Saturday, March 29, 2014

Assiduously Avoiding Adverbs

Assiduously Avoiding Adverbs

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Mark Twain.

I finished the first draft of one of my novels a year ago and let it sit for quite a while before diving into the editing process. Most writers will advise letting your manuscript breathe for a spell: you have just poured your heart and soul and maybe some blood, sweat and tears into this work and trying to revise straight away can be overwhelming and undermine objectivity. So I gave it time and when I got back to my labor of love, I fully expected to catch some errors and discover some good opportunities to tighten things up. Oh did I ever, and had that been all, I would have been ecstatic. No such luck. A loathsome adversary had infiltrated the world I’d created, lurking in my blind spots as I drove my story forward, blind spots borne of good intentions and zeal, but blind spots nonetheless. It had lurked and then struck and colonized quickly, feeding ravenously upon the wonderful work I was just sure I had created.

Adverbs. The bane of many a literary existence.

Adverbs are your Enemy. Usually.

Stephen King proclaimed that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”—perhaps a tad severe, but perhaps not. I cringed more than once as I waded through my adverb-infested jungle, the delete button my machete and saving grace. “Employ a simple, straightforward style,” Twain exhorted. Equally estimable guidance, and hacking away a majority of adverbs is a good way to follow it. And I say majority, not entirety—for I suspect in writing we ought never say never. If a good adverb can evoke the desired effect, and that effect cannot be better achieved without it, then keep it. In the end, good writing is good writing and while I rather doubt any manuscript riddled with adverbs constitutes such a thing, the occasional employment of adverbs in an overall well-written work can probably slip by. The writer who writes well will have in essence garnered the benefit of the doubt. Hell, even Twain used some. Consider this passage from Chapter One in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract 
of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along. 
Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was as 
sweet an outfit as ever I saw, what there was of it. She walked 
indolently along, with a mind at rest, its peace reflected in her 
innocent face.

In the last sentence, lo and behold, we find an adverb. She walked indolently along. Is the indolently necessary? I’d say, yes. I know she is ten, an age not unfamiliar with bouts of indolence. And Twain’s description is vivid: “a fair slip of a girl,” “a cataract of golden hair,” “a hoop of flame-red poppies.” I’m there, I can see her, and indolently seems to me to fit quite well. But that’s just me.

And yet that’s the point. That’s just me, the reader.

Trust the Reader

When I was hacking away in my adverb forest I found myself contemplating the root of the problem, and time and again it came down to the reader, and the need to trust them. Twain may have gotten away with it in the above example, but in the many instances where adverbs do not enhance narrative, and often reduce it, I think a certain lack of faith in the reader and subsequent insecurity in one’s writing are often conspiring culprits (not contemptuously conspiring culprits, though). Let’s look at a few of those instances (get ready to cringe):

Alyssa grimaced intensely as the pain returned.
Phillip locked the door and cackled ominously. 
Donald shouted thunderously. 

Are they the worst sentences in the world? Not really, but they’re not great. Most grimaces are, by definition, intense. Cackling is perhaps not always, but is often, ominous, particularly following the locking of a door.  And if the author has succeeded in setting the tone and building the story and letting us get to know Phillip a bit, we already understand the malevolence of his cackle. In the final example, shouting is already a pretty loud thing, so “thunderously” seems pretty self-indulgent. I suppose I could live with “Donald thundered,” but my main point would be that adverbs tend to reside most insidiously in dialogue attribution. When I weed out sentences like this in my writing I find that more often than not I have not trusted the reader, and therefore not trusted my writing, deciding I’d better hold their hand and script out for them precisely what it is they’re supposed to see and feel. Alyssa didn’t just grimace, see, she grimaced intensely. Can’t you just see it? Well, it depends. Have I to that point engaged the reader with good writing, good characters and a good story? If I have, then I can purge the vast majority of adverbs, for most of them are apt to be so much puffery, slotted in to prop things up rather than writing things well enough that they can stand on their own.

Trust your readers. They have their own relationship with Alyssa and Phillip and Donald; let them see and hear them as they will.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ten Acts of Penance

A Serialized Release

*Note:  Welcome to Ten Acts of Penance, a serialized work which shall be released through my blog in installments averaging 2-3/month. Each chapter will be archived separately, though the book will build toward a cohesive whole. For anyone joining midstream, each chapter will for the most part be able to stand on its own, but this intro and a link to the prologue  will be provided with every release, as it will serve as a reference/launching point for any ensuing chapter. As with pretty much anything I present here, I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments section, as they will prove very useful when I edit for a final draft of the completed book.

I hope you enjoy!


Act One
The Demon Witch of the Willamette

image courtesy of

Chapter Three

He closes the door and shields his eyes against the suddenly garish sunlight but his thoughts are of witches and demons and hell. Of the first two he gives no consideration, but of the last he has come to believe, for no matter his physical location, it is where his heart and soul have resided ever since the call came and his world was ripped asunder. An eternity of flames and damnation gives him no pause, for if he is not to be reunited with his wife and child, then damnation is already his. He must solve this case, witches be damned, and then he must pass nine more tests. “Each,” Pete had said, “greater than that which precedes it.” And so be it. He would not rest and he would succeed, or die again trying. 

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

When he pushed the saloon door open and the light washed over the inhabitants within, they looked at him like possums caught ransacking garbage cans in the night. Their expressions quickly shifted to that of agitation, however, as they regarded the stranger in the doorway.

“Either come in, or go back out.” The marshal. He stood at the bar shielding his eyes, sunlight reflecting off his badge, a shot glass and two bottles of whiskey perched before him. Another man, apparently a random local, sat on a bar stool a few spots down; the barkeep, standing opposite the marshal and polishing glasses, sneered in Liam’s direction.

Liam released the saloon doors and stepped forward. He doffed his cap slightly. “Gentlemen.”

“Well, well,” dripped the marshal. “I do believe it’s our savior.” The barkeep chuckled, and continued polishing glasses. The local lowered his head, took a sip of his drink and looked straight ahead. Liam’s mind quickly assessed the scene, as had long since become habit. Three men, unless anyone else was in the lavatory. The marshal had made a show of his revolver—looked to be a Colt 1851 Navy—when he’d turned to regard Liam. There was surely a gun behind the bar. The local at the end of the bar might be armed too, but Liam could discern from his demeanor that he was not likely a threat.

His own weapon was unloaded, though this was hardly common knowledge. This was also part of the deal, apparently--part of that minimizing disruption to life events and fabric of time stuff Pete was so insistent upon. Killing people, Pete reminded him, hardly constituted minimal disruption.

“I can understand your feelings, marshal,” Liam said.

“Can you now?”

“I think so. New man in town, a lawman where one already presides. I don’t expect a welcome wagon.”

The marshal threw back a shot, and set his glass down on the table with a thud. “Just what is it you do expect, savior?”

“A little assistance, perhaps,” Liam said, maintaining square eye contact. “And maybe a few answers.”

“Now why would I assist you, if you’re here squatting in my territory, as you so kindly just admitted? Answers? Find your own.”

Liam shifted his weight ever so slightly, so that he knew the outline of his firearm would be discernible, however innocuously. Not to make a show of it, but to make it known. This was something any lawman learned. The marshal stiffened, and Liam knew he’d noticed. Good.

“You’ll assist me, marshal, because you have taken an oath to protect the good people of Portland, have you not? A young man has gone missing, and I understand his parents called upon you for help.”

The marshal shot a quick look at the barkeep before returning his attention to Liam. "The Scotts," he said. "What of it?" He turned and faced Liam. His right arm dangled near his revolver. Liam eyed the barkeep.

"Whiskey, please,” Liam said. He hadn't checked with Pete as to if alcohol consumption was within protocol, but in this moment he did not care: he needed to have the bartender's hands where he could see them. The barkeep glanced at the marshal, who, without taking his eyes off Liam, proffered a slight nod in return. The barkeep retrieved the whiskey and a tumbler and began to pour. Liam eased up to the bar, retrieved the billfold he didn’t know but somehow knew he had, and extracted a dollar from it. The barkeep’s eyes widened as Liam tossed it in his direction. “Keep it,” Liam said.

He faced the barkeep as he plucked up the glass, but his peripheral vision was strained intently on the marshal. Another trick of the trade he’d learned: all officers, no matter their eyesight, developed acute peripheral vision. Failure to do so could get you killed. He threw the whiskey back with one swig, and pushed the tumbler back toward the barkeep.

“Another,” he said.

This was surreal. He had neither felt nor tasted the liquor go down, and he’d glanced quickly down at himself to ensure it had. That he hadn’t spilled it; that it hadn’t coursed through him and exited as though he were a vapor. And yet was he anything more than that? He did not know. But a good detective amassed information, stored it, called upon it when needed. And now he knew that in one sense he had clearly been granted a corporeal form, a body, his body, which others could see. A voice, his voice, which others could hear. But certain aspects of the physical world had no impact upon him whatsoever. What was he, exactly? All he knew is that the more he dwelled upon this elusive question, the less focused he would become upon the task at hand. And this was only the first. 

“Obliged,” he nodded to the barkeep, who had just refilled his whiskey. He angled toward the marshal, who had eased his confrontational posture, bellied back up to the bar and thrown down another shot of his own. “The Scotts,” Liam repeated. “Why didn’t you help them?”

The marshal fixed indignant eyes upon him. “There is no case there,” he said. “As if it’s any of your concern.”

Liam paused his glass near his lips. “They’ve made it my concern,” he said. He threw back his drink. Again, nothing. Not the faintest taste, texture or buzz.

“Your problem,” the marshal sneered. “I hope they dug up some payment for you, ‘cause they offered squat to me. I’ve got a job to do, and I don’t get paid ‘less I do it.”

“And are those the matters you swore to pursue?” Liam asked. “Dogs. Streetlamps?”

“You’ve got nerve waltzing in here and calling me out on my business, boy. You have a family, savior? I do. Got to feed them, too. Ain't no way I can do that taking on charity cases which are nothing more than wild goose chases. The damn boy probably tied one on and is flopped out somewhere with some broad whose name he don’t know or if he does, it ain’t her real name anyway.”

“I have a family,” Liam said.

“Well then you know.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Liam nodded at the barkeep, who refilled his glass again, looking none too pleased to do so. The marshal refilled another of his own. Both men downed their drinks.

“I’ll tell you what, savior,” the marshal said. “Maybe I’ll help you out a tiny bit, being as you’re a family man like me. Come back here tonight, after supper time, when the place fills up and folks have loosened up a bit, if you catch my meaning. Lips loosen too, as I’m sure you know. Maybe the lad was in here, after all. Maybe someone saw him. Maybe they can tell you something.”

“Well then I shall do that,” he said. “Thank you, marshal.” The marshal grinned, a most unpleasant sight. Liam repressed a smile of his own. The marshal was amateur. But he was an amateur with a gun, and so he must play his cards carefully all the same. He withdrew another dollar from his billfold and pushed it toward the impassive barkeep.

“Gentleman,” he said, and proffered another doff of his cap. He pushed back from the bar and walked toward the doors at angle. Once outside he inhaled deeply and the scent of dung and sewage assaulted him once more. He made a mental note that he would need to inquire of Pete why his olfactory senses, of all things, had been left so intact. But for now he had more important matters to which he must attend. He checked his timepiece. 4:00 p.m. Two hours until supper at the Scotts.


But first, the river.

Liam knew that by that point in history, the Willamette Valley had become the destination of many 19th-century pioneers heading west along the Oregon Trail. Burgeoning with sediments left from prolific rainfall and flooding, the valley had induced many of the settlers to try their hand at farming. But the history was not entirely quaint: the settlers encroached increasingly on Native American lands, conflict erupted, and the Oregon state government removed many of the natives by military force.

Liam wondered with what forces he would be soon doing battle. He harbored some notions. Witches were not chief among them, but as he toed the banks of the Willamette, the hazy murk of twilight descending upon it, the mood and setting certainly seemed rife. He’d found a quiet bend of river, where small streams and tributaries diverged and wound through thickets of brush and marshland. Despite how populous and active the river valley had become, ample undisturbed sections remained, and it was easy to see how someone could come and go in the stealth of night, were they so inclined.

As the light ebbed away from the valley, shadows grew more brazen and danced along the banks. The wind and current rustled reeds and branches and this along with the dancing shadows suffused the air with Liam had to admit were macabre rhythms. He could only imagine what a drunk man might see.

But the fact was, they had seen something. Also fact, people had disappeared. A pale light downriver began to infiltrate the now heavy darkness of night, and Liam squinted toward its source. Several small steamships were moored perhaps a hundred yards downriver. He knew the Willamette was an important artery of transportation, but also that vessels encountered an up to that point impassable barrier upriver, in the Willamette Falls. Ships which absolutely needed to get beyond the falls had to be portaged; the rest routed along the various connections with the rest of the Columbia River system, on their way, in many instances, out to sea.

Interesting, Liam thought.

But it was getting late now, and so he turned and began to pace briskly back to town, where he would wake Pete and get ready for supper. They should not keep their hosts waiting.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Some interesting articles out there on the writing & publishing industry.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thrilled and grateful that the wonderful KM Weiland today published my guest-post on a favorite subject of mine, Sherlock Holmes, C Auguste Dupin and the detective genre...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Grateful that Kal Ba Publishing selected my flash fiction piece, Infinity, as this week's winning entry. Flash fiction and microfiction are a unique fiction medium, one which I enjoy writing and which forces me to be sharper and more spare in my prose.

Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Excited to share that my guest-post on relationship-building ran today for Firepole Marketing. It's generating some good comments--maybe you'll read it and offer your take.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ten Acts of Penance: Act One--The Demon Witch of the Willamette, Chptr. 2

Ten Acts of Penance

A Serialized Release

*Note:  Welcome to Ten Acts of Penance, a serialized work which shall be released through my blog in installments averaging 2-3/month. Each chapter will be archived separately, though the book will build toward a cohesive whole. For anyone joining midstream, each chapter will for the most part be able to stand on its own, but this intro and a link to the prologue  will be provided with every release, as it will serve as a reference/launching point for any ensuing chapter. As with pretty much anything I present here, I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments section, as they will prove very useful when I edit for a final draft of the completed book.

I hope you enjoy! 

Act One

The Demon Witch of the Willamette

image from

Chapter Two

Liam headed toward the jailhouse alone. Pete, citing exhaustion from the long (though instantaneous) journey, opted for a nap on one of the two small beds in the tiny quarters adjunct to the office. He was already risking admonition from Him, Pete reminded Liam, and so it was best to minimize their degree of intrusion into life events and the fabric of time, and best to keep their accommodations and trappings as modest as possible. Besides, he said, the nature of each of Liam’s tasks was such that no one of their journeys would be terribly long. And the tasks were indeed his, Liam’s; Pete could not become directly involved.

It was just as well, Liam thought as he stepped out into the bright, but dank afternoon. He seemed—based on a cursory glance at the others bustling past—to be appropriately attired, but he was still new in town, and going about with another stranger would only draw twice the attention. 

Christ, the odor was oppressive. He had seen and inhaled awful things before—foul and rancid things, putrefaction, death—but it was all he could do now to keep from covering his mouth and nose with the kerchief which protruded slightly from his breast pocket. The scent of rot and decay and sewage was overpowering—yet everyone else went about their business apparently inured. Amazing, Liam thought, what you could get used to.

There were some things he prayed he never would.

He jumped quickly to his left now as a horse-pulled cart tromped past, splattering his trousers with speckles of mud and, from the smell of it, worse. His trousers? He had, of course, neither seen nor worn them before in his life. Could all of this be real, he wondered. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe this was Heaven; maybe it was hell. Smelled like hell, this much was certain. And felt like it. Thoughts of his family surged through him and paralyzed him where he stood. He began to double over like he had after…after receiving the call, but from somewhere within him a voice told him this was weakness, that he must use his pain, use his love, for strength. 

He straightened up, and kept going.

Stench aside, it was beautiful country. A forest of firs and other timber pressed in from either side—it was as though seeds for a town had been dropped accidentally by a traveler passing through the heavy woods. And if his memory of old history classes was correct, early traders and settlers had indeed referred to the area as “The Clearing,” owing both to its convenience as a stopping point along the west bank of the Willamette River, and the abrupt juxtaposition of its appearance. Sea captains became quickly enamored of the Willamette, as the depths of its waters accommodated larger, ocean-going vessels which normally were unable to travel so far up-river.

Liam passed the trading post and the saloon, outside both of which several horses stood tethered, tails swatting futilely at swarms of biting flies, and occasionally lowering their  heads to lap at the murky puddles at their feet. When he got to the jailhouse, he paused and glanced around to see who might be watching—it would be best not to be seen. Once inside, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust; there was only one small window, and no lamps lit.

“Marshal?” Liam called.

“You must be new.” The voice emanated from the darkness behind the bars at the far end of the jailhouse, and was freighted with no small measure of derision. “I can tell from the looks of ya, but even more so by what you just said.”

Liam stepped closer. “How’s that?”  He squinted and could see movement from the back of the cell, a shape and features slowly forming, and suddenly he to which said shape and features belonged sprang forward with a cry and bared teeth and grabbed the bars with pale, dirty hands. Liam regarded him, unflinching.

“Ah, hell,” the prisoner muttered, the starch draining quickly from his voice. “Sorry ‘bout that. A man gets bored to hell in a cage. Just thought I’d see if I could scare ya, is all.”

Liam stepped closer still, now but a foot from the bars clung to by the man. “No apology required,” he said. “But some clarification would be appreciated. How is it asking for the marshal is a strange thing to do in his own office?”

“ ‘Cause anyone from around here knows he spends more time at the bar—or at Frieda’s—than he does here.”


“You don’t know Frieda’s?” the man scoffed. “You just get here today or something?” Liam was thankful when the man didn’t wait for a reply. “Frieda’s boarding house—if you wanna call it that. Any man who’s lived a day knows what goes on there, the marshal included. And I’ll be damned if he don’t partake in plenty of it himself. That and the drinking. Locks up the likes of me but he’s off indlugin’ in that which he’d just as soon arrest another man for and collect his fee.  A damn hypo—hypa—whatever that damn word is.”

“Hypocrite,” Liam said.

“Yeah,” the man behind the bars said. “That.” He released his grip and motioned toward Liam’s clothes. “Tell me you got a smoke in one of ‘dem pockets,” he said, hopeful.


“Hell.” The prisoner slumped back toward the bench at the back of the cell. 

Liam studied him in the darkness. The man’s face suggested a peculiar honesty Liam had come to find unique to petty criminals. Not innocence, mind you, for a criminal was just that, but a rawness, a candor. There was no excusing lawbreaking, but there was sometimes understanding it. Like Valjean with the loaf of bread, most everyone had a story.

“What are you in here for?” he asked the man.

“Well that’s the humor of it all,” the man said, sitting up on the hard bench. “Though not too funny on this side of the bars. Drunkenness, if you can believe it. I’m arrested for drunkenness, by a lawman who himself is at this moment no doubt more sheets to the wind than I was.”


“Really. Mosey down to the saloon if you need proof.”

“I believe you,” Liam said. “I wonder, in fact, if you might be able to tell me a few other things.”

The man eyed Liam for a good long moment. “Maybe,” he finally said. “But you first. Who are you, first of all?”

“A fair inquiry. Liam Knightly, private investigator. New here.”

“New indeed,” the man said. “I could use a smoke.”

“Answer some questions,” Liam said evenly, “and you’ll get it.”

The man in the cell nodded. “Alright,” he said. “Shoot.”

“Anthony Scott,” Liam said, in a lowered voice. “Know the name?”

“Nope. Sorry. I still get my smokes?”

“We’ll see. Twenty years of age. Engaged to a local girl. Been missing three days. Hear anything?”

The man in the cell shifted where he sat. “No,” he said, in almost a whisper. “Missing, you say?”

“Yeah.” Liam watched the man intently. He’d expected him to be as dubious as he had been upon first hearing the account from the Scotts. But the man looked nervous now, frightened. “Know anything of it?”

“Of him, no,” said the man. “But if you were from around here, you’d know.”

“Know what, exactly?”

“He ain’t the first. To go missin’, that is. He ain’t the first.”

Liam stepped forward until he was flush against the bars. “Tell me more about that.”

The man’s agitation piqued. He shifted again  and his eyes darted to and fro. “No,” he finally said, looking down. “No. I don’t know nuthin’ more.”

“I’m good for the smokes.”

“Forget the damn smokes, stranger. Just leave me be.”

Liam stepped back from the bars. 

“Well,” he said. “I cannot force you. I am obliged for that which you’ve shared.” He started to turn.


Liam paused. “What did you say?”

“Aw, don’t take offense,” the man at the back of the cell said. “Your kind has been called worse, huh?”

“Indeed. Do you have something more to say?”

The man leaned forward from the bench. 

“You’re new here, right? Start on something easier, my friend. You ain’t likely to have a right slew of cases if you’re making this one your  first. Leave it alone, I say. Start with something easy.”

Liam stepped back to the bars. “I am obliged for your consideration,” he said. “But a cop doesn’t build a career looking past the case he has before him. I’ll stick with this one, thank you, and I’ll see it through.”

The man in the cell looked plaintive, panicky. “I done warned you,” he said. The already pale finger of light which filtered through the small window at the front of the jail grew more obscure—a patch of clouds must be moving past, Liam figured. The man in the cell disappeared for a moment from his view, while Liam waited for his eyes to adjust again.

“Warned me of what?” Liam asked.

“The witch!” The man’s pallid face materialized suddenly against the bars, inches from Liam’s own. Liam startled slightly, but did not flinch or step back. 

“Come again?”

“The witch,” the man said, what little color which had remained in his features draining away with these two words. “You may be new, but it won’t be the last you hear of it.”

Liam rolled his eyes. He’d hoped for something tangible, useful. “You’re drunk,” he said. 

“No,” the man said, shaking his head. “I mean, yeah, sure, I was drunk. Last night. That’s why I’m in here. But nothing sobers you up like a night in a cage. I was drunk, but she’s real, and she almost took me last night.”

“Took you?” 

“She’s a demon, flatfoot, that much I know. Legend has it her man left her for another dame years ago, leaving her so broken-hearted she went and took her own life. Cut her wrists, then bled out and drowned in the river. She haunts the Willamette now, they say, and sometimes sneaks into town and hunts for young men to take for  her new groom.”

“She’s been seen in town, you say?”

“She’s been seen,” said the man behind the bars. “Though few live to tell of it. They say she has secret tunnels beneath the town, and that’s where she drags them lads away.”

“And she tried to drag you?”

“Yeah, she tried. I was drunk, but there was something else—she hexed me,  I  tell you. I fought like mad, ‘spite of my condition. I was lucky, got away. That’s when the marshal found me, carrying on and riding my horse like a bat outta hell. I was lucky, and I don’t care to try my luck by telling you anything more, I think.”

The man became once more subdued with these last words, and  slunk backwards until he disappeared into the darkness. Liam inhaled deeply. “Much obliged,” he said, before turning away again and heading for the door. When he opened it a blade of daylight cut into the room,  partly illuminating the man at the back of the cell. “If there’s any truth to your tale,” Liam said, stepping halfway out of the jailhouse, “you just might be in the safest place possible.”

“Watch your back, flatfoot. You won’t see her coming.”

Liam closed the door.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ten Acts of Penance--The First Act: Demon Witch of the Willamette

Ten Acts of Penance - A Serialized Release

*Note:  Welcome to Ten Acts of Penance, a serialized work which shall be released through my blog in installments averaging 2-3/month. Each chapter will be archived separately, though the book will build toward a cohesive whole. For anyone joining midstream, each chapter will for the most part be able to stand on its own, but this intro and a link to the prologue  will be provided with every release, as it will serve as a reference/launching point for any ensuing chapter. As with pretty much anything I present here, I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments section, as they will prove very useful when I edit for a final draft of the completed book.

The First Act

 Demon Witch of the Willamette

Chapter One

Portland, Oregon 1853

"I thought," said Liam, "that you would be only known by me."

Pete inhaled thoughtfully from his pipe, before expelling an impressive, spiraling cloud into the air. "Details, lad," he said. "I said known, not seen. Others shall see me; only you know my identity. It's out of consideration of you, really. If we are conversing and only you see me, you shall appear very foolish indeed. That would only complicate matters."

Liam looked around the room. There was a desk, two tables with stacks of books and papers, wooden chairs at the tables and desk, and a sofa, the only piece of forgiving furniture in the room. Liam sat behind the desk and Pete at one of the tables, where every so often he clunked embers from the end of his pipe into an ashtray. A pot of coffee and a pot of tea steeped on the other table. There was a lamp on the desk but sunlight streamed in from the windows behind Liam and he turned and regarded the world which greeted him. He was looking at the main drag of town, he somehow knew, and it looked every bit of a frontier village. He could see a trading post, a saloon, and a bit farther down, a small jailhouse.  Clumps of fallen branches from the surrounding firs were scattered throughout the muddy streets, where people and horse-drawn carts slogged past.

"I'm not certain things can get much more complicated," he said. "How is it that I understand exactly where we are, and exactly when?"

Pete shrugged. "A bit of a parlor, trick, perhaps," he said. "But the mystery of our environs is not the mystery for which you've been ordained. That mission, I dare say, has just been presented you."

Indeed it had. A very distraught Mr. and Mrs. James Scott had just exited the second-story flat which served as modest quarters for Inspector Liam Knightly, Portland, Oregon's first private investigator. One moment Liam had watched as Pete's cane once again flared to life and was thumped twice on the ground; the next, he was answering the knock on the door of what he somehow instantly understood to be his business quarters.

"We weren't sure about this," James said, as he and his wife Tricia settled onto the sofa. They both appeared to be in their mid to late forties. Pete handed them both a cup of hot tea on small saucers. They nodded in gratitude. Liam sat down at his desk, facing them.

"We didn't know where else to turn," Tricia explained. Her cup clinked quietly, but continuously, against the saucer.

"The law was no help," James said. "Damn marshal. Only interested in matters where there's a fee to be collected. Taxes, dog control, broken street lamps. Ain't no money in this--we can't afford to offer an award."

Tricia lowered the trembling cup from her lips. "May I ask, what is your fee?"

"If you please," Liam said. "What is the nature of your problem?"

Tricia's lips started to move but no sound came. She lowered her head, a stifled sob escaping from deep within her. Her husband placed an arm on her shoulder. "It's our son," he said. "Anthony. Twenty years old. He's disappeared."

Liam furrowed his brow. "Disappeared? A young man of his age? When was it you've last seen him?"

"Three nights ago," Tricia said. "Three nights ago at dinner. There was an argument and he left. We have not seen him since."

“Forgive me, ma’am,” Liam said. “But might you clarify for me what you mean by disappeared? A boy of his age—twenty years, nearly a man—is it not possible he has departed of his own volition? Perhaps to seek his fortune in the hills, like so many others? Maybe there’s a young lady…”

“There is a young lady,” James cut in. “Lucy. They are to be married. She is here in town. They had a fight in our home and he stormed out. But he loves her and intends to take her as his wife. He would not have left town. He would not leave for another woman.”

“Love,” Liam said, “especially young love, can do strange things to a man. Perhaps your boy was so inflamed that he is simply taking several days away to let the passions cool, if you will.”

“Not Anthony,” Tricia said. “No. They’ve quarreled before. He adores her and cannot bear a day apart from her. And he has only the shirt on his back. The rest of his clothes hang in his closet. He took no money. He left his horse. He goes nowhere without Murphy, but he left him too.”


“His dog,” James said. “He loves his dog and takes him everywhere. Look, don’t go getting the idea that I raised a weak boy. Anthony is every bit a man, I will tell you that.”

Liam leaned forward over his desk. “Sir,” he said. “I do not doubt it. Which is precisely my point. Why, given your faith in your son, are you so convinced he has run afoul of some wrongdoing?”

James leaned forward from the sofa. “It is because of my faith in him, not despite of it, that I am convinced. To be gone for this long and in this manner is out of character for him. It would have taken a lot for someone to—” he paused now and put a hand once more upon his wife’s shoulder. Her teacup rattled in one hand; she touched her husband’s comforting hand with her other. “It is out of character for him,” James said.

Liam nodded. Pete, who had sat down at one of the tables and lit up his pipe, now spoke.

"Unfortunate business," he said to the Scotts. "Inspector Knightly is the best, however, rest assured. He will do all in his power to find your boy. For this no remuneration is required."

Tricia looked up gratefully, but James now said, "No fee? We are obliged, but I must ask what kind of enterprise can operate purely out of charity? This is not to be ungrateful--it's just that you are new here, and I'm uncertain of your credentials. Are you a Pinkerton?"

Liam did not need any "bestowed" cognizance from Pete to answer this inquiry. He knew of Pinkerton, his history, and the famed agency and legions of private investigators--who at their zenith outnumbered the tally of enlisted US infantrymen—over which he had presided. Though the agency would have still been in its infancy at the time, Pinkertons, as they were sometimes called, were proliferating and being dispatched throughout the country.

"No," Liam said. "I am independent, but fully bonded, and experienced in my work. As my associate has assured you, this matter shall receive my full attention. Being new here, as you say, I wish to prove my mettle before demanding payment. If I can locate your son, this will aid my standing in town and perhaps then I can set about charging commensurately for my services."

James studied Liam's face. He looked dubious at first but after looking the detective square in the eyes a moment or two, he nodded.

"Alright," he said. "Thank you. We are most obliged. Where do we begin?"

“Your home, if you are willing,” Liam said. “Where you last saw him. We begin there.”

“Of course,” James said.  He and his wife stood, and Liam arose as well and walked around from behind his desk. Pete laid his pipe in the ashtray and stood and retrieved the Scotts’ tea. James removed a slip of paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to Liam. “Our address,” he said.

“Come for dinner, please,” Tricia implored. “It is the least we can offer you. Six o’ clock?” She smiled courteously at Pete. “Both of you, of course.”

“We would be most grateful,” Liam said, and he walked them to the door. “Thank you for coming to me. I will do all I can to find your son.” The Scotts thanked him again, and it was upon closing the door after their departure that Liam inquired of Pete regarding his visibility.

“I’m still not convinced,” he said to Pete now, “that the boy is not off somewhere blowing off steam.”

Pete puffed on his pipe and shrugged slightly. “Perhaps,” he said. “Nevertheless, your first assignment has been conferred upon you.”

Liam nodded. “Alright.” He wandered over to his office window. His eyes tracked along the muddy, debris-strewn road, past the supply store and saloon, to the small jailhouse. “But if they’re right,” he said. “If he has been detained against his will, then I am afraid I fear the worst.”

Pete leaned back, inhaled deeply from his pipe and watched the rings drift lazily toward the ceiling, where they flattened and scattered and faded from sight. “As,” he said, “do they.”

Liam’s attention remain fixed on the jailhouse. “We have several hours until dinner,” he said. “I think I’ll pay a visit to a certain city marshal.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Extra Special Announcement:

My wonderful 7th-grade English teacher, to whom I dedicated my inaugural blog, has another terrific book of poems coming out!

If you enjoy poetry and/or know others who do, check it out and consider getting her book, for yourself or maybe as a gift for another poetry lover.

Congrats Mrs. Stelmach, and best wishes!