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Thread: Ordeal by Cheque: My Interpretation

  1. #1
    Random scribblings. moonbird's Avatar
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    Apr 2010

    Ordeal by Cheque: My Interpretation

    It was the year 1903 when the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Exeter were blessed with a baby boy, who they named the same as his father. Lawrence Jr. was spoiled by his parents, who bought him expensive toys and bikes. He was educated prestigiously from a respected private school to a pricey military academy. His parents even bought him a flashy red Cadillac, and paid heavily for it every time he wrecked it, which was often. Although being spoiled, Lawrence Jr. grew up with a constant longing for independence, and when his good grades got him accepted into Stanford University, he paid his own way through college, with his parents only paying for his books.

    The same year the young Lawrence went to college, his mother decided to take a year-long tour around the world. Lawrence Senior now had both is wife and his son out of the house, and, being an attractive, rich businessman, he found many ways to keep himself occupied. He became infatuated with one of his pretty young maids, Miss Daisy Windsor. Daisy was always known for her lovely golden hair and clever wits. People always thought it was sad that such a smart girl should have to work as a lowly maid, but her family was deep in poverty, and there was no way she’d be able to pay for even a single year of college.

    Lawrence Sr. realized his chance and decided to take it. Daisy had never paid much mind to the love notes and fancy gifts he often sent her, and whenever he tried to express his affection she shied away, stating that she respected herself and Mrs. Exeter too much to become a mistress. However, when Lawrence offered her a whopping $25,000 to pay for her college education (that’s about $300,000 in today’s money), she couldn’t refuse such an opportunity. So the young Daisy Windsor allowed Lawrence Exeter to whisk her away to France and spoil her with romantic boat rides, walks in the park, and pricey flower bouquets, in exchange for a college education upon their return a month later.

    However, Daisy’s trip to France did not go quite how she had planned. She sensed something was changing when Lawrence kept taking her to look at expensive European furniture, and buying her anything she glanced at. Then, two weeks into their stay, Lawrence purchased an expensive engagement ring completely with a huge, glittering diamond and proposed to her, promising to divorce his wife once she returned from her world tour. When Daisy, shocked and bewildered, tried to refuse, he threatened to pull the plug on her college money, and she reluctantly agreed. They honeymooned in Hawaii. From there they sent a postcard to Lawrence Jr. announcing their marriage. Lawrence Sr., fearing his son would be in disapproval of the marriage, also sent along his checkbook, along with a note explaining that the money could be spent however he wished.

    Lawrence Jr. was stunned by the sudden amount of money available to him. He tried it out first by buying some expensive chocolates for one of his lady friends. Gradually he became more and more generous with his father’s money, and in turn he gathered more and more lady friends. The lovely gowns and lingerie he bought them kept a continual flow of women coming to him, and he improved his image further by buying himself a pricey pistol to wear on his belt and a pair of thick leather boots. He was fairly content with his life until he met Tony Spagoni.

    Lawrence first encountered Tony while unwittingly flirting with Tony’s girlfriend. Tony furiously cornered Lawrence in an alley, pressed a gun to his head, and was about to order him to say his final words when he saw the four huge, glittering diamonds adorning the spurs of his boots. Tony lowered the gun and made Lawrence an offer: he would be allowed to live, if he handed over $126. Lawrence immediately agreed and wrote Tony off a check. They both went their separate ways... for a short while.

    It was only a week later when Tony returned. This time he showed up at Lawrence’s front door, armed with a shotgun and demanding another $126. Lawrence reluctantly gave him the money, since he had plenty to spare, and Tony left. Lawrence soon forgot all about his close encounter with death, and as the weeks turned to months, his mind wandered to more important matters, like wooing his latest lady friend. He had been showering her in flowers and chocolates for a few weeks now, and had decided to make the gorgeous, blonde Flossie Wentworth his wife. However, Flossie had other ideas. She wanted to remain free and unattached; she told him she’d shied away from commitment her entire life, and this method hadn’t failed her yet.

    His ego rapidly declining, Lawrence Jr. sent a desperate letter to his father, begging for advice. His father replied with the answer that seemed obvious to him: offer her money. Lawrence Jr. returned to his beautiful Flossie, armed with a check for a cool $50,000 (more than $600,000 today). Flossie, overcome with shock and glee, finally accepted the proposal, and her new husband treated her with not only the check but a huge diamond ring as well.

    But Lawrence soon grew bored with his new wife. She was no longer a challenge, and therefore no longer interesting. Less than a year after they were married he divorced and proposed to another girl, even more beautiful than Flossie, by the name of Marie Wharton. The first time she refused; the second, when he offered her $50,000, as he had with Flossie, she hesitated but still turned him down. Finally, Lawrence sweetened the deal further: $75,000 would be hers if she’d only agree to be his wife. Finally she became Mrs. Marie Wharton Exeter.

    It was around this time that Tony Spagoni came back into Lawrence’s life. They met at a coffee shop, where Tony, once again, threatened him with a gun and demanded money. Lawrence said he had none on him but that he would pay him as soon as he could. Tony let him go, swearing he wouldn’t be out of his sight until the money was paid. Lawrence once again wrote desperately to his father, begging for help. He replied with the names and addresses of four assassins who he said had “helped him out in the past.” Lawrence was horrified by the idea of hiring an assassin, but his complete terror finally forced him to visit them.

    He hired all four assassins to help him: two brothers called Walker, and a pair of cousins who claimed to be called Wall and Smith. He paid them their fees and received promises to take care of Tony Spagoni for him. Lawrence waited anxiously.

    Late one night, Lawrence was knocked unconscious, stuffed into the trunk of a car, and driven to a secret location. Lawrence moaned and rubbed his throbbing head during the bumpy ride. When the trump finally opened he winced at the sudden bright light streaming in, and he could make out the silhouettes of two men.

    The first man grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him out onto the ground. “Thought you’d try to cheat me, eh?” he snarled. “Sent some men to shoot me, did ya?” Lawrence recognized his voice as Tony Spagoni. He ached everywhere, and he let out a choked cry of pain and terror.

    The other man kicked him. “Shut up, if you know what’s good for ya.” The two men carried Lawrence into a clammy old basement, shut the door, and locked it, leaving him alone in the dark.

    The following morning they reappeared in the doorway. They’d gotten Lawrence’s checkbook from his room and demanded that he write them a check for $100, or die. Lawrence signed the check, and they shut the door. The next day the same thing was repeated, and it was then that Lawrence began to lose all hope. He swore to himself to retain his pride or die trying.

    So when the pair appeared in the door the next day, demanding another check, Lawrence replied simply, “No.”

    The simple word infuriated them. Lawrence was kicked and beaten for what felt like hours, until his clothes were soaked in blood and his head was reeling from dizziness. They were just about to start another wave of torture when he cried in a broken voice, “Please! No more! I’ll do anything!” Then a check was shoved in his face, which he signed with a shaking hand to Peter Ventizzi, the other man. They shut the door again.

    While Lawrence was trapped in the basement, his wife, Marie, had reported his disappearance to the police. She was ignored, so she sent a letter to his father. When Lawrence Sr. offered a huge reward to anyone who could find his son, the police force immediately sprang into action. Two weeks after he went missing, Lawrence Jr. was found blood-soaked, severely dehydrated, and half-starved in a basement. His kidnappers were nowhere to be found, and they left no clues for the police to follow.

    Lawrence was rushed to a hospital. His health continued to drop. Desperately, his father called the man who had delivered his son, Dr. David M. McCoy, one of the world’s most esteemed doctors. But sadly, not even Dr. McCoy could rescue Lawrence Jr. He died on July 15, 1931. His grieving father had him buried in Hollywood, the city where he grew up. And from that day on, there lived, once again, only one Lawrence Exeter.

    **For those of you that aren't familiar with the piece I based my story on, Ordeal by Cheque by Wuther Crue is a story written in checks (the link is posted below if you're interested.) The general story is inferred by the reader; it begins with a baby shop and ends with a mortuary. There are countless other interpretations out there, but this one is mine. Tell me what you think.**
    If we find the answer, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason-- for we would know the mind of God.

    -Stephen Hawking

  2. #2
    I wasn't familiar with the original but that shouldn't have made any difference anyway since you are asking for a response to your own piece of work.

    There are some good points - apart from a few awkward phrases you write well enough and keep the story moving along. And you manage to cram a lot into quite a short story - but that's where things start to fall apart.
    Using so many cheques as a basis for a short story is never going to work because there's far too much trivial detail that hinders the plot instead of keeping it moving.

    My advice would have been to concentrate on just one element of the story instead of trying to link every single transaction. It just becomes a pointless exercise in linking one cheque to the next by the shortest route possible - hardly rivetting reading. Why? because there is far too much happening in too short a space of time. There's enough material here for two or three short stories and you feed us so many petty details that have no bearing on the plot itself that the reader's head is left spinning. It's like watching a DVD at 3 or 4 times its normal speed.

    Your obsession with monetary details is also hugely distracting. What does it matter that $25,000 is $300,000 in today's money? You throw around vast sums of money throughout the story so that it all becomes meaningless. And the gangster's demands for just $126 - TWICE - hilarious. As if anything of the sort could ever happen in real life.

    This is where your story really falls down - you have managed to account for every expense but none of the story is remotely believeable because you rush from one cheque to the next. The characters are indistinguishable from each other (as are all the wives who pass by). L Sr's honeymoon in Hawaii comes almost immediately after the proposal (the divorce over and done with in the blink of an eye). And L Jr's difficult decision to splash out on an expensive box of chocolates (wow - the extravagence!!!!) followed by a pistol and some boots with diamonds on their spurs. What planet did these people actually live on? It obviously wasn't planet Earth.

    The plot then becomes even more absurd - hiring assassins, marrying Flossie then when he gets tired of her marrying Marie (why does he need to be married twice for God's sake??), and then being dumped in a basement before the doctor who was present at his birth (one of the world's most eminent, obviously) fails to save his life.

    You no doubt succeeded in accounting for every cheque - and perhaps that was the point of the puzzle. But this story is so far-fetched and bizarre it isn't even a very good example of bad writing.
    I suggest you try to write an original story using your own imagination for inspiration rather relying on something so artificial to drive your plot. On the basis of this your writing is fine - but your plot development stinks.

    Last edited by hillwalker; 11-30-2010 at 10:15 AM.

  3. #3
    Random scribblings. moonbird's Avatar
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    Apr 2010
    Hillwalker you always offer such good advice. I always hate it when people critique my work and just say "Wonderful! Don't change a thing!" You offer actual suggestions to my writing. I agree with much of what you said, and I feel I must offer an explanation of myself. I must apologize for the painstaking documentation of every single cheque; I hope you don't think I'm simple making up excuses, but that mistake I actually knew about when I posted it. I haven't the faintest idea of how old you are, but I'm assuming you're an adult, so think back to high school. Didn't you have at least one teacher who you couldn't stand? Introducing my English teacher. She's one of those old, by-the-book teachers. You know the type.

    Anyway, when I wrote a rough draft of my story, it was actually more similar to what you described: a piece that follows the basic theme of the cheques, but does not explain in detail every single one. I felt pretty confident with it. However, when my teacher handed it back it was covered in red pen. She basically said I was to only write what I could directly infer from the cheques. (Can you see why she's my least favorite teacher?) My rough draft was handwritten, so when I typed it I made some changes that would please my teacher. I got a good grade on it but was less satisfied with my piece. I probably should have explained this in the first place, and I apologize for that. Anyways, thanks for your advice!
    If we find the answer, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason-- for we would know the mind of God.

    -Stephen Hawking

  4. #4
    No need to apologise - ever! And I'm pleased you took my advice in the spirit it was given.

    As I surmised, you were restricted by the requirements to account for every cheque and gave it your best shot. At least you were astute enough to realise so many cheques would make it difficult to create a meaningful story and went with your instincts for your first attempt. It's a shame your teacher doesn't award marks for initiative and common sense. Surely you inferred that there was a story behind all those cheques that could be better told without accounting for every single transaction.

    Still, you also had the sense to follow her instructions to the letter and gained the marks. There's no shame in selling out - editors often have a similar way of demanding you write in their style rather than your own.

    Keep up with your writing and good luck with it,


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