“Thanks .. Mr. Kibblewhite”, by Roger Daltrey – Review

Before saying anything on Roger Daltrey’s memoir, “Thanks a lot Mr. Kibblewhite”, you have to be a fan of The Who to get the most out of the book. It is well-written and accessible, perhaps due to excellent editors, and it represented a marked improvement over Pete Townshend’s effort. As a fan, it is great to learn some of the backstory which I saw only from the audience.

Mr. Kibblewhite was an school administrator who canes young Daltrey as a child and expels him with the classic sendoff “You’ll never amount to anything, Daltrey!” True to form, the insult provides the motivational power to propel Roger to the top. As stated in his interviews, he is actually very thankful to Mr. Kibblewhite. I think everyone in our generation (yeah I went there) had someone whose early skepticism spurred us on. The story is told with a warmth which seems very genuine as well.

It covers the time period from childhood to 2016. He backs up Pete Townshend’s take on Pete’s child pornography charges, and perhaps he knows best, but I didn’t find Pete’s account completely credible myself. 

I found it interesting Roger’s concert tour work with the Who didn’t make him much money over the years. To hear him tell it, touring was a crapshoot to walk away with any cash at all, especially while Keith Moon was alive. Although, after Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin broke the code on how to make touring a winner, The Who’s thieving management should have paid attention. It is very profitable when properly managed.

From his perspective, he had to tour to make money, while Pete and presumably John were able to clip coupons at home from songwriter royalties. I don’t doubt Roger made contributions in the studio, I’ve heard the demos Pete made, the Who’s band deal should have made a provision to share in the royalty stream, even if unequally. Or Roger could have written some songs on his own. Regardless, the read is an enjoyable ride and a must for any Who fan.

November 2018 Production

The month of November represented a transition month. I get to put my publisher and editor hats down for a bit and get back to writing. Most of November had zero new writing, so for this update I’ll list only the projects and their associated word count.

Balance Off Plumb is currently available for pre-order for many of the ebook sales channels, the print version is in final formatting and full launch is scheduled for 12/14/2018.

Martyrs al-Sabra is with the beta readers; I am making final changes to the manuscript as the comments come back. At its current state of development, I expect it to be available mid-to-late January 2019.

Pandora’s Children needs the final chapter before going into edit. Currently the target date for release is March 29, 2019.

Next month, I’m hoping to have my regular reporting charts showing good December results!

“Wolf Hall”, by Hilary Mantel – Review

The book is a historical fiction told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell during the realm of Henry VIII. The timeframe covered in this volume 1 of 3, spans latter days of Cardinal Wolsey through the execution of Thomas More.

I very much enjoyed the book and would have given it 5 stars but for the extremely distracting dialogue attribution style of the author. As one example, she constantly uses “he” to indicate Cromwell, but also uses it for characters in proximity even when confusing. Now there might be some arcane literary purpose in all of this but, for the rest of us mere mortals, it makes the book almost inaccessible. I found myself stopping, reversing tracks and parsing out who is actually speaking over and over again. I persevered because I enjoyed the story in spite of the annoyance. It took me more than twice as long to read this book than it should have.

Takeaway, I would recommend because the story is otherwise well-conceived and enjoyable. Just be forewarned reader frustration is part of the mix.

Martyrs Scene Details

People have asked how I decide to cast action scenes, or where the detail ideas come from. I’ll illustrate my process with two scenes from my upcoming Martyrs novel.

In Martyrs, terrorists are shooting random people across the country with deer rifles. The first shooting occurs in Roseville, California. How did I pick Roseville? I simply followed the terrorists’ decision tree. They had selected the top forty metropolitan areas in the United States, then would randomly pick from those forty at random time intervals. I made a random city-selection program and let her rip. Sacramento metropolitan area came up the winner for the first attack. Roseville came up because a site selected itself, it had to offer cover for the sniper, with an easy escape route. Using Google maps, I found the following location.

It creates a perfect setup for the terrorist. They park in the Home Depot lot, take their rifle across the field at night, shoot someone in the WinCo foods parking lot then reverse tracks in a clean getaway. This particular scenario, I actually got to visit in person to see how well the actual situation would have worked.

In the daytime, the WinCo food parking lot is visible across the field. At night the field would be very dark. Across the field, our terrorist could easily remain unseen until he found the right victim.

Needless to say, the reality of the location was very gratifying from a story perspective. Now as it happens, I have relatives who live in Roseville. They might not be pleased by the site picked, and, who knows, they may even have shopped here once or twice.

The second shooting was set for the Atlanta, GA metropolitan area. In that case, I selected a location in Stone Mountain GA for the action.

In this case, the shooter is targeting a private school, parking in the back of a Walmart, walking down a fireroad through the woods, then inserting himself in woods next to the ball field or play area.

A closeup of the end location, the play structures on the left, the baseball diamond on the right. In the story, the sniper takes the left option, then escapes through the woods back to the Walmart.

Throughout the novel, I used Google maps a lot, along with wikipedia entries for locations. It helped underscore and test whether some of the things I imagined happening were really possible. One sad conclusion was that too much of it was in fact very possible.

Changing gears, last chance to climb aboard the beta version train. I’ve got it ready and will be sending it to those who contact me. This is your last active opportunity to nip this whole story line in the bud, people!

Martyrs al-Sabra Plot

It’s probably about time to be unveiling the overall plot for “Martyrs al-Sabra”. The book is a fairly lengthy thriller (the first manuscript came in at 260K words). My editor carved off large chunks with her chainsaw, but it is still pretty long.

Set after the Presidential Election in 2020, when a woman is first elected President, a new group of terrorists are targeting America and it isn’t business-as-usual.

Farid Monsour al-Haj is a Palestinian orphan who was adopted and raised by one of America’s elite families from the age of five. Growing up in Northern Virginia, he attends the finest schools and is a success in all he attempts. Throughout it all, he is encouraged to maintain his cultural identify by the Royces, his adoptive parents. Farid is increasingly torn between the demands of his Palestinian heritage and those who welcomed him into the mainstream of America. He works as a television news reporter/commentator, helping explain the daily news from a Muslim point of view.

His childhood friend, Justin Simons, is an FBI Special Agent assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

When the new group of terrorists announces themselves to the world, led by the shadowy figure known only as “The Hammer of Islam”, they take the name of a massacre of Palestinian schoolchildren in Gaza City, the Martyrs al-Sabra. When the terrorists make good on their attack threats, the country is torn apart.

Can a lifetime of friendship protect against divided loyalties?

Beta readers will be seeing it hopefully no later than October 31, 2018.

Finished BoP Review!

Today, I finished reading, and rating, the last of 921 short stories submitted for the Bubble Off Plumb anthology. More than 2.5 million words of short story delight. I will post statistics on story ratings separately on the Feral Cat Publishers website within the next few days.

Tomorrow starts the negotiation of contracts with selected authors, as well as the horrible duty of sending rejection notices to everyone else. In fairness, the anthology concept generated a much larger response than we ever anticipated. We’ve learned many lessons on what to do next time.

On other fronts, the Martyrs edits are back in hand, which means a beta version will be completed shortly for reading. I have a core group already interested, but there is always room for a few more. Send me a note in the contact form if you would want to volunteer as a beta reader. I’ll reciprocate by sending you an autographed print copy with my thanks, once it is final. I’ll prepare a synopsis of the thriller’s plot in the next few days.

Socially Secure

Dave was looking forward to spending a week in California, for the first time in several years. His grandmother had held on to life through her 101st birthday, and it was only right to pay tribute to the fact in person.

Dave himself had started life in California but, upon reaching adulthood and the consequential demands of the State of California Franchise Tax Board, he decided to become a tax refugee elsewhere. Over the years he lived in various states on the eastern seaboard until finally landing in Florida, like many aging consultants. The only disadvantage to living 2500 miles away from the remains of his extended family was the need to occasionally travel across the country any time he wanted to see them. Truth be told, although he liked seeing his family, but it was much better were it to be infrequent.

So when Gram cut another notch on her yearly belt, it was time for him to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s. Gram was the last living relative in Dave’s direct line older than he. Both of his parents had died in their 70s, prematurely he felt, but the remaining field was pretty empty except for him. There were living younger siblings, but Dave wasn’t truly ready to become the oldest living relative in their family. So a trip was in order, if for nothing more than to encourage the old girl to keep on persisting.

During the last year, Gram had to move from her own home, where she had lived alone, to a managed care facility due to one fall too many. It had been a hard transition for her to go from being able to do whatever she wanted in her own time, to sharing a room with another resident on an institutional schedule. Still, the adjustment was necessary if she expected to live much longer. The fact she was in a nursing home, however nice and well managed, contributed to the non-specific guilt Dave felt along with a sense of obligation.

Gram wasn’t able to spend much more than an hour or two in a visit before tiring, which also created a dilemma for the grandson traveling cross-country. By the time he arrived at her door, he would have been traveling over ten hours, combining the flight and drive from the airport. It didn’t make sense economically, to make the effort solely for a single two-hour visit. He thought the situation over and came up with a solution. He would center his travels on where Gram lived, but see her every other day for a week. The extra day would provide a chance for her to rest, and him the opportunity to recount stories of his travels about the state on the off-day.

Dave had relatives both north and south; it shouldn’t be too hard to arrange to see them. In fact, in recent years Dave had reestablished contact with one of his peer cousins, Becky Saunders, on social media. She and her brother Steve were witty participants in the everyday social media whirl of relatives. Many were the times something Becky or Steve posted would bring a huge smile to Dave’s face.

Thinking back, Dave realized the last time he had actually seen Becky was during his high school years. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember ever meeting the older brother Steve. He must have done so, as Dave and Becky were classmates in third grade, but Steve simply wasn’t there in memory. Steve’s online sense of humor was wry, witty, and subversive – exactly what Dave enjoyed in others. Becky’s humor was similar, but the two siblings each used the other as a foil when making their posts. They lived together in Sacramento, as Steve’s health was occasionally suspect and he needed help.

Dave’s memories of Becky were of the beautiful smart cousin who seemed more cultured than her farm country cousins. She even took violin lessons, rather than the normal band instruments more common to Dave’s family. In addition, Becky’s mom always served ice cream when the get-togethers were at her home, which was a huge point-getter in Dave’s childhood rankings.

No, it would be fun to see her once more, after all it had been more than 45 years and it wasn’t likely Dave would have another chance any time soon. He planned to take them out to lunch and provide the ice cream this time. It didn’t occur to Dave the planned visits might not be welcomed, the Saunders family had a long history of simply dropping in to visit relatives whenever they were close by, but Dave wasn’t planning to do that.

Accounting for the difference in time zones, Dave sent an email to Becky asking if she and Steve would be available for lunch on Thursday of his travel week. Dave wasn’t expecting any issues, if they were actually there, the normal Saunders family answer to such a request was always expected to be an enthusiastic “Yes!” Dave spent the next several days planning for hotels and sufficient lead time to drive from one place to the other, before he realized he hadn’t heard from Becky.

Checking his social media page, he saw she had been online within the last 8 hours. Perhaps she didn’t get his email, sometimes Dave’s emails would be relegated to spam folders due to his dodgy, but reasonably priced, server provider. It would probably pay to check in using another avenue of communication, so Dave sent a quick text message using the social media platform.

“Hi Becky, I sent an email which you might not have gotten regarding a trip I’m planning to your area. I wanted to see if you and Steve were available on Thursday for lunch so we can all catch up. Let me know and I’ll make plans accordingly, Love Dave”

There, he thought, that should get through without any hiccups!

After several hours, Becky made a cryptic response. “Dave, I got the email. I was planning to respond but things got away from me. I’ll send something by tomorrow. Love, Becky.”

What the hell is this? It was a very strange response to his request, if Becky and Steve weren’t available he’d be disappointed but he would understand. People are busy and have their own lives.

Dave kept an eye out for Becky’s reply the next day and ran to read it when it arrived.

“Davey, how wonderful you get to come to California to visit. I didn’t answer you right away because I have been trying to decide how to phrase my answer. The short version is, I don’t know. The long version is much more complicated. Two things I don’t seriously discuss on social media: Steve’s physical health and my mental health. Steve has serious bouts with diverticulitis and back problems. That is part of my reason for living here with him. My own problems are the rest of the reason I live with him. I have had several nervous breakdowns/suicide attempts in my lifetime. I have a severe anxiety disorder that makes social life painful at best, panic-ridden at worst.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see you, but I know that I might also back out at the last minute. I tend to overthink and frighten myself into a “tharn” state of mind. (Watership Down reference)

So, can I think about it and get back to you?

With gratitude for your understanding, your loving and crazy cousin, Becky”

Dumbfounded, Dave read the email. In some ways he had known about some of Becky’s previous issues, but in the way of large inclusive families, the actual details had always been of secondary import. One of her sisters had taken her own life, years ago, but Dave hadn’t known her all that well. As he sat thinking about it, he realized he didn’t know Becky very well either. After some additional thought, he sat down and wrote out a reply.

“No worries, actually I was coming to that area mostly to see you and Steve. Don’t feel pressured by it however, as it is the result of me making a list of people I would want to visit before I cash in my chips. I’m not being morbid, no known ailments to speak of, just being reflective; it occurred to me a while back that I hadn’t seen you in more than 40 years. I enjoy interacting with you two online and wanted to do so live. I don’t really remember Steve from childhood, so with him it would be filling in blanks. I have other relatives in Redwood City too.

I laughed when you said tharn, I knew exactly what it was without a reference. I’ve had it on occasion myself (which really plays havoc when you need to interact on business), going tharn. Lost some great girlfriends in the day when they saw it. It doesn’t happen often anymore, I don’t surprise as easily, but the over-thinking aspect of it does. My brain never stops scenario analysis, ever. But I try to take more risks these days, not for the sake of it, but because it doesn’t matter as much.

I’ll play it by ear, I’m getting a rental car with unlimited mileage so could easily be there. Thank you for sharing the below, I didn’t know the back-story, it must have been hard to relate.

I’ll keep you updated on when I’ll be in the area, and leave it to you. I’ll understand either way, because it could easily have been me.

Love, Dave”

There, he thought to himself, I’ll reach out once more when it is closer to the date and see what comes of it. Dave did have other things he could do in the area, and he thought being there might provide enough pressure to break through any block Becky might be having. Getting a big hug from a long lost relative didn’t have to be a stressful experience, did it?

The other arrangements proved to be much easier to settle, as the other relatives were happy to open their schedules to accommodate the visit, the challenge was going to be doing all the driving. Gram lived in Santa Maria, California which was located close to the coast midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dave planned to fly into Los Angeles, and immediately make the drive to Santa Maria, staying in a nearby hotel. The next day, he would spend quality time with Gram, and afterwards drive north towards Sacramento. He didn’t plan to go the whole distance, just far enough to where the next morning drive would be reasonable and arrive in Sacramento before lunch.

Dave tried to put the whole episode out of his mind for the next few weeks, as there was little point in over-thinking it. However the unsettled gap in his trip schedule kept returning to nag at his peace of mind. Several days before the trip, he reached out once more.

“Here we go, my promised update. I still plan to head up your way, for the day Thursday. Let me know if you and/or Steve feel up to a free lunch. I’m going to be there regardless; at a minimum I will visit the Sacramento area murder scenes from my new book, take some pictures, etc. I’m thinking it will add some oomph or human interest to the website marketing.

Call or send me a text on the day of or before, and we’ll take it from there.

I would love to see you, but no pressure!

Love, Dave”

Several hours passed before his computer chimed notification of a new email. Becky’s response was brief.

“At this point, unlikely. Steve has had a bad diverticulitis episode. He is still pretty weak. Where are your murder sites? I hope they are fictional.”

Dave had written a long-winded thriller which was set in the twenty largest metropolitan areas in the United States, as referenced, one of the murders occurs in Sacramento purely by coincidence. Dave used online satellite imagery to identify local geographical details for use in his story. He felt describing an existing place would add an extra level of interest for the book, after all it always worked for him as a reader. He was planning to take a number of photos to use for the website promotional text, and if Becky truly didn’t want to be seen, he could find other things to do while he was there.

At no time, however, did he consider calling off that portion of his itinerary, Becky might change her mind if she knew he was already there. One great thing about social media was the ability to check in with location information, maybe he could post a picture of an eatery close to where they lived. Dave had their address because he had sent a copy of his previous book to them before. Becky wrote excellent thoughtful reviews and Indie authors value those highly.

Setting the issue aside, Dave turned his attention to the logistics of making the trip. Two days later he was on a morning flight to Los Angeles. The best thing was the travel direction worked with the time zones to render a two hour differential, arriving in the morning in spite of the five-hour flight. The rental car pickup went well, and an hour after Dave landed he was stuck in LA traffic on the road to Santa Maria. As always, he needed to make the adjustment from the relatively relaxed driving style of a Florida beach town to the high-pressure environment of Southern California. It was a paradox Dave felt safer in the high-pressure setting which boasted better drivers, than the one with slow retirees driving late model land-whale vehicles. In Florida, you weren’t sure the driver behind you was going to stop until they actually did so.

The three hour drive went by quickly, driving up the scenic coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, turning inland for several miles at Gaviota Beach into the gem of a valley which held Santa Maria. Dave wasn’t scheduled to call upon his Gram until the next morning, but he drove by the facility to get an idea of how to best arrive. Then he went to the hotel in time for the happy hour free drink special.

The next day came quickly and morning went fully as expected. The extra care of the previous day paid off when Dave checked Gram out for lunch at her favorite local restaurant. He parked the car next to a facility exit and helped her traverse the last few feet to the car. Gram couldn’t move without a standup walker, but she was motivated to get to her restaurant. Gram had been going to the same restaurant for over twenty years, the staff knew her very well and always made a big fuss when she was able to come in.

“So, Davey, what are your plans for the next few days,” she asked.

Dave quickly ran through his itinerary, paying special attention to the time he would be spending with her. He talked a little about cousin Becky and how odd a situation he found it to be. The Saunders branch of the family had ever been known as welcoming and non-judgmental, Becky’s responses just didn’t compute.

“You’re still planning to go up there, right?” Gram asked.

“Yes, I have some pictures to take and she still might change her mind. If she is suicidal or depressed I don’t want to put any more pressure on her, so I thought I would just make it clear I was there.”

“Yes, but that approach only makes sense to someone who isn’t depressed, Dave. If she is deep into it, she probably has a hard time finding the energy to use the restroom, let alone getting gussied up to meet someone she hasn’t seen in forty years. Does she have any recent pictures of you?”

“Yes, I put up a few on the social media site. She has posted a few as well, meeting with other relatives I might add.”

“How well has she aged, Dave?”

“Not too bad, I would recognize her on the street, she looks a lot like her older sister and mother used to when I was young. She’s put on weight, and isn’t the slender long-haired flower child she was in her youth, but shoot, I’m not the captain of the swim team anymore either!”

“Yes, but as these things go, you still look pretty good for your age group, don’t you?”

“I not happy about the lack of hair or the extra ten pounds, but I don’t feel too bad about it.”

“I know a little bit about depression, Dave. If she feels her look has suffered and is depressed on top of it, she might want to be a shut-in and not see anyone,” Gram stated. “Fetch me some more salsa, would you?”

“Sure, here you go,” Dave said. “Gram, I don’t care what she looks like, none of that would stop me from giving her a big hug when I see her. Plus she has helped me a lot with her reviews of my books. I also admit to feeling bad I don’t remember Steve at all, I hoped to get to the bottom of it when I met him. My memory has been so good for so many years it is hard to accept I might simply have forgotten him.”

“You might, then, want to consider simply dropping by; don’t give her time to stress or think too much about it. Bring a present, chocolates are usually best, everyone likes chocolates! Once you’re there, she will see it really wasn’t something to worry about, but leaving it to her to think about on her own might not get her off the dime.”

“I hate popping-in on people, I tried it once or twice in my youth and decided it wasn’t for me.”

“If you really want to see her, you’re going to have to make an exception. Think about it, you’re going to be there anyway. Now, what should I get for dessert?” Gram turned to the menu with relish even though she knew it all by heart.

True to expectation, Gram ran out of energy after visiting two hours, and getting her back to her shared room took the last of it. She was able to use her walker without any incidents, which was amazing in itself for someone 101 years old. Dave signed her back in with the residence staff and, as he passed her room on the way out, he saw she was already preparing to take a nap.

Getting back into his trusty rental car, Dave set course for a hotel in Los Banos. On the long drive, he thought over Gram’s words, which made even more sense as he reflected. He didn’t really understand clinical depression, but knew Gram had bouts of it herself during his childhood. In her case, it was mostly caused by being a deeply religious person stuck within a bad marriage. Her health had miraculously improved when her husband passed away.

Putting the topic of depression aside, a decision would be made when Dave arrived on-site. At a minimum, he would do a drive-by of their home to see how they were living. He’d have to get some gift chocolate first, however. Gram would like to have the chocolate herself, if he decided not to drop in on Becky and Steve. Chocolate in Dave’s family was rarely, if ever, wasted.

The hotel in Los Banos was surprisingly good, and it even had a Starbucks located on the way back to the freeway, to hit for breakfast on the way out. Dave sat down with his laptop and looked over satellite images of the area surrounding Becky and Steve’s house. It was a modest single family home, looking to be a three bedroom, one or two bath, with a single car garage. In short, it appeared similar to any number of small ranch-style homes in California. Dave found a shopping mall close by their home and mapped a course for the next day’s drive. He would take the time to swing by his fictional murder sites and get photos, before deciding what to do about seeing Becky.

Just to be fully transparent, Dave made sure to update his social media status, saying he was in route to the Sacramento area and would be there the next morning. Checking Becky and Steve’s status, he saw they had been up to their usual banter within the last few hours. Perfect!

The next morning went much according to plan, just as Dave preferred. He had always taken good-natured ridicule from family members concerning the extent of his planning, but his life was smooth running compared to the rest of them. It was a trade Dave would make anytime, given the amount of unnecessary drama which constituted the lives of those making the observations.

The murder sites proved to be perfect for the book promotion web pages, and Dave snapped many photos to be reviewed later. From there it was a short hop to a shopping mall and obtaining a small gift box of boutique chocolates. It was a beautifully clear May day in Sacramento.

Today is so splendid it would be difficult to stay depressed, Dave thought, no better time to foist myself on relatives.

Feeling somewhat apprehensive, in spite of his preparations, Dave rehearsed what he planned to say when Becky opened the door. As he pulled into the neighborhood, there were children playing games in the street. When Dave was a child there weren’t any nearby parks in the area, so the street was the only decent flat open surface available. These kids had a city park around the corner, but here they were, playing on old asphalt in front of their homes.

Parking on the street, he saw an old pickup truck parked in Becky’s driveway. Looking closer, it had three flat tires and there was yard debris distributed around them, indicating the truck hadn’t moved in quite some time. It was parked squarely in front of the single-car garage, so if there was another car it hadn’t been out of the garage in a long while. The mailbox bin next to the front door was full of junk mail, and it too hadn’t been accessed recently.

Dave stepped up to the door, and knocked firmly several times. The door bell was missing a button and there was a disconnected wire sticking up, which indicated a lack of function. There was no responding sound from inside the house. Dave expected there would be some barking by their dog Buster, which he had seen online many times. Buster was supposed to be a fierce protector of the front door, but right now there was complete silence.

Dave knocked again, unwilling to accept there was no one home. Dave heard nothing but the sounds of the children down the street. On impulse, Dave set down the chocolates and, using his mobile phone, accessed the social media site. Oddly enough, Becky had posted another one of her old family pictures, not five minutes ago! Quickly, Dave posted a reply to her note, “Becky, where are you right now?”

Several minutes later, her reply was posted. “At home, where else would I be?”

“I’m at your front door in Sacramento, I’ve been knocking for the last ten minutes. I’ve come bearing chocolates!” Dave waited for a few minutes and the post was not answered. In fact Becky signed off and was no longer online.

This is bullshit! I wonder what the hell is going on? Dave picked up the chocolate then walked around the house to see if there were any other signs of life, but there was not. Something clearly was out of order here, perhaps Becky and Steve had moved somewhere which required less upkeep but, if so, no one had been told.

Dave was slowly working his mind around to investigating if there was a way into the house. He walked up to the back door, which had a dog door inset but also looked as though it hadn’t been used for a while. The dog door was secured, but Dave recognized the design and knew how to open it from the outside. A blocking insert was ejected into the house and Dave looked through the dark opening, unsure of what would greet his eyes.

The home was completely without artificial illumination, but Dave could faintly make out a kitchen area which looked unused and covered in dust. A small kitchen table looked as though it had a layer of dirt, the dust was so thick. Making a decision, Dave reached in with his arm and unlocked the back door.

He entered the house, which was totally silent except for his footsteps. He jumped as the refrigerator compressor noisily kicked on and started running. Dave opened the refrigerator door, where he found mostly empty space and nothing which appeared to be recent or edible. He opened the cupboards; they too were empty but for scattered rodent pellets and dust.

“Becky? Steve?” He called to no avail. It was strange, the electricity was on as well as the gas for the cook-top, yet the home seemed otherwise abandoned. There was water in the faucet, but brown as though it hadn’t been run in a while. Walking through the entire home, he found old dusty furniture and empty space. The bedrooms had beds without linens, one closet had dusty women’s clothes, and another held men’s. There was a rusty dog crate in one corner of what was presumably Becky’s room, but it was dust-covered as well, holding a sad water dish which was completed dried out. No Becky, no Steve, and no Buster. Checking out the main bathroom, the toilet had a ring which indicated it hadn’t been flushed in some time. The bathtub had a strange stain ring about six inches from the bottom, but also appeared otherwise unused.

Dave began to panic, wondering what he had gotten himself into. He turned hurriedly and decided to leave the house behind. The home didn’t show obvious signs of mayhem, but it was clear something wasn’t right. Dave didn’t plan on being one of those people who stand around something like this waiting for a sign from above. Better to get the hell away and talk to the authorities. Let the police sort it out!

Making sure he didn’t touch anything else, Dave took a towel, which had seen better times, and used it to wipe the dog-door handles as well as the door knob. Kneeling down from outside, he replaced the dog door panel, then stood back to inspect the results. He was breathing heavy, as if his body knew something his mind did not, sweating bullets even though the morning itself wasn’t warm.

Dave heard a twig snap suddenly behind him, then a baseball bat, hitting his head, punctuated the last conscious thought.

Sometime later, Dave awoke lying on his back in a strange position. His arms were secured to his torso by what appeared to be plastic zip ties, his legs were bound together in a similar fashion as well.  Craning his neck around, he determined he had been deposited into the dirty ringed bathtub inside Becky’s house. His mouth was gagged by a towel, his stomach heaved when he considered it might be the same dirty towel he had used earlier. Trying to get some leverage, Dave flexed his body to get out of the tub, making some small noises which sounded very loud in the silent house. Dave stopped struggling, as he heard approaching footsteps from down the hall.

“Ah, Dave, you’re awake. I was beginning to think I hit you too hard, which wouldn’t have been optimal,” A male voice said with a promise of violence in his tone.

Dave couldn’t see the door where the man stood, and didn’t recognize the voice. He tried to turn his head around but wasn’t able to see the man.

“Rude of me to stand behind you, here, I’ll come around,” A middle-aged man with graying black hair came fully into Dave’s field of vision and, closing the toilet lid sat down upon it. His nondescript body argued for having been fit once, before aging turned the conditioning into something softer but still strong. There was nothing soft, however, about the dark brown eyes which regarded Dave dispassionately.

“Dave, you just couldn’t take no for an answer, could you?”

Dave tried to reply, but the gag effectively made it unintelligible.

“I’m going to remove your gag, so we might have a small conversation. Obviously, if you shout or create any other disturbance, I’ll have to take steps to deal with it. Nod your head if you understand me? Good!” The man stood and efficiently removed the gag from Dave’s mouth then sat back down on the closed toilet.

Dave worked his mouth for a few seconds, trying to get his saliva running once more. Finally he managed a weak croak, “Who are you and what happened to my cousins?”

“Don’t you recognize your dear cousin Becky? I know it’s been a long time but I would know you anywhere, Dave.”

“You’re not Becky! Wait, are you Steve?”

“No, I’m not Steve. Actually, I am their helpful next-door neighbor Reggie in one sense, and in another much more lucrative way I am both of them.”

“What did you do, kill them and assume their identities?”

“It isn’t as simple as that; Steve died of natural causes several years ago. I had been helping Becky care for him, doing the things which required a bit more muscle around the house. Becky and I had by then formed a relationship of sorts, mostly physical. You had one lusty cousin, I can testify to it personally. One night we had a particularly loud session in her bedroom, and the next morning Steve was dead in his own bed. From what I could tell, he must have had a seizure while we were otherwise engaged. Becky was completely distraught, as she couldn’t afford to continue living in the home without Steve’s military pension. After giving it some thought, I suggested we dispose of Steve secretly and maintain the fiction of him being alive. We didn’t kill him, after all. Eventually she came around, and I disposed of the body.”

“Wouldn’t someone, one of his friends, have noticed?” Dave asked.

“No. As it turns out, he communicated with all of his friends by email and social media. These days, when telephone calls are finally mostly toll-free, people don’t call. Becky helped craft Steve’s responses to emails, and you’ve seen the results online. He is even one of your social media friends and you don’t remember ever meeting him.”

“What about the pension authorities? Wouldn’t they notice?”

“No, they work off of death certificates or informants. There aren’t enough of them to keep track of all of the recipients. We kept his bank accounts online, pay bills in his name, file tax returns accurately and on-time; you get the idea. Becky kept up the charade until I got a feel for it and began to do most of the work myself.”

“What happened to Becky?”

“I didn’t kill Steve, but I did help Becky on a little bit. About a year ago, she got sick herself, so much so she lost all interest in our other activities. That’s when it occurred to me Becky was receiving a social security check in addition to Steve’s pension, why wouldn’t I be able to collect both checks myself? Up until then, Becky had been banking the proceeds herself and primarily showing her gratitude in the bedroom. I learned a few things from disposing of Steve, and resolved to lace her herbal tea with a little something extra. It worked splendidly, I disposed of the body, maintained the normal cash flow through their accounts and acquired a nice little income stream for myself. Both of them were textbook shut-ins, everyone who wants to see them is usually warned off with stories of diverticulitis and clinical depression. That is, until you showed up today,” Reggie said.

“People know I’m here, they’ll ask questions and investigate. You should let me go, take what you’ve acquired, and depart for parts unknown ahead of the police.”

“It is more complex, Dave. Since Becky and Steve met their respective ends, I’ve found a large number of similar elderly people who have few personal attachments. It is amazing how fast you can identify them, working as a volunteer helping shut-ins. I gain their trust and loyalty, then implement the same scenario. It’s a full-time job, working all of the emails, bank accounts, and social media, to maintain the fiction of their continued existence. In the meantime, the deposits continue to come in. So, as you might understand, I’m not quite ready to walk away from it just yet.”

“I won’t tell anyone, I’ll even help keep it going. Just let me go,” Dave pleaded.

“I wish I could trust you with it, Dave,” Reggie held up something in his hand. “Tell me, what is the swipe code to open your phone?”

Dave sat in shock, working towards something, anything, which would result in him surviving the day, decided to cooperate and told him.

“Thank you, very helpful. Let’s see, mmm, you’re currently logged into social media and email. Great, let’s change your passwords to something I’ll remember, very good. Tell me, Dave, do you bank online from your phone?”

Dave recognized his life was already lost and began to scream for help. Reggie set the phone down and deliberately drew what appeared to be a surgical scalpel across Dave’s neck in one clean movement. The blood began pumping out and ran down his body towards the drain.

Reggie bent over and placed a stopper in the tub drain. “I learned a lot from Steve, then Becky. It is best to let the body soak into a lye bath for several weeks. It keeps the smell down too, except for lye. I’ll wait until you’re gone before pouring the lye solution in, but you should make your peace now, Dave.”

Dave struggled against his bonds, as life pumped out onto his chest before him. His breath air gurgled through the cut as he tried to speak once more, perhaps in denial, or perhaps a curse. Before long his mind became dizzy and he went away for good.

Humming a small tune to himself, something sang by a group of merry dwarves in a Disney film, Becky/Steve/Dave/Reggie poured lye solution into the tub once more, careful to not splash any upon himself.

All rights reserved (C) 2018 D. M. Kalin

“Zelazny”, by Jane Lindskold – Review

For the die-hard Roger Zelazny fan, this book is very enjoyable as familiar content from his work is cited to illustrate the points made by author Lindskold. I especially enjoyed reading the back story elements which were shared about some of my favorite Zelazny stories/books. To think Creatures of Light and Darkness was at first not intended for publication is shocking from my perspective. It ranks as one of my all-time favorite Zelazny books. For those who have just discovered him, read his catalog before tackling this book, as it won’t mean as much to you otherwise.

“The Historian”, by Elizabeth Kostova – Review

A number of reviewers decry the slow pace of this book, but I really enjoyed the texture it created. For those who don’t remember, Stoker’s Dracula was an incredibly slow read as well, but again very rich. If you like to read another Dan Brown rehash of the same plot lines, with attractive female side-kick, this probably won’t appeal to you. If you enjoy a long book with true craftsmanship, The Historian definitely qualifies.

Careful What You Ask For..

Been reading short story submissions night and day on the Bubble Off Plumb Anthology for Feral Cat Publishers. We were hoping to see fifty decent stories come in during the sixty day period. But here we are, three weeks into it, with more than 260 stories.

Our guidelines were 1000 to 5000 word-count stories, so doing the math, I’m on the hook to read close to a million words already. Damn!

How did it happen? Somewhere along the line, word of our call-for-submission made it onto a large writer group website as a featured listing, and our website exploded. Entries have come in from all over the world.

The good news, is I get to read a lot for the foreseeable future. So far the stories are very good, for the most part, and definitely qualified for inclusion in the anthology. But I’m not going to be doing much work editing my own manuscripts or writing myself. As I said, be careful what you ask for.