Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Wall (part 7)

“Are you still covering for him? I think you got a better look than you’re letting on,” Wilson said.

“No, I swear. I really don’t know who it was.”


Gaither said the killer referred to his “lovely family” when he threatened him. Wall had heard that kind of talk from someone in the plant — Jeff Stivins, the supervisor for the area where the body was found. “Don’t worry, Kay, we’ll get you to a safer, more pleasant place.” To say something like that right after seeing a dead body seemed awfully calm and collected. He was sure Stivins would know about the attic access area.

Still, Gaither’s story sounded so contrived, it was hard to believe. He could have just bumped the guy himself and then made up the whole story. But, why leave the body out in plain view? Why not just toss it in some molten metal?


After Wall and Wilson both talked to him, Stivins insisted that he knew nothing about the murder besides what the body looked like. Then they informed him that he had been implicated, and gave him a brief rundown of the scenario.

“It all sounds terribly tidy, doesn’t it, Detectives? Everything points to another man, whom you refuse to name, but of whose identity I’m well aware, yet he claims some mystery man forced him into complicity,” Stivins said.

Wall didn’t like it, either. Still, there was something strange about Stivins. The way he talked, for one thing. It did not seem to fit a factory worker’s normal pattern of speech. Or anybody else’s, for that matter.

“Did you say you have a college education?” Wall asked.

“Not a degree, no, but I spent time at the University of Central Arkansas. Please, don’t think that is where I learned to sound educated. My mother is from London. She and my father met each other at a software company that has locations both here and in Europe. Both of them are quite refined.”

That grated on Wall’s nerves. It all sounded snobby to him. Still, it was no reason to pin a murder on a guy without more evidence than they had.

“But you grew up in the U.S.?”

“Yes, I did. Father was from Omaha, and he inspired my pronunciation.”

“Yeah. Tea, crumpets. Whatever,” Wall said.

“Sounds delectable.”

“You claim you know who told us this. How?”

“Everyone in the factory knows who reported the murder, who had blood on his shirt in the manager’s office,” Stivins said.


Stivins sat alone in his office. He steamed at the thought that Gaither might get him caught. More than that, he chided himself for getting clumsy. Still, nobody was supposed to be in that area that early in the morning. If Gaither had not been there, then he would not have Wallace Davies or any other police to bother him. Still, instead of any real evidence, they had only Gaither’s word.

“I will not let you be my ruination, little man,” Stivins muttered to the empty room. “And you tried to cheapen my efforts by at first telling them you heard a gun. Such a cold, impersonal way to kill.”

Shaeffer’s soul swept over his mind, and he felt a rush that made all the risk worthwhile. He felt he had absorbed three souls now, and knew that the latest — the oldest — would hold him for quite some time. The experiences he could feel through Shaeffer were almost endless compared to the homeless man and the young college girl he had killed in the past.

Gaither barely had pulled Shaeffer across the floor in time for Stivins to give Shaeffer the proper final impression. He made him believe he was going to die not from the stab wound, but by being lowered into a fiery pool of metal. When he caught his soul, the fear was so pure and intoxicating that it almost put him on his knees before he finished moving the body.

The last breath was all it took, for it was the breeze that bore the soul to its destination. Somehow, when he was a teenager, Stivins himself had become one of those resting places. Just being present, however, did not work. He had tried that with his dying grandmother, a few years after he discovered his power. For the soul to transfer to him, he had to be the instrument of death.

Stivins in a way considered himself a victim. The homeless man’s death, which was a case of self-defense in his eyes, had introduced him to this ability in the most jarring manner imaginable. The man’s broken soul, damaged irreparably by a torn mind, had been too much for Stivins’ young mind to take, and he was convinced it had driven him to more murderous tendencies.

He needed new experiences. The freedom of worry when he called upon the college girl’s soul was refreshing, but it proved a shallow well. One can only dance in the rain with wreckless reckless abandon a few times before it starts to seem wrote rote. On the other hand, the homeless man’s varied experiences were poisoned by his soul’s insanity.

The older, more experienced, and mentally stable soul of Frank Shaeffer would afford him a much deeper and safer well from which to draw. That was what made him a prime target for Stivins. Already, in fact, he had felt the emotion of surviving a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam. Invigorating.

More and more, he could direct which experience his mind culled from the souls he had collected. The homeless man’s soul still remained his curse, however, as he could not predict when it would invade his thoughts. He must keep it in check to maintain impunity.

(continue to Part 8)

8 Responses to Wall (part 7)

  1. Ok… don’t you know to SIGNAL before taking a left turn into Sci-Fi??? *LOL*

    I didn’t see THIS coming..!

  2. Dave – I established in “Talk With a Killer” that Stivins believed he had this ability. I don’t want to say any more for risk of posting spoilers.

  3. And him believing it and it being true are two totally different things – might not be sci-fi, he might just be super crazy!

  4. Mark,

    I haven’t commented on the last couple of posts, because I was holding out until I could re-read the first chapters all in one sitting, to avoid the attention-breaks typical with reading blog posts. This morning I managed to do that … so now I can provide more fair-and-balanced feedback! (You can call me Fox) I hope you don’t mind the critique! Let me know and I will refrain from such big comments in future posts!

    My impressions up to now: You are doing an excellent job developing and describing the characters, and also with your background development. As to the plot, and story itself: although many elements are formulaic, particularly in the first few posts, the Stivins “soul-eater” turn is creative and has a very interesting potential. I mentioned this in a comment on “Talk with a Killer”, and I’m glad you now will have an opportunity to develop the idea. I’m anxious to see how this plays out! It’s too early to analyze the story as a whole: but it would be interesting to know if you are planning a “short story” or a blognovel!

    As to the writing in general: I think you are doing a great job working with the archetypes, considering the genre you have chosen. I’m not a big reader of detective novels / thrillers or murder mysteries in general, so I can’t really compare your style of writing with others of the genre. I do feel, however, that, while the language you have chosen may be nothing exceptional on a “literary” level (i.e. not too “flowery”!), it seems completely appropriate for the type of story you are writing. You pass my completely non-scientific litmus test of writing: am I able to suspend disbelief and follow the story without feeling nitpicky about the quality of writing?

    Some of the dialog and description seems clichê … but to your credit you seem be totally aware of that and I get the impression that you are purposefully working within the formula. I like how the coroner pokes fun at Wall for using the word “perp”, which I also found irritating. But what do I know? Maybe detectives *really do* talk like that!

    As to my earlier points about the flashback scenes: On rereading, I feel the problems are less perceptable, having been accentuated by the blog posting format and (as Simon pointed out) distractions while trying to read the posts. While I think there are some issues with time flow, they are nothing more than kinks that can be worked out with a good editor and a little rewriting!

    Speaking of nitpicking (!): I don’t generally point out typos or spelling errors, but in this phrase: “One can only dance in the rain with wreckless abandon a few times before it starts to seem wrote.” … I think you meant “rote”!

    All in all, a great read. I’m looking forward to the continuation!

    *** The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer. (Since I am now “self-employed”, I guess that means I am not responsible for my own opinions!) ***

  5. Dammit, Jim, I was going to nit-pick over “wrote” vs. “rote”. Now I got nuthin’.

    I didn’t go back and re-read Talk With a Killer, but considering that Shaeffer is Stivins’ third kill, I’m picturing this happening as a prelude to that interview. Didn’t he have four or five kills by that time? Or perhaps this third kill is the one that sets him up for that interview.

    Getting better as we go along, by the way.

  6. Jim – Thanks for the lengthy and obviously thoughtful comment. Funny thing about your mention of misspelling “rote.” That was a bad blunder on my part. In the same sentence (you missed this one) was “wreckless,” clearly a butchering of “reckless.” I guess in that sentence I was in the mood for adding the silent “w.”

    I’m not sure why I write murder mysteries (the novella I wrote also is in this genre). I was reading a lot of Patricia Cornwell when I started this story (way before I created Stivins), and ever since I watched Quincy, M.E. as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by forensic medicine. Also, my work with the city attorney and the detective division when I was a city government computer nerd helped me meet some folks I can use as law enforcement and legal experts. They helped me tremendously on my novella, although I admit I have not consulted them on this story yet. Might need to soon.

    I make Wall use the clichê terms to show that his impression of being a cop started with TV and movies he watched as a kid. By having Max call him on it, I hope I’ve illustrated that “normal” folks do not talk that way.

    Simon – Thanks for using the phrase, “Dammit, Jim.” Being a Star Trek fan, I always get a kick out of that. Darn good observations about “Talk with a Killer” (TWAK) and the number of killings. I hoped somebody would notice that this does, indeed, come before that. Although Stivins does include this one in his body count in TWAK, it is not a part of that story’s action. (of course, TWAK was the end of the line, because Stivins was in jail in that one. Right? Well… we’ll see.) Oops, was that a spoiler for this story?

  7. I was going to make special mention of my use of the phrase, “Dammit, Jim…”, but just left it there, thinking that those who come here are astute enough to pick up on that.

    Plus, was “City Government Computer Nerd” your official title? Because that would be hilarious. (No, I know it wasn’t; but it would have been funny.)

  8. And see… I never even put the two together… (trying to remember if I indeed READ that!)


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