Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Rescues of Brittan Courvalais by Tom Sheehan

It did not come with electricity or a smash of static on the air, but it was there. Brittan Courvalais, five minutes into the darkness of a new day, a streetlight’s glow falling through his window like a subtle visitor, was caught on the edge of his chair. Knowledge flowed to him, information of a most sublime order, privacy, intimacy, all in one slow sweep of the air; his grandson was just now, just this minute, into this world, his only grandson. He could feel him, that child coming, making way his debut into the universe, and his name would be Shag. And for this life he and Shag would be in a mysterious and incomprehensible state of connection. This, in the streetlight’s glow, in the start of a new day though dawn not yet afoot, he was told.

People of the neighborhood shortly said that the oldest man among them, white-bearded, dark-eyed, 75-year old Brittan Courvalais, loved his only grandchild Shag in a deep and special way. They said there was a virtual connection, a most generous connection between them, more than the usual. At times they dwelled on the love ingredient, and then on the old and the young, the near gone and the coming. On days when young Shag came by, just an infant in his mother’s arms, the old man’s step changed, his gait changed, his shoulders stiffened, his voice went lyrical. Some heard him singing under the silver maple tree in the side yard, the tone reaching, ascendant, carrying more than day in it or cool evening or a new stab at dawn. Shag would come, put his arms out, and nestle against the old man’s beard. The pair would look into each other’s eyes and the world about them seemed lost, distant, at odds with the very young and the very old. Brittan’s daughter Marta could only beam when the topic was broached, or say, “I don’t know what it is. It mystifies me, but it’s as if they share an infinite else.” She’d smile broadly when she said it, shrug her shoulders, be fully happy in her puzzle.

From just about every aspect, Brittan Courvalais was a very ordinary man, until such time as an extraordinary demand was placed upon him. Neighbors of the old war dog only knew what they saw and heard but a little of the hidden parts of his life, where in the past valor had surfaced when needed. Stories had been told, sometimes whispered. In Korea, it was said, he’d taken on a mountain and the enemy and beat them both. Just after Korea, out on the highway, he’d pulled an unconscious truck driver from the cab of his truck minutes before the whole rig exploded in a huge ball of fire that shut down an overpass for nearly five months. Later, on a cold spring day, skies heavy, off the wash of Egg Rock out in Lynn Harbor, he’d gone under a capsized boat and extracted two unconscious sailors. And every year since then, without exception, and for the everlasting grace of the neighborhood, the two sailors, on the morning of the Fourth of July, would set up a flag on Brittan’s front lawn, plank down three or four cases of beer and drink them off in a day long salute. Three or four times the truck driver came to celebrate. People said that other unknown visitors would drop by, have a beer, casually say a word or two to Brittan, shake hands and quietly leave, like shadows in a man’s life. Such shadows made more stories, and naturally, with such kicks for a starter, the Fourth always came up a party.

Otherwise, in his quiet and retiring life, Brittan Courvalais raised an exceptionally small patch of tomatoes with an exceptionally good yield, so good that from that little patch some neighbors could preserve a great deal of tomato sauce. That a 75-year old man had such a green thumb was quite acceptable; he’s been around, hasn’t he? That’s why his lawn was generally trimmed and healthy looking, a few beds of flowers hosted a smash of colors every year. His small cottage stood as a marker of time, of the seasons, a sort of contentment in itself. Retirement in a very tolerable neutral gear, life ebbing out in a comfortable wake, long days astern.

And then one afternoon, at a nearby park, when the seat of a swing hit another child and Marta rushed to help, Shag disappeared. Nobody, in all the hue and cry, had seen him go. Nobody had seen anyone carry him off. Hundreds hunted all the fields and pathways. No Shag. On the second day the two sailors came by to help. And the old man sat on his porch sad, morose, and ready to scream. The authorities declared it a kidnapping. Brittan, for four days, sitting on his porch, waited for some word. Marta started to speak one day coming up the stairs and the old man held his hand up, as if listening. He kept his hand in the air for a full five minutes. Marta did not speak. Later that afternoon, when the mailman came by, Brittan Courvalais once more held his hand up for silence. At his next gossip stop, at Jed Hendry’s Barbershop, and again back at the post office, the mailman repeated the story; “The old soldier is listening for something, as if it’s going to come from out of space, a space probe, mind you. Should have seen his eyes, would scare the pants off you. Like he was hearing something!”

Marta and her husband came by each day after their visit to the police station. She’d make coffee, put nibbling food on the porch table, and look at her father’s face. She wanted to reach out and touch him, to be a child again for him, but the look in her father’s eyes frightened her. “I don’t know what he’s going to do, Earl,” she said, “he’s so locked up into something, something so very different.” Then she’d go into the house and cry for an hour or more.

The weight of the world, thus, crushed down on the old man who sat waiting for good news only.

On the sixth day, all hope fading, to some all of it gone, one neighbor saw Brittan Courvalais standing on his porch, his head tipped, as if listening for a bird’s call or someone calling from out of sight, perhaps in the house or down the street. Brittan held his hand in the air as though he was asking for quiet or noting peaceful intentions to an unseen guest. The neighbor looked about and saw no other person except a delivery driver stepping down from his truck eight or nine houses away. Slanting rays of May sunlight were flashing down through young leaves and limbs and falling on Courvalais like pieces of newly minted coin. On the porch floor pieces of shadow or shade were cast like dominoes. A slight breeze talked in the same leaves and began to whisper on the edges of gutters and down spouts. Two or three times the old man cocked his head, his mouth slightly ajar, stony in intent, inert. The wind whispered, the sun’s rays played tag, the gutters and down spouts answered. Then, as if coming from a slight paralysis, unfrozen for a moment, he picked his jacket off a chair, got into his old Plymouth Duster and drove down the road. At the end of the road he turned left, toward the highway.

Three days later he was still gone.

Marta was beside herself, now with a double worry. And the police came to the house, eventually asking odd questions. First a uniformed sergeant came, questioning, slowly inserting the knife under thin skin. Then, after the topic was broached, a lieutenant of detectives came, a cigar in his mouth as he stepped from the car and came up the front walk. He didn’t stumble or trip over his words, bringing them up quickly and darkly from the cavern of his chest, half cough and half words, “Why was your father so attached to the child?” “Harrumph. Hack. Hack. Harrumph.” “He’s his grandchild. He loves him.” “Was it not an unusual love? Is it possible that the old man has taken the baby? Harrumph. Hack. Hack. Harrumph. That right now he’s with him someplace?”

People of the neighborhood began to talk. The mailman heard the talk and carried it. Some of those old stories were, in fact, made up. The old man wasn’t what he appeared to be after all. What have we made him? What kind of a man would drive his daughter into this near madness? You really don’t know, do you, what lurks in the heart of a man.


He’d been mystified by many things in life: the small man down in Homestead, Florida who secretly moved stones weighing many tons, supposedly by himself; a rocking chair sculpted from stone and weighing thousands of pounds, a tall vertical solid stone gate of equal tonnage that swung on small points of balance, seemingly immovable yet moved and placed. How the all-state halfback he played behind when he was a young man told him, just before the big game of the year, that his turn was coming, and there he was rushing on the field breathless in the first quarter. What had pulled him up that mountain in Korea to what he thought was certain death. How had he been able to go into the cold water to save those men after almost drowning under a raft in Lake Hwachon when his unit crossed by rafts mounted on boats with outboard motors and a mortar round had landed right beside them, all of them trussed in full gear? He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten out of the clutches of all that web equipment, or Sanders’ hands pulling at him, hauling him down.

And he never professed to understand the knowledge that came to him about Shag from the moment of the boy’s birth. That they were connected was enough for him. The corners of the boy’s mouth when he smiled up at him were locked behind his eyes.

And here he was, seven days later, vaguely answering some unlimited connection, some communication, coming at him. He didn’t know where it was coming from, and he had driven endlessly it seemed from the day he had left home, sometimes three or four hundred miles a day, sometimes fifty to sit in the middle of a park or a village green, listening.

Now, on the seventh day, hearing his name and description aired over the radio, also a subject of search, he was on the outskirts of Schenectady. He did not know how he had gotten here, but the urge was unarguable, unimpeachable. Shag was calling him. It had been that way in the beginning. It would always be that way. He knew he was near. The parts of the city spread out, and the possible routes cluttered his mind, but there was notice of a kind pulling him. It was unmistakable. It was Shag. He drove around for three hours, like a moth around a huge glowing light, the last light of the year, October light crowding down on the life of the moth.

And then it was stronger than it ever was. He was beside a mall. The voice on the radio was giving out the description of his car, the registration number, and his description. He was at least three hundred miles from home. Nobody would know him. He parked the car. Six hours later, tired, exhaustion finally coming down upon his body, he sat in a small diner and ate his first meal of the day. Shag had come and gone, but he knew this was the place. It had been so from the beginning. Sanders, all the way from Chicago, had been from the beginning, and the mountain in Korea had been from the beginning. The trucker had always been coming at him, a journey started a long time in the past, like the two sailors caught under their craft, unconscious, waiting for him.

He finished his meal and walked back outside. As he neared the Duster he saw the policeman sitting in a patrol car a few spaces away. Brittan turned to move in the other direction.

“Sir!” the voice said. “Sir!” It was a strong young voice, somewhat friendly in tone.

He turned back to the voice. The young policeman stepped from his car. “May I ask you some questions, sir? Is this your car? Do you have some ID? Are you Brittan Courvalais? Someone spotted you earlier and called it in, said you were hanging around too much. There’s a warrant out for you.”

“I’m looking for my grandson. That is no crime.”

“Why are you here in Schenectady? You must be hundreds of miles from home.” Blue-eyed, pink-cheeked, probably shaved only three times a week, the young officer was dubious, but not uncomfortable. “I checked out your car, and you in the diner. I know you don’t have your grandson with you. Not unless he’s with someone else local. Why’s his name Shag?” He was pleasant in an unpleasant situation.

“I’ll tell you, son. I don’t know why his name is Shag, but it was always going to be that. And I don’t know why I’m here, but something is telling me that he’s near here. I cannot leave this place. I’ve driven over 2000 miles, some of it in circles, around mountains, across bridges and rivers, down beside the huge Finger Lakes, Canandegua on the crown of a hill perhaps just because of its name, something pulling at me, drawing me, and it’s brought me here. I can’t leave here. I’ve done nothing but look for that boy. It’s like he keeps calling for me, but I never hear his voice. It’s a kind of impulse, the only way I can describe it. It beats or hums, but no words to it.”

“I know about names,” the officer said. “My father named me Sawyer. I am Sawyer Billings and had a hell of a time with the name as a kid. My father says he has no idea why it came to him. I handle my dukes pretty good. Had a lot of scrapes over that name.”

“Ever think that’s why your father did it? I know of someone named Lawyer and he makes tackles and interceptions, and he’s pretty tough at that.”

“Not until now, sir. Is there any way I can help you? I can make a report or hold it up. The only one who’d get upset about any delay would be the captain, and he takes enough time off so it won’t matter.”

“Just let me be around here. Whatever it is, it’s very strong. I have to check it out.”

“Where? In a particular store? Nearby?”

“I don’t know. If I knew I’d be there now. I’d have you by the collar pulling you with me. I just don’t know.”

“Well, sir, I’ll sit on it for awhile. My sister was crying about Shag the other day, saying how sad it was. She has two of her own. Father named her Cameron. Never hurt her. She’s a fighter too. But gets sad.” He walked to his patrol car. “I’ll be around. Good hunting, sir.” The car slipped out of the mall like a small animal passing through the brush.


A few hours after the patrol car had departed the parking lot, his neck stiff, an old injury talking through his knee, he woke with a start. Now it was stronger, that call of Shag, that disruption on the air. He shook his head, looked for the patrol car, walked toward the mall. It came again, stronger, not a voice, not words, not his name, but a humming, a vibration, near electrical. Twice he went past one store, only to come back and feel the announcement again. This was it. Again he looked for Sawyer Billings or his car and saw neither.

He entered the store, an open building that seemed to spread as wide as three football fields. He could smell popcorn, flowers, and the burnt skin of chicken frying. Should he stay by the door? Was it the only way out of the store? Would he be here for hours? No, he would be active. He would pursue the feeling, the sensation, that vibrating hum still coming at him.

Scanning the store for the silhouette of someone carrying a child, he picked an aisle and started down it. Back over his shoulder he looked, afraid he might miss something, and looked down side aisles. A hum of voices came to him, a caustic static that intruded on the vibrating hum. A wife arguing with her husband. A father calling for his son to hurry. A brother teasing a younger sister. Then, from another aisle, the next one over, beyond the display of electric cords and lamps and shades and rows of batteries and bulbs in blue and white boxes, he felt his grandson. He felt Shag.

Back he went to the main aisle, crossed over, looked down the aisle. The silhouette was exclusive; a woman holding a child. A man near her was looking at a display of security alarms, a big man, wide across the shoulders, in worn dungarees and work boots. The woman was in her late thirties, dark hair, red lips. She hummed to the infant in her arms.

The eyes of Brittan Courvalais met the eyes of his grandson Shag. The boy’s head came up off the woman’s shoulder. Brittan stepped closer, saw the curve of a smile on the child’s lip as if it were juxtaposed on the back of his brain. He was ready to grab the boy when Shag said, “Gampa.” The woman spun on her heels, looked into Brittan Courvalais’s eyes, saw some kind of trouble or ownership there, said, “Harry,” in a very demanding voice. “We have to go. Now! Now, Harry!”
The big man also spun around. Courvalias screamed, “Get the police. This baby’s been kidnapped. This is my grandson Shag.” He reached for the child. The woman spun away. The man pushed him. His knee pained its whole length. The mountain was in front of him again. The frigid waters of Lake Hwachon were there again for him. He reached, grabbed the man’s arm, pulled him at himself, and tossed him against a display. Boxes tumbled. The woman screamed. “Help! Help! He’s trying to steal my baby!”

A man rushed down the aisle and went to grab Brittan’s arm. “Brittan yelled, “Quick, get the police. Sawyer Billings is outside in the police car. Get him! Hurry.” His fist closed around the woman’s wrist. The baby let out a yell. Their eyes locked again. Then Brittan’s eyes locked with the woman's eyes. It was then she knew her first terror. It was so very real, so unexpected. Everything was going to be so perfect. They had only been looking for a simple night-light so she could peek in on the baby, so he wouldn’t be frightened in his new room. A simple night-light.

But that turned badly too.

Officer Sawyer Billings, having spent several off-duty hours at the mall watching the old man from a distance, with a line open back to the station, was Johnny-on-the-spot. He came rushing down the aisle, boxes tumbling from shelves, people falling against displays, the small drama gaining force and notoriety. With lots of noise, a scuffle of sorts, people now crowding the same aisle, gawking at the players, handcuffs were soon on the big man. On one knee, finally down and out of it, the man cursed at the heavens and the gawkers. The woman screamed a terror as the baby was taken from her arms by Billings and lovingly put into the arms of his grandfather, a suddenly tired old man, weary from road-frazzle, the long search, the endless beat that had set at his ears. Brittan Courvalais, with Shag nestled once again against his beard, his heart not yet at rest, heard no more humming but in the trade-off was feeling the ultimate joy. He could just about hear the phone ringing at his daughter’s home 300 miles away.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Old Man of the River by Tom Sheehan

There were times, Musket Jack Magran swore, he could hear a dog pissing in the night, another drunk pissing in another alley, a moth touching down on a lighted globe or, between his ears and his fingertips, humming and vibrating, the vast platelets of the Pacific Rim moving on each other their endless rhythms. In tune with the universe was he, had been forever, and tonight was no different. He had his booze, he had his sack for the night, he was in touch.

Pieces of a broken moon splashed on the dark blue waters of the river and shot off the ripples of a late wake, a small craft having passed by minutes earlier against the other bank, a craft without night lights, dark, sly, faintly noisy, like a ferret in the rushes. It had been down river, possibly out to sea. Musket Jack Magran, groggy from sleep yet ears cocked, bones still bearing an ache in his old body, could hear the fading engine’s hum from upstream darkness, where trees on the curved banking and a small copse of birches gave off vertical neon, slim arrows in a quiver, catching moon traces. Skullduggery without lights, he whispered as darkness swallowed up sound, as night crawled back to its place of keeping, the gathering of silence and darkness.

On the deck of someone’s lobster boat tied up to the T-shaped pier at the Lobster Co-op’s landing, Musket Jack Magran had begun another night free of rent. His old canvas shelter-half, infantry issue, its Army legend imprint long faded, not mated for thirty-odd years, edges frayed and stringy, the sheen gone to lively abrasions, still kept the dew and late dampness off his single blanket. He knew the odd stars; on five continents he had slept out in the night, and on islands and territories too numerous to mention.

Now and then he’d swear the water lapping at the dock or the sides of the boat was hypnotizing him, melodies lingering in the sweep and ripple, old station or post songs mostly without words, the wide world at call and command… China Night… Japanese Rumba… Manila Moon… The Maids of Mandalay… and, for brief catches, Lily Marlene, underneath the lamplight by the garden gate. It was better sleeping on an odd lobster boat on the river than under the steel bridge or up above the pier on a park bench, old ladies too nosy or too solicitous, or old men looking for company or a voice in the darkness. Side benefits came easier on strange boats; general silence within darkness, the long and rhythmic inland reach of the sea, time passing off its melancholy and letting him handle it on his own terms. In another five or six weeks he’d think about hitching a ride south from a gypsy truck driver. On this night, like the others on numerous occasions, came back the old promise he’d made to himself in too many dry and arid infantry posts that some good part of his life later on would be spent on the water, the obverse life of a sailor, the eternal hum coming off that span about him. These lobster boat nights were part of that promise.

The last burp of the boat whispered to him from the bend of the river, beyond the silvery copse. His large ears, derided by many for years, were keen for sounds and had saved him and comrades in numberless firefights or skirmishes. For the bracing of comrades, being called “Wingsy” by some, “Elephant Ears” by others, he readily absorbed and accepted the ability to hear the click of a rifle in the mountain or jungle darkness, or on the wide sands of the Sahara Desert.

Then, for a lucid moment, another piece of the moon falling across his eyes, he heard again his father on the porch back in Vermilion, Ohio talking about Black Jack Pershing, a perfume of cool sweet breath coming off Lake Erie, Canadian air at its best. In another moment, as if in a movie, he saw himself caught in his tracks on a distant post at distant years as Call to the Colors came to him, hauntingly clear and infallible. All this time the tune was still riveting, making shivers at his spine, making dictates, driving his mind for known or unknown reaches. What post it was he could not remember, some place off in the vast world of his adventure, but he heard the bugle as clearly as that same revered moment, and then came the command in his father’s voice. He flirted with an argument about memory’s structure but quickly gave it up. The last ghostly purr of the faint motor sound brought him back. Two nights earlier, just after midnight, the same boat, or one sounding just like it, and without night-lights, had crawled by his night bed, the deck of another lobster boat.

Not only a free sleep brought him to the river, or the toss of the sea, but also an occasional beer found in a cockpit or cooler, forgotten with a good day’s catch. Tonight he’d found a six-pack and drank two cans, putting the empties back in place, draping the plastic loop around the cans. And a half pack of butts with a lighter, quick treasure. Yet his mouth was sour for the find, his palate sassy. The low hum of the dark boat having faded completely, he whispered half aloud through that sour mouth: Tomorrow night, from the other side, from the Lynn side, I’ll watch for that boat. Something tricky in the wind, I’ll bet. What moves in darkness sure isn’t light. From the other shore, eastward under the moon, from a distance on the Lynn side, came the closing of a door, a faint yap of a dog at relief, a hushed command, the door closing again on the night.

Well before dawn he slipped off the boat and made his way around the lobster shack and up the road heading into town. Few cars moved on the road, but their lights danced on his face as he moved towards a morning of washing dishes at Smokey’s Diner, where lobster boat crews swallowed breakfast like a Lenten fast was over. Their breakfasts were mountainous, as if they’d be at sea for a week. And they talked as they ate, part of the ingestion process, noisy and garrulous like someone gargling and getting rid of a bad night. He loved to listen to them, their gripes as timeless as the tides, sea stories like barracks stories with characters rising from their oratories like people off-stage in a play, not seen but heard from. “Friggin’ line was cut by knife, ain’t shittin’me none, them assholes from Bev’ly!” “Swear she’s got these humungous tits you can tie knots in!” “When she straddles, man, you fucking disappear from the face of this here good earth.”

Often they were subject to poor fortune and seas that turned savage in eye flashes. But they were a vibrant bunch in spite of their lot in life, hard drinking and hard swearing, riding at times the crest, at times not. Jack had seen hands and fingers mangled by sudden ropes or arthritis or the curses of salt water, arms laced with scars so deep they could make you wince. He’d seen storms that sat in some men’s eyes long after the wind had faded on-shore. Like watching a late movie, he said to himself.
Dud Whelmsly of all of them intrigued him the most. Dud, to Musket Jack’s eyes, was built like a Budweiser keg with short arms and short legs, the lord of the realm perhaps, perhaps of the river and the fleet itself, but a voice with a threat of music in it. “Goddamit, Smokey, repeating this all the time just about spoils my day…don’t break the yolk in my egg sandwiches. Let ‘em break themselves and sop in, the way I like ‘em. Let ‘em sop into them there bulkie rolls, goddamit!” Jack almost broke a gut the night Smokey came out of the men’s room right behind the counter zipping his fly, the hopper flushing, and started to mold two hamburger patties for Dud. "How'd you want them hamburgers, Dud?” he had said. Dud had looked up from his newspaper spread across the counter, looked around the room, caught a few eyes, bent his head in the way he had of doing it and said, “Well, Smokey, might’s well cook the piss out of them two little fuckers.”

Now this morning, the sea out there for the moment calm, the noise here intense as the day loomed in front of them, there was talk among the lobstermen of thievery, missing lobster traps, lines cut. Some unknown force, out and about the good earth, was lining up against them. There was talk of a night watch and Coast Guard involvement. The small diner hummed with a loose vengeance and anger. It was a recent activity obviously grown out of hand. Eyes often spoke as loud as words, layers of cigarette smoke cut by their stares, revenge working the horizon.

“He comes under my knife he’s chum bait,” burly fisher Fall Dixon said, patting the near-Bowie blade sheathed at his belt line. That patting hand was enormous in its spread, and bulbous as though an arthritic warrior had lodged there. The years of seawater and salt, hawsers and traps, inured skin and bone and callus with a quick identity. Fall, like Dud, would be known hands-down in a crowd, lobsterman.

“I’m suspecting he must sure know his way around what he’s at,” Dud offered, half pivoting on the counter stool, a page of the paper twisting with him.

“What the hell does that mean, Dud?” The voice was from behind a newspaper in the corner.
“Simple,” Dud said. “One a us or knows us too good. The price down, what a small catch does to a man’s day. Anyone know anyone wants a boat real bad?” He stared out the diner window, not letting his gaze rest on any man, effecting neutral for what it was worth, yet it was like slipping a knife point into the clasp of a sea clam or quahog. It was harsh intrusion, the room itself being cut.

Musket Jack saw rather than heard the silence. Heads lifted, eyes aimed like pistol sights, jaws froze on words. Union and divinity and brotherhood were once again at the forefront. Musket Jack, for all his downhill slide through a whole lifetime, knew what was happening there on the line. He could feel its net, had lived within it, depended on it; Hug Scroggins’ dive on top of the grenade seemed a hundred years since came back with ferocity; and followed Little Davie Davenport’s sucking up pieces of his own grenade. They had made and broken many a day. The elitism of fragmentation, its hunger and global dissemination, leaped at him. These lobstermen all about him were certainly now in the throes of some kind of war. Hostilities had begun in part, he was sure.

The corner speaker spoke. “You’se first hit, Dud. Seen nothin’ that day you went out? You was early enough, I know.”

“Nothing but my lines cut. Lost thirty traps and whatever was caught. Nothing on the horizon. No oil spills. No markers of any kind, but what he loosed from me. Rat-ass bastard’ll get chummed, that’s for sure. I guess nobody here knows anything or they’d be speaking up about now. Never too late, even if it’s your brother or your son or your son-in-law or your old daddy.”

“You swearing to that, Dud, that it’s one us or close to? That’s powerful stuff for breakfast.” It was Napoleon LeMars who Dud had fished out of the Atlantic two years earlier, after twenty-two hours in the water. “I’m going to take an early look. Over by Hatty’s Run, then I’ll come back by the Pines Light.”

“You not fishing today, Nap?” Dud said.

“I’m giving my day up for looking. Somebody else can do it tomorrow. No kids sitting to my table.” He snickered, “Least not so’s I know.” The ladies’ man of their group basked in a moment’s glow, not one hair of his thick crop out of place, pleasant crinkles at his eyes, his Roman nose as clean as the day he was born. “If’n I see anything I’ll let you know. Tomorrow’s somebody else’s day. But, hell, Dud, I don’t know what the hell to look for even.”
Dud was not imperious, but a bit lordly in his advice. “Keep a sharp eye, Nap, for what ain’t supposed to be where you see it. If it’s not in among us, it’s sure like us. That skirmish they had in Beverly back a few years, when they were losing boats and traps and lines galore, it was outside but inside, if you know what I mean. Someone wanted the riverfront or the harbor for commercial stuff the guys of the fleet couldn’t touch in a hundred years. If anybody hears about that kind of thing coming here, we got to sit up right away.”

Fall Dixon came off his stool. “There ain’t been a whisper about someone new trying to get the river cleaned up, and us out of it. Not for a few years now, but it’s always there. That ain’t anything new, but it’s sure been quiet. No snoopers I know of. No real estate guys walking around with little notebooks in their hands or talking into small recorders, getting so frigging lazy at it now. You heard anything, Dud?”

Musket Jack loved to watch Dud Whelmsly operate. He’d seen a hundred company clerks over the years running the whole show of an infantry outfit, and Dud was not unlike them, letting innuendoes and side remarks do the work of order and command. Mere suggestions built slowly on themselves, became laws unto themselves. Questions, posed the right way, in the right tone of voice at the right time, in some measure became fact. It was an art form. Dud’s head lowered on his massive body like a turtle retracting, then he scrunched his eyebrows and looked deeply into Fall’s eyes as he let his baritone voice float across the diner. “What’s a stranger among us, if he’s not a brother?” At an angle he held his suppressed head, for a moment breathless on stage. Musket Jack shook a little in admiration. “What’s a visitor in our midst, if he’s not a brother? Who are we, being alone, but brothers?” It was part of the art form, as if he had gone down into his body to find those words and then shared them.
And it was as if an edict had been posted in Smokey’s Diner, an imperial edict. In the kitchen, looking out through the serving window, the old soldier almost pissed his pants having a good laugh. Dud Whelmsly had said nothing at all, not a damn thing, and here was rapt silence stunning the room as if some ages-old philosopher had made a pronouncement. He could remember no beliefs or espousals except names. Dud could be like Locke or Kant or Descartes or a hundred others floating at the back end of libraries, dust coming down atop their words, dead a hundred years and still making waves just off the river. Dud’s head was still at that most confidential angle, that sharing pose.

“You oughta be in the movies, Dud.” The voice was still behind the newspaper, like a small bell tinkling a few stray cows home.

Dud pretended he didn’t hear that pronouncement. “If there are people who want us off the river, they’ll come at us any way they can. But the pocketbook’s the best way. That’s my traps and your traps. My boat and your boat. My catch and your catch. No boubt adout it!”

Now, Musket Jack also realized, Dud Whelmsly was coming at them with the real ammunition, Topkick stuff. He suddenly realized that Dud knew there was an enemy within and about. Was damn sure about it. And Musket Jack himself had been witness to some piece of it. The fading sound of the midnight engine came back to him, even as dishes rattled and glasses tinkled against one another and silverware was in minor crescendo. The idea of energy came at him, the spurt of it, his blood moving. First it was heat from his task, the water scalding and steamy. Then it was an old convoy climbing the long slight grade of a hill he thought perhaps was outside Wonson on the way out of the Pusan Perimeter. Then it was a flotilla of craft as they crossed Lake Hwachon, a whole battalion of infantry. Then it was the men of the lobster fleet sitting out there in the little stuffed diner, the smoke hanging in the air like old rifle residue and burning cosmoline and spent gunpowder going on a day old and the hurt still in place.

“All I can say is that it’ll probably start at the town bank if that’s what it is. But I’m telling one and all, something’s up and about and it pays us to look close to anything odd. From the landing, and both river banks all the way out to the Big Daddy.”


Musket Jack Magran was a listener. He kept his ears cocked for every piece of input. Washed out, but fed well by Smokey, an old soldier himself, the small mountain of morning dishes washed and put away, Jack walked away from the diner at ten of the morning with two fried egg bulkie roll sandwiches in his pockets. Way ahead of time he had planned his move to the other side of the river. If that boat came again, in the slip of darkness, he’d be watching.
After midnight, cloudy, the moon off someplace, the old soldier felt the disturbance in the air before he heard any sound. On the other side of the river, from the Lynn side, after passing through the small yard of boat gear, he had slipped aboard another lobster boat. He had spread his blanket and shelter-half, found two beers in a cooler, had a few nips picked up earlier, strictly for his late watch. Darkness invaded his thoughts. The river, like every river he had ever known, was alive even if mute, from the Pukhan to the Mekong to the Saugus. From deep in his past he remembered a perimeter outpost, two ration cans tinkling on a strand of commo wire as the Chinese infiltrator tried to come up his hill just beyond Lake Hwachon at three in the morning, to try to toss a grenade into the listening post bunker. He felt anew the chill slipping up his spine as he remembered that slight tinkle of cans, and now, under dark clouds on a dark night on somebody’s boat, the small vibrations came to him from the body of the river. The supposedly mute river, its waters trying in vain to catch another tune.

Musket Jack Magran sat up slowly, the shelter-half sliding off his form with the soft grating sound of canvas. That old sourness was in his mouth and a new ache at his shoulders. He cursed a sleeping foot yet caught with tingles. Commiseration was his until the purr and put-put of an engine brought him to attention. There was no moon, no offshore lights falling on the body of the river, but there were shadows. Shadows in spite of their being give measurement, and he peered over the low gunnels, giving least mark to the given contour. Other lobster boats rose dark in the darkness, small radar and radio equipment slim atop their shapes. The water slapped almost in silent applause against his bed boat, the small boat coming up the river sending tremors ahead of its passing. The slow roll of his craft was sensual, the rivers of the world never letting go. He saw a girl on a bed of straw reaching for him, that too had been beside a river whose name was now gone, as was her name. The boat rolled again, slowly, the sound of an outboard came like a whisper. He saw a shadow moving. Then he saw two men on a small dinghy. He heard the splash of liquids. One of the men was spilling liquid from a five-gallon can as they circled around each lobster boat. He recognized the dinghy with the phony spar out front. It was Dud Whelmsly’s dinghy, but neither of the two lank and lean men on the boat was Dud Whelmsly.
Then Musket Jack caught the unmistakable odor, the rich purifying odor, the nostrils-cleaning odor of raw gasoline. They were going to torch the river! They were going to torch the fleet. Tag! He was it! Tag! He was the sole guardian of life and limb and liberty. Scroggins came back, his dive through the air on top of the loose grenade. Little Davie Davenport had carelessly dropped his grenade at his feet. His eyes had gone wild as he looked around at the squad, and then fell down on top of it. They were faces in his night, Scrog and Davie. He saw their eyes, their mouths, their chins. He knew them again, knew that they would never leave him. Had never left him. I’m half drunk, he said to himself, as the dingy circled around another boat, and another five-gallon can spilled against the side of a boat and splashed on its deck. I am the last night guard, he whispered. They were forty feet from him. He was sure he did not know them, sure they were not part of the crews at Smokey’s Diner. That thought sat well with him. What could an old drunk soldier, years past his last hitch, do in such a situation?

Musket Jack Magran let the shelter-half and thin blanket fall away from his body as he stood in the shadows of the cockpit. “Halt!” he yelled out. “Hold it right there. I’ve got a wild-ass Forty-five aimed at your last can of gasoline. You so much as move a muscle this little cannon of a sidearm’s going to go off with a bigger bang than you ever heard! Now you tie off onto that boat and sit in your little dinghy until I rouse some help or so help me you’re nothing but flames.”

He yelled, loud and hard, for help. Upriver a light went on, and then another. Behind him he heard a door slam. There was a pounding of feet, booted feet, on the Saugus side. He kept on yelling. “They’re pouring gasoline on the lobster boats. Watch your ass! Don’t light anything near a boat.”

“Who’s that over there?” one voice said, throwing a torchlight onto the river, letting the light ray fish around.

Jack recognized Fall Dixon’s voice. “This here’s Musket Jack. There’s two skinny gents who were dousing gasoline onto the boats. They’re tied off to Gunther’s boat here, the Maryanne Kay. I got a Forty-five aimed somewhere near their balls and their last can of gas. Call the fire department if you want these boats saved. They been using Dud’s dingy. Better get his ass down here.”

One of the men in Dud’s dinghy moved. “You move again, feller, and you’re flame. I swear to God you’re flame.” Back across the river he yelled to Fall Dixon, “Better hurry, Fall, my goddam finger is getting tired on this here trigger. These Forty-fives were never any good. I couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with one, but the round’ll go someplace close.”

The night watch of Musket Jack Magran was over. The scramble came: firemen and hoses and decks washed down, police going out to the dingy and bringing the two tall strangers ashore, Dud finding his dingy chain snapped through at one of the lower links against the dock. The smell of gasoline slowly dissipated in the morning air as the dew came down and the tide went out.

One policeman, coming across the river in a small dinghy, said to Musket Jack, “I’ll take that Forty-five now, mister.”

“Shit, man,” Musket Jack said, “I wouldn’t own one of them little cannons for all the tea in China. Never was any frigging good at all, them things, ‘cept you carry it you didn’t have to shoulder a rifle. And that was pretty good unless you had to use a rifle.” He held up his empty hands. He smiled at the policeman.

At Smokey’s Diner, the air thick with cigarette smoke, a brand new pack at his elbow, a pile of scrambled eggs and bacon and a pot of coffee in front of him, the new god of the river told his story over and over again. And the identities of the two men and their connections were swiftly known and more arrests promised. “They must have been casing the river the night before, trying to see who or what was round, what the lay of the land was, what they could get away with.”
The voice behind the newspaper said, “They never counted you being on guard, Jack, no boubt adout that.”
Dud Whelmsly said it at last, his head in that confidence-sharing angle, his voice dramatic but honest, “The Staties’ve been onto something for a long while. Some development company from out of Providence, and you know what that means, wants the river for something big. Maybe gambling or a casino-boat kind of thing. Who knows but them who wanted to put us out of the river. Hell, taking traps never did it, or cutting lines. We’ve been through enough of that crap. This was going to get us big time. Me and Fall’s been keeping an eye for a long spell, but I was too quick to sleep the night before and Fall was out of it last night. Took the old soldier here, half in the wrapper I bet, to stand guard for us, like he’s always done.”

Another spill of Jim Beam went into Musket Jack’s coffee cup. “You got a day of it coming, Jack, and then we dry you out and get you a ride south. No more dishes for you, soldier.”
Musket Jack Magran, an aura of cigarette smoke swirling around his head, his eyes beginning to fish once more, the alcohol putting the quiet down in place, old scars getting buried bone-deep in his body, vaguely remembered a boat ride on a river flowing away from the hills above Leyte. A girl’s dark skin he could recall and the light of stars in her eyes, but could not see her face. The way the Earth shifted under him, quietly but dramatically, came back, the whole range of it. A tune from down a wide river came at him as if night were finally taking leave of itself, a post soldier out on the edge of darkness playing his guitar, while overhead the Manila moon went sailing wherever its voyage took it.

And for long hours no person had called him “Wingsy” or “Elephant Ears.” Not a one.

Jail Break at Bear Creek by Tom Sheehan

Not a soul in the whole west, including Bear Creek, where the desperado Cleve Hallows was jailed and waiting trial for numerous murders and robberies, had any idea of the man’s ingenuity and wiles. Hallows, for all intents and purposes, was ahead of his time and his capture this time was due to good old-fashioned luck on the part of Bear Creek’s sheriff who once operated on the other side of the law, “was saved,” and like a reformed drinker or smoker, could not stand to see any other bad man make good. It became his sole aim to make sure that development did not occur in his territory, in his town.

The setting of this tale is of prime importance, so it is that we visit the town of Bear Creek and unveil its place and character.

Not one person on the town council didn’t hold it true that Bear Creek was one of the most inviting and pleasant places at the foothills of the Rockies. Most other people in town felt the same and visitors, passing through on the Overland Stage, all admitted the same thing, some of them with a nostalgic look at departure. The mountains thrusting up behind town were rugged and picturesque, the creek made a sparkling and diving entrance from a steep cliff worn to a trough by the thousands of years of flow, and the spread of grass leaving the foothills was resplendent with flowers in good weather.

But within all those good feelings and euphoric hope, nobody ever asked an inmate of the Bear Creek jail, under the command of the notorious outlaw-turned-lawman, Crawd Dobler, how they viewed their situation. Dobler was known far and wide, including a good stretch of the Rockies, for his strict controls and harsh treatment of prisoners. He sat any chair the way he sat a horse, high and haughty, as if nothing in reach could or dared touch him. As he sat at the BC Hotel’s dining room, having his eggs and other vittles with Homer Barnes, his chief deputy, his scorn was evident concerning Barnes’ worries about a jailbreak.

“Homer, you got to learn to relax, boy. You’re a top dog around them boys back there, mostly drunks, one hungry rustler who ought to know better, and that Hallows gent who’s going to hang soon as the judge sets foot in town. Learn to relax, snap the whip when you got to, and don’t let them get any closer than spit range.”
He sat his chair ever upright, on top of it all. “You got to relax, Homer. That’s the key in this whole thing, relaxing, not letting them scum know what you’re at or how you feel.”

“He’s out and out mean, Crawd, to those other boys in there. Those poor gents who have paid for spending their money in the saloon first chance out of the saddle. I don’t hate them poor pokes. They have it tough enough out there with the cows and some of them cow drovers would drive me crazy too. Don’t know what Hallows’d do if he caught hold of one of us. Only real thing about him is him wanting to read all the newspapers I can find.”

“Worry about yourself, Homer, but not on the outside, not on your face. Don’t show them nothing but boss. It’s all that counts. I’ll break Hallows' arm or his back he makes a move at me. Count on it. Now eat. You need it.” Ramrod straight as ever, Dobler lifted food to his mouth, eyes moving, measuring all in sight, the morning shadows caught in corners, the grass smell riding the air as if sighing off the prairie, how people moved at their early tasks. “Probably trying to find where his name is printed. Make sure he gets none of that. Give him what you have where his name is not printed. That won’t hurt a bit.”

At that same moment, sun breaking clear of clouds and mountains, prairie personality spilling into the town, as Dobler and his deputy ate breakfast, Cleve Hallows fed some of his breakfast remains from the day before to a bird that had lighted at the barred cell window set into blocks of squared mountain rock. Cool prairie air fed itself into the cells, bringing a bit of comfort atop the general deposit of stale air. Hallows spent ten minutes at the opening, feeding the bird. Smiling, nodding a kind of approval that was not really approval, he ignored some of the whispers that came to him from the other prisoners. He caught every word sifting through the cells of the jail.

“He ain’t so tough, the bird lover. He’s been doing that for a weeks now. Bet he couldn’t last a week on a drive, some drover boss find him out soon enough. ’Magine the big killer and robber playing games with the birds. If that ain’t the proper clue to the real man, every morning I been here, I don’t know what is.”
As for Hallows, he kept most things to his own person, but allowed himself to hear again and again some words he’d recently said to Dobler at one point, and a second message said to a confederate another time.

“Tell you what, Dobler. I’m going to be the first man to break out of your jail and I’ll spread the word across the grass and up and down the Rockies. Won’t miss any odd lots, kinfolk, townspeople, drovers passing each other out on the grass or in the pens of the railheads. Conductors on the UP will spread the word and the last of the wagon masters coming to a stop from the east. They’ll all know about it sooner or later, and that’s a promise.”

Dobler, as always, looked as cool as a mountain breath of air. He smiled, waved his hand as if nothing at all had been said, sat tall and rigid in his office chair just outside the main cell section. Every morning he came clean-shaven after a decent breakfast at the hotel.

Up in the Rockies, at a hideout operated for a few years by Hallows, his confederate Jud Parsons could easily recall Hallows’ words said a few weeks earlier: “Do just what I tell you, Jud. It’ll be easy. I’ve taught you all I know. Just make the best of each trip. No load too heavy it messes up. The judge won’t be here for a couple of weeks. I know that for sure, and got some other stuff hidden up in here we get to split when I get out of here. I got a lot of sauce for the gander. Count on it.”
He had been whispering all the while in the jail at Parsons’ visit. “Make sure that damned sheriff don’t follow you back uphill to the place. I’m counting on you, and the big payoff is coming. You can get that spread back in Wyoming you always wanted, let your old man get his hands dirty the clean way.” He smiled at his own turn of the phrase, seeing a glint of joy cross Parsons’ face, knowing he had touched a soft spot. Things were so easy, he believed, and Crawd Dobler would find that out the hard way.

A few weeks later, Dobler sauntered into the cell section and said, as matter-of-factly as he could manage, “Judge is coming in two days, Hallows. Got word last night. Looks like a piece of cake from where I sit out there in my office. Piece of cake. Sure as the best brand you know heading back east for them Chicago butchers and them New York platters.”

“Don’t count on it, sheriff. That judge has me to contend with. I ain’t no kid at this business.”

“Is that the killing business, Hallows, knocking down old ladies and old men who can’t point a weapon at you? That your kind of business? I never did that stuff. Oh, I robbed a few trains they don’t know about and a few stage coaches in the mix, but never killed an old man or an old lady. You got to have rules in that game. You got to be your own judge before you stand up in front of a real one. Prepare your own way as they might say down at the church. Looks like they’ve been right all along, the parsons and preachers and such.”

“Sure agree with you there, sheriff, on those men.” Hallows did not even break a smile as he saw his sidekick Jud up at the hideout, getting ready for another task. The hideout sifted into his mind and he received an image of its hidden beauty in among some serious rocks and secret growth. He’d found it by accident and he’d been caught by Crawd Dobler because he had relaxed his mind descending from the place, wondering why he loved it so much, letting himself fall into the hands of the sheriff also by complete accident. Chance happened to the best of men, he agreed. Looking up he had seen the sheriff’s rifle pointed right at his guts.
Jail at Bear Creek came sooner than he ever thought.

Now the judge would be here in two days. He had one day to get ready. The time had to be right. The bread crumbs fell from his hand atop the stone block the bars were set into. The bird fluttered in a little later. The whispers started again in the cells.

At midnight, all cellmates asleep, some snoring up a storm, Hallows rose from his cot. The breeze at the window was minimal but fresh, right off the prairie or down from a mountain canyon. He didn’t care where it was from, but it was free and almost liquid in his throat. Some of Bear Creek, the real creak, came along with the drink.
Beyond the jail, through window opening without glass but with stout bars, Bear Creek was dark and silent. The snicker of two horses came from close by, at the end of an alley beside the jail. Overhead, the moon was not due for three days, according to his count. Beside his bunk, from behind the cell slop pail, Hallows pulled a pouch filled with a dark mixture. From behind a cot leg he pulled a long thin funnel made from newspapers and hardened by a mix of water and urine. It stank as bad as he imagined it would, even gone dry and sort of rigid, but suitable for its purpose.

Hefting the pouch, he pictured the smile on Jug Parsons’ face as he would have smiled filling the small, bags he attached to a homing pigeon every morning for weeks, as he thought about the ranch he was going to buy in Wyoming.

All the planning came back to Hallows as he listened again and heard only silence beyond the snoring. The funnel was set up, aimed right down into the cell door lock, the back side of the key hole fitted with paper plugs he had also formed from the newspapers. Taking a thin blanket off his cot, he wrapped it around the lock on the cell door.

Then, thinking of the haughty sheriff with the sickening grin on his face, trying his best to hide it, being as tricky as he could be, he started pouring the mix from the pouch down into the funnel and into the lock on the cell door. When the lock was full of the pigeon-delivered gunpowder, and some left over for kicks, Hallows contemplated the coming few minutes. The deputy Barnes would be asleep on his cot, his boots off, his hand gun near. He would rush through the door into the cell area when he rudely awoke. He’d hit him with the slop pail, get his gun, and run out the door and down the alley to Parsons and the horses. They’d be out of town before the sheriff knew what happened. He could see the look on the sheriff’s face. It was priceless. He’d give away a bank’s haul for the privilege of seeing it.

He lit the fuse, dropped the rest of the blanket over the key hole, and stepped back.
The blast blew the cell door wide open. Cell mates screamed.

The deputy, frantic, opened the door and was hit on the head with the slop pail. He fell as if he had been gunned down, his revolver falling to the floor. Hallows grabbed it and raced to the front door and ran down the alley. In a matter of minutes he and Parson were heading out of town on a well-used trail marked by recent traffic.

“Free as a bird,” Hallows said aloud, and seeing Crawd Dobler trying forever to determine how the jail break had come off.

Once they got into the Rockies, up in the safe area, he’d let Parsons go chase his dream. As for himself, he just had to know, somehow, how close Dobler might get to the truth.

There was always the chance the revelation might come, but he’d wait on it.
Maybe he’d send a few pigeons to test him.

Chigger Boom and the Night the Devil Broke Loose by Tom Sheehan

Lots of folks down in south Texas still tell the story of the relentless search for one most prized horse stolen down Rancho Lobo way. They tell the story even years after the horse was stolen during the night of one of the greatest storms that ever roared in from the Gulf of Mexico. Like Hell was shot out of a cannon, they said of that storm, and calling it “The Night the Devil Broke Loose.” The winds, roaring like wild steam engines, ripped inland from the Gulf and cut a scandalous path of devastation more than 80 miles wide. Roofs of barns sailed in the air like wings of ungodly giant birds, windows in meager huts imploded before their scanty roofs came free. One small settlement not very far from Rancho Lobo saw every one of its buildings blown apart the way dynamite could do it. And the horse, a 6-year old stallion, a prized animal from the first day, went by the name of Chigger Boom and belonged to 16-year old Chuck Curtin, the son of a small rancher.

That’s going too fast for some folks, I’d guess, so we’ll have to go back to just about the beginning when Chigger Boom came into the world of Texas, near the grass town called Rancho Lobo that lasted almost 50 years, but folded up one night and died a sudden death in another weird storm from the Gulf.

But that’s beside the real story.

So, we go to the very beginning of the tale of Chigger Boom: On the wobbliest legs imaginable, resembling a bean pole ensemble, the foal managed to stand erect for the first time, and on the first attempt this day, with a bare breath in the air coming right off the grass as if it was squeezed directly from a flask. The excitement, so alive, climbed right up the two walls of the barn, and could have ignited the dry wood. Chuckie Curtin, barely grown himself, he too rail-slim from a meager diet of beans and bread and coffee thin as spit, marked the character of the colt with a demonstrative question, leaping in the air as he said to his father: “Ain’t he something, Dad?” They were standing in the idea of a barn, open on two sides to the weather, and not a nail left for pounding on the entire property.

The colt, on this first day, made tears come to Chuckie’s eyes. “He’s all mine, Dad? All mine? I ain’t never been so lucky. Call me Lucky Chuckie if you want. I’ll answer.” His father said he was growing the way he had, “like being 11 one day and forever old the rest of the way.” It was him saying a whole passel of lessons were picked up in one day of the worldly classroom.

Hollis Curtin, who had brought the colt through a difficult birth, smiled with appreciation and pride in his son and in his own good luck with the colt on this early morning. All troubles seemed insurmountable at first, but Curtin was further graced with simple patience born of a harsh beginning, his own birthright; he’d do what it would take for his only son, his only child, to keep an edge on the tough world, even if it was tenuous at best.

And do the same for the colt. Out here a man’s best friend was his horse. Some of his days his memory was long and then short; on other days, it was short and then long. He knew the difference at dawn.

On an early morning of another day, all the way back in the hills of Kentucky, his father had walked over the hill with his rifle over one shoulder, to go off to war. He never returned. That morning came back to him in one vision as clear in his mind as if it was earlier this same day. He had turned and waved, his father, and it was the way some men say goodbye for a long weekend, or goodbye forever. “Long as you can count, it keeps coming,” he heard him say.

“What are you going to call him, Chuckie?”

“Chigger Boom, Pa. His name’s Chigger Boom.”

“Where in tarnation did that name come from, son?”

“Well, Pa, I turn things over in my mind all the time, funny sounds and strange sounds and things that sound like music to me but really ain’t music. I just heard myself saying “Chigger Boom,” and that’s his name. Can I name him that?”

“He’s yours to name, raise, saddle in time, ride forever, if that’s what you want, Chuckie.”

Hollis Curtin remembered the day, in the back of a wagon on the edge of the grass, when Chuckie was born, and lucky to have someone who loved him from then on. It would be this way with the colt. Here, in the west, on the edge of the wild world, a man and a horse were closer than twins. The pair, when treatment and respect abounded, were abided in both directions, which a man could not get by without a good horse. The sooner a man learned that, the better off he was … and with the horse of his choice. Selection was important as the weapons he chose; one day, or more than one day, such possessions would save his life.

The way things were in the growing west, Chuckie was bound to face such a circumstance. He’d make sure the boy was ready, and the colt, this Chigger Boom, was a grand start for him.

He’d keep his eye on the boy, though he knew well beforehand the care that Chuckie would devote to Chigger Boom. With good care the young horse would be with Chuckie for 20 years and perhaps more. Some cowpokes of his acquaintance, the older gents of the herd crowd, said they heard of good horses with good care living into their 30s and early 40s, though the latter were not working horses for that long. With good care at all times, good food without stinting on it, proper rest at work, some horses were as good as sons, as good as fathers, to their riders. Curtin held that image for his son.

As for Chuckie he saw that spindly foal of the caricatured birth, stride into the colt, always moving toward that target of a stallion from that first day.

“Pa,” he said on his own 13th birthday, “ain’t Chigger coming along like we knew he would. Some of the boys over at the X-Bar-X have offered to buy him anytime, and each one of them have said it to me secretly like they don’t want the others to know they got a real interest in buying him.”

“You’ve done a great job with that horse, Chuckie. He stands out in the whole area. Someday they’ll be naming foals after him, like Chigger Miss or Chigger Jack.”

“Won’t that be something, Pa, and you were the one that brought him through that tough night right at the beginning. It’s like he was born by you and given to me and that’s as good as it gets for horses.”

“The part I like as much as anything is the way you can shoe him. You learned that like you were taught in school from the first day. I know you have something going on there that I haven’t picked up yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Oh,” Chuckie said, sort of surprised and yet excited, I got it fixed, Pa, so that I can find Chigger no matter where he goes. I could trail him right over Mount Constable and down the other side to the river.”

“Long as someone don’t have to change his shoes, huh?”

“Oh, Pa, you knew all along.”

“I knew something but I haven’t picked up the sign yet, though I sure did study it for a spell. It’s got to be pretty tricky, like you invented something new.” For a long moment he studied his son, and then he said, “You worried about stealing, Chuckie? Like somebody stealing Chigger?”

“It scares the heck out of me, Pa. Chigger’s like my brother, he’s my pard, and we’re best friends. It’s the way it’s supposed to be and I’m doing what I can to keep it that way. He’s almost five years old now and he’s all horse. I swear he is.” He stared at the horse across the corral and loved the great lines of strength and muscle that moved under his black coat. Chigger snickered as if he knew the attention being paid to him. The sun bounced in waves off his coal black coat like sheen off a pond face. In turn, the fence line beyond Chigger Boom seemed miniature in comparison to the great horse like he was a blaze of quiet energy.

“Do you see what I mean, Pa? Or hear it?”

Impressions were all over the elder Curtin as he studied this son of his. “You’ve won me over on all this, Chuck.” It was probably the first time Curtin had called his son by the grown-up version of his name, as if it had been earned, and wondered if the boy had missed it.

But Chuck Curtin looked at his father and said, “Thanks, Pa.”

A few nights later, as the story goes in most all quarters where it’s been told, Hell came right up out of the Gulf and dropped itself on the whole area, with Rancho Lobo in the middle. The storm rode in with the darkness at the end of a nice, peaceful cowboy’s day and the beginning of a night of terror and destruction, the wind roaring like the very demons it called upon, a howling and a force loose upon the land the way curses are administered, man and his property as fair game for the furies loosed.

The full bang of the storm hung over the land for the longest 12 hours in some people’s lives. Five people were lost without any trace of their departure, and others were hurt so badly it took months to get well again. Cattle herds were driven far apart, some never fairly reclaimed, and many barns and homes sustained damage that would take weeks to repair, if at all possible.

With the weariness of knowing that a bad element was always about in quick, new towns, there came at the same time of the storm those thieves and scoundrels of all makes and types looking for “the free stuff,” things gone loose somehow in the storm and therefore up to claim, as if “the free stuff” had been abandoned at sea like a foundering ship, with any interpretation of claim due for argument.

People in the town of Rancho Lobo started calling that night “The Night the Devil Broke Loose,” and that name stayed in the memory of a lot of Texas folks, even to this day, partly because of what followed it.

That night took an additional twist for the worse for Chuck Curtin, as some horse thief, bound for hanging for sure, cut Chigger Boom loose from the small barn and stole away in the night with him.

The Curtin barn, small to begin with, presenting smaller target to the powerful wind, sustained little damage, but it was clear to see that someone had slipped Chigger Boom loose from his stall, along with the bridle reins to handle him and a saddle to ride on.

That day started a long and sustained search by Chuck Curtin for his stallion, Chigger Boom.

Chuck’s father spoke first as the search was about to begin, the devastation and ruin evident in much of the area about them, “What’s all this gear piled beside your saddle bag, Chuck? You going someplace?”

“I’m going out to bring my horse back, Pa. He’s waiting on me, looking for me to hurry up and find him. I think he’s getting lonesome.”

“You be careful out there, Chuck. I can’t go with you. I have too much work to do here, but it’s okay for you to go. I know what’s working on you, but we have no idea the type of man who stole Chigger Boom.”

“Oh, Pa, that kind of man deserves what’s coming to him. That I know.”

The look in his son’s face had said it all for Chuck’s father. Out and out it all said confidence here was a two-way road.

The trail, as Chuck suspected it would, went away from the ranch in a direct northerly direction and died out almost as soon as it started. The horse thief was obviously dependent upon the storm to hide his tracks. He was right, of course, but Chuck Curtin had thought about the situation at a significant length. He had studied the land and all its characteristics and discounted certain routes of escape and promised he’d check out all others no matter how long it took him. Pursuit, his kind of pursuit, would leave no trace unturned and no chance not looked at. That’s why his saddle bag was filled with the necessities for a long trail ride. And other than what he carried, he could live off the land, or find sustenance as providence might supply.

The Saffron Hills were out in front of him, almost due north. The hills were a conglomeration of canyons, caves, narrow passes, and natural culverts that provided water release from small tarns in the higher cliffs. Tree lines came and went at the sign of earth ravage thousands of years earlier where rocky outburst and promontories came from deep eruptions.

The ride was a difficult one, his eyes always looking for a special sign in horse tracks. He found some tracks on crossing trails here and there, but none he was looking for. He was on the search for over a week. On two different occasions he had meals with mountain men who were on their way down to a town or on the way back.

They were very solicitous of a lad looking for his horse.

“How’ll you find the right track, son?” one old trapper said as they sat before a late fire shooting the breeze. “That corker of a storm even raised the devil up here in the mountains. I damned near didn’t sleep the whole night through in my cave, the whole mountain sitting up as my umbrella. Only place to be in a storm like that one, deep inside.”

“I fixed it so I could find the track my horse would leave.”

The trapper, who called himself Jigger George, over which they had a good laugh, nodded. “Like you had worries before they came on you about this here animal you call Chigger Boom. That’s about the strangest name I ever heard for a horse, but of course I’m guessing at that. It’s different though. Like maybe it is up there in the high mountains and it’s just up to you and your critter and the cool air.”

He stopped talking practically in mid-sentence, and said, “You got yourself all prepared for what might come, like looking upstream on yourself and your horse and the mean sons a bitches you run into every now and then. That’s good on you, son. I had a dog I loved once, my last one, and believe it or not I called him Pal-O-Mine. Just like it sounds. Lost him on one half of a mountain. He’d a found me, that old Pal-O-Mine, if he was able to scramble, but I guess something got him. Bear or wolf or wild peccary at full hunger. Mean they is, so you keep all them critters to mind. It pays you in the end.”

With Chuck taking a first watch at the open fire, Jigger George was sound asleep in five minutes.

Later the next afternoon, well after Jigger George started back on his own trail, Chuck caught his breath under the lee of an overhanging cliff. The mountain rose like a palisade straight up making him dizzy to look up, which he did, hoping when he looked back at the ground he’d see what he thought he saw. The core of excitement was lit up inside him and he wanted to believe everything good around him, including what he thought he had seen on the ground.

Yes. There on the small piece of gravel and loam mix, the way you see a lone star sitting in the dark sky, was the marked shoe of his stallion Chigger Boom. His mount wanted to slip into the shade of the cliff and Chuck pulled him up short, wanting to make sure of the marking, not let it get distorted in any manner.

He hobbled his horse on a loose rock on the canyon floor after sliding off the saddle to check the sign closer.

It was Chigger Boom’s right rear shoe, with one shoe nail in a different spot than usual, where Chuck had positioned it himself. His breath caught up in his throat and acceptance sounded in his chest with a pleasant thrill. Up the canyon he looked and saw nothing, and noted the solid rock floor that Chigger Boom must have used passing through this way. But he had found the sign after this long search. The longing for his stallion mushroomed in him, and he remounted.

But portents abounded that day for Chuck Curtin, and it may be argued that he did not see them in his anxiety and excitement of getting near his stallion after a long search. Sight and sense may be interchangeable in one sector, but may also be disparate in another. Though he didn’t see anything, he might have sensed something, about himself or his surroundings.

The differences were working on him, as was foreboding, for Chuck Curtin did not know that this day he would kill a man for the first time.

As he started out of the canyon, away from the overhang, he suddenly caught himself, and began thinking out loud: “You’re rushing now, Chuck boy, rushing too fast. You found the sign you were looking for, so don’t rush without thinking. It’s late. They, whoever they are, or him, whoever he is, are not going much further on this day. They too have to pull up and sit down for rest. Just get some rest yourself, and get a start ahead of them in the morning. They have not found out about the shoe, so that looks like it will lead you right to Chigger Boom. Pack it in for the night, and rest this new mount of yours … he’s brought you this far in your search.”
He unpacked his gear, tied his horse off on a rock, and set about lighting a small fire. Heated coffee lifted its aroma and he ate a biscuit and a piece of dried meat heated in the fire, and set up his bed on saddle and blanket with his weapons near.
It took him a long time to get set for sleep, as it evaded him many times thinking about finding his horse. The fire dwindled down, a bare ember the final sign of its heat, and a single star showed itself over the ridge of the mountain wall opposite him. A mixture of contentment and excitement rearranged their forces within him and he felt the sleep at last begin to descend upon him. He closed his eyes against that lone star and let his body relax.

The single sound he heard, a loose pebble, a small stone dislodged from some position, brought him stiff on his blanket. The rifle, without any effort, came up in his hand and he rolled away from his bed as silently as he could. He heard another sound, like a boot scraping on a stone surface. His horse snickered and a hoarse whisper, born of darkness, settled into his hearing, as it said, “Shush, boy.”
His horse was a slight way down the canyon from where Chuck flattened on the canyon floor. He could picture the intruder with his hand, as kindly as possible, settling on the horse’s snout. The horse snickered once more and a hoof touched at a hard surface as he must have shifted his weight. The “Shush” came again, not quite as cautious as before, as though its rider, bedded for the night, was still asleep and had not heard any noise.

Chuck heard the slight click of a weapon as though a trigger was set, a safety released. Darkness leaned on everything, the whole night swallowed up.

It was providence then, that in a simple flicker of a last spark from the last ember of the fire, coupling with the light of a lone star overhead, that Chuck Curtin saw a dim shadow within shadows creeping near him. Chuck shifted his rifle into position, the sound sending a sense of danger back at the intruder, and the intruder swung his weapon into position where he thought Chuck was still on the ground. Chuck Curtin fired his rifle at a man for the first time in his life. The man screamed as the shot hit him, and in turn his weapon was fired. The bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the palisade. The next sound was the gurgle of blood in the man’s throat and mouth as blood spilled from him.

“We knew you were on our trail, kid. We seen you two days ago, but thought we’d lose you.”

“Where’s my horse? Who’s got him? Where’s he headed?”

“I guess I can’t hurt anymore, kid. My boss took that horse of yours. Loved him from the first time he saw him one night we went to town.” He coughed, spat blood. “I’m going to die, kid. I didn’t want any of this, but he’s hungry, the boss. Thurman Cosgrove’s his name. He’s headed for The Gloser Hills. Has a place up there.”
He coughed again, the strain wracking his body. “I guess I’ve paid him all I owed him, from way back. Just don’t let them wild pigs get me, kid. I know I can count on you for that. I didn’t want any of this. I knew it when we were at your ranch. That was a devil of a night. Some terrible screaming when we came across the prairie like the world was going to end.”

He spat again, the pain obviously growing. “I hope you don’t ever have to gun somebody else, kid. It hurts on your end, don’t it? It did for me the first time. I’m still sorry.”

In a twisting spasm that shook his whole body, he moaned again, gurgled again, spat again. The pistol fell to the rocky ground at his side with a sharp click. Out of the whole of night, sounds or silence came either at odds or associated with each other. A wolf howled from some dark recess elsewhere in the mountain range while Chuck’s horse snickered. And overhead a shooting star was silent in its sweeping trajectory, as if balancing all of life.

Chuck Curtin, caught up in the moment, said, “What’s your name?” He still held the rifle in his hands, waiting for an answer.

There was no response. The man’s name stayed with him, and Chuck Curtin buried man and name under a pile of rocks and stones. On a stake planted in the pile, Chuck Curtin scratched a message. It read, “He helped steal Chigger Boom and was sorry.”
The young stallion seeker, after saying due words over the body of a stranger, set out after his horse, his target the Cosgrove place in The Gloser Hills, a day’s ride away. He hoped that his second killing was not at hand, but he’d do anything to get his horse back.

He rode with intensity tying together all his energies, but at times knew the horse needed his rest too. Water from a stream and dry jerky was Chuck’s lunch. The sun was over his right shoulder for the earlier part of the day, and then, after hunger spoke its name at or near mid-day, rested on his back until he stopped to study the foothills leaning upward to The Gloser Hills.

To the end of his days Chuck Curtin swore that Chigger Boom, in a small corral with a rail fence, smelled him on the wind. The stallion snorted and snickered and raised such a clamor among other horses that three men came out of the small cabin to check on the disturbance.

“Hey, Boss,” one voice said, “it’s that new one you roped in. He must smell a cat out there or a bear or something he don’t like.”

“Yeh,” came a reply that Chuck could hear from his place behind a few trees. “I knew he was special the first time I saw him. We can go back in. It’s good he’ll let us know if anything gets close to the cabin. He’s better than a watch dog. Knew he was special all the way.”

The three men went back into the cabin, where a thin plume of smoke with aroma showed a cook stove was working. Darkness deepened and stars came out. A candle flickered in a window, then a lantern glowed and the window turned a pale orange. Once in a while a shadow passed its image across the window.

Later, well after midnight, with the cabin quiet, the lantern shut down, the orange glow gone, Chuck Curtin slipped into the corral and walked straight to Chigger Boom who seemingly stood at attention … horse and beloved master together again, his feeder, his trainer, the one who rubbed him down and kept him healthy, the one who fed him carrots and apples from his hand.

With that reception the three other horses stayed quiet as if under Chigger Boom’s spell. Beneath overhead planking Chuck found Chigger Boom’s saddle and saddle blanket. He cinched the saddle on the horse, mounted him and slowly lifted the bar at the gate.

Thoughts of the earlier killing came at him. He did not want to repeat that deed. To avoid one he leveled his rifle at the cabin, fired a single round that smashed the window and drove the horses out of the corral. Chigger Boom and his rider went ahead of their rush.

All animals were well out on the prairie before any of the men dared come out of the cabin.

Three days later, after a comfortable and happy ride, Chigger Boom and Chuck Curtin showed up at home. His father had already heard about the burial sign up in a canyon of the Saffron Hills, as had just about everybody in Rancho Lobo.

Many people in the next few years read that last testament for a man. The sign helped carry the tale wherever it was mentioned, in a saloon or barber shop or general store throughout Texas, and all the way to California and Montana and the other territories, about Chigger Boom and the Night the Devil Broke Loose.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: God of Clocks by Alan Campbell

ISBN: 9780330444781
Binding: B-Format Paperback
Pub. Date: 01-07-2010
Category: Science Fiction
Imprint: Tor UK
Pages: 500 page/s
Price: $22.99 AUD

The gates to Hell have been opened, releasing unnatural creatures and threatening to turn the world into a killing field. In the middle, caught between warring gods and fallen angels, humanity finds itself pushed to the brink of extinction. Its only hope is the most unlikely of heroes...

Former assassin Rachel Hael has rejoined the blood-magician Mina Greene and her devious little dog Basilis on one last desperate mission to save the world from the grip of Hell. Carried in the jaw of a debased angel, they rush to the final defensive stronghold of the god of clocks – pursued all the while by the twelve arconites, the great iron-and-bone automatons controlled by King Menoa, the lord of the maze.

But the strange fortress of the god of clocks is unlike anything they could ever have expected. And now old enemies and new allies join in a battle whose outcome could end them all...

Author Information

Alan Campbell was born in Falkirk and went to Edinburgh University. He worked as a designer/coder on the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto video games before deciding to pursue a career in writing and photography. His first Deepgate volume was Scar Night, and he now lives in south Lancashire.


Throughout this trilogy, I really like how Campbell gives each of the books their own 'feel'. Each one deals with a very different aspect of his universe; the first is primarily Deepgate; the second is Hell; and the third is time travel.

My only issue with this book is the ending. I believe it felt a bit rushed and slightly anti-climatic. I'm actually wondering if he does extend this series beyond this book.

Interesting series as a whole. Campbell is really good at imagining and describing these fantastic worlds, but I think that it's also his weakness. He seems to be more interested in developing the world and his vivid descriptions at the expense of the plot. As things start to get interesting, he pauses to describe everything around the characters, and it causes the story to slow down and break up.

Realm by James Jackson

ISBN 1848540027(978-184-854002-6)
RRP $32.99 August 2010
John Murray Paperback (Royal)

1588. In Lisbon the great Spanish Armada prepares to set sail for England. Along the coast of the Low Countries, the army of the Duke of Parma readies itself for embarkation. Threat is imminent. Yet behind it is a darker and more secretive game, one of espionage and murder, of treachery and deceit. The stiletto-blade to the back, the poison in the chalice, the tortuerer's rack in the dungeon. This is the realm of the spy. And at its heart is the legendary Elizabethan spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. One-by-one his intelligence sources vanish, day-by-day the danger to his queen and country grows. Finally, he sends the young soldier and agent Christian Hardy to discover the truth. But to reach it, Hardy must confront the deadliest of foes, the Spanish Inquisition, turncoats among his own, and the might of the enemy fleet. Time is running out. For Hardy, for England, for its sovereign queen Elizabeth...


The Armada is coming... Well it is in this fantastic historical fiction set in 1588, in Lisbon. We see the great Spanish Armada preparing to set sail for England from Lisbon. Along the coast of the Low Countries, the army of the Duke of Parma readies itself for embarkation. Threat is imminent. Yet behind it is a darker and more secretive game, one of espionage and murder, of treachery and deceit. The stiletto-blade to the back, the poison in the chalice, the tortuerer's rack in the dungeon. This is the realm of the spy. And at its heart is the legendary Elizabethan spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.

One-by-one his intelligence sources vanish, day-by-day the danger to his queen and country grows. Finally, he sends the young soldier and agent Christian Hardy to discover the truth. But to reach it, Hardy must confront the deadliest of foes, the Spanish Inquisition, turncoats among his own, and the might of the enemy fleet. Time is running out. For Hardy, for England, for its sovereign queen Elizabeth...

'This is history - and terrific history - on every page' -- Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal.

James Jackson has written four previous thrillers, including the acclaimed Blood Rock and Pilgrim, available in John Murray paperback. His non-fiction works include The Counter-Terrorist Handbook. A former political risk consultant and a postgraduate in military studies, he is also a qualified barrister and member of the Inner Temple. He lives in London.

These credentials ensure that Jackson’s historical fiction is written with extreme accuracy and detail. Excellent work.

Review: A Touch of Dead: A Sookie Stackhouse Collection by Charlaine Harris

ISBN 0575094443(978-057-509444-4)
RRP $22.99 September 2010
Gollancz Paperback (198 x 129)

Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her job as a cocktail waitress in Merlotte's, a small-town bar in small-town Bon Temps, deep in Louisiana. She's funny and pretty and, thanks to her grandmother, she's very well-mannered - but since not many people truly appreciate her ability to read their minds, the guys haven't exactly been beating down her door... And then along came Bill, tall, dark and handsome - and Sookie couldn't 'hear' a word he was thinking. He was exactly the type of guy she'd been waiting all her life for. Of course, Bill had a disability of his own: fussy about his food, not into suntans, bit of a night person: yep, Bill was a vampire. But at least now Sookie knows there *are* guys she can date who won't worry about her catching them thinking about other women - and that's going to make Sookie's life really interesting!


Harris has produced a long awaited anthology of Sookie Stackhouse stories. I liked that Harris said that a) she made them short stories because they just didn’t fit into the flow of the novels b) that they didn’t always work. I can understand that feeling.

There are five stories within the covers of this latest instalment by Ms Harris, that will keep the fan’s appetites wet and also gives them a bit more of a taste of each character.

Fairy Dust –The Fairy twins Claudine and Claude need Sookie’s help to solve a mystery.

Dracula Night – The legend has it that on his birthday Dracula will grace one birthday party for him somewhere in the world and Eric prays it’s his party.

One Word Answer – This answers what happened to Sookie’s cousin in respects to the Queen of Louisiana.

Lucky – Amelia and Sookie have to find out who’s sabotaging a local insurance agent.

Gift Wrap – Sookie saves a shape shifter. I didn’t like this one. This one illustrated why I’m beginning to lose interesting the novels, everyone wants to sleep with Sookie. Snooze..

Monday, September 20, 2010

Legends! Beasts and Monsters by Anthony Horowitz

Binding:B-Format Paperback
Pub. Date:01-07-2010
Category: Children's: General Fiction
Imprint: Macmillan
Pages: 160 page/s
Price:$12.99 AUD

Don't mess with the gods. And if they mess with you? Run like hell...
Including Gorgons, Banshees, Dragons, Sphinxes and more!
There was a time when monsters and dragons roamed the earth and the gods walked among us. A time of blood, swords and furious battles. A time of legends, heroes, darkness and death...

The first in a series of masterful retellings of classic myths from the legendary Anthony Horowitz.

Author Information

Anthony Horowitz is a prolific writer for film, theatre and television, but he is best loved for his brilliant children's stories, which include the internationally best-selling series about teenage MI6 agent Alex Rider. He lives in London and has two teenage sons.


Mythical creatures have been lurking in our cultural woodwork for centuries, and Anthony Horowitz is happily reimagining their classic tales in Legends: Beasts and Monsters.

The Dragon and Saint George, The Sphinx's Riddle, The Legend of Medusa and The Heroism of Perseus...Horowitz gives each his own personal tweak and polish, retaining much of what made the originals so iconic while giving the stories a welcome update and dusting. It's obvious he's having a lot of fun with this collection, especially with the featured illustrations and his mini-quiz of monsters at the end of the book.

While it's somewhat disappointing that all of the included stories are from Western cultures--one is Native American, the rest are European--Horowitz's choices are among the cream of the crop when it comes to exciting and inspiring myths. (The mini-quiz is a bit more egalitarian in its scope, however.) Legends: Beasts and Monsters will serve as a gateway for younger readers to explore the vast amount of mythology stories on the shelves. Horowitz' series is going to be popular with young readers with movies such as Clash of the Titans and Percy Jackson being big hits recently.

Review: Of Saints and Shadows By Christopher Golden

Trade Paperback, 400 pages
List Price: $22.99
Product Details
Simon & Schuster UK, September 2010
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
ISBN-10: 184739924X
ISBN-13: 9781847399243


A secret sect of the Catholic Church, armed with an ancient book of the undead called The Gospel of Shadows, has been slowly destroying vampires for centuries. Now the book has been stolen, and the sect races to retrieve it before their purpose is discovered: a final purge of all vampires. As the line between saints and shadows grows ominously faint, private eye Peter Octavian is drawn into the search. And he'll do anything to find the book ... for Peter Octavian is also a vampire.

Ostracized by his kindred for refusing to take part in the 'blood song', he cannot stand by and watch while they are destroyed. In a deadly game with a driven, sadistic assassin, the trail leads to Venice at the time of carnival, where the Defiant Ones, as the vampires are known, are engaged in a savage battle for their lives. Filled with plot twists, mystery, sex and violent death, Of Saints and Shadows is a spine-tingling thriller which opens the door to the world of The Shadow Saga.


I found this book quite by accident and immediately fell in love. This is a completely different take on vampires and is actually my favorite novel - beating out Tanya Huff's series and even the Anita Blake series.

If you like vampire or horror novels you will love this book.
Our hero is Peter Octavian, a vampire called a "defiant one", and definitely one of the good guys. He is a private investigator investigating a missing persons case for a friend of his.

What makes Peter so likeable is that he is a great guy, but he is also all alone. He left his fellow vampires because he did not believe in their beliefs, and struck out on his own. He knows secrets about vampires that could help his vampire family, but no one believes him. They think of him as an outcast.

When you read about Peter, and realize what a good person he is, and how caring he is of humans, his fellow vampires and even the world in general, you really grow to like him. Also he is such a good strong guy, and you empathize with him because he is all alone without anyone to call family or friend.

Peter gets pulled into a missing persons case that will lead him to a conspiracy involving his "family" of vampires, the church, other "evil" vampire clans and a variety of very interesting characters.

This is a very innovative and creative vampire novel. The main idea is that the Catholic church has been controlling vampires and numerous other supernatural creatures for centuries. The church has convinced the vampires through brainwashing that they are vulnerable to things they actually are not vulnerable to, thus making them less powerful than they actually are. A few vampires have somehow managed to avoid this programming and set out to share the word

Review: Henry VIII: Wolfman by A.E Moorat

ISBN 1444705202(978-144-470520-1)
RRP $22.99 August 2010
Hodder Paperbacks Paperback (B)

HENRY VIII: WOLFMAN. DIVORCED. BEHEADED. DIED. MAULED. SAVAGED. SURVIVED. Henry VIII was the best and bloodiest King ever to have sat on the throne of England. This fast-paced, exciting, gory, inventive and just plain gross retelling of his reign will bring to light the real man behind the myth. When it came to his size, Henry VIII was known for being larger-than-life, with a fearsome temper and bloodthirsty reputation to match; more beast than human, some might say... Be dragged kicking and screaming back 500 years into Tudor England.


There will be those who like this book because it is a combination of old and new, and those who won’t even pick this up because it is another book hot on the tail of the Pride and Predjudice and Zombies. This one was written so quickly it has a lot of little errors of history and a fair number of types, but it must be said that it moves along fast and is perfect for airplanes or trains or the beach. There is a fair amount of blood and gore to keep the avid horror fan entertained, but it may be a bit much for those not used to this graphic imagery of such novels.

The characterizations of familiar historical figures are always witty and in some cases really clever: Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More make very memorable appearances. Henry VIII himself is a little ponderous, but then, I suppose he was in real life, too. Very well set up for a sequel, which should, by the way this is written be very soon.

Review: Beefheart - Through the Eyes of Magic


ISBN: 9780956121219
Binding: Hardback
Pub. Date: 01-07-2010
Category: Composers and Musicians
Imprint: Omnibus Press
Pages: 880 page/s
Stock: New, Available
Price: $59.95 AUD

A no-holds barred account of working with Captain Beefheart drawing on new reminiscences and interviews with all the key players from the inside and around the Magic Band and the cross pollinated Mothers of Invention.

John French is better qualified than anyone to talk about Beefheart, joining the Magic Band in 1966 at the age of 17 just before recording their Safe As Milk debut album, finding himself plunged into a tyrannical regime which would dominate his life for the next 14 years as he played a major role in eight subsequent albums, including translating the mindblowing avant-blues assault of 1969's Trout Mask Replica into readable music for the Magic Band from the Captain's piano poundings under torturous conditions he likens to a cult


You don’t have to be a fan of the Magic Band to enjoy this book. If not, I can imagine that you might come out of it wanting to explore the music, such is the dedication and detail with which French describes his journey from teenager onwards at the heart of a unique and unreplicated musical process, and with the help of an exceptional discography companion at the end.

If you are a fan of who you think is Captain Beefheart – the man or the myth, or a little of both – you might be advised to approach this book with care, because whilst some indications of an uncomfortable ‘other thing’ were there – as I experienced it, through articles and Mike Barnes’s biography (I haven't yet read Lunar Notes) – nothing could prepare a dedicated fan for the extent of the scenes described in this book. But that’s the point – this is Beefheart, through the eyes of Magic, and it’s an amazing journey of discovery.

As a well known cohort of Frank Zappa’s, Beefheart revolutionized a form of bizarro rock that came from the high deserts of California and took Don and the Magic Band around the world over three multi-colored decades. John French (given the moniker ‘Drumbo’ during the sessions for the famed ‘Trout Mask Replica’ album) sat behind the drums for Beefheart for eight albums, (beginning with ‘Safe as Milk’) and has recounted the behind the scenes going-ons throughout discombobulated recording sessions and wild global romps that solidified the Captain’s image in the hearts of fans of rock’s outer fringes for years.

There is an incredibly detailed social and historical perspective on the development of the local bands in the desert where French grew up, a seeming antidote to newly built settlements in barren surroundings. He describes three generations of musicians who contributed to the Magic Band lineups over a decade and a half, and he interviews many of them, including those who resolutely remained on the outside of the increasingly claustrophobic and isolated unit. It’s one story of mid-20th century American youth and you really feel the essence of French as a child / teenager – and see how that changes as he grows older.

There are some interesting appearances, both on and off the road, including Ornette Coleman, Wild Man Fischer and Jim Morrison, but they are just that – cameos. You get the impression French yearned for more contact with musicians outside his immediate circle, but was denied it. My admiration for Frank Zappa, who as you’d expect comes and goes throughout the book, only grew through reading this book. He comes across as an incredibly talented, intelligent man who wasn’t afraid to let his musicians experiment and express the talents they had. A complete dude.

What was the thing I read Beefheart said, that after recording the album, they had to exorcise the trees?

Similar themes continue throughout the book, but never in the same ways. In frightening, insidious, joyful events and conversations, through French growing older, not playing music, returning to the Captain, separation, re-connecting with his religion, fatherhood, purging the magic, and beyond.