Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Odds and ends...Bits and Pieces...Nice and Nasty

There wasn't much time for reading this week, what with Heart-A-Rama rehearsals starting. I did manage to finish Ripper, Isabel Allende's first mystery novel.  Not her best work, but still gripping.  All the facts in this serial killer drama led logically to the resolution.  I liked that.  No new character introduced at the 11th hour.  No supernatural element entered the picture.  She didn't even employ that standard trick where the third person questioned is the perpetrator.  No matter how many pages come between the questioning and the revelation of motive, means and opportunity - it is the third person.  And no, there is not a butler in this novel.  All in all, a pretty fresh book.

So as not to be a total slacker, I read this delightful St. Pat's day book.  For years, the townspeople of Tralee and Tralah have been competing in a decorating contest.  Every year Tralah wins. However, this year little Fiona Riley has an idea that will help Tralee win the contest for sure.  But, into the mix wanders a stranger - a funny little man with pointed ears and boots trimmed with bells.  And...his intentions are not all good - or are they?  His appearance turns the towns' rivalry upside down.  The story is nicely sprinkled with traditional Iris lore and symbols.

Now on to the Snark Report

My book group is reading The Life List and that is the real reason why I have not read anything of substance this week.  Reading this book is painful.  Turning each page is an effort knowing that I will be confronted with more drivel.  I have never been good at keeping two books going at the same time so I have to finish this one before I can move on.  Really, I may have enjoyed this book when I was 15, but it offers little except words in print that will eventually lead to the back cover.  The plot?  Some woman (I don't even care enough to know her name) will not be given her inheritance from her wealthy mother until a life list written when she was 14 is completed.   For example - she has to get a dog.  I can't go on.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Last week this email from my friend Steve arrived sandwiched between his weekly review of the latest "Castle" episode, and another newsy note. I offer it here for your consideration - pasted totally on the assumption that had I asked permission, Steve would have granted.

...found this on the first page of Olen Steinhauer's Victory Square and had to stop and catch my breath....

Set up sentence from preceding paragraph:  In the cold wind blowing through from the Adriatic, a basic truth came back to me: Old men die every day.

They submit in overstuffed chairs across from blaring televisions, slip in the bathtub, sink deep into hospital beds. They tumble down the stairwells of barren apartment blocks and face heart failure in swimming pools and restaurants and crowded buses. Some, already sleeping on the street, go quietly, while others take care of it themselves, because that’s the only power left to them. Their wives are dead and their friends as well; their children have fled from the stink of mortality. 
Sleeping pills, razors, high terraces and bridges. Usually, old men go alone.

Powerful stuff, right?  Sometimes we don't have to consume page upon page to find that one kernel that bursts with truth and dignity.  Too often I skim lengthy narrative passages deeming them time consuming, throw away bits offering little to move the plot along.  A self preservation technique I developed in college or grad school, I guess. After reading the above, I promised myself that whatever book I chose next would be read with care - line by line - word for word - no skimming, skipping or accidental page turning.  

There, on page 27 of Isabel Allende's Ripper I found the most inviting sensory passage.

She catalogued people by scent: her grandfather, Blake - smelled of gentleness - a mixture of wool sweaters and chamomile; Bob, her father, of strength - metal, tobacco, and aftershave; Bradley, her boyfriend, of sensuality, sweat and chlorine; and Ryan smelled of reliability and confidence, a doggy aroma that was the most wonderful fragrance in the world.  As for her mother, Indiana, steeped in the essential oils for her treatment room, she smelled of magic.

This is not the Allende I remember from the House of the Spirits or the bits of Paula that I read years ago.  Amanda, nerdy, intelligent, wise beyond her years, plays an on-line game favored by loners called "Ripper".  Bored with the fiction of the game, but fascinated with Scandinavian crime novels, Amanda proposes that the group take their sleuthing into the real world.  Using their honed skills of observation, deduction and common sense, and aided by information skillfully culled from bits and pieces of conversations with Amanda's chief of homicide father, the group sets out to solve a string of murders in the San Francisco area.  

Nope, this isn't simple Nancy Drew stuff.  Although Allende drifts from her usual magical realism, feminist fare with undeniable autobiographical elements, her lush style shines. The title hints at gore, that's for sure, but so far, it's the characters and the artistry that take the lead.  More next week....after I have read every single word.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Farewell Anna. I Will Not Miss You

Last week I skipped posting in hopes of sharing the happy news today that, after eighteen attempts I have finally conquered  Anna Karenina. No such luck. How do I know I tried eighteen time?  I counted the number of bookmarks hidden throughout. None deeper than page 158.

This time, the adventure began with some background research which I generally find useful when tackling something I suspect could end in failure. I discovered that the author, Fyodor Dostoyesvsky, held this book in rather high esteem calling it a "flawless work of art".  A glowing endorsement albeit a tad egotistical, wouldn't you say? Faulkner's declaration that this is the "best book ever written." should have been enough to deter me since Faulkner is another writer whose work sweeps me directly to my frustration level within the first pages.  

Still, I persisted, thinking that following  an on-line chapter by chapter synopsis/analysis would be my key to success.  Was I surprised to discover how thorough the on-line examinations of this novel are.  In reality, had I gone that route, my reading time would have been doubled.  I struggled.  I did not want to be defeated by this task once again.  I approached the first page with informed trepidation and read the famous opening lines.  I made it through the railroad station scene and pushed on. Then the history, political intrigue and 50-60 words sentences strung together in stiff prose started getting to me.  I re-read sentences trying to figure out what I was supposed to focus on.  I made lists of characters and flow charts and semantic maps to keep relationships and sub-plots contained.  Notes began piling up.  I tried sorting and indexing them. I put them in a binder for easy access. Color coded tabs. Next came the highlighters followed by a pot of coffee and a bag of M&M's. 

Lowering my standards, reevaluating my level of literary savvy and reading aggression I figured that skimming might work - read down the center of the page and pick up key words and phrases that propel the plot. Right. Admitting defeat, I closed the book on Anna K. for the last time.  I hopped in my car and happily deposited Anna, her dalliances and her sorrows in the donation box at Goodwill.  There will not be a 20th attempt.

After that I needed something simple.  Members Only - Secret Societies, Sects and Cults - Exposed.   Ever since a college friend duped the school newspaper with a story about his entrapment by the Moonies, I have been interested in these alternative "clubs".  Randy (might or might not be his real name) convinced the crack reporter that he had been kidnapped by the cult after he finished taping an episode of his kid's TV show at an LA TV station.  The part about the TV show is true.  Randy hosted a local Romper Room style show; his character was Bongo the Clown, and he played, you guessed it, the bongos.  He was fired after making a lewd remark during a live show - but that's a story for another day.  I'll never forget my favorite quote in the entire article - and one that should have tipped the reporter, writer or at very least the advisor to the incredulity  of his claims.  He said they took him to their home base and "forced" him to eat oatmeal..

Anyway....the book neatly condensed the history, basic beliefs and operating methods behind a variety of groups.  What did I find most eye opening?  Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, is a Bildenberg member.  That makes sense.  How can a business that has yet to turn a profit be so ruthless and influential without powerful puppeteers pulling his strings and abetting him?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

28 Lessons We Can Learn from Pride & Prejudice

This seemed too good to pass up, so instead of an origianl post, I am sharing this one from the good folks at Bas Bleu.

Today marks the 202nd anniversary of Pride and Prejudice’s publication, a cultural milestone that almost never was thanks to a dismissive publisher who rejected Jane Austen’s manuscript First Impressions in 1797. Sixteen years later, Thomas Egerton bought the rights to Pride and Prejudice for just £110…and the rest, as they say, is literary history. So today, the twenty-eighth day of January, in honor of P&P’s birthday, Bas Bleu is sharing our list of twenty-eight life lessons we learned from Miss Austen, Lizzie Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and, yes, even Mr. Wickham.

1. Beware of truths universally acknowledged.
2. Be persistent in the face of rejection.
3. There is great joy in a long walk.
4. Don’t set too much stock in first impressions.
5. There are worse things than being single…like being married to Mr. Collins.
6. A six-hour movie isn’t too long if it’s the right story.
7. You can learn a lot about a man by the way he treats his sister.
8. You can’t hide in the library forever.
9. Sharp wit and a pair of fine eyes are worth far more than an expensive dress.
10. The man of your dreams will love you even when you have a terrible cold.
11. When in doubt, say it in a letter.
12. Never play dumb to attract a man.
13. Don’t make important life choices just to soothe your mother’s nerves.
14. Men, always keep your home ready for unexpected guests. You never know when the love of your life will show up.
15. Bad boys are not worth it.
16. Gorge all you want at a banquet as long as you’re wearing an empire-waist dress.
17. It’s not the end of the world if your little sister gets married before you do.
18. A dashing uniform does not make the man.
19. “Obstinate, headstrong girl!” really is a compliment.
20. Don’t be stingy about giving others a second chance. You never know when your own happiness may depend on one.
21. When it comes to a man’s library, size matters.
22. An intelligent woman should never tolerate a disrespectful man…no matter how rich he is.
23. A great love story is always in style.
24. It really is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.
25. Marrying your true love means marrying his or her entire family.
26. Men may leave you, but your sisters never will.
27. Happy relationships are based on more than romance.

28. Colin Firth then, Colin Firth now, Colin Firth forever.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hemingway the First

Book #1 in my year of Hemingway is complete, although I probably should have worked my way up to this title instead of starting with it.  Biographical info on Papa H. tells me that this book is based on Hemingway’s own experience in the Italian campaigns during WWI.  It was during this time that he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes.  I suspect she may be the subject in question in The Paris Wife, the novel that initiated this whole project.  I figured I needed to understand Hemingway and his thirst for love, danger, as well as his addiction to heartbreak and pain in order to understand that novel. 
Farewell follows the war career of expat, Frederic Henry serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army.  The novel is broken into five books – five long chapters?  five novellas? Call them what you like. The first section covers Fredric’s army career including being wounded by a mortar shell.  In a Milan hospital, he meets and gets a little frisky with his nurse, Catherine.  The remaining chapters take us through their relationship – the calms and the storms all leading to a devastating end.

You can always count on the happy times in a Hemingway novel to exist just a beat away from great sorrow.  Maybe I’m going about this all wrong, Maybe I should be reading a solid Hemingway biography, rather than reading his novels.  I am not sorry I read this book, but doing so made me wonder who the Hemingway’s of today are.  Over the years, I have demoted myself to reading works that hover near the equator between literary and pop.  I have enjoyed both, but returning to more classic works occasionally cement for me how terrifying and inspiring the written word can be.

What's next?  I haven't picked anything out yet, but  I am two Chet and Bernie books behind so that may be a good place to start.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude stands as the most heartbreaking novel I have ever read.  The emotional torture emerging page after page was nearly unbearable, yet it was grounded in such an admirable premise that I couldn't stop reading.  So, I pretty much understood the intensity I was getting for upon deciding to pick up another work by this Pulitzer Prize winner.

Again, Marquez got me with his masterful storytelling.  But more than that, this story is filled with truisms about human nature that lead to confusing contradictions we cannot control.  The book opens on the morning of Santiago Nasar's death.  Santiago does not know he is about to be murdered, but most people in the village know.  He goes about his day interacting with individuals, none of whom share with him the fact that the Vicario twins have announced repeatedly that they will murder Santiago that day.

It seems that Santiago disgraced their sister, and when her newlywed husband discovers the deception on their wedding night less than 12 hours earlier, he deposits her back with her family.  The Vicario brothers decide then and there that they must defend their family's honor and destroy that which has destroyed them.  They really don't want to do it, but they see the murder as an obligation.  

The brothers tell everyone in their path about the plan.  They openly go to a butcher shop to sharpen the knives they will use in the attack.  The confess to anyone who will listen, and after the fact, the go to church and confess to a priest.  Throughout the day, it is obvious they are hoping someone will stop them or at least, that someone will warn Santiago.  No one does.  Everyone in the little village has a different reason why they kept silent. When questioned, no one can even agree up simple things like what the weather was like that day, let alone how much they know, who told them and why.   Each person's reason for not speaking up is simple and to a degree acceptable in its own rite - and yet, each person's silence contributed to a death.  

Lots of symbolism.  Lots of sentences and paragraphs and lines to be read and re-read.  Lots to think about in this short, lyrical one-hundred-twenty page novel.  This is one to sink your teeth into.  Sometimes I need a "sinker" as a follow up to a lighter, Lifetime movie type novel.  This fit the bill.

How's the Hemingway project going?  Not so good.  In fact, it's almost as unsuccessful as 2014's write-a-haiku-a-day plan.  I will persevere.

What's next?  Not sure.  I might just close my eyes and pull a book randomly from my reading pile.  Of course, the last time that happened, I grabbed The Valley of the Dolls and then stupidly went on to suggest it to our book discussion group.)  Maybe I should edit the pile first.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Defending Jacob

When Nicholas Sparks and "People" magazine blurb a book, I get worried.  Spark's popularity cannot be denied, and many people look to pop magazines for book reviews.  That's all good - just not my kind of reading these days.  I welcomed the cold snap as it gave me a reason to spend however long it would take to work my way through what I suspected would be a disappointing read.  I was wrong.  Sure, the basic premise is one that has been batted around in movies and recently in a number of fiction offerings, but William Landay's approach covered all bases - logos, ethos, and pathos.  Nicely done.

If you have seen "The Bad Seed" a movie from the late 50's or so, you will find similarities in this plot.  An ADA's fourteen-year-old son is accused of murder.  Because of the father's legal connection, the story includes a lot of smart narrative about the legal process.  No insults here - just solid legal information and analysis.  Balance that against the parent's gripping internal struggle to believe in their son's goodness even when the evidence points in another direction.  In fact, it has been pointing in another direction for years, and their believable parental blindness would not allow them to be open to the possibility that their child was born evil.

Nature V. nurture is the common theme in this book and in "The Bad Seed" the compelling black and white film starring blond braided Patty McCormack as Rhoda, as slick a child as you will ever see.  As strong as this book is, the author went a little Picoult at the end, writing two unneeded incidents in the final pages. Landay beat me over the head with the conclusion he had  already led me to before those last way too obvious  pages.  But, just in case I missed something, he went ahead and confirmed that conclusion for me not once, but twice. 

I prefer books that are driven by strong characters rather than by plot or theme. Defending Jacob is clearly theme driven, but there are several characters that are mulit-dimentional, and therefore interesting.  they are flawed, just like all of us, and therefore they are relateable.   Worth reading...

So....what are you reading?  Let us know on our Facebook page.
Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pretty Ugly

It has long been my belief that one should not read anything too taxing or cerebral during the holidays.  Instead, judging by the cover alone, opt for something that promises page after page of mindlessness, insuring that if you lose your place, beginning at any random spot will immediately return you to unengaged tranquility.  Yes, you are reading, but with no obligation to retain or appreciate a single word . But yet you are reading.

Pretty Ugly  fits those requirements.  Plus, it is written by Kirker Butler, producer of "Family Guy".  I have never watched that show - don't really like cartoons except for "South Park" but that's a discussion for another time.  However, the commercials for the show clearly telegraph episode after episode filled with dysfunctional family drama.  

That  sums up this book as well - dysfunctional and hysterical.  No attempt at a socially significant story line here, just loads of laughs.  Come on, admit it,  You know a quirky family dedicated to something you find totally useless - like geocaching for instance. Really.  People spend entire weekends deciphering map coordinates in an attempt to discover a hidden treasure, generally the size of a peanut.  Once discovered, they date and sign a paper wadded up with the gift.  Sometimes they even take the finding and leave a new peanut-like surprise in its place.  An item is cached near LaDeDa but I won't tell exactly where. I enjoy watching the frantic hunt that possesses those people who will implode if they can't find and initial the crusty yellow paper hidden inside of the medicine bottle tucked in...OOPS...no more info on that.

Back to Pretty Ugly.  Miranda Miller's mission in life is to make sure her nine-year-old daughter, Bailey, continues to be one of the most successful child pageant contestants in the southern United States.  But lately, Bailey has been secretly binge eating to gain weight so Miranda will let her retire.  Even worse, the reality show Miranda was planning for Bailey (and herself) has been given to a competitor.

Miranda's husband, Ray, has a wife, a mistress, two jobs, three kids, and one more on the way, a mountain of debt and no friends.  He says he is desperately trying to put his life back together but the pills he swipes and pops during his shift as an ER nurse cancels that assertion.

In addition to Bailey, and the new little beauty queen with whom Miranda is pregnant, the Millers have two boys. They are home-schooled by Miranda's mother, a well-intentioned widow who spends most of what should be instructional time playing solitaire and planning a murder.

Frivolous. Silly. Dark.  At times I am reminded of The Family Fang, another biting dysfunctional family saga, but that novel offers some serious questions about nature v. nurture and other debatable subjects.  Pretty Ugly - pointless  - but so much fun.  Read it and be reminded of someone you know (perhaps you or a relative) who is dedicated to something you see as useless.  Then ask yourself, "If these thoughts and images made me laugh, are they really useless?"  

What am I reading?  Still working on A Farewell to Arms.  Just to remind you - a few weeks ago I was determined to re-read, and in some cases read for the first time, all of Hemingway's works.  Why?  Just to get a deeper understanding and appreciation of The Paris Wife, the story of the great love he walked away from.  Here we are, on January 3, 2015, and I am already thinking this resolution is not going to last much longer.  

Deadline for Death now in stock.  Pick one up soon.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Shorts from Craig Johnson

Craig Allen Johnson is an American novelist and playwright. He lives in Ucross, near Sheridan, Wyoming, population 25. Johnson has written ten novels and a number of short stories. 

If you're missing Walt Longmire like my friend Shirley and I am, you might enjoy these two pieces sent along by our bud and mystery writer, Steve Head.  Steve has a 6th sense about when I need a rescue post.  Just too much going on right now for me to hammer out anything with an iota of substance.  

What am I reading?  Against my better judgement, I have started two books - Pretty Ugly, a light, but laugh filled offering by Kirker Butler, producer of Family Guy.  Satire about a dysfunctional family.  I am also working my way though A Farewell to Arms - part of my year of Hemingway.

 POST-IT: The Dog House

   It was all pretty innocent, which is how I usually get into trouble.
   I threw a couple of photos up on my Facebook page with the cryptic
 teaser that every year for the last seventeen years, Sheriff Walt
 Longmire disappears during the holiday season for a day or two and
 nobody knows why. Then I told readers that if they wanted to find out,
 they should jump on my website and sign up for the Post-It newsletter
 which includes, on Christmas Eve, the annual story.
   "What did you do?"
   A lot of my wife's conversations start out with this particular
 gambit, so I didn't pay any attention, or respond with my own,
 rapier-wit remark except to say, "Huh?"
   The beckoning finger required me to get off the sofa and come over
 to the kitchen table where my wife sat looking at the computer,
 apparently transfixed in horror. Marching down the screen were
 incoming emails with the same subject header--a lot of them.
   "What did you do?"
   You see, the method we use to send out the Post-It newsletter
 requires my dutiful wife to copy, paste, apply and respond to all the
 emails individually.
   "Um, I put a thing up on Facebook…"
   "What kind of thing?"
   "Inviting people to sign up for the newsletter and get the free
 Christmas story."
   We both studied the screen, as the emails continued to pour in like
 a Teletype machine. "I guess everybody likes the free part."
   "I'm going to kill you."
   I'd like to welcome the five thousand or so new members to the
 Post-It newsletter, and hope you enjoy this year's Annual Walt
 Longmire Christmas Story, _Known Associate_… Which might be my last.
   Happy Holidays and see you on the trail,

   Known Associate

   I listened as Victoria Moretti, my undersheriff, and Santiago
 Saizarbitoria, my deputy, quizzed Ruby in low voices as the three of
 them decorated the office Christmas tree--all two feet of it. "For how
   The exasperation in my dispatcher's voice was becoming more and more
 evident. ". . .A long time."
   I was gathering a few things from the office before I left, most
 important the container for my Colt semiautomatic. I was having
 trouble finding the lock box because I used it so rarely--once a year
 around this time to be exact.
   Vic's voice was low, but I could still hear her as searching in the
 open space behind the hanging files, I went through the back ends of
 my cabinets. "He just disappears and doesn't tell anyone where he's
   The Basquo was also still audible. "For only one day?"
   "Sometimes two, according to when he leaves. There was a pause, and
 I was sure Ruby was checking the old Seth Thomas clock on the wall in
 the outside office. "He's running late and it's snowing, so I'd
 imagine he'll be two days this trip."
   I listened as my undersheriff mused. "You've never asked?"
   "It's none of my business."
   "Does he take Dog?"
  There was a pause, and then Ruby's tone became more pointed. "Don't
 you people have something to do?"
   Vic, for one, wasn't taking no for an answer. "I'm going to ask him." 
   Ruby's voice changed, and it sounded the way it did sometimes when
 she was sure she was right. "Young lady, it would do you to learn that
 there are times when people don't want to discuss things and you
 shouldn't ask--it's called prying."
   I slammed the last file cabinet and called out, loud enough for all
 of them to hear in an attempt to divert disaster. "Ruby, do you have
 any idea where I might've put my pistol case?"
   There was silence from the other room, but then she answered. "I
 think it's in the gun safe."
   I exited my office, walked down the hall, and crossed the reception
 area past the old marble fireplace, a remnant of when our building had
 been part of the Absaroka County library system. We'd mounted an old
 bank-vault doorway in the coat closet of the old Carnegie building,
 and it served as our weapons locker.
   Spinning the dial to 4-18-42, the date of the Doolittle Raid, a
 numerical legacy of Lucian Connally, my old boss and the previous
 sheriff of the county, I glanced over to the reception desk where the
 three of them were staring at me. "How's the decorating coming?"
   "Good." Vic waited for a moment before asking, "Going somewhere?"
   Pulling the heavy door open, I spotted the cobalt-blue plastic case
 sitting on the shelf to my right. Poking a finger through the handle,
 I slid it out, put it under my arm, and closed the door. The thud of
 the thing sounding like a tomb closing. I stood there for a moment
 before spinning the dial. "Yep."
   Without another word, I crossed back to my office, snagged my winter
 Carhartt from the coat stand, and put it on. I straightened my hat and
 quickly headed out.
   I paused at the top of the stairs and patted my leg. Dog was beside
 me in an instant, and the combination St. Bernard/German
 Shepherd/Canis Dirus was at my side as we trotted down the steps
 making a clean getaway.

   Situated between the Big Horn mountains and the Black Hills in the
 Powder River country, the Thunder Basin National Grassland ranges in
 elevation from 3,600 feet to 5,200 feet above sea level and stretches
 547,499 acres--and there are times when it's not big enough.
   I had an old rancher from the southern part of the county once tell
 me that I had ghosts hanging off of me all the time. He said that
 contrary to popular belief, the spirits that attached themselves to
 you didn't slow you down but actually propelled you forward, faster
 and faster toward your inevitable end. The fact that he also believed
 that his coffee maker with a timer was his long dead mother making
 coffee for him mornings did nothing to diminish the relevance of the
   I had a lot of time for contemplation as I blew through Gillette's
 southern suburbs and light industrial sprawl on state highway 59. A
 two-lane blacktop with opposing traffic, route 59 goes through as
 desolate and barren a place as any in the country and carries the
 combined weight of traveling coal miners, oilrig workers, and railroad
 personnel, some of them self-medicated, all of them sleep deprived,
 and results in one distinction--more people have been killed on it
 than any other road in Wyoming.
   I drove into Bill, which got it's name from a local doctor's wife
 who noticed that there were a lot of men around by that name. Bill is
 an unincorporated community with pretty much one building that houses
 a gas station/rural post office/motel/restaurant, catering to the
 Union Pacific crew change employees who take their mandatory rests in
 the town.
   Dog whined, knowing that Peggy's Diner is one of our mandatory
 rests, where Diane always lets Dog sit in the corner by my booth as I ate.
   "Why don't you call this Diane's Diner, it's an alliterative."
   She refilled my coffee and studied me. "What's an alliterative?"
   "A phonetic agreement where two words that start with the same
 letter are used in combination."
   She glanced around at the fifties-style, pre-fabricated building.
 "It had the name in neon on the side when they shipped it here." Her
 eyes came back to me before taking a crust of Texas toast from my
 plate and handing it to the drooling monster. "Lusk?"
   I nodded. "Lusk."
   She watched me for a moment more, fed Dog another piece of bread,
 and then shook her head and walked away with my empty plate. "See you
 next year."
   "Maybe not."
   She called over her shoulder. "Yeah, maybe." She turned at the
 counter and looked at me, just to make sure the sentiment carried.
 "How was your dinner?"
   "Delicious, Diane."
   She grinned as she disappeared through the swinging doors of the
 kitchen. "That's an alliterative--did you know?"

   After checking into the Trail Motel, I lay on one of the double beds
 and listened to Dog pant on the other. I called the room next door and
 let it ring five times before hanging up.
   Possibly asleep or maybe she wasn't there yet.
   I had the heat set on low, but it was still overly warm, the hot air
 left over from the previous occupant who must've been attempting to
 achieve an environ similar to Senegal. I watched the weather channel
 for a while and attempted to get a read on what the roads would be
 like tomorrow, but my eyes weren't focusing and I finally got up and
 brushed my teeth.
   Glancing in the mirror, I looked at the scar on my forearm, exactly
 357/100th of an inch. Turning my arm over, I looked at the other side.
 This scar there was about the size of a silver dollar and ragged with
 a tail that pointed down toward my elbow.
   I thought about that night when I'd pulled over a scours-colored
 Oldsmobile with a shedding vinyl top. It had had two hubcaps--it's
 funny, the things you remember; it also had had a taillight out, which
 was why I'd stopped them.
   I turned off the television and flipped the switch on the lights,
 climbed into bed, and then peeled the covers back so that I could
   Dan Waldheim was his name. He'd owned _Waldheim's_ _Liquor Shack_
 down in the Sand Bar section of Casper for thirty-two years when the
 two of them had come in on a crisp Saturday night in November. Kids,
 they wandered around for a few minutes and then brought a bottle of
 blackberry brandy to the counter, along with a Smith & Wesson '51
 pre-model 27, .357 revolver and a Model 60 snub-nose .38.
   There are a lot of versions on what happened next, but in the
 official transcripts it is agreed that there were words and when
 Waldheim made a movement with his hand, the nineteen-year-old had
 pulled the trigger and fired a 125 grain bullet through Dan's heart at
 1,600 feet per second, sending the fifty-four year old man crashing
 back against the wall of bottles like a loading chute gate at a rodeo.
   They'd fled north with $943 and the idea that they could make it to
 Canada. I'd followed them east of Durant and finally lit them up
 alongside the Co-Op. I'd slung myself out the door of the tiny Bronco
 that Lucian had bequeathed to me--I smiled and was getting ready to
 yell that they had a taillight out that they needed to get fixed and
 happy motoring.
   The shooter had flung open his door and was marching toward me, and
 I hadn't even seen the revolver in his hand until he raised it and fired.
   They say the slug ricocheted off the chrome trim on the door and
 then continued it's merry way through my forearm. I'd like to think
 that I was cool and calculated when I returned volley, but that would
 require me remembering that I had pulled my .45, aimed, and fired--but
 all I really remember is standing over the young man and kicking the
 Smith & Wesson into the grass alongside the gravel.
   That and her screaming; I don't think she was remotely aware that
 she still had the snub-nose .38 in her back pocket.

   I got up early the next morning and tried the room next door, but
 there still was no answer, so I loaded up Dog and drove over to The
 Outpost CafĂ© and Truck Stop to grab two quick breakfast sandwiches,
 one for me and one for Dog, before heading north.
   I took a left, wound my way around West Griffith Street, and parked
 at the very far corner of the snow-covered lot under the sign that
   I drank a cup of coffee, gave the ends of my sandwich to the beast,
 who would have felt slighted if I had not shared, and then pulled out
 my pocket watch to check the time. I lingered there, waiting to see if
 she would show, but she didn't, and I finally got out with my locking
 I held a hand up to let Dog know he wasn't to follow. "Stay."
   He sat, expecting a treat as I closed and locked the truck.
   I crunched across the dry snow of the parking lot past the
 chain-link and razor wire, and they buzzed me through the two heavy
 doors. I immediately went to my right where I knew the visitor lockers
 were and placing my Colt in the locking case along with my
 pocketknife, turned and facing the revolving security opening, looked
 up at the monitor, unpinned my badge ,and placed it and my driver's license on the tray.
   "Do you have a cell phone?"
   I turned toward the voice to my left where a tall, bespectacled man
 held open one of the heavy doors. "No."
   He held out a hand. "Brian Sales, I'm Heather's new parole officer."
   "What happened to the other guy?"
   "Retired." I followed him through another door into a hallway, where
 we stopped in front of another and waited for the guard to buzz us
 Sales folded his arms over the thick file at his chest. "She'd like to
 speak with you."

   I think orange was one of my favorite colors before I got used to
 being around it all the time in correctional facilities. She was
 palming a basketball and shooting a few foul shots in the gymnasium
 under the watchful eye of a female guard who stood at the baseline,
 sometimes collecting the ball and bouncing it back out to her.
   She was tall, very tall, with Raphaelite curls around her face and
 an easy grin that was only marginally lessened by a bruise on her
 cheekbone and a scab on her chin. "Hey, Sheriff."
   I pulled up next to the ball rack. "Howdy, Heather. How are you
   "Nervous." She glanced around at the cavernous room, the rafters and
 ceiling painted a light blue as if mimicking the walled-off sky.
 "Where's Roberta?"
   I shrugged. "Snow must've slowed her up."
   "That, or ol' Roberta's finally given up on me."
   "I don't think that's the case."
   She dribbled the ball to the top of the key, held it for a second,
 then turned and executed a lovely three-pointer, all net. "They let me
 come in here and burn a little of it off." The guard bounced the ball
 back to her, and she dribbled to the far side of the perimeter,
 palming it in an easy saunter. "I used to hate this game when I was on
 the outside. In school, short people were always asking me if I played
 basketball and I always wanted to ask them if they played miniature
   The guard laughed as Heather sank another. "With your height you
 play, right Sheriff?"
   I ignored her question and glanced up at the clock, caged against
 the wall--even time got solitary confinement here. "We should get going."
   She surprised me by tossing me the ball, and I held it for a moment
 before placing it in the rack, the movement causing the wheels to roll
 it a little away from me on the glimmering wooden floor.
   "I'm not doing it this year."
   I turned, unsure if what I'd just heard was what I'd thought I'd
 "Excuse me?"
   "I got a couple of 115s, and they're not going to take me seriously."
 She dropped her eyes and wouldn't look at me. "I had a cell phone."
   "In prison?"
   "My mother in Douglas is dying, all right?" She turned her face
 away, and I was pretty sure there were tears. "A friend smuggled it in
 to me."
 She wiped her eyes with a savage movement of her hand, which landed on
 the bruise on her face. "One of the girls heard I had a phone so there
 was a fight." I stepped in bounds, but she held her hand out like I
 had to stop Dog. "No." She stayed like that for a moment and then
 slowly let the hand fall before calling back to the guard. "Wendy, I
 want to go to my cell."

   The parole officer, Sales, was waiting for me in the hallway. "Did
 you still want to go to the hearing?"
   "I suppose not."
   He nodded as we returned to the heavy metal doors and the long
 "To be honest, I'm just as relieved--I haven't had much of an
 opportunity to review the case." He looked at me. "She's been in here
 seventeen years?"
   "Yes. For possession of a firearm during the commitment of a robbery
 resulting in a homicide."
   "But she never used her gun?"
   "Can't the other individual, the one who shot the guy…" He flipped
 open the file, searching for the name.
   "Oh." They buzzed us through, and I collected my badge, license, and
 gun case. He shrugged on his coat as we walked outside, and he stared
 at me. "How long have you been doing this?"
   "A while now."
   "You mind if I ask why?"
   I turned to look at him.
   "I mean no offense, but she's a basket case. I just don't understand
 why you would--?" There was a noise, and he stared at me and then the
 inside pocket of his jacket. I waited calmly as he fumbled with his
 cell phone. "Probably the board, wanting to know why I'm not in
 there." He touched a button. "Yes?" A second passed, and I could hear
 the other voice on the line. "Who? Oh, yes… His eyes flicked to me.
 "Actually he's right here, would you like to speak with him?"
   He handed me the phone. "A Roberta?"
   When I got the thing to my ear, she was already talking. "Walter,
 I'm so sorry, but I was in a wreck."
   "Are you all right?"
   "Yes, I just slid the stupid thing into a ditch and had to walk two
 miles to get help. How did it go?"
   I held the phone to my ear and looked around as if the parole board
 might've snuck up on me. "Well, it hasn't, and it's not."
   "What do you mean?"
   "She's not going to the hearing this year; she got a bunch of 115s…
 Um, cautionary reports for breaking rules--she had a cell phone for
 goodness sake." There was a long pause, and a thought dawned like a
 bad day. "Roberta, are you the one who gave her the phone?"
   I listened, and she finally spoke. "Walt, her mother is dying."
   Sighing, I stared at the concrete and the drifting snow that was
 blowing around my boots. "Well, I don't know what to tell you; there
 are other charges and she didn't even bother going to the hearing." I
 shook my head. "It's not your fault, she does something like this
 every year."
   The parole officer began pointing at his wrist and throwing a thumb
 over his shoulder as I explained. "I've got to give Mr. Sales back his
 cell phone so that he can go to the hearing even if she isn't." She
 apologized some more, and we made promises for the coming year, the
 kind of thing you did during the holidays, finally saying goodbye.
   I handed Sales his phone, and he glanced at the screen as he turned
 and started back into the building. "Who is Roberta Waldheim, anyway?"
   I stretched my back and took a deep breath of the cold, free air and
 called out after him, sure that the buzzing of the prison door drowned
 me out. "She and her husband used to run a liquor store down in
 Casper, but she's in the rehabilitation business now." I watched him
 disappear and then trudged across the tundra toward my truck, and Dog.