Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Writers and baseball pitchers

"In Billy Beane's mind, pitchers were nothing like high-performance sports cars, or thoroughbred racehorses, or any other metaphor that implied a cool, inbuilt superiority. They were more like writers. Like writers, pitchers initiated action, and set the tone for their games. They had all sorts of ways of achieving their effects and they needed to be judged by those effects, rather than by their outward appearance, or their technique. To place a premium on velocity for its own sake was like placing a premium on a big vocabulary for its own sake. To say all pitchers should pitch like Nolan Ryan was as absurd as insisting that all writers should write like John Updike."

MONEYBALL, by Michael Lewis.

Moneyball is available at Amazon.com . . .

, , , and hey, look, it's a Brad Pitt movie, too! And shockingly, Hollywood kept the title: Moneyball.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday doodle

Time for another Friday doodle. (I know, I know, it's nearly Saturday before I got it posted.)

This one executed with that underappreciated artist's tool, the ball point pen.

Enjoy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Friday Doodle

I know it's Thursday evening as I post this, but by doing so you'll have a doodle all day Friday to visit and waste your employer's bandwidth while you're at work.

I haven't posted a Friday doodle in many moons, so it seemed time to hop to it.

Today's doodle has several action-type violent events going on.

"Hasan Chop!" came to mind from the Looney Tune Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck short, "Ali Baba Bunny." But perhaps I misspelled Hassan/Hasan.

Anyway, enjoy: for your Friday.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Work in Progress: Evening Wolf

A new Thor movie is on the way. Long before Chris Hemsworth swung his hammer onscreen as the God of Thunder, I was fascinated by Vikings and Norse mythology. The Icelandic sagas are filled with vigorously descriptive narratives, interesting poetic turns of phrase (particularly those known as kennings, such as “slaughter dew” [blood], “spear din” [battle], “whale road” [the sea], “Ymir’s skull” [the sky]), and understated (sometimes deadpan) passages detailing power grabs and double crosses that may be so subtle the reader is unaware of an incident’s significance until a scene of violence suddenly erupts.
The best-known of this sort of tale is Beowulf. Indeed, my introduction to the Viking narrative was Beowulf. It’s a remarkable tale of heroism and monsters, and if you haven’t read it, let me encourage you to do so. There are many translations into modern English available, and you can choose from prose or poetic versions. A very nice one is that by the late, great Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

But there are many great sagas. For instance, in recent years, J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of The Saga of the Volsungs was published. Tolkien fills in some of the blanks for modern readers by including related scenes from other works, and so the title of his translation is The Legend of Sigurd andGudrun.
That all may be a long-winded way to get to my point, which is to introduce the passage below, part of a work in progress from my own Viking tale, Evening Wolf. The title character, Kveldulf (whose name translates to Evening Wolf), actually appears in one of the original Norse tales, Egil’sSaga, a famous saga about a black-hearted warrior-poet named Egil Skallagrimsson. Kveldulf is Egil’s father. A few hints about Kveldulf’s youth are mentioned in the saga, but no specific details. I use those few clues to build my story about Evening Wolf. On with the tale . . .


Chapter One

Osvif Knifetongue was awake and up before the day to see the sun burn off the fog that had separated them from the other ships they traveled with. Last night, quickly reaching the point they would be unable to see or hear, the longship turned closer to the coast as the stars appeared and then disappeared in the building haze. The thickening dark of night had moved them to cease seeking the rest of their pack and to anchor in this cove.

Someone of the company stirred the embers of the fire into life behind Osvif. Already the water and the fog had shared their last kiss, and the cloud’s belly rose to show the pink sea surface.

“What’s that?”

The vanishing haze and the rising sun revealed a skiff out on the water.

Thorolf Gellison was at Osvif’s shoulder now. The two had been companions since they were youthful playmates. Thorolf was bigger and usually won whatever physical game the boys played. But Osvif was more thoughtful, smarter in ways Thorolf couldn’t quite manage, and Thorolf had recruited Osvif to lead this raiding party.

Thorolf’s sight was sharp as a [raptor’s]. He peered at the skiff. “Someone’s aboard,” he said. “But he’s not moving about. Not coming in.”

Osvif gestured with his head. A smallboat was put out, oars shipped, and he was rowed to the skiff.

As they approached, Thorolf swore. “It’s not a man.”

Then Osvif saw with his own eyes. What they had thought was a man was simply a man’s skin, wrapped about a frame of sticks to approximate a man. It sat upright in the skiff. A bear’s pelt was draped over its shoulders to complete the illusion.

“It’s a witch’s boat,” one of the crew said.

Osvif nodded.

“Burn it,” Thorolf said.

“It might carry treasure,” Osvif said.

“Burn it,” Thorolf repeated.

Osvif felt the same chill as the rest when he gazed at the craft as it swayed on the water. He agreed with Thorolf, but some contrary twinge made him say, “We’ll bring it with us.” The hairs rose on the back of his neck even as he spoke.

He heard Thorolf growling deep in his throat. The sound was nearly inaudible, but Osvif caught it. He turned to Thorolf.

“We won’t bring it aboard,” he said. He refused to go that far with what even he recognized was an irrational decision. “Tie it aft. We’ll tow it until we find someone who’ll know what to do with it.” He turned away from Thorolf to look at the skiff again. “We’ll find someone.”

Thorolf rubbed his palms on his thighs. He continued to growl.

+  +  +

Two days later.

Osvif Knifetongue leaned forward as the longboat approached another dragon ship. It lay still on the water. It had the same graceful lines as his craft.

“Slowly,” he ordered. The crew complied. Osvif was surprised at their continued loyalty. Or at least their compliance. He wondered why they had not yet pitched him overboard and cut loose the skiff. Was it merely Thorolf’s presence? Or something else? How far would Thorolf go before he, finally, refused Osvif’s commands?

They came alongside the other ship. The thwarts touched, and Thorolf led the men in securing lines between the two craft.

The ship’s fine workmanship was marred by cuts and gouges made by swords and axes. Claws had apparently splintered the surface of the central mast. Below those marks sat one man huddled in a robe of wolf fur. His interest in the newcomers seemed hardly aroused.

“Where is everyone else?” called Osvif. He saw streaks of blood on the deck.

“Left me behind,” the stranger answered.

“Who are you?”

“Ulf Bjalfason. My mother is Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the Fearless. I am called Kveldulf.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Osvif replied. “You don’t seem very interested in whether you float alone here or get taken aboard.”

Kveldulf shrugged. “Someone will come along. You came along.”

“You may not want to join us.” Osvif nodded toward the stern. “We’re towing some bewitched thing, not sure what to do with it.”

Kveldulf raised his head and peered. “Let’s see.” He arose, nearly naked beneath the robe. He strode leisurely to where he could see Osvif’s tow and stared long at it. Osvif noted the long, lean muscles that wrapped the stranger’s frame and stretched and knotted as he moved.

He came back to the central mast. “I know that man.”

Osvif heard one of his men mutter, “Od’s blood,” while another shushed him: “Odin’s fickle. Best not call his name, or he’ll make matters still worse.”

“A man no more,” Osvif said. “A skin sark warming sticks.”

“I’ll take it,” Kveldulf said.

Osvif peered at this stranger. He heard the crew whispering behind him.

“Give me the skiff,” Kveldulf said, “and you can have this boat. I’ll take some provisions, what I’m wearing. You can have the rest.”

Osvif wondered if this was some pirate’s trick. He turned to Thorolf, who frowned and nodded. He then saw the jittery mass of men on his own deck and recognized how worn thin was the strand that held them in check: ready to part, sending them into some blood fury that would likely lead to his own death.

He turned back to Kveldulf. “We’d be off roaming and raiding. We’re to meet up at the Orkneys, drive south to Francia. We’ve fortunes to make. It’s yours.”

+  +  + 

The transfer completed, Osvif watched Kveldulf paddle the skiff toward the south. The skin still sat upright on its frame in the bow.

Thorolf led the men in shifting goods from the abandoned longboat. They had found no sign of another person. There were a few weapons—an axe, two knives, and a sword. The men kept these. But four mail shirts were turned up and then tossed into the deeps. One of the men muttered, “I’ll not wear the armor of ghosts.” Thorolf had not scolded.

They set fire to the empty ship. Osvif and his men turned their craft to the west. The smoke of the fire smudged the sky behind them for hours.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Work in Progress: Dreams and Terrors

I've had a short hiatus from the Works in Progress series. Let's get back to it . . .


Shalimar Bang is the primary character in my ebook The DreamStalker. The following excerpt is the opening from the story that takes place soon after that previous story. The first tale introduced Shalimar to readers and gave a look at how she operates. In “Dreams and Terrors,” we learn a little more about this consulting detective's interior life.


Dreams and Terrors: A case from the files of Shalimar Bang.

Tuesday

2 a.m.

Raymond Munro couldn’t recall his last good sleep. Maybe last month, when he and his wife had visited his mother-in-law a few days. Even then, the couple had stayed in his wife’s old room, and they were expected to sleep soundly in a twin bed. It might have been a fine bed for a young woman not yet aged seventeen years, but for two middle-aged adults whose ages and waist measurements nearly matched, it was a launchpad for the next day’s crankiness. Still, Raymond thought he’d gotten better rest then than he got now in his king-sized bed in his own house.

He snorted, a sound of resignation and decision. He left his wife asleep in bed, picked up the poker from the living room fireplace and carried it next door, where he broke open the French doors at the back of the house. Inside, a black and white rat terrier rushed Munro while barking furiously. Munro swung the poker, silencing the dog.

Upstairs, James McIntire was stirring from sleep when Munro entered the bedroom and bludgeoned his neighbor to death.

That would be the last time McIntire thoughtlessly left his dog barking outside at night for two hours, disturbing Munro’s sleep.

 

2:07 a.m.

Brenda Bristow, housewife, had complained to her friend-from-grade-school-days Alice every time they met for their once-a-month daiquiris that she was “terminally tired.” Maybe not every time. But certainly each time they met at Bernet’s Bistro during the past eighteen months, the words had come out of her mouth. Usually after she ordered her second drink. The last three months, she hadn’t smiled as she said it.

This night, Brenda had lain in bed, eyes open, looking at nothing but the darkness between her face and the ceiling. She rose from the bed, picked out pantyhose from the dirty clothes hamper to tie her sleeping husband to the bed. She doused him with rubbing alcohol and set the bed afire.

No more would he come home late smelling of beer and cigarettes.

 

2:18 a.m.

Vince Shaw had been thinking about purchasing a new TV. Flat screen, “the highest def I can get,” he’d told his co-worker Sam more than once as they’d driven from one plumbing job to the next. But he hadn’t committed yet. He still had a big-tube TV that weighed more than his two college-age sons. But that Vince hadn’t yet shopped and bought his new TV really didn’t matter tonight. William Sandford shot and killed his neighbor, Vince Shaw, who had sat dozing while wrestling flickered on the TV screen. Sanford then emptied Shaw’s garage of the lawnmower, hedge clippers and other tools Shaw had borrowed during the past several months without returning.

 

9:37 a.m.

Shalimar Bang had purchased Alcatraz Island a few years back and set up her headquarters there. Other parts of the island prison had been converted into residences and posh shopping and dining establishments. She maintained a portion of the old prison still as a museum.

Shalimar gazed out the wall-sized window of her office, watched the boats shuttling visitors over the Bay waters to and from the island. Morning light winked on the fretted surface of the water. Shalimar had dimmed the lights in her office, but as she stood by the window, highlights appeared on the many dark chestnut curls in her hair, touched the small chevron-shaped scar on her forehead, traced the graceful lines of her nose (which she sometimes frowned at in the mirror, thinking it too long) and lips and chin, the arched brows over her delicately curved eyes. She would, at that moment, have made a happy portraitist of any painter or photographer who might have cajoled her into posing, but she habitually shied away from having her likeness captured. To some people, she sometimes seemed obsessive about her desire to cling to whatever shreds of privacy she could control. But Shalimar felt far too much of her life already had been made public, starting with the murder of her parents years ago.

Much of her professional life was purposefully fashioned for public consumption--for example, purchasing a historically significant site like Alcatraz could hardly escape the notice of media newshounds--because doing so promoted her business concerns. But she had learned that keeping the personal and the private separate was an important strategy in staying both profitable and sane in a world in which any shopper, pedestrian, and school pupil could--thanks to mobile technology--serve as a conduit to broadcasting one’s every movement and utterance to the entire global population.

A small chime sounded: Beamish contacting her over the intercom.

“Yes?” When Shalimar spoke, the system automatically analyzed and recognized her voice, then opened the connection.

“Good morning.” Beamish’s voice came across as cheerful. This was his first contact with his boss today. From seven o’clock that morning--as most mornings went--Shalimar had reviewed proposals and requests for projects and cases, updates on existing files, and scanned news feeds from local and international sources.

“News?” Shalimar asked.

“No progress on scheduling a visit with Fred MacIsaac,” Beamish replied. “The mayor is concerned about the amount of boat traffic to the island and the resulting increase in pollution--air, noise, and visual--and wants to meet. Roxanne is getting the new communications systems up and running--”

Shalimar interrupted: “Which phase has she reached?”

“Stage Two diagnostics.”

“Thanks.”

“And the police chief wants to assign a dedicated liaison from her office.”

“Why?”

“In her words, ‘to monitor your activities and to assess the levels of potential endangerment and opportunities for escalations of emergency alarms to crises alerts requiring management and strategic responses.’ End quote.”

Shalimar rested her forehead against the window. Although she felt nothing from the pressure on the chevron scar, the V turned white as it flattened against the glass. “That was clear and concise.” She watched the boats move on the flashing water, their passengers apparently merrily contributing to a multiplicity of pollutions. “See if you can get any more details from the chief’s office. Put the mayor off for another week . . . maybe tip off the legal team, sounds like it may be their tangle in a few weeks.”

“Gotcha.”

“Send me MacIsaac’s address. I may make a cold call.”

 
(c) Duane Spurlock

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Work in Progress: The Express Agent


I don’t think it’s possible to be named Spurlock and not be a fan of westerns. So surely if a writer is named Spurlock, one must write westerns.

I’ve had one western story published, “Pretty Polly,” which appeared in the Express Westerns anthology Where Legends Ride. (It’s also available as an eBook version at Amazon and Smashwords.

The following excerpt is a chapter from a novel-length work currently titled The Express Agent. The primary character, Phineas Hinge, is a troubled fellow, still unrecovered from the mud, blood, and chaos he experienced in the War Between the States. But the following chapter looks at a secondary character whose plot line intercepts that of Hinge’s during the course of the narrative. Without further ado, I leave the following prose to tell its tale . . .
 
The Express Agent

A cane-bottom mule-ear chair stood in front of the Barlowe Beverage Emporium, and sitting in the chair in the shade on the board walk as the noon hour approached was a bald man fanning his face with his sugarloaf hat.

To say he was bald didn’t mean he had no hair atop his head but had hair growing around his ears or the back of his head, or that he had just a bald spot at the crown of his head or merely a very high hairline. He was absolutely, truly bald.

There was not a single hair on his head. He had no mustache, no beard. Not even eyebrows.

Just eyelashes. Otherwise, nothing.

Some boys had been playing and raising dust clouds in the street. They had taken turns cocking a surreptitious look at the stranger fanning his Stetson. Finally they paused in their play. Apparently their curiosity had reached a point for all three to overcome their reticence, for they strolled over to stand before the man and his hat. The dust they had kicked up settled around them, leaving the boys and their clothes the same color as the street, as if they were creatures that had raised themselves up from the dirt on which the several buildings of the surrounding town stood.

The bolder of the boys said, “Mister, you ain’t got no hair.”

The man barked a laugh. “I bet your ma is proud of your fine powers of observation.”

“She never said.”

“What did I hear you younguns saying about a wolf?”

A second boy spoke up: “We said the last one who touched the hitching post, the curly wolf would get ‘im.”

“You boys ever see a curly wolf?”

They all shook their heads.The third boy said, “My pa says if I sass my ma, the curly wolf will get me.”

“He’s prolly right, and you might find that curly wolf is closer than you think.”

The first child asked, “You ever seen a curly wolf, mister?”

The stranger leaned back and smiled. “Boys, the curly wolf is the fiercest and wiliest of wolves. If you see one you’ll never see another thing. It’ll tear up a grizzly bear for play and chase wild Indians for exercise. And that’s before breakfast when it’s in a good mood.”

The man chuckled and the boys laughed.

“Boys, you ever heard of that outlaw, Curly Wolfe?”

The bold boy jumped in the air. “My pa, he said Curly Wolfe is the worstest bad man around. He shoots people and robs people and burns down barns and burns down whole towns just ‘cause he’s mean and hates folks that are settled down and livin’ their own lives and mindin’ their own business and tryin’ to just get along.”

The man chuckled again and nodded. “Sounds like you heard of him, then. Must be a bad character.”

The youngsters all nodded.

The stranger stopped fanning his hat and stared at the boys. “Did I tell you I’ve seen Curly Wolfe?”

All the boys opened their mouths. Their eyes widened, and they shook their heads as one.

“He’s a bad character, you got all that right, so I wasn’t too close. I hid behind a barn and peeked around a corner. You know how a porkypine gets all bristly when his quills go up to stick a nosey dog?” None of the boys had ever seen a porcupine, but that hardly mattered.

“Old Curly Wolfe was bristly, too, with his hair bristlin’ out all over his head, his hat could hardly stay on, and his beard was pointing out in all directions so I could barely see his face. And he bristled with arms, too, like an army’s worth of deadly weapons carried by one man. There was a Spencer rifle and a sawed-off shotgun, and he had a six shooter with walnut grips he polished with the hot blood of the men he killed. And there was a butcher knife stuck in his boot. And that’s just what I could see before he rode off.”

The boys were mesmerized and stood still as statues.

The man pulled out a watch and checked the time. “Younguns, it’s five minutes till twelve. You better run on home for dinner.” The boys continued staring at him. He waved his hat at them. “Go on, scat.” They took off, leaving a cloud of settling dust.

A second man joined the storyteller. He had a broad body atop long legs. His wrists stuck out beyond his shirt cuffs, so he wore a jacket big enough for his trunk and rolled its cuffs back  to hide the shirt’s shortcomings. “Recruiting?”

“Welcome Mr. Grove. Just passing time to help ignore the heat.”

Abner Grove gestured with his chin. “You got something on your head there.”

The man in the chair rubbed the back of his right hand over his forehead. “Probably ink from the newspaper wadded in my hatband.” He fiddled inside the Stetson a moment, then placed the hat on his head. “Ready?”

Grove nodded. His companion stood, adjusted his clothing. They both stepped into the street, strode across and down the block to the Emerson & Howell Banking Co. In passing, Grove patted the flank of one of two horses he’d tied to the hitching rail before walking over to the Barlowe Beverage Emporium. He pushed the red-painted door open just as a teller was turning the window sign to Closed for the noon hour. One of the bank officers stepped forward as the bald man closed the door behind him. The bank officer, dressed in black over a starched white shirt, said in an apologetic tone, “Gentlemen—”

Grove spat and drew his gun. “Gentlemen hell.”

The starched officer raised his hands and backed away. His eyes were as large as those of the kids in the street hearing about outlaws.

The bald man drew his revolver and pointed it at the teller by the window. It was stifling in the bank, but everyone here was going to sweat a little more. He doffed his hat. “Kindly leave the sign turned to Closed. Thank you. Now step over here by the counter. My name is Curly Wolfe, and we’re here to rob this bank.”

 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Work in Progress: Sudden Boogie


A shift here to the work of Louis King Glass. We’ve collaborated a bit on this, but this excerpt really is all Lou. Those of you who have read my eBooks have seen interviews written by the inestimable Mr. Glass therein.

That he is a fan of tough-guy, hard-boiled paperback originals written by Dan J. Marlowe, Donald Hamilton, Peter Rabe, and other Gold Medal writers, along with contemporary authors like Elmore Leonard, Barry Gifford, Ken Bruen, and Peter Brandvold, the southern setting for this 1970s escapade makes sense. Without further ado, Sudden Boogie:

Sudden Boogie

The gravel crunched under Earl's boots and he swayed a bit as he swung through the screen door of the house. Fluorescent blue bubbles floated up behind his eyeballs. He'd just had two swigs of moonshine from a jar his new acquaintance had lifted from a box carried in the trunk of his black Monte Carlo.

The house he staggered into was less a home and more a continuum of nicotine, alcohol, and stimulants of various powdered and pill forms. Earl had walked in on the scene about three hours earlier with a story of automotive disability. He'd heard the music loud as downtown as he stalked along the roadside and passed the graveled cutoff that disappeared into a tunnel of pine trees. That sounded like a party, and a party meant friendly people.

The friendly people didn't mind his joining in at all. They were a mix of college-age kids and older locals. The fellow with the moonshine was around fifty, a farmer. Two others were in their thirties and either worked on farms or worked on tractors and other large implements. Five others were little more than drunk boys in tee shirts and jeans and Chuck Taylors.

And there was a girl.

Earl was forty-five. Any female thirty and under was a girl in Earl's eyes. This girl looked a little older than the boys—maybe twenty-five, tops—but then, girls always matured earlier than boys.

Earl was years past being shy. When he came back from tasting the moonshine, he sat beside the girl on the ragged sofa.

The room was arranged in an uneven U: some mismatched chairs lined a wall facing the front door, which Earl had first entered three hours ago; the girl's sofa and another chair formed one arm of the U, and several more chairs formed the other arm. In the middle was a round coffee table covered with empty beer cans and ashtrays overflowing with butts and the dead ends of old joints.

The men and boys talked about rock and roll bands, reefer, and ball games. They didn't talk about girls or women. Each probably weighed his chances for bedding the lone female member of the group by the time night fell. More than once Earl caught someone frowning at him. One man sitting next to the only pretty girl in a room--or the only girl, period, in a room--wore hell on the bonds of universal brotherhood.

Conversation was limited by how loud someone could speak over the racketing speakers. A turntable rested on a stack of concrete blocks topped with a scavenged freight pallet. Milk crates loaded with albums sat on the floor in a drunken semi-circle by the turntable.

Earl curled his hand around the neck of a Jack Daniels fifth that rested in his lap. He turned to the girl. “I'm Earl.”

She smiled. She had a good smile, with straight teeth and lips that were naturally pink, not glossy or colored with lipstick. “Cora.”

“Cora. Good, solid, old-fashioned name. I like that. Nice to meetcha.”

“Same.”

He offered the bottle. Instead of yelling over the sound, his eyebrows arched a question.

Cora nodded, accepted the fifth, turned it up for a sip. She returned the bottle. “Jack's for sippin', not gulpin'.”

“Good enough,” Earl agreed.

The boy seated at the center of the U's base was an Asian. He was on a bar stool, above the level of everyone else's chair. He yelled out, “Is crap! Crap!”

The farmer had been eyeing Earl and his moves with Cora. Now he turned to the Asian. “What is he talking about?”

“Flutes,” the kid said. “Crap.”

Earl knew then the boy was talking about the music thundering out of the speakers. A record by a band named Firefall was playing on the turntable. The current song included flutes. Compared to some of the sound that had blasted out during the previous three hours, Earl considered this to be easy-listening wine-time music.

The Asian on the bar stool waved a hand to dismiss the flute crap music, then got off his perch and marched to the turntable. He removed the album from the spike, and a squall ran through the speakers. The boy sailed the record across the room like a Frisbee.

“Not sudden boogie,” he said into the silence—a remarkable, seeming tangible silence after the hours of thumping music.

He dipped to a milk crate, came up with another album, started it on the turntable.

“Sudden boogie,” the Asian said, smiled, and returned to the stool.

Lynyrd Skynyrd launched into “Gimme Back My Bullets.” The floor vibrated.

Cora put a hand to her mouth and laughed. Earl's eyebrows asked another question.

She spoke into his ear: “Sudden boogie. Southern boogie.”

The moist heat from her mouth seemed to sweep through his body and pop all the bubbles left by the moonshine.

He looked her over. Blonde hair to her shoulders, blue eyes in a face with some baby fat. She looked a little chunky in a tight tee shirt over cut-off jean shorts, but maybe that was the sway-backed sofa's fault, ruining everyone's posture.

He didn't mind chunky. And he liked that mouth.

The Asian was off the stool again, hopping around the inside of the U, bumping the coffee table, hollering out, “Dance! Dance!”

Amid all that flapping, he pulled a .38 revolver from the back of his waist band. He blew a hole in the farmer's chest, turned to one of the boys.

Earl was shocked loose from the warmth of his buzz. He noted when three more figures came into the room behind him, through the front door. They were firing pistols also.

Earl shoved Cora off the sofa, to the floor.

Boys and men were spewing blood and flopping off chairs.

Smoke was filling the room.

Lynyrd Skynrd was slamming along on a wheeling guitar roller coaster of sound.

Earl still had the fifth by the neck. He flung the bottle.

Its square bottom smashed into the Asian's forehead. He tumbled to the floor.

His .38 went spinning toward Cora.

The girl snatched it up, rolled, got up to kneel, squeezed off three shots.

The three intruders were smoked.

One slammed into the sofa before puddling to the floor. Another splayed, flew out the front door—his revolver fell on the turntable and wrecked the arm and its needle. The third backed to the wall beside the door and stood there, his knees locked. He was dead where he stood.

The room was filled with silence, swirling smoke and dust, bits of flying upholstery.

Cora still kneeled and had the gun extended in a firing position. Earl was gentle as he pulled the .38 from her hands, got her up and seated on the sofa.

He checked everyone in the room. The Asian was alive, unconscious. All the boys and the farmers were dead.

He checked, and Cora's targets were still dead.

He picked up the fifth of Jack Daniels, wiped it over with a bandanna from his back pocket. Then he pressed the right hand of the dead farmer to the bottle neck, as if he had been the one to fling it. Careful with the bandanna, Earl put the bottle back on the floor near the Asian.

He wiped Cora's prints off the .38's grips, pressed it into the Asian's hand, then kicked it under the sofa.

Earl checked on Cora. She sat wide-eyed watching him, starting to pant a little.

Earl went through the pockets of everyone on the floor. He took some cash from wallets, left most there, found another .38 in a holster hanging from the older farmer's belt. Earl pocketed that pistol.

He helped Cora up. “Come on, you need to get moving,” he said. He saw signs of something coming on: shock or an adrenalin crash.

He picked up an unopened fifth of George Dickel from the floor.

Out back, he seated her in the black Monte Carlo. His new acquaintance—now dead—had been one of the younger farmers, and Earl had watched the man return the keys to the ignition after closing the trunk on the box of moonshine jars.

Two other vehicles sat in the gravel lot behind the house. Earl checked those, took a wool blanket from one and unfolded it over Cora.

Then he climbed into the driver's seat, turned the key so the big 400 V8 roared, and followed the gravel and back out to where it met the road.

“Where those boys from?” Earl asked.

Cora looked at him with blank eyes.

“You know those boys?” he asked again.

She shook her head. “I don't know none of 'em.”

Earl's eyebrows asked another question.

“I got there not long before you did,” Cora said. “My car started smoking and died, so I walked along and heard the music and went back there.”

Earl sighed. Not knowing where those fellows hailed from, he wouldn't know which direction to avoid—he didn't want to be seen driving a car someone might recognize as belonging to another person. The Monte Carlo's white landau roof made it susceptible to being picked out of a crowd, and it would sure stick out in thin traffic.

Earl sighed again. He kicked the gas and roared onto the asphalt.