I’m working on the book again, trying to get some of the characters and plot unstuck in my mind, and decided to do this as a character study for the main guy, Ted Duffy. For those of you who’ve written fiction, have you ever tried something like this? And how does this sound? This probably won’t end up in the book, but by the end, I felt as though I’d gotten inside Ted’s head a bit more. And, I know this is very long. You’ll earn karma points if you slog through it. 🙂
I hate talking to strangers about myself. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have had to do it a lot more than I used to do, and it’s gotten easier, but still… it’s not my favorite thing.
It’s boring being a character in a book, you know? And if it is ever published, what do I have to look forward to? If I’m lucky, I’ll occupy the attentions of enough people to encourage my lord and master, the great author, to think up another story to put me in, and then I’ll have another run.
And so on. But sooner or later, the L&M, GA is going to stop doing this. He’ll just get tired of the grind and live on his pension from his day job and some royalties, or he’ll slowly lose his mind and forget how words go together. And then, of course, he’ll die. Hey, it’s the truth.
Then, I’ll sit on some shelves, home or library. (Do homes even come with bookshelves any more?) Some of the copies will get a library bar code and be taken out now and then, with longer and longer stretches in between until the pages I’m on will be judged excess inventory and taken to the recycling center. From there, we’ll be sent somewhere to be made into pulp for something (probably those brown fiber seedling cups that people plant tomato plants in. Someone will eventually stick me in the dirt to rot along with any memory that I ever existed. But at least I’ll fertilize a tomato or something). I’ll have a longer run than the GA does, if I’m lucky. But in the end, I won’t exist anymore because no one will open the book any more.
Such is the lot of a fictional character. We sit around a lot, is my point. We get bored. And we bitch. There isn’t anything else.
But I have another side, too. I just had to get that other stuff off my chest.
Sorry. Bad habit.
My family history is of no importance or interest to me. I suppose the GA will have to put some of it in elsewhere, but that’s his job. To make you care about me. The important part to me is what was going on near the end of my newspaper career in New York, near the end of my marriage and the death of my wife and daughter. And then there were too many years that are completely lost to me now, including some trouble that landed me in jail for a time for a short time. It has taken a long time to be able to talk about it. The GA was clear with me, though. He wouldn’t proceed until I was ready.
First the career. I was a reporter, honing the craft at a couple of small papers in Ohio and New Jersey, then made the jump across the Hudson to the big time. I wish I’d never done that. It ended badly.
Oh, it wasn’t bad at first. I’d done OK up until then. I’d won a couple of reporting awards in Jersey, earned something of a reputation for delivering the goods on stories involving the incestuous corruption that Jersey is famous for, the sleazy backdoor deals between people with money who want more of it, and people without money in local and state government who wanted some of the graft that was always sloshing around.
Reporters tend to spend a lot of time in places your average suburban escapee thinks of when she hears “the city”: bars in dim corners of town she wouldn’t be caught dead in. Oh, and rubbing elbows with cops and criminals of all sorts.
Bars are key, because these are the places that cops go after work. They talk about all those things with each other, and sometimes, rarely, to outsiders they’ve gotten to know. And reporters get to know some cops and know the life, and also sometimes find they like the beer and, later, booze, a little too much, too.
Everyone thinks they’ll be the one to swim in the sewer and not catch cholera. Reporters. Cops. Everyone lies to the person in the mirror. It’s not that easy to avoid, and the longer you stay in the sludge, the less it smells. What you don’t notice is that you start to think like the others in there with you. You forget, a little at first, and then more. The fine distinctions get considerably blurred if you’re that sort. I was.
I became a drinking buddy with a detective in a precinct drug unit. He and some of his colleagues had a lucrative side business of selling drugs they’d found in dealers’ apartments, and just hadn’t bothered to log or report in any way. Then business being business, they had to protect that income, so they used their badges to run off the competition and became dealers in more ways.
They doubled their salaries, he told me. No risk, he said. So, I told him to count me in. My job was to keep an ear out at the paper and in the cop shop for any hint that anyone had developed an interest in what these dirty cops were doing. I didn’t do a very good job, apparently, because one morning, early, I was arrested along with my partners. I got a short sentence because it was a first offense, but I served six months in Riker’s. When I got out, my wife and daughter had left. She left the name and number of her lawyer.
I won’t bore you with details. They’re not all that remarkable. The drinking and drugs and smoking, the hours spent hunched over in dim places having one drink after another. An occasional working girl. Losing time, getting blazing hangovers, not caring.
Coming home even before this, when I remembered to, it was to a furious wife. Screaming fights, then cold silence. Watching the look in my daughter’s eyes change from happiness to sadness to fear and avoidance. Then a drunken brawl with another reporter at work over I can’t remember what, being suspended, going on another bender. I wasn’t really surprised, but it was another reason to pull the bottle out. When that was empty, I headed back to the bar and that’s when I hooked up with the drug cops.
I remember the day, hour and minute I got sober, though.
I was half-drunk, sprawled across the unmade bed that had some unidentifiable stains on it. The door chime sounded. I ignored it. It sounded again and some muscle memory responded and I lurched toward the sound. A firm tap-tap-tap on the front door. The chimes sounded again.
I mumbled something. My mouth felt like the Taliban had beheaded someone in it in their bare feet.
“OKokay, I’m coming. ”
The clock on the wall by the door said 7:02. It was Wednesday. Somehow I just knew it was a Wednesday. I just had no clue which one.
Two uniformed cops stood on the other side of the doorway. The female partner, (amazing how the habits from work still kicked in) Hispanic, 5’3”, 135-40 pounds, was on my right. The young white guy, a rookie by the squeak of him, stood tensed to my left and back a step. She had knocked on the door. This was training for him, unpleasant duty for her.
They looked me up and down with flat cop eyes, the lead officer trying to look sympathetic. Not succeeding. Then they both squinted a little.
I guess my cologne, Eau du Budweiser mixed with some dried vomit on my shirt, wafted through the doorway to them. Then I got ‘the look.’ I’d seen it a lot. The distaste, the quick categorization. Loser.
“Are you Duffy? Ted Duffy?” the female cop asked, the tone sharp.
She wasn’t going to drag this out. Fuck this guy, the look said.
“I regret to inform you that earlier today, around dawn, your wife and daughter were involved in a serious traffic accident.” A faint look of concern mixed with pity competed for her features. Pity won. She took a breath and laid it on me without anything to soften the blow, not that anything could.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Duffy. They were both killed.” The rookie looked worried, watching to see what I did. She put her hand on her service pistol in its holster.
I think I just stood there. I don’t remember anything that happened then, or for some time after.
I’m now living in a different story, and look back on those days and wonder how I survived. Things are better now. On most days.
I left New York a year ago, thanks to some money I inherited. I bought a truck and threw what little I owned in the back, and headed west.
There were too many invisible graves to navigate around in the city. I just needed to leave and go somewhere where no one knew who I was. Maybe I’d find out what came next the hard way. I figured I deserved to go the hard way and, for once, decided not to flinch this time.
2 Replies to “Character Study”
I always write fiction in my head. Either while I drive, or use my hands and my mind is free. I like your idea of a self-autobiography of the character. I will keep in my head’s palace! 😀
~ Dajena 🙂
I’d never done this before, but was having a lot of trouble feeling like spending time with the characters. Then this popped in, and once I got started, it felt right. I could experiment with voice and with finding little characteristics in him. I’ll do the same for the others and, since some of them are women, it’ll be harder, but pretty helpful. That’ll be in my head when I write the interactions in the book. That’s the theory, anyway. 🙂
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