Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hmmm . . . 'branding' a series


An idea slapped me in the face last night as I went to bed and lit up again the moment I awoke.  An idea that actually excites me.

Take a look at the artwork to the left.  It's the artwork for the newest Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel soon to come out, Guilt of Innocence.  Great cover, I'm thinking.  Great artwork.  Evocative  . . .   expressing exactly the kind of novel you're going to get yourself buried into the moment you buy it.

The idea is this; Take this cover and use it on the entire series of the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales books.  But change it ever so slightly with each new book.

Look at the picture again.  Let your imagination drift with me . . .

Suppose the next book has the two men in different suits.  Turner (the one on the left) is in brown.  Two different shades of brown. A light tan sport coat and a darker brown colored pair of slacks.  Maybe with a different shade of brown  for the shirt. With a red tie. 

Frank (the gorilla on the right) is in blue jeans and a sport coat with no tie.

Another would be the two dressed differently, but this time firing their guns.   And with bullet holes gouged into the green marble wall behind them.

What is the basis of this idea?  Branding.

Visually branding the product so potential readers know . . . and instantly recognize . . . the kind of story they're getting themselves involved with.  Create covers that have old friends inviting them back into their fold for another rousing story.

A new idea; yet an old idea.  Artwork used as a branding tool for both characters and/or their author is as old as the hills.  Rarely used, I'm thinking . . . but old as the hills.  Yet, for a couple of genre-cloaked old homicide detectives like Turner and Frank, it seems like it is precisely what is needed to lift their books above the morass of a cluttered genre and make them successful.

The idea popped into my head last night when I got the news the Hahn/Morales novel, Guilt of Innocence is going to have all its publishing rights revert back to me since the publisher, who has had it for the last three/four years, is dropping it from its current listing.

I understand why they are dropping it.  To be frank, the novel hasn't sold that well.  I think I know why (the main one being the genre is cluttered with books similar to this one.  Actually drowning in a sea of clones.)  So, from a business stand point for the publisher, something had to change. 

At first depressed at hearing the news . . . after getting off a 12 hour work shift . . . I started for bed.  But then it hit me.


The cover on the left is the current cover A Taste of Old Revenge.  Not very impressive, I'm thinking.  Actually rather bland.  So the question has to be asked . . . would you buy this book based on its cover?

I'm thinking the answer is a resounding, "No!"

Thus . . . the source for the light bulb going off in my noggin' about re-branding the series with a quasi-repetitive cover like the one above. 

You know how a reader of genre can be.  They can be exceedingly loyal.  They can be quite demanding as they eagerly away the next volume in a series they've married into.  That's exactly what I am trying to accomplish here.  Get an fanatical base of readers eager to pick up the next book in the series.   And visually invite more potential readers into the party as well.

I think it's a workable concept.  So within the next four months Guilt of Innocence is going to come out again with a new cover.  A cover based off the one above.

Will this idea work?  Don't know until we try it.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Busy Writing Season

Its been, and is, a busy writing season.  Working on projects galore.  So far this year I am writing on three novels, while at the same time, trying to get out onto the market four separate projects (two collections of short-stories and novellas; two separate novels).

This is one of 'em.  The two-novella set featuring the early novellas of Smitty, my dark eyed wunderkind of a hit-man.

Yes, the novellas were published earlier in a collection of combined short-stories and longer pieces.  But I've felt for a long time the two longer stories should be back-to-back showpieces in a separate offering.  And then somehow pushed out onto the market more vigorously.

We've talked about Smitty before.  How he came along in a serendipitous-like accident.  How he seems to have made himself truly unique in a sub-genre filled with hit-man/assassin characters.

(Look back in previous posts.  You'll find a number of discussions about Smitty.  Along with a few short stories)

Today I thought I might share the opening chapter of novella number two in the collection.  Called, A Killing Kiss, it's basically about the dark eyed man becoming . . . of all things . . . almost like a shinning knight in black armor.  Yes, he actually does save a damsel in distress!

Hope you like it.  Hope this might whet your appetite for both of'em.

A Killing Kiss


            Through the gloom of the night he saw the flash of bright tail lights of the Mercedes as it slowed before turning off the highway and onto the paved county road.   The black top road was miles outside the city.  It cut a narrow swath through a thick forest as it wound its way around the bases of small hills and generally meandered toward the Mississippi River.

            In the darkness of the heavy four wheel drive pickup he was driving his thin lips pulled back into grim little sneer.  Down shifting into third he slowed as the black top road approached and then rolled the big Ford F-150 onto the county road and sped up rapidly.  Two miles ahead was a steep, narrow curve in the road he had chosen for the hit to go down.  On one side the black mass of a steep hillside filled with trees crowded up against the road’s pavement.  On the other side a ditch.  Actually a deep creek filled with trees and underbrush on its steep sides and deep, fast moving water down at the bottom.

            The perfect spot.

            Ideal for what he had in mind.

            The perfect resting place for victim number one.

            The big Ford engine up front increased in volume as he pushed the vehicle well past eighty in an effort to catch up to the Mercedes.  In moments the tail lights of the German luxury car came into sight.  Inside the car he knew its driver would be suspecting nothing as the head lights of his big truck came up fast on its rear bumper.

            Just another good’old boy heading down to the river to do some fish’n.  Maybe fishin’ and sippin’ the suds some.  Big boys and their big powerful toys.  Always ran this road a little too fast–a little too recklessly.

            Yes . . .

            That’s exactly what Charlie Rich would be thinking as bright headlights lit up the rear view mirror on his windshield.  Just another good’ole boy . . .


            Except the front end of the big truck had a tubular steel pipe bumper system strong enough to smash through brick walls.  So just as the giant machine smashed into the left rear fender of the Mercedes Charlie Rich had no time to react.  The truck hit him with a tremendous blow–throwing the car’s tail around to the right so violently the big car began sliding out of control and heading straight for the drop off down into the creek below.

            Tires screeching, Charlie sawing desperately back and fourth on the steering wheel in a useless effort to bring the care under control.  But it was a useless gesture.  With the big Ford engine of the pickup behind him screaming in anger poor Charlie had no chance.  The right set of wheels slipped off the pavement and down into loose gravel.  The sudden change was enough to flip the car on its side.  Sparks flew as the metal of the car skidded back onto the pavement.  But instead of slowing down the nose of the Ford pick up kept slamming into the car like an enraged black rhino–slamming into the Mercedes with sledge hammer blows that continued to push the car toward the edge of the creek embankment.

            One final blow and the Mercedes titled dangerously for a half second on the edge of the creek . . . and then disappeared altogether in a blinking of an eye.  Smitty screeched to a halt only inches away from the creek’s edge and threw open the pick up’s door and jumped out.  In the darkness the tumbling roar of the Mercedes rolling and crashing through the underbrush and bouncing off the rocky walls of the creek filled the dark eyed man’s ears.  A grinding, ripping, shattering series of explosive sounds as he stood on the creek’s ledge and looked down.

            Ninety feet.

            Ninety feet to the bottom and then . . . distinctly . . . the splash of the car diving, roof top first, into the swiftly moving deep stream.  If the drop of ninety feet  didn’t kill the overweight, wheezing mobster the fast moving water would.  Charlie Rich didn’t know how to swim.  If by some miracle Charlie survived the fall he wouldn’t have time to unstrap himself and climb out of the car.  The water was frigid cold.  The car was a smashed and twisted heap of metal.  He made sure of that.  No way to get out of the car easily.  No way.

            A grim little smile stretched across Smitty’s lips as he turned and climbed back into the Ford.  Charlie Rich was a dirty little bastard who needed killing.  The small time hood who liked to hurt people.  Liked to inflict pain.  He wasn’t a nice man.  One of Jacob Menten’s henchmen, Charlie Rich had thoughts of taking over his boss’s operations.  Becoming the boss himself.   The boss–Jacob Menten–was dead.  Dead from a massive heart attack.  His organization was without a leader.  A leader strong enough to keep the organization together.  There was a void at the top and if someone didn’t step up soon and take over the organization was going to fold.  And some other underworld kingpin would move in and take over the territory.

            But not Charlie Rich.  Charlie was out of the picture.  Permanently. 

            One down.  Five more to go.

            Closing the door the dark eyed man pushed the gearshift up into reverse and backed up.  It was time to leave.  Time to start working on hit number two.  Time to start working down the list.  One at a time.  Time to make Jacob Menten’s wife and young son safe.  Safe from the wolves gathering to feast on the corpses of their leaders if something wasn’t done.  Something drastic.




            It all began a week earlier.  A week earlier on a day that was a cold, gray overcast day in the middle of a cemetery.   Underneath a big elm tree a small knot of men in women, most dressed in various shades of black, stood around a freshly dug grave and mutely watched as a large bronze colored casket was slowly lowered into the ground.  In the middle of the gathering was a young woman dressed in black with a black veil over her face. Yellow hair, the color of ripened wheat, cascaded down past her shoulders.  A startling bright splash of color in a sea of mourning.  Tall, slender, almost like a Greek statue of Aphrodite herself, she stood in the middle of the mourners holding her month old baby close to her.

            She was Jacob Menten’s wife.  Charlene Menten.

            Unbelievable gorgeous.  And more–the mask of her Hollywood kind of beauty hid a brilliant mind.  A brilliant mind intellectually matched with the soul of a giving, loving, tender mother.  Marking her, unfortunately, a prize beyond compare.

            Encircling her were the six henchmen Jacob Menton relied on to keep his organization running smoothly.  Charlie Rich.  Harry Bosley.  Will Marconi.  Greg Tarkanian.  Stu Sheppard. Mick O’Toole.  Six strong, ruthless, greedy men who stood respectfully by the boss’s wife and paid their respects to the dead.  Yet stood each eyeing each other and wondering how and when the first one would begin the process of taking over the business.  Meaning . . . who would be the first to be knocked off.

            From a distance, standing beside a large tree, he had watched the funeral service in silence.  Watched the six men standing close to the beautiful widow.  Watched as they lowered Jacob Menten in the ground.  Watched as each of the six henchmen stepped toward Charlene with a few words of condolences and then moved away.  Watched as, one by one, each of the hoods drifted back to their cars and drove away.  Drove away leaving the woman and her baby standing alone by the heap of freshly dug ground of her husband’s grave.

            Charlene lingered by the grave a few minutes more.  Stood holding her baby in his layers of warm blankets and stared down at the fresh grave.  And cried.  Cried silently but forcefully. Tears flowing down her cheeks and ruining her makeup. 

            Eventually the weeping subsided.  Eventually she tried to wipe the tears from her face.  Eventually she took a deep breath, looked up at the gray overcast sky, and turned to walk back to the limousine waiting for her.  Head down, carefully watching how she moved across the dead grass of the cemetery in high heels, she didn’t look up and see the man standing beside the open rear door of the limo until she stepped onto the paved road.

            A thin man.  Not tall.  Not short.  With a sharp, angular face oddly attractive.  Wearing jet black shades covering his eyes.  Dressed in a black, tailored and quite expensive suit.  Handsome . . . yet, somehow . . . with an air of menace to him.  Of violence kept under control.  Barely.

            “I’m your friend, Mrs. Menten.  A friend of yours and your son’s.”

            “Who . . . who are you?”

            “Shall we get out of the cold?  I’m sure the baby is beginning to feel uncomfortable,” the soft voice of the menacing man answered, opening the rear door for her and the baby.

            Charlene Menten pressed the soft bundle of blankets closer to her and nodded, long blond hair rustling softly across her shoulders in the process.  Sliding into the rear seat she moved over some, giving room for the dark men to slide in as well.  When he did and closed the door the driver of the limo–a man close to her husband–said nothing but started the car up and began driving.

            “He knows me, Mrs. Menten.  Knows why I am here.  Your husband didn’t trust too many people.  But he trusted Otto.  You can be sure of Otto’s loyalty.  As you can of mine.”

            “But who are you?  Why are you here?  How did you know my husband?”

            Charlene Menten had a husky voice.  A voice that captured your attention immediately.  A voice he knew Jacob Menten could not have disregarded.  Her beauty–her voice–would have, did actually, capture Jacob Menten’s heart the moment she spoke to him the first time.

            “Most people know me as Smitty.  I worked, shall we say, on assignment for your husband down through the years.  On mutually beneficial business transactions more as partners than as employer to employee.  Over the years Jacob began to trust me.  As I trusted him.  That’s why I am here.  My last assignment he asked me to complete when the time came.”

            “I . . . I’m confused.  What assignment?  When did Jacob talk to you last?”

            Confusion.   Consternation.

            A vague portrait of growing panic filling the green eyes of the beautiful woman beside him.  He almost smiled.  The smell of her perfume drifting to his nostrils.  The luster of her dark blond hair almost making the interior of the car glow.  Her voice.  Her youth.  An image of unattainable beauty sitting beside him.  A woman of desires.  A woman to be desired.  Coveted and desired.  A trophy waiting to be snatched up and claimed by the one strongest enough to take over the organization.

            Unless.  Unless . . .

            “Jacob called me two weeks ago.  Said he wanted me to do something for him.  Said it was important.  Made me promise.  I agreed.  And so here I am.  Fulfilling that promise.”

            “What promise?” she asked, a gloved hand coming up to pull back the thin black veil which had partially hidden her face.  “What are you talking about?”

            “Your husband knew he was going to die, Mrs. Menten.  Knew someone within his organization was going to kill him.  He didn’t know who.  Or how.  But he was sure someone was after him.  So he made me promise him.  Made me promise him that if he died within a year of our conversation I was to come to town.  Come to town and find his killer.  Find his killer and protect you and his son from harm.”

            “His killer,” the beautiful woman’s husky voice repeated, her eyes widening in horror.  “Jacob was murdered?  You’re saying one of his friends murdered my husband?”

            Smitty, dark eyes hidden behind the black wrap around shades, said nothing as the black limo moved silently past the hundreds of headstone of the deceased.  But beside him the soft whimper of a woman quietly crying again–crying and trying not to at the same time–came to his ears.  And in her arms the baby stirred and made the first little squeak of a hungry child.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Let's Celebrate

To celebrate this collection of Turner Hahn and Frank Morales coming out soon, I thought I'd tickle your fancy with one of the stories found in the collection.  There's twenty-one short stories in it.  Twenty-one stories written over a three year period.  Some good.  Some average.  Several, I think, very, very good.

Here's one which, in my not so humble opinion, is one of the best of the lot.  It's call Prove It.  About a cop going over the deep end.  I think you're gonna like it.

I've talked about Turner and Frank before.  About how close they are to me.  About wanting to write hardboiled stories that featured 'buddies' working, backing each other up, in the dark alleys of Mankind's darker side of humanity.

It is quite possible these guys will never be a popular as I think they should be.  Too bad.  They're really two unique characters.

So here's Prove It.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the collection should be out by the middle of this month (September.)

Prove It



            We were the first on the scene. 

            A hot night, just after a major thunderstorm, the streets wet with steam rising off the parking lot like malevolent wraiths. 

            The car was parked in a glazed and glistening empty ten acres of wet asphalt. The only car parked in this flat pool table of loneliness.  A metallic island in a sea of black.  Pulling up behind the Caddy de Ville we got out, unbuttoned our sport coats and walked to the car slowly, each of us gripping our weapon just in case.  At three in the morning you expect anything.  Especially if you’re a cop and you get a phone call that said something about screeching tires, shouting voices, and gunfire.

            She was sprawled on the front seat of the caddy with half her head missing.  Most of it was a dark smear across the right side passenger door and window.  A big caliber gun held just in front of her left ear had done the trick.

            Efficient.  But messy.

            She was in her early forties.  A blond with a skimpy summer dress of black with white poke dots.  A dress that was way too tight but one that nicely expressed the trim compactness of her frame.  Lying on the floorboard in front of the slumped over body was a big purse of black plastic.  Between the purse and her, lying on the bloody leather seat, was a blood stained business card.  Looking up at my partner I grunted and pointed to the card.

            “Can you read it from your side?”

            Frank grunted and bent down to look through the passenger side window.  Think ‘thug’ when you think of Frank.  Or misanthrope.  Maybe Neanderthal would be better.  Big, ugly, with stringy red hair and a nose about the size of a Goodyear blimp.  But don’t voice your thoughts.   There are some things best kept to your self.

            “Can’t,” he said, standing up and shaking his head. “Too much shit on the window and not enough light.  Let me get a flashlight and maybe you can read it on your side.”

            “Right,” I nodded, looking up and at the back of the big man as he walked back to our car. “Run the license plate while you’re at it.  I think I know this car.  I’ve seen it before.”

            I pulled out my cell phone, flipped it open, and called for an ambulance and forensics team.  In the middle of my talk I heard footsteps behind me.   Turning, Frank stood staring at me.  The look on his face told me I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear.

            “Turn, the car belongs to Grace McKenzie.  She’s Dave McKenzie’s wife.”


            Dave McKenzie was Officer David McKenzie.  One of our own.  A patrol officer stationed in the South Side Division.  He was downstairs in the patrol divisions.  We were upstairs in the detective division. We knew the guy.  Knew him for years.  Knew how much in love he was with his unfaithful wife.  Knew how much of a hot head he could be if anyone started making smart-ass remarks about her.  And when he became angry it was a mean, brutal anger.

            Mean enough to murder.

            “Can you see the card now?”

            Frank lifted the flashlight and shot a white-hot beam through the driver’s side window.  Bending down he squinted and grunted before standing and clicking the light off.

            “Ruby’s Irish pub,” he said. “And someone’s written a phone number and what looks like a motel room number across the front of it.”

            Ruby’s was a decent little place to catch a beer or a stiff drink across town.  It was frequented by the young college types who were professionals in some kind of high dollar tech or corporate job.  Lots of women could be found there.  Women who were looking for a good time with someone who had money to burn.

            “Turner, we’d better find Dave and get him isolated.  If he finds out someone zipped his wife he’ll go ape shit.”

            “Unless he already has,” I nodded, staring down at the corpse.

            Dave worked the same shift we did.  So by rights he should be somewhere on our side of town sitting in his black and white with his partner.  He wasn’t.  A couple of phone calls later confirmed it.  Dave came to work all right.    But around nine p.m. he got a phone call and had to go home.  Family emergency, he told his patrol sergeant when called in.

            That didn’t sound like Dave.   Dave was like clockwork when it came to his job.  He never got sick.  He never was late.  Always willing to pull a few more hours when he could.  That wasn’t Dave to suddenly check out and go home.

            We drove over to Dave’s house.  A big, rambling old two story Victorian set in the middle of a block lined with old elm trees.  A house—a neighborhood—to raise a family on.  To see kids playing in the front yard or riding bicycles down the sidewalks.  But Dave and Grace never had kids.  Only ten years of arguing and unfaithfulness; with Dave being the workaholic, dedicated cop and Grace being . . . Grace.

            The house was big, black . . . and lifeless.  Even the detached garage, with its doors wide open and inviting, felt dead.

            Ruby’s Irish Pub locked its doors at two in the morning.  Glancing at my watch I noticed it was a little past four.  A couple of more hours and the sun would be coming up.

            In silence we drove over to The Adirondacks Motel off the 456 exit on the north side of town.  The scribbled phone number was from the motel.  Driving into the still pre-dawn parking lot of the hotel we got out of the car and stared up at the room listed on the card.  Around us the still air was as silent as a morgue’s during after hours.  Even the traffic up on the bypass just a block away was eerily absent.     

            Glancing at Frank I could see it in the set of his jaw muscles.

            He was getting bad vibes just like me.

            Something didn’t feel right.

            It didn’t take long to find it.  The motel door was splintered and partially open.  Frank used a gloved hand to push the door open gently as we both reached for iron.  We waited for a few second and then slid into the blackness of the room half expecting gunfire to greet us.  No gunfire.  But lying in the middle of a rumpled bed was man dressed in slacks and a white shirt with stringy brown hair and large blue eyes staring up at the ceiling.  He looked to be about forty.  Arms had been pulled behind him and layers of gray bound them tight.  Over his head was a plastic bag sealed at the neck with more duct tape.  There were bruises on the arm from someone powerful who had yanked the dead man’s arms back to bind them.  There were a lot of bruises on his battered face from being slapped around a lot before the bag was pulled over his head and sealed shut.

            Whoever wanted this guy dead wanted to extract a little pain from him first.  The kind of pain that . . . say . . . a jealous husband might want to extract.

            As we stood on either side of the body Frank was on his cell phone calling for forensics my phone chimed up.  Pulling it out, I flipped it open and grunted.

            “Turner, this is Blake.  I know where you can find Dave.”

            Blake Gauge was a big black cop, the biggest I’d ever seen, and who had been Dave’s patrol sergeant for years.  He and Dave were old friends.  If anyone might have a line on Dave’s whereabouts it would be Blake.

            “When he gets down in the dumps over something Grace's done he usually goes and hangs out in a dive called Calypso’s down on Second.  Know the place?”

            I knew the place.  An all night hole in the wall filled with the blue haze of chain smoking hucksters and down on their luck drifters drowning their sorrows in tall glasses of ice cold beer. The place always had that dry smell of old urine and stale beer hanging faintly in the air and the lights were always turned low.  A good place for a stranger to lose himself in a crowd if he wanted to.

            We found him sitting, alone, at the end of the bar.  In front of him was a half consumed bottle of cheap whiskey, an astray overflowing with dead butts, a pack of cigarettes on the bar in front of him, and a bowl of shelled peanuts.  In sat in the middle of a thick haze of cigarette smoke which seemed to just hang in the air.

As Frank and I walked into the place David shook a fresh cigarette out and lit it.  Blowing smoke over his head he reached for the book of whiskey and poured himself a drink just as Gus, the bartender on duty this morning, strolled over to us.

            “Boys, get him outta here.  Take him somewhere and sober him up.  He’s in a sour mood and is scaring the hell out the customers.  I don’t want any trouble.  And I sure as hell don’t want this place busted up!”

            “How long has he been here?” Frank asked, his face turning hard and grim.

            “Since around one this morning.  Came in here, Bill told me, a little past one and went through the first bottle of whiskey like it was bottled water.  That’s the third he’s working on now.  He should have passed out a long time ago.  If he doesn’t die of alcoholic poisoning his liver will kill him soon enough.”

            We nodded and moved past the wiry little bald bar tender and strolled down the bar toward our friend.  Both of us were tense.  Expecting anything.  David was acting strange—not the loud, grinning cop we normally saw.  Not drunk either.  He seemed distant.  Aloof.  Amazingly calm.  But he looked like hell.  Red bleary eyes, disheveled, sweaty brown hair—wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt which looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week.

            We’ve seen this kind of change in personality before.

            It never turned out well.

            We slid up to the bar, bracketing our friend like two hulking bookends.  Dave acted as if he hadn’t noticed.  Exhaling a long pillar of cigarette smoke he watched it for a moment or two dissolve into the cloud of smoke hanging over him and then reached for his drink.

            “Dave,” I said softly but firmly. “You know why we’re here.  We need to go downtown and talk.  And then we need to get you some help.”

            The fleeting glimpse of a grin flashed across his gray lips just before taking a drink.  Lowering his glass he didn’t turn to look at either of us. 

            “Ever love someone, Turner?  I mean, really love someone.  Love someone so much they became a part of you.  Like breathing.  Like blood pulsing through your veins.  Ever love someone like that?”

            I shook my head no and said nothing.  Frank said nothing but I saw him spread his feet out and clinch hands into fist.  Coming off the bar I unbuttoned the sport coat but made no other move.  Behind me I heard chairs sliding back hurriedly and feet pounding across the wooden floor heading for the door.  Even Gus seemed to have disappeared.

            “I loved her, Turn.  Grace.  I loved her like no one could love her.  Sure, she had a temper.  We had our shouting matches.  We had our fights.  But never . . . never did she doubt that I loved her.  Never.  Not even when she’d come home at odd times of the night and day looking like she’d been sleeping in some back alley with a dead wino.”
            A rattling, half-sob of a sigh came out of the man’s chest and eyes filled with tears.  But with a steady hand he poured himself another drink and sat the bottle down in a slow, deliberate fashion before speaking.

            “But it never lasts, friend.  You know.  Love—it never lasts.  One day something happens.  One day you wake up and find her gone again.  She’s not in your bed.  She’s not downstairs cooking breakfast.  She’s nowhere around.  So it just happens.  Like catching the flu.  One day something just . . . . snaps and you realize you can’t take it any longer.  You realize she never loved you.  Realize you were nothing but a patsy—a lunch ticket—to her and nothing else.”

            “So what happened, Dave?  Who was the guy in the motel?”  I asked.

            “Some shit head for a traveling salesmen who would call her up every time he got into town.  From Pittsburg.  An asshole with a nice wife and three kids.  Didn’t give a damn about his wife or kids.  For the last five years . . . five fucking years . . . the two of’em would go out on the town.   Party . . . get shit faced drunk. . . screw around.  Five fucking years.”

            I nodded.  I heard the pain and anger in his voice.  I was very familiar with this tale.  Scribble in different names—different events.  But the story was disturbingly similar.  And similarly, potentially very dangerous.

With a smooth, calm effort Dave slid off the bar stool and half turned toward Frank.

            “Before we go anywhere, Turn, I need to take a piss.”

            “Hold it,” I grunted in a hard voice.

            Dave half turned and faced me with an odd grin on face.  But he didn’t stop.  With a bang the flimsy wooden door slammed shut and we heard the click of the lock from the inside.

            “Sonofabitch!” hissed Frank as he turned and started moving toward the head.

            “He’s gonna blow his fucking brains out, Turn!  He’s not gonna let us take him in alive.”

            We both jumped for the bathroom door—but stopped suddenly in our tracks when we hard the toilet flush.  The door banged open and out stepped Dave drying hands off with a thick wad of paper towels and that same strange—odd—grin on his lips.

            “What?  You think I was gonna try to escape?  Run?  No?  Oh, I know. You thought I’d eat my on piece.  Check out by painting brain matter all over the bathroom walls.  Ha, that’ll be the day.”


            That’s when I got scared.  I’ve seen all kinds of strange things being a homicide detective.  I’ve seen just about every way a person can die.  Naturally and unnaturally. Frank and I have arrested bad people.  Mean people.  Innocent people who, in the heat of anger or fear, made terrible decisions.  But I’d never encountered this.  The guy who walked into the head was David McKenzie.  The guy who walked out wasn’t.  Sure, he looked like the guy we used to know.  He sounded like the guy we used to know.  But he wasn’t Dave McKenzie.  Somehow David McKenzie’s soul died in that dirty, filthy bathroom and the person who came out was someone entirely different.  Different inside.

            “So,” the stranger grunted, his odd—evil—smile widening in pleasure. “Someone must have iced Grace and shit head.  Wonderful.”

            “You did,” I said, pulling out handcuffs and stepping toward the stranger.

            A menacing laugh rolled out of the stranger’s chest.  Dead eyes stared directly into mine.  Dead eyes of a soulless creature. I still remember the tone, the snarl of pure hate, in his voice as he replied.

            “Prove it.”

            And—as you might guessed—we didn’t.  We never found the murder weapon.  There were no fingerprints either on the Caddy or in the hotel room.  There were no witnesses. 

            We had nothing.

            He walked.  Walked out of jail. Laughing.  Laughing as moved down the stone steps of downtown lockup and disappeared into the night,