Here at The Guild we are always interested in having an array of culturally engaged people say their piece and therefore we invite the author Ani Fox to guest post today. Fox has recently released the book Autumn War, classified as a cyber-thriller, but more about him after a word from the man himself.
In Defense of Fun
I never thought I’d say this but… the Sad Puppies do have a point. Lost inside all that vitriol and under the carpet bombing emotionalism they managed to say one thing I found myself not entirely against. Fair disclosure – I know a lot of those authors personally. Or used to. We don’t talk much these days.
Literature should be fun, especially speculative fiction. I believe this. Not all literature is and we accept some awful journeys because the writer or the story or both are just that damned good. I’d rather drink broken glass than read Toni Morrison. Beloved just got cross listed as horror and rightfully so. Her works are soul stirring and profound. They also make me want to find a bell tower and jump. After electrocuting myself with a live grenade soaked in cyanide. They are anything but fun. They are painful but valuable work.
Boris Akunin on the other hand writes novels I blow through. He’s every bit as profound as Morrison and in translation his language can go toe to toe with the Nobel Prize winning master. He’s that good. Not a word out of place, not a phrase wasted. More than that, he can write in any genre he chooses. He’s the master of his own voice as well as the photo perfect pastiche. His stuff tends to be fun. Not only fun and sometimes fun comes last, but it’s in there. It’s worth the ride for the ride alone.
Morrison feeds you vitamin broth and brussel sprouts; Akunin pours you various kinds of coffee, some bitter and black, some sweet and mysterious. Now I like sprouts and have been known to drink veggie broth without physical threats. But I can distinguish them from ice cream and pizza. Readers can and do as well.
Robert Heinlein showed us how to sneak profound ideas under a canopy of action and adventure, to insert the philosophical into the fun. Like vitamin rich ice cream. Stranger in a Strange Land is the gateway drug to ontology and epistemology; Starship Troopers to political science and psychobiology. Students all around the world bitch and moan as Shakespeare and Homer are dusted off year after year in the English speaking world and rammed down their uncomprehending throats. But those guys knew how to have fun.
As You Like It, The Tempest, for you grimdark fans; Titus Andronicus. Genius and bloody good fun once you understand all the dirty puns and sly asides. Homer – whether a poet or a writer’s collective of poets across generations – ol’ H knew how to entertain. The Iliad and The Odyssey have vampires, gods, vengeance, sexcapades, disguises and reversals, boat and chariot chases (because car chases had to wait for Ronin), the antihero and lots, nay endless, arrays of naked women frolicking everywhere. It makes the Kardashians look the 700 Club Christmas Special.
Since we invented speculative fiction with The Epic of Gilgamesh (or Tale of Genji or Songlines of Red Belly Black…take yer pick), creators of the genre have buried the lead. We’ve wrapped up all the secret thinking and moral conversation in heroes, gods, vampires and demons, sex and murder, all the good stuff. Because these beings help us play out the situations we wish to investigate. The genre Speculates. It invents and interrogates a future of some sort or an alternate present, perhaps a better or worse or different past. As a way of making literature, it seeks to make history its bitch. And if we borrow from George Santayana, those who don’t end up being history’s bitch. Or you know, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Fun insulates the mind from the terrible pummeling it takes being exposed to ideas. Think fear of women in power ain’t relevant today. Then ponder Lady Macbeth and the 2016 election cycle. Literature holds us in its sway precisely because it entertains the whole mind from lizard brain and amygdala to the shiny blinking tips of the frontal cortex on maximum serotonin blitz. We still talk about the Scottish Play centuries later because Shakespeare injected that bloody little tragedy with adventure, intrigue, deception, faithlessness, lust and hatred. Trust me, we might dislike ourselves for admitting this, bit for humans that counts as fun.
Now I’m a writer and I like to think I sucketh not. But I’m no Toni Morrison. I know my limits and frankly I‘m nowhere good enough to get away with sticking my fingers into my reader’s heart, wiggling them around and forcing them to turn the page. I rely on props. Explosions, villains, hackneyed plots inverted, genres and stock characters twisted to make things interesting. So I emulate Akunin, who does all that but transcends the story. It’s a path to perfection one might reasonably follow.
Because given the choice, I’d be honored beyond comprehension to serve Toni dinner but I’d prefer to have Boris at the tale. I bet he’d be a lot of fun.
About Ani Fox:
Ani Fox lives in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – the heart of ancient Europe. He’s published short fiction in Jim Baen’s Universe as well as in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Corrupts Absolutely? The Autumn War is his first published novel. In his spare time he holds down a day job, serves as Editor in Chief for the European Review of Speculative Fiction and does what his cat tells him. He holds a BA in History from the Rutgers University, a PhD (ABD) in World History from the Australian National University and a PhD in Indigenous Theology from ULC Seminary; none of which make him more fun at parties.
Nothing is as it seems. After the mysterious death of his family, retired operative Spetz has come looking for answers, using himself as bait. The shadowy Syndicate has made him a job offer that a deranged cadre of Nazi super-soldiers, the various global Mafias, and a ship full of eco-fanatics would all prefer he decline. By midday, the U.S. Government has declared him a terrorist, and an unseen adversary has offered more than a billion dollars to have him killed.In this covert global war, Spetz is forced to call in some favors from former associates: a rogue Artificial Intelligence, an ice-cold femme fatale, and a rescue team of former Soviet saboteurs. Among his enemies are Zeus, a genetically engineered soldier who styles himself a god; Mika French, the best assassin alive, and Hans Gutlicht, a mad scientist with a grudge…and the man who raised Spetz. From the icy waters of the Canadian North Atlantic to the burning sands of Las Vegas, Spetz must keep two steps ahead of everyone, outfoxing some of the most brilliant and dangerous operatives alive. To unravel the conspiracies behind the Autumn War, he does the one thing he’s always resisted: join ‘The Game.’ But can he win it in time to stop his faceless enemy? For Spetz, it’s gotten very personal. Game on.
E-book editions of The Autumn War are available now. Print editions are expected to hit the shelves any day, so keep an eye out for this title in the wild!
Publisher Website: www.ragnarokpub.com
Young Anthony’s training was rigorous and contained a variety of exercises. His second father would take him out to the jungle to practice the kalis and kris while at the same time teaching him the others skills he might need in combat. It was important that the young man was as well rounded as possible and instead of becoming overtly muscular like some of the Balinese tribesmen who had arms like tree trunks, but could not move with the grace as a slimmer man. Wayan’s goal was to mold Anthony in his own image, lean and lithe with a clear definition. It was what had made him such a phenomenal and sought after soldier of fortune throughout the isles. Wayan sent him climbing trees to hone the strength in legs and finger strength and from the tops leap from milk wood to milk wood. Pushing off and grabbing on to the twisted branches and swinging on to the next one. He would hang upside down for hours, from time to time sitting up to tone his stomach muscles for a strong core was the key to controlling the body. Some mornings they would venture to the coast and leap from the white cliffs into the clear blue water repeatedly doing flips, spins and rolls into the deep. As the years passed Anthony notice his body changing from the softness of childhood to the toned solidity of a Balinese warrior. He scaled the trees and rock walls with ease, somersaulted without using his hands and could avoid the reeds that Wayan tried to slap him with while he tried to slice the sticks placed in a circle around. As he matured into a young man he was also evolving into a tanned and toned soldier.
Entering the building had been the easy part. Everything had been as they had been told. The guards were doing their rounds so were away from the front desk so they avoided unwanted questions and whatever nurses who might have been on duty in the middle of the night paid little attention to them as they walked with a purpose. Thorne carried a snub nosed revolver in a holster under his suit jacket, while Charles and Jensen each had sawed off shotguns strapped under their armpits, hidden by their coats. Sure it would make noise once they offed the police officers and the snitch, but that was how they liked it and at this hour they would be out of the hospital long before the boys in blue had a chance to even get into their cars. The security guards they wanted to avoid before they reached their destination since they most likely ask them some uncomfortable questions and they would be forced to kill them on the spot and they didn’t want to have to do that so early on. Quickly they entered the elevator and rode it up to the fifth floor. It landed there with a friendly ‘ding’ and the doors gently eased open to reveal the white corridors of level five. The first hing that greeted them, and with open arms no less, was the likeness of the Virgin Mary. A full body statue made from red stone stood before them, eyes downcast with a look of sadness on her face. Charles, the religious one of the group, swallowed hard, which he always did when confronted with his Catholic beliefs and made the sign of the cross as the others passed with smirks on their faces, Jensen even rolled his eyes.
As they moved along the corridor, past several doors, with only the sound of their shoes on the wooden floor, they could hear voices, most likely coming from the reception area. Thorne stopped and put his arm to halt his friends. He listened intently, two voices; a man and a woman. Probably a nurse and a security guard or possibly a cop. He put his hand in his under his coat and cocked his revolver and at the same time he could hear Jensen and Charles ready their shotguns. He nodded and they continued to walk.
Luckily enough it had not rained the past couple of days, but the night air added its own brand of dampness to the roof on which Tony was crawling. Seeing as how he was still wearing The Face it was foolish to try to enter the hospital through the front entrance and he felt he had gotten quite adept at opening windows from the outside. He walked on all fours, gingerly placing one foot and one hand down at the same time, looking like a camel against the moonlight. He could of course have walked upright, the roof of the building was completely flat, but he didn’t want to raise suspicions among nightwalkers, who might begin to wonder at the shape atop the hospital in the middle of the night. He had scoped out the structure from across the street before scaling the walls and believed he knew where the room was located. Climbing the brick building was not a problem as he swung from nook to cranny, rested on window ledges until he finally swung over the roof top. He had chosen to move up on the back of St. Mary’s so he would be forced to cross the roof due to the fact that room 506 was facing Grand Avenue that ran outside. Anything to avoid detection. Once he had reached the opposite end he leapt down onto a balcony that replaced the seventh floor level at the end facing the street. Swiftly he jumped up on the railing turned so that his back faced the street and dropped down, only to catch the edge of the balcony with his hands, allowing him to hang from it. He had positioned himself so that he was hanging perpendicular to the window below, all he needed to do was drop down and catch himself on the sixth floor windowsill and he did. He felt his shoulders strain from the pull of the drop and catch, but his toned arm muscles could handle it. He swung from side to side in order to steady himself. He through a glance below to make sure that there still was a window there. He wanted to move quickly because he was out in the open for all to see, the exact thing he was trying to avoid. He repeated the previous motion and once again felt the strain as his fingers caught the edge of the sill, he winced, this time it hurt. As he passed the glass he saw the light from the inside and two policemen standing with their backs to the window.
As they turned round the corner that led from the corridor to the reception area the trio saw the big desk and behind it a blond nurse most likely in her twenties. She was in an engaging conversation with one of the elderly security guards who was leaning over the desk and resting on his elbows as they walked up in a neat row. The guard fell silent when he noticed them and the nurse soon followed suit once she noticed that something was amiss. The setting was ideal for them, they had met their first obstacle exactly where they had wanted it to happen, in the open area of the reception. The hallways would have been too narrow to maneuver and their would have always been the risk of being hit by a random spray of shotgun pellets. They had a clear view of the corridors that branched off from the hub as well as the two adjoining wash rooms. The guard straightened up and pulled his pants up by way of tugging at his belt, unclear if it was supposed to look menacing or not. He moved some gray strands that had fallen behind his right ear and moved it across the bald spot that was the top of his head.
‘Hello there fellas, what do you need?’ He said in a quivering voice, placing his right hand on the pistol at his hip. There was perspiration on the top of his lip and his fingers twitched.
‘ Where here to visit a buddy.’ Thorne took charge. ‘Martin Lindquist in room 506.’
‘Visiting hours are over.’ The nurse said, with quite the decisive tone, as she picked up the black receiver of her internal phone.
‘I think we’ll see him anyway.’ Thorne shrugged and looked at the others.
‘We have special permission.’ Charles chimed in.
The nurse went for the numbers on the telephone as the guard upholstered the pistol. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’ He said in a harsh, but broken tone.
Thornes revolver barked loudly as he fired at the nurse. As she was turned towards him at that instant, with her finger hovering above the call button the bullet hit her squarely in the center of her forehead sending a spray of blood, skull fragments and gray matter behind her. Limply her body collapsed to the floor, bouncing off the desk first. The movement of leveling the weapon at the now expired woman had caused Thorne to stand sideways so when the security guard’s pistol fired it tore a hole in his coat instead of his chest. The elderly man emptied his clip continuously in the same general area in quick succession and as the weapon clicked a blast from Thorne’s right side sent the lower half of his body to explode in a wave of red. The shotgun blast from Jensen had nearly cut him in half and he was now gasping for breath in a pool of crimson and innards. Once the ringing in their ears had stopped they could hear the footsteps of the police officers approaching.
Tony hadn’t quite figured out how he was going to enter the building. First off he hadn’t scoped out where the police officers watching over the man would be standing. In his ignorance he had figured they would be in room 506, but they were obviously standing outside, that complicated things. He looked to the left, where he assumed the room was located, but there was no window there, and he was just about to swing to his right when he noticed that the officer moved down the corridor at some speed. Tony pulled himself up do that he was resting on straight arms, unsheathed his kris with his right hand while balancing on the left and slid the blade under the window frame. He pushed down on it and the window opened and to avoid having to go through it again he quickly shoved his fingers in the crack before it fell back down. The kris fell and he saw it tumble down to the ground below, he’d have to recover it once he was done. With some effort he pushed the window upward wile still balancing on his left hand and swung both his legs over the sill so that he could slide inside. He heard shouting and the unmistakable deafening sounds of gunfire coming from down the hall. He unsheathed the kalis and brought it round, he shook his arms to get the blood flowing through them, he was not prepared for whatever might lie ahead and he was not too keen on the prospect of a fight with rubbery, lactic acid filled limbs. He noticed that he was standing outside room 506 and slipped behind the door. The room was dark except for the machines that lit up the form of the young man who lay in the bed, covered by a single sheet. His eyes were open, the noise from outside most likely had woken him up, Tony could see two tiny pinpricks reflected in the orbs. It was tense, the man obviously could not quite see him as he stood there; a silhouette against the light that escaped the door.
The old man let out one final breath as Jensen walked over to him. He had wanted to end it with another blast, but he had been saved the trouble of wasting another shell. Suddenly one of the bathroom doors burst open and another elderly guard appeared, gun held high. This one had a flat top haircut and a barrel chest reminiscent of a marine. At the same time the two police officers came round the corner, both aiming slide action shotguns at anyone who might be in their way and screaming at the trio to drop their guns and get down on the ground.. Jensen became confused at where to focus his attention being that he was in the middle of two threats and that Charles could not use his weapon for fear of hitting him as well. Thorne took out one of the policemen by firing three shot into his chest and he fell over and skid across the floor leaving a trail of red. At the same instant the guard fired at Jensen, who tried to spin out of harms way, but was struck in the shoulder. He dropped to a knee, just as the second officer fired sending shots his way and blowing his hat off and scraping his scalp. It gave Charles the opening he needed and aiming high he sent a hail of shots towards the head of the second officer, who catching only some of it, dropped his rifle and doubled over. The guard, still standing on the threshold of the bathroom leaning against the door to hinder it from closing on him and forcing him to move, pointed his gun at Jensen who was still kneeling in the lake of blood. He squeezed the trigger, but the thug had already rolled forward in a tumble over the dead body of the other guard causing his coat to become soaked in crimson, coagulating liquid. Charles was busy reloading his weapon thinking to himself that he should have brought something capable of firing more than two shots at a time, rather than going for an item with the destructive power of his double barreled sawed off piece. Thorne spent his remaining two bullets in his revolver on the guard who vanished back into the bathroom with the door taking the hits as it swung back and forth on its hinges. Thorne cursed and tossed his weapon to the side and headed over to the downed officer. Jensen rolled to his feet in front of the wounded policeman who was clutching his face after the pellets had dug themselves into his skin and he shoved the double barrels of his gun into the man’s chest. The blew right through the upper torso, coloring the ceiling a deep red and making parts of lungs, the heart and bone fragments rain down. Jensen used the man’s body as an umbrella, still holding the body up with his shotgun. After the rain had stopped Jensen dumped the body to the side and rose, covered in blood and gore, he turned to Thorne who had just ripped the weapon from the hands of the other police officer and was joined by Charles, whose shotgun was locked and loaded.
‘We’re wasting time.’ Thorne claimed. ‘We need to get on with it. The traitor need to be silenced and the guard in the bathroom need to be dealt with so that we can get out of here. I’m sure we’ve made enough noise to alert the authorities.’
‘If nothing else these guys have already used their radios to call the station.’ Charles pointed to the police radios attached to the shoulders of the dead men.
‘I’ll take the old man in the toilet.’ Jensen said as he reloaded his shotgun, after pulling it out of the dead body. ‘You guys take care of that Lindquist kid.’ He went for the doorknob of the bathroom but found that it was locked. He sighed and nodded to the others to go.
Martin Lindquist was paralyzed in his hospital bed. He had been woken from a feverish dream, glowing red eyes coming at him in the dark, by gunfire. There was running outside his the room and he slowly came to the realization that his days were numbered. He knew enough of organized crime and the one he had infiltrated in particular how these things usually went down. He had once been part of a similar incident when going out with Baz Peterson. A small time dealer had threatened to blow the whistle, to go to the cops, and the big boss had wanted him taken care of. Baz, Martin and some guy referred to as Rosy Anderson went uptown to meet the man. He ended up being dumped off the sixth street bridge and into the Root River with several bullet holes in his body. Rosy had wanted to torture and string him up as a warning, but Black Diamond, whoever or whatever that was, wanted no trail, nothing that could lead to questions. Even though Martin had taken no part in the killing he had witnessed the cold action by the two men. They had given no quarter, just entered his apartment, pulled him out and emptied their guns into his body, he hadn’t even gotten the chance to defend himself. This was what awaited him. Sure the police officers on duty might be able to delay the inevitable, but if the men coming for him were anything like Peterson they didn’t stand a chance.
The door to his room gently opened and he steeled himself for what was about to come, but instead of the barrage of bullets that he was expecting to riddle his body a figure slipped in through the small crack of the opening. He it happened so fast and the light from the outside temporarily blinded him so that he couldn’t make out the figure clearly. As his eyesight slowly adjusted back to the dark of the room he stared at the person, who remained at the door seemingly listening for what was going on outside the room. It looked as if the figure was naked, but as he concentrated Martin could see the shape of boots on the feet and gloves covering the hands and the head… The head had a strange shape, not the type of irregular silhouette created by back lit hair, but caused by something else and when the figure looked at him he saw the red glow of two very familiar eyes; it was the thing from his dreams. He started to squirm and as he did the thing quickly moved towards him, in his hands it carried that nasty, wavy blade he had used to separate Martin’s leg from the rest of him. He began to shudder and opened his mouth to scream when a gloved hand covered his mouth. The light from the little lamps on the machinery next to his bed lit the beast partially and showed a figure dressed in a skin tight suit in blue and red, a spiked belt at the waist and a terrible, angular face with fangs and a sharp nose, piercing red eyes staring right through his very soul.
The figure slowly raised the blade to its mouth that at the moment was closed so that the fangs protruding from the lower jaw was the only thing visible. ‘Be quite.’ It hissed in the voice of someone wearing a mask, a man. ‘I’m not here to hurt you, I need your help, but we don’t have time to talk now.’ The sounds of battle had stopped and Martin could hear two sets of feet come closer to his room. ‘Hang a pillowcase in the window outside your room if and when you want to talk so that we can take this organization down.’
Martin nodded and the dressed up man slowly backed towards the door.
Down the hall Charles and Thorne could hear Jensen trying to force the bathroom door open by shouldering and alternately kicking it, but without success and he didn’t want to waste another shell by blowing the lock off. It was understandable that he didn’t want stand with only one round left, facing a possible hail of bullets. With their weapons at the ready Thorne grabbed the door handle of room 506 and turned it. Without warning the door flew open with force and knocked Thorne over, crashing into his head first. He rolled over to the wall and tried to find his bearings. His hat had flown off and there was a deep gash in his forehead causing blood to flow down his face. He was disoriented, probably concussed and attempted to resume his upright position climbing the wall with his left hand. Charles had jumped back when the door opened and had seen his colleague get knocked down. Instinctively he pulled the trigger of his gun and blasted a hole in the door. It swung back slowly and he could clearly see that there was no one behind it. He sidled up next to the hole with his gun raised and slowly moved his hand towards the handle trying to avoid the crater left from his shot. It caused his arm and the right side of his upper torso to cover the door, but he had no other choice, he wasn’t about to become visible through his own handy work. It was still, apart from Jensen working on the bathroom and Throne struggling to get to his feet and breathing heavily.
Tony had stepped back into the dark once he had kicked the door open. He had planned for it to catch whomever was trying to enter by surprise and he was fairly certain it had succeeded, at least the door had hit a body on the other side and the shotgun blast affirmed his belief that hostility was behind it all. As he backed off he caught a glimpse through the hole and saw a man in a trench coat and dark suit clambering against the wall with blood pouring from a nasty wound in his head. It made him fairly certain that whoever were in the hallway had bad intentions on their minds. The door moved ever so slightly, as if it shivered at the touch from someone on the other side. Tony rolled his shoulders to try to loosen them up from the strain of the climb. Once the handle began to move again he flipped the blade so that it pointed towards the floor and the pounced. The point of the kalis dug through the wood like so much soft butter and he felt it cut into something very different on the other side. A man cried out and Tony pulled his weapon free, tumbling backwards on the floor and coming to standing position, reversing his momentum he ran forward and like a long jumper he leapt into the air and planted both his boots on the door, sending it flying off its hinges. He landed on his back, relaxing his body to avoid injury and risk of losing his breath.
Just when Charles had reached the handle of the door he felt a sharp, biting pain in his shoulder blade. He had always prided himself in not showing weakness when hurt, but the pain from whatever it was now digging into his body was too much for him to bare. White hot and ice cold at the same time as steel cut through muscle, sinew and tissue, grinding against bone and then the intrusion vanished, but the pain remained. He slumped against the door, feeling the warmth of his blood freely flow under his suit, down his entire body and pooling in his shoes. Thorne had risen and was leaning against the opposite wall, his friend’s cry of pain had jarred him and now the were staring at one another, both bloodied, both breathing heavily, both furious. He could see it in Charles’ eyes, there was a fiery rage there that usually spelled the end for those who might try to oppose them. They had both been hurt before, it was nothing new to people in their line of work. They had powered through it and always ended on top, that is how you stayed relevant and in demand, it was not going to be any different this night. Whomever was hiding in that room, be it Lindquist, another cop or something else they were going to meet their maker and it was going to hurt. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Thorne cocked his revolver he had managed to recover from the floor. It was sticky with his blood, but it would serve its purpose. Before he could make another move the door flew out once again, this time off the frame itself, most likely due to the integrity of it had already been compromised. Charles was knocked off his feet and flew like a rag doll across the hallway and crashed into the same wall Thorne was leaning against. Sliding to the floor his body left a bloody print on the white paint tracing his trajectory. Thorne stared into the opening left by the missing door and saw a pair of red points in the dark and figure that slowly rose from a crouching position and as it unfolded a long wavy sword appeared at its side. He raised his revolver and fired, but the figure was no longer there, instead it was next to him. A quick movement before Thorne’s face and the revolver clattered to the floor with his hand still clutching it. He stared at his hand as it bounced on the floor and he blinked at it in disbelief and then looked up, staring into a horrible face with huge incisors, red piercing eyes and a nasty snarl and then he faded into darkness.
The man he had seen through the hole in the door previously collapsed on the floor following his hand, briefly the united in a heap. Another man, dressed exactly like the first one lay against the wall, blood flowing in a constant stream from somewhere. Tony assumed it was the one who had been behind the door the second time. The man was panting heavily and stared at him in fear, at the Face to be more precise. He momentarily glanced over to his right and Tony followed his gaze to a sawed off shotgun. He kicked it down the hall and the man shook in fear at what was going to happen next, but Tony let him be, he needed survivors and in the following instant he heard a shotgun blast and the sound of splitting wood coming from the reception area, he hurried off, leaving the two men to their bleeding.
Jensen had become fed up with trying to break down the door by his physical force alone. He was wasting time and the law would arrive at the scene at any moment. He needed the witness done with and out of his hair so to speak. There was commotion over by room 506, his colleagues were seemingly running into more trouble than they had bargained for, but he was fairly convinced that they would deal with it accordingly. One shot from his gun was all it took to blow the door open. He aimed for the lock and half the door and some of the frame had sent splinters flying both through the bathroom and the hallway. His ears played that familiar ringing tune in his ears that only a well played shotgun could produce. The door swung out on its hinges and was followed by a couple of bullets that passed through his coat. He stepped back and loaded another shell into the spent chamber and walked inside to an empty bathroom. The sinks were to his right and on the opposite were three stalls, all of which had their doors shut tight. This was going to be both easy and fun for him. He chuckled as he took careful steps forward and then he caught something in the mirrors hanging above the sinks. It appeared to be a figure in a tight fitting suit of red and blue, but the thing that had caught his eye at first were the two points of light that seemingly emanated from two eyes situated in a ghastly face. He spun round and fired a round back from where he had come, but the doorway was empty and now he stood there with only one round left in his smoking shotgun. The figure stepped into the doorway again, Jensen was relieved that his mind hadn’t played a trick on him. It stood at least six feet, lean and muscular dressed in a skintight fabric and that awful face was obviously a mask now that he got a good look at it with its fangs, protruding red eyes and horn like appendages. The man, for a man it most likely was, held a wavy sword in his right hand, slick with blood. Jensen didn’t think he acted and fired his second shot at the man who slid across the floor to avoid the blast and caught his shin with his boot. Jensen toppled forward, gun flying, and would have landed on his opponent had he not rolled past him. He landed hard, losing his wind and getting tangled in his coat. The trio was unused to this kind of combat, they would more often than not get in, kill and then leave. After what seemed like forever he managed to get to a standing position and in the process had fished his switchblade from his back pocket. The man in the mask was also up, standing with his sword at his side, facing Jensen who was crouching with his own blade at the ready. He lashed out aiming for the man’s abdomen, he wanted his death to be painful and slow. The figure sidestepped and Jensen jabbed at thin air and as he hyper extended he left himself open to a knee to the ribs. Once again the wind went out of him and he felt the wet snap of bones breaking in his chest. Struggling for breath he moved sideways and fell against one of the stall doors, one hand on his torso and the other still clutching the knife. The figure strode towards him with great calm, the blade still calmly at his side. Jensen thought he could hear the sounds of sirens in the distance and coughed as he tried to take a deep breath. He furrowed his brow and let out a gargled scream as he flew at the enemy.
Tony sidestepped the man, also dressed like the two he had already combated, who came at him while trying to scream although it more sounded like the gurgling when someone drinks from a bubbler. He blocked the switchblade coming at him with his left arm and then pierced his gut with the kalis, pushing his entire weight back so that it went clean through and dug deep into the door behind. The man’s eyes went wide and Tony could see his pupils dilate as he struggled with the reality of his new found situation. Blood bubbled up through his mouth and his hands struggled to grab The Face in one last desperate attempt at winning the battle. Tony quickly released him by pulling the kalis out, out from the wood of the door and the soft tissue of the man’s abdomen. With a final gasp his eyes went blank as he slowly slid down to the tiled floor and lay in an unnatural pile. Tony has also heard the sirens outside and decided then and there that he dared not take a chance at talking to Lindquist when the police more than likely were bounding up the stairs. To go out through the window he came would be madness, he would most likely get caught or at least be noticed, he ran back to the reception area calculated in his head where the streets outside lay from his vantage point and then moved through another room where an old woman lay petrified with her covers pulled up to her chin as he flung the window open and vanished into the night.
Genre: Fantasy/Gothic Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Familiarity in a story can be a double edged sword. It may be comforting to the reader like in romance novels purchased at the grocery store, to others it may be annoying and trite; to always know what is coming next, to not be surprised and maybe even at length be talked down to or taken for a simpleton. Naturally this might be dictated by what you read. An experienced fantasy reader with books by Stephen Donaldson, Ursula K. Leguin or Peter Beagle on their shelf might find Rowling’s Harry Potter books repetitive and borderline plagiarism. That isn’t to say that the end goal for most writers is to not turn out something new, it may be more about if the end result matches that very goal.
Eric Scott Fishcl’s Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show begins in a familiar setting, that of a traveling carnival at the end of the 19th century. To most readers a setting we know well, or at least have an idea of. It comes complete with a barker selling snake oil, a strong man, a singer and freaks. That is where the normalcy, if that can be an accurate description for a carnival, ends. The barker is Dr. Potter himself and the medicine he is trying to push is the Chock-a-saw Sagwa, a tonic that supposedly cures most ailments. He has not concocted it himself, instead there is another doctor, a Dr. Morrison Hedwith of Portland, behind the miracle drink. The Sagwa is the centerpiece of this tale of personal misery and broken figures trying to fight their obvious obstacles. As with most tonics of the age the Sagwa that Dr. Potter sells is useless, but there is a formulae that has other, more sinister effects, ones that he, the strongman Oliver, the Chinaman Fan and the proprietor of the show Lyman Rhoades desperately need. All of them are beholden to Dr. Hedwith due to dark events in their pasts and are therefore forced to help him in his twisted experiments rooted in alchemy. The very fragile balance in the medicine show is constantly threatened as the members regret their decisions, but Lyman exacts vengeance upon them regardless of their usefulness to the mission.
Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is an excellent example of how to use tropes that have worked well in the past, and by disregarding those that have not successfully creating something fresh. The setting is reminiscent of TV shows like Deadwood or Ripper Street, a general melancholy with a sense of not being able to get out of ones current situation. The descriptions and language are used in a masterful way. The reader becomes instantly immersed in the sadness and sorrow of the characters and the world they inhabit, but there is a beauty and serenity in it, very much like the poems by Baudelaire who is oft quoted by singer turned prostitute in the book. The tempo is fast paced without ever feeling rushed, composed like a thriller the story moves along with ease without ever simplifying words or uncomplicating the plot. It speaks to Fischl’s ability to trust the reader and speaking to the reader’s intelligence. He makes no excuses and the characters suffer and go through hell without mercy and it is refreshing.
Fischl is great at using a variety of tropes belonging to just as varied a genre of literature; The western, the Gothic romance, the urban fantasy, the thriller and classic horror and he uses their various strengths like a master craftsman carrying a toolbox filled with the best tools for a job. The characters are easily recognizable as being plucked from Gothic Horror of Victorian style. The crazed and unethical aristocrat, the young innocent damsel, the idealistic young hero, a horrible assistant and a slew of other figures that make up a rich gallery.
There is a lot that Fischl does right with this book. It is a story about broken people, seemingly feeling like they have no hope and a man preying on them for his own sick and twisted reasons. One could easily see the story being picked up by FX or HBO, it’s that kind of story. That is one of the truly interesting aspects, it has a contemporary feel, the way the tale is told. Fischl has his finger on the pulse of what is going culturally be it TV or genre fiction, but in a late 19th century setting. It melds the credibility of human interest with a fantastical element written well enough to suspend ones disbelief. In the end it makes for a great and wonderful read that won’t disappoint those used to fantasy, horror or suspense.
Familiarity is a double edged sword, a trap that an author might fall into if they are not careful. The waters are tricky to navigate when using tropes from genre fiction, but the ship that Fischl commandeers keeps the reader dry and he does not wreck on the reefs of repetitiveness and triteness. Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show takes what is familiar and makes it original and engaging.
Our interview with Sebastian A Jones of Stranger Comics from almost two years ago
In the competitive world of comics it is important to stand out and get noticed and that is what happened when The Untamed was released at the end of the 00’s. It received accolades from the likes of Clive Barker and early on talks of a live action version were rumored. Now a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to support a printed copy of the graphic novel and we spoke to the brains behind it; Sebastian A. Jones.
Jones launched Stranger Comics in 2008 together with some friends.
‘We felt there was a lack of dark fantasy epics in the comic genre, and we felt we had a fully baked world we could tell character driven stories in’ Jones explains. ‘We wanted to protect our creative visions we had worked very hard on’
Jones, who moved to the States twenty years ago from England, had run a record…
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Genre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
One can sum the theme of The Poison Eater with one word: secrets, and if one was interested in exploring more one could say that it’s about protective secrets. Set mostly in the city of Enthait the story centers round Talia, the Poison Eater. Her job is to at regular intervals ingest poison, in the end ten different kinds, and through this see visions of threats while also endangering her own life. Once all the poisons have been taken she will be the Orness, the ruler of the City, and in charge of the aria, an apparently great weapon in her charge. The job of Poison Eater is pivotal for the existence of Enthait and the people, who depend upon the visions in order to send out soldiers to cut off the threat, a ritual that ensures the safety of the community, but that ritual comes with a price; the possible death of the Poison Eater. Talia is well aware of this and has managed to survive seven poisons, a feat not pulled off by many others, even if she has a secret; the fact that she is not the Poison Eater at all.
A stranger to Enthait, arriving alongside a mechbeast named Khee, she has managed to hide her violent past and has taken the position in order to take control of the aria so she can exact revenge on the monsters that haunt her dreams. Living in constant fear of being revealed as the fraud she is it becomes evident that she is not the only one who is keeping secrets, that in fact there are deeper secrets going around in Enthait, and that the reason for her survival so far might not be able to help her anymore.
The Poison Eater is the first fiction based in the role playing world of Numenera, a science fiction world mixing futuristic technology and a fantasy setting, one billion years in the future. Though it takes place on Earth, this is never addressed in the story. It is unclear how much the reader must be aware of this world or is expected to be aware of it. The story in itself is not affected by this knowledge, but Germain does leave quite a few things out; like the terminology the characters use. They make reference to certain objects or jobs that the reader has to guess at, but becomes clearer the farther one reads. It is understandable if some might lose interest in reading when words are not explained and even though holes in a story usually is a good thing it at times can take the reader out of the tale.
The story of Talia the Poison Eater is intriguing enough on its own and the backdrop of Numenera as a setting is not really necessary. That being said, the omission of details pertaining to terminology and the history of Enthait or the so called vordcha is a bit much to overlook. It makes the emotional connection to the main character and the other figures who pass through the story almost non existent and it is difficult to invest the book. Germain has the ability to create and interesting plot and the thought of a futuristic dystopian world where past technology is still being used is fascinating, but unfortunately it never comes together as something the reader gets to sink their teeth into. For the bright spots in the book there are dark ones that take away from them and in the end the latter ones outweigh the former.
When Anthony turned six his adoptive father, Wayan, came to the hut one Saturday evening carrying a gift. He carefully tiptoed into the common area where they were gathered around the open fire for dinner and he gently placed an oblong object on the floor before the young child’s feet. It was wrapped in fabric of red and blue intricately sown together like a very detailed quilt. As Anthony tilted his head and considered the present the warrior told him to unwrap it. With care he did so and revealed two scabbards lying within, one smaller and one larger and with big eyes he watched as Wayan unsheathed two wavy blades and was filled with awe at the how the light from the fire glinted in the steel and cast golden reflections in wonderful patterns on the walls. The weapons were the Kris, a traditional dagger of the region, original from Java and the larger one was a Kelis a double edged sword from the Philippines and being the famous warrior that he was Wayan had traveled and battled all over the islands as a young man and through this amassed quite the collection of weaponry. He informed Anthony that it was time for the next step in his physical education and whatever protests Charlotte might voice were quickly shut down. The decision was made to, initially, keep the training with the blades on weekends and keep them in the hut so that the servants at the house would not see them and report to Mr. Hill. It was difficult for Anthony to keep the training a secret once he returned to his home and the tutelage of Mr. Mahr. During the first week he found himself drifting off in class, dreaming about parries and strikes, twists, turns and evasions as well as gutting the imaginary demons of Balinese folk lore. His teacher would stare at the boy when he gazed off through the window, in the direction of the village. He knew then that the boy was more Balinese than he would ever be Western and that it was fine. He of course knew nothing of the violence that occupied the mind of the child with the serene smile and it is quite likely that it had not mattered at that moment. He quietly wondered what was in store for him. He was very much innocent of what was going on in the world outside. The rise of fascism in Europe, militarism in Japan and general hate in the world. It had been one of the reasons Mr. Mahr had moved around as much as he had the past years. Somewhere along the road in his career he had become despondent when it came to educating the future, frequently he had asked himself if it was worth trying when it all seemed so bleak. Teaching proper English, French or Latin to high society ladies was at least mind numbing activities where he was surrounded by inane chatter about gossip. His contact with Anthony Hill had changed his outlook on life. The innocence of a child so completely removed from the cruelty of the world and fairly clueless when it came to his own Father’s proclivities had caused him to try to envision the world in a similar fashion. It had worked and he felt he was a better man for it. So he let him drift off from time to time for he believed the boy dreamed of the wonders of the world, when he in actuality dreamed of slaying demons.
It was one of those mornings. The sun shone right through the glass on to his face, he had forgotten to pull the drapes when he got in, or to be more precise, he had been so off kilter that he more than likely hadn’t bothered to do it. Geert turned over, with some difficulty because of his large frame and wiped drool from his chin with the back of his hand. He lay flat on his back and stared up at the ceiling without any concept of time. After his talk with Jensen, Charles and Thorne he had hurried back to the hotel and had played catch up with the young ladies and socialites there and he had caught up and surpassed them. He felt now, as he wondered what time it was, that he might have overdone it this time, both food and drink wise.
‘Good morning Mr. Geert’ A deep voice said that startled him and made him sweat as ice ran through his veins.He scrambled quicker than he had ever moved before and instantly shuffled up towards the head board getting is feet tangled in the sheets. The sunshine from streaming through the tall windows blinded him and he tried to quint to let his eyes adjust. He tried to focus through the blurred vision and slowly shapes became sharper and the scene grew out of mere distortion. By the window stood a round table on one ornately carved leg, flanked by two armchairs, he would sit in them from time to time to drink his morning coffee, otherwise they mostly filled the role of storage for discarded clothes. The left chair was now occupied by something other than his wardrobe. In the light of the morning it was no more than a silhouette, but one that was all too familiar to him.
Black Diamond, for it was he, cut an impressive form straight back, wide shoulders, a body poured into a black suit and hair carefully combed to create a part on the left side. He rose and picked up a cup and saucer from the table next to him and as he moved towards the bed he became more of a person than just a black form. Now Geert saw the black suit with the matching tie, white shirt and the pin on the lapel shaped as a diamond with a white skull in the center; the symbol of the organization that bore his name. The Diamond’s age had always been difficult for Geert to ascertain, having that forever youthful appearance and the domino mask that covered the upper portion of his face naturally made things difficult. That coupled with the fact that the man seemingly had arrived in town, unannounced, one day and taken control of the vacuum left by the previous mob family made him a figure steeped in mystery.
It wasn’t the first time Geert had been startled by his boss, he had an uncanny knack for popping up at the most inopportune time, but at the same time always when something was afoot. It was no surprise he was now standing before Geert, not after the events of the other day, and the fact that The Diamond himself could walk through the hotel and past the guards, men who were tried and true in their loyalty, was no surprise either. Most of the men at this level, ones who were closest to Geert, knew The Black Diamond and recognized him on sight and would have gotten out of his way had he walked down the hallways of the house.
‘A busy night I take it Mr. Geert.’ The Diamond said in his baritone. ‘And although I would have liked to avoid waking you at noon there are pressing matters that need to be attended to. So if you would please rise from your place of rest and slip into a robe I have ordered breakfast through room service so that we may do this in an orderly fashion.’ He handed Geert a blue and white striped bath robe and turned away. Geert gingerly rolled off the edge of the bed, the preferred method on any given day, but more so on a day like this.
‘So what do you have for me?’ Black Diamond was back in the armchair with one leg slung over the other and the cup and saucer once again in his hands.
‘Well Sir.’ Geert began and lumbered over to the opposite seat. ‘My source within the police department had very little information to give when it came to the case. It seems as if they are keeping the lid on tightly on this one, but he is working on unscrewing it. What we do know is that the attacker used some form of knife to hurt our guys, as well as the mics and that there was one survivor, but I don’t know who yet or where he is for that matter.’
Black Diamond nodded as he listened to the information, but did not move a muscle in his face to indicate any emotion. He was silent for a moment and stared into his tea cup before speaking.
“And what measures have you taken to make sure that we find the one or ones who perpetrated the attack on us, as well as the Lonergans?’ He said while still keeping his masked eyes at the cup.
‘I have enlisted the aid of three freelance gentlemen who I have used previously.’ Geert was feeling more confident now, especially since he believed he had covered his bases. ‘They have been instructed to find the identity of the survivor and through doing this it should give us a lead on the killers. I believe that the survivor is none other than our most experienced soldier Baz Peterson and he would surely point us in the right direction.’
‘I am sorry to have to rain on your parade Mr. Geert, but this information is not new to me.’ Black Diamond rose and put down the cup. Geert began to sweat, the kind of dirty perspiration that forced itself out ones pores the morning after. His boss had always had an uncanny knack of being several steps ahead of him. It always made him wonder why he was kept around at all, but somebody needed to be the eventual fall guy and as long as Geert was swimming in women, food and drink that possible future didn’t bother him. He managed to cover his own ass often enough that he was secure.
‘Excuse me Sir?’ Geert said.
‘The survivor of the attack was a man using the name of Hammer someone your precious Peterson had recruited some time ago. I assume you know the name?’ Geert nodded thoughtfully. ‘Well it appears his real name is Martin Lindquist, a young police officer from Michigan and had been tasked with infiltrating our little band of merry men. He is currently under the care of the good doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital and he has already started talking to local law enforcement. I could potentially lead them to us, depending on what Peterson revealed, but he is also sitting on valuable intelligence about our new found enemy, if that be the case.’
‘You want me to call off the search?’ Geert gripped the armrests, ready to catapult himself into action.
‘No, that has already been taken care of. Your trio of freelancers have been met with and rerouted. Whatever the infiltrator has revealed to the police will be known to us through sources other than yours, but seeing as he most likely is sitting on quite a bit of information he must be dealt with. I am leaving you make sure that he does not leave the hospital other than in a body bag.’ He walked into the hallway that inevitably lead out of the room. ‘ And Geert,’
‘Yes Sir?’ Geert said in a hoarse voice.
‘Pay the men handsomely, out of your own pocket of course, when the job is done.’
The Black Diamond turned around and left the room unceremoniously and Geert, once he was convinced his boss was not going to return he ran to the bathroom and vomited in the toilet.
Tony was sitting in the office he shared with Gabe Posen and was tapping a pencil against the notes for the evenings broadcast. According to them there was nothing more to report in regards to the shooting Downtown. He picked up his cup bearing the WRJN logo and sipped the now cold beverage, why was cold coffee so unpleasant in flavor when it was essentially the same thing as the warm counterpart. Peering over the rim and with his lips still pressed to it he let the liquid trickle back into the cup. Instead he leaned forward, tented his fingers and stared out over the busy city through his window. The contents he had brought with him from the Police impound lot had proven to be cocaine, just like he had suspected, so far so good, but who was it for. The Lonergans were obviously selling it, but they were merely the middle hands in the transaction, he had established that earlier. The product came from down south, crossing the border and then traveling through Texas and changing hands in Chicago where the Irish gang had its home base. He would deal with them and their leader Aiden O’Shea at a later date, but he needed to halt those who would spread it throughout the city first. He picked up the notepad and viewed the image he had drawn there. It was a replica of the brand that had been stamped on the crates. A diamond, very much like the one you would see on a deck of cards with a skull placed in the center of it. He wouldn’t win any awards for his artistic abilities he realized, but if he could show it to a few of the criminals of the City they might know something, they might point him in some direction. Then there was the matter of the survivor. Chief Swan had mentioned six victims, but Tony had gone back in his mind and was able to recall the events of that night and he had come to the conclusion that seven men had fallen to his blade. If the Chief counted six bodies that must have meant that one survived, badly injured, but alive none the less. That person was sitting on valuable information and somehow he needed to get in touch with him for questioning. The horror of the mask would help him with that no problem, but he needed to figure out how to find the name. He spun around in his office chair and faced the door leading out of the office, the Police Station would have the information he sought. He would have to go there, case it right after the news and break in tonight. That’s what he do. He put his hands behind his head and sighed with an amused look on his face, so much in fact that Gabe Posen, who happened to walk into the room at that moment raised a confused eyebrow, but was silent since that was his way.
St. Mary’s Hospital was one of the largest buildings on the block, as well it should have been, seeing as it serviced most of the populous of the city. It stood six stories tall and spread out over the entire block with its red brick, hiding behind young oak trees that lined the sidewalk. Two wings stretched out on wither side, like a horseshoe, mimicking a welcoming embrace to those in need of assistance. A stone staircase in white lead from the sidewalk to the doors made of glass, only six or seven steps up, but enough to hinder those infirmed to climb them without a helping hand. The staircase was lined by a thick white railing leading all the way up to the entrance, the kind of resting place where statuesque lions might rest, but instead nurses or medical students would sit there in order to gossip and grab a quick smoke. It was a state of the art facility and there was many an aspiring doctor who wouldn’t mind being sent there for their final work practice before having to face the real world.
Three men in gray suits covered by light brown trench coats stood outside St. Mary’s hospital. They were leaning against their car while listening to the radio as the five o’clock news just came on. They were all smoking cigarettes and conversed with each other in low voices, hushed, almost like whispers as they watched people enter and exit the building. They payed special attention when two police officers walked past them, both of them carrying shotguns over their shoulders. Thorne tipped his hat and smiled at the men, who acknowledged him in return. When they disappeared behind the glass doors Jensen fished a pocket watch from his vest and looked at it and Charles quickly bounded up the steps and sat down on the stone railing, next to a young red headed candy striper, so that he a had a clear view through the doors. According to Jensen’s watch it took fifteen minutes for two other officers to exit the hospital. They too were armed, one carrying a shotgun in his arms and the other one with an old fashioned looking repeater rifle resting across his shoulders. Charles stroked his chin and leaned over to the girl and seemingly conversed with her in a soft voice. Thorne gave the new officers the same courtesy he had shown their colleagues and they responded in kind. The law men climbed into a police car that was parked down the street and drove off.
‘So it seems to me,’ Thorne dropped his cigarette on the sidewalk and stepped on it. ‘That two officers at a time is the limit of resources spent on this guy.’
‘It takes fifteen minutes for them to switch and I guess that entails briefing each other regarding any news.’ Jensen replied flicked ash on the ground. ‘Intervals of four hours so far, seems doable for us, of course depending on what the security situations is on the inside at least at night.’
‘Well we did see five security guards enter this morning and three leave. So I’m guessing they run a skeleton crew at night.’
Charles came towards them with a big grin on his face that only grew wider as he came closer to the car. He reached into his coat and produce a pack of smokes and lit one after having placing it between his teeth.
‘So what’s the score?’ Thorne asked.
‘Well apart from the fact that I’m picking her up at seven on Friday?’ Charles came back and showed all his teeth in his big smile, his buddies shrugged in unison. ‘From what she gathers the police officers always go to the fifth floor, that’s where they keep patients who have come out of surgery and need to be monitored. She doesn’t get to help out there only nurses do, but she has heard rumors from the ladies in the building that room 506 is the place that is heavily guarded. Two officers at a time, armed at all times.’
‘What of security, regular hospital security?’ Thorne asked.
‘According to her they only have three older men patrolling the hallways at night, but most of the time they hang out in the reception area on the first floor, playing cards. There are a few doctors on call, but they are most often in the basement area, where emergency cases go at night. Nurses sit on each floor, but only two per area. She is pretty certain that the officers do the rounds every hour on the hour, so the reception is most likely unmanned at those times.’
‘Excellent.’ Thorne’s grin was almost as wide as the one Charles wore. ‘Fellas, this may just be the easiest cash we ever made. We sneak in after midnight, if need be we take out the nurses and whatever guards we may encounter on the way and then deal with the officers, they are most likely the ones we have to be careful with, we take them down after the nurses and then finish Mr. Hammer in his bed.’
‘Easy as pie.’ Jensen mused. ‘Then I propose we take an extended vacation. We will be in high demand from the law after this.’
‘Right you are.’Thorne replied. ‘Now let’s scope out the building, so that we know what we’re dealing with tonight.’
‘We don’t need any unnecessary surprises.’ Charles chimed in and they left their car and walked towards St. Mary’s Hospital in order to get the lay of the land.
The first floor of the police headquarters was bustling with activity. The main command center was basically and open space with desks littering the floor and that in turn were littered with files, papers and coffee cups. Secretaries, police officers and plain clothes detectives were running around handing stuff to each other, talking on the phone or just standing in front of chalk boards going over some case. At the far end, right opposite the big mahogany double doors that lead to the hive of activity was a dais and on it stood a desk, like a podium, that stretched from one side of the room to the other and behind it were secretaries and older police officers who barked orders, answered phones and handed documents to young boys, runners, who made sure the information went to the right person. On the left side of the command center was Chief Swan’s office and the door was closed and the blinds drawn.
Tony walked over to the dais and tried to avoid bumping in to those running around him, in his hands he was carrying a box of donuts from Bendtsen’s bakery on Washington and at times he was forced to lift it above his head so that it wouldn’t be sent flying across the room and land on some unfortunate detective’s desk. Once at the overlook area he turned around and exhaled, he thought the offices at WRJN could get busy at times, but working in this atmosphere every day would most likely kill him in the long run.
‘May I assist you in some way Sir?’ A cautious voice said behind him and Tony spun round to find a young man in a beard and dressed in a n ill fitting tan suit, a blue shirt and a black and white striped tie. With his dark brown hair, cut the same length as his facial hair the man looked like a disheveled grizzly bear. Having this figure looking down on him made Tony feel more than uncomfortable.
‘I am here to speak to Chief Swan if possible.’ He said. ‘I brought donuts.’ He added and held up the box.’
‘I see.’ The bear-man said and looked to a middle aged woman wearing horn rimmed glasses and with a shawl covering her shoulders. ‘Angie, is Chief Swan in?’
The woman looked at him over the rim of her glasses and sucked her gums in a distasteful manner. She then turned her judgmental gaze at Tony and raised her eyebrows in aquizzical expression. ‘Who is here to see the Chief?’ Her voice had all the nasal properties of a true Midwestern native, most likely from the northern part of the State. ‘Does he have an appointment?’
‘My name is Anthony Hill.’ Tony said with his best smile. ‘You might recognize my voice from the Five O’Clock News on WRJN, Your Radio Friend?’ He adjusted his voice to make it sound like the radio version of his regular diction.
‘Mr. Hill?’ The woman looked skeptical and riffled through some papers, she was obviously not impressed. ‘And what is the purpose of your visit?’
‘I would like to speak to the Chief in regards to what we spoke about on the radio, if possible?’ Tony’s voice went back to it’s natural tone and he looked at her with his best puppy dog eyes.
‘Chief Swan is busy at the moment, he has a guest, who had an appointment.’ The woman said and smiled smugly. ‘Then he has an engagement to attend with The Knights of Columbus, but if your lucky you might be able to speak to him the few seconds he is in transit.’
‘That would be great Miss, care for a donut, they’re fresh?’ He opened the box and smiled.
‘Mrs. Connors.’ The woman bit back. ‘And no thank you. Detective Glade, why don’t you show Mr. Hill to the office?’
Detective Glade, the man with the disheveled look hopped to and circled round the podium and down from the dais to stand next to Tony. ‘Follow me Mr. Hill.’ He said and moved through the throng of people.
‘Donut?’ Tony said and held out the box to Glade.
‘Don’t mind if I do.’ Glade replied and grabbed an eclair, as he bit into it cream filling burst from it and landed all over his suit. ‘Dammit’ He shouted. ‘Just my luck, this always happens to me. I’m going to clean myself up, this is the office, so I’ll leave you here. Is that alright Mr. Hill?’
‘Sure thing Detective Glade, thanks for the guided trip.’ Tony tried to avoid laughing at the slovenly detective as he vanished through the wild landscape that was the police station.
No sooner had his guide disappeared to clean himself up than the door to Chief Swan’s office opened and out stepped a man dressed in a dark suit followed by Swan. They both stopped in their tracks when they noticed Tony standing there with his box.
The first man appeared to be in his mid forties and wore his dark hair in a part on right side, with a few strand playfully falling over his forehead. Clean shaven and dapper he smiled at Tony and revealed the tiniest hints of wrinkles by his dark eyes. Chief Swan stuck out his hand and Tony took it in greeting.
‘Mr. Hill, what a surprise to see you here.’
‘I thought I’d stop by to discuss some details from yesterday Sir.’ Tony replied as he let go of the Chief’s hand.
‘Interesting, I am pressed for time though, but I can give you a few minutes. By the way, have you met Dr. Benton?’ Swan indicated the man standing next to him.
‘I have not had the pleasure.’ Tony replied and grabbed the doctor’s outstretched hand.
‘Delighted to meet you Mr. Hill, I often enjoy your news reports.’ Dr. Benton said in a soft voice.
‘The good Doctor runs one of the largest pharmaceutical producers in the Midwest and has set up base in our fair City.’
‘That is true.’ Benton nodded in agreement. ‘I have always wanted to own a house on the lake, one opened up here and the harbor in the City is perfect as a base of our operations. Proposed railway connections would make this a hub as well and it all plays very well into our plans.’
‘We were just discussing a fundraiser Dr. Benton and his company is holding this weekend to benefit widows of policemen. A very good cause, we need all the funds we can get.’
‘It’s the least we can do for our boys in blue. Have you received in invite Mr. Hill?’
‘I don’t believe so.’ Tony was taken aback at the question. He had always found himself standing on the outside of the higher circles. Being a newscaster, and fairly famous, at least among some people, he had not been invited into the group that Gabe Posner, Chief Swan or Vic Linden ran in. ‘Maybe it got lost in the mail.’ He continued and faked a laugh only to be met with a puzzled look from Benton and Swan.
‘Well consider yourself invited.’ Dr. Benton said and smiled again, a very infectious one. ‘Will you be bringing a date?’
‘No Sir.’ Tony almost blushed. ‘I do not have a young lady I’m seeing and my mother passed away several years ago.’
‘Well we’ll have to remedy that.’ Dr. Benton winked at him. ‘A man of your talents should not stay unwed for long. A card will land in your mailbox shortly Mr. Hill.’ Dr. Benton gave a short bow to Tony and Chief Swan. ‘I must unfortunately be moving along, there are pressing matters at hand, a business to run. Good Day Gentlemen.’
As they watched Dr. Benton leave Swan put a hand on Tony’s shoulder.
‘Step into my office Mr. Hill, I can give you my undivided attention for five minutes.’
The command center was far from as bustling with activity at night as it was during the daylight hours. In fact there was no movement at all since those officers who occupied the building always stayed on the lower levels and detectives seldom worked at their desks past six p.m. Even the podium with its dais was abandoned and once in a while the phones would ring, only to remain unanswered, the call automatically transferred to the main desk in the lobby. The only light in the room came trickling in from below the great double doors, now closed, from the hallway beyond and the streetlights that cast a yellow glow across the furniture and made strange shadows dance to and fro. If an unsuspecting visitor might have ventured into the room it is more than likely they would have died from fright at finding a horrific face hanging upside down in the window, peering in with red glowing eyes and scanning the area, its hideous grin showing rows of sharp teeth. Slowly two hands glided down the window pane and tried to find a possible way to get fingers between the ledge and frame, but to no avail. A knife with a wavy blade appeared and slowly it slid betwixt the wood and with the slightest crack, that echoed through the room the frame lifted and four gloved fingers appeared. Luckily the chill of the night air had caused the wood to contract and it made it easier to slide the window upward so that the figure could pull itself inside.
Tony found that he had to use all of his strength in order to keep the window open while simultaneously hauling himself across the windowsill, but he managed and came in with his back towards the floor. Dragging his body up he landed with both feet against the hardwood and gently let the window slide back down. Placing the blade back in the wangaraka he crouched down and looked around for any signs of life. It was dead quiet and gloomy, the only sound he could hear was his own shallow breath and the beating of his heart. His trip to the station earlier that day had provided him with a lot of information, not his discussion with Chief Swan who had basically given him the same song and dance from their on air interview, but he knew where to find what he was looking for. He needed to know who that surviving member was and where he was at the moment. The skull and diamond logo was a dead end without another lead to follow and this man might be able to give him more to work with. Not taking any chances he continued to stay low as he moved through the labyrinth of desks towards Chief Swan’s office. To his surprise the door wasn’t locked and he quietly entered, still crouching. Once inside he rose, since the blinds were all pulled. Many things could be said about Chief Swan, but that he was neat was not one of them. By all accounts he was organized, well informed and in the know, but it was most likely not due to his ability, or lack thereof, to keep order in his office. The gloominess of the room made it difficult to find anything and with papers piled upon papers, several coffee cups strewn everywhere and half eaten bagels and donuts stacked on top of each other the task wasn’t made easier. He produced a small electrical torch to aid the search and with a sigh began scanning the mountains of objects before him. Several of the taller skyscraper like stacks were easy to eliminate from the search due to the layer of dust covering them. Those covered most of the regular surfaces, like tables, parts of the desk and even the odd flower pedestal. On the leather couch standing off to one side and the office chair were, what looked to be, more recent documents so he started there. He could quickly put them to rest by looking at the dates of the first paper, so he moved to the piles on the floor. As the electric light passed over the range of documents and leftover dishes he noticed the box of donuts he had brought earlier in the day, but also that it was atop a tan folder. Quickly he moved the box out of the way, noticed that Swan had managed to get jelly filling on the folder, but opened it anyway.
It was a report filed by a Detective Garfield Teague and it detailed the facts in the case so far, or at least what they knew so far. It noted that they now knew the contents of the crates, cocaine, but from whence it came they had no idea at this time. The truck and its cargo belonged to a newer crime family by the name of the Lonergans and they were of Irish decent, their representatives had all perished down in the parking structure. According to the report the other victims were under the leadership of Henry ‘Baz’ Peterson, but he was not the head of whatever group purchasing the drugs. All men connected to Peterson, some named and some not had also been killed, save for one and here was a dilemma; the name of that person had been blacked out. There actually seemed to be two names, or one fairly long one, whichever it was impossible to read it. There was no other information to be had, only that the men had not killed each other that day. Teague believed there to have been a third party, whose agenda he did not know, someone who used a blade. That he had manage to find this information could only mean that he had spoken to the survivor, the name that at the moment eluded Tony. He turned the report over in his hands and flipped through all the papers fro additional clues and found that something was written in blue ink on the back of file. In Chief Swan’s beautiful cursive script it read; Black Diamond? Tony tapped his index finger on the name, what did it mean? Was this a clue to whoever The Lonergans were working with? Whatever it was it was a start, he still needed to find the survivor before he died from his wounds or worse was taken out by his colleagues. He placed the torch on the desk and proceeded to place the box of donuts back on top of the file when he noticed something. There was a notepad lying there, it was empty, but the light from the torch shining at it from an angle revealed the indentations of Swan’s familiar handwriting. It was a long shot but he picked it up and shone the light across the bleach white paper.
It was from the day before. A note giving Detective Teague access to a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital, room 506. It was addressed to the hospital staff, as well as the officers on duty. There was a name as well, two names in fact; Martin Lindquist and Maury Hammer. It might be a dead end, but it was all he had to go on at the moment. Suddenly he heard the doors to the room outside the office open. He turned off the torch and sat down by the desk. He slowly crawled across the floor towards the couch and gently climbed the creaking leather, making sure he didn’t knock over any piles. The put two fingers between the lower blinds and peered out. All he could see was a shape. A large frame of a man, wearing a hat, carrying a flashlight that illuminated the room. Due to the light in the person’s hand he could see that the man wore a beard and glasses, but not much more. The fgure moved slowly from desk to desk, rifling through filing cabinets and drawers very clearly looking for something, or possibly anything that might be of interest.
After having been up on the dais, as well as having been startled by the ringing of one of the phones, the light was aimed at the office. Tony had to think quickly, there was no way he would manage to exit the room without the man noticing him, he would have to hide. Silently he leapt from the couch, hit a roll and curled up next to the door. The figure opened the office door, which thankfully opened inward and entered. This figure had more knowledge than Tony of how Chief Swan kept his office and ignored the various piles and headed straight for the desk. He moved the box and paged through the file, but seemed unfulfilled by the contents. Letting out a sigh the man opened the box and grabbed and pastry from inside. Taking a bite the unmistakable sound of custard dripping onto clothes could be heard and the figure let out an even bigger sigh, before quickly exiting the office and slamming the door behind him, completely ignoring the noise it made.
Tony waited for the double doors to close before he exited the office and headed for the window again, he had a lead, whatever it meant.
In some parts of the world where Christmas is celebrated the 24th of December is when one gathers the family and exchange gifts. The following day all the youngsters leave their homes and go out with their friends, the ones they haven’t seen during the year. That is why Merry Christmas Eve is an appropriate tune for this day.
Written by Kevin Griffin and released as a b-side of the 1995 single Rosealia with his band Better Than Ezra the song is quite unknown to most people. The band was formed in 1988 and became popular after the release of their debut album Deluxe, riding on the grunge wave created in Seattle, even if they never fell into that category. They have maintained a following since then and have charted from time to time.
Merry Christmas Eve is all about family and the joy and sadness of coming home for the holidays and having to leave shortly after. The narrative is very much like an observation at an airport as people come and go and it balances between acceptance and criticism from loved ones. For those who remember how it was to travel home for Christmas dinner the tune brings back that nostalgic feelings of a rushed family visit.
Because of the name alone and the lyrical content Merry Christmas Eve is the 24th song on The Christmas List of Songs.
One of the worst things, probably worse than being alone at Christmas, is when the holidays just don’t turn out the way we though they would. That building anticipation that ones goes through for weeks, just to be let down when it finally arrives. The turkey is dry, the family gets too drunk, you just didn’t get that present you were hoping for or you don’t arrive at your destination. That is what Nick Lowe contemplates in his tune Christmas at the airport.
When Nick Lowe, born in 1949 in England, wasn’t thrilled when his record company approached him to release a Christmas album, but according to himself he didn’t have to consider it for long and gave in to ‘tawdry and vulgar commercialism’. The result was Quality Street – A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, complete with covers of various seasonal tunes, but also two new songs, all done with Lowe’s special brand of irony and humor.
Christmas at the Airport is one of those new songs, relating how Lowe is stuck during Christmas Day and how he decides to spend his time, all alone. It is a interesting ditty, maybe not an instant Christmas classic, but it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in The Terminal and it tells us to make the best out of every situation, no matter how bleak.
For its message of hope Christmas at the Airport by Nick Lowe is song number 23 on The Christmas List of Songs.
It’s probably not odd that one of the most famous Christmas songs land here on the list and again not so surprising that it ends up on the day itself. To many around the world Sean MacGowan’s anthem is the very best holiday tune, although fairly unknown in the states it is iconic in Europe.
Fairytale of New York was released in 1987 by The Pogues, written by Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, though it had been in the works since 1985. It basically is the amalgamation of all the songs on this list. In it you will find the spirit of the season, the loneliness some can feel and the longing or desire that comes with the holidays. About a man in a New York City drunk tank he hears the man in the next cell sing an old tune and then dreams about the female character in that very song. It ends up becoming an imagined conversation between the two about youthful hopes and a life lost to drug and alcoholism. At its core it is a very sad song, but still one that incorporates the season. Its folk music style gives it that old seasonal feel as well.
Because of this somberness and that it in the end just represents all the Christmas tunes on this list; Fairytale of New York is the final and 25th pick on The Christmas List of Songs.
Many of the songs on this list are about the majesty of Christmas, the need to be with family for the holidays and the love we share when with those who are most important to us. We Won’t Remember Christmas might just be one of the few songs that show the reality of the season, in a humorous way.
Released in 2014 by the YouTube sensation The Midnight Beast the tune relates the events of, for some, an all too familiar Christmas celebration with the family. I´t may appear that the events that The Best sing about would be construed as quite a terrible holiday celebration, but the perform it, as they always do, with a wink and a nod. It is all there; embarrassing relatives, too much holiday cheer and plans that fall through. All set to a festive and somewhat reflective melody.
Midnight Beast rose to prominence in 2009 when they produced a cover of Tik Tok by artist Ke$ha and have since put out material consistently with two albums, a book and a television show in the bag. The trio, consisting of Stef Abingdon, Dru Wakely and Ash Horne, have mastered the art of YouTube fame by being musically gifted and having previous experiences in songwriting and performing. Their brand of music is a blend of styles like pop, rock and dance, all with witty and sarcastic lyrics.
The fact that one might actually be able to relate to the morning after Christmas is the reason why We Won’t Remember Christmas is our 22nd choice on The Christmas List of Songs.