“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
– William Faulkner
Killing your darlings or cutting the chaff from your writing is not easy. However, it is necessary. But, for entertainment purposes I have posted writing that, for a variety of reasons, did not see the light of day. These are unedited and are mostly first drafts.
These snippets are from the earliest STILL LIFE version, one which a mentor through Mystery Writer’s of America inspired me to cut and rewrite. Thank goodness!
Randi’s lungs burned as she gasped for breath, the crisp air searing her throat as it passed through her open mouth. She chanced a look over her shoulder, briefly checking the distance of her pursuer.
He was coming up fast.
Was he closer? She couldn’t tell.
Randi pushed hard to increase her stride, her thigh and calf muscles bunching with the effort. She could her the slap-slap-slap of her own bare feet against the concrete as she barreled down the sidewalk.
God, why was this happening to her? The son-of-bitch had appeared out of nowhere. He must have been in the alley two blocks back, waiting for someone like her to walk by, someone to accost.
The downtown streets were empty, not a single soul out this early in the morning. So much for walking to work early and getting some paperwork done, Randi thought. What did she get for the effort? Ambushed!
She had been checking her e-mail on her Blackberry when she’d heard a noise behind her; she’d turned to see him creeping along the sidewalk, following her. She’d hesitated just long enough to make eye contact with him. She was instantly aware of how dangerous he was, feral in fact.
His menacing dark eyes, with the streetlight glinting off them as he pierced her with his stare, had scared the hell out of her. They stood frozen, gauging each other and she wondered who would flinch first, him or her.
A chill crawled up her spine.
Randi spun on her heels and ran. She struggled to find her gate in her heels, quickly finding a balance between forward motion and safe foot placement. Must run faster, she thought. Adrenaline surged. Her heart hammered in her chest. She could actually hear his breathing over her own as he advanced on her.
She hadn’t gone far and there was no way could she keep this up. She chanced a single hop and grabbed her left shoe, hopped to the other foot and grabbed the other one. She turned and threw the shoes at him one at a time. She missed both shots. What had she been thinking? That she could impale his head with a spiked heel? What a waste of designer footwear.
There was no way she’d make it all the way to her office. But where the hell could she go? How could she escape him?
Across the street Jo Binder was unlocking the door to The Donut Hole. If Randi could just get across the street and into the doorway of the bakery, she’d be safe.
She turned sharply and darted into the street. A sudden blare of a horn brought her up short, forcing her to spin left, placing her in the headlights of a big truck barreling down on her. Randi threw herself forward, leaped across the centerline to narrowly miss the large bumper, twisting her ankle as she fell and landing hard on her butt.
The screech of tires on blacktop pierced the quiet darkness. She heard a muffled thump and a cry of pain.
Shocked, Randi sat back in the middle of the street, panting. The threat was over. She couldn’t believe it. Her attacker had been struck down by Basil the bread man.
Randi got up slowly, brushing bits of dirt and asphalt off her clothes. She walked back to pick up the little Bandolino sandals that she’d tossed at her would-be-assailant and limped over to where he lay injured in the road.
Basil Klemente bounded out of the big truck in a single leap, rushing to Randi’s side. Big and Italian, Basil kept his dark hair slicked back and his mustache trimmed handlebar style, reminding Randi of an odd combination of Sylvester Stallone and Luciano Pavarotti. One of the friendliest people in Mt Morris, everyone knew Basil the bread man.
“Are you alright, Randi?” He put a beefy arm around Randi’s shoulder, giving her a supportive squeeze as they approached the silent form, which lay prone in the road.
“I’m fine.” She panted, still out of breath.
She looked down at him, shocked by the sight of his still body.
He must be dead.
Randi couldn’t see any blood or obvious injury.
“Hey look, he’s breathing!” Basil exclaimed. “Is he yours?”
Randi shook her head slowly, her breathing back to normal.
“No, he was chasing me.” Holding up her damaged shoe as evidence of the event, the two-inch-stacked-heel broken and dangling from her forefinger. Like evidence of damaged fashion explained anything.
The large black Rottweiler squeaked out a whimper, his dark eye no longer scary, but scared. He looked up at Randi and whined again. Randi was instantly on her knees at his side, her long, elegant fingers probing the thick black fur as she searched for injuries. The big dog yipped in pain when she gently touched his haunch. His breathing seemed labored, but then what did Randi know about it. She was simply guessing at this point.
Amazing. There was absolutely no fight in the bastard now. How could this be the same animal that had chased her as if he were the devil’s spawn?
“Let’s lift him into my truck and take him to Dr. Deb?” Basil suggested, hands on his hips, his face pale with concern.
Randi shot him an incredulous look as she took in the bulky sized of the dog.
“You and what army?”
Randi sat on a blue vinyl chair in the lobby of the local veterinarian, Deb Tatinger, listening to spa music float through the space and staring at photos of the furry walking-wounded. Each had had medical miracles worked upon them by Dr. Deb, as she was affectionately known about town.
Randi thought one or two breeds might have made good pets, perhaps the small fury one that resembled a longhaired cat. Randi was a cat person. She’d never owned a dog and never intended to.
She went back to thumbing through the pages of Pet World Magazine. Not really seeing the pictures. Not actually reading the material.
This is ridiculous Randi thought, slamming the magazine down on the coffee table, raising the eyebrows of patiently waiting pet-parents.
Why was she so worried about the damn dog? He’d nearly gotten her killed. The monster-mongrel had nearly given her a heart attack, ruined a favorite pair of shoes, caused her to just miss getting mowed down by a bread truck and now she was praying he was going to survive. To do what? Fight another day? Run-down some other innocent woman? Sire more monster-mongrel-mutts?
Randi looked up when she her footsteps moving in her direction. Dr. Deb was walking toward her in scrubs covered in CatDog print fabric. She held a clipboard in her hand. The Doctor lowered herself into the chair next to Randi and gave her a sympathetic look. Bad news. Randi’s heart sank.
Dr. Deb sank into the chair next to Randi and placed a soft warm hand on top of hers, giving it a gentle, supportive squeeze.
“Well, his leg isn’t broken. Just bruised deep within the muscle.” Her hand left Randi’s and she flipped though her notes on the clipboard. “The rest of the injuries are just bumps and bruises. It really is quite remarkable that his injuries aren’t more extensive.” She shook her head in amazement as she continued. “We cleaned the mites out of his ears, clipped his toenails and checked him over thoroughly. He’ll be back to normal in a week.” She looked up from her notes and smiled at Randi, who sat with her mouth agape. “I know, it seems like a miracle, but animals are very resilient. He’ll be sore for a day or two, of coarse and I’d like to keep him for observation for a single night, but then you can take him home tomorrow afternoon.” She smiled reassuringly and patted Randi’s leg as she stood, signaling the end of her report.
“WHAT!” Randi sprang out of her seat, certain she’d heard wrong. “He’s alive?” She choked out the question.
“Yes, he’s strong but it’s best if he stay here at least one night and rest.”
“He’s not my dog.” She said defensively.
“Oh. You brought him in, so I just thought….” She faltered. She tapped her pen on the clipboard, considering. “I suppose in a day or two he’ll be in good enough shape to go the shelter. He can recuperate there just as easily.”
“Oh right, he’ll eventually get adopted. Great.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “Phew. Dodged that bullet.” Randi joked, retaking her seat.
“No.” Dr. Deb hesitated. “I don’t imagine he’ll ever be adopted. People generally want puppies or small dogs and certainly not an injured dog that requires nursing. At least he’ll be off the streets.” Dr. Deb smiled gently. “Of course, his life expectancy rate will go down. Despite the no-kill-policy, the kennels are small for such a large dog. The only love and affection he’ll receive will be from overworked staff and volunteers. But at least he’ll live.”
She let the words hang in the air and stared into Randi’s eyes, as if the answer were somewhere in the depths of her pupils.
“That’s not fair.”
She knew she’d been conned.
Three hours after Randi had started out early for work, her checking account $269 lighter; she limped out of the Vet Clinic with one bare foot and headed straight for The Donut Hole.
She ordered an extra large Kona with French vanilla creamer to go. The Donut Hole was Mt. Morris’ version of Starbucks—the go-to place for gourmet coffee, chai tea, and specialty baked goods.
“Hey Randi, what are you going to name your dog?” Jo Binder asked as she handed Randi her coffee.
“I have no clue what to name him. I guess I’ll give us time to get to know each other and we’ll see what fits.” Randi said absently, mulling over several names that came to mind as she sipped the hot brew. He was a big dog. Thor? Brutus? Barbarian? Chewbacca? Would any of these suit him? Or should she seek a smidge of payback and name him Fifi or Tiny. She laughed out loud at the thought as she waved good-bye to Jo and headed to work.
Randi maneuvered down the sidewalk to her office, passing neighboring businesses just opening for the day. She gimped up and down like a carousel ride with her single Bandolino clad foot, drawing stares as she traveled.
“To hell with it.” She mumbled aloud.
She kicked off the remaining shoe, saving her calf muscle and arch. Besides, it wasn’t that far to the office and what the hell was the difference if she had one dirty foot or two?
She needed a frickin’ do-over for this day. Everyone should be allotted a specific number of do-overs in life. Maybe not for big mistakes like marrying someone you thought actually loved you and then slept with your best friend, or maybe not when you decided to forego college in order to marry a man who turned out to be an asshole, not for those big decisions that ended up being character building, life lessons. Those were necessary to the kind of person you became and how you lived your life and appreciated other people. Those were essential lessons.
Randi believed the big decisions you failed at made you stronger, patient, and tolerant. Attributes that set you apart from the ass-holes that walk over other people, good people. Like Stu and Carli. They would never be good people.
A do-over should be for those days when you accidentally scratch the paint on your own car or friends’ car for that matter. Or, when you buy a non-refundable sofa on clearance and it won’t fit through any of the doors in your house. Or even, when a monster-mongrel chases you down in a near-death experience and you end up agreeing to keep the damn animal afterward.
Why did this crap happen to her?
Randi had been forced to learn the consequences of bad decision-making when her marriage failed. When she had decided to stop home in between work appointments and found her husband screwing another woman.
It had been a bad decision to trust Stuart Jansen.
It had been a bad decision to trust her best friend, Carli Becker.
It had certainly been a bad decision to stop home and find the two people she most trusted in bed together.
Enough about regret, Randi thought as she swiped at the corner of her eye. Her bare feet slapped against the concrete as the heartache pinched inside her.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts and slowed her walk. For now her only regret was that she was late to work, instead of early. And on top of that, she now had to fit time into her busy day to buy pet supplies for a damn dog she didn’t want to own.
She gulped the hot coffee, burning her tongue. She couldn’t help but wonder if there would’ve been a much better outcome to this day if she had decided to squelch her ambition and slept in.
Randi leaned against the glass door to her office building, lifting her filthy feet one at a time to examine each one for pebble dents, sidewalk gum and residual dog poop she might have stepped in (of coarse).
Determining that her feet held no more dirt to trail onto her carpet than the average pair of shoes worn in off the street, she felt she could enter the building. She balanced her paper coffee cup, trapping it against her boob with her forearm as she rummaged in her purse for office keys. Suddenly she pitched forward, sending her purse and it’s over abundance of feminine contents sailing out across the pavement in front of striding pedestrians.
In reaction to the sudden movement, Randi spun, pulling in her arm, causing what was now, thankfully, remnants of warm coffee to erupt across the front of her blouse at the same time momentum and lost balance sent her tumbling backward to land among her scattered belongings.
Yes. Of coarse!
That was what she deserved for wishing for a do-over.
“Oh my God, Randi! Are you okay? I saw you outside fishing for your keys and I thought I’d open the door for you.” CJ said to her boss.
Randi rolled over and looked up into CJ’s eyes. “Physically I’m fine. It’s my mental stability you should question this morning.”
This next bit features Jon Bricksen, law enforcement transplant from Milwaukee P.D. Here he is referred to by the original nickname, Brick. This was a scene where Brick (Jon) has an epiphany in the case. The original victim was Sarah Redding, whom I later decided to keep alive and make a permanent secondary character. Not that I won’t knock her off some day.
Brick set his icy beer bottle on one of the many boxes scattered in stacks around his living room. He could still feel Randi’s lips on his, the soft skin of her cheeks rub against the grain of his five o’clock shadow.
Damn, she was a good kisser. Brick took a pull off his beer and sighed deeply. She was probably good in bed as well and for the third time since dropping her off, he’d bantered back and forth with himself over the wisdom of letting her go home alone.
Right thing to do. Right?
Still not a hundred percent sure, probably never would be.
At least a little physical contact put him in a good enough mood to look through a box, at least small one. One box a night. That could be his new goal. At that rate he’d be unpacked in 4.2 months.
He took a swig of beer and pulled an envelope out that held a stack of photos.
Pictures from a hunting trip in the Lac du Flambeau with his uncle and cousins. Brick shuffled briskly through the stack. He stopped at a photo of his uncle with a 9 point buck with a kicker on the rack. The odd angled dropped tine looked out of place. He remembered he and his cousins were giving Uncle Ray a hard time while they waited for him to gut it. Odd rack for an odd man they said. They’d chided him that it was a good fit, like he’d shot his long lost brother. They were all about to wet themselves from laughing, when they told him to lift his brother’s head up so they could get a shot of the twins. Uncle Ray had complied as he laughed along.
Brick took another swig, draining the bottle and studied the photo. He felt a twinge of familiarity, but he wasn’t sure what exactly was familiar. Couldn’t quite put his finger on what he was looking for in the photo, just got a feeling that he should see something specific.
What the hell? He’d had these pictures forever, seen this one in particular many times, what was the deal?
He flipped through the rest of the photos and returned to his Uncle’s ear-to-ear grin. That’s when he noticed the knife.
Uncle Ray had stopped gutting the deer and snapped the knife into the hard ground with a flick of his wrist—mumbly-peg style. The knife stood straight up, the ground an impromtu holder, while Uncle Ray picked up the buck’s head by the horns and smiled for his ego shot.
Brick jumped up, knocked over the box, spilling its contents to the floor. He sprinted to the kitchen counter, fumbled for the crime scene photo file. As he searched through the file with his left hand, he grabbed up his phone and dialed Terri’s number with the right.
“Hey, I think I figured something out.” He gasped.
“You sound out of breath. What’s going on?’
“Can you grab a sharp scissor and meet me at Sarah Redding’s house now?”
“Yup. And bring your digital camera.”
Brick hung up.
When Brick pulled to the curb, Terri was standing on the front porch of Sarah Redding’s house bouncing nervously from foot to foot. Brick jogged up to where Terri waited.
“So what up?” Terri rushed out.
“You know how we both felt we were missing something at the crime scene, but neither of us could put a finger on it, well I think I might have figured it out.” Brick pulled out a pocketknife and in one brief motion sliced through the law enforcement seal. They would need to replace the seal with a new one when they left.
It had been morning the last time Brick was inside the house. There’d been a lot of cops around, all working a busy crime scene. Tonight it was just him and Terri. The stillness of the place left Brick a little creeped out. He moved directly to the stairs and took them two at a time leaving Terri to keep up.
The house and its contents were still part of an active investigation and remained untouched since that first day.
Nothing had changed. Blood stains still there.
Brick slid photos from his front pocket and with Terri’s help they identified evidence markers to corresponding photos, that way Brick knew exactly where to look. He found the straight, narrow blood streak within a few moments.
“I need you to photograph me as I work, so that new evidence is documented.” Brick cut a circle in the carpet around the two-inch streak and carefully lifted it up and away. He turned the carpet piece over and that’s when the cut in the material was evident. Brick then cut through the padding beneath the cut out carpet, following the same circular outline. The pad was lifted away. There, in the wood underlayment, was a knife mark made from a knife being forced into place perpendicular to the floor, looking to Brick as if it had been snapped into place with a flick of the wrist, mumbly-peg style.
Terri had been taking pictures throughout work, making sure the smallest of details was evidenced. She stopped when Brick stopped.
“What does it mean?” Terri asked, kneeling down.
“He wasn’t finished.”
“He wasn’t finished. He never completed whatever he’d planned .”
“Still not getting it.” Terri looked from him to the floor and back with a puzzled expression.
“Picture the killer kneeling over Sarah Redding’s body, doing…” Brick paused. “Doing everything he did. If he had completed everything he wanted, he would have taken the knife, stood and walked away, right?”
Terri nodded, picturing the scenario in her head.
“Why would he have thrown the knife into the floor, unless he needed to be ‘hands-free’?” Brick prodded.
“Yea, yea. I get it. He was going to do something else that didn’t require a knife.” She switched gears, taking over, pacing as she thought outloud. “But nothing else was done to the victim. He didn’t drag her anywhere, didn’t pose her, didn’t cover her up, nothing. None of the usual things a killer might do after the killing is done. So why would he need to be hands free if he didn’t intend to do something else?”
“Exactly. I think he did. But then didn’t get to it. I don’t know why not, maybe he changed his mind, maybe he contemplated doing something new he’d never…”
“Maybe he was interrupted?” Terri spun around mid-stride.
“Fuck.” Brick stood, feeling gut punched. “Do you remember that e-mail from RISSNET. The one about the serial murders?”
“Shit. No way!”
“I’m thinking maybe.” Brick exchanged a worried look with Terri.
“There goes my beauty sleep.” She said, resigned.