I believe I mentioned last week that I was going to post the second Nita scene for critique practice to go with the critique post over on Writing/Romance. The post over there goes into more detail about how to critique, but here’s the quick-start version (answer any or all of the questions):
1. Who’s the protagonist and what’s her/his goal?
2. Who’s the antagonist and what’s his/her goal?
3. What’s the conflict and who wins?
4. What needs work (the part where you were bored, the parts you didn’t understand, the parts you didn’t believe, etc.)?
5. What must be kept (when I rewrite this, what parts must I refrain from cutting)?
6. What do you expect/hope will happen after this?
Since it’s important to wait at least twenty-four hours before responding to a critique, and because sometimes it takes people a couple of days to respond to a post, I’ll do a response post to your critiques next Wednesday, but I won’t put anything in the comments here. Feel free to ask questions, I’ll just answer them in the follow-up post.
And here’s scene two:
When Nick Borgia came out of the hellhole Vinnie Smith called his office, carrying the fiction that Vinnie called his ledgers, Vinnie was behind the bar at the back of the room, a glass in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, the picture of thuggish misery.
Nick went around to the front of the bar and dumped the ledgers. “Vinnie, your bookkeeping is worse than your housekeeping.” He looked around the ugly, empty bar. “And your decorating.”
Vinnie raised his bald head, ruddy in the reflection of the many neon flames he’d slathered over the matte black walls of Hell Bar. “Joey’s dead.”
“I know.” Nick pointed to himself, showcasing the bullet holes in his jacket and shirt. “I was there. Now about your suppliers. This Mr. Lemon–”
“Joey’s dead,” Vinnie said.
Nick frowned at him. “He’s fine. He’s just moved on to another world. Now about Mr. Lemon–”
“Don’t give me that religious crap,” Vinnie said. “He’s dead and it’s my fault.”
“Really,” Nick said, interested now. “How is that?”
Vinnie shook his head and poured another drink, so Nick reached over the bar, took a glass, and poured himself one, too.
He took one sip, winced, and put the glass down. “Your liquor is terrible.”
“I rented you the apartment upstairs,” Vinnie said. “Not this bar.” He focused on the ledgers. “Were you in my office? Get out.”
“Your books have many entries referring to a Mr. Lemon.”
“I said, Get out!”
Nick sat down at the bar. “If you really want me out, tell me about Mr. Lemon. If he’s the key to my problem, I can fix it and leave you forever.”
“And if I don’t?”
Nick shook his head. “Vinnie, somebody just put seventeen bullets through me to shoot Joey. Shouldn’t that tell you something?”
“Tells me that you’re bad news, you tricky bastard. Get out of here.”
“I’ve been on this island for two days looking for answers, and everything leads me back here. Tell me about Mr. Lemon.”
“No,” Vinnie said, and the ten-foot run of neon flames next to the street door fell and shattered on the sticky black floor. “Hey!”
“Tell me about Mr. Lemon, Vinnie.”
“No. You get out–”
Three more runs of flame fell and smashed, leaving that side wall empty of neon.
“So much better.” Nick sipped his drink again and winced. “So much worse.” He shoved the glass toward Vinnie, who picked it up and drained it. “Now about Mr. Lemon.”
“I can’t,” Vinnie said, and all the neon on the other side of the bar fell, too, leaving Vinnie with only the three-foot run of flames behind him.
He looked at it in a panic and said, “Don’t.”
“Then talk to me, Vinnie,” Nick said, his voice gentle.
“It’s gonna cost me to replace that,” Vinnie said and poured another drink.
“It’s so much better without it,” Nick said, looking around. “Still vile, of course, but so much better. Some new paint, refinish the floor, get some drinkable liquor, you’d have yourself . . .” His voice trailed off as a thought struck.
“Takes money,” Vinnie said. “You’re gonna pay for that neon.”
“You know, I might.” Nick looked back at him. “Aren’t you curious as to how I knocked it off the wall?’
Vinnie opened his mouth and then stopped. “Hey, how did you do that?”
So tonight Vinnie was not one of the world’s faster thinkers. He hadn’t been exactly sharp in the two days Nick had been in the apartment over the bar, but he hadn’t been this slow.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough,” Vinnie said morosely. “Not enough to make up for Joey. Not enough to tell you about Mr. Lemon, neither.”
Nick nodded. “Okay. As I have told you several times, I’m the Devil, so knocking neon off a wall is not a problem. I do have a problem, however, and I believe it involves your Mr. Lemon.”
“I’m not telling you anything about Lemon.”
“But if I was your partner, you’d have to tell me everything.”
Vinnie snorted. “You ain’t never gonna be my partner.”
One of the blackened, splintered tables by the front door caught fire.
“Hey!” Vinnie said, and then the next table went up, and the next until all thirty tables were aflame. And then they weren’t, they were just thirty pieces of fragile table-shaped ash.
Nick smiled at Vinnie, and the ash tables collapsed into ash piles.
“Vinnie,” he said. “This bar is an insult to a very fine, very old institution. I’m going to fix that.”
“People like it,” Vinnie said sullenly.
“You’ve had maybe half a dozen people in here in the past two nights.”
“It’s the off-season.”
All the chairs burst into flame and became ash-chairs.
Vinnie froze, his drink halfway to his mouth, and a moment later the chairs collapsed into piles of ash.
“You bastard,” Vinnie said, without heat, and took another drink.
“So here’s the deal, Vinnie,” Nick said, also without heat. “You’re taking me on as a partner. I’ll pay to get this place–” He looked around in contempt. “—fixed.” He looked at the bottle on the bar. “And I’ll order the liquor. And I will also straighten out your books, Belia help me. And in return you will tell me everything.”
Vinnie glowered at him. “I don’t think–”
The last of the neon flames behind him creaked on the wall.
“Okay,” Vinnie said.
Vinnie sagged against the bar a little. “Partners.”
“Who’s Mr. Lemon?” Nick asked.
The street door opened, and Vinnie looked past him and said, “Oh, fuck.”
“What?” Nick said.
“What?” Nick turned around and saw three people coming toward him, a dark-haired woman, a taller dark-haired man who looked like her, and a shorter, prettier blonde in glasses who didn’t look anything at all like her.
The woman in front wasn’t anything special to look at– medium height, medium weight, medium attractiveness, dark hair, dark jacket, dark jeans–until she got close enough for Nick to see her eyes. Darker than dark, her irises were almost the same black as her pupils. And when she reached him, he could feel the cold coming off her, not a lot, but it was there: she lowered the temperature around her.
“Hi, Spooky,” Vinnie said to her.
“Call me that again, I’ll shoot you,” she said, her voice flat and low, and then she turned to look at Nick, the full force of those cold black eyes meeting his.
“I’m Detective Dodd,” she said to him. “And you are?”
“Hello, Detective Dodd,” Nick said to her, holding out his hand. “I’m the Devil.”
“So I’ve heard,” she said and turned back to Vinnie.
She was cold and sharp, and there was something else, lurking beneath the surface.
You’re not entirely human, are you, Detective Dodd?
Mr. Lemon could wait. Nick sat down to watch.