One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World


ARCHANGEL_MICHAEL__by_masiani

I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.

It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.

I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.

All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.

Continue reading “One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World”

Lenny


This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)

This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without  trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.

It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, Continue reading “Lenny”

Milestone



It’s just a number: 1,000. But it is fellow-bloggers and for that reason is especially nice. Thank you all.

My path has taken a couple of side trails, and I’ve dialed back on poetry lately because I’m researching another book, and that’s taking up a lot of time. I don’t have a working title yet, and am still letting the research guide the setting and plot a little, but I know the general outlines.

It is in the “cli-fi” genre, set 50-100 years in the future and will be a character-based story about the world after the first big “impacts” of climate change have hit. After some cities have flooded from rising sea levels, other places are too hot to live in and grow crops most years, and other places are hit with monster storms or torrential rains and winds. I’m probably going to give New Orleans a starring role, since I have fallen in love with her and she’s going to be one of the early casualties as things now stand.

It’s a big story, and I’m basically going back to school. I’m learning that what is coming is both much worse than I thought, but also that the future is not totally hopeless. It’s a tossup now whether our grandchildren will spit on our graves or not.

I’m hoping this project doesn’t swamp me. (Pun intended)

My poetry book is still for sale, of course. 🙂 ( http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL ) and a second manuscript is making the rounds of some small presses.

Thanks again to all of you, and all the best as you live this crazy writer’s life with me. Here’s to your stories adding to the world.

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”

Helen and the Swan*


Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.

Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.

Continue reading “Helen and the Swan*”

Why Do It?


Aaaaaalllllmosssst.....
Aaaaaalllllmosssst…..

What is it that we try to do here?

These things we write are not fundamental necessities for life, after all. They are not food, water, shelter, safety, or love and belonging. And they certainly can’t do much about a parking ticket, or to cure cancer.

I’ve never entirely trusted the “I write because I must!” declaration. It seems a bit vague. Maybe a little lazy. Well, yes, there’s an element of compulsion, but we’re not mere oxen yoked to someone else’s whip, are we? There’s more.

When something wholly new emerges on a page, or screen, almost in spite of our own inadequacies, it adds a kind of magic and light to life. It becomes a small gift that quivers in the palm of the hand, a tender proof of hope. And if not specifically fundamental to survival, It becomes something important, without which the rest is less rewarding.

But we–well, I do, at least– come to this thinking that we’re just looking for butter, and bread to spread it on. Too easy.

Instead, I sit down and am reminded over and over that I am merely told to milk the cow and given a churn; to harvest the grain and fire up an oven; to churn the cream into butter, to bake the bread. There’s no other way but to take the elements and love them into something more with patience and respect.

But oh, the warm bread and melting butter is wonderful.

 

A Street


I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for

It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue

Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again

The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

–Leonard Cohen

A Writer I Like


‘Morning…. This is a writer friend I’ve recently found, and think you might enjoy her work, too.

Nine days ago, a new couple moved into the apartment next door to mine. I should just let you all know right off the bat that i’m nosy. Actually, i prefer to refer to myself as naturally curious. I love to know what’s going on around me as much as i can. It’s not that […]

via New Neighbors — It’s All In Perception

Not Jesus In A Pop-Up Camper, But…


Journey
@Spill_words

It wasn’t Jesus in a popup camper, but it was alright.

I am, in a word, astonished.
I find myself home after 50 years on the road.
I’ve endured, mainly ordinary disappointments,
some worse than that.

But all that is stored in albums on the shelf.
If I had a fireplace, I’d build a fire and sit,
With a big dog I don’t have, and a cat or two,
And flip through the memories again,
Sipping brandy and smoking a pipe I don’t have,
Since I quit smoking.

I have wiped the spider webs from the door
Cleaned the musty rooms
Thrown out that rotten food left in the ‘fridge.
Cleaned the basement and attic of
Things that don’t matter.
(And maybe never did.)
There’s still more to do,
But the old place waited patiently, and now is livable.
I’ve written about all that.

I was away longer than planned,
Living under the perverse and immutable rule of
The Law of Unintended Consequences,
The law of the Universe, as written:

“It shall be impossible to control everything. 
Even if you control almost everything,or 
Nearly everything—more than anyone else ever has,
or ever will—”

There will always be something you miss. 
And just because it’s fun to fuck with you,
This one thing will be the thing that screws you over.
Every time.”

A slow learner, it took most of my life to learn the rule.
The trip? A long, loopy, spastic waking fever-dream,
Out around the sun, slingshot back, coasting through
The cold void, the silence, alone,
To Mars and her moons, and back again,
To the past, to the future, and landing in the present,
Only to cross wilderness and water,
Barren desert and lush mountains.
Guess how much of that was on purpose.

The whole thing was shot through with wanting and
Emptiness and hidden vibrations and distant lights,
Filled with many corners, inevitable surprises around each,
And over and over, I met myself, wanting.
More. Different.
Understanding little at the time but driven by wanting.

The sea moves always, the wind moves always,
I want and I want and there is no end to my wanting.

I spun out and out, and around and around and down,
And, finally, ended where I began.

Now? The forms are all completed, the reports filed.
I am free. One manacle after another has been cut away.
I have nothing useful to do, and none can tell me to do it

I walk the buckled sidewalks of the old neighborhood.
A little hurt that no one asks for my autograph.
They don’t know, or care, about the journey.

But the children and I listen when the birds
Sit in the trees and sing like crystal and soar free,
Wishing we were with them,
Dreaming of soaring, singing high above the Earth.

This will take some adjustment.
I don’t know the lingo any more,
The streets have changed,
The Blankenships next door got old, died,
And the kids living in their house
Don’t care where I’ve been.
Difference is dangerous, they’ve learned.
And even though I know I belong—or did—
They give me wide berth,
Laugh and run away
Shouting in an unknown, yet faintly familiar language.

Inhabiting the skin of my most advanced age yet is
The strangest feeling, sometimes.
Inside I’m still young, curious, horny and wistful.
Still wanting, but not any more sure than
Ever what would satisfy the need.
Then I look in the mirror and see
A stranger with mileage, a certain weariness… but me .

I wish I could grow one magic eye,
Able to see the truth of things,
And yet not despair.
But maybe I found a seed of it on the trip,
And while it needs a little tending,
There is occasionally some magic in it.

And that pleases me.

Everything I’ve done, everything and everyone
I’ve known; the friends, the enemies;
The broken bodies I left in my wake,
All the times I failed to just be kind,
(When it would have cost me nothing),
Or to learn from my mistakes,

If any of it had been different,
Even something small I didn’t notice at the time,
The story would have been entirely different.

So tonight, I’ll live the story I imagine,
By the imaginary fireplace, with
The imaginary brandy and dog and cats,
And flip through the old album, the only thing
That’s real, and let the truth rise.

That’s all I ever really wanted.

 

Metaphors in Wet Places


This is such a good metaphor for the job of poets and writers generally: snorkeling between two tectonic plates. Speaks to the job of exploring places where big forces grind together, places where it’s sometimes hard to breathe.

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Twistedsifter/~3/sSIxIyGXRwg/

Seen here are a group of snorkelers at the Silfra canyon, a rift between the tectonic plates (North American and Eurasian) at Þingvellir National Park, Southern Region, Iceland. Silfra was formed as a consequence of the two tectonic plates drifting apart. Each year, the plates drift about 2 cm farther apart, which builds up tension between the plates and the earth mass above. This tension is released through a major earthquake approximately every ten years. In these earthquakes, cracks and fissures are formed in Þingvellir. Silfra is one of the largest cracks and started with a deep cave where most of the underwater wells feed it. The site lies at the rim of the Þingvallavatn Lake.
Seen here are a group of snorkelers at the Silfra canyon, a rift between the tectonic plates (North American and Eurasian) at Þingvellir National Park, Southern Region, Iceland.
Silfra was formed as a consequence of the two tectonic plates drifting apart. Each year, the plates drift about 2 cm farther apart, which builds up tension between the plates and the earth mass above. This tension is released through a major earthquake approximately every ten years. In these earthquakes, cracks and fissures are formed in Þingvellir. Silfra is one of the largest cracks and started with a deep cave where most of the underwater wells feed it. The site lies at the rim of the Þingvallavatn Lake.

Self-Editing Tips for Writers


misspell-stages

http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/51437.aspx

Editors read for a living. They read all day long.

Some writing lands on their desk in excellent form, but a lot of it requires serious work with the red pen. Generally, editors are happy to help their writers to develop strong narrative arcs and believable characters.

The most annoying thing, though, is when writers fall at the most basic technical writing hurdles. Editors should not spend their time replacing adverbs with strong verbs or changing from passive to active voice. The writer can and should make these edits when they do their own first edit.

Editors have limited time to spend on your drafts, and that time is expensive. Taking a little time for self-editing can impress your editor and prove your writing skills.

Here are six common problems to fix before your editor gets out the red pen:

1. Replace adverbs with strong verbs.

When you write your first draft, it’s more important to get the story out than to get every word right. Wrestling with every word can disrupt your momentum.

So, if you need to write, “Mike drove quickly back to headquarters” while you’re pouring out a scene, then go for it. Your first edit is your chance to figure out how to make it stronger: “The tires screamed on Mike’s beat-up Honda as he raced back toward headquarters.”

In your first major edit, reassess any adverbs you find. Sometimes an adverb will sing, but more often than not, you will come up with a stronger way to get your idea across when you go back and look again.

2. Fix repetitive use of initial pronouns.

This used to make my professor crazy. As a master’s student, I had a terrible habit of starting nearly every sentence with a pronoun. He did this. She did thatIt is correct. Boring.

Aim to have fewer than 30 percent of your sentences begin with a pronoun. Vary your sentence structure as much as you can; it keeps your readers’ attention and makes your writing more engaging.

3. Get rid of clichés.

Editors despise nothing more than unoriginality. Clichés, by definition, are unoriginal phrases. When writing fiction, try to come up with your own unique way to describe people or situations.

George Orwell said in his rules for writing, “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

Clichés are often the result of lack of imagination or laziness and, as Orwell says, are often “merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” Replace any clichés with your own unique phrasing to touch your reader’s imagination in a whole new way.

4. Declutter your writing by cutting redundancies.

Redundancies clutter writing by adding words but not meaning. Every word should be there for a reason. If it’s not needed, delete it.

Some redundancies are so common we don’t even notice them. How often have you heard someone talk about a “free gift”? As opposed to what the kind of gift you have to pay for? The word “free” is redundant in this case; cut it.

Or those organizations that undertake a “joint collaboration.” Unlike all those individual collaborations? The word “collaboration” means people working jointly. Cut the clutter so your editor doesn’t have to.

5. Eliminate your passive voice.

Overuse of passive voice can jump off the page to an editor as a mark of inexperience. Like adverbs and initial pronouns, sometimes you can use passive voice for a specific purpose and it will be perfect, but overuse weakens your writing.

Let’s look at an example:

Active voice: Dave kicked in the door. He hurdled the sofa, shouted a warning and then ransacked the kitchen.

Passive voice: The door was kicked in by Dave. The sofa was hurdled, a warning was shouted and then the kitchen was ransacked by him. 

In the first example, Dave is the subject; in the second example the door, sofa, warning and kitchen are the subjects. The second example is not grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t sound right. Your verbs should refer to the doer rather than to the thing having something done to it.

6. Get rid of sticky sentences.

Sticky sentences brim with glue words—the 200 or so most common words in the English language—including: is, as, the, that, etc.

Glue words are the empty spaces in your writing that your readers have to pass through to get to the meaning. Reducing the frequency of glue words increases the clarity of your writing, which makes your editor happy.

Here’s an example:

Original: Erica needed to get the key to the car, and so she asked for the contact number of the person who was in charge of that department. (Seventeen glue words in a 27-word sentence. Glue index: 63 percent.)

Edited: Erica contacted the department head to borrow the car key. (Three glue words in a 10-word sentence. Glue index: 30 percent.)

The first sentence wobbles around searching for the point, whereas the second sentence is concise and clear, using fewer than half the words. Learn to recognize sticky sentences and rewrite them before your editor sees them.

Give your editor a break. Let her concentrate on making your story more compelling and your characters more believable. Don’t bog her down by forcing her to correct errors that you could easily have caught. You need her too much for that.

What revisions do you strive to make before you send material to your editor?

Lisa Lepki is an independent author, a staffer at ProWritingAid.com and an active member of the grammar police. This article originally appeared on The Write Life.

This article first ran on Ragan.com in Dec. 2015.

Hemmingplay

Tick-Tock


Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 9.04.22 AM

Tick-tock…

There are times when

the birdsong stops, when the sun

hides behind clouds that do not bring rain;

when the rivers run low and muddy; when nothing seems

to work as it should; when old griefs whisper in the wee hours

and play their lamentations and sorrows over and over and over;

when the world is eerie and haunted, but the endless dreams

of neighbors’ dreams are full of mystery and renewal,

yet we stare at cracks in the ceiling, reliving

those things that refuse to surrender

to reason, then rise, prowl in the

close darkness of 3 a.m., an

 unjust sentence to be

served out slowly

tick-tock

 

Despair 


IMG_1457

by Billy Collins

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry-
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrator of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
Ye-Hah.

“Despair” by Billy Collins from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008. (buy now)

Mermaids, Anyone?


Childhood
Cover
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”

Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.

It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.

Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)

“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.

I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but  yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!

If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )

Here’s the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mermaid-sisters-first-dive/id776995608?mt=11

 

Cliché Time


Photo cliché.
Photo cliché. Editors love this level of creative work.

i have to say something.

and time will tell if i should.

(thetime—some time, any time,easterndaylighttime,thebiologicalclockHammertime—WILL tell. it may feel like an eternity.
everything is just a matter of time, they say.)

so i will…

say something.

but only one
time.

one.

 

i feel rushed

alive. not for the first time

but for the best time

hope it happens time after time.

yet….it it will stop

in time.

So from this time and place:  

clichés gotta stop.

if i’m lucky,
in the
nick of
time.

time will tell.

Purpose

Character Study


tedHouse
The relic Ted buys and rehabs as part of starting over in a small town in Pennsylvania.

I’m working on the book again, trying to get some of the characters and plot unstuck in my mind, and decided to do this as a character study for the main guy, Ted Duffy. For those of you who’ve written fiction, have you ever tried something like this? And how does this sound? This probably won’t end up in the book, but by the end, I felt as though I’d gotten inside Ted’s head a bit more. And, I know this is very long. You’ll earn karma points if you slog through it. 🙂
-H

Ted:
I hate talking to strangers about myself. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have had to do it a lot more than I used to do, and it’s gotten easier, but still… it’s not my favorite thing.

It’s boring being a character in a book, you know? And if it is ever published, what do I have to look forward to? If I’m lucky, I’ll occupy the attentions of enough people to encourage my lord and master, the great author, to think up another story to put me in, and then I’ll have another run.

Continue reading “Character Study”

On Writing


“…Writing is a very complicated thing, it’s a completely cerebral experience. And everything has to be at a distance, even you have to be at a distance. You are not writing your story, it has to go beyond the experience. And I can tell you very frankly that if I know how the story will turn out, I never write it. I have to deal with myself, with my capacity and capabilities to get things out of the narrative….”
–Indian author Krishna Sobti, 91

http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/2UCsyjulIq455TpCF2wroK/Hindi-is-an-epic-language-Krishna-Sobti.html

 

Closing Doors


cormac-mccarthy-slice
Cormack McCarthy

“You give up the world line by line. Stoically. And then one day you realize that your courage is farcical. It doesn’t mean anything. You’ve become an accomplice in your own annihilation and there is nothing you can do about it. Everything you do closes a door somewhere ahead of you. And finally there is only one door left.”

― Cormac McCarthyThe Sunset Limited

Risk

Perspective

The Cat, the Hayloft and the Boy


Memory

image
Yes, I know this isn’t a calico cat. Work with me here.

The old calico cat came in from the fields whenever her belly was full of kittens again. She’d lumber to the boy’s house, hang around by the door and mooch a meal, then head to the barn. To the hayloft where she was born, as generations of hers had. It was the way things were.

Mountains of the older-style, small bales from the summer’s haying season made the perfect place to make a nest. Warm. Dry. Quiet. Mice were plentiful, and water was in stock tanks down below.

The boy learned the meanings of her fertility. He witnessed the births of several litters. Watched her as she cleaned them, nudged them to rows of nipple, stretched out and let them feed. It was just the way things were on a farm. Birth and death.

She knew him, and let him come close to her babies, as long as he was quiet. Then, later, she looked on benignly as they climbed and frolicked fiercely around and over him. Twice a year, usually. Once in the spring when the fields were greening, and again in the fall, when the land exhaled and prepared for sleep.

The boy visited and watched. He would open the small door made of weathered old wood, painted red, in the giant set of doors where the tractors would back wagons groaning with hay in once or twice a year.

At harvest times, if there had been enough rain to have more than one cutting of alfalfa, his father and uncle and cousins would swing the bales from the wagon, onto the conveyor, and stack them in walls of fragrance fresh from June’s fields, and August’s. Later on, he would join them and learn the joy of hard labor, together. The teasing. The camaraderie of men. Of family.

But when very young, he just made sure the cat and her kittens were out of the way. Then, after supper, he would spend time among the skyscrapers of summer hay. He watched the cat feed the current litter of miniature tigers, wash them, and curl her body around them while they slept. Season after season, until the kittens eventually grew and left the barn for a life of foraging and danger on their own. The barn seemed empty and more lonely after they were gone.

It marked the passing of time, and taught him the rhythms of things. The natural order of the way things were supposed to be.

When he was still small, he imagined himself curled up safe and warm, looked after, soothed to sleep with the mellow comfort of mama’s purrs.

When it was dark outside, the boy crept out of the small door and shut it tight, to keep the coldness out, and walked the long lane to the house. No one seemed to be looking for him. It was expected that he would learn to take care of himself. He knew that the calico would let him sleep in the quiet of the hay with her kittens, if he turned back.

Maybe tomorrow. It was just the way things were.

The Dead Need Light


Inspiration
woman-in-fog-2

The dead need light,
(If they need anything at all, that is…)
As much as the living need music.

They crave the kind of light
That brings babies’ faces to mind again, and
Spring blooms, and waves dancing on a beach they once knew.

Eternity is a long, long time.
But still… they remember

The way the stars swept across
the sky on a clear night,
the way a bumblebee looks as it
lumbers around, amazingly.

They need the lights of Paris,
twinkling with promise
drawing a halo of innocence around
young lovers by the river.

The dead crave to see, again,
those two eyes, open,
moist with tears, catching the light
of a streetlight in
breathtaking flecks of gold and green.

They remember, with a hopeless ache, the way
moonlight played on a lover’s
hip as she slept, a fleeting memory
burned forever in light,
a hand lightly stroking
just to make sure she was real.

We’ve Done What Was Asked


sailboat

 

Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good is’t to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”

The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
Mast bends, prow plunges, new gusts arrive,
The water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.

Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine’s coated me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars thru mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.

Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
We’ll find calm water and fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.

©Hemmingplay 2015

 

Voyage

Chap. 6, part 2: “To the Death” (continued)


Daggers-stiletto-59

(continued) When Ted tried to remember what happened next, he always had the feeling that it was happening to someone else. Previous scene–>

People watch too many fights on TV or the movies, and think they know what they’d do. It looks so natural, but it’s not. Adrenaline and fear are a potent mix, and sometimes they make you better, and sometimes they make you slow and vulnerable.

But unless someone is well-trained, the fear can take over. No one is the hero he thinks he’ll be. Even the well-trained know fear, but the difference is the training that kicks in.

As the women walked down the hall away from Ted, Rose was slightly ahead of Miriam, body erect and tense and thinking mostly of Miriam. All Ted saw at first was a black-clad figure jump from the side — they knew later that she had been waiting just inside the kitchen behind the door— and an arm appeared to punch Rose in the side and three bodies were a whirl of action. Miriam’s boot hit the woman’s shoulder, missing the arm. Rose folded sideways and slid down the wall. Miriam raised her weapon part way and the attacker flicked her with a knife. Miriam  screamed a guttural war cry as her Glock went off, and the noise in the confined space nearly deafened him. The gun clattered to the floor.

Without a warning sound, the Labrador at Ted’s side launched himself down the hall more quickly than Ted had seen him move in years. His powerful body was stretched out at full speed almost at once, a menacing rumble in his chest. The black figure heard the sound and swung the knife toward it. Ted saw the a long, thin blade and it seemed to twinkle and flash as the woman backed into the kitchen, eyes darting between Miriam and the dog and the gun.

The attacker — he could see it was a woman, now — took a step on Miriam in a low crouch, like a sword fighter’s stance. Miriam held her wrist and leaned against the wall, the gun too far to go for, helpless. She felt the rush of fur and wind as Sampson roared past with murderous intent, his body brushing her aside.

Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The drops of blood from Miriam’s wrist fell in long drips. Rose moaned and a pool of red blossomed on the side of her white blouse. For some reason, Ted noticed that she had on small diamond earrings.

No more than three seconds had passed in the normal world, but to him it felt like hours. Confusion.

With barely a sound other than claws and paws pounding on carpet and hardwood, and with hair upright along his entire back, the dog ate the long hallway in a second or two and launched  himself at the throat of the black–clad attacker from three body’s length away, a hundred pounds of fury and teeth intent on killing. His charged knocked Miriam back into the wall and she hit her head hard and went down.

The assassin was quick, but he was faster and utterly without doubt. The woman had almost no time to move but out of instinct partially raised her knife at the last second.

Sampson was in the air and couldn’t turn. All he saw was her throat through a red haze of rage. The knife slid into his chest through his own momentum, and he knew it was the end. It pierced his great heart, but he crashed into her, already dying, teeth still snapping and seeking her throat. He killed groundhogs with those teeth with one shake of his powerful neck. He weighed almost more than she did, and his body’s momentum carried them both across the kitchen and into the oven. The woman struck her head and the breath was knocked out of her. Dazed, she still fought to get out from under him, with both arms and legs, and managed to scramble out, the knife still in Sampson’s chest

Miriam scrambled crablike to her gun. The assailant was dazed, she saw. But she was getting up. The trouble was Miriam was having trouble getting to her feet, too. The pain in her arm was searing, and she slipped in the blood on the tile floor.

All of this had happened in brief seconds. Ted felt oddly frozen. Then he grabbed the aluminum baseball bat and ran toward the kitchen with a roar, suddenly released from whatever had been holding him. The attacker was on one knee when she heard him screaming and saw him into the room, bat raised high. Quick as a cobra, and despite a feeing her head was splitting apart, she reached down and pulled the blade from Sampson’s chest and faced him. Her face was covered below the nose with a scarf. Her eyes still showed pain, but she raised the knife.

It did no good.

Ted’s baseball bat connected with a slender wrist and heard the sound of bone breaking. The knife clattered to the floor. A scream and string of harsh foreign words spewed from her lips, her eyes reddened with rage and flickered with pain and fear. But anger, too, and a kind of coldness that startled him.

She looked from Ted to the floor. The knife was too far to reach and her wounded arm hung useless at her side. The pain must have been enormous. But with only a second’s hesitation, she  struggled to pull something from a pouch she wore around her waist with her other hand.

Ted swung the bat again, catching her on the side of her head. He tried not to hit hard enough to kill, just stun. He had no idea how hard that was, so he put a little extra into the swing. The bat connected with a wet thunk, like smacking a fist into a ball glove.

She sank to her knees, but somehow didn’t collapse all at once. She just stayed on her knees, head down. She was muttering angrily in some language Ted didn’t recognize, and  seemed to be in some faraway place. Then she slumped sideways onto the floor like her strings had been cut.  He just stared at her, dazed.

“Pashto,” Miriam said from close behind him. He turned and saw that she had her Glock in her left hand steady on Das, but still on the floor on her side. A steady stream of blood left a trail across the floor from her right arm.

“It’s lucky for her your Little League skills showed up when they did,” she said through clenched teeth.”I was just about to punch a hole in the back of her skull. Hold this,” she said as she struggled to her feet, walked to him and slapped the Glock into his hand. She stepped behind him and grabbed a dishtowel from the counter and wrapped it around her wound, lips pressed into a white line. “She’s Pakistani. I recognize the dialect. Probably from the tribal regions.”

Ted was still staring at the woman in black. He could not move. Miriam was already moving again, looking for something to secure the wrap and stop the bleeding.

“Duct tape!” she barked at Ted. “Where?” Again, not a question, but a command. She leaned close to him and said it again, right in his face. “WHERE?”

She had the training, he didn’t; she was used to the fog of war, he wasn’t, and the training kicked in and she took command. He pointed vaguely to a nearby utility drawer. She looked at him again, realized he was in shock.

“Better see to Rose, Ted.” Miriam said, more gently, and she pushed him in that direction. His mind was a swirl of shock, but he staggered over to Rose. Between them, though, was Sampson, a circle of red spreading around him. Sampson’s eyes flickered in panic, then looked off into the distance. He lay still, weakly thumping his tail once on the floor when Ted approached and knelt  in the blood.

Ted put his hand on Sampson’s side, but realized his loyal friend was dying. Tears blurred his vision, and he wiped them away.

He heard a moan and took two long strides over to Rose. She was on her left side, legs moving slowly like she was running in slow motion, her right hand pressed to a spot that bloomed red on her side.  Her eyes, those beautiful eyes, were open but darting around in fear and confusion. She looked at him and reached up for him. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, and a crimson pool surrounded her body. He ripped the front of her blouse open. There was blood welling more slowly now from a gash at the base of her ribs. Some part of him noted that it was not spurting out, which meant it wasn’t an artery. Thank God. Maybe it was not so bad. But she needed a doctor right away. He grabbed another towel from the counter and pressed it against her side.

“Rose, Rose, I’m here. Hold on. Don’t….” .

Miriam moved quickly once she’d tied a bandage made from a white dish towel — Ted had sure gotten domestic, she thought. Then scolded herself for the thought at a time like this.  

Still. I mean…. 

He used to be a real slob. She felt a quick stab of jealousy when she realized who might have had that sort of affect on him. 

Pushing that to the side, she took the roll of tape, pulled the foreign woman’s ankles out from under her and trussed her with three or four rounds of the tape around the ankles, just like a rodeo cowboy tying a calf’s legs together. Then another set of wrappings around the lower thighs. 

The woman in black moaned. Miriam kicked her in the ribs. 

“That’s for the dog,” she muttered. 

She grabbed two wooden spoons from a drawer and fashioned simple splint on the broken wrist, secured them with with duct tape, then tied both arms behind the woman’s back with strips around the forearms and above the elbows. Then more around her whole body, making it extra tight. She kicked her again.

“And that’s for cutting me,” she said. 

Breathing heavily from the exertion and the adrenalin, she stood staring down at the woman for a few moments, tucked her gun into her waistband and retied the bandage on her wound.

She glanced at Ted and saw that he was holding a towel to Rose’s side. She grabbed two clean ones from the drawer and rushed over to them.

“Let me see,” Miriam said, as she pulled the cloth away from the wound. She’d been in Iraq, and had seen plenty of wounds, playing medic more than once.

“Might have knicked her lung a bit, or liver, but she’s lucky,” she said after a quick examination. “The angle was more to the front, and the blade probably glanced off a rib and may not have hit anything big. If it missed her liver it’s a miracle, but it looks a lot better than it would have been. That bitch over there is a pro, but my kick must have ruined her aim. Still,  there’s likely to be internal bleeding, and she’s in shock from all the blood she lost.”

“Lift her up,” she said, more gently this time. He did. Miriam replaced the soaked towel  with two clean ones..” “Now, raise her arms and her blouse.” Rose clamped her lips shut at the sudden pain in her side, just moaned deep in her throat. She was pale and sweating.

“Atta girl,” Miriam said to her. “We’re going to fix you up. Hang in there. I’ll be quick.”

Using her teeth to find the end of the tape on the roll, Miriam held the makeshift bandages on with one hand and pulled and arm’s length of tape off with her tape and her free hand. Ted saw what she was doing and helped her secure an end of the tape against Rose’s bare skin on her back, and the two of them managed to quickly cinch the temporary pressure bandage with with two body-circling bands of tape. It was only five or six miles to the emergency room, but minutes counted.

Judging from the wound, it would be better to take her and not wait for an ambulance. Besides, this kitchen needed to be cleaned up, and they didn’t need EMT’s seeing any of it and asking questions. She was making plans, and by the time she tied off Rose’s wrapping and Ted had brought a blanket from a guest bedroom down the hall, she knew roughly what she would do.

Ted’s mind was in shock; none of this made sense. But he knew he had to get up, to do something, to get Rose to the hospital. He was grateful that Miriam was taking charge. The way she seemed to be able to function at a time like this amazed him, and he was becoming aware that there was a lot more to her than he knew.

He gently closed Rose’s blouse the best he could, knowing she would be embarrassed later at being so exposed and sat her up, pulling her away from the pool of her blood by her armpits. Supporting her with his knees, he got her arms into the coat and lifted her over to the table, glad he’d decided to get the big country kitchen size. A coffee cup and saucer from breakfast fell and shattered on the floor. He laid Rose down as carefully as he could and covered her with the blanket.

“You’ll be ok, love,” he whispered in her ear. “We’re going to the hospital.” She opened her eyes and smiled weakly and said. “Who the fuck hit me?….”, but then closed them again and seemed to drift away.

Suddenly remembering Sampson, he looked over near the stove and saw the dog was still alive. Rose was OK for a second.

Miriam was already kneeling beside the great body when he joined her. Frothy pink bubbles formed at Sampson’s mouth, and his breath bubbled and labored, but he looked up at Miriam with soft eyes, trusting her and thumped his tail once again on the floor. He even tried to get up, but she held him gently down with his other hand.

“Stay down, boy. You’ll be ok,” she said, trying to sound soothing. The floor around Sampson was covered with his blood, and she knew he would not be OK.

In a moment, Sampson’s eyes went still, and the great, courageous heart pumped the last time. Miriam knelt beside Ted and ran her hand down the dog’s flank one last time. He had probably saved her life. And he would do it again, she knew. And again. And again. Dogs were fearless.

She looked over at Ted and shook her head, once. It’s over, the look said.

He looked ashen and she saw his eyes fill with tears. She understood, but had to be the one to run things right now. There would be time to grieve later, if they were lucky.

“Keep her warm, and go,” Miriam said. “She’s lost a lot of blood and is in shock, but you’ve got to get her to the hospital.

_________________

Miriam had seen for herself what had been between Ted and Rose. She felt an ache that he no longer felt that for her. Well, she told herself, he may not know it, but he needs me right now. And she resolved to do what was necessary to help him through it. She also still had some major problems to resolve. Broad shoulders. I am woman, hear me roar, she thought wryly. Oh, what was one more set of problems?

She was suddenly more exhausted than ever in her life. 

“Yes,” she said to herself, “you need me more than you know. What have I gotten you into?”  Then she walled her feelings off in a secret place in her mind and turned to the matters at hand. 

Ted just nodded, his face set. He carried Rose to her own car and Miriam heard the engine roaring out of the little lot, down the alley and onto the street, engine screaming. 

“Still with us?” Miriam asked, tapping the woman’s forehead with the toe of her boot. 

She heard words in Pashto that made her smile. 

“Same to you,” she answered in the same language. “You are mine, now, and forever. Allah is not pleased with you. And I am not pleased with you. We will talk, you and I, and you will tell me everything, unto the time when your grandfather stole your grandmother from her village and raped her and made her his whore.”

The woman glared at Miriam with a crazed fury, and twisted frantically but helplessly against her bindings, but fear flickered there, too. 

Miriam took a couple of steps and knelt down by Sampson and put her hand on his ribcage. The utter stillness of death was all she felt. But she whispered to him anyway.

“You were magnificent, Sampson. You did your job. You were the best. Rest now. I will remember you. ”

A tear fell down onto the reddish hair and she stroked his side.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Master Wil


shakespeare

To add to the day’s flood of Shakespeare news stories….

From “The Writer’s Almanac”, by Garison Keilor

 

It’s the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who is traditionally believed to have been born on this date in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers, so our knowledge of his life comes to us from public and court documents. His father, John, was a glove-maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. The baptismal register of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Shakespeares’ parish shows an entry on Wednesday, April 26, that reads, “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” Babies were traditionally baptized on the first Sunday or holy feast day after their birth. The Feast of St. Mark was on April 25, and although normally that would have been Shakespeare’s baptismal day, it was also considered an unlucky day, and that may be why the child was baptized the following day instead.

Shakespeare studied at the well-respected local grammar school, and married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. She gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that. Shakespeare was no doubt deeply affected by the death of son Hamnet at age 11; he began to write his tragedy Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. The 1590s saw the production of his plays Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice, to name but a few. His greatest tragedies — like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear — were all written after 1600. He wrote his last few plays back in Stratford, where he retired after an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused the London theaters to be closed for long stretches. He was popular during his lifetime, but it wasn’t until after his death that his collected works were published in print form. That volume has come to be known as the First Folio, and it was published in 1623.

In 1611, he made out his will, leaving most of his estate to his daughter Susanna, and bequeathing to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust encloséd here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed by he who moves my bones.”

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

“Running Girl” Ch. 2: “Captured”


Previous chapter excerpts:

Ch. 2: “Captured”

 

The British Airways jet with Das aboard hurried up and away from the simmering city, as eager as its passengers to find its natural frigid, silent and pure habitat five miles above. In minutes, it reached its cruising altitude and leveled out, the endless brown wrinkles of the Earth’s dry crust creeping past far below. The pilot radioed position and altitude and let the autopilot steer the nose unerringly toward London.

The crew relaxed and called for coffee. The co-pilot winked at the dark-skinned flight attendant who brought it, making sure the captain was looking away. She smiled and leaned to the left to give the captain his coffee. As she did, she felt a hand slip up her skirt and almost giggled. Then flashed a mock-angry glare at the copilot. Wait until we land for that, the look said.

The captain pretended not to notice, and thought of his son in London, wondering if he had gotten to school yet, and then whether the co-pilot and attendant’s affair would become obvious enough that he would have to take some action. That reminded him of his own dalliance 20 years before with another black-eyed beauty, dead these many years in a car accident. The memory of her still hurt after all these years. He hoped these two beside him had a happier future.

As the plane cruised toward the North Pole and Heathrow, a man slept fitfully in a darkened bedroom a few miles north of Vancouver, Washington. He snored, one foot twitching under silk sheets.

Henry Bourchier’s house was silent save for the ticking of a hallway tall clock. A full moon glowed in a black sky upon which shards of stars glittered and danced. The house squatted in a woodsy development of fat, cheaply-built boxes financed with creative mortgages.

The homes were a splatter of faux-French country styles, pseudo-Victorians, and utterly bland modernistic pretensions with concrete and glass walls trimmed in wood-grained vinyl siding. Each was a discrete distance from its neighbor—set at angles and with strategic hedges and plantings to maximize privacy— so that each was just barely visible through trees. The housing market was still dead there, and most of the houses were worth a fraction of the debt the fools within carried. Appearances were important, though, and it was still possible to pretend they were well-off, even those who had lost their jobs two years before and were merely squatting until the eviction notices were enforced. Everyone knew who they were.

More than one resident lay staring in the dark, fear slithering into their ears like worms from the shadows.

Struggling dwarf ornamentals from a bankrupt garden center, more aliens in this wilderness land, clung guiltily to the margins of the lawn. Douglas firs, so tall they seemed to touch at the tips, marched hundreds of miles into the unforgiving mountain crags beyond, looming over the suburban intruders below with deep-green, powerless resentment.  The trees swayed in the nighttime breeze. Air muttered around the black trunks and rough bark. A few yards into the forest, where needles lay in thick carpets, noises of the civilized world gave up and disappeared.

A paved driveway led from a country road to Bourchier’s faux-villa. His was safe from the predations of bankers, though, because he was one of the predators. His home was also better-built than the others, and both factors gave him great satisfaction. His bank held the mortgages on a few of his neighbors’ houses, but he did not concern himself with their worries. He had lawyers and a corporation and other, worse men behind him; they did not.

He was also a thief in the traditional sense, although these days the two occupations were almost the same thing. Money and debt were the least of his worries, or so he thought. His dreams were free of the living nightmare that would momentarily rip his brief, shallow, amoral life apart.
Two cars sat on virgin concrete in front of the three-car garage: a midnight blue BMW and a small SUV.

Bourchier drove the BMW  between the house and the suburban Vancouver bank where he was vice president—and secret money launderer for Seattle drug bosses and other, even more shadowy connections.

But he did like nice things. Oh yes, he surely did.

His silk pajamas boasted a label from an exclusive Seattle boutique that catered to those who equated price with quality because they didn’t know any better and had too much money to care. The bed sheets and cover were of similar impressiveness, as was nearly everything in the house. Some of it was even good. He hoped his expensive tastes were just inconspicuous enough to avoid tripping any wires at the IRS.

He was careful.

Unfortunately, he made mistakes. Little ones. But wires had been tripped. He wasn’t as careful — or nearly as smart — as he believed he was.

His mistakes were exposed by a former employee he’d slept with. Unfortunately for him, and still seething with anger after he dumped her, she started sleeping with a small-time drug dealer and appliance repairman. The two were busted during a nooner in a motel room one weekday afternoon.

She’d offered information about Henry in exchange for leniency. The local DA, who was hoping to get noticed at higher levels, let her off with a suspended sentence and a blow job,  but bounced the information up to the US Attorney. They’d both gone to Stanford Law, and he hoped his old classmate would overlook certain personal failings in the drinking and carousing departments, and rescue him from this backwater job.

Details of Henry Bourchier’s life had been filling electronic files in Seattle, Portland and Washington for six months, like little flakes of snow drifting against a door until millions of them push the door down.

Initial interest led to secret spot audits, which yielded enough to get a referral for further investigation — all done as silently as an owl swooping down on an unsuspecting rabbit.
He slept, serene, although his slumber had also been given some chemical assistance.

A Treasury agent, on loan to the FBI interagency task force, roamed the home after putting a little something harmless in his drink. Henry believed she had come to his home from the bar, and after going to a shooting range, for a little frolic between the high-priced sheets. He also thought coming here had been his idea. She had made sure that no one else knew she was there.

Eleanor—that was the name she gave Henry— spent two hours examining the house inch by inch, and found piles of cash, many, many piles, hidden in nylon duffels in several cleverly concealed compartments around the house.

This was expected, and blueprints obtained from the architect were of great help. The SUV was hers, and it carried what she needed. She lugged identical nylon duffles from in from it, each holding many, many new bundles of cash impregnated with electronic “fairy dust” that turned each bill into a radio transmitter. She exchanged the treated currency for the old bundles, which she wrapped in plastic using disposable gloves, and packed them in the zippered bags. It took several trips to complete the exchange, but finally the SUV had nearly $300,000 stowed under the rear compartment’s floor where the spare tire usually rode.

The rear floor of the SUV held another bag that held Eleanor’s other tools: a shotgun, a new Glock 20 10mm auto with a 15-shot magazine and laser sight; a  Glock 17 with ammo. An older, compact Sig Sauer 1911 pistol in it’s holster rested on top. The latter was not government-issue, and was untraceable. She usually wore it tucked at the small of her back, and while it was a bit heavy fully loaded (almost two pounds), and only held seven rounds, it was both a last resort and a throwaway if thinks got seriously fucked.

She left the weapons in the SUV, took the Sig and a travel bag from the back seat and went inside to do a final cleanup tour and change. Henry would wake up refreshed, if somewhat confused and with no memory of the time just before he took the drugged drink. She planned to leave no clues that she had been there. The stuff she’d slipped into Henry’s drink wouldn’t wear off for a while longer, she decided, glancing at a wristwatch and feeling pleased with her work.

A grandfather’s clock — an 1800s Philadelphia model restored at great expense — struck 2 a.m. from its post in the front room. She didn’t know when she’d have the chance again to get clean — and the work she’d just done had been hot and she was starting to notice her own odor— so she took a quick shower in a spare bath.

She checked Henry to see if he was stirring and, hearing only low snores, decided she could pause for a few moments. She donned panties and bra and a silk robe from her travel bag. The silk was warm for it’s weight, and it packed in very small package. Her dark hair, still damp from the shower, tumbled over the collar.

She put the Sig on the counter and looked through Henry’s extensive liquor collection. She mixed a Godmother, a favorite—an expensive Italian amaretto and a couple of fingers of A-list vodka in a tumbler, added ice, and swished it around in the glass until it was cold. The sweet aroma of apricots and almonds touched her nose as she sipped, and she savored the burn of vodka as it slipped down the back of her throat. She padded silently to the family room across a wide tile area that led to a sliding glass patio door and stood looking out. Another sip.

The floor-length white robe swayed from the curve of breast and hip like something from a 1930s Hollywood film. Tall and full-figured but trim, she glided with a natural, sensuous grace that could turn heads even in Monaco’s casinos. In fact, on one assignment, she’d done just that. No one expected someone that looked like she did to be as deadly as she was, which came in handy more than once.

The kitchen waited in gloom. Vague shapes of appliances and counters and hanging pot racks—all seldom used—were just visible. Before her, the double French patio doors framed a deck with a gas grill, outdoor chairs and a table still shrouded in their winter plastic covers. The moon lit a few yards of grass, bleaching it of all color. Shadows of the fir forest fell across the lawn halfway to the deck, as the moon was fairly high in the sky. The edge of the woods was as black as a mine shaft. She stood close to the door, sipping her drink and soaking in the scene. The moonlight draped her form in the same pale aura as the lawn. Her pose in the window conjured a marble statue of some long-forgotten Greek goddess.

The tall clock ticked softly in the background. She held the glass below her lips in one hand, with the other arm folded across her waist. She swirled the liquid in the glass with small movements, taking a sip every so often. It was the first quiet she’d had in weeks, and the liquor and the moonlight lulled her into dreaminess.

The drink was almost gone by the time the clock behind her bonged three times, the sudden sound filling the room. The SUV was packed, her gear was stowed, and the vehicle was fully fueled. It was time to get dressed. Henry would be waking soon wondering what had happened. By that time, she would be miles away.

****
As the last echoes of the chimes died away, a whisper like a feather touched her ear, but so faint she was not sure she heard it.

She took a final sip of the drink, tipping the glass up to get the last of the sweet, golden liquid. She sucked a piece of ice into her mouth and crunched it between her back teeth, enjoying the shock of cold and the noise, just like when she was a little girl.

A shadow flitted through the air beside her. Before she could react, an arm clamped around her throat like a steel hawser, cut off her air and pulled her back, off-balance. A vice crushed her wrist and pulled her hand and arm painfully up between her shoulder blades. In the same moment, the unseen hand and arm turned her body over and her bare feet were kicked out from under her.
The floor rushed up at her in slow motion. She heard a wet crunch and felt a sickening hot jolt as her forehead bounced on the cold tile. Pain exploded behind her eyes and shock surged through her body. A knee jammed in the small of her back, knocking the air from her lungs. She felt her cheek pressed into the cold floor and smelled blood and male sweat just before a wave of nausea rippled through her and a reddish-black mist filled her vision.

“Bring ‘er,” a voice snapped from somewhere in the fog.

Eleanor gasped for air as the weight lifted from her back. In almost the same second, a hand clenched into her hair and pulled her to her feet, the other arm still pinned painfully at her back.

The room whirled. She vomited as spikes penetrated into her brain.

The hands controlling her shook her like a rag doll. She was dimly aware that her unseen master moved out of the way of the puke and then yanked her down the darkened hall through a doorway into Henry’s bedroom. Her legs rubbery, she felt like she was out of her body and flying along like a leaf in the wind….

‘Running Girl’ Ch. 3 excerpt: Dream Girl


  1. “Mohana Das”
  2. “Captured”
  3. Dream Girl
  4. “Attack in the Family Room”
  5. “Fingers”

Dream Girl
He knew her— or rather, his body did —instantly and dramatically. The familiar softness of her skin, bare hip and breast, her lush warmth against the length of him, leg thrown over his thighs, possessive and provocative and wanton. Every nerve ending seemed to be on fire where she touched him, and the flame spread.

He tried to say her name with lips that would not move, to raise an arm to pull her into him. The heat and smoothness of the perfect skin of her perfect, bare leg was the sweetest feeling he could remember. He wanted it to last forever. He wanted to feel the rest of her, surround her, fill her and make love to her forever. The sudden rage of lust consumed him.

Her eyes were large and dark, simultaneously calculating, teasing, sad and amused. He fell into them. Head tilted back, she parted her lips slightly.  She rolled halfway onto him and kissed him with lips and tongue. Then the kiss changed, became slower and more tender, and a look of sadness crossed her face. Her eyes closed, then opened slowly, her hand softly on his cheek. She pulled away, face back in the shadows. And then she was gone. A feeling of loss and panic overwhelmed him.

“Miriam….No!” At least, that was what he wanted to say, but it came out a strangled cry.

The big Lab sleeping on blankets in the room raised his head at the sound.

Ted smelled faint perfume, her perfume, fading fast.

He sat in the half-light, fighting to come out of the dreamworld, and looked around, legs tangled in sweaty sheets, heart pounding.

Bluish-white moonlight cast distorted shapes from the bay windows onto the  marquetry floor. A wing back chair, his clothes draped over the back and heaped on the floor beside it, lurked along another wall. An old armoire and matching dresser huddled darkly on the third. His bed was in the middle of the wall opposite the big, solid mahogany door, now slightly ajar.

Chest bursting, he leapt, naked, to the floor and spun around. She was nowhere in the room. He ran to the hallway, down the house’s formal center stairs and out onto the lawn. The grass was cool on his bare feet.

Nothing moved in the late-night silence. The air was still, cold and silent. A sound escaped his throat, something between a grunt and a cry.

Nothing was there. Loneliness and grief were cold fingers around his heart. A dog barked in the distance, the sound echoing between the walls of old houses.

Ted Brown became aware of the sound of someone sobbing and then slowly realized it was himself. His cheeks were wet with tears, and he touched them with one finger. The lawn was damp with dew. He shivered, becoming gradually aware that he was outside on his lawn, au naturel. The eastern sky was just lightening but the streetlights in the next block were still on.

“Again?”

Shocked awake and self-conscious, he hurried on bare feet up the stone stairs to the open front door, hoping no one saw him. Sleepwalking during the nightmares meant his grieving was anything but over. It was embarrassing. He glanced around and saw that the windows of all the nearby houses were still dark in the pre-dawn. He hoped his new neighbors hadn’t seen him on another of his nocturnal episodes, but couldn’t count on it. Small-town people tended to be observant — most would say nosy— and he could imagine someone tossing out a snarky question at the coffee shop, to general chuckles. Some would just look at him and shake their heads, if he happened to be there. Others would exchange knowing glances and smile to themselves, tapping their finger to temple.  As a newcomer to the community, he was automatically assumed to be a bit odd; he didn’t want to add to the impression. But incidents like this weren’t helping.

He slumped up the big central staircase of the old mansion he was restoring, turned down the hall and hurried past buckets and drop-cloths, step ladders and stacks of paint cans and re-entered the bedroom. The musty but pleasing smell of fresh plaster was fading after a month. Soon, the painters would come and work on the next phase of the restoration.

The lanky old chocolate Labrador rose stiffly from his jumbled bed of foam and well-worn blankets near the chimney wall and padded over, toenails clicking on the hardwood to meet Ted at the door. He touched a cold nose to Ted’s hand and flicked a tongue tip to his fingers in greeting.

Brown absently scratched behind the big ears and stroked the wide head. Happy to get some response, the big dog glanced up with raised ears and inquisitive eyes to see if there was any chance of an early breakfast. Ted looked down at the silent pleading and smiled, then shook his head.

“You’ll have to wait,” he said sleepily, trying but failing to sound stern.

Ted  flopped back into bed, the damp sheets cold and clammy. He didn’t shift them around, welcoming the cold as a kind of reality that seemed to never be far from his life. Hearing the “wait” word he hated, the big animal realized there was no chance of food yet and moved back to his own bed. He collapsed with a disappointed grumble but held his eyes on Brown for a few seconds, unblinking. His eyes drooped and he plopped his big head down, tucked his nose behind curled paws and was asleep in seconds.

“Wish I could do that,” Brown said, glaring at the dog and then stared back up at the fine cracks in the horsehair plaster overhead. He knew it would be some time before he could do the same. Seeing the cracks depressed him, a reminder that the long process of restoring the house was not finished.

The red LED display of the clock radio said 4:47 a.m. He rolled out of bed, slipped into a T-shirt, robe and sweatpants, stuck his feet into a pair of slippers, and wandered out into the hall again and down the wide flight of stairs to the kitchen. A window taller than he was let more moonlight in to bathe the hall in blue and grey. There was enough light to see by.

As he descended, he remembered the dream and the memory of the woman. There was seldom a day that he didn’t think of her, or wonder where she was, whether she was safe and whether she ever thought of him.

He sighed once, put the tea kettle on the stove and sat at the kitchen table without turning on a light. The moon lit the room through the tall Victorian window, and he stared up at it, sadness settling in his gut.

The tea was ready. He poured and sipped it with no cream or sugar.

Bitter. The hot liquid burned his tongue.

He welcomed it.

Running Girl Ch. 1 Excerpt: “Mohana Das”


This is another bit from the book, “Running Girl,” introducing the assassin Mohana Das. She plays a recurring role.

  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”
  3. “Dream Girl”
  4. “Attack in the Family Room”
  5. “Fingers”
  6. A Little About Rose
  7. The Next Morning
  8. “What will be, Shall Be”
  9. “To the Death”_______________________________

Mohana Das

The brutal sun churned Karachi’s open sewers, diesel fumes, rotting trash, bubbling asphalt and smoke from a million charcoal cooking fires into a exotic, noxious stew that spread 50 miles downwind, into the great Sind Desert. The monsoon season was brewing in the warming waters of the Arabian Sea. It was only mid-morning, but thermometers shimmered. They could hit 115F by early afternoon.

The city would bake like a rock on a grill, day after day, until the monsoons brought drenching rain that could drown a child, bring insane winds and monstrous, otherworldly clouds. For a while, this was better than the heat. It filled reservoirs, flooded rice and wheat fields, refilled the aquifers, ran in sheets from the mountains to flush new life into rivers, flushing the filth of the city out to sea. They also brought misery and death with drownings and malaria and cholera when slum sewage was flushed into hovels of the destitute, of whom there were millions.

In April, though, from early morning through the muezzin’s call to evening prayer, nothing moved outside by choice unless driven by greed or hunger or bad intent. Only the insane or the criminal or the desperate slipped from shadow to shadow when Sol hurled death onto the unprotected below. But when the he wearied of the game and moved away over the edge of the ocean in the west and onshore breezes carried cooler, saltier air over the city, the city’s millions emerged to celebrate. Cafes filled with the sounds of jangled chatter and shouts of greeting, of  street vendors singing of fresh vegetables for sale, playing children and all the complicated noise of  life in all of its joy and brutality.

A man and a woman made love in a darkened bedroom. A window air conditioning unit rattled softly. The woman straddled him, hands on either side of his head and pumped her hips faster and faster with him inside. Her café au lait skin glowed with a light sweat from the exertion, small breasts swaying, nipples hard. The man, flushed and breathing loudly, grabbed a breast and squeezed it roughly. She didn’t seem to notice except for eyes that flashed briefly in anger at the sudden pain, a look he did not see.

She finished with short whimpers, sighs and finally a long, shuddering moan. After a pause with closed eyes and mouth slightly opened and smiling, she lowered herself  and lay still. He pushed himself into her hard a few more times and she tensed again to receive him, ignoring his grunting, looking bored. After a moment, she rolled off. He turned away with no more notice of her and was almost instantly asleep.

Mohana Das’ black eyes flicked with contempt and frank appraisal, even as a small smile played across her lips. She sat up and straightened the silk scarf that was wrapped tightly around her short-cropped hair. Then, utterly still, she watched him until she was sure he was asleep. Slipping slender legs over the side of the bed, she moved into the shower to bathe his smell away and flush all traces of him down the drain.

Upon return, still naked and damp, she pulled a long, thin blade of black carbon steel in its leather sheath from hiding under the bed. A rush of heat flashed down her abdomen and up to her breasts, as it always did at moments like this. She closed her eyes and relished the tremor of a second orgasm, feeling her legs go weak for a moment.

The blade, honed so finely that the edge reflected no light, resembled a long, deadly letter opener. Tiny parallel lines were etched down the middle, forming a channel for lubricating fluids. The raised metal sides were polished to a mirror finish. But the true genius of it was the purity of the edges and the hypodermic tip. A custom-made Rosewood grip, inlayed with a cat’s head made of ivory, nestled perfectly in the palm of her hand.

It was the creature of a Japanese master. His handiwork was known only to a small and exclusive clientele willing to pay the price of a modest house for such a weapon. It was said he worked on only one blade at a time, and sometimes took weeks to complete it. He didn’t take orders, so much as listen to a visitor and decide whether he felt the person was worthy of perfection. Das had sat with him daily for two weeks, sharing tea and silences, the first time. She waited on his judgement, willing herself to utter calm and acceptance. Then one day, he handed the blade he’d been working on to her, along with a custom scabbard.

A year later, she returned, with the same result. And again a third year.

The master’s wizened old wife waited in the outer room of the house, bowing as Das left. She took the cash Das offered with many mutual bows and smiles, tucking it quickly away in the folds of her kimono.

One blade was hidden in London. The third was her gift to someone who had trained her, loved her and, finally, betrayed her.

Das gently pulled the sheet down from her bedmate’s neck, looking with detachment at the structure of his spinal bones. He stirred in his sleep and his hand reached blindly for her bare thigh. She moved his hand away with a shushing sound, and murmured ‘No. Later.” She waited motionless a few minutes until his breathing slowed.

She finally moved one finger until it barely rested on his skin. The other hand positioned the point of the blade in the slight hollow between the bones, palm on the rounded silver inlay of the handle. She pushed it in, the movement of the blade barely perceptible as it slipped though his skin and ligaments as though moving through damp gauze, and cut the spinal chord between the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae. He woke, but too late. A quick flick of her wrist killed all motor control below that point and stopped his diaphragm. His brain would die quickly, starved of oxygen. He was paralyzed and powerless, but aware he was dying, only able to stare at the wall. He could hear her behind him, but was paralyzed and bewildered. His eyes darted wildly and his mouth made soundless screams.

She examined her work. There was very little blood, just seepage from the sliver of a wound. With any luck, he would not be found for days. The more time zones between her and this spot the better. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but professional caution was the rule. Disappearance without leaving a trace was one of her specialties.

But she could take a moment. She slid to the floor and moved languidly around the bed where he could see her. She stood and watched without expression as his eyes flickered around in fear, slowly clouded and became still as his worthless spirit floated away.

She washed and dried the blade and slipped it into its sheath.

She glanced around and with quick, practiced movements, wiped down every surface she had touched with a hand towel. She switched off the air conditioner and sealed the windows tight, knowing the aggressive heat of April would soon turn this room into an oven and speed the decomposition of the man’s body, obscuring what few clues she’d left. Not that the police in this slum had the tools or competence or even interest in solving this crime, of course.

The man in the bed was a smalltime crook and occasional drug dealer, smuggler and pimp who lived on the underbelly of society. In the complicated world of Karachi’s poor neighborhoods— which is to say, most of them— he also dealt stolen weapons to whomever had the cash. He didn’t care what they did with them. Unfortunately, he had cheated the wrong person, a person with connections— the details were not her concern. Word had been sent through a cutout that her services were needed.

In short, she knew the police would not investigate this man’s passing very enthusiastically. His death simply removed one more vermin from the streets, and any hint that his exit was expedited by powerful people would further discourage inquiry.

Besides, the same Hawala bosses that had hired her also paid bribes which purchased official blindness. It was a very efficient system, if corrupt. If you were the one with the cash.

Her brief passage through this man’s life, for all practical purposes, would be as if it had never really happened. It was the natural order of things since ancient times in her land. Though not from Karachi, her ancestors were here to meet Alexander, and many still showed the blue eyes and hair coloring of the Greek and Macedonian and Persian genes deposited in the wombs of women in the valley of the Indus. Babies survived, even if their fathers had their throats slit by the brothers of the women they raped. Like all invaders since, the Greeks left only the results of couplings, either voluntary or forced. But they all left eventually.

The assassin slipped on light cotton pants and pulled tight the drawstring at the waist, shrugged on a blouse and stepped into open sandals. After tying a small pouch around her waist, she slipped the sheathed blade and the rest of her effects into it, threw a black chador over her head and pulled the floor-length semicircle of fabric together in front. She fastened a dark ruband veil on her ears and over her nose, which left only her eyes exposed. She was now, to any prying male eyes, a married, conservative Muslim woman: invisible and untouchable.

Das glided into the glare of the day, breathed in the stench of the city born on superheated air, and stepped delicately through a partially open wrought-iron gate in the wall of the compound.

Across the empty street, she opened the rear door of a battered yellow and black taxi and folded herself inside. The driver had been pretending to sleep in the afternoon heat, then started the engine as soon as she left the gate. He had the old car in motion before she closed the door.

They did not speak. In seconds, the taxi pulled onto a main street, trailed by a cloud of blue smoke. Their first destination was a small, poor-looking mosque, tucked in a side street nearby. She would slip a coded message through a slot in the door, word that the mission was compete. Payment would appear in one of several numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Then she would pack a small bag and board a flight to London, and from there on to America for her next assignment.

Belching a cloud of fumes, the car soon blended in with dozens of others just like it, with trucks and cars and scooters in the vast honking chaos of the city of 15 million. In seconds, it was lost in the crowded, churning haze.