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“Between us and heaven or hell is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.”.

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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”

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Umwelt


Some days it’s all about limitations,
And while it’s no use complaining,
That’s never stopped me before.

I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement. Continue reading “Umwelt”

Snowflakes and Ashes*


To this brief journey,

to this time-travel adventure,

to the utter absurdity of our

helpless leap into the future;

to all the surprises and the pain… Continue reading “Snowflakes and Ashes*”

What Gives You Peace of Mind?


For a little change of pace, I’m sharing an essay I wrote for “Storyworth”, a family history/memoir project brought to me by my two sons. When I run out of gas, or they run out of questions–or both– we’ll end up with a bound hard-copy book for each of us that will be, essentially, my memoir, driven by their questions, and done one week at a time. The following is this week’s essay. 

______________________________________________________

What Gives You Peace of Mind? you ask… 

Well… I have to take exception to the premise of this question. At least a little. I’m not against peace of mind in general, but just that I’m not sure that ought to be the goal. Or my goal, anyway.

And I think there’s a difference between being “happy” and having “peace of mind”. And there’s also a time element on both, and on unhappiness, too: nothing seems to be permanent, good or bad.

Lemme see if I can untangle that.

Continue reading “What Gives You Peace of Mind?”

Endings


It’s easy to see the beginnings of things,

not so easy to see the endings.

With eyes like cameras,

the silent guide

can tell you things

you will not believe.

Continue reading “Endings”

Gratefulness


Indian parable:

A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and started writing :

1. Last year, I had a surgery and my gall bladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.

2. The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.

3. The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

4. And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.

At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such a bad year !!

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad & lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with the following lines :

1. Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain….

2. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilise my time to write something better with more focus and peace…..

3. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator….

4. The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.

At the end she wrote:

This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well !!!

The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year !!!

Moral : It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.

Think positive…..
Be happy…
Stay Blessed….

In Translation



Is it just me?
My life
Was difficult at times,
like everyone’s, but
I wonder if that is because these lives
are really like bad translations,
From our original existence?

Sometimes comical, like
Boris muttering
Thick fake Russian at Moose and Squirrel.

Sometimes just disastrous,
like thinking I was asking for
directions to the library and
instead calling his mother a
working girl, and ugly, too,
and having to run for my life.

It is an argument for reincarnation.
And… it makes sense if you think about it.
Not only do we struggle
to train a new, helpless body,
and then navigate the teenage years,
but it was doubly hard,
because a previous stop in this world
I must have been
a clerk in the Ming Dynasty
Ministry of Jade, in 1376,
taking a lunch break
and gossiping in Mandarin
over steamed dumplings.
about who the supervisor
was sleeping with this week.
And… English is hard, man.

Upstream is a Dream


Time… a deep river with a fast current,

the past always upstream.

You can try to go back,

try to swim against the flow,

but it’s no use. The current is too strong.

Oh, you might taste a memory,

But are soon worn out, and,

forced to tend to immediate problems.

Eventually just let the water

carry you along. It’s much easier.

There are shouts and cries of others.

The banks are near and sharp.

The past is out of sight and

mist hides everything ahead and behind.

The water is turbulent and dark.

You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re

right on them.

Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.

Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.

Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.

But always the flow pushes ever down,

through unseen dangers, into the future.

Clear Vision


Carl Jung, 1875-1961
Carl Jung, 1875-1961

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

– Carl Jung

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*”

Dreams


tiantanbuddha

 

I dreamt once I traveled to the little village
in Ohio where I was born, this time.
Everyone was glad to see me, and I them.
I went from house to house and visited people
who had been dead for 50 years. I was a happy 85,
and realized I could only see them because I must be dead, too.
It dawned on me just before I woke that I had been given
a glimpse of something and I should pay attention,
that my span of years on this earth this time is to be
eight and one-half decades, no more, no less.
And it made me smile. I could live with that.

I also dreamt once of a place very distant in years and geography,
and surprised to see I was a young girl
just at the threshold of adulthood, bare-breasted,
racing many others through an Indian jungle.
And I realized when I awoke that
I had been given a glimpse of something
I should pay attention to, so I wrote it down.

But in the dream I ran and ran, heart thrilling to the race.
I ran until I came to a plateau, trees stretching high above,
and there was a massive statue of the Buddha looming.
I lay a hand on the ancient, cool, damp, moss-covered base as I passed, and
felt an energy flowing through it, slow and deep and with the ache of eternity.
A strange monk sat with me later, while I ate a bowl of rice, and told me
the only things that mattered in life were effort and simplicity.

Then there was another dream
of a life I’d lived in the 1890s as a sod-buster on the
Nebraska prairie. Fought the land and the weather,
had children, buried some there,
and it came to me that my bones still lie in the
black earth, deep under the grasses on a little rise
above where my earthen home once stood, but of which
there is no longer any trace, except in
that one, fleeting dream, like most of us.

Then last night I dreamt I was in Montana,
in the middle of a group of men arguing about
whether to drill for oil in a particular spot.
On one hand were serious dangers, on the other vast wealth,
the two main things, other than a woman, that men will kill for.
I remember feeling in a moment of absolute clarity
That I had the perfect solution, and knew it
would prevent the bloodshed that was coming.
But I woke up, breathing hard, unable to go back.
I wonder if I could have made a difference?

These messages seemed different than the
run-of-the-mill dances of the mind in sleep.
These carried some sense of import and meaning.
So after each I lay staring at the ceiling
as dawn slowly restores the room to sight,
and I ponder them and try to pay attention.

A Pause


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Inconvenient.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.

@Spill_words

At the Boundary


EndofSummer_posteredges copy

The nights have gone cool, the days not as warm.
Sundown slips backward,

Dawn awakes late by minutes, shivering…
Does it think we don’t notice?

The summer has been rainy, more than usual,
“Can’t complain, wouldn’t do no good,” my neighbor says.
We squint up at the sky –as if a moment of somber nods would make a difference–
Shake our heads wisely but think the same thing:
Another year has almost gone, hasn’t it?
Regrets chitter, time races faster.
We don’t dwell on it, or talk about it, but it’s in the backs of our minds.

We mark it most when the hours of darkness lengthen,
When the nights are cool.
When the sun rises behind stubborn clouds and
Fog blooms between trees, sits in the valleys,
Blankets the highways with obscurity.

We know what’s coming, near and far. It connects us
For a moment, then it’s gone, lost in thoughts of
Winter’s chores, and sins unconfessed
And the sweet, sweet days that slip through

Our fingers like the strings of a child’s balloon,
We cherish it, even as it floats away.

Everything changes. Everything must pass.There is deep contentment in that, if we take it. 

It was just after dawn, at the edge of the woods.
I stood in the hazy boundary light, breathing in the musk of damp leaves and
Pine needles, listened to critters scurrying through
The careless litter of oak and maple and locust and walnut trees,
Feeling the big pause.

The forest felt it too, and lay hushed in the mist.
The fog came last night on its little cat feet,
Conjured up from the ground and the air.
I hesitated, taking in every detail.

This moment, this place, the path ahead, hidden, but inviting,
The textures of the rough bark on the railings, the lichen and moss
On the trunks, spots of green and brown and grey and muted reds and yellows.

A great feeling welled up and tears
Ran down my cheeks unnoticed, unchecked.
I was one with the moment, joyful and melancholy,
One with the world, on the edge of the wood filled with mist and mystery,
Like any path. Any of thousands I’ve traveled. With something new up ahead.

What was is ending, as always.
Every ending is a beginning.
The place from which we start anew.

The rough bark of the railing scrapes my palm,
Grounds me in the Now,

I step onto the path, leaves crunching quietly.
“Where does the path lead this time,” I ask…the trees, I guess?

They don’t speak, but a thought whispers through the mist:

“Why don’t you find out?”

Bubbles


491

Blowing bubbles…  
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly kiss the sky,
Then like our dreams,
They fade and die.

But what does the bubble think?
Children know these things.
Don’t try to hold on to me, it says.
To capture is to destroy.
Beware of filling me with more than I can hold.

Take me as I am, do not grieve,
I am only with you for an instant,
A glimpsed, mysterious passing thing,
A taste of the lightness of being.
For as I am, so you may be.
A while so blind, but then so free.

 


img_3046

A Ghostling, in Training


Republished for Halloween. 

Ghost

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it.
Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”

In The Distant Past


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Found this morning on Writer’s Almanac. Men– if we’re completely honest–are envious of women, as a group, in some rather superficial ways, but particularly in the birthing abilities she talks about–that we will never have. It is a power that is beyond us. We know it. And you know we know it. And we know you know we know it. 

by Carrie Fountain

Things weren’t very specific
when I was in labor,

yet everything was
there, suddenly: all that

my body had known,
even things I’d only been

Continue reading “In The Distant Past”

Where There is Hope



Everywhere, “People wish to be settled,”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us, “but only insofar as we are unsettled is there any hope for us.”

I’ve been a full-time writer now for 34 years. And the one thing that I have learned is that transformation comes when I’m not in charge, when I don’t know what’s coming next, when I can’t assume I am bigger than everything around me. And the same is true in love or in moments of crisis. Suddenly, we’re back in that trishaw again and we’re bumping off the broad, well-lit streets; and we’re reminded, really, of the first law of travel and, therefore, of life: you’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.

–Pico Iyer

The Buoyancy of Light


5056

 

A blistered moon falls above a blasted land
Where thin winds flip grains of sand;
Where once a shallow sea sang sweetly to the moon,
And sheltered bizarre creatures in the shallows and deeps.

But for 100 million years past the rocks have forgot
What humidity feels like, and know only dust
And thin breezes,
And the silence of forever.

But still the moon rolls past, night after night,
Playing its pale beams over the sands, looking, looking,
Sending seductive waves of gravity,
Searching abandoned places,
Reaching out to nothingness,
Not knowing futility, only
The buoyancy of light.

(revised/new art)

Moon

As Is Poetry


cropped-the-adventure_bymojebory1.jpg

I just happened on this quote this morning, and thought it summed up the sometimes-aimless nature of my writing the past couple of years, wherein I fail to hit what I’m aiming at more often than not. But this defines my goals:
–to pare the words down to the minimum
–to find the balance point in any thought or situation
–to make my peace with the nature of things.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

― Laozi, Tao Te Ching

The World Has Need of You 


by Ellen BassEllenBassbyIrene-Young200pxw

everything here
seems to need us
–Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.

Continue reading “The World Has Need of You “

Peripheral Vision


dustbunnyinthewind.com-fog
dustbunnyinthewind.com-fog

.“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”
― Jorge Luis Borges

Am I mist, or fog?
Both suited for soft vision
Feel for the edges.

Effort, Simplicity


cropped-558072_3480085997155_1121455111_3390389_500343742_n.jpg

“The only things that matter in this life are effort and simplicity,” the monk told me. We sat a short distance apart on an ancient wall made of massive, moss-covered hand-shaped block of stone as big as coffee tables.

At least, I seemed to be me.

I was different. Completely different, but still me. Dreams are like that. Dreams from another lifetime. I didn’t seem to care. I knew. And I gladly sank into the world of long ago.

I was eating the only meal I’d had that day. There was a deep pool of clear water beside the wall. I could see to the bottom, where, a foot or two under the still surface, two hand tools someone had lost, or discarded lay. I reached down with water up to my shoulder and retrieved one and set it dripping on the flat top of the wall. It seemed important to pull it out and let it dry. Someone might need it. That’s when he came to sit beside me.

I was exhausted, but exhilarated more. Whatever rice and sauce I was eating was hot and good. I shoveled it into my mouth with my fingers.

The day had begun far away, hours earlier. I had been in a race of a sort, with what seemed like hundreds —certainly many dozens— of people. That part seemed kind of changeable. Some looked like Westerners, Continue reading “Effort, Simplicity”

What Are The Odds?


IMG_2690

What are the odds
Of that one seed
Falling at that precise instant
(Not a second earlier, or later)
On that particular day
On just the right side, facing the sun,
In just the spot where there was an opening
Where there just happened to be enough soil
Where the mason had left a gap last year
Because it was time for lunch and
He was in a hurry.
When the breeze randomly moved in just the right strength,
In just the right direction
And stopped at the right moment.
So that when the rain came by
in just the right amount
And then, just in time,
The impossible became probable,
And mere potential became actual.
One seed out of millions.
Just enough.

Transformation
Origin Story
Earth
#2

Fairytales gone bad


I’m late, but I’ll make up for it. This is some wondrous writing.


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

 

Old Air


mohenjo-daro
Mohenjo-daro, Sindh

The air grows older as it drains through the passages and doorways of
These ruins, where history stopped, where people leaked
Into the sand, were forgot.
If there is no memory left, did it ever really happen?
The stones feel the air drain past, patient, and say “yes, it did”.

The aged breezes surround, inhabit—an oozing, firesome force. They scorch crumbling brick, Caress the sleepers, curious if any faint dreams still stir,
In the soft, reddish dry light,
Under the changeless sunsets of forty wretched centuries.

mohenjo skeletonsThe air entwines legs, hair, imagination,
The whispers of spirits long gone, their bones still sprawled nearby, call.
Questions, asked like thought from just over the shoulder.
Faded sighs and cries from a room buried and forgotten, born only on the wind.

 

6/3/16

Memory

 

 

What Kind of Writer Are You?


Once again…

Comic relief is all I’ve got right now… 

writer

The Undiscovered Country


If you want cheerful, you might want to move past this one. I’m not feeling morbid, just in the mood to sink into some things that will lead to other things. Maybe it’s this string of rainy days. I’m like the person who hasn’t had enough sleep for days, but had to keep moving and now am a little crazy.

We’ve all known those sleepless dark hours, where “I have counted my own fears, like carved beads on the string of the night.” 

Hamlet is contemplating suicide (below), and it’s not hard to understand why. He’s been spurned in love, and that feels like being hit by a thousand ‘slings and arrows.’ Then he’s feeling betrayed by his mother, who marries another so soon after his father’s murder. And, she marries the murderer, no less.

Jeeze, Mom.

The phrase that jumps out at me the most, though, is the “…undiscovered country.” Aside from being used in a Star Trek movie title, he’s trying to decide if we shouldn’t just put up with all of the terrible things that happen in life, just because we don’t know, really, what’s next. What’s over that barrier between life and death, the uncertainty of the ‘undiscovered country’ we journey to when we die.

I don’t know if this is the bravest thing in the world, but it’s certainly very human and understandable. Who doesn’t want the sure thing instead of a big gamble?

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.

Darkness

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.

 

 

 

“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.

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