A3Writer: August 2010
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Friday, August 27, 2010

f3 Coffee Seduction

     I didn't have the usual vices. Smoking wasn't my ting, I could put the bottle away easy enough, and the only drink I had an on-and-off fling with was Scotch, preferably one older than me. I appreciated a nice pair of legs, a set of curves, and luscious lips, but knew how fickle the whole thing was. I'd seen joes go for a tumble, then give up the bank account. Saps, the lot of them. Dames made things . . . complicated, especially when it came to the job, and they didn't like it when I put the job first.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fight scenes

     As Cary Elwes said in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, "Prepare for the fight scene." I think something is missing in fight scenes nowadays, at least in movies. The endlessly choreographed 30+ minute fight scenes just get tired. And gimmicky. There's always an outrageous condition behind the fighting, such as fighting in a water wheel.
     Not only that, but nearly everyone seems to know advanced martial arts. Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good martial arts sequence. I love classic Kung Fu movies (Bruce Lee!) and I love a great Jackie Chan flick. I don't have a problem with them as they match the type of story it's trying to tell, but other films seem to just keep going endlessly as a way to show off the choreography and advanced special effects, and that just grates at me because while I'm often looking for an escape and can accept the fantastic, I draw the line at the ridiculous.
     But there's hope. After watching The Hunted again, I see the type of fight scene that is perfect to alleviate the monotony. I won't spoil it, but it involves more desperate moves by a hero imminently unqualified to vanquish the villain, but the villain has already been weakened by another, so the unlikely hero does have a chance. It's a very raw, visceral scene where the nature of fighting changes a few times, and by the end, both hero and villain have sustained grievous wounds.
     I think I really enjoy it because I can apply it to my writing. In urban fantasy where there are very disparate levels of skill, ability, and power, there are no level playing fields, and the fight should reflect that level of desperation.
     Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go write a fight scene.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Inspiration

     It's unpredictable. It's spontaneous. It's unreachable. It's around the corner. It's on the tip of my tongue. I'm always amazed when a flash of inspiration strikes me. Sometimes I'm really working on something, and then it clicks. More times I can count it just suddenly pops up, and I'm off to the races trying to write it down before the inspiration fades. Whatever it's called, whatever it's source. I love it.
     The really cool thing? It happens more often the more I write. Creativity seems to beget more creativity, and it gets easier each time. I can't make inspiration happen, but I learn tricks to encourage it to make an appearance.
     Do any writers out there have tricks they use to encourage inspiration?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forbidden topics

     As a teacher, I've seen my fair share of essays on topics that I don't want to deal with any longer. I've even known teachers to create a list of banned topics such as abortion and capital punishment. I think it's mostly because students all say the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Without a new take, a new, fresh perspective, I'm tired of it. Yet I haven't created a banned list yet. Emphasis on yet. I find myself leaning in that direction, though, as I will groan after just a few lines because I can already tell that there's nothing new to read.
     I've seen a few agents post about how they're tired of certain stories. Vampires readily come to mind as I've seen agents post on those a time or two, and I understand that agent inboxes are clogged to the RAM with queries for them. I'm sure there are others, so I wonder, and ask (politely of course) what topics make agents groan even within the genres they accept? Also, would it be possible for a fresh, new perspective on such a topic to grab an agent, or is it too late by the second line of the query?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Self-publishing

     This one just seemed to pop up all at once for me. There's a lot of people asking me to go and self-publish. "It's the wave of the future" and it would get me out there and making money on my books instead of wasting time trying to get an agent. The artistic integrity of my book would be maintained that way as well, allowing me complete control over the whole thing, right down to the cover.
     Yes, it is a siren song. Complete control, and seeing my words out there among the people ready to be snapped up by a ready populace. And of course that would just be the beginning! Agents and publishers would realize how awesome my abilities are after sales go through the roof, and they would clamor to me, and I would make them fight in a gladiatorial arena, presiding over them like Caesar, until only the survivor remained. My money is on The Janet Reid (AKA The Query Shark). I would then reign as Supreme Emperor Author over the NYT bestselling list, putting to shame the likes of King and Patterson.
     Hey, if I'm going to dream, I'm going to dream big. I am a writer, after all.
     But that's all that is, or at least the odds of it happenning are approximately the same as winning three lotteries simultaneously while surviving several lightning strikes.
     Squared.
     More than that, there's a reason why agents and publishers exist. Aside from the editorial input, they know what sells. They know the market as well as anyone can know the market, which is pretty darned impressive. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Agents do things the likes of which I cannot fathom! Nor do I want to (my comment is in there somewhere. Keep looking!). I have enough headaches being a writer, and I can only imagine it will become more intense when there are writing deadlines to balance along with my mundane existence. The hassles of trying to do the work of an agent while self-publishing a book and writing others is just insane. At least for me. Others who have the knack, have at it!
     More than that, I know my writing skills, and I know my ego (Pause for those comments regarding my massive ego) and I know that my writing isn't perfect. It's just not. I know it's not. I think I'm a really good writer, but even the likes of Thomas Jefferson needed people to read over his stuff and edit! I need agents and editors to take a look at my stuff and help me make it even better, and yes, it can always be better.
     More than that, know that the gatekeepers are there for a reason, and that if I move to self-publishing, I may not have the chops to handle agents, editors, and publishers. It's a hard, unforgiving business, and if I don't have the patience and determination to make sure my book is the best I can possibly be, and to navigate those treacherous waters (ooo, another shark reference), then what agent or publisher would want to pick me up? I've read the blogs of several agents regarding self-publishing, and they all cite these just a few of the reasons to avoid self-publishing. I could go on, but I'm not writing this to slam self-publishing, merely to say, it's not for me.
     Sure, I'm going to rack up a log of battle scars and shark bites before this is done, but I'm going to make it. I'm going to see my books sitting on shelves, and I'll be able to tell the war stories of what I went through to make it.
     Greatly exaggerated, of course. I'm a writer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

F3 Rain Cafe

     The cafe nearly closed for the day. Its patrons had long since deserted the all outdoor seating, except me. Usually, the rain in this city came down gently, but steadily. Now, though, I watched drops come down hard enough to bounce off the glass top table in front of me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Peace of Luck (Short Story)

A Peace of Luck

     "Thank you for coming . . . to see me, Mr. Allen," Jeff Spietzel wheezed to me. The man, in his nineties, was confined to a wheel chair with a blanket over his lap. A tube ran up to his nose and around his head from a large, green tank of oxygen, complete with its own wheeled cart to move it around. The old man's didn't look ninety, though. His skin seemed bright, as were his eyes, and he had on a neat polo shirt. His beard and hair, all white, were trimmed. His hands trembled whenever he moved them, such as when he extended it to shake mine.
     I took his hand, and his strength surprised me even if it did continue to tremble. "Parkinson's," he wheezed, "and a lot of other things, so my doctors tell me. Please, sit down."
     I took the padded chair across from the old man. The room was pretty simple. A couple of more chairs completed the sitting furniture, and small tables next to each of the chairs rounded out the rest. Old quilts decorated the walls, giving the place a homey feel. A large window looked out over th backyard where some kids played in the afternoon drizzle. It rained in Belport almost as often as Seattle, so the rain was second nature. Besides, grade school kids never got tired of the rain. I had taken off my leather jacket and hat and left them on the coat tree upon entering.
     "My great grand-children," Jeff wheezed. "Quite a different world than what I remember."
     I nodded. With almost a century under his belt, he had seen a lot. More than I could even think of, though I'd wager I had seen some odder things.
     "You're a lucky guy. So, Mr. Spietzel, what can I do for you?"
     "I'm dying, Mr. Allen."
     "Not much I can do for that. Everybody dies."
     He wheezed a laugh, which required a long pull on his oxygen to recover. "No. That's not it at all. I accept that I'm dying, but I need something answered. After a long life, there's something I finally need to know, and I think you're the only one that can answer me. Have you ever seen anything like this before?" He pointed to a faded, metal four-leaf clover pin hanging on his shirt that looked as old as he.
     "Sorry, no. What is it?"
     His shoulder slumped at my answer. "I thought–thought it might be a good luck charm. I thought it was the reason I was still alive."
     "Why do you think that?"
     "Well, My father told me it was, and I thought it saved my life, too."
     "Tell me about it."
     "But surely you would recognize it if it had some sort of power. Your ad said that you dealt with the supernatural, and I assumed you would know."
     "I do deal with the supernatural, but there aren't books that catalog these things, despite what TV and movies say. So it doesn't mean anything that I don't know what your pin is. Tell me about it, and I might be able to tell you if it's on the level."
     He seemed relieved to hear this. "Should I start from the beginning?"
     "That's generally best. As far back as you know. Sometimes how these things came into being are important."
     "All the way back, then. I'll tell you the story my father told me. He told it to me often while growing up."
     I settled in, ready to hear the story.
     "My father was German, as you probably know from my last name, and living in Germany when the Great War broke out. Not the second war, but the first one. The actual Great War. My father was part of it, and he was stationed along the front. The fighting was fierce. He told me all about what happened. Soldiers died hung up on wire, or triggering mines, or shot of course. He told me of the cold and wet, and how the trenches would always be muddy, and inches of water down in the low parts. Now matter how they tried, they couldn't seem to get warm or stay dry. Many got trench foot, and lost toes or even their entire feet. Through it all they had to fight. Day and night they had to be ready for the order to charge over No Man's Land or how the enemy would do the same for a few feet of dirt.
     "It went on and on, until, one night, Christmas Eve. My father and his countrymen, missing home, began to sing." Jeff broke into verse, and he didn't wheeze at all. His voice rose to a great rich, baritone.

"O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!"

      He neared the end of the first verse, and then his voice began to falter, but he made it to the end of the verse. Not knowing German, I didn't finish up his rendition, but, softly, I began singing the second verse.

"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety.
On Christmas Day you stand so tall,
Affording joy to one and all.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety."

     Jeff smiled at me, and I could see tears filling his eyes. "Yes. Yes, that's the one, and that's exactly what happened. My father and the men with him, they sung in German, and the English sang back in their words. That–that was the beginning."
     "The Christmas Truce," I said.
     "You know of it?"
     "I know tidbits of things where history takes an odd turn. In the middle of the greatest conflict the world had ever known, opposing sides put down their weapons and celebrated Christmas."
     "Yes. That's it exactly." He coughed heavily, doubling over and clutching his side in pain. It went on long enough that I got out of my chair to go get someone, but he held up a hand, and the fit seemed to pass. "I'm all right, Mr. Allen. As all right as the dying can be. Let a dying man go out the way he wishes. I need to know."
     I nodded. "I need more to go off of."
     "Yes . . . yes. All through the night, they sang carols and told stories to one another, until a few brave men climbed out of the trenches, and went across No Man's Land, not to kill one another, but to shake hands."
     I couldn't help but smile at that. The image was too good not to.
     "They made a feast on Christmas morning, everyone bringing out the food they had, and pooling it together. Many had treats sent from home just for Christmas, and all together it made for quite a meal. There was one man on the British side, an Irish man, Liam Mallory, who befriended my father. They traded stories back and forth all Christmas day, and even exchanged gifts. All of the soldiers exchanged gifts, but there was one gift at the end of the day that he gave to my father. He had a tin, the tin that he contributed to the meal, of smoked kippers. The army tins were plain, but this he had gotten from his family, and it was decorated with a leprechaun and a four leaf clover. Liam cut the clover out of the tin, put in a couple of holes, and used a sewing needle to make it into a pin." Jeff caressed the pin reverently.
     "That is the story of where it came from, Mr. Allen. Can you tell me about the pin?" The anxiousness came through clearly in that wheeze.
     "Not yet. I need a little more information. Why do you think it might have power?"
     "My father. I guess I need to go back some more. The truce didn't last. A few days of playing ball and telling stories, and then the fighting came back again. A lot of men were transferred out to different places, to fight the French. Isn't that funny? My father told me that at several places along the trenches the truce broke out, but only between the Germans and the British. The French kept on fighting.
     "My father was one of those transferred. He volunteered. He couldn't bear the thought of storming the trench of men he had shared Christmas with, and had exchanged gifts with. For every day of the war, he wore the pin Liam had given him. He never took it off. He even found a piece of cord to hang it around his neck when he bathed."
     "My father continued to fight, but his heart wasn't in it. He wanted to return home, and he no longer saw the other side as the enemy. The war wasn't the idea of the people fighting it; they were just people like him, and that made it tougher to kill people. My father tried not to kill anyone, and even gave help to the wounded.
     "More than once he should have died. Once the enemy came upon him, and the man's gun jammed. That happened another time, and one of my father's friends promptly killed the man, and declared my father to be lucky. This trend of luck continued. A machine gunner didn't see him despite my father being twelve feet away while he tended a wounded man. The gunner kept strafing targets, but did not fire in the direction of my father. My father attributed it all to this pin." Jeff reached a shaking hand up to caress the pin again.
     "After the war, my father had enough of Germany. He thought that they had been wrong to be fighting, and he did not want any part of that. He decided to emigrate to America, and he wrote Liam to persuade him to do the same. Unfortunately," heavy emotion thickened his words, "Liam had not survived the Great War, and his family bitterly resented my father and all Germans. Liam had been married, and had a son when he died. My father felt guilty about that, and promised to make it up to Liam's family, somehow.
     My father emigrated, and moved to America along with so many others. My father was one who came through Ellis Island." Jeff's voice took on a note of pride. "He met a girl in New York, a Polish woman, and married. Not long after they had me, the first generation of American born.
     "My father worked hard, and helped build the city with its skyscrapers. We never had much money, but my father would send a small amount of his pay every week in a letter to Liam's family, to help them. I remember walking with him from the bank to the post office every Monday. After every jaunt to the post office, he would by me a pastry and ruffle my hair with his calloused hand." Shaking fingers caressed the side of his scalp.
     I rubbed a finger on my chin, cataloging what he told me. I had some ideas, and certainly his idea that the pin affected luck had some merit, but I thought it was something else. I needed a little more before I could say for sure.
     "I grew, as children do, and I still remember my father wearing the pin all the time until the second war. After Pearl Harbor, I got my draft notice. On the day I left home, he took off the pin, and put it on my shirt, and told me to wear it every day, that it had been lucky for him, and that it would be lucky for me.
     "I knew he believed, but I was skeptical, especially after I left. I didn't feel very lucky as I received my training and had KP almost every night. I was pretty bad as a soldier. I couldn't hit anything I aimed at, and I always seemed to leave myself exposed. The only thing I seemed to excel at was running and digging foxholes.
     "When shipped out, I paired up with a Texan, Alex Laredo, whom everyone just called Laredo. He seemed to do well at all the things I couldn't, and the same was true for him. We made a deal that I would do the running and digging while he did the shooting. We'd watch out for one another. Laredo liked to talk about how he would pick off armadillos on his father's ranch. 'I'd sit there on my horse' " he affected a Texas accent that forgot all about the wheezing. " 'and them doggies would just walk across the desert, and I'd take up aim, and jes pick that varmint off. Sometimes it'd spook a cow, but most of the time they'd just keep on a'chewin' ". He laughed, then, the wheeze coming back at the end.
     I smiled, readily picturing a Texan like that. Texans had a fondness for guns. I counted myself lucky that I haven't had to deal with a Texan in my career.
     "Laredo and I had a good arrangement that way. We deployed in Italy. Everyone always talks about France and Germany, but Italy was a hard nut to crack. Gerry was in really deep there, and we had some really tough scrapes, but I noticed something. I seemed to have a bit of luck just like my dad. Since I wasn't much of a shot, I became the radio man, and would carry a first aid kit. Kind of the corpsman for the unit. I was fast, too, and good at dodging around. Sometimes I'd be sent in to draw a little fire so Laredo could get a bead on a machine gun nest.
     "I had my own share of luck like my father. I was in a fox hole treating a couple of guys who had been hit by a machine gun when a German stick grenade landed in the middle of the hole. Without thinking I threw myself on it to protect my buddies.
     "After about five seconds I realized I was still alive, and I looked at my buddies, only moving my eyes and scared to breathe.
     " 'Is it a dud?' Benny asked. I began to move my arms, but then Anderson yelled out. 'Don't move, it might go off!' I froze. We all froze. We stayed like that for several minutes, only daring to breathe.
     " 'I need to piss,' Anderson said.
     " 'Need to? I already did!' Benny yelled.
     "I couldn't help it. I started laughing like crazy. I just kept laughing. Then the others did it, too. We laughed until another of the guys crawled over to see what was wrong with us. When we finally explained what happened, I rolled off the grenade, and passed it to him. He made a throw towards the enemy, and the thing exploded as soon as it landed.
     "Now I gotta ask you, Mr. Allen, knowing how well the Gerrys made things, what do you think were the odds of a dud that decided to explode afterward?"
     "Very slim," I agreed.
     "I've got more stories, Mr. Allen, all like that, but here's the thing, this string of luck didn't seem to work after the war. I've been wearing this thing ever since my dad gave it to me, and I've these illnesses. I'm about to die. Doctors and morticians are swarming about me even though everything is taken care of, so where's the luck in it?"
     I smiled to him. "Let me ask you, why do you think it's luck?"
     "I thought it'd be obvious. The four leaf clover, and it was given by an Irishman."
     "Yeah, I can see that, but it's wrong. See, luck would happen no matter what, but it didn't. More than that, a tin clover given by an Irishman is nothing. No, it's definitely not luck. I've got an idea, though, but it's a little out there."
     "Mr. Allen, quite a number of my family question my wearing this 'tin clover' as you called it, and think my stories are exaggerations. They were even more skeptical about my hiring you, but let an old man have his way. Now, tell me what it is."
     "Yeah, I get looked at sideways a lot. Now, the pin really does have a power, but it's not luck. It never was. What you have is something entirely different. See, the key goes back to your dad and Liam, and when. How much religion do you believe in?"
     "What? Well, I guess I've always kind of believed, moreso in recent years since my condition. I like to believe there's something more now."
     "And your dad?"
     "For as long as I can remember, we didn't go to church much, but we always went to services on Christmas. Christmas was really special to him. I always figured it was because of the story. Are you saying it's something else?"
     "In part. I think ever since that Christmas, he believed in the power of it. I won't go into too much about it because it's an odd concept, but belief has power, and your dad and Liam were present on a day unlike any other in history. On that day, war stopped. And the reason it stopped was because of Christmas. Everything that Christmas stands for was realized by those people. They set aside their differences, and they had a lot of them, sang some carols, shared a meal, and exchange gifts among not just perfect strangers, but enemies."
     "That makes a difference? I guess I just don't understand."
     "It's the difference. It used to be that people wouldn't even fight on Christmas. It was considered wrong to fight on Christmas because it was such a sacred day, and devoted to the ideas of peace. When you really start looking at it, what Christ taught, what Christ's birth represents, is all about peace. The pin is a symbol of that. A gift from a man who was once your father's enemy, and then came to realize that he was more like a brother. It's all about that peace.
     "All of the 'lucky' instances weren't luck at all. Your father and you were engaged in peaceful things. Even though you were deep in the middle of wars, you were doing peaceful things. Your father couldn't stomach the idea of fighting any more, and gave people aid. It probably went even farther in your case. You couldn't shoot things that you aimed at, and you did well at being a corpsman, and with the grenade, you tried to protect your buddies. Those were all peaceful actions, and so you were invoking the spirit of the Christmas Truce each time. That pin isn't luck, it's peaceful. Heck, maybe the spirit of Liam Mallory or your father is actually helping it along, but I know that the Christmas Truce is at work there.
     "See, just like on sacred or holy days like Christmas, All Hallow's Eve, or any number of others, little miracles are possible. The Christmas Truce wasn't a little miracle, it was a big full-scale one, and for lack of a better term, there's fallout. Things kind of are imbued with a power of the miracles that occur, and it persists. So long as you and yours keep upholding what the day was about, it'll keep working."
     I stood up, and put on my hat. "You've got your answer, Mr. Spietzel. I'm sure it wasn't what you were expecting, but there it is. Oh, and don't worry about my fee. You paid up just by telling the stories."
     I moved towards the door, but he let out a last gasp of "Wait! Wait, Mr. Allen. I have one more question." I stopped and looked at him. "What should I do with the pin?"
     "My advice? You've got a lot of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I'm sure some of them are thinking of joining up. It's a popular thing to do nowadays. You take one of them aside, and tell them what the pin does, and give it to him, and have him pass it along to the next one that joins up, making sure that everyone who joins gets the pin if they need it. It seems like it only works in combat, so if someone is going in, he or she should have first call to it. It's worthless to just hold onto since it's not lucky, just peaceful."
     I turned again, opened the door, and walked out, almost running into a twenty-something young man who looked like he had played high school football. I excused myself as I slipped passed him, but Jeff called out to him from the room.
     "Robert! Robert come in here. I have something for you, and you have to make me a promise. . . ." the rest trailed out of hearing as I left the house.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cause of Death (Short Story)

     The cold, sterile, stainless steel environment of an autopsy room was quiet save for the sounds of a pen scritching on paper. The word morgue had gone out of style and euphemistically been replaced by something more scientific sounding, but its function had not changed at all. I didn't care. Morgue was fine, it didn't change my job, and frustration rose as I tried to come to terms with the autopsy just performed. The body still lay on the table, all trace evidence had been collected, serology and toxicology reports were pending, but for all that the body had not been opened in the usual way, and an obvious explanation for the death apparent, I couldn't make sense of things.
     "Chief Medical Examiner's report continues," I said into the voice memo. Transcription was so much easier than trying to write my thoughts down as they came. "There's still no reason for why certain internal organs appear, well, desiccated. They are nowhere near the size they should be, but that's not the only odd thing."
     I scrubbed a hand through thinning hair, hair that certainly wouldn't get any thicker if I pulled it all out by the roots in frustration.
     "Okay, let's try this from the top. Victim is male, 5'10", and weighs 190 pounds. Aside from the trauma, he appears in excellent physical condition. Age appears to be late twenties to early thirties. No identification was found to give an exact DOB. A normal Y incision was not possible as the chest cavity had already been opened up by the killer. It appears that severe blunt trauma was used to break the ribs. There's no way to know how many blows it took to shatter the ribs. The sternum and attached ribs were then removed. It appears that a rib on the left side may have been the point at which the process began. The killer evidently grabbed a protruding rib, and tore the flesh open, using the rib like a sardine key. The sternum cartilage shows signs of tearing, but held together while the flesh and musculature were torn off of the body. God only knows how much pain the victim felt.
     "From there it appears that the heart was forcibly extracted, simply torn out from all appearances, but there's only minimal blood within the chest cavity, which should show signs of arterial spray when the heart was removed. Instead, at the scene, there was only a little blood found in the chest cavity, and none of it sprayed.
     "Closer examination revealed that the aorta, as well as the superior and inferior vena cava, had thicker walls than normal. The sample taken for the microscope slide was much more difficult to cut than a normal blood vessel.
     "Microscopic examination revealed that the blood vessel walls were now lined with smooth muscle, which, needless to say, is really weird. I can only guess that this muscle squeezes the blood along the vessels and through the body, instead of relying on the heart to pump it through. If that's the case, it leaves me wondering what the function of the heart had been relegated to."
     I nearly scrubbed a hand through hair again, but stopped, and instead pushed out of the rolling chair, it's ancient, metal casters giving a squeak as I got up.
     "Examination continued as normal to discover the previously mentioned desiccated internal organs. Wait, I didn't mention which ones. The gall bladder and pancreas were much smaller than expected, and seem to be desiccated, whereas the liver was of normal size, but was much heavier than expected. I have no explanation for this. Not even a hypothesis, except what I come to later.
     "When finished with the organs, I proceeded to do examinations of the muscle tissue exposed from the trauma, and from having to finish opening up the body to remove the internal organs. Muscle tissue seemed to be tougher to cut through. Again, I viewed a sample under a slid, and have never seen anything like this. There are at least three times the normal number of muscle fibers as found in normal human muscle tissue, all appearing to be normal sized, but tightly compacted and grouped together with some kind of unidentified tissue web.
     "At this point I began to take seriously the idea that the department's consultant, Matt Allen, might not have been joking or psychotic when it came to his claim that the victim was a vampire.
     To that end, I performed a thorough examination of the victim's mouth, but did not discover anything. No fangs, or anything. On the idea that the canine teeth might actually extend down, something I couldn't test as rigor had already set in, I X-rayed the victim's head."
     I leaned on the desk. None of this made sense. I've studied medical books and human bodies for over twenty years, and none of this makes sense. I snuck a couple of quick glances around, making sure no one was around. Of course no one was around. The late shift had already begun, and Anton was busy in the other lab. Still, I could be called in for a consult. I should call Anton in to consult for me. Wait. Finish the report. Get all my thoughts down first, and then talk to him about it. I want it all documented on my end, first.
     I hit the pause button on the memo recorder, then pulled open a desk drawer, and took a swig from the bottle of Jack I kept in there. I only used it for the really bad cases. Vicious beatings, rape with gratuitous violence, and kids. This was bad in a different way, and the burn of the whiskey felt good. I'd like to down the rest of the bottle, but I carried on.
     "I took the X-ray twice, thinking that the first had caught some kind of weird echo of a tooth on it, ro had some other flaw, but the second one turned out to look the same as the first. The first thing I noticed was that there were no fillings. The man had perfect teeth. I wouldn't have noticed that except for all of the other oddities. The next thing I noticed was that recessed up into the hard palate looked like thin teeth."
     I took another swig of Jack.
     "I used a scalpel to cut away at the palate and reveal the teeth, and discovered muscle tissue as well that would push these teeth down into the mouth."
     I grabbed the bottle of Jack and took a deep pull. "Up until this point," my voice scratched and breathy after the liquor, "I had never considered the possibility of what that detective had said. Clearly, this was something outside of what I've ever experienced. None of my medical experience has ever run into something quite like this. And I've seen quite a bit as a medical examiner. God! I mean, I've seen some pretty fucked up shit in this job. I . . . okay, keep it together. Edit that out later.
     "I continued my exploration of the palate and the sinuses, and found a small bundle of what looked like nerve endings in the same cavity where the recessed teeth were. To track them back to the source would have meant completely cutting open the sinuses or borrowing a nasal speculum, but I did noticed that there was something familiar about the nerves, so I consulted my medical books. I was right. The nerves resemble the olfactory nerves of the sinuses.
     I can only speculate, but I believe that these nerves are indeed the same kind of nerves, and provide exceptional smell capability given its proximity to the mouth. This means that this person would smell food inside the mouth as well as anything outside. There aren't as many nerves, so the smells in the mouth wouldn't override the primary olfactory nerves, but would provide an additional source of scent, possibly for the identification of . . . well, if this is a vampire, food . . . meaning blood."
     I shut the recorder off, and drank the jack so quickly it spilled over my mouth. I didn't even pay attention to the burn, just gave a gasp afterward, and leaned on the counter to catch my breath.
     "Shit. This is insane. I can't believe I'm saying all this. Maybe I should just wipe it out and come back in the morning." I can't. I know what I'm seeing. I know what's there. I've spent hours going over this corpse. It's purely impossible, but here it is, anyway.
     "I can't believe I ever wanted something different to happen in this job. I wanted a puzzle, not a Goddamn impossibility. Maybe I should call that detective. He said he wanted to hear from me. Maybe he knows something about this. He seemed to. Wait a damn minute!"
     I stood up, and ran over to my desk, rummaging through the stack of loose papers, looking for the bound report. This was the report the task force had put out regarding all the recent serial killings.
     I found it, and began flipping through pages. Something in there sparked a memory. Something about the detective and a piece of evidence from one of the bodies. I paged through, skimming as I went, hoping that the right words would pop out at me, and there it was, in the Crime Unit's notes of the fourth body found in an alley south of Meridian St. It was also the first body that the PI had been brought in on.
     "The consultant took the arm of the victim found in the dumpster, still in its evidence bag, and held it outstretched. Shortly thereafter, the extreme tip of the bag began to smoulder, as if on fire, and left a fine, grey ash or dust on the ground. It didn't look like the consultant had applied anything to the bag, and the bag had been sealed with no traces of anything that might be combustible found on it at the scene, so it's unclear what really happened."
     Bodies do not just spontaneously combust at room temperature. Either the PI had to do something to the body within the bag, something to the bag itself, or . . . "Or the body wasn't a normal body."
     There didn't seem to be any reason why this detective would put something on the body or bag, unless he wanted to make business for himself. Was it all just a sham? But the body on my table is not a sham. It's real, and it's bizarre. There's no way he would be able to completely engineer a human body like this. So was it really a vampire? I read on.
     "The consulting detective stated that he had applied only sunlight to the body, and that is what caused the reaction. I find this implausible since we used alternative light sources throughout the known spectrum to no effect on the body, previously."
     Sunlight. "Son of a bitch, sunlight! He warned me at the scene that I had to wrap the bodies up to prevent the sun from hitting them. Why the hell didn't I think of using sunlight on it? If I'm right, I don't need much. I can just take a small sample of skin or bone, and test it out. I can do it right . . . no, it's the middle of the night. I'll do it in the morning. I'll get someone else to verify the experiment, too, just to make sure I'm not losing it. Need to provide documentation.
     "Dammit! Where is my head at. I'm so intent on writing this up and figuring it out I should be taking pictures of it all. I can use the camera on the microscope to get the slides, but I should definitely take pictures of the fangs and nerve endings. Maybe I can use a camera and snake it into his sinuses to see what's going on up there. First things first. The camera. Take pictures of the fangs. I need the macro lens for this, and the light ring."
     I pulled out the digital SLR camera, and rummaged around for the right attachments. I found the macro lens, great for close up shots, and the ring flash which would go onto the lens itself, providing all around light up close. I looked into the lens, but something was wrong. I couldn't seem to focus it in correctly. It wasn't just the fangs and the palate, but the entire body didn't seem to focus. I focused on other things, and snapped a few quick pictures, and they turned out fine. I tried again with the body, but with the same result. I snapped the pictures, anyway, hoping to clean them up with the computer. That was odd.
     I took the lens off and peered into the camera itself to see if there were any dirt smudges or anything to explain it, and then I saw the mirror. SLR. Single lens reflex. The mirror pivoted to shoot light into the camera's sensor or the viewfinder, but not both at the same time. A mirror. Vampires weren't supposed to cast reflections. Could that be it? But weren't they supposed to be invisible in the mirror instead of fuzzy?
     I needed another test. Did I have a small mirror around here? I rummaged around, but couldn't find one. The offices. Surely there would be a small mirror in there somewhere. I ran out of the autopsy room, and into the offices shared by all the medical examiners. They were full desks instead of cubicles, but at the cost of having to share the space. Each of the examiners had drawers on one side of the desk.
     I finally found it in the center drawer of Connor's and Ramirez's shared desk. It had to be Connor's. He was the pretty boy of the group, and the only reason he wanted to get on day shift was so that he had nights free to go clubbing.
     I rushed the mirror back to autopsy, and checked the body's reflection. It looked blurry. I didn't know why I could look at it normally, but that it's reflection was distorted, somehow. It was another small piece of evidence on the road to a conclusion that shouldn't be.
     Nervously, I went back to the voice memo. "In attempting to document the body, I've run across the problem of trying to photograph it. All photographs taken come back blurry and out of focus despite all efforts to prevent this. Combined with the irregularities in the anatomy: the internal organs, musculature, and dentition, this leads me to believe that this person is what is popularly known as a vampire."
     There, I said it. And openly, too.
     "I remember the stomach contents revealed a large amount of blood, but I cannot verify as to whether or not this person has, in the past, ingested blood without further analysis, but I have no problem in declaring that this . . . I don't even know what to call this, person . . . is a different species altogether. There are just too many physical differences to say that this is human. I suppose it's possible that these are all a set of mutations, but genetics is not my background. It seems unlikely that such an evolution would happen all at once."
     I paused the recorder again. What to do now? I finally had enough proof to convince me that this was a vampire, but what of it? Should I call that detective now? What do I do, just tell him I believe? Vampires are real! I should get Anton over here. The fangs, the musculature, and the mirror, that should be enough to convince him. Or would it? I could see it, but I couldn't explain it. There had to be more changes. Samples. I should take tissue samples. Skin, muscle, bone, and organs. I should look at them all. I already had the sample of blood vessel wall with its smooth muscle. I need to look at more of them, and get verification. After that I could bring Anton in. And what about the serology and toxicology reports? Maybe they were done. Belport was a big enough city that those labs were constantly going.
     I went to my desk, and picked up the phone, and dialed the extension.
     "Tox, this is Renaldo."
     "Renaldo, this is Dr. Martin in Autopsy. Have you got the reports for my John Doe yet?"
     "Martin, hold on and let me check. Yyyeah, got it right here. It's already in the system. Soemthing wrong, and you can't access it?"
     "No no." I didn't think of checking for it in the computer. The department had recently gone paperless, and it took getting used to not having a paper copy. I liked reading off a paper copy, but everyone had to go green sometime. "I just didn't look. Thanks."
     "Sure thing, Doc."
     I went over to my computer, and pulled up the department network, quickly zipping through the pages to access the Tox reports. Blood type appeared to be O. Blood alcohol: Negligible. No common toxins found in the blood. Under Miscellaneous it read: "While no toxins were found in the blood stream, there was an abnormality in the red blood cells. It appeared to be a cellular organelle, but none are supposed to be found in red blood cells. It's unknown what this organelle is doing there, but it seems not to have any function. We believe it to be a random mutation. Addendum: The pictures we took are all out of focus. We believe it to be equipment failure. For now we have routed the sample back to the ME, so that he may use his own equipment."
     "Equipment failure and random mutation my ass," I muttered. If the sample had been routed back to me, someone should be making rounds soon to get it back to me. I could go over and get it and save the wait. I was about to go, when I remembered the stomach contents. When I had emptied the stomach, I remembered seeing blood. Not a great deal, but some. From what I remembered of the report at the scene, it was believed that a woman had fled. No one had been able to find her, yet.
     "Stomach Contents: There are far less of the usual stomach digestive fluids than anticipated. No food was found in the stomach, but a measure of blood, 475 ml, was found in the stomach."
     Blood in the stomach. Another notch in the belt for vampire. I left the computer, and began taking samples, and preparing slides. I gathered from all of the organs available, making sure to include skin. I wished I had a retinal camera like optometrists and opthamologists had, curious to see what a vampire's retina was like.
     I had my array of slides, and started where I left off, with the blood vessels. I gathered from both vein and artery in a few different places just to make sure what I saw wasn't just in the Aorta and Superior Vena Cava. I took a section from the cephalic vein and the radial collateral artery near the elbow, sure that they qualified as far enough away, but the same smooth muscle striations I saw in the aorta and Superior Vena Cava were present there as well. I didn't know why, though. It didn't make sense. There was no need for smooth muscle in either the arteries or the veins. The heart was much more efficient at pumping blood than smooth muscle would be. The powerful, even violent contractions of the heart would send blood throughout the cardiovascular system much more quickly, too.
     "Okay, think it out. Talk it out. If there are—wait, wait a second." I turned the recorder back on. "Have examined cephalic vein and radial collateral artery of the right arm. As in the aorta and superior vena cava, I have discovered striations of smooth muscle. As smooth muscle is used in the esophagus and in other areas of the digestive tract to move food, nutrients and waste throughout the body, I can only surmise that the blood vessels do similarly, now. A peristaltic motion in the blood vessels would continuously propel blood through the circulatory system. But why? Surely with the heart there is no need for such a system. Perhaps it is a holdover, a useless system like those found in various species.
     "Maybe, just maybe, it is a redundancy. While the heart would be more efficient, the smooth muscle would allow for redundancy in case something happened to the heart, which, in this case, something clearly did. While it couldn't possibly cope with the heart being ripped out, it might be a way for the body to cope with a heart attack, or similar event.
     "But that's only a guess. What if it's not a redundancy. Why smooth muscle to propel the blood, what is the benefit to that instead of the heart? What would be the effects, first of all? Well, the blood would move more slowly through the body, but not at a rate that would be sufficiently slow enough to matter, and without a way to test there's no way to know just how fast the muscle can move the blood through the body, but what else? If smooth muscle is moving the blood, then the heart remains at rest. No heartbeat, no pulse. For all purposes, the vampire appears dead."
     "Body temp! When I logged this guy in, he was room temperature, but what if they don't regulate body temperature? The blood found was all fresh. Blood would have congealed over the hours it would take for a body to get down to room temperature. But why? It can't be just to appear dead. There's not much of a benefit to appearing dead. If they don't regulate body temperature, then they must be cold-blooded, so what's the upside?"
     I didn't know. I didn't spend much time examining other species, and my general biology days were a long, long time ago. Fortunately, I had the internet, and access to science journals. I didn't need extremely detailed information, though, so I settled on whatever the search engine popped up first, not bothering with the journals. If there was a particular point I wanted to know more about, I'd look into it.
     I skimmed a few web pages, and even went to refining my search terms one or twice to get more specific results. The biggest difference between warm and cold-blooded seemed to be the energy. Warm blooded creatures needed a lot more food and energy in order to maintain a higher consistent body temperature. Immune response benefitted from a higher body temperature, and a few other processes seemed better suited to a warmer body such as motor activity and muscle response, but the cold-blooded metabolism was more efficient. They didn't need to feed as much, sometimes going several days between feedings. In most cases the cold-blooded species was a response to the environment, where the species had access to warmth. That was why snakes and reptiles topped the cold-blooded list. Fish, too, but I wanted to focus on land-based species.
     Okay, so it looks like primarily this is for the metabolism, which makes sense. They wouldn't need to feed as often by having a cold-blooded metabolism. That would allow them to blend in much more easily, and not raise suspicion. Still, if their muscles require warmth, that's a big disadvantage. Unless there's something to compensate. There's already been plenty of oddness in this subject, what if they have some kind of enzyme, or maybe their muscles use different chemical reactions to function. What is it that they get from blood, anyway? Are there even enough nutrients in someone else's blood stream to feed somebody?
     "And why blood?"
     "Blood is the source of life in the body. This goes beyond regular food. There is an energy in it which feeds and sustains us." I didn't recognize the voice behind me, but I jumped, whirled around, and brandished the recorder like it was some kind of weapon. I saw a man of average height and blonde hair down past his ears. He also had the start of a beard, it looked a few days old. He wore a navy polo shirt and black jeans.
     "Who are you?" My voice and hand shook at the same frequency. "This are is off-limits except to authorized personnel."
     "That," he pointed to the slab, "is my master. I want to know what happened to him." I felt hot, almost feverish, and the air seemed oppressive, tight, actually. I felt wrapped tight in a thick blanket, but I could move all right.
     "Well," I set the recorder down behind me on the desk, and walked over to the table, and began walking him through what happened. It was the least I could do for a relative. The boys outside must've buzzed him in, so it had to be okay to walk him through everything.
     I told him about the blunt force trauma and how the sternum and heart were removed, and that no trace of the heart could be found.
     "The heart. Whoever did this knew what he was doing." He said.
     "The private detective said something about that, too."
     "What private detective?"
     "The one consulting on the case. Matt Allen. I've got his number around here, somewhere. He asked me to call him when I finished."
     "Hmmm. Maybe I can use you to reckon the account between us. He has stepped across the line, now."
     I didn't know what he was talking about, but I would be happy to help out. "Anything I can do." I agreed.
     "No. There is still the problem of his protector. I am not ready to move against her, and I might have a better way to strike out at him. What happened to his mouth? Is that part of the same injury?"
     "No. That was me. I discovered those fangs in an X-ray, and excised the teeth. This is so exciting. The science behind this is miraculous. An entirely different, yet outwardly human, species. I can't wait to bring in Anton and write a paper on this."
     "Except, your colleagues will not believe you. They will think you manufactured all of the evidence. Best to just erase it all and move on. Declare nothing unusual with the body, and just go on. Telling people about what you find would cost you your career."
     "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Thanks for being a good friend."
     "Of course. Why don't you write up a new report while I pay my respects to my master."
     "That makes sense."
     I went over to the desk, and pulled up the form on the computer for the autopsy, and just went with the standard explanation. Blunt-force trauma caused shattered ribs. The ribs and sternum were removed, and then the heart forcibly extracted. I made notations on how the inconsistencies noted by toxicology could be explained by a harmless mutation, and that the failure to document was a result of equipment failure, but as it posed no bearing on the case, it didn't matter.
     "Well, that's all taken care of. What else do I need to do to wrap up this case? Oh, I should probably get rid of the other stuff. If anyone would find it, they'd just think I made it up, anyway."
     "That is a good idea," my friend added.
     I started with all the slides I had prepared, my curiosity saying I should go ahead and look at them , but he was right. No sense in wasting time. I knew what to look for if it ever happened again, and then I might go ahead and come out with what I knew, or I could find someone else who had found this, and collaborate. But for now I needed to just forget about it. I couldn't risk my career on it, after all.
     I finished gathering the slides and other tissues samples, and then went and signed for the blood that Tox had waiting for me. I gathered up everything physical, and put it in a pile on the desk. I added the voice recorder, too. The video of the actual autopsy was pretty normal, procedure wise, so I didn't add it. Some of the organs just had odd weights and appearance, but I didn't have to really provide an explanation for why a guy's gall bladder and pancreas were withered, especially when they wouldn't believe me.
     "Don't forget the computers."
     "Right." I double-checked to make sure that nothing I had discovered appeared in any file. It would be awful if someone found just a little bit, and came to talk to me about it. Much better if I don't have anyone looking over my shoulder and asking weird questions of me.
     "Well, I think that's pretty much all of it. I can't think of anything I missed."
     "Very good. Would you sign this? With the autopsy complete, there's no reason you can't release the body for burial."
     "Sure. That makes sense. The family will want to put this behind them. There you go," I finished signing the release form.
     "Thank you. You know, you seem tired."
     Now that he mentioned it, I was tired. My jaw cracked and I brought the back of my hand to cover my mouth. "Yeah. The night shift is murder."
     "Quite so. And you have trouble sleeping, do you not?"
     "Sometimes, yeah. The job gets to me. You know how it is."
     "Then perhaps you should take a couple of sleeping pills to help you get some rest." He shook out a couple of pills from a bottle into his palm.
     "That's not a bad idea. Thanks. I'll grab some water." I went to the personal fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. I didn't think it a good idea to fill a glass from the sink what with the possibility of contamination. Besides, I liked good, cold water. I came back, and took the pills from his hand, and downed them with a gulp of water.
     "You are going to take the pills, right?" he asked, and I looked down to see the two sleeping pills. Taking them was a good idea. They'd help me sleep through the night.
     "Yeah, of course. Thanks for the pills. Can't hurt, right?" I knocked the pills back, and swallowed some water, downing them.
     "You going to stare at these pills all night?" he said, and I looked down at the pills, a little confused. I could swear I had taken them, but there they were on his palm, and he'd never give me too many, not a stand-up guy like him.
     "Right. Guess I'm just daydreaming right now." I grabbed the pills, placed them in my mouth, and took a long pull at the bottle, the cool water feeling good in my throat.
     "You should really stop daydreaming. My hand is getting tired of holding these for you."
     "Sorry. I appreciate it. I must be more tired than I thought if I'm spacing out like this." I swallowed the two pills, and sipped at the half-full bottle. When had I opened that? It was cold, so it must be pretty fresh from the fridge."
     "You know, these are pretty light pills, maybe you should take a couple more just to make sure they knock you out." He shook out two more pills. Four pills. I don't know. That could be a lot. They didn't look prescription, though, so they'd be pretty week, really.
     "That's over-the-counter stuff, right?"
     "Yep. Pretty harmless, isn't it?"
     "Yeah, for the most part. Four would be okay, especially since I don't have to come in until tomorrow evening." I placed the pills on my tongue, tasting the familiar gelatin coating again before swallowing them down with the water.
     "So, four is okay, you said? Here you go," and he shook two pills out of the bottle.
     "Yeah. Four will be just fine." I swallowed these back, thinking I must have let the first two stay on my tongue a little too long; the gelatin taste was strong.
     "Are you sure you want four? It won't hurt, will it?" He popped two pills into his palm.
     "Four won't do anything. I might be slow or groggy in waking up, but it's fine." I took them and tossed them all the way to the back of my throat to avoid the heavy gelatin taste of the first two.
     "Well, these are my last two, but you're a friend, so I don't mind giving them to you to make sure you get a good night's sleep." He rattled the bottle and passed it over to me. I upended and shook the bottle until the last two pills fell out, then knocked the pills back with the last bit of water in my bottle.
     "You can just toss the bottle for me." He said.
     "Sure thing. I can get rid of my water bottle, too." I tossed both into the blue recycle bin.
     I yawned heavily as I walked back to him. "Man, I'm tired. Maybe I should call a cab or ask someone for a ride home. I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel."
     "No, you don't, but then you don't want to leave your car here. You should take a short nap, then you can leave. Just close your eyes long enough to feel refreshed."
     "Yeah, that sounds good."
     "Here," he pulled out an empty drawer for a body from the fridge. "This should be good for you."
     "Yeah. Hell, we used to pull pranks by laying on these things. Good way to scare a new guy by popping out of a drawer. Just had to make sure that no one sealed the door completely." I climbed onto t cold, sterile metal, and lay down, closing my eyes. My arms felt leaden. I guess the sleeping pills were taking effect already. That was fast. Usually it took half an hour or so, and I had only just taken them. Maybe it was because I had four.
     I felt like I was moving, but I really didn't want to open my eyes. Just too tired. It sounded like the drawer sliding back in, and then the door closing. A moment of panic came through me as I heard the door close, but I couldn't move. The pills were kicking in. I had to open up the door. These vaults were air tight. I didn't want to suffocate, but sleep sounded so good. Just a short nap is what he said, and he was right outside, so he would open up the door for me. He was a good guy, after all.
***
     I opened the morning paper while my coffee, my wonderful, aromatic, ambrosia coffee percolated in my Benvenuto coffee maker. Toaster waffles warmed themselves in the toaster, and maple syrup and butter stood at attention awaiting my pleasure.
     November first. One of my favorite days of the year. Nothing happened on the first to make me mark it down as special. It was special simply because Halloween was over. This Halloween had been especially bad with what William Thornton had done, but those killings were over, at least. He had already confessed, and I knew a deal was in the works, but I didn't know the specifics yet. I had disposed of his medallion already, and on my end, everything was taken care of. I could enjoy my Friday in relative peace. Go into the office, sift through the pranks, and just enjoy a day when I didn't have to worry about a serial killer. I was sure that something else would catch my attention soon enough.
     My phone rang. Never a good sign at this time of the morning. My stomach sank when I saw Collins listed on the ID. I was tempted to let it go to voice mail.
     "What is it, Collins? I just want to enjoy my coffee and paper in peace before something else crazy happens."
     "There's a problem."
     "Not on my end."
     "Dr. Roy Leonard."
     "Who?"
     "The ME for the Fairhaven precinct that picked up the body."
     "Which body?"
     "The one in the alley. William's last one. The one you said was a vampire."
     "That grisly one, with the guy's chest—" I felt my stomach lurch. I didn't like remembering the scene of a guy having his chest ripped apart and heart yanked.
     "That's the one. The ME was found dead. It looks like suicide, but it just doesn't make any sense."
     "What's this got to do with me?"
     "He was the one you asked to do the autopsy on the vampire, wanted him to call you."
     "Yeah. Guess that's not going to happen."
     "These things . . . they can't come back up, can they?"
     I had to think about it. The heart had been removed. I didn't have any first-hand evidence, but from what I knew the heart and head were the vulnerable spots. "Not that I know, not from that kind of injury."
     "Well, the body is gone."
     "What do you mean 'gone'?"
     "I mean there's no trace of it. There's nothing left. No tissue samples, no physical evidence of any kind. There's an autopsy report filled out, but nothing strange noted. There's also a video of the autopsy. The video shows the body as a blur, but that's it."
     I was hoping that after they died, the whole blurriness thing would disappear, but evidently not. "That's normal," I muttered. "You said something was off about the suicide. What?"
     "Well, they found him on a slab in the fridge. They did a quick autopsy and found he had taken somewhere between 15-20 sleeping pills. He had vomited on himself, but looked to be sleeping, otherwise. No note, no nothing, but he did clean up the place, which is consistent with suicide mentality. Problem is, no one could say that Dr. Leonard ever seemed the type. Everything points to suicide, but with the body gone, and what you said the victim was. . . ."
     "You wondered if the vampire did something to him."
     "Yeah," the word came out maple sap slow.
     "Not how you think. Anyone go through there ast night?"
     "Yeah, a John Smith signed in and out, and took a gurney with a body bag on it. Mr. Smith was blurry, so I thought it might be our vic. Guard said he had a signed release form for the body, and Dr. Leonard's signature was on it."
     "Damn," I whispered. My waffles were getting cold, but I had lost my appetite, anyway.
     "What the hell's going on, Allen?"
     "Off the record?"
     "You're always off the record, Allen. Your stuff doesn't play well on the record."
     "The victim has a love or a master or an apprentice. Someone interested in getting him back and keeping vampires a secret."
     "You mean there's some kind of conspiracy going to keep them quiet?"
     "Not a conspiracy, just a general understanding that public knowledge is bad for vampires, so they try and keep it quiet. That's why you don't hear about them, really."
     "And this one waltzed in, set up the doctor's suicide, and then waltzed out with the body and all samples?"
     "I don't think the suicide was a set up, but yeah, that's about it."
     "What do you mean?"
     "You ever watch a vampire movie?"
     "Not recently, but sure."
     "There's a reason why vampires always are portrayed with an ability to charm or control people. They have a way of doing that. He got the doc to commit suicide himself."
     Collins swore. "So, how do we find this guy?"
     "We don't. Let it go."
     "Fuck that, Allen. He waltzed in and killed a doctor, a medical examiner, one of the department. He just doesn't get away with that."
     "There's no way to find him, Collins. The Yellow Pages doesn't have a directory for the supernatural. This one got away. I'll keep an ear out, though, and if I hear anything, I'll let you know. My word."
     "You God-d—"
     "Hey!" I cut him off, "I told you not to say that around me."
     "Fuck Y—"
     I hung up before he could finish the curse.
     My good mood had disappeared. I looked at the waffles sticking out of the toaster, and frowned. Even the coffee didn't sound good, now. A vampire had disposed of a body. No big deal, except my name was associated with this case, and I wondered if I had a bullseye on my back. I still had Nikki's protection, but I didn't want to think about that, either.
     I glanced at the headline on the paper.

Serial Killer Suspect in Custody: Citizens Celebrate with Record Halloween Parties throughout City.

     "Yeah, we can all breathe easier because the threat is gone," the sarcasm was lost on the syrup and butter.

Bake Like a Man, Man

     Yes, it has nothing to do with writing, but it's something that makes me feel good, and since I've done the food thing before, I share. A week back I had a dessert at a bbq chain (the barbecue wasn't the best, so I won't bring up the name). The dessert was a chocolate chip cookie baked in a miniature cast iron pan. And that, as they say, was the beginning.
     I reasoned that if it can be done in a miniature pan, then it could be done full-scale. Lo, and behold, with the power of the internet, I located a number of links detailing that it can be done. I settled on this one because of how the saintly woman described herself and the methodology of the cookies.
     I like cast iron. There's something about it that speaks to the male condition. Big, heavy, rough, black. The type of implement used in camping and by cowboys. It goes on the stove top, on the grill, in the oven, and most importantly, in the fire. It can do just about anything, make just about anything. Cookies are just the beginning: Cornbread, cakes, biscuits, and so much more. And so, I say to you men: Grab the cast iron, and go bake like a man, man. I'm in the kitchen. Hyah!
     And yes, those are pictures of the cookie I baked today.


Friday, August 13, 2010

F3 Parting Shots

     "You'll wanna make sure you don't miss. Wheelgun's only got six shots." I didn't look at her, I didn't dare. She'd give me a look that said something warm grew in her cold heart, but that was just to distract from the cold iron in her hand. It'd be hot, soon enough, trailing a wisp of smoke just like my cig.
     "It's not like—" she started in.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hired Gun and Publishing?

     In my not so glamorous life, I am an adjunct instructor at local comm colleges. I get paid for doing something I like to do, and something I think I'm pretty good at doing, so I can't won't complain too much. The students always seem to drive me nuts during the semester, but what job doesn't come with some kind of annoying people to work with?
     But recently I've been in the mad rush to sign statements regarding the terms of my teaching, and it got me thinking. I am an employee who can not be hired back at any time, with no reason given. More than that, there are 1,001 reason why my classes could be taken away from me (okay, so that's hyperbolic, but creative license and literary reference). Just today, my teaching schedule pretty much upended itself. Fortunately I ended up with just as many classes as I started with, but there was a time when it looked like I might only have one class to teach, which means almost no moolah for moi. Not a good place to be what with those things known as bills.
     Back to the philosophical part. I have found that the terms of employment are remarkably one sided, with very little leverage on my side of the equation, except one. I can go wherever I want. Since the colleges have no feelings of loyalty to me, I should have none for them. At any moment I could be left with no classes to teach from one particular school even if I gave them my undying oath of fealty, but they wouldn't hesitate to cut me loose. In the end it becomes something of a free for all with those offering the best deal for me getting my services, not unlike a hired gun.
     That's exactly what I feel like, too. These schools have the best deal for me, so I go to them with no promise or expectation of the future, and it begins again. I inherently feel wrong about the idea, as I think that loyalty should be rewarded. After seeing that it is not, though, that idea is out the window. It is what is, and as adjuncts are becoming more popular, I imagine it will continue to be this way. So I will be the hired gun.
     But it's also given me thoughts about the publishing industry, or, rather, questions. I don't know much about the whole biz as I've not been published, and there is always the matter of the people behind the curtain, but I have to wonder is the publishing industry like this. It is so cutthroat and business-oriented that writers are the hired guns of the publishing world? It seems like agents and publishers have quite a bit of loyalty (hence why they are so selective about representation and manuscripts) but that's me looking from the outside through smudge binoculars. Can any industry people shed some light on this? Is there loyalty in the publishing world? Or is it a free-for all hired gun scenario?

Friday, August 6, 2010

F3 Moon on the water

     The brilliant orb of the moon hung low in the sky. A full moon, but not just any moon, a moon that could only be seen on the open water. The water did that. The moon, the sun, the stars, all seemed a little brighter on the black sea.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pen Names?

     I've been thinking about pen names for awhile, and while I think I've come to a decision, I'm still uncertain. Shakespeare of course has his famous line "What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" (R&J II:ii [by the by, Juliet had all the best lines in that play. Romeo was a wuss]). And in this information age, it's not like people would not find out who I am, so is it better to use a name which might sell better, or to be me (or not to be me, that is the)? I know not for certain, though lean towards mine own name (Blame Shakespeare for my linguistic style slipping).
     In the past I leaned towards a pen name because I didn't believe my own name sounded flashy enough to garner attention, but now I'm believing that using my own name might be more beneficial, particularly in efforts to gain representation. If I put myself out there under my pen name, then various bloggers and twitterers will not recognize the name of some unassuming querier, but if I use my real name, there might be a spark of recognition. More than that, I've been considering my placement on bookshelves, and have come to realize that I would receive placement next to the revered, vaunted man who dared to describe humanity as "Mostly harmless".
     So, I shall put it out there to ask commenters (of which there are almost none), is a pen name better to use than a real name? I'll put a poll up to make voting convenient, and probably leave it up a week.