This has been an incredibly weird journey, to say the least. But one that I'm very pleased I took. I've learned a lot about myself as a writer, as well as writing a novel and the approach to that process that works best for me. I've also learned that if I participate next year, then I will have a better detailed outline from which to work instead of merely a detailed plot.
By working so fast and forcing myself to keep pace, I've realised that with my last novel (The Gaslight Journal--what? You don't own it yet? Stop reading and go buy it: NOW!) there were some passages that needed more thought in order to make them better, and that was something I did not allow myself to do on this one, and for good reason: I am too much of a perfectionist, and spend far too much money on lavish luncheons with my nasty bitch-ass critic.
I must say, that writing a novel in this fashion was very different. I know in my head it works as well for approaching comedy, with everything I know about comedy, but in my heart I SO wanted to go back and edit/pick/re-write, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
Thanks to all who told me I could do this, and encouraged me without abandon. And special thanks to my word-war buddy, Kevin, who assured me he would continue to stay on my ass until all of Father Jack's story was told (I have another 20,000 words to finish the book). He beat me to 50,000 words, but in a very sweet letter, he credited me as the reason.
And now, for your amusement, chapter one.
A Most Devout Coward
Copyright (c) 2010.
Jack Ryan O’Donnell had sat down to a nice, quiet lunch of steamed organic broccoli and distilled hot water; his usual. As he was about to send the broccoli back a third time, a bullet went whizzing by his right ear. Not hearing the actual shot and thinking it was just a fly, he swatted it away when another came very close to shaving his sideburns. This time he looked up from his meal.
Directly across from him at the farthest table with his back to Jack, sat a burly-looking man who was now slumped over his sweet potato pie, and a second who faced the sweet potato-man; leaning back against the wall with his chest contents now being used as a garnish for the pie.
Without registering what had just occurred, Jack noticed a waitress hovering beneath the edge of the lunch counter. “Excuse me, miss!” What an odd time for this woman to be on break.
She yelled back, not daring to leave her spot. “What is it, sir? Kinda busy here.”
“I believe that gentleman over there has spilled all over the table. Would you kindly clean it?”
She could hardly believe what she’d heard. “You have got to be kidding!”
“Miss, I don’t have to tell you how quickly a health inspector will shut you down for this sort of code violation.”
As the waitress was about to rip him a new one, a third shot sent her diving behind the counter. The shooter had turned toward Carlos, the chef, now hiding behind the counter, and put the third slug into his head.
This time, Jack noticed the shooter.
As he turned to make his getaway, he saw Jack staring at him and froze as if contemplating whether to put a .9mm round into him.
Jack noticed every detail of his face: ugly red scar on his left cheek, bulbous blue fish eyes, and black hair with that ugly David Schwimmer haircut from the first season of Friends. I always hated that haircut. Now Matthew Perry--that guy, had a haircut.
Little did Jack realize, these details would come in very handy in the near future.
But before the gunman could eliminate Jack as a witness, a voice in the crowd screamed for someone to call 9-1-1, thus jarring the shooter back into reality and out the door.
Suddenly, the events registered with Jack, and he stood at his table and screamed like a pre-pubescent cheerleader, “Oh my God, we’ve been hit!” Certainly not one of his more attractive qualities.
Slowly, everyone retreated from their positions on the floor, from behind chairs, and lunch counters. As the diner staff made their rounds to see if everyone was okay, the waitress came straight to Jack.
“Sir, are you hurt?”
Jack continued to scream.
This time she shook him. “SIR! Are you hurt? Your screaming is annoying the children.”
Jack calmed himself and shook his head. “I’m all right. What just happened?”
“Well, I’m no forensics expert, but I’d say we just had a gunman blow away two of our patrons.”
“But why? If you’re that unhappy with the food, you don’t blow away the person sitting next to you eating it, you kill the chef.”
“They got Carlos, too. Is that really what you want to complain about right now? We’ve had two men shot to death and you’re still bitching about your broccoli?”
But she had already turned to attend to customers who needed serious attention.
Twenty minutes later, Jack was sitting in the back door of the ambulance wrapped in a blanket, a paramedic taking his vital signs.
“So, Mr. O’Donnell, let me get this straight. You were just getting ready to return your organic broccoli for a third time, when you noticed bullets flying past your right ear? A person eating in public has a reasonable expectation of peace and quiet. That’s disgraceful.”
“I know. I never have to send my broccoli back more than twice.”
The paramedic rolled his eyes, and said, “Okay. You’re fine. I think that detective has some questions for you.”
Jack walked over to the tall man with the brown tweed jacket and green tie, his gold shield displayed prominently on his lapel. “You wanted to see me?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. O’Donnell. Let’s walk over here so we can have some privacy.”
They strolled over to the other side of the street and sat on the steps to a three-story walk-up.
After Jack described the events again, the detective questioned him on the man’s physical details.
“He had this huge, ugly red scar on this face.”
“Right cheek or left?”
“Oh, I never saw his butt.”
After killing his urge to laugh out loud, the detective said, “I mean was it his right cheek or his left on his face?”
Jack blushed. “Sorry. I’m still in shock.”
The detective was unconvinced, but played it straight.
“It was on his left cheek, going down from his cheekbone to his jawbone. About two-inches wide. Looked like somebody got in there with a spoon and...”
“...that’s fine, Mr. O’Donnell, I think I get the picture. What else?”
“His eyes. They were ice-blue. Looked like that fellow from that old frankenstein movie.”
“You mean Marty Feldman?”
“No, I mean Young Frankenstein. You never saw the movie?”
Again, the detective had to stifle the urge to laugh. “So you mean he had prominent eyes?”
“Good. Anything else you can remember?”
Jack crinkled his nose in disgust. “Yeah. His hair.”
“You mean he had some?” The detective now chuckled at his own joke.
“It looked like Ross from the first season of Friends. Black, combed straight down and very short.”
“Yeah, I hated that haircut, too. Now Matthew Perry--that guy, had a haircut.”
“Can you think of anything else that may help?”
“Not right now.”
“Okay. Well, since you seem to be the material witness to this crime, I’m going to need you to come down to the station.”
“You mean I’m under arrest? All I wanted to do was send the broccoli back! I mean, I wanted to kill Carlos, but I certainly didn’t shoot him!”
“Calm down, Mr. O’Donnell. You’re not under arrest. I just need you to meet with my Lieutenant. Apparently, no one else but you noticed this man until he had fired 3 shots and was out the door. You’re the only one to get a good look at this hump, and we need you to make a formal statement.”
Jack thought about this for a second, then said, “Um, no way. Ain’t no way I’m going into that dirty station. Nunh-uh.”
“Dirty? What are you talking about?”
“With all due respect, Captain...”
“With all due respect, Captain detective, I’d rather just have an officer come to my house. There are very few places I go in public, and a police station with filthy criminals is not one of them.”
“Mr. O’Donnell, you’ll be protected--those felons will be behind bars.”
“No, I mean they’re filthy. All that gun powder residue on their hands, bare feet on their bunks, hookers with who knows what. No sir.”
“Oh, I get it: germophobe.”
“And claustrophobe and OCD. What’s your point? Why do you think I drink distilled water? It’s certainly not because it rivals the taste of new Coke.”
“Well, I do understand, but unfortunately, that’s the place where we keep all the pens and paper.”
Jack sighed, clueless that he was being mocked. “Oh, alright. But tell me you’ve cleaned that interrogation room within the last six weeks.”
The detective chuckled. “Not even within the last six months. But I’m certain you’ll survive.”
After forcing the detective to wipe down the back seat of his car with a stack of wet naps, Jack slowly slid onto the lemon-scented seat, but certainly wasn’t happy about it.
“I’m certainly not happy about this,” he said to the detective.
“I’ll make a note of it in your permanent record.”
“Oh dear Lord,” said Jack, “If this goes on my permanent record, I’ll never be able to show my face at that diner again.”
Up in the front seat, the detective could only laugh to himself. Was this rube for real?
Boston’s 12th Precinct was everything the detective made it out to be: loud, noisy, and with a smell that rivaled that of a New York cab. He led Jack through the main lobby and down the hall toward a free interrogation room.
And as Jack had feared, there were no shortage of hookers awaiting their turn for booking. As soon as Jack and the detective walked by, the girls let out cat calls and whistles, with promises of ‘It’s so hot you’ll never go back to your wife.’
As Jack slowed to eye one shapely blond in particular, the detective pushed him forward. “Forget it: that ones a tranny.”
“Tranny. Y’know, a transvestite.”
“Oh, dear Lord. You mean a...”
“That’s right, cupcake. She’s a he.”
“Is that even legal?”
This time, the detective laughed out loud. “Dorothy, where did you grow up, Kansas?”
They reached the empty interrogation room, and again, after forcing the detective to clean the table and chair, Jack took a seat, but refused to rest his hands on the table.
“Would you like something to drink? I’m afraid we don’t have any of that fancy distilled stuff you drink, but I do have some day-old coffee and a doughnut.”
“No thank-you. I’m fine. But I would like to get on with this, if that’s okay. I have things I need to do this afternoon.”
“Oh, sure. Wouldn’t want her highness to be late for tea with the Queen.”
“I’m beginning to think you may be having a laugh at my expense.”
“Naw, that was just sarcasm for no good reason. Of course I’m having a laugh at your expense. We don’t get too many of you “dainty-men” down here.”
“I believe I take offense at that. OCD is not something one chooses, like being gay.”
The detective chuckled. “Well, your sexual proclivities aside, we need to get a formal statement from you about exactly what you saw. I need you to begin writing down everything on this legal pad, and I’ll be back with my Lieutenant and a sketch artist.”
As the detective was ready to exit, Jack stopped him. “Excuse me, Captain detective. But I need some gloves.”
The detective turned to face him. “You need what?”
“Sterile gloves. I’m afraid I just can’t do this without them.”
The detective let out a low whistle. “You have got to be kidding!”
“Funny. That’s the second time I’ve heard that today.”
“Go figure. Look. This is a police station. We don’t have sterile gloves. Just fill out the paper and I’ll be back,” he said while closing the door behind him.
Ten minutes later, Jack, now done recounting his story to paper, used the last of his wet naps to do so.
The detective entered with a tall, skinny man and the sketch artist.
“Mr. O’Donnell, I’m Lieutenant Marcus Grey. How do you do?” he said, while holding out his hand.
“I don’t shake.”
This caught the Lieutenant off-guard. “I’m sorry?”
“I don’t shake. More germs are transmitted through someone’s handshake, than if you were to lick the sidewalk.”
The Lieutenant glanced over at the detective, who simply shrugged his shoulders.
“Alright then, we’ll forgo the handshake. Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yes, I believe I do. Captain detective mentioned something about being a material witness.”
“Yes, that’s right. Do you know what that is?”
“I was the witness to a crime?”
“Yes, that’s partly true, but there’s more. In this case, not only did you witness a crime, but the perpetrator saw you, plain as day.”
“That’s how I was able to describe him in such detail. He turned to directly face me, and that’s when I noticed his features.”
“And that’s very good work. A lot of witnesses are too scared to be able to remember their attacker. But, I don’t think you’re really getting the implications here, and I need to make absolutely sure you know what’s happened.”
Jack felt tired. “Lieutenant Grey, I am very tired. When can I go home? This place is beginning to make me itch.”
“Well, Mr. O’Donnell, that’s what we need to discuss. You were clearly able to identify this perp. Do you know what that means?”
“I’ll have an easy time of it in court?”
The Lieutenant was incredulous at this man’s dimwittedness. “Well, yeeeeeeeeeees, but it also means that while you saw the perp, the perp also got a very good look at you.” He paused to allow ample time for the truth to sink in.
It didn’t take long until Jack’s mind had wrapped around the truth of the matter. He felt sick to his stomach, but didn’t want to vomit, because the thoughts of having to clean it up would make him even sicker. “Do you mean...”
“...that’s right, Mr. O’Donnell.”
Jack was now screaming again. “THAT GUY KNOWS WHAT I LOOK LIKE!”
As dim-witted as this guy was, Lieutenant Grey felt a bit of pity for him. He’d always felt genuine pity for witnesses whose lives got turned upside-down by perps.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Would you like a glass of water?” said Lieutenant Grey.
“I'm not going to vomit into a glass of water! But distilled if you've got it, thanks.”
Again, the Lieutenant looked at the detective for confirmation, and only received a shrug.
After Jack took a minute to calm down, he said, “So, Lieutenant, what’s going to happen to me? I can’t get killed; I’d die of fright from all the germs before I’d ever die of the wound.”
“I want you to meet someone.” He tapped on the glass, and sixty-seconds later, another tall, dark-haired body-builder man entered the interrogation room. He stood at attention with his hands folded in front of him, and waited.
“Mr. O’Donnell, I want you to meet Special Agent Sharks Avery of the WITSEC program.”
Jack said, “WITSEC? I don’t understand.”
Avery spoke. “Witness Security. Most vulgarly refer to it as Witness Relocation. But, the good news is, you’re now my new bitch.”
Jack could feel the room spinning, and was certain he might pass out, so he made sure to slump his body over the table to keep from falling to the filthy floor. He didn’t need that flesh-eating bacteria in addition to being what most referred to in the hit man business as “next.”
The detective was at his side in a flash, and offered him one of the station’s wet naps to wipe his forehead. “You alright there, dainty-man?”
Jack was certain he was dying. He began mumbling.
“What is it? What’s he saying?” asked the Lieutenant.
The detective bent closer to Jack, then raised his head in anger. “Oh crap. He’s still bitching about the broccoli.”
“Mr. O’Donnell, I don’t know anything about broccoli, but I do know that Avery here is an excellent agent and will do everything in his power to make certain you are safe while you await trial.”
Jack raised his head. “But I didn’t kill that chef! I wanted to, but I didn't! Why am I going to trial?”
Now, all four men looked at each other. Finally, it was the Lieutenant who spoke. “This is going to be one helluva long case.”