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Monday, August 12, 2013

Revelation at 35,000 Feet

Gordon Mitchell, jet test-pilot, had serious problems.

He was in maneuvers over the desert, every gauge on the instrument panel screaming at him for attention. He couldn't eject - the G's were pulling him down too hard, his mind struggled for consciousness. He tried the eject handle, desperately, but he couldn't pull it. The ground was racing up to meet him at a thousand feet per second. In ten seconds, the plane would hit the Earth. He closed his eyes, held his breath and braced for impact...

When he opened his eyes again, after what seemed an eternity, he found himself walking along the desert. He was strolling along, casually, not a care in the world. He happened to glance down, he was still in his green flight suit. His helmet was gone and he had no recollection of what in the world had happened to it.

He came up, finally, to a car propped up on a jack alongside an empty highway. It was a 1937 Studebaker, brown and speckled with dirt. Other than the flat tire, it appeared in good shape. There was a little girl peering over the seat in the back. Bright blue eyes, bouncy brown curls, freckled cheeks. Her face was young and innocent, yet somehow strangely familiar. The older gentleman was working on the car, a white dress shirt, light gray slacks; a smudge of grease on his nose. He was a handsome man, slightly grayed about the temples. He reminded Gordon of those "Dad" ads of the fifties, the ones you'd see on the back of the old magazines. Black-and-white advertisements for cigarettes, or cars, or insurance.

"Hello," said Gordon and the two began to talk. Soon, he was helping the gentleman with his tire. The man introduced himself but the name meant nothing. When he learned the little girl's name, Emily, it sparked a vague recollection. "That was my mother's name," Gordon said.

The older man drove Gordon into town. They stopped at a diner. My God, thought Gordon. It's the the 1950's. Something was definitely wrong. Was he dead? Is this little girl sitting in the booth across from him his mother? The older gentleman his grandfather? Suddenly he remembered something. "I was flying my jet," Gordon explained, "the controls went dead, I couldn't eject." His hands gripped the chrome trim of the table. He looked at the little girl. "But this can't be Heaven." His heart began to pound.

The older man sat calmly and spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "I remember back in June of '45, my Corsair got shot up pretty bad over the Pacific. I was losing pieces every few feet, oil flopping out of the engine. I was a goner, or so I thought..."

Gordon looked at him. He felt the man was trying to tell him something, impart something important. "What did you do?" he asked, still gripping the table hard.

"I let go." The man shrugged. "I stopped fightin' I guess. I figured, whatever was gonna happen was gonna happen, no use frettin' about it." He used the corner of the paper menu as a toothpick. "You find yourself in those moments, sometimes. It goes against every instinct in your body, but sometimes, you just gotta let go."

Gordon looked down at his grip on the table. He wanted to release it, but couldn't. The place around them began to shake, vibrate violently. Gordon's heart lurched in his throat, it was an earthquake. But the older man just stared at Gordon with a queer expression, as if nothing in the world were wrong. He saw the little girl's hand reaching out toward him. She placed her hand on his. "Just let go," she said, looking up at him with her big blue eyes smiling at him. "You gotta let go..."

When Gordon forced open his eyes again, he was surrounded by a brown/blue landscape spiraling up at him. He shook the fog from his head forcing his vision to clear. A cloud lifted from his consciousness. He realized he was back in the cockpit of his jet, careening helplessly toward Earth. He sucked in a breath, closed his eyes.

He let go of the controls, let go of the eject handle, let go of everything.

In the next instant, he heard an urgent buzzing noise above him in the cockpit and then it happened - the automated firing mechanism blew the bolts off the cockpit canopy and it was whisked away into thin air. Then, without warning, the ejection seat fired.

He found himself being shot out of the plane like a rocket hurtling toward space. When his senses returned, he felt himself tumbling head over heels into nothingness, and then he was vaguely aware of the chute catching open, filling with air, and he was jerked violently upward. Again, his stomach was in his throat, but things calmed and he found himself floating gently over the horizon, floating over the desert as landmarks on the ground slowly came into focus. He lifted his gaze and saw a plume of dark smoke billowing like some ancient pyre far in the distance - marking the location of his wrecked plane.

As he floated safely and gently down to Earth, he closed his eyes, thought of Emily's bright caring eyes, and smiled. He made a mental note to remind the engineers about the locked ejection handle. It was supposed to operate on its own, but froze when forces were gripping on it, like he had done when disaster struck. All he had to do was let go to get it to work, but he had forgotten that in his panic. Thankfully, he had been reminded - not just of the handle but of something much, much more important.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Turn Your Screenplay into a Novel and Make Hollywood Come to You

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Did you know Die Hard, one of the most successful franchises in movie history, was made from a novel? It’s a relatively thin book entitled Nothing Lasts Forever and the author, Roderick Thorpe, wrote it back in 1979. You should look it up on Amazon, see if you can pick up a copy and give it a read. I’ve always found it fascinating to read the original source material of a favorite movie. Just the other day I learned that one of my all time favorites, Flight of the Phoenix, was based on a novel. I picked up a used copy and read it. This can be a very helpful learning tool for anyone considering the task of adopting his or her original screenplay into a novel.

And you probably know that Rambo, First Blood was based on the book by David Morrell. You should definitely read that if you get a chance! But be prepared for a few surprises! Morrell’s main character in the book is not nearly as reluctant to kill as the character in the movie!

The point is, Hollywood is terrified to risk anything new. You know this; they don’t like to gamble. The people in charge would much rather gamble on a proven entity, something someone else has already gambled on. If you can create something intriguing, interesting… something that generates buzz and that anyone with an Internet connection can find on Amazon, you may just have Hollywood knocking at your door. Imagine that! But even if that never happens, at the bare minimum you will have become a novelist - a REAL WRITER - and I can tell you from first hand experience, that is a great feeling.

If you’re an unproduced screenwriter, regardless of how great you think your script is, you’re basically standing in line with a million other poor souls who think their script is just as great. They’re like an angry mob with curled scripts in their upraised hands, screaming out, “Notice me! Notice me!” But the sad reality is Hollywood doesn’t notice them because there are just too many of them.

There are two BIG reasons you should seriously consider adopting your work into a novel.

First, by turning your script into a novel, you put yourself back in control of your own destiny. Once your novel hits the electronic shelves, it’s available for anyone to see. It could achieve a following, and then it’s off to the races!

Second, and perhaps more important, a very significant transformation occurs when you write a novel… you look at yourself differently. You become a Novelist. How many unproduced screenwriters can say that? I am a novelist. I am a writer. I wrote a book. All these statements will be true. People will want you to autograph a copy for them (you’ll have paperbacks available on Amazon at no cost to you; this is one of the best-kept secrets on the Internet! Check out CreateSpace.com). Friends and family members will look at you differently.

And you need that. As a human being, you need the affirmation that says I AM A WRITER and the evidence to back it up. Your subconscious needs it. Things change after you become a published writer. Priorities become clearer. Whereas one day, you were pursuing a hobby, once you get your book on Amazon, you’re no longer a hobbyist. You’re an author, with an Author’s Profile page. Real ISBN numbers. You’re a writer. And who knows? You may just learn that you enjoy writing fiction in novel form better than you enjoy writing scripts. If that happens, embrace it. Go with it. There will always be opportunities down the road to take one of your original novels in the other direction and convert it into a screenplay. The key here is to write. That’s the most important thing. Write!

When you turn your screenplay into a novel, you accomplish an amazing thing...

Your original story sees the light of production, which is critical for people like us who not only yearn to create, but we yearn to entertain, to move, to inspire. We want people to experience our stories and be affected by them, entertained by them. This isn’t just about selling a script, it’s about moving an audience. The published novel doesn’t need actors, music, lights, camera, sound. It can be enjoyed as is. It is totally self-contained.

Well, I hope I’ve sparked your interest in taking your original screenplay and turning it into a novel. Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how we do it.

THE BASICS

There are three primary tasks you will need to perform to convert your screenplay into a novel.

  1. Convert the tense from present to past
  2. Embellish the descriptions
  3. Determine Point-of-View (POV) and write from inside the head of your characters

Converting Tense

Screenplays are written in present tense because they’re meant to be experienced in real-time, the way a person seated in a theater experiences a movie. But most novels are written in past tense. There are a few exceptions, like the novel Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood. But because these types of novels are rare, they’re a little harder to pull off. I recommend sticking to convention and writing your novel in the past tense.

Plus, there’s a reason the past tense resonates with us. It seems more authentic. It’s like, an amazing story has occurred and someone feels compelled to tell it. Like the group of coworkers hanging out by the water-cooler on Monday morning. The storyteller of the group says, “I gotta tell you about this crazy thing that happened to me over the weekend,” and we all pause to hear what happened.

You’re going to need to go through your script page by page and convert those pesky present-tense verbs to past-tense verbs.

I recommend going through your entire screenplay and doing this first step before proceeding to the next. The good thing about doing this step first is that you’ll end up with your first draft in novel format fairly quickly, although it may look skimpy in terms of word count, but we’ll get to that later.

So where, for example, in my script I have present tense verbs, I need to convert them to past-tense verbs. I’ve highlighted the verbs in bold:

INT. SALOON - DAY

People clear themselves of the shooting lanes as they force their backs against the walls. Chucho’s men quietly draw their weapons, pulling back hammers, etc.

There is a moment of intense silence as eyes narrow and teeth set. The stable boy is on pins and needles from his hiding spot beneath the stairs. No one moves a muscle...

And then it happens.

Chucho goes for his guns and Reno hits his elbows against his sides and two pistols fly into his waiting hands and in a flash he guns down Chucho along with one of his men standing by the door.

Just as Reno fires, he rolls over the bar, narrowly avoiding the buckshot coming from the shotgun from the man on his right. Two more of Chucho’s men go down amid exploding wood and glass.

Reno takes out two more gun-wielding targets at the top of the stairs, but his handguns are clicking now, out of ammo.

Through the back door two more of Chucho’s men burst in, guns ablazing. Reno leaps behind a capsized table and methodically hits a release on the straps connected to the middle of his chest.

Suddenly the silver cannister on his back pops open and a shotgun springs over his shoulder and into his hands. Before the men can react, Reno blasts them into the wall.

The place is filled with gunsmoke amid the groans of dying men and the muffled cries of huddled villagers. Reno rises to his feet and surveys the damage.

Behind him, Chucho crawls through the smoke and blood and corpses and grabs a gun. He quickly rolls around to shoot Reno in the back.

The stable boy sees this and shouts.

STABLE BOY
Senor!

So the first pass of the screenplay into novel form will be the process of simply removing the scene headers and converting the verbs.

First pass:

    In the saloon, people cleared themselves of the shooting lanes as they forced their backs against the walls. Chucho’s men quietly drew their weapons, pulling back the hammers…
    There was a moment of intense silence as eyes narrowed and jaws tightened. The stable boy was on pins and needles from his hiding spot beneath the stairs. No one moved a muscle.
    And then it happened.
    Chucho went for his guns and Reno hit his elbows against his sides and two pistols flew into his waiting hands and in a flash he gunned down Chucho along with one of his men standing by the door.
    Just as Reno fired, he rolled over the bar, narrowly avoiding the buckshot coming from the shotgun from the man on his right. Two more of Chucho’s men went down amid exploding wood and glass.
    Reno took out two more gun-wielding targets at the top of the stairs, but his handguns were clicking now. Out of ammo.
    Through the back door two more of Chucho’s men burst in, guns blazing. Reno leapt behind a capsized table and methodically hit a release on the straps connected to the middle of his chest.
    Suddenly the silver cannister on his back popped open and a shotgun sprung over his shoulder and into his hands. Before the men could react, Reno blasted them into the wall.
    The place filled with gunsmoke amid the groans of dying men and the muffled cries of huddled villagers. Reno rose to his feet and surveyed the damage.
    Behind him, Chucho crawled through the smoke and blood and corpses and grabbed a gun. He quickly rolled around to shoot Reno in the back.
    The stable boy saw this and shouted, “Senior!”

At this point, don’t get hung up in the mechanics of the text, or point-of-view concerns, etc. The goal here is to just do a clean swipe of your text and get the entire story down in past tense. Sometimes, the verb form will throw you off. For example, I had to double-check the past tense form of the verb burst which just happens to be the same as the present tense. And, in the second paragraph, it didn't sound right to say "teeth set" (past tense), so I changed it to, "jaws tightened."

Determining the POV

If your story can be told entirely from the view point of a single character, all the better. An example would be Michael Douglas' character in The Game. Everything we see is from his point-of-view. We never leave him. It's what helps make that movie so effective. If you can pull this off, I recommend writing your novel in first-person ("I" form), as in, "I stepped out of the shower and froze... there was a dead woman lying on my bed, painted entirely in gold..."

Most of the time, however, this is not possible to do, as the story will break from the main character and there will be scenes where that character is not present. That's why you will most likely use the third-person POV ("He/She"). More about this in a bit.

Embellishing The Descriptions & Writing From Inside Your Characters' Heads

These two steps usually come more naturally to some writers than to others. If you’re used to writing screenplays, you’ve trained yourself to keep your descriptions sparse, only showing the most relevant details to get the point across. And as you know, we only learn about what’s inside the character’s head from seeing him or her in action. But in a novel, you’ll want to bring life to your characters and their surroundings. For descriptions, make them breathe. Sensory detail is the key. How much sensory detail you put into your descriptions is entirely up to you and remember, you’ll get better at this with practice. As for your character’s thoughts, emotions and feelings, you’ll get those by slipping inside the skin of your character.

Now that we’ve got the entire screenplay down with past tense verbs, we’re going to go through the draft again and embellish the descriptions and write from inside our characters’ heads.

Here’s how the original script introduced the main character (notice the sparse description):

EXT. DESERT - DAY

The CLIP-CLOP of horse hooves announce the arrival of our hero, RENO NEVADA. He is so drunk he can barely stay in the saddle of his giant, prehistoric-looking BLACK STALLION.

A hand falls from his side and drops an empty bottle of whiskey into the sand. He is a drunk nomad, wandering aimlessly.

His wanderings take him near a solitary church and its cemetery where a handful of mourners have gathered for a mass burial. We hear the wails of grief from their suffering as sheeted bodies are dragged from a buckboard filled with dead.

Reno doesn't seem to notice. He rides on, slumped in his saddle. As he roams the southwestern frontier, there is a MONTAGE of burial scenes like the one above, interspersed with images of the dead hanging from trees. Vultures reign.

All around Reno are signs of death, pestilence and disease.

Here is the translated opening scene of the novel with the description embellished and character thoughts and feelings added:

    The heavy, droning clip-clop of Samson’s hooves along the dusty trail felt like nails driven into Nevada’s aching skull. His bloodshot eyes could barely open and when they tried, the painful glare of the blistering sun caused them to shut tight again. He loved his horse without question; but why did the beast have to be so damn gigantic? Why couldn’t he have rescued a regular-sized horse, whose hoof-prints were not the size of Texas?
    He struggled to bring the end of a whiskey bottle to his parched lips, but upon noticing it dry, released his grip and let the bottle tumble to the ground. No more whiskey. He’d have to remedy that soon. Luckily, somewhere in the recesses of his besotted mind, he knew the town was not far away.
    As Samson carried him along, Reno found himself emerging now and again from various states of drunkenness, only to notice odd things taking place around him. He remembered passing the cemetery of a solitary church where a handful of mourners, all dressed in black, had gathered for a burial. But unless his eyes had deceived him, he would have sworn that in the nearby buckboard was not just one or two or even three bodies wrapped in sheets, but dozens of bodies. The wails of grief knelled in his ears and made him to wince, and he watched in numbed silence as the parishioners dragged the bodies out one by one and heaped them into a massive grave.
    All the while, as he slowly made his way south across the dry scorching desert into Mexican high country, the continuous images of death, pestilence and disease registered deep into Reno’s subconscious. He found himself wondering: Were these visions real or were they drunken imaginings?
    At one point he thought he saw the weather-beaten bodies of a young woman and her children twisting in the wind, each dangling at the end of a rope from an outstretched branch of a twisted oak. He lifted his head and blinked numbly at the gruesome sight, and a shiver that chilled him to his core gave him his answer. These visions were real.

It takes a little practice to get the hang of this but I found that if I really let myself go during the writing of the rough draft, I could embellish the description and feel first-hand what the character was experiencing. Remember, it’s a lot easier to overwrite during draft mode, and then trim later during the final revisions.

Here's another example from the opening pages of my screenplay THE TYPEWRITER:
The lives of a man and his family are threatened by the discovery of a mysterious typewriter with the ability to see into the future... and into the mind of a psychotic killer.

FADE IN:

EXT. ONE-STORY RESIDENTIAL - DAY

JACK HARRISON pulls up in his shiny Lexus which proudly displays a FIRST CHOICE REALTY door magnet. He exits, goes to the trunk of his car. We can tell that Jack’s good-looking, charming and maybe, we find out later, a tad bit smarmy.

He pops the trunk and pulls out a FOR SALE sign, along with a notebook, pen, tape measure, etc.

Jack pierces the front yard with the sign, does a quick scan of the neighborhood. It’s nice. He digs in his pocket for the house key.

INT. HOUSE - DAY

Jack enters the house and looks around. He speaks into his phone recorder as he takes stock of the house, making notes, measuring distances, etc.

     JACK
  (recording his notes)
Hardwood floors in the entry.
  (looking closely)
Looks like mahogany. Maybe maple.

He takes notes for all the rooms he enters...

     JACK (CONT’D)
Nice open floor plan. Nice size master on the ground floor with two large walk-ins...

Jack pauses at the top of the stairs. He notices a substantial CRACK in the ceiling, probably due to water damage.

     JACK (CONT’D)
  (into his phone)
Damn. Significant fissure in the ceiling just above the living room.
  (to himself)
I’m gonna have to fix that.

He shakes his head in disappointment, then spots the draw cord leading to the attic. He reaches up and pulls it, extending the hinged wooden stairs.

INT. HOUSE - ATTIC

Jack’s head emerges. He looks around. The room is large and empty.

     JACK
  (impressed with the size)
Wow.

Most of the attic floor is unfinished, but a small portion, near the furnace, is paneled. As Jack steps toward the furnace to get a better look, his foot lands on a board that jars slightly loose.

     JACK (CONT’D)
Uh-oh.

Jack bends down, tries to put the board back into place. He turns it around, like a puzzle piece. As he looks down, something under the flooring catches his eye.

A small suitcase. Like a carry-on, but hard-shelled.

He sits down, pulls it out of its hiding place and onto his lap. His fingers feather over the textured surface. There’s a word embossed on the top of the case: ROYAL.

Jack opens it.

It’s a typewriter, circa 1930’s. The kind the old newsmen used to hammer on. His eyes shine, like a kid in a candy store. The thing is in remarkably good shape.

The sound of someone KNOCKING downstairs jolts Jack back to the here and now. He sets the case aside, carefully descends the creaking attic stairs, then hurries down the second-floor stairs leading to the front door.

And here is the converted scene:

     He found the typewriter on Tuesday, April 14th, just after 9:30 in the morning.      Jack Harrison pulled his shiny Lexus into the driveway at 2314 Crescent Heights Drive and stepped out. He was a thirty-something professional, in good shape, with a head full of blond hair that he tended to wear long, just over the collar. He wore slacks, designer shoes, and a dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck.
     On the ring finger of his left hand was a slim gold band and on the sides of his car were vinyl door magnets advertising his company: FIRST CHOICE REALTY.
     With his hands on his hips, he tilted his head and took a moment to appraise the property. It was a one-story brick home, just under two thousand square feet, built in the late sixties. The yard was a disaster, but the front of the house - with its red brick walls, white mold trim, and set of double doors with their inlay of frosted glass - wasn’t as bad as expected and his spirits rose. It would definitely sell; it just needed a little work on its curb appeal. A pair of azaleas by the front steps would work nicely.
     Satisfied with his appraisal, he went to the rear of his car, popped it open and grabbed one of the dozen yard signs inside. The sky above was gray and threatening rain; a breeze tumbled past him, blowing his well combed hair out of place. He stood in the middle of the front yard and ran his fingers through his hair, taming it back into place and straightening his upturned collar. Jack considered himself no more vain than most in his particular line of work; he knew the importance of image and enjoyed dressing to play the part.
     He pierced the lawn with the prongs of the sign then mashed it into place with the sole of his black dress shoe, leveraging his full body weight. He glanced back up at the house, then up one end of the street and down the other. He was juggling numbers in his head, performing calculations, approximating payment amounts. Eventually he would settle on just the right asking price.
     The key to the house was hidden inside a small metal lock-box attached to the front door. He thumbed the four-digit combination, took out the key and used it to open the front door. Stepping inside, he withdrew a heavy-duty Stanley tape measure from his left pocket and a cellular phone from his right.
     The house was dark and quiet. He stood in the middle of the foyer surrounded by rich mahogany flooring and dark green wallpaper.
     “Hello?” he called out. A habit of his, from years of entering homes presumed empty but surprisingly weren’t.
     Not hearing a reply, Jack sucked in a deep breath and then proceeded with his routine. He went through the house methodically, recording the dimensions of each room, notating them into his phone along with any special features or peculiar drawbacks. He acquainted himself with the home just as he would meeting someone new for the first time, getting to know them.
     “Nice wood flooring in the entrance and throughout,” he said, stamping his foot, his phone to his lips.
     In the kitchen, he recorded a note about the double range oven. Gas and electric. The stainless steel sink. The red oak cabinets. He wielded his tape measure like a sword, taking measurements, recording the details into his phone.
     He opened the sliding glass doors to the back yard and walked outside, making notes about its size, the condition of the exterior fence, the large red wood deck. “Needs stripping,” he noted into the recorder.
     He entered the bedrooms, noting their dimensions and the size of the adjoining closets. He stepped inside the master bathroom and made a note about the large pedestal tub next to the walk-in shower. “Nice,” he added, running his fingers along the cold cast iron surface.
     He went into every room and walked over every square foot. The entire process took well over an hour and he captured and recorded every detail the home had to offer. When he returned to the den, something caught his eye. He stopped and frowned. There was a water mark in the ceiling, a long narrow stretch running right down the center, the edges stained with mildew. He stood on his toes to get a better look. “Water damage in the ceiling,” he grumbled into his phone. He reached up and a piece of drywall flaked off in his hand, sprinkling debris on his head and shoulders.
     “Gonna have to get Gus to fix that.” He shook the debris from his hair and patted his shoulders clean. Then, using a familiar motion, combed his hair back into place with his fingers.
     The water damage was troubling. Jack needed to look into that to make sure it wasn’t something serious. He slipped his phone and measuring tape back into his pockets and ducked around the corner, searching the ceiling for the door to the attic.
     He stopped when he spotted the white drawstring dangling above his head in the middle of the hallway to the right of the den.
     He reached up, grabbed the end of the string in his fingers and tugged. The door to the attic opened and a collapsible wooden ladder extended at his feet.
     The attic smelled dank and musty. He frowned at the cobwebs blocking the entrance. He waved his arms past them and ascended into the attic, keeping himself crouched to avoid banging his head on the beams overhead. A single bulb with a pull chain hung from the rafters. He pulled the chain and squinted as bright light filled the attic.
     An old furnace, cased in stainless steel panels, sat in a corner on top of a shallow aluminum pan to catch condensation. Jack could see the pan was full of dirty water - that probably accounted for the leak in the ceiling beneath his feet. He had to balance himself carefully on the rafters; only half of the attic had plywood flooring, the rest were 2 x 6 wooden beams with the typical pink cotton-candy insulation in between.
     Okay, so the furnace needed work. He’d have to hire a plumber to give it a once-over. The drainage pan could just be clogged, that happened sometimes…
     “Shit,” he cried out, almost losing his balance.
     He had stepped on a corner of the plywood flooring that buckled under his weight. As he stooped to get a better look, he saw that the board hadn’t buckled as he thought. It was a cut-out piece, designed to cover a small section of the floor. Jack scratched the back of his neck as he mind tried to make sense of it.
     He reached down and removed the puzzle piece and revealed a hidden section of the attic. As he squinted to get a better look, he caught sight of something hidden in the corner under the plywood. He lowered himself and, being careful not to tear a hole in his slacks, dropped to all fours. Carefully, he stuck his arm into the wedged opening and his fingers landed against something hard and cold. Something metal. Soon, they found a handle. He pulled the object free.
     It was a typewriter.
     Still in its case, Jack recognized what it was right away. Big, bulky, with the word ROYAL in large embossed letters on the top of its gritty surface. It was heavy too. He made a face as he struggled it free and then readjusted his position, sitting cross-legged with the thing in his lap.
     Alone with the just the case and the long dark shadows from the bulb overhead, he eased the cover open. His eyes widened and he absentmindedly licked his lips. In his lap was an ancient typewriter, from the old gumshoe days of the fifties, in seemingly perfect condition.
     “Wow,” he said, running his fingers over the cold metallic keys. He felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
     And that’s when he heard a hollow knock at the front door.

A WORD ABOUT WORD COUNT

The ideal word count for your novel from script is 50,000 words. That should be the target you shoot for. This makes for a nice-sized novel and a 200+ page book. If you fall a few thousand words short, don’t worry about it. A lean, tight novel that moves at a fast clip is beauty in itself. But if you’re hovering below 40,000 words, I would recommend spending some time to see if you’ve cut anything too short. Descriptions, dialogue, interior monologue, etc. Don’t be wordy just for the sake of length, but if your novel is too short, chances are you haven’t given ample attention to some of the crucial details.

REGARDING POINT OF VIEW

Generally speaking, the point of view you use should be that of the main character in the scene. But one of the tricky parts of novelizing your screenplay is how to handle Point-of-View (POV) transitions between scenes.

Suppose, for example, you have a scene like this that cuts away from your main character:

EXT. SHAFT ENTRANCE - ABOVE - DAY

While the CRACK, CRACK, CRACK of the whip echoes through the canyon, our mysterious friend has penetrated the perimeter of the hideout and found an entry at the very top.

He is revealed to be an Indian, probably Navajo based on his clothes, and his movements are very stealth-like. He is known by the name LONG HAWK. He disappears inside the mine shaft.

The main character isn’t even aware of what’s happening in the above scene. To do this in a novel, I used a standard scene break convention (”* * *”) preceded and followed by a carriage return:

    Harlan expertly landed the tip of the splayed leather against Reno's back in a long, thick slash. Reno's shirt ripped neatly open down his back, the edges tinged in blood. Pain rocketed through him as he clenched his teeth and clutched his eyes shut. He braced himself for worse pain to come...

* * *

    While the CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! of the whip reverberated throughout the canyon, the man who had been following the gang all across the desert plains quietly made his way to the top of an outcropping of golden rock and carefully peered out.
    His name was Long Hawk and he bore the contemporary Navajo clothing of the day: a buckskin waist coat, loose trousers tucked at the calves into moccasin boots, the hilt of a hunting knife above a leather sheath on his hip. He wore a red bandana tied tightly around his forehead, holding into place the long black hair which was parted cleanly down the center. A pearly white cougar fang dangled from each earlobe. His eyes were keen and sharp as they carefully scanned the narrow entrance to the mineshaft outstretched below him. He saw the idle lookouts – one on each side. Having seen everything he needed to, he quietly disappeared back into the shadows of the canyon.

Clear enough, right? But how do you handle something in the scene where there is no point-of-view character? In screenplay parlance, this is called DRAMATIC IRONY. Something happens on stage that is revealed to the audience, but is unrevealed to one or more of the characters.

Here’s an example of dramatic irony in the RENO NEVADA RIDES TO HELL screenplay:

INT. SALOON - NIGHT

The saloon turns into a regular jam session as other men with instruments join in. Guitarists join each other and play and soon, young men are twirling women, laughing, not a care in the world. Drinks flow, men slap each other’s backs.

During all this, the smoke that rises from every lit cigar, pipe, you name it, takes on a strange, UNEARTHLY quality. The large fireplace in the back burns in a strange turquoise color as well. No one notices this unusual phenomenon.

The smoke coils around the inhabitants of the saloon, intoxicating them with a powerful elixir, yet none seems aware of its effect. The mood morphs into one of extreme celebration.

We see the smoke as it drifts up, up through the ceiling, up through the floorboards, up to the rooms above the saloon...

And here’s how I handled it in the novelization:

    Down in the saloon, the festival was fully underway. Guitars appeared and there was singing and dancing. The center of the saloon had been cleared of tables to allow for the twirling and catching of their female partners. Drinks flowed as men laughed and slapped each other on the back.
    During this, but unnoticed by all, the smoke emanating from every cigar, pipe and cigarette began to take on a strange, unearthly quality. The large fireplace in the back burned in an uncharacteristic hue. The blue smoke filled the room, but no one seemed to notice this unusual phenomenon.
    The smoke seemed to have a mind of its own as it coiled around the inhabitants of the saloon, intoxicating them with a powerful elixir, yet no seemed aware of its effect on them. The mood morphed into one of extreme celebration.
    The smoke drifted up, up through the ceiling, up through the floorboards of the second floor, up to the rooms above the saloon.

THE TRAILER

Once you get your book finished and for sale on Amazon, you can then create a trailer using iMovie to draw attention to it.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

If you've found this article of value and want to see more examples and learn a few more tricks, then I invite you to check out the complete 81-page guide on Amazon.

Turn Your Screenplay into a Novel and Make Hollywood Come to You!

SUMMARY

I hope I’ve piqued your interest into turning your screenplay into a novel. Don’t let your script sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to write it. It was hard work. Increase its marketability by turning it into a novel. You’ll enjoy doing it and at the end of the process, you’ll have more than doubled your chances of getting noticed. And more importantly, you will have changed the way you look at yourself.

Good luck and keep writing.

Rick Garrison

About the Author

Rick lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and wrote his first novel under the pseudonym Flash Rivers. He can be found on the web at RichardGarrison.com

He's repped by Jackson Starr, of STARRPOWER TALENT (starrpower.com)

Examples

Come along with me as I convert the awesome game THE LAST OF US into a novel using the principles outlined in the book. Start with Chapter One and see first-hand just how easy it is!

Final Note

If you've purchased my novel RENO NEVADA RIDES TO HELL and would like to see the original screenplay from which its based, just drop me a note and I'll send you the entire script in pdf form just for the asking! You can find my email on my website: http://www.richardgarrison.com

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Murder in the Penthouse Suite

As I strolled into the main hall of the casino, the pit boss Marko Brunelli brushed up beside me. We both knew we didn't like each other. I had no respect for fat, Mafia wannabes and Brunelli had made it clear he despised “over-confident, macho-type outsiders, regardless whether they had served in Special Forces.” Brunelli told me he used to break “punks like me” in two back in his old Brooklyn neighborhood. I was sure he was looking forward to breaking me, as he looked at me with a smirking grin and his pudgy fingers adjusted the toothpick between a gap in his cigar-stained teeth.

“Looks like you got lucky, heh Nikkie boy?”

I snarled. I didn't like terms of endearment. Especially that one.

“Maybe you'se and the owner have something going on? Huh?” Brunelli enjoyed giving me the treatment. “I mean, head of security in less than a month?” He removed the frayed toothpick from his mouth, turned it around and put the other end between his teeth. “Damn if you ain't moving up the company ladder.”

I was on the verge of ruining the fat man's day when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Among the small crowd of gamblers at the number two craps table a woman had just been slapped. It had been delivered painfully yet discreetly, in an effort not to draw attention, but I detected it nonetheless. With a tight jaw I approached the table.

“Problem?” I asked as I eyed the woman, who was trying inconspicuously to nurse her wound. An attractive blonde with the body to boot, she had an elegant yet dangerous air. In contrast, the large tycoon type beside her smelled of money. He picked up the dice slid to him, ignoring the question.

"No. No problem," the woman replied in a tentative voice. She lowered her hand in an effort to draw attention away from her face. I noticed the red splotch just below her baby blue eyes.

My gaze shifted to the man beside her. I knew his kind well; long on dough but short on class. I could tell by the fur coat and gold jewelry the man was the type who liked to flash around money; and slap around women. Sad thing was, because of the money, most women put up with it. Like this one. Occasional pain was part of the price. But not today, at least not while I was around.

The man continued to ignore my presence as he rolled double sixes. The dealer pushed three tall columns of blue chips in his direction as he announced, "Boxcars. The gentleman in the fur coat wins again." The touristy onlookers around the table clapped and cheered. The man acted nonchalant; yet I saw a greedy smile flash briefly on his thin lips.

After rolling snake-eyes, amid the audible disappointment of the crowd, the man finally decided to acknowledge my presence. Without lifting his eyes from the table, he paused before throwing the next pair and spoke: "Do you have a problem?"

Before I could respond, I felt a large hand pull abruptly on my arm.

"That's Mr. Diamond," interrupted the heavy set pit boss. "He's a good guest at the hotel. Very good guest."

Brunelli gave the man a friendly nod and then turned to leave with me. Only I didn't leave.

"Let me know if there is anything I can do." I looked squarely at the blonde. Our eyes locked together until she shamefully withdrew her gaze. I wanted to ring that rich bastard's neck but instead I turned and left, with the self-satisfied pit boss following smugly behind. I hated what money did to some people.

* * *

1:30 am. It had been a long day. As I slid on my blazer and prepared to leave, I noticed the blonde beauty from the craps table seated alone at the far end of the bar in the Venus Lounge. Her elegance seemed out of place amid the tawdry velour surroundings of the night club as she gracefully leaned forward on her elbows and blew a lazy thread of blue smoke into the air. As I approached, apparently unnoticed, I noted the double scotch in front of her. By the look of her, I didn't think it was her first. Or her second.

Thinking I'd let her start the conversation, I took the adjacent stool and gave the bartender a friendly nod.

"How's it hanging, Daryl?" I asked, popping an olive into my mouth.

"Good, Mr. Russo. About ready to call it a day?"

I winced at the formality. This guy was beginning to sound just like Wang, my assistant security agent, always with the Mister crap. Being head of security didn't mean people had to call me by my last name. Hell, I worked for a living just like everyone else. A month ago the bartender had known me simply as 'Nick'.

"Yeah. It's been a long one." I looked at my watch; fifteen hours and still counting.

"Coffee?" The bartender asked.

I nodded and stretched my tired back muscles as I stole a sideways glance at the girl beside me. She was busy toying with her drink while running her well-manicured fingers nervously through her hair. As I looked at her, I could tell she was deep in thought and seemed frightened. Very frightened. I then had a change of heart about going first.

"Care to talk about it?"

The words appeared to jar the young woman from her thoughts and she looked at me as if noticing my presence for the first time. Vanessa Diamond regarded me for a long moment. Then, as if catching herself, she turned back, staring past the alcohol in her glass. "I'm sorry but I don't discuss my life with strangers."

I popped another olive. It was late and I was tired, but the girl seemed in need of a sympathetic ear so I decided to let the tough exterior fade for the moment. Anyway, I could sense something intriguing behind those eyes. I had a real soft spot for baby blues. I smiled and extended an open hand toward her. "I can fix that," I said. "Nick Russo. Head of hotel security, at your service."

"Vanessa," she said, placing her delicate hand in mine. "Vanessa Wayne-Diamond." The emphasis on the Wayne struck me as sudden and contrived. I let the thought go as the bartender delivered a cup of coffee.

"So," I asked, sipping from the cup, "how's the face?"

She shook her head agitatedly, soft shiny curls bouncing off her shoulders. "He can be a real bastard sometimes." She paused and corrected herself. "Make that most of the time."

I started to say something when she interrupted. "Sometimes I don't know why I ever left Belle Plaine. Seems my life was simpler, less confusing." She drank from the glass. "Happier."

"Where...?"

Vanessa continued, "But I wanted to be someone, someone special. I wanted to see the world." She looked down in disgust, adjusting the neckline of her dress. "Only not at this price."

I searched my mind for the right words. I felt compelled to provide some kind of encouragement but the best my weary mind could come up with sounded trite: "Hey kid. It's never too late to change."

"I know. That's why I'm leaving. First thing in the morning." She tugged a slightly crumpled airline ticket from her small purse. "Non-stop flight for Paris. I've decided to give myself a vacation before starting a new life."

I looked at the young woman with praise but something in the back of my mind pestered me. Dismissing it, I heard myself say, "Good for you, kid. Good for you." She seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, I thought as I pulled the sleeve of my blazer back to see my watch face. It read a quarter 'till two. I knew if I left now, I could almost squeeze in a good five hours sleep before I had to be back on the job tomorrow morning.

"Here kid, take one of my cards," I said, pressing it into her hand. "If you're ever in trouble, give me a ring."

She nodded knowingly.

I spun off the bar stool, slapped a few bills on the counter and winked at her as I left. "G'Night, Mrs. Diamond."

* * *

The ringing from the telephone jarred me from a sound sleep. I clumsily groped until finding the receiver, bringing it to my ear slowly as I drifted into reality. The dark gypsy who had inhabited my dream, foretelling my future with body language, gradually dissolved into nothingness.

"What?"

The voice on the other end of the phone sounded excited and apologetic. It was Larry Wang, my young right-hand man in security. My eyes painfully focused on the digital alarm clock: Shit. Only 5:30am.

"Hate to bother you so early, Mr. Russo. There's some trouble at the hotel."

This better be damn important, I thought, scratching my head as I mourned the loss of my dark-haired dream-girl. "What kind of trouble, Wang?"

"Someone's been murdered. A guest. Mr. Andrew Diamond."

The words shook the remaining sleep from me as I sat up and responded quickly. "I'll be right there. Wang...?"

"Yessir?"

"Where's Mrs. Diamond?"

"The police have her in custody."

I hung up the receiver and started getting ready. In the hot shower, I thought about the blonde and her attempts to make a new life for herself. She had almost convinced me that she could beat the odds. But, shaking my head as I dressed, I chided myself for almost believing people could change. It was the same old story with the same old ending. I then pulled the leather shoulder holster carrying my reliable Beretta out of the closet. Better safe than sorry, I thought, as I slipped it over my crisp white shirt.

* * *

As I entered the casino, I noticed a few men in blue taking statements from some of the hotel employees. Wang had a couple of Las Vegas's finest swarming around him as he waved to me with a walkie-talkie in his hand. I had no patience this morning to waste my time answering the perfunctory questions of the cops. They would find their way to me soon enough. So I looked at Wang and without saying anything, mouthed the words, "Which floor?"

"Penthouse," the thin, dark-haired oriental mouthed back, pointing upwards, amid the questions of one of the cops.

Good kid, that Wang, I thought as I pressed the 'UP' elevator button. A moment passed before the doors slid opened and I stepped inside. However, just after I stepped in, I noticed two dark suits slip in behind me.

The sudden appearance of the Mafia-types startled me. They each shouldered themselves firmly against me, looming ominously as the three of us rode the elevator up together. I then became aware of the end of a muzzle sticking into my ribs. I reminded myself again why I hated Mafia wannabees.

"You know, it's funny," the big thug on the left started, as he looked down at me with cold black eyes. The italian meatball had the smell of garlic heavy on his breath and I noted the peculiarity of its existence so early in the morning. The man spoke, "First this Diamond fella steals over a quarter million dollars from the Gambini family, then he gets battery acid poured all over his sweet little mug. And the next thing you know his old lady ends up in the slammer with guess who's card stuck in her purse?"

I silently cursed the Las Vegas police. Obviously, the mob had some strong connections; how else could they have known?

"Sounds too much like a coincidence to me," the other menacing slab mumbled, regarding his grimy fingernails. I noted the man's cliched attire: Black suit, black shirt, black tie and the other one dressed almost identically. Typical Mafia fare.

"You boys headed to a funeral or something?"

Whatever expressions of indifference they may have shown quickly turned cold-sober and I fought to curtail a wince as the muzzle sank deep into my ribcage. The owner of the piece announced, "This guy's a real comedian, heh Lenny?"

His partner bent forward and looked at me with eyes of a killer shark, cold and lifeless. I felt tiny beads of sweat forming on my palms; I may have pushed my luck too far. "If we find out you'se had anything to do with the money or this broad, you're gonna be looking down the wrong end of a .38."

The man with the greasy fingernails grabbed one of my lapels. "Then we'll be dressing up to go to your funeral. Got that, smart guy?"

I allowed my silence to serve as my understanding. A moment passed and a tone signaled the elevator's arrival at the hotel's top floor. I stepped out, adjusted my blazer, and then let out a deep breath. I cursed my legs for feeling wobbly. In my anger I turned and watched the elevator doors slowly close in front of the goons who had escorted me up. Then, brushing myself off, I rubbed my ribs and considered what had just occurred. "Goddamn gun-toting goons," I said to myself as I headed down the plush hallway toward Diamond's suite.

* * *

I noticed a lot of activity at the end of the hall as I approached. A thin yellow banner made of plastic bearing the words, "Crime Scene, Do Not Cross" stretched across the open doorway to the penthouse. Just inside, police crime analysts busied themselves searching for evidence and a police photographer scurried around taking snapshots using a special camera with a wide-angle lens.

As I ducked under the yellow banner, a young police man placed a hand on my shoulder. I started for my identification when a deep voice just inside the door said, "That's okay, Sergeant. He's head of hotel security."

I looked up and saw the tall, gaunt, familiar figure of Detective Woods. He was waving me in with a notepad in one hand and a Styrofoam cup of coffee in the other. The shabby overcoat Woods wore camouflaged his angular, wiry frame. As I stepped into the room and rounded a large aquarium by the entrance, I saw the dead man lying at the detective's feet.

"Not a pretty picture," the detective said, taking a loud sip from his cup.

A lump formed in my throat as I eyed the figure. Almost immediately I became aware of the acute, acrid smell of battery acid coming up from the horribly disfigured face. The visage looked all the more grotesque in contrast to the elegant, silk blue pajamas worn by the body below. A dark pool of blood, forming a large circle on the carpet, surrounded the area of what used to be the man's head. Next to the body a partially corroded Die-Hard car battery laid on its side with its filler caps removed. It appeared completely empty.

"Near as we can tell," the detective began," someone bludgeoned him from behind and then proceeded to use that to turn his face into goo." He motioned toward the battery.

"Any sign of forced entry?"

The detective shook his head. "Nope. Apparently he opened the door for his assailant, meaning he must have known him."

I nodded my understanding.

"Or," the detective continued, "it was a hotel employee, someone you'd naturally open the door for. Like a maid or someone."

My mind was busy eyeing the scene when the detective's next question caught me off guard. "So you were with the Mrs. last night? Care to talk about it?" The detective had pad and pencil at the ready.

"Not much to say, really. She told me she was leaving for Paris this morning."

"One of the hotel pit bosses said you had a confrontation with Mr. Diamond yesterday in the casino. That true?"

Damn that Brunelli; couldn't keep from throwing in his two-cents worth. "I noticed a brief altercation between him and his wife and, being the conscientious security chief that I am, I asked if there was a problem. That was it. End of story." I was growing impatient with the detective's line of questioning. I started to wonder whether Woods suspected me of any wrong-doing. "You gonna ask me for an alibi now? What about the girl?"

"Take it easy, champ. Coroner's already set the time of death at around two in the morning." Woods flipped open his notepad, pushed a couple of pages back and continued, "According to the bartender, you left the bar at around two to go home. Right?"

"That's right," I said, my eyes drawn back to the body.

"As for the broad, the bartender says she hung around a few hours and continued to get herself soused up. In fact, we've already released her. So you got nothing to worry about." The detective paused, taking another noisy slurp from his coffee. "... As long as home is where you headed."

* * *

As I walked back out into the main casino a thousand thoughts clouded my mind. My oriental assistant intercepted me. Wang, noticing that I was deep in thought, seemed apprehensive about asking something. I decided to help him out with it. "What is it, Wang?"

"Police want to know if it's okay to use the fax machine. They want to get a copy of the deceased's dental records and make the match-up here."

"Why not at the morgue where he belongs?"

"I don't know. They seem to be anxious to identify the body. I told them to keep their clothes on until I checked with you."

"That's shirts on," I corrected with irritation. "Okay," I eased, but then quickly added before letting Wang run off, "anything that comes through I want a copy of it." I understood the police's desire for a quick match-up after seeing the body. Plus, if I knew the Mafia, they were applying pressure of their own to make certain the man who stole their money and the man with his face turned inside out was one and the same.

Restless, I stood alone in the lobby and took in my surroundings. Police still swarmed most of the casino but guests and tourists were beginning to filter in slowly. In a few hours, the casino would be back to normal, raking in its usual two million dollars a day. I looked at my watch. 7:30am. Even though my mind was trying to untangle a million thoughts, I felt hungry. I stopped one of the hotel pages who passed by and said, "I'll be in the Coffee Shop if anyone needs me."

* * *

I polished off the rest of my coffee and pushed the empty cup away from me. A pretty young waitress wearing a tight, short, skirt that showed a lot of leg offered another refill but I politely waived her off. I continued to go over in my mind the brief conversation I'd had with Mrs. Diamond, searching for clues. Something she had said stuck in my head but I couldn't quite jar it loose. Not yet anyway. I eased my mind by concluding it was nothing to worry about.

As I rose to leave, I felt a hand on my shoulder gently push me back into the booth. I looked up and saw Detective Woods.

"Hey there, Slick."

I could tell by the tone and choice of words the Detective had something.

"What's up, Woods? Any luck with the investigation?"

"You tell me." Woods clasped his hands together and plopped them on the table, waiting for an answer.

"What do you mean?"

The detective's eyes looked unassuming, but I knew the seasoned detective was carefully scrutinizing my face, looking for a sign of guilt, a 'tell'. After a long pause, the detective slowly pulled out a folded sheet of paper from within his jacket and placed it on the table between us.

"Want to explain this?"

I sensed something wrong as I reached out and unfolded the paper. As I looked at it, I realized it was a xerox copy of a check and a deposit slip. The slip had a name and bank account number scrawled across it in what appeared to be a man's handwriting. The name was 'Mr. Nick Russo' and the amount on the check below it read 'Twenty-five thousand dollars.' I swallowed; my blood was beginning to boil. As I studied the paper copy in my hands, I noted the signature at the bottom of the check: 'Vanessa W. Diamond'.

"This is bullshit," I said, more to myself than to the detective. I could feel a wave of anger beginning to overtake me. Some sonabitch was obviously setting me up.

"Imagine that," Woods sarcastically began. "Twenty-five G's payable to one Mr. Nick Russo. Recently promoted head of hotel security. Now why do you think Mrs. Diamond would be writing you a check for twenty-five thousand dollars?"

I was way ahead of the detective, my mind searching for answers.

"Handled any car batteries lately, Slick?"

"Look, Woods. This is a friggin' set-up. You know it and I know it." I spun the copy back to the detective. "If you got something on me, then get on with it." I rose to my feet. "Otherwise, stay out of my way. I've got a casino to look after."

"There's more..." The detective said.

I placed my hands on the table and faced him. "What now?"

Woods continued. "We found the murder weapon. Nightstick. Like the kind used by security."

The surprise hit me hard. I suddenly felt the walls closing in around me.

"Sent it to the lab for prints." The detective continued. "We should know in less than an hour." Woods' eyes continued to pour over my face, searching for some sign of recognition. After a long minute he spoke. "I hope for your sake they're not yours, Russo. But if you see me back down here again, you can be sure I'm not coming to shoot the breeze. I'll have an arrest warrant with me."

I quickly interjected. "I assumed your men checked to see if she boarded a flight for Paris?"

"What flight? We checked with the airport first thing this morning and there ain't no flights headed to Paris. I think it's obvious she's skipped town."

I scolded myself for being so gullible. Non-stop flight for Paris. She had me falling for it all; hook, line and sinker.

"If she's still around town, we'll find her," Woods confirmed. "As for you," he said, rising to his feet, "I wouldn't take a vacation anytime soon."

I didn't reply, but now I knew I had something to worry about. Something serious to worry about.

* * *

"Good morning," smiled the cheery desk clerk.

I didn’t answer. I was too busy trying to unravel the mystery in my head and read the letter the clerk had just given me at the same time.

"You say you don't remember who delivered this?"

"No sir," the clerk answered, the plastic smile fading as he nervously adjusted his uniformed jacket. It was obvious to me the man was becoming intimidated by me. "The hotel has lots of guests and..."

I nodded impatiently. Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah. I don’t give a damn how many guests the hotel has. But if someone's playing me for the fool, then they've got another thing coming, I thought as I folded the letter and slid it into my breast pocket. Then I walked away before having to stomach any more of the clerk's obsequious platitudes. I didn’t have time for that. I had murder on my mind.

* * *

I entered through the door marked "Authorized Personnel Only" carefully going over in my mind the events of the past twenty-four hours. Next to a cabinet labeled "Personnel" sat a young, female security guard in a gray uniform closely monitoring rows of black and white screens where different vantage points of the casino appeared in alternating fashion. I failed to return her smiled hello as I opened the filing drawer and removed several manilla folders. As I headed into my office with the folders, I passed another uniformed guard with a headset sitting before a table supporting radio equipment and several unused walkie-talkie units. I entered my office and saw Wang leaned up against my desk eating microwaved popcorn and reviewing the police reports. Wang greeted me with a wide grin as I closed the door behind me.

"Some kind of excitement out here today, heh, Mr. Russo?"

I did not share the young man's level of enthusiasm for I had more important matters on my mind. I tossed the note the desk clerk had given me on the table as I threw my blazer across an empty chair. "What do you make of that?"

Wang, sensing the mystery, picked it up and read the handwritten note aloud. "N. R. Here's a clue: It's one of the hotel employees and you're going to let the situation gnaw at you until you turn it around." Wang looked up at me with a questioning grin. "Some kind of riddle? What do you suppose it means?"

I shrugged. I was at the end of my rope and my grip was beginning to loosen. "What about the dental records?" I asked. "Did they confirm Diamond as the dead man?"

"Yessir. Tried to get a copy too like you said but the police were all over the place like rice on white making sure they got whatever came off before we could get our hands on it."

"Damn!" I cursed, running my fingers through my hair. Normally Wang's inept attempts at English colloquialisms amused me, but at the present the focus of my mind on the matter at hand was all consuming. Frustrated by the lack of clues, I wandered aimlessly out to the administrative area where they kept a pot of hot coffee brewing around the clock. My watch read 10:30am and already I felt drained.

* * *

I drank the last of my fourth cup of coffee and leaned tiredly against the counter. In my mind flashed brief segments of the events from the past twenty-four hours. I thought of my minor confrontation with Diamond at the gaming table and of my midnight chat with Diamond's beautiful blonde wife. I considered the elevator ride with the two large henchmen. Horrid images of Diamond's disfigured face intertwined with visions of Vanessa's loveliness formed a grotesque collage in my head. I tried to shake it free and clear my thoughts.

As I rested, I tried to look over the personnel records I had pulled from the filing cabinet but my thoughts kept being drawn to the activities of an elderly administrative woman who efficiently moved from computer to printer to copier, assimilating data and preparing files. I watched with faint interest as she set out to change the printer cartridge of a large, waist-high copier machine. The woman appeared focused on her work as she pulled the front access panel open and knelt before the copier with a new cartridge in her hand. With my mind a blank, I went to pour myself another cup of coffee. As I slowly poured the coffee, my eyes peered mindlessly into the aluminum pot. Staring into the side of the coffee ewer, a strange thing occurred. I became aware of an unusual yet interesting reflection. Spelled backwards, in the reflection of the metal pot, appeared the name of the copier manufacturer. The maker had printed its logo in large black letters on the inside of the open door which the elderly lady was kneeling in front of as she worked to replace the spent cartridge, and suddenly, sadly, everything became clear.

At that exact moment, the door leading to the outside hallway burst open and Detective Woods stepped in, with two uniformed policemen followed by Wang and Brunelli at his heels. Wang carried the folded note and a shocked expression of disbelief on his face and Brunelli's face held the look of contentment one would have in seeing an old nemesis in apparent trouble. As the men approached, I inconspicuously pulled out one of the file folders I had laid on the administrative lady's desk. I hid it behind me.

"Nick, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to come with me downtown." The detective held what appeared to be a warrant in his hands.

"Let me guess. The prints on the nightstick came back and they're a match with mine, right?"

Woods nodded somberly. He motioned to one of the policemen to apply their handcuffs.

As the policeman cuffed my hands behind me, I turned to announce over my shoulder. "Good thing I know who the real killer is." The group of men fell silent as the detective reached behind me for the folder but I gave Woods a signal to play it cool. Woods backed off, returning a skeptical glance that indicated his confusion as to exactly what I was up to.

"It's obvious Mrs. Diamond wants us to catch the man who murdered her husband!"

The five men stood quietly, trying to see where I was headed. The detective spoke on behalf of all of them. "Go on, Russo, we're listening."

I continued, "Why else would she be giving away clues?" I indicated the folded sheet in Wang's hands. "Someone working for the hotel killed Diamond."

I then turned and looked squarely into Brunelli's face, so closely no one but Brunelli could read my eyes and the indication they were giving. "Last night, I saw her leave with you after I left her in the lounge. Your hands were all over her." I felt it time to turn up the heat. "What gives, Marko? Was she good in bed?"

Brunelli looked as though he was about to unleash his anger at me. And then, just as quickly as the anger arose, a hint of understanding shown in his eyes.

"Yeah, she was good in bed."

I waited. I needed more. Luckily Marko was a fast learner: "Good in bed, what am I saying?!? Hell, that bitch was good on the floor, good on the kitchen table, good in the shower, and friggin' GREAT in bed!" Brunelli was pouring it on thick now. "She couldn't get enough of me. And a moaner too, a real loud one. Too bad she's probably lying naked on a beach somewhere with some other guy's face buried between her legs. No doubt about it. That Diamond broad was a great piece of a--"

"That's enough!" burst Wang, lunging for Brunelli's throat. The others stood frozen, surprised by the sudden outburst. After quickly regaining their senses, the two police officers successfully managed to pry Wang's hands off the pit boss's throat. A moment later they escorted the sobbing, hysterical young man to a squad car parked outside the hotel.

Woods seemed flabbergasted. Finally, he looked at me with a questioning expression and, removing the handcuffs, asked, "You mentioned clues. What clue?"

I picked the note up from the ground that Wang had dropped during his outburst and handed it to the detective along with Wang's personnel file I had selected earlier. As he massaged his sore neck, Brunelli peered curiously over Wood's shoulder in an attempt to read the note held by the detective.

"You had it all figured out from this?" Woods asked.

I nodded and looked at Brunelli. "Luckily I had some help there at the end."

"I got wind you'se up to something from the look in your eye," Brunelli replied, giving me a tight smile.

The detective remained confused. "But how did you...?"

"Think about it, Woods," I carefully explained, pointing to the words in the note. "'It will gnaw at you until you turn it around.' Gnaw?"

The detective looked at me with a blank expression, then at Brunelli and shrugged. Brunelli shrugged back, equally confused.

Finally, in an effort to clear the mystery in their minds, I pulled the access door of the copier open. The manufacturer's name appeared in large bold letters across the inside of the opened panel. I carefully read it backwards. "G-N-A-W! Turn it around, Detective! Gnaw -- Wang!"

* * *

I stood on a short dais overlooking the main casino and allowed a long awaited sigh to escape my lungs. It was noon, and as I looked over the casino, I watched with mild amusement the hundred or so people dropping in coins, pulling down handles, all with the faint hope of a miracle in their eyes: winning the big one. I noticed Marko, comfortably back in his place among the main pits. Amid the normal bustle of activity the burly Italian appeared calm and in control, okaying limits, monitoring the change-outs, rotating dealers. From where he stood in the main pit in the center of the casino, Marko looked up, saw me and gestured a friendly salute, which carried with it his respect. Maybe I could learn to get along with Marko after all, I thought as I returned the gesture, unable to hide the smile of relief on my lips. Suddenly a voice from behind startled me. It was my old pal, Detective Woods.

"Well, we got Wang's full confession." Woods said. He then went on to quickly relay how Wang had gotten my prints on the nightstick and deposited the phony check into my account.

I gave a knowing nod. That explained why the payee was prefaced by 'Mr.'

"The poor bastard let himself get brainwashed by a pretty face and the lure of money." Woods said, shaking his head. "Lucky for you, you must have made a good impression on the girl."

I agreed. "Damn lucky." And then I added, "If I know her type though, she had her a one-way ticket out long before she ever met Wang."

"Yep. Oh, and by the way," the detective continued, "her maiden name isn't Wayne. Its Johnson." He shrugged, acknowledging his ignorance of the fact's importance.

"She was full of clues, that one." I said, more to myself as I recognized the similarity between Wayne and Wang and the message she had tried to deliver.

"Well," Woods concluded. "Wang should have been more careful." He then slapped me on the back with a laugh before leaving. "Try to stay out of trouble next time, pal."

I looked at the detective but didn't reply. I didn't have much sympathy for Wang, the kid who had tried to frame me for murder. A man can't let himself be distracted by a woman like that, I thought as I fingered the dog-eared business card in my pocket. A card with a telephone number across its face scribbled in a woman's handwriting. It had been attached to the note the desk clerk had given me. I knew of it, for it was the same card I had slipped into Vanessa's hand last night in the lounge. In one fluid move, I pulled the card from my pocket and flicked it into the open mouth of a trash bin several feet away. I didn't have time for distractions. I had a casino to look after.