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 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.

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.

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.

Think like you’re fleeing

I realized I wasn’t walking any more, but standing across from the street that turns left away from the church. Couldn’t see the name and couldn’t remember it.

No, follow the curve. Think like you’re fleeing. Fast as you can, no thinking.

Church Street, Galway, Co. Kerry

I passed a little alcove, a three-walled wide spot that had lighter patches of stone as if there had been doorways there once upon a time.

“Ssssss.”

No, I didn’t shriek like a little girl when I heard the noise behind me, but I sure did jump.

I landed facing almost back the direction I’d come. A shadow divided itself from the darkest spot in the corner of the alcove.

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

So, they don’t think I killed him?

running-away-in-EireI was stunned. “So, they don’t think I killed him?”

“Course not! Ridiculous. But when they found your passport and license in his pocket, they had to at least ask, right?”

I tried to digest that. It was chewy, and not very tasty.

“So, I’ve been running all over the country, hiding from the police who would have protected me from those thugs here in Galway?”

“It would seem so,” offered Mossie.

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

You usually match numbers to other numbers

“Uh, okay. You usually match numbers to other numbers.” It wasn’t like she didn’t know almost as much about bookkeeping as I do. She just liked the game of prime-and-pump and I’d learned to keep nudging her or she’d grind to a halt.

“There are numbers in the stories, silly. They should match the numbers in the spreadsheets. If so, you can bill me your hourly.”

“And if they don’t?”

Rosies-numbers

Silence wasn’t Rosie’s thing. She was usually starting her next sentence before you’d finished yours. After plenty of time for the ticking and clacking of gears, she answered.

“Then we’ll talk about a weekly rate.”

She should have sounded smug. She loved having the upper hand and made no secret about it when she had you in her palm.

She didn’t sound smug. She sounded scared.

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

Beloved Irish History Expert Visits Galway

Irish historyRob patted the paper. “You should read it. Compliment is the word.”

The headline was “Beloved Irish History Expert Visits Galway” which could have been better if it were accurate. And shorter.

The facts in the article were accurate, but it read more like a resume written by my mother. Apparently, according to the article, the Irish people consider me one of their own, and would gladly entrust me with their nation’s most valued historical artifacts. Assumptions about my run-ins with the late Michael O’Quinn, known by one and all to be a rabble-rousing pseudo-patriot of the worst kind, furthered the assumptions that I was some kind of history-saving hero. “Death before dishonor” was the general tone of the article.

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