Today, my sister challenged me to something called a ‘word sprint’. This, for those of you who don’t know (I sure didn’t), is when a group of writers…What would you call a group of writers anyway? A tab? A scribble? A typo! It’s when a typo of writers gets together and writes as much as they can within a set period of time, which was for us, two hours. No TV, no distractions. Just sit and write. The goal being, not to write the perfect scene, but just to put words on a page, and to make it competitive as a means of group encouragement.
So this was done, and here I sit in the Shark Hat of Awesome because I wrote the most words by, I think 500 words. The honor is a dubious one, since, as I say, these are not pearls of perfected prose, merely black marks on a page. But! For those of you who may be interested, here are the results of my word sprint, fleshed out into a full scene and unedited (so please be kind). It belongs to my fanfic, so enjoy, because you’ll never read the finished product! So here it is, a random scene from the book that will never be, Everything Is All Right.
Ana did not waste time. Immediately upon completing her first walkthrough—crawlthrough—of the house, she unpacked her things onto the porch and turned the trailer in at the U-Haul lot in Hurricane. While she was there, she dropped in at the outlet store mall and bought some essential items for an extended camping trip—a collapsible clothesline tree and a bag of pins, a foldaway chair, a solar-warming shower bag, a battery-powered lantern and a couple cheap LED flashlights, a propane stove and Dutch oven. After some debate, she also caved in and bought a tent, but didn’t set it up yet. Although the rain had not returned with the same force as had greeted her on her first night back in Mammon, it still came and went fairly steadily throughout the day and likely would continue to do so until the storm season passed. The house was in no condition to be occupied and, for now, the ground was wet and the porch was rotten. The boxes containing her life could sit under the sagging eaves and risk collapse—they were replaceable—but that night, Ana slept in her truck, telling herself that it would only be for a few days.
But the gears of government grind slowly. Ana knew this and believed she was prepared to deal with the inevitable delays in a rational and adult manner. What she failed to take into consideration was that, in this case, she was not merely watching the gears turn, but was caught up in them. Their many teeth were hooked and sharp; with each day, she was only pulled in deeper.
Paying the vultures off was the easiest part, so that was what she did first, but if she was naïve enough to think that would somehow get the ball rolling on the rest of it, she was soon corrected. The Department of Waste and Sanitation would not rent a dump trailer to her until the driveway had been repaired. The gravel guy would not deliver the materials until the brush was cut back. She could not throw the brush out without a dump trailer and could not burn it until she had a permit. She spent three days trying to get Mammon’s fire department to talk to her before someone finally told her to talk to the county fire people instead. They told her they couldn’t deal with her over the phone, so she had to make the drive out to St. George and wait around for two hours before someone told her they needed proof of residence, and apparently, her god-fucking-damn title did not count. She needed a piece of mail, posted through the system, from a utility or the city, not a business or a private citizen. So back she went to Mammon to try and get the power or the water or something turned on at the house so she could start collecting bills, to be (not unpredictably) told that wasn’t going to happen until the house could pass a fire code inspection, which meant it had to be empty and repaired, which meant hauling all the crap out of it, which meant renting a dump trailer, and so it went on, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
Day followed night followed day. Phone calls were made. Appointments were kept. The gears turned, pressing Ana and the house together into finer and finer powder, but no progress was made. She did what she could on her own—hacking at the branches and saplings choking out the driveway when the weather permitted and hauling truck-loads of crap all the way to the landfill in Washington when it didn’t.
To make matters worse, all the driving back and forth was chipping away at her much-depleted financial resources. Before the first week was out, it had become brilliantly clear to her that she was going to have to get a job and she’d better do it sooner rather than later, because hiring opportunities were scarce enough without throwing her tits and tattoos into the mix.
So the house shifted to the back burner and Ana Stark went job hunting.
As she was sitting in a corner booth at Denny’s, drinking coffee and circling the least objectionable possibilities in the Want Ad section of the Mammon Monitor, Ana became aware first of the heavy stride/radio chatter/jingling metal sound that together meant ‘cop’ approaching her. She did not look up. The bathrooms were back this way, after all, no sense getting paranoid until she had a reason.
“Morning,” said a man’s voice.
Ana sighed into her cup, then set her coffee down, checked her watch and looked up. “Sheriff Zabriske. Have a seat.”
He slid into the padded bench opposite her, his brows raised. “You have the advantage of me.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Ana signaled the thin-lipped waiter for service.
“Mind if I ask how it is you know my name?”
“It’s on your shirt,” said Ana, nodding toward it.
He looked down.
The waiter brought more coffee and another cup for the sheriff, then made himself scarce again.
“So,” said Ana.
“So,” he agreed.
They drank their coffees.
“You going to introduce yourself at all?” he inquired, picking up the plastic card of specials and frowning at the pancakes.
“You going to pretend you need an introduction?”
“Well, when you put it like that.” He replaced the card and picked up his coffee again, seemingly just to have something over which to stare at her imposingly. “You’re the Blaylock kid.”
Ana’s brows twitched up, then came slowly down.
“You’re surprised I know who you are,” he said with a thin smile.
“Actually, I’m surprised you apparently don’t. I’m Ana Stark. Marian Blaylock was my aunt.”
He nodded. “And Melanie Blaylock was your mother.”
“Oh, I suppose she can be counted a Stark by marriage, but I don’t know that you’ve got any claim to the name.”
Ana looked at her watch again. “Two minutes,” she said.
“Is that how much time you’re giving me to come to the point?” he asked, smiling again.
“Nope. That’s how long you waited before calling me a bastard. I’ll give you all the time you need to get to the point,” she went on as his smile wiped itself away. “I’ve got nowhere else to be. But if you’re waiting for me to flip the table and storm out of here just because someone takes a cheap shot at my mother, you’ve got a long wait coming.”
He studied her as she went back to reading the Want Ads.
The waiter came by to freshen their coffee.
The people at the next table paid and left.
“You going to ask after Joe?” he asked finally.
“Nope.” Ana circled a listing for a general yardwork laborer, but didn’t star it. She had a truck, but not much in the way of equipment, not even a lawnmower, and odds were good they’d expect her to bring her own toys to the party.
“Why should I? More to the point, why do you care if I do or not?”
“Just seems a bit on the strange side, you being back in town almost a week by now and haven’t looked him up.”
“Uh huh. Is he dead?”
The sheriff leaned back in the booth. “Why would you say that?” he asked after a moment.
“I can’t really think of any other reason you’d want me to ask about him, except to be able to spring that on me like—” A spider. Ana paused, trying to chase down that oddly specific, intensely disturbing image, then let it go with a shrug. “—fake snake out of a prank can of peanuts.”
“You don’t seem too broken up by the thought.”
“Should I be? I never knew him. I don’t think I ever met him, or if I did, I sure don’t remember. He divorced my mom when she was pregnant, kicked her to the curb, and never paid a cent of child support, so yeah, I don’t feel a real pressing need to send flowers. Is he, though?”
“Yes, he is.”
Funny. She actually felt something. Not much and not deeply enough to identify, but it was definitely a twinge. Maybe only at the thought that was an orphan now, with all the Dickensian imagery that word embodied. Orphan. Alone in the world. She had nothing and no one. No family. No home. No job.
She circled another ad, this one in building and construction, knowing damn well they’d never take on an unlicensed carpenter or electrician. Orphan. Huh.
“What happened?” she asked finally.
“Coroner says it was suicide.”
“You don’t agree?”
Ana glanced up to find the sheriff frowning at her with that coppish frown so exclusive to the breed.
“Why would you say that?” he asked again.
“Because if you did, you’d have just said ‘suicide,’ not, ‘coroner says.’” Ana gave him a moment to think that over, then said, “What happened?”
The sheriff shrugged too casually for the narrow way he was watching her now. “He had a trailer parked out at the canyon. Illegally, I might add. About ten years ago, he took it into his head to jump.”
“Was he drunk?”
“Starting to sound like a broken record here, but why would you ask?”
“My mom used to talk about the house she got kicked out of when she was pregnant with me.” The house she blamed Ana for losing. “I know the terms of the divorce didn’t include selling it or splitting it, so he went from owning a house in town to living in a trailer at the edge of the canyon. Something clearly went wrong there.”
“S’Like having coffee with Sherlock Holmes,” the sheriff remarked, studying her with an expression of practiced neutrality. “Yes, he was a drinker. And yes, he had some in him that night.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance he just forgot where the edge was and walked off looking for a place to piss?”
“I don’t believe it and neither did the county Doc. May I ask why, if the man himself didn’t matter s’much to you, you’re taking such an interest in the circumstances of his demise?”
“You wouldn’t have brought it up unless there was something you thought was pretty damn interesting yourself.”
“There is, since you mention it. The body was found quite a ways out into the canyon. Coroner says—and this part, I do agree with—he couldn’t have gotten there just slipping off the end. He had to jump and moreover, he had to take a running jump. He damn near had to do an Olympic long-jump. I’d have said he was hit by a car and thrown, except the vehicle itself would have either had to go over with him or left some pretty distinct tire tracks and there were none.”
“So he jumped.”
“Seems that way.”
“And yet, you don’t believe it was a suicide.”
“I have a little trouble with the idea, yes, ma’am.”
“Your reason being?”
“Well, it’s a cop-thing, you understand. You know much about suicides?”
Did he know about her mother? The careful way he was looking at her made her think he did, but if he thought she was going to let him pull that out of the past and lay it on the table, he was dead wrong.
“I know it’s cowardly,” said Ana. “And I suppose it’s not fashionable these days to have this sort of opinion, but I have a hell of a hard time feeling sympathy for people who make that kind of mess for other people to find and clean up.”
The sheriff’s expression flickered toward a grudging sort of approval before masking itself again. “As far as that goes, I suppose I can’t disagree, but I was referring more to the mindset of a suicide.”
“Then, no, I don’t.”
“Let me tell you something about suicides, then. In my experience, there’s two kinds: the kind that know they’re suicides and the kind that don’t. The kind that don’t are the ones who do themselves in with too much drinking, too many drugs, driving too fast, going home with the wrong men, doing the extreme sports and such. Risky behaviors, is what I mean to say. They may never admit to themselves out loud that they’re unhappy or that they’re trying to die, but they’re doing everything under the sun to get out from under their life, short of putting a gun in their mouth. In fact, those folks would be shocked and probably mad as hell if someone told them they were acting suicidal. That’s how much they choose not to see it.”
“That’s the kind you’re saying my father was.”
“I’m saying if Joe Stark was suicidal at all, that’s the kind he would have been. To that, I would add that the kind of mindset that hurls themselves fifty feet out into Mammon Canyon with less than a beer’s worth of courage usually belongs to the second sort, which is the sort that knows they’re suicidal and more often than not has a few attempts under their belt before they actually succeed. They got bathroom cabinets full of anti-depressants and a therapist who knows them by name. These are the folks who have made a plan for the big day and have a couple back-up contingencies if the first don’t go off like they hoped it would. They settle their affairs. They write a note. At the very least, they are survived by people who may be saddened, but not very surprised when they get the news. Now, I’ll grant you no one around here was much saddened by Joe Stark’s passing,” the sheriff said, leaning expansively back in the booth, “but we were very much surprised. This is a small community. Not a lot of secrets here stay buried.”
“Unless they’re buried extra deep.”
The sheriff shrugged one shoulder and drank some more coffee. “Could have been, I suppose. Something else you learn being a cop is you never really know someone, and I knew him less than most. Having said that, I have to confess, I was surprised to read the coroner’s verdict. See, in addition to the body being found as it was, there was the matter of the trailer.”
“Signs of a struggle?”
“I should say so. Door was damn near tore off, frame was bent, looked like a hurricane blew through the insides. However, as was pointed out to me when I made these observations, that trailer had seen some hard use and Joe’s personal habits left a lot to be desired under any case. In fact, the only thing that really stood out to all of us…” He paused to take a long drink of what had to be pretty cold coffee, then waved the waiter over to top him off. His eye wandered out the window as the waiter poured. “S’really coming down, isn’t it?”
“It’s April,” said Ana, returning her attention to her Want Ads.
“Looking for work?”
“Why? You hiring?”
He chuckled into his cup and did not bother even to tell her no.
A few minutes passed.
“Well, I guess I’ve taken up enough of your time,” he said at length, giving the lure on his hook an enticing jiggle.
“Thanks for stopping by,” said Ana, turning a page of her newspaper. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
He slid out of the booth and stood.
She sipped her coffee.
He walked away.
She found a listing for a housekeeper at the Sugartree Motel and tapped it twice, but did not circle it.
He came back and sat down again.
“Forget your keys?” Ana asked without looking up.
“You mind answering me a question, just for laughs?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Where were you on the night of September 17th, 2003?”
Ana laughed and the sheriff laughed with her.
“Holy shit,” she said, wiping her eyes and grinning with amazement at honest-to-God tears of laughter. “That’s awesome. That is legit Columbo right there. Let’s see…2003, September…” Ana scratched a hand over her hair, stirring up memory. “I was at a place called the Little Feet Ranch in Springwood, Montana. I don’t have the phone number on me, but I could get it to you this afternoon if you need it.”
“I’m sure that’s not necessary, but since you offer, please do.”
“Now tell me what the hell you found in that trailer that made you, even for a second, consider an eighteen year old girl a viable suspect for…how did you just put it? Hurling a full-grown man fifty feet out into Mammon Canyon?”
“Oh, I promise you, I never did. Not really. But that’s cop-think for you. We don’t have the luxury of assumption. We have to explore avenues that make no logical sense.”
“See, I would understand that better if I benefitted at all from my father’s death, but I don’t.”
“Not like you did from your aunt’s,” the sheriff agreed.
Ana still smiled, but the feeling behind it was no longer a warm one. “Yeah. Really scored with that, didn’t I? But back to my father’s trailer…?”
The sheriff shrugged, watching her closely. “I asked around some, after his death, and I never found a single soul in the whole of this town who could recall Joe Stark ever mentioning you, excepting, I suppose, in an indirect way as being a consequence of his pregnant ex-wife. He never mentioned you by name that I’m aware of. He may not have even known it. And yet, the last thing he did before jumping fifty feet off the edge of the canyon was google you and your mother.”
“So…you’re suggesting what exactly? That I drove a couple hundred miles in a single night, hulked out on my dad’s trailer, threw him in the canyon, googled myself, maybe updated my status on Facebook—oh, 2003, right. Updated my status on Myspace. You know, got to take that selfie. ‘My first murder, lol!’ And then leave the incriminating page up before I take off, drive a couple hundred miles back to Montana with no one the wiser—and let me tell you, I was one of eight women on that ranch and the only one between the ages of six and sixty apart from the boss’s wife. They noticed every time I took a piss; they’d have noticed a six-hour absence. And then what? Wait ten years before coming back to reap the full benefits of my devious plan to…?” She spread her hands, inviting suggestions.
The sheriff did not seem overly concerned with supplying them. “Motives are one of those things that matter more on TV than real life,” he told her. “In my experience, real criminals are pretty dumb. Just like real murderers are rarely strangers. But that’s neither here nor there, is it? Joe Stark committed suicide.”
Once more, he slid out of the booth and stood to go. This time, he made it almost to the door before he turned around and came back.
“You know, s’funny you should mention Myspace,” he said, leaning up against the back of the bench where he had been sitting.
“Is it? How so?”
“You didn’t have a Myspace page in 2003.”
“Still don’t,” Ana said affably.
“Or a Facebook account.”
“Or Omeagle, for that matter. I don’t Tweet, don’t vlog, don’t Snapchat.” Ana shrugged around another swallow of coffee. “I’m not a social media kind of girl.”
“I’m sure that was very frustrating to whoever was trying to find you. Still. I’m sure he’s given up by now. And just because I know you’re back doesn’t necessarily mean he knows.” He touched the brim of his hat. “Have a nice day, Miss Blaylock.”
“So long, Sheriff Zabrinsky.”
Ana watched him go, waiting for him to turn and come back to drop ‘one more thing’ on her. Even after she saw his black-and-white drive away, she kept watching the door. She was not wholly convinced she’d seen the last of him until the waiter came by with the ticket.
He’d charged her for the cop’s coffee.
Ana laughed again—you had to laugh, didn’t you?—threw down a five, took her paper, and went out into the rain.