Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 282)

New Release from Blaze Ward Presents: I Like My Science…MAD

 

I Like My Science…MAD
(Blaze Ward Presents Book 2)

Universal Sales Link | Goodreads

Come with us on a twisted journey of science gone wrong and gods rising to threaten us all. Of private detectives on the moon and dieselpunk ladies saving the day. Academics making dark pacts and taking vengeance into their own hands. Mad.

Includes my story, “The Legends of Castle Frankenstein.”

What is the true story of Castle Frankenstein, the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s famous novel? Was there ever a mad scientist? A monster? A pursuit across the Arctic ice? Because there is a Castle Frankenstein, and you can go there and walk around the ruined stones, poke around in the forest, and eat lunch.

The legends that get told by the people who work at Castle Frankenstein are strange, but the layers leading downward into the truth are stranger.

And stranger…

An alchemist with no soul. A mysterious object falling from the sky. Terrified peasants with pitchforks and torches. An eerie whistling that echoes through the forest. A fallen tower. The elixir of life.

How much is real? How much is just legend?

And just how much of it are the locals covering up?

Let me tell you a story about Castle Frankenstein.

Not the novel written by Mary Shelley but the castle, which actually exists.  Once, years ago, I went to Europe on a Wanderjahr, a year where I toured all over Europe, sketching architecture and seeing parts of the world that weren’t Iowa.  I fell in love that year, had my heart broken, and saw some things that blew my mind.

And, while I was there, visited the actual Frankenstein Castle.

Let me just say, straight off, that the legends you hear about the place are fake.

In case you haven’t heard the fake legend, let me get you caught up on it so I can tell you the real one.  Frankenstein’s Castle is nothing but ruins now, but it was built in the thirteenth century in order to keep an eye on the bandits in the area.  The Baron “von und zu Frankenstein,” was actually a guy named Conrad Reiz; the family eventually died out in the early sixteen hundreds.  The castle was sold to another noble family, the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt, who, having better things to do than take care of the place, started to let it fall into ruin.

The landgraves aren’t the mad scientists in this scenario.

But there was one.

Johann Conrad Dippel was born at the castle in 1673 and was later hired on as a professional alchemist.  Back then there really were such things as professional alchemists.  He created a formula that was supposed to be the Elixir of Life: a nasty, sludgy black liquid that was supposed to extend the life of the user to one hundred and thirty-five years.

In the fake legend, Dippel blew up one of the castle towers while making the elixir of life, then offered to trade the (now ruined) castle in exchange for the recipe.  The landgraves refused. Dippel went elsewhere with his discovery, eventually using his elixir of life to help create a synthetic version of Prussian blue pigment—which was a huge deal at the time, considering that you used to have to make blue pigments by grinding up lapis lazuli stones, literal jewels.  So trading a castle for the recipe to a cheaply manufactured pigment might not have been a bad idea at the time.

However, Dippel was no misunderstood hero.  He was a complete asshole.  He would dig up corpses and perform anatomical experiments on them.  Aha, you’re saying.  Just like in the novel.  Right, but it gets weirder.  One of the things he tried to do was switch souls between bodies using funnels.

Not living bodies, mind you.  Just dead ones.

Dippel was so off-putting that the benchmark of religious oddity at the time, Emanuel Swedenborg, called him “a most vile devil…who attempted wicked things.”  This from a guy who believed that he could freely travel between heaven and hell and speak to angels, demons, and the dead.  He also claimed that Dippel tried to sway people away from Christianity and “take away all their intelligence of truth and good, and leaving them in a kind of delirium.”

Finally, Dippel decided it was time to put his money where his mouth was and drink his elixir of life, after which he promptly died.

Afterwards, this elixir, known as Dippel’s Oil or bone oil, was used as an insect and animal repellant and was even used in World War II as a chemical warfare agent.  Dump some oil in a desert well, and the water would be undrinkably foul, but not actually fatal (Dippel’s death to the contrary).  Which meant that using it wasn’t a violation of the Geneva conventions.

How much of the above is true, I can’t say, other than that Dippel didn’t blow up a tower, because there weren’t any.  They were added during the nineteenth century, long after his death.

There are other cool legends about the castle that have nothing to do with the “Frankenstein” story.  For example, there’s a fountain of youth that only married women could use, and then only one day a year and only if they performed a feat of bravery.  The original St. George versus the dragon story possibly happened in the area.  And Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied might have been murdered nearby, of which the fat ladies of Wagner’s operas doth sing.  A section of the forest, the Odenwald, has magnetic rocks that screw with compasses.  The area is so famously weird that the Ghost Hunter International crew even filmed an early episode at the castle.  Every castle has its ghost, often headless, and sometimes they’re nuns.  The devil has a dozen landmarks named after him.  Witches are everywhere.  Some of them are like, “Black cats?  Pffft.  Hold my beer and watch me turn into a pig.”

Mary Shelley was known to have come within ten miles of the castle two years before she wrote her book, but never saw the castle itself.  But the coincidences between the legend and her novel seem too much to ignore completely.

As in, the book’s called Frankenstein.

Duh.

But, as I said, that’s not the real legend, just the fake one.

Want to read more? Click here.

New Release from the Uncollected Anthology: Crossroads Hotel

Uncollected Anthology: Crossroads Hotel

Universal Sales Link | Goodreads

Negotiate a convention of funeral directors and order a grilled cheese sandwich. Discover how walking upstairs can change your life or a watch can end it. Park your car out of the rain and unpack your suitcase. Just don’t piss off the kitchen staff. 8 stories where fate controls the front desk!

Includes my story, “Memento Temporis.”

It’s thirty years to the day that Jim lost the love of his life, Laina Jarvy, back in 1929. Now a colleague’s wife has a gift for him: a watch that will take him back in time to save Laina, and instructions on how to use it.

Jim’s willing to pay whatever price is necessary to save her–but the offer that he’s given in the past, at the mysterious Crossroads Hotel, smells more than a little like yesterday’s fish.

Is he about to save Laina?

Or get stiffed?

I drove carefully on my way to the hotel. The last thing I wanted to do get in a car accident.

In my pocket was a yellowed piece of paper. The thing had to be decades old. It had some instructions on it, and an address to a place called “The Crossroads Hotel.” I had hired a car, a 1927 Moon Sedan manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri. It was a brand-new car, but I had some trouble adjusting to the old-timey controls.

In my pocket beside the yellowed piece of paper was a pocket watch. It looked like a Lalique piece, and about as delicate as a perfume bottle. The front was studded with moonstones and enameled with a design of bats and witches. The bats and the witches sort of faded into each other, so it took some investigation to tell where one started and the other ended. On top of the winding-stem, for the chain-loop, was a snake eating its own tail.

Inside, the watch face was more unusual than I care to explain. The watch had nothing to do with telling the time, and everything to do with telling time what to do.

I had come from 1959, all the way back to 1929. Thirty years.

Science hadn’t brought me here. Aliens hadn’t crash-landed in the Nevada desert, bringing time-traveling technology down to mankind. A nuclear explosion hadn’t knocked me for a time loop.

Instead, I had borrowed a pocket watch from a woman in 1959. Nancy Mattson was the wife of a junior colleague at Concordia University, in Portland. She had a wide brow and a cleft chin. You could just as easily imagine her in a suit and tie as a cocktail dress. She had that kind of mannish face. She was a good hostess—kept the vodka in the freezer box and was never afraid of putting out the sardines or Tabasco sauce.

I don’t know how she knew to give me the watch, but she did.

It was that time of year again, July 16th. I wasn’t teaching summer classes and I didn’t have anything to get me out of bed in the mornings other than running out of cigarettes on my nightstand. It was the anniversary of her death—the woman who should have been my wife. I had lost Laina in Portland thirty years ago, to the day. Now instead of being a young writer with promise, I was a middle-aged professor with leather patches on his elbows to cover up the fabric getting worn through.

I had been invited to a faculty dinner-and-drinks party at Mike Mattson’s house, and I had accepted on the grounds that being bored to death by faculty summer gossip would be less fatal than being home alone that night.

About eight o’clock, Nancy pulled me aside by the drinks table. “Jim, you look like death warmed over. Whatever is the matter? You didn’t get fired, did you?”

“It’s that date again,” I said, swaying a little. I hadn’t gone easy on the ice-cold vodka. Or the sardines. I must have been a real jewel. “Thirty years now. Christ, I shouldn’t have come tonight.”

“That date?” she asked. “What date?”

And, there and then, I was drunk enough to tell her what had happened…

Click here to read more!

New Release: Crime du Jour!

Crime du Jour: 31 Tales of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

Kindle | Goodreads

A crime a day keeps the injustice away.

31 very short tales of crime and criminals, from Aggravated Assault to White-Collar Crime, for those days when you need to escape from law and order…

…and through the loopholes to the dark side of justice.

These are the same stories as in the October 2019 series below, but now with an introduction, more editing, and a convenient ebook format.  The ebook is currently exclusively on Kindle as I do some sales testing, but probably won’t stay. Please contact me if you need a non-Kindle verion and are willing to leave me a review on Goodreads or Library Thing 🙂

The major change is to the Homicide story, which is now renamed “The Little Old Ladies’ Club” and has the ending reworked, because I hated it. C’est la guerre.

Crime du Jour, Day 21: Open Container

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #21: Open Container

BEST MAN

 

So about two years ago, my cousin Joe Griggs here and I had been drinking, first at a strip-mall bar in Saginaw, then out in the parking lot, then walking along the highway, which maybe wasn’t that great an idea, but eventually we caught a break in the traffic and crossed to the other side of the road, then the other side of the railroad tracks, two-three sets of them, then over into this kind of open lot with a bunch of scrub trees in it. It’s behind the steel fabricator place and animal services, so you got your rusty smell and your smell of dogs, and the sound of barking and the highway.

It was a clear night, hot and warm, you could hear the insects singing, a train rolling out along one or another of the tracks, a party off in the distance with music playing tinny and faint off someone’s phone.

Well, Joe and I, we got to arguing about his ex-girlfriend and whether he should get back together with her, and we got in a fight, then kind where you’re half-wrestling and half-trying to punch each other. He hit me real hard and I passed out. Actually, he might not have hit me that hard, but I passed out anyway.  We were that kind of drunk.

When I woke up, it was morning, but only just.

I wasn’t sure what had happened, so I looked around. Right in front of my feet was my cousin Joe’s body, right next to an empty bottle of Jim Beam, which I was sure had been full when I blacked out.  Joe’s face looked pale and dead-looking.  I touched him, and he was colder than anybody had any right to be. No joke, he felt like a wax dummy.

I yelled and shook him. He flopped around like a bag of pinto beans.

I decided he was dead.  D-E-A-D dead.

So I did what any hungover white boy in Texas would have done.  I dragged Joe’s dead body over to the railroad tracks.  I wasn’t sure whether I had killed Joe or he had just drunk himself to death, but I didn’t much feel like taking the blame for it.

The train was coming, close enough to feel the track vibrate and hear the thrumming sound of all the wheels rolling on the rails.  I had to get out of the area, but I didn’t dare go back to my pickup truck.  My story was going to be that Joe and I had fought, and I’d abandoned him out in the open lot and walked home without him.  Whatever had happened to him after that, well, not my fault.

I was about halfway to the opposite end of the open lot when I remembered that I’d left that bottle of Jim Bean behind, and turned around to get it.  I didn’t know whose fingerprints were on it.

As I turned, someone ran across the highway to the place where I’d left Joe on the tracks. A woman, maybe five feet tall in four-inch stilettos, and built like a feather boa.  She screamed and tried to pull Joe off the tracks—the wrong way, that was.  All she woulda had to do was push him sideways off the tracks, and he would have rolled off the track bed and to safety.  But no, she had to try to drag him across the tracks, which meant she’d have to try to drag him over two sets of tracks, because right there, they ran side by side, and it wasn’t clear which tracks the train was on yet.

“Help me!” she screamed, then waved her arms.

I swore under my breath.  She’d seen me.

I ran toward her, grabbing the bottle of Jim Bean off the ground as I ran.  The train was on its way now, you could see it off in the distance as it came around the bend.  I made it to the tracks, dropped the bottle, and grabbed Joe’s body to start pulling him off the tracks and toward the open lot.

This little lady grabbed him and started pulling him back the other way. Between the two of us, we had him half-sitting up.

She was strong.  I don’t know how a lady so tiny got so strong.

“Let go!” I shouted.

“Help me!” she shouted back.

We both kept pulling in opposite directions.

The train came closer, the brakes on it screaming. It was on our set of tracks, all right, headed straight for all three of us.

That’s when Joe’s head rolled back on his shoulders and he started screaming, “I don’t wanna go toward the liiiiight!”

He jerked his arms away from both of us and covered his face with his hands.

Still sitting there, right on the tracks.

The woman yelled, “I’ll save you!” and tried to grab him under the arms and drag him backward along the tracks.  Even with the train trying to stop, she wasn’t going to be able to drag him backward fast enough to do either of them any good.

So I grabbed her and dragged her off the tracks, toward the open lot.  And she—don’t ask me how—kept hold of Joe and dragged him off the tracks.

As we dragged Joe away from the oncoming train, he saw the bottle of Jim Beam and grabbed it, cradling it to his chest like a puppy.

The engine went by, brakes still screaming. We had made it.

After a while, the train came to a stop, and we all heard this weird humming sound.

“What’s that?” the lady asked.

We all looked.

It was a drone floating above our heads and off to the side, a camera right in front.

Filming the whole thing.

Which is why we’re Internet-famous now, how Joe and I got busted for open container, and the hundred-percent truth of how Joe and Meredith met.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 20: Murder, Second-Degree

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #20: Murder, Second-Degree

CRIME DU JOUR

Second-degree murder is an ugly, boring crime. In theory it’s supposed to be a “crime of passion,” when you kill someone in the heat of the moment, or you kill someone you only intended to injure, or you kill someone while you’re committing another crime.  In practice, it’s a crime for stupid people.

Lemme give you some examples.

One guy kills a priest in Marlborough who was hearing his confession, not in a confession booth like in the movies, but in the priest’s office, face to face, over a cup of coffee.  The guy was abused as a kid, and it slips out.  Suddenly the guy is like, “You weren’t supposed to ask about that.” They tussle, the priest gets shot, second-degree murder.

A contractor in Arnold drives over a homeless man in an alleyway near his apartment. Hits the guy, runs over him, then reverses his pickup truck and backs over him again.  He was high and hadn’t meant to do it, second-degree murder.

This guy in Fairview Heights is molesting little kids. One of the moms finds out.  She recruits her brother to help deal with this bastard, then hires the guy to help put together some bunk beds for her even younger twin daughters. They tussle, she accidentally shoots her brother, then the guy. She has a good lawyer. Instead of first-degree murder and manslaughter, the charge about her brother is dismissed and the one about the alleged molester is downgraded—you guessed it—to second-degree murder.

A chorus of domestic disturbance rings out over the St. Louis metropolitan area, as regular as church bells. Second-degree murder.

Two guys stuck in a traffic jam on I-70 on a Friday at 4 p.m., one guy gets out and shoots the other, second-degree murder.

Two guys walk out of a bar just off Vandeventer Avenue, they get in a fight, one of them knocks the other out, the first guy drags the second guy’s unconscious body into a park, the second guy hits his head on a rock and dies, second-degree murder.

Robbery in an old man’s home in Fairview Heights, the robber ties up a 79-year-old man and leaves him there after ransacking the house. The man has diabetes and no family and can’t get to his insulin, second-degree murder.

Three teenaged boys in Ferguson steal some unsecured guns off a second-amendment neighbor, all trigger and no discipline, then break into the house of neighbors who happen to be black. They wear ski masks, one of the guns goes off accidentally, everyone’s in the news, second-degree murder.

A woman’s driving a car in Hi-Pointe. The car is moving. One guy is in the seat beside her, the other is in the seat behind her. A gun goes off—twice. The car swerves and hits a tree. Video from a store across the street shows three people in the car: the dead woman in the driver’s seat, a guy in the front seat, another guy in back. The woman was shot in the back of the head twice. Both of the guys have previous convictions for drug felonies. The guy in the back seat says he got out of the car and went home before the shooting occurred and he wouldn’t have shot her while the car was moving anyway, second-degree murder.

Are you bored yet? Rolling your eyes? Trying to talk to the people on the other side of the story and tell them it wasn’t worth it? I do.

I work for the local daily paper.  You wouldn’t recognize my byline. I started out delivering papers at four a.m. off my bicycle and worked my way up to reporter.  Not one of the top reporters, but a reliable hack with a sympathetic face who works the courts a lot.  The cops recognize me.  I’ve stepped down more than a few situations.  “Oh, it’s her,” they’ll say, and the situation will de-escalate. Apparently my writeups are sarcastic.

But here it is: I started noticing, when I was doing follow-up interviews with the survivors after sentencing, that there would be a snow globe sitting around somewhere.  Small, cheap-looking, white plastic in a glass dome with a white plastic base.  I didn’t think about it until I saw the fifth or sixth one.  Now I see them everywhere.

When I first realized it, I broke off in the middle of the interview.  I said, “What’s that?”

The widow handed the globe over to me.  Her husband had been killed behind a gay bar off 7th Boulevard. She’d known what her husband was like, but she loved him too much to stop him that night, he’d been shot after making out with the wrong closeted gay man, second-degree murder.

“Charles’s snow globe,” she said, like I should have known already. She handed it to me.

Behind the swirling white glitter was a 3D-printed miniature in white plastic. One man standing, the other kneeling, the first man holding a gun to the second man’s head. A little metal plate at the bottom said Charles Garmer, Jan 7 1982 to May 13 2018, Crime du Jour.

“Where’d you get it?” I asked.

“It came in the mail.” She tilted her head. “Didn’t you know? Every day someone gets one of these.”

She showed me the St. Louis survivors’ forum she frequented. One of the top topics was just that: Crime du Jour.  Every day, some anonymous artist selected a second-degree murder case and made a miniature snow globe for it on a 3D printer, then sent it to one of the survivors.

“That’s…” I said, not knowing how to describe it.

The widow shrugged. “We like them. It’s nice knowing someone is paying attention.” She skipped a beat, then added, “Besides you, of course.”

“Of course,” I said, and wrapped things up.

Twenty years of summing up second-degree murder cases, and it was someone else who had found the perfect description for that dull and relentless horror, the horror of human stupidity.

Crime du jour.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 19: Money Laundering

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #19: Money Laundering

NIMMERFROH

It all started when my latest serial-killer novel was pirated.  I’d only sent out a couple dozen copies of the novel to beta readers, so it wasn’t that hard to track down the guilty party.  Beta readers are people who read an early version of a story and give the author feedback. It’s an informal position, but one of trust. I set my computer guru, Bob, on the job. Bob is a nice guy, pretty ethical, but he owes me big-time.

The suspects were quickly narrowed down to two friends of mine who lived on the other side of the country, but not with each other. (I live in Colorado, up in the mountains.) I immediately leaned toward one of them as the guilty party.

I should explain why I was upset about having my book pirated.  To a reader, it’s no big deal to pirate a Liz Hicks book, or even thousands of Liz Hicks books.  I, myself, have pirated a few books. If I can’t legally buy a copy of a book, I have no scruples about getting one however I can.  The usual problem that authors bring up is that they don’t make money off pirated books. And I have to admit that the idea of all the money that isn’t mine gets my goat sometimes.

But what really pisses me of is that I don’t make rankings off pirated books.  Nobody gets on a USA Today bestseller list based on pirated versions. And Amazon, for example, bases how often my books get shown to readers on how often my books get sold or reviewed.  And book pirates don’t even leave stinking reviews.

The woman I suspected of being the book pirate, let’s call her Jenna, was going to be at a convention in St. Petersburg, Florida, a few weeks after I found out about the pirating.  I looked up the email she had sent after she had read the novel, called Nimmerfroh, about a female serial killer working with the German Resistance during World War II.  Jenna had loved the book, but suggested a few changes. I’d used most of her suggestions.  She’s also a professional writer, and a good one.  She writes thrillers about a female IT specialist who tracks down abducted women.  She’s a computer guru herself, although these days she’s a bit behind on the field, being successful enough as a writer that she quit her IT job.

Aha, I hear you thinking. No wonder she’s the one you suspected.

Let me add that the other suspect was an old college professor of mine, a complete idiot about clicking on any and every email or message that anyone ever sent him, the kind of person constantly posting on Facebook, “Ignore any messages you got from me yesterday.  I’ve been hacked!”

He might have been an inadvertent “leak,” but I didn’t think so. The version of the book that had been pirated had the fixes that Jenna had suggested in it already—worded slightly differently than I would have done it.

A pretty solid clue, in my opinion.

I kept my mouth shut until the Florida convention.  I had intended to take Jenna to lunch as a “thank you” for being a beta-reader, then confront her about the book pirating, but she beat me to it. That is, she offered to take me out to lunch.

We went to an upscale restaurant. She ordered the vegan fettuccine with mushroom Bolognese.  I ordered steak, organic New York strip with togarishi-lime butter, and a double-shot of the most expensive Scotch on the list.  If they had had lobster on the menu, I would have ordered it.

She didn’t blink an eye.

“So,” she said. “You found out about the piracy.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I knew you would.”

“And?”

And, she said, she had a proposition for me.

A certain firm in Indonesia needed to launder some money.  They owned literal laundries all over East Java. Many of the legitimate customers paid in cash.  The way the money got laundered was, the laundry owners would set up fake accounts to bring in suits to be dry-cleaned.  They would charge the accounts for the suits, but—surprise!—no suits were ever cleaned. It’s a simple setup. I’ve heard of it done with housecleaning, restaurants, even house sitters.

Here was where things got more involved.  The firm in Indonesia also wanted a way to introduce computer viruses onto people’s smartphones.  Jenna had a more technical term for it, but that’s what it boiled down to, a computer virus.

Why not, Jenna said with twinkling eyes, target book pirates?

I would “leak” my beta-reader book version to the book pirates. They would introduce this virus thingy onto the pirated book file.  The book pirates would steal the book.  Then bad things would happen to the book pirates.

Instant karma.

“But what do I get out of it?” I asked.

“Isn’t revenge enough?” she asked.

“No,” I said, and she laughed.

“The women who work at the laundry all have Amazon accounts,” Jenna said.  “They buy your book.  Or read it on Kindle Unlimited, if the book is in that program. They’ll even do reviews.”

“In Indonesian?” I asked, thinking, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t speak English.

“All sorts of languages. There’s a network that goes through Russia and all over China, a lot of different places. A lot of the reviews are in English. And, honestly, I’ve made a lot of new fans that way.”

I sat back in my seat.

“And you sent my book out without asking me because…?” I said.

“Never mind that now,” she said. “It’s too late to put the feline back in the Kate Spade clutch. In or out?”

I thought about backlist. I thought about karma.  I thought about getting caught.

But it was breaking into the Russian and Chinese markets that decided me.

Getting reviews.

“In,” I said.

And then I finished my steak.

THE END

This story features the main character (Liz Hicks) from my forthcoming Diane R. Thompson novel, A Dark and Cozy Night.  

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 15: Homicide

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #15: Homicide

FELONY MURDER RULE

 

It was a meeting of the Little Old Ladies’ club, and this month the three of them were having brunch at the Oak & Ash, a new restaurant run by a nice gay couple in their thirties, the sort of people who would have been called “roommates” back in the day.

“I think they’re hipsters,” Edna said. “Isn’t that what you call the Millennials these days?  Hipster neckbeards? I bet they named the restaurant after their woods.”

Edna, the oldest, had watched too much Golden Girls while she was going through menopause and it had done things to her mind.

Ronnell said, “I dare you, you redheaded tramp, say that to the waiter’s face. Say it!”

Carrie said, “What do you think about mezcal?”

Edna said, “It’s just the hipster name for tequila.”

“I meant what kind,” Carrie said. “I’m having the ‘Naked and Famous.’ Mezcal, aperol, chartreuse jaune, and lime.” They all knew that aperol was an Italian apéritif with gentian and rhubarb in it; they had been drinking their way through cocktail lists for decades. Ronnell opted for a “Sunshine” with white rum and pineapple juice, and Edna ordered a pear mojito, shouting after the waiter, “And don’t stiff me on the mint!”

Carrie said, “This month’s business starts off with the Ralph Juza case.”

Ronnell flicked her French-manicured nails. “That whole situation annoys me. Two men, Ralph Juza and Arthur Monk, are strangers to each other. Arthur Monk holds up a coffee shop and takes all the money out of the till and the safe in the office.  Juza is a bystander. He’s frozen in terror.  Edmond Crouch, the coffee shop owner, takes a pistol and shoots Monk.  And now Juza is being tried for homicide?  It makes no sense. Unless it’s a set-up.”

Carrie said, “But before Crouch shot Monk, Monk gave the money to Juza. Shoved it at him as he was trying to run. So now Juza’s involved.”

“Juza didn’t even know him!”

Edna said, “It was Juza’s money in the first place, since Crouch stiffed Juza on those plumbing repairs, which you didn’t mention.”

Ronnell said, “I still can’t see how Juza was involved with either the robbery or the murder.”

Carrie said, “Technically, because Juza panicked and ran off with the money after Monk was shot, he became an accessory after the fact, as well as abetting the murder—since he picked up the homeless Monk up off the street and offered to buy the man some coffee.”

Edna muttered, “It was Juza’s money. With Monk as the bill collector.”

Carrie rolled her eyes and continued. “The felony murder rule states that if any death results from the commission of certain violent felonies, that everyone involved in the commission of that felony can also be charged with first-degree murder.”

Ronnell said, “Doesn’t the death have to be someone who isn’t a criminal participant, at least in this state?”

Carrie screwed up her mouth to think as the waiter brought their drinks. Edna got the “Naked and Famous,” Carrie got the “Sunshine,” and Ronnell got the pear mojito, which was positively packed with mint leaves, an alcoholic salad.

“Keep or swap back?” Edna demanded.

“Swap,” Ronnell said.

“Keep,” Carrie said. “No, I want the pear mojito.” Ronnell got her “Sunshine” back and Edna stuck with the “Naked and Famous,” which made Carrie’s nose hairs curl just to smell it.

“Where were we?” Carrie asked.

Ronnell said, “Criminal participants.”

Carrie said, “If that is the case, Ronnell, I’m sure Juza’s lawyer will bring the criminal participant argument into play. Which would make it an easy dismissal.”

Edna said, “Unless someone has a chip on his shoulder.  Get it? Chip? Wood?”

Ronnell said, “Oh, didn’t I mention? There’s a reason why I picked the Oak & Ash for bunch.  And it’s him, Jesse Hall, one of the co-owners. He knows Crouch.”

All three of them turned toward Hall, a willowy young man in his thirties with a pompadour haircut.  He felt the power of their regard, and walked toward them.

“Can I get you anything, ladies? More drinks?”

Edna leaned forward to say something awful. Carrie put a hand over her mouth. Smoothly, Ronnell interjected, “We were just talking about the Juza case. Have you heard of it?”

Hall nodded.

“What’s your opinion?” Carrie asked.  “Is Juza guilty of murder, or isn’t he?”

“Technically…” said Hall.  “Yes?  He stole the money afterward, so he was involved in the shooting as an accessory after the fact. It’s the felony murder rule, which is–”

“We know it,” Carrie and Ronnell said, before he could explain.

Edna ripped Carrie’s hand away from her mouth.  “Crouch acted in self-defense.  So it was never murder in the first place. Justifiable homicide. You can’t charge a man for a crime that was never committed.”

Ronnell said, “I heard Crouch kept blanks in that gun.  Not live ammo.”

Hall pursed his lips.  “I knew Crouch. He told everyone that he kept blanks in it.”

Carrie said, “But did he? What if he kept a box of blanks and a box of live ammo, so he could claim the rounds were switched by an accident?”

Ronnell said, “Or what if someone could have put a box of live ammo in with the blanks and switched it for him.”

Edna chortled.  “I’ve known some women who’ve done that with condoms.”

Carrie said, “But who?”

Ronnell said, “As far as anyone can tell, Monk was just an ordinary robber. An opportunist who had been arrested for the same crime before. He’d never been in the store before.”

Carrie said, “…until Juza brought him to the coffee shop.”

The case spread out before her: Juza had swapped the bullets, set up the murder, with either Monk killing Crouch or vice versa–he didn’t care which–and got himself arrested for a crime that would be dismissed.

All so he couldn’t be forced to go to trial twice over the same crime, because of the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Clever.

She looked at Ronnell.  Ronnell winked.

Hall shrugged.  “All I know is, Juza was a terrible plumber, and he had gone to the coffee shop to argue with Crouch about whether Crouch was going to sue him for shoddy workmanship. Crouch is going to have to have all his pipes torn out and replaced.”

Edna said, “My ex-husband had to have that done, too.”

As Hall left, the three Little Old Ladies cackled in his wake.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 6: Child Abuse

Please note: I avoided graphic depictions of child abuse!

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #6: Child Abuse

HOW MISS NANKERVIS FOUND A MOUSE

 

The townhouse on Cheyne Row was the sort of house that one did not suspect of large rats, it having a distinguished Chelsea address. However, since the first of October it had been plagued with scratching and skittering noises behind the upstairs wainscoting, and Miss Angelique Nankervis was beginning to suspect the house of infestation.

Miss Nankervis, a young woman of wealth and character if not an entirely impeccable history (having been raised in Jamaica), first noted the noise on October first, the same day that her neighbors across the street, near the famed historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle’s house, had some difficulty.

The difficulty involved a certain amount of womanish screaming of the name Aldrich, and a discreet amount of bustling by the servants from house to house. Miss Nankervis rang, and her man soon appeared. Mr. Parnell was new, and unused to her unusual ways, her unusual height, and her unusual appearance.  She had only just begun to set aside her veil in his presence, and reveal the burned, scarred features of her albino face. He seemed not to react adversely, but the real test would be one of his continued discretion.

“Mr. Parnell, whatever is the matter across the street?”

“Number three, miss, belonging to Mr. Woodbridge Thurston and his wife,” Parnell said.  “One ought not to listen to gossip, but it seems as though the Thurstons have lost a son.”

Miss Nankervis frowned at him. Parnell often stooped to euphemize.  “The son has died? Or has he been mislaid?”

Parnell coughed into his hand. “Mislaid, miss. His name is Aldrich.”

“Let me know if you hear any further gossip on the matter. Or the son is returned.”

“Yes, miss.”

By the time the rats had come to Miss Nankervis’s attention, several days had passed, and it was the sixth of October.  Miss Nankervis rang again.  “Mr. Parnell, have you heard the rats?”

“Yes, miss. But I didn’t like to say.”

“Mr. Parnell, I require that those about me present me with every sort of curious, inconvenient, or otherwise memorable occurrence.  Do I make myself clear? Now: the rats in the walls?”

“I have set out traps, but I have not caught a single rat. They’re clever ones.”

“Are you using poison?”

“Only just begun, miss.”

“Remove the poison from the traps at once, and replace it with good bread and cheese,” she said. “No crusts or mold. Perhaps a dish of fresh milk.”

“Miss?”

“At once, Mr. Parnell.  I will brook no delay.”

Soon the household gained an additional member: a cat. It quickly became evident that the cat was too lazy to make an effective hunter, and, in fact, it would howl if not fed.

Mr. Parnell inquired whether Miss Nankervis should like to get rid of the cat, named “Dundee,” and obtain another, but she only said that Dundee would be sure to give perfect satisfaction, as long as Mr. Parnell baited the traps with good bread and fresh cheese, and was patient.

To which Mr. Parnell could only say, “Yes, miss.”

The next few days found the cat pacing about the townhouse, searching every nook and cranny for something to eat, for he was forbidden any food which he did not himself find.

On the afternoon of the eighth, the cook, Mrs. Iriye, came to report. “The cat’s not been fed, Miss Angelique, but it ain’t pleased with being treated like a common mouser, no indeed! It soils everything in my kitchen, just to spite.”

“I am sorry, Mrs. Iriye, but I ask that you be patient for a little longer.”

Mrs. Iriye patted her hand. “Never fear, I have faith in your little ways.”

Miss Nankervis smiled at her friend.  “And Mr. Parnell?”

“Putting out that good bread, you can see that it breaks his heart. But he ain’t poisoned it, or otherwise disobeyed.”

“Good. A day or two should see an end to this mystery, and to Mr. Parnell’s upset.”

On the next day, the ninth, Mr. Parnell reported that Dundee was nowhere to be found. Miss Nankervis told him not to put anything out in the mouse-traps until instructed otherwise.

That night, the house was awakened by the sound of Dundee yowling piteously.  Miss Nankervis waited until Mr. Parnell came to her door and knocked softly.

“Yes?”

“You said to tell you if anything unusual happened, miss. And it has.  The cat’s screaming for food, as I’m sure you can hear.”

“And?”

“…And he’s nowhere to be seen.”

Miss Nankervis had already wrapped herself in a black dressing-gown. “Then let us find him.”

The cat was soon tracked to a second-story wall that closely butted against the neighbor’s. The exterior walls of the townhouse were of brick, but within them were plaster and lath walls decorated with paper and wainscoting.

Miss Nankervis knocked upon the wall.  A distinctly hollow sound emerged.

“I thought there might be something secret about this room,” she cried happily.  “Quickly, everyone—search for a hidden panel!”

The panel was soon found, behind a waist-high bookcase that revealed a purring cat and a small boy named Aldrich, who had been moving about with a broken leg and several other grievous injuries that caused him to drag one foot, thus causing the mysterious scratching. He had—rather miraculously—come in via the roof.

Aldrich soon found himself en route to Jamaica, in the care of Mrs. Iriye’s nephew, Brantly James, along with Dundee, who had grown quite attached to the boy, in contrast to the poor boy’s parents, who had not.

Mr. Parnell helped spread rumors that the Thurstons had invested in a great deal of money in a Singaporean house of ill repute, and the couple soon found itself disliked both by the wealthy and their servants, a difficult state to survive on Cheyne Row. Indeed, the glee with which Mr. Parnell carried out his instructions firmly ensured him a place in that unusual household, for years to come.

THE END

The characters in this story are from a series of historical crime capers about Smoke the Orphan and her mistress, Miss Nankervis. You can find the first one, How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys, here.

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 4: Bribery

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #4: Bribery

MONA LISA SMILE

 

It started innocently enough. Caroline Byam, MD, an oncologist, worked for a multi-specialty physician practice, Grossman Associates, an affiliate of Freedom Health, in Massachusetts.  She was one of the new breed of doctors, the kind who stop to double-check drug interactions on their smart phones mid-visit. Caroline had charmingly crooked teeth, deep-set eyes, and a tendency to pull out most of the hair on her eyebrows, like Mona Lisa.  You couldn’t have called her pretty, though, and she didn’t have the right kind of smile. She had a boyfriend but she had never had much luck with men. They walked all over her.

One off-Saturday, she came in with a handful of other doctors to meet with some pharmaceutical reps.  They were hustling a new brand of fentanyl, a transdermal skin patch of synthetic opioid more addictive than heroin, as being a reasonably safe alternative to the current patch dominating the market.

Caroline’s supervisor advised the doctors to consider using the new patch, Moradine Transdermal, instead of the front-runner brand-name one.  Top prescribers would be considered to speak at a conference in Hawaii the following December, no vacation time necessary, all expenses paid. A bonus might be in the offering.

Caroline told herself she would try switching a couple of prescriptions. Cautiously. Some of these pharmaceutical reps were pushy, borderline unethical. But she would give the new drug a fair shot. The studies the reps had presented did look legit.

She prescribed the patch for several of her patients, and they responded well. Soon she had stopped proscribing the original patch altogether.

Until the day one of them, Fred Sweetser, started hallucinating while he was in her exam room.

“Almira,” he said, taking her hand gently in his, “you’ve come back.”

“I’m sorry?” she asked. “My name is Caroline.”

Almira was an unusual name; it had been her grandmother’s middle name, back in Pennsylvania.

“You have her smile,” Mr. Sweetser insisted.

She smiled at him. Mr. Sweetser was an old man, about eighty, and his prognosis wasn’t good.  He had recently lost almost twenty-five pounds and had had to be brought into her office in a wheelchair. But he was stubborn, not ready to relinquish himself to either hospital or hospice care. He lived in an assisted living facility nearby.

“Thank you,” she said. “Do I remind you of your wife?”

Mr. Sweetser smiled broadly, still holding her hand. He rubbed his silky, bony, almost printless thumb over the backs of her knuckles. “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you? Even after all this time?”

She checked his chart: he was listed as widowed, his records linked to a Liz Sweetser, a former patient of Freedom Health (deceased).  “Almira” could be anyone. A daughter, a former mistress.

“Are you in any pain, Mr. Sweetser?”

“Not as much as I used to be.”

One of the rarer side effects of the transdermal patch was auditory and visual hallucinations, but she wasn’t sure whether Mr. Sweetser’s delusion could be considered as such. He might only have dementia.  Or simply be deluding himself over a fond memory and a faint resemblance.

“Have you had enough to drink today?”

He waved a hand casually.  “I’ll wait until I get back to the old folks’ home.  I don’t like to wet myself in front of pretty girls.”

“Are you feeling nauseated?”

He lowered his voice. “I’ve been constipated. The nurses are all trying to shove go-juice down my throat. You know, the stuff with prunes. And it gives me gas.”

She would lower the dose on the Moradine patch, she decided.  Mr. Sweetser had lost a good deal of weight. She scrawled a note that the patches should be lowered to 50 mcg/hr, but to contact her if Mr. Sweetser experienced any pain.

“But, Almira,” Mr. Sweetser said, “All of that isn’t important. I want you to tell Caroline that there is trouble coming.”

“I’m sorry?” Caroline asked.

Mr. Sweetser tapped his temple with his free hand. His watery blue eyes were distant, looking straight through her.  “Caroline is being bribed to prescribe certain drugs to her patients. You know I’ve always had the sight. If she doesn’t stop now, then some of her patients will die.”

Caroline’s heart seemed to stop beating. Her ears roared and she swayed on her wheeled stool.

Mr. Sweetser’s hand tightened on hers.  “I’m sorry. I’m not saying this just to hurt you. Tell her not to go to that conference. The one in Hawaii. That’s where they really pull her in, get her to start dealing to rich kids with too much time on their hands.” Mr. Sweetser brought her hand to his dry lips and kissed it.  “And that that boyfriend of hers. It’s either kick him out of the house now, or arrange for him to OD on some of those patches later. He’s a barnacle, and you got to scrape those off from time to time. Like you did me.”

He grimaced.

“She’s not a bad girl, Almira.  She’s like you.  A good heart but no angel. I’m sorry I did you wrong, Almira, but I wouldn’t lie to you now. Promise me, Almira. For old time’s sake.”

“I—I promise,” Caroline said.

Forewarned had been forearmed. Caroline avoided the opioid scandals that crashed Grossman Associates in 2018, established a reputation for integrity, and been hired on to a much better position elsewhere. Her boyfriend had screamed when his rich doctor girlfriend scraped him off her life like the barnacle he was, but she only smiled: he had no idea of the fate he’d avoided.

On Caroline’s next visit, her mother denied ever having heard about a “Fred Sweetser.” The visit after that, though, one whole photo album was missing from her shelves.

Since then, people stop to look at her wherever she goes.  It’s that half-satisfied, half-ironic look of hers. She’s not pretty, but she has the right kind of smile.

That Mona Lisa smile.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 3: Arson

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #3: Arson

THE FIRE ON ATTLEBORO PLACE

 

Someone rings the doorbell downstairs. It’s three o’clock in the morning, and there’s an empty spot on the bed beside me, and no light on in the bathroom.  I get up and go downstairs. My wife Judy’s shoes and purse and a clay-colored jacket of hers are all missing. I answer the door and it’s a blonde heavyset man in his fifties. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a fire department logo and Carhartt pants.  He smells like smoke, and my guts just fill up with lead.

“Are you Isaac Eudy, Jr.? Are you the owner of 267 Attleboro Place in Mooresville?”

I own several rental properties in that area, so I say, “Yes, sir.”

“I’m Investigator Herlocker with the Mooresville Fire Marshall’s Office. There is an active fire at 267 Attleboro Place.”

I sigh. I have always had a feeling about that place, that sooner or later it would be trouble.

The investigator asks, “Is your wife at home?”

I say, “I didn’t see her when I got up a second ago, and her purse and shoes are missing.”

“If you will come with me, sir, I need you to identify whether or not we have found your wife.”

On the way from Charlotte to Mooresville, for nearly fifty minutes I try to reach my Judy, but she doesn’t pick up the phone.

My renter’s name is Oscar Van Pelt, he’s about thirty-five years old, and I’d have to say a real spoiled shit.  He’s in the right neighborhood for his personality, though. Trump owns a golf club out there, if that gives you a picture.  The house has a swimming pool and it backs out onto Lake Norman.  Insurance-wise, that house is worth about four times the value of where I live in Charlotte. That house has marble countertops, an open-plan kitchen, gray walls inside and out, and lots of windows.  I bought it because I could get eighty-five hundred a month for rent.  Oscar Van Pelt is in the film industry of North Carolina, although he is not from here.  His contract is for one year.

When we get to the house, it is surrounded by so many fire trucks that we cannot find a place to park. About half the house is completely gutted. It is a loss. The investigator takes me to a van belonging to the North Carolina OCME, which is the medical examiner, and they have her in a black bag, which looks too thin. That bag is thinner than a zip-up garment bag for a clean suit.

Seeing her shakes me up. I cannot believe it is Judy. She isn’t wearing her wedding ring, although you can’t tell to look at her, she’s so burned up. The tech in the van has to run a probe along her finger, to show me that the ring is missing.

“That her?” Herlocker asks.

I go, “I can’t tell.”

“Look again,” he says.

I say, “I think that just might be her jacket, but—”

“Any identifying marks?” he says.

“Other than her teeth? No, she didn’t have any moles or nothin’. You better call her dentist.” I give Herlocker Judy’s dentist information, and he says he’ll be in touch.

I call my insurance agent.  Then I call Judy’s mom. “What was she doing over there?” she asks. I tell Judy’s mom that nobody’s sure if it’s Judy yet. “Oh, it’s her,” she says. “I had a feeling in my gut earlier, like when she used to sneak out of the house when she was thirteen. That girl was always trouble.”

It’s Judy, all right. She was strangled, before she was burned.

I didn’t recognize my own wife.

They found two gallon-sized jugs of liquid paraffin in my basement, and paraffin and empty jugs of the same brand all over the basement of 267 Attleboro Place.  They found some of my fingerprints on the utility room door in the basement.  Judy’s fingerprints were all over the tub in the master bath, and her cell phone was tracked going to the Attleboro place at 11 p.m.

I turned in early that night.  I thought Judy had too.  We were both in bed by nine.  Judy snores, so I sleep with earplugs in.  I made her supper that night.  We ate together. I made her oven-baked fried chicken and glazed carrots. You just throw it all into the oven, and it takes care of itself. They said she had chocolate-covered strawberries in her stomach, when they cut her open.

You get into middle age, you stop worrying about your wife cheating on you. Or you cheating on your wife, for that matter. I think she was mad I was taking her for granted. Or else she was just plain bored. The police went over her phone records and text messages. She had called or texted Van Pelt about a thousand times.

And I didn’t know it, or even suspect.

Van Pelt got out of the burning house with minor burns and smoke inhalation. He had to be dragged out of the master bedroom. He said he had never seen my wife before in his life, although Judy’s vagina said otherwise. And then he said, he had no idea how she had gotten into his basement, with or without fourteen jugs of liquid paraffin.

At the trial, it came out that the 911 call had come in at two-fifty a.m.

When it was my turn to get questioned up there on the stand, I interrupted the prosecutor:  “I just have one question for you, sir.”

He was one of those kids who still think they know everything. “Yes, Mr. Eudy?”

“Just how did Investigator Herlocker get to my place in Charlotte by three a.m., if the call was at two-fifty? Because 3 a.m. was the time that I started trying to call Judy, non-stop, as my phone records will show.”

And that was when the case fell apart.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

Page 1 of 282

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén