Tag Archives: noir

Building a Mystery

2 Mar
~ original image from wiki commons ~

~ original image from wiki commons ~

I am no stranger to writing myself into corners. As a lifelong ‘pantser’ I frequently stop writing and wonder what the hell has happened to my narrative. Seat of the pants can still work for me, especially with short fiction. I love the weird surprises and unnatural connections that spring to mind when I’m putting together a short story. In those cases, it’s usually my readers who are wondering what the hell happened (hopefully in a good way).

The worst experiences I’ve had with this kind of work is with mysteries. I’ve dabbled in all manner of genres, and my brain was somehow designed to get a thrill out of mixing things up. But the strange constraints of mysteries and detective stories hurt my brain. And the more I write about double-crosses, red herrings, and dangerous coincidences, the more I get lost. Even straightforward tales seem to curl up and die after I run out of steam. Honestly, some of my favorite work has been abandoned too soon, just because I can’t untangle the mess I’ve made of things.

Looking back at my favorite authors offers some help. My love of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Arthur Conan Doyle have all informed me in various ways. I’ve pretty well run through their work and have moved on to Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) for a more modern turn of the screw. But I still feel like I’m doing things the hard way.

As an aside, here are some choice words that Chandler had to say about Hammett:
“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish… He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

This inspires me to simplify, tell the goddamn story, and not get caught up in being cute about it. I try, but it is a ongoing chore just keeping a lid on my weirdness. After a long distance from this kind of work, I am diving back in. I am plotting, working out the bugs, and outlining my schemes. I’ve been honing up on my “rules” of the game, and I have some fun ideas. But this is a kind of writing that I’ve never felt successful at before. I have an appetite to do the work, and yet it somehow still feels like work. That’s an unpleasant feeling.

If this focused effort doesn’t bear any fruit, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Probably drugs. Or something. Maybe take notes from both Hemingway and Hunter? Perhaps the seat of my pants has been the wrong place to drive this process from? Well, sooner or later, some kind of combination of hard work, planning, and illicit chemicals ought to shake something loose. We’ll see if it turns out to be readable.


Transmission 01

3 Mar


::transmission 01::

Bizarro Noir


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The Ukraine was every bit as insane as the last time I had to do business there. After a period of upheaval, following the Uesessarr closing its doors, it looked like it might turn into a reputable place. But there was corruption, in-fighting, and all those damn Jell-O shootings. Every night was amateur night at The Ukraine, it seemed.

I could tell there were selfies at first glance. They may have been shape-changers, but they couldn’t stop their genetic imperative to make duck face. It was a dead giveaway, but I wasn’t ready to tip my hand. The club was full of them – fifteen or sixteen of them on the dance floor – all grinding and gyrating to the music of DJ Starbucks. I resolved to be cautious.

“You’re sure that’s him?” I asked my client. She nodded her head and her shiny tiara bounced just above her lovely eyes. It was an effort to keep my gaze from wandering down the front of her leopard print jumpsuit. Bouncing, indeed. “You stay here, Pocahontas. I’ll sort out his sock drawer.”

Her totally normal, human fingers touched the sleeve of my jacket. “Be careful,” she whispered, “He’s completely coo-coo. Like, really crazy, man.”

I made my way around the room and walked right up to his table. He was decked out in an Armani Land Cruise ensemble – one of the mechwarrior versions in baby blue – and was flanked by low-rez pop star selfies. I was pretty sure one was supposed to be The Bieb, but the other was so grainy I couldn’t be sure who it might be.

“Ryan Reed, I presume?” My voice was loud enough to be heard, but still on the soft side of a shout. He flinched in surprise as he noticed me looming over his table. From the way his eyes spun in his head I could tell he was pretty high. Probably driving nascar, or indy5 – one of those sporty drugs.

Surprise turned to fake happiness as he recognized me. “Well, well, well,” he sang in a light voice, “If it isn’t Burns Crawford – the toughest cube in the State of Wichita! To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Ha, ha!”

“You have something that belongs to my client, Reed.” I wanted to make it as simple as possible – give him every reason to cooperate. I added, “The award. The medallion? Please give it to me and I’ll be on my way.”

Reed began to writhe like a sweater-vest filled with snakes. He chattered his teeth at me and nearly spilled out of his booth and under the table. The low-rez dates on either side of him moved away. I shook my head and took a step back. This was bad news. I hadn’t thought Reed was carrying anything serious.

“Oh the lovely Princess has a new pet mmmMonkey, does she?” Reed’s voice creaked and shrieked. His hands fluttered in the air as he began to straighten up. Legs tapping and head bobbing, he fanned the air around him. To most people, it looked like a funny dance move, but I knew better. “Well, maybe you’d like to dance for me? C’mon! Let’s jazzercise, mmmMonkey!”

I cursed under my breath and dodged to the side. His hands buzzing like saw blades, Reed launched over the table and almost took my head off. I had to put space between us. With one hand I batted a chair towards him and with the other I drew my gun. Reed’s jazz hands mowed through the metal chair with a shower of sparks. His laugh rose in pitch, to some evil cackle, and he lunged at me.

“Back the hell off, Reed!” I barked at him. As my Short Term 12 cleared free of my shoulder holster I lurched backwards, towards the checkered dance floor. “I don’t wanna shoot you! Damn it, stop!”

Each time Reed bobbed and jumped I dodged and his blurring jazz hands nearly cut me. I knew I couldn’t last long. My luck wouldn’t hold out forever. All around me I could hear the chatter of the damn selfies. They whinged and whined about our deadly intrusion into their vanity space. The air was filled with, “Oh em gee!” and “Eye kay arrh?” and the occasional trill of “LOL!lolollol!” I tried to bring my ST12 to bear, but Reed kept dashing closer and closer. I couldn’t catch a break. Then it hit me, and it was so stupid and simple that I laughed.

“Hey! Hey!” I yelled at the distracted selfies around me. I waved at the whirling Reed in front of me. “He has a Spirit Award! He’s got a Spirit Award! This guy, right here!”

It worked better than I hoped. Reed seemed to lose his focus for a second and made a small misstep, his lip curled in confusion. And the crowd of bopping selfies were on him like flies on yesterday’s breakfast. Perky, bouncing girls and brooding, slouched boys – each with a perpetual pout – piled into him and Reed went down to the floor. His spinning, buzzing hands sputtered and rattled to a stop, even as he thrashed and struggled to get free.

“You just had to do it the hard way,” I said with a shake of my head.

I carefully pushed through the throng of selfies and raised my gun into the air. They took no notice, until I depressed the firing stud and the report boomed through the club. My ST12 has gotten me out of plenty of jams before, but I didn’t want to have to shoot my way out of here. Even the selfies dove for cover in fear. I levelled the barrel at Reed’s face and let him gaze into its long, black tube a moment.

“Nobody likes an asshole, Reed,” I said, and I shot him. If the first shot had been a promise of doom and harm, this shot was the delivery. All of The Ukraine was silent as the report echoed from the walls.

On the floor Ryan Reed’s face twisted and roiled with emotion. The ST12 forces its victims to experience virtually every human emotion there is, all at once. Reed went from heartwarming to heartrending and back again, in seconds. I didn’t waste any time in watching what happened to him. While the crowd was still keeping its distance I bent over and pulled open the top of Reed’s blue shirt. I took the medallion from around his neck and held it up. Suspended in crystal was the glittering image of a ghost, or a bird, or something.

No one challenged me or tried to take the Spirit Award away from me as I made my way to the door. Pocahontas was nowhere in sight. Staying in there wasn’t an option, so I tucked my gun into its holster and made my way outside. My car was gone. And right there, on the grungy sidewalk, was her tiara. And perched on the tiara was a plain, white business card. The card was for a fashion bistro downtown, and had a phone number scrawled on the back. I stood, flatfooted and flummoxed.

“No client, no car, and no booze,” I muttered to myself. “Ain’t that a helluva fix.”

I decided to do something about the third problem, before I worried about anything else. Tiara and business card in hand, I made my way to the nearest bar.

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::end transmission::