Bewildering Stories discusses...
The Dead Bin and Real Life
with Gary Clifton
Readers see finished products as they come out on Bewildering Stories’ pages. Writers, though, may wonder what goes into them.
One can say it doesn’t really matter. Once published, a story or poem becomes a public artifact, like a statue or other artwork in a city park or museum. And yet all writers and artists are their own first critics in the dialogue between artist and work. What were they thinking? A conversation with the author may prove useful...
[BwS] Janet and Tim are a nice touch; they give McCoy a home. But Janet’s role seems to be confined to bed and spaghetti. And McCoy only plays catch with Tim. Might Tim ask uncomfortable questions about McCoy’s work, perhaps at dinner? Something like that?
[Gary C.] I gave McCoy a female interest and his attraction to the kid basically to make him a tad more human, with a life outside kicking butts. Frankly, I didn’t think to expand them further.
[BwS] Keeping their roles to a minimum is understandable; “too much of a good thing” is risky. The rapid action would risk being slowed if “spear-carriers” took on lives of their own. Before you know it, their stories might become full-fledged digressions and cause readers to lose track of the plot.
Likewise, the drama is punctuated regularly by small actions that shift the focus within scenes. For example, Harper has a habit of rolling his cigar stub in his mouth. Can’t he do more with it? When he lights a cigar and stinks up the neighborhood in chapter 26, the chapter ends with a comic touch.
[Gary C.] Harper’s cigar is meant only to make him appear as a rough, crude guy. I didn’t think of having him do more with the cigar.
[BwS] Maybe just as well. If readers began to wonder what Harper will do next with his cigar, they might forget what’s actually happening.
McCoy goes to the Dead Bin for neglecting body armor in chapter 6, and Detective Washington had been killed as a consequence. Wouldn’t the Dead Bin team put on vests when going in to confront Lola Blue, in chapter 40?
[Gary C.] The DB team knows or expects that Lola is carrying a little .25 caliber pistol. I have two bullet holes in my carcass from a .25. Had the mopes been smart enough to use a bigger pistol, like Washington’s murderer, I wouldn’t be telling this.
When the three DB characters go forth to arrest Stick, protocol and common sense dictate they use vests. But, too often, plainclothes cops or agents would have conducted the surveillance of Stick with the idea of putting on a vest only if the situation became critical.
Recall twenty-five years ago in Miami, eight or so FBI agents were out on Friday because the same two guys had robbed a bank or armored car every Friday afternoon in the same area. The agents met for lunch and left in separate cars. One of the two-man cars spotted a black Monte Carlo — the robbers’ car — and a wild chase ensued.
To be fair, TV and film dramas are fiction. Neither the FBI nor any other police agency often becomes involved in car chases or gun battles, and not a single agent had thought to don his vest. The toll: both crooks were dead, but at least two agents were also dead, and three or four others had been shot. All the vests were intact but unused.
Both robbers were full of standard FBI 9mm bullets. Even though they were dying, they had not been hit hard enough to prevent them from crawling out of their car and trying to escape with one of the FBI cars. Today, most everyone carries a .40-caliber weapon.
Vests don’t always offer complete protection. When ATF management sent agents into the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, all four dead agents and two or three who survived were shot through and through their Kevlar vests.
[BwS] Harper’s cigar case recalls an old joke about the guy who was saved by a lucky charm bullet in his breast pocket when a fanatic threw a bible at him.
[Gary C.] I have seen or been around many situations where somebody got shot, but the bullet was deflected because of a belt buckle, a notepad in a shirt pocket, or any number of impediments. Humans are hard to kill, frankly, especially with a .25. That a .25 shot off McCoy’s toe through a leather boot or shoe is iffy.
You can’t just kill Harper off, but he has to be taken out of the picture somehow. The scene, to me, requires McCoy, in pain, speaking with Lola alone.
The real glitch in chapter 40 is the time passing between Maggs’ hearing the initial shots and her showing up to shoot Grifford.
[BwS] Readers probably won’t notice. Maybe Maggs has to move carefully around the house and stop to put on her vest?
Anyway, it’s interesting that the plot hinges on the Dead Bin team’s always seeing Lola Blue from afar until the very end. The closest they come is in chapter 31, when they catch sight of her in a hospital elevator. If anybody did see through her disguise and realize she was Grifford, I’d think Lola would whip out her whiskey, rope and matches.
[Gary C.] It was my intention that Lola be a shadow character most of the way through, seen up close by no one. Partially the same for Grifford: show him, but guardedly.
Assumptions can be dangerous. I intended to imply that all those she murdered did, in fact, know she was Grifford and that, true to the dysfunctional world of that ilk, they never figured Grifford/Lola was the killer. If they had, as I said before, they would have taken care of it with no help from the cops.
Humans have a tendency to see what they want to see. How many thousand times have you seen, on the news, someone saying to the effect, “It’s just not possible he ate his neighbor. He’s just not that type of person.” Or “Oswald couldn’t have killed JFK alone. He was a wimp and couldn’t have done that all by himself.”
[BwS] Are there things you wish you’d done differently?
[Gary C.] The fight-bite clue called for some backfilling. Grifford is present in chapter 16, where a search warrant is served on Kuznov’s pad. I realized almost too late that Grifford’s infected hand has to be hidden, but it isn’t mentioned. That’s why McCoy has a flash of hindsight about it in chapter 41. It’s a band-aid solution.
[BwS] How close to real life does The Dead Bin come?
[Gary C.] Except perhaps for Kuznov, all the characters are basically real. The “tied to the bed” concept came from a case I worked in Dallas. A sexless madman — the model for Grifford — had managed to pick up four young gay men in so-called gay bars on four different occasions. He induced them to let him tie them to a motel bed, where he burned them alive. I found him in a “gay” bar and arrested him at gunpoint.
He was not only asexual, he had emasculated himself and did the same to all four of his victims. He did not escape to a mental hospital; he’s still in the joint. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a unit that houses such cases; this Grifford-type character was not unique.
[BwS] The “mopes” and criminal masterminds are scary. Should your readers be afraid?
[Gary C.] As I’ve said before, the average citizen never deals with people like this. And there are worse people around than the ones depicted in The Dead Bin.
and Gary Clifton