Saturday, January 8, 2011
Scott D. Parker
The first week of January always brings with it a ray of sunshine for the new year. The old year is sloughed off like dead skin from a snake, the new year is laid out before us, ready to be lived in and experienced. And, more importantly, to be sculpted into a shape we prefer. Thus, we each take a deep, cool breath, let it out, and start forging ahead into the river of a new year with our various resolutions as the buoys keeping us afloat.
We all have them. Earlier this week, John and Russell wrote about looking ahead to 2011. I’m here to give my own personal spin on the resolution thing. I get dreadfully pedantic when it comes to resolutions. They need to be realistic and measurable. “Eating better” is not a resolution. “Losing ten pounds by June” is. You can measure the latter. The former is too vague and invites failure.
To have any hope of coming to fruition, resolutions need metrics. How might you lose ten pounds by June? Start with something easy--cutting out the soft drink at lunch--and then gradually move towards other metrics--start walking after work each day. Moreover, keep a streak calendar. I’ve come to rely on streak calendars to measure my progress of my resolutions. It’s a simple exercise: for every day you performed one of your metrics for a resolution, make it off with something close to a big, red X. You string a few of those along and, soon, the thrill of keeping the chain unbroken because more fun than you missing out on Dr. Pepper at noon. For y'all with an iPod/iPhone, I suggest the one I use: Streaks.
Yo, Scott, you’re saying. This is a writing blog, dude. What the heck are you doing getting all Dr. Oz on us? Well, I’m making a point, about myself (you, too?) and about writing. As those of y’all who read my column before our little blog here was overrun with a bunch of fun, noiry tales of yuletide mischief, I had a bad writing year in 2010. It sucked. Much like the defense of the Houston Texans, when you’re at the bottom, there really is only one way to go. That may be true, however, but I still want metrics.
We love books. We write them and we read them. I basically failed in both categories last year. Let me back-up. I didn’t fail in my reading because anything I read, I want to read and I don’t apologize for it. I noticed a trend in last year’s reading, two really. One, I didn’t read as many books in 2010 as I did in 2009. Since I basically blog about every book I read, I was able to count twenty-one books I read last year. That may be good for some, but I can state with certainty that, of the three people in my house, it was I that read the fewest books. Me, the "writer."
Of those, nine were “old” books: Tarzan, Cool and Lam, War of the Worlds, etc. Not apologizing because they were dang fine reads. I read an additional five or so graphic novels, leaving around seven (don’t do the math; I’m remembering more books as I write) “New” books--books published last year or in the previous few. Some were mystery (Stephen Cannell’s latest; the newest Richard Castle book, Naked Heat) while others were not (Perdido Street Station, by far my favorite book of the year; Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, simple the most fun audiobook I listened to last year). If I’m in the business of knowing what’s going on in the present, I simply have to read more modern books in 2011.
Reading resolution for 2011: read more than seven new books. I’ve re-upped with New Mystery Reader.com and I’ve already got a book in the hopper. Add to that a couple of books by fellow DSDers and I’m already starting January out good.
Writing-wise, well, this is the true Everest for me. If I want to call myself a writer, I simply must produce more fiction. When I’m asked this year the question I dreaded last year (“What are you working on?”), I want to be able to proudly list all the projects I’ve got going on. One metric is short stories. I wrote a paltry two last year, one was published and the other was not. True, that’s a 50% publication rate, but it’s cheating. And I’m not counting the one collaboration I started last year. That’s going on 2010’s books even though I’ll be finishing it in 2011.
Short story resolution for 2011: write more than two stories and submit them.
Then we come to the biggie: the novel. As much as I love my first novel, I’ve not completed a second. I’ve written enough words over multiple projects to have completed a second book, but I still haven’t written “The End” on a finished project. That will end this year, with a simple, measurable, metric.
Novel resolution for 2011: finish my second novel by Bouchercon in September.
Oh, and attend Bouchercon, too. I’ve given lots of thought these past couple of months about writing style and writing schemes. I’m not quite ready to state my scheme; I’ll save that for a future entry. I’m probably going to join a critique group again so I’ll have that weekly pressure test and accountability. And, of course, I’m telling all of y’all.
There you go. It’s out there, my resolutions and metrics. I hope y’all keep me on my toes and feel free to ask me about them if I don’t write about them. These are daunting tasks for me, but shouldn't be if I aim to call myself an author.
What are some resolutions for y'all?
Item of the Week: I seriously love JT Ellison’s Wine of the Week feature at the end of her blog posts over at Murderati. With a nod to her, I’m adapting it here. I’m just going to put a little something that I’ve experienced, eaten, listened to, watched, or whatever since last Saturday.
First up: Iron and Wine’s new album. NPR Music has the audio and video of the band performing their new album, “Kiss Each Other Clean,” in its entirety. Just yesterday, I listened to it three times. Excellent music and the live setting brings out lots of nuances amid the music and the lyrics. Come 25 January, this CD will be in my iPod.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Before we start today, can I just lend my appaluse to our wonderful Flashers who took over for the last couple of weeks. Honest to goodness, some wonderful stories. And while I'm here, can I thank the guest bloggers who helped out over 2010. You know who you are.
"Helped out over 2010"... that means the year's over and...
Whaddaya mean its 2011? Already?
But… what about those plans o’ mine? I mean, I’m hitting a birthday this year by which time I thought I’d have it made. Like, bestseller, internationally renowned actor and pretty much not having to worry about the bills. Yeah, those were the dreams, man, the life plan and…
And you know, I know now that they were pretty unrealistic and that if my teenage self could see me now he’d probably be a little vexed at what happened and wonder who the weirdo with the beard was.
But the truth is that despite some small hiccups and perhaps a few rough edges I’d wrinkle out, I’m pretty amazed at how life’s turned out. I mean, for a start, the publishing biz is so much meaner than I thought it was and here I am, twice published and with a string of credits in short stories and reviews. And sure, I struggle to pay the bills like anyone else, but I still somehow made on a world tour of America in the summer of ’10 and had a ball doing so. I’ve met – through the writing and just through sheer chance – some amazing people across the world and more than that I’ve had complete strangers take time to come and see me when I’ve appeared to talk nonsense not only during the World Tour of America but even here at home.
Life ain’t perfect, sure, but it’s pretty good. And 2010, despite some sadness in there, went by without too much of a hitch. There were bumps in the road – a project that went nowhere, the horrific moment at Bouchercon where I told an author I admire that I loved his book despite the fact the title I quoted at him was written by someone else, a few setbacks that really grated at the time – but on the whole, I think things could be a lot worse, and in fact I think I've achieved a hell of a lot this last year and I've had a real blast doing it... and I thought nothing could beat the first year of publication!
As we enter 2011, I say a quiet sorry to my teenage self that I’m not where I thought I’d be by now, but I also say a thank you to the world for allowing me to have done so many amazing things and meet so many amazing people. And I know that in 2011 I’m going to have even more amazing experiences that my teenage self never expected. Of course, I’ve still got my sights set on most of those teenage dreams (except the acting part, maybe) and perhaps I can admit they’ll just take a little longer to achieve than I expected. But there’s an old cliché that says, “getting there is half the fun” and let me tell you, getting there the way I am, it’s a bloody blast, my friends!
So thank you, all of you, who helped make ’10 wonderful, and may all of you have a wonderful 2011.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Since the December release of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town I've been talking a lot in interviews about what influenced me while writing the book and I, inevitably, always discuss certain books that had a huge impact on me as a child and really helped shape the way I thought about Jimmy Stone.
What I haven't had as much time to chat about, however, are some of the amazing movies that influenced Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town, so I thought this might be the perfect time to do just that.
The list itself could go on for days and I could sit here and list about a hundred movies that somehow had an impact on me while conjuring up Jimmy, but instead I've decided to break them into three categories and just chat briefly about a few of the movies. I'll link to their IMDB pages if you want more in-depth info on any of the films themselves, but this should be a fun primer for anyone who is reading (or plans to read) the book.
Boy-On-An-Adventure or Boy-In-The-Wilderness Movies
- The NeverEnding Story
- A Cry in the Wild
- Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
- Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog
- The Monster Squad
- My Side of the Mountain
- Little Monsters
The tie that binds this great list of movies together is the fact that each and every one includes a young boy (or group of boys) either on an adventure or mission, trying to get home, or trying to survive in an unforgiving environment. Jimmy Stone has to endure some of these very same situations and all of the above movies played some role in influencing me as I wrote the book.
Movies like The NeverEnding Story, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, The Monster Squad, Pinocchio, and Little Monsters all display such an amazing sense of adventure and wonderment that they laid the perfect groundwork for Jimmy's own adventure. Films like A Cry in the Wild and My Side of the Mountain, on the other hand, deal with the separation and isolation of surviving in an unfamiliar place. All these characters want to do is get home and nothing speaks more strongly to Jimmy's plight than that.
Jimmy's dog Trex plays an integral role in Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town and the influence of some of my favorite animals-on-an-adventure movies are clear throughout the book. The three movies above not only informed the story, but also helped provide the framework for the boy-dog relationship we see in the book.
Ghost Movies or Generally Creeptastic Movies
- Lady in White
- The Gate
- Are You Afraid of the Dark? - Technically, this is a TV show.
- The Peanut Butter Solution
- Monster House
- Mr. Boogedy - Technically, a TV movie.
Once Jimmy, David, and Trex make their way into Ghost Town, I wanted the book to have this creeping sense of dread and the above movies all had a hand in providing the influence for this creepiness. Along with The NeverEnding Story, Lady in White probably has the most overall influence on Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town. It's just a perfect little ghost story that's become a cult favorite and one that we watch every Halloween in our house.
Movies like The Gate, The Peanut Butter Solution, and Monster House are just so downright creepy that they provide that perfect influential tone, while Poltergeist, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Mr. Boogedy are just really fun ghost stories.
Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the movies on these lists. They're all worth a chance in your DVD player. I'd be remiss as well if I didn't mention the obvious influence of films like The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Harry Potter series. Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town is, after all, "A Fantastical Mystery for Young Readers."
I hope you'll give some of these films a chance. If you do, or if you're already a fan of some of them, let us know in the comments. We'd love to hear what you think!
If you want to grab a copy of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town, you can get it for only $0.99 (for a limited time) on Amazon.com, BN.com, Smashwords.com, and Amazon.co.uk.
There aren't many things you can buy for 99 cents these days, but Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town is one of them! Plus, it's my birthday today... buy some books! :)
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
So, it's 2011 and you know what that means? That's right, it means I didn't make my "end of the year" deadline for the novel I'm working on. Still I'm pretty sure it'll be finished in January and be published in September or October of this year (sheesh that came up awfully fast) and I'll be at Bouchercon in St. Louis forcing ARCs on people.
Don't say you weren't warned.
And it being 2011 so suddenly also means I'm not ready with a blog post today. So I'm going to repost something that was on my personal blog back in December.
The Crossbow - Murder Weapon of Choice in Canada
In Louise Penny's terrific first novel, Still Life, a murder mystery set in the small of Three Pines in Quebec's Eastern Townships, the murder weapon is a crossbow.
I thought of that this week when a man was killed at a branch of the Toronto Public Library with a crossbow (well, with the "bolt" which is apparently what the thing that gets fired from a crossbow is called).
The crossbow seemed oddly at home in a murder mystery, but it seemed weird in a real murder.
And then newspapers in Canada started running stories with headlines like "Crossbow Incidents in Canada," and it turns out it's a fairly long list:
•In July, a Mission, B.C., father was charged with attacking his son who was shot in the forearm with a crossbow.
•In November 2007, a 26-year-old man was charged with murder and attempted murder after his mother was killed and father was injured by a crossbow in St-Cesaire, Que.
•In October 2002, a dairy farmer was shot in the back and injured with a crossbow in St.-Bonaventure.
•In August 1998, a man asleep in his Hamilton home was shot in the head and injured by a man who fired a crossbow.
•In 1998, Edward Stuart Walker shot a pregnant Stephanie Celestine Thomas with a crossbow, then stabbed her 46 times in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island.
•In September 1994, Yvon Gosselin was driven to a gravel pit near Terrace, B.C., where he was killed with two bolts from a crossbow.
•In May 1995, a man armed with a crossbow entered the Winnipeg Convention Centre shortly before then prime minister Jean Chretien arrived to deliver a speech. The suspect was arrested.
•In January 1993, B.C. Institute of Technology student Silvia Leung, 22, bled to death in the campus parking lot in Burnaby after being hit in the shoulder by a crossbow.
•In November 1991, Ottawa lawyer Patricia Allen was killed with a crossbow by her estranged husband Colin McGregor.
So here's my question, does anyone know of any other novels in which a crossbow is used?
* In the comments on my blog Patti Abbott pointed out that James Bond used a crossbow in For Your Eyes Only and it even had a Canadian connection - Bond flies into Montreal and sneaks across the border into Vermont.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and my friend Skyler Hobbs insisted on visiting Pioneer Courthouse Square for the lighting of Portland's official Christmas tree. I tagged along to keep him out of trouble. Or so I thought.
Hobbs gazed up at the dark tree. “This 75-foot Douglas fir has been strung with 15,000 lights of the LED variety, meaning they are extremely energy-efficient.”
I stared at him. “You've gone green? You, the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes?”
“Just because I am an old soul, Watson, does not mean I cannot be socially responsible.”
“Wilder,” I reminded him, “not Watson. Jason Wilder.”
The square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people clutching Starbucks cups and food from the Honkin' Huge Burrritos cart. Their attention was focused on the stage, where members of the Oregon Symphony, the Pacific Youth Choir and the band Pink Martini were struggling to lead the distracted crowd in Christmas carols.
“If you start singing,” I said, “I'm out of here.”
“Oh come, Doctor, don't be such a scrooge.”
“Computer Doctor,” I said. “As for being a scrooge...”
But he wasn't listening, his gaze fixed on a shawl-wrapped woman worming her way toward us with an old-fashioned baby carriage.
Hobbs' brow furrowed.
“That woman has recently shaved a heavy beard and mustache. She is not a woman at all.”
Hobbs sidled forward, tipping his deerstalker cap. “Happy Christmas, madam.”
The cap slipped his from fingers, and as he swooped to retrieve it, his face came quite near the bed of the carriage.
With a growl, the “mother” wheeled the carriage about and pushed it away into the crowd.
Hobbs watched a moment, then stiffened. “Quick, we must stop him.”
“He has abandoned the carriage. You must retrieve it!”
Then he was off.
I followed, cursing. Hobbs was nuts, but I'd learned to trust his instincts. Reaching the carriage, I shouted, “Dirty diapers coming through!” and the crowd opened a path.
At the edge of the plaza, the streets were bare except for police cars and stern-faced patrolmen. Across the street I saw the phony mother, headed toward Pioneer Place Shopping Center with Hobbs hot in pursuit. I hurried after them.
The crossdresser stopped, yanked a cell phone from his pocket and held it up to dial. Glancing back, his eyes skipped over Hobbs, fixed on me and went wide as goose eggs. Spinning away, he turned to cross the street, but a bus was roaring past. Hobbs sprang onto the man's back, trying to drag him down.
I parked the carriage and ran to help, but the guy broke free and charged blindly into the street, just as another bus approached.
Man and bus met with a meaty crunch. The guy flopped to the blacktop and I grimaced as the big wheels ground his head to pulp.
Hobbs grabbed the carriage and hustled me away from the scene. A full block later he turned a corner and peered back.
“We are not pursued. We must take the carriage and depart at once.”
“And kidnap a baby? Forget it.”
Hobbs flung the carriage blanket aside, revealing a doll dressed in baby clothes. And beneath the doll, under another blanket, sat brick after brick of a substance resembling mozzarella cheese.
“When I stooped to get my hat, Doctor, I found none of the telltale scents of an infant. Instead, I detected the odor of the explosive known as C4.”
Replacing the blankets, Hobbs grabbed the carriage and hurried on.
“C4? We're carting a load of C4?”
“We are in no danger. The explosives were to be triggered by our late friend's cell phone.”
“My god, Hobbs. It would have killed thousands. We have to tell somebody!”
Reaching the next corner, we had a view of the square, two blocks away. Voices chanted, “Three, two, one . . . ” and the tree came alive with all of its 15,000 lights. The crowd began singing White Christmas.
“Would you tell those good people they nearly died? Now, when they are gathered in the spirit of peace and goodwill?”
I flopped in front of the TV, trying to forget the carriage full of explosives in my car.
I must have dozed, because suddenly Hobbs was there beside me, and a newsman was saying, “Tonight, the FBI foiled a plot to kill thousands at Pioneer Courthouse Square.”
The face of a thin young man filled the screen. “After a year-long undercover operation, nineteen-year-old Somalian immigrant Mohamed Mohamud is now in custody. Tonight, when Mohamud tried to ignite a truckload of phony explosives with his cell phone, agents swooped in. The crowd at the square, authorities assure us, was never in the slightest danger.”
“A decoy,” Hobbs said. “The FBI was taken in by a decoy, while the true bomber escaped their notice entirely.”
“We have to tell them. And the media. You'll be a hero.”
“No. The public can never know. Our fellow citizens would fear to leave their homes, and the spirit of Christmas would be forever tarnished.”
“So what do we do with the C4?”
“In my line of work,” he said, “it may someday prove useful. I propose we bury it in the back yard beneath the azaleas.”
So we did.
I knew he was right about not going public. The story would cause panic and probably get us thrown in the slammer. Still, I couldn't help myself. Next morning I grabbed my laptop and started typing.
Hobbs let out a laugh.
“I am quite aware, Doctor, that you plan on submitting this adventure to the Internet magazine Do Some Damage, as part of their Christmas Noir celebration.”
“And you're okay with that?”
“I have made inquiries. That site caters to aficionados of the most lurid sort of detective fiction. If the editors choose to publish so wild a tale, who would ever believe it?”
Monday, January 3, 2011
David Cook exited Canary Wharf tube station, feeling icy sleet on his face and hearing staccato out-of-tune squeaks and parps. Turning the corner Primrose was a sight for sore eyes.
“You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” said Primrose. A beaming smile exposing bad, nicotine stained teeth as he pocketed the pound coin.
“A cold morning for it, Primrose,” said Cook. “You look a seasonal picture though.”
“Aye,” said Primrose. “But the elastic on these Alan Whickers is cutting me friggin’ arse to ribbons.”
Primrose poking and pulling at his buttocks tottered on stilettos. His red silk dress rode higher; revealing a scary glimpse of hairy goose pimpled flesh, suspender belt and stocking top. Primrose’s only deference to the bitter weather was a three button M&S cardigan, straining across his barrel-chest, and a Santa hat.
Cook laughed and took a copy of The Big Issue. Saying, “Take care my friend,” as Primrose readied to let loose with the battered alto-sax.
As Cook reached the First Global Bank building he heard the old transvestite honk out the first few gruff and wobbly bum notes of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth’.
Cook spotted the diminutive, mutton dressed as lamb, Georgie Bell. He could count on one hand the number of times Georgie had spoken to him since she was appointed FGB International Director. Making no secret that she regarded him as a middle-aged has been.
Reaching his desk Cook said a cheery, “Morning all.”
In her office Georgie feigned not to hear and continued to tap on her keyboard, a sour look on her face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.
Cook thinking, silly, stuck-up bint.
Firing up his computer Cook hacked into Georgie’s email account. The Human Resources email confirmed his suspicions; today was going to be the day.
Accessing the Pietersen account he began coding instructions; marvelling at the transactional procedure. One pence, disguised as a currency fluctuation, was deducted from a multitude of FGB international accounts each day and deposited into the Pietersen account. Miniscule amounts skimmed and totalling a tidy six figure balance.
The email arrived at 15:45, instructing him to go immediately to HR. Waiting for the lift he spied two security guys locking down his work-station. FGB was following standard dismissal security protocol.
Georgie, not bothering to attend, sent her deputy, the snivelling Derek ‘Jellyfish’ Ponting. Cook was told by the HR manager that regrettably his position was redundant. Hearing corporate platitudes: Deficit. Tough trading. Efficiencies. Rationalisation.
The Jellyfish limply shook Cook’s hand and gave him a meagre redundancy cheque. Saying, his tone as camp as a row of tents, “Wishing you a, err... happy early retirement, David.”
Cook was escorted from the FGB building with not so much as a thank you for twenty five years of unblemished service.
Doing the sensible thing, Cook found the nearest bar and downed the first of several large malts.
Cook tracked Primrose down to a hostel for the homeless in Vauxhall. Finding him semi-conscious in the canteen amongst empty cans of Tennent's Super.
Primrose insisted on taking his beloved alto to the Starbucks where Cook plied him with black coffee and cash and more black coffee and a guarantee of more cash; if he followed instructions to the letter.
Leaving Primrose tooting and wailing a stuttering version of ‘We're in the Money’, Cook hailed a black cab. Falling into the back seat as the driver regaled him with a barrage of insight on: London traffic. The Coalition Government. The idiotic Mayor. Tottenham Hotspur FC.
Cook managing to interrupt him for long enough to say, “Heathrow Airport.”
Primrose padlocked his rusty bicycle to the railings of the, oh so chic, L’Antipasto. Thinking, you can’t be too careful with these posh bastards.
The party was in full swing as Primrose made his entrance. He’d made the effort: Burlesque corset. Tutu. Fishnets. Four inch heels.
“I’m looking for the lovely Georgie,” Primrose hollered. “You’ve not seen a stripogram like me before, darling.”
Heads turned; watching Primrose stride to the FGB table and moon at the po-faced Georgie.
Georgie gagging and spraying a mouthful of mange tout.
The Jellyfish, finding his backbone, jumped up. Saying, “Get out you drunken, filthy slob.”
“I’ll take my leave then,” said Primrose. “You’re all a bunch of philistines and snobs!”
Theatrically sweeping back his long, greying locks Primrose planted his forehead square into Ponting’s pudgy face.
In the resulting confusion Primrose pulled a package from his new Prada handbag and dropped it on the pile of parcels in the middle of the table. Snaffling slices of turkey breast, a handful of brussel sprouts and a couple of roasties and washing them down with two large glasses of crisp, Pinot Grigio.
Belching loudly and breaking wind Primrose slipped out the fire exit; leaving a silent but deadly gift for the clientele to savour.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Matthew Strauss, FGB Managing Director and guest of honour. “The unfortunate interruption is over and the... air is now clear. Shall we continue with the festivities?”
“Here, here,” and glass tapping chorused around the table.
Ponting gingerly dabbed his swollen nose with a blood stained handkerchief.
“Let’s have the Secret Santa,” shouted an acolyte.
Georgie stopped rubbing the vegetable stain on her sparkly designer dress and gushed, “Matt, would you do us the honour of being master of ceremony?”
“This... oddly shaped one, is for... Georgie!” Strauss said.
Paying reverence to tradition Georgie got to her feet and enthusiastically shredded wrapping paper; revealing a fleshy pink, ‘Rampant Rabbit Big O’. Shaking like a frightened schoolgirl as she digested the digits on the slip of paper sellotaped along the shaft.
Georgie not wanting to believe the balance of her ‘Pietersen’ slush fund account. Her addled brain thinking: Zilch. Nada. Zero. Reading the gift tag tied delicately around the thick base Georgie peed her pants:-
I Cook-ed the books: Go f**k yourself!
Secret Santa x
Alan Griffiths, a rookie writer, hails from London, England. His fictional crimes can be found on websites such as: A Twist of Noir, Thrillers, Killers n Chillers and Radgepacket Online. His story Concrete Jungle features in the e-book anthology Discount Noir published by Untreed Reads. When the mood takes him he blogs at:
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Walking back to the house after hauling off Christmas trash, a noise, something jostling the brush, caught his attention. He stopped in his tracks.
The sight before him brought a feeling of relief. And…vindication. Halfway down the drive stood his cat, Misha. She’d returned.
Ten days ago he’d rushed outside with his shotgun to kill the predator that had been eating his cat’s food for over a month. Hearing the boom of the shotgun, his wife met him at the back door.
“Did you get it?”
He nodded pushing the safety on and propping the shotgun near the back door. “Not sure if it was a coon, though. Might’a been that big Tom.”
He sniffed, “Do I smell cornbread?”
“It’s on the counter along with the greens.”
Poking at the hot cornbread with his index finger he looked away muttering. “I hope it wasn’t Misha.”
He knew what he would see in his wife’s eyes if he looked at her now. Oh, she loved to rant about his guns and the money he spent on gun shows, gun magazines, hunting, camouflage, ammo.
His response was that guns were his Constitutional right, a man’s right to defend his home. And he didn’t spend any more on his guns and hunting than she did on shoes or clothes or the kids.
She asked why he needed two shotguns, three .22 rifles, two handguns, a muzzleloader and a crossbow”.
“What - you think there’s going to be a siege and you’ll singlehandedly have to hold off a bunch of robbers?” Her eyes cut to their worn out furniture and spare belongings.
“I’m not hurting anyone. And I do put meat on the table every winter don’t I?”
She just waved her hand at him and walked off.
When Misha didn’t show up the next day, or the next, he told his wife, “I think I killed my kitty. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.” And he confessed, “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
To her credit she didn’t say, ‘Imagine what the poor thing was thinking as you aimed the gun at her…’
But it didn’t keep him from thinking it.
One of his buddies suggested his wife take his guns away. One even joked that based on his accuracy in the past, he was too close to actually hit the cat.
After that, she’d gone to calling for Misha. Just in case he’d missed.
He kept telling her, in a defeated tone, “I made a good shot. She’s not coming back.”
And yet, here she was. The best Christmas present he could ask for.
She ran off because she was freaked, that’s all. He had made a good shot. He’d just been doubting himself, but now that he relived the moment, he could picture the cat he’d fired on. It was that big grey Tom.
He let out breath. Come to think of it, the Tom hadn’t been around lately either.
Misha meowed plaintively, and he moved forward.
“Where ya been, kitty?” he sang to her. “Come ‘ere, Kitty Kitty.”
She looked up at him, crying again. As he bent down to pet her, he smelled the rotten odor.
Then he saw the cause.
The shredded stump where her paw used to be.
By Col Bury
“What do you mean you’ve… ‘Already paid somebody’, Mrs G?” asked Barney, trying not to fuckin’ swear.
The old dear looked perplexed as she stared at the window cleaner in the doorway, from the waning warmth of her bungalow, snowflakes drifting in with the chill of night.
“Who did you pay?”
“A tall lad. He cleaned my windows yesterday and knocked on, so I paid him.”
Barney bit his lip, hard. “I work alone, Mrs G, you should know that.”
“Oh dear. I just assumed he was working for you. I’m sorry, Barney.”
“You owed a month’s worth, that’s two cleans.”
“I know. I paid him six pounds…” she dipped her head, “… plus a tip. Gave him a tenner.”
Barney pivoted, stifled a, For fuck’s sake, then turned back. “So the cheeky… even took my Christmas tip?”
“Afraid so… Oh, this is terrible… here… let me…” Mrs Groves reached for her tweed, winter coat hanging on a hook in the hallway and pulled a purse from the pocket.
“NO! I wouldn’t dream of taking it. Don’t worry, Mrs G, I’ll catch up with him.”
“You sure, Barney?”
“I’m sure. Now, you watch yourself in this weather. Merry Christmas.” He forced a smile then headed for his next customer, crunching through the snow, but feeling less than Christmassy.
“Not you too, Bob!”
“But he said… shit… have I paid the wrong guy?” Bob Sharples’ wrinkly brow wrinkled some more, eyes widening.
Barney gave an imperceptible nod as he stood in the flat’s communal area, now expecting the whole block to have coughed up anything, including tips, up to a ton.
“The cheeky bastard.”
“You said, he said something, Bob?”
“Er, yeah, he said he was helping you.”
“What, so he mentioned my name?”
“Yeah, so I thought nowt of it an’ just gave him a fiver… an’ a half bottle of whisky. Said he’d make sure you got it. He was so convincing…”
So he’s tall and he knows me. “Can you describe him?”
Sharples rubbed his chin, thinking. “Yeah, he’s a six-footer, white lad, medium build, say about thirty-ish.”
“What colour hair?”
“He had a Beanie hat on… bit like yours. I’d pay you mate, but am skint.” Sharples patted his pockets.
“No worries, Bob. Cheers, for the whisky thought, mate. All the best.” Seething, he headed upstairs to hear the inevitable bad news, thinking about the Chrimbo pressies he’d promised his kids, Beth and Harry.
Leaving the block of flats in the driving snow, with an image forming of the man who’d potentially destroyed his kid’s Christmas, Barney hoped he’d receive better news from the adjacent block. His customers were a lovely bunch, if not a tad naive, over half offering to pay him. But he’d refused them all. This was his problem and he’d deal with it.
The next block was the same, all three storeys having paid the conman. A quick tot-up told him the damage was pushing three ton. However, speaking with residents of the third block, Barney was relieved to find the first three he’d checked hadn’t paid, so he tactically left it at that, not checking the remainder.
With a measly fourteen quid in his back pocket, he went for a pint, as was tradition after collecting, in the Rock Inn.
He’d built up the round from scratch since being made redundant for the second time from a job in the printing industry. These technological times had lessened the need for skilled printers. He knew half a dozen of the regulars in his local had window cleaning rounds, so had initially done some cash in hand work before purchasing a cheap ladder, bucket and chamois leather. After a lot of cold calling, he’d eventually established his £800 per month round.
Sipping a pint of Carling Cold at the bar, his eyes flicked discreetly from the three lads who fitted the description. Family man, Johnno was sound and had been the one who’d ‘employed’ Barney when things were desperate, so he was out of the equation.
Johnno glanced over, perched on a bar-stool. “Been grafting for Chrimbo cash, Barney?”
“Nah, bud. Can’t in this weather.” Barney watched the other two, who were shooting pool, and purposely raised his voice. “Won’t be collecting till next week now either. It’s treacherous out there.”
“Don’t blame you, mate.”
Time to test the water. “So, how much you had in tips, Kev?”
Kevin Anderson glanced up from his shot. “Not much this year. Think everyone’s skint. What about you?”
“Not too bad. How’ve you done, Mikey?”
Mike Wetherall seemed to hesitate, studied the table and didn’t look up. “Same. Credit crunch kicking in, innit?” He missed a straight pot by inches, but still avoided eye contact. With the Beanie hat and constant visits to the fruit machine, Barney knew.
Temperatures had reportedly hit minus 10, and, still bubbling with rage, Barney pulled his collar up, wrapped his scarf round his mouth. The snow-covered bushes hid him from view, as the window cleaner climbed the ladder to the third floor flat on Barney’s patch.
Struggling to make out the dark ascending figure, Barney tossed looks over both shoulders, checked the windows. All clear. He edged forward toward the bottom of the ladder. Not arsed about the ‘seven years of bad luck,’ he stood underneath the ladder.
After again scanning for passers by, he looked up beyond the plethora of falling flakes. “Hey, Mikey! Call yer-self a mate, you backstabbing shithouse!” He booted the bottom rung outwards repeatedly. The ladder slid rapidly away from the building, the top end clattering and scraping the wall and window ledges, a sharp yelp from above. Barney dived sideways as the body thumped the snow, bizarrely like a human starfish, the ladder whacking the conman’s head with a sickening thud.
Barney gasped, agape. “Johnno… WHY?”
No answer, just the silent oozing claret dyeing the snow. But it didn’t prevent Barney undoing the bum bag from round his dead friend’s waist.
Col Bury is the co-editor of Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and his crime novel is being touted by a NY agent. Col's short stories can be found in anthologies, and scattered around the blogosphere. He blogs, reviews, and interviews crime authors at http://colburysnewcrimefiction.blogspot.com/