Death of the Zanjero Launches Today!

mystery fiction, historical fiction, Old Los AngelesWe interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special announcement.

My latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, is officially on sale today. (I’m so excited!)

In Los Angeles in 1870, life was cheap and water could cost you everything. When the body of the Zanjero, or water overseer, Bert Rivers, floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja, winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox finds herself defending the town’s most notorious madam. To save the one person she knows is innocent (at least, of the murder), she must find out who killed Mr. Rivers, a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

You know how, when we were kids, our classmates would taunt us for bragging, ’cause that was, like, really bad? I’ve been having a terrible time because all I can hear are those bratty little fifth-graders in my head. I know, I know. I’ve been out of fifth grade for a very long time. But these things stick, right?

And the thing is, I’m really proud of Zanjero and hope that you’ll like it, too.

Please join us next week the next exciting chapter of A Nose for a Niedeman!

Essays, general essay

Somebody Out There Gets Mother’s Day Gifts. Finally.

Mother's Day Gifts,

The uKeg from GrowlerWerks

Two years ago, in this space, I wrote about how Mother’s Day Gifts basically suck. Or rather, how the advertising that goes on around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day tends to reinforce unfair gender stereotypes, with many of the gifts touted for moms largely being decorative or insubstantial or rigidly based on tired gender roles at home.

Please note – I have nothing against honoring Mothers or Fathers. I just think it’s really unfair that it’s assumed that what I want is a pastel-colored stand mixer just because I’m a woman. And if I admit that, yeah, a new stand mixer would be a nice gift, well, that’s just proving those assumptions right. Uh. No. Not even. Don’t go there.

Well, this year, I got a press release from a company that has finally figured out that moms really like craft beers, which is typically seen as a mostly guy thing. The company is called GrowlerWerks. Not surprisingly, they’re based in Portland, Oregon, and they make pressurized kegs, also known as growlers, that you can take to craft brewers and have them refill your keg with your favorite brew.

What’s really awesome about this, is that they’re targeting moms, at least for this month. They’re even featuring a woman brewer on their home page, and another woman (and mom) in the beer biz on another page. Nor is the keg all prettified or pinked up. Yeah, it’s an attractive keg, but what they’re touting is what the keg does for the beer.

This is advertising that doesn’t assume all women love beer. As it happens, I hate beer. But it’s acknowledging women and their unique contributions as our moms without dumbing us down or making it all about the appearances or about the stereotypes tied to our gender. This is cool. Insanely cool.

I’m happy. Not that I want or need a pressurized keg but it nice to see someone marketing to women as we are. Now, when they start advertising stand mixers to Fathers, I’ll be really excited.

mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Two

mystery fiction, mystery serial, mystery fiction serialThe first thing Mrs. Sperling did was send Kyle Hoffman to phone the police. The second thing was to have me describe the room and all of its contents.

“Well, it’s very plain,” I said, nervously. “Do you want size?”

“Judging from the echoes, I’d say approximately four hundred square feet.” Mrs. Sperling answered. “Glen?”

“Uh, yeah, close to that.” Glen was trying not to panic.

“Okay.” I swallowed. “On the wall opposite to us is an old camp cot with a six-inch-thick mattress, all made up perfectly with a dark green army blanket. The wall next to the street has three windows, all open, and there’s a birdcage and parakeet next to the center one. There’s bird seed all over the place. There’s a door in the wall facing the windows, and all sorts of shelves with pictures in them. Behind you is a desk with tons of papers on it, and more bird seed, et cetera.”

“Interesting,” murmured Mrs. Sperling.

“In the center of the room,” I continued. “Are two long tables like you find in school multi-purpose rooms. On the furthest one is a flat wooden box with screens…”

“A silk screening apparatus,” Glen cut in.

“So I surmised,” answered Mrs. Sperling. “Are the inks there also?”

“Six or seven jars of them,” I said. “And the previously mentioned serigraph hanging to the right of the box. The, uh, body is lying between the two tables. The nearer one has several frame pieces, more papers and a hot plate on it, and what looks like left-over bread on a paper plate.”

“Describe the body.”

“The body?” I balked. “It’s a man, and he’s real red.”

“Carbon monoxide poisoning.” Mrs. Sperling nodded. “What is he wearing?”

“Clothes.”

“Would you look again at the body and give me a more accurate description?”

Gulping back all sorts of obscenities, I did as I was asked.

“Alright. He’s wearing dark brown high-waisted pants, brown like rich soil, blue, tan and yellow paisley big shirt, paisley is like a bent over teardrop shape, brown suspenders, a brown tweed sloppy cardigan, black socks and brown loafers.”

“There’s something wrong there.” Mrs. Sperling frowned. “But I can’t think what.” Motioning Eleanor forward, she moved about the room, sniffing discreetly.

Sirens approached as Hoffman wandered in.

“Cops are on their way,” he announced needlessly. He glanced at Mrs. Sperling, then whispered to Glen and me, “What’s she doing?”

“Investigating, Mr. Hoffman,” Mrs. Sperling said, not stopping. “It is my metier, much like an artist’s is painting, or Mr. Stein’s was this gallery. When did you get here this morning?”

“Me?” he almost yelped. “Uh, about nine or so. I went straight to the roof. Repairs, you know.”

“I see.”

Hoffman nervously chuckled. “Good joke.”

“Joke?” Mrs. Sperling turned, then softly laughed herself. “I suppose it was a witticism, albeit unconscious.”

“Yeah.” Hoffman grinned without understanding.

“Well, hello, Mrs. Sperling,” said a new voice.

“Sergeant Michaelson,” Mrs. Sperling exclaimed warmly.

He stood in the doorway, with a uniformed officer behind. The sergeant was average height, good-looking in a domesticated sort of way, with soft brown receding hair, light freckles, and a medium-priced grey suit.

“You don’t usually show up this soon,” Michaelson continued.

“We found the body,” replied Mrs. Sperling.

“That’s convenient.” Michaelson smiled. It was evident that these two were greater friends than rivals. Michaelson looked around. “I’m assuming that nothing’s been touched or moved?”

“No. We found the body rather quickly, and I immediately put Mr. Hoffman to work phoning you. He just returned and hasn’t left the doorway beyond letting you in.”

“Good.” Michaelson sighed. “So, where’s the body?”

“Between the tables,” said Mrs. Sperling.

Michaelson knelt over the body. “Let’s see. We have a Caucasian male, approximately five ten in height, hundred and sixty pounds, medium brown hair. Distinct red color suggests CO poisoning. Been dead anywhere from twelve to twenty-four hours. Rigor’s passed off. I can’t tell you any more until the coroner’s had a shot at him.” Michaelson straightened. “Maybe you could tell me a few things.”

“Such as?” Mrs. Sperling cocked her head at him curiously.

“Who is he?”

“I believe Mr. Joshua Stein, the owner of this gallery, or at least the business. The building itself, I presume, is owned by Mr. Hoffman’s employer.”

“Hoffman?” Michaelson asked.

“Yeah, that’s me.” Hoffman gulped and stepped forward. “I got charge of this building.”

Michaelson got out his notebook. “Did you know Mr. Stein?”

“Yeah. That’s him on the floor.”

“Do you know the next of kin?”

“Uh, shit. I guess that’s his wife, only they’re splitting.”

“They are?” Asked Mrs. Sperling.

“Well, she’ll know the rest of the family,” Michaelson said. “How did you find the body?”

“I didn’t.” Hoffman pointed at Glen. “He did. He said Josh was counterfeiting.”

“Glen said no such thing,” interrupted Mrs. Sperling. “He didn’t even complete the suggestion that we’d caught Mr. Stein in the act. I find it odd that you automatically drew that conclusion.”

“Well, I…” Hoffman gulped. “I don’t know. I guess I’d heard it before. Yeah. You know, rumors and stuff. He’s got the stuff here for it.”

“I can think of many good reasons why a gallery owner would keep silk-screening equipment. Mr. Stein does happen to be missing drying racks, a necessary accoutrement.” Mrs. Sperling pronounced that last word with a perfect French accent.

Michaelson turned to her. “So you’re implying that somebody is setting this Stein up?”

“It would appear so.” Mrs. Sperling indicated the hanging print. “We came down here because we needed to confront Mr. Stein about a counterfeit version of this serigraph that he sold to Glen. Mr. Hoffman let us in, and Mr. Stein was discovered. Can you tell if he was moved after death?”

“I can’t say for sure until the coroner sees him, but I’d give pretty good odds.” Michaelson squatted between the tables again. “There’s several squashed bird seeds around him, leaving treads. Then there’s what probably killed him, namely the CO. Best way to get that is in a closed garage with a car running. I can’t see any way to get a car in here. And look at this. He’s got a nasty knock on the back of his noggin. Had to have occurred before death. He wouldn’t have that nice red color from breathing bad air otherwise.”

“Therefore, an obvious indication of cold-blooded murder.” Mrs. Sperling nodded sadly. “Someone banged poor Mr. Stein over the head, then left him in a closed room with an automobile running, then brought him back here. Is there any sign of the lock being forced?”

Michaelson went over and checked the door. “Nope.”

“Then the killer had keys.”

Hoffman’s eyes widened in fear. “Shit! It was an accident! I think. It wasn’t me! I was Josh’s best friend.”

“Mr. Hoffman,” Mrs. Sperling said soothingly. “Keys can be duplicated very easily, and locks can be forced without visible outward signs. There is also the possibility that the killer gained access from Mr. Stein, himself, and used his keys. You will let me know what you find, won’t you, Sergeant?”

“Naturally, Mrs. Sperling,” replied Michaelson.

Mrs. Sperling ordered Eleanor forward, and Glen and I followed her back to the car.

“Where to, Mrs. Sperling?” I asked as I opened the door for her.

She gave me an address that I put it in my maps app. It was in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue, but east of the main shopping neighborhood.

“What is this place?” asked Glen as I pulled into the traffic.

“A studio belonging to an old friend,” replied Mrs. Sperling. “She’s knowledgeable about counterfeiting and familiar with the current people in the racket. Perhaps she’ll know who’s behind our forgery.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Those missing drying racks. But the picture was hanging. Isn’t that good enough?”

“Drying racks are used in the serigraph process to dry the several copies between the application of each color,” Mrs. Sperling explained.

“Well, if he’s doing them one at a time,” I countered.

“That’s hardly economical, but possible, which is why it’s not conclusive evidence of a frame, if you’ll pardon the pun. I did fail to mention that the real clincher is that the picture hanging up to dry was a genuine commemorative serigraph.”

“A real one?” Glen gaped. “That’s totally stupid.”

“I suspect the killer made a mistake,” said Mrs. Sperling. “Whether or not it will be the one that catches him, or her, remains to be seen.”

The block where Mrs. Sperling’s friend was located was lined on both sides by parked cars. I had to circle it twice to find an opening for the DeVille. Finding a parking place was easier than finding the address. It was a tacky little gallery in a block of stores trying to imitate the trendiness further west down the street.

The little shop was dusty and crowded with framed pictures stacked along the walls, and five V-shaped bins filled with Saran-Wrapped posters. Jingle bells on the door announced our arrival. As the bells died out, silence layered everything like the dust. Then, from behind a doorway curtained off by faded batik gauze, came a rustling sound. Glen started.

“Rats!” he hissed.

“In some ways,” replied Mrs. Sperling.

A door slammed, wood scraped, and something fell. An elderly female voice cursed with the vehemence of a high schooler and a vocabulary that could have taught an ex-con something. More scraping and struggling, more cursing, then a soft shuffling announced the woman’s arrival.

It was impossible to guess at her age beyond old. She wore her long grey hair straight and parted down the middle and wrapped with a faded red bandana headband. Her face was as wrinkled as it was tanned. A faded batik shirt covered small breasts that sagged from years without a bra. Her dirty jeans were still tight across a tiny rump. She was about average height, her eyes were bright and she smiled as easily as she swore.

“Delilah, you old bitch!” she exclaimed with obvious delight. “What the fuck are you doing out of your capitalist nirvana?”

“Searching for information, as usual.”

“As usual.”

“And not about the revolution.”

“As usual.” The old woman rolled her eyes skyward, then peered at Mrs. Sperling. “But what? It’s got to be something criminal, you old bitch. It’s not like you to inquire about lawful pursuits.”

“About your former life, dear.”

“Which one?”

“Your current lifetime. Your former career, in particular, some of your old colleagues, with whom I believe you are still in touch?”

“Fuck, yes.” The woman sulked. “Shit. At least, you don’t make Shirley MacLaine jokes. But I’ve got details verified by historians. Details I have no other way of knowing.”

“Yes, dear, I’ve seen the evidence. Interesting, but not conclusive. Still, if you’ll allow me to pick your brain over lunch, we’ll listen to some of your stories.”

“Lunch, eh?” Her smile got even wider. “It pains me to say this, but you capitalist piss-ant bastards do know how to eat. Let me lock up.”

We were on our way in minutes. Mrs. Sperling introduced us in the car. Her friend was Dolores Carmine. Whether or not that was her real name was anybody’s guess. Mrs. Sperling didn’t question it out loud, but I could tell she had her reservations.

I was directed west to an attractive eatery in the trendy neighborhood. The clientele was such that Dolores didn’t stand out at all. Nor did Mrs. Sperling in her expensive tailored suit. The hostess seemed more amused by Eleanor than ruffled, although we did have to wait several minutes before a table large enough to accommodate her and we four humans was found.

Interrogating Dolores proved to be a delicate, time-consuming process. Her mind wandered constantly. Worse yet, Glen was fascinated by her tales of past lives. With an eager audience, there was no stopping the aging hippie.

I have to admit, I found the talk interesting. I also enjoyed my fettuccine primavera. But I wondered what Mrs. Sperling wanted from Dolores Carmine. Mrs. Sperling seemed to be getting something. She dissected a grilled chicken, all the while listening intently. Every so often, between sword fights and romances on the Nile, she would ask about a different old friend of Dolores’. The reply was usually vague and led to yet another adventure.

We were all consuming white chocolate cheesecake when Mrs. Sperling asked the question that she really wanted answered.

“Dolores, among your friends in the artistic community,” she began.

“Van Gogh, you mean.”

“No, dear. This century, and lifetime, I might add. I know you are not engaging in any unauthorized copying, but you do have friends who are. If I were interested in work by a specific artist, could you tell me who would be involved in making copies?”

“Who the fuck do you want?”

“Hans Niedeman.”

“Oh, him. Hell, lots of people in that.”

“I want a good quality copy. One that could pass for the original commemorative serigraphs. It’s a very high-quality ink and paper, I might add.”

“Fred Gonzagos. The others, they’re just shit knock-offs. But Gonzagos, he’s a hell of an artist on his own. It’s the white capitalist pricks who keep his work from getting recognition, so he does copies. He’s the best silkscreen man in this town. No shit. You name it, he’ll do it for you. He even did a few lost Renoirs last summer for some tourists.”

“So he’s adept at lithographs and oils.”

“Right down to the fuckin’ signatures and numbers. He’ll be a hard bird to catch. Real spooky. And, Delilah, you know I won’t testify.”

“I have no intention of asking you.”

“What do you want him for?”

“I believe I may possess some of his work.”

“Delilah, you bitch, that ain’t all.”

Mrs. Sperling sighed. “Dolores, I can’t afford to let you scare him away. You must understand, I have no reason to suspect him, but he may be able to shed some light on a rather nasty murder in Beverly Hills. It does involve his work. You might suggest that a disappearance could make him look very bad.”

“Anybody but you.” Dolores shook her head. “It could be just racist bullshit again. But…  Fuck, I wouldn’t have mentioned his name if I didn’t think you’d give him every chance. I’m counting on you.”

“I’m only interested in the truth.”

“You and the Tooth Fairy. Fred’s an okay guy. But this murder shit worries me. Just between us, I say he could be guilty. Most bastards who make copies are pacifists. Pricks, but non-violent. Fred usually is, too, except when he’s drunk. I don’t invite him to parties, and a lot of people I know won’t either. He wrecks too much. Fuckin’ near killed Tancy Greer last week.”

“Then I would say it’s not likely Mr. Gonzagos is behind this. It was definitely pre-meditated.” Mrs. Sperling dug through her purse. “Glen, will you summon the waiter? It’s time to settle the account.”

mystery fiction, mystery serial

New Serial! A Nose for a Niedeman Launches Today

mystery fiction, mystery serial, whodunnitThe picture dominated the room. It was not a part of the room. It was stark and modern, and completely out of place, which is why it was the first thing I saw.

The room had a comfortable feel to it, in spite of its precision neatness. The gray and rust pillows on the dark blue overstuffed sofa were perfectly aligned with the corners. A Waterford crystal lamp stood on the exact center of the dark oak top on each of two end tables. Two printed velvet wingback chairs rested at a forty-five-degree angle with another dark oak table between them. A quilted reproduction of Van Gogh’s “The Harvest” watched from the wall above the sofa. Ninety degrees away, on the adjacent wall, an intricately carved marble mantelpiece framed a brick fireplace.

The picture sat on a brass easel in front of the fireplace. Aesthetics aside, it seemed a rather awkward place for it. Not that I was in any position to question it, or rather, I didn’t think I was in any position to. I had yet to meet Mrs. Sperling.

She’d hired me the day before as her chauffeur, over the phone. Her attorney had handled all the paperwork: my DMV sheet, insurance, driver’s license. It seemed pretty strange. After all, it was a live-in position. I’d asked her if she wanted to meet me first, and she laughed and said it would be pointless, but maybe I’d like to meet her. So, there I was, in her living room, wondering why she had that huge picture on the easel.

I’d been shown through the entry hall into the room by a young man in his early twenties, if that old. He was tall but didn’t look it, with light brown hair and dressed in a trendy baggy gray sweater and faded black jeans.

He returned, and carefully adjusted the huge lace doily on the back of the sofa.

“Mrs. S. will be down in a minute,” he said in his soft tenor voice.

“Fine,” I replied. I had arrived a couple minutes early.

On his way to the wingback chairs, he passed the picture, glanced at it and sighed.

“I know,” I said. “It really doesn’t belong in here.”

He looked around. “Oo. It doesn’t.” He shook his head and shrugged. “That’s not why it’s here anyway.”

He sighed again and moved a pink Wedgwood vase a microscopic bit towards the center of the table between the two wingbacks. He noticed my puzzled look.

“A sixteenth of an inch can mean the difference between an intact vase and me paying for one,” he explained. “Mrs. S. totally has to be that tough. It’s like she’d never get through the house if everything wasn’t exactly where she knew it was gonna be.”

“Oh.” I still didn’t understand, but I decided Mrs. Sperling would enlighten me.

“By the way, my name’s Glen.” He smiled.

“I’m Donna.”

“I know. You told me when you came in.”

“Oh. That’s right.”

I heard a quick clicking sound from the hallway and turned towards it. A yellow Labrador retriever trotted into the room. Mrs. Sperling had asked me if I liked dogs, which I do.

“Eleanor,” Glen addressed the dog. “You’re supposed to be upstairs.”

The Lab cocked her head at me.

“It’s alright, Glen,” called Mrs. Sperling’s voice, pleasant and well-bred, even at a higher volume.

Eleanor approached me. I held out my hand for her to sniff. She seemed to approve. I scratched her throat.

“She wanted to meet Donna,” Mrs. Sperling continued as she entered the room.

She was of average height. Her elegantly tailored pale blue suit covered a somewhat padded figure. She had dark blonde hair with wisps of gray running through it, cut into what they used to call a wedge. There was something very graceful about the way she moved, which covered up how fast she did it.

She smiled knowingly at Glen. “Are you also interested in joining us?”

“For sure,” Glen replied. His attitude towards his boss was respectful but relaxed and friendly. “I mean, a new roommate and all.”

“Very well. By the way, the hall lamp…”

“Oh!” he groaned. “I’m really trying!”

“There was no damage done this time, fortunately. And don’t worry about it. You’re much further along than your predecessor was when she left, and she’d worked here five years.” She turned and addressed the air next to Glen. “So, you’re Donna Brechter.”

“Yes.”

She shifted to face me. There was something not quite right about her eyes.

“I’m Delilah Sperling,” she said and stepped forward to shake my hand.

I closed in and took hers. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Sperling.”

“The pleasure is mutual. Should I have Glen show you around, or do you have any questions?”

“Not really.” I looked around a little nervously.

Mrs. Sperling chuckled. “You’re wondering who I am and if I’m on the right side of the law.”

“No!” I blushed. “Well, a little. It just seemed weird that you were satisfied with a phone interview, that you didn’t want to see me first.”

“I said it would be pointless.” Mrs. Sperling seemed to be enjoying some joke that I had missed. Even Glen was in on it. “But if you think it’s that important, why don’t you describe yourself.”

“How?”

“Physically, your appearance.”

That stumped me. After all, I was standing right in front of her. Then it dawned on me. Her eyes weren’t quite right. The left one was clouded over and unfocused. The right eye looked inward and twitched steadily.

“Sure.” I took a deep breath. “I’m five-eight, one hundred and twenty pounds. I’ve got brown hair, blue eyes. My hair’s real long, down to my waist. I’ve got very long arms, also. Frankly, if I could only use one word to describe myself, that would be it: long.”

Mrs. Sperling chuckled. “Indeed. I believe you said you are a dancer?”

“Only when it doesn’t interfere with my work here,” I said quickly.

“I doubt it will. But why chauffeuring?”

“I heard the money was good, and I like to drive. I don’t mind odd hours, either.”

“Excellent.” She smiled. “Not that I expect there’ll be many of them. I lead a quieter life than most of my peers.”

Glen snickered.

“I do lead a quieter life,” Mrs. Sperling insisted.

“You just don’t party,” said Glen.

Mrs. Sperling sighed and turned back to me. “The picture on the easel. Would you try to describe it for me?”

I looked at it carefully. “Well, it’s a print, a real good one. Um. It’s a picture of a woman with her hair pinned up and wearing a necklace and nothing else. The picture stops at her waist. Um. Do you mind if I ask how much you can see, and how long you’ve been that way?”

Her eyebrow lifted. “I am completely blind and have been since birth. Why do you ask?”

I swallowed. “I just wanted to know if color meant anything to you.”

“A valid question. Color does have meaning, but I suspect not in quite the same way it would for you. For me, blue is water or cold ice. Red is blood, warm and sticky.”

“Yeah. I think I got it. Um. The woman’s skin is white, like a crisp sheet. She’s very sharply defined with black lines… Um, like a narrow rail. The style is almost realistic, maybe like the difference between an ancient Greek sculpture and something from the twentieth century. The necklace is burgundy, like wine, and so are her lips. Her eyes are purple like velvet or flowers. The background is grayish blue, almost a gunmetal color. Surrounding the whole thing is a border that’s gray like satin. The bottom border is much wider than the rest, and it has Niedeman written on it in black.”

“That’s sufficient.” Mrs. Sperling seemed to be laughing. “You did very well, Donna. Do you think you can continue along those lines for me?”

“Sure.”

“This shall work out better than I thought. That picture is a limited-edition serigraph by the late artist, Hans Niedeman. He was the American-born son of German immigrants and only died roughly two years ago. Since that time, his widow released a series of fifteen limited edition commemorative serigraphs of his work. This is HN6. Glen obtained it the other day through a special arrangement.”

“He got a good deal?” I asked.

“Not really. It’s a fake.”

“Oh.” I grimaced as Glen sighed.

“It’s an excellent forgery,” continued Mrs. Sperling. “I’m told the counterfeiter even got the texture right. But genuine Niedeman serigraphs have a distinctive smell that this one does not.” She paused for a moment. “Do you have any further questions?”

“No.”

“Would you care to see your rooms?”

“Unless you’ve got someplace you want to go first.”

“Yes, I think I would prefer to.” She nodded. “Thank you. After you sign your W-2s and insurance papers, please help Glen wrap the Niedeman. We are going to confront Mr. Joshua Stein.”

“The gentleman who sold Glen the Niedeman?” I cocked a hopeful grin at her.

Her eyebrow lifted and she smiled. “Yes.”

The paperwork didn’t take long to fill out. I was happy to be employed, and it looked like the job would be a lot of fun, not to mention the major advantage of moving out of my folks’ place. My parents wanted me out. Well, I was twenty-six, the oldest, and the only one of my siblings still living at home.

Glen appeared with a long sheet of brown wrapping paper. It was a bit of a struggle getting the paper around the frame. The picture was more awkward than heavy. Mrs. Sperling entered the room as we finished, Eleanor at her side in the traditional harness.

“Shall we be going?” she asked. She handed me a full keychain. “Here are your keys, Donna. We’ll go ahead and take the DeVille. We don’t want to be too intimidating. Those keys are on the end of the ring, on the left side.”

“Thank you.”

The chain was a brass half-ring, with a large ball on one end, and a two-inch chain dangling from the other. The car was a tan four-door Cadillac DeVille with a computerized dashboard. The darned thing even talked to me, reminding me to put on my seat belt.

Mrs. Sperling sat up front with me, and Glen sat in the back with Eleanor. There’s always plenty of traffic in L.A., even in Beverly Hills, however, that morning it was lighter than normal. We made good time.

It was a gorgeous November day, with brilliant blue skies, and crisp nippy air. It had been cold the past few nights. The days didn’t warm up that much, either. We’d had rain the week before, and the nearby mountains were sporting white tops.

The studio we wanted was in the Rodeo Drive district, a couple blocks over from Rodeo, itself. The building was at the end of the block. It was a tan brick edifice with three stories that had been built sometime in the 1940s, I guessed. There was a door built into the corner leading into a narrow foyer with a spiral staircase in front of an elevator, and another glass-fronted door leading into the gallery. That door was locked.

“That’s odd,” mused Mrs. Sperling.

I shivered. It was surprisingly cold in the foyer.

“It should be open,” Glen said. “It was yesterday.”

I pressed against the glass with shaded eyes. “It’s not today. There’s no one in there, and no lights on. Wait. I think there’s a light coming from the back.”

“Then that’s where we’ll go.” Mrs. Sperling turned and swung her arm in front of her. “Eleanor, forward.”

We went around the corner to the alley that ran behind the block. The building’s back door was easy to find. It was open, but not to the studio. That door was next to a flight of stairs that led into the rest of the building.

“Hello?” Mrs. Sperling called. She lightly felt along the wall and tried the studio door. It was locked tight. She banged on it. “Hello?”

“Hey! Who the hell’s down there?” The voice came from outside and above.

Mrs. Sperling, Eleanor, Glen and I stumbled over each other going outside.

“Excuse us, sir,” Mrs. Sperling addressed the roof. “We’re looking for Mr. Stein.”

A round head of dark curly hair appeared over the edge.

“You are? Why? The building’s closed.”

“It is?” Mrs. Sperling asked. “We were just out front, and it appears there’s a light on in the back. Could it be that Mr. Stein is here after all?”

“A light, huh.” The head disappeared. A few seconds later we heard bumping feet on the stairs, and the head with the rest of its body arrived. He was short and paunchy and wearing a Twisted Sister t-shirt with faded 501 jeans.

“We’d be open, but there was a big problem yesterday afternoon,” he said going through a set of keys. “Uh, power failure.” He looked up at us. “I’m Kyle Hoffman, the building manager.”

He chose a key and opened the door. Mrs. Sperling went in first. She sniffed and frowned. Eleanor growled softly, then whined. I stepped in and looked around.

“He’s not here,” I said, shivering again. It wasn’t any warmer in the gallery back room.

“I think he may be.” Mrs. Sperling had a strange, grim half-smile on her face as if the situation both excited and repulsed her.

Glen pushed his way in. “Look!” He pointed. “An HN6!” He scrambled over to the middle of the room, where there was a table with a long, flat wooden box on it. Above it was hanging the Niedeman serigraph. “We’ve got him… Oh, my God!”

Glen came reeling back, his face a pale green color. I foolishly went to see what had gotten him that way. I came back the same color.

“I assume you’ve discovered why the studio is not open,” Mrs. Sperling said.

“Oh, you betcha,” I groaned. “He’s awful red, but I think he’s dead.”

F.M. Meredith on the Old Becoming New Again

I know F. M. Meredith, the author of the Rocky Bluff mystery series, as Marilyn Meredith, virtual friend. She’s re-releasing some of the earlier books in her series through a new publisher and she generously offered to share with us what that was like.

F.M. Meredith, Marylyn MeredithWhen the publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series suffered a series of debilitating strokes, like many of her authors, I hoped and prayed for a complete recovery. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I waited for nearly two years, but knew it was time I moved on.

Aakenbaaken and Kent published the next in the series and contracted with me to publish the rest. Because it had been so long ago when I wrote the first book, Final Respects, a decision had to be made. Since much has changed both in policing and the world since the publishing of this first book, should it be updated? The publisher decided, no, but that each one of the mysteries should be re-edited.

Because there are so many in the series, this was a big task, but one I was ready to take it on. Yes, I found typos, some inconsistencies and errors which I fixed. But I was happy to find that the stories and overall writing held up.

To bring those who don’t know about the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, it is set in a small fictitious town on the California coast between VenturaMystery writing, mystery series, mystery fiction and Santa Barbara. There is an ongoing cast of characters, the members of the RBPD and their families. Though it is a series, each book stands on its own with the mystery solved by the end.

My interest in writing about a police department and those who work there was brought on by my son-in-law, a police officer, who shared what went on at the job. He also took me on a ride-along. I later went on other ride-alongs with officers in another small town police department.

I’ve had a lot of help along the way from my law enforcement friends in the Public Safety Writers Association. http://policewriter.com/.

My new publisher has decided to make a major change in the covers of the books so they reflect the fact that each one belongs to the series.

Needless to say, I am delighted about the resurrection of my Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series.

Marilyn Meredith who also writes as F. M. Meredith is the author of forty published novels, 13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series and the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest A Cold Death from Mundania Press. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra, a place quite similar to Tempe Crabtree’s patrol area. You can find out more about her on her webpage http://fictionforyou.com, or on her blog  https://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/ and you can follow her on Facebook.

The Big Cover Reveal

Yes, it’s time once again for the latest major release. Death of the Zanjero is the start of a  murder mystery series featuring Maddie Franklin Wilcox in Los Angeles, 1870.

In Los Angeles in 1870, water was scarce and the most powerful man in town was the Zanjero, or water overseer. And he was often the most corrupt, as well. When Zanjero Bert Rivers turns up dead in the irrigation ditch, or zanja, leading to young widow Maddie Wilcox’s vineyards, Maddie has the odd feeling he was murdered.

Then the undertaker’s wife, Mrs. Sutton, confirms that Rivers was shot, and not just hit on the head. Maddie finds herself drawn into finding the killer, first to see justice done, and then to save the skin of the one person she knows did not do it – the town’s most infamous madam, Regina Medina.

Maddie quickly discovers that Mr. Rivers was not the kind, upstanding civic benefactor he presented himself as, but a most despicable man who preyed on the weak and vulnerable, and cheated everyone else. With nearly everyone having a reason to kill the zanjero, Maddie stumbles on more than a few secrets and ends up in a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

The cover was done by my wonderful friend and even more awesome artist, Ginko Lee (who I’m sure is seriously regretting suggesting doing a cover for me). But, dang, this one is gorgeous! And here it is.

The Next Fiction Serial Has Been Delayed

Sigh.

It’s a good thing I re-read the beginning of A Nose for a Niedeman before I posted Chapter One today. After fixing a plot hole later in the book, I found that I’d created an even bigger one in the first two chapters.

Yeah. Exactly.

I’m not sure when I’m going to get the story fixed. Should be by the end of April. In the meantime, here’s the cover:

Missye K. Clarke on Becoming a Writer

Misyye K. Clarke

It’s always interesting to me how many of we writers started in our teens. Missye K. Clarke is yet another one. Here’s how it happened.

My writing life began with my coming into the world a true smartass. That happens when you’re born and raised in old-school New York City. Flushing, Queens to be precise. Strong assessment? Sure. But it got your attention. And, hey, old-school Big Apple residents often use strong anything.

But first, a bit of backstory.

I remember, for as long as could remember—with family stories backing said recollections—I started writing when I was four, that word “Freedom” in a fat green crayon on orange construction paper. Between that moment and when my being that smartass got me suspended for a month from riding the bus one way and in school, I hated writing.

Okay . . . hate’s too strong a word, as my late Granny would say. More like detested and dreaded writing. Book reports, that is (Aha! I see heads nodding in agreement and hands shooting up in solidarity with me!). Don’t get me wrong—reading was my strongest suit, my vocabulary reflecting as such in those school percentile tests and when I read the Macmillan Children’s Dictionary during weekends at my Granny’s whenever I got in trouble or told her I was bored. I loved getting lost in stories of boys watching an independent mouse work his toy motorcycle, or a little shy black cat with a red scarf discovering she had a skating talent to be part of her neighborhood cat club—or a sweet little girl channeling a jealous dead girl similar in age because the girl’s ghost was restless, the connection, a glass globe on a stone pedestal. What I didn’t like was summarizing these stories in writing, jotting my thoughts of said stories in these essays.

It wasn’t so much the writing that bothered me; if that were the case, I’d hate drafting sentences to use my newly-learned vocabulary words in. It was the drafting book reports of someone else’s imagination that, as a teacher discovered, was what I argued hard what the point was to prove I’d read the book. She tried an experiment when I didn’t turn in said detestable assignment: she let me orally summarize the story I’d read, since I was more expressive in this vein than most. And in other aspects, I couldn’t shut up.

The first oral report worked. A dozen others followed. She graded me in her marking book, happy for one less thing to read from a class of twenty-something students, sending my book report writing days to the cartoon graveyard at the ripe old age of eleven.

“And this all has to do you’re being a smart-aleck lead to writing, how, exactly Missye?”

Patience, Grasshopper (**she says sarcastically through a wry smirk**). Every good storyteller has a decent setup before the payoff.

Fast forward five years. I’m sixteen, well ensconced in northern Arizona—another blog post for another day, perhaps—and my younger sister and I are on the bus on a typical school day, which quickly went atypical.

The driver, an angry lumberjack bull lesbian female (which she honestly was, but insensitive to say nowadays), was either tired of trying to antagonize me or fed up with not breaking me with her instigation, began to pick on my sister. Sister started crying, the other kids were laughing at her for the rain, and I got super-pissed from this (only I’m supposed to pick on her, nobody else is! I’m kidding, but you know what I mean). So while “Marie” was still driving, I popped such a hot remark to and about her of her girlfriend dumping her, I think I saw cartoony sparks fly from me that could’ve set her plaid shirt on fire.

“Marie” slammed the brakes, radioed dispatch she’s not moving that bus one more inch until this kid—me—is off her bus IMMEDIATELY! In crocodile tears, too, I’ll add, but hey, I was in the wrong for wising off to somebody in authority. But she’d antagonized me one time too many—and as an afterthought too late to head off, that was her way to antagonize me. Adding insult to injury: not even my sister came to my defense in my defending her. Such was the hell of high school life.

Ironically, my sister got to stay on the bus, but while one of my parents drove me into school that morning, the kids whooped and hollered over so what I’d said, it hit the gossip mill all day plus two more. I was an anti-celebrity of sorts—then tagged a smartass and since—until one of my favorite people in authority—Assistant Principal James MacLarney–really lowered the boom. The impact his truthful statements made while he yelled at me in the first place, and his intoned, truly-giving-a-damn words broke me. I always hated on myself when people I liked and respected a whole lot did that, and I sure did then.

Sigh. I faced a choice: in-house suspension of one of my favorite music classes for a month, since my parents had to work when school let out and they weren’t making an extra stop for my butt to get home—morning bus privileges and weekend babysitting privileges concurrently suspended, too—or hard labor for three hours a day after school for a month on someone’s nearby horse and cattle farm.

I opted for the in-house.

Homework completed the nights before, all the books I had were saved for home, forty-five minutes of the first two days dragged—until I began writing longhand on day three. Something clicked. Now again, don’t get me wrong, I liked writing—loved it, actually. Just not summarizing somebody else’s imaginative results; if that wanted to know about it, as I often wrote at the end of those silly reports, READ THE BOOK! And I wrote two pieces, two long-shorts when I was fourteen and fifteen based on writing prompts from an English teacher at the time (I was the lone one in class taking all three prompts, since they individually weren’t calling out to me).

But the study hall time opened my untapped strange new world in a wardrobe. First person, Le Pen in left hand to spiral-bound notebook, my MC was a guy named Alex “Ponyboy” McCormick, blond, grey-eyed, my age, and he and five other buddies—three dudes, two females, one of which he was interested in, but she was one of his wingdude’s boo—found themselves in a Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space-type situation in then the Space Shuttle Challenger. Admittedly, I borrowed heavily from everything I’d read, absorbed from Saturday morning cartoons, dreams, and made this rough start of a novel into the gumbo of my imagination. But it was those “But what happens next, Missye?” moments every day and every night that pushed me to keep writing. It made the forty-five prison minutes of daily in-house speed by, my grades improved . . . and I kept writing over the weekends to divert my mind from losing out on extra babysitting cash (my parents relented occasionally when the family needing a sitter didn’t want my sister minding their kids due to her being twelve to my sixteen. She howled a pluperfect fit, but couldn’t do much more past that.).

Find the magic, however you can, if it’s gone wayward or long asleep. It’s inside you, but will surface with the right scent, or touched by the perfect angle of sunlight, or maybe free-writing by full moonlight or firelight to gently coax Mr. Sandman from its eyes. Or, as was my case writing during that in-house of hell, I did to stave off sheer boredom; they wouldn’t let us even sleep then, can you imagine? But even through all this, my mind, imagination, curiosity—alongside Alex, Zak, Little Joe, Allyson, Kris, and Mickey at the time–never quit asking what comes next. Even my present Casebook and Threesome of Magic mysteries, the same “what comes next” drumbeats come from Casper, Logan, Alex, Missye Maroon, and Jay Vincent today. And I don’t believe I, or they, ever will stop asking. They know where the magic truly lies. They and I all know even the snarky smart-alecks have that glow of story-magic, too.

Time to dust a new trail of imagination fairy dust and plumb more magical lands of possibilities.

Did I ever give “Marie” an apology? Sort of. I was wrong for wising off, I told her—and dropped it. Once school authorities realized the technicality I exploited—I never said I’m sorry for what I’d said, because I genuinely wasn’t—there was little they could do to remedy it.

Happy writing, everybody. 🙂

Missye K. Clarke’s novel JERSEY DOGS, the first of the McGuinness/Pedregon Casebooks, is set for release this spring in e-book and print editions.

Taking a Break

We’ll be back next week with a new fiction serial A Nose for a Niedeman. Thank you for your patience.

But World Enough and Time is Now An Ebook!

science fiction, time travelI’m pretty excited about this one. This novel means a lot to me because its genesis was hanging with the girlfriends and I got a lot of research done for me by my dear friend Stephanie Beverage. It’s also turned into quite a fun romp. You can go here to find links to your favorite ebook retailer.

Oh. Why isn’t it available in paperback? That’s the awkward part. You see, But World Enough and Time is the first book in a trilogy of novels. Part two, Time Enough, is being written now. And as I started Time Enough, I realized I needed to make a few tweaks to But World Enough and Time – nothing major – which was already being serialized on the blog. Since it’s a lot less costly to update an ebook as needed, I figure I’ll just wait until the trilogy is complete before releasing the books in paper. Unless sales for But World Enough and Time go viral.

And, speaking of, if you do buy the ebook, please do not forget to leave a review on GoodReads or Amazon or wherever. It really, really helps.