25 March 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
A Front Row Seat part 2

by Jan Grape
Jan Grape
Yesterday, we brought you a treat, an Anthony Award-winning Best Short Story. That was Part 1; today we give you Part 2.

Crime family Jan Grape and her husband Elmer have enjoyed a long, varied, and storied career in the mystery business. Besides writing, besides winning awards, besides running a bookstore, besides getting away with murder, Jan knows everybody in the business… everybody.

This tale from Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II, originally appeared in Vengeance is Hers (Signet 1997). Pour a cup of coffee and enjoy this, the second part.

— Velma

A Front Row Seat
Part 2

by Jan Grape

The next morning we drove to work separately in our respective vehicles. My partner is a morning person and her energy and excitement greeting a new day bugs the hell out of me. I needed time for my body to wake up slowly and the short drive without her helped.

Last night we’d checked all the emergency rooms without turning up the doctor. I’d called a friend, Jana Hefflin, who worked in Austin Police Department communications to see if her department had taken a call regarding a John Doe of anyone fitting Dr. Randazzo’s description. She checked with the 911 operators, the EMS operators and police dispatch, all at APD headquarters. It was a negative on our man.

Finally, I called Marta Randazzo to report that there was nothing to report. It was almost two a.m. when we made up the bed in the guest room for C.J. and called it a night.

The new day was filled with sunshine and blue skies - reminding me of why I love central Texas.

Austin’s built over the Balcones Fault, an ancient geological plate that eons ago rumbled and formed the hills, canyons and steep cliffs around west Austin. The land west of Austin is known as the Texas Hill Country. The city’s east side slopes into gentle rolling hills and fertile farm land. Our office is in the LaGrange building which sits on a small knoll in far west Austin near the Mo-Pac Freeway and from our fourth floor office there’s a fantastic view of limestone cliffs and small canyons to the west.

At the office, C.J. ran computer checks on the Davises. Ellen Davis had never sued anyone before and neither she nor her husband had a police record. She also ran three other names: Sonja and Hirum “Bernie” Bernard and Christopher Lansen.

Mr. Bernard had a DUI and a resisting arrest charge pending. He also had a couple of business lawsuits resulting in settlements. Sonja Bernard had called the police recently in regard to a domestic dispute. Dr. Lansen had one bad debt on his credit record and a couple of unpaid parking tickets. A bunch of ordinary people, nothing to set off any alarm bells.

C.J. learned from a friend on the computer network that Ellen and Herbert Davis had left three weeks ago on an extended vacation to Hawaii. “That lets them out as revenge seekers,” she said.

“You got that right,” I said, using one of her favorite sayings. I called Mrs. Randazzo to see if she’d heard anything. She hadn’t, and afterwards I made follow-up calls to the hospitals.

I told C.J. a trip to Dr. Randazzo’s office might be helpful. “Maybe the doctor has a girlfriend and someone from his office knows about it.”

“Maybe he even plays with someone from work.”

Having spent a few years around doctors myself, I knew the long hours of togetherness sometimes bred familiarity. “This whole thing just doesn’t make good sense to me. If Randazzo and his wife had an argument and he stormed out, why didn’t he go off in his Jag, not just head out on foot someplace?”

“Unless,” said C.J., “he wanted to stage a disappearance. That malpractice suit left him in bad shape financially except for those assets in his wife’s name.”

I liked it. “What if he has other assets, hidden ones, and worked out a scheme? What better way than just walk off? Leave everything. And if another woman is involved she could meet up with him later. Intriguing, huh?”

“Yeah, but what about someone trying to kill Marta? If the Davises are out spending their new found money, then who?”

“So,” I said, “Randazzo hired someone to scare Marta in order to throw suspicion off of his own plans.”

We couldn’t come up with any more ideas, so I left to talk to the doctor’s employees.

Randazzo’s office was in the Medical\Professional high-rise building next door to Set on Hospital on Thirty-eighth Street, a few miles north of downtown and only a fifteen minute drive from my office.

Years ago, I had worked at an X-ray clinic in this building. My husband, Tommy, used to pick me up for lunch and we’d go around the corner to eat chicken-fried steak. The restaurant went bust a while back and of course, Tommy was killed a couple of years ago. Nothing stays the same, I thought, as I pulled into an empty parking spot and got out.

Randazzo’s suite of offices were on the second floor. A typical doctor’s suite. Comfortable chairs in the waiting room, popular magazines scattered on tables and modernistic art prints hanging on the wall. A curly-top redheaded young woman, about eighteen, sat in the glassed-in cubicle.

Were receptionists getting younger or was I only getting older? After I explained who I was and what I wanted, I was asked to wait. Ms. Williams, the head nurse, would be with me in just a few minutes, I was told.

It was a good half-hour before Ms. Williams called me. Her office was small, more like a closet under the stairs, but there was a desk and secretary-type chair. A telephone and a computer sat on the desk and file folders covered all the remaining space. She was about my age of thirty-five and every year showed on her face today. I’d guess a missing boss could upset routines.

“Ms. Williams, I’m sorry to bother you but if you’ll answer a few questions, I’ll get out of your way.”

“Please call me Tiffany. Ms. Williams reminds me of my mother and I’d just as soon not think of her.”

“I hear that,” I said. “And I’m Jenny.” Even though she didn’t ask me to, I sat down.

“I don’t know if you’ve talked to Mrs. Randazzo today, but she’s hired my partner and me to try to find her husband.”

“Wow, I’ve never talked to a private detective before. It must be exciting.” Tiffany Williams ran her hand through her brown hair which was cut extremely short and was two shades lighter than my own chestnut color.

“It’s not exactly like it is on TV. Most of my work involves checking backgrounds on people. Nothing too exciting there.”

She looked disappointed. “Dr. Lansen told us Mrs. Randazzo had hired someone to try to locate Dr. Tony. How do you go about finding a missing person?”

“Pretty much like I’m doing now with you. You talk to friends, family and co-workers. See if they have any knowledge or ideas.”

“I don’t know where he’s gone. I just work here.”

“I understand. But sometimes co-workers overhear things and that chance remark might give a clue.” She nodded and I continued, “Tell me about Dr. Randazzo.”

“Tell you what?”

“What kind of boss is he? It helps if I can get some feel for the person. Did he seem unusually upset or worried about anything lately?”

“He’s always upset about something. He’s a very intense person. A control freak. He got upset whenever people wouldn’t do as he said.”

“You mean his patients?”

“Everyone. His wife, his employees, the hospital staff.” Tiffany Williams began chewing her fingernails. They looked red and ragged as if she’d already spent a lot of time gnawing. “Everyone is afraid of him and no one would knowingly cross him - about anything.”

“When I worked in X-ray I ran across doctors like that and I always called it the prima-donna syndrome. Some doctors let a little power go to their heads.” Tiffany was nodding in agreement after her initial surprise that I’d once worked in medicine.

 “Yes. And when a second doctor comes in and is so nice, you see how things could be.”

“You mean Dr. Lansen?”

“Yeah, he’s so easy-going, but a great doctor, too. The patients all love him and the employees, too.” She thought a moment, “I think everyone responds to his kindness but that didn’t go over with Dr. Tony.”

“I can imagine. Do you know how Marta Randazzo got along with Dr. Lansen?”

“I don’t know if I should say. It’s not professional.”

“I understand and I don’t blame you. Let me tell you what I’ve observed and see if you agree.”

She nodded and I said, “There’s an undercurrent of something between them. It goes deeper than an…”

“Very definitely,” she interrupted. “I think Chris hopes to get ahead by being attentive to Marta.”

“That doesn’t sound too smart or ethical.”

“I never said Chris is an angel. He has his faults. He wants a partnership with Dr. Tony and he wants to reach the top as quickly as possible.”

Okay, I thought, the young Dr. Lansen is ambitious. But was that enough to have caused Randazzo’s disappearance? “How did Tony feel about Chris’s ambitions?”

“Pleased as long as Chris kept Marta occupied.”

“Oh?”

“Our patients are mostly female and women find Dr. Tony’s bedside manner quite charming. If Marta’s attention was elsewhere then…” Realized she was saying too much, she stood. “I’ve got to get back to work. It’s gonna be one of those days.”

I stood also. “Okay, but one more question. Was there one lady Dr. Tony was especially close to lately?”

She walked to the door, looking as if she were a little girl who’d just tick-a-locked her mouth shut. She then sighed. “I probably shouldn’t, but you’ll find out anyway if you keep digging. Dr. Tony is having a relationship with a patient - or was. We all knew about it.”

“Who?”

“Sonja Bernard, a neighbor of theirs. He did surgery on her and they got involved a few months ago. They were going hot and heavy and it was beginning to get sticky.”

“Did Marta know?”

She nodded. “Chris let it slip but I’m sure it wasn’t by accident. Chris always does things for a reason.” Tiffany went out into the hallway. “I really do have to get busy.”

“Okay and thanks.” I turned to leave, but remembered something she’d just said. “You said Dr. Tony and Sonja were going hot and heavy?”

“Yes, but they broke up last week. And remember you didn’t hear any of this from me.”

“My lips are sealed.”

On my way back to the office I wondered why Lansen had wanted Marta to know about Tony and Sonja. Somehow, that didn’t fit with my image of the young doctor on his way up. You can get fired for getting the boss’s wife upset.

I pulled onto the street behind the LaGrange and Jana Hefflin from APD communications rang my car phone.

“Jenny, I’ve been listening in on a call one of my 911 operators is working. Dr. Randazzo was located about an hour ago -he’s dead.”

“Damn. What happened?”

“He was shot. Body was in a deep ravine about a half-mile from his house. The police aren’t calling it homicide yet, they’re still investigating.”

“You’re sure it’s Randazzo?”

“Yep. He had identification. Sorry, Jenny.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. I owe you one,” I said. I knew Jana had an abiding affection for chocolate-covered strawberries made by a local candy company - Lamme’s. I’d make sure she received a box the next time they were offered for sale.

When I got inside, I plopped in a customer chair in front of C.J.’s desk and told her our missing person had been found dead.

She was pulling apart sheets of computer paper as they came out of the printer. “Should we call Marta Randazzo?”

“We’ll wait. The police have to make their notifications.”

We discussed my conversations with Tiffany and when the printer’s clatter abruptly stopped, C.J. held up the pages. “I came up with more info about Mrs. Randazzo. She comes from an old West Texas ranching family. She inherited more money than you or I could ever imagine.

“I think,” she added, “Dr. Lansen changed horses in mid-stream. When he realized Randazzo was losing the lawsuit and the medical practice would go down the tubes, he figured Marta was his best bet. She’s got enough money to set up two or three practices.

“And personally, I think young Lansen is involved right up to his pretty blue eyes,” said C.J.

I thought about how Marta and Chris Lansen had acted when we were there. C.J. could be right. If Chris wanted to get ahead and if he felt Marta could help. But I didn’t think Marta was involved. She had seemed genuinely worried about Tony’s disappearance and, besides, I liked her. “No, I can’t buy it.”

“Why not?” C.J. prided herself on her judgement of people and she got a little huffy because I didn’t agree. “Look, he’s hot after the missus and he probably saw a quick and dirty way to take out the husband.”

She was working up her theory hoping to convince me. “He probably began stalking Marta to use as a cover for his real target…”

When I said I couldn’t buy it, I meant I couldn’t buy Marta’s involvement. I did have many doubts about Chris Lansen. “Possibly. He says he went out looking for Randazzo. Maybe he found him and killed him.”

“The stalking tale could have been just that, a tale.”

 “What about your ‘Good Buddy,’ Bernard?” I asked. “His wife’s infidelity could have sent him into a jealous rage. Or what about the woman scorned, Sonja Bernard?”

C.J. said, “Bernard might strike out in the heat of passion if he caught his wife with Tony. But he’s a drunk and I doubt he’d have the balls to plan anything sophisticated.

“And Mrs. Bernard is cut from the same mold as Randazzo. She’s played around for years, but she always goes back to her husband. He needs her.”

“Surely you didn’t find that out from your computer,” I said.

“No, I called Carolyn Martin, she filled me in on the Bernards.”

My friend, Carolyn, who’s hip-deep in society happenings, knew all about the skeletons in the jet-setters closets. If Carolyn said Sonja had the morals of a rock-star groupie, then it was true. “Okay, so where does that leave us?”

C.J. stared at me. “Back to Marta Randazzo. She’s one cool bitch.”

 “No, I think she’s putting on a front. Acting cool when she really isn’t.” The more I thought about it the more I felt I was right. “Marta couldn’t kill…”

“Listen to you, Jenny, listen to that nonsense coming from your mouth. The husband abused her regularly, he played around - even had an affair with a friend.” C.J.’s tone was curt.

 “Chris Lansen and Marta Randazzo together,” she said. “They have the best motive and Chris sure had the opportunity…”

 I thought about the vulnerability I had seen in Marta’s eyes and was determined to give her every benefit of the doubt. “If Chris did it he was acting alone.”

“No way. Marta is involved, believe me. She was fed up with her husband.” C.J. shook her finger at me and raised her voice. “Randazzo acted like a horse’s ass routinely. Now he’s lost his medical practice - suddenly, Marta and Chris both see a solution to all their problems.”

“Dammit, we don’t even know yet that it was murder. Maybe Randazzo killed himself. What do the police say?”

C.J. shrugged.

“Take it from me - if Randazzo was murdered Marta didn’t do it.” I stood and walked out of the reception area and into my inner office, slamming the door behind me.

Once inside I started cooling off immediately. I’ve always been that way. I can get angry enough to chew nails, spout off, then quickly my anger subsides. When C.J. began to get angry with me, I should’ve backed off. It was stupid and I knew it.

My partner can stay mad for hours - days even. The only way to head it off was to try and make her laugh. If I could get her to laugh things would smooth out quickly.

I stayed in my office for about five minutes, rehearsing what I would say to C.J., but when I went back out to her desk in reception - she was gone.

She’d left a note saying she’d gone to APD to see what she could find out from Larry Hays. Hoo-boy, I thought. When she’s too angry to tell me when she’s leaving, she’s really mad.

Lieutenant Hays worked in homicide and he’d been my late husband’s partner and best friend. After Tommy died Larry took on the role of my brother/protector. For a private investigator, having a friend on the force was a huge bonus. If Larry hadn’t worked on the Randazzo case, he’d know who had and would be able to give C.J. all the inside dope.

Talking to Larry was another good way for C.J. to get over her anger. If she could talk shop with him - she’d chill-out fast.

I tidied up my desk, set the answering machine and left.

But instead of going home, I found myself heading to the Randazzo’s. Something about Marta pushed my buttons and I had to see if I could find out why.



Marta Randazzo wasn’t particularly glad to see me, but she didn’t slam the door in my face. She just said, “Come in, if you like.” I followed her down the hall to the den.

Once again I had the feeling I’d been in this room before, the Indian colors and Kachina Dolls and arrowheads were so familiar it was spooky. I refused the drink she offered and sat down.

Marta certainly didn’t look like a woman who only a few hours ago had learned of her husband’s death. Her make-up was impec-cable. No red eyes or tears. Her whole demeanor was changed, she acted poised and self-assured. She picked up her glass and drank, standing regally by the fireplace, and then stared at me over the rim. “You expected tears?” Her tone was defiant.

“Everyone handles grief differently.”

“I can’t pretend grief when there’s nothing there. I can’t pretend when deep down I’m glad Tony’s dead.”

Suddenly, I was ten years old again and memories came flooding back. My mother and I were at my aunt’s house, in her living room decorated with Indian artifacts. Decorated much like this room was.

I could even hear my mother’s voice. It sounded tearful and sad. “Everyone handles grief differently.”

I recalled Aunt Patsy saying, “I can’t pretend grief when deep down I’m glad Stoney is dead.”

My mother said, “But Patsy, I don’t understand. What did you do?”

Both of my aunt’s eyes were blackened and she had a plaster cast on her arm. I’d never seen anyone look so defiant. Aunt Patsy said, “I killed him. I got his pistol and I shot him. I just couldn’t take the beatings any more. Not with this baby coming.”

“Shhh,” said my mother turning to me. “Jenny, why don’t you go play outside. Aunt Patsy and I need to talk grown-up stuff.”

I could now remember everything I’d blocked out. My aunt being arrested, and there was a trial or something. Later, she was sent away, probably to a women’s prison. She didn’t even come to my mother’s funeral three years later. Maybe she couldn’t if she was in prison, but as a child I didn’t know that. I only knew how hurt I was because she wasn’t there. I’d been crazy about Aunt Patsy and I guess I couldn’t deal with all the emotional trauma and had buried it. Until I met Marta Randazzo.

I looked at Marta, “You killed him, didn’t you? You killed him because he beat you and cheated on you and you’d finally had enough. His affair with Sonja Bernard was the last straw.”

Marta began shaking her head no, but I continued. “You wanted a way out.”

“No,” she said. And for the first time since I’d met her, she stood straight with her shoulders back. “He scarred Ellen Davis’s face, but he wasn’t sorry. He even laughed about it. Just like he laughed over what he did to me.” Marta pulled her sweater up and off her head in one fluid motion. She was braless and I winced at the misshapen breasts and the hideous-red-surgical-scar tissue.

“See! See what he did to me?” She was crying now and could barely speak. “I… I killed him…be-because I didn’t want him to get away with ruining another woman.”

“But he didn’t…”

“Y… you think giving Ellen Davis thousands of dollars could ever be enough? And it didn’t even faze him. He was going to disappear. Move to another state and start all over. Start butchering women again. I couldn’t let him. I-I had to stop him.”



“So, that’s why you had a blind spot about her. What did you do when she just up and confessed?” asked C.J.

“I told Marta I knew one of the best defense lawyers in Texas. I called Bulldog Porter. He came over and together they drove downtown to police headquarters.” I looked at C.J. “Thanks for not reminding me how right you were.”

She shrugged. “What about Marta being stalked?”

“Randazzo probably set that up for his disappearing act.”

“And Chris Lansen wasn’t involved?”

“Bulldog wouldn’t let Marta talk to me. I believe Chris dumped the body for her, but killing Tony was her own solitary act.” I thought about that Dinah Washington song, then. “Marta sure had a front row seat for her revenge.”



Many thanks to Jan and those who made this possible. If you enjoyed the story, let Jan know. We might make this a monthly feature.

24 March 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
A Front Row Seat part 1

by Jan Grape
Jan Grape
Set in March, we bring you a rare treat, an Anthony Award-winning Best Short Story, also nominated for a Shamus Award. The first half runs today, the rest tomorrow.

Originally published in Vengeance is Hers (Signet 1997), this story also appears in Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II. Pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine, and lean back. A fine Grape ages very well.

— Velma

A Front Row Seat
Part 1

by Jan Grape

I awoke on that cold wet March morning with a fierce sinus headache over my right eye. Things went downhill from there. I broke a fingernail and tore a run in my pantyhose. I had to dress twice because I snagged my sweater and had to change. When I walked out the front door I banged my little toe against the potted plant I’d inside brought for protection from the cold. “Damn Sam.” I limped out to my car and sank into the seat gratefully.

Some mornings should be outlawed I thought, but I managed to get to the office which I own and operate with my partner, Cinnamon Jemima Gunn, at eight-thirty a.m. on the dot. C.J., as she’s know to all except a few close friends, would have killed me if I’d opened up late. With the way things were going, death didn’t sound half bad.

At nine a man pushed opened the door with its distinct sign, G & G Investigations. He stopped cold in the middle of the reception area and looked around as if searching for someone.

He wasn’t handsome. His nose was too long and it hooked at the end, ruining his overall attractiveness. Dark, blue-black hair waved across his head and curled down over the tips of his ears. His eyes were blue-gray and crinkle lines radiated outward from the corners. He was probably no taller than five feet ten with a rounded abdomen and torso, like he’d rather sit in front of the tube and veg-out than work-out. I’d guess his age around fifty.

“May I help you?” I asked.

His navy suit looked expensive, but off-the-rack, and he added a floral print tie to spiff up his white shirt. He wore a black London-Fog-style raincoat, open and unbelted and a perplexed look.

“Do you need an investigator?” I asked when he didn’t answer my first question.

“Is Mr. Gunn here?” His voice was husky, like he had a cold.

“There is no Mr. Gunn. Only C.J., but she’s in court…

“She? I don’t understand. I want to talk to Mr. C. J. Gunn.” His annoyance was obvious in his derisive tone.

“C.J. isn’t a Mister. C.J.’s a woman.”

“I’ll speak to your boss, then.”

“I’m it,” I smiled. “I mean, I own this agency. Well, C.J. and I are co-owners actually. I’m Jenny Gordon.”

“You mean this detective agency is run by a bunch of damn women?”

“That’s about it, sir.”

“Well, shit.” He turned, walked out and slammed the door.

“Up yours, fella,” I said to his retreating footsteps.

I didn’t waste time wondering about him. It happened occasionally - some macho pea-brain unable to hire a female private eye because of his own ego. I shrugged and turned back to the computer terminal.

Electronic technology baffles me. I think I’m a little intimidated to think a machine is smarter than I am. But C.J., who’s a computer whiz, had set up a program for our business invoices and all I had to do was fill in the blanks, save, and print. I could handle that much.

G & G’s bank account was dangerously low and unless we collected on some delinquent accounts or came up with a rich client or two, we were in deep do-do.

We’d worked too hard for that, but it meant sending out timely statements and following up with telephone calls. Our biggest headaches were large insurance companies who always seemed to run sixty to ninety days past due.

I got all the blank spaces filled on the next account and saved the file, but before I could push the button to print, the telephone rang.

“Ms. Gordon, this is Dr. Anthony Randazzo.” The husky voice was familiar. “I want to apologize for the way I acted a few minutes ago.”

So, the piggy chauvinist was a doctor. His name rang a bell in my head, but I couldn’t connect it. My first impulse was to hang up in his ear, but he kept talking fast - as if he could read my mind.

“Ms. Gordon, I’ve been under a lot of stress…” He laughed, sounding nervous not jovial. “Boy, does that sound trite or what?”

I waited, unsure if he expected an answer.

“I honestly am sorry for storming out of your office. I acted like some idiot with a cave-man mentality. I need an investigator and your firm was highly recommended.”

I’m not a die-hard feminist, but the emotional side of my brain was yelling hang up on this bastard while the practical left brain was reminding me we needed a paying client and the doctor could be one. I wondered who was wicked enough to send this clown in our direction. “May I ask who recommended you?”

“My niece works as a receptionist for Will Martin’s law firm.”

Oh, hell. Will and Carolyn Martin were counted among my closest friends. Good friends aren’t supposed to send the jerks of the world to you.

“I’ve never met Mr. Martin,” he continued, “but my niece thinks highly of him.”

Whew! That explained it. When asked, Will automatically would have said, “G & G.” Knowing this guy wasn’t a client of Will’s made me feel better. “Dr. Randazzo, perhaps I should refer…”

“Please, Ms. Gordon, don’t judge me too quickly. My wife and I desperately need help. It’s a matter of life or death.”

Now that he was contrite he was much easier to take, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to work with him. “I’m not…”

“Please don’t say no yet, let me explain briefly. Two months ago, I was involved in a malpractice suit. You probably heard about it.”

The bell in the back of the old brain pinged. Anyone old enough to read or watch television had heard. Because of the high costs of health care nowadays which the medical profession tried to blame on things like malpractice suits, the media had talked of nothing else. Randazzo was a plastic surgeon. A woman had sued him for ruining her face. She hadn’t looked too bad on TV, but the jury awarded her a huge amount. Mostly for pain and anguish, as I recalled. The doctor had lost and lost big.

“Yes, I recall,” I said, wondering why he needed a P.I. now. “But the lawsuit’s over, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Except for working out the payment schedule.” He cleared his throat, “But I think our problem has a definite connection. I’m really worried and will be happy to pay a consulting fee for your time.”

“I, uhm.mm…”

“Would five hundred be appropriate?”

He got my attention. Five big ones would certainly help our bank account. I could probably work for Attila the Hun for five hundred dollars. Okay, so I can be bought. “Would you like to make an appointment?”

“If you’re free this evening, my wife and I are having a few friends over for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. If you and Ms. Gunn could join us - whatever you decide to do afterwards is entirely up to you, but the five hundred is yours either way.”

“What time?”

“Seven, and thanks for not hanging up on me.”

Dr. Randazzo gave me directions to his house and we hung up.

I had the invoices ready to mail by the time C.J. returned.

 She remembered the Randazzo lawsuit. “Five hundred dollars just to talk?”

“That’s what the man said.”

“Are you sure he’s not kinky?” A knowing look was on her cola-nut colored face and her dark eyes gleamed wickedly.

“Maybe. But he said his wife and other people would be there. It didn’t sound too kinky.”

“Hummm. Guess the lawsuit didn’t bankrupt him if he’s got five C notes to throw around.” C.J. worked her fingers across the computer keyboard.

“He probably has hefty malpractice insurance,” I said.

I watched as she punched keys and letters appeared on the monitor in front of her eyes. C.J. can find out the most illuminating information about people in only a matter of minutes. With my technology phobia I don’t understand modems, networks and E-mail and have no idea what it is that she does. I’ve also decided I really don’t want to know any details.

“Let’s just check on his finances. I’m sure he has investments, stocks and bonds, real estate and what have you. Never knew a doctor who didn’t.” A few minutes later she muttered an “Ah-ha. Looks like Randazzo was shrewd enough to put a nice nest egg into his wife’s name, but his medical practice is close to bankruptcy.” She printed some up figures, stuck the papers in a folder, and we closed the office and left.

Since my apartment is only a few blocks from our office and her place is half-way across town, C.J. keeps a few clothes and essentials there for convenience. We took turns showering and dressing.

C.J. wanted to drive. Since she liked to change cars about every six months she’d recently leased a Dodge Dakota SE pick-up truck. As roomy and as comfortable as a car. But what she was proudest of was a fancy sound system, tape deck and CD player. She popped a CD in and turned up the volume.

A woman sang, “I wanna be around to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart.”

“All riiight.” I laughed and she raised an eyebrow. I picked up the box and read about the songs and the artists. These were golden oldies by: Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Judy Garland and others. It wasn’t her usual type of music.

“That’s Dinah Washington,” she said. “I knew you were gonna get a kick out of this one.”

I’d been hooked on country music forever but a couple years ago I discovered Linda Ronstadt singing ballads from the 30s and 40s. And the funny thing is, I remember my parents playing records and dancing to music like this. It’s an early memory and a rare one with my parents having fun. Somehow my mother’s long unsuc-cessful battle with cancer had wiped out too many good memories.

I listened to Dinah singing about her old love getting his comeuppance, and how sweet revenge is as she’s sitting and applauding from a front row seat.

“Cripes,” I said. “That really knocks me out. I’ve gotta have a copy.”

“I’ll give you this one, Girl, after I’ve listened to it.”

The Randazzo’s house was located in the hills above Lake Travis, west of Austin. After a couple of wrong turns we found the brick pillars which flanked the entrance of the long drive. The black-top curved into the front of the house and ended in a concrete parking area. C.J. pulled up between a dark green Jaguar and a tan Volvo.

The Spanish-modern house was large and rambling, made of tan brick with a burnt-sienna tile roof and built onto the side of a hill. The arched windows were outlined in the same color tile as the roof and black wrought-iron bars covered the bottom halves. The Saint Augustine grass was a dun-muckle brown with little shoots of green poking out - normal for this time of year.

We got out, walked up to the ornately carved double doors and I pushed the oval lighted button beside the facing.

“Some joint,” C.J. said, as we waited.

A young man dressed in a cable-knit sweater with a Nordic design and charcoal gray slacks opened the door. Late twenties, blond and blue eyed with a Kevin Costner smile. He was so handsome my breath caught in my throat to look at him.

When I said Dr. Randazzo expected us he frowned, but stepped back and said, “Come in.”

We were in an entry hall which ran across most of the width of the front and was open ended on both sides. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a house where you entered into a width-wise hallway.

We were directly in front of and looking into a large square atrium. Behind the glass wall was a jungle of green plants, shrubs and trees, with a spray of water misting one side. The darkening sky was visible through the roof and I saw a couple of small green birds flitting back and forth between some trees.

The scene was exquisite and several moments passed before I could find my voice, “I… I’m Jenny Gordon and this is C.J. Gunn. We were to see Dr. Randazzo at seven.”

 “I’m Christopher Lansen and I work with Tony Randazzo.” His voice was nasal and high-pitched and it sure didn’t go with his looks. “And I’m sorry, Tony isn’t here at the moment.”

“Oh?” I asked, “A medical emergency?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know exactly.”

“I’m sure Tony will be back shortly, please come in,” said a woman coming into the hall from the right side. Her voice was soft and there was no trace of a Texas accent. She sounded as if she’d had elocution lessons and had graduated at the top of the class.

She was dressed in a soft blue silk shirtwaist dress, belted with a gold chain, and wore gold hoop gypsy ear rings. She was tall and willowy with dark hair pulled severely back into a bun. She would have looked elegant except she hunched her shoulders instead of standing straight.

She had high cheek-bones and almond-shaped dark eyes. There was a hint of Spanish or American Indian in her tight, unlined and unblemished face. Her age could have been anywhere from thirty to sixty. Probably has had a face-lift, I thought.

“I’m Marta Randazzo. Are you the investigators my husband hired?”

“Uh, . .yes,” I said. “And please call me Jenny. My partner is C.J.”

The young man put his hand on her arm. “Marta, why don’t you go back inside and I’ll talk…”

“No, Chris. I, I want to speak to them now.” Her voice sounded tentative, as if she hated to contradict him. She turned abruptly and walked down the hallway towards the left, leaving us no choice except to follow.

 “Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J., who was walking directly behind the woman. “I should clarify something. Your husband asked us over for a consultation only. He hasn’t actually hired us.”

Marta Randazzo entered a huge den/family room. At least half of my apartment could fit into this one room, but maybe it seemed bigger because of the glass wall of the atrium. Another wall was taken up by a fireplace large enough to roast a side of beef. The room’s decor was in Southwestern Indian colors. Navajo rugs and wall hangings, Kachina dolls, framed arrowhead and spear points, Zuni pottery, turquoise and silver jewelry knickknacks were everywhere. In a small alcove to one side of the fireplace was a wet bar. A sofa, love seat and three chairs were covered in Indian-design fabrics.

It felt like deja vu until I remembered I’d once been in a living room decorated with Indian things. Inexplicably, I couldn’t remember when or where. “It’s a lovely room,” I told her. “I like it.”

“Thank you.” She motioned for us to sit, indicating the sofa and she sat on a chair to our right. Christopher Lansen took a spot standing near the fireplace.

“I believe Chris told you Tony isn’t here at the moment,” Marta said. “He should be back soon.”

But she didn’t sound too certain, “I’m sure…I, uh, know he didn’t forget you were coming…”

Chris Lansen said, “Marta, I don’t think…”

“Chris?” Marta Randazzo stiffened. “Let me finish, please.”

Lansen turned away and walked to the window staring out into the darkness. His body language indicated he didn’t like something she’d said or was about to say.

“Tony mentioned you were coming.” Marta got up, walked to the mantle, ignoring Lansen, and took a piece of paper out from under a Zuni bowl. “He had me write out a check for you.” She walked over and held it out to me.

I automatically reached for the paper and looked at her. I glimpsed a flicker of something in her eyes just before she turned and sat down, but then it was gone. Fear maybe? Or despair. I couldn’t be sure.

The check was made out to G & G Investigations for five hundred dollars and signed by Marta Randazzo.

“Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. “Perhaps we should wait until your husband returns and we can talk to him.”

“I agree,” said Chris. He looked at Marta with a stern expression. Some battle of wills was going on between the two of them. “He’ll be back soon.” Lansen’s tone was emphatic. “He and I planned to talk about the surgery I’m doing on Mrs. Franklin tomorrow. He wouldn’t forget about that.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor, too?” I asked, hoping to ease the tension. He and Marta were definitely uptight.

“Yes. I’m an associate of Tony’s. A junior partner.”

“We could wait a little while for him if it won’t inconven-ience you, Mrs. Randazzo.” I tried to hand the check back to her. She ignored it, so I placed it on the end table next to me.

“Please, call me Marta,” she said. She jutted her chin slightly. “That check means you are working for me, doesn’t it?”

“We’re here on consult. That was my agreement with Dr. Randazzo.”

“Then, in that case I’m consulting you. It must be obvious to you both…I should explain.”

Chris Lansen cleared his throat and Marta Randazzo looked at him, her face creased with a frown. Her chin jutted out again briefly before she relaxed. “Jenny, C.J.? Would you like something to drink? Coffee or something stronger?”

“Coffee would be fine,” said C.J. and I agreed.

“Chris? Would you go make coffee for my guests?” Her tone sounded like an order, but she didn’t raise her voice.

He gave her a look as if she’d just asked him to wash the windows or something equally distasteful, but he left the room without speaking.

“Jenny, my husband has disappeared,” she said when Lansen was gone. “I was taking a shower. After I dressed and came out here, Tony was gone. I assumed he gone for a walk, but that was at five o’clock and he still isn’t back yet.”

“Have you looked for him?” I asked. She reminded me of someone, but I didn’t know who.

“Yes. Chris came over about six and when I mentioned I was getting worried about Tony, Chris got into his car and drove around looking. He didn’t find Tony.”

“Your husband walks regularly?” C.J. asked.

“Yes, if something is bothering him. It’s his way of reliev-ing stress. But he’s usually back after about twenty to thirty minutes.”

“Could his disappearance have something to do with why he wanted to hire us?” I noticed out of the corner of my eye that C. J. was poised on the edge of her seat.

C.J. got up, muttering something about going to help with the coffee and went in the same direction Chris had gone. I knew she was using the old divide-and-question-separately technique.

“Maybe,” said Marta.

“Do you know why he…”

“Yes,” said Marta. “Someone’s trying to kill me.”

“What makes you think someone is trying to kill you?”

“Someone followed me all last week. The same man I think, I’m sure it was the same car.” She began twisting the hem of her skirt as she talked and I noticed bruises on her inner thigh near her left knee.

“After I became aware of this man,” she continued, “I realized he’d probably followed me even before that. Then night before last that same car tried to run my car off the road. You drove up here and saw those treacherous curves. And the cliffs are pretty steep. I almost went over the edge It scared me silly.”

“Why would anyone want you dead?”

“I don’t know, uh…maybe it’s someone from the Davis family - wanting to get back at Tony.”

“The Davis family?”

“The people who sued my husband.”

“But why? They won their case.”

C.J. and Chris came back into the room. He was carrying a silver serving tray with four china cups sitting in saucers.

Chris said, “My thoughts exactly. Why would anyone from the Davis family…”

“Money might not be enough,” said C.J.

“What?” asked Marta.

“Revenge can be sweeter than money.” C.J. sat on the sofa where she’d been before while Chris placed the tray on the coffee table. “Mrs. Davis feels she has suffered,” she said. “And now it’s Mrs. Randazzo who must suffer.”

Chris carefully handed a saucered cup of coffee to each of us and then took his and returned to the fireplace. “That’s what Tony thought,” he said placing his coffee on the mantle. “But I think it’s all hogwash.”

“I know what you think, Chris. You’ve been vocal enough about it.” Marta’s voice got lower and that made her words sound more ominous. “You think I’m imagining all this, but you don’t know. You just don’t know.” Marta began stirring her coffee, banging the spoon against the cup. “Tony believed me. And now something has happened to him.”

“Oh, Marta,” said Chris with a there, there, little lady tone. “Tony’s only been gone a couple of hours. He’s gotten sidetracked, that’s all.”

“Maybe he twisted his ankle and fell into one of the canyons,” I said. “He could even be unconscious.”

“I looked in all the likely places,” said Chris.

“Maybe you should call the search and rescue squad,” I said.

“Law enforcement won’t be inclined to do anything until he’s been missing for twenty-four hours or so,” said C.J.

“I want to hire you to find my husband and find out who…”

The doorbell rang and Chris, without asking Marta, left to answer it. He acted as if this were his house not hers.

“Will you try to find Tony?” Marta asked, ignoring the interruption.

C.J. and I glanced at each other and I saw her imperceptible nod of agreement.

“Okay, Mrs. Randazzo,” I said. “You’ve just hired us.” I picked up the check. “Consider this a retainer for two days.”

My partner, who believes in being prepared said, “I have a contract with me.” She pulled papers out of her shoulder bag, handed a page to Marta Randazzo who scanned it quickly, and took the pen C.J. offered, and signed it.

“Marta?” I asked. “Does one of the cars out front belong to your husband?”

“The Jag is his. My Caddy is in the garage.”

“And the Volvo belongs to Chris?”

Marta nodded.

Chris walked in with a man and woman trailing behind. The man was stocky, about fifty with heavy dark eyebrows and a hairline that receded back past his ears. The strands left on top were plastered to his reddish scalp. He was dressed in a three piece suit and looked as if he’d rather be anyplace else except here. He walked straight to the bar without speaking and poured a drink.

The woman came over to where Marta now stood. “Chris told us Tony is missing.”

She was short with a voluptuous figure and blonde Farrah Fawcett hair. “Oh, Marta, you poor dear.” The woman put her arms around Marta and kissed the air near Marta’s cheek.

“I’m fine, Sonja.” Marta recoiled from the woman’s touch, but forced a smile. “I’m sorry, the party is canceled. Chris was supposed to call you.”

“Oh, he came by about six-thirty. Said he was looking for Tony,” said the woman. “He called back later and left a cancellation message on the infernal machine. I just thought we’d drop by on our way out to eat.”

The woman noticed C.J. and I for the first time. She looked at Marta and said in a stage whisper as if we weren’t there, “Are they from the police?”

“No, uh, Sonja Bernard, “ she nodded, and we stood. This is Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. They’re private investigators.”

The man who’d come in swayed over, a double shot of amber liquid in a glass. I assumed he was Sonja Bernard’s husband.

 “Private dicks, huh?” He said and laughed uproariously at his unfunny joke. From his slurred words it was obvious this drink was not his first. “Don’t think I’ve ever met a female dick before, black or white. How do?”

He took a big swallow and said, “Tough gals, huh? Do you carry guns? Which one is the dyke? I’ll bet it’s the black one.”

“Bernie, don’t be crude,” said Sonja. “Their sexual preference is none of your damn business.”

Marta’s face turned red. “I apologize…”

I hated it too, because I knew C.J.’s sharp tongue would slash and trash Bernie before he could stagger another step. And that was if she decided to only chew him up instead of knocking him on his can. My partner’s an ex-police woman, six feet tall and trained in Tukong Martial Arts. She could put him down and out.

I felt her body tense and spoke quickly, “C.J.? We probably should go.” But I wasn’t quite fast enough.

“He doesn’t bother me, Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. She smiled sweetly at the man, and then back at Marta. “His whiskey-soaked minuscule brain is ruled by his own penile inadequacy.” Her next words were directed to me and spoken through clenched teeth.

“You’re right, Jenny. We must be on our way, but perhaps Marta will show us out. I have a couple more questions.”

“What did she say?” asked Bernie. “Did she just insult me?”

“Of course, Bernie,” said Chris, who walked over and took the man’s arm. “But turnabout’s fair play, wouldn’t you say? Let’s refresh your drink.” Chris took the man’s arm and turned him towards the bar.

The man needed another drink like a cowboy needed a burr under his saddle, but the maneuver had moved him out of C.J.’s reach.

The man followed, muttering something about how he’d bet a hundred dollars Tony was shacked up with a blonde someplace.

“I’m terribly embarrassed…” said Sonja.

“And I’m terribly sorry for you,” I said to her.

Marta Randazzo looked as if she’d like to climb into a hole someplace, but she walked out of the room instead.

C.J. and I followed. Marta veered off into a small sitting room where we stood and asked our questions.

C.J. made notes as Marta gave us descriptions of the car and the man who had followed her. She hadn’t seen the license number. She said the people who sued her husband were Ellen and Herbert Davis.

“First,” said C.J. “we’ll check the local hospitals and emergency clinics, in case Dr. Randazzo has been brought in unconscious. And we’ll try to check-up on who’s been following you. It won’t be easy without that plate number.”

“Will you call? No matter how late?” Marta asked. “I mean even if the news is…”

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll call if we hear anything.” She gave us a recent photo of her husband.

“This could turn into an all night job,” I said as we got into the truck and headed to town.

“Did you catch that last remark from old Bernie?” I asked.

“No, I was having too much trouble trying to keep from decking the guy.”

“I figured. Bernie mumbled something about Tony being shacked up someplace.”

“Which is why the police are reluctant to get involved in domestic squabbles,” said C.J. “The missing usually turn up the next day looking sheepish.”

“Did you learn anything from Chris?”

“Only that he knew his way around the kitchen.”

“You think the Randazzo’s quarreled?”

“Didn’t you see the bruises on Marta’s neck?”

“No, I missed those, but I saw bruises on her leg. That muddies up the waters a bit, doesn’t it?”



See you tomorrow for Part 2!

23 March 2019

But Do You Have a Plot? Bad Girl whittles Popular Fiction Bootcamp down to 10 minutes…

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl) 

Last month, I wrote about Endings, and reader expectations for each of the main genres.  The response was positive, and some people have asked that I bring more stuff from class onto these pages.  So here are some notes from the very beginning, class 1, hour 1.

People often ask what comes first: character or plot?

Do you start with a character?  Or do you start with a plot?
This is too simplistic.

Here’s what you need for a novel:
A main character
With a problem or goal
Obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end.


PLOT is essential for all novels.  It’s not as easy as just sitting down and just starting to write 80,000 words.  Ask yourself:
What does your main character want?  Why can’t he get it?

Your character wants something.  It could be safety, money, love, revenge…

There are obstacles in the way of her getting what she wants.  THAT PROVIDES CONFLICT.

So…you need a character, with a problem or goal, and obstacles to reaching that goal.  Believable obstacles that matter.  Even in a literary novel.

There must be RISK.  Your character must stand to lose a lot, if they don’t overcome those obstacles.  In crime books, it’s usually their life.

So…you may think you have a nice story of a man and woman meeting and falling in love, and deciding to make a commitment.  Awfully nice for the man and woman, but dead boring for the reader.  Even in a romance, there must be obstacles to the man and woman getting together.  If you don’t have obstacles, you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a plot, and you don’t have a novel.

Put another way:
When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise ABCD will happen.
That’s what you need for a novel.

GIVE YOUR CHARACTER GOALS

1. Readers must know what each character’s goals are so they can keep score.

2. Goals must be clearly defined, and they must be evident from the beginning.

3. There must be opposition, which creates the possibility of losing.
   >>this conflict makes up your plot<<
4. Will the character achieve his goal?  Readers will keep turning pages to find out.

If you don’t provide goals, readers will get bored. 
They won’t know the significance of the ‘actions’ the hero takes.

To Conclude:
Until we know what your character wants, we don’t know what the story is about.
Until we know what’s at stake, we don’t care.

Melodie Campbell writes fast-moving crime fiction that leans toward zany.  If you like capers like the Pink Panther and Oceans 11, check out her many series at www.melodiecampbell.com

Lastest up:








22 March 2019

Staying a Writer


by O'Neil De Noux

"The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer." Harlan Ellison.

So true. So true. I've seen it more than once.

In 1988, when my first book (GRIM REAPER) was published, it debuted with a book by another New Orleans writer, a younger man with plenty promise, the critics declared. The same critics praised my book for its hyper-realistic depiction of police work, albeit the cops in my book drank too much coffee and used too much profanity. Never been in a police station. Obviously.

The young writer was Tony Buchsbaum and he wrote a good novel called TOTAL ECLIPSE, which deserved praise. According to Amazon.com, it is the only book Tony wrote. I remember him lamenting the fact his book was not a bestseller and the lack of a large advance for a follow-up book.

He seemed to fade away. Never heard about him again.

Not long after, a fellow named Seth Morgan was released from prison and wrote a book called HOME BOY. He became the toast of the New Orleans media and literary society. An ex-con who  wrote a good book. Only problem – he was jerk. Met him at a signing and he was loud, crude, rude, and bragged about being on cocaine. One night, he crashed his motorcycle into the steel railing of the Saint Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal. He took his girlfriend with him. He was a jerk. No, he didn't fade away. He killed himself and an innocent person in an horrific crash.

Sheila Bosworth wrote two excellent novels - ALMOST INNOCENT and SLOW POISON. Have not heard anything from her since the early 1990s.

Other local writers faded away from writing over the years. Some ran out of gas. Some bemoaned the writing life, the depressing business side of writing.

One who did not and inspired me is Valerie Martin, whom I met when she was between publishers. She told me to never stop writing, no matter how your career is going. It was not long before she linked up with a new publisher and her new book came out – MARY REILLY, nominated for the World Fantasy Best Novel Award and nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It was made into a movie.

I met Kate Wilhelm when I lived in Oregon and she was nice enough to ask about my writing. One thing she said was to keep writing and hone your craft. It is your craft.

We writers know the desire comes from within. We just cannot let the world put out that fire in us.

One of our cats helping me work

That's all for now.
http://www.oneildenoux.com

21 March 2019

"That's Fertile Ground": The Glen Erik Hamilton Interview

by Brian Thornton


One of Seattle's favorite prodigal sons is in town this week on his way to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver. and graciously made time with me for an interview. (And for those of you who have never made it to Left Coast, what are you waiting for? Or maybe you're one of those people who doesn't want to TOO MUCH FUN at any one time–in which case you should defimitely STAY AWAY!).

All Glen Erik Hamilton has done so far in his writing career has been to win Anthony, Macavity and Strand Critics Choice Awards for his debut novel Past Crimes, in addition to receiving Edgar, Barry and Nero nominations!

This friend of the blog is a seriously righteous dude. But don't just take my word for it: he's appearing at the University of Washington Bookstore (directions here) next Wednesday, March 27th, beginning at 7 PM, to discuss his newest book, Mercy River. Stop in and say hello!

And on that note, on to the interview!

I've heard it said that the great film director John Ford worked hard to make the setting for any of his films, "another character in the story." (Regular readers of this blog–both of them!–will recall my own thoughts about setting as character getting an airing like a million internet years ago, here.) You set the Van Shaw books in and around Seattle (with side trips around the PNW), and as a resident of the region, I have to say that Seattle as another character in the books comes through loud and clear. What led you to write a series set in the Emerald City?

Moving away from it.  In our first couple of years living in Southern Cal, I would return home to Seattle for visits, and every time I was astounded by how much had changed in just a few months.  It was finally seeing the forest instead of the (mossy, needle-dropping) trees.  I liked the idea of a character returning after years away, and all those changes to the city coming as a surprise and reflecting his personal transformation while he'd been gone. 

Plus, Seattle is a great town to inspire crime fiction.  Shipping, international travel and immigration, technology, biotech, loads of old money and new, and a national border just hours away.  That's fertile ground.

Great points, all. Was there any particular reason you chose Irish immigrants and their descendants for this narrative? I mean, Seattle isn't exactly famous for its Irish connections.

I wanted Van and the man who raised him to have a remove between them despite their blood connection.  That's part of the reason I made Dono Van's grandfather rather than his father -- for a deeper generational gap -- and giving Dono a radically different childhood offered even more possibilities.  Plus, we have a good friend who is a speech therapist in Galway in both the English and Irish languages.  The notion of Van and Dono communicating in Irish when they wanted privacy was too much fun to pass up.

As for how Dono wound up in Seattle rather than in eastern cities with larger Irish communities -- we'll get into THAT history in another book...

Of course Van Shaw is a literary creation, and not a real person. How much of you is in Van, though? How alike/different are the two of you?

Setting aside the obvious differences in age, toughness, military skills, and readiness with a snappy comeback -- Vans aces me on every front -- there's a lot of my personality in Van.  We're both sardonic, we prefer to stay a little outside of polite society (or at least prefer to think of ourselves that way), we tend to be abrupt and obstinate when pushed, and neither of us can stand bullies of any sort.  The one advantage I have over Mr. Shaw is the wisdom of experience.  Van didn't have the benefit of loving friends and family, and he's still figuring out how to be a whole person.  My mantra for Van is that he's an expert at surviving, but not so great at living.

Sounds like you just laid out Van's arc Trying to find his place in the world, build a family, or at least a group where he feels he belongs. Is that close?

That's right.  Without consciously intending to, Van has become part of an patchwork family, a foundation I'm building on right now in Book Five.  Finding his place -- his purpose -- is harder.  He's really good at crime, at violence, at getting himself into tough situations while trying to protect others.  None of those traits endear him to society.  Or often to himself, when he's forced to bend his own hard-won principles.

Van's facial scarring (and at least in the first book his still mending left arm/hand) play a very big role in how the rest of the characters see/react to him. Can you walk us through your decision to use that facial scar as part of his character?

There were a few useful outcomes, some of which I only realized after the fact.  It started from my wanting Van to suffer a significant wound early in his Army career, and for him to have made the decision to move past that and continue in the regiment.  I didn't want that injury to permanently reduce his physical abilities or require frequent care.  And then I hit on the idea of an injury that's more socially impactful than physically.  It makes Van more obtrusive, and adds to his already intimidating presence, which is not always in his best interest.

And although he's largely recovered from it, the damage done to Van's face when he was twenty years old was a significant psychological blow to him.  He believed it made him hideous and that any hope of a normal life was destroyed.  I've only glanced toward that topic in previous books, but it's something I'll explore in some detail in the next adventure.

Yep. Facial scars are a very effective way of "otherizing" a character. And with our all-volunteer military, Americans have by and large been shielded from the evidence of the physical costs paid by some of its military personnel and the psychological costs paid by all who serve. So it can be all the more jarring to people when they come into sudden contact with evidence (like Van's scars) of said cost.

Is that why Van has stayed in the military (at least up until the action of the first book)? Looking to belong? I recall him mentioning that he makes a difference there.

Yes.  Van had intended to make a full career in the Army, having found a place where his abilities were both accepted and needed.  It was home.  Fate had other plans.  And in any event: serving in Special Operations, especially the uncompromising Rangers, is a little like being a professional athlete.  It's a young man's game.  At twenty-eight with about nine years in the Regiment at the start of the series, Van was probably facing the downslope of his active deployments.

And what was researching the army ranger angle like? Can you take us through that?

I sort of backed into having Van be a Ranger.  I wanted him to be far from home for a long time -- not just moving away, but really gone -- and the military seemed a logical route for a tough young guy with no prospects or money.  I was talking with a friend who had served in the Special Forces for many years about different branches of SpecOps, and he described the Rangers as (in polite terms) "knocking down doors and blowing stuff up".  That sounded exactly like what Van would be drawn to at age eighteen. 

I'm not a veteran, so I started by reading whatever I could get my hands on -- a shout-out to Dick Couch's excellent book Sua Sponte, about the selection process of the Rangers -- and by interviewing active and former members of the 75th Regiment.  The more I learned about the Rangers, the more I knew it was the right choice for Van.  They are shock troops, raiders, going anywhere in the world within eighteen hours to accomplish a specific objective.  Mercy River gave me a chance to go deeper into Van's own journey into the Regiment and the mindset of that brotherhood.

You make your home in Southern California these days. What are the challenges of writing about a place you now live a thousand miles away from?

The biggest challenges are the small ones -- remembering what a particular street is like, getting the proper feel for the current incarnation of neighborhoods, all that stuff where Seattle Times and Google Maps aren't going to be of help.  I sometimes scout new places when I'm in town with an idea toward using them later.  I also keep a list as I'm writing of Things-to-check-next-time-I'm-in-town.  In a pinch, I've sent out friends to photograph locations or FaceTime with me while they do the legwork.  The twenty-first century offers some advantages to the writer.

For the new book Mercy River, my daughter and I took a long weekend to drive around central Oregon and look at volcanic rock fields and ghost towns.  If all location scouting was that much fun, I'd never get around to actually writing the books.

Was it tough taking Van out of Seattle? I mean, this is the fourth novel, right? Seems like sooner or later he's going to have to expand outward. It also sounds like you're far from done having him travel beyond the Emerald City.

It's fun, and I think important, to flex new writing muscles with every book.  I could have placed Mercy River and the gathering of Ranger veterans in a real town in Oregon, but after three books set within easy driving distance of Seattle, it was a treat to create the town and the fictional Griffon County from scratch.  Plus, there's the advantage of making up whatever geography and jurisdictions is required to make the best story.  Van will continue to stretch his legs and visit new places.  At least enough to keep the dust off his passport.

What are the easiest things for you to write? 

Easy is a relative term, as every writer knows.  But I usually find that writing from Van's perspective as a child comes out pretty well-baked on the first drafts.  And scenes where he's exercising his skills in burglary and other illicit objectives.  I'm sure a shrink could have a field day analyzing why those two aspects of Van's mindset come naturally to me.

How about the hardest?

The hardest scenes in fiction are the hardest in life: when Van's figuring out the right thing to do, or say, or feel.  Sometimes I don't even know how I feel about a situation until I let Van wrestle with it.  I push him out there to do the emotional heavy lifting.

And there's a hybrid answer to your question:  Action scenes.  I love writing action sequences, and sometimes they even have the proper gut-punch feel I'm aiming for on the first attempt.  But to get them right, I probably make at least a dozen more passes depending on the complexity and length of the set piece.  Considering geography, character blocking, reaction times, perspectives and moods, sensory impact, and all the rest. The faster the scene, the longer it takes.

Yeah, writing action is a blast. And having your character in his own head can take quite a bit of layering of the writing.

But what about writing the likes of Van's grandfather Dono and cronies such as Hollis and Jimmy Corco? I'd think they'd all be a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Hollis's voice in particular comes easy.  If there's one character who sits down at the table with me and hands me his dialogue wholesale, it's Hollis.  He's a gregarious fellow.  And Jimmy C. is so sour, I just think of the meanest thing someone might say at a particular moment and half the time that's Jimmy's take on it too.

Okay, last question: can you give us a hint what's next on the horizon for Van Shaw and Company?


Van’s mother Moira died when he was only six years old, so his memories of her are very limited.  His grandfather closed himself off from the pain of losing Moira, and subsequently never shared much about her with Van as he grew up.  Neither of them ever learned who Van’s father was.  It’s high time that Van discovers more about his family, perhaps more than he’d truly like to know. 

And that wraps it. Thanks to Glen Erik Hamilton for taking the time to sit for this interview! And if you're in the Seattle area, consider dropping by the U Bookstore to say hello and talk thriller stuff with him next Wednesday, March 27th!

And for those of you planning to attend Left Coast (including you, Glen!) see you in Vancouver!


Prodigal Son & Thriller Writer With Hometown In View

20 March 2019

Popcorn Proverbs, Number 4

by Robert Lopresti

We have done this before and we are doing it again. These are quotations from crime movies, alphabetical by the titles of the flicks.  Only one of the posters references a movie on the list.  Answers in two weeks.  Have fun!

Remember you're old.

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm?

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it.

-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care!

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them!

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.

How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail.

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that.

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice.

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates.

-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.

We should all be clowns, Milly.

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow.

- I am a moral outcast.
-Well, it's always nice to meet a writer. 

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money?

-Looks like trouble.
-Looks like Christmas.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

-Not everyone loves us, Rex.
-Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you?

-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win.



19 March 2019

Sometimes The Big Sleep Comes Too Soon


This post will be a little different than the normal post for me.

Anne

My friend Anne Adams died in February, from breast cancer that had metastasized and for which the treatments had become ineffective. This is what she said in one of her last e-mails to me: “I’m feeling OK, but not doing well in terms of treatment. I’ve pretty much gotten to the end of anything that works for me. My doctor is looking for some trials, but unless something like that turns up, I’m looking at about 2 to 3 months before I’ll be doing The Big Sleep.”

Unfortunately, both she and the doctors turned out to be right.

She had been fighting this for years, and had better times and worse times. So it wasn’t a total shock on the one hand, but on the other it was. She was relatively young – not old enough for Medicare. I’ve known her for decades and at one time we were very close, though not as much lately. But we still kept in touch.

We initially got together through a buddy of mine she was seeing and when they came into town (L.A.) one time I met her. Then, when she moved here on her own and wanted to get into the film biz, I was one of the few people she “knew,” so we got together and became fast friends, initially bonding over our love of movies, both classic and contemporary (at least contemporary for when we met, not so much movies today). Since our schedules were fluid we often got together to go to screenings and for the movies we missed in the screenings we’d often go see at a matinee the day they opened. We loved movies, as well as Hollywood history. But our friendship expanded to much deeper levels as we got to know each other over time.

She encouraged my writing in the dark days before I’d had any success and she brought me up short if I whined too much about the business. She didn’t have any trouble getting established in the business, working mostly in post-production or as a producer. We saw a lot of each other in those days, traveled together, and just had a very close relationship that withstood the test of time, even if it wasn’t as close as it once was. So she was very intrinsically involved in my life.

In fact, without a push from Anne I might not have gotten together with my wife, Amy. I met Amy when another friend “roped” me into helping produce a live old time radio benefit for UNICEF (that’s a whole ’nother story…). A friend of Amy’s had also volunteered her to work on it. And we met there, but I didn’t think Amy would remember me after our brief encounter that first night. And I only knew her first name and sort of where she worked. So I was a little hesitant to call her. But Anne said, “Well, what do you have to lose? All she can do is say ‘no’.” So I called Amy and the rest – to make a long story short – is history. But I might not have followed through if not for Anne giving me that little prod, so I owe her much for that.

Anne was at my wedding and my bachelor party (which was not limited to guys, though Amy wasn’t there). In fact, she also sort of MC’d and “produced” our wedding.

Anne also did something else for me/us that I will always be grateful for – besides pushing me to call Amy – though it might seem superficial on the surface. Once she got established here she knew a lot of people. And one of them is one of the band members in Paul McCartney’s band. I am and forever will be the Ultimate Beatles Fan. And Anne got Amy and me backstage to see him. It was an amazing moment.

Amy, Anne, Paul


We had recently talked about getting together but it never happened as the disease progressed rapidly.
In one of our last correspondences, she said, “I’m getting tons of emails (but nobody wanting the stove, [an antique stove she was trying to place before she died] of course), so this text will be short. Let’s plan to talk after the holidays.” Well, we never did talk after the holidays. We never saw each other again. Her disease progressed and she passed on on 2/16/19. Here’s a link to her obit on Legacy . com: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/anne-adams-obituary?pid=191640884

Anne, McCartney drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., Paul,
former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in blue shirt in background 

I’ll just finish that off by saying I miss her and will continue to do so.

~~~

Clyde

Clyde Williams is another friend who died of cancer recently. I met him when I was looking for someone to do a voiceover for a promotional video. He had a great voice, very expressive. After we met on that project we became friends.in b

Clyde led an adventurous and exciting life. He served in Viet Nam. And said he had once been on a security detail or honor guard for JFK. He was even scouted by the Dodgers. But his true love was art and painting.

You would have thought we didn’t have all that much in common, but we really did. He was from Loosiana. A cowboy. An artist

I am none of those things. And if I could draw a decent stick figure it would be a major feat. Though I do live in cowboy country now, so we had that in common. And Clyde liked it up here, kept saying how much he’d like to move here.

In an article from the LA Times (“Black Cowboys Honored for Reel Contributions, 8/1/2000-LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2000/aug/01/news/cl-62235 ), he said, “‘My grandfather had me herding cattle as a kid,’ Williams said. ‘I understand the cowboy and the body of the horse. I started sketching them when I was 6. It's a passion. That's why I'll always be a cowboy in my heart.’”

He painted western and cowboy art, black cowboys and Buffalo soldiers, African-Americans in the military, as well as Indians and other western scenes. His work was exhibited at the Autry Museum of the American West. He loved the whole cowboy culture and he loved to read western novels, particularly Louis L’Amour. He had almost every if not every one of his books in hardback and was very proud of that. I helped to fill out his collection and that made us both happy. He also liked all stripe of western/cowboy movies.

Clyde and I could and would talk for hours, about anything and everything. He liked to talk about the changing nature of his neighbored. About wanting to do more acting or voiceovers. And he’d always ask about my wife Amy, whom he was very fond of.


He’d also talk about the red tape and hassles at the VA. And in the last year or two that kind of talk and talk of his disease featured more and more in our conversations. And there’s certain things I’d like to add here but feel that I can’t for personal reasons.

I also hadn’t talked to him for a while. No particular reasons. That’s just how things go, as I’m sure you know. I found out he’d died when I sent him a Christmas card and it came back marked “Deceased.” That was quite a shock.


I didn’t know him as well nor as long as I’d known Anne, but we bonded quickly and became friends. Sometimes you just click with someone. He gave me several prints of his works and I treasure them, both for what they are and as a symbol of our friendship.

And I miss him, too.

~~~

As writers, I think a lot of us strive for some kind of immortality through our writing. We hope to be remembered after we’re gone. Some achieve that, most do not. The way most people remain “alive” is in our memories, as we think about them, reminisce, deal with our regrets. Anne and Clyde will remain alive as long as I’m living – I know I’ll think of them often.

So the moral of this piece is – if I can get a little preachy – every time something like this happens I vow to not let things go so long, vow to get together, go to dinner, etc. But they often don’t get acted on, because we’re human. So don’t put things off. You’ll regret it as I do now. And I’m telling that to myself again now – don’t put things off. And I know I’ll do it again as others will do it with me. That said, I have a date next week to see a friend I haven’t seen in ages, but someone I’ve known since forever, a friend and former writing partner. And I hope that nothing happens to get in the way of our connecting so I won’t have anymore regrets, at least not for a while.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:



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