Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back to the Grind

I've been out of writing practice for a while. Not blocked, just lazy and unmotivated. After a while, though, the muscles atrophy. If you give up, no big deal, but if your brain is still coming up with shit, stories and characters and scenes, and you have weak, scrawny muscles? That's no good.

Gratefully the old brain is still ticking. It's full of ideas, some of them admittedly silly. But silly or not, I still believe in them. This one here is an idea I have for doing a kind of hardboiled western. It's a gangster story set at the turn of the century, very loosely based on the adventures of notorious Denver con-men Soapy Smith and Lou Blonger. Serious literature? No. It's a hardboiled western.

Tell me what you think of this:

The blade hissed each time Sue Ellen dragged it across the strop, a reassuring sound to JR Smith, who was at the mirror lathering his face with a brush. The last time Sue Ellen had shaved him, the blade didn’t hiss, it rasped against the leather, and the resulting shave had left his face chafed for days. After that, he refused to shave for weeks, his beard coming in full and wiry, and when Sue Ellen couldn’t endure it any longer, she had swiped a sharp new razor and some fancy shaving powder from a barber across the street. Now the frothy powder tingled JR’s cheeks.
Tucking a towel into his shirt front, JR took his chair and said, “Try and avoid any nicks, darling. I have quite enough scars.”
Sue Ellen held the blade up, squinting at it. She licked a thumb and tested the edge, saying, “I ain’t making no promises. Who knows? Might even slip, cut a vein.”
“Now that would be tragic, darling. Whatever will I do then?” JR said, scratching at a spot of foam at his throat. He opened the newspaper and leaned back in his chair. “Let’s get on with the execution, shall we? My face is a smelter.”
Leaning in, Sue Ellen said, “Those lips might come off if you keep moving them. Be still.”
She tilted his head back and JR closed his eyes. The first stroke slid across his cheek smooth as butter. Dropping the newspaper in his lap, he let out a purr and grinned. He said, “Five stars, darling, five stars.”
A few moments later there was a pounding on the door, Doc Baggs in half a panic, saying, “Boss, boss. Open up. Boss, you in there?”
JR growled out a “What?” His contented smile disappeared into the angry folds on his face and became the snarl of a mongrel.
Sue Ellen rinsed the blade in the water bowl and stepped back. Years of experience had given her a keen understanding on the reach of JR’s volatility and just how far one must stand to avoid it. She held the razor tight in her fist, just in case.
Through the door, Doc said, “Rausch is out. He’s out, boss.”
JR ripped off the towel and tossed it. He stomped over to the door, nearly ripping it off its hinges. Standing in the doorway, Doc Baggs blinked a few times at him.
“Say what?”
Doc stammered, “The election. Rausch didn’t make it. Rutledge got the nod instead. Can you believe that?”
Shaving cream dripped off JR’s chin and fell in big globs on the floor. He said, “Don’t just stand there. Get in here. I want details.”
Doc came into the room, nervously flipping his hat in his hands. He was shorter than JR but probably outweighed him by a hundred pounds. Sweat dripped from his balding head as he paced, breathing heavy. He poured himself a drink with shaking hands, gulped it down, then poured another for sipping.
JR said, “Alright, calm down. No one’s died. Our fortunes do not depend solely on incumbent Rausch.” JR claimed his chair again and gestured for Sue Ellen. “Darling, can we finish up here? I must attend to these affairs.” Sue Ellen resumed her work but the way JR wagged his finger at her took away her gentle hand.
As she scraped and gouged, JR thought aloud. “Rausch was weak, a sheep before wolves. His fall was inevitable. Rutledge is not yet what we could call a loyal compadre, but he is a goon and all goons have their price. He may yet be even more corruptible than our Rausch, we shall see. But do tell me, where did such a pliable lump of horseshit get his votes? This I must hear.”
“All through the east,” Doc said, “and most of the north. Rausch had a minor lead in the south, nothing spectacular, but that didn’t last long once the dairy boys got to the polls. Then it started coming up Rutledge, Rutledge, Rutledge. They got two more districts to call, but word is that Rausch is going to concede. The election office says he’s down by twelve points. Twelve points. It’s insurmountable, boss.”
“An unfortunate turn, no doubt,” JR said. “Where is Rausch now?”
“The Windsor ballroom, crying into his champagne.”
“As he should be. Get down there and keep him occupied. I’d like to speak to Rausch before his concession speech, and since I paid for the man’s campaign I shall not be refused. Make that clear, Doc. There shall be no speech until my speech. We have much to discuss, our former Mayor and I.”
“You got it, Boss.”


katrocket said...

pretty good... but Sue Ellen and JR? Never pegged you for writing "Dallas' fan fiction.

laydegray said...


You could always write a page turner. I like it.

James said...

Kat, very funny! I originally called him JT because for some reason I thought Soapy Smith's name was Jefferson Thomas. Nope, it's Jefferson Randolph.

Truth be told, I think I'm just going to call him Jefferson.

Mom, thanks, I hope that's not really a page turner though. There's no second page! (Yet.)