I’ve been out of the country on business for a week, and didn’t have my writing laptop with me. This did not mean I did not write: I wrote thousands of words (just about 8,000 in six days, now that I’ve counted them), and have Act One’s ending worked out, now. The trouble I was having was it was too much talk and not enough action, and I’ve figured a way out of that; though I still have a little more work to go in order to make the action first-person instead of recounted.
So I’ll have a 15k word first act transcribed and ready to at least be read sequentially by the end of next week or so. I should note that almost all real writing is done in longhand, in a notebook. It forces me to go slowly enough to think about what I’m doing: much less editing needed. Next, I transcribe it by reading it into voice-recognition software, then clean up the transcript. That’s what you’re reading here, in Scene 5: this is by no means the final product.
We’ve run four times through scene, character, theme; now we’re going to add plot. Here’s our first real witness, who’s going to give us a clue what might have happened to Alex:
The man next to the sergeant was a casting director’s idea of what a homeless man might look like: stooped, dressed in rags underneath a long coat, and suffering from some kind of skin disease, if the light splotches on his face were any indication. “Detective,” said the patrol sergeant, “this is Willie. Right now, he’s the last person to see our victim alive.”
“Hi, Willie. Thanks for helping us out.”
“Y’all are going to help me get something to eat, right?” His voice was high and squeaky, and he was visibly afraid of Diana, who he outweighed by at least eighty pounds. “Because I ain’t been eating right lately.”
“We’ll get you fed, Willie,” said the sergeant. “Just make sure you tell Detective Siddall here everything you saw, and don’t make anything up.”
“I ain’t gonna lie. I’m just hungry. I done seen Alex tonight. He was drinking in the park with us, but then he stopped, on account of his old lady was coming to get him. That fool thought he had a meal ticket, but she was just using him.”
“This is the girlfriend? What was she using him for?”
“She just wanted what Alex had to give her, you know?”
“You mean a sex thing?”
Willie grinned, the alternating gaps in his teeth making him look like a Halloween pumpkin. “Way Alex talked, it was always a sex thing. But there was more to it than that. The lady? She had a husband, but she threw him out, and he didn’t want to take no for an answer. So she let Alex stay around in case the husband went to bust down the door.”
“Way I hear it, Willie, Alex wasn’t a fighter.”
Willie laughed. “Now you got that right. But he could talk his way out of pretty much anything.”
“So he had a pretty sweet deal?”
“You bet your ass.”
“Watch it,” said the sergeant.
“Sorry. But he had a roof over his head, a lady who wanted to spend time with him—even though she wasn’t exactly a pretty lady—and all the food he could eat. Course, Alex never did give much of a damn about food.”
“This lady got a name, Willie?”
“Everybody got a name, Detective. Alex just usually called her his girl.”
“Did you ever meet her?”
“Sure. She came and picked him up at the park a few times. Me and the fellas, we gave him a lot of shit about that. Playtime was over, you know? Time to go home to mama. But it was cool: most of us was just fronting. Truth is, I wouldn’t mind having a Rosa of my own.”
“Rosa? That was her name?”
Willie nodded. “Yeah.” He smiled. “I bet you get all the real criminals to spill their guts.”
“It’s all in a day’s work, Willie. Did Rosa come and get Alex tonight?”
“That’s right. He wasn’t expecting it, though. Or maybe it was just cos she had a different car. She hit the horn a couple of times, and we wasn’t paying her no mind. Then Mario goes over to have a look, and he tells Alex that his girlfriend was there.”
“What did Alex do?”
Will he looked at her like she was crazy. “He went and got in the damn car.”
“Watch your language,” said the sergeant.
“Sorry about that. I just figure, my Rosa shows up, I ain’t gonna sit in the park with a bunch of drunks like me.”
Diana nodded. “I don’t blame you, Willie.” She turned to the sergeant. “Do you think I can talk to this guy Mario?”
“I’ll go roust him, ma’am,” said the sergeant.
“Willie, maybe you can answer one more question for me. Did Alex act like he was expecting Rosa to show up?”
Will he made a real production of trying to recall, looking up into the distance with the tip of his tongue between his lips. Then, he shook his head. “I don’t rightly know. Alex? He was the kind of guy who took pretty much anything one thing at a time. Not a cat who was going to be surprised.” Willie coughed a couple of times, then took a deep breath. “I’m surely going to miss him. He didn’t always share his bottle, but he would always say hello.”
“I’m sure his family would appreciate hearing you say that,” said Diana. “Thanks a lot, Willie.” She handed him a card. “Ask your friends: if they remember anything that seems important, tell them to call me.”
“I surely will. Can I get me some dinner now?”
The sergeant took him by the upper arm. “The folks at the shelter said they have leftovers.”
“Just so long as it ain’t vegetarian; I’m a man who likes him some meat.”
Willie is a great stock character here: the kind of addled homeless guy who notices more than you’d think. So, because “show, don’t tell” is a rule that can be violated at the appropriate time, we introduce him as literally a stock character. This makes him transparent enough so that we can concentrate on the plot: Alex has a girlfriend and she has an ex-husband who might be a threat—note that this is also right after we’ve heard about Diana’s ex-husband, of whom we will read more later. Also, Alex wasn’t expecting her and she had a different car. Hmm.
On to Chapter 2.