I found and read through all the pieces I wrote of the Crossroads story eight years ago. I’m not impressed. Like all of my stories, it’s full of action but has no character development whatsoever. My spare writing style makes my stories initially engaging but I eventually lose interest because I do not know who those people are or what is supposed to happen to them.
I keep telling you, Markowitz, I can write a grant proposal that will bring you to your knees but I have no gift for fiction.
So I’m going to post the second part of the story right now, but after that, I will have to rewrite. Here goes:
The past is gone
It went by like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way?
Everybody’s got their dues in life to pay
We rode in companionable silence, Bill and I. The train rumbled along the way trains do, the vibration under my feet making them jumpy. I got up and paced the length of the car like a circus lion. Bill sat, legs crossed at the ankles, observing my nervous activity but saying nothing.
“Where’s the next stop?” I quit my pacing and stood in front of Bill, holding the corner of a seatback.
“How long’s the layover?” Unable to be still, I resumed pacing.
“Long enough to get a cup of coffee.”
As the train slowed and finally came to a shuddering halt at the station, I waited at the top of the stairs. The door opened with a groan, sending a blast of cool but fetid air into the car. I jumped off the bottom stair to the dusty ground. Bill stepped off behind me.
“Let’s go to RJ’s,” he said.
Another train depot dive. Vinyl-covered stools. Waitress with a dirty apron and a gun stashed under the speckled counter. The clock on the wall read 6:00 am.
“You got a friend today, Bill.” The waitress once-overed me with an unfriendly glare.
“Two coffees, in to-go cups.” He dropped some bills on the table. Good thing, because my coat pocket did not seem to contain my wallet.
“You catching the 6:15?” The waitress poured coffee into Styrofoam cups.
“You know I am.” Cups in hand, we stepped back onto the street.
“You come here a lot?” I asked him.
“GET DOWN,” he shouted, yanking me into a doorway. A bullet whizzed through the air, splitting the space we had just occupied in two.
“We have to get back to the train station.”
I stared at him. “No shit.”
“Stay low and follow me.” He dashed out of the relative safety of our doorway and scooted into the next one, a few yards down the street. Bill moved surprisingly fast for a man his age. I copied his maneuver, feeling like a character in a campy spy movie.
“Shhhh, not now. Follow me again.” Bill slid into the shadow of a nearby tree, stopping to peer around its trunk. I bumped into him when I did it.
“There’s no cover now until we get to the depot. Ready to run for it?” He took my hand.
Together we ran like hell, not bothering to be quiet, our shoes pounding the brick sidewalks. Panting, we flung ourselves through the door of the train station as another bullet flew past.
I stopped, hands on my knees to catch my breath. “WHY IS SOMEONE TRYING TO KILL YOU?”
Bill, breathing hard, looked at me with one eyebrow raised. “What makes you think someone is trying to kill me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. How about THE BULLETS THEY WERE SHOOTING AT US?”
“Well it’s not ME. Portland is just like that.” We climbed the steps, back into our car. I sat slumped low in my seat so I couldn’t be seen through the window until we were far, far away from Portland. The coffee, still clutched in my hand, had long gone cold.
See what I mean?
Can I learn this storytelling art?
I have to get back into the mindset I had at the time. That’s hard. It was a long time ago. I was but 41—what did I know of life?
The protagonist is clearly me but not me. Bill Foster is loosely based on an old friend of mine. I need some back story, man. I need these characters to go for a walk with me and tell me about their childhoods. And maybe I need to go on a train trip.