Writer’s Digest #18: Krispy Kreme Arson

Below’s my submission to Writer’s Digest #18, the 750-word contest talking about a cop who investigates a string of Krispy Kreme arsons. Here’s the one I sent, the funny version. I must confess I had John Pinette in mind when I wrote this police officer.

NOTE: New Amsterdam is a fictitious city in Michigan.

Krispy Kreme becomes Krispy Kritter: A True American Tragedy

By Richard Zowie

“What about breakfast?” my wife asked me as I kissed her.

“I’ll stop at the Krispy Kreme on the way to work,” I replied.

I’m a homicide detective in the Detroit suburbs at the New Amsterdam (or “Newam”, for short) Police Department. Hey! Stop that snickering! I love Krispy Kremes. Deal with it! I’ve had to tolerate people smirking, “BAD COP! NO DONUT!” at the sight of me eating a Krispy Kreme. When I was a traffic cop, one drunk driver offered to pay his DUI fine by giving me Dunkin’ Donuts. I arrested him, because his offer of Dunkin’ Donuts and not Krispy Kremes was insulting.

As I drove, I noticed a lot of police scanner chatter about fires. Devil’s Night isn’t until October, so what’s goin’ on? I thought.

Then, I saw smoke in the horizon, about a mile away, right off the exit I take to get to my Krispy Kreme, where they know my name and what I eat (Chocolate Iced Kreme-Filled, by the way). As I drove closer, I could see lots of fire trucks near the doughnut shop. Smoke still drifted in thick clouds from the charred building as the firefighters looked like they’d contained it. Krispy Kreme had become a Krispy Kritter. I radioed it in to dispatch and they told me to wait there for other cops to arrive. Besides the fire trucks there were ambulances.

I flipped on my lights and headed toward my heartbreak. The sweet smoke made me think of burning, fruit-filled donuts. When I parked, I sat in the car, stunned, staring glassy-eyed at the burned building, wondering what I’d do now. How many Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled donuts, Original Glazed and Apple Fritters went to waste in this tragic fire?

The other cops arrived. “You’ve been assigned this case, Joe,” said Stan, a robbery detective and a good friend of mine.

“Case?” I asked. “The fire department is investigatin’ this. Why would they need our help?”

Stan’s gaze at me widened. “You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Well, for one thing, this Newam Krispy Kreme fire looks to be an arson. Someone even died in this fire. And there have been other Krispy Kreme fires today in other cities.”

“Where?”

Stan sighed, pausing. “They got the one in Allen Park—”

—not Allen Park! I thought. That was my backup Krispy Kreme shop!—

“—they also got the one in Troy, Grand Rapids, three in Ohio and then two in Indiana. The closest unscathed one is in Erie, Pennsylvania. We’re hearing they’ve all been ruled arsons. And since the one person died in this fire here, they’re assigning you, Mr. Homicide Detective, to investigate.”

At first, I said nothing. How could I? I was too stunned, too scared, too angry, too anguished. Finally, I erupted.

“ARE YOU TRYIN’ TO TELL ME I’M GONNA HAVE TO TRAVEL ALL THE WAY TO PENNSYLVANIA TO GET A KRISPY KREME DONUT?!”

Everyone within earshot (firefighters, store employees, cops, rubberneckers and reporters) jolted and glared my way. Stan looked at me, incredulous, almost angry, as if I’d just slapped him. I could completely understand all of them. What kind of a monster burns down a doughnut shop? A health-food Nazi? Jillian Michaels, that fitness fanatic chick from The Biggest Loser?

I walked around, notebook out, and found Chief Eichmann. His face was shiny with sweat, and I could see his scalp glittering from perspiration through his close-cropped blond haircut. He looked exhausted. I showed him my badge, identified myself and asked him what happened.

The chief told me what he knew so far:

Witnesses saw a young man, wearing a Detroit Tigers cap, running from the scene.

The way the fire was set indicated the suspect may have served as a firefighter.

The fire began in the back room, where the machines that make the doughnuts are kept.

The deceased was an assistant manager who was trying to salvage the office computer and save the data on it.

What, he didn’t bother tryin’ to save the donuts? I thought.

I thanked the chief as I took notes and started making calls on my cell phone. The first one, to my wife to tell her to download some doughnut recipes. Then to my confidential informant to find out the word on the street. The sooner I figured out what scum burned down this store, the sooner they’d rebuild and the sooner I’d get my doughnuts again.

Copyright © 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or republished without permission.

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I submitted my 750-word short story to Writer’s Digest’s Contest #18

The prompt: a police detective is assigned to a case involving arson at several Krispy Kreme doughnut shops.

When I first read this, my reaction was, “You’re joking, right?”

Be that as it may, I went through this process for the contest: a comical version that went nowhere, a serious one that seemed to focus too much on the detective’s past work as a firefighter and then a comedy that I grew to like. I chose to polish and then send in the comedy, and perhaps it’s only fitting. How many people snickered when they read the prompt?

As usual, here’s what I’ll do: below I’ll post the serious one I chose not to send in. The comical one I’ll post in about a month, if and when it doesn’t make the cut down to five. Right now, I see this contest as more of a fiction writing exercise than a contest. You know: write and let the words flow. If you’re writing for the sole purpose of seeing your name in print, don’t bother.

So, here’s the contest outtake: the serious version.

Not another fire!

By Richard Zowie

A lapsed Baptist, I don’t pray as often as I should. But right now I’m on my hands and knees praying, Dear God, please, not again.

It’s probably useless. God ignores prayers of convenience. Especially from a Baptist who hasn’t been in church in 10 years because he spends all his time either tracking down murderers or trying to keep a marriage together. My wife tells me I work too much and ignore her when I’m home. There are times I wonder if I’ll have to face the indignity of being served divorce papers right here in the precinct.

So, here I am: a 36-year-old cop who’s been assigned to help investigate a string of arsons at Krispy Kreme doughnut shops. Because I’m an ex-firefighter and a current homicide detective and because two of the fires have resulted in deaths of three people, the fire department wants me assigned to the case.

At my desk I examined witness statements, fire reports and lists of Krispy Kreme employees over the past year who’ve been fired or who left on hostile terms. A call to my confidential informant (a car thief) reveals nothing. He thinks it’s hilarious that a cop is investigating this kind of case, but he finally quit snickering when I threatened to tell Narcotics about the freelance heroin pushing he’s done. Of the 12 employees who were fired or who quit, all of them have air-tight alibis. They all tell me the same thing: the doughnut shops were run by a bunch of incompetent idiots who weren’t worth going to jail over.

I’ve worked on this case for a few weeks and have very little to go on. Between this and the other homicides I’m working, it makes for long days that begin around 6 a.m. and often don’t end until 10 p.m. I hope wife number three understands.

The phone rang.

“Detective Johnson, homicide,” I said, picking it up on the first ring.

“How’s the Doughnut case going?” I recognized the anxious voice as Chief Eichmann. He has a high, scratchy unmistakable voice and never identifies himself on the phone.

“Very slow, sir,” I replied, hoping he wouldn’t probe with questions that couldn’t be answered.

“The mayor wants to know the latest. We need to have a press conference.”

“Sir, there’s not really enough information for a press conference. Could we release a statement to the press?”

“Not enough information?” he asked. I told him what I had.

“Ok,” he said, sounding resigned. I imagined the mayor as one of those types who wants results but doesn’t grasp how incredibly slow and complicated police work can be. No, I’m not Vincent Hanna from Heat where a late-night visit with a rat who says the word “Slick” magically turns into the piece of the puzzle that brings down a crew of professional thieves.

The chief asked me to write as detailed a press release as possible and to send it to him so he can look over it.

So, I sat at my computer and wrote down what we knew. It made two paragraphs. I read over it twice, ran the spell-check, read over it again and printed it out. Knowing he hates documents like this to be e-mailed to him, I took it to his office and wordlessly give it to him.

I looked at my watch and saw it was 2:30 p.m., well past my lunchtime. The case is going slowly, and as an ex-firefighter who became a cop, I hope it breaks. Quickly. Too many bad memories.

When I worked as a firefighter, we responded to many fires, some of which involved people who’d been trapped inside an angry inferno of a house. Some fires were gas leaks, others due to faulty wiring and others started from sheer stupidity on the inhabitant’s part (such as cooking on the stove and leaving a boiling pot unattended). Each dangerous jaunt into a fiery house always made me wonder, would I ever see my wife and son again? If I did, would it be me or a charred visage in a hospital burn unit recovering from third and fourth-degree burns?

In all the fires I covered there were two things I’ve never shaken from my memory: the agonizing, hopeless screams of a person burning to death and the putrid stench of burning flesh. Both are as close to hell as I ever want to get. Even today, I still have nightmares. My olfactory nerves never work in my dreams, but my hearing is in high-volume surround sound. The screams remind of the 1982 horror film Frightmare at the end where a punk trapped inside a wooden coffin is slid into a crematorium. You hear him screaming helplessly in endless agony and know the only relief he’ll have is death or when his nerves are too damaged to sense pain—whichever comes first.

And that’s assuming he won’t still have to spend an eternity in hell.

The nightmares aren’t as bad today, but while firefighting they were horrible. Charred corpses screaming at me to save them. Wearing my firefighter’s uniform, paralyzed, and watching helplessly as a beautiful woman is set ablaze. She screams and screeches and writhes while her skin and flesh slowly melt and char away, reducing the show-stopping features to ones that would make everyone scream as they ran toward the exits. Her eyes melt and boil away while her hair blazes and burns away. I dreaded every call, wondering if the next fire would yet be another inferno to add to my nightmare. Finally, the day came when I approached my chief, handed in my badge and turned in my uniform.

So, I became a cop.

Here I am as a cop, almost laughing at the irony of it all: an ex-firefighter with a bad case of pyrophobia now has to investigate the adventures of a pyromaniac. I imagined the stupid questions reporters might ask at the press conference:

“With all these doughnut shops burning down, where will the police now go to get breakfast or a snack?”

“Has the police department enlisted help from Homeland Security? The FBI? The CIA? The Mossad?”

“Which do you miss the most, Original Glazed, Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled or Apple Fritter?”

“Is that ‘Time to make the donuts’ guy from the Dunkin’ Donuts commercials a suspect?”

I shuddered, glancing at my mountain of paperwork as I left for lunch, an hour’s reprieve. When I return, it’ll be time to rip open old scars and let them bleed again.

Copyright © 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or republished without permission.

Writer’s Digest’s latest writing prompt…

…involves a police officer investigating an arson of Krispy Kreme* donut shops. Someone, somewhere, is obviously being a smarty-pants.

Initially, when I looked at this I thought it had the obvious makings of a comedy. I mean, think of the stereotype. There’s also that bumper sticker that says Bad Cop! No Donut! I tried writing something comical and came out with something that didn’t work.

So, now, I’m trying something serious…a tormented cop who’s terrified of fire and is dreading this case because he imagines how farcical the press conference will be. We’ll see how it turns out. Currently, I’m looking to have firefighters read it to tell me how realistic the depiction of firefighting work is.

* I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but truth be told, Krispy Kremes have never been my favorite donut. I actually prefer bagels (wheat, tomato basil and cheddar herb are my favorites).