From the Desktop: Writing Update 10/3/2016


It’s October! When did that happen? (Well, technically on Saturday, but that’s not the point.) So I’m actually away at the moment, in a far away land where there is no internet. In fact, I’ve been away the past few days, which means I’m writing this in advance on Friday and my totals won’t take into account Saturday and Sunday. It also means I’m not sure how much writing I’ll get done these next few weeks. C’est la vie!

In any case, so far this week I’ve managed to write 5176 words (slightly more in fact because of editing and cutting. As always rewriting skews the numbers.) but far more importantly I’ve finished 3 and a half edited/rewritten chapters and am done with rewriting. From here on out (at least until the next draft) it’s all straightforward drafting!

This week (10/3-10/9) I’m going to keep what’s becoming my standard goal of 500 words a day/ 3500 total. I’ve been averaging more than that but I’m not expecting this week to be quite so productive with travel time and visiting. Starting next week I may begin setting myself more ambitious goals, but for now, I hope you have a good week.

Happy reading and happy writing!

From the Desktop: Writing Update 9/26/2016



Greetings! As always I hope you’ve had a good week. Mine as it turns out was happily, if unexpectedly, productive. One thing I’m starting to notice is that I set these goals for myself, but then during the week I get lost in the trenches day by day and forget what goals I actually set. Which could be good or bad. Not sure myself.

Anyway! I managed 5380 words this past week, almost 2000 words more than my goal, which makes me feel good, especially since I probably cut about 1000 words as well, meaning my actual word count was a little higher.  As always the number of completed edited/rewritten chapters is slightly more important, and I managed to complete 4 and a half last week meaning that I’m almost done with the rewriting/editing and will be able to get back to uninterrupted drafting. All in all a pretty good week.

This week (9/26-10/2) I’m going to keep last week’s goals of 500 words a day/ 3500 total and 4 edited/rewritten chapters. I did better this week, but that was largely because I managed 1600 words on Saturday. At my absolute height a few years ago I was able to do 2000-3500 a day, but I need to get back into the flow before I can assume that level of productivity.

The idea was to hold myself accountable and build myself back up one week at a time, and so far at least it seems to be working. Digits crossed…

Have a good week. Happy reading and happy writing!

Flash Fiction Friday: The Rabbit Dilemma


Our Loving Couple

“I shall endeavor, darling, not to become a rabbit,” the man said solemnly.

His wife looked up from her breakfast and studied him silently for a moment. A reticent man by nature, especially where his wife was concerned, he did his best to convey his utmost sincerity. Whatever she found on his face must have been convincing.

“Good,” the woman said with a firm nod. “See that you don’t.” Then returned to her coffee.

The silence lingered over the table, festering as it had many times before. He had learned to accept, even enjoy the silences. His wife was not a morning person and had once managed to fling a cup and saucer at him with deadly, half-awake accuracy. The bruises had lasted for weeks. Her laughter, when she finally woke, had never fully ended.

There was a question, however, that needed to be answered. It marinated in the juice and crackled in the cereal until finally he thought he was going to burst. He opened his mouth, thought for a second, then closed it again.

“What is it?” his wife asked without looking up.

“Nothing.” He hesitated. “Only…”



“Excuse me?”

“Would you still love me if I was a rabbit?” he repeated.

“Yes,” she answered instantly. “I would.”

The man sagged in relief. “Thank God,” he said. “Because I’m not sure…”

“But I would love you,” she continued, “as I would love a rabbit and all other furry creatures. Except squirrels. I hate squirrels.”

He nodded, despite himself. Her opinion on squirrels was long-standing and vigorous. “But that’s all?” he half asked, half pleaded.

“Well, I couldn’t love you as a husband,” she said. “That would be bestiality.”

“I-I didn’t mean…”

She sighed and reached across the table to pat his hand. “I know,” she said with a smile. “I was only teasing. And it doesn’t matter anyway. You’re not going to turn into a rabbit.”

“You can’t know that!” he said. “Look at Lisa and Tim! She turned into a bunny just last week!”

“I am not Tim,” she said stiffly. “And you are not Lisa.”

There were a great many things he could say to that, but h wisely held his tongue. Although his nose did twitch, ever so slightly. A nervous habit. Probably.

“What was that?” His wife cried accusingly.


“Your nose,” she said through clenched teeth. “It twitched.”

“No it didn’t,” he protested. “…Did it?”

“Yes,” she said. “It did. And you shall desist at once. I. Shall. Not. Have. It.”

“Yes, dear,” he said and meant it, but deep inside he knew that there was no fighting science.

The Rabbit Plague had no known cure. And the vaccine was a joke. Some people were simply going to turn into rabbits and there was nothing anyone could do about it. It was genetics.

And he was certainly not going to mention that his wife’s ears had started looking a little longer recently.

He was a rabbit, not a fool.

From the Desktop:Writing Update 9/19/2016


Hello all! I hope you’re well.

Progress this week was a bit like running on a treadmill. Did a lot of writing, and nipping and tucking, and a little restructuring. The end result is better and stronger than it was before, but it’s also more or less exactly where I was a week ago. I managed to finish my goal of 3 edited/rewritten chapters, although two of them are ones I had already done last week. Rewriting the rewriting! One step forward, two steps back. Well, half a step back anyway.

My word count was actually fairly strong. I did manage 3600 words although in the process of editing I also managed to cut around 1500. Which confuses things slightly.

This week (9/19-9/26) I’m going to maintain last week’s goals of 500 words a day/ 3500 total and 3 edited/rewritten chapters, since despite feeling unproductive and circling back on myself, I did actually come much closer to my goals than I thought. Hopefully this week will be better.

Have a good week. Happy reading and happy writing!

From the Desktop:Writing Update 9/12/2016


Goals and deadlines. Writing on the clock. (Not literally.)

Hello all! I hope you had a good weekend. Mine was filled with writing and relaxation (and thai food). This has been a long week both at work and at home but I did manage to get some writing done every day. As expected I did not quite manage to reach my perhaps overly ambitious goals.

The week started off well, with an unexpected bout of productivity before trailing off slightly. I set myself the overall goal of 5600 words for the week and managed 3056, which isn’t terrible. Especially since one day was largely spent cutting a 3000+ word scene down to 1800.

More importantly, I intended to edit/ rewriting 5 chapters and managed to finish 4 and a half chapters. Over all it was a reasonably productive week. All things considered.

This week (9/11-9/18) I’m going to lower my my word count goal to 500 words a day/ 3500 total. At this stage the chapter count remains the more important goal and I’m also going to revise that down to 3 edited/rewritten chapters. I have a number of scenes that require more serious rewriting, so it may be slower going. We shall see. I’m still learning how to gage the editing/rewriting process.


I hope you have a good week. Happy reading and happy writing!

Flash Fiction Friday: The Artist



They came for the artist in the night, dragged him down the stairs roughly, but careful always of his fingers, and threw him into the back of an unmarked van. Despite the commotion, his neighbors deliberately did not wake, did not hear, did wonder. To notice was to be noticed, as the artist had been.

That would have puzzled them, if they had dared to think about it. He had never struck them as particularly noticeable. His name was Mendoza. He sold his paintings in street fairs and on the boardwalk—solid, if uninspired, knockoffs of familiar classics. He had painted at least two hundred dogs and other assorted animals playing poker, before branching out into parcheesi and yahtzee. He also had a reasonable successful side-line in portraiture, drawing tourists for what amounted to drinking money. Mendoza was not, in short, the sort of man one expected to be taken in the middle of the night.

The neighbors were not the only ones who were puzzled. The artist himself was utterly confused, as well as frightened, and more than a little cold. He had been taken and given no time to procure a pair shoes or even socks.

Outside his window, a light snow was falling. It melted on a pavement. As he watched the snow fall, shivering, the artist couldn’t help but imagine the horrors that awaited him. He had heard the rumors and the stories of dark, forgotten prisons, of internment camps and torture. He had a vivid imagination, perhaps too vivid at times like these, but no matter how hard he tried, what he had done to deserve those looming horrors continued to elude him.

The car passed through the dark gates and past the ravenous guard dogs, and pulled up outside the governor’s mansion. The governor’s men escorted him up the stairs and into the mansion itself. The wind was biting and the ground felt cold beneath his feet.

The guards did not speak. Not that the artist could have heard them over his own heavy breathing, the chattering of his teeth, and the thundering of his heart. His stomach churned and twisted, and his world contracted into his body and his fears.

They deposited him in a dark room at the back of the house. The curtains were drawn and the shadows were long. The walls were covered with paintings from floor to ceiling and half a dozen more were stacked on the floor. He could not make them out in the gloom, but the governor was known to be an art collector par excellence.

As he began to calm down and his teeth stopped chattering, the artist slowly became aware that he was not alone. There was a tall, straight-backed figure standing in the far corner, studying him as intently as he had studied the paintings, to much greater effect. Realizing that he had been noticed at last, the figure clapped his hands, and suddenly the room was illuminated.

The artist blinked in the sudden light. He was alone with the governor, but there was a greater surprise waiting. The paintings.  They were his. Every single one.The artist gapped, unable to even gasp, so great was his shock.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Mendoza,” the governor said.

“S-sir,” Mendoza managed after a long moment. He could feel the governor’s eyes on him, taking in his shivering form, barefoot in his pajamas.

“I hope my boys weren’t too rough with you,” the governor continued. Mendoza said nothing. There was nothing to say.

“To business then. I’m sure you’re wondering why I invited you here this evening.”

The artist nodded.

“It’s simple enough,” said the governor. “I want you to tell me about her.” He pointed.

There was a young woman in every painting—in the shadows, peeking out from behind corners, reflected in mirrors or windows. She was easy to miss, but once you knew what you were looking for, she was everywhere.

The artist coughed. “Sir?” he asked. “She’s just a little joke. Something to keep myself amused.

“Yes, yes.” The governor waved his hand. “But do you know who she is? Why do you paint her as you do? Why those eyes? Why that hair?” There was an inexplicable need in his voice that Mendoza could not understand.

“No one,” he said. “She’s no one. Just a figment of my imagination.”

“No,” the governor snapped. “She is not no one. She is my daughter.”

The words hung in the air with terrible, perplexing certainty. The artist was dumbfounded. “Your daughter, sir? But I thought…”

“You thought she’d died as a child,” the governor finished. “She did. It was the worst day of my life.”

The artist stared in mute incomprehension. Whatever he had been expecting it was not this. He hadn’t even expected anyone to even notice the woman.

“You have painted her,” the governor continued, “as she would have been. Those are her mother’s eyes. That is my hair. She has come to you, Mr. Mendoza. She has chosen you as her instrument, out of everyone in the world, and now you will paint her. Not in glimpses but as herself, full and proper.”

“I…I’m sure I understand, sir.”

“You will paint my daughter’s portrait, Mr. Mendoza. You will paint her, or you will die.”

From the Desktop:Writing Update 9/5/2016


I wish my desk was this neat

Hello everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful summer. It is September already and as ever I am hard at work typing away at The Fall of the House of Talis, Book 2 in the Chronicles of Talis. This has been a protracted process filled with a number of false starts and stops, which I will write about at greater length at some point in the near future if anyone is interested in the trials and tribulations of my writing.

For now though, I’m going to try something a little different. At the start of each week I’m going to share my immediate writing goals for the next 7 days and my successes and failures in meeting last week’s goals. In theory this will hold me accountable, and might prove an interesting (if only to myself) way to chart the writing process in perhaps too much detail.

Since this is the first week, I don’t have any results to share, which means that for the first and probably last time I haven’t failed to meet my goals. If only because I hadn’t set any.

This week (9/5-9/11) I’m going to set myself the goal of a relatively small 800 words a day, 5600 words total. More importantly I intend to finish editing and rewriting 5 chapters. Some require much more work than others.

This is going to be a very busy week non-writing so I think I’m being both conservative and over-ambitious. We’ll see how it goes…

I hope you have a good week. Happy reading and happy writing!



Into the Heart of Talis (Chronicles of Talis Prequel) Available: Read Chapter 1 Here

Into Heart of Talis 2_edited-2

Into the Heart of Talis is out today! Sound the drums!  Witches and spies, magic and explosions!

It is now available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Two hundred years have passed since the Witches were driven from Talis. Two hundred years of bitterness and exile, but at last their time has come.

Leonora has been training for this moment all her life, desperate to prove herself worthy. Magic and vengeance flow through her veins, but when her cabin is ransacked and she finds signs of sorcery, Leonora quickly realizes that someone onboard is not what they seem.

There’s the old riverboat captain who watches her, full of unasked questions, the gnome whose bitterness matches her own, and the unrepentant conman who follows her everywhere with greed in his eyes.

One of them knows her secret. One of them is hunting her. But when you hunt a witch, it is far more likely that she is hunting you.

Into the Heart of Talis is a 20,000-word novella that takes place directly before Irons in the Fire.


If you haven’t checked out this series yet, the first book, Irons in the Fire, is currently available for free only $0.99 in most stores.

Happy reading!



From the Desktop-Prequel Announcement

It’s been awhile since my last blog post and I hope everyone’s doing well. I can’t believe it’s already July. Where has 2016 gone?

But now I have returned with an announcement!

First off, for those (handful) of you who are waiting for the sequel to Irons in the Fire, I’m afraid that Book 2 has proved more challenging than expected, but I’m hard at work and The Fall of the House of Talis promises to have all the political intrigue, magical creatures, and simmering tension of Irons in the Fire only even more so.

In the meantime, I’ll be releasing a prequel novella—Into the Heart of Talis—on Friday July 8th.

Into Heart of Talis 2_edited-2

Into the Heart of Talis leads directly into the events of Irons in the Fire, and follows the Countess as she makes her secret, perilous way into Talis, pursued by a relentless witch hunter. It fills in a few gaps and hints at some unseen motivations that will play into Book 2 and beyond.

Here is the Blurb and a Brief Excerpt:

Two hundred years have passed since the Witches were driven from Talis. Two hundred years of bitterness and exile, but at last their time has come.

Leonora has been training for this moment all her life, desperate to prove herself worthy. Magic and vengeance flow through her veins, but when her cabin is ransacked and she finds signs of sorcery, Leonora quickly realizes that someone onboard is not what they seem.

There’s the old riverboat captain who watches her, full of unasked questions, the gnome whose bitterness matches her own, and the unrepentant conman who follows her everywhere with greed in his eyes.

One of them knows her secret. One of them is hunting her.

But when you hunt a witch, it is far more likely that she is hunting you.

 Into the Heart of Talis is a 20,000-word novella that takes place directly before Irons in the Fire.


I. The Captain

Captain Devos found the Woman alone on the foredeck, bathed in twilight. He was struck, not for the first time, by her beauty, but it was an unpronounceable beauty, otherworldly, almost inhuman. She seemed to shine with an inward light all her own, though her features remained obscured by distance and shrouded in the oncoming night. Devos found that even his memory of her was curiously vague, like a mirage, but her loveliness was certain, beyond all doubt. Beneath her beauty, however, he thought he could sense a terrible yet muffled yearning, deep and unspoken. He could not say where that feeling came from, or what lay behind it, but it was as real as the wind on his face.

As he stood there watching her, it was her presence on deck that astounded him most of all. She had remained in her cabin for the most part throughout the journey, reclusive and silent. In her absence, she had become more a rumor than a person, haunting the minds of the other passengers and crew. Certainly she had been on Devos’s mind a great deal. She was a mystery, and he was not fond of mysteries, especially not these days. Mysteries were dangerous.

“Captain,” she greeted without turning, her voice soft but insistent. He could feel it tickling in the back of his mind, whispering unheard secrets and warnings. Devos cleared his throat. There was no turning back now.

“Miss,” he said.

Devos touched his cap and clambered up to join her on the foredeck. Closer, her features coalesced into something solid and unmistakably human, although he found traces of the wilds about her, overgrown and full of thorns.

There was a melancholy in the air that was not his own, carried on the cool breeze, vibrating through the deck beneath his feet. Devos could feel it pressing against him, invading his own thoughts, coloring his mood. Perhaps she had a touch of faërie in her blood, after all. Changelings and half-breeds were still common near the border.

They stood side by side in silence, watching the water ripple past. Neither of them felt compelled to speak. The captain kept his eyes ahead, trying not to stare at her or to pry. She would speak when she was ready. He doubted that she had emerged from her seclusion simply to sample the night air. She had a purpose. It was written all over her face, although he could not even begin to guess at its nature. That was frustrating. The other passengers were of a more familiar sort. Most of them were from the border or the wild Faërie Lands beyond. Devos understood them and their ilk, even the faëries, but the Woman refused to be understood.

A faint whistling intruded on the night air and he turned. Mr. Hamel was making his nightly promenade around the deck. Devos scowled behind his hand. Hamel was unmistakably human, which was more than could be said for many of the other passengers, but he was a trader of dubious morals and questionable character. He had brought several crates of cargo with him and had secreted them in the hold. They were likely stolen, and no doubt highly illegal, but Devos preferred not to speculate. He had been well compensated for his troubles, and kept his judgments to himself. It wouldn’t be the first time he had smuggled some mysterious cargo into Talis.

Devos was not the only one who turned at Hamel’s approach. The Woman had finally taken her eyes from the horizon, and she was watching Hamel with a curious expression. Devos could not say if it was attraction or suspicion, or both, but something passed between them in that moment. Hamel noticed her attention and gave her a roguish smile and a wave. She replied to neither but that didn’t seem to bother him.

“Some friendly advice,” Devos said. “But I wouldn’t trust that man if I were you.”

The Woman tilted her head and studied him for a moment. “Why not?”

Devos frowned, choosing his words with care. “His only loyalty is to his purse, and he has suspiciously close ties with both humans and faëries, and even the goblins.”

“I see,” the Woman said. “Interesting.” There was a wealth of thought behind her words, impenetrable and deep, but they said no more nothing more about him. As the sun sank behind them at last, she returned her gaze to the mountains and the river.

The Woman had come aboard at the foothills dressed in rags and tatters, but with an inborn grace that hinted at a coiled power within. She had paid for passage on The Wanderer in pure gold and he had found himself unable to refuse. Devos had regretted it then and he regretted it now. Money was money, but it was difficult to trust a woman with no name.

Such secrecy was not suspicious in and of itself. She was clearly from the borderlands where faërie enchantments were strong and wild, and names had jagged edges that could break or bind you. Keeping her name hidden was simple common sense, but there was more to her than mere caution. Devos was certain of it, just as he was certain that a great deal might depend on what lay behind her mask. He shivered. It was a sudden, chilling thought, but perhaps it had only been the wind.


There were a number of lights visible on either side of the river, like strings of diamonds, luminous and strange. They moved along the banks and in the woods, and a ghostly music followed after them.

“Faërie bands,” Devos told the Woman softly, hesitant to interrupt their songs. “Roaming the dukedom like our friends in the hold.” The Lints were a family of bird-like creatures who had booked their passage a few nights ago—refugees running from some terrible calamity that they could not, or would not, name.

The Woman nodded to show that she was listening, but kept her gaze firmly on the distant lights and one ear on the music. Her face was unreadable.

“There have been more and more of them recently,” Devos continued. “Wild faëries descending down from the mountains in waves. It’s making everyone nervous. The dukes are hard pressed and the Emperor is trying to keep his hands clean, but that can’t last for long.”

Devos glanced at the Woman. She was absorbing his words with a sudden, sharp attention, as if now, at last, he was saying something worth hearing. Her eyes, however, remained fixed on the lights and the shore.

“The trouble is that there’s no more room. The Protected Crescent is overflowing. We are the last bastion, a tiny sliver of humanity on the edge of the world. Beyond the Twelve Cities there is only the ocean.” He sighed, the words and worries coming from him suddenly. “The Crescent is caught in a vise. Behind us are oceans and islands filled with monsters and creatures and before us lies the vast uncharted wilderness filled with faërie lands beyond number and counting.”

She was watching him now, studying him intently, sifting through his words, as though searching for something. There was intent and purpose behind her eyes. Devos sensed that she had learned more from him than he knew himself. It was an uncomfortable feeling. He suddenly felt small beneath her gaze.

“What of Talis?” she asked, at last.

Devos chuckled sadly. “Have you ever been there?”

“No,” she said wistfully. “But I have dreamed of its spires and beauty all my life.”

Devos raised his eyebrows, but made no comment. She had revealed something of herself, at last, though he could only guess at its meaning.

“These days the spires are covered in grime and the city is on the brink of chaos,” he said gently. “But it still has a beauty to it, I suppose.”

“You suppose?” There was peculiar quality in her voice, a tremor between yearning and despair. After a moment, Devos realized what it was. In her own way, she was begging.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and he was, not only for her sake. “Talis is not what it was in my youth. It is strong but crumbling, and I fear its beauty is that of a storm about to crash.”

“I see,” the Woman said. “Well, thank you, Captain, for your honesty.”

Devos opened his mouth to ask a question, then thought better of it. Instead he merely nodded.

“G’night, miss,” he said and left her as he found her, alone on the foredeck.

Captain Devos did not consider himself a particularly clever man. He had never learned to read or write, but he knew how to trim a sail and rig a ship, and he knew people. The Woman was still a mystery to him, but he had his suspicions now, vague and half-formed, but growing clearer.

Devos had sailed up and down the river most of his life, had traded with goblin kingdoms and fairy brughs. He had even spent five years on the open seas hunting kraken for their ink and oil. Devos had seen magic, wonder, and terror in his life, and he saw the touch of all three within her, hidden, but unmistakably there, if you knew where to look.

There was purpose, as well, written beneath her skin in blood and hatred. It clearly had to do with Talis, and Talis meant Witches. The nameless woman with her air of grace and hidden power was dangerous in a way that Devos had never encountered before, and that was most disturbing of all. Not that it was any of his business. He was just an old riverboat captain, after all, but he couldn’t help but wonder. He couldn’t help but see.

Captain Devos lit his pipe and wandered back toward the bridge. He would keep his thoughts to himself for now, but perhaps it was time he retired to some distant isle, far away from Talis.

Far away from her.



“The Alchemist in the Attic” is Now Available

Alchemist 4E

The Alchemist in the Attic is a historical mystery with occult undertones—a tale of rival newspapermen, murder, and alchemy in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

It is now available for a limited launch price of $0.99 on Amazon.

Here is the Blurb and a Brief Excerpt:

San Francisco 1899.

As the city prepares to welcome the new century, a twisted killer enacts his final, grisly legacy.

Theodore Atwood is a disgraced reporter desperate to find a story can save his career. No one knows San Francisco’s seedy underbelly better, but the deeper he digs the more grotesque and bizarre the case becomes.

Haunted by dreams and phantoms, Atwood follows the killer’s trail from the den of thieves and bodysnatchers to a secret society of spiritualists and occultists. Meanwhile, hidden in the shadows the alchemist readies for his enemies. Disgraced and dying, he will sacrifice countless lives to complete his terrible work.

As the city descends into a fevered nightmare around him, Atwood is caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse. He will have to fight to the brink of madness and beyond in order to survive. For he has entered a world of dark science and alchemy and there is no turning back.



There were two of them in the mule cart, huddled against the cold and the night. Behind them, barely visible in the gloom, San Francisco slept fitfully beneath a shroud of thick, dense fog. It curdled over the docks and shipyards and swallowed the city whole, from the warehouses, mills, and iron works to the gaslit streets beyond, and beneath the fog came a sickening chill and freezing rain.

They had left the city behind hours ago, ridden past the forest of masts and sails until it had dwindled down to a handful of smaller ships tied to hastily constructed piers, and those too had faded into nothing. They were alone in the outskirts now, with only the road and the water, and the screeching of the wheels and the groaning of the cart.

The older man was bent over the reins, obscuring his features beneath his hat and cloak. He couldn’t afford to take any chances tonight, neither of them could. Their errand was too important, too dangerous. The dark would hide their sins for a time, and time was all he needed. His work was almost complete and then, at last, his dreams would be made flesh, and all those years of degradation and humiliation would be avenged. It was a terrible, glorious thought.

He chuckled darkly to himself, but the laughter quickly broke into a deep, hacking cough. He brought his handkerchief to his mouth. It came away bloody.

“Damn it!” he muttered to himself. The old man could feel a hollow, lingering sickness burrowing in his chest and he was acutely aware of every jostle, every bump in the road. It was a rickety old cart and the road was uneven, taking them up and around haphazardly steep hills. He coughed again and forced his hands to stop shaking. It was too soon, far too soon. His companion was counting on him to be strong.

The other man was peering out at him with sad, unblinking eyes. He was younger, but if anything he seemed to be suffering even more. Wrapped tightly in an overcoat and blanket, he looked more like a collection of padding than a person, yet still he was shivering. Rain dripped down his hat and beneath his blankets. The poor man was wilted, wet, and miserable, but he managed to hold up a lantern with a trembling arm.

“Remember,” the older man said gently. “Stay close to the light. We’re almost there.” He reached out and straightened the other man’s blanket. His companion nodded, but said nothing.

The road inclined sharply and suddenly they air was clear. Before them there was only ocean.

“This is the place,” the older man said, pulling on the reigns. The cart creaked to a halt and they sat there for a moment, gathering their strength.

“You’re sure?” the blanketed man asked, putting down the lantern.

“I’m sure,” he said.

They clambered down slowly into the mud. They had stopped at a precipice above the Bay.

It was only a short climb down the rock to the waterfront, but they were both thinking about the load they would have to carry. The older man sighed. There was nothing else for it.

“Come on then,” he said.

In the back of the cart, beneath a tarp, lay a single canvas bag. It was full to capacity and bulged in odd places. They both knew what, or rather who, was inside. The younger man shrugged off his blanket then climbed up to grab one end, and on the count of three they began the slow, difficult work of carrying it down. The slope was steep, and the rain made the rocks slippery. They stumbled and slid a few times under their heavy burden. There was much cursing and coughing, and dark muttering, but they finally made it to the shore. The waves lapped at their boots as they swung the sack back and forth—one, two, three—and flung it out into the Bay. It landed with a splash. A wave rippled out against their feet, then was still. It was done.

The younger man looked half dead after the exertion.

“Almost sunrise,” the other said, glancing at the sky.

“I know,” the younger man replied. “I can feel it.” His lips twitched, but it wasn’t much of a smile. They turned and climbed back up to the cart.

Behind them, the body sank beneath the surface, weighed down with stones, and was caught in a number of eddies and currents. The older man had made a careful study of the Bay and its ways. He had chosen this spot carefully. The body might be found eventually, with all the others, but not yet, not tonight. There was still time.

The cart creaked its way back toward the city and the fog. It had been a grim business, but it needed to be done. The old man’s enemies would be coming soon. He could feel them gathering, planning. The night’s work had only just begun.


The Bathhouse

Theodore Atwood had never liked the Hammam Bath—the steam, the heat, the people. He was glistening with sweat, and his threadbare suit clung to him in uncomfortable places. It was hard to think here, hard to breathe, and today was worse than usual. He hadn’t been sleeping much recently and his had dreams left him unsettled, though he could never remember why. He had spent more than his fair share of time inside these tiled walls. The attendants all knew him by name, and he had made a point of returning the favor. In his experience, it always paid to have friends in low places—the lower the better.

The Bath was a favorite among certain circles, frequented by many of San Francisco’s richest and most powerful men, those lured in by its glittering oriental pantomime. They inevitably found that the atmosphere at the bathhouse encouraged them to commit any number of indiscretions, and Atwood had a vested interest in such lapses of judgement.

He made his living as a reporter at the San Francisco Oracle. Atwood was a shameless picker-up of the morbid and the bizarre with a sideline in the scandalous. He’d had his share of successes over the years, most recently uncovering Dr. Gentle’s Bodysnatching Ring, and he dreamed of running the paper one day. It was his birthright, after all. Recently, however, he had been reduced to working as the present editor’s blackmailer-in-chief. It was a degrading task, but well within his talents.

Atwood looked the part with sharp, darting eyes, and a seedy, ingratiating smile. He smelled of cigar smoke and ink, and stank of alcohol and worse. A few bad habits were to be expected in his position, even cultivated—and extravagant, easily identifiable vices could shield a multitude of deeper sins. His father had taught him that, and he had learned the lesson well. Although, like his old man before him, Atwood had found that certain bad habits could take on a life of their own.

”No.” The voice cut through his musings. Atwood pulled at his collar awkwardly and frowned at the balding, mutton-chopped man sitting across from him. In the past, George Gage had always been very accommodating; understandably so, given the nature of their first meeting.

“Excuse me?” Atwood asked. He felt constrained and sluggish and there was a crawling restlessness beneath his skin.

“You heard me, Atwood. I said no. I’m not paying.”

Atwood blinked and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. He glanced across at his partner, Walter, who peered back in solemn puzzlement and gave a barely perceptible shrug. He was just as surprised as Atwood.

Walter Harel was the junior court reporter at the Oracle. Only a few years younger than Atwood, Walter was the closest thing he had to a friend. He was a quiet man and a trifle peculiar, but he had a clever eye and a quick mind. They spent their days in the same cramped courtrooms and cheerless morgues bearing witness to the same daily parade of the baroque and the terrible, the tedious and the humdrum. It was a lonely, cutthroat existence, but in their line of work that counted as intimacy. Atwood had told him to keep silent and observe. He was grooming Walter to take his place one day, although that day seemed increasingly distant.

Atwood gathered his thoughts. “Need I remind you, George,” he asked, “of what I personally observed within these very walls?”

“I remember you breaking down the door,” Gage said. “And bursting in, after you’d tried drilling holes in the wall  first and peering in through the keyhole.” He smirked at Atwood with smug, beady eyes. “But my memory is a little vague after that. What is it exactly that you think you saw?”

“Is that really how you want to play this?” Atwood asked. “You know what happens if we print. Don’t test us. We’ve brought down bigger men than you.” Atwood paused, glancing at Gage’s girth. “In a manner of speaking.”

“I’m sorry.” Gage leaned forward. “I must have misheard. Did you just threaten the Deputy Chief of Police?”

“I’m simply reminding you of the facts. You wouldn’t be Deputy Chief for very long, not if people knew what I knew. Probably best not to risk it, don’t you think?”

“No, Atwood,” Gage said. “I don’t. These days the Oracle is nothing more than a two-bit rag. You and your boss are notorious liars and muckrakers and this city isn’t fond of muckrakers. No one would believe you.”

“Some would believe, especially since it’s the truth.”

“Not enough,” said Gage. “Not anymore. And if you try to smear me, Atwood, I will break you. Not everyone has forgotten what you did during the war.”

“You wouldn’t be the first person to try that.” Atwood’s smile was all teeth. “They’re gone now and I’m still here.”

“For now,” Gage said. “But Maguire can’t protect you forever. I think your grubby keyhole days are almost behind you, and your little paper will be dead soon.”

“Even if that were true,” Atwood said, “it wouldn’t save you. I may be a muckraker, but you’re the muck, George. You won’t come out the better, not without help.”

Gage said nothing. He had a reasonably blank poker face, but Atwood had seen through better. Walter sent him a silent, confirming nod. He had seen it too. Gage wasn’t acting alone.

“Ah,” Atwood said. “I see.” He stood and stared down at Gage. “So be it.”

Atwood stood and left without a backward glance, Walter trailing behind him.


Atwood burst from the Hammam Bath, muttering angrily to himself. He despised the bath’s patrons and their grubby secrets, and he despised the heat, but most of all, he despised being outmaneuvered. Gage was the third in as many weeks to refuse to pay. Someone was poaching and Atwood didn’t like it. Not one bit.

There was a thin, dapper man lurking on the street outside, waiting for them. With his slicked-back hair and well-tailored suit, he appeared as Atwood’s distorted, funhouse reflection, upscale but no less seedy. His eyes were on Atwood almost immediately, and his lips curled into a self-satisfied smirk.

Atwood halted at the sight of him, the wheels turning behind his eyes. “Selby,” he said, and then gave a wry, bitter smile. He understood perfectly now.

“Atwood,” the dapper man replied. Walter glanced between them worryingly, but held his tongue.

“I should have known it was you giving Gage his backbone,” Atwood said.

“Yes,” Selby agreed. “You should have. You’re slowing up, Teddy. Not surprising, I suppose, given your predilections…”

Atwood glared at him. “My predilections are no longer your concern,” he said. “Though I see you still have one for poaching.”

“My current employer prefers to call it expansion.”

“I’m sure he does!” Atwood snapped. “Well, you tell him from me that the Oracle won’t go down so easily. We’ll fight him.”

Selby tilted his head, studying Atwood curiously for a moment. “Such loyalty,” he said. “What could Maguire have done to earn that from you of all people?” He smirked. “Or maybe it isn’t loyalty at all. Maybe you just know that no one else will take you. Young and the Chronicle won’t touch you, not after what you wrote about his brother, and the Examiner certainly won’t, not if I have anything to say about it.” Selby smiled dangerously. “And unfortunately for you, Hearst listens to me on such matters.”

“Well,” Atwood said. “No one’s perfect.” He wanted nothing more than to wipe that smile off of Selby’s face, but something held him back. Selby was entirely too confident for his liking.

A number of hard, leathery men emerged suddenly out of the fog. One was tall and broad. Another had a crooked nose and quick fingers, but they all had a determined glint in their eye. Behind him, Walter took a few steps back, trying to make himself scarce. That sounded like a good idea to Atwood. He preferred fights that he thought he could win, and there were too many of them. Sometimes discretion was the better part of valor. That’s how Atwood had survived the Philippines.

“Gentlemen,” he said clearing his throat. “Nice evening for a stroll.” Then he turned and ran back toward the Bath, but two more men emerged out of a side alley, blocking his path. He made an abrupt turn but found that he was surrounded. There were six of them in all.

“Now let’s not be hasty,” he said. “You seem like reasonable men. I’m sure we could work something out.” They closed in on him with grim faces. “Or not.”

He moved quicker than they expected and struck the crooked nose man hard, sending him sprawling. He flicked out his knife and brandished it at the others. “I don’t want any trouble,” he said. “You can go your way and I’ll go mine.”

The tall man shook his head. “Nothing personal,” he said.

Atwood held them off for a while, but there were too many. He was scrappy in a fight, but they were professional brawlers the lot of them, specially chosen. The crooked-nosed man recovered quickly and knocked the knife from his hand and delivered an uppercut that forced Atwood to the ground. The others quickly pounced, kicking and punching him while he was down. Atwood struggled at first but was finally forced into a fetal position.

He was vaguely aware of Walter, gathering his courage and struggling to join him, but to no avail.

“That’s enough,” Selby called finally. He stared down at Atwood, wearing a self-satisfied grin.

Atwood glared up at him blearily. “Wouldn’t even fight me yourself.”

“Why should I, when I have these fine gentlemen to do it for me?” Selby asked. “That’s Rehms and Wright. They used to be strikebreakers. Clearly they haven’t lost their touch.”

He nodded to the others and they headed out, their work done. “Now.” He leaned down to whisper in Atwood’s ear. “I suggest you find a hole and crawl into it. You’re done here.”

Atwood spat blood in his face.

Selby stood with a dramatic sigh. “I tried,” he said, and wiped his cheek with a monographed handkerchief. “For old time’s sake.”

Atwood believed him. In his own way, Selby was trying to be nice. Atwood choked down a painful laugh. Selby was a sentimentalist, after all, a greedy, vindictive sentimentalist.

Something glinted in the lamplight. It was Atwood’s knife. Selby picked it up and slipped it into his pocket.

“Next time I won’t be so kind,” he said, and then without another word he was gone.

Atwood groaned and struggled to sit up. His ribs hurt. His coat was muddied and covered in blood. For a long moment he simply sat there, breathing heavily.

“I’m sorry,” Walter said, helping him to his feet. “I tried but…”

Atwood waved the apology away. “You’d have been hurt worse than me,” he said. “And for what?”

“You would have done it for me,” Walter said with the same solemn, doting expression as ever.. Atwood wasn’t so sure, but he left Walter to his illusions. He looked up to Atwood for some reason. It was baffling.

This wasn’t Atwood’s first beating, or even his third. He had a quick tongue, and some people were quick to take offense. But it felt different this time. He hadn’t expected it, not from Selby. Atwood had been dancing on the edge for years now and he knew it. He was bound to fall at some point. Still, at least he knew why so many people had stopped paying, but Maguire wasn’t going to like it. Hearst was increasing the pressure and Atwood wasn’t sure they could hold him back forever.


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Thanks and happy holidays!