Monday, January 15, 2018

Version #3

I started to write a new novel. I got 26,900 words into it and trashed it. Restarted. Version #2 got to 50,000 words and was ding nothing to please me. On January 13th I scrapped it. Walked away. Took a breath. Started writing again on the afternoon of the thirteenth because the characters would not let go of my ear. Tonight I will be picking up Version #3 at 32,497 words.

As Kelly just said, "Would you like a side of psychiatrist with that obsession?"

Friday, January 12, 2018

My Muse 2

    My muse sits on the patio, elbows on the glass-topped table, shoulders hunched, a shock of dark hair streaked with golden sunlight fallen across his brow as he idly pushes the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle around, occasionally making an attempt to unite two pieces.  When he has bent and peered underneath the table for the hundredth time, craning his neck to look up at the underside of the table and the pieces thereon I step out into the shadow beneath the eaves and ask, “What are you looking at?”

     He straightens up in his seat, fastens those piercing eyes upon me and replies, “Sometimes you have to look at things from both sides in order to understand the thing in its entirety.”

     For someone who appears to live like a bohemian, so casually, he sometimes spouts raw wisdom that can cut you to the quick.  His intelligence comes in slashes like the flashing blades of too sharp knives and leaves me feeling wounded with inadequacy for not having had these insights on my own.  “I see,” I say.

     His grin is quick and infectious.  “Don’t lie to me,” he says, “Just tell me how lucky you are to have me around.”

     I capitulate too easily. “I am incredibly fortunate to have you here tormenting me with your brilliance as you do.”

     He picks up a piece of the jigsaw, holds it up as though it is a glass of wine he is studying.  I frown slightly for the piece does seem opaque as though it has captured some of the light and locked it away deep within itself.  “Here is the heart of the matter,” he says, winking before he locks the piece in place.  “Now go inside and write like the wind.”

     “Will you be breathing down my neck?”

     “With every period, every semi-colon, every exclamation point.  I really do adore exclamation points, you know. They’re so cheeky.”

     “British today, are we?”  He usually prefers French, sometimes Latin, occasionally Irish as he can be so full of blarney at times.


     “Cars or pumpkins?” I inquire, turning away.  In my peripheral vision he shimmers.

     “Why not success?”

     “Why not!”

     “That’s it, love!” he calls.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Dark Rain

Before there was a Bryce Briscoe and a Dr. Giles Talon (Talon:An Intimate Familiarity and its sequels) there was Casey Lewis and Dr. Moseley, however Casey and Dr. Mosely are thoroughly human, whereas the story idea and characters morphed and reformed into the supernatural for the future novel.  



Rain. Casey had seen more rain in the past ten days than she had previously seen in all twenty-one years of her life. She pressed her pale face against the windowpane holding her breath so as not to steam the glass as she stared down at the shining street. It shone like a dark river in the murky glow of the street lamp. Briefly, she entertained the notion of a flooded street seething with slippery black eels with razor-sharp teeth, dark green fish with stinging barbs on their dorsal fins, ruby red fish with poison oozing from their scales.

She exhaled and the street vanished in the mist. Impatiently, she scrubbed the vapor from the window and stared out, this time raising her eyes to find the lighted window of Jeremy’s apartment across the way. She could make out his dark, shadowy form in the soft yellow glow of the left-hand window. There were three tall windows at the front of his loft. She liked to look across, to see if she could catch a glimpse of him before she left for work. He didn’t even know she existed. And he wouldn’t be able to see her watching him anyway since her apartment was dark. His world was her fantasy world.

Irritably, she brushed a stray strand of pale blonde hair away from her forehead. Her hair was the color of vanilla ice cream, nearly white, devoid of any absolute color whatsoever. Her eyes were the palest shade of blue possible, the lightest shade of blue on the color wheel that could still be called blue and not opaque or colorless. Her skin was the dead white of a corpse’s, yet she was not an albino. She just lacked pigment to a seriously life-threatening degree. Therefore, she had always been a nocturnal being, more comfortable in the dark of night, shunning the bright sunlight that could burn her skin to a crisp in such a brief span of time that it made any daytime venture practically a farce. She could only go outdoors in the sunlight with a hat pulled low to shield her face, large dark glasses to protect her eyes, thin gloves to cover her hands and a long coat to swath her photosensitive body. She looked like a cartoon character out of some tacky espionage comic book! People stared, but they never looked twice, never really saw her for who she was; just saw her as some sort of freak.

But she was not a freak!

Turning her head, she glanced at the glowing blue numerals on the clock. It was almost ten-thirty. She was scheduled for work at eleven o’clock and would have to hurry up and change if she wanted to make it in on time. She had one of the creepiest jobs in the city, night clerk at the city morgue. There were very few chances of meeting anyone in her line of work, except for the random homicide detective, the stray homeless person looking for a warm corner to curl up in, especially in weather like this, and the odd undertaker. She took one last long, lingering look at the shadowy figure outlined in the window across the street, peering hard through the rain-pebbled glass to try to make out what he was doing as he moved his arms up and down. Weights. He must be working out with hand weights.

Casey changed into her black shirt with the silver metal buttons embossed with skulls and black jeans, then slid her slender feet into bright violet rain boots. She loved these boots and was even rather cheerful about having to go out on a night like this because it gave her an opportunity to wear them again. She shoved her arms into the sleeves of her long, black denim duster, turned up the collar, pulled a black baseball cap on over her collar-length ashy hair, grabbed her big black umbrella and her black leather bag and slipped out of the apartment.

Junior was on duty at the lobby door. There was no doorman in her building. She didn’t live in the high-rent district by any means, but she was better off than the poor souls several blocks east. Yet, she wasn’t in the same class as those living in the well-kept apartment block across the street. She was right on the verge of respectability. A shove would send her falling backwards into the scabby tenements, a push forward into Jeremy’s world. Junior was a homeless person who had appointed himself the nighttime doorman. No one had ever complained about his less than fragrant presence in the vestibule. He was a decent enough sort, usually sober and very personable. He appreciated the cigarettes and sandwiches the tenants gave him in return for him risking his life stepping out into the street to hail a cab. Routinely, cabs flew down Cross Street at a frantic pace as though they were being pursued by demons from Lucifer’s Grotto, the neighborhood down near the docks where no one in their right mind ever ventured.

Junior was also a reassuring presence on those nights when some menacing figure followed you up from the subway, the occasional glint of steel a silent threat in the wan light of the ineffectual street lamps. “Hey, Casey, how’s it goin’?” Junior asked in his soft, raspy voice. She suspected he had throat polyps or cancer of the larynx.

“Pretty fine, considering,” she replied, rummaging in her coat pockets for the Snickers bar Harry had left on her desk last night. Harry was the custodian at the morgue, a diabetic addicted to candy. He played the vending machines like a gambler would play a slot machine. He’d eat candy until he was woozy then leave the rest of his bounty on people’s desks. “Here. I saved this for you.”

“Cool, a Snickers. Thanks, kiddo.” He took the candy bar. “Need a cab?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“No problem.” He turned up his collar. The shoulders of his coat were dark, wet already from a number of previous forays out into the street to hail hacks.

At the sound of brakes being applied on a slick surface, Casey exited the vestibule, dashing through the sheet of rain, diving through the door of the cab that Junior held open. “City morgue,” she said to the driver.

“What’s the rush?” the driver asked sarcastically. “I haven’t hit the bastard yet, but the next time!” Junior slammed the door. Casey tried to settle herself in the lumpy seat as the driver pulled abruptly away, tires spinning, sending up twin plumes of dirty rainwater that sprayed Junior. She twisted in the seat to look back and made a mental note to try to find him a slicker at the Salvation Army store. In the morning she would bring him a cup of hot coffee if he was still around. “Whatta ya gotta git ta the morgue for at dis hour? Somebody die?”

“People are dying every day,” she replied. “Maybe I want to arrive early to get a good drawer.”

He glanced at her in the rear view mirror, noticed the spooky pallor of her exposed skin and shuddered. "Jeezus! You one of them Goth freaks or somethin’?” She scowled, her pale eyes narrowing, her jaw thrusting forward. “I mean, people like you are okay. I ain’t got no problem with it, if that’s your trip and all. Don’t get me wrong.”

“You’d better zip it, mister before you dig the hole any deeper,” she muttered.

His driving was atrocious. She was relieved when they finally pulled up in front of the morgue. “This is good enough. I can walk the rest of the way.”

“What? They don’t let the Queen of the Damned in through the front door?” he scoffed.

“I always use the side door. I’m not big on grand entrances,” she said, flinging the fare money in his face. “Have a safe night.” She got out, hurrying down the dark alley to the side door. A thin, vaporous pink light glowed to one side of the night entrance. She used the keypad to open the locked door. “Hello! I’m home!” she called, her wet boots squeaking on the polished linoleum. “Hector! Hello! Harry?” It was uncommonly quiet in the building.

The sound of a toilet flushing, the vibration of a rush of water through the old pipes beneath the floor reached her ears. Down the corridor, the door of the men’s room creaked open on protesting hinges. Hector emerged, wiping the palms of his hands down the front of his thighs. “Oh, hey, Casey. I thought I was hearing voices. It’s been dead tonight.”

“Where’s Harry?”

“He’s didn’t come in. He ate a half-gallon of butter-brickle ice cream. He’s spending the night sick as a dog in the ER. Some guys soak up the booze, Harry soaks up the sugar.” He shrugged. “You gonna be all right here? Moseley’s on duty, but he’s at some fancy function. If you need him before two o’clock you’ve gotta page him. Okay? You want me to hang around awhile, keep you company?”

“No, it’s okay. It’s not like anyone’s going to be bothering me here. Go on home. It’s awful out there!”

“Still rainin’?” She nodded. “Shit, I’ll never get to ride my bike if it don’t let up!” He grabbed his leather jacket from the coat rack where Casey was hanging her coat. “Take care, Case. See you tomorrow night!” He waved, then hit the bar and was out the door. The door slammed shut with a metallic clang and shudder. Casey walked over to push on the door to make sure it was secure. Only one time had the door not latched properly, but she didn’t relish a repeat of the invasion of the assholes-of-the-night. She was glad there was a panic button under the counter because it certainly had come in handy that night with just her and delicate Dr. Lancier on duty. The cops had come fairly quickly to rescue them from the inner office in the morgue proper where they had locked themselves, hearts hammering in unison as the creeps had trashed the morgue, flinging the corpse of an anonymous bridge jumper around like a Raggedy Ann doll at a barn dance. They’d all been hauled in for molesting a corpse and vandalism. The DA had dropped the B&E charge since they hadn’t actually broken in, the door had been ajar. The trespassing stuck, however the sum total of charges hadn’t been enough to amount to more than a slap on the wrist. Casey had been pissed off about it. Nobody respected the dead anymore.

She sat down behind the desk, thumbing through an old National Geographic that she’d read thirty times already, mostly because she liked the glossy pictures of a lush rain forest that had once graced a South American river basin. The forest was now a stump-strewn swamp steaming in the hot equatorial sun. She wondered where all the bright-plumed birds had fled? Did the world need exotic wood and rubber sap that desperately? At the rate environmental destruction was proceeding the entire globe would soon be an exhausted wasteland, its inhabitants gasping for breath, stumbling around beneath the broiling sun in search of shelter. The water would be foul, full of bloated bodies of decaying fish. There would be no fossil fuel left to power up air conditioners and automobiles. There would be no farmland. People would be eating one another to remain alive. She shuddered at her own apocalyptic vision of the furture.

The shrill interruption of the phone ringing made her jump and emit a small cry. It was so quiet in the morgue tonight! "Hello, City Morgue, Casey speaking,” she said.

“Andrewski in homicide. We got a stiff in the Grotto. Wanna send a meat wagon to Foster and Mason?”

“Moseley’s at a function,” she informed him. He snorted in derision. No one liked Moseley who was the most arrogant bastard in a three-piece suit. “I’ll page him. Do you have a number address?”

“Nope, they’ll just have to look for the blues. This one sure ain’t getting up and walking anywhere.”

She made a face. She didn’t like Andrewski. “Okay.”

“Tell ‘em to bring a big spatula to scrap up this crap offa the pavement.” His laugh was a bark cut short by his disconnecting the call.

“Compassionless jerk,” she muttered as she punched in the pager number. It evidently took twenty minutes for Moseley to find a phone at the place where he was attending his function. Carrying his cellphone would probably ruin the tailored cut of his tux, the vain jerk! “Andrewski has a DOA at Foster and Mason,” she said, keeping the message as short as possible.

“So what’s he looking for, a finder’s fee? And what are you bothering me for? Call the boys and send them over to pick it up. I’ll be there when I get there.” He hung up with a loud click.

Casey was glowering as she called the garage. Kevin answered. “That asshole…” she began, but Kevin interrupted her.


“Bingo!” she said, because she could have meant Moseley or a half dozen other people. “He’s got what sounds like a road kill at Foster and Mason.”

“Why can’t people just stay indoors in this weather?” Kevin complained. “All right. Nothing more specific? Is Moseley meeting us there?”

“He said you’d see them, and you’d need a big spatula. And, no, Moseley’s at some hoity-toity affair he’s loath to leave, so you’ll have to fudge it.”

Kevin groaned. “Great. Road pizza and Moseley in a tux. Okey-dokey, see you in a bit, Case.”

“I’ll leave the lights burning.”

“Don’t forget to bake a cake,” he said before hanging up. She laughed. He was a good sport.

An hour later, Casey saw the white van backing up to the bay door. She wasn’t supposed to open the garage door until she had visual confirmation but Kevin had devised a signal that they routinely used. He tapped the brakes quickly three times then held his foot down on them. He had given the signal so she pressed the button to raise the door and watched on the garage monitor as the van backed smoothly into the bay, rainwater sheering off the angled surfaces onto the still damp concrete. Kevin bailed out of the driver’s door and several moments later squelched through the inside door into the hall. “Honey, I’m home!” he called.

Casey leaned over the counter. “Hey! Don’t mess up the floor! Harry’s out sick and I hate mopping!”

“Nice to see you, too,” he replied. “Moseley here yet?”



“You’ll just have to haul the body in and leave it.” She realized it wasn’t the fluorescent lighting making his skin look greenish. He was green. A queasy shade of creamy pea soup green. “What’s the matter?”

“Jeez, this was a nasty one.”

“How nasty?”

“Let’s just say I’m off JELL-O for a long time.”


“Hey, Kev, are you goin’ to give me a hand unloading this bag of pulp or what?”

“Oh, that’s nice!” Casey shouted. “What if that was your mother in that body bag!”

“I’d be spreadin’ her on rye toast in my nightmares!” Mickey retorted. He was a college kid working nights to pay his off-campus rent. “Besides, I think it’s a guy. Right? Isn’t it a guy?”

Kevin was retching at the water fountain. “Beats me,” he muttered, splashing chlorinated water on his face. He would smell like he just stepped out of the community pool now. “Maybe.”

“Any ID?”

“Andrewski is coming down to paw through the personal effects once they’re separated from the remains,” Mickey replied.

“You sound just like him,” Casey said. “Knock it off.”

Kevin went to help Mickey unload the body bag laden gurney from the van. Casey watched them from behind the counter. The shiny floor was wet, a muddy mess of boot prints and tire tracks. Wordlessly she went and opened Harry’s closet, rattled buckets and mops, ran hot soapy water into a wheeled-bucket with a wringer attachment, then rolled it out into the hall.

Mickey was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. There was a red and white NO SMOKING sign right beside his left shoulder. He smirked at her, waiting for her to say something. Silently, she stuck the mop into the water and then abruptly slung it over the side of the bucket, without wringing it, sloshing water across his boots. “Hey, you stupid bleached-out bitch! Watch what you’re doin’!”

“What did you just say?” Kevin demanded, coming from the men’s room. “What did you just call her?”

“She’s a stupid albino bitch!”

“I am no…!”

“Casey!” Kevin said, motioning her to be quiet. “Apologize to her,” he said to Mickey in a tone of voice she had never heard him use before. It was so cold, so dangerous it made her shiver involuntarily.

“Look what she did to my damn boots!” Mickey protested.

“Apologize to her,” Kevin repeated in that same icy voice. “And lose that damn cigarette. You know you’re not supposed to smoke in here!”

“What the fu…” Mickey began but saw Kevin’s fist curl tightly. “Okay! Hey! All right! I’m sorry!” he said.

“What exactly is going on here?” Moseley demanded in his imperious booming voice. None of them had heard the Medical Examiner let himself in. “Where’s Harry?”

“Out sick,” Casey replied, dipping the mop back into the sudsy water.

“Well, clean up this mess! And you two, get back out into the garage and clean out the van!” He strode angrily past them, but was fastidious enough to skirt around the muddy tracks on the floor. “When you’re finished out there, Miss Lewis, get in here and mop up this slop! I can’t abide working in a pig sty!” he shouted from beyond the double doors.

Mickey had slunk out to the garage, but Kevin was still in the hallway. “Case…”

“You’d better go,” she said quietly.

“Look,” he began, but the door buzzer sounded. The police had arrived. “He’s a jerk.”

“I know.” She started down the hall to answer the door.

“Come home with me in the morning,” he said, but he wasn’t sure she’d heard him. She was already at the door and his voice had cracked like an adolescent’s. Embarrassed, he slipped out into the garage as Andrewski and his partner entered at the other end of the corridor.

Casey knew Andrewski, but she didn’t recognize the younger officer with him tonight. “That freakin’ Moseley’s parked his goddam Lincoln in the tow away zone again!” Andrewski complained. “I oughta have that damn car towed and impounded!”

“He’s in the autopsy suite,” Casey said. Andrewski drank, which made his nose as red as an apple. When he was pissed off, his whole face was the lush color of a rose. His blood pressure must be through the roof, she thought and hoped he wouldn’t have a stroke or a heart attack while on her shift.

“Yeah, you’re a card. Be a good girl and make us some strong coffee, will ya.” Andrewski stomped down the corridor leaving behind more wet, gritty prints she’d have to mop up. “Come along, Scotty! Police work first then you can goggle at Side Show Sally all you want!”

Anger and humiliation began a slow burn in the pit of her stomach as she stomped around behind the counter, grabbed the glass carafe from the Mr. Coffee and went to fill it in the women’s room. She was taking down disposable hot drink cups when she sensed a presence behind her. Turning, she caught her breath sharply. It was the younger cop, Scotty. “Did I scare you?” he asked.

“This isn’t the sort of place where you go creeping up behind people!”

“No shit.” He rubbed his bristly jaw. “It’s ugly in there.” His skin was pale beneath the shadow of whiskers.

“The guys said it was a bad one.”

“We figure an 18-wheeler rode over him, or her. Maybe a few other vehicles, too. It’s hard to see in this damn rain. The body must have been lying there in the road for some time.”

Casey grimaced. “Drunk?”

“Not yet, but I will be by nine o’clock,” he replied.

“Not you, the person in the road!”

He shrugged. “I was just trying to make you smile.” Casey turned away. “Andrewski’s a pig.”

“You’re too kind.”

“I’m stuck with him tonight.” He leaned against the counter. “I’m pulling a double. I really need a cup of coffee right now.”

“Help yourself. I don’t wait on people. The tips around here are lousy.”

He grinned. “It’s good you have a sense of humor about working here.” He poured himself a cup. As he tore open three sugar packets, he said, “I have to tell you, I’ve never seen anyone quite like you, with your coloring. It’s very…striking.”

“Don’t you mean my lack of coloring?”

“Your skin is as pale as an Easter lily, your hair the color of corn silk, your eyes the fragile blue of a winter sky…”

“What are you, a poet or something?” He was starting to make her a little nervous. He had very soulful eyes. Puppy dog eyes. Men didn’t ordinarily pay any attention to her. She was too extreme and they couldn’t seem to handle it. Only the freaks paid attention to her, thinking she was one of their own. This man was making her mouth dry, her tongue stick to her palate like a fly on tacky paper. “You fascinate me, Casey.”

“I’m just…”

“Just what?” he asked as he poured coffee into another cup. “How do you take yours?”

“Black, two sugars.”

“No artificial sweetener for you, eh?”

“It’s all chemicals.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Are you a vegetarian?”

“No. I just try to avoid gulping down excess chemicals because there are enough synthetic hormones and chemicals in the food I normally eat to kill me already. Why push the limits with junk like that?”

He nodded. “Where’d you get that shirt?”

She glanced down at her shirt because she couldn’t remember what she was wearing. “Oh, Kevin gave me this. It’s a little weird, but I like it.”

“Is he your guy?”

“My guy?”

“Boyfriend.” She shook her head.

“Hey, Scotty! What the hell are ya doin’, grindin’ the freakin’ coffee beans individually between your molars?” Andrewski shouted.

Scotty rolled his brown eyes. “I live to serve. It used to be the public, but tonight it’s that fat ass moron apparently. I don’t know how his partner can stand him night after night!” He fixed two more cups of coffee, one with a generous amount of half and half and three sugars, one black. “I’ve got to deliver these.” She nodded, watched him walk down the hall. He was about six feet tall, lean and mean, like Jeremy.

“Case! Hey! Wake up!” Kevin snapped his fingers near her ear. “What are you doing, sleeping on your feet?”

She’d been imagining Scotty in the apartment across from hers. Move over Jeremy! There was a new man in her fantasy world. “Mmm, I guess,” she answered almost dreamily.

“What the hell’s come over you?”

She sighed. “This is the best coffee I’ve ever had.”

“I think you’ve been sniffing formaldehyde fumes!” He grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her a bit. “Earth to Casey! Earth to Casey! Cleared for landing! Do you copy?”

“Go away, Kevin, you’re interrupting my sex life.”

He glanced around. They were alone. “Don’t tell me you’re asexual! Jeez, Case, you wanna break my heart or something!”

Her pale eyes shifted to his face. Kevin. Kevin! He was such a nice guy. Ordinary in appearance, but sweet. He’d never occupy that apartment across from hers though. He wasn’t extraordinary. She watched him pour a cup of coffee, sloshing it over the side of the cup, snatching a paper towel to absorb the spill, knocking his knuckles against the cup causing it to spill again, cursing softly as grabbed more paper towels to soak up that mess. He didn’t measure the half and half, just dumped some in. Sugar spilled on the counter. He glanced at her as he swept the granules onto the floor, saw she was watching him and flushed. “You’re hopeless, aren’t you?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“If you’d asked, I’d have made your coffee for you.”

“I didn’t want to further interrupt your sex life.”

Casey shrugged. “That cop was flirting with me.”

A muscle twitched in Kevin’s jaw. “Was he bothering you?”

“No, not really. It was just…different.”

“Do you like him?”

“He seems nice. He’s certainly not like Andrewski or Foster.”

Kevin lifted his cup, took a sip of coffee and burned his mouth. “Shit! This is hot!”

“It’s the only way I know how to make it,” she said. He was being such a klutz tonight. “I’d better start the paperwork on this one.” She sat down at her desk, grabbed a form and cranked it into the old typewriter. “The computer’s down. I have to do this the old-fashioned way.”

“What’s the matter with the computer?” Kevin walked over to the desk and began tapping keys, scowling at the screen.

“Solar flare, alien deathray, or something. Must have fried it or something.” She paused, fingers poised above the typewriter keys. “How can I fill this out? I don’t even know if it’s a Jane Doe or a John Doe?”

“To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t tell.” He sat on the corner of the desk. “Moseley might know by now.”

“I’m not going in there, thank you very much!” She looked up at him. He was digging in his ear, examining the dark, golden earwax he’d freed. “Can you hear me now?”

He flushed again as he wiped his fingertip on his pants leg. “You’re in rare form tonight.”

They both jumped when the phone rang. Casey even emitted a startled cry. Kevin laughed as she grabbed the receiver. “City Morgue, Casey speaking.” She picked up a pencil, scribbled a few notes on a pad. “Okay. Moseley’s on duty tonight. He’s working on a body they just brought in right now. I’ll send the van along. Okay. Bye.” She hung up, turned her pale eyes to Kevin. “Another beauty for you. This one’s a suicide. A leaper.”

“Shit, bridge or building?”

“Building. Tall building. Financial district.” Kevin was beginning to look green again. “Sorry. It’s going to be one of those nights.”

“Yeah, well, what can you do? Better go give the happy news to the Master of the

Macabre. He’s really wallowing in his element tonight. I’ll wake up Mickey and go sop up the remains with a big sponge and we’ll be back as soon as we can.”

“Better yet, take that roll of paper towels along!” she called as he started down the hall.

“Bounty, the quicker picker-upper!” he sang as he banged open the door to the autopsy room. Casey could hear Moseley chewing him out for his levity through the closed doors. She sat back in her chair, arms folded, and shook her head.

Andrewski and Scotty came out and stopped at the counter. Andrewski held up an evidence bag of soggy, bloody items. “You want to list this down on your paperwork?” He tossed the bag down onto the counter. “I ain’t touching it.”

“Is there an ID in there?”


“Didn’t Dr. Moseley look?”

“Sure he looked. Then he shoved it all into this bag and handed it to us. He’s keepin’ the identification a secret from us, but you can tell us. You’re his little flunky.”

“Joe, come on,” Scotty said. “He has it all on his dictation tape. You just want to make a record of what we’re taking as evidence? It was a hit and run after all.” He jiggled the slimy contents of the bag with his fingertips. “Two non-descript brass keys on a plain steel ring, nylon wallet with personal papers intact, no coin or currency, no credit cards. State issued driver’s license in the name of Marie Leclair, expired four years ago, listing DOB as 07-03-51. I doubt the address is valid. Put ‘homeless’ down. I think I’ve seen her around the women’s shelter if this photo is any good.”

“She’s looking more like Gumby tonight,” Andrewski commented.

“All set?” Scotty asked and Casey nodded. “See you around then.” She looked up, her pale eyes meeting his.

“Makes you wanna run home and jump the wife’s bones, don’t it?” Andrewski said as he scooped up the bag from the counter. “Nighty-night, Snow White.”

Scotty mouthed the word ‘pig’ before turning to follow his partner to the exit. Casey remained at her desk. She heard the bang of the release bar being shoved hard, the hydraulic hiss of the door opening, then closing, the rattle of it latching when it thudded shut.

“Miss Lewis! Get in here and mop this floor! I want it sparkling clean before they bring in the next case! I’ll be in my office.”

The odors of death soured her stomach. She worked as fast as possible to clean the autopsy room floor, then hurried back to her desk and began the paperwork after checking the computer again. It was still down.

“Here comes number two!” Mickey announced when they came in from the garage. Kevin looked unusually grim. He didn’t make any comments at all. Casey got a wriggly feeling in the pit of her stomach. When he came out of the men’s room he avoided looking at her and went straight out to the garage. Mickey lingered.

 “What’s wrong with him?” she asked, expecting some flip response from the college boy.

“It was a classmate of his,” Mickey answered. “They played lacrosse together.”

“Oh, shit,” she said, her heart lurching.

“He won’t talk to me.”

Casey glanced down the hall at the closed double doors, then back at Mickey. “Can you just listen for the phone?” He nodded and she went out into the garage. Kevin was banging around in the back of the van. “Come out here a minute,” she called softly.

“Go away, Case,” he growled.

“No, please, come out here.”

“Leave me alone!”

She climbed up into the back of the van. He was sitting on a fold down bench where a second body bag could be laid for transport if there were multiple corpses. She sat down beside him. “Kevin,” she said, but he shook his head. “You can’t hold it back.  You know that.” His head was bent. By the dim interior light she could see tears dripping from the curve of his cheek to his thigh where they were making a growing round wet spot. “Kevin, I’m sorry. Was he a close friend?”

“We used to hang out together, until he went to college,” he replied in a voice thick with tears.

“Was he married?”

“Yeah, last year. His wife’s pregnant. Jeez, Case!” He sobbed. “What’d he go and do this for?”

“I don’t know,” she answered quietly, placing her hand palm up on his thigh over the wet spot. A warm tear fell into her palm, then another, making a tiny puddle of saltwater.

Kevin dipped his fingertip into the tears, traced wet lines up her fingers to her fingertips. It tickled, but she held her hand steady, didn’t pull it away. “Twenty-five years old,” he said, shaking his head.

“Are you going to be all right?” she asked. He laced his fingers between hers, clasped her hand, his tears trapped between their palms.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” he replied raggedly. “I’ll be okay,” he repeated as though trying to convince himself of it.

“Do you still want me to go home with you?” she asked.

He raised his head, turned his tear-streaked face toward her, his raw-rimmed eyes meeting hers. “You heard me?” She nodded. “You want to?” She nodded again. “Yeah, I do,” he said softly.

“All right then, but no sunlight.”

“My apartment’s at the back of the building. I don’t get any sunlight until late in the afternoon. I’ve got room-darkening blinds. It helps me sleep during the day.” She nodded. “You, too?”

“Yeah. We nocturnal creatures must protect ourselves from the light.” He gave her a wan smile. “I’ve got to go before Moseley pitches an unholy fit about Mickey being at the desk. You want another cup of coffee?”

“Yeah, that’d be good.”

“I’ll fix it and send it out with the whelp.”

He dried his face. “You’re an angel, Case.”

“You think so?” she asked as she jumped down out of the van.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I think your mind has been warped by your line of work.”

He sighed. “Maybe, maybe not.”

“But I don’t care.”

“Then that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?”

“For the time being.” She went back inside. “Has His Majesty been out?”

“Naw, quite as the tomb in here.”

“Bring this coffee out to Kevin, will you. He needs it.” He didn’t make any snide remark about being a servant which impressed her, but didn’t necessarily endear him to her.

She sat down behind her desk, cranked a second form into the old typewriter and made an ‘X’ in the box for ‘male,’ then typed in the age, twenty-five. She would have to wait for the rest of the information from Moseley. She glanced at the clock, wondering where the police were. Maybe they’d stopped for a bite to eat even though the thought of food made her stomach roll over twice.

With a weary sigh, she got up and went to get a fresh bucket of hot soapy water to mop up the dark streaks of mud marring the shiny floor from the garage exit to the cold steel double doors. Perhaps the rain would never end. They were already three and a half-hours into the eleventh day and still the rain was slanting down in an opaque sheet in front of the outside surveillance cameras. Twenty-nine days to the flood she told herself, until the street ran like a dark river through the city sweeping away the poor souls who didn’t have apartments above the third floor. She lived on the fifth floor. This morning she would find out where Kevin lived and on which floor. If it turned out to be third or below she’d insist they go to her place even though it was probably smaller. She would feel safer there. But she’d have to shut the blinds, not only against the sun, but also against Jeremy and his world. She would never be a part of it. It was time to take her place in her own world; her and Kevin’s world.   

Some of My Favorite Quotes From My Own Work

Favorite Quotes from My Own Novels & Anthologies by Susan Buffum
(material quoted is copyrighted and remains the property of the author and cannot be used without my permission)

From the as yet unpublished novel Rookdale: “You can’t make yourself a witch unless you were born a witch. That’s a simple truth. You can give it a good go in the theater of your own imagination, treading the boards in a black dress with filmy tendrils of gauzy material trailing behind in an artificial breeze, casting spells that burst brightly thanks to special effects, but, in the end, you’re still merely a mortal being and it all comes to naught.”

From the published novel Black King Takes White Queen (2016): Ivy speaking to Romney as the day of his possible death by the hand of his evil sister draws near- “No, don’t make any promises. Promises are too fragile. They can be broken too easily. If anything, make me a vow, an oath.”

“If you keep agitating the water it never becomes calm.”

Ivy’s mother speaking to Ivy about pottery and Romney, the warlock potter- “Pottery doesn’t last. It can get broken,” she says.

Ivy’s reply- “That’s true. You have to be careful with it. Just like hearts can be broken. You have to be careful with them, too.”

From an Unfinished story: Her heart seldom spoke to her, but when it did, it asked for the impossible.

From Black Knight, White Rook (2017)  (the sequel to Black King Takes white Queen): An evil warlock has been working to destroy Romney and Ivy’s relationship, to divide and conquer the Black King and his White Queen. They have separated, each has their own tasks to perform, yet they are struggling to repair the damage Trowbridge has wreaked upon them as a couple- This is Ivy’s thoughts as they walk along a beach on a raw afternoon, having been separated for several months- I can sense the pain within him. It makes me squeeze my eyes shut tightly to try to lock down my own pain deep inside of me, but it just radiates all throughout my entire being like a map of agony leading straight to my heart. And in that aching, broken heart, I still love him. He’s a part of me. I’m a part of him. And Trowbridge is shredding the fibers of that bind, tearing us apart, yet he cannot break that iron bond that connects us by means of these ancient rituals that we performed. He can only break us individually.

From the published novel Out (2017): Irina narrating- Mikhail had had to nudge me as I’d been gazing at the castle windows imagining all the opulent finery contained within those dark stone walls, the pictures from Palatial Homes magazine still vivid in my memory as if I had walked through those rooms in person instead of a thousand times in my imagination.

“Shh,” he says. “Close your eyes and go to sleep.” My eyes meet his for a brief moment before I obey. The thought that this is only the beginning spins like a hurled dagger through the empty space where my brain resided up until I drank that tea. And then I’m torn away from him, tumbling through fleecy clouds and splashing down into the gentle waves that lapthe shores of sweet oblivion.”

Adrik speaking to Irina as she prepares him for an appearance on Dimitra After Dark- “Men are fools. The real beauty of a woman lies within the body and mind. External appearances are merely pretty packaging that can fool a man into believing he has captured a prize when in fact his so=called prize is nothing more than a hollow confection who will never satisfy his deepest cravings and desires.”

From the published novel The Subtlety of Light and Shadow (2015):  From an exchange between artist Rex Royce and his young gallery manager Lucie Palmer- “You will either be my salvation or the source of my utter damnation.”

She put her hands back on his. “You already know which one I’ll be.”

Rex to Lucie- “I want to take you upstairs and make love to you like the dark, desperate man I am who hungers to consume the light while trying to lighten his own soul.But, I am terrified that I’ll simply snuff out your light and tomorrow you’ll be gone, and I shall be plunged into eternal darkness.”

Lucie’s response to the above- “Rex, have you ever seen those trick candles you just ca’t blow out?” He nodded. “That’s me. How many times have you pinched my flame only to find that I’ve flared back to life?”

Lucie’s thoughts during lovemaking with Rex- She felt him still working at her and thought that this must be what the canvas felt like when he applied his brush with such powerful strokes. She wanted to be his canvas, the picture that he painted every day for the rest of their lives.

From the published novel Talon:An Intimate Familiarity (2012): Bryce Briscoe’s thoughts after a fight with Dr. Talon in which they have both gone too far- We’d both crossed a line and had found ourselves alone on a battlefield. I had no hope of winning this war. Doom was the word on my already tattered battle flag. Victory was written on his.

Dr. Talon to Bryce- “I must confess that while I am possessed of an intimate familiarity with the female anatomy, I am at a complete and utter loss in comprehending te complexities of the female psyche.”

In comparison to the final quote above, this is from the original unpublished novelette version of Talon:An Intimate Familiarity which was the first in a series of four Halloween stories written in (2011)- Dr. Talon to Bryce- “I must confess that while I am possessed of an intimate familiarity with human anatomy, I am at a complete loss when it comes to comprehending the infinite subtleties of human emotions. You perceive me as cold and unfeeling. I perceive myself as protective of yo and deeply caring.”

From the published anthology Miss Peculiar’s Haunting Tales, Volume 1 (2015), story titled Drakes Fall Manor-  Without Nanny’s rhythmic snoring from the other room, I found I was an insomniac. As such, I was often wide awake in the dead of night when the rest of the household was sound asleep, dreaming of magnificent adventures that can never be, for the majority of us live only grandiosely in our dreams while managing to live merely mediocre lives in our waking states.

From the published novel Life Skills (2016):  What they say is true, you know. When you have an accident or an experience that makes you look death in the face, it changes you. It makes you see that the little, petty shit in life is just that- trivial and meaningless in the whole big scheme of things. Life is about living outside the mental boxes that we lock ourselves into. It really should be about finding our own happiness, not relying on others to hand it to us; embracing it and living well to the best of our ability.”

Quotes from various stories published in Cupid’s Darts (2016):

From Dragon & Butterfly-   “My mind never shuts off. I’m like this receiver that just keeps picking up signals constantly.”

From Tangerine Twist-  I didn’t stick my finger in the pot just to hold it still. I liked to stir things up.

From jack Cameron Takes a Bride-  “Why keep count?” he answered. “What do years matter? It’s moments that count. Every moment I’m with you is a blessing, an honor, a privilege- but most importantly, a pleasure.”

“Crisp as an autumn apple and just as tart.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From my Collected Thoughts on Writing

Reflections on the Art of Writing by Susan Buffum

“Writing should be a labor of love, not an agony of labor.”

“I have no clue where this is going, but that is the joy of writing- going on an adventure, not knowing where the twists and turns will be. It is a journey through the funhouse that is my imagination.”

Holding my Minion-shaped USB in my hand this thought strikes me: “This is my minion, Stuart. When I plug him into my computer’s USB port and the titles of the files he contains appear on the screen I feel like how Howard Carter must have felt at his first glimpse into Tutankhamen’s tomb. ‘What do you see?’ he was asked. ‘Wonderful things!” was his reply. Yes, indeed, wonderful things.

“New characters were whispering in the wings and have now stepped out upon the stage in the theatre of my imagination. And we, the characters and me as their appointed scribe, are currently writing tonight.”

“I am either a writer or I have some high functioning form of insanity.”

“I never know what I’m actually writing until it’s finished.”

On writing fiction: “The best thing about writing fiction is tht you construct a world, populate it with characters from your own imagination, and then manipulate them within that environment that you have created, also from your own imagination, and anything can happen in that world. Anything at all.”

“It’s a powerful and profound experience to be the one in control of an entire world and its inhabitants.”

“It is humbling and amazing to be able to draw a reader into that world that you have created in your novel and to influence their emotions just by the use of words written ust so on the page.”

“I suppose writing is like staging a playhouse production- building sets, telling a story, directing a diverse cast of characters, and making at all come alive in the theatre of the reader’s imagination.”

“The thing about writing that constantly amazes me is that the story that I think I am writing when I begin typing always morphs and shape shifts seemingly all of its own volition, leading me down roads that I ordinarily would not have traveled because they are not rutted and worn by frequent passage, but are rather more mere paths that wend into dark, shadowed, wild woodland where anything can happen- anything at all.

The thrill of getting lost is visceral and real. The relief of following that unblazed trail and discovering something within yourself, within your own psyche, and forging a story from those shapes and shadows is no small feat for an author. It is an epic feeling of discovery mixed with the euphoria of triumph, of victory. You have conquered a world!

But then follows the soul wrenching anxiety of offering that world to the fickle caprices of the reader. Hope is so delicate, so fragile, so ethereal a thing…so easily shattered, so quickly broken. I suppose all writers suffer this duality- the ecstasy and then the agony when a story they have written is made available to the real world.”

“Another thought on being a writer- writing is a creative process, an engine that constantly runs within me. It thrums alongside the flow of my blood through my veins. It cohabitates with my ordinary, mundane thought processes but follows different routes through my brain, separate tracks, if you will. I can be sitting at my desk paying bills, balancing the household budget, or standing at the kitchen counter baking a batch of brwnies or preparing dinner, or sorting laundry, answering the phone, sweeping the floor- just doing normal ever day tasks or chores- but always on that other track in my head the little engine of storytelling is chugging along.”

“As a writer, I only capture a very minute percentage of the stories running  through my head on a daily basis. When I sit down to write, I can only write one story at a time although there are many more stories pushing and clamoring to be told. It can be discouraging and defeating to lose so much because I am unable to write everything down. However, it would be even more devastating not to put down the stories that I do catch, like butterflies in a net, because to allow them all to flutter free to vanish into the void of lost memories would be like driving a stake through my own heart. It would be like killing myself, the stories and I are so closely intertwined.”

“My muse is the one that constantly stokes the firebox that powers the little engine of creativity along the track in my mind where inspiration flashes full steam ahead.! That is how writing is with me.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

My Cat Said "No" to me!

I do all my writing at the kitchen table. To my right is an empty chair and at this empty seat is an art glass bowl in which I keep various packages of Temptations Cat Treats. My cat, Riley Beans, is addicted to Temptations Beef and Backyard Cookout flavors. So, whenever I am writing at the table he invariably trots out to the kitchen, backs up against the cabinet opposite my chair and stares me down, and often meows at varying decibel levels to capture my full attention (from quiet, polite mew? to full out bellowing MEOW!) I usually turn my head, make eye contact with him and firmly say, "No."

This has been going on for about two years. Revere is not that interested in treats (although now he follows Riley around, curious as to what he's so riled up about.) This past weekend I was doing a lot of writing and Riley was constantly stomping out to the kitchen begging for treats, and I was repeatedly saying, "No," to him. He'd glare at me and stomp off, only to circle around through the dining room, into the living room and back into the kitchen again to give it another try.

Late afternoon I got up and walked into the living room only to encounter Riley standing there staring at me expectantly (I give him the treats in the living room, usually.) I held eye contact with him and asked him a question I no longer even remember the content of because I was so astounded by his response. I asked him the question, a yes or no one, and he immediately answered me with a perfect enunciated, "No!"  I was completely floored that my cat had just said No to me!

John was lying on the couch watching TV and his head promptly turned toward me and the cat and he asked, "Did he just say "No?" Well....yeah, he did!

I have had cats all my life. All kinds of cats. They all have unique voices. Revere's manner of speaking is along the line of strung together "oo's", although once he clearly said, "Helloo?" He sounded like a little old lady! Our old tiger cat could ask to be let "Out."

I have never had a cat in all the hundreds of cats that have been a part of my life through the years that has been able to make the N sound.

Riley Beans totally blew me away, not only by clearly enunciating the word No, but in flinging the word I so often speak to him in response to his begging for treats right back in my face like that!

Guess I'm going to try teaching him a new word, but not sure what it will be just yet.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rethinking Things

I've been writing my entire life, so I am by no means a beginner or new writer. I am still perfecting my craft, so every book I've self published to date has been revised and sometimes revised again. I am constantly striving to produce the best story possible, told in the best way possible. One novel I wrote has been through three complete rewrites because although it read fine in third person, when I read it a second time I felt remote from the lead character, not well connected with what she was experiencing. I wrote it again in the first person and although it was better, I still wasn't happy with it because I really didn't explore the characters feelings and motivations or relate her journey of self discovery well. The third time was the charm- the character is near defeat when the story commences...she has grown weary of the daily struggle to survive. Then she meets a kindly old man who does not treat her like a freak, and he draws her into his circle and nutures her hungry spirit. She makes mistakes, but she is suddenly self aware enough because her essential struggle to survive has been addressed therefore she can pause and examine things in more depth. She is making connections to her past and tugging on the common thread, pulling it free of the disasters and unhappiness that have bound it up and snagged it thus not allowing her to move forward. There is confusion, misunderstanding, incomprehension going n, but she tries harder to figure it all out even when she doesn't have the big pieces that connect all the little pieces to comprise the whole picture. She grows throughout the novel all the while her greatest flaws are her lack of self confidence and her ensuing insecurities.

Through the next two novels in the series she continues to fight her way forward, to find herself, to find her place in the world and to discover who she is and what she is. She still has insecurities that she is trying to tamp down, but she is also making amends, struggling to heal the fractures in her family and reconnect with the people who labeled her a freak in the first place. She is different, and now she views them differently, with less resentment and more compassion.

In many of my novels difficult relationships are at the heart of the story. In The Archetypes series (currently two books- The Archetypes First Generation and The Archetypes Shockwaves) the lead characters, Amanda Pennington and Benjamin "Beans" Carter (Rex) struggle with who they are and what place they hold in the world. They've been friends for years, but that friendship was established because they both felt different from their peers and both were sheltered by her father. Upon the father's passing they begin to discover just how different they really are. They also discover further shocks that draw them closer together but also have the potential of tearing them apart. Amanda has to cope with the fact that she is the product of her brilliant but twisted father's lab experimentations and that, to him, she was little more than a lab experiment. Beans has had an even more difficult upbringing with no real sense of family connections. He also has buried within him terrible secrets and memories of past experiences that rise to the surface and threaten to destroy him psychologically and emotionally. The novels are all also about re-establishing fractured family ties and forging ahead, bonding as a family, protecting one another. There is mad science and insanity involved.

Today,I'm thinking about the books I've written and the stack of unpublished novels in need of revision and the new novel I'm writing that are sitting on the dining room table. I'm also thinking about my own life. I've always been one to forge ahead through adversity. Things have not been easy the past two years and I have fallen off pace with my writing due to the increased distraction of constant worry and the effect that's had on my overall health status. It has begun to seem overwhelming to me to write about my characters issues when I am suddenly bogged down in my own issues.

Therefore, I don't know whether or not to continue writing at this point, or just concentrate on working everything that is wrong in my own life out to the best of my ability. My rheumatoid arthritis plagues me with physical and mental fatigue. The things I am dealing with are also energy vampires. Writing has always been my escape from the real world while working solutions out in the back of my mind, or through my writing, but fighting my way through the curtain that separates the two sides of my life (real and creative) is difficult right now. I don't have the energy to maintain the level of focus I've maintained in the past, which is a bitter disappointment. I am writing down the bones, as they say, but not able to delve into the depths that I have reached previously.

I'm not one to ever give up, but I have to admit that I am growing weary. Like the snow drifting across the road, my path is becoming obliterated by stress and worry and the unknowns that comprise my horizon at this time. The day grows darker...I feel as if I am losing my way. My internal compass is frozen.

I need to think.