Trick Baby

Thirty feet up with barely six inches of firm surface beneath him, Brendan works. His movements precise and artful, turning red-gray brick into something vibrant—alive. On his hip is his arsenal, his weapons of destruction.

The tin cans clink as he balances on the ledge with nothing but El track and concrete below.

He knows he’s too old for this foolishness, but art is unstoppable.

Tagging has always been his method of self-expression. He managed to stay under the Latin Kings’ radar, but not the cops. He’d lost count of how many times he’d been hauled in for vandalism before he turned seventeen and met her.

Blue sputters out of the fat cap. “Damn.” He reaches for the sack he left dangling on a bit of broken stone for extra paint.

“Twelve!” a disembodied voice shouts below him.

Brendan’s attention turns to the flashing red and blue lights rushing toward him. His bag falls to the sidewalk with a muffled clink and clatter.

“I got you,” the voice calls out.

Nodding, Brendan watches the shadowed figure scoop up his bag and dip into the darkness. He ought to do the same.

He inches along the ledge toward the low, flat roof that had been his staging ground. With the sirens and the voices of restless, worried teenagers growing louder, the ten-or-so feet seems to multiply and his pathway narrow.

At first glance, Brendan O’Daniel could be mistaken for a heavyweight boxer and not an artist. There was never a time where he could have been considered small. His size thirteen boots lose their footing as Brendan picks up speed to get out of the open view of the police who are now shining spotlights up to bare expanses of brick and metal.

There is nothing to hold onto. No rope tethering him to anything solid. White light makes it impossible to see anything else. He’d heard about people dying and being met by a bright light. He isn’t ready though, not this night, not for a good, long time, so he wrenches his eyes shut.

The aged brick digs through the vinyl gloves he wears as he holds onto his canvas thanks to a missing bit of tuckpointing. He flattens his six foot three inch, two hundred thirty pound self against the wall, showering himself in brick dust when his gas mask bumps the wall.

“Give me your hand.”

Brendan doesn’t budge.

“You been sniffing the paint too? We saw you. You’re caught.”

He recognizes the voice. It’s familiar, but not in that pleasant, comforting kind of way.

“Jesus, just come on, Brendan.”

Brendan’s refusal can’t be understood through the gas mask and steady drone of traffic.

Groaning, Officer O’Daniel says, “Why do we keep having to do this?”

Brendan turns his head and is met with a flashlight in his face held by a man who could be his twin if not for the skin color, hair texture, and height difference. He tugs the gas mask down. “You could always retire or ask to be reassigned.”

“Oh, you’ve taken up comedy, now too? Just come on, Brendan. Don’t make me arrest your stupid ass. Jacque and Perry don’t need their dad locked up.

“Don’t you have enough problems right now?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” If he wasn’t afraid of plummeting to his death or permanent disability, Brendan might have jumped those last few feet just to reach his sneak-shot throwing uncle and beat his ass. Brendan had not put his size to waste; he was also a Golden Glove boxer back in the day.

“You know good and damn well this neighborhood is small and gossip spreads faster than you Puerto Ricans talk,” Officer O’Daniel says, unaffected.
Fucking Humboldt Park.

“Gimme a minute. Damn.”

Officer O’Daniel nods. “While I’m young.

After a few long minutes, Brendan is on more solid footing and standing face to face with unchecked disdain. He holds his wrists out, but his hands are slapped away.

“I always pegged you for police brutality, Unc.”

“Quit with the Unc-shit. You’re my sister’s bastard. I want nothing to do with either of you, but if Mother found out I dragged your ass back to the precinct over this dumb tagging shit, she’d kick my ass,” he says with no trace of remorse.

The two men fall in step and move toward the roof access door.

“So I’m only family when Ma is involved?”

“Pretty much.”

“Yeah? I really feel the love. Just like old times, huh, Uncle Colin?”

“Why can’t you just do right? You’re gonna drive Mother to the grave. The only thing keeping her going is those kids of yours.”

Brendan bites his tongue until the metallic flavor of blood fills his mouth. He could say a whole lot, but Colin O’Daniel is a bully. Had bullied Brendan his entire life as if he could help how he came to be. But he’d take it, just like always. Ma called him a peacemaker, and that’s what he believed in with everything that he was.

“Look. I don’t want to be related to you either, but here we are. You’re forty, man. Let’s move past shit we can’t change no how.”

Officer O’Daniel chuckles and gives Brendan a shove through the door. “When did you become a philosopher?”

“There’s a lot of stuff you never cared to learn about me, and we grew up in the same damn house, man.”

“Yeah. And just like my sister, you chose crime as an outlet.”

Brendan rolls his eyes. “It’s art, pencil dick.” He shoves Colin back.

“Whatever. It’s illegal. I can’t keep covering for you. Go get a permit.”

Colin opens the steel door onto the alley and lets Brendan pass through.

“You know, I never asked for or wanted you to cover for me. This you’re doing on your own. I don’t owe you anything.” He levels a glare at his uncle who is ten years older and few inches shorter at five foot nine.

Squinting, Colin blows out a breath. “Anything I’ve ever done for you was not for your dirty blood. It was for Mother.”

6 thoughts on “Trick Baby

  1. bruinsmap says:

    Technically it is pretty good. But this feels as though this is a mid-book filling. Which can be necessary, but not sure it works as an opening.

    You can obviously write dialogue. Which is a good skill. But this passage does nothing for me.

    It could be reduced to a few simple sentences and I would have gotten the same out of it.

    You can write, but I personally think the story is lacking here.

  2. twiggy says:


    I really liked your opening. Having the character start his story some thirty feet up was thrilling. You had me on a six-inch edge of my seat. 😛 It also showed a lot about his character in a few short sentences. I could easily feel his passion for art with him defying the law and risking great bodily harm while up on a narrow ledge.

    The fact that he calls his tools “weapons of destruction” was very intriguing. Normally, I would think of art as a creative process, yet he describes it as “destructive.” Again, I think that says a lot about his character, and I would be interested to see why he perceives his actions as destructive. Does he get more of a thrill out of the artwork itself or the fact that it’s vandalism? If the latter, does that explain why he’s 40-something and still tagging instead of finding a legitimate way to express himself artistically?

    There were a few descriptions that felt redundant. I think you could’ve mentioned in the first physical description of the MC that he was a champion boxer, and then omitted the rest. Maybe add in a weight class to make it clear that he is a large man. Also, I think you’ve packed a little too much info on the family for the first few pages of the book. It was kind of hard to follow.

    Nice job!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a great setup! In this short amount of time, you’ve done a great initial characterization of Brendan.

    I’d like a little more physical description of his surroundings. He’s at a ledge near rooftops, but I’m not sure if it’s a high rise alley or some sort of tunnel. What exactly is he standing on and where? Make the minute setting clear so we understand that he’s not doing a great job of hiding and there’s no quick escape that doesn’t involve a high risk of falling. Keep giving little details even as the action is going on to remind and ground us. The setting was lost during the conversation.

    Brendan is a golden-glove boxer, so cut out when you say “At first glance, Brendan O’Daniel could be mistaken for a heavyweight boxer.” He is one. There are clerical issues like this strewn throughout, watch for them.

    You are foreshadowing to the main conflict of the novel, right? If not, make sure you do that. The first chapter should serve as a mini story arc, with the major themes budding from the get go.

    If you’re working the anti-hero gig, then the characterization of Brendan is great. If not, just know that he is a really unlikeable character at this point. I’m sure you’ll go into why he is the way he is in later passages, but right now he is not a sympathetic MC. I am 100% on the officer’s side because even though Brendan hints that Uncle is less than totally virtuous, we have no evidence yet.

    Really enjoyable overall. Nice work. Take the critiques that’ll be helpful to your craft and disregard any of mine that aren’t. Thanks for posting!


  4. Cherie says:

    I like the way tension builds in the beginning. Like many people, I don’t like heights so emphasising this aspect and how high he is will create even more.

    A couple statements seem to conflict with others – he ‘could be mistaken for a heavyweight boxer’ (which to me means he’s not a boxer) then later we find out he was Golden Glove. Also, the uncle is a ‘few inches shorter’ but in fact is shorter by 6 inches.

    You might consider using different graffiti terminology than tagging. Tagging is the most basic but his is ‘vibrant’, artistic and I get the impression uses lots of colour.

    When I first read “Don’t you have enough problems right now?” I thought it was Brendan speaking. Watch your paragraphing so it’s clear who’s talking.

    I like your style and the concept re the aged graffiti artist not being able to give it up (addiction?) but the ending could use a stronger hook. The nephew/uncle relationship isn’t enough to keep me reading but giving me more about the gossip (racial tensions?) and getting to the conflict of the story would.

  5. writer33! says:

    I like that you started with tension right out of the gate. This keeps the readers interested. However, I do believe the first line would sound better if you started with “Brendon works thirty feet up with…….” I think it flows better.

    The second sentence could stop at ledge since the we know with the previous paragraph that there is only a firm surface below him.

    Some parts seem passive. like when you use the word, “Bit” it sounds better when you pick something firm and not use ‘a bit of. or kind of. Ten-or-so’

    A few lines sound redundant, an example would be in line twelve. “He isn’t ready though, not this night, not for a good, long time.” could be shortened.

    I also thought the man was a grown man when you say he is too old for this, but then you say teenagers were yelling to him. I was confused as to what his age was. Plus he sounds like a huge, strong man, not a teenaged boy.

    overall good start. Just a few tweeks. Great job!

  6. Jen (Full of Love) (@gluedwithgold) says:

    I was confused at first what he was doing – it took until the word ‘tagging’ for me to get it, and personally I’d rather know right off the bat in that first paragraph. ‘Tin cans’ threw me – I envisioned soup cans, not spray paint cans, which added to my confusion.

    “Brendan’s refusal can’t be understood through the gas mask and steady drone of traffic.” This feels like you’ve jumped into omniscient POV, though it seems you’re writing in third limited – Brendan wouldn’t know the cop couldn’t understand, you’ve jumped out of his head here.

    Like with the opening, it took me far too long to really grasp what the exchange between the two characters was all about. You hold off on revealing that the cop is Brendan’s uncle, but if this was revealed sooner, it would be more clear.

    I also had a hard time following the dialogue exchange – took me a while to understand what they were talking about and who was talking.

    As mentioned above, I was also confused about his age – and some of the physical description of the character seemed out of place to me (would someone’s thoughts really include his specific height?).

    Overall I like where this is going, but it needs some fine-tuning – clarity, simplicity, and point of view. I would think about what information your reader needs and reveal that as soon as possible, as well as considering what information is logically going to come from inside your protagonist’s head (if you are indeed going for a third person limited POV).

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