Short story excerpts

​EXCERPT FROM LIAM MALONE

     At thirty thousand feet and falling, there is no time for regrets, what-ifs, or why-me’s? And that’s the thrill of it really...watching for who screams and moans, who goes rigid with terror, who pleads with God or whomever to have just one more chance at life; the shrill screams over the dying whine of a jet’s engine. That’s the good stuff.
    Ha! Me? I can’t die and that’s what makes it all so MUCH fun. These people around me, their smells and whines, push me to those desperate acts of depravity, push me to my limits, but I’m just a man after all...mostly. Okay, not really. It’s actually just a mask I wear until it’s time for the screaming to start.
    I call myself Liam Malone, get it? Say my name real fast and you’ll get my code of life, the veritas, the way it should be. I used to have a conscience, an empathy, humanity even, but that’s gone; sucked right out with me through some high-flying plane’s door a long time ago. Very long ago. I hated my humanity, until it was gone that is. Call it a case of phantom limb itch...
    Actually I’m quite content with what I am now.
    So why do I keep coming back for more? Let me see...I hate these people; simpering little monkeys, slugs to be salted, ants to be burned with magnifying glasses, but I guess I have moments of weakness, yearnings to be amongst the fully-fragile living once again. I’m just a people person. What can I say? Ah, but that desire fades quickly once I’m actually here... and that’s when the screaming starts; the good stuff.

EXCERPT FROM THE HOLIDAY

    “Da...da! Daddy!” she called from the main room. “It’s the phone, Da.” Her tiny six year old voice rang clear as a bell in the echoing stillness of the motel room. “Da, do you hear? Oh I’ll get it then.”
    The man sat on the edge of the bed rocking silently, his hands trying to stifle the hollow sobs that wracked his body, deaf to the world around him in his sorrow.
    “Da!” she yelled again. The man straightened up and quickly wiped the tears from his cheeks. Can’t let her see me like this. Can’t let her know yet! The accident...the blood...cradling her in his arms as she slipped away. He took a deep breath, gasping at the end as his lungs rebelled against fresh air. Movement at the doorway caught his eye and he willed his face to be calm.
    “Daddy, I’ve been calling for you.”
    “Sorry, Pigeon. My mind was on a walk about.” He was amazed at how flat his voice sounded. “What do you want?”
    “I answered the phone after a million rings,” she said with exasperation.      

     “Didn’t you hear?”
   “I’m sorry.” He managed to stand.  

    “Who is it?”
   The little girl fixed him with a curious stare. “It’s mum.”
   No! Who would play such a trick!
   “What did you just say?” he barked.     

    The little girl’s eyes widened and she stepped back, the cordless phone gripped in one tiny hand, her lovey -- a ragged teddy bear named Mr. Flibberty -- in the other.   “Are you all right, daddy? What’s wrong?”
     “Mommy’s on the phone?” he whispered. “Now?”
     “Yes...what’s wrong, Da? Am I in trouble?” Her eyes started to fill with tears.
     “No, no Pigeon. I’m sorry I yelled. Are you sure it’s mommy?” He felt faint as he stepped towards his daughter.
    She rolled her eyes and held the phone up to her ear. “Mommy, Da is playing a silly game. He wants to know if it’s you.” She giggled as she listened intently while clutching the bear tightly to her chest. “Yes, Mommy. I am being a good girl for Da. When will you be home? Yes I am being good. Why are you all acting so strange? Mr. Flibberty doesn’t like it.” She chewed her lip as she listened. “I love you too. Yes, more than all the stars in the sky!”
      The man couldn’t take it anymore and snatched the phone away.
     “Who is this?!” he demanded, but the line was filled with static. “Hello, hello? I can’t hear you! Who is this!”
    The little girl tugged at his sleeve.    

     “It’s mommy, I told you.”
    The open line crackled and popped, then went completely dead. He dropped the phone as an automated recording began:
If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.  

EXCERPT FROM HOT DISH

      Eric Norby’s mouth felt like it would explode from delight. He rolled the creamy noodles over his tongue savoring the taste of meatballs and peas, an odd combination that worked so well in this hot dish, and finally swallowed loudly. Mrs. Franken glared at him, her rheumy eyes amplified behind thick bifocal glasses, and he smiled apologetically as she turned away to rejoin the conversation with her gaggle of fellow wake attendees.
    “I’m sorry, but this is delicious.” He stood up awkwardly, balancing his heavily laden plate on one hand, trying not to spill on his uniform as he made his way towards the buffet table and away from her disapproving brood.
    What was it about a death that made people so hungry? He smiled to himself as he eyed the various plates of pickles, cheese, cold cuts and glorious casseroles -- the staple of any post funeral gathering -- arranged across two linen covered tables. He couldn’t even look at the desserts yet. There was more food here than anyone could possibly eat today. He was ladling generous portions of two untried casseroles on an extra plate when Rudy VanGilden came up next to him.
    “Norb, how’s it?” The man had a frustrating habit of occasionally leaving off the last word in a sentence. “Sad day today, my.”
    Eric wiped at his mouth with a napkin and shrugged.
    “Sure is, Rudy. Seems like the old timers are dropping like flies.” He took a bite of something with potato chips crinkled and toasted on top, smiling as he chewed. “Food’s good, though. You should try this one,” he said pointing at the mystery dish with a full-mouthed grin.
    “The women went all out on this one, yes I.” Rudy shoveled the food onto his plate, and then stood eating and staring at the crowd. The whole town was here. In a small community like this one, everyone knew everyone and deaths were accorded the same mind set as a town meeting; or a party. You had to go and pay your respects, show support for the families, pitch in where it was needed...celebrate and remember the life lived and all that sentimental bog. The bonus was the food afterwards, and the women treated it like a competition : who could bring the biggest hot dish or assemblage of food to outdo the others.
    When Eric’s wife, Claire, had died last year he’d been able to live off the leftovers of funeral food for two months. Saved and portioned out from his freezer, Eric had grown to adore the taste of these lovingly crafted masterpieces of mix and bake. In fact it became an obsession, a carnal craving for the freshly cooked and rendered hot dish. Now he looked forward to a death as much as the next sunrise; it meant he’d get his fill of these delicious, exotic yet still familiar, warmed to succulent perfection casseroles. He’d tried to duplicate the recipes at home, but somehow they never tasted quite the same way as when scarfed off of a buffet table amidst the mingled sounds of mourning and drunken laughter.
    “Constable Norby!” Mayor Denden was drunkenly ambling towards Eric with a dopish grin. “How’s Brecken Falls’ finest enjoying the spread?” he asked as he slapped Eric on the back, sending a glop of spiral noodles and tuna onto the man’s shoe. The Mayor had a way of having a little too much spit on his lips when he talked, only exaggerated when he was drunk, and Eric moved his plate to avoid the spray.
    “Evening Mayor. The food’s fine.” He handed Denden a napkin for his shoe, but the man waved it away.
    “It’s good for the sole...get it? Ha!” Denden reached for a pickle and crunched loudly, speaking with a mouth full of half- chewed brine slime. It was almost enough to put Eric off his food. Almost.
    “Ya know, death is good for a community,” Denden said with a spray. “Brings us closer, oh yeah.” And then the Mayor spotted someone else across the room and spun away to babble at them for a while.
    Eric toasted the man’s retreating form with his plate and smiled wistfully. “Here’s to the next one.”



    But he had to wait three months before old man Gredling passed away in his sleep, and another two before Mrs. Stenkle had a heart attack while gardening. The funerals were solemn affairs, but the food afterwards was divine.
    At Mrs. Stenkle’s gathering Eric was hovering at the buffet table like a buzzard, swooping in after each empty plate to refill and gorge his palate on the picked-over offerings. A woman was watching him eat, a satisfied smile on her round face as he kept going back to her casserole.
    “Constable Norby, I see you’re enjoying the food,” she said as she came up beside him. Eric quickly swiped at his mouth with a napkin, a slow flush of embarrassment creeping up his neck as he nudged one of the four plates on his table off to the side.
    “Oh yes, Anna. Your green bean, bacon and cheddar potato hot dish is wonderful.” He looked over at the near empty pan on the buffet table with a hungry leer.
    “Why don’t you just take the rest and I’ll be by to get the dish in a few days.” She smiled as she covered the top with foil and handed it to him.
    He hesitated. “I don’t know that that would be proper. This food is to go to the Stenkle family.” But he took the offered casserole with a sly grin.
    “The way you eat at these gatherings you’d think you don’t have any food at home.” Anna winced as she realized how rude that sounded. Eric lowered his gaze and shrugged.
    “It’s been tough since Claire died. I’ve tried cooking, but nothing ever tastes the same as when someone else makes it.” He left off his unsaid love of funeral food.
    Rudy had come up and was standing off to the side, not-so-subtley eavesdropping on the conversation.
    Claire’s face softened. “Well, you should let me make you some hot dishes for your freezer. It wouldn’t be any trouble at all.” She patted the constable on the arm. “I’ll be by the station in a few days to get the dish. Rudy.” She gave a curt nod, smiled once more at Eric, and left.
    Eric watched her walk away with a frown on his face.
    “Norb, how’s it?” Rudy said, following his usual script. “Sad day today, my.”
    “Yes it is.”
    “I think that woman has it for ya.” Rudy took a bite of pickled herring, a blotch of cream hanging on his mustache as he chewed. “A woman doesn’t offer up a hot dish casually, no sir.”
    “It wouldn’t taste the same.”
    Rudy raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
    “Never mind. Try the noodle dish with the red peppers, it’s to die for.”
    Two days later Anna was true to her word and came by the station for the empty pan. She’d also brought two more foil-covered casseroles in one-use toss away tubs for Constable Norby’s freezer. She smiled shyly as she handed them over, the other officers in the room giving Eric a thumbs-up behind her back, and then left with a promise to deliver more next week.
    Eric had accepted the dishes graciously, thanked her profusely, and then had gone back to work ignoring the questioning looks and various eye brow wiggles from his coworkers. Maybe Rudy was right. Maybe Anna had her eye on him after all. Claire had been gone for almost two years and Anna could certainly cook well enough.
    When he went home that night he left the casseroles in the office freezer. The sentiment behind them was touching but he knew the food just wouldn’t taste the same as wake made, buffet table warmed hot dishes.
    A week later one of the last living World War II veterans in Brecken Falls died. The wake was over the top, the food absolutely glorious. Eric had hung back, drooling in anticipation of the feast as the women set out the food. Anna smiled broadly at him as she walked up with not one, but two dishes. She set the first down and handed the other to him with a timid smile.
    “This one is just for you,” she said with a wink.
    He took the warm casserole, the tantalizing smells wafting out from under the foil making his stomach rumble.
    Will it taste as good? he wondered briefly.
    “I had extra so I made up two hot dishes,” she said coyly. “I don’t think it would be improper at all, there’s plenty for everyone else.” She had misread the brief flicker of doubt across his face.
    “Thank you.”
    Eric hoped that it would taste the same...it had to; it was made for the wake. Anna was still standing there and he realized he was supposed to say something else.
    “Thank you for the other casseroles. They were delicious,” he lied. He’d taken them home after a few days, but they were still untouched and frozen in his own freezer.
    Her eyes lit up. “Thank you, Constable Norby. I love cooking for a man who loves to eat.”
    An awkward silence filled in the space between them. He just wanted her to go away so he could start dishing up all the various combinations of cheese, noodles, peas and meat contained on the hot dish altar before him.
    She blushed lightly and took a step back. “Well, I’ll let you get to it. My mother and aunt are across the room waiting for me.”
    “Thanks again Anna, can’t wait to try this one.”
    The Mayor’s voice floated over the din of the gathering crowd as Anna left, and the drone of the already drunk man’s voice washed over Eric as he hastily piled his plate with food before the throng of mourners rushed the table.
    “It’s sad that it takes a death to bring us all together, but that’s what a community does for each other. We come when we are needed and fill our stomachs with the warmth of lovingly made food against the chill of death. The buffet is open, so eat up folks.”
    Eric filled three plates and sat down, eyeing the crowd as he ate. Who would be next to die? He stared at the row of elderly townsfolk lined up against the wall in wheelchair row, wondering how long he’d have to wait for one of them to kick the bucket...
    He took a tentative bite of Anna’s extra casserole and moaned. It was exquisite, regardless of the fact that it had been made for him. It was still proper wake food and the leftovers would carry him through the weekend; they wouldn’t be quite as good, but would do until the next wake. He gazed longingly at the gallery of the aged and dying, and prayed he wouldn’t have to wait too long for another fresh feast of funeral food.

EXCERPT FROM WHO'D MOURN FOR HENRY BIDDLE

     A ragged clearing and a stand of skeletal trees ringed the lonely, broken down cabin at the foot of Mount Jackman. Calico leaves danced and shimmied in the cool late autumn breeze; some breaking free, their suicide flutter a nod to faded summer as they settled on the patchy roof below.
    WHUMP! SMACK!  A series of crashes sent birds rocketing to the air.
    “I got you!” an old man’s voice cried out in delirious victory. It echoed through the lonely Maine woods, the only voice for miles.
    “Bad luck to kill a spider inside,” a tired old woman’s voice chastised him.
    The front door flew open and a thin and wizened old man came out carrying a boot at arms length away from his body, as if it were toxic.
    “Only to Mr. Eight Legs here,” he said in glee as he wiped the heel on the ground in front of the steps. He rubbed back and forth vigorously until the grass was worn away, exposing the hard, cold soil underneath. The old man inspected his handiwork, the spider completely obliterated, and pleased with the annihilation gave a satisfied sigh and stood up. The old man’s joints popped like firecrackers that echoed through the stillness.
    “I got you,” he whispered.
    “It t’weren’t doin’ no harm,” the woman yelled from inside the cabin, her thick Maine accent flattening her vowels.
    The old man stiffened up and scowled. The sound of her voice was like nails on a chalkboard and he gritted his teeth. Forty-three years he’d endured it. He looked at the boot in his hand and made a smashing motion in the air, wishing she were small enough
to crush under the steel-toed mallet. The old woman came to the door and stared at him.
    “Henry, you’re a damn fool.”
    “Martha...” He chewed his lip for a moment. “It’s bad enough with you here sucking the life out of me. Don’t need somethin’ else to be bitin’ at my back end, neither.”
    His wife glared at him and spun around into the cabin. “You’re just full of bitter today, aren’t ya,” she muttered, sitting down in front of the large stone fireplace.
    Henry walked in dropping the boot next to its twin, and kicked the door closed with a loud thump. Martha jumped, but didn’t turn to look at him. He stood there glaring at her for a moment, and then sat down in his stuffed chair next to her.
    “You know I don’t like spiders.” Henry shuddered as he tossed another log on the fire.
    “I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual. They don’t much care for you, neither.”
    Henry let his gaze wander up to the rafters, his eyes searching for webs and furtive movements. “It’s getting cold out...more of them will be coming in.”
    Martha looked at him, an evil grin playing across her pinched mouth. “Gonna come curl up in your beard at night,” she cackled. The slap across her face tipped her sideways in her chair. Martha didn’t cry out, she just slowly reached her hand up and covered her swelling cheek. She lay there looking defiantly at her husband.
    “Oh you’re a big man, Henry Martin Biddle,” she said derisively.
    Henry flexed his fingers and shook his hand; it stung from the impact. He felt a brief moment of regret at the violence, but it passed quickly as he basked in his wife’s glare. He sat back and stared into the fire.
    “You’ll get yours someday,” she muttered under her breath.


    Henry awoke shivering. Snow had come during the night, the chill settling over the cabin like a shroud. It was still dark out, but dawn was on the way. He reached out next to him to garner some warmth from his sleeping wife, but she wasn’t there. Martha’s side of the bed was cold and unused. Maybe she was up stoking the fire and starting the coffee, maybe even making him breakfast like she used to when he had to get up early to check his trap lines.
    “Ha,” Henry snorted to the frigid room. More likely she was still angry about that slap. She’d not said a word to him since, so he’d happily bundled off to bed alone, grateful for the silence. Martha was probably off wrapped in one of her grandmother’s old quilts and sulking in her chair. Besides, she never made him breakfast anymore. No nice left in that woman. The last good thing Martha had done was to bring Henry’s son, Wallace, into the world thirty-five years ago. The old man smiled fondly, the memories chasing away the chill for a while.
    Wallace, now there’s a fine boy. Off in New York City. Got away and made something of himself, trapping and logging just wasn’t for him. How long’s it been since we talked? Henry wondered. Five years? Henry had a postcard with his son’s telephone number on it around somewhere, he’d have to find it and give the boy a ring next time he went into town for supplies.
    The cold knifed at him and he peered over his blanket at the closed bedroom door. Felt like the fire was completely out. Damn that woman, she didn’t have a brain left in her head anymore. It would take hours to chase the chill out of the cabin walls now. He sighed wearily and pulled his slippers on, his breath leaving puffy little bursts in the air as Henry wrapped the blanket around himself and walked out into the main room.
    It was dark, but the moonlight on the snow filtered into the room through the frost-covered window. It was enough that Henry could recognize the shadowy outlines of the room. There was Martha, wrapped up in her hand-sewn cocoon of goose down and flower-patterned cotton. And yes, the fire was completely out.
    “Woman! Have you got a brain left in your head? You wanna freeze to death?” he yelled as he stomped over to the wood box. Henry pulled out kindling and started building a fire quickly, flames erupting instantly from years of his expertise. He sat down roughly on his chair next to her and pulled his blanket tightly around his shoulders as he shivered. The firelight made shadows dance around the room.
    She hadn’t moved yet.
    “Martha, you should have stirred the coals before you turned in,” he said irritably. “The least you coulda done.”
    She just sat there motionless, her face barely visible tucked inside the quilt.
    “Hey. I’m talking to you.”
    Henry reached out and nudged her. In slow motion, like a logged tree with that final ax chunk taken out of its middle, Martha toppled forward out of her chair, her stiff body impacting the floor with a dull thud. Henry’s eyes bugged out with surprise and he gave a little “uh” sound, the grunt hanging in the air over the crackling of the fire. Martha still didn’t move. She lay face down with her butt stuck up in the air and knees bent in a morbid parody of someone sitting down in a chair.
    “Martha?” His voice was shaky. Henry leaned forward and tentatively touched her. She fell sideways, her limbs still locked in a sitting position, and the quilt fell away from her face. His wife’s usual weary and haggard expression was gone and replaced with the peaceful calm of death. Henry sat back quickly, an aching sorrow burrowing into him as he let out a mournful cry.
    “Martha! You can’t die!” The old man hugged himself and began to sob. Not for Martha, his wife of too many years, but for himself.
    “I’ll be all alone,” he moaned, and glared at her stiff body.
    She didn’t answer. She lay there looking up at him with dead eyes and a satisfied smile at the corners of her mouth as the sun came up.

A quick snippet of the Novella : WILDCAT OF THE HIGH SEAS -- a co-authored piece with Ariana Burns.

1:  The Rapscallion's Tale

    "The wind whipped and tore at the sails, tossing the ship around the waves like a child's toy--"

    "No, not that one. The other."

    "The moonlight cast its silvery glow over the sand, illuminating piles of driftwood to coach out the forms of skeletons tangled in their roots."

    "Yup, that's the one!"

    Malcolm pursed his lips and arched an eyebrow at the small man who’d interrupted the story, the man sitting across from him on the worn and tattered settee. With a sheepish grin the man raised a finger to his lips and nodded, contrite and eager for Malcolm to continue.

    "The island was small," Malcolm said with bravado. "I could see from one side to the other, the span no greater than a pirate's ten strides. The gems in the sand were beguiling, yet poison to touch." He licked his lips and the man offered over a heavy goblet brimming with wine.

    Malcolm took a sip and grimaced. "Wine?"

    Again the man smiled sheepishly. "I would have brought rum," he offered,  "but it's Sunday and the liquor stores were closed."

    "Hmm. I specifically said rum when we spoke on the phone." Malcolm fixed him with a quizzical eyebrow arch that somehow seemed a bit sinister. "What did you say your name was again?"

    "I'm Robert Ambrose Percivel Northram the Third," the man said, rolling his r's and trying to sound regal.

    "A Northram, eh? The name sounds familiar..."

    "Well it should. My great grandfather, Robert Ambrose Percivel Northram, accompanied you on a few campaigns he claimed. If you are who you say you are, that is." Robert looked down at a business card sitting on his knee. The card read : Malcolm Barney -- accountant, statistician, adventurer. An “l” had been added crudely by pen to make the name read Blarney.

    "Did he now?" Malcolm set down the goblet of wine and scowled. "Of course I’m who I say I am. Who else would I be?”

    “Malcolm Barney?” Robert offered sarcastically.

    “The printer’s error. My word is good, though.” As an after thought Malcolm added, “So you aren't really a writer, are you? You tricked me on the phone..."

    Robert shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I am sort of a writer. I write short fiction pieces for adventure magazines--"

    "Anything I'd know?"

    "No, probably not. I'm still in the submission stage," said Robert crisply. "Anyway, I was in the family attic at home when I came across a trunk.

    "This trunk was filled with treasure," he whispered theatrically.

    "Really?"

    "Treasure to me," Robert huffed. "It was filled with pages and pages of stories about you, penned by my great grandfather. You were The Great Rapscallion Malcolm, pillager of the high seas, romancer of women--"

    "Ha! Glorious." Malcolm stood and preened in front of a full-length mirror, oblivious to Robert's eye roll. "That's why you wanted to hear the tale of Dead Man's Atoll. Shall I continue--"

    Robert sighed loudly. "But you aren't at all what I expected."

    Malcolm looked away from his reflection and at the younger man sitting on the couch. "Well, in all fairness it's been a while since I pirated."

    "Yes, about that...the tales seemed a bit exaggerated."

    "How so?"

    "Well, for one thing it was about pirates...you're not old enough to be a pirate. And witches? Necromancers? Haunted islands?"

    "All true, my lad. Fine, fine times were those. About the tale, shall I continue?"

    "I googled you, you know," Robert said. "I was so sure that you weren't real."

    "Of course I'm real. You're talking to me aren't you?" Malcolm took one last look in the mirror, smoothed his silver mustache, and satisfied with his suave and handsome persona sat down in the chair again. "Googled me, how mundane."

    Robert shook his head. "But it doesn't make sense. You're what, fifty?" Malcolm just smirked his response. "In order for my great grandfather to have known you the way he claimed, well, it's just not possible.

    "I expected to find a grave, not a fifty-something accountant at an insurance firm here in Dubuque, Iowa," he muttered.

    "That's a bit morbid. Are you sure you're related to my Northram?" Malcolm sniffed at the wine and then took a big gulp, finishing with a belch.

    Robert winced. "So you do remember, eh? A lofty claim indeed, but you do look like the drawings in the stories. The very same in fact, well, except for the sweat pants and t-shirt. There were some other things in the trunk." He pulled a heavy brooch from his coat pocket and held it up for Malcolm to see. A blood red ruby, the size of a half dollar and nestled in the middle of an onyx raven on the brooch, sparkled, pulsed in the dim lamp light.

    "Oh my. Morrigan's Mark," Malcolm said with reverence. "I gave that to Northram when he left my ship. I'd hoped he'd come back for more adventures but I never saw him again..."

    "He met and married my great grandmother."

    "Never give your heart to a woman when you have the sea!" Malcolm roared. "The sea is less cruel."

    "Okay. Still a bachelor I take it." Robert looked around at the run down, tiny studio apartment with a sad shake of his head.

    "Of course not. Well, of sorts. The sea is my mistress." Malcolm stroked his mustache. "Your great grandmother was perhaps quite beautiful to lure him away. I hope she was worth it."

    "You're a bit odd, you do know that? If I hadn't seen the drawings of you I'd think you were some delusional kook...in fact you may still be. Are you on any medications I should know about?"

    Malcolm crossed his arms and glared at Robert. "You dare to insult me, impugn my integrity, to call me a liar?"

    "Well..." He does sound like one, thought Robert as Malcolm deflated a bit. The old man, well oldish man squinted at him, as if inspecting a rare artifact. It made Robert uncomfortable, and he fidgeted accordingly. After what seemed an eternity Malcolm let out a long sigh and shook his head.

   He said, "I admit it's been a while since I pirated, but if you are a true Northram then you'd know I never lie." Malcolm crossed his heart and winked at Robert. "Embellish perhaps, but only in dire situations such as death, dismemberment, or coupling; not necessarily in that order."

    "I don't get all this," Robert said, fingering the broach as he looked around again at the dilapidated living quarters trying to picture Malcolm as his great grandfather knew him, then back at the supposed pirate who sat staring back with a smirk on his face.  "The stories seemed so real, in fact I did research and found references to the events my great grandfather wrote about. But some of the things have only been recently discovered -- sonar maps of sunken ships, ruins newly charted.

    "How could he have known about them seventy-five years ago?" he yelled, jumping to his feet.

    "It's simple really..." Malcolm also stood and snatched Morrigan's Mark from Robert's hand. "He was there. Ergo so was I, silly boy."

    Robert tried to snatch back the brooch, but Malcolm placed his hand on the shorter man's head and kept him at arm's length.

    "Give that back!" Robert shouted as he kept desperately trying to break away from Malcolm's head lock.

    Malcolm laughed at him and held up Morrigan's Mark to the light again. "Oh, this brings back memories!" And then his watch alarm went off.

    Malcolm let go of Robert, who pitched forward and landed on his face at the pirate's feet. Malcolm grinned down at him as he turned off the alarm.

    "It's a sign, me boy! I feel adventure coming on..." He reached down and hoisted Robert to his feet. "Can you be ready in, let's see," he looked at his watch, "thirty-two minutes?"

    "Ready for what?" Robert snatched back the brooch.

    "Ha! Good one!" Malcolm slapped Robert on the back. "The brooch is yours for now, me boy."

    "Ready for what?"

    "Pirating, of course." Malcolm grabbed a canvas bag and lifted out a cutlass, the blade edged like a razor.

    Robert gasped and then put his hand over his mouth quickly. He said between splayed fingers, "Okay...uh--"

    Malcolm paused in his rummaging and looked at Robert expectantly. "Oh, do you have jumper cables?"

    "Yes...why do you need jumper cables for pirating?" Robert was backing towards the door.

    "My old Buick..."

    "Um, I think I'm going to go now." Robert bumped against the door and reached behind him for the knob.

    Malcolm was across the room in two strides, the edge of the sword against Robert's neck. "She's a beauty, isn't she? I think it's time to shake up your sad little life, Northram. There are places that sane men yearn to go, but the mad men must blaze the trail."

    "Please, uh, don't hurt me. I didn't mean to offend you, um, so, um, please let me go."

    Malcolm started laughing. "Of course you can go!" He looked at his watch. "With me! You'll thank me later, rather like my Northram did those many years ago! Time's wasting, me boy. To the Buick!"