Foul Play

If I was a nail-biter, I’d have chewed through the quick of all ten. Carl, pedantic as he was, liked the sound of his own voice. I found it humorless as a textbook on sperm whales. Today he was clad in a sports coat and jeans. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him in a suit and I doubt this was due to lack of affordability. I imagine his lackadaisical approach to lawyering and life was too lax for formal attire.
My eyes aimed at the manila envelope lying straight-angled on the desk. A terse and tedious gathering of questions leaked through the barricade of Valium I’d prepped for our meeting. A crowd-turned-riot threatened violence on my thoughts, thinning the threshold between impatience and blown-out anger.
Thank god I’d remembered to take that extra dose, otherwise, I’d be jittery as a crack addict fiending my next fix. That’s the last thing I need… a lawyer thinking I’m a druggie.“I’m sorry this was all they had left,” Carl was saying. He lifted the packet and waved it with an air of indifference. My folded hands clamped into a single fist which I tucked between my knees. Burying a scowl as best I could, I replied,

“Something is better than nothing.”

Every investigation should begin at the source. The source, in this instance, was Kimberly Winston, my mother. In the months prior to her murder-suicide, she’d sought counseling. It made sense then, to start there. Maybe her crime wasn’t as sudden or shocking or inexplicable as many were impelled to believe. Her complete therapy records had long been purged, but the summaries of each session were kept in the archives at Hope Community Mental Health Clinic.

Carl handed me the packet. As I seized it, an electric impulse channeled through my fingertips. It was like securing a stolen treasure pried from the petrified hands of a corpse; a corpse concealed for centuries by the curse of a Shaman. It should’ve read “Confidential” or “Top Secret” in bold, red letters.

Suddenly, the frightening thought that maybe I shouldn’t have access to these records, snagged a corner of my mind and spun my thoughts in a jarring, kaleidoscopic frenzy. Maybe there was good reason it had taken a fight and a lawyer.
With the chaos overwhelming my head, I hadn’t realized the man was still speaking.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “What were you saying?”

“It’s just that – well it’s been over twenty years, I’m surprised they had this much.” He paused to scratch his chin. “It’s not my nature to pry into my client’s personal business, but what exactly do you plan to do with this?”

None of your business: that was what I wanted to say. I caressed the sealed flap with my index finger and replied,

“I feel it’s a way to connect to my biological mother. I know zip, zero, zilch about her and I thought this would help.” It wasn’t untrue. I knew my mother was beautiful, in a haunting way. I knew she had gray Mona-Lisa-eyes that followed you from every photo she faced the camera, I knew she had a natural complexion, that it wasn’t Mary Kay or Maybelline which gave her pink hues high on her cheekbones, in her dimples when she smiled. Yet, who she was as a human being – wife, mother, killer – was a fragmented story I’d scraped from newspaper articles and vague strands of description told by Uncle Theo and Aunt Liz.
But they’d left out details like the homicide-suicide, so they might as well have told me nothing. These records were my key to her mind. And, hopefully, an answer to why she left me alive. If I was so different from the brother and sister she’d taken with her, I had to know why.

“May I offer you a piece of advice?”

The question tugged me out of a daze; I shot him a wary, squinted look and battened my feet to the floor to stop them from tapping.

He smiled. “It’s free.”

Instantly, his grin dropped and his expression thinned into something solemn, colorless, like a January sky hovering above Boston’s harbor. Round contours of his face were shadowed by the small, off-white lumens cast upward from a desk lamp and fading sunlight lurked across the room in sharp-red, downward angles through venetian blinds.

“Be aware that you may find some things you don’t like or aren’t what you expect. Some people keep secrets for a reason and what’s said in therapy, in a safe place, isn’t an exchange of pleasantries. It’s usually the things we don’t want others to know. Reading those records –” he nodded at the envelope “– they may give you a false impression of who your mother really was as a person.” He idled and watched me, waiting for a reply.

I said nothing. What was there to say? He didn’t know about my past. My mouth opened to a generous yawn and I didn’t bother covering my mouth. Carl must have concluded that I wasn’t interested in engaging this topic because he shifted again – a stiff side-step around his desk – and said, “I guess, all I’m trying to say is, there are things that should stay hidden.”

I almost told him where he could shove that advice. That was the same philosophy which, for years, kept my aunt and uncle from telling me the truth about my mother.

“I appreciate the word of caution but I think I’ll be okay. I doubt I’ll find anything too shocking.”

He nodded and extended his hand, a small smile – professional, like his ad – returned to his face.

“Pleasure working with you.”

“Likewise.” I shook his hand, spun around, and shoved the door to escape.

A resulting shoosh of wind sprung cool April air through tendrils of hair, sparking the roots of my scalp. A wave of tiny hairs locked in a vertical formation down my spine. I wasn’t wearing a coat today, but the rising goose bumps forming on exposed skin weren’t from the cold. The thrill of carrying this intimate knowledge – like the tickle of whispered secrets – struck a high-octane chord somewhere in the well of my eardrums. It zipped through me, lightening my step. I was inches closer to learning more about the details of Kimberly Winston’s mind than anybody else, aside from her counselor.

6 thoughts on “Foul Play

  1. Duncan says:

    There were some odd moments in this submission. For example two similes that seemed unnecessary, ” It was like securing a stolen treasure pried from the petrified hands of a corpse; a corpse concealed for centuries by the curse of a Shaman.” This felt too long for a simile. The second simile: “his expression thinned into something solemn, colorless, like a January sky hovering above Boston’s harbor.” Why was there a simile used here?

    Ultimately I was not particular interested in the characters because I didn’t feel you gave me a reason to be, they didn’t charm me nor did have reason to feel sympathy for them or any particularly strong emotion.

    I’m not certain as to what the conflict is here, either.

    Would I Read On?
    Quite Unlikely.

  2. RGAustin says:

    I love the premise of a murdering unknown mother. But I’m not anchored in the story. First it’s about the attorney who then later I think is a minor character so I wondered why he took the opening spotlight. Also, I don’t know why the protagonist is so angry with him.

    I agree with Duncan on the overuse of similes. I love them too but again I’m not anchored in the story yet and they jerked me out. I don’t buy the double dose of Valium. (Maybe she mental health problems?) I’d be on the floor not zipping my steps. She needed it just to go the lawyer to get records she really wants?

    I was also confused about the siblings. Mother left her but took them. To the grave? Put her up for adoption and kept them? Since the woman is her biological mother (who she knows from the uncle & aunt), why would she think a few summary entries would tell her more about the woman than anyone else knew?

    It’s a plot with promise and I’d read on but without some clarity happening, I’d soon give up trying to figure it out.

  3. Larry says:

    Thanks for all the comments.
    The comment that a man would not say such detailed things about a woman’s hair reminds me of a documentary about the sit com Seinfeld.
    Jason Alaexander who played George complained to Larry David, the cocreator of Seinfeld, that no human being would ever say or react as the George character was doing in one script. Larry David said: ,”what do you mean? That happened to me and that’s how I reacted.”

  4. Gentle Reader says:

    I found this sample tedious to read. There were too many similes/metaphors, such as:

    “…humorless as a textbook on sperm whales.”

    “It was like securing a stolen treasure pried from the petrified hands of a corpse; a corpse concealed for centuries by the curse of a Shaman.”

    ” jittery as a crack addict finding my next fix”

    “like the tickle of whispered secrets”

    I am very interested in the story. I want to know what’s in those medical records. Literary agents are busy people, and you usually only get a few sentences to hook them. Trim the fat and get the interesting part closer to the beginning.

    Good luck, and keep writing!

  5. suesauer says:

    “My eyes aimed at the manila envelope lying straight-angled on the desk. “I’m sorry this was all they had left,” Carl my lawyer was saying. He lifted the packet and waved it with an air of indifference. My folded hands clamped into a single fist which I tucked between my knees. Burying a scowl as best I could, I replied,
    “Something is better than nothing.””

    —–That’s kinda all i would need from the first section. I would then imagine that the envelope is the center of interest and that Carl was in the way of the character of getting it as fast as she wanted. —–

    Every investigation should begin at the source. The source, in this instance, was Kimberly Winston, my mother. In the months prior to her murder-suicide, she’d sought counseling. It made sense then, to start there. Maybe her crime wasn’t as sudden or shocking or inexplicable as many were impelled to believe. Her complete therapy records had long been purged, but the summaries of each session were kept in the archives at Hope Community Mental Health Clinic.

    —- I like this a lot—-

    Suddenly, the frightening thought that maybe I shouldn’t have access to these records, snagged a corner of my mind and spun my thoughts in a jarring, kaleidoscopic frenzy. Maybe there was good reason it had taken a fight and a lawyer.
    With the chaos overwhelming my head, I hadn’t realized the man was still speaking.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “What were you saying?”

    —- so i cut out the section where he hands her the envelope because that removes the tension from the sequence and went straight to this part above. she is still so focused on the envelope on the desk she doesn’t hear Carl speaking.—-

    “It’s just that – well it’s been over twenty years, I’m surprised they had this much.” He paused to scratch his chin. “It’s not my nature to pry into my client’s personal business, but what exactly do you plan to do with this?”

    None of your business: that was what I wanted to say. I caressed the sealed flap with my index finger and replied,

    “I feel it’s a way to connect to my biological mother. I know zip, zero, zilch about her and I thought this would help.” It wasn’t untrue. I knew my mother was beautiful, in a haunting way. I knew she had gray Mona-Lisa-eyes that followed you from every photo she faced the camera, I knew she had a natural complexion, that it wasn’t Mary Kay or Maybelline which gave her pink hues high on her cheekbones, in her dimples when she smiled. Yet, who she was as a human being – wife, mother, killer – was a fragmented story I’d scraped from newspaper articles and vague strands of description told by Uncle Theo and Aunt Liz.
    But they’d left out details like the homicide-suicide, so they might as well have told me nothing. These records were my key to her mind. And, hopefully, an answer to why she left me alive. If I was so different from the brother and sister she’d taken with her, I had to know why.

    “May I offer you a piece of advice?”

    The question tugged me out of a daze; I shot him a wary, squinted look and battened my feet to the floor to stop them from tapping.

    He smiled. “It’s free.”

    Instantly, his grin dropped and his expression thinned into something solemn, colorless, like a January sky hovering above Boston’s harbor. Round contours of his face were shadowed by the small, off-white lumens cast upward from a desk lamp and fading sunlight lurked across the room in sharp-red, downward angles through venetian blinds.

    “Be aware that you may find some things you don’t like or aren’t what you expect. Some people keep secrets for a reason and what’s said in therapy, in a safe place, isn’t an exchange of pleasantries. It’s usually the things we don’t want others to know. Reading those records –” he nodded at the envelope “– they may give you a false impression of who your mother really was as a person.” He idled and watched me, waiting for a reply.

    I said nothing. What was there to say? He didn’t know about my past. My mouth opened to a generous yawn and I didn’t bother covering my mouth. Carl must have concluded that I wasn’t interested in engaging this topic because he shifted again – a stiff side-step around his desk – and said, “I guess, all I’m trying to say is, there are things that should stay hidden.”

    I almost told him where he could shove that advice. That was the same philosophy which, for years, kept my aunt and uncle from telling me the truth about my mother.

    “I appreciate the word of caution but I think I’ll be okay. I doubt I’ll find anything too shocking.”

    — Only now after all this he would hand her the envelop and she would have the goose bumps and sense of excitement and then fear when she leaves i think—

    Anyway just my thoughts

    Well done so far :D/

  6. John G. Dawson says:

    Full marks for an original set up – that alone would keep me reading, even though your originality demands a little more of the reader than do more familiar formulations.

    A few suggestions:-
    1.Do eyes aim? Or search, focus, follow, pulled?
    2.My folded hands clamped into a single fist? My hands folded together into?
    3.as many were impelled to believe? as many were inclined to believe? as many impelled?
    4.had long been purged? had been purged long ago?
    5.It wasn’t untrue? You then proceed to show it was untrue! The “might as well” doesn’t make it untrue. Doesn’t quite work.
    6.Instantly…blinds – this could be a brilliant paragraph, but it needs a bit more work.
    7.”A resulting shoosh of wind sprung cool April air through tendrils of hair, sparking the roots of my scalp. A wave of tiny hairs locked in a vertical formation down my spine.” This is brilliantly original use of language.

    It’s a good start, Larry. You have told us in no uncertain terms that there’s something pretty damned explosive in this file, and that you are in too precarious a state to handle it. That should hook the readers you want.

    PS: I wrote the above before I read the other responses. I think your style has to be an acquired taste. For example, Duncan is right to say that your smilies are way in excess of the requirements of the story. But I saw that as your way of establishing a strong and unique (and somewhat pedantic) voice. Maybe Ellen might be able to tell you whether that voice has a readership waiting for it.

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