Saturday, July 14, 2018

Why I Hate Instagram

Why I Hate Instagram

I hate Instagram.

Every morning I check it upon awakening, and I start the day feeling like a loser.

Everyone's posts get more likes. Everyone gets more comments. Everyone has more followers.

I'm like in high school again--and that was a miserable time. Everyone is more popular. Everyone has more friends.

And when I do get followers, they unfollow me as soon as I follow them back. I've been close to 500 followers about a dozen times, and then my following drops by like 75.

I know they say you're not supposed to compare yourself to other people, but I can't help it.

What am I doing wrong? Why don't I have more engagement?

I even tried taking a class about how to get more followers, but it was not helpful at all.

I think it's totally hopeless. I'm done with Instagram. Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me.

My Dream

Last night I dreamed I was back in college. I was taking Latin (which I did take in college) and had done some kind of digital recording and was worried that the recording didn't work properly.

I was also worried about a math professor giving me grief for missing the first few days of class.

I guess some worries stick in your brain and never leave! (I think the dream happened because I was helping a friend's college-student daughter with a writing assignment yesterday.)

There was also something in there about taking a shower in a kind of grubby shower stall in the basement, and I was wondering why the shower in the upstairs bath wasn't working.

Also, in the dream I was concerned that I was getting a cold.

Anyway, the weird thing is that in the dream, my mother was there helping me, advising me, and being generally supportive.

My mother died when I was 10, so she wasn't around when I was in college.

Plus she wasn't a very supportive person.

I guess the dream was basically a form of fantasy wish fulfillment.

A guy I know who does dream interpretation recommends asking three questions:

What title would you give the dream?
What was the theme of the dream?
What question does the dream ask?
What question does the dream answer?

Here are my responses:

What title would you give the dream? College Daze

What was the theme of the dream? Do you best in college; if you don't miss class, you won't need to come up with excuses.

What question does the dream ask? Don't you wish you'd had a supportive mother when you were in college?

What question does the dream answer? You know this stuff (concerns/memories about college and your mother) will never go away, don't you?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The First Thing I Remember

The First Thing I Remember

I’m a child, young, perhaps three years old, and I see . . . a face. It is a woman’s face. She’s a brunette, pretty, with bright eyes and a kind smile. I’ve just come from being carried to a strange place with bright colors and brighter lights. Lots of red and green. And shiny things. In the strange place, I was put on the lap of a strange man in a soft red suit. He had a big white beard, like my great uncle, but unlike my great uncle, he wore a peculiar red hat trimmed with white fur and with a white pom-pom on the tip of it.

Then there were more bright lights, and the flashes hurt my eyes. I cried, and everyone laughed. I was taken from his lap and carried away.

More about the woman’s face. It’s flat. It’s on a piece of paper, followed by more pieces of paper with dark lines on them. I am sat down on the floor with the face, and some waxy sticks are dropped in front of me. One is put into my hand—my right hand, never my left, as I’d like. I’m encouraged to drag the waxy sticks around the edges of the paper. A large hand closes over mine, guiding it to move the stick. The wax makes a mark on the paper, a mark the color of the woman’s lips.

The woman is Queen Elizabeth II of England. Her face is in a coloring book I was given after my first visit to Santa Claus. What this book had to do with Christmas or Santa remains a mystery to me today. I think it was just an unsold item, one of many that the department store gave to the kids as gifts after their photo sessions with Santa Claus. I had the coloring book for years, tucked away in the piano bench with a few other treasures. But I don’t think I ever colored in it.

She did look a bit like my mother, Queen Elizabeth did: same lips, same coloring (although my mother’s eyes were brown), but then all women of any era look a bit alike, I suppose—it’s the style of the times.

How strange that my very first memory is of the face of Britain’s Queen and not of my mother.

Perhaps this heralded things to come.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


I have a small box full of pills of different kinds. The box is made of heavy paper. It’s about three inches long by two inches wide by two inches high. The outside is coated with a gloss; the inside has a white matte finish. An aqua or seafoam-colored band runs around the outside, and above and below it there is some small black lettering that I can’t read. On the top is a matte sticker with handwritten lettering. I can’t read it either, but I know what it says: “Teeksa 27,” meaning that it’s meant for me. The box was provided, I think, by the company that makes the pills. Lots of pills are inside it, and they are mostly crudely made, looking like tiny chunks of concrete; few are perfectly formed. Except for the tiny pale-yellow gel capsules, none are colored. They all are just a dismal grey.

I can’t remember what these pills are for. I used to know—that is, I think I used to. But that was back before my memory went, back when I actually used to take the pills. Now I just take out the box sometimes and put it on the varnished blonde oak table in front of me when my father isn’t around, and I look at the many pills inside.

I know the pills were given to me by a woman with dark hair in a white lab coat—unless I dreamed this. But no, it was real, I’m sure. She sat at a desk among a lot of other vacant desks in a large and gloomy office. I think she gave me some instructions about how to take them—when, and whether to take them with milk or water or food, and how many to take, and so on—but I can’t remember. That’s okay because I don’t need to remember. Others remember these things for us now. And I haven’t taken the pills for a long time, anyway.

So I sit at this table peering into the box. It’s not unpleasant, being here, for we live in a large bright and airy house at the seashore. It’s much better than what most people have, I think, and my father says we won the lottery when we got this house.

Today is the Day of the Ships. A long wide window runs along the length of our beach house facing the water, and from where I sit, I can look out across the sands at the dark and despotic-looking ships looming on the water. Some of them are quite large; one is as big as an office building.

The idea enters my head that I should put a ship in the water, too. I rise from the table and go to find the one I have hidden away in the bottom of the coal box. It’s a little black wooden model of an old-fashioned single-masted sailboat, from the Times Before. I bring it back to the table, along with a small nugget of soft coal, and set it gently on the smooth oak surface, beside the box of pills. Another idea enters my head (this is dangerous, having too many ideas in a single hour), and I tear off the flap from the part of the box that folds to close it, the top, the part with the matte sticker that says “Teeksa 27.” With the coal, beside these letters and numbers I draw a star and a flower, and I long to write a wish of some kind for the New Days that begin today. I think I learned how to read and write once, but that has been forgotten. My father can write, and he’ll be home soon—perhaps I’ll wait, and then ask him to help.

The little ship is about the size of the box, but a bit bigger, too big to fit inside. It was my mother’s. She collected boats, or rather, figures of them. Her brother had served on a ship during one of the wars—the one before the one before the last one I think, or one or two before that—and he would get them in various ports of call and send them to her.

She had dozens, displayed carefully and attractively on wooden shelves in a glass-fronted bookcase in the home where we used to live. They were all beautiful—much lovelier than anything you see nowadays, and certainly more attractive than the black looming boats on the water outside for the Day of the Ships. Most of my mother’s small boats were a little bigger than this one, but all were still of a size that you could hold each one in your hand. And they were painted the most gorgeous colors. She had a model of an ancient barge with purple sails. And the flagship of an explorer with a red and yellow cross on the mainsail. Others had gilded masts and silver threads as rigging; one had an intricately carved mermaid figurehead with the scales painted metallic green and her flowing hair painted scarlet. Some had designs or colored trim on the sides, and others had words on the bow telling the name of the ship.

Of course, that was in the days when people collected things. They are all gone now, all but this single tiny black sailboat I’ve kept hidden away. Not wanting to wait for my father’s return, I spindle the shred of paper from the box and wrap it carefully around the bottom of the mast of my little ship.

Clutching it in my hand I run out the door and down the stairs until my bare feet touch the warm sand. It feels pleasant. The sun is high overhead, and my shadow surrounds me like an irregular disc at my feet. A few people are lounging on the beach, but not many. They don’t look at me. They don’t seem to notice me. I pause, and then run into the water until it’s above my waist nearly to my armpits, and I touch the boat to the water.

At first it won’t float. It tips and sinks. I catch it as it falls slowly downward in the black oily water, and set it on the surface again. Again it tilts and starts to sink. But I try a third time, very carefully now, and it takes hold and floats in the thick liquid. I watch it for a moment, and then I trudge back to the shore. Standing in the wet sand at the water’s edge I turn and see it. I shade my eyes from the sun and focus on it, floating—or rather, sailing—there. Of course it’s the smallest one among many giants, but it is there, and that’s the important thing.

For a moment, I imagine the tiny object as a life-sized sailboat, and I picture myself sitting on it and looking back at the shore. I turn my head to gaze over my shoulder at our house: the white perfect paint, the sloping sand-colored roof, the broad and long glass window, and the sand surrounding it. It’s nice, I think, and I’m happy to live here. The nearest one is many measuring units away down the long beach. I wish I could remember how long I’ve lived here, and when we came here, and how. But I can’t. I want to sigh, but sighing is not allowed, and there are still some people lounging nearby on the sand. As before, they seem not to notice me, but then again, maybe they do notice me; maybe they all notice me and are pretending not to. Perhaps the function of the broad glass window is to allow them to watch me inside our home.

Anyway, I don’t sigh. I walk calmly back to our comfortable beach house. My feet gather sand with their wetness as I take long steps to the door.

Back inside, the pill box is there on the polished wooden table waiting for me—the box with all the pills that I haven’t taken in a long time. It beckons to me, and I look inside it again, seeing all of them, wondering what they are for, and wishing I could remember. I go to the sink. I take a green crystal glass from the cupboard and press a button to fill it with water. Then I return to the table and sit there looking out the window at the ocean. With perfect clarity, as if looking through a telescope, I can see my little toy black ship bobbing on the water. But my note, my little shred of paper with the drawings of the star and the flower and “Teeksa 27,” it has just become detached from the boat. And it is floating away. I should be sad, but I’m not. I feel happy to see my boat there among the others, and I think this will bring me luck for the New Days that begin today. “Take pleasure in small things,” my mother used to say. And I do.

I hear a noise at the door and look up as my father enters the house. He’s one of the Healing People, from Former Times. He has grown old now; he is bald and what hair he has left is grey. His face is wrinkled, and he is stoop-shouldered—yet he is a proud man, not conquered by his experiences, like so many others are. He’s fatter than he used to be, too, but he’s mostly healthy. Good health is the greatest gift, we’re told, but I don’t think he is happy. He has barely smiled since my mother died, and that was long ago.

She became ill, right at the beginning of the Time of Forbidden Illness. He tried his best to heal her and failed. I think this is the cause of his unhappiness. They forced him to send her away. I was allowed to visit, just once, in the big white building, and I saw her there in her bed beneath a mound of grey blankets. In spite of her sickness, she smiled at me. That’s my last memory of her.

I look back into the small box of pills, cupping it and hiding it with my hands from my father. Again I wonder if I should take just one pill, swallow it with water from the green glass, even though I can’t remember why or when or how. I stare into the box as my father crosses the room without speaking. There are so many pills. Except for the gel cap’s pale yellow shell, each is crudely formed and sinister-looking in its crudeness. I’m old enough to remember the days when pills were perfectly round or square or lozenge-shaped, with flat or domed tops and words and letters stamped into them. They were the most marvelous colors: pink, orange, yellow; some were even aqua or magenta. They were nothing like these dull imperfect things resembling crumbs of concrete.

But these were given to me for a reason. I know this, given to me by the woman with the dark hair in the lab coat at her place among the desks. I recall stepping up to the counter and speaking with her. But that’s all I remember.

Perhaps I should take one? Would that make my memory worse than it is? What harm could be done by a single crudely formed little pill?

My father, not seeing the small box cupped in my hands, gives me one of his rare weak smiles. He carefully folds his coat, places it on the bench under the window, and asks me how was my day. I start to shrug, but shrugging is not allowed, so I say “fine” and think of asking him where he’s been. But I decide not to.

He stretches out in the big comfortable chair across from me between the table and the window. I keep my position, with the box hidden cupped in my hands that rest innocently before me and beside the green glass on the table. He’s not looking at me. He’s looking up at the ceiling, thinking or daydreaming. Daydreaming is not allowed either, of course—but how could they know?—so everyone does it. At least, everyone I know. Which is myself and my father.

Thinking about the box and the pills and whether it would make me sick to take one, the thought comes into my mind of how sickly I was as a child. I was not expected to live, and if my father hadn’t been one of the Healing People, I wouldn’t have. I think of the stories about how, in spite of his being a healer, I was nearly taken away from him and from my mother during my earliest days. It’s strange that I survived.

I speak up and say to him casually, “Hey, Dad?”

He turns to me.

“When I was a little sickly baby,” I continue, smiling at the thought that we’ll have a conversation, “did you think I’d live to be 27, or 37, or 57, or 60?”

He doesn’t answer and gives me an odd look, perhaps not remembering or not wanting to remember, and I drop the subject.

I sigh—inwardly only—and wonder what to do next. In my impotent state of wondering and having no ideas, I inwardly sigh again.

Suddenly, impulsively, I look beyond him to see if my little sailboat, my tiny offering, is still out there on the dark water. There are more people on the sand now, and more large grey ships in the water. They all seem predatory to me: ships like sharks, or killer whales, or sea monsters. I try hard to focus my eyes and finally I manage to do so, again as if looking with a telescope.

But I can’t see it.

It’s gone.

I’m glad it has floated away.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How I Write—In Case Anyone Is Interested!

Sometimes people ask me about my “writing process.” I’m not sure I have one. I have no requirements about tools or time or place: I can write on a keyboard or a notepad—or even on a barroom beer mat. I can write anywhere—at a desk, a café table, in bed, on a park bench, on sand at a beach—and at any time of day or night.

Two things I can say about what writing is for me: first, it’s a process of recording. The ancients believed that the were given their art by divinities, by muses for whom they were simply translators or elements of transmission to a human realm. I completely understand this idea. When I write, I don’t know where the stuff comes from. It surely doesn’t come from me! The words, the images, the characters, the stories—none of this is mine. It all comes into my brain from somewhere, from out of nowhere. It’s like a movie playing in my mind, and it’s up to my hands to get it onto the screen or the page.

Apollo and the Muses

Second, writing is a craft, like basket weaving. Once the ideas start coming, it’s a matter of using the right words, the best words, les mots justes, to render my vision as accurately as possible. If I’ve succeeded, the reader experiences exactly what I experienced when the thoughts came into my head.

I hope you’ll enjoy my book, Listening to Ian Magick, which is due out this fall.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Introduction to a Talk I Delivered Last Summer in Wales

As I continue to work on my Tudor-era historical novel, I thought I'd post the introductory paragraph of a lecture I delivered last summer in Wales at a conference titled "Representing the Tudors." I'll be releasing the lecture soon as an ebook.

How Issues of Infertility, Illness, and Injury Affect Representations of the Characters in the Showtime TV Series The Tudors

In April 2007 the British-Irish-Canadian television show The Tudors made its debut, and a year later it was referred to as the series that “viewers are eating up” (Gates, 2008). The Showtime series was enormously popular, and this popularity has continued via DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming. As a USA Today writer observed in an article about the series during its final season, “The 16th-century English king and his Tudor clan are never going away” (Puente, 2010). The Tudors, both as a TV series and as historical figures, have a universal appeal for twenty-first-century audiences. In assessing this popularity, one perhaps thinks first of the themes of love, sex, war, and violence inherent in the series; or of the visual charm of costuming, architecture, and interior design; or possibly of the compelling nature of palace politics and intrigues. But while such representations of the Tudor era are entertaining, one may still wonder what universal elements of the human condition in The Tudors are the sparks that ignite its fire in the imaginations of twenty-first-century audiences. The answer is that problems of infertility, illness, and injury, as well as the characters’ reactions to these, are a large part of what creates the drama of The Tudors; audiences relate to these concerns because such situations create their own human dramas, and taken together these issues are a major common element between twenty-first-century viewers and the characters of The Tudors.

Friday, April 8, 2016


Okay, I haven't written a blog entry in, like, forever.

So this is to tell everyone that, inspired by last summer's 100-day trip to Britain, I'm completely changing direction.

My new work-in-progress is a Tudor-era historical novel that takes place at the court of Henry VIII.

Right now the novel is about 2/3 complete, and I'll tell you more about it here as I move forward.

Thanks for reading this, everyone!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Screenplay Critique--aka "Coverage"

Many budding screenwriters pay big bucks to send their scripts out for critiques by supposed experts.

The purpose is to get tips about how to improve the screenplay.

However, sometimes the coverage can go beyond constructive criticism and be brutal.

With this in mind, a writer friend of mine (Chris Neiman) recently sent the following message to a company called Scriptapalooza about the coverage a fellow screenwriter (not me) had received:

Dear Scriptapalooza:

I am sending this to explain why I did not order coverage from Scriptapalooza.

I recently saw coverage that another writer received from Scriptapalooza. It's understandable and desirable that you would be negative in your coverage; no script is perfect, and it is helpful to the writer that you point out flaws to be corrected. However, this coverage went far beyond that. It was extremely negative, to the point of seeming, at worst, hostile, and at best, annoyed. There was not one word of encouragement in the coverage. The overall tone of the coverage was rude and condescending and almost angry.

It's a miracle to me that the writer who received your coverage – who is actually quite talented – went on to write another script.

I think the people who do your coverage need to be aware that writers tend to be sensitive people who can be easily hurt and easily discouraged. The writer who received your coverage apparently isn't, but I am. And because I am, I don't want to risk getting the kind of rude, discouraging, and condescending coverage that was given to this other screenwriter. I certainly don't want to pay $100 for the level of hostility and verbal abuse that I observed in that coverage document.

I hope that reading this will remind you that the people who order coverage are your customers, and that while you are certainly being paid to point out flaws, it is possible to do so and to be kind and supportive and encouraging at the same time. That's what good coverage and good customer service are about, and if your coverage writers in particular and Scriptapalooza in general are unable to do this, you should not be providing coverage.

I hope this message is helpful to you.

Chris Neiman

In fairness to Scriptapalooza, I want to add that the president, Mark Andrushko, promptly wrote a nice note to Chris, in which he said, in part, "I completely agree with you."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Roles of Women in Mystery and Suspense Film and Fiction

Here’s a book worth reading for fans of the mystery and suspense genre: Roles of Women in Mystery and Suspense Film and Fiction by Kathryn Ann Ward.

As the author points out, “Raymond Chandler said, ‘Love interest . . . weakens a mystery because it [is] antagonistic to the detective’s struggle.’ Yet love stories are often seen in the mystery/suspense genre, including in The Big Sleep by Chandler himself!”

The author begins with a fascinating overview of the history of the mystery/suspense genre that reaches into the Old Testament to consider whether Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel was the world’s first murder mystery. She moves forward to medieval times to discuss the criminal Robin Hood as a “noble outlaw” character, then crosses the pond to cover Edgar Allan Poe as “the father of the modern detective story.

Having laid this groundwork in an introductory chapter, the narrative moves into the twentieth century to its main subject: an exploration of love stories in mystery/suspense works by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Kenneth Millar (Ross Macdonald), and in films based on these works. The conclusion surveys love stories in three mystery and suspense films that are not book adaptations: Klute, Chinatown, and a lesser-known thriller, The Late Show.

This book is not one of those feminist critiques—I hate them; they’re typically, I find, too glib or too dense for pleasant reading.

Instead, Roles of Women in Mystery and Suspense Film and Fiction applauds the strong, brave, and able women who people the works the authorWard discusses. Each of these characters is not just equal but superior to her male counterpart, especially when it comes to cleverness, courage, and coping skills.

Roles of Women in Mystery and Suspense Film and Fiction by Kathryn Ann Ward is highly recommended.

You can buy it here:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My World According to FARGO

[After watching Fargo one night many months ago, I sat down and wrote the following blog post. It’s perhaps the most heartfelt and personal piece I’ve ever written. I wrote it for myself, and for a long time I've kept it to myself and not put it on my blog. But now I’m posting it here to perhaps inspire all who might feel as I once felt, and to show them they’re not alone. I hope anyone who reads it will find it worthwhile.]

You know how at the end of Fargo, the Frances McDormand character is driving away with the bad guy in the back of her patrol car, and she’s talking to him in a kind of sad and befuddled voice?

She’s saying, “So that was Mrs. Lundegaard [dead] on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And three people in Brainerd. . . . And here you are. And it’s a beautiful day. I just don’t understand it.”

That was how I felt about my constant stream of rejections from editors, publishers, and agents:

There I was.

And it was a beautiful day.

And I just didn’t understand it.

I tried to do everything right. I wrote the best query letters I could possibly create. I chose agents/editors/publishers who were interested in the types of books I’d written. I used up-to-date information to be sure of having the right names and addresses. I followed directions about what to submit and how. And I spent a lot of money going to conferences so I could pitch my stuff face-to-face.

Nothing worked.

I couldn’t even get a short story published, let alone a novel.

With nothing to show for all my hard work but hundreds of rejections, I tried to make excuses. My main one was this: “It’s the wrong time.” But I knew this wasn’t true. Other unknown writers got published and soared to the tops of the bestseller lists.

I just didn’t understand it.

I’ve my share of pain but nothing was more heartbreaking than my failure as a writer.

Amanda Hocking writes of receiving a rejection and being tempted to destroy everything she’d ever written, and even to destroy herself.

I totally get that. Feeling humiliated that I’d dared to try. Feeling no one understood.

Feeling like an utter loser.

My faith in my work never faltered, however. I know I’m not Dean Koontz or Stephen King or Elmore Leonard. But I also know my work isn’t terrible. And at the time it was a lot better than some of the other stuff on bookstore shelves.

A handful of friends who read my work confirmed this. “Your characters are interesting. Your storylines are intriguing. You're a great writer! We don’t understand why you can’t get published,” they’d say.

I didn’t understand it either.

I still don’t.

But it no longer matters.

I took control by self-publishing my novel as an eBook, first for Kindle, then for Nook, then via Smashwords and AllRomance. And then I published another eBook, and another, and I encouraged my friends and fellow writers Destiny Drake and Nick Navarre to do the same.

And we'll all maintain control by self-publishing yet another, and another, and another, and more and more and more!

So now I’m content. I’m no longer at the mercy of the corrupt and callous publishing industry (see a previous post to read cruel things said in rejection letters). I no longer submit my work and pray for acceptance. (By the way, think about that word: “submit.”) I no longer say to myself, “Here I am. It’s a beautiful day. And I just don’t understand.”

I control my own life. I don't "submit." That’s something I do understand.

And right now, that’s enough.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Opening Scene of My Book, LISTENING TO IAN MAGICK

In the moonlight I saw the bright metallic flash of a huge-bladed dagger.
I grabbed it, and the girl fought me.
Her eyes widened, her mouth contorted, and her long-nailed hands clawed my face.
Then I heard his voice, and my name.
“Chelsea. Kill her. Now!”
The knife came down.
Blood splattered my face.
And she no longer fought.
She went limp and collapsed on the lawn, and her severed head rolled across the grass like a bloody volleyball. Her hair was a tangle of crimson wetness. Her wide bulging eyes stared upward at the full moon. Her mouth gaped. Gore seeped through her nostrils.
At my feet, her headless body jerked with spasms. It seemed to be trying to sit up. The legs shook and the arms flailed as blood spurted from the neck. The red liquid splashed onto my hands and my feet. Then the body gave out a tremendous shudder, and the convulsions stopped. The corpse was motionless.
I stared down at the knife in my hand. Blood dripped from its blade.
I was now a killer.
I had murdered someone, and I had done it for Ian Magick.

Buy this book now for Kindle: LISTENING TO IAN MAGICK for Kindle 
Buy this book now for Nook: LISTENING TO IAN MAGICK  for Nook

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Guest Author William Gagliani

Guest Author's Introduction:

SAVAGE NIGHTS, a thriller by W.D. Gagliani, the author of WOLF'S TRAP, WOLF'S GAMBIT, WOLF'S BLUFF, and WOLF'S EDGE

I wrote Savage Nights in 2006-07, intending it as a follow-up to my Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Wolf's Trap. In my mind, Nick Lupo's story was done, finished. I was moving on, writing about haunted Vietnam veteran Rich Brant and what he does when his beloved niece is kidnapped by a sex slavery ring. But my publisher asked for a sequel to Trap because it had done so well, and the Nick Lupo series was born – up to four novels out there now, with a fifth underway.

So as I wrote Wolf's Gambit, I had my agent shop Savage Nights as a stand-alone thriller, but ultimately I think it was too dark. Much too dark! There were nibbles, but no takers. And then Liam Neeson's movie "Taken" was released, and I was dismayed to find that it shared some coincidental plot points with my novel – on the surface, the plot is the same, except it's the protagonist's daughter who is kidnapped. The two protagonists share some past history and experience, too, giving them "skills" they can use to get their loved one back. There is one great difference, however: in Savage Nights the protagonist and his niece also share a tenuous psychic bond that lets him know she's still alive.

Well, there's another difference, and that is how much darker my novel was than the watered-down movie plot. I wanted to be unflinching in my portrayal of the slavery ring and how they treat the girls and women they kidnap, resulting in a novel that's closer to horror as a genre. It was probably too dark for the general thriller market, where many explicit details are routinely glossed over. Coming as I did from a horror background, that was the last thing I wanted to do.

This is how I described the novel for promotional purposes:

"Tormented Vietnam veteran Rick Brant is forced to use his inconsistent and unreliable psychic ability when his beloved 19-year old niece, Kit, is kidnapped from a busy mall. Realizing that Kit has been snatched for auction by an international sexual slavery ring, Brant reconnects with his Vietnam buddies, some of them ex-cops, to help him pry her from the clutches of the ruthless Goran ("the Serb") and his gang. Her ultimate destination may be a modern harem, a brothel, a dungeon, or one of the Serb's kinky slavery clubs. Or worse. As the horror of Kit's captivity increases daily, Brant becomes rescuer, avenging angel – and executioner. In his quest, he may find redemption for his own past sins. Savage Nights is a tough, pulls-no-punches, hard-noir thriller that's not for the faint of heart."

I think I may have coined a new term there: hard-noir. I called my Wolf novels North Woods Noirs because they were set in Wisconsin's North Woods and they followed, in my opinion, a noir sensibility in their pacing, dialogue, and action – and in the darkness exhibited by their antagonists and even protagonists. I came up with hard-noir to describe the thriller Savage Nights with the intention of explaining its hard-nosed qualities, which I think take it beyond traditional noir. The parallel story is set in the past, during the Vietnam War, and focuses on Brant's experiences as a Tunnel Rat – and shows both his psychic tendencies and his occasional forays into his own heart of darkness. All of which greatly impacts how he responds to Kit's kidnapping in the story's present…

The excerpt Tamworth Grice has graciously agreed to post is the start of that parallel story, set in the Vietnam jungle and around one of the many tunnel entrances the Rats were forced to negotiate, often with nothing but a knife and a handgun. Based on actual accounts of the Cu Chi campaign, I tried to stick to reality with only very few creations from my imagination (although there were a few). Here, then, is Chapter Two from Savage Nights, which is doing fairly well as an independent publication for the Amazon Kindle.

Thanks for checking it out, and I hope you'll let me know what you think if you give it a chance. Remember, it's a very dark read. But the reviews have been mostly excellent, and I'm very proud of the way it turned out. Great thanks also to Tamworth Grice for hosting!

W.D. Gagliani
Milwaukee, WI
October 2012


By W. D. Gagliani


Chapter 2

The jungle canopy spreads out over them like a leafy umbrella. Its sounds have stilled to occasional raucous cries that give each of them pause as they stand circling the hole, their fingers tight against the triggers of their rifles. There is Sarge, his thick eyebrows knotted over roving red-rimmed eyes. There is Smitty and Packey, standing guard against whatever might come crawling from the hole or stumble out of the jungle's darkness. The others form a small, nervous ring of guns and sweat in various poses.
No one is more covered in sweat than he, and he feels the sheen on his skin soak his clothing all over again. He sets down the black rifle and pack and strips off his web belt. From the pack's loose flap he withdraws a Colt .38 snub-nose revolver and checks the cylinder.
Sweat droplets gather on his chin and dribble in a line to his chest, where the olive drab fabric has turned black. His hand shakes as he methodically inserts six fat cartridges into the Smith's cylinder. The brass slips between his damp fingers but he gently seats each round in its nacelle and snaps the cylinder shut. Full. Six rounds.
"Loot," drawls Sarge. "Let me lob a couple grenades in there. We got plenty."
"You know that's not good enough, Sarge. Grenades don't do shit in Charlie's tunnels. There's only one way to flush 'im, and that's this old fashioned way. Keep an eye out for other exits, and don't shoot my fuckin' head off if I come squirtin' back."
"Kay. Smitty, Digger, fan out and watch for moving bushes."
Sarge pulls back the bolt of his M-16 and lets it snap quietly forward. The others follow suit.
Loot — Lieutenant Richard Brant — shrugs out of his pack and extra gear, unsnaps his webbed belt and holster, and taps both boot knives down so they can't slide out on their own.
He checks the opening carefully. Charlie's been known to booby-trap everything. Coke cans. C-ration tins. Fallen logs. Trapdoors are a likely booby trap, but Loot traces the edge with a finger and senses this one's clear. He can't see any wires, there's no sign of a hasty set-up or glob of plastique. His sweat trickles into his eyes and he blinks hard. Charlie might be  crouching just on the other side of the square door, AK in hand, bayonet fixed, ready to make a suicide strike on the first GI to face him. Maybe there's a squad past the second trapdoor, or maybe there's a hollowed out side chamber behind which Charlie lies, clutching a spear and just waiting for a pink-skinned target to ease into the square hole. Maybe—
Loot senses he's psyched himself out. If he had just opened the trapdoor and climbed in, it would have been fine. But instead he started to play the scenarios in his head. Remembering other holes, other tunnels. He squirms as if the giant spiders were crawling on him again, as in the last tunnel, yesterday, the one that nearly reduced him to tears. He cocks the trigger of the Smith, quietly.
"Fuck this," he mutters under his breath and in one swift motion he pushes the trapdoor into the hole with one hand and reaches into the darkness with the .38 ahead of himself.
The blast blinds him and the pain is an intense lance to the
brain and heart, and then to his hands. He sees his bloody hands
writhing on the tunnel's dirt floor, one still gripping the pistol, and he screams long and hard even as he realizes that the blast wasn't all, the booby-trap wired to the back of the trapdoor also includes a small container of home-made napalm, and then he blacks out, his eyeballs melting into the skin of his face and his lips liquefying over his teeth like runny glue. His scream turns to a gurgle and then it's blessed nightfall—
—blessed cool nightfall and his eyes blast open but there's no light (yes there is, there it is, the nightlight) and he realizes that he can see after all and his skin feels rough but it's all there and his hands are, where are his hands? In front of his eyes, twitching and clenching, but most certainly still attached to his wrists. He can feel the pain in his wrists, but it's not his pain, it's someone else's.
Fuck, it's Strachowski. That's what happened to him. Not me.
Not me.
He remembered Strach's ravaged face, the blood, the stench. Then, for a second, Strach's face seemed to morph into someone else's. A girl's.
He shook his head violently to erase the image.
The familiar sharp twitch below his neck began to throb and he twirled his head until he felt a tender snap, somewhere deep inside his upper chest near his shoulder blade.
He rolled on his side and checked the ghostly blue display.
Another night shot to hell. It was 3:19 and he wouldn't be able to sleep until light filtered through his drapes.
He flicked on the lamp and slid the book onto his chest. The latest Peter Straub thriller. Glasses or no glasses? He hated his bifocals. Still not quite needing them, but already beyond the point where he definitely did not need them, he always debated. He thought his sight was better without the glasses, whenever he read in bed. He could squint a little with his left eye and the words were almost crystal clear.
He sighed. The king-size bed was too empty for him. Too empty
since Abby had gone away.
Who was he kidding? Abby hadn't gone away. She had died, and there was no mind-fuck he could give himself to change that fact. She'd been almost a decade younger than he, and that still hadn't kept her by his side for the rest of his miserable life. Jesus, he'd been over this so often it was almost like rehearsing a comedy act in his head, except that it wasn't humorous and if he allowed it to continue he'd just cry. What was the point of that?
He sighed again and opened his book. Sometimes the only escape was to lose himself in someone else's words, someone else's crisis, at least for a while, until the charade wore thin.
Today, it took fifteen minutes. Then he set the book aside and closed his eyes. It wasn't immediate, but the jungle's dark treeline was always there, taunting. Hiding something gruesome. He was accustomed to scanning that treeline in his mind's eye, hoping to recognize the danger in time. There was always a new place to look, a new venue to consider. A new sound to process.
In his nightmares, Loot always saw the others have their hands, their legs, blasted off, or their bloody intestines uncurled like blood-slippery ropes. Sometimes it was him instead of them, in stark representation of the way he wore his guilt like a coat. Guilt for having survived, he assumed. Guilt for what he had done. He had spent considerable time analyzing his feelings, his dreams, and his own thought processes. The analysis kept him sane, for the most part.
But altogether too often his clear thinking clashed with the
realistic visuals that accompanied his nightmares. The dark jungle, the treeline, the intense redness of arterial blood. Bone fragments and stripped skulls. Each of these imposed itself on the inerasable tablet contained in his brain like an eternal hard drive and replayed in front of his eyes when open, even in the dark, or seemingly projected onto the insides of his eyelids when he attempted to seek sleep. Almost like the Zapruder film, it unreeled over and over again, proving too much and yet leaving too many questions unanswered.
The phone's shrill ringing jabbed through his muddled thoughts and the menacing dark treeline disappeared when he opened his eyes. He reached for the receiver blindly and pressed the Talk button, already dreading the voice at the other end.
The caller was crying. Sobbing, almost. There was a wet snort as if he'd been surprised at the fact that anyone had answered.
His brother Ralph, once again victim of some sort of attack on his pampered life.
"Yeah," he said quietly, trying to sound non-judgmental. The relationship had soured years ago, but for one element. "What's wrong?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear his brother's problems at this time of the night, but he steeled himself for one of the usual selfish whining sessions that had driven him away in the first place.
"They—" Ralph's voice stopped, suddenly interrupted by another sudden snort. "I think they've got Kit, Rich. Somebody's got Kit!"
Brant's eyes snapped open. "What? Say that again, Ralph. Who's got Kit?"
The other end of the line went silent for a second and Brant could hear sniffling, as if his brother was wiping snot from his nose with tissue and trying to clear the nasal passages so he could continue.
"Tell me!" Brant winced when he realized that he sounded imperious, commanding. He felt his heart racing, but tried to calm his voice. "What's going on, Ralph?"
"I'm not sure," Ralph stammered. "I — I got a call a couple hours ago, and I can't... I don't know what to do. I've been debating... I don't know."
"Damn it, Ralph. Who called you? What's going on with Kit?"
Ralph audibly wiped his nose again and seemed to compose himself. "First I got a call from Kit's roommate, a strange call that I almost didn't believe. She sounded — weird, you know. Said Kit had disappeared. Maybe she was snatched. She used the word snatched. Does anybody use that word except TV news guys? Anyway, I didn't know what to do. I told her I would call the police and she said no, that she would do it. But then I called them anyway. I couldn't get them to transfer me to anyone, so I left a message for some chief of detectives, I was told to do that. This guy, he called me back and wants me to go in. Rich, he says nobody there got a call from Kit's roommate. I'm not sure exactly who or how it happened, but somebody kidnapped Kit. That's all I know. But I think there's more, this cop didn't seem to believe me though, but I don't think — it doesn't sound good. She's all I've got, Rich, you know that. She's the only thing left after... After everything and all that... I don't know what to do, Rich. Rich?"
Brant had cut off his brother years before, for many reasons, but he had kept one line of communication open. Kit, Ralph's daughter. Miraculously intelligent, beautiful, level-headed, everything that Ralph was not, and he had found ways to help her, to be more than a distant uncle to her. He had become a friend and almost a father. Ralph had remained a weak link in the family chain, someone they were forced to tolerate.
Now Ralph was begging him to do something, and telling him that something had happened to Kit.
Kit was the only good thing in Brant's life, too.
"Damn it, Ralph. Pull it together and give me facts." He heard his voice barking at his brother — his weak brother — but he couldn't help himself.
"I can't. I don't know much. I just... Can't you come over and we'll go there together?"
"Go where?"
"They want us — me — at the police building downtown, central precinct, whatever. Zimm — Zimmerman or something. I can't face this alone, Rich. You love her as much as I do. You —"
"Give me a half hour," Brant said, interrupting.
"Okay, Rich. Please—"
Brant hung up.
The shower was necessary, the heat bringing blood singing back to his veins. He knew men who swore by cold showers, but ever since he couldn't take hot showers in the military, he'd wanted nothing but. Sometimes so hot the water threatened to cook and strip the flesh off his bones. Beyond cleansing. Perhaps he sought the ultimate cleansing. So his last therapist had suggested.
Fucking weasel was probably right. Overcharged me, but I guess he was on the right track.
Brant toweled off vigorously and watched his red skin finally return to its normal color. The scars visible in the mirror he ignored, as usual. He finished his bathroom routine in half the normal time, and in five more minutes he was dressing. A black turtleneck over dark jeans, and a leather jacket over that. Running shoes, as if he'd be running. He'd been running since the jungle.
Maybe the jungle was catching up.

Guest author bio:

W.D. Gagliani

W.D. Gagliani is also the author of the horror/crime thriller WOLF'S TRAP (Samhain Publishing), a past Bram Stoker Award nominee, as well as WOLF'S GAMBIT (47North), WOLF'S BLUFF (47North), WOLF'S EDGE (Samhain), and the upcoming WOLF'S CUT (Samhain). WOLF'S TRAP was reissued by Samhain Publishing in 2012.


He has written book reviews, articles, and interviews that have been published (since 1986) in places such as THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, CHIZINE, CEMETERY DANCE, HORRORWORLD, PAPERBACK PARADE, CINEMA RETRO, HELLNOTES, FLESH & BLOOD, BOOKPAGE, BOOKLOVERS, THE SCREAM FACTORY, HORROR MAGAZINE, SF CHRONICLE, BARE BONES, and others. He has had nonfiction and craft articles published in the Writers Digest book ON WRITING HORROR (edited by Mort Castle), in the Edgar Award-nominated THRILLERS: THE 100 MUST READS (edited by Morrell & Wagner), and in October 2011 THE WRITER magazine published his article on writing werewolf epics.

His interests include old and new progressive rock, synthesizers, weapons, history (and alternate history, secret history, and steampunk), military history, movies, book reviewing, and plain old reading and writing. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild. He lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter: @WDGagliani

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to Create a Hyperlinked Table of Contents for Smashwords

How to Create a Hyperlinked Table of Contents for Smashwords

If you have multiple stories or chapters in your ebook, you’ll probably need a hyperlinked table of contents if your book formatting is to be approved for premium distribution to lucrative online sales outlets such as Apple, Sony, and Kobo on Smashwords.

What is a “hyperlinked table of contents”? It’s a table of contents near the beginning of your ebook where a reader can point to and click on a chapter name or story title and immediately be taken to that place in the book.

I admit that I was intimidated by the words “hyperlinked table of contents” at first, especially by the word “hyperlinked.” It sounded like I’d have to create some kind of computer code—something I don’t know how to do.

However, I found that creating a hyperlinked table of contents isn’t all that hard.

An expanded version of this blog entry is now available as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc. under the title
"Basic Formatting & How to Create a Hyperlinked Table of Contents for Smashwords." I hope you will buy it and find it helpful!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

June Miller


Henry Miller was a HUGE influence on me when I first discovered his works in my teens.  

The great love of Miller’s life—his inspiration and his muse—was his wife June, whom he met in 1923. Within days of that first meeting, according to Miller, June began encouraging him to pursue a career as a writer. Miller divorced his wife and married June in 1924. They went to France together in the late 1920s, and eventually Miller introduced June to his female Parisian benefactor (and lover—unknown to June), the diarist Anais Nin. Nin almost immediately became as obsessed with June as Henry Miller was. All of this is described in detail in Henry’s and Anais’s books, as well as in the film Henry and June in which June is played by Uma Thurman.

June is characterized by both Miller and Nin as a woman who could twist men to do her bidding. Her photos don’t do this justice, but I suspect she was like Cleopatra: not stunningly beautiful, but hauntingly charming.

Having become, through Miller’s work, almost as infatuated with June as Henry and Anais were, you can imagine my surprise when I learned recently that June is buried less than an hour away from where I live in Northern Arizona!

The rest of this blog entry has been revised and expanded into a book titled My Search for the Grave of June Miller, and it's now available as a Kindle ebook:

and as a Nook ebook:

It's also available on Smashwords:

Please buy a copy today, and I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Indie Support Day 2012

Friday, June 22, is Indie Support Day!

The brainchild of indie writer Tamworth Grice (that's me!), this is a day to show your support for any and all independent writers, musicians, and filmmakers, and any and all other indie artists.

To learn more, tweet Tamworth Grice on Twitter at

Show your support for indie writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other artists on Friday, June 22nd, Indie Support Day!

Sunday, April 8, 2012



It was my thirteenth birthday and my best friend Iris and I were gently stroking the hands of a corpse.

Standing on opposite sides of the walnut coffin, we patted the flesh and whispered to keep from being overheard by the family and other mourners.

“Cold,” Iris said.

I nodded, poking at the wrist. “And waxy. Doesn’t feel like skin at all.”

The corpse was Herbert Flitcraft. We’d never met him. But we knew his name from the white plastic letters on a small sign at Dillingham’s Funeral Home: “Herbert Flitcraft. Calling hours: Thursday, 10 a.m. - Noon.” We’d donned our best dresses and pedaled bikes through the bright heat of a southern California summer morning. We’d reached Dillingham’s by 11:00 o’clock, an hour when we thought we could move unnoticed among the legitimate mourners.

I looked at Iris across Mr. Flitcraft’s dead body. She grinned. Her dark eyes were as round as chocolate wafers. I couldn’t see her pupils, but I knew they were dilated from the weed we’d smoked in the bushes before parking our bikes at the front gate. Iris wore a belted navy shirtwaist with white piping. My dress was a ruffled lilac thing from St. Vincent de Paul. It was tight across the chest and seemed to have shrunk since I’d worn it to Elfrieda Mortuary with Iris a few weeks before.

We pushed at the corpse’s skin and giggled. In our visits with the dead we never touched more than the hands. But now I wanted to run my fingers along Mr. Flitcraft’s pale cheek. As I glanced up to ask for Iris’s approval, I saw her expression change.

“Shit,” she whispered, squinting over my shoulder past me.

Her hands jerked out of the casket and folded themselves primly in front of her. She began to back away.

“Carmen.” Someone behind me said my name. I spun around.

Framed in the doorway, like an apparition in a bad dream, was the tall, broad-shouldered, unmistakable silhouette of my twenty-one-year-old brother, Frank. He was wearing his police academy uniform. I turned back to Iris, but she’d deserted me, her dark-blue dress blending into a crowd of old women in black at the side of the room.

I frowned at my pastel ruffles and squared my shoulders as Frank approached, his face a twist of confusion, embarrassment, and anger.


Ten Years Later

“That’s her in the corner. With the tattoos and piercings. And the raccoon eye makeup.”

The larger of the two cops said it. He had black skin, graying hair, and silver stars on his coat.

His fellow officer was shaking his head. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was frowning.

I was in the ER waiting room at Bay Hospital. A team of med-techs had wheeled my brother Frank in from the medevac helicopter an hour earlier. The rickety metal gurney had swayed under his weight as they’d rushed him down the hall. His hair had been matted with red wetness, and his face—what was left of it—had been covered by a blood-soaked plastic mask attached to an oxygen machine.

Now the two cops strolled across the ER waiting room to where I sat in a corner on a hard plastic chair drinking bad coffee.

“Carmen O’Malley?” the bigger one said.

“Yes?” I was so upset about Frank that I forgot my rule: never identify yourself to cops.

“Come with us please.”


“We need to ask you some questions.”

An hour earlier, the med-techs and ER staff had yelled back and forth and ignored me as I’d stumbled alongside the gurney demanding information. Finally one had mumbled at me, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Then a pair of metal doors marked “ER SURGERY” had swung shut behind them, and I had retreated to the waiting room.

Now I rose from my chair as the cop with the stars introduced himself. “I’m Police Chief Thomas.” He held out his enormous hairy-backed hand.

I pretended not to know him. But he’d been the lieutenant in charge when I’d been booked for drag racing and driving without a license at fourteen, and for marijuana a year later.

He smiled.

What a fucking charade, I thought.

“This is Officer Gallo.”

I was obliged to shake his pasty-white hand.

Chief Thomas said, “Officer Gallo was Frank’s partner.”

“When we were both still driving patrol cars,” Gallo said. “I’m probably your brother’s best friend on the force.”

“You said you need to ask me something?”

Thomas nodded. “There’s a room in the other wing where we can talk.”

My impulse was to run. The door was a dozen steps away. The two cops were big men, bulky, probably slow starters. I was young and lithe and fast. But I thought about Frank, the only family I had, fighting for his life in ER surgery.

I couldn’t leave him.

Chief Thomas led the way. Gallo followed close behind me. After a maze of hallways we reached a corridor ending in two huge mahogany doors. Thomas opened them without knocking, and the two men escorted me inside.

We entered an enormous room that smelled of new carpet and fresh paint. It was furnished in leather sofas and chairs. At the far end stood a grand piano. By the door, a porcelain coffee service was centered on a marble-topped table. It was clean and fancy and elegant, and I felt out of place in my black jeans, strap-buckle boots, and faded black Marilyn Manson tee-shirt.

“This is the VIP lounge,” Thomas said. “Would you like some coffee?”

I nodded and waited for him to get it for me. He stood his ground. I thought, He thinks I’m a scuzzbucket so he’s not going to cater to me. I poured my own coffee and added what looked like real cream from a silver pitcher.

“Please sit down,” he said.

I sat and sipped my coffee. It was strong, warm, and without aftertaste or bite, a far cry from the lukewarm pisswater in the waiting-room vending machine.

Chief Thomas sat on the sofa beside me.

Dropping into a chair on my other side, Gallo cleared his throat and said, “We’ve secured permission to use this room until—until Frank is out of surgery.”

I’d been trying not to think about my brother. But he’d been shot. At close range. Part of his head was gone. He probably wouldn’t survive.

I began to cry.

“I’m sorry to put you through this, Carmen,” Chief Thomas said in a flat tone. He passed me the tissue box from the end table. “But when a police officer like Frank is shot, it’s a—a momentous crime. If a man shoots a law officer—who’s armed and trained to fight—imagine what he’d do to the average unarmed citizen.”

I dried my tears and wondered where this was going.

“We have to get as much information as we can. As quick as we can. So we’re here talking to you.” He paused. “I understand you’ve been living at Frank’s?”

I nodded. “Since last week. I got here a week ago.”

Officer Gallo scribbled some notes in a little spiral-topped notebook.

“Got here from where?”

“I’ve been living back East.”


“Boston.” I looked directly at Chief Thomas. “What does this have to do with . . . anything?”

“We’ll get to that. You came back a week ago. Why?”

 “An impulse,” I said. “No real reason.”

“Then let us help you figure it out,” Chief Thomas said, leaning toward me. “You wanted to get away from your criminal record in Massachusetts?”

I winced.

His tongue darted out as he spoke. I could tell he was enjoying this. “You wanted to get away from numerous convictions, ranging from possession of marijuana to grand theft auto.”

“Wait. That was—”

“Not to mention drunk driving and wrongful influence of a minor.”

“Some of those charges were, um, dropped . . . .”

Gallo said, “So why’d you come back to Zaragoza, Carmen?”

I stared at the damp tissue in my hand. “Frank’s my only family. Christmas is coming. I wanted to be in California again.”


I looked from one to the other. “Is this an interrogation?”

Gallo reached out and patted my hand.

“Not at all,” said Chief Thomas. “An interview. Not an interrogation. We want to get some things clear.”

I jerked my hand away from Gallo. His eyes moved back to his notebook. “In the week you’ve been staying with Frank,” he said, “have you noticed anything peculiar?”

 “Peculiar?” I said.

“Anything that struck you as odd.”

My mind wandered to Frank and how surprised he’d been when I’d knocked on his door unannounced six nights before. He’d welcomed me in. It was storming, and I’d dripped water on his cabin’s linoleum floor as I’d entered. The last time I’d seen him before that, I’d been fifteen. He’d just bailed me out of Zaragoza Juvenile Detention Center for dealing marijuana. It was raining that night, too. Next day I skipped town for Mexico, stiffing Frank for the bond money. I’d always wondered, was he glad I left? Was the lost bail a cheap price to be rid of me?

“I’ve only been here a week. I don’t know his routine.” I lifted my coffee cup from the table. “I don’t know what’s odd and what isn’t. Besides, he’s never home. He’s busy with work. He gets in late. A few nights, we stayed up and talked. Other than that, I haven’t seen him much.”

For as long as I could remember, Frank had wanted to be a cop, to go to the big police academy in L.A. But he was the family breadwinner, and he’d wanted to stay in our small town of Zaragoza until I finished high school. As if that would happen. For Frank and his policemen mentors, I was an embarrassment. When I got in trouble—every other week—we’d had terrible fights. He’d try to reason with me. I’d slam doors and smash things and scream, “I HATE YOU!” He’d yell back, and Mom, drunk and passed out on the sofa, would wake up and start to cry.

 “Any strange calls?” Officer Gallo asked.

“I wouldn’t know. Frank doesn’t have a land line. He uses his cell.”

“Any strange people dropping by?”


“Packages delivered?”


“Any large amounts of money around, or expensive jewelry, or other valuables?”

I rolled my eyes. “You said you knew Frank. He’s a major tightwad. He doesn’t own any valuables. That’s why there’s no land line. He’s too cheap. All his money is invested. And even if he had that kind of stuff, he’d have it locked in a bank vault.”

The night I’d arrived, Frank had hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. When he finally let go, his face was beaming. He gave me a towel to dry off, and, corny as it sounds, fixed me a hot bowl of soup. We’d talked until 3:00 a.m., when he’d pulled out the hide-a-bed, draped it with woolly blankets, and said, “Have beautiful dreams, Carmen.” It was the good-night phrase he’d always used when I was a kid. Over the past six days, he’d never asked what I was doing there. Or how long I planned to stay. Or whether I intended to get a job and find a place of my own. He’d never even told me to wash a dish.

“Why are you asking me this stuff?” I said.

Gallo looked at Thomas, who shifted in his seat.

“Tell her,” Thomas said.

“There are, uh, “ Gallo cleared his throat, “rumors. In the police department. Alleging that someone’s been taking money. Bribes—”


“—and we think the shooting might have been—”

“No fucking way.”

“—a suicide attempt. In remorse. Over what he was doing.”

“Frank taking money?” I said. “You say you’re his friend but you . . . ,” my mind groped for the right word, “you slander him?”

“Nobody’s slandering anyone,” Chief Thomas said. “We’re telling you a theory. One of many theories. The gun that shot him was one of two .38 caliber Smith & Wessons we know he owns. We’ll test to see if he recently fired a gun.”

“We’re trying to get this straightened out,” Gallo said.

“In case Frank doesn’t make it,” Thomas said.

I stared at the floor.

“If we establish there’s no wrongdoing, no suicide,” Thomas said, “he’ll be given a policeman’s funeral. Full honors, color guard, fallen officers’ hall of fame . . . .” His voice trailed off.

I looked up. “And if not?”

Both were silent.

“Oh, God, no. He’ll be buried in—in dishonor?” I was trembling. “Disgrace?” I looked from one to the other. “And what are you talking about? He’s still alive.”


The door opened at the end of the room, and Gallo and Thomas looked up.

 “Vicky!” Officer Gallo smiled and leapt to his feet.

A tall uniformed policewoman stood in the doorway.

“Come on in,” Chief Thomas said.

As if two cops aren’t enough, I thought.

She was younger than Chief Thomas, about Frank’s age I guessed. Her police uniform didn’t reveal much of her figure, but her face was stunning: high cheekbones, straight nose, clear blue eyes, and flawless skin. She closed the door behind her. “Chief, look at you! You’re stylin’. We don’t often see you in police duds.”

His eyes moved to his uniform, with the stars on his coat, and he grinned. “I’m addressing the Cub Scouts this afternoon.”

“You look like a celeb,” she said.

“You’re the celeb.” Gallo grinned at her. To me he added, “Our leading anti-drug spokesperson. She’s on TV every night in her uniform, which she wears pretty nice. . . . I mean it looks good on her. . . . “

He was fawning over her. They both were. It was pathetic.

“. . . with public service announcements for the ZPD. That’s Zaragoza Police Department.”

A blond curl had escaped from the bun at the back of her head, and it bounced beside her face as she nodded at him.

“I know what ZPD means,” I said.

Her eyes focused on me. “Carmen?”


“Sorry, I’m Victoria Wolfe. Call me Officer Vicky. Or just Vicky.” She smiled showing perfect teeth. “You’re Frank’s sister, right?”

“She’s been staying out at Frank’s for a week.” Thomas said. “We were just asking her if she’d noticed anything unusual—”

Their sudden good humor was annoying.

“No, you weren’t,” I said. “You were accusing my brother, who’s fighting for his life in surgery, of being a crook, of taking bribes.” My eyes stung as the tears welled up.

Thomas looked at Officer Vicky. “We mentioned the reports we’ve had—”

“Reports or rumors?” I said.

“Not rumors. Reports, from a reliable informant, that someone in the department is on the take,” said Gallo.

 “Doesn’t mean it was Frank.” A full-blown crying jag was coming on, and I was too exhausted to stop it.

Thomas cleared his throat. This time I didn’t get a tissue. He said, “The shooting gives us reason to believe—”

“Chief,” Vicky said quietly. “You’re upsetting her.”

He shot her a puzzled look.

“Do we have to put her through this?”

I was crying hard now, and gasping for breath between sobs.

Gallo stood up, disgusted. “I know you and him were pals, Vic. Him and me were pals, too. But there’s good reason to believe he attempted suicide.”

“You don’t know that!” I screamed it out.

The three of them stopped and stared at me, frozen like deer in headlights.

Officer Vicky came around the coffee table and sat down beside me. “Carmen,” she said, draping her arm around my shoulders, “they don’t mean to upset you.”

She was only about ten years older than me, but I relaxed into her, crying like a child with its mother.

She unbuttoned her breast pocket with her free hand and took out her iPhone. She logged on, pulled up some kind of writing, and passed it to the Chief. “This just hit the Internet,” she said quietly.

He slipped on a pair of reading glasses from his coat pocket and read, his lips moving as he scanned the small screen.

Curious, I sat up and dried my face. “What is it?”

“A news story,” Vicky said.

“About the shooting,” Thomas said, handing the iPhone to Gallo. “This is why we need information from you. Before the media screws everything up. And in case Frank—uh, in case we can’t get it from Frank.”

I craned my neck and read:

Cop Shot at Dawa Beach

Special Report by Bob Dellachiesa

A jogger at Dawa Beach discovered the still-breathing body of Zaragoza police detective Frank O’Malley, 30 years old, early this morning. Shot in the head at close range while seated in his Jeep Wrangler, O’Malley was an expert on organized crime and drug trafficking. . . .

My eyes brimmed with tears again. Officer Vicky spoke up. ““We want to help you,” she said. “You and Frank. We want to find out who did this terrible thing.” She patted my arm. “We’re the good guys here, Carmen. We’re just a little insensitive sometimes.” I saw her gesture with her free hand to Chief Thomas on the other side of me. I knew she was mouthing something to him behind my head. “Are you hungry? Chief, can we get some food in here for Carmen?”

She stood and reached out her hand, encouraging me to join her. We stepped over to the coffee pot while Chief Thomas took his phone back from Officer Gallo. Vicky poured me another cup.

I was turning to take it from her when the mahogany doors banged open.

I squinted as a brilliant flash lit the room.


A man stood in the doorway with a camera held to his face. “Hey, sister!” he said and twisted his body for a second shot.

Officer Vicky made a grab and caught him by the wrist. She bent the man’s arms up and behind his back, pretzel-style. Chief Thomas jerked the camera from its neck strap.

“Bobby Cheeser,” Gallo said in recognition.

The man was scruffy and tall with disheveled black hair and a huge nose.

Fourth runner-up in a Howard Stern look-alike contest, I thought. “Who is he?”

“Bobby Della-Cheeser,” Chief Thomas said. “A reporter.”

“It’s Dellachiesa, Della-key-aysa,” the man said. “You know how to pronounce it. I respect you as a black man, Chief. You could respect my Italian heritage.”

 “I—I think I know that name?” I said.

“He wrote that news article,” said Vicky. She released his arms and banged his elbow with her baton.

“That’s brutality!” he protested.

 Chief Thomas gave the camera to Gallo, who said, “He’s our worst pain-in-the-ass. He has the police beat. If he can’t get a story, he’ll make one up.”

“That’s not true and you know it,” said Bobby. “Look, you clown. Just pass me the damned thing and I’ll show you how to delete the photos.”

Gallo was turning the camera over in his hands like a child investigating a foreign object.

Gallo surrendered the camera. The photographer pushed some buttons and held it up, showing a blank screen.

“You sure they’re deleted?” Gallo said.

Chief Thomas’s cell phone rang. He turned his back and answered it as Vicky looked at the camera and nodded to Gallo.

I stared at the man’s eyes. “Bobby?” I said. “I think I know you.”


“I used to play with your sister Melissa when we were little kids. I think we played cowboys and Indians with you one time in Cougar Canyon.”

“You fell off a rock and almost drowned in the river? You’re that Carmen?” A smile spread across his pockmarked face. “Frank O’Malley’s your brother?”

I nodded.

“Fuck,” he said and grinned, “I’d have backed off if I’d known!”

“You can back off now.” Gallo said. “Or we’ll lock you up. For interfering with an investigation. Again.”

“Yeah, I hear you.” Bobby’s nasally voice was grating. “And I’m like, shaking all over, dude, at the awesome power of the ZPD—”

Chief Thomas interrupted him. “That was the ER. Frank’s out of surgery. A doctor’s on his way to talk to us.”

I sank down the sofa.

Vicky and Gallo were about to hustle Bobby out of the room when a silver-haired man came through the doors. He wore a starched white lab coat and a name tag: Dr. Herrera.

“Carmen O’Malley?” he said.

I stood up. “Is Frank—?”

“He’s out of surgery.”

Everyone focused on Dr. Herrera, but he ignored them and spoke to me. “Carmen, let’s talk.”

He put his hand in the small of my back and guided me to the opposite end of the long room.

“Bobby? Don’t leave, okay?” I said over my shoulder. Then to the three cops I added, “I want him to stay.” They frowned in response.

“Let’s sit down.” Dr. Herrera gestured to a pair of chairs by the piano. From the corner of my eye, I saw the police turn their backs. Gallo grabbed Bobby’s arm, spinning him around, too, but I could tell from the tilt of his head he was straining to hear.

The man settled into the chair across from me and stretched out his hand. I shook it. “Carmen,” he said. “I’m Dr. Herrera, director of emergency surgery. How are you holding up?”

“If you want the truth, I’m exhausted.” I leaned against the leather upholstery behind me, too tired to cry any more.

He nodded with an understanding smile.

“My brother. Is he going to—?”

He frowned. “He suffered a gunshot to the head at close range. He’s out of surgery. He’s still unconscious. He’s in intensive care. Being a policeman, he’s getting VIP treatment. We’re doing everything we can.”

“But he won’t be—?”

“It’s too early to say what will or won’t be. The bullet went through the side of his face and penetrated the skull. There’s a lot of swelling. We’re trying to avoid a herniation that could compress the brain stem and compromise vital functions. . . .”

The room was warm. I was really overheated. I could feel sweat on my face, and the heat was making me dizzy.

“. . . these head wounds can surprise us by not being as bad as we think.” He peered into my face. “Have you had lunch?”

This confused me. The way he said it, it sounded like he was asking me for a date.

“Because I recommend you get out of the hospital. You look pale, fatigued. Go get something to eat. Get some fresh air.”

“I need to let Frank’s dog out,” I said weakly.

“Good idea. Go home and do it. There’s nothing you can do for him here.”

“But the police want to question me!” The words came spilling out. “They have to find out whether Frank was—was doing something illegal. In case he dies. And he might not get a policeman’s funeral. He might be buried in . . . disgrace. It’s the worst thing they could do to him,” I could hear my own voice rising in hysteria. “The worst. I have to stay here. I have to explain. I’m being interrogated, and I have to answer questions, convince them. . . .”

His eyebrows went up in surprise. “Interrogated? Is that what’s going on here?”

I nodded and wiped my eyes with my fingers.

“That will stop. Right now. You go home and rest, Carmen. And don’t you worry about your brother’s reputation.”

“But the funeral—”

“Carmen, Frank’s still alive,” he said.

“But if I leave while he’s in still intensive care, won’t people think—”

“The hell with what people think.”

He was right.

“What’s your cell number?” he asked.

“I lost my cell phone,” I said. It had fallen out of my pocket at some gas station or other during the drive from Boston.

“I’m going to give you a phone, and I promise we’ll call you on it as soon as we hear something.” He opened a cupboard behind the piano and passed me a cell phone in a clear plastic bag. It was a generic cell with no camera or extras. The phone number was written in black marker on the outside.

He withdrew a card and a small yellow envelope from his breast pocket. “My cell number’s on this card. Call me tonight if you haven’t heard from us. These are for you, too,” he said, holding out the yellow envelope. “You don’t have any allergies, do you? You’re not on any medications?”

I hadn’t been high since Boston, so I shook my head.

“Take a tablet with food right away. Take another at seven p.m., and one before you go to bed. Then four a day, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime. They could make you drowsy, so don’t drink while you’re on them. And be careful driving. You have any side effects, call me, you understand?”

I nodded. Some kind of downers, I thought, dropping the card and little pill envelope into the plastic bag.

He rose from his seat, saying, “Walk me to the door?”

We crossed the room in silence. Officer Vicky glanced over her shoulder at us and nudged Officer Gallo, who turned around. He opened his mouth to say something, but Dr. Herrera cut him off.

“There’s to be no more questioning of this young lady today.”

Chief Thomas ran his tongue across his teeth before he spoke up. “This is official law enforcement business, Doctor. A policeman’s been shot. We—”

“I said, no more questioning. Not if you want to use this VIP room and be treated politely in this hospital.” He stood with his hand on the doorknob. “Whatever you need to ask can wait until tomorrow. Good day.”

The door closed behind him.

“I’m out of here, too,” I said, eager to follow. “I have to go let Frank’s dog out.”

Thomas stared at me. Before he could speak, Bobby spoke up. “You want me to write that you dudes harassed the injured officer’s little sister?”

Thomas frowned but held up his hand to Gallo and Vicky who were about to object. “Carmen,” Thomas said, passing me his card. “I want the number of that cell phone.” His voice was flat, neither menacing nor friendly. “We need to be able to get in touch with you.”

“Sure,” I held up the bag for him to read the number written on the outside. Gallo copied it into his notebook.

“Bobby, walk me out. I need to ask you something.”

Officer Vicky looked at me, her eyes wide with concern. “Are you going to be okay, Carmen?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

I was lying.


A mob of reporters surrounded the ER entrance. Men and women with microphones and cameras pushed forward and shouted at the dark-skinned man in green scrubs who stood guard with his back to the hospital. I couldn’t see his expression, but I could read his mood from the veins that stood out on the back of his bald head.

I was glad to have Bobby as an escort.

He said, “Be cool, Carmen,” and took my hand.

His tall frame towered over the others as we pressed through the crowd. Newsmen and women were jockeying for position and arguing with the dark-skinned man. Someone noticed us and said, “Bob, who’s the chick?”

“It’s my girlfriend, you dork.”

“You learn anything about O’Malley?”

“Nope,” he said.

A Hispanic woman in heavy make-up and a red business suit pushed toward us. A man with a television camera hovered behind her. She had a huge black bag over her shoulder and a microphone with TV call letters in her hand.

Bobby said, “Get that thing out of my face, Peggy. And tell your film jockey, he comes near me, I’ll break his fucking arm.”

The man with the TV camera moved back a step.

“He was taking payoffs, wasn’t he, Bob?” she hissed. “He won’t get an officer’s funeral, right?”

Bobby shrugged.

“Is he dead yet?” another reporter asked. “Say something. We need to work together, here, Bob.”

“Dude, I told you, I don’t know anything,” he called over his shoulder as we stepped down the sidewalk away from the hospital. “Nothing to say.”

At the far end of the ER parking lot, when we’d left the media people behind, he turned to me. “Look, Carmen,” he said, staring down at the camera around his neck. “I’m real sorry about what I did in there.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Yeah it is. I shouldn’t have barged in on you. And you know what? I caused this.” He jerked his head at the reporters. “If I hadn’t written that story this morning, none of those dudes would be here.”

“You were just doing your job.”

“Maybe. But sometimes you’ve got to know when to back off. It seems like I never do.” He kicked at some stray pieces of gravel with the toe of his dirty Nike. Then he glanced up, scanned the horizon behind me, said, “Carmen, look up there. Killer moon!”

He was trying to change the subject. We both knew it. But obligingly I turned my head, looked back over my left shoulder. It was daylight, but the moon was there—full and high up in the sky. “Yeah,” I mumbled, “the moon.” I thought about it shining down on Frank as someone shot his head half off.

We were silent for a moment. Then he said, “Where’s your car?”

“It’s that black one.” I pointed to the vintage Volkswagen camper bus I’d driven to California from Massachusetts. It was primer-black with black velvet curtains and a rainbow-colored peace sticker in the windows.

Bobby laughed. “You buy this from the Grateful Dead?”

“A lesbian hippie in Cambridge.”

He walked around the van, inspecting it. Then he turned to face me. “I want to give you my numbers. And I want yours.” He opened the pocket flap of his shirt and withdrew a business card. It had three phone numbers. “The first is my office at the Gazette, the second’s the cellular, and the third is my home.” He copied my new cell phone number into a tiny notepad. “Be careful what you say when you call. I think my phones might be tapped.”

“Cops!” I rolled my eyes, dropping his card in the plastic bag with the others.

“Yeah, but don’t underestimate Chief Thomas. He’s sly as a fox, and he never lets anyone know what he’s really thinking.”

“What about his brilliant suicide theory?”

“He might not really buy into that. He might just be pretending to, as some kind of trick. Anyway, call me,” he said, shifting from one foot to the other. I wondered if he had to take a leak. “I’ve got to head out, but I want to ask you some things.”

“I will.” I climbed behind the wheel. He grinned and closed the door.

I backed out, waving and watching him in the rear-view mirror, then shifted into drive. The van lurched forward.

On the way out, I passed a gun-metal-gray limo with dark-tinted windows parked under some magnolias. Through the windshield I saw the driver, a well-groomed young Asian, straighten his tie. He watched me pass. I saw his lips move as he looked in the rearview mirror and spoke to whomever sat in back. Then he nodded in response, watching me as I drove past.


Frank’s cabin perched on a small rocky point overlooking the ocean. It was once one of four structures that had once formed a tiny fishing resort. The owners had neglected it, and Frank bought the land at auction. He tore down the other three cabins, they were uninhabitable anyway, and saved the biggest one.

The property was an overgrown tangle of trees, bushes, and weeds. Frank didn’t care. He loved raw nature. The plan was that when he retired he’d donate the land as a nature preserve.

As I entered the cabin, Frank’s dog came to greet me—the one I’d come to let out. It was a huge, stupid-looking bloodhound. Its enormous black-and-tan bulk was stretched across the linoleum in the kitchen. It thumped its tail as I entered. Swell, I thought, he’s glad to see me.

His name was Flash. He’d been a tracker. Part of a federally funded program, my brother had told me, for police departments in smaller cities. Even for a bloodhound the dog had a terrific nose, and it won two citations. But funding dried up after four years, and the dog was downsized. That’s how he came to live with Frank.

I’m not a dog person. I’d left two cats behind with my neighbor in Boston. After a week at the cabin, I wondered what my brother saw in the stupid bloodhound. It slobbered. It humped your leg. It shed. It peed on the floor. It humped your leg. It begged food. It pooped on the floor. It humped your leg. It drank from the toilet. It dragged you along if you walked it on a leash.

Did I mention it humped your leg?

Now I prodded the dog to get up from the floor and I hustled it outside. Frank’s cabin was at the end of a long dirt path and isolated from the main road, so traffic wasn’t a problem when the dog had to go out. It always stayed near the cabin, anyway, taking its morning crap right where I would step in it getting in or out of my van.

The cabin door opened into a pine-paneled great room furnished in Salvation Army rejects. A huge oak table, its finish scarred by glass-rings and gouges, dominated the combination living-dining area. The table was pushed to the side and surrounded by three chairs. Against the opposite wall, flanked by floor lamps, was the lumpy hide-a-bed sofa where I slept. A snack counter jutted between this room and the kitchen. Its end sagged under the weight of a TV turned to face the sofa. The floor was linoleum throughout, with a hooked rag rug in the main room and one each in Frank’s bedroom and office. It would have been dreary, but there was a charming stone fireplace and an enormous picture window that gave a breathtaking view of the ocean.

I opened the refrigerator door and grabbed a tomato, a jar of Miracle Whip, a Diet Coke, and four slices of bread. I made a pair of tomato sandwiches, wolfed down one, and fed the other to Flash as I opened the screen door for him. He took it between his front teeth with surprising daintiness for his hundred and fifty pounds. He raised his head, then ducked it down. The sandwich disappeared. He nosed for crumbs, ears dragging on the floor. Convinced he’d found every tidbit, he circled twice and dropped on the linoleum with a thump and a moan.

I filled his food and water dishes. He watched me with big sad eyes.

I said aloud, “Frank will be home tomorrow.”


I blinked away tears and thought about the uncertain bond with my older brother who always referred to me as “The Bride of Dracula—with a bad attitude, plus tattoos and piercings.” I swallowed one of Dr. Herrera’s pills and washed it down with Diet Coke. Then I took a steak knife from the kitchen drawer. Working it into the keyhole, I broke into Frank’s office for the second time that week. The other time I’d just stood in the center of the room and gazed at the tall, locked filing cabinets and photocopy machine. Well, okay, I’d tried to use the computer but didn’t know the password, so I’d peeked in all the desk drawers.

This time, with no fear of Frank coming home and finding me, I set about doing more lock picking. Using a paper clip from the desk, I jimmied the file cabinets and rifled through them.

Frank had a shitload of papers. They were stuffed in bulging drawers, all labeled for my convenience. One cabinet was packed with personal stuff: tax returns dating back twelve years, investment statements, canceled checks, insurance policies. Another was crammed with papers from when he’d been a cop years before in L.A. In the lowest drawer was one handgun, accessories for another, and six boxes of hollow-point bullets. The third cabinet had his Zaragoza police files. The top drawer was marked “Current Year Only.” I focused my attention there.

Thick files, neatly labeled and divided, were packed in so tightly it was hard to yank them out. Most were on organized crime. “Cosa Nostra—East Coast.” “Cosa Nostra—Midwest.” “Cosa Nostra—L.A.” There was a folder for “Russian Mafia,” one for “Colombians,” one “Chinese,” one for “Blacks,” one “Irish,” and surprisingly, one for “Norwegians.”

The front half of the drawer was marked, “Current—Yakuza.”

I carried an armload to the hide-a-bed in the next room. Settling in among tattered pillows, I flipped on the floor lamp and selected a thick folder marked “Yakuza—Background.” Seemed like a good place to start.

It held photocopies of articles and chapters from books on criminology, sociology, and Asian studies. Nearly every page had marginal notes—Frank’s personal observations in his neatly-printed hand. I didn’t understand half of what I read. But I gathered “Yakuza” was a Japanese crime gang with the usual rackets of gambling, sex, loan-sharking, and drugs.

Frank’s notes said the Yakuza started like the Sicilian Mafia as a citizen’s protection group. Its earliest members were roving gamblers. The word Yakuza meant “loser.” A magazine article said many Japanese viewed Yakuza as heroic, honorable men. “Good PR, sim. to John Gotti,” Frank had printed in the margin. Another page said they had Mafia-like principles—a code of silence, a rule against sex with another member’s wife—and they forbid petty theft and rape.

I yawned. All this was interesting—to a college professor, maybe—but it told me nothing about Frank. I wanted to find out what cases he’d been working on.

One folder was marked “Yakuza—Ritual and Religion.” An article in it was about “yubitsume,” which was the ritual amputation of a finger. It had photos of Asian men smiling and holding up their pinky-less hands.

Loser is right, I thought.

The next page said most Yakuza were Shinto, some Japanese religion where trees and rocks had spirits. Another clipping began, “There are 207 Buddhist sects in Japan, including multiple varieties of Zen, but the Yakuza prefer the Nichiren school with its strong nationalistic overtones.” Frank had printed “See Ruby B.” beside this line in large letters.

Who the hell was Ruby B.?

Another folder was marked “Yakuza—Names.” It held a letter typed on FBI stationery with a list of about twenty names. They were all Japanese. None was “Ruby B.” There was a page of small labeled photos of Asian faces, a short list of addresses, and an organizational chart. I padded back into the office to warm up Frank’s little copy machine. I copied every sheet in the “Names” folder. The machine was old, but the copies were readable. Except the faces in the photos came out as dark ovals on the white page.

I slipped the originals back into the file, folded the copies and stuffed them in the hip pocket of my jeans. Then I tried to read some more but kept dozing off. I gave up, pulled out the bed, and fell asleep.

When I woke it was late afternoon. My first thought was about Frank dying and having to be buried in civilian clothes, in a state of disgrace. Too restless to read any more, I bustled around the cabin, let the dog out and in, and tried to watch television but couldn’t concentrate. Besides, there were only four stations—Frank, who never watched much TV, was too cheap to have cable. I thought of calling Bobby. But I didn’t want to answer any questions. And I wasn’t sure I could trust him. I thought of calling Dr. Herrera. But I hated to bother him. Besides he’d promised to call as soon as there was news about Frank.

Not knowing where else to go, I did what any native Southern Californian does in time of stress.

I went to the beach.