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.


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.


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.”


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


“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.”


“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.”


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.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Work in Progress: Bedlam's Bible

Today's entry in the Works in Progress series is an excerpt from a longish story whose working title is Bedlam's Bible.

The story features Shalimar Bang and her consulting organization of risk managers. Shalimar has already appeared in an eBook, "The Dream Stalker," which is available from both Amazon and Smashwords. A brief description of Shalimar's beginnings is provided in "The Dream Stalker," but Bedlam's Bible includes more details about her background and her remarkable abilities.

Bedlam's Bible also offers a broader view of her organization than the previous eBook did. Shalimar may run the business, but she isn't the only extraordinary individual on its roster.

In fact, this excerpt focuses on one of those other characters, and Shalimar doesn't even appear.

Bomber Jacquet is new to readers, but he's been galloping around inside my skull for quite a while. I originally wrote him into a script for a comic book pitch, but then moved him into this prose narrative. On first appearance, he doesn't fit the classic heroic mold -- he's quirky, ungainly and apparently uncoordinated, and he definitely can't be categorized with the strong, silent, square-jawed type of fellow who usually may be found on paperback covers. I find him funny, endearing, and a joy to write.

I hope you enjoy reading about him as much as I like writing his adventures.

On to the excerpt:

Bedlam's Bible: Chapter One


Bo Curlew flinched and ducked his head as another 9mm bullet struck and dented the stainless steel and spewed flame.

The stainless steel sheathed a hot dog cart. His hot dog cart. And right now it gave him cover from two crazy men shooting automatic pistols at him.

A career in the Navy, years of taking part in covert ops as a SEAL, and now he was hunkered on a sidewalk, smeared with mustard and pickle relish, pinned down by enemy fire, and not a single weapon at hand.

How did he get in this mess?

+ + +

45 minutes ago . . .

Metropolis, Illinois, lay on the Ohio River and moved about as slowly as those waters, unless they were swollen by flood. And in the summer months, this town of a little more than six thousand souls stirred itself into a tourist hot spot for those needing a sign that truth, justice, and the American way still had a place in the hearts and minds of their countrymen.

During the course of a summer, hundreds of shutters would be tripped and thousands of photos would be shot of people standing by and in front of a larger-than-life-size statue of the world’s most famous red-caped superhero, which stood in an eponymous square at the center of town.

And every day of the summer months except Sundays, Bo Curlew wheeled his hot dog cart to the northeast corner of the square and Market Street by 10:30 a.m. to set up in time for the lunch-hungry tourists to catch the enticing aroma of hot wieners.

So there was nothing unusual in Bo’s parking his cart at the corner that Tuesday morning. There was a haze in the sky the Bo knew would build into darker clouds during the day as the humidity rose in thickening waves from the river. There would be rain tonight, but his business day should be fine, and he expected the rain to be gone by the time he set up shop the following morning. He had just set the lock on the wheels and taken a look at the new sign he had installed across the front of the cart last night: Superdogs. The white of the sign’s background was as crisp as Bo’s bleached apron and the starched diner hat on his head. His short-sleeved shirt and trousers were the same blue as the famous statue’s suit, and a ribbon along the seam of his trousers matched the red of the statue’s cape. Retired from the military, Bo continued to present a sharp figure.

He had inserted the post of the cart’s large umbrella into its stand, but its canvas wings were still folded, and Bo was just beginning to unlatch the hatch covers that allowed access to the hot belly of the cart.

Then a shadow dropped across the top of the cart.

Bo looked up. The owner of the shadow said, “I’ll have a hot dog.”

Bo nodded. “Hang on a minute, I’ll have it right up.” Bo didn’t move immediately to his order, because he was still looking at his customer.

He was a big one.

He was tall—Bo pegged him at six-seven or six-eight, at least a foot over his head—and an interesting-looking character. Interesting—in a town where balding and bearded middle-aged men wearing comic book clothes drove up in RVs and Smart Cars to take pictures and buy glow-in-the-dark posters of Linda Carter in a pose from a 1970s TV show.

The man’s height was emphasized by his long face, his long arms, and his long legs, and the apparently narrow shoulders that didn’t seem to fit a body so big. His head was sort of rectangular, and his hair was thin and buzzed closed to his scalp. He wore thick-lensed glasses in horn rim frames, so the distortion caused by the lenses made his eyes seem big, too. But if he turned his head, the pupils disappeared. Bo felt a chill the first time he spotted that.

Bo started building his customer’s hot dog, but continued to look over the fellow. “You want just one?” Bo asked.

“Is that a Big joke?” the man replied. “Just one. I like a little conversation before I jump feet-first into the deep end of a relationship.”

Bo handed over his creation in exchange for a bill. “Keep the change.” Bo nodded and lined up the catsup and mustard—both yellow and brown—at the edge of the cart.

He watched the man eat.

The lower half of the rectangular head was rounded by a double chin, and the chin itself was a knob that poked out from the soft roll of fat. The fingers and hands holding the hot dog were long and muscular, and Bo’s military training helped him estimate the rest of this man was probably well-muscled, too, although he seemed to have a good start on a beer gut that belled out the bottom of a black tee shirt with SKA printed in yellow across the chest. Over the shirt he wore a leather, padded aviator’s jacket. He also wore pleated trousers with a delicate black check woven into the material, and the cuffs puddled a bit over black-and-tan spectators.

Some old combat training stirred up a buzz behind Bo’s ears. His instincts told him this guy was trouble.

He asked, “How is it?”

Pretty good. Mmm. If you’re – GULP – suggesting CHOMP my size (MMMF) warrants MORE than (munch) one frank, I’d GULP agree. But CHOMP I need (mmmffmm) to stay light (smack) on my feet for awhile. GULP.”

The customer looked at his wrist watch. Its face was positioned on the inside of his left wrist.

By the way, you need to vacate this space in the next seventy-two and a half minutes.”

“What?” The cart vendor shook his tongs at this big galoot—sure, he looked goofy and was a good tipper, but Bo was sure some sort of trouble was riding his narrow, cow-hide padded shoulders—and sputtered with an uncharacteristic anger that seemed to zoom up his backbone: “I’ve bought a permit for this site! A clutch of hungry fanboy tourists and a gaggle of lawyers will come streaming out onto this square like a buffalo stampede and wolf down a cart full of dogs, all while chattering on cell phones, and not drop a single crumb on their Armani or Kenneth Coles! That’s my living, buster!

The tall man licked his fingertips and tilted his head in what Bo supposed was a sympathetic angle—Bo couldn’t see the man’s eyes, so he guessed at the sympathy.

But engaged in the hot dog harangue, neither man gave any attention to a 1953 Studebaker roaring along Market toward the square until the car came to a slewing, screeching halt by the curb behind the hot dog cart.

Bo paused, tongs in mid-shake as he turned to look behind him.

A Japanese man -- Bo judged him about 60 years old -- slammed open the passenger door and jumped out of the Studebaker. Bo’s training cataloged the man’s details immediately: he was wearing a tan jacket (with narrow lapels that reminded Bo of suits from the early 1960s) over a collared shirt and a thin black necktie, dark pants and wingtips. He was nearly bald, hair cut close to the head. He wore black-frame glasses.

And Bo’s less-exciting life as a street vendor hadn’t dimmed his peripheral vision: He saw that his customer clearly recognized the man and was surprised to see him.

The man called out. Bo heard the Oriental accent as the man yelled, “Bomber!”

The big galoot replied: “Rampo?”

Bo gripped the tongs, automatically picking a target on the big man in the aviator’s jacket. “He called you a bomber.”

The galoot didn’t take his eyes off the man from the Studebaker. “Not a bomber. Bomber.”

The driver also got out of the Studebaker. He was dressed all in black, also wore black-framed glasses, and Bo registered the details that made him think the driver was the other man’s son.

“Are you some kind of terrorist?” Bo began shifting his stance, moving his grip on the tongs so he could drive them into a vulnerable spot.

“Bomber’s my name.” Except for his statements to Bo, the big man appeared to ignore the vendor—all his attention was centered on the two men from the car.

Bo heard a slight buzz. The man who claimed to be named Bomber spoke, as if in reply to someone Bo couldn’t see: “No, Roxie, nothing’s going on. A little delay, this guy doesn’t want to move his cart.”

“Talking to your terrorist pals?” Bo had decided the jab the business end of the tongs into the guy’s throat, right behind the corner of his jaw below the ear.

The driver called out from the other side of the car, “You’re out of time, Bomber!”

“Look, Rampo, we’ve had our fun, but I’m kinda busy here.”

The passenger spoke now: “He said you’re out of time, Bomber.”

They’re both named Rampo? Bo wondered.

He was moving one foot forward, ready to strike with the tongs, when he saw the older man reach into his jacket and pull out a gun. Recognition flashed through Bo’s mind: Glock. 9mm.

Then Bomber moved.

As Bo saw the driver also draw a pistol—an identical Glock—the big man beside him seemed to disappear. But he wasn’t really gone—Bo caught a glance of the giant in the air, somersaulting over the cart, then he was suddenly standing on the opposite side of the Superdogs cart.

What the hell is going on here?

Bomber grabbed a handful of Bo’s shirt and yanked him over the cart with one arm. “Get down,” he said, and the men by the car started firing.

Bullets slammed into the cart—There goes the fresh paint—and each impact point was marked by a flare of bright fire.


“Napalm-tipped loads,” Bomber said. “Nasty.” He was hunkered down by Bo. “Got a weapon?”

Bo held up the tongs.

“That might work.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Bomber Jacquet.”

The sidewalk surface shattered and cement shrapnel pelted the two men.

“That’s a name?”

“It’s mine. Nickname, anyway.”

Bo didn’t hear a buzz this time, but he heard someone yelling in a teeny-tiny voice in Bomber’s ear:

>>Bomber, what is going on?!<<

“Traffic problem, Roxie, don’t worry.” He snap-fast chanced a look around the corner of the cart for a peek at their attackers before a fresh blast of flame bloomed at the very point he had been exposed. “Sell footlongs?”

“No,” Bo answered.

“Too bad.”


“You’d need a bigger cart. Give you more cover for times like these.”

“I wasn’t really expecting times like these.”


>>Bomber, I need to know Right Now what is your status?<<

“We’re all good here, Roxie. No worries.” Bomber turned to Bo. “The way they’re going at it, they should both have to snap in a fresh clip at the same time in about eight seconds. Here, let’s see those tongs.”

But before his fingers touched the metal—


The sidewalk cracked as the ground vibrated.

A manhole cover jumped into the sky from the street. The two gunmen stopped shooting to watch the disk arc through the air, then they threw their hands over their heads and raced down the street.

The iron plate crashed into the hood of the Studebaker. Glass flew in a glittering rain.

Bomber snorted. “That’s not seventy minutes. Roxie, it’s early. It’s all happening.”

>>I’m not joking, Bomber.<<

“No jokes, baby, it’s coming down now.”

>>Don’t call me baby.<<

Bomber raised his head to peer over the cart to the street. Bo joined him.

“Ah! Ah! Ah!” was all the hot dog vendor could manage to say.

>>Bomber? Bomber!<<

“I’m here, Roxie.” Bomber peered over the battered cart. “I sure wish you sold footlongs, buddy.”

Bo had stopped saying “Ah!” and simply stared.

“Our early arrival is coming up from an erupted manhole in the middle of the street, close to the curb near the statue.” Bomber twisted his neck a moment to see if the gunmen from the Studebaker were still in the area. No sign. “It ain’t pretty.”

>>I’ve got no visual. Can you describe it?<<

“You know those hydras the teacher made you look at in the microscope in high school biology? That’s its head. Sickly yellow, like it’s been living in its momma’s basement. Sizewise, its head is about as tall as the diameter of a car tire. A big car. Like an SUV. After that—”

>>After what?<<

 “After that, it’s tentacles. Big fat ones.”

The tentacles were big and fast. They flashed out of the broken manhole—four, with apparently more to come—and reached. Two wrapped around the railing surrounding the hero’s statue. One stretched and gripped the driver-side door post through the Studebaker’s broken windows. Another headed toward the hot dog cart, and still another started to rise from below street level.

Bomber vaulted over the cart. “Kreegah! Bundolo!!”


Bo watched. Long, springing leaps carried Bomber into the air and toward the monster. At the top of the airborne arc right above the creature’s head, Bomber swung a long samurai sword -- a katana -- over his head and down as he descended.

Where’d that come from? Bo wondered.

The thing jerked aside its head, and Bomber’s swing missed. The creature’s gatelike jaw opened and Bo heard a roar—but it sounded more like a truck-load of cellophane scrunching together all at once.

Bomber’s sword flared light from the sun as he dipped, skipped, leaped, and twisted, swinging the blade in arcs that sliced the tentacles from the monster’s body where they were rooted near the head.

The cellophane screeching continued and got louder. The detached tentacles—twenty and thirty feet long—thrashed and twisted. The railing around the statue was wrenched from its anchors and flung into a drug store window. Against the racket of the crashing plate glass, Bo saw the wrecked Studebaker hammered against the pavement by the tentacle that still clung to its door post, and broken asphalt and concrete danced and bounced with the quickly demolished car.

The crackling yowls emanating from the yellow mouth of the armless creature now were so great Bo could not hear Bomber. But he saw that strange, ungainly giant spring once more into the air, pirouette, and slice the head of the beast from its neck. The quivering stump spewed a yellow gout of viscous goo, then collapsed out of sight into the manhole.

Bo blinked. He stood up from where he’d hunkered behind his cart.

The tentacles had withered and now look like old yellow balloons that had lost their air, flat and wrinkled.

Metropolis square looked like some war zones Bo had once trod. He could hardly believe his eyes. His ears still rang, but he could hear an approaching siren in the distance.

Bomber rubbed his palms against his thighs, like a schoolboy wiping grease from his hands onto his pants. The sword was nowhere in sight.

He was walking back toward the cart, and Bo could hear him talking.

“No, it’s gone now. It came out of a manhole, and it was big and ugly and gooey inside, but it didn’t smell.” He looked up at Bo. “Did you smell anything?”

“Uh, no.”

“Me neither. Don’t like a smelly monster.”

>>Bomber, are you okay?<<

“I’m fine. Town looks a little rough.”

Bo asked, “How did you do that?”

Bomber grinned and light flashed in the lenses of his glasses. “Clean living.”

A police car roared into the square and swerved as its driver stomped the brakes.

“What was that thing?” Bo asked.

“I’d call it a monster. Unless it’s a typical citizen shows up here for hot dogs on a regular basis.”

Bo blinked, not sure what to say next. Then he felt the pavement shudder beneath his feet.

Bomber looked back at the manhole.

“Oh, poot,” he said.

>>Bomber, what now?<<

Bomber began to sing, but Bo was hardly conscious of the words. Because as the odd giant began to sing, cracked concrete and pavement around the sundered manhole flew into the air as the hole expanded. A bushel-sized chunk collapsed the roof of the squad car and the siren squealed back into life.

The pavement around the broken hole surged upward. More pavement flew as something else reared up from underground.

Like the first creature, it was yellow and roared in a cellophane-crackling voice. But it was three times the size of the first. It shoved upward, and its massive head swam in the air fifteen feet above Bo’s height. The tentacles—Bo counted six so far—were thicker and longer. One whipped out of sight around the corner and flashed back into the main area of the square swinging a small Volkswagen. It flung the vehicle to crash into the still-wailing squad car, and the siren went silent.

The two policemen hid behind the statue and fired their automatic pistols. The monster seemed not to notice.

Then Bomber ran forward, the katana again in his hands, and Bo heard his song:

“I cain’t get no . . . sad-iz-fack-shun. . .”

He leaped—He’s like a kangaroo or something, Bo thought—and somersaulted in midair. The blade aimed to cleave the creature’s head from top to bottom, held in both hands.

Then a lightning-swift tentacle snapped like a whip. Bomber flew to the side, and the sword pinwheeled down the street. The flare of the sunlight on the blade left a fiery streak burned onto Bo’s sight that left him blinking and rubbing his eyes.

Bomber hit the curb hard. He was on the other side of the street from Bo. The big man got up, shook like a wet dog, ducked as another tentacle whipped past.

He jumped, cartwheeled, dove, rolled as he dodged the snapping tentacles. He landed lightly on his feet by the hot dog cart.

“Quick!” he yelled at Bo. He plucked a black cylinder from one of his jacket pockets and handed it to the vendor. It was about six inches long and four across. “Wrap this in as many hot dogs as you can. When I holler, throw it to me.”

Then he snatched the parasol, still furled, from the ruined cart. He ran at the crackling beast, hefting the shaft of the umbrella like a pole vaulter, and roared: “Tarmangani bundolo!”

Bomber rammed the shaft into the maw of the creature, and his momentum opened the umbrella with a sharp POP! The monster shook its head, and its tentacles swam toward the object that both gagged it and spread its jaws so that it couldn’t open them further or close them.

Bo had wrapped a string of steaming hot dogs around the cylinder and secured them with a strap he’d ripped from his apron. He was just pulling the knot tight when he heard Bomber: “Gimme a frankfurter ‘fore I die!”

Bo launched the package to Bomber with the best form he’d used since his high school football days. Something popped in his shoulder, but his aim was true. Bomber caught the package.

The monster had just shredded the fabric and extricated the bent metal remains of the umbrella from its mouth when Bomber threw he hot dog-wrapped cylinder into the still-open hole in the vast yellow face.

The monster appeared to choke, then its mouth shut.

Its tentacles ceased their wild movement, remaining motionless in mid-whip.

Bomber leaped and landed beside Bo behind the cart. “Get down!”

And then the monster erupted.

Bo and Bomber were knocked flat and kissed the sidewalk, but the cart—twisted, bent, and spewing steam—took the brunt of the force wave.

The entire square was drenched in a downpour of yellow rain.

Bomber helped Bo to his feet. Puddles of yellow ichor were pouring down the storm drains. Goo dripped from the ends of their noses.

“Subterraneans can’t stand nitrates,” Bomber said. “Or nitrites. I can’t remember which.”

“What?” Bo said. “I haven’t heard a boom like that since my Navy days. What’d you say?”

But Bomber was already walking to the gaping hole in the street. He kicked aside the flaccid scrap of a tentacle and peered down into the darkness. A tendril of smoke spun out of the hole and dispersed in the sky.

He could barely hear Roxie twittering in his ear.

>>Bomber, pleeeeez answer me. What is going on?”<<

“Threat’s over, baby. Monster fall down, go boom.”

He could begin to hear another siren approaching.

“I’m going down to take a look, see if there are more of these critters around. Catch ‘em in their hidey hole.”

>>Bomber, do not, I repeat, Do Not go down underground. You need back up. The Boss will wring your neck as a prelude to serious torture if you do not follow this order.”

“Sorry, baby, the dark and dirty Down Below is calling me. Can’t hear you. Talk later. Ciao.”

And he hopped into the air and dropped like a plummet through the jagged-edged hole into the darkness.

>>Bomber? Bomber!<<

No response.

>>Stop calling me baby!<<