Undercover of the Night

I didn’t get as much done this afternoon as I would have liked, alas. I am getting laundry done, and have pretty much cleaned out my email inbox, and I did finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill”–it’s not good, but it will be, and I am going to work on another short story for a bit while vacuuming and preparing dinner and finishing the laundry. Tomorrow I want to get a lot more done, and tomorrow is also a go to the gym day; and since it’s the fourth workout, that means moving up to two sets of everything rather than one. Next week will be three, and then after that it remains at three, with weight increases every week. I haven’t had any issues with going to the gym–I even went when it was so cold on Wednesday morning–so I think I’m getting back into the swing of things. Let’s hope I stay motivated; I think I will.

I am also learning a lot from the Short Story Project! Once I get this second short story finished, and revise the other, I am going back to the WIP and some other manuscripts that need my attention. It’s great because I am reading all these different styles and types of short stories and writers, and I am learning a lot about how to construct a short story, and suspense building, and so forth.

An excellent example of building suspense is the first one up today, “The Stranger in the Car” by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, from Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives, the fabulous anthology of post-war stories by the terrific women writing suspense back then.

Carrol Charleroy leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes; a big, stout, handsome man, olive-skinned, with a black mustache; a flamboyant look about him, in spite of his correct and conservative clothes. Miss Ewing was playing the piano for him, and he tried to relax, to enjoy this music, but a peculiar restlessness filled him. He frowned, opened his eyes, and took out his cigar case.

He and his wife Helen never sat here in the drawing-room unless they had guests; then the room would be pleasantly lighted, there would be people moving about, the sound of voices. Now the only light came from the gold-shaded lamp beside the piano at the other side of the long room, and, in spite of Miss Ewing’s music, he was aware, as never before, of the sounds from the New York street outside, the rush of wind, a car streaking past, the frantic piping of a doorman’s whistle, a man’s voice, hoarse and furious. This made him feel vulnerable, not comfortably shut away from the world in his own home.

“I don’t like this sending Helen off to the hospital,” he thought. “The flu is a treacherous disease, I grant you that. But Helen and I, and the children, and the servants, too, have all had it, at one time or the other, right here in the house, and we did very well. Can’t say I care much for Dr. Marcher. Too quizzical…”

The Holding story is one of the longest I’ve tackled during the Short Story Project thus far; and it’s a slow burn, and it’s so worth it. The story opens with our point of view character, a successful businessman, being entertained by the piano playing of a family friend; concerned about his wife’s hospitalization for the flu; and later that evening, his daughter arrives home under mysterious circumstances; with a black eye and several strange stories being told to him from other people who saw her out that evening, and were concerned. Before long Mr. Charleroy is convinced something terrible has happened to his daughter…and that she may have taken the law into her own hands. The best part of this slow burn of a story is that Mr. Charleroy literally has no idea what’s going on around him, but only sees and hears enough to make him worried and suspicious; but all of the women in the story are taking care of everything around him, and finally, at the end, very kindly let him know what the truth was once it’s all wrapped up rather neatly, in a slightly macabre fashion, but wrapped up nonetheless. Holding is best known for her novel The Blank Wall, which Weinman included in the Library of America omnibus of post-war female suspense writers, and now I am positively looking forward to reading it.

The second story for this entry is an Edgar nominee for this year’s Best Short Story statue, from Montana Noir, capably edited by Keir Graff and James Brady, is Eric Heidle’s “Ace in the Hole.”

Civic-pride billboards and the drab county jail swept past the chilly Greyhound’s windows as it dropped down the hill into the night of Great Falls. Through frosted glass, Chance watched the town pull him in as the Missouri passed below, the bus thrumming over dark water and skiffs of ice. Beyond the bridge he saw the OK Tire sign was gone; it’s cinder-block building was now something new.

The bus pulled a lazy turn toward downtown, rolling through blocks of low brick warehouses before banking hard into the alley behind the depot. It settled with a hiss in the garage as the passengers roused and began filing off.

The snap of deep cold hit him at the door. The driver’s breath huffed with each suitcase he tossed from the coach’s gut. Chance had only his green duffel. He split off from the line shuffling into the warmly lit lobby. Ducking under the half-open bay door at the front of the garage, he stepped onto the street and walked toward Central Avenue.

This is a terrific story, and it’s easy to see why it’s an Edgar finalist. Chance went to jail for possession with intent to sell, managing to get rid of most of the bales of marijuana before the cops caught up to him–but one bale didn’t land in the river but rather on a bridge support; bad luck for Chance. Even worse luck for Chance is that the supplier he got the marijuana from is still around and still wants his money for the lost shipment of weed. There doesn’t seem to be any way out for Chance–but it turns out that he does, indeed, have one ace up his sleeve, after all, and decides to play it in one last stand.

This is a great example of a dark, noir story; although whether it fits the actual definition of noir as I personally have come to understand it is questionable. But the thing about noir is that it defies labels and definitions, and this story is the best example of I can’t say what it is but I know it when I see it. This story is totally noir; I can even see it as a film, with its bleak but beautiful Montana landscapes, the cold, the mermaids swimming behind glass in the bar, the brutality of the violence; this would be a great role for a mid-to-late twenties actor–maybe even a career-making role. All kinds of awesome, really.

montana noir

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