Michael Haskins

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Post Cold War Political Thriller

My friend, and fellow writer, Chester Campbell has just released his 2nd Cold War book, The Poksu Conspiracy. His first of the trilogy, Beware the Jabberwock, was well received and when you read either you'll want the next.

Chester has permitted me to run the first chapter of The Poksu Conspiracy for you. Enjoy and you can order his book at Amazon.

Budapest, Hungary   Chapter 1

September seemed an ideal time for Burke Hill to take his wife Lori on a long-delayed honeymoon trip to Hungary. When they were married the previous December, the demands of his new job made leisure travel impossible. The visit to Budapest would be a strange sort of homecoming for the former Lorelei Quinn. She’d vowed to dig as deep as it took to uncover her hidden roots.

By now the summer sultriness had mellowed into warm days and cool nights, a pleasant interlude the imaginative Magyars referred to as “old women’s summer.” It was Lori’s first trip back since a near disaster at the hands of the communist-era secret police a decade ago. And though the recent demise of the Cold War soon convinced her of a renewed sense of vibrancy among the people in this onetime “Paris of the East,” an incident at the airport terminal seemed disturbingly reminiscent of the bad old days.

While she stood to one side waiting for Burke to claim their luggage, she noticed a man across the way watching him. He was swarthily handsome, with wavy black hair and a trim build. As he looked around, Lori averted her gaze to avoid any show of interest. When she looked back, his eyes were again locked on Burke. It took her back several years to her somewhat abbreviated career in the CIA, when that sort of surveillance presaged dire consequences.

A few minutes later, Burke walked toward her pulling their two bags. She wanted to tell him about the watcher, but a tall redheaded man accompanied him. “John Dahlgren, meet my wife, Lori,” he said. “As you can see, she’s great with child.”

 Lori grinned as she patted her rounded tummy. She was six months pregnant. “The ultrasound confirmed twins,” she said. “This trip had to be taken now or delayed indefinitely. Dr. Bracken wasn’t too happy about my traveling now, but I insisted.”

“Nice to meet you,” Dahlgren said with a slight bow of his head. “I was a twin myself. Some people say it’s double trouble, but I’m sure yours will be a delight.”

“John was on our flight,” Burke said. “He’s from New York. He’s also staying at the Duna-Intercontinental, so I invited him to share a cab.”

Lori looked back before they left the terminal, but the muscular man with the persistent stare had disappeared.

             As soon as they reached their hotel room, she told Burke about the apparent surveillance.  

            He stared at her, hands on his hips. “Who the devil could it have been? This is strictly a pleasure trip. Nobody should suspect I’m anything but a public relations company official on vacation.”
While Worldwide Communications Consultants, the firm he served as chief financial officer, was a legitimate international PR counselor, it had a black operations side that reported to the Central Intelligence Agency. Burke directed its activities in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Far East.

“I don’t have any idea who he was,” Lori said, “but he was sure giving you the once-over. I suggest we keep an eye out for any other signs of interest.”  

By the afternoon of their second day, despite constant vigilance, they had spotted nothing out of the ordinary. Lori sat quietly in the back seat of an aging Zsiguli taxi, one of countless relics that persisted as the city struggled with its bootstraps. It rumbled noisily through the cobbled streets. Seated beside her, Burke studied his wife’s troubled frown. It marred an attractive face with dark eyes and long dark hair that normally wreathed an intriguingly mysterious smile. Now past fifty-five, he was twenty years her senior. He still marveled at his incredibly good fortune in managing to win the love of this bright, vivacious young woman. But, at the moment, he grappled with a growing concern over her dark mood.
He didn’t need to be told the reason for it.

“I hope you’re prepared for disappointment in case things don’t turn out the way you’d like,” he said, a warning note in his voice. “There are plenty of reasons why people aren’t always overjoyed at being confronted by a relative they never knew existed or hadn’t seen in years.”

Their first day had been spent mostly at the American Embassy and the Justice Ministry, where they searched records of the old AVO, the hated state security police, for clues to the fate of Istvan Szabo, a young economist who had taken up the cause of his students during the ill-fated 1956 revolution known as the “Hungarian uprising.” The files had likely been tampered with. At the very least, they were incomplete. What they did manage to learn was the name and address of his mother, Margit Szabo. Now nearing ninety, she had been one of Hungary’s best loved actresses during her performing years.

“I have my fingers crossed,” Lori said, managing a weak smile.

The cab crossed the glistening Danube via the picturesque Chain Bridge and soon turned onto Budakeszi Avenue, once a quiet residential street in the Buda hills. Now it was crowded with cars, trucks and buses. Where open green spaces had formerly separated the genteel old homes, newer, unimaginative flats dotted the landscape. It was one more indication of the internal struggle Budapest was undergoing as it sought to be progressively modern and yet hold onto its Old World charm.
Lori took a firm grip on Burke’s hand as the taxi turned in between two lofty chestnuts and stopped before an ancient iron gate. The driver got out and checked it, found it unlocked. He pushed the gate open, triggering a harsh metallic squeak, then drove onto a driveway that led back to a mercilessly weathered old garage. Beside it stood a large two-story house that seemed almost a living thing, cloaked as it was with a thick green coat of ivy.

Burke paid the driver, and they walked slowly up to the front door. They were met by a short, shapeless woman in a simple peasant dress. She had obviously been alerted by the protesting screech of the gate. She eyed them with caution.  

“I’m Lorelei Hill and this is my husband, Burke,” Lori said, unsure if the woman could understand her. They knew from the Hungarian clerk at the Embassy that Mrs. Szabo could speak English quite well, though with a pronounced accent, possibly the result of long disuse.

The small woman, obviously a housekeeper, said nothing, but motioned them inside. They followed her into a large room that seemed foreboding in its gloomy darkness. Although the sun shone brightly outside, little of its glow penetrated the heavy curtains that shrouded the windows. A polished wooden table bearing old photographs of an actress costumed for various roles, pictures of a man and two boys, and other memorabilia of times long past sat at one side of the room. The opposite wall was hung with faded tapestries.

And then Lori saw her, the aging figure of Margit Szabo, once the darling of the Budapest stage. She sat in a large chair in one corner of the room. The housekeeper ushered them toward her. Despite her years, she sat stifly erect. She was dressed all in black. A large gold pendant hung from a chain draped around the spare flesh of her neck. Her hair was white but carefully groomed. She had the look of a piece of fine antique china, elegant features that could only have been fashioned by an accomplished artist, ostensibly delicate, but possessed of an inner strength that showed through the thin outer shell.

“Please have a seat,” Margit Szabo said in a surprisingly strong voice, gesturing toward the sofa across from her chair. “My voice and my hearing have not failed me, though I can’t say as much for these old eyes. Tell me what it is you wish to speak with me about. I did not fully understand from your embassy.”

 Lori knew the Embassy clerk had mentioned their visit concerned her son, Istvan Szabo. Since he had died in the failed revolution of November 1956, after Russian tanks poured into the streets of Budapest, just mentioning his name was bound to bring back agonizing memories.

“My name is Lorelei Hill,” she began, then paused somewhat awkwardly, conscious that Mrs. Szabo was well aware of who she was. “What I mean is, that was the name my dad... uh, actually, my stepfather...”

It wasn’t going at all as she had intended. She had gone over in her mind a hundred times what she wanted to say at this moment. But now her tongue was stumbling all over the words. She had planned to lead up gently to the key revelation, not wanting it to come as a sudden shock. Instead, it tumbled out in a heedless rush of words.

 “What I’m trying to say, Mrs. Szabo, I believe I am your granddaughter.”

Now that it was out, she felt a sudden wave of relief. Until the elderly woman spoke.

Margit Szabo delivered her lines with all the force and drama of a character from a Shakespearean tragedy. “You are not my granddaughter. My granddaughter died at birth, and her mother with her.”
Lori took a sharp breath. It had hit her like a knife plunged deeply and twisted.

 “But... but that was only a story made up to fool the AVO,” she said in protest. “My dad, that is, my stepfather, Cameron Quinn, was with the Central Intelligence Agency. He had been in contact with your son, Istvan, to keep up with what was going on. To help if possible. Your son asked—”

“Yes, he helped,” Mrs. Szabo broke in. “The police knew my son had been in contact with a CIA agent. They gave him a summary trial and executed him.”

Lori’s eyes widened. “How do you know—?”

“Istvan’s brother,” she said, her voice suddenly lowered, her eyes beginning to blink back the tears. 

“Gyorgy was with the AVO.” For the first time, a crack had appeared in the old woman’s hard shell. 

“Gyorgy told me. He was powerless to stop what happened. He was not a bad boy, Gyorgy. Only 

Lori shook her head in despair, sensing the torment that must have plagued Margit Szabo, her grandmother. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

One son a patriot who gave his life in the fight for freedom, the other son a communist collaborator whose secret police colleagues were responsible for his brother’s death. Perhaps he had not been completely blameless himself, despite his mother’s attempt to absolve him. It was a tragic dichotomy the aging actress had lived with all these years.

It might be, Lori thought, that she could find out more about her real father from his brother. “Where is Gyorgy now?” she asked.

Tears coursed down Mrs. Szabo’s anguished face. She dabbed at them with a small kerchief. “Gyorgy is gone, too. My husband, all of my family are gone. What do you want of me? Why did you come here to torment me with these painful memories so long put to rest?”

 Lori was suddenly on her knees at Margit Szabo’s feet. She spoke in a pleading voice. “But I am your granddaughter. I must be. My stepfather told me what happened after my mother... my stepmother’s death. She was in the same hospital as Istvan’s wife, on the same floor for a hysterectomy. Istvan was afraid the AVO might take some action against his wife. He asked Cameron Quinn to look after the baby if anything happened. When they came for my real mother, he arranged with the doctor and a hospital official to switch the records to show that I had been born to Julia Quinn. They indicated my real mother had a stillborn. The AVO probably changed the records to say my mother died during childbirth. But she was alive when they took her from the hospital.”

The old woman had closed her eyes as soon as Lori approached, as if, not seeing, she could safely deny something she was unprepared to accept. She shook her head. “I have no granddaughter,” she said in a choking voice. “My family is all gone. I am alone. Please go and leave me with what memories I still possess.”

Lori looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks. She could not get through to this tragic, aging figure. It had all been in vain, the trip over here, the day of digging through the AVO files, a fruitless search for a past that must remain forever buried in the graveyard of Margit Szabo’s splintered dreams.

Then Mrs. Szabo’s wrinkled lids cracked open, like an ancient turtle preparing to peer out of its shell. Lori saw the weary eyes stare down at her, as if really seeing her for the first time. A frail hand reached out, a shaky finger traced the line of her nose, touched her lips.

“You are a reincarnation of my son, Istvan,” she murmured.

Lori buried her face in her grandmother’s lap as the old woman leaned down and kissed her cheek.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Books & Bars

A couple of weeks ago, Jimmy Buffett's ParrotHead Clubs held its Meeting of the Minds (MOTM) here in Key West. They've come for the past years the first week of November and it makes for a wild, colorful weekend of Trop Rock music in my favorite bars and some strange men and women in colorful clothing and hats! Less hats this year, but a lot of tropical shirts and dresses.

My friend, and fellow writer, John Cunningham arranged a MOTM sanctioned book signing at the Smokin' Tuna Saloon and invited me to join him. I did one last year, at the invite of singer-songwriter Scott Kirby (I used his song title Free Range Institution for one of my KW mysteries). I didn't do too well and learned that books and bars don't mix. Not in my case, anyway. I did give away a lot of bookmarks and saw a bump in my Kindle sales a week to ten-days later.

We set up at 1 pm  on a Friday at the Tuna, and that lead me right into the saloon's North of Havana, Cigar Club Social, that we hold most Friday happy hours. I think I sold six books and I'm not sure John did much better. People drinking and/or having a good time do not want the responsibility of carting a book around. It's a lesson learned, I think. I think John might have learned the same lesson too.

John's second book in his Key West series has just been released: Green to Go. The series featuring disgraced financier Buck Reilly, is a good read. I think John has a hit on his hands. His books are available on Amazon as Kindle and trade paperback, just like mine are. www.michaelhaskins.net.

Here's a little more about Green to Go.


Buck Reilly went to hell and back in Red Right Return. In Green To Go, it’s a one-way trip. Good news turns bad fast, and the bad just keeps coming in this thrilling new Buck Reilly adventure. The unexpected contents of his parent’s Swiss bank account offer Buck a chance to dig himself out of the hole he’s been in since the recession hit, but first he must recover the treasure maps and clues he lost at sea. Those plans get put on hold when a friend is accused of orchestrating the biggest theft in Key West’s sordid history, and the FBI uses Buck's past against him to demand that he search for the thieves who fled aboard a hundred year-old schooner.

No good deed goes unpunished, and Buck’s dogged by greed and double-crosses from Key West to the Bahamas and points south. His hunt for the missing treasure pits him against a crazed mercenary, Peruvian rebels, rogue Cuban Secret Police and a beautiful woman torn between turning Buck over to the authorities or succumbing to his charm.

Buck Reilly wants only three things out of life: A plane to fly, a treasure to find, and a beautiful woman to rescue. He got his chance at all three in the first of John H. Cunningham’s thriller series, RED RIGHT RETURN, but those interests get turned against him in GREEN TO GO. Set against the stunning scenery and freaky fabulousness of the Florida Keys, Cunningham joins the ranks of Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White and Papa himself in a rich new series for thrill seekers everywhere.

But Buck Reilly’s no ordinary hero. A product of his times and ours, too, he’s laying low and trying to fly under the radar in the aftermath of economic catastrophe. Back in his bad old days on Wall Street, Buck ran e-Antiquity, plundering the world’s treasures, (and a few of his investors’ pockets) for some pretty handsome profit. He wasn’t a bad guy back then, he just didn’t know any better. But life turned ugly when the market crashed, the company cratered and the FBI investigated the bankruptcy. When his marriage ended and his parents were killed in a car crash, Buck found out for certain that business wasn’t just business anymore.

These days, Buck’s a lot like the rest of us—trying to make ends meet and hoping for better times. He operates The Last Resort Charter and Salvage Company, flying a 1946 amphibious Grumman Widgeon, hunting for sunken treasure and taking on an occasional passenger, no questions asked. But when he faces down the dark forces of Santero priests, the underbelly of the Havana underworld and a pissed-off FBI agent, Buck has nothing but ingenuity, guts and his ancient flying boat to save his skin, and the lives he put in peril. GREEN TO GO is the second book in the series. 

For more information see: www.jhcunningham.com or find John on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Timothy Hallinan's CRASHED

My friend Tim Hallinan's CRACKED has been released by SOHO CRIME to great reviews. Below is the press release from SOHO. If you like PI novels, you're gonna love this series.


Sometimes Crooks Need a P.I. of Their Own

Junior Bender may be the smartest guy in Tinseltown, and he’s well aware of it. Living in a different motel every night, and with ears turned to the proverbial ground, Junior is always one step ahead of everyone. You see, Junior Bender is a very talented burglar. He’s the sort who knows the difference between a real Paul Klee and a real bad deal. But LA’s smug prince of thieves is about to find himself stuck with just that: a deal so raw that even a ravenous guard dog would turn up its nose.

After committing a routine burglary involving the aforementioned Klee (which he was hired to steal) and a diamond necklace (which he just had to have), Junior thinks he’s pulled the perfect caper once again. This time, he's wrong.

Trey Annunziato, one of the most powerful crime bosses in LA, has caught Junior on film only to blackmail him into acting as a private investigator on the set of Trey's new porn flick, which someone keeps trying to sabotage. The star of Trey's adult movie was formerly America's most beloved child actor, Thistle Downing. Thistle, now living alone in a drug-induced stupor, is destitute and uninsurable. Her starring role will be the scandalous fall-from-grace gossip of rubberneckers across the country. No wonder Trey needs help keeping the production on track.

Junior knows what he should do—get Thistle out and find her help—but doing the right thing will land him on the wrong side of LA's scariest mob boss. With the help of his precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Rina, and his criminal sidekick, Louie the Lost (an ex-getaway driver who, er, got lost while driving getaway), Junior has to figure out a miracle solution. Then again, he is supposed to be the smartest guy in Hollywood.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Scoundrel by Jochem Vandersteen

My friend, and fellow mystery writer, Jochem Vandersteen has just put his novelette "Scoundrel" on Amazon for $1.50. It's a continuation of his long-running Noah Milano series. Below is the cover and the first chapter. It would be a good addition to your eLibrary and, if you are already a fan, a good addition to your Noah Milano collection.
Know you'll like it!

A Noah Milano Novelette

Copyright 2012 Jochem Vandersteen
Edited by Sean Dexter
Cover by Big Kiss Productions


Marisa Fawkes was a good-looking young woman in her thirties. I almost wolf-whistled when she walked into my office. A cascade of brown curls framed a face with smooth skin, clear blue eyes, full lips and nice teeth. She was also very pregnant. Good-looking women always got me into trouble, so I should’ve known better and shouldn’t have taken her case.
She took a seat in the client chair in front of my desk. I sat down, too. She told me a story as old as time and one that I'd heard too many times before. She'd met a handsome young man in a club called Peaches on the Strip. She'd taken him to her home and they'd had sex. A few months later she found out she was pregnant. She hadn’t seen this young man since that passionate night, however.
“So you didn’t exchange phone numbers?” I said.
“He didn’t seem interested in that,” she said. She blushed.
“And you want me to track him down?”
“Why?” It was a question I always asked.
“I think he should contribute to the upbringing of my child.”
“Financially, you mean?”
“At least, yes.”
“You're a big girl. You knew the risks."
“That bastard told me he'd had a vasectomy and we didn’t have to worry about me getting pregnant.”
“I hope you at least got away from this without contracting any diseases.”
She scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you passing judgment on me?”
I held up my hands. “No, no. I’m in no position to do that, believe me.”
“All right. Listen, I know what I did was really stupid. I was horny and drunk. That’s a lousy combination.”
“Amen,” I said.
“I just feel this bastard should pay for his lies.”
I nodded. “I guess I can sympathize with that. You’re keeping the baby?”
“Of course I am. That guy might have turned out to be a bastard, but this is my child, and I’ve been in love with him since I felt his first kick.” She rubbed her belly.
“Good to hear. It’s a boy?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Are you married? Living with someone?” I said.
“No, I didn’t cheat on anyone when I had sex with that bastard. I know it'll be tough raising this kid on my own. The least he can do is give me some monetary support.”
Life was expensive. I knew all about that since I’d severed all ties to my rich, mobster dad. I could barely pay my own bills, and I didn’t have a kid to provide for. “Seems logical.”
“About that... What's your fee? I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay very much right now. I’ve got a lot of stuff to buy for my baby.”
“Did you already name the kid?”
“Huh? No... I haven’t decided on a name yet.”
“Any ideas yet?”
“Not really, no.”
“I’ll make you a deal, then. If I manage to track down the father you name the kid after me. If I don’t track him down, it’s on the house.”
She seemed to be unsure whether I was kidding her. “Really?”
“Dead serious.”
She thought about that for a while, biting her lip as she did so. “Noah Fawkes. Sounds pretty good, I guess.”
“Nice to hear,” I said. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Water would be nice,” she said.
I got a bottle of Evian out of the fridge and handed it to her. I filled up my Kermit mug with coffee and sat down behind my desk again.
“So, we’ve got a deal. Now, tell me more about this bastard. Do you know his name?”
She took a sip of water. “He told me his name was Reynard Roberts. I didn’t find him on Facebook or Myspace, though. In fact, googling him turned up nothing.”
“These search engines might cost me my job someday,” I said. “Luckily, there still are two or three people in the world without an internet ID. And of course there are people who don’t give out their real name. Can you describe what he looks like?”
“He’s about thirty I guess. Sandy hair, shaggy cut. Muscled. About five-ten. Green eyes. He’s got a tattoo of a spider on his left forearm.”
“Any scars?”
“In fact, he has a little scar next to his left eye.”
“Okay, that’s something to work with, I guess. Did he tell you what he does for a living?”
“Not exactly. Just that he was involved with the entertainment industry.”
Just like about eighty percent of all the people in LA.
“He came on to you in the club?”
“Yeah, quite aggressively really. He offered me a drink and got to the point pretty quickly.” Tears started to well up in her eyes. “How could I fall for a sleazebag like that? I feel like a whore when I think about what I did. I really don’t usually do stuff like that, you know. It’s just... That morning I’d gotten fired from my job, I used to be a secretary at an accounting firm, and I just wanted to let off some steam. He offered me that opportunity and some comfort. He just knew what to say, how to act...”
“A professional ladies man,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess you could call him that.”
I offered her a tissue. She dried her eyes and took a drink of water. I patted her hand.
“Don’t feel bad about what happened. Sounds like you didn’t stand a chance,” I said. “I’ll track this guy down, don’t worry.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chris Knopf's "Dead Anyway"

My friend and fellow writer Chris Knopf has just published his new book, "Dead Anyway," and been receiving great reviews. You might remember I wrote about his last book, "Ice Cap" earlier. Both are worth reading. Here is some copy from the book jacket's flap:

Imagine this:   You have a nice life.  You love your beautiful, successful wife.  You’re an easy going guy working out of your comfortable Connecticut home.  The world is an interesting, pleasant place.

Then in seconds, it’s all gone. 

You’re still alive, but the world thinks you’re dead.  And now you have to decide.  Make it official, or go after the evil that took it all away from you.

Arthur Cathcart, market researcher and occasional finder of missing persons, decides to live on and fight, by doing what he knows best – figuring things out, without revealing his status as a living, breathing human being.  Much easier said than done in the post-9/11 world, where everything about yourself and all the tools you need to live a modern life are an open book.  How do you become a different person, how do you finance an elaborate scheme without revealing yourself?  How do you force a reckoning with the worst people on earth, as a dead man?

Mystery writer Chris Knopf, who has examined complex what-if’s through five Sam Acquillo and three Jackie Swaitkowski Hamptons Mysteries, tackles these intriguing questions in a tale of mindless venality, phantom identity, impossible obstacles and the triumph of intellect and imagination over brute force.

Here are some reviews. After reading 'em you'll want your copy!

Booklist Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof Issue: September 15, 2012

Dead Anyway Knopf, Chris (Author),Sep 2012. 288 p. Permanent Press, hardcover, $28.00. (9781579622831).

Arthur Cathcart considered himself a lucky man. A self-proclaimed nerd and a meticulous market researcher, he somehow won the affections of the lovely Florencia, owner of an insurance brokerage firm, and their marriage was solid and happy, built on mutual respect, admiration, and love. Then his world implodes. He survives the carnage but decides to let the world assume he’s dead, the better to stay safe while tries to discover what happened and who’s responsible. Knopf, whose Hamptons-based series
featuring Sam Aquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski effectively mixes comedy and mystery, goes a different way here, with a high-energy, very savvy thriller. Connecticut-based Cathcart has no time for police procedure and instead acts on his instincts, using his research skills to help him find the way and even becoming a bad-ass when necessary. While some of Cathcart’s self-assuredness as an action hero seems a bit of a stretch, the novel generates enormous tension, and the mild-mannered number-cruncher is definitely an appealing hero. It's unclear if the novel is intended to be a stand-alone, or if it will launch a new series, but we'd very much like to see more of the engaging Catchart.
— Leon Wagner

Publishers Weekly    June 25, 2012

Dead Anyway
Chris Knopf. Permanent, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-57962-283-1
Knopf reaches a new imaginative peak with market researcher Arthur Cathcart in this outstanding revenge novel. One afternoon, Cathcart returns to his Stamford, Conn., home to find his wife, Florencia, sitting in the living room with a man holding a gun. After forcing Florencia to sign a document, the man shoots each of them in the head. Cathcart survives, but is in a coma for months. When he awakes, Cathcart succeeds, with the connivance of his physician sister, in having himself declared dead. As he begins the tortuous rehabilitation process and looks into establishing new identities, Cathcart realizes that it’s almost impossible to go off the grid totally and still be able to function effectively, so he has to compromise in inventive ways. Cathcart ingeniously manages to penetrate the world of hired killers and major crime figures in his quest to discover both the who and the why behind the original hit. (Sept.)

Kirkus Review     Online Publish Date: July 31, 2012

Author: Knopf, Chris
Publisher: Permanent Press, Pages 248, $28.00 Hardcover, Pub Date September 15, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-57962-283-1; Category: Fiction, Classification: Mystery

Nothing in Knopf’s reflective, quietly loopy Hamptons mysteries starring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski (Ice Cap, 2012, etc.) will have prepared his fans for this taut, streamlined tale of a man investigating his own murder.

The hit man who invades the Cathcarts’ upscale home in Stamford, Conn., tells Florencia Cathcart that if she doesn’t write down the answers to five questions, he’ll kill her husband. When she complies, he shoots them both anyway. Florencia dies, but Arthur merely hovers in a coma for months. Convinced upon his return to life that his killer’s been monitoring his progress with a view to finishing him off, he persuades his neurologist sister, Evelyn, to have him declared dead. She agrees, although she’s signing on to a long list of potential charges for conspiracy and insurance fraud, and Arthur, once he’s erased from the grid, is free to assume the identity of one Alex Rimes and go after the hit man and his employer. He tires easily, he limps badly, and his vision is poor, but his skills as a freelance researcher turn out to be surprisingly useful, though he can’t imagine why anyone would order the execution of either himself or Florencia, who owned a successful insurance agency. The trail to the killers leads through a wary arrangement with a retired FBI agent, an elaborate precious-metals scam and a society party to die for before Arthur finally confronts his quarry in a sequence that manages both to satisfy readers’ bloodlust and to point toward a sequel.

An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted, and the story seems to unfold itself without human assistance.

Library Journal,  August 2012

Knopf, Chris. Dead Anyway.
Permanent. Sept. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781579622831. $28. M

When a hit man shows up at Arthur Cathcart's home and assassinates his wife, Arthur is badly wounded, but not quite dead, and his physician sister is able to get him back on his feet. Angry Arthur has mapped out a strategy to make everyone to think he's dead, and he's concocted an elaborate alternative identity plan so he can track down the hit man himself. Since Arthur was a professional researcher, his prowess with online detecting is quite remarkable. His audacious plan is both psychologically chilling and exciting as the plot burrows through the bowels of underworld Connecticut. Running the supreme con, Arthur pulls in his prey. VERDICT Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages. In a major change in direction, the author of the "Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mysteries" (Black Swan; Hard Stop) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. This bodes well for a really good series and is reminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank.

Booklist Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof Issue: September 15, 2012

Dead Anyway Knopf, Chris (Author),Sep 2012. 288 p. Permanent Press, hardcover, $28.00. (9781579622831).

Arthur Cathcart considered himself a lucky man. A self-proclaimed nerd and a meticulous market researcher, he somehow won the affections of the lovely Florencia, owner of an insurance brokerage firm, and their marriage was solid and happy, built on mutual respect, admiration, and love. Then his world implodes. He survives the carnage but decides to let the world assume he’s dead, the better to stay safe while tries to discover what happened and who’s responsible. Knopf, whose Hamptons-based series
featuring Sam Aquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski effectively mixes comedy and mystery, goes a different way here, with a high-energy, very savvy thriller. Connecticut-based Cathcart has no time for police procedure and instead acts on his instincts, using his research skills to help him find the way and even becoming a bad-ass when necessary. While some of Cathcart’s self-assuredness as an action hero seems a bit of a stretch, the novel generates enormous tension, and the mild-mannered number-cruncher is definitely an appealing hero. It's unclear if the novel is intended to be a stand-alone, or if it will launch a new series, but we'd very much like to see more of the engaging Catchart.
— Leon Wagner

Good, yes? Okay, so you want to see the cover before you head to the bookstore and order your copy. Have I ever denied you anything?

Yeah, keep the room well lit while you read and maybe a nightlight in the bedroom too, just in case!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


My friend, and fellow newsman, Mel Taylor (ABC Miami) has released his new mystery, Death by Deadline, on Kindle. It continues were his other books left off. Here is a brief synopsis:

Each step closer to his prize of a photograph of the sunset in the exoticFlorida Evergladesalso brought him closer to his attacker. When a hiker finds him the next day, the question looming
for anxious detectives is whether he was killed by an animal of the glades, or is it murder.

TV reporter Matt Bowens is on the trail of a killer, all the time trying to quell a scared public and find out the truth before there is another Death by Deadhline.

This is what Amazon synopsis says:
The lure and wild beauty of the Florida Everglades attracts many people. On this night, Brock Molgan set out to take a picture of the sun setting over the glades. He did not hear the attacker approaching. When a tourist found his body the next morning, the first question for them remained: Was the assailant human or animal. 
South Florida TV reporter Matt Bowens arrives at the scene and learns from detectives, the victim suffered bite marks. A nervous public waits for answers and Bowens mounts a reporter's investigation into what happened. And why would Molgan approach his girlfriend before his death about buying her property, which rests next to the Everglades. This is the third in the series of the Deadline books. Bowens sets out to find the killer before there is another Death by Deadline. 

If I could write a synopsis that brief and that good . . . why ponder what I can not do? 
Check the book out, you won't be disappointed and if Mel's that good at synopsis writing, image how good he is at putting the whole story out there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Learning to write . . .

I’m 100+ pages into my next Mick Murphy Key West Mystery and, because I’m writing it darker and differently than the other book in the series, it has been a lot of fun having past incidents threaten to change characters’ character.
I’ll be at a signing this Sunday, at Fast Buck Freddie’s Pop-Up Writers event on Duval and Fleming streets, in Key West, 6 – 8 pm, so if you’re on island for any reason, stop in and say hi. The event includes other Key West writers and the once popular store is being used as a Pop-Up art gallery, so there’s a lot to see besides writers.
Often, at signings or casual meetings with fans, writers are asked a few stock questions. How do you come up with ideas? When did you decided to be a writer? (By the way, btw for you tablet freaks, writing chooses you, you don’t choose writing). How did you learn to write? So, speaking for one, we have come up with stock answers.
Since I’m writing a sequel, I’d like to dwell on the last questions. How did I learn to write? It’s a many-sided question. I know there are great writers out there that went to Harvard and other colleges and learned to write there. Then there is a dwindling of old school writers that learned to write by being journalists, think Ernest Hemingway.

I had my feet in both ponds and I’ve often said I learned more from seasoned journalists while an office boy (not PC, but that’s what I was back then) at the Boston Record-American/Sunday Advertiser. Warren Walworth and the Gilhooley brothers taught me more about putting sentences together that would keep a reader reading than any college class ever came close to.

I should point out that I’m not talking about journalism today. Sadly, what existed in the ‘50s & ‘60s has all but died and it was the greatest school available to a kid who flunked high school English but loved books and writing.
So, you could say, my learning to write began back at the old newspaper with guys who drank too much, smoked too much and loved their work too much.
When I left Boston, I still loved to read. Reading is the best school for writers, since journalism is dying. What got me to thinking about this has a lot to do with what I’m writing now, tentatively titled “Key West Latitude.” My critique group of writers doesn’t like it, but it’s a working title and I can worry about a new title when the book is finished.
When I’m writing, or well into a book, I like to read other writers that I respect for their story-telling habits. I’ll read Robert Crais, Tom Corcoran, Don Bruns, James Hall, Bob Morris, Dennis Lehane or James Lee Burke. Well, as luck would have it, Burke has a new book out, “Creole Belle.” I began it and read it carefully, enjoying his prose and dialogue, as well as his plot.
Of course, I read many other writers but don’t waste my times on writers I don’t enjoy and there are a few of them out there too. I write mysteries, as we all know, so I read in the mystery-thriller genre. I read for enjoyment but also to learn and I learn a lot from Burke and the others. I learn what works and sometimes what doesn’t work. You read Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series and even if you’re stuck in a Montana snowstorm, you find yourself swatting at imaginary mosquitoes attacking your neck! He’s that good.
How do these writers do what impresses me? That’s what I try to figure out while wondering if whatever that is will work in my writing. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But reading has taught me to try various things that impressed me.
Crais turning his Elvis Cole books into Joe Pike books gave me the idea of opening my book in progress from Norm’s voice. The book is darker and a sequel to “Stairway to the Bottom” and, if you’ve read it, the ending leaves Mick Murphy’s changed forever. I knew how I wanted to the new book to open but couldn’t see Murphy telling the story. Because I am a fan of Crais, I’ve read all his books and thought about changing POV. It took me a while to get it straight, believable, but once I did, I was off to the races.
If you want to write, you have to read and know why you like what it is you’re reading or what makes you dislike it. The good stuff you make work in your style, the bad stuff you try to remember not to use.
"Car Wash Blues" can be pre-ordered on Amazon and will be released the end of his month.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award

I received an email from the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine to let me know that my short story, Vampire Slayer Murdered in Key West, is one of 5 stories up for the Shamus Award this October. Was I surprised!

The nice thing,  other than being nominated, is that the committee that chose my story is made up of fellow writers. The story appeared in the double Sept/Oct. 2011 issue of EQMM. If you have a copy hanging around, read the story.

It is an honor to be nominated and I am humbled.

Lee Goldberg's Mr Monk story is also on the list and Lee and I were friends back in LA before my move to Key West. I've sent Lee my best wishes.

Don't know what my chances are, but will be biting my finger nails until than.

Oh yeah, on the official website and other notices, my name is listed as Michael West, but I'm told the correction will be made. If I win, I hope they get the name on the award!

Just wanted to share the news. Now I can put "Shamus Award nominee" on my jacket cover and in PR releases. Hope it helps sales!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chris Knopf's ICE CAP

My friend and fellow writer Chris Knopf will release his new book, Ice Cap, in a few days and I thought I'd share chapter one and a review of two. I am sure you'll find them interesting.
 * * *
Publishers Weekly,

Ice Cap
Chris Knopf. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-00517-5
At the start of Knopf’s breezy third Southampton mystery featuring defense attorney Jackie Swaitkowski (after 2011’s Bad Bird), client Franco Raffini summons Jackie during a winter storm to the house of Tad Buczek, a relative of hers by marriage, who’s lying dead under a pergola. That Franco, previously convicted of manslaughter, admits he messed up the crime scene by moving the body only adds to Jackie’s doubts about his innocence. When Franco is arrested and charged with second-degree murder, Jackie is determined to win the case against her client, despite threats from a couple of toughs for her to lose it. A familiar cast aids her, including boyfriend Harry Goodlander, Sam Acquillo (the star of Black Swan and four other mysteries), and computer geek Randall Dodge. A host of Polish relatives (by marriage) and Tad’s imported wife, Katarzina, provide comedy and tragedy. Atrocious winter weather, Franco’s aversion to telling all, and Tad’s deep secrets keep the outcome in doubt. Whether Jackie or Sam takes the lead, Knopf’s ensemble mysteries are good entertainment.

Book Review: ICE CAP by Chris Knopf

Jackie Swaitkowski is an attorney practicing law in the Hamptons of Long Island.  Her client is accused of murdering her late husband’s uncle … and nobody wants to believe her client’s innocent.
The worst winter on record dumps endless snow on the Hamptons, which hampers our heroine’s attempts to discover who really committed the murder.  Of course, Jackie’s the only person who believes Franco Raffinni is innocent and she really has to work at it.  Also hampering her efforts to solve the mystery are members of her husband’s family and the Polish-American community in which they live, the victim’s widow, and emissaries of a local mob boss whose visits become increasingly more threatening and violent.
As a former resident of Long Island, I found myself skimming over the numerous references to the Hamptons; however, Jackie’s clever, witty, and entertaining personality MORE than made up for that minor flaw and I certainly didn’t skim anywhere else!  I laughed out loud numerous times as I read this book in one sitting.  Knopf does an excellent job writing from the perspective of his female character and I’ll be checking out more of Jackie’s adventures.
You shouldn’t miss this one.

Okay, now for chapter one!

Chapter 1

            It would have been the blizzard of the century if a bigger one hadn’t hit a few weeks later.  But for the people of the Hamptons marooned in the off-off season of mid-January, it was like we’d been plucked from the end of Long Island and dropped into the arctic circle. 
            For me, it was another opportunity to praise my Volvo station wagon, both steadfast and true, no matter how little maintenance or care I remembered to bestow upon it.  That evening the biggest challenge was identifying the car among the other giant heaps of rapidly building snow in the parking lot behind my apartment.  I was only out there  because I got a call from one of my clients, Franklin Delano Raffinni – an ex-investment banker who’d served time for killing his girlfriend’s husband with a rotisserie skewer before the husband could kill him with a steak knife.      
            “You gotta get over here, Jackie,” he said via cell phone, the words barely audible over the wind noise. 
            “Not the best time,” I said.
            “Don’t tell anybody anything till you get here.  I’m serious.  You’ll see why.”
            Another complicating factor was my complete lack of personal preparedness.  Snow was hardly unheard of in the Hamptons, but nothing like this.  The best I could do was cowboy boots, black leather gloves that went nearly to the elbow (bought for more heated circumstances), leotards, jeans, and lots of layers under my orange barn jacket. 
            I thought I’d overdone it until I hit the outside air and felt like the skin on my face was being cryogenically removed.  I found the car and dug my way to the driver’s side door with an old aluminum fry pan.  Inside the car somewhere was an ice scraper.  From the driver’s seat, I climbed into the back and dug the scraper out from under a stack of file folders, a pair of jumper cables, a box of Kleenex, a bird cage, a beach umbrella last used five months before, golf clubs never used and other unrelated items whose origins had been lost in the mists of time. 
            When I finally  finished clearing about two feet of snow off the car with the fry pan and scraper, another inch or two had already started to form.  The engine had been running, however, so the defrosters and wipers kept the glass clear.  The greater issue was the most fundamental – could I really drive in this stuff?
            Even if snow plows had been as prevalent in Long Island as they were in Buffalo, there was no way to keep up with the snowfall.  So the only choice wasn’t driving over, it was driving through. 
            At least  I’d been taught by my father how to handle a car in the snow.  He had his faults, but denying his daughter instruction in the many things he thought her too stupid to master on her own was not one of them.  So whenever a snow storm hit the area, however meager the accumulation, we’d venture forth in one of his ungainly American land yachts for a lesson, usually delivered in harsh and condescending tones, just to assure that even an effort to preserve my safety could be remembered with a tinge of hollow disappointment.
            The first trick was to go easy on the gas pedal, refraining at all times from spinning the wheels, a circumstance from which my father impressed upon me was virtually impossible to recover.  That day, I thought the whole thing was impossible, so I was more surprised than triumphant when I felt the car move forward out of the parking spot, across the lot and out into the street. 
            From there it was a short hop to Montauk Highway, the main east-west thoroughfare that connected a string of villages that comprised the Hamptons, and thus the only road the authorities were committed to keeping as clear as possible.  This meant that successive plow passes during the day had formed a small mountain ridge at the end of my side street.  As my father had taught me, this circumstance called for an opposing strategy: drop to a lower gear and hit the gas. 
            I felt it was every bit as unlikely that I’d be able to smash my way through a wall of snow as it was getting underway in the first place, which is probably why I didn’t consider the consequences of success until I found myself in the middle of Montauk Highway, perpendicular to the flow of traffic and directly in the path of a very large pickup.  I cranked the wheel hard to the right and kept power to the wheels, allowing me to spin the rear of the car into the opposite snow bank, just barely avoiding an ugly collision.  For its part, the truck swerved a few times, the edge of the yellow plow whispering past the side of the Volvo, and then swinging back into the mass of snow that entombed a row of cars along the curbside. 
            “Idiot,” I said to myself, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I was now irrevocably lodged inside the packed snow. 
            I looked in my mirror and saw a woman in heavy coveralls, about the color of my barn jacket, jump out of the truck and slip-slide toward me through the swirling haze.  I rolled down the passenger side mirror and prepared myself for a well-deserved rebuke.
            “Are you alright?” she asked, looking anxiously through the open window.  Her long brown hair, streaked with grey, was salted with snowflakes, and her angular, dark face was lit up with concern.
            “I should be asking you,” I said.  “I did a really dumb thing.”
            “Everybody’s dumb in a snowstorm.  You stuck?”
            “Oh, yeah.  How would you feel about pulling me out?”
            “I’d feel fine about it,” she said.  “Don’t go anywhere till I get back.”
            She jogged back to her truck, jumped in, did a three-point turn and drove a short way past me.  Then she got a chain out of the truck bed and hooked us up.  She gestured for me to roll down my window again. 
            “Just help me along with some gentle acceleration.  No stunt driving necessary.”
            “What’s your name?” I asked.
            “Dayna Red.  I tell people it’s a house paint.  Nobody believes me.”
            I told her my name and profession – counsel to the region’s impoverished miscreants, or merely misled, one of whom had sent me an urgent call, which I felt irresistibly compelled to answer. 
            “Not in this weather you aren’t,” she said. 
            “What if I hired you?” I asked her.
            “Plow job?”
            “Escort.  I need to get over to Seven Ponds in Southampton.”
            She leaned into the car, bringing some more of the storm with her.  A white dust started to form on the accretion of papers, soda cans and empty cigarette packs that filled the passenger seat.
            “I just came from over there.  They haven’t plowed yet.”
            I wrote the address on a handy piece of paper.
            “You know where that is?” I asked her.
            She studied the paper. 
            “Sure.  Tad Buczek’s place.  Metal Madness.”
            Metal wasn’t the only thing mad about Tad, but it figured largely.  Like my late husband’s family, the honorable Swaitkowskis, Tad’s family had made the calculation that tens of millions of dollars in hand from real estate developers was better than bushels of potatoes you had to go to the trouble of growing, harvesting and selling into a saturated market.  Tad’s share of the bounty was substantial, enough for him to retain fifteen acres of mixed fields and woodlands for himself, on which he established one of the more irregular local homesteads, even by the rigorous standards of the Hamptons. 
            Always a connoisseur of large agricultural  machinery, Tad harnessed  his new wealth to embark on a major acquisition program, focusing on earth moving equipment, until his property was littered with backhoes and bulldozers, excavators, dump trucks and articulated haulers.  Zoning disputes quickly erupted, led by some of Tad’s new neighbors, the wealthy owners of colonial-style and post modern mini-mansions that rose up out his family’s former potato farm.  
            Tad eventually reached a settlement, that in my former life as a real estate lawyer I helped draft, which required him to store his earthmover collection within a pair of huge pre-fabbed steel buildings, designed to enclose things like assembly lines and commercial aircraft.  The deal was sealed when he sited the buildings within a grove of pine trees deep inside the property, thus rendering the entire operation essentially invisible. 
            What his opponents hadn’t figured on was Tad’s purpose in acquiring the earth moving equipment in the first place, which wasn’t to simply warehouse a fleet of lumbering machines, but rather to apply them to the purpose for which they’d been originally engineered. 
            Moving earth.    
            The land cleared of the offending eyesores was soon in the midst of a massive transformation.  Out of acres of flat, unobstructed potato fields grew huge hills, plateaus, pyramids and berms that circled into themselves like ancient fortifications.  Much of this required massive infusions of fill, which meant a steady procession of dump trucks importing sand, gravel and rough soil from as far away as North Jersey. 
            Another flood of lawsuits resulted, but there was little the neighbors could do about this one.   There was no law or statute prohibiting the physical alteration of a person’s private land, provided it had no negative impact on the adjacent environment, water supply or septic systems.  Offenses Tad studiously avoided.
            Better yet, the work was done in fairly short order, barely six months, after which Tad set to growing grass and planting trees and bushes on his freshly terra-formed estate, softening the edges of the artificial earthen shapes until they took on the character of a naturally molded landscape, one of such verdant beauty that any complaint seemed fatuous at best.
            The subsequent good will helped Tad weather the next explosion of outrage.

#   #   #   #  #   #  #   #  #    #

            “I’ll  have to put the plow down when we turn on David White’s Lane,” said Dayna, after pulling me out of the snow bank and walking back to my car.  She asked for my cell phone number.  “I’ll call you and we’ll keep the connection open.  Keep it on speaker.  Better than a walkie-talkie.”
            The snowfall might have abated some as the sky above darkened to a deep, sooty grey.  But snow still filled the air, blown into a chaotic frenzy by the increasing wind.  That was one of the costs of living close to the ocean.  Whatever lousy weather you could have out here, the wind always made it that much lousier. 
            Almost a half hour later we reached the intersection of Montauk Highway and David White’s Lane.  I asked her to give me a few minutes to clean the ice pack off my wipers and the congealed snow and road grit out of the grill.  It took longer than I hoped, hampered as I was by icy needles being driven into my face.  I knew there were buildings on three corners of the intersection, but now with night completely settled in, they only looked like ghostly shapes within the blustery haze.  I made it back into the car thinking it may not ever be safe to emerge again.
            “They’re saying it’s the blizzard of the century,” said Dayna over my exotic new smart phone, a type that provides everything short of teleportation.  “Could get three feet, not including drifts.  The governor’s shut down the whole island.  Non-essential travel’s forbidden.”
            “Sorry if this gets you in trouble.”
            “I’m essential, honey.  Which means you’re also protected.  It’s like diplomatic immunity.”
            “I know the cops around here pretty well,” I said.  “Good luck with that one.”
            Even with her heavy four-wheel-drive truck, knobby tires and snow plow it was slow going.  Every so often the load in front of the plow grew so large she had to increase the angle of the blade and shove it off to the side.  Then we’d back up a little and take off again, her easing along what she hoped was the road surface, now completely obliterated by a blanket of deep snow, and me transfixed by the two red lights on her tailgate and the pale light over the truck’s license plate, which read “Wood Chick”.
            I never would have made it without her.  No way, no how. 
            “Wood Chick, you’re the aces,” I told her over the phone, deciphering the vanity license plate, WOODCHIK .
            “Now I’m embarrassed.”
            “Don’t be,” I said.  “I’m just trying to be nice.”
            “My own fault for plastering that name right on my ass.  With encouragement from people I’d be better off ignoring.”
            “I know people like that.”
            “Tad’s place is getting closer,” she said.  “During the day we’d have a visual by now.”
            She meant we could have seen one of the towering metal sculptures that comprised the loony installation Tad had created and named Metal Madness.  The sculptures,  mounted atop Tad’s ersatz mountains, were built of twisted sheets of steel welded into abstract shapes that thrust high into the sky.  And consequently, the latest cause for neighborhood angst and costly legal maneuvering, which I was grateful to leave behind, safe within my current career as a full-time criminal attorney.
            Seven Ponds wasn’t even a place name, it was just a few roads of the same or similar names that criss-crossed a semi-rural swath north of Southampton Village.  And by my reckoning, there was only one pond named Seven Ponds, which must have been either an act of clever misdirection, or the imaginative product of some ancient real estate broker. 
            These days I’d call the area mixed use, with farms like Tad’s mostly developed, and the remaining open land, preserved in land trusts, slowly succumbing to natural re-forestation.  The few auto repair shops, roadside markets and tractor dealers from back in the day had also taken on a disintegrating, superannuated hue.
            Tad’s place was at the northernmost limit of that area, describable as the foot hills of a little forested ridge that ran down the spine of the South Fork. This meant that Dayna and I had a hard fight up a relatively modest grade, with lots of starting and stopping, punctuated by fruitless spinning of wheels, just as my surly father warned me against.
            “A little less torque might help,” I said to Dayna over the phone.  She grunted and proceeded slowly, but relentlessly, with or without my advice.  I followed in the same spirit.
            After what felt like hours, because it almost was, we finally reached the head of the driveway that led into Tad Buczek’s place, heralded by the words “Metal Madness” punched out of a slab of aluminum hung above the entrance. 
            “At least it’s downhill from here on,” said Dayna, after making a tentative run at the top of the driveway.  “You ready?”
            “I’ve waited all my life.”
            “I could chain us together again, which might keep you from getting stuck, or just pick my way along in the hope you can keep a safe distance and stay under way.”
            “That’s what I’ve been doing,” I said.
            “This is different.  There’re no road markers.  I’ll be driving blind.”
            “Unchained sounds more like me,” I told her.
            “Okay.  Here we go.”
            Dayna dropped the plow and turned into the driveway.  It was the deepest snow  yet encountered, undisturbed by traffic of any kind.  I could see all four wheels of the pickup throwing up tiny wakes, half-spinning, half digging in.  It wasn’t a slow passage – Dayna needed the velocity to attack the heavy snow, some in drifts that crested over the top of the plow. 
            “Are we headed to the house?” she asked over the cell phone.  “If so, we’ll have to make a hard left very soon.”
            “Let me make another call and I’ll tell you.”
            I hung up and tapped Franco’s number from the list of recent calls.  It rang a few times before he picked up.
            “I see two sets of lights,” he said.  “Is that you?”          
“It’s me and a plow.  Where are you?”
            “In front of the big pergola.  Tell the plow not to run me over.”
            I hung up and did just that.  I told Dayna the pergola was half way between the upcoming left and the main house.  She said “Roger that,” and slowed down to take the left.   I crept up behind, praying I had the momentum to stay stuck to the slippery road surface and still make the turn. 
            We both made it around, and I saw the lights mounted above the truck’s plow kick up to high beams.  I tucked up closer to her rear bumper, feeling more secure at the slower pace she’d chosen.  It was still fast enough to cause the snow to explode out from the front of the truck and wash into me from either side and above.  My windshield wipers, already compromised, soon surrendered, and I picked up the phone to tell Dayna I had to stop when I heard her voice over the speaker. 
            “There’s a guy waving at me,” she said.
            “Stop there.”
            She actually drove a little past him so he was at my passenger side door when I stopped.  I rolled down the window.
            “So Franco, what up?”
            I assumed it was Franco based on the prominent nose and thin black moustache and goatee, which were the only identifying features.  The rest was snow-covered wool coat and baseball cap.  When he greeted me, in his Italian-inflected English, more a lilt than an accent, I was sure it was him.
            I got out of the car, and stumbled around to the other side.  Dayna approached and asked if I was alright.  I introduced the two of them and they peeled off their gloves to shake hands.  Franco gave a neat little bow. 
            “Jackie, I need to show you something.  Ms. Red, you better wait here, if you don’t mind.”
            “I’d rather come,” she said.
            “She can come,” I told him, not knowing exactly why.  I had nothing to fear from Franco, but you quickly grow connected to people, even strangers, who deliver you through dire circumstances.   I wanted her nearby.
            “Suit yourself,” he said, turning and then tromping under Tad’s giant pergola through the deep snow, guided by a bright flashlight, made less so by the tiny snow flakes that streamed down through the woody vines and open beams of the structure above.  I cursed the lack of a hat.  
            It wasn’t a long walk, blessedly, as I quickly grew weary of the trudge, a misery compounded by the slippery soles of my cowboy boots.  We were at the far end of the pergola, in an area that was partially covered by a hard roof under which Tad had a wooden table for al fresco dining.  On top of the table was a long, white mound, at the fringes of which I could see the edge of a blue tarp.  Franco waited for us to come up to him, then took a piece of the tarp in his gloved hand.
            Dayna said “Uh-oh,” under her breath. 
            “You wanted to come,” Franco said to her, then flipped the tarp over the mound, sending the covering snow flying into the air, where some of it was blown back, hitting me in the face.  I wiped my eyes and followed Franco’s flashlight as it outlined the prone figure of a large man, finally stopping at the red and grey mash that used to be the defiant and hard-headed skull of Tadzio Buczek. 

Ice Cap becomes available as of June 5. Order it now at your local bookstore!

Michael Haskins


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Map