Out of 15 possibly points in each of the two writing challenges for Round 1, I scored 15 in the first and 13 in the second. My total of 28 points placed me first in my group for the first round of the competition, which allowed me to advance, along with the next 4 highest scorers. I was placed in a new group–one of 8 groups total–with 29 other writers, and I received my prompts last night.
This is my entry for Round 2/Challenge 3 of NYC Midnight’s 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge.
My assigned prompts:
Location: A garbage truck
Object: A meatball
Word Count Limit: 1000
Actual Word Count: 999
Synposis: ‘Two detectives receive an anonymous tip about a missing witness. They conduct the search for his body in a garbage truck.’
–Elementary, My Dear Fossen
“What the fuck is that smell?”
Detective Fossen frowned. “Geez, Marquez… watch your mouth.”
“Say that cursing’s not ladylike or makes me unattractive,” said Detective Marquez, “and I swear to God I’ll punch you in the nuts.”
Fossen shrugged and watched a dozen uniformed cops carry bags and boxes of trash to the tables lining the wall of the warehouse. A garbage truck wouldn’t fit exactly inside a forensics lab.
Marquez donned a mask to help filter the smell and was peering into the back of the garbage truck as the uniforms—outfitted in yellow Tyvek jumpsuits, booties, hairnets, gloves, goggles, and masks—removed its smelly contents. She and Fossen claimed their own jumpsuits, complete with accessories, and dressed in the protective gear so they wouldn’t contaminate the trash.
“The tip said to seize the truck as soon as it picked up the dumpsters outside Baldoni’s,” Fossen said. “I wouldn’t think she was stupid enough to dump him right outside her place but maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“Let’s find this asshole so we can nail that bitch.”
“Come on, with the language. Can’t you say ‘A-hole’ and ‘wench’? Is that too much to ask?”
Marquez grinned. “As a matter of fact, it is.”
“We’ve been sorting through this shit for hours,” Marquez said with a scowl as she pawed through a trash bag that contained an unusual amount of banana peels and coffee grounds.
“Language, Marquez. And it’s been one hour.”
Marquez ignored her partner. “There’s nothing here but… well, trash. Antonia Baldoni is sitting in her dump of a restaurant, laughing into her Fettucini Alfredo.”
“She’ll make a mistake sooner or later.” Fossen looked beyond Marquez and added softly, “Maybe sooner. I bet that our cadaver dog is going to send our good friend Toni Baloney—”
“Stop calling her that, it’s childish.”
“—to the big house. The slammer. The clink. The pokey. The—”
“Jeezus, shut the fuck up, Fossen. I get it!”
“God’s listening, Marquez. But fine, I’ll shut up. No need to get your panties—”
“Don’t you dare say it, Detective. Just don’t.”
She looked toward the garbage truck when the cadaver dog, a handsome black German Shepherd called Zeus, barked twice. The dog pawed at a pile of trash bags sitting beside the garbage truck and sat down. His eyes were on his handler and his tongue lolled as he panted. She gave the dog a treat as the uniforms began to haul the bags toward the tables of ‘evidence.’
Fossen and Marquez hurried toward the tables and began to open bags. “It’s just food,” Marquez growled. “The damn dog hit on food?”
She glared as Zeus and Tina Trujillo, his handler, approached. “No ma’am,” Trujillo’s pony tail bounced as she shook her head, “Zeus wouldn’t hit on food.” Zeus looked up at his name and huffed softly.
Marquez gestured at the bag. “He hit on these bags, which are full of food. Therefore, he hit on food.”
They both looked at the mushy mix of pasta, bread, sauce, and paper tablecloths that filled the bag in front of Marquez. A frown knitted Trujillo’s brow as she glanced at Zeus and shook her head again.
“This one’s full of meatballs,” Fossen was digging through another trash bag. A lot of meatballs. And chicken. Maybe he hit on these.”
“No sir,” Trujillo said. “Cadaver dogs never hit on meat, only on human remains.”
“First time for everything,” Marquez said, annoyed.
“Shoot!” Fossen jumped back as the bag he’d been inspecting split open and its contents spilled across the table to the floor.
“Did you just say, ‘shoot’?” Fossen glared as Marquez laughed. “Shoot,” she snorted and shook her head. “You won’t go to hell if you say ‘shit’, Fossen.”
Fossen glared. “There’s got to be something here,” he said angrily. “The tip said—”
“The tip said shit,” Marquez said. “What do we know?”
“Not much. We busted Ritchie for shooting that cop. He wanted to turn state’s evidence against Toni Baloney—”
“—whatever, but he disappeared before we could got him into protective custody. We figured she had someone in the department or in the D.A.’s office tip her off about Ritchie’s deal, so she took him out. And we’ve got nothing.”
“He’s been gone two days, right?” Fossen nodded and Marquez looked at the trash-laden tables. “Baldoni’s people have been holed up in that restaurant for two days.” She watched the uniforms opening the other bags of trash from the pile that Zeus had hit on, and watched Zeus himself, whose gaze moved between his flustered handler and the bags of food.
“Detectives,” one of the uniforms called, “these other bags have meatballs, too. A lot of damn meatballs.”
Marquez and Fossen turned toward the tables of trash. “How much do you think those meatballs might weigh?” She met Fossen’s confused gaze and said softly, “A couple hundred pounds, maybe?”
“I don’t know. Who cares?”
Marquez arched an eyebrow at him. “How much do you think Ritchie weighs?” Her eyes again found Zeus and narrowed as she saw the dog take a meatball into his mouth.
“It was the meatballs,” Fossen growled.
“I’m not so sure,” Marquez said.
“Zeus, no!” The handler exclaimed. But the dog didn’t eat the meatball. He held it between his teeth, walked to his handler, and set it on the floor at her feet. He sat down and huffed again as he looked up at her. “No,” she said softly as she watched the dog paw gently at the meatball on the floor. “Oh my God.” Trujillo looked up and gestured to the detectives.
“Do we have DNA on Ritchie?”
“Of course,” Fossen said as they approached Trujillo. “Why?”
“We need to run it against one of these meatballs,”
“You don’t think—” Fossen began before Trujillo interrupted him.
“Detectives, Zeus is hitting on the meatballs but not because they’re food,” she said.
“Because they’re human remains,” Marquez said.
Fossen whistled. “I’ll be goddamned.”
Now with hearty, meaty feedback!
I received my feedback early since I didn’t advance…
ETA: My Round 2 story did receive an Honorable Mention! Not a bad overall turnout for my first Flash Fiction writing!
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY:
The buddy nature of the 2 cops was well done. Dialog was raunchy but humorous and the humor was well used to cover up exposition. Good use of assigned elements.
Nice work! Terrific characterization, and I liked the incorporation of expositional information into the brainstorming/strained re-telling of what the partners already knew about the crime. Great way to catch up the reader without compromising your writing. This story worked very well!
An inventive use of the elements you were presented with, and quick, witty dialogue.
WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK:
There were no red herrings or misdirections which might have helped. The ‘meatballs are human’ was hammered home much too directly and the final lines stepped on the reveal which the clever detectives were slow to pick up on.
I liked this story a lot. If I have one critique, “Because they’re human remains” may not need to be stated so explicitly. The reader was already on board, so something a little more subtle might help the reader feel less played down to.
The cop banter is good, but the no-swearing refrain is a little repetitive and unrealistic, without quite being funny enough to justify itself. Also, you make the solution clear well before the end of the story–instead of using these pages to have the detectives catch up to what the meatballs are, you could toy with the gruesome comedy of the situation.