Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 4b

TOC page here.

Just a very quick update, given that I did a crap job of breaking this scene in two. Here’s the other reason Mustapha imagines the killer might give for half-assing the Reaper’s signature.

“Hunh?” He eased to the car into a parking spot on the next block down from Grady. “Well, either he doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care. He has a motive we haven’t sussed out yet. Publicity, some fucked-up version of Islam?”

“Drawing attention to the plight of Atlanta’s homeless?” They got out of the car. “The ordinary Atlantan would mock anyone who pointed out how poorly served the homeless are, but if they’re being murdered by the Reaper, people will start clamoring for better social services?” She slipped tablet and phone into her bag and hurry to catch up with him. “I’m not even convincing myself, here.”

He doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care. That’s elementary: what we’re going to read next is going to lend some depth to this.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 4a

TOC page here.

We’ve just added depth to Henry Buchanan, the shelter’s doorkeeper, and found out a little bit more about the elusive Red:

Back in the car, Mustapha said, “That Buchanan guy is like every other con: won’t say nothing about nothing, until you get him talking; and then, he’s a gossipy little bitch.”

“Your point is valid, but I’m going to have to phone the language police. He knew Red a lot better than he was willing to admit.” She fiddled with her phone. “I want Dave the friendly imam to see this picture of the writing on Mario’s chest, but I’m paranoid about leaks. We could drive up there, but if he has to be up before the crack of dawn, he’ll be asleep at this hour.”

“Yeah: good Muslims go to bed early. Maybe we could…” He trailed off into silence, Diana knowing better to say anything. Then, “Eyes. The killer didn’t scoop them out. Maybe I missed that?”

Diana put the phone away and got out the tablet. She flipped through photos. “No, you’re right. Wow, I should’ve had some of that coffee. The critters got to him, but no, his eyes weren’t scooped out. Maybe. Here, I’ll call Keller.”

She got the phone back out; Mustapha wondered, not for the first time, whether Diana would have an easier time of it if she just glued to the phone to the back of the tablet’s case. Her conversation with Keller was long and had more to do with Keller’s kitchen renovation than with Mario’s eyes.

By the time she hung up, he’d tuned out completely, made her repeat herself. “Keller and Posh are holed up in the basement of Grady, keeping Mario’s body away from potentially leaky minions. What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing.” He put the car in gear.

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“Nothing important. Something about taking apart the lawnmower engine.” He pulled onto Courtland, old reflexes from the bad days in Vietnam alerting him to the homeless guys lurking in the shadows. “If this guy’s the Reaper, I’ll eat the damn lawnmower. What got me thinking about the eyes. The Reaper wanted us to see what he’d done: the eyes were looking back at their own body. That detail leaked quicker than any of the others. And if you believe the profilers, signatures don’t change.”

“Right. But Alex Dawson was face down in that park—parklet—and it would have taken days to find him if it weren’t for those two guys out on a date. Hey, I hope that baby’s doing well.”

“What baby?”

“Never mind.”

“Oh, that baby. If it’s fine, it’s not our problem. Poor old Mario was there for days; half the Reaper corpses weren’t cold yet.” He slowed for a traffic light. “So number one, this person didn’t do his homework. I bet if I type Atlanta Reaper into Google, the first article that comes up is going to have the picture of the eyeballs on top of those church wafers.”

“Yuck. But yeah: you’re not squeamish, you could do a killer Reaper impression. What’s number two?”

What’s fun about writing a scene like this is that I can show the length and depth of their partnership through stage business and offhand comments. She’s enough of an introvert to know what it means to be an intuitive thinker, and to leave it alone; he is secretly impressed with her gadget prowess but is reluctant to admit it. Also, I can organically throw us back to the silly bit that opens the novel, because it’s exactly the sort of thing Diana would think, even if this weren’t a novel that has a running theme of birth and children.

As far as the plot goes, the Reaper had a clear signature, and these killings have a much blurrier one. Alex Dawson’s eyes were scooped out; but they weren’t displayed. Signatures don’t change: remember that. So is this guy lazy, or a different guy? Why half-ass the signature? Stay tuned.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 3b

TOC page here.

The last excerpt ended with Diana and Mustapha interviewing Henry Buchanan, the shelter’s doorkeeper. We established him in Act I as a bad guy, homeless because of his criminal record and his attitude. But Henry knew something about the elusive Red, so he got a few more lines. Now, watch me make him three-dimensional:

Mustapha caught Diana’s glance again. He said, “You sure are ignorant, for a man who spent months in the… what was it, Dee?”

“Lazarus Program.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Does it work, Henry?”

“What?” The confusion almost seemed real.

“The program, dumbass. You come back to life yet?”

“I ain’t never been dead.” At Mustapha’s glare, “Sure. In the joint, nobody cares about your problems. But Ms. Claire does. You talk, you sort out some of what put you on the streets.”

“Like your attitude problem.”

A little spirit came back into Buchanan’s face. “You grow up with your daddy, Detective?”

“I ain’t the one living on the streets.”

“Cos I didn’t. All I got was the last name, and a lot of whippings from whoever my mama was fucking that month. So I got issues: you try it. I know that Jesus’ compassion flows through us all, and God has a plan for each of us: you just got to learn to accept it and stop struggling.”

“Yeah? What’s his plan for you?”

“Get off the streets and take better care of myself, is all I know right now. The Lord don’t send no text messages.”

Diana said, “If only everyone believed that. How did it work for your pal Red? The program?”

“Well, he got off the streets and started taking better care of himself. Stopped drinking, in his case. Me, I got issues, but alcohol ain’t one of them. Your real drunk, like Red, or that poor Alex guy y’all were asking about, if they get sober it’s either because they done figured out what was driving’em to drink in the first place, or cos they swapped out drinking for meetings.”

Diana said, “There’s a good trade.”

“Sure, if you can stand the shitty coffee and the chain-smoking. They still addicts, is what I’m saying.”

Mustapha remembered some bad times from the old millennium. “You’re not wrong. Which kind was Red?”

“The second kind. The man was out of the shelter and at a meeting all the damn time.” Buchanan caught Diana’s expression. “And not facedown drunk, which like you said was a good trade. But in group therapy, he never did come out with what put him in front of the bottle to begin with. I respected the man for letting Jesus and Ms. Claire take the wheel, but I always had the feeling that if the meeting was canceled, old Red would have ended up at a bar.”

“That’s why there’s always a meeting,” said Mustapha.

“I guess so. You want to know what made the man tick, you need to talk to Bill. He’s a white man, used to be all rich and shit before he wound up in the gutter.”

“Oh, I met him,” said Diana.

“Him and Red was drinking buddies, and then meeting buddies.” Buchanan jerked a thumb behind him. “Lights out, or I’d go fetch him for you.”

“Count on it,” said Mustapha. “And tell your boss we need to see her.”

“She ain’t my boss, man; she my counselor.”

Now we see why Buchanan wound up the way we did; he lets us imagine him and Mustapha growing up in swapped circumstances. If Henry had had a real father figure, he might have turned out all right: remember, way back we already pinned him as too bright for a common criminal. But this is intended to be the case, as it is for the rest of the homeless in the book. There are reasons, usually reasons beyond their control, why they ended up on the streets. Henry has insight, and more importantly is now “real” to both the detectives and to us. This signals that he’s going to end up being important without drawing too much attention to the fact or the process.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 3a

TOC page here.

We left off with Diana and Mustapha agreeing with the chief that Mario’s death was unlikely to be solved and that they had about three weeks until another monthly killing happened. But our detectives will continue to investigate. Here, they return to the shelter:

Mustapha tipped the thermos up again, thinking it might magically create another drop of coffee. Ddin’t matter, at this point. He handed it to Diana, who stuffed it in her bag as they walked up to the entrance to Peachtree-Pine. The same punk was at the door. “G’wan in, y’all,” the guy said with a smug grin.

Mustapha got right up in the guy’s grill, used his chest to shove hi back against the doorframe. From six inches above, he stared right down until the guy flinched. He kept his own voice low. “Do you really want Homicide detectives to have a good reason to know your name? Do you want us to find a parole violation somewhere?”

“Man, I got–”

“Nothing, is what you got. You wanna get your life together, you gotta learn to get along with other people. Here’s your first lesson: don’t fuck with us. Cooperate, or stay out of our way. And lose the attitude.”

Diana said in Cheerful Voice, “Have you been here all night, Mr. Buchanan?”

“Yeah.” He’d gone Yard Blank in the way of cons and ex-cons everywhere.

“And can others verify this? Then you have no earthly reason to attract our attention.”

He felt Diana slip in between him and the far edge of the doorframe. She started to walk back to Longstreet’s office, then thought better of it. “Say, Mr. Buchanan: since you’re such a helpful guy right now, maybe you can tell me about a guy you know, named Red?”

“Don’t know nobody by that name.” At Mustapha’s growl, “Ma’am.” At a louder growl, “I know of him. Before my time, hear?”

“Go on,” said Mustapha, easing up on the pressure just a hair.

“Ain’t much to say. Okay, okay. He… he went an’ joined the real world. Got himself clean, did the program, got back in touch with his kin out there somewhere. They got him an apartment clean out yonder in the suburbs, keep him near his sister and away from the temptations of the wanderin’ life.”

He stopped, looked back and forth at them both. “What y’all want? I ain’t met the man, and he didn’t come back to give the rest of us no pep talk.”

Diana shifted her gaze; Mustapha turned to meet it and grinned. He leaned into Buchanan again. “Cool story, bro. You oversold it, but it was plausible.”

Diana said, “Because most of it was true. Best way to lie. All Mr. Buchanan here did was shift it back in time.”

Mustapha stared down the guy until he wilted. “Red only left a few months ago, douchebag. The guy went through your program. You had group therapy with him.”

Diana said, “So why lie? Just force of convict habit? You see, I want to talk to Red. And now you’re getting in our way, after having been told not to.”

“Real politely, too,” added Mustapha.

“Indeed. I’m beginning to understand why Mr. Buchanan here has had such trouble holding onto a job.”

“One more time, punk,” said Mustapha. “Names. Dates. Addresses.”

Buchanan kept the Yard Glare up for a second, probably just for pride. Then, “Fuck, man. I truly do not know the brother’s real name. I think it’s Charles or something like that. When his kin came to fetch him, I wasn’t right up close. Last name? No idea; truth. His sister is one o’them stay at home moms, her husband they all called Doctor.” He screwed up his face for a second. “Miller? Tiller? I didn’t catch it. But it wouldn’t matter, cos Red wouldn’ta had the same last name.”

Mustapha backed off, let the guy have a foot or so of space. “Go on.”

“Well, now the brother, Red’s brother, I never heard a name at all. But he was a preacher. That might could help you.”

Diana asked, “Had you seen him before?”


“How did you know he was a preacher?”

“You been inside, or livin’ on the street? You know one when you see one.”

“When did you see these people?”

“At night; there was a party.”

Mustapha said, “She means, what date?”

“Oh. In the fall. Like, the hot part of the fall. But I don’t know where they was taking him. They looked like they was from the suburbs, was all.”

We’ve met Henry Buchanan before: he’s Claire Longstreet’s guard dog. But he knows how to roll over, and more importantly, he almost knows who the elusive Red is. Red, like William Knight earlier in the book, is on the way out of being homeless and back into the real world. But again, we have a throwaway line: the best way to lie is to tell the truth. Keep an eye out for more of that.

Adopted Daughter (5)

Part 1 of this set of posts outlined a scenario in which a plucky country girl named Emma put up a Craigslist ad asking for an affluent intown Atlanta couple to adopt her so she could get away from rural dysfunction and into a better high school. Part 2 gave the typical tropes that such a story would often contain; Part 3 gave a number of elements the plot of my story would contain. Yesterday, I gave the first half of the outline. This is a two-part story, not unlike my story L’appel du vide, where the first half of the story is from the POV of a character and the second from that of the detectives. I summarized the second half of the story as follows:

But then when Diana is doing the paperwork, it comes up that Stepmom, Stepdad, Emma and the dead brother are not biologically related: Stepson’s widowed father married Stepmom, then later died, long before Stepdad came along. Diana calls her sister Fiona, laughing about how their own family doesn’t seem quite so weird, and Fiona makes some remark that gets Diana thinking about things a little more. I’ll explain this half in tomorrow’s post.

She looks up the cousin and his mother and brother and quickly finds a) that they’re Emma’s aunt and cousins on her mom’s side, but unrelated to any of the others, b) the middle brother died in a gun-safety accident a couple of months ago, and c) the cousins’ father also died in a gun-safety accident, one that is to her much more clearly a suicide than the middle brother’s. She chases down the cops who wrote up the cousins’ dad’s report and soon learns that the dad was about to be arrested for molesting his oldest son, the one Emma helped move. But the cousins’ mom is pretty clear that Stepdad and Emma were around at the time of Stepson’s death: she stayed with them in the old house. And their phones indicate they stayed there. Emma is an emancipated minor (or taking steps to become one) but her own mom isn’t that far away.
Diana tracks down Stepson’s exGF and his boss, and neither one describes him as despondent. Then she interviews Stepmom and Stepdad, the latter of whom is distinctly nervous because he thinks Diana’s trying to probe his alibi, when in fact she’s just curious about why Emma is living with them. She finds out that Stepdad is paying Cousin’s community college tuition. She interviews Cousin, who’s pleased and grateful, then Emma’s mom and her boyfriend, who come off as exactly the sort of people who you’d place an ad on Craigslist to get away from, but who say they went over to the old house that night and only the cousin’s mom was there, not Stepdad or Emma.
So now Diana is able to put the puzzle together: Emma went to Cousin and confirmed that yes, his own dad molested him. She came back and told Stepdad that the twins were being molested by Stepson, and he wanted to hear the story first-hand, so he came back down with her to Cousin’s place, and the three of them hatched the plot: Cousin is the alibi and they’re going to pay him back with college money. They left their phones at the house while they drove back to Atlanta, killed Stepson and made it look like a suicide, then went back to get the panicked phone call from Stepmom. Diana thinks she can nail them by not just looking at phone transponders, but car ones; but Cousin’s mom drives an old enough car that it doesn’t have one.
At the end, Diana finally gets to meet the twins, and wonders what lengths she’d go to in order to protect her own child. And that, folks, is a story.


Adopted Daughter (4)

Part 1 of this set of posts outlined a scenario in which a plucky country girl named Emma put up a Craigslist ad asking for an affluent intown Atlanta couple to adopt her so she could get away from rural dysfunction and into a better high school. Part 2 gave the typical tropes that such a story would often contain; Part 3 gave a number of elements the plot of my story would contain. Yesterday, I sat down and wrote out the full outline. This is a two-part story, not unlike my story L’appel du vide, where the first half of the story is from the POV of a character and the second from that of the detectives.

The first part of this story will be third-person narrative, mostly about Emma, but gradually including more and more of her interior thoughts. Austen’s novel Emma is widely noted as groundbreaking because it’s the first to consistently use third-person narrative that includes characters’ inner thoughts: this is usually called style indirect libre though rarely “indirect freestyle” for some reason. Since I am arty and pretentious, I like the idea of this murder story being a bit like Emma.

In this first part, Emma places the ad, comes to Atlanta, gradually integrates herself with the family and the new school, comes to a certain level of understanding about her sexuality (more on this later) and then encounters the stepson who has to move back home. Early in this, she goes back “home” for a funeral: she has three boy cousins from the same family, and the one her age dies in some idiotic gun-safety accident of the type so prominent in Georgia crime news. At the funeral is the dead boy’s older brother, who after their father had also died in a gun accident, had gone off the rails, into drugs, etc., but is now back from rehab and doing well aside from his grief over his brother, to whose corpse he says something like “I tried to protect you.” Emma writes this off as grief but bonds with the cousin, who appreciates her ambition and comes to view her as something of a role model.

Then, Stepson shows up. Crucially, Stepdad is not Stepson’s dad, and he’s never liked the kid, and he’s not happy about Stepson moving home, but Stepmom thinks Stepson hung the moon. Stepson is smart enough to stay on the straight and narrow and not try to fuck the cute teen girl who’s taking care of his younger sibs, at least right away. But he’s suave and classy in a way Emma’s not used to associating with rapists, so she’s gradually seduced. And then, just when she’s about to help him take her underwear off, one of the twin siblings shows up talking about how it hurts to poop. This causes her to remember something else about her cousin: that shortly before his father died in the gun incident, the cousin was complaining about the same thing. Part One ends as Emma goes down to visit the cousin.

Part Two begins with Diana and Mustapha called to the scene of an apparent suicide: the adult son of an affluent couple has killed himself in their garage. Stepmom is there, having discovered him when she returned from book club. Stepdad and Emma show up a while later: they have been off in the country, helping Cousin’s mother and brother move to his new apartment in a less shitty part of the suburbs, and returned when they got Stepmom’s phone call. Seems like a cut and dried suicide: what a pity, guy’s GF had thrown him out.

But then when Diana is doing the paperwork, it comes up that Stepmom, Stepdad, Emma and the dead brother are not biologically related: Stepson’s widowed father married Stepmom, then later died, long before Stepdad came along. Diana calls her sister Fiona, laughing about how their own family doesn’t seem quite so weird, and Fiona makes some remark that gets Diana thinking about things a little more. I’ll explain this half in tomorrow’s post.

Adopted Daughter (3)

Yesterday I wrote about the typical tropes a crime story might use about a girl from the sticks who wants a better life in the city. Today, I’m going to put them together into a very loose plot. Note: the order of events here will not be the order in the final story.

  1. Emma, our heroine (yes, she’s “Lucy” in the original post; this happens)  gets adopted by a nice middle-class Atlanta couple: they have 6yo twins, and the mom has a mid-20s son from a previous marriage. The mom wants to buy her cute girly clothes, because the mom’s always wanted a daughter, which Emma resists. Emma has a strong desire to refrain from sexual activity, because in her native environment, this always leads to derailed dreams. So she resists this, wanting to stick to her jeans and hoodies.
  2. Stepmom and Stepdad have a lot of rules about the twins (they’re both boys): no TV, lots of books, no toy guns or war toys, only healthy snacks, no sugar, etc. The sort of things that are fairly common among educated urban parents, but totally alien to Emma. The boys’ clothing doesn’t have words or sports logos: it’s plain with muted colors. They don’t have any toys that need batteries—there’s going to be an ongoing thing here about batteries being a signifier of the cultural divide. No TV/cartoon/Disney tie-in toys, either. One of the boys is kind of girly and the parents encourage him to express it: he does ballet. All of this makes Emma angry in a way that she can’t articulate until she returns home for the funeral of a boy a few years older who gets killed in some asinine gun-safety fail. Only then does she sort out that she’s angry because she wasn’t raised like this: unlike her, the boys are cherished and treated with an eye to their long-term development.
  3. Stepmom is a cancer survivor, and while she’s otherwise a solid person, her looks have really gone downhill and she’s lost her sex drive. Stepdad is a chemist or some other type of scientist, and gives Emma a lot of help with school. Emma quite likes him, and because he’s not an overbearing rapist, both of them take some time to figure out that he’s developed sexual feelings for her. But he figures it out first, and makes himself stop moving in that direction; only once he does this does Emma figure out why. She’s utterly unused to men who exhibit any kind of self-control, so she has no idea how to react at first.
  4. There’s a boy next door, a sweet, gentle emo boy who she rides to school with. There’s a girl at school who both looks nothing like Emma and isn’t conventionally attractive. She’s also a real academic superstar, and Emma, hitherto the only good student, is now one of a crowd and not necessarily the best, which is disconcerting for her. So she plays matchmaker (ha ha, why her name is now Emma) and hooks the two of them up—and only later figures out that he’s just the sort of boy she can picture herself getting naked with, precisely because he isn’t like the aggressive bulls she grew up around.
  5. Since the matchmaker thing worked so well, she sets up Stepdad with Emoboy’s mom, who is a single mom who looks good and hasn’t lost her mojo. This works well, even once Stepmom finds out, and all of this encourages Emma to open up a little more to exploring her own sexuality, and maybe wearing some cute sundresses.
  6. Then the older Stepson loses his job/marriage and has to move back home with his parents. Remember that the real Emma has her hook up with her older cousin at the end. Now Stepson is Emma’s type, in that he’s an alpha male (what she grew up programmed to find attractive) but also a classy, educated one who speaks well and doesn’t smell like cigarettes. So she’s smitten, and Stepmom, for whom Stepson can do no wrong, is over the moon and trying to hook them up.
  7. Trouble is, the boys are acting up like crazy, really driving Emma mad, and she can’t figure out why… until she’s able to see that Stepson lost his job/marriage because he’s a sociopathic predator just like so many of the men Emma grew up with. And now she understands why the boys are acting up. And now she understands that she’s going to have to do something about it. Violence was the defining factor of her childhood, and it’s what she came to Atlanta to escape.

So how does she engineer his death? Or does she? What if it’s our plucky heroine who ends up dead? Tune in next time.


Adopted Daughter (2)

The other day, I wrote out the first few paragraphs of a story in the form of a Craigslist ad by a teenage girl from rural Georgia who wanted to be adopted by an intown family so she could get away and go to a better school. This story has a lot of potential clichés involved, and today’s post is me going through them in order to invert several of them.

So what would happen in Clichéworld were Lucy to be adopted by an intown family?

  • The classic one would be “the past ain’t over”. Someone (an ex, a parent or sibling) from the rural area will follow her to Atlanta and make her life difficult.
  • Or, the variation on that theme would be that she can’t let go of the past: that she introduces downscale dysfunction into her new environment.
  • The father, older brother, etc. of the new family develops a sexual obsession with her: the classic dad falling for the nanny story.
  • She’s exploited by the new family. The low-key version of this is she becomes the unpaid nanny and maid; the high-end version is the family pimping her out, literally or figuratively.
  • Or, she figures out that the family is exploiting or molesting the younger children she’s in charge of, or that the family is running a criminal enterprise.
  • She becomes the favored sibling, and the real child of the family is envious, or violent. Especially if the real child is off at college or whatever and has to return.
  • She has a younger sibling of her own who she wants to “rescue” from the rural environment, but that sibling is problematic in some way—or just doesn’t care for city life.
  • She is in no way who she claims to be: she’s not a “boring grind”, but rather has some crazy agenda that she’s not telling anyone about.

So I want to write a story that isn’t a cliché, or that inverts these clichés, or uses them as red herrings for a murder mystery plot. True drama comes from the intersection of character and situation. I want to put her in a situation where she’s expected to respond like someone from rural dysfunction, but chooses not to—and then, I want to put her in another situation where acting like someone from rural dysfunction is in fact the appropriate response, but she doesn’t want to do it.

The parallel in my fiction to this is Rage Will Consume You First, where Abigail, the heroine, who’s trying to renounce violence, needs to engage in it. Lucy’s problem is going to be a little less immediate, but structurally similar. I’ll outline it more clearly in the next post.


The Tale of the Adopted Daughter

Imagine this ad on Craigslist:

Wanted, Intown Atlanta: A Good Stepmother

A stepfather would be cool, too. Or two gay dudes: I’m not picky. Hi I’m Lucy, 16F, living in a trailerpark hellhole way out here in Georgia. My “family” is exactly what you’d expect: chainsmoking methheads who claim disability and start drinking before noon. My “school” is nothing but white trash and betteroff kids who say they’re Christians but who Jesus would slap. I’m the kid who wants to make it out of there.

You want to help me make it out of there. You’re stable middleclass people who live near a MARTA station and who think it would be cool to have this little bitty country girl be like your adopted foster daughter or whatever, while she aced her way through a good high school (North Atlanta or Grady would be awesome) and then got into a good college and go off and send you cards thanking you.

I’m neat and tidy, no drama, a boring grind. I can cook, clean, sew, type, fix stuff around the house, drive (even stick), fix a motorcycle. I don’t drink or smoke or do any other drugs, believe me, I’ve seen enough. I don’t have a gun (but I can shoot great) or a baby or an ugly guy with neck tattoos who thinks he’s my boyfriend. I like reading and peace and quiet and city life with lots of cool places to drink coffee. Oh, and I’m great with little kids, too.

I have no idea where this one is going. It’s too much foreshadowing to put in the part about guns. The cliché would be that she really does have someone from her past who’s going to come looking for her. But the way I’d write it, that person would be the least of her worries.

Wednesday’s Other Mass Shooting

Everyone’s heard the news by now about the married couple who shot up the man’s work colleagues this past Wednesday: a friend of mine said, after the initial reports giving the shooters’ names, in a remarkable example of gallows humor: “It’s nice to see that Muslims have assimilated into American culture well enough to participate in ordinary workplace mass shootings instead of making it an Islamic thing.” But of course, the shooters turned out to be doing it for twisted-Islam reasons, so never mind, thanks for trying.

But there was another mass shooting this Wednesday, here in Georgia:

SAVANNAH, Ga. — One woman is dead and three males are injured after an early morning shooting Wednesday.

The shooting happened near the 100 block of West 33rd street around 1:00 a.m.

Savannah-Chatham police are still looking for the suspect. The victims range in age from 17 to 52. They are Jamond Heyward, 17, Brandy Council, 34, Jarrett Myers, 40, and Jeran Washington, 52.

Council died at the scene and the men were transported to a local hospital with what are being described as non-life-threatening injuries.

Right now, we don’t know anything about these people. It could have been a domestic dispute, or a drive-by, or a case of mistaken identity. The scariest part about 21st-century America is that there are so many potential proximate causes for mass shootings—and so many guns with which to do it. What would be the headline for days in nearly any other civilized country is second place for the day in ours.

I don’t care for guns, myself, but my opinion isn’t really all that important. I’ve written about guns before, so I’m going to let that do the talking. Here’s the first scene from an unpublished story, Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries:

Alvin Smith died as he had lived: surrounded by guns and the other paraphernalia of anxious masculinity. Detective Diana Siddall looked around the living room of the loft Smith had rented in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood, which in the boom times had been overbuilt with condos for the aspirational, but even five years after the crash was half-empty and mostly rentals. The loft was a case study in what a long-divorced fortysomething woman like her Did Not Want: a weightlifting bench; a tremendous plasma television; posters of football players, of the text of the U.S. Constitution, of Barack Obama eating a slice of watermelon, for god’s sake. A workbench held many firearms, including an assault rifle mounted in the place of honor. In front of the television lay the long-barreled Patriot Arms .44 Magnum that Smith had been cleaning when it discharged, putting a neat round hole in the point of his chin and blowing the back half of his head over the back of the enormous, oversized brown leather recliner that was the room’s sole chair.

Diana crouched down, peered up at the stand. “Removed the clip but forgot there was one in the chamber?”

“Something like that,” said Dave Keller, chief of Crime Scene. “Gun fetishists all over the city are already feeling embarrassed on this idiot’s behalf.”

“Maybe a suicide?”

“Inconclusive. His hands test for gunshot residue, but they would either way.”

Diana looked up as her partner Inspector Mustapha Alawi cast a shadow across Smith’s body. “Hey,” she said. “Find any clues?”

A sardonic grin underneath his pirate’s beard. “Nothing but survivalist magazines to read, and all he has in the kitchen is light beer and ground beef.” He crouched down to look at Smith’s face. “No note, if that’s what you mean. Internet history is what you’d expect: porn, guns, the kind of bloggers who think Fox News is for liberals. Door was locked. He’s real pissed at someone named Alice, who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is his ex-wife. You want to put fifty bucks on this one, I’m going to take accident.”

“Yeah? I’m thinking this guy had a moment of clarity looking around this place, found his life insurance policy, saw the suicide rider and decided to muddle the issue.”

Keller noticed both detectives were staring at him. “Don’t ask me. I had all night here, I might could find something. But it’s Friday, and it’s ninety degrees outside: I’m guessing we got about half an hour before somebody else gets shot.”


Alice was indeed the ex-wife. Her clothes hung loose on her; she wore running shoes; her hair was the color of a fresh copper penny. She made an effort not to look relieved. “Cleaning his gun? I told him a thousand times those things would be the death of him. You better come in and have tea.” When they were served, she continued. “You’ll find a whole list of suits, countersuits, custody battles, and then a restraining order, just from typing our names into your computers. So I figure you’ll be suspicious–” She heard a thump from upstairs, and lowered her voice. “But just so you know, I was at Grady High School all afternoon and evening. Just walked in the door when y’all called. My son’s school play. Bye Bye Birdie, can you believe they still put that one on?” She sighed. “I’m going to have to tell him. Talk about mixed emotions.”

Mustapha put his teacup aside. “Ms. Smith, do you think there’s any reason your husband–”


“–would take his own life?”

“I thought you said it was an accident. Well, I always figured if Alvin was going to kill himself, he’d do it about thirty seconds after he shot me. For a few months after I got the restraining order, he seemed to calm down. Then, he joined this awful group of men who are even worse than he was. They egged him on to start claiming that I was abusing the legal system–” More thumps from upstairs, then footsteps coming down. Two boys, late teens, a matched pair of a type that hadn’t existed when Diana was young. Trim, pretty, buff, gay, had never even heard of the closet. The sort that made Diana’s own daughter sigh at the unfairness of it all.

“What’s up?” said the taller one.

“Roger, these are the police–”

“Oh, not Dad again.” The other boy inched closer to him.

“It’s complicated,” said his mother. “I’ll explain later. David, are you spending the night?”

“No, ma’am,” said the other boy. “My mom has a conference call; I have to get my sisters ready for school.”

“We just came down for snacks,” said Roger.

After they were safely upstairs, Alice shook her head. “I’m going to have to tell him. You see, Roger was what started it all. He used to like dresses, as a little boy. Alvin couldn’t handle it. I came back early from a business trip and caught Alvin beating Roger with a belt for being a sissy. Filed for divorce the next day.” She finished her tea. “As if anything could have beaten the sissy out of Roger.”