Failing at NaNoWriMo

According to my NaNoWriMo stats page, at the rate I’m going I will finish by December 3rd. So far I’ve done the bulk of my writing at the office, where there aren’t a bunch of crazy distractions like Mafia and Chris-chan and video games.

My Twitter has been absolutely bustling with people lamenting some variant of “I’m writing too slowly! Aaahh!” So I guess this is fairly common.

Anyway, I have employed a secret weapon in my NaNoWriMo adventure: I called both my mother and my grandmother and gave them permission to nag me about my word count all month long. Then I put a little blurb on the top of my website to sit there sneering at me. “7100 words, Brickroad? Really? That’s the best you can do?”

I’ll show you, sneering little web sticker!

I decided that Fridays would be a good time to share bits of what I’ve been writing. I’m trying my hand at a mystery, although I still only have the very vaguest of ideas about what the mystery will be or where it will go. Here’s hoping you can read it without your eyes bleeding out and leaking down your face!

The front windows of Ted Holdren’s office bore two signs. The first was his name and profession, in giant white typeface: “Theodore Holdren, Private Detective”. It was the kind of sign Jocelyn would have had for herself, if her own windows were situated at the level of folks’ eyes, rather than their ankles.

The second sign was smaller, and hanging in the window of the securely-locked office door. It simply said, “Closed”. Presumably it said “Open” on the other side, and could be turned around accordingly. Jocelyn thought that information was particularly useful, and made a mental note to research the finer points of how the legal system views reversible signs hanging in door windows before investing in one herself.

“Locked up tight,” said Danny, stooping to peer through the middle of the first O in “Theodore”. “And can’t see much. Lights are all off, and the blinds are drawn shut.”

Just to confirm Danny’s suspicions, Jocelyn tried the doorknob. It was indeed locked.

“Got a hairpin?” asked Danny. “Maybe I could jimmy the lock.”

“Danny, that’s breaking and entering.”

“It’s entering, sure, but it’s only breaking if I break somethin’, isn’t it?”

That made Jocelyn’s ears twitch. She couldn’t argue with the logic, but at the same time there was something decidedly… off about it.

“Okay, fine, you’re still too green to want to get your hands dirty. There’s an alley around back, let’s see if there’s another way in.”

It wasn’t so much of an alley, really, as just a crack in between two buildings. There was barely enough room for two people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The brick walls on either side seemed to lean in towards each other, and the gravel underfoort had only grudgingly given way to a shallow rut that ran down the center. Even though it hadn’t rained in weeks, there was a strange sogginess to the place.

“No back door,” Danny observed, “but look there.” Just overhead was a fire escape, the black metal ladder firmly locked outside a second-floor window, far out of reach. Looking up from below, Jocelyn could make out a brownish-red mass of something which had been spilled onto the metal latticework of the landing. On the gravel pathway immediately below were flecks of soil, the likes of which had no place in the back alley of a big city.

“Window’s open up there, looks like,” said Danny. “That Ted’s apartment? Or does he lease it out?”

“I don’t know,” said Jocelyn. “Here, give me a leg up.”

“Why Joss,” teased Danny. He stopped over and cupped his hands together to give her a foothold. “I do believe that’s breaking and entering.”

“It’s only breaking if I break something,” Jocelyn retorted. She balanced on Danny’s hands as he lifted her up, and grabbed the bottom rung of the fire escape ladder as it came into reach.

“I swear, Joss,” moaned Danny, “you know I got bad knees. I can’t be doing this kind of lifting.”

“Must be all those soup crackers I’ve been eating,” mused Jocelyn. “Besides, it’s bad manners to make light of a lady’s weight.”

“They wouldn’t let me drive cab if I had any manners. You see anything?”

With a bit of effort, Jocelyn scrambled over the siderail and onto the landing, which she presently shared with a broken ceramic flowerpot, spilling its soil into the alley below. “The window’s not open,” Jocelyn called down, “it’s broken.” She fished her notepad out and began describing the scene to herself. The details were simple: the shards of clear, broken glass told her the window had been broken from the inside. There was a round spot on the outside windowsill which was somewhat cleaner than the surrounding area, which told her the flower pot had been sitting outside, rather than in. The window was still locked and latched, but with the entire pane missing anyone could have climbed through it.

But if someone had climbed out of the window, where did they go? The fire escape ladder was still withdrawn. The building across the alley was just an unyielding brick wall. An overhang prevented anyone from climbing upwards from the fire escape onto the roof. The fall to the alley was—

“Hey Joss, what’re you writing there, a bestseller? Let the ladder down already.”

It took Jocelyn’s brain a moment to detach itself from her notepad long enough to process Danny’s complaint from down in the alley. She murmured something like an apology as she found the latch holding the ladder in place. It was rusted in place, but nothing a loud grunt and a firm application of elbow grease couldn’t handle. Once released, the ladder descended to the alley floor with a loud metallic clatter. Danny clambered up with such reckless abandon that the entire fire escape clanked and shook.

Though he was red-faced and out of breath upon reaching the top, Danny launched right into the next part of his critique. “Did you even look inside? Is anyone still in there?”

“I hadn’t checked yet,” admitted Jocelyn. “You have to take these things one step at a time. I hadn’t finished examining the fire escape before you interrupted me, how could I know what’s inside?”

She couldn’t have looked inside now if she wanted to, as Danny’s generous frame was blocking the view. “Looks like nobody’s home,” he stated. Then, “Geez, Joss. Someone coulda leaned out here and clubbed you with a tire iron, and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything but wave good-bye. What’re you thinking?”

“Quit being such a grump,” whined Jocelyn. “There’s something funny about this scene, but I can’t place what.”

“Yeah, there’s something funny alright. Someone had a real grudge against this window, and I’m not talking about the lousy taste in drapery.”

Jocelyn hadn’t even looked at the curtains yet. She was still working on the fire escape. “I’m being serious,” she said. Holding hat to her head, she hooked her shoes under the banister of the fire escape and leaned over as far as she dared. “Someone could survive a drop from here, couldn’t they, Danny?”

“I knew a guy in the service what survived three point blank shots to the head,” Danny replied lamely. “But there’s no reason to jump down when you got a perfectly good ladder, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Maybe they couldn’t get the latch undone.”

Danny just chortled at that. “You got it undone yourself, and you’re all toothpicks. Look, we goin’ inside or ain’t we?”

Jocelyn hated leaving a scene unfinished, but she had dutifully recorded all the details in her notepad. She would have to revisit the notes later to discover what it was that was bothering her.

Danny had already climbed through the window by the time Jocelyn turned around. “Careful,” he said, “there’s still a jagged edge there. Wouldn’t want you to get a run in your stocking.”

“You’re always so considerate,” replied Jocelyn. She parted the gaudy floral-print curtains and very carefully navigated the empty window frame and joined Danny in a small one-room flat. The first detail was a very strong odor hanging in the air. “What’s that smell?”

“Burned coffee,” mourned Danny. He was at the other side of the room, now, at a kitchenette which consisted of a miniscule wash basin and a two-burner electric range, presently occupied by a tall metal percolator. Danny clicked off the range and sloshed the contents of the percolator around a bit. “Boiled down to sludge. Have you ever seen anything sadder?”

“I don’t like the taste of coffee,” said Jocelyn matter-of-factly. It’s a small wonder she had heard Danny’s lament at all, considering how furiously she was scribbling down notes.

“The bed’s made,” Danny observed. “You write that down in your little book?”

In fact, Jocelyn was busy itemizing the spilled-out contents of an open closet on the other side of the room. So far she had a pair of skis, an empty birdcage, a globe and a propped-up ironing board. “Why would I?” she asked, without looking up from her work.

“Why would you? Are you kidding? Ted Holdren’s a bachelor. You know a lot of bachelors who make their beds first thing in the morning?”

Jocelyn sighed. “I don’t know a lot of bachelors, period.”

“That’s because you keep all your curves under that bulky yellow coat of yours. But never mind that. Ted Holdren? This guy chain smokes Valentinos and puts whiskey on his corn flakes. He’s not concerned about whether the crease in his pillowcase is showing.”

Jocelyn looked at the bed, then back at her notepad, then back at the closet. The realization hit her like a 20-ton weight. “This is a woman’s flat.” She spun around. “But whose?”

Danny delicately plucked a pair of lacy bloomers off the top of a nearby laundry hamper. “She really is a hot tamale.”

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