It is astounding how swiftly authors can get on the stick when you insinuate that their writing is unreadable.
Here’s Chapter 1 from Living Dead(heads), freshly second draft…
“Claudia, I have to work late,” I lied, and it made me sick to my stomach.
“Oh, really? Any idea how long?” the green-eyed inquisitor asked.
This time, at least, I did not need to lie. “I’m not sure. It shouldn’t be too long.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon then, honey. I love you.”
I returned the sentiment and thought for sure I’d hurl. I disconnected, threw my phone to the passenger seat, and hit the gas.
A few moments later, I eased into the drive-thru lane at Road Swill’s biggest competitor. After a two-car wait, my eyes frantically scanned the overwhelming menu. Road Swill’s was simple and to the point, and it sure as hell didn’t have sizes in Italian sounding words. This was goddamn stupid, and when the crackly voice on the speaker asked what I wanted, I said, “Latte, medium.” She translated my emphasized word into pseudo-Italian as though I were a moron, not a rebelling traitor trying to make a point.
It didn’t take long to make it to the window where a gaudy cup was presented to me. As I waited for my change, I glanced at my watch: four-thirty five.
With fifteen minutes to kill, I took a spot in the parking lot, cut the engine, and lit a cigarette. A rolled down the window halfway, and January rushed in as though welcome. I was nervous, frickin’ nervous. Pacing would have helped, but that was close to impossible in a car’s front seat.
Now don’t go thinking I was simply being my wussy self. You would have been nervous, too. At least, I hope you would have been. It was not everyday you loitered in a parking lot until it was time to go murder someone. Seriously, that was exactly what I had to do and why the hell I had lied to Claudia. Seeing myself as neither murder nor liar, I was in way the hell over my head. And to shove my head under even further, Alison was my intended victim. Alison! Jesus, I’d rather murder myself than even say an unkind word to her, but here I was.
No, I hadn’t come unhinged, although I must admit I found humor—very dark humor—in the thought of being a murderer whose best friend was a homicide detective. But that wasn’t the case, at least not in the real world. In the Lesbian Adventure Club world, however, that’s exactly what the hell the deal was, and I couldn’t even call upon Claudia for a pep talk, the mess-with-and-be-messed-with talk we were never supposed to need again. I freely admit: I needed it.
I extinguished my cigarette, took a swig of my coffee that was finally a non-lethal temperature, and started the engine. I pulled out into traffic and reminded myself not to drive in my usual speedy way. I needed to arrive precisely at five, no earlier, no later, and I had no goddamn clue what would happen if I failed.
As the sun set, I drove funeral-procession slow, and even then, I still needed to overshoot my destination and return before it was the exact moment to turn down Alison and Janice’s street. As soon as I did, my eyes madly scrutinized all cars and houses, and I felt like an honest to God criminal.
I parked in front of their house and checked the time again, this occasion on my more precise cellphone: an impressive thirty-seven seconds after five. Damn, I was good.
Nervous as all hell now, I pulled an envelope from my jacket pocket. Claudia and I each received one a week ago. The return address spot read, “From the Office of the Mayor,” and on the back, an emphatic black marker scrawled, “For your eyes only!” I removed the paper and unfolded it. The first part of the letter contained the particulars about our weekend, but what concerned me at the moment was the paragraph after Mayor Alison and Girl Friday’s signatures. For the hundredth time, I read:
At precisely five o’clock on Friday—no earlier, no later—you are to enter the mayor’s mansion (Alison’s, not the actual one’s please) by way of the back door. Follow the shoveled path and use the key very sneakily hidden under the flowerpot. Go directly to the sunroom at the end of the hall on your right. There, you must choose one item in the room as your murder weapon of choice in taking out the mayor. Leave it displayed prominently for our very own investigative team, of which you will be a part. You do not need to whack the mayor. Please do not whack the mayor. You just need to create the crime scene, minus the body, so everyone has something to do all weekend. Place the towel where your dastardly deed was committed. You will also need to stash three items of incriminating evidence that point to your guilt but not so sharply that our weekend lasts ten minutes. Do your thing and get out of the mayor’s mansion as quickly as possible!!! If you have any questions, you are SOL.
As a word-smithing reporter and the one-time orderer of coffee in Italian sizes, I readily deciphered the initialism for “shit outta luck.” I already had questions, but they pertained more to the “What the hell?” of it all. At the moment anyway.
After claiming the last swallow of my coffee, I zipped my jacket, put on my gloves, and grabbed the empty cup and the copy of the Journal’s competitor. I got out and hurried up the driveway, looking for the path to the back of the house. Not finding it next to the garage, I headed up the front walkway, and there I found it, through the yard and around the far side.
There were a shitload of footprints, and the little tire tracks told me the path had not been made with a shovel, but rather a snowblower. Not that it mattered, but still. I zipped around the house and found the flowerpot next to the back door. It had red and yellow plastic flowers in it and looked totally out of place in the snow. Not that that mattered, either, but still.
I grabbed the key, unlocked the door, and returned the key to its strange home. Then, I entered the completely dark house. I fumbled for a light but suddenly realized that was probably not what a murderer would do. I stopped to think as I removed my gloves and unzipped my jacket a bit.
Let’s see… Was there the danger of being caught? Was I to be stealthy? Had the others been informed of what the hell I was supposed to do? Were they staking out the joint? Was that what the game was: getting away with it? All I could know with certainty was that I was shit out of luck in getting answers. Plus, my car parked on the street was a dead giveaway, no pun intended. Still. I thought a little harder and decided to slink down the hall in the dark. Hell, I had once spent the night in their frickin’ linen closet, and I knew the sunroom was right next door. I could do it, and so I did.
Now, when I got inside the sunroom, a whole new set of problems manifested themselves. It was very dark and the drapes were open, meaning that hitting the light would put me on display to the entire neighborhood—and anyone out there trying to catch me. I didn’t have a flashlight, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to rummage through their house for one. I was a murderer, damn it, not a ransacker.
Left with little choice and under the gun to “get out of the mayor’s mansion as quickly as possible,” I dashed around the room and pulled shut the huge drapes. Then, I braved a swat to the light switch. If I’d be caught, so frickin’ be it. I’d be a gutsy-as-all-hell murderer who liked it with the lights on. I was simply making myself notorious, developing a modus operandi. Those things, coupled with a detective best friend… Hell, they’d be writing books about me.
With a sudden sense of urgency, I surveyed the room for my murder weapon of choice. How, exactly, would I kill Alison? Jesus! I decided to strike that phrasing and try again. As Heady Heaper, infamous gossip columnist of the 1930s, how would I kill the mayor of Granton? The pithy and poetic answer would have been a poison pen, but that would have given me away in a heartbeat. No. … Let’s see. … Um. … Aha! I spied a very plump stone Buddha on a corner shelf, and two seconds later, I snatched that sucker and checked its weight. Deeming it weighty enough to inflict serious blunt force trauma, I had my murder weapon. I placed it on the rug in front of the couch. That seemed right, the only place I could have done it without the slumping body knocking things over.
Draped over the back of the couch was the towel mentioned in the letter. I figured it would appear blood spattered or something just as gruesome. I unfolded the big-ass thing to find, instead, the crime scene outline of a body. Curious as hell, I held it up to get a full view as I wondered whether it really was Alison’s form, perhaps traced by Janice. I wasn’t sure at all, and I deemed it yet another thing that didn’t really matter.
After moving my murder weapon out of the way, I spread the towel out in front of the couch and placed Buddha by the outlined head. Easy enough.
Next, I put my empty coffee cup on the end table. That was Incriminating Evidence #1. It gave away my love of coffee but didn’t automatically put me on a wanted poster the way a Road Swill cup would have. Plus, many of us liked coffee.
Then, I rolled the dumb-ass Tribune into a tight bundle and … shoved it between the couch cushions. That was Incriminating Evidence #2. I was connected to a newspaper, but since it wasn’t the Journal, the wanted poster still remained very slim on detail. Plus, many of us read the newspaper, at least I hoped we did. Goddamn Internet.
Incriminating Evidence #3 had come a lot harder for me. It proved one of those things I wished I could have asked Claudia about. She would have had a brilliant idea on the tip of her sweet tongue. But, I sure as hell couldn’t have asked her. Shit, maybe she was out there staking out the joint with the rest of them. Heady Heaper Caught Red-Handed by the Gangster.
Jesus, get a move on, Kate!
In the end, for Incriminating Evidence #3, I chose a brochure from Granton University. I knew that narrowed the field considerably—if they held it to the standard of those currently involved with something there: the professors and yours truly in the Masters program. I’d simply raise the issue of alumni and anyone who had ever taken a class there, attended a lecture, saw a play, went to a gay people’s haunted house. I knew that covered every frickin’ one of us. Tricky, huh? I sure as hell hoped so.
I tossed the brochure into the small wastebasket under the end table, and then, I surveyed the room, making sure I had done what I was supposed to do and in the best way possible. I figured I had. I hit the light switch and then made my way around the room, opening the drapes, returning the room to normal—or as close as I could get to pre-crime scene normal.
I was halfway to the back door when a horrid thought exploded in my brain matter. What if Laura—a.k.a. Samantha Shovel— had cop stuff in her car? A fingerprint kit, to be specific. Should I have frickin’ wiped things down? Jesus, I wouldn’t put it past her. Why the hell hadn’t I worn my gloves the entire frickin’ time?
As I donned my gloves, I hurried back, and in the dark, I fumbled in the garbage for the brochure and wiped it against my pant leg. I did the same to Buddha. Wasn’t there luck supposedly to be had from rubbing his protruding belly? That seemed a bit warped to me. But, what the hell: I rubbed his navel again.
Then, I moved on to the cup. I doubted she’d send it off to get a DNA profile from my spit so I just wiped the sides, rotating it against my leg.
Wisely, I decided that doing anything to the newspaper would simply render me all inky, which would probably have given Claudia an unwanted directive to ask why this reporter had worked late. Plus, it would also have made my fingers like little stamp pads, leaving damn good fingerprints all over the frickin’ place. Even more plus, I didn’t want the Tribune rubbing off on me. I’d be fired, for sure.
My murderous rampage and ass-covering complete, I hurried out of the house and to my car. After a quick spin through the cul-de-sac turn-around, I began my way back home.
Once I was far enough away from the mayor’s mansion that there was no risk of having to lie, I called Claudia to find out whether she wanted me to bring something home for dinner.
She answered from the bathtub, and the thought of her naked and sudsy instantly turned my thoughts from criminal to carnal.
“I thought we could order pizza,” she said, “unless you’d rather have something else. I don’t feel like cooking. Do you?”
“Not in the least,” I replied, “but pizza before a club weekend is pretty risky. Probably not as bad as hotdogs, but pretty damn close.”
She laughed and said, “Seems to me, Heady Heaper, that you did the cooking at the mayor’s mansion last time.”
“Shit, I did, didn’t I?” I’d have to scrape my brain later to recall why that was—exactly, and I had to wonder what the hell it meant to our weekend that I had offed the mayor. I decided not to think about, to let it just unfold as they intended it to. At least, I’d try to.
“So, dinner ideas?” she asked, conveniently ripping me from my thoughts.
“Um. … How about that shrimp pasta stuff you liked from that Italian joint downtown?”
“Oh my God, Kate, that sounds yummy!”
“I aim to please.” And, keep you from asking why I had to work late. “Stay in that bubble bath of yours and call ahead for me, will you? Order whatever you want. Oh, and something for me.”
With great excitement, she disconnected, and I took the next left. I was off again on another errand, this one far from murderous, one that would lead me home to her.
We spent a quiet evening together, and she never once asked for details about my working late. I never expected the third-degree, but she generally took an interest in the makings of my day. I was just damn thankful I didn’t have to lie—that night anyway. This next day would be a whole ‘nother story.