Clown Phone (4)

Life imitates art. Here’s a scene from the Clown Phone story (see earlier iterations here, here and here):

Inspector Mustapha Alawi looked around the parking lot of the dilapidated apartment complex. “Didn’t we catch one here last fall? Two guys had a beef about the one’s babymamma?”

Detective Diana Siddal looked around, shook her head. “Next block over.”

“Same damn place.” He walked over to the sergeant, who had three women in the back of a patrol car. Even the one who was a little thugged out was way too classy for this neighborhood. “You want to walk me through this?”

As the sergeant did, Mustapha could see Diana’s jaw drop. Nice to see something could still shock her. Finally, she said, “You mean this was some kind of planned vigilante killing? Over a phone?”

“Ask them, ma’am,” said the sergeant.

They did. “Killing was not our objective,” said the one who made sure they knew she was an ex-Marine. “We only brought firearms for self-defense.”

“Which is what this was,” said the yuppie. “Then the dude drew down on us. And don’t give us grief about taking matters into our own hands.”

“Y’all sure wouldn’t help us,” said the Marine.

“Hang on,” said Mustapha. He said to the sergeant, “Is this true, that they talked to officers in Midtown? Yeah? Okay, ladies, let’s pretend it makes sense to do a home invasion instead of just calling us. How the hell did you find these guys? Did you know them from before?”

“Track My Phone,” said the nerdy one and Diana simultaneously. “It’s a website,” said Diana. “Remember when I left my phone in Duane’s personal ride, and I used the terminal to track it down?”

“Oh, yeah. Right to his ex-boyfriend’s place. Boy, was he embarrassed. Okay, so now let’s move onto why busting in on them seemed like the right course of action.”

“I think we’re done talking,” said the yuppie. “They took our phones as evidence, but we want to contact legal representation.”

“Yeah? Well, that’s your right.” Mustapha addressed the sergeant. “You want to hold them at the—no, take’em to Midtown, will you? They’ll wreck the ambience at your precinct. Put them in separate rooms after they make calls. We’ll sort out what the forensics say before we interview them again.”

On the ride back to Midtown, Kathy tried as hard as she could to make herself care that another young black man was dead in a senseless crime. But Laura and Mary on either side of her work clearly enjoying themselves and the vibrations were too strong. They were going to get through this, but then what? She could split all her free time between the gym and dating sites, but the odds were still against her. Maybe she could just live with a woman, for the companionship… No. Even if something like that could work, she’d still be bringing men in, and they’d be players, and it would mess things up. Maybe she should hang out with Mary more, get to meet some of these white nerdy boys. Maybe she’d get to like that. Maybe being lonely was her lot in life. Maybe having standards was the problem.

Dumb criminals, pretty much dumber victims here. But they use technology to track the theft, which is the point. Now take a look at this story from Columbus GA:

Columbus police say the burglars did the same thing every time.  They looked for houses with a car in the driveway and knocked to see if anyone was home. With no answer, they forced their way inside and looked for car keys.  Then they’d use the victim’s own car to haul away everything inside their house.  It was happening again and again, and always as the day was beginning…

Later that same morning, a woman on Valencia Drive called police to say her front door was busted down and over four thousand dollars worth of televisions and electronics were taken, including an iPad.  With the help of a tracking app, she was able to tell police her iPad was in a room at the Best Western motel on Macon road where the suspects were staying.

Police arrived immediately afterward to arrest at least two more people.  Officers found most of the stolen items inside both the hotel room and the stolen car pursued from Phenix City.

The trouble with satire in our world is that the real world catches up too quickly.

Clown Phone (3)

I’ve skipped over the end of the first scene and moved to the next. Again, the names in the final story won’t be Anglo ones in alphabetical order:

Patrick thought he had the hit held in right this time, but the damn tickle at the back of his throat got him. He ended up bent over the back of the couch, hacking and gasping, feeling the dizziness take over for all the air that wasn’t in his lungs no more.

“You cough like that, you know you’re going to be high as fuck,” said Quentin.

“Yeah? I already am, nigga.” He stopped to cough some more. “Man, you ain’t figured out the password on that yet?”

“Fuck you, man; you want to try?”

“You try one two three fo’?”

“Bitch, that’s the first one I tried. You want to criticize, you can step right up.”

“No, man; I’m too high.”

Robert came out of the bathroom, moaning. “I think that bitch done broke my nose.” He pulled away the dirty rag full of ice, reached up to carefully pinch the bridge of his nose. “It wobbles, now,” he said, whining like a little boy.

“Well, you was never pretty,” said Quentin from the couch. Patrick burst into helpless laughter.

“Fuck you, nigga. This hurts. I think I got to get me to the clinic. What did you find on them phones?”

“Ain’t opened this one yet.”

“You try one two three fo’?”

“Fuck you, man. The other one didn’t have no password. Ain’t nothing useful on it, but you gotta see these pictures. This grandma’s got her a church crown you wouldn’t believe.”

Patrick giggled. “Looks like a damn turkey on her head.”

Robert winced, put the towel back. “Fuck it. Give me them phones, I’ll take them down to Fatty J’s, get us some money.”

“Patience, nigga. Smoke some herb, play some Halo with Patrick here when he’s too high to smoke your ass. I’m going to get this phone; ain’t but a thousand numbers.”

“Ten thousand,” said Patrick. “Four digits. Hey, let’s call in and get us some Chinese chicken.”

“They ain’t going to pick up the phone,” said Robert. “They done blocked our number, after the last time.”

“Man, you got punched and wrecked your brain. We got us a new number, now.”

Half an hour later, Patrick’s eyes were stinging and dry, but he was mopping the floor with Robert, who was still whining about getting punched by a girl. After getting killed for the fourth or fifth time in a row, Robert slammed the controller down. “Man, fuck this.” He pointed at Quentin. “You take over. Give me that phone.”

“Nigga, I got me a rhythm.” Robert must have glared at him real good. “Shit, fine. I’m on 1179; just keep going.” Robert snatched the phone, went in the back room. They could hear the bong bubbling. “He going to forget.” Quentin sauntered over to the couch, sat down. “Get ready to die.”

Before Patrick could respond, there was a knock at the door. “Chinee food,” said a girl’s voice. “Got you some eggrolls!” Patrick tossed the game controller into the air and bolted for the door so quick he had the latch turned by the time the controller hit the floor. But then the door slammed inward; the corner caught him in the forehead, and the door shoved him against the wall.

Clown Phone

In earlier entries on this blog I wrote about a guy in a clown mask committing robberies here in Atlanta, and a story where women were mugged for their phones.

My new short story, which has the temporary and sure to be changed title of Clown Phone, combines versions of these two stories and links them together. Here’s the beginning of the story:

“Let me see if she’s not with the Man of the Week,” said Kathy. She reached out between her wine and water glasses to where the three iPhones were stacked in the center of the table, in between the candle and the small vase of flowers. Hers was on the bottom in its pink plastic case; on top of it was Laura’s in rugged black rubber. Mary’s was on top, slim, no case at all.

Kathy’s thumb and fingers opened up to grab the top two phones, when she heard Laura say, “Oh, girl.” She snatched her hand back, as if she’d been burned.

Mary put her head in her hands. “Laura! We almost had us a free dinner.”

“Aw, man.”

The waiter materialized with water refills. “First one to touch their phone pays, right? I see that a lot, now.”

Laura said, “Beats having everyone sitting there playing with they phone the whole damn time. You want to bring us the check, we can split it.”

“No,” said Kathy. “It’s on me. I need to learn my lesson.” She handed the waiter a debit card. As he walked away, she said, “I can get promoted, I got my friends, but I got no man. Might as well spend my money on the people who love me.”

“Don’t be singing me the I Got No Man blues,” said Mary. “You’re going to turn into the caricature of every professional black woman in Atlanta. There’s plenty of decent men out there.”

“Plenty of women, too,” said Laura.

Kathy picked up the stack of phones, passed them out. “Y’all don’t have as much family pressure as me.”

“You got that right. I gotta remember to thank my big sister for taking up the breeding duties.”

Mary shrugged. “You choose to fish in a tiny pond, don’t be surprised you come up empty. You’re beautiful and strong, but there ain’t but ten single, straight, handsome, well-educated black men who aren’t players in the whole damn city.”

Kathy snorted. “Sing me a song isn’t on repeat in my life.”

“Once you go white, you won’t come back.”

“My mother would never forgive me.”

“Sheeit,” said Laura. “You have you a cute little baby, she won’t care what color it is.” After the bill was sorted, and the waiter carefully overtipped to combat the stereotype, the three of them left the restaurant and walked out onto a steamy spring street, another unseasonably warm all night, behind them the bulk of the Biltmore Hotel, once a destination their mothers would only have been allowed to enter in maids’ uniforms, now offices over restaurants who would take anybody’s money.

“Drinks?” said Mary.

“Yeah,” said Laura. “I want me something cute and delicate and girly. And a beer, too.”

Kathy pulled up the map on her phone. “Outside at the Georgian Terrace?”

But they only taken a couple of steps around the corner onto Fifth when a hand snatched Kathy’s phone out of her hand. A voice shouted, “Give it up, bitches! Phones and wallets.” She looked up to see three perfect examples of exactly what she didn’t want: do-rags, sports jerseys, fake gold teeth, saggy pants around their knees, $200 sneakers.

Mary laughed, nervously. “You’re mugging us? In this neighborhood? What is this, 1990?”

Clown Phone

Here’s how I sometimes get story ideas. Take this post and this one: each by itself makes for an interesting enough story, but together, it’s even stronger.

We start with the friend of the woman who punched the robber who took her phone. Our narrator is out with her pals, and she’s hoping to meet a decent guy. But in her world, that of chick-lit and thugs, there really are no decent men. Her friend, the puncher, is an ex-Marine and a lesbian. A second friend is kind of techy.

So the cops show up, take reports, walk away. Not important enough to make a fuss about, in an underpoliced city like Atlanta. This pisses them all off. The Marine wants revenge. She has a gun; so does the other friend. The friend figures out the phone track option, they activate it, they go to Southwest Atlanta, bust in, guns drawn. One of the thugs stands up with a gun, Friend 2 shoots him dead. Our narrator realizes that maybe her ex-Marine friend is what she’s really looking for.

NOW the cops are interested. Diana and Mustapha are called in to sort it out: they have to arrest Friend 2, but is she really going to get prosecuted? They turn the others over to lesser cops and walk away.

But then, they’re called back. The remaining thug knows he’s busted, and wants to deal. He’s pretty sure he knows the clown robber, based on the guy’s mannerisms. For a walk on the robbery charge, he’ll tell.

So what makes the story work is that the clown guy’s motivations need to parallel those of the narrator of the first part of the story. Why is he dressing up as a clown and shooting up convenience stores? D/M don’t give a shit, but the reader will. It’s got to be something along the lines of he can’t find a good woman–or good women aren’t interested in him because despite what he feels is his sterling character, he has a crap job and nobody wants to date a broke guy.

Sad Clown is Angry

Here’s the sort of true crime story that you’d think would make it easy to be a writer:

Police are searching for a robber wearing a clown mask while targeting stores along the Cleveland Avenue corridor in southwest Atlanta…

Police said the masked robber strikes area businesses from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Police said even though the victims do what the robber says, he still gets violent.

In one incident, surveillance video shows the robber firing his gun at a wall and hitting a clerk in the head with a gun and demanding money. When the victim doesn’t move quickly enough, the robber shoots a chair.

“He’s coming in with the gun. He’s immediately demanding the money right away. If the clerk is not acting right away, he’s doing warning shots at least for the last two incidents, he’s fired warning rounds,” said Atlanta police Sgt. Prenzina Span.

On the one hand, robber with clown mask = comedy. Really irrationally angry clown robber = comedy gold. If you’re a sick bastard like me, that is. But the thing is, it’s hard to get beyond the comedy of the initial setup. What’s driving this man? Was it just that there was a clown mask lying around, so he used that instead of something else? Or is he some kind of Juggalo living the philosophy? But the thing about Juggalos is that they’re supposed to be some kind of creative chaos, not just destruction for its own sake. Well, insofar as Juggalos have the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Maybe the key is to get in his head and wonder whether he thinks he’s being funny.

But here’s the real key to the story:

Although police do not have a physical description, they hope viewers can identify him through his mannerisms or movements caught on camera.

What’s unusual about the guy’s movements, and what does this have to do with his choosing a clown mask rather than something else? Here’s where the story comes to life.

A New Classic (Level of Stupidity)

Many classic thrillers rely on missed connections between characters to drive their plots, or the inability of characters to connect–technologically, that is, though the other sort is common as well. Most of these classic plotlines just don’t work in modern thrillers, because people have mobile phones now. So there’s a lot of really crappy modern thrillers that rely on implausible coincidences to power classic plotlines: sudden dead zones in coverage, phone battery dead, etc.

But this story is an example of a modern thriller plot that couldn’t have been written ten years ago, or at least wouldn’t have seemed plausible:

Five women were robbed at gunpoint in the driveway of the Biltmore Hotel on West Peachtree Street late Thursday, but a stolen smartphone with tracking capability led to the suspects’ arrest, Atlanta police said Friday.

The women told police they were in the driveway of the Midtown hotel at around 11 p.m. when they were approached from behind by two men who pointed guns at them and demanded their belongings.

“At some point while being robbed, one of the victims punched one of the suspects in the face,” police spokeswoman Kim Jones said in a release. She said the suspects then fled with several purses and electronic devices.

One of the stolen devices was an iPhone, which was later tracked to an apartment complex on Stanton Drive in southwest Atlanta. Police said two suspects were taken into custody after the robbery victims positively identified them.

I almost pity these poor thugs, from blighted Southwest Atlanta, far, far out of their depth in Midtown, thinking they got away with crimes against rich people (the best kind), kicking back in their crappy apartment, smoking a little weed, laughing at the dumb kid pictures on the phone’s camera, and then the cops kick in the door. And then their chagrin once they find out just how stupid they really were. But it might be more interesting to write from the perspective of the victim, who’s simultaneously traumatized and eye-rollingly contemptuous. After all, she managed to punch a guy in the face without getting shot: what’s she all about?