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Imogen Rose’s novel FAUSTINE is featured in today’s FREE KINDLE NATION SHORTS excerpt

At just 5 years old, Faustine discovered a secret that changed her life. At 12, she was sent to study in Switzerland to learn to control her increasing powers.

At 15, she returns to New York, hoping for the impossible: to be a typical, normal teenage girl. Her hopes are shattered when her father disappears.

And now she has to help prevent a war between vampires and demons, with both human and paranormal existence at stake.

Today’s 7,500-word Kindle Nation Free Short puts you right in the middle of the adventure.


by Imogen Rose

4.7 Stars from 22 Reviewers!

(Ed. Note: Imogen Rose’s Portal Chronicles made her a favorite with thousands of Kindle Nation citizens, so it was natural for me to drop her a line, when she submitted a Free Kindle Nation Shorts excerpt that began with Chapter 20 of Faustine, asking her if she would write a brief intro to help set it up for readers. Imagine my surprise when, instead of Imogen, it was Faustine herself who emailed me back! -S.W.)

Dear Steve,

Sorry it’s taken me so long to write. I was hoping to get back home to New York and start high school, which I was stressing about. Well, school turned out to be pretty good. You won’t believe whom I bumped into there! Ryker-the guy I have been crushing on for… well, like-forever.

My world seems to have turned upside down since I got home. My dad is missing. We haven’t been able to find him yet, and there is stuff going on here that makes me afraid for his life. I have, in the meantime, been expected to just step in and take over! Yeah, can you imagine it? I am having to basically ‘Queen’ over the London demons, who seem to be creating havoc at the moment. It really sucks.

I have to head off, I’ll write again, soon. Are you still besotted with your Kindle or have you moved on to an iPad? I am thinking of getting some Kindles for my subjects. Maybe reading will keep them out of trouble! Take care, text me your new number!


Who is Faustine? Begin your search for the truth with this short YouTube video, then venture deeper into the mystery in today’s 7,500-word Free Kindle Nation Short.


Lee Goldberg’s THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE is featured in today’s FREE KINDLE NATION SHORTS excerpt

(Ed. Note: It’s a special treat to introduce crime novelist Lee Goldberg, one of the major creative forces behind the inventive and fascinating Monk TV series, and author of the series of novels based on the character. We’re in for a wild, witty, and very smart ride. –S.W.)


Harvey Mapes is nothing special: just a regular guy with a job as a security guard in a ritzy gated community. Mapes escapes his humdrum life by reading detective stories.


One of the residents hires Harvey to follow his wife, and Harvey finds himself inside a situation where he must be a detective to survive.


Our Free Kindle Nation Short is a hefty 13,000 word hard-boiled chunk of mystery embellished with Harvey’s humor to whet your appetite.

The Man With The Iron On Badge
The Man With The Iron-On Badge


by Lee Goldberg


Just $2.99 on Kindle


Author Lee Goldberg wrote for the Diagnosis Murder and Monk TV series, and knows his way around a plot and story line with murder and mayhem on board.Within the confines of the TV series, Goldberg’s cheeky wit needed to be more subdued. That wit gets a bit of a romp in The Man With The Iron On Badge.


In today’s 13,00-word Free Kindle Nation Short, readers get to know the witty, not-really-hapless security guard Harvey Mapes as a sleuth cut from a cloth very different from any of his fictional counterparts.


Here’s the set-up:


Harvey Mapes is just an everyday guy, the kind you tend not to see. Harvey’s job is manning the guard hut at the entrance to a gated community, a job he loves because it give him time to do what he loves.


What he loves is reading detective stories. John D. MacDonald is his dealer, and Harvey’s “drug” of choice is hard-hitting, hard-boiled private investigator Travis McGee.


“I wanted his life,” Mapes says of McGee.


“Here’s what I did to get it,” he says in Lee Goldberg’s The Man With The Iron-On Badge.


It all starts when rich-guy Cyril Parkus, a resident in the community, sets up an unusual breakfast meet with Harvey.


Over coffee, Parkus explains that he wants Harvey to follow his wife. It’s a dream come true for Harvey, who hadn’t a clue about the nightmare in store for him.




The Man With The Iron On Badge


The Man With The Iron-On Badge


By Lee Goldberg


4.1 Stars – 23 Reviews!


Just $2.99 on Kindle




is #15 in Hard-Boiled Mysteryin the UK Kindle Store!


Click on the title below to download




Copyright © 2011 by Lee Goldberg and published here with his permission


Chapter One

I don’t know if you’ve ever read John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books before. McGee is sort of a private eye who lives in Florida on a houseboat he won in a poker game. While solving mysteries, he helps a lot of ladies in distress. The way he helps them is by fucking their brains out and letting them cook his meals, do his laundry, and scrub the deck of his boat for a few weeks. These women, McGee calls them “wounded birds,” are always very grateful that he does this for them.

To me, that’s a perfect world.

I wanted his life.

This is the story of what I did to get it.

My name is Harvey Mapes. I’m twenty-nine years old, six feet tall, and I’m in fair shape. I suppose I’d be better-looking if I exercised and stopped eating fast-food three times a day, but I won’t, so I won’t.

I’m a security guard. My job is to sit in a little, Mediterranean-style stucco shack from midnight until eight a.m. six days a week, outside the fountains and gates of Bel Vista Estates, a private community of million-dollar-plus homes in the Spanish Hills area of Camarillo, California.

The homes at Bel Vista Estates are built on a hillside above the farms of Pleasant Valley, the Ventura Freeway, and a really great outlet mall, about a quarter of the way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I say that so you can appreciate the kind of drive to work I have to make each night from my one-bedroom apartment in Northridge.

There are worse jobs.

Most of the time, I just sit there looking at my black and white monitor, which is split into quarters and shows me three different views of the gate and a wide angle of an intersection up the hill inside the community. I’m supposed to watch the intersection to see if people run the stop sign, and if they do, I’m supposed to write them a “courtesy ticket” when they come through the gate.

I’d like to meet the asshole who came up with that.

It’s no courtesy to give one, and the folks who live here certainly don’t think it’s a courtesy to take one. Most of the time, they don’t even stop to get it from me; they just laugh or flip me off or ignore me altogether.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like I’m going to chase them down to the freeway or put a lien on their homes.

Enforcement really isn’t my job anyway. I’m there to give the illusion of security. I don’t have a gun, a badge, or even a working stapler. If there’s any real trouble, which there never is, I’m supposed to call my supervisor and he’ll send a car out.

The guys in the car, guys so inept and violent the police department wouldn’t hire them, are the “armed response team” the company advertises. If I were a resident, I’d feel safer taking my chances with the robber, rapist, or ax murderer.

I’m just the guy in the shack. The one who either waves you through and opens the gate, or stops you to see if you’ve got a pass. If you do, or if I get the homeowner on the phone and he says you’re okay, then I jot your name and license number in my ledger, open the gate, and return to my reading.

I do a lot of reading, which is the one big perk of the job and, truthfully, the reason I took it in the first place, back when I was going to community college. Mostly I read paperback mysteries now, cheap stuff I get at used bookstores, and it’s probably why I was so susceptible to his offer when it came.

I guess on some level I wanted to be like the tough, self-assured, no-problem-getting-laid guys I read about. I conveniently forgot that in a typical book, those guys usually sustain at least one concussion, get shot at several times, and see a lot of people die.

It was after midnight, but still early enough that I hadn’t settled into a book yet, when Cyril Parkus drove up in his white Jaguar XJ8, the one with a forest of wood and a herd’s worth of leather inside, and instead of going through the resident lane to wait for me to open the gate, he drove right up to my window.

We’re supposed to stand up when they do that, almost at attention, like we’re soldiers or something, so I did. The people who live at Bel Vista Estates are quick to report you for the slightest infraction, especially one that might imply you aren’t acknowledging their greatness, wealth, and power.

Even just sitting in that car, Parkus exuded the kind of laid-back, relaxed charm that says to me: look how easy-going I am, it’s because I’m rich and damn happy about it. He was in his mid-thirties, the kind of tanned, well-built, tennis-playing guy who subscribes to Esquire because he sees himself in every advertisement and it makes him feel good.

In other words, he was the complete opposite of me.

I’d see him leave for work every morning around six thirty or seven a.m., and it wasn’t unusual for me to see him coming home so late. But he rarely stopped to talk to me, unless it was to leave a pass or get a package from me that his wife hadn’t picked up during the previous shift. I’d only seen his wife, Lauren Parkus, once or twice, and when I did, it was late and she was in the passenger seat of his car, her face hidden in the shadows as he sped by.

“Good evening, Mr. Parkus,” I said, adopting the cheerful, respectful, and totally false tone of voice I used with all the residents.

“How are you, Harvey?”

I caught him glancing at my nameplate as he spoke. Each guard slides his nameplate into a slot on the door at the start of his shift for exactly this reason. You can’t expect the residents to remember, or care about, the name of the guy in the shack.

“Fine, sir,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”

He smiled warmly at me, a smile as false as my cheerful respect and admiration.

“Could I ask you a couple of questions about your work, Harvey?”

“Of course, sir.”

I figured there must be a complaint coming, and this was just his wind-up. In the back of my mind, I tried to guess what I could have done to piss him or his wife off, but I knew there wasn’t anything.

“What are your hours?” Parkus asked.

I told him. He nodded.

“And then what do you do?” he asked.

That question had nothing to do with work, and I was tempted to tell him it was none of his fucking business, but I wanted to keep my job, and it wasn’t like there was anything in my life worth keeping private. Besides, I was curious where all this was going and how I was going to get screwed in the end. At that moment, I had no way of knowing just how bad it would be or how many people would get killed along the way.

“I usually grab something to eat at Denny’s, since they serve a decent dinner any time and have good prices, and then I go home.”

“You go right to sleep?”

“No, sir, I like to sit by the pool if it’s sunny, swim a couple of laps, maybe go to a movie or something. Then I go to bed around three in the afternoon, wake up around nine or ten, have some breakfast, and come back here for another day of work.”

“So, you only work this one job and don’t go to school or anything.”

“That’s right, sir.”

Parkus nodded, satisfied. Apparently, I told him what he wanted to hear. I confirmed that I was a complete loser and that yes, his life was a lot better than mine.

“Could I meet you at Denny’s in the morning and buy you dinner?” he asked. “I’d like to talk over a business proposition with you.”

“Sure,” I said, too stunned to say anything more.

He drove up to the gate and waited for me to open it. I hit the button, the gate rolled open, and I watched him drive up the hill, wondering what he could possibly want from me.

I kept watching him on the monitor. I couldn’t do that with most residents, but Parkus happened to live on one of the corners of the intersection that I’m supposed to watch for those “courtesy tickets,” so technically, I wasn’t spying, I was just doing my job.

Cyril Parkus lived in a huge, Spanish-style house that had two detached garages out front and a couple of stone lions on either side of the driveway, each with one stone paw resting on a stone ball. I’ve never understood the point of those lion statues, or why rich people think it’s classy to have them. I’ve thought about buying one and sticking it in front of my apartment door, just to see how my life changes, but I don’t know what they’re called or where you find them and I probably couldn’t afford one anyway.

Once he went inside his house, the excitement was over and I was in for a long, restless night, waiting for daybreak, unaware that with the sunrise, my life would change completely.




Chapter Two


At eight o’clock sharp, Victor Banos showed up for his shift. Excuse me, Sergeant Victor Banos. That Sergeant thing is real important to him, though the only real difference between him and me are two military-type stripes sewn on the shoulders of his uniform, which he earned by being the nephew of the area supervisor for the security company.

The stripes indicate that Victor gets slightly higher pay than me because he also serves as a training officer, which means he sometimes shares the shack with new recruits, showing them the complexities of writing license plates down in the log and watching the gate when you’re in back on the toilet.

What Victor doesn’t tell the newbies is how he takes kickbacks from painters, gardeners, plumbers, handymen, electricians, and other workers that he recommends to the residents, or that as the day-shift guy he always gets the best Christmas presents, because he’s the one guard the people who live there actually know.

I really wanted Cyril Parkus to drive up in his Jag, or maybe his Mercedes or Range Rover, and pick me up for that business meeting, just to see the look of jealousy on Sergeant Victor’s face, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

“Anything happen last night?” asked Victor.

He asked me that every morning, and every morning I told him nothing had, even though it wasn’t always true.

A year ago, in the street in front of the guard shack, I saw a coyote with a French poodle in its mouth. We stared at each other for a minute or two, then he ran off. Now the coyote shows up every few weeks to stare at me some more. I stare back. That night, just before dawn, he came back. It felt like he stared at me a lot longer this time, before loping off into the darkness.

I’m not sure if a coyote looking at me would qualify as something “happening” to Victor, who claims he once got a blowjob in broad daylight from a teenage girl who lives in the community. While she was giving it to him, her mother happened to drive up to the gate. Victor says he just smiled and waved her through, and neither mother nor daughter was ever the wiser.

I don’t know if the story is true, but all of us guards wanted to believe it anyway. It gave us one more thing to fantasize about during those long shifts in that tiny shack.

So, like always, I told Victor nothing happened, and trudged down the street to where my ’95 Nissan Sentra was parked, a discreet distance from the million-dollar front gate so as not to bring down the property values. They don’t want my car leaking oil on the pressed-concrete cobblestones in front of the gate, but they don’t mind the resident who’s kept a dead DeLorean rotting in his driveway for years, the tires flat, the car caked in layers of calcified bird crap. If it was a Tercel, or a Sonata, or a Maxima, or any other car with a sticker price under fifty thousand dollars, there’d be an angry mob on his front lawn lobbing rocks, torches, and lawyers at the house.

When I got to my car, I took off my uniform shirt, stuck it on a hanger, and hung it from the plastic hook in the backseat. That saved me having to wash or iron it for a couple days. I kept on the white t-shirt I wore underneath and drove down to the Ventura Freeway, took the overpass to the other side, and parked in front of the Denny’s that was beside the off-ramp.

I’d been going to the Denny’s since I started working at Bel Vista Estates, except for a month or two while they were remodeling the restaurant to look like a ’50s diner instead of the ’70s coffee shop it was before. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, since the ’70s were hot again and the ’50s craze was long dead, but that’s Denny’s for you. They’d just discovered stir-fry, too. Pretty soon they’d stumble on croissants.

I picked a booth by the window so Parkus wouldn’t have any trouble spotting me. I ordered a Coke and decided to give him ten minutes before ordering, because the smell of sizzling bacon was making me drool.

I was halfway through my Coke and ten seconds away from flagging a waitress when Parkus showed up, looking like a kid sneaking into a topless bar. Not that I know much about topless bars. Well, not lately, anyway.

He smiled nervously and slid into the booth, smoothing his silk tie as if the simple act of sitting down would’ve wrinkled it all up. I smoothed my t-shirt, just in case sitting down had ruffled me up, too.

“Thanks for meeting me, Harvey,” Parkus smiled. “I appreciate it.”

I shrugged. His suit, even if he bought it at the outlet mall, was worth more than my car.

The waitress came to the table and, while I ordered a T-bone steak, fries, and another Coke, he picked up the laminated menu and made a show of looking through it. I don’t think he was used to a menu with pictures on it. His discomfort already made the meeting worthwhile for me. He ended up ordering a bagel and some coffee.

As soon as the waitress was gone, he smoothed his tie again and smiled at me. I smiled back and fought the urge to smooth my t-shirt. I had no idea sitting was so hard on clothes.

“Harvey, I’ve got a problem and, since you’re experienced in the security field, I think you’re the man to help me,” he said. “I need someone followed.”


“My wife.”

I knew he’d say that.

I sipped my Coke and hoped he couldn’t hear my heart beating. In that instant, I’d become the hero of one of those old Gold Medal paperbacks, the ones with the lurid cover drawing of a busty girl in a bikini wrapping herself around a grimacing, rugged guy holding a gun or a martini glass.

I was now that guy.

It could happen that fast.

Then I realized that no, it couldn’t. I wasn’t that guy. I would never be that guy. There had to be a catch to this.

“Why me, Mr. Parkus? You could probably afford to hire a big PI firm that’s got a bunch of operatives and all the high-tech stuff.”

“You’re right, Harvey, I could. But that would make it official, so to speak, and I want to keep this low-key.”

Meaning he wanted to go cheap and pay cash out of his pocket, rather than leave a paper trail. At least that was my uneducated guess.

“Do you really want the guard out front knowing all your secrets?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t know all my secrets.” Parkus smiled, trying to be jovial, lighten things up. “The truth is, Harvey, I want someone I know, someone I can talk to without creating attention. You can give me your reports as I come through the gate. No phone calls, no memos, nothing anyone can ask questions about. It’s certainly not going to look strange if your car is parked outside the gate. And the great thing is, you can watch her day and night without raising any suspicion. Hell, half the time you’ll just be doing your job, right out front where everybody can see you.”

He’d obviously given this a lot of thought, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

“Aren’t you afraid she’ll recognize me?”

“She’s only seen you a couple of times, late at night, in the dark. I doubt she’d recognize you in the daylight, especially out of context. Besides, you’re not going to get that close to her, you’re too good at what you do.”

Either Parkus was trying to flatter me, or he was an idiot. He had to know the extent of my surveillance experience was sitting in a chair, watching the gate open and close.

The waitress arrived with our food, which gave me a few minutes to get my thoughts together. I bought another minute or two pouring A-1 sauce on my steak and chewing on a few bites of meat. I’m glad I did, because tasting that steak cleared my head. Why was I trying to talk this guy out of hiring me? If he thought I was qualified for the job, what did I care? He was offering me the chance to play detective, which by itself was exciting, and we hadn’t even started talking about the money yet.

“You think she’s having an affair?” I asked.

He carefully spread some cream cheese on his bagel while he considered his answer.

“I don’t think so, but something is going on. She’s been acting strange, aloof, very secretive. She’s evasive and can’t account for her time during the day.”

“I see,” I said, even though I didn’t. I knew more about molecular biology than I did about women, and I don’t even know what molecular biology is.

It occurred to me that I didn’t really know anything about this guy and that my steak was getting cold, so I said: “I’m going to need some background. What can you tell me about you and your wife?”

So, while I ate my steak and fries, Parkus told me that he worked in international distribution of movies, selling them to TV networks overseas. His office was in Studio City, a straight shot east on the Ventura Freeway. He said it took him about forty minutes in good traffic to get to work, which is where he met his wife Lauren ten years ago. She was temping as a receptionist. One day he just stepped out of the elevator and there she was. Bluebirds sang. The clouds parted. Their souls kissed. It was as if he’d known her his entire life.

He made it sound a lot more romantic and personal than that, but I was too jealous to pay attention to the exact words. You get the gist of it. They were married six months later up in Seattle, where she was from.

Lauren Parkus didn’t work, and they didn’t have any kids, so she spent her time on what he called the “charity and arts circuit,” working on fundraisers to stop diseases, feed Ethiopians, buy Picassos for the museum, that kind of thing. And when she wasn’t raising money and organizing parties, she was in charge of decorating and maintaining their home, which he told me was practically a full-time job in itself. I thought about asking him to hire me for that job when this was over, but that would have been getting ahead of myself.

Nothing, Cyril Parkus said, was more important to him than his wife and her happiness.

“Even if she’s cheating on you?” I asked, and from the tight look on his face, I’d gone too far. Before he could say anything I’d regret, I kept talking. More like babbling. “I guess that’s a question you won’t be able to ask yourself until I find out what, if anything, is going on.”

That lightened him up a little. “So you’ll take the job?” Parkus asked.

“For one hundred and fifty dollars a day plus expenses.”

Jim Rockford used to ask for one hundred and twenty-five dollars a day, so I adjusted up for inflation. I probably hadn’t adjusted up enough, but anybody could see I wasn’t James Garner, or even Buddy Ebsen, and besides, it was more than double what I got paid to guard the gate.

“What expenses?” Parkus looked amused. I tried not to look embarrassed.

“You never know, sir.”

“No, I guess you don’t.”

Parkus reached into his pocket, pulled out a thick money clip, and peeled off five one-hundred-dollar bills onto the table.

“This should cover the first few days,” he said.

It was Tuesday, so the retainer would carry me through until the weekend when, I figured, we’d review the situation and make new arrangements.

“When will you get started?” Parkus asked.

“Tomorrow, after my shift. I need to get some things sorted out today, before I jump into this.”

“Of course,” he replied. “Do you have a camera?”

That was one of the things I had to get sorted, but instead of admitting that, I just nodded.

“Then I guess that’s it, Harvey.” Parkus peeled off a twenty to cover our dinner, slid out of the booth, and stood for a moment at the edge of the table, looking down at me. “I really hope this turns out to be nothing.”

I really hoped it would take a week or so to find out.

“Me, too,” I said as if I cared, which, at the time, I didn’t.

He walked away and I ordered a slice of Chocolate Chunks and Chips, the most expensive pie Denny’s had. I could afford it now.



Chapter Three


I live in the Caribbean.

I love saying that, and I knew that I would, which is the only reason why I chose to live in that stucco box instead of the Manor, the Palms, or the Meadows. All the buildings in that area charged the same rent for a one-bedroom with a “kitchenette,” which is French for a crappy Formica counter and a strip of linoleum on the floor.

The Caribbean is built around a concrete courtyard that’s got a kidney-shaped pool, a sickly palm tree, a couple plastic chaise lounges repaired with duct tape, and a pretty decent Coke machine that keeps the drinks nearly frozen, just the way I like them. The whole courtyard smells of chlorine because the manager dumps the stuff into the pool by the bucket-load. Stepping into the water is like taking an acid bath.

The tenants are evenly split between retirees, Hispanic families, Cal State Northridge students, which I was when I first moved in, and young professionals, which is what I am now. It’s what losers like me like to call ourselves, so we don’t feel like losers.

Carol was already at the pool when I came into the courtyard around ten. She was a young professional like me. She was my age, worked at a mortgage company, and was probably a little too chunky in the middle to be wearing a two-piece bathing suit, but I certainly wasn’t going to say anything. She’d lived in the Caribbean about as long as I had and, when she was really lonely and desperate, we’d fuck sometimes. She wasn’t lonely and desperate nearly as often as I’d like. It wasn’t love, but we’d loaned each other money, taken care of each other when we were sick, and, like I said, fucked a few times, so you could say we were good friends.

You’re probably wondering how this squares with my earlier comment that I don’t know anything about women. I didn’t really consider Carol a woman, for one thing. I mean, she was definitely female and she was straight, but to me a woman was more beautiful, more mysterious, more aloof than Carol. A woman was unattainable, and Carol was eager to be attained, only by a better guy than me, which I didn’t blame her for. That isn’t to say I understood her. I’ve known Carol six or seven years and she still doesn’t make sense to me.

So, like I said, Carol was by the pool when I came in. I was carrying a Sav-On bag, because on the way home I’d stopped to buy myself three disposable cameras, some candy bars, two six-packs of Coke, a spiral notebook, and a couple pens. I even treated myself to the latest Spenser novel at full cover price. That’s how good I felt.

I sat down on the chaise lounge next to her and set my bag on the ground between us.

“You know what’s in this bag?” I asked her.

“This is not like the time you bought me some magazines with the idea I’d look in the bag and also see the big box of Trojans and think you were some kind of stud and be overwhelmed by an uncontrollable urge to hump you.”

“That was years ago. When are you gonna forget about that?”

“Never,” she replied. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m sunbathing on a weekday, instead of going to work?”

“No, I want you to ask me what’s in this bag.”

She sighed. “Okay, what’s in the bag?”

“My private eye kit.” I leaned back and smiled. “Everything I need for long-term surveillance.”

She leaned over and peeked in the bag. I couldn’t help stealing a look at her cleavage.

“Snickers bars and a paperback.” Carol leaned back on the chaise again, giving me a look. She knew where my eyes had been. “Isn’t this the same as your security guard kit?”

“It’s a little different,” I said. “For one thing, this job pays one hundred and fifty dollars a day plus expenses.”

It was an awkward segue, but I was eager to get to the big news. I took out the hundreds and waved them in front of her face. That made her sit up again.

“Where did you get that?”

“It’s my retainer.”

“The only retainer you know anything about is the one you wore in high school, so you can drop the bullshit. Are you doing something illegal?”

I didn’t think so. And after I told Carol all the details, neither did she. But she did have questions.

“What do you know about detective work?” she asked.

“What’s there to know? All I have to do is follow her,” I replied. Besides, I intended to brush up on my skills that night. There was a “Mannix” marathon on TVLand I was going to watch, and I’d have the new Spenser book to refer to during the lulls in my surveillance.

“So you’re going to keep working your midnight-to-eight shift and follow her during the day.”

“That’s right.”

“If you’re supposed to watch her all day, when are you going to sleep?”

“At one hundred and fifty dollars a day plus expenses, who needs sleep?”

“This should be interesting.”

“Which is why I’m doing it. When was the last time my life was interesting?”

Carol smiled. “You have a point.”


She wasn’t lonely or desperate or in the mood to help me celebrate in the lusty way I thought we should, so I went to my apartment to prepare for my new job.

My apartment is a second-floor unit with a “lanai,” which is Hawaiian for a tiny little deck you can barely fit a lawn chair on, and has a spectacular view of our dumpster, which is usually left wide open. So I use the “lanai” to store stuff, like a bike I haven’t used in four years, a Hibachi grill, and that lawn chair I mentioned.

My place is decorated in a casual style I like to call Thrift Shop Chic. Most of my furniture comes from garage sales and hand-me-down stores, with the exception of my bed, which is just a mattress and box spring on a wrought-iron frame. I practically live on this big, black, leather couch I bought at the Salvation Army for a hundred bucks that’d been softened up and creased all over by years of pounding by heavy butts long before I got it.

I’ve also got a bunch of those white particle-board bookcases, the kind you put together with those little, L-shaped, screw-in-tool thingies that come in the box. Most of the shelves are sagging under the weight of books, videos, and stereo components, but it doesn’t bother me as long as the bookcases don’t collapse.

I took a frosty can of Coke from the fridge, a bag of chips from the cupboard, and settled on my couch, put my feet up on the coffee table, and turned on the TV set.

For the next six hours, I watched “Mannix” reruns on TVLand and here’s what I learned.

Getting shot in the arm, which happened to Joe at least three times that afternoon, is really no more painful or debilitating than pulling a muscle. A few days with your arm in a sling and you’re fine. You can also relieve the pain of a concussion by just rubbing the back of your neck and shaking your head. However, you can probably avoid a concussion altogether, if before you walk through a door you peek around the corner first; that way, no one can surprise you with a karate-chop to the back of your neck.

Picking a mobster’s henchmen out of a crowd isn’t really too hard. They are usually the grimacing, muscle-bound guys who look very uncomfortable in their turtleneck sweaters and blazers. They will also be staring at you menacingly, which is a good tip-off about their intent.

I also learned some important pointers about following people. If you’re a private eye, to follow someone driving, you just have to stay one car behind your target; and to tail him walking on the street, stroll casually ten yards back and pretend to window-shop and you’ll never be noticed. However, if you’re a private eye and someone is following one car behind you, you will spot him immediately; and if anyone is shadowing you while you’re walking on the street, you can usually see him by checking out your reflection in a store window.

It’s a good idea for a private eye to drive a sports car of some kind, especially if you want to get away from someone by driving around corners real fast, your tires screeching. Intelligent, well-educated criminals drive Cadillacs or Lincolns, psycho killers and thugs drive Chevys or pickup trucks, while just about every law enforcement officer thinks he will be inconspicuous in a stripped-down, American-made sedan with a huge radio antenna on the trunk.

If you have a female client, no matter what she says, deep down she wants to fuck you. The same goes for any other woman you meet, especially waitresses, secretaries, nurses, and strippers. Apparently, nothing is sexier to a woman than a private eye doing his job. That bit of information was especially nice to know.

Hey, I’m not some kind of cartoon character. I knew “Mannix” wasn’t the real world, that if, say, someone shot me in the arm, I’d probably piss myself and start weeping in agony, then spend the next few weeks zoned out on painkillers I couldn’t afford. But I figured any knowledge was better than nothing at all, and that I couldn’t help but pick up a few useful pointers from watching a private eye, even a fictional one, at work.

Maybe they used real private eyes as technical advisors on the show. Who knows?

By three p.m. I thought I was ready for bed, but it turned out I was too keyed up to sleep, even though all I’d done was watch TV and eat Cheetos all day. So I put my favorite whack-off tape, The Wild Side, into the VCR and went back to the couch.

The tape was already cued up to the scene where Anne Heche and Joan Chen have simulated, lesbo sex, but in light of Anne’s later frolicking with Ellen DeGeneres, I like to think her lust was real. Though you got to wonder if Anne had made it with Joan Chen, why she would want to rub herself against Ellen DeGeneres. Put Joan and Ellen side-by-side naked and, whether you’re a man or a woman, the choice is obvious.

Anyway, I watched the tape, jerked off, and thirty seconds later, I was ready for bed again. This time, I had no trouble falling asleep.

I dreamed I was Joe Mannix, wearing the checked blazer and all, tooling around in a Dodge Charger convertible with Joan Chen in the backseat, her shirt open to her crotch.

Even asleep, I knew it was just a dream, but I also thought that it could actually happen.



Chapter Four


The drive from Northridge to Camarillo takes you out the northwestern end of the San Fernando Valley, past the wealthy, four-car garage suburbs of Calabasas, Agoura, Thousand Oaks, and Westlake Village, and down the Conejo Pass into Pleasant Valley.

Around Camarillo, the number of Mercedes, Volvos, BMWs, and Range Rovers thins out and you see a lot of farm workers crammed into shitcans like mine. The area between Camarillo and Santa Barbara is filled with farms, and it takes a lot of low-paid, mostly Hispanic workers to do all the planting and picking.

The area is considered far enough from real places like LA and Santa Barbara that there are two big outlet malls for travelers who find themselves caught in middle of the two-hour journey between the two cities with no place to shop.

Above all of this, looking down on everything like the imperious Greek gods in those old Hercules movies, are the people who live in the gated communities on the graded peaks of Spanish Hills.

On the off-chance that those farm workers ever rise up in violent revolt and storm the hills, they’ve got to get past the guard in the shack first.

I like to think that the terrifying prospect of rousing me from reading a paperback is what keeps them in line.

The night before my first day as a detective went fast. The only memorable moment was the flash of breast I saw while staring at the scrambled picture of the cable porn channel on TV. That was another perk of the job I forgot to mention.

I practically ran out of the shack when Victor showed up in the morning. I didn’t want to get caught by surprise, just in case Lauren Parkus decided to meet her lover promptly at eight a.m.

I hustled down the street to my car, which was parked beside the grassy embankment, and changed into a polo shirt and sunglasses as a disguise. As soon as I was in the car, I stripped off my uniform pants and put on jeans. Actually, that was a lot harder than it sounds, and I was really afraid Lauren Parkus would pick that moment, while my feet were up against the dashboard and I was struggling with my pants, to leave for her erotic romp.

But she didn’t.

In fact, she was taking so long to get going that I was getting mightily pissed. I was eager to begin detecting, and she was sapping my enthusiasm by not doing her part.

I sat there for two hours, my hands on the steering wheel, staring at the gate, playing out various surveillance scenarios in my mind, and I got so into it that when she finally drove out in her Range Rover, I thought it was an illusion.

I resisted the temptation to stomp on the gas pedal and instead showed my calm professionalism by easing into traffic, not that there was any. I was the only other car on the road, so I stayed way back behind her until we got down into the sprawl of shopping centers and gas stations.

The traffic was pretty heavy down there, so I hesitantly let two cars slip between us. It was a good thing she was driving such a high car, or I would have had a hard time following her.

She turned into the Encino Grande Shopping Center and parked right in front of a place called The Seattle Coffee Bean. I parked in one of the aisles so I could watch her inconspicuously. Lauren went inside and ordered something. I deduced it was coffee.

My hand was shaking as I made a notation in a notepad of her activities. All she did was buy a cup of coffee and my heart already was pounding with excitement. If this kept up, I figured I’d have a stroke when her stud finally appeared.

She sat down at a table outside and took her time sipping her coffee. It gave me a chance to really look at her for the first time.

Lauren Parkus was in her early thirties, with long, black hair and the same lean physique and tennis tan as her husband, which made sense to me. They probably worked on it together, unless she was bonking her tennis pro. I figured I’d soon find out which it was.

Her face had a sculpted beauty, as if God was concentrating very hard while he was working on her slender nose, her sharp cheekbones, the gentle curve of her chin, and her long, graceful neck.

She was clearly deep in thought over something, giving her a pensive expression that did nothing to dull the startling intensity of her eyes, which I could feel from twenty yards away.

She wore a large, loose-fitting blouse that was casually unbuttoned down to the swell of her perfect breasts. And I mean perfect, the kind of breasts you only see on women on movie posters, book covers, and comic books.

I picked up one of the disposable cameras and snapped a picture. It wasn’t for Cyril Parkus. It was for me.

Lauren was beautiful.

It took her a half an hour to finish her coffee; then she drove off across the parking lot. I was right behind her, I mean literally, as she stopped for traffic at the exit. She glanced into the rearview mirror and I ducked down, as if searching for a station on the radio.

When I looked back up, praying that she hadn’t seen my face, Lauren had already shot into traffic on Las Posas. I tried to follow, but nobody would let me in. It was bumper-to-bumper and the space between the cars and the sidewalk was too narrow for me to fit into. I watched in desperation as she sped through the intersection and on towards the freeway onramp.

If I didn’t get through the intersection before it turned red, she’d hit the freeway and I’d never catch up to her.

I swore, turned the wheel, and hit the gas, speeding with half my car on the road, the other half on the sidewalk, the underbelly of my Sentra scraping the curb and spraying sparks as I went. But Lauren didn’t see any of that; her Range Rover had already disappeared down the embankment to the freeway.

I made it through the intersection as the light turned yellow, and raced onto the freeway in time to see Lauren’s Range Rover about five cars ahead of me.

I weaved through cars until I’d cut the number of cars between us down to two, then I relaxed, settling back into my vinyl seat, noticing for the first time that my entire body was drenched with sweat.

I’d almost lost her and yet, the truth is, I loved every desperate moment.


I spent the next forty-five minutes on the freeway into Santa Barbara torturing myself, wondering if I’d screwed up and she’d done all that on purpose to lose me.

But if Lauren had, she wasn’t making it too hard for me to keep up with her.

Then a Highway Patrol car roared up behind me, tailgating me for a while and giving me something new to worry about. I convinced myself he could tell I was stalking this beautiful woman and he was just waiting for back-up before arresting me. But after a mile or two, he got off the freeway and let me go back to torturing myself over previous events.

The further north we got, the foggier and cooler it got. It’s what my mother used to call “beach weather.” She liked it misty and gray like that. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s one of the things I might have asked her, if she hadn’t walked out the door one morning when I was fourteen and decided not to come back.

That’s around the time I started reading mysteries. I began with Encyclopedia Brown, which I liked for the tough puzzles and the simmering erotic tension. I kept waiting for him to cop a feel from Sally, the prettiest girl in the fifth grade and the only kid in school who could kick the shit out of that bully Bugs Meany, but if it ever happened, I missed it.

I went from Encyclopedia to the Hardy Boys, and then at a garage sale I stumbled onto a pile of ratty, old paperbacks by Richard Prather. He wrote about Shell Scott, a detective who, like me, had a twenty-four-hour-a-day hard-on and looked like a freak. Shell was six feet tall with white hair and white eyebrows. I was gawky and covered with zits. He got laid all the time by women he called tomatoes. I masturbated a lot.

When I wasn’t reading or jerking off, I watched PI shows on TV. We had a great UHF station that showed all the old stuff, everything from “77 Sunset Strip” to “Cannon.” The PIs on The Strip, they were cool cats, even though one of the detectives was played by an actor named Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. If a guy with a name like Efrem could fool people into thinking he was cool, maybe Harvey Mapes wasn’t such a geek name after all. Private Eye Frank Cannon was an ugly fat-ass, but I admired how he got the job done anyway. I thought it’d be great if in one episode he overpowered a hitman by sitting on him, but I don’t think he ever did.

Lauren took the first off-ramp into Santa Barbara, where Kinsey Milhone lives, though she calls it Santa Teresa, which doesn’t fool anybody. I followed Lauren as she drove along the broad beach and I wondered which of the hotels she’d end up at. She had her choice of meticulously maintained, retro-style motels or one of the lush, expansive resorts. They were all pricey and only a few stories tall to maintain Santa Barbara’s friendly village ambience and ensure unobscured views of the offshore oil rigs.

I figured she’d choose a motel, because even at three hundred fifty bucks a night, there was still a certain dirty charm to a room you could drive up to.

But she surprised me by driving past the pier, and the turn into the downtown shopping district, and heading into the beach parking lot instead. She paid her two bucks and found a spot. I did the same, noting the expense, the time, and the location in my notebook and admiring my own professionalism.

Lauren got out of her car, took off her shoes, and walked out on to the sand. I stayed where I was and just watched her.

She walked down to the shore and strolled with her bare feet in the surf. I waited expectantly for the illicit rendezvous and two hours later, my bladder bursting, it still hadn’t happened.

Lauren just sat on the sand, staring at the waves. For me, looking at all that churning surf only made my predicament worse.

I kept glancing at the restrooms, trying to gauge how long it would take me to run inside, piss, and come back out, and if she could disappear in that time. I was never good at math or geometry.

I decided to take a chance.

I bolted out of the car and ran into the restroom, which was thick with flies and the fetid stench of urine. I hurried up to a urinal and pissed. It seemed to take forever. And while I was doing it, I became aware of a homeless man sitting on the floor in a corner, staring at me furiously, like I’d broken into his house and started pissing on his rug.

As I zipped up my fly, I smiled at him and actually said I was sorry. I ran out, took a deep breath of fresh air, and looked at the beach.

She was gone.

I couldn’t believe it. I’d only been away a few seconds and she’d disappeared. I looked for her car. It was still there, so she couldn’t have gone far.

Unless she got into her lover’s car.

I told myself there wasn’t time for that to happen. She’d been down by the water, she couldn’t have gotten back to the parking lot that quickly.

I ran out towards the water, looking everywhere for her as I went.

And that’s when I almost stepped on her.

She was right where she was supposed to be, only now she was lying down, which is how I’d missed her. I quickly spun around, turning my back to her, and hoped for the second time that day that she hadn’t noticed me.

I walked quickly back to my car, got inside, and gave some thought to how to avoid pissing on duty in the future.


I passed the time reading the Spenser book and noticed he never had bladder issues on the job, which I now knew from experience wasn’t very realistic. I was thinking about writing a letter on the subject to the author when Lauren got up off the sand and trudged back towards her car.

I made a notation of the time and started my car up in anticipation.

As Lauren got closer, I could see the sadness on her face. Perhaps it was longing for the lover who never showed up. I briefly considered volunteering to take his place, but ethically, it just wasn’t the right thing to do. I also lacked the courage, the looks, and the charm to pull it off. But there was a light, cool breeze buffeting her blouse, making her nipples big and hard, so I couldn’t help at least fantasizing about the possibility.

I took another picture. This one was also for me.

She got in her car, backed out slowly, and drove off. I took it easy and let a couple cars pass before leaving the parking lot and following her down the street the way we came.

It was going just fine until we were nearly at the freeway. She went through the intersection and the light turned yellow on the car that was between us.

There was only one way to stay with her.

I ran the red light.

The only thing I really remember about the accident was the sound of the impact when the van clipped me.

I don’t know what it felt like when the car rolled over all those times, or what I was thinking when I unbuckled my seat belt, crawled out of my upside-down Sentra, and vomited on the pavement.

What is real clear to me was the terror on the face of the van’s Mexican driver as he slowed to look at me, and then the sound of his tires squealing as he sped off, dragging his front grill along the pavement.



Chapter Five


In a strange way, it was my lucky day.

The driver of the van that hit me must have been an illegal alien or a wanted criminal or something, because he didn’t stick around to accuse me of running the red light and causing the accident.

That wasn’t the only break I got.

The witnesses were totally unreliable. Because the driver of the van fled, in their minds that made him the bad guy, even though they must have seen me run the red light. They resolved the conflict between what they saw and what really happened by simply changing what they saw.

I helped things along by looking as pitiful and pained as I possibly could, hoping to appeal to their compassion and gullibility.

It worked.

To the police, I was the poor victim of a hit-and-run driver and he became the asshole who hit me. Obviously, I didn’t say anything that would change their minds, but now I know what eyewitness testimony is really worth.

I also made sure to describe the Hispanic driver as black, and say, with absolute certainty, that his Chevy van was a Ford. The last thing I wanted the police to do was find the guy, and the witnesses helped me again. One witness described the driver as Asian, another saw a white woman, and no one knew what kind of van it was.

The paramedics insisted that I go to the hospital, but I didn’t want to make a bad day worse by adding a medical deductible to my problems. Besides, all I had were a few cuts and bruises, which they’d already doctored up just fine. So I swallowed four Advils, thanked them, and walked away to inspect what was left of my Sentra.

There was no question that my car was totaled. I was insured, but I had a thousand-dollar deductible to keep my rates down. I doubted my car was worth much more than two grand, and with only seven hundred eighty-eight dollars in the bank, I saw financial disaster in my future.

I borrowed a cop’s cell phone and called my insurance agent, and discovered my luck was still holding. The deductible didn’t apply in this situation. The insurance company had a deal with a body shop in Santa Barbara; all I’d have to do is have my car towed there and they’d take care of everything, even give me a free rental until they could cut me a check for the negligible market value of my heap.

I figured if I kept working for the next week or so at both jobs, I could still come out of this ahead financially and with a car no worse than what I had before.

So, while I waited for the tow truck, I salvaged my uniform, cameras, and notebook from the car and tried to figure out how I was going to hide this huge fuck-up from Cyril Parkus.

I glanced at my watch. It was five twenty-five.

Lauren Parkus could be anywhere. Fucking her lover or robbing banks or hopping a jet to Rio, for all I knew.

Cyril Parkus was going to want a complete account of his wife’s activities, and if I made something up, I stood a good chance of being caught.

What would happen, for example, if I reported that she went to the movies at three, but when Cyril Parkus got home he discovered his wife had bought a couple stone lions for their back door? Her shopping trip wouldn’t be in my report and I’d be outed as a moron.

The last time I’d seen Lauren was two hours ago, getting onto the southbound Ventura Freeway. If I was very, very, very lucky, she went straight home, but I didn’t hold out much hope.


It was after eight by the time I got out of Santa Barbara in my rented Kia Sephia, Korea’s idea of an automotive practical joke. I was certain if I hit a speed bump too fast, I would be killed instantly.

Even so, I drove the car as fast as it would go, managing to nudge the speedometer all the way up to fifty-six miles per hour without the engine bursting into flames and covering the freeway with bits of charred hamster.

All in all, my first day doing detective work wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be. There was no glamour. There was no action. And the only nipples I saw were from a distance. It was a complete disaster. Even so, I was exhilarated in way I hadn’t been since, well, since ever.

I knew I wasn’t going to have time to go home before starting my shift, so I stopped at Target and reluctantly parted with fifty bucks. I bought a fresh shirt and pants, a battery-operated alarm clock, a bunch of snack food, and some personal hygiene stuff.

I stopped at a Chevron station and cleaned myself in the restroom. I shaved, brushed my teeth, and washed my hair in the corroded sink. I slathered Arid Extra Dry Ultra Fresh Gel under my arms, shook the broken glass off my uniform, and put it on, hoping no one would notice in the dark just how wrinkled and dirty it was.

Exuding ultra-freshness, I got back in my car and drove to Spanish Hills, parking down the block from Bel Vista Estates. I set the alarm clock for eleven fifty, put it on the dash, and closed my eyes.


The alarm rang on time. I swiped it off the dash and stuck it in the glove box, which I discovered was roomier than the trunk. I made a mental note to myself to scratch the Kia Sephia off my list of possible new cars.

Every part of my body ached from the accident and within seconds of waking up, my stomach started cramping with anxiety. I still had no idea what I was going to tell Cyril Parkus. I didn’t want him to find out I was incompetent, at least not until I got more of his money, which I needed more now than ever.

I got out of the car, told myself I was as ultra-fresh as I smelled, and walked up to the shack to relieve Clay Denbo, sort of a younger version of me, only black and two hundred pounds heavier. I weight one ninety, so you get the picture.

Clay worked part-time while going to community college in Moorpark, the way I did, only I went to Cal State Northridge, which is a better school.

He was thinking of either becoming a radio psychologist or a parking concepts engineer. Redesigning the layout of parking lots to add more spaces was kind of his hobby. He had a whole sketchpad of ideas he carried around with him and was always asking me to keep my eyes open for problem parking areas he could visit.

Clay was packing up his textbooks and sketchpad as I walked up. One of the books was called The History of Vehicle Parking in the Urban Landscape, a real grabber. He took one look at me and his mouth kind of hung open.

“Jesus Christ, Harvey, what happened to you?” he asked.

“A woman,” I replied. It wasn’t exactly a lie, but the implication was c

Free Kindle Nation Shorts – April 20, 2011: An Excerpt from Flesh & Bones (The Jake Lassiter Series), By Paul Levine

Flesh And Bones
Before he gave up suits for underwear as work garb, author Paul Levine was a lawyer for a high-powered, high-priced firm.
He tried hundreds of cases and handled appeals at every level, up to and including the Supreme Court.
He has won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and has been nominated for an Edgar, a Macavity, the International Thriller Writers Award, and the James Thurber Humor Prize.
Today’s Free Kindle Nation Short is a 6,300-word excerpt luring you to the full novel, Flesh & Bones, which grew out of a real-life murder case involving a legal defense based on the resurrection of repressed memories. 

Flesh & Bones is the latest Jake Lassiter mystery, and Paul says it is his best yet. And speaking of underwear, please accept our apologies for teasing you with this line from the very first page of Flesh & Bones:

According to the A-Form later filled out by a bored female cop, the tall blond woman wore three items of clothing that night, and the Charles Jourdan shoes were two of them.

By Paul Levine

Flesh and Bones Start Page

Recovered Memories: Real, Imagined…or Fake?
The idea for “Flesh & Bones” came from a real murder case involving the controversial notion of repressed memory syndrome.
Here’s how it started.  A 29-year-old California woman reported to police that she suddenly remembered seeing her father rape and kill a schoolmate twenty years earlier.  Were the memories real?  Or dreams?  Or outright fabrications?
The D.A. thought they were real.  And so did the jury which heard the case of the previously unsolved child killing.  The father was sentenced to life in prison and served seven years before a federal court determined that the daughter’s testimony had been tainted by hypnotic therapy.
Out of that grew my notion of a troubled young model, Chrissy Bernhardt, who walks into a Miami Beach bar and shoots her father in front of dozens of witnesses…including linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter. Chrissy claims that, under hypnotic regression therapy, she recovered memories repressed long ago: her father’s sexual abuse.
As I did while researching the book, Lassiter interviews a skeptical psychiatrist who tells him that memories are “malleable” by therapists.
“We can thank Freud for the theory that all our experiences are stored away somewhere in the brain, just waiting to be recovered by therapy,” Dr. Santiago said.  “A huge number of his patients seemed to recall terrible memories of childhood incest.  Initially, Freud accepted the stories as true.  Later, he concluded they were ‘screen memories,’ fantasies hiding primitive wishes.  Others believe they’re just false memories.”
“So what’s the truth?” I asked.
“Oh, memories may be repressed and then recovered, but does that make them true?  I’m sure you remember many events in your life that are absolutely false.”
“I don’t get it.  If I remember them, they’re true.”
“Not necessarily.  You may try to store memories like a librarian shelving books.  But each of us constructs a personal myth about what we think is true.  We may exaggerate.  Good times in the past become even better, hard times even worse.  Individuals who were bad become outright demons.  And some of our memories might simply be dreams that never took place at all.”
Lassiter soon discovers that his client’s shrink might have his own motive for wanting Chrissy’s father dead.  So might her brother, for purely financial reasons.  All of that plays out against the very real debate about the science of the mind. Are the memories dug out of the subconscious through hypnosis real or imagined?
The psychiatrist tells Lassiter: “Memory suppression is hardly unknown.  In one study, researchers found that thirty-eight percent of adult women who had been treated for sexual abuse as children had no memories of the incidents.  The difficulty is to recover the memories without contamination by post-event occurrences or suggestions by therapists, whether innocent or malevolent.”
That’s the heart of “Flesh & Bones”and every murder trial.  Separating the innocent from the malevolent.
Here’s the set-up:
“I was sitting at the end of the bar sipping single-malt Scotch when I spotted the tall blond woman with the large green eyes and the small gray gun.”
The next thing Jake Lassiter knows, the woman pumps three bullets into the man on the next barstool.
And Jake, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, has a new client.
She’s stunning model Chrissy Bernhardt, and the dead man is her wealthy father.
The defense?  Chrissy claims that she’s recently recovered repressed memories of having been sexually abused by her father.
Jake wants to believe her but suspects that the memories were either implanted by a shady psychiatrist or fabricated by Chrissy herself.
Complicating the situation, Jake falls for his client, clouding his judgment.  Is she an anguished victim or a cold-blooded killer?  And what about her brother, who stands to inherit a fortune if Chrissy goes to prison?
Jake wades into a quagmire of dirty water deals, big money, and family corruption, all leading to an explosive finale.



(The Jake Lassiter Series)
by Paul Levine

Kindle Edition
Release Date: 2011-04-11

List Price: $2.99

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UK CUSTOMERS: Click on the title below to download


Copyright 2011 by Paul Levine and reprinted here with his permission.
Loaded Dice

I was sitting at the end of the bar sipping single-malt Scotch when I
What Page One Would Look Like, If This Were a Picture Book
spotted the tall blond woman with the large green eyes and the small gray gun.
Not that I knew she had a gun. Not that I even saw her at first, even though she was five feet eleven barefoot, and at the moment was wearing black stiletto heels. According to the A-Form later filled out by a bored female cop, the tall blond woman wore three items of clothing that night, and the Charles Jourdan shoes were two of them. The third was a scooped-back, low-cut, black tank minidress. Nothing more. No rings, necklaces . . . or underwear. She did carry a beaded black Versace handbag, which apparently held the gun, until she pulled it out and . . .
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When she walked in, I was twirling a snifter, admiring the golden liquid inside, trying to catch the smoky scent that had the Yuppies all atwitter, and likewise trying to figure out why I wasn’t home drinking beer, eating pizza, and watching ESPN, as is my custom. Life in the no-passing lane.
“Do you sense the reek of the peat?” Rusty MacLean asked me, while twirling his own glass. “Do the pepper and the heather transport you to the Highlands?”
At the moment we were five feet above sea level, two blocks from the ocean on South Beach, with palms swaying and a Jamaican steel band playing, so you’ll pardon me if the outdoor club called Paranoia didn’t feel like Inverness or the Isle of Skye. “Can we drink it now, or are you going to keep blowing smoke up my kilt?” I asked.
“Patience, Jake, patience. Did you clear your palette of the Royal Lochnagar?”
“Palette clear, throat dry. Can we drink it now?”
“Did you appreciate the Lochnagar’s muscular, oaky flavor? The hint of sherry?”
“Okee? As in Okefenokee? As in swampy?”
Rusty gave me his exasperated, why-do-I-put-up-with-you look. “Jake, I’m trying to civilize you. I’ve been trying for years.”
Rusty MacLean had been my teammate on the Dolphins about a thousand years ago. He was a flashy wide receiver with curly red hair flapping out of his helmet. A free spirit, the sports-writers called him. Undisciplined, the coaches said. Used to drive Shula crazy. Rusty loved to baby himself, nursing small injuries, sitting out Tuesday practices. It is a given in pro football that by midseason everyone is hurt. I’ve played-though not very well- with turf toe, a broken nose, and a separated shoulder, once all at the same time. Rusty, who had far more natural ability, could make a hangnail seem like a compound fracture.
Rusty MacLean raised his glass and said something that sounded like “Slanjeh. To your health, old buddy.”
I hoisted my glass. “Fuel in your bagpipes.”
He sipped at his Glenmorangie, while I swilled mine, letting it warm my throat. Damn good, but I wouldn’t admit it. No need to spoil my image as a throwback and relentlessly uncool, unhip, and out of it. I am so far behind the trends that sometimes I’m back in fashion, just like the Art Deco buildings in the very neighborhood where we now sat, drinking and swapping lies. I wore faded jeans, a T-shirt from a Key West oyster bar advising patrons to eat ’em raw, and a nylon Penn State windbreaker. I thought I was underdressed until I saw a skinny guy in black silk pants, no shirt, and an open leather vest that couldn’t hide his navel ring. Or his nipple ring. Rusty wore a black T-shirt under a double-breasted Armani suit, his hair tied back in a ponytail.
He savored his drink, eyes closed, a beatific smile on his face. “Mmmm,” he purred. “I’ve screwed girls younger than this Scotch.”
“And you’re trying to civilize me?”
Rusty was signaling the bartender, pointing to another bottle of the single-malt stuff. We were going in some sort of ritualized order, from Lowlands to Highlands to islands, and The Glenlivet was next. “Not Glenlivet,” Rusty had instructed me, “The Glenlivet.”
“I know. Like the Eiffel Tower, The Donald, The Coach.”
“Robust with a long finish,” Rusty said as the bartender poured the liquid gold into fresh snifters. “The marriage of power and finesse.”
A waitress slinked by, offering canapés from a silver tray, smoked salmon curled around cream cheese, caviar on tiny crackers. A long way from the trailer park in Key Largo. I remembered a tavern song my father used to warble after he’d had a few, none of them sips of single-malt Scotch aged in oak casks.
Rye whiskey, rye whiskey,
Rye whiskey, I cry.
If I can’t get rye whiskey,
I surely will die.
Funny thinking about my father at that moment, a knife plunged into his heart, dying on a saloon floor.
I watched her approach the bar, not from some sixth sense that trouble was brewing, though in my experience, tall blondes are trouble indeed. I watched because Rusty MacLean, using the peripheral vision that had always let him know where the safety was lurking, had just gestured in her direction and compared her knees to Dan Marino’s. Unfavorably to Dan’s, I might add.
A few minutes earlier, I had asked him why he’d given up being a sports agent to open SoBeMo, a modeling agency. His answer competed in volume with the Dolby-enhanced nihilistic baritone poetry of Leonard Cohen. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded. Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
“Forty percent,” Rusty said.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed; the poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
My look shot him a question, so he continued. “Twenty percent from the model, another twenty percent from the company booking the shoot. Compare that to four percent for representing some sixth-round, preliterate prima donna from Weber State, and I’ll take the babes every time.”
“We don’t call them babes anymore,” I corrected him, having been dragged into the nineties, just in time for the millennium.
Now, as I followed his gaze, Rusty said, “Here’s another reason. Whose knees would you rather look at it, Dan Marino’s or Chrissy Bernhardt’s?”
If they’d asked similar questions on the Bar exam, I would have passed the first time.
I watched Chrissy Bernhardt walk the walk, hips rotating with that exaggerated roll forward, the arms swinging gracefully so far back she could have been waving at someone behind her. A stroll down the runway in Milan. Her bare shoulders had the rounded, developed look of hundreds of hours in the gym. Her ash-blond hair slid across those shoulders with each stride, and in her black stiletto heels, she was as tall as me, though a hundred pounds lighter.
Twenty feet away now, headed right for us, Chrissy Bernhardt seemed to look at Rusty. He always got the eye contact before I did. I am not a bad-looking man, despite a nose that goes east and west where it should go north and south. I have shaggy, dirty-blond hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders, and a waist that is just beginning to show the effects of numerous four-Grolsch nights. Rusty has a different look, sleek and feral, and women love it. He always seems to send out sonar waves that bounce off attractive women and back to him. This time, though, when he smiled, she didn’t smile back.
Now I saw she was looking past Rusty at the beefy man on the next barstool. About sixty, a pink well-fed face, a nose that seemed too small for the rest of him, and thick arms with a golfer’s tan peeking out from beneath the short-sleeved guayabera. Earlier, the man had twice asked the bartender for the time. Then he had given me a look and grinned. “I know you. Number fifty-eight for the Dolphins, right?”
“Long time ago.”
“I remember a game against the Jets, you made a helluva hit on the kickoff team, recovered the fumble . . .” He smiled again, then continued in a deep, gravel-voiced rumble, “Then went the wrong way. You ran toward the wrong end zone.”
“I got turned around when I made the hit,” I explained, as I have so many times over the years.
“Lucky for you, your own kicker tackled you.”
Yeah. Garo Yepremian couldn’t tackle me if I was drunk and blindfolded. He had, however, fallen on me after I tripped on the twenty-yard-line stripe.
Everybody knows the war is over. Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Now the woman reached into the little beaded black handbag she was carrying. The deep-voiced man next to us seemed to recognize her, too, and a thin smile creased his face. When it disappeared, I glanced back at Chrissy Bernhardt, who now was holding a Beretta 950, a silly little handgun that shoots .22 shorts out of a two-inch barrel. It’s a lousy weapon for killing someone, but it weighs only ten ounces and leaves room for cigarettes and makeup in a tiny handbag.
With a single tear tracking down her face-navigating the contours of those granite cheekbones-Chrissy Bernhardt held the small pistol in both hands and squeezed off the first shot. The pop was no louder than a champagne cork’s, and anyone in the bar who heard it probably thought it was just another celebratory bottle of the middling California hiccupy stuff the management was serving to the SoBe, chi-chi crowd of opening-night freebie-glomming party freaks.
Of course, the beefy man with the pale, thinning hair didn’t think it was a champagne cork. Not after the red stain appeared on the right side of his chest, armpit high. He sat there a second in disbelief, watching the blood dribble down the front of his creamy guayabera. Then, speechless, he looked up toward the tall young woman.
And so did I.
A second tear rolled down her lovely face, now illuminated by the spotlights set into the recessed ceiling of the outdoor bar. Potted palms rustled gently in the soft evening breeze, carrying the scent of the ocean mixed with jasmine and a hint of locally grown high-grade marijuana. There was something faintly Hollywood about the whole scene, except if this were a movie, I would have dived from my barstool and knocked the gun from the woman’s hand, after which she would have fallen in love with me.
But I didn’t. And she didn’t. Or did she?
Mouth agape, like the cop holding on to Lee Harvey Oswald as Jack Ruby plugged him, I just watched as she fired the second shot, this one lower, plinking the tip of the man’s pelvis and ricocheting toward the dance floor, where the police would later find it and slip it into a little plastic bag, as they are inclined to do.
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everyone knows the captain lied.
Frozen to my barstool, I watched Chrissy Bernhardt lower the gun slightly, aiming at the man’s crotch.
Everybody got this broken feeling like their father or their dog just died.
The man tried covering his groin with his hands, and the third bullet slipped between his spread fingers, nicked his penis, then entered his thigh, lodging in but not breaking his femur.
All of this took just a few seconds. Rusty never moved, except to lean toward me and away from the line of fire. In games, he’d always head for the bench during brawls, and I’d be out there busting my knuckles against the top of some gorilla’s helmet.
As she took aim again, I finally leaped from the barstool and dived for the gun, knocking it away. Chrissy Bernhardt fainted, and I caught her, just scooped her up and held her there, her cheek resting on my shoulder, her flowing hair tickling my neck. Which is how my picture came to be plastered on page one of The Miami Herald, a beautiful, unconscious woman in my arms, a dumb, gaping look on my face. Beneath the photo, the caption “Lawyer disarms gun-toting model-too late.” Story of my life: a step too slow.


Concussion Zone

“Patricide,” Doc Charlie Riggs said with distaste. “A crime of biblical dimensions.”
“And mythical,” I added.
“Oedipus, of course,” Charlie said. “And let’s see now . . .”
Talking to the retired coroner is like playing poker with ideas, and today it was my turn to deal. “Orestes,” I told him. It isn’t often I get the upper hand on Charlie, so I milked it. “Orestes beheaded his mother, Clytemnestra, for plotting the death of his father, Agamemnon.”
“Yes, of course. Very good, Jake. Very good, indeed.”
He gave me his kindly teacher look. It’s fun proving that I didn’t spend five years at Penn State for nothing, if you’ll pardon the double negative. My freshman year, I was drafted by the Thespian Club to play Big Jule in a student production of Guys and Dolls, mostly because the other actors had the physique of Michael J. Fox. It was fun, and it prompted me to switch my major from phys. ed. to drama, where I specialized in playing large, dumb guys. Yeah, I know, type casting. My favorite part was Lennie in Of Mice and Men, and I still remember hearing sobs in the audience when I asked George to tell me about the little place we’d get, and there was George pulling the gun out of his pocket. “And I get to tend the rabbits,” I said, and George was pointing the gun at the back of my head, and the people in the audience were sniffling and bawling. I wish Granny could have been there.
Anyway, here I was-two careers later-still acting, but this time for judges and juries. At this precise moment, I was listening as my old friend told me about the autopsy report, which his friends at the county morgue had slipped him last night.
The gunshots should not have killed Harry Bernhardt, Doc Riggs told me. Would not have killed him if he hadn’t had a heart condition. Seventy-five percent blockage of two coronary arteries due to a lifetime of Kentucky bourbon, Cuban cigars, and Kansas beef.
“The shock of the shooting set loose a burst of adrenaline,” Charlie said, leafing through the report. “Combined with the blockage, that could have killed him instantly.”
“But it didn’t,” I protested. “He survived. The surgery was supposedly successful.”
“Sure, the bullets were removed, the bleeding stopped. But, between the shooting and the surgery, the system had taken some brutal shocks, especially for a man with damaged arteries. While recovering in the ICU, the unfortunate Mr. Bernhardt went into spontaneous ventricular fibrillation. The muscle fibers of the heart weren’t getting enough oxygen.” Charlie opened and closed his fist rapidly to demonstrate. “The heart was literally quivering, but no blood was being pumped. Cardiac arrest followed. The Code Blue team attempted to resuscitate and defibrillate but was unsuccessful. Death was imminent.”
“But he was fine when they put him into the ambulance,” I said.
“Fine?” Charlie raised a bushy eyebrow. It was a look he’d used hundreds of times to tell jurors that the lawyer questioning him was full of beans. Charlie Riggs had been medical examiner of Dade County for twenty-five years before retiring to fish the Keys and drink Granny Lassiter’s moonshine. Now, he was sitting in my office high above Biscayne Boulevard, giving me the benefit of his wisdom, without charging me a fee, except for a promised Orvis graphite spinning rod. A small bandy-legged man with an unruly beard, he wore eyeglasses fastened together with a bent fishhook. A cold meerschaum pipe was propped in the corner of his mouth. “Fine?” he repeated. “Mr. Harry Bernhardt was leaking blood from three bullet wounds. Four, if you count both the thigh and the penis, which were hit with the same bullet.”
“Let’s count the penis. I would if it were mine.” I riffled through the paramedics’ report and the hospital records. “But he survived the surgery, which stanched the bleeding and removed the bullets. He was in critical but stable condition in the ICU for two hours after he was patched up.”
“What are you getting at, counselor?”
“The heart attack could have been independent of the shooting. Maybe I can get Socolow to charge her with aggravated assault, instead of-“
“You can’t represent her! You’re a witness.”
“Me and a hundred others, plus a security videotape that caught the whole thing. I already talked to Socolow. He said he’d rather have me as an opposing lawyer than a witness.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t take that as a compliment.”
“Socolow’s been wrong before. Besides, Ms. Christina Bernhardt asked me to represent her.”
“What’d you do, slip your card into her bra when she was passed out?”
“Wasn’t wearing a bra, Charlie. Panties, either.”
“Good heavens!”
“It’s a model thing. Interferes with the smooth flow of fabric on skin.”
Charlie Riggs looked at me skeptically. “Just when did you become an expert on models?”
“Rusty MacLean taught me a few things. Actually, he’s the one who retained me. He’s her agent, promises to pay the tab.”
“Better get a hefty retainer from that weasel,” Charlie advised, “or you’ll never see a dollar.”
“Hey, Rusty’s an old friend. He introduced me to every after-hours watering hole in the AFC East and many of the women therein.”
“Even in Buffalo?”
“Especially in Buffalo. What else is there to do?”
Charlie harrumphed his displeasure. “I never trusted a receiver who didn’t like going over the middle.”
Like coaches and generals, Doc Charlie Riggs had remarkable tolerance for other people’s pain.
“Charlie, believe me, no one likes going over the middle. It’s a concussion zone.”
It’s true, of course. No one wants to run full speed into Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, or even little old me, Jake Lassiter, linebacker with a tender heart and a forearm smash like a crowbar to the throat.
“It’s not just that he short-armed it,” Charlie said. “It’s that he never gave a hundred percent. With you, Jake, it was different. You had no business being out there. You just gave it everything and overachieved.”
“It was either that or drive a beer truck,” I said. In those days, I hadn’t thought about law school, still confining myself to honest work. But Charlie Riggs was right about one thing. Rusty had talent he never used.
Rusty MacLean was a natural. A four-sport star at a Chicago high school, he was an All-American at Notre Dame and a first-round draft choice with the Dolphins. I was a solid, if unspectacular, linebacker at Coral Shores High School in the Florida Keys, a walk-on at Penn State, and a free agent with the Dolphins. I hung on as a pro because of a willingness to punish myself-and occasionally an opponent-on kickoff teams. I played linebacker only when injuries to the starters were so severe that Don Shula thought about calling Julio Iglesias to fill in.
Rusty could do anything-pole-vault, high-jump, play tennis with either hand. The first time he touched a golf club, he shot a 79. But he hated practice and loved parties. Blown knee ligaments ended his career when he didn’t have the discipline to suffer through a year of painful rehabilitation. My career ended differently. I fought back after knee surgery, numerous fractures, and separated shoulders, but was simply beaten out by better, younger players. I enrolled in night law school because it left days free for windsurfing.
Charlie grumbled something else about my old teammate, then went back to the autopsy report, pausing once to tap tobacco into his pipe and then light it. I stood up and paced, stopping in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the bay, Key Biscayne, and the ocean beyond. From the thirty-second floor, I could make out tiny triangles of colorful sails on the waters just off Virginia Key. Windsurfers luxuriating in a fifteen-knot easterly. Beats murder and mayhem any day.
“What about it, Charlie? Will you testify that the heart attack was an intervening cause?”
“But it wasn’t!” he thundered. “The shooting was the proximate cause of the coronary.”
“Not so fast,” I cautioned. “At his age, with the condition of his arteries, Harry Bernhardt could have had a coronary at any time, right?”
“But he didn’t have it any time. He went into cardiac arrest three and a half hours after your client-if that’s what she is- plugged him, her own father, for God’s sake.”
“How about just helping me out at the bond hearing, Charlie? Maybe give a little song-and-dance to get her out of the can.”
Charlie raised his bushy eyebrows at me. “Are you suborning perjury?”
“No, I was just saying-“
“That I lie at the bond hearing, as if that would be a lesser evil than at the trial.” His look was a dagger. “Jake, an oath is an oath.”
I remembered what a writer once said about another lawyer, the disgraced and now deceased Roy Cohn: “He only lies under oath.” Well, why not? That’s when it counts.
Veritas simplex oratio est,” Charlie said. “The language of truth is simple. But lies, prevarications, calumnies, they’ll catch you in their web.”
I hate arguing with Charlie Riggs because he’s always right, and he keeps me semihonest with his damned Yankee rectitude. “The grand jury meets tomorrow,” I said. “I was hoping to talk Abe Socolow into a plea to a lesser-“

Free Kindle Nation Shorts — April 9, 2011: An Excerpt from The Hangman’s Companion, A Jim McGill Novel by Joseph Flynn

Being the First Husband, married to the President of the United States, isn’t Jim McGill’s day job. He’s a private investigator, created by Joseph Flynn.

By the time you’ve read today’s generous 15,000-word Free Kindle Nation Shorts excerpt from The Hangman’s Companion, we suspect you’ll want to know more about McGill and his creator, who just happens to have plenty of other great reads waiting for you in the Kindle Store.

Jim McGill lives at the best-known address in the US:  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.  Fancy digs for a private investigator.

McGill, husband of the President of the United States, is back in reader’s hands after his previous adventure in
The President’s Henchman.  That’s when he turned his nose up at being the head of the FBI and decided to hang his private investigator’s shingle on the White House lawn.


Author Joseph Flynn, like McGill, is a contrarian as only a Chicago Irishman can be.  Chicago is a city of traditions, firm beliefs and passionate support of their sports teams.  There seems to be an unwritten law in the Windy City that residents have to make a choice:  root for the Cubs or cheer for the White Sox.


Flynn, born within sight of Cub’s home Wrigley Field, naturally chose to be a Sox fan.


Flynn provides a full shelf of his novels in the Kindle Store.  As The Chicago Tribune says:  “Flynn [is] a master of high-octane plotting.”



Click here to begin reading the free excerpt



Here’s the set-up:


Always a good sport, Jim McGill, the first private-eye to live in the White House, agrees to accompany his wife, the president, to a G8 summit in London. But he’ll have a week in England with nothing to do.

Then a client comes to McGill, the daughter of Glenn Kinnard, like McGill a former Chicago cop. Kinnard went to Paris to scatter the ashes of his wife in the Seine. While tending to that obligation, Kinnard got into a brawl and killed France’s national sports hero. Kinnard claims he was saving a woman from being beaten by the Frenchman, as French law required him to do. Problem is, the woman has disappeared.
McGill has to find the woman to save Kinnard.
Beats glad-handing the locals in London, he decides. He just has to wrap up the case in time to escort the president to a dinner with the queen.Cove


Click here to begin reading the free excerpt now


The Hangman’s Companion

(A Jim McGill Mystery)

by Joseph Flynn
Kindle Edition

List Price: $2.99

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excerptFree Kindle Nation Shorts – April 8, 2011

An Excerpt from

The Hangman’s


“A Jim McGill Mystery”

by Joseph Flynn

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Flynn and published here with his permission

Chapter 1

Pont d’Iéna, Paris, Sunday, May 17th


The fight under the bridge at the foot of the Eiffel Tower turned deadly when the Frenchman kicked the urn out of the American’s grasp. The pewter vessel shot into the air and smashed against a bridge support, leaving a dark stain there and scattering the remainder of the ashes of the American’s late wife into the Seine.

The Frenchman, Thierry Duchamp, an elite athlete, twenty-eight years old, was more than a little drunk and had been having a heated argument with a shapely blonde. Her makeup was smeared and she all but spilled out of her crimson silk blouse. The American, Glen Kinnard, forty-nine, a retired cop with a long list of excessive force complaints, had been standing on the walkway under the bridge. He’d been agonizing over whether to honor his wife’s last request, when the noisy French couple made their stumbling approach.

Kinnard was bone tired after a long, turbulent flight from Chicago. He’d had to stand in a block-long line to clear customs. Then he had to make several detours to exit Charles de Gaulle Airport because of some sort of minor terrorist scare. He hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours and he was jet-lagged to hell and back.

On top of all that, he wasn’t a patient guy even when he was fresh.

The only thing that had kept him from telling the raucous couple to show a little respect and shut the fuck up was that the French had been surprisingly kind to him since he’d arrived.

It had started off with the taxi driver leaning against his cab at the airport. He was a tough-faced little mutt, looked like he had a glass eye, was smoking a butt that smelled like he’d fished it out of a toilet. But he saw the pain on Kinnard’s face, took note of the urn the ex-cop had taken out of his suitcase. Saw how Kinnard cradled the urn like a baby. He nailed the situation at a glance.

Someone near and dear had died.

He held the door open for Kinnard like he was driving a limo not a cab. He tucked his fare’s suitcase into the trunk, and slid behind the wheel. Looking over his shoulder at Kinnard, he even spoke English after a fashion.

“My regrets, m’sieur,” the cabbie said. “Where may I deliver you?”

Kinnard gave the guy the name of the hotel where his daughter had booked a room for him. “The Hotel Saint Jacques.” He provided the address on the Rue de Rivoli.

“I know this place. We travel with all haste.”

The cabbie wasn’t kidding; he put the pedal down. Slalomed through traffic like a pro. Still had time to glance in the mirror at the urn Kinnard held close.

The American knew just what the driver was wondering: Who’d kicked?

Kinnard surprised himself by answering the unspoken question. “My wife. She asked me to bring her home.”

Elle était française?” the driver asked.

“Yeah,” Kinnard said. “Born right here in Paris.”

The driver turned the meter off. Said the ride was on him.

Kinnard nodded his thanks. He looked out the window at the city and told the man, “The shame of it is I never got to see the place with her.”

When they arrived at the hotel, the driver hopped out, retrieved Kinnard’s bag and had a quick conversation with the doorman, who held the door for Kinnard, and then passed the word to the young woman working behind the front desk. She, in turn, spoke to a guy in a sharp suit.

If he’d had the energy, Kinnard would have been embarrassed.

He wasn’t looking to come off as some Weepy Willie.

“Your name, m’sieur?” the young woman asked.

He gave it, watched her find it on a list in front of her. She turned to look at the guy in the suit and pointed the tip of her pen to a space on what Kinnard took to be a diagram of the rooms in the hotel. The guy in the suit nodded. She turned to Kinnard.

“We are sorry to say, m’sieur, all the rooms of the type you requested have been filled; we will have to offer you a suite, at no additional charge, if that is satisfactory.”

Kinnard knew they were kidding him, but he played along, grateful.

“That’ll be great,” he said.

He signed the register and the young woman gave him her card. “If there is anything we can do to make your stay more…consoling, please let me know.”

Kinnard looked at the card. The young woman’s name was Emilie. Same as his daughter.

“Merci,” he said.


The suite was cozy by American standards but stylish down to the smallest detail. Suzanne would have loved the place. He would have loved to see the smile on her face had they stepped through the door together. But he had always been too busy being a cop to go to Paris, and when he hadn’t been busy they’d gone places he wanted to go, Vegas or Miami. Suzi knew better than to push too hard to try to change his mind. He’d raised his hand to her often enough.

Once too often finally…and she’d divorced him.

His daughter had cheered her mother’s long overdue departure.

He’d never expected to hear from Suzanne again. Certainly not after five years without a word. He almost didn’t recognize her voice when she called. Her accent seemed to have faded, become more American, and she sounded old. Good reason for that. She told him she was dying, and would like to see him once more before she went.

The last thing Suzi was looking for was a reconciliation. She was thinking of Emilie. She didn’t want their daughter to be left without a parent when she died. She pleaded with Kinnard to find a way to make peace with Emilie.

At the age of twenty-four, though, Emilie considered herself to be her own woman, and the last person she wanted back in her life was the prick of a father who had made her mother’s life hell. If giving him another chance was what Maman was asking, then she was asking too much. She told Suzanne so to her face, with Kinnard in the room.

He saw the fear in his daughter’s eyes. She thought he might go off on her, knock her around good, though he never had, not in his worst days. When her father failed to meet Emilie’s expectation of brutality, she voiced a new suspicion.

The sonofabitch was after her mother’s money. After leaving Kinnard, Suzanne had started a small, successful travel agency. Emilie was her strong right hand. The business was going to her.

Kinnard turned to Suzi and asked, “Em’s your sole heir, right?

From her bed, Suzanne nodded.

“So let’s put the money question to rest,” he said. “Sign everything you have over to her right now. I’ll cover all your expenses, medical and otherwise. You need to see a doctor, I’ll take you. You need anything, I’ll get it for you. Help any damn way I can.”

Emilie had no doubt Kinnard would keep his word. To spite her.

Suzanne, though, was moved to tears. She put a hand over her mouth. She knew what she looked like. The chemo and the radiation had ravaged her. Her attempts to make herself presentable before her ex-husband arrived had only made her weep.

The damage the cancer had done to Suzanne almost made Kinnard sob, too. All the more so because it made him think of how he’d once marred her beauty. If another man had inflicted such hurt on her, he would have…

He would have to take care of her as best he could because there was no way to get revenge on a fatal illness. Thing was, as haggard and drawn as Suzanne looked, he could look past the present moment and still see her as beautiful. Her eyes were as blue as ever, and the irrepressible spirit that lay behind them was untouched by the cancer.

Suzanne wanted Emilie to have her father in her life. If that required her to forgive Kinnard for all he’d done to her, and do so in Emilie’s presence, she would do it gladly.

She extended her hand to Kinnard.

“Be at peace with me,” she said.

He took her hand, and now he couldn’t keep his eyes from glistening with tears.

Seeing her parents look lovingly at each other made Emilie gag.

She stormed out, telling her mother to sell the business and give the money to charity.

Emilie might have been able to maintain her anger if Suzanne hadn’t confounded her doctors’ predictions. They’d given her a month to live, two at the most. But she hung on for a year. It was a hellish year, but Kinnard never wavered in his commitment. Emilie tried to keep her contempt for Kinnard stoked, accusing him of being too damn late in trying to act like a decent human being. But he’d shouldered most of the load Emilie had carried, giving her time to have a life of her own. He was there through the worst of it, times when Emilie had to leave her mother’s room because it hurt so bad to see how she was suffering.

None of Kinnard’s ministrations, though, got Emilie to discontinue her verbal abuse.

While he never said a harsh word to her.

Suzanne was the one who knocked Emilie for a loop.

She asked her daughter to be the maid of honor at her wedding.

Glen Kinnard and Suzanne LaBelle were married for the second time one week before the bride succumbed to her affliction. She lay in bed throughout the ceremony, but clearly responded, “I do,” when asked if she took this man…

Other than the judge her father secured to perform the ceremony, Emilie was the only witness present. She helped her mother place the ring on her father’s finger. She kissed both her parents when the exchange of vows was completed.

Suzanne asked only one thing of Emilie: “Be kind.”

Of her husband, she asked, “When I go, please take me home.”


Kinnard tried to sleep, laying fully clothed atop the comforter on the small French bed. But he had too many demons dancing in his head to get more than a few minutes of rest at any one time. Emilie, from the front desk, called to ask if he would like to have dinner in his room. She could have the hotel’s chef prepare almost anything he would like. He thanked her but declined the offer. He asked not to be disturbed before midday tomorrow.

At two a.m. he rolled off the bed, took a shower, and made a pot of coffee using the machine provided in the suite. He dressed in fresh clothes, dark shirt, pants, and windbreaker. Rubber soled shoes. Feeling the caffeine jolt of the coffee, he picked up the urn with Suzanne’s ashes from the table next to the bed and left the suite.

If there was anyone on duty at the front desk, that person was not at his post when Kinnard passed through the lobby. He had to open the door to the street for himself, just as he’d hoped he would. It was two-thirty now. Early Sunday morning. Still late Saturday night to any revelers making a last stop on their rounds.

Kinnard looked right and left along the length of the Rue du 29 Juillet, on which the hotel’s side entrance faced. No pedestrians were visible in either direction. He turned left and walked toward the Rue de Rivoli. He waited in the shadows at the corner of the block as a single car passed, neither the driver nor the passenger looking in his direction. He crossed the thoroughfare and entered the Tuileries Gardens.

It was only after he was well into the parklike setting and was walking in the shadows of a stand of trees that he thought he should have paused to read the signs at the gardens’ entrance. He might have learned if the place was off-limits overnight, the way many American parks were. He didn’t think there was much of a threat that terrorists would attempt to blow up the shrubbery. But the Louvre was just down the street. Even he hadn’t been able to miss the place on the taxi ride to the hotel. If some jihadi SOBs wanted to rub the infidels noses in how corrupt their culture was, they could hide out in the trees and start launching rockets or mortar rounds at the famous museum.

That possibility had to occur to the French cops, Kinnard thought.

Had to.

Made Kinnard glad he was wearing dark clothes and running shoes.

He might not have destruction in mind, but he was a man with a mission.

He moved deeper into the trees, picked up his pace.

He had deliberately failed to inquire if it was legal to dump someone’s ashes in the Seine. He didn’t want to know so he could claim ignorance, if worse came to worse. Of course, the river flowed 480 miles. He could have picked a quiet spot out in the countryside somewhere, deposited Suzanne’s ashes and no one would ever have been the wiser. But Suzanne had been a Parisienne and as far as Kinnard was concerned there was only one place to fulfill her wish.

Right where the Seine flowed past the Eiffel Tower.


The walkway under the Pont d’Iéna struck him as the perfect spot. The overarching bridge gave it a sense of privacy. A terrace of shallow steps led down to the water’s edge. A support pillar ten feet out in the river shielded him from the view of anyone on the opposite bank. All he had to do to honor Suzanne’s last wish was to crouch, perhaps kneel, open the urn and let the ashes swirl away with the current. They’d flow out from under the bridge right past the Eiffel Tower.

Only thing was, Kinnard just couldn’t let his wife’s remains go.

The last year he’d spent taking care of Suzanne had been the most meaningful of his life. He’d felt closer to her than when they had first started dating. It was the only time he’d ever cared about anyone without thinking about himself first. His selflessness had been apparent even to Emilie. In the minutes after Suzanne had passed, he’d thanked Em for playing along, pretending she’d reconciled with her father.

“I know giving me that kiss must have cost you,” he said.

She shrugged. “Just trying to do what Mom asked.”

“It’s all right now. She’s gone. You can stop acting like I’m not a total asshole.”

Emilie studied him. Thought about how he’d changed over the past year.

“Maybe total is too strong.” She smiled when she said that.

Almost made Kinnard cry again right there.

Emilie’s forgiveness inspired him that night under the Pont d’Iéna.

Maybe the thing to do, he thought, was hold on to Suzi’s ashes until he croaked. Then have Em bring the two of them back to the Seine and-No, he’d leave Suzi’s remains in Paris, buy a space for them at some cemetery or something. That way, Em would have to carry only his urn with her. She could bring their ashes to where he was standing right now. Open the two urns, let their ashes mix in the air and flow away in the river.

Together forever. He’d make sure to treat Em right, live like a monk, do good works, make people forget the old Glen Kinnard. He was sure his daughter would honor his request.

The idea pleased Kinnard right down to the soul he never knew he had. He didn’t know how long he stood beneath the Pont d’Iéna lost in thought, but he was certain what brought him out of his reverie. An angry female voice. Screeching in French.

He looked to his left and saw a young couple approaching. The guy was having trouble keeping his balance as they walked. The woman’s voice was loud; the man’s was low. The man was slurring his words; the woman was bellowing hers. The woman put a foot wrong, lost her balance and started windmilling her arms. She tottered toward the water with a shriek.

The man caught a wrist and yanked her back. For a second, Kinnard thought they were going to kiss and make up, be on their way and leave him in peace. Only the guy didn’t kiss her, he said something too quiet for Kinnard to hear. Whatever he said, it wasn’t well received. The woman replied with a shrill rant. Her voice was enough to make Kinnard’s ears ache.

Back home, on the job, he would have taken a billy club to both of them.

But he remembered where he was and how well he’d been treated up until now.

The Frenchman, though, had heard enough from the woman.

He finally raised his voice. “Mon Dieu, ferme la bouche!” Jesus, shut up!

Mademoiselle wasn’t of a mind to turn down the volume. She planted her feet wide, put her left hand on her hip, and vigorously waved her right index finger under the guy’s nose. She kept that up, Kinnard thought, things were going to take a definite turn for the worse.

As if to confirm his expectation, the guy’s face grew tight with anger and he began to shake his head back and forth with increasing vigor. Kinnard was sure he was about to clock the broad: break her nose, blacken her eyes, knock out a few teeth.

The prospect of which made Kinnard’s own jaw tighten. He’d learned enough about France from Suzi to know the country had a Good Samaritan law. It said people were legally obliged to come to the aid of someone in danger or distress, as long as you could help without putting your own precious backside at risk. What you couldn’t do, though, was just turn your back and walk away. The least you were expected to do was call for help.

Kinnard didn’t have a cell phone on him. Didn’t know the police emergency number even if he could find a public phone. There wasn’t a cop or anybody else in sight. So maybe he was in a legal gray area, had a loophole. Yeah, right. A gutless wonder with a microdot conscience might rationalize the situation that way. But a street cop with twenty-five years experience? No way could he split. Even if a hassle was the last thing he needed right now.

His temper climbing fast into the red zone, Kinnard was about to speak out when the Frenchman took him by surprise. Kinnard thought he’d seen it all, but this guy showed him something new. He caught the woman’s wagging finger in his teeth. Bit down hard enough that she couldn’t yank it free.

The woman’s voice, now filled with pain, rose to operatic heights. So the guy decided to give her something more to complain about. He started whacking her with rights and lefts to the head. Openhanded blows, but hard enough to make her head jerk back and forth.

For a dizzying second, Kinnard’s subconscious projected his face onto the Frenchman and Suzi’s face onto the woman. He felt flush with shame. But self-loathing turned quickly into fury. The shout that erupted from his chest drowned out the sounds of the fight.

“Hey, asshole, leave her the hell alone!”

Kinnard’s outburst made the French couple jump a foot into the air, the woman finally freeing her mangled finger. They both turned to gape at him. Kinnard saw it was the first time the Frenchman realized he was there. But the woman…it seemed to Kinnard almost as if she had been expecting him. Was pissed he hadn’t intervened sooner.

By now the Frenchman saw who he was dealing with: a gray-haired fart holding a vase. He snarled at Kinnard, “Va te faire foutre, papie.” Fuck off, grandpa.

The woman tried to seize the moment to flee, but she turned an ankle and fell.

Dismissing Kinnard as inconsequential, the man turned and started to kick the woman hard. Kinnard couldn’t see the guy’s face just then, but nonetheless recognized himself again in the role of the pitiless bully.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he joined the fray.


A street fighter to his core, Kinnard never worried about what was fair. He hit the Frenchman with a straight right to his cheek while the guy was still kicking the shit out of the woman. It was a good solid punch with plenty of shoulder and hip behind it, but it was a bit off target. Kinnard had been going for the hinge of the guy’s jaw. Had he hit the nerve bundle there, it would have been all over. As it was, Kinnard had busted the side of the guy’s face for him, but left him upright.

Well, almost. The force of the punch knocked him back into the woman lying on the walkway. The Frenchman lost his footing, but where a normal guy would have keeled over like a felled tree and smacked his head on the pavement, this SOB went horizontal in the air, spun like he was a plane doing a barrel roll, and his right leg came whipping around. As if he had it in mind all along, he locked onto the urn Kinnard cradled in the crook of his left arm. The bastard’s right foot lashed out and kicked the urn free from Kinnard’s grasp. Sent it rocketing into the night.

Kinnard howled, “No!”

The laws of physics ignored his plea. The urn shot out over the Seine, smashed into the bridge’s support pillar and burst into innumerable pieces. Suzanne’s ashes fell into the river, the portion that didn’t become a dark smear on the damp bridge support.

For a moment, Kinnard could do no more than stare in stupefied disbelief.

A clatter of retreating footsteps reminded him that his business under the Pont d’Iéna  remained unfinished. He turned to see the battered blonde hobbling off, her high heels resounding off the pavement. The asshole Kinnard had punched was back on his feet, running a hand over his bruised face and wincing. He wasn’t done, though. He didn’t give a damn about the woman now. He wanted Kinnard. Wanted to put him into the river, as lifeless as Suzanne.

But Kinnard wasn’t ready to go.

Not while the French cocksucker was still drawing breath.

Kinnard watched the Frenchman as the guy moved in on him. Even drunk and with his balance less than perfect, he was light on his feet. He had his hands up, but they wouldn’t be his primary weapons. The Frenchman was a kicker. That was when it came to Kinnard where he’d seen a move like the one the prick had used to kick Suzi’s ashes into the river. SportsCenter. When the cable channel didn’t have enough real sports highlights to show they’d put on some of those soccer trick shots. Guys doing somersaults, kicking the ball past the goalie.

So he knew what to expect: feet. Maybe a head butt. Like the guy who cracked that dago’s sternum with his head in a big game a few years back. He’d been French, too. So watch for that.

The Frenchman was smiling at Kinnard, blood on his teeth from Kinnard’s first shot. Looking like he was a wolf about to eat a lamb. Confident little fuck. Kinnard figured he had three inches and thirty pounds on the guy, none of it fat. Maybe it was Kinnard’s gray hair that had him fooled. That was the case, hooray for gray.

The Frenchman spat out a gob of blood and started to say something.

Kinnard loved it when assholes talked. Their minds were on getting out whatever it was they had to say. Not on fighting. Kinnard shot forward and hit the prick with two lefts and a right while he was still yapping. The lefts set him back on his heels and the right lifted him off his feet.

Damn, if he didn’t do a backflip instead of going down hard. Fucker went into a roll right out of the flip and popped back up to his feet. Like he was made of rubber or something, the asshole just kept bouncing back. He was still hurting from three shots to the head, though, and Kinnard wasn’t about to give him any time to recover. He closed on the guy fast.

Not fast enough. The Frenchman’s right foot shot out, going for Kinnard’s groin. Would have ended the fight right there if he’d connected. Kinnard would have collapsed like a sack of shit and been available for stomping. No fancy getaway moves for him. But he managed to turn just enough to take the kick on his left thigh. It felt like he’d been hit with an axe.

He staggered backward and now the frog pursued, kicking right, left, and right again. Like a boxer throwing combinations and, Jesus Christ, were his legs strong. His first two kicks were directed at Kinnard’s head, only Frenchie hadn’t gotten the range yet, underestimating Kinnard’s height. The kicks caught Kinnard on his shoulders, felt like he’d been hit with sledgehammers. The last kick was another try for Kinnard’s crotch. He managed to sidestep that one completely, get both hands around the guy’s ankle, lift it high into the air, and then hold on so the fucker wouldn’t be able to do any more acrobatics.

Kinnard used his grip on the Frenchman’s leg to drive him straight down to the pavement. The back of the guy’s head hit first, followed by his torso and keister. A series of satisfying cries of pain reached Kinnard’s ears. He’d finally put some real hurt into the sonofabitch. There was a question in Kinnard’s mind, though, whether that last gasp of agony might have his own.

The pain in his left leg was ratcheting up fast. God, had that bastard frog ruptured his femoral artery or something? Was he dying on his feet? Not that he was going to be standing long if the throbbing in his leg kept getting worse.

And, God Almighty, that French bastard was getting to his feet again. No fancy moves this time. He was using both hands to push himself upright. If Kinnard had had his gun with him, he would have emptied the whole clip into this guy. Then crack his skull with the barrel. But he didn’t have his gun, and here came the Frenchman again.

He was trying to take a run at Kinnard but the fall had messed up his wiring. He wasn’t light on his feet anymore. In fact, he was having trouble just staying upright. If Kinnard had had two good legs to work with, he could have stepped out of the way, given the guy a little shove and sent him into the river. With any luck, the prick wouldn’t know how to swim.

But fancy footwork was no more available to Kinnard than his gun. Still, he was able to see what the Frenchman intended to try. No kicks this time. Not with those wobbly legs. Not with the raw hatred in those eyes. The guy was going to try to kill Kinnard with his head. He wasn’t tall enough to go tête à tête-head to head-so he had to try to crack Kinnard’s chest. Just like that other French guy in that big game.

Head butts were fight finishers, sometimes fatally so. There were only two good countermoves. The first was to get out of the way. But it was already too late for that. The second was too meet the hard surface of the attacking skull with something that could absorb the blow without damage, something that would overwhelm the integrity of the cervical spine.

The heel of Kinnard’s right palm shot forward to collide with the Frenchman’s thrusting forehead. The bones of Kinnard’s arm were stronger than those anchoring the Frenchman’s head. The smack of flesh on flesh was followed by the crack of the frog’s neck breaking. He went down like he’d been shot. His legs twitched twice and then he was still.

Kinnard didn’t see any of that. The jolt of hitting his opponent’s head was instantly transmitted to the shoulder the Frenchman had kicked. That pain combined with the agony in his left leg was more than consciousness would tolerate. He collapsed alongside the Frenchman, his head coming to rest atop his opponent’s outstretched arm.

When the cops found them two hours later it looked as if the battered American lay in the fond embrace of the Frenchman he had killed.

Chapter 2

Washington, DC, Sunday, May 31st


As much as possible, which was usually not all that much, Sunday was a day of rest for President Patricia Darden Grant and her husband James J. McGill. Thing was, for the majority of the world, Sunday was not the sabbath, and there were plenty of godless cruds who worshipped only their own blood-soaked ambitions. Dealing with them, regardless of the day of the week, was the duty of the president. McGill kept more regular hours, but Saturday and Sunday were often given to maintaining paternal ties to his three young children living in Evanston, Illinois. But on that Sunday at the end of May the world’s more serious miscreants were in passive mode, and Abby, Kenny, and Caitie McGill were all content to speak with their father for five minutes and pass the phone along, ending with their mother, Carolyn.

“Things really that quiet?” McGill asked his ex-wife, with whom he maintained amicable relations and a common devotion to their children.

“Abby’s bottling something up,” his ex said. “You’ll probably be hearing from her soon.”

“I’m going to London with Patti, remember.”

“We’ll still be able to reach you, won’t we?”

“Yeah,” McGill said. “All I meant was if anyone needs me, it’ll take longer to get home.”

McGill, a former police captain in Chicago and a former chief of police in Winnetka, Illinois, now worked private investigations under the business entity of McGill Investigations, Inc. He was between cases at the moment, conveniently allowing him to accompany his wife to that summer’s G8 meeting in London. The president had told him she’d like him to be her dinner date at a little get-together the Queen of England would be hosting at Buckingham Palace.

Being a dutiful husband, McGill had, of course, accepted.

How often did a private eye get to eat with the president and the queen?

But if any of his kids really needed him, he’d have to express his regrets.

“Hold on a minute,” Carolyn told him.

She must have placed her hand over the phone, but McGill could still hear muffled shouts back and forth between Carolyn and their kids.

“They said they’ll be all right for the next week or so.”

“Caitie want me to get something for her in London?”

“Of course. They all do. Caitie’s just the only one to ask.”

McGill laughed.

“I think she’s got something cooking, too. She’s had some secretive phone calls.”

“A boyfriend already?”

“No, I don’t think so. But something.”

“Kenny’s fine?”


“How about you?”

“Just had my annual physical. All systems go.”

“That’s great. Say hello to Lars for me.”

“Will do. Tell Patti to keep up the good work.”


After brunch, McGill and the president repaired to the cozy room in the Residence known as McGill’s Hideaway. The furnishings were two immensely comfortable leather arm chairs with hassocks and a matching sofa. The chairs were used for reading or, in season, staring at the flames in the fireplace. The sofa, eight feet in length, had been used for moments of First Couple impetuosity, after fluffy White House towels had been spread to keep the leather unblemished.

McGill and Patti had vowed to each other that such instances would never be included in either of their memoirs.

At the moment, the president’s henchman was absorbed by a story in the sports section of the Chicago Tribune. The Bears, the headline story said, had shocked the city by pulling off a blockbuster trade for an All-Pro quarterback. This was such an unlikely event that many of the team’s faithful, including McGill, had felt it would be preceded by the return of a Republican mayor to City Hall.

Given the decades of dismal performance the team had suffered at the quarterback position, McGill, like many, was suspicious of this development. He scanned the story to see if there was any mention the incoming player had, say, turned up lame before the Bears acquired him. That, possibly, his old team was going to put the poor fellow down before they got the Chicago team to fall for a chump trade.

The Trib reported no physical defect in the would-be hero.

Daring to hope, McGill looked up from the paper and smiled.

He saw that Patti was looking his way. She’d been amusing herself for the last hour reading briefing books on the upcoming economic summit. There had been a lot of agonizing in the U.S. press lately about China overtaking the United States as the world’s largest economy. McGill thought comparative measures were overvalued. You didn’t see the Swiss sweating things like that. They kept making their chocolate and precision timepieces and yodeling in their mountains.

Individual wellbeing was more important than national aggregates, McGill thought. But what the hell did he know?

“Jim,” the president said, “I’d like you to tutor me.”

Apparently, he knew something.

“In what?” he asked.

“I’d like to learn some basic Dark Alley.”

The anything goes, street-fighting-codified, martial art McGill’s uncle had taught him. He gave Patti a look.

“You intend to kick someone’s ass when you get to London?”


Rather than answer directly, Patti gave him a politician’s bob ‘n’ weave.

Sometimes she couldn’t help herself.

“I’ll do a favor for you,” she told him.

“What’s that?”

“I’m dissatisfied with the lack of progress the Secret Service is making in finding out who shot Special Agent Ky.”

The president, as caring a wife as a man might want, was also trying hard not to let concern for her husband’s wellbeing distract her from the burdens of her office. This was despite McGill having only his driver, Leo Levy, as an armed companion. For the past six months, he’d had no Secret Service protection whatsoever.

McGill had said he’d be okay until Deke was fit to return to duty, and he’d worked several small cases in that time without so much as blistering a lip. SAC Celsus Crogher, chief of the White House security detail, however, had seen his hair go completely white from the stress of pushing the team investigating Deke’s shooting-and worrying the president’s husband, code name Holmes, might get his sorry ass shot.

McGill shrugged. “Patti, some cases are stainless steel whodunits.”

The Secret Service had looked at all the militant antiabortionists whose ilk had been responsible for the death of Patti’s first husband, philanthropist Andrew Hudson Grant, had threatened McGill’s children, and when that was deemed beyond the pale had turned their hostile gaze towards the president’s henchman himself. But that avenue of investigation had met a dead end. As for the possibility Deke’s shooting had been the product of personal enmity, that hadn’t led anywhere either. He was the dutiful son of a single mother, and almost monastic in his lifestyle.

“So you’re content to let the investigation proceed under its current leadership?” the president asked.

“If your favor was to let me take the reins, no thank you.”

McGill was not about to join the federal government in any capacity.

Other than being married to the woman who headed it.

“I thought you might be more motivated to bring things to a conclusion.”

McGill said, “Believe me, Patti, no one could be more motivated than Deke’s brother and sister agents. Look at Celsus. This thing is literally eating him up. One day soon, if we don’t catch a break, there’ll be nothing left of him but his scowl sitting atop his brogans.”

“He worries about you, too,” the president said.

“He’s pissed at me because I won’t follow orders.”

The president knew she’d get nowhere debating that point.

“So will you help me? Teach me a little Dark Alley?”

“Be happy to. Sorry I can’t do more.”

She still hadn’t told him why the best protected woman on earth felt the need to know how to personally bust someone’s chops. That remained a mystery.

But he was a detective.

One who always liked a good challenge.


It helped that Patti was fit, well-coordinated, and possessed a fair portion of fast-twitch muscle fiber. Quickness was also McGill’s greatest physical gift. But mastering Dark Alley required more than athleticism; it demanded a deep ruthlessness.

Which anyone who made it to the Oval Office, even McGill’s dear wife, had in spades. Politics, though, for all its back stabbing, was a bloodless exercise. Dark Alley more often than not involved the spilling of actual corpuscles.

A primary point McGill was about to bring to the president’s attention.

She stood across from him on a mat in the White House workout room. Three walls of mirrors bounced their reflections back at them. Both wore T-shirts, sweat pants and sneakers. The front of Patti’s shirt bore the acronym POTUS. President of the United States. McGill’s said: Totus bonus. Latin for “It’s all good.”

His only other clean T at the moment said: Eddie’s Bar & Grill.

Now that he thought of it, Eddie’s might have been the more apt choice.

McGill told his new student, “Dark Alley is serious stuff. The cover charge is often broken bones. The final tab might be death. You’re not planning to assassinate anyone, are you?”

“Don’t think so,” the president said.

All right. That was as far as McGill would fish. But he did need some information.

“Well, what kind of mayhem are you looking for?”

Patti paused to formulate her needs, as if she hadn’t thought it through.

Out of character for her.

Then she said, “I might need to give someone bigger than me a good jolt.”

“How much bigger?” McGill asked. “Big as me?”

He was six-one, carrying one-eighty these days.

“In the neighborhood, yes.”

A man most likely then, McGill decided, saying nothing.

“You want this jolt to leave the person standing or knock him down?” he asked.

“Why don’t you show me both?”

McGill nodded. “You want to go for the throat? Cause a real scare?”

POTUS recoiled at the idea, horror written on her face.

“Maybe we’ll save that for later,” McGill said. “It’s easy to go too far with that one.”

Patti advanced to the spot from which she’d retreated.

“Jim, I will let you know what this is all about as soon as I can, okay?”

“Sure,” he said. “Let’s start with an old favorite called the foot-trap.”

“One other thing,” the president said, “I might have to use what you’re going to teach me while there are cameras present and rolling. Whatever I do has to look like an accident.”

The president’s henchman nodded and took that into consideration.

Sunday Evening-Paris


Investigating Magistrate Yves Pruet sat on the large flower filled balcony of his apartment four floors above the Quai Anatole France quietly playing Variations from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Movement Number Two on his Alhambra classical guitar. It was a melancholy piece, and his playing captured perfectly both the composer’s intent and his own mood. His fingers moved without conscious thought over the strings of the instrument that had been his near constant companion since his days at the Sorbonne.

Midway through the piece a large, menacing shadow fell across the tiles at Pruet’s feet. He ignored it and kept playing.

“Yves, please,” a deep voice said, “your virtuosity is unquestioned, but if you continue, I will begin to weep.”

With a chuckle the magistrate stopped playing and looked over his shoulder. He saw his friend and police bodyguard, Odo Sacripant, a block of Corsican granite carved into eccentric planes of muscle by many a fight. Odo never wept at anything, except when his wife, Marie, presented him with another child.

“The time has come?” Pruet asked.

“As we both knew it must,” Odo answered.

The magistrate placed his guitar in its stand and went to the balcony’s railing. He looked out at the nearby Seine from his Left Bank vantage point. The current criticism of the Rive Gauche was that what was once the bastion of the city’s artists had become the refuge of its bourgeoisie. The artists had been pushed across the river to less expensive enclaves.

Pruet took such critiques philosophically. He was still free to play his guitar here, express his art. And he appreciated his rising property value.

Odo said, “You are looking emaciated, Yves. You need to eat more.”

Approaching fifty, Pruet had once been a bit plump, but now his rumpled sandy hair, smart blue eyes, and genial smile resided in and around a visage gone gaunt. His clothes hung loosely on his reduced frame.

He turned to look at Odo. “I have gone on the Alienated Wife Diet.”

“Nicolette never cooked for you or anyone else,” the bodyguard pointed out.

“True, but she dragged me to every expensive restaurant in Paris.”

Odo took a seat at a glass-topped table.

“Whenever you are ready, mon ami.”

Pruet reluctantly joined him at the table.

“The American is ready for you to examine,” Odo said.

“There is no chance he will make things easier for me and die?”

Odo shook his head.

“Remind me of his name,” Pruet said.

“Glen Kinnard from Chicago.”

“And he came all the way to Paris to kill France’s most celebrated football star.”

“That was not his intent, he says.”

“But it was the result,” Pruet said. “That and to make us miserable.”

“Such would seem to be our lot in life.”

Pruet had become infamous for sending a former interior minister to prison. The man had been stealing government funds on a scale that couldn’t be ignored. Everyone had expected the fellow to be sacked. To live out his life in disgrace in some remote outpost of French culture. But if that were allowed to happen it would have meant the thief would be allowed to take a goodly part of his booty with him and enjoy the life of a tropical potentate. Any claim that the man had been punished would have been a vile joke.

So Pruet had presented a case to the court so meticulously documented and so persuasively argued that the judge had no choice but to send the miscreant to prison for twenty years. A period likely to encapsulate the remainder of his life. Such a sentence was unprecedented in modern France. The high and the mighty were not supposed to face such harsh realities.

Once the precedent had been established, though, the thief’s friends and colleagues at the top of the government and society came to fear Pruet. To loathe him. To plot his demise.

Now, he’d been presented with another disastrous case.

If his investigation were to result in this American, Glen Kinnard from Chicago, spending the remainder of his life in a French prison, that decision could very well rupture the warming relations between France and the United States.

If his investigation exculpated Kinnard, it wouldn’t be only the habitués of the haut monde who would seek vengeance on Pruet. Every Frenchman who cheered for les bleus-the national football team-would come for him with blood in their eyes.

Pruet sighed and said, “My father wanted me to go into the family business.”

“You are allergic to cheese. How could you spend your life making it?”

“I don’t know,” Pruet said. “But I should have tried harder.”

Chapter 3

Monday, June 1st – Washington, DC


The president was at her desk in the Oval Office by five a.m. She had more reading to do than a class of law school students cramming for final exams. Tomorrow, she and the circus that accompanied her everywhere she traveled would depart for the G8 summit in London. The president was routinely described as the most powerful person in the world, but the one thing she could never do was travel light. She required two highly modified Boeing 747-200Bs, known as SAM 28000 and SAM 29000, more commonly referred to as Air Force One whenever she was aboard one of them. A C-130 cargo aircraft would bring her personal helicopter, a VH60N WhiteHawk, Marine One when she was aboard, and two armored Cadillac limousines, previously called The Beasts, renamed by the president in a Seussian moment as Thing One and Thing Two.

That was just the hardware. The senior advisers, their support staff, the Secret Service contingent, the military personnel, the White House press corps, and special guests approached a number that a convention planner would have been hard put to deal with. In fact, the White House had its own travel planners. You didn’t just throw together a trip for POTUS.

There was, of course, one other traveling companion for this president.

Her henchman.

Patti winced as she shifted her weight on the seat of her desk chair.

Jim had been gentle with her, showing her the Dark Alley techniques she’d asked to learn, but he had insisted she have at least some understanding of the pain she might inflict on others. Even so, Jim had stressed that knowing the damage she might do must not inhibit her from inflicting it if necessary. You did what you had to do, and reflexively, if your own precious hide was at risk.

He’d given her a wintry smile and said, “There are even times, harsh as it may sound, when you’re pleased to know the price some jerk has paid for messing with you.”

All in all, the president thought her husband’s approach to the use of force was well considered for someone in her line of work.

With that in mind, Patti took out her personal iPhone, an instrument she’d insisted she had the right to retain, and placed a call to California, where it was still the middle of the night. She needed to talk with an old friend, a fellow former actress, who stayed up late. Her friend, the closest thing the president had to a sister, had accepted an appointment from the preceding administration as an honorary cultural ambassador to the UN. Her duties had taken her to countries around the world where her beautiful face and charming personality had made several friends for the United States. This was at a time when the occupant of the White House had been creating legions of the disaffected.

For the most part, the friend’s efforts may well have created a wealth of good memories for her, but Patti had heard a rumor of one disturbing story that, if true, could have blighted the whole experience. News of the event had only a limited circulation as far as the president knew, and that was within the pinnacle of the acting community. It hadn’t reached the Washington gossip mills at all. Not yet.

Patti’s call was answered on the second ring, and the conversation began with a warmth usually reserved for family. It continued for the next fifteen minutes, spoken entirely in French.

Just as it was drawing to a close, there was a knock at the door.

The president, caught up in Francophony, said, “Entrez.



The president was speaking French, Chief of Staff Galia Mindel wondered as she entered the Oval Office. She saw Patti was on her personal phone as she closed the door behind her. The president also had an open briefing book on her lap, one of the volumes provided to Patti that contained biographical information on the other heads of state with whom she’d be meeting at the G8 gathering in London.

Galia had been one of the people who had advocated that the president not use a personal phone, and the mere idea that Patti might have been sharing information from a presidential briefing book with someone outside the government-someone not approved of by Galia herself-it was all the chief of staff could do not to wince.

And why had the president been speaking in French?

Patti said, “Au revoir,” and ended her call.

Turning her attention to her chief of staff, she asked, “Everything well in hand for our departure tomorrow?”

The president closed the briefing book and put it and her iPhone in a desk drawer before Galia could see whose bio Patti had been reading.

“Yes, ma’am,” Galia said, crossing the room to st

Free Kindle Nation Shorts — April 2, 2011 — An Excerpt from LIQUID FEAR, a mystery thriller by Scott Nicholson

Ten years after a tragic clinical trial in memory suppression, the research volunteers realize the experiment is still underway.


Liquid Fear


From Scott Nicholson, bestselling Kindle author of Disintegration, The Red Church, Drummer Boy, and more.

Just 99 cents for a limited time, on Kindle

By Steve Windwalker

We used to have a fun feature here at Kindle Nation called Scary Saturdays. It had a lot of fans, and I’ve received some emails from readers asking us to bring it back.

My take is that it’s a great idea if we can keep the bar high enough in terms of great fiction that is truly scary, edge-of-the-seat, white-knuckle stuff.

Like Scott Nicholson’s Liquid Fear.

So … it’s almost Saturday, and it will definitely be Saturday somewhere by the time you open this email.

And it’s time to turn on all the lights, lock all the doors, and share a little Scary Saturday action with your fellow citizens of Kindle Nation…. We’ve got a generous excerpt of more than 12,000 words to get you started here, and there will be little to slow you down when you come to the end of the excerpt because Mr. Nicholson is offering the entire book, for a limited time, for just 99 cents.

Click here to begin reading the free excerpt

Here’s the set-up:

When Roland Doyle wakes up with a dead woman in his motel room, the only clue is a mysterious vial of pills bearing the label “Take one every 4 hrs or else.”

Ten years before, six people were involved in a secret pharmaceutical trial that left one of them dead and five unable to remember what happened. Now the experiment is continuing, as Dr. Sebastian Briggs concludes his research into fear response and post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s backed by a major drug company and an ambitious U.S. Senator, but he also has a personal stake in the outcome.

Only by taking the mysterious pills can the survivors stave off the creeping phobias, sexual impulses, and inflicted madness that threaten to consume them. But the pills have an unexpected side effect-the survivors start remembering the terrible acts they perpetrated a decade ago. They are lured back to the Monkey House, the remote facility where the original trials took place, and Briggs has prepared it for their return.

Now they are trapped, they each have only one pill left, and cracks are forming in their civilized veneer.

After the pills are gone, there’s only one option. “Or else.”

Click here to begin reading the free excerpt
Scott Nicholson is author of the bestselling suspense, mystery, and supernatural novels The Red Church, Disintegration, Speed Dating with the Dead, and 17 other books. With J.R. Rain, he writes the Cursed! and Supernatural Selection series. He’s also author of the children’s books If I Were Your Monster, Duncan the Punkin, and Too Many Witches. Visit him at Author Central or www.hauntedcomputer.com

“Always surprises and always entertains.”–Jonathan Maberry, King of Plagues

“Keep both hands on your pants, because Nicholson is about to scare them off.”–J.A. Konrath

“Scott Nicholson is on his way to the front rank of genre writers, but don’t be surprised if he–like Koontz and King before him–becomes a genre unto himself.”–Page Horrific

Click here to begin reading the free excerpt

Liquid Fear: A Mystery Thriller

by Scott Nicholson
Haunted Computer Books
Kindle Edition ~ Release Date: 2011-03-26

List Price: $0.99

Buy Now


Five more for the Kindle by Scott Nicholson, and every one of them just 99 cents for a limited time



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Free Kindle Nation Shorts – April 2, 2011

An Excerpt from


By Scott Nicholson


Copyright © 2011 by Scott Nicholson and published here with his permission




The rain fell like dead bullets.

David Dunn blinked against the drops. Darkness slathered both sides of his eyelids and the air smelled of burnt motor oil. The silvery salvo of precipitation swept over the expanse of a lighted billboard.

“Need a lawyer?” read the emblazoned pitch, followed by an alphabet soup of advertising copy that swam in David’s vision. The sign was upside down.


He was flat on his back, looking up, his clothes soaked. He couldn’t lift his head. The rain beat tiny tattoos on his face, pooling and racing down in tracks as warm as blood. The surface beneath him was hard and cold. He let his head tilt toward the right and he saw a cluster of distant lights.

Buildings. A town.

But which town?

And, the bigger question, who was he this time?

He tested his fingers. None were broken, though the knuckles were sore. Maybe he’d been in a fight. Or mugged and left to leak fluids onto the pavement.

Dunn. David Dunn.

That was his name. The one he’d been born with, not the name they’d given him. Whoever “they” were.

He focused on the billboard. It featured a bland, stern face. No doubt the attorney of record, one desperate to cash in on the misfortunes of others.

Injured in a car crash? Worker compensation claims? Product liability lawsuit? The bottom of the ad heralded a toll-free number.

David wondered if he owned a cell phone. He usually didn’t, but sometimes they gave him one, slipped it into his jacket pocket with prepaid minutes.

Prepaid minutes. That was a laugh. “Pay as you go” was the name of this game.

The rain must have pounded him for a while, because he lay in a puddle. And it was summer because he wasn’t shivering. A car horn blared, probably 50 feet away, and tires spat white noise across the wet asphalt.

They were coming for him again. They were always coming for him. Or else they already had him.

He moved his lips, mouthing the words “Need a lawyer?”

The car hissed onward, weaving in the gloom, its twin taillights like the eyes of a retreating dragon.

With a groan, he rolled onto his side, cheek chafing against crumbled tar. He wore no hat. A wristwatch adorned his left wrist and he snaked his arm near his face. The LED numerals flickered red.

11:37. Nearly noon or nearly midnight, it was all the same.

Unless it was time for the next dose.

The rain spattered and drummed around him in staccato fusillade. Constant war, the Earth versus the sky. Us versus them. David Dunn against himself.

A nudge to his back.

He didn’t have the strength to fight them this time. No running left in those freighted legs. No direction safe. All avenues took him back to the Research Triangle Park in the heart of North Carolina.

Home-the place of no escape.

He closed his eyes and flopped to one side, hoping they would make it quick this time.

“Home, home on the range,” he sang.

The nudge again, this time to his shoulder. “Hey, get up.”

Swim, swim, swim. His head went nowhere. He tried to smile, his last act of will, his final defiance. But his lips were the cold, limp corpses of twin snakes.

“Are you okay?”

A woman. But which one?

“I think I need a lawyer,” he said, though he wasn’t sure his mouth moved.

Hands explored him, angled his head from side to side. The fingers were strong and sure.

“Can you move your arms and legs?” the woman said.

He nodded, or at least dipped his chin.

“We have to get out of here.”

Here. Out. She must be new to the program. There was no “out” and everywhere was here. The universe was their lab, the world their maze, and the cheese was the disease.

The cheese was the disease. Probably a nursery rhyme in there somewhere, a modern retelling of “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Maybe he had a new song.

David licked his lips and they tasted of chemicals. Rain in the city got scarier every day. Why did they even bother with the program anymore?

Civilization would accomplish the mission, given time. But time was money and money was energy and energy was power. Maze opening onto maze, forever and ever, amen.

She tugged at the collar of his jacket, sopping his head into the puddle like a biscuit into weak gravy. “Sit up, David.”

She knew his name. They were getting smarter, all right. Changing the flavor of the cheese. He dared not open his eyes, but he couldn’t resist.

He could never resist.

He blinked and squinted through the jewels of water on his eyelashes. Her face was a fuzzy pale moon and her naked body was glistening. He blinked again. Squinted. Focused. Which one would it be?

Her. Who else?

He clawed at the concrete, digging to bury himself alive in the wet, filthy soil of the city. Back to the nothingness of the womb. A tomb of cool, welcoming clay, not of hot, harboring flesh.

He had rolled and scrabbled about five feet across the abrasive surface when she called again. “David.”

The word was an echo of childhood scolding. He wanted to cover his ears, but that would slow his crawling escape. The buildings slid into focus now, the lawyer gazing down from the billboard with poisonous solicitude.

Against the foggy sheen of silver-gray that lay across the night air, the windows of a waffle house projected a beacon of cigarette smoke, cholesterol, and safety in numbers. His soaked jacket pressed against his back, water streaming from his hair. It was long, past his collar, in a style and length he hadn’t worn in years. Not since college, which was the last stretch of his life he clearly recalled.

He crawled toward the smell of fryer oil and coffee. A bare foot appeared beneath his chin, the burgundy nail polish chipped, a raw scar along the arch.

“David, it’s me.”

Craning the cinder-block weight of his head, his gaze went up the plump calf and higher. Did he know that skin? Or was all skin a stranger, even the skin he now wore as David Dunn?

“You don’t remember me, do you?” The words fell from above, as brittle and bracing as the rain.

Of course he remembered her. His eyes traveled higher, to the dark patch of hair between her legs, then up to her belly where the blood ran in a thick rivulet.

He couldn’t bear to see her face, which was haunted by the ghost of all abandoned fears. Traffic hissed in the distance, like rows of long reptiles entwining in venomous ecstasy.

He raised himself to his knees, head spinning, distant buildings the ancient cliffs of an alien planet.

Waffle house. Its squares of smeared yellow light promised some sort of security. Normality. Greasy reality. But first he had to get past her.

“They’re coming for us.” She reached her hand toward him, fingers pale and slick as maggots.

His stomach lurched. Dry, acidic air rushed up and abraded his throat. He had nothing to vomit. The hand touched his shoulder, and David found himself reaching up to her, surrendering. His arm was like a roll of sodden newspapers.

They’ll get you anyway. They always get you.

Or maybe they had you from the start.

She helped him to his feet and he swayed, blinking against the rain. Car headlights swept over them. Two giant shadows loomed on the brick wall at his back.

Eyes everywhere.

He jerked free of the woman’s grasp and ran blindly away from the swollen and indistinct shapes. His legs were damp ropes but still he fled.

Rubber squealed on pavement, the shriek of a hungry leopard. Car doors opened, rain ticked off the metal roof, and the engine mewled.

“David!” the woman screamed.

They had her, but David didn’t care. That was exactly what they would expect: for him to play hero again.

He hadn’t saved her last time, and Susan was going to die again, but it wasn’t his fault.

He plunged toward the dark, wet wedge between buildings, willing his legs forward. His heart knocked mallets against his temples. Sharp-toothed things would be waiting in the darkness, but they would be the lesser of two thousand evils.

A kinder, gentler evisceration, because those monsters would do it from the outside in.

Not from the inside out, like the people from the car would.

Her shriek rose against the oppressive sky and shoe soles spanked the asphalt.

“Stop!” someone shouted. Were they really dumb enough to think he’d obey them at this point? After all they’d done to him, all they had taught him?

After what they had made him become?

He ran into the alley, assaulted by the odors of rot, bum piss, and motor oil. A chain-link fence, ripped and curling away from its support posts, blocked his escape.

David clutched the links, praying for the strength to climb. He dug the tip of one shoe into the fence and launched himself up. He slipped and hung like a crucifixion victim for three seconds, time for one deep breath before collapsing.

He lay with his face against the fence, the links imprinting blue geometry against his cheek. He listened, waiting.

Rain, tick tick tick.

No footsteps, no shouts. No car engine.

They had taken her. And spared him.

No. That’s just what they wanted him to think. That he was safe, so the next game would be even more disturbing.

Or maybe they wanted him to cower, to doubt, to face his monsters alone.

With them, you could never be sure.

Fear was their tool and his drug.

He whimpered for his next pill and the blissful fog of amnesia.

This was who he was.

Whoever he was.

He kissed the rain and it kissed back.


Dr. Sebastian Briggs turned away from the monitor, content that David Dunn was sufficiently broken for the moment. The Subject would be ready for his next dose of Halcyon shortly.

The Subject let out a tired wail from behind the metal door in the back of the factory.

“Home on the range,” Briggs whispered.

David was the good soldier, the one who had offered himself for the chronic, ongoing experiment, whether he knew it or not. The other subjects had finished-or at least survived-the clinical trials, unaware of their contribution to science, their crime forgotten.

But Briggs hadn’t forgotten. Roland Doyle, Anita Molkesky, Wendy Leng, and Alexis Morgan had gone on to regular lives. Briggs hadn’t let them escape completely, though, because the world was merely a larger Monkey House and the experiment had never ended, because they carried it inside them.

He’d watched them and tracked them. Wendy, especially.

Susan hadn’t been his fault, although he’d been stuck with the blame. It had taken a decade for him to restore his reputation, but luckily his backers were less interested in publishing in peer journals and more interested in tangible results.

Soon, though, his colleagues would understand who among them had achieved an evolutionary leap in emotional engineering.

He meandered through the maze of cells until he reached the main section of the Monkey House. It had changed little since the original trials, and the rows of conveyor belts, metal storage canisters, steel tables, drill presses, rusty farming implements, and thermoforming machinery added to that sense of a frenzied inner city. Alleys and crevices broke off from the main boulevards, where the scarred vinyl flooring marked years of industrial traffic. Here and there, broken sorting machines and hydraulic arms were stacked in schizophrenic sculptures, hoses and wires dangling.

His backers had kept the property, a former tractor factory that had been haphazardly renovated for the original trials. The limited-liability company listed in the Register of Deeds office had been dummied up until it was four layers removed from the true owners.

Briggs appreciated the seclusion, and although the Research Triangle had grown rapidly in the meantime, 20 acres of pine forest and a chain-link fence separated the massive brick building from the surrounding parcels.

Instead of the cornfields and soybean fields that once sprawled in the Piedmont belt between Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham, high-tech companies and research firms like IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and Cisco Systems had placed labs or headquarters here.

While a complex body of world-changing research and development was underway in a 60-mile radius, Briggs considered himself the heart of the beast, a man who held the keys that would unlock the human mind’s potential.

A pager buzzed on Briggs’s belt. The metal framing, high flat ceiling, and thick block walls inhibited cell-phone signals, and neither Briggs nor his backers wanted to be vulnerable to wiretapping or signal hijacking. The pager meant someone was ringing in on the satellite phone, and Briggs hurried to his office to plug the phone into an antenna that snaked its way up the side of the building and into the North Carolina humidity.

“Hello,” Briggs said.

“It’s done,” the voice said.

“Good. He’s the farthest away, so it was important to start with him. How is he?”

“Out like a light. Whatever this stuff is, you ought to get a patent for it.”

Briggs didn’t appreciate the humor. Life and death were serious matters. “Do you have the identification?”

An exasperated chuff came from the other end. “Everything just like you said. You ask me, this is a whole lot of trouble for nothing. I could roll him in the trunk and have him on your doorstep in eight hours.”

“Nobody asked you,” Briggs said. His backers insisted on using this particular operative, but Briggs planned to remove all witnesses eventually. He just wasn’t sure he could tolerate the man until that happy day.

“Okay, they told me to do it your way.”

“No fingerprints, nothing to connect you back here?” Briggs asked.

More exasperation. “You and me, Doc. We got to have a talk soon.”

“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

“Is that some kind of code or something?”

The man could dish out humor but couldn’t appreciate it. “Can I ask you something, Mr. Drummond?” Briggs said, using the fake name Martin Kleingarten had given him in a clumsy attempt at subterfuge.

“I’m on the clock,” Kleingarten/Drummond said.

“What are you afraid of?”

Silence. Briggs thought of those hundreds of miles of electromagnetic radiation beaming between him and the low-orbit satellite before bouncing to Kleingarten/Drummond in Cincinnati. Silence took just as much energy to broadcast as words did.

“I’m not afraid of nothing,” came the answer a few seconds later.

“Every intelligent man has a deepest fear. Think.”

“Right now, I’m afraid I won’t get paid, because you guys are playing a weird game. The things you’ve asked me to do, it don’t sound like business to me.”

“I assure you, Mr. Drummond, your work is critical to a major scientific discovery. The ‘game,’ as you call it, is part of the work.”

The man answered, but Briggs’s attention had been diverted to the monitor, where David Dunn sat on his cot, peering between his fingers at the images flickering on his walls. Briggs had gone with the Susan Sharpe tape, an oldie but a goodie.

As usual, David couldn’t quite look away, because Briggs had conditioned him to crave the psychological trauma. But Briggs couldn’t take all the credit. Most of it belonged to Seethe, but the world would find that out soon enough. The hard way.

Kleingarten/Drummond spoke again and snapped Briggs back to the conversation. “What was that?”

“What’s your greatest fear, Doc?”

“Easy. Not being feared.”

Briggs clicked off without another word and turned his attention to his computer. Most of his records were on a removable hard drive that could be erased in the event of an emergency. Years of meticulous notes, copies of journal articles, and chemical formulas were stored on a system that an Internet connection had never touched. He’d never trust off-site storage, and he knew they were watching.

In the Monkey House trials, though, he was a traditionalist, making personal notes on a sheet of paper pinned to a clipboard. Such entries brought back so many memories, and memories were his passion.

Beside the date, he scrawled “No change in subject” in the same bad handwriting for which he had been scolded as a child.

He glanced at Wendy’s self-portrait hanging on the wall, a gift from a happier era. So close.

In an uncharacteristic bout of giddiness, he drew a leering smiley face and devil horns on the chart. In the days ahead, he would relive some wonderful memories.

And destroy a few others.

Morning arrived with bloody rags in the sky and wet fire in Roland Doyle’s heart.

He squinted at the pink light penetrating the window. His head hurt, but that was nothing new. In Roland’s life, a headache was as reliable as the sun, the moon, and the next drink.

He didn’t believe in predestination, but he had come to accept inevitability, even to embrace it. Whether those repetitive choices were made on his own or through the whim of some puckish and bemused God, the end result was the same.

Let’s go with you, God. You’re a fine fucking fall guy. Never around when I need you, but never around to bitch, either.

The Blame Game was one of Roland’s favorite pastimes. It wasn’t whether you won or lost, succeeded or failed, lived or died, so long as you found someone or something to blame. Wendy had served the most often, but he’d filled her up and moved on.

His fingers trailed between the cool sheets to the other side of the bed. The pillow smelled of a woman’s shampoo, but his olfactory sense was as unreliable as the other four. She might have left in the night, or even months ago.

No, she would be there, she had to be there, and he would use her as a temporary painkiller, the latest contestant in the Blame Game. Whoever she was.

“Asleep?” he whispered, but the syllables still scratched his raw throat. Roland rolled toward her side of the bed and opened one eye. The blankets were smooth, his hand naked and alone.

The walls were cheap pine paneling, the curtains the deep mottled beige of unbleached linen. The gypsum whorls in the ceiling were cracked, long strands of dusty cobwebs dangling and swaying.

He drew a deep breath and the air tasted of Febreze and Lysol, the sprays fighting a losing battle with cigarettes, beer, and urine. Another motel room, although Roland had no idea of its city.

Indie? Last I remember, I was tooling through the Crossroads of America, the land of Peyton Manning and chili cheese fries.

He sat up with a groan, and the blood increased its sluggish course around his brain. His skull felt as if it were gripped in the mouth of a hungry T. rex. His tongue was a carpet that had been stomped on and then vacuumed dry. His heartbeat staggered and pounded in a familiar arrhythmia.

The bedside table would reveal a suicidal potion. Socrates cheerfully chose poison over the admission of defeat. When logic failed the Athenian philosopher, death seemed a reasonable alternative to putting up with more bullshit. Hemlock was his vehicle, but Roland preferred a slower-acting brand.

He’d always been a goddamned coward.

The headache suggested a white wine, something cheap from Southern California. Wine could have chased vodka or, if he’d felt sufficiently masochistic, Everclear.

Unlike many alcoholics, Roland had never suffered from denial. From the first sip on, he always knew exactly what he was doing.

Except, of course, for anything that happened during the blackouts.

The nightstand contained no empty bottles. An alarm clock blazed red numerals that said 9:35. Above it loomed a lamp, its battered beige shade held together by a strip of masking tape. An empty ash tray was the only other item on the table.

“Honey?” he croaked, going for the generic, because no specific name floated up from the mist in his skull.


The room felt like Ohio. Maybe it was an underlying muddy-river stench to the air, or perhaps it was the taint of coal-fired power plants. As a salesman for a company that made supplies for advertising signs, Roland might be in town to service major clients like AK Steel, the Kroger Company, or Proctor & Gamble.

Whether it was neon, adhesives, banners, or 3-D lettering, Carolina Sign Supply could meet every outdoor advertising need, no matter how garish. The slogans swam together like the eels in his gut.

Roland swung his legs over the side of the bed. He wore a pair of black boxers that featured a clown face on the front, the bulbous red nose marking the fly. Roland slept naked when a woman was with him, so he could be pretty sure he’d been flying solo the night before.

Of course, he might have ended up at one of the local watering holes or topless joints. In that case, all bets were off. He wasn’t the type who paid for companionship.

At least not in cash. For the rest, he’d trade his fucking soul and not bat an eye.

But the other side of the bed was unruffled. He had definitely slept by himself. His battered leather briefcase, which held his sample notebooks, was parked by the night stand, his pants tossed on the floor.

A few coins had leaked from his pants pockets and glinted like dirty ice on the gray industrial carpet. He had undressed carelessly, his shirt tossed over the arm of a vinyl chair.

The bathroom door was ajar, a bar of light leaking from the opening. He wondered if he had vomited, bent in homage to the porcelain idol. His stomach fluttered up a wave of acid, though no nausea lingered.

Headache isn’t too bad, either. Must be getting back in the groove.

And blackouts are a good thing, when you get right down to it, because who wants to remember shit like that? Maybe God has a little mercy in Him after all.

The air was cold on his bare chest, shrinking his nipples to red points. The air conditioning must have been set on “igloo,” because spring had been pushing hard to get winter the hell out of the way.

His face itched and he put a hand to his chin. Stubble, three days’ worth, at least.

Roland wondered how many appointments he’d missed, how many clients had called the home office asking about the sales rep who had scheduled a visit. Sometimes the benders went on for a week or more, but since taking the job with Carolina Sign, he’d been dependable.

The company had known of his past. The background check had turned up the DWI, two drunken disorderlies, the vandalism, and the court judgment against him in the civil suit brought by his estranged wife.

In a bit of undeserved serendipity, the company’s general manager was a recovering alcoholic who had shepherded Roland into a twelve-step program. “White chips and second chances,” Harry Grimes, the GM, had said.

What do you think about third chances, Harry? Or is it the fourth?

He bent to pick up his pants, blood rushing to his temples. He wondered if he’d spent all his money. Once, while married, he had maxed out his credit card in a two-day stretch, $10,000 flushed.

The worst part had been the waiting, knowing Wendy would open the envelope, pull out the bill, and see the itemized stupidity. Wendy was past waiting, though, exhausted from serial second chances, and the divorce papers showed up in the mailbox before the credit card bill.

His pants looked relatively clean, so he probably had avoided crawling on his hands and knees, at least on the sidewalk. Keys jingled in his pocket. He fished the wallet out and flipped it open, thumbing through the leather folds. A couple of hundreds and some twenties.

Maybe he’d made a late-hour cash withdrawal from an ATM. He couldn’t imagine giving up a drinking bout while he still had some green.

The phone rang, its brittle bleat like a spear to his skull. The home office? A client? Escort service? Newfound-and-already-forgotten drinking buddy? The choices were endless and all were terrible.

Maybe it was Harry. As Roland reached for the phone, he realized there wasn’t a single person left in the world whose voice would cheer him, who would dispense kind and supportive words, who wouldn’t bring suspicion and disapproval to bear.

The phone was cold against his ear. “Hello?”

“Mr. Dunn, you requested a wake-up call at eight,” said a tired, smoke-strained female voice. “We tried three times but received no answer, so we assumed you had checked out.”

“Sorry, you must have the wrong room.”

“My apologies,” she said, though her tone suggested the exact opposite. “Is this room 101?”

Roland retrieved the rubber-flagged keychain that lay beside the alarm clock. “Right number, wrong person.”

“Sir, all check-ins require photo ID. The night clerk has ‘David Dunn’ in Room 101.”

“Sorry, there’s no David here that I know of.” Unless he’d brought home a drinking buddy by that name. In which case, pitiful, hungover David was sleeping either under the bed or in the bathtub.

The clerk’s voice grew sour. “Either way, Mr. Dunn, checkout is 10 a.m.”

“Hold on a second,” Roland said, before the clerk could hang up. “What time did I . . . what time did David check in?”

He actually was asking what day, but he didn’t want to arouse additional suspicion.

“We have it at 7:10. There’s a surcharge for having additional people in the room, Mr. Dunn. If you’d care to stop by the desk on your way out-”

“Never mind.” He had checked in last night, apparently, although the idiots had gotten his name wrong.

His barebones expense account covered a rental car, meals, and lodging. Extra charges would draw the attention of Carolina Sign’s purse-handlers, who, as in every other American business, were tasked with sliding nickels from the worker bees while shoving stacks of Hamiltons toward management.

Actually, the confusion might benefit him in the long run. Let “David Dunn” foot the charge and let the bitchy desk clerk deal with the inaccurate billing. One problem, though: his twelve-step program was built on rigorous honesty, both with himself and others.

But the twelve steps had apparently failed him. He had a roiling stomach and jangling head to prove it. The only steps he had taken were those that led down the basement to hell.

Funny, though, his mouth didn’t taste of liquor. Maybe he’d burned away his taste buds.

As he got up to shower, the wallet tumbled to the floor. Some of the plastic cards slid free of an inner sleeve. His driver’s license portrait glared at him, eyes startled wide by the examiner’s flash.

Roland had been dismayed when the examiner listed his hair as “gray.” The gray was there, sure, but he still thought of it as dark brown. He was only 34, after all, even if half of them had been hard years.

He was sliding the license back into place when he paused. The license was the wrong color, issued in North Carolina. He’d registered in Tennessee to avoid excessive auto insurance.

Yet there was his face. His height was listed at five-feet-ten, just as he’d fudged it by an inch, and his weight, 205, was lower than his actual weight at the time. That was before the twelve-step surrender, back when dishonesty was a second skin. Now, healthier and without the boozy bloat, he weighed 185, but it had taken two years to bounce back into shape from the decade of hard drinking.

It was possible he’d updated his driver’s license after he’d settled near Raleigh. But he would have remembered something like that. He had been abusive, but he couldn’t have killed all of his brain cells.

And if he’d wandered into a driver’s license office during a blackout, chances were good he would have been denied a license and escorted to the nearest drunk tank.

One other problem with the license bearing his face: the name listed on it was David Wayne Dunn.


“My psychiatrist is dead.”

Wendy Leng sipped her coffee and ducked beneath the thin layer of cigarette smoke that hung about five feet above the waffle-house floor. The coffee tasted as if it had been dipped from the rolling mop bucket that stood in the corner.

Eggs, scrambled, had somehow managed to take on the dirty gray of the gravy. At nearby tables, newspapers flapped, people fidgeted with their cell phones as they ate, and lonely old men gazed out the window in the land of bottomless refills.

Wendy looked from the congealing grease rimming the plate to her twin reflections in Anita’s sunglasses. “Mind taking those off? I can’t tell when you’re kidding.”

Anita slid the glasses down her nose and peered over the lenses with her stunning blue eyes. “Like you could anyway?”

“The sun’s out, the fluorescents in here are bright enough to fry bacon, and you have absolutely nothing left to hide from me.”

“My eyes are bloodshot.”

“That goes without saying. Thursday is a day that ends in Y, isn’t it?”

Anita readjusted her shades and sat back in the vinyl-backed booth seat. “You just have this thing about faces. ‘Eyes are the window to the soul,’ and all that jazz.”

“It’s my living. If you get the eyes right, the rest is easy.”

“Life isn’t a caricature. Especially when your psychiatrist is dead.”

Wendy started to ask the logical and expected follow-up question when the jukebox cut in, drowning out the banging of pots and the clatter of silverware. “Hey, I haven’t heard ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ in nearly a decade,” Anita said, smiling and swaying her head in time to the four-beat twang.

“You always did go for atmosphere.” The cigarette smoke burned her nostrils. She’d kicked that habit last year and had become overly sensitive to it ever since. She gave Anita a hurried “bring-it-to-me” motion with her hand.

“About my psychiatrist.”

“Let me guess,” Wendy said. “She couldn’t handle your depressed-bitch act any longer, so she slit her wrists.”

“Wow, that would be poignant.” Anita, who’d had the good sense to order a waffle instead of the Long-Haul Breakfast, pushed syrup around with her fork. “I’m sure if she got you on the couch, Freud would roll over in his grave.”

“Only if I seduced her. Otherwise, Freud would be bored with simple old me.”

“Oh, you’re finally coming around to the Sapphic way, huh? Every intelligent woman visits the island sooner or later.”

“If I was after women, you couldn’t handle the competition, sweetie,” Wendy said, dabbing the endearment with sarcasm as gooey as the waffle-house syrup. “As it is, I don’t need anybody in my life, male or female.”

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Anita said, misquoting Shakespeare. A catalog model, Anita had quickly learned she was more at home in front of a camera than on a live stage.

Despite the drama of her past, or perhaps because of it, she still clung to a delusion of eventual A-list movie stardom.

One delusion of many, Wendy thought. Hence the psychiatrist.

Wendy jumped in before Anita could harmonize with Billy Ray Cyrus’s addictive yet mind-numbing chorus. “So who killed her?”

Anita forked waffle in her mouth and flashed a wad of soggy bread. She had the appetite of a wrestler, but genetics and an obsessive fitness regimen held her at a firm 118 pounds despite her generous bosom. “Nobody killed her. Cardiac arrest. People die all the time.”

“Then why did you bring it up?”

“Because I figured you’d assume the worst. You’re always assuming the worst.”

“No, I’m not.” She sipped her coffee, confirming it was terrible. “Besides, sometimes the worst blindsides you and you don’t get a chance to assume anything. Take my marriage, for instance.”

“Well, enough about you.” Anita flashed a smile that always earned instant absolution, no matter the degree of rudeness. “Anyway, it took me six months to start trusting her, and then she has the nerve to go and die on me.”

“She died on her other patients, too.”

“And that’s my problem how?”

“Never mind.” Wendy glanced at the clock. Ten was fast approaching, and she had to prep for her nooner. “I’ve got to get to class.”

“Some people never leave college. And at your age-”

“I know, but college was God’s way of bringing us together. The School of Hard Knocks.”

“Or Fuck U. That’s ‘U’ like in ‘university.’”

The sarcasm, like most, contained a good bit of truth. Anita had served as a model in one of Wendy’s graduate studio art classes, stripping off her clothes for a dozen people without batting a luscious eyelash.

After the session, Anita had remarked that Wendy’s rendering, though obviously exaggerated and not all that flattering, had captured her personality better than any of the more technically exact illustrations. Perhaps because Wendy instinctively appreciated the sensual radiance Anita projected.

An uneasy friendship was formed, and it had lasted through a shared apartment, several cross-country moves, different sexual attitudes, and now one hell of a heart-clogging breakfast.

“Don’t you want to hear what my psychiatrist’s psychiatrist told me?” Anita said.

“Shrink a shrink and pretty soon you get down to nothing.” Wendy put her pinky to her lips and thumb to her ear in the international sign language for “Call me.” She reached for the bill, which was stuck to the table by a dot of syrup.

“No, really. I need this.”

“Okay. But make it fast. The next generation of Pablo Picassos and Frida Kahlos are waiting.”

“The pills I was on, the samples my psychiatrist gave me for free so the diagnosis would stay off my insurance?”

The topic bugged Wendy, but she couldn’t pinpoint the cause. “Yeah. New class of antidepressants. I thought we’d learned our lesson about untested drugs.”

Anita lowered her voice and became guarded. “We need to talk about that, because I’m starting to remember.”

Wendy squeezed her fork until the metal cut into her palm. “That was a different lifetime, Nita. That wasn’t us. That couldn’t have been us.”

“I know we’re supposed to remember it that one way, but what if it happened the other way?”

“It could have happened a million ways,” Wendy said. “The lesson is not to play around with drugs.”

“Oh, so now we get all moral?”

Wendy was about to explode, to tell Anita to shut the hell up, and the rage was a warning sign. You could bury the past, but the stench had a way of rising through the cracks. But the best way to forget was to change the subject, and Anita possessed all the vanity her beauty deserved. “So tell me about this new drug they gave you.”

Anita nodded. “Supposed to treat my stress, anxiety, depression, and all the rest of it. I’ve been on it for two weeks.”

“And it seems to be working.” Wendy eyed the half-full cup of coffee and weighed the need for an extra boost of caffeine against the additional destruction of taste buds.

“Sure. I’ve even gained a few pounds.” Anita slapped at her lean thighs. “But dig this-my new psychiatrist said this medicine isn’t in the PDR. It’s not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Billy Ray Cyrus’ cornfield yodel faded and the late breakfast crowd filled the void with chatter and rattling tableware. “Maybe it’s a generic,” Wendy said, alarm bells clanging in her head. “Drug companies sometimes give their cheaper versions names that make them sound fancy.”

With the volume in the room dropping, Anita hunched forward and lowered her voice. “The FDA had no record of them.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the Monkey House trials.” Wendy used the term despite her promise to never utter it again, upon pain of death or madness. “So stop getting paranoid. Briggs is finished and none of that ever happened.

“I know.” Anita chopped at her waffle, scooting piles of limp whipped cream and strawberry sauce across the grid. “Well, anyway, the new shrink told me to stop taking them and to bring her a sample so she could turn it in to the authorities.”

“Yeah, like we could ever trust ‘authority’ again.”

“I told her I’d run out the day my shrink died. Seemed sort of fitting.”

“So you have some left?”

“Sure. Six pills.”

“A shrink was giving you illegal drugs?”

“Well, she’d been acting weird for the last few weeks. A couple of times she said stuff that sounded fatalistic. You know, like, ‘Live in the moment, because the past lives forever.’”

It sounded like the kind of crap Briggs used to say. “Sounds like generic shop talk to me. If a shrink can’t dish out the feel-good platitudes, then who can?”

Anita looked around the restaurant. Her sunglasses flashed in the greasy fluorescent light. The entire breakfast, Anita had been acting shifty, as if fearing someone would approach her table and ask for an autograph.

Not that the consumers of her films would have much chance of recognizing her. Her hair was now its natural light brown instead of blonde, and she’d had her boobs deflated down a cup size from their heyday.

Besides, Chapel Hill was a sophisticated university town, not a place where people expected to encounter a porn queen in a bacon-and-eggs joint.

Wendy followed Anita’s gaze. An unkempt man, obviously schizophrenic, sat at the counter near the register and was busy taking communion with the people in his head.

“I’m kind of worried,” Anita said. “The pills worked great, but I stopped them. They reminded me of the stuff we took during the trials.”

“Did the new psychiatrist give you something else?”

“Effexor. Started Saturday. She said it might take a month before the effect kicks in. I could go nuts before then.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Wendy’s eyelid twitched. A dark shadow crept from the corner of memory, but it vanished when she turned her mind’s eye toward it.

“We talked about it yesterday.”

“No, we didn’t.”

“You don’t remember?” Anita’s grin was frozen in the mask of one who wasn’t sure if she was the butt of a joke. “Jeez, maybe you’re the one who needs drugs. You’re getting senile.”

“I plead post-traumatic stress disorder,” Wendy said, disturbed by Anita’s forgetfulness.

“Well, I get crazy when I don’t take it. Almost like the monsters are waiting in the dark, and when the medicine goes away, they all come crawling out of their holes.”

Wendy noted a crease had formed in Anita’s forehead, the only vivid mark of time or distress on her perfect skin. Wendy had first drawn Anita’s caricature after the long-ago modeling session, when the two had roomed together for a semester.

Anita Molkesky, or “Anita Mann” as she had been known in the trade, had experienced little change to her most prominent facials features.

The full lips, rounded chin, and thin nose made her face bottom-heavy, and though she was attractive in every measure, Wendy’s exaggerating black marker had helped shape Anita’s self-image and she was forever complaining about her “micro-nose.”

“You’re not going to take my advice anyway,” Wendy said.

“Sure I will, if I happen to agree with it.”

Sassy country rock erupted, Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Wendy tested the coffee once more. Still awful. “Okay, then-”

“Holy fucking salami,” Anita said, staring through the plate-glass window.

While mired in the lurid straight-to-video world of Los Angeles, Anita claimed to have seen everything twice, including midgets copulating with canines. But the shock in her voice was enough to cause Wendy to follow her friend’s gaze.

A blue sedan streaked across the parking lot as if shot from a monstrous cannon, tires throwing smoke. Its roaring engine and squealing wheels drowned out the jukebox, and conversation in the waffle house died except for the monologue of the self-absorbed schizophrenic.

The sedan was gathering speed, aimed straight for their table. It miraculously dodged a parked SUV and closed the gap, now less than thirty feet away.

Someone screamed, and Wendy grabbed Anita’s buckskin jacket by its elbow fringe and pulled her from the booth.

Their waitress, a mousy-looking chain-smoker, screamed out, “Bobby!”

The cook came bounding over the counter, his mottled apron flapping across the schizophrenic’s face. Anita’s retreat splashed cold coffee on Wendy’s leg.

She wondered which of her fellow instructors would cover her noon class, because she had a feeling she was going to be late.

Then the plate glass exploded.


The fog lifted, though Roland’s eyeballs still felt like wads of cotton. His heartbeat galloped.

He thumbed other cards from the stack. A Visa, with “David Dunn” in raised print, sporting an approval date from two years earlier. A card from AAA promising lodging discounts and emergency roadside assistance for David Dunn. A donor card from the American Red Cross, B positive.

At least we both have the same blood type in case I need a transfusion from myself.

A Blockbuster membership card and a Higher Grounds coffee club card, with three more cup images to be punched before he received a free refill, completed the stack.

Vertigo weaved its gossamer threads around him and he sat on the bed before his legs turned to sand. He examined his driver’s license again.

No, not MY driver’s license. David’s.

The listed address was a place he had lived while enrolled at the University of North Carolina over a decade ago. The crummy off-campus apartment had been beset by cockroaches, rats, and a refrigerator that didn’t adequately chill the beer, and Roland had broken his lease after three months.

If the license was a fake, it was convincing. With the advent of the Department of Homeland Security and increased scrutiny of illegal aliens, the fake-ID business was booming, the cash flow allowing forgers to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Assuming someone knew the right people, a bogus driver’s license could be turned around in less than an hour.

The only problem with that scenario was Roland had no close friends, much less one who would go to such lengths for a practical joke. Maybe Dick the Jarhead, his first twelve-step sponsor, who had traded in the bottle for a brand of aggressive humor that constantly bordered on violence.

But Dick had died last year from a cerebral hemorrhage. His wacky mind ended up doing him in after all.

A glance at the clock showed fifteen minutes before checkout.

Screw it. Won’t be the first unsolved mystery of my life.

He crammed the cards back in the wallet, leaving David Dunn’s driver’s license lying on the unkempt blankets. He wobbled across the room to the chair that held his jacket.

A search of the pockets turned up nothing but lint and a set of car keys. The keys, at least, looked familiar, belonging to the Ford Escort he remembered renting in Louisville, Kentucky. Nearly a week ago.

A week? Without a calendar, he couldn’t be sure of anything. Even the alarm clock might be lying. After all, in a world where your name could change, or someone with a different name could steal your face while you slept, nothing was certain.

Too bad I can’t do a switcheroo with my debt. Wonder if David has a hot girlfriend?

He wobbled to the window by the door and looked out. He was on the ground floor of a three-story building. The skyline might have been Cincinnati’s, but it was too generically midtown American to tell it from that of Huntington, Muncie, Plattsburgh, or Roanoke.

A waffle shop across the street was in need of new vinyl letters. Its sign read “affle H use.”

Maybe I should drop off a business card. Score some points with Harry Grimes. Show I’m the go-getter type, even on a hangover.

A Marathon gas station, gray-wall warehouses, a chemical silo of some sort, and several urban condominium complexes lined the block. A blue Escort sat out front, presumably his ride.

So where the hell is MY license?

He dug into the wallet again, searching the opposite fold. He turned up a business card bearing David Dunn’s name and a cell phone number from an area code he didn’t recognize. The card bore a conservative but elegant C placed within a bordered rectangle. It was the logo for Carolina Sign Supply.

So “David” had the same employer as Roland, which made a practical joke easier to rig. Except that theory had no legs because no one knew Roland was in Cincinnati, much less which motel room he’d be staying in.

Aside from Harry and his deep-seated need to be of service to a fellow addict, Roland had remained aloof from his coworkers. Because he traveled and serviced his own regional accounts, he wasn’t part of a “team,” and he only checked in at headquarters for the monthly sales meetings. Most of his employer contact was via phone and email.


He looked under the bed. Nothing but dust bunnies big enough to mate.

“Maybe David Dunn has it,” he said, thinking it would be funnier if he said it aloud. Instead, utterance gave the words a palpability and weight that made the statement not only possible but menacing.

Six minutes until checkout and his head was still throbbing, mouth still dry, tongue like a dirty sock. He was thrusting the fabricated business card back into its sleeve when he saw glossy paper beneath. He shuffled through the few cards until he found the small photograph.

Two children grinned toward the camera, caught between “stinky” and “cheese.” The oldest, a boy with dark-brown hair, had diastema-a gap between his two front teeth. He looked to be about eleven.

The blond girl beside him was a few inches shorter and probably two years younger. Their facial features were different, but the Asian shapes of their eyes, as well as dark irises, suggested a brother and sister.

He flipped the photograph over, though its back was plain white. No time stamp or name of the company that had processed the film. In the digital age, such a slick photo felt like an artifact from a lost eon.

He’d never had time for children, though Wendy had once gone off the pill, back when she still held out hope that she could cure him solely through the power of love.

Fortunately, considering the ultimate outcome, the seed hadn’t taken root and the divorce settlement had been nothing more than dollars and cents instead of a Solomon-like cleaving of flesh.

Still, as he rammed the photo back into its place in the David Dunn gallery, he thought their offspring might have looked very much like the depicted pair. A blend of Asian and Caucasian that-

Shut it the hell up. You can’t even remember your own name, and you’re wishing you could BREED? More little Roland Doyles or David Dunns or whoever the fuck I am, running around playing their own brands of the Blame Game?

Three minutes to dress, pound on the front desk, and get to the bottom of this mess. The anger lit its pissed-off-villager torches inside his chest, ready to storm the castle of his head and build a bonfire.

Self-righteous indignation was an emotion that alcoholics could not afford to acknowledge, let alone embrace.

Anger, hell. In a few minutes, he’d be in a rage. And damned if it wasn’t going to feel good. The Blame Game had a new contestant.

He grabbed his jacket on the way to the bathroom, hoping he’d brought his shaving kit. Not that he intended to scrape the stubble away. He just wanted to brush his teeth and rid his taste buds of the horrible, sticky residue of last night’s indulgence.

He could worry about contrition and guilt later. The twelve-steppers had stacks of white chips for that. He could start the day with a clean face, if not a clear head.

He nudged the bathroom door the rest of the way open.

A woman lay sprawled on the ceramic-tiled floor. She wore a peach fleece bathrobe, parted to reveal the snowy flesh of her thighs. One arm dangled over the rim of the tub, its hand smooth, graceful, and young. Raven hair splayed across her shoulders, obscuring her face.

Judging from the angle of her neck and the coagulating pool of blood beneath her, she was quite dead.

The collision was much more dramatic than Martin Kleingarten had planned.

The clatter of the broken glass cascading along the sidewalk and the length of the sedan was satisfying, and the snapping of a steel mullion reminded him of the time he’d been forced to break a bookie’s fingers for dipping into the till.

That was small-time mob work, steady pay but little chance for career development, and Martin’s new employers had a flair for the creative. That suited Martin, although the risks were a little higher. What was life without a few risks?

The sedan plowed through the interior of the restaurant and smashed the counter, breaking it from the floor and slamming it against the grill. Hot fryer oil, which had leaped in rancid arcs with the impact, rained down on the screaming customers, and those who hadn’t been lacerated with glass shards had suffered nickel-sized burns on their flesh.

One old lady, hair tinted with blue rinse, tried to raise herself on her walker, but one of its legs had been twisted in the wreck and the walker collapsed, sending her sprawling with a shriek that stood out even in the cacophony that erupted in the moments after the “accident.”

The short-order cook in the filthy apron yanked open the crumpled door of the sedan. Martin smiled, the swell of his cheeks pushing up on the lenses of the binoculars. The cook’s mouth stopped in mid-tirade and dropped in surprise.

No driver.

Martin, who had boosted his first car at the age of 11, could easily have started the sedan with the key, aimed the steering wheel, and let the good times roll. Instead, he’d hot-wired the vehicle and left the key in his pocket, leaning a brick on the accelerator. A little riskier, but ultimately more satisfying.

He swung his binoculars to the left. The Chinese woman appeared to be unhurt and was busy helping up the blue-haired lady. Good. His instructions had been to leave the Slant safe and scared.

Martin twisted the lenses to focus on the woman. Wendy Leng.Why are my friends so interested in you?

Her eyes had the classic Oriental shape, but her hair was brown instead of raven black. Her teeth were small and she had a mole on her right cheek. Her eyes were light brown, unusual for an Asian, so Martin figured her for a half-breed. As if “breed” meant anything these days, the way everybody fucked outside their own kind.

The Slant was cute, if you liked that sort of thing, with a rounded, flat face and mouth-sized knockers. The one who had been sitting with her, though, had deserved a closer look.

She looked a little familiar, but with her trendy haircut, big sunglasses, and bright red lipstick was hardly distinguishable from all the other scrawny 30-somethings who watched Sex and the City and took Internet tests to determine whether they were more like the slutty character or the quirky character.

“Hey, babe, what you doing after the tragedy?” Martin whispered to himself in a mockery of a pick-up line.

Her forehead was bleeding from a cut, but the wound didn’t appear serious. She was also to remain unharmed, according to orders, and he was pretty sure as long as the two targets walked out alive, then he’d played by the rules.

One person, though, was not going to be walking anywhere. The man in the greasy army jacket had picked the wrong counter stool. The car’s grill had chewed him up like a piece of toast and then spat him back out.

Most of him, anyway. One kkaki-clad arm still pointed in the air, a fork gripped in the bloody fist.

If Martin had calculated wrong, the car might have swerved, hit a pothole, or even struck another car, which might have caused it to veer into the booth where the Slant and the Looker had sat with their coffee c

Free Kindle Nation Shorts — March 28, 2011: With global financial markets at the edge of a major downfall, Ad Broere’s ENDING THE GLOBAL CASINO? is featured in today’s excerpt

“We can say goodbye to this global casino, and opt for a solution in which money plays a subservient role… Our reward may be a high and sustainable quality of life for us and for our children.”

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by Ad Broere

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The world recently has had final notice that financial markets were at the edge of a major downfall. The monetary systems worldwide have been patched up by mega money injections in their banking corporations. However, as the attitude of the limitless greedy has not changed at all, and the financial markets have returned to business as usual, a new and this time more disastrous crisis can be expected to come.

In ‘Ending the Global Casino?‘ Ad Broere explains that financial crises, scarcity, debts, and interest are not Nature’s Way, and that the present monetary system is not the only choice we have. We can say goodbye to this global casino, and opt for a solution in which money plays a subservient role. We can choose for an economy that invests in a better future for the planet and all its living creatures. Our reward may be a high and sustainable quality of life for us and for our children. However, this will require a completely different attitude towards money and economy.


Five Star Review

“Finally a book about money and economy that is really interesting to read! Written in a non-academic and understandable language.

“Do you want to read shocking evidence why crises also in the future repeatedly will occur, and why even a downfall is likely to come?

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About the Author

Ad Broere, economist and author of Een Menselijke Economie, (written in the Dutch language) and Ending the Global Casino? has been active for more than thirty years in banking, consulting, and education. Widely experienced and highly respected, he is more than capable of clarifying the strengths and weaknesses of the economy.


The authorities in the areas of money, economy and politics measure humanities’ wellbeing on the basis of the increase in GDP. The drawbacks of the freemarket economy – financial crises, scarcity, unemployment, and increasing debts- are taken for granted being considered by them as unavoidable side-effects. Ad Broere breaks with the current economists’ view on human beings that our only purpose is to seek for more and more possesions, and that we are continuously under the stress of scarce resources versus ulimited needs.


In his second book Ending the Global Casino? Ad Broere explains in a comprehensible and non-academic way, why breaking with the present monetary system is vital for the future of planet and people.We can opt for a solution in which money plays the subservient role it should have, he says. However, this will require a completely different attitude towards money and economy.

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excerptFree Kindle Nation Shorts – March 31, 2011

Excerpts from

by Ad Broere

Copyright © 2011 by Ad Broere and published here with his permission


Ending the Global Casino

By Ad Broere, author of Ending the Global Casino?
Based on an interview printed in Management and Literature (June 2010)

According to some economists, the extent and persistence of the financial and economic crisis to which the world is still exposed indicate that the sustainability of the global financial system has expired. They argue that it is necessary for us to act. Ad Broere, a former banker and now independent business consultant, lecturer, and author of the titles A Humane Economy (Dutch) and Ending the Global Casino?, shares this opinion.
Despite the airy approach in your books, your message is not very cheerful.

I try to clarify-in an accessible way-how our economy and our monetary system work. The famous cartoonists Jos Collignon and Karl Wimer gave me permission to add a number of their brilliant cartoons to the books. In regard to the message, the main conclusion is that the monetary system has become dominant over the real economy. Therefore it is an imminent danger to us all. The financial system is a world all its own, with 99% of the financial transactions being purely speculative-and I am talking about the multitude of derivatives, such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and interest swaps. In addition, the short-term profit goals of big investors in shares are a disturbing factor for the well-being of the real economy. In 2007, 40% of the U.S. gross domestic product was based on financial transactions. It is not just the risks that these speculative transactions cause, but also the enormous amounts of money being withheld from the real economy. Consequently, investments necessary for developing new and sustainable technology, for example, cannot be done because there is no money available.

Financial products such as derivatives have been developed by banks. Are they responsible for this development?

The bank managers are certainly responsible for the over-the-top speculative activities. It is their task to manage risks, but big bonuses were more attractive than good stewardship. However, banks serve their shareholders. Shareholder value is the main focus of virtually all big companies, including banks. During the recent economic upswing, banks have taken big risks to make big returns. Shareholders have benefited from this. When the crisis hit the financial world, all those risks were taken well beyond their limits, which became visible. “Suddenly” there were the toxic assets. Governments in many countries held the opinion that the banking industry should be rescued. We all know how they did it: at the taxpayers’ expense. Bank profits are privatized, losses are socialized. The return to business as usual after the bailout makes me deeply worried about what will come next in the near future. Most countries’ treasuries are exhausted; a second bailout is impossible, even if politicians would be that stupid to want this.

What is your opinion about the measures taken to prevent future crises, such as Basel III?

They are insufficient and also unrealistic. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the American system of central banks, called for an increase in financial buffers that banks must maintain. He stated correctly that a lack of liquidity is a major risk factor. Recently the Basel III guidelines were accepted by the G20. Banks should increase their risk-bearing capital to a at least 7% by 2019. Currently, the levels for the majority of banks are below 4% and in many cases barely reach 3%. For a large bank such as HSBC, an increase in equity of just 1% equals 26 billion U.S. dollars. Banks should be avoiding risk. However, the lower the risk, the lower the return. Most banks will have a hard time strengthening their equity. What is worse, the toxic assets have not been disposed of. Like nuclear waste, they are still waiting somewhere ‘offshore’ for their owners to really clean up the mess. No, I do not think the banking industry will be able to survive the coming events in their present shape. In Ending the Global Casino? I explain that we should not be mournful about this when it happens. This present monetary system shows a number of serious flaws that cannot be solved simply by patching it up. One such flaw is the fractional reserve held by banks. The extremely low solvency makes banks very vulnerable, which was recently proven to be true.

In your opinion, is a downfall of the present monetary system unavoidable?
Unfortunately, yes. Therefore, it is important that as many people as possible are aware of this unhappy event before it happens, because the solution begins with awareness. I am certain that we are in the middle of a transition to an era in which hierarchy and hierarchical thinking come to an end. We should stop blaming each other for everything that is wrong in our lives. The starting point of a better world is ourselves. There are many initiatives all over the world highlighting how people are responding to that new era.
If you have money available, you can invest in SMEs led by integer people who contribute to a better world by developing new sustainable products and technologies to clean and preserve the environment. Forget about the short-term big profits. Really good developments need time to mature. In Sweden, the JAK Bank is active. This is an interest-free bank. No interest is charged on loans, and no interest is paid on savings deposits. If there were no interest, prices of all products could be reduced by at least 40%. Houses would be more affordable for the younger generation. At present, young people are often heavily in debt because of the sky-high mortgages they have to pay off, including interest. Depositing (part of) your savings in an interest-free bank implies a substantial contribution to our common prosperity.
If you have a company, open your mind to other ways to finance the business, such as by participating in a complementary currency organization. If the traditional currencies become scarce, complementary money can help to keep the (regional) economy going. In Ending the Global Casino? I clarify this opinion in more depth. Switzerland’s complementary currency has been successful for more than 75 years.
If you hold all the shares in your company, consider what Ernest Bader did in 1951. All his and his wife’s shares of the company Scott Bader were put into a trust owned by the collectivity of the employees. He named it a commonwealth-the correct name because shareholder value became all employees’ value.
In our role as consumers, we can opt to end our consumerism attitude. We can stop listening to the luring voice of marketers. We can stop thinking that more possessions mean more happiness. We make our own decisions and buy sustainable, biodegradable products, renewable energy, etc. Indeed, 95% of all goods we buy become waste within five years. The immense mountain of waste causes great trouble, mainly because of the wide variety of toxic substances in it. This problem is ‘exported’ to the third world.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I am well aware that our future depends on the number of people who will awake from their almost hypnotic sleep. I sincerely hope that in the near future many will share the conviction that humanity can only survive if we say goodbye to selfishness, greed, and the race for ever-more possessions to stop allowing a system that stimulates those old values to rule over our lives anymore. In my opinion, it is crucial that we let love guide us in all our actions. I know that love is an often misused and misinterpreted word. Some regard those who speak about love as weak, especially those who fear its power. In my opinion, it is the unlimited creative, live-giving energy. We need it to create a better future for the world and all living creatures. Anything that comes into being inspired by love serves that goal. My deepest hope is that we are able to say-truthfully-in the near future: Yes, we can! May millions of roses bloom.


Financial and Economic Crisis

The recession that hit the World in 2007 began with a financial crisis. The causes of this financial crisis have been explained in Chapter 1 above. Yet the question why a financial crisis should be followed by an economic crisis remains unanswered. Besides, the concepts financial and economic crisis are often jumbled up. So what is the connection between the two?
Simply put it is the money that connects the monetary and economic systems. Why is it that money plays such a crucial and dominant role? The answer on this question is to be found in the banking system. There is a mechanism that enables bankers to increase and to contract the money supply. If the money supply is ample economic activities are promoted. However, if the money supply contracts economic activities will be discouraged. Economic activities are thus dependent on the money supply. Research on the development of money supply, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and income over the years 1990 – 2006 in the Netherlands (source CBS), shows that the GDP (the value of all that the economy produces in goods and services in a certain country in a year) more than doubled over that period. Income (from wages and salaries) also increased but less than the GDP. This means that employees did not fully benefit from the higher GDP. However, the development of the money supply increased amazingly to nearly sevenfold of what it was in 1990. This teaches us a number of things:
– Firstly, that in times of economic growth, the money supply increases. However, this is not necessary in line with the growth of the GDP.
– Secondly, that employees do not always get the full – relative – benefits of an increasing GDP, because the wages and salaries might not hold pace with the growing GDP.
Where does all this money not justified by the growth of the GDP go to? Part of it might be explained by investments. Before the return on investment is earned there is the expenditure for the investment itself. However, theoretically, an investment would lead to the same increase in both money supply and GDP. For example, if one buys a new house and borrows the full amount to finance this, the money supply increases. At the same time the builder earns the same amount by building the house for the contracted price. So, these two activities, borrowing money and building a house, will lead to the same increase in money supply and in GDP. The only sensible conclusion that can be drawn from this, is that a lot of money has been issued that did not lead to an equally higher GDP, and neither to more private wealth of those who have their income from wages and salaries. Who says common people have lived a too luxurious life in recent years?
In the euro zone the money supply increased during the years 20022009 at 75%, whilst the GDP grew with no more than 10%. So, the phenomenon I have depicted above is not typically Dutch. In times of economic recession the money supply contracts. During the great depression in the thirties of the last century the money supply decreased by one-third. This number is the outcome of a research done by the economist Milton Friedman (Capitalism and Freedom).
In the case of this crisis there is essentially no difference. The money supply has a tendency to contract in the U.S. as well as in Europe. That it remains more or less on the same level, is due to the massive injections of currencies by the respective governments. For disciples of the monetary economic theory this is blasphemy. The idea is that by contracting the money supply the economy cools down, and will regain stability on a lower level. That this goes together with a lot of human misery (e.g. unemployment, loss of property, poverty) is not the primary concern of these economists. It is the system that is sacred, because in their opinion it is nature’s way. Seven fat years, seven meager years.

Is the ‘solution’ chosen by the U.S., the euro zone countries, U.K., Japan, etc. the right one? I don’t think so. It is no more than postponing the inevitable moment that debts have to be cut back. Now already Greece, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland are deeply in trouble. More countries will follow if the present policies of ‘keep the economy going and hope that the economy will find its way up again’ have lost their effect. The European research institute LEAP/E2020 2 compares the approach of the governments of countries to their troubled economies with the treatment of people who are suffering from a grave disease, with no prospect on recovery. As long as the system remains unchanged, crises will occur. It is inherent in it. Countries, businesses, and private households are heavily in debt. Debt that has been created during times of booming economy. Due to the crisis, debt has become a too heavy burden. People, businesses and countries are not able to repay their debts. Large numbers of private and business bankruptcies, and countries in trouble are the consequences of this. And the rich? Well, this is what Thomas Jefferson, third President of the U.S. said about it:
‘If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency… the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of their property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.’
Banks and corporations. Yes, but in that sense that they are merely the instruments of the financial elite. The cynical part is, that they ‘harvest’ the properties of people during times of crisis. First countries, businesses, and private households are flooded with money (as debt) during times of a booming economy . This money has been created out of thin air, so strictly spoken no man owns it, neither does the financial elite. Consequently, man is deprived from his property during times of a downturn in the economy because being unable to repay the debts the property is appropriated by the banks. The only reason why this can happen over and over again, is because we collectively have come to believe that money has value in itself.
Money has no value, no more than being a medium of exchange. Neither is money a product. The real value can be found in what we produce in goods and services. People, working together in a business or organization create a value chain. The only real purpose of money is to make things possible, and to support the creation and maintenance of these value chains. If we point an accusing finger at the financial elite, we should be aware that we are the ones that have collectively believed in this monetary system, as if it were ‘God-made’, and therefore allowed it to be what it has become.
In Chapter 5 I have explained that due to the crisis the position of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is under pressure. Our present monetary system is rather hostile to SMEs. In 2009 a report was published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled ‘SMEs and Global Crisis’. This report underlines the important role SMEs play in the economies of countries all over the world. At the same time the OECD explains why SMEs have a hard time nowadays to borrow the money needed to finance, and expand the business. Let alone the money needed for innovation.
Importance of SMEs in “normal times” and in times of crisis
SMEs and entrepreneurs play a significant role in all economies and are the key generators of employment and income, and drivers of innovation and growth. In the OECD area, SMEs employ more than half of the labour force in the private sector. In the European Union, they account for over 99 % of all enterprises. Furthermore, 91 % of these enterprises are micro-firms with less than 10 workers. Given their importance in all economies, they are essential for the economic recovery. Even in ‘normal’ economic conditions governments have recognised that, to survive and grow, SMEs need specific policies and programmes – hence the comprehensive range of SME measures currently in place across the OECD members. However, at the present time, SMEs have been especially hard hit by the global crisis. These firms are more vulnerable now for many reasons: not only has the traditional challenge of accessing finance continued to apply, but new, particularly supply-side, difficulties are currently apparent. It is important to stress that SMEs are generally more vulnerable in times of crisis for many reasons among which are:
it is more difficult for them to downsize as they are already small;
they are individually less diversified in their economic activities;
they have a weaker financial structure (i.e. lower capitalisation);
they have a lower or no credit rating;
they are heavily dependent on credit and
they have fewer financing options.
SMEs in global value chains are even more vulnerable as they often bear the brunt of the difficulties of the large firms.
Impact of the global crisis on SME and entrepreneurship financing Although there is no internationally agreed definition of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the evidence suggests that these firms are being affected by the financial and economic crisis across economies. There is evidence that SMEs in most countries are confronted with a clear downturn in demand for goods and services if not a demand slump in the fourth quarter of 2008. Many expect a further worsening to come. For SMEs there are two related stress factors:
a) increased payment delays on receivables which added – together with an increase in inventories- result in an endemic shortage of working capital and a decrease in liquidity and
b) an increase in reported defaults, insolvencies and bankruptcies.
© OECD 2009
The above section of the OECD report makes clear that SMEs can be considered the backbone of a country’s economy. Above all, SMEs often are the main suppliers of employment. SME’s employ more than half of the labour force in the private sector of countries in the European Union. In this crisis the vulnerability of SMEs comes forward in the development of sales, liquidity problems, and the restrictive attitude of banks. A consequence of this is that many SME’s have to lay off employees and worse, go bankrupt. An increasing number of SMEs have gone bankrupt. For example, the Dutch bankruptcies register shows an increase of 24% in 2010 compared to 2009. In the U.S. business bankruptcies have risen from 30,741 in 2007 to 49,091 in 2008, and 61,148 in 2009. For the correct interpretation of these numbers one should consider that business bankruptcies in the U.S. are often prevented by some form of debt agreement. Not only for-profit SMEs also not-for-profit SMEs, like museums and theatres are victims of the crisis. For example in Germany:
A study released Wednesday claims that every 10th museum or cultural institution in Germany may be forced to close by 2020 due to lack of funds. The report was released by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Around 8 billion euros ($10.2 billion) in public funds are given each year to German cultural institutions, and the study’s authors expect an eight to 10 percent drop in that number by 2020. The report also claims that museum operating costs will increase by 24 percent over the same period.
“Due to the financial crisis, cities and counties have to invest their money elsewhere and not in culture. We expect to see this trend continue over the next decade,” Claudia Witzemann, head author of the study, told Deutsche Welle.
Also employment is becoming more and more of a problem in Europe and North America. The unemployment figures suggest a reasonably stable situation. Nevertheless, the number of jobs available in the private sector especially SMEs, and qualified jobs have dropped dramatically, in The Netherlands by more than 500,000 as from 2007 until 2010. Again I will use the opinion of readers of The Guardian, this time about the unemployment/employment situation in the UK to make clear how bad things are, also in that country:
Re: article dated 14th July 2010 that indicates unemployment figures have recently fallen (& the corresponding statistics to ‘prove’ this claim). Given that it is summer it is hardly surprising that unemployment has fallen slightly. Having worked for the Dept for Work & Pensions for 20 years I am aware that seasonal jobs in the tourist sectors, catering & hospitality swallow up a proportion of the unemployed. In northern seaside towns like Blackpool jobs are a plenty in the summer season, compared to winter. However, when autumn comes around just watch the figures rise again as temporary, seasonal work ceasing. The government’s recent statistics might look good on paper, but not only are many of the available jobs part time, they are also temporary. Additionally, they are not necessarily the jobs that make long term careers, but rather ‘fillers’ for the hundreds of university graduates who find themselves ‘frying burgers’ to pay off their student loans, instead of the careers which they had hoped a university education might offer them. (There is nothing wrong with frying burgers, by the way, but such positions are not going to pay the student loan off so quickly, or in the long term pay a mortgage & support a family). Don’t be fooled by statistics which show a drop in unemployment figures. The government congratulate itself on falling unemployment figures when the majority have been given the opportunity to do meaningful work which offers job security & pays the bills! Employment lags economic recovery by some distance, since the economy has barely scraped from recession and its growth is at best extremely low, how is it possible that there is a record drop in the claimant count?
I would suggest the record drop is not because these people have found work, but simply have dropped from claiming the dole or have moved to training. Even the States which exited from recession long before the UK is still suffering job losses but somehow in the UK we have managed to create some kind of a miracle of employment?
There are, and always have been, two Britains that somehow coexist. In Feelgood Britain people still have jobs, still have careers, and are feeling really quite good about the substantial reductions in their mortgage repayments.

In Non-Feelgood Britain, the part that the Labour party was meant to care for and support, people who, for the most part, are used to living near to or below the poverty line on low wages or no wages, life has become even harder, and in some cases intolerable – due to greater unemployment; reduced working hours, reduced wages and reduced opportunities; inflation, higher rents, etc.
In August 2010 youth unemployment reached 567,000 in the U.K. The universities tend to be overcrowded as more and more students extend their education rather than seek employment. This is a time where again as in the thirties of the 20th century academics and highly-trained professionals have no other choice than frying hamburgers to earn a (very modest) living, pay their expensive mortgages, and pay off their student loans. Simply because there are a limited amount of qualified jobs available. In The Netherlands, and presumably also in other European countries, a way has been found to pimp the unemployment statistics up. Some 900,000, mainly young people became so-called Self-Employed Entrepreneurs Without Employees (ZZPers), which actually means that they have a business but, for the greater part, (virtually) no work.
SMEs that could play an important role in the supply of new and especially qualified jobs, are not in the position to do so. Who will stand up for the SMEs? Apparently not the banks. I will come back on that subject. The OECD feels responsibility for SMEs. Again a fragment from the report ‘Impact of the Global Crisis on SMEs’:
The OECD Working Party on SMEs and Entrepreneurship (WPSMEE), in close cooperation with its parent Committee, the CIIE:
Could promote a Scoreboard on SME and entrepreneurship financing data and policies (a pilot project will be carried out in the framework of the 2009-2010 programme of work in view of the “Bologna +10” High level Meeting); and
Should monitor, report on, and discuss SME and entrepreneurship financing trends on a regular basis.
As a follow-up, the WPSMEE should also carry out, in the framework of its programme of work 2009-2010, an assessment of the effectiveness of measures taken to assist SMEs and entrepreneurs in weathering the financial and economic crisis, as reported in the present report.
Finally, the OECD should also continue facilitating the Tripartite Dialogue between governments, SMEs and the financial institutions, to periodically review progress in strengthening SME and entrepreneurship financing.
The OECD wants to promote the discussion between governments, SMEs and financial institutions, for they need to monitor, and report on the developments around SMEs. More they cannot do. The OECD has no financial power like the BIS Bank has. The Tripartite Dialogue until so far has not had any real impact. Bankers say that the loans to SMEs are at a normal level, and that it is quite clear that in times of crisis ‘things happen’. Governments try to find solutions that do not cost them too much money or increase the risk of having to pay for business failures in the future. And the SMEs and their representatives like in the Netherlands ‘MKB Nederland’ keep on reporting about the many businesses that are in deep trouble, and about the often harsh and selfish attitude of banks towards SMEs. In the end the stories are trifled as ‘nagging’. And the status quo remains.

Banks have never considered SMEs as their core business. It is not where the ‘big money’ can be made. Furthermore, banks do not see the need to consider themselves socially responsible. Their main goal is to create shareholder value. The basis for this is the above mentioned fractional banking. With a relatively very low amount of equity (owned by the shareholders), banks lend out money nine times or more as what the shareholders have paid-in. Take, for example, a starting bank. This bank has fulfilled all legal requirements and received a banking license. The shareholder has paid in $ 1 million. Does the banker have to wait for savers before he can lend out money? No, he is allowed to create new money. The only thing the banker needs is a signature under the loan contract from the borrower. During the first year of its existence the bank lends out $ 9 million (created out of thin air) at an interest of 10%. Interest income therefore is $ 900,000. Operational expenses are $ 400,000. Net income (ignoring taxes) is then $ 500,000. The return on investment for this new banker is $ 500,000/$ 1 million = 50%!
This is how fractional banking works. The most important goal for the young banker is to find the ‘good risks’. That is, finding lenders that pay a fine amount of interest, and at the same time carry a low amount of risk. Therefore, commercial banks will be inclined to do acquisition on well-established, bigger companies. SMEs are not in their core potential client group. It must be really annoying for banks that governments push to give loans to SMEs. Reluctant as they are, in many cases banks are only willing to consider this if governments grant subsidies and guarantees. Back to the example. The new banker has lent out the total amount of $900,000 to SMEs. Suddenly there is the CRISIS. 50% of the businesses go bankrupt. This means a loss of $450,000, and a big impact on profitability. His own capital has been reduced to almost half of what he paid in. This shows clearly why solid bankers are risk averse, and also why they are generally spoken not pleased with a too big part of SMEs in their portfolios. And what about savings? Banks do have savings from private persons, organisations, and businesses. Banks do not really care for them either. They are a source of available capital. If someone puts $ 1 million savings on the bank, there is a basis for lending out another $ 9 million, again created out of thin air. But giving guarantees that the savings will be paid back under all circumstances? No, that is -again- not the bank’s responsibility.
Recently the Basel Committee (BIS) stated as follows:
The Basel Committee is designing ‘resolution schemes’. Central banks will be allowed in the future to disown banks. Shareholders will be set aside, and creditors have to accept losses.
Who are a bank’s creditors? Amongst others, they are the savers. In other words, banks treat savers as if they were the owners of a bank without giving them the privileges and the returns that shareholders receive. If it had not been a serious report, produced by serious and experienced men, one would be inclined to laugh about it. What was one of the main conclusions in a report on The Future of Banks, issued on 7 April 2009 in The Netherlands? ‘Banks should direct themselves primarily to savers (private and business). Savers have paid-in more (debt) capital in banks than shareholders.’ The observation, made in the same report that banks have a public utility function is also a good one. Banks should have a public utility function, but they do not because it is not their mission.
Of course nothing has changed since the issue of the report. Almost all commercial banks would not want savers to interfere with their business. Neither do they see themselves as serving a public goal. The conclusion is, that banks in their present form are unable to serve social economic goals. They are simply not made for this. Therefore, reform of the banking system is not enough.
The only real solution would be:
ending fractional reserve banking,
ending shareholder value as the basis for banking activities, and
not allowing banks to issue money out of thin air.
In the days of Benjamin Franklin and the Colonial Script, governments should issue debt-free money themselves. Enough to support a healthy economic development, with money in a purely subservient function.
This would truly open the door for SMEs especially those that contribute to a sustainable, and environmentally friendly economy.
Research institute LEAP 1 published in 2010 an article that makes the influence of the monetary system on the economy quite clear:
Where the real big money is…..Goldman Sachs’ role in this Greek tragedy… and the next sovereign defaults:
In the « Greek case », just like in every suspense story, a « bad guy » is needed. In this phase of the global systemic crisis, the role of the « bad guy » is usually played by one of Wall Street’s big investment banks, in particular by the leader of the gang, Goldman Sachs. The « Greek case » is no different. This New York investment bank is directly involved in the budgetary conjuring tricks which allowed Greece to qualify for Euro entry, whilst its actual budget deficits would have disqualified it. In reality it was Goldman Sachs who, in 2002, created one of its cunning financial models of which it holds the secret and which, almost systematically resurfaces several years later, to blow up the client. But what does it matter, since GS (Goldman Sachs) profits were the beneficiary!
In the Greek case what the investment bank proposed was very simple: raise a loan which didn’t appear in the budget a swap agreement(1) which enabled a ficticious reduction in the size of the Greek public deficit. The Greek leaders at the time were, of course, 100% liable and should be subjected to Greek and European political and legal process for having cheated the EU and their own citizens within the framework of a major historic event, the creation of the single European currency. But, let’s be clear, the liability of the New York investment bank (as an accomplice) is just as great, even greater perhaps because Goldman Sachs was well aware of what tricks they played.
Considering the importance of Goldman Sachs in world financial affairs these last few years, nothing that this bank does should leave governments and legislators indifferent. It is Paul Volcker, current head of Barack Obama’s financial advisors, who has become one of the strongest critics of Goldman Sachs’ activities. We already had the occasion to write, at the time of the election of the current US President, that he is the only person in his entourage having the experience and skills to push through tough measures and who, at this moment, knows what, or rather whom, he is talking about. With this same logic, on the issue of transparency in financial activities and state budgets and using the ill-fated role of Goldman Sachs and of the large investment banks in general as an illustration, it would be beneficial for the European Union and its five hundred million citizens, to exclude former managers of these investment banks from any post of financial, budgetary and economic control (ECB, European Commission, National Central Banks). The mixing of these relationships can only lead to even greater confusion between public and private interests, which can only be to the detriment of European public interests. To begin with, the Eurozone should immediately require the Greek government to stop calling on the services of Goldman Sachs.
If the head of Goldman Sachs believes he is « God » as he described himself in a recent interview in 2009, it would be prudent to consider that his bank, and its lookalikes, can seriously behave like devils, and it is therefore wise to draw all the consequences.
To conclude, those who seek where the next sovereign debt crisis will surface: simply look for those states which have called upon Goldman Sachs’ services in the last few years and you will have a serious lead!
SOURCE: LEAP E 2020 (2)

(1) A swap is a means by which a borrower can exchange the type of funds he can most easily raise for the type of funds he wants, usually through the intermediary of a bank. For example, a UK company may find it easy to raise a sterling loan when they really want to borrow Deutschmarks; a German company may have exactly the opposite problem. A swap will enable them to exchange the currency they possess for the currency they need. (Oxford Dictionary of Business)
(2) Leap/Europe 2020 (also known as European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) is a think tank established to analyze and anticipate global economic developments from a European perspective and to publish a paid-subscription monthly economic forecast bulletin. It was founded in 1997 among others by Frank Biancheri the founder of the European student network AEGEE(Association des États Generaux de l’Europe) and one of the few pan-European parties,Newropeans. LEAP/E2020 claims to be the first European website of anticipation, independent from any government or lobby.


… continued …

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Free Kindle Nation Shorts — March 26, 2011: An Excerpt from CALLING CROW, Book One of the Southeast Series, by Paul Clayton

From Hemingway to Hiaasen, some of our finest authors have written countless novels set against the beautiful if corruptible backdrop of Florida. But the state is also rich with a history that goes back centuries and cries out for the staggering gifts that historical novelist Paul Clayton brings to the genre…
One of our most popular Free Kindle Nation Shorts ever, back in December, featured a generous excerpt from Paul Clayton’s sweeping historical novel White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

In the dedication that appeared at the beginning of our excerpt, Clayton took a major risk. He dedicated his book to Clavell, Michener, and Follett — three masters of the grand historical novel — and in so doing he invited the kind of comparison from which many authors would shrink. But our readers and a growing number of Amazon reviewers have agreed: Clayton is up to the comparison.

Now Paul is back with a 14,000-word opening excerpt from an even more ambitious work, the Southeast Series trilogy that begins with his novel Calling Crow, priced at just 99 cents for a limited time in the Kindle Store.
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1555. Calling Crow is haunted by his recurring dream of the Destroyer who will one day lay waste to his village. Then Spanish colonial slavers from the island of Hispaniola arrive on the shores of the Southeast, lands that have been home to the Muskogee people for generations. Calling Crow and another brave are taken and bound into slavery.
Life in the gold pits and slave camps is humiliating and brutal, but Calling Crow refuses to let them break his spirit. Aided by a kindly priest, Calling Crow vows to learn the language and ways of an overwhelmingly powerful enemy in order to eventually save his own people.
But first he must regain his own freedom.
Calling CrowCalling Crow

(Book One of the Southeast Series)
by Paul Clayton

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excerptFree Kindle Nation Shorts – March 26, 2011
An Excerpt from
Book One of the Southeast Series
by Paul Clayton
Copyright © 1995, 2011 by Paul Clayton and published here with his permission
“Furthermore, we command you in the virtue of holy obedience to send to the said firm lands and islands, honest, virtuous, and learned men, such as fear God and are able to instruct the native inhabitants in the Catholic faith and good manners, applying all their possible diligence in this.”
–Alexander Borgia, a Spanish pope indebted to Ferdinand and Isabella for his election, after dividing the earth in half, and granting the undiscovered lands in the western half to the Spanish, the eastern to the Portuguese.


1555, Along what would someday be called the South Carolina coast–

Chapter 1
Theblue sky stretched over and away from the green bean field, seemingly to the ends of the earth. It was a medicine sky, and as Calling Crow worked with two other men, he knew something bad was coming. A small fire crackled around the already-narrowed base of the tree they were felling as they chopped away the brittle, blackened wood with their stone axes. Calling Crow was the tallest of the three, muscled and slender. He paused in his chopping and glanced back at the sky.
The tree was still as big around as a fat old man, and he knew this job would take them most of the day. Sweating, he removed the short mantle of woven bark which covered the upper part of his body. Now, like the other two braves, he wore only a breechclout of deerskin held in place by a leather girdle. His pleasing, oval face was copper colored like a leaf in autumn, and was set off by a full, proud nose. He picked up the axe and chopped powerfully at the tree. The larger of the other two braves, Sun Watcher, knelt and used his axe to heap glowing embers up against the trunk. Birdfoot, a small thin brave, swung at the tree tiredly, breaking off a piece with a clinking sound. His intense face was blackened here and there with soot.
Calling Crow noticed something moving in the distance and put down his axe. With brown eyes the color of a pool of cedar water, he stared at the distant tree line. A solitary figure was approaching, running very fast.
The other two young men turned to Calling Crow as the runner momentarily disappeared behind a sand dune.
“What is it?” asked Sun Watcher.
“A runner is coming,” said Calling Crow. A moment later the figure crested the dune moving so fast they all immediately grabbed their clubs, looking to see if he was being chased. He was not, being instead ina great state of excitement. He tried to shout and lost his footing, tumbling and throwing up a spray of sand. He rolled quickly to his feet as the others ran up to him. It was Calling Crow’s cousin, Runs Like Deer. He coughed as he fought for breath. Calling Crow clapped him on the back. “Cousin, what is it?”
“Hurry,” said Runs Like Deer between gasps, “it is the men from the heavens, come down in their cloudboats!” He turned and staggered back up the dune. Calling Crow, Sun Watcher, and Birdfoot looked at each other for a moment and then hurried back to the tree to get their bows. They followed Runs Like Deer up the dune.
Only a handful of villagers had ever seen the men from the heavens in their beautiful cloudboats. It was said that they roamed the big water in search of newly dead souls to take to the land of the dead.
Calling Crow, Sun Watcher, and Birdfoot gasped for breath as they reached the top of the dune. They found a swarm of little boys looking out to sea. Their shouting pierced the air like gull cries as they jumped and pointed. A somber-faced old man and woman knelt facing the sea as they prayed.
Calling Crow climbed to a higher vantage point and looked out over the water. He could not believe what he saw. Out on the sea at a great distance, two white clouds had detached themselves from the heavens and now sat on the waters. As the warm rays of the sun burned into his face, a chill went through him. There was no doubt that this was a sign, but what did it mean? Calling Crow watched a boy put an arrow to his bow. His arm muscles bulged as he pulled the feathered shaft back to his cheek. Calling Crow frowned at the other boys watching expectantly. They should know by now that even if an arrow could reach the distant cloudboats, it would only pass harmlessly through them, for they were from the spirit world.
The boy released his arrow, and it arced out a good distance before it fell into the sea beyond the rocks. Undaunted, he lay on his back, and using his legs to hold his bow, launched another arrow. It too fell woefully short. Disappointed, the crowd of boys again fixed their attention on the distant cloudboats. A mild seaward breeze started up behind them as Runs Like Deer came over to stand beside Calling Crow. Together they watched the two white shapes in silence.
“I think they’re moving,” said Runs Like Deer.
Calling Crow strained his eyes to watch as the cloudboats closed the distance to the dark point of land that jutted out on the periphery of his vision. What did these omens bode for his people? A huge cloud passed overhead and the sea turned the wintry color of dead leaves. The smell of smoke reached Calling Crow’s nostrils. He turned to see two boys on their haunches, blowing a handful of smoking kindling into flame to call the people from heaven. Calling Crow ran over. “No,” he said angrily as he kicked the flames out. “We must not call them until the Council of Old Men has been consulted.”
The boys glowered at Calling Crow as he waved them away. “Go!”
They walked off and Calling Crow turned and looked back out to sea. The cloudboats had disappeared, but he could not take his eyes off the sea. What were those things? The sight of them caused a great fear and sadness in his heart. He said nothing to the others and after a while they wandered off. He sat in the sand and stared out at the waters. Despite the warmth of the day, he shivered. The sea often had that effect on him, ever since it had taken his father.
Back when he was a boy, Calling Crow’s father had gone out fishing with some other men when a storm suddenly came up. He remembered running to the beach, crying as the wind lashed his face, and lightning lit the angry sky. The next morning the empty canoe had washed up on the beach. His father and the other man had never been found.
Chapter 2
Under a dizzying array of stars, two caravels, the Guadalupe and the Speeding Hound, moved slightly against their anchors in the black swells, like two great seabirds. The ships were from Spain’s island colony of Hispaniola, down in the Caribbean Sea, and were on a, so-far unsuccessful slaving expedition. Carrying sixty-five men, the ships contained two armories filled with dozens of deadly accurate crossbows and, more importantly, thunderous black-smoke and -fire-belching harquebuses. The harquebuses were woefully inaccurate, but were known to terrify the natives into mute paralysis. In addition, each ship carried a small boat lashed down on the upper deck. The bigger of the two ships, the Guadalupe, also carried two horses, and towed a lateen-rigged long boat for landing them.
The commander of the expedition, Francisco Mateo, a criollo landowner and merchant, sat in his cabin in the rear of the Guadalupe, talking with his friend, an older colonist named Diego Vega. Diego, a sad faced man in his mid-fifties, had been a friend of Mateo’s father, having come over on the Galician’s second voyage with him. Now that Mateo’s own father had died, he treasured the old man’s company, as he was the only living link to his family’s past.
Senor Mateo’s tea-brown eyes stared pensively at nothing as he ran his hand through his red hair. He did not like what he had been hearing Diego and other criollos. Before he’d left Santo Domingo, he had hired a contingent of soldiers newly arrived from Spain to help him catch slaves. Now, under the guidance of their two officers, they were complaining and causing trouble, wanting him to turn around and go back to Santo Domingo. Even his crew, loyal criollo and mestizo farmers and ranchers, were beginning to tire of the search.
“You know,” Diego said tiredly, “the cook was lying about being out of ship’s biscuits.”
Senor Mateo’s head jerked upright. “What?”
Diego nodded. “I found three barrels of them hidden under some canvas.”
Mateo said nothing for a moment and Diego went on. “You know, Francisco, I think that the reason you have found no Indians is that God looks unkindly on this venture.”
Mateo remained silent. Diego was married to an Arawak Indian woman. These marriages were now common among the criollos on the island, but to the newly arrived Peninsulars, the idea was repulsive. The Peninsulars considered Indian women to only be useful as whores and servants. Finally Mateo sighed tiredly. “Diego, what we are doing is completely within the limits of the law.”
“Man’s law,” said Diego, almost in a whisper. “I should never have agreed to come along on this. It is wrong. I needed the money so badly that I did not– “
Both men heard faint footsteps out on deck. As Mateo listened to them fade away he made a mental note to deal with the cook in the morning. Another thought came to him. Perhaps they were measuring the latitudes wrong and therefore searching for Indians in the wrong area? That would account for their terrible luck on this trip. Perhaps he should take the latitude with the backstaff himself?
A loud, dull thud reverberated through the wood of the cabin. Mateo looked over at Diego. “See what it is.”
Diego quickly got to his feet. As he went toward the door, the strong smell of lamp oil reached Mateo’s nostrils. Diego opened the door and turned to look upward toward high stern of the ship. A glow spread around him and then golden, liquid fire poured down onto his shoulder. He beat his doublet furiously as his face blossomed with fear.
Mateo ran to him, roughly pulling Diego’s hands away. In the light of the fire, Mateo saw burnt flesh on one hand. He quickly glanced up at the stern. Bright flames half as high as a man moved in the slight breeze. The large oil lamp which had hung above had evidently broken loose from its fixture and crashed down, causing the planks of the bulkhead to catch fire. Mateo pushed Diego into his cabin. He pulled the smoldering fabric of Diego’s doublet off of him and dunked it in a bucket of water. “Are you okay?” he shouted at the older man.
Diego nodded, appearing slightly dazed.
“Go tell the others. Quickly! And then find the barber to take care of that hand.”
Diego hurried off, shouting as he went. Mateo ran back to the door of the cabin and shouted, “Fuego! Fuego! Come quickly!”
He ran back into the cabin and returned with a cape. As quickly as he slapped the flames out they reappeared. Like the fires of hell, small flaming rivulets of lamp oil flowed about his feet as the intense heat scorched him. He beat at the flames until his cape caught fire. Throwing it down, he stomped it out and turned to call again for help. He saw the ship’s cooper standing there, staring incredulously at the flames.
Mateo shouted at him angrily, “We will lose this ship, fool, and you will have to swim back to Hispaniola! Get the others and some buckets! Get that pump on the port side working!”
“Si,” yelled the man as dread realization contorted his face. He ran back toward the center of the ship. “Fuego! Help! Fire! Come quickly!”
Chapter 3
Calling Crow had taken his name four years earlier after praying for, and receiving, his first vision. He had fasted alone on the mountain for three days and seen the Great Spirit. He had appeared like someone on the other side of a skin stretched across an entryway, brushing up against it as they passed. Then a large crow had settled in a nearby tree and called to him, and that noble bird had become his spirit guide.
Now he, Sun Watcher, and Birdfoot emerged from the great forest of slash pine and broad-leafed magnolias, elms, and hickories that bordered on the village of Tumaqua. Each man wore his bow over one arm, and each had a quiver of arrows hanging from their back. They had been sent to scout the forests that bordered the Flathead People’s lands and had seen nothing unusual. They were so called because of that tribe’s custom of binding the heads of their infants to boards. Heading back toward the village, the men walked quickly across a field of clover.
Calling Crow turned to Sun Watcher as they walked. Although Calling Crow was a hands breadth taller than Sun Watcher, Sun Watcher was stronger, being very broad and muscled in the chest. “The Flatheads are nowhere in evidence.”
Sun Watcher smiled. “They are probably afraid to come around.” Sun Watcher’s smile turned to a frown. “Tell me, Calling Crow, did you also see this light Birdfoot speaks of’
“Yes,” said Calling Crow.
Sun Watcher looked straight ahead, his face stony in its seriousness. “Tell me, what was it like?”
Calling Crow remembered the mysterious light. He and others had watched it burn against the black sky over the sea last night. He still wasn’t sure what it portended. Perhaps he should speak to Mennewah the Shaman about it. “It burned like a star fallen onto the waters.”
“Aieyee, I told you so,” Birdfoot said as he tried to keep up with the two bigger braves. Birdfoot’s delicate features and large eyes flashed annoyance at Sun Watcher for doubting him. “It is a sign.”
“No, Grandfather,” said Sun Watcher. He turned and smiled. “It is not.”
Birdfoot was actually younger than the other two, but because of his pensive, questioning ways he was teasingly called Grandfather.
Sun Watcher filledhis chest as they walked, bulging out his muscles. He looked crossly at Birdfoot. “You are too serious, Birdfoot. If it really was a sign, Caldo would have already called a meeting with the Council of Old Men.”
“Perhaps.” Birdfoot rubbed a rivulet of sweat from his brow.
The three men fell silent and Calling Crow thought of the dreams he’d been having. In one of them he’d heard his dead father’s voice as he watched the strange cloudboats sail by. He wondered if it was a sign, and if so, what it portended.
Calling Crow and the other two braves reached the dirt path that led to Tumaqua. Worn smooth by the moccasins of over a hundred men and women, it felt good beneath their feet. They could see the village up ahead. Almost on the edge of the sea, it sat between two large dunes. The village was made up of three dozen rectangular dwellings. Their semicircular roofs were made of bent saplings that had been covered with mats of woven cattails and bark. The dwellings were situated haphazardly around a large circular building with a domed roof, called a chokafa. Built on a mound, the chokafa served as the village’s meetinghouse. Next to the chokafa was a large rectangular field called a chunkey yard in which ball games were played against players from neighboring villages. All these structures were enclosed within a defensive palisade of sturdy upright timbers and sharpened stakes pointing outward.
As the three neared the village, they heard the women wailing. It was the cry that indicated that someone had died! They began running. As they entered the palisade, Calling Crow was saddened and moved by the plaintive harmonies of the women. It was like a storm wind moaning late at night. Who had died? he wondered. Perhaps one of his loved ones?
Death was, of course, not an unusual thing, but as the volume of sound swelled with their every step, Calling Crow knew that it must have been someone of great importance. Never had he heard wailing like this. “Do you think it was Mennewah?” Calling Crow shouted to Birdfoot as they ran along.
“Perhaps,” Birdfoot replied worriedly.
Sun Watcher said nothing.
Mennewah the Shaman was the oldest man in the village, and Calling Crow had dreamed of him twice in the past moon.
They rounded one of the bigger huts and saw that the chunkey yard was full of sitting women, their heads bowed as they wailed. It was the custom for the women to mourn a death in this way.
In front of the firewell, a body lay on a raised pallet of willow poles and skins. Before Calling Crow and the other two braves could get close enough to see who it was, the maiden, Tiamai, ran up to them. Her large eyes were glazed with sadness. “It is our beloved Chief,” she said.
Calling Crow felt as if a knife had punctured his heart. The cloudboats had appeared and now the bravest, noblest man in Tumaqua was dead!
“What happened?” he said.
Tiamai’s eyes were moist. “Our Chief and Cries At Night had been stalking a big buck deer all day. When our Chief shot his arrow into him, another arrow also struck the buck. It belonged to Many Skins Man of the Wolf Clan. Both their arrows seemed to strike the buck at the same time. Our Chief suggested that they should share the kill, but Many Skins Man insisted that his arrow had pierced the buck first, and the kill should be all his. They fought and Many Skins Man killed our Chief.” Tiamai deliberately avoided saying Chief Caldo’s name. To speak the name of the dead was taboo.
Sun Watcher looked skyward and howled in rage. Calling Crow looked into Tiamai’s eyes. “How do you know all this?”
“I talked to Cries At Night after they brought our Chief’s body back to Tumaqua.” She held Calling Crow’s eyes for a moment longer before she ran back to the nearest group of women and sat down.
Calling Crow gripped his bow tightly. Perhaps he would soon use it for killing men. It would be the first time for him. If a death was due to a killing, accidental or otherwise, reparation was required from the guilty party. Failure to provide reparation meant war. As long as anyone from the five villages could remember, reparation had always been made and war averted. There was no reason to believe that this time would be any different.
Once reparation had been made, the Council of Old Men voted on whether or not to accept it. Always it had been offered in good faith and always it had been accepted. If it were not, the young braves of the tribe would prepare to exact revenge.
Chapter 4
After eight days of mourning, Many Skins Man still had not shown up to make reparation, and the village of Tumaqua began making preparations for war. The cloudboats now forgotten, the men shaped stones for arrows and lances while the women scraped the fire hardened tips of stakes and buried them in the dirt around the palisade. Old women cooked all day as old men and boys carried water, arrows, and stones up to the top of the palisade. As the people worked, there was an overwhelming quiet, almost as if a summer storm were gathering. No one spoke more than was needed because nothing could be as it had been before. The people could not truly have peace until the reparation was made or war begun. Finally, on the morning of the ninth day, a runner informed the village that Many Skins Man was to come that day.
Calling Crow thought about these things as he sat in the cool interior of his aunt’s hut. Three Pearls brought him a steaming calabash of corn soup. He sipped the hot sweet liquid hurriedly and noisily, not wanting to insult Three Pearls by leaving it unfinished. He could not take his time with it like he normally would have, and ended up gulping the rest of it down before he got to his feet. His mouth burned from drinking it so fast, but that did not matter. He must go out and watch the reparation.
“Nephew,” Three Pearls called to him, “stay and eat more.”
“I am sorry, Aunt,” he said, pausing in the entryway and turning to her with regret. “I must go.” He rushed out of the hut.
Calling Crow quickly made his way to the square next to the chunkey yard. This was the place where the people came to cure hides, grind maize and grains, or just to gossip. It was here that Many Skins Man would stand before them all to make his reparation.
Reparation or war! Which would it be? The Council of Old Men sat in the center of the yard while most of the villagers milled about behind them, talking and waiting. Calling Crow saw that Caldo’s body had been taken away to the beach where it would be raised up on lodge poles to protect it from small animals. Months from now, when the flesh was gone from the bones, certain bones would be given to the Old Men and the braves as talismans.
Calling Crow pushed through the crowd to where Tiamai knelt in the sand, grinding corn. He watched her as she worked. Wearing only a skirt of woven bark, she pounded the blue and yellow kernels of maize into the hollow of a grinding rock with a wooden mortar, the action moving her small breasts. It was understood that the young people of the village would lie with one another, changing partners from time to time as they discovered themselves and their likes and dislikes, but by the time a brave had been on the earth twenty turnings of the seasons, he was expected to have selected one girl for hiswife. Calling Crow had already selected Tiamai. He knew it and so did she. So did any others who happened to see how they looked at each other. Like most girls, Tiamai was an obedient, hard worker for her mother. Although she was but fifteen, Calling Crow was struck with the noble way she carried herself. She was also beautiful. Her long, dark hair fell to her waist and her black eyes shone like the sea at night. It was this combination of nobility and childlike beauty that had made him love her.
He walked over and stood by her side. She looked up at him and smiled sadly, then went back to her grinding.
From the other side of the dunes, the sea called to Calling Crow as it surged and sighed up and down the wide beach. As he listened to its voice he watched Tiamai’s cinnamon-colored face and remembered the last time he lay with her in the forest.
As if hearing his thought, Tiamai paused in her grinding and looked up at him. With the look they shared, he knew that he would soon make their love known to the whole village.
She raised her hand to brush a sweat dampened strand of hair from her face. “Tell me about the cloudboats. I’ve never seen them.”
“I pray you never will. They appeared and our great Chief died. I knew they were not a good sign.” Tiamai lowered her head at the mention of the tragedy. “I wonder what Many Skins Man will bring,” she said.
“I don’t know, but this death will require many fine gifts.” As he looked down at Tiamai he felt his sadness lighten a little. She always worked this magic on him.
“Soon,” said Tiamai, “when the reparation is accepted and the matter of our Chief’s death settled, the Council of Old Men will pick a new Chief from among the top braves. Then life in the village will be as it was. Perhaps they will pick you.” Tiamai smiled and turned away to her work.
Calling Crow said nothing. He knew he was a candidate, along with a dozen or so other braves. However, like everyone else in the village, he thought the Old Men would pick Sun Watcher. He was the bravest and strongest in the village. Whenever they gathered in the chunkey yard to play ball against a neighboring village, they would always win because of Sun Watcher’s strength and skills. As a boy, Calling Crow had challenged him many times in wrestling, footraces, and shooting arrows, but try as he could, not once had he been able to best him.
A gull glided overhead, crying out sorrowfully to the people below. Calling Crow looked toward the sea. “The other day,” he said slowly, “as I watched the cloudboats, in spite of my repulsion, I felt they were calling me.”