Friday, September 30, 2022

My Big Break, by Josh Stallings

Criminal or crime writer?

What is the greatest crime a writer can commit? 

Some say plagiarism. Yes, putting your name on another writer’s work is bad. Others might say it is failing to use the Oxford comma. Me, I think the worst crime a writer can commit is, well, murder. I mean that is biblically bad. On the other hand to quote Thomas Pluck, “Some folks just needed killing.” So with that moral caveat, that old testament loophole, some folks need to be turned into a pillar of salt. I am led to the next question, how does one learn to be a killer?

Researching violence or mayhem or even murder is easy for crime writers. FBI kicks in my door, grabs my files, sees diagrams of First National’s vault and security system, or dictionaries of poison, all I need to do is say, “I’m a crime writer, that’s research.” 

Show them a few book jackets with my name on them and they mutter, “Un-cuff him, he’s just another do nothing writer.” 

Added bonus, ammunition and range time are tax deductions. 

Their underestimation of crime writer’s penchant for destruction is our super power.

Write about sex, well that’s an entirely different deal. Write a convincing sex scene and everyone including your mother will ask about your research. “The scene in the Ensenada brothel, you know, um, did you, you know?” Yes, my mother asked me that, but never questioned where I learned how to use a broom handle and a guitar E string to make a garrote.

I am not a sociopath or is that psychopath? Doesn’t matter, I’m neither. I’m just a guy with a particular set of skills and a very flexible moral code. I am a pacifist, mostly, I’m a vegan for goodness sake. Sometimes I worry about the screams broccoli makes when it’s harvested. I would never hurt another creature, I mean unless they deserved it. Take that SOB who bumped into me and made me drop my Fudgsicle. He was asking to be pushed into the cross town bus. I fucking loved that Fudgsicle. Does that make me a psychopath?

I don’t think so.

Honestly, I was pure amateur, solving societal rudeness one body at a time. Like Emily Post, I mean if she was serious about etiquette. That all changed last Left Coast Crime. I had just checked into a convention hotel when an unnamed writer, we’ll call that hard boiled Scotch egg Catolina McFierceness, invited me to the bar. Or I think that’s what she did. She said, “Awa’ an bile yer heid.” When I sat down across from her, that has to mean “Join me.” Right? I did, having zero idea what I was getting into. At the head of the table was C-I’m not the boss-Ace. Anyone who has “I’m not the boss” in their name, clearly is the boss.

“This is an easy in and out,” C-I’m not the boss-Ace said to McFierceness, “slip past a battalion of Texas Rangers, whack that target and poof…” She stoped speaking when she noticed me. “Pal of yours?” She asked McFierceness.

“Na, eegit’s eggs are all double-yoakit.” That had to be a real nice compliment, C-I’m not the boss-Ace let a deep laugh rip. Slapping the table she made the drinks jump and skitter about. Instantly the mirth turned to menace. C-I’m not the boss-Ace stared me down. She gave me two choices, go to work for Criminal Minds Murder LLC, or learn to do the wet mambo in cement Capezios…

“Hell yes! I’m going pro.”

It was getting near dusk when I met T-Ain’t It A Damn Shame-Shames in the parking lot of Austin's massive indie bookstore. Our cover was, we were there to do a “book signing” event. Brilliant, crime writers can be in any town that has a book store and they have a perfect alibi. Now when you hear us fighting to keep indie book stores open, you’ll know why.

It seemed weird that no one from the book store had reached out to me, when I ask T about this, she told me not to worry and changed the subject, “We have a couple hours to kill, have you seen Barton Springs Pool?”

“At Zilker Park?” I’d been swimming there the day before with my wife.

“Right, but have you seen it at night?”

“I thought they closed at sundown.”

“Closed, open, such subjective words.” When she said it like that it made sense. Something about a molasses smooth Texas Hill Country accent made everything sound innocent and sweet.

The gate surrounding Barton Springs Pool was locked. T had a master key, that’s what she called her bolt-cutters. The sky was turning inky black as we walked down the incline to the water’s edge. The pool was mirror smooth, reflecting constellations. I was able to pick out one my father taught me, “Isn’t that the hunter, what’s his name?” I pointed to the stars.

“Orion, Zeus placed him in the heavens, even though he wasn’t a real nice guy.” T held a short barreled .44 aimed at my chest. 

I started to laugh, maybe it was a joke or hazing. Her dead eyes told me a different tale.

“You think I’m not a nice guy?”

“No darlin’ you’re nice as nice can be. You just sat down at the wrong table, heard the wrong conversation.” She thumbed the hammer back.

“T, come on you know I’d never ever say anything. Swear.” I broadly crossed my heart. “Swear. For real real. You can trust me.”

“That’s real sweet of you.” Her finger started to squeeze the trigger. “Bless your heart.” Were the last words I heard.


Anonymous said...

Talk about getting me involved in 5 minutes or less lol. Good stuff Josh!

Catriona McPherson said...

Ahhhhh - I was saving this for when I had written my day's words. I knew it would be a fitting reward. I was not wrong. Fighting keep indie bookstores open for *that* reason? Genius!