Booneâ€™s Dock Review Volume 1: Issue 1 Summer/Fall 2011
Boone’s Dock Review is published by Boone’s Dock Press LLC Amityville, New York, USA www.boonesdockpress.com The publisher reserves first printing rights to all works in this issue. Cover design © 2011, Boone‘s Dock Press
Contents Publisher’s Foreword From the Editor’s Desk **** Angel Lite, Angel Dark Epic of War Who-Ville New Legs Super 8: A Night in the Life
Brian J Callaghan Bobby Kvrgic Anna Falcone Raymond Philip Asaph Max Wahrenburg
**** Hypothetical Question— WE ASK OUR WRITERS ABOUT THE IMPORTANT STUFF, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.
About our Authors BDP Fiction Contest Guidelines
Publisher’s Foreword Greetings, Readers! Thank you for setting your eyes and intellects upon the first issue of Boone‘s Dock Review. We are certain that it will provide you with cognitive victuals of the highest quality, and we are further assured that your ―game‖ will improve significantly as the direct result of being a member of the elite class of readers to whom we cater. For now, I would like to take a few paragraphs of our time to introduce you to Boone’s Dock Press and Boone’s Dock Review. We are a publishing company (Obvious, 2011, p.101) based in Amityville, New York. To quote our mission statement: ―Boone‘s Dock Press originated in a moment of pure inspiration and seeks to bring that authenticity to everything we produce and promote.‖ There was an overall vision involved at the outset, and this vision remains with BDP as we move forward into new ventures and, indeed, toward the new horizon in publishing and reading created by the e-book market. We remain dedicated to providing high-quality products that preserve artists‘ creative concepts in sustainable formats. There is no question that our new literary review for e-readers is in keeping with our mission. From start to finish, this review is filled with some of the best new literary work on the scene. Our authors are the ―real thing‖ – expatriates, aficionados, movers, reformed poets, unreformed poets, professors, throwbacks, progressives and, to the last, literary artists who embrace the richness of life, living and imagination in thought, word and deed. We see their work as both timely and timeless, and these qualities are integral to great literature. In the months and years to come, we look forward to showcasing more literary excellence in the pages of Boone‘s Dock Review. Perhaps more importantly, we look forward to developing a community of readers who know that we are the ―go-to‖ for new talent and the voice of visionary literary work. As we grow, we hope that this community will take on a life of its own, and we invite you to be a part of it at www.boonesdockpress.com, where you will find information on the goings on at Boone‘s Dock, as well as links to interact with our authors and editors. Until next season, and Always with my Appreciation and Respect,
Kempton B. Van Hoff, Publisher
From the Editor’s Desk A historian once told me that when George Washington became the first president of the United States, he was very mindful that he would be setting precedent for everyone who would follow him into office. The protocols for everything from the inauguration to transferring powers to the next leader was his to decide, and he knew that any changes, while possible, would be made slowly and after much thought, so he had to ―get it right‖ the first time. He was, after all, making history. Now, I know I‘m not the leader of the free world, but as the first editor of a brand new publication, I want to get it right, too. There were many small decisions to be made in regards to cover design, fonts, layout, and all the minutiae that the reader never thinks about. There were the bigger issues: What is the title going to be? Should it be monthly or a quarterly? What sort of artwork should we include? The first question, the biggest question, had to be decided first. What kind of writing did we want to publish? Fortunately, that was the simplest question to answer. We at the Boone‘s Dock Press want to publish the sort of fiction we love to read. Does the story engage me? Does it take me somewhere I haven‘t been before? Does it show me something new every time I go back to it? Does it make me think? Is this a piece of writing that makes me want to grab the person next to me and say ―You need to read this‖? It may be a simple answer, but it demands a high level of writing that isn‘t easy. This issue runs the gamut: Foreign intrigue, fantasy, and contemporary fiction are all represented. It‘s a strong start, and it will only get better. Thank you for joining us as Boone’s Dock Review makes some history of its own.
Nancy M. Scuri, Fiction Editor
Angel Lite, Angel Dark Brian J Callaghan ―If you gaze long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss shall gaze back into you.‖—Frederick Nietzsche
Michal Pitrik walked out of the back wine storage door and down the three steps into his garden. It was a large garden with a lot of property. A creek ran through the middle of it, and Michal owned a small plot of land on the other side, bordering up to and onto the newly built, postcommunist satellite suburban villages, where the nouveau riche and their ilk were moving to from their former communist era apartment block houses in Prague. Michal had gotten his house back when that property was nothing more than a communist era farm that the state had put up for sale. It would take the state four years to sell it. At that time, Czech developers had not yet seen any potential in building houses outside of Prague. Back then, from his garden, he could watch the sun set across a field of yellow rapeseed plants. The rapeseed stunk to the high heavens. It made his nose scratch and his breathing harsh. He hated the spring when the mustard flowers bloomed. Of course, now he hated the new houses and their blocking of his access to the sunset more. He was carrying in his hand a black and white marble notebook and a dossier filled with photos. There was still enough sunlight to read by, but, as it was still spring, and as there was no longer any rapeseed to mess with his nose, Michal flicked on the light that stood next to his wooden deck table and chairs. He also lit the insect repellent candles to keep the mosquitoes away. When both were done, and after he had confirmed that the wind was too weak to blow his papers away, he put the murder book and its dossier of photos down on the table, after which he went into his garden and pulled up a long straight leaf of chive and began to chew on the plant hungrily. Pulling out his knife, he cut an estimated ten more stalks, the amount he felt he would need while doing his reading. His wife, who had spent the past three years begging him to sell this property and tried daily to talk him into moving to the much more manageable small apartment block sized houses across the creek in the new satellites, utterly despised his chive chewing. Then again, she had also despised his smoking, a habit that he had only been able to relinquish via his constant chewing on the green, oniony leaves. He placed the ten chive shoots on the table and took a seat, opening the dossier first. ―Fucking gypsies,‖ Michal said as he looked at the victim, a gypsy woman, who had a second smile cut roughly across her neck. Michal wasn‘t a racist, even if he was a Czech police detective. Ninety percent of the police force could be defined as racist: against Asians, blacks, Ukrainians, gypsies, Jews, Muslims, and hell, even though they were an immigrant group that kept largely to themselves, the Germans, and while the population of the city kept expanding, all of these peoples and groups moving into the city by the thousands, the work of the police department kept growing, the question of who to blame easily falling onto the groups that were most often caught red-handed, they not being the Czechs. Michal‘s vulgarity wasn‘t directed at the race of the woman who was murdered, but at her culture, however, and if that seemed racist, it wasn‘t. The gypsies that Michal was swearing at were of a culture where they handled things themselves. They as a whole had been managing problems without the usage or the assistance of the state since their arrival on the European continent during the Dark Ages. Since then the Romany, as they were now called, the term gypsy now labeled as politically incorrect, have been sporadically attacked by
Christian knights, enslaved, searched out for extermination, sent to Hitler‘s concentration camps with extermination being the sole intent in mind, force-settled by the communists, and now just completely and utterly despised by the post-communist winner takes all free market. Meanwhile, the Czechs, Michal‘s own people, took down their Czech signs for German during the Second World War, replaced their German books for Russian during communism, and now were bathing themselves in English, a language they desperately needed to survive in the make-or-break American business world of today. It was, Michal mused, only a hop, skip and a jump to Chinese from here, a point that bothered Michal‘s racist brother cops to no end. But the gypsies somehow maintained their language, their culture and their attitude no matter who was running the show. And Michal was certain that when the Arabs, Russians and Chinese had overrun Prague and had made it their own, as the radical right was now decreeing to be the nation‘s future, Michal was certain that the new leadership of the city of Prague would one day be looking at a picture just like this one and saying, ‗Fucking gypsies,‘ knowing just as well as Michal himself did that their culture, the Gypsy culture, had yet again persevered and that they were once again going to handle things on their own, Michal‘s job just being to predict: to who? Michal lined up the pictures on the table in front of him, he spitting the remains of the first chive grass on the ground under his table. He picked up another one and started to chew on that one as well. This call, about the dead gypsy woman, scared Michal. The Czech Republic was no longer the land of tradition that it had been before and especially under communism, but one of those traditions had held fast: Majteska Pout. The tradition derived from the very Catholic tradition of Lent. For forty days and forty nights under the guise of the Catholic Church‘s watchful eyes, the people of Bohemia and Moravia gave up meat, all with eyes focused on the upcoming Easter eating and feasting celebrations. Of course, the devil will find work for idle hands to do, so to keep the peoples of the former Kingdom of Bohemia busy during the ―winter is ending, spring is almost here, no eating, no drinking forty days and forty night‘s period of time,‖ the Catholic Church allowed the construction of amusement parks. Of course, these weren‘t Disney open-all-year-round parks, but a simple Ash Wednesday Opening, Easter Monday closing amusement, replete with rides, games, casinos, cakes, pies, food and fun. It was a tradition that the communists, who despised almost everything Catholic, allowed to stay, the idea being that the rides and amusements served as a wellneeded distraction from the drudgery that was the day to day life that was the northern European winter. ―Fucking carnies,‖ Michal said aloud, looking over the photo of the carnival workers who had gathered around the dead gypsy woman. If there was any worse combination for a Prague murder, it was the murder of the ‗we handle our own problems‘ gypsy-woman in the territory of carnival folk, a nameless, faceless people who one day show up in town, pitch their tents, earn a quick buck and then flee. Michal, as a cop, felt that the real mystery he should be trying to solve is who are these two groups of people, not who murdered who and how. The carnies, like the gypsies, lived without rules or order under any of the regimes that ran Bohemia at one point in time. Even under communism, with the supposedly impenetrable Iron Curtain to cage them in, it was accepted as fact that the carnies were allowed to cross the border into westernized Austria any time they saw fit as the communists had enough of a bother with the making of shoes for their people, so there wasn‘t a chance in hell they were going to dedicate time and resources to the making of a bumper car. So back and forth the carnies went, with no rules or rulers, no leadership, and no authority to stop them. ―Two groups of people, two subcultures. How did I get so lucky?‖ Michal whispered aloud, the annoyance clear in his voice.
―Misa,‖ Michal heard his wife diminutively call out behind him. He jumped. He was engrossed in studying the Colombian neck-tie that now decorated the gypsy‘s neck. He knew there was symbolism to the throat slitting in certain cultures, but Michal wasn‘t sure that he saw that here. When a gypsy committed murder, it was usually because he was cornered. The gypsies in the Czech Republic stood out. They had darker skin, they spoke louder, and they walked in large clans. For the most part, a gypsy pulling a blade, or even calling out random names was enough to get their attacker or attackers to stand down, rumors of gypsy knife skill and of clans of dark-skinned gypsies lurking behind corners lingering long after the communists force-settled the peoples. But, in truth, more gypsies were murdered by Czechs and Moravians than gypsies killing their white oppressors. And even a preliminary study of gypsy killers showed no set pattern of techniques that sent symbols a la the American Mafia. Stab wounds dished out by gypsies were to guts, the heart, the back and a lot of jabs in the neck. But, Michal thought, laying down the photo lest his wife see it, there seemed to be something symbolic, or at least familiar, to this photo. ―Misa, Michal,‖ his wife said, her heels clicking down the walkway. Michal put the photos under the dossier where his wife wouldn‘t see them. He turned on his bench and faced the approaching beauty that was his wife. ―Misa, I have been looking all over for you.‖ Michal cleared his throat and spit out the second chive grass. He oddly wasn‘t craving another one until he saw the look of disgust coat her face. ―Why?‖ Michal said, noticing that his wife was dressed up in a way that suggested she had made plans. Michal knew what those plans were, but he couldn‘t be bothered stopping them. The truth was, they had married way too young to know what either really wanted in the future, and now that they both knew what it was that they truly craved, neither was willing to just come out and admit it. ―I have plans tonight,‖ she said, looking in the direction of the ‗new‘ satellite developments. Michal didn‘t look. She was going to tell him that she was meeting a friend in a cafe, somewhere on the other side of their satellite village outside Prague. But that wouldn‘t be true. She was going to the new houses which blocked his view of the sunset and fuck someone else. ―Well, don‘t be too late,‖ Michal said, coldly. ―I won‘t. I‘m going to the,‖ Michal lifted the dossier and exposed his wife to the pictures of the gypsy with the throat slit. He knew he was being cruel doing it, but he was feeling a bit tired with the lies and felt that the photos would shut her up. It did. He still loved her. He had admitted that to his partner several times, but he was angry. Not about her cheating, that they both could live with, but about the lies. Michal returned to studying his photo when he noticed that his wife hadn‘t moved yet. He looked back, just in time to see and hear a loud melodramatic gasp escape his wife‘s lips. Michal fully turned around and stared at his hovering behind him wife. She looked to be in shock. ―We, me and Zuzka, we bought a doll off that woman!‖ His wife said while she continued to stare at the picture in horror. Michal looked at the picture, then back at his wife. He had assumed that his wife had been lying when she said that she was going to go to the fair in Prague VII today. After all, the weather had been beautiful all week and their daughter, just three, could talk about one event for a whole week as if it just happened that day. He had thought that she was actually just going to hire a sitter and go to her lover. But the look on her face revealed that she had really gone and met this woman. ―Sit, sit,‖ Michal said, pushing his wife down on the bench across from his own. Seeing she was still in shock, he stashed the photos back under the dossier and ran inside their house and opened the mini-fridge
that they had had installed years ago just past the door to the yard. He poured his wife a glass of white wine from a large jug they kept in there. He then grabbed a second glass for himself and simply brought the jug to the table. He handed his wife her glass then filled his own. He took a long sip, watching as his wife continued to focus on the spot where the picture had been. ―I am sorry that you saw that, but maybe you can give me a time frame? When did you see her? Why?‖ ―It was this morning. About ten o‘clock. Zuzka and I were walking through the fairgrounds. It was still empty then.‖ ―Of course,‖ Michal said, encouraging her. It being a Monday meant that the schools were still full at that early hour. Michal actually remembered that when they got the call about the body at twelve that there weren‘t any ticket sellers in the ticket booths. That there was free admission until one o‘clock when the nursery schools closed and moms and grandmas, having picked up their children, went to the amusements for a few hours, but this was bad for Michal. The ticket booths were the only non-carnie employees at the fair, meaning these were people Michal wished to talk to. They were paid by the owner of the land who collected money from both the hordes of Czechs, Slovaks, and tourists who hit the Majtejska Pout every year and from the carnie folk, who paid rent to set up their booths. For forty days and forty nights the land owner cleaned house if the weather was nice. If it was horrid, he would just count his losses, most of the carnies closing up shop by the first week‘s end. ―Well, oh God Michal, don‘t get mad.‖ ―About what?‖ He asked his wife. She was still beautiful. She was a light skinned brunette. Though Czech by birth, Michal‘s mother could not help but hint that his wife had either Magyar or Gypsy blood, the emphasis for his mother being that she wasn‘t Czech. If his wife did have mixed blood, it was too far back for her family to remember or acknowledge. They met in his senior year of high school. It was 1996, and though communism had long ended, traces of the old system could be seen everywhere. Couples like Michal and his then girlfriend, now wife, Andrea, went camping, hiking, carried a pack lunch on dates, and kept a bottle opener on their key chain as buying beer in a shop was cheaper than a pub. They made love under the stars, during the day in fields, and after breakfast, lunch and dinner. They never talked about money because, well, they didn‘t have it and neither did anyone else. But, Michal had an aunt and uncle who had escaped the communist regime in the early 1980s and had moved to America, and while Michal and Andrea struggled to get an acceptance to a university here in the Czech Republic where less than one percent of the population had had a university degree, Michal‘s aunt and uncle offered to pay for Michal and Andrea to study in America for two years. Their American life had kept them busy and, as they had no kids of their own, they wanted to share the wealth. Andrea loved America. Worshipped it. Michal, whose own blood had brought him to the country, despised it. Michal knew Andrea‘s ‗don‘t get mad‘ warning. It meant she had caved into yet another American marketing ploy. ―It‘s probably made in China anyway,‖ Andrea went on. ―Everything is made in China,‖ Michal responded coldly. He didn‘t bother to point out that the money went to the people in the glass buildings in America and not the Chinese laborers. ―Well, the gypsy woman, she had two of the Angel Lite dolls,‖ ―Oh God,‖ ―What?‖
―Andrea. They are a phenomenon. They are going for a hundred, hundred fifty dollars a pop here in Europe. Do you know how much I make as a cop?‖ ―Well, whose fault is that?‖ ―Yeah, it‘s my fault for doing what I love!‖ ―Well, we could have money. We could live across the creek in those nice Spanish houses.‖ ―Nice Spanish houses? Nice Spanish houses? Have you seen what they look like in winter? The reason white homes work in Greece and Spain is because it never rains. We are in Northern Europe. The land of snow, rain and mud! Those white houses are coated in black splatter all fall, winter and spring, and maybe stay clean for two weeks in summer!‖ Andrea huffed, disgusted. Michal again lifted his dossier and looked down at the picture of the dead gypsy woman and considered for a moment that the dolls were the motive for killing her. After all, the dolls were huge, tremendous, the must-have item of the year. Michal knew a bit about them. They were two to a pair, Angel Lite and Angel Dark. Supposedly they were originally called Angel Lite and Devil Dark, but someone in the toy company realized that the entire American Christian market would be closed off to anything called Devil, let alone Devil Dark, and so she became an Angel as well, but the dolls were every therapist‘s dream. Angel Lite told you positives about your world. ‗Lovely day today, isn‘t it?‘ While Angel Dark would chime in with something negative, like, ‗So lovely that I think I‘m going to be sick,‘ to which Angel Dark would make vomiting sounds. It was the sounds that got every kid in America wanting one first. And then eventually the world had to have them as well. And though Michal was still angry about his wife‘s excessive purchase, he had to ask, ―Two Angel Lites? Are you sure there wasn‘t a Dark there?‖ ―No,‖ his wife said, visibly relaxing, ―I would have bought them both then.‖ She caught Michal‘s cringe. ―Our three year old daughter can‘t even convey the sentiment that she is going to be sick, the poor girl usually just puking and then crying afterwards! So what I can‘t fathom is what she would find so amusing about the dolls, especially one doll in a supposed set of two.‖ Michal‘s wife took that as a cue that their cordialness to each other was over and stood up. ―I brought down the baby monitor so you can hear Zuzka sleeping.‖ His wife said about their child, she turning on the monitor. Michal wondered why the machine wasn‘t on the whole time but didn‘t comment. He decided it was better to just let her go. She, catching on, turned and left. Michal watched his wife go, she being off to fuck someone else. There was honestly no reason for them to remain together. She had a job at one of the Prague IV multi-nationals where workers slaved like ants for omnipresent corporate masters somewhere in America and Asia, and he was a cop in Prague VII, ironically, where a lot of the multi-nationals lived. They never called each other during the day to meet for lunch, and they never called his mother and asked her to stay late and watch their daughter so that they could have a night out. And after work, when she wasn‘t laying her mystery man, she had her laptop with work that couldn‘t be finished in the office. And when he wasn‘t spending the evening in Prague VII in a brothel with some ladies of the night, he had his dossiers and his murder books, filled with notes on the gallery of criminals and crimes that had begun to make their way into Prague via post-communist capitalist greed. It was a new world, and whereas under communism the land was a place where all goods and products that were hot in America inspired envy and every now and then a theft, in the new the wall has fallen order that was shops filled with toys, meat being a seven-day a week commodity, a variety of shoes in the shops, and Sunday afternoon drives to Germany because all goods were cheaper in the massive republic,
murder for those same readily available goods was now becoming the norm. It was an anomaly that a sociologist somewhere would one day get to the bottom of, Michal unfortunately not being a sociologist. Michal opened the ‗murder book.‘ It was a black and white American marble notebook. Carrying them around wasn‘t normal in the Czech Republic for police detectives. In fact, it was unheard of. But Michal had read about them in America. While Michal‘s wife had taken back from their twoyear stint in America a longing for suburban houses of ant-like conformity, a need for winner takes all, and a desire to work for a company that gave out rugby shirts that housed the company‘s logo on the right hand breast, Michal had taken back a sense of American justice. Well, perhaps the myth of it, as he lived in America and was witness to the OJ Simpson free pass on a double murder trial and the odd American Republican obsession with bringing down their own nation‘s Democratic president for getting a blowjob and achieving orgasm during it. But, for Michal at least, there was some sort of myth to the American cop, detective, agent, a yin and yang if you were, or a ‗what goes around comes around‘ karma to the American system that seemed, to Michal at least, to be lacking in Europe. Of course, Michal‘s only real exposure to American crime was via the nightly news at first, a dubious American showcase of its ideals of long sentences, bring down the president, and this goes against God and country code that made him confused in his aunt and uncle‘s Chicago home. But then Michal happened upon a Michael Connelly novel. Michal remembered that he had solely picked up the book in the local stationary store because they both bore the same first name. But after the first few chapters Michal was addicted. He fell madly, and dare he say it, pathetically in love with Connelly‘s dark detective Hieronymus Bosch, a character that the author used over and over again. And while Michal‘s professors droned on about American men of letters like Poe, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, Michal stayed up till the wee hours in the morning reading as Hieronymous Bosch solved crime after crime in the seedy Californian city that was LA, a city far removed from Michal‘s aunt and uncle‘s lily-white suburban Chicago digs. But Michal could honestly say that everything he learned about being a cop, everything that made him one of the most successful detectives in Prague, everything that he was today, was due to that American dark horse detective who, in the era of OJ and blowjobs as a crime, sometimes bent the rules to get the job done. And it was Michael Connelly who had told him about the American ‗murder book,‘ a musthave for a detective if there ever was one. The murder book was where a detective took notes, and Michal had very few notes. He had been called to the scene late, the initial police officers on the scene stupidly focusing all their attention on a Prague permanent resident whose passport said that he was an Irish citizen though he was born in New York. The dual citizen had been walking through the park that was next to the fairgrounds with his three year old son when he came across the body. Obviously, the Irish-American had taken action and called the cops, though the police officers seriously believed that he could not be both an Irish and an American citizen and this fact made him a suspect. Thankfully, while the two cops were interrogating and harassing the Irish-American about his mother‘s ability to spread her legs in New York and produce a European, a third cop arrived on the scene and took pictures. It was these pictures that Michal had been meaning to study when his wife interrupted him to tell him she was once again going to go out and get laid without telling him that she was going out to get laid. Michal, ignoring the bitterness that had settled between him and his wife since their daughter‘s birth, once again laid the photos on the table. Their order was random, Michal not so much looking for a pattern so much as he looked for differences. The photographer was good. Brilliant, actually. He took photos both of the victim, and the crowd that had gathered. Michal could immediately recognize the carnies by their toothless grins and ‗flood‘ pants. They were of a tribe that always
looked bitter, but not a one of them stood out. None bore a knife in their hands like Saint Peter seemed to continuously do in paintings of the Last Supper. They all just looked like carnival folk, all present willing to trick you for a dime. Michal continued to scan the random photos, up, down, left, right, when he noticed something in one photo that didn‘t appear in the next. In a photo of the dead gypsy, who seemed to have died like a victim of Mount Vesuvius uncovered at Pompeii, there was a doll‘s hand in the bottom right hand corner of one photo. In a later photo, one seemingly taken after a bunch of snaps of the carnie crowd, the doll‘s hand is gone. Michal‘s initial reaction was that one of the cops must have moved or even taken the Angel Lite doll, after all, a bazaar in the city center would pay pretty good cash for one of the talking toys. But then Michal noticed that in yet another photo, the doll was further up the leg, Angel Lite‘s light golden hair, raggedy clothes, and two tiny wings evident. Either the cops had been moving the doll up and down the body, using her for measurement and the like, or . . . a chill came over Michal then. His daughter seemed to be breathing heavier than usual. She sounded winded, tired. He suddenly felt very frightened that something was wrong with his daughter. He lifted up the baby monitor and put it next to his ear. Her breathing was harsh. He stood up and felt as if an ice cube had just slid down his back. It was a sentiment that was exasperated when he heard through the baby monitor, ―you hate me and you don‘t yet know what I can do. But I know what to do to make you love me.‖ Michal, who never left his gun in the house unless he was present, withdrew it and ran inside his house to his daughter‘s room. *** Michal switched on lights throughout the house as he ran up the stairs from the storage and wine cellar that led out to his garden into the main family area of the house. The house had been a fixerupper, as had been most things after the communist regime collapsed, but Michal wanted it, and back then his wife wasn‘t so easily swayed by her work colleagues that ‗new‘ was better. But of course, after the satellites were built, his wife felt that they weren‘t conforming to some image she had suddenly dreamt up. Their house was built against the side of a plateau, the original builders, at least one hundred years in their graves, knowing how dangerous that creek could be and wanting to protect their living quarters from flood. The new satellites were quite simply insured up the yazoo. Michal entered the main hallway. He had lowered his gun and set its sights on any and all blind spots around the house. It was empty. Michal listened for any sound other than his daughter‘s sleeping, though even that was now silent, the heavy, winded, throaty sounds having disappeared. He threw open the door to his daughter‘s room and did a quick scan, he training the gun under his daughter‘s bed, in the wardrobe and even on the small boxes where she kept her toys. There was no one in there. He looked back at the baby monitor and noticed that the Angel Lite doll was sitting next to it, he legs spread, her head tilted to the left. Michal, seeing nothing out of order, ran out of the room to search the other rooms of the house, his own bedroom, the kitchen, and the pantry. Had someone been in the house? His daughter was able to communicate, granted, but she was unable to understand even remotely the concept of ‗love,‘ let alone, ‗hate.‘ But there was no one in the house, and Michal oddly felt, as he had convinced himself that good cops were predisposed to sense certain changes in the air that hinted that a crime had taken place, there never was. Either he had dreamt the voice coming across the baby monitor, Michal having spent much of the day in the blazing hot sun studying the crime scene, or someone was fucking with his head, his wife being a suspect, granted, though he and her weren‘t of the sort to mess around with each other psychologically. They just messed around on each other.
Michal again walked downstairs into his cellar and wine storage. He again thought of his earlier sentiment about cops just knowing things and knew that his assessment was right. Nothing had changed in his house since he had arrived home earlier. He thought of the hundreds of times that he and his partner had been called to an apartment building or a house and had both known through instinct that something foul had occurred in this building, as if the house sent out a vibe that they both understood. The sensation was not that much different than what Michal felt before his first kiss with Andrea. It was odd how he still remembered the knotting of the stomach, the tightening of the bowels, a slight sickness that made him both woozy and hungry with anticipation simultaneously, but that was exactly what love and death felt like for him. But today his house wasn‘t telling him anything, and it told him a lot. It conveyed when his wife had had her lover over, it ratted out little gifts that the guy had bought her, and it showed him over and over again that his marriage was over. Michal looked back at the tell-tale house and wondered once again if he had dozed out here in his garden and dreamt up the whole thing. ―I can save your marriage you know. Once again make you, your wife and your family whole.‖ Michal sprinted back inside, this time his only stop was to bend over and grab the baby monitor lest there were any other messages while he entered the home. There weren‘t. The lights were still on throughout the house, but Michal knew he was making a rookie cop‘s error not checking for blind spots. He charged right into his daughter‘s room, the banging open door causing his daughter to jump up like a jack in the box. She studied her father, and, more than likely sensing his nervousness and anxiety, burst into tears. Michal didn‘t console his daughter. His wife had often pointed out that he had good maternal instincts, that he had this magical ability to calm their child no matter what the situation. It was a gift that had shown through on the night of Zuzka‘s delivery, when mom, famished, tired, and in shock, passed the crying little girl to dad who hummed their baby to sleep. Zuzka was the glue that held them together. Though Zuzka‘s birth only served to exasperate their differences, Andrea taking their daughter shopping, to the malls, and to parties in the Spanish houses where each child was a fashion clone of what could be bought on a yuppie weekend shopping spree in New York. He, on the other hand, enjoyed hiking in the woods, teaching their daughter sport, and quiet weekends with the family, all things which were interrupted by a shopping trip announcement. But right now, Michal wasn‘t even seeing or hearing his daughter. All he noticed was that the doll, Angel Lite, who had sat on the wardrobe with her head tilted to the left, was gone. *** Michal sat in the living room of his house. His daughter, after a tall glass of warm milk and a children‘s version of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, one in which grandma does not end up in the wolf‘s stomach, but is instead locked in the kitchen by the wolf where she has to make cakes, had passed out twenty minutes ago. Michal knew that his daughter was exhausted, her eyes closing even though dad‘s voice trailed off as he thought of yet another spot where the doll might currently be. But after his daughter had fallen into a deep slumber, he searched the room and realized that the doll had indeed disappeared. Michal checked his phone. Ten o‘clock. He remembered that his aunt and uncle in America used to take ten pm phone calls from their jobs. But in Europe that was still considered the ultimate no-no. Michal just had one question to ask his colleague, and though he knew he was breaking decorum, he dialed his partner‘s number, the other man having spent the afternoon interviewing the gypsy clan to which the dead woman, Romana Rychla was associated. Both knew it was a waste of time, Michal
harassed the carnies to no end about what they saw or heard, only to be told, ―she died where we usually walk our dogs.‖ The location of the body showed disrespect, Michal noted in his murder book. Though which carnie had decided to show such vulgarity was not revealed, Michal speculated that perhaps the carnies didn‘t like the gypsies selling on their turf, and that they had done this as a warning. Michal exhaled deeply as he went to the food storage past their living room and removed a brick where he had secreted a stash of cigarettes. He pulled one from the pack and lit it. He had gone downstairs and picked up the photos and the murder book, taking the baby monitor with him to listen for any strange voices and now, after the initial pull on the cigarette, he felt like he was looking at things with a new energy. ―This is David Eckstein,‖ a voice said. There was a pause while David checked the caller ID. ―Michal?‖ David‘s voice said into the phone. ―Yes, David, it‘s me. Sorry to be calling so late,‖ Michal said, finishing his note on this murder perhaps being a turf murder, the carnies usually controlling what was sold and for how much on the large fairgrounds. ―No problem. Is something wrong?‖ The head of detectives had given them a week to look into the murder and to make sure that the killing was a one-off and not gang related. David was of course used to hearing from Michal late at night, but usually those were a murder has been committed calls. David was not expecting any evening calls until their week was up. ―Well, I was wondering about the gypsy clan. Did you get a chance to speak to them?‖ ―Umm, yeah,‖ David said, sounding nervous. Michal realized that his late hour call would seem to Europeans as if their work, and thereby their work ethic, was being questioned. This was especially true in countries that were occupied by the Nazi and the communist regimes where one‘s loyalty to the state was always presented as being in doubt. Michal knew that this was not true in America, and for some that late night phone call was emblematic of being important or needed. It was one of the things Michal‘s aunt and uncle could never bring their heads around, when the fascists and the communists controlled Europe standing out and being called upon was usually the worst thing in the world that could happen. ―I spoke with the head of the family as well.‖ ―Good. Look. My wife. The reason I am calling is my wife saw the gypsy woman, actually bought a doll off her at the fairgrounds,‖ Michal said, realizing his wife‘s actions had actually given him the perfect excuse to call so late. ―Oh great,‖ David said, seeming relieved. How many times had Michal heard the tale of the American multinational who arrives in France, Poland, the Czech Republic and works his damnedest to befriend his colleagues who treat his invites out as an American trying to pry information from his workers, of how if they do get seen in a pub with their American boss, they are treated as rats and informants, the level of mistrust between a higher up who treats everyone with a smile and a chagrin, and the workers who just want to feed their families almost palpable. Michal, with his late night call, now felt like that American businessman. ―Yes,‖ Michal went on. ―Andrea met her at ten o‘clock that morning.‖ ―Well, that gives us a time frame,‖ David said, flipping through the pages of his own notebook. It was a small simple flip up notebook, the type that cops used in those old shows like Colombo. Michal could hear David writing some notes down with a pencil, a definite no-no in Michael Connelly‘s world, as a pencil could be erased and a defense attorney could say that the pencil was used by a detective who liked changing his thoughts, and perhaps the evidence, of the case. ―Did you see her?‖ David asked.
Michal was thrown by the question. ―Where?‖ ―Oh yeah. Sorry. That was between partners,‖ David whispered, as if someone was listening on another line, something the mobile was meant to prevent. ―Anyway, your wife saw her at ten and the Irish-American who confused the hell out of those two beat cops saw her at just past twelve. Prague is a small city. I am sure someone else must have seen her besides your wife.‖ Michal nodded, even though he was holding the phone. It had been over an hour since his daughter had gone back to sleep. Michal was wondering what the ‗between partners‘ reference had meant. Michal decided not to pursue it. He wanted to get his partner off the phone before the man accused him of being SS or STB. ―Umm, one last thing. And you may think me crazy, but were the gypsy clan associated with magic? You know, black magic, dolls, that type of thing?‖ Michal looked over at the baby monitor as he asked that, almost expecting it to speak out to him again. The machine kept quiet. His daughter was a silent sleeper. Even if they put the monitor right on top of her they would barely hear her unless she was sick with a stuffed up nose. Thankfully she was at the stage where they just had to listen for her to call out her needs rather than guessing, though their daughter‘s infant years had been years where they read incessantly of child deaths and sweated through nights of silence until one of them would crack and simply sleep on the floor lest something happened to her. Nothing ever did, though Michal should have guessed then that he and his wife were clinging desperately to the one thing that held them together via their anxieties, instead of accepting the reality that they needed to be apart. ―I don‘t know if the term is still used or if it‘s something I‘m creating in my head,‖ Michal went on, ―but gypsy magic?‖ David laughed into the phone. It was an obnoxious laugh. ―Sorry Michal. You are the most politically correct policeman on the force. You are the last person I would have expected to use such a term.‖ Michal leaned forward on the couch. The term was not something that Michal would never enter into his murder book unless it turned out that the clan was into such things. It was such an odd thing to place there. David laughed again. This time the laugh let Michal know that gypsy magic was not a clan specialty. Michal had misjudged his partner‘s laughter to being about his usage of an old fashioned, politically incorrect term, not about using something that didn‘t exist. ―I think the last person to use the term gypsy magic was dressed in black in the 1940‘s, had a red arm band around his arm, the letters SS on his lapel, and clicked his heels together in worship of a man with a small moustache.‖ ―OK, so I used the wrong term.‖ ―No, it‘s the right term. It is just now it solely pops up in bad American movies, bad American books and lovesick American pop songs. It doesn‘t exist. If it did, I am sure Hitler would have bitten it a lot earlier than he did.‖ Michal nodded. After World War II, Europe became the land of cynics. God, special powers, witchcraft, the devil, and magic were all vanquished with the collapse of the German army. An age of reason bloomed, one where such strange terms as gypsy magic were mocked. ―So what does her clan do?‖ ―Well, according to the files, which I have here on the couch,‖ David said, letting Michal know that he wasn‘t the only one who worked late, ―they were ‗bad‘ gypsies.‖ David had paused on that last comment, waiting for Michal to deem that comment disgusting. It was as politically correct as many
on the police force got, declaring that not all gypsies were bad. The same applied to Arabs, blacks, Muslims, Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews, and any other group that wasn‘t in the Prague majority: Czech. Michal knew that it made it easier for the police force to digest what it was that some people did to each other, but still, Michal liked to imagine people as they were: individuals. ―And?‖ ―And well. They were criminals. The clan specialized in break ins and pushing stolen goods. Warehouses mostly. Every person I met today had a record and had been caught at least three times. They‘re incurable thieves. Their latest heist was a shipment of toys heading to Tesco. Boom. A whole batch of Angel Lites and Angel Darks vanish. Went into the clan‘s apartment block in Prague V and guess what, each and every gypsy child is playing with, one hundred and fifty dollar a pop Angel Lite and Dark dolls. I could never afford them on what I make.‖ ―Me neither, though my wife just bought one of off Romana Rychla.‖ ―Oh shit. The dead gypsy. At ten?‖ ―Yeah, it gave her a scare to see the picture.‖ ―Well, tell your wife that this murder seemed a little bit psychopathic to me. That it doesn‘t look like it was some creep trying to net as many Angel Lite dolls as possible.‖ ―You think that?‖ ―No, but that‘s what you should tell your wife,‖ David laughed. ―Anyway, what was with the magic angle?‖ Michal thought for a few minutes nervously. He had no excuse for asking it and as Michal was one of the few people in the department who tried not to pre-judge the entire Romany community, his naivety of the gypsy community would be suspect at best. ―Well, I was just wondering if maybe she worked with both the gypsies and the carnies. You know. Maybe she told fortunes at a carnie booth or something.‖ ―Well, that‘s reaching. Those two subcultures despise each other. They‘re both travelers, Misa. While we civilized people fight to hold onto our property, and our taxes, and our high gas and electric bills, they fight against people trying to take them off the open road. Those bastards were all born free.‖ ―You can say that again.‖ ―See you tomorrow?‖ ―Hope so,‖ Michal said, pushing the red end call button on his phone and again wondering about the doll. Michal put the phone down on the coffee table and it buzzed harshly. He knew it was the message center delivering him a message. He went to open it. He saw he had three missed calls. The phone started ringing again before Michal could wonder who would be calling him at ten fifteen at night. He opened the phone and heard his wife screaming into the phone. Michal jumped up and ran into he and his wife‘s bedroom, his mind reacting to the blood curdling pleas as if his wife was in the other room and that there had been no phone call, when he suddenly remembered where his wife was. She was at her lover‘s house. And based on the every other word, hyperventilating cries of his wife, there was blood everywhere. ***
Michal stood above his wife. He had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. It was six am. She was naked and curled up in a ball on their bed. Michal had taken her home at eleven o‘clock the night before, bathed her and then gave her a couple of sedatives to calm her down. He had wrapped her up tightly in her thick, wooly and expensive Mark‘s and Spenser‘s bath towel and placed her in bed. Michal, as had been their past three years tradition had gone to sleep on the living room pull-out couch, continuously leaving one ear cocked for an approaching doll, but at three am it wasn‘t a doll that traipsed into the room. It was his wife, who pulled him from the floor and brought him to bed. Just hold me, she had begged, but then they made love like two ravenous creatures that had been kept apart by a solid brick wall. Now, here in bed, she no longer looked like the sex machine who had laid him twice, her howls echoing off the bare walls that was their home, nearly devoid of love or life for the past few years, nor did she look like the rich, stuck up multinational who loved team building weekends and who had dedicated his space in the bed to her job and every now and then, her lover. She looked vulnerable, weak, exposed. Her long black hair lay thrown behind her in a plume, her hands were gripped tightly in front of herself in prayer, or, as if she was about to suck her thumb. Michal took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew skyward. He had waited years for this. Even from the time before their child. He had looked and looked and looked for the girl who had been naked and exposed in the fields and plains of the Czech Republic and now he finally had her. She no longer bore the logos, the trademarks, or the brands that she had borne proudly since their return from America, and he loved her again. Michal thought for a minute about how to pay back her allowing herself to be so open and he ripped out a sheet of notebook paper from his murder book and wrote, ―I have to work. Duty calls. I called in sick for you. Stay home and take care of Zuzka,‖ then, after a three second battle with allowing himself to be weak, or with keeping the note professional as it had been up to this point, ―I love you, Misa.‖ Michal had just put the note on his pillow. He was stepping around his wife‘s office papers that had been thrown all over the floor before their love making, when his phone vibrated. He hadn‘t received a text. That he knew. It was his partner, waiting for him outside. Michal kissed his hand and gently placed it on his wife‘s thigh. Then he left his wife. He ran down the hall to his daughter‘s room and suddenly realized that this is what he had always wanted: his family to be together, to struggle together against sickness and to play together in health, to live, sleep, eat, drink, and even wish each other a nice day before leaving. He didn‘t want to be judged, not by his wife, not by the Spanish homes people and their corporate rugby jerseys, nor by his wife‘s colleagues. They had come from a country of nothing, where all families had were each other, and now, with his wife awakening in a room covered in the blood of her lover, she needed him. He realized that he needed her, too, not due to guilt or conscience, but because he simply loved her. He ducked his head into his daughter‘s room and noticed that the doll was sitting on the wardrobe, as she had been when he was out in the garden. Of course one major change was that her head, which had been tilted to the left, now hung right. The other was that a streak of blood now coated her right cheek. Michal picked the doll up and studied it. ―Nice day out, isn‘t it,‖ the doll asked upon being lifted. ―So nice that I think I am going to be sick,‖ Michal retorted. The doll laughed a cute little doll laugh. It sent a chill running down Michal‘s spine. Michal felt a buzz in his pocket again where he had his phone and realized that his partner was still waiting, and that his partner, who wouldn‘t have had to be in the office until nine, would be pissed that Michal had phoned him at five am and told him to come by his house. Michal put the Angel Lite doll down, taking a minute to wipe the blood streak from the doll‘s face. The doll made no further comments about the day, or about his family life for that matter. She just
looked like an ordinary doll. Michal tilted the doll‘s head back to the right, Michal finding that position safer than the left and walked out of his daughter‘s room. He ran down to the front door and out and into his partner‘s car. His partner turned and stared. He looked groggy and more or less generally pissed. ―A ten pm phone call I can handle. Five am is pushing it.‖ Michal nodded, feeling yet another vibration. Michal took out his phone and saw that he had three texts from his partner. ‗I‘m here.‘, ‗Where are you?‘, and ‗Where the fuck are you?‘ ―You are a university grad and this is the best you can come up with?‖ ―At six am consider yourself lucky I didn‘t throw rocks at your window. Big rocks would go through your window.‖ Michal looked down at the phone and saw that he had three messages. He remembered they were from his wife. With a tightening in his stomach he decided to play them, Michal already knowing what they would be. But the first call wasn‘t what he expected. He had expected it to be his wife screaming her head off about blood, and making pleas to God intermingled with whispers that defied logic. But this was the doll‘s voice. ―From where I am I can see your wife. She has just fucked her lover. Fucked him so well that she is falling asleep in his arms. When she sleeps I shall do you a favor and kill this son of a bitch.‖ The voice cut off and Michal heard the ping of metal, knowing that that clang sound was the sound of metal being withdrawn from the kitchen‘s knife block. Michal found his wife in the room of her lover, who had been stabbed at least seventeen times. Being a cop, he had instinctively done a preliminary count. Moving his wife to her lover‘s living room, he went through the house with a bath towel and wiped everything down that he had touched and searched for the weapon that had been used to kill a man who Michal realized was his wife‘s work colleague. It was only one small step until Michal found that the weapon that had been used was a regular kitchen knife. Though Michal saw the block where the blade had been removed from, he never found it, but that ping sound was where the phone cut off, the doll ending the call ominously there. The next two calls were from his crying and pleading wife. Though just three minutes before Michal would have played these messages with a heartfelt sympathy and an empathy that would have expressed love and remorse for what they as a couple had been, after the doll‘s message, Michal felt angry and manipulated. ―So what is this about?‖ Michal‘s partner David demanded. Michal had been giving instructions to his partner, telling him to turn left, right, and then left with his hands while he listened to the three messages. Finally they were in front of one of the old estates, a house not unlike Michal‘s except it was completely and professionally remodeled, had been painted a sickening pink color, and had three Mercedes Benz‘s parked before it. While the Czechs who were moving outside of Prague to the satellites in droves demanded new, the Russians wanted old and classical with new touches. This house not only screamed Russian, its security cameras, Dobermans, and two armed men standing before the front gate of the gated estate screamed Russian Mafia. ―Stop here,‖ Michal said to the suddenly speeding up David. ―What? Are you fucking with me? This is Boris . . . Boris . . . ‖ ―Petrovich,‖ Michal filled in.
―Petrovich‘s house? What the hell do you want to stop here for?‖ ―I need a favor, and in our country, this is who you go to for favors,‖ Michal said, as they got out of the car simultaneously, David sprinting around and standing before Michal. ―Michal, Michal, listen to me. These guys, they don‘t fuck around. I was in gangs and organized crime, remember? And they, they,‖ he repeated, pointing to the bright pink house that was owned by the mafia, ―had me booted over to homicide not because I am a bad cop, but because I was a good cop. Do you understand? The Russian mob runs everything here.‖ Michal nodded both his understanding and agreement. Boris Petrovich lived in Hostivice, just like Michal, although his residence was on the other side of town, nearer to Prague and the Lake District. Boris wasn‘t a mob boss, per se, so much as he was a man who collected information on people, and not just a few people in politics, either. Boris knew who were up-and-comers in law enforcement and had a dossier on Michal and his mistresses, most of who also moonlighted as prostitutes in the city of Prague‘s bustling nightclub scene. And while David was a good cop, he also had bills to pay, and so he looked the other way a few times for a price. The pity was that he was looking the other way while a camera was snapping shots of his eyes being where they shouldn‘t be, but David‘s crimes weren‘t large enough to ruin his career and the Russian mob, among others, despised David for that. So, as they had enough on the head of detectives, they got him to send David to homicide. Neither David nor Michal were surprised by the transfer and Michal actually enjoyed finally having a partner who mostly did things on the right side of the law. Of course, corruption and life in the former Soviet Bloc went hand in hand, and Michal oftentimes laughed at the inordinate number of times Czechs had claimed offense with the American media‘s usage of the term ―Eastern Europe‖ when referring to the Czech Republic, a nation which sat perfectly between the Western European nations of Germany and Austria. Michal had often felt like screaming, if you want to be in Western Europe, act like a Western European, but Michal knew his people. Bribery, blackmail, corruption, all were as ordinary to them as the sunrise and the sunset. Though they liked the idea of Western Europeanism, they preferred to secretly hold hands with men like Boris Petrovich and his filing cabinets on anyone and everyone in Prague. Michal led the way, David staying a bit behind. ―I won‘t introduce you. I don‘t have to,‖ David pointed out. ―No you don‘t, but as my partner, I want you to hear what I am about to tell Boris. Andrea and I might be put away for a long time.‖ David completely stopped. Michal turned around. They were only a few feet from the two security guards, both of whom stood stock still, as if they were castle guards. Both men could recognize and smell cops from a mile off. Neither man was going to stop them. In fact, they would enjoy just letting them in. Cops usually came to Boris for a payout, or for a job. Boris had plenty of jobs for everyone, none of which were legal. The two cops studied each other for a long moment, neither cop desiring to explain things further in front of the two guards. Michal finally huffed and walked to the gate. He turned the latch and the gate opened. The dogs, at least six of them, began to charge, but then stopped and turned heading towards the back garden. Michal turned and saw that one of the guards had had a dog whistle, the dogs obviously trained to listen for the sound that told them friend not foe. Michal and David walked up to the front stoop where the door was immediately opened by a short, stout man in a V-neck sweater and turtleneck who was obviously a very early riser. Word on the street was that the sixty-five year old man had been a boxer. The street lied. The truth was he had
been a sports journalist under the Soviet regime, writing for the Russian communist papers before immigrating to the Czech Republic. Sports journalism was a dream job under communism. It was one of the few jobs where the writer was entitled to an opinion. That made it hard to get. A westerner might assume that the reason Boris was so good at digging up dirt on Czech politicians and law enforcement personnel was because he had developed his talents researching and studying sports figures and their histories. Someone raised under the regime, as Michal was, knew differently. Boris had earned his place by muckraking on his colleagues, finding out information about coworkers and friends and reporting them to the state until there was no one left to take the sports writer‘s position but himself. But when Michal had first met the former writer who supposedly had made the trek west to Prague as his many enemies in Moscow were hunting him down, he had imagined him as looking something akin to a rat. Now, upon closer inspection, and upon meeting the man at his home, Michal saw a hawk. And oddly, it made Michal feel like he was the rat. ―Michal Pitrik, David Eckstein,‖ the Russian mob‘s info man generously greeted as if he had a large buffet waiting for them inside. ―I haven‘t killed anybody in years. To what do I owe the pleasure?‖ There seemed to have been truth in Boris statement about there having been a sabbatical from the most famous of the Russian Mafia‘s criminal pursuits, though Michal didn‘t ask any follow up questions. He saw the Russian‘s face turn grim as he realized that they needed to speak to him alone, though the Russian seemed to be wondering what it was about. Michal realized that the man had two sons, and that maybe the Russian thought that something happened to them. After all, the, ‗we don‘t murder any families in our mob‘ made for great copy when you were trying to create the American likeable bad guys, but the reality was much different. The mob was about power, and the best way to achieve that was by wiping out all present and future enemies, a son being a favorite target of the mobs. Boris, still deep in contemplation, led them into a side room. It was a small, simple room, with an antique, Baroque desk, a desk lamp and three chairs, one behind the desk and two in front. There was a large framed painting of a beautiful woman that hung on the wall behind Boris as he took his seat. It was the man‘s wife. Michal took a seat before the desk. David, expressing his displeasure with a loud exhale, reluctantly took the other one. The act of annoyance on David‘s part seemed to relax the Russian, he seeing that this wasn‘t about his family. ―Gentlemen, what is it you want?‖ It was David who spoke. After all, David had met Boris when he was in gangs, and what Boris said was true, he hadn‘t been the point man in a murder in years. Boris was a brain, and he was the type of brain all mob families wanted alive because if, say Romana Rychla‘s clan began to get harassed by the police department‘s theft and fraud divisions, they could call a meeting with the Russian mobs and the Russian mobs could dig through their files and come up with dirt on the detectives in charge and get them to back off. It also served to protect the Russian mob from judges and politicians, all of whom tended to pretend that the organization did not exist. David explained, in both Czech and English that it was Michal who called the meeting, that David‘s hands were clean of the whole affair and that he knew nothing. The Russian‘s eyebrows rose at the fact that Michal called the meeting and Michal felt himself blush. He knew he was doing wrong here. The Russian turned and stared at Michal, ―OK, speak.‖ Michal didn‘t know where to begin, so he started with the file that Boris had on him, of his liaisons with ladies of the night who were in the employ of the Russians. The Russian didn‘t smile. He didn‘t even look proud that he had taken that information down. This was, after all, the Czech Republic, not America. Sleeping with prostitutes was legal, though embarrassing if one was a married man. In other words, it was not enough for Boris and his organization to fry Michal should
they need to, but Michal was about to not only give the Russian Mafia enough to make him toast, but was also about to climb into the toaster and pull down the lever himself. For a second, he pondered if saving his wife was worth it. He knew it was, and he knew there was only one organization that could make all the horrific events of last night disappear. It was an organization that Boris served with gusto. ―I have come to you because you are already a man who can ruin me. There is a man, a dead man, and I need to get rid of the body,‖ Michal said in Czech, not English. Most Russian gangsters did their business with the young, post-communist, must-study-English-insecondary-school generation. Boris, as an information gatherer, had learned Czech and spoke it fluently. Of course David, who rose up in gangs, still spoke solely English to the members of the Russian crime world to show that this was business, not personal. Michal went on to explain how neither he nor his wife had murdered the man, but that his wife had fallen asleep at her lover‘s and had woken up in his blood. The Russian again kept his same manner, waiting patiently for Michal to sum up. Michal again reminded him that neither he nor his wife killed the guy. ―He was shot?‖ Boris asked. Michal felt a sweat coat his body. Michal did not know what to expect when he and his partner pulled up here, but he was hoping that the Russian could have simply said ―yes‖ and then that was that. David, on the other hand, was staring at Michal in shock. Michal cast him a look that said he had no choice turning to the big Russian. The body was in a house in the middle of a satellite village. People would see Michal and would note his comings and goings. The Russian had the clout and the power to get the Hostivice cops to look the other way if someone saw something, and knew how to make bodies completely disappear, a notion that disgusted Michal to no end. But still, with David‘s look and the Russian‘s questioning, Michal suddenly felt as if he were on trial. ―No. Stabbed,‖ Michal pointed out. ―How many times?‖ ―A lot. I didn‘t count. I wasn‘t thinking like a cop. I was thinking about how to keep my wife out of prison.‖ ―Your wife‘s lover was stabbed a lot. More than ten times?‖ ―Yes. Maybe even twenty.‖ ―So this was personal?‖ Michal nodded. It was all he could do. He worked homicide. He knew that a person who had been savagely and repeatedly stabbed was usually killed by either someone who knew them or a ruthless psychopath. Michal was not going to tell Boris that it was an inanimate object that did it. That it was a doll that last night he thought might, just might, be the victim of gypsy magic. ―Ha!‖ Boris called out. ―Oh beautiful! Oh, if only it was two days ago! I could have given you the promotion!‖ ―Promotion? What?‖ ―The police in Prague needed a new head of detectives. Of course I went with Detective Sultz. Mainly because he is a kiss ass, but also because we have enough on him to put him in prison forever, and well, he is weak. . .‖ Boris paused for thought. ―But this. You, your wife, in a room, with a dead body that could be the victim of a lover‘s spat. Oh, priceless.‖
―We didn‘t do it!‖ Michal yelled, at the same time disgusted with Czech politics. The person who got the promotion, Sultz, was an idiot. He couldn‘t solve an ages three to five jigsaw puzzle, but as the Mafia and the politicians had enough to fry him, Sultz gets moved to a position where he could be moved like a mannequin. Meanwhile he and David are left looking up at the head detective who probably trained the two idiots who thought an Irish American with his three year old son must have killed the gypsy because the passport was inconsistent, that someone born in New York couldn‘t be Irish. ―I believe you. And that body? Don‘t worry, it‘s gone.‖ ―I didn‘t even tell you the address,‖ Michal said as Boris picked up a phone and dialed. The Russian held up his hand to stop Michal from talking, after which he proceeded to tell in Czech the address of his wife‘s lover. The Russian said a few good-byes and hung up the phone. It was then that Michal realized that the Russian not only collected info on potential enemies in the state and in the police department, but also on their families. ―So what is the cost of this favor?‖ Michal asked when Boris had turned off the handheld phone and leaned back, smiling. The Russian pulled out an envelope opener and started to pick at the dirt under his fingers. ―I will come to you. I see a bright political future for you now, Michal, a very bright political future.‖ ―There is no evidence I was there,‖ Michal said, realizing that he may be giving up his wife. ―I made sure of that.‖ ―Oh I know. But this is still Europe. Though we do our best to be secular, we love confessing. We‘re all still Christian like that, don‘t you think? I watch the American news and see their politicians denying, and denying, and then denying again everything that they have ever done. Here, in Europe, you say, ‗Did you steal that money?‘ And the idiot says, ‗yes.‘‖ ―I am not denying or confessing anything. I didn‘t do anything.‖ ―I know. But Sultz has done a lot in his career and look at him. He‘s the head of detectives. You, you are innocent and you and your friend David are always one step away from losing your jobs because someone in my organization thinks you are getting too close. Better to join the dark side in the Czech Republic. More money. More bonuses. And you get esteem. ― Michal stood up. David followed. ―Believe me when I say this is as close to the dark side as I get. ― Boris didn‘t get up to walk the detectives out. He just sat in his chair smiling. Michal hated that smile. He left the pink house. *** Michal awoke. He had often left his phone on vibrate and he had just been awoken from a slumber because his phone had been doing just that, but he had left his phone in the living room. Still, it was impossible for him not to hear the sounds of the phone maneuvering on the wood of his coffee table in his bedroom. Michal reached over to the bedside table for his watch, to the place where he used to keep it when he shared this bed with his wife regularly. Michal realized that the watch was also in the living room. Everything was actually left in the living room, Michal and his wife having made love like savage animals once it was clear their daughter had fallen asleep. Then, when he thought he was spent, they came in here and made love again, with even more passion. It was incredible, and Michal solely felt distracted from the beauty that was his wife once, when he realized
how different their love making had become over the past two days. They had taken away each other‘s virginities, and they had had sex while they were sleeping with others, but that had fallen into a routine, they choosing and using the positions and the methods that had satisfied the other when they were eighteen year old kids making love by a creek out in the Bohemian forests. But now, both of them were using the experiences learned on others on each other, and the sex was unimaginably wild. So wild, that Michal found himself considering ignoring the late evening phone call and having another go at his wife, but he didn‘t. The house of her lover had ‗mysteriously‘ caught fire earlier in the evening and the media were reporting that the Hostivice police department were calling it an electrical fire, an obvious touch planted by Boris to celebrate the fact that he had yet another of the police department‘s best and brightest in his pocket. Nervousness about Boris‘ power over him forced Michal to answer his phone, knowing that his wife and his exploring their new found lust wasn‘t yet done. Michal picked up the phone. While calling your partner past ten pm to ask him follow up questions on a case was a cardinal sin in Europe, calling about a fresh murder was not. Michal was about to play the message box when the phone rang in his hands. Michal jumped, realizing he was standing in the dark in a house that he believed that he shared with a maniacal doll. Michal hit the green answer button immediately upon seeing the caller was David. ―Hello,‖ Michal said into the phone, Michal also reaching down and sliding on his watch. He and his wife had fallen asleep in each other‘s arms around eleven. It was now four thirty in the morning. ―Michal, do you get TV 24?‖ David said, without any form of greeting. Michal didn‘t respond. Instead he looked around for the remote and flipped the TV on. It had been under his wife‘s sundress. Again Michal felt the lust rising in his body. He had seen his wife undress a million times, even after the passion between them had died. But tonight was the first time his wife had ever removed her sundress by pulling it downwards instead of up and over her head. It was a simple thing, but Michal couldn‘t help but once again feel aroused by the exposure he had to her breasts first, as if she had taken an erotic dance class, rather than just seeing her naked and willing to take it as had become their routine. Michal flipped up and down the channels, Michal knowing that everyone in the Czech Republic got TV 24, the Czech 24 hour news program. David, who still lived in Prague city proper and hadn‘t fled to the countryside like Prague‘s gangster and multinational community, just assumed that everyone out of Prague lived like the Czech people did under communism, with two TV channels that repeatedly told people the projected amount of shoes that were to be produced by the great Soviet state in the coming year. ―I got it,‖ Michal said, watching as the score of an Under 17 soccer match played out with the actual play happening in the backdrop. The Czechs beat the Russians easily, Michal saw, which made sense as Russia was like America in the sense that soccer was not their sport. But the announcer was reporting the game as if this was the Czech Republic‘s crowning achievement. ―Here it is,‖ David said. ―Today in Hostivice, Prague VII, Detective Daniel Sultz, soon to be Head Detective Daniel Sultz was found butchered by a man walking his dogs at three am.‖ ―Fuck me,‖ Michal said. ―Yes, I know,‖ David said, regret in his voice. ―I just got a call from the former head of detectives. He wants us dressed and in Prague VII in twenty minutes.‖
―I understand,‖ Michal said, staring at the cordoned off riverside street where the murder had occurred. Michal knew the street well. There had been a few mob rub outs there, and two of Prague‘s most bustling clubs and one extremely bustling whorehouse resided there as well. One would think the area would be seedy, but it was actually a boomtown of new homes, cafes and restaurants. ―Did Sultz live in Prague VII?‖ Michal asked, this being the lone question to occur to him. ―No. He was a suburbanite, somewhat like you, just on the opposite end of the city.‖ ―Damn,‖ Michal said, about them ending up with the case. Michal already knew Sultz was a Prague V cop, working in one of the most corrupted and corruptible districts in the city. Michal suddenly felt as if he would miss his gypsy case. At least they had an excuse as to why the gypsy was in their district. With Sultz, being in their district, and in the area he was found, one could only come to one conclusion, it was illegal, it was dirty, and no one, not the whores, the Mafia bouncers, or the bartenders at the bustling clubs would have seen a thing. Michal already felt like throwing this one into the unsolved cases file. ―See you in a few,‖ Michal said instead of expressing what both he and David had been already thinking. ―Yeah. See you.‖ Michal closed his phone. He took out his cigarettes and patted one out. His wife hadn‘t complained once about his re-taking up of an old habit. And now that he was back on them, he had no intent of ever stopping again. He held the lighter up to his mouth with the phone still in his hand. Again the phone started buzzing. Michal immediately saw that the caller was unknown. With heavy heart and with a lot more dread, he picked up the phone. ―Hello?‖ He meekly asked, expecting an innocent doll‘s voice. ―Michal. This is Boris. Congratulations. You are the new head of detectives.‖ It was then that Michal sprinted down the hall to his daughter‘s room. This time he was much more cautious about his opening of the door. There, sitting spread eagle above his daughter‘s baby monitor was the Angel Lite doll, head tilted to the right. Michal nervously and anxiously lit his cigarette lighter and held it up to the doll. Across its cheek was a blood red slash. Michal felt his pulse quicken and his lungs tighten. The unlit cigarette, still dangling between his lips snapped in half. A thousand questions danced in his head as the lighter suddenly went out. A sudden fear crossed his mind as he imagined that the doll had blown the lighter out on its own. He continued to stare at the doll and ponder questions, the main one being how on earth had his daughter‘s doll got to the scene of the crime, unless the doll had dialed Sultz itself. ―Oh God,‖ Michal whispered. ―Yes, a dream position. With this money you can re-style your home. Or maybe even move to one of those new Spanish homes across the creek from where you live.‖ Michal fought the temptation to re-light his lighter and once again study his doll. Instead he found himself washing the doll‘s face clean with the T-shirt that he had slept in. ―Somebody did you a favor. A lot of money comes with this job. Some of it is legitimate.‖ ―Oh God,‖ Michal whispered again.
―And I have heard from sources that Sultz was repeatedly stabbed over and over again. Sounds familiar, no? Well, rest assured, this wasn‘t the work of my people. We are professionals. Bang. You are dead. This personal stuff, so last year.‖ Boris waited what seemed like a full minute for a response from Michal. Michal, certain that the blood was gone, just waited. ―Well Michal, I just wanted to congratulate you on your rise. I couldn‘t have picked a better head detective!‖ Boris laughed. Michal hung up and stared at the doll. The doll had given him and his wife everything his wife had wanted. A passionate love life. More money than he could handle. But what had it given him? Michal pulled out a fresh cigarette and once again went to light the cigarette when he realized that the lighter had stuck to his hand. He looked down in the eerie lost light that the room‘s lone window cast and noticed that his hand was shaded. Quickly he ran to the bathroom and flipped on the light. He saw blood there. A lot of blood. The doll had painted his hands in Sultz‘s blood! *** Michal sat in a small, tiny room in the back of a Vietnamese restaurant. He was in the full uniform of the Czech head of detectives, including golden arms bands and bright yellow tassels. He had a speech to make to the new cadets, one in which he lectured them about the temptation and dangers of corruption. It was strange, but as much as David knew about Michal‘s post, his wife‘s lover‘s murder, the meeting with Boris, the ‗inside‘ reports leaked to the media, many of the rank and file men in uniform believed that Michal‘s hands were completely clean of any wrong doing in his fifteen years on the force. That, in a nation rife with corruption, Michal was a relief, the type of cop who would clean up Prague. Many on the force were toasting a new era where the police didn‘t find their work hampered by greedy politicians and the gangsters who served them. So great was the appreciation that a rumor was already circulating that Michal was to be the next Minister of the Interior, a man suited to cleaning up the entire nation. Michal knew that was at least two steps away, head detective of the county of Prague and then head of security for the state would be but minor steps in Michal‘s meteoric rise, but it was no matter to Michal. His daughter had just turned three and a half, and communicating as much as she now did, Michal saw himself buying his daughter the Angel Dark doll to go with her Angel Lite. ―Michal, or should I call you Head of Detectives Michal Pitrik now.‖ ―David,‖ Michal said, rising and taking his former partner‘s hand and giving it a firm shake. David was dressed in a cheap business suit and carrying a businessman‘s briefcase and switched hands to shake. He did not smile and Michal was not sure if the statement was a serious question or a joke. Michal cast David his best smile with the intent of conveying that formality was not required. ―It is so good to see you.‖ Michal sat back down and watched as David did the same. Michal waited. After all, it was David who called this meeting and, Michal knew, it was David who held many of the cards. He was the one who knew about the murdered lover and his aid in expediting Michal‘s rise. ―What can I do for you,‖ Michal finally asked when David didn‘t seem fit to say anything. ―Do for me? What are you doing to me?‖ ―What do you mean,‖ Michal asked, politely, too politely for two former partners. ―Boris Petrovich is found gutted, stabbed twenty-seven times in the village of Hostivice. In your village of Hostivice! Then, within a week, some woman is walking home from the train station to
those new Spanish homes and she is also stabbed, though she gets stabbed and slashed, at least thirty-seven times. The tiny Hostivice police force, clueless as they are used to chasing drunken kids out of parks and stopping drunk drivers, is suddenly overwhelmed. They call you, begging you to send over a detective, not even a detective, but a real detective, and you send Bily? What‘s the score Michal?‖ ―What‘s wrong with Bily? His territory goes to the edge of Prague V. His territory borders the satellite village. I felt he would know more about the area.‖ ―Jesus Michal. You know as well as me that Bily spends most of his time going from pub to pub, whorehouse to whorehouse collecting payouts for the mobs. What do you mean he would know more than me?‖ ―About the area,‖ Michal said, regretting choosing this table. The Asian restaurants often had private family style rooms for clients with either Asian experience or of Asian descent. The round serving tray in the middle of the table spun, and the Asians or the Asianophiles in Prague would use their chopsticks to pick at food off the center plates. But Michal went to them not only so that he could hold private meetings, but to satisfy his wife‘s desire that he experience something outside of the Czech culture, something she claimed he had stopped doing since their trip to America. Michal listened, the table and the food making him seem cosmopolitan to both his legitimate and illegitimate acquaintances. Of course, this new Michal had no effect on David. David had obviously come here with something in mind, something that he would not have been as apt to discuss with the new head of detectives if the meeting had been more public. David sat back and crossed his arms. He was studying Michal with an anger and a bitterness that bordered on rage. ―Look. An opening has just come up in Automobile Theft, the head detective posting. I think if I gave it to you, the second most non-corruptible cop on the force, the Czech media would go wild. It could be the start of a new era for the city of Prague. After all, there is no police department more corrupt than Autos. Hell, nearly all of Prague‘s residents think it is the cops themselves who are stealing the cars and not the mobs and gangs.‖ David reached down and pulled up the briefcase that sat on the floor. Michal had his own briefcase, though there was nothing in it. What was it he had heard about American Senators? That they usually just carried around a bottle of booze? Michal didn‘t carry booze. He didn‘t have a taste for it, but he was carrying around his daughter‘s doll. But Michal was nervous, and he was under a lot of pressure now. Though David might not know it yet, another woman was found dead this morning, again it was a woman who worked at a Prague multinational and again she had a house and family in the new Spanish homes. Reality was settling in in Prague and Hostivice. This was the work of a serial killer. David was right. Bily was a shit detective, but how on earth would Bily or David himself stop a doll that took his comment, ‗I wish those Spanish homes and the people in them would go away!‘ to heart. It was as if Michal was Henry II. Any comment he threw out there, about how he regretted Boris having dirt on him, about the ugly white washed homes, about the multinationals, was a not a thought to be shared with the doll but a command to be taken to task by the plastic cherub-like figure which went out and vanquished all burdens that stood in its master‘s way. Of course, Michal was now carrying the doll around with him, to stop it from doing what it did. England‘s Henry II realized both how powerful he was and his mistake when three of his most trusted knights went and killed Cardinal Thomas a Beckett, the thorn that was continuously twisting in Henry‘s side. Henry II gave himself a public
lashing for his cardinal sin of wrath, as, and Boris was right, Europeans loved to confess their wrongs. But what could Michal confess to, being the owner of a doll that took wrath to an extreme? It was impossible. Michal watched as David flipped open the buckles on his briefcase and pulled out a dossier. He replaced the briefcase on the ground and opened the file. ―Michal. We have a serial killer on the loose.‖ Michal was about to convey that he already knew that when he saw that David‘s photo collection started with the gypsy woman. Michal heard his own briefcase rattle. He put a calming hand down on it, knowing that it was sealed shut. ―The first murder was the gypsy woman,‖ David said looking at the throat, ―Romana Rychla.‖ ―I don‘t think she can be connected to the murders in Hostivice.‖ David ignored Michal. Michal noticed that the doll took the fact the he was ignored to heart, the doll pounding on the briefcase. David didn‘t seem to notice. He just went on. ―Then we have your wife‘s lover.‖ ―Bit of a stretch. Don‘t you think?‖ ―No. Because the lover made one phone call on the night of his murder, and it wasn‘t to your wife.‖ Michal heard the rattling below getting louder. ―It was to you,‖ David said, pointing to a head shot of the lover, a case that had been completely open and shut by the Hostivice police via Boris‘ commands. ―Look, on that day I got three screaming phone calls from my wife. They were all made while I was calling you about gypsy magic. She may have used her lover‘s phone before finding her own.‖ David didn‘t bother responding to Michal. The doll was now pounding on the suitcase. David either wasn‘t noticing it, or didn‘t care. ―Oddly, Sultz, who was last seen drinking in an all-night gambling den, also receives one phone call. It was from you. It was made at two am,‖ David pointed out. ―Impossible. I was with my wife then.‖ ―Sleeping?‖ David asked. ―Yes, probably.‖ David huffed at the added probably. ―Michal. I am sorry, but I feel, if you are still the noncorruptible cop who wants to change the force, then I must speak to your wife. You can have her put away in a mental health hospital. I won‘t tell anyone, but you have to stop the murders. Remember your hero, Hieronymus Bosch, the police detective? Would he allow five murders to go unstopped because the killer was a woman he once loved?‖ Michal cleared his throat. The doll had stopped rattling. Michal realized then that he was not only the doll‘s master, but that the doll picked up on and sensed what he was thinking. His first reaction to David pointing the finger at his wife had been relief. And the doll reacted in kind, she no longer rattling, pounding and trying to escape the briefcase. The doll served him and could care less what sentence awaited his wife, but on further internal inspection, Michal didn‘t like the idea of his wife taking the fall. He and his wife were one again and he didn‘t feel that she should be considered expendable.
Even with Michal‘s brain rushing to cover for the woman he once again loved, Michal did feel himself both physically and mentally relax with David‘s accusation of the wrong person. ―David, my wife is away right now. She is with her mother. There won‘t be any murders for at least a week. When she gets back, you can talk to her, I promise.‖ David stood up and took Michal‘s hand. Just as their hands shook a voice radiated out of the briefcase, ―Lovely day today, isn‘t it?‖ David looked down in curiosity. ―I decided to buy my daughter another one. Her language skills are improving,‖ Michal said by way of an excuse. ―I think you will forever rue the day your wife bought that doll off the gypsy woman.‖ Michal didn‘t comment. That day was the greatest day of his life so far. *** Michal walked into his house and threw his keys on the kitchen table. He reached into his briefcase and took out the Angel Lite doll, he suddenly remembering his intent at buying the second doll for his daughter when David, with his message about talking to his wife had thrown him off kilter. He had forgotten to buy the doll as he had spent the entire day thinking of ways to protect his wife from David. He battled thinking his thoughts aloud, Michal knowing what the end result of that would be—even if it was a thought that danced at the forefront of his brain. Instead of thinking aloud, he put the doll down on the kitchen table next to his keys. He went to his bookshelves and began to take down the Michael Connelly novels, one by one. It wasn‘t that he had turned on the author and found his writings weak. It was just that David had quoted the author, his author, to him, and he felt as if the works that he had memorized and idolized while working first as a beat cop and then as a detective had been somewhat cheapened by his colleague‘s usage of the author‘s character‘s philosophy against him. Michal had no idea where he was going to put the books, all of which he had in both Czech and English, Michal buying them at an English language bookstore in the center of Prague, but Michal had no intention of selling them. Maybe someday he would pass them on to a young cadet who he imagined to be the next great Prague police detective. As Black Echo, his first Harry Bosch novel, went into the box, it somewhat saddened him. Distracted, he dropped one of the novels, missing the box and falling onto the floor. It was a book entitled The Closers. Michal had to admit that it wasn‘t one of his favorite Bosch novels, but as it was a part of the series, it was a keeper. Michal bent down to pick it up, and it fell right onto a highlighted page. Michal read what he had marked, knowing that he had bought and read the book long after he had become a cop. It was a quote from Frederick Nietzsche. Michal cringed as he read it. He was never a fan of philosophy or philosophers, but this quote stuck with him: ‗whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster, for if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.‘ The detective in the story, Bosch, had been using the quote to describe himself. Michal had never felt that it would apply to him, that he could handle his role as a detective fighting crime in a corrupt country where even a simple murder, a husband killing his wife and found drenched in her blood, for instance, could be turned political if the husband knew the right people, the detectives oftentimes told to back off by the state way before justice could be served. Michal truly felt that his putting in a request for his former partner David to become the head of autos was a start at moving himself away from the abyss. He also felt certain that his keeping mum around the doll about things that antagonized him would help as well. Of course, David could reject the request. Hell, he might. Homicide was a great beat and there was nothing more thrilling than
putting a killer rightly behind bars, but just the offer of the posting might cause David to slow down with his investigation into Andrea. Michal knew she hadn‘t killed anyone, but David was right: all roads led to her, and while women serial killers were a rarity, they did exist. David did have several mysterious calls from murdered victims to prove there was a woman serial killer on the loose who resided in Hostivice. Michal closed The Closers and put it away. The line of philosophy seemed to be pounding in his head like the lyrics to an old eighties song that one had hoped to have long forgotten. Attempting to shake the philosophical phrase out, Michal walked into the kitchen to pick up the doll he had left there and to return it to his daughter‘s room. His daughter, as if sensing that the doll actually belonged to another, namely him, left the doll behind her, not making the usual child protests that she wanted the toy with her. This relieved Michal to no end. He liked keeping the doll nearby, not in case she was needed, but in case she decided to take up her murderous ways without his guidance. Michal walked into the bedroom. The baby monitor was of course gone, but Michal put the doll in its usual perch on the wardrobe anyway. He smiled at the doll, he taking a minute to tilt the head to the left. ―You sure are making a lot of effort to posture a doll when you‘re daughter won‘t be home for at least six more days.‖ Michal turned, reaching for his gun. It was then that he remembered that he didn‘t carry the weapon to ceremonies and that it was locked in his office desk. ―David,‖ Michal said, trying to regain his composure. ―You scared me.‖ Michal tried to put a friendly face on, but then noticed that David had his gun drawn on him. ―David, put your gun away. I have some wine in the cellar. Let‘s go and get some. We can talk.‖ ―I think you are going to tell me what you know about the killings right now.‖ ―I know nothing, just what you know. I would receive a late night call or message from my wife and I would have to clean up the mess.‖ ―And not from the doll?‖ ―What?‖ Michal said, trying to put on his best, ―you sound silly‖ voice. ―All killers make a mistake. It‘s the first thing we learn on the force. You wouldn‘t have needed Bosch for that.‖ ―And what was my mistake?‖ ―I talked to your wife. And I did the interview exactly as you taught me.‖ ―You interviewed my wife? I told you she was away!‖ ―I talked to her at her mother‘s. I went. I never mentioned the murders, just as you always said a cop shouldn‘t. I let her reveal stuff to me, and she revealed that she won‘t be coming back, Michal.‖ ―What? She loves me again!‖ David shook his head. It was then that Michal saw that David not only had a gun, but that he was also wearing gloves. ―She hears you, Michal. Coming into your daughter‘s room late at night and talking. She hears two voices, one yours, and the other doll-like and childish. She thought at first it was your daughter,‖
―It‘s a thick wall. This is an old house. Built in a time when families all slept in one room. How would she hear her own daughter? That‘s why we have a . . . ,‖ Michal heard his own voice trail off. He had realized the mistake. Michal pointed the gun upwards at the doll. ―The baby monitor Michal. Your wife hears you through the baby monitor.‖ Michal looked over at the area where David was training the gun. While at first he was looking there for the monitor, he was now looking at the doll in hope. Hope that it would leave its spot on the wardrobe and attack. But for the first time ever the doll looked inanimate, the doll seeming to say that the jig was up with its head tilted to the left. ―She‘s crazy!‖ Michal said, turning his head quickly. ―You said it yourself. She needs help! That we‘d put my wife away when she got back.‖ David ignored Michal. This time the doll didn‘t seem upset by David‘s actions. ―Let me go back to the beginning Michal. On the day the gypsy woman was murdered you had become convinced that your wife wasn‘t actually spending time with your daughter, but donating all her free time to her lover. So you followed her to the Matejska Pout in Prague VII where you saw your wife buy a stolen doll off the gypsy woman. You, probably pissed off that your wife had not only bought a doll, but bought a stolen doll, arrested the gypsy woman after your wife and daughter had moved along. But something happened. Something snapped, and you ended up killing the gypsy in a part of the park where the carnies bring their dogs.‖ ―The doll, dolls, there are photos. The doll is moving in the photo.‖ ―Look again Michal. The reason you see the doll in the beginning and not by the end is because one of the officers on the scene stole the doll. We‘re detectives on one of the most corrupt police forces in the world. Of course someone is going to take a one hundred and fifty dollar doll.‖ ―But,‖ Michal stood there motionless. He suddenly remembered David‘s evasiveness on the phone and remembered telling David earlier about how he was tailing his wife to the carnival. ―So, you win,‖ Michal finally said after a few minutes of puzzling over his situation. ―This is Europe. Though we may try to be secular, we all still love confessing after all.‖ ―Yes. You never would have made a good American,‖ David said with some satisfaction. ―Boris told me that, too, just before I killed him,‖ Michal said. He had done it because he couldn‘t see himself taking orders for the rest of his life from the people he had once busted. But Michal knew David. He would never give in to their demands as he had. That he still had his eyes on the prize, and that prize was justice. And for Michal the doll and all that had come with it, the marriage, the esteem, the politics, both the corrupted and non-corrupted, had ruined it for him. ―He might have been right,‖ David said his eyes suddenly downcast. ―But, the powers in Prague have gained a lot of prestige having you as the head of detectives. Them saying that you were all a lie, that you were nothing more than a common serial killer who slashed his way to the top might bring down the current political wind and force a new election. My guess is you would be pardoned before sunrise. Actually, my guess is you will be pardoned and the mobs would have the arresting officer gunned down as he was leaving police headquarters.‖ Michal nodded his concurrence. He had no choice. The Catholic Church‘s selling of indulgences may have led to its own collapse and the secularization of Europe, but the tradition was still alive and well in Czech politics, very alive and well. And within hours of Michal‘s arrest, bribes would be being paid to secure his near immediate release.
―I‘ve accepted your offer. I am now the head chief of detectives for the auto division.‖ Michal nodded, his fate sealed. ―The doll?‖ Michal asked. David looked up at the doll and smiled. Actually he felt like laughing, louder than he did when his former partner was decreeing the doll to have been taken over by gypsy magic. David decided not to comment on the doll and its roll in his future. Instead he decided to mock the man who had promoted him with a simple, ―I stole this gun off of one of Boris Petrovich‘s most trusted seconds. His fingerprints already decorate this weapon. Your doll shall be found not guilty of the murder.‖ Michal nodded briefly, the bullet that entered the center of his brain being the thing that stopped his movement. *** David Eckstein sat in his office at the Ministry of the Interior. Earlier in the day a Russian gangster named Ivan Popov had been arrested. His charge was that he was the head of a gang of auto thieves working the Prague V, VI and VII regions. Popov had decided that he didn‘t want a lawyer. As was the case with so many Russian gangsters, he decided he wanted a meeting with the head of detectives. David waited with anticipation for what it was that the Russian had to say. After all, David was not Michal. David had never confessed his murder of Michal Patrick in the presence of others, nor had he kept on killing after the first murder was done. Popov came into the room. David had made sure that the man had both his feet and his ankles bound and that he was marched from the prison across the street in prison whites and not allowed to change into street clothes. The media was loving the police brass‘ new image and though things still went on ‗under tables‘ as the expression went, many in the city of Prague felt relief that something non-corrupt was going on in public. There was a rapping at the wooden door and David called out an ‗enter‘ that boomed throughout the tiny room. It was smaller than Boris‘, David having to keep the desk facing the wall and not the people who came into the room. He had solely two meeting chairs, and neither was very comfortable. They were instead Ikea bought folding chairs that could be tucked away. At current, both chairs were open. Popov, who was a large, robust man who probably had difficulty fitting his body into the small bodies of half the Euro cars he had his gangs steal, took one of the seats without it being offered to him. He stared at David in contempt. The guard who had led Popov into the room threw David a nod and turned and left. The guard was an up-and-comer with the auto department and he knew what went on at these closed door meetings. But David didn‘t want the future of the police department exposed to it yet. He wanted him just naïve enough to think that in some far off galaxy, or even better, in some remote quarter of Prague, justice would be served. The gangster‘s contempt only grew as he sat silently across from David. He didn‘t greet the gangster in the international language of business, English or the local language of Czech. And though David was old enough to have studied Russian in school under the communist regime, he would rather die than bow to the city‘s criminal element. Instead he waited for the Russian to speak. He had, after all, called the meeting. Finally the gangster leaned back, attempted to stretch even with his body as bound as it was and smiled. ―Odd, meeting with a man who has a doll in his office.‖ David looked up at the doll that Michal had asked about before he was killed. It was odd how Michal knew that David‘s taking of this position had sealed his fate, something that David could see in his victim‘s eyes. Something had registered, that something being that with David‘s accepting of
the posting, there would be no reason to suspect him of killing his benefactor. David knew in his heart that the old Michal could have been brought to light somehow, some way, but the media and the citizens of Prague were up in arms over the murder of a police detective by a gangster, and was blaming the killing on the entire force and the corrupt government as a whole. It was as if the people were finally screaming for a real revolution. ―The doll is from an old case. You might say that she helped me solve it,‖ David answered. The conversation was to be held in English. David assumed such. The Russians were one of the Czech Republic‘s largest non-European immigrant groups, in the Top 5 with Ukrainians, Vietnamese, Chinese and, unbelievably, Americans. For the most part, many Russians easily learned Czech, the two languages being sister languages, along with Polish, Serbian, Slovak, and anything else that was Slav and which languished behind the Iron Curtain for almost forty years. But once you arrested a Russian, or even questioned one on the street, they almost immediately switched to English. The Russians were at one time the rulers of this land, the Czech Republic being their furthest point west. There was no way they would defer to the police that they had for three generations policed. ―Well, you have me,‖ Popov confessed. ―Yes,‖ David said, not needing to point out the video footage, tape transcripts, eye witness accounts, and line of government informants which were all put together with one intent in mind: to bring down Popov and his gang. ―And you have nothing on me except for a few tapes of me taking free cigarette cartons and booze and looking the other way as your mafia drove off in the truck back in my early days.‖ ―Yes,‖ Popov said, looking exasperated. ―The Czech media didn‘t seem to care when we handed over the tapes.‖ ―The Czech media cared,‖ David smiled. ―But the people did not. An old acquaintance of yours, Boris Petrovich, once told me that though Europe liked to pretend it was secular, it was still a Christian continent after all, as we all love to confess. Maybe the same applies to forgiveness.‖ ―Yes. You and your departed partner redeemed yourself in the eyes of the Czech people. And his death, done with the gun of one of my people, definitely turned the tide of popular opinion towards you.‖ ―This I know.‖ ―So,‖ the Russian said, adjusting his body as much as he could in the cuffs. ―Here‘s my offer. I confess all. I‘ll do my seven years for car theft and for grand theft.‖ David was taken aback. Europeans loved to confess, but they also liked to bribe, blackmail and con their way out of things. The traditional, I‘ve wet your beak, now you wet mine. ―And,‖ David said, waiting patiently for the other shoe to drop. ―Well, the head of detectives‘ position is still open, and, due to your popularity, there‘d be no way that we could fill it with one of ‗our‘ people.‖ David felt his mouth open slightly. He was in shock by what he was hearing. He heard himself say, ―OK,‖ simply because there was nothing else to say. ―But, if you take the position, we have one request,‖ Popov went on; the request said in the same tone that one would use to intonate demand. ―You make Detective Bily the head of automobile theft.‖
David moved his head up and down in agreement. David‘s mind was going over the money that would be made as head of detectives, and he wasn‘t even looking at the illegitimate. He was thinking of the expensed trips to America and to England to learn law enforcement techniques, to Moscow to learn who was who in the hierarchy of the mob there, and to Italy to learn how to bring down the mob. He remembered how he had told Michal how he could never afford an Angel Lite doll, and how, by taking the head of detectives position, the dolls would be but a minor expense. But David didn‘t convey his sudden greed. Instead he said, ―Give me a day to think on it.‖ Popov stood. David was about to call out guard when the big Russian did it for him. The guard came into the room and took the prisoner out, the big, behemoth of a man waddling like a duck down the hall. David closed the door and went to his desk. The doll, head tilted to the right, was smiling at him. David had wanted to throw the doll out the day he had killed its previous owner and benefactor, Michal. But as David was lifting the lid of a garbage can behind a bakery that was near Michal‘s Hostivice property the doll let out a ‗Lovely day today, isn‘t it,‘ that no longer sounded, well, dolly and cherub-like. ―Lovely day today, isn‘t it,‖ David said to the doll he had inherited. ―Yes David, it is.‖ The doll laughed. It was Michal‘s laugh.
Epic of War Bobby Kvrgic
It was a cold winter night in the quiet and often gloomy border forest of a kingdom not much different from most others. It had suffered its times of war, and enjoyed times of peace, constantly trying to avoid the tipping point that would bring the land to the crashing end of harmony, and into another era where fathers buried their sons rather than the reverse. A lone sentry stood at the top of a watchtower. He did not move, he did not falter in his duty, he showed no sign of life at all, save for the warm breath that rose from his lips. It was just another night of duty to him, but he always took it seriously. He wore the standard regalia of his country, marking him as a trained soldier in a meticulously kept uniform, save for one piece of paraphernalia that hanged around his neck, a simple token of his faith. As he did every night at his post, he quietly brooded over the absurdity of his duty. The tower he was atop was far too remote from any potential help, and the bandits that lived in the forests could easily move around it. It was just a back water post that the politicians wanted manned simply because it was there. The other guards were either asleep or deep in their cups. None of them took their duty seriously, because they knew nothing ever happened out there. The most infuriating thing about it all was that the soldier could not argue otherwise. Bandits were not suicidal enough to attack a defensive structure held by armed members of the military, but still he was bothered by the lack of discipline his comrades showed. They often asked him to drink and join in the merry making; some even spoke of a few hired harlots that would be arriving that night. He was disgusted by them. It was the same thing every other night. He could not believe that these men and women were his comrades, none of them deserved their badges save for―I thought your watch ended two hours ago,‖ said a soft feminine voice from behind him. Arcturus spun around, surprised that he never heard her coming up behind him. ―Elaina... I mean First Shield.‖ His back straightened and he saluted her. ―It was, but the walls were left unmanned.‖ With that he motioned to the passed out guard, snoring loudly with an empty bottle of local brew in his hand. She laughed softly, ―At ease Arc; I‘m off duty, as you should be. The formalities are not necessary.‖ Although he remained in a rigid military posture, he couldn‘t help but smile. Elaina was the only other soldier at the tower that he could respect. She was a fine scout and a finer shot with her bow, but also a good friend. She was stern when she had to be, but she always put her comrades before herself, and she never took part in the drunken orgies hosted at the tower. She moved to the edge of the tower next to him, and sat on the battlements, letting her legs dangle over the edge while staring up at the night sky. ―You really should relax more, I can respect your dedication, but nothing ever happens out here.‖ He rested his forearms on the battlements, and peeked out over the edge, scanning the trees as he always did. ―Perhaps, but this post should not be left unattended. If we were attacked now we would be all but unable to defend ourselves with everyone drunk and fornicating.‖ She got back on her feet, moved
between him and the edge of the tower, and sat facing him, with hands on hips in a mock imperious look. ―That was an order, soldier.‖ They shared a brief laugh together. She beckoned him closer with her index finger, and he obliged, resting his hands on her waist. Many of the others suspected their unprofessional relationship, but for the most part they kept it secret. ―Come on Arc, it‘s a beautiful night, enjoy it while you can.‖ He smiled thinly and inquired, ―Is that an order?‖ ―It is,‖ escaped a pair of lips upturned in a coy smile. His eyes were locked on hers, but before he could utter another word. He looked past her to a single small light in the distance. ―A torch?‖ She looked over her shoulder irritated by the distraction. ―It is probably just the whores that the men were expecting.‖ He nodded his agreement, but his eyes remained fixed on the light. Slowly, more began to appear from behind the shadowed trees. There were three... then five... then ten, and still more. His eyes narrowed in suspicion, ―wait a minute...‖ His eyes widened in sudden understanding, he grabbed Elaina by the scruff of her armor, and pulled her to the ground with him. ―Get down!‖ he shouted as dozens of flaming arrows leapt into the sky, and came down atop the tower. ―Hell! We‘re under attack!‖ Elaina leveled her bow and paused a moment for her keen eyes to adjust to the darkness. Arcturus ran to the warning gong and began slamming his sword against it. The sleeping guard bolted upright, looking every which way as Arcturus ran to the hatch leading inside. ―What‘s all that damned noise up there?‖ One off duty soldier demanded. Another man cried out in the tower below, ―It‘s an attack you idiots! We are being attacked. To arms! Man your posts!‖ A stream of curses broke out in the tower as men and women stumbled every which way, grabbing what weapons, armor, and even clothing that could be had. Tables were turned over to make last minute barricades. Looking down at them all, Arcturus knew they would never be ready in time. ―Arc!‖ Elaina cried, and he spun to see what was wrong. Grappling hooks were clanking to the battlements all around them. He brandished his sword and went to frantic work trying to hack at the ropes. What he saw, when he peered over the edge were the ascending and hulking forms of wild men that hardly seemed like men at all. They were tall and strong things vaguely humanoid. Their faces looked horrid, ugly, distorted with exposed tusks, like the heads of malformed cripples on the bodies of sinewy hulks. Their skin was a bubonic brown covered in muck, and their eyes were blood shot. All of them were marked with blue paint, covering their sky clad forms in runic patterns. He swallowed hard, nearly frozen in place. In his childhood, he had heard stories of the wilde men, supposedly nothing more than old wives‘ tales, of inhuman brutes with fabled strength and ferocity. They were the stuff of legend, more monster than man, with endless horrible stories of their stealing children away in the night, keeping the boys for meals and the girls for future breeding. Together with the drunken guard, Donovan, they managed to cut a few of the lines, leaving the invaders at the mercy of gravity‘s irresistible pull to meet the ground with shattered limbs. The first shield barreled into him, and they went crashing to the ground as another volley of arrows thudded into Donovan. The high captain finally arrived, wearing little more than leggings and a
hastily donned leather jerkin. He showed up just in time to watch Donovan fall to the ground, dead, and catch an arrow in the shoulder. ―By the Old Ones how did this happen?‖ Without reply, Arcturus found his feet, and waited for the next wave of grappling hooks as Elaina set her bow to deadly work, picking off the distant archers. This time it was not a rope and grapple that came up, but the solid iron of a thick chain. Arc peered over the edge to see a pair of monsters more imposing than the wilde men looking back up at him with wide grins. Between ten and twelve feet tall, with arms and legs like tree trunks, they were yet more fabled monsters that were told in stories intended to scare children to sleep at night. They were the mountain dwelling hulks that lived deep in the caves, the aberrant, deformed children of inbred giants who flattened whole villages and took prisoners only for their ghastly meals. ―Ogres‖ he gasped in disbelief. He watched as his world slowly began to dismantle and gave way to all the nightmares of his childhood. Two more chains and grapples clanged against the battlements. He hacked desperately at the chain, trying to break it, but the first giant was already at the top before he could make much progress. As one of the hulking brutes crested the lip of the tower, Arcturus sliced open the ogre‘s face, sending it falling with a howl of pain. He prayed in desperation as he wearily went back to work at the chain, finally breaking it after putting many chips into his own sword, then looked around hopelessly for his next target, just in time to see another monstrous ogre towering over him... An arrow connected solidly with its chest, and Arcturus drove his sword into giant‘s gut while it was still in shock. It fell to the ground dead, but the captain was quickly losing ground to another one of the monsters. With a quick salute of thanks to his Elaina, he ran to the aid of his captain while she drew her scimitar and hacked wildly at the wounded behemoth. The high captain tried to block a savage swing from an Ogre. He screamed in pain as he learned the futility of trying to stop the force of a giant‘s blow. His sword was wrenched from his grasp, and his arm bent awkwardly with an audible snap as a splinter of bone burst out of his forearm. He was on his knees before the grinning Ogre, staring up in pure fear before a brutal overhead swing crushed his skull with a thundering crack. Arcturus grimaced, praying all the while leaping at the giant spawn‘s back with the driving edge of his sword leading. It spun on him, with a swing of it massive club. Arc managed to raise his shield in time to take most of power out of the swing, but it sent him off balance, reduced his shield to splinters, and sent a numbing pain through his arm. The throbbing lasted for what felt like forever, he was sure the ogre was going to finish him, but all he heard was a gurgling sound. He turned to see an arrow buried deep in its throat. He nodded his thanks once more to Elaina. The two turned to make for the hatch. More ogres were coming followed by waves of the wilde men. It was obvious they couldn‘t hold the top of the tower anymore, but three more soldiers darted out, one seriously wounded and using his friends for support. One of the soldiers turned to Arcturus . ―They‘ve breached the door; they‘re swarming the tower below. We can‘t hold them down there anymore. Shut and bar the hatch. Hurry!‖ Arcturus hesitated, protesting for the sake of his comrades, ―What about the others? We cannot hope to hold this spot without more help.‖ The other soldier was adamant. ―To the pits with the others, they‘re good as dead already!‖ The desperation in his eyes and voice was clear. Arcturus could hear the tumult inside, and had little doubt that the death screams below were human. Regretfully, Arc shut the hatch, and they moved the dead on top of it before forming a tight circle as savages bolted up the chains. The only thing he could do at that moment was pray, and hope that his faith would see them through the night, though all efforts now seemed bleak. Arcturus put his back to Elaina‘s, prepared to die. They
fought to the best of their abilities, a ring of swords held by soldiers with no choice left but to die fighting proved to be a devastating thing, but were quickly being overwhelmed. Another invader tried to climb up a rope, and received sword through the eye from one of the shield bearers. One of their own fell dead, and another man was wounded. As the tide of blood thirsty men began to put more pressure on the tower‘s hatch, the quickly tiring ring of soldiers made its way to the tower‘s edge, with their backs to nothing but a long fall. ―Get down the rope, hurry!‖ A shield bearer named Valen shouted, and the others did not need to be told twice. Most of the enemies were inside the tower now, but stragglers and wounded remained on the ground and quickly tried to end the battle. The fleeing soldiers dropped the last few feet and met them readily. The lingering shield bearers, held the advancing attackers back, while Arcturus and the first blade slid down the rope. One last man made for the rope, just before he attempted to break from the fight and escape, only to be skewered by stone tipped spears that ran through his torso at painful angles to burst from his chest in sprays of blood. Valen was halfway down the rope when he looked up and saw the body of his comrade come crashing down over the top of the tower, smashing into him and sending them both down a to the ground with shattering force. He tried to stand but only fell back over with a cry of pain. Arcturus and Elaina moved to support him before the three fled. Cursing their luck, the remaining three retreated into the forest, praying that the cover of darkness would allow them to escape. *** The silhouettes of three armored figures moved between the trees this night. One was supported by its comrades, but they were all moving slowly and breathing hard in the chilly night air. Behind them, an eerie red glow, half obscured by a twisting and writhing pillar of smoke, illuminated the area for some distance. With the distant fortress wreathed in flame the setting looked much like a painting of hell. Three human faces half obscured by shadow were locked in fear as they moved desperately to survive, and distance themselves as much as possible from the burning skies behind them. Their run had slowed and the rain began to fall, slowing their progress all the more by turning the hard soil beneath their feet to slippery and sucking mud. They staggered and fell several times, but picked themselves up and continued wandering on, trudging without a word between them. Valen‘s protests broke their silence, ―Arc, you have to leave me, I‘m only slowing you two down.‖ The thought had occurred to Arcturus, but pride and a sense of duty overruled his good judgment. ―Belt up. We‘re not leaving you behind. Now, for the sake of the crown, march! We need to reach the nearest village and let the people know what happened.‖ In truth, Arcturus didn‘t even know what happened. Arc knew the tales of a time when their ancestors had fought in a war against monsters that people only dared whisper about behind locked doors and in the comforting light of a fire, but he never would have imagined there were enough remnants of those dark times to be any real threat. The unsettling reality of it all, of the fact that they may not even be believed, only weighed him down with wandering thoughts. He should have paid better attention to where he was going; he lost his footing, and slid down a steep hill, taking his friends with him. The three went through a dizzying tumble through brush and briar, where they came to a painful halt. No one moved, but all three groaned in pain after the vertigo of their descent subsided. ―I just want you to know Arc... you‘re doing a mighty fine job of saving me.‖ Even with the wind knocked out of him, Arcturus managed a curt reply. ―Belt up Valen.‖ Despite the grim situation, the three shared a soft chuckle. At least the rain was stopping again. The moon
kept drifting between the clouds, moving in and out of sight. Now, she was finally gracing them with her pale light again. They were somewhat relieved, and started to pull themselves to their feet when they suddenly froze. Their mirth was cut short by a guttural and barking language. Three pairs of eyes widened in fear, and of them daring to breathe, as they gazed upon the shadowed form of a hulking silhouette. The towering behemoth stood at the top of the hill like an eclipse that blotted out the moon and burning sky behind him. Even the other shadowed forms of wilde men seemed insignificant in the presence of this dread inducing adversary. None of the soldiers moved, fearing that even the slightest twitch would give them away. The hulking form crouched and inspected the ground where the three slipped. His head turned, and a pair of blood shot eyes drifted over their area. Even from that distance, they could see the pure hate within him. Arcturus nervously fingered the crossbow he had shouldered, and all three of them breathed again when the hunter rose and motioned for his comrades to move on. When he finally worked the courage up, Valen inquired in hushed tones, ―did they see us?‖ It took a moment for Arcturus to understand what had happened. ―No... Thank the Gods. We were too far from the light. I think he knew we were down here, but I don‘t think he knew how far. They‘re probably looking for a safer route.‖ Elaina whispered, ―let‘s go....‖ Neither of the men argued with the suggestion. *** Another hour of trudging through mud and darkness brought the three, to their ultimate dismay, to a sheer drop a hundred feet down into a freezing river. They peered over the edge, but quickly dismissed any thoughts of climbing down the rocky walls of the cliff. ―We need to backtrack and find another way.‖ Elaina chewed her lip, and looked at her companions with soft eyes. She voiced the concern they all shared, ―We won‘t find a way swiftly enough. These men are obviously skilled trackers, and are no doubt still on our trail... and... well we cannot outrun them with Valen‘s leg.‖ Arc looked over the cliff to the rushing waters below, then back to the tree line, scanning the depth of the shadows with paranoid eyes that saw monsters behind every rock. ―Then we fight.‖ Arcturus countered in a voice more courageous than he felt. The others looked at him skeptically. Elaina tried to dissuade him in a soft voice, ―I won‘t be able to set any traps for them... even if I did have my pack with me, I still would not have enough time.‖ Arcturus forced himself into a moment of calm, surveying the area like a map, reading it for the best possible advantage. Outwardly, he presented a calm exterior that gave his friends a small measure of comfort, inwardly he was praying to the Saint of Battle for inspiration. ―Then we will have to rely on the terrain.‖ He drew his hand down the tree lined hill they had come from, along the river they had waded and to a small rocky outcropping with a narrow ascent. They were boxed in by rock walls, with a dead drop to their backs and only the river leading back up. ―There, they should not be able to fight more than one or two at a time on that slope, and we should have a good vantage point to pick a few off from. The choices were few, and desperation was all they had left to run on. The three got into place and took cover behind the rocks. Elaina planted several arrows in the ground for a faster draw, and Arcturus readied his crossbow, and kept another bolt ready for a quick reload, holding it by the shaft between his clenching teeth. All Valen had was a pair of long knives and a hatchet, so he silently waited in a perch behind a boulder like a raptor expecting prey.
Soon enough, they saw the tell-tale red glow behind the trees. Arc used the boulder he was behind to steady his crossbow, and Elaina kept an arrow knocked and pulled. They saw the bulk of the tracker first; he stepped out of the shadows as if the darkness had birthed him out of legend and nightmares into waking reality. In the light of the moon, he only unsettled them more with a face that was anything but human. Half of his upper lip was torn away, revealing a line of jagged and twisted teeth that had been sharpened by hand, and from scalp to cheek was a length of broken and torn muscle that had stretched thin to try and re-grow over a place where flesh had torn, but could not quite meet its goal, making bone almost visible. Then there were the burns, all up his right arm and neck, as if this thing had waded through man, beast, and hell itself without being slowed, yet it was those cruel and malevolent eyes that terrified them the most. He crouched and swept a hand across the ground, moving aside leaves as he searched for signs of his quarry. His cruel eyes drifted across the area, looking over every rock and trunk. The humans could do nothing more than wait, and pray. For a long moment, nothing happened, in the chilling silence. The owls made no sound, the breeze that whistled through leaves and branches had come to an abrupt stop, and even the waterfall behind them seemed to quiet. He lumbered up to his full height again, and stepped back with careful measure, never turning his back and with eyes that never ceased their searching. The shadows seemed to swallow him again, bit by bit as they fell over his body until he was consumed in it again. All three of them relaxed. Their hearts were ready to burst in their chests, but finally a sigh of relief came to them, until a single bestial war cry filled the air, and the river parted in the path of charging wilde men. It was all gone, a reprieve, a moment of welcomed silence, shattered by the very same unified scream that threatened to crack the sky. They came out of the tree line in a wave and poured down the river in a dead charge toward the spot where the band of three chose to make their stand. The most fearsome of them, the tracker, the â€—manâ€˜ that could only be their leader burst out of the trees at the back of the ranks, lumbering across the battlefield with force that seemed to make the world tremble. He was the conductor in all this, the one that had begun the symphony of war. The screams were the chorus, and the onslaught of sudden rain was the percussion. Elaina brought one down with her first shot, burying an arrow deep in its neck. Arcturus managed to put a bolt in oneâ€˜s shoulder, but that only slowed it for a staggering moment, and he worked with fervor to reload his crossbow. Elaina worked gracefully, exchanging fire between the charging reavers, and the two or three archers who had remained by the tree line to provide support. She fired, ducked, drew an arrow out of the ground where she had stuck them, and fired again all with deadly accuracy and the routine movements of a woman who had seen battle before. Valen could only sit and wait in his crouch, not daring to look. Arcturus popped out from behind another rock, and put a bolt in the chest of the man he had maimed, and ducked back down to pull back the slide of his crossbow when an arrow whistled by. When he popped out again, he aimed for the hunter, the visage of terror that had hounded them all the way from the tower, making sport of him and his friends. If he died, Arcturus would rest well in his grave. He fired, and the hunter reacted with reflexes no man should have. The hunter controlling the mob grabbed the man ahead of him and yanked him back by the scruff of his animal hides in time to accept the steel tipped bolt in his place, and kept on running, not even waiting for his lesser to breathe his last gasp behind him. He unslung a broad axe from his back while closing the distance. They were only a few running strides away, Elaina popped out with her final arrow and aimed for the leader, but her breath was knocked out of her with a sudden shock of pain as a stone tipped arrow entered her side, the damage made minimal by the chain links and padding she wore. Instinctively she changed her target and put down the last of the archers with her own shot of
retribution, and drew her scimitar. Obviously no novice to war, the leader of the mob slowed, letting his fellows charge ahead of him. The first in line was caught by surprise as Valen hopped out of his concealed crouch to stab the first unsuspecting victim in a flurry, and let his daggers fly for the next in line. One dagger bounced harmlessly away, the other found its mark and buried itself hilt deep in an eye socket. Arcturus launched his crossbow into the face of the next one to gain enough time to draw his sword. Valen and Elaina were already at the slope with weapons on hand, complimenting and blocking for each other as they held back the remaining assailants. The savage that had been staggered by Arcs‘s discarded crossbow recovered and lunged at them, howling in a frenzy that left him all but heedless of personal safety. Arcturus slipped in between them, as they both put their shields and weight into blocking an overhead chop from an axe that sent a thrum to reverberate through their bones, sending it up high and leaving his belly exposed. It was not a wasted opportunity. Arcturus ran him through with his hand-and-a-half sword. He planted his boot in the dying barbarian‘s chest to send it tumbling back into its comrades. The melee turned into chaos, he ducked a thrown spear, but Valen was caught off balance after working his shield to turn away a lethal hit. He slumped down to his knees, clawing at the shaft of the spear with both hands. He managed to pull it free and toss it back, albeit harmlessly, serving only to provide a long enough distraction for Elaina to sheer open another tribal‘s face with a sidelong slash, and close ranks in front of Valen beside Arcturus. Their ground faltered as they continued to parry and take stinging hits, with their friend on the ground and bleeding out. Two soldiers and two savage stood with blades locked in a standstill, they were exhausted, they were panting, they had almost won through the fight, until the hunter intervened, and finally chose to put an end to it all. He barreled his way in, knocking everyone out of the way, foe and ally alike. Those that could quickly scrambled to their feet, Valen rose slowly depending desperately on someone‘s chipped sword for support. He couldn‘t get up in time, seizing the momentum of his rush the scarred leader pounced, balling his fist and backhanding Valen across the jaw, dazing him. He brought his lumbering axe down over Valen‘s wrist, leaving his mangled hand dangling by a strip of skin. He screamed with blood spraying, teetering on the edge of consciousness on his knees and defenseless before the merciless wilde hunter. Arcturus moved one instinct to kick and stab at a wilde man that was too slow in getting back up. His head whipped left and right, time slowed down as he took in the scenario. He saw Valen‘s dilemma, and also saw Elaina staggered, off balance, and vulnerable to the other remaining savage. Thinking quickly, and seeing no better option, he raised his sword above his head with both hands, and heaved it. It whirled end over end in Elaina‘s direction, and Arcturus followed behind it, making his presence no secret with a roar of his own. The barbarian predictably turned and dodged, but Arc came in behind it with a tackle and barked an order to Elaina while wrestling the assailant to the ground, ―Go help Valen!‖ Arcturus and his enemy exchanged punches and grappled to keep each other from reaching for dropped weapons. Elaina spun on her heels and ran to help Valen but was too late. The hunter showed no hesitation and was already pulling his axe free of the brutalized soldier‘s gut, and swinging again, hacking apart and driven on in bloodlust as gore splattered against his face. He spun with a primal bellow, there were no words to it, but the challenge issued was unmistakable. He drew the felled soldier‘s blood across his face with his soiled finger tips before rumbling across the muddy ground to cut his new foe down. She worked hard to stay outside of the reach of the axe, relying heavily on her greater agility. She could only hope that he tired before she did... Arcturus finally grew sick of the slugging match and improvised, head butting the man under him into momentary submission, and then reached for his sword. The tribal proved hard-headed and
quick to recover when he started to claw at Arc‘s arm, preventing him from reaching the blade. His hand fell short, but felt solidity in the grasp of his palm, so once again he improvised by clutching a rock bigger than his fist. Arcturus dug his knees in to straddle the reaver and grab his throat with his free hand to hold his head still. As expected, he released the soldier‘s arm and tried to pry vicelike fingers from his neck, locking eyes bitterly with his foe. Arcturus whipped the rock across and made the barbarian‘s vision blacken. He continued to batter the monster for several moments, until his hands bled from the scrape of skin on stone, and he wearily picked up his mud-covered sword. *** The fit wall of shambling muscle did not tire, but Elaina did. Her movements became noticeably more sluggish, and finally one sidelong axe swing had relieved her of her shield. At that point she had stepped within the arc of the weapon, thinking to get too close for the towering savage to hit her with a retracting swing, but she underestimated him. He stepped in closer and kneed her with his spiked sabaton, retracted, and fired his knee into her gut again. She crumbled before him. Victoriously he raised his axe overhead. He was ready for the finishing blow, when a muddy soldier slid the last couple of feet to the fight, and blocked the downward chop. His knees shook under the force of the blow, but he stood his ground defiantly. The duel was on again in full with the berserker putting Arcturus on his heels with numbing chops. He was wearing down an already tired man and knew it; he tried for a quick kill with a feint and then another downward chop. Numb and exhausted, Arc managed to block the attack, but lost grip on his sword, and took a glancing hit, the axe head bit through chain links and leather, drawing a line down his shoulder, breast, and thigh. It burned, but he retreated fast enough to keep the injury from being debilitating. He pulled his knife from the back of his belt and desperately stepped in close, Arcturus cracked his steel vambrace across the berserker‘s skull. As it staggered back, his hands wrestled for the axe, prying it out of its grip with the biting edge of his knife, and spun as he wrenched it free. Again, the berserker was too quick to be a normal man; he hopped back out of the arc of the axe. The reverse swing he ducked, but when he came back up again, he was against a rock wall. He was finished. The last thing he saw when he realized he had no place to go was the blade of an axe, dirty with the blood of its victims, crashing down right between his eyes. He could hear the crack of his skull splitting, and then he heard no more. Staggering and sliding in the mud and rain, Arcturus crawled over to Elaina, his commanding officer. He cradled her head as he inspected her wounds. Her diaphragm was likely punctured, and blood trickled in a thin line from her mouth. ―I won‘t make it, will I Arc?‖ ―You will be fine‖ he said firmly, trying to convince himself more than her. Rain mixed with her tears of pain, as she held her clenched fist out to him. Her fingers uncurled to reveal her bloody badge, ―Take it ,Arc,‖ she bade him take it through gasping breaths. With shaky fingers, he procured the badge and his thoughts raced. He stood, and picked her up. ―We‘re not far from town, we can make it if we march and don‘t stop. Come on soldier.‖ She did not have the strength to argue, and simply rested her head against his armored chest as he forced himself through the forest, leaving the scene of the carnage, but death‘s looming specter followed. *** The full sphere of the sun was visible in the sky now, and continued its steady ascent over the tree line of the Forest. The rain had stopped only hours before, and a merchant caravan made its way down a muddy and well-traveled road. They laughed as one caravan guard told his story, ―so I says,
why would you build one latrine on top o‘ anotha‘? An‘ he says, well the one on the bottom is for the common folk. So I asks, who is the one on top for? an‘ he tells me, tis for the king!‖ Another chorus of laughter went up, and then went silent as the caravan came to a slick and halt in the terrain shaped by the previous night‘s storm. A merchant came out of his cart, and stomped his way through the mud, to the front of the line. ―Why in hell did yah sto…‖ and his eyes went wide, when he followed the gaze of his guards. Lying in the middle of the road before their cart, were two knights of the realm, caked in the dry crust of mud and gore. *** Arcturus woke to the scent of herbs. His eyelids slowly crept open as he took in his surroundings. He was lying in a bed, his armor was on the floor in a heap, and a couple of men were standing around his bed, looking down at him. He quickly recognized the younger of the men; he was a local medicine man, which meant he must be in the village. ―I made it‖ he breathed more easily. The other was a man in full uniform, another knight, an officer in the region. He set a gloved hand on the healer‘s shoulder, and nodded to him; the healer understood the meaning behind the motions and quickly departed to give the two peace. ―You were in one hell of a mess. You‘re lucky to be alive.‖ He dragged a chair closer to the bed and seated himself. Arcturus did not register the compliment, fear and concern crept back into his mind instead. ―Where is First Shield Elaina Rivers?‖ The aging officer studied Arcturus with a heavy sigh. ―I‘m sorry soldier, she lost too much blood. I‘m afraid you are the only survivor of the tragedy that took place at your tower. One of many attacks in a chain.‖ Arcturus‘ lips formed a thin line above his clenched jaws. His eyes unfocused a moment and he seemed lost to thought and grief. He bitterly understood that it could have all been avoided. He alone remained aware and prepared, he alone survived. Perhaps the Saint of Battles had shown him her favor, for all it was worth. The officer slipped something into Arc‘s hand, Elaina‘s badge, still crusted in blood. ―You were holding onto this for dear life when they found you. They say you marched all the way to the town outskirts carrying her. That‘s a good few miles soldier. Keep it. You earned it... First Shield.‖ At first he showed no sign of listening. His thumb absently slid over the surface of the badge. ―I earned it, how, for what? The tower is lost, and my comrades are dead.‖ The officer was a relic of older wars, serving as a reminder of what war was like and what it turned men into. His reply was direct and void of emotion as he stood up and left the brooding soldier to recover. ―You earned it because you live.‖
Who-Ville Anna Falcone
They started late. The guy that told the band they could use his PA system showed up to the bar without an apology a few minutes before they were supposed to go on. Just as well, really. The guitarist broke a string almost as soon as he plugged in. He didn‘t have a spare set. Barking, he scrambled for a replacement. Well, I should tell you that the guitarist is my husband, Jack. This is the first time his band‘s playing out in front of people. It‘s also the first time I‘ve met the guys he plays with. They‘d invite me to barbeques and things, but he‘d turn them down. ―Busy,‖ he‘d tell them. I guess he was ashamed, but I don‘t know who for. The busy part is true enough. I work at a hospital and I‘m nearly done with my nursing degree. In the beginning, he liked the idea: I‘d do something I loved and could make a decent living at. Now, I can‘t mention graduate school without hearing him groan. I suppose it‘s all a game with him, little wifey off to school. I know I‘ll be making more than he does. He says that doesn‘t bother him. It would take the pressure off of us, but I‘m not sure it would make things any better. Anyway, they played really well. The owner of the bar wants them back next month. The crowd got into it, too. I watched Jack play: his eyes half closed, the light shining over his red curly hair like a halo. It was exactly like the night we met. I heard the songs he worked on over and over night after night at home. Even the parts he grimaced over sounded perfect to me. I felt excited and peaceful when he played. It was all I ever wished for. Every sticky sweet love song I ever heard, every romance book I ever read was right there in front of me when he tore through the set. The music ended. The lights came up and the crowds thinned. I heard the growl first: ―Where‘s the car? We‘ve got to get this junk out of here . . ..‖ I tried to reply. ―Well?‖ He sneered. I didn‘t say a word. I picked up his guitar case and walked the half block to the car. Jack and I found ourselves back at the bar with his band-mates, dissecting the night‘s performance. I said something about the vocals. ―Well, Honey,‖ Jack said, almost nicely. ―That‘s very interesting. Music theory‘s part of that school of yours, too?‖ I turned away. I looked down the bar. My hand felt cold and warmed up my beer. There was a hockey game on. Expansion teams. No one I recognized. A drunk wearing a New York Islander jersey was the only other person watching. He yelled at the screen: ―You jerks! Fight! C‘mon!‖ Jack‘s back was towards me. I was glad he‘d played well. Hope for the future, you know. I know he hated his day job. He talked about it every day. His boss, the customers, the people he worked with: It was always something, and it was never good. I used to ask what he‘d rather do than work at the bank. He never had an answer for me, only a scowl and a grunt. This, however, was good. More gigs, maybe some session work. Possibility. Probably no more money than now, but his anger, that anger, yes. He could make it on his own. No more failure. Maybe a future, a life, for me, too. I could support myself. Yes, yes. Apartment, car payments . . . with a new job, yes. I looked up, out.
Jack and his friends were still talking. I started to make my way through the back door of the bar, out to the street. I turned and looked back at him. He was smiling, happy. Just like when we met. The Jack I fell in love with. The way things were, before. Maybe, I thought, they could be the same again, maybe a chance. I looked towards the door, then back at Jack. As I did, I heard a voice, hissing and spitting. To this day, I couldnâ€˜t tell you if it came from the drunk, Jack, or me. Over and over, it was all I could hear. Coward
New Legs Raymond Philip Asaph
One random morning in Huntington, my town on the north shore of New York‘s Long Island, some guy in a wheelchair said, ―God could grow me two new legs.‖ Bad teeth blackened his smile. I thought, Why are the weird ones attracted to me? Standing on the corner in a faint spring rain with a damp cigarette in one hand, a cup of black coffee in the other, I was waiting for the bus. Raindrops plopping on my bald head annoyed me. It was Wednesday, hump-day, way too early in the morning for compassion. Most furniture movers in the morning feel like boxers the day after taking a major beating, and I was no exception. The horizon of my patience ended with the mist at the ends of my eyelashes. ―God could grow me two new legs,‖ he repeated. Gray and black and wild in the air, his long beard and hair were glistening with droplets. He looked like the victim of a fierce electric shock. And he smelled like damp dog. ―Are you asking for money?‖ ―Friend,‖ he said, ―I‘m just announcing for The Lord.‖ ―Which Lord? Lord Krishna? Lord Buddha? Jesus the Lord? Or do you have some other supreme being in mind?‖ ―I thought there was only one,‖ he said, and his voice, though shredded by cigarettes, sounded almost sincere. He was wearing a faded camouflage tee shirt and the ends of his red pants had been tucked loosely under the two stumps. But I was not in the mood to be scammed by anyone, legs or no legs. I had just woken up to another morning-breath argument with my second wife. Same old thing— the eternal trinity of marital woes: money, sex and the kid. On top of that, some smirking mechanic on the south side of town was holding my car hostage and demanding more than it was worth for fixing it. I was catching the bus to the Park & Ride where I would meet a moving truck en route to a job in Manhattan. The Park & Ride--that was my next stop; so I was already dreading the perverts who would be circling me in their cars as I waited for my cowork ers to show up. I was only awake for an hour and my
whole day sucked.
On the edge of a garbage can across the street, a squirrel searching for breakfast dove in. A story above that, several neon advertisements, extinguished now, hung behind the black windows of one of the eighty-six places in this town where a person can drown in a drink. I was doing my best to ignore him, but like rushing water pouring down a storm drain, this wheelchair man had a definite presence. ―Lost hope?‖ he asked. ―Nope,‖ I said, wondering if maybe the guy was a mind-reader or if I looked as suicidal as I felt.
Then I noticed he was looking at my cigarette and licking his lips. I set my coffee cup on the sidewalk, took out the pack and handed him a butt. Then I took another hit of coffee, another puff, and glanced over his head down the road for the bus. ―Need a light,‖ he told me. ―No fire, no smoke.‖ ―Oh, sorry.‖ I fished the lighter out of my pocket, lowered my arm and flicked it. His beard looked like an exploded bird‘s nest. But I forgot all about that when, puffing to get his cigarette started, he curved his hand around mine, the way a woman will when she wants to create some affection, or when she wants to nonchalantly drive another woman berserk by touching her man‘s hand. Naturally, I felt relieved when he removed his hand from mine; and as I squeezed the lighter back into my front pocket, I told myself: Wash your hands as soon as you can. ―God could grow ‗em back, toes and all—just like that,‖ he said, snapping his fingers over the ghosts of legs. ―Okay,‖ I said. ―You‘re right. God could. But God won‘t. And to really believe such a thing would be titanic self-delusion. Maybe even madness.‖ ―Faith can sometimes look like madness.‖ ―True enough,‖ I said, ―but they still ain‘t synonyms.‖ He shook his hairy face. O ye of puny faith, he seemed to say, then cast his attention at the shops across the pavement. For a moment, as he stroked his beard, he looked a little like Saddam Hussein on the day that dictator had been pulled out of a hole. But then he resembled himself again, another freaky street-person smoking his cigarette as calmly as a Rockefeller as a raindrop bounced off his nose. I pretended I was wearing headphones and started humming, ―Hey, Jude.‖ Aware that I was distracting myself from the man beside me and the one within, I continued to do so. I was in pain—tons of it—so that was my excuse. I was also worried. For one thing, my stepson was coming up on college and the cost of tuition would exceed my annual income. By a lot. For another, I knew I‘d be lucky if I had four more years of lifting left in me. The shit and the fan were close. I had to think about my own family, not the family of man. And yet, circulating through me like blood and triglycerides was the deepest truth, that simple question: Am I hearing, or ignoring, the call for love? I looked down at my sneakers, took another breath of smoke. With peripheral vision, I noticed the metal arm of his wheelchair was speckled with rust. Poets notice stuff like that, how rusty metal can seem sprinkled with cinnamon. I scratched my beard. I scratched my neck. I cracked my neck, and then I felt better. All men are my brothers, I reminded myself, and every woman is my sister. My job in this life is to love them, whether I want to or not. It was important to remember what was important today because this day was slightly symbolic. It was April Fourteenth, my forty-fifth birthday. So I was thinking about my upcoming death. I took another slug of coffee, another drag, then let out the smoke in a burst. ―I hate standing in the fucking rain,‖ I said. ―Me, too,‖ he said.
Finally. We were now two men who had achieved communication. And so, immediately, we turned away from each other. He looked at the curb. I looked at the sky—a sky that was going to pee on the movers all day. Here was one more day of customers worrying about the welfare of their furniture while their movers worried about catching the flu. But compared to a day of spreading democracy–our President‘s new reason for invading Iraq—I was facing a day like a chaise lounge in paradise. How many soldiers, I wondered then, were going to end up like the man sitting next to me? ―Bus‘ll be here in a minute,‖ I said. ―Need help getting up?‖ ―Nah, I‘m not going anywhere.‖ Wonderful, I thought. My job is done. ―Could use a pack of my own smokes,‖ he said. ―No offense, but your brand sucks.‖ I set my cup on the concrete, took out my wallet and gave him a ten. Just then, turning round the corner, a Second Precinct police officer slowed down and gave us both that famous, mustached stare. Severe as razor, it seemed to me; and for a moment I wondered if I was guilty of something. Must have been the old Catholicism kicking in. Dismissing us presently, the officer sped up the empty avenue, cruising through a red light where the road bends left at the edge of our village. ―Abuse of power,‖ said the man at my hip. ―Who does that cop think he is--the President?‖ ―Ah, maybe he got a call at exactly that second,‖ I suggested. ―For all we know, he could have flicked on the lights the moment he went around the turn.‖ ―Sure,‖ said my damp companion. ―And one day they‘re gonna find those weapons of mass destruction.‖ ―I can‘t believe how much this country has changed,‖ I admitted. ―In my own lifetime.‖ ―Yep,‖ he said. ―And when the next Great Depression hits, this town and every other is gonna look worse than the old Wild West.‖ Some pigeons cooed from a rooftop behind us. Somewhere else, a bundle of newspapers thumped. A taxi splashed through a puddle in front of us. I added some ashes to the street. ―What happened to us?‖ I asked, staring at the spot where the cop had been, at raindrops dancing on a silver street. ―When the good get lazy, the crazies take over. Nature of civilization, guy. Like it happened in Rome, it‘s happening here and everybody knows it.‖ He shifted his weight in the chair. ―That‘s why they‘re always running around buying shit.‖ He raked his fingers through his ragged beard. I glanced at his absent legs. The smoke of our cigarettes seemed to mix with the mist. ―Everything eventually gets buried,‖ I conceded. ―Even empires, but it ain‘t over till it‘s over, right?‖ Clenching his cigarette in his teeth, one eye squinting against the rising smoke, he gave me a look that spooked me. ―Sundown‘s come to this empire,‖ he said. ―Don‘t you already know it in your heart?‖ Whoa, this was way too much truth for a Wednesday.
―All I know is what‘s right front of me—carrying furniture in the rain.‖ ―Bummer,‖ he said. Okay, I thought, weird shit always happens when I’m tired. But it’s almost over. I was almost free. That sweet blue bus would arrive any second. I didn‘t want to have a panic attack before I even got to the Park & Ride. Then I realized I‘d probably never see the guy again. I sure as hell wasn‘t coming to the same bus stop tomorrow. ―What does your God tell you?‖ I asked. ―How should I know?‖ he said. ―I don‘t understand God. I look up to God the way my dog looks up to me. But I know God could give me new legs.‖ ―I think spirituality calls for realism,‖ I told him, ―especially when your society‘s like a mental asylum with all the doors flung open. And God–at least in my experience—does not behave like Santa Claus.‖ His face changed and he gave me a look as if I were the crazy one. ―Hey,‖ I said, ―you started this. You didn‘t say good morning, you didn‘t mention the weather; you didn‘t talk about any game last night. You didn‘t say any of the normal stupid things we say. You just rolled up and started talking craziness.‖ ―This life‘s a bitch,‖ he said. ―Duh,‖ I replied. ―I want a God like Santy Claus,‖ he whined. ―Well, you‘re not gonna get it.‖ ―What about miracles?‖ ―Every day. All over the place. We could be in the middle of one right now. Anything‘s possible.‖ ―Is it possible President Bush has been telling us the truth?‖ ―Okay, not anything. But a lot of stuff‘s possible. A revolution—that‘s possible—a national, nonviolent revolution.‖ He turned away and took a drag. ―Dreamer.‖ ―So was King,‖ I said, ―and there was a dreamer who changed the nation.‖ ―We don‘t have leaders like that anymore.‖ ―Then become one.‖ And there, thank God, was the bus. It was coming between the bookstore and an English pub, its heavy wipers slowly beating rain from the windshield. I knew I could say anything now; so I thanked him. ―What are you thanking me for?‖ ―Giving you that money just made me feel rich.‖ ―Not for nothing,‖ he told me, ―but one of us is way out there.‖ I dropped my cigarette into a drain.
―Brother, I couldn‘t agree with you more.‖ Then the bus stopped with a hiss of air and I climbed the steps on lighter legs and took a seat among a handful of illegal Latin aliens who were surely heading for heavy labor somewhere. When I leaned against the seat and saw my reflection in the rain-streaked window, I was shocked by how gray my beard had become. Then I noticed my man in the chair, the power and efficiency of his hands as he wheeled himself around the corner. No God would ever grow new legs from those stumps. Nor would God be putting on a cape and flying down Pennsylvania Avenue like Superman any time soon. A revolution. That I could believe in. Even if it was only between two people, one random morning in the rain.
Super 8: A Night in the Life Max Wahrenburg ―Hello there?‖ Jack reclined in his La-Z-Boy, cordless phone in one hand, remote in the other, flipping through channels on the muted TV set. ―It‘s me,‖ Wendy‘s voice floated through the receiver, ―it‘s Friday night. What‘s going on?‖ Jack chuckled. ―What do I ever do on a Friday night, Dee? Caroline keeps me here all the time. But today she and a few girlfriends decided to run to Atlantic City for the weekend. Last minute people.‖ ―You‘re there alone?‖ ―Yeah. Ironically, the one free Friday night I have is the one Friday night I just feel like staying in and watching the tube.‖ He came across a Discovery Channel special on monkeys and grinned, tossing the remote aside and reaching for his popcorn. ―What are you doing?‖ ―Are you eating popcorn?‖ ―Of course.‖ Wendy rolled her eyes. ―Well,‖ she began, ―I was cleaning my storage closet a bit today and came across a few dresses I forgot I had. I must‘ve bought them a while ago.‖ ―Caroline‘s not your size,‖ Jack burbled through his popcorn. ―No, I‘m not giving them away. I‘m wearing one of them now. A pretty red one,‖ she said. Wendy had Jack on speakerphone; she was admiring herself in a full-length mirror. ―I like it, I feel like going somewhere classy.‖ Jack thought. ―Don‘t know of any formal-type events going on around here anytime soon,‖ he said, ―and the company Christmas party isn‘t for another two weeks.‖ Wendy pushed a few stray strands of hair out of her eyes and held some eyeliner to her cheek. ―I was thinking something a bit more exciting than the Christmas party. Maybe a nightclub? You know lots of good places in the city.‖ There was a pause. Jack glanced at his phone, perplexed, and didn‘t notice his bowl of popcorn slide off the armrest and tumble all over his lap. ―Crap.‖ ―Did you get your food everywhere?‖ ―Always, when I‘m talking to you.‖ He picked up some pieces that had fallen on the floor and continued. ―So, who are you, and where‘s the real Wendy?‖ ―She‘s busy putting on some lipstick.‖ ―She would never want to go to a nightclub.‖ ―Oh, come on, Jack,‖ Wendy insisted, ―It could be fun. And besides…‖ She glanced over at the eight millimeter camera he had given her only a week prior, sitting atop her nightstand. ―You said yourself; I should try new things now that I have some time off.‖ She pursed her lips and blew a kiss at the mirror, then grabbed another shade of lipstick to try.
Jack sighed. ―Got me there. It‘s just last minute, you know? Maybe we can plan something for next week?‖ ―Caroline hates nightclubs.‖ ―Well…I don‘t really have much money to spend on drinks tonight, anyway.‖ He flipped through his list of excuses. He was nearing the end. ―Who needs to drink? We can dance!‖ ―You usually hate dancing and I have two left feet.‖ Wendy grabbed the phone and growled, ―Are you looking over that list of excuses again?!‖ ―Uh…well…‖ Jack quickly crumpled up the paper and tossed it to a wastebasket. ―Nope.‖ ―We are going out somewhere tonight whether you like it or not,‖ she remarked, and then added slyly, ―we can even take that sexy car of yours.‖ ―My rusty Coupe DeVille?‖ ―No, that other one. The Italian thing. In your garage.‖ Wendy slipped into a pair of white leggings embroidered with flower designs. ―The one Caroline can‘t stand.‖ ―Oh, the Pantera…I haven‘t started that in a whole month.‖ ―You‘d love to be seen pulling up to a hip and happening club in that, wouldn‘t you?‖ She selected a pair of black stilettos to contrast the white leggings and then twirled in front of the mirror again, admiring her getup. Wendy definitely liked where this was going. ―As if I‘d trust some valet bozo to park that for me,‖ Jack scoffed, ―It gets a space of honor wherever I take it.‖ ―So then you‘re good to go!‖ Wendy grabbed her purse, threw on an overcoat and headed outside, phone in one hand, trying to secure her scarf with the other. ―You have no money for drinks, so don‘t buy any. Dance with me instead. That way, you‘ll be sober to drive your nice car whenever we feel like leaving.‖ There was another pause. Jack groaned. ―You had this planned for weeks, didn‘t you? You have every loose end tied up…except one.‖ Wendy saw Jack‘s townhouse just down the road and scurried over just as an icy wind started blowing her dress in all directions. ―And what would that be?‖ ―If I flat-out say ‗no,‘‖ he said matter-of-factly. ―I think you‘ll change your mind when you see this outfit.‖ ―I‘m not coming over.‖ She rang the doorbell. ―Hold on, Dee, there‘s someone at the door.‖ Jack set the phone down and walked to the front door, slid the viewing window‘s curtain aside and saw Wendy standing outside, all dolled up, smiling and waving. He sighed again. ―Alright, I give up.‖ *** Jack‘s fire engine red De Tomaso Pantera was the hottest car on the road as it sped through the city toward the scene downtown, tires squealing and tailpipes ablaze with every gear shift. He and his
father had bought it when he was only sixteen and spent a decade restoring it, only to find its place of honor covered in a layer of dust in Jack‘s garage after Caroline had walked into his life. The two were squeezed into the spartan passenger compartment with hardly enough room to turn and look at each other, let alone the chrome engine revving just outside of the glass viewing window behind them. ―I forgot how much fun it is to drive this machine,‖ Jack remarked, grinning from ear to ear as he opened the throttle to nearly seventy miles an hour. ―Aren‘t you afraid of cops?‖ Wendy quipped. ―Not when I‘ve got 500 horsepower on them.‖ Wendy rolled her eyes. ―Just like high school. You were the first one to get a driver‘s license, and then you couldn‘t get enough showing off in that sports car of yours.‖ ―Please,‖ he laughed, ―that Ford Falcon was hardly sporty. The only reason I could skid around so much was because the tires had terrible traction on practically every surface.‖ ―Well, try not to skid past the club, will you?‖ She pointed down the street to a large crowd of people outside of a club. ‗The Infinite Loop‘ was embossed on a huge neon sign just above the entrance, looking more like a motion picture premier than a nightclub. Wendy could feel the DJ‘s rumbling bass despite the roaring engine. ―This place is excellent,‖ Jack said, ―Classy, expensive, crowded, and—― ―And my kind of place!‖ ―Dee, when was the last time you were even at a nightclub?‖ Jack was skeptical. Wendy chuckled. ―Oh…you know…not too long ago.‖ ―Three years?‖ ―Five…‖ ―You‘re in for a time.‖ Jack scanned the cars along the sidewalk and found a space just big enough for his car – a rather tight squeeze, just like everything else in the Pantera. Wendy managed to squeeze through the tiny door, feeling very much like a contortionist. She took a moment to compose herself and surveyed the scene: music pulsing, guests with drinks, conversations a buzz, enough energy to power a city. Even the cold weather wasn‘t enough to deter any partygoers. Needless to say, it was enough to make even the socially-awkward Wendy barely manage to contain a squeal and wring her hands in excitement. ―Jack, what‘s keeping you?‖ ―The damn parking meter. I can‘t find a quarter!‖ ―Oh…please, Jack.‖ She quickly found a quarter in her purse and stuffed it into the meter, grabbed her perplexed-looking friend by the wrist and scooted through the entrance and into the packed club. He was right, this place was classy. Suits and dresses, jewelry glittering, all kinds of drinks Wendy had never seen before. It was dark; most illumination came from the glass top tables lit from below with color-changing lights. A laser show flashed above the crowd constantly. In one corner was the crowded dance floor, the DJ played so loudly she could hardly hear herself think. It was a rush. It was overwhelming. It was…fun!
Wendy pushed through the crowd and headed for the bar. Jack struggled to keep up, knocking into people and tripping once while she seemed to just glide ahead effortlessly. ―Here, sit,‖ she said, patting a barstool next to hers. The bar was long and curvy as it wound its way all through the club, going on forever, and the glass top had the same color-changing lights as the tables. Wendy watched people come and go, grabbing drinks, leaving tips, lounging and chatting. She turned to Jack, beaming. ―This seems exciting…so, what do we do?‖ Jack was already sipping a drink. ―We‘re at the bar. Get something.‖ ―Like what?‖ He swirled his drink around a bit. ―Anything you want.‖ ―What do they have?‖ She sounded like a kid in a candy store. A very unsure kid. ―Oh boy…‖ He sighed and snapped his fingers. A barmaid approached. ―Can I get a Coke and vodka for my friend here?‖ No sooner had Jack passed her five bucks than a tall pink glass slid in front of Wendy. ―I thought you had no money for drinks.‖ ―I‘m just having Coke. This one‘s on the house,‖ he said, ―I thought you could use some extra courage.‖ Wendy took a sip. ―It‘s good…‖ And another. ―Very good. I‘d like another one.‖ She slid a five across the bar, and like magic, a fresh drink appeared in front of her. Wendy chugged it, and Jack arched an eyebrow. ―Wow…‖ ―I‘ll take a shot,‖ she called to the barmaid. ―Of what?‖ ―Well…everything!‖ She passed a hundred dollar bill across the bar. Jack whistled. ―You really have been planning this for a while,‖ he said as he watched a few glasses slide toward his friend. ―I‘m just trying something new,‖ Wendy said innocently. A half hour and five drinks later, she was beside herself. Jack watched her scoot around the club, chatting with anyone she bumped into, posing for drunken pictures and laughing along with complete strangers. He couldn‘t help but laugh. It was a side of her he had never seen before, and he was glad, despite a hundred dollars worth of drinks, to see her finally having a good time. Work had taken its toll on her; the normally gloomy Wendy desperately needed a break. He sipped his coke. ―Jack…oh Jack!‖ Wendy‘s drink spilled a bit as she stumbled toward him. ―Hi!‖ ―Hello, Wendy. Having a good time?‖ She waved. ―Hi!‖ ―Hey there.‖ ―This is so much fun!‖ She spun around, stumbled and fell right onto him. He looked down into her woozy big brown eyes and shook his head, but chuckled. ―Someone‘s having a good time.‖
―Who? …Come dance with me, Jack.‖ ―You know I have two left feet.‖ ―Please?‖ Wendy straightened herself and fixed her hair a bit. She struck a pose for him. ―You‘ve always wanted a pretty dance partner…‖ ―Aye…‖ Jack has to admit, she was rather enticing in that red dress of hers. Form fitting, strapless, cut off just above her knees. Her brown, shoulder-length hair brushed off to the side over one eye, cinnamon lipstick glistening between her cheeks alive with glitter and blush. ―Well, I guess I can bob along.‖ ―Yay!‖ Wendy grabbed him and dragged him to the floor. ―And I love this song!‖ ―Have you ever heard it before?‖ ―Nope.‖ ―Can you even dance?!‖ ―Who can these days?‖ She started gyrating and moving to the throbbing beat endless dance music. Jack played along and shuffled a bit. Wendy took his hands and spun him. The floor was packed; the noise and motion and lights were deafening to the senses as the music played on. Jack bumped into a dozen women, Wendy into a dozen men. He lost his tie. She lost her drink. He unbuttoned his collar and wiped some sweat as someone grabbed his arm. She ran her hands through her hair and picked her dress up higher and higher as the dancing intensified. She couldn‘t see straight, but she was having the time of her life. The rush was incredible. They were trapped on the dance floor for nearly an hour. Jack managed to escape halfway through Gasolina and trudged back to the bar panting. ―Glass of ice water,‖ he breathed. The barmaid was all too happy to send a glass in his direction. Wendy followed suit, drenched with sweat and missing one of her stilettos. ―Shot of Grey Goose,‖ she slurred. ―I think you‘ve had enough,‖ Jack said sternly. ―Last one, promise.‖ Wendy downed the shot and set the glass back on the bar. ―I‘m good.‖ She looked up at her dance partner and tried to smile. She wasn‘t sure whether to smile at the one on the left, right, or right in the middle, first. Jack rolled his eyes. ―We should go, Dee. We‘re broke, you‘re drunk. Let‘s go for a drive.‖ He smiled. She nodded wildly. ―That sounds fun. Hi, Jack!‖ ―Hello, Wendy.‖ She toppled over at long last. *** It had begun to snow during the two hours or so they were in the club. It was a light dusting, just half an inch, but was still coming down in pleasant flurries. Wendy had her head out the Pantera‘s window trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue. ―You‘re going to get whiplash, Dee,‖ Jack warned. He tugged at her shoulder.
She turned and pouted. ―No fun.‖ ―And you‘re getting snow everywhere.‖ Wendy laughed and tossed a few clumps of wet snow at him. It landed on his crotch, of all places. ―Aaagh! Cold crotch! Stop it!‖ She was beside herself, swaying two and fro, prodding the dashboard trying to find the window switch. ―Oh, Jack, you‘re funny, you know. …You know?‖ Jack wiped the last bit of icy water off of his pants. Thank goodness for scotch guard. ―And you‘re a ditzy drunk, you know?‖ ―I can‘t help it…I like to move around.‖ Wendy shifted in her seat, trying to get comfortable. The seatbelt tugged at her dress and held her stiffly in one place. She pouted again. ―Jack, this car is small…too small…like my boobs…‖ ―What?‖ Jack turned to see her looking down my dress. ―My boobs are small,‖ she whined, ―Guys don‘t like me. Are my boobs small, Jack?‖ She leaned over so he could look down the dress as well. ―They‘re fine, Wendy,‖ he said, a bit red in the face. ―Aww, thanks,‖ she mused, and let go of her dress. ―And of course guys like you! Going to a nightclub to meet new people was a very brave thing for a shy gal like you,‖ Jack complimented. ―Go to a what?‖ ―Oh, nothing.‖ They sat in silence for a few minutes, Jack enjoying his automobile and Wendy admiring the snow flying past the windows. The radio went unnoticed in the background, quietly playing some holiday tunes. Jack finally spoke up. ―So, what‘s on your mind?‖ ―Oh, you‘ll get mad, yeah, mad,‖ Wendy chuckled. ―You can tell me anything.‖ ―Well…‖ Wendy curled up tight in the seat and rested her chin on her knees. ―Remember back in high school, when we were dating?‖ Another short silence. Jack cleared his throat. ―Yes, I remember,‖ he said rather awkwardly. She moved closer. ―And remember what we used to do in your car?‖ Her tone turned flirtatious. Jack arched his eyebrows. ―In my car…?‖ ―You would skid through the snow!‖ she squealed, ―and it was fun!‖ ―Oh, that.‖ ―…And other things we did.‖ She batted her eyebrows. ―Wendy!‖
She grabbed his arm. ―Can you skid around in the snow? Please?‖ Jack glanced at her big brown eyes once more and let out a long, heavy sigh. Without saying anything, he grabbed the gearshift and downshifted, sending the car flying forward. Wendy was glued to her seat. Some fancy footwork with the brakes sent the car fishtailing down a relatively empty street. It skidded to a halt on the icy road before Jack punched the throttle once more. ―Go, go!‖ Wendy was bouncing up and down in her seat. ―Hang on.‖ Jack let out the clutch and the front wheels lifted off the ground. The engine roared, drowned out her commotion and sent them flying back down the street, and one last downshift brought the rear end fishtailing around and around once more. The tires squealed along with Wendy as they skidded to a gentle halt… …right alongside a parked police cruiser. ―Ah, damn,‖ Jack growled. He watched the officer in the cruiser turn to look at them and then roll his eyes in disgust. Off he went down the road. They looked at each other and burst out laughing. ―I guess he had better things to do at two in the morning,‖ Jack roared. ―Like donuts,‖ Wendy slurred, and grinned dreamily. ―That was fun, Jack. You‘re fun.‖ She rested her head on his shoulder. ―Not fun,‖ he said as he turned around and headed for her apartment, ―just reckless.‖ Wendy squeezed his arm and buried her face in his shoulder. ―I miss you, Jack.‖ ―I haven‘t gone anywhere.‖ ―You know what I mean…‖ She slowly reached up and planted a small kiss on his cheek. Jack chuckled a bit, feeling awkward once again. ―It‘s the booze talking, Dee.‖ ―I miss you,‖ she continued to peck at him. He tried to move away, but in the Pantera…there was no escape! ―Wendy, Caroline will be mad—‖ ―Screw Caroline.‖ She took her chance as the car came to a stop sign and grabbed his jaw, kissing him passionately. For a split second, Jack glanced at the road and tried to stay in control. Wendy pulled him farther away from the wheel, he let go of the clutch and the car moved lazily through the intersection, cutting three others off. He blocked out the angry horns honking behind him and leaned into the kiss, relishing memories of days long gone. Just this once, Caroline didn‘t have to know. As quickly as it happened, Wendy pulled away and stared, wide-eyed. Jack blinked. She tried to compose herself and brushed some hair aside, avoiding eye contact. ―Sorry. I can‘t hold my liquor.‖ He nodded. ―You need practice.‖ She looked uncomfortable all of a sudden, her face began to pale. ―I mean…I really can‘t hold it.‖ ―What?‖
Wendy pursed her lips and her cheeks bulged. ―Oh…crap.‖ Blech! *** ―I‘m sorry for ruining your shirt…and your seats…‖ Jack prodded his shirt with some stain remover and looked at his friend curled up under a blanket on his couch. ―It‘s fine,‖ he said with a reluctant smile. ―Thanks for the Advil…and blanket,‖ Wendy muttered woozily. ―Don‘t worry about it, no big deal,‖ Jack sighed and sat in his armchair across from her. ―You were in no shape to even walk up your apartment stairs. So get some sleep, alright?‖ Wendy nodded slightly, and within two minutes, Jack could hear snoring from under the blanket. His popcorn was where he left it on the floor next to the chair. Jack reclined and grabbed handful. ―Man, I need a drink.‖
Hypothetical Question: we ask our writers about the important stuff, so you don’t have to. Two literary characters are in a street fight. Who are they and which one wins? Why?
Because The Buddha, our most intelligent messiah, was unmoved by all things and Jesus got pretty damn passionate at times (his rampage through the temple, for example), I believe that Jesus would kick The Buddha‘s ass in an all-out street fight. Beat that boy bad. Beat him till he (Jesus) was tired and shedding tears. But then, because The Buddha would remain unmoved, he‘d offer Jesus some tea. And Jesus, because he understood forgiveness and valued humility and service, would accept. The two would not fight again and both would know (as we might not) that neither man had won the fight.—Raymond Philip Asaph
Obviously Albert Camus‘ Meursault, aka, The Stranger, verses Thomas Harris‘ Hannibal Lector, aka, Hannibal the Cannibal, would be a street fight I, and the literary world, would pay to see. The winner would hands down be Meursault, as he kills without rhyme or reason and maintains a certain detachment to death, a prime example being the way he acted at the funeral for his own mother. Lector, on the other hand, seems to need to have a reason to take a life, like in the killing of the clarinet player in The Silence of the Lambs for being off-key. Or, and even more obvious, was the way in which he hunted down the men who ate his sister during the Second World War in Hannibal Rising. Another fault of Lector‘s, and a second reason for his fall to the nihilistic Meursault, is ego. Whereas Meursault would kill Hannibal and move on with going through the motions that is his day to day existential existence, Hannibal would, unfortunately, spend hours toying with his victim, a prime example being Miggs in The Silence of the Lambs, who thought it amusing to throw his semen on FBI agent Clarice Starling. Hannibal stayed up all night discussing the ‗situation‘ with the ejaculator; that is until Hannibal found it the right time to have the man swallow his own tongue. This ‗time‘ that Hannibal wastes playing twisted games would backfire on a man like Meursault, who already does not feel that he belongs to or in this world, sentiments that would drive an ingenious psychologist like Hannibal Lector insane. And therein lies the fault. While Hannibal tries to find ways to break his nihilistic victim, Meursault would simply get up and kill Hannibal, his intent solely being to get home so he can have a coffee and some cigarettes.— Brian J Callaghan
While Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary is full of fire and passion, Emma lacks inner strength and mental toughness. James Joyce‘s Molly Bloom, on the other hand, is strong emotionally and physically and would mop the alleyway with the French lady, easily taking the women‘s title. In the men‘s division, Shakespeare‘s tragic heroes Romeo and Prince Hamlet would, theoretically, be a good match. Both are used to bloodshed and as nobles, one would think that they have Machiavellian potential. Unfortunately, Romeo lacks discipline and focus (he was all about
Rosaline until Julie made her appearance), and Hamlet has no killer instinct. While Hamlet was busy on the street corner contemplating his navel, he‘d get shanked by a local tough looking for fancy bling. Romeo, excusing himself to a local club, would hit on the wrong girl, ending up dead of lead poisoning, courtesy of a very jealous boyfriend. A decent body count, but not much of a fight. The overall winner in all of this would be Stephen King‘s Cujo. A Saint Bernard with furious rabies is basically a fast-moving zombie. And we all know zombies rule the world (unless you‘re a ninja. Ninjas are pretty cool, too).—Anna Falcone
The sounds of a scuffle can be heard at night outside the sheltering walls of homes. Two men are locked in a fight. One man is Clark Kent, the other is Superman. While two sides of the same coin, Superman is a hero who fights crime and has inhuman strength. Clark Kent is a simple reporter who wears the same suit day in and day out. Clark Kent wins the fight, because he is the humble figure that represents the ordinary man, and the ordinary man has extraordinary potential, while everyone already knows what to expect of Superman.— Bobby Kvrgic
f I had to choose two characters to go at it in a street fight, I‘d choose Clive Cussler‘s Dirk Pitt and F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s Jay Gatsby. This I believe would be an interesting fight on the count that, not only are the two over half a century‘s worth of writing apart, but it would also be rather one-sided. Pitt, being a swashbuckling lady‘s man and accustomed to saving the world, is the very antithesis of Gatsby, cushy and relaxed in his mansion. I don‘t believe he would get so far as ―Old sport‖ before Pitt had him down unconscious. And then Pitt would win Daisy‘s heart. Poor Jay.—Max Wahrenburg
About our Authors R
aymond Philip Asaph (who goes by Philip) has taught poetry and fiction for 18 years at the Long Island High School for the Arts. He‘s won a Staler Fellowship to Bucknell University, a grant for poetry from Vogelstein Foundation and a fellowship to NYU. His poems and stories have appeared in Poetry, Mississippi Review, Zone 3 and elsewhere. He lives on Main Street in Huntington on the north shore of Long Island, close, so close, to the street.
Brian J Callaghan was raised between the dull and tedious world of bankers, lawyers, dentists and doctors that was Plainview, Long Island, and the mystical, mythological, party all night but don‘t miss mass tomorrow extremely religious world that was Kilkee, County Clare, in Ireland. He also studied at both Saint Joseph‘s College on Long Island and at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. In 1996, he joined many members of his generation in moving to Prague in the Czech Republic, all heading for what had been declared to be the ‗Paris of the 90‘s.‘ Moving back to America in 1998, he spent seven years giving it a go in the book publishing industry, before, in 2004, he became one of the original members of the ‗reverse culture shock Prague generation,‘ or those who gave it a go in America before they realized that they couldn‘t figure out who on earth they were giving it a go for and moved back to Prague. Brian J Callaghan has authored numerous articles on Czech mythology and has also penned a novel, The Seeds of Cain which is available on Amazon.com. He continues to live in Prague, in the park district of Prague VII, with his wife Dana and his two kids, Liam and Darina.
Anna Falcone has lived in New York and environs for most of her life. She spends her time trying to make sense of it all.
Bobby Kvrgic was born in 1988 in New York City and studied at Suffolk County Community college. Inspired by the works of authors such as George R.R. Martin and Glen Cook, his fascination with science fiction and fantasy eventually kindled his interest in writing, which was only fanned by memorable times spent in the classrooms of inspiring teachers.
Max Wahrenburg is a truck driver and college student who lives in Baldwin, now and forever. A huge history dork and car nerd, he draws a lot of his inspiration from those very two subjects. His love of story-telling began at an early age, when his father would read books every night. Max loves reading adventure and suspense novels, and has worked since first grade on developing a literary style that is uniquely his own.