Thoughts on screenwriting

I have a friend who is a movie producer. I’ve known him since grade school, (close to 50 years.) When we were young, we made Super-8 movies and waited patiently for them to be developed so we could watch and learn from our mistakes so we make the next one better.

He went on to work in TV and movies, and I went on to acting, and although I had to give that up to pay the bills, I kept writing in order to keep my muse happy.

A few years ago I decided to start sharing the stories I had written and try my hand at getting published. One of the things that had helped my story writing, was my decision to enter short story competitions. Several of my stories won rounds, received Honorable Mentions, and have since been published–including my first fully paid-for story.
Having succeeded at that goal, I’ve decided to try screenwriting.
When the desire to begin writing for film hit me, I did the same thing. I entered a NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. (You can read my first screenplay here, A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT)
Although as of the time of this post, I’m still awaiting the results of that entry, my decision to learn and build my reputation by this method, turns out to be a pretty good idea.

My friend–remember him from way back at the top of this post?–sent me an article to read about the business of screenwriting by Chris Salvattera, an executive with HBO and someone who began his career by writing screenplays.

If you’re at all interested in the business, or wish to try your hand, read the article, it’s very informative.
 
The quote that prompted me to write this post.
 
“One way to help get your script in people’s inboxes is to do well in a reputable screenwriting contest. It’s a level of vetting your work, especially if you don’t have representation.”

Chronology of the Apocolypse release

Teaser note related to my  two stories included in this collection.

Chronology Amazon Link

 

Alex My son,

Today, on your eighteenth birthday, it’s time you knew the truth about your father.  Jason, the man you know as your dad, my husband, isn’t your father. His brother, the man you know as Uncle Jason, is your real father.

I’ve loved Auggie from the moment we met, but time, and the laws of our society, forced Jason and I to stay married.

 

 

 

Love you,

Mom.

 

A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT

2016 NYCM Screenplay challenge. Comments and shares welcome.
Prompts were:

Romance

A factory worker.

An apology.

Logline: A hard-edged woman, following a path to self-destruction, makes a life decision to change, and win back the love of her life.

 

EXT. WAREHOUSE DISTRICT – NIGHT

Red and blue neon reflect the words “GO-GO” off a shallow puddle. The street is illuminated by sparsely spaced streetlights. The building’s signs indicate their use. Fleetwood Bedding. Stewart Sprockets. Dyson Logistics.

Muffled, HARD-ROCK MUSIC is heard coming from a beat-up bar, the sign ‘WAREHOUSE GO-GO,’ flashes above the entrance. Half a dozen motorcycles are parked outside.

The THUMP of a large-bore engine is heard over the music.

ANGLE ON: A CUSTOM HARLEY DAVIDSON TOURING MOTORCYCLE.

The fuel tank on the heavily chromed bike has airbrushed roses with I-beams for stems, and flames for petals.

ROSALITA, 35, muscular body, is leaning back in the seat. Tufts of jet-black hair bulge from under her helmet. She is wearing a well-worn black leather jacket. Covering the jacket is a denim vest adorned with numerous patches.

CLOSEUP: PATCH ON VEST.

An image of Mount Rushmore with the words “STURGIS 2009” above. Below, there are smaller patches stacked: 2010, 2011, then two blank spaces, then 2014, and 2015.

Rosalita parks in front of the bar. Studying the sign as she removes a pack of cigarettes from her vest. She pulls a chrome lighter from her pocket, and lights a cigarette.

CLOSEUP: THE ZIPPO LIGHTER.

A pair of intertwined hearts are engraved into the side. One lace, the other barbed wire.

ROSALITA

(Mumbles)We can do so much better than this, Lou. I just hope you can forgive me.

Rosalita walks to the door.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO (CONT’D)

The pulsating MUSIC is louder. Strobes and spotlights aim on a polished hardwood dance floor in the middle of the bar. A bikini-clad woman works the bar. Two, sans swimsuits, gyrate around chrome poles on the dance floor.

Three private booths take up the far wall. The two closest red-painted accordion doors are closed.

ANGLE ON: ENTRANCE

Rosalita enters the smoky bar. Rising from a barstool, the BOUNCER, 30, juiced up body-builder, stops her.

BOUNCER

Ten dollar cover.

Rosalita removes her helmet, her long hair tumbles out.

BOUNCER

Oh, hey sorry. Chicks are free. Drinks are half price too.

Rosalita unzips her jacket exposing her ample cleavage.

The bouncer’s eyes her low-cut, tight-fitting tee-shirt.

Rosalita smiles, drops her cigarette and cruses it out with the pointed tip of her boot. Leaning over, she places her helmet on the bouncer’s stool as she squeezes her bosom for maximum effect.

The bouncer’s leer deepens, his mouth curves into a grin.

In a flash, Rosalita flicks the back of her hand off the bouncer’s crotch. She grabs his throat with her other hand as he doubles over.

ROSALITA

My eyes are up here, bro. Got it?

The bouncer’s attention is now solely on Rosalita’s face, he nods his agreement and she releases him.

The bouncer is rubbing his throat and crotch at the same time, more embarrassed than in pain.

BOUNCER (COUGHING)

Sorry about that. No offense.

Rosalita picks up her helmet.

ROSALITA

I’m used to it, we’re good.

Rosalita looks around the bar.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Is Lucia working tonight?

The bouncer shrugs.

BOUNCER

Don’t know. Most of the girls don’t use their real names. She a friend of yours?

ROSALITA

Yeah. Hopefully more, if I can get her to agree to what I came for.

BOUNCER

What’s she look like?

She scans the room. Her nose scrunches at the stench of stale smoke and cheap cigars mixed with the sweat and desperation of the men paying for a moment of attention from women who wouldn’t glance at them in broad daylight.

ROSALITA

Lucia’s Jamaican. Dark skin, heavy accent. Short. Big boobs–

Rosalita sees LUCIA entering the open booth with an obviously drunk, MAN, 45, stocky and overweight, high-school football star decades past his prime.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Never-mind. Found her.

ANGLE ON: PRIVATE BOOTH ENTRANCE — LUCIA’S BACK.

Centered above her bikini top string is a large tattoo matching the dual hearts etched onto Rosilita’s lighter.

Lucia is carrying a small purse to hold her tips.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I met that guy earlier today. Seems like a douche. Who is he?

The bouncer looks as Lucia closes the booth behind her.

BOUNCER

The dancer is Kaya, and you’re right about that dude. That’s CARL. Thinks he’s King Shit. He’s the foreman at the sheet factory up the block. I think she works for him up there during the day.

The SONG ends and another upbeat SONG immediately begins.

Rosalita steps toward the booth.

BOUNCER (CONT’D)

Sorry, gotta wait. She’ll be done when the song’s over. Assuming she gets the job done in one.

ROSALITA (SIGHS)

A’right. Where’s the deejay?

The bouncer points to the other side of the bar.

Rosalita nods, then walks passed the seated men who, as if part of a wind-up clock, turn when she passes to check out what they see as “new talent.” Rosalita keeps her fists ready in case any of them have the nerve to say anything.

She hears MUFFLED MOANS when she passes Lucia’s booth.

Rosalita converses INAUDIBLY to the DEEJAY, 25, thin in the malnourished way a man who has an affinity for meth and cheap liquor would be.

After appearing to refuse to do what she’s asking him to, Rosalita reaches into her pocket.

CLOSEUP: ROSALITA’S LEFT HAND

Pulling cash from her pocket, she’s wearing identical silver bands, one each on her ring and pinky fingers.

She hands the deejay twenty dollars, he nods. She takes a barstool, and sits by the Lucia’s booth.

SONG plays as Rosalita sits in front of the booth.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. FLEETWOOD BEDDING LOCKER ROOM – EARLIER THAT DAY

Rows of drab-green lockers line the walls. Lucia is half naked, changing out of her work clothes.

Carl comes up behind her.

CARL

End of another week, ‘eh doll?

Carl swings his hips.

CARL (CONT’D)

You wanna make some overtime for a little extra, physical labor?

Lucia, surprised by his approach, covers her bare breasts.

LUCIA (IN A HEAVY JAMAICAN ACCENT)

What are you doing in here, Carl! Get out before I scream.

CARL (LAUGHS)

Really, Lucia? You got nothing I haven’t seen in the bar.

Carl pulls out a folded wad of cash. He peels off a hundred dollar bill, and waves it in front of her.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, baby? How ’bout a little of that island sugar? You know the game.

Carl points to his crotch.

CARL (CONT’D)

You keep the little boss happy…

Carl, using his thumbs, points to his chest.

CARL (CONT’D)

…he keeps the big boss happy.

Lucia puts on a multi-colored shirt from her locker.

LUCIA

Leave me alone, boss man. I have to take my boy to the sitter.

CARL

Not my problem your roommate ran out on you so you have to work two jobs.

Carl rolls the bill around in his fingers.

CARL (CONT’D)

Speaking of which, I hope you’re working tonight. I told some biker friend of yours you’d be there.

Lucia stops gathering her belongings from the locker.

LUCIA (PAUSES BEFORE SPEAKING)

I don’t know any bikers.

CARL

Well, she knows you. She’s a big broad, I wouldn’t mind getting a taste of that. I like it when they can put up a good fight.

LUCIA (SOFTLY)

Rosie?

CARL

Didn’t give me a name. I told her if she wanted to see you, to come down the bar later. I said you always do your best work in the dark. Thought she was going to slug me. Kind of turned me on.

LUCIA

Careful what you wish for. She’s more woman than you can handle.

Carl rips the hundred in half and stuffs one half into Lucia’s shirt pocket.

CARL

Take this as a deposit for later. Might be another one in it if we can get your girlfriend into the act.

Lucia looks at Carl with disdain. She’s forced to brush against him as she pushes passed him as she leaves.

CARL (CONT’D)

See you tonight, love.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO – PRESENT

Rosalita is sitting outside Lucia’s booth.

The SONG ‘Rosalita’ by Bruce Springsteen begins to play.

LUCIA (MUFFLED INSIDE BOOTH)

Lawd Jesus! That skinny white boy knows not to play that song.

Lucia opens the door. She’s pulling her bikini top back over her breasts.

Carl is standing, buckling his belt and zipping his pants.

Lucia’s expression changes from anger at the deejay, to recognition of her former love. She smiles, but it is quickly replaced by anger at Rosalita’s return.

LUCIA

Rosie! I thought you were out of my life. Why’d you come back?

Rosalita is smiling, happy.

ROSALITA

Lou. I’ve missed you. I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I’m ready now.

LUCIA (SCOWLS)

Empty words from you I don’t need.

Lucia shakes her head and starts to close the door.

Rosalita pushes Lucia inside and closes the door.

INT. PRIVATE BOOTH (CONT’D)

The Music’s volume is muffled by the door being closed.

There is a shiny black upholstered couch in the booth.

ROSALITA

Lou, please, I’m serious. I’m sorry I left.

Lucia slaps Rosalita’s hand off.

LUCIA

Don’t you “Lou” me. You lost that right. I’m just another notch in your leather belt.

Lucia looks defiantly into Rosalita’s face.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Or is it a soldier belt? Which Rosie stands before me today? You like girls again? Want to prove you’re as hard as boys can be?

ROSALITA (HURT BY HER WORDS)

No, it’s not that. I need to be with you.

Carl steps between them.

CARL

Now we’re talking.

Both women face Carl.

CARL (CONT’D)

Hey, don’t let me get in the way of true love, but I wouldn’t mind watching.

LUCIA (ANGRY)

Shut up Carl. This is none of your business.

Carl pulls the wad of cash from his pocket.

CARL

I’ll make this worth your while…

Carl waves the cash in Lucia’s face.

CARL (CONT’D MOCKING)

Lou.

Carl thrusts out his pelvis and winks.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, throw me a bone and I’ll throw you mine.

Rosalita steps to him and punches him in the face.

Carl staggers, a look of shock and disbelief on his face. He drops the cash before falling unconscious on the couch.

LUCIA (YELLING)

Rosie! That man’s my boss. He’ll fire me.

ROSALITA

You don’t need him, Lou. Him or anyone but me.

Rosalita grabs Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I’m sorry I doubted my feelings. I really do love you. I was afraid of the person I’d become in the shit. Afraid you wouldn’t want me like that. I know you had to make it by yourself. And then, when you had that kid–

LUCIA

You leave my boy out of this.

Lucia tries to pull away but Rosalita does not let go.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

You think I don’t miss the way it was before you raised your hand to go prove what a big, imaginary dick you have? Maybe if you didn’t go fight in a war that wasn’t yours to fight, I wouldn’t have my boy. Then, when did come back, you wouldn’t walk out on us both.

ROSALITA

You know I tried to make it work, but the baby made me feel I would always be second in your heart. I thought I couldn’t live with that. I was wrong, Lou. So very wrong.

Lucia shakes her head, listening but not believing.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I wanted to hurt you. Hurt you bad. So I ran. I was trying to bury myself in booze, and girls, and boys, and the road.

Lucia pulls her hand away, her eyes welling with tears.

LUCIA

I don’t need your history lesson, Rosie. I lived it.

Lucia walks to check on Carl. He’s moaning, but still out.

She turns back to face Rosalita.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Say what you come to say. What reason you come back to play with my life again? I make do for me and my boy. He don’t need no daddy and he sure don’t need half another mommy.

ROSALITA

I was a mess out on the road, ended up in Vegas and met a man.

Lucia scoffs and tries to head for the door.

Rosalita grabs her by the shoulders to stop her.

ROSALITA

No, not like that, Lou. He helped me get sober. Him, his wife and their kid.

Rosalita begins taking the ring off her pinkie.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

They were a real family, just like we can be. Like we should be. Something woke in me I didn’t know I was capable of.

Rosalita holds up the ring. She reaches out to Lucia’s left hand.

Lucia holds her hand back, but doesn’t retreat.

LUCIA

No, Rosie. Don’t you dare say what your thinking. Why would doing that make this time any different?

ROSALITA

Because I’m clean now. I’m not angry at the world or afraid to settle down and share your love with that little boy. And that means, you’ll share mine with him.

Rosalita kneels on one knee.

ROSALITA

The man I met in Vegas got me into the MMA. I’m a pro fighter now. I’m good, real good. I can make enough money to take care of all of us. You won’t have to work. You’ll stay home, be a mom to that boy like you always were to me. I want us to be a family.

Rosalita takes Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Lucia Clarke, will you marry me?

Lucia shakes her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. Lucia begins to nod.

LUCIA

Yes. Oh yes, my Rosie.

Lucia vigorously nods her head.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA’S HAND.

Rosalita puts the ring on Lucia’s finger.

Lucia hugs the still-kneeling Rosalita.

LUCIA (CRYING)

My barbed-wire Rose. My Empress. I love you, you stupid, stupid girl.

Rosalita stands. They embrace.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA AND ROSALITA’S FACES.

They kiss.

Lucia begins to gather the cash Carl dropped. She puts it in her purse, removes the ripped hundred, crumples it, and throws it onto his chest.

LUCIA

Here, you pussy-klat of a man. I don’t need your dirty money anymore. My Rosie is more a man than you’ll ever be.

Lucia goes to Rosalita, they kiss. Rosalita opens the door and they walk out.

The CLOSING STRAINS of SPRINGSTEEN”S ROSALITA rise.

FADE TO BLACK.

EXT. MT. RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL – DAY -6 MONTHS LATER

The SOUNDS of motorcycles revving and idling is heard.

FADE IN:

A banner with the words “Welcome Riders. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2016” is strung above a parking lot full of motorcycles.

ANGLE ON: ROSALITA’S MOTORCYCLE FITTED WITH A SIDECAR

Arms comfortably around each other’s backs, Rosalita, Lucia, and a small boy stand side-by-side, facing the memorial.

(The SONG ‘KAYA’ by Bob Marley plays over.)

FADE TO BLACK.

The Will to Trust

NYCM 2016  Short Story Challenge.

Round 2, Group 7.

Romance.

Last Will and Testament.

A man with one eye.

Synopsis: A young woman’s accident cements her cynicism with the world, but provides her a way to become a successful lawyer, and break the cycle of abuse.

 

 

The chirping of the awakening birds and the sweet smell of late-spring azaleas accompanied Maria Ruttle as she raced her BMX bike through the neighborhood. She had hoped to deliver the morning’s newspapers before the mere act of breathing caused her to break out in sweat.

Fiery streaks of sunlight cut across the pre-dawn sky, intent upon beating the sun’s crest of the horizon, she sped through an intersection without checking for cross traffic. If she had, Maria might have noticed the taxicab about to run through the stop sign because the driver had been staring at a map.

The impact threw both girl and bike over the car, off the roof and into the street. The collision had spun her handlebars and driven the front-brake lever into her stomach. The damage to her still-maturing uterus was so severe that the emergency room doctors told her she would never bear children.

To Maria, her BMX was more than just a bicycle. Wherever she rode: hot and dry, cold and wet, and every-weather in between, it became her happy place. As long as she had those two wheels and the steady vibration of pedal to chain beneath her, she felt content in the wind away from her home. Already aware, by the age of twelve, that the people who were supposed to care for her could also be the cause of great pain, Maria sought mobile refuge from her abusive family. On that early summer morning she learned a hard lesson: every refuge had a price.

Maria’s parents sued the taxi company. The lawyers handling the case stipulated that Maria’s parents write a Last Will and Testament providing for a trust fund to pay for Maria’s college tuition when she graduated high school. Her parents settled for enough money to pay for a year-long bender, which—to the surprise of no one who knew them—led to their deaths facilitated by driving while blotto. The orphaned Maria was transferred into the state’s foster-care system.

She threw herself into her studies, graduating at the top of her class in both high school and college.

After her accident, she believed that she’d never trust anyone again without fear of betrayal or pain.

For the next twenty years, she was right.

***

Zackary Klein entered the law offices of Dewey, Smith, and Ruttle and approached the reception desk.

Jen Meyers greeted him, “Good morning, how may I help you?” Maria had hired Jen after becoming the youngest woman in state history to be made a full partner in an established firm.

Jen buzzed the intercom into Maria’s office. “Ms. Ruttle, I have a Mr. Klein here for you. He says it’s about the Henderson settlement.”

“He’s expected, send him in.”

Standing when the inner office door opened, Maria said, “Hello, Mr. Klein.”

“Please, call me Zack. No reason to be formal.”

Although they’d never met, Maria had heard of him. She recognized him by the leather eyepatch he wore. Around the local legal circuit, he had the nickname Pirata Per Curiam because he took no prisoners and always returned with the gold. Beyond his reputation as the ‘Pirate of the court,’ she had been warned of his ability to make women swoon. She hadn’t believed the gossip until that moment.

The thought occurred to her, that Zack losing an eye seemed like God’s cruel trick to even the playing field for other men.

“Yes, that’s acceptable. I’m Maria.”

He reached out his hand, “I hadn’t expected you to be so bea—” Zack coughed, “uh young, Maria.”

She shook his hand, a tingle of goosebumps ran up her forearm. A warm rush of blood washed through her. She released his hand and motioned for him to sit.

For the first hour of their meeting—which had been scheduled to take twenty minutes—they spoke about the case between their firms. Since both parties had already agreed upon the terms, there should have only been a few final details in the legalese to hammer out. But as the items on the list dwindled, Maria noticed Zack trying to learn more about her. In the past, she would have ignored the questions, or given misleading answers. She had to be in charge. She couldn’t trust anyone’s intentions, but something about this man seemed different. From the moment he touched her hand, she trusted him. Maybe it was their mutual respect for the law. She didn’t question it, she just accepted it.

They spent the second hour talking about their pasts. Maria talked about the taxi accident and the Will that had provided for her education; leaving out any mention of her family history. Zack told her about his love of riding his off-road motorcycle when he was younger. How the wind and speed helped him escape ‘a difficult family situation.’ And why the loss of his eye cost him more than just half of his sight. Without depth perception, he could no longer ride to escape.

When she asked him about what had happened to his eye, he changed the subject and shuffled the papers around the desk as though he’d remembered some obscure legal point they had missed. They both knew they hadn’t. They were too good for that.

Maria had been stealing glances at Zack across the desk throughout the afternoon. The eyepatch allowed her to look almost to the point of staring without fear of being caught. And a couple of times when she looked up, she saw his head snap back to the desk as though he’d been discovered peeping into a window. She hadn’t looked directly into his remaining eye until Jen asked if they’d be working late and would be needing dinner. When Maria looked at his face for his opinion, the sight of the deep blue of his remaining eye made her sad that the world had been deprived of its twin.

Zack noticed her holding his gaze and said, “How about this? If I make you laugh, we go out to dinner. People eat, and despite what my colleagues say, I refuse to believe that you’re simply a beautiful robot sent from the future to win all the cases you’re given. Deal?”

Maria smirked, outwardly unamused, even though she found the idea charming.

Zack smiled. “I’m not hearing a no.” He cocked his head and pointed to his eyepatch, “I’m winking. You just can’t tell because of the patch.”

Maria rolled her eyes.

“I only have eye for you. Boom-crash.” He mimicked a drummer doing a rim-shot on a snare-drum and hitting a cymbal.

She shook her head, smiled, and laughed.

“Ha!” He raised his arms in a touchdown signal. “Victory is mine. I’ll pick you up at seven; text me your address.” He stood and began gathering his things.

“Wait, I never agreed to your stupid bet.”

“Ah, but you didn’t not agree to it, either.”

“I’ll go under one condition.”

“You want to work out a plea deal for a date? Sure, bring it on, counselor.” He smiled.

Letting her guard down, she studied his face. Looking at his lips, she wondered how they’d feel against hers.

“You tell me how you lost your eye.” She pointed at his chest. “The real story, not the one you tell woman to get them go out with you.”

His smile fell. “Would you believe me if I said that I was running with scissors?”

“No.” Maria crossed her arms. “And may I remind you that you’re still under oath.”

Zack looked around the room. “I’m not sure I was ever actually under oath, but I’ll allow it.”

“Proceed.” Maria expected another cute reply.

Zack settled back into his chair. “Maria, this isn’t an easy tale for me to tell, and even though I don’t really know you, I feel a connection that, frankly, surprises me.”

He took a deep breath, exhaled and began. “I had been riding my dirt-bike in the woods behind my house. The longer I stayed out, the less time I’d have to spend at home.”

His words echoed Maria’s memory of her childhood. She knew how painful that life could be.

“About a mile out, there was a shack where an old homeless guy lived with his dog. A big old mutt of a black lab. He was smart and friendly—the dog, not the guy.”

Zack laughed, but didn’t smile. “I’d bring him food and he’d follow me around when I rode the trails. I made sure to never go too fast for him and always brought him home. He was my bud.”

Zack stared off in the distance, his mind drifting back in time. “I bought him a bright-blue collar, and I’d rub his big, bowling-ball sized head and he’d wag his fat tail. It was heaven being out there without worrying about—” He trailed off.

Although Maria knew it had to be the lighting, the tear that ran down Zack’s cheek appeared to be the same shade of perfect blue as his eye.

Zack coughed and wiped his cheek. “Well, my pop found out about me hanging around the shack and that old ‘flea-bitten mongrel,’ and he said that I brought parasites back to our house. The next day I rode out to the shack and it had been burned to the ground. The old man and his dog were gone. I didn’t know what happened to them, but when I found the blue collar in the rubble of the fire—”

Zack fidgeted in the seat and clenched his fists. “I flew home, smashing through branches and over rocks, didn’t care if I wrecked. Found Pop outside on the porch smoking God-knows-what. When he saw me, he just started laughing. I’m not proud to say it, but I was just a kid. I lost it. I grabbed a monkey wrench and ran at him. He knocked me down, took it away, and yelled that he’d teach me ‘if I was gonna pull a weapon, I damn better well use it.’ He swung for my head and I tried to dodge it, but he caught me in the face and ruptured my eyeball. He raised the wrench again, but as he swung, that old lab came out of nowhere and latched onto Pop’s arm and pulled him off me.”

Zack’s breath caught in his throat. “Pop was a strong, mean drunk and he threw the dog off. I was screaming and half blind, I couldn’t stop him from using the wrench on my friend, the only real friend I ever had who never asked me for anything. I was only twelve. What was I supposed to do?”

Zack inhaled twice in short choppy breaths. “Social Services finally took me away for what he did to me, but I’d trade my other eye if I could have saved that old dog. Hell, I never even gave him a name and he saved my life.”

Her vision blurred by tears of her own, Maria stood, walked around the desk and embraced him. “I’m sorry, Zack. I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

Maria sent Jen home, and then told Zack the rest of her story, details she’d never shared. They stayed in her office for another hour before finally going to eat the most satisfying meal either’d had in a long time.

After that first dinner together, they shared dessert, and a kiss.

Less than a week later, after their third date, they shared his bed.

For her wedding gift to him, she arranged to have a custom prosthetic eye made that matched his unique blue so that their family pictures didn’t need a patch of any kind. And they had many family photographs that included more than just the two of them, because the universe provided a wedding gift to them both. She became pregnant.

In the decades that followed, Maria and Zack lived, loved, and trusted each other in ways neither had thought would ever be possible.

End

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorWayneHills/

NYCM Short Story challenge 2016 feedback

I’ve placed 5th with my story, Quid Pro Quo.
These are the comments I received from the judges. They echo those I heard from readers after my submission.

Thank you to all for their comments.


”Quid Pro Quo” by Miguel A. Rueda – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – …………………Interesting story. I love this bad-ass female cop. I enjoyed following her around as she invetigated the boy’s death. Nice job……………….You displayed very good pacing in disclosing the complexity of Laura Cole’s nature: tough & imposing initially, then missing her late, loving Dad, then her ethnic make-up and personal exposure to bullying: well done! You also did a fine job juggling a large cast of characters without reducing any of them to stereotypes. I was left with sympathy for her isolation and plight, but also a measure of faith that she’d prevail…………….The engaging and powerful dialogue distinguishes the different characters and really carries this piece. There was some serious drama going on here–well done, overall…………………….……………………………………………………………………………………………  WHAT THE JUDGE(S) FEEL NEEDS WORK – …………………I felt the ending could have been stronger. I would have liked to see her prevail somehow. ………………Make your log-line more enticing by turning it into a question: “Can a U. S. Senator secure a future for his daughter by trading favors?” I was at a loss as to how Detective Cole had connected the dots between the suicide-donor and the girl: I assume during investigation of the boy’s death, but include that piece. Finally: I thought the parents were over-the-top arrogant for a political couple who’d be skilled in spinning things to prevent scandal. In fact, let the father reveal the daughter’s nickname BEFORE the detective asks. You should make the couple more slick at first; then, when the daughter spills the beans re: her online bullying they can show their truly venomous natures…………….This is one of few pieces that might actually benefit from slightly more exposition. The ending wasn’t as strong as the rest of the piece. …..

NYCM 2016 Short Story Challenge. Round one, Group 12.

This year I drew:

Genre: Drama. Subject: On-line bullying. Character: An organ donor.

Feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.

Quid Pro Quo
A United States Senator trades favors in order to secure a future for his daughter.

  Soft lighting and subdued beeps of health monitors greeted Detective Laura Cole as she entered the critical care unit. Walking to the bedside of an unconscious teenager, she paged through the medical chart hanging on the end of the bed. Every few seconds, the patient’s chest would rise and fall aided by a respirator, otherwise she lay still.
At six foot two, Laura stood above most of her male counterparts. Coupled with her general abhorrence for members of the opposite sex, she had been able to succeed when most of her fellow female officers quit early in their careers. She commanded respect—if not outright fear—from witnesses and suspects alike. Earning a reputation for being a cop who always got her man, she rose through the ranks.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the ward nurse said. “Can I help you?”
Cole put the clipboard back, handed the nurse her card, and said, “I’m Detective Cole, Wayne P.D., I need to speak to this girl. Any idea when she’ll wake up?”
“You shouldn’t be in here.” The nurse moved in-between the detective and the bed.     “As long as Miss Pine is on my floor, she won’t be speaking to anyone who isn’t family or medical staff. She’s been through a lot the last few days.”
“Last few years from what I understand” Cole backed away from the bed, but made no move to leave the area. She pulled a black notebook from her breast pocket, jotted down the nurse’s name from her nametag, Louise Hennings, then read from her notes. “Amalia Pine. Eighteen years of age. Daughter of Colette and U.S. Senator Jordan Pine. Born with a bad ticker, wasn’t she?” Cole looked up from the pad to gauge the nurse’s reaction.
Hennings pursed her lips and nodded. “She’s been on the transplant list for five years, a donor became available a few days ago.” She held her hand out toward the door. “I shouldn’t be talking to you, I’m just the shift nurse, you’ll need to speak to her family.”
Standing fast, Cole said, “Funny thing, Nurse Hennings, I did and they directed me to their lawyer. Their daughter, literally, gets a new lease on life and they refer questions to their mouthpiece.”
“But, Detect—”
“Look, Hennings, I’m not cold-hearted about this.” Cole moved around the nurse to the bed. “I understand the family is happy their princess will live to give them entitled little grand-babies. But—and I know you’re aware of this—for someone to get a heart, someone else has to lose a heart.” Cole flipped to the first page of her notes. “Ted Wagner. Sixteen years of age. Formerly a junior at Wayne High School. Suicide attempted by hanging.” Pausing, she stared into the nurse’s eyes. “Tough way to go. He didn’t fall from high enough up to snap his neck. Paramedics who cut him down said that it took him ten minutes to pass out. By that time, he’d deprived his brain of so much oxygen that it shut down permanently, freeing up his organs for transplantation.” Cole saw a shine welling in Henning’s eyes.
“I never met these people before this, I only know what’s in the chart.”
“When a child’s life-saving spare part came from a suicide,” she nodded to the bed, “I’d think you’d want to help clear up any cloud of suspicion. Maybe we can learn something from it.”
Cole paged through the chart. She pointed to a note regarding the transplant list. “It says here that Amalia had been moved to the top by the governor. How does that happen?”
“Her father is a senator, maybe he pulled some strings?”
“Well, he did endorse the governor’s presidential bid last week, that’s a fairly hefty string.” Cole closed her book. “When she wakes up, call or text me, the number’s on my card. I’m sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but we’ll both feel better when we’re sure.”
“Of course, Detective. I’ll let you know.”
Cole left. She had a funeral to attend.

***

  The window of her unmarked cruiser cracked open to prevent fogging, Detective Cole wrote observations into her notebook as the mourners for Ted Wagner’s memorial left the marble and glass mausoleum.
She noted an older couple left in a limo with custom state-seal license plates before the service had completed.
Her running count of students who came to pay their respects stood at a half-dozen. Piss-poor turnout for a school with a student body numbering over a thousand.
She watched Ted’s family leave in a brand new Volvo sedan. She wondered how they could afford a new car and an upscale cemetery with a home address in the lower-class section of town.
She finished her notes, opened her glove box, and pulled out a flask. On one side, the silver container had a detective badge, the other had a rose with the words, ‘To Laura, From Dad. Congratulations, Slugger.’ She opened it and held it up to the heavens, “Need your help on this one, Dad. Miss you.” She kissed the side, took a shot, then closed and put it away.
She knew that someone here could help her solve the mystery. She just had to wait until the very last person walked out to know who that would be. Five minutes after the Wagner family left, a middle-aged woman in a tailored black pantsuit walked out of the building. Cole drove over and got out.
She flashed her badge and handed the woman her card. “May I ask who you are and how you knew the deceased?”
“I’m Tina White. I was Ted’s driver education teacher.”
Cole began a new page of notes.
“Were you close, or are you a school delegate or something?”
White replied, “I’m only here because I’ve been recently promoted to Vice-principal. Honestly, Ted wasn’t very popular, or bright for that matter. He never showed any ambition to do anything but play with his smart-phone. Not surprising that he was bullied.”
Cole flipped through her pages, “No one has mentioned a bully before, and his parent said he didn’t have a phone.” She returned to the first page, “Ted didn’t leave a note, but did scratch a name into his desk before he climbed up and stepped off. Mia Mériter. We don’t know if there is any significance to it yet. Is she a student at your school?”
“Not that I’m aware of. It’s a unique French surname, I’m sure I’d remember it.”
“Did Ted have any friends who he hung out with?”
“Just Helen Chiles and Kate Booker.” She pointed at a car on the far end of the parking lot, “They’re sitting in Kate’s car.”
“Is there anything else you think would be helpful? Any reason he’d have been targeted?”
“No, Detective. May I go?” White asked.
Cole closed her book. “If you think of anything, use the number on my card. Thank you.”
Walking toward Kate’s car, Cole noticed thin trails of smoke coming from the half-opened windows. The harsh, sweet smell of marijuana stung her nose.
She used her badge to knock on the driver’s window. The girls panicked, waving their hands in a vain attempt to clear the smoke. Cole chuckled when the passenger ate the joint.
Cole said, “Can I ask you both to please step out of the vehicle?”
“Yes, officer. Please don’t arrest us. Our friend just died…,” their voices overlapped. Cole held up her hands. But their pleas only grew louder and higher-pitched.
Cole shouted, “Stop! I don’t care if you’re getting high. Just stop talking.” She pointed to the other side of the car. “Helen. Come over here.”
Helen looked behind her, then pointed at her own chest. “Me? How do you know my name?”
Cole mumbled, “Potheads,” then pointed again. “You, walk your stoned ass over here.”
Helen came and stood by Kate.
She put her badge away, pulled out her book, and handed each a card. Kate studied the card’s embossed police shield as if it were made of real gold. Cole flicked the card to bring Kate’s buzzed brain into the present.
“Who is Mia Mériter? How do I find her?”
The girls stepped back as one and bounced off the car.
“We don’t know who she is, but she’s a real bitch,” Helen said.
Kate nodded. “She’s why Ted killed himself. She trolled him everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, got his personal phone number and sent him the most awful messages. Once word got out that he had someone epically trolling him, the other kids started piling on.”
Cole hated bullies. She had always been the tallest in her class; taller than most of her teachers by freshman year. With her dark sepia skin and close-cropped nappy hair, her appearance gave the class bullies plenty of ammunition to mock her. She’d learned to shield herself against verbal attacks while training her body to fight back at those who got physical.
Helen said, “She wanted us all to die.”
Cole asked, “The three of you?”
“  I’m sure of it.” She replied.
Kate choked back tears. “The messages to us were constant, but Helen and I aren’t as sensitive as Ted, he couldn’t handle it. And once Ted was dead, the messages stopped. Like she didn’t care which of us did it. One of us died, she accomplished her goal.”
“Did you have anything else in common? Neighborhoods, friends outside of school?” Cole asked.
Helen said, “Before this, we didn’t even hang out. I overheard Kate say she was being trolled too, and we knew about Ted because well, everyone did. The only other thing the three of us did was fill out an organ donor form in Miss White’s class.”
“Tina White knew you all filled out donor forms in her class?”
Kate nodded, “Most of the class did when that lady from the state talked to us.”
“Who?”
They shrugged. Kate added, “She was here. It was nice of her to come to his memorial.”
Cole stopped writing. “Today?”
Helen nodded. “She left in a fancy limo before it was over.”
The questioning continued, “Tell me about the form you filled out.”
Kate returned to running her finger over the business card’s raised shield. Cole snapped her fingers in Kate’s face. “Focus Kate. The form?”
She shook her head to clear the internal fog. “Name, address, easy stuff.”
“Not all easy, Kate,” Helen said. “We had to fill in what we’d be willing to donate. Eyes, lungs, kidneys. I guess Ted checked yes to heart. I did.”
Kate nodded. “I don’t think anyone else did heart.”
Helen continued, “There were some answers we didn’t know: blood type, past or current medical conditions. Miss White said that it was okay, she’d find out from our school medical records.”
Cole finished writing and said. “Okay, just give me your stash and you’re free to go.”
The girls exchanged a glance but didn’t move.
“Ladies.” Cole stood straight and opened her coat to flash her badge.
Helen pulled a baggy out from between her breasts and handed it to Cole.
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Cole laughed, then realized they were too young to get the musical reference. “Just leave before I change my mind.”
Cole returned to her car and opened her glove box. Instead of reaching for the memento from her late father, she grabbed a pack of Zig-Zag rolling papers.
As a light plume rose from her open window, she flipped through her notes sure that she had all the answers she’d need but one in her little black book of clues.
Who the hell is Mia Mériter?
The chime of her phone alerted her to a text from Nurse Hennings. ‘She’s awake. Parents here.’

***

When the elevator opened, Detective Cole recognized the woman sitting alone down the hall as the one who had left in the limo.
Cole approached and spoke in a quiet voice, “Mrs. Pine?”
“Yes?”
Cole opened her coat to show her badge. “There are a few things that we need to clear up.”
Without a word, Mrs. Pine stood and walked into her daughter’s room.
Cole followed and found Senator Pine sitting on the edge of his daughter’s bed. They stopped talking when they saw her.
He rose and stood by his wife. “We have nothing to say to you.”
“I think you do, senator. You both do.” She approached them.
“Which one of you uses the name, Mia Mériter?”
Amalia’s eyes flicked to her father. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I—”
He stopped her. “Hush, Mia.”
“You?” Cole whispered turning to face the girl.
“Our daughter deserves this life.” Mrs. Pine said. “Those cretans won’t amount to anything. We simply did what’s best for everyone.”
Cole rested her palm on her gun. “But you killed that boy. Might have killed all three if Ted had died quickly by properly hanging himself.”
The senator laughed. “You’ve just proven our point. The idiot couldn’t even succeed in suicide.”
“You’re all involved?” Cole looked at Mrs. Pine. “You found potential donors and your husband got your daughter to the top of the transplant list.” Turning to Amalia. “You bullied Ted until he couldn’t take it anymore. How can you live with yourselves?”
“We’ll all live just fine, especially Mia. “Senator Pine said. “You have no real evidence.” He motioned to the door. “Please see yourself out. We have Mia’s future to plan now that she’ll have a long and healthy life.
“You won’t get away with this.” Cole turned as the door opened.
Her police captain walked in.
“Captain Fredericks. I was just going to call you to say I’d be arresting the entire Pine family.”
Senator Pine greeted the captain with a handshake. “James, you received my recommendation for the State Police Commander position?”
“Yes, Jordan, thank you. The new Head Nurse, Hennings, called and told me that my detective had returned. Thought I’d come and straighten all this out.”
Cole stared at the men. “Captain, they killed a boy.”
“Nonsense. He lacked a will strong enough to put up with a little ribbing. Just look at what you’ve accomplished when faced with personal adversity. You rose above it and became the woman you are today. Strong and proud. Now hand over your notebook.” He held out his hand. “Now, Detective Inspector Cole.”
Transported back to grade school, she felt the familiar pressure building behind her eyes, as though she had no defense against the bullies.
From that same past, her father’s voice came to her, “Never let them see you cry, slugger.”
It may have been all for naught, but Laura swore she’d find a way to get justice for Ted, for all the victims of these bullies. Even if she had to ruin herself in the process.
Squaring her shoulders, she handed the notebook to her Captain and said. “It’s just, Detective, Laura Cole. I’ll earn my title on merit, sir.”