Friday, January 21, 2011

New Beginning 826

The call came through at 5:50 pm., Detective Harold MacCormick had just settled into the leather chair in his den to watch the news and catch the football highlights. He lifted a large bag of chips off his lap and set them, along with the beer he was holding, on the small table next to the chair.

“Hello?” he said, trying hard to mask the frustration in his voice.

“Harry, it’s Joe. Sorry to cut in on your evening, but we have a stiff in an apartment on East 5th Street,” said Joe Devlin, Harry’s desk sergeant, with genuine regret in his voice. “You need to come in right away. We are pretty sure that it’s murder.”

“Okay, Joe, I’ll head on over to the scene now,” Harry said, with quiet resignation.

“Dammit.” Harry sighed as he placed the phone back on the table. One last chip and a quick swig of beer were poor consolation prizes. He sat back in his seat for a moment, gazing longingly at the blank television screen as he ran a hand through his short, brown hair. Apart from the occasional spree of break-ins or car thefts, nothing that exciting ever happened in Harton. There was a case a couple of years ago that had made all the local papers. A bunch of teenagers had beaten a Mexican immigrant to death. But aside from that, small town boredom was the biggest risk to life here. That made it all the more frustrating that on the one evening in a long time that Harry had set aside some quiet time for himself, someone had to go and get themselves killed.

Harry brushed chip crumbs off his belly, leaving streaks of salsa across his sweat top, and pushed himself up out of the La-Z-Boy. The foot rest snapped back and he dumped beer in his lap. No time to shave or get into uniform.

Twenty minutes later, Harry's beat up Pontiac groaned to a stop outside the crime scene. He noticed the press photographers and brushed the Playboy magazine off the dash before hauling himself out of the car. His first step landed right in a moist dog turd. "Shit," Harry confirmed.

As he ambled to the building entrance, his foot scraping on the ground to try and remove the foul-smelling crap, he noticed Chet Kittern, the editor of the local rag, grinning at him. "Well, look who's here at last," Kittern mocked. "It's . . . "

Here we go, the detective thought, pulling his sweat pants up over his belly. Moved all the way from San Francisco to bumfuck nowhere for the quiet life, changed my surname, but for some reason still can't shake the handle Dirty Harry.


Opening Toneman.2.....Continuation: anon.

18 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


Harry swore as he arrived at the squalid apartment building. The place stank of weed and despair, and at least one of those stenches was bound to ruin his suit. Just great. His usual drycleaner had the nerve to close down after his second heart attack, and now Harry would have to go all the way across town, to where the family of the murdered Mexican immigrant worked.

An unexpected smile split his grim face as he entered the scene of the crime.

“One-legged black lesbian prostitute LaRonda Burkett, drowned in a bowl of chocolate pudding,” Joe informed him.

Harry rubbed his hands with genuine glee. Yes, that’d keep all the local papers busy for a while, and ought to stave off boredom in Harton for a good six months. Even better, the television was on, and the football highlights were just beginning.

--Lonie Polony


When Harry showed up at the apartment East 5th Street, he found an open door and empty rooms. No stiff. No crime scene. No Sergeant Joe. Standing in the abandoned kitchen, he had a flashback to the case of the teenaged Mexican-beaters. One of them led that Mexican out of his apartment by impersonating a cop. They never intended to kill the Mexican; they just wanted his beer and chips, and the chance to watch football on his flat screen TV.

But those killers were all in jail, Harry thought. Could they have escaped? Was it worth risking his life to catch them? Yes, Harry decided. But as Harry turned to head home Sergeant Joe stuck his head in the open apartment door.

“Harry!” Joe shouted. “The crime scene is in apartment B.”

--anon.

Evil Editor said...

P1: Tha comma shouldn't be there in sentence 1.

P3: As Joe has already identified himself as Joe, there's no need to say "said Joe..."

"You need to come in" implies to the police station. As he wants him to go to the crime scene, he would say "Better get over there."

"We are pretty sure that it’s murder." should be "We're pretty sure it’s murder." Actually, it should be "They're pretty sure..." The desk sergeant would be at the station, not at the crime scene. If he would say that at all--Obviously if they're calling in a detective, they don't think it was death of natural causes.

P4: Okay, Joe, I’ll head on over to the scene now, should be "On my way." Your characters need to talk like real people talk.

P5: "There was a case a couple of years ago that had made all the local papers." Small towns don't have lots of local papers. These days they're lucky if they have one.

If this place is so boring, why has Harry had so much trouble setting aside some quiet time?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

You know, I grew up in a small town. And I live in a small town. Gonna die in a small town, and that's probably where they'll bury me, and here's an observation I feel qualified to make:

A small town in which a bunch of teenagers beat a Mexican to death is not a boring small town.

It is not even a normal small town.

It's the Small Town On The Banks Of Hell. It's a small town you get the hell away from, as fast as you can brush the chip crumbs off your belly.

BuffySquirrel said...

I had the same thought as EE--if crime is so unusual in this town, how come this cop can't get an evening to himself? Does he moonlight as a bar tender?

There's a lot of telling in this opening. Hardly anything else, in fact. That doesn't inspire me to read on. Nor do the long dialogue tags. Nor do the info-dumps.

Try rewriting the scene to make it more dynamic. Show us that Harold is tired and looking forward to a quiet evening. Show us that the desk sergeant's regret is genuine, rather than just telling us. And once you've got a scene started, keep it going, rather than dumping backstory as soon as possible.

Adele said...

Too much mundane detail. If you cut out every detail that is not important to the plot, you may well wind up cutting this entirely and starting as Harry arrives at the crime scene.

Oh, and you have Harry knowing exactly where to go based on Joe's vague reference to 5th street. Shouldn't Joe say "221 East 5th" or "The Palace Apartments, Suite 5"? If a town is big enough to have a 5th Street it's big enough for people to need addresses.

vkw said...

I too live in a small town, was born here, we'll probably die here and actually I don't have a problem with the teenagers. But then again it all depends on perspective. Are we talking about a small town less than 50,000 or 5,000? We had a group of teenagers go on a killing spree a couple decades ago - killed a married couple and a highway trooper. But my small town in 50,000 and not 3,000.

Regardless, EE is right on about the newspaper. One would be all they have and if it is less than 20,000 then most likely it will be a weekly newspaper.

My number one problem was this story just starts out too typical. It's boring and there is no reason to read on.

Start over. Put the detective at the local high school basketball game or picking up his kid at daycare. don't info dump so much. Don't tell us it's 5:50 p.m., show us.

vkw

Anonymous said...

You want a gripping start that will compete for my attention in the bookstore. Why do you think I picked up a murder mystery? Surely not to read about the rare dull hours in a detective's week. Page 1 = your best chance to demonstrate an uncanny ability to keep your protagonist on his feet -- whenever he's not actually airborne or underwater -- and moving toward or away from something sexy and/or dangerous. Don't blow it.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

GREAT continuation!

But I too am confused. How can Harry be lacking for free time when the biggest risk in his town is boredom?

To be brutally honest with you, I found Harry somewhat unlikable. He's a cop, somebody's dead, but rather than show concern or professional interest he's moping because his evening has been ruined. The attitude would make a little more sense if he were a big city cop getting called to homicides every day, but - again - you say this is a small town where nothing ever happens. I don't want to read a mystery where the main character would rather spend his time drinking beer and watching tv instead of investigating.

If you want us to feel sorry for the guy, have him be interrupted on his way to his kid's birthday party, or during a hot date, or at 3:00am instead of 5:50 in the evening. Raise the stakes.

Anonymous said...

1] It would be a huge huge mistake to think I picked up a murder mystery to read about the DULL hours of the detective's life.

2] If the cop wasn't keen to investigate murders he wouldn't have that job. He'd be clerking at the precinct or checking serial numbers at hock shops or directing traffic.

Chicory said...

When I started reading, I assumed the detective was a PI. I didn't figure out that he was a police detective until the call from Joe in paragraph three. That might just be because I mostly read cozy mysteries, though. None of the other minions seem to have a problem figuring out your hero is with the police.

Jo-Ann said...

Like the other commenters, I was wondering what else Harry did with his evenings, given that a quiet one in front of the box seemed to be such a rare treat. Open with that, perhaps?

A bored MC makes for a bored reader -not something you want for paragraph 1, page 1.

Think of the opening as a first date - you want to be seen as hot/ edgy/ fun/ exciting... the real you can emerge once you've moved in together.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Vkw, I was talking more like a population of less than 500. Or rather less than 400. I'd call 50,000 a big town. Got nothing against the big town. Still hayseed enough to see good things in the big town.

But this raises a good point: small town is a vague (not to say subjective) term. The whole excerpt suffers from a lack of audience awareness. I think this writer is just starting out. Still working on those first million words. S/he needs to practice a bit more.

D Jason Cooper said...

If the town is small and boring, why does it have a detective at all? Usually ranks are adjusted to size of population and level of crime.

_*rachel*_ said...

Not too bad, but I could use less blow-by-blow description and more getting to the action.

toneman said...

I thank all of you for your comments and suggestions and hope to use them to improve my writing. I have revised my opening and would like as much feedback on it as possible.

The call came through at 6:15 pm. Detective Harold MacCormick had just settled into the leather chair in his den, hoping to catch the tail end of the news and the sports highlights. He had just returned from refereeing a grudge match with a local couple well known to the Harton, Pennsylvania police force. They were always stirring up trouble. This time around, the husband managed to get his hands on a piece, though no one is sure quite how, and had two uniforms at a standstill. That's when he was called in to try to talk some sense into this career bonehead, without getting either them or his long suffering spouse killed. Harry managed to calm him down enough to drop the gun, then it took all three of them to wrestle him to the ground.
Now all he wanted was a few quiet moments to himself, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. Harry set the freshly opened beer he was holding onto the small table next to the chair.
“Hello?” he said, trying hard to mask the frustration in his voice.
“Harry, sorry to call you out again so soon, but we have a stiff in an apartment on East 5th Street.” The voice belonged to Joe Devlin, Harry’s desk sergeant. With genuine regret in his voice Joe continued, “You need to get over there right away. We got a real mess on our hands.”
After getting the exact address from Joe, Harry said, with quiet resignation, “Okay, Joe, I'm on my way,”.
“Dammit.” Harry sighed as he placed the phone back on the table. One last quick swig of beer was a poor consolation prize. He sat back in his seat for a moment, gazing longingly at the blank television screen as he ran a hand through his short, brown hair. Harton was a small town, right around 35,000 at last count, although that changed depending on who you asked.
Despite the small population, Harton was anything but a tranquil community. There was a case a couple of years ago that had made headlines in papers from several counties and even attracted the attention of the FBI. A bunch of teenagers had beaten a Mexican immigrant to death, and several cops had been charged with covering it up and protecting those responsible. But aside from that, Harton was still a decent place to live. That made it all the more frustrating that after finally managing to get some quiet time for himself, someone had to go and get themselves killed.

Dave Fragments said...

Why don't you write the scene between Harry, the bonehead and the bonehead's wife... and then you can send him home tired and explain all the stuff about the small town. It doesn't have to be more than 500 words of him shaming the bonehead into knocking it off and the bonehead crying about how much he loves the gal and how much she aggravates him (listen to a couple court programs on TV if you want to hear all that nonsense). Then he hands if off to the two uniforms and drives home - scenic tour about the town. When he gets home and plops in his chair, beer, cheetos and cable remote, the phone rings. It's a cellphone with customized rings and he opens with something like "If your uniforms lost Bonehead again, I'm going to have their ...etc)...

And there is your protagonist in action, the town description and some more about Harry's habits. Plus the fact it is an exceptionally busy night

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I concur with Dave. Don't tell us about his day, show us.

Also, though I appreciate that you're trying to answer our questions about the size of the town, why exactly Harry's so busy, etc, you need to work those answers into the narrative rather than just info dump.

For example, instead of
"Harton was a small town, right around 35,000 at last count, although that changed depending on who you asked.
Despite the small population, Harton was anything but a tranquil community. There was a case a couple of years ago that had made headlines in papers from several counties and even attracted the attention of the FBI. A bunch of teenagers had beaten a Mexican immigrant to death, and several cops had been charged with covering it up and protecting those responsible. But aside from that, Harton was still a decent place to live.'


What about...
It never failed to amaze Harry how much trouble a small town of 35,000 could generate.
Just a couple of years ago a bunch of teenagers had beaten a Mexican immigrant to death. Then to make a bad situation worse, several officers had been charged with a cover up. They were cops Harry knew, cops he watched get crucified first by the national press, then by the FBI. All that crime and misery in a town that by most people's standards was still a decent place to live.


Though to be honest, I think this is the wrong place in your story for this revelation. If there's a scandal this big in a town this small, that's going to have serious fallout that our characters are still feeling years later. Don't explain everything up front, tease it. Make an obscure reference to the event, let us see the cops interacting with a less trusting public, see divisions in the police over who thought the officers got what they deserved versus those with an "us against the world" mentality. Make us keep reading to find out what happened.

A good example of how to do this is "The Last Coyote" by Michael Connelly. The book opens with Det. Harry Bosch placed on involuntary leave for some unspoken infraction. Throughout the book not only is he trying to solve the case, he's trying to fight his way back onto the force in the face of whatever this mysterious incident was that some people find funny, others shocking. Connelly doesn't reveal what actually happened until halfway through the book, by which time we're fully invested in Bosch and understand why he did it and what the consequences were.

Good luck!

toneman said...

Thank you, Dave and Sarah. I will keep rewriting this until I get it right, here is the latest.

Please, stop!

The voice belonged to Tammy Frenelli, and the plea was directed at her husband, Vinny. This couple was well known to the Harton, Pennsylvania police force. They were always stirring up trouble. This time around, the husband managed to get his hands on a piece, though no one is sure quite how, and was waving it in the general direction of two uniformed cops, who were in turn waving their own pieces back at him, and the whole thing was turning into one big cluster.

Moments before, Detective Harold MacCormick had been called in to try to talk some sense into this career bonehead, without getting either them or his long suffering spouse killed. Normally, Harry wouldn't handle such a thing, But Vinny and Tammy had been doing this type of thing for many years, back before Harry made detective, and he had many dealings with the two. Now he had been asked to referee this grudge match in the hopes of ending this peacefully.
“Put the gun down, Vinny.” Harry said, putting his hands up in a defensive gesture, “You don't want to do anything foolish.”
“I-I told youse that I didnint want you pigs back here.” Vinny slurred, obviously smashed.
“W-we can handle ow-er own busisness.” As he said the last part, Vinny tapped the gun against his chest for emphasis, then swung the gun out, pointing it at everyone, starting with Tammy.

At this point, the two shaky uniforms looked ready to unload their clips into Vinny, which Harry definitely didn't want, mostly because it would've meant a boatload of paperwork, and Harry hated paperwork.
“Calm down, Vinny. We're just worried about the safety of you and Tammy. We don't want to see either of you get hurt.”
“He would never hurt me, he loves me, and I love him!” Tammy said. Harry knew this to be a crock, Vinny had been using Tammy for a punching bag for years, and Tammy was always screaming that she was going to leave him. But whenever the police showed up, all of a sudden they were Romeo and Juliet; it was the same story every time.

“Yes, Tammy, I know you love each other, and we don't want anything to happen to either of you, we are concerned for your safety.” Then, he turned to Vinny. “Now, Vinny, you do love Tammy, right?”
“Of coursh I do, I loves her with all my heart” he said, again doing the gun tapping thing, and weaving unsteadily from side to side. "She just pisses me off sometimes, ya know?"

“I know, Vinny, but look what your putting her through, scaring her with this weapon, and fighting with the police. Now, you don't want anything to happen to her, right? So why don't you put the gun down, and we can forget any of this happened.”

Vinny seemed to consider this, and looked down ashamedly, then over toward Tammy, who looked back at him with pleading, tearful eyes. Then he lowered the gun to his side. Vinny wasn't that big, only six feet and around 250, but he became pretty uncontrollable when he drank. It took all three of them to wrestle him to the ground, all the while Tammy was screaming at them, “Don't hurt him, I love him!”

After they finally subdued Vinny, Harry straitened himself out while the two street cops started to take him away.
“Keep him for a few days for the gun possession and for him to dry out, then kick him loose.”
Then, turning to Tammy, he said, “Why do you put up with this?”
“Vinny's not a bad man, Harry, he just gets a little mean when he drinks, is all. He loves me, he really does.”
“I'm sure he does.” like a cat loves a mouse, Harry thought.

It was approximately 6:15 P.M. When Harry finally made it home. He quickly grabed a beer from the fridge and settled into the leather chair in his den, hoping to catch the tail end of the news and the sports highlights.