Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Plot Possibilities by K.M. Rockwood

Frantic commotion, complete with emergency vehicles, sirens, and flashing lights, caught my attention last week. It was a multi-agency response very near to where I live.

As would happen to many people who write crime fiction, my imagination sprang into action. I began to envision various lethal scenarios, each one more unlikely than the last. But any of them possibilities for future stories.

The activity seemed to center around an underpass below an active Amtrak line, very near to a train station. Of course! Someone was pushed onto the tracks. Or out of a train. Or a person had decided to try to ride on the outside of the train, possibly to elude someone intent upon catching them, but found it too difficult to maintain a hand-hold on hot/oily/grimy surfaces.

Any of them possible, all of them leading to a potential story.

But upon closer inspection, I realized that the focus of the response was just beyond the underpass, in a factory parking lot. Several boxcars rested on a railroad siding next to the old brick building, but whatever the crisis was appeared to be within the factory itself.

A local ambulance station is just on the other side of the underpass. Had it been a “normal” medical emergency, they would have dispatched an ambulance and handled the situation on their own.

But they had called in heavy-duty re-enforcements, and other crews and equipment rushed in. Ambulances, fire engines, police cars. Was that a haz-mat response team? A helicopter set down in a large parking lot nearby.

No smoke; no discernible fumes. A small crowd gathered, but were of course held far back, and no one was offering any information on what was happening.

I did notice a local TV station’s van, with an announcer and a camera crew.

Best way to find out what was going on, I figured, was to go home and turn on the TV. I was right—they were broadcasting from the site.

The factory produces candy. When the wind is right, an enticing aroma of chocolate wafts over my patio.

Two employees of an outside firm contracted to do cleaning and maintenance fell into a partially emptied vat of chocolate. The vat itself, which was out of service at the time, is apparently used in the production of M&M’s.

The victims were up to their waists in viscous chocolate, unable to get out, or even move. The emergency crews could not extricate them from above without injuring them.

If the chocolate had been deeper, or if they’d landed head-first, would they have drowned in chocolate? Talk about “death by chocolate.”

Eventually, the emergency crews cut a hole in the lower portion of the vat and managed to get the workers out. They were taken to local hospitals, one by helicopter. I haven’t been able to find an update on their condition.

Of course my writer’s imagination sprang into overtime. How did they fall? Were they pushed? Surely there was a story to be told.

It got me to thinking about some of the places I’ve worked, and the potential for fictional murders on their sites.

The years I spent working in a large state prison were ripe with possibilities, but other, less obvious situations intrigued me.

Opportunities abounded in the steel fabrication plant where I worked the midnight-to-eight shift. How about an unconscious person placed on a conveyor through a drying oven? The trip through the oven would take over two hours. On the day when the company gave each employee a Christmas turkey, we’d been known to send one through to have it roasted in time for our 4 a.m. lunch break. That would definitely be fatal to anyone sent through it.

Or hung on the hooks of a plating line? The only place easily visible was the platform where products were loaded and unloaded. Everywhere else was accessible only by catwalks, and constantly shrouded in steam and vapor. If a person were hung by, say, overall straps, would there be anything left by the time a body went through the entire process, including tanks of acid and potassium cyanide? Would the steel-toed boots survive? Perhaps at the bottom of a tank?

On some of the more dangerous production equipment, could someone wrap a safety harness around someone else’s neck, then activate the control that hauls the harness up, supposedly out of harm’s way, but in this case strangling the victim?

Of course, there are lots more mundane possibilities. Maybe a body placed inside a shipment of something hollow, like large tree baskets, and shipped out on a truck? Might be moved to the back of a warehouse somewhere and not discovered for months. If the shipment had been shrink-wrapped tightly enough, there might not even be much odor.

How about an apparent accident? Caught in a large press, presumably trying to clear something from the plates. A fall from a catwalk into machinery. Someone could be shoved into the rollers on a forming line and end up with their hand trapped. That, as we were continually reminded by the plant safety instructors, would result in an arm being pulled off at the shoulder, and the victim would bleed to death before anything could be done to help.

The endless possibilities are dancing in my mind, even before I begin to think about the lethal possibilities of other places I’ve worked.

What fun! I will sit down and write up a few scenes. They may or may not evolve into entire stories, but I do feel a need to write some of them. Now.

Have you worked places that spark your imagination for devious means of murder?




Jim Jackson said...

Remind me to stay on your good side, KM.

I once tried including inducing a moose to charge and at least maim a character. That scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but it was fun to create.

Kait said...

I’m thinking about what I can do with the summer bow factory job I had in college! Of course, I did have a paralegal friend who was held at gunpoint by a disgruntled client. Stuff happens in law offices. Then there was the job where one of my duties was to ride in a hot air balloon. Lots of room to drop someone overboard 😊

As for the chocolate incident - I read about that and one of my chocolate loving friends came immediately to mind. I'm pretty sure she would have volunteered!

E. B. Davis said...

Do your plots ever play havoc while you sleep? More nightmare than plot? Your imagination is dangerous, KM!

KM Rockwood said...

Jim, the moose has definite possibilities. Including, perhaps, knocking someone over a cliff. Or into a stream in weather so cold they will freeze before they can get to someplace to dry off.

Kait, bow as in archery? That opens up a whole range of dangers. Aside from the tools and machinery, somebody has to test fire some of them. And the hot air balloon...can't they sometimes catch fire? Not to mention uncontrolled descent.

E.B. When I retire at night, I sometimes think I will try to depict a scene from my current project, but I seldom get past the "now, what was that I working on?" stage before I'm asleep. Probably just as well I seldom remember my dreams.

Molly MacRae said...

Workplace mayhem? Oh, you know it. A museum, a bookstore, a library - none of them are as quiet and innocent as the casual observer might think. Bwah ha ha ha.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Workplace mayhem! The body in the walk-in refrigerator, ice chest, or dishwasher (restaurant line cook). The body in the vacant house (real estate advertising). The body in the rat lab (university medical center). The body in the warehouse (interior design).

We had a scary-bad storm last night with straight line winds ripping trees apart. Some of the hundred years old trees might have something secreted in their trunks or root balls.

KM Rockwood said...

Molly, dangers (and plot lines) lurk in the most benign-seeming places.

Great ideas, Margaret. And who knows what a fallen tree may reveal when its roots are exposed? Something buried there years ago.