Short flashback scene

reiver33

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I've had comments that some of my 'tough guy' writing can be a little too pared down and staccato. This is a short self-contained memory flashback, set in 1950s California, and I apologise for any references that don't make sense out of context...


Racing through the night, pushing the big Plymouth to its limits on the two-lane blacktop, with an over-eager motorcycle cop on my tail.

Lucile Lamont curled up on the back seat, screaming in agony, haemorrhaging from a botched abortion.

The banshee wail of the siren, headlight filling my rear-view mirror.

The voice in my head alternating between manic laughter and urging me faster, faster.

I clipped the verge on a tight corner, kicking up grass and gravel, slewing the big car sideways across the roadway – and was damn lucky not to roll it, for sure.

Not so lucky for the cop.

He barrelled around the turn and ploughed straight into the rear quarter. Impact sent him flying over the handlebars and into a telegraph pole – end of story.
I tore my hand up pulling the buckled metal cover away from the rear tyre, but didn’t feel a thing. That’s the up-side of my companion – no pain, ever.

While he’s around.

I got Lucy to Doctor Paul, just over the line in Orange County, the steering wheel slick with blood soaking through my ‘kerchief. He saved her life, and sewed my palm shut as a bonus. I’d already made a few calls and her absence from the studio was going to be explained away as a riding accident.

However, the Plymouth was a ready-made conviction in any jurisdiction; abattoir upholstery, crumpled bodywork, paint transfer, you name it. Luckily, Doctor Paul – real name something Polish verging on the unpronounceable – was someone people went to when they couldn’t risk a hospital admission. Rumour was he’d patched up some of Micky Cohen’s boys, plus a couple of deputies who didn’t want their off-duty exploits coming to the attention of the Sheriff’s Department.

So he made a call, and the car was taken away to be quietly crushed, figuratively speaking. The down-side being I now owed a favor to some unsmiling men in expensive suits, but at least Lionel had just sucked it up when I laid out the deal for him.

Not so, apparently, Mac.
 

BT Jones

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Hi @reiver33. I like this a lot. There's a nice flow, pace and punch to the ruminations of the driver. I didn't understand who the male companion is supposed to be.

no pain, ever.

While he’s around.
If it was metaphorical to some kind or evil spirit or drug, then I missed it. Also, do people really say "'kerchief?" That was like a kick in the crotch when I read that sentence. It really made my eyebrows furrow. I would have been more tempted to say something like 'the steering wheel slick with blood from my towel-wrapped hand' or something like that.

But this was good. I enjoyed the read, even if 50's Americana is not my thing.
 

Boneman

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As always, your ability to drop us slap bang into action and character is razor sharp. Laconic voice vying with the speed at which the action is flashing by make for perfect bedfellows of the era you're depicting. I was a tad confused about the companion, hoping it was the imp...
 

AnyaKimlin

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It's exciting and we are right in the action.

For me the big question is who is Lucile Lamont?

Why is he taking the risk for her and why is she worth going down for?
 

Wayne Mack

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A couple of things that might help. For a flashback, I would expect it to be written in past tense not present. In order to keep the description of the action uninterrupted, you might consider opening with the lines,

Lucile Lamont curled up on the back seat, screaming in agony, haemorrhaging from a botched abortion.
The voice in my head alternating between manic laughter and urging me faster, faster.
and then just describe the accident sequence without interruption.

You might consider replacing the word "verge" as an American reader, this was an unfamiliar term. Even after looking it up, I cannot picture how the car could clip it, it does not seem to have height. A sharp corner may be sufficient to cause the car to slide.

I also could not accept the physics of the motorcycle. Going around a corner, a rider will lean into the turn. The two plausible results would be the bike sliding sideways into the car or the rider straightening the bike up and going off the far side of the rode. Neither seems to result in the rider going over the handlebars. May need to work on the policeman's demise.
 

HareBrain

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Even after looking it up, I cannot picture how the car could clip it, it does not seem to have height. A sharp corner may be sufficient to cause the car to slide.

I also could not accept the physics of the motorcycle. Going around a corner, a rider will lean into the turn. The two plausible results would be the bike sliding sideways into the car or the rider straightening the bike up and going off the far side of the rode. Neither seems to result in the rider going over the handlebars. May need to work on the policeman's demise.
The way I understood it, the car's rear tyre slips off the tarmac and onto the grass/gravel verge. It loses grip, and slews the car, which is then facing more sideways across the middle of the road. The police motorbike hits the car's "rear quarter" (the panel surrounding the rear wheel area) and the bike stops but the rider doesn't and is ejected over the rear of the car and into the telegraph pole.

ETA I think the more correct US term for "verge" might be "shoulder"?
 
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reiver33

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My thanks to all for the comments and feedback. I was going to ask what the US equivalent of 'verge' might be, as 'curb' had connotations of paving, and in the UK I've not come across 'shoulder' other than in context of 'hard shoulder' (would this then be a 'soft shoulder'?), when I was meaning gravel/grass.

And, yes, what I was attempting to describe was the car ending up broadside on to the unfortunate motorcycle cop, such that he hit - and was thrown over - the side of the trunk area.

The narrator is either suffering from a multiple personality disorder, or playing host to a supernatural which (he believes) renders him immune to pain - either way its the ultimate psychosomatic analgesic.

Lucile Lamont is an actress at the film studio where the narrator is employed to clean things up.
 

HareBrain

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would this then be a 'soft shoulder'?
I think so. I recall the term "soft shoulder" from a Mad Magazine joke about road-signs I saw about forty years ago. I'm happy that all those decades of storing that image have finally paid off.
 

CTRandall

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Just "shoulder" is fine. I would only specify "hard" or "soft" unless it was of particular relevenance and folk weren't freaked out of their minds by flying policemen. "Soft shoulder" signs are a warning, as hard shoulders are the norm. And "kerchief" is fine, though "handkerchief" sounds better to me. You might want to check if "kerchief" was used more often in the 50s.

"no pain, ever. While he's around." The contradiction bothered me. Clearly, it is not "no pain, ever."
 

CTRandall

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Oh yeah, forgot to say I enjoyed it! I wonder if the first four lines would work better presented as a single paragraph, perhaps even as a single, run-on sentence. That might be too confusing but it might add to the intensity.
 

msstice

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Nicely paced writing with enough description to draw enough of a picture! It works well with the present tense. If this is a flashback there should be some preamble that allows the reader to slide into the past despite the present tense.
 

pambaddeley

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Worked for me, the only thing I wasn't clear about was what the policeman hit - didn't pick up that the rear quarter was the car's rear quarter. But otherwise intriguing and picked up that he has a voice in his head which could be a supernatural presence and about his passenger being a Hollywood star, maybe minor one.
 

reiver33

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Thanks again for the comments! The scene is sparked by him trying to wangle yet another vehicle out of the studio motor pool, and the 'No pain, ever. While he's around.' isn't consistent, but people sometimes aren't.
 

tinkerdan

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Because this is out of context--the one thing missing for me is how you go into and come out of the flashback.
It usually is done by an evident change in tense for a moment and then into the tense that the flashback is meant to have.
Someone mentioned present--and it does seem like it starts that way. Probably not the best tense for a flashback but if you craft the cross over tense well enough you might get those first lines to fly.
 
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Wow. As far as this being 'tough guy' staccato writing, well, that it is. It is also very effective. You are a master of the genre.

About "verge" -- I can confirm, a US reader won't know what that is. Assuming UK readers know what a road "shoulder" is, I would recommend changing it.

I like the use of the present tense for this flashback. It gives more immediacy to the action. At least in American English, it's perfectly acceptable to describe past events in the present tense, as long as the listener understands it to be historical.

Nice work.
 
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