Time for something a bit different. The basic premise of this story is simple. In his past life, the main character, Erik, was a gangster from the thirties and forties, and now he has to fight the inherent darkness inside him or risk losing the girl he loves. I originally wrote this as an adult story and it was very, very long- around 200,000 words. It probably could have been three books because I went through a different "mini" story for each stage of his life - teens, thirties and sixties. But now, I'm thinking that this might be better written strictly as a YA novel because I'm better at writing that genre. The problem is that every time I try to write this beginning it comes out completely different from what I had originally intended. And that's ok, but I would still like to incorporate some of the stuff I had written before. I mean I don't want to throw away all 200K words! At any rate, this is one version of my "teen" story. It's chapter one, and the novel is called BETTINA. This is my first attempt at writing in present tense and I'm not sure if I want to keep it that way. Oh, and the character of Karpis isn't made up - he was a real gangster who lived in MN (see mugshot to the right). As always, all comments are appreciated.
BETTINA Chapter 1
I’m supposed to be studying. Ms. Gray, my seventh period German teacher agreed to let me out since A. she knows that I’m already fluent in the language and B. she has a little crush on me. Bully to me. I’m not studying. I’m looking through the newspaper for any information on the closing of Alcatraz prison. This is not headline news in Minnesota, but I’m hoping that someone, perhaps a reporter with a penchant for Minnesota history, has recalled that one of Alcatraz’s most famous prisoners made St. Paul his stomping ground during the 20's and 30's.
I flip to the Variety section and lo and behold, there it is. The caption reads: Alvin "Creepy" Karpis to be moved to McNeal Island Penitentiary.
Below the article is a mugshot of said Creepy. His mouth and eyebrows are straight lines, as if someone has penciled them in. His hair is swept off his forehead, exposing a half formed widow's peak. But it’s his eyes that draw the viewer. They stare through the page, emotionless, as if the man were not a man but something else altogether.
I don’t need to read the article to learn that Karpis is a bank robber, kidnapper and murderer. I know that already. I remember that. What I want to learn is if he has any chance of being paroled. I scan the article. There are references to William Hamm Jr. of the Hamm Brewing company who was kidnapped on June 15, 1933, his life held for a 100,000 dollar ransom. But there is no mention of Karpis’s life sentence being revoked. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In either case, I know that a smoke is in order.
I reach for the half-empty pack of cigarettes next to my copy of Chaucer. I shake one out and dig in my pocket for a lighter. As the flame flickers, I take a look around the diner.
It’s three o’clock. In fifteen minutes, classes will let out at my high school down the street and then the place will be bustling with kids seeking to gorge themselves on greasy French fries, overdone burgers and malted milk shakes. In the meantime, the only people here are me and a couple of truck drivers. I pick up my coffee cup, noting that it is cold to the touch and mentally reprimand Vera for failing to fill it. Again. She’s at the counter, taking money from a customer and as she closes the cash register, I notice that it sticks out half an inch. She walks away without bothering to fix it.
I inhale deeply on my cigarette. Open my book to distract myself. Look again at the cash register.
Vera walks to the other table and takes the truck drivers’ order. They're flirting with her, and she gets flustered. She’s used to a little flattery. What waitress isn’t? But when one pinches her ass, she flees to the kitchen as if a bee has stung her. My gaze returns to the cash register, then back to the truck drivers who, to my surprise, are also eyeing it. They get up. One goes to the entrance of the café and remains there, looking out the window. The other walks to the counter. It’s rather clever really, to distract Vera like that. Crude, but clever. Unfortunately they have either forgotten that I exist or else they don’t consider me a threat. Imagine that.
I get up just as the man sets his hand on the money drawer. His head darts in my direction. I walk behind the counter, cup in hand and grab the coffee pot.
“Hey, boy what you doin’?” he asks.
“Vera doesn’t mind,” I say.
I fill my cup and set the coffee pot back into place.
“Shouldn’t you be in school or somethin’?”
The man at the door looks at us, his eyes darting around like a frightened rabbit.
"School just got out," I say. "Of course you wouldn’t know that, being a stranger in town. You also wouldn’t know that in about five minutes two dozen witnesses will walk into this diner, and every one of them will vouch for me when I say that you robbed the place.”
“Now look here, boy," he says and points a finger at me. "You can't go 'round accusing people of shit like that. It ain't consensual."
"I think you mean constitutional."
“Oh, so you think you're a smartass, huh?" He leans forward and tries to appear menacing. Emphasis on the word tries. Compared to Karpis, this guy is about as frightening as Steamboat Willy.
"Stewart, I see someone coming,” the man at the front door hisses.
I grin. “So, Stewart. Should we call it a draw?”
He hisses something foul under his breath and looks at the register, wondering if he can take me on and still get out of there in time. I may not be much to look at, rather tall and skinny, but wearing my uncle’s WWII bomber jacket gives me a look of authority that I would otherwise lack. Or at least, that’s what my best friend, Tommy, tells me. Still, I decide that I need to make my point a bit clearer.
“That your truck out there?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
Sheesh, how thick can you get?
“It’s your license plate number, you idiot. I saw it when you drove in.”
He curses under his breath, then grabs one of the toothpicks sitting on the counter as if he had intended to do so all along. He takes his time leaving, throwing a backward glance at me before the door jingles shut. When he and his partner are gone, I look down at the cash register and shake my head. It’s really too easy. I grab a table knife, jam it into the open crack and give it a good yank.