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Twenty-Three Hundred

Twenty-Three Hundred

A sheriff's office intern witnesses a sad scene she can't fix; she can only make better choices for herself.

14

Coming-of-age / Young adult fiction


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Nancy Bachana (United States)


At eleven in the morning there’s still a guy snoring in the second cell. He’s wearing the sleeveless undershirt favored by the unemployed on TV. The boys at school would call it the wife beater.
“I’m letting him sleep it off,” says a voice at my shoulder, “then we’ll give him an escort home when he wakes up. See how the wife looks and if she wants to press charges.”
I wince and turn to face Detective Cruz. “You mean he hit her?”
Cruz lets out a long sigh, flubbering his lips. “Not so far,” he says. “Mostly he takes it out on the furniture. Smashes a chair, sends a toaster into the wall.”
“That’s awful.”
“Yeah.” Cruz pauses as a guttural breath shakes the cot. “So, Danielle, you want to go with me for the drop? Sometimes these things go smoother with a female along.” He gives me an approving nod.
I don’t really want to get in a car with the snoring man. But that’s what I’m here for, to see the town’s tainted underbelly, to meet the “lowest of the low” my stepdad wants to protect me from. I fought him to take this internship, so I have to see it through.
“Okay, thanks,” I say with conviction. “That should be educational.” I twitch a smile and return to drafting the crime reports Detective Cruz assigned me for practice.
First up—some guy robbed a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies in front of the Publix supermarket at eight o’clock in the morning. Then a sister and brother from the community college were caught cooking a meth lab in the back of an old school bus. Not classy, but way more interesting than reading American History.
Twenty-five minutes later a sound like an air raid siren comes from the cells, rising in pitch and volume until it’s a howl that fills the station.
“Tom’s up,” calls Cruz from his desk. “Let’s roll.”
Following Cruz to the back, my chest tightens. I don’t want to see Snoring Man—Tom—because just the howling made my skin crawl. I expect angry eyes, filled with primal rage at being dragged away from his cowering wife.
But I’m wrong. The bloodshot eyes are despondent, like they say on cop shows. “Did the victim seem despondent to you?”
“Come on, Tom. Let’s get you home.” Cruz puts a key in the cell door.
“Who’s that?” asks Tom, pointing at me.
“That’s Danielle. She’s our intern for the week, and I expect you to be a gentleman.”
“Huh,” says Tom.
Tom lets himself into the cruiser and settles in the back seat. He’s like the harmless town drunk in Mayberry USA, only in color.
“You buckled in, Tom?” asks Cruz.
“Yeah, yeah,” comes the reply from the back seat, along with a whiff of some foul odor. Faint at first, I really can’t ignore it by the time we pull out of the station and arrive at the first stoplight.
“Do you smell that?” I ask Cruz, beginning to worry something is wrong with the engine. “It’s like, medicinal?” I sniff again. “Or maybe gasoline?”
Cruz looks sideways at me and laughs. “You do come from the nice side of town, don’t you, Danielle?” He calls to our passenger. “You hear that, Tom? Danielle here never smelled a drunk before.”
“How about that,” answers Tom, with no humor.
“Oh,” I say. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s Tom should be sorry,” says Cruz, “He’s pickled. With the drunks, it comes out with the sweat and especially the breath.”
“I’m not a drunk!” spits Tom from the backseat.
“Okay, Tom. You only tie one on when you party, and A.A. is for pussies, right?
Cruz looks guiltily at me. “Sorry, Danielle.”
“It’s okay.”
We’re quiet for another stoplight. Then Tom yells something that makes no sense.
“Twenty-three hundred, Manny! Tell your girl that!” He punctuates the outburst with a fist to the back of my seat.
“Hey! Easy, Tom.” Cruz shakes his head and blows out a sigh.
“What’s he mean?” I ask Cruz.
“High school S.A.T.s,” answers Cruz. “Tom got a 2300. A score like can mean a scholarship to college.”
“That’s great,” I say, impressed. “Why didn’t he go?”
A snort from the back seat.
“Tell her, Manny,” says Tom. “Tell your little girl why I didn’t go to college.”
“Tom, I think there’s a lot of reasons you didn’t go to college.” Cruz stares pointedly into the rear view. “But yeah, you and your girl weren’t careful. And now you have a little boy smart as you.” Cruz smiles. “Lucky he got his looks from his mother, huh Tom?”
Wait. One. Second. This man has a child?
“Yeah, and I’m working construction in this piss-poor Democrat’s economy and no one’s building shit! My wife’s a cow and my kid hates me.”
“Pam is not a cow. And showing up late is why you aren’t working more. And your kid—he just wants you to be a father.”
We’ve entered a neighborhood I’ve never seen before. Square cinderblock houses in pale colors squat close together. For-Rent signs are sprouting in front like weeds.
Cruz pulls up to a blue house with black shutters and a cement slab for a porch. A slim woman in shorts and flip flops steps through a whining screen door. She’s holding a little boy clutching a floppy stuffed dog.
“Hi Manny,” calls the woman, as Cruz steps out of the car.
“’Morning, Pam,” he says, opening the door for Tom because there are no handles inside the back.
“Thanks for getting him home.” She motions to some aluminum lawn chairs then spots me, rigid in my seat.
“Who you got riding shotgun, Manny?”
“That’s Danielle, the new intern. We’re showing her the Spaniards Cove that the tourists don’t see.”
“Yeah,” mutters Tom. “She’s a real debutante.” Pam nods and turns away.
“Come on, Danny,” says Cruise, bending to see me through his window.
I take in his friendly face and the welcome sound of my nickname, and I don’t really think anything bad will happen to me here. But here seems surreal. Maybe it’s the blinding sun but I’m not feeling altogether right. I wish I could just be a kid again at home, sitting on our shady porch, swinging my legs from one of the wicker chairs with the striped cushions.
“You know what?” says Cruz, watching me shrink against the midnight blue vinyl. “This’ll only take a minute. Keep cool in there and I’ll be right back.” He thumps the door in a friendly way and joins the unhappy couple. He has a few exchanges with Pam while Tom twirls a John Deere cap in his lap.
The little boy is curled into his mother’s chest. It’s much sadder than I’ve seen it on television. I remind myself I’m not a part of it, which doesn’t really help, and I wonder when we can leave.
When they all nod and stand up, Pam hoists the boy onto her hip and comes toward the car. Oh god. Why is she coming over here? She leans toward my window, indicating I should roll it down. I have my hands folded on my lap and I can barely look at her, but I do it.
“Danielle?” Pam says. “Is that your name?”
“Yes,” I say.
“How old are you?”
“Sixteen.”
“Sixteen,” she repeats slowly.
She crouches and the kid starts to bang his head rhythmically against her shoulder.
I turn and really look at her. She’s got light blue eyes and pretty jade earrings against shiny dark hair. I want to say something to make her happy.
“Um, your husband says he got a 2300 on his SAT’s. The practice tests are kicking my butt. He must be pretty smart.”
Pam’s gaze drifts through the windshield to the men standing on the porch.
“Yeah, that’s close to the truth.” She smiles, twitching her mouth and one eyebrow.
“Not quite 2300, huh?” I smile too, feeling good that we are two girls sharing a joke. Tom must have stretched the truth to pump himself up.
“Oh, it was a 2300 all right,” she says looking sad. “Only I’m the one who scored it. I’m the genius in the family.” She gestures to the yard of scrubby brown grass, and to the boy with his uneven bangs. “Makes all the difference, right?”
I open my mouth in surprise and at the same instant notice a faded tattoo, or bruise, on Pam’s upper arm.
“I envy you, you know,” says Pam with a hitch in her voice.
Reluctantly I raise my eyes. She’s nodding and staring back into her own past.
“You still have all your choices,” she says softly.
I don’t say anything or even move when she rises and jogs into the house. The kid’s legs bounce side to side as he frowns at me over Pam’s shoulder—angry that I’ve made his mother cry.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Make sure your characters are multidimensional. Do they have strengths and weaknesses? Mere mortals make the most interesting stories because they are like you and me and we are able to empathize with their journey. That’s how the connection with a character is formed.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
Your writing demonstrated your talents for efficiency and technical skill! You were able to make the reader empathize with the main character's naivety and curiosity. However, at times, your characters lacked depth and vivacity; as a writer, try stepping intro your character's skin as if you have lived their history and and felt their life as your own. You displayed the subtle mysteries of Tom's life in an appropriate, piecemeal manner, but at times your storytelling lacked passion.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your strong opening was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
I greatly enjoyed the twist at the end, very nice.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
You took me right into the car with Danielle. you paint a realistic picture of a nicely-brought up idealistic girl perhaps taking on a bit more than she'd imagined she was going to. I got the feeling that she would profit from what she saw.