Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 1, Scene 4b

Scenes 12, 34a.

This picks up right where 4a left off. The same conditions apply, but this time, our new character is Bill the super helpful homeless guy:

Back in the office, a prematurely aged white man in what had once been a rather nice gray suit was waiting nervously. This man had once been attractive, and he still had beautiful hair. But the skin of his face was stretched over his cheekbones like dried leather, and his eyes stared out at her from a wilderness of pain. “Hello, Detective,” said the man. “I’m Bill Knight.”

“Thanks for talking to me, Bill. You know something about Alex Dawson?”

“He had a girlfriend.” At Diana’s silence, “Detective, you don’t hang out with the homeless population a whole lot, do you?”

“You’d be surprised. It’s not uncommon for a crime to be committed while one of you is watching. As I’m sure you’re aware, people tend to ignore you.”

Bill smiled, transforming his face from a weathered skull into something that looked almost human. “You know as well as I do that there aren’t a lot of women down here, and the ones who are, well, they’re usually a lot worse off than the men. But Alex had a girlfriend, and she was one of you.”

“A cop?”

Claire said, “What Bill means is, she was a civilian. Not a homeless person.”

Bill nodded. “She was some kind of healthcare worker. Back in the summer, he started spending less time on the streets, because he was staying with his lady. Alex was a good-looking guy, you know? Maybe he had a drinking problem, but people liked him.”

Diana tried not to sound too skeptical. “The girlfriend had something to do with killing him?”

“Not directly. But a lot of the other guys, they thought that Alex was acting like he was better than them. Alex had a family—they helped him out a lot—and now he had a girl and a place to stay.”

“It’s true,” said Claire. “One of the most difficult issues our clients face is the rejection of their peers when they begin to turn their lives around. Bill here is one of our star clients: he is a participant in the Lazarus Program.”

Bill looked sheepish. “I’m just trying to take it day by day.”

Diana took out her tablet, opened a new file and typed in the words Lazarus Program. She looked up at Bill. “So you’re saying that people in general have a problem with Alex? Or was there someone in particular who resented Alex’s good fortune?”

“I really don’t know. See, as part of the program, I’m staying here in the shelter full-time: I only go out to go to meetings. So maybe if I was still spending a lot of time in the park or in one of the squats across the highway, I might know more. I do know that Alex has a crew that he drinks with most of the time, and I can maybe give you a few names. But Claire would probably know better than I would.”

Diana said, “Looks like I’m going to have a wonderful evening. Maybe I can get one or both of you to come with me; it would make the job much easier.”

Bill shook his head. “I’m not supposed to leave the shelter. And I don’t want to, anyway.”

“Hard to argue with that.” She handed a card to him. “You hear anything, you know what to do.”

“Of course,” said Claire.

Bill looked very carefully at the card, then looked up at her and smiled. “I knew you looked familiar,” he said. “You won’t remember me, but back before I gave control of my life to my addiction, I belonged to Druid Hills Country Club. I used to play golf with your husband.”


“Andrew is a hell of a guy. How is he?”

“Bigger and bigger every day.”

Bill shrugged. “If you knew my family, Andrew would fit right in. Tell him I said hello, would you? Though you can leave out how bad I look these days.”

“You’re looking better, Bill,” said Claire.

“I’ve got a long way to go.”

Diana was trying to think of a suitable reply when she heard her name being called. She leaned out of the office to see a young patrolman came around the corner. He actually saluted: Diana suppressed a giggle as she listened to him. “Ma’am, the patrol sergeant says he’s got somebody that might have seen what happened to the victim.”

“Sounds great. Claire, keep in touch. Bill, thanks a lot for your help.” She followed the patrolman out to the main entrance of the shelter.

Wow, is Bill ever helpful. Alex has a girlfriend (one suspect) and a “crew” (more suspects), and heck, anyone who was jealous of his good fortune. But Diana, as you’ll continue to see, has a habit of just letting people talk, which most of them can’t resist. So once Claire goes too far by adding in the bit about Bill being a special pet, Diana sits up and starts to call bullshit. One of Diana’s habits is writing down pairs of words that don’t belong together.

Again, Bill is telling (too much) and Diana is showing; but she shifts from skepticism to hostility once Bill associates her with her ex-husband, the same Dad that Grace made a backup plan with. We can understand about Diana that her objectivity wobbles a little in this direction, but we have no real idea why yet, other than Bigger and bigger every day, which could mean anything at this point. Plus any astute reader should have picked up that Bill was going to be important, because he got some background. But it’s reinforced with the degree of separation from Diana.


Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 1, Scene 4a

Scenes 12, 3. This is really Scene 4a, because it has a second half in the same location with two of the same characters.

In this piece, we have setting, plot, character and a little bit of theme:

Claire Longstreet was someone Diana should have met years ago but somehow never had. Most of their enormous circle of mutual acquaintances thought of the director of the Peachtree-Pine shelter as something of a saint, but what Diana saw was a brunette about her own age who desperately needed a great big Sunday dinner and twelve hours’ sleep. Claire’s long, dark hair hung limply over the shoulders of the man’s gray cashmere sweater that concealed most of her upper body. Her legs were long and slender in secondhand jeans, but the boots that rested on her desk were brand-new Timberlands.

“Detective Siddall,” she said in a low, throaty voice. “Nice to finally meet you. I just wish it were under better circumstances.” She closed her eyes and raised the large Styrofoam cup of what smelled like peppermint tea to her nose and took a long, deep breath. “Poor Alex.”

“Yes. We were hoping you could help us search for his killer.”

Claire put down the cup of tea. “People are superstitious, here. They’re all convinced that it was the Reaper.”

“We have no way of knowing that, Ms. Longstreet.”

“Claire, please. Rationality doesn’t always enter into what is believed around here. How can I help you? Would you like some terrible coffee?”

“You make it sound so difficult to resist.” Diana took the bag from her pocket and looked at the name on the card before handing it to him. “Alex Dawson? Is that a real name?”

Claire looked sad for a moment. “It sure is. His family has known this was going to happen for years, and they say they’re ready for it. But it’s not going to be any easier for them than it is for any of the families.”

“What can you tell me about him?”

“Alcohol. Alex just wanted to get drunk, and that was all that ever mattered.”

“Delirium? Or did he get in fights?”

Claire shook her head. “Neither one. Friendly and laughing, for the most part. And quite intelligent. Or at least articulate. But once he got himself a bottle, he was going ahead, straight down into the bottom of it, and there wasn’t anything you, me or anyone else could say that was going to stop him. How did he die?”

“Anyone here maybe have a problem with Alex?”

“You know I’m not going to talk about that. Everyone in the building except some of the staff has been inside since a quarter to seven, just like every night.”

“And none of them might have had a reason to hurt him?”

“Anyone with a bad enough attitude to have a real problem with someone like Alex has a bad enough attitude that he sleeps in one of the peripheral camps. You know where to look. If I really knew anything at all, I would at least point you in that direction. But Alex? He was too easygoing to hate.”

“And you’re not going to let me go into the dormitory and ask if anyone knows about anyone else having a beef with Alex?” Claire shook her head again. “I didn’t think so. But you can go in there and ask, can’t you?”

“Come back in half an hour and I’ll see if there’s a story to be told.” But Diana was only halfway to the front door before Claire called after her.

In terms of setting, what we have here is more of a physical description of Claire. The rewrite will probably give a very short description of Claire’s office and how it does and does not conform to Diana’s expectations; but perhaps not, because Claire’s outfit takes on that role for Diana. At some point, we’re going to have to go into the shelter itself, but this will wait for now.

For character, we’re more interested here in Claire than in Diana, who is maybe a tiny bit more of a recording angel than I’d like her to be here. Claire is telling us about Alex, but she’s also showing Diana a few things about herself, which implies that this needs a little dash of us being shown something about Diana through her perception of Claire. We see how Claire is very protective of her residents, and nobody’s fool. Claire is a fictional character; if you familiarize yourself with the Peachtree-Pine story, she’s intended to be someone brought in to replace the current leaders, and to take the center in a different direction.

Meanwhile, Alex gets a description guaranteed to make anyone but the most cynical Homicide detective think he’s the last person to get involved in criminal behavior. “Too easygoing to hate,” indeed. It makes Claire seem more suspect, as does her finding someone right away.

For theme, we have the contrast between tired and alert and between old and new in Claire, and an analogous dichotomy in Alex. We’ll see what happens as the detectives follow them both up.


Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 1, Scene 3

Scenes 1 and 2. This is Scene 3, in the same chapter. Both of the others established setting, character and theme. Here’s the next one, which is going to do almost the same thing but not quite.

Inspector Mustapha Alawi picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “You know that you’re interrupting worship here.”

“I’m sure I am. This is worth it.”

“Aren’t we off-duty tonight?”

“That’s what I told the sergeant. But Keller and I are standing here down the street from Crawford Long next to the corpse of a homeless man.”

“Sounds like a typical Monday night in Atlanta.”

“This corpse has no eyes.”

“Right,” sighed Mustapha. “Be right there.”

“You can always put the game on pause.”

“This is Monday Night Football.” He rang off.

Keller walked up to her. “What’s the score?”

“Score of what?”

Keller rolled his eyes. “The game.”

She rolled hers right back. “Didn’t think to ask. What do you have?”

He waved a worn brown leather wallet at her. “Only three dollars and a scratch-off ticket, but he’s got an ID for the shelter. Alex Dawson.”

Diana turned around and looked at Peachtree-Pine. The three-story brick building had once held offices, but had for almost a decade now been the city’s largest and most controversial homeless shelter. “Let’s just hope it’s his real name.”

Keller handed her the ID in a plastic evidence bag. “You want the lotto ticket, too?”

“It has to be somebody’s lucky day.” She tucked the bag into her coat pocket and looked both ways before crossing an empty Peachtree Street. Once she stepped up onto the curb, she flipped through her phone’s recent call list, didn’t find what she wanted, sighed at herself, then found the right name in the contacts list and dialed.

As the phone continued to ring, one of the homeless men—a tiny man who looked like an elf with missing front teeth—shambled toward her. “Hey, officer?” he said in a shaky voice. “Is that Alex you found back there in the bushes?”

She smiled as she waved him off. “We’re taking care of it.”

Grace picked up after the fourth ring. “Pho 79.”

“Hi, honey.”

“Because you’re calling because you want to know where I want you to take me to dinner, right? And not because you got called into work because too many people got killed today.”

“It might be nothing, honey, and I might be home in a couple of hours.”

“That’s okay, Mom. I made a backup plan with Dad just in case.”

Diana stopped in her tracks. “I know you think I say this all the time, but this one could be really important.”

“You only say it about half the time. Keep saving the city.” Grace hung up.

Diana stared at her phone for a moment, wondering how that could have gone worse. She smelled the homeless man approaching before she heard him. “See, what I’ve been saying to the other fellas is that old Reaper ain’t never gone away.”

There’s less setting—we already know where we are, and all we need here is the detail about the brick building being the homeless shelter. But there’s more character, in that we develop Keller a little, Diana a lot, and introduce Mustapha, our other primary detective. Keller is the simplest; we just reinforce his cynicism. Mustapha gets a little more: football is sacred, but the Job is more important. He’ll show up in Scene 5.

Diana gets quite a bit more. We learn she’s divorced, she has a mostly-grown daughter who’s not in her phone’s recent call list, and with whom she has a crappy relationship because she values her job over that relationship. Grace is already over her mother’s commitment to the job, but is still young enough to hold out hope there at the beginning of the call.

And that makes three themes now: death in life, the Reaper, and now Diana’s lack of connection to her own family. Diana is emotionally a loner, though in fact she has a vivid family life, as we’ll see; the implicit contrast to this is homeless people, who we often think of as being cut off from their families, though in fact this is a false stereotype.

Peachtree-Pine is a real place, by the way, not an invention. It’s quite controversial, in that it both goes against the grain of what is currently recognized as best practices in transitioning people away from homelessness, and it renders a choice zone of intown Atlanta impossible to gentrify like everything else around it. This Wikipedia article does a very good job of summarizing the controversy; you can read the views of the organization that runs the shelter here, and Atlanta’s NPR station goes into a lot of detail on the shelter and the controversy here. I’m going to bracket a lot of the actual details of the controversy in order to move Claire into the shelter as its director; but I’m getting ahead of myself here.


Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 1, Scene 2

The first chapter of a mass-market murder mystery needs to establish the scene, the characters and the overall theme. In the last excerpt, we got all three: we know that we’re in Atlanta on a cold winter’s night and a homeless man is dead; that Detective Diana Siddall is weary, jaded, competent and has relationship problems; that the Reaper still lurks out there.

Now let’s take a look at the next subscene. We pick up immediately after the last post left off:

Dave Keller, chief of Crime Scene, stepped in between the lights, so that Diana saw first a guy in dark blue coveralls and grey freedom-rock hair, then a long-haired silhouette lighting a cigarette. “I’m surprised I beat you here,” he said.

“I was out in Lake Claire. Any similarities?”

“Come look for yourself.” He took a second drag off the cigarette, then placed it carefully in a glass specimen jar and closed the lid. He led her into the glare of the lights and through the trees, all the way back to the lip of the great loud concrete canyon of the Downtown Connector.

“They came all the way back here to pee?”

“Guy said it was his friend that found the baby. He was already freaked out by that. So you can imagine his shock when he figures out he’s stress-peeing onto a corpse.” Keller pointed at a longer bundle of rags that lay against the concrete lip. Diana cocked her head back and forth to resolve the shape into that of a man, lying on his right side with his face up against the curb. He wore layers of filthy clothing and reeked of urine fresh and stale. Under the stains and clothes, he was small, black and balding.

“He could be one of the locals,” said Diana. She turned around to gaze out of the thicket and into the darkness of the bad, empty part of Peachtree, too far north for downtown towers and too far south for Midtown gentrification. She could see a few shadows on the far side of the street leaning against the fence of the Episcopalian church. Even in bright sunlight, homeless men tend to look alike, but Diana had been a cop for seven years and knew that every one of them had a story of his own. “I bet they know him.” She sighed. “Let’s see the eyes.”

Keller pulled on the man’s left shoulder, rolling him onto his back. No rigor, even on a cold night.

“Freshly dumped,” she murmured.

“Maybe two or three hours ago,” said Keller. He pointed at the man’s face, which Diana had so far managed not to look at. The flesh was smooth, the mouth a rictus. The open sockets made it look as if the man were wearing a mask.

Diana took a deep breath, then crouched down for a closer look. There was no torn flesh around the eyes. The right socket was clean, but a track of dried fluid trailed down from the left. “Looks like a pretty neat job.”

“Just like the last one, hunh? My guess, the Reaper or whoever is using one of those long-handled ice tea spoons, something like that.”

“We don’t know it’s the Reaper, Dave.”

“Well. Science dictates that we say we don’t know.”

So we’ve gone deeper into setting, character and theme here. Now we know that we’re in a particular place in Atlanta, an island of relative blight characterized by a below-grade superhighway and a big homeless shelter; that Dave Keller knows his job and probably a lot more; that there’s death in life and life in death—the baby was abandoned but then rescued, the urine is both stale and fresh. We also have a couple more pieces of evidence that the Reaper’s back, but like Keller says, we have to hold back on jumping to that conclusion for now.


Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 1, Scene 1

There will be a very short prologue, just half a page or so, from the perspective of a character we’ll never actually meet, but who careful readers might later sort out is a serial killer dubbed the Reaper, who was never apprehended. Then we’ll go into Act I, Scene 1:

Detective Diana Siddall had a headache, a toothache, and lingering tension in her shoulders from arguing with a boyfriend who just couldn’t seem to understand that the thrill was gone. She sighed and wrapped her coat around herself more tightly against the new normal of a freezing winter in Atlanta, then screwed her face into a smile for the old grouch of a patrol sergeant. “Please tell me why I’m here,” she said.

“Evening, ma’am.” The greeting was perfunctory, the respect feigned. “Those two guys over there by the bus stop? They found a baby in the bushes.”

She looked over to her right to see two slim, handsome men with stylish short haircuts and nice shoes. The taller one was coatless and shivering. “Um,” she said.

“The baby was alive, Detective.” The sergeant pointed up Peachtree Street at the glittering tower of Crawford Long Hospital. “Just saw one of the paramedics. Says she’s doing just fine, now they warmed her up. Only a couple of hours old, but she would have died if those two fellas hadn’t have stopped to take a leak.”

“Heartwarming. Sergeant, my head is throbbing, but I can still remember that I work Homicide. I sure am glad that little baby lived, but Dispatch only calls me for dead people.”

“Right. Getting to that, ma’am. On the way out of the bushes, they find a body.” Klieg lights cabled to the nearby crime scene truck activated, bathing the triangular thicket in between Peachtree and the great concrete ditch of the highway in bright blue light. Diana winced in pain; somehow, the light made the tooth hurt a notch worse.

She took a step to the side so that the sergeant’s big head and bigger hat blocked the light. “Okay. Let me guess.” She flipped her thumb back over her shoulder at the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. “One of theirs?”

“Sure looks like it.”

“Then I still want to know what I’m doing here. I’m off duty tonight. I’m supposed to have dinner with my daughter. As if you care.” She shook her head. “Sorry.”

“Dispatch put me right through to you, ma’am. On account of the guy’s got no eyes.”

“A-ha. Now I begin to see.” She started to walk around him toward the light. It was bearable, if only just. “You said that over the radio?”

“Hell, no. Ma’am. Guy called 911 about the little girl, then called right back when he almost pissed on the body. After I got here, dispatchers said they’d already forwarded it to you.”

“Just like I told them to.”

He followed her toward the light. “You think the Reaper’s back?”

“You have to wonder if he ever really left.”

This is just a first project of a beginning. The Reaper’s trademark was to excise his victims’ eyes and do various creepy things with them. So right away, we’re going to be caught up in that narrative, and only gradually is it going to become clear that either the Reaper has changed his artistic style, or this is something else entirely.


Novel 3

It’s time to start a new novel. I have 40 short stories, and this is probably enough for now. I’m sure I’ll come up with more ideas as time passes and slot them in, but novels sell and stories don’t, really, and the entire purpose of this effort is to make it possible to quit my day job.

The elevator pitch is as follows:

Someone is murdering members of Atlanta’s homeless population. The killer strikes at the new crescent moon, and leaves a message in flowing Arabic calligraphy on each victim’s chest. Detective Diana Siddall and Inspector Mustapha Alawi have to navigate a hysterical media, a homeless population trained to be skeptical of the police, and the mayor’s demand to end the killings and bring the killer to justice. The detectives quickly find that the case isn’t nearly as simple as an Islamic serial killer: in a city whose symbol is the phoenix, a large homeless shelter in the middle of a gentrifying corridor becomes the focus of more than one investigation.

What I’m going to do over the next few posts on this topic is write up the major plots and interweave them: by the end of June, I ought to have a fully-detailed outline to work from. I’m going to force myself to put it all online as a way of disciplining myself.

The big question is what is the title? It needs to have the word Sun in it somewhere: the first novel is Universe, the second Judgment, so I’m going backward through the Tarot arcana. I’m going to let this one sit for awhile: titles tend to come to me late. Single Mom became Publish and Perish at the last minute.

Single Mom (10)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 7, 8, 9.

Migrating everything over to the new laptop, which still has that new laptop smell. Went through it again, cut it down enough to add a blog excerpt while still keeping it under 5k words. Here’s the blog excerpt:

You always have two phones: same make and model, both secured. Phone One is for business, family and friends. Phone Two is for Girl of the Month and Girl of Next Month, and it’s pay as you go: no connection to your name and address. She only ever gets to see Phone One; as far as she knows, there is only one phone. This keeps Next Month off the radar of This Month, and your friends and family out of sight of This Month. If Last Month feels the need to keep calling, change the number.

This gets across the sociopathy and links it to phones well enough. I have a feeling I’ll change it before the weekend is over. But for now, there’s a full story, in less than three weeks.

Single Mom (9)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 7, 8.

Finished the first cut-down. I’ve got it just under 5000 words now. Next step is to let it sit for a day or two, so when I go back and look at it, it’s easy to pick out the mistakes and what clarifications need to be added.

So for your reading pleasure, here’s an excerpt from later in the story:

Emily Norton let them into the office. “Home, Sweet home. Well, I share it with another lecturer. Welcome to the academic plantation system. You want tea?” She picked up an electric kettle, the exact same kind they used in their own office.

Mustapha said, “I’m about to float away as it is.” He expected a women’s studies lecturer to look more mannish, but Norton could have been a sorority girl dressed for comfort.

Diana said, “I’m fine, but make yourself some if you’d like.” Norton plugged in the kettle. Diana held up her tablet. “Do you recognize this man?”

A squint. “… Maybe.” Norton took the tablet from Diana, examined it more closely, opened her laptop, tapped and typed. “Yes. Taylor Green. He writes an awful blog–”

Mustapha said, “Which you make a lot of comments on.” At Norton’s frown, “The Internet’s not anonymous unless you make up a name you’ve never used before. It took my partner three searches to figure out you’re Hensbane and you were here at Tech.”

Raised eyebrows joined the frown. “I see. Well, yes: it’s an absolutely odious blog, and sometimes… well, I have to keep up with the stereotype of an angry feminist once in a while, just for kicks. He’s having a book published, did you know? That he’s profiting from victimizing women… my students would say I can’t even.”

Diana said, “Where were you Monday morning, Ms. Norton? Dr. Norton?”

“Yes, but Ms. is fine. She blushed. “I spent the entire morning ignoring my poor research and playing Halo on Xbox Live. Way too much fun. Some people get so upset when they get 360-noscoped by a girl.”

Mustapha said, “You should meet my son.”

“I have a partner.”

“No; I mean in the game. Can anyone confirm you were online?”

“Chat logs?” said Diana. Norton nodded. “We’ll check. Why did the blog upset you so much?”

“Because its misogyny is subtle enough for it to be influential. Do you know what the Red Pill is?”

Diana said, “Oh, the pick-up artist thing.”

“Yes. It’s predicated on some willful misunderstandings of evolutionary biology. Only the alpha male gets to mate.”

Diana said, “But isn’t that just for college kids?”

“Mid-twenties, maybe. The blog is directed toward men in their thirties. Instead of assuming women are stupid, Taylor assumes that they’re desperate. His premise is that women who want heteronormative monogamy greatly outnumber potential partners. Which isn’t completely false, though it’s problematic for several reasons. Taylor Green’s philosophy involves manipulating women into sex with the promise of a relationship. It’s much worse than the Red Pill, because it’s deliberately dishonest. The alpha male thing is at least direct, and easier to see through, which is why it only works on very young and naïve women.”

The key thing I’m going to need to add is an excerpt from the actual blog. But this is the trickiest part, because it needs to be both horrible and illustrative. It will be about phones.


Single Mom (8)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 7.

Finished transcribing today. I have a complete story now in a digital file, and have copy-edited it. The next step is to cut it down as much as possible: right now, it’s 5600 words, where 5000 is the absolute maximum I want it to be. Here’s a couple of interstitial sections.

Kareem Jones from Burglary since his tea. “Y’all really just pick mint right off the plant, and throw it in the teapot? It’s tasty, though.”

Mustapha said, “Nah, we rinse it off, first, get rid of the dog piss.”

Diana said, “We got this batch from the murder scene.”

Jones put the glass down. “That’s kinda ghoulish. I don’t know what I can tell you about your murder. Your typical burglar is one hundred percent risk-averse. Non-confrontational. And generally not a chick. The homeowner shows up, burglar’s going to run out the door, not stick around to stab the guy. Where did the knife come from?”

Diana said, “Bayonet.”

“The fuck? Where’d the victim keep it?”

Mustapha said, “We don’t know. He never served; we talked to a few of his bros and some of the women he dated, and nobody ever saw it.”

Jones picked up the tea, sipped, thought. “Man, I’m skeptical. Professional burglars never carry weapons with them: they get caught, it adds years. And a bayonet? Those are like two feet long. Maybe, maybe, the thing is right there, she stabs him on the way out? I still don’t buy it. But then cutting the guy’s throat? Shit. Burglars are cowards.”


Jessica Levine would have looked unbalanced even without the flyaway hair. “Thomas. Thomas isn’t even his real name. Played me like a… guitar? So sensitive: lost puppy, grieving his poor, dead wife? I ate that shit up. Tell me something bad happened to him.”

Diana said, “He was murdered. Where were you Monday morning, Ms. Levine?”

“On the way back from Dallas. Wait, shit; he’s really dead?”

“I’m afraid so. You’ve made eight calls to his voicemail in the last three weeks.”

“Yeah… wow, he’s dead? Like, murdered?” At Mustapha’s nod, “Well. I didn’t do it. Really. My flight landed at a little after noon, and I went to the office from the airport. You want to talk to my boss?”

Mustapha said, “We sure do.”

“Um, okay, sure. Look… I’m passionate; I’m Italian. Well, Jewish Italian. He told me a lot of lies, and that after he left, I started feeling like crap, took a pregnancy test, came up positive. Now I’ve got a second-grader. So, I wanted him to at least acknowledge what he’d done.”

Diana nodded. “We’ll confirm with your boss. Say, have you ever read a blog called Never Cum Inside a Single Mom?”

“Never what? Um, no. What’s it about?”

“A man like your Mr. Greene, giving dating advice to other men.”

“No. I mostly just surf Pinterest. I thought his last name was Grant.”

The second half of this is essential, because this character is another red herring. The first half? It’s fun, but how much does it really need to be there? It’s something Diana and Mustapha would both know, and thus can be dispensed with. Cut, cut cut: sometimes we need to kill our darlings, even if they’re cute.

Single Mom (7)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 56.

Here’s the scene immediately after the last one; note that it’s totally unconnected to Harriet. There’s just a blank line between them, where a cop show would do the Chung-chung! noise or go to commercial.

Andrea Jellicoe’s teenage daughter Chloe was going to end up looking just like her mom, no matter how much time and trouble she spent on her hair, clothes and makeup. “I know the guy slept over the other night. The walls in this shithole are paper-thin.” At Mustapha’s raised eyebrow, “I’m not judging. He’s a step up from the usual, and every inch of dick she gets is one less… inch, of grief she gives me. You really think she killed him? That’s fucked up.” She looked Mustapha up and down. “Hey, you got any smokes?”

Of course he did. “No.”

Diana said, “You really need to be out of the officers’ way while they search.”

“Come on. This is cool.” She put a thumb to her mouth, bit off some cuticle. “Look, my mom’s no killer.” She indicated the woven wall hanging of wolves in a forest, under a full moon. “That’s about as wild as it gets. Someone breaks up with her, she buys ice cream, we pretend to be the Gilmore Girls. She came home the other day, she’s all excited. I figure it’s the D she got, but no, she thinks her blog is going to finally let us get out of this dump.”

Diana said, in spite of herself, “Do you read the blog?”

“Fuck, yes: it’s hilarious. I cannot believe anyone would be desperate enough to fall for that crap. But then she brings home ice cream.” Another bite, this time at her pinky. “Any guy worth fucking, you want him to stick around, only way to do it is make sure he knows you’ll cut his balls off if he cheats on you. Unless it’s a three-way.” Chloe furrowed her brow for a second, pulled her phone from her pocket, put it to her ear, stuck a finger in her other ear. “Oh. My. God. There’s like some next-level Law & Order shit going down…” She walked to the other side of the room, but kept talking.

Diana shook her head. “So glad my daughter was a nerd.”

Mustapha found himself grinning. “I like her. I should introduce her to my own kid.”

“Don’t: she’ll think it’s mentoring.”

“That might not be such a bad idea. Maybe she could–”

Before he could explain, they both saw Melissa from Crime Scene come through the back door, carrying a thick, clear evidence bag with a bloody blade inside. “Detectives?” began Melissa.

Before either of them could answer, Chloe dropped her phone, put her hands to her cheeks, and said softly, “Mommy?”

This scene does four things: it gives us a fun tertiary character; it gives us insight into Jellicoe’s personality through that character; it confirms or at least corroborates Jellicoe’s lack of motive; and then it flips all of this around by bringing in a clue that appears to make Jellicoe the killer—and flips Chloe at the same time.

Underneath all this, there’s another perspective on the single mom (single parent, really) effect on the kids: Chloe has watched her mother make a lot of crappy choices, and has learned from this many lessons, some of which are actually good. Imagine Chloe being fooled by either the Red Pill losers or the character her mother made up for the blog.

The passage also brings up Mustapha’s and Diana’s daughters, which in this context seems organic, but which will come in handy later on.