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?

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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.

Phil Brennan, Web Martin, and Jesse Donovan Walk Into A Bar

Joel D CanfieldYou’d think I’d know what to expect considering who I was meeting in the cheap dive downtown.

One at a time, sure.

I’d never sat down with the three of them, not all at once.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.

Or for those with other proclivities, to write.

Or maybe both.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

White as a sheet, eyes wide in fear

Pally was silent.

Dope headed for the house. Since he had my arm twisted behind my back, I headed for the house, too.

Just before we entered the light from the door, a large sliding glass affair, Dope let my arm go and Pally stepped up next to me, as if they’d been like that all along. Dope slid the door open, and we stepped into a lavishly furnished living room where a tiny little man sat in a chair three sizes too large.

“What’s that on his face? What happened? He was not to be harmed, fools! This is not how we solicit assistance from our friends; it is most certainly not!”

During his tirade, startlingly violent in tone, he’d slipped from the oversized chair, crossed to Dope, and started slapping his face for punctuation. He almost had to jump, but he slapped, nonetheless. I expected Dope to snap him in half and use the sharp end for a toothpick. Nothing doing.

He was white as a sheet, eyes wide in fear.

Irish-cottage

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

I’m so glad he doesn’t want my guts for garters anymore

“Wonderful. Great. I’m so glad he doesn’t want my guts for garters anymore.”

“Oh, no fear; he’s still looking for a good pair, made right out of your very own. But not just yet. You’re a sort of a distant dream, if you take my meaning. No; he’s got other concerns at the moment.

“You’ll recall a certain document he had in his possession?”

Did I.

A spectacular map of the voyage of Brendan, patron saint of voyagers and Irish icon. Concrete evidence that an Irish religious traveler had set foot in the New World nearly 1,000 years ago.

Too bad it was a fake.

“That’s in other hands now. Official hands. I couldn’t get it for him even if I wanted to. And, trust me, I don’t want to.”

“Och; not at all, Martin. We’d much prefer that oaf doesn’t have such an important icon of our nation’s history. He’s much too secular.

“We want you to get it for us.”

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

I pretended to be a post

Since everyone was feeling chatty, I thought I’d jump in. “So, where are we going, exactly?”

Dope pretended to be a post. Pally looked at me suspiciously like I was trying to trick him into telling me where we were going. Then he pretended to be a post, too.

I pretended to be a post. No sense making the natives restless.

The sunlight flickered on and off between the high clouds. We passed the Van Nuys airport and wound through the valley on the San Diego Freeway. Why is the 405 in LA the San Diego Freeway? When I lived in San Diego, only freeway was 5, north to LA.

When did I live in San Diego? Wasn’t only childhood; I remembered the freeway as a driver, not a kid.

Aaah; gone again.

We took Howard Hughes off the freeway and headed south on Sepulveda. That’ll take us right through the airport. Which means I’ve been there, maybe, or how else would I know South Sepulveda runs through the center of the airport?

I started racking my brain for what was south of the airport. Didn’t really matter; this car was made for traveling, and if we were going to Mexico it wouldn’t have mattered to Dope and Pally.

It also didn’t really matter, because we weren’t going through the airport, we were going to it. And I knew who Shannon was. Shannon was an international airport.

We were going to Ireland.

Chapeltown, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry, Ireland

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

Polite words served up with a straight razor

close-shave“Ah. Doctor Martin. You’re early, or I’d not have been moving about so close during your grand entrance.”

As usual for Dubin, polite words served up with a straight razor.

And unfortunately, as usual for me, incoherent babbling.

“My what? Early? For what?”

“I don’t have time for you to sort things out on your own, my good doctor, so I’ll elaborate, boring as it is. Your bumbling associates have traded your skills for their skins.” He looked around, and one of the four, no five, large over-coated gents moved an ancient oak chair closer. Another shoved a smaller chair behind me, pushing it against the backs of my knees.

I dropped onto the chair. Dubin sat, and continued. “I’ll begin our conversation by ensuring I have your attention.” He beckoned with a finger, and another of the thugs pulled out an iPad.

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