Monday, March 1, 2010

Second Mystery-Name Contest Winner: Greed in the City

Wow! Making a story out of another person’s hook sentence proved a lot harder that I thought, but I had a lot of fun trying it. This week’s mystery-name winner is Laurel Penrose! Like every week, I randomly selected a new name for the story hero from a hat filled with the names of the followers on this blog. In addition, the first sentence of this story comes from the creative mind of Michael Micheletti, who I might add is pretty good at coming up with some intriguing first lines. Although I adjusted his sentence somewhat I have attempted to make a short-story based on his suggestion. Although I wouldn’t call my little short any prize winner, I found it a truly fun challenge attempting to make another person’s idea fit into a relatively compact tale.

Continuing with my original theme from Mardi Gras, I’ve sought to concentrate on another one of those always intriguing seven deadly sins. This week I wrote about greed, hence the title. I wanted to try and work in a few other ideas too, but in an approximately 500 word-short art-form not all of my ideas would fit. Last week’s story I set in the small town of San Luis Obispo, and this week’s tale features the city of San Francisco. I tried to go for a more fun suspension of disbelief as several of the magazines and small presses I plan to send some of the better stories from this 40 day extravaganza of collective short-stories tend to prefer more thriller/mystery type scenes. We have several more weekly contests to go before Easter, so please keep sending me your ideas, and who knows it may end up in print…or at least online for everyone to read. Enjoy!

Greed in the City

Not until after Laurel had already left the office did she wonder why she’d need a can of oil, three roadside flares, and a pound of birdseed for her next assignment. But it did not matter. She had her mission.

     Laurel never met her clients nor did she care to. They left a suitcase full of money and instructions in an envelope. Always on the fifth floor of the abandoned construction tower downtown. Her so-called “office.” A pickpocket as a kid, she had spent two years in juvie. Then a couple of banks jobs for hire before freelancing on her own. She’d done the jewel heist in Union Square last year and hadn’t gotten caught. After that the clients started rolling in.

     But, just a simple break-in? The letter had an address in Pacific Heights, the richie neighborhoods, with instructions to enter the premises and cause some havoc…but not to actually steal anything? At first Laurel thought her client had made a mistake, but perhaps they just hired her to scare someone, she thought to herself. After all, lots of businessmen used various means of psychological persuasion with both friends and enemies. Okay, just break in; turn a few pieces of furniture over. Easy enough. But why the bizarre requirements? The oil, flares, and seed? Whatever. The pay is too good to pass up Laurel mused.

     She waited until after midnight before she scaled the concrete walls of the urban mansion. Just under the crest of a big hilltop, it had more stories and windows than Laurel cared to count. All decked out in black, she pried open a window on the ground level without her tools. Someone had actually left it unlocked. Their carelessness was her opportunity Laurel shrugged, toting her pack of accessories over one shoulder as she stepped inside.

     The first room looked like some kind of study. Laurel moved on, scoping out the interiors before anything else. Bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, parlors, and kitchens, all full of belongings and appliances. Even some jewelry boxes and boudoirs. But no people. Not even a single security camera from the garden gate to the garage.

     She paused, eyeing a portrait above the mantelpiece in one of the living rooms. An older man, bald and stern. Suddenly, she recalled the jewel heist last year, the golf ball sized diamond from that old miser’s store. A wealthy animal collector to boot. Laurel quickly peered at the inscription beneath the portrait. It was him. Twinkling on the mantle rested the blue diamond.

     Laurel picked it up. It couldn’t be! She’d pawned it on the black market, and laid low for six months. The cops never caught on. The old man couldn’t have gone and bought back his own diamond. Why would he?

     Just then something purred in a deep bass striation of heavy breaths.

     Laurel turned round, blinking twice, unable to fathom the sharp fangs and striped coat stalking through the shadows of the empty mansion towards her. A Siberian tiger. Not like a stuffed animal or a cartoon, or anything else. A real national geographic, 300 pound tiger. Cornered between the portrait and the predator, Laurel reached into her pack and withdrew the flares and oil, accidentally ripping open the bag of bird seed. It smelled of sulfur. She realized the pebbles and pellets weren’t bird food at all, but fertilizer, sulfates, and powder. A homemade fire-starter kit. Some birdseed.

     Unafraid, the tiger let out a baritone growl, drawing closer and closer.

     She could see it now. They’d find her body tomorrow, the cops would see the oil, flares, the starter kit, and label it in the papers as attempted arson. Nothing would connect her to the portrait of the man behind her.

     “Nice, kitty,” she softly crooned, snapping open a flare, her last desperate hope.

     The tiger paused.


  1. And yes Mike I changed it from bird seed to something else:) Just a little artistic license...and the fact that bird seed is surprising difficult to work into a story:)

  2. Nice. : )

    I had another idea, which was to start at the end - have people provide an ending sentence or two, and write a story that works up to it.

    And, another story opener:

    [Name] waited impatiently - alternately glancing at the sky and peering through the binoculars down at the street - and wondered: would it be a red or a blue flare?

  3. Hey Mark, thanks for the note.I followed the story with great interest up until the point of the tiger.

    I liked how the story revealed something unusual about the robbers psyche. I perceived a jewelry heist to be somewhat cold and impersonal. But strangely when she saw the diamond again, it changed into something very personal. It was as if she was upset that she failed to separate the owner from the diamond -- not merely to sell the diamond for a profit.

  4. Good stuff though. Thanks for sending me the link. :)

  5. Thank James, I agree on the tiger part and appreciate the advice:) Trying to end these shorts has proved harder than I first thought, but I'm open to new ideas and approaches:)