Jim said, “If we kill him, and get caught, they will electrocute us. If we kill him, we have to do it in a way that can’t be proved.” He went on, “We gotta make sure the rest of the prisoners know it was us, so they’ll fear us.” They spent weeks coming up with plan after plan.
* * * * *
Ben, the youngest and least threatening on the chain gang, was the water boy. He shuffled up and down the line passing out water from two canvas buckets hanging by ropes from a wooden yoke. A tin cup was attached to the yoke by a cord. The prisoners were allowed to dip bug laden and brackish water twice each hour. Pete reveled in his domination of Ben by forcing him to fill the cup and hand it to him.
Ben said, “We can grind up glass to a fine powder and put it in his cup. It’ll cut his innards to pieces.”
“It’ll cut you, and the guards will see your bloody hands.”
“I’ll carry it in something and slip it in before I get to him.”
“I like the idea, but not glass. There are too many risks. If you get caught, what’ll you say?”
The chain gang was on a particularly tough stretch of the swamp, clearing brush and bamboo. Hardly a week went by without someone getting bit by a snake. Everyone, including the guards, was jumpy. As one of the prisoners put it, “You had-ta look where you was cutting every time you swung your machete. Otherwise, you could-a hit a snake.”
The men carried long bamboo shafts to thrust ahead of where they worked to get the snakes to move away; even the guards had poles.
Ben had read somewhere that finely shaved bamboo slivers could kill a man slowly and painfully with little evidence. In these surroundings, he was sure he could conceal this deadly gift.
“I’ll try bamboo and see if it does the job.”
The next day Ben cut a few inches from his shaft. Working with a jailhouse knife made from a piece of tin, he cut fine shards. So fine, they were almost invisible to the human eye. He wasn’t careful, and a sliver got stuck in his finger. He felt the pain but could not see the offending shard. “Damn, this hurts.”
“How you gonna test it?” Jim asked.
A pack of mongrel dogs hung about the camp surviving on scraps, roadkill, and what they could beg off the prisoners and guards. “I’ll try it on one of the mutts.”
Jim asked, “How can you do that?”
“Easy, I’ll save my meat Saturday and mix in the bamboo.”
Angrily, Jim retorted, “I mean, how can you kill a dog?”
“Easy if it will help get rid of Pete.”
Jim slumped, head down as he whispered, “Oh, God.” After a moment, he looked up and said, “Okay.”
Two days later, Saturday, the one night a week they got meat, Ben saved what passed for meat, ground-up hog, beef entrails, and chicken scraps. Because it was his plan, Ben said, “I’ll do it.” After dinner, he slipped one of the dogs, a mangy collie mix, a handful of bamboo-laced meat.
Ben and Jim watched the mongrel. The first day they saw no change in its behavior. The second day the dog began whimpering and crawling around in pain—the third, it passed blood from its ass and coughed up more—the fourth it died.
Two days later, Ben gave Pete a water and bamboo cocktail. Based on their experience with the dog, they expected some sign on the second day. Pete seemed as healthy as a sadistic bastard can be. Ben thought about giving him another dose of bamboo. Jim vetoed the idea as too risky.
Ben smiled at Pete and said, “How’s the water?”
“What the f*@k are you talking about, punk?”
Ben smiled. He made sure that Pete’s crew overheard the exchange, a conversation he repeated as the day wore on.
On the third day, Pete began to complain of severe stomach pain. Walking up with a bright smile, Ben almost sang, “Hey Pete, you want another cup of water? I fixed it special for you.” Pete declined—by then—it was too late.
By the fourth day, Pete was shitting and puking blood. He couldn’t walk. Even the guards knew he was dying. Once again, Ben offered to bring him water.
It took Pete five days to die.
No autopsy, no investigation, just a quick burial in an unmarked grave: the other prisoners knew Ben had killed Pete, only not how. Life on the chain gang remained hard.
Ben was never attacked again.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/george.cramer
Recently I was working on a new scene from Book II of the Liberty Trilogy. Reading it aloud, I noticed a decided lack of personal attributes. I needed to give my character something to show of himself.
A few years back, I bought five books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi designed to help the writer with characters and settings. I keep the books within arm’s length. However, more often than not, I forget them. I reached for The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes.
Searching the index, I couldn’t find a trait that fit what I had in mind. Oh, well, find something. I noticed three characteristics that gave me an idea of how to rewrite several paragraphs. When finished, I was happy with what was now on the paper. I decided to keep the guide on my desk.
Days later, I needed another clue. Reaching for the guide, I noticed the book on my desk was The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws.
I reread the scene and decided the character flaws made for a more compelling character and storyline than positive traits.
Thanks, Angela and Becca.
It’s been almost a month since I last posted. Then I spoke of the inspiration for my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters.
In case you’ve forgotten, National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, is an annual event in which participants attempt to complete a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.
As I finalized my research prior to the start of NaNoWriMo, I began filling out Character, Minor Character, and Scene Cards. Introduced to these by Deborah “Jordan” Bernal, I find them invaluable.
Before I started at one minute after midnight, Friday, November 1, 2013, I had three characters, two minor characters, and ten scene cards arrayed in my work folder. When I finished at 5:00 p.m. November 21, 2013, I had twenty-four cards and 51156 words.
As a winner, I’m eligible for a happy face sticker, like this one:
I try to write two-thousand words a day, every day. Generally, I fail. NaNoWriMo forced me to meet or exceed that goal. Taking two days off, I still managed to average 2400 words a day.
Never having written a “Chick-Flic” story, I struggled with the lack of violence and expletives.
Back in October I gave my readers a hint, “There might even be a mysterious stranger lurking in the background.” I kept him hidden so far back that he could have been an afterthought. That is until I hit 30,000 words. In danger of running out of story line, I took a day off and pondered how to get another 20,000. Inspiration struck, as it often does, at 3:00 a.m.
I went back to Chapter 7, re-read it and inserted a new Chapter 8. The mysterious stranger now delivers in this and six additional chapters. I believe the changes enhance the story and help with character development.
It’s time to set The Mona Lisa Sisters aside and get back to A Tale of Robbers and Cops and Liberty.
A Tale of Robbers and Cops is the story of two illiterate Georgia teenage brothers. Brutalized on a chain gang, they commit a revenge murder locking them into a life of crime.
It’s been almost five months since I pitched Robbers to a publisher, and three since the publisher asked me to submit it for reading. I’m assuming the worst, so I will be rewriting once again.
Liberty is story about people, people who happen to be cops, gang bangers, civilians, and innocent by-standers. The gangs are violent and commit both random and orchestrated murders. The cops have flaws. The gang bangers, a few at least, have a good trait or two.
If you can get by the murders that occur in just about every chapter, it’s a fun read.
After over forty years of investigative experience, I’ve officially changed career paths. While most people my age retire, I’m much too active for that. Besides, I can only watch so much television, and I’m a terrible golfer. I’m devoting my time to writing, school, and volunteerism.
If you didn’t know, I’ve written one novel, A Tale of Robbers and Cops. I enjoyed the project and learned a great deal about writing.
My second novel, Liberty, set in the fictional city of Liberty, Arizona, is a story about people. That’s right; it’s a story about people, not cops. However, among these people are cops, the leaders of a Black Prison/Street Gang, as well as a Latino Street Gang. I’ve been researching for a year. In that time, I’ve met some interesting gang experts who have been more than generous with their time.
In addition to the novels, I’m amassing a collection of short stories. Several are set for publication by year’s end.
My educational goal is to complete an AA Degree in English at Las Positas College and then enter a Master of Fine Arts program. My alma mater, California State University – East Bay has a joint campus program that should meet my needs.
For the last eighteen months, I’ve spent 2 ½ hours most Mondays in Polish Your Writing, a class taught by acclaimed author and educator Julaina Kleist. I intend to continue studying under Julaina indefinitely.
As for volunteerism, I’ve returned to the San Leandro Police Department as a Volunteer in Police (VIP). Forty-five years ago, as a rookie police officer, I shuttled cars to and from the corporation yard, to the car wash, swept the police station, emptied trash, and handled a myriad of other un-cop like tasks. As a VIP, I’m doing much the same thing, only for free.
I’m excited about this turn in the road I’ve made and am looking forward to new adventures. If you would like to read samples of my writing or hear more about my journey, feel free to check out my blog.
MERGING THE HEART OF A WRITER WITH THE SOUL OF A BIKER
Blog : https://gdcramer.com
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
FaceBook : http://www.facebook.com/george.cramer.56211
LinkedIn : http://www.linkedin.com/in/gdcramerpi/
Twitter : @WriterBiker
Next month will be my second foray into the world of NaNoWriMo.
What? You’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo hosts, pushes, beats, cheers, and helps tens of thousands write 50,000 words every November.
NaNoWriMo is on the honor system. The prizes are children’s stickers awarded weekly. My only competition is George Cramer.
One must write 1,666 words every day for thirty days. Last year I wrote 70,000 words, or 2,333 a day. The purpose of the event is to write a novel. No editing, no critiquing, just writing. All the other stuff one can do later.
In 2012, I decided to write for NaNoWriMo. Writers should “write what you know.” I take that to heart.
For NaNoWriMo, I fudged. I wrote about events from my sixteen years at the San Leandro Police Department. Those years at SLPD were some of the best of my life. I began a list of incidents, most at SLPD. There are a few involving Oakland PD, Alameda PD, Alameda County Sheriff, Hayward PD, and even one in San Francisco where I traded guns for heroin. (Shades of Fast and Furious – We didn’t let the guns walk.) Some are funny, some sad, some bad. Yes, bad things do occasionally happen in a police department. I created an outline of those I want on paper. Before I knew it, the list had grown to sixty-five, each a story worth telling.
I suffer from CRS. I knew the longer I waited, the less accurate these stories would be. I dug in on November 1, 2012 and started down the list. I didn’t get through all sixty-five, but I did get around forty written. Before you begin to worry, except for a few of my exploits, not all, and some outstanding and courageous officers, I changed the names.
The first novel, A Tale of Robbers and Cops, is at a publisher now. I expect the rejection notice any day. The second, Liberty, is about 50% complete.
As part of NaNoWriMo, I will start a new novel. I’m looking for ideas. Think of an incident, real or imagined and shoot me a note. If I use your suggestion, I’ll name a character after you.