New Short Story Available Now!

Starting today, you can pick up an electronic copy of my short story “Bad Press” for only $0.99! That is literally less than a dollar. It’s currently available (as of September 10th at noon) on iBooks and Barnes & Noble, among others, and should pop up on Amazon within the next day or two.

Here’s the brief description of the story:

Eddie Hazzard’s name is being smeared in the press, and he’s going to get to the bottom of it. To restore his honor, he’ll have to contend not just with the reporter who impugned him, but with a whole host of violent enemies who want him dead. It’s just another day in the life of Eddie Hazzard, Hard-Boiled Detective, in this speculative fiction version of a cassingle. Remember cassingles? Man, those were awesome.

Go give it a read while you wait for Book Five!

Book 4 Cover Reveal and Release Date

Hey, folks! I’m all finished getting the fourth book of the Hazzard Pay series, Crooked Halos, set up! That means it’s time to get it out there. Here’s the synopsis/back cover blurb for the book:

In Arcadia, no one is innocent. This is true even for Dresden Crowder, Eddie Hazzard’s old partner from his days on the Arcadia police force. While the city considers Crowder to be a hero who sacrificed his health and well-being for the sake of the city, Hazzard knows better: Crowder was a crooked cop who framed Eddie and got him kicked off the force.

Now, Crowder is suddenly back in town with murder on his mind and a patsy to frame. Three guesses as to who the patsy will be. Hazzard has to save Crowder’s would-be victim—who actually wants to be murdered—salvage his own tarnished reputation, and survive against a whole host of villains, all while trying to shut down organized crime once and for all in the city. Poor odds? Little chance of success? Yup, this is definitely a case for Eddie Hazzard.

And here’s the cover:

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The book will be available this Friday, August 10th! You can get it from Amazon or from a number of other fine distributors, as is your wont. The dead trees edition will be available this weekend as well, for those who still prefer to read that way.

I keep getting asked about audiobooks and when I’ll have those available. The sort answer: not unless the ebooks or physical books really take off. Audiobooks are expensive, unless you’re doing it yourself (and no one wants to hear me drone on for hours and hours, reading my stuff and being impressed with my own cleverness. Or do they? I don’t know).

But anyway: book! Buy it! I worked really hard on this one for a really long time. I think it is pretty darn good. That is all.

The Hidden Throne Pre-Order!

Book Two, The Hidden Throne, is now available for pre-order! It goes live on October 20th, a week from tomorrow. I’m very excited that this one is finally getting out there. I’m hoping to have Book Three ready sometime in February or March.

I’m very proud of this book. I’ve spent the past five years working on it, really, tweaking things and making it the best it can possibly be. I hope you’ll pick it up. Like The Invisible Crown, it’s only $2.99 for the ebook. That’s cheaper than a latte at Starbucks.

Recovering Orphans

I’m sure most authors have lots of bits and pieces of writing, scenes or chunks of dialogue that got cut from a story because they didn’t fit the tone or killed the pace or just weren’t really needed. Orphans, I call them. Pieces of writing that don’t fit into any existing work, or that were cut for whatever (often very valid!) reason. A lot of it is stuff you might actually like, that could be very well-written, but just not what was needed. They say authors need to kill their darlings, a reminder while editing that just because you love some thing you wrote doesn’t mean it belongs in the book you’re writing. But I’m not sure you have to kill them, per se. I think you can save them, tuck them away in a folder somewhere in the off chance that someday, somewhere, you’ll find the spot for that little piece that you wrote. You’ll find it a home, a forever home, and the warm glow in the pit of your stomach will leave you feelin’ fine.

I’ve got a couple of places I store such orphans. There’s a folder in Dropbox that has everything I’ve written related to Eddie Hazzard over the years. There’s lots of Word documents with a paragraph or two jotted down, an exchange between characters or the description of a scene or a crime that I want to keep because I like the idea. I also have a note on my phone of Hazzard lines, usually short bits of dialogue or a quip from Eddie that I particularly like (these often end up getting shared on Twitter for the #1LineWed hashtag game). Many, if not most, of those will end up in a Hazzard story someday. A couple of them I’ve actually written short stories or scenes in a book around already.

Below, I’ve decided to share an orphan that I really like, one that may someday fit into a book or a short story or…something. I hope you like it.

* * *

It takes a lot to get me to blink. I’m not a man prone to backing off from a confrontation, which has brought me sorrow and pain more times than I can count.

But it’s just not in me to back down from a fight. I can’t do it.

Which is how I found myself staring across a room full of people at my nemesis, one Maribelle Vander Grove. Her skirt was pleated and pressed perfectly, her white blouse was unblemished by wrinkle or food stain, not a hair was out of place on her head. Her whole demeanor put my carelessly rumpled self to shame.

“Well?” I asked, not breaking eye contact.

“Jane Seymour,” she responded evenly.

I broke away first and glanced around at the rest of the room. Ten other children, all aged about 12, sat there, staring back at me. “Is that, um, is that right?” I asked.

Joey Standlin, a skinny kid who managed to project an aura of pocket protector-ness even though he was dressed identically to everyone else in the room and wasn’t wearing a pocket protector, cleared his throat hesitantly. “Um, yes, Mr. Hazzard, Maribelle is correct.”

I straightened up from the defensive crouch I’d instinctively taken during my confrontation with the child. “Well, then, a point to Maribelle,” I said.

My name’s Eddie Hazzard, and I’m a private detective currently pretending to be a substitute teacher. My coffee is most definitely spiked.

 

Philosophy Jokes and New Writing

After spending all of last week down with the sickness (i.e., strep), I’m feeling much better as the final week of the third quarter begins.  Spring Break is close, the weather is turning spring-like, and all the students are complaining about things like having to take exams and come to class and do work and why is there such a thing as school anyway?  Admittedly, students complain regardless of the time of year, so I’m not sure that’s an indicator of the arrival of spring.

Spring has also brought with it a renewed writing energy.  I’ve been in a bit of a prose slump lately, focusing more on writing songs (though even that has slowed to a trickle in the past month or so), so when I woke up with an idea for a Hazzard story today, I decided it was time to run with it.

I don’t know where in the Hazzard timeline this story takes place quite yet (after Book 2, at the very least).  It may end up bumping Books 3, 4, 5, etc., further down the road.  It might just be a short story or a novella, I don’t know yet.  I have been doing some broad-strokes plotting, which is generally all the more specific my plotting gets.  I thought I’d share a bit of this roughest of outlines with you, just for fun:

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As you can see, it’s far from a complete, detailed outline, but I only started working on it this morning.  More will come with time.

I’m also pretty pleased with the working title, The Long Fall into Darkness.  Is that subject to change?  You betcha!  As a working title, though, it’s got some legs.

Looking Back Through the Mists of Time

If you’ve read The Invisible Crown and stuck around to read the Acknowledgements page, you might’ve noticed I talked about the long gestational period the story went through.  While I can no longer find the notebook I wrote the original story in way back in the summer of 2002, I did find a file on Dropbox the other day labeled “Hazzard 1 Rewrite.”  It is exactly what it sounds like – a new draft of the original story, written after the version created for the Writing Group in 2004-2005.  I was working to refine the thing, but this particular draft was abandoned about two pages in for some reason.  I thought it might be fun to share this nigh-ancient version of part of the first chapter.  For me, it’s fun because I get to see how much of the characters and setting were solidly in place from the very beginning,  and how much Eddie Hazzard has changed over time (he used to be an even bigger asshole, if you can imagine that).  Also, apparently I thought “Stoover” was an acceptable character name.

Please don’t hold any terrible prose or awful character choices against me.  This is over a decade old; when this was written, I was still an unmarried twit back then.

* * *

It was too early in the morning for me to be at work.  That is to say, it was still morning.  I generally prefer waiting until well after noon to start my day, and today especially should have been one of those days.  I was nursing a hangover, the sort that would kill a lesser man.

They say the best way to deal with a hangover is to have a drink of whatever you got drunk on.  I got out of my chair and walked over to a file cabinet.  The top drawer was labeled “Hard Evidence,” and the bottom was labeled “Hard Stuff.”  I went for the latter, pulled out a bottle that should have had a skull and crossbones on the label, and took a pull straight from the bottle.  My head cleared, and I staggered back to my worn-out chair, ready for a nap.

The sign on my frosted-glass door reads: “Eddie Hazzard, Hard Boiled Detective.”  Currently I’m not only hard boiled, but slightly pickled.  Such culinary feats are not my concern, though.  My concerns are normally 5’7”, red-headed, and sultry.  And at 11:00 AM this particular morning, one hell of a concern slinked into my office and fought my faithful bottle for attention.  She won.  Dames usually do.  Granted, the dames are usually what drive me to the bottle in the first place.

She slammed the door behind her, which brought me back to the land of the conscious.  I dropped the bottle, which rolled across the floor and came to a rest against her black high heel.  “A little early to be hitting the sauce, isn’t it, Detective Hazzard?” she asked in a clipped, much too precise way.

“Hey, it’s lunchtime somewhere in the world, lady,” I replied blearily.

“Are you the so-called ‘hard-boiled detective’ of this…establishment?” she asked.  She looked around my bare, shabby office for a place to sit that wasn’t covered in stacks of overdue bills, old coffee cups, or unidentifiable stains of questionable origins.  She gave up and just stood.

“Lady, I’m hard boiled, soft boiled, scrambled—I do all sorts of detecting.”  She frowned a little at me—women do that way too much—and said she had a case for me, if I was interested.  My body said “no,” but my bill collectors said “yes,” so I asked her what the case was.

“My name is Vera Stoover.  My husband, Wally, has disappeared.”

“That’s a real shame, lady,” I said, digging a cigarette out of the pack and lighting it up.

“Yes, well, he was scheduled to testify against some…gentlemen of questionable virtue in court next week, but he disappeared on his way to a safehouse.”

“So you think these guys grabbed him, huh?”

“I’m certain he’s been abducted by those men, Detective Hazzard,” she said in a low voice.  Her bosom moved in a way that I was sure was illegal in most states.  “Will you please find him for me?  I’ll pay you handsomely.”  She pouted, her full bottom lip protruding obscenely.  I couldn’t tell if she was doing this on purpose or was really just that sort of classic noir bombshell.  I decided I didn’t care.

I told her I didn’t care if the money was pretty or ugly, just so long as it was real.  She handed me a photograph of a skinny, sallow-checked man in an expensive suit and a hat that went out of style back in the 1940s.  “This is Wally,” she said.  “As you can see, there’s not much too him.  I fear he may be injured…or worse.”   She reached into her bag and pulled out a slip of paper with two names: Guido and Billy Sunshine.  I’d heard of them before; they were definitely bad news.  Then she pulled out a roll of twenties and handed it to me.

“I’m very thankful for your help, Detective Hazzard,” she said.  “This is a small advance for your services.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Stoover, I’ll find your husband,” I said, mustering as much confidence as I could manage.  She smiled weakly and slunk back out of my office, and the view drug me out of my alcohol haze long enough to wonder if I’d maybe made a bad mistake.  I retrieved my bottle and took another pull.  Times like these made me wish I’d listened to my mother and played in traffic when I was a kid.

* * *

My first stop in my search was the corner of 4th and Shirley Temple Avenue, locally known as “No!  Not my knee!”  It was the favored hangout of unemployed bodyguards, thugs, and hired goons.  These were the kind of grunts who made a living teaching anyone who got too close or asked the wrong questions a “lesson.”  Ironic, really, considering most of them had the educational equivalent of flunking kindergarten.  Granted, a lesson taught by one of these simpletons wasn’t one you’d forget in a hurry.  It was a very blunt education.  Or occasionally sharp, if they put a nail in the stick or used a knife.

They spent most of their free time doing pretty much the same stuff they did when they were employed, only without the guidance, direction, or discipline of working for a mob boss.  Folks tended to stay as far away from this area as possible; yet here I was, walking right into it.  Sometimes, the hero has to do brave but stupid things.  Or he might just be completely stupid.  You never can tell.

I had a certain thug in mind, a gorilla of a man named Vinny.  Vinny didn’t have the intelligence of a gorilla, mind you—no, an ape has a few more braincells banging around in their skulls than Vinny does—but he was the approximate shape and size of one and had about as much hair on his body.  Vinny stood about 6’8” and weighed 350 pounds.  He sort of stooped over, and you almost expected to see his hairy knuckles drag the ground.  He had a slopping forehead, thick eyebrow (there was only one, of course), and tiny, beady eyes.  In a word, Neanderthal.  Not that he’d understand the word.  They called him Vinny the Pooh, because most of the people he paid a visit to were prone to crapping themselves whenever they saw him.

I found Vinny standing in the mouth of a small side alley, blocking daylight for the poor sap he had cornered.  “Th’ Boss wants yer to pay up by t’morrow, or else.”  Most people said “or else” with an implied ellipsis at the end of it, as though the worst part of the threat was that you didn’t know what would come next.  But with Vinny, it was obvious what was to come: a beating so severe your grandmother would feel it.  He didn’t have to threaten; he merely promised great pain if his demands weren’t met to the letter.  It was amazing how often the poorest of men somehow managed to scrape together a loan payment after a visit from Vinny.

Vinny shuffled aside with all the speed and grace of continental drift and the guy scurried out of the alleyway as fast as his rubbery legs would carry him.  Vinny’s piggy eyes followed his fleeing prey but got distracted when I stepped into view.

“Whudda you want?” he asked in his gravelly drawl.

“I need to see your boss, Vinny,” I said, trying my best to keep my knees from knocking.  The trick with guys like Vinny was to never show them fear and hint that you would bleed much too easily to make it worth their bother hitting you.  It’s a delicate balance to say the least.

Vinny took a minute to process my request, his brow furrowing like plowed field.  Then he finally said, “Tuba no wanna talk witchu.  He still ain’t happy ‘bout whatchu done to Four Eyes.”  He meant Four Eyes Malone, the Tuba’s accountant.  I’d sent Malone up the river for a sum in the federal pen a few months ago.  It was rumored that Malone’s incarceration ended up costing the Tuba millions of dollars in missed opportunities and poor interim bookkeeping.

“Look, Vinny, let’s let bygones be bygones,” I said, smiling.  When his brow furrowed in concentration and confusion again, I said, “Hey, let’s forget the past.  I’m sorry about Four Eyes, and I really need to talk to the Tuba.  Where is he?”

Vinny stood there for a moment, then finally rumbled, “He’s at the Speakeasy on 8th Street.”

“The Speakeasy?” I asked.

“Yuh, that,” Vinny the Pooh said, then shambled off to find something else to beat up.

Solitaire, Part 7

The Red Ace has escaped, but Eddie is hot on her trail.  Will he catch up to the thief?  Will he get the files he needs?  Let’s find out!  Make sure to check out Eddie’s next adventure, The Invisible Crown, available tomorrow! 

* * *

I pulled up a vid window and called Miss Typewell.  “Ellen, it’s Eddie,” I said, standing up and checking on the two guards.  They were both unconscious, probably had some broken bones, but they’d live.  “I just planted a tracer on our good friend the Red Ace.  I’m sending you the access code now.  Can you upload the signal to my GPS?”  Folks rarely notice the little details of a casual touch; when I’d patted her shoulder, I’d slipped a GPS tracer under the collar of her shirt.

“Sure thing, Eddie,” she replied.  “Things go wrong at the precinct?”

“Of course they did,” I said as I stepped into the hallway.  Another guard at the end of the hall was on the floor, also unconscious.  I was clearly on the right trail even without the GPS signal.  “Looks like Red Ace just dealt herself a losing hand,” I said.

“Eddie, are the bad puns really necessary?” Miss Typewell asked wearily.

“If it weren’t for bad puns, I’d have nothing to say,” I respond.

“And what a tragedy that would be,” Miss Typewell said as she closed her vid window.

* * *

By the time I left the 4th Precinct, the tracer had come online.  A small vid window over my left eye painted a bullseye on the Red Ace’s location.  She was on the move, and she was fast.

The tracer’s signal eventually led me back into Old Town, down around 43rd and Watterson Ave.  This was a slightly run-down neighborhood, one with security windows and bars on the doors.  According to the signal, Red Ace had slipped into an apartment building on the corner, and was about six floors up.

The front door of the building was open, so I slipped in as quickly and quietly as I could.  I took the elevator up to the sixth floor.  At apartment 604, the GPS was blinking at me like crazy, so I knew I’d found my target.  I jimmied the lock and stepped inside, the popgun drawn.

The front room was empty, and not just of people.  There was nothing in the room at all, and some rather concerning scrapes along the far wall that looked like an animal had dragged some claws across it.  I crept through as quietly as possible, cutting through the small kitchen/dining area which was, again, empty of anything.

The back hallway led to two bedrooms and a bathroom.  The bathroom contained nothing.  The first bedroom contained what I’d been looking for: a small filing cabinet full of files, and the black shirt Red Ace had been wearing, folded and sitting in the middle of the floor.  On top of the neatly-folded shirt was a note, addressed to me.  It read:

Detective Hazzard,

I have enjoyed our little game, though I feel as if I’ve been playing by myself while you sat on the sidelines, drooling on yourself.  You may not have been the cleverest of opponents, but you were rather determined and dogged, and I can admire that.  The filing cabinet contains the documents you were looking for.  My client, I’m sad to say, refuses to give up their identity, so you’ll have to be content with merely solving your case.

Oh, and do be careful.  There’s a guard bear in the apartment, and she hasn’t been fed in a few days.

Good luck!

Cordially,

The Red Ace

(Alice)

I read and re-read the note twice, trying to make sense of the whole thing.  This hadn’t been the hardest case in my career, but it certainly hadn’t been a game, either.  I reached into the filing cabinet and grabbed the documents, shoving them into a pocket inside my coat.

Then I really processed the whole note, and turned around to see nine feet of furry violence behind me.

It was a brown bear, I think.  Maybe a grizzly.  I’m not really sure, and honestly I didn’t want to take the time to find out.  It had a surveillance camera hard-wired to the vision centers of its brain, allowing someone to track what the bear saw.  The things had been all the rage a decade or two ago, but they’d fallen out of style because, even with the intelligence amplifiers and behavior controls, guard bears were still tremendously unpredictable.

This one growled at me, a deep rumble in the back of its throat, and stood as tall as the low ceiling would allow it.  “How did they even get you in here?” I asked in disbelieving astonishment as the thing wound up to take swing at me.  I ducked back, and the large paw took out the filing cabinet instead.  The metal cabinet flipped end over end across the room, slamming into a wall to my left with a loud clung, laying on its side with the filing drawers hanging out.  I glanced around, looking for an exit, and saw only the window behind me.  Mind you, I was six stories up; not exactly where you want to be if you’re jumping out a window.

On the other hand, when you’re staring up at an angry and, if the letter was accurate, hungry bear, pretty much anything else looks good by comparison.

The bear took another swipe at me, this time with more power behind it.  I barely managed to dodge out of the way.  The bear’s claws scored the wall on the right hand side of the room with deep gashes.  That window was looking pretty tempting at this point.

“What the hell do I have to lose?” I muttered, jamming my hat down on my head and running toward the window at top speed.

Security glass shattered around me, the fragments flashing angry red letters to let anyone who cared to check that a window in the building had been broken.  The alley between this building and the next was thankfully narrow, and I slammed into the metal railing of a fire escape, knocking the breath out of me.  I chanced a quick glance behind me and saw the bear reaching through the window, persistent and angry.  I couldn’t remember whether you were supposed to try to make yourself bigger and scare bears away, or curl up and make yourself smaller so they wouldn’t consider you a threat, but decided it didn’t matter and crawled over the railing of the fire escape to reach the ladder down to the next level.  Behind me, the bear roared its frustration, which only served to speed up my efforts.  The fire escape shook, metal groaned, and suddenly the safety scaffold was sagging towards the ground several stories below.  I held on for dear life until I saw a dumpster below, the lid open and something suitably soft-looking inside.  Again, figuring I had nothing left to lose, I let go of the fire escape and dropped into the dumpster.

The dumpster’s contents weren’t as soft as I’d assumed, but they weren’t as hard as the pavement.  The wind was knocked out of me by the impact, but I coughed and gasped and sputtered, lying there among the trash.  When I’d caught my breath, I dared another peek up at the room I’d jumped out of.  The guard bear was nowhere to be seen, which was good.  I’d escaped with my life and the documents.

“Guess we’ll call that a win,” I wheezed to myself, clawing for the rim of the dumpster.

* * *

I took the bundle of documents and stuffed them into a large manila envelope, slapped a few stamps on the front, and dropped the parcel in Miss Typewell’s outgoing mail tray in the office.  She didn’t ask any questions or even make any snarky comments about the fact I was covered in garbage.  I made my way back into the inner office, slumping into my desk chair and reopening a minimized vid window hovering low over the scarred surface of my desk.  It displayed solitaire game #2,146, all of which had been loses.  Some of those games had been close – on more than one occasion, a single missing card was all that stood between me and total victory.

I looked over the cards blearily, scanning for a move, any move, that I could make.

All I needed to start the cascade of cards that would signal a victory was a red ace, but none were available.

With a wry chuckle, I pinched the vid window shut and reached for a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Solitaire, Part 6

Eddie has captured Red Ace, and now it’s time to interrogate the mysterious burglar.  What could possibly go wrong?  Come back tomorrow for the story’s exciting conclusion! 

* * *

The interrogation room at Precinct 4 was a stark, utilitarian affair.  It was not a room that the 21st century had touched, let alone the 22nd.  The walls were bare, the table was made of a single piece of machined aluminum bolted to the floor, and the chairs were uncomfortably Puritanical in design and form.  One wall was the traditional one-way mirror, and the door was set in the opposite wall.  The one token nod to modernity was the small video camera that floated in the air above the table, maneuvering on small air jets to take in the whole room.

Red Ace was already there when I arrived, unmasked and handcuffed to the chair across from the one-way mirror.  Turns out the burglar was a woman with a close-cropped shock of bright red hair and a dark complexion.  Her eyes were a pale green, but burned with a fierce anger borne of (1) being stuck in an interrogation room and (2) having been caught by me.

“Red Ace, how nice to finally meet the real you,” I said as I walked in.  I patted her on the shoulder as I skirted the table and took a seat across from her, my back to the one-way mirror.  The door clicked shut behind her, locking again and only openable from the outside.  She sat in her chair, resolutely saying nothing.

“So, what’s your name,” I asked, pressing on against the tidal wave of annoyed silence emanating from her.

The silence continued, unabated.

“You might as well say something,” I opined, hoping she’d open up after such a clever bon mot.

She didn’t.

“You’re only making things worse for yourself, y’know,” I said.  “Even now, Captain O’Mally’s getting a search warrant to toss your place.  We’ll find the files, and we’ll find all the other stuff you’ve been stealing lately, too.  It’s just a matter of time.”

This time, she snorted a laugh, and a smile that had nothing to do with humor flickered across her face.

“They won’t find anything in my place,” she finally said, a sneer on her lips.  “And your client will just have to live with the fact that she’ll never have those files she wants.”  Her voice had a slight accent, a melodic lilt that was difficult to place but made her seem exotic.  It was the sort of voice you could fall in love with, if it weren’t for the fact she was a notorious thief.

“You know, you’ve got a nice voice.  It was a shame to hide it behind the vocal modulator like you did.”

“It’s chauvinists like you who are the reason I did it,” she replied defiantly.  “I hate being judged by what I look like, or what I sound like.  Never for my abilities, always for my physical characteristics!”

I raised my hands defensively.  “Easy, tiger, I was just trying to make conversation.  Don’t get so defensive.”

Red Ace sat there casually, a defiant and confident sneer playing across her face.  “Your kind is always the same.  You think you know everything, but you’re just as ignorant and self-serving as anyone else.  You’re just less honest with yourself.”

I was starting to get annoyed.  “Look, lady, I’m sure your degree in gender studies or whatever makes you imminently qualified to lecture me on this,” I said, “but all I really want to know is who you’re working for.”

This time, she gave me another smile, one that not only still had nothing to do with humor but that promised someone wasn’t going to find what happened next funny at all.  “Detective, that’s not really an issue right now.  What is at issue is that I will be out of here in the next few minutes, and the only thing I’m not yet sure of is whether you’ll be able to walk out under your own power or not.”

I shifted uneasily in my chair.  “You do realize you’re handcuffed to a chair, right?” I asked.

Red Ace barked a short, sharp laugh, shoved her chair back away from the table, and flipped over the back of it, bringing her handcuffed hands in front of her in the process.  “A little help!” I called out to the floating camera, hoping the guards who had been posted right outside the door would be able to do something about this new turn of events.

The guards burst in, stun batons raised and ready.  But Red Ace was ready, too, and swung her chair in a wide arc, catching both guards across the face and knocking them down.  She knelt down and grabbed the handcuff neutralizer, touching it to the band on first her right and then her left wrist, deactivating the cuffs.  Rubbing her wrists, she then grabbed the two guards’ stun batons, twirled them like she’d spent her life leading a marching band, then turned to me.  The whole display had taken all of maybe ten seconds, and I hadn’t even had time to think about getting out of my chair.

“Well, detective, what will it be?” she asked, twirling the baton in her left hand.

Call me a coward, but I know when I’m beat.  “I like walking,” I said, hands in the air with resignation.

“I thought you might,” she replied.  She turned and walked out the door, balanced and poised as a dancer.

Solitaire, Part 5

Eddie has captured the burglar Red Ace.  The local police captain, Edison O’Mally, wants some answers from our hero.  Come back tomorrow for part 6! 

* * *

Captain Edison O’Mally of the Arcadia Police Department stood near the door while a uniform took my statement outside the Funeral Parlor.  Two more uniformed officers were rolling Red Ace into a custody wagon, the bubble from the popgun having not dissolved yet.

“So you just happened to be having a quiet drink when a known criminal entered the bar in a completely unrelated coincidence?” the office repeated back to me, incredulously.  I’d had to embellish my story a little bit to protect the not-so-innocent (me).

“That’s correct, Officer Higgins,” I replied, my face attempting to beam honesty and settling for not completely giving everything away.

“So, how come five other patrons report that the suspect was seen at your table, having a rather heated conversation with you?” Higgins was good.  He could actually ask a question and could compare facts to each other and see when they contradicted each other.  Most of the uniformed officers I’d seen over the years were the type to accidentally ended up asking the wrong person the wrong question, like, “Was it you what done the deed, then? Oh God, why are you pulling my spleen out through my mouth?”  Higgins was one of the good ones, which was making him a pain in my ass at that moment.

“I’d asked him to pass me a coaster.  He didn’t want to.  Wasn’t a very neighborly burglar, I can tell you,” I said innocently.

“Hazzard,” O’Mally called as he came over to us.  The captain, the walrus tusks of his gen-mod gleaming, nodded at the officer taking my statement.  Higgins nodded back and stepped away.  “Care to tell me just what the hell is going on?”  His jowls quivered slightly, as a walrus’s jowls are wont to do.  O’Mally thought his gen-mod made him look intimidating, but mostly it just game him fish breath.

“Captain, as I was explaining to your man Higgins here, this whole thing is completely innocent, just a big misunderstanding.”  I attempted to put an arm around O’Mally’s shoulders, but the look he gave me made me think better of it.

“Drop the act, Eddie,” O’Mally said.  “Be straight with me.”

I sighed.  “Fine.  I’m working a case, all right?  Red Ace is my one lead on it, and I managed to trick the guy into meeting with me, but he wouldn’t give up anything.”

O’Mally nodded, sending his jowls quivering again.  “We can give you some time in the interrogation chamber with Red Ace, Eddie, but I don’t know what else we can do.  Most of the evidence linking this character to those burglaries is circumstantial at best.”

“Right,” I said, turning up my coat collar.  “I’ll be down at the precinct in an hour.”

Solitaire, Part 4

Miss Typewell and Eddie set a trap for the mysterious burglar.  Will they be successful?  Will Eddie ever win a game of solitaire?  Check back tomorrow for part 5! 

* * *

In fact, it took seven more lost games of solitaire before Red Ace replied to Miss Typewell’s message.

“I’ve got a meeting with Red Ace set up for this evening at 7:00 at the Funeral Parlor,” Miss Typewell said, indicating the name of my favorite bar over on Purgation Avenue.

“Great,” I replied, pinching shut loss #2,145 and standing up from my desk.  “Guess I’ve got some time to get there myself and make sure all my ducks are all in a row.”  I walked over to my filing cabinet and dug out my weapon, the popgun, checking its cartridge and the safety.

“Yup, all in a row,” I said, holstering the weapon.

* * *

I arrived at the Funeral Parlor at half-past six and took up residence in a corner booth.  In deference to the fact that I was about to have a meeting with an individual who had already sucker punched me once, I just ordered a seltzer.

Red Ace arrived when I somehow wasn’t looking.  One second, I was alone in my booth, no one around me.  The next, a slender figure sat across from me, their whole form bathed in shadows that hadn’t really even been there moments before.  It’s like Red Ace traveled with their own shadow.

“Red Ace, I presume,” I said after my startled yelp at the burglar’s sudden appearance had removed any dignity I had left.

“Yes, Detective Hazzard,” the burglar replied, their voice blurred by a modulator.

“Really, vocal distortion?” I snarked, arching an eyebrow at my shadowy companion.  “Are you really a woman trying to pretend to be a man, or a man trying to make people think you’re a woman trying to pretend to be a man?  What’s the damn point?”

“My sex is of no consequence,” Red Ace replied, “only my skills.”

“Oh, well, that’s just a giant pile of—” I began, but Red Ace cut me off.

“Detective, you reached out to me, and here I am.  What is it you want?”

I looked Red Ace right in the eye, or where I thought their eyes might be.  “I want those damn documents you stole from Vellum’s office last night,” I said, anger and frustration tinting my voice.

“I’m afraid you will not be able to meet the asking price for those documents, Detective,” Red Ace replied coolly and electronically from behind the vocal modulator.

“Try me,” I replied, leaning back and trying to act casual.

“Fifty million,” the burglar responded calmly.

I sat there silently for a minute, regretting my decision to not get a real drink.

“That is a bit rich for my blood,” I replied quietly.

“Indeed,” said Red Ace, standing.  “Now, if there is nothing else…”

My hand shot out and grabbed Red Ace by the wrist.  “Actually, there is,” I said, a smirk on my face.  “You’re under arrest for theft, boy-o.”

Red Ace stood there silently for a beat, then laughed, a strange sound filtered through the vocal modulator.

“Detective Hazzard,” the burglar said, “this has been somewhat amusing, so I guess I’ll let you keep your hand this time.”  Red Ace suddenly twisted their wrist, wrenching it from my supposedly-tight grasp as the burglar danced away from the booth, the shadow that had protected their identity following.  I reached for the popgun, flicking the safety off as I drew.  Red Ace was nearly to the door, but the popgun fires much faster than a person can run.  Or dance.

The gun went off with its distinctive pop! and an expanding bubble of semi-permeable matter flew across the room at Red Ace.  The burglar turned to see what had caused the noise and caught the bubble face-first.  It enveloped them, and the bubble’s forward momentum rolled Red Ace up against the far wall of the Funeral Parlor, knocking the lithe individual off their feet.

I stood slowly and gingerly picked my way across the bar, holstering the popgun as I went.  I stopped in front of the bubble holding Red Ace, resting a foot against the gently-rocking and now very solid membrane surrounding the burglar.  “Well then,” I said, fishing a cigarette out of my coat pocket and lighting it, “looks like there was something else.”