Writers Workbook for the period between
February 6, 1998 to February 27, 1998



Hayden Grayell JLJPetersen@bigpond.com Fri Feb 27 17:20:30 PST 1998

Here is the first draft of a short story I have just completed. I'm just about to send it off. Any comments would be appreciated.

Granphinay.

On the Day of Stars, in the Year of Snow, in a land of proud men, Gilamaise lay his sword upon the altar, walked up the spire to overlook the town, and stood in silence while snow gathered on his shoulders. After bowing his head in prayer for a moment, he threw himself from the tower. Just after the clatter of defeated metal, his squire heard him groan out in anguish, "I come, My Love."

The squire remained kneeling before the altar and prayed for another hour before climbing to his feet. He bowed to the red pennant over the eastern wall, turned and raised a hand to touch the golden statue on his right, then walked out of the chapel and through the cobbled streets of Algonest to summon the Town Council.

When after two hours they all stood about the dead knight with their heads bowed in sadness, the squire cast a handful of soot over the shattered body, gave his master's body over to the council for burial and returned to kneel in front of the alter.

The Council sat in mourning for three days, spent another day preparing the knight's body for burial, and at noon on the Day of the Sun, walked through the city holding the coffin above their heads. Two crows alighted upon the coffin - one as red as a bloodstone, the other golden like honeyfruit - and they sat mutely swaying while the silent procession wound through the snow-drifts to the layground. When the coffin was lowered to the ground, the crows walked away from the grave like elderly clergy.

The council turned as one to face the monk who stood beside the squire, waiting for the old man to speak the knight into the after life. The monk, however, remained silent, holding before his lips the worn hilt of the knight's sword. The Council looked to the squire but the squire looked not at the Council, for on the marble prepared for the Knight's body stone - despite the falling snow - a copper snake had curled up. It watched with a torpid eye as the Council turned to the task and lowered the lifeless bundle into the soil. After they had raked a cover over the body, the steward sought to lift the stone, but the snake slashed towards his hand, and the stone lay unmoved.

For two nights the grave lay unfinished, the snake watching the moon set and the sun rise and the stars pivot in their dance.

On the third day the snake stretched its body as straight as a rod, shed its skin, and left the rock - but by that time it was too late to lay the body stone, the soil had already settled. Only then did the squire give himself over to tears.

The squire dwelt in the land of mourning for five weeks, but on the morning of the Day of Cats he rose from his pallet, strapped on his armour and shield, and taking the sword Gilamaise had named Mordant, a new lance and his master's charger, he rode north into the land of ice to defeat the dragon, Phraitenul.

All those who saw him on the journey raised their eyes to the heavens. The squire sang to himself as he rode.

In the Pigmen's village he rode over roses they had cast before the horse. The crowd were silent. The squire's rough voice and the chatter of the horse's hooves on cobble wove through the village and out over the farmlands beyond. When he had gone, the Pigmen turned to the church for benediction, and slept a troubled night.

In the town of shield-makers, the squire split the sheets that hung over the road; slicing them with Gilamaise's sword crosswise so they fell in four flags onto the cobbles. The shieldmakers sang and danced as he passed, belting out slow rhythms on their anvils until the squire was lost from sight.

At the outskirts of the hovels of the Mudmen, the squire dragged his lance through the dirt, leaving a ragged line to mark his journey, and he circled the village three times. When he rode away, the children of the village cried.

The wizen witches of the Glass Hills cast stones into the shadows of the well, and looked over their shoulders when they heard of him. He was a stick, they said; for they did not know of the breath of his shoulders, or the power in his arms. "He will close up his world," they said, and they sought solace in ruins of the Great Hall, dancing naked before a wall of sparks. "He will burn like fire, like his master before him," they chanted, "but he will cleave the clouds as light does after the rain."

When the marsh wizards heard of the witches' prophecy, they called the squire the Fair One, though his hair was as red as sunset, and his golden eyes were the colour of the rising sun. That the squire's name was Granphinay was not in their evening songs. "The Fair One rides to slay the Dragon," the wizards sang as the sun closed its eye to the ways of the world, "the Stick rides north."

In the cold hours of the Night of Dogs, Granphinay watched the world shimmer beneath Heaven's Curtain, and prayed for the soul of Gilamaise. The world seem pinned like thread on a tapestry, and the silhouettes of the hills had the same torn look as the edge of his cloak. He sat before the camp fire and raised the sword's hilt to the moon. When the blade flashed in the darkness he kissed it. "My life for my Master," he vowed to the moon. "My heart for his, my arm for his, my soul for his."

In the morning of the Day of Clouds, when he awoke, a red crow was sitting on the saddle of his horse. The squire fed it oats and sweet water, and through the day, as he rode through the bramble trees beneath the Stone Mountains, the crow circled above him. All day it circled in the red sky. As the sun settled in the west and as Granphinay urged the horse up the foot hills and through the Cleft of Children, the crow flew away to the east calling to the moon.

Granphinay rested for the night in the stony cleft and in the morning rose without looking at the clouds gathering above him. He pulled his cloak about his shoulders and rode with his head down, his mind washed of thought. The morning's gloom gave way to fair weather and when he rested at high sun a golden crow alighted on a bough nearby. Granphinay fed it on dried apples and corn. It ate the meal and flew away along the trail without looking back. The rest of the day was filled with the echo of the charger's shoes striking stone, the soft tinkle of tack, an occasional cough or grunt of effort.

Granphinay spent the Day of Leaves huddled in the rocks for the mountain was cloaked in storm and thunder. Even the horse groaned in fear. Each livid flash and crack of thunder ribbed the rock about him with half-formed horrors, and Granphinay shuddered beneath his blanket. All day he lay curled beneath a dripping outcrop of rock, the sword of his master tight against his side. The weather eased towards night fall and when darkness could only be held away by firelight the squire rose from his bed to wipe down the sodden horse. He led it up the pathway to a spring, washed it down until its coat gleamed with star light, then lay his red coat across the horse's back, spoke its name and guarded it until the morning grew strong on the horizon.

"This is the Day of Songs, Murchard," Granphinay said to his mount. "Will you carry me to my doom?" The horse nodded and bowed its neck to be stroked. Granphinay bathed in the icy water and stood in the freezing air until his body felt close upon his bones. He dressed the armour tight over his limbs, returned to his camp and folded the blanket he had hidden under during the previous day. Across it he lay a cairn of stones and the pots he had carried from Algonest.

Into the silver cup he had carried from the chapel he placed two pebbles, then put the cup on the trail and pulled himself up into the saddle. He couched the lance and pinned it hard with his knee. He strapped the shield to his back, drew back his hair and tied it with a golden ribbon, and lifted the sword above his head. Singing a challenge to the Dragon, he spurred his horse forward up the path to its lair.

Upon a rock ledge lay the Dragon. Beneath its great paws were bones and entrails, and lavender-scented gowns. Ash-covered armour, mauled and chewed, draped the nearby bushes, and carcasses of horses were heaped upon the earth. The Dragon rolled over, flicked out its tongue, smouldered a welcome. Full three men could have stood atop each other without matching its shoulders' peak. Thirty men of prime years could have lain alongside its length and still have left room for others. Granphinay could have walked through its jaw without bending his head, and Murchard could have stalled within its belly. Wings more wide than circus tents were nestled against its flank. Its scales were the red of new blood, its eyes cat-yellow. It scraped a claw across stone, peeled back a strip of teeth.

"Child of Steel," it said, with a voice broken by smoke, "what gifts bring you this day?"

Granphinay offered forth the sword of his master. "Mordant's point, great beast! Feed you for the last on mortal flesh: taste quarried earth and flint's bite instead."

The Dragon sighed. "Such folly they teach in the south? Is foolish act always forecast by words of vain valour? Get thee wisdom before the last breath has reached your lungs." It looked away to the west. "Snow comes, I smell it."

Granphinay stood tall in the stirrups, tucked the sword into his belt, and clasped the lance to his breast. With lance-point spiked forward under his arm, he urged a step from Murchard. "Heed me, beast. I am Granphinay, Squire to Gilamaise the Bold. I challenge thee, Phraitenul, Dragon of the North."

Phraitenul looked bored with it all. One claw tapped against blackened stone. "Put away the steel, child. Grow old and feel winter's blanket about you. You have tasted nothing yet. Leave me to the virgin offerings."

"Come down and face me," Granphinay challenged. "I have a task to perform. My master cries for vengeance."

"Ah," the dragon said, rising to its feet as a storm would gather upon a horizon, "your immature logic is imprecise. Gilamaise is dead - how can he cry? Beyond this life is absence, no room for sound nor emotion. Your Knight's tears for his succulent bride-to-be have turned to soil. Go home. The past becomes another meal, if you take the task too earnestly. Go home. Become the man your flesh desires, not the bones I will chew for the morning meal."

"I become the man from the task," Granphinay said as he dropped the visor of his helm. He put spur to Murchard's side and the horse threw them forward to fence the Dragon.

Phraitenul stood and took the charge. The lance point pierced its armoured chest, snapped clean from the shaft, drew a gush of golden blood. Murchard raced on, turned at the end of its run, Granphinay clinging hard against the saddle.

Phaitenul sat back on its haunches, pulled the lance head from its breast and cast it aside. He looked again to the south and drew in a breath as if tasting the future. Granphinay breathed hard in his armour, the charger heaving beneath him. But as they waited the wound ceased flowing and closed over.

The dragon watched the clouds part above its head. "Your easy task is done then," it said, when it finally looked down at the squire. "Your courage is not doubted: tell all those who will listen that I am wounded to the heart. I die as all others do."

Granphinay drew Mordant from his waist. "As you still speak, monster, my task remains incomplete."

"One moment, squire," Phraitenul cautioned. "Hearken you to the words I say. The past is scattered about you. Fine flowers of strength grew to decay here before me. Think you of how their intentions tried to arrest my hunger for life. Their skill wrapped them with caution and with art, yet they died. Only Gilamaise passed up courage to return unscathed from our meeting. Though he too was wounded to the heart."

"I care not for your words, Dragon," Granphinay said. "Break from conversation. Action: there-in lies the truth."

"Wait."

"I will not."

Murchard leapt. Mordant swung. Phaitenul rose aloft, opened his maw and fed fire to the condemned earth.

Hayden Grayell


Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Sat Feb 21 21:12:02 PST 1998

Following is a short piece from the first pages of James Kelman's book 'How late it was, how late' - Secker & Warburg (London), Copyright 1994 James Kelman. I am certain James Kelman won't mind us using this short piece for study purposes.

***

How late it was, how late.

Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there's something wrong; there's something far far wrong; ye're no a good man, ye are: here, slumped in this corner, with these thoughts filling ye. And oh christ his back was sore; stiff, and the head pounding. He shivered and hunched up his shoulders, shut his eyes, rubbed into the corners with his fingertips; seeing all kinds of spots and lights. Where in the name of fuck...

He was here, he was leaning against auld rusty palings, with pointed spikes, some missing or broke off. And he looked again and saw it was a wee bed of grassy weeds, that was what he was sitting on. His feet were back in view. He studied them; he was wearing an auld pair of trainer shoes for fuck sake where had they come from he had never seen them afore man fucking trainer shoes. The laces were-nay even tied! Where was his leathers? A new pair of leathers man he got them a fortnight ago and now here they were fucking missing man know what I'm saying, somebody must have blagged them, miserable bastards, what chance ye got. And then left him with these. Some fucking deal. Unless they thought he was dead; fair enough, ye could see that, some poor cunt scratching himself and thinking, Nay-body's there, naybody's there; so why no just take them, the guy's dead, take them, better than them just sitting there going to waste, disinetegrating christ sake why no just take them. Fucking bastard he should have checked properly. Maybe he did; and saw he wasnay dead after all so he just exchanged them, stuck on the trainer shoes.

Fuck it. He shook his head and glanced up the way: people - there was people there; eyes looking. These eyes looking. Terrible brightness and he had to shield his own cause of it, like they were godly figures and the light coming from them was godly or something but it must just have been the sun high behind them shining down ower their shoulders. Maybe they were tourists, they might have been tourists; strangers to the city for some big fucking business event. And here they were courtesy of the town council promotions office, being guided round by some beautiful female publicity officer with the smart tailored suit and scarlet lips with this wee quiet smile, seeing him here, but oblidged no to hide things; to take them everywhere in the line of duty, these gentlemen foreigners, so they could see it all, the lot, it was probably part of the deal otherwise they werenay gony invest their hardwon fortunes, that bottom line man sometimes it's necessary, if ye're a businessman, know what I'm talking about. So fair enough, ye play yer part and give them a smile, so they can tell ye know a life different to this yin where what ye are is all.

Philip


Bill McClellan billmac@wbuffalo.com www.wbuffalo.com/users/rowdie Sat Feb 21 16:50:13 PST 1998


Just looking for some thoughts here. Don't spare the criticism. And thanks in advance.

I ran out of cigarettes the other day.
It's permissible to talk about this isn't it? Smoking, I mean.Well sure it is.
After all, I put a warning label on the back of this column. Turn it over and look. It absolves me of any liability in the event anyone reads this and gets a sudden urge to pick up a cigarette and begins to eat it, sticks it up their nose, or anything really, really stupid -- like smoke it. So proceed at your own risk.
Anyway, as I was saying, I ran out of cigarettes at work and went through the usual steps of trying to find a smoke. I dumped out the drawers, crawled under the desk, dug through the trash, dismantled the pickup -- hoping that somehow, some way, one had snuck out of a pack and ran off to hide when I wasn't looking.

No luck. I did come across a box of nicotine gum my wife bought me a while back. A birthday present because she really cares. Because spouses don't let spouses smoke. Not if they can bitch loud enough, anyway
Maybe, I thought, a piece of that gum would get me over the urge to smoke -- at least until I could finish what I was doing, bum a couple of bucks and get to a store.
Inside the box were all these rows of bland-looking gum, little squares, packed in plastic and tinfoil.
You are supposed to get to the gum by pulling off the plastic back. Right. For a person with long fingernails, they would be unbelievably hard to open.
For a person with no fingernails, starting to have withdrawal symptoms, there is no chance.
After trying for about five minutes, I got a razor blade and with a gleam in my eye, freed that sucker from its resting place. I ended up with two smaller pieces of gum and a bloody finger. But the gum was mine.
I popped the pieces in my mouth.
Have you ever tried this stuff? Of course not, you don't smoke.
Well, nicotine gum tastes like any other gum -- any other gum you've been chewing for a couple of hours. It has no flavor. In fact, I thought it was a joke at first. It certainly didn't seem worth the trouble it took to get it out of its package.
Anyway, needing to run down a story, I picked up the phone and made a call.
It was about a minute into the conversation when I realized my throat was attempting to crawl down my windpipe. Backwards. Water began pouring out of my eyes, which were suddenly bulging out of my head, and I could barely move my tongue.
I was able to mumble "Jus....jus....jus a mini..jus a mini," into the phone before my throat seized up altogether. The gum fell out of my mouth, into my lap.
"Guuuuuuu, guuuuuuuu," I uttered, in a failed attempt to name my killer before I fell dead, which I was sure is what was going to happen.
From the phone, the guy was obviously worried, or at least annoyed. "Are you there? Are you there? Are you OK? Are you OK?"
I kept pointing at my throat, as if that would help him understand.
It took about three minutes before I could regain any kind of composure and a good four before I could talk.
I know the guy thought I was a total nut. "Gum! Gum! Almost killed me!" I wheezed. He hung up.
Twenty-two glasses of water later, I cornered a woman in the office who I knew had tried the gum before. I told her about my experience.
"Well," she said, in that wonderful, compassionate way women have, "didn't you read the instructions, stupid?"
Instructions? Since when does gum come with instructions?
Seems there's a warning on the package that tells you to chew the gum a little, then stop. Don't, the instructions warn, chew the stuff willy nilly. It could cause some discomfort.
That's putting it mildly. Two days later, my voice still sounded like it was coming from an old radio speaker.
----------
Read the warnings, the instructions. Seems so simple.
We're in an age where we are warned about any potential problem. You've seen the soft drink bottles:
"Warning! Should you decide to open this bottle of soda pop, be aware that there is a potential for the cap to come blasting off at more than 10,000 miles an hour, crash into your face with its jagged edges, and leave your eyeball rolling around on the counter top. If I you do manage to get it open safely, the caffeine could still kill you. Enjoy!"
Warning labels are on everything. And for good reason. In the hands of John Q. Public, nothing is safe.
If there is a way to misuse something, somebody out there will do it. What idiots.
Want some gum?


Kirstin Ramey winged_magic@hotmail.com Sat Feb 21 15:27:48 PST 1998

This is a poem I wrote about me and my brother. My brother has clinical Depression and ADHAD.

You and I


We look so much alike
Yet we are so different you and I.

I treasure life,
But you wish for death.
I see the positive,
While you seek the negative.
I welcome friends;
You just push them away.
I am your sister,
And you are my brother
But we are so different you and I.

We have the same mother,
And the same father.
Our hairs the same color,
And so are our eyes.
We like the same music,
And the same sort of food.
We both love our dogs,
And Charmers, our horse.
So, why are we so different you and I?

I tell you I love you,
But you never listen.
You say the world hates you,
But it never has.
You have your problems,
And think no one cares.
But I care and I love you.
Does it really matter
That we are so different you and I?

k.c. ramey 2-9-98


Joan rhodda@montana.com Sat Feb 21 13:09:42 PST 1998

Here's my "contribution" to violence. It is something I struggle to do well in my work, and don't always make the mark. For background, this is towards the end of the book I posted from last. In this scene, Jarin, a Prince in Valleyrill, has managed to escape his captor in the city of Rhenhart, but has had his eyes forcefully opened to the reality of the harm that has been done to his land and his people. As a result, he learns to hate---an extremely foreign emotion to both himself and his people. The violence that happens in his scene, then, is rare for him to perpetrate. I'm not sure if it has the impact it should. Please let me know---I'd appreciate it more than you can imagine! Here goes:

The ground around Parsel and Jarin bubbled black with the enemy's blood. As they caught their breath, Jarin reached out with one booted foot and rolled a beast out of the way. The Dunbrogh's mouth lolled open, exposing rows of jagged teeth. And around his neck hung a necklace of what could only be . . . oh, by the moon and stars . . . could only be the teeth of Elves. Jarin shivered violently, thinking of the fate of so many of his people. Into his heart crept a rage he had never known before. He was not sorry, not at all, to have taken the life from these creatures, and this, too, was new to him. He embraced the new sensation, feeling it harden into a lump of cold anger then stretch out tentacles to wrap around his heart.

He looked at Parsel, the muscles in his face stiff. "Now we go. And I will have the life of their leader. I will have it, with Mirastar's help or without."

Parsel's eyes widened, but he said nothing, only nodding.

Two guards alone watched over the rear gate by the time Parsel and Jarin reached it. The Elf and the Groutwen shrank into the shadows at the base of the wall and crept soundlessly through the night. One guard stood at each side of the gate. Jarin plunged his knife up to the hilt in the first, giving the weapon a savage twist at the end. Then, before Parsel could move, the Elven Prince sprang into the torchlight at the gate and drew his sword. He brandished it at the surprised Dunbrogh guard. "See the shape of your fate, filth, and die!"

With a clang of steel, the Dunbrogh drew its black sword and lunged at its enemy with all the strength of its monstrous weight. But Jarin was possessed with darkest fury. He parried and thrust, maneuvering the beast until its back touched the wall. Holding his sword above his head with both hands, he sliced through the arm that held the enemy sword. The Dunbrogh's eyes rounded as it looked at its arm and sword on the ground, and then at the fountain of its own black blood spraying out.

"For my mother--for the queen!" Jarin yelled, and plunged his sword completely through the beast. As he watched its life pour into the ground of Valleyrill, he dealt it a savage kick.

His ears rang, and it seemed he had been standing over the body forever when he felt Parsel tug at his arm. "We must go."

A chill cut through Jarin that had nothing to do with the cool evening. He looked at the sword dangling from his hand. The anger drained out of him leaving only the new hardness in its wake. He nodded to Parsel.


psouza@capecod.net Thu Feb 19 15:50:09 PST 1998

As promised (or threatened), this is my "violence chapter" for this weeks discussion.

Chris Baker sat at the end of the long counter in D Lab. This was where the computer was set up for entering data from the project work being done in D Lab under Chris’ direction. The assignments in his lab came to Chris from General Laboratory Superintendent, John Quinlan. Project orders with lengthy instructions containing objectives, procedural recommendations, lists of materials required, etc. were sent directly to the computers in the individual labs. The directors in the labs would screen through the orders and from the same computers would make any extemporaneous changes, such as in the materials and equipment lists according to their own needs and inventories. These changes would then be transmitted on the network to departments such as Requisitions, Purchasing and any appropriate offices. All of this could be done without the lab directors leaving their computers. Data during the course of the projects would be entered into the same computers and transmitted back to Quinlan on a continuing basis.
Chris rarely had to deal with Quinlan directly. Since none of the lab directors liked Quinlan at all, it was a condition to which none of them objected. He actually had more contact with Quinlan’s research assistant, Laine Richardson, than he did with Quinlan, himself.
Laine, apart from being the woman with whom Chris lived in his North Cambridge apartment, was one of those highly specialized workers without whom no corporation of significant size in the modern world could keep itself together. She was a graduate communications specialist who, after eight years at Ambersand, knew the workings of
biochemical research at least as well as any second year intern. She was, among many things, the chief liaison between the individual in-house laboratories, outsourced research projects, administrative departments and what would be called the executive branch.
When test orders came over the network they would require new and complex graphs, charts, and screens etc. to be programmed into the computer. It was the task of Laine Richardson to coordinate with the lab directors on this work. It required a cooperative effort, using her expertise in the workings of computer technology and the lab director’s knowledge of chemistry.
It was Laine he thought about when he heard the pinging and saw the red flashing light of the security "doorbell." He wondered why she wasn’t using her own key card.
The electric locks of the main doors to the labs at Ambersand were connected to release switches that were strategically located throughout the labs, so that lab workers didn’t have to move very far to let someone in. There were intercom speakers at all of the release switches and outside of the doors.
The procedure at Ambersand was to ask who wanted to enter the lab before releasing the lock. It was generally considered a tedious internal security measure and was religiously ignored by just about everyone.
Chris pushed the lock release nearest the computer and looked toward the door. He was puzzled to see two men enter the lab. One was a stocky middle-aged man with round wire frame glasses and a pock marked face; the other was younger and at least a foot taller.
Chris thought he recognized the older man but the younger one, whom he thought looked actually stupid, he just couldn’t place.
The two walked toward Chris down the aisle between the two long tables, the older, shorter man staring hard at Chris and the younger one staying comically close to the other, almost as though he were growing out of his side. The older man was dressed rather well in a sport jacket and tie. Stupid was wearing a green work-shirt with strong evidence of the need for laundering.
The two walked up to Chris. The short man spoke. "I’m Leo Fenn," he said pugnaciously. "I’m head of security."
Now Chris remembered him. They’d never been introduced but he had seen Fenn on rare occasions in the building. He still didn’t know the other man but he was picking up alarming signals from the intense grin on his face and the way his eyes kept darting back and forth between himself and Fenn. They were the eyes of a man psyched up for violence.
"You didn’t ask me who I was at the door," Fenn said, stepping closer to Chris, jutting out his pugnacious little chin. "Don’t you know you’re supposed to do that?"
Chris let out a small sigh. "Oh, a security check," he said.
"Get him," Fenn said to ‘Stupid.’
"What..." Chris said. In a flash Chris felt himself locked in an iron grip, one incredibly powerful arm across his right arm and chest, the other locked over his mouth and nose at the crook of its elbow. The man arched backward lifting Chris clear of the floor and held him there.
"Turn him away from me, asshole," Fenn said, and Chris saw the room spin. He flailed frantically with his free arm and feet but managed no more than a glancing kick with his heel at the shin of his tormentor. The power of the man’s grip was immovable. Chris’s chest was sucking a vacuum against the arm locked over his mouth. He heard Fenn say, "Let him breathe."
"He’ll holler," ‘Stupid’ said.
"Give him a breath, I said!"
‘Stupid’ released his arm long enough for Chris to suck his lungs full of air. At the same instant he felt a sharp jab in his right arm. Oh my god, he thought. He tightened the muscle of his upper arm against the injection of fluid. He fought desperately to thrash his body and break the needle but he could not gain any movement against the grip of this powerful monster.
Fenn withdrew the empty syringe, finally, and said, "Give him another breath."
"What the fuck for?" Stupid asked. "He can still yell."
"Don’t you understand anything, you asshole? You can’t suffocate the fuckin’ guy. He’s gotta die from the shot."
"Oh," Stupid said, and let Chris breathe. After repeating the drill a number of times of alternately suffocating Chris and giving him air, Fenn ordered Stupid to let Chris breath freely for a moment. Chris took several gasps and tried to scream but he was weakened badly now and his lung power was low. He managed no more than an eerie, impotent wail.
"Shut him up," Fenn said.
"Jesus Christ, shut him up! Let him breathe! Shut him up! How long is this shit gonna go on?"
"As long as I say it does. Now you shut the fuck up."
Sensing Chris’ weakness at this point, the monster was not holding him so tightly. Instead of his arm, he held his hand over Chris’s mouth. He let him breathe almost at will now.
Chris could see Fenn sitting on the bar stool seat by the computer, his left elbow on the table. Fenn looked like a man waiting for a bus. Finally, he said, "Put him on the floor."
Even monsters get tired and sore. For some time ‘Stupid’ had been supporting some of his weight and Chris’s with his back pressed against the sharp edge of the soapstone counter top. When Fenn gave the command, he let out a sigh and released Chris to slump into a heap on the floor.
"I said put him on the floor, you shit-head, not drop him. If you put a mark on this sonofabitch, I’m gonna kneecap you."
Chris lay on the floor face down. He made no sound. It seemed as though he could feel his heart pounding throughout his body. His mouth was open and a pool of saliva was collecting on the floor around his jaw. His mind drifted for a while. He could hear the squabbling of his
murderers but they sounded far away as in a tunnel, then he could hear nothing. For a while he flew. He flew above the ground, dipping and rising to and fro in perfect control. The sky was more clear and brilliant than he had ever known it to be. He couldn’t see the ground but he could see someone running along below him, running and looking up at him. Reaching up to him. He called out gleefully to the figure below, telling of how wonderful and how easy it was to fly. He couldn't imagine why he had never done it before. He knew the person on the ground. He loved that person. It was a kind of everyperson. It was Laine; it was his mother; it was his brother, Jack, but they were all one person. He looked into the everyface of the everyperson and there was no expression, no distinction of features and yet, a clear face without fear, without want, without judgment. There was everything in the face that he would ever need. He would see this face forever. It was the face of eternity. He called out to it.
"Did he say something?" Stupid asked Fenn.
Fenn looked at Chris and walked over to him. He leaned down and studied Chris for a moment.
"No," he said. "He’s finished. Let’s get out of here."




Gary S. psouza@capecod.net Wed Feb 18 20:57:11 PST 1998

Freinds, here is a chapter for your comments. Critique at will.

Jack Baker was talking to Tootsie Linehan on the phone. Tootsie was head of the town’s Historical Society, known to some as the "Blue Hair Brigade."
Jack’s home and photography studio was located along Route 6A in Sandwich in what is known as an historic district. Cape Cod, and the outlying Islands, contain a number of such historic districts. These are geographically defined locations that, to some extent, come under the supervision of their respective Historical Societies, or as some people would have it, "Hysterical Societies." Such groups, typically comprised of blue-haired ladies, are charged with the responsibility of insuring that buildings and properties in their jurisdictions are consistent with guidlines based on local history.
These societies, in particular their leaders, are known for executing their offices with unheard of zeal. Tootsie Linehan was certainly no exception to the rule. In an Elmore Leonard novel Tootsie would go to a man’s house and put a bullet in his leg for having a pink flamingo on his lawn.
For the fourth time this year Tootsie was making the offer to Jack that she and the girls would be happy to plant shrubbery in his front yard if he would agree to pay for the shrubs. Jack routinely resisted Tootsie’s advances to get him involved in improving his weed-infested frontage on the basis of his conviction that once a foothold was established by such people, their efforts to reform a man’s property, and in the process, the man himself, would never end. He also knew that Tootsie’s only real leverage in this regard was what seemed to Jack, at least, to be eternal pressure. Tootsie and her subordinates had no authority over the landscaping of any established properties. They could only hope to prevail by means of unrelenting assault upon the weak willed and the battle weary among their opposers, and Jack had long ago vowed that he would not fall victim to Tootsie’s legendary harassments.
"How many shrubs are we talking about here?" Jack asked, "And tell me Tootsie, just what does a bunch of azaleas and rhododendrons have to do with Cape Cod history, anyway?
I thought they came from places like Virginia and Tennessee—maybe even England."
He knew from prior skirmishes with Tootsie that this approach, in particular, especially exasperated her.
"Jack Baker," she blasted at him, "you know damn well I’m not talking about azaleas and rhododendrons." Getting her wrath under control she continued. "Now, listen to me Jack; every spring the Conservation Commission has a sale of native Cape Cod shrubs at very low prices. They have inkberry and honeysuckle and right now they have blueberry, eight plants for fifteen dollors. There’s a long list of very lovely shrubs azaleas indeed!"
"Yes, Tootsie," Jack said. "In other words, a bunch of weeds. I thought that’s what I already have out there to begin with."
"Jack Baker," she boomed, "What you’ve got out there is a God-forsaken eyesore. For heaven’s sake, Jack, you’re running a business here; doesn’t that mean anything to you? I should think you would want your place to look respectable for your customers. My word!"
"Oh, come on, Tootsie, it isn’t that bad and you know it. Look, I have to go now, someone’s at the door."
"Well, Jack, if you could give me one moment to tell me what I should do about the calls I keep getting about that horrid yard of yours? I can’t…"
"Get an unlisted number," Jack cut in, but not too sharply, "I really do have to get the door. And Tootsie, if I see you or any of your girls in my yard, I’m going to sic my cat on you. ‘Bye now."
Jack’s cat was a seventeen year old calico tabby named Pancake, whose last fearsome act was probably committed a couple of years ago when he got his paws on an old feeble grackle and got nothing but a good peck between his eyes for his trouble, thus causing him to announce to himself, his retirement from active grackle hunting.


Toby B bcbuctsa@bluffton,edu Wed Feb 18 18:55:32 PST 1998

I would be extremely interested to know if anyone is be able to read through this. Does it keep your interest? thanks-TB
The pace sort a picks up far more from here. I usually start with a bang, this is new.


It was raining hard, the winds were gusting over fifty knots. The harbor water was choppy and the Midman was having a hell of a time controlling the gig, it jumped all over the place as choppy rogue harbor waves reached up to crash against its side. Before the day's end Hurricane Emil was scheduled to hit the Astragalai East island chain, the edge of the storm was already stirring things up.

Troki Stayelle grimly held onto the gig's transom while they skipped over wave crests and then plunged into sudden troughs. With each wave they came closer to their destination; the submarine Lustre. The swept prow of the sub could just be seen through veils of pelting rain, then lost as they slid behind the next wave.

A wave hit from the side and briefly drenched everyone in the gig. Troki, soaked and shivering, started wondering what he had gotten into. He was Fleet Intelligence, he knew nothing of subs. It was madness for him to be downside on a planet, despite anything Ixuna Inc. was ordering.

"Wave."

The gig hit another trough and shipped a second drenching sheet of warm water.

At last the gig slowed and hit the side of the Lustre with a crunching thud. Taking the Midman's bellowed advice Troki made a flying leap for the tangle of ropes thrown from the side of the submarine. He made it, knocked breathless when he hit, and spider-scrambled up. At the top several pairs of hands rudely hauled him over the lifelines and onto the deck.

An officer with short cropped red hair stepped forward.

"Mr. Stayelle," he said. "I am the Lustre's captain, Mr. Jonathan Curtis. Welcome aboard."

He was about to say something else, but Troki paid no attention to him, or the collection of officers that were lined up on the deck, expertly balancing themselves against the sickining heaving of the sub. He sank to his knees and proceeded to throw up everything he had eaten in the last week. Or at least, that was what it felt like.

It was unbelievable that he could be cold when the water was a nice bathwatery eighty five degrees outside, but the wind definatly had a chilling effect. They climbed down the conn hatch and into the cockpit. An ensign dogged the hatch behind them.

"Are you okay?" Curtis asked.

"Yeah." Troki nodded. "I think so."

"Good." Curtis turned around. "Dive to fifty feet, get us out to the Ma'ailaker ridge. Mr. Mathews, you have the conn." One of the officers Troki had seen on deck moved forward.

"Aye sir."

Curtis turned back to Troki.

"I'll show you to your room where you can..." ...change into some dry clothes, Troki knew he was going to say.

"We need to get straight down to details." Troki followed him out of the cockpit and down a companionway.

"Of course."

The world beneath Troki's feet shifted to tilt downward. The sub was diving rapidly into the sea. The effect was disconcerting, Troki grabbed a rail to keep his balanceas he followed down the passageway.

"The room's here to our right." Captain Curtis paused and waited for Troki to make his way hand over hand towards the next bulkhead. Despite the peculiar angle of his surroundings, Troki felt his stomach calming down. Now that they were beneath the waves the sub was stable.

Troki pitched into a chair with a sense of relief.

"Wow."

Curtis settled in with far more grace.

"First time at sea?" He asked.

"Very much so," Troki replied, watching Curtis's lips pull back in a grimace. "And if I have anything to do about it, my last. I apologize that you had to expose the Lustre and your position to come get me, but it was the only way to get out onboard quick enough."

Troki could feel the sub begin to level out. All that he noticed now was the deep shiver of energy running throughout the sub's structure. A rumble that ran all the way up the back of his chair, which was securely bolted to the floor of the room.

"Ixuna-Inc. hired us two months ago," Curtis said, "and gave us all orders to stay out, deep, and very hidden in South Eastern. The break in routine was welcome."

"Oh, it'll be more than just a break in routine. The locals are on the rise, and it's official."

"So now we're going to see action." Captain Curtis looked amused.

"I'd bet in it," Troki said. "Three days ago The Astragalai Local Interests Group declared the South Polar cap under native and democratic martial law. Their representative is Travis Dalen, and he's all fired up. He piped a fifteen minute presentation to every human mail receiver in the Trading Galaxy complete with footage proving our abusive policies and general oppression of the mining population up under the Cap."

Curtis shook his head.

"From what I've seen none of the locals have any heavy weaponry. Ixuna's overreacting."

Troki considered. Curtis was an elite mercenary, one of the few soldiers for hire in the entire Trading galaxy that chose to fight under the water. But he wasn't too informed on the constant feuding that went on between companies, between governments, between companies and governments, and between everyone else who joined in the constant squabbling known as interstellar politics.

Neither was Troki, for the matter, but after spending ten years as Trade-Security Rear-Admiral for three closely allied companies, he found it expedient to figure out what his superiors were thinking, it gave him the ability to be constantly one ahead.

"The miners stole four gold mines, and the equipment needed to run them. While Ixuna doesn't give a damn what political structure the miners want to live under, it does object to the blatant hijacking of specialized company equipment that took over three trillion dollars to place under the cap."

"I don't have the resources to retake them," Curtis said. "Only the resources to destroy them. You know that."

Troki shrugged.

"That's why I'm here. Ixuna snatched me out of early retirement to straighten this mess up."

"Ixuna's given up on negotiation, for brute force."

Troki nodded affirmitive. Curtis continued with a frown.

"And you're now in charge of my sub-fleet?"

Again Troki nodded.

"I'm sorry that it happens like this, but Ixuna wants me down here to represent them fully."

Curtis didn't look too thrilled.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised, not with the money Ixuna is paying us, but I can't say I really like this Mr. Sayelle. Not at all."

"Captain, I'll do my best not to get in your way." Troki couldn't blame Curtis, he would have felt the same way, if he had been in the position himself.

Curtis got up and left.
-

The cabin was a small hole in the wall. The bunk was set against the wall and had a canvas flap on the side that prevented the occupant from getting tossed out of his bed during maneuvers. It reminded Troki of his first berth aboard the Repulse.

Troki stripped down and tossed the wet clothes at the corner of the cabin. He opened up a suitcase. His data-set sat on top of neatly folded clothes. He took it out, opened it, and set it on the bed, then picked out fresh clothes. The data-set hummed to life and asked for a password.

"Hello-three-five-A-seven-six," Troki replied, pulling on a shirt.

"Confirmed. You have text-only mail. Ixuna Priority."

"Display it," Troki said, turning the screen towards himself.
Received 07-05-39- Subject 'Hi Troki'-
sender
-Troki, reply ASAP secured. Lania.-
end.

"Let's reply to that message, realtime video/audio secure link with Lania Reid. Use Ixuna crytographic encoding." Troki brushed his hair over to a side, then positioned the screen so that the camera would catch him.

The data-set took a few seconds to open up the line, encrypt the information, and get Lania on the other side. The screen picture was currently a spectacular sequence showing the Dawn Pillars, twin spirals of destroyed star matter. The data-set replaced it with Lania's long dark hair and startling blue eyes.

"Took you long enough," she said. Troki ignored the comment, Lania's standard greeting to any reply.

"I still don't understand why you had to drag me out of my well deserved retirement for this," he grumped. "I am really the last person to drag out into all this. You could have come down to lead this little expedition."

Lania looked pained.

"Intelligence for Ixuna is really busy. Success means that vigilance is necessary. You know that. You worked for the League right up until they developed their own standing corporate military."

"As I recall, I also tried to retire then," Troki said.

"I don't care who you are, I refuse to accept that anyone should retire at the age of twenty three."

"All right, what exactly does Ixuna want me to do here?" Troki had been woken up early in the morning by his data-set with a message from Ixuna's legal department, asking him to shuttle out at once to Astragalai on a retainer with a stated sum large enough to prompt Troki out of his third attempt at 'retirement'.

The truth was that he wasn't as interested in retirement as much as in finding new things to do. Working the same jobs grew old fast. He had a good one hundred and thirty years of active physical life in front him, why waste it all on one thing when he could waste it all on lots of things?

"Obviously to lead the sub-fleet into the miner area and attempt to negotiate their surrender," Lania said.

"Wow, just like that?" Troki allowed the sarcasm to creep into his voice.

Lania sighed.

"You're absolutely in charge on this one. We know that the miners have been trying to build some defensive weapons in order to fight us, they know we're coming. I trust you'll act in the best interests of Ixuna."

"Of course."

"Good. Please keep damage to a minimum, but if you have to, the board of directors says they will allow you to target and destroy one mining rig and the personnel aboard. Don't do it unless you really have to. Call me once before you go under the cap, I'll let you know if there's anything else."

"Okay."

"Right then. Be careful Troki. End…" Her image flicked out, replaced by the smooth colors of the dawn Pillars.

"Right." Troki shut the data-set and looked up at his bunk. Getting as much sleep before the actual deal would be a good idea, things tended to get hectic.
-

The world abruptly tilted, but the canvas kept him from flying off the bed. Troki found himself wide awake, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He looked at his watch. He'd slept a good nine hours.

Troki unfastened the canvas and started to get down. Something shook the sib again, causing him to lose his grip and tumble to the floor.

"Shit."

The floor tilted downward as the sub suddenly dove for the depths. Troki picked himself of the floor and stepped out the door. An ensign shot past him, heading back towards the cockpit. Trusting his sense of three dimensional navigation Troki used the rail and raced down the corridor, just able to balance himself. The sub twisted again, forcing him to pause and hold on, then he continued his race the second the sub righted itself. The cockpit was just up the companionway.

"Fire." Captain Curtis didn't look at all worried. He spun his chair around.

"What's happening?" Troki asked, breathless.

"A supply sub on its way to the pole. They waited until we passed them, then fired three torpedoes. It was close, they surprised us," Mathews explained.

"Confirmed hit," fire control reported. "Breaking noises." The side scan sonar was making a nice three-d image on one of the status screens, showing the broken supply sub spiraling down into the deep.

"Any damage?" Curtis asked. Damage control looked up.

"None reported, sir."

"Good. Navigation, resume course."

Troki looked over at Captain Curtis. He looked back, as if expecting Troki to say something. Like a reprimand. The man was still worried about Troki's role in the mission.

"They're a desperate bunch, Captain, I would warn the other subs," Troki said. Then he turned around and headed back for his cabin.
-

The miner situation had been going on for almost two years, which was why Ixuna had paid to move Captain Curtis and his fleet from Nova Terra out to Astragalai. There were thousands of files Ixuna had given him on the voyage over concerning the political state of the miners, but Troki wasn't very interested in them. He was looking for ways that the miners could fight. Like with torpedoes and supply subs. He spent the next five hours pouring over requisition orders, raw materials on board. He had to know exactly what they were capable of.

"Excuse me sir."

Troki twisted to find an ensign standing at the door.

"The captain invites you to dine with the officers."

"Sure." He shut the set off and stretched, looking at the time. It was late.
-

"Mr Stayelle." Curtis rose to his feet. "Glad you made it. Allow me to introduce you to the officers of the Lustre. Mr. Mathews, my second." Troki nodded at him. "Mr. T. Jerome, engineering."

T. Jerome wore glasses. A unique choice in style. Curtis continued. "And this is Mr. Samuel Garvey, navigation."

Garvey reached out and shook Troki's hand.

"Pleased," he said. He was a massively built blackman, with a pleasant baritone voice.

"We're making good time," Curtis said to Troki. "We're already halfway to the edge of the cap. Just passed through the last of the Ma'ailaker peaks."

"Already?" Troki was surprised.

"It's a fast boat," T. Jerome said. "Pulls out at a whopping fourty two knots. The cap's edge is only fifteen hundred miles from the East Islands."

Troki hadn't realized how close the East Islands were.

"Yeah," Garvey said. "There's a fluke current stream that comes up from the equator to keep the islands warm during summer. It leaves during winter, then it's hellishly cold."

The dinner was well cooked, Troki enjoyed chicken cordon-blue. The whole affair lasted an hour, and was peppered with interesting stories of battles fought on oceans throughout the human worlds. Troki didn't offer up any of his own adventures, they didn't seem to hold any relevance.

When he returned to his cabin he set himself out another nine hours of sleep.
TB
I am aware that I am spelling Troki's name Stayelle and Sayelle. Not too sure what his last name is yet.


Kathy E edgmon@thenett.com Wed Feb 18 17:40:51 PST 1998

She was a mean old woman. I always knew it, just couldn't prove it. Like a rotten egg, she spoiled the whole bunch. Put on her perfume, went down the street, and left an odor behind her. In the midst of crisis, she was always there. To show her concern for others in front of others. She put on her act, like an old woman putting on her Sunday clothes. That was Mrs. Avery, not a small percent of the time but all of the time. I didn't like the old woman but figured I'd just have to put up with her. She was my mother's friend and they were as thick as thieves. Not that my mother was like her, she just admired Mrs. Avery's ways. She always talked about how Mavis (that was her given name) did everything for everybody else and no one ever did a thing for her. That was only because she was always too busy sticking her nose in everybody else's business. She breathed their troubles and spit out their miseries. To be blunt, she was a nosy old woman. One day in Density (that's the name of the town I live in), there was a big fire downtown. Everyone around as far as the county could stretch came to see it. One of the stores was blazing and they'd got everybody out but one person, the owner Mr. Storey. Someone claimed he'd been in the back of the store and didn't hear the yelling when the smoke was discovered. Once they were all outside they started looking for him and realized that he was still inside. But the fire spread all over the front part of the store and there wasn't no back door. Mrs. Storey was crying and carrying on outside and guess who was there, comforting her in her time of need - - - Mrs. Avery. She clasped her arms around Mrs. Story until I thought she was going to squeeze the breath right out of her and began to pat her on the back like a baby. Anyways the firemen got Mr. Storey out before the building collapsed. Mrs. Avery grabbed him before his wife even had a chance. She made a fool of herself. Mrs. Storey just stood there looking kind of puzzled like, wanting to grab her husband but afraid she's get stomped. And all the time, Mrs. Avery was patting him like a baby too. I expected him to burp anytime. Please feel free to comment, negative or positive. Criticism welcome!!!


Kathy E. edgmon@thenett.com Wed Feb 18 17:32:08 PST 1998

Tell me what you think about it. I can take it, good or bad.


Philip mclaren@magna.com Wed Feb 18 01:01:03 PST 1998

More for Clyde from my book 'Utopia'.

(Jack Nugent is an alcoholic surgeon who has been struck off the medical register. He is on the skids).

NEW YORK
Twelve weeks earlier.

Urine ran down Nugent's leg. He'd learned the warmth would stay trapped in the pant weave for almost a minute in the middle of a New York winter. It was seven below, soon the liquid would freeze unless he moved about. You didn't have to be a trained surgeon to figure that, he thought and smiled at the irony while his severely wounded soul ached.

For eleven years until last year, he'd been a practising surgeon, performing heart-lung transplants at the rate of three per week. He had swapped them over in packaged, job lots. Out with the old and diseased, in with the healthy and not so old. It was an expensive procedure and, as the central player in the theatre, he'd become extremely wealthy from his virtuoso performances.
Nugent was wearing all his clothes: green pyjamas; army-issue, khaki pants with numerous pockets filled with trinkets collected from the streets; a navy coloured T-shirt; two thick, plaid cotton shirts - one blue, one red; a thin, black acrylic sweater; red woollen gloves and an overcoat. He pulled the buttonless, army surplus overcoat across his front to trap the warmth of his urine. The foul, warm air near his body rushed up his nostrils, he cared little about the stench.

*****

Steam poured from the bowels of the snow bound city, the streets were less noisy - the snow acted as a sound baffle - and slow moving vehicles travelled their usual crowded path up the canyons. Nugent was met by less pedestrians than the previous day, he must have woken later, but the people he did see looked down as he drew near or they walked wide arcs to avoid him. He stumbled the four blocks to the soup kitchen, slipping occasionally on the icy sidewalks. His morning slug of alcohol had already taken effect, he couldn't see too well and he really needed to shit.
The volunteer staff were busily serving their gift of food as usual; Nugent took his stew and bread roll and went to sit on the stone balustrade in front of the X-ray clinic. He sat, eating, looking about for Henry when he spotted his ex-wife, Liz, walking from the X-ray Clinic. She had an arm tightly linked with that of a tall, red-haired man. Nugent recognised him but could not recall his name or exactly where he knew him from. She looked up into the man's eyes and they kissed, then she stepped into a waiting yellow cab.
Nugent was stunned. He remembered it was not so long back that he had stood in that very same spot and spoken with Liz for the first time. They had met at nine, as they'd arranged, it was snowing then too, they linked arms like he'd just seen and he had hailed a yellow cab to take them to dinner.

"Are you Nugent?"
He heard someone calling.
"Hey fella!"
He looked around in the direction of the voice.
"Yeah you... you're Nugent aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm Jack Nugent," Jack managed to get the words past his swollen tongue.
"One of the fellas thought you should know that old Henry passed away last night. He was a friend of yours, wasn't he?"
"Henry!"
"Found frozen, he was."
"Henry?"
"Yep."
"Frozen?"
"That's what the man said."
"No... not Henry," Nugent gasped in disbelief.
He got to his feet, staggered forward and fell face down, unconscious. His bowels let go and he defecated where he lay.

****

Just a couple more toiletry functions for you to ponder. I feel I've exhausted this topic and won't post any more.

Please consider....

Sincerely - Philip.


Kay Curry kkcurry@classic.msn.com Tue Feb 17 17:54:47 PST 1998

Sorry, all, the second installment is here.

Regret, all around, when he announced that they had to go, or he wouldn't get to the bank in time to make arrangements. Mild regret, though, and no resentment. The restaurant was nearly empty. They paused in the deserted entryway, reluctant still to leave refuge and go out into the reality of their lives. Kyle fidgeted, uncharacteristic, and Kate ran a hand through her hair. Samuel Moseley, even more stiff than usual, from siting so long, let himself lean on his cane. It told him how comfortable he felt with these children, after an acquaintance of almost four hours. He was not surprised when Kyle finally stood quiet, gathering courage, and looked him in the eyes, and asked "Were you... Did someone hurt you?"

"Yes. Someone did, rather badly. It's all right."

"No it's not." Kate, outraged on his behalf. There was nothing to be said to that. It wasn't all right, and wouldn't be, and he could try that lie once, but not twice. The girl blinked, and swallowed, gathering courage, and asked in a very small voice, "Do you... could you use a hug?"

Something inside Samuel Mosely shifted, settled into a new configuration. "Yes. Yes, please, I could use a hug." Kyle moved, minutely. Samuel glanced at him, and added "Or two."

Kate started toward him, then hesitated. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't. Trust me, you won't." Not that he had extensive experience, with hugs, it was a hunch, or hopeful thinking.

He was right. They fit well together, somehow, each child's head rested against his shoulder, fit into that cup of bone and muscle as if it had been sculpted for the purpose. The twins were the same height, tall for a girl and short for a boy, and perfect, at the moment, for him. They held him gently, each, and he held each gently, and then, briefly, held each hard before letting go.

It was time to leave, and past time. No one had come into the entryway, but it wasn't private, someone would, inevitably. He should go, or they should, and still no one moved. Something yet to say, then, yet to be done.

Samuel Mosely looked from one twin to the other, gathered courage, and offered "Would you like me to come back, perhaps? Have lunch another time?"

Bingo. Smiles came to green eyes and solemn mouths. "Yes." from the girl, and "Please." from the boy.

"I'll try. I will. If I don't, it will be because I can't, not because I don't want to. You must understand-" Joy dampened but did not disappear. Two blond heads nodded. "You should go, now, before someone comes." Samuel was being the adult, and they accepted, turned to leave. Then, at the door, they turned back, breathed "Thank you." on the same breath, and were gone.

Samuel indulged himself, limped to the door and opened it, in time to hear Kate's whisper, awestruck "Kyle, I think... I think we just had lunch with the tooth fairy!" He was more than a little shocked, until he heard Kyle's giggled response "At least it wasn't in a basement!" and understood the referents. Then he had to close the door, quickly and quietly, on his own chuckle.

***
On the way to the bank, Samuel told Davey what had happened. He had expected his bodyguard to be amused, but the set of Davey's shoulders, the quality of his silence said otherwise. Finally the bodyguard asked, "So what did the boychick do to you?"

Asked me a straight question and gave me a hug. Not what Davey wants to hear. "I'm sorry. You're going to have to elaborate."

"They went by where I was waiting. The girlchick was punching her brother in the arm and saying ‘You did it, Wizard. You did it again.' And so on, and he was blushing red and saying ‘I didn't do anything, dammit, it just happened.' So I was wondering. You spent nearly four hours in there, with them, and you're usually all business and let's get this over with, like. Especially in this town. So what did he do, hypnotize you?"

The older man gave it serious consideration. He had indeed acted out of character. He had enjoyed himself, truly, and could not conceive that the children meant harm. Just - what? Just that they were having a good time, dressed up and looking good in an elegant setting, with a grownup paying a flattering amount of attention, and waiters hovering, good linen on the table and fine, heavy silverware, and hot drinks in porcelain cups, and stories, back and forth, and they hadn't wanted.... The boy in particular, hadn't wanted it to stop. So. What the boychick had done to him was to let him know how he could please the boychick, and he had done it. Not hypnotism, no, but maybe... wizardry?

The bank had a branch in the mall. He would have preferred the main office, but that was half an hour away even by limousine, and he wanted to finish this today and be out of Denver by nightfall. He turned his mind deliberately away from the last few hours and concentrated on the details of the proposal he would make to the trust department, and how he would force Hegemony's servants to serve Hegemony's enemy. The presence of three remote camera units in the entryway to the branch office did not disturb him.

As Samuel had expected, making the arrangements took time, more time than he liked, because the bank wanted to be obstructionist, and the arrangements were unusual. Still, he had credentials, and plausible reasons, and in the end, he prevailed. The account was set up, access only by himself and his niece and nephew, automatic deposit, withdrawal by card at any branch or remote station. He signed the papers and left.

There was no warning. He went through the door from the office to the lobby, and faced the face that haunted his nightmares. Shock froze him, and saved him, that brief instant when his heart stopped and his mind screamed. Then he could have moved, could have spoken. He did neither, only listened to the voice that issued out of the fat, smiling lips.

Self-satisfaction coated that voice. "You shouldn't have come back, Moseley. The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime, they say. When I saw you on the scan, I damn near didn't believe it. Can't help but wonder why they gave you your own face back. Guess I'll have to ask them, won't I? After I ask you how to get in touch with them. And you'll tell me, oh yes, you will. We're going to do it all over again, Sammy my friend, and I'm going to enjoy it even more this time."

Samuel Mosely was remotely surprised to find that he was calm, that what he felt wasn't fear but a kind of fierce joy. Davey was just going out the door, they hadn't picked him up, he would be well away, following the SOP that said: if there's nothing to be done, salvage what can be salvaged. The arrangements for the children would stand. Only, he wouldn't be able to tell his organization about them, assure that they would be contacted when the time came, when they were old enough. Only, they would wait, and wonder, and perhaps worry when they didn't hear from him. Not important, surely they would find their own way. For now-

"Bigley, you made a mistake. You shouldn't have done what you did to me. You made me want death. You crippled me, and mutilated me, and left me with not much reason to be alive."

"I know. Oh Sammy, I do know. I was there, remember? I heard you screaming, begging to die. We're going there again-"

Although it didn't really matter, Samuel checked the surroundings. He was in the center of a group of men, men wearing business suits but standing with military correctness. There were a few civilians nearby, but then, they worked for Hegemony, too, at least indirectly. Too bad for them. He looked back at Bigley, who had broken off gloating, did not look happy, looked worried.

Samuel Moseley found that he had nothing more to say, aloud. He thumbed the latch on the silver head of his cane, pushed the half-sphere of the top aside. One of the men moved towards him, others flung themselves away. None of it mattered, it was too late, but there was time for thoughts, statements in the mind. Good bye, Davey. I never told you I loved you. I hope you know. Children, I'm sorry. Goodbye. Samuel stared into the eyes of his enemy. The emotion he felt as his thumb came down on the button was as pure as the melt of a glacier, and as cold, and there wasn't really a word for it.

***

Two weeks to the day after the twin's father was killed, a bomb went off in a branch office of a major bank. More than twenty people died. The media said that the saboteur had failed. The functions of the bank were not affected. Three days later, Kate and Kyle had proof of that, in the account they could access, the money they could withdraw. The memory of a thin body, strong arms around them, a calm and precise voice making guarded promises, was solace. They might have grieved for him, but grief seemed inappropriate. Instead they remembered him, and what he had told them, and had not had to tell them. They held him in their minds, and were satisfied.


Kirstin Ramey winged_magic@hotmail.com Tue Feb 17 15:53:58 PST 1998

This is the first draft of the first chapter of my novel "Twin Gates". Please tell me what you think. K.C.


Chapter 1

New Kid

The gate was growing weaker and weaker as the two brothers struggled to keep it open.

"I can't hold it anymore. Give me the girl." His brother handed him the little girl just as the gate between the two worlds closed.

* * *

"Hey Jessie," Darlyne said as she approached her friend. Jessie looked over her shoulder to see what today's clothing fashion was. Darlyne had decided to go for the ‘free-agent' look with a black skirt and a red short sleeved shirt that ended slightly above her belly button. Jessie turned back to her locker and waited for Darlyne to relay the latest gossip.

"There's a new kid at school. Liz saw him in the office getting his schedule. She said he's like, really cute. Isn't that just so cool?" Jessie stared back at Darlyne with a very sarcastic ‘I'm very interested' look.

"Oh ya, I forgot you don't like boys."

"I do." Jessie countered, "I just . . ."

"Hey Darlyne, Jessie. Have you heard? There is a new boy in school. I heard from Jamie, who was told by Missy, that Becca had told her that she saw him in the office and that he is so hot. Can you believe it?" Marnie said interrupting Jessie.

What is up with these two and guys? Just because he's cute doesn't mean he's Mr. Perfect.

"Jessie you still don't have a boyfriend, do you? Well I have the perfect solution. I'll . . ."

"Not a chance Marnie, you are not sending me on another one of your blind dates. Not a chance."

"C'mon Jessie, It'll be fun."

"No is no and that's fi . . . "she stopped mid-word as the new kid came down the hall. Jessie stared at the tall red haired boy as he walked past.

"I told you he was cute," Marnie said looking back at Jessie who was now in a complete daze. Have I gone crazy? I could have sworn that I have seen that boy before, but where?

"Earth to Jessie. Snap out of it girl. Remember you don't like boys." Marnie said mockingly at Jessie.

"I never said that I didn't like guys. I just haven't found the right one."

"Hurry up you two, or we'll be late again." Darlyne said already half way to the door of their language arts class. The one minute bell sounded as they walked into class.

"Class I would like to introduce you to our new student. This is Krys; he just moved here. Krys, why don't you take that seat next to Jessie. Jessie raise your hand please." Jessie slowly raised her hand at the teacher's request. Her heart started to rase as Krys started to walk toward her. I just know that I have seen him somewhere before, but I have never been away from here. Maybe I saw him earlier this week. No, I definitely would have remembered meeting him. Jessie continued to think of where she might have seen him before, but she just couldn't figure it out.

"Hey Jessie, it's time to go." Jessie startled as she realized that class was already over and Krys was gone. She and Darlyne were the only students left in the room. She quickly got up and headed for her next class.

Her next two classes went by very slowly and she was relieved when lunch finally came around. Jessie meet up with Darlyne and they headed for their usual table.

"Guess who has our lunch?" Darlyne asked as they sat down. "Your lover boy!" she said before Jessie had a chance to guess. Oh great, it's his first day being here and she has already declared us as an item. What is a poor girl to do? Jessie knew that Darlyne wasn't going to leave her alone. Just because she showed a little interest in a guy Darlyne was ready to ring the wedding bells. Maybe she'll drop this in a few days, just like she's done before. I hope.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jessie saw Krys as he sat down on the grass under a tree. He opened his backpack, took out a book, and started to read. Jessie couldn't make out the title of the book so she asked Darlyne if she could.

"Nope. I can't make out even one word of it. What, are you actually interested in a guy?"

"It just looked as if it was an interesting book and I wanted to know what it was." Jessie didn't want Darlyne to know that she actually was interested in him. If Darlyne found out, it would be spread across the whole school in ten seconds flat. This was something to keep to herself.

"Where are you going Darlyne?" Jessie asked as Darlyne got up from the table.

"To ask him what the title of his book is," she answered with a smug look on her face. Oh great, she is going to ask him if he'll go out with me.

"I'll be back in a minute," she said as she started walking over to where Krys was sitting. As soon as Krys saw her coming his way he quickly put the book he had been reading in his bag and got up to leave. Unfortunately, he wasn't fast enough and Darlyne started her interrogation. It seamed to Jessie that Darlyne was taking an extremely long time just to ask him what he had been reading. She started to get up to go over and see what was taking so long (and to make sure that Darlyne wasn't trying to set her up on a date, again) when a fight started at the other side of the cafeteria. Everyone turned their attention toward the fight, except for Jessie who was still watching Krys as he slipped off without even Darlyne noticing. As the fight grew the other students, including Darlyne, went over to see what was going on. Jessie decided to follow Krys and find out where he was going.

When Jessie rounded the corner of the building Krys was nowhere in sight. Where could he have gone off to, Jessie thought. There were no doors to go in and she hadn't been to far behind him to give him enough time to run to the other side of the school. Even a star athlete wouldn't be able to do that. Jessie was baffled.

***

"Hey, wait up Jessie," came a voice from behind her.

"Oh, Hi Billy. What's up." Jessie said as she turned around to see the tall dark haired boy whom she had grown up with. Billy and Jessie had been neighbors and best friend for as long they could remember.

"Did you see the fight today?"

"I sorta missed it," she answered. No, I was busy chasing boys. "What was it about?"

"I'm not sure. All of the sudden Jack punched Scott for no reason, and Scott fought back. Some people say that Jacks eye's turned really dark before he hit Scott. It was really weird. Anyway, did you meet the new guy, Krys?"

"He is in my Language Arts class. The funniest thing is that I could swear that I've seen him before."

"How about every time you look in the mirror," Billy said jokingly. "You and Krys look a lot alike. You both have the same color of hair and you have similar facial features . . . "

"Hey, Billy." she cut him short changing the subject. "Since we have the same L.A. teacher can you tell me what we did in class today. I sorta phased right through class." Billy nodded his head as they continued walking toward their houses.

"How do you manage to phase through class' so many times? You phased through geography last week and through math the week before."

"I can't help it. One minute class has just started; the next class is over."

"I'll never understand you. As soon as I think I know you, you go and surprise me."

***

The aroma of fried chicken hit Jessie's nose as she started for the stairs. The aroma was coming from the kitchen; it was dinner time. Every Friday evening they had some type of chicken dish; sort of a tradition. Billy was eating over again tonight. He was already in the kitchen helping Jessie's mother with the meal. Billy's father didn't cook dinner much and his mother had died when he was only two. Jessie felt sorry for him, and for some reason she felt like she knew what it was like to loose a parent.

"Jessie," her mother called from the kitchen, "go and help your father set the table."

"Yes Mother."

Jessie had lived with both of her parents her whole life, and couldn't figure out how she knew what Billy felt: the empty void, the feeling of not belonging. Everybody at school lived with both of their parents. That is, every one except Billy. Some kids teased him, some avoided him, some felt sympathy for him, but nobody knew how he felt or understood him like Jessie did. That's why they had been friends for so long.

Jessie entered the dinning room. A round table with four chairs around it stood in the center of the room. The table had a green table cloth over it and two candles in sterling silver holders were on either side of the centerpiece. The centerpiece was a wooden sculpture of two small children, a dog, and a falcon that Jessie had carved earlier in the year. She looked up above the table to see the beautiful glass chandelier. To the right the fire place was giving off a soft glow. It was picture perfect.

"Can you please get the silverware, Jessie?" She turned around to see her father still in his work cloths and with an arm load of plates and cups. Jessie smiled examining her fathers face. She looked so muck different from both of her parents. Her mother's hair was blond and her father's black while her's was red. She had different likes and dislikes from her parents. She loved playing sports, camping and hiking, and loved to act and sing and dance; neither of her parents were interested in any of those thing except that her father liked to watch football and baseball on T.V. I guess all that matters is that they love me and I love them.

The table was set and dinner was on its way to the table. Just another day at the Allen residents.

***

"Jessie are you still having that weird dream?" Billy asked during their late night study session after dinner. "If you are, you should tell your parents or a councilor. I don't think it is natural to have the same dream every night for two years."

"Yes I am, and no I won't," she replied firmly. "If I tell my parents they will think I'm crazy and send me to a psychiatrist or something. If I tell a councilor they will tell my parents. It is just a silly dream any way. Maybe it will go away in time."

"Jessie, it has only gotten worse over time. And you know it scares the shit out of you. I promised you I wouldn't tell anyone and I will keep my promise, but I think you need to tell someone."

"I'm not going to tell any one and I'm starting to regret I told you."

"You were scared to death. You had to tell someone. You were going so fast down hill when those dreams first started that everyone thought you were going crazy. You were in so much pain and I'm glad you told me. After you told me about the dream and we talked for awhile you were able to get on with your life. If that is starting to happen again we need to talk. This dream is no passing matter." Billy was about to continue when Jessie started talking.

"Your right; they do scare the shit out of me but I can't tell anyone else. Lately when I wake up I can remember bits and pieces. But I can't fit them together to tell me why I get so scarred." Jessie really didn't want to talk about the dream any more so she tried to change the subject. "Are we going to Pete's tomorrow?"

"Yes, and don't try to change the subject." Billy was starting to get angry at her. He calmed himself down before he started to speak again. "What do you remember from the dream?"

She hesitated a moment. "I remember a palace but there is a sense that the walls are alive like a plant or something. I remember two young children wearing white. I remember lots of screaming and crying. There was blood. And two men grabbed the children. One of the men was hurt. They opened this portal-type thing and the injured man and one of the children went through it and that's when I wake up."

They where both silent for what seemed like hours. Billy finally nodded his head and packed his books back into his pack. "If you remember anything else please tell me. I'll see you tomorrow at Pete's." He got up and left Jessie to herself and another night of horror.



Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Tue Feb 17 01:06:02 PST 1998

The piece below is from my book 'Sweet Water - Stolen Land'.

(Douglas is a renown English artist and Karl is a German Lutheran pastor called to a mission in the Australian outback).

Douglas walked carefully to the edge of the rock and looked over. He unbuttoned the fly fold in the front of his trousers, took out his penis and began to relieve himself. Karl was uneasy and began to walk back to the house.

"It's getting dark. I'll make my way back," he said.

"All right," Douglas called over his shoulder. He watched his urine fall in a continuous stream the hundred or so feet to the ground below. He contracted the muscles at the base of his bladder. There was a real feeling of power from such a fantastic piss, he thought. He rebuttoned his fly fold, stood for while and watched the light of the sun slowly fade. Then he walked higher up the slope to gain a better vantage point, and sat and relaxed for the first time in days, allowing his thoughts to empty out onto the vast volcanic vista in front of him.

***

This book was a raging critical success, won a literary prize and was a top ten best seller, so I think I must have done something right.

Philip


Kay Curry kkcurry@classic.msn.com Sat Feb 14 18:13:46 PST 1998

SATISFACTION

Two weeks to the day after the twins' father was killed, the stranger showed up at their house. They'd been at the park, marking time until the mall opened, and talking about their situation, which was bad and getting worse. This time of day the park was a good place for a talk, quiet and cool and private enough if you stayed away from the playground. They'd climbed a tree, strictly forbidden on many counts, and sat facing each other, Kyle perched on a branch, Kate wedged into a natural seat formed where one limb divided itself into three.

"So what do we do?" Kyle asked Kate. Bad sign - usually Kyle was ideas, Kate implementation.

"About what? About her getting so drunk she can't stay awake? Starting at breakfast? She's going to loose that scut-job, they won't put up with her never coming to work. You think we can do anything about that? If we pour out the booze, she'll just buy more, or go down to Thornhill's and get it there. You got any ideas?"

"Have her committed?"

"Sure. And we go into foster care. Not."

Kyle raked a hand through thick blond hair, caught his balance with a practiced twist. "We need money, Kate. If we just could get our hands on the insurance...."

"Yeah. Get ourselves appointed her legal guardian? Fat chance. Pair of fourteen-year-olds with a shaky reputation, possible gang involvement. Right."

"Gang! Hell, if-"

"Ok, so we're not Bloods or Crips, and we don't get into gang fights and we don't have a turf to protect or any of that. We still run around together, we're known to run together, you know what-"

"I know, I know. I'm just saying.... I don't know what I'm saying. Maybe some of the kids could help."

"Oh, shit. Kyle, they would if they could, but, dammit, there's no way they can support us. There's rent and schoolbooks, and she's got the card, she's got the account, and we're just shit out of luck. Carlo and Marie are the only ones who even get an allowance, and what they get wouldn't begin to cover-"

"Yeah. Hell. Listen, my butt's getting numb. Let's go put on some rags and run the mall. It'll be open by the time we get there. Maybe we'll find something to lift that'll at least buy some groceries."

"OK. I can't think of anything better." Which was the way it went. He thought of a way to go, and she got them there. Together, they were, or had been, unstoppable. But now, with their father dead and that paycheck lost, along with all the Regular Army benefits, commissary, health care, rent subsidy for living off-base, with only their mother's income and that likely to stop soon, now the cold hollow in the pit of Kyle's stomach wouldn't go, and it interfered with his thinking. Foster care loomed like the mountains over Denver, as huge and as inexorable. Not looking at the mountains didn't make them go away, and not looking at the problems wouldn't make them go away either.

Walking back to the house, Kyle let the thoughts roll through his mind. Their father hadn't been supposed to die. He was in the Regular Army, not Hegemony Elite Forces, for shit's sake. He wasn't sent out to hunt for subversives or illegals or anyone who might shoot back. He guarded things, that was all. It was supposed to be a joke, it was a joke, when kids asked what he guarded stuff from, the twins, one or the other or both in unison, answered, "The Ghost of the Underground." Because that's all that was left, there wasn't any real Underground. "Except basements" was another stock phrase, along with, "Yeah, and the tooth fairy."

But then, two weeks ago, Shithead hadn't come back. So ok, he was dead and they shouldn't be disrespectful, but Shithead was what they'd called him for years now, and "Father" let alone "Dad" was just silly. Someone had broken into Denver Armory, and was taking stuff, and Shithead and his partner, Jolly Jerry Johnson, made a mistake and got themselves killed. "Covered in glory." the RA Major who brought the news had said, but covered in blood and pissed his pants was more likely, Kyle thought.

Which didn't help with the problems, or, as his mind increasingly shaped it THE PROBLEM. THE PROBLEM being that the insurance money was in an account only their mother could get to and she was getting to it only to buy booze. Or maybe, from recent signs, booze and drugs. And it wasn't a credit card or anything as easy as that. It was bank access only, live teller, picture ID, and no way he or even Kate was going to pass as their mother. They couldn't get the money, couldn't pay the rent, or buy food, or ..... Anything. If the powers that be got involved, he and Kate would go into foster care, probably be separated, probably be apprenticed, which was involuntary servitude, short-term slavery. They'd sworn that wasn't going to happen.

Which left, as far as Kyle had been able to work it out, a life of crime, of milking the Denver Downtown Mall and a lot of other places, for things that could be turned to cash. Shoplifting would be easy, they had that down pat, but fencing the goods.... That would be difficult, and dangerous, and at their age, they would probably have to hook up with an adult, the equivalent of a pimp. That thought gave him the sick shudders, big time.

A pimp. There would be a market, in this army-base town, for blond, green-eyed, good-looking jailbait. Kyle thought he might could hack that, but wouldn't even think about it for Kate, who, he acknowledged reluctantly, probably felt the same about her and him. Last resort, he swore as they turned the corner into their street. Absolutely last resort. Armed robbery first, although that thought gave him sick shudders, too. Drug dealing was right out, the mobs controlled that, and didn't tolerate amateurs. Options all bad, and despair wasn't maybe too strong a word for what was coming over him lately at night.

Kate touched his arm. He looked up, and all thought of THE PROBLEM fled. There was a car parked in front of their house, a big, black, sleek car, totally out of place on this shabby suburban street. Without speaking, Kyle and Kate faded into the neighbor's untrimmed hedge by the sidewalk. A few minutes later, the front door of their house opened, and a tall, gaunt man came out. His hair was thick and dark, but he walked stiffly, like an old man, and carried a straight cane with a round, silver knob at the top. He folded himself with some difficulty into the passenger's side of the car.

The vehicle started smoothly away from the curb, then stopped. A young man got out of the driver's side door. He went to the house next door to theirs. It wasn't difficult, watching and knowing what they knew of their neighbor, to reconstruct what was happening. Mrs. Demaris came to the door and opened it. The driver asked a question, and Mrs. Demaris started talking. And went on talking, while the young man on her porch nodded, and nodded, and tried to interrupt, and shifted from foot to foot, and tried again, and finally simply said something and left. Mrs. Demaris's voice floated after him, audible to the twins by the time the man reached the car. "-no good, and she never tried to control them, and with him gone now-" The sleek car moved again, no exhaust showing, engine almost soundless, an elegant anachronism that belonged to a different world.

Kate and Kyle simply looked at each other for a long moment after the car had disappeared. Looking at Kyle was like looking in a mirror, Kate thought for the umpteenth time. The same honey-blond hair in the same haircut, short at the sides and back, long on top. Kyle was starting to shave, but his beard hair, fine and silky, was pretty much the same color as his skin and hers, a warm golden brown, and even when he didn't bother, the stubble didn't show much. The skin color was the result of a pigment treatment Grandmer had given them for Christmas when they were six. A slight, involuntary up-turn of the edges of Kyle's mouth, archaic smile, he had that and she didn't. Otherwise, like a mirror.

The mirror spoke, baffled. "What the hell?"

Kate shrugged. "Suppose she's taking in gentlemen callers, like Mrs. Thornhill?"

"That kind of gentleman? He could buy- oh shit. Anyway, no, not unless he's into necrophilia."

"Point. Whatever he wanted, I doubt he got it."

"So... Sleep at Sukie's tonight?"

She thought it over, and shrugged again. "No. What the hell is right. He didn't look dangerous, or anything. The driver was even polite to Mrs. Talktalk. Maybe they were lost."

"Yeah. Maybe so." He didn't point out that they'd have had to have strayed damn far afield for that class of automobile to have ended up by accident in this class of neighborhood.

The living room looked the same as when they had left, a tangled nest of clothing, magazines, newspapers, empty envelopes and unopened ones. Dirty dishes, cups, and glasses were abandoned on every flat surface including the floor. Something was starting to stink. Their mother lay face down on the couch, one arm dangling, mouth open. The twins threaded their way through the debris to the hall and their bedrooms. Their bedrooms were their territory, kept neat and clean, and the rest of the house was their parents', kept or not.

"Rags." Kyle had said, so rags it was. Kate shuffled clothes, methodically. Rags came in degrees, and Denver Downtown Mall would tolerate some but not all levels. For today, all right, artful. Not poverty, but pseudo-poverty. Jeans torn before they were put out for sale, shirt laundered for days, until the peach color was as faded and the fabric as worn as someone's who had only maybe three shirts to her name. Sneakers split at the sides and no socks. To give the costume the lie, a choker necklace, heavy brown stones linked with gold. No bra, now or ever.

Predictably, Kyle chose the same style. His shirt had been young-apple-leaf green, and he wore socks, split at the heel, and no necklace, but the jeans were identically ripped, one knee and the other thigh, same brand, cinched with an identical frayed leather belt. The two exchanged grins before they ventured back into the chaos of the living room and out, heading for the bus stop.

***

Samuel Moseley didn't like Denver and didn't like being in Denver. He'd grown up here, had relatives here still, probably. He would not approach them, less for their safety than because he had nothing to say to them or to any inhabitant of his home town. He had no use whatsoever for anyone who lived here, and necessarily served Hegemony, directly or indirectly. Denver was Hegemony's, because of the Armory, and the Regular Army base, and because of Citadel, University for officers of Hegemony Elite Forces, the training-ground where young men became killers and torturers. No, Denver was not a place he wanted to be. Ever.

But because he had grown up here, he did know his way around. His organization didn't have a permanent presence here. When something had to be done in Denver, the organization sent in operatives from outside. It made for problems, because information tended to be unreliable. Unreliable had led to disaster, two weeks before, and that disaster was why he was here now.

Sangster's widow's neighbor had said the children might be at DDM. It was his only lead. He didn't want to consider the widow herself. At age fourteen, the children might be rational. The widow hadn't even been compose mentes, had made a sodden attempt to seduce him. Samuel definitely didn't want to deal with that.

The mall was as he remembered it, and different. The X-shaped skeleton with a cavernous central court couldn't be altered. He entered the mall at the end of one arm of the X. Some of the shops were the same as twenty-odd years ago but most were not. The restaurants in the food court in at the center of the wing had changed names but not personalities. They featured fast food in ethnic cliches, plastic tables close and crowded, unedifying dishes on disposable plates with disposable flatware. One or two per wing used items that could be washed and reused. That was luxury, that was high style in the DDM food courts, plates and forks that didn't go into a garbage pail. The smells were the same. Samuel Mosely walked on, towards the central area.

He shuddered again, without apparent cause, and started to pay attention to the signals his body was sending. Davey Caldwell, his driver, was shadowing him, but that shouldn't raise an alarm. So there was something else... He hadn't been active for seven years, except on this sort of run, which wasn't much, or wasn't supposed to be. Neither had the last activity in Denver been supposed to be much. The skin between Samuel's shoulders felt too tight. Picking up Davey, that's all. His papers were in order, he was just another DDM shopper, just cruising. Nobody was cruising him. Except....

Except for that tightness, and maybe more than the usual pain in joints that had been dislocated, in bones that had healed wrong and had had to be rebroken and reset. Except that the uneasiness behind his eyes was familiar, and he'd ignored it once, and ended up on his way to being what he was today, semi-retired, unable to fight or flee, good only for these little activities, missions of mercy and the like.

So he did what one did, backtracked a little, watched in the mirrors that store windows conveniently make of themselves, widened peripheral vision with careful movements of the eyes, subtle turns of the head just a little beyond what one would do if one weren't suspicious, cautious, and - say the word - spooked.

He caught Davey, and Davey was looking worried, because Davey saw what he was doing, but didn't know why, and Davey was supposed to be his protection. That galled, still, that they sent someone with him, for his protection. His protection, when he'd been - not quite good enough, actually. He made the signal that said ‘stay with the program' and kept moving.

The contents of central area were easily revised. The last time he'd been here, it had been carnival, with rides, and booths selling cotton candy and caramel apples and hot dogs on a stick. Today, it was a forest, trees in huge tubs or troughs, under-planted with unlikely ornamentals, annuals in full bloom. Curious, he inspected one of the plantings, and found that the plants were in square pots, close packed, so when one faded, another could replace it, keeping the artificial carpet of color fresh. The flowers were scented, too, with an odor sweet and cloying and not their own. Perfumed. On the thought he drew back in revulsion. He turned away, quickly, and found himself seeing double.

Seeing, actually, twins, gender uncertain, dressed identically in ragged clothing. Prepubescent, or just going into that turmoil. They were frankly appraising him, so he let himself stare back. Familiar, somehow, the shape of the eyes, maybe, color of hair.... The widow. Samuel smiled, inwardly and outwardly. He'd been stalked by his own prey. So.

"So. Young lady, young gentleman, what can I do for you?"

Blond heads tilted, one left, one right. The one on the right slid green eyes left, and the other answered. "Buy us lunch."

Samuel tilted his own head, to the precise same degree, and let his smile warm his voice. "Counter-proposal. We dine together, and I pay."

Green eyes regarded him, silence accumulated. The two did not consult each other. Finally, the one on the left, the girl, surely, said, "Fine."

"Excellent. One of the mall establishments, perhaps? Or I have a car-"

The girl answered, again, and Samuel began to wonder what the boy's place was in this duo. "No. Marco's."

Audacious. Marco's was the one fine restaurant at DDM. They were shaking him down. He started to refuse, but something in their attitude, at odds with youth and tattered clothes, gave him pause. They weren't pressing him, weren't urging him to agree or giving him reasons.

And there were reasons. Marco's prices were high, but so were the backs of the chairs, and the tables were widely spaced. One couldn't easily overhear conversation in that restaurant, or observe the other diners. Furthermore, Marco's wasn't actually in the mall. It opened off of one of the service aisles that linked the far endpoints of the wings, that held restrooms, and telephone booths, and pay computer access, and maintenance supplies. A person could have any of many reasons for entering that aisle, and could, with luck, be in Marco's before a follower or watcher could see which destination was intended.

"Agreed." Samuel checked his watch and went on, "It will have to be a late lunch, I'm afraid. Fetching as those clothes are, you won't be allowed into Marco's wearing them. Shall we say-"

"Shall we say-" the girl broke in, admirable imitation of his own precise and pedantic delivery, "in an hour? Early lunch. You can make reservations."

"And your clothes?"

They grinned, identical grins. The boy shrugged and the girl answered. "Don't sweat it. We'll be all presentable and everything."

They couldn't possibly go home, change, and be back in an hour. Either they kept clothes in a locker here, or... Or he was being tested. He smiled again, lifted one eyebrow, and said, "Very well. I'll make the reservations for an hour from now. Ask for Mr. Samuels."

Simultaneous nods, and they were gone, slipping away into the artificial forest as smoothly and unobtrusively as any small creature might move into invisibility in a real forest. Samuel Moseley stood still until his heart rate dropped to normal, then started off, to make the required reservations.

***

Kate had cut it short, pegging the time at only an hour. They'd picked up on the man almost immediately after they arrived, not difficult, he was cruising, not shopping. They'd expected to find him in one of the wide center aisles, and he'd been in the first one they checked, Southwest, nearest their house. They followed him, watching. Some of the gang were there, but Kate made the ‘no contact' gesture and their friends stayed away.

The tall man was strange. His face wasn't old, but his body seemed to be. All of his movements were stiff, as stiff as Grandmer's had been, and she'd been very old, arthritic. He didn't seem crippled, though. There was strength there, and grace, and an alert mind behind that stern, handsome face. The twins caught onto his shadow, almost certainly the driver, and evaded that one's notice, using skills honed on store cops and detectives. They knew when the tall man picked up on them, and agreed without discussion to confront him.

So now they needed clothes suitable for the swankiest restaurant in the place. A challenge, that Kate had set without thought. Difficult, but not anywhere near undoable. DDM was huge, there were stores they didn't go into from one year to the next. Sitting on a bench in the center court, they talked about it, decided on store and strategy.

The planning and the doing felt good. Shoplifting was something they knew they could do and knew they were good at, antidote to the sense of helplessness, of hopelessness, that had been growing over the last two weeks, as their mother abdicated everything and hid in alcohol or worse. It wasn't grief, they couldn't pretend to that generous an excuse. She just didn't want to have to deal with things, to do anything about their abruptly changed circumstance. She could and wouldn't, and they would have, but couldn't, and the frustration had been eating at them for too long. A spot of competent larceny was pure escapism.

***

Marco's wasn't busy, weekday lunch, and Samuel Mosely was seated immediately when he come early, bored with the mall. It left him a slow quarter of an hour, to remember things he didn't remotely want to remember. He'd eaten here, frequently, before he joined the Organization. During the last shouting match with his father, the old man had thrown it up to him, how much he enjoyed the pleasures wealth offered, dinner at Marco's, good food, fine wine, clothes- He'd come back for his mother's funeral, and been taken.

Citadel. Training in torture. Usually on people chosen for the purpose, whom no one would miss or inquire deeply about, sometimes on people selected as a result of a grudge, bad attitude, refusal to obey or conform. Sometimes, rarely, actual Enemies of the State. He'd been one. They had known. What neither they or he had known was that he had a Talent, an ability to be still, still as death. He and the crematorium staff had been equally amazed that his body was alive. Playing possum, in Midwest idiom. More from bewilderment than anything else, the staff had held his body back from the fire, and eventually gotten him to safety, to the protection and care his organization could provide. Unfortunately, there hadn't been a substitute body, so likely Hegemony knew he hadn't gone to the grave he was destined for. Too bad.

So now here he sat, waiting for twin children to join him. On the thought they were there, escorted by the maitre ‘de. He stood, and smiled, enjoying the spectacle they had made of themselves.

The maitre‘de effaced himself, and the man and two children stared at each other across the linen-covered table. Samuel shook his head, still smiling. The twins wore twin outfits, narrow charcoal slacks, white turtle-neck sweaters, silk or a reasonable facsimile, but he'd bet silk, black tailored jackets, wool with silk lapels, good enough, better than good enough, for Marco's. Even the shoes were impressive, slender Italian-designed models, either some scaled skin or a good imitation. The girl's necklace was not evident, but she carried a bag, knit thick fabric on a braided strand of the same, and the necklace could be, surely was, inside that.

No need to dissimulate. "You look wonderful." He gestured towards the chairs. "Please, sit."
***
Kyle and Kate had never been inside this establishment before. They'd read the menu posted outside, and fantasized what they would order. The effect was the same as if they'd been there repeatedly. They knew what they wanted without thought, or recourse to the foot-wide, two-foot-high leather-bound menus. Their host didn't pay much attention to the menu, either. He ordered what Kate ordered for appetizer, what Kyle ordered for entree.

Kyle broached the subject even before the waiter brought the appetizers. "So. What were you doing at our house?"

Their host looked from one to the other, obviously considering, and obviously reached a decision. "I belong... I work for an organization-" A waiter had approached in silence, and was in hearing range, behind Mr. Samuels. Kyle glanced up, back down, and Samuel Mosely stopped speaking. An instant later, a hand put in front of him a plate of sliced tomatoes with a pungent dressing and scattered bits of white cheese on top. He stared at the pretty composition of red and yellow and white, while a different waiter delivered the same dish to Kate, and placed a green salad with anchovies in front of Kyle.

The stranger looked up, solemn, met Kyle's eyes and said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome." A shiver ran up Kyle's spine, down his arms to his fingers. It translated to the fork he lifted, and he concentrated on stilling that tremble, and on not thinking the thought that had come to him.

Kate, alerted by his silence, took on the task of conversation. "A charitable organization?"

That amused Mr. Samuels, he smiled with his eyes and half his mouth before he answered. "Occasionally. Or say, an organization that doesn't appreciate loose ends, one way or another."

Kyle's composure was back. "And we're a loose end?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps you should tell me your names."

That shouldn't have required thought. The man knew perfectly well who they were. Still, each hesitated. Kyle fought an urge to look at his twin, obtain her reaction, her input, before he responded. To his surprise, she touched his ankle with her toe, gently, indicating she wanted to consult with him. He turned, and saw distress in her face, so he leaned, and she leaned, and Mr. Samuels moved as well, leaned back and looked away.

That was enough. Kate nodded, mouth tight and eyes narrowed, but she nodded. They sat up, no words spoken, and Kyle said his name, and Kate said hers, and the thin man smiled and lifted his own fork. "Tell me," he said, "about yourselves."

Not until waiters had removed empty plates and refilled glasses with water and iced tea did the discussion return to the reason for Mr. Samuel's visit. He said nothing more about the nature of his organization, simply launched an explanation of his presence. He had come, he said, because of their father's death, and had intended to arrange a sort of trust fund for the widow and her children.

Kate and Kyle did exchange glances at that revelation. The man paused, giving them a chance to respond. Kyle took a deep breath, abandoned any and all pride or pity with regards to his remaining parent, and announced, "That won't work."

"No." The man's voice dropped, regret and sympathy evident. "No, I could see that. So it will have to be something different, more complicated. Do you have any suggestions?"

That was subject enough for the main course, and for dessert and hot drinks after. If Mr. Samuels was surprised at their choices of drink, double cappuccino for Kate, hot chocolate for Kyle, he managed to hide it. His own choice was no dessert and black coffee.

The plan agreed on, it was time to go. Kyle didn't want to, didn't want to end this conversation. Kate was signaling the same, sitting well back in the deep chair, radiating, to Kyle at least, a deep reluctance to leave. The pause went on too long, began to be uncomfortable. Kyle stirred, reminded himself that he should be feeling relief, triumph, and not this unfocused but painful - what - regret.

***

Samuel Moseley had enjoyed the conversation, had enjoyed hearing how the children had obtained their current outfits, had been amused by the stories of the group they associated with, the entertainments they devised for themselves. A thought flickered in the background of his mind, that if he'd had friends like theirs, and the whole of Denver Downtown Mall for his playground.... But it could never have been. He'd been born into wealth and power, and these into - what would his mother have called it, being, to her mind, charitable? Straightened circumstances. Whereas, it was he whose circumstances had truly been straightened, straight-jacketed, while these two and their gang had the wealth of freedom and the power of friendship.

He had even enjoyed talking practicalities with them, how to make the money available and keep it from their mother, how much, how often. They were sharp, quick to see consequences, and not greedy. He didn't dare give them a way to contact him or his organization, but he resolved to make certain that communication happened in the other direction, that they would be watched over, and, when they were old enough, contacted, and offered a place in the organization. He thought they'd be interested, despite the circumstances by which they'd been half-orphaned.

When the desert plates were taken away and the cups were empty, the first awkward silence fell. The twins avoided his gaze, which gave him opportunity to study them, and wonder. He had little experience of children. When he had been able, he had had no desire to be a father, and after the happenings of seven years ago, no possibility. It occurred to him for the first time, strangely, that parenthood wasn't necessarily the only relationship one could have with a child.

Which thought led him to consider relationships in general. He had friends, good friends, in the organization. Davey, lurking competently somewhere nearby and missing lunch, was one. So, well, there were restaurants as good as this one in Colorado Springs. He'd treat Davey to lunch at one, and try, again, to talk him into moving into a different job, one where he didn't have to be able to drop whatever he was doing and squire around a semi-retired, semi-crippled former agent.

The twins finally sighed, simultaneously, and sat forward. As if on cue, a waiter put the little booklet that held the tab on the table at Samuel's elbow. The look the boy gave it was distinctly unfriendly. The girl let an expression of distress show, quickly hidden behind a polite "That was very good. Thank you."

"We're in no hurry, are we?" Samuel asked, careful to keep his gaze on the tab, as though he were making sure all was correct. "How about another round?"

"They'll want us out of here." Kyle answering, and Kate frowning.

Samuel pulled his wallet out of the breast pocket of his jacket and smiled. "Not necessarily." He took out bills, not a card, and his smile widened as the children's eyes widened. He tucked the bills into the booklet, and when the waiter came, said without looking up. "Another of each, please."

They spent an hour more, and then another, and Samuel actually told stories of his own childhood, visits to this restaurant, and certain of the upscale shops, and his own one attempt at theft, which had not seemed funny at all at the time, and was now, reflected in green eyes and knowing grins, hilarious.

Regret, all around, when he announced that they had to go, or he wouldn't get to the bank in time to make arrangements. Mild regret, though, and no resentment. The restaurant was nearly empty. They paused in the deserted entryway, reluctant still to leave refuge and go out into the reality of their lives. Kyle fi


Goodweed of the North bflowers@northernway.net Thu Feb 12 20:35:11 PST 1998

Here it is guys and dolls. I know you have the talent I lack here.


A primal force moved through the night. It saw by the light of the moon as clearly as others saw by day. The force moved relentlessly onward, testing the air with its keen nose, listening to sounds only it could hear.
It moved with stealth and cunning steadfastly toward its destination. No creature, no fallen tree, no river could impede its progress. It move with a single purpose, to kill a man.
The beast, for no other word could describe it, had left its subterranean home and had for four nights wandered northward. It avoided the towns and villages which now dotted the valley, preferring to remain hidden from its hated enemy. It would have loved tearing any of the humans limb from limb, glorying in their anguished cries, their screams of terror. However, it had one target, and that target it had met before, in a cave.
It continued its quest, ambling through the Kalb with its short, powerful legs. The creature would have prefered traveling through the trees. It's species was well suited to aboreal travel. With long, thick arms, and hands, strong and dexterous, they could literally swing through the dense forest with their arms.
This one was handicaped. A stub protruded from its right shoulder where an arm should have been. It had lost the apendage in a fight with a human. Three years had passed since then and the creature had adapted. It was stronger, better trained, and quite mad with revenge lust.
As the dawn of a new morning treatened, the nocturnal creature searched for shelter. It could not afford to be discovered. In addition, those eyes which gave allowed it to see clearly in the dim twilight, would be damaged by the bright light of day.
Shelter was easily found in the Kalb. The forest floor was dotted with numerous abandoned dens, caves, and leaf covered thickets. The creature quickly located one of the thickets.
It turned from its northern route and entered the thicket. The dense pocket of vegitation was comprized of several large pine trees, growing in close proximity so that the branches, thick with healthy foilage, blocked most of the daylight. The one armed creature pushed aside the branches and entered the shelterd space between the trunks. It sat on a thick layer of pine needles and prepared to sleep until night once more arrived in the forest.
The creature relaxed, leaning against the base of a slender pine. As it closed its eyes, it smelled something new and strange. It wasn't the smell of pine, or rotting leaves. It was not the smell of mushrooms growing on decaying wood. It wasn't the smell of stagnant water. It was an animal smell, light and dusty, pungent. The lone being opened its eyes, slowly exploring its temporary habitat. It saw nothing. Still...
The creature had a superb sense of smell. It used that sense, testing the air for currents, and direction. Before it could narrow down its search, it heard a rustling of leaves from the side of a trunk to its right. The head snapped toward the sound. It saw the scource as an eagle leapt from its hiding place.
The bird sprang upon the creature with flashing talons and its flesh tearing beak. It attempted to gouge its adversary's eyes with its powerful talons, while simultaneously attacking the skull with its beak. All the while, it flapped its powerful wings both to confuse its opponant, and position itself.
The creature was disadvantaged by its lost arm. It needed its one good arm to protect its eyes and could not grip the savage bird. It dropped to the ground, driving its own face toward the forest floor.
To avoid being crushed, the bird repositioned itself on the back of its enemie's skull, ripping at his scalp and neck. The creature countered by striking at the foul with its arm, knocking the feathered fury to the ground. But the eagle was agile and quick. It imediately resumed its attack.


Goodweed of the North bflowers@northernway.net Thu Feb 12 20:34:51 PST 1998

Here it is guys and dolls. I know you have the talent I lack here.


A primal force moved through the night. It saw by the light of the moon as clearly as others saw by day. The force moved relentlessly onward, testing the air with its keen nose, listening to sounds only it could hear.
It moved with stealth and cunning steadfastly toward its destination. No creature, no fallen tree, no river could impede its progress. It move with a single purpose, to kill a man.
The beast, for no other word could describe it, had left its subterranean home and had for four nights wandered northward. It avoided the towns and villages which now dotted the valley, preferring to remain hidden from its hated enemy. It would have loved tearing any of the humans limb from limb, glorying in their anguished cries, their screams of terror. However, it had one target, and that target it had met before, in a cave.
It continued its quest, ambling through the Kalb with its short, powerful legs. The creature would have prefered traveling through the trees. It's species was well suited to aboreal travel. With long, thick arms, and hands, strong and dexterous, they could literally swing through the dense forest with their arms.
This one was handicaped. A stub protruded from its right shoulder where an arm should have been. It had lost the apendage in a fight with a human. Three years had passed since then and the creature had adapted. It was stronger, better trained, and quite mad with revenge lust.
As the dawn of a new morning treatened, the nocturnal creature searched for shelter. It could not afford to be discovered. In addition, those eyes which gave allowed it to see clearly in the dim twilight, would be damaged by the bright light of day.
Shelter was easily found in the Kalb. The forest floor was dotted with numerous abandoned dens, caves, and leaf covered thickets. The creature quickly located one of the thickets.
It turned from its northern route and entered the thicket. The dense pocket of vegitation was comprized of several large pine trees, growing in close proximity so that the branches, thick with healthy foilage, blocked most of the daylight. The one armed creature pushed aside the branches and entered the shelterd space between the trunks. It sat on a thick layer of pine needles and prepared to sleep until night once more arrived in the forest.
The creature relaxed, leaning against the base of a slender pine. As it closed its eyes, it smelled something new and strange. It wasn't the smell of pine, or rotting leaves. It was not the smell of mushrooms growing on decaying wood. It wasn't the smell of stagnant water. It was an animal smell, light and dusty, pungent. The lone being opened its eyes, slowly exploring its temporary habitat. It saw nothing. Still...
The creature had a superb sense of smell. It used that sense, testing the air for currents, and direction. Before it could narrow down its search, it heard a rustling of leaves from the side of a trunk to its right. The head snapped toward the sound. It saw the scource as an eagle leapt from its hiding place.
The bird sprang upon the creature with flashing talons and its flesh tearing beak. It attempted to gouge its adversary's eyes with its powerful talons, while simultaneously attacking the skull with its beak. All the while, it flapped its powerful wings both to confuse its opponant, and position itself.
The creature was disadvantaged by its lost arm. It needed its one good arm to protect its eyes and could not grip the savage bird. It dropped to the ground, driving its own face toward the forest floor.
To avoid being crushed, the bird repositioned itself on the back of its enemie's skull, ripping at his scalp and neck. The creature countered by striking at the foul with its arm, knocking the feathered fury to the ground. But the eagle was agile and quick. It imediately resumed its attack.


Thu Feb 12 20:34:42 PST 1998


T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com http://members.aol.com/TMSpell/index.html Tue Feb 10 17:00:24 PST 1998

DEEPER THAN ALL ROSES
by T. M. Spell

Cosima watched the medical examiner zip her ex-husband into a black body bag. The slither of the zipper as the bag swallowed Elan whole sounded like a derisive, metallic raspberry. Or a big reptilian slurp. It was a rude thought, an evil thought, to have at such a time, she knew; but Cosima wouldn't have minded at all if the bag suddenly gave out a huge, gratified belch.

"That's one hell of a way to leave a party," said a balding, mustached man who stood next to her while the medical examiner and two police officers hefted the swollen body bag onto a gurney. Cosima glanced at the man's press badge -- William Bristol, she read, Orange County Observer. He snapped off one last photo of the corpse in transit, using an outdated box camera he'd probably had since his early cub days. A sturdy woven strap allowed the camera to hang nearly to his waist when he wasn't using it, leaving his hands free to jot notes and quotes into the reporter's notebook now sticking half out of a jacket pocket in his tuxedo.

"It certainly is," Cosima agreed. She saw Bristol's eyes take in her own press badge, pinned to the collar of her red silk blouse, identifying her as Cosima Cuvier with the Palm Beach Inquirer. His gaze lingered reflexively an extra second or two on her generous cleavage before he looked up to find her studying him with her electric blue eyes. He blushed so violently that his mustache seemed to quiver and he looked agonizingly embarrassed. Cosima just smiled the tolerant, slightly amused smile of a beautiful woman used to being admired. She only resented such scrutiny if it was followed up by lewd or suggestive remarks...or by any attempt to touch her without her consent.

She turned back to watch the homicide team haul Elan out of the parlor of the Davies' Manor. The 19th Century emerald-and-gold colored wool carpet now featured a dark, ugly Rorschach of blood about twice the size of a man's bashed-in skull, which did not contrast at all well with the ornately carved Egyptian revival furniture. Cosima hoped that Liz and Brent Davies -- her hosts on this signal evening -- were well insured. Such a carpet would be hard to replace for under, say, thirty thousand dollars.

Again, the callousness of her own thoughts startled Cosima. She would have pitied any other human being brought to such a miserable, meaningless end. She would have pitied almost any*thing* more than she pitied Elan right now. After all, she was a Democrat and a humanitarian to whom life was a sacred and irreducible good. It's loss or destruction, even when inevitable, was always a tragedy. Always. Cosima stared hard at the glistening stain on the Davies' carpet and tried to dredge up a vestige of human sympathy, the faintest echo of a prayer of forgiveness, the vaguest tinge of sorrow, and found only a vast reservoir of relief in the knowledge that she would no longer be looking over her shoulder for Elan's revenge.

He had been thoroughly enraged and unendurably embarrassed when Cosima escaped from the Libertine quarter -- and his mastery -- five years before. More enraged still when he realized she had a powerful protector, and would not be reduced to poverty or further degradation without him, he had promised to find a way to make her suffer. Cosima had never doubted the depths of his misogynistic hatred for her; Elan had been the lowest kind of Libertine.

(Just do what he tells you, 'Sima)

Not just self-serving as hell and proud of it.

(because he's paid me a lot of money)

But cruel, too.

(and if you don't spread your legs like a good little girl tonight, I'll make you wish you'd never been born)

And as impervious to reason and incapable of mercy as any dictator who ever waded hip-deep through human blood.

(Didn't I warn you? Stupid bitch! DIDN'T I?)

Cosima shook her head minutely and sighed. She didn't know who among the Davies' guests had killed Elan, or why, but she realized that she was shockingly, sinfully grateful to a brutal killer.

"It's a shame, isn't it?" Bristol asked, apparently misinterpreting her sigh.

With a shrug and another shake of her head, Cosima told the truth. "Not really."

"You knew him?"

"Years ago," Cosima said.

"A friend?"

"No. We were married, but there was never any love in it. Elan wasn't the kind of man who needed love."

"Everyone needs to be loved."

"Elan didn't even believe that love existed," Cosima said. "He said it was a social fiction -- like religion, according to him -- created by the ruling class to make controlling the inferior members of society easier."

"Did you believe that?" Bristol asked.

"No, never," Cosima said. "But I do believe that Elan believed it. And I also believe that he was genuinely incapable of love, affection, or any kind of tender human feelings."

"A man like that would be," Bristol hesitated, "a monster."

"Or perhaps," Cosima suggested, "he was just insane. A genuinely sociopathic personality doesn't experience emotion the way that healthy people do. They think that because they can't make the same emotional connections the rest of us make, then we must be the ones living an
illusion."

"When, in fact, they're the one who are deluded," Bristol said.

"It's how they make sense of their lives, I suppose."

"But it doesn't make sense," Bristol said, "because it isn't true. Love is part of the human condition."

"So is hate." Cosima tilted her golden-blonde head in the
direction of the bloodstain. "Which is why things like this happen."

Bristol wasn't holding his reporter's notebook and pen, but Cosima could sense the man taking notes about the conversation inside his head. "I'm a reporter," he said. "You understand that, right?"

"So am I." Cosima nodded. "I know that nothing is ever off the record, Mr. Bristol. Besides, I had a similar conversation with the police about half-an-hour ago. And another one with a colleague of mine at the Inquirer not too long after that. For the sake of objectivity, of course, someone else on the staff of my newspaper will be writing the story about tonight's...tragedy. Everything I've just told you, and probably a great deal more, will be a matter of public record soon enough."

"I take it you're not a suspect, then?" Bristol asked.

"No," Cosima said, "and there's no reason why I should be. Our marriage was annulled several years ago. I had nothing to gain from Elan's death." Except peace of mind, an inner voice murmured until Cosima stilled it. "And I was talking to other people all evening long. I didn't even know Elan was here until he turned up dead."

"You must have had quite a surprise."

"I'll say."

"I appreciate your honesty," Bristol said.

"Anytime." The faint, velveteen rumble of a man's voice in the main hallway caught her attention and Cosima turned to look through the parlor's open doorway. Griffin Kindred glanced at her over the shoulder of a plain clothes police detective who had just taken his statement. When Griffin's eyes met hers, a warm flush crept into Cosima's cheeks and her stomach fluttered with sexual excitement. Once the police finished poking and prodding and asking them every question imaginable about the deceased, Griffin would take her home. And in his arms, later tonight, all the ugliness, the memories of abuse and humiliation, the sordidness of the crime scene, would vanish from her mind. There would
be nothing but the sound of murmured endearments, the feel of Griffin's huge, gentle hands on her body, the mind-altering heat of his kisses. For the first time in five years, she would be able to experience their lovemaking without worrying that Elan would soon destroy one or both of them; every moment of pleasure that they gave each other tonight would annihilate Elan's sadistic legacy of fear and suffering. Cosima had never been more happy.


Charles Jade jade@cyberramp.net http://www.cyberramp.net/~jade/story/page00.htm Tue Feb 10 14:02:43 PST 1998

I don't know what's wrong with my story. Click and tell me.


Rhoda Fort rfort@infoway.lib.nm.us Sat Feb 7 21:59:01 PST 1998

Oops!

I forgot the little note before the beginning of the text in my selection.

Please note:

Britain
A.D. 515


Rhoda Fort rfort@infoway.lib.nm.us http://www.epubs.com Sat Feb 7 19:41:41 PST 1998

VALERIE'S SONG


Chapter One

Valerie breathed heavily as she clutched the edge of the rock. Grateful for this small outcropping of granite that jutted from the coastline, she pulled herself from the murky ocean.

Water flowed from her matted hair and wet tunic as she hoisted herself upon the rock's surface. A cool breeze slapped her bare legs and arms causing her to shiver. After removing moisture from her hair and clothing, she gave herself over to the mercies of the noon day sun.

When the heat had banished the wind and water's chill, Valerie sat up and gazed upon the ocean in hopes of seeing a trading ship sail into the village port.

As she looked out to sea, the water changed from a muddy blue color to a pea green. In the two years she had lived beside the Cornish shore, she had never twice seen the ocean look the same. It amazed her how many different ways there were to mix green, blue and black. The sea was a living, breathing, ever changing entity--peaceful and friendly one moment, stormy and cruel the next.

These very rocks, so hospitable to her now, had six months ago wreaked a merchant ship from Brittany. The bodies of its men washed up upon the shore for several weeks after that.

For the moment the sea was friendly. The exertion from her swim along with the caress of the salt water had removed all the tension from her taunt muscles. She ran her fingers through her matted hair in an effort to get the long thick strands out of her face.

She chuckled as she recalled the stories her grandmother had told her of sirens. These beautiful creatures with the body of a woman and fins where there should have been feet would bathe upon the rocks, comb their fair locks of hair, and sing lovely haunting music that would lure sailors to them. When these weary men would see the lovely naked women and hear their plaintive songs, they would steer their ships to them and crash upon the rocks.

Perhaps that was what had happened to the unfortunate men aboard the Breton ship.

For a long time Valerie thought about sirens. She wondered if they enjoyed attracting men they would never know--if on occasion they wept as they viewed the bodies of the unfortunate sailors floating upon the water. Valerie grabbed a lock of her knee-length hair. It was almost dry. She admired the way its golden highlights glimmered in the bright summer sun. She smiled as she considered her own nubile body. All she lacked were the fins.

Sirens didn't wear threadbare linen tunics either, but she wouldn't remove that. She couldn't feel comfortable sunning herself on a rock with nothing to cover her body. Besides what if someone were to see her?

She wouldn't take a chance. She spread out luxuriantly upon the rock, arched her back and lifted a shapely leg, stretching it above her in what she hoped was a seductive pose.

When she tried to sing, giggles spewed from her mouth instead of the lilting tones she intended. When finally she spent her laughter, she positioned herself upon the edge of the rock and added her voice to the music of the surf and cawing seagulls.

Valerie, being only seventeen and untried in the ways of love, had no idea how to appear inviting to a man, but she did know how to sing. As she heard her voice ride upon the breeze, she was confident that no siren could sing with a more true and melodious voice. As visions of sirens and tragic sailors emerged from her imagination, she poured forth every ballad and chorus she knew.

Having exhausted her store of songs, she looked back upon the rocks and saw that they went all the way to the base of a cliff that looked down upon this shoreline.She looked up at the cliff and felt relief that she wore her tunic, for though she sat several yards away from the shore, anyone above would have a good view of her. Besides that, she wasn't familiar with this strip of the shore and wasn't sure what was above her.

As she thought about the cliffs, a creepy feeling encompassed her. There were tall rocks sitting up above. Someone could watch her from there and never be seen by her. She shivered at the thought and began to think about swimming back to her little cove.

What a coward you are. Are you so afraid of your own imaginings? she asked herself. In an attempt to bolster her confidence, she laughed. She decided to give her non-existent phantom an earful. She turned defiantly toward the cliff, stood arms outstretched, and sung in her strongest tones.

When she finished, she listened to the steady beating of the waves upon the rocks and the cry of the sea gulls and assured herself everything was as it should be. Why did she think someone was above watching her?

A smile born of bravado rather than glee played out upon her face as she continued to watch the cliff. She was frightening herself with her vivid imagination. She shrugged and turned away.

She heard a scuffling sound. Her heart caught in her chest. Surely she was imagining it, or perhaps some small dog or other animal wondering around up there was responsible for the noise. She heard it again. She turned to see several small pebbles falling from the cliff. For an indefinite time, she stood as still as a statue. She shivered in the warm air. It was no dog or small animal. Two men emerged from the rock and were now running southward to where the hill sloped into the sea.

For several seconds she fought the paralysis that threatened to overcome her. She should swim back to her cove, but she couldn't get her legs to move. She breathed deeply and tried to quiet her pounding heart. When she heard masculine voices speaking a foreign tongue, she found the strength to move.

Bracing herself for the coldness of the water, she dived in. Thoughts of her safe cove over half a mile away quelled her rigidness. Her mind went blank of all speculation as she kicked in a rhythmic motion and swam to what she hoped would be a safe haven. She didn't know who the men were or whether they were even pursuing her. She only knew that while they were near her, she was in great danger.

Valerie nearly fainted with exhaustion as she reached her sandy cove. A cliff overhang this cove also, but the ground above her was Tawelloch land. No stranger would be up there. She panted as she collapsed upon the sand.
She glanced out at the ocean in the direction of the rocks she had sunned herself on and saw a vessel moving upon the water. It wasn't very large and it was hugging the coastline. She watched with terror as it came into view. She should scurry up her hill and be gone from this place, but she couldn't take her eyes off of the long ship with its many ores. On its bow was the head of a great dragon. Valerie had never seen a ship like this before, but she had heard about them from her grandmother and her neighbors who had once lived on the east coast of Britain. It was a Saxon ship.

At first she was afraid it was coming toward her, but saw instead that it was taking a course toward Bear Island, a humped patch of land about four miles off the shore. She sat up, threw her mantle over her shoulders, picked up her pile of clothes and shoes and scurried up the hill to warn her uncle.




Jeff England jae1968@earthlink.net http://home.earthlink.net/~jae1968/index.html Sat Feb 7 18:11:01 PST 1998

The last message I posted was a section from the first part of a fantasy novel I have been working on. I'm new here and I am sorry if I forgot to write an introduction.


Jeff England jae1968@earthlink.net http://home.earthlink.net/~jae1968/index.html Sat Feb 7 18:03:01 PST 1998

Two boys rode upon a wood laden wagon hauled by a team of resolute horses. They bounced and creaked over the uneven road steadily, the first boy slapping at the beasts with leather reins, the second glumly resolved to riding. The great wooden wheels continued to turn, churning up layers of leaves and mulchy mud. Dark trees rose from the shadows all around the two in the early morning, crowding away the sun.

Stelan Swenson smelled the air and grimaced. There was smoke above the haze. They were close to the Green Docket inn and close to the laborious job of unloading the wagon.

The inn was run and owned by Master Tims, a caustic but indelibly hard working man with some reputation with the locals. He was well noted for having the best ale in the territories, and his stews were legendary-not to mention his wealth of useless information. He often bragged that he knew more about nothing then anyone in the good kingdom.

Stelan regularly traveled to Master Tims's inn hauling wood throughout the fall months. This trip was the first delivery of the season, and Forest Tum had come along to help him unload. It was no secret that Forest had come more to look at the girl that he was in love with then to help Stelan, but that was all right with the boy. Everyone was entitled to at least one dream.

Forest was younger then the first boy and already larger. He was slow to think and even slower to react. He became know as the mule to the people of the abbey. He was so large that he could not even button his coat completely. The flaps of his jacked flagged in the wind while he walked.

"An abysmal cherub," Father Gual had once commented. That was the truth; Forest had a way of always being pleasant, despite the fact that his sheer size intimidated most everyone that he happened to meet. The fact was he had never spoken an unkind word to a turned back. Sometimes it made him an easy mark for the people in town, easier then even Stelan himself, but Stelan had always been envious of his ability to trust so easily. In Forest's world everyone was amiable and kind, everyone had a purpose that made them valuable. That was a noble quality, even in a simpleton's imagination.

Stelan sighed and stretched his long legs against the buckboard. He knew they had to get back quickly in time for their other chores, but it was a token acknowledgment. He didn't feel in such a hurry. On the road they were knights protecting royal councils, winged warriors flying atop great eagle's backs, or highwaymen hauling loot to the local robber baron. They could do and say whatever they liked, come and go whenever they pleased . . . as long as they got back in time for their chores.

At the abbey they were field hands, mere boys still wet behind the ears. It was an unusually disappointing predicament. It was tough enough trying to gain even a modicum of respect without having to fight clumsiness and a low station in life.

Stelan was growing more and more convinced that he would never be anyone important, no matter how hard he wished otherwise. To look at him now would be to see a tall and awkward boy, as if he were caught between growths. His legs and arms were spindly, his head was too narrow. His feet were large and unwieldy. These were hardly the ingredients needed to be a hero, or a man of standing like his father. He was old enough now that he should be showing such qualities, if they existed at all.

Stelan looked down at his hands and clenched them tight. They were too large for his taste too, yet they were unusually deft and quick. If nothing else, he should have been an excellent field hand. But his wanderlust and dogged melancholy always kept him from being productive. His attention constantly turned to dreams and nature, or the loneliness that had consumed his life.

The boy stiffened in his seat and rubbed his shoulders. No matter how many naysayers there were, they still could not stop his heart. In his heart he longed to fly with the Winged Bannerets, patrolling the clear skies above. He longed to have a great raptor of his own, a beast that would be a faithful friend throughout his life. In his heart . . . In his heart, he soared.

The boy suddenly looked over at his companion and nudged him with his elbow. "What you say we join the Wing academy? Eh, Forest?"

The other boy cast a wide-eyed gaze out toward the horses and then nodded. "Yuh, if you say so. But father will be mad, that's a certain. He needs me here."

"Ah, who needs them anyway? You want to be a plowboy all your life?"

Forest stared out at the road crossly. "My father knows best! He's the Master carpenter! He's . . . He's . . ."

"Plowboy!" Stelan began to laugh.

"You wouldn't have no dry roof if it wasn't for my father!" Snapped Forest turning. And then he took both reins into his left hand and slugged the other boy lightly with his other hand.

"Ouch!" Yelped Stelan, rubbing his shoulder. You didn't have to do that."

"My father knows best!"

"I know Forest, I know. I was just kidding," Stelan groaned.

"There it is, Stelan," Forest abruptly exclaimed, standing up and nearly toppling them and the wagon over. He gestured through the mist with his thick arm.

Stelan was forced to grip the wagon seat in order to keep from falling out. "Watch what you're doing! You wonder why I never let you drive?"

As they rode farther up the lane, they could see the inn rising out of the rain swept forest like some squatting giant. It had ten rooms on the upstairs, a formal dinning hall below, and a large common room, attended by a host of servicing rooms like women in wait. The building itself was neat and well cared for, with a tightly thatched roof and snug walls that kept out the worst of the weather. Around it grew a wall of ivy, with great stone corner posts that looked like sailing ship riggings. And in the back was a stable for the horses.

His father said that the inn was an old Talen construction, dating back several generations to when the Talen Lords controlled vast interests in the southern Great Kingdom. It was even said that Master Tims had a great deal of Talen blood in him. Tough, resiliant, and spicy; Stelan believed it. The inn had become something of a landmark to that region; a stopping point to Sundown, the gate city of the midlands.

It was curiosity's paradise to Stelan. There at the inn, he liked to sit in the corner and listen to people talk about the world abroad, sipping on the hot spiced cider that Master Tims always gave him. The talk was generally a-bout things that he seldom ever heard talked about at the abbey; wars and feuds and the politics of the barons, how well certain Kings were faring as opposed to others. And, of course, there was the weather and all manner of other less interesting things that happened to interest the normal travelers.

Mostly the people at the inn were businessmen and peddlers, or religious folk taking pilgrimages, or occasionally fighting men coming back up from tours along the border keeps. Stelan felt that the fighting men were the most worth listing to since they dealt with Gorgs and bandits rather then the price of grain or a good horse. Sometimes they would come even in armor, though that was exceedingly rare.

That morning there were fewer people then usual, only a few merchants from Sundown. But there was a man all the way from the Mounthome-, which was an odd occurrence. Rarely did the Mounthome come down in the valleys unless there was an auction or a local merchant was looking for a mercenary for hire.

Stelan and Forest drove the wagon behind and then delivered the wood to the back wood racks. They each carried an arm load to the Kitchen-nearly being run down by the twin scullies, Eon and Ian Balinger, in the process.

"Turnovers today!" they informed them. It seemed Madam Bollivin, Master Tim's Hemlin cook, had made her famous peach turnovers, yet another reason the inn was so successful and a rare treat for them.

Stelan continued on to deliver wood to the dinning hall. It was a solemn, airy place that made him as heretically uncomfortable as if he had stepped into an Andicostal church. Forest took care of the wagon and horses at the stable. The two boys met again in the mud room and then went into the common room for some cider and peach turnovers, if Madam Bollivin was willing to part with any.

The air there was warm and fragile with spice. The room opened up from the back kitchen galley to a wide, arched space supported by great wooden trelliswork beams. Spoked lighting fixtures hung from the ceiling on iron chains, casting odd, flickering shadows along the woodwork.

Tom Fredger had already raised a fire in the hearth. Tom was wisp thin and wiry, but he was not to be underestimated. He could arm wrestle with the best of them, and he was a lock at tumbling.

At the moment he was rubbing his hands and eyeing the boys with mischief as he watched them enter. As he turned the spittle in the hearth, he began chewing. Stelan and Forest watched curiously, pretending not to know what was coming. After a moment, the man suddenly turned and spit out at the empty spaces between the tables with a loud harrack!

A few of the patrons barged out of the way, their chairs screeching as they slid back. A glob of spittle flew out, past the two boys, and landed on the floor some distance away. Stelan was sure it had to be some kind of record. Tom clapped his hands and laughed. "A spit boy in practice as much as profession."

There was general laughter, but Merrigold, the head serving maid and Master Tims' wife, was not amused. Her rotund form had appeared from the back hall just in time to cut off the laughter. There was a sudden gulf of quiet as she marched over and cuffed Tom good upside the ear. He cowed in pain and looked at her hurt.

"I told you not to be bettin' on the vulgarity, not on my watch!" She screeched. "Now off to the back if you're through makin' an ass of yourself. Be quick about it!"

Tom did as he was told and quickly, but he couldn't help but chuckle and wink as he went by the two stricken boys. Merrigold crossed her arms under her bosom and scanned the room for anyone with enough manhood to stand up to her methods. After a tense moment she went back into the kitchen, scowling after Tom like an angry watcher.

"That woman will be the death of us all," laughed one of the patrons. There was scattered agreement along with a few remarks as to what poor Master Tims saw in her to begin with.

Stelan nudged Forrest onward, but not before gauging the distance old Tom had managed to spit one last time. It had to be some kind of record.

Unlike in the formal dinning hall, tables were scattered about haphazardly in the Common room, although a circle had been formed around the hearth. A long bar had been constructed along the western wall. Barfly's sat around it on stools, even that early in the morning.

Cind Malon, one of the Inns serving maids, was busy laying plates down for the customers with a smug look on her face. Her sister, Donna, reluctantly served the boys their cider, after they found a table to their liking. She was the one which Forest had a particularly serious crush on.

She was pretty, as was her sister, with the dark hair and eyes of the forest lowland people to the east. But Stelan refused to give her any attention himself, weather it was wanted or not. The last woman he had tried to befriend was dead because of it. Forest, however, was unabashed.

Cind brushed by her sister and snickered. Donna gave them a placating smile as she set two steaming mugs and a plate of piping hot turnovers down upon the corner table and then left before Forest managed to think up anything to say. It was much to Stelan's relief. He would have only embarrassed them both. The Malon sisters were tolerant, but they didn't give either any encouragement.

"You see that man over there?" Stelan said to Forest. "I bet that man sitting alone is a plantation owner of some kind."

"Why da ya say that," Forest replied in his usual nondescript way. He blew on his cider to cool it a little.

"Because of the way he's dressed," answered Stelan. He rubbed his jaw in thought, and then continued. "That's highland clothes, for the plains. He's a plantation owner all right. But I wonder why he's all the way down here in the Vales?"

Forest didn't answer as the conversation left the realms of his bounded understanding. All that mattered to him at the moment was how good the cider tasted and how pretty Donna looked that fine morning. They were simple things that a boy his age had every right to think about. He gingerly popped one end of a turnover into his mouth and pulled off a bite.

Stelan, however, leaned forward, studying the man more intently. He was broad at the shoulders and dark skinned, not like a Waterman but like someone who had spent his life in the weather. His face was seamed and lined like old leather, but his eyes shown out of his face brightly. He was a man with a purpose.

His clothes were richly made, silk and supple calf skin linings, clothes that were not completely practical in the wet and wooded lands of the Vales. They were already stained by rain and traveling. He wore shiny black leather boots and a wide brimmed hat that hid his face in shadows. He wore the hat even indoors. The strangeness of his clothing did not escape the businessmen across the room, either.

"Any news of the Watermen up that a way?" One of the men asked. He was a robust, bearded fellow from Cadigan, perhaps a fletcher or bower. He wore more practical boots and a simple green woodsman coat, weathered with oil and water.

The plantation owner looked up with steel gray eyes and studied the faces of the men for a moment. His expression became a little milder, which seemed to say that he found them to be a serviceable lot for conversation. But his mouth was still half full of the ham he was eating. He finished chewing and then carefully wiped his mouth upon a handkerchief. The local men waited patiently.

"They are becoming agitated," he finally said. "Stoneham Oakspeak has been stirring things up again. There is talk about starting a new Waterman nation, pagh!"

His voice had a resonant pitch to it, an accent that was as unmistakable as his clothes. Westron was the tongue of the Great Kingdom, spoken entirely throughout the land. But the Mounthome drawled their words, and they were far more precise in their pronunciations then the ship-shod conglomeration spoken throughout Seadelver lands.

Seadelver tongue was a combination of a thousand different influences brewed together in the sea ports and border keeps, eventually forming into another dialect entirely-a bastardized form of Westron known as Common. Every Seadelver city seemed to have their own unique accent to Common, it was a translator's worst nightmare, but even the simplest minded fool could not mistake Seadelver for Mounthom.

The business men's gazes remained fixed on the Mounthome man. "What do you think that will mean?" "There are Watermen all over this country." "Do you think they'll take up arms against us?" They all spoke together in a jumbled chorus.

"I do not know," the man replied, continuing to work at his plate. "Some say so. They all should be slaves, if you ask me. Freeing them will only give them courage. We can not have that. Old Stoneham had better watch his back. It is bad enough with all the queer folk riding the roads without dealing with the Watermen too."

"Odd folk you say?"

Stelan straightened up. There was an inexplicable moment of silence in the room. The air had grown smoky and sweet from the after breakfast pipes some of the men had lit up.

"Odd. Dark cloaks and cowls, dark bird mounts that you can not even see in the night unless you were underneath their very beaks, and they have shifty eyes. Pagh," the plantation owner snapped. "They come flying in at night, asking odd questions about people that I have never seen or met. They spook the help, and they are not the sort of people that I would have anything to do with. Some-some even smell so bad they made me and my wife sick! Smell, I tell you, like they have never had a bath in their lives!"

"I wonder where this agitation is coming from," said one of the businessmen thoughtfully, a wooly headed man clenching his pipe tight between yellow teeth. "I can't believe one Waterman is capable of all of this."

Master Tims came in just then. He was a large man wearing a stained cooks smock over worn leather leggings. "They say to the south, men and Watermen are warring with each other as we speak, down by Remorrin." He sat down a keg of his renown ale upon racks against the eastern wall. Then came the usual exerted huff. He brushed the dirt from his hands as he leaned against the bar counter.

The businessmen had now taken their questions to a new level of chatter, asking the Mounthome man two questions for every one left unanswered, and they would each answer their own questions before he could speak. What was
more, they wouldn't let the poor fellow answer the questions asked first. The whole conversation seemed to revolve around him like a whirlwind, whether he wanted to participate or not.

The Mounthome man raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. "Enough, enough! You hurt my poor head with all this nonsense speak!"

"Yes, let the man eat," added Master Tims. "He has a right to his breakfast."

There was a sudden but reluctant silence in the room. The creaking of chairs and a single cough was all that could be heard-another patron lit up his pipe.

"But answer my question first. Now go on," prodded the proprietor, to his own amusement. The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed, but it was his inn so nothing was said of it.

"As for the Watermen warring in the south," the Mouthome man continued, "I do not know anything about that. But it would not surprise me. They live under some dangerous mountains down that way. It is not a place that I would like to be."

"It all worries me something else," chirped in one of the local businessmen, the oldest of the bunch by his looks. His face was a crunched maze of wrinkles and scars. The other's seemed to preclude him any respect because of his age and now because he alone had the gall and initiative to speak when they were told not to themselves.

"I own a delivery not more then a few miles out of Sundown-Hanson's Delivery, if you care to know. "

"Peddling business, are you old man?" Snapped Jasper Bowlin, a cartwright from Whelin. Another tangent to the discussion suddenly threatened to abrupt like a storm break.

The old man looked irritably at Jasper, but continued to speak in spite of him. "I've no liking for Watermen, doubtless they're more hindrance then enemy. And I have no liking for bird riders either-horses are much more trust worthy. But to have to stave off every twice bitten Waterman living in the Vales is not something I look forward to. Hindrance or not, that would be a war."

"What brings you down this leg of the woods anyway, stranger?" Asked Master Tims, effectively heading off the argument. "Bit out of country."

The Mounthome man scowled, concentrating on his plate again. "I go where I may."

He is looking for something, thought Stelan. But what?

"I don't mean nothing," continued Master Tims, wiping his hands again on his ruined smock for whatever good it would do. "It's just we rarely get Mounthome down here in the Vales. It's unusual, I guess you could say."

The Mounthome man shook his head and grumbled.

"Now me?" Continued Master Tims, "I'm just a working man, I have been all my life. I wouldn't know the first thing about the Mounthome, just what comes in the door. And then they don't say much. People don't want company here, just a place to stay and a place to eat. So that's what I try to give 'em. Customers are entitled to themselves, as are you. There's no need to be taking it wrong."

"I was not taking it any way," insisted the man, his eyes narrowed. A cold edged smile crept across his leathery face.

"Now you were too, begging your pardon," answered Master Tims, leaning against the counter and playing with his fingers. "We're all just curious for news, nothing more."

The other businessmen listened intently and, for once, silently.

"Well," the man said, resigning himself to answering the question. "I have been looking for trackers, woodland trackers. I have lost some Watermen this way on one of the trains heading west. They killed three men and lit for the woods.

"I do not know this land well, not like the plains. That is why I am here. I was told there would be men that could help me here. I have no love for birds either, and they would do little good against the cover of trees. I need good men with horses. I would pay handsomely. You can tell them Marl, Marl Gorbodock is looking for them."

Forest sipped loudly upon his mug, but Stelan sat breathless. Murdering Watermen? He supposed if someone had tried to lock him up away from home and family he might resort to violence himself-had he the ability to wield a sword, that was. But most of the Watermen he knew were anything but violent.

Master Tims rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I don't know that there'd be anyone around here that could help, but you might try Sundown. It's up the road a bit. It's certainly easy enough to find."

"Sure enough," spoke up Master Hanson, "there'd be folks up that way that could help you. I've seen enough-enough of those sort to know they're there. Why-why I could sell you a horse!"

There was some grumbling among the other patrons. The man stared prudently at the fire, a fork half raised to his mouth as he thought. "Sundown?"

"That's right."

"I have a horse. And the people I want to hire should have horses already. I do not need any green necks trying to make a name for themselves. This is serious business, dirty business."

Jasper smirked. Master Hanson looked put out. "Just offered."

The slaver continued to eat slowly for a moment, but then, in a sudden afterthought, he added, "It is illegal to own slaves in Seadelver lands. I trust no one speaks of this? I have done nothing illegal, but some people might take it the wrong way."

"Of course not," said Master Tims. He eyed the other businessmen. "Isn't that right?"

The other's nodded. And they wouldn't say anything either. What use was it to them weather someone hunted down a few Watermen, especially murdering ones.

Stelan felt troubled, however. What did Father Gaul say? Shallow deception is an insult wrapped in a lie. But whom does it insult? Why destroy the body with many strokes when you can cut the head off with one? The King! They all hate him.

"Bloody Oakspeak," the Mounthome man grumbled one last time. "Bloody King!"

"Come on," Stelan said to Forest. He looked down at the plate with a grimace, all of the turnovers were gone. "We have to get going."


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