Writing Exercises

After years of struggle, I’m still struggling with writing. In this age of pandemic and newly retired, I’m doing a range of things to keep busy, but regular, steady writing isn’t one of them. Much to my chagrin.

However, I have started dabbling in things, which I think is a sign of progress. Over at Dale’s place, she writes based on prompts from a couple of different places every week. Every once in awhile, whatever the prompt is intrigues me and I’ve written something and put it in a comment on her blog.

Yesterday, I decided to make it official and connect one of my efforts to the blog posting the prompt, Friday Fictioneers. I posted the effort here yesterday.  I plan on participating more regularly in Friday Fictioneers and other prompt machines, just to try to keep the writing thing alive in me and see if something catches my fancy, while I ponder my multitude of “works in progress” that haven’t been progressing much for years.

The other thing I started doing again after I retired was join a writing group. For a couple of years, two writing friends have encouraged me to join their respective writing groups. I’ve always begged off because of work and family and just my overall sense that I’ve lost something when it comes to writing. I was concerned that I would embarrass myself and not be able to write anything when the time came — much like what happened the last couple of times I went to Zoe’s writing group. (That’s a whole other story.)

Anyway, with retirement, I decided it was time to give it a try. To see if I still had something to say via the written word and fiction. Turns out the two writing friends are in the same writing group. It’s a prompt group. Everybody shows up, a prompt is provided. They write for 20-30 minutes and then read the results to the group for positive thoughts and feedback.

And then the Great Quarantining of 2020 hit. The group hasn’t met in person since I “joined.” The first week, everything was done by email. Since that first week, they’ve got together via Zoom for the reading sessions. While I participate by email, I have yet to get into the Zoom sessions. Typically, when they start I am just sitting down to my computer and seeing the email and deciding whether the prompt has something for me.

Here then are the things I’ve done since joining the group. The first piece stretched over two weeks and two different prompts. And no, it’s not finished yet. That’s the biggest problem I have these days — finishing things.

 

COYOTE

First Two Prompts (The first prompt was “what the hell.” The second prompt was “shift.” And what I did with that second prompt was an experiment I will probably do away with if I ever complete this story):

The coyote lurked right at the edge of the yard, where the light from the porch reached that place where the darkness of night overwhelmed the glow. Even at that edge, I could see the reflection in his eyes. Two bright orbs that looked back at me every time he whipped his head towards me. For the most part he didn’t do that though. He paced back and forth right at that edge. From one end of the yard to another. Not looking at me, or at the house. Just straight ahead. To that end. And then whipping around and jogging back to the other end. Back and forth he went.

I wondered what it was he was waiting for. The last chicken had died months ago. The lambs to the slaughter shortly after that. Wrapping things up before we moved meant there wasn’t much livestock left. Moving back to the city can do that. 

Dora and I had tried to make a go of country life. Escaping the mad dash of urbanity. We had quit our jobs at the health care company where we both worked. It had been two years, but we had yet to figure out a way to make a real go of it. Our savings dwindled, our patience with each other at a breaking point, we caved in. Two weeks before, escrow closed on the property and we had two days left in the country home that we had hoped for so hard. Tails between our legs, we were moving in with her parents until we figured out what was next.

“Hey honey, whatcha doing?” Dora called from the kitchen.

I ignored her. I wasn’t sure what she would think about the coyote on the fringe of the yard. I took a seat on the top step of the porch and watched him some more.

“Honey, you out there?”

I could tell her voice was closer. She was coming out.

“I’m just sitting out here, enjoying the night,” I finally replied. “The stars are …”

That’s when I heard the screen door wheeze open and Dora’s first step out on to the porch.  “Wow. Look at the moon.”

“Yeah.” I looked back at her and patted the step next to me. She was right. It was huge. Round. Full. And lurked just above the horizon, filtered through a few trees. It had just a hint of orange to it as well. If it wasn’t for the coyote, that’s what I probably would have been looking at.

It was then that the coyote’s pacing changed. He stopped and turned to his attention to the porch. I felt his eyes bore into me and as Dora sat next to me, the coyote charged. Leaving the comfort of the half dark edge of light, he came across the yard. Straight towards us.

I rose and pulled Dora up with me. “What the hell!” she whispered to me, grabbing my hand. 

“Go inside,” I screamed and pulled the screen door open, shoving her in. I followed her, and before slamming the front door shut, I took one glance back at the coyote. For the first time, I saw the foam dripping from its jaws, and I could have sworn the animal was smiling at me. Or leering. Or something.

And then I thought about Cujo, that Stephen King novel I read when I was a kid. The one that put me in fear of dogs for years. I slammed the door shut, turned the bolt, just as I heard the coyote come up the steps and slam into the screen, setting the springs and hinges to jangling. 

Dora and I had got a dog a year before. A corgi. At first, I was terrified because I’d never had a dog as a child and there was that damn King story. It only took a few weeks until I realized how foolish I had been. Seriously. Who could be afraid of a corgi? Me.

But I got over it. Ralph, the dog and don’t ask, had been shipped to the in-laws the day before. I was thankful for that. Typically, in the evenings he roamed the property before coming in and curling up at the foot of the bed. I can imagine what the coyote would have done with Ralph if he’d been outside that night. I caught myself with an image in my head. Blood and a dead dog.

<shift>

I was riding my bike along the bike trail and decided to take a rest before turning back into the head wind that always pushed against me when heading back to Sac State. There was a little park tucked along a curve of the trail. Plenty of shade and a couple of picnic tables. 

It’s where Dora and I met. She was at one of those tables, reading a book.

<shift>

“I promise to love you forever.”

“And I do you too,” Dora responded. “I promise to be your friend no matter what.”

“As do I to you.” I looked down at the paper shaking in my hand. “We will grow old together.”

“With children and grandchildren.”

“And happiness and love.”

I held my hand out to her.

<shift>

It was quiet outside for a moment and then the coyote slammed against the screen door again. It growled. No, it wasn’t a growl. It was an unearthly shriek that split the air.

I looked back at Dora. “What do we do?” she said to me, her voice barely above a whisper.

“You stay here. I’m going to get the gun.”

“Jack?”

“What else can we do?”

“Call 911?”

<shift>

We were eager to begin filling our home with children. It didn’t matter if we lived in a small apartment at the time. But six months after the wedding, Dora had her first miscarriage. It took a month or two, but she recovered and we kept on trying.

The second miscarriage, though, took someothing out of her. I wondered if the hole would ever get plugged again.

Truthfully, the corgi wasn’t just for me. To get over my fear of dogs. Cujo!!! No, it was also for her. To give Cora a thing to care for. To love, as she would a baby. Maybe. Maybe she would heal and be whole again. She loved the dog, but it didn’t help. Not really. We had started fertility treatment and that was a whole other thing that seemed to suck the life out of her.

<shift>

“No. I’ll take care of this.”

We’d bought the gun when we moved in to the house. I thought it was necessary since we were out in the middle of nowhere, but I hadn’t fired it in almost the entire two years we had lived there. When I first got it, I fired it at old cans on a tree stump back behind the house. But I quickly tired of that, and the gun had been upstairs for too long.

I turned to the stairs and took them three at a time, with Dora pleading, “Just call 911. You don’t need to do this.”

<shift>

(Let’s see if I can finish the thing.)

 

***************

The Third Weekly Prompt was “bits and bits”:

Bits and bits

Of Chocolates

It was a rhyme Mama repeated whenever she made cookies. Sprinkling the chunks into the dough and stirring it with her wooden spoon. The same spoon she sometimes spanked my bottom with when I failed to meet her expectations. But she never did so that it hurt. She only did it to send me a message. Stop now. Enough. And I typically got the hint.

She had other sing-song rhymes as well.

Fiddle, faddle

Popcorn off the griddle

Or

Sleep, little princess

Wake in the morning, my missus

Sure they never really rhymed, but they played a part of the rhythm of my childhood.

But those cookies, when they went into the oven. Moments later, the aroma that filled the kitchen and drifted through the rest of the house, lurking in places and absent from others. If I was in my room, I might smell it while sitting on my bed, but over by the closet, not so much. As soon as I did, though, I’d follow the scent trail to the kitchen and be enveloped by it. A caress of sugar and butter and chocolate and vanilla warming in the oven.

When the cookies were done, Mama would pop the door of the oven open and bring the tray out, resting it on the stove. “Now, you need to just wait a couple of minutes. Let them cool a bit,” she would say to me, before repeating her rhyme. “Bits and bits. Of chocolates.”

I’d follow her direction and grab a glass from the cupboard and a bottle of milk from the fridge. I always looked for the full one — the one that Mort left on the back porch just that morning — and filled the glass to the rim.

It might not have been the couple of minutes she imagined, but I set that glass down on the kitchen table and snuck two cookies from the tray. Still piping hot, I juggled them in my hands before settling them down on the table.

Mama’s cookies were never perfect, not like the store-bought cookies. No, they were different sizes and shapes, but they were filled with bits and bits of chocolates that burned the roof of my mouth when I took my first bite, letting the cookie melt on my tongue and following it with a swig of milk to cool my mouth just a bit. Before I dove in for the next bite, and the next until my two cookies were gone. Just crumbs left on the table and Mama leaning against the counter, looking at me with that smile she had. And offering me two more before shooing me from the kitchen. “No more. You’ll spoil your appetite. Now, get on outside. Get some sun on your face.”

*******************

The Fourth Prompt was Slow Motion (I posted this here a couple of weeks ago):

Slow Motion

 

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

 

As time goes by

Change is constant

As time dwindles

Nothing changes

 

A time, when all seemed possible

A past, where possibilities died

 

Memories of things

That never happened

People once loved

Love that crashed

 

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

 

Waterfalls stream

Rainbows shimmer

Days darken

Nights creep

 

Of friends, many remembered

Of others, mostly forgotten

 

Love was a thing

Beauty inspired

Light my life

Memories fade

 

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

 

*********************

The Fifth Weekly Prompt was “goggles” and I can’t seem to find what I wrote for that prompt. Maybe I didn’t write anything!

The Sixth Weekly Prompt was “toaster oven”:

The Things We Bring To A Marriage

She brought a mezuzah and her Jewish faith.

I brought my Catholicism lapsed into atheism, and a willlingness to let her raise our children in her faith.

Speaking of her faith, I learned how to make challah and gave the speeches at our boys’ Bar Mitzvahs.

I brought my bicycle and a need to get out every once in awhile.

She brought her patience and willingness to let me do my thing.

That patience has been huge over the years. Patience is most definitely a virtue.

She brought her steady, consistent approach to life.

I brought my never-ending need for something new.

My search for the thing, the one thing, continues.

I brought my baking stone and sourdough starter.

She brought her toaster oven.

I mean, seriously, are these a thing? We never had one growing up.

She brought her calm that only occasionally erupted into something else.

I brought my frustration, depression, and occasional anger.

I tried to control it, but there were times, particularly that depression. It mattered sometimes.

I brought a lawn mower and a veggie garden.

She brought a need to decorate and constantly tweak.

Our walls now are covered with memories. Our garden grows.

She brought a belief that money was for today.

I brought a desire to save for tomorrow.

We’re somewhere in between those two poles.

I brought a love of sports, and politics, and deep conversation.

She brought the Hallmark Channel, and Wheel of Fortune, and talk about her day.

We’re somewhere in between those two poles.

The things we brought to a marriage.

They are the yin and the yang.

At times, they are polar opposites.

At others, we find a way.

It’s a mystery sometimes.

How this happened.

Where it will lead.

*****************
And there you have it … a few little writing exercises and what I came up with.

 

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Friday Fictioneers

My good blogging friend, Dale, has been participating in Friday Fictioneers as long as I’ve been following her. Every once in awhile, what she comes up with prompts me to write something and I do so in a comment on her blog. She encouraged me to do more than that with this week’s prompt. And actually share it.

So … here it is.  The prompt is this photo. (I wish I could figure out how to insert the photo directly into this post.)  The story has to be 100 words. Exactly.

Here’s what I came up with…

“It’s so beautiful,” she said before taking a sip of her Chardonnay. “Don’t you think?” Sam turned to me then, waiting for a response.

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled, toying with the calamari that I wasn’t sure was real or was pig anus. The dipping sauce was good though.

I looked out at the fresh snow that was lightly laying another layer of white on the outside world, and turned back to the dining room. The waiters were beginning to light the candles at each table. Our server was approaching our table.

“Listen,” I started, “ummm … we need to talk. Now.”

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Slow Motion

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

 

As time goes by

Change is constant

As time dwindles

Nothing changes

 

A time, when all seemed possible

A past, where possibilities died

 

Memories of things

That never happened

People once loved

Love that crashed

 

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

 

Waterfalls stream

Rainbows shimmer

Days darken

Nights creep

 

Of friends, many remembered

Of others, mostly forgotten

 

Love was a thing

Beauty inspired

Light my life

Memories fade

 

The words, they come slower

The days, they go faster

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Northville is coming

I’m just about done with finalizing Northville Five & Dime for publication. The cover is a bit of a challenge. I’m still working on the fonts, but am curious what people think about these two…

Northville Five &amp; Dime #1

Northville Five &amp; Dime #2

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The Irrepairable Past

Just short of two weeks into the release of The Irrepairable Past, 35 people have downloaded the e-book or bought the paperback. And the reviews are starting.

Carrie Rubin, author of the medical thrillers The Bone CurseEating Bull, and The Seneca Scourge (and if you haven’t read Rubin yet, you need to — all three are great books) has this to say about the book:

Once again Paxson delivers an evocative story with smooth, flowing prose and vivid description. You’ll feel like you’re sitting on the porch right there next to Henry. (And Bob, his egret companion!)

Wonderful thematic elements too, exploring the emotional scars we carry and the moments we miss out on when we dwell on the negatives in our lives rather than the positives. If we’re not careful, the clock will strike midnight before we remember to be grateful for what we had.

Paxson has a natural talent for connecting with the reader, which makes this a thoroughly engaging novella. There’s a bonus short story at the end too, along with a teaser for his next novel!

Susan K. Nichols, author of Red Clay & Roses (another good book you should give a try) and artist extraordinaire, had this to say:

Mark Paxson presents a quality story. (And, there’s a neat surprise or two.) The busier life gets, the more I appreciate shorter books. There were quite a few characters I could personally relate to in one way or another, and I found myself being introspective about how I interact with others when I am deeply engaged in my own stuff and how that may be affecting those around me. Lots of nuggets to take away from this one. And the added bonus of being reminded that sometimes the outcome is worth the risk. Enjoyable read.

A friend on Facebook bought the book for his mom. After she read the first chapter, she reported back to him:

Just finished 1st chapter of Irrepairable Past. Methinks your friend is a very talented writer. The words paint a picture, feelings he describes come to life, & I am intrigued.

If you’ve already purchased the book, thank you. If you haven’t, here’s your chance to read a story that is evocative, intriguing, and full of nuggets. And don’t forget, reviews are indie author’s best friends. So, buy, read, review!

And thank you!

 

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Bob the egret says, “Buy This Book!”

After years in the wilderness of writer’s block and indie publishing frustration – a lethal combination – I’m back. The first of what I hope to be four novellas published over the next year or so is now live on Amazon. At least the e-book is anyway. The paperback is coming in a week or two.

The Irrepairable Past, a piece I started too many years ago, can be found on Amazon via the image and link at the bottom of the post. I owe a thanks to a lot of people who have kept my interest in writing going over the last handful of years. I can’t possibly name everybody and don’t want forget somebody, so I’m not even going to try. But if you’ve read this blog or King Midget’s Ramblings, and commented here or there, or via email, or on Twitter, or just in person … you have helped. Without those random words of encouragement, I don’t think I would have pressed on and got to this place where Irrepairable is now available; Northville Five & Dime will be available in the next month or two; Northville Five & Dime, Part Two will follow a few months after that; and a fourth, unknown novella/novel will follow by the end of 2020.

I’m excited to be publishing again. I don’t see the point in all of the time and effort that goes into writing something if I’m not going to put the result out into the world.

So, give it a try. If you do, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews really help us indie authors. Thank you in advance.

 

The Irrepairable Past

Driven away by an unresolvable conflict with his father, Henry Thornton has spent a lifetime away from his childhood home. A life filled with sorrow and loss. A life that led him back to that childhood home, on the shores of Sullivan Bay, as his father lay dying, and where he wants nothing more than to be left alone, accompanied in his life only by an egret that graces him with its presence each evening.

The Irrepairable Past is Henry Thornton’s story. Through his motherless childhood and the destruction of his relationship with his father, his high school sweetheart and his decisions which led to her fleeing his side, a failed marriage, his father’s death, the Irrepairable Past traces Henry’s life of regrets and loss and his acceptance of a life alone, where he views the egret in the shallows as his only real friend.

 

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These Parts

A response to Trent Lewin’s short story of the same name. It struck something in me and I wanted to take a different approach.

These Parts

Your lips, soft and warm and moist. They whispered against my skin. I brushed them with my own. They opened and formed words that lifted me to the stars and beyond.

Your eyes, sparkling and opening me to your depths. I could have fallen in and been happy forever.

Your hips that curved.

Your neck that beckoned.

Your fit, perfectly within.

Your arms around me.

Your hands in mine.

Your breasts pressed against me.

Your warmth.

Your smile.

Your laugh.

Your tears.

You.

These parts.

I touched them once. I’ll never touch them again. But they will remain with me forever, in my heart, in my soul, wherever I go. These parts.

 

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Wark Creek

 

Rippling water

Reflecting light

And shadows

 

Rushing

 

Whispering ripples

Filling quiet

And sound

 

Falling

 

Dancing sun

Sparkling bright

And clear

 

Running

 

Nature dances

Peaceful sounds

And signs

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There Is No Can’t In Writing

I just read part of a thread on Twitter. It was prompted by a writer who saw a FB conversation about whether writers should write stories with a narrator or POV from a gender other than their own.

The writer who started the Twitter thread said that on FB most of the comments were opposed to writers writing in voices other than their own gender “because they usually get it wrong.” This was met with the typical Twitter emotion — outrage. In this instance, however, the outrage is justified.

There is no “can’t” in writing. Or there shouldn’t be.

When I wrote my first real piece of fiction — One Night in Bridgeport — I imagined a scenario I could put myself in. It’s not a situation I’ve ever been in, but I could imagine it. A one night stand followed by an accusation of rape. Putting myself into the main narrator’s head, imagining that it was me in that situation, provided me with the ability to write that story.

Every since then I have done everything I can to write stories from different perspectives, different voices, different characters.

The Marfa Lights — narrated by a teenager who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound.

Shady Acres — primarily narrated by a 100-year-old man. I’m not quite that old. Yet.

Northville Five and Dime — one of my WIP told in first person from the perspective of three different characters, two of whom are women, one of whom is paralyzed from the waist down.

Spaces After the Period — narrated by a young woman who likes bad boys until she meets a man who is the opposite of everything she imagined was right for her.

This list could go on and on and on. Very few of my stories are told by people who are me, like me. Why?

Because that’s the best part of writing. The challenge and the fun, after that first story, has always been in writing different stories about different people. There would be no challenge, no exploration, no fun in telling stories if the narrator was … well, just me. I’m far too plain vanilla for that.

While I was spending two years first writing and then re-writing Bridgeport I went to a writing conference at a local university. There were two concepts I heard there that have stayed with me ever since.

Dorothy Allison (who is most famous for writing  Bastard Out of South Carolina) gave a speech during the lunch in which she described how authors steal people. She described stopping at a gas station in some small southern town and while she was putting gas in her car, a police officer pulled over on a nearby street, took a hat box out of the back seat of his car, and walked into a store. That officer and that scene went into a story she was writing at the time.

I loved that idea. We steal people.

But the other point was more fundamental. One of the sessions was led by a critically acclaimed author whose name I no longer remember, but I think his first name was Al. During his talk, a woman kept standing up and asking him questions. The one question I remember was that she had heard you can’t switch POVs in the middle of a chapter. That if you switch POV, you need to do it in a new chapter.

With each of her questions, “Al” kept saying the same thing.

There are no rules in writing, except for one. The only rule in writing is to write a good story. If you can do that, nothing else matters.

That has been the guiding “rule” for my writing ever since I heard him utter those words. It is why I enjoy writing (as difficult as it is today). The opportunities and possibilities are boundless.

By the way, during one of the sessions at that conference, we were tasked with writing something. It was then that I wrote my first short story. The story is about an immigrant from Mexico who sells ice cream from a cart, whose wife died when they were crossing the border, and who is struggling with raising his son alone while he mourns the love of his life.

None of those elements mirror any fact or experience of my life. If I can write a story like that, why in hell can’t I write stories with a female POV?

 

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Nobody Important

Over at my blog, I posted awhile back about how writing prompts can help a struggling writer. In that post I highlighted Eat. Create. Repeat. – Kira’s blog where she posts regular prompts that run the gamut from poetry prompts to photo prompts to flash fiction prompts. She is now starting a project that focuses on helping blocked writers find tools that can help them get unblocked.

At the beginning of 2019, I found another blog that is offering daily flash fiction prompts. Ravyn Whyt starts each post with the prompt and is including her response to that prompt. I’ve written something in response to several of her prompts, including the prompt for January 10. I posted it in the comments section and added that I didn’t feel like it was really done.

So …

This morning, I took a stab at carrying it a little further. Here it is.

Nobody Important

I was sitting in a room. A single light bulb in the center of the ceiling lit the space. I was at a table, sitting in a chair. Whenever I put my hands on the table or leaned on it, it rocked forward, one leg shorter than the rest making it impossible for the table to settle into an even plane.

It had been a long night. I’d fled the scene as quickly as I could and got home, locking all the doors, turning off all the lights. Joe texted me, “Dude!” Marvin texted an unhappy emoji. I texted Cici, my girlfriend. Five times. She didn’t reply. It was the first time she’d ever done that.

I tossed and turned for a bit and finally fell asleep. They came at 2:00 in the morning, pounding on my front door. I went without resistance. I’d seen what happens when a black man resists.

A door into the room was shut. Along one wall was a mirror that I knew was two-way. There were people back there watching, waiting to see if I’d sweat or somehow reveal guilt through my actions.

I didn’t. I drummed my fingers on the table, whistled a happy tune, pretended to nap.

And a couple of hours after I was deposited in the room, the door opened. In stepped a police officer in uniform. He sat down across from me. Behind him came a detective in plain clothes. He closed the door and stood next to it, his back against the wall.

I waited to see which one would be the good cop, which one would be the bad. Turns out it didn’t matter. They just gave it to me straight.

The detective spoke first. “You know why you’re here?”

“Yeah, sure.” I shrugged, picking up the drumming on the table again. “It’s about what happened last night. At the game.”

The detective spoke again, while the uniformed officer just stared at me. “Yes, the game. Somebody set off a fire alarm. 16,000 people panicked and tried to storm out of the arena all at once. Seventeen died. Over five hundred were hurt. Both numbers may go up.”

I didn’t say anything. I waited. The officer filled the silence. “You know anything about it.”

“Nope, not me.” Listen. I knew. They knew I knew. I knew they knew I knew. And on and on. But I couldn’t make it easy for them, could I? I had to put up a bit of a fight, even if it was pretty feeble.

The officer got up, walked around the table slowly, sat back down. “Well, that’s interesting. We’ve got video from a security camera that shows you pulling the alarm. Same flannel shirt, faded jeans, mustache and bald patch at the back of your head.” He put his hand on my drumming fingers, making me stop. “You want to see it?” He didn’t take his hand off of mine.

“Well, it didn’t end the way I expected, but at least nobody important died. Okay. I pulled the alarm. It was supposed to be a joke?”

“I’m thinking the families of those seventeen dead individuals might disagree. It’s barely been twelve hours and they’re already planning a memorial outside the arena for tonight. It’s at 6:00. Maybe you should go?”

I shrugged again and looked at the officer, pulling my hand out from under his. It was kind of creepy to tell you the truth. His hand on mind, the sweat from his palm mingling with mine.

“Yeah, maybe.” I decided to stall for time. Time for what, who knows? I’d just admitted to my role. “Can I get a cigarette?”

The detective pulled a pack out of nowhere and gave me a cigarette. He had a lighter in his hand before I knew it and lit the end. I took a long drag and blew the smoke out.

“You said something interesting, Cole, about nobody important dying,” The officer looked back at the detective who left his place by the door and took the last vacant seat at the table. He pulled out his phone and put it on the table. The uniform, Officer Smeltz by his nametag, continued, “Whose your favorite player on the Kings?”

“Hmmm. Hurley, probably.”

“Yes, of course. Ellison Hurley IV. Everybody’s favorite, right?”

Hurley was the sweet shooting guard drafted three years earlier. The smoothest release and biggest grin this side of Steph Curry. He’d put the Kings on his shoulders at the beginning of the season and ridden them to their first winning record in more than ten years. It was March, the playoffs were possible. Everybody loved him.

“Like I said. It was supposed to be a joke. My friends and I do stupid things. This was …”

The detective interrupted me. “We knew Hurley is your favorite.”

“Yes,” I snapped. “He’s everybody’s.”

“No, that’s not why.” He leaned over his phone and tapped the screen a couple of times, swiped up then left and then held it out to me. “Push play.”

I did. The video was from a security camera in the Kings Corner, the store in the arena where they sold Kings branded gear. Everything from pencils to coffee cups to Christmas ornaments to shirts and jerseys of every type. The camera showed people running by outside the empty store for a few seconds and then I walked past the camera. Inside the store, which was empty since everybody was fleeing, I walked up to a rack and slipped a Hurley jersey off a hanger and put it on as I walked out of the store and joined the fleeing hordes.

“Okay,” I tried for more nonchalance. “So what?”

“Hold on a sec,” Officer Smeltz said. “There’s more.” He motioned to the detective, who picked up his phone and tapped and swiped a few more times.

This time the view was from a camera high up in the rafters, focused down on the corner of the arena where the Kings bench was. The detective told me, “We’ve got security cameras on everything. If you’re at the game and pick your nose, we’ll know about it. Push Play.”

“Listen. I didn’t realize this was going to happen. How could I know that a fire alarm down in the loading area would set the whole damned mess off. I didn’t realize there would be sprinklers. I didn’t realize it would be that loud. I didn’t realize …” And that was the problem, I didn’t realize that those sprinklers were more like water cannons and that the entire fire detection system was one completely integrated complex of alarms and signals and sprinklers and that all hell would break loose. I just didn’t realize it.

“Push Play.”

So, I did. For the first few seconds, it showed the Kings bench, the crowd behind. Everybody watching the action on the court. Hurley was taking his early fourth quarter rest with a towel draped over his head. Suddenly, the shrill bleating sound of the arena’s fire alarms pierced through and then the water cannons let loose and everybody was running. The view on the video shifted to another camera and it showed Hurley starting to run towards the exit that took the players back to their locker rooms, there were fans and players in front of him and behind and they were all panicked.

I watched and saw what I didn’t want to see. Just before he left the floor area, Hurley disappeared.

He went down. I didn’t see him get up. The video shifted again. The fleeing crowd was gone, but on the floor, right where the parquet of the playing surface becomes the concrete leading into the bowels of the arena, there was a body in a Kings uniform.

“Okay. Somebody important died.” I looked up at Officer Smeltz as the video stopped. “I guess that’s gonna be one hell of a memorial tonight.”

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