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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hi Atus

Sorry, there's been a little bit of a hiatus - I was not able to post Friday's forgotten book - I didn't forget, honest, and Saturday's short story was missed out, but that's another story. Sunday, today, day of rest, I should have been able to post something, but alas, time in front of the computer is at a bare minimum.



Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. There are some more writing market announcements to make, and writing tips, once I've been to the local tip with garden rubbish - or is that the rubbish I wrote yesterday?

Thanks to all those readers who are reading my earlier posts.

Only four and a half thousand words to go for the latest work in progress, the third in the 'Avenging Cat' series. Then I must self-edit, naturally. Still, progress is being made.

Adios.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Glen Orbik - R.I.P.

Readers of Hard Case Crime will be familiar with the artist Glen Orbik. His output was outstanding, much of it harking back to the old pulp and noir covers of yesteryear. He died on 11 May, aged 52, too young to go. 

You can appreciate his work at his website here


My thanks to Paul Bishop for drawing my attention to this ‘In Memoriam’ article which features twenty covers by Orbik plus links to his artwork:


Here are some of his book covers I’ve scanned from my library:


 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Displaced Nation

Wikipedia commons - full sunburst over the earth


No, I’m not writing an apocalyptic sci-fi story about a country cast adrift amidst the Islets of Langerhans… This post is about an interesting blog relating to expats with a creative bent.

I’ve been an expat writer for 11 years, ever since my wife and I left England for the Costa Blanca. The beauty of being a freelance writer is that the work can be done almost anywhere and at any time. Naturally, there may be commitments, deadlines occasionally – but they’re self-imposed. Nobody tells me to write. I do it because I am driven to write.

The popular image of expat writers is probably an author sitting on a balcony with the sun blazing, the sky a brilliant azure, the garden a riot of colour, the typewriter clacking away next to the tray of drinks… The truth is more prosaic: working at a computer keyboard indoors, perhaps with an infrequent stroll in the garden to avoid DVT; and of course alcohol and creativity don’t mix too well, either.

Expat writers the world over can and do gain insight into their adopted countries, using the once-removed perspective of an outsider looking in. And their writing can be most enlightening.

Which brings me to a fascinating blog entitled The Displaced Nation. Its sub-title is ‘A home for International Creatives’. In its first four years of existence it has built up an impressive array of features, interviews, and columns.  One of these is the location-locution column:


Browse through the earlier interviews and you’ll be transported to far-flung places – China, Germany, and Switzerland for example. They’re the expat writers, scribes with wanderlust, but you can also read about artists and photographers in another column. In fact, there’s plenty here to grab your attention for quite a while; take a look.


 

 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Walking the streets in dread

Last August, a woman attacked a man she didn’t know with a broken glass in a pub. Tiny shards were removed from the left eye of her victim, who feared he would lose his sight. All praise to the medical staff who avoided that. The culprit was sentenced – 80 hours’ community service. Oh, and this was the culprit’s eighteenth conviction for crimes of assault and battery, described by the judge as ‘a breath-taking record of violence.’ Yet she still didn’t receive a custodial sentence. The culprit was ordered to pay the victim £1,000 compensation.

Walking the streets in dread are countless victims who have suffered trauma at the hands of unrepentant thugs who seem to be indulged at extraordinary lengths by the justice system.

It is no wonder that stories about vigilantes strike a chord with readers. 

Here’s an excerpt from Sudden Vengeance, pp95/96:

The Vigilante – Right Or Wrong?

The vigilante is not new in this country. They were around long before Robin Hood. We know why people turn to vigilantism: they see their world falling prey to anarchy; they feel the establishment cannot hold back the tide of evil. The forces of law and order will say that people cannot take the law into their own hands, for that way truly lies anarchy. Yet those who espouse the vigilante’s cause might argue that since the law enforcers are incapable of applying the law sensibly, then someone else must do it.

 But what drives this latest manifestation? What motivates The Black Knight? Has he suffered the tragic death of his parents at the hands of some criminal, some drunken driver? Perhaps he is consciously using a similar trademark name to those gaudy characters featured in violent American comics. Yet the pleasant south-coast town of Alverbank is no Gotham, surely?

Whatever his reasons for taking on this guise, he is intriguing. We are going to hear a great deal more from him.

A police spokesperson, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that the criminal fraternity is anxious about this vigilante. They want him caught, “before he kills somebody.” Me, I hope he stays loose, to instil fear in those black uncaring hearts!

The Alverbank Chronicle Comment

***

Sudden Vengeance is available in paperback and e-book format. Published by Crooked Cat.

When justice fails, a vigilante steps forward.

In the broken Britain of today, faith in the police is faltering. Justice and fairness are flouted. Victims are not seen as hurt people but simply as statistics.

Paul’s family is but one example of those victims of unpunished criminals. In the English south Hampshire coastal town of Alverbank, many others are damaged and grieving. It cannot go on. There has to be a response, some way of fighting back.

A vigilante soon emerges and delivers rough justice, breaking the bones and cracking the heads of those guilty individuals who cause pain without remorse. Who is the vigilante?  He – or she – is called the Black Knight. The police warn against taking ‘the law into your own hands’. But the press laud the vigilante’s efforts and respond: ‘What law?’

Will the Black Knight eventually cross the line and kill?

Paul and his family seem involved and they are going to suffer

Amazon COM –
http://www.amazon.com/Sudden-Vengeance-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00KE1GTPA/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431527522&sr=1-9&keywords=nik+morton

Amazon UK –
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sudden-Vengeance-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00KE1GTPA/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431527569&sr=1-3&keywords=nik+morton

 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Jihadis bound for Britain

In the news recently there have been voices of concern raised about Islamic State terrorists sneaking into Europe amidst the thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

In 2006 I wrote the short story ‘Adopted Country’ and it was published in an English magazine in Spain, and this tale posited this very real threat from Islamic terrorists. Here are some excerpts:

On a clear day like today, I felt I could almost reach out and touch Africa. I stood alongside my brother, Juan, on the seashore of Tarifa, Spain’s southernmost tip. Juan was the Guardia Civil officer supervising the capture of yet another boatload of illegal immigrants.
       Earlier, squinting out to sea as the Guardia Civil launch intercepted the over-laden longboat, Juan had said, “It isn’t surprising, Leon, is it? North Africa is only fourteen kilometres away from where we stand. They want an easier and better life here in Europe so they’ll risk everything in the attempt.”


A week earlier, I helped break up an al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Torrevieja. It wasn’t the first of its kind, nor would it be the last, though perhaps these deranged murderers would think twice about setting up shop in this area. There were forty officers involved and five suspects were arrested—three Algerians and two Moroccans. Three houses and two commercial units were searched, netting twenty kilos of cocaine, a variety of weapons, false documents and €15,000 in cash.



These people are not pleasant. The majority are cowards. They’re quite content to brainwash their form of cannon fodder while skulking in shadows, killing innocents by remote, all in the name of a truly warped view of a great religion.



Nowadays, illegal immigrants slipped into Spain through the airports on short term work or holiday visas, and of course never left. But al-Qaeda knew that the airports were watched. So, for over a year they’d been sending their best fanatics over among the boatpeople.

***

'Adopted Country' is one of 22 cases concerning half-English half-Spanish private eye Leon Cazador, ‘in his own words’ featured in Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Amazon UK paperback currently at a giveaway price (£1.10)! -


Amazon Com e-book(currently $3.34, a bargain!):

 
 
Amazon UK e-book:


Amazon COM paperback:

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Saturday Story - 'The Tree'


THE TREE
Sycamore tree - Wikipedia commons
 
 
Nik Morton
 

‘Tom, I’ve just read some frightful news!’ Jill Hadley lowered the bulging Saturday shopping bag to the carpet and slithered wearily out of her black midi-coat. Her husband rose from his comfortable armchair and switched off the television. He turned enquiring grey eyes to her.

            It’s our tree.’

            ‘The sycamore?’

            She nodded. ‘They’re going to kill it…’ She shrugged her slight shoulders helplessly. ‘I know it’s only a tree, Tom – but it’s meant so much to us, hasn’t it?’

            ‘Yes, it has. Lots.’

            Jill handed him the local newspaper’s early edition and pointed to the headlines – COUNCIL PLANS DUAL CARRIAGEWAY. She sat down miserably. ‘And it’ll run right through that plot of disused land…’

            It was true, she would miss that tree. Really, they both would. It held a special place in their hearts.

            Almost seventeen years ago now – with Tom’s attentive help – she had planted the sycamore sprig in the patch of waste land. She had been about seven then. And, as they had grown, so had their tree. In those days, they had visited the sapling most weekends, eager to nurture its growth.

            Tom grimaced. ‘I suppose we must forget sentiment where progress is concerned, Jill.’ He didn’t sound particularly convincing.

            That sycamore had shared much of their lives. She recalled one day well. Cloudy, a slight chill in the air. Tom had tentatively embraced her for the first time. That moment had been the beginning when she realised Tom meant more to her than all her other boy friends at school.

            And as they had kissed beneath the young tree’s sun-seeking boughs, Jill had felt the protective presence of their tree.

            Before they parted that day, Tom had taken a pocket-knife from his corduroy jacket and delicately carved a small heart and their initials on the strong bark…

            ‘There’s nothing we can do about it, Jill,’ Tom said resignedly, disturbing her reverie.

            ‘Couldn’t you apply for permission to uproot the tree? We could plant it in the yard. Surely the landlord wouldn’t mind?’

            Tom grinned. ‘I’ll give it a try, at least, love.’

            It was amazing how quickly the tree had grown and spread forth until its leaves were almost as huge as dinner-plates; every vein and artery a fascination. Many a showery evening they had found adequate shelter under its ponderous arms.

            Her heart tripped as she thought again of that night of electric storm. Tom had been hurrying her across the waste ground – a short cut – when the storm broke. It was a rather nasty ending to an otherwise marvellous day of carefree shopping. They had been laden with parcels, Tom wielding a new fishing-rod clumsily as he ran.

            She remembered pausing under the tree to glance at the rain dribbling down the grooves of their heart carved in the trunk. Then a sudden stark flash above and she was sure her heart must have stopped beating as the lightning-struck branch fell at their feet.

            There was no reason to say a word. She knew they were both fully aware that the branch had obstructed the lightning and prevented Tom and his metal rod being hit.

            Ever since that stormy evening, the tree had continued to flourish unperturbed save for its one severed and burnt limb – as through the charred stump were raised aloft as a sign of some sort.

***

Tom was at work when the landlord came up to see her about their request to transplant the tree.

            Over a cup of tea, the slightly-bald man remarked, ‘I’ve been liaising with the Council on the matter, Mrs Hadley.’

            His watery blue eyes evaded hers. The melancholy droop of his greying moustache made her apprehensive.

            He cleared his throat. ‘It’s generally considered that the tree’s already too large for transplanting. And its possible inclusion in the yard has met with unfavourable response, I’m afraid.’ He drained his cup and nervously wiped his thin pale lips with the back of his bony hand. ‘I’m sorry.’

            Well, it had been quite a wild idea. Even so, she was tempted to uproot it herself!

            During dinner, Jill told Tom what the landlord had said. ‘I know it’s rather silly, Tom, but…’ She hesitated.

            ‘You want to say goodbye, is that it?’

            Suddenly flushed, she gazed down at her fumbling fingers. ‘Yes.’

            ‘Look, I can get an extra half-hour off for lunch tomorrow. I’ll meet you at the tree and we’ll eat sandwiches there, just like it used to be.’

***

As her fingers lovingly traced the old grooves of their initialled heart, Jill noticed a smartly-dressed little old lady scrutinising them. ‘Who’s that?’ she whispered over her shoulder at Tom, who was busy unwrapping their sandwiches.

            Before he could reply, the woman walked up to them.

            The strain of trying to recognise them was evident in her flickering alert brown eyes. Then she gasped, pleased with herself. ‘I know you two youngsters,’ she declared, smiling gently.

            ‘Oh’ Jill said.

            Nodding her small head repeatedly now, the old lady pursed her thin unpainted lips. ‘Indeed. This is your tree,’ she said emphatically. ‘You used to come at weekends to prune and water it.’ Her eyes took on a glazed hue at the memory. ‘Yes.’

            She glanced about her, at the rusty cans and bicycle wheels, the charred remains of November bonfires, the barren mounds of parched earth all around. Her gaze returned to the wounded but proud sycamore, sturdy and unbowed in the midst of so much chaos.

            ‘There’s many a day I’ve just watched you both. Cutting back the weeds, keeping the rubbish away.’

            A hope of some kind sprang into Jill’s breast as the woman said: ‘I’ve watched you both tender your tree over the years, ever since you planted the stray sapling as your own…’

            Tom’s arm proudly encircled Jill’s shoulders.

            ‘It’s a great pity the road has to be here to spoil all your love and care.’ Faintly, the old lady’s slight chest sighed, her fox-fur ruffling. ‘But the road must go through. I do believe it must…’

            Tom nodded. ‘That’s life, I suppose.’ He shrugged, squeezing Jill in sympathy.

            But Jill wasn’t resigned to the tree’s fate yet. ‘No!’ she suddenly exclaimed. ‘Why must roads always destroy? Shouldn’t a tree, a field of buttercups, a dell of bluebells, shouldn’t they be more important than Tarmac and concrete?’

            She felt Tom’s restraining hand clasp her shoulder urgently. ‘Jill, we’re only two people – the road’s needed by thousands.’

            She eyed the old woman. ‘Why must the good things be lost for progress, economy and efficiency?’ Jill wanted to know. ‘Is it wrong to love nature, to have a favourite tree, a special brook, to adore the flowers and birds’ Tears welled. She blinked them away. ‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured, ‘I am getting over-sentimental.’

            ‘That’s all right, dear. I quite agree with you – but, unfortunately the way things stand, roads like the one planned here are inevitable.’

            The letter arrived next morning, just as Tom was leaving for the office. Because it looked official, with the Borough seal, he lingered as Jill read it.

            Her eyes widened, glistening. ‘Oh, Tom!’

            ‘What is it, love?’ He took the letter.

            ‘The little old lady – she’s the Mayoress! She’s managed to persuade the authorities to transplant the tree to St Mark’s Children’s Home.’

            He hugged her. ‘That’s fairly near us.’

***

Jill held Tom’s hand tightly as they neared the end of their visit to St Mark’s. They had purposefully saved one item on the itinerary until last.

            Across the green sward, she spotted two ten-year-olds carving their heart alongside Tom’s and hers.

            Strangely, she found she didn’t resent sharing their tree of love. Now it would be able to watch over another generation of young lovers.

            ‘Live to a ripe old age, tree,’ she whispered.

 

***

Previously published in Competitors’ Journal, 1972.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2015.

‘The Tree’ was a runner up in a regular competition, and was my fourth paid published short story. The strapline for the story read: ‘It was a special part of their lives – and now condemned to die.’ When advised that I was a winner, I was asked to provide a photograph – which I didn’t possess – so I rushed out at lunch time, changed into civilian clothes and obtained a photograph at a photo-booth. At this time, as I was serving in the RN, I used a penname, Platen Syder. However, the write-up blew my cover with ease – and interestingly a couple of staff at HMS Centurion, where I was working, recognised me and commented favourably about the story.

 


Of course times have changed and it is doubtless frowned upon to deface a living tree. And I note that Tom stayed at home for some reason while he let his wife struggle with the shopping; how ungallant of him! The identity of the old lady is a contrivance, necessary for the length of story, I suppose. It is unashamedly sentimental; still, there’s nothing wrong with that – there’s plenty of cynicism in the world to compensate. I’m still fond of the story, anyway, even after all these years.

If you’d like to see how my writing has developed in the intervening years, please consider my short story collection, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

 





Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):
 


 
Floreskand, where myth, mystery and magic reign. The sky above the city of Lornwater darkens as thousands of red tellars, the magnificent birds of the Overlord, wing their way towards dark Arisa. Inexplicably drawn to discover why, the innman Ulran sets out on a quest. Although he prefers to travel alone, he accedes to being accompanied by the ascetic Cobrora Fhord, who seems to harbour a secret or two. Before long, they realise that it's a race against time: they must get to Arisa within seventy days and unlock the secret of the scheduled magical rites. On their way, they stay at the ghostly inn on the shores of dreaded Lake and meet up with the mighty warrior Courdour Alomar. Alomar has his own reasons for going to Arisa and thus is forged an unlikely alliance. Gradually, the trio learn more about each other -- whether it's the strange link Ulran has with the red tellar Scalrin, the lost love of Alomar, or the superstitious heart of Cobrora. Plagued by assassins, forces of nature and magic, the ill-matched threesome must follow their fate across the plains of Floreskand, combat the Baronculer hordes, scale the snow-clad Sonalume Mountains and penetrate the dark heart of Arisa. Only here will they uncover the truth. Here too they will find pain and death in their struggle against the evil Yip-nef Dom.

 

 

 

Friday, 15 May 2015

FFB - Perfect Cover

It seemed that Perfect Cover, co-authored by Linda Chase and Joyce St George, published in 1994, promised to be the first in a series, but that didn’t happen.


The events in this book are inspired by actual experiences and cases that Joyce St. George encountered during her six years as the first female special investigator for the Special State Prosecutor, an arm of the NY State Attorney General’s office: to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and brutality within the criminal justice system of New York city. An interesting mix of third and first person narratives is deployed so we can get inside other characters’ heads as well as that of tough sexy half-Puerto Rican Tina Paris.

Tina is trying to nail a nasty piece of work, police officer Calvert, while a nameless psycho picks up young women and plays Russian roulette with a revolver while raping them… Inevitably, a woman is killed.

The in-depth description of Tina’s work undercover, the frustrations of police duty, the prevarications of witnesses frightened for their lives, and the dedication of many NY cops, add to a fast-paced story where many threads come together in a suspense-filled denouement.

 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

‘Ferocious and unprovoked attack’

Last February, a 91-year-old became the oldest man ever to be sent to prison after a first-time conviction in England.  He was given a sentence of 9 years for sexual offences against a number of 14-year-old pupils committed between 1958 and 1978.

Yet on that same day, in another court, two 23-year-old men were convicted of what the judge called a ‘ferocious and unprovoked attack’ on a man, and were given suspended sentences because the judge considered the two assailants had shown ‘genuine remorse’ and were able to walk free. Needless to say, both guilty defendants whooped with glee once outside the courts, and bragged on Facebook afterwards. How did their victim feel after that pronouncement? Pretty sick, I imagine. And if he had any faith in the legal system, it probably hit rock-bottom then.

True cases like these that hit the headlines prompted me to write Sudden Vengeance. No matter how much water has passed under the bridge since the book was written, the apparently total disregard for recipients of ‘violent offences against the person’ – that is the victims – seems to pervade the British justice system. 

More true instances will follow…

Sudden Vengeance

 
When justice fails, a vigilante steps forward.

In the broken Britain of today, faith in the police is faltering. Justice and fairness are flouted. Victims are not seen as hurt people but simply as statistics.

Paul’s family is but one example of those victims of unpunished criminals. In the English south Hampshire coastal town of Alverbank, many others are damaged and grieving. It cannot go on. There has to be a response, some way of fighting back.

A vigilante soon emerges and delivers rough justice, breaking the bones and cracking the heads of those guilty individuals who cause pain without remorse. Who is the vigilante?  He – or she – is called the Black Knight. The police warn against taking ‘the law into your own hands’. But the press laud the vigilante’s efforts and respond: ‘What law?’

Will the Black Knight eventually cross the line and kill?

Paul and his family seem involved and they are going to suffer

Amazon COM –
http://www.amazon.com/Sudden-Vengeance-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00KE1GTPA/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431527522&sr=1-9&keywords=nik+morton

Amazon UK –
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sudden-Vengeance-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00KE1GTPA/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431527569&sr=1-3&keywords=nik+morton

 

 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Writing – Market - Cracked Eye

Cracked Eye is an exciting new e-zine seeking short story submissions of any genre between 500 and 6,500 words. Illustrated, featuring stories, cartoons, videos, audiobooks, graphic novels and serials. Access to all content across platforms.

To submit your short story, provide the following:

• Your full contact information
• A brief author bio
• If you have them, any Twitter, Facebook or other platforms on which you can be found
• Your completed short story

You must own all copyright and publishing rights to your story. Please do not submit anything that has been previously published in any medium – print or digital. No simultaneous submissions.

Your submission should be formatted as an MS Word or MS Compatible file. Please use standard fonts such as Courier, Times, Georgia, Arial, or Helvetica. Please double space your manuscript, provide a word count, and put your name and contact email at the beginning or end of your story.

Send your submission by email with attached files to:
submissions@crackedeye.com

They try to respond within 6 weeks; please allow at least 6 to 8 weeks before you send a follow-up e-mail.

They pay writers professional rates.

They welcome submissions from new and established authors. They want ‘stories that are compellingly well written and which entertain, excite and enthrall.’

It’s not obligatory, but you might want to download and read Cracked Eye magazine to get a feel for the type of material the editors like.

Check out their site: https://crackedeye.com/

This might be a market to crack. Keep an eye on it, anyway!

And… good luck!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Special offer riding high

I'm presently busy with work in progress, Cataclysm, the third in the 'Avenging Cat' series of crime adventures (see below). 

So I thought I'd mention this bargain I've just noticed on Amazon Com. The pricing has nothing to do with me; I presume it's the publisher or Amazon who does this; my royalty will be miniscule, but if this increases the readership, all well and good - the book has been written to help writers, after all, not to make millions (as if!)

WRITE A WESTERN IN 30 DAYS -  'which is useful for all genre writers, not only western scribes' say reviewers! - with plenty of bullet points...!

#63 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Publishing & Books > Authorship

http://www.amazon.com/Write-Western-30-Days-Bullet-Points-ebook/dp/B00D6E3T6O/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431351392&sr=1-1&keywords=Nik+Morton


Other books in the 'Avenging Cat' series are:
 
Catalyst - available now

Catalyst, a person that precipitates events.

That's Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan. Chemist. Model. Avenging Cat. She seeks revenge against Loup Malefice, the man responsible for the takeover of her father's company. An accomplished climber, Cat is not averse to breaking and entering to confound her enemies.

Ranging from south of England to the north-east, Wales and Barcelona, Cat's quest for vengeance is implacable. But with the NCA hot on her tail, can she escape the clutches of sinister Zabala and whip-wielding Profesora Quesada?
Catacomb - due out in June

Catacomb, a subterranean cemetery: a place where ancient corpses are found – or new ones are dumped…

After their recent success in Barcelona, both Cat and Rick continue their vendetta against Loup Malefice and his global company, Cerberus, penetrating the lair of Petra Grimalkin in Nice.

But death stalks the pair, as do the dogs of law from the NCA, Basset and Pointer.

Cat’s trail of vengeance next leads to the Cerberus health food processing plant in the Maghreb…  She puts her skills to good use in Morocco where she again confronts the psychotic killer, Zabala.  From the exotic streets of Tangier to the inhospitable High Atlas Mountains, danger lurks and a deadly ambush awaits…

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Writing - market - Thuglit


Thuglit is not for the faint-hearted – that’s readers and writers.

It’s a bimonthly US print and digital e-zine that features original hard-hitting crime and noir fiction.

They’re always scanning the streets for the usual suspects but are happy to haul in for questioning newcomers too…

Send them unpublished short crime fiction.  No reprints, no excerpts. No fan fiction.

Length: around 3,000-5,000 words.

Stories may be attached as a Word Document (preferred) or cut and pasted into an e-mail. 

Contact info required: Name, address, word count and a short bio. The chosen will be notified by e-mail and on the website. 

Send your stories to: Submissions(at)thuglit.com. [Replace the (at) with an @.]

Payment $25.00 base for the one-time print rights.

Digital sales: at the end of the initial run of the issue (two months), all of the profit from that issue will be divided 50% to the writers (equally) and 50% to the house.

You can access details of back issues and the full submissions spiel here:


Good luck!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Saturday Story - 'Dead on Time'

Wikipedia commons
 

DEAD ON TIME

 

Nik Morton

 

Ironically, fog had descended a matter of minutes after he alighted from the taxi outside the airport. Thick griseous swathes, blanketing sound as well as sight. Fog always reminded him of Bleak House: 'Fog everywhere... fog all round him, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.'

Having paid the fare, Alan nervously edged his way forward, groping for a door. Perhaps the fog would lift; perhaps they would take off anyway. His fingertips thudded into glass and the door opened to the pressure.

            Sweat-seepage increased as he crossed the gleaming tiled floor beneath the suddenly stark fluorescent lights. Nervously, he looked over his shoulder. A few rogue wisps of fog hovered around the jamb of the door he had entered; outside, vaguely menacing greyness.

            It was nerves, of course. First hijacks must always be like this, he told himself, trying to smile. The place looked empty, devoid of the usual bustle associated with a minor airport of Florida. But, then again, it was only 2am. He had been surprised to find a flight at this hour, really, here. Any plane would do; the sooner it was over, the better.

            Then he saw them, to the right, through a barrier and seated in a glass-partitioned room. He sauntered over, trying to look inconspicuous. He prayed there wouldn't be any metal- or chemical-detectors, and sweat soaked his shirt and his bladder felt weak and cowardly.

            'I'm afraid we've got a shuttle-load, sir...' The attractive stewardess leaned forward solicitously. 'Mr Mason? Are you all right?'

            He started. The damned mist had sent him off dreaming,, mulling over the pain, the loss, the cost. Yes, the terrible cost. 'What?' He must have mentioned his own name, instead of the moniker he'd used when phoning to book a shuttle ticket.

            Nerves, damned nerves! He wiped a wet brow, eyed her. Young and shapely, of course, immaculate in her airline's blue trouser-suit, little pillbox hat perched jauntily on a ginger head of hair.

            She smiled, a trifle unsteadily he thought. 'I don't have room on this flight for you, sir - I'm just waiting for a couple of late-comers...' That smile again: 'The next Nassau plane leaves in two hours, if - '

            'No,' he interrupted, only too aware of other passengers' eyes on him. A soulful lot, not properly awake or asleep yet - as though padding through a nom-man's land between dream and consciousness. 'No way!' he growled. He couldn't face a longer wait! His nerves wouldn't stand it - then, if he flunked now, what would become of poor little Sandy?

            'No,' he said again, gruffly, emboldened by an unwanted vision. 'This'll do fine.' He noted the Dymo'd nametag: 'Jeanne?' She nodded. 'Well, Jeanne,' he began, bravado swelling his chest, creasing his thin mouth, 'What kind of airline is this, dissuading passengers when there are plenty of seats left, eh?' He forced a chuckle, very conscious of the explosives strapped to his sweating flesh.

            She seemed upset, distraught. The three or four other passengers waited behind him with remarkable patience.

            Gently easing him to one side of the bus's entrance, she said, 'Please stay here, Mr. Mason, till we get the other passengers onboard. Then we'll see about... fitting you in. All right?'

            Tension within him mounted. His muscles ached with it; his jaw was uncomfortably stiff. And still the sweat oozed. He grunted agreement.

            Jeanne kept giving him sidelong glances, clearly worried about his feverish appearance. His hasty, weak smile did little to allay her fears. But why couldn't he go? There was, after all, plenty of room. Some safety regulation, perhaps?

            It was more than nerves, he knew. Reaction, probably. Trauma. Well, he'd had a pretty dreadful three weeks of it...

            As the last passenger clambered up the bus steps, Jeanne followed and unlatched a radio-telephone from the facia, jabbed a button and spoke briefly.

            Finally, she replaced the handset in its recessed bracket and sighed down at Alan's upturned, expectant face.

            'I'm sorry, Mr. Mason, but the Captain is quite adamant, he says he can't make exceptions - his plane has its correct passenger quota - '

Alan swore under his breath then stared. From the condensation-covered windows of the bus the other passengers gazed down at him. He was fuming. So grim and pallid-looking, the lot of them. God, they reminded him of Rachel, of her death-mask, all passion spent, life voided. Yet they had money, were doubtless off to Nassau to get some colour put into them, to throw their money about. Money. Greenbacks galore, and not a smile among them. If it wasn't for Sandy, he'd give it all up. Turn his back on the whole lot. Until you lost, though, you didn't realize how precious life is. Not money, just life. God, how he ached inside. And how smug they looked! But he'd soon change that! He would try arguing once more: 'But, Miss, there are empty seats!'

            Reluctantly, Jeanne climbed down to the tarmac. 'Please - if you won't leave, I'll call up Security.'

            There was nothing for it. He moved closer, threateningly, almost brushing against her in the stair well of the bus entrance. He caught a whiff of her heady perfume, shook his head to dismiss resurrected thoughts of Rachel. Here, nobody could see him hastily open his shirt and reveal the explosives. 'I'm wired to go off at any time I choose, Jeanne.'

And he smiled without feeling.

            Her hazel eyes simply stared, her features becoming pale.

            'Now, go about your business as normal and just do as I say.'

            Obediently, she nodded.

            'I'll sit beside you on the front seat. Okay?' She was about to say something, but he continued, 'The Captain need not know he has an extra passenger just now. All right?' She nodded docilely and they clambered up just as the driver arrived.

            As the bus moved across the fog-bound tarmac, nary a sound of its movement or engine reached his ears. Everything seemed muffled. Fear did that, he remembered reading somewhere: it distances you. At the moment, he'd like to be a thousand miles away.

            Slowly, his pulse began to return to normal as he recovered from the ordeal of getting this far. Thank God they hadn't used the metal-detectors! The last hijack was so long ago that security had, naturally, relaxed. No matter how he tried, though, he couldn't prevent his body trembling, his stomach somersaulting.

            The fog still had not lifted as they climbed into the fuselage. The air-stewardess took the tickets; her eyes widened a little when she saw him, but Jeanne said, 'It's all right, Marge, the Skipper okayed it.'

            'Oh. Fine... Seat 43B, there, sir...'

            'Er, no - that one, by the pantry, if I may?' He cocked an eyebrow at Jeanne.

            Still pale, she nodded.

            Alan ensconced himself in the centre seat of three, the other two vacant. He had an uninterrupted view of fog through the porthole. He pulled a hand away from his brow: soaking.

            Loosening tie and collar, he peered out the glass port, through the ghostly reflection, his grey almost lifeless eyes, and stiffened. What if they grounded the plane after all? He'd already revealed his intentions to Jeanne, he'd never get away. He turned sharply; his neck cricked painfully.

            She stood by the aisle seat, unsure what to do.

            'This is your Captain speaking.' The tannoy momentarily startled Alan, and he was annoyed to see her register his reaction.

            'Doubtless many of you noticed a little bit of mist...' A few chuckles from the rear greeted this understatement. Alan glowered at the speaker unit. 'Well, rest assured, folks, I've left on schedule these last four years driving this tin can and I intend today to be no different.'

            Somewhat mollified, Alan relaxed, leaned back from the seat's edge. Two elderly passengers across the aisle were laughing at some private joke, or they were easily amused: the Captain wasn't that funny. Still, at least two of this lot had some life in them, he mused. 'I'll hand you over to Jeanne, now, your hostess this trip - '

            While the other girl shut the bulkhead door and disappeared for'ard into the flight cabin, Jeanne explained the workings of the flip-down oxygen masks.

            Alan closed his eyes. For the hundredth time, he told himself, make the demand simple. Collect the money and the parachute at Nassau. Bluff, tell them there's a bomb hidden, triggered by remote if the 'chute doesn't open... Parachute over the Bahamas. A search party would never find him. Then back, circuitously, to Sandy...

            The sudden banshee wail of the jets starting up shook him. Hell, I'm on edge! He gripped the chair arms and craned his neck round. Where the hell was she?

            There, strapping in a blind woman. Now she was walking down the aisle. She settled herself beside him and he smelled that perfume again. She snapped on her seat-belt, said, in a whisper, 'What do you want, Mr Mason?' There was a nervous timbre to her voice. It sounded as edgy as he felt.

            He looked out. A little tug as the throttles went forward. He had the stomach-churning impression of blindly hurtling through impenetrable mist. Intermittently, a runway light glinted redly in the murk.

            He reached out, clasped her cool long hand on the seat arm.

            Then, a slight shift. He eased back in his seat. The FASTEN SEAT-BELTS lights went out. They levelled off, engines droning soporifically; nervous exhaustion threatened, he left her hand go, and his head jerked forward suddenly, scared him alert.

            'I must tend to the passengers, Mr Mason - '

            'No, Jeanne, you stay here. Until I'm ready - '

            'Please, why must you - ?'

            Impulsively, he reached out, knuckles gently brushing her high cheekbones. She sat immobile, wide eyes never leaving his features. 'Have you ever lost someone you loved, Jeanne?'

            Gingerly, she raised a hand, took his own away from her face. Eyes unwavering, she said, 'Yes. A pilot - he flew into a mountain in fog just like this...'

            'Then you'll know something of what I feel, won't you?'

            Still gripping his hand, she whispered, gently, 'But how can hijacking a plane bring her back?'

            Silly, really: his eyelids were becoming moist. Through misted eyes, he studied her.

Concern creased her brow, clouded the hazel irises.

'One day everything's hunkadory,’ he said, ‘then along comes this drunken slob with his battered Oldsmobile and your whole world folds - just like that!'

            'I'm ... sorry...'

            'He wasn't even insured, can you beat that?'

            'Your wife - ?'

            'Yes. Mercifully - their word - Rachel didn't die in pain - so they said, anyway, so I must believe that, hang onto it. Concussion. Deterioration, And cerebral haemorrhage...' Why can the grieved be so clinical when describing the method of death? Some kind of expiation?

            Tears welled as he again saw her lying there with bloody tubes stuck in her once-unblemished flesh, her bruise-ringed eyes and scarred face, the shallow breathing, and then... nothing... while he was miraculously unscathed.

            Now he held both her hands in his.

He was oblivious to all the other passengers.

His words rushed out in a hushed torrent: 'I just wanted to explode and tear down the whole goddamned hospital. There it was, crammed full of expertise and fantastic million-dollar equipment yet incapable of saving Rachel. God, how I wanted to cry out and curse, to inflict the pain that swamped my heart and filled my throat to choking - '

            'It's only natural, Mr. Mason, nothing to - '

            ' - and kill, that's what, to kill that mumbling jelly of a drunken swine. Sorry, he kept saying, sorry... Sorry!' Alan's body shook as the catharsis took him: oh, to lather into the slob, to salve his intense feeling of frustration, the terrible knowledge of loss, of emptiness. 'It was so unfair, Jeanne...'

            'What did you do?' she asked softly, a glassy look in her eyes.

            'Nothing. There was Sandy to consider, you see.'

            Although initially in a coma with a dented skull, cracked ribs and a compound fracture of femur, his six-year-old daughter was, thank God, off the critical list.

            Strange, he had never been a religious man. And he had doubts in the Almighty's credibility after losing Rachel. But still he offered thanks all the same when the surgeon informed him that Sandy would pull through.

            He smiled thinly at Jeanne. 'I feel bloody silly, telling you this - especially as - '

            'Never mind, Mr Mason. It does you good to get it off your chest.'

            'Yes. I'm sorry it had to be this plane, really...'

            'Don't think about it. You'll see, afterwards, it'll all be forgotten, a nightmare, you'll live again...'

            'No, my life is as good as done. All I want is money, for a trust.'

            'But?' Beguilingly, she cocked her head.

            'The bills came in. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. The Space Program had run down and I'd been laid off work at the Centre, with little prospect of alternatives in the area. Rachel had had to leave her job after contracting a virus that she'd just shaken off - so we had some hefty doctors' bills to begin with...

            'We hadn't been able to afford either hospital- or life-insurance. Virtually every cent was sunk into our home. That's a laugh! A good choice of words, there. Sunk! About three weeks back I learned that the swamp was reclaiming the land. The property speculators had vanished, the property - among the thousands there - was worthless...

            'So my bank balance read some five thousand dollars, the remnants of my handshake from the Centre when the first hospital bill for Sandy hit me.'

            'I see...'

            'It's already $12,000, and Sandy's keep and nursing is steadily rising at $500 a day!'

            'But, what about Medicaid?'

            'On paper, till the wrangling gets sorted out, I'm not regarded as poor. I'm on my own.'

            Sombrely, she let go of his hands. 'Yes...' She looked down. Her watch told them they had been talking perhaps ten minutes; not time enough to distress Marge up front. 'What now, then, Mr Mason?'

            Outside, there was nothing but wispy cloud. His mouth felt dry; reliving those weeks of loss had drained him, his knees were weak. Maybe fear-seepage was to blame, too.

            'I'm sorry about Sandy,' she said and sounded sad, 'but you won't succeed, you know.'

            He grinned. 'Just watch me!' The adrenaline began to flow again. 'Back up with me to the Flight Deck.'

            Quietly, she obeyed.

            He pushed her through the cabin door, followed, and slammed it shut.

            The navigator's eyes widened in mild dismay and the co-pilot swivelled round, speechless. On their port quarter, the sun rose steadily. Without pausing from the instrument array, the Captain growled over his shoulder, 'What's going on?'

            'An extra passenger, Chief,' Jeanne said. 'He's a hijacker.'

            Alan, tense as he was, felt sure he saw them fleetingly smile. 'This isn't a hoax!' he snapped. 'Now, listen good!' He rubbed a sleeve over his streaming brow, licked dry lips. 'Tell your airline I want $80,000 in used bills waiting at Nassau - with a parachute!'

            Casually, the Captain turned in his bucket seat. 'We can't do that.' Soft-spoken, cool: damn him!

            'You what?'

            'We're - '

            'Chief!' interrupted the co-pilot, pointing out the sloping windscreen. 'It's Rhoda! She must've turned!'

            The once-clear dawn sky was now veiled with a thick yellowish haze. Surging up at an angle from the sparkling sea of Florida Keys, a dark column blotted out the sun, spinning directly in their flight-path. The ominous mass of whirling water and hot air, greyish-green as it neared, was shot through with a weird coppery light.

            'Hurricane Rhoda,' someone said in awe.

            'For Christ's sake, why don't you take avoiding action?' Alan screamed, but no-one seemed to hear.

            Broken fast-moving clouds, like out-riders at Rhoda's side, scudded low beneath them. The body of the storm became black, overshadowing, and Alan's heart sank.

            Only the submarine glow of the gyrating weather-radar and other instruments illumined the cabin.

            Then great windy gusts buffeted the craft, deafeningly.

            Panic tore at Alan's face, contorting his features, but he couldn't move, frozen with fear.

            Rain lashed, echoing.

            They tilted and bucked, vibrations jarring to the core without let-up. Jeanne cannonaded into him. They tumbled onto the canted metal deck amid skidding instruments, flight paraphernalia and papers.

            A change occurred. The pounding noise and frenetic shuddering disappeared, leaving only the muted humming of air outside, like a distant swarm of locusts.

            Damp globules drooled down the windscreen. Sunlight spectrum-streamed from above. Stillness surrounded them.

            'We're in the eye, dammit!' exclaimed the Captain.

            Disbelievingly, Alan stared at the encircling grey-green cloud of spray, a forbidding dense wall. He met Jeanne's ironic gaze. 'You picked a right one here, Mr. Mason!' Then, brushing past, she whispered, 'It's time, again, Chief...'

            'Okay. Delta Echo calling Control... Delta Echo...’

***

'I'll take over, Johnny,' said the relief controller in the tower.

            Johnny removed his head-phones. He looked as white as a ghost. 'We received Delta Echo's distress signal again. Dead on time... That's four years since they were lost in Hurricane Rhoda...'

 

***

Previously published in Fantasy Tales, 1990

Copyright Nik Morton 2015

If you enjoyed this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton/dp/1909841315/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399383023&sr=1-4




Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):




 
Floreskand, where myth, mystery and magic reign. The sky above the city of Lornwater darkens as thousands of red tellars, the magnificent birds of the Overlord, wing their way towards dark Arisa. Inexplicably drawn to discover why, the innman Ulran sets out on a quest. Although he prefers to travel alone, he accedes to being accompanied by the ascetic Cobrora Fhord, who seems to harbour a secret or two. Before long, they realise that it's a race against time: they must get to Arisa within seventy days and unlock the secret of the scheduled magical rites. On their way, they stay at the ghostly inn on the shores of dreaded Lake and meet up with the mighty warrior Courdour Alomar. Alomar has his own reasons for going to Arisa and thus is forged an unlikely alliance. Gradually, the trio learn more about each other -- whether it's the strange link Ulran has with the red tellar Scalrin, the lost love of Alomar, or the superstitious heart of Cobrora. Plagued by assassins, forces of nature and magic, the ill-matched threesome must follow their fate across the plains of Floreskand, combat the Baronculer hordes, scale the snow-clad Sonalume Mountains and penetrate the dark heart of Arisa. Only here will they uncover the truth. Here too they will find pain and death in their struggle against the evil Yip-nef Dom.