The below two entries are my first two heat entries in the NYC midnight writing competition. I’m afraid that both entries were written over the course of two sunday afternoons to tight deadlines and are thus not representative of my best work. In the rules of the competition the setting, genre and an item that had to be introduced at some stage in the plot were decided by the judges and competitors had to write within those frameworks. The other restriction was that each story had to be less than 1000 words.
The requirements were as follows
1st Heat – Movie theatre, suspense, headphone (have you ever tried building suspense over 1000 words? It’s hard)
2nd Heat – Casino, comedy, vacuum cleaner (I stole the punchline from a Simpsons joke about Troy Mclure, so sue me).
I did reach the third heats / semi finals (along with about 150 other people) but got eliminated, so I won’t print said story here.
Anyway, thats why I’ve not blogged much recently. I’ve been too busy writing
Forget the MGM Grand with it’s clientèle of rich tourists. Leave behind the Luxor with it’s doormen clad like Pharaohs, cloying opulence, halls of yuppies gambling on the roulette wheel. In another corner of Las Vegas is an altogether less salubrious and much more desperate establishment. The Vente Casino sits opposite a floodlit parking lot and occupies the ground floor of an even less salubrious hotel, the rooms of which are haunted by the ghosts of forgotten cocaine deals, meaningless sex, bad karma and vice.
The punters here are the ones barred from everywhere else, Luckless Jim sitting across from me at the poker table, word is that he sold his own kidney to the Mafia to pay his gambling debts. A crooked surgeon in their pay removed it only to discover that Jimmy’s alcohol habit had pickled it. He still owes them over thirteen thousand dollars (plus the surgeons fee). No one will find him here in the Vente though. No comes here except the congenitally desperate. Marcy sits on Luckless Jim’s right. Hair spray, faded lipstick, plastic nails. Her complexion yellowed by the desert sun and iron deficiency. She cheats but we tolerate her. Rumours of an actual ‘ace in the hole’ got her strip searched in the foyer of the Luxor. The police got involved, you can imagine the rest. I keep an eye on her. I’m the croupier and am therefore only slightly less desperate than the clients. I don’t wish to be kneecapped by furious employers due to lost earnings though (and my employers can be furious). Jack Spaniels, the barman’s dog rests his head against Marcy’s leg before languidly trying to hump it. She is too intent on the game to notice.
Then there’s Eduardo sat on the left hand side of the table. Eduardo Crayon. Some say he’s a native American cursed by a shaman to live out his life as a white man for his unspeakable crimes. Other says he’s Black or Hispanic or Italian or Jewish. Imagine if you asked Pablo Piccasso to design an ethnicity, you would have something approaching Eduardo Crayon’s face. Harsh lines and skin of mottled shades. Everyone agrees on one thing however. Eduardo Crayon has some curious vices, not just limited to gambling.
I deal another hand on to the green baize, keeping a close eye on Marcy’s hand. Jack Spaniels trots off to his master at the bar. The minutes of my life tick by.
Eduardo lives four floors up in the hotel above. I’ve never been to his room, never had a reason to. I know the cleaner though, so I’ve heard stories. Most of the hotel residents live sparse, nomadic lives. Not so Eduardo. His room has a well stocked aquarium for one thing. He must have lived here now for months. This one time, the cleaner was hoovering the floor when something got caught in the mechanism, jamming the vacuum. Reaching down inside, the cleaner fished out a roll of badly exposed negatives and pocketed them, figuring quite rightly that they were shots of something shady or illicit. Later on that day, Eduardo would return to discover the negatives had been taken and obviously suspected that the hotel staff had something to do with it, this being an establishment where everyone is on the make. He spelled his own doom by coming down here to the casino to gripe about the thieving staff and make wild drunken threats. Those of us who work in the gambling industry take pride in our ability to obtain money from others willing to hand it over. We don’t like accusations of thievery down here. It was only a matter of time before the cleaner got the film developed
Tonight is a slow night but Marcy, Eduardo and Jim are all losing money to the House, which is how it should be. A homeless bum somehow wanders past the bouncers, his overcoat smells of wet cats, he asks if he can buy into a hand with a stolen American Express. I stare at him as the bouncer finally does his job and bounces the bum back to the street.
So back to our story. The prints came back, grainy but visible and clearly showed Eduardo in a series of unnatural poses, with various creatures from his aquarium. It seems that Eduardo Crayon sleeps with the fishes. And not in the Mafia sense either. Obviously we were shocked. We would have been disgusted too, but it’s casino policy to never pass judgement on our clientèle. Any other establishment in Vegas would have blackmailed poor Eduardo until he was flat broke, but this is the Vente. This is the last refuge in Vegas for the desperate, the lonesome and the heart broken, we try not to drive away our clientèle. Besides we have other ways of taking their money.
It’s time to deal out another hand, I smile into Eduardo’s ethnically ambiguous eyes as I pass out the cards. He’s a man of curious vices, but we like him.
The cinema is our usual drop off point. Chunky red writing on a white background spells out The Metropolitan Picture House. Torn faded posters advertising Casablanca, Aliens and The Godfather. The smell of salt popcorn and lukewarm hot dogs. Stains on the foyer carpet from spilt drinks. It is the last independent cinema in town. I am early.
Satchels and bags are generally not allowed in cinemas these days due to fear of piracy from concealed cameras, however the Metropolitan’s policy of only showing classics meant that they are somewhat more lenient than the average multiplex. This fact combined with the privacy afforded by the twilight of the silver screen makes it the perfect place to stage The Drop. The weight of the holdall pulls against my shoulder reminding me of my mission I stand in the foyer eyeing the refreshments with hunger and suspicion before turning to look at list of screenings. The other reason I have for using the Metropolitan for The Drop is my love of film noir, and the Met is holding a retrospective.
One ticket purchase for Hitchcock’s Psycho later and I find myself at the back of the dark theatre. The stuffing is beginning to leak from the seat in places where angry teens had once stubbed illicit cigarettes out on the chair arm. The floor is tacky with gum. I place my holdall with its precious cargo at my feet and settle down. Chas is not going to arrive for a while.
On screen Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane is stealing from her boss. The money is what Hitchcock would call a MacGuffin, a device that serves no purpose except to instigate the action. Marion Crane steals the money, goes on the run and falls victim to Norman Bates. Easy. The money plays no really part in what transpires.
About me: I work as a pharmacist, I have to prescribe a lot of anti-psychotic medication. I’ve never has a patient like Norman Bates though. Psycho despite being a master piece, has set public understanding of mental issues back somewhat.
These hot summer days mean that cinemas are largely devoid of other patrons, I have a row to myself and a clear view of the screen. The low hum from the projector underlies the soundtrack. Chas enters the cinema. Partially deaf, he wears fat headphones in order to take advantage of the cinema’s loop system. His chronic diabetes makes him fluctuate in weight. Right now his cheeks are so thin that he looks bug eyed and alien. When he’s not in hospital having various treatments he lives with his mother and she’d have a haemorrhage if she knew he was with me.
Hey I mouth and gesture him to my row.
He can only hear me if he moves is head uncomfortably close to mine. I’m not sure if the oversized hearing aid is a help or hindrance.
You got the stuff right? He asks looking at the holdall.
I tell him not to be hasty.
On screen Janet Leigh is undressing and getting into the shower. This is the moment that Norman Bates goes on the rampage with a knife wearing his dead mothers dress. The sound of the shower fills the cinema. Water drips over the unmoving body of Marion Crane. I realise Chas is holding the most gigantic bag of M&Ms in all the world.
You know, you’ll die if you eat those now? I say thinking about his diabetes and the contents of the holdall. He takes out his wallet and looks at the bag meaningfully So give me the merchandise then I begrudgingly agree and and shift the bag sideways with my foot
. If anyone asked you found it.
He slips me the cash in return and picks up a glass ampoule from the bag. It glints in the reflected light of the movie projector. It’s a new type of experimental insulin, not tested yet and taken orally. Maybe I’m a bad pharmacist but I tell myself I like to go the extra mile for my clients.
In the dark I can hear Chas sipping the insulin and cracking M&Ms between his teeth. On screen Bates murders another victim and Hitchcock has dispensed with the MacGuffin that started the story. Between mouthfuls of M&Ms, Chas asks me So what’s with the cloak and dagger routine today anyway?
Well you know I reply, it’s the only real way to enjoy film noir
I’ve recently been working on other writing projects and therefore blogging has taken a back seat. I crashed out of NYCMidnights creative writing challenge at the third hurdle.
(see www.nycmidnight.com for details)
I might publish the products of said challenge here if I feel brave enough (I’ll admit that the third effort was very rushed hence my failure)
I’m also entering NaNoWriMo- The National Novel Writing Month. Is anyone else thinking of entering? We could be writing buddies…