Tuesday, November 30, 2010

One Last Thing, Part II

*a continuation of One Last Thing, Part I

Seven Uzbek mobsters aim their handguns - a variety of weapons ranging from American M1911s to Czech CZ75s - at Cray and Drew. Cray's HK G36 and Drew's HK416 return the favor. The two Americans know that they might die here, in this dusty excuse for a warehouse in Denau, but it's gonna be a fun time if they do.

Cray tries very hard not to laugh. The situation has all the setup of a bad joke, though Mexican standoffs in Uzbekistan aren't as unusual as one might expect. Organized crime is widespread here and the double cross is no surprise to either Cray or Drew. What is a surprise is that Dame Helen Laurie, one-time MI6 agent and fling of Cray's, is pointing a Walther P99 at the back of Cray's head.

"Hey, lady," Cray says, smiling. He knows she can't see his lustful memory-inspired grin, but he's sure she can hear it. "Still mad about Eisenach?"

"Please," she almost purrs, "I wasn't even in the room when you jumped out the window."

Alisher Beruniy, the Uzbek henchman in charge of apprehending Cray and Drew, looks perplexed. "You know these men, Elizabeth?"

Beruniy's English is serviceable, but his attempt at an American accent is almost hilarious. This, however, is not why Cray finally starts laughing.

"Elizabeth? Really? Come on, love."

Drew, only having met Helen once before, is quite aware of her reputation. "Cray. Now might not be a good time."

"Oh, shut up, Drew," Cray mock-commands, stifling another chuckle as the seven Uzbeks - including Beruniy - replace aggressive expressions with bewildered ones. Cray very much wants to turn around and get a good look at Helen. She's just under twelve years younger than him and he's interested to see if her body has held up since he's last seen her. He licks his lips in honor of her favorite after-party favor, a gesture mistaken for arrogance by one of the Uzbek gunmen.

"Ah, shit," Drew mutters, as the gunman reacquires his aim and pulls the trigger.

Cray ducks out of the way and rolls to the left. Out of reflex, Helen adjusts her fire and shoots the Uzbek directly in his forehead. Drew's 416 spits randomly in the direction of the other gunmen as he rushes for cover to the right.

Gunfire explodes and chaos ensues as Helen follows Cray to his hiding spot behind a metal filing cabinet. She squeezes in close and Cray inhales deeply, enjoying the scent of her hair and her perfume. That there are hints of gunpowder doesn't really bother him. "I thought you were retired."

"I thought that of you," she replies humorlessly as she takes out another Uzbek. "I'm supposed to be working for these men, Cray."

"Undercover?"

She shoots him a scolding glance and lays some covering fire so Drew - already across the warehouse - can shift firing positions a bit more easily. "Are you going to help?"

God, Cray loves her accent. So proud, so proper, and so sexy. He halfheartedly fires the G36 around the cabinet, not really paying attention to where Drew is.

"God dammit!" Drew sounds pissed. "Whose fucking side are you on?"

"Don't kill Beruniy," Helen pleads. "We need intel from him."

"Who's we?" Cray asks as he places a hand on her ass while she drops to a knee and fires down a corridor. She slaps it away without looking and, to Cray's delight, without stopping her fire suppression. "Oh, shit, woman. You're still active."

The reports of rapid and random gunfire slow down and are replaced by Drew's well-aimed shots, which are soon replaced by silence. "Clear," Drew calls out.

"Clear," Helen responds.

Reaching around her waist, Cray slides a hand between her legs and feels her crotch. "Oh, all clear," he mumbles with a snicker. She turns and pistol whips him - ever so gently, of course - across the temple.

***

When Cray comes to, he and Drew are in some field away from any settlements. Helen is nowhere to be seen.

"How's your head?" Drew asks, not really caring.

Cray laughs - today's been rather funny. "About the same as the last time she clocked me."

Drew hands Cray a manila envelope. There's a dossier and some satellite imagery inside. "She gave us this."

"Well, shit. She still loves me."

"Not from what I could tell, she doesn't." Drew grabs Cray's arm and lifts him to his feet. "We gotta clear out of here." Drew starts walking toward a highway in the distance. "Thanks for the help in the warehouse, by the way. You get injured or something? Or did the sight of a piece of ass put you in a trance?"

"I think I pulled a muscle."

"Yeah, your brain."

"Drew, you dumbass. The brain's not a muscle."

"Not yours, anyway."

*to be continued...

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Manning-Chargers Curse

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts just lost on NBC Sunday Night Football. Their opponent? The San Diego Chargers. Why do I care? Well, because I'm a Chargers fan and I've long surmised that Peyton and his brother Eli suffer from a Chargers curse.

What's that?

Yep. A Chargers curse. Started by Eli and his overrated dad, Archie Manning.

You see, in 2004, Eli and his overrated dad, Archie Manning, went on record as saying that they didn't want Eli to play for the San Diego Chargers. The reason? Apparently, the San Diego Chargers weren't a team that was committed to winning.

Never mind the logical fallacy involved in a team whose purpose is to make money and that, to make money, winning is a necessity. And never mind the fantastical fallacy involving the existence of curses. I'm ranting. Deal with it.

So... ignoring the fact that Peyton Manning defeated the Chargers the first two times he played them (in 1998 and 1999, long before Eli snubbed the team), his record against San Diego since is 2 wins and 5 losses. Peyton's worst record against any team in the NFL. In fact, Peyton only has losing records against two other teams, and both of those are 0-1.

And, yep, it's his brother and overrated father's fault. Before I continue, some stats:
  • Eli's record versus the Chargers is 0-2.
  • Their overrated father's record as a starter is 0-3, and Archie's never even been on the roster of a team that's defeated the Chargers in a game.
  • Speaking of not being "committed to winning," the Chargers' overall record since the snub is 73-34 (and 3-6 in the playoffs), with no losing seasons. The New York Giants' (Eli's team) record since the snub is 62-45 (4-3 in the playoffs) with one losing season. (If this sounds familiar, I've ranted along these lines before: Ode to Eli Manning.)
Which brings us to Peyton, who is part of the curse via blood relations with the snubber and his overrated father. Sure, he beat the Chargers in 2004, the year of the snub, but he lost to them in 2005 and twice in 2007 (once in the playoffs). Sure, he beat the Chargers in 2008 in the regular season, but the Chargers knocked him out of the playoffs (again) that same year. And, oh, yeah, Peyton and the Colts lost last night... 36-14. And Peyton threw 4 interceptions.

Of course, the curse isn't all all bad... the Manning brothers have each won a Super Bowl. Then again, Peyton lost his second Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints quarterback that game? Drew Brees. Who, oh, yeah, was the Chargers QB when the curse began.

Kinda makes me wish the Chargers would play one of the Mannings every game.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Table of Contents: The Holiday Club

This one isn't a story that was intended to go together, at least not when the first two parts were written. My buddy Tom asked if I were writing an ensemble piece when he read You're Beautiful, and while my answer was no, it dawned on me me that... I could be.

So, I decided to write the third part deliberately to see how it all fit together. You be the judge.

*The title, The Holiday Club, comes from a story I started and pitched years ago. It concerned a group of friends who all seem to experience life-changing tragedies on holidays or while on vacation. Nothing ever happened with the story, but the sentiment seems apt for this one. Perhaps I'll revisit it.

"His Final Lover"
He could never understand what it was about strange, new places that reminded him of home. Or, rather, of her. He had no home, per se, but he often thought of her. No matter how far he ran away, there was a memory chasing her down. Someone had told him that it was simple... Read More

"You're Beautiful"
"You're beautiful," her mother said the first time she held Elise in her arms. Elise didn't remember that instance, but one of her first memories was of her father holding her in his arms and telling her the same thing. She didn't realize that the fall she remembered happening... Read More

"Driven"
Headlights go dark upon impact with the barrier. Wrenching metal twists and snaps, scraping an expensive paint job, one designed to stand out in traffic. But there are no witnesses here. There might have been a squeal of tires and the reverberating hum of anti-lock brakes... Read More

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: Post Mortem

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: A Bold Bluff

"The other side? Of what? Indiana?"

Silver laughs. Not because he finds his partner funny, but because he feels sorry for him. Silver stands in close to East, reaching up to put a hand on East's shoulder. "The other side, dude. There's another world out there. I know it, buddy. I've seen it... felt it."

East won't look into his face. "You were assaulted, Gary. You felt an attack." He can't bring himself to use the word. It seems totally inconsistent.

Suddenly, Silver angers, pushing East to the floor. "No, you asshole. I felt awesome. Then you came in and fucked it all up."

Brushing himself down, East stands back up. He needs to change the subject again. "They in the bedroom?"

The anger gone, Silver returns to the re-reflector. "Nobody's in the bedroom."

East keeps his eyes on Silver, who gradually feels the gaze.

"Seriously," Silver points to the room with a spanwrench. "Go look."

"Put the wrench down." East doesn't move.

"Oh, for fuck's sake. I've got a gun, Steve. Go look."

Mentally shrugging - crazy as he is, Silver has a point - East enters the bedroom and turns on the light. Pristine. Nothing touched, nothing moved. Bed hasn't even been sat on. The door to the bathroom is wide open. Nobody inside.

"SWAT dogs say they saw two people."

"I'm putting up mirrors. They saw me. And me."

East has no response. He simply watches Silver work and listens to the whirl-whine of the velocicopters passing by outside. East doesn't know what to do. There's no protocol for this. No field manual depicting a similar situation. He's got to figure out a way to get Silver off-balance.

"You're crazy," East starts, hoping not to arouse more anger. "All this existential religious hocus-focus is junk."

No anger, but another pitying laugh. "Oh, it's not junk. It's real."

"You're crazy."

Silver pulls out his short-round. Less to threaten East and more to remove the discomfort. One of the reasons Silver - well, sane Silver - never wears one in his trousers. That and everyone's heard an "accidental discharge" story. Even with the new body heat and hand print safeties, those things can be ridiculous.

East lets out a hidden sigh of relief when Silver places the weapon on an improvised work table, which is just a stack of instruction manuals that came with the tools, lenses, and mirrors Silver acquired to build his doohicky with. Still, East starts sliding slowly toward it. A few centimeters at a time. Subtle, smooth. Nothing too fast to garner Silver's attention.

"You'll see, my friend. You'll see."

"What is this?" East is exasperated. Exacerbated, even.  "You find God or something?"

Silver laughs yet again. But this laugh is unlike any East has ever heard from his partner. "Or something."

East suddenly wishes he'd kept his own sidearm. Or, at least, accepted the surveillance radio.

"What happened here? Before." If progress can't be made, back up and reevaluate.

Silver shifts locations, temporarily placing himself between East and the weapon. "I had a moment of purity."

"A what?"

"I saw everything. I felt everything. I understand it now. So will you."

"Understand what?"

Silver gestures his arms around the room. "What this is all about, man. Emily wasn't raped. She was elevated. I would have been, too, if you hadn't have interrupted."

East can't help it. His tone crescendos in abject surprise. "What?"

"Think about it, East. A virgin? By all rights, so was her cousin."

"You're not a virgin. And we don't know squat about her cousin."

Silver nods. "I do."

"You're still not a virgin."

A smirk. "Technicality."

Sensing defeat and sorrow at the realization of what's going to happen to his friend, East waves his hand at Silver. "I'm gonna go. You're crazy."

Silver frowns, steps to the firearm and reaches for it. East notices the expression just as he starts to turn for the door, then changes direction and rushes his partner, knocking Silver to the ground. Silver, always the one in better fighting shape, uses East's momentum against him and throws East to the wall. The vibration knocks a few mirrors loose. Silver stands, firearm in hand, and glares at the shattered glass. East has never seen his partner so angry.

Silver has the short-round in his right hand, jammed into East's kidney.

East elbows his partner and knocks him off center, and they struggle with the gun, finally coming to a standstill against the wall. In the corner where it all began. They are close enough to give the wrong impression, but the gun tells the truth.

"It's real, Steve. I'll show you."

"Don't..."

"Moments of purity fuel the universe, my friend." A small but distinguished pop ends the sentence, and Steven East shrugs to the floor, his life sloughing away in a drab room, with wide, wild eyes.

***


***

A louder discharge permeates the room, this one accompanied by a blast and a flying door. The door and reverb concussion shatters what's left of the re-reflector, sending Silver into a frenzy. Screaming in horror, he starts shooting at the invading SWAT dogs. He hits a few, but their EmflectionTM armor is more than enough to protect them from the small caliber ammunition. Silver never did acquire the larger gun.

Marquitez is in the room; drops to a knee and fires more than a dozen ballistic shockers into Silver's torso. Silver seizures and convulses violently before flopping to the ground in a sizzling slump.

The team Tac-Nurse rushes to East and checks his pulse. "He's gone."

Marquitez' head turns. "No," quietly escapes his lips.

The alpha SWAT dog shakes his head. East was a good cop. Then again, so was Silver. "Get Scene Control in here." He motions to Silver's body. "Put this asshole in a lock-jacket."

***

Detective-Captain Amanda Normandy arrives on-site just in time to see an unconscious Silver tossed into a Vault Wagon. He's been lock-jacketed and cuffed. The SWAT dogs don't even waste time strapping Silver into a mobile bed. They just sling him into the back of the truck and lock the door.

"Belay that truck," she screams as she rushes to the command and control vehicle. "What the Hell happened?" she asks Jimmy-Jim.

He doesn't have time for this. It's been a fucked up enough day already. "Your dick killed your other dick."

She holds back the urge to break down. Forces another pertinent question. "And the hostages?"

"There was nobody else up there. Just that gadget Silver was building. Your man Marquitez is cataloging it now."

***

Silver fades in and out of consciousness in the penitentiary's loony barn. He's lost in a dream world that might not be a dream. He expects a visitor. And a journey.

Finally, she comes to him. She's smiling.

"Hi, Emily." He thinks the words, at least. No one is sure he actually spoke them.

Her smile never leaves her face, but her tone is upset. "Hello, Gary."

"You here to take me? I'm ready to go."

She shakes her head. "No, you're not coming. You're headed elsewhere."

The meaning is clear. Even though nothing is explained.

"What did I do wrong?" asks Silver.

"You figured it out."

The meaning is unclear. And everything is explained. In a rush, sanity returns to Silver's mind.

"I... I'm a detective. I'm supposed to figure it out."

"Not this. This was none of your concern."

FADE TO BLACK


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: Sitting Up With a Sick Friend

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: Stranger in Camp

Silver lies unconscious in the recovery-recuperator. He's not comatose, but he's not opened his eyes or said anything intelligible since East found him. East watches, loyal partner that he is, from the other side of the plexiform viewscreen. Captain Normandy is beside him.

"You don't know what he was doing there?" Normandy is pissed. Silver's often gone off the reservation, so to speak, but never into a dangerous situation before. He's foolish; not stupid.

"No clue, Captain." East sips his coffee. He answers Normandy's questions on auto-pilot.

"How did you know he was there?"

"He didn't answer my calls. Ran his ping."

It's a curious matter. PDP locator apps are typically turned off if an officer thinks he needs to be subtle. Normandy smiles inwardly at the realization. At the very least, Silver hadn't been expecting trouble. Maybe he wasn't being foolish, after all. She doesn't like thinking her best are idiots. Especially when she personally tags them for a case.

Switching off her concern, she toggles on her professionalism. "Any other leads?"

"Just an obscure connection with another rapist."

"That in the report?" Normandy is almost embarrassed she hadn't read their last v-mail yet.

East nods. An ad for prescription micro-endoscopy flashes on the plex in front of him, but before he can step around the obstruction it fades.

"You want me to bump Phillips and Naifeh?" She already knows the answer, but Normandy's long-believed in professional courtesy. Even with her dictatorial tendencies.

East shakes his head.

"You'll stay on?"

East nods. He hates answering questions twice.

"All right. Just don't play bedside manner for too long."

"I'm on it." He also hates being patronized.

Normandy stares at East for a few moments - he doesn't return her gaze, instead takes another sip. She's a tough one, but not heartless. Accepting her detective's detached mood, she leaves.

***


***

The wind is not wind, but it whips as violently as a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic. Or a tornado in the American Midwest. There are hundreds of shapes, all vaguely human. It is a dream world that may not be a dream. Time and speed mean nothing here. Only patience.

A blur of a fedora dons what should be the head of one man. One thing. One it. No clue is revealed as to what it is. But it speaks.

"Why was this man attempted?" It does not seem pleased.

Another blur beside him, slightly behind. Or in front. Space and velocity mean nothing here. Only existence.

"He found us. It seemed appropriate." A mistake is realized, but it changes nothing.

"You've risked it all."

"No." The defiance is an unusual tone, for defiance is a rarity here.

The shapes stare at nothing in particular, and everything in particular. Their wards have long been a nuisance and most secretly wish the time was not yet near.

Still, a curiosity remains. "Why did you give him the prism?"

"We had to break the other out."

It nods. Understanding. They don't like not understanding, the concept being more rare than defiance. "Did you?"

There is another nod in return, though it doesn't answer the question asked. Instead, it answers a question implied. "Transcendence will occur soon."

***

East sleeps in a chair outside of Silver's room, his shirt wet and an empty coffee cup on the floor beside him. East stirs, something's amiss. He opens his eyes to a shadow in the viewscreen. It's Silver. Screaming.

East bursts up and activates the vovomitter.

"Let me out of here!" Silver's voice is deafening as the vovomitter automatically adjusts its line level. "I need to go!"

"What the Hell, Gary? Get back in bed." East doesn't notice the spilled coffee.

Silver glares at his partner. It is a murderous look. Just this side of hatred. "You ruined it. You. Fucking. Ruined it."

Without taking his eyes off of his friend, East calls for a nurse. The nutrichemo feed line taut in Silver's arm, East sees the pumps activate. Silver's eyes go blank and he collapses to the floor.

A nurse, clearly startled from a nap, runs up behind East. "What happened?"

East shakes his head. "He's lost his mind." He isn't speaking to her.

The nurse types her access code in the lock and she and two attendants enter the room. They pick Silver up and place him back in the bed. A few checks. Vitals are good. The attendants and the nurse exit; she locks the door behind her.

"He'll be fine. It was just a reaction to..."

"To what?" East immediately feels bad for his terse response. He knows she's just trying to make him feel better.

She takes the offense, but years of hardening in an oft-thankless job maintain their collective professionalism. "To whatever it is he's reacting to."

East grimaces, then smirks. "Sorry. Long night." He catches her name-pin. "Clare."

The nurse nods and smiles. She catches his coffee stain. "I'll get you a towel."

He nods, but doesn't know what she's talking about. When she returns, she hands a towel to him, but he doesn't take it, still confused.

"Definitely a long night," Clare says, patting down the coffee stain for him.

Dumbfounded and embarrassed, he taps her shoulder and takes the towel. "Thank you."

East needs to sleep. In his own bed.

***

Silver dreams. The nitrate soporafol does its job well, coursing through his circulatory system like flushed trash on its way to a sewage recycle-return purification unit. He's lost in the dream world that may not be a dream. So lost, he might even be awake. Which should be impossible given how much nitrate soporafol they're pumping into him.

His feed lines disconnect and the patient alarms shut off. He's given clothes and dons them quickly. Nobody seems to notice the well-dressed sleep-walking man leave via the Emergency Ward exit.

***

The convoy commander has done this dozens of times. Load the prisoner into the Vault Wagon, file in behind the lead vehicle, file in front of the trail vehicle, slow down before intersections while the autobikes run interference. It's run of the mill, and no one at the FBI/E thinks this prisoner - one Dario Ganganelli - is any different.

But that was before not one, not two, but three drunk drivers plowed into the convoy, taking out the lead and trail vehicles and tipping the Vault Wagon onto its left side. All three drunk drivers were killed instantly - each identified as local criminals. One pedophile, one murderer, and one bank robber. None of the FBI/E operators or agents were injured in the crashes, save for a cut of glass along the convoy commander's cheek. The incident seems to be both boon and bane.

Boon because three of Marion County's most-wanted are dead. Bane because Ganganelli is nowhere to be found.

***

It's almost 3 AM. East's vo-comm starts ringing incessantly, startling him awake. He considers ripping it out of the wall panel and chucking it through his window - a difficult task with a window made of ImpervaglassTM - but stops just short when he sees the ID flash.

It's Marquitez. "Silver's gone."

East bolts into a sitting position. "What do you mean he's gone?"

"Relax, East," Marquitez knows his SIS colleagues well. "Dunno. Feed shows him walking out of the emergency room."

"What?" East toes on his wurby slippers, disconnects the handset from the hang-up, and rushes to his closet.

"Oh, it gets better. The rapist in Fed custody?"

"Ganganelli?"

"Disappeared in transit."

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: A Bold Bluff


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: Pinched With Four Aces

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: A Friend in Need

"Boyfriend's a no-go." Silver jumps in the driver's seat, smirking at his partner who's wolfing down some chocolate.

"You sure?" East isn't surprised, except by the joke written on the inside of the goo-bar wrapper. He just asks out of habit.

"Yeah, jack in."

East whips his PDP out from his jacket pocket and touches it to Silver's. Transmit lights turn green and East starts reading the boyfriend's statement. Silver puts his thumb on the unmarked cruiser's ignition and the Generalized Mobile Machines CruTectorTM hums to life. He thinks of his father's car for a moment, remembering how loud those petroleum-eating vehicles were, then hits the reverse button on the go-panel.

"A virgin?" Now East is surprised. In this day and age? Surely not. Even priests and imams are handing out short-singe contraceptives now.

Silver bites his lower lip and pauses a moment. It wouldn't surprise anyone that he had an eye on Hyra himself. He's not shown it yet, and it's obvious that everyone in the SIS is taking it hard, but East knows Silver's particularly upset. It's partially a sexist reaction, but it's genuine sorrow. "That's what he said."

"There another boyfriend?"

"That's what I'm thinking." The cruiser accelerates through a traffic director blinking mad orange.

"You want me to check her phone logs again?"

"Yep." Silver pulls the cruiser to a curb and swings the door open, the brisk chill air rushes into the car. East pops open the glove compartment, and, of course, pulls out some gloves. Other passing vehicles have their drivers scream expletives at Silver, whose car door forces them to merge into the center lane.

East looks out the window. Silver's parked in front of the Marion County Main Public Library and Words Depository. It's a technologically advanced faux-gothic building, looking strangely ominous in the lightly falling late-winter snow. "What are we doing here?"

"Checking some angles."

"New data girl's working, right?"

Silver retrieves a personal groomer from his coat pocket and smooths out a crease, slightly irritated at the wet-spots forming from melting flakes. "Who? What?" He doesn't close the door.

***


***

East slides into the driver's seat of the CruTector and pulls the door shut. Even though Silver's ultimate goal is undoubtedly a phone number, East knows his partner will come back with some useful piece of information. East isn't always sure how Silver comes across stuff... he just does.

Not wanting to sit and twiddle his thumbs, East calls Marquitez. "What's going on, man?"

"Oh, shit, dude. Nothing." Marquitez clearly sounds depressed. "All those tech-perps are dead-ends. Except for maybe one. Mark April? You know him?"

"Yeah, one of Silver's old CIs, why?" East grabs another goo-bar from the scatter-boom mount, currently devoid of a scatter-boom in lieu of a tube of goo-bars.

"Ah, that explains it. He's acting like he knows something, but not like he knows something."

East looks up. Silver's approaching. East signals to go around and Silver gets in the passenger side. "Got her number." Silver smirks as he checks it against the PDP. It's an apparels-editor on the south side of town. "Ah, shit. She gave me a fake one."

East laughs. "Thanks, Juan," he says to Marquitez and hangs up. "I got something."

Silver hands East a tear of Flixon pad. "So do I."

"What is this?"

"Two things, actually. Baker called me. But that," Silver pauses a brief moment, tapping the Flixon note, " is Emily's ex-boyfriend. Another no-go. Might bring him in anyway."

East knows it'll be a waste of time, but shrugs it off. Silver doesn't like to be disagreed with so soon after being shot down. "You remember Mark April?"

Silver nods, brushing yesterday's bullsteak bun crumbs off the passenger seat. "Marquitez finger him?"

"Sort of."

Silver flicks the siren on with a fist. "Good enough."

***

East and Silver take turns beating the shit out of April. It is an old-school tactic in a department that doesn't even remember what old-school is. Neither East nor Silver like it very much, but April wants to play hard to get, so East and Silver take their time getting hard. That April sits comfortably in a plush Zwan-K fleather recliner and not a metal chair almost makes East laugh. Almost.

April bleeds from both nostrils and both lips. His left eye is definitely going black.

"This is getting old, Mark," Silver says, slightly more matter-of-fact than one would imagine. He doesn't let on that his fist is starting to hurt.

Mark gestures with his chin at East. "Let me see." East holds a mirror to April's face. April smiles. "Okay, okay. That looks good enough."

"You informants and your rites of passage," East forces a frown while stifling another almost-laugh. He slips April a self-applied swoosh-tube of sutures.

"That ain't no shift-suit, boys. It ain't no shift-suit, no light-suit, no bend-suit, no shape-suit. Nothing like. No kind of active camouflage. That idiot Marquitez don't know what the fuck he's doing. There's no digital distortion at all. Not a single fucking pixel."

"You saying that blur was natural?" Silver's question sounds just as stupid in Silver's head as it does vocalized.

April winces from a suture swoosh. "Not a single fucking pixel."

***

Colm Baker is an FBI/E agent and a good friend of Silver's. Baker used to work out of the Chicago office, but transferred to Indianapolis about seven years ago, just after Marion County decided to usurp executive control from city government.

Silver and East scoff at the lavish furniture and unnecessary decorations found in Federal offices. Who needs a replica pinball machine, anyway? Nobody carries coins anymore.

But the glory of envy is not why they're here.

A man in FBI/E custody, one Dario Ganganelli, is wanted for extradition in the disappearance of a woman named Anne Hyra in Rome two years ago.

"The kicker?" Baker lets the pause sink in. "Anne Hyra is Emily's cousin. Same age, even. A few months apart."

"But he's not our guy." East isn't surprised. Again.

"No, no. We've had him in custody for weeks. Waiting on the extradition."

"Then why are we here?" Silver knew this was too good to be true. Too convenient, anyway. There's no way anyone already in custody could be their unsub.

"He spent a few months in New York City and Westchester County. Looking for somebody."

"So?"

"Jesus, man," Baker shakes his head. Maybe these locs aren't as good as their reps after all. "Emily Hyra grew up in Westchester County. She came to Indiana to attend Marian University... some Roman Catholic exchange program-scholarship deal. Switched to Purdue after her first semester."

"This dude rapes her cousin, then comes to the U.S. to rape her?"

Baker nods. "We picked him up after he was flagged boarding a train for Indianapolis at Penn Station."

Silver's eyes widen and East hangs his head. "There's two of these pricks?" Silver and East sometimes say things at the same time. Like just then.

***

Both partners are tired and East lets the auto-drive take them home. Their mouths stay silent even though their brains are running at full speed. The CruTector stops at Silver's apartment first.

Silver's even more confused, to the point of having to remember what floor he lives on. Plenty of dead ends today, and way too many living ends. None of which make any sense. He reaches his floor, exits the elevator, and heads to his apartment. There's something taped to the door. Too small for an explosive, maybe. Partially from exhaustion, partially from apathy, and partially from arrogance, he grabs the paper-wrapped object without further pre-inspection and tears it open.

It's a prism. Intricate. Hundreds, maybe thousands of angles. In the shape of a crucifix.

There's no note, but he knows it has everything to do with the case.

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: Stranger in Camp


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Monday, November 22, 2010

DreamScape V: Geopolitics

Okay, this one's a doozy. And it's the last DreamScape (at least under its current format). I haven't been happy with them and since they're primarily an excuse to sneak creative writing into my rant and rave days, I figured I'd buck up and stop cheating. Ah, useless discipline... how useless thou art. Uselessly useless. Useless, I say!

As always, the actual dream portions are in italics.

***

I'm at a friend's house in Australia, and it's a little disconcerting that its layout is almost identical to my sister's old rental home back in the United States. Then again, perhaps human imagination has completely run out and everybody's just knocking out the same old shit from habit. I have no idea. All I know is that I can find all the silverware and dishes in the kitchen.

My friend's son and I are getting hammered. It seems to be thing to do here. He likes beer, I like wine, but I'm downing beers like they're going out of style. And then he ditches me. His sister's around, but she's ignoring me. You know, being an arrogant American and all. She's stunningly gorgeous, which usually makes me a little nervous, but I guess since it's my dream I'm a walking bastion of confidence.

There's a guitar there. Not sure where it came from. And it shouldn't matter, since I can't play very well. But I can tune the shit out of one. So I pick it up and start tuning it. I guess my friend's daughter is into on-key tones, since she suddenly decides to start talking to me. I'm not sure where the conversation leads as far as talking points, but she's kissing me now, so I don't really care. Yeah, she's stunningly gorgeous. I'm not gonna tell you what happens next.

***

I tend to have rather odd occupations in my dreams. This one is no different. I'm not certain what it is exactly that I do, but there's a news report on television of a plane crash that destroyed the southern tip of a Canadian Island. Within moments I get a phone call. I'm to get to this island as soon as possible. But not, it seems, to rescue the crash survivors. Instead, I'm to rescue some endangered species of moth that lived on the island.

I'm not entirely apathetic, I suppose, and I feel sorry for the survivors we sail right by while we're collecting moth specimens.

***

We're wrapping up the rescue and somebody is filming a documentary on it. I can't tell who the host is, but it's a fairly stocky fellow. Either Russell Crowe or Napoleon D'umo from So You Think You Can Dance. Whoever it is, he wants to interview me, but somewhere else. I start following him. That's when I notice George Bush, Sr., walking down the street. By himself. He's smoking a cigarette. Out of curiosity, I ditch the documentary crew and head over to him.

I ask him for a smoke. He complies. He starts talking about nothing in particular. Apparently, I'm a klutz, because I drop the cigarette. Bush doesn't notice and he accidentally steps on it. I wait patiently for him to move his foot. He never does. I ask for another smoke. He complies. I drop that one, too.

George Bush and I chat for a while, until he drops to the ground. Heart attack. Out of nowhere come a shitload of Secret Service agents. One of them seems cool enough and gives approval when I ask if I can come along. I used to be an EMT. I might be Bush's only hope.

Except... they have other ideas.

We wind up at some Arab shaman's place. In front of it, naked Western children are being sold off at auction. I point this out, but none of the SS guys seem to care. They're only purpose is to save the former President's life. They don't let me in the shaman's store. One tells me that I'd be too disturbed.

I'm disturbed enough by the children being sold off.
No one has any clue what's going on. Or any care. But I'm getting pissed. I know that, to help the kids, I have to see what's behind that door. Guns are drawn. Shit's about to go down. I'm totally fucked.

***

And then I wake up.

I have to admit, for sheer curiosity reasons, I wish I wouldn't have. I still want to know what the Hell was behind that door.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Irrewind, 20101120: On Writing

So you've noticed I rant and rave about writing and aspiring writers quite a bit. Yeah, well, it's what I do. And I'm often paid for it, believe it or not. No, really, I've been PAID to tell people their work sucks (or is good, whatever). Crazy, right? I'll admit it, sure... it's crazy. But somebody's gotta do it. Rather large industry out there and all.

"Advice for Artists"
I've often said that there are three things to every thing: an art, a craft, and a science. From tying your shoes to having sex, from driving to cooking dinner, there is an artistic way, a practiced way, and a scientific way. Artists do something through talent and intuition... Read More

"They're Only Words Passing Time"
There's an old joke about the girl at the party suddenly turning away from the guy who says, "I'm a writer." As with all jokes, there's some truth to it, and there's a bit of lying going on. Anyone knows that the younger and more naive the target, the more likely she (or he) is going... Read More

"On Writing: An Opinion"
Every situation (from sex to violence to drugs to crime) and every perspective (from left to right to theist to atheist), no matter how heinous, nefarious, inspirational, or wonderful, can lend itself to a good story. And good stories deserve to be written, regardless of whether an... Read More

"On Writing: A Philosophy"
Anyway, long story short: writers need output. Writers write, after all. Those who talk about writing (or worse, talk about "ideas") and never write are most certainly not writers. It's no different than someone wanting to be a baseball player but never playing baseball. Intent is... Read More

"Jayne's No. 5"
Regular readers of mine will know I don't buy into writer's block. Seriously, it's bullshit. As I've stated before, unless your fingers and hands are broken or cut off, there is no such thing as writer's block. Other excuses I can't stand with so-called "aspiring writers" are "I'm too busy," "I'm not inspired," and "I'm not motivated."... Read More

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Resignation

It is during Deborah's going away party that she realizes the young office attendant knows. She thought her 45 years of life gave her the advantage in effectively hiding her lascivious thoughts from him - Nathan being barely 23 - but it is clear that they did not. She's suddenly worried that the glass of champagne in her hand is one too many. Then again, he's the one who brought it to her.

Nathan's been Deborah's receptionist and assistant for the past 18 months, fresh from college and eager to start a corporate career. Her last assistant, Samantha, left to take a middle-management position at a competing firm. She had Samantha for nearly six years and, admittedly, was afraid to even look for new assistant. Hell, her retirement from the company was only a year-and-a-half away, and consideration was given to finishing out her time without an assistant at all. Her boss, Wayne, an over-eager divorcee who flirts a little too heavily with her, would hear none of it. In fact, Wayne's the one who hired Nathan as some weird gesture of eye candy that Wayne was hoping would result in some office sex.

He was wrong about the office sex. Deborah couldn't imagine sleeping with Wayne were he the last man on Earth. But he was right about the eye candy. Nathan was gorgeous, and not just in that youthful way. Everything from his cheekbones to his skin tone, his hair style to his lean musculature. Everything was just the way she likes it. The way she's liked it since she was a teenager.

And now he's sitting on an office table decorated with "Congrats, Debbie!" Handing her champagne. Leaning into her.  Whispering rumors of other employees. Casting surreptitious glances down her cleavage. He's a little drunk, she knows - Hell, so is she - but seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. She should be grateful for the attention, but it's scaring her. Why can't he go mingle with the young admin girls?

She must have asked aloud.

"Because, Deborah," he states, his voice not absent a slur, "it's your fucking party."

He notices her champagne glass, not-quite-but-almost empty, and runs off to fetch another. Out of reflex she stares at his ass walking away. She's going to miss that ass. He's smiling as he returns with two full bottles. She's going to miss that smile.

"Your eyes give you away, you know." He moves in a little too close when he refills her glass.

"Pardon?" She holds still as he pours.

"They're very wanting." His free hand brushes her between her thighs, thumb to mons pubis and fingers between cheek. She spills champagne. But that's not what he felt was wet.

She gets up, pushing him aside. "Nathan..." She rushes to the restroom

"Shit, I'm sorry. Kinda clumsy." It's as rehearsed a statement as there's ever been.

***

Deborah was always one to get to know her co-workers. She once worked at a firm where no one spent any time together outside of the office - or even seemed to want to - and it drove her crazy. She could certainly understand any reluctance to go out on weekends or enjoy private dinners - they all had lives to live, after all - but none even bothered to share lunch. It was an alien concept to her and one she actively avoided when she acquired her job here. She wasn't sure anyone at her previous employer even knew she previously married - or even had three daughters - but everyone at her current employer certainly did. She could barely remember the last time she had lunch without at least one co-worker present.

Their relationship started innocuously enough.

"Nathan, would you like to join us for lunch?" Deborah was already on her way out, two ladies from the marketing department standing behind her. She was, admittedly, hoping that he would decline.

"No, thanks. I'm just gonna grab something from the kitchen."

She's not sure why, since she was happy with the response, but something about him - probably the smile - elicited a push. "I'm buying. And I'll probably never offer that again." She can't quite remember, but she has the feeling that she winked at him.

"In that case. Sold."

The two chatted at work and quite often. But in the open air of an alfresco cafe, he was in a different element. Not only did he charm her two marketing friends, she found herself completely taken in by the stories he regaled. He wasn't even 22 years old and she felt envious of his life. A traveler by whim and whimsy, finishing his degree primarily via exchange programs and semesters-at-sea, even a two-year stint in the Coast Guard that began four days after his 17th birthday and ended only due to a sudden onset of asthma that mysteriously disappeared upon his discharge. An awareness that the world was his in that subjective, liberating way that the world could be anybody's. Though she took little, if any, credit for it, she had seen that attitude blossom in one of her daughters. It instilled in her an overwhelming sense of pride. Here, it instilled in her an overwhelming sense of something else.

Within weeks she found herself inviting only Nathan out to lunch. She was remarkably diplomatic and conniving, and none of her previous lunch mates paid too much heed to their exclusion. Occasional gossip quickly dispelled by an incredulous expression or a purposefully-designed joke. She loved hearing about his trials and tribulations on the social front. He took everything to heart but nothing too seriously and this demeanor elicited her openness in return. Within months she was convinced he knew more about her than anyone else. Even her children.

One day, while watching him file paperwork and flirt with an admin girl, he caught her staring at him and smiled at her. She barely noticed, lost in daydream as she was. It wasn't until he started waving slowly that she snapped out of it.

***

She's splashed her face with water. Peed. Splashed her face with more water. Washed her hands. Twice. Three times. Peed again. It's only a matter of time before someone starts wondering where she's gone to. Or what she's doing in the bathroom. There's a temptation to do something else, but she's a lady and will not consider it. Still...

She's terrified of leaving this room.

It's a fear that keeps her there until long after her party is over. And long after everyone's gone home.

***

Almost everyone.

***

She opens the door slowly, unsure of when the custodians show up. Satisfied that she's alone in the building, she makes her way in the relative darkness to her office. It's unlocked, thankfully, since her keys are in her purse, which is in its usual place in her desk. Her cellphone has nearly three dozen missed calls and over a dozen new voicemails, a dozen text messages. She finds it sweet that everyone was looking for her. Or pretending to, at least.

The light knocking startles her.

"Where were you hiding?" Nathan's smiling his usual smile. He seems to have sobered up, but his collared shirt is half-way unbuttoned, his hair's a mess, and he seems to have misplaced his shoes.

"Oh, you know. Parties bore me a little, especially when they're mine." Deborah tries very hard to force a natural smile. A friendly gesture that she hopes will very quickly lead to a gratuitous goodbye.

He approaches her slowly and she suddenly regrets making eye contact. He'd mentioned her eyes earlier. Were they really that obvious? He doesn't even ask a question and she finds herself confessing.

"Okay, Nathan, okay. I admit I've ogled you a bit. Fantasized about you some. I'm a single woman who hasn't had sex in 20 years. It's what I do. I'm sorry."

"Don't say you're sorry. I'm not stupid. I've noticed," he says, removing his shirt. "You're fabulous. I want to do this."

Ordinarily, such a statement would render her speechless, but it has the opposite effect. Particularly as he finishes removing the rest of his clothing. "You don't. You're going to regret it. I have daughters your age, for fuck's sake. Let's go home. Oh... you don't want to do this."

"Shut up." His tone is commandingly stern, yet, somehow, pleadingly gentle. "Take your pants off."

She's shaking uncontrollably, but manages to obey. In the dark he hears her belt jingle to the floor and he fumbles for her. He slips himself into her and her inhibitions disappear.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Frank Miller's Sin City

Way back in 1991, comic book legend Frank Miller introduced us to the world of Sin City. First appearing Dark Horse Presents, the last adventure of the honorable sociopath Marv blew its way into the consciousness of the comic book industry. Between 1991 and 2000, comic and neo-noir aficionados jumped into this strange imaginary world and were further rewarded with an almost perfect transcription to film in 2005.

Since this first story (or "yarn," as Dark Horse labels them), Frank Miller returned to Sin City several times, taking his readers through the wonderfully vicious underbelly of the ambiguously amalgamated Basin City. Mainly a fictionalized Los Angeles (as evidenced by its layout and landmarks), partially a gangster-era Las Vegas (its "industries" and criminal organizations), and somewhat of a 1970s New York City or Chicago (its politics and skyline), Miller builds a living, breathing city unmatched anywhere else in comicdom. Even comic universe stalwarts Metropolis and Gotham City, with their longevity in pop culture consciousness, struggle to feel as real as the streets and alleys of Basin City.

Each yarn, be it a mini-series or a one-shot, is populated by repulsive (yet somehow loveable) characters. The aforementioned Marv, a sociopathic killer whose desire to help the defenseless (particularly defenseless women) leaves you rooting for him, while secretly acknowledging the need to remove him from society. Dwight McCarthy, a gun for hire whose past results in the need for a surgically altered appearance, is a more level-headed protagonist and a more traditional anti-hero, but still resides on the wrong side of the law. Which is fine in the world of Sin City, since the law is often on the wrong side of the law.

Simply put, Sin City is neo-noir, hard-boiled pulp-fiction at its best. That it is one of the few comics out there that can lay an honest claim to being a work of art (both visually and narratively) makes it that much more relevant. And, for a decade, comic readers got to enjoy semi-regular forays into the city that everyone loves to read about, but no one wants to live.

1991 gave us Sin City. 1993 gave us A Dame to Kill For. 1994: The Big Fat Kill. 1996: That Yellow Bastard. 1997: Family Values. 1999: Hell and Back. We were even treated to Booze, Broads & Bullets, which compiled all of the Sin City shorts and one-shots (published from 1994 to 1997) in one book. Hell and Back finished its run in April of 2000, and fans eagerly awaited more.

And waited.

And waited. At one point, Frank Miller hinted at a new book called The Long, Hard Goodbye. Which never materialized.

So they waited.

And waited. In 2005, the film version of Sin City (comprised of the stories for the original Sin City, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard, all almost verbatim adaptations), directed by Robert Rodriguez, hit the screens, temporarily sating fans. After the film, they got The Hard Goodbye. Unfortunately, in what many call a despicable marketing ploy, The Hard Goodbye was simply a re-issue of the original Sin City tale with but a new title. With no word of what happened to The Long, Hard Goodbye.

Frank Miller, it seemed, had abandoned his comic following in pursuit of a film directing career (which, so far, has culminated in the absolutely horrible The Spirit) and more Sin City movies.

So they wait.

Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 are apparently on the Hollywood horizon, and to keep things fresh, Frank Miller has promised that new stories will appear in those films. And that, yes, they will also appear as comics.

But we're still waiting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Absence of Proof

"Who decides, huh? Who? This is bullshit."

"I don't know, man. Calm the fuck down."

"Fuck you."

No one's really sure what he's talking about, but everyone knows what he's talking about. Life, death. Maybe a woman. It doesn't really matter what the words are applied to. His mind is moving at the speed of light and every risk he's ever taken is being reevaluated whether he knows it or not. The creation of logic falls to the destruction of hope and back again. A never ending cycle of cognitive thought mixed with the fallacy that the heart can feel.

***

"What's he on about?"

"I dunno. I think someone died."

"Who?"

Some might think it sad that emotional reaction is based on the answer to that question. But he thinks it's natural. He neither cares if someone he's never met dies, nor if somewhere he's never been suffers from a natural disaster. Most of his friends call him apathetic, but a few know he carries a weight they could never bear. The weight of nothing.

***

"You know, if you keep trying to climb higher, it's just gonna hurt more."

"I once read that there's only one thing worse than being alone."

"What was that?"

"Settling."

The song claims that it's small world, after all. But it isn't. Even with dreams of sailing among the stars, no man will ever leave footprints across the entirety of Earth. No woman will ever walk the whole of her home. No one will ever even see it all. It is not knowledge held that destroys the myth that ignorance is bliss. It is the knowledge that there is always something to learn. Fear is not an evil. Fear is what makes something worth doing. "I am not afraid" is the motto of the complacent.

***

"It's a girl. Definitely a girl."

"Figures. Hopeless-ass-romantic."

"Nah. Too hopeful, I think."

"Semantics."

"A word makes all the difference in the world, brother."

Everything is interpreted the way the interpreter wants it. Propaganda is the only true force in human evolution; human civilization. It may or not be an abject lie, but it's a subjective truth and an objective motivation. Laws chip away at pieces of theories left by the wayside, leaving not evidence of fact, but raw impressions of an existence that needs no definition. His life is meant for service. Not because of fate; only because that's what he wants. An absence of self-concern, oft-mistaken for an irresponsible and irreverent attitude, is actually proof that he simply wants to take care of another. And be taken care of.

***

"Don't be an asshole. Be realistic."

"I'm a dick, not an asshole."

"What's the fucking difference?"

"The smell."

Someone once said that if you stand still long enough, the world will come to you. If this is true, the only hope for travelers searching for companions is if they're traveling in opposite directions. It is a chase that never ends and never should. If this is a lie, then a whole lot of people are wasting their time smelling the roses. Yet time is a commodity only valuable as long as it can be remembered. As such, it's worthless, for we will all forget eventually. Memory is the only reason you have something to lose. Imagination is the only reason you have something to gain.

***

"She's out there."

"You're fooling yourself."

"Nah."

"You're setting a standard that no one's ever gonna meet."

"I don't set the standards. People I meet do."

The heart can't feel. The mind does it all. The weight of nothing is overwhelming, lightened only when an emotion can be carried. Fear can lead to love, for a true love will intimidate, if only to test resiliency. He wants her. And he wants her to smile. It is an imagined memory that, one day, he hopes, will come true.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Affleck: The New Eastwood

A few years ago, upon watching the slightly-underrated Hollywoodland, I came to a seemingly random and unlikely conclusion. The film, based on the real life suicide of George Reeves (TV's original Superman), stars Adrien Brody as a private investigator who gets caught up in the investigation via a series of seemingly unrelated twists and turns. It is not, admittedly, the best-made movie (or even particularly well-made, though there is certainly talent behind it), but it does showcase a rebounding Ben Affleck as George Reeves. A small role, to be sure, but one lucky enough to be the centerpiece of the film's plot.

I don't know why (no, really, I have no clue), but as I finished watching Hollywoodland I thought to myself, "Ben Affleck would make a good director." At the time there was absolutely nothing to base this conclusion on. One might be able to point to the screenplay for Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote with Matt Damon), but given the controversies surrounding who actually wrote (or helped mentor, at the very least) that script, it's not wise to for the sake of an argument. Affleck had yet to direct anything that I'm aware of. And, let's face it, his acting resume had turned into a bit of a laughing stock (Gigli, anyone?).

The year after Hollywoodland, however, Gone Baby Gone (2007, by the way) was released. It blew me away. The director? Ben Affleck.

Sure, it was only one film, but I suddenly felt vindicated for having that seemingly random and unlikely conclusion.

Fast-forward three years to 2010. The Town gets a release. It doesn't blow me away like Gone Baby Gone did, but I'm thoroughly entertained and deeply admire its director for actually filming a car chase in which we're not getting dizzy trying to follow the action (in fact, I claim that it's the best-directed Hollywood car chase since Frankeheimer's Ronin way back in 1998). The Town, simply put, is an expertly-made film. The director? Ben Affleck (who, like Eastwood in Gran Torino, fit himself into a leading role perfectly).

A few months ago I wrote about who I felt were the greatest living American film directors. To me, Clint Eastwood currently sits on that throne. But, given the advanced age of the directors on that list, I openly admitted to eagerly awaiting the next batch of great American directors.

I realize I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm putting Ben Affleck on that list. And I'm calling him the heir apparent to Eastwood (for several reasons, some of which are painfully obvious).

No, I'm not joking. I have a feeling his next film will prove me right. If it doesn't, then, well, his film after that one will.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hidden Conversation: In Concrete


*Images courtesy of Jayne Harnett-Hargrove


"I think it's stupid, you know?" Energy's always got an opinion. It's usually wrong, fully dependent on superficial information provided by a source she wants to believe because it purports to cater to her.

"You know, you know, you know." Calm doesn't mean the repetition as an insult. It's not his style. Low-key is how he lives his life. He's just tired of useless words. He feels useless enough as it is.

"C'mon, you two." Tired's not the eldest of the three, but he both looks and feels it. Playing peacemaker is exhausting. He's too subdued to know that arguing is even more so. It's this demeanor that makes him welcome company, though he has few steadfast friends.

"I'm not arguing. But you have to admit that it's stupid. Who do these people think they are?"

"Yeah, whatever. You talk about this all the time and never do anything about it. You give a shit as much as the rest of us. Give it up."

You know what would be good right about now? Pretzels. Definitely pretzels. And maybe a beer.

***

Energy is overeducated and underachieved. It's her curse, her ability to understand and grasp a concept with a minimum of input. It's all so very simple, the way the world should work. Fix it from the ground up. Every time. Top down leads to abject failure. Every time. What? Go back to school and start all over? Fuck that, I know enough to make judgement from here.

Calm knows she's stewing. She's full of shit. She doesn't get people. She doesn't get life. So caught up in what it means to be academic that she never learned how to actually do anything. Or understand anyone.

Tired wonders why Calm holds it all in. And finds the irony. How Boheme of her.

***

Calm hasn't seen it all, but he knows he hasn't. He knows when he sees it, he'll have to deal with it. He might not be able to deal with, but he'll try, at least. It's only what directly affects him that has an effect on him. No one really cares who's starving in Rwanda. But, damn... that suicide bomber in Israel was beautiful. What a waste. Why can't I find a woman that beautiful?

Energy is incredulous. Why do I even talk to this idiot?

Tired can read her face. She's an easy face to read. Because he pretends to listen. You need an audience. Even if they're bored to tears.

***

Tired is, well, tired. He's lived a good life, done no one any serious wrong. Nothing he'd admit, anyway. Bygones be bygones and water under the bridge. Everyone can get along, even in the face of politics and religion. Still, they should all subscribe to the Good Book. All of that other crap out there is nothing but bullshit. Do unto others... and judge not, lest...

Energy blames a lot on the powers of history. Especially imaginary ones. God isn't real. He's just an excuse to alleviate personal responsibility.

Calm knows there's a good and bad to everything. Why whine about it? Why do you care, exactly?

***

If Energy could do it all over again, she'd change everything. The abusive boyfriend (never mind that she wouldn't have met the wonderful boyfriend afterward).

(Potential was the best thing to happen to her)

(Yeah, but Kinetic almost killed her)

Her career (she's creative, not corporate).

(No, she isn't)

(Oh, cut her some slack)

She even wonders what would've happened had she turned left at the gas station back in '96 instead of right. Something would've come out for the better, she's sure of it.

Calm wouldn't change a goddamned thing. The ex he chased away (he probably shouldn't have said what he said, though).

(That girl was an idiot)

(So what? He loved her)

His career (he did what he had to do when he had to do it).

(And you still haven't made any money)

(Money's not made you any happier)

Even the argument he had with his best friend the day before he died. It's grounded him. Made him appreciative. And it's part of the journey.

Tired has plenty of regrets. And plenty of hopes. All in all, though, he's content. A man once asked him out on a date (he was confused and thought about it for years afterward... the decision is still pending).

(Just come out of the closet already)

(Why should he? So you can scold him for it? Tell him you told him so?)

His career (he's never been enjoyed any of his jobs, but he's never really hated any, either).

(Do what you love. That's everybody's goal.)

(Speak for yourself).

He likes where he's sitting, right here, right now. Listening to two polar opposites whom he calls friends argue about everything and nothing at all.

***

"It's getting late. I should call it a night." Energy's not tired, she just wants to surf the web, research something on Wikipedia so she can later pretend she's known it her whole life.

"Yeah, it's time get home." Calm's not tired, either. But there's a book that's been sitting on his nightstand for too long and a song he wants to listen to alone in the dark.

"You two should just get married. You already argue like it, anyway." Tired smirks. He's tired. His two friends look at him, teetering between nervous laughter and faux anger. "Just trying to be helpful."

The joke subsides even if the punchline doesn't.

"Good night."

*To be reinterpreted in The Hidden Conversation: In Abstract

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Only in the Film Industry...

True story. So, I'm working on Michael Mann's new HBO television series, Luck, and I'm blown away by the talent. Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind. Crazy stuff. It's a show about the seedy side of horse racing, and it's gonna rock. Is it the next The Sopranos? I dunno, but it's gonna rock.

But, all of that is irrelevant to the story I'm going to share.

A lot of the series is shot at the famous Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, California, just a couple dozen miles outside of Los Angeles. And it's shot at the racetrack during hours of operation. Which means there are a lot of people running around trying to prevent racing patrons (read: gamblers) from walking into shots. Luck is not unique in this... every location shoot has to deal with locals. When the cameras are rolling, such dealings are called lock-downs. And they're not always friendly.

As it happens, I was asked to block a rather large staircase AND a rather large hallway. Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina were filming a scene (over and over again, I must add) in which they rode up an escalator while discussing betting on a certain horse (that's all I'll reveal about the show... just watch it when it premieres). This staircase and hallway were under said escalator, and the exit the patrons were (or would) attempt to use to leave the track was beside said escalator.

In other words, before I ramble too much, it was rather important to block the exit. So much so, there were three or four "layers" of lock-down. Of which I was the first.

Anyway, most (I'd say 95%) of the patrons simply nodded when informed of the filming, turned and left via another exit. That stated, that 95% was still rather difficult to deal since they either A) were elderly and didn't seem fit enough to take the alternate stairway, B) spoke little or no English (a surprisingly large amount of them didn't), or C) initially pretended that I wasn't standing there talking to them.

But that other 5%... hah! Oh, boy. Two instances stand out. No, wait, three.

1. An old man and an old woman, upon being approached to take another exit, started screaming about how the elderly are mistreated. Right, dude... you've got enough strength to walk the paddock to the betting booths, then up the stairs to the viewing room or bleachers, but not enough to walk around a set. Okay, whatever.
2. A woman, upon being approached to take another exit, said: "I ain't coming here no more. I get disrespected all the time by all these damn Asians" (yes, there are a lot of Asians working at the track, and even more gambling at the track, but I was only one of a handful on the film crew).
3. My personal favorite. A man, who at first seemed polite and attentive, suddenly turned hostile, throwing down his racing program and yelling, "Why don't you go shoot your movie in China?" I responded, calmly, "Because I was born in Florida." Never mind that I'm not even Chinese. And that it wasn't my movie.

I actually found it all a bit hilarious and couldn't stop myself from laughing. Even if I'd been upset by it, watching two great actors (Hoffman and Farina) and standing next to one of my directing heroes (Michael Mann... you can read what I've written about him here) more than made up for any negative experiences from set.

Still, given the pervasive attitudes in America, it's no wonder why I'm moving to Australia.

I love the movies.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Garden of Fire

*Continued from Exodus Lost and The Man in the Fedora

"Talbot, you okay?" McGonigal looks worried. Terrified, even.

Talbot leans against the wall, arm wrapped defensively around his abdomen. He nods. The lie doesn't convince either man.

"Let me see."

Talbot allows McGonigal to move his arm. McGonigal gently palpates the stomach. Distended. And something feels ruptured. Not good.

"Shit, man."

"Tell me about it," Talbot manages, laughing a little.

"What do you want me to do?" There's no medic around. Hell, there's nobody around but McGonigal, Talbot, and the man the two are trying to kill.

"Kill the son of a bitch."

McGonigal smiles. He can't help it. The whole world's upside down and things have been rather funny lately. "That's blasphemy, Talbot."

"Yeah?" Talbot nods behind McGonigal. The Son approaches. "So's he."

McGonigal pulls out his sidearm and fires rapidly at his enemy. He hits him at least four times, but The Son doesn't go down. Nor even seems wounded.

"You got any advice?" McGonigal asks Talbot.

"Watch his right hook. It's a killer."

***

The Adversary smiles, lost in the irony happening on the field of battle. They have devolved to not only using men as soldiers in their war, but to using the tactics of men. Then again, it is those men who managed to dictate the necessity for those tactics. Not bad for cockroaches, eh?

Across the field, hidden from view, Fedora frowns. A delay of the inevitable.

The Adversary laughs and repeats his thought. The change in meaning is clear. And a threat. Not bad for cockroaches, eh? Still, The Adversary knows the appearance of The Son can change this impending battle for the worse. He's actually slightly surprised that Talbot and McGonigal have managed to hold out for this long. Again, he repeats the thought, but only to himself. Not bad for cockroaches, indeed.

***

Miasnikov surveys the field, satisfied at the emplaced defenses while fully aware of their futility. It is a satisfaction borne of being an engineer by trade, however, and so what if the enemy is capable of flying over them?

"Everything's ready," he says.

Cabrera brings him back to down to Earth, though he doesn't mean to. "Whoopedy-fucking-do."

Miasnikov smirks, knowing Cabrera's reaction beforehand. "Gabriel and Raphael platoons in place?"

"Should be."

Miasnikov turns and gestures impatiently. "Call them and find out."

To his credit, Cabrera avoids another smart-ass comment and keys the microphone. "Gabe-six-actual, Mike-three-three, over."

"Go ahead, Mike-three-three."

"Everyone in place?"

There is a laugh over the radio. "As if it matters."

***

McGonigal fires the rest of his magazine, less to wound their opponent and more to provide enough distraction for Talbot to crawl to a better hiding place. The Liverpool Cathedral is a massive structure and as long as Talbot can stay out of sight, he has a chance. McGonigal briefly wonders why The Son chose this place to appear and hopes the Anglicans don't mind too much that a couple of Catholic mercenaries are in the process of shooting it to bits.

Then again, McGonigal doesn't really care. The desire to live tends to shut off most other concerns.

The Son speaks. Not in a deafening tone, but in a pleading, almost confused one. In Aramaic.

"English, please, if you don't mind," McGonigal whispers, the result of tactical habit. It's a pointless caution, McGonigal knows, since The Son has already exhibited the ability to hear any volume of speech. The guy needs a cape. McGonigal's chuckle at the thought is not as quiet.

"Why do you resist? Is this not part of the prophecies?"

Well, yeah, sort of. Though McGonigal admits to himself that he's not exactly memorized the Book of Revelations. He shakes the thought, trying to keep himself in the game. How much time did Satan say he needed?

Oh, the irony.

McGonigal glances around quickly, knowing he has to change positions soon. As if a monster in a bad horror film, The Son seems to dislike running, which gives them a chance. But his ability to jump long distances makes it a requirement to keep objects between them. Thankfully, he hears the charge of a submachine gun click and slide, and knows Talbot has managed to find his weapon. He'll have cover in a moment.

He barely registers the burst of 10mm ammunition before he takes off running.

***

This is angel versus angel, you know. Your cockroaches will add little value to the equation. Fedora's statement is blunt. He's never left his hatred of man a secret.

The Adversary checks his lines, nodding to angel and man alike, pleased with each of their contributions. They've already done their part, you fool. Let's get this over with.

Before Fedora can respond, The Adversary signals to Gabriel - the Gabriel - and a trumpet blares. People for hundreds of miles in all directions hear a thunderbolt the likes they've never imagined.

Holy fire and metal bullets begin their blazing paths across the German landscape.

The Adversary hands the roll of field general to Michael, the better suited for tactical leadership. His ears catch one of Cabrera's remarks, forcing an all-too-human laugh that fosters an all-too-human sense of embarrassment.

"Bless me Father, for I love to sin!"

The Adversary makes a note to inform Cabrera later, should Cabrera survive, that The Father is not listening today. This is a war of children, and of children alone. What's left of the Garden is about to be burned to the ground. The roots of the Tree of Conscience irreparably scarred with fire and blood. Whatever the outcome, mankind will forever be left to its own devices.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Revenge of Sagremor

Don't piss off a cat.

I've learned this lesson many times in the past few years. But it never sticks. Mainly because I don't actually know how to actively piss off a cat. I just happen to do it on a regular basis.

Kay, my "responsible" cat, never really seems to stew for very long. He just kinda accepts that he's been pissed off, then hides somewhere until he calms down.

Sagremor, on the other hand. Well... he's a bit more stubborn. He's also a bit more clingy, even though Kay is the one who likes to follow me around like a puppy.

I typically let both cats outside in the morning. It's part of the daily routine. I get up, go to the bathroom, let the two cats and one dog out of the house, then go about making breakfast, getting dressed, etc. Kay is great. He goes out, plays outside damn near all day, and only comes home when he wants to eat dinner and go to sleep. Basically, he's out, then in, and that's it.

Sagremor... ugh. He likes to go out, come back in, go back out, come back in, go back out, come back in, go back out... yeah... ugh.

One night this last Halloween weekend, I had guests. Sagremor went out, came in, went out, came in, went out, came in... It got kinda irritating. After everyone else was gone (sometime just before 2:00 AM on Saturday), I'm doing my habitual last email check before bed (yes, I'd been sleeping at that point). I hear Sagremor meow outside of the window. Usually, this means he's ready to come in, eat, and fall asleep. So I let him in. And then I went to bed.

Or tried to, anyway, since he decided to meow incessantly in a futile attempt to be let back outside. Sorry, dude, but I was comfortable and teetering on the edge of an all-too-rare-these-days passing-out sleep.

The next morning I'm feeling quite refreshed. I get up, use the bathroom, and let the animals outside (except for Kay, who continued to sleep for most of the morning). And that's when I see it. A piss stain on the carpet. That big "fuck you" that only a cat is capable of.

Fine. Whatever. I clean it up. Since I was cleaning already, I decided to do a complete run-through of the entire house. Bathroom. Kitchen. Vacuum. And, shit, since I was well-rested, I decided to vacuum the couch and fit it for a couch cover. Removing the three cushions, that's when I see it. Or them, rather. Piss stains all along the backing of the couch.

They're clean now. The couch is covered now. And I'm calm now. But Sagremor is very lucky he was outside.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Out in the Open

So, I've been caught. Red-handed. After several months of trying to keep it under wraps, I've been called on it. I have, despite my best intentions, fallen head over heels in love with a fellow blogger. She's ignored my hints, my emails, my less-than-subtle yearnings hidden in "fiction" pieces. I've even strongly considered, to save myself from abject embarrassment, deleting many of the posts I've written about her.

The kicker came when she posted a poem about fake, virtual love. You can read it here: "Not Your Average Love Poem"

Yeah, I tried to play it off with a joke, but it hurt. Maybe you're thinking I'm a little crazy right now, but I don't care. I'm not about "fake, virtual love." That was uncalled for.

And I know you really love my writing - you're not fooling anybody - so here's your not-so-average love poem...

And the Muses...
To convince, of love, words as art
What better way to show you
Syllables from my heart

I could quote lyrics, and I would
But better they'd be mine own
As they should

To read of your other men
I feel sick, disgusted
My heart abandoned

No, I shall not devolve immature
But hold my head high
As I imagine our future

Please don't unfollow
Leave me on your blog roll
For its absence, as my heart...

Would leave me hollow...

You are, forever, my Muse...

***

Yeah, I'm pathetic. Sue me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Irrewind, 20101106: Politics

I am not, in most aspects, a political animal. Were I to be completely honest, I'd admit that I'm rather apathetic about it all, but I'm not going to be completely honest. I, like most of our glorious citizenry, am painfully undereducated when it comes to the actual nuance of political realms. As such, I suffer from the same "oh, that's such a simple fix, why don't they just (insert idea that won't work here)" type of opinions that most of our glorious citizenry suffers from (I love that term... glorious citizenry... it just sounds cool).

But, that doesn't stop me from ranting now, does it? Of course not. As with other things found in Irrewinds, keep in mind that my opinions on these matters are likely to have changed (you'll also find that a lot of these have been made completely irrelevant through current events... irrelevance, however, is what I do). But don't let that stop you from cussing me out.

"An Agnostic Form of Government"
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, was sworn in yesterday. As a Muslim, he chose not to swear in on the Bible, but on the Qur'an. And not just any Qur'an, mind you, but Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of it. Of course, now that this has happened... Read More

"America's White Elephants: China and Islam"
America, since the turn of the 20th Century, has inarguably been THE world power. Our involvement practically dictated the outcome of two world wars, drew the lines (and fought over a few) in the Cold War, and created an economic disparity that the rest of the world... Read More

"Political Incorrectness That Is"
For years now, people have been complaining about the American political system and how completely distasteful and unprofessional its campaigns have become. And now McCain, one of the more vocal proponents of taste and professionalism, has now been caught in his own... Read More

"The Contractor Problem"
In this case, it is known as the military-industrial complex. A complex, somewhat ironically, that we were warned against embracing by a former 5-star general and President, good ol' Ike. Unfortunately for Ike's successors, there were no laws governing the limitations of such a... Read More

"In Defense of... Obama?"
Anybody who knows me knows that I'm no big fan of Barack Obama. I didn't vote last year (due to circumstances sort of beyond my control... long story), but even if I had, I wouldn't have voted for him. Neither would I have voted for McCain (I'm really not a Sarah Palin fan)... Read More

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pearl, Harbour: Pearl in the Water

*Continued from Pearl, Harbour: Safe Harbour

He endures his internment peacefully. Outnumbered and unarmed, there seems little choice. Mistaken for one of over a thousand Japanese soldiers - confusion at his accent merely eliciting treatment as a possible spy - and with no paper to authenticate his claim of being Australian, he is ushered into No. 12 Prisoner of War Compound near Cowra. Just 800-yards across, fenced with nearly impenetrable barbed-wire entanglements, it is clear this will be home for some time to come.

She pines outside the perimeter while he's fed, learns to wrestle and play baseball. The camaraderie among his alien compatriots is strong, but his heart is not like theirs. He serves no emperor, no pantheon of god. Only a desire to return to suntanned arms and pale bosom of a lover impossibly near, and to take her with him to the coast he reluctantly left. She is the oyster too deep, barely visible amid the sea of incarcerated men and just out of reach.

He is outcast among outcast. His spirit does not rise with the rising sun. He doesn't know their tongue and he doesn't share their arrogance that his captors are weak and spiritually corrupt. He does not change his name to avoid family shame and he does not share their strange bravado in the face of death. Proximity alone dictates a reluctant friendship with a junior officer whose English is not as broken as the others.

"The white woman. She is with you?"

Kintaro withholds a smile, this place undeserving of such a gesture. A poetic sigh escapes lips, encouraged by the memory of soft flesh and inviting warmth. There is no answer, but its meaning universal and clear.

"Mono no aware." The lieutenant also withholds a smile, memory of wife and child left behind.

"What?"

"Ah. I apologise. She is your cherry blossom."

Kintaro shakes his head. His father sometimes called his mother this, but he never knew why. "I don't understand."

Pursed lips in concentration, the Jap officer struggles to find the proper word. "She is sensitive. To you."

A nod. "She's my cherry blossom." His pearl in the water.

***

She's been a regular and recognizable presence along the fence-line for months, so much so that several of the older Aussie sentries ignore her and younger believe themselves to be in love with her. Some have learned her name, attributing it to the span of post and wire she is most frequently stationed. The Elise Line. It is a hard, cruel joke, though the intent was merely one of immature convenience.

Elise was initially not allowed so close, held at bay by overly-paranoid men following overly-paranoid orders that resulted in Australian citizenry piled in with Japanese infantry for no other reason than they looked like each other. Day after day begot familiarity and once a private managed to retrieve her story, few had the stomach to prevent her touching the flexible metals that restricted her lover's movement. There were whispers of rescuing her from the wretched love of a yellow, degenerating quickly into wondering how tight her vagina was or how supple her breasts. She ignored it, unimportant to her purpose. Together they had run far enough, then not far enough at all. The war cannot last forever, and she wants him know that she is waiting.

He is still too far away. She remains vigil, ever visible, taking care to wear bright colors and let her hair sway in sympathetic winds. They do not speak, voice finding it too hard to carry and what wished to be spoken finding it too public for speech. He barely acknowledges her presence, refusing to wave or otherwise expose either of them to unnecessary risk.

***

There is gossip among the inmates. Plans are poor, but well afoot, as his comrades plot escape. Tonight, this spurious band of brothers are told that all interns but the officers and senior enlisted will be transferred. He hears the beginning of the ruckus when a small group rushes the barely guarded gates, shouting and gesticulating what looks like a warning to the handful of sentries. Unable to understand, he watches and waits, returning himself to shadow, seeking an opening, an opportunity in the dark to slip from his confinement.

A prisoner's bugle blares, a warning shot is fired. More gunfire releases airborne and three mobs scream 'Banzai,' pushing forward, breaking through the wire. Still crouched in his vantage point he waits, poised to slink through the breach. Bodies fling and dive across the wire, buffered by their army-issue blankets, armed with knives, baseball bats, clubs studded with nail and hook, wire stilettos and garotting cords.

Within minutes, 400 men break through, enduring fire from a Vickers gun, sinking poorly sharpened knives into the flesh of its operators and clubbing them to death. Half-clad, sleepy guards shocked into arousal fumble from their camp beds, frantically forcing rounds into and from their rifles, adding to confusion. Huts now ablaze as slaughter continues. Horror abounds as some Japanese slit their own throats rather than be captured - this the honourable thing to do - but Kintaro maintains his calm, recalling method used before attempting a dive possibly too deep. He lives by a different code and takes flight in the opposite direction, breaking free into open country. He maneuvers blindly through razor wire and pas palum before losing himself in the dark. He's wounded but oblivious to the stream of blood coursing from a deep wound around his thigh. It is not what he's running away from that preoccupies his mind, but what he's running to. She propels him, provides him with the strength and will to avoid capture. His shadow, barely visible under star and moonlight, leads the way, intent on finding hers.

***

Because the setting sun left her in the dark, he never knew she sometimes waited at night, studying Kintaro's silhouette until it was as familiar to her as his image. Now-friendly guards had guided her to safety, her eyes never leaving Kintaro's hut. Via starlight and lover's insight, she follows him until his wound allows her to finally surface in his embrace.

***

*Continued in Pearl, Harbour: Cherry Blossom

The Complete Pearl, Harbour

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pearl, Harbour: Far Enough

*Continued from Pearl, Harbour: Rising Suns

The three-day trip is intense and their conversations further revealing. Kintaro's looking to hide from the repercussions of his race. His mother, long in the grave, a white Australian who in the gentle paradise of Broome fell for a Japanese pearler. His father, dead of a diving accident timely in its proximity to the death of his mother. Born in a corner of Australia so remote, no certificate records the event nor his citizenship.

Long nights driving are countered by days spent with brief respite under shady eucalypts to avoid the midday sun.  The trucker sleeps while the mismatched pair console each other and realise how similar they are. Dispossessed, disappointed but hopeful.

"How long do you think it will last?" Elise asks not of curiosity, but of waning concern for her father. Honor and duty bred in blood, he would no doubt seek entry into the Australian Army. There is also the hint of waxing concern for this man in front of her, a refugee in his own country, victim of appearance and choices made by men he's never known in lands he's never been. She's in danger of trivializing her own tribulations, those due to her own choices, made by a heart too eager and a mind too inexperienced.

He perceives the welling of tears at some subconscious revelation, allows a lopsided wry smile, quickly and adeptly changing the subject. Wind and tide carry the souls of men and women and his entire life has been dedicated to learning how to spread wing and fin. "How far do you think you have to go?"

Eyes close in defense of the unexpected question, its force not all too dissimilar from the blows of her former lover. The impact, though, is different. A genuine concern for her. At the very least a genuine curiosity. Memory struggles to recall the last time a voice pretended to care.

"I don't know." The admission is terrifying to her ears, destination never yet considered, its thought stifled by a singular need to only watch the landscape scream by. It's barely registered that Australia is but an island, and whether by will or by ocean, something will eventually stop her. She begins to cry and further recounts the details of her life.

He simply watches, waiting for the moment when the weight of insignificance instills the desire for a shoulder to grab, a bosom to empty long-held sorrows on, hands to reassure that they're still here. Still alive. Significant in the moment of a stranger. Two shadows converge in the broken shade of leaning eucalyptus trees, anonymous in their understanding of each other. His shirt soaks the evidence of her tears. Her hair guides the evidence of his down the back of her neck, the tops of her shoulders, falling into the dust of a country where both were born but neither belong.

***

The devolution to a carnal state is rapid, overwhelming. Physical pleasure enjoyed for the mere fact that mental anguish is momentarily pushed away. It is nothing more than intercourse between kindred spirits. Sex without love, only a burgeoning lust. A reminder that pain is as fleeting. He doesn't mind that she continues to shed tears. She doesn't notice that she does. Hard body glides into soft and convulsing eruption whispers a hint of fate forever intertwined. They are, so far, free to run. That is enough for today. Tomorrow comes the realization that neither's destination is a place. Merely a moment when shadows, bodies, converged. And that it was yesterday.

***

"It's almost the end of the road. Where do I need to drop each of you?"

"We'll get out together." It is Kintaro's voice, but Elise is certain she said it.

***

The road train terminates in Mildura, western New South Wales within the rich Riverina, home of citrus, wine and market gardens. A town where neither are known. She has some money, he has three pearls, enough to lead a quiet life. If only he were not so conspicuous.

Elise reaches into her bruised valise, hands him a broad-brimmed hat and hastily removes the feminine blue ribbon. "Put this on." She points to a paint-peeled wooden bench outside a small realtor's store. "Sit over there and don't say anything."  He acquiesces, all too aware of his obvious point of difference.

Enquiring at the realtor as a woman alone goes unnoticed. Able men are waging war, leaving the infirm and old to fend in this bread-basket town. She secures a dilapidated shack amid the orchards in exchange for keeping house and a pittance of a wage. Her 'brother' will come with her as he's 'not quite right in the head' and unsuitable for soldiering.

The realtor vends a sympathetic smile. "Poor luvie. Must be hard for you, darls. All alone." He hands her the keys and directions to their new abode. Elise nods politely and exits, avoiding further inquisition.

***

As she plumps pillows and kneads bread, he tends a tiny garden. His once salt-bleached hands now tanned and calloused and grubbed with the earth. He is a fish out of water, a solitary man, unseen, unknown. Sadness wells within him but she keeps the tides at bay.

Elise loves to watch him labour, hat drawn to shade his face, crouched low with an arrow of sweat dampening his shirt. He is tender with his crop, stroking verdant leaves with a lover's hand, smoothing soil around their roots with a gentle caress. Sadness - and something else - stirs within her when she sees him there alone.

They never speak of their encounter beneath the trees. He, a little shameful of his loss of control. She embarrassed of her acceptance of it. They do not share a bed, he slumbers on the floor. They sometimes chat as they fall asleep, almond and oval eyes at rest, breasts gently rising and falling as dreams of limpid ocean and balmy breeze replace the waking heat of displaced desert.

It is an accidental encounter, but one that accelerates the inevitable and steals the breath from his lung. She does not feel his gaze upon her as she bathes. Brown arms raised high, she shampoos her thick brown hair. Slim fingers glide languidly among the suds smoothed across her skin. Water beading on her back then trickling across shapely hips and down her legs. Drops of water hypnotic in their transformation, mocking and faux soap-tinted pearls. Something stirs within him, too, but this time it isn't only lust.

***

*Continued in Pearl, Harbour: Safe Harbour

The Complete Pearl, Harbour