Wednesday, March 13, 2019

In Search of Katie Culhane: A "You Write It" Mystery Challenge

A Writing Exercise with the amazingly fun Ruth Logan Herne... :)

Today we're doing something different. We're doing a writing exercise.
I love these things. I absolutely love them.
I did well with these as a kid because my brain was full of the strangest things.... And I love working with people and writing exercises as an adult because we bring a whole lot more to the table:

1. Experience
2. Wisdom
3. Knowledge
4. Maturity
5. Leverage
6. Understanding
7. Faith
8. Lack of faith

Kids generally bring fantasy to the table. That's how their minds go. But as an adult, when presented with a mystery set up, what would you do? How would you handle it? How would you write it?

Here's the format we're using today: I'm going to give you a quick set-up... you then are going to write a paragraph either opening the story... or as part of the story anywhere in the book... or you're going to briefly say how you think the story should go, so basically adding to the plot line.

Here's the set-up:

Mike climbed into the car, frustrated, but it was his own fault. Again.
He was late. He was always late these days, driven to be the best cop, the best investigator, the best man on the job. And now he was holding Kate up and he was 100% certain she was not going to be happy about it for good reason. A man who treasures a woman wouldn't take her time for granted. He wouldn't assume she'd wait-- except Kate always waited. Was that why he was an insensitive jerk? Because she never held his feet to the fire?

He pulled into the small parking area of the coffee shop, the one she loved because the barista topped her macchiato with milk foam hearts. As if that was a thing.

He got out of the car, crossed the lot and swung open the door. Instantly his eyes went to Kate's table.

Their table. When he finally showed up.

The table was empty.

All the tables were empty.

There was no barista. No weird music. No noise at all. Not even the hum of the espresso machine broke the silence.

The place was empty. Absolutely empty, with not a hint of movement except a thin trail of steam rising from a coffee cup on the counter. A to-go cup.

"Kate?" He stepped inside hesitantly, like he was entering a crime scene. Or one of those b-grade horror films.  More likely. "Kate, where are you?"

No sound answered. No creaking door from the gender-neutral bathroom down the hall. No one emerged from the on-site cooler behind the coffee counter.


Except that steamy cup of coffee on the counter. A grande Americano, no sugar, a splash of cream, with a customer's name on the side.


His drink.

His name.

Sitting waiting, like Kate must have done.

Was she teaching him a lesson?

He pulled out his phone and texted quickly. "Kate, I'm here. At the cafe. Where are you?"



No reply. No noise. Not a sound or breath of air except from that silently sitting cup of coffee, labeled just for him.

He stared at the phone.

No answer.

No sound.

No one there during working hours.

He swallowed hard and hit 911 even as a cold snake of fear put every part of him on high alert.

"911 Center. State your emergency."

He was a moron. What could he say? Was he about to report an empty building? The guys would have a field day with that one, wouldn't they?

And yet...

He knew it. The minute he walked in the place, the different air overtook him and he knew it. Kate wasn't there. And she should have been. Which meant--

She was gone. And despite the fact that he was the biggest jerk on the planet, Kate wouldn't have just gotten up and left. Not because he deserved her faithfulness.

But because she was Kate.

He studied the walls around him as the operator made the request a second time. "911 Center. State your emergency."

The walls seemed to close in. Shortening the distance between him and whatever. He held the phone tight, dared the walls to come closer and kept his voice tight. "I'd like to report a missing person. And an empty building."

He didn't care that dispatch would call him crazy.

Maybe he was.

But Kate should be here. Right here. Right now. And the fact that she wasn't...

And his coffee was...

Meant something horrible had happened.

But what in the name of all that's good and holy could it be?


Have some fun, come up with plot ideas or thoughts or write a quick paragraph and if you want to tag onto someone else's paragraph, then go for it!

Sometimes the best way to kick writer's block to the curb is to write.

Come on in, my friends.

We've got this!

Multi-published, award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne is living her dream of writing sweet books and unforgettable characters that wind themselves around readers' hearts and make them long for one more chapter... one more book... With her 50th novel or novella about to release, Ruthy is having the time of her life and loves to chat with writers and readers and pretty much anyone who'll talk to her. Find her at her website, on facebook where she loves to talk about all kinds of things, and follow her on Twitter.... or just email her at And as for today...

Come on.

Be brave.

I know you can do this!


  1. "Coward!"
    It was the voice from the dead.
    "You know exactly what an empty business means during open hours."
    It's can't. Not again.
    "Your sister. Dead. In the freeze of the Chicken Palace. Five other employees dead. And you a cop. Man up! Take your gun out and search the back room, the bathroom, and the outside storage. You've seen all this before."
    No, no, no! It's can't be.
    "Do it!"
    Mike took out his Glock 19 and made his way behind the counter and into the storage area. Each step became a painful step back in time.

    There was a freeze. Mike fell to his knees. His legs would hold him no longer.

    This could not have happened again.

    He pulled the handle down while sitting on the floor. Tears obscured his view. He pushed the door open with the barrel of the gun. Cold air slapped him in the face stinging with the odor of copper.

    What he saw before his blurred eyes confirmed his worst fears.

    The nightmare had begun.

  2. Well, I'm not a writer so I won't be adding anything to the story, but I LOVE this opening!!!!!

    Now you need to actually write this book, Ruthy. Like right now. :)

    1. The world of suspense awaits! :) We could do suspense.... Or mysteries....

  3. Aaaaah, Vince!! Okay, here's my addition:

    Adrenalin kicked in, clearing his head and vision. He rushed inside to check for survivors.

    With his senses on high alert, he searched.

    No survivors. But no Kate either.

    She was missing.

    1. No survivors... YOU PEOPLE ARE BRUTAL. BRUTAL, I SAY!!!! :)

  4. Ruth, loved this exercise!

    If only he’d been there on time. But then, he might be missing also. He was their only hope. Mike glanced around, taking in the John Wayne and Jackie Chan movie poster pictures hanging on the paneled walls, the aluminum napkin holders, the black and white tile floor. Where was everyone? He wouldn’t let Kate down again. He’d drink that cup with his name on it and save the day, just like he knew that was what Kate was thinking. Wherever she was.

    No. He’d better not drink that grande Americano, no sugar, a splash of cream, even if it did have his name on it. Might just be waiting to knock him out. He needed all his senses to solve what was going on here. Dispatch wouldn’t get anyone here in time.

    Kate was gone. He had to find her. The walls continued closing in until he couldn’t breathe, there was only a pinstripe of light. What was going on? His hearing blurred, his nose burned. What? Out back! He turned to rush through the swinging doors into the kitchen, to the back door. Scorched food seared his senses. He barreled through the door and into…

    1. CLIFFHANGER!!!!! YES'M! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout, woman! :)

    2. LOL! I didn't realize this needed to be COZY mystery! Vince and I are too hardcore, I guess. ;)

    3. Nope, it can be anything. Suspense.... mystery... just rated "G"....

  5. He barreled through the door and into the back alley. Dumpsters lined the west side, standing up like silent sentinels. He swung his gun, two-fisted, from side to side as he took in the entire alley. A flash of peacock blue on top of the snow caught his eye on the right. The eye sees what it thinks it should see, and he didn't think he should be seeing peacock blue high heels splayed out against the crystal snow. Or the slim ankles they contained that disappeared behind the second dumpster across from the coffee shop.

    He holstered his Glock and forced his feet to move in a straight line towards the dumpster. Kate's eyes stared unseeing at the hydro lines overhead. Who'd removed her winter coat? She must be so cold in just her silk blouse and suit skirt. She liked to dress up for work. Those shoes had cost her a weeks pay. He knew she would never get the blood out of her blouse. Why would Kate want to be out here when she knew he'd be meeting her inside?

    Mike turned at the sound of his friend's voice, his head buzzing.
    "Kate's here," he said. His friend stared at him.
    "You need to step back, Mike," the cop said.
    "Kate isn't going to like paying to dry clean her blouse. That blood's ruined her best blouse."
    "It's okay, buddy." The cop took Mike by the arm and turned him away from the sight of the woman frozen in the snow. "Let's get you over here to the cruiser, eh? Did you see anyone else?"
    "She's all alone out here..." Mike looked back over his shoulder. "She shouldn't be all alone."
    Two more cops ran towards them.
    "It's okay, she's going to be fine, Mike."
    "She's not going to like that dry cleaning bill."

    1. Please note: I posted the below "Cozy" continuation before Laurie posted the above. That is, it was not up there when I posted. I'll read Laurie's addition and think what to do next. Thank you.

    2. Yours wasn't up either, Vince, I think we crossed in cyber space! No worries!


    4. LOL, well Missy said she didn't think it was supposed to be a COZY to where everyone else is, that's up to everyone else! :)

    5. okay you are ALL killing Kate. It's making me try to think how NOT to kill her.

      That cup with his name on it is eerie. That has to mean something.

  6. He barreled through the door and into…

    …blazing sunlight! The ground was soft and uneven. He heard a woman scream just before he lost his balance and hit the water.

    Water, water, everywhere! He was fighting for his life in a watery world.

    The young woman leaped from her beach chair and jumped into the poor. It was happening again. Mike was having another nightmare. At least six feet of water should help wake him up.

    She dived down and grabbed Mike around his chest pulling him towards the surface. They broke the surface sending water up splashing both sides of the pool.

    Mike opened his eyes and saw Kate just inches away. The nightmare was over.

    "Kiss me Kate," was all he said.

    1. Oh, Kiss Me, Kate! I love it....

      Hey, we don't have a lot of people playing with this today. What is the matter with them??? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING???? WHY AREN'T THEY JUMPING IN THE POND OR THE SNOW???? :)

  7. Certainly not a writer but my first instinct was that the second coming had occurred and Kate had been taken. Mike, because of his insentivity, had been left behind!

    1. Where are LaHaye and Jenkins when we need them???????? :)

      Actually Connie, that's another great twist.

      And what if an evil warlord type person set up a mass disappearance to LOOK like the final days, the second coming.... and it was really another evil plot unleashed by a power hungry man....

  8. "You're late," Kate said softly as she heard Mike approach from behind. She stared at the intricately carved crucifix prominently displayed on the wall behind the alter. "Again," she mumbled to herself. The gun rested her in her lap, and her trembling fingers brushed over the cold steel.

    Mike quietly slid into the pew next to her.

    "I didn't do anything wrong," she pleaded her case. Knowing that he was a cop through and through, Kate was sure he was suspicious. With the murder weapon so obviously in her possession, how could he not be. Did he come to arrest her?

    "Kate..." he reached out to touch her arm, but he stopped himself.

    There it was, his skepticism, his lack of trust, of faith.

    The quiet of the church gave her some sense of peace. God placed her in the coffee shop at that moment for a reason. She trusted his plan for her. But this?

    "I have to bring you in," Mike noted, almost regretfully. "I don't have a choice."

    Kate nodded in disappointment. He did have a choice. He could choose her.

    Kate stood slowly. The gun dangling from her right hand. Lifting it carefully, she took aim. "Or you can come with me."

    1. Hi JenBCo:

      I really enjoyed your surprise ending. It flipped the whole story on its head. It made me think of this:

      "Kate, you know, I'd follow you to the ends of the earth. Unfortunately, with that little red dot on your forehead you probably won't get much past the front door threshold."

    2. Oh you guys! I LOVE THIS!!! Wonderful ending!!!

    3. Oh, that was a full 180.... Well done, Jen! Well done!!!

    4. This is a fun twist. Katy the psycho killer!!!!!!!!!
      And VINCE, the red dot, lol. Oh, yeah.

    5. The fun thing about cliffhangers...most everyone interpreted that Katie was the bad my head...she is on the run from someone trying to kill her. She was able to wrestle the gun and get away from the man who did murder the barista (and trying to murder her), but there is no trace of that person and she needs Mike to go with her -- to protect her, to find the real bad guy, and clear her name (she has the gun and thus is accused of the murder).


    Don't be a "Sunshine Seeker"…

    you can jump in and continue the story with just one or two sentences.

  10. "I warned you."
    It was impossible to know where the voice was coming from in the cavernous old church. It echoed around them, everywhere, yet nowhere, really.
    "I told you she was crazy. I told everyone. But she was beautiful. Winsome. And a dancer in the ballet, which must equate to mental sanity because not one person listened to me. And yet..." the voice hesitated. "I knew. I always knew. And right now I'm the only one who can save you, Mike. I'm sure the irony of that isn't lost on you."

    Kate's older sister. Older and plainer, a simple woman who never seemed to care about looks or style. If they were looking to cast another actress for The Big Bang Theory, Magda would fit.


    "So you notice me now."

    Mike's fingers thrummed. His heart rate rose. Was he supposed to notice Maggie before? While dating her sister and being totally hung up on himself? His job?

    What form of lunacy was this?

    "Maggie, she's got a gun. Don't come closer. Don't reveal yourself."

    "She doesn't scare me. Never has. Never will. Because she's never seen me as competition. But when she does face a competitor, well. God help them. That's all I can say. You remember that accident at the New York Ballet?"

    The Russian dancer who fell to her death...

    "And that girl you dated in high school who went missing last year?"

    Now his heart didn't just thump. It went cold and dead inside him. She couldn't mean--

    "She saw her picture in your apartment, in some pile of things and saw her as a threat."

    Adriana? No. She couldn't have...

    "I found her phone notes a few months ago. If you check the cooling tower on top of the high school, you'll have all the evidence you need. If you live long enough to get there, that is. Doesn't matter, though. I'm having all of this recorded and sent to Daddy. Just so he knows how very special his precious little Katie-girl is. This once, the truth actually will set us free."

    1. "Mommy, Mommy," a terrified voice echoed thru the Church as a five year old boy came running down the aisle towards Maggie's hiding place.

      Mike turned and looked at the boy and saw himself as as frightened five year old. He also saw Maggie in the shadows near the confessional.

      "Mommy, that bad man, who's after us, is coming. I just saw him behind the school. We've got to run."

      That boy could be me. Maggie never told me she had a son."

      Katie came to life almost as if she were a vampire exiting her coffin as the sun set…only with gun in hand. The pistol was 'The Judge', it was loaded with either 45 caliber shells or 410 shotgun loads. It's illegal in California. Katie meant to kill.

      "Don't you dare play the son card," Kate yelled at Maggie. "I could just as well kill the both of you."

      Kate smiled pointing the monster pistol at Mike's midsection. "While you were out sowing your wild oats, Mikie-boy, you also sold a few to a clinic where sweet Maggie here worked."

      "I should have listened to the nuns."

    2. We should have all listened to the nuns! :) Oh my stars, so now we have a SECRET BABY?????

  11. Well I didn't I did sell my sperm.

    Kate thinks do I or don't I.

    And then Bam the guns goes off.

    1. Hi Kim:

      This sure is a powerful three sentences! You sure raised a lot of questions with a minimum words. Great addition!!!

    2. The guns went off, alright, but they weren't the right guns.

      Mike looked up and saw the top of the beautiful hand-carved confessional door blasted into a thousand splinters. They went flying through the air in slow motion flashing on and off as they passed through shafts of sunlight.

      That's not "The Judge" and my Glock's still in its holster. Mike turned to face Katie but she had disappeared somewhere. There were hiding places everywhere in this dark church. I thought the whole idea was to be seen attending church.

      "Police! Stop shooting!" Mike shouted as loud as he could.

      And the shooting did stop…at least for a second or two…and then Mike felt a bulled whiz by his head. Time seemed to stop and then he heard the shot. Faster than sound. That's an assault rifle!

      Mike could hear new shots coming from behind the confessional but could see no one. They were small caliber. Maggie was firing back. This wasn't even my gunfight. How could I get in the wrong gun fight?"

      "Maggie, take you fight outside. We were here first!" Mike yelled.

      "I thought you had snipers outside," Katie yelled at Mike from somewhere lost in the dark.

      "That was a bluff."

      "There's never a cop when you need one."

      "I'm a cop and I've been here from very the start."

      "Well, think of something!"

      "Who can think with all this noise?"

      The shooting stopped but the smell of gun smoke was stifling. NASA reported that this is what the moon smells like.

      Everything was quiet now. Everyone was hiding and holding their fire or just maybe they were out of ammo. No, the 'Judge' had not spoken yet.

      Someone or something tapped Mike on the shoulder as he was crouched behind a pew.

      "Daddy, its Mommy's stalker, out there." It was the boy!

      "Stalkers are admires. What kind of stalker is that?"

      "Not the love kind. The assassin kind."

      "Where did you learn the word 'assassin' and what makes you think I'm your Daddy? Besides aren't you supposed to be a secret child?"

      "A secret from you, not me. Mommy's been reading me your press clipping for years. Even your mother sends me grandson birthday cards."

      "I'm not your father and I'm not on speaking terms with my mother if she really is my mother."

      "We have the DNA to prove it."

      "So what are you doing over here?"

      "Mommy has a protective order against that guy and she wants you to enforce it."

      "That's not my job. Call the Sheriff's office, whatever your name is?"

      "Mike, Jr."

      "I'm not your daddy! And I've never made any donations to any of those clinics, either."

      "Well, you weren't exactly conscious."

      "Your mother is a very deceitful woman, do you know that?"

      "You should have to live with her. I mean she kills people."

      A loud voice bellowed from the bell tower. "Mike you send Maggie out here and I'll let you and Katie go."

      "And just who are you?"

      "I'm Sam, your brother."

      "Sam died in Afganastan."

      "No, Sam walked off and is just assumed dead."

      Finally the 'Judge' spoke and no one could think for the ringing in their ears.

  12. This is an awesome exercise! I'll pick up where you left off in this post...

    This was not the ideal scenario for a cop who was now off-duty. As he stood still staring at the smartphone in his hand, he glanced around him, wondering what he should do next. Should he look around the coffee shop more to see who was there? Or should he leave the shop, though it was unlocked and unattended, leaving it to a fellow cop who had the night shift? He decided on the latter, he dashed out into the chilly mid-October air, walking down Main Street.

    In all the years he and Kate had been together, something this bad had never happened. The worst that had happened in the times he'd been late meeting up with her for a late-night cup of joe was she went home. By the time he got home, she'd be sound asleep. He loved those moments, seeing her lying down on her right side, her breath calm, with a slight smile on her face. Over the years, he had come to know her as a prolific dreamer. The amateur writer she was, she wrote down her dreams.

    She told him her most recent dream this morning over Eggos. She said she had teased him with a late-night scavenger hunt, which started at the deserted coffee shop with a to-go cup with his name on it. Though she had had some strange dreams, Mike never thought she'd act out on them in real life.

    This wasn't funny. He made his way to the parking garage three blocks from the coffee shop. He pressed his thumb on the remote and found his Ford SUV. He got in the car, skidded out from the parking lot and out of the garage, thankful no one got hurt.

    He couldn't get home fast enough. He hoped and prayed Kate would be home. If she wasn't home, where else would she be on this late night? This game wasn't welcome after a hard day of work at a job he was slowly losing interest in. Many possibilities raced through his mind as he drove a 70 on a 55 down interstate 40, back to their warm home in west Knoxville. Could she be at her parents' house? Perhaps her father had another bad night in his struggle with lung cancer. Or at her best friend's house? Abby was going through a tough time after her husband left her.

    On the way home, he didn't hear the text notification sound on his smartphone.

    He felt a mixture of anger and anxiety as he pulled into the garage. Her car wasn't there. In a way, he was thankful her family and friends were going through hard times and often needed Kate there. In that way, he didn't have to worry as much as he did. When he walked in the house, the lights were off. Their yellow lab, Jasper, was sound asleep on the big doggie bed in their living room. None of the lights were on; Kate had always made a point to keep one of the lamps in the living room on.

    "Kate, are you here? Where are you, sweetheart?"

    She's asleep, you idiot, he thought to himself as he tiptoed up the steps into their find their bed unwrinkled, unoccupied.

    Something wasn't adding up. He did a mental recap of tonight's incidents.

    He sunk down on the bed and sent one more text to Kate. Sitting with his elbows on his knees and resting his head in his hands, he took deep breaths and repeated to himself that everything was okay.

    After waiting ten minutes, no text came.

    Then he remembered Kate's colleague who had been sexually harassing. Was Hank his name? Dale? It was some name with one syllable. He knew he should have done a better job in telling her supervisor about it. However, every time she did, the boss blew her off.

    Had the harassment escalated into stalking...or kidnapping? Or worse yet, murder?

    Another sleepless night lay ahead of Mike...

    1. Oh, man.... I love your take on this, my Hard Rock friend! Isn't this fun? To let your mind develop and create?

      I'm so glad you did this! And so well, too!

    2. Hi All Things Hard Rock:

      That's an interesting continuation. Now, if I was Mike, I'd be out looking for Kate, especially if I couldn't sleep. I just wanted another line or two at the end.

      BTW: I'd like your opinion. One of my all time favorite songs is, "Rivers of Babylon," by the Jamaicans. What's your take on that song? Are you okay with reggae? I think it rocks.

  13. I've had so much fun reading these! Oh, the ideas are great!

    I don't have time to play today, but I'll be back to read more!

  14. I haven't read anyone's take yet. I'd expect him to find bodies in the back room.
    Or maybe... kidnapped by aliens?
    Okay, I'll go read.

  15. I'll go back to the beginning.
    He opened his mouth, ready to talk to the 911 operator when he heard a faint sound. So faint he wasn't sure what it was. But it came from the back and he rushed to follow it.
    It grew louder and led his straight to the walk-in freezer.
    The door latched with a screw driver jammed through the place where a padlock would go.
    He threw the screwdriver aside and jerked the door open with the clack of metal on metal.
    The door swung open and the freezer was full of people, shivering, Katie among them.
    She threw herself into his arms as the others rushed out. There were five people in a freezer only slightly larger than a coffin standing on end.
    "Mike, I knew you'd come. I knew it."
    It struck like a hammer. She knew he'd come.
    And she wasn't the only one.
    In one stomach twisting second, Mike knew that right now, a man sat on death row, who was innocent.
    The Cager--Mike's biggest case, the one that'd made his career--hadn't been arrested and convicted at all.
    He was loose and he was coming.

    1. Mary, that's a fun take on it, too.... He saved the people! Go Mike!!!! But now he has to keep him and Katy safe and alive! Mike, you've got your work cut out for you!!!!

    2. Mike told Kate the whole 'Cager' story and how they were at risk.

      "What are we going to do about this, Mike."

      "We're going to hunt the hunter and I swear that he is never going to hear the shot that kills him."

  16. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Not here, anyway. Where could he go? Where could he put Kate to keep her safe while he focused on The Cager?

    "Don't even try it, Cowboy." Kate was sizing him up as he detailed his suspicions to the commander. "You try to stow me away, I'll go rogue and hunt down this maniac myself. I might not be a cop, but I've got my own skill set. And it's nothing to underestimate."

    "A skill set?"

    Oh man, he'd done it now. The look she gave him scorched. "Have you ever kept twenty-two five-year-olds amused for three hours? On your own? No back-up?"


    "I'm out."

    She started for the door.

    She couldn't be serious...

    But he knew she was. And it was summer time, so she had time on her hands. And finances. But no way was he going to let her go rogue. "Kate, you need to be reasonable."

    Wrong words. She turned and nailed him with a look. "Reasonable? I've spent my life being reasonable, Michael. And waiting. Waiting while you got your head together. Waiting while you tried to clean the city streets. Spending my time as a "Party of One" while you went on your missions to save mankind and left me waiting. No more waiting. No more patience. No more anything. I'm going after this guy. I saw him. I know what he looks like. You don't. And then, when I'm done, I'm going to come back, find myself a new boyfriend, fall desperately in love, get married and have three kids. Three amazing and wonderful little kids before every egg my body carries gets labeled "Too Old For Hatching". So that's my plan, Mike. What's yours?"

    1. Hi Ruth: Wow! I think you got inspired in that last paragraph. I think there's a novella in your version of Katie! Talk about heroines: can you spell "High Noon"?

  17. Vince, I hadn't heard this song. I just now did. It's great, peppy, catchy. My name is Julia. Apparently, when I changed the name of my music review blog from All Things Hard Rock to Julia's Music Reviews, it didn't change in other places. But that's okay. Of course, I have my YouTube channel, Home Alone Writer.
    Ruth, have more of these exercises. This may have been what made me have a great day of writing yesterday in spite of still have problems with allergies.

  18. Hi Julia:

    I'm glad you had a good writing day. Sometimes doing something creative makes other things requiring creativity more serendipitous. Even when they are not directly related the link can be even stronger.

    I'm also glad you liked the song. I just love it when a bible quote can make such a joyous song. I like Chesney's reggae country songs, too. A little Zydeco can also go a long way if used as musical spice. This even makes me think of cooking. Enjoy.

    And yes, I'd like to see Ruth do these exercises more often.


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