Jason Liddy guided the jigsaw along the pale blue lines of the intricate design. He didn’t hear the front door bell. The Funkadelics were on the stereo and he’d turned it up to one notch below full blast, denying himself that tenth notch in a superstitious hope of saving the speakers. If he hadn’t been so relaxed, so one-with-the-jig and if he hadn’t reached a rare six inch straight line, he might have ruined the piece when the loud pounding jolted him from his reverie. He swore, laid the saw down and turned toward the basement stairs. Two steps up he realized he was still wearing his safety goggles.
“Wait, wait!” he yelled. “I’ll be right up.”
He pulled the goggles off, tossed them in the direction of the worktable and raced up the stairs.
The pounding above returned with china rattling fervor.
Reaching the top, he called out again, “Wait, please!” He negotiated first the kitchen, then the dining room to the hallway leading to the front door.
“Don’t break the frickin’ door down. I’m comin’ as fast as I can.”
He didn’t bother to pull the curtains aside to identify the caller; he just wanted to get there before the window cracked or the hinges broke. He pulled the door open and felt all the blood drain from his face.
“Hi, there, Jason,” came a voice from long ago and far away on the other end of a very long double-barreled shotgun. “Remember me?”
Jason was too stunned to reply.
The moment was drawn out, out and back, back along the impossible length of that pair of polished black tunnels to the white ridged print of a large square, pink thumb as it depressed the firing pin. The blue eye that squinted at him from behind the thumb was full of the same unreasoning hate that had filled Jason’s childhood with terror.
Jason Liddy’s last cognitive thoughts were: How did you find me? Who told you? Wait. I have to know. His last word was, “Wait.”
“No time to wait. Gotta go, boyo.”
The right tunnel exploded, showering fiery sparks in eerie silence. A heavy fist punched Jason in the solar plexus and he fell backwards, arms raised, head thrown back to land graceless and limp.
The assassin fired the second barrel point blank between his eyes, broke the gun and removed the paper casings. He shoved them in his pocket and turned to go.
The nearest house in Cranberry Hollow was a good three miles away but he wasn’t going to waste any time. He wanted to get out fast. Jason wasn’t going to tattle; that was the main thing. As long as nobody happened by within the next ten minutes or so, he could get away clean, get home and none’d be the wiser.
It was true that the nearest house was three miles away but one of the best swimming holes in the Greenbrier Valley was only about one hundred yards from Jason Liddy’s cabin. Omar Sharp, “O” to his friends, Omar Nathaniel Sharp, Jr. to his mother when she was angry, came up for air just as the second report thundered down the hollow. Thunder was exactly what he thought he’d heard the first time when, still under water, he was reaching for the shiny quarter he’d tossed in to dive after. It was a game he played when he was swimming alone. Toss the quarter in; gauge where it’s headed, then surface dive down to retrieve it before the river’s gentle currents carry it away. The idea was to get to it before it sank all the way to the bottom and lost itself forever. Clutching the coin in his right hand, he spun around in the water to see where the explosion had come from. It couldn’t have been thunder since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
He heard the muted sound of a car door slamming shut and realized it came from the direction of the cabin up the hill apiece. Omar was all for letting grown-ups deal with grown-ups, so he tossed out the quarter, took a deep breath and watched the silver wink down.
There was a grinding of gears, accompanied by a loud backfire and the crunch of gravel beneath a heavy vehicle as Omar jackknifed at the waist and shot down to intercept the coin. An errant thought, like a tadpole, swished across the back of his mind. Mr. Liddy’s vehicle was a car, not a truck. Automatic shift. A 1998 Ford Aerostar with chrome wheels and tinted back windows because he doesn’t want the interior to fade from the summer sun.
Omar’s dad, Oz, short for Omar Senior, said those windows were unnecessary because, “Nobody in his right mind would keep a Ford Aerostar long enough to have to worry about the interior fading.” Then he’d laugh and add, “Especially not from the brutal effects of a West Virginia summer,”
But Omar was pretty sure it was just a holdover from Mr. Liddy’s days in the Arizona desert. He’d only moved to Riverdale last March to take that teaching job out at the County High School this fall.
So what’s the big deal about his car? Distracted, Omar realized he’d lost the quarter. There it is. But there was something there. It’s not a stick shift and it wouldn’t be heavy enough to crunch gravel so loud you could hear it all the way back here. The tadpole thought was getting heavier. That was a truck. Four wheel drive, worn gears, third sounds almost shot. And the clutch is missing on first.
As fast as the vehicle’s description came to mind so too did the absolute certainty that something was wrong. The twelve-year old’s smooth brow furrowed into a frown as he reached out for the quarter, inches from the riverbed. The shiny coin squirted through his fingertips and he realized he’d been reaching for a trout. Suddenly all thoughts of cars and trucks and biology teachers from exotic desert states darted away as he cast about for his quarter in the clear waters of the Greenbrier River.
14 thoughts on “Untitled Mystery”
The first line really confused me because I thought jigsaw meant jigsaw puzzle so I had to read the first paragraph 3 times before it made sense.
‘He negotiated first the kitchen, then the dining room to the hallway leading to the front door.’ – seems a really laborious and boring way to say he headed for the front door.
I think simplifying the descriptions of the murder would make it more powerful. It doesn’t really work for me and I don’t like jumping from Jason’s pov to the assassin’s – would be better in my opinion to take an omniscient pov to describe what the assassin did next rather.
But I really like the writing in the Omar paragraphs. You paint the pictures and create a sense of the character really well and I would definitely read more of this. If you can get the first half to match the simple, powerful writing of these paragraphs, it will be great.
Thank you for your insights and thoughtful suggestions. -PEACE-
Yeah, I thought of a jigsaw puzzle as well. Maybe refer to a jigsaw table in his home workshop in the basement? I think the pacing is spot on, it tended to flow really nice. I had to stop and think how a tadpole thinks, though. Maybe his thoughts raced through his mind like a tadpole whipping through a stream? I don’t know. Anyway, enjoyable read. I’d read more. Great work!
Thanks. I’ll take another look at that opening to see if I can make it clearer. Pacing in a scene like this is important so I’m glad it worked for you. Thanks for your encouragement too, it means a lot. -PEACE-
I liked this and read the whole thing.
I especially liked your transition between the scenes and how you tied them together: “It was true that the nearest house was three miles away but one of the best swimming holes in the Greenbrier Valley was only about one hundred yards from Jason Liddy’s cabin. Omar Sharp, “O” to his friends, Omar Nathaniel Sharp, Jr. to his mother when she was angry, came up for air just as the second report thundered down the hollow.” Great!
I loved what you did in these two lines: “he’d turned it up to one notch below full blast, denying himself that tenth notch in a superstitious hope of saving the speakers.” and “If he hadn’t been so relaxed, so one-with-the-jig” These spoke to Jason’s character and made me connect with him enough to be disappointed when he gets shot.
-There were a few times that you slipped from past into present tense. You might want to weed those out.
– I don’t know that I’d call Arizona an “exotic” place. haha
– It seems you are putting two spaces after periods. I hear editors will hate you for this. Break this habit now! Until then it’s really easy to fix: just control/F, hit the space bar twice in the search box, then, in the “replace all” field hit a single space. Click the “replace all” button, and BAM! Just like magic 😀
– I knew what you meant by jigsaw. It was obvious in context.
– This play-by-play: “He negotiated first the kitchen, then the dining room to the hallway leading to the front door.” was a bit excessive and some of the dialogue seemed a bit off. Mostly it was the “Wait, please.” it sounds more like someone begging than hurrying to the door.
– I took issue with this: “The twelve-year old’s smooth brow furrowed into a frown” one’s brow doesn’t frown.
– I liked the tadpole simile, but I think the second time you refer to it you should say something like: “The tadpole of a thought grew heavier”
– “then surface dive down to retrieve it before . . .” I think this should be “surface-dive.” Otherwise it makes it seem like he surfaced then dived.
Thanks for sharing! Get working on that title!
Thank you. This is so helpful. I can put your suggestions to use immediately. My tenses keep slipping, I’ll have to put some duck tape on those suckers. Growing up in West Virginia, just about any place west of the mountains seemed exotic to me. LOL Thanks for the heads up on those double spaces and the easy solution. I can see now him “negotiating” his way to the front door can slow the pace, I’ll rework that. I laughed out loud for real when I read what you wrote “one’s brow doesn’t frown.” Of course it doesn’t and I meant to fix that before submission. I’ll fix it. Your tadpole suggestion was inspired and you’re correct, I should have hyphenated surface and dive. Your insights and suggestions are going to go a long way to make this a better opening. Now about that title . . . -PEACE-
I should know who the funkadelics are, but I can’t picture a song by them- but I did have to slow down just to make sure I pronounced the name correct- which pulled me out of the reading zone slightly.
“If he hadn’t been so relaxed, so one-with-the-jig and if he hadn’t reached a rare six inch straight line, he might have ruined the piece when the loud pounding jolted him from his reverie”
—this part confused me I didn’t get the meaning and in the next few sentences he takes off his goggles and then it hits me that he is using a jig saw, not a jig saw puzzle. lol I’d add something else like the sound of the saw or the sawdust in the air to pain more of a carpenter feel to the scene.
In the beginning give us some internal feelings. Is he annoyed at the person banging on his door, does he want to curse them, wonder who it might be? does he get visitors often?
In the paragraph with Jason and the assassin the POV goes over to the assassin, but before that we aren’t given much opportunity to feel that “this is an ominous POV” so it hit me by surprise.
Duty calls, and I can’t read anymore, but my suggestion is reworking the voice so that it has a more 3rd person ominous vibe. Pull us out of the characters limiting POV and into the eyes of a 3rd person.
“If Jason knew better, he wouldn’t have answered that door, but he was too distracted by his ….to know that opening that soon he’d regret opening that door.”
Wonderful imagery!!!! Good luck on the novel.
I read this Monday evening. I read it all the way through. I liked it a lot, but something wasn’t quite working for me, but I couldn’t figure out what. I read it again and would like to offer these comments for consideration:
The first part – particularly the first paragraph – seems too detailed. I am not sure we need to know all of that. I think the fact that he is making something in the basement is good. The radio is blasting. He is in the middle of something when the doorbell rings. That makes sense and sets the reader up for what happens next. The thing that stuck with me ever since I first read it was; His last word was ‘Wait.’ i wish you could start with that, but that may not be practical.
You really hit your stride when you got to the next part. I loved the imagery here. I love the boy. I hope he is the main protagonist of the story. The only thing that I got hung up on was the boy’s ability to identify gears changing. (Four wheel drive, worn gears, third sounds almost shot. And the clutch is missing on first.) However, I could suspend my disbelief because I loved the story so much.
Thank you. I think you may have something regarding the narrative. Omniscient narration may cure the problem I’ve been having with POV. Thanks for the insight.
By the by, I’d be interested in reading your submission. Which one is it?
You read mine – View to Murder. Your comments were terrific. Thank you so much.
I am only on my first draft. I have had difficulties deciding how/where to start mine. I finally had to say — I’ll get back to that part later.
I read the whole thing.
The first scene sounds like it’s a prologue. Some of the description detail could be tightened up to give it a bit more ‘punch’, and the point of view shift was a bit off putting.
I liked the scene of Omar swimming and diving for his coin, but it didn’t have enough promise in it to compel me to read more. As good as the scene is, it’s not a scene for an opening chapter. I need something that engages me, gives me someone I can empathise with, someone to cheer for. As yet, we don’t really know who the main character is, nor what the theme of the book will be.
Thanks for the insight and suggestions. Everyone seems to agree that the first part needs a lot of work, from tightening up the descriptive narrative to that last moment of switching POV. All great suggestions and all ones I’m working on in my revision. This has been a real learning experience for me. Once again, I’m bowled over by Ellen’s Novel Boot Camp for bringing me into contact with such skilled story tellers and editors. -PEACE-
I like your style and was impressed by the genuine originality of the shooting. A great start, but I think the structure and pace of the rest need attention. Here are some observations. Please absorb what you like and ignore everything else.
The Funkadelics will date you, so why mention them? Then the movie might get remade in 30 years with Madonna playing. Here and there you use glib phrases which stand out as hurried. For example: “china rattling fervor” and “too stunned to reply”. The line “No time to wait. Gotta go, boyo” implies he has read Jason’s thoughts. Silence may be better. Is he Welsh, boyo? Isn’t all thought cognitive?
Cranberry Hollow sounds like a cereal bar. I don’t like the lurching triple jump from Jason to Killer to Omar. Do we need the Killer’s POV here? I would suggest closing Chapter 1 on Jason, starting Chapter 2 on Omar and dropping the Killer’s paragraph completely. We see him again soon.
I presumed that Jason was MC. Now I’m confused and not too curious who is. To fix this, you could have an early line like: “The (briefly described) car/truck pulled up outside Jason’s house as he…” Then we know somebody else could be MC because we see his car/truck first.
I’m flagging at “West Virginia summer”. This is all back story. The previous two or three paragraphs were too long as well. I now assume Omar is MC. If he is killed as well I will stop reading. The diving scene could be cut by half or more. You made such a good job of the Killer that his reappearance is already overdue.
These are just my opinions, the things I didn’t like, all easily fixed. Overall, if you tightened up and avoided early back story I’d be a happy reader.
I saw this article on Huffington Post about West Virginia. The article is so beautifully written. It is a heartbreaking story, but I thought you may find the language about West Virginia useful in your writing.