In an alley, near the corner of 52nd and Cherry Street, Nicholas and his two armed thugs stared at what towered above their dead comrade.
A hooded figure wearing a dark grey cape looked in the direction of the three remaining thugs. Under his cape, he wore a thick, burgundy and black tactical suit. A black belt wrapped around his waist and was full of knife sheathes of varying sizes. Through his mask, he heartlessly stared at the scum in front of him, waiting for them to make their move.
Nicholas took a step back, horrified and momentarily stunned by the appearance of the prowler. After a couple of long seconds, both his subordinates charged the figure, their switchblades in hand and curses flying from their mouths.
The hooded man did not move until they were right on top of him. With a fluid motion, he drew out a long, bloodstained dagger from under his cape and grabbed the wrist of the first thug. Before the other one could strike, the masked man powerfully kicked him in the stomach, sending him sprawling. Turning back to the first goon, he quickly twisted the wrist, forcing the switchblade to fall out of the thug’s hand, before he mercilessly stabbed the goon in the neck.
Swiftly, he violently wretched out the dagger and whipped around just in time to dodge the next goon’s knife. As the first thug’s corpse collapsed, the intruder elbowed Nicholas’s last subordinate across the face, causing him to spit out blood. Without any hesitation, he grabbed the goon’s shoulder and plunged his long dagger into his stomach. The dying man’s body momentarily lifted off of the ground before the blade was yanked out and he fell with a loud thud.
The intruder turned around and leapt to the side with lightning speed, dodging Nicholas’s loud bullets that lit up the alley. While in midair, he let loose a small blade which pierced Nicholas’s hand, causing him to drop the gun.
Before Nicholas had time to even let out a cry of pain, the hooded man was upon him.
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Gary sat alone in a cell. He could hear others shouting insults through the bars at each other, a mixture of Welsh and Cockney voices. The custody sergeant and one of the arresting officers had been swapping stories of how it had kicked off big time after the match, with fighting all the way from Upton Park to Paddington. Those arrested represented the tip of the iceberg.
Squeezed into a police van, Gary had been denied the return of his walking stick by the arresting officer, who just laughed. “So you can use it on me? Not likely mate, that’s an offensive weapon, that is.” At the station Gary was booked in by the custody sergeant, who made jibes about his “hardness” and asked him if he had anything to say. He was going to protest his innocence, but figured it would fall on deaf ears.
As time passed he sensed his situation was becoming more serious. Scenes of Crimes officers wandered around and he noticed one had his walking stick in a protective plastic covering. Bit late for that, he thought, remembering the way it had been manhandled from him by the cop at the scene. At one stage he heard a couple of thick Welsh accents shout a word that sent a chill through his bones. “Murderers!”
What could they mean? Had someone been killed? Who? Every week there were battles between warring fans but rarely were they fatal. Gary had always considering football rucks a laugh. You could end up with a few war wounds but they earned you extra kudos when you showed them off in the pub later. A life lost, though? A loved one not returning to their parents, wife or kids? That was going too far.
Finally a key rattled in the lock and two police officers came in, roughly hauled him up and dragged him, limping, to an interview room. A tall, stern-looking man with thick black hair was waiting, a tape recorder at his side. Gary was pushed down in the chair opposite and waited for the man to finish reading the papers in front of him. He felt edgy, as if he was being deliberately kept in the dark about something. He rubbed the troublesome knee, which had been throbbing constantly ever since the fight. The officer looked up. “You OK?”
“I’ve got a busted knee. It can be a bit painful.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be running around the streets of east London fighting Welshmen, then,” suggested his interrogator. Gary ignored the jibe. “My name’s Detective Inspector Ashley Wilburn. This initial interview is beginning at 8.30pm. Your name is?”
“Gary… uh, Gary Marshall. Do I need a solicitor?”
“We’ll get to that. This is just a preliminary chat. You’re one of the Boxer Boys?”
“Um, no. Not really.”
“You don’t seem sure. You live on the Boxers Estate though?”
“Well… yeah, but…”
“I think you qualify as a Boxer Boy then, don’t you? Care to tell me what happened after the match today, Gary?”
“Hammers won 2-0.”
“It was three actually, but I wouldn’t expect you to know that. Too busy looking for trouble…”
“That’s unfair,” said Gary. “I was heading home with my mates when we were attacked and chased by Cardiff fans. I can’t run because of the leg and they caught me and gave me a good kickin’. End of story.”
“Hmmm,” said Inspector Wilburn. He leafed again through the papers. “Wasn’t quite the end of the story though, was it?” he said, removing a picture and placing it in front of Gary. “Recognise him?”
The face was battered and bruised and splattered with blood, a nasty gash spreading across the forehead. The eyes were closed. Their owner could have been asleep, resting peacefully, though the pillow was tarmac and the blanket made of black plastic.
“No,” said Gary. “One of those Cardiff yobs I guess…”
“He’s dead, Mr Marshall,” interrupted the Inspector. From beneath the desk he lifted Gary’s walking stick, still enshrined in the plastic evidence bag. Gary’s heartbeat quickened, but he said nothing. “Your ‘crutch’, I do believe and, look here,” his finger pointed at the bottom where a dark smear was clearly visible. “That, Mr Marshall, is blood; this man’s blood,” he tapped the picture. “Now I’m no Cluedo expert but I believe I’ve found the body and the murder weapon. All I need to do now is find out who our Professor Scum is. That shouldn’t be a problem either because we’ve some pretty good CCTV footage from one of the local shops. They show a man in a West Ham shirt… come to think of it a shirt exactly like that one you’re wearing – a No 10 on the back – bashing this poor bloke over the head with this stick. Refresh your memory, Mr Marshall?”
Gary looked back into the earnest, unblinking eyes. “Can I have a solicitor now?” he asked.
I never guessed buying an engagement ring would be so tough.
“Still trying to decide which one?” the saleswoman asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I narrowed it down to these two.”
“I’m sure she’ll like whichever one you pick. I’ll give you some more time.”
I thought any ring would make a statement when I decided to propose to Angela, but now I realized the choice came with some serious thought. The couple next to me talked with another saleswoman, using the industry lingo as if it were part of their childhood vocabulary. I felt like the odd one out.
Two minutes later the saleswoman came back. “I’ll take the round one,” I said.
“I like that one, and your girlfriend will love it.” She took the box from the case.
“She’s worth it.” I paid for the ring, tucked it into my jacket and left the store.
I jogged down the subway stairs and caught the downtown Q train. The car was empty during the ride, so I had no audience if I felt like breaking into a song-and-dance number. I headed upstairs to the station exit on Broadway and waltzed up the block while people who didn’t care about my happiness flooded the sidewalk.
Our fourth-floor office had dark gray carpet, which needed a vacuuming. To my left were the bathrooms and two couches making up the waiting area. Ida sat at her desk with a mirror, putting on lipstick. “Did you get it?” she asked, looking up.
“You bet I did.” I showed her the ring.
Everyone gathered around Ida’s desk as if the ring magnetically drew them to itself. Jim Braverman, our boss, looked over the crowd and shot me such a dirty look that I almost didn’t recognize him. “So when will you ask her?” Donna asked.
“Uh–um, during tonight’s Mets game,” I stammered. “She’ll never expect it.” I put the ring away as everyone congratulated me.
At my desk, which was a foldaway table hidden from everyone else, I hung my jacket on the chair, turned on the radio and set up the firm’s June cash disbursement report on specially ruled paper. The music broke the thick silence, and five cabinets of accordion files kept me company. During tax season everyone ran back here to either get clients’ files or put them away, but now it was just me and whatever work Jim scraped up. For a change I could ignore the isolation with something to look forward to.
Suddenly Jim’s name popped up on the caller ID when he rang me–something else he never did before. “I need to speak to you,” he said, then hung up.
In his office he typed on his keyboard, eyes fixed on the monitor. “I’ll come back when you’re done,” I said.
“I’m just about done. Shut the door and sit down.”
I sat across from him, searching his face for a clue about what he wanted from me. Framed certificates and shelves holding textbooks and tax law books were perched on the walls around his desk. Although Jim and I were alone, I felt outnumbered.
He sat back in his chair and said, “I think it’s time you moved on.”
I flinched. “Moved on? You mean you’re firing me?”
He nodded slowly with his eyes closed.
I felt like I was hit by lightning. “Without warning or reason…?”
“Actually, I have plenty of reason.” Jim pulled out two highlighted work sheets dated “6/9/95” and showed me one with Donna’s name on it. “Donna finished a trial balance in a half hour and a bank reconciliation in forty-five minutes.” He showed me my sheet from the same week. “You took longer to do the same tasks for different clients, so I had to charge them more. You have serious and possibly costly limitations.”
“You only realized that after I got back from the Jewelry District?” I howled.
“I resent what you’re implying,” Jim said. “This decision was hard enough.”
“You dug up two month-old sheets to help you make ‘this decision’ in ten minutes.” I inflated my cheeks and exhaled loudly. “You could take a free moment–”
“I don’t have a free moment!” After a long pause he added, “I risk losing clients by giving you the attention I’m supposed to give them. They’re so sensitive to every aspect of our being, they’ll fire us if my shoelace is untied. You have more to learn than managers can teach, and I’m too busy to hold your hand.”
“Wait a minute. I never said–”
“Excuse me, please. Hiring even one new employee gives clients the impression we need more help keeping their books than before. We can’t appear incompetent after working hard for years to earn their trust and goodwill.”
“Now how do you suppose I missed that memo?”
“It never fails,” Jim groaned. “Graduates learn to do the job, but not how to adjust to corporate life. So they come in with unrealistic expectations, dodge responsibility for their mistakes, and blame their failures on stupid things like where they sit.”
“That’s a broad statement,” I said.
“Be glad I hired you at all,” Jim went on. “Graduates usually have longer job hunts, and the lucky ones start by doing what nobody else has time to do.”
“My professors would be proud to know I can use a copier,” I muttered.
“You should’ve known how your presence impacts where you work.”
“So should you!”
Jim sat back again, frowning. “The bottom line is I can’t keep you on my staff.”
“The bottom line…interesting way to put it.” I drifted out of his office.
My coworkers, who cheered for me minutes ago, were now so busy with their work they didn’t look up when I walked past them. At my desk I put on my jacket and left through the back exit, leaving the unfinished report behind. The next time Jim wanted to update his books, someone would waste even more time working on them.
Downstairs on Broadway, among well-groomed and neatly dressed pedestrians, I felt like a fake. The ring felt heavy in my jacket pocket, the subway station seemed twenty miles away, and everyone scowled at me like they heard Jim tell me off.
The roiling action of Ernest Brawley’s novel The Rap takes place in and around a penitentiary much like San Quentin. The time is the early 70s, when George Jackson, Angela Davis and others were agitating for prison reform, and the authorities were doing everything they could do to thwart them. A young, sympathetic guard, Arvin Weed, attends night classes at a local college in pursuit of a dream to break away from his worst nightmare: working at the prison forever, like his father. But his reputation as a Vietnam vet rifle marksman draws him unwittingly into a conspiracy to murder revolutionary, black militant leader, William Galliot, who’s just been sent to prison. Arvin’s evil cousin, Wasco Weed, also a recent arrival to the prison, fancies himself a criminal genius, and has, in fact, been directly tapped by conservative political eminences to assassinate Galliot, the revolutionary. Wasco shrewdly manipulates everyone in his orbit, including his voluptuous wife, Moke, an almost supernatural creature given to midnight swims in the ocean and driven by a ferocious craving for money and power; Fast-Walking Miniver, a young guard and the warden’s scapegrace son; Big Arv, Arvin’s loutish father; Lobo Miniver, the urbane and opportunistic warden; and even Wasco’s own mother, Evie, the bawdy proprietress of a whorehouse. Moving from the tragic to the comic, the obscene to the exalted, the real to the surreal, The Rap is the ultimate American saga.
“He was the fastest man in the entire State Slam. Clocked by Arv at true time doing sixteen seconds crossing the Big Yard—a hundred yards—his limber wobbling legs seeming to float in space. Still a young man, only seven or eight years older than Arv, with a handsome face and bright blue eyes and a hawklike curved nose and a high pale brow and straight pretty teeth and a strong forthright jaw like his father's and a thin dry mouth, the mouth of an aristocrat of the Joint, and all of that laid over that tiny head atop that impossible body, Fast-Walking seemed at once as young and old as creation." ~
A woman in Johannesburg returns home from a trip to Belgium. Her dark blue suitcase is mistaken for an extremely similar suitcase belonging to a man travelling to Botswana. Just before going to bed the woman, Aziza, opens the suitcase to find it is not hers, but sees on top a brown paper package containing a box of chocolates. She knows it is not her suitcase but she cannot resist opening the box and eating a chocolate.
Her body is found the following morning when she does not go to work having died from extreme cyanide poisoning.
The police realize that the suitcase has just come on a flight from London, and they trace the other suitcase, her suitcase, to the man in Botswana who traveled on the same flight as Aziza to Johannesburg. He is naturally concerned as he has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and following a visit to an Ayurveda clinic in Edinburgh has just started on a course of treatment with apricot pits, which contain minute traces of cyanide, and in his briefcase he has a half kilo bags of apricot pits!
The police contact Scotland Yard in London, who realize that there may be some connection with the recent theft of cyanide from an agricultural company in Cambridge, with the cyanide eaten in chocolate by the woman in Johannesburg.
The following joint investigation produces several “Red herrings” principally from the players in a string quartette playing in several locations in the east of England, until eventually it is narrowed down to a family in Lincoln, when they learn who purchased the fatal box of chocolates, and then they find a partial fingerprint on the sealing cellophane. But they still cannot determine a motive for the murder, and their problem is how the fatal box of chocolates managed to get into the man’s suitcase when the cities of Cambridge and Lincoln are one hundred miles apart.
The heavy gate groaned shut. He pulled the backpack out of his Jeep and slung it over his shoulder. He walked a quarter of a mile along the fence line and stopped. Then he pulled a “No Trespassing” sign from the pack and propped it against the fence. With a few strokes of a hammer, he nailed it to the post. The dull blows echoed in the quiet woods.
Branches and fallen leaves popped and crackled beneath his feet as he worked his way methodically along the ridge, checking the barbed wire fence for gaps. The cinnamon smell of the turning leaves was a sure sign that hunting season would soon begin, and he couldn’t afford to have strangers stumbling onto his property.
He nailed the last sign to the post.
He turned and started down the rugged trail carved into the steep hillside. A couple of hundred feet below, the valley floor glimmered like an emerald in the late-day sun. Three cabins stood in the clearing beside the river. The place had been a youth camp once, before the drowning of a teenage girl had destroyed its reputation. Afterward the camp had closed and the cabins had fallen into disrepair.
Dappled sunlight shone through the thick canopy of branches overhead. He loved days like this. Alone in the woods, he felt at peace with the world.
A scream rent the air, shattering the stillness of the afternoon.
It was shrill. Human.
Crows fled the safety of the trees, a torrent of black wings flooding the blue sky. Heart racing, he started to run. The uneven ground slid beneath his boots. Branches slapped at his face, and he ran faster, driven on by her panicked cries.
Another scream. Louder.
It was coming from the cabin farthest from the water’s edge.
Ethan Lewis is a precocious, blissful boy. He has wonderful parents who love him dearly. He looks forward to what they all expect to be a promising future. Then, on one fateful day, his life is turned upside down as tragedy strikes.
Twenty-two years later, Ethan is a fragment of the man his parents, or even he thought he would be. He lives in a run down apartment building. He spends his days doing little else but simply passing time in his dreary life.
Then, a string of savage murders take place around his apartment building, wreaking havoc in the neighborhood. Yet, for Ethan, something about this evil is all too familiar.
Given no other choice, Ethan has to look to the past and conquer his darkest fears to find the truth behind these brutal deaths, and try to save any semblance of the man he was meant to become.
Monday morning Clarkson is on the hotel roof top, the sun already hot on his back. Around 8:30 the balcony door opens at Bobrowski’s room. A waiter wheels a food cart out before him. With a practiced flourish the man snaps a table cloth and places it on the table top. Placing the plates and silverware on the table first, he brings the silver domed food platters from inside the cart. Checking the table to be certain everything is in place, the waiter goes back into the room pushing the cart.
Ally and Fay are the first two people to appear. Clarkson brings the rifle up and sets it on the roof’s ledge. The women are pouring coffee into cups and beckoning the men to the table. Clarkson pulls the rifle stock to his cheek. Two men come out on the balcony. Clive sits with his back to Clarkson. Reggie sits across from Clive.
Claire Fairthorpe rushes back to her room to get her Walther pistol specially equipped with a silencer. The fat man rises from the bed and grabs her wrist. “Come back to bed my sweet little dumpling, I am ready for you again.”
Claire yanks her wrist from his grip and takes the pistol from a dresser drawer. Turning back toward the man Claire points the pistol at him. “Do not be here when I return, you fill me with disgust.”
He puts his hands up defensively and turns away. Claire grabs her purse and rushes from the room. At the cab stand in front of her hotel she steps in front of a couple and slams the door closed. She yells at the cab driver, “Get me to the Harbor Hotel now!”
Throwing money to the driver when they arrive at the hotel she bolts from the cab. Facing toward the front of the hotel she sees two wings of the building that jut out from the center rooms. She knows where Bobrowski’s room is but now must decide which of the wings Clarkson would choose. She rushes to her right.
“Son of a bitch,” mutters Clarkson. Clive’s head is in the way of his shot. Clarkson takes the rifle down and moves further out to his right. The shot will have to be at an angle he did not foresee. Laying the rifle on the ledge he puts a blanket down to kneel on. Looking through the scope he brings the center of the crosshairs to bear on the left side of Reggie’s head.
Claire reaches the roof top of the building’s wing she chose. Opening the door to the roof slowly, she looks through the gap. Not seeing anyone she goes through the door. The roof is empty, no one is at the ledge overlooking the rooms below. “Damn it! Wrong wing.” Fairthorpe runs back to the door.
Ally and Fay are putting the food on plates and setting the plates before the men. Clarkson waits for the women to sit down. With the women settled he pulls the rifle’s stock into his shoulder and sights through the scope. Ally’s head is just forward bending toward her food. Reggie’s head is perfectly in the crosshairs. Clarkson takes a deep breath.
They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix. It doesn’t make sense; my blood isn’t even circulating, but it’s the process I crave—copping, cooking, tying off, finding a vein, the slow, steady pressure of thumb on plunger, and now it’s my first order of business.
One of the advantages of being dead is that people don’t expect you to get up and walk away. I don’t imagine it happens often at the morgue, anyway, or they would take precautions against it. Not that I think I’m the first to remain awake through the entire process of dying, or even of one’s own murder, perfectly aware of the bullet smacking into my skull, tunneling through my brain, bouncing off bone, and ricocheting around like a bee in a bottle.
I must have blacked out for a bit after it happened. There was a roaring sound, like a hurricane, that drowned out anything from the outside and made thinking impossible.
When the roaring subsided, I woke up disoriented before I realized where I was: disembodied and looking down at the mess that was once me, lying naked on a gurney. I roamed around the room, light as a whisper, fast as a thought, and then returned to the body. When I got close enough, it pulled me in like an inhalation, and suddenly I felt the heaviness of physical being again. It took me a while to figure out that I could move my fingers, stretch, sit up, and even see through my own eyes. Running the body was cumbersome, like wearing a gorilla suit.
The clock on the wall says it’s four. I assume it’s at night since the joint is so dead.
As an experiment, I disengage from the body again. This time, I roam the entire place to check for anyone working the late shift, but no one is around except for a technician in a bathroom stall. I re-enter the body, get off the gurney, and shuffle over to a stainless steel tub with a hose hanging above it. I climb in and turn the water on. Some real shampoo would be nice, but at least there’s a dispenser with disinfectant soap. Eventually, I get all the blood out of my hair. The hole in my head is weird and I want to poke around in it, but I have stuff to do so I climb out, dry off with a lab apron, and go looking for a stiff my size that has some clothes I can put on.
So here I am in Doc Martens boots, black Levis, and a white tee shirt. The only six-foot-two male body I could find was a goddamned skinhead with a big Aryan Nations tattoo and huge muscles. I hope he doesn’t get up and start walking around.
There’s a clipboard at the end of my gurney. It has a report on it that says “Unidentified male, COD gunshot wound to head.”
I need a plan. I’m jonesing pretty bad, so, bail out of the morgue, score some dope to tide me over, and then on to the next order of business: finding out who killed me. The easiest way to do that, I figure, is to visit everyone I know and see who looks surprised.
It’s time to split.
Two souls, united for a brief moment in war-torn western Europe during World War II, is more than a coincidence. Major Daniel Humphrey, a former high school teacher, is injured while on a reconnaissance mission for General Patton’s Third Army at the start of winter in 1944. He is transported to a hospital in Nancy, France, where he meets a pretty American nurse named Cassandra Burns. For him, it is love at first sight, but it is only temporary. The next day she disappears, and he is told she never existed. However, the rose she left on his pillow tells him otherwise.
After the war ends the following spring, Daniel confirms Cassie’s existence but she did not return to the states. Fearing she died or is missing, he visits the place where they first met and unknowingly opens a Pandora box of intrigue that changes his life forever.
Cassie is an American spy and married to one of Hitler’s most notorious spymasters for the Eastern Front — Oberfuhrer Erik Bauer. Now, armed with information about Bauer’s plans to destroy the West’s restructuring efforts, Cassie is on the run.
Cassie wants out of the espionage game, but what price will she pay for leaving? Can Daniel find Cassie before Bauer and his band of Hitler loyalists find her first? Is Bauer the only threat to Cassie's safety, or is someone more sinister hiding in the shadows?
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Welcome to this edition of Words For Thought , the blog on wordrefiner.com . Like many of the previous blogs we are looking at homophones.
https://www.gofundme.com/teamfistbump Note: All underlined words are links to the sites I am currently discussing. Team Fist Bump (#teamfistbump) is on a mission: These journals are
Periodically, ForeignCorrespondent participates in virtual book tours that allow authors to showcase their books to a broader audience. Today I am hosting fellow RRBC/RWISA author