Monday, March 12, 2018

Chapter Four of new novel, Lenny

So I told you a few weeks ago I was working on a new mystery novel/character/series called Lenny. I'm about 150 pages into it now and hope to have it done in late May or early June. Or maybe August. Oh hell, I'll get it done before December . . . you can bet the house payment on that.

But today I thought I'd share Chapter Four of the novel. The first time we see Lenny (full name, Leonard Leonidas) in action. Now you have to remember something; this novel is set in the mesquite country of West Texas. If you're never been to Texas, just remember this. That part of the world is basically flat semi-desert country filled with mesquite bushes large enough be considered trees, Texas Longhorn where the bulls come equipped with a set of horns that can measure up to three meters from tip to tip. And oil.

But damn few people. Its wide open and empty out there. So murder is rare out there. Mostly.

Here it is. Chapter Four

Two piercing shafts of white light cut through the inky night like surgical scalpels, revealing an alien world of vast loneliness. West Texas flatland surrounded the fast-moving truck as it rolled down an arrow straight country road, the truck’s high beams barely able to cut through the clawing darkness. But the driver in the heavy Dodge short-bed crew cab knew where he was going. Knew the territory. It was a quarter to midnight and he was eight miles south and west of Ballard, traveling down as county maintained dirt road at high speed, throwing up a massive dust plume behind him in the process.
Inside the truck with him was Maria Fuentes and her three sons, Mark, Rafael, and Daniel. Maria was a third or fourth cousin. Hell, nobody in the family was exactly sure how the family tree twisted and turned in connecting her familial ties with his. And frankly, it didn’t matter. Maria was family. She, and about thirty other members of the family had all come together at the Leonidas house to welcome him back.
Now, almost midnight, he was taking Maria and her boys back to their ranch out into the county. Down a dirt road hardly ever used and about as empty as a West Texas road could get at this time of the night.
Glancing over at sleeping Maria Lenny couldn’t help but smile. In high school she was the best-looking girl in her class. Now, some twenty odd years later, and even after having three boys, she still was the best-looking girl he had ever laid eyes upon. She had smooth, dark brown skin. Flowing brown hair falling just to her shoulders and the largest almond-shaped brown eyes he had ever seen. Tonight, slumped down in the first seat, her head turned toward him and resting on the backrest of her seat, part of her hair partially hid her lips from him in the glow of the truck’s instrument lights. She was still something special to look upon.
Behind them, in the truck’s rear seats, her three boys were all splayed out across the backseat, somehow defying gravity as they slept but still buckled up in their seat belts. The boys were ten, seven, and five years in age. All full of piss and vinegar. All with naturally infectious grins which lit up their faces every time someone looked at them.
Their husband and father was missing. Missing for over a year. Maria married a high school sweetheart by the name of Donald Parker. Donald and his parents had a big ranch out just south and east of Ballard. A ranch close to three thousand acres in size. One Sunday morning Donnie saddled up a horse so he could ride out into the ranch’s backcountry to check some cows who were calving. Rode out smiling and waving at Maria and the kids. Riding high in the saddle proud and strong and full of life. But never came back.
His horse came back. But not Donnie.
There was a smear of blood on one of the stirrups. Apparently, the horse came back wet and lathered up as if he had ran for miles in panic. The sheriff’s department and about twenty ranches around the country mounted up and rode the back country in search parties hunting for Donnie. But nothing was ever found. Donnie disappeared as if the sage and mesquite country of West Texas just swallowed him whole, leaving nothing behind.
Donnie’s disappearance devastated Maria and the boys. Maria became a recluse. She hardly ever drove to town. Rarely answered the door when neighbors came over to visit. She stayed in the rambling ranch house, taking care of the boys and making sure they got on the bus and went to school. She hired three of her cousins to come in and run the day to day operations of the spread for her. Older cousins, seasoned vaqueros, who knew the ranching business forward and backward. But Maria rarely left the ranch.
Until tonight.
Tonight she and the boys drove into town in the pickup to attend Lenny’s homecoming. Tonight, for the first time in a year, she found herself laughing at old family jokes and enjoying long conversations with the family as her boys, along with about a dozen or more of their cousins, romped around the house playing all kinds of crazy games. And tonight, for the first time in a long time, she drank some wine. Too much wine. When the party began to break up, Lenny volunteered his services to drive her and the boys home in their pickup. Maria agreed, telling Lenny he could use the pickup to drive back the thirteen miles to town. She’s send her cousins over to pick it up later.
So Lenny, in the silent of the pickup’s cab, sat behind the wheel of the Dodge and drove while Maria and the boys slept the sleep of tired souls.  The dirt road ahead of him stretched out straight and true for miles on end. In fact, it was said, all the way to Mexico. It was an empty road. Rumored to be used by Coyotes, professional human traffickers, smuggling in Mexicans sneaking into the US. And various drug cartel runners bringing in shipments of cocaine and heroin.
Of course, it was obvious. If the rumors were true, as most suspected they were, everyone knew what happened to Maria’s husband. He rode off into the back country of his ranch and saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Probably drug smugglers bringing in a shipment. Saw them. And died for it. His body would never be found. No one would ever know for sure what happened to Donnie. But everyone in Ballard County was pretty sure what happened to her husband.
Thoughts like this occupying the moment, Lenny drove with one hand on the wheel and stared off into the night. Come over a hill something caught his attention. A flash of light sweeping vertically across the sky. A streak of light which lasted only a half second before disappearing. Off to his left. Off the road and out in the mesquite bushes. Unconsciously slowing down he stared off toward his left waiting to see if he caught another glimpse of the strangeness.
He did. Just a fraction of a second. But this time the beam of light was horizontal. The light moving from the south and sweeping around to the north. As if someone with a flashlight was looking for something in the thick darkness. Automatically he let up on the accelerator and stabbed lightly on the brakes, slowing the big truck down. He also stretched forward and clicked off the headlights. Bringing the truck to a slow halt he stared off to the left, a severe frown on his face.
“Lenny? What’s wrong?”
Maria’s voice, thick with sleep, as she stirred from her seat and sat up half in alarm.
Lenny glanced at her and smiled, a hand reaching out naturally and brushing some of her hair off her cheeks.
“You up to driving home? Think you and the boys came get home tonight without too much trouble?”
A curtain of panic slid across Maria's brown eyes as she sat up straighter, glancing first at her boys in the back seat, and then back to Lenny. She wanted to ask questions. Wanted to hear what had spooked her cousin enough to stop the truck in the middle of the road. But she didn’t. She saw Lenny’s face. Saw the server slash of lips set firmly on his lips. So she just nodded silently to Lenny as Lenny reached down and for the door latch and opened the door.
“Drive for as long as you can without turning on the lights, Maria. Drive without lights until you go over that little rise in the road. And then go home. I’ll call you tomorrow. Okay?”
Maria, looking at her boys again for second, looked back at Lenny and nodded. Hurriedly she opened her door and got out of the truck and hurried around the back end to the other side. Lenny held the door open for her and closed it after she slipped in behind the steering wheel. He waved as he stepped back. Maria, very frightened, looked pleading at Lenny and then looked down the road and reached for the truck’s gearshift.
He watched her drive away. Without headlights. Only the black shadow of the truck’s mass in the darkness disappearing down the road. Not even the tail lights revealing her presence.
Only when the truck went over the slight rise in the road and disappeared did he turn one hundred eighty degrees around and stare off into the darkness.
            Someone was out there in the darkness with a flashlight. Someone who shouldn’t be out there at this time of night with a flashlight. He wanted to know who it was and why were they stumbling around in the darkness so awkwardly. Stepping off the road quickly he bent down and slipped through the prickly stubbing’s of barbed wire fence and stood up.

            Someone was out there in the darkness. Someone who possibly needed help.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Introducing Lenny Leonidas

Well, it's a New Year. 2018. In the Chinese calendar, it must be around 20,580.(I don't know). In the Hebrew calendar, maybe they haven't invented a number yet. Who knows?

But whatever year it is, we should have new goals scoped out for us. What's yours?

I've got a general road map outlined in my mind. Subject to change, of course. But outlined, and if all things being equal, maybe even doable. Let's start with goal number one.

Goal No. 1. Find an American publishing house who will accept the full-length Smitty novel called, Dark Retribution. One that will pay me a little upfront money. Money I plan to use to purchase a goodly amount of advertising for this book and a few of my other efforts.

Goal No. 2.  Write more novels in the two series Endeavour Press of London already have of mine. (The Turner Hahn/Frank Morales police-procedurals. And the Decimus Julius Virilis Roman series)
Endeavour is a small indie, so the only money I make is from whatever they sell. Thus, Maynard, the more money I have the more I can advertise.

Goal No. 3.  Create a new character that is a cross between a Jack Reacher loner and a Walt Longmire  western sheriff who lives and work out in the middle of nowhere. Make the character a little more three-dimensional. Give him a personality and a family (of some kind). And instead of being the drifter that can't stay in one place like Reacher is, make him stay in his old home town and load him up with a lot of cop work which may or may not involve his extended family.

With Goal No. 3 in mind, let me introduce you to Lenny Leonidas. A good ole' Texas boy who comes from, and lives in, the fictional county of Ballard County, Texas. Below is the first chapter of the novel, Lenny.  Tell me if you think it's good enough.


            The side door of the Ballard County jail door banged open loudly, spearing the pre-dawn darkness with a shaft of white light pouring out from within. A shadow partially blocked out the shaft of light momentarily just as a heavy canvas tote bag came sailing out of the open door and slapping down onto the ground in a puff of dry, hot dust. Soon after that a man appeared in the doorway. An average height man dressed in old blue jeans, a dark cotton long sleeve shirt underneath a threadbare blue jean jacket, wearing boots favored by lumberjacks.
            Some unseen force behind the shaggy haired, unshaven creature put a hand in the middle of the man’s back and shoved him violently out the door. The shaggy haired man went flying out into the night, stumbling, with one leg buckling underneath him, but just catching himself before sprawling face first into the dirt beside his canvas bag. Behind him two large-framed, muscular county sheriff officers stepped out of the door and lined up shoulder to shoulder and glared at the smaller man.
            “Lenny, I’m not shitting you here. The sheriff’s fed up with your horseshit. Get your ass arrested again and the sheriff’s going to throw the book at you. They’ll haul your ass off to the state pen for at least three years. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your nose clean and stay off the goddamn booze for a while!”
            With those deeply Socratic words of profound wisdom the two monsters for sheriff deputies turned around and slipped back through the jail’s side door, banging the door closed rudely and using keys to lock it behind him them.
            Standing up, turning to face the low slung, flat roofed cement dungeon for a county jail, he eyed the place with a smolder look of animosity for a few heartbeats, and then turned and reached for his canvas bag lying in the dirt. Bag in hand, he stood up again and looked to his right. A ribbon of already hot cement, the county highway, disappeared off toward Amarillo seventy miles away. A straight shot through miles and miles of endless mesquite bush and roaming bands of jack rabbits and coyotes, with barely a house around and not a tree in sight. Rubbing a hand across his lips and jaw, feeling the weeks’ worth of hard stubble on his face, he slowly turned and faced his left.
            A mile away he saw the twinkling lights of his hometown. Ballard, Texas. The county seat. Populating just a notch over five thousand souls. Mostly old cowboys and ranch owners. With a large portion of oil field trash thrown in for good measure. And Mexicans, along with a smattering of Native Americans. Mostly Comanche with a few Apache in the mix. A third of Ballard were old family Mexicans. Been here as long as there been a county seat. As long as there had been Texas. Before the first cowboy stumbled into town half dead of thirst and filled with half a dozen of arrows from a Comanche war band.
            His great, great grandfather. That cowboy. Leto Leonidas. More Greek immigrant than a real cowboy. But a cowboy he was when he fell off his horse, half dead, in the middle of Ballard’s only dirt street.
            Been a Leonidas family member in Ballard since before the Civil War. Most of the Leonidas gene pool produced good people. Hard working, respectful, blue-color people who paid their taxes, went to church on Sunday, and rooted for the Longhorns of the University of Texas when it came to college football. But every family has their weird second cousin or crazy uncle lurking in the background. The black sheep in the family who, for any number of reasons, cannot get along with the majority of the family. Nor with normalcy in general.
            He was that one. The crazy Leonidas uncle who couldn’t help himself in stirring up chaos around him and who, in the end, was cast out of the family like some leprous monk being cast out from his monastery, shunned by all of humanity.   For the first seventeen years of life he was a holy terror for the family. Fights, getting kicked out of school. Scrapes with the law. Staying out all night and stumbling home drunk. The works. Finally, when his eighteenth birthday rolled around, his birthday celebration was anything but celebratory.
            His father disowned him. Told him to get out of the house and never come back. Wasn’t even allowed to pack a suitcase. Left with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. For the next seventeen years he never saw his home town. Never talked to any of his family. Got on a bus for Amarillo and left at three in the morning. Never uttered a word for the 70 mile trip to the West Texas city. Got off the bus and strolled two blocks south of the bus station and walked into an Army recruiting office.
            For the next twenty years his family became the U.S. Army. Fought in the country’s many wars from the Middle East all the way to the Caribbean. The Army taught him well. He learned how to efficiently kill people. Became a Ranger. Learned how to jump out of airplanes. Learned how to put a .308 caliber bullet into the brain pain of a poor bastard 700 yards away and not bat an eyelid in the process.
            Left the Army with the rank of sergeant-major and realized he had nowhere to go. So he got on a bus in Amarillo and rode the 70 miles back to Ballard. He didn’t know what, or who, he would face when he arrived. Had no idea if any of the family would even recognize him. No one did. No one did because no one in his immediate family remained, except for eighty-seven year old grandmother. She was the only living Leonidas in Ballard. Everybody else were either dead, or moved away. Far away from Ballard and never coming back.
            Of course, he had cousins. First cousins. Second cousins. Both White and Mexican. Frankly it was said, with some veracity, he was related to about half the people in town. The Monroe’s. The Winston’s. The Garcia’s. The Moreno’s. The Sanchez’s. The Gladstone’s. But only one direct family member. An old lady living in a big house by herself on 5th and Aims Streets. His father’s mother.
            Gazing down the almost empty highway toward town he swept a hand over his lips and jawline a second time and squinted his eyes. Coming down the road in the growing twilight was a pickup truck. A Dodge pickup truck. As it approached he thought about throwing up a thumb and hitching a ride. Maybe it was headed for Amarillo. Maybe it was time to take the sheriff’s advice. Maybe it was time to leave Ballard for good.
            Funny how shit happens. How half-baked plans get tossed out the window.
            The brown Dodge slowed and swerved toward him. For a moment he was bathed in the pickup’s low beams before the pickup slid to a stop a couple of feet in front of him, Standing there, Lenny watched the passenger side front door window slide down. In the semi-light he had to step closer to see who was sitting behind the wheel.
            “Hello, cuz.”
            A voice he recognized. Even after all these long years away.
            “Hello, Miguel. Good to see you.”
            Miguel Luiz Sanchez. His mother’s sister’s oldest son. Same age as he was. The oldest of four boys and three sisters. But that was twenty years ago. He had no idea who was alive today. Who was dead.
            “Come on. Climb in.” Miguel grunted, waving a hand in a gesture for Lenny to open the door and get in.
            “Where we going?” he asked.
            “Been in town for two weeks, cuz. Getting drunk and getting into fights. The whole family knows your back in town. Time to clean up. Dry out. Time to go home.”
            Time to go home. Like a hammer blow right between his eyes. Time to go home. Home? Here in Ballard? After all these years? After what happened in the past? Home? For a few seconds Lenny stared into the darkness of the pickup’s interior and at the dark silhouette of his cousin sitting behind the wheel. He hesitated. Turning his head, he looked toward the town, its lights beginning to wink out because sunrise was starting to kiss the flat roofs of main street. Go home? He turned and looked off toward Amarillo. Saw nothing but mesquite bush and sage and flat grassland stretching out as far as the eye could see. But his soul’s eyes saw cheap, smoked filled, drug infested bars lining both sides of the streets deep in the heart of Hong Kong where no round-eyed foreigner should have been. He saw, and felt, the incredibly warm, almost hot, deluges of monsoons in Thailand and Vietnam. The gooey, slimy mud. The bodies floating down rivers overflowing from their banks. He saw shivering children standing in terror as bombs and grenades exploded around them in Vietnam and Iraq.
            He saw tall Muslim women, dressed in heavy black garb. Their entire bodies hidden from view. Only a slash across their faces opened so their eyes could stare out at the world. Eyes filled with silent pain. He remembered looking into the faces of hundreds of Afghani mountain tribesmen and realized he was seeing Death staring back at him. Dark complexioned, sun weathered, hard men dressed in traditional Afghani attire, cradling AK-47’s lovingly in their arm as they sat on their haunches around small campfires knowing they were going to die violently sooner or later, as had all their relatives in the past, and quietly accepting their fate.
            He’d seen the world. Been just about everywhere. Did a lot of terrible things. And maybe, if he was lucky, a couple of good deeds along the way. But he never saw a place he could say was home. His new home.
            There was only one place he remembered using the word home. And that was right here. Here in Ballard. A sour grin played across his thin lips, last for only a second or two. The Prodigal Son has returned. He could see his father’s face glaring at him, that hard look of unforgiving brown eyes staring at him. His lips set in a permanent frown. The muscles in his jaw extended and hard as stone. Standing with in front of him, towering over him, arms folded across his chest. As silent as a Sphinx. And as unforgiving.
            Well, Dad. I’m back. Whether you want me or not. Hope the fires in Hell are a lot hotter for you, making you stew in your bile and hate for me little more intensely. I know you never missed me once I left. But that’s okay. To tell you the truth, once I got on that bus twenty years ago I never thought about you, either.
            Lenny’s head turned and looked at the dark figure of his cousin sitting in the truck as he tossed the heavy canvas bag in his hand into the pickup’s bed and reached for the door handle.

            “Sure, why not. Let’s go home.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

Point of View in novel writing

Turner Hahn
The next Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel will be different. Different in a couple of ways.To begin with, I'm going to write the next novel in a Third Person Multiple Point of View. And secondly, I'm going to introduce two detectives who happen to work on the same shift with Turner and Frank.

I'm experimenting.

In writing . . .writing fiction in particular . . . there is this ever-constant debate as to which POV tells the better story. Usually the debate revolves around First Person Singular (I shot the sonofabitch between the gonads just for the hell of it!)  and any one of the two or three versions of Third Person POV's (He shot the perpetrator between his rather dried up, shriveled canaries with great sense of emotional release.)

The last three Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novels I've written have been in the First Person POV. But I'm wondering if maybe . . . just maybe . . .a Third Person Multiple POV might make for a clearer, more interesting portrait of the two.

So far I am 100 pages into the fourth Turner/Frank novel using Third Person Multiple.The change of venue in looking at the story is different, even unique.The story itself is flowing along nicely (when I finally get the time to WRITE!!!) 

Oh.Sorry.That's one half of me who believes working for a living and paying the bills is as important as the other half in me . . . who thinks writing and telling stories is just as important (even if you don't have money to buy food and toilet paper and other such luxuries a person expects to have around.)

But I have, in this first 100 pages, made one conclusion. Naw. I'm not giving up writing in First Person Singular. The act of enticing the reader into the mind of the fictional character to participate in a voyage of discover cannot be achieved as effectively in any other format.

On the other hand, I don't mind writing in the Third Person voice, either. A different view. A different flavor. A wider take of the world around the characters.

Frank Morales
So there's that. The other thing, about more cops in the next novel, is something new. I'm populating Turner and Frank's world with more people who work alongside them. Maybe making the novel a more complete police-procedural ensemble in the process. 

Turner and Frank work the second-shift homicide desk. The squad room has other detectives assigned to different desks. It's time to bring them in. Time to get them to assist Turner and Frank and vice-versa. 

Just time to make the world more whole.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The return of Turner Hahn and Frank Morales

A Taste of Old Revenge
Oh boy!  Turner Hahn and Frank Morales are back in A Taste Of  Old Revenge.  Even better, take a look at the book cover.  Endeavour Press (a UK publisher) went all-out in coming up with a spiffy design.

What makes me really feel good about their return is this; Endeavour wants to run with the Turner/Frank series.  Not just the one, but more to come (they already have a short-story collection featuring Turner and Frank, plus another full-length novel waiting in the wings).  To say I am as happy as a tick on a coon dog, or as pleased as a pastry chef  swimming in a sea of chocolate syrup, would be understating it.

As for as this one goes, many of you are already familiar the story.

Turner and Frank are homicide detectives.  Not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind of flat feet.  These guys get dumped on.  The take the cases too difficult for others to handle.  And usually more than just one case at a time.  Murders happen in a big city.  And in some cities, they come in clusters.  So multiple cases thrown onto your desk, if you are a detective, is not uncommon.

In this one, one case involves a old dead man--a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp.  While investigating, the two run into the FBI, the Israeli Mossad, and a nasty little organization of ex-Nazis who called themselves Odessa.


The second case they're working on involves a kid gunned down viciously while working his part-time job in a local convenience store, AI computer programming, the theft of millions of dollars out of war torn Iraq.  And more.

No.  You shouldn't get bored reading this book.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Apparently, I know nothing about movies, Jon Snow

King Arthur. The Legend of the Sword.  Saw the trailers for this months ago and couldn't wait to see it.  A different take on the old King Arthur legend, we were told.  Fine.  I like some 'different' interpretations of old stories.

When it came out I hurried off and sat in the theater and watched ever second of it.  Loved it.  I mean . . . I really loved it. 

It had snappy dialogue.  Smart dialogue.  It had a riveting cast.  I thought Jude Law's performance as Vortigen, was absolutely marvelous.  Especially those scenes where he tortured himself killing those he loved, his wife and daughter, in order to acquire supernatural power in finding and destroying Arthur.  I mean, baby, to me, that was some set of chops when it came to acting!

And Charles Hunnam as the grown King Arthur.  He made Arthur human.  One smart, tough cookie.  A guy raised in the back streets of a mythological London who grew up to be a natural born leader.

And when he had to be mean, baby . . . he was extremely capable of knocking the teeth out of anyone.  Loved his interpretation of the King Arthur character.

So the movie had an excellent cast. It had excellent writers.  It had, I thought, a visionary directory who wanted to paint . . . and did in my opinion . . . a different look for the Arthur legend. It had academy-award winning cinematographers and academy-ward winning set designers.  It seemed to have all the tools and components for a stunning box-office success.

It flopped big time at the box-office.

Apparently it cost something like $175,000,000 to make the movie.  It earned, at the box-office, only $140,000,000,

And my question is;  How was this possible?

Critics have come forward and said the editing of the movie was terrible.  Somewhere in the middle of the film it broke down.  Where . . . I don't know.  I thought it flowed wonderfully.  Others have said the director's image of Arthur was all wrong.  It was against the traditional cannon of all the previous Arthur movies.  In other words, it didn't fit the accepted mold, or type-casting, an Arthur movie should be in.

I thought the idea for this movie was to do something different? Apparently not.

Okay, okay . . . I get it.  The critics said the movie was terrible.  And we peons should accept their more experienced, more considered, decrees as gospel.


I thought it was a very good movie.  So good I'm going out to by the DVD and watch it again.  If you didn't like it, that's fine with me.  I loved it.  And in the end, that's all that counts.

Cheers, baby!  We're human.  We're not supposed to be clones nodding in rhythm to the same drummer.  Some of us actually like bass guitars instead.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Maurice is about to hit the scene . . .Yes, THAT Maurice

My god!  I'm actually writing another blog piece! What the Fajita??!!!  Call the Police!  Alert the news media!!  Jesus St. Marie, he's at it again!

Okay, okay . . . calm down.  Me writing another blog is right up there in importance as, say, the news headline; 'The Pope said another Mass in Latin on Sunday.  And wore glasses doing so.'

No big deal.

But it is in a way.  I've got something new coming out soon (July 24th, to be exact).  Near to the Knuckle is the publisher bringing the novella out and splashing it out in all the big namesakes where you can order it.  Actually, I'm excited about it.  I'd like to see this new creation really take off.  He's definitely a different kind of character for me.

His name is Maurice.

Maurice is . . . well . . . odd.   Nobody actually knows much about him.  Or where he came from.  Or how old he is.  Or how rich he is (although indirect evidence suggests he's loaded).  What they do know is that he is an excellent criminal lawyer.  A gifted detective.  Possibly a dabbler in the supernatural (maybe, if you believe the rumors, even a freakin' warlock).  And looks a bit like Buddha.

He loves the color of pink.  He's sartorial splendor in tailored suits fitting his somewhat slightly chubby body is impeccable.  He loves old cars, especially old American iron convertibles of the 50's and 60's (in pink, of course.)  And he sees ghosts.

In fact, he represents in court those who have recently departed.  Or those who are recently possessed.

He has two faithful employees working for him in his law firm.  One living.  One dead.

The one alive is Randall Cooke.  Randall is, shall we say, the catch-all and do-all when it comes to the daily grind of interviewing the living who are of a criminal nature and have no inclination to speak candidly.  His charm is that he's a tough as a piece of well worked leather.  As hard as a diamond drill bit.  And when he has to be, as mean as a Spartan on steroids.

The dead employee happens to be Randall's recently departed daughter, Tammy.  She's a tom-boy in her twenties.  A smart mouth.  Curious. Fearless.  She finds, interviews, and sometimes intervenes on behalf of Maurice's clients in the afterlife.

Investigating the living.  Investigating the afterlife.  With some kick ass Perry Mason-style court scenes thrown in for color.

Maurice is the beginning.  I'm hoping you're going to love these characters

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Smitty novel is Done, Done, Done, Done!

It's done.  After about two years of sputtering around, I've finally finished the first full-length Smitty novel.  It's called Dark Retribution.  Comes in a tad over 83,000 words.  It is, in my opinion, a classic example of dark noir.  It is chocked-full of visual imagery which will send you down dark alleys and stumbling around in inky black warehouses filled with potential danger.

Smitty, my little friend, is a killing machine.  But, if you know the guy, he's selective in who he sends off to eternity.  But he's good at it.  Slowly over time I've been quietly converting the guy into a kind of amoral private detective.  Amoral in the sense he usually doesn't let society's standard laws to jump in and refrain him from metering out justice--his form of justice--to bad guys.

So.  The novel is done,  I like it.  I think the two or three fans who've read most of my Smitty short-stories are going to go bananas over it.  Now the question is . . . what do I do with it?

Oh, gosh . . . I gotta a confession to make.  The idea of hammering out inquiries to various lit agents and/or publishers to take a peek at it doesn't appeal to me at all.  But the idea of putting it out there myself isn't that much more appealing.

The question is this;  if you put it out there yourself, and have done something like this in the past, have you had in genuine success at it?  I mean. . . have actually made more than, say, a buck-two-ninty-five selling it yourself.  My suspicion is that no, you haven't.  I know I haven't.  My experience is, if you don't have the moolah to heavily advertise all across the reading spectrum, you're not going to be successful.

So . . . what the hell,  I'll figure something out.

But I thought I'd share this (again.)  A few opening paragraphs from chapter one.  Enjoy.


            Twisted to the breaking point.  Wound so tight he could barely keep his hands under control.  He sat in the booth of the small diner and directly across his partner he tried to act calm.  Tried to look normal.  Impossible.  Even when he lit his cigarette it was obvious.  The hand holding the cigarette lighter danced the flame around at the tip of the cigarette like he was beating a drum.  But flipping the old Zippo closed with a loud snap he slid the shaking hand into a pocket and sat back in the booth.  Eyes filled with worry, he turned and stared into the gloom of a foggy night.
            Knowing he was doing something wrong.  Knowing that, if caught, it would be the end of his career.  The end of everything.  Ten years.  Ten years as a cop.  Flushed down the tubes and forgotten.  If he was caught.  If. . .
            “Artie, you all right?  You feeling sick?”      
He blinked a couple of times, his partner’s voice bringing him out of his dull reverie of the night’s fog and forcing him to turn and look at the red nosed cop sitting in the booth opposite him.
            His partner for the last two years. . . an Irishman by the name of Joe Gallagher, sitting across from him lowered his cup of coffee and looked at him with eyes of concern.  All night long on their shift he had barely spoken three words.  But then the call came in to go out and check on the report of a body lying in the street down in front of Pier 86.  It was another victim.  Another butchered woman.  Number five for the maniac the papers had dubbed ‘The New Jack Ripper.’
            “I’m . . . fine, Joe.  Fine.  It’s just that, well . . . it’s the fifth prostitute killed.  The fifth one on our beat.  Cut to pieces like she was a piece of fine beef fresh from the slaughter house.  Jesus, what a mess.  And what a crowd we had to hold back.  I mean, people everywhere.  Reports and cameramen.  Everywhere.  Down to get a glimpse of the body.  Sick.  Just sick if you ask me.”
            His partner frowned, set the coffee cup on the table, and nodded.  Yeah.  It had been a bloody mess.  Always is when someone is eviscerated.   Just thinking about the gory mess the two of them had stumbled on made him shiver involuntarily. 
            “Listen, the shift’s over.  We can write our reports tomorrow.  Let me drop you off at your house.  Get some rest.  Drink a beer or two.  Try to forget about it.”
            “You go on home, Joe.  I’m supposed to go over to a friend’s house and drink a couple of beers with him.  I’ll just call a cab and wait for it here.”
            Gallagher’s brown eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he sat in the booth and looked at his partner.  Artie Jones was a good cop.  A very good cop.  Slightly bald, getting a little paunchy around the middle, always a smile on the man’s face.  Yeah, a good cop.  But one who thought too much.  Cared too much.  Maybe . . . maybe tried too hard in trying to make the world a better place.  Not that there was anything wrong in that.  The trying. The caring.  But sometimes it got to you.  Sometimes the meanness of humanity becomes overwhelming. 
            Sometimes, to be brutally honest, it was best to not care so much and just do the job needed to be done.  Better that than driving yourself into an early grave trying to save the souls of those who didn’t want to be saved.
            “All right.  But get some rest, Artie.  Jesus, but you look terrible.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”
            Artie nodded, waved a hand, and smiled as his partner slid out of the booth and walked to the diner’s entrance.  He turned and watched Joe unlock the door to the black and white patrol car and slide in.  It was almost one in the morning.  Dark.  The street lights glowing a dull orange yellow, filling the wind-swept street with an eerie feeling almost palpable.
            What if the sergeant found out?  The Louie?  What if someone sees him talking to him?    Hell!  Was he even going to meet him tonight?  I mean . . . come on!  He was a cop.  He was supposed to stay away for this guy unless he was arresting him for a crime committed.  But hell. His discreet phone call to the phone number Smitty advertised in the paper, done on a landline in an office building where no one knew him, asking for help, could get his ass fired if anyone found out.  Everyone knew Smitty.  Supposedly the very expensive security consultant/private detective who worked out of a small set of offices over on Brewer Street.  A one of a kind professional who hired out at top dollar, usually to large corporate clients who needed his kind of specialty. . . i.e., meaning industrial espionage . . .  yet he also worked for individuals.  Rich individuals, but not necessarily always rich individuals.  But there were the rumors as well.  Every cop in the city knew the rumors.  He was supposed to be the mob’s top hit man.  He was supposed to be invisible.  He wasn’t even really known by those who employed him, for chrissakes!  No two mobsters brought in for questioning ever described Smitty in the same fashion.  He was tall.  He was short.  He had shaggy brown hair.  He was a blond with a flat top crew cut.  He was heavy built.  He was a slim as a toothpick.  Whenever a victim of a contract killing was found there wasn’t a single piece of evidence linking Smitty to anything.  No video.  No witnesses.  No prints.  No residual evidence. 
            Crazy.  Just crazy.
            No one could pin anything illegal on this guy.  All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine.  He somehow could slip in, silence his victim, and slip out and no one would know until hours later.  And he had connections.  Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets.  That was the deciding factor.  That was the single point for him to get this wild idea.  Ask Smitty for help.  The police department, the entire city, was baffled.  Scared.  Frozen in indecision.  This madman left no traces.  He left no evidence behind.  He left no DNA material behind. It was like . . . like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world.  No one knew why.
            So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost.  A killer to stop a killer.
            A shaking hand ran across his lips as he looked down at his coffee cup.  With the cigarette between his fingers he reached for the cup just as he heard the noise of an approaching car through the plate glass window beside him.  Lifting the cup Artie turned to look outside.
            He froze in mid motion.  Eyes almost popping out of his head with a mixture of surprise and horror.
            A cab–an old Ford Crown Victory–battered and abused, sitting parallel to the curb in front of the diner, its right rear door open.  Waiting.  Waiting for someone to get in.  The clatter of his cup slipping out of his fingers and bouncing on the table top made everyone in the diner turn and look at him.  Blinking a couple of times, color draining from his face, he stared at the taxi for a heartbeat or two and then turned to look at the eight or ten people sitting in the dinner.
            They were staring at him.  Faces puzzled. Or bemused.
            “Hey, buddy!” the guy behind the diner’s long counter said, holding a phone up to one ear and staring at him irritably.  “It’s the cabby outside.  He’s says the meter’s running.  So how about it?  You want him to take you someplace or not?”
            Artie Jones stared at the diner’s chief cook for a moment in shock and turned his head back to look out the window and at the waiting taxi.  He hadn’t called for a taxi.  The story he told his partner about going over to see a friend tonight in a taxi was just that.  A story.  So how . . . how . . . . how . . . ?
            “Hey, Mac!  Some time tonight, okay?  I got orders to complete.”
            Artie felt himself nodding.  Moving his hands and his body to slide out of the booth.  He felt himself walking down the length of the diner and out through the entrance into to the hot night.  Like an out of body experience he saw himself walking down the sidewalk toward the open door of the cab and folding himself up and sliding into the back seat.  He saw himself close the cab’s rear door–saw the cab accelerated away from the curb rapidly.
            Saw it all–experienced it all.  Yet couldn’t believe it.  Didn’t want to believe it.  It was so . . . so surreal.  So bizarre.
            The car accelerated hard down the street and then made a sudden right hand turn.  A block later it turned again sharply–and turned again straight into an alley.  The headlights went off as the car bounced and rolled down through the alley rapidly and came out on the opposite street.  The lights came back on and the car slowed down.
            In front of him all he saw as the back of the head and the upper shoulders of a man wearing a cabbie uniform.  Glancing down at the back rest directly in front of him he looked for the small plastic pocket which was supposed to show the cabbie’s license and photo.  There was no license.  No photo.  But there were eyes.  Cold black orbs staring at him.  Reflecting off the rear view mirror whenever a sliver of street light flashed past.
            Cold eyes.  Hard eyes.  The eyes of a killer.
            “I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
            A surreal, almost rasping harsh whisper. Coming out of the darkness of the front seat.  Unnerving.  Making Artie involuntarily wince.
            “That’s what some people call me, Artie.  But I answer to a number of different names.”

            He felt a cold chill run down his spine.  He tried to swallow.  Tried a couple of times.  But he was so scared there was nothing to swallow.  He lifted a hand up to his face.  Almost.  But he stopped suddenly when the whisper exploded in the darkness.  Like a scalpel flashing out of the darkness. 
            “Make sure you keep you hands away from your gun, friend.  Away from any pockets.  Understand?”
            Artie hesitated, looked at his hands, and then back up at the rear-view mirror and nodded.
            “Good.  Now tell me. What does an honest cop like you want to talk to a man like me?”
            How was he going to do this?  How was he going to ask for help?  He was a cop, fer chrissakes.  Cops go after the bad guys.  Cops solves the murder cases.  Cops are the ones who are supposed to protect the public from madmen like . . . like this new Jack the Ripper.  Or from the likes like Smitty.
            “Well, you see . . . we’ve . . . we’ve got a problem.  There’s man we’re after.  Crazy, insane.  Actually, a fucking madman.  He’s going around killing women.  Prostitutes.  And we’ve got nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  He’s been killing for the last four months.  We know about as much now about this guy as we did when we found the first body.”
            The cab flew down empty streets.  Never staying on one street for more than two blocks.  Swift, hard turns right and left.  Mostly right hand turns.  A few left.  But in general Artie got the feeling they were traveling in one twisted, jagged, clockwise circle.  Somehow he knew that when this conversation was over he would he would not return to the diner.
            “So what is it you want me to do.”
            It wasn’t a question.  It wasn’t a statement.  It was decision time.  For Artie.  Say what had to be said, Artie.  Say it firmly and without hesitation.  And let the Angel of Death, as some people whispered this man actually was, decide if he would help or not.
            “We’ve got to take this guy off the streets.  We’ve got to stop him.  Stop him before he kills again.  So . . . so I’m asking you to help us.”
            Slivers of light exploding in the interior of the cab momentarily as they slid underneath a street light.  Explosions of light.  Followed by enveloping, inky darkness.  Surreal.  Down the empty streets the cab flew.  Streets walled in on both sides by long rows of old apartment buildings and brand new apartment complexes.  Sitting in the back seat of the cab Artie waited.  Waited for some kind of response to come out of the front seat.  Waited.  And waited.  Each passing second working like a carpenter’s file sliding across raw nerves.
            When the dark figure in front answered the man’s harsh whisper almost sent Artie screaming out of his seat.  But somehow, somehow, he controlled his urges and tried to react calmly.
            “Why would I want to help you, Artie.  You or the police.”
            He blinked a couple of times.  He opened his mouth to answer.  But nothing came out.  He realized he had no idea why this man would help him.  Why would a killer hunt a killer?  The only thing he could do was shrug his shoulders and shake his head in despair.
            “I can’t answer that,” he admitted and smiling weakly. “I don’t even know why I came down here.  Desperation I guess.  If my desk sergeant or the task force lieutenant found out I was in this cab with you I’d been suspended indefinitely.  Maybe even arrested.  Certainly fired.   But something tells me we’re not going to find this guy.  Not by our normal methods.  It’s like this guy isn’t human.  He makes no mistakes.  He disappears into the night.  Leaves nothing behind.  So I thought . . . I thought . . . you might be our best hope.  Our only hope to nab this guy.”
            Silence.  Again.
            The car rocking and swaying as it moved.  The flashing explosions of light.  The shadows of parked cars and SUVs whipping past them.  The rows upon rows of town homes and apartment buildings.  All of that painted in layers upon Artie’s hyper active conscience as the figure in front remained silent and drove.
            “How do you know I am not this madman?  You’ve heard the rumors.  You know what I sometimes do for a living.  That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?  So tell me, why not consider me as a prime suspect?”
            He shook his head no.  Silently. Vigorously.  The one thing Artie was sure of was this; the guy known as Smitty wasn’t a homicidal maniac.  He didn’t kill for some sickly thrill–some perverted pleasure.  Smitty was a professional.  A master at blending in and out of a crowd.  Of taking out his assignment with a cold efficiency a lot of his fellow police officers grudgingly admired.  And so far . . . so far as he knew . . . this dark eyed man had never killed an innocent victim.  Each of his kills had been someone from out of the crime world.  Someone who deservedly needed to die.
            “I know it’s not you.  I know this.  These murders don’t fit your MO.  They don’t make sense.  Your hits always make sense.  You hit someone for money.  But your targets are slime balls who need to be put down.  Uh . . no offense, by the way.  About the slime ball thing.”
            A flicker of a smile flashed across the dark eyed man’s thin lips.  But the eyes never blinked.  They kept moving. Watching.  Calculating.
            “What do I do with this man if I find him.  Do I kill him?  Do I hand him over to you?”
            “I dunno, Smitty.  I dunno,” he answered.
            Truthfully.  He didn’t know.
            If suddenly a street cop came walking into the precinct house with this guy cuffed what would he say?  How could he explain to everyone this miraculous nab when the entire detective division was completely stumped.   How could he explain this to his partner?  Joe would have a
thousand questions to ask.  Questions he couldn’t possible answer.  Not in a hundred years.  Not in a thousand years.
            “So you’re asking me to find this guy and take care of him.  You don’t necessarily want me to kill him. But you can’t bring him in.  And I can’t reveal myself to your bosses.  Interesting.  What we have here, Artie, is a conundrum.  A social intersection of impossibilities.  A most curious dilemma.”

            It was as if he was a giant balloon filled with helium and a kid came along with a big needle and stuck it in him.  All the energy, all the worry, the fears, the emotions, dissipated out of him and into the night like escaping helium out of the balloon.  Dropping his head in defeat he stared at his hands silently.  Blinking back tears of frustration.