Once Upon a Crime: “Axel’s Lament”

We teamed up with five crime writers to create a short story in real-time. The end result was “Axel’s Lament” which you can read in full below. A special thank you goes out to the participating authors (in order of appearance): C. J. Box, Ellison Cooper, Gregg Hurwitz, Michele Campbell, and Allison Brennan.

The full replay of the event is available below:

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“Axel’s Lament”

Axel Wombly stood in shadow behind a tree trunk and peered around it toward the home of his first target. Lights were on inside and he could see the glow from the television dance across the inside of the curtains. He held his semi-auto loosely in his right hand. In his pockets were his cell phone with the mapping app activated and a list of the other three targets—even though he’d committed their names and addresses to memory. Their names burned into his soul. Each name triggered a separate scenario of his humiliation, degradation, and shame. Each target had made him what he was today, or more accurately—what he wasn’t.

His former supervisor, the man who’d hired and fired him. The City Councilman who had dressed him down in public for his proposal. The woman who had led him on for years before she dumped him. And the smug prosecutor who had him arrested for stalking and assault.

Four people who had ruined his once-promising life. This night had been a long time coming, Axel thought. It was as if his mission had been pre-ordained. Four targets, all in one city and all at home at exactly the same time. It was as if the pandemic and the official shelter-in-place order had been designed just for him.

Axel crept toward the window across the shadows. He wiped the sweat from his hands, afraid to drop the gun before he could follow through with his plan. This was one damn thing he wouldn’t fail.

As he approached the window, his heart thrilled at the sight of Ken Waterman, his old supervisor. Ken, the kind of guy who wore white sweaters and chinos, living in his McMansion on the edge of town. 


Axel stood just outside the pool of light escaping from the window and watched Ken sitting on the sofa watching TV. For the first time, he realized he wasn’t sure exactly what to do next.

“Ken” a high voice came from the other room. Probably Ken’s beautiful wife.

The woman that came through the door was beautiful, but her face was pulled into a tight frown. She held a small infant. “Cindy has a fever again.” Worry clear in her voice.

This was not what Axel expected.

It wasn’t the fact that there were others in the house that caught him off guard. 

Nor the infant, feverish or not. 

But the woman, who he hadn’t laid eyes on for the duration of his five-year sentence, reduced to four-and-change for good behavior. 

Allissa DeGraw, who’d strung him along before severing their relationship at a Valentine’s Day dinner, leaving behind a half-drunk glass of champagne and the shattered remnants of Axel’s heart. 

That had begun his downward spiral. He’d been unable to let go of her and the future he’d imagined. 

To see her now in Ken’s house, not just caught in a moment of quiet intimacy, but married. A baby. 

He felt the shock of it in his spinal cord. And it fired his motivation. 

As Allissa retreated back down the hall with the baby, Axel headed around the side of the house to the rear door. 

The sound of the television continued, a newscaster’s patter announcing a recent string of break-ins during the pandemic. He peeked through a rear window. They had a helicopter in the air. 

He heard the TV as if in stereo and then a searchlight laid down across the backyard, illuminating him frozen on the lawn. He looked up into the whump whump whump of the rotors, glanced back to see himself on the television over Ken’s shoulder, and froze. 

He said, “Shit.” 

Allissa had seen the TV too. Her jaw dropped in horror as she pointed to the screen.

“Ken! Ken, look.”

Ken was faster than Axel had given him credit for.  He leapt into action, dragging his wife to the floor. They were both down, out of Axel’s line of sight.  

“Drop the gun!” a voice yelled from the sky.  

Not just light, loudspeakers. They’d call out the whole neighborhood against him. His instincts kicked in. Heart pounding, he ran, trying to get out from under the band of blinding white light. His heart pounded. Where to go? Why was this happening to him? Why did everything he touched always turn to shit? Now Allissa would be even more in love with the douche, Ken. And this would be his undoing.

It occurred to him that they might have a sharpshooter. He had to get inside. There was nowhere to go except for the house next door. It was small and unassuming, the one place in the neighborhood that hadn’t been torn down to build a McMansion. He smashed in the small window of the dingy side door and walked right into a kitchen, small and homey, where an old woman ate a lonely dinner alone. With just her cat for company.

She looked up at him in shock and disappointment.

“Axel?” she said, “what are you doing?”

Axel stared at the woman. Old. Grey. Who the hell was she? Those glasses … the big, red frames that turned her watery blue eyes into giant saucers.

“Mrs. Brown?” His voice cracked. His high school principal. He thought she was long dead. How many times had he been called into the office? How many times had he been sent to detention? For stupid shit that wasn’t his fault. Because of her. 

“What are you doing with that gun?”

He looked down; he’d almost forgot he was still holding it.

“I–I–” what did he do now? 

There was no escape. The lights from the helicopter flashed bright outside every window. The voice from the loudspeaker: “Axel Wombley, this is the police! Come out with your hands up!”

“Axel!” Mrs. Brown said in her principal voice. “Put the gun down right now!”

“I … I just want my life back.”

He didn’t want to go back to prison. He didn’t want to die. 

A flash to his right startled him. But it wasn’t the police. It wasn’t a sharpshooter. It was a fluffy white cat who leapt off the top of the refrigerator and jumped on his head.

He dropped the gun to protect his face and Mrs. Brown rose from her chair, grabbed her cane, and hit him repeatedly. The police swarmed in and he knew he’d failed again.

“I knew you would amount to nothing, Axel Wombly. You never took responsibility for your actions in high school, you haven’t changed.”

He was cuffed and walked outside. Alissa was there, holding the baby, watching him be led away.

His life was truly over.

* * *

For more information on the participating authors’ books, click here. And once again, thank you to the authors for joining us, and stay tuned because we’ll be hosting another Once Upon a Crime very soon. Until then, keep reading!

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