The question came up at the writer’s workshop the other day. ‘When are you done?’ How do you know that the story is finished, that you’ve captured every detail, polished every bit and made it all perfect. I didn’t have the exact answer. I don’t know if anyone does.
For me, ideas occasionally jump to mind, something that may have happened forty pages ago that I could rework. I’ll stop in the middle of the current passage and go back to that spot, reread it, change it, let it simmer and move on. Does that mean I’m done? Hardly.
When I get to the end, whether it’s a short story or a novel, I put it aside and walk away for a few days. I try to get it out of my head all together. Then with a fresh set of eyes, I’ll sit down and read it again. As I go, I’ll edit it, making sure the story flows, keeping the pacing smooth, draw in the reader. Then when I think it is right, I’ll reach out to a couple of friends who are gracious enough to act as beta readers. They will read over whatever I’ve done and give me honest feedback. I’ll take that into consideration and make changes. Then maybe it’s done.
But it can be a lengthy process. I’m currently working on the sequel to ‘Why 319?’ another Jefferson Chene mystery. This one starts out with an entrepreneur being gunned down at a simulated war game. Only instead of being struck by a paintball, he gets shot several times by a real gun. The question that kept nagging at me was using a silencer to disguise the killing. I had the segment right, or so I thought. Then I remembered an old friend named Fred who is something of a weapons expert. He was quick to give me some suggestions which led to revisions. Am I done? Maybe with that section. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I keep at it. Here’s a sneak peek at the story. What do you think?
It didn’t look like the kind of morning for someone to die. The mist burning off with the rising sun revealed a gregarious crowd, struggling for some semblance of order. Green and brown camouflage fatigues, plastic goggles and leather boots adorned many of the participants. Some were clothed in sneakers, jeans and sweatshirts, mostly black or dark in color. From a distance it looked like a raiding party from Selfridge ANG base.
Up close was another story. These were not the lean, mean physiques of true military men and women, but the various shapes of weekend warriors, seeking a little fun and games. Much of the clothing was worn and mismatched, probably from an army surplus supplier. The group was quickly separated into four divisions, designated by colored armbands. An elaborate version of capture the flag was about to begin. But one participant was after much higher stakes.
The sun was quickly warming the area when the target was spotted. It took him a while, since he didn't want to get too close and risk being recognized. Surprise was going to be a major part of his game.
As luck would have it, he was part of the black team. The plan was to defend against blue and attack yellow. But his target was on the red squad. As the players dispersed, he drifted toward the trees, keeping his quarry in sight.
With patience, the target would be eliminated before noon.
This was the first of four rounds scheduled for today. According to the rules of engagement, if a paint pellet struck you, you were eliminated from that series. Those hit were instructed to head back to the neutral area, where cases of beer, soft drinks and bottled water were already chilling under ice. A deli platter would be offered between the second and third rounds of play. After the final rounds, the grills would be fired up and a feast would be served. Since each squad used the paint colors to match their armbands, one inept soldier could be a splattered rainbow by the day's end.
During the initial round, he kept to the sidelines, trying to elude any potential attackers and maintain visual contact. With less than twenty minutes left in the game, a warrior from the blue team sprang from a low tree limb and nailed him with a shot to the stomach. Instinctively, he flinched and clutched his gut. After a moment he smiled, then wiped the smear of paint on his fatigues and headed for the neutral zone. He had lost sight of his quarry, but was unconcerned. Patience would be its own reward. If he struck too soon, the target may be discovered before he could make his escape. And that was not part of his plan.
At the neutral zone, he pulled a pop from the ice then leaned against a picnic table. On the far side of the area he spotted his man, a large blotch of yellow paint adorning his neck and right shoulder. His eyes never left his target. The man was slumped on the ground, breathing heavily, with his back braced against a tree. Sweat beaded his face. He pulled off his hat, wiping his face with his bare hands. The camouflage shirt and pants were also darkened with sweat.
A whistle sounded repeatedly, signaling the end of the first round. The rest of the players straggled in and received their assignments for game two. Some switched to other teams, but many remained where they were. After all, it was the game, not the enemy that counted.
This time, the target was going to be involved. Black was to defend against yellow and attack red. That was precisely what he had in mind. As the battle began, he slipped over to a cluster of willow trees, adjusted his equipment and made his way slowly through the low hanging branches. The game went on around him. His eyes remained narrowed and focused. Nostrils flaring, he was searching for the scent of his prey. His ears were attuned for the slightest clue of his target. He checked each area cautiously before moving on.
He was just up ahead on the left. The target was making this too easy. He had isolated himself from the group. The target had straddled a fallen log and was holding his head in his hands. The hunter gently lowered the bulky paintball gun to the ground. From one of the pants cargo pockets, he removed a revolver. From another, he pulled out a plastic water bottle. Deftly, he fastened the neck of the bottle to the muzzle of the gun. Then he moved closer, still cautiously checking his surroundings before taking even a single step. He was less than ten feet away when the target looked up.
"Go away. I don't want to play today."
"Sorry, pigeon. This game's for real." He brought the gun up and extended it toward his quarry.
"Okay, shoot me and get it over with. I feel like shit anyway."
"When I get done, you won't feel a thing."
At that moment the target looked up and studied the weapon drawn on him. The revolver looked funny with the plastic bottle stuck on the end.
"What kind of paint gun is that?"
"I don't play with paint, Morrissey. I use the real thing."
Morrissey raised the goggles from his face and squinted at the hunter in the sun-dappled shadows. Recognition finally registered. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Taking care of business, Morrissey." With that he lined up the sites on the victim's chest and nonchalantly squeezed the trigger. What sound the suppresser did not muffle, the willow branches did. He watched the body jerk spasmodically as Morrissey slid off the log onto the ground. Stepping closer, he fired another round into the victim’s crotch. Then just to be sure, he placed the shattered end of the plastic bottle against Morrissey’s forehead and squeezed the trigger again. He picked up Morrissey's weapon and fired a red paint pellet at his own left leg. The killer jumped in surprise at the pain of the impact at such close range. The paint was a brighter shade than the stain spreading on the ground below the body. Satisfied, he turned from the log and began working his way through the willows toward the neutral zone.