Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Recommendation for Halloween Reading

Scott D. Parker

I have nothing of consequence to discuss writing-wise this week. It was just another week of writing everyday, piling on more words in my next project. It's a week before Halloween and it's always nice to read the spooky stories before All Hallow's Eve than after it. So, for y'all's consideration, a review I wrote back in 2008. Enjoy.

Halloween is perfect for anthologies. Even though you may have a month-long build up to the event, trick-or-treating really only lasts an hour or two. The short burst of a short story is enough of a treat to get in the spirit of the orange-and-black holiday without upsetting your stomach too much.

Over the years, I have searched out and found some Halloween-themed anthologies. Halloween Horrors, edited by Alan Ryan, focuses, as you can expect, on the supernatural and terrifying aspects of All Hallow’s Eve. Murder for Halloween is a nice collection of suspense stories edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman that runs the gamut from Edgar Allan Poe to Ed McBain. The last Halloween anthology I own, and the one I’m focusing this review on, is 13 Horrors of Halloween. Why, you may ask, does this collection get the prize? Simple. Isaac Asimov is one of the editors. Can’t go wrong there.

Besides, Asimov’s collection begins with, what else, an introduction detailing the history of Halloween as we now celebrate it. For a man as equally celebrated for his non-fiction output as well as his fiction, this was a nice addition to the usual diatribes about Halloween in other anthologies, including the aforementioned titles. I love history and how things and events have evolved over the centuries. Asimov runs the gamut, from biblical traditions to Persian mythology. It’s all quite fascinating. Asimov ends with this paragraph:

    Halloween reflects itself in our literature in three ways: in mystery stories in which the atmosphere of Halloween heightens the natural suspense already present; or fantasy stories that are rooted in the witches, goblins, and devils that are inseparable from the celebration; or horror stories that take advantage of the effluvium of evil that clings to the day.

I love words and their meanings and I particularly enjoyed the word “effluvium” and how it associates with Halloween. A definition is “A usually invisible emanation or exhalation, as of vapor or gas.” I don’t know about y’all but Halloween, the day as well as the night itself always feels different somehow. Rarely here in Houston do we experience the cool winds (although we are today) but there is a certain spirit that permeates October 31. Even the date itself looks and feels different. The stories in this collection exude that same, certain, unique spirit no matter the genre of the story.

Leave it to Asimov to lead off the anthology with a detective story. Asimov, the SF master, dipped his considerable genius into detective fiction with a couple of his novels including The Caves of Steel. In this story, simple titled “Halloween,” Detective Haley has to find some missing plutonium. The thief is dead, collapsed in a stairwell of a large hotel, and his last word is the story’s title, “Halloween.” It’s the early hours of 1 November and the thief could have hidden the small box of plutonium in any of the hotel’s 800+ rooms. The detective has a theory on where to find the plutonium and you’ll just have to read the story to find out if he’s right.

Ray Bradbury makes an appearance. Bradbury writes fiction that can be as nostalgic as old, sepia-tinted photographs even if you never lives in the world’s Bradbury describes. One of his favorite holidays is Halloween. But, unlike The Halloween Tree (which I’m reviewing Friday), “The October Game” is a fun little ditty with this first line: “He put the gun back in to the bureau drawer and shut the drawer.” It’s always fun when you start a story with a gun. It’s just waiting to be fired.

A few other mystery writers show up; Anthony Boucher, Ellery Queen, and a great story by the late Edward D. Hoch. I haven’t read many of his stories but this one, “Day of the Vampire,” is a good one for this election season. Sheriff Frank Creasley is running for reelection but a body is found and all the blood has been drained from it. After Creasley carelessly get the ME to hide the evidence, the sheriff’s opponent makes political hay from the cover-up. Unless you are a jaded reader, you won’t see the ending coming.

A few other folks you’ve probably heard of take a turn at a Halloween tale: Edith Wharton, Robert Grant, Talmage Powell. Al Sarrantonio’s “Pumpkinhead” is a devilishly good example of how an author can take something that can evoke fond memories in all of us—kids Halloween party, at a school and a home—and turn it upside down. The story takes place in two parts, one at school and one later that Halloween night. Here’s the opening paragraphs of the story:

    Ghouls loped up and down aisles between desks, shouting “Boo!” at one another. Crepe paper, crinkly and the colors of Halloween, crisscrossed over blackboards covered with mad and frightful doodlings in red and green chalk; snakes, rats, witches on broomsticks. Windowpanes were filled with cutout black cats and ghosts with no eyes and giant O’s for mouths.

Here’s how Sarrantonio describes the night:

    A black and orange night.
    Here came a black cat walking on two legs; there two percale sheet ghosts trailing paper bags with handles; here again a miniature man from outer space. The wind was up: leaves whipped along the serpentine sidewalk like racing cards. There was an apple-crisp smell in the air, an icicle-down-your-spine, here-comes-winter chill. Pumpkins everywhere, and a half harvest moon playing coyly with wisps of high shadowy cloud. A thousand dull yellow night-lights winked through the breezy trees on a thousand festooned porches. A constant ringing of doorbells, the wash of goblin traffic; they traveled in twos, threes, or fours, these monsters, held together by Halloween gravity. Groups passed other groups, just coming up, or coming down, stairs, made faces, and said, “Boo!” There were a million “Boo!” greetings this night.

I don’t know about you, but after reading lines like these, I want to travel back in time, don my Han Solo costume, and go trick-or-treating. But, since that isn’t an option, I’ll have to improvise. I think I might put in my vampire teeth and paint on the fake blood. I might sit by the front window, light a candle, and read Isaac Asimov’s 13 Horrors of Halloween by its light.

Oops! Gotta go. There’s the front door bell. I wonder what the kids would do if I said “Trick”? Let’s find out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post - Douglas Lindsay


So I was living in Brussels and I met a girl in the Foreign Office, and for a while we were just friends, then one night we drove all the way to the beach at three in the morning, and shortly afterwards I nipped any When Harry Met Sally type situation in the bud by asking her to marry me, and she said, ‘Yes!’ but first she said, ‘I hate this place, I’m getting the fuck out of Dodge,’ and she said she wanted to go to Africa, and I said, ‘Too hot!’ how about Sweden or Switzerland, and then we ended up in Senegal.

There weren’t a lot of jobs going for non-French speakers, so I said, ‘I could become a writer,’ and she, obviously still in the first flush of romance, said, ‘Sure beans!’ so I started writing books. The first one was about a writer killing a prostitute in Manhattan, and was just as bad as it sounds, what with me knowing nothing about writing, murder, prostitution or Manhattan. Then I wrote one about a barber in Glasgow killing his work colleagues, then a school drama called The Tarantino Version, then a romcom, then a police procedural, then all those letters to publishers finally paid off and the barbershop book was picked up. I showed my new publishers the police procedural, and they said, ‘No thanks!’ having not read beyond the first few pages, and then I forgot about it – and all the other Early Crap – and instead wrote a follow-up, and another and another, to the barbershop story.

Then the internet was discovered, and everyone was getting a website, so I thought I’d better get one too, so I dusted off the old police procedural and put it on there as a Free Book to download, as if that was a thing – which it might have been if e-readers had been invented, but they hadn’t – but first I had to make it more comic, to tie in with the barbershop books. And some people read it, but not many. Then over the years it fell slowly into the shadows, like the Ring in Lord of the Rings, and I took it off the website.

One day, while living in Warsaw, I decided I could resurrect that old police procedural, so I got it out, dusted it off, I thought, We come at last to the great police procedural of our times, then I read the first few pages and said, ‘Oh, actually it’s really crap,’ and put it away again.

Much later Amazon Kindle started up in Britain, and I thought, well that old police procedural might be a load of old mince, but why don’t I just stick it on there and see if some sucker buys it. Some sucker did, but just the one.

Then I got an agent – Mr Allan Guthrie – and he said, what was the last thing you published, and I told him and he asked to read it, and I said, ‘No way!’ and he said, ‘Dang it, kid, let me see it!’ so I did, and he said, ‘This is one fuck of a novel!’ so I took it off Kindle, we changed the title to The Unburied Dead – even though there are no more unburied dead in this book than in any other – and he offered it to the great August Collective of London Crime Editors.

One of them said, ‘I love it!’ but can you make this change, and this change, and this change? I was happy to make those changes, as it was more or less reverting the book to how it had been back in the old pre-internet days, although that first draft no longer existed. Then, without actually reading the new draft, the editor who had requested the changes said, ‘You know, I don’t think we’ll be able to publish this anyway. But thanks for the three months of work.’

This is the kind of thing that happens to writers. This is why many writers can be found sitting in bars at 2am, hanging out with vodka and drinking loose women. On this occasion, I eschewed the vodka/women combination and gave the book back to Mr Guthrie, who had by this time started Blasted Heath.

Blasted Heath published the book, and it did so well that they now give it away for nothing, which is what I was doing twelve years ago. That there is what a cliché-meister would call full circle. Then two years ago I started writing the eighth novel in the barbershop series, but early on I had a moment of epiphany where I realised that hardly anyone alive today is reading the first seven, so there’s not really a lot of point in writing an eighth, so I took the macabre serial killer plot for that book, and put it into a follow up to The Unburied Dead.

This week the book is published. It’s called A PLAGUE OF CROWS, and it’s not free.

I think all that would still have happened even if we hadn’t driven to the beach at Knokke-Heist, but you never know, and I’m sure Mrs Lindsay would like it to be known that she has never – in all her life – actually uttered the phrase sure beans.

- Douglas Lindsay

Douglas' latest book, A Plague of Crows is out on the 25th...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Franzen defines 'serious novel'

from Scratch

Manjula Martin: Define “serious novel.”

Jonathan Franzen: Read the first five pages. Count clichés. If you find one, the buzzer goes off: it’s not a serious novel. A serious novelist notices clichés and eliminates them. The serious novelist doesn’t write “quiet as a mouse” or paint the world in clichéd moral terms. You could almost just substitute the adjective “cliché-free” for “serious.”
MM: I too have this perception of a literary novelist who makes money, who is both critically and popularly acclaimed, as a unique thing, a rarity—perhaps more of a unicorn than a fish. There’s a feeling of resignation among a lot of emerging writers I know, a suspicion that the sort of success you have enjoyed might be impossible because the prospect of publishing as a functional economic industry might be over. Are you the last unicorn?
JF: There are a lot of cliché-free writers, and there are still dozens who make a very good living at it. Alice Munro is a number-one bestseller in Canada. Ian McEwan had a string of hits, and so did Cormac McCarthy, belatedly. I’m not the only one.
MM: But are you the last one?
JF: Are there people who are twenty years old today who have some hope of that? That depends on the larger economics of book publishing. People will not stop reading books. But I think there’s no question that people are reading fewer books than they did thirty years ago—how not, with all the good cable shows and electronic distractions?
The result is that life has gotten much harder for the so-called midlist writer, because people reach for the star writers when their reading time is limited, and when conventional media coverage of novels is shrinking. I think e-books may actually be helping to offset these trends, because they present a lower barrier of investment—it’s so easy to try something new, and if you don’t like it you can just delete it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pale Horses by Nate Southard - excerpt

The latest release from Snubnose Press dropped last week. Here is an excerpt from Nate Southard's Pale Horses (US|Print|UK) .


Sheriff Hal Kendrick was sitting at his breakfast table struggling to remember his wife’s name and trying to keep the panic down in his gut when his cell phone rang.  The woman he’d loved more than forty years gave him a smile and then stood as he chewed on the toast and bacon he’d crammed in his mouth.  He knew every contour of her face and every inch of her body; that certainly wasn’t the problem.  Only the woman’s name had disappeared from his mind.  She walked‑‑no, she sauntered; that was a better word‑‑over to the kitchen counter and scooped up the phone.  Dammit, what was her name?
The rest of it came easy.  He looked down at his plate‑‑one of the new, plain white ones because the blue designs around the edge of the old plates confused him sometimes‑‑and mentally ticked off its contents.  That was bacon.  The yellow stuff was eggs.  Coffee filled his mug.  He continued.  His name was Hal Kendrick, and he’d been sheriff of Folk County for twelve years, now.  He was sixty-three years old, and he lived two miles outside of Broker, Indiana.  When he wasn’t tooling around in his county cruiser, he drove a 1998 Ford Bronco that ran on spit and wishes.  His birthday was July 16th, and his anniversary fell on September 2nd.
He could remember all of this, every damn lick of it, but his wife’s name escaped him.  Watching her flip open the phone and hold it to the side of her face, he knew she was sixty-one years old and had been born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio.  Way back in Spring of 1964, he had met her at his senior prom.  She’d arrived with Timmy Montgomery but left with him.  He knew her favorite color was a lush green, and he knew her favorite song was “Dawn” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but her name thrashed outside his grip like a wild fire hose, refusing capture.
Frustration welled within him, coiling with the panic like a snake preparing to lash out.  The doctors had told him not to get frustrated, that it was normal for him to forget things and that the five milligrams of Aricept he took before bed each night would help keep him from forgetting more.  All the frustration would do is make him mad.  The panic did nothing but make him impulsive.  If he gave in to either state, he might hurt himself.  At the very least, he’d be too worked up to remember what had slipped his mind in the first place, so the doctors and his wife had agreed that frustration and panic weren’t worth a bucket of cold gravy.
But the doctors didn’t know what this was like.  They had no idea how awful it was to feel completely normal, yet not know the name of the woman you’d loved the last forty-six years of your life, to have that name dance just out of reach, taunting you.  And they didn’t feel the fear, the aching horror at the knowledge that it would just get worse and worse until it swallowed you whole, until you disappeared inside it and didn’t even exist anymore.
He jumped at the sound of her voice.  The sweet note of understanding and patience was there, but it rang with something else.  Concern, maybe?  He looked up and saw her holding the phone out to him.  That didn’t make any sense at all, not unless one of her friends wanted to talk to him.  If that was the case though, why hadn’t they just called his...?
Oh.  That was his cell in her hand.  Not just any cell phone, either.  It was the county phone, and that meant something bad had happened.  How early was it?
Hal sighed.  Frustrated or not, it was time to go to work.  He wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed himself up from the table.  Joints creaked and groaned, and he marveled at how much of a chore even standing seemed nowadays.
“Denise,” his wife said as she handed him the phone.  “Dispatch.”
Hal nodded, letting her know he understood, recognized the name she’d given him, and knew why Denise was calling.  She’d adapted to the system quickly, and she hadn’t let him down once.  Dammit, she deserved so much better.
“I’m here, Denise,” he said.  “What do we have so early?”
“Morning, Sheriff.  We’ve got a possible homicide.  Female adult down on State Road 56 just outside the Broker limits.”
“Dammit.  Possible homicide.  Copy that.”  He plucked the pen from beside the yellow notepad that hung next to the phone, jotted down the location and made a note that State Road 56 came off of Third Street and headed toward Rising Sun.
“Who do we have on shift?” he asked.
“Ed Brown.  On shift and en route.”
“That it?”
“Called Patrolman Cole.  He sounded groggy, but he’s heading down.”
“Thanks.  I’m on my way.”
“Copy that.”
“Yeah.  Thanks, Denise.”
“Don’t mention it, Sheriff.”
“Too late.”
He slapped the cell phone shut and let out a sigh.  Jesus.  A possible homicide before eight in the morning.  Looked like he had the makings of the worst Monday on record.
His wife gave his shoulder a squeeze, one that was both strong and comforting.  “You got it, honey?”
“Yeah.”  He placed his spare hand on hers as he continued scribbling on the pad. 
“Then tell me.”
“Possible homicide on an adult female just outside Broker limits on 56, which is the road that comes off of Third and goes to Rising Sun.  Detective Ed Brown and Danny Cole are both on the way.”
“That’s my baby.”  She gave his back a pat.
“I certainly do try.”  He tore the yellow sheet from the pad and stuck it in the pocket of his shirt.  Looking down, he patted his chest.  Something was missing.  He knew it was something simple, something he couldn’t leave without, but it avoided him the same as his wife’s name kept dancing just beyond his reach.
“Your badge is on the kitchen table,” his wife said in a patient voice.  “It’s right beside your plate.”
Realization rushed in, and he rolled his eyes at how obvious the answer had been.  Of course, the badge.  For Pete’s sake, he’d even been patting his chest while he tried to figure it out.  He returned to the kitchen table long enough to grab the shining piece of metal and pin it over his left breast.  Maybe he should leave it on all the time?  One less thing to screw up, and these days every little thing counted.
“Looks like it’s time for work,” he said.
“Looks like.  You be safe.”
“Always am.”
“Call me if you need help with anything, okay?  A name, a place, part of the job.  Call me.  Don’t be afraid to get a nudge, okay?”
He nodded.  Guilt came charging in, same as it did every single day he didn’t announce his retirement.  Looking into his wife’s eyes, seeing the understanding and love there, he remembered why he fought so hard to keep at the job, to do things right.  He had to leave Folk County better than he’d found it.  The last thing he would dream of doing was to destroy everything and then walk away.  Minutes remained on the clock, and he would keep fighting to make things right until time ran out.
And she understood, this wonderful woman understood all of it and had decided to help.  She really was amazing.
“I love you, Hal,” she said.
“I love you, too.”
Hal leaned in and planted a kiss on his wife’s lips.  Then, he hurried out the front door and to his cruiser before the sad smile on her face made him cry.


Ten minutes later, Hal pulled his cruiser over to the gravel shoulder and parked it behind Ed Brown’s sedan before checking his appearance in the rearview.  He was pleased to find he looked like himself, or at least how he remembered himself.  His hair didn’t stick out at crazy angles, and the frightened look that crept into his eyes now and then was nowhere to be found.  All things considered, he looked like the picture of competence, and that was probably better than he deserved.
When he shoved open his door and stepped onto the shoulder, he found the detective standing across the two-lane highway, waiting.  The man wore a suit that looked like it belonged in Chicago or at least Cincinnati, not on the side of a road in Folk County.  His face was impassive, square jaw set and impossible to read.  Some others might not realize it, but Hal knew that look meant something bad. 
“Morning, Detective,” he said as he crossed the pavement, giving Brown the heads up that they were keeping things pro this morning.  Not that the detective needed the hint. 
The sound of an approaching motor reached him, and he looked up to see Danny Cole tooling toward them as casual as you please.  He felt a flare of annoyance, but then he reminded himself that he’d barely beaten the kid to the scene, and Danny could have been anywhere in the county when the call came through.  By the time he reached Brown’s side, he felt nice and calm again.
“Wanna talk to me?”
“Not really, Sheriff.  Think we got more of a look and see situation goin’ on right at the moment.”
“That bad?”
But he already knew.  The look had told him everything.
A car door opened and slammed, followed by the sound of running footsteps charging across the hardtop.  Hal craned his neck backward right as Danny Cole let out a, “Well, isn’t this a great way to kick off a morning?”
The patrolman, halfway through his twenties with the wide eyes of a kid first starting to sprout hair down below, clapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth.  His brown windbreaker rustled in the morning breeze, and his smile made him look like a bit of a buffoon.  “Sheriff, Detective.  Hear we got ourselves a body.”
Hal searched his memories and realized that after two years on the job, this just might turn out to be Danny Cole’s first homicide.  Good for him.  The kid was one step closer to becoming a jaded old man.  Another couple of years and he might stop smiling all the time.
He gave Ed a look.  “Want to lead the way?”
Ed turned and started walking through the high grass.  A lighter path of stomped blades marked the detective’s earlier passing, but the going still wasn’t exactly easy.  It seemed Hal couldn’t take three steps in a row without finding some hidden rock or piece of driftwood.  Jesus, they were almost a hundred feet from the Ohio’s edge.  How were they running into driftwood?
“Who found the body?” Hal asked.
“Jogger.  Maya Dawson.  Pretty thing.  Took her statement and sent her home.  I tried to get her a car, but she said she wanted to run.  Strange, huh?”
Hal didn’t bother replying.  His legs swishing through the grass sang a harmony with the river’s muddy water as it lapped against the shore.  No traffic passed by on 56 to destroy the illusion of peace, and Cole didn’t even let out a nervous giggle or wisecrack behind him.  Nothing broke the illusion until they drew within forty feet of a stand of trees and the smell rocked him like an uppercut.  The stench of decay was strong and thick, shoving aside the normal air and setting up shop in its way. 
Another twenty feet and Ed shouted, “Go on, git!”
Hal understood the command a split second before he heard the dog bark.  Then he was out of the grass and looking at the bare ground within the trees.  A shepherd that had seen better days stood maybe a dozen feet away from them, teeth bared and maw bloodied.  Its growl tickled the back of his neck, but he reminded himself how dogs could sense fear.  He’d heard that nugget of wisdom his whole life, and he figured he’d be a bigger buffoon than Cole to tempt fate by ignoring it.
Besides, the naked body splayed in the mud behind the dog drew far more attention.  At his first glance he could tell it was a woman.  The breasts and smooth curve of her groin gave that much away.  Dirty, black hair spread out around her head like rotting seaweed.  There was surprisingly little blood, and he supposed if there was anything to be thankful for, that was it. 
The dog had done enough damage, anyway.  From his vantage point, he could tell the animal had chewed away most of her right hand.  The left side of her face was a ragged tear of loose skin, her teeth and gums exposed.  Her throat was a glistening wound, and as he watched, a buzzard dropped out of the trees and pecked at the hole before the dog turned and barked.  The bird flew away as if it had been shot at.
Hal wasn’t surprised to hear Danny puke into the grass behind him.  This wasn’t a wreck out on Highway 50.  What they were dealing with here‑‑what patrolman Danny Cole was seeing for the first time‑‑was a dead body, possibly murdered, that had been gnawed on by a wild dog.
Ed clapped his hands together and stomped a foot into the dirt.  “I said git, dammit!”
The dog trotted away, growling low in its throat.
“Holy shit,” Danny said.  He sounded like he still had a little in his mouth.  “Sheriff, you want me to shoot it?”
Hal spun and gave the Officer a look.  “What?”
“The dog.  Look at what it did.  It’s a man eater now, right?  I mean, nothing else, it’s got evidence inside it.”
He fought the urge to roll his eyes or slap the patrolman senseless.  Shoot the dog?  What was it with kids?  “How about you give animal control a call?”
“Oh my god.”
Cole’s voice suddenly sounded hollow, like he’d taken a kick in the belly, and Hal knew the kid wasn’t so interested in the dog anymore.  Danny staggered past him, bent forward slightly and moving like a man in a dream.  “No.  Jesus Christ, No.”
“Officer, you want to tell us what’s going on?”
Cole continued, staggering toward the body.  He left the grass, and suddenly his standard issue boots began to sink into the mud that hugged the Ohio.  His hands were fists, knuckles white.
“Dammit, Officer,” Ed cursed.  “Get back in the grass before you contaminate my scene.”
The kid backed up a few steps.  The bootprints he left behind were deep.
“Jesus.  Thanks for the help, Officer.”
“I…That’s Colleen.”
“Colleen?” Ed asked.  “Knew her, huh?”
“She’s Bobby…Oh, shit.  She’s Bobby Lothridge’s wife.  Jesus, I played ball with him in high school.”
That got Ed’s attention.  His head jerked so fast, Hal thought the man might hurt himself.
“You played ball?”
“Short stop.”
“Oh.  Baseball.”  The interest drained out of Ed Brown’s face like wax melting in front of a fire.  Hal almost chuckled at the sudden change, but then Danny was moving forward again, stepping past the grass and into the soft mud beneath the trees.
“Officer Cole, I need you to stop.”
“Sheriff, I know her.”
“I get that.  It doesn’t mean you can stop doing the job, though.”
“I’m still‑‑”
“You take another step, you’ll be destroying my crime scene,” Brown said.  “That’s the only thing you’ll be doin’, and I ain’t about to have it.  Take a step back.”
“Sheriff, I‑‑”
“Do what Detective Brown says, please.”
“Dammit!”  Danny spun, flinging his arm wide like he was trying to punch a ghost only he could see, and then he stomped back into the grass.  The sudden movement set the dog barking again, and the patrolman drew his sidearm as he whirled around to face it.  “You fucking thing!”
“Officer Cole!”
Hal felt the words explode from his throat, rocketing up from deep in his gut, and he saw them hit the patrolman like a cupped hand to the ear.  The kid froze, sidearm raised but not aimed, and slowly turned to face him, a new buffoonish look pasted across his face.
“Will you please return to your cruiser and request animal control?  Right now, that would be the most help.”  He watched as a series of emotions played across the young officer’s face.  Confusion gave way to anger, and desperation followed close behind before collapsing into a resigned sort of sadness.
“Yes, sir.” Danny said.  The patrolman turned and started walking back the way they’d come.  He moved slowly, like a broken-hearted schoolboy.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Hal said.  “She was a friend of yours, and this isn’t how anybody should have to see a friend.”
“Right.”  The kid nodded a little and kept trudging up the hill.  Hal watched him go, refusing to turn away until he saw Danny reach the road.  The patrolman waited as a single pickup rattled past, and then he disappeared from view.
“Well,” Ed muttered, “Looks like somebody’s one step closer to being a bona fide cop.”
“He thought he could be eager and work a murder.  Last thing he expected was for it to be a friend of his.”
“So I should cut him a little slack?”
“If he keeps doing the job, I don’t see the harm.”
“Right.  Well no offense meant, I don’t want his virgin ass near my scene.  Maybe the kid’s eager, but maybe he’s a headless nail we’re gonna be trying to pull out somewhere down the road.”
“Got it.  How many hands you need.”
“Think you can get me two?”
“Then two.”
“Coming right up.”  He grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and brought up the number for dispatch, put a call through to Denise.  When she asked who he wanted, he requested Crosby and Philips, both of whom would be starting their regular shifts in four hours regardless.  They wouldn’t mind the overtime.
As he slapped his cell shut and stuffed it back into his pocket, it occurred to him how unfair it was that he remembered how to use the damn thing when he’d lost his wife’s name.  His dispatchers and patrolmen, their schedules, he knew all of that.  Ask him his wife’s name or the way home, however, and he might draw a blank.  If he hadn’t remembered the GIS the county had installed on all cruisers a few years back, he might still be wandering the county’s back roads.  The whole mess angered him, as did the knowledge that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.  Like it or not, this was his life.  Or what remained of it.  Goddamn Alzheimer’s.
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and pressing it to his nose, he approached the body, remaining careful to avoid any footprints he saw in the dirt, though most of them appeared to belong to the dog.  Ed had already closed in, and now the man crouched beside the body, pointing here and there with a pen when he wasn’t jotting down notes on a notepad.  How the man stood the stench was anybody’s guess.  Looking at the wreck the canine had made of the body, he was shocked at how little blood covered the area.  When he mentioned it to Ed, the stocky man gave him a nod.
“Got that right.  Definitely a dump.  Appears Colleen…What did Cole say her last name was?  Lothridge?  Anyway, looks like she died somewhere else.”
“Great.  Violent death?”
“Got some bruising here and there along the arms.  Pooch over there screwed up the throat, so if she was strangled we’ll have to hope the coroner can tell us.”  He pointed at her lips with the pen.  “Call me an optimistic, but I’m thinkin’ this is our biggest clue right here.”
Hal stepped closer and squatted.  His old eyes needed a little help, but squinting brought everything into focus clear enough, and he didn’t like what he saw.
“Yup.  Looks like we got us a dead girl on meth.  Fun, huh?”
“Sweet Lord.  Don’t let Officer Cole in on that, okay?  It stays under our hat until the autopsy confirms it.  We thinking overdose?”
“I’m still thinking violent.  If I....” He slapped gloves on his hands and gingerly lifted her head.  Not much, barely more than an inch.  He peeked at the back of the dead woman’s skull and then lowered her head.
“You sure‑‑”
“Already got pictures on the digital, Hal.  No worries.”
The detective shook his head.  “Lotta blood black there, and I don’t wanna poke around, but I know a blunt impact when I see one.  Our girl was bludgeoned.”
“Dammit,” Hal said.  The word tasted terrible.  “Husband, maybe.  This Bobby guy.  Finds out his wife’s smoking meth, they have a fight....”
“I’m leaning that way too, Hal.  Probably been leaning that way a while longer than you have.”
“No need to be cocky.”
Ed gave him a nod and then stood, brushing non-existent dirt from his knees.  “No hair off my ass.  I got another concern might be worth following up on.”
“How far you reckon we are from the town limits?”
Hal craned his neck toward the roadway and then followed it upriver.  He noticed Danny starting back down the hill, but he ignored him.
“Two hundred yards, maybe.”
“About what I thought.  By any chance, you remember who got this land in their divorce about ten years back?”
Hal felt a sharp prick of fear at the idea of needing his memory.  Ed was a friend and not just a fellow officer, and he trusted the detective more than anybody else in the county offices, but Ed was a good cop‑‑a damn good cop‑‑and the man couldn’t just sit on knowledge like The Sheriff Has Alzheimer’s.  The thought stabbed at him like a gleaming blade.
“I’m thinking.”  And to his surprise, he didn’t have to think long.  Another nugget of trivia leapt into his thoughts, and suddenly he knew exactly who owned the land.  In the next moment, a cold, hollow kind of dread crept into his gut and settled there like a sleeping Copperhead.  The feeling that bad news on its way hovered like a blanket of black storm clouds, ready to erupt with a crack of thunder.
“It’s Regina Hunt’s property isn’t it?”
Ed nodded, the makings of a grin playing on the corners of his mouth.  It was the look of a kid who doesn’t want to get into a fight, but wouldn’t mind watching a pair of hicks go at each other with pool cues for a while.  Hal might have taken offense if he hadn’t spent so many years as Ed Brown’s friend.
“We heard anything from Korey lately?” Ed asked.
“He’s been pretty quiet.  I think Aurora tanked him about a month ago after a good brawl, but I haven’t heard anything since.”
“Well, this oughta make up for lost time.”
“You think this is something he could have done?”
Ed gave him a shrug, the look on his face saying he’d prefer not to commit.  “I don’t like to put nuthin’ past nobody.  Job won’t let me take another path.”
“Want to talk to him?”
“I would love to, Sheriff.”
Danny coughed into his fist as he approached.  Hal didn’t know if the kid was trying to get the last part of his breakfast up and out or just announcing his return, and he didn’t much care.  Other things had jumped up to demand his attention.
“Talk to who?” Danny asked.  “Need me to pick somebody up?”
Hal glanced at Ed and saw the burly detective break into a full grin before turning back to Colleen Lothridge’s body.  “You remember where Korey Hunt lives?”
“We got a suspect?”
“How about we say ‘Person of interest?’”
“Whatever.  Just tell me when you want him at the station.”
“How about two hours?”
“Sure thing, Detective.  I can do it right now, if you want.  I don’t want to just let some piece of garbage think he can get away with this sort of thing.”
“Nobody’s getting away with this,” Hal said.  You just pick up Hunt and be cool about it.”
“Just feel like I owe‑‑”
“You owe her a clean investigation, Danny.  Clean and thorough and by the book.”
Hal held the kid’s eyes until Danny finally gave in and nodded.  He could tell by the wounded look on Cole’s face that he didn’t like it one bit, that he’d rather be in the thick of things, maybe kick in a few teeth before slapping on a set of cuffs, but that was fine so long as Danny did as he was told.
The kid muttered something along the lines of, “Sure thing,” and then started back up the hill.  Hal watched him climb halfway before turning to Ed.
“You’re good here?”
“Right as rain.  I’ll do what I can before my help comes.”
“Great.  Figure you want to be there when I tell Bobby Lothridge the news?”
“Yep.  Better than waiting for a warrant any day.”
“That’s the Detective Ed Brown I know.”  Was it?  He couldn’t be sure.