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CrissCross, Chapter 1

Posted on June 16, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Officer Stephen Culp had been in the Babylon police force going on five years, and it hadn’t been the best years of his life.  He didn’t mind his job, but his marriage had slowly and surely crumbled about at his feet in that time.  His wife, Diane, had become very volatile.  It started with paranoia and jealousy, and overtime the more she believed her stories the angrier she became.  Diane Culp was an emotional train wreck.  And her husband wasn’t foreign to these types; he’d seen his share in his training and in his first few years with the force.  But, of course, she wasn’t up for listening to any suggestions her husband had for her.  And the law said you can’t force someone to get checked out until they commit violence against themselves or someone else, or threaten to commit violence against themselves or someone else.  And since she had never reached a violent climax in her instability or even threatened to do so, he was just going to have to put up with it for as long as he could hold out.

    In an attempt to cope and give himself some relief, Stephen took an evening shift which contradicted Diane’s daytime shift at the law firm of Isbell, Brown and Robertson.  But even that wasn’t enough, because when he finished his shift at midnight and got home he’d find her waiting up for him.  And then another fight would commence with the typical onslaught of bickering and false accusations.  So he’d developed a habit of leaving the station and stopping at the Waffle Hut located between Links and Valley Forge Avenue.  There he’d eat two waffles, two scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon and drink as much coffee as he could—he drank it straight black.  And then at 4:00am, they’d close up and he’d take his black coffee to go.  He’d drink 20 more ounces of coffee during the five minute drive home and then crash on the couch in the living room.  She’d kicked him out of the bed, with the excuse that it was hers before the marriage.  And so he’d slide under a thin blanket and prop his head on a pillow.  He’d sleep for about two hours and then she’d come through, getting ready for work, and begin chewing him out about this and that.  Eventually, she was dressed and ready to go and she’d leave.

    The first time he crept into the bed after she left, he never went to sleep.  He was too afraid she’d come back and find him in the bed, and then it would all break loose.  So he sat there telling himself over and over to fall asleep, but he never could because as soon as he’d get comfortable he’d hear a squirrel outside and think it was her.  Once he got over the fear of her, he came to enjoy the daytime nap in their bed and the rebellion it took to do so.  But he was smart about it; he always set the alarm for four in the afternoon so he could be out of bed and have it in working Diane’s Order before she was home around half past five.  Then, they’d lover spat for a bit before he made it out the door and onto the station to start his shift.  This arrangement was better, but he was still a very depressed man.

    He had never been one to share with others, to open up and talk.  He would rather bottle it up inside until it was resolved outwardly, somehow, and just hope it didn’t destroy him in the meantime.  But the truth was that it was destroying him.  All he could do now was make light of the situation with bitter sarcasm, but that just fueled her and kept him alive through another day.

    Something needed to give…

    One night in the Waffle Hut as Stephen was attempting to decide whether to finish his last strip of bacon or not, he received a visitor.  A cook he’d seen countless times, and who had probably cooked countless meals for him, sat at his two-person table.  He was a little younger, a little rough looking around the edges—like he hadn’t shaven in a week or showered in a day or two.  Not threatening, just dirty.  He had a cup of coffee with him, and he instantly sipped it as he adjusted to the uncomfortable chair,

    “I'm a cook.”

    “I know.”

    “You're here all the time.”

    “Every night.”

    “Hey, you’re like a cop, right?”  Stephen looked at the man, and had yet to respond when the man quickly moved on, “You know much about detective work?”

    Feeling annoyed and desiring to be alone, he felt the need to mock the cook, “I wear a uniform, what do you think?”

    “Why do you come here every night?  Don't you have like a family to get home to?”  He sipped on his coffee.

    “Waffles and coffee's my family.  They've been good to me.”

    “You on the bum, dude?”

    In an attempt to send a hint that screamed get lost, Stephen strode to the point, “I actually like being alone.”

    “I'm just taking a break,” he paused for a moment to scratch his neck, some dandruff fell from his scalp and onto his shoulders, “Is that your wife who calls you all the time?  It is, isn't it?”  The cook twitched a lot, the kind of twitch that has nothing to do with nervousness.  Suddenly, his eyes changed and he spoke quicker and firmer, “I've got this old man, he's... oh, I can't stand him.  He's bedridden, but he doesn't have to be.  He chooses to be.  He's always nagging me about this and about that.  I'm sometimes, when I'm at work, I turn my phone off—all day.  Just let him fend for himself for once in his life.”  He sat back in his chair and let out a long sigh and smirked a little, “And that little taste of freedom—oh, priceless.  You know what I mean?  He's so brutal—unrelenting, ‘do this, do that.  Give me this, give me that.  Wipe my’—yeah, he goes there!  Can he wipe himself?  Sure he can, but does he?  No.  He's old and feels like I should do everything for him.  Like, it's my duty as a son to return the favor that he gave me when I was pathetic and helpless.  Except, you know, he was never... he barely did anything anyway.  He just—” he suddenly jerked his head and shifted his eyes to the restaurant, he followed this action with a grunt and a mumble, “—brutal.”  He slapped the palm of his right fist down on the table and swept up his coffee in both hands, “I think you know what I mean, huh?”  He leaned in for a whisper and rising of the eyebrow, “People.”  He swigged the last of his coffee as he sat back again.

    “I think your break is over,” he gave a quick glimpse to the cook’s nametag, “Tim.”

    “Hey, how did you—” the light bulb went off and the cook grabbed his nametag, “Nice.  Alright, dude.  Chill.”  And with that the cook was up and back to the kitchen, where he belonged.

    A few moments later, Stephen’s cell phone was ringing.  He had it sitting on the table in between his coffee and napkin.  Diane had only called twice tonight, which was a cutback from the usual.  He looked at the caller ID on the phone and it read Shrew, and this was one shrew that could not be tamed.  He answered, slowly but surely, “Yes, mother.”

    “So what hair color is it tonight?  Fat, skinny?  Black, white?  Pricey or cheap this time?”

    He took a long and deliberately loud sigh, and then recited his usual line, “I'm at the diner, I'll crash on the couch when they close up like usual.”

    “Oh,” she said, almost like she got it, but then added, “So it’s a blond?”

    “You nailed it,” he rolled his eyes, “Except she’s Brazilian—and no blond.”  The last thing he said to her before hanging up was the typical lovey dovey stuff you’d except from a couple, “Just shut up and go to bed.”


    The next morning, Diane let him know that she wasn’t stupid and that she was keen to his little game.  She woke him up by throwing a book at him; it struck his forehead and hit the floor.  He sat up, pulling his blanket back from him and kicking it to the end of the couch.  He’d only been sleeping for an hour and a half.  She stood in the middle of the living room, still in her nightgown.  It was the red one she wore on their wedding night; she always looked good in that one.  This time her body looked okay, but her face was a whole other matter.  It was a face morphed by years of anger.  Her brow in a constant I’ve lived a hard life expression.  Truth of the matter though, was that she had not lived a hard life.  She had always had everything handed to her on a silver platter, so the saying goes.  And perhaps that was her beef with him.  She needed someone that could give her everything she never needed, and labeling him as an adulterer left her feeling better about being a selfish whore.

    “I saw you with that woman yesterday.”  She announced it to the room, as if someone was listening in.  It was slow and steady, her diction was spot on.  For all Stephen knew, she could have been performing on a stage in her mind.

    “What woman?”  He asked, truly confused.  He bent down and picked up the book, he read the title Tears of a Phoenix.  And without looking to her, he flipped to the back cover of the paperback book and asked, “I never read this, did I?  Was it any good?”

    “Don’t give me that innocence and don’t change the subject, either.”

    “My partner and I got called into a domestic dispute yesterday; I had to take the wife away from the husband to talk to her while my partner spoke with the husband.  Is that the woman you're talking about?”  He was still reading the synopsis of the book, trying to decide if he should give up a few hours of sleep to dive into it.  He hadn’t read a book in years.

    “You were eating with her.”

    “We had a cup of coffee, yeah.  I also gave her some brochures and encouraged her to move into a safe house for battered women.  She said she’d think about it, but she probably won’t.  I'm a cop, Diane, and sometimes that means talking to women.  It doesn't mean anything.”  He finally looked up to her, and pointed at the book, “Is this worth the read or not?”

    She gave him a vulgar gesture and walked on to the laundry room.  He went ahead and lay backward onto the couch, propping his head up with his pillow and recovering his legs with the blanket.  He decided to give the book a chance.  A few minutes later, she came back through the living room half dressed now and carrying the rest of her attire over her arm.

    “Why don't you just run off and marry one of your little sluts, huh?”

    He kept his eyes clued to the preface of the book and had to raise his voice to respond as she continued on to the bathroom, “I don't have any mistresses, Diane!  I work and I come home to you, that's it!  I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true.”

    He was starting the third chapter when she came out of the bathroom, fully dressed, and curling her black hair.  She looked straight ahead towards the front door, and when she spoke it was as if she was thinking out loud, “Maybe one of these days, I'll go get me a man.”

    “Diane—” he closed the book on his thumb.

    “I think that's what I'll do.  I'll go get me a real man.”

    He turned his head and looked at her, “And what’s that suppose to mean?”

    “Oh, PLEASE.”  She then walked out of the living room and back down the hall to the bathroom.  Just before the door shut behind her, she yelled back at him, “Like you don’t know!”  When she reappeared fifteen minutes later, she was looking professional in her red suit and white blouse.  She picked up her black briefcase and walked to the door.  Stephen was now a third of the way through chapter four.  “You know Stephen,” she started to speak with her back to him, but then turned around to face him, “You are just so good to me.  You’re just the best husband any woman could hope for.  I’m so lucky to have you.  I wouldn’t change a thing, Stephen.”  She sat there staring at him and everything she had said would have sounded very sincere to anyone else, but he knew better.  And then her head tilted to the left and her eyebrows made that ugly expression again, “So, how was the redhead last night?”

    “Brazilians don’t come in red, darling.”

    “Trying exotic now, are we?”

    “Whatever you want, darling.”

    “OH, yes, because it is all about what I want.”

    “If you want me to get with a redhead now, I'll do that—I'll do whatever you want, Princess.”

    “Don't call me Princess.  You know I hate that; and do you have to do this to me every, single morning?”

    “Yes, dear.”

    “DROP DEAD.”  And with that she slammed the door.

Categories: Book, Crime & Mystery, Nathan Weaver

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Reply Phil Neale
8:01 AM on June 17, 2010 
Wonderfully sharp and biting, and a great portrait of a failing marriage.

Dialogue is excellent and the linking prose couldn't be better.

Gives the entire thing a real pacey feel.

What's next?
Reply Admin Frank
1:18 PM on June 17, 2010 
Glad you like it... I've had this sitting for a while, because I wanted it to be about a 4,000-word short story, but life was too busy to keep up on it. But I read it the night before I posted it, and realized this could work as a first chapter, and decided to go with that.

It's going to get insanely crazy, and intense, as it goes. It will live up to the title.... wink, wink.

The original inspiration for this story was so simple it's ridiculous... in our movie production stuff, I bought a police uniform for a scene I was shooting in a movie, and it looked amazing. So I wanted to do a short film with a cop in uniform, and then I came up with this dandy. I first started writing it as a screenplay, then reverse-adapted what I had up-to-a-point into what we have here.
Reply Christopher Law
5:52 PM on June 23, 2010 
I did think of a couple of things to say as I was reading through, and then got to the comments and saw Phil beat me to it. It's a second vote for reading some more though, I'm already racing ahead with possibilities.
You also got me thinking about the way some stories take on a life of their own, particularly because I'm currently trying to reduce one that has gone too far and needs some serious stripping back.
Reply Admin Frank
10:40 PM on June 23, 2010 
Thanks, Christopher... I like this piece a lot. I haven't written on it in a while, but I know exactly where it's going and it's going to be a crazy ride.