Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TuesBookTalk March Selection: House of Leaves

TuesBookTalk Read Alongs on Twitter (@tuesbooktalk  #tuesbooktalk) and on Goodreads chose fantasy (epic, steampunk, dystopian, fairy tales retold, etc.) for March's genre.  Our discussion starts Tuesday, March 6 on Twitter at 10:30pm ET/9:30pm CT.  You do not have to join us on Twitter.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the Goodreads group if you can't make the chat on Twitter.  Get the full reading schedule HERE.  This month we are reading:


Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia and is currently on tour. This month's host is Metroreader. (want to read a book description? Clicking the book covers will take you to the book's page on Amazon)

BookBox: embed book widget, share book list

FOR REVIEW (at The True Book Addict):
The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy....tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Witch Child by Celia Rees

Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum


Monday, February 13, 2012

Dead of Night Shambling Zombie Blog Tour with Jonathan Maberry

Zombies are everywhere in pop culture. They’ve even eclipsed vampires as the go-to monster for storytellers. We have zombie movies (Brad Pitt is making World War Z!), zombie TV (The Walking Dead is killing the competition), zombie comics, zombie books, zombie toys, zombie everything.

So…I asked a bunch of my colleagues a fair question: What makes them today’s ‘in monster’?

ROBERT KIRKMAN: They play on our worst fear--DEATH. It's something we can all relate to. Zombie stories are merely a metaphor for life. We're surrounded by death all day every day... no matter how slow it moves it's always after us, and there is no escape. In the end, we all die. As far as zombies in pop culture go, I want to see it all keep going on and on. I just hate it when the stories end, so I'd want more long-term explorations of the world and the characters. I think there's a wealth of story potential in following a group of characters five, ten or twenty years into the end of the world...that's why I'm doing it with The Walking Dead. (Robert Kirkman is the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and TV series).

JOE HILL: Apocalypse fever is running high at the moment. Blame Katrina and 9/11 and the Haiti earthquake and the Icelandic volcano and global warming. Daydreams about the end of the world are very much bubbling through the national consciousness. And zombies symbolize The End in the most fundamental way possible. They are literally death walking. (JOE HILL (son of Stephen King) is the author of two novels, Horns and Heart-Shaped Box, a collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, and the comic book series, Locke & Key.)

MAX BROOKS: Zombies are apocalyptic and we're living in a very insecure world. The last decade has bombarded our collective psyche with threats so terrifying, we don't dare examine them head on. Zombies are a 'safe' way of exploring the demise of our species. Zombies are the mirror that reflects the head of Medusa. (MAX BROOKS is the author of the two bestsellers "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z", and the graphic novel "The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks". He has also written for "Saturday Night Live", for which he won an Emmy. www.maxbrooks.com)

DAVID WELLINGTON: Because they’re 21st century monsters. Vampires, werewolves, and mummies all come from the 19th century and they rely on outmoded fears to be creepy. Not that they can’t be updated, but they start from an old-fashioned place. Zombies, on the other hand, are modern monsters. They feel more realistic to us, and their weaknesses are all scientific rather than religious. It makes them a lot scarier because they belong to our world, not a Victorian mode of horror. (David Wellington is the author of the zombie novels “Monster Island”, “Monster Nation” and “Monster Planet”(Thunder’s Mouth Press), as well as chilling books about vampires, werewolves and other creatures. For more information please visit www.davidwellington.net.)

DAVID LISS: I’d like to have a clever answer to this question, but I honestly don’t know. It would be easy to come up with some kind of response – “post-capitalism and inescapable technology have rendered us all zombies” or something like that. – but nothing rings true to me. But if there are cool zombie stories out there, that can be reason enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter why, and maybe there doesn’t always have to be a reason. DAVID LISS is the author six novels, most recently The Devil’s Company. He has five previous bestselling novels, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Several of his novels, as well as a short story, are in development as film projects. Liss also writes for Marvel Comics.

JAMES MOORE: The world has been a pressure cooker for a long while now and the nearly disastrous collapse of the economy on a global scale put that pressure cooker to a higher level than it has been at in a while. I tend to believe that the people as a whole, whether or not on a conscious level, felt and still feel that pressure. For some it's the feeling that they are already living among the walking dead and for others it's the belief that an inevitable collapse is already happening, that we're already doomed. In light of that sort of pressure, what better than zombies to personify our fears and become the scapegoat for our nightmares? (JAMES A. MOORE is the author of over twenty novels, and has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award.)

KELLEY ARMSTRONG: The appeal is two-fold. First, it's the ultimate threat: the undead horde that you can't eliminate. They're essentially human, but hard to kill and even when you manage to kill one, more take its place. Second, they allow us to explore our own death fears. For some, they're a very literal symbol of death--mindless, relentless, inescapable. For me, I explore that idea through by making zombies fully cognizant human souls trapped in its rotting corpse—a living death. (Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the OtherWorld Series, the Darkest Powers Series, The Nadia Stafford series, and more. http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/)

DEREK NIKITAS: Undead-horde zombies are always interesting because they are paradoxical monsters; they confront our fear of the corpse, which is partly a fear of eternal lost consciousness or "life," without completely removing the conscious element. They turn the domestic (ex: dear old mom) in to the frightful unknown. Vampires do a similar thing, but pop culture has now fully domesticated the vampire, taken all the fright out, filed down the fangs. Zombies are still an unknown, still frightening. I think their current popularity is partly a backlash against the domestication of the vampire, and partly a metaphoric response to a society at war against enemies we don't understand and mounting fears of environmental disaster. Even as other monsters disappear when the light of scientific reason is shed upon them, zombies keep coming.
I also think zombies are much more popular in comic books and film because we've developed a fetish for the dead-ification of celebrities, pop-cultural icons, and traditional social roles. It's like a make-under. We all want to get a look at the zombie clown, the zombie politician, the zombie Captain America, the zombie famous-actor-who-shall-not-be-named in Zombieland. It's usually played for a laugh, a mechanism for coping with death. (DEREK NIKITAS is the author of the Edgar-nominated mystery novel Pyres and the crime novel The Long Division, a Washington Post Best Book of 2009. www.dereknikitas.com  www.dereknikitas.blogspot.com)

HOLLY NEWSTEIN: Zombies are the anti-vampire. The whole "Twilight" fad has turned vampires into moony teenybop pinups, so zombies have stepped up to the plate to scare the bejesus out of us. They are messy relentless brain-sucking killing machines! They can also be funny - see "Zombieland' and "Shaun of the Dead." You have to admire their versatility. (HOLLY NEWSTEIN’s short fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance Magazine and the Borderlands 5 anthology. She is the coauthor of the novels ASHES and THE EPICURE, published by Berkley Books under the pen name H.R. Howland. She lives in Maine with the author Rick Hautala. http://www.facebook.com/holly.newstein)

JOE McKINNEY: Why zombies? I’ve had plenty of interviewers ask me, “Why horror? Why not write police procedurals? You being a cop, wouldn’t that be a natural thing?” Well, I write horror because it is my first love. It was a horror story that gave me that first “Wow, this is cool!” feeling, and I’ve found myself gravitating back to horror ever since. But zombies…Why? Well, that first horror story, that first “Wow, this is cool!” moment, it came while watching Night of the Living Dead. I keep coming back to zombies for the same reason I keep coming back to horror. They hooked me early and didn’t let go. (JOE McKINNEY is a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department who has been writing professionally since 2006. He is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Dead City, Quarantined, Dodging Bullets, Apocalypse of the Dead, The Ninth Plague, and The Red Empire. Visit him at http://joemckinney.wordpress.com)

KIM PAFFENROTH: I think they have a perennial appeal to young males, because they’re such good targets, and also because the whole scenario of a zombie apocalypse lets us not just think about shooting them, but about planning all the various things we’d need to survive. So when I saw the original Dawn of the Dead I was hooked, since I was a teen at the time. But when I returned to them more recently, having thought about theology and human nature in the intervening years, I found a lot more to like about them as symbols, as conveying deeper meanings than just a survivalist fantasy. (Kim Paffenroth is a professor of religious studies at Iona College. He is the author of Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth (Baylor, 2006), which won the Bram Stoker Award. http://gotld.blogspot.com/)

S. G. BROWNE: Because they used to be us. Because I saw Night of the Living Dead on Creature Features when I was eleven and I fell in love. Because they’re relentless. Because they’re socially relevant. Because they’re tragically comical. Because a werewolf apocalypse is just ridiculous. (S. G. BROWNE is the author of Breathers, a dark comedy about life after undeath. www.sgbrowne.com)

JONATHAN MABERRY: Vampires have stopped being scary for the most part. Werewolf stories are often retreads of Jekyll and Hyde. Mummies are too slow and clumsy. Ghosts and demons are so last year. Zombies are (more or less) fresh. They’re also flexible…you can make zombies scary and funny all at the same time. They can be truly frightening or heartbreakingly tragic. There’s no end to the kinds of stories you can write about them, which is why the books of every person who contributed to this guest post are entirely different. (Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times best-selling author of Dead of Night, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin and many others. He is a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and a writer for Marvel Comics. www.jonathanmaberry.com)

Watch the Dead of Night book trailer:

If you enjoyed DEAD OF NIGHT, you can download seven free bonus scenes from
Jonathan Maberry’s website.  Here’s the link: http://jonathanmaberry.com/happy-holidays-from-jonathan

Enjoy an excerpt from The Hollow Men:



All concerns of men go wrong when they wish to cure with evil.


This is how the world ends.



He was sure that he was dying. It was how he imagined death would be.
Darkness fl owed slowly into the edges of everything. As if the
shadows under tables and behind cabinets were leaking out to fill the
room. Soft. Not painful.
That part was odd. In his dreams— and Lee Hartnup often dreamed
of death— there was pain. Broken bones. Bullet wounds. Deep knife
But this . . . this wasn’t painful.
Not anymore. Not after that first bite.
There had been that one flash of pain, but even that was beautiful
in its way. So intensely painful that it possessed purity. It was beyond
anything in his personal experience, though Hartnup had imagined it
so many times. With the quiet people with whom he worked. The
hollow people, empty of life.
The police and the paramedics brought him demonstrations of
every kind of pain. Brutalized and beaten. Crushed in car wrecks.
Suicides and murders. Even the old people from the nursing homes,
the ones everyone believed died peacefully in their sleep. Hartnup
knew that they had experienced pain, too. For some it was the rathungry
gnawing of cancer; for others it was the mind pain that came
with having memories carved out of their brains by the ugly scalpel of
Alzheimer’s. Pain for all. Pain was the coin that paid the ferryman.
Even now Hartnup smiled at that thought. It was something his


father once said, back in the days when Lee Hartnup was the assistant
and his father was the funeral director and mortician. Old John
Hartnup had been a poetic man. Humorless but given to metaphor
and simile. It was he who had started calling the bodies in their cold
room the “hollow men.” Well, hollow people, to be PC. People from
whom the sacred wind of life had fl ed through what ever crack the
pain had chipped into them.
And now Hartnup felt his own sacred wind trying to blow free.
The wind— the breath— was the only heat left in him. A small ball of
dying air in his lungs that had nowhere to go. There wasn’t enough
left of his throat for Hartnup to exhale that breath. There would be no
death rattle, which amused the professional in him. He knew that
some other mortician would hear it when preparing his body.
Of course, it would not be a mortician right away. First it would be
a coroner. He had, after all, been murdered.
If you could call it murder.
Hartnup watched the liquid darkness fill up the room.
Was it murder?
The man . . . his killer . . . could never be charged with murder.
Could he?
If so . . . how?
It was a puzzle.
Hartnup wanted to cry out for warmth, but of course he could not
do that. Not with what was left of his throat.
It was a shame. He was sure that he could manage at least one really
good scream. Like the ones in his dreams. Most of his dreams
ended in a scream. That’s what usually woke him up in the night. It’s
what fi nally drove his wife into leaving him. She could take the fact
that he worked with the dead all day, and she was sympathetic to the
fact that his work gave him nightmares. But after eight years she couldn’t
take the interruptions to her sleep two or three times a week. First it
was earplugs, then separate rooms, and finally separate lives.
He wondered what she would think about this.
Not just his death, but his murder.
He heard a noise and wanted to turn his head. Could not.
The muscles of his neck were torn. Teeth and nails. He couldn’t


feel the wounds anymore. Even the coldness was fading. His body
was a remote island, separated from his mind by a million miles.
The noise again. A clatter of metal, then the singsong of tools dropping
to the tiled floor. Retractors and needles and other items. Things
that he wouldn’t need any longer.
Things that would be used on him in a few days.
He wondered who would prepare his body for the box? Probably
that schmuck Lester Sevoy over in Bordentown.
Another crash. Then a sound. Like footsteps, but wrong somehow.
Awkward. Disjointed. Like a drunk trying to stagger slowly across a
barroom floor.
Lee Hartnup knew that it wasn’t a drunk, though.
He didn’t have a name for what it was.
Well . . . that was not exactly true.
It was a hollow man.
The room was darker now. Shadows were closing around him like
a body bag being zipped up with him inside.
A simile. Dad would have liked that one.
Hartnup felt his body shivering. He felt the vibration of it but not
the actual sensation. It was hard to understand. He knew that his
flesh was trembling because his vision was shaking, but he felt no
puckering of goose bumps on his flesh, no actual intensifi cation of
cold as his skin tried to retreat from it. And yet the vibration was there.
The shaking.
He wondered at it. It was so violent that for a moment he thought
that his body was going into convulsions. But that would have affected
his eyesight, and he could still see as normally as the darkness
His head lolled on his ruined throat and he marveled that there
was enough structural integrity left in his neck muscles to move his
head so violently.
Then all at once Lee Hartnup realized what was happening.
It wasn’t a wave of cold shivers. The cold, in fact, was nearly gone.
It seemed to flee as the darkness grew. It wasn’t convulsions either.
The movement was not caused by any muscular action or nervous
fl utter anywhere in his body. This was purely external.


He was being shaken.
No . . . “worried” was the word. The way a terrier worries a rat.
That’s what was happening.
And yet not . . . This wasn’t a hunting dog trying to break the neck
of a rodent. No . . . This was something else. Even down there in the
darkness, Hartnup realized how wrong it all was. He could not feel
the teeth that clamped onto him. He was beyond the sensation of pressure
or pain. All that was left to him was the savage movement of his
body, and the uncontrollable lolling of his head as the hollow man bit
at him and tore him to pieces.
The cold was gone now. The darkness closed over him, shutting
out all light. Even the trembling vision faded into nothingness. Hartnup
could feel himself die.
He knew that he was dead.
And that terrifi ed him more than anything. More than the man on
the gurney. More than when that man had opened his eyes. More than
that first terrible bite. More than the cold and the darkness. More
than the knowledge that he was being eaten.
He knew that he was dead.
He knew.
God almighty.
How could he be dead . . . and know? He should be a corpse. Just
that. Empty of life, devoid of all awareness and sensation.
This was something he had never imagined, never dreamed. The
wrongness of it howled in his head.
He waited in the darkness for the nothingness to come. It would
be a release.
He waited.
He prayed.
He screamed in a voiceless voice.
But he did not become a corpse.
He became a hollow man instead.



“This is Magic Marti at the mike on a crisp, clear November morning.
Coming at you live from both sides of the line, here on WNOW and
streaming live from the Net. Your source for news, sports, weather,
traffic, and tunes. The news is coming up at half past the hour, so let’s
take a look out the window and see what Mother Nature’s cooking
up . . . and darn if she isn’t cranky today. Looks like we can wave
good-bye to the sunshine, because there’s a whopper of a storm front
rolling in from Ohio. It parked itself over Pittsburgh last night and the
Three Rivers got pounded by two inches of rain. Ah . . . getting pounded
by two inches makes me think of my first husband.”
Sound of a rim shot and cymbal.
“This is a slow-moving storm, so we can expect to see the first drops
later today. This storm is clocking sustained winds of thirty miles per
hour with gusts up to fifty. Button up, kids, this is going to be a bad



Some days have that “it’s only going to get worse” feel, right from the
moment you swing your feet out of bed and step flat-footed into a pile
of cold vomit. Even then, feeling the viscous wrongness of that, you
know that the day can get worse.
Desdemona Fox knew that it was going to be that kind of day. She
was an expert on them, and this one promised to be a classic.
The vomit belonged to the long-haired, lean-bodied, totally gorgeous
piece of brainless trailer trash who lay sprawled on the floor with


one tanned leg hooked over the edge of the bed. Dez sat up and
stared down at him. By dawn’s early and unforgiving light he still looked
ripped and hunky; but the stubble, the puke, and the used condom
stuck to his left thigh let the air out of last night’s image of him as
Eros, god of love. The only upside was that he’d thrown up on his own
discarded jeans instead of the carpet.
“Fuck it,” she said and it came out as a hoarse croak. She coughed,
cleared her throat, and tried it again. It was louder the second time, a bit
less phlegmy, but it carried no enthusiasm or authority.
Dez picked up her foot, fighting the urge to toss her own cookies,
and looked around for something that wasn’t hers that she could
wipe it on. There was nothing within reach, so she wiped it on Love
God’s hip.
“Fuck it.”
Sounded better that time.
She got up and walked on one foot and one heel to keep any residual
gunk off the carpet. She rented the double-wide and didn’t feel
like losing her security deposit to that prick Rempel over a stained
carpet. She made it to the bathroom, turned on the shower, set the
temperature to something that would boil a pot full of stone crabs,
and stripped off the T-shirt that she’d slept in. It was vintage Pearl Jam
that had seen better decades. Dez took a breath and held it while she
stepped under the spray, but her balance was blown and she barked
her shin on the edge of the stall.
She was cursing while she stood under the steaming blast and kept
cursing while she lathered her hair with shampoo. She was still cursing
when the hot water ran out.
She cursed a lot louder and with real bile as she danced under the
icy spray trying to rinse her hair. Rempel had sworn to her— sworn on
his own children— that he had fixed that water tank. Dez hated him
most days, but today she was pretty sure that she could put a bullet
into his brainpan without a flicker of regret.
As she toweled off, Dez tried to remember the name of the beefcake
sprawled on her floor.
Billy? Bart? Brad?
Something with a B.
Not Brad, though. Brad was the guitar player she’d nailed last


week. Played with a cover band. Retro stuff. Green Day and Nirvana.
Lousy band. Guitar player had a face like Channing Tatum and a body
The phone rang. Not the house phone. Her cell.
“Damn it,” she growled and wrapped the towel around her as she
ran back to the bedroom. What’shisname— Burt? Brian? She was sure
it started with a B— had rolled onto his side and his right cheek was in
the puke. Charming. Her whole life in a single memorable picture.
Dez dove onto the bed but mistimed her momentum so that her
outstretched hand hit the phone instead of grabbing it, and the cell, the
clock, her badge case, and her holstered Glock fell off of the night table
onto the far side of the bed.
She hung over the bed and fished for the cell underneath, then
punched the button with her thumbnail.
“What?” she snarled.
“And good morning to you, Miss Sunshine.”
Sergeant JT Hammond. He was her partner on the eight- to- four,
her longtime friend, and a frequent addition to the list of people she
was sure that right now she could shoot while laughing about it. Though,
admittedly, she would feel bad about it afterward. JT was the closest
thing to family she had, and the only one she didn’t seem able to
scare off.
“Fuck you,” she said, but without venom.
“Rough night, Dez?”
“And the horse you rode in on.”
JT chuckled softly.
“Why the hell are you calling me so goddamn early?” grumbled Dez.
“Two reasons,” he said brightly. “Work and—”
“We’re not on until eight o’clock.”
“—and it’s not as early as you think. My watch says that it’s eightoh-
“Oh . . . shitballs.”
“We didn’t set out clock last night, did we? Little much to dri—”
Dez hung up.
She lay there, hanging over the edge of the bed, her ass in the air,
her weight resting on one elbow.


“Oh, man!” said a slurry voice behind her. “Now that’s something
to wake up to.”
Dez didn’t move, didn’t turn around.
“Here’s the morning news, dickhead,” she said very loudly and
clearly. “You’re going to grab your shit and be out of here in ten seconds,
or I’m going to kick your nuts up between your shoulder blades.”
“Damn . . . you wake up on the wrong side of—”
“Ten. Three. Two . . .”
“I’m out.”
There was a scuffling sound as Brandon or Blake or whoever the
hell he was snatched up his stuff. Then the screen door opened and
banged shut. An engine roared and the wheels of a Harley kicked
gravel against the aluminum skin of the trailer.
Dez shimmied back onto the bed, turned over, and sat up. The
room took a seasick sideways turn and then settled down. She looked
around at her bedroom. Stark, cheerless, undecorated, and sparsely
furnished. So much of it reminded her of herself. She closed her eyes.
Insights like that she didn’t need on her best days. Today it was just
She opened her eyes, took a breath, and stood up.
Love God had left a trail of puke droplets all the way to the front
door, and she didn’t have time to clean them off the carpet. Rempel
would be delighted— he hated returning a security deposit.
“Fuck it,” Dez said to the empty room. Her eyes stung with unshed
tears. She got dressed in her last clean uniform, twisted her blond
hair into an ugly approximation of a French braid, and buckled on
the gun belt with all the junk and doodads required by the regs. She
grabbed her hat and keys, locked the trailer, and stepped into the
The parking slip was empty.
She screamed “Shit!” loud enough to scare the crows from the trees.
Buck or Biff or whoever had driven her home from the bar. Her car
was four miles down a dirt road and she was already late for work.
Some days only got worse.



Sergeant JT Hammond’s first name was really JT. His father’s idea.
JT had a sister named CJ and a younger brother named DJ. Their
father thought it was hilarious. JT had not sent him a Father’s Day
card in eleven years.
JT sat in his cruiser and waited for Dez to come out of Pinky’s
with coffee. After he’d picked her up at her place and dropped her so
she could retrieve her car, they arranged to meet at the gas station
con ve nience store on Doll Factory Road to have some coffee and go
over the patrol patterns for the day. Stebbins was a small town, but
they shared patrol duties with the three other towns that made up all
of Stebbins County. The county was the size of Manhattan but 95
percent of it was farmland, with only seven thousand residents. JT
preferred to start each shift with a “game plan” for patrol, backup, and
tasks. That way, if all that went on the duty log was parking tickets, a
couple of DUIs, and accident reports, then at least all the i’s would be
dotted and t’s crossed.
However, today was likely to be the kind of day when attention to
detail was going to matter. If the storm was anything like the weather
service was predicting, then all of the offi cers would be working well
into the night, shepherding people to shelters, closing the schools
early, coordinating with fire- rescue and other emergency ser vices to
pull people out of flooded areas, and who knew what else.
Their cruisers were parked in a V, front bumpers almost touching.
JT’s unit was a seven- year- old Police Interceptor with 220,000 miles
on the original engine. The vehicle was spotless, however, and was
the only car in the department’s fl eet of six that did not smell of stale
beer, dried blood, and fresh urine. JT was fastidious about that. He had
to be in the thing eight hours a day and sometimes double that, and tidiness
mattered to him. His house was just as clean and had been ever
since Lakisha had died. JT’s kids were grown and gone— LaVonda


was saving the world with Doctors Without Borders and Trey was a
state trooper over in Ohio. Living neatly was the only way that living
alone was bearable.
By contrast, Dez’s cruiser was newer and uglier. Mud- spattered,
dented, and tired- looking even though it was less than two years old.
She drove it hard and ached for high- speed chases. If it was up to her
she’d be driving a stripped- down monster truck with a front- mounted
minigun and a couple of rocket pods.
At least three times a year JT offered to help Dez detail her car
and also clean and decorate her trailer, but that suggestion was invariably
met with the kind of enthusiastic vulgarities usually reserved for
root canals and tax audits.
JT looked at his watch and tooted the horn lightly. Dez peered out
of the dirty store window. He tapped his watch and she gave him the
JT smiled, settled back, and opened the copy of JET he had been
reading. He was halfway through an article on black superheroes in
comics and wanted to finish it before Dez came out. Not that she
would jab him for reading such an ethnic- specific magazine— after
all, she had every one of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVDs, and
there was nothing whiter than that stuff— it’s just that Dez tended to
bust on JT for his love of comics. JT was pretty sure that Dez had
never been a kid.
Donny Sampson, who owned a tractor parts store on Mason Street,
came out of the store with a blueberry Slurpee in one hand and a Coke
Slurpee in the other. He was laughing out loud, and JT guessed that it
was one of Dez’s jokes. Donny always liked a filthy story, and Dez was
a walking encyclopedia of them. Donny saw JT and saluted with a
Slurpee cup; JT gave him a nod.
Dez was taking her damn time, so he settled back, but instead of
reading the magazine he laid it in his lap and stared through the windshield
at the closed door of Pinky’s, thinking about Dez. They were
often paired for patrol and, since neither of them had family living
close, they usually did Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl
together. Nothing romantic, of course; JT was old enough to be her
father, and she was very much like a niece to him. Maybe a daughter
if she would pull the goddamn Demo cratic voting- booth lever at least


once before the world went all to hell. In his way, JT loved her. Felt
protective of her. She was tough, though. She laid a pretty comprehensive
minefield between her and the rest of the world. The rest of
the guys in the department hated and feared her in equal mea sures.
Dez was a very good cop, better than a small- town police department
deserved, but she wasn’t a very nice person. Well, maybe that was
unfair. She was damaged goods, which isn’t the same thing as being
bad natured. That, and she was way too deeply entrenched in the nihilistic
and often self- defeating mentality of rural small town America.
She cursed like a pirate, drank like a Viking, and screwed the kind of
people the two of them usually arrested— providing they were well built,
well hung, and in no way interested in any species of “committed relationship,”
especially since the last time she broke up with Billy Trout.
That was a damn shame, too. Billy Trout and Dez had grown up
together and had been a hot item more times than JT could count.
They were never able to make it work, which frustrated JT because
he knew— even if they were both too damaged to see— that the two
of them had real magic together. JT never liked to use a phrase like
“soul mates,” but he couldn’t find a better label. Shame they were like
gasoline and matches whenever they were together. All of the guys Dez
dragged to her lair were clones of Billy; but saying so to Dez would be
exactly the same as saying “Shoot me.”
So, instead of a lover, Dez Fox had a partner. A middle- aged black
man from Pittsburgh with a college degree in criminal justice and a
set of well- used manners that had been hardwired into him by his librarian
mother. Dez, on the other hand, was pure backcountry Pennsylvania;
a blue- eyed blonde who could have been a model for fitness
equipment if not for what JT personally viewed as an overactive redneck
The radio buzzed. “Unit Four, what’s your status?”
JT lifted the handset and clicked the Send key. “Dispatch, I’m
code six at Pinky’s. You got something for me, Flower?”
Flower Martini, twenty- eight- year- old daughter of love generation
boomers, was the dispatcher, secretary, booking photographer, and court
stenographer for the Stebbins County Department of Public Safety.
She looked like Taylor Swift might look if her career took a sharp downward
turn past a long line of seedy country and western bars. She was


still cute as a button, and JT was pretty sure she had her eye on him,
age and race differences notwithstanding.
“Yeah,” said Flower, “Looks like a possible break- in at Hartnup’s
Transition Estate.”
She overpronounced the name, giving it a nice blend of wry appreciation
and tacit disapproval. The Hartnup family had been morticians
in town for generations, but in the mideighties, during the New
Age inrush, the son, Lee, had given the place a make over. Changed
the name from Hartnup’s Funeral Home to the trendier “Transition
Estate.” Nondenominational services and a lot of Enya music. It actually
sparked a rise in business that drew families from as far as Pittsburgh.
Now, with the New Age covered in dust, the name was a local
punch line. People still died, though, and the Hartnups still prettied
them up and put them in the ground.
“Cleaning lady called from the mortuary office,” said Flower. “Witness
is a non- English speaker. All I could get was the location and that
something was wrong with the back door. No other details, sorry. You
want backup?”
“Dez is with me.”
“Copy that.”
There were only two units on the road at any one time despite the
size of the county. Unit One was reserved for Chief Goss and Unit
Three was in reserve.
“We’ll investigate and call in if we need backup.”
“Respond Code Two. Proceed with caution . . . JT.” There was
the slightest pause between “caution” and his name, and JT thought
he heard Flower start to say “Hon—.” She called him “honey” off the
radio all the time and was constantly getting yelled at by the chief. She
was the mayor’s sister, and it was more than the chief’s job was worth
to fire her.
“Roger that.”
JT clicked off and then tapped the dashboard button to give the siren
a single “Whoop!” A moment later the door to Pinky’s banged open,
and Dez Fox came out at a near run, a white paper bag between her
teeth and two extra- large coffees in paper cups in her hands. She
handed a cup through the open window then leaned half inside and
opened her mouth to drop the bag in his lap.


“What’s the call?” she asked, looking irritated that police work was
interfering with the ritual of caffeine and carbs. JT knew that it was
sacred to her.
“Possible break- in at Doc Hartnup’s place.”
“Who the fuck would want to break into a mortuary?”
“Probably a drunk. Even so, I could use some backup.”
“Yeah . . . let’s do ’er, Hoss . . . But lights, no sirens though, okay?
My head’s held together with duct tape right now.”
“Won’t make a sound,” he promised.
Dez reached in and took the bag back and carried it with her to
her cruiser.
“Hey!” JT yelled. She gave him the finger again. When she looked
back, JT stuck his tongue out at her and Dez cracked up, then winced
and pressed a hand to her head.
“Owwww .”
JT leaned out the window. “Ha!” he yelled.
A few seconds later Dez blew out of the parking lot in a spray of
gravel. She hit the blacktop, punched the red and blue lights, and the
big engine roared as she rocketed north on Doll Factory Road. JT
sighed, snugged his coffee into the holder, and followed at a discreet
seventy miles per hour.



The old doctor sat on a hard wooden chair in the kitchen and stared at
the phone. The call from the warden at Rockview Prison— where the
old man worked as the chief medical offi cer— had been brief. Simply
the warden conveying an interesting bit of information. Six words
stood out from that conversation.
“We transferred his body this morning.”
Those six words, so casually spoken, were like knives in the doctor’s
We transferred his body this morning.


Forcing his voice to sound calm, forcing himself not to scream, the
doctor had asked for, and been given, the names and phone numbers
of the mortician who had arrived to take the body and the relative of
the deceased who had made the arrangements. A relative the doctor
had not known existed. No one had known. There were not supposed
to be any relatives. The corpse was supposed to go into the ground
after the execution. It was supposed to be in the ground now.
“Oh my god,” the doctor whispered.
He got up from his chair, walked like a sleepwalker into the living
room, up the stairs, into his bedroom. He opened the closet, reached
up onto the shelf, removed a zipped case, opened it, and stared dazedly
at the gun. A Russian Makarov PM automatic pistol. He’d bought it
new in 1974. When he had defected, the CIA took the pistol away, but
eventually returned it to him. A sign of trust. He sat down on the edge
of the bed. There was a box of shells in the case and three empty
magazines. The doctor opened the box and began feeding shells into
a magazine. He did it slowly, methodically, almost totally unaware of
what he was doing. His mind was elsewhere. Miles away, in a small
town where a mortician would be opening a body bag.
“God,” he murmured again.
He slid the last bullet into the magazine and slid the mag into the
frame. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and held it for ten seconds,
then exhaled it slowly as he pulled the slide back to feed a round
into the chamber.
The gun was heavy and cold.
It would be quick, though. He knew where and how to place it so
that death would be certain. All it would take was a moment’s courage.
If courage was the right word. Practical cowardice, perhaps.
Two cold tears boiled out of the corners of his eyes and rolled unevenly
over the lines that age, anger, and mania had etched into his
He weighed the gun in his palm.
“May God forgive me for what I’ve done,” he whispered.

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