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Year End Review: Triggers Down, A Social Writing Project

Dec 28, 2012 in Fiction, Short Stories, Writing

Sink Hole

Mulholland Books is looking for English and writing students to contribute writing to Triggers Down, a social writing project that will be a testament to writers building off of other writers’ work to create bigger and better stories.

The goal is to create a crime story. Here’s how it works: Mulholland Books will assign interested students specific passages, each student will write a section that branches off of the one before it (except for the first paragraph, of course), and that process will continue until students have composed a cohesive narrative.

Each passage will be posted online until completion, so students can see how the story evolves. And here’s the best part. Mulholland Books will feature the final story on We want this project to not only be a testament to appropriation, but also an opportunity for young writers to publish.

How to submit: Write Dominic Viti at and tell him you’re interested.

First section by Evan Walker.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John found the body after he’d had his share of sightseeing the dune. He’d scrambled over it as he had in ‘72, sixteen and obliterated, once he’d yanked himself out of the rear window of the VW Squareback and waded through the black water to the shore.

He gave a satisfied hmph and walked the same way he’d walked that night, alongside the ditch and back to the house he’d grown up in—shallower than he remembered, dried up too. He had sloshed through the front door and the two of them just stared as he spoke. Joy riding again. Imagining the way his mother had turned back to her reading after he’d returned, soaking wet, without the car, he’d meandered back toward the edge of the ditch, and found her.

She was dumped in a pile, her sundress, black shorts and pixie brown hair  damp from the humid air, one hand slung over her side and curled up with rigor mortis except for her pointer finger, outstretched in timid protest.

Second section by Amelia Spriggs.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John jumped to the other side of the ditch to look at her face and landed heavily, slipping to one aching knee and sending a few small white crabs skittering away. He had seen a lot of dead bodies over the decades, not a few of them young and formerly pretty. But this one pinched his sense of tragedy, niggling the worn callus of his compassion.

There was something familiar about her slim frame, even in its rigid heap. The angular jaw and the set of those large, inert eyes. He crouched down and sat on his haunches for a moment before falling back onto the sand. What felt like the vague pricking of tragedy swiftly turned into the keen piercing of horror. Lena.

Third section by Joe Oslund.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John stumbled forward in a haze of shock that rang in his skull like the reverberating toll of a church bell, hid behind a shallow hollow of sand, and threw up. He took a few deep breaths before calling Julius, who let the phone ring six times before picking up—a subtle reminder that the old man had more important things to do.

“What is it?” Julius barked.

“They got her,” John croaked. “I mean, somebody got her.”

“Who?” Julius said. “Who got who? Use your words.”

John had no words.

“Is it Lena?” Julius said. “Did something happen to Lena?”

“She’s dead, Dad. Somebody killed her.”

There was silence on the line, and with a soft click, Julius hung up.

Fourth section by Ezra Salkin.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John lit a cigarette and waited for his bastard father. Lena didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t a drug-addicted whore, a convict, or some train-hopping drifter who thought she had had it bad and had something to prove. John felt like crying, but the many cadavers he encountered throughout his life only made his usual sense of detachment return.

Blank faces played in a slideshow in his mind before he allowed Lena’s dirty face—half shrouded in kelp—to blot out all the others. Decomposition had set in, something he had rarely witnessed. Half hidden under her sundress, something glinted. John nudged it out from under Lena’s other cold hand, the one that wasn’t pointing, her fingers curled in a confused repose, as if undecided whether they should let go or hold on. A locket.

‘You’re different,’ he thought, flicking the half smoked cigarette, flavorless like all things had become despite this “new lease on life” the parole board had promised. He began snubbing the vermeil medallion into the ground with the heel of his sneaker. Disappearing into the wet sand, the locket winked at him with dull amusement.

He guessed it was given to her by her trust fund boyfriend, Michael, whom John had never met but had heard only good things about, though he hadn’t cared to open it so he wasn’t sure. By the time he wondered why he hadn’t, it was buried altogether in a neat pile beside the braided chain that had once held the heart shaped trinket around Lena’s bruised neck.

Snapped at the toggle, it hardly looked strong enough to strangle someone, but the bluish lines that wrapped around her neck in intermingling, jagged patterns told it different. The marks left behind were deep, a cruel mimicry of its supposed function. Her throat appeared to have not been far from bursting. John had seen people murdered with less, but he wasn’t in the Florida State Pen anymore.

He reached into his pocket, pulling the wrinkled letter Lena had left for him at the halfway house. September 4, 1992—Lena’s entreaty for John to meet her at the spot they’d enjoyed so often all those years earlier. A place where they could “clear the air.” She had still wanted him in her life.

John crushed the letter into a ball before igniting it with his lighter. He watched the black writing run from the pink stationary before the whole thing blackened and smoldered into nothing.

That’s when he heard the cancerous wheezing from behind him.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Julius said.

Fifth section by Vivien Eliasoph.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

“How did you know I was here?” John asked, his voice muffled by the unlit cigarette between lips.

“Never mind that,” Julius said. He blanketed Lena with his camouflage jacket and tossed his keys to his son. “Truck’s at the front of the pier.”

Julius crouched down and swept Lena’s hair behind her ears. Blood trailed across her forehead.

“John, move it, goddamnit!” Julius said.

John ran as fast as he could. He inhaled deeply, his cigarette sticking to the inside of his dry lips. The craving for a deep smoke drove him forward. His calves burned and his breath was heavy in the humid night air. He wiped his dripping nose with his wrist and imagined exactly where on the console of his father’s Ford the cigarette lighter was. His sneakers pressed deep into the sand, passing wasted cigarette butts and empty soda cans, abandoned and forgotten by teenagers.

The truck was caked in mud. The interior was no better. By the time John pulled up, Julius had already made it to the end of the pier, standing by the forest green trashcan with Lena draped over his shoulder. John put the car in park and scooted to the passenger’s seat. He flung the cover off of the cigarette lighter and watched the white paper crack into lava orange. Then, a long drag.

The rearview mirror foregrounded Julius placing Lena in the bed of the truck, wrapping her in blue tarp before climbing into the cab.

“Pass me one,” Julius said. He left the door open and emptied his boots of sand. John was happy to see part of the beach left behind. He reached into his front pocket and dug out a cigarette.

Julius lit and inhaled with the same tired desperation as his son.

Neither spoke. John’s stomach grumbled. He looked at the floor and saw beef jerky and peanut butter crackers. He went with the crackers.

“We’ll have to leave her with George,” Julius said.

John choked on his crackers. “Why in the hell would we go and do that?”

“He’s just as much a part of this as we are.”

Sixth section by Kenneth Rosen.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

Palm trees lined the back roads to Delray Beach where George stayed, tinkering with something new each day. They found him surrounded by abandoned projects in his one-story home, prodding a breadboard the size of a locket with a soldering iron. The boredom that accompanies retirement had set in, John thought. The plaques and awards on the walls reminded John of George’s heyday: the beat, the badge, the gun. But George managed, on both sides of the law, to use all three. Toiling away, his back was toward them.

“It takes precision and a steady hand to achieve a solid connection,” George said. He fed a sliver of solder under the iron’s needlepoint. “That, and you wouldn’t want to burn yourself.”

“Lena’s dead,” John said.

“When you involved her in your release agreement you dug her grave,” George said. He put the iron and board down before turning his chair to face them. Boils covered his calloused hands. “Love is an intrinsic fallacy of the human mind, and you let it consume you.”

“We’re in this together, George.” Julius lit a cigarette.

“Did you bring the body?”

“Back of the truck,” Julius said.

“Good. Hand me my gun, would you? I’ll put this all away,” George said. He shuffled some things about his desk. John wrapped his hands around the barrel, feeling the gun’s weight. He stepped toward George.

George raised both hands and said, “Please, don’t, I’ll give you whatever you want!”

Julius’ cigarette fell to the floor. “After all these years, George?”

The phone receiver on George’s desk was off the hook. Sirens sounded in the distance.

Seventh section by Kenneth Rosen.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

“Shoot this motherfucker,” Julius said.

With trembling hands John set the sights between George’s dark, deep-set eyes, not the eyes John remembered when they first met, the affable eyes that seemed willing to help, willing to dig John from his debt with the price he’d pay only with time—hard time—time spent thinking of Lena, the sister he never had a chance to know but the one who paid a price for his mistakes because, if anything, it was not her debt, and one John never meant to pay with her life though the release agreement said nothing about how he’d end up worse off even while staying clean and on the straight and narrow, a place he’d never been until now, slowly squeezing the trigger, its weight loaded like the load he would bear with another body on his hands, this time not a means to an end but one leading him back to where the parole board knew he would be, the same one George was on that set him free into a world devoid of anything he wanted to keep fighting for.

George was dead before the casings hit the floor.

Eighth section by Julia Blyumkin.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John released the trigger. As his hand slipped from the grip, he remembered the way he had let go of Lena at the abysmal halfway house.


“Lena, Michael is not good for you. He’s a Calò.”

His sister writhed in the jail-barred metal chair that swallowed her slight frame. John wanted to pull her free before she slipped through the dowels, but Lena was the cat that slunk around for a chance to get the bird.

“Have you forgotten everything?” Lena said.

“I haven’t forgotten. It’s in the past. Water under the bridge. Where it belongs.” John lit another cigarette and let out a plume of smoke.

“Those will kill you, you know?”

“Not if the Calòs kill me first.”

“John, Michael’s not like them.”

“Why protect him, Lena? They’re all the same. First Tommy, then Anthony, and now you.” John shook his head and looked at her desperately. “It’s just not right, Lena—why can’t you just understand? It’ll be the end of you. The end of us.”

“We’ve gotten this far.  Let me do my part.”

“If he’s not onto you yet, he will be. You’re my baby sister, Lena. I couldn’t stand to lose you.”

“Stop it. Just stop it. I knew what I was getting myself into. It’s the only way. We’ll get this sorted, find it, and get it to George. Julius trusts me, he believes in me, John. I can do this.”

Heels clicked unevenly on the pavement. An attendant approached them from the aged, grey house. “It’s time.”

John pulled Lena to her feet and hugged her.

“Lena, we can’t keep Dr. Calò waiting,” the attendant said.

Lena gave John the letter. He put it in the pocket of his jeans. “Goodbye,” she said, squeezing him by the hand.

“Goodbye, Lena,” John said, and released his grip.

Ninth section by Shanice Casimiro.

Edited by Dominic Viti.


 The metallic thud of the gun hitting the ground brought John back to the sight of George, prostrate on the floor.

“We have to get him out of here!” Julius said, moving to pick up George.

“Wait,” John’s hand whipped out and blocked Julius from further harm. “You’re staining the floor.” Six little pearls of blood formed a circle on the hardwood. Julius wiped them with his palms. He rubbed the evidence vigorously into his skin, hoping it would blend with his olive complexion. “We have to get ourselves out of here!”

Having carried corpses before, John handled George with a graceful apathy, not needing to focus on the mechanics of managing the dead weight—a macabre experience for rookies. He carefully bent down to retrieve the fallen gun with his free hand. Four purple crescent markings on the inside of Julius’ hand and a strange crisscross pattern on his inside knuckles momentarily distracted him before he straightened up.

The nearing sirens drove John into a breathless panic. “Go. Start the car. Bring it to the back. Hurry up, they’re coming!” Julius scurried out the house, wheezing. A distant opening of doors ensued and an engine roar followed.

John quickly scanned the room. ‘Closed the door. Put the phone back on the receiver. Got the gun. Got the cigarette. Cleaned the blood.’

He could hear car screeches and was sure cops would come banging down the door any second. John made his way to the back of the house where he saw the headlights of Julius’ Ford. A loose iron cord caught his foot and he tumbled to the ground, atop George, whose carefully handled blood lay in a scattered mass on the floor. The hot iron missed his exposed leg by a few inches.


A set of footsteps, men’s voices, flashing lights, and the sirens directly outside the edifice meant John had to move quickly.

In a flash, John wiped the floor with George’s shirt and stumbled in, picking him and the gun up off the ground.  For the first time he felt disgusted with the cadaver. He headed toward the back door when the furious banging began.

“Open up, it’s the police!”

Just three feet from turning the doorknob, he saw his savior headlights rush past the house. The Ford was gone.

Tenth Section by Mia Brady.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John’s breath began to quicken. Gone when he was needed most, all too typical.

How foolish to have trusted Julius. Julius said shoot and John listened. Listening when he should be thinking for himself was what John did best. John should’ve learned by now, but he fell into his father’s trap time and time again. Where would John be if it were not for his father? It was a thought that crept into his head at his most desperate moments. He had this man to blame for so much. He certainly had him to blame for this—alone with another dead body—a place that John should not have returned to so quickly. Not after Lena.

Lena. Lena’s body was in the back of that truck.

The aggressive knocks on the door jolted him back to reality. No time to think. No time to question where Julius was going or why he took Lena. What he would tell them. Would he manipulate them into thinking it was John’s doing? The snide way he got people to believe him, with his honest eyes and confidant voice. Would they believe that John killed his sister?

“Open up!” the police said. Then quiet. Then thud thud… as the police threw their bodies against the door. He had a few seconds. No time to think.

John positioned the gun close enough to George that it could have fallen out of his hands. John looked once more at the man who died betraying him, took a deep breath, and ran out the back door.

Eleventh section by Kristin Peters.

Edited by Wes Miller.

He knew running wouldn’t solve his problems. Eventually he would have to go to the police with what he knew—get his side of the story out before Julius had time to dig them both (or, more probably, John alone) a deeper grave. Things looked bad now, but he was sure they would look worse later. No, running away wouldn’t solve his problems, but hopefully it would keep him alive and free a little longer. At least long enough to track down his father and Lena’s killer. He prayed to God they weren’t the same person.

John had long since lost his faith in the police. He’d been a cop, after all. As George had before him. A good cop, everyone said—respected, well-liked, willing to put his life on the line to keep the town safe. But his life had never been in any real danger. His entire career was a charade, a pre-scripted play acted out for the good people of Delray Beach to distract them from what not-so-good people were doing behind the scenes.

John had joined the department right after graduating from college. It was only natural he’d end up working with George. Just as it was only natural John soon figured out that George wasn’t the upstanding man he seemed to be. George hadn’t ever really tried to hide the truth from him; he’d decided long ago that John would end up his partner on both sides of the law. In the end, John didn’t have much say. By the time he realized the full extent of what was going on, he was too far in to come clean.

Twelfth section by Ana-Christina Acosta Gaspar de Alba.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

At first, John’s involvement had been minimal, accidental even. He trusted George and so when George asked John to cover for him, he did. George had been with him, he would say, playing cards or at the range. John would sign George’s name into the logs, thinking it was just part of having his back.

But things got serious. George arrived at John’s apartment one night with a bullet in his shoulder and a gun he had to get rid of. John had helped patch George up, had driven the gun into the desert and buried it himself. When he’d gotten back, George had told him everything.

George was an inside man within the police department for the Calò family, entrepreneurs who had a hand in every major organization of the city. They stayed out of the spotlight and skirted just under the police’s radar, controlling everything and everyone with bribery and coercion, and had maintained such control for generations. George had been brought into the fold by his old partner, who’d been recruited by his old partner, and so on.

Then, John had wanted to turn right around and go to the chief of police, explain everything. But George had reminded him that his hands were already dirty, and besides, betrayal of the Calòs was akin to signing your own death warrant. John had had no option but to give in.

Years later his father’s ties to the Calòs had come to light and John had realized it had been more than coincidence that had led him to being a dirty cop. His father, a faithful dog of the Calò family for all of John’s life, had set the whole thing up. Not only that, but he’d dragged Lena into the mess, entangling their entire family in the web of lies he was so comfortable living in. John wondered if his mother had ever known.

The sirens faded behind John, and he slowed down, catching his breath. His thoughts rushed back to the present. He needed a plan.

Thirteenth section by Joshua Piercey.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

John took out his last cigarette and held it up to the chalky evening light, smoothing out the creases. He gave himself a moment, and inhaled the cigarette in one swift rush, draining it down to the butt. It was gone before he thought to put the lighter back in his pocket.

That would scratch the itch for a half hour at most. And now was hardly the time to be appearing on convenience store cameras. George always said that you could tell the small-time hoods from the players by the way they kept control of their vices. But now George was dead.

He’d been a dirty cop, a condescending asshole, ultimately a betrayer, but for a long time he’d been a twisted sort of mentor for John. There were times when he might have been a friend. But friends don’t sell each other out, or shoot you dead with your own gun and place it back in your hand like a lullaby. Friends don’t steer friend’s sisters to their grave.

For a second the world blurred, the sidewalk pitched like a deck in high seas. Lena. Only a few hours had passed since he’d found her on the beach, and since he’d sprinted across the sand, the detachment that had risen up around him began to fade. John pivoted away from the street and vomited again, crackers and cigarette bile sprayed the gutter. The final shudders forced him down to his knee. It was all happening too fast.

When he found his feet, he took a look around. He’d run the length of a commercial lot, and the buildings and streets were quiet. He turned down an alley toward a loading bay, and hunkered on a set of concrete steps. He put his head in his hands. Lena. The kelp in her hair. The soft bloat of her flesh rendering the skin translucent. George’s look of surprise before he fell to the floor. The steady resistance of pulling the trigger down, the lead heaviness of the gun once the fist was made. His father’s hands. His father’s hands.

Julius’ involvement in this had to be ascertained, if only to stop him doing more damage. Julius was a coward, but he wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t bolt straight home with a body in the back of his truck. George would have told the police about the half-way house, and Julius’ shitty condo. There was no place to go back to. Lena would have to disappear, and Julius would need help for that.

John stood, took the lighter from his pocket. He clicked the wheel back and stared at the flame. Time to stop running. Time to find answers. He’d get to the Calòs in time, but he’d start with his father. He snapped the lighter shut. He knew just where to look.

Fourteenth section by Matt Keil.

Edited by Dominic Viti.


“Corner of Third and Auburn. Leave ASAP.”

A throw-of-the-dice, calling Tommy Calò. But he was the last person in Delray Beach John could trust.

The sun began setting, the sweltering orange mass sinking further and further, pushing down the hot, sticky atmosphere around John’s head, compressing his thoughts.

John could tell by Tommy’s tone that he didn’t know Lena was dead. He loved her, gave her an engagement ring while they went to Miami for the weekend a few months back. The only reason Lena got involved with Tommy was to get on the inside, find leverage to get John out from under the Calò’s thumb. But falling in love wasn’t part of Lena’s plan. Working for that family meant you stay for life, or your life was ended. Lena was just trying to help John get out.  She was the only reason he’d been granted a second chance—if you call three years in South Bay Correctional a second chance. In any other circumstance, Tommy wouldn’t give a shit if John took a one-way ticket to the bottom of the Atlantic. Cops are cops even if they do look out for the Calò family. But because of Lena, one way or another, he convinced someone to keep John around.

There was a good chance John was being followed by the cops for killing George. The closest building was a gas station across the street. He locked himself in the restroom. Not a great place to be. One way in, one way out. On the toilet, John remembered hiding in his own bathroom when he was a child, when cocaine started circulating Delray. That’s when Julian got bad. Who knows how he got mixed up with the Calò’s—but what better job for a junkie than helping to bring the stuff over from Cuba and back to Delray? Probably would have gotten paid in blow if he could. The Calò’s went from being transport mules at the bottom of the cocaine trade to a centralized power, doing it all, the main source from Delray to Daytona. It happened fast, too, like a higher power existed even above the almighty Calò’s. Whoever that was, likely that’s where Julius was going.

Someone pounded on the bathroom door. John pressed his back to the cold tiles as the doorknob jiggled. “Someone’s in here,” John shouted. More and more slamming came in succession. John slowly unlocked the deadbolt, pressed against the wall, waiting as the knob turned.

Fifteenth section by Matt Albrecht.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

The door burst open and the tan, smooth, young face of Tommy Calò fixed squarely on John, his wild locks of curly hair adding to his crazed bearing. The door slammed hard against the wall and bounced back to a close for a second before Tommy swept it aside with his arm, stepping into the bathroom with John, fear-stricken.

John squeezed hard around the gun he’d used to kill George—only John had left the gun at the last murder scene. He was gripping his cellphone, pointing it reflexively at Tommy, whose expression contorted as he doubled over, laughing hysterically.

John frowned, slumping his shoulders and holstering the phone, embarrassed by his reaction but still uneasy, though knowing Tommy was regarded for his theatrics.

Wiping a tear away, Tommy straightened, composing himself between laughs. “Jesus, John, what were you gonna do with that phone? Give me cancer?”

John tried to hide his distress. He forced himself to laugh. “Yeah, sorry, I thought it would be funny.”

“To think my scumbag ex-cop future brother-in-law would do me in,” Tommy said, “But I guess it’d be poetic, huh, John?” He gave a sly wink, which made John more uneasy. “So what the hell you callin’ me here for, some filthy bathroom off the grid? You comin’ on to me, John? You jealous of Lena or what?”

John went silent. What calm he had left was wearing thinner by the moment.

Tommy’s expression became graven. “It’s been two months, John. She said she needed time to think about my proposition and wanted a break, but in my line of work, two months of silence without a ransom note … ” He trailed off in spite of himself, narrowing his eyes at John. “So why did you call me here?”

Sixteenth section by Amy Waggoner.

Edited by Dominic Viti.


Down shifting his truck near the corner of Third and Auburn, Julius winced as he heard a soft thump behind his head. It was bad enough that his older daughter’s body was in his truck bed, let alone getting slammed around in a post-mortem state. He squinted, idling slowly past the gas station on the opposite corner. Why in hell would John call Tommy Calò? Did he really think a Calò was more trustworthy than his own flesh and blood? Surely he would have known that any Calò, especially Tommy, would let his family’s drug smuggler know when and if a cop called for help. Julius turned right at the corner, watching in his side mirror. The station’s neon lights grew smaller the farther down Auburn he drove. He wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Visions of Lena pouring over John’s court documents, drawing stars beside promising paragraphs, pushed to the front of his mind. They had no business bothering him, he had no business or right to remember, considering how this had all turned out. He hit the steering wheel. Damn it, why couldn’t she have just listened to him? He thought he’d made it clear to her last week when they’d met up that she was in over her head. He’d figured the smart thing to do was for her to continue her wall of silence where Tommy was concerned. The Calò’s had been suspicious of Lena’s involvement with Tommy for months now, and rumors from Tommy confirmed that it was only a matter of time before the word was given to take her out. And now the worst had happened. Lena had been murdered, strangled violently by the very locket she had sworn to protect. Julius could feel the object deep in his pocket, where hed placed it after John ran off toward the pickup. The small key glinted in the moonlight. Thank god it was still there.

Julius pulled into the empty lot across from the gas station, parking his truck in the farthest corner from the road, killing the lights and engine. He grabbed the handgun in the glove box and placed it on the seat beside him, wondering how long he would have to wait before Tommy came out. John had a fondness for hiding in bathrooms when scared. But Tommy, well, that was another story. That guy couldn’t stay in one place for long, frightened or otherwise—always had to be the center of attention since he was a child. Julius snorted, picturing both in that tight space. John’s eyes would be darting from the door to the window, trying to find the quickest way out, while Tommy cracked jokes to get info on Lena, who returned to Julius’ thoughts. He wiped his eyes and glared out into the darkness. He’d get the son-of-a-bitch who had done this—and there was still hope that the Calò family would be brought down like he and Lena had planned. He reached into his pocket for the key. Holding it up in the available moonlight, he sighed. A lockbox full of papers for his daughter’s life. Even though Lena had told him many times otherwise, it just wasn’t fair.

The bathroom door across the street swung open suddenly. Julius re-pocketed the key. Tommy walked toward the edge of the street in his direction, waving his arms back and forth. No sign of John. He stepped out of the truck. No sense taking a chance that Tommy might see Lena in the back. Julius knew the meltdown, when it came, would be huge.

Seventeenth section by Amy Waggoner.

Edited by Dominic Viti.

Julius leaned against the door as Tommy approached. In his peripheral, the steel handgun on the backseat shined white in the streetlight. He’d forgotten to conceal it. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to draw it—on Tommy, anyway. As far as Julius knew, no one else was at the station, Calò or otherwise.

“What did you do this time, Julius?”

“No more than usual,” he said. The tarp in the truck bed flapped once in the breeze before settling back into place.

“John said you left him alone at George’s. He’s pissed he had to clean up your mess again. He wouldn’t say anything about Lena, even when I bribed him. The John Curry I know would never pass up a carrot.”

“Where’s John now?”

“He’s waiting for you in the station. Wants to talk to you about digging a hole. I asked him why, but he told me to ask you.”

Julius sighed.

“What?” Tommy said. “Is it about Lena?”

“Not exactly.  It’s about George.”

“Is he giving you trouble with this weekend’s shipment?”

“Late night I got a tip he’s been stockpiling evidence against Lena, apparently since June, when John was released.”

“What could George possibly have on Lena?”

Julius glanced in both directions, motioning Tommy closer. “He’s been tailing her since the Miami trip, the one she took with you.”

“Just last week that bastard told me he hadn’t seen her since John’s parole hearing.”

“Yeah, well, turns out he’s known where she’s been all along.”

Tommy ran his hand through his hair. “I’ve got to talk to him again. I’m going crazy here, Julius. She hasn’t contacted me, and my family—especially Michael—is expecting her. And you know what will happen if she doesn’t show.”

“How about this,” Julius said. “Drive over to George’s, see if he’ll tell you what he knows about Lena. If there’s a problem, use this.” Julius grabbed the handgun. “Whatever you do, don’t get caught with it.”

Tommy lifted his shirt, took out his own pistol, and traded with Julius. “Lena told me you had it hidden somewhere, waiting for the right time to take George out. I’ll do the honors.”

Julius smiled. “See what you can find out. When I pull John off of the bathroom ceiling, we’ll head over there. Surely the three of us can get him to talk.”

“OK, I’ll call you when I get there.” Tommy took a few steps, then turned around. “Thanks, Julius. This means as much to me as it does the both of you.”

“Burning nighttime, Tommy. Get going.”

Tommy waved and hurried around the corner. ‘Good luck,’ Julius thought, climbing into the truck. ‘You’re gonna need it.’




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49 Responses »

  1. What a wonderful project! This should be fun to follow.

  2. The project must be managed closely to succeed. At some point, the assignments must direct the writers to accomplish specific goals without limiting their creativity. The story will be short for a novel and long for a short story, but following its development will be interesting. Thanks!

  3. Can recent graduates participate as well?

  4. Ah. Great opening. Lena is dead. Why? What happens next? Looking forward to the next instalments!

  5. That’s good so far. A lot of characters and variables introduced. Hopefully not every contributor will introduce new ones, but so far so good!

  6. Building some momentum. Do phones ring six times these days? Unsettling. I wonder, did John have a hand in her murder? And so the plot thickens…

  7. Intriguing. So his dad’s involved…? I want to know who John is, who Lena was, and what happens next.

  8. That is not where I pictured the story going, but I like it!

  9. Curious to see who has the guts to install the climax. I suggest the early writers pose questions left unanswered to build tension while the writers toward the middle and end have strings left to tie together. Glad the characters have thus far been added sparingly; three at this point in the story is a very manageable number, especially when one of them is dead.

    Now the question is “who is Lena?” Is her death heartbreaking, an act of revenge, a freak accident, a political assassination?!

    What happens to her corpse (sorry, had to be asked)?

    Time period and setting should be introduced (keeping in mind, of course, that this takes place post 1972, John presumably has a cell phone to call Julius, and Julius does not have voicemail).

    Is John more financially successful than Julius or does Julius oppose to certain modern day technologies (which could later complicate the plot)?

    Enjoying it all very much thus far.

  10. This brings a new level of meaning to ‘exquisite corpse’. Like it so far. Could Lena be his sister? So many directions it might take. That’s the joy of it, I suppose.

  11. So far the story sounds great. It opens up well and drew me in immediately. It is interesting that John’s father is involved, and we just need to make sure that we keep conflict between them. Why didn’t his father answer the phone sooner because his son was calling? Has John let him down in the past? Also, was Lena a close friend? If John has seen many dead bodies before why did he vomit upon realizing it was Lena? Was she his sister, lover, best friend, or partner?

    As long as everyone pays attention to details I think we will have a great story here!

  12. Excited to see where this goes. I have a feeling some of characters might not be as innocent as they appear…

  13. Will each new paragraph introduce new information, or consolidate what we know? At this early stage it’s going to be the former, but that can’t stay true forever. Interesting to see when and how the authors will decide to slow or increase the pace.

  14. Interesting that the old man seems to already know that Lena is dead–that connection will be intriguing to explore. I believe that more setting will be needed soon in addition to some characterization for John, and it seems like now is the perfect time to do one or the other.

  15. A possible murder right up front – a good way to begin an element of intrigue. Looking forward to seeing which direction (or different directions) the story goes.

  16. There’s a lot of suspense to be had with this exciting project. The most anxiety-provoking element is that the writers can’t plan. Whoever’s assigned before could easily jettison any notions any of the proceeding writers might have had, just as quickly as poor Lena was jettisoned from the upturned car. Perhaps it’s the writers assigned to the interim paragraphs, before the middle, that have the more onerous task of deciding the time and setting–still wide open–as some here have already mentioned. I agree that the most interesting and puzzling detail thus far is the fact that John has seen many bodies over the decades..Beyond the potential immediate implications here, how old is John and how old is his father who waited six long rings before taking his son’s call?

  17. Intrigued to see where this goes next; glad to see a bit of character development beginning.

  18. “Her fingers curled in a confused repose.” What a gorgeous line. Who knew gore could be so decadent!

    Right now, the narrative is stuck in passive voice, fitting for the dead perhaps, but let’s get this investigation started. Can we see a punch from the father? Is John going to break down? What’s inside the locket? Who else is milling around the crime scene? Suspense and anxiety will drive this story, but I’d like to see some immediate tension scene-to-scene.

  19. I think we are off to a great start. I’m looking forward to part 17!

    As for the story as of yet, I was picturing Lena as John’s sister, as well as his complete opposite. This became even more possible for me with the third section. But I am now unsure where future writers will take this, seeing as John talks about her in the fourth section. Is she an old flame? The one who got away? Is she the one Julius had chosen for his son, and by losing her, John also lost his father’s respect?

    We’ve come into the first really crucial scene that will have more dialogue and less narration. This is the point where personalities will be shown and even more questions will be raised. Will they hide the body? Is this a recurring issue on their little secluded island (or wherever the setting writer chooses to put us!)? Who are they protecting?

    Whatever the choices from here on out, I simply cannot say just where I really think this is going….

  20. George, Julius, John. We need to be careful, these names are much to similar and can confuse reader’s in the long term. Unless it’s out intention to meld these three men together, let’s mix it up. We also need a hint about Lena’s relationship with one of the characters. Maybe flashback is the way to go. Looking forward to the next installment!

  21. Yes, how did Julius know exactly where John was on the beach? Who is George, and how does he tie into it? The story so far has done a good job of establishing mystery, and now I am looking forward to delving deeper into the characters’ thoughts and lives. I also believe it would be interesting to switch POV to Julius and/or George for a while–who knows what would be revealed if that were done! At any rate, good start to a great story.

  22. No one has been brave enough yet to declare what relationship exactly Lena has with John. Is she family or something else or is it “muddled?” I can imagine this going a couple of different ways, but the great thing about this project is I could be completely surprised because, although I had a part, the arc is no longer in my hands. I look forward to more concreteness in the coming entries to begin to fill the story out. The mysterious elements are well established for now.

  23. Amy – Completely agree! Hoping for a close third person, maybe even second.

    Can we please get a back story on something? Advocating for a flashback!

    Why does George have boils on his hands and can we hold off on killing him? This ominous cloud that is hanging over paradise (which by the way is where? Maybe give a history, a scenic backdrop rather than just palm trees and sirens) is a nice juxtaposition, but as a reader, I’m all tensed out – need some footing.

  24. This is an exciting project; I’ve read a handful of social writing endeavors before, but none that attempted as much with a crime story. Such a plot generally entails quite a bit of blueprinting, but as Ezra points out above, these writers can’t plan. Nevertheless, only six segments in, this budding narrative already shows great promise. I’m impressed by how well the separate installments read as a unit, which may be a testament to both the writers’ and editors’ skill. My anticipation builds for the next piece of writing . . .

  25. With John’s line, “After all these years, George?”, a wonderful place for flashback/exposition has been created. Inserting this now would not only ground the reader through explanation but would also serve to artfully expand the enigmatic nature of the story. The introduction of Delray Beach is a good start for scene description, and I believe that a few sentences or a short paragraph at the most could be provided very effortlessly. The readers’ minds can easily fill in what a typical beach looks like, however, so unique details would be best. This would work to set the beach apart from others in the same area and also possibly provide some symbolism in later drafts if crafted well. In addition, in the event that a particular part of the setting needs mentioned due to its importance to the plot, that technique could take the form of dialogue mentions or internal thought observations.
    Thanks to everyone for their hard work and thought on this project–I can’t wait to see what develops next.

  26. This is fantastic. With each new addition to the story, I find myself rereading the parts before it and it feels like a new experience every time. So far, I’ve not just read one new story, I’ve read seven new ones and discovered seven exciting authors.

  27. I never anticipated that in the 5th section, the one where Julius advises “they’ll have to leave Lena with George,” and John’s consternation regarding that call to action that that would mean pairing her corpse with George’s. Interesting development. The events surrounding George’s execution seem a bit hazy but, on the other hand, the new writers won’t have to worry so much about that character who left as quickly as he came. On the other hand, they’re going to have to make sense of what happened there. I was also unsure about the notion in the 7th section that Lena was “the sister he(John) never knew.” Although, it is good that the writer addressed Lena’s familial relationship to the protagonist, which no one else had until that point, it seemed clear (to me at least) that John knew her very well; too well in a sketchy amorphous kind of way if you catch my drift, as evidenced by some of John’s alluded to flashbacks as well as his visceral revulsions and thorough detailing at the scene of the crime. Curious to see if the next writer will do some magic patch work or if he’ll just fly with it…

    • I agree about John and Lena’s relationship.. given all the information excluding that section, it doesn’t seem very plausible that she was “the sister he never knew.”

  28. I find myself pining for more information. With every new element introduced, I’m hungry for more. With just seven sections, I’ve found myself diving back in to make sure I haven’t missed a beat. The estrangement between the characters and to their surroundings is an obvious driving force of plot. However, as new characters are introduced perhaps we should not be so quick to kill them off? What was John’s motivation? Had this been fleshed out more, perhaps it would be a bit more justified. At the same time, if we are meant to not feel any remorse, then c’est la vie, keep the cold blooded killings coming.

  29. This has got incredibly complex in such a short space! But in a good way…
    Who is/was George? What is the thing that binds him to Julius and John? Intriguing, and these things need to be clarified before it gets any darker…or can it get darker yet?

  30. I was going to hold off making a comment until the completion of Triggers Down, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to praise Kenneth Rosen’s one-two punch that skillfully brings us to a second death. True to the title and in one revelatory run-on sentence, he set ‘im up and knocked ‘im down. (Yes, I went there.) RIP George.
    I feel the beauty of a social writing project like this lies in collaboration and the unknown — each writer’s contribution is shaped by the other contributions (intentionally or not), in the choice to develop or discard details, and as the story builds, so does the suspense.
    While the writing styles vary, the pieces together read smoothly and cohesively, and that’s a testament to smart, tight editing.
    I’m looking forward to finding out what happens after the casings hit the floor and the shit really hits the fan.

  31. I agree with alot of the above. I think this is a fantastic project and it will be really interesting to see where it takes us. However, I feel the pace is moving a little too fast. We have the back bone of the story, all we need now is somebody to give it some flesh. We need abit of back story. Somebody who dares to explain exactly who these characters are and how they got into this situation. I agree with Julia Blyumkin’s comment, possible flash back senario. Lets step out of the present and find out how we got here.

  32. Ah, so Lena is John’s sister. I agree that we need more background information, but I’m enjoying the elements of the story thus far: mystery, cold blooded murder. . . Have gone back and reread the previous segments and looking forward to the next one. I really like the idea of this social writing project!

  33. In a very short space we have been introduced to four characters, yet none of them have been developed in great detail. It will be interesting to see how the next writers will elaborate on and use these characters in the story, especially the ones who are now dead. So far, all of the dialogue regarding Lena and George has been vague, so there’s ample room for creating who they were, and how they were connected to John and John’s criminal activity. I’m also curious to know more about John’s Dad…what kind of “work” is he doing? He definitely seems comfortable with criminality… I think in moving forward it’ll important to give readers answers to these questions about the characters– killing can add intriguing plot twists, but we should create the context of the relationship between the murderer and the victim.

  34. I do like the panic and desperation that lingers at the end of section nine. It’s definitely a turn of events to have Julius bail out on his son at the scene of the crime — however, maybe he’s just a selfish, careless father like that all the time? The bruises on Julius’s hand make me think that he may have killed Lena himself. Given, he also knew exactly where John was on the beach when John found her body, and John didn’t know how his father had known his location. Those details lay the ground work for making Julius the murderer, but we’ll see where the next section takes us! I think the story is moving smoothly for the most part…the one part that seems a bit redundant and disjunctive is with sections 7-9 all beginning with transitions that all refer to George being shot, which occurred at the end of section 6.

  35. How would the police know to show up at George’s place at that exact moment, unless they were tipped off by someone on the inside? In any event, how much time has passed since the discovery of Lena’s body because on the other hand where have the police been until now? Soon there needs to be sense made of the necessity of taking the body to George’s house and then killing George. If one of the three men is responsible why didn’t they just get rid of the body from the get go rather than engage in all this ruckus now? The plot thickens and so does the complexity for the upcoming writers because on top of all of these issues they now have to render a police struggle/chase. If not for the necessity of this, as a result of the previous section, I would say, lets slow down the action for a minute and gradually build to a scene like this later.

    • The police new to show up because George called them. At the end of section 6, John suddenly pulls the gun on him, presumably because he notices that the phone is off the hook.

      “Julius’ cigarette fell to the floor. “After all these years, George?”

      The phone receiver on George’s desk was off the hook. Sirens sounded in the distance.”

      It seems imminent that John is going to be picked up by the police–this will provide an opportunity for someone to flesh out the backstory and make sense of what’s going on now. Perhaps an expository interrogation by a detective?

  36. Here’s what we have so far…

    John – brother to the deceased Lena, son to Julius. Apparently went to jail for something, maybe a crime of revenge (“Have you forgotten everything?” Lena said. “I haven’t forgotten. It’s in the past. Water under the bridge. Where it belongs.”) although he has handled multiple dead bodies. Released on an agreement that somehow involves Lena. There was an apparent fall-out from the agreement (section 4). Genuinely shocked to find Lena’s corpse.

    Julius – father to John and Lena. Shows up at the scene of his daughter’s murder, despite John having never told him where the scene was. Calls George and brings the body to George’s house. Has marks on his hands that suggest he was Lena’s strangler. The police have been tipped off and as they approach, he flees in his Ford and leaves John behind.

    George – retired cop, highly awarded but crooked. Section 5 says he is a part of Lena’s murder. But when John and Julius show up, he has already tipped off the police. Dies after John shoots him.

    Michael – Lena’s trust fund boyfriend. Giver of the locket, which was apparently used to strangle her. John seems to feel Michael isn’t good for Lena, and her relationship with him (Michael) seems to conflict with some aspect of the siblings’ past (section 8).

    Dr. Calo – Lena’s companion when she visits John in jail. He seems to be some bad-guy orchestrator, and Lena might be double-crossing him.

    We need:
    – a last name for John
    – the criminal background (and criminal people/organization) that John was involved with that led to
    – the crime that landed John in jail
    – the terms of the release agreement (aka Lena’s involvement) and therefore the motivation for her murder
    – Julius and George’s criminal background
    – Michael/Dr. Calo’s criminal background

    There seems to be a natural split between the criminal players: Julius/George are the older working class guys (muscle?), Michael/Dr. Calo are the seemingly wealthy conspirators (brains?).

    No more action! We need explanations! I don’t envy the next writer. It will be quite a challenge to synthesize all the given information into a cohesive story.

    • Agree with Amy as well, we need to give some meaning to all of this action going on in the story by continuing to inhabit John’s memories of past events. There have been a lot of specific details and insinuations made so far that will inevitably need to be explained, so it’s important to not pile that kind of stuff on.

      I think there are some problems/contradictions with John’s character so far that need to be resolved as best they can at this point. The fact that he vomited and was sent into a state of shock upon seeing his sister’s body,only then to “hear his stomach grumbling” once he’d gotten in the truck, then to be filled with a sense of detachment is quite a leap. That shift of emotion needs to be addressed in the telling of John’s story, either through direct exposition or action.

  37. agree with Amy – but challenges are good! Pencil sharpened, next writer?

  38. I’m eager to learn more about George, how he worked on either side of the law, about his relationship with Julius and John, and how he came to “betray” John…also, how he was involved with the death of Lena. There are plenty of holes to fill in, and so many directions that the story could still sprout to!

  39. Lucky #15 Matt “…whose expression contorted as he doubled over, laughing hysterically” – what a brilliant line. Kudos.

    • Thank you so much, Julia!

      It was a pleasure to be involved in this one-of-a-kind project. All of my predecessors left me with so many juicy possibilities that my greatest challenge was determining exactly which track to take. Naturally, I chose to derail the train and make a pit stop at Dark Humor-ville.

      I can’t wait to see who picks this up next and where they’re take it. =)

  40. Below is a layout that might be useful in both tracking and writing the story from this point on. Hope my section not only cleared up some questions about Julius’ involvement in Lena’s murder in addition to complicating the overall motive. I tried to set groundwork for someone to explain what/how Julius and Lena have on the Calo family, why there are papers locked up that needed to be guarded, and why John was not involved in their plan. I would like to see how that strand ties into the over picture of Julius as a drug smuggler, and most specifically, is there a larger organization above the Calos and if so, why? There are other holes to fill in as well, but I believe these can be answered one at a time now as the story moves along its trajectory.
    Thanks to everyone for all the preceding sections, and also for Dominic’s editing talent. It is a fun project to read and take part in.

    Plot/Character Layout-Triggers Down


    Ex-cop on parole from 3 yrs in South Bay Correctional, spent time in Florida State Pen before that.
    Set-up for jail by George, his former partner. For what?
    Had previous “debt” that George dug him out of before prison-which was what?
    Became a cop right after college, George was his partner.
    Turned dirty after George talked/led him into it. Covered for George’s whereabouts on a regular basis, then one night George showed up with a dirty gun and a bullet hole in his shoulder. John helped him. John wanted to go to the cops, but George talked him out of it by pointing out his involvement.
    Has seen many dead bodies in his life, but not after decomposition has set in.
    Smokes a lot.
    Job as a cop was a “set-up façade to distract citizens of Delray Beach” by Julius, John’s father.
    John attributes his status as a dirty cop to Julius, who has ties to the Calo mob family of Delray Beach. He dislikes Julius’ ability to “get people to like him”
    Wonders if his mom ever knew of Julius’ involvement with Calo family.
    Says “George is just as involved as we are”
    Thinks George double-crossed him, even though George was on his parole board that let him out of prison.
    Sold out by George, which in turn led Lena to her grave, as she was involved with John’s release agreement.
    Shoots George in front of Julius on Julius’ command. Thinks George died betraying him.
    Tries to move George’s body when sirens sound, but Julius takes off so John just puts gun near George and runs out of house.
    Looks for Julius, who took off with Lena’s body in the back of his truck.
    Calls Tommy Calo to the corner of Third and Auburn to find Julius?


    John’s ex-partner. Crooked cop, works for Calo family as inside man in police dept.
    Showed up at John’s apt with gun and shot-up shoulder.
    Sold John out somehow, which led Lena to her grave somehow because she was involved in John’s release agreement.
    On John’s parole board.
    Dug John out of some kind of serious debt before John went to prison.
    Lena told John they would “get this sorted out, find it and get it to George” What was it?
    Called police when John and Julius turned up. Police sirens could be heard as John ran away from body.
    Shot by John in front of Julius on Julius’ command. Body left with gun nearby by John after Julius drives away.


    Father to both Lena and John.
    Has worked for the Calos mob for numerous years. “Gets people to like him” on his honest looking face alone.
    Legal job? Not mentioned
    John thinks Julius dragged Lena into whatever it was that killed her.
    Suggests that they take the body to George. John was incredulent about it.
    Cocaine junkie that began as a small-time mover for the Calos. Helped Calos family Move cocaine from Cubu to Florida.
    Knows a “higher power” that pushed Calos family into current standing as only mover of Cocaine from Delray Beach to Daytona.
    Responsible for John’s hiring at police department. Put John in there as a front to the public.
    Responsible for John going dirty- how?
    Knew John was at the beach-how?
    Has a crappy apt, has a horribly dirty truck inside and outside.
    Ordered George’s kill to John. Why?
    Seemed surprised that George would call police. “After all these years, George?”
    Drove off from George crime scene with Lena’s body in back. Why and where?
    Tommy Calos is called to know where Julius is after he drives off in truck with Lena’s body.


    Dead woman found by brother John on beach dune.
    Strangled with a locket necklace.
    Been on beach a while, or dumped off there, as body is in first state of decomposition.
    Got involved with Tommy Calo to help John out. Fell in love with Tommy.
    Got John a 3 yr sentence at South Bay Correctional, which got him out of Florida State Pen.
    Took a 2 month break from boyfriend Tommy Calo after Tommy proposed to her on a vacation to Miami. Did not contact him during 2 month period.
    Involved in brother John’s release agreement from prison.
    In half-way house for some reason. On Sept 4, 1992, gave John a letter that directed him to “meet me at our spot”.
    “Still wanted him in her life”. Why was there any reason Lena wouldn’t want John in her life?
    Had former trust fund boyfriend Michael. Was he a Calo?
    Says “We’ll get this sorted, find it, and get it to George. Find What? What is it?
    Led to her grave by George (John’s ex-partner) and Julius (her and John’s dad)
    Being treated by a Dr. Calo in half-way house/medical hospital. Who is this Dr. Calo? Michael/Tommy’s father?
    Says “Julius trusts me” “I can do this”. Why is there any doubt to either one?

    Tommy Calo

    Lena’s boyfriend. In Calo mob family, but “not the same as them” according to Lena.
    Proposed to Lena while on vacation in Miami.
    Honored Lena’s 2 month no-contact break when she wanted to think about proposal.
    Fooled by Lena, who got involved with him to help her brother out. How??
    Explains Lena’s no-contact to John, worried because he hasn’t heard from her.
    Was called to corner spot/bathroom by John. Came without knowing what was up.
    Regarded for his theatrics.
    Humorous. Made joke about John liking him.
    Doesn’t know Lena’s dead.
    Michael Calo
    Trust fund boyfriend. Mentioned once early in story, then again during a flashback between Lena and John.
    Tommy substituted for him-one and the same?
    Possibly the doctor that treated Lena in the flashback?

    Calo Family

    Mob family in Delray Beach. Cocaine movers from Cuba to Florida, only movers from Delray to Daytona.
    Has ties with Julius somehow. May be at Julius’ mercy, especially if he has ties higher up that affected Calos family move up the ladder.
    Has hands in every major city organization, including police department. George worked as inside man for family. John brought in to work for family afterwards.
    Family members date Lena—Michael, Tommy.
    An Anthony is mentioned in the section with the flashback between Lena and John. Who is he/does he factor into the story at all?
    They trust Lena at first, then eventually kill her? Why to both questions?
    Rose up in trafficking ranks quickly, which may be to Julius’ influence with organization above them.

  41. I am pleased to say that Triggers Down has attracted one hundred contributors worldwide.

    Please continue postulating theories and providing analysis on the evolving story.

    We have a great novella cooking.


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