Sunday, February 27, 2005

Dang it

      Would you believe I have a head and chest cold again? I'm angry at it. I have things to do, stories to write, a life to live. Instead I'm coughing up green stuff and laying around like a beached whale.
      And Blogger has been behaving badly, refusing to open, and then after 15 or 20 tries and the editing window opens, it loses the post.
      Can I gripe some more about being sick? I'll get an appointment with the doctor and get some more drugs, but I resent having to spend the money. It absolutely chaps my hide.
      Anyway, I'm calling it a night now. Y'all take care.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Distant songs

When he set sail with his map
of where he thought he would go
we knew no more than that

He wanted to see new sights and find
somewhere else where the only sounds
would be new voices and distant songs

Some of us called him brave
but the rest knew such dreams
were as common as dirt

So we waved and whispered among
ourselves that he would return
humbled, glad to be with us

When he did not, we didn't notice
Life goes on as it will
no matter what happens

We lived and died, breath to death
ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
we went on without a thought

Until one summer day a white sail
appeared on the horizon
and above --
above he flew on golden wings!

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Plodding to flight

      The words came hard tonight. Sometimes it's like that. The story makes you work for everything. Sometimes I think that's okay. Easy things are sometimes not worth a lot. Other times I just think it's a great big pain in the butt. Tonight it's been a pain.
      The thing is that tomorrow the words may come easy. But to get to there, I have go through here. One word at a time. I plod a lot. Word to sentence to paragraph and repeat until you turn the page.
      Other times I run. The words just spill out, and the story flows bright and clear. And then I get those wondrous times, those rare, perfect moments when I fly.
      It's easy when you fly. But I've learned a secret about flying: If you live just for flight, you won't make it. You have to enjoy the plodding. Or if not enjoy, at least feel the satisfaction of a good job done when you're finished. Each plodding step takes us closer to the launching point, closer to flight. I don't know any other way to do it. And I think this writing lesson applies to life, too. We have to earn our wings, and we do that by working at it every day.
      My friend Randall has told me several times that he's amazed at how much writing I do. I keep telling him that it's not that amazing; anyone can do it. You just apply the seat of your pants to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard. Word by word the tally grows. Plod, run, flight. It works. And if we do it consistently in writing, sports, arts, anything, eventually we will all soar.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


      I'm fine. Thank you to everyone who sent their comfort and support. I realized something important today. Although it upset me, I also felt a sense of relief, like a weight that had been slowly pressing on my chest had been released. So enough about that.
      My IBD flared today. I've been eating things I shouldn't. Too much stress. So back to the restricted diet and some down time, and things will be better.
      The writing is going along. I'm impatient to get the book finished, but while I'm writing it, I don't feel that way. The story is keeping my interest so far, and there are a lot of words behind me. So maybe I have something good here.
      Both Trixie and ER are begging for comments. They're sad little blog waifs. Head on over and make them happy. For that matter, visit all the Blogs of Interest I have listed to the left. Lots of good stuff in them. Speaking of blogs, I got asked how I choose the ones I list. Well, they list this blog and they're good. I don't require much else. I don't link, however, to blogs that have adult material on them, which is why a couple blogs that link to this one aren't listed. (I just keep those on my Favorites in my browser ... )
      And on that note, good night!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Both Sides Now

      It's tough to be involved with a writer. I know this. How can love survive someone who disappears into his writing, who spends more time with the characters in his head than with the one he supposedly loves? Isn't strange that the thing which attracts someone is also that which drives them away?

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons ev'rywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on ev'ryone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

      So tonight I got hurt. Again. I'm very good at it. I'm attracted to people who do that. It's how I punish myself for being alive. Well, there you go. What do I know? Obviously if I knew how to make relationships work, this would have ended differently. And I won't whine about it. Here I am. This is my life. And why is this such a blow? It's not like I loved her. But maybe ... there was the possibility that I could have. It's the lost of that possibility, that maybe, that life that might have been.

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

      Of course, my friends will gather. They always do. They've done this dance with me before. "She'll be sorry." "She'll regret it." "She wasn't worth you." And so on. They know their lines. They're good friends. And tomorrow I will take comfort from them. Tomorrow I will let them soothe my ego. Tomorrow I will get myself get angry at her. I will write poems or stories, I'll spend my anger and hurt that way. No matter what happens to me, there's a part that stands back, that thinks, "We can use this in a story. This is good stuff." Maybe it's how I distance myself from pain. I don't know.

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say I love you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living ev'ry day

      But tonight it's just me and my writing, my oldest friend. The place that I return to time after time. The characters who greet me, who know me, who expect their stories to be told. They count on me for a happy ending. They count on their sorrows and sacrifices being worth it. And as best I can, I will redeem their pain. That's what a good author does. I just wish someone else was writing my life, that someone else could take this -- I said I wouldn't whine, and I won't.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

      There's a chapter to finish before I sleep. My hero is trapped in the fortress of the villain, his lady love is about to lose her life, their friends are running for their lives. So I have to get to it. But this post tonight, this is for all those people who have asked me what it's like to be a writer. At least, this is what it's like for me. Me and the words and the world that I want to be.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

"Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell

Monday, February 21, 2005

50 Favorite Things (Another meme!)

      Another meme. Please feel welcome to answer this on your blog. Meme ... what happens when bloggers need posts.

1. My favorite color: Dark green or dark blue. I like rich deep colors. Black is good, too.
2. My favorite TV show: Stargate SG1. The show's getting a bit long in the tooth, but it's still one of the best action adventures on TV.
3. My favorite movie: The Lion In Winter. An incredible cast with a fantastic script. Won an Oscar for Katherine Hepburn.
4. My favorite drink: Lemonade. I like Liptons.
5. My favorite cookie: Braums peanut butter cookies. Yummy.
6. My favorite candy bar: Snickers.
7. My favorite potato chip: Vinegar and Salt Flavored Pringles.
8. My favorite hamburger: Sonic Number 2 Cheeseburger with mustard and no onions.
9. My favorite vehicle: I don't have one, but I'd like to have a Pontiac G6. Cool car. Or the Starship Enterprise. That would be even cooler.
10. My favorite author: I have several. Check my author links, but I'd have to say that I like Terry Pratchett best of all.
11. My favorite song: Too many to narrow it down. I like country, rock, pop, etc. The only music I don't like is rap and hiphop.
12. My favorite singing group: See previous answer.
13. My favorite food: Mexican. Absolutely love fajitas and tacos.
14. My favorite pet: Dog. Why is this next to the favorite food question?
15. My favorite musical: Man of La Mancha. To quote a favorite passage: "Life as it is. I have lived for over forty years and I’ve seen 'life as it is.' Pain. Misery. Cruelty beyond belief. I've heard all the voices of God’s noblest creature -- moans from bundles of filth in the street. I've been a soldier and a slave. I've seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I've held them at the last moment. These were men who saw 'life as it is,' but they died despairing. No glory. No brave last words. Only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning, 'Why?' I do not think they were asking why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams, this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness. But maddest of all -- to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
16. My favorite male movie star: John Wayne or Harrison Ford.
17. My favorite female movie star: Meryl Streep or Sigourney Weaver.
18. My favorite male TV star: Richard Dean Anderson.
19. My favorite female TV star: Amanda Tapping.
20. My favorite clothes: Jeans. Long sleeve pullover jersey.
21. My favorite computer: Dell, I guess.
22. My favorite internet service: AOL, I guess.
23. My favorite kiss: French, but I don't like it when my aunts do it ... :)
24. My favorite web site: 51313 Harbor Street. You knew that one was coming, didn't you?
25. My favorite religion: Christianity. But I do read a lot of Buddhist writings. I like their approach to the question of suffering in the world and our obligations to the world.
26. My favorite religious flavor: Flavor? Hmm. I guess Baptist, but I'm quite a bit more liberal about a lot of things.
27. My favorite hobby: Writing and reading.
28. My favorite wild land animal: Getting kinda particular here, aren't we? Elephant. I got to ride one at the zoo once. Incredibly cool.
29. My favorite wild sea animal: Any of the whales. Awesome creatures. Why can't we just let them live in peace? Must we kill everything on this planet?
30. My favorite political party: Democrat, of course.
31. My favorite Congressman: Don't like any of them. I mistrust anyone who wants to hold a political office.
32. My favorite president: I really liked Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. I disliked many of the decisions that both made, but they seemed honest and sincere. And Jimmy Carter has used his life after the presidency to help many, many people. He does what I'd like all of our former presidents to be doing, making the world a better place instead of just building presidential libraries and writing self-serving books.
33. My favorite national park: I've never been to it, but the pictures of Yellowstone are awesome.
34. My favorite national monument: Well, I guess the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore. The Statue of Liberty for what it stands for, Mount Rushmore for its sheer immensity. Once again, haven't been to either.
35. My favorite vacation spot: The beach. I haven't seen the ocean, but I want to.
36. My favorite exercise: That's like asking my favorite torture. Walking or swimming. I actually like swimming, though. Just don't call it exercise.
37. My favorite sleeping position: On my right side.
38. My favorite time of day: When I'm off work.
39. My favorite sexual position: Ahem. Too personal. But it does not involve saddles or trapeze, despite what you might have heard. (Does anyone actually answer this one?)
40. My favorite pickup line: I don't have pickup lines. I try to approach women with a willingness to see their unique beauty and intelligence ... No, seriously. It's not a line. I promise. Trust me.
41. My favorite charity: I list several on the left side of my blog. I most often give to the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
42. My favorite blogger: You mean, besides me? I have my favorites listed. I read each daily. I like them all.
43. My favorite newspaper: The Daily Oklahoman. I don't read it, but the girl who delivers it across the street is really cute.
44. My favorite cartoon: Dilbert if we're talking print, the old Bugs Bunny cartoons if we're talking animated.
45. My favorite superhero: Superman and Wonder Woman. Batman needs to lighten up. Spiderman is cool, too, but he never seems to get a break. The X-Men are too self-absorbed. Yes, I need to get a life.
46. My favorite person: Mikey, of course. I most enjoy my time with him. He will be four this summer. Seems amazing.
47. My favorite plant: Do people have favorite plants? And if they do, poor things.
48. My favorite Star Fleet Captain: Kirk, of course.
49. My favorite blond(e): Marilyn, of course, but I do like Pamela, too.
50. My favorite saying: "No good deed goes unpunished."

      There you go. Now I'm curious to see your answers.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Busy weekend

      I spent all weekend working on a writing project that I intended to finish in January before illness interrupted me. I finished it this afternoon.
      Otherwise, I didn't do much besides some housework and writing. I'm feeling much better other than a persistent cough.
      We had warmth and sunshine today. It felt great.
      Have a great evening and a wonderful tomorrow.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Going postal

      I just finished the Complete Letters of Mark Twain. Fascinating if lengthy stuff. Now I've started to wonder who's collecting my letters. It will be important to the future scholars of my work, so important that I've decided I will start keeping photocopies of my letters and not depend on my scatterbrained friends and family who are right now discarding letters from me that doubtless they could sell to collectors some day.

Dear Mrs. Jones,
      Even though I often say that we'll have to get together sometime, implying that we should see each other more, I feel I must mention something as a good neighbor. You are a large, beautiful woman, but please do not wear hot pants. Yesterday when you bent over to work on your lawn, my dog went mad, birds fell from the sky, and my cat tried to claw his eyes out.

Dear Doctor Terminus,
      Thank you for sending me your educational if expensive bill. I had no idea that cotton swabs were made of gold. Once I figured this out, $207 for them seemed a bargain. I do hope you are willing to wait to be paid until I can sell a kidney or some other unnecessary organ on the black market.
To your good health

Dear Oklahoma Gas & Electric,
      With great interest, I read an article in my local newspaper about the construction of your new power plant. It will provide power for years to come in our growing state. Then I received your rather large bill. I have a request. Would it be possible to spread the construction cost around a bit? I want to do my share, but I don't want to deny the rest of your customers the opportunity to participate in this worthwhile project.

Dear Agent Smithson,
      When I referred to the IRS as "an evil pimple on society filled with brain-dead parasites," I meant it in a loving way, more of a gentle nickname, joshing between true friends. I know you can understand the caring and compassion behind such jibes. I have nothing but the greatest respect for you and your fellow employees of the great IRS.
Looking forward to seeing you at the audit

P.S. I hope you don't mind that I'll be bringing you a small present. Just a box of chocolates to show my continuing respect for you.

Dear Linda,
      Even though I'm still miffed about our breakup and the keying of my car and even though I did swear my undying terrible vengeance in that funny sweet way I have, I have no idea how your phone number was released on the Internet to every telemarketing firm in the world. I'm horrified that you could even think I would do such a thing.

Dear Ted,
      Linda is on to us. Wipe all hard disks and flee the country. If you're caught, all knowledge of you will be disavowed.

Dear Dennis,
      I have no idea where your cat is. Why does everyone in the neighborhood always suspect me when an animal goes missing? I'm not even playing with rockets these days, and Mrs. Andrews's cat was returned safely anyhow. I don’t know why she goes on and on about it, especially since furless cats are very expensive at the pet stores.

Dear Mr. Simmons,
      Please, I'm begging you for the sake of all that's good and decent in this weary world, close your drapes when you get out of the shower. The whole neighborhood would appreciate it. (Surely those can't be teeth marks ... can they?)

Dear MasterCard,
      I received your reminder of my payment due date. I am frankly dismayed by this lack of trust. Admittedly in the past, there may have been times when I needed this, but not for years. You need to grow beyond this obsessive need to be constantly reassured of my attention. Frankly I think you're demeaning yourself. It's time to move on.

Dear Simon & Schuster,
      Thank you for reading my book of my collected letters. I'm sorry you felt they weren't right for your publishing company. I'll try Random House as you suggested.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


      You could fill several books with my sins. Maybe some biographer will someday. But one that I haven't done is cheat in a relationship. One of my blogging friends is going through that now. I don't know all the details and probably never will since I don't know her in real life, but I do know she's hurting. Her significant other has strayed and more than once.
      I hope you know by now that I try to be a compassionate person. I want people to forgive me so I try to forgive them. But there's something about someone who cheats on their spouse or lover ... I don't trust them.
      I have friends who have cheated on their loved ones. I know this about them. I'm friends with them still, but always in the back of my mind, there's a place where I hold myself separate from them. In that place, a small voice says, "If he/she will cheat on the person they love the most, if that person will lie to their supposedly soulmate, whatever makes you think that they won't lie to you?"
      I know people make mistakes. I know that we all slip. I'm certainly not perfect. That it's not a sin that I've committed ... Well, maybe I've never been tempted enough, maybe there is somewhere a savage passion that would overwhelm me. But not so far.
      Some people have beauty and raw animal power going for them. They stride through the world and they take what they want, regardless what it does to those around them. They're stars and they're dark and dangerous and a lot of people love them and want them.
      Me -- I'm the one of the ones who remain. I'm that one with staying power, who stays loyal, who hangs on, who cleans up after the storm. I try to fix things instead of breaking them. It's not sexy, but it's real. It's what I think a man is supposed to be.
      And I don't know much about being a man. I stumble around a lot avoiding old mistakes but finding new ones. However I do know this: A man is only worth as much as his word is. If he's untrustworthy, then what do you have?
      I realize that at this point, a lot of people will say, "Yeah, but our marriage/relationship/whatever was already dead" or "It was just one night" or "It was just sex" or those thousand other excuses that we tell ourselves when we choose to do the wrong thing, when we want something we shouldn't have and frankly don't love our mates enough to deny ourselves. Perhaps those excuses are enough for some of us. But we know better. Our lips may speak lies, but our hearts know the truth.
      I hope things work out for my blogging friend. I think, from what I can read of her from reading her words, that she's strong and that ultimately she will come out okay. But that journey is going to be rough. So I guess I'll end this with a prayer for her and for all those others out there in the wilds of broken love: May God keep you, bless you and bring you finally safely home.

Crazy cool

Beautiful art. Made me feel good just to look at it. Check it out.

Cello Concerto: Crescendo by Holly Lisle

My first meme and probably the only one

What year was it?
I graduated in 1979.

What were your three favorite bands (performers)?
Journey, Barry Manilow, and Aerosmith.

What was your favorite outfit?
Jeans. Shirt. I seem to remember having a pale green pullover that I would open halfway down my chest to show off my manly chest hair. And I had a gold chain. Oh, yeah, I was Mr. Cool.

What was up with your hair?
I had short hair. Parents wouldn't allow anything but that. But I did have killer sideburns.

Who were your best friends?
I really didn't have any. I wasn't happy there. I had a few that I would hang around, but I never felt more than an outsider pretending. Later in college, I would make many friends who are still with me today. Strangely enough, a couple of those friends would be people from my high school. It took college before I could learn how to accept any friendship. It was glorious when I did.

What did you do after school?
Fed the cattle and pigs, hauled hay and feed, and homework.

Where did you work?
Only on the farm. One summer my parents let me work for a couple of months at The Sonic Drive-In. I tried, but I got fired.

Did you take the bus?
Yes, until my junior year, and then my parents let me drive the pickup.

Who did you have a crush on?
I refuse to tell as this person is still in my life, and I prefer to keep my past humiliations as past!

Did you fight with your parents?
No. That would come later when I got to college and started to finally become the person I was meant to be.

Who did you have a CELEBRITY crush on?
I can't think of anyone.

Did you smoke cigarettes?

Did you lug all of your books around in your backpack all day because you were too nervous to find your locker?
I had a locker.

Did you have a clique?

Did you have The Max like Zach, Kelly, and Slater?
No. And this question makes me suspect it was written for the 90s group, although I did see a few episodes of Saved By The Bell while babysitting.

Admit it, were you popular?
No. Emphatically no.

Who did you want to be just like?
Maybe Stephen King. Or Stephen R. Donaldson. Not to write like them, but to be a successful writer.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A successful author.

Where did you think you'd be at the age you are now?
Married. Successful. Several children. Life worked out different. Not worse, but different.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

My picks for the Nebulas

      The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have announced the final nominees for the 2004 Nebula Awards. The winners will be announced April 29. In case you're not familar with the Nebulas, they're like the Oscars for science fiction and fantasy. The nominees in bold are the ones I hope will win.


Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
Omega by Jack McDevitt
Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell
Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart
The Knight by Gene Wolfe

      Yes, I realize both can't win, but both are good books by good authors. A tie would be great.


•"Walk in Silence" by Catherine Asaro
•"The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes" by Adam-Troy Castro
•"The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge
•"The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams
•"Just Like the Ones We Used to Know," by Connie Willis

      Connie Willis is an excellent writer, adept at both comedy and serious writing.


•"Zora and the Zombie" by Andy Duncan
•"Basement Magic" by Ellen Klages
•"The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe
•"Dry Bones" by William Sanders
•"The Gladiator's War: A Dialogue" by Lois Tilton

      No choices here because I haven't read any of them.

Short Stories

•"Coming to Terms" by Eileen Gunn
•"The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Anne" by Mike Moscoe
•"Travels With My Cats" by Mike Resnick
•"Embracing-The-New" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
•"In the Late December" by Greg van Eekhout
•"Aloha" by Ken Wharton

      Eileen Gunn can flat out write. Gunn needs to write more and write more often.


•The Incredibles
•The Butterfly Effect
•Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
•The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

      I disliked Eternal Sunshine and The Butterfly Effect, both for taking a good idea and squandering it. The Incredibles was a great, fun movie, but the clear choice is The Return of the King.
      And there you have my picks. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blogger Blues

I've been trying to get on to Blogger for most of the evening. I've tried to post twice, and the connection timed out. So this will be short. In fact, that's all. Have a good night and a great day tomorrow!

Monday, February 14, 2005


      Happy Valentines Day ... or as I refer to it ... Black Monday ... AKA Passover ...
      I'm doing much better physically. Not well, but close enough to be able to do a few more things. I think I'm finally getting over this crud. I'm grateful.
      I'm also grateful for something that I noticed last month, but I waited until this month to make sure it wasn't a fluke. I'm actually been able to pay my bills on time since I got the loan to pay off those four credit cards. Don't get me wrong; I never was late on my bills, but it required a lot of juggling, a lot of "I'll pay this now and then mail that bill two days before it's due and then I'll get paid and the money will be there before the check clears." Now, I can pay them without all that worry. I still don't have any more money, but the loan changed four due dates to one due date. I'm not sure I can express how much of a blessing that is.
      Another thing to be grateful for: I actually got a refund on my taxes from the feds and the state. Not much, but every little bit helps.
      Oh, and we had glorious sunshine here, and the temperature was in the 70s. The weatherman says we have more cold coming on Wednesday, but tomorrow is supposed to be nice, too. If I can, I'm going to go outside and take some photos.
      Finally, thanks for all those nice comments on "An Unattended Death." I appreciate it. Helps keep me going.
      So even though I didn't have anyone to spend Valentines Day with -- Pam Anderson didn't return my calls -- it was a rootin' tootin' good day. I hope you and your loved one(s) had a good day, too. See ya tomorrow.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 7

      I got on the phone and called the county sheriff's office. The night dispatcher told me that C.J. was off duty. I asked her to tell him to call me as soon as possible.
      I didn't expect to hear from him until the next day, but about ten minutes later, the phone rang.
      "What do you need?" he asked curtly.
      "Well, it's about Aaron--"
      "I told you to stay out of that!" he cut me off.
      "I'm out of it," I said. "I'm out of it, but I thought of something that might help you."
      "Help me with what?" he asked. "The investigation is closed. You need to forget this. He was a junkie, he killed himself, end of story."
      "Okay, but one question, was Aaron wearing glasses when he was found?"
      "Was Aaron wearing glasses when he was found?"
      "What are you talking about?"
      "Simon Williams told me that Aaron's eyes were really bad," I said. "I think Aaron was nearsighted. Was he wearing his glasses when he was found? They weren't on him at his funeral." I paused. "Or maybe he wore contacts?"
      "Hold on," C.J. said. "I have his file here. I'll have to look at the Medical Examiner's report, but I don't think he was wearing either. Why?"
      "Because I drove out to where he was found--"
      "You did what?! After I told you--"
      "Before you told me," I cut in. "Would you listen for a moment? If Aaron was as nearsighted as Simon said he was, there's no way he could have made it if he wasn't wearing his glasses or contacts. Someone had to drive him."
      "Lots of people wear glasses and drive without them," C.J. said.
      "Farsighted people drive without them," I said. "But I'm nearsighted, and without my glasses or my contacts, there's no way I could drive out to those woods without crashing my car. Everything is a blur two feet away from my face. I can't see past the hood of my car. If his eyesight was that bad, he couldn't drive anywhere without glasses or contacts, much less to where he was found."
      C.J. was quiet for a long time. I could hear papers being moved.
      "He wasn't wearing either," C.J. said. "And they weren't found in the car or in the woods."
      "It would be real interesting, don't you think, if they were found at his house?" I asked. "Especially since you told me that Marlene saw him driving away."
      "I've got to go," he said. "Don't say anything to anyone, not at all." He hung up.
      The next three days, I didn't hear anything about Aaron Brody and had just about decided that my thought hadn't led anywhere when C.J. called me that evening.
      "You were right," he said. "We found his glasses at his house under a couch. He didn't wear contacts anymore. And he was blinder than a bat ever thought about being."
      "So Marlene lied," I said.
      "She's not talking," C.J. said. He said Marlene wouldn't budge from her story, but the sheriff's department had discovered she had another boyfriend, a Robert Guidane. They brought in the guy, and after a bit of pressure, he told them all about it.
      Guidane said that Aaron and Marlene had arranged a drug deal. They purchased $25,000 worth of drugs and decided to "test" their buy before they sold it. Aaron shot up, but he took the amount he used to take. Aaron hadn't realized that he had lost the tolerance to the drugs that his former usage built up. He went into seizures. Marlene panicked. She called Guidane. By the time, he got there, Aaron was already dead. They took his body out to the woods and dumped it and then went back to the apartment and cleared the drugs out.
      "So she let him die," I said, feeling sort of sick. "She could have called an ambulance."
      "They had drugs out everywhere," he said. "She didn't want to be caught. His glasses probably came off during one the seizures and ended up under the couch. She never noticed. I'm not sure what the D.A. is going to charge her with, but she's not going to get away with it."
      "So it's over," I said.
      "Seems like it," C.J. said. "Marshall Brody is claiming those two killed his son. He knew as soon as we arrested them. He's got friends at the courthouse." He hung up.
      The next evening Marshall Brody startled me by knocking on my door.
      "I just wanted to thank you," he said. "I heard you figured it out. I knew he didn't kill himself. They killed him."
      I nodded, but thought that Aaron chose to take those drugs. And maybe he would have died even if Marlene had called for help.
      "They'll pay," he said. "Especially that slut. She knew he was clean. She's going to pay for it."
      And as I looked at his face, I realized something terrible, so terrible that I stupidly blurted it out.
      "You gave him the money," I said.
      He looked at me, and as our eyes met, I knew he knew I knew.
      "What?" he asked.
      "The money," I said. "Where did Aaron got the $25,000 for the drug deal. No one's mentioned a job." All sorts of things began to click in my mind. "Everyone else took a hard financial hit in the oil bust, but not you. How is that possible?"
      He didn't answer me. His eyes shifted to look behind me, checking out my house. Suddenly I felt cold. I thought about that gun he carried in his pocket.
      "The police know you sell drugs," I said. "They know."
      All of the life seemed to go out of him. His shoulders slumped.
      "You don't understand," he said. "You gotta take care of your family. I couldn't let my family starve. Family's everything. But he wasn't supposed to take the drugs." He shook his head. Tears ran down his face. "They weren't meant for us." He turned away. I watched as he drove away.
      I shut the door, locked it, sat down until the shakes passed, and then called C.J. -- who chewed me out royally for talking to Brody before I talked to him.
      Three days later, they issued an arrest for Marshall Brody and a search warrant for his home.
      No one knows if Marshall was tipped off, but a few minutes before the sheriff arrived at the Brody home, Marshall told his wife that he was going to clean his guns. He went into his wood-paneled den, shut the door and then shot himself. Maybe it was an accident. He didn't leave a note.
      After some court wrangling, his life insurance policy made his wife and daughters very wealthy. In the end, he took care of his family.

© 2005. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 11, 2005

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program

      My sincere apologies to everyone who is waiting for the concluding installment of "An Unattended Death." My cold moved from head into my chest, and I came home and went to bed and didn't wake up until 11:00 last night. Then I took meds and went to bed again. Hence the early rising this morning.
      I've left something out in there. I might have tried to get the installment up, but in my mail was yet another blamed rejection, once again personalized. Whee. This one is interesting. Let me quote:

Dear (TECH):

We enjoyed Murder by the Acre. The characters are lively and funny, and the plot interesting and well-crafted. However, the book seems likely to be a midlist book. Currently (our company) is trimming back on our midlist. I suggest you might consider sending it to (someone) at St. Martin's Press. This seems to me to be the type of book he's looking for. Good luck with your writing in the future, and keep us in mind for your future projects.


(Yet another editorial assistant)

      Now here's the interesting (distressing) part: That someone at St. Martin's Press is the one who recommended I send it to her. Sigh.
      I know I should take comfort in the rejection. I mean, it's a nice rejection, but I get a lot of nice rejections. A LOT. I have 30 or 40 sincere, meaningful and generally kind rejection slips. I'm ready for a rude acceptance.
      Anyway, the thought of writing just seemed a bit too much, so I retreated to my bedroom, a turtle going back into his shell.
      I intend to complete "An Unattended Death" today or tomorrow at the latest, but I'm sure you guys have it figured out anyway and are just waiting to get your hunches confirmed. I also intend to try to go see the doctor today and get some medicine. I'm tired of being sick in a major way.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 6

      I stared at the man behind the huge black mustache. The mustache was new, but the face wasn't.
      "C.J.?" I asked.
      "Be quiet!" he snapped. "What are you doing here?"
      "I ... come here all the--"
      "Try again," he commanded.
      "Never mind," he said. "I want you to leave right now. Go outside. Get in your car. I'll be there in a few minutes. Don't try to run off. You're going to answer my questions here or at jail. I don’t care which."
      I rose and walked outside. I passed by Marlene. She never looked up. So much for questioning her.
      As I sat in my car, I began to wonder what the penalty was for interfering in an investigation. Great, I was probably going to be arrested. Apparently curiosity not only kills cats, but it puts people in jail, too.
      C.J. jerked open the car door, startling me out of a year's worth of hair growth.
      "Okay, let’s hear it," he commanded.
      "I like the look," I said. "Sort of a Village People. And the mustache looks real. Did you put it on with spirit gum?"
      "I'm in no mood for a smart ass," he snapped. "How would you like a ride to jail?"
      He shook his head impatiently.
      I took a deep breath. "I was here to talk to Marlene."
      "About what?"
      "I wanted to ask her about Aaron."
      "Why are you so interested in him?" he asked. "What is it to you?"
      "I don't know," I said. "I just think there's something more to it."
      "Why?" he asked. "What are you holding back?"
      "Nothing," I said. "I don't know anything more than what you told me, but I keep feeling like there's something more, something I should ask you, but I can't figure out what that is."
      He looked at me a long time and then said, "Okay, I can buy you being nosy, but you're out of this. There are things going on here that can get you killed. We don't need some amateur mucking things up. You're out, understand? If I catch you nosing around this again, you'’re in trouble. Trouble with a capital T."
      I wanted to say, "Right here in River City," but I doubted he'd appreciate the quote from The Music Man.
      "Okay," I said, "but I wanted to tell you that I saw Marlene taking money in there and giving them little packages. I figure it's drugs."
      He sighed. "Figure that out yourself, did you? Besides me, there's at least four other officers in there, not counting a couple from the OSBI. Somehow we've figured it out without your help."
      "So you’re going to arrest Marlene," I said.
      "She your girlfriend?" he asked. "Otherwise why is it any of your business?"
      "Look, you were the one that told me you thought Aaron's death had more to it," I said.
      "Yeah, and I'm sorry I did," he said. “Keep your mouth shut about this. Marlene worked a deal. She’s narcing on the others. She knows she's being watched. We going to let it run for another day, and then we're going to gather them all in."
      "What about Aaron?" I asked.
      "What about him?" he echoed. "Look, he was a junkie. He died. People do that when they take drugs. Let it go." He got out of the my car. "Just go home. Go home."
      So I went home.
      Later that night as I got ready for bed, it finally occurred to me what I should have asked, the question that had been sitting on the tip of my tongue for the past few days. It might not mean anything, but if it did, it cast Aaron Brody's death in a whole new light. It would also mean someone lied.
(To be concluded)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 5

      The oil boom brought a lot of fast money and outsiders to western Oklahoma. It had also brought more vice as adult bookstores, adult video stores and "gentleman's clubs" sprang up near the oilfields.
      After the bust, most of them went out of business as oil field after oil field shut down. Counties and cities, notably Oklahoma City, zoned most of remaining ones out of existence. But the Stuttering Rooster survived. On I-40 near Elk City, it catered to truckers, college students, roughnecks, rednecks, bikers, anyone with cash and a desire to see REAL LIVE GIRLS.
      I had driven past it before but never stopped. No, really, I hadn't. It intimidated me, all those trucks and the bright neon that outlined the building. And with images from TV shows running around in my head, I could only imagine what went on inside.
      In the half hour that it took me to drive there, I tried to figure out why I was going. It was my only lead to Marlene, but even if I found her, what would I say? And why should she talk to me?
      One thing at a time, I thought. I'd first just check and see if her car was in the parking lot. If not, then back home. If so ... I'd make that decision then.
      It was just about six or so, but the parking lot was already half-filled. I drove around, trying to see her car. I found a couple of red ones that could be hers, but I couldn't be certain. There was only one way to find out.
      They charged $10 to get through the door. The bored over-blown blonde who took my money explained there was a two-drink minimum. Yikes. This wasn't going to be cheap. I could hear a country-western party song booming.
      I stepped through swinging doors. A huge man sitting on a stool glanced over at me. He didn't look friendly. The floor had sawdust scattered around. I made my way to the first booth I could find, almost stumbling in my haste to find a corner. The cigarette smoke made my eyes water. I sneezed several times. Yeah, I was Mr. Cool.
      On a small stage an insanely flexible woman danced around a pole. Her pasties were white stars, her thong was blue, and her high heels were red. A patriotic lass.
      A waitress wearing a cowgirl miniskirt and a red hat came to take my order. I ordered a Coke.
      "You still have to pay drink price, honey," she said.
      "That’s okay," I said. "Go ahead and bring me two of them." Might as well get that two-drink minimum out of the way.
      "Ooo, I’ve got a hot one here," she said, flashing a smile that revealed a gold tooth.
      I smiled back. What was I doing here? I looked around for Marlene. I didn't see her, but if she was a performer, maybe she was on break.
      The waitress brought my Cokes. I handed her a twenty. She gave me a ten back. Ouch. Rockford apparently had enough money for this kind of stuff.
      I raised my Coke and on the edge of the glass was the unmistakable print of someone’s lips. Okay, I wouldn't drink anything. And as my eyes adjusted, and I began to be able to see the Rooster clearly, I realized I would need to burn all my clothes as soon as I got home. I would have to bathe in bleach.
      Several girls wandered around the tables, asking men if they wanted to buy them a drink or wanted a lap dance.
      A redhead asked me. I just shook my head no, not trusting my voice not to squeak. I needed to get out of here. This was no place for--
      Marlene stepped out of a door across from me. She was dressed as a waitress, but she didn't carry a tray. Instead, a large leather purse draped across her shoulder. Two men followed her out and left without looking back. She wandered around the tables, stopping to talk to three or four men scattered around the room. I couldn't see her clearly due to the crowd and smoke, but it seemed that men were giving her envelopes that she placed in her purse. She would take something out of the purse and slide it to them. I couldn't tell what it was, but it had to be drugs. She wasn't really making much attempt to hide it. Obviously she felt safe in this place. So the management had to be in on whatever was happening.
      I caught a tough looking guy looking at me. He had on a leather cap, leather vest, leather pants, and leather boots, all in black. His eyes gleamed above a huge black moustache. I hunched over my Coke, but couldn't bring myself to actually drink it. I glanced up. He was heading directly toward my table. Either I was about to get killed or have a really awkward date proposal. This was the reward for being too curious.
      He sat down and thrust his face toward me. I shrank back.
      "What are you doing here?" he growled. "And I'd better get a good answer if you know what's good for you!"
(To be continued)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 07, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 4

      There I stood, my eyes fixed on the big black gun in Marshall Brody's hand. It was large enough to fire rockets. It was pointed at the ground.
      "What are you doing here?" Brody asked again, his voice rising.
      My friend Thomas was nowhere to be seen. He was still looking for deer sign somewhere. I hoped a maddened buck trampled him.
      "Don't I know you?" Brody asked. "You work for the radio station? I've seen you at remotes."
      I nodded, my voice apparently having left my body in search of someone who didn't the brains of gravel.
      He nodded and slipped the gun into his front pocket. I couldn't understand how that honking huge thing could fit.
      "What are you doing here?" he asked.
      "My friend and I are looking for deer sign," I said. "He's around here somewhere." Naturally Thomas didn't appear. Get him, Bambi, I thought. Kick him for me.
      Brody nodded. "And I guess you saw this." He motioned toward the tape. "And you just had to see." His face twisted.
      "I was sorry to hear about your son," I said. "I can't imagine how terrible it's been for you."
      He sighed and looked at the ground. "Thank you. What's your name?"
      I told him, and he nodded absently.
      "I was just trying to look around," he said. "I thought there might be something that they missed. Pretty dumb, I guess, but a man's supposed to take care of his family."
      "No, it's not dumb," I said.
      "He was clean," Brody said. "I know everyone thinks he started again, but he was clean. Someone forced him to do it. Then they left him here. They left my boy here."
      He stood there a long time, looking at the fluttering tape.
      Finally he moved off, giving me a sort of wave.
      I went back to Thomas's truck and waited. After a few minutes, the brave white hunter returned.
      "I found a lot of deer sign," Thomas said excitedly. "Oh, it would have been hard for most people to see, but if you pay attention and keep your senses finely tuned, you can see it. You've just got to be aware of the total environment. Why are you looking at me like that?"
      After Thomas dropped me off at my place, I sat on my couch, petting my dog Bo.
      "Bo, I think I've finished playing Rockford," I said. Bo just wagged his stump of a tail. "I'm done."
      But I wasn't. As I sat there, something nagged at me. Something about the trip out to the woods. Or maybe the funeral. It sat there, like some word on the tip of my tongue. Perhaps I was flattering myself, but just like C.J., I thought there was something more to Aaron Brody's death. But really what could I do?
      I kept thinking about how small and sad he looked in the coffin. I thought about his father and his mother. I thought about Simon. And then I thought about Marlene Postwain.
      Marlene was bad through and through, they said. I'd seen her little red car around town, but I'd never seen her or noticed her before. I thought about what the gossipy lady at the funeral had told us. She had said Marlene worked somewhere ... Where was it? Oh, yes, I remembered. I got my coat and car keys and left before I could change my mind.
      And that's how this Baptist, small-town boy ended up at the Stuttering Rooster, western Oklahoma's most infamous strip bar.
(To be continued)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 3

      I ended up in the woods with a gun pointed at me as follows. Four days after Aaron Brody's funeral, Assistant County Sheriff C.J. Turner came to the station to record voice-overs on new public service announcements. Usually the PSAs were tapes of some kids driving fast in a car and then you'd hear a young man shout, "Give me another beer!" You'd hear him open it and then there'd be a car crash. Then C.J. would say, "The County Sheriff's Department reminds you to not drink and drive."
      Our station manager set up C.J. in the recording booth. As I walked down the hallway to deliver an advertising run to our programmer, I saw C.J. behind the glass wall and remembered him being at the funeral and leaving so quickly. I was curious about that.
      I delivered my run and then waited until C.J. finished recording. I went in the booth and helped him pull the tape.
      "So, how's it going?" I asked, putting a new tape into the cart machine.
      "Can't complain," C.J. said. He looked tired. "You?"
      "I would complain, but who would listen?"
      He smiled and rubbed his eyes.
      I equalized the levels on the tape and then said, "I saw you at Aaron Brody's funeral."
      He looked at me, and I swear he became alert like a dog on point.
      "Yes," he said. "I was. What were you doing there? Did you know him?"
      "No," I said and explained about our station manager.
      He sighed. "I thought maybe you'd know something."
      I looked at him. "Is there something that someone should know about? I thought he overdosed."
      "Yeah, he had enough heroin in him to kill a herd of horses," C.J. said.
      I laughed at his pun, thinking this was some of the dark humor that the police use to deal with the stress of their jobs.
      He looked at me like I had lost my mind.
      "Uh, I thought you made a pun," I said.
      "Uh ... Heroin was originally called 'horse' back in the sixties," I said.
      "Oh," C.J. said. "Okay. Funny."
      "Were you watching Aaron's girlfriend?" I asked, desperate to move on.
      "That's a curious question," he said. "What do you know about her?"
      "Nothing," I said. "She just made quite an entrance at the funeral. Everyone was talking about her. If half of what they say is true ..."
      "More like two times what they say is true," C.J. said. "Marlene Postwain is rotten to the core and back."
      "Did she kill Aaron?" I asked. "Is that why you're watching her?"
      He looked at me and cocked his head. After a long pause, he said, "There's nothing to say that it was a murder. No marks on his body like he had been forced to shoot up. He was an addict." He shrugged.
      "I thought he had stopped taking drugs," I said. "Simon Williams told me that he had."
      "Addicts rarely make it the first or second or even third time they try to stop," C.J. said. "He finally fell off the wagon for the last time. Marlene says he'd been talking about how hard it was. She saw him drive off. Said he was upset at his father because the old man wouldn't give him any more money. Brody says his son had asked him for a loan, but he turned him down. Probably that was enough to push him off the edge."
      "Then why are you watching Marlene?" I asked, sure that he was although he hadn't said so.
      "I have this feeling at the base of my neck," C.J. said. "Something's not right, doesn't fit." He paused. "Maybe I've been watching too much TV." He looked at me. "If you know something, you should tell me. If not, you should stay out of it."
      C.J. left the station, but I kept thinking about Aaron and his death all that week. That Saturday, I decided that I decided to play detective. Yes, I was curious to the point of stupidity, but I wasn't totally stupid. I didn't want to go to a murder scene alone; I talked Thomas Owell into going with me.
      I'd been friends with Thomas for years. He was a good guy, but divorced twice because he loved hunting more than his wives. He owned more guns than most army units. I suspect some of the guns weren't strictly legal. Or maybe it is okay to hunt deer with a fully functional machine gun.
      Aaron had been found in the woods near Watts Ridge. I didn't know exactly where he'd been found, but since the newspaper article said the road had dead-ended, I didn't think we'd have much trouble.
      Thomas drove us in his pickup. It had a strong, strange odor that at first I attributed to Thomas, but he explained that he had dropped a bottle of deer musk. I rolled down the window.
      The road took lots of twists and turns, at first blacktop and then gravel and then finally dirt ruts. I was completely lost and about to suggest to Thomas that we go back when the ruts ended.
      "Over there," Thomas said.
      We got out of the pickup and walked toward fluttering yellow police tapes. The tapes had been attached to wooden stakes, but the wind had pulled it loose from a couple of them.
      There wasn't much to see. Just a patch of ground with some leaves on it and a few rocks and sticks.
      Thomas was plainly disappointed. I don't know what he expected, but he started looking for deer sign.
      I started walking around the area in a spiral pattern, something I had read in a book or maybe seen on TV. After about 15 minutes, I stopped and felt foolish. What exactly did I expect to find? The police had searched this area, and they were professionals.
      I heard someone behind me. "Thomas, I'm ready to go," I said, turning to face him, but it wasn't Thomas.
      At this point, the whole thing stopped being interesting and exciting and became scary. Marshall Brody stood before me. He held a big black gun.
      "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
(To be continued)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 2

      I didn't know Aaron Brody or his family so my involvement in his death should have ended there. They didn't know me from Adam so it was a strange twist that I attended Aaron's funeral.
      Not that I really wanted to, but our sales manager, showing that compassion that made us call him Hitler behind his back, decided that the entire sales staff of the radio station should go. His reasoning: lots of our customers would be there so we should be just in case any of them needed to discuss their advertising. No, I am not making that up.
      Thus, I found myself in a car with three other salespeople. We enjoyed ourselves on the way to the funeral, comparing our sales manager to various animals. (He drove his BMW to the funeral.) The other three were holding out for a skunk, but I happen to think skunks are fine animals, perhaps a little smelly, but they didn't deserve to have our sales manager lumped with them.
      Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral. Marshall Brody was well known and well liked. I saw Simon Williams and several of my other clients. None of them, strangely enough, approached us to discuss advertising, a fact that Charlie, our morning DJ and afternoon salesperson, said he was going to make sure our manager knew.
      Dozens of flower bouquets lined the front of the church. I counted at least 98 different sprays. The florists in town were making money. I wondered if they gave a special discount on funerals ... And would it be too tacky to advertise it if they did? How could you word the radio spot so that it didn't sound ghoulish and macabre? It's an absolute joy to live inside my head sometimes.
      "Wow," Charlie breathed.
      I looked and saw a young woman in an extremely short black dress walk by. Her hair was that bright blond that only comes from a bottle, and she was thin to the point of starvation. All in all, a hottie by the current accepted definition. I prefer women that don't look like they need anchors in a breeze.
      She sauntered down the aisle and set in the pew reserved for family. After a few moments, one of the attendants hurried down the aisle to her, and there was a sharp whispered conversation. I couldn't hear what was being said, other than a few words from the woman ... And they weren't words you'd want to repeat.
      She got up, pushed past the attendant and strode toward the door. She paused, then turned and looked at all of us already seated, and loudly said, "Take a picture, creeps. It'll last longer."
      With a contemptuous flip of her hair, she exited, leaving a lot of scandalized conversation behind her.
      "Who was that?" Charlie asked, his eyes bright with excitement. Nothing like a bit of bad behavior to stir everyone up.
      The lady in front of us turned and whispered, "His girlfriend."
      Charlie leaded forward, and he and the lady (using that term loosely) exchanged a few minutes of gossip. To hit the low points: the girlfriend's name was Marlene Postwain, she was thought to have started Aaron on drugs, she had been arrested several times but let off because her uncle was a state senator, Aaron's mother Margaret hated her, all in all, she was basically naughty. Charlie and the woman had a good time.
      A few minutes later, the family entered. Marshall Brody looked terrible. He walked as if he would fall at any moment. Several friends hung close to him, but I never saw him let them help him. His haggard face would haunt me later. His wife Margaret was wearing a hat with a black veil, the only time I had ever seen that except on TV. About two dozen other people made up the rest of the family. I recognized a couple of them from events around town.
      The funeral was fairly short. A prayer, a couple songs, the eulogy, another prayer, and it was over. Aaron didn't leave people with much to say about him. As I stood in line to view the body, I wondered how he had managed to mess up his life so bad.
      Aaron looked young and small in the coffin in a suit that didn't seem to fit him. I turned and hurried out of the church.
      Outside, the other radio station people and I stood around, waiting for the parking lot to thin out. Our car was blocked in. A lot of people were in the same situation so little knots of people talked and laughed. While the mood was somewhat somber, most seemed to treat it as an occasion to catch up with friends. Isn't it strange that people can treat funerals like social events? Perhaps it is a comfort of some sort to renew our friendships, catch up on family news.
      Charlie told our station manager that we hadn't sold any commercials. Our manager said, "I didn't say we would. I said we had to be prepared to sell some."
      "We're just like the Red Cross of the advertising industry," Charlie deadpanned.
      Our manager nodded as if that made perfect sense. His car was free so he left.
      The family finally came out of the church. Margaret Brody stumbled on the steps, and Marshall reached out to steady her. She jerked away from him and made her way to the car. He stood there for a moment in the harsh sunlight, looking at the crowd. For a weird moment, it seemed like our eyes met, and then I realized he was looking beyond me. I turned. A county sheriff's car was parked across the street under a tree, Assistant County Sheriff C.J. Turner leaning against the car. I looked back at Marshall. He entered the family car. People formed the procession, turned on their headlights and left.
      I knew C.J. He came to the station once a month to record public safety messages for the sheriff's drug prevention program for kids. I had helped write a couple of spots for him and set him up in the recording studio. I started to go over to him, but he got into his car and left. He didn't join the procession, instead turned and followed a little red car that had been parked on the other side of the parking lot. I stood there for a moment, shrugged and went to our car.
      That was that. Or it should have been. But not even two weeks later, I would be in the woods where Aaron was found, looking for clues like some real world version of Scooby and the gang.
(To be continued)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

An Unattended Death, Part 1

(This is based on actual events. Names, location and some details have been changed to protect the innocent. Ryton doesn't exist.)

      I never meant to get involved with a murder. I like reading mysteries, but in real life, it's an entirely different thing. In real life it's scary, strange and sad. My only explanation is that I'm curious beyond what is safe.
      I was living in Ryton at the time. If you're not familiar with that town, it's out in western Oklahoma. The wind blows all the time. In summer the red dirt fills the air so that you get a lovely red necklace every time you go out. I wear contact lenses, and the heat and dust gave my eyes fits. I had taken to wearing wrap-around sunglasses that I hoped made me look cool, but I'm afraid made me look like the Bug-Man From Beyond.
      I sold advertising for the local radio station. I basically went door-to-door to various businesses and begged for their money. Sometimes they were kind and bought a run of commercials; other times they set their dogs on me.
      The oil boom had busted, and lots of people were living hand to mouth. I guess it wasn't surprising some people were looking at filling their mouth with what was in other people’s hands. Robberies were up, mostly break-ins when people were gone, but a few convenience store hold-ups, too.
      I dropped by one of my accounts on that day, a local men's clothing store. I intended to squeeze this particular customer out of some money that he owed the station. He was three months behind in his advertising bill. Since I didn't get paid my commission until he paid the station, I was determined to get some cash. (I tried to get my creditors to collect directly from my accounts, but they seemed reluctant to do so, the lazy bums.)
      I walked in the store, checked out the overpriced clothing and looked at a suit that would cost me a kidney to buy. My client Simon Williams was on the phone. I expected him to make me wait. A lot of customers did that, got on the phone or called a staff meeting, hoping I'd get tired and give them another day to hold on to the station's money. They soon learned that I was quite willing to settle down and start life anew in their store if I had to.
      So I sat on a chair in front of a TV, grabbed a remote, flipped to County Music Television and made myself comfortable. But for once, I didn't wait long.
      He hung up and motioned me over.
      "Hey, Simon," I said. "Hope you're having a good day. Just thought I'd stop by and see if you wanted me to take a check to the station. Save you a stamp." Better to get what you wanted right out front. Otherwise, some of them would never give you an opening.
      He nodded, reached over and got his checkbook. "What do I owe?"
      "I think I just happen to have a copy of your bill," I said, digging into my briefcase. I 'just happened' to have every slow-paying customer's bill with me.
      I handed it to him. As he wrote out the check, I noticed that he looked pale. His shoulders slumped, and his hand shook. His designer shirt looked rumpled.
      I took the check. "Thanks. Hey, are you feeling okay?"
      He nodded and then shook his head. "I just found out they found a good friend of mine dead this morning."
      "Oh, I’m sorry to hear that."
      "My dad called me a couple of hours ago, and I'm still dealing with it."
      "Maybe you should take off work."
      "No," he said. "I'm better at work."
      "I understand that," I said. "Keeps your mind off things."
      "I just don’t understand," Simon said.
      "What happened?" I asked.
      He sighed again. "I shouldn't be talking about it, but it's going to be in the paper anyway. It was Aaron Brody. He ODed on heroin."
      "Wow," I said, showing that gift for eloquence I was known for. Marshall Brody owned a lot of businesses and real estate in Ryton. A nice, honest, hard working man whose great disappointment was his only son Aaron. Aaron had started on drugs in his teens, been in and out of trouble with the law ever since.
      "He had a drug problem," Simon said. "But he had been doing so well. I had lunch with him last week, and I swear he was as clean as I am."
      "Drugs are hard to kick," I said. "Sometimes people can’t."
      "I just don’t understand," Simon said. "I could usually spot when he was using. He would be really nervous and his eyes would look huge." He laughed sadly. "He used to wear thick glasses in high school before he got contacts. After he stopped wearing them, he always had that owl look, you know. I guess I just got used to seeing those ugly things on him."
      I didn't comment. I come from a long line of folks who wear glasses and/or contacts, and I don't find glasses particularly ugly. Privately, I thought Simon was a yuppie snob. He had always worked for his father, who actually owned the store. They had been rich a long time.
      The Brodys, on the other hand, had been dirt poor and only became wealthy during the oil boom. Marshall Brody had been smarter than other people and invested his money in stable investments. As a result, the Brodys were still wealthy. Maybe having money too quick had led Aaron to dark places.
      Boy, he loved that old car," Simon said. "It was a red ‘73 Mustang. Aaron restored it by hand himself." I listened politely as he shared some memories of him and Aaron picking up girls and getting drunk in that '73 Mustang.
      Finally I said my good-byes.
      "I'm going to miss him," Simon said. "I'm going to miss him."
      The evening paper didn't give much more information, other than Aaron had been found out in the woods, near Watts Ridge, by some hunters. Apparently he had driven his car there because it was found near his body. He was lying on a blanket, some heroin vials near his body, and too much heroin in his body. He'd been dead for at least a day.
      Everyone talked about how sad it was, that he had killed himself with drugs. There were even whispers of suicide. The county sheriff’s office called it an "unattended death due to the deceased's actions." Sad, but no mystery.
      But they were wrong.
(Continued tomorrow)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Lazer razor

      Through no fault of my own, I finally purchased a three-blade razor. For years I had used a two-blade razor and been perfectly satisfied with its performance. It cut my beard, left my face smooth and spend the rest of its time quietly in the bathroom drawer. What more could I want or need from a razor?
      But recently, after twenty years of daily use, my two-blade razor handle broke, and not a single store in town had one. Instead they had triple-blade and even four-blade razors. Shaving technology had taken a huge jump and left me behind. The modern razors use "monofiber handles" and "laser polished steel" and even "titanium structure bases." The space shuttle should be built by razor companies.
      According to the box in which it came, my new triple-blade razor will "deliver a shave as smooth as a baby's bottom." Not being around babies that much, I didn't even know they had to shave their bottoms. Live and learn. It does explain why they cry so much.
      The new multi-bladed razors promise "a super smooth face that women will love to touch." Apparently they will just wander up on the street and stroke your face. I hope their hands are clean, but I guess your face will be so smooth that nothing will stick to it.
      I examined a four-bladed razor during my shopping. They had four blades stacked on top of each in a configuration that reminded me of pictures of World War II biplanes. It also weighed a ton. It might be a way to combine exercise and shaving, but it seemed dangerous to me.
      In a four-blade razor, the first blade pulls the whisker up and cuts it off, then the second blade cuts the whisker at a lower point before the hair can pull back and then the third blade cuts the whisker off at the root while the fourth blade digs deep into the bone and threatens your face if it EVER even thinks about growing whiskers again.
      You'd think that the shaving companies would be content with this, but right now, they're working on a five-blade razor in their laboratories. It will split the atoms of your whiskers to give you a closer shave.
      On the drawing board are plans for a six-blade and even a seven-blade razor. They will be so sharp that you will have to be licensed with the FBI, CIA, NRA and the Red Cross to own one. They will be capable of cutting a hole in the space-time continuum!
      You think I'm kidding about that, but a group of scientists have actually modified a laser to give shaves. It delivers a close shave (to the six-thousandth of an inch) and only costs a little over a million dollars. But with mass production, the price will surely drop to a couple of hundred thousand. I can't wait. A word of caution: You definitely don't want to cough while you’re using it or you'll make an ash of yourself.
      This leads us -- well, me -- to consider those laboring scientists. They went to college for at least eight years to get that Ph.D. in engineering or physics or thermodynamics. They probably figured they would be investigating the secrets of the universe, but instead they're working in a secret shaving laboratory. Don’t you think they say they panhandle for a living?
      A friend of mine says we're spoiled these days. He's old enough to recall shaving with a long-handled straight razor. He said it delivered a close clean shave, but you lost a lot of time making out your will each morning and then, of course, the necessary blood transfusions. He says his face looks like a road map, and that's why he has a beard.
      Anyway, I now have a triple-blade razor. When you women see me and have the overwhelming desire to rub your hands on my face, don't. Unless we’re alone, of course.