Friday, December 18, 2009

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Three

Longstreet sat on the corner of Louise’s desk. The wastepaper basket was relatively empty but Louise seemed to be on pace to fill it within the next few minutes.

They had someone in to look at the elevator again. I swear with all the chanting and candles it was unsightly. It kept me from getting anything done.

“How were things last night?”

Louise paused for a moment to snap the paper out of the typewriter. Longstreet bent over to pick up the paper and toss it in the trashcan. By the time he straightened, the carriage was reloaded.

The building itself was quiet, but there was such a ruckus outside. Why couldn’t you put me in a room with a window or something?

“You can walk through walls?”

Yes, but I’d like to look out the window while I worked.

“I barely make enough money to keep this place open. Your only option is the view I have. If you find alleyways scenic, by all means…”

It doesn’t matter. I got the story from one of the cleaning imps. Miller staged one of his breakdowns in front of the office and his passenger almost killed him. Again.

Longstreet shook his head. “Running spook tours out of Lugosi’s Row is low but pretending the car gets a flat and having some of your buddies put the mark’s feet to the fire is even lower.”

Especially when the mark has a silver-plated penknife.

“Ouch. Is Mattias okay?”

He hasn’t has to deal with silver burns in a while but I heard him grumbling past the office this morning.

“It is cons like that that make my job tougher.”

Planning to run for office, boss?

“Hardly. I just hate having to deal with clients that think I’m gonna wiggle my fingers and make their wallets disappear.”

You ever think of giving it up and getting an office outside of Moontown?

“What, and actually pay a pretty girl to sit here and flirt with me while clients ignore me?”

The front door opened. Longstreet snapped to his feet like a lover caught by a parent. A man walked in, staring intently at a scrap of paper. He had skin the color of whiskey and a slight stoop. He was wearing a short porkpie hat, a dress shirt that had seen better days, and work trousers. His hair was short on the sides, black with the first frost of old age settling in. His build was an impressive one sliding into mud. When he realized he wasn’t alone, he put the piece of paper into a long metal lunchbox he was carrying with him.

“You must be Mister Longstreet,” the man said, with a slight nasal twang that shaved the ‘I’ in ‘mister’ to the ‘e’ in ‘me’.

“I must be,” Longstreet said, and offered his hand. The man’s shake was firm, and his hands were rough.

“I have heard good things about you,” the man said. “You are reliable?”

Longstreet found himself glancing at the typewriter and said, “Reliably is one of my best qualities. But please, if you are looking to employ me, let’s move to someplace more comfortable.”

Longstreet swept his arm broadly and opened the door to his office. He directed the man inside. As the man went inside, Louise put her two cents on paper.

Reliability? I better keep typing or he’s going to hear the landlord laughing.

Longstreet’s office seemed smaller than Louise’s, but that was due to the large oak desk in the center of the room. A pair of shaded windows offered the advertised view. There were two chairs, one on either side of the desk. Longstreet always offered the nicer chair to the clients. That chair was still well put together with no stains or stuffing trying to escape. The man sat heavily, like he was unloading a truck full of bricks. Longstreet circled to the other side and lowered himself into his chair. Longstreet’s chair had a few cuts and nicks in the finish but he always made sure to position himself in a way that hid them from the client’s view. The sun was tumbling through the window, caught by the specks of dust both men had kicked up by sitting.

“Would you care for something to drink?” asked Longstreet, leaning forward as if to stand again.

“No thank you,” said the man, “I’m here on lunch and having a drink might be dangerous.”

“You wouldn’t want your reflexes dulled when running a jackhammer,” said Longstreet as he leaned back in his chair.

“How did you know I worked in construction?”

“I am a detective,” Longstreet said with a smile. The man laughed. The ice was cracked.

“The lunch pail, mostly. But your have a decent build and a pair of work boots on.”

The office faded into quiet.

”These dealings go a lot faster once you tell me your name.”

“I’m sorry,” said the man as he removed his hat. “I am Oscar Ramirez.”

“What can I do for you, Mister Ramirez?”

“Someone has been threatening me,” Oscar said into his chest, “I would like for you to find out who it is.”

“Alright. My first question’s free. Why not go to the police?”

“I don’t trust the police,” Oscar said, glancing back to Longstreet.

“A valid concern,” Longstreet said, leaning forward a bit.

“The police aren’t very concerned with what happens to people like me. Most of them think that I’m taking my job away from a white man that deserves it.”

“I’ll bite. Second question. Why did you pick me?”

“To be frank, Mister Longstreet, your services are what I can afford.”

Longstreet rubbed his chin. Oscar fiddled with his hat.

“You won’t offend me by calling me a cheap detective. I am. Five dollars a day, plus basic necessities like food and gas. Retainer preferred.”

Oscar nodded and retrieved the metal lunchbox by his feet. It creaked open, and shortly afterward Oscar laid a twenty dollar bill on the desk.

“Will this do?”

“Nicely,” said Longstreet as he slid the bill across the blotter.

“I hope you are worth it. I won’t be able to eat out for a month.”

“We all have to make sacrifices,” Longstreet said as he placed the bill in his pocket.

“You’ve never tasted my sister’s cooking,” Oscar said with a laugh. Longstreet laughed along politely. Now was the time when he had to find the client engaging and hilarious.

“Now that you’ve paid for my time,” said Longstreet, leaning forward and planting his elbows on the desk, “you can tell me your tale.”

“It began three weeks ago,” said Oscar as he put the lunchbox back down. “Someone started calling my place late at night and would hang up. Then the same thing would happen again a few minutes later. It kept me up at night, and I would be very tired for work the next morning. After a few days, that stopped, but then the letters began.”

“Do you have one of these letters?”

Oscar shook his head sheepishly. “I threw them away. They made me angry even to look at them. They said awful nasty things about me and what I should do to myself. Then they started talking about what they were going to do to me. They would come every few days. I burned most of them.”

“And what was the last straw that made you come to me?”

“I think someone broke into my apartment,” Oscar sighed. “I’ve been working a big site uptown, which means my trek back home has become longer. These days, I usually don’t get home until after dark. When I got home a few nights ago, things were out of place. My place isn’t neat and tidy, but you know when someone goes through your piles. I don’t think anything was taken.”

“How did they get in?”

“My bedroom window, I think.”

Longstreet took a moment to lean back in his chair and swivel it slightly. He stared out the window for a few moments and let Oscar’s story sink in. He swiveled the chair back.

“Who do you think it is?”

“If I knew who it was, I wouldn’t come to you, Mister Longstreet.”

“I’m sure you still have an idea or two. If you’re smart enough to come to me, you’re smart enough to have suspects.”

“There’s a guy on the site that really rubs my nose in it. All the other guys pick on him because he’s small and he gives me the haze because they’ll back him. His name is Ernest but everyone calls him Donny because he talks like Donald Duck. It might also be my landlady Mrs. Hughes. I was out of town last month when the rent was due. I paid her right when I got back but ever since then she’s not smiled whenever I’ve said hello to her. And she was so nice.”

“I’ll bet she was lovey-dovey,” said Longstreet. He dug through the desk to find paper and quickly wrote the names on an old check from the diner.

“Do you need anything else, Mister Longstreet?”

“I’m good for now. I suggest you room elsewhere until we figure out who’s on your case besides me.”

“I’m staying with my sister for now. She’s on Nackett Street.”

“At least you’ll lose a little weight,” Longstreet said as he stood. Oscar laughed.

“They never said you were funny,” Oscar said as he shook Longstreet’s hand. The twang wrestled the ‘u’ in ‘funny’ into the ‘o’ in ‘on’.

“I save the jokes for paying customers,” said Longstreet as he escorted Oscar from his office. “Please leave your apartment’s address and how to contact you at your sister’s with my secretary.”

Oscar craned his neck around the front office. “You have a secretary?”

Longstreet stayed silent as he shut the door. A moment later, the clacking of Louise’s keys let him know she was explaining herself. He returned to his chair and spun fully toward the window, folding his hands on his chest. Ramirez was telling more of the truth up front that his other clients did. Being a detective was a game of feints and counters. People hired detectives to pry into someone’s life but hoped they didn’t pry too deeply to see the strands of web that connected back to the client. You dig deep enough, you hit a water pipe and everyone’s hot water goes away. Waving the smoke away from someone’s mystery was satisfying, but discovering a client’s motives were just as important. The more light Longstreet had at the entrance of the maze, the easier it would be to find the golden strand that would lead him back out again.

Louise’s typing stopped and the outer door opened and shut. Longstreet opened the desk drawer on his right hand side and found a cigar box. He opened it and the rank scent of cheap cigars wrinkled his nose. He whispered something, and the cigars inside disappeared, replaced with a scattering of cash, slips of paper, and matchboxes. He put in the twenty and removed some smaller bills. He shut it, crossed the office, and opened the door. The paper in the typewriter floated out of the carriage and into his hands. He leaned on the door frame and read it while Louise reloaded and began typing again.

Fantastic, boss. Looks like you’re getting paid for a case for once.

Longstreet leaned over the typewriter. “I learned my lesson after last night. I really should teach you how to frisk people for any magic items.”

No thanks. You stick with the sorcery, I’ll handle the typing.

“So what did you think of him?”

He seemed normal. Though really, if he gives you a retainer, I wouldn’t ask too many questions.

“He paid me to ask questions. Unfortunately, the first one on his dime is about him.”

What’s so strange about a guy that works hard labor for a living?

Longstreet tapped the paper he was holding. “If he’s so normal, why is his apartment located in Moontown?”

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Two

It was the kind of October morning where God himself seemed to shrug, roll over, and pull the blankets over his head. A bitter rain streaked down the windows of the train and everyone rode without acknowledging each other. The car was filled with a steady beat of coughs and sniffles with a chorus of shrieking angels every time the train rounded a corner. Every gaze was avoided with a glance out the window, an inspection of the ceiling, or a hat pulled low to grab a few more moments of shut-eye before work. Longstreet had tipped his hat forward but knew he was going to have to get off the train soon. The shrieking began again and he returned his hat to the top of his head.

Longstreet leaned forward and stood. He grabbed one of the overhead straps and made his way to the door of the train and waited. As the car slowed, he noticed the car filling with silence. He began to feel eyes on him, and caught the hint of whispers once the brakes finished their siren song. Someone was getting off at Radwill Avenue. He exited the train with a chuckle. The diner was four blocks from his train stop but he always told the cops his walk couldn’t have been stranger if blood started oozing out of the cracks in the sidewalk. Sure enough, this morning he found himself staring at a scattering of crimson puddles as he made his way off the platform.

“Welcome to Moontown,” he sighed. At this time of day, the neighborhood didn’t look much different than any others in Chicago. The first block was a mix of brownstones, storefronts, and the occasional thick concrete of a bank or other official building. There were no signs saying where it stopped or started but even Zielski said he could feel the energy shift. When you stepped into Moontown you were entering something that couldn’t be explained by the cops, the church, or the colleges.

By the second block, the differences began. They were almost imperceptible; out of the corner of the eye or something slithering into the shadow of a doorway. The foreign patter of other ethnic neighborhoods was replaced by the sounds of chanting drifting from open windows. The corner stores had small talismans and jars filled with eye of newt next to the olives. Longstreet walked past the red velvet-lined doors of the Sanguine Club and could almost hear the skin of the gargoyle perched above the door scrape together as it turned to look at him. This was usually how far most folks that were interested in a night of living dangerously made it. There were plenty of nightclubs near the train stop that featured a menagerie of ghouls, goblins, and harmless denizens the rich could gawk at. Most of the people that lived in Moontown despised the area, but ‘Lugosi’s Row’, as it had come to be called, brought a lot of money into the area. Even vampires had to pay the electric bill, and if it had to put on a cape and hypnotize a debutante that was out with her girlfriends, so be it. Lugosi’s Row was also doing its small part to make people less afraid of the mystic energies that had seeped into the world once again.

The third block was where things got more obvious. There was a dispatch center for the Queen Bee Cab Company on the corner of Radwill and Maynard. Whenever Longstreet walked past it, his step always seemed to quicken. There were four cabs inside. Each was covered in the distinct yellow and black stripes of the company. Each was also manned by a Tenant staring glass-eyed and forward. Longstreet always had this strange feeling that one day one of the cabs was going to gun forward and run someone down. Maybe it would be him, maybe someone else. The Queen Bees were one of the first companies to try to make money off of magic, but that didn’t make what they did any less disturbing.

Longstreet breathed a sigh of relief as he crossed Maynard Street and put the cab company behind him. He was entering the heart of Moontown now, where imps fluttered by on the street and sorcery was sold on the street corner. Longstreet made his way past a window proclaiming “Suits Pressed” with “Hexes Removed” underneath in smaller lettering. The mediums that had their shops here were the real deal, unlike the 50/50 split of grifters to genuine articles on Lugosi’s Row. Of course, that meant making your way past the werewolf passed out in the doorway, or wondering if there was a spook drifting through the room that would be willing to sell your secrets to be put to rest.

Halfway down the block, wedged between the Comfy Coffin Motel and Paulo’s Grocery and Exorcism, was a simple, single worded sign. It was more of a command than an explanation of what the purpose of the establishment was. EAT, it said, and Longstreet would obey. He stopped at Paulo’s for a newspaper and entered the door underneath EAT. The diner was sparsely populated at this point in the day. Moontown didn’t sleep, but many of its residents avoided the sun for reasons ranging from the trivial to the fatal. Last night was a full moon, and he heard some of the night shift cops telling stories when he came in last night. There was a winged thing hunched over the counter, gibbering with a golem that smoked its cigarette precisely once every seventeen seconds.

“I know, I know,” said the golem as its iron arms squeaked, “but he made me. I just wish he’d shut up already about his cold, black heart and his thirst for icy revenge.”

The thing grunted something in reply, and a plate levitated from the kitchen to the counter in front of him. There was a small claw sticking out from between two slices.

“No, he always gets this way whenever a broad dumps him,” said the golem, creaking its arm again for a perfect puff.

Longstreet made his way to the back booth. He slumped along the dirty velvet back and let his head rest on the back of the booth for a moment. He had made it back to his office last night just in time for Zielski’s phone call summoning him to the precinct. He didn’t feel like driving anymore and took the train over. The cops on duty ran him through his story pretty hard but at least Zielski let him grab a nap in his office. All he wanted to do was go to the office, pull the shade, and crawl under his desk. But Longstreet knew that Louise would be chatting his ear off as soon as he stepped in the door.

The waitress appeared, covered in cobwebs.

“Why don’t you conjure some coffee for me?” Longstreet asked. The waitress rolled her eyes and did his bidding. He unfolded the paper and began to read.

It was October 7, 1936. The headline was about an inquisition into the disappearance of Al Capone from a Federal prison in Florida. Apparently, Al vanished into thin air from his cell one day. Longstreet scanned the article and shook his head. Big Al was rumored to be the founder of the Guild and the man responsible for bringing sorcery to the crime families. The Guild had started out in Chicago, and some people insisted they had been around for much longer than they had been public. The families that refused to join the Guild were wiped out with a combination of spells, guns, and treachery.

The second article that caught his eye was an editorial from an elf from Boston urging readers to give suffrage to ‘immigrants to this realm’. Longstreet had heard a few cities let nonhumans vote but most politicians were concerned that someone would whistle up a batch of Tenants to shamble down to the polls. Of course, most of the politicians were already working with the Guilds one way or the other. The new graft was charm spells before big speeches and specters spying on rivals. Boston was a perfect example of it. The Goodly Folke were running the South End like New Arcadia, and the Guild boys in the North End were getting upset. Longstreet was glad he only had to deal with the Guild in Chicago. There were a few Folke around but none of them were as organized as the Dagda family in Southie.

The waitress returned with his coffee. “The usual,” he muttered and didn’t look up from the paper. He flipped the pages of the paper with his right hand and wiggled the fingers of his left hand. The spoon on the table lifted into the air and dipped itself into the coffee. The sugar and creamer on the end of the table lifted as well and dropped their contents into the cup. The brief spiral of motion slowed and within a moment, Longstreet had a perfect cup of coffee.

A plate clattered on the table as Longstreet continued to read. The Cubs were petitioning the league to allow Byron Louis to be raised from the dead. Louis was their first-baseman and best hitter. He had died in a car crash shortly after the season ended but had remained remarkably intact. Pro sports had been gun shy when it came to sorcery since Black Magic Monday, when the world saw magic for the first time. He wondered what it must have been like to watch Oscar Rodriguez turn into a werewolf and kill Joe Louis in the ring. He even had the copy of the paper framed in the office. It was the first time regular folks had concrete proof that something had changed in the world. It had been five years since Black Magic Monday, but people were finally realizing they could make money off magic just like anything else. Longstreet had gone to a couple of fights between vampires and gargoyles and they were interesting but nothing noteworthy. The paper even had an editorial cartoon about unicorn races replacing horse races.

Longstreet finished his coffee and laid his money on the table, leaving his food and the paper. He smiled at the waitress and left the diner, tracing back along his path earlier in the morning. He turned down Maynard Street and watched one of the Queen Bee cabs roll out of the dispatch. It was still raining and he wished he had brought the paper with him. He continued for two blocks until he reached DeHut Avenue and the small office building on the corner. It was a modest building with a sparse lobby and no doorman. He walked up two flights of stairs to the third floor of the four story building. He tried the elevator once and didn’t like it. The owner had replaced the cranky mechanism with a levitation spell. The stairs emptied onto a short hallway with four doors, two on each side. As he crossed the hall, a woman bobbed into the elevator opening.

“No, three, I said three…” she stammered as she floated past.

Longstreet made his way to a frosted glass door with the words “Longstreet Investigatons” stenciled on the glass. He put his hand on the door knob and paused. He had forgotten to pick up some gum for Louise. She was definitely not going to be happy.

He entered the office and put his hat on the hat rack next to the door. There was a small metal desk with a typewriter perfectly centered on top. Next to the typewriter was a large stack of paper, a cup of pencils, and an ashtray. The desk was a well-placed barrier to the door to the inner office. The door featured another frosted glass door with “Arthur Longstreet, Owner and Operator” stenciled on it. Other than Longstreet, the office was empty.

Longstreet put his gun in the desk and draped his coat on the hatrack.

“Good morning, Louise,” he said.

After a moment, the typewriter sprang to life.

Good morning, Boss, it typed, glad to see you made it in before noon today.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter One

The only thing visible from the highway was an elbow shaped sign curiously poking out of the underbrush. The first chill of October had settled in at the beginning of the week and the trees on the side of the road had quickly shed their leaves. The headlights had flashed past the sign quickly and Longstreet might have missed the turn-off completely if he hadn’t been here dozens of times before. He eased the wheel right and his Ford wound onto the dirt road that peeled from the pavement. The branches loomed over the road like teeth. The lights of the car shot straight down its throat. After a few moments of bouncing around, Longstreet saw a building sticking out of the forest like something lodged in its back. The Rook’s Nook Motor Lodge was a long, low building with a few cars parked along one side. Longstreet pulled the Ford into an open area near the office.

Longstreet let the engine idle for a moment and rubbed his eyes. The Ford was getting on in years and he hated to admit he almost took one of the brand new ’37s in trade for the Oliver case. He shut the engine off and looked down the line at the cars parked in the darkness. Most of them were nondescript. Dark colors, no markings. In the middle of the pack there was a cream-colored Duisenberg. Longstreet chuckled to himself. Someone was new to the game out here.

Longstreet got out of the car and stretched his legs. He was wearing a calm grey suit and had even remembered to shave today. Longstreet’s tie was a dark red gash down his torso. He crunched around on the gravel for a bit, watching his breath seep out his mouth like fog. He leaned his lanky frame back a bit and reached into his coat pocket for a handkerchief. He removed his thin glasses and breathed on each lens quickly, rubbing one for a few moments with the hankie. He held the glasses up to the moon for inspection. The disk fit perfectly into one lens. As he replaced the glasses and his hankie, his fingers brushed against the pistol he carried in a shoulder holster. Longstreet sighed, pulled his hat from the passenger seat, and began crunching his way toward the office. He was glad his client wanted to meet him at the Rook’s Nook tonight. Moontown never slept, but full moons were especially busy. Louise was going to give him an earful when he made it back to the office.

The motel office was at the head of the building. The interior was lit by a bare bulb and decorated in a hunting lodge motif. The room was as big as an afterthought. There was a long two man saw opposite of the entrance that ran the length of the wall. A dusty counter split the room in half. Longstreet noticed a bell but no register book. On the other side of the counter the clerk stood with his back to the door, motionless. There was a bear in the corner that almost mugged Longstreet as he entered. It was a good setup for this kind of place. You’d come in, pay your money, and leave. No sense hanging out in an overgrown broom closest with Benny the Bear reading the newspaper over your shoulder.

Longstreet rang the bell and plopped his hat on his head. He heard the clerk shuffle his feet and watched him turn around. The clerk’s right eye was milky and the right side of his face was pulled taut against his skull. A few stubborn shrubs of hair poked out from his scalp. His mouth opened and closed slowly, like he was chewing on something that he wasn’t sure that he liked tasting. Longstreet set his hands on the counter. The clerk’s mouth stopped.

“In or out?” the clerk rasped.

“In,” said Longstreet.

“Business or romance?”

“Business,” said Longstreet. He thought about pointing out the similarities between the two in this place, but figured the clerk wouldn’t get it.

“Blonde or redhead?”


The clerk’s mouth began moving again. “Four,” the clerk said finally, and slowly turned away. Longstreet tipped his hat and left the office. He liked the Nook for these sorts of meetings. It was close enough to Chicago that people weren’t scared to drive out to it but far enough away that the cops would never bother anyone. The fact the clerk was dead meant he shouldn't hit you up for an extra kickback to keep his mouth shut.

The clerk was what was known as a Tenant in Moontown. From what Longstreet could see, he was a fairly cheap one. Tenants were dead bodies that had spirits bound to them. Cheap ones like the clerk were used as an alternate for menial jobs. Sadly, it was one of the reasons for the Depression. Most employers would take a dead man harvesting their field over a family of Okies. On the one hand, Tenants were the first thing to make it out of Moontown and into the real world, but regular people hated and feared them. Folks were put off by the idea of dead bodies building homes and driving cabs. They had taken jobs away from people that could use it. Once you paid for a Tenant you worked it until it fell apart. No sick days, no vacations. Longstreet didn’t mind them as long as they were the ones that were preserved. The really cheap ones rotted after a while.

Number four had a light on in the window and the Duisenberg parked out front. Longstreet set his hat back on his head and sighed. He knew Zastrow relied on the kindness of strangers but a purchase like this turned his stomach. Veronica Zastrow was the type of woman that women wanted to kill and that men would die for. Somewhere, there was an old man with long green that bought her that car. Of course, there are five other just like him and if he asked her, she could probably put a name to each piece of glitter she wore. He ducked his head under the canopy and tipped his hat forward. He knocked and stood in silence for a moment.

Veronica opened the door. Mahogany lips were pursed together and shining blue eyes glanced past the detective. Blonde hair spilled onto her shoulders like falling stars. While he’d never admit it to Louise, Longstreet found himself catching his breath.

“Were you followed?” she whispered.

“Of course,” Longstreet said as he leaned on the door frame. “I would have been here earlier but I had to take the streamers and bells of my car.”

Veronica frowned perfectly. “Do you ever have repeat business, Mr. Longstreet?”

“Folks always need people to spook, spy, and dig ditches,” Longstreet said as he entered. “The fact that I’m crazy enough to go into Moontown gives me an edge over other dicks in town.”

“Please sit,” she said as she locked the door behind him. The room was decorated in autumn colors and had a leaf-print comforter on the bed. The only other furniture in the room was a nightstand with a chipped top. At least one of the three drawers looked like it was original. A heavy glass ashtray sat on top, next to a particularly deep slash in the finish. Veronica had left a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray. It was pristine and white, just like the lady that smoked it.

“I’ve seen Ron with another gal,” Longstreet began as he removed his glasses. Veronica sank to the bed. Longstreet handed her the glasses.

“Put these on and I’ll walk you through it,” he said. Veronica looked at the glasses blankly.

“You don’t have any pictures?”

“I have a photographic memory and the glasses record what I see. They’re less obvious than a camera.”

“I can’t put them on,” Veronica said suddenly. “I-I don’t want to see him with that girl…”

“His wife,” Longstreet said as he took his glasses back, “That girl is his wife. It must break your heart.”

Veronica’s lip quivered but she didn’t cry. “She killed him, Longstreet. He hasn’t called me in a week.”

“Now, now, precious,” Longstreet said, patting her hand, “who’s the detective here? I hardly think there’s any foul play. Maybe he still loved his wife.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Veronica said. “It must just be my suspicious nature.”
Veronica put her hand over his. Longstreet could feel his palm begin to sweat.
“Being suspicious is what keeps me in business.”

“I’m impressed with your services so far,” Veronica said with a slight smile. Longstreet didn’t like the way it made him feel.

“I’m not sure I have what you want for sale,” he said.

“All I want is someone to look out for me. Every guy in Chicago is married, a crook, or some kind of demon.”

“I don’t think I can afford your rates, Veronica,” Longstreet said. His mouth was dry. She was leaning closer to him.

“And why is it you get to use my first name and I don’t even know yours?”

“I only tell my first name to special people.”

“Those being?” She was turning up the heat and he was melting fast.

“The cops, my mother, and intimate friends.”

“Intimate?” Closer.

“Arthur.” Closer.

Veronica’s eyes flashed with delight. She licked her lips. At this distance, they reminded him of the apple plucked right out of innocence. Longstreet swallowed hard and knew what he had to do.

Just before he kissed her, he drove his fist into her midsection as hard as he could. Veronica let out a mournful groan and curled up on the bed. There was a pretty blue knife in her left hand. Longstreet stood quickly and drew his pistol. He leveled the gun at her.

“Alright, take it off,” he said. She looked up at him and almost frosted his hat with her glance.

“Your charm, sister,” Longstreet said. “Slowly.”

She set the knife on the bed and reached for the ring on her finger. She gave it a contemptuous yank. Veronica melted away and was replaced by a pouting man in his mid-thirties. He was wearing an unbuttoned shirt and wrinkled slacks. His hair was poorly combed and he looked like someone had just taken away his balloon.

“Ron,” said Longstreet, “so good to see you. Now toss the knife to the floor.”

“How did you know?” Ron asked. He half-pouted, half-sneered.

“I am a detective,” said Longstreet as the knife clattered off the bed. “I’ll admit, when you hired me I was puzzled,” began Longstreet as he sat on the edge of the nightstand. “High class women don’t chase around a sugar daddy. But the money was good and I figured I’d humor you. Maybe one of your other boyfriends decided to clear old Ron out. But I also checked up on Veronica. She’d been playing footsie with a lot of the rich and lonely and probably built up quite a nest egg. I’m sure you wanted to dip in to your retirement fund but didn’t want to tip anyone off to your con. So you pull me out of Moontown, and get me to start checking around. You off me here, maybe start a fire that the Tenant can’t stop and the cops don’t take it any further. Just another dick killed in the line of duty and another good time girl in her new car off to spend her roll. You leave town with your money and I never have to darken anyone’s doorstep again.”

“So why did you meet me here?”

“I had to be sure. I wasn’t going to the cops with that story. I almost bought your act. It was practically perfect. You made two mistakes. First was your refusal to use my glasses. You weren’t sure if it would interfere with your illusion spell.”

“And my other mistake?”

Longstreet plucked the cigarette out of the ashtray. It was still smoking.

“That’s an amazing brand of lipstick that doesn’t rub off onto a cigarette.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

EA Chapter One

Jessica gripped her pack strap tight as the lift came to a stop. The doors opened with a whispering gush of air. She let out a hurried apology and bolted forward onto the concourse. A quick glance at the glowing readout on the shimmering ceiling would have gotten her to curse if she had the time.

Five minutes to make it across the concourse. She was going to be late. She did not care if her bags made the flight - she would wear the same uniform for a week if she had to. Her brother has pitched one of his fits, screaming and crying because he didn;t want to get dressed. It was a big one, too. Award-winning. Better than his Fifth Birthday Tatrum and The Time He Cried in His Mashed Potatoes.

Because of it, their parents got caught in traffic. Because of it, she had to leave before her mom finished her good-bye. Because of it, she was running as fast as she could, brushing past strangers and avoiding obstacles with all the grace she could muster.

Another glance at the clock. Three minutes.

This was her first time to the Moonlink. She had planned to take pictures and upload them for all her friends to see back home. She browsed up some of the restaurants and wanted to catch a meal with some of her fellow cadets. The Moonlink was built five years previous, completed on the fortieth anniversary of Countdown Day.

And here she was, moving through it like a forest with some unknown predator chasing her.

She afforded herself a final glance upward. One minute remaining.

A nauseous feeling gripped her stomach. She was not going to make it. All the running, all the applications, and she was going to arrive at Rademacher Field with black marks on her record. Her father always told her how important it was to make a good first impression. The Captain of the Exodus would never have made these mistakes. She would have to be perfect.

Jessica made it around the final corner. She could see the gate. The words “FINAL BOARDING” flashed above the doorway. She poured on the speed. Her mouth was dry. Sweat soaked her face. She lowered her head and put everything she had into her last view steps.

The door to the gate lowered with an almost sympathetic hiss. Jessica slowed, but her momentum carried her into the thick door. She pounded on it in frustration twice. Not fast enough. Not good enough. Over before it began.

Her gaze rested on the sleek winged craft visible through a nearby window. The ship was all swooping curves and shimmering metal. A smooth script written on the front of the craft declared the ship The Mayflower. Inside were fifty of the Earth’s best and brightest students. They were chosen from hundreds of thousands of applicants. Fifty children Jessica’s age, each hoping to lead humanity into the stars and find a new home for billions.

Technically now forty-nine.

Suddenly, the door hissed open. A balding Spacelink worker looked at Jessica with a concerned look.

“I thought I heard something hit the door” he said. Jessica barely had time to smile as he ushered her into the ship bound for the moon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Get Behind the Mule

There is no escaping it. I have a new laptop. Time is of the essence but there is never enough time.

I guess this is something of a mission statement. The only way to get published is to have salable product. For writers, this means words. Preferably in some clever order. Rather than let these ideas stew, I am putting them out here where people can see them. You may be friends, family, or some random stranger who wandered in off the street. Welcome to you all.

The deal is this - you get free fiction. I get feedback. You get characters to enjoy. I get the thrill of doing awful things to them in the name of entertainment. This is the raw feed here - if any of this ever gets published, you will have read the first drafts here. Hopefully both of us benefit from this relationship. I have been blessed with talented and insightful friends that have wowed me with great twists and amazing characters in game.

Here are the elevator pitches -

Exodus Academy - Sci-fi teen drama set aboard the colony ship escaping the destruction of Earth.

INDIGO - Psychic kids on the run from the conspiracy that made them.

Rhodes and the Hollow Earth - Pulp adventuring couple Rick and Diana Rhodes race to keep the Nazis from discovering the Hollow Earth.

The Moontown Palooka - A hardboiled detective story set in mid-Depression Chicago where magic has returned and is controlled by the mob.

Let me know which one(s) you want to see first - otherwise I will just randomly pick one and run.