Thursday Scribbles: Wrong Side Of The Law

Last week, I mentioned a detective story that I’d been working on and had indefinitely put aside. The post also included some character portraits of the story’s main good guys. Below are the remaining main characters, the not-so-nice guys (and gals):

Sketchbook-001

We start of with Dan Finnegan, better known as Nervous Dan. Dan’s a pawnbroker who fences illegal goods on the side, and is also an informant for both the police and some of the major crime bosses. There’s very little going on in the city that he doesn’t know about, but information can be a burden, and Dan’s spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, waiting for a bullet or a knife to make its way through him. With eyes and ears everywhere, Dan might be able to shed some light on the D.A.’s murder, if he can just calm down for a second.

Genevieve is a lounge singer at the Four Leaves Club. She’s an enigma, but people are usually too mesmerized by her voice and her face to ask too many questions. Charming and soft-spoken, this songstress puts everyone around her at ease, often causing them to let their guard down and reveal their innermost secrets. The D.A. was known to visit the club on occasion, and it’s possible he was there for more than just the music.

Growing up in the slum known as the Boneyard as part of a large but fragmented family, Elizabeth Parker was dealt a bad hand by life. But she decided to change her luck and joined up with a local gang lord to run a small gambling den in her neighborhood. Over the years, Lucky Betty built up her own syndicate and took control of the Four Leaves Club. As the city’s gambling queen, she was one of the prime targets of the D.A.’s campaign. Could she have taken the biggest gamble of her life by snuffing him out?

Bernie ‘The Owl’ Kowalski is the most feared crime boss in the city, with a hand in almost every major criminal enterprise. He’s as vicious as he is cunning, and makes sure none of his activities can be connected to him. Since the arrival of the new D.A., his empire’s been slowly shrinking and he’s found himself on the brink of a gang war. But Bernie the Owl’s not giving up his power so easily. He’s got a plan that’ll knock out his rivals and leave no doubts about who’s in charge. Was having the D.A. killed part of the plan?

So there you have it. These are the 8 principal characters in my story who navigate the various twists and turns that lead to the mystery’s resolution. As I said, I may get back to that at some point. I’ve enjoyed bringing these guys out again the last couple of weeks, and this is the first time I’ve actually written out the character bios, so that was fun. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a burst of inspiration and have the story read by next week….that’s insanely optimistic, though.

But for now, I’m happy to have created a stage and cast of characters for a drama to play out. We’ll see when I get to open the curtain. Perhaps, until then, you can play detective yourself. Who do you think did it?

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Fruitless Quest

When I landed back in Dubai 5 years ago, it didn’t have the best effect on my health.

I had left my whole life behind me and was feeling quite empty. It was a void I tried to fill with food. A combination of depression and home-cooked food sent my appetite into a frenzy, and it wan’t very long before my clothes started feeling snug again.

In the US, I led a very active lifestyle, taking long walks every day, training karate at least 4 times a week, and trying out new activities with my friends. With all that gone, my energy was sapped and I mostly just sat around, trying to invest myself in TV shows or just browsing the internet for hours on end. Things were looking grim.

Eventually, I decided to get back to karate, training on my own for an hour each day. I kept up that routine for a while, but after missing a few days due to other obligations, the whole thing collapsed. A little research had led me to a local karate club that wasn’t too far from home, but I procrastinated on getting in touch with them.

After another 6 months of no activity (and buying some new pants that were a size too small because I was still thin, dammit!), I finally contacted the club and started training with them. It felt good to be back in my uniform, even though it didn’t fit me as well. The ends on my karate belt were significantly shorter when I went to tie them at my waist, but it didn’t matter. Things would go back to the way they were soon, I thought.

Training in Dubai was a different experience from what I’d done in the US. For starters, I had made quite a few friends in my old club, having regular get-togethers and parties and finding stuff to talk about, karate-related and otherwise. None of the people at the Dubai club spoke much English, so my conversations were limited to pleasant greetings for the most part. Everyone was also something of a workaholic, or had families to get back to, so there was no question of hanging out. And even if we did, what would we talk about?

And of course, there was the training itself. I’d mentioned before that in my old club, we had learned karate as an art and as a system of self-defense, striving to understand mechanics and the flow of the techniques and movements we learned. Not so over here. Karate was seen purely as a sport, something to show off one’s skill and athleticism and gain accolades from peers and superiors. You’re not throwing a punch to effectively use the power of your body to deliver maximum force with minimum effort, you’re throwing a punch fast so you can score a point in a fight. It was disheartening, to say the least. That’s not what I was training for, and competitions didn’t motivate me. I wanted to walk on a path to understanding, not trophies.

After a year of training and trying to get excited about this sort of karate, I called it quits. I’d stick to training in my living room. But once again, my motivation evaporated with time. During a period of unemployment, the steady routine of exercise had kept me chugging along, but once that came to a stop, I went back to laying around on the couch and my waistline began its campaign for expansion anew.

Changes

Life is a journey that takes some strange turns now and then. I was taking a karate class in my senior year, in a desperate bid to halt the expansion of my waistline and get some college credit out of it. Even though karate was something I’d grown to resent through my childhood, I gave it a begrudging shot.

It was a little intimidating walking into the cavernous gymnasium; I felt like a complete dork, probably because I was one. There were also preconceived notions that martial arts movies had instilled in me. Grueling training with lots of flying kicks, punching of boards, and a hardass instructor with gravelly voice and a permanent scowl. I was quite surprised to instead find a beautiful young woman in a karate uniform and an attendance sheet, greeting each new student with a smile. Maybe I could get on board with this whole martial arts thing.

As expected, I flailed around awkwardly during my first lesson, but it was such a rush! Learning the finer points of each technique and movement appealed to the engineer in me, and gave me a goal to aim for. By the end, I was exhausted, having used muscles that had been lazing around for a long time, but I was eager for the next class.

With the progression of the semester, my interest in karate grew exponentially. At least part of it was thanks to the instructor, who I had a schoolboy crush on. Turns out she was engaged, though, so that wasn’t happening. However, I did strike up a friendship with her (and her future husband, who was also part of the karate club), one that’s been going strong for 10 years now, even though we’re halfway across the world from each other.

Over the course of my training, I learned how misunderstood the martial arts are. We didn’t do any crazy spin kicks, there were no boards to break, and I didn’t have to avenge anyone’s death by fighting ninjas in a ring of fire. Instead, I learned all about making precise, controlled movements to efficiently and effectively use my body as a weapon and a shield. I learned that karate should be a last resort, something to be used when combat was unavoidable; don’t use your fists when words will do. I also became fitter, stronger and more agile by following a regular training schedule. Karate truly is an art, one that challenges both the body and the mind. And it’s one that I found myself completely absorbed in.

After a long series of ups and downs in my personal life, and in my karate life (broken and mended friendships, forged and broken relationships), I finally reached the point where I was ready to take the next step n my training. In November of 2008, almost 4 years after I’d started training karate, I finally attained the rank of black belt. It was a major milestone for me and is, to this day, my proudest achievement. I poured my heart and soul into training for that test, and I’m glad I was able to make my teacher, and myself, proud.

It as the start of what should have been a long journey but, alas, a mere two years after that, I was ripped away from the world that I knew and found myself in a familiar land that now seemed so strange. Having moved back to Dubai from the US, I had to start over in many ways, including with karate. I needed to find a good local club that would help me in continuing to hone my skills.

Conversations With A Strange Mind: Death to Groundhogs

“What a week!”

“I know, right? All that stuff happened, and then we did those things…talk about a wild ride!”

“Yeah, totally.”

“How long do you think before people catch on that we’re just making things up?”

“Well, now that you’ve explicitly spelled it out? I think they’ve caught on.”

“Oh…right…”

“Man, it’s hard to believe another week’s flown by already. I mean, what did we even do?”

“Well, let’s see…work, play video games, eat, sleep, work, watch TV, make blog posts, work, eat, sleep..”

“Yeah, alright, I get it. But it’s just all so…I dunno..”

“Boring? Tedious? Mindlessly mundane?”

“I was going to go with ‘routine’, but thanks for the morale boost.”

“Sorry. Guess you are kind of a drag, huh?”

“Not helping.”

“Well, what do you have lined up for the coming week? Must be some pretty exciting stuff going on!”

“Oh yeah, sure! I’ve got some articles to finish for work, gonna continue my games, push out a few blog…pos…hmm…that sounds just like last week..”

“You’re right, it does. The same thing all over a – holy time loops! You’re stuck in a time loop!”

“Say what now?”

“You’re stuck in a time loop! How else do you explain each week feeling just like the last? It’s because it’s all the same week, playing on repeat!”

“Well, it’s not exactly the same week. I mean, some things are different.”

“Of course they are! Each time you re-enter the loop, you perform your actions a little differently, maybe carrying over some lessons you learned in the previous iteration. So you might say that history…*mimes putting on sunglasses*…doesn’t repeat itself.”

“I don’t even…did you just say ‘mimes putting on sunglasses’?”

“Yeah, you know, for dramatic effect.”

“Why not just say ‘puts on sunglasses’? You’re miming a pretend action?”

“Well, you know, umm…we have to kill a groundhog!”

“What?!”

“It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. You’re stuck in a time loop until you kill a groundhog!”

“I don’t think that’s how Groundhog Day ends.”

“Have you watched it?”

“Well, no..”

“Then that could be how it ends, as far as you know.”

“What? No. I’m pretty sure I would have heard about that ending by now.”

“Perhaps you’re not as culturally savvy as you think. Did you know, for example, that The Lord of the Rings was originally about a telephone operator?”

“That…just isn’t true.”

“Alright. I’m still killing a groundhog though.”

“Ugh, fine.”

“Then off we go!”

“Go where, exactly? Groundhogs are native to North America.”

“Ah.”

“Yep.”

“Do you remember how this whole discussion started?”

“Yeah, I said, ‘What a week!'”

“I know, right? All that stu – “

“Stop that!”

“Curse you, groundhogs!”

Thursday Scribbles: Gumshoe

About six months ago, I had an idea for a detective story. It was going to be a noir-inspired tale of a down-on-his-luck detective who gets pulled into a mystery by an alluring female acquaintance. Bullets, broads and bad guys would collide as our cynical hero tracked down the murderer of a prominent public figure.

I had planned to write it in 8 chapters, weaving an enigmatic but not overly-tangled web. However, trying to plot it out was a time-consuming process, and I wasn’t too thrilled with the first chapter that I cranked out. The story was also meant to launch my blog, so the longer it took to finish, the longer the blog would have to wait. So I shelved the idea indefinitely and decided to get the blog moving instead. That decision seems to have worked out well.

Here’s a little teaser I’d written up for the story:

Rick Braddock is a standard-issue private eye with all the standard issues. Drunk, cynical, surly and broke, he’s become redundant in a dirty city that’s starting to get cleaned up. So when old friend Karen Sloane comes knocking on his door to ask for help in tracking down her missing fiancé, he jumps on it right away.

Things get more complicated when District Attorney James Calloway, Karen’s fiancé and the city’s leading crusader of justice, is found dead in his office, shot by two bullets from two different guns. In a crooked town, a man like that makes a lot of enemies, but which one decided to take care of business once and for all?

To find the answer, the disheveled detective and the distressed damsel will have to wade through the seedy world of warring mobsters and political corruption. But the real threat might lie closer than Braddock realizes, and his good friend could turn out be his worst enemy.  

Reading that again, I realize that part of my problem was also that I couldn’t decide on the tone of the story. Did I want it to be fun, with an exaggerated noir vibe? Or a serious mystery? Hopefully, whenever I get back to working on it, I’ll have figured that out.

I had also planned a series of illustrations to accompany the story. There were character portraits to familiarize my readers with the main ‘cast’, and there would be a ‘cover’ image for each chapter in the story. Doing all that would, of course, only prolong the whole process further, so I just did the portraits and called it a day.

Below are the main good guys of the story (or as good as you can get in a shady, corrupt town):

Sketchbook

First up is Rick Braddock, private eye. An ex-cop without much regard for authority, Braddock became a private investigator to seek out justice on his own terms. Business was good for a while, but the arrival of a new and promising D.A. had caused the well of crime to dry up. Reduced to chasing philandering husbands, Braddock’s ready to call it quits when a knock on his door leads to his most dangerous case yet.

Karen Sloane is the police commissioner’s headstrong daughter and had been a close friend of Braddock’s during his time on the force, though her father never approved of their friendship. They drifted apart after Braddock quit, and she wound up dating the new D.A. The two of them became tabloid darlings, especially after their engagement. When Karen’s crusading fiance’s goes missing, there’s only one man she can turn to for help, but she’s not going to like what she finds.

Commissioner Tom Sloane has seen a lot of ugliness during his time on the force, from bloodthirsty mobsters to crooked politicians. He still believes in the law, however, and is as hard-nosed as they come. He’s extremely protective of his daughter and never cared for her friendship with Braddock, whose disregard for regulations rubbed him the wrong way. Sloane’s already got his hands full trying to solver the murder of the new D.A. and really doesn’t need Braddock nosing around.

District Attorney James Calloway is the city’s golden boy. He had promised to wipe out crime during his campaign and it’s a promise he ‘s delivered, sending the world of organized crime into chaos. He’s made a lot of enemies on both sides of the law as a result, but his crusade hasn’t stopped. Until the day he disappears from his office, only to end up there that same evening with two bullet holes in his chest.

Up next: The Villains!

Metamorphosis

I had always been a skinny little kid, the sort that might blow away in a harsh breeze. The word ‘lanky’ would have made a good description for my teenage self. But when I started college, everything changed.

American universities use an expression known as the ‘Freshman 15’ to describe weight gain that happens during the first year of college, set at 15 pounds (for no real reason). I may have gone for the Freshman 20. Away from home for the first time, I had complete freedom with my schedule and my meals. Turns out, too much freedom leads to a full plate. One of my favorite snacks during my freshman year, the thought of which makes my heart break into a cold sweat now, was mozzarella sticks dipped in nacho cheese sauce. That’s right. Fried cheese. Dipped in melted cheese. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Needless to say, all that cheese decided to hang around and settle on various parts of my body. My friends remarked on my more filled out frame, but I didn’t believe them. I was still the scrawny young man I’d always been. My pants had just shrunk in the laundry or something. It took a few months for me to come to terms with the fact that I was overweight. Attempts were made at a healthier diet. I even started jogging…in the fall. Once the temperature dropped, so did my jogging routine.

As I got closer to graduation, I decided that enough was enough. I needed some sort of fitness routine, one that I could stick with. My brother suggested taking up karate, as he’d done a few times in the past. I’d always brushed it off. Karate? Kicking and punching and fighting people? No thanks. But it could be the key to helping me drop a few pounds. I only had one semester of college to go, and I still had a health and fitness course pending as part of my graduations requirements. My brother urged me to choose a karate class for that. Maybe I’d like it. If nothing else, it’d get rid of that pesky course requirement. It was win-win either way.

So, on a chilly January morning at the start of my final semester, I found myself in one of the gymnasiums on campus, about to embark on a life-changing journey. Nerd that I am, I was in a buttoned down shirt and jeans. Perfect workout wear. I was ready to rock.

Conversations With A Strange Mind: Dyslexia and Wordy Things

“I think we’re turning dyslexic.”

“I’m not sure it works that way. Kind of a ‘one or the other’ situation there.”

“Well, technically, that’s not true. You could become dyslexic after some kind of traumatic episode or head injury.”

“Ok, sure, but it’s not like being a werewolf. You can’t just turn dyslexic.”

“Seriously? All the actual medical conditions you could have picked and you went with werewolf?”

“I was illustrating a point!”

“Yeah, illustrating that maybe dyslexia isn’t our biggest concern.”

“So, have we had any head injuries lately?”

“How should I know? That’s exactly the kind of stuff that would be repressed by your psyche. Oh, that psyche. She can be a real b-“

“Then you’re not sure about it?”

“Nope, we could have had a head injury last week and forgotten about it. Maybe we’ve been having head injuries for the past year!”

“I think at some point, we’d notice.”

“Would we? What if I told you that you’ve just had a head injury right now?”

“Then you’d be lying.”

“But how can you be sure?”

“Because my head doesn’t hurt.”

“Does it not hurt, or has the sensation of pain merely been removed from your memory? Perhaps it’s been locked away in the deep recesses of your subconscious. Possibly by psyche. That b-“

“Ok, now my head hurts.”

“Aha! I knew it! Nice try, psyche!”

“That’s, wow…Why is it that you think we have dyslexia? Because of the typos?”

“Because of the increase in typos! How many times in the past few months have you found yourself going back to correct a word because the letters were all jumbled up?”

“Well, I have been typing more extensively of late, since I’ve been doing more writing. More writing means more chance of mistakes.”

“And that can only mean – dyslexia! Dun dun duuunnn!”

“Or it means that I just need to type a bit slower. Or maybe you need to think a bit slower.”

“You would like me to be slow?”

“Yes. I mean no. I mean, not slow as in ‘duhhh’, but slow as in, uhhh…hmm..word….stuff…”

“Slow enough for you?”

“Duhhh…you know…not….meaning….thingy…stop…brain…”

“There, now isn’t that better?”

“Gahh, you know that’s not what I meant! Boy, being stupid feels weird.”

“Shouldn’t it feel stupid?”

You feel stupid.”

“Yes, I’d say I’m thinking slow enough now.”