Saturday, February 5, 2011

Just Another Body in the Trunk

By Michael

This week on Criminal Minds, we’re putting our protagonists into a nasty predicament and seeing what they do. Specifically: our protagonists blow a tire on a deserted road, and when they check for the spare, they find the body of a teenage girl.

Such a situation could unsettle the hardest boiled of detectives, but not Joe Kozmarski. This kind of thing happens to him all the time. Once when he was a teenager, a girl he was dating let the air out of one of his tires, climbed into his trunk, and waited. When he opened the trunk for the spare, she pulled him inside with her and closed the trunk. The problem was that the trunk required a key and Joe had left the key in the lock – outside. The silver lining was that when a passing patrolman freed them from the trunk eight hours later, Joe was now a man, his girlfriend was now a womanfriend, and the deflated tire (thanks to a little-known pneumatic process that occurs in moments of extreme passion) had re-inflated itself.

Since then, very little has surprised Joe – inside his trunk or outside.

At forty-three years old, Joe drives a green Buick Skylark that I’ve based upon the car that I drove when I was a teenager – and, no, none of my girlfriends ever pulled me into the trunk (dammit), though the tires always seemed to be bald and needed frequent emergency changes, and the car itself took its final voyage when my brother turned hard to the left and a front tire broke free from the axle and rolled across a lawn and into a stranger’s garage door.

Which has little to do with the dead teenage girl Joe discovers in his trunk.

What would he do? What would you do? He would call 911 and pray that (1) the responding officer would not be the patrolman who, years earlier, sprang Joe and his girlfriend from the trunk; and (2) this officer would believe that Joe had nothing to do with the dead girl, that she’d just appeared in his trunk, as if by magic, and that, honest to God, all he’d wanted was a spare tire.

But since Joe is who he is – and since everything that can go wrong for him generally does go wrong – the officer would be the patrolman who had helped him out once before and this patrolman, having gotten to know Joe’s teenage girlfriend after springing her from the trunk, eventually married her, though he never really got over the jealousy he felt during their first meeting; and so, no, Joe could point at the flat tire, he could show the officer his AAA card, and he could prove that he was elsewhere (faraway elsewhere) at the time of the girl’s death, but the officer and all his fellow officers would still believe that Joe did it.

And for the next 250-300 pages, Joe not only would need to find the killer but to avoid the whole gun-slinging police force. Because that’s how things generally go for Joe.


Reece said...

Nice post, Michael. We don't make things easy for our protagonists, do we? By heaping all of that trouble on our characters, we as writers are then allowed to live simple, uncomplicated lives. That's the way it works, right?

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Reece. That's right: the more obstacles they face, the more pleasure we get in seeing them surmount -- or fail to.

Meredith Cole said...

Poor Joe is right. Well, I'm sure he'll figure out who killed the girl by the end of the story and all will be all right (temporarily) for him.

But it's true that we do love to torture our poor protagonists.

Michael Wiley said...

Well, nothing ever is quite right for him . . . not that he complains. He just forges ahead -- out of the wreckage and into the next wreck.

Thanks, Meredith.

Kelli Stanley said...

Michael, I see a YA book sometime in your future! ;)

Great post--and that "little known pneumatic process" sounds like it could revolutionize science! ;)

Michael Wiley said...

YA seems to me one of the most exciting areas in publishing: catch the readers while they're Y. I tend to write more for the A than the YA so far, but I would love to give it a try. How about you, Kelli? Is there a YA title in your future?

Kelli Stanley said...

I'd like to try my hand at it, Michael--at some point. :) The idea has been swirling around in the back of my head for awhile ... probably won't happen this year, but maybe next.

Knowing your work is reaching the young generation of readers is a heady thought. Some of my biggest influences in terms of life lessons were the books I read from 8-12 years of age.

Michael Wiley said...

I don't subscribe to the idea that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but many of us definitely learn most of what we need to know about criminal psychology by the time that we're about 14.