Sunday, November 29, 2009

Flash Fiction: Place Marked Malmart

A Place Marked Malmart

Word Count: 831

“You hate women?” Meg Russ-Heart shot Jimi one of her looks

“You hate men?”

“I never see you, out?” Meg not letting it drop.

“No mean’s No, Right?” Jimi leaned.
His mug and her to-go cup moved in their own dance, their owners secured them keeping them from being spilled.

“Yes,” her reply automatic.

“But if you say yes the first time, you’re—“Jimi knew the argument well “easy,”

“It’s a woman’s prerogative,” Meg leaned in

“No means no, but you aren’t going to say yes the first time. You can’t win. It’s a game, I’m not playing,” Jimi blinked first and sat back.

Meg followed and played with the ends of her crimson hair. She took a sip of coffee, around them the coffee shop buzzed. People in and out, talking, working on laptops. College kids, professionals, baby boomers trying to look young and hip.

“You find her?” back to the business at hand.

“Yeah, I did, you owe me big.” Jimi took the folder from his messenger bag. “I had to enter a fuckin’ Malmart to see her. And it wasn’t one of those Hicksville-please- sterilize me Malmarts. No, no, it was upscale, a Shop Malmart because it’s the American Thing To Do one.” Jimi handed the folder across to her.

“What happened?” Meg opened the folder.

“Her Mom and Dad freaked out cause she was seeing some guy who wasn’t-- of the faith.”

“You mean he was---“ Meg, thinking of Gwen, tall long legged, blonde Dutch girl, a westsider.

“Worse, atheist, a local one. Arrogant about it. They were appalled, that’s not who they sent their little girl into the world for,” Jimi took a slug of his lemon ginger tea.

“They didn’t send her out to take her clothes off on the internet either,” Meg whispered. Meg had Jimi on retainer for a lot of things, making sure that girls who pulled a vanishing act were not snatched by a customer was one of them.

Meg ran Skiff Yee Media, an Internet company specializing in fantasy image fulfillment. Models dressed and undressed as your favorite: film, TV or other median character.

“Ok, Mom and Dad whisked her away, she’s 19.” Meg put the file in her bag.

“Yeah, they also have the money, she has younger sisters. If she ran off what do you think would happen to them?” Meg nodded, Gwen had said as much and more in the note contained in the folder.

“Tell me about your trip to Malmart?” Meg

‘Like I said they raptured her back home, deep-sixed the sinner BF. Mom wouldn’t let her out of her sight, no; phone, mail, Internet. I had to wait for two days for them to leave the house. Mom takes her shopping. A little retail reprogramming, who knows, maybe the hippie had her talking about buying local, supporting local business.” Jimi paused for another hit of the tea,

“I follow them into the Malmart; it’s a zoo, upper middle class riff-raff with too much money and not enough junk. Gwen managed to get a couple of aisles ahead of mom and I catch up to her.” Meg nodded

“She recognized me from the office, I told you letting me come and hang would pay off” Meg nodded, she already knew, Jimi was allowed past the reception for various reasons.

“She tells me what happened, I let her scribble you that note. That’s when the Mom shows.” Jimi started to smile.

“And,” Meg started looking worried. Girls like Gwen weren’t just employees they were her little sisters. Gwen had been part of the team; she’d been part of the inner circle.

“Mom starts yelling and then hits me with her purse, one of those whada you call ‘em, A Cooch bag?” Meg couldn’t help but smile.

“Damn thing burst spilling all of her unmentionables. That’s when the claws came out” Jimi pushed up the sleeves of his well-worn black leather. Under the cuffs Meg could see the deep scabbing scratches.

“Anyway, Mom slugs, the junior’s manager breaks it up. Gwen’s screaming. What a scene,” Jimi killed the rest of the tea his cuffs settle back into position.

“And then,” Meg leaned forward.

Jimi fished a couple of papers out of his jacket.

“MSP came and trespassed her. She was all kinds of red sitting in the back of that squad. I let her stew, talked to Gwen. Moms lucky I didn’t press charges. I figured one trip to the west side is enough for the year.” Meg gathered her purse trying to hide her smile took a last look at her coffee and pushed it to the middle of the table.

“One of my best girl’s gone, poor kid.” She stood.

“Someday,” Jimi looked up at her; she slugged him in the arm then bent in for a peck just below his right ear.

“Yes,” she whispered and headed for the door, no looking back.

Jimi watched her leave and killed the last of her coffee.

This Flash Fiction was in response to Patti Abbott's challenge to write a story based on the web site the People of Walmart. Jimi Osterlung and Megan Russ-Hart are a pair of characters that I have been thinking about for a while. Jimi is an Ann Arbor based PI who pays the bills doing background checks for headhunters on the east and west coast. Checking out U of M students for them and their prospective employers. He also catches the occasional background check job for the boyfriends and girlfriends of the elite who attend the U, on their parent’s behalf of course. There is also the occasional wandering son or daughter job. Megan is his only local employer; she keeps him on board for additional security and odd jobs, along with the background checks for employees. I figure that I have a couple of novels worth of stories about them floating around in my head and don’t want to say much else until I get more written about them.

Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, November 27, 2009

FFB: Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

Richard Stark isn't a forgotten author, and since Hard Case Crime reissued this book it isn't one that's hard to get your hands on either. It is the first Westlake/Stark book that I ever read, and it's a hell of a ride. I did write a review of it back in the summer of 2008 when I started to use this blog to write about books, movies and music. having read many more Westlake/ Stark books I am still fascinated at the hold this book has on me. IT just had the right mix of adventure, crime, planing and revenge to touch me in that right place.

From Hard Case Crime
When he’s not carrying out heists with his friend Parker, Alan Grofield runs a small theater in Indiana. But putting on shows costs money and jobs have been thin lately—which is why Grofield agreed to fly to Las Vegas to hear Andrew Myers’ plan to knock over a brewery in upstate New York.

Unfortunately, Myers’ plan is insane—so Grofield walks out on him. But Myers isn’t a man you walk out on, and his retribution culminates in an act of unforgivable brutality.

That’s when Grofield decides to show him what a disciple of Parker is capable of..

Others who have written about Grofield for Friday Forgotten Books have commented that he comes off like a heel, and a it of a jerk. Having only read Butcher’s Moon and The Hot Rock featuring Grofield I don't know how he comes off in other Stark books, but in this one he seems like a guy who loves his work and his wife, has a bit more wit and humor than Parker and is the kinda guy you might want to have enough beers with that he'll tell you some stories. I recently picked up reprints of the four Grofield books from Foul Play Press, and am looking forward to reading them.

Read A Sample Chapter
more on the Grofield books HERE

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Essay Challenge:favorite TV- Homicide: Life on the Streets

Essay Challenge: My Favorite TV Show

NBC: 1993 to 1999, plus a 2000 TV-movie that served as a de facto series finale

I was a follower of Homicide from the start. I have memories of seeing the very first episode, most likely the night that it premiered after the Super bowl. I had been a cop show fan for years, digging on the action, adventure and the righteous adrenaline of the big 80s glitzy TV Po-lease shows. It was great to see people with style and souls of steel take down the scum of the earth and put them out of the game, or at least that's what I think when I look back. In reality the cop shows that I watched; 21 Jump Street, Crime Story and Hill Street Blues were far from that dream of crime vanquished in the course of 45 minutes. They had heart, grit and a weight to them and in many ways set the stage for what I think of as the best show network TV has ever gambled on Homicide: Life on the Streets (H:LOTS)

From the word go Homicide was unlike anything that I had ever seen or anything that had come before. Based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by Baltimore Sun Reporter David Simon, the show was a tough sell to a public that was accustomed to hour long soaps featuring cops, neatly wrapped up stories, lots of car chases and shooting. Homicide down played the violence, sex, and chaos of what had come before, and dealt with the aftermath of those events. The show played up the grind, and the paperwork. It played up the dull moments, the humor and the horror of being a Murder Police. Working with people that you liked, that you didn't like, that you had to find a way to get along with.

The talent involved was heavy weight for TV standards at the time. This was at the start of the era when film makers started to see that their opportunities for interesting work had shifted from feature films to TV. Director Berry Levenson, and his crew brought in a ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors, but managed to attract high profile guest stars. They filmed in Baltimore and never hid the drab, depressing and often decaying city and the dull work of policing it. This was TV cop deglamorized.

I have viewed the series roughly three times, not every episode, but the bulk of it over the years. First when it aired, second when each of the seasons were released on DVD and finally in the years since the release of the last season on DVD. I have watched each time with an eye to what I missed the first time around, picking up little things, and themes. One thing I can say for the show is that it's both memorable and rewatchable in a way that many shows are not.

The most surprising thing to me is how much I recalled from the episodes from my first viewing. They resonated with me and were just that well written acted and produced. Their impacts precise and focused. From the funny, to the heart breaking to the bleak, the show was so well crafted that a little moment; The meeting of the mothers of a teenage shooter and his teenage victim meeting in
the waiting room and becoming friendly in Every mothers Son-- and I am tempted to anoint that episode as the greatest hour of TV ever about criminals and victims, if there weren't so many H:LOTS episodes that fit that bill-- resonates with the promise of connection and friendship, even as we know the tragic tie between them. It's only later that we see what we would all love to come to pass between these two women as a positive step, fall apart as reality steps in.

I knew on some level that H:LOTS was always not as much about the shooting, stabbing and killing as it was about how the job affects those who do it. It was about people who wander into chaos and have to pull some sort of order out of that tornado of destruction. The Homicide Detective has a job to do, in the middle of the intrusion of a new reality in the lives of people, and that fact makes the job not only harder, but all that much more draining. The reality is that men and women of the Homicide Unit live in a place where they have to work and dig and denigrate the loss of a life to see that justice is served if that life was taken from its owner. For too long TV made it look like fun, or exciting, it was H:LOTS that really brought even a little of the reality to light.

In hindsight I believe that the show really is about the journey of and the loss of faith and innocence of Detective Tim Bayliss. He starts the first episode as the new guy arriving in the unit. He's come off a plumb assignment on the mayor’s protective detail-- a favored son of the department brass. He's partnered with Frank Pembleton, the hot shot brainy loner of the unit. Frank is a master of the job, he's the smartest person in the unit, and he is also the most cold. He deals in facts, he keeps his distance from the human aspect of the job and the work. Tim on the other hand hasn't figured it all out. He's naive and some times far too human, he worried too much about the why of the crime, when a smart murder police would just move on to the next case.

Kyle Secor as Bayliss is one of only three of the squad that stuck around for all 7 seasons of the show, and is given the time and opportunity to not only grow but to descend, to have his view of himself questioned. He comes into the world of Homicide with a strong idea of who he is and what he is, only to have everything questioned. His sexuality, his capacity for good, and the darkness lurking in his soul. His childhood traumas are exposed his foibles and failures shown, in one episode-- The Documentary, he is shown at home drinking and entering his rest room with a porno magazine. He asks the film maker why he would include that scene, and in what might be the most revealing comment in the whole series the documentary maker answers "you're the hero of the piece, I had to show you honestly warts and all".

From a story telling point of view HLOTS was also willing to be innovative. Episodes focusing on not only the police but; the criminals, the victims, communities, organizations, and on long clod cases were all a part of the fabric of the show and often times the more memorable than other episodes. The willingness to bring in outside directors, Whit Stilman and Barbra Kopel, to think outside of the box was unlike anything that came before. The innovation extended to the hand held style of the show. It wasn't slick or glitzy; it was personal, flawed and occasionally disjointed-- kinda like life.

I also have to note the use of music in the show. A early standout and heart breaking scene where 'Hurt' by Nine Inch Nails plays as one of the members of the unit arrives home to find his wife has left with everything, the kids, the furniture, everything. Another montage of the unit rolling out on multiple and various murder scenes while a regga/blues tune blasts over a montage of fresh killings telling the story of the murders and mayhem. There were also the early multiple references to the Seattle Grunge scene, as suspects and victims are named after members of: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. In Season 6 new Detective Laura Ballard arrives from Seattle and when asked why she left her response is "Grunge Died!"

When Patti Abbot proposed this project she said that often the essays in the book the idea came from turned out to be more about the writer than about the show. I thought about this as I was writing this essay, I think about what I have just written says about me, and how much of that do I really want out there. There is a darkness in me, I have had people comment on it before, and there is a wall around me that I use to keep that darkness partly hidden and in check. Maybe HLOTS was really about just that, the darkness and how we do or don't keep it in check. As a writer that is what I find my stories are so often about, control, safety, chaos, protection, reaction, LIFE.

If you would like to check out H:LOTS the whole series is out there on DVD. Here is a short list of Episodes that I recommend checking out:

"Gone for Goode"

"Three Men and Adena"

Night of the Dead Living"

A Many Splendored Thing"

Every Mother's Son"

The Gas Man"

A Doll's Eyes"


Hate Crimes"

Thrill Of The Kill"

Prison Riot"

The Heart Of Saturday Night"

The Documentary"

Finnegan's Wake"

Memorable Quotes and HERE

More H:LOTS on the web HERE

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FFB- Donald Westlake short stories.

FFB: The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald E. Westlake
Rolling along with my Short Story Month, I have been reading The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald Westlake. It contains the expected assortment of Westlake crime stories. I have read about half of them, and can recommend not only the title story, but all of the others I've read. I don't know what I can say about Westlake that hasn't been said, he knew how to tell a story (or not see No Story in this collection). The title story is one of the best. A put upon husband is ready to get rid of his wife, who over spends his money. He takes care of her only to be interrupted by door to door sales, phone sales and sales people with appointments. It's an indictment of the consumer society, wrapped in a story that wouldn't have been out of place in one of those twilight zone like shows that floated around prime time TV in the 1980s.

Any way, if you want to get a taste of Westlake this should fit the bill.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FFB- Trouble is What I Do by Rob Kantner

FFB- Trouble is What I Do by Rob Kantner
In to the early 90s I was a faithful reader of The Ben Perkins mysteries written by Rob Kantner. It was the fact that Perkins was a Detroit metro area based PI that first got my attention, it was the mostly medium boiled tone of the books that kept me reading. Kantner was right there in that space between the cozies and the Stark. Kantner stopped writing mysteries somewhere along the way, and I slowed way down reading them for a couple of years.

When I got back into reading Crime Fiction Kantner was an author that I wanted to catch up with but alas there weren't any new books for me to pick up. Ok, I figured it would be worth while to take a look at the ones that I had read in my late teens and early twenties, only I parted with them somewhere along the way-- so I checked the library, and that where I came across Trouble is What I do!

The book is a collection of short stories featuring Ben Perkins and parts of his cast of characters. I've read about half the stories, and they tend to hold up pretty well. "The Eye Went By" and "The Forever Trip" are two of my favorites so far. I like that Perkins is a filled out character, I like the feel of place that the stories have. I grew up not only in the time that most of these are set, but in the far edge of the physical setting. Safe and sound (for the most part) in Ann Arbor, while the murder cities of Detroit lay to the east and Flint (which was the murder capital of the country until DC took over) to the north-- filling our local news with chaos, death and despair. It's through this world that Perkins rides and tries to set things right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Friday Forgotten Books: Short Story E...

Lucky Bastard by Jason Starr from the anthology Expletive Deleted

Jason Starr's Lucky Bastard has the feel of a Donald Westlake short and the twist ending of a Twilight Zone Episode. Jerry is a 54 year old shlub drinking away in a bar, when the most amazing looking woman he has ever seen slides next to him and lays a sob story on him. Faster than you can blink they are in a hotel room and then--- well that would be telling. The story carries a hint of comedy, a shot of hard boiled looserdom, and enough of a punch to carry the whole thing along. It's a fast read, but well worth the time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Reading list-- Oct 2009

Reading list-- Oct 2009

The Sucker by
Orrie Hitt
50's/60s paperback stuff. This one about a heel who gets Suckered while making a play for a wad of cash

Darling, It's Death by Richard S
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Divine Child
Shell Scott in Mexico. Fun, lightweight time killer

Anarchaos by Donald E Westlake
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Snake
Donald Westlake Book for the Month!
Westlake goes Sci Fi. A guy much like Parker heads out to find out what happened to his brother. If you like the Stark books this one might do it for you.

Honey in his Mouth by Lester Dent
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Monkey
Hard Case Crime Book of the Month
Lester Dent created and wrote Doc Savage back in the pulp era. This is not a Doc Savage book, but the story of a small time con man who ends up in over his head. It starts off with one of the best car chase scenes I have ever read, and has a nice and twisted ending.

Shoedog by George Pelaconos
Tarot Card Book Mark:Blue
2009 Will Read List book!
Solid Pelaconos-- Drifter finds himself in the middle of a heist job and at the end of the line. Lots of details about music, clothes, cars and booze, and the lives of those who have fallen off the path. This one might be my favorite of his books, at least it is up there with King Suckerman.

The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald by Hugh Merrill
Tarot Card Book Mark:The Anima
A biography of John D. Very readable and gave me some insight to who and what he was. I am looking forward to reading at least one of his books each month during 2010

Baby Shark's Jugglers at the Border by Robert Fate
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Balloon
If you are not reading the Baby Shark series and a fan of Hard Boiled crime, get in your car drive to the store (or the library) and pick up at least the first in the series. This 4th installment was a perfect driving novel with a great 1950s Texas feel. I always think of Baby Shark as being Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights, she'd be perfect for a Baby Shark film.

November 2009: I'm declaring November Short Story Month. I have all kinds of collections and anthologies kicking around and so I will mainly dipping into that well for my fix during Nov.

Note: Tarot Card Book Marks? I have a really lame deck of Tarot cards that I pulled off a free cart at the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library sale a couple of months back, and I started using them as book marks for giggles mostly. I just pull a card at random from the deck, make note of it, and when I am done it goes in the discard pile. Sometimes the card ends up to have a relation to the book in questions, sometimes not.