DOWN THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

By D.J. Adamson

**Since many of us have watched the movie The Wizard of Oz more than we have read L. Frank Baum books, I will reference the movie, not the book   Also, don’t miss the contest at the end of this blog.Suppose

Story has structure no matter its genre.  Its elements include:  Setting, Character, Themes, Plot: Conflicts and Climax, and Denouement.  Each of these creates a great story. Learning structure sets the foundation for the enjoyment of the reader, and more importantly, the reader comes away with having been enlightened. No story offers a greater example of this than The Wizard of Oz (W of Oz).

  • Setting:  While many stories provide one setting, location, the W of Oz is brilliant in offering two different settings in one story.  The safe state of Kansas and the amazing, magical land of Oz. Literary elements can be used in the setting. Such as, if a character moves toward the woods or wilderness, the reader is triggered that something bad is going to happen.  Dorothy is sent on a journey on the yellow brick road through the woods and wilderness.
  • Character:  Each character in every story needs a reason for being there and needs to have a problem/motive. W of Oz does this so well:  Dorothy, gratitude; Magician, offering false hope; Strawman, Tinman, and Lion help Dorothy learn; Good and Bad Witches offer good and evil; and the dog, Toto—yes the dog is a character and needs a motive—needs to be rescued, the reason for Dorothy to go to Oz.
  • Themes:  These are most important part of any story.  A story can entertain, but a remembered story is one that says something as well.  It’s why everyone remembers The Wizard of Oz.  In it are themes of Home, Love, Loyalty, Bravery, Sincerity, Journey to Learn, Good vs. Evil, Coming of Age, and Innocence. I am probably leaving themes out.  It’s that good of a story.  The ideas are presented directly and subtly. Dorothy teaches how to take a journey to learn to valuable those things most important in life, home and family.  The Scarecrow offers the brilliance of loyalty. The Tinman demonstrates love doesn’t need a physical heart but comes with friendship. And, of course, the Lion learns, when necessary, he has the courage.
  • Plot—Conflicts:  Every story needs inner and outer conflicts.

Outer Conflict:  This is simple in W of Oz. Dorothy needs to get back to Kansas.

Inner Conflict:  The themes presented by the characters create the inner conflicts.  Dorothy needs to learn – Click, click—There Is No Place Like Home. (We should all put on our ruby red slippers every day and give them a click or two.  We can do it, anytime we want.)

  • Climax—Action.  On her journey to get back to Kansas, Dorothy needs to become aware of the themes, defeat the evil witch and get home.  The killing of the witch is the first climax. Then just as everyone thinks a happy ending is coming, the false hope of the magician (Wizard) is revealed, and Dorothy discovers she had on the ruby slippers, which could have taken her home at any point in the story.
  • Denouement:  The happy ending. Dorothy back in Kansas, missed, and grateful for her home and family.

If a writer has a solid concept of a story’s elements, putting them together is easier in story writing. The first of a story introduces the setting, characters and main protagonist’s problem. The second part provides the steps necessary for the main character to solve their problem and construct the themes. Third part pulls together the conflicts to a climax.  There is no better way to learn how than to read as much as possible, write as many stories as possible, and to watch the Wizard of Oz.

**  Those who comment on this blog and who answer the follow Wizard of Oz questions will be placed in a drawing for an autographed novel by D. J. Adamson and become a character in her next Lillian Dove Mystery, Let Go, set to release 2017

  1. We are the _________________________________.
  2. If I only had a ___________, a ______________, a _____________, a ________________.

DJJ. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. Suppose, the second in the Lillian series has just been released. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to http://www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crucified—a Dinger, PI Short

Turkey_Vulture

A solitary vulture sat atop the pole, keeping watch over the coming feast, or so he believed. Above, the other disciples in the flock circled lazily in the white hot August sky. There were eleven of them dipping their wings to take advantage of the thermals they were riding. I guess over the course of a couple thousand years some things don’t change.

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“You recognize him, Dinger?” Cal Kroeger, homicide detective with the Las Vegas PD removed his sweat-stained Fedora and swept a sweaty hand across his sweaty balding head. Kroeger had requested my presence after a couple of teenagers out joyriding in the desert reported the body. Knowing my propensity for rubbing elbows with some of the Strip’s sleazier denizens, Kroeg often called on me to see if I could ID the victim.

I took a breath and eyeballed the corpse again. The skin was black, baked from the outside by the scorching sun and broiled from the inside by putrefaction. Advanced swelling had set in, making the body look more like a grotesque beach float than a once-living human being. Frenzied clouds of insects buzzed around the body, creating an ever-moving shroud. The blackened tongue protruded through the ballooned lips. The eyes were missing; probably an impatient disciple sneaking an hors d’oeuvre before the main course began.

I tested the breeze and circled to the left of the body, keeping my distance. A quick change in the wind had already cost one of Kroeger’s flunkies his lunch. I didn’t care to lose mine. The wind was at my back. Whoever had crucified the victim knew their shit. I’d seen it before on Peleliu during the war. The hands were folded over above the head, and what appeared to be a rusted railroad spike was driven through both wrists. The feet were bound to the pole with a stout hemp rope. I pulled my binoculars from a coat pocket and zeroed in on the blackened right shoulder blade. Focusing in, I made out entwined lovers, a nude man and woman engaged in the thralls of passion. There was no mistake. I had my make.

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Kroeger stamped out a cigarette in the sand beneath the sole of his shoe. “Well, Dinger, what you got?”

“Not a damn thing, Kroeg. That body’s on the verge of busting wide open, and when it does I don’t want to be anywhere within smelling distance of it.” I had lived with rotted corpses, Japs and Marines, for over two months on Okinawa a few years back. You’d think a person would get used to the stench, the maggots crawling everywhere from friend or foe, until the dead obliged the living by disintegrating into a common mush that blended with the mud from the almost constant rains. But the stench never left you, no matter how hard you tried to shut it out.

“So, you got no lead on the . . . victim?”

I checked the wind, turned my head, and took a deep, cleansing breath. “No, Kroeg. I got nothing.”

 *  *  *

 It was a lie, of course. Sure I recognized the bloated body of Benjamin Bigneghetti, former hit man for the Genovese family of New York City. The family’s ties with Vegas had been kept under wraps as well as could be expected. But there was always the lovestruck drunken mobster spilling secrets while entangled in the throes of lust with one of the hundreds of willing showgirls strutting their wares in the resorts along the Strip. “Bennie Big,” as he was popularly known, supposedly lived up to his name as a top gun for the Genovese clan, and also for the weapon he wielded to impress the young and ambitious starlets whose Hollywood’s siren call echoed in their ear. Is it always the fools who are most blessed? But Bennie wasn’t always content with the skirts dishing it out willingly. He had a nasty habit of taking what he wanted, offered or not. Sometimes nasty habits need breaking. Revenge is sweet. You didn’t hear it from me.

Later that night I trekked up to the third floor of the Cactus Flower Apartments building. Stopping in front of Room 308, I lit a Chesterfield, the last one in the pack. I tapped lightly on the door, three followed by two, followed by one. The door’s curtain peeled aside from a corner, followed by the sound of the lock unlatching. It opened a few inches, and a sweet voice whispered, “Dinger?”

“Banzai,” I said, and the door swung open enough to allow me to squeeze inside. A pair of luscious lips greeted mine, accentuated by firm breasts grinding against my chest. After a minute I broke up our reverie.

“Is it finished?” she whispered into my good ear.

“Yeah. The LVPD have got a couple suspects. Nothing that will stick, but you’ll be long gone by then. They got nothing on you, anyway. To them, you don’t even exist.”

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She pulled my face to hers and laid another deep kiss on me. “Come with me, Dinger. We can make a fresh start. Who would ever think of looking for us in Iowa?”

The dame couldn’t imagine how my heart was breaking right then. Her offer swelled inside my chest and set fire to a dozen dreams. Dreams of me and her, living in the old, rambling farmhouse her dad had left her. Peaceful dreams of taking early morning walks, checking on the crops we’d planted a couple months before. Dreams of making love tangled in the sheets atop the feather mattress of the bed we would share.

We made love, and then, in a moment of sanity, I pushed it all away.

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“I’ve gotta beat it, sweetheart. Maybe in a few months, when I get things straightened out, I’ll meet you there. In the meantime, remember this.” I laid the best kiss I could on her sweet, luscious lips.

And then I left, knowing I’d never lay eyes on her again.

An Interview with James M. Jackson

 

Tell us about your new book.

Financial crimes investigator Seamus McCree has wife problems, and Lizzie’s not even his wife anymore. Her current husband disappeared on a business trip to Savannah. Was he kidnapped? Dispatched by his hedge fund partners? Or did he run off with another woman? Police assume he’s AWOL, and Lizzie turns to Seamus for help.DR Cover 480x300

Seamus has no desire to be sucked into Lizzie’s drama again, but her angst is also affecting their son, Paddy. Seamus agrees to help discover the truth, a quest that soon involves the entire extended family. Long buried secrets surface and each member must confront the question, “How far can you trust your family?”

Equal parts road trip, who done what, and domestic thriller, book four in the Seamus McCree series takes psychological suspense to a new level. Seamus McCree fans and newcomers alike will delight in this fast-paced novel that leaves no one in the family unchanged and keeps you guessing until the very end.

What inspired you to write it?

I wanted to explore the question of how well we really know other people, especially family members with secrets—and we all have them, don’t we?

When I start a book, I honestly have no idea where it might go. I have an issue or idea I’d like to explore, an inciting incident to kick off the story, and the cast of characters who populate the Seamus McCree series to bring the story to life. I open myself to the possibilities and let the characters take it from there.

How did you get started writing?

I retired early and gave myself six months to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. After working my way through books like Zen and the Art of Making a Living, what came up time and again was a desire to write. I loved reading crime fiction, and so that is what I decided to write.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?

While I very much enjoy meeting people in person at events, I do not enjoy online marketing and sales activities. I was brought up with that firm Protestant understanding that I should not toot my own horn. A battle rages in me between that internalized belief and the realities of the current publishing business where creating a market is imperative.

How long have you been writing?

I made the decision to become a writer by the end of 2002. My first major publication credit was a nonfiction book One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge. It was published in 2012, nearly a decade after my decision. The Seamus McCree series has included a book a year starting in 2013.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?

If someone had told me it would take ten years before I would be published, I would not have been a bit dismayed because I knew it would take many years of effort to become a good writer. However, I wished I had understood better the marketing requirements of the modern publishing business.

Has that changed the way you write or market your books?

It has not changed the way I choose to write my books. I write the story I want to write and will not chase a market. However, in retrospect, I would have created a nonfiction platform to support the financial crime themes of my novels. That would have provided more in-person sales opportunities. Also, I should have taken much of the money I spent at conferences and instead invested in marketing efforts for the first book in the series.

What do you think makes a good story?

I enjoy book clubs and through them I have learned that there are as many perceptions of which stories are “good” as there are readers. Books I’ve loved, others thought were crap and vice versa. So, I can only speak about what fiction I enjoy. I want to care about at least one character and a problem she must resolve. I don’t want to notice the language. (It may be beautiful or utilitarian, just don’t take me out of the story by noticing it.) I want the world to be believable (even if fantastic!), want the author to keep my interest, and I want a satisfing ending. If I learn something along the way, that’s a nice bonus, but not required.

From that description, you can tell I generally prefer genre rather than “literature.”

How do you incorporate that into your books?

Given I write the Seamus McCree series, I hope people find they care about Seamus. If not, the series is not for them! I prefer a generally spare writing style. If I get flowery or my characters start navel-gazing, it’s time for a rewrite. My approach to keep the reader’s interest is to maintain tension by always having multiple open questions for the reader to worry about. I incorporate real places into my stories because I enjoy reading about places I know. With crime novels, I want the reader to feel justice has (mostly) been served by the end of the story.

Seamus McCree is a wonderful character, you know he was excellent at his former job and he brings the same attention to detail to his role as reluctant sleuth. It takes a bit to get him involved, but when he takes the case, the reader knows he’ll come to the correct, and ethical, conclusion. Is he based on you?

Thanks. I like to think of Seamus as a flawed mensch. I have the flawed part down; I’ll need a reincarnation or two to get the mensch part. Seamus and I have different financial backgrounds but we’re both a bit geeky. He’s younger, stronger, smarter, and richer than I, and he has all of his hair. We do have the same droll sense of humor and share many general interests including the outdoors, birdwatching, music.

Would Seamus like you for a friend? Dish the details here.

This is a question I have never contemplated. My immediate reaction was sure, who wouldn’t like me for a friend? But then I considered how our personalities would work together. We both like to win. A lot. And we are both a bit shy, so someone (probably Paddy) would have to bring us together. We share many interests, but at almost everything, he’s better than I am. The question might become, could I remain friends with someone who outshines me all the time? It would be a growth opportunity for me, so perhaps we’d be friendly rivals rather than bosom-buddy friends.

What advice would you like to give Seamus?

Seamus, you’ll kill yourself (or someone will kill you) if you keep trying to be responsible for righting every wrong in the world. We love you for taking up the battle, but we’ll still love you when you can come to terms with being responsible for your reactions, not other people’s actions.

What advice would he give you?

Get over it, old man. I’m fictional, you’re real, and you’re worried about competing? Fix yourself, Mr. Author and stop worrying about the way I deal with the world.

You’ve been with small press and indie through Amazon Scout. How do they differ?

The major differences are three: For ebooks, Amazon Scout requires sale only through Amazon worldwide. Barking Rain Press (BRP) distributed across all platforms. Amazon Scout does not handle print, which BRP does. Amazon can promote a book and almost guarantee significant sales (not that they do for all books, but they can); BRP doesn’t have the budget or market presence to materially affect book sales.

In most other regards there are more similarities than differences. Both publishers set prices, determine price promotions, provide editing, and are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have.

Tell us about the Amazon Scout process. How does it work, is it worth the effort and nail-biting?

A complete answer is long. I’ve written several blogs answering these questions, and there is excellent information available online from many of the 150+ winners. Some Kindle Scout winners have experienced more success with Amazon than they have ever had before; for others the negatives have so far outweighed the positives. I chose not to go through the Kindle Scout process with Doubtful Relations because I wanted more marketing control to promote the entire series.

If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

I choose to write because I (mostly) enjoy the process. I’m not someone who couldn’t live with himself if he couldn’t write. I’d spend more time in nature with binoculars and camera in hand. I’d spend more time at the bridge tables. I still find time to teach bridge, but I’ve almost given up playing competitive bridge because without constant play I can’t stay sharp and that isn’t fair to my partners or teammates.

Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

As long as we’re dreaming and not putting probability figures around the outcomes, I’ll tell you my dream. In five years I will be an “overnight” success with my second series (first book published in 2019!).

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Oh hell, I’m boring, but my books aren’t. Read them; forget about me.

Is there a question, or questions you want asked that aren’t covered here? What would yojames-m-jackson (1660x2497)u like us to know, either about Jim Jackson, his writing, his books, or his literary legacy.

This will cover all four things, Jim Jackson, his writing, his books & his literary legacy:

  1. What should I do if I find an error in one of your books?
  2. Please let me know! Whether it’s a typo, homonym hiding in plane site (er, plain sight), grammar mistake, or factual error, I hate them in my books. If I learn what snuck in, I can fix it in the next version. My email is jmj@jamesmjackson.com.

About Doubtful Relations:

Financial crimes investigator Seamus McCree has wife problems, and Lizzie’s not even his wife anymore. Her current husband disappeared on a business trip to Savannah. Was he kidnapped? Dispatched by his hedge fund partners? Or did he run off with another woman? Police assume he’s AWOL, and Lizzie turns to Seamus for help.

Seamus has no desire to be sucked into Lizzie’s drama again, but her angst is also affecting their son, Paddy. Seamus agrees to help discover the truth, a quest that soon involves the entire extended family. Long buried secrets surface and each member must confront the question, “How far can you trust your family?”

Equal parts road trip, who done what, and domestic thriller, book four in the Seamus McCree series takes psychological suspense to a new level. Seamus McCree fans and newcomers alike will delight in this fast-paced novel that leaves no one in the family unchanged and keeps you guessing until the very end.

Praise for Doubtful Relations

James M. Jackson has once again proven himself a skilled storyteller with this highly entertaining page turner that takes the reader into the heart and soul of Seamus McCree’s often dysfunctional family. Doubtful Relations is a rollercoaster ride of missing persons, drug cartels, crime lords, shady stock market dealings, car crashes and shoot-em-ups that left me breathless—and not quite knowing who to trust—until the very end. ~ Annette Dashofy, USA Today bestselling author of the two-time Agatha nominated Zoe Chambers mysteries.

“I love Seamus McCree.” ~ Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony, Daphne, Macavity, and Mary Higgins Clark Award winner

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM, BAD POLICY, CABIN FEVER, and DOUBTFUL RELATIONS (8/23/16). Jim also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays. He is the president of the 600-member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. He splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the open spaces of Georgia’s Lowcountry.

You can find more information about Jim (including social media links) and his writing (including purchase links) at his website http://jamesmjackson.com.

 

 

The Evolution of the Cozy Character 

The topic I wanted to write about today was when cozy meets noir. I wasn’t sure where I would go with the topic, but I am a bit on the envious side of Mike Helms’s wonderful noir talent. He is amazing. His stories are so true to the period. Even his slang (which I am very familiar with as my father was fluent in it) is perfect. So, that was my topic. However, it didn’t work out.

Instead, my characters took over and they dictated this blog. Evil things that they are.

Most of you know, I write cozy with an edge. There’s no sex on my pages, little swearing, and none of the blue nature. Damn, hell, and crap are about as cussing as I let my characters get. So, my readers are comfortable visiting with Hayden Kent and her friends, and I don’t intend to change those very essential aspects. Catherine Swope is a little more edgy. After all, she’s an ex-cop, but even she is circumspect in her behavior and her vocabulary. She’s also been on a bit of a hiatus, but that’s going to change sooner rather than later. Seems she’s been up to a lot of stuff while she’s been away, and she’s itching to share.

I’m just wrapping up the first draft of the third book in the Hayden Kent series. At this point in every book, I go back and start revisions before I’m completely finished. That’s when I noticed something. Hayden is no longer the sweet young thing she was in the first two books. She’s more confrontational, sharper edged, and she’s doing more in depth investigation now, but she’s not crossing the line to renegade the way cozy heroines tend to do. She’s coloring more in the jurisdictional lines than before, yet she’s stronger. I admit, I tried to smack her back into pure cozidom, but she refused to go. It’s an interesting transition. The book isn’t dark, it’s still in the lighter cozy framework, but it reads more realistic. I’m enjoying writing it and reading it more.

As with most writers, I do a lot of reading. And much (but not all) of what I read is in my genre. I’m noticing that more and more of the books have this trend toward realism. One that I’m reading now is the Laura DiSilverio’s The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala. I love DiSilverio’s books and I buy them as soon as they are released. In the earlier two books, the Readaholics took over the investigation. Yes, the police were involved, but there was a definite rivalry going on. It made for great reads, of course, but DiSilverio’s writing alone is enough to guarantee a great read. In the current book, the Readaholics are still investigating, but in this book, it’s in partnership not opposition to the police. Is it a cozy? Of course, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m sure the Readaholics will be responsible for finding the link and developing the crucial clue. So what’s the difference. Realism I think.

Cozy readers have to suspend belief from the very first page. After all, how many civilians consistently stumble over dead bodies, are accused of crimes, or have friends who are the leading suspects in murder investigations. Yep, thought so. Not many. Of those who are unfortunate enough to experience these events first hand, how many take over the investigation and bring home the perpetrator bacon? Even less, in real life at least. What seems to be occurring in some cozy mysteries is an evolution toward realism and to characters behaving more realistically. It’s a nice trend, I think, and it’s providing a healthy variety in the cozy genre providing readers with a slightly different storyline.

What about you readers and writers. Have you noticed the trend? Would you follow characters in a series as they evolve whichever way they change? Do you approve?

An Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

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Judy Penz ShelukCheck out The Hanged Man’s Noose as well as Skeletons in the Attic, due out August 21st.

What do you write, and why?

I write crime fiction. My novels are what I like to call “amateur sleuth with an edge.” That means my protagonists are amateur sleuths and the books are set in the requisite small town but there are no white picket fences, cats, crafts or cookie recipes. My short crime fiction is varied.

 

When and where do you write?

When I’m working on a book, I try to write a chapter a day, though it doesn’t always work out that way. I’m also the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home Builder Canada (string enough writing jobs together, you can almost earn a living…emphasis on the almost), so the time of day I write fiction fluctuates based on my deadlines for the magazines.

I always write in my home office, on my iMac, with talk radio on. I can’t imagine writing in a coffee shop.

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How do you write?

I’m a complete panster. The chapter a day thing works for me because I have no idea where I’m going with my story, so I try to leave each chapter with enough of a hook that I’ll want to come back and write the next day. When I’m writing a short story, I’ll try to get the basic draft done in a couple of days. Then I get to work.

What do you read, and who?

Primarily mystery and suspense, though I also read other fiction. My favorite current-day authors, in no particular order, are: Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Tana French, Sara J. Henry, Louise Penny, Sue Grafton and Kristina Stanley. I grew up on Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ed McBain, Dick Francis and John D. MacDonald. I’ve read every book by every one of those authors.

When do you read, and why?

I read every day, usually after dinner. It relaxes me. Reading is also the best teacher. When I decided to try my hand at short stories, I read several anthologies.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced when writing your last book?

Finding the time every day. Some days, it’s really hard…

Give aspiring writers some good advice.

I always quote Agatha Christie whenever I’m asked this question: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

Plug your next book.

Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery (#1) [August 21, 2016: Imajin Books]

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

comicalTell me something funny.

A few years ago, a friend asked me to come to her Girl Guide troop’s career night to talk about being a writer. I was ridiculously excited about it. After all, I wanted to be a writer since reading Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery, and I’d been about nine at the time. Maybe I could inspire a young girl!

It turned out that the other career night speaker made dolls. That’s right. Dolls. Dolls who had hair and eyes that could be interchangeable to match their owner’s hair and eyes. Let’s just say I did not have the troop leaning on my every word!

SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle for the special introductory price of .99 (reg. $4.99). Find it here :http://getbook.at/SkeletonsintheAttic

Judy Penz Sheluk, Author

The Hanged Man’s Noose (July 2015): Now available at all the usual suspects.

Skeletons in the Attic (coming August 21, 2016)

Pixie Dust: Part 3

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{Author’s note: the first two installments of Pixie Dust can be found on this site. It is recommended that you read them to familiarize yourself with the entire story.}

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From a nearby side street I heard a car door slam and then the squealing of tires. The shooter wasn’t hanging around to count score. “Are you hurt?” I said. There was no sign of blood.

“Only my pride,” she said, “and maybe a skinned knee. Would you get off me, please?”

Slowly I lifted the rest of my weight off Greta’s prone body. Her skirt was hiked up to the top of her beautiful thighs which were spread a little from the plunge we took. The garters holding up the silk stockings were visible. It was as close to an intimate moment as I’d had since before the war. Not that I hadn’t had my share of women since. There’d been plenty. But this dish was different somehow. Could a man fall for a skirt in less than a day?

I told her to keep low and crawl her way back inside the office while I crouched and covered her. I was pretty sure the shooter had beat it, but no sense taking chances. I locked the door behind us and reached for the phone on my desk.

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Greta hurried over and grabbed my arm as I lifted the receiver off the cradle. “What are you doing, Dinger?”

“Calling the cops. What, you want me to order lunch first?”

Her big blue eyes widened. “No, no cops. I . . . don’t want them involved in this.”

I dropped the phone and took a seat on the corner of the desk. “No cops? Somebody just took a potshot at us. That pretty face of yours could’ve been splattered all over that brick wall.” I shook a cigarette out of my pack and reached for the grenade lighter. “I already been shot at too many times to count, and I don’t like it one damn bit.” I lit my cigarette, and then hers as she leaned toward me with the Camel dangling from those sweet lips. Her breasts pressed against my shoulder. She didn’t move, so I moved her.

“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, doll, but I—”

“Oh, you’re hurt, Dinger,” Greta said, reaching out and touching my left cheek. There was blood on her fingers. I remembered the sting and felt for myself. A small cut or puncture wound in the cheek just above the jawline. No big deal, but the blood had trickled down my neck and stained my collar. My supply of decent shirts had just decreased by a third.

She headed for the bathroom while I used my handkerchief to mop up and stop the bleeding. The scene outside replayed in my mind like a bad flick trailer. A high powered round had plowed into the bricks about a foot from my head. From the sound I guessed a rifle, probably .30 caliber like the M1 Garand widely used in the war. A very accurate weapon. The shooter must’ve needed a guide dog, judging from the short distance across the street where the shot came from. Or else he missed on purpose. That thought bothered me almost as much as being shot at. Toss in Greta not wanting the cops involved. I was never a math whiz, but something didn’t add up. And when things don’t add up, I don’t much like it.

gigi-hadid

As soon as Greta stepped through the bathroom doorway into the office I reached for the phone. She rushed over and dropped the washcloth, Band-Aids, and rubbing alcohol on the desk. “Dinger, darling, let’s leave the police out of this, shall we?” she said, running a hand down my forearm and gently pushing the receiver back onto the cradle. Perfectly manicured fingers stroked my skin on the way back up my arm. She gripped my shoulder and pressed her breasts against me again. A man could get used to that feeling. Her other hand snaked around the back of my neck. She turned my face to hers and kissed me—hard. Those lips were every bit as soft and tasty as I’d imagined. Her silky, lying tongue worked its way into my mouth, exploring and then dancing with my own. A hand took mine and guided it to her breasts. Her nipples were taut, and she moaned into my mouth as I squeezed one and then the other. Mrs. Hathaway was one beautiful package, beautiful and—

My mind reeled at the flashback. Private Joe Haskins, one of the rare replacements who survived his first few days of combat, had joined the platoon somewhere along the Shuri Line on Okinawa. Later, when we had finally taken that maggot-filled cesspool of Hell, he came across a beautiful Jap officer’s ceremonial sword resting on a folded Jap flag. Before I could get the words out, Haskins picked it up and disappeared in a cloud of black smoke and red gore. Beautiful and—deadly.

woman holding pistor

I pushed her away, breaking contact. As I grabbed the phone and started to dial I heard a familiar metallic click behind me. “Hang up the phone, Dinger, PI.” The voice had lost all trace of its seductive sweetness. I did as I was told and turned around to face the barrel of a small revolver leering between my eyes. Smith & Wesson, .32 caliber. A fine little weapon, but to make a kill you’d better be confident in your bullet placement.

She ordered me to put my revolver on the table and then have a seat on the floor in the corner behind my desk. I eyeballed the way she held the .32 in her slim hand and decided against making a move. This dame was no virgin when it came to handling a pistol. I eased the snub nose out of my pocket with a thumb and two fingers. I laid it on the table and made myself comfortable against the corner wall. When I was settled in and all cozy, Mrs. Hathaway made a quick phone call of her own. No names, a couple “yeses,” “um hums,” and a “hurry dear” was all I managed to pick up.

I was in deep shit, so I figured my best bet was to play a little mind game with the inscrutable Mrs. Greta Hathaway. That would at least keep the broad occupied for awhile and maybe delay her plugging me, if that was her intention. “Back to that game I mentioned earlier, now that we both know there is a game; who’s the ‘dear’ that’s supposed to ‘hurry’ over here?

blonde smoking

She crushed out the stub of her cigarette, picked up the pack of Camels from the table and lit another. Smoke trailed from her mouth and nostrils as she said, “Haven’t you figured it out by now, Dinger, PI? I suppose you aren’t as smart as I gave you credit for after all.” Pushing my chair away from the desk a couple feet, she hopped onto the desktop, facing me. She made sure a generous view of soft, silken thighs was available for my enjoyment, or torment, depending on how you looked at it. Which I did. Exhaling another drag, she said, “ ‘Dear’ is my dear husband, Martin Hathaway, president and soon to be chief shareholder—along with yours truly, of course—of the First Bank of Clark County.”

“I thought you inherited your father’s entire estate after his car took a plunge into that ravine?”

Mrs. Hathaway tossed back her pretty head and laughed. “Oh, you men—you’re all so damn gullible.” She placed the cigarette between her lips and opened her leather handbag. Reaching in, she pulled out an envelope, opened it, and drew out a few sheets of paper folded in thirds. She unfolded them and waved them in my face. “It seems that dear departed Daddy’s will somehow failed to include me as an heir, never mind the sole heir which I rightfully deserved to be.” Her voice had grown callous and bitter. The words rolled off her tongue like spewed venom. “He left it all to that fucking bastard half brother of mine in New Jersey! That wop son of a bitch had nothing to do with my father—nothing! He never lifted a finger for my daddy! Not a goddamn thing, and yet Daddy leaves everything to him!”

I forced a smirk across my face. “Maybe your daddy liked your bastard brother more than you.”

Mrs. Hathaway leapt off the desk, rushed over and slammed the butt of the pistol into my right cheek. Immediately I tasted blood. I ran my tongue around to check for loose teeth. They all seemed to be in place. I spit out a stream of spit mixed with blood. “Daddy got that wop bitch pregnant while he was serving in Italy during the war. That little bastard doesn’t deserve a damn penny of my father’s money!”

Knocked woozy by Greta’s blow, I searched for an answer to keep her entertained and my mind in the game. “Maybe your father figured Marty would take such good care of you, he could afford to leave all his estate to your half brother,” I said. “What’s his name, anyway? Just for the record.”

“His name?” Mrs. Hathaway looked confused. “Angelo,” she said after a few seconds. “Yeah, Angelo. Angelo Agresta.” She laughed again. “Do you know what the name means, Dinger, PI? Agresta? No? Well get this—it means ‘sour grapes.’ Is that hilarious, or what?”

To humor her, I laughed. “That’s a good one, alright. Your father sure pulled the wool over your eyes . . . and Marty’s, too. How do you feel about that?”

Mrs. Hathaway’s face lost all traces of feigned humor. Her big blue eyes narrowed, her brow furrowed, and her full lips sucked into a thin red line. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. Marty and I have it all figured out. All figured out, I tell you. And nothing you can do will stop us.” Her lips relaxed and the edges rose upward in a smile as they plumped out. “That’s right, Dinger, PI. We’ve got it all figured out, down to a T—Marty and me.

“You know what else, Dinger, PI? You want to know just how bad we used you? That lawyer friend of yours, Mr. Ernest P. Shaver—we bought him, Dinger! Yeah, how does that grab you? He’s ours!”

The news stunned me like a blow from a Jap rifle butt, there was no denying it. I’d always believed Ernie and I had nothing to hide between us. He was the one person in Vegas I’d poured out my feelings to since I’d arrived in Sin City the spring of ’47. The thought of Ernie Shaver not being on the up and up sickened me. I sucked in a deep breath and let it out. “You’re a lying bitch, Mrs. Greta Hathaway.”

legs on desk

She draped the other leg over her knee, giving me an extended look up her beautiful gams, and let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Oh, yeah?” She shuffled the papers in her hands for moment and then leaned forward, holding them within reading range of my tired eyes. “Take a good look at the signature, Dinger, PI,” she snarled, “take a real good look!”

I did. There was no mistaking Ernie Shaver’s signature on the legal document. He’d been the lawyer who had drawn up Thomas Perry’s last will and testament. Signed, sealed, but not yet delivered. A quick run-through of my legal knowledge convinced me the will would hold up in most any court of law in the country. Just what exactly the hell were they up to? Then it hit me–the will, the will Ernie was supposed to draw up today at two for Greta Hathaway. I’d fallen for that dame’s story hard, like the bumbling chump I was. Before I could mentally kick myself in the ass again, somebody rapped on the office door.

Mrs. Hathaway backed up to the door, keeping the .32 aimed in my general direction for effect. She whispered something at the doorjamb. Hearing an answer I couldn’t make out, she turned the lock and opened the door. In walked Mr. Martin Hathaway, dressed as spiffy as a bank president. Slouching into the office behind him was Attorney at Law, Ernie Shaver, my former friend and lawyer. So much for Semper Fi.

“Hello, Ernie,” I said. “How’s it feel keeping company with a bunch of slop-swilling pigs?”

Martin Hathaway strode across the room like a pompous king and backhanded my right cheek. At least he had the decency to hit my good side. “Shut your trap, Mr. Dinger,” he said. “If you want to get out of this alive and in one piece, you’ll keep quiet and cooperate.”

I swallowed a clot of blood and grinned up at him. “Yeah? Your loving wife offered me a much better deal.”

This time he landed a blow on my already sore side. Ouch. “Keep your fucking mouth shut and your ears open, Dinger. With your cooperation we’ll all be out of here in a few hours with our pockets full and our records clean. If you refuse to go along with the program, the coyotes and wild pigs will be picking your carcass clean in a matter of hours. Comprender?”

I hawked up a wad and spit it at his shoes. “Wow, such an intellectual, Hathaway. Yeah, I get your meaning. But hey, how many Spanish words can you come up with for whore, like your loving wife there?”

MMO pistol - 2

Hathaway turned red in the face as he stomped toward me. I rolled, grabbed the foot he swung at me, and twisted the knee until I heard it pop. Now on my feet, I shoved him into his loving wife and lunged for my pistol still lying on the desktop. I beat Greta Hathaway by a split second, managing to squeeze off a shot before she did. She dropped to the deck, clutching her left shoulder. I rolled to my left and caught Marty with a round to his upper thigh before he could fire a shot with the semi-automatic he’d drawn from his coat pocket.

Using the desk for cover, I lifted the snub nose where I’d last caught sight of Ernie Shaver. He was cowering in the corner next to the door, hands held high.

“Don’t shoot, Dinger!” he said in a falsetto I’d never heard before. “Give me a chance to explain. Okay?”

“Then do it, Ernie, and it better be damned good!”

*  *  *

A half hour later I had a fairly clear picture of this whole fiasco. Ernie Shaver, attorney at law, had been Thomas Perry’s lawyer before the war broke out. After hostilities ended, Ernie had drawn up Mr. Perry’s will to protect the son he had sired with a beautiful Italian widow during the liberation of Rome. It wasn’t the whole shebang he left to the kid, but it added up to a pretty penny. Let’s just say the kid would never have to work a day in his life if he had a lick of sense and played his cards right.

Perry figured it was the least he could do, since his new son-in-law was such a go-getter genius and moneymaker for the bank. With the profits accumulating the way they were, Thomas Perry believed he had done the right thing for his “wartime” son, as well as providing a solid future for his legitimate daughter, Greta. With proceeds rolling in from Martin Hathaway’s ingenious dealings, the future was bright for his daughter, son-in-law, and the future grandkids Perry envisioned bouncing off his knee as he counted the fortune rolling in.

1950s-car-wreck-accident-aamc0k

Somewhere along the line somebody got greedy. Martin Hathaway, Greta, who knew? The certain fact was that someone discovered Thomas Perry’s current will and had taken objection to it. An objection so strong that they had stolen the will from the old man’s safe and planned his murder. Thus the tragic plunge of Mr. Perry’s automobile into the canyon of death.

But what about the astute attorney, Ernest P. Shaver? Turns out ol’ Ernie had been involved in some very shady dealings with banker Thomas Perry, and Perry had kept a paper trail to wit in the same safe he’d stashed his will leaving his illegitimate son a hefty portion of his accumulated fortune. For shame. Will the rich and greedy never learn?

But why the “sniper” shot as Mrs. Hathaway and I were leaving for a shopping spree? Simple. It forced us (meaning, me) back inside the office to await the perps’ plan to play out. And here I thought I was being gallant, saving the damsel in distress from the big bad wolf or fire-breathing dragon.

Such are the thoughts of fools.

Rum Luck

By: Ryan Aldred

Tamarindo

The hot, humid air wrapped around Victoria Holmes the moment the driver opened her door. She stretched her legs, rose from the chauffeured car, and absently plucked one of her long auburn hairs from her skirt. She wished, not for the first time, that she’d had time to unearth a summer-weight suit before catching the flight late last night. Her driver returned to his seat and cut the engine, spilling silence onto the sleepy side street.

She glanced down the road toward the center of Tamarindo, where the rolling verdant hillside gave way to beach houses and brightly colored hotels, their yards punctuated by massive trees. Across the street, rusted corrugated roofs gave way to towering resorts and half-finished condominiums, framed by the glittering Pacific. Dense foliage hummed, chirped, and chittered. Life atop of life, atop of life.

Victoria allowed herself a small smile. This was the Costa Rica she’d hoped to find, if only . . . She took a deep breath of air scented by salt, earth, and diesel exhaust, covered her dark eyes with a pair of designer sunglasses, and headed up the drab concrete walkway.

A holiday in Costa Rica had been on Victoria’s list for years, but had never quite reached the top. Her friends had always dragged her someplace more exotic or luxurious. But she could already feel there was something here that went beyond infinity pools and corporate cruises.

Not that this trip would be much of a vacation. Even a lawyer of her caliber was unlikely to find time for piña coladas between bail hearings.

Victoria kept a bag packed for such calls, but never thought she would haul it out of the closet on account of dear, sweet, predictable Ben. There may have been a time when his antics seemed certain to land him in prison—or a morgue—but ever since he’d left university, his idea of going off the rails was watching two movies in a single night.

Had it really been more than a decade since them? Ahem . . . since then?

Tamarindo’s police station was a small, squat building, with walls of white painted concrete and the ubiquitous metal roof. The police crest was hand-painted over the door—a shield that featured a hulking police officer with one arm around a pair of expressionless children, set before a lush mountain at sunrise. The station itself looked clean and in good repair, as did the handful of parked white pickup trucks and squad cards with Policia emblazoned on their sides. All good signs.

She swung open the door. The inside looked like any other police station, with a handful of tired-looking officers pecking away at reports on antiquated computers beneath the fizzing glow of fluorescent lights, sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups. But there was a hum to the atmosphere, a speed at which papers were shuffled, a gleam in the eyes of the constables. This was not just another day at the office.

Victoria stepped up to the desk sergeant and handed him a formal request to see her client.

*****

Miguel Valares made his way down the stone path to the beachside café. The raucous shouts from the hotel pool washed over him unnoticed as his eyes flicked from one face to the next. Searching. His hands hung by his sides, palms open. Ready. Years of experience kept that readiness from showing on his face. Better if he didn’t scare away the other diners.

He seated himself away from his fellow patrons, in a chair that gave him a decent view of the beach without forcing him to turn his back to the restaurant. Waiting was the worst part. Particularly for matters that were out of his control. Even the crashing waves and the endless parade of Tamarindo’s most eccentric visitors failed to provide distraction.

He eyed a pack of Camels a few tables over, next to a discarded plate of scrambled eggs. Empty, but for one lone cigarette poking out from the crumpled aluminum wrapper. He hadn’t had one since . . . Well, not for a long time. Not long enough, apparently. Miguel pulled his phone from his pocket and set it on the table, willing it to buzz with an update. No such luck.

He thought back to last night. The beachside bar bathed in revolving blue lights. The crackle of police radios. Ben, slumped in the back of a squad car. And the choice Miguel had made. It had gone against every instinct to leave Ben there and call Victoria instead, but he’d had few options. Even unarmed, Miguel had no doubts about his ability to break open the squad car and disable the handful of Policía Turística on-site. But what then? And at what price?

The waiter cleared the table, scooping up the pack of cigarettes in the process. Miguel breathed a small sigh. He glanced down at his phone once more. Nothing. What was taking so long? The pounding of his heart overtook the rhythmic drumming of the hotel’s samba music. He could feel the darkness creeping up the back of his neck, whispering in his ear. Searching. Ready.

Waiting was the worst part.

*****

Ben Cooper had had his share of hangovers over the years, but this one deserved to be immortalized in poetry. Where lesser ones faded with time, this one was still returning on a winged tequila worm to take him to Hangover Valhalla. Unfortunately, his other senses were now coming into focus, including his sense of smell. His cell reeked of hot sweat, stale beer, and bitter disappointment.

He tried to remember what happened the previous night. His hands were bruised and scraped, and his shirt was speckled with blood. He ran his fingers through his hair and found it caked with sand. The flesh around his right eye was sore to the touch and his nose felt broken. If he was lucky, that meant the blood on his shirt was his own.

So, not wrongfully arrested. He didn’t know whether public intoxication was a crime in Costa Rica, but he must have disturbed the peace. Running his hands through his hair and down his face was disturbing enough.

Miguel would know. Assuming his friend wasn’t lying in the cell next to his.

“Miguel?” Ben asked through the bars.

The dull hum of the fluorescent lights overhead was the only reply.

Ben slumped back on the concrete floor, struggling to remember more of last night. They’d been at the bar, having drinks with . . . what was that guy’s name, Alberto? Antonio? And then . . . and then . . .

Ben remembered the flash of police lights and the overwhelming smell of salt and copper. Oh God, what had he done?

The clack of the lock echoed in his head like a cannon shot. A guard pushed open the door and ushered in a young woman wearing a business suit. If Ben didn’t know better, he would say she looked like—

“Victoria?”

“Hi, Ben.” She gave him a wan smile. “You look like hell.” Victoria, as ever, was class personified . . . a fashionista’s dream. An errant fleck of seaweed tickled Ben’s nostril.

“Please, make yourself at . . . home.” He gestured to the thin mattress that he had abandoned at some point during the night for the blessed coolness of the concrete floor.

Victoria glanced at the mattress, but remained standing. “Thanks, I’ll pass.”

“What are you doing here?” Was she some sort of withdrawal-induced hallucination?

“Miguel called me,” she explained with a shrug.

Her arrival cleared the fog from a dozen missed engagements. When they graduated—him to IT consulting and her to her father’s law firm—Ben had known his best friend from university would be busy trotting the globe and building her career. It took a few years to realize that meant she’d only be available to meet up between 3:08 and 3:11 p.m. when the moon was waxing gibbous.

Yet here she was. Ben would have to get Miguel a trophy that read “World’s Best Best Man” to thank his Colombian friend for his quick thinking. Except there was no best man, not after what had happened between Ben and Tara Whitmore, his former fiancée. “World’s Best Ex-Best Man” didn’t have quite the same ring to it, somehow.

“He said you needed me to take your case,” Victoria finished.

Case? It couldn’t be as bad as that, could it? “It’s great to see you. It’s been ages. But I’m sure they’ll let me out of here once I sober up and pay the fine.” He fought back against the fear creeping into his voice. “I don’t think Miguel meant for you to fly down from Toronto in the middle of the night . . .”

Victoria took a deep breath. “Ben, you’ve been arrested for murder.”

RUM LUCK (2016) Rum Luck

Sand. Monkeys. Murder. Rum Luck is the story of three friends from Canada who find themselves running a beach bar in Costa Rica, and tangled up in the death of the bar’s former owner. A finalist for the 2015 Unhanged Arthur Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, Rum Luck is the first book in the Bar on a Beach Mystery series.

About the Author ryan_headshot_large

When not writing, Ryan Aldred runs a small Canadian charity that supports education in Afghanistan, Tanzania, Uganda, and other at-risk regions.

Ryan previously worked as a defense analyst and continues to serve as a Sergeant in the Canadian Forces Reserve. Ryan and his family live in beautiful Prince Edward County. He’s never met a beach he doesn’t like.

To learn more visit www.ryanaldred.com.

Or find Ryan on…

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aldredauthor/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/raldred

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28532402-rum-luck

Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GW0UFGK/