“He knew he was in trouble when he walked into the bar and his only choice for seating was either a stool beside a thick-necked biker with flaming skull tats or a spot next to a gum-smacking blond with an even more dangerous glint in her eyes.”

More than 20 writers from across Maine took that sentence, written by bestselling crime writer Lisa Gardner (“Never Tell,” “Right Behind You,” “The Survivors Club” and many more) and ran with it, as part of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance third annual CrimeFlash Contest. The contest asks writers to complete the story, in 500 words or fewer.

Janet Anderson-Murch, winner of the 2019 Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance 2019 CrimeFlash contest. Photo courtesy of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance

This year’s winning story is Never Forgotten” by Janet Anderson-Murch.

Anderson-Murch, who lives in the Waterville area, took up writing in her 50s, starting with an online class. More accurately, she took up writing again. As a high school and college student, she’d written stories. As a grown up, she’d given it up – until recently. Today, Anderson-Murch is a member of a writing group as well as a card-carrying member of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Several of her stories have been published. If she can squeeze in writing at least four days a week, no matter how busy her work and life, that’s a good week.

She credits her high school French teacher, Mrs. Roy, with her love of writing. Roy also taught a creative writing class at Hall-Dale High School in Farmington, and that class set Anderson-Murch’s compass. “She was so encouraging. You’d write something you didn’t think was that good, and she always made it sound like it was the best story ever.”

Anderson-Murch was pleased with “Never Forgotten.” She felt it was good. “I was hoping to hear from them,” she said. “But I didn’t know if it was good enough.” When she got the email announcing she’d won the CrimeFlash Contest, “I freaked! I’m a (family and child) therapist, and it was hard to concentrate for the rest of the day. Whatever you do, don’t put the day in,” she joked, “because everybody will be saying, ‘Which day was that? Was I in her office that day?’ Yeah … so I was a little excited. I still am.”

Given her day job, it’s probably not accidental that Anderson-Murch likes to write about characters and feelings, a propensity that’s evident in “Never Forgotten.” The story came to her fast, she said, with a surprise ending that she deliberately left open to interpretation. She wrote some 1,000 words, and “then you cut, cut, cut, cut.”

Taking up writing in her 50s, Anderson-Murch said, is a reminder to herself and others to “follow the things that are interesting to you … after,” she added, laughing, “you figure out how to support yourself and your family and your cats.”

Anderson-Murch’s winning story follows. She was also awarded a full scholarship to attend the 2019 Maine Crime Wave, a two-day Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance seminar for aspiring mystery writers. Second place went to Travis Kennedy of Scarborough for his story Class of ’96” and third place to Karmo L. Sanders of Scarborough (better known as “Marden’s Lady” Birdie Googins) for The Perfect Pansy.”

Never Forgotten

By Janet Anderson-Murch

He knew he was in trouble when he walked into the bar and his only choice for seating was either a stool beside a thick-necked biker with flaming skull tats or a spot next to a gum-smacking blond with an even more dangerous glint in her eyes.

Travis McCabe, private investigator, made the only choice he could. Keeping his eyes downcast, he edged his way over and sat beside her. The blond eyed him carefully. He didn’t notice.

Centering his weight on the stool, he waved at the bartender. “Rum and Coke, please.”

The woman saw this as an invitation to make conversation. She was mistaken.

“Haven’t seen you here before,” she said. “You takin’ a break from your honey?” She nodded toward his dulled gold band.

“No, just waiting for her to get here.” He sighed. How long would he be waiting this time? Marriage wasn’t what he thought it would be. Together 35 years, he never saw his future, sitting in a dive, waiting for her. His wife, Angela, sometimes disappeared for days at a time. Then he’d get a call to meet her. When he asked where she’d been, she would only stare at him blankly or breakdown and cry.

It started several years ago. Things not adding up. Travis overlooked what he could. After all, they were partners, in the truest sense of the word. Their memories were often happy ones. Raising their three children, now they were grandparents for the first time. They had a lot to be grateful for.

Their love life, intense in the beginning, cooled over time. Now, what love life? Travis could not remember the last time Angela was interested in him in that way. Never one to push himself on anyone, he waited. Hoping one day their love would find its way back.

Haphazardly, biker man plopped onto the metal stool on the other side of the woman. The blond, rebuffed by Travis’ indifference, turned her attention toward her new prospect. “Hello there, honey.”

Biker man smiled and placed a sweaty arm around her shoulders. “Looks like your glass is empty, sweetheart. Barkeep, another drink for the lady.”

“She’s had enough,” the bartender replied.

“Don’t think so,” chuckled biker man as he drew the woman toward him.

The bartender stared at Travis. Travis nodded quietly, stood up and walked behind the woman. “She’s had enough tonight.” Glowering into his opponent’s face, Travis knew the man was three sheets to the wind. Fighting someone inebriated was dangerous.

The biker heaved back his right arm readying to release the blow. He was too late. Travis hooked his ankle under the man’s stool and pulled, sending the attacker butt over tea kettle, crash landing on the wooden floor. Too stunned and intoxicated to get up, biker man stared up in disbelief.

The blond turned to Travis. Wide-eyed at first, her facial features softened. “Don’t I know you?”

Travis turned towards her. “Come on, Angela. Time to go home.”

filed under: