The Compleat Winter: Righteous Kill, Dr. Ralph, We Be Cool

cover-smallRighteous Kill

Shortly after my divorce, I came into possession of the condo my ex and I purchased. Originally, Nita and I were going to live there, but the drive to her work and the school system for AJ just did not work out. So we moved back to the city. Since I bought the house in 2007, and about 1/4 of its value disappeared in 2008, I ended up renting it out.

My tenant had just recently married and had a large blended family. This often necessitated him getting creative in paying the rent the first six months or so he lived there. (Always, except once, on time.) Occasionally, this meant I took the rent in cash. One day, I drove over to collect, and he asked me to follow him to the bank. So, at 8:30 on a spring night, the two of us sat driver door-to-driver door exchanging the cash. As I counted it up, I turned to him and said, “You know, it’d be really funny if a Union Township cop rolled up on us right now.” He said we’d have a helluva time explaining that this was just rent money.

A couple of weeks later, the joke became the germ of an idea tied to an aborted novel I never wrote. It was set in a fictional version of Mt. Washington, a neighborhood of Cincinnati that many think is actually a separate town. In my proposed novel, it actually was, its police chief an alcoholic man by the name of Tom Jefferson. Ed Morgan is his corrupt sergeant who lusts after Jefferson’s job. I thought the incident would be a good way to get into Morgan’s head by having him roll up on two people innocently exchanging cash the way my tenant and I did. The difference is that the Union Township Police, had the showed, would have given us a hard time, maybe taken us in to sort out that we were no, in fact, bad guys. Morgan would want the cash and would also know how to make it look like a legitimate shooting. I managed a couple of more stories based in Mt. Washington (“A Score for Little Dale” and “Annie”), but a full-blown novel has yet to come about.

Dr. Ralph

One thing that annoys me in the medical profession is the willingness of some doctors to get pill happy. I had one prescribe an anti-depressant for weight loss. It had the opposite effect. My oral surgeon, after removing my wisdom teeth, handed me a big bottle of Vicodin. That one was understandable, but I was on Advil by the end of the day. Most doctors I’ve had, though, usually are skittish about prescribing pills. It’s their practice, not the pharmaceutical rep’s.

But there is a whole industry around pushing the latest prescription on people. Witness commercials that tell you to ask your doctor about some new wonder drug, but don’t tell you what it’s for. “Doctor, the man on television says I need Dammitall.” “That’s nice, Jim. Did the man on television mention that it’s for menstrual cramps?”

But how far is a doctor willing to go? The prescription pain killer epidemic of just a couple of years ago shows that some people with a license to practice medicine may not be as scrupulous as their Hippocratic Oaths demand.

Dr. Ralph Cutter is not that bad, but bad enough. If you have a problem, and he has a solution that will get him a nice kickback, problem solved. Never mind the side effects.

The plotline to this one is pretty standard: Pretty girl lures man to his doom. Cutter is an arrogant ass who cheats on his wife and doesn’t bother hiding it very much. Trina is slim, beautiful, and a quick study in leading a man by his libido. It’s the twist at the end that sells this story. I always tried to shift the story to keep the reader off-balance, but without that ending, it would have ended up being a rehash of Double Indemnity.

We Be Cool

This is one of two stories spawned from an English composition class that I took a few years ago. It was divided into three parts: Poetry, short story, and drama. One of the assignments was to take a poem from our text and either analyze it or to write a short story based on it. I selected Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” because it described the very thing that drives one of the characters in Holland Bay, a former drug dealer named Rufus King. In the novel, King is the money man for the city’s drug lord and, as a result, a very wealthy man in his own right. King craves legitimacy, but he also sees his old friend and mentor as a liability. (Hey, kind of sounds like The Wire, doesn’t it?) This story, which uses “We Real Cool” as a jumping off point and as a way to structure the story. In this story, King is about to make his bones, carrying out a killing that will earn him his boss’s eternal gratitude. King is questioning the life he’s chosen for himself and, at the end, surrenders to what he thinks is the inevitable by echoing Brooks’ closing line. “We die soon.”

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