CSI or CIA? I could tell you..but then I’d hafta –

It was a heavy day in the city. The sun blasted through the dirty glass and touched everyone in the store with the fire of a kid holding a magnifying glass over a hapless ant.

Okay, it’s not like a big city, it’s Princeton. And it wasn’t all that hot, really, and I have no idea if the people at the pharmacy felt hapless or not. Hell, I wasn’t even there. But I heard this actually happened.

There’s a lady at this pharmacy and she finds a note on the floor. As curious as anyone, and probably – like anyone – hoping the slip of paper was actually a winning lottery ticket someone had accidently dropped, this lady snaps it up and reads it.

“Murder In The White House,” it says.

You know this little old lady, gray hair and special shoes, is thinking What the fuck?

“Murder On Capital Hill,” it says.

Holy shit, our geriatric detective thinks. Murder is afoot, murder most foul and it is up to me, Thou Whost Would Buy Metamucil and bunyon pads, to stop it!

“Murder In The Supreme Court,” the note reads.

Surrepticiously, our heroine takes the note to the owner of the pharmacy. Quietly, so that the plotters and evil-doers who’ve conveniently dropped the note can’t hear, she gives it to the head drug dispenser and asks that she pass it up the line.

“Up the line?”

“We must get this to the police. Perhaps it can be dusted for prints. Mine, obviously, will have to be taken as an exclusionary set. Also, the ink can be analyzed for what kind of pen wrote this note. We can then trace that back to the manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the retail outlet. Perhaps they have credit card records of this sale. The paper, too, can be traced, though it is more difficult. We shall have to alert the FBI and Homeland Security.”

“But – ” The pharmacist points at the note.

“Murder at the FBI,” it says.

“Egads, who is left to save us?”

“Uh…the Princeton Police Department?” the pharmacist asks.

“Brilliant. Call them.”

And then our note-finder leaves. Hey, she’d done her bit, she doens’t have to stay for all of it.

But something about the note feels wrong, like an odd note played in the midst of a contemporary music experiment…I know, it’d be hard to find a wrong note in those kinds of aural train wrecks, but you get what I’m saying.

So our druggist calls Officer Peoria (I don’t want to embarrass him, if you can dig it), and gives him the note. It feels strange to him, too. So Officer Peoria takes the suspect note (as opposed to the suspect’s note) to our local bookseller and says, “Does this note, encrypted though it appears to be, mean anything to you?”

Our bookseller looks long and hard, racks her formidible brain, and says – sagely – “Yes.”


“Well, I believe it to be less a threat of political assassination than a listing of books by one Margaret Truman.”


“Mary Margaret Truman. Once upon a time, she was a singer. Then a writer. Also the daughter of President Harry S. Truman.”

Officer Peoria frowns. “Truman was, I believe, a Democrat.”


“So the daughter of a Democrat, probably also a Democrat, is plotting a massive political killing spree against the machinery of these United States? Currently run by Republicans?”

“Well, probably not…as she’s been dead since January 29 of this year.”

“Died this year, huh?”

“So did Arthur C. Clarke.”

“Well, there you go.”


“So I can throw this note away?”

Our bookseller nods and offers up a trash can. “I think so.”

The End

– editorial fair play: what I’ve written is EXACTLY – almost – how it happened. I’ll leave it to you to sort truth from truthiness.

Dream Oddities

So, according to my dream last night, Taylor Dayne, the 80’s pop singer, is the reason no one can listen to swamp boogie music (ala Katie Webster and Koko Taylor) anymore. Seems like, too, Roger Whittaker was mixed up in there somewhere.

I have no idea.

Dream Oddities

So this one was a few nights back.

My wife hands me a glass of milk. While most of the milk is just regular milk, it is discolored in the shape of a flower. Not like a flower floating on the milk, but the liquid itself somehow changed into a flower surrounded by milk.

I take a drink and realize there is something in it. I spit out a tiny red spider. I freak out a little, and the spider jumps from the milk to the ground. Thinking quick, I upend the glass and trap the spider beneath it, like a preserved science project or something.

Within a heartbeat, the upside glass is filled with thousands of those little red spiders.

That’s it, the whole enchilada.

What the hell is that, I asked my wife. She frowned, a sure sign of either thinking hard or complete annoyance with me, and said this:

The milk could represent something good for me, both because of the milk and the flower. I drink it because someone I trust — her — gave it to me and said drink it. But it turns out that it’s actually bad for me, filled with spiders that could be poisonous. But somehow, in the end, I manage to control whatever it is that’s bad by putting the glass over the spiders.

Strangely enough, I had that dream after telling people I was back on the ‘poison,’ which is what I sometimes call the chemo. Dr. Vukov gives me the chemo, tells me it’s good for me, but I think it’s poison.

Pretty good analysis of that dream, I think.

Dream Oddities

So this one came a few days ago.

There is an old grocery store near where I grew up. I think it’s a K-Mart now. But while I was a kid, it was closed and abandoned. Sometimes we’d pop the wood covering the back door and hang around inside.

In this dream, I’m standing in the empty store with Geno, a local State’s Attorney, and the black actor Dorian Harwood. We’re all packing AR-15s and we’re blasting the hell outta the inside of the store.

That’s it. That’s the whole dream. No other texture or symbolism, no other message or anything. Just three guys shooting.

Dream Oddities

Okay, so last night I was a cop.

I have no idea where, I didn’t recognize the uniform or anything else. Not a jailer cop like I am now, but a road guy, jangling with all the poh-leece gear and a shiny new badge and all the rest.

I was with my supervisor and a pile of other coppers as he told us of our new duties: two shifts per week we had to make pizzas.

It was like being in a Steven Bochco show (hehehe…how many of you get THAT reference?).

Then it was over.

The images that this chemo is dredging up from the depths of whatever depths I might have are just whacked out. It’s all sort of fun, but pretty well whacked out.

Dream Oddities, Pt. Deux

Okay, so you know Law and Order: Criminal Intent?

In this whacked-out dream, Vincent Donofrio (who I love to watch, especially in the Homicide episode “The Subway,” even though I have no idea how his last name is spelled) and I are standing in a narrow doorway between some kind of kitchen and some kind of living area. I’ve no idea where we are, never seen the place before.

Ol’ Vince is putting some kind of food into a pet dish. Who knows if it’s dog food or cat food.

While he’s doing that, I ask him: “When you’re playing Detective John Goren, are you more Goren or Donofrio? And, when you’re being Donofrio, are you more Goren or Donofrio?”

Then the thing was over. He never gave me an answer and I’m sure that was because the question exists on a plane so rarefied, so intellectually advanced, that he simply couldn’t frame an answer.

Yeah, that must be it.

Man, the drug dream are interesting.


A few days ago, I wrote about the odd dreams I’ve had since this cancer bullshit started. They’ve been extremely odd, just random images and feelings that generally seem to have no connection to anything.

Sad thing is, with a couple of exceptions, I never wrote any of them down. Pretty stupid for a writer type who constantly mines his own life for material.

So after last night’s duo of dreams, I thought I’d start giving at least a taste of what my subconscious is doing.
First dream had to do with little green apples. I don’t remember what was going on, or where I was, or what I was doing. But I do remember that almost everything was covered in that particular shade of green you find in those terrible apples (for me, if it’s not Gala or Red Delicious, I’m not interested).

All that was bad enough, green everywhere I looked, but the worst was le shoes.

Green.  Absolutely green.  Green apple green.  Hideously, horribly green.

What the hell?  I’m wearing green shoes?  And not like green sneaks you might see a young kid wear.  They were more like Florshiem shoes that someone had dyed apple green. I can even remember tiny black spots and specks. Do green apples have those specks? Or were these green apples, and the accompanying shoes, riddled with filth and disease? With Dengue Fever and Ebola and maybe even Avian Flu? Or maybe —

Okay, getting a little carried away.

That’s it, then.  The entire, short dream.  I walked around in these green shoes and then it was over.  Care to analyze that one, anyone?

Last night’s second feature was a bit more obvious, though still outta left field.

Back when I was at Lee High School, I was one of those kids who did nothing but band.  Marching band, honor band, orchestra, jazz band, choral pop group, sole and ensemble, etc. etc.  All I did was music.  Kind of figured everything else was a waste of time.

The band went on more than a few trips, including to Washington, D.C. to perform as George Bush, Sr.’s official band.  (This was in 1984, the first ‘once in a lifetime trip’ the band got to experience.  There was a second ‘once in a lifetime’ experience four years later when Bush was elected president.  Hell, for all I know, there might have been a third ‘once in a lifetime experience’ when W. was elected in 2000.  Obviously, Midland and the Bushes are very close.)

Anyway, I was high school aged in this dream and the band was at some hotel, trying to get everything together to go march.  But not like during the actual trips, when we’d leave the hotel and our gear would be at the site.  This was us getting out gear in the hotel lobby, and getting ready to perform.

I couldn’t find my damn drum.

I’m wandering around in my band uniform looking for that drum, and I can’t find anything.

And those people around me aren’t helping at all.  Of course, it turns out those people around me aren’t band kids I went to school with, they’re writers I’ve gotten to know over the last ten years at various writers’ conventions.

The dream was a very odd mix of band trips and writers’ conventions.  I guess it was lucky I was drinking like I do at those conventions, seeing as how I had on a school uniform and was…you know…17 years old; not that I ever let age stop me from sipping a round or two…hehehehe….  And luckily, I started losing my hair in the 11th grade so I always looked older than I was, which was good because getting a fake ID would have been a crime!

So that’s it.  I have no idea what either of those dreams — or the tons I’ve not written about — have to do with anything.  But all the strangeness started when I started chemo so I assume that’s the connection.  Ah, I can see the marketing campaign now.  “Chemotherapy, the launch pad of your dreams.”

You know what?  Now that I think about it, there was an ad on TV the other day that might have triggered the apples.  It was one of those stupid Ethan Allan ads and the first room the ad showed us was decorated and trimmed in the green of my dreams.

There was also a yellow room, a burgandy room, and maybe a purple one.  God knows what that’s going to do to my dreams.  Tonight, I’ll probably be wearing purple underwear with a yellow fedora…and those damned green shoes.

All About The Snickers

He’s a residential burglar.

When I was a journalist, I would absolutely have written “an alleged residential burglar.” But he’s been in my jail now for weeks and while he says he didn’t do it, he did. (And no, I won’t say, George Bush-like of Harriet Miers, “Trust me.”) Too many times I’ve heard him talking with other inmates about what kind of loot he got, how he got in, etc.

He did it.

And yet yesterday, he didn’t do it.

Could have. Could have absolutely gotten away with it.

In my jail, commissary day — when the inmates are allowed to buy certain items — is extremely small; a few sheets of paper and an envelope for letters, a few candy bars, a soda, some lotion or playing cards. This guy bought two Snickers bars.

I gave him one too many and then moved on my way.

Fifteen minutes later, he called me back over and handed me the extra Snickers. “You gave me this by accident,” he said.

There must have been a shocked look on my face because at least one other inmate started laughing. “What?” I said, fairly well dumbfounded that he would hand it back.

Because in my jail, Snickers and Hershey bars are gold. Not as food…as money. Inmates buy and sell anything and everything they have — their meals, their blankets, their books, sometimes their pictures — and Snickers and Hersheys are the coin of the realm.

Call them poker chips, too. Basic ante is one bar and the betting goes up from there.

“You gave me too many,” he said. “It’s not mine. I didn’t want you to have to pay for it if you came up short on your inventory count.”

I stood for a long moment, my addled brain running through all the different scams I thought this might be, might turn into.

In the end, after seeing something approaching honesty on this guy’s face, I handed him the candy bar back. “I appreciate you letting me know about it.”

He shrugged. Eventually, looking probably as befuddled as I had moments earlier, he took the Snickers.

“You keep it,” I said. “For letting me know.”

I still don’t quite understand it. He’s in a cellblock with a bunch of guys who do regularly cause problems. He is a bit of a problem. Suddenly he gives back a 50 cent candy bar I would never have known about?

I refuse to believe any sort of jailhouse switch in morality, it just doesn’t happen that way usually. Maybe, like the character Red says in Stephen King’s ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,’ he did it just to feel normal, if only for a little while.

Maybe this guy, who probably will go to prison for breaking into Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public’s house, just wanted to be a regular guy for a little while. Maybe he wanted to see something other than suspicion on a guard’s face.

Screw it. Maybe there was a scam and I’m just not smart enough to have it figured out.

Victor Gischler Has Great Hair

Victor Gischler has great hair.

Not like the Marlboro Man has great hair, not that kind of hyper-sprayed, thoroughly combed, possibly plastic and/or artificially extended kind of hair. No, what this guy has is funky hair.

I’d never met the man until Mayhem in the Midlands mystery convention in Omaha a few weeks ago, and I didn’t realize about the hair until we were at some Irish pub, having lunch outside and the wind came up a bit.

A few strands blew across his head, fluttered like naval semaphore flags in a Gulf Coast breeze. I could see this guy sitting in a James Lee Burke novel, waiting for Dave Robicheaux to arrive so the fists could start flying.

Anthony Neil Smith, another write I met at the convention, also has great hair. More like the Marlboro Man, though. Combed and neat and full.

Being bald, I am envious of anyone with hair (and yeah, I really dig that thing Jon Bon Jovi did in the mid-80’s…there was so much of it!)

I’ve spent most of my writing career thus far in the horror genre. Most of my publications are there and any recognition I get has been in that field. But the last few years, I’ve turned an eye toward crime and of late have gone to a few crime conventions.

They are vastly different from the horror conventions I trolled for the second half of the 90’s.

First of all, at the mystery cons there generally aren’t men walking around in black rubber tutus like I saw in Atlanta when poor Wayne Allan Sallee was assaulted by such a citizen. Secondly, the panels start way too early at crime cons, some as early as 8 a.m.

What the hell is that? In the horror world, people are just getting to bed by 8 a.m. Panels never start until well after lunch and then go until at least midnight. At Mayhem, most panels were finished by 5 p.m. and there were damned few people even awake at midnight.

But it was nice, even if I have to get used to people wearing clothes other than black goth garb. I had a chance to meet some writers I’ve always admired (Gischler and Smith among them), some new people (Jon and Ruth Jordan, editors and publishers of Crime Spree mag) and hook back up with some old friends like Sean Doolittle.

But this having to be up early for mystery conventions is going to be a problem. And if I have to sit and watch Victor’s cool hair too often, he and I might have a problem or three.