DIAL W FOR WRITER by Derek Paterson
by Derek Paterson

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"Chapter One.
"Snow fell upon the city like a duck feather quilt.  The howling wind turned into the wail of police sirens, as the forces of law responded to the nefarious doings of the forces of evil."
Betsy read the first paragraph of Boil Me Again back to herself and could find no flaw in the gripping narrative.  Her agent—once she got herself an agent—was sure to find it equally gripping.  He'd present her with a four-figure contract and whisk her off to book signings where people would be falling over themselves to meet her.  The cream of Hollywood would want to star in the movie they'd make from her best-selling novel.  Maybe Biff Thorsen would play Jack.  The very thought of meeting the world's most handsome actor sent delicious chills running up and down her spine.  But right now, she had writing to do!
She placed her fingers upon the keyboard and willed them to create more words.  That was how it worked—they did the writing, making things up that she had no control over.  When she'd tried to explain this to her writing group, they'd all looked at her as if she was nuts.  One guy told them he spent weeks thinking about his next page, and until he was satisfied he knew every single word by heart he didn't even put paper into his typewriter.  Another girl said she was only two chapters into her novel, which she'd been working on for five years, and she didn't know how anyone could just rattle out words without giving them due consideration first.  Betsy hadn't the courage to tell them she was working on her fifteenth novel.  Not that she'd had any success with the first fourteen, yet, but she had query letters out with all the major publishing houses.  They couldn't keep rejecting her forever.
Her fingers started moving.
"Standing naked at her penthouse apartment window, Bonnie Latouche took a sip from her glass of French champagne and wondered who she'd shoot tonight.  It was her self-appointed task to rid the city of its scum, of the gangsters and creeps and malcontents who dwelled in the sewers and toilet bowls that had once been decent streets where mothers could meet and discuss knitting patterns while their kids played nearby without fear."
Boy, this was good stuff!  Maybe she'd take it to her writing group next Wednesday at the local library.  She could always tell them she'd been working on it for six months or more, and it was a fourth or fifth draft.  Maybe that would make them think twice before they tore it apart, like they always did.  If she heard "shallow characters" or "too much exposition" or "comma splice" again, she'd just scream!
The telephone rang.  Betsy ignored it.  Her fingers moved again—
"A gentle knock at the door startled Bonnie.  Jack was here early, and she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing!  She reached for her silk robe... then thought better of it.  She and Jack had been circling each other for too long, neither willing to make the first move because he was married.  But now that his no-good wife had run off to Florida with a vacuum cleaner salesman, it was time their working relationship blossomed into something much, much deeper."
The telephone continued to ring.  Betsy glanced at it, hoping it was a wrong number and they'd hang up in a moment, realizing their mistake.
"Bonnie winked at her reflection in the mirror.  Not bad, she admitted to herself, not bad at all.  She strode to the door, ready to surrender her womanhood to the man she loved.  She opened the door and Jack slumped into her arms, covered in blood, his handsome face bruised and puffed up almost beyond recognition."
Brriiiiiinng!  That darned telephone!  Why couldn't the snow knock out the phone line?  Betsy reluctantly left Jack hanging in Bonnie's arms, went out into the hallway and snatched up the receiver.  "Midtown 1-5-2."
"Is that Betsy?"  A woman's voice.  Betsy didn't recognize it.
"Why yes, it is.  Who's calling, please?"
"B-Betsy, it's Rose.  Rose Finnegan."
Betsy searched her memory for the name.  "I'm sorry, do I—?"
"From the writing group, remember?"
The girl who'd written two chapters in five years.  "Hi, Rose.  Well, this is a surprise."  Betsy was surprised Rose would ever want to talk to her.  She'd made her feelings perfectly plain via her scathing critiques.
"I'm sorry, Betsy, I really am, it's just... I didn't know who else to call."
Betsy closed her eyes and tried not to think about Jack lying bloody and beaten in Bonnie's arms.  "Nobody else was home, huh?  Okay Rose, you got my undivided attention, never mind you're keeping me from a hot date with Biff Thorsen.  What can I do for you?"
"Did you say Biff Thorsen?"
"Never mind.  Why are you calling?"
"I kind of need your help, Betsy.  That is to say, if you would ever consider helping me.  I know I haven't been kind to you, but I only said those things to help you improve your writing."
Betsy twisted the telephone wire around her fingers, wishing she could twist it around Rose's neck until her face turned purple and her eyes bugged out.  "Don't worry about it, Rose, I don't take it personally.  It's only my writing you're criticizing, right?"
"That's exactly right, I knew you'd understand.  Oh Betsy, I'm in a whole heap of trouble.  The more I think about it, the more I get myself all worked up into a mindless funk.  That's why I thought about calling you.  You... you think faster than I do."
I type faster, too, Betsy thought, but she didn't say it.  "What kind of trouble, Rose?"
"I lied to the writing group about my job," Rose said.
"I don't really work as a secretary in a law office.  I just said that to impress you.  I'm really a waitress.  I work at the Blue Oyster Bar.  You know, the place over on—"
"I know where the Blue Oyster Bar is."  Betsy had read about it in the papers often enough.  Everybody knew things went on there.  District Attorney Mulgrew was determined to close the place down, but evidence was hard to come by, especially when witnesses had an annoying habit of disappearing.
"It's not as bad as you think it is," Rose said.  "My boss is nice to me, he doesn't take liberties or anything, and the customers tip real good.  I know some of them are supposed to be, well, gangsters, if you believe what's said, but—"
"Rose, get to the point, will you?"  Betsy didn't mean to sound rude, but Jack was still bleeding over Bonnie's hall rug, the one the grateful Italian restaurant owner had given her after she'd rescued his eldest daughter in Slap Me, Handsome.
"On my breaks I sneak into the boss's office and use his typewriter," Rose said.  "I bring my own paper, and once when the ribbon ran dry I replaced it with a new ribbon I bought myself, so I'm not stealing from him or anything."
Sharp clicking sounds made Betsy turn and look at her desk.  Betsy made it clear, with scowl and a determined shake of her head, that her typewriter was strictly off-limits to everyone but herself.
"Who is your boss, Rose?"
The line crackled, then Rose said, "Mr. Pazzini."
Betsy knew about Pete Pazzini, too.  Who didn't?  The handsome young crime boss was staking his claim on the city, making deals, forging alliances and getting rid of anyone fool enough to stand in his way.  Some well-known actresses had appeared on Pazzini's arm.  He took them to expensive shows and restaurants and then back to his big house up on Hummingbird Hill.  They said that if you wanted liquor, or you wanted women, or you wanted someone to take a swim in the lake with concrete overshoes, you talked to Pistol Pete Pazzini.
"Tell me what happened, Rose."
"Well, Mr. Pazzini was out, and it was my break, so I sneaked into his office to continue with Chapter Three."
Betsy felt obliged to ask:  "How far have you got?"
"Well, Delia is preparing to move back to her mother's house, little knowing that Mr. DeVere plans to seduce her mother and expose the entire family to scandal just because Delia spurned his advances."
"That sounds great."
"Why thank you.  I'm very pleased with Mr. DeVere's character development.  Sometimes I wish you'd make your Jack as well-rounded, and give him the solid background and history that any character needs instead of just—"
"Ye-e-es?"  Betsy pulled the phone wire taut.
"Let's talk about that later," Rose said.  "So I was just putting a new sheet of paper into the typewriter, when I realized it wasn't one of the sheets I'd brought in.  There was writing on the other side.  I turned it over and began reading, as one does."
"Oh, absolutely.  How could one possibly stop oneself from reading someone else's private correspondence?"
"Really, Betsy, it wasn't private correspondence.  That's when you write a letter to someone asking if their aunt is feeling better.  This wasn't even a letter, it was a list.  A list of names.  Seven of them, to be exact.  Betsy, you'd know these names.  The list started with Police Chief Murphy, and ended with District Attorney Mulgrew."
Another kind of chill ran up Betsy's spine.  A montage of bloody scenes flashed before her mind's eye.  Machine guns stuttered and Murphy, Mulgrew, and five other good men whose names were on that list threw their arms up as bullets spun them around.  Betsy discovered she was panting hard, partly from horror and partly from excitement.  This was the stuff real novels were made of!  "What did you do?" she demanded.

End of sample


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