Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How do I kill thee? Let me count the ways.

My wife becomes a bit distraught that I write about death.  Murder to be exact.  I sit at the key board, tapping keys and describing details of the gruesome demise of some poor soul, while pausing briefly to spoon ice cream into my mouth and contemplate the finer points. Not enough blood. The best location to drive the knife into the body.  A bullet to the head or heart. I wonder if we have any more Rock Road.

But the murder mystery is not about death, but solving a riddle. For most mysteries, the detective remains detached from the emotion of the death and focuses on finding the killer. And that is what makes the genre endearing—pitting intellect with the detective to discover to who-done-it.

And now back to killing someone…

Monday, November 18, 2013

"...some maniac could have...killed me."

This week, I bring you a cut from Claws of the Griffin.  Peter Reynold nosed his rental car in the ditch during a heavy rain.  Left with the prospect that he has to walk to town in the dead of night, he sets out toward Archer Springs, NC.

     I rechecked the cell phone and still no signal. What was this godforsaken place? The last stop before falling off the edge of the world?
     When I was thirteen, my father and stepmother sent me to a boarding school in Ohio. They said it was to prepare me for college. I think it was because my stepmother hated me. I ran away three times during my freshmen year. The night of my last escape, the police picked me up hitchhiking down a lonely stretch of road. Later the headmaster at the school lectured me and said some maniac could have picked me up and killed me. Until tonight, I didn’t truly understand.
     Drizzle pelted my face as I walked in the direction I had driven earlier. Muddy and wet, I plodded ahead, thinking about lying in my warm bed back home. My hope lay with some Good Samaritan coming by and rescuing me. Hopefully my grungy appearance wouldn’t scare him off, and he wouldn’t be a maniac.
      The sizzle of tires rolling on wet pavement echoed from ahead. Car lights came over the dark horizon like the rising of two moons. I waved my arms and shouted, “Hey,” but the truck zoomed by, spraying me with water.
      I stared at the vehicle driving away from me, but then the taillights grew brighter. Even in the dark, I realized it made a three-point turn and drove back. A wave of relief surged over me, but as the truck neared I wondered what was coming to my rescue.
     The truck looked gray or blue in the night and sat high on oversized tires, looking like something from a monster truck rally. A skull and crossbones decorated the door, and the chrome grill caught glints of the headlights, almost glowing in the night. The gargantuan truck pulled up in front of me and stopped.
     I waited, expecting the door to pop open and someone to invite me inside. An eerie feeling crawled under my skin, and I remembered a movie where the devil drove a black hearse, cruising the back roads, looking for souls to take back to hell. But this was a truck, gray or blue—I looked hard and thought maybe it was black.
     Not getting a formal invitation, I reached high and worked the door handle, opening the cab. I expected the dome light to illuminate, but the inside stayed dark. Behind the wheel sat a man, the contours of his face accentuated by green lights on the dashboard. He never looked at me, and I wondered if he was the devil.
     “I’m sorry to sidetrack you. Obviously you were heading in the other direction. I can wait for another car and let you go back to wherever you were going.” I swallowed hard and took a step back.
     “Get in,” the stranger commanded.
     My heart said no. My head said no. I thought about the headmaster’s warning that a maniac would get me on some deserted road. But the wind whipped up, blowing frigid mist against the back of my neck as if touched by the hand of a corpse. I shivered and climbed inside. I barely had the door closed when the driver pressed the accelerator. The truck lurched forward, snapping my head back. I fumbled with the seatbelt and strapped myself in.
     The dashboard lights reflected off his face and made him look surreal, like a Dali painting. Straggled wisps of hair hung over his ears, and the contours of his face resembled the work of an unfinished sculpture. I thought of Norman Bates in Psycho and regretted climbing into the truck.

Claws of the Griffin is available from Amazon for 99 cents.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Good Place to Dump a Body

Across a corn field, north from where my parents lived was a deserted farmhouse. Weathered. Grey. Dreary. The place looked like the house behind the Bates motel.  At night, I thought I saw lights in its windows.  In the daytime, dark figures moved around the perimeter.  My parents said the place was abandoned long time ago. No one lived any longer in it. And they said, "Never, never go there."

One Sunday in autumn, my best friend Jimmy and I stared across the field at the old house. A local farmer, renting the land, had harvested the corn a week earlier, and we had a good view of the house. Nearby trees had lost their leaves. Heavy clouds blotted the sun. And the wind carried a chill.

Jimmy took few steps in the direction of the farmhouse. "Bet it's haunted.”

"No such thing as ghosts." I shook my head.

"Who told you that?"

"My mom."

But I had my doubts, especially late at night when everyone was in bed. That's when the house creaked and shadows seemed to move. The safest place was in bed, under the covers, which somehow seemed to ward off the evil spirits.

Jimmy watched the house for a long time. "Want to go there?"

I knew my parents wouldn't like it, probably get me in trouble. Even back then, kids still got grounded.  "Sure."

Off we went, hiking through the corn field, now just bent stalks. The trek seemed to take forever.  When we reached the house, we stood in front of the rundown building in awe that we finally had made it. The windows were broken out. The steps to the porch rotted. The front door hung askew from one hinge.

"Wanna go in?" Jimmy flashed a grin.

I didn’t want to look like a coward. "Sure."

Cautiously we made our way up the steps being careful to stay on ones that looked solid. When we reached the front door, we looked at each other.

Jimmy craned his neck to see inside.  "You first."

"This was your idea." I stepped back.

"Are you chicken?"

 "No." I swallowed hard thinking what could be the worst thing we'd find. I stepped inside and Jimmy followed.

The inside was in ruins.  Curtains fluttered from glassless windows. Faded wallpaper curled away from the ceiling. A worn staircase led to a second floor.  In the middle of the living room gaped a gigantic hole in the floor, the edges worn and decayed.

Jimmy moved closer and peered down into it. “Wow!”

I joined him.  The bottom seemed a long way down. Stuff lay scattered below. Bulging bags. Old boxes. Newspaper stacks. And something else.

“Do you see that?” I pointed as something.

Jimmy stared for a long time. “It’s a dead body.”

“Can’t be.” But I wasn’t too sure. In the shadows, I could make out something that looked like a human torso missing a few things.  “If it’s a body, where’s the head and arms and legs?”

He scratched his head. “In the bags.”

Was it just the shadows? Or did our eyes play tricks on us? Yet I could see it clearly now.

Jimmy gasped and pointed. “Look.”

Farther inside the living room was a red stain on the floor. I didn’t want to say what it looked, but Jimmy said it for me.


The sound of two twelve-year-old boys screaming could be heard five counties away. We nearly killed each other trying to get out the front door first.  The rotting steps no longer mattered, because our feet barely stayed on them long enough. It wasn’t until we were half way across the corn field that we stopped.

I looked back, breathless. “Someone was murdered back there.”

“And the body dumped in the hole.” Jimmy shivered.

“We got to tell our parents.” But we didn’t, too afraid we’d get in trouble.

On Monday at school, we told the story to our friends.  Of course, the details changed over time. Many bodies in the hole. Blood everywhere. A man with a hooked hand chased us.

The story gained momentum and our fan base grew, until Pamela Wicks interrupted.

“That’s the old Smith farm. My dad and I went out there a few weeks ago. Figured no one would mind, so he dumped some trash down the hole. Bags and boxes of stuff from the garage. He also threw an old dress maker’s form down there that my mother no longer used.  Wasn’t no body.”

Jimmy raised his chin and glared at Pam. “What about the blood?”

Pamela sniffed. “I had a can of grape juice with me. It spilled it by accident. Made a big mess.”

Soon the gang was murmuring. “Stupid story…I didn’t believe it…Let’s get out of here.”

Jimmy punched my arm. “I told you it wasn’t a body.”