Tell me a story: Heroes and Villains Pt 1

Posted on April 20, 2010 by

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I am very much a student of literary styles. When I write a story that is supposed to be set in a specific genre, I try to use appropriate vocabulary and pacing. This isn’t so much because I am trying to conform for conformity’s sake – rather, I want to set a mood or tone that the reader is already familiar with because that will make the story come to life a little more for them. So if I am writing a story in a medieval or Victorian setting, I am likely to use a more formal tone, since a medieval story with modern vocabulary and syntax has always felt a little off – a little disjointed to me.

I am also a big fan of old time radio shows – more specifically those dealing with the genre of “masked mystery men.” There were quite a few of them in the heyday of radio, some of them better than others. The Green Hornet and Blue Beetle (what is with the colored insects anyway?) were two of my especial favorites. No super-powers. No magical artifacts or charms. Just grit, wit, and a nifty gadget or two. The appeal of old time radio shows is easy to understand. You can escape the humdrum of office life, follow your heroes as they face gangsters and dastardly villains, listen to a happy guy in an announcer voice talk about soap and cereal in the interim, and hear the exciting conclusion all from the comfort of your home in twenty minutes flat. It’s sort of a non-committal kind of fiction, but it keeps you coming back. I don’t think this kind of fiction would be healthy in very large doses, but it works great as a weekly radio spot.

So this love for the genre and my fascination with writing genres in general somehow mixed with my neverending desire to find new ways to communicate truths. Truths about right and wrong, good and evil, providence and free will. It birthed the beginnings of a project of which even I don’t even truly understand the full scope. Disorganized though it may be, I have almost 5 years now of accumulated written material on this project. In addition to this, I have a much more gifted writer than I who has also invested a lot of blood, sweat, and ink. Most of it all is still in the infantile stages, but my hope is that we will be able to turn it into a website soon featuring several serialized stories.

For this sample I’ve decided to include one of the less poignant, more action-packed (and of course by that we mean violent – kiddies are warned) sections from one of the stories. It’s the height of the Prohibition in Colossal City, Illinois. The city is in the grip of a powerful crime family that derives a large portion of their income from the highly-profitable bootlegging industry. Though super-humans (that is, people with abilities “far beyond those of mortal men”) do exist, the only man to stand up against the crime families is a mysterious man known only as the Hooded Sentinel. With no special advantages to speak of beyond a pair of Colts and unerring aim, he is the city’s last line of defense against crime and corruption.

The names and dialog are very much straight out of a 1930’s radio show. With a few alterations, it might even be a radio script. The villains are foul-mouthed, but just like the old shows you never actually hear them curse. The hero’s dialog is brief and to the point. And it isn’t the way you or I would talk. And that is significant, because it makes him different from the other characters.

“So,” said Ernesto “Crazy Legs” Cuccinni, a thin, greasy, boozy little man with a crooked nose and thick Italian accent. He was puffing and blowing and hefting a barrel that was really too heavy for him. “We gonna divide some o’ dis stuff up once we get it unloaded?”

Bruno “The Ape” Vitorello scowled and easily lifted a cask out of the back of the truck and down onto the warehouse floor. Bruno was called “the Ape” for a reason. He was a veritable landmass of flesh and hair and his pronounced under-bite gave him a distinctly simian appearance. “Boss says we get paid Monday, same as always.”

“I’da take somma my pay in gin, if it’s all the same to him…”

A hoarse laugh echoed through the warehouse as Steve “Toothpick Killer” Cassidy seated himself on one of the barrels and watched as the two subordinate goons worked at unloading the smuggled booze shipment. “Sure – that’s where it’ll end up anyway. Now would you boys hurry it up? Delays make me edgy. They make the boss edgy, too.”

Bruno and “Crazy Legs” doubled their pace. They hadn’t been in the Angelino racket long enough to know what the booze-running lieutenant had done to earn the moniker “Toothpick Killer,” but it didn’t sound nice.

“Say, Toothpick,” wheezed Cuccinni. “Where’s all this stuff go? Third time I made a delivery for – for the boss. What’s he do with all the gin?”

“Well he don’t give it away,” Vitorello smacked his companion across the back of the head, sending him hurtling into a stack of barrels.

“You got that right. Sells it, Einstein. He sells it. By running it past the feds like this and storing it in this old warehouse, we can sell our booze for a considerable markdown, see?”

“It’s all about da market,” Ape said sagely.

“Right, monkey boy. Right,” said Cassidy. “The market. Times are hard. People wanna drown their sorrows. So we undercut their the market price by a little bit and bada-bing-bada-boom! The boss rakes in the big bucks.”

“Sweet racket, huh?”

Cassidy never had a chance to answer. At that moment the skylight some twenty feet above them shattered and a dark, imposing figure slid downward on a rope, a .45 caliber pistol spitting fire.

“Toothpick Killer” Cassidy dove behind a cask, swearing profusely, and reached for his .38. The two goons rolled to the ground. Vitorello had a bullet in one leg.

The figure was tall and masculine, but shrouded in a heavy black coat and black fedora. The man’s face was hidden by a black executioner’s hood.

“!@#$,” Vitorello swore. “It’s the !@#$ Hooded Sentinel!”

“Season’s greetings, boys… I see you’ve got some new help, Cassidy.”

“Kinda had to after the last two showed up with their ankles broke and…” Cassidy pulled off a round, which served only to destroy a booze cask to the Hooded Sentinel’s left.

“They got their just deserts,” the masked man boomed. “As will you. Tonight.”

“!@#$! KILL HIM!”

“Crazy Legs” ran forward with a switchblade. Vitorello hefted a tire iron and limped as quickly as possible. Cassidy started shooting. The dark figure spun and whirled. What happened next was a confusing blur of muzzle flashes, men, bodies, weapons, and two dozen casks of cheap gin. When it was over Bruno “The Ape” Vitorello lay face-first in a pool of booze, one of his arms broken. Ernesto “Crazy Legs Cuccinni was screaming in pain and trying to extract his own knife from his side. Cassidy had run out of bullets at some point and was nursing a gunshot wound to one forearm.

The Hooded Sentinel towered over them all. “Now. Get. Out.” He withdrew a match from his glove.

“Come on, man,” pleaded Ernesto. “You crazy or something? This air isa full of fumes! One spark and…”

“Now.”

The thugs didn’t wait to be told a third time. They half-ran, half limped into the street, grunting and cursing the whole way. In another moment the warehouse, the gin, the truck – they were all ablaze.

And the strange man in the hood was nowhere to be seen.

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Posted in: storytelling