My Murder Novel and Bloody Mary's Gas Station


I am desperately trying to be a participant in NaNoWriMo, the novel-in-a-month writing project, but I’m failing miserably. Either because:

a) it’s really, really hard to write a whole novel in a month that also has meals and laundry in it,

b) I’m about as much of a novelist as I am a professional figure skater (The last time I skated, it took me 15 minutes to figure out how the laces worked and 30 seconds to twist my ankle), or

c) I have adult ADD, which makes it impossible for me to concentrate on anything for longer than it takes to write a 140-character Tweet.

While I fail at novel writing, however, I am honing my skills of procrastination and excuse making. In an effort to convince myself and God that I can’t possibly write 1,600 words a day, I’m cleaning things that have never ever before been cleaned and probably going to have my Christmas cards addressed a month in advance and in calligraphy.

Part of the problem is that the story I’m writing for my novel project is one in which a woman kills her son-in-law. I made up a good plot and some mighty fine details, to the point where if I could just get it written, it might be fun to read for somebody. But my experience with murder is limited to Law & Order Seasons 1 through two years ago. My own life is pretty boring and routine and includes no murders or even any extra skeevy sons-in-law who might deserve to be croaked.

So to set a murderous mood for myself, I’ve been trying to think of things from my past that were juicy killings with lots of good characters and super-charged adjectives. This made me remember Bloody Mary Schaffer’s gas station.

Mary Schaffer - and I’m not sure how her last name is spelled . . . This is an oral history story, back when tales of yore were passed on by word of mouth around an open fire, in the mid 1960s - Mary Schaffer was a wizened lady who ran a gas station in my home town, right near the VFW and the Red Barn. She had one gas pump and a little store and she ran it all by herself, with the help of a boy who pumped the gas. I say wizened because she was wrinkly like smokers get wrinkly, but she had super leathery, tan skin, and physically she could kick some serious ass. She wore her hair short, gray and oily, and she slicked it straight back. Needless to say there was no makeup, earrings or accessories going on up in there. Knowing what I know now, I would have guessed that she was a bull dyke, but for the fact that her story included her husband, the love of her life, who was murdered in the gas station.

Apparently, he was working alone one night and a guy came in with a gun and held up the place, then shot Mary’s husband dead. Everyone told Mary to close up the gas station and go into some other line of work, but Mary was hell bent on getting revenge. Somehow, she figured the guy was going to come back, having successfully held up this one gas station once. I don’t really agree with her on that line of thinking, but it probably kept her going. Feeding and nurturing that anger and vengeance made her one of the longest running and most successful small business owners in Hubbard (although you wouldn’t find her at the BPW meetings).

So she kept the gas station opened and rarely if ever left her spot behind the counter. She told the teen-age boys who hung out there drinking pop from the pop machine (my brother and his friends among them) that she kept a loaded gun under the counter and when the robber came back, she was going to blow his brains out. And she got the nickname Bloody Mary. As in, “Stop at Bloody Mary’s and get $2 worth of regular on your way to the Red Barn.” 

The place never again got held up, unfortunately for Mary and that itchy trigger finger of hers, but fortunately for all other gas station robbers in the greater Youngstown area. Because I don’t think Mary cared which gas station robber came back to her place. She would just as nicely as you please shoot any gas station robber, even if he was not the same race or age as the one who killed her husband.

She chatted up the teen-age boys who hung out there, but to me she was extremely scary. She never smiled or said anything when I went in for a pop or some candy, or peered out at her from the back seat of my mom’s Mustang. I wanted to see the gun pretty badly, but at the same time, did not want to be in that gas station buying a pack of Juicy Fruit when the robber came back and the gun came out from behind the counter in all its legendary glory.

I would love to sit and gather up some good murder novel material from Bloody Mary, if she’s still alive. (Which I doubt; the wrinkly skin made it hard to determine how old she was back then, but even if she was a prematurely wizened-40 then, she’d be about 80 now. The smoking and the pent-up hate surely killed her long ago.)

It’s too late for me to change my novel too much (although who am I kidding? I’ve barely started it). I have the son-in-law character down to an easily hatable low-life that I can’t give up on now. So I might try to work in a Bloody Mary character in some side plot. There’s got to be a gas station in this fictional town.

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