Deleted Scenes

Sometimes, to make a story work, you have to cut something you like. In movies, those things ended on the cutting room floor, and nobody ever saw them. Then came DVD’s, and gluttons for punishment could revel in 21-seconds of previously unseen footage. That gave me an idea. Deleted scenes from stories! (Please hold your applause for after the presentation.)

So, here’s an attempt at providing what may be a new feature. Enjoy. And please pass the popcorn.

Deleted scene from Willie ‘n’ Me.

Kansas was nothin’ but work, month after month. I got in the habit of writing Miss Ida now an’ then to let her know how things was goin’, and she’d write back real nice, talkin’ about the flowers and such there in Little Rock. It felt sorta like home to read her notes. A couple times, she said she’d heard from Willie an’ that she sounded real happy. Two years and two hotels later I’d had enough of Kansas City. I sent Mr. Pruitt a thank-you note, bought a horse and wagon, and struck out westward on my own.

I kinda followed the railroad, and after a couple weeks, found myself in Dodge City. It was a busy place then, and I wound up startin’ a little woodwright shop of my own. Between buildin’ saloons an’ such for some local business-types, and makin’ coffins for others that whooped it up a little too much after th’ cattle drives, I was doin’ pretty well.

In ’83, I thought I was gonna have to give up on a new waterin’ hole I was buildin’ near the railroad depot. It seems a bunch of bar room owners, including my customer, had caused a certain Mr. Short to abandon his business interests and leave town against his will. Well, it wasn’t long before the local newspaper was printin’ stories about how he’d asked some out-of-town friends to arrange the demise of them that had run him out. I didn’t pay no attention to the fuss until one day when I was workin’ on the saloon. This stranger walked in, lookin’ like twenty miles of bad road—an’ smellin’ like a pile of dead muskrats.

He hacked up a wad of tobacco on my new floor. “You Harshaw?”

I counted his two missing fingers and three well-worn colts. “No sir. Can I help you with anything?”

He just frowned, looked around real slow, then moseyed out.

When he was gone, young Vester Lewis, a local boy who was helpin’ me says, “Didja know who that wuz?”

“No. Who was he?”

He got all nervous and fidgety. “That there wuz ol’ Three-Fingered Dave. He’s big trouble fer sure.”

“Got nuthin’ to do with me,” I says.

“Well, fer sure he’s here about ol’ Mr. Short’s troubles, an’ if’n he or his pal Six-Toed Pete murders Mr. Harshaw, then we gonna be out’n a job here.”

I wondered if havin’ random numbers of body parts leads to a life of crime.

“Maybe we oughta finish up here for now, and start buildin’ up our stock of coffins.”

The next day, a buckboard rolled past my little shop. The sorrowful-faced stranger drivin’ it had a big shotgun across his lap. A couple cases of dynamite poked half out’ve a tarp in back. I figured young Vester was onto somethin’ for sure.

I was puttin’ a real nice shine on seven new pine boxes when some government big-shot from Topeka showed up to smooth things out. A couple days later, Mr. Short was back in business and all them folks who showed up lookin’ so ominous just kinda drifted away, actin’ as pious as parsons. Fortunately, I was able to use all those pretty, polished-up pine boards for the saloon’s bar and the like. When the building was done, Mr. Harshaw decided a drygoods store would be better idea. A little extra work gave him the shelves he needed, and we both slept good. He opened for business in July.

Then I got the telegram from Miss Ida.

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“Pandora doesn’t live here anymore.” That’s what the hand-written note said, and I couldn’t blame her. The door it was tacked to, and the wall on both sides, looked like they’d been hit by a flamethrower.

The seconds piled up following my third knock. I began to think no one else lived there either. The whole last month had gone like this, and my rent was overdue because of it. But the guy here had called me.

I counted to ten as I stared at the blackened front door of the old house at Six Plum Drop Circle. A fresh plywood patch clung where one of its raised panels should’ve been, and three heavily charred spots showed around it. It took me several moments to realize the door had once been red. It had suffered from such heat that only a small area at the bottom had escaped damage.

I turned to go, but halted at the sight of the solitary elm tree in the front yard. A three foot, round tunnel had been bored neatly through its dense foliage, branches and all. Blue sky and part of a neighbor’s roof showed within the gap. A few singed leaves clung to the edges of the opening.

“What do you want?” Rasped a timeworn voice.

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The mystery is complete! It’s titled Fatal Harmony now. Next up, I want to put the finished stories into a book. So far I’ve come up with a few titles and covers for the anthology.

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Revision is the name of the game in this sport. Writing is just the start, then comes rewriting, re-rewriting, and more rewriting. Thanks to my Bride, Clarice, and our critique group, I’ve done the first couple. Now I’m planning to send the whole thing out to some advance readers. Then I’ll see how many more iterations remain to be done.

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It’s a Mystery


town-signI hate classical music, so fortunately for me the concert was cut short halfway through the William Tell Overture—sadly, so was the conductor’s life.

I hurried toward the stage and flashed my badge. “Detective Ryan Harding. Everyone please remain calm and be seated.” Maybe ten people sat back down. Of the rest, half never paused as they fled the hall. The others, all band parents, stampeded to remove their kids.

I called the station. “It’s Harding. I need an ambulance and backup at the high school auditorium.”

Marcus Cooper had no pulse. The cause of death was pretty clear. An arrow was firmly planted in his forehead.

“Scratch the ambulance. Send the M.E. instead, please.”

By the time I ran backstage the shooter had vanished.

On stage few minutes later, I completely failed to corral the kids of the orchestra. One clarinetist’s sweaty, hulking mother threatened to break my face if I didn’t get out of her way. As she dragged off her wailing daughter, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I ducked, assuming another parental assault was coming from behind. I was wrong.

Quinnie Swope had short-cropped sable hair, bright brown eyes, a taste for Mozart and Rossini, and, unaccountably, for me. I’d asked her out to dinner. She’d invited me to the concert.

“You’d rather do this than listen to the recital, wouldn’t you?”

“Um, I need to—”

“Don’t worry. I’ll catch a ride home with the Turners. Call me tomorrow?”

“Sure thing. I’m sorry.”

She nodded toward the body. “I’m sorry for Marcus’ wife.”

“Yeah. I’ll go see her as soon as things are under control here.”

We found a worn hunting bow backstage. An apple sat nearby with another arrow in it.

The medical examiner was new. She walked toward me as her assistant started taking pictures. “Detective Harding? I’m Doctor Anna Park. I don’t believe we’ve met.” Her straight black, jaw-length hair framed Asian features.

I shook her hand. “Welcome to Harmony, Doctor.”

She sighed. “Not very harmonious tonight, I see. What do we know?”

As far as I can tell, Mr. Cooper was shot from stage-left, during the William Tell Overture. That arrow, along with a second one stuck in an apple backstage, makes me think the shooter was familiar with tonight’s program.

After an hour of tagging and bagging evidence, I sent the school’s security camera tapes to the station and left for Cooper’s home—which happened to be the house I’d grown up in. I got out of the car and walked to the door. No one answered my knock.

Around to the side, Dad’s tree was dying. It wasn’t actually his tree any more. He’d sold the place to the Coopers and moved to Costa Rica ten years earlier. Didn’t matter. He’d planted it the day I was born, and it had always been a scraggly embarrassment to his garden club. Something scrabbled through its fallen leaves into the darkness beyond. Probably a squirrel. A big one.

I crept into the back yard.

Lights blazed as I rounded the patio. “Dratted motion detector.” It’d only ever worked when it wanted to. Tonight it was in the mood. A startled frog leapt from the diving board into the weeds.

Something disturbed the smooth surface of the pool. I stepped closer for a better look.  Helen Cooper had never looked good in red.

I dialed 9-1-1. Low battery. Exactly the two words I didn’t want to see right now. Obligingly, they disappeared and the phone died in my hand.

A loud crack sounded behind me and a bullet hit the fence.

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Thanks, Big Papi!

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You helped pigs fly three times in Boston!


Yawkey Way is a brighter place now.

Tessie, “Nuff said” McGreevy shouted
We’re not here to mess around
Boston, you know we love you madly
Hear the crowd roar to your sound
Don’t blame us if we ever doubt you
You know we couldn’t live without you
Red Sox! you are the only, only, o-o-only!

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Awakening Wrapped

awakeningPart IV of Awakening, my latest short story, which is more novelette length now, is edited after critique group review pointed out some needed changes. I’ve just finished the story with Part V. My sweet bride, Clarice, has reviewed that, and it now it’s out with the group, who will heap praises and scorn upon it next week.

After eight months of down time because of Leukemia, I finally got busy and picked up where I left off in January. Poor George Hammond’s trials are at last at an end.

Clarice says I should cobble all the stories into an anthology and go to press with them. All together, my seven stories total about 56,000 words. I feel like I should perhaps add one more tale to the collection so folks would feel like they’d gotten their money’s worth.

Last night I thought of an opening for a new story…

Another body. Blood was everywhere. At least this guy was in one piece.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” Tom exclaimed. “I can’t stand any more of this tripe.” He flung the pulp novel into the trash and went to bed.

Okay, I admit that doesn’t leave much room for story development.  Ideas that show up when you’re half asleep tend to seem better than they really are.

Speaking of Tom’s, I’d inadvertently written two of those into Awakening. Clarice spotted my error, and “Poof!” Valentine’s effete, BMW driving friend is now Aiden because I have a special feeling in my heart for that name. Perhaps he wears an ascot. Such is the author’s power.

Something is brewing. I can tell because random stuff pops into my head while I’m in the shower. This morning it was this:

James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George DuPree
Took great care of his mother though he was only three
James James said to his mother:
“Mother,” he said, said he
“You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.
Don’t ever go down to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”

James James Morrison’s mother put on her golden gown
James James Morrison’s mother, she drove to the end of the town
James James Morrison’s mother
She said to herself, said she
“Well, I can get down to the end of the town
And be back in time for tea.
Well, I can get down to the end of the town
And be back in time for tea.”

King John put up a notice: “Lost, stolen or strayed,
James James Morrison’s mother,
She seems to have been mislaid
Last seen wandering vaguely quite of her own accord
She tried to get down to the end of the town–
Forty shillings reward.
She tried to get down to the end of the town–
Forty shillings reward.

James James Morrison Morrison, commonly known as “Jim”
Said to his other relations not to go blaming him
For James James said to his mother
“Mother”, he said, said he
“Don’t ever go down to the end of the town,
If you don’t go down with me.
You must never go down to the end of the town,
If you don’t go down with me.”

Now James James Morrison’s mother,
She hasn’t been heard of since,
King John said he was sorry,
And so did the queen and the prince,
King John, somebody told me,
Said to a man he knew,
“If people go down to the end of the town,
Well what can anyone do?
If people go down to the end of the town,
Well what can anyone do?”

No disrespect to Mr. Milne. It just happened.

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Down Time

It’s been a long time since I posted anything. I’d just hit a problem in “Awakening” and wasn’t sure where to take the story when I got a call from my Veteran’s Administration doctor. She’d asked me to have some lab work done since there weren’t any recent tests in her records. I dutifully went and visited the vampires and was having lunch afterward when the phone rang.

“We need you to go to the hospital. Do you want to go to the VA facility in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, or would you rather use a closer-by civilian facility?”

“Uh, closer, I guess.”

I called my civilian primary care doctor, who told me to call a specialist down the road from his office. They told me to call another specialist in Boston.

A few days later I was talking to a doctor in Dana-Farber Cancer Center, listening to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. A few days after that, I was checking into Brigham & Women’s Hospital for chemotherapy. Since I had never been a hospital patient in my life, this was an experience.

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Hospital garb. Hat & prayer shawl made by my pal Deb Bock

First, let me say that the doctors and nurses at Dana-Farber-Brigham & Women’s are even better at treating you well than the staff at Disney World.

Second, being in the hospital for a month isn’t any fun. Even Brigham’s chicken pot pie gets old after a while, and you just can’t live on nothing but creamsicle frappes.

Anyway, seven months, three hospital rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant later, I’ve just had my first fresh vegetables, in the form of tacos. They were right behind a hot pastrami sandwich on my list of “can’t have it” dietary obsessions. I got the the sandwich first because of my bride’s heroic efforts in searching out pre-packaged pastrami. I’m allowed to eat hot food at a restaurant now, as long as I go during a slow time when there aren’t many customers. That’s okay because that’s when we like to go.

The only down side of being allowed out is that I’m on a study medication that makes me feel like not going out. Hopefully I’ll acclimate to it and we’ll get to our little nearby seafood place soon. Fried shrimp and onion rings are calling my name.

So, thank you, Lord, for Dr. Panesar at the VA, without whom I’d never have known anything was wrong, for the doctors and nurses at D-F/B&W, for my dear sister, who was a perfect stem cell donor match, and for all the good lab results.

Oh. I’ve saved a lot of money on haircuts, too.

This is my first attempt at writing since the whole thing started. Maybe I’ll take a look at Awakening next.pastrami with mustard200


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