Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley

The hand on my knee was firm. Then, it was crushing. Then, it started to slide the kneecap right off. Despite the pain, I didn’t cry out; in a bizarre comedic moment I wondered if the thing shoved against my ribs was called a ‘silencer’ for more than one reason.

Another survival tip for you, kiddies: no matter how funny you find yourself, don’t smile when the bad guys are interrogating you under physical duress. They don’t like it, and things go downhill fast.

Mr. Big (as in the leader) gestured vaguely toward the bathroom hallway Siobhan had gone down (where was she??) and Mr. ReallyBig the thug dragged me from the booth and shoved me ahead of him down the hallway toward a greasy door at the end.

I had a little more experience with being meekly led to the slaughter, and I wasn’t walking to my own funeral this time. Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley (or maybe the alleys in Galway aren’t dirty; I didn’t remember) or down by the ocean where they’d never find you.

I say I had experience with the concept. I had none with the execution of it. I jerked away from Mr. ReallyBig and ran for the door. Which was locked. I think. I don’t know; it wouldn’t open.

The pain in the back of my head was amazing. At first I thought he’d shot me; then I realized he’d just slugged me with the gun. Not enough to knock me out; contrary to what you see in the movies, that takes more than a light tap. But enough to make me reconsider my flight and, instead, bend over with my head between my hands. I’m no tough guy, I’m an academic, remember?

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon or just sign up for my newsletter and get it free.

A Little Step Before a Leap

The apartment was bigger than it looked in the photos online. Real estate must be cheaper in a small town than in the cities. I didn’t know. I’d never lived anywhere but one big city and apartments were even more expensive than renting a small house. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess if you’re willing to pay for the benefit of not having a lawn to mow, someone might as well take your money.

I also wasn’t used to having the super live offsite. Though she wasn’t the super, she was the apartment manager. Or owner. I should get that straight. She and her husband lived down the street in a nice little house by the lake.

“Right up the road if pipes burst or you lock yourself out,” Mrs. Wright had said. Mr. Wright was housebound so she had taken care of our business arrangements.

“Now, there’s lots of young men for neighbors, dear, but they’re polite and well-behaved or I wouldn’t have them. So you just make yourself at home.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Wright. I’m not worried about them.”

One eyebrow twitched, and she smiled.

“No, I supposed you’re not. I’m off, then.”

Maybe her intuition works better than mine. Maybe I was advertising more than I realized.

No young man was getting anywhere near me until my heart grew back in the hole left by the young man I’d just left forever.

This is an excerpt from next year’s romantic mystery Anacrusis.

A half-penny candy becomes Enron

Never believed in situational ethics. While I sympathize with Jean Valjean, he was still a thief. There are plenty of grey areas in life. Honesty isn’t one of them. Honesty is binary: anything you do is honest, or it’s not.

People make mistakes, sure, but if someone steals, and then all they do about it afterward is feel badly, they’re a thief. It’s a fundamental character defect.

A half-penny candy becomes Enron. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. Bend the twig and get a crooked tree.

Someone who’ll steal is bent. Bent is bent. Thieves aren’t known for veracity.

Bent is bent.

So when I say “it’s been bothering me,” what I really mean is that you can directly attribute some of this blathering and confusion to the severely disrupted emotional condition I’ve been in since I discovered that someone I feel strongly about, and could feel more strongly about with only a hint of a nudge, didn’t share my rigid moral character.

If that doesn’t make sense to you I suggest you don’t waste any more time on this tale than you already have.

If it does, you’ll know what it costs me to admit I stole something once, and why I’ve locked the memory away.

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

The wrong side of the door, with the wrong people

old-wooden-doorThe door to the large storage room was unlocked, which seemed odd, but perhaps it was intentional. Perhaps Dubin’s plan involved accidental stumblings.

Knob turned, I listened for any sounds.

In the absolute still of the church Niall’s breathing behind me was louder than anything behind the door.

I pushed it open and stepped into the dark.

Accidental stumblings indeed.

As the lights blinded me, I don’t know who was more startled when we collided, me, or Conor Dubin.

I whipped around as the church door slammed. My glimpse of the spot where Niall had been standing was now a glimpse of a heavy wooden door.

Then, it was the inside of the storeroom door, and I was on the wrong side of it with some people I desperately wanted not to see.

This is an excerpt from Into the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

He pulled out the soiled handkerchief again and smeared germs across his forehead

sweatingHe pulled out the soiled handkerchief again and smeared germs across his forehead. Then he sat.

“I should say, that is, I meant to say, I removed something and I would like you to put it back.”

He hadn’t added up from minute one. It was only getting worse.

“And the reason you can’t return it yourself is what? They don’t know you took it and you’d like to keep it that way?”

He blushed. Actual pink-in-the-face blushing.

“While it’s more, well, complicated, yes, complicated than that, you could put it that way.”

His predilection for circuitous expression was annoying. And apparently catching.

“Why?”

It pushed him back against the chair.

“What do you mean, why?”

“I get the broad strokes. Give me the details. You said there were details. Share them.”

The sweating and blushing continued. The predilection didn’t.

“No.”

This is an excerpt from A Long, Hard Look. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

The Precise Location of Milford House, Iddington

Since you’re unlikely to consult a map, nor to find it if you did, I’ll waste a bit of ink placing Milford House properly.

While not precisely in the village, it had long been given resident status due to the enormous donations by its builder to the church. Tradition being what it is ’round here, it’s hardly surprising that, more than two centuries later, privileged status persists, despite the fact that the original benefactor died within a decade of building his grotesquerie, and the church long ago sold off the organ, expensive paneling, and gilt whatchamacallits. Since it no longer functioned as a place of spiritual enlightenment (though some in the village argued that it never had) the trappings seemed irrelevant, except financially.

That’s not especially helpful, geographically, is it? Perhaps this will help: head south from the village square, such as it is (apparently the founding fathers felt inadequate for a full square and opted for the three-sided version known elsewhere as a triangle) until you pass the last house on the left, and the last pub on the right. (Just watch for traffic from the former to the latter. It can be sudden and inconsiderate of the casual passerby.)

Now, passing the copse of birch, you’ll come to an enormous iron gate. An enormous ugly iron gate. Unless you’re better traveled than I, you will never have seen wrought iron so horrifically misshapen. Its designer had clearly asked its builder for something expressive of the modern era, which 250 years ago wasn’t a pleasant sight when translated to wrought iron. I could draw you a sketch, but I’ll save us both the weeping and ask you to trust my eyes: it is ugliness, captured for all eternity.

gate at Milford HouseNot just ugly, but useless. The gate is the only portion of the fence ever completed. My guess is that the iron-worker had a reputation to think of and packed his things off to a job which wouldn’t sully his artistic vision further.

There it sits, a gate, partly ajar, where it stuck so long ago no one alive recalls ever seeing it fully open, or fully closed.

The worn dirt path around the near gate post eloquently describes how locals have dealt with the gate from time immemorial. Or at least since the gate stuck, which might be the same thing.

Having done all these things; that is, started at the square, walked past the last house and pub, eyes sharp to avoid a trampling, and skirted the hapless gate, I thought I’d finish the journey, being only a dozen yards from the front door.

It seemed the perfect opportunity to finally test the head of my brass walking stick on the dense brass plate installed beside the door. I’d often thought of it, walking past the old pile, but felt one shade too silly at the thought of knocking on what I knew to be an empty home.

The solid rap and slight rebound were satisfying. Worth the wait, that was. Ah, life’s simple pleasures.

When you’ve lived in Iddington a while you’ll see what I mean.

The door opened in what I can only call a perfectly reasonable manner. No lurching. No timid peek-and-open. No fumbling with locks or latches. It just opened, as so few people seem to be able to arrange with their own front doors.

“Yes?” He proved himself as capable of standing as of door-opening. Just standing, without intent, subterfuge, or agenda.

I looked for an expression and felt as if I were looking at myself. It the ping-pong of conversation it was clearly my shot, and I took it.

“Yesterday in the post, I thought I saw a glimmer of sanity in your actions.”

“And you’ve come to stamp it out?”

Apparently my explosive laugh startled him. He stepped back, then regained his position at the door.

“No, not at all. I’ve come with a bellows to inflame the village with the stuff. There’s been precious little sanity here for decades.”

He eyed me. I can’t say how, precisely, he eyed me. It took me years to read the tiny signs even his face couldn’t hide.

“Best come in, then. Obviously no point standing on ceremony in these parts.”

“Excellent. No point standing, period, if you can sit.”

He stiffened slightly. Not that his face changed, but the swing of his hand to open the door hitched ust a little; the twist of one foot to step away paused ever so slightly before continuing.

“Yes. Well. Perhaps. This way.”

He stepped back from the door, and I stepped into a room full of packing crates, boxes, and the natural detritus of movers and moving.

“Go straight on through.”

Straight on through meant, as far as I could tell, toward the bright light coming from an open door between uncurtained windows, two rooms away.

I could feel him behind me and didn’t pause to look at the labels and scribbles on the boxes. Head down, I marched straight on through like an obedient school child.

Outside the door, it took a moment for my eyes to readjust from crossing the darkened rooms. A table was obvious. Chairs were not.

He stepped around me and walked toward the steps leading down to the garden from the stone porch we stood on. Spinning as he’d done at the post, he stuck out a hand in what I can only describe as a childishly nervous manner.

“Pearce. Kenyon. That is to say, family name Pearce pee ee aye arr cee ee, given name Kenyon, which I shan’t spell.”

Taking his hand I opened my mouth but he cut me off. “No need, no need. I asked around after your performance in the post. My acquaintences in the city were quite clear who you are.”

“Ah. And yet you invite me into your home. How gracious.”

And for the first time, he actually smiled.

“Stuffing. Nonsensical. Writers aren’t all fools. You may yet prove to be in the minority.” And, after the briefest pause, “Perhaps.”

His handshake switched from tentative to firm, resolved.

Without letting go of my hand, he stood for a moment, face wrinkling around the eyes and nose, and then he laughed, a bright, hearty, right from the boots laugh.

Releasing his hand, it was my turn to step back, startled. Laughs are infectious things, though, and I couldn’t help myself but to laugh as well, even without yet knowing the punch line of the joke.

Despite the lifetimes of water under bridges, I can clearly pinpoint that as the moment the greatest friendship of my life began.

And just in time, I might add. Iddington was about to drive me nuts until Kenny dropped in.

Chapter 2 of a book I hope to finish next year, with the working title The Village Id.

Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist

I had the urge to leave. So far Siobhan had done nothing but avoid my questions, drag me cross country, and rebuff my advances. What kind of relationship was that?

guinness-is-good-for-youI stood up. Checked my pockets. Yup, still had 45 Euro. Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist, but I’m moving on. Time to be proactive.

I was so close. So close to finally being smart. Or, close to smart finally doing me some good.

I hadn’t even seen them come in; I was getting comfortable in my environs and not paying attention, or maybe I was so focused on deciding whether Siobhan was dangerous or not that I didn’t have the mental energy to watch for other enemies, if they were enemies.

“Dr. Martin, please, don’t go yet. We should talk.”

The speaker couldn’t have kept me there if he’d wanted to; he was the second smallest man I’d met in Ireland, after the ex-Mr. O’Quinn. His compatriot was another matter. A giant, in acres of Armani, he had me sitting back down and slid against the far edge of the booth as if I hadn’t existed.

The big hard lump in his pocket had smacked my elbow hard enough to hurt. A big metal lump, not even in a holster. Sloppy, but probably effective.

I decided not to go yet. I didn’t decide whether we should talk.

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon or just sign up for my newsletter and get it free.

Her eyes slid over me like I was a boring patch of wallpaper

Standing where I’d been instructed, I scanned the room. There was too much room at my back for my liking, but no one was expecting me, personally, just someone standing right there. Other than to tell me to look where all the other red-blooded men were looking, Rose had been silent on anything more about Heather. Apparently it was important for me not to show any sign of recognition. I’d be contacted, Rose had said.

boring-patch-of-wallpaperIt all felt rather foolishly like a cheap spy novel, except for the part where Rosie made it clear lives (ours included) hung in the balance if I messed up.

Since it was the only job I had, I tried not to mess up standing in that spot.

Yeah, there wouldn’t be much story here if I’d been able to conquer that monumental task.

When she came around the far corner of the bar I almost shouted. Her eyes slid over me like I was a boring patch of wallpaper. Over twenty years, I’d know her anywhere, even in a dimly lit club.

So, of course, I blew everything, and shouted her name.

“Maddie!”

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

There’s no fair law that says I have to let friends die

gardai-barracks-sign“Siobhan, we can control this. We can make sure it doesn’t get out. We’ll make it right.”

She kept her eyes on Fearghal as she answered me. “You can’t make it right, Web. You’re breaking the law to give him that map, conspiring with a criminal like him. I know, I know, it’s not how you mean it. But I’m home again, and I have obligations that go beyond what’s personal.”

I felt like I was going to throw up. She was supposed to be on my side. I know about rules, I follow them all the time. I obey the law, really I do. But I don’t let friends die because of it. There’s no fair law that says I have to let friends die.

This is an excerpt from Into the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

Coming from the giant moth in my dream it sounded strange

moth“How did you get in here?”

Coming from the giant moth in my dream, it sounded strange.

Once I got my eyes open and saw it was coming from a thirty-something woman standing a safe distance away from me, looking very proprietary and possessive, it made more sense.

“The gate.” Yeah, my mouth can even do that with total strangers. I wasn’t awake yet.

“Very funny. Who are you and what are you doing in my yard, on my beach, in my chair?”

This is an excerpt from A Long, Hard Look. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

They’re not shy about convicting me of his murder, are they?

negative-opinionI didn’t completely mistrust her, but I was having an even harder time accepting that she just happened to be coming out of the garda station as I was heading in (although, how could anyone possibly have known where I was, or where I was going, when I didn’t know?) or that she was just a journalist looking for a story. In fact, I only had her word for O’Quinn’s death or anything else she’d told me.

It’s hard not to act suspicious, when you are. Probably just as hard as not acting interested in a woman, when you are. In the hour to Ennis, what was happening in my head must have become obvious to Siobhan.

We stopped to stretch our legs in Ennis. I popped into a pub to use the gents’, and when I came back to the van, Siobhan was waiting behind the wheel. As I got in the left side, there was a copy of ‘An Phoblacht’ on the seat.

I raised my eyebrows at Siobhan.

“A few pages in; under ‘Other News’ . . . ”

I flipped through the pages until Michael Seamus O’Quinn was glaring at me from the center of the right-hand page. The article was short and uncomplimentary, to both O’Quinn and myself.

“They’re not shy about convicting me of his murder, are they?”

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

The vandals who’ve been stealing my grapes

security-camera“The library says they sent you. What do you want?”

Couldn’t she have asked them? Ah, maybe she did. Slick operator, this one. Nobody was catching her unawares.

“I’m checking on the surveillance equipment you checked out. It’s overdue.”

“Well, as I told you young man, they haven’t come yet.”

At this point, I expected a blue police box to land in the yard so David Tennant could take me somewhere, which made even less sense than this. After two heartbeats, I gave up on the Tenth Doctor and returned to Ms. or Mrs. Millhone.

“Who hasn’t come yet?” I almost added “ma’am” but fewer words felt safer.

“The vandals who’ve been stealing my grapes.”

She was now perilously close to making sense.

“You borrowed the equipment to watch for vandals stealing your grapes.”

“Certainly. Isn’t that what it’s for?”

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

I popped up in time to see her take a flying leap

hotel-lobbyShe turned the flashlight off again at the corner, but since the windows were closer to the corner on this side, she got down and crawled right off.

About twelve feet over, she peeked through the window.

Then she stood up, shoved through the shrubs under the windows, and yanked the front door of the hotel open.

Surprised, I popped up in time to see her take a flying leap into Fearghal O’Quinn, sitting in a chair in the lobby.

This is an excerpt from Into the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

It’s not courage when you’re not afraid

brave-face“It’s not courage when you’re not afraid. Courage is when you’re afraid, and you do it anyway.”

Millie turned enough to touch Darcy’s face with the back of her hand. “I know, dear. I don’t think you’re in any real danger or I wouldn’t ask you to do this.”

Darcy nodded. “I’ll be okay. I just had to wind up for it.” She smiled a big fake smile at me in the mirror, mussed up the back of my hair, and got out.

Millie and I went off to do battle with the rest of the family.

This is an excerpt from A Long, Hard Look. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

All that effort just to get your not-very-good opinion

Somewhere along the line I’d decided to trust her. I wasn’t totally sold on the reporter angle; maybe I’d watched too much American television, but that seemed like the easiest way to ask a lot of probing questions without raising suspicions.

Whatever; I suddenly wasn’t in a hurry to escape, at least not from her. Yeah, I know: stifle it.

Chapeltown

I told her everything—almost. I described events; the kidnapping, meeting O’Quinn, my beating, the long sleep, the short trip with the cousins and my escape, lake boating and more escaping. I left out pilfering money from unsuspecting tourists, and most especially I left out my lack of memory. Maybe I wasn’t ready to trust her completely; maybe it was just a little humiliating. Doesn’t make sense, looking back, but I’ve heard men can be funny around attractive women.

“Does it really make sense to you that O’Quinn would go to all that effort just to get your not-very-good opinion about some artifacts you don’t even specialize in?”

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

You want me to lean on kids who didn’t return “A Tale of Two Cities” on time?

being-a-bad-sport“You want me to lean on kids who didn’t return A Tale of Two Cities on time? Twist their arms for the nickel fine?”

She laughed. Out front, her underlings jumped at the sound. From the wary looks, it wasn’t a sound they heard often.

“Oh, no, not at all, though should we ever need such services I cannot imagine anyone better than you to provide them. I could imagine better with a name, I suppose.”

I told her. She introduced herself as Edie. It wasn’t what the nameplate on her desk said. I went with Edie.

“So Dickens is safe. Who’s not? Rare books?”

“Any book that couldn’t be replaced for a few dollars isn’t allowed out of the building. Unfortunately, electronic devices don’t fall under the same umbrella.”

“Nintendo decks, things like that?”

“No, we only loan the games for those things. What we’re losing control of is some expensive audiovisual equipment.”

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

I will shoot that man in both knees

I like my knees just the way they are“Mr. Dubin is not patient. As a result, I am not patient.” He squeezed and twisted and I’m afraid I may have made an unmanly noise because great googlymooglies it hurt.

“I am not authorized to, well, take action, without conferring with Mr. Dubin, and I am not going to waste his time with this.”

He let go and stood up straight. “However, if you waste my time like this again, I will shoot that man in both knees. Myself. I will simply have to explain the circumstances to Mr. Dubin after the fact.”

This is an excerpt from Into the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

The hammering felt like a hangover

hammering-anvilThe hammering felt like a hangover. Since I hadn’t had a drink in years, it wasn’t a hangover.

It wouldn’t stop, though. There was yelling. And a scraping noise.

When my eyes had the strength to open, some of the noises started to make sense.

“Hang on.” I didn’t know if they could hear me over their own yelling. I got my thick fluffy robe, which is far more luxurious than most single guys would have but since I sleep in the same clothes I shower in I keep something posh handy in case of emergency.

The hammering and shoving at the door sounded like an emergency.

I froze.

This is an excerpt from A Long, Hard Look. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

He’ll want to crush you personally

crush-you-personally“Tonight?”

“Hey, you were surprised to see the map there still, right? You think he’s gonna leave it there forever? No, we advance his timeline with audacity.”

“You’re sure he’ll bite?”

“You’ve convinced me.”

“Me? I’m not sure of it myself; how did I convince you?”

“You have a writer’s ability to paint a picture with words. I’ve visualized Dubin through your eyes. If you challenge him in a tangible way, he’ll want to crush you personally. He won’t let some rent-a-goon plug you. He made the threat personal, didn’t he?”

I had to admit that it felt really personal. Boy, this capturing desperate criminals is fun. You should try it some time. Like, maybe the next time they ask me you can have my turn.

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.

Getting stopped by a cop would be just fine with me

help on the marinaI glanced toward the Thug brothers. No movement, still just black blots on the otherwise nearly white rocks.

“Time to swim and scramble. At the marina gate, you go right, and I’ll go straight. Find a computer and email me. Easier than dealing with phones.”

“Okay. Ready?”

I nodded.

We swam.

Once we committed there was no point looking back. When we hit the end of the dock we barely slowed. As we hit the gate Rosie went right without a word. I glanced left.

They were at the end of the jetty, but still half a block away. I sloshed my way to the right, around the block, but my car was parked at the end closest to them.

Hoping they’d follow, I ran flat out around the block to where my car was parked.

I was soaking the seat in a second-gear slide around the corner in front when they rounded the corner behind.

I drove. Fast. Getting stopped by a cop would be just fine with me.

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon.