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.