Friday, December 30, 2011

A Buddy of mine, Aldo Calcagno

Meet Aldo Calcagno.  The head guru for his Powder Burn Flash and Darkest Before The Dawn emags. Two emags that have been a kind of seminial birthing point for writers.  The guy is an avid lover of books and short stories in general.  But he has a real softie-spot when it comes to dark noir and calloused hard boiled.

Thus Powder Burn Flash and Darkest Before the Dawn.

If my limited memory serves me correctly it was to his Darkest Before The Dawn I sent one of my first Turner Hahn/Frank Morales short stories.  Apparently he liked'em from the get-go.  Everything I've submitted to him, so far, he's snapped up readily.

Let me make a confession here;  it was Aldo and his DBTD website which suddenly infused my writing short stories with an energy, and acceptance,  not seen  before.  Suddenly I began to find people enjoying my writing.  Kinda changed my luck running into him.  For that I'm very grateful.

Thought it would be good to interview him.  Kinda tap into his mind and see how the man ticks.  Out came some interesting stuff.  Especially take mind to his ICE idea.  I like the concept very much.

So here you go.  Here's Aldo!

1. Busy working in the corporate world, what in blue blazes made you decide to enter the emag business?

A few years ago there were few markets or opportunities for writers to practice their craft online. The few places that I would visit were all starting to close down or decreased their publishing schedule from monthly to quarterly. even at that only a few writers were getting published.
So, I decided that since I loved reading and discovering all these new stories and writers that I would open up Powder Burn Flash ( to open a market for mystery/crime fiction stories under 1,000 words.
A year later, after several requests and submissions of longer material which didn't fit the flash fiction guidelines, I decided to open Darkest Before the Dawn ( for stories in any genre up to 10,000 words. To this day both of these sites receive 25 - 50 submissions per month.
All of this has been a labor of love over the past five years. I think in many ways it has helped with keeping my sanity from the pressure and demands of the day job. A kind of release and escape, which I hope has been beneficial to all the writers that I have been able to publish.

2. Darkness Before the Dawn has been one of those seminal emags which has seen quite a few talented writers contribute to it. DBTD looks for the longer stories to exhibit. So tell us, do prefer the long short story? Ones with perhaps more of a complex story line and plot? Or do you prefer the shorter pieces?

That is a great question. For me, as a reader, I read all the time, across genres and all types of written material. I guess that I don't have a preference. I would say on a monthly basis that I read a ton of flash, dozens of short stories, a few novella length works and about two to three novels a week. I'm able to do all of this as I'm a very fast reader. However, when I'm in the editing mode, that speed drops dramatically.
So. let me finally answer the question. Yes and No.

3. Writing dark noir and hard boiled. What is it about this genre which is so attractive to you. (I've had this impression for a long time--I hope I am right in this assessment.)

Yes, I like this area of writing particularly. I guess what attracts me to it is the what drives our inner thoughts to these dark edges and how we are able to regulate these thoughts and not act upon them. In all the material that I have read over the years I enjoy reading how these different authors dissect the minds of their characters and how they craft their stories. I find that this is one genre where I'm not bored as a reader.
In addition, I think the Mystery/Crime Fiction genre has allowed discussion and exploration of our society's ill. What I mean by this is that the genre has allowed writers to delve into what problems society is facing and via a good story explore those issues. In many ways I think many of these stories are doing just that.

4. What factors do you look for when a new story and writer comes up for consideration. Is there a formula you use to decide which goes into one of your emags and/or rejected?

First, I'm looking for a good story. I want to read about characters that I care about. If you combine both of these elements in your story, you're in. In the flash market this is a real challenge. You have to think and plot carefully to set up and resolve the story in less than 1,000 words.
As for rejections, I really try not to reject material. The number one pet peeve is not following the submission instructions. However, I try to give everyone their due. The majority of material is fairly well edited upon submission and I may only have a few suggestions or comments. Others, I will send back with notes and have them try again. My goal in both of these formats is help writers get better at their craft and to provide a forum to expose readers to material.

I think we are in an exciting time in regards to publishing. I think we need to keep in mind that technology has affected all aspects of our society and if you are unwilling to adapt to those changes then you may ended up fighting every new thing that comes down the pike. The new generation is highly screen driven and has a short attention span. They are constantly multi-tasking and I fear few of them are able or know how to relax outside of staring at a screen. I think this affects the book publishing world greatly.
On the other hand, what an exciting opportunity there is for all writers, agents, publishers and readers is emerging. The ability to write, publish and market your own material at a relatively low cost and within a very short timeline, is upon us. I believe that is good for the publishing world. Many new and talented writers are getting their material out there and making money at too.
I don't think the paper book is ever going to disappear, at least not in my life time.
As for the genres that I enjoy, well, let's say that they are alive and well. I'm excited to see the rebirth of the short story and the novella and look forward to some interesting experimentation with multi-media and writing in the future.

6. The vehicle known as the short story seems to have been, in a fashion, re-invented with the arrival of epublishing. Two questions; is this reinvention a good thing? And how does a talented writer lift themselves above the sea of mediocrity that invariably floods the open market that is today.

Yes, a very good thing. As I mentioned above, a multitude of today's readers are reading short stories. They seem to perfectly fitted to time constraints that are present and are great for the commuters in the world, lol.
Seriously, this under appreciated format is back with a vengeance and that is a good thing. The sheer number of anthologies that are being produced and sold verify this fact, not to mention the talent that come forward over the last year.
So, how do you rise to the top....practice and volume. The number of new markets looking for material is quickly growing as well as the number of sites or societies that are recognizing good material with awards. What I would like to see is a cross platform publishing of short stories and see magazine publishers reintroduce this format in their print journals. It seems to me that too many of the print journals are too literary in nature. My experience has been that readers like a variety of materials, so they will continue to peruse the internet and search for sites that meet their needs. So, getting bak to the question, find the market that you are interested in publishing your stories in, find a good editor and fine tune those submissions. Submit to many markets and get your name around. One thing that I always encourage writers to do is to take risks. Take risks in your writing to grow and don't be afraid to submit to a market, even if you think you're no ready. You are ready!

7. You mentioned once agents and other publishers have contacted you about one writer or another. Does this happen on a regular basis? Have you seen an increase in interest from the traditional publishing world contacting emag entrepreneurs?

It has been happening more and more with me. The exciting thing for me is seeing these talented authors being offered opportunities to be published in larger markets and/or book contracts. This is my personal goal for writers; to help make this happen. What I find interesting about this process is that these major publishing people ask me permission to contact the authors. I tell them the reason I insist on submissions to my two sites have a bio is so that anyone can contact the author. My guidelines state very clearly, that you as the author retain all writes to your material. Therefore, if you look around at a few emerging upcoming authors you will see their work previously published on one of my two site now being published by the big
New York house. I couldn't be prouder of those authors.

8. What are your plans for in the near future for your publishing empire? Plan to go the traditional publishing route? Plan to create more emags?
Wow! I have an empire? lol. I would like to expand my efforts to assist more writers achieve their goals.
At some point I want to explore adding to my sites in the way of making material available via ereaders simultaneously when posting to the ezine. I know that Amazon can do via blogs, but I need to think through the amount of work and associated costs. My two sites are a labor of love and deeply grateful to Jason Andrews who maintains the server for both sites out of his shared love and interest in these endeavors.
I would also like to continue and expand my work with Seth Harwood ( on CrimeWAV ( CrimeWAV is a podcast program of crime fiction. Over the years we have been successful in attracting and promoting work from upcoming authors to the New Times Bestselling authors like Michael Connelly. I think podcasts are a powerful tool for promoting writing and a great medium for storytelling.
One area of interest is putting together a society of e-published writer called ICE - International Community of E-Publishing. This would be an open society to help more authors with their craft and help vet the good material that is out there. I plan to explore and implement this idea in 2012 and anybody out there that would like to get in on the ground floor and assist with this is welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brit Grit Too Is A Kick In The Pants

Brit Grit Too
Paul D. Brazill is at it again.  A Brit who loves his dark noir.  A writer who writes dark noir with a quirky, twisted flavor to it.  This time around he went out and found 32 of his compatriots and undoubtedly whacked them up the side of their heads with a rubber hose.  Dragging them, dazed and bloody, to some dark, dank, cramped closet he told them, probably, that if they wanted to get out alive they had to write a story for his newest anthology.

Or else.

Of course they complied.  Gladly.  So unleashed upon an unsuspecting world are 32 of the quirkiest, twisted, bloody, and sarcastically funny tales coming from the darker side of British society.

Brit Grit Too is an anthology of 32 up and coming British crime writers, including novelists Nick Quantrill, Richard Godwin and Gerard Brennan. It is published by Trestle Press.The proceeds of Brit Grit Too go to the charity Children 1st

The history of the anthology is as follows:

Last year, I contributed an essay to the programme of the NoirCon crime fiction convention, which is held in the USA every two years and celebrates dark crime fiction. The topic of the essay was the rise of hard-hitting, gritty British crime writers, such as Allan Guthrie, Tony Black, Charlie Williams and Ray Banks. The title of the essay was Brit Grit.

Earlier this year,Trestle Press published my first short story and flash fiction sampler and I decided to call it Brit Grit.

After realising that there were more and more British writers of gritty crime fiction out there, many of who were unpublished, I decided to try to put together an anthology of Brit Grit writers.

And here is the cast of BRIT GRIT TOO:

1. Two Fingers Of Noir by Alan Griffiths
2. Looking For Jamie by Iain Rowan
3. Stones In Me Pocket by Nigel Bird
4. The Catch And The Fall by Luke Block
5. A Long Time Coming by Paul Grzegorzek
6. Loose Ends by Gary Dobb
7. Graduation Day by Malcolm Holt
8. Cry Baby by Victoria Watson
9. The Savage World Of Men by Richard Godwin
10. Hard Boiled Poem (a mystery) by Alan Savage
11. A Dirty Job by Sue Harding
12. Squaring The Circle by Nick Quantrill
13. The Best Days Of My Life by Steven Porter
14. Hanging Stan by Jason Michel
15. The Wrong Place To Die by Nick Triplow
16. Coffin Boy by Nick Mott
17. Meat Is Murder by Colin Graham
18. Adult Education by Graham Smith
19. A Public Service by Col Bury
20. Hero by Pete Sortwell
21. Snapshots by Paul D Brazill
22. Smoked by Luca Veste
23. Geraldine by Andy Rivers
24. A Minimum Of Reason by Nick Boldock
25. Dope On A Rope by Darren Sant
26. A Speck Of Dust by David Barber
27. Hard Times by Ian Ayris
28. Never Ending by Fiona Johnson
29. Faces by Frank Duffy
30. The Plebitarian by Danny Hogan
31. King Edward by Gerard Brennan
32. Brit Grit by Charlie Wade

The BRIT GRIT mob is coming to kick down your door with hobnailed boots. Kitchen-sink noir; petty-thief-louts; lives of quiet desperation; sharp, blood-stained slices of life; booze-sodden brawls from the bottom of the barrel and comedy that's as black as it's bitter--this is BRIT GRIT !!!

About The Author:

Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool,England in 1962. He moved to London in 1991, where he worked as a Welfare Rights Worker. In 2001 he moved to Poland where he teaches English.

His blog You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? can be found here:

Paul’s Amazon Author Page can be found here

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE problem in writing a series, bubba

The Bourne Sanction
Admittedly, I'm a fan of the Jason Bourne character.  A guy who is a trained assassin, apparently fluent in just about every major language in the world; incredibly lucky and one deadly, deadly, deadly dude!

For a person who loves to read action/adventure/intrigue, what's not to like about Jason Bourne?

The originator for Jason came from the mind of Robert Ludlum.  A prolific author if there ever was one.  Like so many other prolific writers, Ludlum came up with a formula to chuck out one book after the other in a machine gun-like rapidity.  Amazingly, if you think about it,  Ludlum found an audience.  A very loyal audience who eagerly waited for his next book to come to the surface so they could snap it up.

It's kinda amazing to think about in that, like so many other writers who chuck out essentially the same kind of novel two or three (or more) times a year, the by-product of this proclivity is that all the books begin to blur.  They begin to merge to the point--if you're one of those who have read them all--you can't really separate the plots of one from the other.  They all sound the same.

But another problem is thrown into this scenario.  Robert Ludlum dies and in comes Eric Van Lustbader to take over and continue the franchise.  Lustbader himself is an accomplished action/adventure author with a pile of original titles all his own being consumed by an eager fan base.  He comes in and it's as if nothing has changed at all.  Lustbader's ability to morph into the writing style of Ludlum is amazing (although I realize there are those out there who would disagree with me).

The Bourne Deception
So Lustbader takes up the gauntlet and moves the Bourne character thru a series of adventures closely linked with each other.  And herein is the problem I want to discuss about.  The key--the central issue writers of a series face when they decide to write a character and make it a long running series is this;  how do you fill in the background story for a reader who picks up a novel in the middle of the series and reads it first?

An especial problem with the Jason Bourne series.  Lustbader has decided (rightly, I'm thinking) in creating multiple characters and deadly plot lines and stringing them through a series of novels.  If a reader keeps up with the series it becomes only a mildly irritating adventure in trying to remember where one novel left off and the next novel takes up the thread. 

But if you're new to the series and don't know the complexity of the series .  . . . hmmmm.  It becomes a little dicey.  Soooo, as a writer who ponders this dilemma, what do you do to try and correct this?  Do you  write a lengthy Prelude at the beginning of the novel in an effort to get the reader caught up with the story line?  Or do you integrate the past novels into the current read and somehow do it in a way that it doesn't come out preachy.  Or chunky  Or inept.  Or . . . worse of all . . . just plain boring.

The Bourne Dominion
That's the problem, Pumpkin.  One all writers face if they create a series.  So, maybe the answer is to write each novel in the series as a stand-alone entity with very few, if any, references about the past.  But then . . . you run into another problem.  The die-hard fans who crave, insist, demand, howl for these very same references.  Fans like this become literately a part of the family.  All the characters, the twists in the plot lines, the nuances, become intrinsically important.  To skip, or simplify, this is to create a different set of irritations.

So in effect you're basically screwed, brother.  There's no good answer to this conundrum.  Write your best story and hope for the best.  Let the die hard friends grumble a bit.  Write a good story and all will be forgiven.  Remember, they're family;  and family members stick together thru thick and thin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Merry Christmas

Thought I'd offer an unusual Christmas present to everyone.  Last year a wrote a Christmas story featuring Turner Hahn and Frank Morales.  Called it The Curious Mr. Klaus.   Well, it's Christmas again . . . and two thoughts struck my interest.

If you're looking for a good present, you couldn't go wrong buy Eleven from the South Side.  My eleven story collection of Turner Frank short stories currently out.  (That was the first idea).

The second idea was I thought I'd share with you today the story.  Sorta like give you a Christmas present. So here's the story.  Enjoy.

The Curious Mr. Klaus

            The holidays.

            The constant blare of Christmas carols.

            The hordes of people moving like gigantic herds of cattle from one store to the next in search of that elusive cut-throat sale.  Exiting stores so loaded down with packages and more lists to complete they’re bent over and staggering from the load.

            The holidays. 

Everyone supposed to be in a gay, happy mood.  The Spirit of Joy and Giving.  The Holiday Spirits.  And other crappy emotions like this. 

Sure.  Uh huh.

And of course . . . the weather in this town contributing to the holiday mood.  Frigid cold winds blowing off the rivers—cold enough to make a space probe setting on Mars surveying orange skies seem like a tropical paradise.  And snow.  About every other day.  Coming down with a vengeance and screwing up the city’s traffic in one gigantic snarl of howling cars, profane-laced drivers, and terminal cases of ill tempered assholes.

It was eight in the evening, Christmas Eve night and only Frank and I—and the lieutenant—were on duty.

            The holidays.  I hate them.

            “Ah, quit bitching ya fucking ole’ Grinch.  Here—drink this.  Some eggnog with a little spice in it ought to make you feel better.”

            Frank—my partner here in Homicide down in the South Side Precinct—lumbered over to me like an uncaged gorilla and shoved a tall glass of yellow liquid into my hand.  As tall as me he was maybe fifty pounds heavier. The glass of ‘nog in his mitt for a hand looked like shot glass to any other normal human being.  Keeping my opinion to myself I lifted the glass and took a long pull from it.

            And almost gagged from the amount of alcohol in it.

            “Jesus, when did you drain the anti-freeze on your kid’s snowmobile, Frank?  Fer chrissakes don’t light a match in here.  The whole frakken place will be blown sky high.”

            “It’s good, huh?” Frank answered, the corners of his lips twitching—his way of grinning—as he sat down at his desk and looked at me. “It must be pretty good.   Yank’s been over here eight times to ask for more.”

            Yank was Lieutenant Dimitri Yankovich.  Second shift watch commander and directly in charge of the precinct’s second floor—the detective section of the precinct.  Yank was a good man.  A great boss.  Rarely had anything cross to say to anyone.  And apparently liked Frank’s eggnog.  A lot.

            “Got any more?” I asked, looking down at the empty glass and then back at my partner.

            Frank pointed to the ancient, battered, scared relic of what once had been a refrigerator in the janitor’s room over by the stairwell.  I turned and started to make my way to it.  But the phone on my desk lit up.  The square little light aglow on the phone was from downstairs.  From the booking desk.  Reaching for it I threw it to my ear and kept it in place with a shoulder as I pulled the chair of my desk out and started to sit down.

            “Yes, Dougie?  Whatta got?”

            Dougie was Sergeant Douglas Timmons.  A twenty-five year veteran of the uniformed force—of which half of it was sitting behind the booking desk and listening to just about every kind of crime, crazy, and looney bin tale a human being could concoct.  He’d seen it all and cleaned up most of the messes left behind.  Nothing got under his cool.  Nothing surprised him.

            “I’m sending up an elderly gentleman by the name of Friedrich Klaus.  He owns Klaus’ Tailoring over on Houston Street.  For the last two days he’s been coming in here asking to see you, Turner.  You’re here.  He’s here.  It’s time for you to hear his story.”

            “What’s it about?”

            “Naw—not going to say.  If I did you’d probably have me committed to a funny farm.  It’s your squawk, kid.  And it’s a doosey.”

            I told him to send him up and glanced at Frank.


            “Elves,” I said, turning to look at the stairwell and the soon to arrive Friedrich Klaus. “Who else would be out on a night like this?”

            Sonofabitch.  Elves indeed.

            The little man came up the stairs to the squad room dressed in a derby, carrying an umbrella and wearing a very well made heavy navy blue trench coat.  He had bright, ruddy cheeks, a round and very red nose, wore wire-rim spectacles and an expertly trimmed and maintained white beard and mustache.  The whitest beard and mustache I had ever seen.  Glancing at Frank I lifted an eyebrow questioningly.  He shrugged gently, mouthing “Elves” silently to me.

            “Detectives Hahn and Morales, at last I have the pleasure of meeting you!”

            His handshake was surprisingly strong through the gray colored gloves he wore.  I asked him to sit down and tell us what was so important to come out into a night like this and drive through the wind and snow to come to South Side Precinct.

            The little man with the ruddy fat cheeks nodded but the merriment illuminating his eyes switched off like a bathroom light bulb.  To be replaced with a deep look of concern.

            “I’m afraid we must set aside pleasantries, gentlemen.  You two are the only ones who can help me.  And we have so little time.”

            “What can we do for you?” I asked, sitting down at my desk and swiveling the chair around to look at the nattily dressed little man.

            “Tomorrow night, precisely at nine p.m. I am going to die.  Unless—unless you can find the madman who is going to kill me.”

            Frank and I stared at the little man in front of us—blinked a couple of times in surprise—unable to find anything not of a smart-ass quip to say.  The ruddy faced man sitting across from us first looked at me, then at Frank, the irritation on his face clearly visible.

            “I see things, boys.  I have . . . visions.  Glimpses of people . . . events . . . places.  Sometimes they are quite vivid.  Sometimes they are fuzzy—like watching a television show through wax paper.  I also feel other people’s thoughts.  I feel the thoughts coming out of both of you right now.  You think I’m crazy.”

“You feel thoughts,” I repeated. “Not read thoughts—but feel thoughts.  There’s a difference?”

“Very much so,” the little elf nodded, frowning.  “I never hear exactly what a person is thinking.  But I get an overall impression.  Like the one coming from you, Sergeant Morales.  You want proof.  Solid proof to back up what I say.  Very well—try this for size.”

Mister Klaus suddenly stood up, turned, and made a bee line straight to the janitor’s room where the squad room’s frig sat.  Moved as if he knew exactly where he was going.  Even though, to my knowledge, he had never stepped into this building before. When he came out of the room he had the big picture of Frank’s eggnog in his gloved hand.  Walking to where we were sitting he poured each of a full glass—and one for himself with a clean glass he pulled off the shelf above the frig.

“The rum in the eggnog you made, Sergeant Morales.  It’s from the bottle of expensive rum Sergeant Hahn bought for you and has hidden above the hat rack over there. He’s going to give it to you tonight when the shift is over.  But you found it when you two came on duty this afternoon.  So you decided to make some of your famous brew.  Quite delicious, I might add.”

Startled I looked at the big guy sitting across from me.  Frank was looking at me, the corners of his lips twitching—laughter in his eyes.  He nodded, shrugged, and reached for his eggnog.

“And you, Sergeant Hahn.  You’re thinking about buying an old car to restore for your car collection. An Oldsmobile 442 is it?  Well, look in your IN BOX and see what the motor vehicle department says about it.  Second piece of paper in the box.  Yes.  That’s the one.”

I was thinking about buying an old muscle car to rebuild.  That’s what I do for a hobby.  Frowning, I pulled the report out of the IN BOX and glanced at it.  Stolen.  Stolen in ’86 off a residential street in San Diego.

            Grinning—impressed—I tossed the report onto the desk and brought my attention back to our elf.

            “Who’s trying to kill you?”

            “I don’t know.  But apparently he knows the two of you. He really wants to kill either you, Sergeant Hahn.  Or you, Sergeant Morales.  I don’t know precisely.  But he’s using me to get to you.”

            “Huh,” I grunted, frowning and pulling on the lobe of my right ear.  “That would mean he somehow knows you and your . . . ah . . . clairvoyant gifts.”

            “What do you see . . . or feel . . . from his thoughts?” Frank asked.

            “Shoes,” he whispered for a reply.

            “Shoes,” I echoed, frowning.

            “For the last week I’ve . . . I’ve been catching these mental glimpses of tomorrow night’s event.  Images a metal pole and street signs—trees behind the signs blowing from a strong wind—snow falling out the trees in a white curtain—an old, abandoned house.  But most frightening image I see is a dim, partially lit hallway with a pair man’s legs, dressed in gray slacks, lying in the hallway with a steam of blood flowing past his right leg.  That’s where the shoes come in.  Black loafers, made by a small shoe firm called Pakkers.  Very rare.  Hard to find.”

            I arched an eyebrow in surprise.  On my feet was a pair of black loafers.  The very brand our little elf mentioned.  Throwing a look down at his feet I noticed he had the same style of shoes on as well.

            I glanced at Frank.  He was watching me closely.  A frown on his thin gray lips.

            “You see my conundrum,” the ruddy faced, bearded little tailor said softly.  “One of us is going to die, Sergeant Hahn.  I’m thinking it will be me—but it could very well be you.”

            “The street signs.  Where?” asked Frank.

            “Corner of  Dreary Lane and Hope Streets.”

            I would have grinned and dismissed this whole thing as a hoax—maybe a stunt perpetrated by a partner whom I knew liked to pull tricky little pranks on people.  On me in particular.  But there was a Dreary Lane.  And a Hope Street.   And they did cross each other.  Frank’s ugly mug wasn’t grinning that devilish little grin he almost had on his lips when he was pulling something on me.  He looked deadly serious.  Our little elf looked pale and scared.

            “Okay.  Tell you what,” I said, nodding.  “Frank and I will go over to Dreary Lane and Hope and check it out.  You I want to stay right here.  Downstairs.  The desk sergeant will keep an eye on you until we return. Understand?”

            It didn’t take long to drive across town and find the corner of Dreary Lane and Hope.  Curiously, half way there, the wind picked up and started blowing strong enough to send sheets of snow sailing across the streets in a white curtain.  Climbing out of our car I glanced up at the street corner.  The paint on the street sign for Dreary Lane was peeling off.  It was half coated with a thick smear or dark red rust.  Like the color of blood. Reaching up, I pulled the collar of my trench coat up and hunkered down in it.  The wind was freezing cold.

            “Turner,” Frank’s voice said calmly. “Look at the trees.”

            Behind the street signs the trees were dancing like mad Afghani tribesmen. Snow falling out of the trees was creating a blinding curtain of pure white.  One look at the trees and snow and a hand reached inside the trench coat and wrapped fingers around the butt of the .45 caliber Kimber semi-automatic riding underneath my left armpit.

            I dunno—but have you ever had chills walk their icy fingers up and down your spine?  Chills not from the cold or the wind.  But from something else.  Something like—dread.

            Sitting on a small knoll an empty two storied house.  The house out of the Hitchcock movie Psycho came to mind.  Dark, lifeless windows staring at us; window shutters somewhere on the second floor banging against the house thanks to the wind—the weird, eerie vision of an upstairs window directly above the main entrance busted out and a single, faded white curtain waving at us as we approached.  Walking through the deep snow up to the house I heard Frank grunt beside me.

            “I’m not wrong am I?  I mean . . . this is Christmas, isn’t it?  Not Halloween?”

            I grinned and moved onto the porch and tried the front door to see if it was locked with a gloved hand.  It wasn’t.  We searched the house from the attic down to the basement.  Found nothing.  But twice we both thought we heard footsteps walking across the floor above our heads.  And once—faintly—I thought I heard laughter.  Still . . .  we couldn’t be sure.  The wind was even stronger outside and blowing through the house like a small tornado.  The footsteps . . . the laughter . . . could have been just the wind and our nerves playing tricks on us.

            But I didn’t think so.

            When we got back to South Side our Friedrich Klaus was missing.  Gone.  Told Sergeant Timmons he was going home to wrap some Christmas presents.  If we had any questions we knew where to find him.

            “Turner, tomorrow is Christmas.  The wife and kids and I are driving down to Kansas City to have Christmas with my brother and his family.  I won’t be around until well past midnight.”

            “I know, Frank.  I know.  Don’t worry about it.  I’m doing nothing but just hanging at my place.  I’ll take care of this.  It’s probably nothing anyway.  Say hello to your brother and his wife for me.”


            A time of cheer.  Of exchanging gifts with loved ones.  Of watching children’s’ faces light up as they open their presents.  Of laughing and telling old family stories around the dining room table while relaxing after the big Christmas dinner.


            I sat in my car across the street from the house of our curious Mr. Klaus.  Sat behind the wheel of the ’67 Pontiac GTO and ate hamburgers and drank coke as I watched the snow come in off the Brown River and begin falling in buckets full.  Nothing moved down the quiet street of the Klaus house.  Kids came out late in the afternoon with new sleds and tried them out in the blizzard—or pent up too much with their family, out to throw snowballs at anything that moved.  A couple of cabs plowed their way down the streets to come to a halt in front of a house or two.  Grand parents and friends climbed out, carrying bags of brightly covered Christmas packages with them.  They were greeted half way up the snow covered sidewalks with friends and family pouring out of the houses to envelope them with glad tidings.

            At a little past eight pm the garage door to the Klaus house opened and a bright red four wheel drive Jeep Cherokee pulled out, smashed through the wall of snow which had built up in front of the garage, and backed into the street.  Our ruddy complexioned elf was sitting behind the Jeep’s wheel.

            I wasn’t surprised in the least when the red Jeep made its slow way across the deserted streets of the city and came to a halt in front of a house setting on the corner of Dreary Lane and Hope Streets.  I watched Klaus roll out of his car and make his way through the snow and enter the house.  The moment he disappeared inside I climbed out of the GTO and started toward the back door of the creepy place.

            Coming in through the kitchen door, gun in one hand, and a big six-cell Mag light in the other, I moved through the kitchen and entered a long, dark hall which led to the living room. Stepping into the living room—empty—I heard a squeak of flooring behind me.  Turning, I just had a glimpse of a black mass flashing toward me, a hand rising up and over his head—something thick and black in his gloved hand.

            It was a crowbar.  It cracked across my gun hand in a pain searing blow.  I heard bones snapping like match sticks.  Staggering back I threw the Mag light up and made the second blow of the crowbar glance off and away from my skull.  But in the darkness I didn’t see the gloved fist in time.  It caught me in the jaw, snapping my head back and exploding bright lights in my head.  I don’t remember dropping to my knees from the blow.  Shaking my head trying to get some vision back I tried to stand up.  But my legs felt like lead weights and I couldn’t focus my eyes.

            Laughter—I heard laughter—that of a madman’s and then . . . and then . . . through the pain . . . .

            BOOM!  BOOM!

            The ringing explosions of a 9 mm Glock exploding in two rapid shots directly behind me.  I heard a grunt and then the clatter of a heavy body falling to the floor in front of me.

            When I opened my eyes and blinked I found myself in a sitting position.  Braced in a sitting position by the snow shovel sized paw of Frank standing in front of me.  My right arm felt like someone had parked a bull dozer on it and was trying to grind it to pieces with its tracks.   I couldn’t open my jaw too much.  But my eyes were working.  I could see the carrot colored hair and the square jaw of Frank as he held me firmly in place.

            “You okay, Turn?  Never mind.  Stay still.  Got an ambulance crew on the way.  And don’t move that right arm of yours.  Jesus, but you look like hell.”

            I grinned.

            “Hiya, pal.  How were the brother and his brood?”

            “Boring.  As they usually are.  The fucker never changes.”

            I looked toward the semi-lit hallway.  Lying in a puddle of dim light were a set of legs.  Dressed in gray slacks—feet covered with a pair of black Pakkers.  Blood flowing like cold molasses on the floor past his right leg.


            “Not Klaus,” Frank grunted, shaking his head.  “Haven’t a clue who he is.  But I know Friedrich Klaus.  He spends his Christmas with his son down in Florida every year.  Apparently this fucker didn’t know that.”

            “You knew all the time he wasn’t a tailor?”  I asked looking up in the darkness at the dim outline of Frank’s face.

            “Yes.  Thought I’d let him play it out and see where this went.  Farther than I wanted it to.  Sorry, buddy.”

            “Well, just to let you know.  You’re buying lunch for the rest of the year,” I growled. “Still.  I’m glad you showed up.”

            Christmas.  A time to be with family.  A time to enjoy good cheer and the laughter from good friends.  But . . . did I say how much I hated Christmas?

            Not this one.  This one I was happy just to be alive.