As Nathan stumped across the salt, weary and delirious, his mind went back to that last conversation with Manuel.
“Hey, come back here,” Manny had said.
“What?” Nathan asked.
“We need to talk.”
“Can it wait.”
A long pause.
“Fine,” Nathan put down the old almanac and pen. “What is it?”
“Let me see those poison pellets…there’s something I have to show you about them.”
Nathan frowned, but reached into his backpack and took out the pellets, extending them to Manuel. Manuel took them, but set them on the ground at his feet.
“Also I need your backpack,” he held out his hand expectantly.
“I’ll show you. Can I just see it please?”
“Manny, I think you’d better tell me what this is all about.”
“Will you just hand me the backpack, Nathan?”
Manuel folded his arms and furrowed his brow.
“Manny, you’re behaving strangely. I think you’d better just say whatever’s on your mind.”
“These aren’t real, are they?” Manuel gestured to the poison pellets.
“What? Of course they are–“
“No, they’re just the same as the Wave Emitter. A fake prototype. Another red herring!”
“What? You’re just being paranoid!”
“No. You hand me the pellets with hardly any hesitation, but you don’t hand me the backpack? And as I’ve thought about it I realized that you have never left me alone with your backpack. It’s because what really matters is still hidden away in there! You had to know I would figure it out eventually, Nathan.”
Nathan opened his mouth, hoping that a convincing lie would find its way out. But a moment passed in silence and then another. And then Nathan knew that the game was up.
“I’m right,” Manuel sighed. “All this time. You’ve told me lies on top of lies, and I’m your only friend! I get why you had to lie to everyone else, but even to me, Nathan? All these years and I still don’t deserve your trust?”
“Manny, it’s not about trust. Come on, I’ve trusted you with my life countless times, haven’t I? And by extension the entire mission. What it’s about is you not having to bear an unnecessary burden. It’s just common sense that the fewer people who know the truth, the less likely that it gets out.”
“It’s common sense that having one other person who knows the truth means that there is someone to keep the mission alive even if you die.”
“Well I don’t need a backup plan.”
“Oh, you’re immortal.”
“You think I would have made it this far if fate hadn’t chosen me to succeed? I’m still alive for a purpose!”
“Oh wow. So you’re some sort of special chosen savior, is that right?”
“I’m alive, that’s what I am. And I’ve stayed alive longer than anyone would have reasonably expected me to, and I’ll continue to live for as long as I have to.”
“You know, now that I think about it, I don’t think you keeping your secrets is either a matter of trust or common sense. I think it’s guilt.”
Manny cocked his head and a gradually-increasing anger grew in his eyes. “Its because I wouldn’t like it, would I? There’s something about the prototype–the real one–yeah, there’s something about it that does something awful…. Isn’t there?!”
“Manuel, be reasonable…”
But Manuel was convinced now. “Are my brothers and sisters in New Denver going to die?!” spittle flew from Manuel’s mouth and he clenched his hands into fists.
Another damning silent pause. Nathan had lived off his lies for years now, they usually came naturally and quickly…so why was he struggling to come up with one now?
“Wow,” Manuel whispered in a silent rage. “You’re–you’re a monster!”
“No, they won’t die!” Nathan finally spoke up. “I–I admit that there were–concerns with the prototype, but I’ve never agreed with them. The device will work as intended–“
“And just how does it work? Do you–do you use the city for bait and–and then hope that your device kills the creature in time?”
“What? No! Nothing like that.”
“Tell me what the prototype is, Nathan!”
Nathan scowled back at Manuel…but then dropped his eyes and sighed. He had revealed this much…he might as well go the rest of the way. With heavy hands he pulled the backpack onto his lap, unzipped it, and pulled on the tab that revealed the secret compartment in the bottom. From that compartment he withdrew the first of two items.
“This is a sonic beacon. It sends deep pulsations into the ground, which summon the worm to it. Just in case we can’t attract it naturally. And no, the beacon doesn’t go in the city. It goes in the worm nest.”
He pulled out the second item. The black, rectangular prism.
“And when the worm comes, we activate this…This is a portable nuclear bomb.”
“But it’s not your typical nuclear bomb!” Nathan added in a hurry. “It has almost no explosion, it’s an all-new technology that emphasizes rapid bursts of radiation. Radiation that has been specially attuned to the size and physical structure of the worms. The wavelengths are large enough that they shouldn’t even be able to interact with the human body. They’ll be absorbed into the worm and its young without harming anyone in the city.”
“Shouldn’t be able to interact with the human body?”
“Believe me, I would have liked nothing more than to conduct a full barrage of tests to prove that point, but I’ve told you how things fell out from under us. We were lucky just to get the first prototype! So, we have to move past the trials and go straight to execution.”
“Skip the trial…go straight to the execution…how poetic.”
“You know what I meant!”
“I know the government decided they may as well drop nukes on Montana, too. They killed everyone who lived there without any trial either!”
“This isn’t like that.”
“Why? Because you just know it’s going to work somehow?”
“I did the science! I ran the figures!”
“But your colleagues weren’t so sure. You said there will still concerns with it.”
“As I said, obviously carrying out a full barrage of trials would have been everyone’s first choice. But no one gets their first choice anymore.”
“So its a new, untested technology…I know you’re a lot smarter than me, Nathan, but you don’t really know what’ll happen when you set off that bomb, do you? You might have a hunch…but you don’t really know.”
“I know. It will work.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it has to.”
Manuel shook his head. “That’s not good enough!”
“It will kill the worm. I know it.”
“And my friends?!”
“Hopefully not…but even if it does…it’s worth it.”
That weekend Petey spent all of his spare time doing the extra chores. In addition to the ones his Dad had come up with he also cleaned the dirt of the window sills and tightened all of the faucet knobs for his mother. Noah even let Petey clean his room for $2, though they had to keep that transaction a secret from their mom. Bit by bit his wallet got fatter until at last he had $13.
“That should do it,” he said as he wiped the sweat from his brow late that evening.
The next day Noah agreed to walk Petey to the sporting goods store so that he could get the new football.
“So you think this is the best thing, huh?” Noah asked.
“I guess? Like you said, it’s bad that Brad’s football got popped, so I think it makes sense to just do something to make it better.”
“Yeah, but are you doing it to make him happy or just to make him like you again?”
“He’s not ever going to like me if he isn’t happy.”
“He won’t? Cuz that sounds like a pretty terrible friendship then.”
“I’m just saying what it sounds like,” Noah shrugged. “You go ahead and do what you think is best.”
Petey did go ahead and he did buy the football as planned…but he couldn’t get Noah’s words out of his head. It had hit on something he had already been feeling, but hadn’t been able to put words to. There just was something wrong in the idea of giving a football to Brad so that he would treat him decently.
“I don’t want to just give Brad stuff to make him be my friend,” he muttered to himself on the swing at recess. “I want him to already be my friend first.”
“Nothing Susan. Hey, have you seen Brad?”
“I think he’s trying to get the ducks to come through the fence.”
Susan was right. There was a patch in the fence around the field where the chainlink had been snagged by a lawnmower once and twisted, resulting in a small hole. And it just so happened that this hole was right beside the canal and sometimes ducks would go swimming past it. Everyone remembered that time immemorial when Diego had coaxed one of those ducks through the hole and it had gone squawking and flapping across the entire field, chasing down whoever showed the most fear! It was many students’ greatest wish to recreate that legendary moment, even though this had been expressly forbidden by the Principal, but no one had ever managed it.
Brad was crouched down at the hole right now, poking pieces of bread through it and then backing away so as to not startle his prey. As Petey approached he saw that there were two ducks enjoying a little meal of Brad’s crumbs just outside of the fence, but they were stubbornly ignoring the trail he had also laid out through to the other side. As soon as Petey got within sight the ducks quacked in offense and scuttled down back into the canal.
“Hey Brad,” Petey said.
“Oh great, you scared them off.”
“They weren’t coming through anyway.”
“Gee…thanks. What are you even doing here, Petey?”
“I want to know what it’s going to take so we can be friends again.”
“Well, you broke my football. So I guess you get me a new one of those,” Brad sneered sarcastically and Petey’s heart dropped a level. He definitely couldn’t give him the new football now.
“Friendship shouldn’t be about just giving each other things,” Petey stated flatly. “That’s just selfish.”
“No, it should be about wrecking each other’s stuff and then pretending that doesn’t matter.”
Petey was taken aback. Once again everything made so much sense in his head right up until the moment he actually tried to say the words out loud. Brad just wasn’t responding the way that he was supposed to!
“No, it matters. That’s why I’m really sorry that that happened. I really am.”
Brad squinted his eyes in an accusing stare and spoke in a heavy whisper. “Did you know, Petey, that that’s the first time you’ve actually said you’re sorry?”
“In all this time you haven’t said sorry even once until now.”
“I–no, that’s not true. I said sorry already!”
Brad shook his head. “You just told me over and over that it wasn’t your fault.”
Petey couldn’t believe what he was hearing…but at the same time he also couldn’t remember a specific moment where he had definitely said that he was sorry. Was it possible?
“I–” Petey began, but no other words came to finish the thought.
“Listen Petey, I don’t hate you,” Brad sighed. “But I just don’t think I want to be friends anymore. Forget about the football.”
“So did you give it to him?” Noah said over his shoulder as he heard the door to his bedroom click shut.
“No…” Petey said slowly. “Instead we just fought some more.”
“I’m sorry, man. Are you sure this friendship is working?”
“You think it would be better to just stop being friends with my best friend?” Petey’s voice was hurt. “Just run away like that.”
Noah sighed and put down the controller to the Super Nintendo. “No, probably not. You two have been buddies since forever. So no, I don’t think you should just throw that away. Being best friends is hard work sometimes. It takes real effort.”
“Yeah…but Brad’s all done. He told me he doesn’t want to be friends anymore.”
“Ahh,” Noah rubbed the back of his head. “That’s rough, little bro. I’m sorry.”
Those last two words made Petey wince.
“And he also pointed out that I never told him I was sorry when I broke his football. I just kept talking about how it wasn’t my fault.”
“Well I’m sure you were scared right then.”
“What kind of friend am I if I don’t even apologize?”
“You still haven’t?”
“No, I did.”
“When he told you that you hadn’t?”
“No, before that.”
“So I guess you are the kind of friend who apologizes, then. Maybe a little late, but if I’m hearing you right then you did actually apologize all on your own.”
“Well…yeah. But I still don’t blame him for being upset. Maybe he’s been too much of a jerk about it…but I don’t think I did everything right either.”
A long pause followed, after which Petey gave himself a little shake.
“Well,” he said, “I just wanted to talk I guess.”
“Yeah, thank you for talking to me about it.”
That night Petey wasn’t able to fall asleep. His mind turned matters over and over as he lay on his pillow until his pillow started to feel too hot and he sat up. A few moments later his dad walked past his open door and happened to notice Petey sitting up.
“Hey bud, everything alright?”
Petey shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Petey’s dad moved into the room and sat at the corner of the bed.
“What’s going on?”
“Brad and I had a fight. I don’t really want to talk about the whole thing again, though. I’ve been talking about it a lot already.”
“And thinking about it a lot.”
“Yeah. And I guess that now I don’t know what to do about it anymore.”
“Yeah. I keep thinking about things I could do…but I’ve already tried to do things the right way a bunch of times and it never works out how I thought it would.”
“Sure, sure. Do you mind if I offer a piece of corny, fatherly advice?”
“Don’t tie yourself in knots trying to do things the right way. Just do what’s right. Then, after that, it doesn’t matter what happens.”
“Does that make sense?”
“Yeah…I think so. Thanks, Dad.”
“No problem. Try and get some sleep.”
The next day Petey knew exactly what he was going to do. He didn’t try to talk to Brad at school, though, he wanted to have a conversation when there wouldn’t be any distractions. Instead he took his backpack with him to the park after school, sat on the swings, and waited for Brad to show up. Sure enough, he soon saw Brad walking across the field like he did on most days. Petey rushed down the hill and onto the field, backpack swinging from his shoulder.
“Brad!” he called out as he came near.
Brad shook his head in a longsuffering way. “Petey, no,” he said. “Please stop talking to me. I’m not interested.”
“I will, alright. I’ll stop talking to you if that’s what you want. I just want to say one last thing and that’ll be it.”
Brad sighed. “Okay…well what is it?”
“I know you don’t want to be friends anymore and I’m not going to try to make you change your mind, but I do think that that’s a mistake. It’s okay to be upset, but I think it’s wrong to stop being friends just like that.”
Brad shrugged. “Still not interested.”
“Okay,” Petey said bracingly. “That’s alright. And even though you don’t want to be friends, I want you to know that I really am sorry about what happened. It really was an accident, but that doesn’t change that you lost your football. And I don’t think it’s fair for you to not have your football anymore…” Petey reached into his bag “so here’s your replacement. I bought it with my own money and everything. Now things are back to how they were.”
Petey handed the ball to Brad who stared back at him in stunned silence.
“Okay,” Petey exhaled deeply. “That was it, I’m done now.” And with that he slung his backpack over his shoulder, turned around, and walked away.
He made it nearly thirty feet before Brad called out.
“Hey you, get back here!”
Petey turned around and saw that Brad was grinning sheepishly.
“What?” Petey asked.
“Hey look, Pete,” Brad walked forward until the two boys were near again. “Look I know I’ve been being a jerk about all this. I didn’t feel good about it…but I did it anyway. I’m sorry.”
“So–uh–I’d like to be friends again if you’ll allow it. And…here, keep your ball,” he held the football out again but Petey didn’t take it.
“That’s for you,” Petey insisted.
“Oh come on, I can’t take it,” Brad protested. “You bought it with your own money you said.”
“Yeah, to give it to you.”
“But then…if I take it…that means I’m being your friend just because you gave it to me. And I really don’t mean that, Petey. I really do want to be your friend without this.”
Petey gave that one a lot of thought. The fact was he didn’t want their friendship to be repaired just because he had bought something for Brad either. But he also didn’t want to end up getting a new football out of all this, that felt wrong, too.
“Well I don’t want it,” he said flatly.
Brad looked down at the football and furrowed his brow in deep thought. Suddenly he looked back up with a big smile. “Hey wait…I’ve got an idea!”
“Ready?” Brad asked ten minutes later. He had run back to his home and retrieved two screwdrivers which the two boys were now wielding side-by-side.
“Ready!” Petey affirmed.
The two boys swung their screwdrivers down as hard as they could, puncturing the new football at each end! It did not deflate with a sad whistle like the last one had, though, it ruptured all at once with a huge BOOM! Each of the boys fell backwards laughing.
“Holy cow, that scared me!” Petey giggled.
“My heart’s racing!” Brad added.
They lay there laughing another minute longer, getting out all of their frustration and sadness together. When at last they quieted down they sat back up and looked at the flat pancake that had once been a football. Brad picked it up, flung it into the nearest trash can, and pocketed his screwdriver.
“C’mon buddy,” he said, extending a hand. “Let’s go play.”
Petey took the hand and let Brad pull him to his feet. “Sounds good,” he said, and the two friends walked off, arm-in-arm.
I also tried to maintain an even balance between the appearance of each character. Petey is the star and appears in each scene. Noah and Brad are the main supporting characte4rs, and they each get a pretty equal number of scenes. Secondary supporting scenes are Petey’s dad and mom, who also get a pretty equal number of scenes in the story. This setup allowed me to bounce back and forth between the main thread with Brad and the other main thread with Noah, but also to break up those threads with small asides to his parents so that it wouldn’t feel like Petey was just ping-ponging back and forth the whole time.
One of the benefits of this approach was how it provides credence to Brad’s character development, which primarily occurs offstage. In the case of Petey, we see him grappling with his problem firsthand. We hear all the conversations he has about it and the process that leads him to his final solution. But Brad has been going through his own process as well, and we don’t actually see that firsthand. I imply it at a couple times, such as when they met at the school. Before then Brad had only been insulting and hostile, but here he had softened up enough to admit that he didn’t hate Petey. Then there is that moment at the end where he says:
Look I know I've been being a jerk about all this. I didn't feel good about it...but I did it anyway. I'm sorry.
So yes, Brad has developed as a character, and we’re able to believe in it because of the gaps between each of the boys’ encounters. Those gaps suggest that enough time has passed for him to have changed his mind. If those same changes had been shown in back-to-back scenes it would have felt too abrupt and unbelievable.
So now I have written three stories in my latest batch, and there is a common theme in them that I want to shine a light on. That theme is three simple words: Children, conflict, and play. I have explored the intersection of those three ideas in various ways, and will explore one more interpretation of them before I conclude this series. Come back on Monday as I explain this further.
The two men walked into the building and soon found a secretary to help them in their research. Price provided her what little details he had about the charity, and she went to look through a wall of filing cabinets, flipping through index cards at random.
“So does the family think they’ll get the money back somehow?” Daley asked Price while they waited. “I mean this can’t be too great of a shock after he told them off, can it?”
“Well there were the prenuptial agreements, so yeah, Mrs Davies was expecting her payday. Apparently those agreements highly favored her, and the judge decided they were unfair, so he’s superseding them with the will.”
The secretary came back, carrying a single index card back with her.
“I don’t have very much,” she said to the men. “The only reason I have anything at all is because yes, the institution was set up by an American.”
“No, someone named Maria Guzman.”
“But she’s an American?”
“Yes. Not by birth, this mark right here means a naturalized citizen. You can go check the census records for more information if you need it, I’m afraid that this is all I have.”
“Oh this is plenty,” Daley smiled.
The two men did indeed follow up on Maria Guzman, and Price presented the information they found on her to Mrs Davies the next day.
Maria Guzman is a woman (obviously)
Thirty-seven years old
Born in Mexico, but went through the immigration process in her twenties
Maintains dual citizenship, and has a home both in Mexico and in the states
Within five miles of the Davies’ residence to be even more specific
“And you…spoke to her?” Otto’s wife asked, her face pale as a sheet.
“No, can’t,” Price shrugged his shoulders. “Well I mean I could, but it would have to be over the phone and that’s just never very effective. She’s in Mexico right now, has been for the past month.”
“Mm,” Mrs Davies pursed her lips together. “And you can’t go to Mexico?”
“Not officially, no. Well I mean I could, if we had an understanding with their government, but I highly doubt that my superiors are going to approve me continuing to chase this case any further.”
One week later Price and Daley were on a plane out of the country. Price had introduced Mrs Davies’ to his “private detective” friend, and she had readily agreed to send him to follow up on things. Then, the next day, Price decided he might as well sit down with Commissioner Howell and request permission to go to Mexico just in case. At first Howell dismissed the notion entirely, but took it under more serious consideration when he learned that Daley was already planning the trip.
“I know you’re worried about what he might do down there, same as me,” Price said. “You know we can’t leave him alone. He needs…looking after.”
“So that’s the official police business now?” Howell snorted. “Looking after rogue private detectives?” But even though Howell was shaking his head, the corners of his mouth twitched with concern for his friend. “However…” he said slowly, “I am worried about how this might blow back on the rest of us. I can’t stop Daley from going, obviously, and I’m worried he’ll foul things up royally! It’d be a PR nightmare if he did something stupid and people learned he was an ex from our department!”
“Yes, that’s my thought as well.”
Howell narrowed his eyes as he weighed his options. “Of course…I wouldn’t want you starting to think that this is how things are done now. That Daley can keep pulling these crazy stunts and we’ll be there to save him all the time…”
“No, of course not. I understand you completely, this would just be a one-time thing.”
“And if I did send you, it would only be because I know you would do your job right. You would be there as a bright and shining example of proper, decent, police procedure. Hopefully so bright as to prevent Daley from summoning all unholy Mexican wrath on our heads!”
“That’s all I want. One week.”
And so Daley and Price flew to Mexico on the same flight, Daley in first class on Mrs Davies’ dime, Price in coach on the precinct’s. Daley breezed through customs without any wait, while Price showed his documents and had a long conversation with an official. Then the two grabbed an unlicensed taxi and made camp at a nearby motel. The next day they went to the address they had for Guzman Charitable Services, which was a single room rented out of a dinky office building in the heart of the city. They knocked on the door but no one answered.
“Not in the office at 10 am on a Thursday?” Daley clicked his tongue. “Doesn’t sound like a very reputable institution if you ask me.”
“I’d be curious to see how many charitable services Guzman Charitable Services has actually done since being instituted,” Price nodded. “We need to check in with the local precinct anyway, let’s see if we can’t get a warrant to look at this place’s books.”
Daley looked at his watch. “And then try and catch Ms Guzman at her home this evening?”
They submitted their request for the warrant, killed a few hours walking the streets, and then that evening went to the residence for Ms Guzman, accompanied by a local officer named Torres. The house was in the suburbs, and though it was small, it was very well maintained. They knocked on the door, and a moment later a slender woman in her thirties answered.
“Hello, Ms Guzman? My name is Detective Price, and this is my friend James Daley. We’ve been sent–“
“Yo no hablo inglés, lo siento.”
“Por favor señora,” Torres leaned forward, “esto solo tomará un minuto.”
The woman sighed. “Come on in.”
She turned her back and Daley flashed a grin at Price. The four of them walked over the tiled floor and into a receiving area that doubled as the dining room. The woman waved nonchalantly at the seats around the table. The three men ignored them, but she took the one at the head.
“You are Maria Guzman?” Price clarified.
“Sí…I mean, yes. And you are here about the money?”
“Some American sent some money to my institution the other day. I assume you are here to take it back, but it won’t do you any good.”
“Not to take it back, that’s not how we work…. Why wouldn’t it do any good, though?”
“I don’t take money from people I don’t know,” Maria said indignantly. “Rejected it as soon as I heard about it.”
“You turned it down?” Daley’s eyebrows raised. “My understanding is that it was quite the sum!”
“All the more reason to not get tangled in it. What do I want with a dirty fortune?”
“Well you might have left it to me,” Daley chuckled, which caused Maria’s eyes to narrow.
“I don’t think I care for your sense of humor, sir. A death is a terrible thing, and I have no wish to profit from that.”
“Yes, please excuse my friend,” Price piped up, “he’s incorrigible. But do you mean to say that you did not know Mister Otto Davies?”
“No you don’t mean to say that, or no you didn’t know him?”
“No I did not know him.”
She frowned. “At all.”
“Why would he leave you all of his money then?” Daley asked.
“I would say you’d have to ask him, but apparently that’s impossible. Perhaps he saw our charity in the phone book and decided to do some good. I don’t know.”
“Saw your Mexican charity in a phone book from Florida? We barely found any record of your place at a business registry, and that was only because we were specifically looking for it!”
Maria’s nostrils flared, but she didn’t rise to the implied accusation that she was lying. “That does sound odd when you put it like that, but I don’t know anything about it.”
From that point forward Daley settled back. He folded his arms and patiently waited as Price and Torres covered the last of the formalities. Then the three left the place. As soon as they entered the car Price dropped his professional demeanor.
“Well that was useless,” he slapped the dashboard in frustration.
“What do you mean?” Daley asked. “That was great! She’s lying.”
“Yeah, you think? But so what? She knows this isn’t a murder case, and she knows we’ll have to drop it before long, so she has plenty of incentive to not cooperate. I don’t see what you have to be all happy about then.”
“Because we know that she has the information we want. This is the place to dig. Sure, I don’t know how we’ll get it out of her yet, but we’re going the right way…. I’d say we finally found the person who cared the most for Otto.”
“Well I’ll tell you one thing, I’m sure going to enjoy tearing her office apart once the warrant comes through. There’d better be something there.”
The next morning the two detectives checked in at the precinct and by noon they had the warrant ready to go.
“Officer Torres, could you get Miss Guzman on the phone?” Price grinned. “Tell her she needs to open up shop for us.”
“Let me know what you find down there,” Daley smiled.
“What, you’re not coming?”
“Nah, it’s a small space, I’d just be in the way.”
“Nuh-unh, that doesn’t fly. You came all the way to Mexico because you had such an itch for this case, and now you’re telling me you aren’t going to be there for a search? How come?”
“Not feeling so good. I was going to go lay down and hopefully feel better this afternoon. I’d rather be there for the interrogation after you find something to pin on Miss Guzman.” Daley turned and started to walk towards the exit.
“Hey, hey, hold up,” Price hurried to catch up to him. “You know that you’re fooling absolutely nobody, right?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” The two exited the building and continued their argument down the street.
“I don’t know where exactly you’re headed, but it’s to do some detective work that you know I couldn’t approve of.”
“If I were, then I wouldn’t be very motivated to tell you about it, now would I? Far better to just keep mum and not vex your poor, little conscience.”
“Listen Daley, I came here to do real detective work! To do things by the book!”
“And you are.”
“And I was the one who even introduced you to the Davies and told them they should send you to Mexico. So don’t pretend that your vigilantism doesn’t affect me! You get caught doing something indecent and it’ll all blow back on me!”
“Please, I’m a very delicate man!”
“And that’s to say nothing of the principle of the matter!”
“Well let’s say nothing of it.”
“Daley, come on!”
“No, you come on,” Daley finally stopped and turned to look Price in the eye. “You made it more convenient for me to be here, that’s all. I was already coming anyway, remember? So it’s not on your conscience that I’m here. And speaking of your conscience, you set the trip up this way to ease your anxieties, not to help me. Don’t pretend otherwise. Thus far I’ve indulged you in that, I’ve made you feel respectable for hanging around me. But now I’m not. That must be hard, and I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
Price shook his head and took a step back. “You say all those words like you actually mean them.”
Daley shrugged and started to walk away again. He spoke without turning to look back at his partner. “What are you going to do, Price? Arrest me? You’re far outside of your jurisdiction here.”
On Monday I discussed how the different parts of a story will interrupt one another in order to have their say. The hope is that these transitions will not be jarring, and that they will combine to form a unified message, but there’s no getting around the fact that all but the smallest of tales are going to shift gears now and again.
Last week I had a scene that changed its focus partway through, and then went back to its original intent later. In today’s piece things were broken up at a much more granular level. In short, each scene of this story is focused on one thing and one thing only. The transitions of focus only occur when the next scene begins. This approach is certainly simpler, though it perhaps lacks some of the immediacy of making the change on the fly. I settled on this approach because I wanted the story to move at a quick pace, and get through multiple settings in a hurry. This meant many short scenes, which are far more difficult to interweave multiple voices within. To put it another way, it is usually better to not paint an intricate landscape when you’re working on a small canvas.
Even with the simpler approach of separating focuses into different scenes, it was still important to ensure that each story moment made sense with where I put it. For example, I knew I wanted Price and Daley to have their argument at some point during this chapter, I knew the case needed to be pushed forward, and I knew that Maria Guzman needed to be introduced as a major character. Introducing Maria while advancing the case made sense, and so I dedicated that scene solely to those two tasks, and saved the argument for later. When I considered when I should put the argument, then, I realized that it would be the perfect final note to a piece of increasing tension.
Thus there was careful consideration for when each theme would take the reins from the others, and how they would build the overall experience.
There’s one other element of this story I’d like to take a look at. If my readers had not figured it out already, this is not one of those mystery stories that is steeped very heavily in sensationalism. There’s nothing wrong with having sensational elements in a mystery story, but I wouldn’t want any of my readers to have the wrong idea about what they’re getting into.
I would like to examine this idea of sensationalism in stories more closely. Come back on Monday where we will discuss what it is, how it is different from fantasy, and how to use it, or not use it, properly.
Being interrupted is one of the most hated parts of communication. Every idea that we speak of comes with it a desire to be completed. To be stopped short of doing so is like feeling a sneeze that never comes to fruition. Understandably, interrupting another is therefore considered bad manners, and yet sometimes we feel the need to do it even so.
Conversations are not lectures, and the purpose of them is not to have one person express their opinions only. Each side needs to feel understood, and will therefore pull the conversation into a different direction as needed for them to be able to attain full expression.
A poor conversation will therefore become a constant war of jerking the focus back and forth. Each individual sees the other person’s expression and their own as being mutually exclusive, thus only one perspective can be conveyed, and so it must be their own. These sorts of conversations are called arguments, and they represent the worst possible form of communication. The inevitable result is that neither side receives full expression and both leave dissatisfied. This might occur by each escalating until they are shouting over one another, or else one turning submissive and just tuning out the ranting of the other.
That type of conversation is combative, whereas the ideal conversation would be collaborative. In collaborative discourses each side is actively trying to help one another to express themselves. They are each seeking to understand the other, as well as together uncover a shared middle ground. Each side leaves not only feeling fulfilled, but also larger in insight. Where argument shrinks you further into your own perspective, healthy discussion broadens it.
Interestingly, though, interruptions still occur in healthy conversations, they just take a different form. Instead of being competitive such as “oh never mind that, listen to this…” they become clarifying statements such as “hang on, I didn’t quite understand you there, did you mean…”
Positive conversations can also use gentle interruptions to cue where you think greener fields lie. They are a succinct way of asking “can we talk about this other matter now?”
Isn’t This a Story Blog?)
Thanks for that friendly interruption, guess I got a little off track. Because yes, all this does relate to story-telling, and I was hoping this conversation would steer towards that at some point!
In the end, a story is made up of many different parts, all of which need their say in the overall conversation. Plot needs to be thickened, characters need to be arced, tension needs to be built. A sloppy writer will slap these things back-to-back with no thought for how they gel together as a whole. It will make for a story that feels like it is combating with itself, each scene being a rude interruption to the one that came before.
But a skilled writer will let each scene seamlessly transition from one to the next in a way that collaborates in a cohesive narrative. Just as how two courteous conversationalists will take the last statement of the other as the launching point for their own piece, the next scene in the story will wait for a lull in the action of the current, segue on a shared theme into the new premise, and then proceed to express itself more fully. Even if the new scene is thematically contradictory to the prior, it will still feel like the two belong together and form a shared message.
Consider how this is accomplished in the example of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Two of this book’s voices are quite opposite to each other: one being that of rousing, epic action, and the other being of calm respites with fanciful fantasy characters. Are these two halves of the story breaking the overall narrative? No, they actually support one it together.
This is because one of the story’s overall themes is that good things are worth fighting for. The heroes of the story are convinced that there is a beautiful world which is deserving of their sacrifice to be preserved. In order for us to be convinced of this point as well, we need to spend some time in those beautiful places. And so an extended deliberation among Ents provides essential depth to the world and making the stakes of later conflict feel like they truly matter. We are intrigued by the odd mannerisms of the passive creatures during their entmoot, and then invigorated to see their race rescued through the rousing battle at Isengard. Each of the two sections combine to form a satisfying arc for the species.
There is an example of interruptions in story-telling with my last entry of Washed Down the River. Here I had one character pick another up in his car, and then the two of them discussed the details of the case they were working while driving to their next lead. As they went, the discussion of the case was suddenly interrupted when Daley suggested doing something rash in regards to it. This derailed everything, and soon the two men were arguing about Daley’s aloofness to his friends, family, and life. Each of the two interrupted the other, and each tried to force their own perspective on the other, much like how the narrative forced this scene of conflict out-of-the-blue upon the reader.
Of course neither character was left satisfied by the conversation. Each became more entrenched in their own perspective. Then, right on cue, the two men arrived at their destination and the argument was put on pause as the case interrupted into the fore.
The sudden transition from case to argument and back to the case might seem disjointed, but it was so intentionally. The staccato of quickly moving pieces was meant to reflect the tension playing out in those scenes. At the same time, necessary housekeeping tasks were accomplished, such as reminding the reader of other threads that are a part of the story, and also of providing a distraction while loading in the next scene.
In the end I think I wrote scenes that feel chaotic and disjointed when taken individually, but which smooth out the overall narrative when viewed as a whole. One might say that I am trying to take many jagged parts and fit them into a unified mosaic.
With my next post we’ll be continuing that process, and along the way I will try to utilize each transition in as effective of a manner. Come back on Thursday to see how it turns out.