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”

Thunder


Thunder by Awphototales
Thunder Comes on Angry Hooves

One day you’re thinking about ordinary things,
Groceries, taxes, walking the dog, the upcoming weekend,
Problems a friend is having, plans to celebrate a graduation,
Finances, cleaning out the garage,
And all the plans… trips we wanted to take,
Places to finally see, places we put off seeing
Until the kids were launched, happy, safe.

Then we hear thunder over the horizon,
Like the pounding of many hooves,
And the sky darkens, the air grows cold, the sun loses all warmth.
The pounding, the thunder, the messengers’ announcement
Comes up through your feet, sinks into your bones, and you know what it is.
Fear grips your heart, you clutch each other in silent recognition.
Again. Again. Not again.

Plans change in the instant, one one phone call,
Plans are such feeble things, rattled so easily
And so effortlessly by the sound of thunder,
Thudding hooves coming this way, and there is no escape.
Let me hold you tight, whisper in your ear the words I dreaded
I’d say again: “I’ve got you. I’m here. We have to saddle up again. The thunder is coming.
The hurricane will be upon us soon. There isn’t much time.”

#nationalpoetrymonth

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.