The challenge from Patti Abbott, Gerald So and the Mystery Dawg as explained by Patti:
Write the first paragraph of a story, send it to me by January 20th. I will stir the pot and send it back out to another writer. Write a 750 (or so) word story using it.
There's a list of all of today's stories on Patti's blog here.
Here's the story I wrote:
The first time George Heartwell e-mailed the writer, Margaret Roberts, on June 22nd, he suffered all morning. He re-read the letter over and over and wished to hell he hadn't ever done such a stupid thing. Christ, what was she going to think?
Well, she was going to think she was being blackmailed, sure, but what would she think of the writing?
“There are cameras everywhere, Margaret, in phones, in pens, in computers - some even look like cameras. There was one on the eleventh floor of the Lord Baltimore Radisson at Bouchercon.”
He wanted it to be the fewest words possible, noir style, none of that purple prose like her cozies. Her bestselling-around-the-world cozies.
Now here it was almost winter and George was driving highway 21, looking for the entrance to a closed provincial park for his meeting with Margaret. They’d gone back and forth for months, she’d answered his email with a simple, “What do you want?”
That surprised him, he’d expected a denial or some excuses, some convoluted story about it being a misunderstanding, how there was nothing going on really, but she got right to the point. Not very cozie-like at all.
She must’ve read his hardboiled flash fiction online.
Back then George’d wanted to get her help with agents and publishers but she pointed out their writing didn’t really have anything in common, people would suspect something was going on between them if she started showing his work around – her husband would find that suspicious for sure.
So he settled for money and Margaret asked him to meet her at the Ipperwash Provincial Park on Lake Huron. It had been closed since a group of Native protestors took it over claiming it was on native lane – it probably was for all George knew – and Margaret and her husband lived in an old farmhouse somewhere nearby.
He’d expected more trouble getting into the park but he just drove in like Margaret told him in her email. Typical Canada, there was a sign that said, “Closed,” but no locked gate or anything. He drove a few miles through the woods until he came to the Park Store, the building boarded up and falling apart. The parking lot was surrounded by trees, the perfect location for a drop. Well, not perfect like it would have been in one of George’s books, some back alley all gritty and dark, or a massage parlour.
George parked and waited. He had a copy of Margaret`s latest book with him and he thumbed through it. The author photo was pretty good, she looked great for a woman a little over fifty and he liked the first page; a woman walking her dogs comes across a guy who committed suicide in his car, attatched a vacuum hose to the exhaust pipe with tape and ran it through the trunk.
Everyone bought the suicice except the woman walking her dogs. George couldn’t believe these cozies, amateur sleuths, the woman was a professional dog walker and now she’s investigating a homicide. Who buys this crap?
He was well into the book when a dog barked and he almost had a heart attack.
There was Margaret Roberts, walking out of the woods behind two dogs, a big German Sheperd and some small fluffy thing. Maybe that photo wasn’t retouched, she looked good.
George got out of his car and said, hey. Margaret nodded at him, said, hello, as she was opening the black bag she had over her shoulder. It was the bag from Bouchercon, the Charmed to Death logo in white, the bracelet with the little charms, the skull and the gun and the switchblade.
She took out a thermos and asked George if he’d like some tea. He said no and Margaret said, “How about a little Bushmills then?”
“Sure, why not.”
Margaret poured a little into the thermos lid and handed it to George. He drank and coughed a little and said, “Very good.” Then he said, “Do you have my money?”
“Get right to the point why don’t you?”
George drank the rest of the Bushmills and Margaret poured him some more, saying, “Don’t you think it’s beautiful out here?
George said, “I guess,” and Margaret said, “Not like one of your hardboiled stories, of course, but like a cozie.”
“I suppose people get blackmailed in hardboiled stories all the time?”
George said, yeah they do. He couldn’t believe this chick, hadn’t she ever read Hammet? Or even Robert B. Parker?
“People sometimes get blackmailed in cozies,” Margaret said. “But do you know what happens more often?” She was looking right at him now but going out of focus, saying, that’s right, “They get poisoned.”
George’s knees started to give way and he was falling over, his face hitting the gravel hard but he was already numb.
He could see Margaret getting something out of the black Charmed to Death bag, a vacuum cleaner hose and a roll of tape.
She said, “Not everyone gets published George, it’s no reason to kill yourself.”