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New short(ish) story: “SCOOP!”…

As you may recall from this post, I have recently formed a new partnership with the lads from FoulEnt, on the Niume blogging platform. I had initially supplied our page with several of my existing short stories, which were all written for Linda G Hill’s Stream of consciousness Saturday feature, but I have finally gotten around to writing an all-new story which was posted on Toileterature earlier today.

It was an interesting experience, sitting down to intentionally write an original story, with no prompt and no specific theme in mind, but nevertheless I soon took the familiar route of just making it up as I went along, with no plan at all of where it would end up, so I suppose I’m lucky it didn’t try to turn itself into a novel.

Since this blog is my primary site and only exists for my own amusement and the benefit of you, my lovely readers, I thought it only fair that I should post it here in full. 

So here is Scoop! I hope you enjoy it.

{For those of you with sensitive dispositions; there is quite a bit of strong language, so consider yourselves warned} 

Geoff

Geoff Standish stared down at the keyboard in irritation, then back up at the pristine white screen of his computer, willing his brain to come up with a new angle. His stomach rumbled loudly and looked at his watch, noticing he’d missed his break and wondering if he could sneak out before his boss returned from yet another extended, boozy lunch

He hadn’t appreciated how easy he’d had it, when he’d been chief writer on the tiny local paper at home and, until he started as junior crime correspondent on the Evening Echo, it hadn’t occurred to him how difficult it would be to make his name; now he had to compete for stories with Darren, the ambitious young reporter who ran the crime desk. 

It wasn’t that Geoff was a bad writer, exactly, but he had done a fair amount of blagging at the interview to secure this, the next step on the road to his dream job of reporting for the nationals. He knew it had been a risk, lying about his qualifications, but he had figured his resumé would be enough to convince any new employer of his suitability for the position; especially since the editor at his last paper was his ex father-in-law and Geoff had reckoned on a getting a good reference from him, even if it was just to make sure he left the paper and didn’t come back.  

Splitting up with Mandy had obviously been a factor in him changing jobs, but he managed to persuade himself that he’d finally made the move to the big time because he had outgrown the parochial little rag he’d worked for since leaving school (conveniently ignoring the fact that Mandy’s father and two brothers had promised to beat the shit out of him if he  ever spoke to her again) and, despite everyone else knowing his ex-wife had taken his job like the opportunistic bitch she was, he knew his destiny as a Pulitzer prize winning journalist was still within reach 

The trouble was, there wasn’t a lot to report on around here and he had been reduced to writing a weekly “around the courts” column, which was no more than a list of neighbourhood drunks, vandals and bored teenagers, fighting in the city centre on a Saturday night.

What he needed was a proper crime, something he could really get his teeth into.

*****

Mandy

She drained the last mouthful of cheap coffee, dropped her paper cup into the bin with an expression of distaste and glared around the empty office. Why had she taken this bloody dead end job in the first place? If she hadn’t been so keen to fuck Geoff over, she never would have accepted her father’s offer to “make a bit of extra spending money”, particularly if she’d known how much of her time it would take up.

What was even worse, that useless little turd had got himself a proper job with a big city paper, which he wouldn’t have had the guts to apply for if it hadn’t been for the family cutting him loose when they divorced last year. She didn’t know why her father hadn’t cut out the middleman and sent her  to the Echo with a glowing reference, and simply sacked her idiot ex-husband. 

Except of course, she did know; alimony. If Geoff was out of work, she wouldn’t get the money her father’s flash lawyer had managed to screw out of him in the divorce.

She was almost disappointed that he hadn’t tried to get in touch with her since they split up, if only because of the kicking her bothers would happily inflict on him if he dared come around here again…
All of a sudden Mandy became very still and for a while she appeared deep in thought.

After a minute or two, she began to smile.

*****

Darren

“Fuck!” 

Darren Blake wasn’t having a good day. 

“You bastards, I’ll sue you to fucking smithereens, you wait and see!”

He stood on the kerb, shaking his fist at the recovery vehicle as it towed his brand new Porsche away from the restaurant, the bright yellow clamp easily visible against the gleaming black paintwork.

He’d only had a quick working lunch and a couple of drinks, he couldn’t have been more than half an hour over on the parking meter, 45 minutes, tops. And when he came out, those two fucking gorillas in hi-vis jackets were winching his beloved car onto their bloody flatbed truck like it was some piece of scrap to be junked. Well, if they’d as much as scuffed the tyres, he’d have their bollocks for desk ornaments.

Darren smiled grimly, “bollocks for desk ornaments”, that was a good one, he’d have to remember that, for when he was recounting the story of this shitty day to the lads in the office…he looked at his watch;

“Shit.” Darren looked up and down the busy street, “Taxi!”

*****

Geoff had just finished the last of his court reports; a case involving a dispute over the height of a conifer hedge, a story not even the most sensationalist reporter could make interesting, when the sound of a phone ringing made him look up. It wasn’t his phone, he hardly ever got calls from outside lines this late on a Friday afternoon, so he stood up to look over his cubicle and saw a light flashing on Darren’s fancy desk console.

Should he answer it? It could be a huge story, he’d kick himself if he missed his big break through indecisiveness at a time like this. 

He stared at the light, flashing in time with the phone’s insistent ringing, sounding loud in the deserted office.

“Oh, what the hell.”

He walked quickly round the partition, proud of his ability to make snap decisions, and snatched up the receiver in a way that he (wrongly) thought of as being the way a go-getting, thrusting young executive answered the phone. Sadly, the cord was a lot shorter than he’d realised and the receiver sprang out of his hand and clattered against the side of the desk before Geoff got it anywhere near his ear.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” 

He was just bending down to retrieve the dangling phone handset, from which he could hear the tinny “Hello…hello?…”  of the caller’s voice, when a voice a lot closer to home made Geoff grit his teeth and groan inwardly.

“Whoa there, Geoff! You taking up phone juggling? Hahaha!” 

He looked up to see Darren, striding in through the double doors of the office, like he was making a grand entrance at a fucking state dinner, shrugging out of his poncey camel hair coat and peeling off those ridiculous fucking driving gloves he insisted on wearing, (he would have been even more furious if he’d known Darren had arrived by cab) then reaching out an imperious hand for the phone as Geoff finally managed to wrestle it into submission.

“Fuck you, Darren, I got to it first. Who the fuck do you think you are anyway? Swanning around like you fucking own the place, you’re not fit to shine my shoes, you piece of shit…” 

…Is what Geoff wanted to say.

But instead, he just meekly handed the phone to his smirking boss and scuttled back to his cubicle, seething with self-hatred and, more importantly, Darren-hatred, as he listened to the one sided conversation.

“Hello, sorry about that, my assistant is rather clumsy today.”….(Geoff could feel a vein in his temple throbbing)…”Yes, yes this is the crime desk, Darren Blake speaking, how may I help you?”…..”Oh, hi Stacey love, I thought I recognised that sexy voice, haha, what have you got for me?”…..”Really? And where was this?”……”You’re a star, Stacey, haven’t I always said so?”……”Hahaha, oooh, you’ll get me into trouble one of these days, you little minx. Let me buy you dinner one night, ok?”…..”Mmm, I’d love to. I’ll speak to you soon, gotta go babe, call me. Ciao Bella, mwah!”

Darren glanced over at Geoff’s cubicle, from where there came a sharp splintering noise and some muffled swearing. He frowned and snapped his fingers loudly a few times, as if summoning a particularly inattentive waiter.

“Geoff?” **snap snap**  “Geoff, I need to borrow your car, mate.” **snap snap**  “Come on, keys, I’m in a hurry.”

Geoff paused in the act of picking splinters of the pencil he’d been holding out of the palm of his hand and slowly rose from his chair, peering suspiciously over the partition at Darren, still holding his hand out impatiently.

“Come on, come on, I haven’t got all day.” **snap snap**  “That was my police contact, with a tip about a robbery over in Thornbury. I’m going over there to interview the alleged victim now and my motor has been fucking clamped, so I need yours.”

“Umm, but I was…”

“Yeah, well you’ll have to get the bus home, won’t you? This is a big story, I’m not losing out to some hack from the nationals, just because you got all precious about your bloody Citroen Picasso.”

Geoff hesitated, maybe he could reach some sort of compromise;

“How about if I drive you?” He fished the keys out of his pocket, but stopped short of handing them over.

“Nah, sorry Geoff, this is strictly need to know, old chap,” Darren took a quick step forward and snatched the keys before he had a chance to react, “confidential informants and all that, you know how it is.”

He turned to go, the camel coat flaring out dramatically from his shoulders as he pocketed Geoff’s keys, then as an afterthought, he looked back with a grin.

“Don’t forget to keep your bus ticket, you can put in a claim for travel expenses, hahaha.”

Then he was gone and Geoff was alone in the office once more.

*****

Stacey grinned to herself as she hung up the phone. She didn’t know what sort of prank her friend Mandy was pulling on that twat, Darren from the Echo, but whatever it was, he deserved it. “Ciao Bella” ? Really? What a prick.

*****

Geoff stepped through the front doors of the Evening Echo building and turned up the collar of his jacket against the drizzle, just in time to see his own car pull away from its parking space and head for the main exit. A taxi pulled up and four girls from the typing pool got out and pushed past him without even glancing in his direction, chattering and laughing together, completely unaware of his existence. He glared bitterly at their retreating figures, despising them for their happiness, turned back to the cab, then looked once more for his car and saw it was just pulling out into traffic.

Then, on the spur of the moment, feeling like a real investigative journalist for a change, he yanked open the taxi’s rear door, jumped in and held a twenty pound note over the seat to the startled driver.

“Follow that car!”

*****

Mandy stood at the window, smoking nervously and watching the gated entrance of her gravel driveway for the arrival of her guest. She was confident the call to her friend at the police station would make her pathetic excuse for an ex-husband come running, hungry for The Big Story that would make his career, and she didn’t want to miss the start of the show.

She didn’t have long to wait. Mandy was stubbing out her cigarette in an overflowing ashtray when she saw a car swing into the drive. The rain, falling more heavily now, was visible in the headlight beams as late afternoon turned to dusk and dusk, in turn, lost its battle with the gathering storm clouds, the resulting gloom filtering everything through a grey murk that reduced visibility to a few yards.

Geoff’s Citroen pulled up by the front door and Mandy frowned in irritation as he parked the wrong way round, brake lights flaring briefly through the rain. The interior light came on, she saw his silhouette lean across the seat to grab something and a few seconds later he climbed out, shrugged into that grotty old raincoat of his and hurried to reach the shelter of the porch.

*****

Darren flipped the wipers on as the drizzle turned to a steady downpour and peered through the windscreen, trying to make out road signs as he passed yet another narrow junction on the unlit country lane.
“Bloody hell, Geoff, haven’t you ever heard of SatNav, for fuck’s sake?”

He glanced down at the open notebook on the seat next to him, checking the address once more and looked up just in time to see he was approaching a crossroads. He slowed Geoff’s car to be sure he didn’t miss anything, scanning the signpost on the corner,

“Barnfield Road, yes! Thank fuck for that.”

Darren turned left and continued for another half a mile before he saw lights ahead of him, which as he got closer he realised were attached to gate posts. This looks like the place, he thought, pulling into the gateway and driving up to the large, ivy-covered house, where he parked and looked up in distaste at the shitty weather outside. Not wanting to get his expensive coat soaking wet, he took one of Geoff’s that he’d found on the back seat, picked up his notebook and stepped out into the rain.

Turning the collar up, he ran to the front door and had his foot on the first of three wide stone steps when he was grabbed violently from behind and a heavy sack was thrown over his head. Darren tried to yell for help, but a punch to the kidneys knocked the wind out of him. While he was gasping for air something was pulled roughly across his mouth, his head was yanked back as the coarse material of the sacking cut into his face and tongue and he gagged.

His attacker was not only unseen, but also silent, emitting only the occasional grunt as he easily held onto the struggling crime reporter, but then he heard another voice, shockingly close to his right ear.

“Hello, Geoff, looks like you’ve been a naughty boy, coming round here where you’re not wanted.”

The owner of the voice tutted, as if this was a personal disappointment to him and that Geoff had badly let him down.

“Except I’m not fucking Geoff!” Darren wanted to scream, but he couldn’t make anything more than choking, wheezing noises, so he just frantically shook his head and prayed this was all some kind of horrible mistake.

Then he heard a door open somewhere in front of him and a woman’s voice spoke to whoever held him.

“Take him into the barn, we don’t want a mess in the house.”

His captor’s grip loosened as he switched hands for a brief second and Darren broke free and made a run for it. He desperately sprinted away from the voices, only half-registering the sound of laughter, thinking he had to be heading away from the house and towards the road.

He thought that for about five seconds, because after that he ran into the side of Geoff’s car.

Hard.

*****

Geoff, meanwhile, was crouched in the shadow of a dripping conifer hedge halfway down the drive, having successfully tailed his own car in a taxi all the way to…Mandy’s house!

He couldn’t fucking believe it, how did Darren not know whose house this was? Her old man was in newspapers, for fuck’s sake, he attended all the press piss-ups and had even visited The Echo once as a guest of their chief executive. Some bloody crime editor he is, Geoff thought bitterly, I could do his job standing on my head.

He watched as Darren climbed out of his car and scurried to the front door.

“That’s my coat, you thieving…”

Then Geoff saw Mandy’s two brothers; a couple of gorillas in jogging suits, jumping out of the flower beds that surrounded the area in front of the house and grabbing Darren as he got to door of the porch. One of them dropped a hood over his head and gagged him, before the door opened and his ex-wife appeared.

After Darren’s abortive escape attempt had left him unconscious on the immaculate gravel, Geoff watched in horror as the gorilla twins dragged his limp body round the side of the house and into the darkened barn. A few minutes later, Mandy came out of the house and followed them inside, closing the door behind her.

*****

Mandy felt a thrill of excitement as she walked quickly through the rain to the barn; she had been waiting for this for too long not make the most of it and now it was actually happening, she wanted to savour every minute.

The door swung closed behind her and she headed to the far end of the darkened building where the small tractor and plough was parked under a circle of yellow light, cast by a single shaded bulb. It also illuminated the sad figure of Geoff, who was tied to a wooden chair, sack over his head and rope gag still in place. Mandy saw with amusement that he hadn’t got rid of that horrible old coat, which must be all of ten years old by now, but then Geoff never had been any good at buying clothes, as she had constantly pointed out to him, to no avail.

Her brothers, Derek and Kevin, were standing either side of the chair, looking very pleased with themselves indeed, so she gave them a nod of gratitude as she approached the strange little tableau; like a gangster, about to exact terrible revenge on a rival, she thought, with two of her top wise guys there to back her up.

“So, Geoff, you seem to have got yourself in a spot of bother. Why on Earth would you come round here on a night like this, when you surely knew the kind of welcome you’d get?”

At this, Geoff began to make some very odd noises and started to thrash about in his chair a fair bit, all of which Del and Kev found highly amusing and let him continue for a moment, before Kev gave him a swift back-hander round the side of the head and he toppled over. 

Right onto the upturned blade of the tractor’s folding plough.

The tip of the sharply pointed blade punched straight through sack, skin and skull as if it were no harder than the clay soil in the fields. The bound figure jerked violently for a couple of seconds, then slumped and hung, shifting with an unpleasant cracking noise as the weight of the body in the chair was preventing from reaching the ground by the steel blade buried in its head. 

Mandy stared in horror at the rapidly spreading pool of blood, more pouring from the stained sacking by the second and she tried to scream. Nothing came out except a strangled squeak and her legs buckled under her; she collapsed to her knees on the hard bricks and the last thing she saw before she was swallowed by the black pit of unconsciousness were her two brothers, being noisily sick on each other’s feet.

*****

Darren

Eeerrghh, Ow, what the fuck?  What the FUCK!?  Who was that crazy bitch?  And why did she think I was that twat, Geoff, for fuck’s sake?  I can’t fucking move…Wait, I’m fucking tied up!

“Mmmffghff drrg ghrrffff mmnggff!!”

This fucking gag, I’m going to choke, you bastards. What the fuck do they want? Wait, what’s that…footsteps?  The bitch is back, shit. 

“So, Geoff, you seem to have got yourself in a spot of bother…”

I’m not Geoff, you fucking stupid cow! Why don’t you understand, whatever you think I’ve done, I’m not him!  Look, just take off this fucking hood and you’ll…

Owww, you cu…

Oh shit, I’m falling over, catch me you bastards…

Whooaaaaa…

Crunch.

*****

Geoff ran to the door of the barn as soon as it closed behind Mandy and peered in through a knot hole. He watched events unfold, clapping a hand over his mouth to stop his cry of horror giving him away as Darren met his sudden demise, then turned and half ran, half stumbled to his car. With a sigh of relief he saw Darren had left the keys in the ignition and he simply got in and drove away.

When he was a safe distance from the house, Geoff pulled over and rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment, until he got the shaking under control. Then he made two phone calls; an anonymous one to the police and another, slightly more satisfying one to his editor, who he interrupted while he was at a press association dinner.

“This had better be bloody good, Standish, they’re just bringing out the brandy. Have you finally found your Big Story, you bloody well better have?”

“Yes sir,” said Geoff, staring out into the rainy night, “I think you could say that, yes.”

 

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Two to Little, too late…

image Yeah yeah, I know, alright? It’s another Sunday edition of Stream of Consciousness Saturday, but I’m sure Helen Espinosa (who is hosting Linda’s blog while she jets off to a gig in Japan) won’t mind.

This weekend’s prompt was;

“ “to/too/two.” Use one, use them all.”

Two to Little, too late.

Jimmy “Big Jim” Little was starting to go an alarming shade of apoplectic red, which was complemented nicely by the deathly and terrified pallor of his left-hand man, Travis, (Big Jim had lost his right arm in a nasty revolving door accident some years before) who was cowering under the ferocity of his master’s furious stare.

“What d’you mean there are only two? There were supposed to be four in here!”

“I know, Boss, but when we picked it up the box was sealed and the weight felt right. How were we to know..?”

“You mean you didn’t check!?” bellowed Jim, a vein beginning to throb at his temple now, “Didn’t I tell you it was important? DIDN’T I TELL YOU!!!?

“B-B-But Boss, you always told me not to ask any questions about the boxes we pick up for you, and you said if I ever opened any of them, you’d cut off my…”

“I don’t care what you think I said, you fucking imbecile, I want someone I can trust to drive a couple of miles, pick up a package for me and bring home what l fucking asked for!”

Travis wisely remained silent, guessing (correctly, for a change) that any response he gave would only serve to further inflame Big Jim’s already incandescent fury.

“Well you’re just going to have to go back and get the other two,” said Jim, “and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t come back without them.”

Travis scuttled across Jim’s “office”; an empty warehouse with a desk and two chairs, surrounded by boxes and filing cabinets in the middle of the open expanse of concrete floor, to where Neville waited by door. (In what passed for Neville’s mind, discretion was most certainly the better part of valour and he’d decided to let the senior partner in the henchman hierarchy do the talking)

“What d’you tell ‘im Travis?” he asked, as his visibly shaken mugger-superior approached.

“Shut up you bloody fool,” said Travis, glancing back over his shoulder at Big Jim Little, (who was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, massaging his throbbing temples, cursing the ineptitude of his staff and bemoaning the low intelligence of the goons you got these days) “he’ll hear you, then we’re both in deep shit.”

“I only asked…,” began Neville, with a surly look on, for want of a more descriptive turn of phrase, we shall have to call his face.

“Well don’t, ok? Just don’t.”

They walked to the car, Travis muttering under his breath and rapidly smoking a foul-smelling handmade cigarette, Neville dragging his feet and sulking like the world’s least convincing, most terrifying schoolboy; hands thrust deep in his pockets, head down, bottom lip stuck out like a bunion in a lorry tyre and his low, protruding forehead knitted in a ferocious scowl that dared the brave, unwitting or suicidal to say something to provoke him.

“We’ll have to go back and see Boris the Frog, find out what happened to the other two in the box before he delivered it to the drop,” said Travis, once they were back in the dilapidated green Range Rover that they’d stolen that morning for the sole purpose of collecting Jim’s package, “maybe inflict a bit of gentle persuasion, just to jog his memory.”

The prospect of physical violence always seemed to cheer Neville up and this occasion was no exception. He immediately brightened up, fastened his seatbelt and pushed a tape into the ancient cassette player on the Rover’s dashboard.

He turned to Travis, idiot grin fully restored, said, “Oooh! I love this one!” and twisted the volume knob to maximum.

With a grinding of gears and clouds of black, oily smoke, the pair of criminal masterminds headed for Boris the Frog’s secure storage facility, barely two miles up the bypass, with Brittney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” blaring from the broken sunroof, accompanied by two part harmonies in the key of Duh!

While the dysfunctional duo were heading for his main competitor’s lockup, Jimmy Little was sitting at his desk, carefully inspecting the contents of the package Travis had given him.

If anyone ever finds out, thought Big Jim, I’ll never live it down. I’d be laughed out of town. He winced at the thought.

“But they’re so beautiful.” he said under his breath, as he stroked the smooth, silky mane of the blue My Little Pony figurine he cradled in his hand.

He placed it gently back in the tissue-lined box, next to the purple pony that nestled there already and replaced the lid.
He had expected this delivery to have been the final addition to his huge private collection, he just needed Fluttershy and Applejack to complete the whole set of first edition ponies.

And now that fucking Russian wannabe mobster had screwed him out of what was rightfully his.
Well he’d bloody show Boris the bloody Frog, Travis and Neville would sort him out and bring home his beautiful, silky little playmates and he could reunite them with all their friends.

Boris “The Frog” Ribbitri heard the gravel-in-a-washing-machine sound of the Range Rover pulling up outside and gingerly took the box from his small floor safe. He closed the heavy door and slid the rug back into place, hurrying for the door before those two morons came in and started poking around.
He met Travis just as he was climbing out of the driving seat and while offering one hand in friendly greeting, he held out the box in the other, all the time talking and grinning.

“Oh I’m so glad you came back, there was nearly an awful mistake. You were supposed to take both boxes but they were delivered separately and one had been temporarily misplaced. But you’re here now and everything is where it is supposed to be, thank goodness.”
Boris looked from Travis to Neville and back again, both hands still held out in front of him, “You will take to Big Jim, yes? With Boris’ apologies for the mix-up and my best wishes, naturally.”

Neville just growled, but Travis patted his partner on the arm in a conciliatory manner and said, “Now, now Nev, Mr Ribbitri is being respectful,” he looked up at the glowering giant of a man, “remember what we said about respect?”

Neville wrinkled a brow that already looked like a badly-ploughed field and said, as if reading off some internal autocue, “Yes Travis. We must show respect. We must be polite. We must…”

“Yes, yes, ok Neville, you got the idea,” said Travis and turned back to Boris, who was watching the exchange with some amusement and took the package from him “Thank you Mr Ribbitri, I’ll be sure Big Jim gets this right away. Come on Nev, let’s get moving before rush hour kicks in.”

Travis nodded a goodbye to Boris, who was already on his way back to his office, climbed into the Range Rover and turned the ignition.
Nothing happened.
He looked around for Boris, thinking he could ask the Russian for a jump start, but he’d vanished into the maze of storage units.

Boris the Frog closed his office door and leant back against it, suddenly out of breath and sweating.
This was it. This was the moment he’d been planning for months.

He went to his desk and opened the bottom drawer, taking out a small black plastic box with a stubby antenna on the top and a single red button on the front.
Boris looked at his watch, placed the detonator on his desk blotter and went to the small drinks trolley in the corner. He poured himself a generous measure of vodka, returned to the desk and sat sipping his drink for a few minutes whilst humming a happy tune.

Outside in the car park, Travis had spent nearly fifteen minutes trying to get the piece of shit car running, while Neville knelt in the passenger seat and sang along to Britney’s greatest hits in an enthusiastic but tuneless bellow, with his head poking out the sunroof.

“Right, fuck this for a game of soldiers, let’s go and find Boris, he’ll have to loan us some wheels.” Travis set off in the direction he’d seen the Russian heading earlier, carrying Jim’s precious package.
Grumbling, Neville turned off the music and ambled across the tarmac in the wake of his partner in crime.

Boris Ribbitri, small-time gangster and occasional hitman for the Russian mob, placed his empty glass on the blotter, picked up the small black box, pulled up the antenna and, with a triumphant laugh, said “Fuck you Little Jim!” and pushed the red button.

At the exact same moment, he heard a knock at the door and just had time to look up in horror as Travis and Neville walked in carrying Jim’s package.

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Screen shot…

image

Another weekend, another late submission to Linda G Hill’s…..Hey, wait a minute, it’s still Saturday, I’m actually on time for Stream of Consciousness Saturday for a change.

Right, best get on with it then, this week’s prompt was:

““enthuse.”  Add a prefix or suffix to it or leave it as it is and go to town with it!”

Screen Shot.

The good thing about being left in charge, decided Bradley Crane, was that you got to make a lot of important decisions.
The problem was, the bad thing about being left in charge, was that you got to make a lot of important decisions.

Important decisions were all very well, as long as their importance only went as far as which caterers to send out on location, or what promotional material should go to a meet-and-greet with the network’s star du jour, or even which of the tabloid press to invite to “exclusive” news conferences, but this, Bradley was sure, was way above his pay grade.

He tried, with minimal success, to suppress the rising tide of panic and focus on what Eugene, the eager young man from Project Development, was becoming so animated about, aware that he should probably be showing some enthusiasm for whatever Eugene was telling him, but unable to escape the feeling that this kind of thing was usually decided by somebody a lot higher up the food chain than where he, albeit temporarily, found himself.

“So we have the option to get in on the franchise of Crime On Camera,” Eugene could hardly contain his excitement, “but they need to know by this afternoon at the latest, otherwise we’re going to lose out to the competition and trust me, you want this show. Mr Grainger will thank you for it, you wait and see.”

And that was the crux of the matter: would the all-powerful network boss thank him, or would it mean the end of his career altogether?
Bradley shuddered as he recalled the text he’d received from his boss and mentor, Farnham Grainger III, just before he left on a six month tour terrorizing the management of the network’s affiliates out west;

“I have every faith in you Crane. I know the reigns of my empire are in safe hands, this is your chance to make your mark, don’t waste it.”

Well, he thought, this is what he meant, something daring and cutting edge. Something the other local stations were sniffing around, like sharks at the scent of blood.
Could this be the opportunity he needed to mark himself out as the kind of go-getting, ambitious risk taker the bigger networks wanted, even the nationals?

He made an executive decision.

“Ok, go and make them an offer, see what they have to say.”

“Really?” Eugene looked like he may just burst, right there on the spot, “You mean it, we can commission Crime On Camera for a pilot?”

“Yes,” Bradley felt light headed now, almost giddy, “see what they say about doing a whole season for us, since you’re there. Strike while the iron’s hot, isn’t that what they say?”

“Yes sir!” said Eugene, practically running from the office, already punching the speed dial on his phone as the door closed behind him.

Acting Network Chief Crane then did something he had never done thus far in his glittering career in the world of television, he poured himself a stiff drink during office hours, then threw the whole thing back in one gulp, coughing as the spirit burned its way down his throat and noticing the slight tremor in his hand, the tumbler chattering as he placed it on the tray.

Bradley turned and gazed out at the sprawling downtown streets below him, wondering what the great Mr Grainger was going to say when he found out that he’d commissioned a show which used scanners to listen in on police radios. Then they would send camera crews, on standby all over the country, racing to capture footage of crimes in progress and broadcast the highlights every week for the entertainment of a nation of schadenfreude-hungry couch potatoes.

“It’ll be fine,” he said to his worried-looking reflection in the window, “it’s going to be a smash hit, just you wait and see.”

Now he was getting used to the idea, Bradley was becoming genuinely enthusiastic about the fearless initiative he had shown in making his snap decision and spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the glow of his own self-importance.
So when the phone call came, just before he left the office, confirming that the network had indeed secured rights to Crime On Camera, it was the cherry on top of a gigantic cream cake of a day.

*****

“Ok people, settle down, we have a busy day, let’s get this done quickly please.” Bradley Crane looked around the conference table at his production team until he had their full attention, “Thank you. Now as you all know, our new special, Crime On Camera Live, goes out tonight and if the first half of the highlights season is anything to go by it’s going to be a ratings winner, so I want everyone ready for the studio discussion afterwards and the analysis show after the news at eleven.” He took one more look at the faces around the table, “Any questions?” he nodded, “Ok. Thank you everyone, have a good show.”

He watched them file out of the wood-paneled room until he was alone, then took out his phone and once more read the message that had arrived from his absent boss that morning;

“Good luck with the live special tonight, looks like your gamble paid off.”

He couldn’t help feeling a thrill of exonerative satisfaction.
He remembered the decidedly unfriendly call he’d had from Grainger a few weeks ago, after Bradley had informed him of his impulsive acquisition, and realising that his gamble had paid off, the show was a roaring success and the studio-based shows he had hastily organised to cash in on the extraordinary viewing figures were also getting good numbers in the ratings.
As a result, he had won Grainger around and it seemed as if this could well be his ticket to bigger and better things.

That evening he watched the lights of the city passing by through the black mirror of his office window, sipping a well-earned single malt and congratulating himself on the steadiness of his hands, turning as he recognised the now-familiar tones of the Crime On Camera theme tune coming from the television on the wall opposite his desk.

The presenter, a lantern-jawed ex-cop called Travis, was clearly in a state of some excitement, even as the opening credits faded out. He was talking fast and holding his earpiece in the manner of anchormen everywhere who want you to know they’re getting vital information only available to them.

Ladies and gentlemen I can tell you that we already have a situation in progress, it looks like a car theft gone bad, the carjacker was caught in the act and instead of fleeing, he took the owner of the vehicle hostage and has now been cornered by police in an armed standoff.” He appeared to listen for a few seconds, then said, “Let’s go live to Atlanta and the team in the field, led by Austin Monroe. Over to you Austin…”

Travis turned to a monitor and the picture cut to the scene in Atlanta, red and blue lights strobing across the screen as the camera zoomed in on the black saloon, surrounded by black and white police cruisers, all with officers with guns drawn and trained on the two figures just visible in the front seat.

Austin Monroe’s dramatic voiceover informed viewers that a so far unidentified businessman had been taken hostage by an armed man who had been threatening to kill his captive unless the police let him walk on the carjacking charge.

The camera crew moved closer to the brightly-lit tableau, moving through the barricade of police vehicles until they could get a clear shot of the pair who were caught in the glare of dozens of headlights, the masked gunman with his arm around the neck of his unwilling companion, the barrel of a revolver shoved hard against his temple, the terrified man obviously in considerable discomfort.

Bradley Crane watched as the shot closed on the face of man in the passenger seat and his heart jumped in his chest.

“That’s not..?..It can’t be..!”, he strode across the room and stood right in front of the plasma screen, squinting at the image as the camera focussed and then…

“Oh my God, it is!”

The gaunt, white face of the man with a trickle of dried blood at the corner of his mouth, in the front of the badly damaged car with a gun crazed lunatic, was that of Farnham Grainger III himself!

Bradley couldn’t drag his eyes from the screen and he only remembered to breathe because he felt himself becoming light headed again. This really was fantastic television.

Suddenly there was movement from the car and the voice of the carjacker could be heard shouting angrily;

“What’s that TV camera doing there? I told you no pictures!”
He could be seen tightening his grip on Grainger, while the police marksmen took aim at the car’s windshield and waited for the order to fire.

“Get that camera away, I’m warning you…”

Bradley held his breath once more, willing the cameraman to keep filming, as Austin Monroe’s voice rose to an almost hysterical volume, having finally realised whose kidnap he was actually filming.

Then it happened. Something about the situation pushed the gunman over the edge and he finally cracked.

“I told you I was serious, now you’ll be sorry!”

There was the sudden, shocking sound of shots, two from the car in quick succession, followed by a hail of gunfire from the assembled law-enforcers and then silence.

*****

“I’d just like to say that we at the network are all deeply saddened and shocked by the events in Atlanta last week, our thoughts are with the Grainger family and we ask that you please respect their privacy at this difficult time.”

On the TV screen, Bradley turned from the clamouring reporters, hurried down the steps and climbed into the waiting limo, which drove away as the shot cut back to the studio;

“That was Bradley Crane, the man widely tipped to be the new Head of Network at WKZT, giving his reaction to the tragic events of last week…”

In the back of the limo, Bradley switched off the TV, sipped his whiskey and smiled.

*****

This week’s story is dedicated to the memory of Linda Rowe.

*****

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Flying Visit…

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Once more I’m handing my homework in late for Linda G Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, so I’m writing this in detention.

This week’s prompt is as follows:
““fly/flies/flew/flu/flue.”  Choose one, use ’em all, it’s up to you.”

Ok then, let’s go…

Flying Visit.

Blake looked blearily at the glowing readout of his clock radio, groaning in displeasure when he eventually deciphered the fuzzy red numerals and “03.14” swam into focus.
The pounding in his head from the second, ill-advised, bedtime brandy (a medicinal dose, to help combat the flu that had kept him in bed, alternately shivering and sweating, for the last two days) hadn’t retreated from its position behind his eyes and it wasn’t helped by the loud, monotonous thud-thud-thud of bass-heavy dance music, coming from the apartment above.

He stared malevolently at the ceiling, hoping the party animals upstairs would call it a night and let him get some sleep, wishing for the fiftieth time that his imbecile of a landlord hadn’t chosen to uncover the one and only “original period feature”, namely the old Victorian fireplace in the corner of his small bedroom.

As far as Blake could see, the pointless little grate, with its surround of ugly ceramic tiles and ridiculously narrow mantlepiece, served only two functions; as a conduit for icy draughts in winter and as a year-round acoustic tube, providing a constant, echoing reproduction of every thudding bassline, every movie soundtrack and every outburst of raucous laughter from the room above.
Which would have been bad enough if he’d been allowed to use it, but it was for “decorative purposes only” apparently and he’d had to smuggle in a portable (and equally prohibited) gas heater, to counter the arctic blasts that issued from the open chimney in windy weather.

It was the second of its key properties that the fireplace was now demonstrating, at – Blake glared again at the clock, as if daring it to give him the wrong answer – 3.37 in the morning, and it occurred to him more than once (much, much later) that this was the time that his life began to change.

Angrily flinging the covers aside, Blake swung his legs off the bed and stood cautiously upright, expecting the shakiness of the last couple of days to return, but discovering to his relief that he was actually starting to feel better.

“Maybe that second brandy did the trick after all,” he said to himself with a grimace, his throbbing head smugly insisting that this wasn’t the case, “kill or cure, it’s the only way.”

He was hauling on a pair of jeans he’d found, after stirring the soup of clothes next to the bed for a while, when he heard the promising noise of an upstairs door opening. He listened, only now realising that the music level had in fact dropped several notches in the last minute or two and was rewarded with the sound of loud footsteps on the creaking stairs, drunken shouting, then the slam of the street door closing.
Blake relaxed.

“Well thank Christ for tha…,” he stopped abruptly as the music upstairs resumed, this time at an even more ear-splitting volume, “oh for fuck’s sake! Right that’s it.”

He grabbed the first top he saw, a faded Rush t-shirt with the Fly By Night owl logo just visible on the front, pulling it over his head as he opened the front door and marched purposefully up the reverberating stairwell, rehearsing what he was going to say to his inconsiderate dickhead of a neighbour under his breath.

He stopped outside the door, the music so loud here that it was hard to discern anything but the sledgehammer bass beat, and was lifting his arm to knock when he realised nobody would hear him if he did.
Hesitating briefly to weigh up the potential risks involved, (after all, he and an ex-girlfriend had once, half-jokingly speculated that the partying neighbour upstairs may in fact be a major drug dealer, hence all the comings and goings from his flat) Blake reached for the handle and to his surprise, the door swung open.

The music hit him like a wall as he stepped into the hallway, making his ribcage vibrate and ratcheting up the pain behind his eyes to an almost unbearable intensity. He clamped his hands over his ears and strode down the hall towards the room at the end, obviously the source of the cacophonous racket, took two steps into the room and stopped dead.

Laying face down on the sofa at the far end of the room was his anti-social neighbour, clearly unconscious. Although this was unsurprising, given that the table was covered in syringes, traces of white powder, rolled up bank notes and a huge pile of cannabis – which also accounted for the pungent fog of smoke in the room – and the fact the floor was littered with beer cans and vodka bottles.

But it was what lay on the floor next to the table that held Blake’s attention.

He didn’t know what made him notice it, it was just a sports bag, some designer emblem on the side, but it was open and he took a step closer, wincing as the music assaulted his eardrums, looking down onto…

“Fuck me!” he exclaimed, loudly and without thinking, slapping one hand over his mouth and whirling to look at the prostrate figure, checking for signs of life, simultaneously cowering under the renewed assault the music made on his unprotected ear and clapping his hand back onto the side of his head.

The unconscious dealer hadn’t stirred since Blake had arrived and, after locating the sound system and reducing the volume to a still high, but manageable level, he carefully checked for a pulse, finding a strong, steady beat almost straight away and feeling immediately guilty that he was disappointed.

“I mean,” he thought to himself, “if he was dead then who would be any the wiser?”
But he was still perfectly healthy as far as Blake could tell and he didn’t fancy living downstairs, not knowing if the bloke was going to come knocking on his door, demanding Blake give back the bulging bag of cash he had stolen from him.

Now he did take a closer look, spreading open the zippered top of the bag and emitting a low whistle between his teeth as he did a quick, very rough estimate of how much was in there.
Probably two hundred and fifty thousand, he thought, give or take ten grand.

He stood up, catching his reflection in the mirror above the equally unattractive twin to his fireplace downstairs, looking himself in the eye.

Dare he?
Could he get away with it?
The owl on his t-shirt gazed enigmatically back at him from the mirror, as the words from the song came back to him;

“Fly by night, away from here,
Change my life again.
Fly by night, goodbye my dear,
My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.”

Which was true wasn’t it?
He had no prospects, living in his crappy apartment, working his crappy job, putting up with his shitty neighbours, there was no point in pretending otherwise.

He looked down at the money.

He looked over at the silent drug dealer.

He looked back at the money and came to a decision.

He gently shook the man by the shoulder, making certain he wasn’t going to suddenly awaken, then, when he was satisfied, he lifted the limp figure carefully off the sofa and half-carried, half-dragged him to the hated fireplace, letting him down none too gently so that his head came to rest with a loud bump, face down, snugly in the small oval hearth, a faint light from Blake’s own room, just visible through the grating, at the bottom of the disused flue, one floor below.

Blake stood back and viewed the staged scene, bending to make minor adjustments to the unresisting arms and legs until he was happy that it looked a natural enough “accidental drunken fall” pose.
Then he took one last look around the apartment, closed the one open window, zipped up the bag and left, closing the door and leaving the thumping bass of the music still playing behind him.

He hurried into his bedroom, opening the small wardrobe and removing the gas cylinder he used to power his heater, then rummaged around in the box of junk under the bed until he found a roll of gaffer tape.
He emptied the plastic laundry sack onto the already cluttered floor and got to work.

The sack was just large enough to cover the opening that housed the fireplace, the gaffer tape making a perfect seal when stuck onto those lovely smooth tiles, meaning that Blake got it sealed up without losing any of the gas, which by that point was hissing out of its pressurised cylinder on the grate and drifting up the flue to the floor above, which was sadly blocked by a snoring drug dealer.

Exhausted, Blake fell into bed twenty minutes later, once he was sure the cylinder was empty, the flue was sufficiently plugged and there was no noise from upstairs, (the music having now mercifully come to an end) setting his alarm for just a few hours later, when he intended to go into the nearest travel agent and buy a ticket on the next plane to somewhere hot.

Two weeks later.

“Mr Peters? Phone call for Mr Peters?”, the waiter looked around the pool area until he saw a cheerful wave from the Englishman at the far end of the bar, “Telephone call for you sir, from England.”

“Thank you Carlos,” said Blake Peters, “I’ll bring it back in when I’m done.”

He handed Carlos a large tip, the waiter grinned, said, “Thank you Mr Peters!” and trotted back to the shaded veranda of the hotel.

“Hello, who is this?”

“Oh it’s nothing to worry about sir, I’m with the property agent with whom you dealt whilst renting the apartment in Madden Street…” When Blake said nothing, he continued, “..as I say, it’s nothing really, we were just wondering, during your tenancy, did you have any problems with…pests, at all…?”

“Pests, what do you mean, pests?” asked Blake, not sure if he liked where this was going.

Were they talking about nuisance neighbours?

Should he say something?

Then the agent solved his predicament for him.

“It’s just that the new tenants say they are getting infested with flies, hundreds of them apparently, they’re coming down the chimney, if you can believe that. Did you ever have any problems like that at all?”

“I’m sure I would have reported something like that.”

“Yes, well, that’s what we thought, sorry to trouble you sir. Don’t hesitate to call us if you ever need assistance in finding accommodation again.”

“Oh, I don’t see myself needing your services anytime soon, but thanks anyway. Good bye.”

Blake finished his drink and strolled over to return the phone, stopping once and shading his eyes as a small plane took off from the island’s only airstrip and banked gently across the azure blue water.

Blake watched it as it flew around the headland and disappeared out of sight, then he turned and headed back to the hotel.

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Down to The Wire: When TV drama got real…

David Simon was uniquely qualified to write an uncompromising, grittily realistic crime drama, serving as he did for over ten years as a journalist on the Baltimore Sun newspaper, much of which was spent reporting on the vicious wave of drug-related crime in the inner city.
Not that he was any newcomer to the genre, he’d already had a hit with the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the street and also with his book which inspired the series.

But when he came to his next project, he wanted to produce something completely original. A new way of watching television drama” was how he described the format at the time and, despite not receiving rave reviews from the critics when it was first aired, The Wire has now been widely acknowledged as one of, if not the, greatest crime series ever made.
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But that’s just the thing, The Wire is so much more than just another police procedural, it has so many levels, so much to say about society and it isn’t always easy to tell which side you’re supposed to be rooting for.
The usual goalposts of “Good” and “Evil” are constantly moving, the lines defining the characters’ ethical boundaries forever blurring and flexing, to accommodate the impossible, rock-and-a-hard-place situations in which they find themselves.

Simon said that, at the start of the series, he wanted you to feel as though you were eavesdropping on a conversation and that you would have to pay attention to find out what was going on.
In fact he said he didn’t think it mattered if couldn’t follow all the street slang and terminology at first, it was something that you would get the hang of over time.
And he was right, I didn’t have a clue what was going on for the first couple of episodes, but that didn’t matter one bit, because before too long it all just clicked into place in my head and I found myself following the story with ease.

But even bearing that in mind, from the very first episode, I was still hooked.

Here’s the opening scene, along with the first of five different versions of that fabulous theme, one for each season.

Simon’s Baltimore crime saga is a masterclass in long-arc storytelling, the interwoven strands of all five seasons making a cohesive and satisfying backdrop to the five distinct themes that the series follows and this is one of the things which makes The Wire so different from other “cop shows”, the way the apparently distinct and separate investigations in each season are tied together so seamlessly.

The series follows the work of Major Crimes, a unit set up in response to the violent crime wave connected to the drug gangs who control the housing projects, high rises and street corners on the west side of Baltimore.
Season one focuses solely on the case surrounding heroin dealer Avon Barksdale and his right hand man, Russell “Stringer” Bell, their lieutenants, hoppers, runners, various young wannabe gangsters and of course, their clientele.

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Bell and Barksdale.

We see the way the Barksdale gang rule their territory, the casual brutality with which they enforce their own private form of justice and the jockeying for position amongst the lower ranks, whilst at the same time we follow the seconded, disgraced, or demoted detectives who make up the hastily put together squad, in their attempt to bring down the organisation and incarcerate Barksdale, putting all their efforts into a wiretap on the gang’s phone pagers, the “wire” of the title.

It makes for riveting viewing.
And the clever thing is, after a while you genuinely don’t know where your loyalty lies, with the cops or the corner boys.

Surprisingly, for such an distinctly American show, two of the lead characters are played by British actors.
Dominic West plays the self destructive, heavy drinking detective, Jimmy McNulty, in pursuit of Idris Elba‘s smooth but menacing Stringer Bell.

The Wire’s strength is in its characters. McNulty’s long time partner, William “Bunk” Moreland, played by Wendell Pierce, is the perfect foil to Jimmy’s brilliant but damaged Irish rogue persona, coming across like some sort of foul mouthed, cigar-chomping Barry White in a sharp suit, tough and smart but with more respect for the system than his insubordinate drinking buddy.
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Bunk and McNulty.

One of my personal favourite members of the squad is Clarke Peters‘ character, the dapper and thoughtful Lester Freamon, who spends much of his time making carved miniatures of period doll house furniture at his desk, much to the initial bewilderment of his fellow detectives.
It’s only when Lester thinks he has something worth saying that he gives the team the benefit of his wisdom and it isn’t long before he becomes the mastermind behind the all-important wiretap.

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Freamon.

As the second season begins, the attention of Major Crimes shifts to the local dock workers’ union and a case taking in sex trafficking, prostitution, corruption and murder, while at the same time, staying connected to the original story, the primary target, Barksdale and his crew.

This is also when we get to see more of the pretender to the drug king’s throne, the cold eyed, highly intelligent and deceptively quietly spoken young sociopath, Marlo “Black” Stanfield, played with a frightening ruthlessness by Jamie Hector.
Stanfield rules his people with an iron fist, mercilessly dispatching anybody he sees as having disrespected his authority in even the smallest way and making serious inroads into Barksdale territory, all of which leads to escalating violence and extra complications for the police and their operation.

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Marlo (second left) and the Stanfield crew.

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Major Crimes.

With each new season, the corrupt “money trail” leads the investigators further into the Machiavellian world of city politics, with story lines set in city hall, the school system and, in a fitting fin de seicle, back to Simon’s old employer, the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

There are many side plots, involving the strained personal lives and relationships of players on both sides of the game; arguably the show’s most popular character, stick-up man Omar Little, played with evil charm by Michael K Williams; a serial killer of homeless people; a pair of amusingly chilled out contract killers and an awful lot of swearing, including liberal use of the oedipal compound noun and this scene, which consists entirely of variations on the word “fuck”.

You have been warned.

There is a lot of humour in the dialogue between the characters, on both sides of the law, most of whom we get to know well across the nearly sixty episodes, the sort of authentic, natural inter-personal relationships that ring true for groups that experience such intense and brutal daily lives.
Gallows humour maybe, mixed with much profanity and non-pc use of “the n-word”, but the way the show is scripted and the freedom given to actors to improvise parts of their own dialogue somehow makes the offensive seem everyday and usually unacceptable behaviour is portrayed in a sympathetic and non-judgemental way.

Although the world in which The Wire is set is a male-dominated one, that isn’t to say Simon didn’t provide us with some great strong female characters too, the main one being Sonja Sohn as Shakima “Kima” Greggs, a tough yet diminutive lesbian detective with a complicated personal life, who gives as good as she gets from her male colleagues and often acts as the squad’s moral compass during some of the more ethically ambiguous moments in the case.

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Kima.

Then there’s Deirdre Lovejoy‘s character, Rhonda Pearlman, the team’s appointed State Prosecutor. The feisty and ambitious lawyer doesn’t balk at going after corrupt politicians and state officials, but who occasionally gets frustrated by the squad, McNulty in particular, and their habit of bending the rules to breaking point, in pursuit of their continually adapting targets
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Pearlman.

And attempting, against all the odds, to hold the entire thing together is the team’s lieutenant, Cedric Daniels, played with a strait laced cowboy swagger by the excellent Lance Reddick.

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Daniels.

He seems to spend half his time fighting political battles within the department on behalf of his squad and the other half trying to keep the squad from tearing itself apart. It’s the loyalty and support he gives the detectives under his command, as well as the ability to turn a blind eye when necessary, that makes Daniels popular with his men and they in turn back him up when the bosses question his decisions.

The way that the series is written, the fact that it features cameos from real people who inspired the show’s characters, the way in which Simon manages to show us the vulnerabilities and insecurities in characters who are too often portrayed as two dimensional, it draws us in to a world that we would normally shy away from, a frightening and uncompromising world that we’re glad someone else has to deal with, but which ultimately is populated by human beings with the same frailties and imperfections as the rest of us.

If The Wire does anything but provide fantastic entertainment and impeccable storytelling, then it’s that it makes you realise that these people aren’t just statistics, soundbites and news stories, they have lives and families and all the things we all take for granted, it’s just that they are living them in what amounts to an urban war zone.
And that kind of environment will inevitably breed the sort of disenfranchised anger and unrest that Simon shows us in his groundbreaking series.

I got so much more out of watching The Wire second time round, maybe because I was already tuned in to the street slang and unfamiliar accents, maybe because I was paying more attention to the nuances of the brilliant cast, but I cannot recommend it highly enough, whether you are already a fan of hard edged police drama, or just searching for a brilliantly acted drama with plenty of heart, give The Wire a try, you won’t regret.

To finish this post and to give you a more in-depth background to the series, here’s Simon talking to president Obama himself, about the impact of The Wire and the US “war on drugs”

{Check out David Simon’s blog HERE.}

 

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday: The Riceman cometh…

image It’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday again, rapidly becoming my new favourite game.

This week’s writing prompt was “onomatopoeia”, defined as “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named” and as is my habit, I went off on my own little tangent and couldn’t stop.
So here is my offering to Linda G Hill’s weekend writers’ workout.

The Riceman Cometh.

Cranford listened with feigned interest as the homicide cop explained the back-story to the situation, but as he scanned the scorched room for clues to the fatal blaze, his professional interest was perfectly genuine.
He liked a good puzzle.

“This guy, he boosts a Chevy downtown somewhere, cruises around until he runs out of gas and then, instead of dumping his new ride, he steals gas from some limo in the parking garage of the Ritz Carlton and hightails it outta there when one of the valets spots him sulking around the fancy rides with a hose pipe.”
Cranford nodded distractedly as the detective continued in an amused voice,
“Trouble is, he only went and siphoned a mob car didn’t he? Stupid fucker didn’t realise there was a big meet going on in the hotel and five minutes later the boss man came down and found he was out of gas,” he laughed, “no wonder this punk turned up barbecued a couple hours later.”

“Ok, and who reported this…” Cranford gestured at the incinerated corpse, still seated in the room’s only chair, “..nasty accident then?”

“Neighbour upstairs dialed 911 when they smelled smoke and couldn’t get no answer out of Smokey Joe here, and they’d been hammering on his door for five minutes.”

“And the Chevy, you found that here also?” asked Cranford.

“Yep, down in the motel parking lot, keys still in it.”

“Ok thanks, I’ll take a look round and give you my findings soon as I can”

“You do that Riceman, and I’ll buy you a beer, this one beats the shit outta me, I kid you not. I told you we had to force the door didn’t I?
How they managed to whack this guy and get out without leaving a trace is beyond me.”
He walked off, shaking his head, muttering once again, “Yep, beats the shit outta me…”

“Hey Riceman, how long you gonna be in there?” A different voice, coming from outside the door this time.

“As long as it takes,” he replied, silently groaning at the use of the idiotic nickname, “you know better than to ask that.”

What kind of twisted logic came up with a stupid name like that anyway?
He was an arson investigator, so why did they call him Riceman?
“Snap crackle and pop” of course, that’s why.
The sound of burning buildings, vehicles and, for that matter, bodies, somehow transformed via a cop’s warped sense of humour, into the catchphrase of a kid’s cute cereal box cartoon.
Hence “Riceman.”
Yeah, go figure.

Cranford stepped out into the parking lot of the run down motel and made for the Chevy in the far corner, nodding to a couple of patrolmen stationed next to it before ducking under the police tape and approaching the car on the driver’s side.

After a quick search of the front seats and dashboard came up with nothing but a slim cylindrical cellophane wrapper, an empty cardboard packet and a length of siphon tube that the detective had mentioned, Cranford retraced his steps and once more surveyed the room containing the unfortunate car thief.

The body, what was left of it, was still more or less upright in the cheap, metal-framed armchair, the foam cushions and the body itself having provided enough heat to burn a circle in the carpet about eight feet across, also badly damaging the table to the right of the chair.
It was the table that caught Cranford’s attention, or rather what was on it.

There were only two, badly burned things on the table, the black cylinder that stood to one side was clearly an aluminium can of some sort, but it wasn’t that he was interested in.
Pulling on a pair of latex gloves, he carefully turned the second blackened object on the table round until he could remove the charred stump of something that stuck to its edge, inspected it closely and smiled with satisfaction.

The two lead detectives were sitting on the hood of their car drinking coffee when, only ten minutes after re-entering the motel room, Cranford walked towards them across the litter-strewn lot with a look of a man happy in his work.

“What’s up Riceman,” called the detective he’d earlier spoken to, “you solved our murder for us already?”

Cranford waited until he reached the car before saying, “I’ve solved it, yeah, but it isn’t a homicide,” he grinned, “what we have here is death by stupidity, pure and simple.”
He held up the little tube of cellophane and said, “We’re always being told how bad it is for us, well here’s your proof.”

The second detective frowned and said irritably, “Stop talking in riddles Riceman, if you’ve got something to say, just say it, me and Joe ain’t got all day.”

“This genius, he siphoned gas out of some goon’s limo, the hose was still in the car by the way, probably swallows or inhales a few mouthfuls in the process, then drives back here, congratulating himself on his good fortune,” Cranford paused dramatically, still grinning and clearly enjoying himself immensely, “because not only did he get himself a new set of wheels, the previous careless owner had left a packet on the dash with his last cigar in it.”

“So? Get to the point Riceman.”

“So Mr Master Criminal here, he gets home, pulls up a chair, gets himself a beer, decides to watch the boob tube and toast his success. And what better way to celebrate than with an expensive cigar…?”

The first detective, Joe, began to chuckle, the penny had obviously dropped and he grinned along with Cranford.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! And we thought it was some wiseguy with anger issues. Ha!”

His partner just scowled at them, he clearly wasn’t as quick on the uptake so Cranford took pity on him.

“You drink a few gulps of gas, you’re gonna be belching fumes for a good couple of hours and that’s not a good time to be lighting a cigar, especially not if you get a blowback.”

“A blowback? Ain’t that something you get with acid,” asked the slower of the two, “or is that a backdraft?”

“I think you mean flashback Dean,” said Joe, raising an eyebrow at Cranford and shaking his head “what Riceman here means is our Chevy booster sucked a load of burning gas fumes into his lungs and pretty much caught fire from the inside out. That about it Riceman?”

“That’s it exactly,” laughed Cranford, “he must have damn near exploded,” at this point it looked like Dean might lose his lunch but Cranford cheerfully continued anyway, “any gas left in the gut would have burned, once his stomach burst. and that would also account for the burn pattern on the carpet.”

“Ok, ok, we get it!” said a green-tinged Dean, probably louder than he meant to, “Riceman does it again, you’re our saviour. There, happy now?”

“Happy enough, you’ll have my report this afternoon.”

“Thanks Cranford, we owe you one, I’ll get you that beer too.” called Joe as The Riceman walked to his car.

“Well, what do you know?” he thought to himself, “they know who I am after all.”

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