenge: Round Up

Okay, some great stories were posted today to tie into the DSD recession challenge.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but check these guys out.

DSD Flash Challenge

By Jay Stringer

The Weddle already did a good job of introducing the challenge, and kicked it off with a great story. Click back to yesterday and read it, right now, okay?


Okay. Here's my story, and check back later in the day for others and for a round-up that gives links to other people taking part. If you've got one up on your blog, leave a link in the comments and we'll point people your way.

I think I'll return to this story over the next couple of weeks for a little 'behind the scenes' feature, showing the genesis, the original ending and the thought process behind the editing decisions. Might be fun.

The Perfect Crime

The thing about committing the perfect crime?

You need perfect criminals. And Dave just didn’t know any. Sure, he knew the guys who would try and sell him DVD’s and leather jackets down the pub on a Friday, but that didn’t seem to work.

Though, if you believed the ads at the cinema, those guys were funding terrorism.

But Dave had the perfect crime, or as close as he’d ever get, and he knew he wasn’t a criminal. Not really. He just needed some help, that’s all. Did that sound convincing? It should do, he’d practiced it enough.

It had come to him slowly. The idea itself was simple enough, but admitting that he wanted to do it was the hard part. He worked in the cashing office in the bookstore; it had been a cushy job, thirty-five hours a week, until people stopped buying books. Now he was lucky to get fifteen hours, with some really stupid shift patterns, and something needed to be done.

Just a break, one little moment when the world looked the other way. Not a lot to ask, right?

It went like this; Dave counted all the daily takings and noted it down on the spreadsheet. One of the managers or supervisors double counted it and then it was sealed in the Securitas bag for collection.

The Securitas guard would pick up twice a week and do a cash drop at the same time. Once on a Tuesday, once on a Friday. Here it got interesting. The guard would scan a barcode on the moneybag and place it in a sealed box. He didn’t count it- it wasn’t his job.

So, the way Dave saw it, who was to know if the contents of the bag changed in between the manager sealing it and the guard picking it up?

The bag would go into the central counting place, the bank, wherever, and at some point it would be opened and they’d know the money was gone. Everyone would still have done their job, nobody would get in trouble. What would happen?

Only one way to find out.

Again, perfect crime, perfect criminal, bloke down the pub.

There was Jelly, he seemed to know how things worked, but he was always looking for an angle. You couldn’t trust Jelly. And Bobby was fine, except when he got high. No, not bobby.

Just one answer. Like a bookshelf or a pot noodle, if in doubt do it yourself.

A simple plan. The best kind. Swap the bags out for new ones, weighted down with copper coins, twenty quid in one and two pence’s. Then head back out with the money, and head to a bar to meet up with friends and get loudly and publicly drunk. Even better, arrange to meet people from work. Best way to avoid suspicion, get drunk with the bastards. Sit there with the money, feeling good, feeling free.

Dave came up with an extra touch on the day, asking everyone at work if they’d seen his keys. Saying he couldn’t find them. That was going to be important.

So, eight PM. The store long closed. Dave sat in the cash office, in the dark, alone. The only sounds were the clock on the wall and the air conditioning above his head. These sounds, noises that he’d heard every day for years, suddenly seemed vitally important. They were the only thing to distract from the pounding of his heart or the blood in his ears.

He lifted the bags out of the safe and felt the weight.

Seven grand.

Seven grand.

Was it worth putting it all on the line for seven grand? There was a time when he’d have said it was more hassle than his job was worth. There was a time when he would have shut the safe again and walked away. But that time had gone.

Seven grand.

Fuck it.

He put the dummy bags into the safe, tucked the real ones into the pockets of his body warmer, which would be covered by his overcoat, and left the cash office. He didn’t stop and think as he locked the door. On the way out, he dropped his keys on the floor in the stockroom. Right where they’d be found, right where people would remember he must have dropped them, before saying he’d lost his keys. He didn’t offer up any prayers or apologies. He just moved. Fast.

Out into the rain that was starting, people laughing in the distance. The night starting for real, cigarette smoke on the air and the music blaring from the trendy bars. As he rounded the corner he saw two uniformed cops. They were stood either side of the alleyway he needed to walk down, within sight of his parked car.

They watched him as he approached. He smiled at them, closed his eyes and kept walking.


Just this one break, please?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hollow Pursuits

By Steve Weddle

Jay had the bright idea of running a flash challenge this week -- focusing on crime in the recession.

Seems like a great idea since the economy is poo, etc, etc.

Here's what Jay wrote earlier in the year ->

So this here is a DSD flash fiction challenge. And I’m giving you plenty of run up time on this; lets call the deadline Tuesday, April 6th. Just after we’ve all enjoyed the Easter weekend, that seems somehow fitting.
Let’s have your recession stories. The usual flash rules apply, length no more than 800-900 words (I’m looking at you, Weddle). Write about anything and everything, as long as it’s tied into the theme.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the challenge. According to Scott's most recent post, the economy is fine. In fact, something like 93 million people lined up for the iPad this weekend. In case you're unfamiliar with the technology, you can use this box to read books. And for only $500. (Price of book not included.)

So I figured the whole bad economy flash thing was dead. Turns out, Jay still plans to go through with it. I guess he had the invitations sent and the contract with the caterer signed.

So here's my shot in this week's alleged-recession flash challenge. Enjoyz. And if you're in, link your entry up in the DSD comments tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Hollow Pursuits

He was fifth in line at the store in Bethesda. Too far back for the newspaper and TV people to care. The “I Speak 1337” baseball cap and Spider Jerusalem hoodie might have been overkill, but he wanted to be sure he could fit in. And the hoodie was good for hiding what he needed in the big pocket. He took his flask out, had a swig of whiskey, took off his cap and set it aside.
Took his phone out of his pocket. Snapped some more pictures of people in line. Sent them to Jay.

He saw himself in the reflection of the storefront window. Hat-hair sweated down. Plastic, gas station sunglasses hiding his slimy, blurry eyes. Larry Sparrow looked tired. Like that bum he’d given his sandwich to a half-hour ago. His roommate Jay had wrapped him up an egg biscuit, but he’d grabbed a sausage one. One meant for one of the other guys. Since he’d given up meat, there really wasn’t much he could do about it, except be hungry.

A bright voice behind him. “So you’re here for this Jesus tablet, too?”
He turned to see a woman holding a voice recorder, pen behind her ear. Dirty blonde. Green-lensed sunglasses down on her nose. A nice smirky, smile saying maybe she was too good for this. Or thought she was.
He went into his spiel. “Very excited. This is really going to revolutionize everything.”
“What do you plan to use it for?”
Larry did the snorky little nose laugh he’d practiced. “What don’t I plan to use if for. Movies. Music. Reading. Email. It’s like the mother ship is calling me home.”
He wasn’t sure about that last line, but Jay had said throw it in when he could. Added to the act.
“Thanks,” she said. “Your name and where you’re from?”
He told her just like he’d told everyone. “Reginald Barclay. The third. From Endicott, Wisconsin.”
She popped her face back a little in surprise. “Long way from home?”
“Family,” he said, which seemed a good enough answer and hoping she didn’t hear his stomach growl.
“Oh, well OK. Thank you for your time,” she said, walking down the line. Then she stopped, turned back to him. “I hope you get your money’s worth.”
He sent a “thanks” her way and went back to taking pictures and sending them along. He took a shot of her, but clicked “Save” instead.

The store would open in another 30 minutes. His phone made the “Exterminate! Exterminate!” sound to let him know that Jay was sending him a message. He pulled out his phone, read the message, then called, thinking about the reporter he’d just talked to.
How her nose was a little crinkly. Little flecks of gold in her green eyes.
“How many more you gonna get?” Jay asked.
Larry thought about the past three years. The cons they’d pulled. The close calls they’d had. The fifty times in the last week he’d applied for real jobs.
“I’ve pretty much got everyone around here. The program working OK?”
“Yeah, man. Just like they said. Gotta love facial recognition.”
“Welcome to the future,” Larry said, looking around at the people in line. “And the team? Finding the addresses? Houses all cleared?”
“Yeah,” Jay laughed. “We were right. All these geeks in line for that tablet thing. Empty houses full of gadgets. Best idea you ever had.”
Larry was watching the reporter make her way down the line, talking to people and moving on.
“You OK with that?” Jay asked.
“What? Sorry. What was that?”
“Just head on out and give Terry the phone. He’ll get the rest of the stuff for later. He’s at the sandwich place on the corner.”
“Yeah, no problem. Couple minutes.”

Larry left his place, walked towards the back of the line. Pretended to talk on the phone, taking and sending pictures while he did. He saw the reporter on her phone. She was standing off to herself, holding the phone with one hand, running her other hand through her hair. She clicked off as Larry came up behind her.

When she turned, he was a couple of feet from her, trying to think of something to say.
“Story going to be OK,” he asked her.
“Just called it in,” she said. “At least it’s done.” She looked at him, then leaned around him to look at the front of the line. “You giving up your spot?”
“Yeah. Other stuff to do, you know. I’ll come back later.”
She smiled. “You want to get something eat? You look hungry.”
He laughed. His real laugh, this time. “I do, don’t I?”
“I saw what you did for that homeless man earlier.”
“Hard to find a nice guy these days.”
“I imagine it is.” He looked down the street. “You wanna get a sandwich over there?” He nodded to the store where Terry was waiting.
“Sure,” she said. “Can we get it to go? Walk with me to the park?”
“That sounds good.”
“It’s such a nice day out,” she said.

He agreed, then pulled his phone from his pocket and found her picture. As they walked to the sandwich shop, he clicked the “Delete” button.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

No Such Thing as a Bad Dead Guy

Easter and Spring are both celebrations of renewal and resurrection, so I'd like to talk about death. Rather, I'd like to talk about the celebration of death in the form of obituaries.

I've chatted a few times here and other places recently that I've been feeling drained creatively. I haven't really wanted to write much and my reading has been dry as well. Then TV writer and former journalist David Mills died and I started reading about his life and work. I was familiar with him from his work on NYPD Blue and Homicide, but that was the extent of it. As I read the flurry of obituaries popping up after his death though, I found myself inspired by his work and his legacy. I've always been conscience of my writing legacy, write or wrong, and how I'll be remembered after I'm gone. So reading about what someone had accomplished during their life kind of kicked my as mentally and shook me out of my funk.

And if that wasn't good enough, Mills's cause of death was the same as RENT writer/composer Jonathan Larson so I went back and read up on his life and legacy which only served to further fuel my revitalization. So not only did I get this blog post out of the situation, I made some excellent progress on my Nero Wolfe contest short story, and also wrote a recession-based flash fiction story that I didn't think I'd have the mental focus to tackle.

This also has me itching to refill the rest of my tank. One of the reasons I think I've been lacking inspiration is because I haven;t been exposing myself to the things that used to feed my creativity. My writing has always been fueled by my reaction to other art. Before kids, before marriage, I used to watch movies, go to plays, go to dance recitals, look at paintings, and even dinosaur exhibits. All of it, and my reactions to it all, got socked away in my brain and mixed with the goo in my subconscious then trickled out in stories and novels for several years. But now I think I've tapped out that reserve and it's time to restock the cupboard.

So how do you all fill your tank? Even if you're not a writer, do you find it necessary in life to be exposed to art and culture?