Fingerprints Looking For Submissions

Publication: Fingerprints: An Online Journal Of Flash Non-Fiction . . . With Crime On The Mind

Theme: “Flash non-fiction with an emphasis on some element of crime, mischief or rabble-rousing.”

Word Count: up to 2,000

Payment: Publicity only.

Notes: Benjamin Sobieck runs the joint and he’s a good guy. So toss him some stuff. I know the whole non-fiction part is kinda weird but he does let some small “creative license” with your story. Got something short and amazing, they want it.

Atlantis eBooks: Global Noir

Atlantis eBooks — a division of Lite Books — has launched a new publishing venture of noir stories that crisscross the globe. As you can see, they’ve developed a clear marketing identity and a slick design sense. You’ll find some familiar names like Richard ‘Mr Glamour’ Godwin, Paul D. Brazill and myself, but there’s also a wealth of names and stories from around the world. What they have in common is that they bring a sexy noir aesthetic to famous cities around the world. The site is still in the beta stage, although you can already buy the books (if you use the epub format). There’s an English language website coming and the books will also be in all the usual outlets like Amazon, iTunes and so forth (some already are). Check it out: the site offers generous samples from the stories.

Richard Godwin: The Secret Hour
Paris Tongue is an accomplished seducer. He has a blond fire about him. He can read a woman’s sexual needs as quickly as he used to pick pocket the tourists who frequent Piccadilly with cameras on their shoulders and maps in their eager hands. One day he seduces beautiful Viola. The Secret Hour is the time when Paris meets his lovers, and allows them to escape from their lives. He makes love to Viola in various locations in London. The wealthy, exclusive districts of Mayfair and Piccadilly form the backdrop to their erotic liaisons, as Viola becomes another woman. But she is married to gangster Max Reger, and he is watching her. As Twilight falls on Golden Square and Paris makes love to Viola, Max steals into the house where they are sharing their stolen time together. And Paris discovers something about Viola.
Paul D. Brazill: Red Esperanto
The winter night had draped itself over Warsaw’s Aleja Jana Pawla like a shroud, and a sharp sliver of moon garrotted the death black sky. I was in the depths of a crawling hangover and feeling more than a little claustrophobic in Tatiana’s cramped, deodorant-soaked apartment. I poked my trembling fingers through a crack in the dusty slat blinds and gazed out at the constellation of neon signs that lined the bustling avenue. Sex shops, peep shows, 24 hour bars, booze shops and kebab shops were pretty much the only buildings that I could see, apart from The Westin Hotel, with its vertigo inducing glass elevator. Looking it always made my stomach lurch a little.
K. A. Laity: The Claddagh Icon
He saw Clodagh by the Claddagh Icon when the sun lit her golden hair. Two drinks later he figured he was in like Flynn and ready for sin. Of course there was the small matter of her husband, but once she had him on his knees, there were all kinds of things a man might agree to do.

Interview: Joan De La Haye

Today we’re happy to welcome Joan De La Haye to AK&AQ. We recently reviewed her novel Requiem in E Sharp.  Joan De La Haye writes horror and some very twisted thrillers. She invariably wakes up in the middle of the night, because she’s figured out yet another freaky way to mess with her already screwed up characters. Joan is interested in some seriously weird shit. That’s probably also one of the reasons she writes horror. Joan is deep, dark and seriously twisted and so is her writing. Her novels, Shadows and Requiem in E Sharp, as well as her novella, Oasis, are published by Fox Spirit.
Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

A: I write on an Asus laptop with a shiny black cover. It even has facial recognition software which always gives me a bit of a kick when it starts up and I just have to sit in front of it and it starts up. I love it!

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

A: I listen to the radio or have a playlist going. My playlist has a lot ACDC, Guns-n-Roses and some other really good rock. I’ve found that I’m my writing has a little more punch with the playlist than with the radio.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

A: I’m probably not the most prolific writer. I’m rather chuffed with myself if I manage more than 500 words in a day. I’ve also been known to go through periods that can last for weeks where I don’t write a single word. But apparently I’m rather grumpy during those periods and when I start writing again I’m much easier to be around.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

A: I think I’d love to have Clive Barker read my work. I’d want him to be honest. I won’t improve and learn as a writer if I don’t receive honest criticism. That being said, I’d probably be completely devastated if he hated my work. But then I’d suck it up, wipe away the tears and get back to work.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

A: I studied fine art and clinical hypnotherapy. I’ve worked in all sorts of industries, including the hotel industry and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want to do anything other than write. Even when I’ve had a bad review or had a story rejected I know that this is where I belong.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

A: I read across a wide variety of genres. I read horror, thrillers, classics. But I avoid romance and biographies like the plague. I’ll read non-fiction for research purposes. The books that I love and read over and over again are classics like The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Q: Where did the idea for Requiem in E Sharp come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

A: I have no idea where the idea for Requiem came from. I was just driving along one day, minding my own business when the idea for a serial killer with serious mommy issues popped into my head. The story took on a life of its own and grew from there.
I don’t think there is a surefire way of sparking inspiration. I get ideas from my nightmares or from something I watch on TV or hear on the news. Sometimes a simple what if question will just pop into my head. I’ve even had inspiration strike while in the shower, washing my hair. Inspiration can be fickle. But when it strikes you have to ride the wave until it crashes.

You can find Joan online at Twitter, Amazon and Goodreads. Here’s an excerpt from Requiem in E Sharp:

 

He pulled the wire out of his pocket, savouring every second. He felt himself rushing the moment. He wanted to slow it down and enjoy every detail. But she would turn around any moment and things would get messy. He didn’t want that to happen again. He wrapped the ends around his hands and pulled it taut.

He watched the back of her head bob up and down as she made the coffee, humming happily. The kettle was too loud. Her humming was out of tune and pulled his last nerve. She chatted about how rare it was to come across someone as polite as he was, but all he could hear was the sound of the piano clanging in his head. He crossed his wrists and slipped the wire over her head and pulled it around her throat. His heart lurched and the beat quickened. The excitement of the impending kill made him a little light-headed. A surprised groan escaped from her mouth. She tried to grab the wire, but her chewed fingernails were too short to dig in. She tried to grasp his gloved hands at the back of her head, but she was too slow. Her arms flailed around trying to hit him. Her foot connected with his shin. That would leave a bruise, he thought. He pulled the wire tighter. Its sharp edges cut into her flesh, slicing into her like a hot knife through butter. Her breath came in gasps; the more she struggled for breath the bigger and harder his erection grew. His breathing became harder and faster. The wire was swallowed up by her larynx. Blood ran down the front of her clothes. Her end was very close now, he could feel it. It was about time too. His muscles were killing him.

Interview: Andrez Bergen

I’m pleased to say that today’s guest is Andrez Bergen. Born in Melbourne, Andrez Bergen is an expatriate Australian author, journalist, DJ, photographer and musician, who has been based in Tokyo, Japan, over the past eleven years. His forthcoming novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude follows up on the splash made by his first iconoclast offering, The Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

KAL: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I’m an all-rounder, though I have yet to include an iPad or smartphone in the mix. Not that I’m afraid of technology; I just prefer to wait for a bit before squandering hard-earned cash on new stuff. Mostly I use my Mac desktop at home, and when I’m not home I busily scrawl notes on bits and pieces of scrap paper – anything blank I can find in my bag. I do this on the train, on the street, sitting on the edge of the gutter (really). Years ago I had a postbox-red Olivetti manual typewriter, and that’s the one I used to start writing my first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, but I tossed it out the window once when I was late on a university deadline and the ribbon ran out. My mother has it on her wall back in Melbourne. Calls it art.

KAL: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

Yep, I do, though usually not while I’m working on the desktop at home – unless my six-year-old daughter Cocoa is practicing the piano (which she’s actually doing right now). On the train I lug my iPod Nano everywhere, and I’m often listening to rousing classical stuff, soundtrack music by people like Clint Mansell, Kenji Kawai, Hans Zimmer, Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, old 1940s jazz and big band numbers, plus techno and experimental electronic music that (a) I’m working on or (b) is made by mates. All of it influences what I write. Often pivotal scenes get conjured up in my head while I tune out to somebody’s brilliant music.

KAL: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I think I do both. Short bursts in between stations on the train going to work, and long stints at home. I did a mad two-week dash to polish off One Hundred Years of Vicissitude at the end of March. Nearly killed me. It is a habit of late, bordering on a vice, since I should be spending this time entertaining my daughter more than I am right now. I tell her it’s my homework, but I’m not sure she believes me.

KAL: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

God, what a tough question. Living, or dead? I think I’d like Raymond Chandler to read my stuff, but I’m equally terrified by that notion. The guy is one of my all-time literary heroes. Alternatively, L. Ron Hubbard. If he said he hated it, then I’d die happy.

KAL: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

I wish I was better with movie making, something I started in university but never really following through on. Movies are my big love – one of the reasons I ended up writing about them.

KAL: What do you read? What do you re-read?

Re-read first: Anything by Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Isabel Allende’s Zorro, Colin Harrison’s Manhattan Nocturne, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nicholas Christopher’s Veronica, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, Ryū Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and Robert M. Eversz’s Shooting Elvis – the first and easily the best Nina Zero novel. With my daughter we’re constantly reading Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I love old 1960s Marvel comics.

New stuff? I’m always on the look out for new noir and sci-fi – and I love raiding the local bookshop here in Tokyo, where they sell second-hand English novels for ¥200 – about £1.60. A lot of it’s complete crap, but I do stumble upon some unknown doozies on occasion.

KAL: Where did the idea for One Hundred Years of Vicissitude come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

Well, I think just as Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat wore Blade Runner and Raymond Chandler on its sleeve, the new novel owes a truckload to the past eleven years I’ve spent living in Tokyo. I love this city and the people, along with the culture, and in some ways it’s my celebration of that affection. I’m indebted to the cinematic work of Satoshi Kon, Akira Kurosawa and Seijun Suzuki, actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, and the wonderful 1940s boogie woogie of Shizuko Kasagi. The real-life story of identical twin Japanese centenarians served as the initial spark, and a fantastic visit to Kyoto last year added fuel to the fire. Add in Sean Connery’s James Bond and the crazy antics of the Japanese Red Army. Lots, really.

***

Find Bergen on Twitter, Facebook as well as Amazon and Goodreads. Aside from specializing in Japanese culture, anime, movies, and electronic music’s various tangents for magazines like Geek (USA) and Impact (UK), along with newspapers The Age and The Yomiuri Shinbun, Bergen has written fiction for Another Sky Press, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp, Snubnose Press, Perfect Edge, Pulp Ink, Solarcide and Crime Factory, and collaborated on translating and reworking the English text for Japanese anime filmmakers Mamoru Oshii, Naoyoshi Shiotani and Kazuchika Kise.

Bergen released his debut novel, the noir/sci-fi-inclined Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, last year. He will publish a second novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, in October 2012. He is currently putting together an anthology of short stories, by himself and other writers and illustrators relating to the dystopia of TSMG, and he’s working on two novels, The Mercury Drinkers and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa.

 

THE PROLOGUE TO ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF VICISSITUDE:

It’s swing time, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers must be cooling their heels elsewhere.

In all honesty, I can’t distinguish swing from boogie-woogie—styles my grandparents would be better equipped to judge.

Though not wearing a tuxedo to match the music, I am blessed with a suave smoking jacket.

Anyhow, this jazz-inflected number continues to blare, doing seventy-eight rpm on brittle shellac, something warbled in Japanese about people having fun just by singing the zany song.

The whole package is strung together in a crackly, mono din that originates from a gramophone, housed in a lacquered wooden casket on the other side of the room.

Splayed on the floor before the music box lies a half-naked man, inert.

You’ll find me propped up on the bed. It boasts a hard, uncomfortable mattress and the quilts are awry, but who would fret, seated next to a young, exquisite geisha?

Not that she doesn’t have flaws.

This girl bears smudged makeup, a vivid red streak (blood) on one white cheek, and she’s wrapped in a twisted, half-open kimono that’s fallen off her shoulder.

I glimpse an ample amount of small, pale breast, as I reach over to light the cigarette she has pinioned between her teeth.

Eyes off, you ancient rotter.

It’s damnably humid in this small, spartan closet, and both of us are sweating. The temperature is something I doubt the fellow on the floor needs to concern himself with.

‘He’s dead?’ I pipe up, in a blustering voice that startles me.

‘As a doornail,’ the woman says, unruffled, and then she exhales a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.

‘So. What shall we do now?’

‘I have no idea about you, but I’m enjoying the song and this cigarette.’

‘You don’t mind sharing them with a man you just murdered?’

‘Well, I’d say he’s far more functional in this state.’

She places her bare feet on the corpse’s back, wriggles her toes, and then leans back to relax. There’s a smirk on her cherubic mouth.

‘That’s better. Who needs a footstool?’

 

Review: Kick It Together

Kick It Together: Ten Tight Crime Tales
by McDroll

Blurb:

KICK IT TOGETHER is McDroll’s 10 original crime/noir stories now together in one amazing edition!  Read about Gemma Dixon, the young CID officer who doesn’t stand for any nonsense from her male colleagues and can kick and punch her way out of any difficult situation. “Drowning” tells the story of a support for learning teacher who comes to the end of the road in more than one sense. McDroll writes about people on the edge, struggling to survive against the odds and the momentous decisions they have to take to survive.

Review: Just as the description captures, this is a group of ten taught crime tales of people pushed just a little too far. Violence often erupts without apparent warning to many of the people involved, but readers can see the build up of frustration and desperation before the top blows off. These are stories for hard times. Hard candy for readers who have soured on sugary stuff. My only complaint is that they’re all too brief: I’d love to see a longform story about DC Dixon or know what happens next to the desperate young mother Cora. Well worth a read and you can’t beat the price. McDroll is also one of the writers featured in Burning Bridges: A Renegade Anthology (as am I to give a full disclosure).

 

Feeding Kate: Helping a Friend

Feeding Kate: Helping a Friend. A chance for you to help a writer out. We shouldn’t have to do this in the modern world in a wealthy land like this, but we do.

Review: Requiem in E Sharp

Requiem in E Sharp by Joan De La Haye (Fox Spirit Books)

Blurb: Sundays in Pretoria are dangerous for selected women.

A murderer plagued by his childhood, has found a distinctive modus operandi to salve his pathological need to escape the domination of the person who was supposed to cherish him.

As The Bathroom Strangler’s frenzy escalates and the body count mounts, Nico van Staaden, the lead detective on the case, finds himself confronting his own demons as he struggles to solve the murders of the seemingly unconnected victims. The lack of evidence in the sequence of deaths and pressure from his superiors are challenges he must overcome.

Review: In Requiem in E Sharp De La Haye offers up a chilling look not only at a hate-filled serial killer but at the grim world of modern South Africa. In her novel we glimpse a Pretoria that’s filled with random violence, police corruption and internecine mistrust between racial groups. The book is dedicated to her brother Johan, “who survived 17 bullets.” Against this backdrop a serial killer finds it easy to get away with a string of violent deaths for some time before the police put together the clues — and then elude capture when the lead detective finds himself hampered at every turn by incompetence and outright hostility from his colleagues. Add to the mix his new relationship with Janet, a strikingly beautiful woman but one who’s also wrapped up in her recently suicidal friend Natalie and her often overbearing partner Louis. The women want the guys to get along, the better to patch over the strains of their past. De La Haye offers up a story of twists and psychological turns that will keep you entertained.

~ K. A. Laity

Review: The Vanity Game

“Take a pinch of TOWIE [The Only Way Is Essex], add a measure of vapid sleb culture, throw in a few dark temptations, lob the lot OTT, and you’ve got a recipe for a premier league winner.”

— Val McDermid

Blurb: “Ripping the lid off the world of celebrity culture, The Vanity Game is a satirical black comedy that’s as disturbing as it is hilarious. For professional soccer ace Beaumont Alexander, life couldn’t be better. He’s rich and famous and living a life of A-class luxury in his Essex mansion, The Love Palace, with his beautiful pop-star girlfriend, Krystal McQueen. Idolised and envied all over the planet, he’s an international megabrand; seemingly invincible, and every bit as vain as you might expect from a man who has the world at his fingertips as well as his feet. But a celebrity party kickstarts a chain of events that turns his dream lifestyle into a waking nightmare. It begins with too many drugs and an attractive waitress, and leads to an argument with Krystal that doesn’t end well. Then a shady cartel steps in and changes his life forever. Beaumont Alexander is about to discover that substitution is a fate worse than death.”

Review: H. J. Hampson’s The Vanity Game from Blasted Heath offers a slice of sleb culture with a lot of grit and blood. I hated Beaumont from the start: he’s everything I hate about the fame game. It’s an uphill battle getting your reader to follow the adventures of a character who is so often absolutely loathsome; it’s a battle Hampson wins. I despised the spoiled, pampered footballer but I was hooked into the story right away. Where is this going to go? That’s the question that keeps you reading. And I did! I almost — almost — developed sympathy for him as events unfolded. More importantly, I had to know how things would turn out. It’s a terrific examination of the seductiveness of fame, the manipulations it involves and the cocoon it develops around those who get raised so high — and how vulnerable that plush prison leaves them. But make no mistake: this isn’t a dissertation. It’s a cracking good read that will surprise you with all the twists and turns. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be famous and can’t understand the current mania for it. After you read this book, you will have second thoughts about the allure of the spotlight.

Reviewed by K. A. Laity

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

by K. A. Laity

Long before the atrocity machine that is Forrest Gump [shudder] and a year before Woody Allen’s ‘ground-breaking’ Zelig, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner and George Gipe delivered Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a comic collage of noir classics cut into Martin’s cut up shenanigans. Dead clever and deadpan, it wasn’t the madcap lowbrow of The Jerk nor quite the ambitious remake of Dennis Potter’s insanely prescient Pennies from Heaven. Some critics passed it off as a “one joke” idea, others saw evidence. Audiences were often nonplussed by the strange blend of comedy and crime where modern actors interacted with their past masters.

I loved it.

You always get a special thrill when you find one of your tribes. When I first saw it back in the day I had seen some of the films referenced in the movie, but not nearly enough of them, but who could not be immediately arrested by Eva Gardner, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Ingrid Bergman, James Cagney, Lana Turner, and of course Humphrey Bogart?

Now that I’m more familiar with the genre I have an even greater appreciation for the film and fondness, too. Though many of my favourite things are part of the creation: I can’t count how many times I’ve used the shorthand of “F.o.C.” or muttered to bemused on-lookers, “Cleaning woman?!”

The film works because there’s such attention to the details. It was the last project for legendary costume designer Edith Head, and the dizzying variety of authentic production designs were the work of veteran John De Cuir. Composer Miklós Rózsa (like Head, this was his last film) provided an seemingly classic soundtrack that perfectly captured the genre.

The real gem was Rachel Ward; given Martin’s propensity for exaggeratedly childish humour (is there any film he’s in that doesn’t have at least one dog poo joke?), she did most of the work of keeping the film on track and remaining seductively sexy as Martin man-handled her. Ward fit the 40s style outfits as if she were born to them. She never breaks character and really sells the romance between Rigby and Juliet, and gives the film an emotional centre that Martin didn’t yet have the subtlety to maintain (he got there in Roxanne).

If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. If you have, it’s probably time to watch it again.

Interview with Elizabeth Delisi

by K. A. Laity

I’m delighted to have fellow Tirgearr author Elizabeth Delisi drop by for a chat. Her mystery Fatal Fortune has just come out and it’s generating lots of buzz. Here’s the blurb:

No one in Cheyenne, North Dakota believes in Lottie Baldwin’s psychic abilities; especially not Harlan Erikson, Lottie’s boyfriend and Chief Deputy in the Sheriff’s Office.

When a friend’s husband disappears, Lottie can’t leave it to Harlan to discover what happened to Harry.

Armed with her courage and her tarot cards, Lottie tries to solve the mystery herself, regardless of who attempts to stop her: Harlan, her friend—or the criminal.

Welcome, Liz! Let me ask you a few things. When did you start writing?

I wrote my first story in first grade and have been writing ever since. When I was in 8th grade, I wrote about a hundred pages in a never-finished teen romance. My first completed adult novel was written while tending three young children—which was quite a challenge!

Do you have a daily schedule or routine?

My early and mid-morning is taken up with an exercise routine. Yes, I hate it, but it’s necessary. Then I make coffee, grab a protein bar and start working. I tend to work off and on all day until around 7 p.m., when my husband gets home.

How many different genres do you write in? How do you choose which one to tackle?

I write mystery, suspense, romance, and paranormal—or usually, some combination of more than one of them. I guess the best way to describe how I choose is, the story that wants to be told the most chooses me, and won’t leave me alone until I write it.

What’s your favourite writing tip or quote?

Quote: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ~Jack London

Tip: Use contractions 99% of the time rather than writing out—it reads more naturally. A little dialect goes a long way. If you have to modify your verb (ran quickly) or adjective (very pretty), you’ve chosen the wrong verb or adjective. Choose one that can stand on its own.

What sparked the idea of Fatal Fortune?

A combination of two things was my inspiration. First, I bought a deck of tarot cards (Go here to see the deck). I really enjoyed learning about and working with them. Second, I saw a interview with a psychic who was consulted by the police on missing children cases. I thought, “What if a psychic who used tarot cards knew something about a crime, but she couldn’t get the police—or anyone else—to believe her?” Thus the story idea was born.

• Find Elizabeth Online •

Elizabeth Delisi
Facebook
Twitter
The World According to Liz

Excerpt:

November 10, 1980

Harry Larson turned into the rough dirt clearing surrounding the old Cheyenne water tower. He drove in a wide, slow arc, facing the car in the direction he’d come. He wanted to be ready to leave in a hurry.

The headlights shone through the rust-covered legs of the tower, casting an eerie shadow like a huge, misshapen spider waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting victim.

He turned off the lights and killed the engine. Darkness enveloped him. There was no moon tonight.

As he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he strained to hear a noise. The roar or a motor, perhaps, or the crunch of tires. But there was nothing; not a sound.

At last he was able to discern vague objects: the silent water tower humped above him; the withered stalks of a November cornfield on one side of the tower; the nameless, leaning tombstones of an ancient cemetery on the other.

Then he saw something familiar in the far corner of the lot. A bulky shape, boxy and squat. It was a car. How long had it been sitting there? He hadn’t noticed it when he pulled into the cemetery or when he’d backed into the spot where his car now sat.

Harry squinted, trying to see better. He thought he could make out a dark figure sitting on the hood. His heart thumped in his chest.

He chuckled nervously, running his hands through his thinning brown hair. His errand was serious, no doubt of that; but he was letting the overgrown cemetery influence him too much. Next, he’d have the figure flapping a monstrous set of bat wings and flying off into the night. Ridiculous.

He opened the car door. The cold North Dakota wind rushed in and surrounded him. He got out and slammed the door, trying to retain some of the heat. His eyes never leaving the still figure, he walked away from his car, his cocoon of safety, into the overgrown back corner of the lot.

He felt the figure watching him as he approached, waiting for him to come close.

Harry was within fifteen feet now. Twelve. Ten. He could still turn and walk away—run, if he had to. He didn’t have to go through with it. If he didn’t say anything, no one else would ever find out.

He thought of Janet. Sweet wife. What would she think of him if she knew? Would she want him to close his eyes, to pretend he didn’t see what was happening right under his nose? Would she put personal safety above integrity?

Then, there was Laura. When she grew up, would she be ashamed to discover that her daddy had been a coward?

Harry squared his shoulders. He’d do what he’d set out to do. He would stop the thing before anyone got hurt.

He stopped in front of the car where the figure remained on the hood. Having decided his course, Harry plunged in. “I know what you’ve been up to. I know all about it. Did you really think I wouldn’t find out? You didn’t cover your tracks very well.”

The figure grimaced. “You have more intelligence than I gave you credit for, I admit.”

“You can’t believe you’ll get away with it. If I found out, then other people will, too. Sooner or later, you’ll be stopped.”

“I don’t think so.” The voice was thick with conceit. “I have, as the saying goes, friends in high places.”

“Do you think they’ll go out on a limb for you? Jeopardize themselves, their careers and reputations, to protect you?”

“Yes. They have to. They’re in no position to do otherwise. I have certain…information about them. Information that could be very embarrassing, to say the least, if it were to come out.”

“I see.” Harry rubbed his hands together in the frigid night air, stalling for time. “That still leaves me. You can’t possibly have anything incriminating on me, and I don’t intend to back down.”

There was a short silence. “We’re both reasonable people,” the figure said at last. “I can make it worth your while to keep this quiet. Think of all the things you could do for your family with a large ‘bonus.’ You’ll find I’m very generous with my friends.”

Harry waved his hand. “No deal. You can’t buy my silence.”

The dark figure clenched its fists, raising them to chest level. “Then, you give me no choice. You can’t stop me.”

“Oh, can’t I?” Harry shook his head in disgust. “When you asked me this afternoon to meet you here, I hoped you’d had a change of heart, and I was willing to support you. I would have stood by you all the way. Obviously, I was wrong. I’ve been a fool.”

He turned away and started back toward his own car. The night air was crisp in his nostrils; a light snow was beginning to fall. Though disappointed at the outcome, he felt shaky with relief that the ordeal was over.

He heard a sudden, furtive noise behind him. Harry jumped, started to turn. Before he could see the source of the sound, face his foe, he felt a crushing blow on the back of his head. A million hot sparks exploded behind his eyes as he sank down toward the frozen ground.

For a moment, Harry lay motionless. The quiet night air was full of unwonted sound: heavy footsteps; muffled rustling; the jingle of keys. The car door slammed and tires spun. Above it all, he heard his once pounding heartbeat slowing as his body relaxed. The last thing he saw was the car’s red tail lights fading into the distance. And then eternal blackness overcame him.

*****