Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Genre Experiment: James Scott Bell

A man walks into a room occupied by two women. One he loves, one he hates. He utters one line, then exits. One of the women then follows him.

The genre experiment written in the hardboiled, masculine style of James Scott Bell:

L.A. was as hot as a cat in a jacket. My ceiling fan was moving the air around my office like a boot camp Marine -- pile it here, pile it there, back again. I hadn’t had a client in months. The only investigating I’d done lately was in the 99 Cent store, the canned goods section.

So when the phone rang I thought it was the landlord. I was behind two months on the rent. My argument was that the building was behind ten years on code safety. Didn’t impress Vlad Davidovich, the owner, who liked being sued. Got his name in the papers.

But it wasn’t Vlad the Impaler. It was Mama Fred, owner of the finest independent donut shop on the west side. Kicked the glaze out of Krispy Kreme. These were donuts from the heart, which is where most of them lodged. Mama Fred had come over from Korea in the 90’s with her husband and built up a business from scratch.

She also took in a few extra dollars from me to be my eyes and ears and, occasionally, my west side office. She had a room off the kitchen that was nice and private.

“They here,” she said. “Both of them.”

I knew exactly who she meant.

Lena, the wife who’d walked out on me, my beating heart clutched in her icy fingers.

And her sister, Monica, a reporter. Before Lena and I got together, Monica helped me bring down a sitting mayor who stood for nothing. We turned up the heat. At roughly the same time, she turned down my proposal of marriage.

It took me half an hour to make the trek across town. Mama Fred was hovering over a tray of apple fritters when I walked in. She motioned with her head for me to go to the back.
I stepped into the room. Lena was standing with her arms folded, as if the world owed her an explanation. Monica sat, legs crossed, a cinnamon twist in her hand.

Before either of them could talk I said, “If I had a nickel for every woman I ever loved, and a nickel for every woman I ever hated, and invested those nickels in a stock market index fund, and figured in taxes and fund management fees, and withdrew a nickel for every punch to the heart, every slight to the soul and every night longing for something just out of my grasp, I’d have barely enough to buy a tall drip at Starbucks, even with the personal cup discount.”

Then I turned and walked out of the room, slamming the door.

I walked quickly through kitchen, out past the display case. Mama Fred was just putting the apple fritters in. They smelled like a twenty-year-old’s future – warm and full and sweet.
I waited at the door. I knew one of the two women would follow me out, chase me down. And whoever it was would determine my future forever.

I heard the back door smack the wall, footsteps running through the kitchen.

And then I saw her.

James Scott Bell keeps all of us in suspense, particularly when he sings "The Hairy Man." Check out his books at


At 8:26 AM, Blogger matt e. said...

Good stuff. The first two sentences are perfect. I'm currently reading a book by Michael Connelly and a few weeks ago I read a book by James Lee Burke. Both books contain a lot of short, clipped dialogue and matter-of-fact description (though Burke can be downright poetic at times). Crime novels and legal thrillers aren't the only genres I enjoy, but I do appreciate their grittiness and realism. Their characters seem so believable. Thanks for another excellent post.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

And then I saw her

Hey! Foul I say! This seems to cross the line into suspense. . .>:\ Reads like something Brandilyn would do...actually, Brandily does. ;-)

Excellent post. Loved his mini-speech to the two females at the end.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pithy. Raw. Straight to the heart, like a haymaker from a palooka whose future hangs on just how many mooks he can slam to the canvas. Ya nailed it, Jimbo.

Ya mug.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Monica. It's got to be Monica.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

I can't decide whether you're channeling Dashiel Hammet or Mickey Spillane, but in either case, you've done a great job. Is this the tease for your next novel?
"The Doc"

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No fair! I can't turn the page and see what happens next! Now I'm going to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out which one (though I think Heather's right - probably Monica) and how she's going to determine his future. Way to go.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only read one line so far and I'm already cracking up!!

At 1:43 PM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

Thanks, all. Since this is only a SCENE, naturally I have to build in the desire to read on.

Oh, and Cheryl, I was writing this stuff when Brandilyn was still trying to market refrigerators in Alaska.

And I'll post the solution to the mystery later.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

I'm with Donna, Jim. I'm cracking up. :o) I'll bet you had a blast writing it. Witty, pithy and just plain good!

At 6:48 PM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

I'll have you know I sold a LOT of refrigerators.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

It was Lena...

Only she had a knife in her back and fell into the narrator's arms, whispering, "Take care of her."

Now...who killed Lena?

Was it the refrigerator sales woman hiding in the shadows?

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Vlad the Impaler, huh? Very rich...


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