A Conversation (Among Strangers on a Bus)
Voice One: “He shared secrets with the Russians!”
Voice Two: “Maybe he was trying to be frank.”
Voice One: “Or he’s a traitor in bed with Putin!”
Voice Three: “Over there is a statue of Lafayette.”
Voice Four: “He believed in the cause of liberty.”
Voice Two: “Radical factions ordered his arrest.”
Voice One: “If I’m considered a radical, so be it. They should arrest Trump!”
Voice Two: “No, Lafayette was arrested. Napoleon secured his release.”
Voice One: “Another dictator helping another.”
Voice Four: “I think you’re confusing the past with the present.”
Voice One: “Shut up! If you’re against liberty, then I don’t want to hear it.”
Voice Three: “Look there’s the White House.”
Voice One: “Probably already sold it.”
Voice Four: “Let’s go take a look before its gone.”
Voice Two: “The price of liberty requires eternal vigilance.”
I stand in the darkness
Outstretched arms seeking a name
Of one person who served a cause
Proud in service.
Each believed in the mighty nation
Pressed into liberation of people oppressed
Under a threat of ominous winds along the Ho Chi Mihn.
A boy my son’s age; he knows a lot, so he thinks.
This truth learned before death;
Warriors serve their masters even when they change their minds.
I’m looking for a relevant pawn in an irrelevant war.
I see my protagonist in The Farmer’s Cop pretty clearly. He’s a former sheriff who recently lost the family ranch due to bad investments. He’s a pariah with his siblings; they really don’t like him. He moves from rural California to Los Angles; a sheep missing his wool. He is trying to fit into a hip culture, and well, he will never be mistaken for hip. But he’s trying. My protagonist is very smart and doesn’t suffer fools. He uses his country charm as a way to sneak under the fences.
As for my antagonist; I still need to figure him/her out. They need to be an equal to my sheriff. Just as smart, and in some ways, smarter. The antagonist needs to have some flaws and character traits will all admire. In essence, the reader needs to sympathize, and even like, the murderer.
As I said before, the mystery story must be about the detective solving the murder. But the story also needs to feature the murderer. We need to feel like this is someone we would like to hang out with.
Character planning is in some ways more important than plotting. Sure, it is nice to know the story outline. However, the way the characters react to things happening in the story will push the story forward and allow the reader to grow to love the character.
Five Character Traits of The Antagonist (Murderer)
I go into more detail on these five traits on my Patreon Page.
“Police are finding a lot of bodies lately.”
“Plenty of murder-suicides stacking up.”
“It says here he called 9-1-1 before the suicide.”
“Wanted police to find her body.”
“Murder is one thing, but suicide will send you to hell.”
“He just should have murdered her?”
“Just so you know, if I murder you I’m not going to kill myself.”
“So no suicide pact?”
“If I murder you, it’s because you needed it.”
“You’ll feel no remorse?”
“Wandering around hell? I don’t need that shit.”
Jerry pulled his clothes, the sleeping bag, and Fredrico’s suitcase out from under the dumpster. One of the girls took the case. They all walked in silence as Charlie led them into the other side of the alley.
“What have you got in here,” one of the girls carrying his horn case asked.
“That’s Fredrico. ”
She didn’t understand. Jerry stopped and took the suitcase from her. He opened it up in his arms.
“Why it’s just a doll,” she said.
“Well, more than that. He’s my friend.” As soon as he said it, Jerry blushed because he realized could use some real friends. The girl smiled.
“I’m Darlene. I can keep on carrying your friend for you.” She winked at Jerry. He noticed she wore black hose and a sheer top with purple streaks in her hair. He closed the case and handed it back.
After a ten minute walk, Charlies stopped everyone at the entrance to a storm drain leading into a vacant lot. The dark tunnel was blocked with abandoned shopping carts and tires. Tumble weeds, trash, and mud collected around the tires blocking a green slime trail of water. The water cut through a line of footprints leading into the tunnel.
“Wooee-ah!” Charlie shouted. “Wooee-ah!” The group waited outside the entrance to the tunnel. Jerry watched red tail lights float away in the distance. A cool breeze blew up from the tunnel.
“Come down,” a voice shouted from the shadows.
“That keeps us from getting beaten to a pulp,” Charlie said.
Jerry and his new friends walked under the concrete opening into the darkness. Around a turn in the tunnel, Jerry saw lights hanging from the ceiling. A small generator sputtered next to a wall set up on a stack of pallets nearly five feet tall. Further down, the tunnel was divided up into rooms by a curtain hallway.
“You can take over for Sam,” said Charlie. He pointed over to a dark room hidden by a brown sheet. “Sam took a trip and won’t be back.”
Everyone became quite. Jerry considered the silence wondering what happened to Sam.
“Topside found him with his head bashed in,”Charlie said. Jerry furrowed up his brow. Darlene let out a disgusted sigh.
“What? It happened that way.” Charlie kicked the ground with a mud-caked boot.
“You make it sound like any other day.” Darlene rolled her eyes. Charlie ignored her and slapped Jerry’s shoulder.
“He was lying in his blood inside one of those dumpsters in the alley,” Charlie continued.
Charlie pointed at the room. “Anyway, you can sleep over there.”
Jerry gathered up his things and pulled back the curtain. The room contained a bed and a stack of Heavy Metal magazines. On the magazines, a pewter guitar kept the pages from blowing away. Darlene placed Fredrico on the bed. Behind them a nervous kid kicked the edge of the bed.
“Sam will be back you know,” the kid said. Jerry sized him up and decided he couldn’t be older than 14. Hell, he felt like an old man at 20. He could only imagine what this kid felt like.
“I’m Tate,” the kid said. “Don’t get too comfortable because Sam will be back.” His confidence contained a slight doubt as he continued to kick the bed.
“Don’t worry about him,” Darlene said. “He just misses Sam.” She rubbed Tate’s shoulder.
A small beard covered Tate’s chin and he needed a bath. His black hair framed his face in oily wisps. Tate reminded Jerry of his little brother and he decided the kid needed a friend. “Why don’t you tell me about him,” Jerry said.
Tate pushed his toe into the concrete and brought back his shoe for another pass. “Not much to tell. He’s just a good guy.”
“Too bad he’s not here,” Jerry said.
“Yeah. You’ll like him when he comes back.”
Rooms divided the tunnel with pallets, sheets and towels while graffiti lined the walls. In the center of the tunnel, a sofa sat in front of a paper box.
“We’d put the TV there if we had one,” Tate said. He drew closer to Jerry and stared at him. Jerry turned toward the boy and laughed.
“There’s nothing to watch anyway,” Jerry said.
The driver pretended he was talking on the phone turning away from him. Jerry tried to let it go even though he felt anger bubbling up. Panhandling dipped into the well of hate Jerry felt toward his family. The begging only gave him a squirrel stomach reminding him of his father’s glare. His earnest eyes met ears and bald spots as the drivers sat in their cars pretended to play with the radio, or do other things, to avoid talking to him. The constant rejection on the freeway off-ramp provoked anger, shame, regret, and disgust. He was lucky to clear $30 a day; sometimes more and often less. Jerry hated panhandling worse than living under the cloak of indifference he ran away from.
He tried selling small bags of marijuana or the oxy he pinched from his Aunt Margaret’s medicine cabinet. For this job, he sat in a dark alley waiting for the locals to walk up like spies certain their cover was blown. Every sale was exciting and dangerous, yet he left each encounter sick. The money was quick, but the customers were a bit intense, especially when they needed a fix. Everyone seemed so sad and he kicked himself for feeding their sickness. Plus, the stealing from Margaret stopped when she found out her pills were missing every time he came over. Soon he felt eyes watching him and he suspected everybody was a cop. Paranoia added to the shame and he didn’t like this feeling either.
Jerry walked away from the freeway toward The Strip carrying a grocery sack filled with two hot water bottles. They were colder earlier when he refiled them from a water fountain inside Bellagio. As cars sped by above him, he eyed a billboard promising gamblers Looser Slots; deep down Jerry felt like a loser too.
The setting sun bore into him as it neared the top of Red Rock and he rounded the neon lights of The Strip into a dark corner behind a casino parking garage. His t-shirt stuck to his back from the afternoon sweat. He headed to the place where he liked to sleep behind a dumpster off Koval where he stashed a trash bag of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a cracked leather horn case containing a ventriloquist dummy named Fredrico. He looked up as the High Roller inched around and the alternating glow of red then blue of The Strip flashed through the shadows.
He hung his wet t-shirt on the edge of the dark green dumpster, fished out a dry one, and slipped into his sleeping bag under the can. He pulled boxes around his head to camouflage his sleep to make it look like someone failed to throw them away. He had learned it was the best way to blend in with the rest of the alley trash. He stared at the cobwebs on the bottom of the dumpster and at the dirt on the brick wall. He tried to ignore his hunger by taking a drink of water. It was no use; he still felt hungry. Today’s take had been less than $10 and he had spent it much earlier on a $6 sandwich and a $3 Coke. He reached into his pocket to feel his change. He wished it was a ten; he wanted another sandwich.
He talked to himself by practicing to throw his voice beyond the cement pillars. He carried on this conversation with himself until it bored him. He always expected his talent for bending his voice would land him an instant job in a Las Vegas showroom. The first week he was here he went around to the casinos looking for a job. The show runners subtly let him know they despised those fools who even tried to land an unsolicited audition. These days he rarely took Fredrico out of his case.
The hypnotic flashing of blue, then red, and yellow lured him to sleep. He woke with a start 20 minutes later. Jerry never got a full nights sleep. The honks of the taxi horns, the random shouting of the drunks, and anyone looking to kick a bum kept Jerry awake. The sounds of the city faded as they reached his alley, but it was not enough to help him feel safe. You could hear the buzzing of the power lines, the trash bags inflating in the wind, and the clanking of the dumpster bin lids. Yet, even as the darkness made his spot farthest from the party, he still had to keep the encroaching city from overtaking him. He turned over and a trash bag slipped off his head.
“Look, there’s one,” said a male voice in an excited whisper.
“That melon looks good enough to kick,” a girl said.
“You know you want to,” a guy said. Jerry retreated deeper into his sleeping bag. He stared up at the dumpster and listened. He heard at least four people standing by the metal can inches from his face. He froze and waited.
“I’m sick of these goddamn homeless lining up,” a third squeaky male voice said. “If they’re not begging, they’re shitting.”
“Do it, Charlie,” the girl said.
“Now think about this.”
“The pattern continues on in a spiral pattern and …”
“Think about this.”
“never ends until the entire shell is just a …”
“Think about this.”
“series of patterns that make up the whole.”
“Think about this. If you start with a square and add a equal square you will form a new rectangle. And if you continue adding squares to match the length of the longer side of the rectangle, it eventually becomes a bigger version of the first square.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
“It’s the Golden Mean!”
“The ratio of 1.62. I know.”
“But just think about it.”
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My first goal is to finally work on my next novel, The Farmers Cop, about a retired detective who takes a job at a southern California Farmers Market. While he thinks he’s found the perfect semi-retirement job, a murder conspiracy will change everything. He will meet an eclectic group at the Farmers Market, encounter quite a bit of opposition, and in the end, solve the mystery. I hope this will become a series of stories. Your support will help me with research, writing tools, and the eventual promotion of the novel.
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