South Florida crime comedy opening comparison

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Joined: March 13th, 2010, 7:26 pm

South Florida crime comedy opening comparison

Post by NickB » January 11th, 2011, 7:31 pm

Hi guys.
This is a lengthy post in an oddball genre: S. FL crime comedy (ex.: Hiaasen, Dorsey...), but I'm hoping maybe a reader or two of this genre might find this and give it a skim.

I write "skim" because I really only want to know if either opening would hook you...or which you prefer. If it's neither, that input (all input) is appreciated as well. However, I really want to FIX, not SCRAP.
Unless it's just that WRONG. ;)

Anyone looking to be helpful in a hurry? Even a comment about the opening lines is welcome. Anything. Everything. Thanks so much, Nick

These are two different openings for the same book. (Basically the same event occurs; this is two different POV's and styles...either "fits" with the rest of the book. The first has had little polishing. The second I can practically recite by heart.)

Rated R for violence and language and sexual innuendo. (Hi, Mom!)

Opening 1

December 5,1988

Leonard Gustafson was five-years-old when his mother died. Immediately following the funeral, he strode from her graveside and without a word, climbed into his father's black German sedan.
"Don't piss Amara off," his father said to him then. "Remember, you're a guest here."
He hasn't been right since.

Present day

Clarence Orrin Tate pulled a played-out rubber band from the pickup's dirty ashtray and told his dogs to shut the fuck up. Or else.
He steered with his left knee and pulled back greasy blond hair into a ponytail. The thirty-four-year-old addict had been cruising the same twenty mile stretch of I-75 for the past three hours due to the fact that he’d already hit up everybody in his tiny hometown. And given most of ‘em’s intimate acquaintance with Clarence’s weaknesses, if somethin’ went missing, they’d come knockin’ at his door.
Clarence was low on gas, out of weed and now he had the shakes. Unable to make a score, he’d been off the hard stuff for days.
Normally, he had a little cushion. (Until he’d gotten into the meth, anyway.) But the summer drought had taken its toll on Clarence’s backyard feelgood crop and that damn hurricane drowned and blew away what was left. Clarence was desperate.
He chugged along in the slow lane, clammy hands clenched on the wheel, and scanned the highway ahead. Jackpot! A fuckin’ Mercedes Benz. He gazed through bleary frog eyes at the shining automobile on the shoulder. Well lookee there. Abandoned, no less. He leaned forward, peering in its windows as he slowed.
With a couple car lengths to go, Clarence veered into the emergency lane. Just as he pulled up alongside, tremors overtook his skinny body and he scraped his best friend Jake’s old Ford into the driver’s side door of the Mercedes. He pulled out of the slow sideswipe and threw the truck into park right there—between the Mercedes and any curious eyeballs cruisin’ along. The quaking briefly subsided.
Inside ten minutes, he’d popped the lock and pulled the car’s radio. He also scored a handgun stashed under the passenger seat. Punching the trunk button did nothing. And the glove compartment was locked up tight, too.
Another ten minutes of searching beneath half a ton of old fast food wrappers, three disgruntled hound dogs and several discarded pouches of chaw and Clarence located a crowbar.
He stood ready at the trunk lid when he looked up and saw a state trooper slide by in the opposite direction. Clarence turned to watch and was almost certain he saw the car slow. So, he decided the radio and gun would be enough to get him started.
He climbed in and eased the truck back onto the road.
Now Clarence had the means, but still no end. No end to the sweats, the stomach cramps. And no end to the body-wracking shudders.
Clarence needed a fix, quick. Prob’ly Jake would take the radio in trade…he knew a coupla guys who moved that sorta thing. But Clarence didn’t think he could make it that far.
Clarence had both hands clenched on the wheel and was praying Jesus he could just make it to the next gas station parking lot to sleep some of this off when he saw his salvation: a pretty-boy towel-head and his special manfriend.
Judging by those fancy clothes, they’d have cash sure. He stopped the truck, but wasn’t too sure what to do next. He had the dogs up front and Jake’s game in the back and he needed to separate them boys. Wasn’t no way he could take both of them in his condition. Well, maybe with that gun…
The thinner, taller one come up to the truck though, begging a ride and next thing, Clarence had him stuffed into the front seat.
“You got some cash?”
The guy squirmed and removed the towel—which had turned out to be a t-shirt—from around his head.
“I’m just sayin’. ‘Cause lotsa these good ole boys around here don’t take plastic, y’know.”
“I’ll work something out.”
“Hey.” Clarence gestured to the t-shirt now in the man’s lap. “You one a them Muslims?”
“No, I’m a Cuban.”
“Don’t ya’ll have no religion?”
Clarence shook his head and turned his gaze back through the windshield. “I’m not sure that’s a religion, either.”

They took the first exit.
Just off the interstate, Clarence claimed to be experiencing epileptic seizures and asked the dark-haired, twenty-something hitchhiker to drive. Then Clarence pulled the gun.
They drove to Jake’s house. Jake took the radio as expected, and also all of the hitchhiker’s cash. When Clarence asked how much that would get him, Jake said, “It’ll cover about half what you owe, considerin’ what you done to my truck. Now, get the fuck outta here.” At which point, Clarence, who had a rap sheet filled with only misdemeanors, pulled the gun and with a badly shaking hand, shot his best friend and only drug connection point blank in the face.
In front of the hitchhiker.
Clarence knelt and caressed what was left of his dead friend’s cheek then went through Jake’s pockets and ransacked his trailer in search of anything that would knock the edge off. ‘Cause Gawd, he hurt like a sonofabitch.
But he was too deeply in the throes of withdrawal to make a decent search and found nothing but a coupla No Doz and a quarter bottle of darvons. And on the counter beside a warm beer, a prescription bottle of something called pericolace. He knocked ‘em back with the beer.
He returned to the hitchhiker, who’d had a helluva chance to get away, but who stood in the exact spot Clarence had left him. Still staring at Jake.

Fifteen minutes later, the truck pulled off a paved one-lane road and into a dirt drive outside Clarence’s trailer.
Clarence cried and railed at the outsider now as he led him at gunpoint into the woods behind his own trailer, only a mile on from Jake’s. Clearly, this was all the man’s fault. Why’d he have a goddamned gun in the car anyways? Wasn’t he aware of the statistics? Clarence wanted to know. But the man kept silent.
Clarence wiped his eyes and nose and began to get a charge out of watching the frightened hitchhiker walk to his death. The hounds jumping at the man’s thighs. Clarence laughed.
“Wait, wait.” Clarence said. The man stopped. “You said you’s Cuban right?” the man nodded. “And you got this gun in that fancy car and them fancy clothes…” He scratched his forehead with the muzzle. Aimed it again. “I got me a goddamn drug dealer don’t I? A goddamn Cuban drug dealer.”
Clarence thought for a moment. “I didn’t find no drugs in the car though. Wait a minute…” and Clarence performed a thorough and lubricant-less body cavity search on the man. “Shee-it. You just ain’t no good fer nuthin’, is ya? Get up.”
The man pushed himself off the leaf litter and zipped his pants.
Clarence grabbed the man’s keys from the spot they’d fallen—he had a feelin’ there’d be some goodies in the trunk and he could piece out the car—and began to back away so as not to soil his person any further.
But he was starting to feel the darvons and stumbled. The dark-haired man turned to take advantage, but had misjudged the distance. Clarence took aim, dropped the gun and ran into the trailer. ‘Cause the pericolace had kicked in now, too.
This time, the man didn’t hesitate. He ran back to the truck. He opened the driver’s side door and got in beside a sleeping hound. When he opened the passenger door and pushed at the dog, it turned and sank in a couple of teeth. The man shook his arm but the hound wouldn’t budge. He turned, sweating now, to look for Clarence. No sign. The trailer was quiet. The dog’s fangs sunk deeper.
“Sorry,” he said as he banged the hound’s head into the dash and flung it out the door. The man checked the passenger-side mirror and saw the dog get up slowly, shaking its head. He missed Clarence’s return, hearing leaves crunch behind him just a second before Clarence’s fist connected with his temple.
Thinking the man unconscious, Clarence opened the door. The man raised his nodding head and grabbed the gun tucked into the front of Clarence’s dirty jeans. He squinted against the pain as he put the gun to the thief-turned-kidnapper-turned-killer’s forehead.
“Back up.” The hitchhiker’s voice was steady, but his hand was shaking.
Clarence smiled and made his last mistake. He grabbed for the gun and the man pulled the trigger.
The blast knocked Clarence back into the same position in which he’d left his best friend minutes before.
The hitchhiker hunched forward and emitted a guttural moan that became a rasping, echoing scream. The dogs whined and ran into the woods. The man pounded the gun against the driver’s door, then kicked at and beat on Clarence. After a couple of minutes, he fell back, resting against the truck door, catching his breath, mopping his face with his shirtsleeve.
When he was done, he grabbed keys, wiped down the unregistered gun with the hem of the redneck’s soiled tee-shirt, threw the gun into the truck cab, ripped a scrap from said shirt, placed one end in the truck’s gas tank, pulled a lighter from his pocket, lit the shirt’s other end and walked calmly down the road the way they’d come.


Opening 2

On the afternoon of August 27th, deep within a non-descript patch of Florida Pine Flatwoods somewhere mid-state, a young man stumbled at gunpoint from the passenger-side cab of a large, green-camo’d pick-up truck.
The man: Sweaty dark hair stuck to his forehead. Gritty, wrinkled dress shirt and pants. And a dairy farmer lineage that identified him in some circles as Gus.
The truck: Loaded gun rack. Pack of hunting dogs. Various artistic representations of confederate flags lining the outer edges of the cab’s rear window. Gus overlooked all this due to: 1. Desperation and 2. A distaste for—to the point of utter denial—stereotyping i.e. profiling.
As fortune would have it, the flags hid what would have been at least a head’s-up only an hour ago: The bottom lines of two bumper stickers. As was, they read: Why experiment on animals…; and: 50,000 battered women…. Leading Gus to believe that, despite appearances, the truck’s operator had grave concerns about animal testing and spousal abuse.
The reality: Clarence Orrin Tate had been under the influence of a pilfered twelve-pack of Bud Light and some particularly low-quality crystal meth when helping his buddy Jake (to whom the truck belonged) affix the statements, which read in full: Why experiment on animals…when there are so many democrats? And: 50,000 battered women…and I’m still eating mine plain?!
The hounds jumped at Gus’s thighs and scattered brittle, desiccated leaves over his dark Italian shoes. Twigs cracked with every step. His hands shook. His nose ran. He angled his head to get a look at the man behind him. More importantly, to get a look at the gun in the hands of the man behind him.
“Turn around, boy.” Clarence motioned with the shotgun.
Arms in the air, Gus walked on. Watched the ground as it blurred through his tears. What was he gonna do, anyway? If he weren’t a fucking coward, what would he do?
The dogs quieted in the fog of Gus’s peripheral vision. He stopped, suddenly calm and clear of purpose.
“Whatchyou doin’ there, boy? I din’t say stop yet.”
Gus heard the gelatinous pip of chaw spit hitting leaf litter and he charged. Backward. His NordicTrack ass ramming a solid beer belly.
Clarence toppled back. Gus sprung forward, spun around and stomped on Clarence’s nose. Then he grabbed the shotgun one-handed as a dog dangled from his other hand. The rest of the pack went long at the transfer of the gun. Gus shook off the attached hound and aimed at the man. Backed several feet away.
“Get up,” Gus said.
Head tilted back, palm guarding his nose, Clarence braced his other hand behind him and rocked.
Clarence gave up on nose protection and used both hands to seesaw himself vertical. Blood flowed freely from the broken nose and dripped from his pointy white chin. His blue eyes narrowed on the gun. It had begun to shake.
Clarence started forward and the gun fired at his feet. He stopped, then smiled and took one small step and another and another, mocking the young man with the now badly shaking, uncocked gun. Clarence’s arm shot out toward the raised barrel.
Gus yanked back on the ratchet and fired practically point blank at Clarence. He missed. Buckshot had scattered in all directions but Clarence’s. A small metal shard ricocheted, however, off the license plate of the truck. It was this shard that burrowed into Clarence’s left eye and ultimately, into his brain. Gus jerked back on the empty, unfamiliar mechanism again and again as Clarence dropped to his knees.
Gus grabbed onto the double-barrel and, raising the gun over his shoulder, used the butt to bludgeon first the dead man and then the truck. The dogs whined and ran into the woods.
Gus sank against the truck door onto the ground. Sucking in air. Then puking.
When he was done, he rose and wiped down the gun with the hem of the redneck’s soiled tee-shirt, threw the gun into the truck cab, ripped a scrap from said shirt, placed one end in the truck’s gas tank, pulled a lighter from his pocket, lit the other end and walked calmly down the road the way they’d come.


Posts: 11
Joined: January 12th, 2011, 12:21 pm

Re: South Florida crime comedy opening comparison

Post by elmtree322 » January 12th, 2011, 8:55 pm

Hi there! This is my first post but thought I'd give my two cents anyway.

I'm a fan of the second opening, as I think it reads more polished. But I also like some of what you did in the first opening, like the action I could feel in reading the character's driving habits. Maybe you could work the two together?

Also, somthing I would change is where you've used slang in the narrative, like cutting gees off of words or using 'em instead of them. Typically, I think this is usually only done in dialogue.

Sounds like an interesting story, I'd like to know what comes after the kaboom!

Posts: 36
Joined: March 13th, 2010, 7:26 pm

Re: South Florida crime comedy opening comparison

Post by NickB » January 13th, 2011, 2:17 am


Hi! Thanks so much for the comments and encouragement.

I've thought the same thing about combining them a bit, but haven't yet come up with anything good. I may run part of the first one later in the book. But then, sometimes what I like has to go away...for rhythm and flow, pacing...yadayadayada.

Congratulations on posting a comment. My first wasn't too long ago and I know it takes some courage to jump in where it seems so many are regulars. Are you working on something? If so, in this genre?

Thanks again and Welcome! Nick

Posts: 11
Joined: January 12th, 2011, 12:21 pm

Re: South Florida crime comedy opening comparison

Post by elmtree322 » January 13th, 2011, 11:29 am

Hi Nick, appreciate the encouragement to join in. I've left a few comments so far as I learn the type of feedback people are looking for here.

I'm currently working on a second draft for my narrative non-fiction ms, called English Lessons. It's about a year I spent in London writing a column about an American girl doing 52 British adventures. I have a short excerpt posted at the top of this board. Would love for you to take a look!

Also, I'm from South Florida, and enjoyed reading some of your descriptions of the SoFla life. Though I don't miss 75 traffic!

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