Sunday, May 19, 2019

Memorable Characters

While teaching a business class last week, the discussion was about the different types of ownership. We were talking about the benefits of a partnership when one student attempted to derail the conversation by asking “How can Tony Stark be fired from his own company?”

It took me a moment to shift gears. “You’re talking about Stark Industries? Iron Man?”

“Yeah, that’s right. This was a company his father built and he owned stock in it. How could he possibly be fired?”

Without knowing all the details, I explained how stockholders in a public corporation would elect a board of directors. It would be the board’s job to oversee the operations of the company and as such, they could be moved to fire Stark. I also gave the example of an actual business, The Men’s Wearhouse, whose founder was fired by the board not so many years ago.

Satisfied by the explanation, I was able to guide the conversation back to the lesson plans. But not before one other student remarked, “Wow, I’m impressed that you knew who Tony Stark was!”
I reminded them that the character had been around since the 1960s, long before Robert Downey Jr. brought him to life on the big screen.

As a writer, one of my goals is to create characters that readers can relate to and with any luck, grow to like. It’s important to me that each one has their own strengths and weaknesses, just as we all do.  While mine don’t happen to possess the super powers of an action figure like Tony Stark, they do have their own skills and talents that will hopefully get them out of whatever conflict they discover themselves in.

Maybe someday, Jamie Richmond or Jefferson Chene will become as popular as Tony Stark.  

Now that would be a blast!

Thinking of characters and their weaknesses, brought Chene to mind. Here’s an excerpt from “Your Turn to Die” that proves the point.

In this scene, Chene is interviewing Abigail Prentiss, a former employee of Kyle Morrissey, whose murder Chene and his team of detectives are investigating.

She waved me toward a small office in the back. I watched as she opted to lean against the desk in the center of the room. Abigail was about thirty, with a very short cut to her thick blonde hair. There was humor dancing in her blue eyes and she flashed me a toothy grin. She braced one hand behind her on the desk. The other hand slowly rubbed her distended stomach.

“I haven’t thought of Kyle Morrissey in almost five years.”

“First things first,” I said. “When are you due?”

“Three weeks. But this kid is either going to be a dancer or a soccer player. She doesn’t stop moving.”

Glancing beyond her I saw a series of finger painted pictures taped to the wall. “Second one?”

“Yes. Already have a boy, so the girl will make the set.”

“How old is he?”

“Two. And if you’re thinking he might be Kyle’s you’re dead wrong. He never got into my panties, despite his repeated efforts.”

My palms went up defensively. “I hadn’t gotten that far yet. Tell me about it.”

“I was engaged when Kyle made his first pass at me. He had always been charming. Thought I couldn’t resist him, but I’d seen all his antics before. I worked the Shores Madrid for a year in high school and came back after college as an assistant manager. I was in the job for about a month before he tried the first time.”

“What happened?”

Abigail closed her eyes. At first I thought she was reflecting on the past, until she began to rub slow circles across her stomach. She drew a deep breath, held it for as long as she could, then let it out in a gasp. “Definitely a dancer.”

“Are you okay?”

She nodded. “Relax, Detective. I’m not going into labor. I hope.”

“Three more weeks, huh?”

“Unless my doctor miscalculated.” Abigail gave a little shudder. “Morrissey. First pass wasn’t much. He happened to be there when I came in to work the evening shift. I’d just gotten engaged. Nick surprised me the night before with a ring. All the kids were clamoring around, checking it out. Everyone was hugging me. Morrissey did too. But he clung a bit longer than was comfortable.”

I glanced at her left hand. She wasn’t wearing jewelry. Abigail caught my eyes and laughed a deep, throaty blast.

“I’m guessing you don’t have children, Detective. My whole body is swollen, including my fingers. There’s no way I can wear my rings.”

“Add that to the growing list of things I don’t know about women. So Morrissey made the most of that clinch?”

“He did. I’m a little rounder than most of the women he hired for the theaters, but he still went for it.”

“What happened next?”

“About two weeks later, he stopped by. Said he wanted to get my reactions to some new movies he was considering.” She shrugged. “I was skeptical. He put his arm around my shoulders when we were in the office, looking at the listings. I started to pull away and his hand slid down my arm. That’s when he cupped my breast.”

“What did you do?”

“Told him I was going to file a harassment claim. I’d managed to speed dial my home number on my cell phone. The whole conversation was being recorded on my answering machine. I told Morrissey that and said the media would be my second call. His wife would be the first.”

“What did he do?”

Abigail shook her head and gave me a wry smile. “Son of a bitch didn’t let go. He just kept rolling his thumb against my nipple. Said he’d understand if I wanted to quit and he’d give me a generous payment to make it all go away. He named a number. I told him to double it.” She shrugged again. “He did. An attorney showed up at my apartment the next afternoon with a document and a check. He assured me it was real and encouraged me to have another attorney look it over. That was the last I ever saw of Morrissey.”

I knew how much the payment had been. That was more than a year’s salary for an assistant manager at a theater. 

“So you had no other contact with him or the theater?”

“I called the manager and said I wouldn’t be back. Then I called each of the girls working there, said if he ever touched them to call the cops. I think he stopped.”

“Maybe he did.”

Abigail thought about it. “I doubt it.”

Music this week comes from Joe Walsh and the James Gang.

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