At a meeting with the writer's group this week, we got into the discussion about the benefits of using an outline. After the others expressed their views, they all turned to me. I gave me head a negative shake. Outlines have never worked for me. Even as I kid, I had trouble with them. In school if it was required as part of an assignment, I'd write the paper first, then go back and write the outline. The nuns never caught on. Outlines aren't for everybody.
"But how do you know what to write?" One fellow asked.
"I start out with a general idea. Usually with a main character or two and some sense as to what the story is going to be about. Then as I'm writing, the ideas flow. Changes in direction, adding in new characters and a twist or two, just come to me. If I tried to plot everything out in advance, my stories would never look the same."
"Isn't that confusing?" he asked.
"Getting it written down is the important part. During the editing process, I'll move sections around until it falls into a timeline that makes sense."
I gave the group an example. Currently I'm working on the sequel to "Why 319?" my mystery about the serial killer whose victims are found in room 319 of different hotels around metro Detroit. Many of the same characters are involved, particularly Jefferson Chene, the detective who leads the major case squad. The story is told from his perspective. Lately I've had this scene for a subplot rolling around in my skull involving Chene and Ted, his old friend who owns a saloon, and Simone, the young lady Chene has begun dating. The only way for me to move forward was to write this scene. Then I could get back to business. So I wrote this out and shared it with the group. Since they enjoyed it, I thought you might like a sneak peek as well.
It was after eleven Thursday night when I was able to stop by the saloon. Ted was on a stool at the corner of the bar, scoping out the dwindling action. A scowl crossed his features as I approached.
“Thanks for finally showing up,” he grumbled.
“I told you it would be late.”
He fluttered a hand back and forth in front of me. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s walk and talk.” To my surprise he headed for the exit, stopping briefly to chat with the bartender.
The air was thick and steamy. I was hoping a little breeze from the lake would make it more comfortable. For a short man, Ted has always been able to cover a lot of ground quickly. He makes the most of his stride. I stepped in alongside him as we moved into the marina. Boats of various sizes, shapes and colors bobbed in their docks.
“All right, we’re walking. Tell me what this is about.”
“I’m almost out of time. If you hadn’t shown up by midnight, I didn’t know what I was gonna do.” He stopped and rested a hand on a dock piling.
“You ain’t Cinderella. And midnight has never been a problem for you. Out with it.”
He shot me another scowl. “I need a favor.”
“A favor? I’m neck deep in a homicide investigation and you need a favor.”
Ted raised his hands. “It’s not really for me. It’s for a friend. She needs our help. And I already promised it would be taken care of.”
“Imagine my surprise that there’s a woman involved.”
“When did you become so sarcastic?”
“I learned it from you. Tell me what the hell is going on.”
So he did.
So he did.
Tied to the dock behind him was a sleek fiberglass boat. The hull and deck gleamed under the marina’s lights. Turns out the boat belonged to a guy who had been enjoying a mid-life crisis when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the most inopportune moment. Since he’d never changed his will, the ex-wife was going to inherit the boat along with the rest of his estate. But everything was being delayed as his latest girlfriend was suing to get her share of the fortune. Meanwhile money was tight.
“What does this have to do with me?” I asked.
“The lady is a good friend of mine.”
“Which translates to mean that you’re playing house with the ex-wife?”
He shrugged, neither confirming nor denying it. How convenient.“So what do you need me for?”
“The marina will charge her another month’s fees if the boat is still here after midnight. So I thought since you’ve got that house on a canal and there’s a dock right there, maybe you could take it and keep it while all this is getting worked out.”
“That’s your emergency? You want to store your current plaything’s boat at my place?”
He shrugged again. “When you put it that way…”
“What other way would you put it?”
“C’mon, Jeff. You can use it any time you want. The guy had it detailed a month ago. The bottom’s been scrubbed, fresh wax all around and even the chrome has been polished.” Ted dug into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys.
I left him standing there and walked down the dock to take a closer look. The boat was gorgeous. The chrome twinkled. There were snaps and grommets around the cockpit area to accommodate a canvas cover. It was a short step from the pier to the deck. It took me less than a minute to familiarize myself with the equipment.
Ted whistled. I looked up and saw him toss the keys in my direction. I snagged them in midair. He moved down the dock to track my movements.
“She’s a twenty-eight footer. The cabin is pretty cozy. He’s got radar, a full communications and sound system. Everything below is like new. I don’t think there are three hundred hours on the engine.”
“I’m not buying this, old man.”
“Nah, you’re just gonna store it for me. A few weeks, a month at the outside and you get to use it whenever you want.”
“What about paperwork? Last thing I need is to get pulled over out on the lake and try to explain this fish story.”
Ted pointed at a cupboard next to the wheel. Inside were the complete registration, insurance papers and the owner’s manual. I locked it up.
“It shouldn’t take you more than fifteen minutes to get to your place. I’ll meet you there and bring you back for your car.”
* * * *
Simone was waiting when I got home Saturday evening. She met me in the kitchen with a glass of wine. The sun was still out, blasting down with a high intensity on the world. It had been like this all day. But I had an escape in mind.
“You looked tired,” she said, stepping close for a kiss.
“You look fantastic.” It was true. She wore a sleeveless cream colored top and a pair of navy shorts. Her hair was swept back. Large sunglasses were perched on the crown of her head.
“You’re very sweet. How is the case going?”
“It’s a mess. I’ve got more suspects than I know what to do with. But let’s forget about that for a while.”
Her eyes sparkled. “What did you have in mind?”
“Dinner and a surprise, although not necessarily in that order.”
Simone grabbed her purse from the counter. “I like surprises.”
“That’s good to know.”
As I locked the house she turned toward the street. Only when she realized I wasn’t following did she look back.
“Are you enjoying the view of my buns?”
“Most definitely. But you’re going the wrong way.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder.
Wearing a puzzled expression, she walked back to me. Only now did she see the boat tied up at the dock. She stood by the edge of the garage as I removed the canvas cover and stowed it below.
“Where did this yacht come from?”
I fired up the blower to clear the engine compartment of fumes and began to untie the stern. “This is a boat. It’s not big enough to be considered a yacht.” I dropped the line on the deck and held out my hand.
Reluctantly she took it and made the step from dry land. I keyed the engine and let it warm up. In a minute I’d removed the bow and spring lines from the dock and was ready to go. Simone was still standing in the center of the deck, looking uncertain.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
I guided her over to the large seat behind the controls on the starboard side. As I put the craft in gear and idled toward the lake, I told her about Ted’s favor. Although she hadn’t met him yet, Simone knew about the old saloon keeper and our relationship. When I reached the lake I pointed at a button on the dash.
“Press that and count to three.”
Grinning like a schoolgirl, Simone thumbed the horn. She settled back on the comfortable seat, pulled her sunglasses on and shook out her hair. “Let’s see what this baby can do.”
Did that get your interest? Here's a shot at what Simone would look like.
Here's an older post that you might enjoy that contains a review of "Artful Dodging"