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.

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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.

Single Mom (6)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Here’s the next scene, where we meet Harriet, our actual killer:

Mustapha looked up. “Hunh? What did you say?”

Diana said, “I can’t believe you can sleep after all that tea.”

“It was a tough night. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“So sensitive. You should read the blog: you’ll learn all about how to appear vulnerable in order to con women into sex.”

“Because I need to have divorced chicks swarming me. Are you just hazing me, or did you find out anything interesting?”

“Andrea Jellicoe is only talking to us through her lawyer, now.”

“You woke me up for that?”

“There were eight burglaries in the Highlands over the last week. Four of them during the day, but all of those involved a broken window.” Mustapha just glared. “Search warrant for Jellicoe’s house and car just came through.”

“I’ll make tea.”

But before hot water could be poured on gunpowder tea and fresh mint leaves, the desk sergeant brought them a visitor. Harriet Kaspar looked like she was too busy to be a real hipster: she was dressed very formally for a warm spring day, but beneath the cuffs of her blouse were forearm tattoos. She declined tea, then thought better of it and took a glass. “They said you were investigating Tyler Green’s murder? I thought you should know I had an issue with him.”

Diana said, “With Mr. Greene, or with the blog?”

“With him. I never read the blog, til the other night. I saw his photo on Jezebel, about the book, and recognized him. I dated a guy named Tommy Grant six, seven years ago. Thought he was the one; he disappeared off the face of the earth after a month. So there he was with a new book and a new girlfriend. I couldn’t stop myself.” She sipped her tea; Mustapha saw Diana wince in sympathy, but Casper swished the hot liquid around, then took a bigger sip. “Zesty. I needed closure, you know? Guy sort of broke my heart.” She shrugged. “I work for a staffing company, so it’s easy to look people up: Internet skills. Got his phone number, called him twice, straight to voicemail. Had the day off yesterday, so I looked up his address. Yeah, that wasn’t maybe all that appropriate. Should have gone to the gym, instead. But when I get there, y’all cops were everywhere. And then this morning his name’s all over the news.”

Neither detective said anything; but neither did Kaspar, who sipped her tea and looked back and forth between them. Finally, Diana spoke. “Do you… know something about–”

“No. I mean, it was a little strange, seeing all those cops. I figure, you’re going to go through his phone records, and you’ll find a hangup and a voicemail from my phone. No threats: I just wanted him to know he hadn’t disappeared completely. Or maybe I hadn’t disappeared completely. My office is around the corner, so I figured I’d save you the trouble.”

Kaspar drained her tea. “I didn’t do it. Like I’d come in if I did. I never left the house the other day until I drove over to his place: trace my phone if you want. I was up half the night before reading the blog. I knew he was an asshole, but I didn’t think he had the… attention span, to be quite such a douche on purpose. How he got a woman to help him publish that crap, I don’t know; but I bet he pissed a lot of people off.”

She stood up. “Thanks for the tea. Here’s my card, if you need anything. No, no: don’t get up. I’ll see myself out.”

After Kaspar was gone, Mustapha poured himself more tea. “Was she on your list?”

“Yep.” Diana finally dared to sip her own tea. “Mmmph! Hot. I didn’t like her.”

“I don’t know if she’s where I would start if I was going to take dating advice from Tyler, or Taylor, or Thomas, but–”

“Nobody innocent is that helpful.”

“So we check her story out. Trace her Internet address, too, see if she surfed the blog before two nights ago. You know we’re going to have to trace all the nasty comments on the blog anyway, just for due diligence.”

“You mean I’m going to trace them.”

“I’ll get snacks.”

This part is also longer than it needs to be. The business at the beginning is important, though, for two reasons: it establishes Mustapha’s distraction and irritation, which is going to continue through the story until it pays off near the end; and it also gives the back-and-forth between the characters that’s a key feature of this sort of fiction. You watch the show, you get to know the characters.

I don’t have Harriet’s tone quite right, yet. She’s a little too deadpan: she needs to be trying to be emotional, and maybe not doing an especially good job of it. I’ll ultimately change her name, like I will nearly everyone else’s in the story, but that’s fundamentally trivial. I don’t know why I do it at the last minute. Usually names are just placeholders, until I come up with the real one; mostly, when I handwrite the first drafts, I’ll just pick a letter and call the character H or whatever the whole way through.

The title of the story, by the way, is Publish and Perish. That only hit me last night. Still not 100% sure: the title is very often the last thing I think up.

Single Mom (5)

Parts 1234.

Stayed up late last night and finished the draft of the story. It’s much too long, but otherwise I’m pretty satisfied with it. That took ten days. Now for the fun part of transcribing it and beginning to edit.

Here’s the part right after Mustapha turns off the video. Note that I’ve changed Andrea’s last name to Jellicoe, because I referr to secondary characters by their last names—instead of men by their last and women by their first, which is a habit many genre writers have—and since Jordan is (often) a man’s name, it was confusing.

Jellicoe kept her hands to her cheeks. “It’s not… it’s not it’s not it’s not–” She began to cry in great, heaving sobs. Diana passed her a napkin; Mustapha rubbed his temples. Guilty people cry just like the innocent do. Jellicoe went way above and beyond the usual, though; Mustapha had time to hit the can and give his face a long look in the mirror. Inconclusive.

At long last, Jellicoe stopped sobbing; then, after a moment’s silence, “He was alive. He… I dropped him off at his place yesterday, at about nine-thirty. I watched him go into his apartment. I texted a friend before I started driving home.”

She blew her nose, then continued, more composed. “He did come over; he was wearing that outfit when he was at my house. Look, I started the blog: I was mad, sometimes I lash out. He’s just… you have no idea what dating is like if you’re over thirty, especially if you have a kid.”

Diana laughed. “I do.”

“Yeah, but you look great. I’m… average.” She looked at Mustapha. “Supply and demand, is the problem. A guy like Taylor—Tyler—is outnumbered ten to one by women who want a boyfriend. There’s a whole set of posts about it, on the blog. Every metro area in the USA, datable women in their thirties and forties outnumber datable men, by big margins. Taylor has his pick of the litter: everything else is dick pics, porn addicts, married cheaters and losers.”

Mustapha said, “Why is that?”

“Mostly demographics. Read the blog: it’s a cliché to say that men want sex and women want relationships, but there’s a lot of that out there. So, last year, I came home from a night out with him, knew it was over, sat down and started writing about it. Tyler’s a player: he acts like he might be thinking about settling down, so you do whatever you can to convince them you’re the one. Then a new chick who’s just as hungry comes along—and Tyler doesn’t want commitment at all; he wants variety.”

Mustapha and Diana stayed silent, so she continued. “I was pissed. I copied his picture and blurred his face, and pretended to be him. Maybe should have thought about the hair. But it took off so quick, and I was kind of stuck. I write a thousand blog posts about being a woman in this world, and nobody cares; but one post as a man, and I’ve got ten thousand followers.”

“Go figure,” said Diana.

“Totally. I made bank pretending to be Taylor, explaining to unattractive men how they can have good-looking women with good jobs worship at their feet for the small price of a tiny amount of attention to her happiness. And their own soul, of course. And how can I refuse a book deal?”

Mustapha nodded. “So when Tyler shows up, saying he’s going to take it from you–”

Jellicoe wagged a finger. “No. He showed up and made me a better offer. He said he’d be Taylor, market it. We could do videos, self-help, that kind of thing. Sure, he had the threat, but honestly? Tyler as a business partner was way better than as a kind of boyfriend. I called my publisher, they thought it was great, we put our picture up on the web. We were number three in e-books yesterday.”

“But you’ll be higher once the news gets out. And you don’t have to share.”

“Yeah. Shit, this is not making me look good. All I can say is, we had long-term plans for milking this. He hated his day job as much as I hate mine. I should get a lawyer.”

Diana said, “Well, that’s your right. But that lawyer is going to tell you you have to answer when we ask you why you dropped him off at nine-thirty in the morning, and what you did until about noon.”

She blushed. “He came over last night. Night before last, I mean. We worked out a bunch of ideas, toasted the whole thing, one thing led to another. In the morning, he hid in the bedroom while I got my daughter ready for school; then, after I dropped him off at his house, I came home and went to bed.” At their looks, “Hey, commitment to relationships isn’t his strong point, but he knows how to please a woman.”

This part is still a little too long, but it establishes a few important things: 1) that Tyler may have been wrong about thinking Jellicoe was likely to murder him; 2) that the central issue here is structural imbalance in dating; 3) that Jellicoe is a bit of an opportunist; 4) that despite her protestations, she’s an ideal suspect with a crap alibi. So naturally, she didn’t do it.

Single Mom (4)

Parts 1, 2, 3.

Last time, I provided a beginning and then explained why, though there was nothing wrong with the text, it wasn’t the most appropriate beginning because it didn’t foreground either of the unusual elements of the story. Try this one, instead.

The scene opened on the black leather couch in Greene’s apartment, empty but for a box of tissues balanced on one armrest. A smiling Greene entered the frame and sat. “Hi, detectives!” he said. “This is kinda weird. Anyway, I’m Taylor Greene and I live in the Highlands, and I guess I’m dead, because you’re watching this. Wow. Probably should’ve worn a tie, y’know?” He leaned forward. “So if I’ve been shot or whatever, the woman who killed me is named Emily Jerome. My lawyer Andy has a bunch of the details. Hey, Andy, howya doin’? Emily’s someone I once had kind of a fling with, like a year ago. From now, I mean; who knows when you’re watching this? January of last year. Then she stole my identity and started writing a blog. I only found out about it last week. I told Andy to tell her to knock it off, but then last night I figured why not try to work it out like grownups, y’know? I’m going over to her house, in Reynoldstown, in about half an hour. So she’s got motive to kill me, for wanting a piece of the action, and she’s about to have the opportunity. What’s left, means? Man, I hope it’s quick and painless. Um, tell my mom I love her–”

Mustapha reached forward and paused the video. “Let me tell you, Ms. Jerome: stuff like this happens way more often in cop shows than it does in real life. So I hope you can understand why we asked you to come over to our office.”

So why is this better? Because it lacks detail. It doesn’t matter, right now, how and when and where Greene was killed; just that he’s dead and speaking from the grave. The only thing I really need from that other beginning is the statement of Lyra the witness, and there’s no reason she can’t be re-interviewed later.

Single Mom (3)

Here’s a first draft of a first scene of this new short story. Posts, 1, 2.

Inspector Mustapha Alawi had a headache he wished he could chalk up to a hangover, but at his age, even drinking had lost its appeal. Diana was prattling on about something she’d read on the Internet. By the time she’d slid into the parking spot a patrol officer had kept open for them in front of the condo in Atlanta’s leafy, gentrified Virginia-Highland neighborhood, he’d lost the thread entirely.

Diana knew it, too. “C’mon, Grumper Man: let’s get to work. There have to be ten Starbucks within a half-mile radius of here: wind blows right, you’ll get your caffeine buzz.”

Mustapha checked the scene. A perfect spring day: you could almost see the little ring of bluebirds above Diana’s head. He pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping it would take the edge off. The condo had been a cinder-block apartment complex thirty years ago: two long, narrow two-story buildings with all the appeal of a higway motel; but in the Highlands, the one-bedrooms would sell for three hundred, easy. Maybe a little less, with the lack of off-street parking.

At the base of the stairs leading up to the vic’s place, the patrol sergeant was telling another woman, “I can’t give you any information, ma’am: all I can say is that if your friend lives in this building, you’re gonna have to phone him, or come back later.” The woman drew breath to respond, but the sergeant held up a finger. “There’s rules. Next of kin, that kind of thing. Sorry.”

Mustapha cocked his head so the sergeant could follow him up the steps. “But you can tell me, right?”

She grinned. “Sure, Inspector. Hey, you feeling all right?”

“Allergies. Dispatch said burglary-homicide?”

“Eh, maybe. No break-in, so either this…” She checked her phone. “Taylor Greene character went out for a jog and left the door unlocked , or he let the perp in. Nothing obvious missing.” She led him to the witness, who was drinking from a handmade coffee mug in her apartment next door.

Lyra (“like the constellation”, which just made Mustapha’s head hurt worse) Benito had little to offer them. “He’s lived next door for about a year? Nice guy. Too nice, maybe a little, until he met my boyfriend. Then he was fine. I walked up the steps? And saw those three footprints, door was cracked open. I looked in the window, saw the blood? 911 all the way. He’s dead, right? And whoever did it took off their shoes? Please tell me people can’t float away.”

Mustapha sat down. “That might make it interesting. When did you get home?”

“Just right before I called 911. I’d left my phone at home? Imagine a whole workday without it.”

Diana nodded. “I couldn’t even. Did you go inside? Inside his apartment, I mean?”

“No way. And that lady cop asked if I saw anything? Sorry: no barefoot chick.” At the detectives’ quick side-eye, “It’s a woman’s footprint, right? Shoe print?”

Mustapha said, “It sure is. You ever see, or hear, Mr. Greene having a conflict with a woman?”

“No. I never saw any women at all.”

Now, there’s nothing obviously wrong with this. The prose is choppy, but all that can be fixed. The scene situates us; makes it specific to a part of Atlanta at a particular time; gives us three secondary characters (sergeant, visitor and witness); establishes the difference between Mustapha and Diana; sort-of gives us Greene’s character, and the essence of a crime in traces that disappear. It needs to be cut down, and rearranged a little, but it’s serviceable.

But it isn’t where I want the story to begin. The sheer weirdness of the story lies in Greene having left behind his testimony that a particular person tried to kill him. And much of the story is about the blog. So either a blog entry or Greene’s testimony has to begin the story; this beginning here can come in flashback if need be.

Single Mom (2)

Here is the first entry on this particular story.

The issue is who did kill Taylor, since Angela is such an obvious suspect. One small change from the previous post: Taylor’s lawyer has both the drafted but not sent cease’n’desist letter, and also a sealed letter from Taylor, which is really a phone video on a data stick, where he cheerily says that if he gets killed in the next few days, it’s Angela. He doesn’t think it will happen, but just in case. It should also be noted that Taylor was stabbed with a left hand, and Angela is a righty.

While they’re waiting for evidence enough to arrest Angela, another woman comes forward; we’ll call her Harriet. This woman long ago dated Taylor, only Taylor used a different name back then. She saw him on the Jezebel blog post that announced the book’s publication, recognized him as her long-ago ex, and looked him up. She works for a staffing company, and has a pretty easy time doing a basic background check to find him. She had gone over to his house, but had been stopped at the caution tape and turned back; only now does she know it was he who got killed, and in the interest of full disclosure she wants the detectives to know she was looking him up. “I needed some closure.” Yeah, whatever: there’s so much evidence on Angela.

Larry Quinn the DA wants to arrest right away, but in a reversal of their usual roles, it’s Mustapha this time who thinks the whole story is too pat, while Diana, who is a single mom and knows lots of desperate ones, figures the hoofbeats are horses rather than zebras. They delay enough to meet another ex of Taylor’s and the women’s studies lecturer who hated the blog and was forever screeching on it and who now has to come to terms with its being essentially a feminist performance art piece.

The crucial piece of evidence comes from the ME, who in giving them the routine details on the stabbing mentions that there are already two requests for paternity tests from Taylor’s body: one leads them to the ex in the paragraph above, but she’s got an alibi.

The other is from Harriet, who, when confronted, admits that the real reason she wanted to look Taylor up was to get him to admit paternity of her now-teenage son. She didn’t say it then because she thought it would give her a motive, which of course it does. But she’s also a righty, and she was at home shortly before the killing, and there’s nothing to prove her wrong. Diana doesn’t like Harriet right away, because Harriet is kind of cold, and to kill Taylor and frame Angela takes that kind of sociopathy. But if Angela’s guilty, it’s a crime of passion, and this has all the hallmarks of same. Angela is a narcissist but Harriet is a sociopath, and Diana can prove it via some sort of conversational test that Mustapha’s willing to buy but Quinn is now gun-shy: arrest either one without proving the other innocent, and she can always point at the other at trial.

So now the question becomes: what crucial mistake does Harriet make that enables the detectives to prove her guilty or Angela innocent?

Never Cum Inside a Single Mom

That’s an appalling statement. So much misogyny and filth. But that’s what it’s intended to be: this is the plot of my first new story in quite a while.

There’s a man stabbed to death in a flashy Midtown condo. Taylor Adams is 46 but lists his age as 38 on most of his online profiles, of which there are many. Taylor is the co-author of a book called Never Cum Inside a Single Mom; the book is a bunch of excerpts from a blog of the same name.

The avatar in the blog and book is the 30s-40s equivalent of the Alpha Male Red Pill guys who target 20-something women in order to bed and dump them as quickly as possible. The philosophy of NCISM is quite different, because 40yo women aren’t going to be fooled by the alpha male crap the way a 20yo would. Taylor’s big insight is that single, dateable, solvent 40yo straight women vastly outnumber single, dateable, solvent straight 40yo men in Atlanta, as they do in essentially every metropolitan area in America. So as long as you can manage to make the slightest effort to please women, you as Taylor’s 30something followers can get a lot of dates; and as long as you can remain just vulnerable enough to pique but not enough to commit, you can keep them strung along, because supply and demand works in your favor.

So the blog is all about Taylor’s adventures stringing along three or four good-looking single moms or childless divorcées who will provide him with all the sex he wants, and gradually rotating them out. The persona on the blog is frankly toxic: he’s providing a model for all his followers. The blog was kind of an overnight sensation and has only been around for nine months or so; the book is brand new. Taylor was on a few talk shows the previous week.

There are at least two clear threats to Taylor: one is from a women’s studies lecturer who is a consistent commenter on the blog and who has become increasingly strident since the news about the book. She is difficult and unbalanced, but has at least a superficially persuasive alibi. The other is from a recently-dumped single mom who figured out who he was from the PR about the book, recognizes her story from the blog and makes all kinds of threats on the phone. She also appears to be elsewhere at the time of the killing.

Next step: Taylor did not write the book nor the blog. Taylor’s lawyer comes forward, saying that Taylor only found out about the blog a couple of weeks before his death. He had the lawyer prepare a cease and desist letter, but not send it. So naturally Diana and Mustapha track down the actual writer, Angela, the exact sort of single mom that NCISM is targeting. It turns out that Angela works for the PR people who do the kind of benefit shows that hip affluent 40ish people attend. She dated Taylor a few times, sussed him out, came home and started an angry blog about it, where she portrayed Taylor—notably, all the photos in the blog have faces blurred out. The NCISM blog proved far more popular than her own, so she got her anger out writing from the perspective of a character like Taylor, and got money and fame from it.

Angela tells them that one of Taylor’s exes had recognized his clothes and so forth from the photos on the blog, which were PR photos from the benefits. Taylor read it, learned about the book, called his lawyer. But then he went over to Angela’s house and made her a deal: he could sue her and take it all, or they could work together and he could be Taylor in real life, and they could both cash in. The neighbors saw him go into Angela’s house, but not leave—because, she says, he spent the night and she gave him a ride back to his place in the morning, where he was killed a few hours later. She has no actual evidence of this, and her alibi was that she took the day off and slept in after she dropped him off.

A search of her premises finds the murder knife, with Taylor’s blood on it and her DNA on the handle, so she gets arrested because the DA can’t not pull the trigger. But D/M are skeptical, because her logic actually makes sense; and she doesn’t seem dumb enough to kill him so clumsily. She’s very poised in general. Well okay then, who did it? Time to revisit the two other women as suspects, and we get to learn something weird about both of them, but neither could have done it, for different, embarrassing, reasons.

So who killed Taylor, and why? Stay tuned.