Fourteen year old Rachel West can feel monsters. Gargoyles in the darkest forest. An 80-foot octopus in the deepest sea. Worse. Her connection to these creatures may be their last hope to survive. Together with her only friend Quinn, her younger brother Jack, and the spectral Guide, Rachel battles a conniving old man called Snake Oil to save creatures on the fringe, if not in our world then in another.
Mysteries of Limbo
Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t be alive. Fifteen year old Danny Knight led a too short and too painful life, but now that he is dead he wants to live. Danny is in Limbo, and if Limbo is a waiting room he’s the kid tapping his foot on the floor.
Danny’s beach-side sliver of Limbo called San Pietro is peopled by those, like him, who have lived shades of gray. Everyone here did things they are not proud of, but Danny wonders if you can make it better. You can amend. Danny starts on this road by helping newcomer Quin, 17, after she pops into this strange place and hides. Danny will unwind the mystery of what she did, what was done to her, and why she is here, even if it means going to the “Other Side” – our world – and finding the painful secrets she will not reveal.
“The Mysteries of Limbo” is a 52,000 word young adult novel with crossover adult fantasy appeal. It is complete and is the first of a series.
This beach never has storms. Not sometimes, not rarely, not occasionally. Never. The sky clouds sometimes, but the clouds never whip into a dark funk that washes down rain. The sun warms, but only that, settling into a pleasant 72 degrees by the early afternoon. Always.
Kyle Donovan rushed back from town, hurtling a stretch of the Strand that bordered the beach. He called again, “Danny!”
Danny Knight lounged in the hammock strung between the twin palms that shaded Kyle’s home. It was a slapdash driftwood cabana with a never closed door facing the ocean. For the thousandth time, Danny traced a finger along Kyle’s surfboard where the shark had snapped off a gaping chunk of Polystyrene and fiberglass along with Kyle’s left arm.
Danny pretended not to notice Kyle running toward him in big floppy strides trailing spirals of sand flurries. Kyle had to shake the hammock.
“They’re having a party at the town square.”
Danny sprang to his elbows as the hammock swayed. “A new arrival?”
“Yeah.” Kyle swiped at his mop of sandy blond hair. “Maybe.”
He was a big dude and, at 20, five years older than Danny, but still the flash of disappointment from Danny brought worry to his tanned face. He tried to make good. “I saw the crowd and ran back to get you.”
“You should’ve waited to see what it was first.” Danny reclined again. “I don’t need to see anyone else leave.”
“Unless it’s Chad,” Kyle said with an oafish grin.
That worked. Danny stretched and slipped down to the sand. Kyle, like a big shaggy dog, bounced forward as if to show him the way. He didn’t need to, of course. Danny and Kyle had both grown up in San Pietro, though separated by five years of age and five decades of time.
Danny, skinny and dressed in grimy jeans and a blue and white checked hand-me-down dress shirt, trailed Kyle onto the Strand raised a foot above the back of the beach. In places it was old rotting tarred wood, elsewhere smooth cement sprinkled with sand strewn by roller skate wheels and flip-flops. There was a wheelchair ramp at the southern end now that was kind of new. Kyle, in board shorts and a yellow “Hang Loose” t-shirt, trailed a half step behind Danny by the time they got to First Avenue.
San Pietro spread out over filled-in valleys before them. It hugged a bowl along its share of Central California coast, laid out in a snug grid surrounded by sea and stunted hills colored a perpetual spring green. Homes radiated from the shops and little office buildings concentrated in a circle near the beach.
But this San Pietro was not quite right. The rolling ring of hills were softer than they should have been. Colors seemed mixed on a palette, cliché blue for sky, crayon green for grass. Tan stucco seemed too freshly slathered. Edges were too sharp, too well defined. The Guadalupe River pushed down into the bowl like it had a plan, then streamed into the sea in a perfect triangle delta. This San Pietro looked like it had been dipped in a pastel landscape painting. Not quite cartoonish, but still not quite right.
Danny and Kyle moved up First Avenue, past Front Street and Saloon Street. They passed Mel’s Soda Fountain and waved at Mel standing alone behind his counter, greasy white apron and a growl on his lips. The place was usually “hopping,” Mel’s word, but not now. Today everyone was at the party.
An old 1910s clapboard A-frame on Saloon Street squatted in its peeling pale blue next to a mauve stucco two-story condo that jutted in misshapen angles as if bent on invading the clapboard’s space. The Verizon store at the corner of Saloon and First was kitty corner to a hostler’s barn. The Pinkberry hugged the side of the apothecary’s where Clyde Douglas, in green-tinted glasses and woolen vest and starched collar, dispensed aspirin and arsenic.
On the road were Packards and Priuses, and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. There were plenty of restaurants here in the commercial hub of the town. A new gourmet pretzel place had popped up a few years ago. When there wasn’t a party in the Town Square you would find these places crowded, mostly with those who had been here only a decade or two. The restaurants did a brisk business in nostalgia.
After Olive Street, First Avenue died at the Town Square like the Guadalupe died in the ocean. Town Square was a pedestrian only space, a big rectangle of red brick with a grassy park in the middle. The green was neatly lined with white wire fencing framing white roses and violet asters. There was an opening at each of the four corners, wide and inviting.
In this Town Square, though, the bricks were smoother than the real ones in the real San Pietro. Those bricks were rutted and worn, the curse of every kid who skated over them and caught an edge. These red bricks were like ground glass.
There, beneath the mighty three-story clock tower at the eastern end of the square, was the party. Danny scanned, but couldn’t make out a new face within the clutch of bodies that swarmed the grass around the gazebo. At the edge he spotted Johnny Tezay and caught his eye with a wave. He liked Johnny. Surplus Army jacket and round glasses over a thin nose and close set eyes. No matter how many times Johnny explained that his little upside-down Y necklace meant “peace” Danny didn’t quite get it, but thought it was cool anyway.
Then Danny saw Chad King bulling into the crowd and his face soured. It wasn’t this, though, that stopped Danny. No, what stopped him was an old man alone beyond the fringe of the throng. White linen suit and cigar between veed fingers, scraggily little salt and pepper goatee, and staring right into Danny’s eyes when they wandered to that far corner of the square. This stopped Danny like he hit an invisible force field, like his feet forgot their purpose.
Those who knew of him, had seen him, always on edges and in shadows, called him the Mysterious Stranger. Danny, though, feared him like the devil.
When Kyle realized Danny was not by his side he turned. “Come on, we’re gonna miss it.” Kyle eagerly wheeled back to the square. In his mind he had already decided it was a newcomer and he hoped it was someone around his age. Few were.
When he turned back around Danny was gone. He’d bolted down Olive Street and was already to the Pho noodle place next to the 1890s saloon.
And you could have that here – the apothecary’s by the Pinkberry – because this San Pietro was not the real San Pietro. The cabana on the back of the beach was Kyle Donovan’s home, but it wasn’t really. It was his would-have-been home. Would have been had Kyle not been eaten by a 17-foot great white shark when he’d ridden one last waning sun wave on the breakers off this very beach 21 years ago.
Because this San Pietro that wasn’t San Pietro was the San Pietro in Limbo, and everyone in it was dead.
Constable Time: A Seat at the Feast
This is not our world, but it is. Set in an alternate reality, Constable Time follows Jacob Time as he navigates a complex world where the moneyed elite hold every lever and everyone else is there to obey. Even the police. Even when there is a murder. Driven by a sense of justice too rare in this world, Time keeps his head down, but never lets up. At every twist, though, he has to wonder: what will they let him do if the killer is one of theirs?
This is the first in a series.
Time knew he shouldn’t fixate on the thumb on the red button. Knew he should be scanning, searching for a weakness. Maybe the bomb wasn’t real? But he knew it was real. Knew he should shift his look upward and catch the man’s eyes, grey and glassy and twitching. Seen that before. Time knew he should be looking for options.
But he knew there were no options.
It was a black plastic cylinder wrapped around the man’s faded blue dress shirt with gun metal gray electric tape. A rectangular metal frame at the front held a layer of plastic explosive. Like Playdough, Time thought, only deadlier.
The man was 40, maybe more. He wore a shabby suit, probably his Sunday best, the jacket buttoned and held tight as he walked through the huge glass doors into the lobby of Finance Capital’s 47-story signature skyscraper. The man had centered himself in the midst of the teeming, gleaming white space and unbuttoned his jacket.
A pause, a glance, a worry, a whisper, a murmur, a buzz, a hurried exit, a finger pointed, a soft gasp, a loud voice, a shout, then a mass of rushing footsteps, then walking, then jogging, then running. In three minutes the lobby was deserted but for the man with the bomb on his chest. In two more minutes there were two security guards hanging on the edges of that great space, one more behind the big counter by the banks of elevators. More were on the way, some already hiding in corridors.
But the man just stood there with a thumb on the red button of a little black plastic transmitter with a tiny antenna at its bottom. The guards had guns drawn, but he knew they would not shoot. He knew they knew what that thumb on the red button meant.
It was two more minutes when Constable Time entered the lobby. His partner, Denis Bucard, trailed behind him, but stopped at a signal just past the big glass doors. Behind him uniformed police had cleared the near sidewalk, though the street still rattled with cars and cabs, and the opposite sidewalk was filled with gawkers and pedestrians. It was the best they could do.
Time stood next to a man in a suit with a two-way radio hovering below his chin, staring at the man with the bomb. The man had a red cross on a white background sewn on his blazer. The guards had the same on shoulder patches bulging from steroid-pumped arms. Swiss Guard, Time knew. One of the big private security firms. Good reputation. Firms like Swiss Guard wanted to keep that reputation by not letting anyone blow up a client’s building.
Time was a good three inches taller than the security chief with the walkie, but he stooped as he stood next to him, leaned down and in. Listened to the security chief give him the little lowdown he had to give.
One of the guards took a step forward. Wet face, lips pulled back, eyes wide. The man with the bomb looked weirdly similar when he turned toward that guard, who froze and stopped breathing. And in that growing group of taut faces forming a wide circle around the man with the bomb, Time’s was the only face that was utterly calm.
“Tell them I need five minutes.”
Time spoke softly, hunched into the ear of the security chief. The chief smirked. Just then Time spotted the front edge of thick carbon fiber slip past the wall behind the bomber. Goddammit. Screeners. Each with a six foot shield, body armor, helmets and ear protection, they would rush in and enclose and, if they did it right, they wouldn’t die. They said the explosion felt like running full speed into a brick wall.
Time realized the chief had not answered him.
“Ask him, please, I need five minutes.”
The security chief mumbled something into his radio that was answered by a soup of static and barked garbled words.
He said, “The CEO is about to evac via helicopter.”
Shit. “The bomb isn’t that powerful, he’s forty-seven floors up, he—”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Now the security chief actually laughed, but he caught a twitch from the bomber and stopped. More staccato static from the radio and the chief turned away from Time. When he turned back he said, “The CEO’s airborne.”
So it had to be now.
There was just a shiver of the chief’s finger toward the screeners when Time stepped from the edge of the circle of guards into the gleaming white no man’s land. The security chief glared at Time’s back and started to growl, but stifled it when Time took another step toward the bomber.
Lips flat, eyes soft and round. Time was tall, but could seem small. Brown hair, fit, but unassuming in his rumpled cheap brown suit. His hazel eyes had flecks of green; that would be the only thing you might mention if you were trying to describe him in way that would separate him from the mass. He had strange, soft, light brown eyes with green streaks that pulled you in when, on rare occasions, he needed them to.
This gleaming white high-ceilinged space was silent, but even so Time’s voice barely penetrated. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I can’t pay it.” The bomber’s eyes were lost yet fierce.
Time held. He had been gliding nearer, three steps from him now, but stopped. “What?”
“I can’t pay it. Not ever.”
And Time had an inkling then, but before he could mold it into a plan he heard slapping boots on tile from behind the wall at the back of the lobby. The screeners. He knew it and the man with the bomb knew it.
“Run,” the bomber almost whispered.
Now the screeners darted through as the circle of guards melted back. A second column disgorged from a stairwell on the other side of the lobby, war whoops behind carbon fiber shields.
Time whirled and fled, through two screeners, scraping his ribs on one of the shields and diving through. The bomber shrunk then. Physically closed in on himself, retreated, seemed to encircle his center mass as he held his hand high and let his thumb slip away.
Time just had time to cover his ears. He slid face first on the slick tile, scrunched as best he could as the blast flattened the circle of screeners like Tunguska pines. But the concussion caught a weak spot above and punched through the cement.
Time felt the heat and impact though it was mostly deflected by the shields behind him. He turned in time to see jagged chunks of cement break loose from above one of the screeners sprawled on his back. Saw it smash into the black helmet with the opaque visor. Another screener took a hit to the shoulder as he kneeled to rise, went down again.
Around him faces were turning toward the destruction, the guards, the security chief, Bucard by the door. Like Time, the bang followed by the rumbling had been replaced by an eerie silence and then ringing, deadened by the billowing grit.
Behind him the remains of the man with the bomb were interred by cement and tile, dust and steel. Time stared, remembering the shape of the bomb, its texture, and was that a little—
More ringing, but now different. It took Time four rings to realize it was his cell phone. He pulled it from an inner coat pocket.
“You will have to speak louder,” almost yelled after listening to a flood of words, “I’m having a hard time hearing—”
But he heard it this time. Someone was dead. Murdered. Up on the top floor of the headquarters of Quantitative Advantage. Time recognized that name, though he had only the vaguest idea what they did. But he knew if he recognized the name they were one of the big ones.
He signaled to Bucard and spoke though he knew he would not be heard. “We have to go. Now.”
Snake Jockeys: A Trigonometry Van Dyke Mystery
Some people think Trigonometry Van Dyke was the deadliest black ops agent in the world until he disappeared seven years ago. More importantly, now he thinks he is. The problem is those last seven years of an amnesia addled mind living a mild mannered suburban lie has eroded his “particular set of skills." Now the Agency has him back. And his country needs him. So Trig is off with not-sidekick Pepe, Agent Smoke, and a host of lowlifes to a far off land that doesn't technically exist.
This was the fantasy:
His name, as far as he knew, was Ken Peterburg. And he was an American hero. The kind that kicked ass.
“Only the law of the jungle in here, comrade,” The American hero spat out, “Dog eat dog. You’re gonna have to either learn to fly or grow wings. So what’s it gonna be, Yuri?”
The man sitting opposite the hero spoke and understood English flawlessly, but he was still baffled. “Please, have a Jelly Belly and just … veg out so we can finish our work.” Yeah, he had American idioms nailed.
So the hero and the comrade sat glaring at each other across a wide slab of chocolate colored mahogany, one smiling goofily and the other silently snarling. A little red, white, and blue American flag poked up from a brass holder next to a briefing binder in front of the American, and opposite a white, blue, and red flag of the Russian Federation did the same. The cavernous room’s bank of windows with blue-print damask curtains were pulled aside behind the Russian, high above the city.
They must have been negotiating some kind of treaty. Who knew, but probably something life or death like chemical weapons or vulnerable nuclear warhead stockpiles.
Next to the hero was a sweet blonde in smart slate gray, biting her lip as she glanced from the American hero to the Russian villain and back again. Next to the Russian with the candy was a thug. Everyone knew it. His HGH-fed pecs strained beneath a blue Oxford blazer like Bruce Banner about to be Hulk. The thug never let his droopy-eyed gaze leave the hero.
Thirteen seconds of knuckle-grinding silence dragged on. The hero hated quiet. At 15 seconds the hero was done here. It was Action Time. “Listen, my Russian friend—”
“I am not Russian.”
“Sure you are.”
“I am Tuvan.” Blank stare and open mouth from the hero. “I represent the great Russian Federation, which is vast and diverse, but I personally am Tuvan.”
WTF?! Action Time doesn’t split ethnic hairs!
“Whatever. One of us is going to leave here with the treaty he wants and the other with the treaty he has to explain. I don’t do explanations, so let’s just skip the preamble and get it on.”
The Russian – okay, the Tuvan, whatever the hell that was – squinted and said, “Are you coming into me?”
“Sorry, I don’t dig Tuvan trannies.” Then the hero grabbed the blonde by the scruff of her neck and smashed his face into hers. He flicked his tongue on the roof of her mouth for three deep, hot, sexy seconds. “The way I roll is you and I step up on this table, flag against flag, and whoever winds up not dead wins. And just so we’re clear, I’m Captain Kirk and you’re the green lizard dude.”
The hero rose as the villain shivered as the blonde quivered in anticipation as the thug muscled up his butt cheeks in preparation to pounce. Striding to the man who was shaped like a tall penguin, the hero towered and glowered. Many y mano, face to face, first one who blinks is a pussy. Finally a single salty droplet squeezed from the penguin man’s scalp and slithered onto his caterpillar unibrow. The hero almost smiled.
The Russian-Tuvan-what the fuck ever let his head fall and, as if it was a signal (and maybe it was), he coughed. The thug flew up from his chair with a snarl and stomped a boot on the table.
The hero seemed to implode, surging inward with both arms pinching into his chest while his knees came up, straying in the air for a half-second like a levitating fetus. Then with a whoop he burst, all four limbs crashing into the thug, fists to face and feet to shins. The thug squealed and fell. The hero landed over the thug, ready for any twinge that would rain down more ass-kicking.
“Now! Now! He’s killed Dmitri!”
It was the Russian-Tuvan screeching toward the thick double doors at the front of the conference room.
The hero yelled to the blonde, “We gotta go!”
Go where? They were 3,000 feet above the center of this sprawling Euro metropolis and on the wrong side of the only exit. Just then three triplets of the fallen thug burst through the double doors. And they had guns.
Grabbing the woman’s hand, the hero whisked her in a huddled run toward the other end of the room. He had earlier noticed that one of the windows was actually a pair of French doors that looked onto a small wrought-iron balcony. Always have an alternative exit. That was Spy 101.
The instant they flung open the doors there was a rush and a booming whirr-whirr-whirr, then a spray of machine gun fire peppered the wall just overhead.
A helicopter! He pulled the woman to the bottom of the balcony and covered her with his arms. Hunkering down, the hero sensed an odd quiet. He lifted his head for a dangerous instant and peered. A gust of wind had pushed the helicopter down one story where bullet spray shredded an aging Belgian couple on their second honeymoon. The hero shrugged. He knew it could be dangerous to even be in the same air space with him during Action Time.
The hero brought the woman up to her feet, her knees knocking, his tensed and ready. Peering over the edge of the balcony, the hero saw the buzzing blades of the copter fight the wind to rise. He plotted in split seconds, in edge of his seat scheming. Thump-thump-thump of the rotating whir, one-two-three… There, had it.
“Take my hand.” The woman took it, gazing up at him like a frightened puppy unsure what it did to deserve this. “Just hold on and follow me.”
With a stand-still lunge the hero was up on the balcony rail, lifting the woman with him and steadying her with both hands on her lithe hips, lingering. Thump-thump-thump, one-two-three. It had to be now.
“Ready?” One, two, three, scared puppy eyes, then “Jump!”
And they did. The hero yanked the woman forward with him, feet pointed downward toward the slicing blades. But he’d timed the rotation of the blades to the nanosecond. Thump-thump-thump-jump – and then the hero and the woman were through!
They ducked and crashed onto the soft aluminum of the helicopter cab! The hero’s razor-edged shoe tips shredded into the metal and he split his legs in a frog-kick semi-circle to tear a hole in the top of the helicopter! Thud!, and the hero had landed in the space behind the pilot’s seat of the helicopter!
Quick scan, the pilot and a thug just pulling his machine gun around toward the hero – bam!, and the hero ball-kicked the thug into a flailing, screaming, two-story backstroke. No pause. The hero whirled and yanked the radio from the console, whipping the cord around the pilot’s neck in a death spiral squeeze.
While the pilot was still writhing, the hero’s nostrils caught something foul. Sniff, sniff. He looked down. Did he shit himself?
Shake out of it, no time. The copter pitched and veered downward as the street rushed up. Did he know how to fly a helicopter? No. But no excuses. Heroes sack up. Fighting it, the hero tugged on the controls and—
But there was that poop smell again. And then…
Was that a baby?
Worse, was that a baby crying?
Baffled, and a little scared, the hero looked down to see the pilot pushing his face up toward his, puckering and stinking and crying.
That was weird.
 Damn, this is a lot of exclamation points!!
Eyes creeping open, blinking, light seeping in. The baby’s cry blossomed, still in his face, as if inches from his nose.
Because it was.
Because this was the reality:
The hero, who apparently was actually named Ken Peterburg, was staring at the gaping maw of his crying, stinking eight-month old second son. His name was Peter because he and his wife really hadn’t thought that one through. Her name was Lola and she held Peter wailing in front of Ken as he dozed face on his desk in front of his computer in his home office.