Jim Winter's been around quite a while. He's published numerous short stories, mostly featuring PI Nick Kepler. He's opinionated. His blog is full of tales of politics, e-bookery, and Cincinnati. Last week, he release his first e-book, ROAD RULES, which you can find on Amazon, Barnes and Noble annnnd that ol' Smashwords thingamabob. He asked me if he could do a guest blog, and since I'm a nice dude, the school year's just starting, and Jim always has something interesting to say, I agreed.
Plus, I kinda felt bad for Jim. He's hails from Cleveland:
There are a lot of potential heroes in Road Rules. The traditional heroes. Lt. Estevez is the grizzled veteran cop on one last case. Terri Kennedy is a senior FBI agent trying to juggle a major case with her family life. Robert Jordan is a PI with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a personal stake in the game. Then there’s the mismatched pair of feds – Vodrey and Scalzi – who show up in Savannah to bring this caper to a close, or try to.
None of these are really major protagonists. No, this story is not driven by the world-weary tarnished night, the dedicated agent of the law, or the latest take on the buddy cop duo. Instead, Road Rules focuses on – and is ultimately brought to a close by – a well-meaning idiot, a wimpy out-of-work insurance guy, and a woman trying to prove herself by retrieving a car she let thieves steal while she was in the john. Sounds more like Harold & Kumar than Elmore Leonard.
Or does it?
One of the things that makes a story work is shaking up our expectations. Our hapless trio isn’t trying to save the day. They just blunder into it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re up against criminals whose greed exceeds their intelligence. Of all the antagonists, only Loman, Julian Franco’s right hand man, shows any sign of self-discipline. Hence, he is the only character to get his own short story (“In Collections”).
But how realistic is this?
Here in Cincinnati, we had a safe-cracking team that seemed to be unstoppable. The ringleader watched CSI and gleaned enough from the show to keep from leaving fingerprints and DNA evidence. So what brought them down? The leader kept most of the loot and paid a couple of his cohorts in cigarettes. That’s a winning gambit to ensure loyalty. Plus, he had a habit of waltzing into an East End bar – one I used to frequently deliver pizza to years earlier – and brag about the jobs he pulled. Trouble for him was two District Two patrolmen also frequented that bar. It was only a matter of time before the uniforms had an amusing tale to tell the detectives at work.
You see it time and time again. Some criminals are smart enough to get away with their misdeeds, but most generally call attention to themselves in their attempts to hide their crimes. I know of one guy dealing in prescription pills who beat up a man who caught him stealing money. Guess what happened to him. Can you say “parole”?
Or let’s look at Casey Anthony, a poster child for the criminally stupid at best. Her daughter was found by accident. Yes, Casey managed to get the entire state of Florida looking for her missing daughter only to have some guy reading meters find the body by accident.
Quentin Tarantino once talked about this. He said he didn’t just want to go through the motions where the bad guys slip around the corner and run for the getaway car. The whole premise of Resevoir Dogs, he said, was that the bad guys get the loot, slip around the corner, and get knocked over smacking into an old lady who just happened to be in the way. That’s reality.
It’s also pretty funny, and no one does that kind of humor as bloodily as Tarantino.
I’m not nearly as intense as Tarantino, though I’ve done my share of trading Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown quotes over the years. But Road Rules is based on the premise that much of what happens in crime is based on luck. Whether it’s good luck or bad all depends on what happens and to whom.
Stan, Mike, and Cinnamon turn their bad luck into good, at least for a time.