The age-old question for the writer of ‘where do you get your ideas?’ can be a little confusing for some of us. My problem is more like ‘I have too many ideas. Want one?’ and the First Reader always has some on tap (to which I often respond, well, then, you write it) because although sometimes his ideas spark my mind, sometimes they don’t. Which is, of course, why you can’t give ideas away. It doesn’t work that way.
I can have an idea, think that it would work just fine for a story, but if the idea doesn’t come along with captivating characters and a setting, then I don’t have a story. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Having the story come along…
And even then, if the scene blows up my brain all vivid and compelling, and you’re thinking ‘what comes next?’ that’s still not enough. You need a scene, a setting, some characters… and a plot. The plot is usually where it dies for me. I’ll write a few pages, and sit back and think about an ending. An arc of story… and there’s nothing there but thick grey fog. I’ll set it aside, and sometimes it’ll come back to me and say, hey, look, there’s more… like a cheap magician showing you his tricks.
These days I don’t have the time or the patience to run down many of these bunny trails. I will try to stick to the work in progress and plod along toward completion. But once in a while when I’m really stuck, I’ll give in and start to write an idea up. And even more rarely, it’ll surprise me by pulling me along and revealing the plot slowly until I can see that yes, I do have enough there to bring it to completion.
The genesis of Ten Pigeons was a funny twitter account I follow, A Crime a Day. It’s not meant to be humor, or at least I don’t think it is. I suspect it’s meant to highlight the crushing number of rules and regulations that surround us and make it literally impossible to exist without breaking a law somewhere, somehow.
Of course, I look at their feed and immediately think ‘there have got to be stories behind some of these!’
From the mundane to the bizarre, there are hundreds of ideas here. And one of them sparked an absurd conversation in my head that is slowly becoming an entire novel. It all started with ten pigeons…
“It is illegal to import more than ten pigeons a week, unless they are from Mexico.” He blinked at her through thick lenses while she tried to digest this pronouncement.
“Mr. Gaush, I have no intention of importing pigeons. Not even Mexican ones.” Lauren Middling leaned back in her vintage office chair and looked at him. He showed no signs of going away and leaving her alone again in her office, and she was long past wishing she hadn’t invited him in.
“Of course not. Pigeons are very messy. I mean that everything is illegal, somewhere, to some extent.” He crossed his hands over his paunch and reminded her of a pensive owl.
“I’m sure it is.” She wasn’t going to ask him for examples. She was afraid he’d give them to her. He seemed like the kind of man who would have a bottomless font of such trivia. “You came to me because you were afraid you had committed a crime, if I understood correctly.”
He had been slightly incoherent on the phone, and Lauren wondered (not for the first time) if she had too finely developed her pity gland. It served her in her job from time to time as she dealt with grieving widows and bereft parents, but it left her vulnerable to people like William Gaush.
“I am, very afraid.” He leaned forward, his eyes big behind their magnifying glasses. She wondered idly just how bad his prescription was to justify those lenses. “Ms. Middling…”
“Miss.” She interrupted him. “It’s Miss Middling.” She was retro, from the polished wood and velvet-cushioned chair cupping her derriere to the green-shaded lamp on the desk between them.
He blinked in surprise, which was a perfectly normal reaction to her naming preference in this post-modern era. “Miss. Miss Middling…” He faltered like a toy that had wound down.
Lauren prompted him again. “It had to do with your mother’s death.”
The man across from her in the panelled office didn’t look like a murderer, but she knew from experience they mostly didn’t. Murderers, that was. He was short, portly, with a cherubic face and those ridiculous glasses. Dress him in a tuxedo and he’d be a dead ringer for a penguin.
“Yes, er, well…” He found the thread of his thoughts again. “She passed two weeks ago, you see.”
Lauren raised an eyebrow. She found it very effective at getting people to keep talking, while words made them lose their place. He obediently kept going with his story. “I live with… lived with her. I have always, except for one time…” He looked away, briefly, and she sensed that while there was more story there, it didn’t seem to pertain to the case in front of her. “We shared bank accounts.”
“And you are uncertain if you can withdraw funds?” She asked when he fell silent. That was simple enough, and certainly not unprecedented.
“Oh, no, the executor assures me that my salary… oh, I should explain that I was paid for her care, of late. Anyway, I was assured that until the will is probated, I may continue to draw my salary. And I am the sole heir, so it matters little once probate is complete.”
“So what is the crime?” Lauren was feeling wasted time trickle past with more than a little impatience.
“Well, I’m not sure it is a crime.” Gaush stared at her for a long moment. Then he blinked, and went on. “You see, yesterday morning a very large sum of money was deposited into that account.”
“I see.” Lauren wasn’t sure what, but she did understand his concern. “Have you spoken to the bank, Mr. Gaush?”
Perhaps he wanted to know if it were legal to simply stay quiet and hold onto the funds.
“Oh, yes. I keep track of it online, and I went right over to my bank when I saw it. They were able to tell me that it wasn’t a mistake, and the monies originated via a wire transfer from the Caymans.”
Lauren wasn’t up on her non-extraditing countries and banking shelters, but it seemed to her that the Caymans were considered one. It was unlikely that it was an insurance payout, in that case. She asked anyway, but he simply shook his head. “I have all her papers, and there was an insurance, a small one, but it will not be paid until after probate.”
Well, then. This was interesting. She leaned forward over the desk. “Mr. Gaush, what is it you would like me to do for you?”
He settled back into the chair, and a hint of a smile swept over his lips so quickly she nearly missed it. “Why, Miss Middling, I’d like you to find out where it came from. Then, if it is a crime, we shall report it.”
Lauren pulled open a drawer. “I will conduct a preliminary investigation before I commit to a full-scale one. You are not,” She looked at him through her lashes, sternly, “my only client.”
She put the contract on the table between them. “My usual rates are $100 an hour plus expenses.”
“Oh, you misunderstand me.” William Gaush changed visibly before her eyes. He leaned forward, almost across the desk. His eyes were very bright behind his glasses. “If you discover that it is fully legal, I shall split the funds with you. Half and half. If they are illegal…” He shrugged and leaned back. “I shall of course pay you the going rate. But I must have a full investigation, no half-measures.”
“Really, Mr. Gaush,” Lauren was done with the little man, and ready to politely eject him from her office and life.
He interrupted her. “Perhaps you would like my bonafides.”
He opened the soft attache case he’d carried in and leaned against the chair leg. The piece of paper he extracted was slid across the desk top alongside Lauren’s contract. She turned it over.
Despite her best intentions, she gasped. It was the statement from his bank, with the amount of the deposit neatly highlighted in bright yellow.
He was leaning back in her chair, now, with a definite air of the cat who’d been in the cream on his face. “I am told you are an up-and-coming investigator, once a bright young lawyer, but now perhaps…” He waved his hand to indicate the small office. “Despite the brave front, struggling a little to make your brand-new agency get off the ground. Five million dollars would be quite the injection of capital.”