Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Building anticipation

Book Two of the Decimus Julius Virilis novel.  Set in First Century Rome.  Actually, to be more precise, set in 9 A.D. in Dalmatia as Rome fights the last of the Dalmatian Wars.  Decimus, soon to retire from the legions, is third in command of a hastily thrown together legion serious undermanned yet sent off to fight anyway.

And all hell breaks out.

Setting up the novel at the very beginning with action and anticipation . . . that's what I like to do.  From out of chaos comes a deep mystery and even MORE  chaos.  For me, it's the perfect definition for a great story.

So here's the set up for this newest clipping of the novel I'm sharing with you today.  Decimus, being the third in command of the legion, is the one man in charge of training the entire legion to function properly.  A freshly organized legion of half raw recruits and half hardened veterans.  Late at night, deep in enemy territory, Decimus decides to inspect the legion's outer perimeter.  And that's when all Hell breaks loose.

Tell me what you think . . .

II

7 AD
Dalmatia
The Fires of Hades


           

Whatever it was which made him pause and turn his head to look he would never be able to say.  But he did.  And it possible saved his life. He came to a halt on a slight rise of dirt, surrounded by his escorts, his mind intent on keeping his men ever alert.  The night was absolutely dark and oddly silent to the ear.  Not even a breath of cool mountain air stirred in the thick blackness.  In the darkness, just below the hill, the ground opened up into a wide space of a flat valley floor.  Meandering down the middle of the valley was a road which ran from Narona on the coastline deep into the Dalmatian interior.  On both sides of the valley were high, forest covered mountains.  Rugged forested mountains pockmarked with the burning pinpricks of hundreds of campfires of the enemy.
            Clearly visible.  A constellation of man-made fireflies easily visible in the cloying darkness of the moonless night.  Dalmatian rebels who, each one, had in their chests a burning hatred for anything Roman. 
            To his right the outer defenses of the legion’s camp, rows upon rows of wooden stakes driven into the soft dirt of the small hill. Beyond the stakes, a deep ditch with sloping sides encased the camp.  Work completed by every last member of the legion in a matter of a few hours.  Like all Roman camps, this one was an almost perfect square precisely mapped out and plotted by the legion’s attached engineers’ hours before the first of the legion’s cohorts came marching up the road.  All legionnaire camps were the same.  It didn’t matter if you soldiered in Mauritania in far off Africa, or slogged away in a unit a thousand leagues away in the cold and ice of distant Celtic Britain.  A Roman army camp was the same.  A legion would march for three-quarters of the daylight hours in a precisely ordered marching formation, a concisely ordered marching order all legions of the army adhered to since the days of the legendary Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal and ultimately destroyed Carthage almost four hundred years earlier. 
But, usually four hours before sunset, the legion would come out of its marching formation and build a fortified camp atop some piece of elevated terrain which gave the legion an unhindered 360 degree of visibility of its immediate environs.  It was the Roman way.  It was inviolate Roman tradition.  It was one of the many little pieces of the puzzle which made Roman Army invincible.
Each marching soldier not only carried his weapons with him, but a wooden stake, or a shovel, or a pick, as well.  Each man pitched in to build the camp.   It took about four hours to complete.  But by time it was done, every soldier in the camp knew exactly where his cohort resided and where his tent would be found.  And it was Decimus’ job to make sure the legion preformed to exact standards without exception.
But on this night he paused atop a small mound of freshly discarded dirt and turned to his left to look up the hill toward the legate’s tent.  The darkness in the direction toward the legate’s was not quite as dense thanks to the burning torches and campfires which littered the camp’s interior.  It was not a high hill the legion resided on.  Its slopes relatively gentle to traverse.  Decimus noticed the legate’s large tent on the summit of the hill, surrounded by soldiers from the general’s personal praetorian guards.  Rising above the general’s tent was the masthead which, atop it, displayed the legion’s cherished eagle, along with the many pennants of the legion itself and its eight cohorts underneath.  In the semi-darkness of the camp’s burning campfires he saw the main flap of the general’s tent open and a group of men exit the tent’s interior in mass.  In the twilight it looked like five army officers surrounding a large figure wearing a dark cape which covered his entire frame.  Light reflected off the polished armor of the Romans as they gathered around the dark figure for a moment or two before disappearing behind the legate’s large tent.
Decimus frowned.  From this distance, and with so little light illuminating the night it was hard to see the faces of the Roman officers.  But he was sure he had never seen any of the men before.  As to the heavy looking man in his black hooded cloak, his face never revealed itself.   But he moved like a soldier.  A hand lifted up to pull the hood of his cape around his face as he turned to walk away.  An act of deception, the Prefect thought to himself.  An act of intrigue.  But there was a confidence, almost an arrogance, in the way he straightened himself up and moved out of view surrounded by the five Roman officers.
An unexpected chill ran down the Prefect’s spine.  Half turning, his brown eyes fell onto the balding, white haired little man who was his servant, a sour faced old man who had served for years with him in one legion or another, and leaned closer to the older man to speak quietly into the man’s ear.
“Find out who those men were and when they arrived in camp.”
The small man with the balding head and darkly tanned face nodded in silence and turned to leave.  He moved through the small entourage of armor clad legionnaires who surrounded the Prefect, and then started up the incline of the hill toward the legate’s tent.
He took no more than ten steps before the explosion ripped through the night.  A roaring crescendo which shook the ground violently underneath his sandaled feet and lit up the night with the hellish light of a nightmare.  A blast of hot, foul smelling air threw Decimus, and everyone else standing at their posts, through the air as if he was nothing more than a child’s rag doll.  The roar of the explosion droned on and on even, as large chunks of soil and rock began raining out of the semi-lit skies.  Massive chunks of soil and rock hitting the ground with a thudding jolt, guaranteeing death and severe pain if some hapless legionnaire stood or laid splayed out on the ground underneath the raining fury.
The hot, multi-colored flames shooting up from the top of the hill roared and exploded like the hissing fury of a metal smith’s forge.  A forge only conceivable by the gods themselves.   Decimus, stunned and in pain, lifted himself up from the ground and staggered to one side as he faced the billowing inferno above him and stared at it in awe.  As he watched he sat the flames weakening, the roar of its fury lessening perceptibly, and then, with the blinking of an eye, suddenly ceasing altogether.  One moment Hades’s fires burned and screamed in its fury.  The next gone altogether, the night’s darkness suddenly enveloping one and all, the sudden silence slapping everyone across the cheek with a startling clarity almost as overwhelming as the explosion itself.
Reality flooded into Decimus’ mind as he turned and began bellowing out names with the hammer-like staccato force of only someone with twenty-four years of soldiering could possibly do.
“Menelaus! Romulus! Cassus! Brutus!  All centurions . . . to me! To me!  The rest of you bastards . . . off your asses, NOW!  Up! Up!  Get on your feet, or by the sweet graces of all that is holy, I’ll personally peel the hides off each and everyone one of you with a cat o’nine tales in the morning!”
Decimus roared. He strode from one point to the next on the outer perimeter cajoling, barking, kicking men up and off their ground and throwing them physically back to their assigned positions.  He organized small gathering of legionnaires to fight and subdue the innumerable small fires which had sprung up with the camp.  As he roared and terrified one and all, burly men dressed in the armor of centurions staggered or ran to join him.  In the eyes of each Decimus saw disbelief and terror filling their souls.  But he knew.  Knew this was no time for either emotion.
A catastrophe of Olympian proportions had struck the IXth Brundisi. But an even larger, more deadly, catastrophe was about to happen when dawn soon arrived if the legion was not prepared for it.
“Gnaeus!” the Prefect yelled over the shouting of his centurions taking over at last and rousing the men out of their stunned silence, “survey the camp.  Assess the damages and loss of men and report back to me as soon as possible.”
Decimus turned and stared up at where once the top of the hill had been.  Where the legate’s massive tent, the holy shrines of the legion’s namesakes, where the several tents of the officer’s would be found, all gone.  Not just destroyed.  But . . . gone!  Nothing remained.  Not a shred of cloth, or a piece of armor, or even a body part of one of the dead remained.  Now only a gaping hole twenty meters deep and ten meters in diameter, with an eye-watering aroma of bad eggs drifting up and out of the cavity and blowing gently away with the wind.
It did not take a genius to realize the harsh truth.  All of the legion’s officers, except for him, and most of what had been the 1st cohort, the legion’s most experienced troops, no longer existed.  The anger of an unknown god came down from Olympus and had destroyed one and all.  And in the process, possibly assuring the complete and total destruction of everyone who, at the moment, still lived on this cursed hill.  Dawn was but only two hours away, and with the first light of a new day, the hills above their position infested with Rome’s enemies would look down upon the middle of the valley and see what had been wrought in the middle of the night.
The enemy would come howling and screaming at them with blood lust in their eyes and the smell of victory upon them.  Thousands of them.  All sensing a great victory at hand if they but struck with overwhelming force before the sun lifted much higher than dawn’s light in the morning sky.  If the IXth was not prepared, if not their position was compressed and strengthened somehow, if the men were not ready to fight, all would be lost.  By noon every living soul on this hill would be dead.  Consigned to the eight levels of Hades for the rest of eternity.  A situation Decimus was grimly aware of, but determined to contest the issue to his last breath.
The thin, hardened old veteran of a dozen battles, turned to face the many faces of his junior officers staring up at him and hungrily waiting for orders, and began talking in a commanding, but calm, voice.
“I want the second cohort, Brutus, to take up position on the northern flank of the hill.  Pull back from your original position and deploy half way up the hillside and dig in.  Cassus, take the forth cohort, and deploy directly behind the first.  Draco, your sixth cohort will take the eastern slope.  The seventh will deploy directly behind you.  The west slope . . .”
A calm voice.  An assured, experienced commander.  And a plan.  A plan delivered concisely, with little fanfare, and direct.  Decimus’ gray eyes did not waver as he looked into the faces of each of his centurions.  Orders were given.  From an old soldier who had seen it all.  The Prefect in his quiet calm simply radiated self-confidence out to his men like some mystical lantern held up in the dead of night to light the way.  No one knew if the Prefect’s plan would work.  In some respects, most of the centurions didn’t care.  There was a plan.  There were orders given and expected to be carried out to the letter.  Someone was in charge.  Someone they knew and respected.
What more could a soldier ask for or expect?
            Only the gods knew what would happen once dawn filled the sky with light.
What remained of the night was filled with the movements of legionnaires repositioning themselves on the hill first, followed by the sounds of men digging into the soil, and hammers thumping loudly onto stout wooden stakes as they tore down the wooden stakes set earlier in the day and repositioned in their new defensive stance.

Decimus, with the silent Gnaeus beside him, kept moving around the hill directing men here and there.  Even pitching in when a set of extra hands were needed to drive stakes into the ground or to throw up additional barricades of dirt in front of their positions.  No one complained.  No one slacked off.  Not with the Prefect beside them in the dirt and grime working as hard as they were.
And when the first gray shades of predawn began to lessen the darkness around them, everyone knew.  They were ready.  Ready for whatever might come.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Advertising . . . dammit!!

Soooo . . . . the problem, me buckoo;  How do you lift something you've written up into the Top 100 in sales?  How do you pluck your book title out of the vast quagmire of about 10,000 other titles published per month and shine that proverbial beam of light toward it so
everyone can see.

I think I have the answer . . . and you ain't gonna like it.

Money.

That's the answer.  As it's the usual answer for a lot of our hardships to get out of . . . Money.

But if you're a small-fry writer like I am, when we talk about anything over five-bucks, we're getting far too rich for our thin blood.  The air starts to get thinner;  we've get this rash that suddenly covers our posterior when we talk about something six-bucks are higher in cost.  Why . . . even buying a full meal for two at McDonalds may require a bank loan.  Which we don't want, thank you very much.

But the harsh truth is . . . you want to be a well known writer?  It's gonna cost you some advertising dough.  And probably more dough than you've got the bank account to pay for it.

What I find interesting is that most small time, middle-grade, and even large publishing houses won't put a plug  nickle down in advertising until you have some real STAR POWER behind your name. (with the exception, possibly, to those writers they've lavished huge signing bonuses onto to . . . you know, the ones that gets way above $100,000 or more.  Now they've got a vested interest in getting a return for their investment).

So, if you're just a GOOD writer, or maybe a GREAT writer waiting to be discovered, it falls upon your shoulders to cough up the coin to do your own advertising,  And there in is the rub . . .

'Cause, if you're like me, the number of struggling writers you know who have more than two nickles to rub together is about the same number of multi-million dollar Power Ball lotto winners you know.  Meaning . . . you don't know any, fella.

I have a new book out.  While the Emperor Slept. (it's over on the right hand column to check out if you want to).  The first of a series.  Features a 1st Century Roman detective/assassin who is intriguing to know.  Or at least, I think so.  The publisher who has it out is a great company.  I'm hoping we can work for years together churning out this series.  But for now, the advertising is on my shoulders.

So far I can say that the small . . . and I do mean small . . . amount of money I've spent on advertising has had a discernible reaction to the book's ranking.  I suspect more money, in this case, would mean a larger response.\

Didn't James Patterson do something like this in the beginning of his career?  Being an ex-advertising exec he went out and did an entire campaign blitz on a book of his, all own his own.  And it worked.  Worked so well his publisher made gobs of money and decided to do the advertising themselves.

It can be done.

And I'm thinking maybe $2,000 might be the tipping point.  Or, maybe more like $20,000.  Or maybe more.

Hell.  How the hell should I know?!  Remember, I'm the guy who has just two nickles in his pocket.  Well . . . a nickle and possibly five pennies.  Maybe.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My most difficult novel

Among the novels I'm writing (as of today, at least three) is the first full-length Smitty novel.  I've shared the opening chapter in here before.  And I've mentioned it several times already.  But I gotta confess; this is one novel driving me crazy.  Without question it is the hardest novel I've ever tried to complete.

Ask me what the difficulty is and I frankly wouldn't be able to tell you.  The plot of the story is dynamite.  A serial killer is on the loose (heard that idea before?), and a traumatized beat cop assigned to the task force of tacking down the killer secretly asks Smitty to help him find, and stop, the killer before another call-girl is sliced and diced in some dark alley.

Yes, on one hand it does sound like a clone of a clone of a clone.  We've read ad nausea a number of books with the very same format.  So why do it again?  So maybe that's my problem . . . subconsciously I don't want to write the same-ole'  same-ole'.

Nope.  That's not the problem.  I don't know what it is.

But I did write a chapter in the book I want to share with you.  A chapter I think explains quite a bit of Smitty's personality.  It comes from the middle of the book . . .bad guys are after Smitty and Smitty is waiting in a dark alley for them.  Read it and tell me what you think.




Twenty-Seven

            A wiry smear of a sardonic grin stretched across his lips as he turned his head to his left and glanced down the dark street.  Another dark street on another dark night.  Smitty’s vague silhouette in the darkness blended perfectly into the dark emptiness of the street.  The grin lingered for a heartbeat or two before fading away as he turned his head and gazed across the street at the old brownstone building standing alone in the middle of the block.
            It seemed like all of his adult life had him standing in the darkness waiting for someone to reveal themselves.  Someone either to kill.  Or someone to extract information from.  From city to city.  Night after night.  An endless procession of one dark shadow after another.
            It was almost depressing.  Except, oddly, it wasn’t.
            That’s why he grinned in the darkness.  Any other normal human being who lived this kind of life would, ultimately, sink deep into a quagmire of depression.  It was only natural.  A healthy mind naturally shunned the darkness.  A healthy mind shied away from wanton killing.  And when forced to kill, usually faced years, perhaps decades, of traumatic counseling to get over it.  The sardonic grin stretched across his lips again as he turned his head to the right and peered down the opposite end of the street.
            It didn’t bother him at all.  Neither the standing in the shadows like he was now.  Nor the act of killing someone.
            For him, it just . . . was.  It was his life.  There was no super-heated cauldron of rage roiling around in his stomach seeking revenge. He had no dark, deep seated death wish lurking hidden away in his psyche.  It wasn’t a job.  He didn’t feel anything emotionally when it came to the killing.  He certainly didn’t need the money.  He no longer had any need for money.  That issue had been resolved years ago.  What he did, the clients he agreed to take on, were his personal choices.  He wanted it. Wanted it this way.  His way.  He chose his clientele.  He chose the best method to get the job done.  He may or may not ask from some kind of reimbursement for his services.  It was, again, his choice.
            But . . .admittedly . . . as eyes went back to the brownstone across the street, he could see the humor of it.  What he did, and why he did it, might mystify others.  And that was the humor of it all.
            The lights illuminating a ground floor plate glass window went off about the same time the front door opened and two men stepped out and into the night.  Both men were dressed in casual suits and looked professional in the way the scanned the street.  One of them turned to look back through the open door and nodded his head.  Two more men came out of the brownstone. That’s when Smitty moved.
            He stepped out of the darkness that hugged the doorway of a building directly across the street of the brownstone.  Silently he came down the six steps leading downward from the doorway to the sidewalk, pulling from a shoulder holster the six-inch barreled Ruger. 22 caliber semi-automatic in the process.  From a sport coat pocket he withdrew a long tube of a flash suppressor and screwed it on the end of the barrel as he stepped out into the street and approached the rear of the Mercedes.
            All this, in the darkness, with three of the four men scanning the streets looking for any possible threats.  It wasn’t magic.  There was no supernatural trickery involved.  Just good planning on his part and very poor decision making on his victim’s part.  The curtain of darkness submerging the building behind him had an optical effect of stretching out in a narrow band onto the street.  Just a tiny band of darkness that, if used properly, would do just the trick. 
            His targets chose a safe house on a dark street.  On top of that, they decided to leave bright lights of the interior and hurry down the brownstone’s steps toward the waiting Mercedes without allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness.  In effect all four men were as blind as eyeless slugs.  When he brought the ungainly, bulky weapon in his hands up and pulled the trigger four times, his targets died completely unaware of their imminent deaths.  Smitty’s finger squeezed the trigger four times so rapidly it almost sounded like one shot.
            PhuftPhuftPhuftPhuft!
            Four men clattered to the cement sidewalk, each man with a .22 caliber bullet drilled directly in the middle of their foreheads.
            Stepping onto the sidewalk and checking each of the dead men to make sure they were truly gone, he took his time unscrewing the flash suppressor off the end of the Ruger and dropped it into the side pocket of his sports coat.  Holstering the Ruger underneath his left armpit he turned in the darkness and looked for the one dead body he wanted to find.  Kneeling, Smitty rummaged through the dead man’s clothing until he found the man’s cellphone.  Standing up, he wasn’t surprised to find the phone had a password lock on it.  Quickly he thumbed in the password.  And smirked.  It was good to have friends in secretive government agencies.  The phone lit up and, sure enough, on the list of the speed-dial numbers was the one number he expected to find.
            When he punched in the number it rang only twice before someone answered.
            “Talk to me,” came the familiar voice.  “You got the job done?”
            The dry smirk of a Cobra spread across Smitty’s lips again.
            “You sent two sets of hirelings out to get me, Philo.  You’ll find the second set and what’s left of them lying in the curb in front of the house on Bonner Street.  Let me give you some friendly advice.  Don’t bother me again while I’m looking for the one who likes to kill women.  You do, and you’ll be dead by nightfall.”
            Smitty didn’t wait for a response.  Tossing the phone onto the chest of the dead man he turned away from the scene and slipped back into the night.  But as he moved away he could hear Philo Jenks’ voice screaming profanities into the stillness of the night behind him.

            The screaming went on for a good thirty minutes.  But no one was listening.  Certainly not the dead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Death by Greek Fire

Thought I'd offer this for possible review.  The opening chapter to the second Decimus Julius Virilis novel I'm writing.  The novel/series is about a 1st Century Roman detective who is somewhat of a cross between a Sherlock Holmes and a Jason Bourne character.  But set in the intriguing times of Caesar Augustus' Rome.

And really, if you're into History like I am, the era of Octavious Caesars's Rome was absolutely chock-full of intrigue and danger.  Just built for these kinds of novels.

So here goes.  Give it a try.


7 AD
Dalmatia
On a hilltop overlooking a mountain valley road






            Death comes in the deepest portion of the night. Suddenly and without warning.  Especially here.  Deep in enemy territory surrounded by sullen mountains shrouded in dark forests underneath low lying carpets of icy fog.  Unseen death stalks the careless.  An arrow from out of the darkness.  The sudden thud of a hurled javelin cracking into one's lorica segmentata.  The unexpected surge of a black figure rising out of the darkness followed by the swift stroke of cold steel across yielding flesh. In the night death comes sudden, swift and sure.  Especially here, on this strangely quiet, foreboding night in Dalmatia.  The promise of death so near in the darkness it was making the entire legion nervous and fidgety.   He knew from his long experience soldiering what fear could do to a legion.  A legion spooked and restless on the night before a possible battle contained all the ingredients for disaster.  Fear could make a legion, led ineptly, to bend  . . . to yield ground . . . and eventually to shatter like cheap pottery thrown onto a cold stone floor.
            Not that the commander was inept.  Inept was a harsh descriptor.  It connoted incompetence and a casual disregard of assigned duties. Young would be a better description.  Inexperienced.  Thrust into the command of a legion long before he was ready for it.  The young Gaius Cornelius Sulla was just old enough to be elected into the Roman Senate.  Old enough, but contrary to tradition and Roman law, the young Senator had never served in the army.  Never held one of the minor political offices which were normally prerequisites before running for a Senator's seat.  Money, and his father's reputation, allowed the boy to bypass mere formalities.  He was suitably impressed with the duties of being a legion commander.  He wanted to prove to his father he was the man and son his father wanted.  It was just that . . . well . . . the lad was but a boy.  A boy given the commanded of Roman legion which was sorely below nominal strength in manpower and finding itself hurled into the depth of enemy territory without proper training and equipment.
            Youth untrained, and a legion improperly handled, were the ugly ingredients needed for a recipe of unparalleled disaster.
            Twenty-four years serving in one legion or another had taught him what the end results of a legion shattering like a piece of thin glass would be.  A horror beyond description. The killing would be endless.  Roman soldiers throwing down their shields and swords as they ran from the battlefield in a mass panic only to be ridden down by the enemy's cavalry or assaulted by roving bands of sword and axmen.  Hacked to pieces or ran through by fast riding cavalry, the memories his past burned brightly in his mind.  He knew if such a debacle happened on the morrow there would be few, if any, survivors.  Especially here in this mountainous country overran with ravaging madmen filled with bloodlust and hate for anything Roman.  That's why, throwing a heavy campaign cloak over his shoulders as he stood near the warmth of a burning brazier, he preferred inspecting the army's perimeter in person. 
            Stepping out of his tent, pulling the heavy wool cloak tighter around his shoulders, he took his time setting his bronze helm over his brow before reaching for his officer's baton firmly clamped under his right armpit.  On either side of his tent's entrance the two legionnaires snapped to attention and saluted in perfect unison.  Acknowledging their salutes with a wave of his baton he eyed the camp to his right and left in silence and then turned his attention to the nine legionnaires standing directly in front of him.
            The young decanus, or a contriburnium commander of eight men, saluted smartly as the eight legionnaires behind him snapped to attention.  One glance from his old eyes told him he and his men had spent some time getting their armor cleaned and smartly arrayed.  The decanus was, at best, eighteen or nineteen years old. He, like his men, were not much more than raw recruits swept up off the streets of Brundisium and Rome and sent packing off to Dalmatia.  Dalmatian tribesmen were in revolt . . . again. And Roman authority . . . again . . .  being challenged. The decanus was so young his beard was nonexistent.  So frail of bone he wondered how the Hades the lad stood upright in the sixty or more pounds of standard legionnaire armor assigned to each man.  Nevertheless, the lad was standing tall and proud.  His men looked smartly attired and diligent.  It didn't matter if the contriburnium was of the 7th cohort.  The 7th being the cohort of the youngest, most untrained soldiers. 
            Lads beginning their long, arduous, and sometimes quite deadly learning phase of becoming a professional soldier.  In the young eyes of these nine men he could see they were looking for some sign of hope.  Some gesture that they might survive in what was, obviously, a desperate situation.   And without a doubt it was a desperate situation.   Surrounded on three sides by determined foes who vastly outnumbered them.  Intent on throwing off the yoke of Roman rule, the six or so main Dalmatian tribes united and waged war on anything which hinted of imperial power. This newly formed legion, Legio IX Brundisi, was within their grasp.  A brand new legion, vastly undermanned, yet swept up into the fight because of the threat of a foe so lose to the shores of Rome itself. 
            It was a hodgepodge collection of veterans and raw recruits.  And he, Decimus Julius Virilis, being third in command, was the legion's Praefectus Castorum.  His main duty, of the many assigned to him, was to throw this collection of madmen together and hone it into a fighting machine as quickly as possible. A vastly important job given only to a professional soldier who had come up through the ranks and had proven himself to be both tough and enduring, as well as loyal and intelligent. A job that never ended. He had ordered a contriburnium from the 7th to be his personal escort tonight as he inspected the legion's perimeter.  Yes, a move fraught with danger, perhaps.  Especially so if the rebels decided to assault the legion's defensively lines hidden behind the veil of darkness.
            In all the world there was no fighting force as well trained, well organized, and more victorious, that the seasoned professional legions of Rome.  For almost four hundred years Roman legions fought the armies of just about every foe in what would become, eventually, modern Europe.  Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginian, Egyptian, Spaniards, Parthians, Germans, Gauls.  The list was endless.  For four hundred years Rome’s steel had, by in large, remained victorious.  Yet four hundred years of military dominance guaranteed one certainty.  There would be no peace, no tranquility in an empire forged from steel and strife.  There would always be someone, somewhere, ready to rise up and defy the Roman yoke.
            Eyeing the darkness and low hanging clouds of fog surrounding the hilltop the legion now commanded, Decimus could feel the weight of the coming battle resting on his tired shoulders.  It would be a desperate fight.  An unwanted fight.  The legion was seriously undermanned.  It was alone, deep in enemy territory, miles away from the main Roman army under the command of Tiberius Caesar.
            Caesar, the adopted son of Caesar Augustus, had been summoned by his father to return to Rome and take command of the ten or so legions being assembled to fight the Dalmation rebellion.  The general had been in the north, beyond the Alps, fighting Gaul and Germanic tribes and trying to stabilize the northern borders.  But the Dalmation uprising, so dangerously close to the Latin homelands, took priority.  The rebelling tribes were directly east of Rome.  Just across the watery finger of the narrow Adriatic Sea.  A failure of her legions now would directly threaten Rome itself. Therefore, her best general had been summoned to take command of the legions assembled to put the rebellion down.
            Legio IVth Brundisi, had been hastily recruited, marginally equipped, and shipped off Dalmatia before being properly trained.  The legion was a fifteen hundred men short of a legion’s nominal 6,000 men strength.  Without its cavalry contingent of 400 or more horsemen, with each of the legion’s eight cohorts drastically undermanned, their disastrous arrival in the Illyricum port of Naorna, was like a prophet’s decree of looming defeat to come.
 
            Fire spread its ravenous hunger across the small fleet which escorted the legion’s troopships to Narona.  Dalmation spies infiltrated the Roman held port and somehow set fire to all of the legion’s troopships only moments after the last man of the legion had disembarked.  The fires spread from ship to ship, lighting up the harbor’s night with a terrifying display of light and smoke, and continued to hungrily devour ships far into the next three days.
            Bad luck continued to haunt the IXth Brundisi as they left Narona and marched into the depths of the rebel held territory.  Leaving the port rebels began to attack the rear and flanks of the columns of the marching legion with sudden, deadly attacks of small units of bowmen who hit hard and just as swiftly faded back into the forests before any counter attack could be organized.  The continuous loss of one or two men with each swift attack was telling.  Untrained recruits not used to the hardships of war sulked and stewed in their thoughts when the legion finally made camp at night.
            He saw it in the men’s eyes.  The lack of sleep.  The lack of trust in the legion’s legate.  All of it was combining to create that deep set feeling of fear which, if allowed to grip the hearts of all, was unquestionably a recipe for a disaster waiting to happen.  It rested on his shoulders as the legion’s Praefactous Castorum, the legion’s most experienced veteran, to train these men into a fighting unit.

            Nodding to the young decanus, Decimus set off with a firm step to inspect the legion’s perimeter, not knowing that within moments, an unimaginable disaster was soon to turn the dark Dalmation night into the raging fires and billowing roar of a Grecian Hades nightmare.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Movie Review: Batman vs Superman

The BIG controversy. The heresy of it all!  The abominable distillation of both the Batman legend AND the Superman legend.

Yes, we're talking about the Batman vs. Superman movie that's been all the rage for the last few weeks.  But, Holy Freakin Cross-Eyed Second Cousin!  Has this ONE flick been stirring up so much shit in the Batman and Superman fan base . . . or more precisely . . . in the Marvel/DC comics fan base.  So much stirring up bad feelings the movie will, without question, absolutely positively  crack the $1 BILLION mark in ticket sales before we hit July.

Yes.  That's one BILLION (probably much more, by the way) in ticket sales by July.

So what's the big fracken deal about this movie that's sooooooooo controversial?

In a word:  Not a damn thing.  Not if you're like me and just like to go see a good action flick that might . . . just might . . . have an actual half-ass story plot behind it to work on.  And that's BvsS.  We go back a lot to the origin stories of both super heroes.  Or at least, referred heavily back to them in the flick.  That's okay.  A new director, taking the old franchise in a different direction, has to re-interpret the origin stories.  That would be, to me, kinda mandatory. But after that, what then?

The What Then is where the story branches off 18 some odd months later after the movie, The Man of Steel, ended.  In other words, BvsS begins in the aftermath of Superman's big fight against General Zod, and the destruction of which followed of the city.

God-like creatures descending from the heavens to destroy Mankind.

That's the core plot-line of the movie.  How do puny Earthlings defend themselves against god-like creatures?  And, as a secondary topic, what is the definition of being 'a hero.'

Good stuff, Maynard.  I bought the story line hook, line, and sinker.

Okay, okay . . . maybe to many people, Ben Afleck is not one's first choice as being Bruce Wayne/Batman.  But he did a serviceable job.  And . . .  I suspect he may grow into the part . . . with the next film or two.  Maybe Amy Adams not the most interesting Lois Lane we've seen in the flicks.  But she's okay.

But I will tell you Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is. . . . wow!!!  Now THERE'S a woman I'd like to get to know.  She's the one to go see in this movie.  I mean it.  She steals the scenes every time she's in one.

Jeremey Irons as the butler, Alfred Pennyworth is spot-on, brother.  Dripping with dry humor and sarcasm, maybe the best Alfred of them all.  Let's give him more screen time the next time around.  Please!

Henry Clavil as Superman is spot on as well.  Frankly, I think Henry is vastly underrated as an actor. He brings compassion, intelligence, and humor to this role.  And I really, really like that.

(And wait until you see the scenes concerning Aquaman.  Yowsers!)

The controversies, you ask?

Does Marvel Comics do a better job with their portrayal of their heroes on screen compared to DC Comics (overhead a very interesting debate about that between mother and grandmother as we exited the movie)

Is Christopher Noland's direction in his trilogy Batman series better story telling than Zack Snyder's BvsS? (you have to decide that one, kiddo.  Leave me out of it.)

Did Ben Afleck's interpretation of Batman kill off the Batman legend? (Pure bullshit, if you ask me.)


Go see the damn movie.  You may not like it.  But its not bad.  Not bad at all.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How to start a novel

The idea just came to me.  Out of the blue . . . like most of my ideas do.  Not so much an idea as an image.  The image of a dead cowboy lying face down in a residential intersection.  First that image, and then a few others came rattling in just behind it.  Several images crowding into the brain all at once, and there it was.  The first chapter of a new Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel.

The cowboy;  blue jeans, western long sleeve shirt, boots caked in cow shot, heavy leather chaps covering his thighs.  A big but battered looking Stetson hat lying on the hot street pavement right beside him.  Dead as dead can get with a .44 Magnum drilled right through the man's heart.

The problem is . . . the man is lying on the pavement of a residential section of a major city.  Miles and miles away from the nearest farm or ranch.

So the first idea of how to start a new novel is place.  But I've got to fill in the details first.  And most important of all . . . I've got to figure out how in hell to solve a murder.

Right now I haven't a frack'en clue how it'll come out.

So take a look at the first chapter of the fourth Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel, Two to Worry About.


One

 

 

He stepped out into the bright light of the early afternoon soon and slipped on a pair of expensive aviator's shades. Standing in the doorway of the small taco shop he eyed his immediate surroundings before moving.  A quiet moment of careful observation before acting. A trait he had learned from long experience of deliberately, or not so deliberately, walking into a puddle of deep shit in his line of work.  In front of him the four lanes of the Van Pelt Drive was a dull roar of its usual heavy traffic at this time of the day.  Trucks, busses, cabs . . . everything . . .  except a traffic cop, could be found on the Van Pelt at a quarter past noon on a Tuesday. On either side of the door leading into the small hole in the wall taco shop, the mini-mall contained a large liquor store on his right and a loan company to his left.  At the corner of the block, to his right, was a gas station.

Directly in front of him his new acquisition. A fully restored  '67 Olds 442 convertible, fire
engine red with freshly installed white vinyl interior, sat at the curb. In a bucket seat was his red haired genetic monster for a partner sitting with one arm resting an elbow on the door while his massive paw of a hand gripped the Olds' windshield, fingers drumming irritably in the process.

He couldn't help it.  The grin exploded across his features before he could catch it.  A big smirk of a boyish grin flashed across his thin lips as he looked at the ugly kisser of his friend and partner.

Frank Morales was, and there was no polite way to say this, just fuckin' big.  Even sitting in bucket seat of the Olds didn't help him look any smaller than a parked Russian tank setting atop a squashed industrial boiler.  Frank was, like him, a nudge over six foot three in height.  But unlike his relatively modest 258 pounds sitting on a relatively firm athletic skeleton, Frank weighed . . . easily. . . a good hundred pounds heavier.  With no neck.  But with short, stringy carrot colored red hair which absolutely refused to cooperate with a comb or hair spray.  The guy had arms on him as thick as the cement trusses holding up an interstate highway bridge.  Hands as big a snow shovels.  Frank had that kind of face which was unforgettable.  Hard to explain.  But completely unforgettable once burned into someone's memory.

Frank's head swiveled somehow on those massive shoulders and he gave his partner a frown just as Turner tossed him the bag of tacos.  Walking around the front of the car the better looking of the two detectives slid in behind the wheel, closed the door, and leaned forward to start the car.

"Did you get anything for yourself?"

"Save me two tacos.  That's all I ask.  Just two."

The corners of Frank's mouth twitched . . . his odd little way of silent laughter . . . as he nodded and reached inside the bag for a taco.  Turner glanced over his left shoulder, eyed the flow of traffic passing by until a gap miraculously appeared, and then rolled the big but elegant looking Muscle Car out into the traffic lane and accelerated rapidly.  The top was down.  The heat of the sun felt good.  The early evening daylight was still bright and clear.  And they were headed for the first squawk of the day.

The city's South Side Precinct of the Metropolitan Police Department was the largest of the six precincts.  The precinct was five miles wide and eight miles deep.  Forty square miles. Figuring, on the average, 17 blocks per city mile, it didn't take long to figure out the precinct was big.  For that forty square miles the precinct had, on each shift, eight pairs of patrol officers working in tandem and six detectives.  A total of 22 men to cover 40 square miles of territory.

Or to look at it another way. The city's population averaged 520 per square mile.  South Side precinct was an area of forty square miles.  Twenty thousand, eight hundred people lived in the South Side.  With only twenty two officers, per shift, keeping the chaos from boiling over into a certified disaster.

In the metropolitan area of the city were four other smaller cities with their respective police departments.  All told, the urban area of the city and its surroundings contained a population of roughly 2.5 million people.  Not as big as New York or LA.  Certainly nothing like a Tokyo or Mexico City.  But big enough.  With its own particular set of troubles.

Like today.

By 6:30 in the evening, just two and a half hours after the shift started, the patrolmen were tied up doing other things.  So when the call came in there was a cowboy . . . an honest to god genuine cowboy . . . lying dead in the middle of the intersection of Roach and Pine streets, the desk sergeant routed the call to Turner and Frank.

Of course the two had to investigate.  Who wouldn't want to go out and stare at a dead cowboy lying face down in the street?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

'Retribution' to be finished soon. Promise.

Okay . . . I know;  I've been writing the first Smitty novel, (the full length 'No shit, Maynard!') novel now for about a year.  Off and on.  Stops and Starts.  A page here. . . a paragraph there.
But I'm gonna finish it sometime before the end of Summer.  No . . . really, dammit!  No kidding!  Sometime before Summer!

The biggest problem is how to write an action novel that's over 200 pages in length.  Yeah, we ALL know and love Jason Bourne and others of his ilk . . . and they're in stories 700 pages and longer.  But Good Golly, Gabby.  Writing a character like Smitty for 700 pages or more?!  You gotta be kidding me.

Still . . . I'm pushing for 300 pages.  Lots of action; a genuine plot . . . believable characters.  The works.  And Smitty at his nastiest.  So I thought I'd give you chapter one (again.  I think I've done this some time back), just to give you a taste of what's coming.  Actually, blowing my own horn here, I think it's one of the best openings for a novel . . . EVER!  But that's just me puffing out hot wind.  Take it for what its worth.  So here goes.  Enjoy.



One
 
            Nerves.
            Twisted to the breaking point.  Wound so tight he could barely keep his hands under control.  As he sat in the booth of the small diner and directly across his partner he tried to act calm.  Tried to look normal.  Impossible.  Even when he lit his cigarette it was obvious.  The hand holding the cigarette lighter danced the flame around at the tip of the cigarette like he was beating a drum.  But flipping the old Zippo closed with a loud snap he slid the shaking hand into a pocket and sat back in the booth.  Eyes filled with worry he turned and stared into the gloom of a foggy night.
            Nerves.
            Fear.
            Knowing he was doing something wrong.  Knowing that, if caught, it would be the end of his career.  The end of everything.  Ten years.  Ten years as a cop.  Flushed down the tubes and forgotten.  If he was caught.  If. . .
            “Artie, you all right?  You feeling sick?”
He blinked a couple of times, his partner’s voice bringing him out of his dull reverie of the night’s fog and forcing him to turn and look at the red nosed cop sitting in the booth opposite him.
            His partner for the last five years. . . an Irishman by the name of Joe Gallagher, sitting across from him lowered his cup of coffee and looked at him with eyes of concern.  All night long on their shift he had barely spoken three words.  And then the call came in to go out and check on the report of a body lying in the street down in front of Pier 86.  And sure enough it was another victim.  Another butchered woman.  Number five for the maniac the papers had dubbed ‘The New Jack Ripper.’
            “I’m . . . fine, Joe.  Fine.  It’s just that, well . . . it’s the fifth prostitute killed.  The third one on our beat.  Cut to pieces like she was a piece of fine beef fresh from the slaughter house.  Jesus, what a mess.  And what a crowd we had to hold back.  I mean, people everywhere.  Reports and cameramen.  Everywhere!  Down to get a glimpse of the body.  Sick.  Just sick if you ask me.”
            His partner frowned, set the coffee cup on the table, and nodded.  Yeah.  It had been a bloody mess.  Always is when someone is eviscerated.   Just thinking about the gory mess the two of them had stumbled on made him shiver involuntarily. 
            “Listen, the shift’s over.  We can write our reports tomorrow.  Let me drop you off at your house.  Get some rest.  Drink a beer or two.  Try to forget about it.”
            “You go on home, Joe.  I’m supposed to go over to a friend’s house and drink a couple of beers with him.  I’ll just call a cab and wait for it here.”
            Gallagher’s brown eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he sat in the booth and looked at his partner.  Artie Jones was a good cop.  A very good cop.  Slightly bald, getting a little paunchy around the middle, always a smile on the man’s face.  Yeah, a good cop.  But one who thought too much.  Cared too much.  Maybe . . . maybe tried too hard in trying to make the world a better place.  Not that there was anything wrong in that.  The trying. The caring.  But sometimes it got to you.  Sometimes the meanness of mankind becomes overwhelming. 
            Sometimes, to be brutally honest, it was best to not care so much and just do the job needed to be done.  Better that than driving yourself into an early grave trying to save the souls of those who didn’t want to be saved.
            “All right.  But get some rest, Artie.  Jesus, but you look terrible.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”
            Artie nodded, waved a hand, and smiled as his partner slid out of the booth and walked to the diner’s entrance.  He turned and watched Joe unlock the door to the black and white patrol car and slide in.  It was almost one in the morning.  Dark.  The street lights glowing a dull orange yellow, filling the wind swept street with an eerie feeling almost palpable.
            What if the sergeant found out?  The Louie?  What if someone sees him talking to him?    Hell!  Was he even going to meet him tonight?  I mean . . . come on!  He was a cop.  He was supposed to arrest this guy if he ever crossed paths.  And hell, his off hand inquiries–hesitant and awkward–he tried on to a few street bums he knew asking about his guy called Smitty might have fallen on deaf ears.  No one knew who the hell this Smitty was.  He was supposed to be the mob’s top hit man.  He was supposed to be invisible.  He wasn’t even really known by those who employed him, fer chrissakes!  No two mobsters brought in for questioning ever describe Smitty in the same fashion.  He was tall.  He was short.  He had shaggy brown hair.  He was a blond with a flat top crew cut.  He was heavy built.  He was a slim as a toothpick. 
            Crazy.  Just crazy.
            No one knew what this guy looked like.  All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine.  He somehow could slip in, silence his victim, and slip out and no one would know until hours later.  And he had connections.  Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets.  That was the deciding factor.  That was the single point for him to get this wild idea.  Ask Smitty for help.  The police department, the entire city, was baffled.  Scared.  Frozen in indecision.  This madman left no traces.  He left no evidence behind.  He left no DNA material behind. It was like . . . like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world.  No one knew why.
            So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost.  A killer to stop a killer.
            A shaking hand ran across his lips as he looked down at his coffee cup.  With the cigarette between his fingers he reached for the cup just as he heard the noise of an approaching car through the plate glass window beside him.  Lifting the cup Artie turned to look outside.
            And froze in mid motion.  Eyes almost popping out of his head with a mixture of surprise and horror.
            A cab–an old Ford Crown Victory–battered and abused, sitting parallel to the curb in front of the diner, it’s right rear door open.  Waiting.  Waiting for someone to get in.  The clatter of his cup slipping out of his fingers and bouncing on the table top made everyone in the diner turn and look at him.  Blinking a couple of times, color draining from his face, he stared at the taxi for a heartbeat or two and then turned to look at the eight or ten people sitting in the dinner.
            They were staring at him.  Faces puzzled. Or bemused.
            “Hey, buddy!” the guy behind the diner’s long counter said, holding a phone up to one ear and staring at him irritably.  “It’s the cabby outside.  He’s says the meter’s running.  So how about it?  You want him to take you someplace or not?”
            Artie Jones stared at the diner’s chief cook for a moment in shock and turned his head back to look out the window and at the waiting taxi.  He hadn’t called for a taxi.  The story he told his partner about going over to see a friend tonight in a taxi was just that.  A story.  So how . . . how . . . . how . . . ?
            “Hey, Mac!  Some time tonight, okay?  I got orders to complete.”
            Artie felt himself nodding.  And then moving his hands and his body to slide out of the booth.  He felt himself walking down the length of the diner and out through the entrance into to the hot night.  Like an out of body experience he saw himself walking down the sidewalk toward the open door of the cab and folding himself up and sliding into the back seat.  He saw himself close the cab’s rear door–saw the cab accelerated away from the curb rapidly.
            Saw it all–experienced it all.  Yet couldn’t believe it.  Didn’t want to believe it.  It was so . . . so surreal.  So bizarre.
            The car accelerated hard down the street and then made a sudden right hand turn.  A block later it turned again sharply–and turned again straight into an alley.  The headlights went off as the car bounced and rolled down through the alley rapidly and came out on the opposite street.  The lights came back on and the car slowed down.
            In front of him all he saw as the back of the head and the upper shoulders of a man wearing a cabbie uniform.  Glancing down at the back rest directly in front of him he looked for the small plastic pocket which was supposed to show the cabbie’s license and photo.  There was no license.  No photo.  But there were eyes.  Cold black orbs staring at him–reflecting off the rear view mirror whenever a sliver of street light flashed past.
            Cold eyes.  Hard eyes.  The eyes of a killer.
            “I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
            A surreal, almost rasping harsh whisper. Coming out of the darkness of the front seat.  Unnerving.  Making Artie involuntarily wince.
            “Smitty?”
            “That’s what some people call me, Artie.  But I answer to a number of different names.”


            He felt a cold chill run down his spine.  He tried to swallow.  Tried a couple of times.  But he was so scared there was nothing to swallow.  He lifted a hand up to his face.  Almost.  But he stopped suddenly when the whisper exploded in the darkness.  Like a scalpel flashing out of the darkness. 
            “Make sure you keep you hands away from your gun, friend.  Away from any pockets.  Understand?”
            Artie hesitated, looked at his hands, and then back up at the rear view mirror and nodded.
            “Good.  Now tell me. What does an honest cop like you want to talk to a man like me?”
            How was he going to do this?  How was he going to ask for help?  He was a cop, fer chrissakes!  Cops go after the bad guys.  Cops solves the murder cases.  Cops are the ones who are supposed to protect the public from madmen like . . . like this new Jack the Ripper.  Or from the likes like Smitty.
            “Well, you see . . . we’ve . . . we’ve got a problem.  There’s man we’re after.  Crazy, insane.  A madman, actually.  He’s going around killing women.  Prostitutes.  And we’ve got nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  He’s been killing for the last four months.  And we know about as much now about this guy as we did when we found the first body.”
            The cab flew down empty streets.  Never staying on one street for more than two blocks.  Swift, hard turns right and left.  Mostly right hand turns.  A few left.  But in general Artie got the feeling they were traveling in one twisted, jagged, clockwise circle.  Somehow he knew that when this conversation was over he would be back at the diner.
            “So what is it you want me to do.”
            It wasn’t a question.  It wasn’t a statement.  It was decision time.  For Artie.  Say what had to be said, Artie.  Say it firmly and without hesitation.  And let the Angel of Death–as some people whispered this man actually was–decide if he would help or not.
            “We’ve got to take this guy off the streets.  We’ve got to stop him.  Stop him before he kills again.  So . . . so I’m asking you to help us.”
            Silence.
            Slivers of light exploding in the interior of the cab momentarily as they slid underneath a street light.  Explosions of light.  Followed enveloping, inky darkness.  Surreal.  Down the empty streets the cab flew.  The street walled in on both sides by long rows of old apartment buildings and brand new apartment complexes.  Sitting in the back seat of the cab Artie waited.  Waited for some kind of response to come out of the front seat.  Waited.  And waited.  Each passing second working like a carpenter’s file sliding across  raw nerves.
            When the dark figure in front answered the man’s harsh whisper almost sent Artie screaming out of his seat.  But somehow–somehow–he controlled his urges and tried to react calmly.
            “Why would I want to help you, Artie.  You or the police.”
            He blinked a couple of times.  He opened his mouth to answer.  But nothing came out.  He realized he had no idea why this man would help him.  Why would a killer hunt a killer?  The only thing he could do was shrug his shoulders and shake his head in despair.
            “I can’t answer that,” he admitted and smiling weakly. “I don’t even know why I came down here.  Desperation I guess.  If my desk sergeant or the task force lieutenant found out I was in this cab with you I’d been suspended indefinitely.  Maybe even arrested.  Certainly fired.   But something tells me we’re not going to find this guy.  Not by our normal methods.  It’s like this guy isn’t human.  He makes no mistakes.  He disappears into the night.  Leaves nothing behind.  So I thought . . . I thought . . . you might be our best hope.  Our only hope to nab this guy.”
            Silence.  Again.
            The car rocking and swaying as it moved.  The flashing explosions of light.  The shadows of parked cars and SUVs whipping past them.  The rows upon rows of town homes and apartment buildings.  All of that painted in layers upon Artie’s hyper active conscience as the figure in front remained silent and drove.
            “How do you know I am not this madman?  You know what I do for a living.  That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?  So tell me, why not consider me as a prime suspect?”
            He shook his head no.  Silently. Vigorously.  The one thing Artie was sure of was this; the guy known as Smitty wasn’t a homicidal maniac.  He didn’t kill for some sickly thrill–some perverted pleasure.  Smitty was a professional.  A master at blending in and out of a crowd.  Of taking out his assignment with a cold  efficiency a lot of his fellow police officers grudgingly admired.  And so far . . . so far as he knew . . . this dark eyed man had never killed an innocent victim.  Each of his kills had been someone from out of the crime world.  Someone who deservedly needed to die.
            “I know it’s not you.  I know this.  These murders don’t fit your MO.  They don’t make sense.  Your hits always make sense.  You hit someone for money–but your targets are slime balls who need to be put down.  Uh . . no offense, by the way.  About the slime ball thing.”
            A flicker of a smile flashed across the dark eyed man’s thin lips.  But the eyes never blinked.  They kept moving. Watching.  Calculating.
            “What do I do with this man if I find him.  Do I kill him?  Do I hand him over to you?”
            “I dunno, Smitty.  I dunno,” he answered.
            Truthfully he didn’t know.
            If suddenly a street cop came walking into the precinct house with this guy cuffed what would he say?  How could he explain to everyone this miraculous nab when the entire detective division was completely stumped.   How could he explain this to his partner?  Joe would have a thousand questions to ask.  Questions he couldn’t possible answer.  Not in a hundred years.  Not in a thousand years.
            “So you’re asking me to find this guy and take care of him.  You don’t necessarily want me to kill him.  But you can’t bring him in.  And I can’t reveal myself to your bosses.  Interesting.  What we have here, Artie, is a conundrum.  A social intersection of impossibilities.  A most curious dilemma.”
            It was as if he was a giant balloon filled with helium and a kid came along with a big needle and stuck it in him.  All the energy, all the worry, the fears, the emotions, dissipated out of him and into the night like escaping helium out of the balloon.  Dropping his head in defeat he stared at his hands silently.  Blinking back tears of frustration.
            “This is what you’re going to do.”
            The voice.  Not so harsh.  Still a whisper.  But softer.  Almost gentle.
            Looking up Artie’s eyes flashed to the rear view mirror and saw the black eyes of the killer staring at him.  A flicker of hope burst into his gut.   And he waited.  Waited to hear what Smitty had in mind.
            “Tomorrow night at exactly a quarter to midnight you’ll leave everything the police have in a folder in the back seat of this cab.  The cab will be parked on the corner of Fourth and Elmore.  In front of a liquor store called Bud’s Light.  You know where it’s at.”
            Artie nodded.  He knew the place well.  Been there several times to buy a bottle or two of good wine on the way home from work.
            “Everything, Artie.  Forensics reports.  Photos.  Everything.  Even the doodles the detectives scribble on the note pads.  Can you do this for me?”
            Yes.  Absolutely.
            “Do it by yourself, Artie.  Don’t involve your partner in this.  Don’t tell anyone else about our little meeting.  Don’t make me start thinking this might be some kind of trap.  Just a friendly warning.  If I think you’re trying to screw me, Artie, I’ll come for you.  And I’ll find you.  Understand?”
            Gulp.  Yes, he understood.  There would be no one else he’d talk to.  There would be no traps.  Smitty had nothing to worry about in that department.
            Silence.  A long stretch of terror filled silence.
            And then the screeching of brakes and the car rapidly decelerating to a stop so suddenly he was almost thrown into the front seat.  When his momentum threw him back into his seat he looked up and out of his door side window.  And blinked a couple of times in amazement.  His house.  The small ranch house sat back deep from the street, a carpet of thick green grass between him and the house.  The lights to the house were off.  Except for the front porch light.  The front porch light was always left on.  His wife always left that on for him to see his way to the front door.     
            He threw the back door open and started to get out.  But the whisper froze him in his seat.
            “Remember what I said, Artie.  About not making me worried.  I know where you live.  I know where your wife works.  I know where you hide the spare key to the house.  I know about the gun you keep under the mattress on your side of the bed.  I know, Artie.  I know everything about you.”
            He barely had time to slam the back door closed before the cab took off down the street.  Bright red tail lights lit up the night momentarily before disappearing around a street corner, leaving him standing almost in the middle of the street.  He was shivering like a kid straight out of a cold shower.  Shivering uncontrollable.
            How the hell did he know about the gun underneath the mattress?  About the spare key?  How . . . . . ?
            Jesus.
             Jesus.
            He was scared.  More scared than he had ever been in his life.  Eyes staring into the void of the empty street in front of him he kept asking himself the same thing.  Over and over.  The same thing.
            What the hell have I done?  What the hell have I done?  What the hell have I done?