Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Guns Opening

Here follow the first ten pages or so of The Guns, one of my Pillow Talk Novellas.  The Guns tells the story Lenny and Marilyn Unilicky, newlyweds who move to New Haven, Connecticut one January, where Marilyn has secured a position as an English professor at Yale University.  Lenny is an award winning journalist writing his first novel.

Lenny Unilicky’s lifelong dream was to become a novelist.  A bibliophile from birth, his mother read to him as a toddler perched on her lap, and she began teaching him to read even as he was uttering his first syllables.  As he grew he learned new words insatiably and read voraciously.  In elementary school he made a game for himself at the beginning of each year by reading every book in the small classroom bookshelf which contained about one hundred books.  Once he’d run through those, by the beginning of November, he simply fetched more from the main school library.  While other students pointed to field day and the last day as their favorites of the school year, Lenny’s was the day of the book fair. 
Lenny got along well with his schoolmates, and had friends and loved to play sports, but he also loved to study the minutest details of the histories of the sports he played.  He was a reasonably athletic and well adjusted bookworm who dreamed of becoming a great novelist.
When he graduated high school and entered university, it was without a major.  No particular discipline interested him except English, and since he did not feel called nor had any desire to teach, and try as he did he could not generate ideas for stories, much less novels—he begrudgingly settled into the journalism program, which degree would at least enable him to be paid to write, and if novels came to him in the future, then so be it.
He attended Princeton, and in November of his junior year he attended a peace rally at one of the campus commons to protest the latest U.S. war.  He was both participating in while covering the rally for the campus newspaper, and although he could not know it at the time, it was where he met his wife.
Her name was Marilyn Glurp.  She had hazel eyes, gorgeous thick chestnut hair and the lithe body of a runner, with perfect curves in all his favorite places.  They were introduced at the rally by a mutual classmate, and while the physical attraction was instantaneous and powerful, that only intensified as they came to know each other inside as well.
After the rally they went to a nearby dive bar for beers where they talked until closing.  From there they went to Marilyn’s off campus apartment and the next three days passed like a minute, not a minute of which they spent apart. 
She was an English major and they loved all the same literature, and much of that time they spent falling in love was titillating each other with heady talk about Shakespeare, Don Quixote and Dostoevsky. 
They were the same age and in the same class and they graduated together.  With their degrees attained they remained a couple while embarking on different career paths: Marilyn continued in academia and matriculated into graduate school, with the ultimate goal of becoming an English professor.  Lenny left school and sought a newspaper job. 
They lived together for the next several years as she worked toward her degree and he reported about matters as tedious and mundane as city council meetings.  He longed for a conceit for a novel or short story, and wracked his empty brain for one; or even an interesting piece to write for the newspaper—but he continued to be creatively effete.  Then one evening he and Marilyn went to the reception for a lecture at the university.  The cocktail party was hosted by Marilyn’s closest friend on campus, a political science professor a few years older named Cassandra Alzinta.  Lenny, Marilyn and Cass were sipping wine together on the verandah when the conversation turned to one of Cass’ students, a young woman named Liza who had recently completed her spring semester internship.  She had worked for a state senator named Richard Scrotorum and explained that she had seen him openly engaging in a variety of shady behaviors with various shifty characters.  Liza described having witnessed crimes as high as the receipt and payment of bribes to lawmakers and judges and as low level as prostitution and drugs.  That the corruption existed was indubitable—only the full extent was the unknown.
It was exactly the type of sensational salacious story that Lenny was yearning to write.  He started giving it thought, and discussed it with Marilyn who excitedly encouraged him, and with Cassandra’s cooperation they arranged for Lenny to be Senator Scrotorum’s intern that fall.  The senator was a conservative who was running for re-election in November.  Lenny researched the re-election campaign extensively before reporting to his first day of work, and even rehearsed an intimidating, Mafioso Italian sounding accent.
Scrotorum’s opponent was a liberal civil rights lawyer named Giulius Dando.  Lenny secretly planned to vote for Dando, but you wouldn’t have known that by listening to him at Scrotorum’s campaign headquarters.
 Lenny threw his full passion into his character and uncovering the story.  After becoming acquainted with everyone associated with the Scrotorum campaign, he started openly spouting scornful contempt of Dando to anyone who would listen.  His enthusiasm, energy and seemingly boundless hatred of Dando quickly caught the attention of Scrotorum’s inner circle, and as the weeks went on Lenny was entrusted with more important and sensitive tasks. 
He returned home to Marilyn every night with a full briefing of the day’s events.  She couldn’t wait for his arrival each evening, and with all her brilliant advice and suggestions she became an invaluable collaborator on the story.  It was all so thrilling and exciting that it deepened their love while it heightened their lovemaking.
Toward the second week of October Lenny began to realize the full extent of Scrotorum’s involvement with the mob.  That was when Marilyn suggested they contact the FBI.  Lenny concurred, and even the following day began wearing a wire.  That went on for another week before the feds moved in on Scrotorum and arrested him and a number of his campaign staff and cronies on a list of charges that read like the table of contents of a novel.
Chapters one through five were all related to his political campaign: accepting illegal contributions, which he turned around and used illegally; for bribes exchanged with judges, businessmen and fellow politicians; and for numerous other similarly ugly sundries.  He was even charged with trespassing and petty larceny for removing Dando campaign signs from private properties.  Chapters six through nine were charges related to his mob affiliations.   These included racketeering, intimidation and operating a prostitution ring out of a mob owned strip club.  The rest of the chapters were miscellaneous charges ranging from writing bad checks to misdemeanor drug possession.  And while it wasn’t a violation of the law, the epilogue did break families and ruin lives when it exposed the affair that Scrotorum was engaged in with one of his colleague’s wives.
It was early October when Lenny started wearing the wire, and on the fifth day of being wired he had a freak accident at campaign headquarters.  He got jostled between two people and an opening door snagged his shirt and ripped off a button, nearly exposing his secret.  He was so unsettled by the accident that he made up an excuse about not feeling well and left the office early.  He turned in the wire to the FBI and explained why he wouldn’t be wearing it again.  He then returned to Marilyn who convinced him to cut his ties with the Scrotorum campaign and start writing the story.  He phoned the Scrotorum campaign the following morning and explained that he’d gone from their office to a doctor, who diagnosed him with toxoplasmosis and told him to expect to be bedridden for at least a month.
He then started organizing his notes, and with Marilyn’s excellent editorial input he wrote the long expose.  That took a few days, during which time he was informed that the Attorney General’s office was preparing to indict Scrotorum any day.  Lenny brought his expose to three different newspapers; all three were well aware of the story; Lenny exacted a lucrative price, and his bombshell story ran the day the indictments were served.  That was two weeks before the election, and not only was Lenny’s reputation as a meticulous journalist and talented writer instantly established, but two weeks later Dando ran unopposed and won election in a landslide.
Collaborating on the Scrotorum story only brought Lenny and Marilyn closer than ever, and realizing just how profoundly they loved each other, and what a fantastic team they made, they decided to marry, and quickly.  They had always shared the belief that it was better to skimp on the wedding to splurge on the honeymoon, and so a couple weeks after the election Lenny and Marilyn were married in a modest ceremony, and then repaired to a Caribbean beach in Mexico for an extended honeymoon.  At the same time Lenny was writing the Scrotorum story Marilyn presented and defended her PhD thesis, and very shortly thereafter was offered and accepted a professorship at Yale University.  They had over six weeks until Marilyn’s winter semester began in January and they were beyond content to spend every last one of those days together on Mexican beaches eating, drinking, dancing, relaxing and loving day and night. 
They had been there for two weeks when a call home brought news that, were it possible, made the honeymoon even sweeter.  Lenny’s article exposing Richard Scrotorum had won a prestigious journalism award that included a $10,000 prize.  After celebrating that with mai tais in the hot tub, they began to discuss how to use the money, and quickly agreed that Lenny should live off it and try to write a first novel. 
He was still at a loss for a conceit, and when Marilyn suggested the obvious—a novel based on the Scrotorum affair—Lenny balked.  He didn’t want his first novel to simply rehash his only significant literary piece.  He wanted to write something completely different, yet remained clueless as to what.  He was in a gorgeous place with the beautiful love of his life—he couldn’t imagine being in a more inspiring setting, and still inspiration escaped him.
They returned home in January and moved to New Haven, Connecticut.  Marilyn started teaching her winter classes at Yale, and that very first weekend she was invited to a ‘get acquainted’ cocktail party that one of her colleagues was hosting for several new professors, including Marilyn.  She was especially excited about the evening because she was finally able to present Lenny as her husband. 
Marilyn was off with the hostess on a tour of her home when a man approached Lenny and introduced himself.  His name was Vernon Tutwell, and while to Lenny he was a stranger, Tutwell knew Lenny.  He had read Lenny’s expose of Scrotorum, and like everyone else had been greatly impressed.  He worked in New York City, as executive editor and president of the Pyramid Mystery novels division of Pyramid Publishing.  Lenny recognized the Pyramid name and perked right up.  They refreshed their drinks, took up on a settee in the corner and engaged in a long conversation about the publishing world.
Vernon repeatedly expressed his admiration for Lenny’s writing skills, and virtually promised that if Lenny produced a mystery novel half as good as his award winning article, he would guarantee publication along with a significant advance against royalties.  Lenny could barely contain his elation, and while he sat there listening to Vernon his mind raced, trying to force a concept for a mystery novel.    Eventually Marilyn joined them, and then Vernon excused himself and a short while later the party dwindled to its end.
As Lenny and Marilyn rode home they mused that every time it seemed they couldn’t be happier, something greater happened in their lives to prove them wrong by lifting them even higher.  Now Lenny had it all—a perfect wife, ten grand in his pocket and a wide open door to a potentially lucrative career as a novelist.
Yale had provided their newest English professor and her newlywed husband a rental house on Livingston Street, at the foot of East Rock, roughly three miles from campus.  East Rock Park was built at the end of the mountainous ridge.  It was over 350 feet high, with a long, sheer cliff face of 300 feet.  East Rock had a twin about three miles west, aptly named West Rock.  Both were parts of the larger Metacomet Ridge, and the two rock formations created a sort of natural geological gateway into the lively little city of New Haven that had been founded by Puritans in 1638 on the shores of the Long Island Sound.  
Livingston Street was in a wooded area below East Rock, and the prim old houses were well maintained and comfortably spread apart.  Across the street there were no homes, only the trees at the edge of East Rock Park, and since several of their neighbors also worked for Yale, it was a very secluded and quiet place, particularly during the day—ideal for a writer.  Lenny had a tranquil environment with a lovely park conveniently across the street any time he wanted to take a walk in the trees to plot a novel or to let inspiration come.  It was the perfectly idyllic setting to inspire a creative mind and yet through the first few days Lenny continued to be completely devoid of ideas, and he spent most of his time learning the streets of New Haven or wandering the woods surrounding East Rock. 
He had heaped so much pressure on himself that he his mind lost all clarity, and nothing Marilyn tried could alleviate that condition.  After several days of agonizing frustration he finally decided to walk downtown, go into the library, select a random newspaper and write about the first crime he came across.  He picked the New York Times and the first crime story was a doozy.
Two members of a neo Nazi Aryan gang brazenly watched an Asian owned jewelry store until it was empty of customers, then entered with guns drawn and robbed the place.  The Asian owner didn’t hesitate or flinch, and before the neo Nazis’ demands were uttered, the Asian owner grabbed his gun from under the counter and started firing.  The surprised neo Nazis fled the store, with the Asian owner and his brother in hot pursuit with their guns blazing.  One of the neo Nazis fired a shot over his shoulder at one of the Asians and inadvertently hit a member of a black gang who was standing on the corner.  They quickly rallied to their motorcycles and joined pursuit of the neo Nazis robbers.  The police arrived en masse and kettled them all into a blockaded street.  Steady gunfire hotly peppered the air for the next several minutes until the situation ended with seven dead gang members and one dead policeman, as well as another fourteen casualties, several of whom were in critical condition.
As he walked home Lenny tried to imagine himself in the middle of the gun fight, and when he arrived he sat down and wrote a fictionalized, first person account of the event.  It took him over two hours to compose almost two pages, and when he read it back over he didn’t like it.  It didn’t feel realistic; it seemed exactly what it was: a stiff second hand account imagined by someone who was not present at the scene.
When Marilyn arrived home she kissed him then asked if he had accomplished anything that day.
“I did,” he replied, holding forth the two pages.  “And don’t coddle my ego; I need your honest response.”
“Of course I’ll tell you what I think,” she answered.  She took the pages and sat down on the couch; he followed and joined her.  “Remember how thoroughly critical I was of the Scrotorum story?” she asked.  “That’s part of why it was so well written.”
“I remember well, and that’s the same editor I need right now.”
She read the two pages then looked at him quizzically before speaking.  “This is that recent shooting in Brooklyn, right?”  He nodded.  “It reads like you read a newspaper or saw a television report and then tried to write it as fiction.  You wanted me to be honest—it’s not very convincing.”
“I knew it!” he responded.  “That’s exactly how I felt!”  He snatched the pages from her and ripped them up.
“Tutwell publishes mysteries—how does a gang robbery fit that genre?” Marilyn asked.
“It was more an exercise to get my pen moving,” he explained.  “If I wanted to incorporate the scene into a novel I could have the brazen daylight robbery and shootout staged as a diversion while cohorts of the robbers who initiated the shooting move into the store and steal a cache of priceless jewels that the store owner is holding for some reason.  But all that’s irrelevant now; my fiction voice sounds phony.”
She slid over and onto his lap and her lips reassured him with soft words and softer kisses.  “You will grow into it.  Every artist does.  Every author I teach matured as a writer over the course of their lifetime.  I predict that five years from now you will have five novels published and five more in the works!”
“I’d settle for one or two, as long as they were good,” he replied. 
On that she took his hand, rose up and led him to the bedroom where she reassured him repeatedly until he was free from his insecurities.  After another such roll in the blankets they were laying awake in the still of the night when Lenny slowly said: “I want to buy a gun.”
“You want to what?” Marilyn cried, propping herself up on her elbow in the dark.  “A gun?  For what?!?”’
“For inspiration,” he quietly replied.

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