kelly had had a long day, and even though he had no reason to live, he would be glad to get back to his room.
his room was on the fifth floor, and the building was so old it had no elevator. but he didn’t mind walking up the flights of stairs,
a) because he did not like elevators, and was always afraid he would get trapped in them, and
b) because he figured thieves would be less likely to climb the flights of stairs.
not that he had anything in his room worth stealing. the only thing he had in the room besides a bed and a couple of chairs and a refrigerator was an ancient heavy television that got no picture, only sound.
in fact, kelly had so little of value in his room that he usually did not even lock the door behind him, because he would rather take a chance on being robbed than go through the hassle of getting into his room if he lost his keys.
so when he reached the fifth floor he just turned the handle and walked into the room.
he knew before he switched on the light that there was somebody in the room.
it was murphy, sitting in one of his chairs. kelly’s favorite of the two chairs.
kelly was surprised, but not totally surprised.
he had seen murphy about a week ago at joey’s burgers, the fast food place he, kelly, had been working at for the past fourteen months.
at the time murphy had not seemed to recognize him, and kelly did not indicate that he recognized murphy.
but, here he was.
kelly put the paper bag he was carrying, which contained two sandwiches and two cans of dr pepper, on the counter beside the refrigerator.
“you don’t have much to eat in your refrigerator, man,” murphy said. “what are you spending your hard earned money on, dope or somrething bad like that?”
“what are you, a financial advisor now?” kelly took one of sandwiches and one of the doctor peppers and sat down on the other chair. there was no table in the room so he unwrapped the sandwich and put it on his lap on top of the waxed paper it had been wrapped in at the deli.
“don’t they feed you at that place you work at?’” murphy asked him.
“i like this better. did you come here to talk about my diet? what do you want, anyway?” kelly popped open the can of dr pepper. “oh, and by the way, it’s not polite to just walk into other people’s rooms.”
“the door was open, i’m hungry. why don’t you give me half that sandwich?”
“no. what do you want?”
“why do you think i want something? i might have just come by to say hello.”
“you could have just said hello at joey’s.”
“i wasn’t sure it was you. i had to check around first, you know.” murphy looked over at the big television. “that tv doesn’t work too good.”
“i like it that way. i just listen to it, i don’t watch it.”
“you must have followed me here some night, to know where i live. so, what do you want? i don’t want to get laryngitis, asking you a hundred times.”
“you like that job you got, at that joey’s place? what is that, supposed to be like mcdonalds? i never seen any others.”
“it’s trying to get started.”
“so you like working there? it doesn’t look like much fun.”
“i don’t have much choice.”
“you might. you might. i might have something -“
“i am not interested. “
“you haven’t even heard what i have to say.”
“you talking about crime, murph? what else would you be talking about? but crime does not pay, as i am sure you know/.”
murphy laughed. “what, are you afraid to talk about crime? you think this place is bugged?” he made a show of looking around the room. “you think anybody would bug this dump? if you can’t talk here, you can’t talk anywhere.”
“that is as very well may be. but that’s not the point.”
“what is the point?”
“the point, murph, is that even if i was interested, which i am not, i wouldn’t be interested. and do you know why?”
“because i would take completely for granted - completely for granted - that you are here on behalf of one of the myriad law enforcement agencies that need to justify their existence, to suck me in on some sting operation.”
murphy considered this. “those are some big words, brother, some big words just to say you don’t trust an old friend.”
“you want me to say it again in littler words?”
“no, man, that’s all right. if that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel. i’m sorry, that’s all.”
kelly took another bite of his sandwich and a swig of dr pepper.
murphy looked down at the floor. he did not seem in any hurry to get up and go anywhere.
he was sorry he had opened his mouth, because the teacher - or whatever she was - had hurt him deeply with her smart remarks about crime not paying.
jocko wanted, and had always wanted, to be a master criminal. he did not like to be reminded that it was getting harder all the time.
like even his own friends were telling him all the time.
like kelly was just saying the other day - you can steal a thousand dollars and walk around with it in your wallet - at least until a cop stops you and asks where you got it, or you try to buy something with it and the person in the store presses a button and jerks you around until a cop comes and asks you where you got it… but you can’t steal a billion dollars and put in your pocket…
and now tonight. he had been rounded up with some other losers by his parole officer to attend this stupid “presentation” - the parole officer did not even have to tell him to attend “or else” because there was no freedom any more and everybody was a slave and they were watching you every minute -
what was the stupid teacher going on about now? she had a chart lit up on the back wall and she was pointing to it -
the chart was all words, no pictures, so jocko ignored it. and listened, or tried to listen to what the teacher was saying, in case she asked him a question…
but he could not keep his mind on it, it was so boring.
where are the sympathetic characters? celeste-maria replied.
i am getting to them.
i would strongly suggest getting to them right now.
oh, all right.
the audience was not a large one, though not so small as samantha had been warned she might find.
samantha smiled bravely and took a sip of her bottle of water .
tonight, she announced to the gathering of bored and sullen young people in a back room of the y, our topic is crime. more specifically, that crime does not pay.
did it ever? asked a young man slouched in the second row.
ha ha, a good question, samantha replied. which leads right into the first thing i was going to say - which is that the crime i am referring to as not paying is not the dictionary definition of crime - any illegal activity - but crime as most people think of it - the crime you see in the movies . where one person sticks a gun in somebody else’s face and takes their money - or their painting or jewelry or whatever which they will sell for money. maybe a hundred years ago that kind of crime paid - for a few people - but it does not pay now and has not for a long time.
samantha paused, but nobody in the audience spoke or asked a question. the young man in the second row who had asked the previous question had a bit of a sneer on his face but kept silent and slouched a little lower in his seat.
does anybody have any ideas why this might be so? samantha continued.
a small girl seated in the front row - who seemed to be the youngest and smallest person in the audience - raised her hand.
yes? samantha pointed to her.
is it because of cash? asked the girl.
that is a good answer, samantha told her with a smile. not the whole answer but a good answer. what is your name, by the way?
my name is lucinda, said the small girl.
thank you for your input, lucinda. now, if i may digress for a moment, i have a chart i would like you all to look at.
samantha flipped a switch and a screen behind her lit up. it showed a simple chart with a column of words and two columns of numbers.
willie was having a nice dream. one of his usual dreams, nothing special, but still a nice dream.
in his dream, willie was sitting all alone in a big auditorium, like madison square garden or the roman collosseun - the kind of place that had not existed in his lifetime and that he had only seen on videos and in comic books.
a beauty contest was in progress. the contestants were wearing one piece bathing suits of various colors and they all had long legs.
willie’s phone rang.
he woke up immediately and grabbed the phone off the box beside his cot. the call was from joe b, so he answered it.
willie, look out your window, man.
willie only had one window. he could pretty much look out of it from his cot but got up and moved the two steps to the window, and looked out.
it was starting to snow. willie didn’t see anything except the snow.
“i don’t see nothing, just snow.”
“look down by the street. just inside the alley. there should be a body there.”
“yeah, a body. you don’t see it?”
“afraid not. but it’s snowing.”
“go down and take a look.”
“all right.” willie grabbed his coat from the foot of the cot and went out into the hall. he didn’t lock the door behind him.
willie’s room was on the third floor. the elevator got stuck a lot so he never used it.
“i’m going down the stairs,” willie told joe. “i don’t like to use the elevator because it gets stuck sometimes.”
“that’s good, willie. that’s good. it shows you’re thinking. it’s why we like you so much. and we wouldn’t want you to get stuck.”
willie got down the stairs and on to the street. he did not see a body or anything else in the alley or near it.
he walked the length of the alley.
“there is nothing here,” he told joe.
“are you sure?”
“i’m sure. you want me look for it? what exactly am i looking for?”
“no, no. here is what you do. go back up to your room, and call emergency. tell them you saw a body.”
“and then nothing. tell them you saw a body, you are a good citizen, you reported it. and that’s it. no details, so that you can’t screw the story up. you saw a body, you reported it. you think you can handle it?’
“then just do it. your cooperation is sincerely appreciated. thank you.”
joe was gone. willie put the phone back in his pocket. he stood for a few seconds looking down the alley at the swirling snow.
ray could feel the amigos getting bored and getting ready to rag on him again.
he would have stayed and endured them if he had the price of another cup of coffee but he did not.
someone - he dd not remember who - or maybe he saw it on tv - told ray that in the “old days” you could go to a diner or restaurant and you could buy a cup of coffee and you could drink it and they would give you a “refill” - actually fill the cup up again for nothing!
but he was not sure he beleved it.
ray was not sure he believed anything he heard about the “old days” including whether they even existed.
anyway, his cup was empty so he got up and headed for the door. he took the styrofoam cup and a napkin and threw them in the trash can beside rhe door.
“nice housekeeping there, sunshine!” stan called after him. the amigos always left a mess on their table and prided themselves on doing so. they were helping the economy by giving the employees something to do.
“yeah, you’ll make some other girl a nice wife some day!” umberto added as the door closed behind ray, and they all laughed.
it was colder outside than when ray had come in. and the rain had turned to a wet snow, which was just starting to cover the sidewalk.
ray looked around. there was no sign of the girl, or anybody else.
he started walking back to his room. he could feel the snow on the sidewalk through the thin soles of his shoes.
as he approached an alley he knew.
he knew there would be something there and he should not look…
but he did look.
there, just inside the alley, was a huddled form. some snow was starting to cover it, but ray knew right away what it was.
it was the girl who had come into wendy’s, and she was dead.
ray knew that he would be blamed. it would be his word against the world.
he didn’t know who had really killed her, and he knew he might never know.
and he knew he had to act fast.
he picked the body up and slung it over his shoulder and headed down the alley.
at the other end go the alley was walker street - a much less traveled thoroughfare and one that led to a warren of abandoned factories and to the river.
in a previous life ray had been a squatter in one of the abandoned factories, and in a life previous to that one he had been a worker in another of factories, and although he had worked there for many years he had never risen either on the job or in the union and had always just worked his place on the line.
the snow began to fall a little heavier. this made his progress a little slower but reduced his chances of meeting anybody.
if a police car came along, there would be nothing he could do. he just had to take the chance. if he had just left the body there it would have been all up with him anyway.
with the body balanced on his shoulder ray trudged along as casually as he could.
he decided it was too far to the river. he would aim for his old squatter territory.
which, he had heard, had been pretty much completely cleared out by the various police forces.
ray kept putting one foot in front of the other and made his way through the swirling snow.
you are breaking the three most important rules of writing a bestseller.
bestseller? i thought i was just writing this to pass the time.
yes, but if you are going to write something you might as well write something that will make a billion dollars, right? like stephen king or harry potter.
maybe? what is maybe about it? if you found a billion dollars in the street you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you?
all right, what are these three rules you are talking about ?
you don’t know? you want to guess?
no, just tell me.
sympathetic characters, sympathetic characters, and sympathetic characters.
i am serious. haven’t you ever read reviews on amazon? and seen how many people come right out and say - i didn’t like this book because i did not like the characters.
no, i never did.
you should, you might learn something. anyway, all the characters in your story so far are losers -
but i just started!
all right, but i am warning you, that is all. now, this girl who comes into the diner -
you should change it to an old edward hopper diner, everybody likes edward hopper.
places like that don’t exist any more!
so? anyway, as i was saying, this girl who comes into the diner or wendy’s or wherever, she is going to get killed, right? and her body tossed in or behind a dumpster?
maybe. don’t be such a big know-it-all.
well, whether she is alive or dead, was she going to be a sympathetic character? hmmm?
i had not decided - maybe she would be a bitch.
there you go. well, make her a bitch but be sure to have a sympathetic female character to offset her - probably a detective or f b i agent but she has to be young, beautiful, brilliant, totally feminist and pc, and like kids and dogs and have total empathy with everybody that should be empathized with.
yeesh. is that all?
maybe before you start -
i already started.
you should study the masters.
you mean like dickens and balzac,
no no, no dickens or balzac. balzac! i mean the writers that make billions, like james patterson and stephen king and j k rowling. especially j k rowling. that reminds me - you should do like rowling does - not just have a sympathetc characters and villains but foils.
foils. not out and out villains but people the heroine or hero can play off and put down and always get the better of. like a humorless bureaucrat or professor or the heroine’s boss or rival.
on one particularly foul and rainy morning, ray was sitting in the wendy’s on the corner, staring into a cup pf coffee, which was all he had been able to afford.
the four amigos were at “their” table, and ray had seated himself by the front window, as far away as possible from them, something he did not always do.
the four amigos were glancing over at him and smirking, like they were getting ready to open up on him on all cylinders, but were just… biding their time.
suddenly the door opened and a gust of rain and wind came in and wth it a girl.
she was wearing a raincoat with a hood that covered her whole head - like little red riding hood’s, but yellow. she flipped the hood back, revealing long blonde hair.
she looked like a movie star.
ray, and stan and the turk and umberto and vaclav, and the fifteen year old boy behind the counter, all stared at her.
for a few seconds none of them spoke, as the girl approached the counter.
“hey, snowflake!” stan yelled over at ray. “stop staring at that young lady! you’re invading her space!”
and his three buddies laughed, but the girl approached the counter and ignored them.
“yeah ,what are you, some kind of sicko?” the turk shouted at ray. “some kind of stalker?’ and the turk and stan laughed at ray, but umberto and vaclav kept their eyes on the girl.
“i wasn’t looking at her,” ray mumbled. he was red-faced and flustered - the amigos got to him every time.
“what’s that? you weren’t looking at her?” umberto growled. “why not? don’t you like girls?” and all four exploded in laughter.
meanwhile the girl had reached the counter, and asked for something in too soft a voice for any of the five men to hear.
bobby wilson, the young man behind the counter, had recovered his composure after the first shock of seeing her, as he was a very self-assured young fellow for his fifteen years.
bobby got the girl a small coffee and she left, without ever looking at ray or the four amigos.
“whoo-ee!” vaclav yelled as soon as the door was safely closed behind her. and all four started hooting and whooping like 12-yesr olds.
bobby could not help rolling his eyes. what a bunch of jerkoffs!
at the same time, he could not help feeling a little glad they were there, because he did not like to be alone with ray, who gave him the creeps.
even though ray had never actually said anything to or suggested anything to bobby that bobby could put his finger on. he always just ordered what he ordered - usually just coffee - without making eye contact.
ray was just a creepy guy.
now ray had finished his coffee, so he was ready to leave.
but then it occurred to him that the amigos would probably rag on him for “following” the girl.
so he stayed in his seat for a couple of minutes, staring into his empty cup.
the amigos left him alone. they were like dogs who had barked themselves out for a little while.
ray thought about the girl.
bobby and the four amigos had already forgotten her.
he had no friends because he was a loser and nobody liked him.
he did not talk much to other living creatures but when he did he always got into arguments.
he had no purpose in life.
ray was a watcher - a person who spent most of his life when he was not sleeping, in his room, watching television or streaming video.
sometimes he just stared at the walls or at the ceiling.
most of the time ray ordered his food from the delivery service.
but sometimes, usually early in the morning. after a night of terrible dreams, when he was feeling especially ornery and restless, he would go out to eat at a mcdonalds or burger king or wendy’s.
if it was a nice morning he would sometimes walk as far away as two miles, to a mcdonalds or burger king or wendy’s or even an ihop or denny’s that he had never been to before.
but if it was not such a nice day he would go to the wendy’s on the corner.
where he would almost always encounter the four amigos - stan, the turk, umberto , and vaclav. they were always sitting together at “their” table.
ray didn’t like them and they didn’t like him.
they knew ray was easy to rile up and they amused themselves doing so.
they called him names like “sunshine” and “smiley”, and worst of all - “snowflake”.
sometimes ray ignored them, but mostly he let them get to him.
in another time, the wendy’s would have been a diner, ruled with an iron hand by a guy named gus with a cigar between his teeth, or a woman named sal with tattoos on her arms, and they would not have stood for any nonsense or let things get out of hand.
as it was, there was always a teenaged girl or boy behind the counter - a different one every time - and they would just stare into space even if ray got into a shoving match or actual fisticuffs with the amigos.
are you looking at anything in particular out the window, or just looking out the window?
i’m looking at the rain.
is the rain interesting? is it forming fascinating or beautiful patterns?
not that i noticed.
why don’t you write a novel?
why would i want to do that?
it’s just a thought. nobody is forcing you to do anything.
oh, all right. i guess i have to.
you don’t have to, i just thought you might like it.
what do i need to start?
well, you need a tablet, or maybe a pencil and a notebook - or pad of paper. which would you prefer?
um - a pencil and paper. please.
the nanny, whose name was celeste-maria and had a lush, full body, went to the old-fashioned desk that had belonged to billy’s grandfather and found an 8 by 11 inch notepad and a nicely sharpened pencil and gave them to billy.
now what? billy asked.
first you need a title.
how long does it have to be?
as long or short as you like. it could be one word, like “life” or “conglomerate” or “marsupial”. it could be a thousand words long, if you like.
do you have any suggestions?
well, i don’t think it would be a very good start if you could not even come up with your own title, would it?
give me a hint.
well… i don’t know…
i tell you what. said billy, give me a title and then my title will be the opposite of yours.
all right, said celeste-maria, how about life in the sunshine?
then my novel will be death in the rain, said billy.
there you go, now you are off to a good start. with a good title, you are halfway there.