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Saturday 19 December 2009

Christmas Short Story – Inn Time

This story is printed in the bumper Christmas issue of the Costa TV Times, together with a plug for my psychic spy thriller The Tehran Transmission. The story features Leon Cazador, who is a private investigator. ‘My allegiance is split because I’m half-English and half-Spanish,’ he says. ‘Mother had a whirlwind romance with a Spanish waiter but, happily, it didn’t end when the holiday was over. The waiter pursued her to England and they were married.’ A somewhat longer version has been prepared for the Leon Cazador collection, tentatively titled Spanish Eye.


Just my luck, snow had started to fall the day before I left and, by the time I drove my Seat into the mountains, it was lying thick. Not the most auspicious start to the Christmas holidays, I thought, as the windscreen wipers beat a monotonous rhythm.

The road climbed and twisted. Oncoming traffic lights glared, blinding. My heart lurched. I instinctively touched the brake. If I’d been driving a little faster in these conditions, I’d have hit the rear end of the parked car.

I let the engine idle. I was late and the weather was hell. Drive round and move on. I fished in the glove compartment for a torch, switched off the engine, switched on the hazard lights, shoved the shift into gear and ratcheted the handbrake another notch. I opened the door and stepped out.

The snow stopped.

The interior light was on and the windows were steamed up. Not the best place for courting couples. The electric window lowered and a young man peered out. ‘Thank God, you stopped,’ he said. ‘The car won’t go and my wife’s pregnant. We were going to the hospital!’

I shone the torch inside. She was half-lying, half-sitting on the rear seat. One hand rested on her bump, the other gripped the headrest post. She blinked and glanced away. ‘Sorry.’ I lowered the torch.

‘We need to push your car off the road or it’s going to cause an accident,’ I told him. ‘Then we’ll see about getting your wife to the hospital.’

‘Yes, of course.’

I walked to the back of the car. I pocketed the torch and braced myself, ready to push. The road surface was firm enough to give me purchase. ‘Handbrake off!’ I called.

After a few seconds of intense effort, the car started to move forward and gradually it turned off the road.

At that moment, a lorry bore down on my Seat, horn blaring, brakes squealing. The crunch was deafening, my car jammed under its front bumper. Sparks flew as the heavy vehicle dragged mine and slewed across the road. It demolished the crash barrier. Both vehicles tumbled over the edge, leaving only a flurry of snow in their wake.

My mouth was dry. I glanced at the expectant father. He stared in shock at the gap in the road barrier. I took out my mobile, but there was no signal. I enquired but the husband’s phone was inoperative as well, so we couldn’t alert the emergency services.
Suddenly, there was an enormous explosion and flames briefly spouted up from the fallen vehicles. In the fleeting flash of light, I thought I saw something that gave me hope.

Now, the snow started up again, but this time it hit us horizontally, driven by the cierzo, the cold dry wind from the northwest. I moved round and opened the door, slumped into the passenger seat. I explained that we could sit in the car and slowly freeze to death, or try to get to some shelter. ‘Not the greatest options,’ I said, ‘especially in your condition, Señora…’

‘Maria Delacruz,’ she said. ‘My husband, he is Jacinto.’

I nodded. ‘Leon Cazador.’

‘But we don’t know of any shelter,’ said Jacinto. ‘I don’t recall passing any building.’

‘When the truck blew up, the flames highlighted a rooftop over there.’ I pointed down a rough track. ‘Maybe somebody lives there.’

‘They might have a phone!’ Maria said.

‘Very well, we’ll risk it,’ Jacinto said.
The sloping track led to a double gate with a chain and padlock, which opened to useful skills I learned some years ago. Jacinto whispered, ‘How’d you…?’

‘Don’t ask,’ I said.

For a further ten metres the track curved towards a two storey building, its roof covered in snow. The door sign read: Posado del Belén. Inviting enough. I rang the doorbell. The trees were snow-laden, the gardens virgin white. I hoped there wasn’t a frustrated writer acting as a caretaker with a penchant for axing doors. I was relieved there was no answer. I paced to a bay window; it revealed a lounge, an empty hearth. A window on the right showed a bar area, dance floor, stacked tables and chairs. ‘Closed for the season,’ I said.

‘What do we do now?’ Jacinto wailed, stamping his feet, an arm round Maria.

I picked the lock. ‘This way.’ I shut the door behind us and shepherded them into the lounge on the left. Logs were piled to one side. ‘Let’s get a fire going.’

It didn’t take long to warm the place. Maria removed her coat and lay on the leather sofa in front of the roaring fire. Jacinto and I raided the kitchens and found in-date lamb in the fridge and made sandwiches. While Jacinto heated some vegetable soup, I checked out the rest of the building, in search of towels and blankets for Maria.

The reception desk phone didn’t work. I pored over the guest book. The last visitors left two months ago. The inn didn’t have a musty smell and seemed to serve as a hotel, with eight double rooms, the furniture in all of them draped by dustsheets.

In one wardrobe I found a cache of weapons and explosives, but I decided to keep the discovery to myself.

‘The baby,’ shouted Jacinto, ‘it’s coming!’

I raced downstairs and asked Maria about her contractions.

She nodded and wheezed, taking great breaths.

‘There’s still time to eat,’ I told Jacinto. ‘But you must abstain, Maria.’

A couple of hours later, I said, ‘Jacinto, now it’s time. Hot water. Towels.’ He got up and hurried towards the kitchens. It was a few years since I’d delivered a baby, but I told myself it was like riding a bike. As long as no wheels came off, I thought.
Maria gave birth to a lovely boy, without any complications. I’d left Jacinto with his wife and newborn while I cleaned up and took the towels and cloths to the kitchen.

I was on my way back to the lounge when the front door was opened with a key. Most civilised, I thought. Two men and a woman stood in the doorway. I was surprised to see anybody; their expressions reflected more shock than surprise.

They exchanged glances with each other then the woman demanded, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Her voice echoed in the lobby.

‘Hola,’ I said. ‘We took shelter from the storm.’ I gestured at the half-open lounge door that emitted a warm glow. ‘It was an emergency.’

‘Emergency?’ she said.

‘We’ve just delivered a baby – come and see.’

With some reluctance, the three of them followed me inside.

‘We’ve got visitors,’ I said.

Jacinto stood up and Maria hugged her son to her.

I eyed the woman. ‘Are you the owners?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m Melita Reyes and this is my husband, Beltran and my brother-in-law Casimiro.’ She looked at the empty plates.

‘We’ll pay for what we’ve used,’ said Jacinto.

Melita smiled. ‘No need – it can be our gift.’

Her husband tugged at her sleeve and gruffly whispered something. She shook her head. ‘You go with Casi,’ she said, dismissing him.

The two Reyes brothers turned and left the lounge.

‘I’m just going to the kitchen,’ I told Melita. ‘Do you want a drink?’

She sat on the edge of a seat and studied the mother and child. ‘No, thank you,’ she said without looking up.

I eased the door back and was in time to observe the brothers climb the stairs. I sighed, because I knew where they were headed.

There was an alcove under the stairs. I pulled out from my ankle holster the lightweight Colt Officer’s ACP LW automatic. The Astra A-100 automatic was amidst the burnt-out wreckage of my Seat. I had an uninterrupted view of the door to the lounge and the foot of the staircase. I waited.

Ten minutes later, Casi and Beltran descended the stairs, their hands full. I stepped out, my gun levelled on their chests. ‘Is this the new version, eh? Instead of frankincense, myrrh and gold, you bring the babe explosives, detonators and bullets…’

‘What are you talking about?’ Beltran snapped.

Melita emerged through the doorway. As she noticed my weapon, she reached inside her parka.

‘Don’t,’ I warned. ‘I’m a good shot.’

‘You cannot shoot all three of us.’

‘I don’t want to shoot any of you, but I can’t let you leave here, either.’

‘This is our property, Señor. You have no right to…’

‘You’ve no right to blow people up, either.’

‘It is what we believe in,’ said Beltran gruffly.

‘Then it’s about time you got a new belief system.’

‘We want self-determination and territoriality,’ said Casi. ‘This is how we will get it.’

‘No, it isn’t,’ I said.

‘We fight injustice and tyranny,’ said Beltran.

‘Franco’s been dead over thirty years. Open your eyes to the world. If you and Melita ever decided to have children, no dictator is telling you to restrict yourselves to one child. You’re free to follow any religion or none, without persecution. If you’re law-abiding, you need not fear the knock on the door at three in the morning. You have drinking water on tap, and shops filled with food and clothing. You can read any material you wish without censorship. Need I go on?’

‘The government tramples on our aspirations!’ snapped Casi.

‘Your bombs kill innocent people,’ I said.

‘They’re not innocent. They work for the government!’

‘Those Guardia Civil men and women were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. They were not government tyrants.’ I gestured at the lounge doorway. ‘Inside there is a mother and baby. Innocents.’

‘What would you have us do?’ Melita said, her tone sombre.

‘Give yourselves up. Renounce violence. If your aims are just and legitimate, fight for them by peaceful means. Don’t create orphans and widows.’

Beltran laughed. ‘You’d have us surrender, for the sake of that one baby in there?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and why not?’

‘It’s absurd!’ said Casi.

‘Is it? Just over two thousand years ago, another baby boy came into the world to spread the word. Peace to mankind. His word’s been diluted over the centuries, maybe, but it still holds true today, tonight. This is Christmas Day, after all.’

‘It’s just a baby,’ said Casi.

Beltran pursed his lips and looked at his wife. Her eyes were moist and she nodded briefly. Then he lowered the weapons and bags to the floor.

‘Your weapon, please.’ I held out my hand to Melita.

Carefully, she took out the revolver, gave it to me and I shoved it in my pocket.

Casimiro swore. ‘This is stupid! We’ve sworn to fight together till…’

‘Until one or more of you are dead?’ I said and shook my head. ‘Your so-called cause has gained you nothing but it has killed over eight hundred people, including women and children, and maimed hundreds more, ruining so many lives. Lives that are for living…’ I could easily have been talking to godless killers, but I’d seen the look in Melita’s eyes when she sat with the mother and child, and I believed her maternal instinct had been deeply stirred.

Melita glanced at the lounge doorway again then moved over to her brother-in-law. ‘Bury the hate and love life,’ she whispered. ‘It’s a good belief system, I think.’ She laid a hand on his arm. ‘Please, Casi.’

Casimiro glared at me then flung his bundle to the floor. I flinched as the bag made a noise but nothing exploded. Melita hugged him then went back to her husband.

‘What will you do with us now?’ she asked.

‘Give yourselves up when the snow stops.’

‘Very well.’

At that moment, Jacinto stepped out of the lounge. He trembled as he stared at the discarded weapons and explosives. ‘Madre de Dios!’

I nodded. ‘Maybe this time there won’t be any death of the innocents. Let’s go in and look at the Christmas child.’


Spanish translation note: posado= inn; Belén = Bethlehem; rey = king; reyes = kings; Madre de Dios = Mother of God.

Saturday 12 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends - progress report-04

Although the book A Fistful of Legends is now 'published', due to the vagaries of online setup etc, you can't order this until 31 January 2010. Its ISBN is 978-0-557-19954-9. But it's worth the wait and starts the new year and new decade with several bangs! Here are the front and back covers.

The introduction is by James Reasoner. He has written over 200 novels, including ten books in the Civil War Battle series; he's renowned for the mystery Texas Wind and his latest two books are Death Head Crossing and Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity. Visit him at his blog and also at

As was proven in the previous anthology, Where Legends Ride, and reiterated by James Reasoner in this book’s Introduction, the western can cover all manner of storylines relevant to today’s readership. And this collection endorses that belief in spades.

The line-up and page-numbers...
DEAD MAN TALKING Derek Rutherford 7
BILLY Lance Howard 20
LONIGAN MUST DIE! Ben Bridges 29
HALF A PIG Matthew P Mayo 51
BLOODHOUND Courtney Joyner 56
BIG ENOUGH Chuck Tyrell 78
ON THE RUN Alfred Wallon 117
THE GIMP Jack Martin 125
VISITORS Ross Morton 134
THE NIGHTHAWK Michael D George 147
DARKE JUSTICE Peter Avarillo 165
CRIB GIRLS Kit Churchill 193
MAN OF IRON Chuck Tyrell 206

Legends ride again.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Midnight Street

A new story of mine - 'A Gigantic Leap' is featured in Midnight Street magazine #13. It can be obtained at:

The story begins:

I remember the date well - June 30, 1971 – as that was when my world changed forever.

A little less than a month earlier, I, Kolya Volkov, had been one of the proudest children in the Soviet Union. Anxious but proud. My father, Vladislav Volkov, was a cosmonaut. Now, it is hard to comprehend the primitive nature of our nation’s space-craft in those days. As my father joked once over dinner, ‘we went into space by the seat of our pants!’ He was a charming handsome man with gentle features, small eyes and dark hair.

An indescribable mixture of emotions ran through me when my mother and I learned that the designated crew for Soyuz 11 had to step down as one of them had suspected tuberculosis. My father, with Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, were the stand-by crew. Four days before the launch, they took over the mission.
He was confident and never doubted his ability as the flight engineer. After all, this wasn’t his first journey into space as he’d been there before in Soyuz 7.

The preceding mission, in Soyuz 10, had been a failure as they had been unable to dock with Salyut 1, the world’s first space station. Now that honour rested with Soyuz 11 and my father.

My mother and I were transfixed as we watched from the secure buildings of Baikonur Cosmodrome. She nervously twisted her lace-bordered cotton handkerchief with one hand, a habit I had observed more than once. She had a box of these handkerchiefs and I recalled her saying in exasperation, ‘My grandmother gave them to me. She laughed at what she called our silly village superstitions. Remember, Kolya, you never give handkerchiefs or knifes as a gift.’

There were other odd things she inculcated into me, such as never celebrating a birthday early – as if you would; and never show your newborn baby to a stranger until it’s forty days old. (I abided by that with my little baby Nessa, foolish man that I am.)

My mother gripped my arm tightly with her free hand as the blast off turned our vision red and yellow. I felt my insides surging with joy and immense pride as the spectacular flame rose into the sky on that day on June 6. D-Day, they call it in the West. Was that for ‘Doom’, ‘Destiny’ or something else? I’m sure I knew but now I forget.

The day following the launch, Soyuz 11 successfully docked with Salyut 1. How the cheers exploded around the mission planning centre. I know now that you must grasp those moments of body-thrumming pleasure because they are rare. The effusive joy was short-lived as bad news came into the centre and within seconds everyone’s face looked downcast.


Tuesday 1 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends - progress report-03

I'm pleased to announce that this anthology's publication date is 12 December 2009.

Due to the setup requirements for online retailers etc, it won't be available to the general public till 31 January 2010.

All contributors can obtain copies any time after 12 December by contacting the publisher, Ian Parnham.

The full cover, ISBN number and price details will be released on 12 December also.

Nik Morton (Editor)