Friday, August 08, 2008

New Beginning 537

The man with the rifle placed a hollow point .308-caliber cartridge in the chamber as he sat watching the hill across the lake. The two targets had been meeting every Sunday morning for the past month at the same time and place, and he did not really expect any deviation. Twenty-five thousand dollars per person was good money and he planned on this being his last hurrah, so to speak. However, he didn't understand why the Senator wanted the clothing removed from the two victims once the hit was complete. There must be a message somewhere, but he had been hired to kill not to ask questions, and he had learned that lesson a long time ago.

He closed the chamber and took aim at the spot. The sun was bright and the leaves on the Cypress tree rustled softly in the light breeze. He had been here a month tracking the subjects and he really liked this town, Austin. He especially liked the park. Perhaps when he retired he would come back and buy a house, settle down and watch all the coeds drink beer.

Maybe he'd even take some botany classes. The Senator had told him to hide by the cypress tree to get the best shot, but he didn't know a cypress from a pin oak.

The targets showed up, right on schedule. He took aim, fired, and reloaded. Taking aim again, he found that the second target was gone. Possibly he ran off after his buddy took a .308 hollow point in the middle of his head. The leaves rustled again. That's when it hit him: Cypress trees don't have leaves. They have needles.

Shit, he thought. Who the hell did I just kill, anyway?

Opening: Austexgrl.....Continuation: Mignon


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

The sun was just above the horizon when the two shots were fired, a quick succession of cracks echoing across the otherwise silent park.

He made his way quickly to the bodies, pulling on the Nitrile gloves as he did so. Once there, he made fast work of the ties, the suits, the boxers--

Hoo boy! he thought, looking at what was supposed to be an outie but was an innie. No wonder the client wanted the ex-president stripped: He was really a woman!


He watched as two crumpled to the ground. That was easy.

It took less time than usual to undress the first man, and then start on the second. This one had a much slighter build, so pulling off his shirt was easy. When he had the pressed jeans halfway off, he stopped.

Like all fresh tattoos, the one of the Senator getting banged by dolphins had a red, raised edge. The image continued beneath the clothes, but he already knew he'd seen too much.


EB said...

"The man with the rifle" isn't as strong as it could be. How about "The man chambered a hollow point .308 round into the rifle as he watched the hill across the lake." [Technical question: what's the range of this sniper rifle/how big's the lake?]

re: "message somewhere." Does that mean there's a message hidden in the clothing? Or that leaving the bodies naked is sending a message to somebody else?

But my biggest question concerns The Senator. It seems to me that somebody with a high profile position has a great deal to lose by associating with a hitman. The shooter stands to make 50 grand from popping two guys. He stands to make much more by blackmailing or revealing that a senator hired him to kill somebody. While a senator hiring somebody for dirty work is credible, doing so without an intermediary to keep his distance is not.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Interesting beginning. I'd read on for a little while though it doesn't seem to be my type of story.

The sheer number of 'had's bothered me. Not sure if there's a way to do the same thing without having to had it to death.

Evil Editor said...

It sounds more like surveillance than tracking. If he's been here a month and knows what they do every Sunday, he's mainly been keeping tabs on them. Besides, if he were tracking them, he wouldn't be sitting here expecting them to show up; he'd be certain where they are.

I assume he was originally hired just to find them, or he wouldn't have waited around a month to kill them.

Fifty grand doesn't seem like a lot to retire on. It wouldn't last more than a couple years.

writtenwyrdd said...

The writing itself is pretty clean, but the opening doesn't work for me. Try blocking out the action and you will see that it's completely illogical as a set up.

I'm not a sniper, but I've used various guns and weaponry in my time and the whole set up drove me nuts. I've also known a few fellows who were military snipers and had the benefit of hearing about the job from them. So I'm pretty confident that the flaws I see in the set up are really flaws.

First, the language sounds way too Ian Fleming with the overly detailed information about the rifle and ammunition. Second, if he is supposed to strip the bodies, he's not going to shoot them from across a distance (especially a lake!) and then rush over to take off their clothes! The purpose of being at a distance and using a sniper rifle is so that the hit is anonymous and the shooter can get away clean. It just doesn't work.

Evil Editor said...

Also, my research before chooosing the continuation showed that cypress trees do indeed have needles, not leaves.

Wes said...

I felt a need for more tension in the first paragraph. Even a pro would have some adrenalin pumping or anxiety of making a second shot before the second target escaped, or how would he get their clothes off after two loud reports in a public place or had he estmiated the range correctly so he'd know what the drop of the bullet would be. A pro would have a rangefinder which gives accurate readings to +/- 5 yards. You could add tension by having his batteries die or having him forget it, or wondering if the targets would meet at the location he had previously measured.

Benwah, a .308 is excellent for most sniping. It's what the military uses for medium range, 1,000 yards or less. I shoot in a match at 200-500 meters where the .308 is the caliber of choice. It is very accurate. A head shot is possible at 500 meters, but not at 1,000.

Author, this is really just for authenticity which you can choose to use or ignore. A hollow point would be good for a head shot, but not a body shot because hollow points tend to fragment before reaching the vitals. The chamber holds the round in the barrel. It does not move. The sniper would close the bolt or action, either is correct. I find that most authors make technical errors regarding firearms. The movie the Shooter was an exception and was very accurate except for one minor scene. A major part of Clancy's appeal is his well-research military technology.

Sarah Laurenson said...

The cypress I'm most familiar with grow in the water in Louisiana. Couldn't tell you if they have needles or leaves as they're covered in Spanish Moss. And the cypress knees don't have either.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely my kind of story, but I wasn't drawn in by the writing. The beginning felt like a bit of a laundry list.

I agree with benwah regarding the Senator, and EE on the 50 thousand and the month long wait for the kill.

Also, if your killer is retiring from the business as a success, why is he choosing a "last hurrah" that includes screwing around with the bodies. That's risky and bodies are very heavy. (not a "graceful" kill)

You've got an interesting set up here, but there are still some holes in the writing to take care of. It's nothing a little elbow grease won't cover.

Btw, nice continuation Mignon. I will take note to do my homework and avoid your wrath. ;)

Dave Fragments said...

I have cypress knees and as a result never wear shorts in public. Call it vanity if you want.

About the opening: It's flabby and it's backstory. And yet, it's got enough to make the reader want to stick around and find out what's really going on here.

We're told about the shooter being there a month. Do we care? We're told about the kinkyness of hit. Leaves a question in the reader's mind as to why naked bodies. We're told the hit's been bought by a senator which is intriguing.
We're told about his strange thoughts about retiring to Austin. What purpose does this serve? You already told us once about this being his last hurrah. I guess that is cliche enough to mean this kill is going all wrong, down the porcelain receptacle. Sneaky things those cliche's. I have to beat them off with a stick.

You see, there's things that engage the reader and things that bore or puzzle the reader. You're trying too hard.

As for the first sentence, it a man placed a .308 cartridge in the chamber, it's got to be a rifle of a certain type. Similarly, I would load a 30-06 cartridge into a rifle only. Same as 45 caliber goes into the chamber of a pistol or semi. So you actually tell the reader twice in the first sentence that the man is holding a rifle. Be careful of that type of repetition.

Think of these two sentences:
Kill them and strip them naked. That cost the senator 25K and that's what he'd get -- naked and dead men.
Those sentences embody much of what you say in that first paragraph. I'm not against lots of words, but make sure they work to advance the story.

Ask yourself, what is the purpose here? To open with a killing? To introduce the sniper? To introduce the victims? Or to introduce the plot?

Xiexie said...

I think this is a good set-up, and it does pique my interest. (Did I use pique correctly there?)

Anywho, this does feel like surveillance rather than tracking. The targets are repeating their actions and the sniper here is just watching them repeat it. If he was tracking them (esp if it was for quite some time) he could probably anticipate their moves. Surveillance is like being a security camera. It's static -- there's no real motion to it. Tracking is active -- trackers would be the ultimate stalkers.

Also, if he has this rifle to shoot them from a distance, how is he going to make his way to the bodies to undress them. Wouldn't it be easier to make this a close-range affair? And once this happens close-range rather than from and sniping/surveillance standpoint, I think that it would read more as tracking and as an active mission.

Whirlochre said...

I've come back to this several times trying to pin down what it is that I find irksome, and I think it's a sense of distance form the action and the protag — almost as if I'm reading the words through a telescopic sight.

So — it's a little cold.

But — I've come back. Mainly because of the way the final para hints at a future that may or may not happen.

writtenwyrdd said...

As Whirl says, it does intrigue, but the flaws in the logic still put me off. But I think this can be made to work. Lots of good advice. My apologies if my original post seemed like I was just dropping a load onto your work. As a rule, I try to say something positive; but this time I forgot about that important effort.

Beth said...

In addition to what everyone else said, I'm wondering why this character isn't identified. Why does he have to be "the man"? That in itself is part of the reason why this doesn't feel compelling.

none said...

Eh, what? If he's going to strip them, he'll want to be up close and personal.

Scott from Oregon said...

Ummm, shoot from far away, run run run to strip the bodies, then run away?

Is that the plan of this professional?

Hope he's wearing sneakers.

Anonymous said...

It's only 150 words. Maybe there's a reason for it to unfold this way. I'll trust the author and read on.

...dave conifer

talpianna said...

I agree with the other critiques, but I think the continuation was brilliant.

By coincidence, last night I started rereading the complete collection of Melville Davisson Post's "Uncle Abner" stories, about a formidable character in pre-Civil War Virginia who solves mysteries--generally considered the best American detective short stories since Poe.

In one story, Abner finds a gun hidden in a hollow log and deduces a murder is planned because there's a forked stick planted by the trail to hold the barrel of the gun on target. It seems that one of the points of having all that setup for the hit would be something similar.

Steve Stubbs said...

Some years ago Mafia chieftain Joseph Bonanno's son was in town promoting a movie he made about his father's life. I went to the presentation, which was at a movie theatre prior to the showing of the film. Mr. Bonanno (the son) said in real life people do have predictable habits and movements and that real life hit men do use this to plan murders. So that part is authentic, although the park is an unbelievable place for not one but two men to show on a regular basis. I get the impression the characters in this story are homosexuals.

If the character wanted to kill them and then strip them, though, he would use a short range weapon and not a sniper rifle. With one victim I would opt for a combat knife, since it is both silent and deadly. With two, however, it would make sense to use a .22 caliber revolver, since revolvers tend not to jam and can be rapidly fired twice or more without reloading.

Another possibility would be to have them prancing around in a nudist colony. That way the sniper rifle would work and there would be no need to scamper over to where they are and tediously undress them. Of course if the point of undressing them is that the senator who ordered the hit has a second hand clothing store, your author would need to take a different tack.

Evil Editor said...

It wasn't stated that the targets were men. Possibly they are the Senator's wife and her lover. Or te Senator's husband and his lover. Or the Senator's two mistresses.

Dave Fragments said...

As long as we're analyzing murder, I don't mind the assassin being away and hidden from the victims. He shoots and if something goes wrong, he isn't seen. Getting close involves being seen. The most effective repeat assassin is one that isn't seen. Just my opinion.

As for Kevin Bacon... (Who? Why?)

My Aunt who lived in New York City met the younger Bonnanno as part of her duties as a secretary to a big lawyer. So there's only 4 connections between YOURS TRULY and Steve Stubbs. You get six to reach Kevin Bacon.

Small world, ain't it.

talpianna said...

Or maybe this is just Dick Cheney's Night Out...

none said...

Read enough slush, you learn not to trust the author unless they give you reason to. Whether that's a good thing is another matter.

Steve Stubbs said...

I may have been thrown by the author's careless use of language. The sentence "Possibly he ran off after his buddy took a .308 hollow point in the middle of his head" indicates that the fellow who ran off is a man and that "his buddy" is also a man.

Evil Editor said...

Ah, you were thrown off by your belief that the entire piece was written by the author. The part in blue, known as the "continuation" isn't part of the author's work.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Dave, my mother used to play with Bonano Jr. when she was a wee bairn. Two degrees of separation from Bonano to me, three to the other dude.

And I'm staying anon for this one.

austexgrl said...

Thank you all!!..and the continuations were brilliant.
I have learned "much" as my maw used to say.

Dave Fragments said...

I won't tell you the scariest "six degree" that is lurking. Just the happy ones. This is only a bit of coincidental fun.

talpianna said...

I'm three degrees from a notorious serial killer, come to think of it.

batgirl said...

A bit late here, but at a writing workshop I heard that when writing about weapons, your safest course is to throw the word 'modified' in, so that when someone says 'hey, that weapon doesn't work that way', you can say 'but it was modified.'