Update, Feb. 3, 2012:
I've been busy in the last month or so.
I uploaded to Amazon and Smashwords my novel Grace Humiston and the Vanishing, based on a true murder case in New York City in 1917.
I uploaded to Amazon a 12-page article about Grace Humiston, the lawyer who solved the murder. That one is called The Crime Lawyer: The Truth About Grace Humiston. It has photos.
I sold a 3,000-word article to the Los Angeles Review of Books about hardboiled writer Dan Marlowe. That one, which is tentatively called, "LA's Mean Streets and the Wrong Marlowe," is scheduled to run in March.
I finished a 1,500-word article on Marlowe that will run in Fatale, Ed Brubaker's celebrated hard-boiled graphic novel, in March.
Now, on to the next thing, which is finishing up Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe, a biography that I'll publish as an ebook in June. That one, which already runs 95,000 words in draft form, has been a labor of love.
Update July 30, 2011: This isn't crime or mystery related, but I've just published an ebook on Amazon called Finnegan's Way: The Secret Power of Doing Things Badly. I'm also helping out with the process of publishing ebook editions of the hard-charging novels of the late Dan J. Marlowe. The first one, appearing soon on Amazon, is Vengeance Man. In additon, I hope to soon get out an ebook edition of my novel, Grace Humiston and Vanishing, based on a true-crime case that occurred in New York City in 1917.
Autumn, 2007: My first book signing was outstanding. Between 80 and 100 people showed up, many them old friends from the journalism community in Phoenix. People bought a lot of books, we told a lot of tales, and had fun at The Poisoned Pen Mystery Bookstore and later at Mabel Murphy's, a nearby Irish pub. Thanks to everyone who made it a great beginning.
Hi, I've got a new Web site up: hardboiledjournalist.com. You can reach it by clicking on the link in my profile. The "Contact" page has a very spooky photo on it taken by a former colleague of mine. I'd appreciate it if you could use the Contact page to tell me what you think of the Web site. Thanks.
Update: An interview I did with the literary Web site Fusion View about crime reporting and fiction writing is up on that site. The link is www.fusionview.co.uk. The site is run by crimespace member Yang-May Ooi, a very nice lady.
And here's my usual rap about myself and what I've been doing. Thanks for your indulgence.
I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, got journalism degrees from Creighton University and Northwestern University, and was a military policeman in the U.S. Army. I've been a reporter since I left college, first at the Omaha World-Herald and, since, 1972, at The Arizona Republic. I've been a true-crime buff for decades, and in recent years have been a fan of hard-boiled fiction. I once drew a six-card straight flush in a poker game. I try not to take myself too seriously. My musical tastes run to Irish, Scottish and English ballads. I play basketball once or twice a week.
Go to Allan Guthrie's site, Noir Originals, to read an article I wrote about the late hard-boiled writer Dan J. Marlowe. Interesting story! Marlowe befriended a bank robber, hustled chicks successfully despite his chubbiness, got amnesia and forgot everything, then struggled back to write one more novel before he died. He was quite a wild, though solitary, dude. I wrote the introduction to his novel THE VENGEANCE MAN, to be re-issued this fall by Stark House Press. (It's part of a trilogy. I also wrote the introduction to another of the three novels: PARK AVENUE TRAMP by Fletcher Flora.)
Here's a teaser for my novel, PAY HERE, just out from Point Blank Press. It's available for order from The Poisoned Pen Mystery Book Store in Scottsdale, AZ (Phone 888-560-9919 or 480-947-2974 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) or from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, etc.
"Decades in the desert have made reporter Michael Callan hard as a sun-bleached skull. But mutilated migrants and someone who won't stay dead could make him crack. Mix innocent beauty with savage beauty, stir well, and you've got a bloody cocktail—lethal for an Irishman who doesn't drink."
And here's the first chapter:
Daly Marcus thought the voice on the phone was offering her a new life, but she got it wrong. A male voice—smooth on the surface, pebbled with a rattling tone—saying Rhea Montero wanted her in Arizona. One of Rhea’s businesses needed someone like Daly, someone artistic who could produce beautiful items for public sale. Rhea had arranged an airline ticket. Would Daly come right away?
Daly’s heart jumped at the thought of doing something for Rhea after all Rhea had done for her. Of course she would come “right away.” But the caller didn't foresee how she'd interpret that term. He'd never dealt with artists, except those who performed with their clothes off, and he knew little about Daly. He didn't know she'd gone without a vacation for a long time, or that she lived frugally in a converted warehouse in downtown Omaha, or that she'd been waitressing as she tried to start a business handcrafting porcelain angels. He didn't know her income left no extra money to buy a gift for an old friend. So he assumed Daly would use the airline ticket, booked for a flight the following day. That assumption cost him his life.
No one eagerly chooses to ride a long-distance bus in the United States. The drivers are sullen, your fellow passengers questionable, the rest breaks infrequent and short. But Daly rode a bus from Omaha to Phoenix at the hottest time of the summer and considered it an adventure. That was Daly. At 30, she was still inviting beggars home for coffee, accepting phone pitches, petting vicious dogs and choosing to see the best in male companions who explained things to her with their fists.
At the last moment, without bothering to phone Rhea, she had cashed in the $212 one-way airline ticket. With the $134 difference between that and her bus ticket, she bought an embroidered caftan for Rhea as an arrival gift. A journey that would have taken her two hours by air—and put her into Phoenix at a time and place known to Rhea—was replaced by one that took her a day and a half.
It was a good trip. Daly enjoyed herself immensely and met people. In particular, she met Shihara, a stunning six-foot black woman from the Twin Cities who had once been a chorus dancer in Las Vegas. Shihara, hard as a Kentucky pine despite her 50 years, was making her way leisurely through the central and southwestern United States on a serial visit to relatives that would end with a two-week stay in Phoenix with her eldest daughter, who worked for the phone company. Shihara talked of mob guys, of gambling runs that hadn’t lasted long enough. She spoke of her hell-raising days.
“You goin’ down to meet a man?” Shihara asked, fanning herself with a feather boa as the flatlands of Oklahoma drifted by outside, the tan hardpan painted green by the tinted bus windows.
“No,” said Daly. “An old friend, sort of like a sister.” She smiled. “I’d do anything for her.”
Old thoughts went around in Shihara's eyes. Her head rode high before her eyelids dropped and the look of memory got darker. Shihara bit her lip and looked away.
“Anything’s a lot to do for someone,” she muttered. “Be careful, little child. Hope she don’t ask.”
From a pay phone inside the bus station in Phoenix, Daly called Rhea’s number. She had declined Shihara’s offer of a ride—the older woman’s daughter had picked her up in a Dodge Neon—but had accepted parting gifts of a much- thumbed magazine and an extra feather boa. Now Daly swished her boa at the air-conditioned air, listened to the buzzing phone at the other end of the line, and looked about at the tangled humanity passing in and out of the station. The place was new and bunker-like and inconvenient. Though Daly didn't know it, it had been moved from downtown to make way for a parking garage so people with money to spend could more easily patronize the new ballpark and America West Arena.
The move also made provision for people without money—the dark, rumpled people Daly saw around her. They had been banished to this terminal tucked away near the airport, in a wasteland of rumbling freeways, vacant lots rolling with hot dust, municipal facilities walled in by stone redoubts topped with barbed wire. Daly could see the bus station operators expected many immigrant travelers, because the signs were in both English and Spanish. “Lockers and Video Games” was rendered as Armarios & Videos, “Smoking Patio” as Plaza de Fumar, “Restrooms” as Baños. Among the postings she also noted the universal command for the victims of this earth: Pague Aqui. Pay Here.
Daly blended comfortably with the short-money assemblage, and accepted the difficulty of getting through on the phone. She was traveling light—carrying a green canvas duffel bag stuffed with clothes, a bath kit, the gift caftan for Rhea, a scuffed paperback copy of Siddhartha—and she could easily hole up for a few hours in the station, sipping Cokes and reading the copy of Ebony that Shihara had given her, periodically calling Rhea’s number. You couldn’t be too particular if you wanted to be free.
But after the ninth or tenth ring, just as Daly was prepared to give up, the phone was snatched up and a man’s voice cut at her.
“Yeah?” he said. “Who’s this?”
Daly, who was a close listener despite her casual attitude, immediately noted that this voice was not that of the man who had invited her to Phoenix. The voice of that man had been smooth, at least superficially. There was nothing smooth about this man’s voice, only the hoarse accents she associated with too much smoke and whiskey. Voices like that were always ready to fight and hurt. Best be soothing, then.
She excused herself, though there was no reason to do so, and asked, “Is Rhea Montero there?”
No response, not immediately. But Daly sensed a kind of response. Sometimes it's possible to hear something in silence, especially at the other end of a phone line. That was what Daly heard—hesitation, suspicion—as the man declined to answer for the longest time. Daly couldn’t help herself, her stomach got tight. Maybe she was to blame for the problem, maybe her question had been at fault. Maybe she had misled him in some way, made him think she was a telephone solicitor, an upset customer, a vendor with an unpaid bill.
Finally, he spoke.
“No. Not here.”
And Daly released the breath she had been holding.
Though the words were simple enough, the man’s attitude was disturbing. Who was he, exactly? Daly had no idea specifically what Rhea did, what kinds of people she employed. Out of the blue, Rhea had tracked her to Omaha the year before, had sent her a brief, searching letter asking about Daly’s current situation. Was she working? Married? Involved with anyone? Rhea—except for explaining that she had now changed her name and was setting up “an enterprise” in the Southwest, was vague about her own life. From the few clues in her message, Daly concluded Rhea was dealing in artifacts or replicas—valuable items that moved out of Latin America and into the United States, to be distributed by Rhea’s vast marketing network (In a way, of course, that was true). But people who handled that sort of business, Daly thought, would be accommodating and friendly. Not like this sharp-voiced man.
Daly resolved to be patient.
“I was hoping— ” she said, then paused. This man did not care what she was hoping, and it was unfair to burden him with that knowledge. Of course, he wanted to know who she was, to assure himself she was legitimate. “Please,” she said. “I’m a friend of Rhea’s.”
Instead of calming him, this assertion seemed to prod the man’s distrust.
“You are, huh?” he said. “If you’re such a friend, why are you calling me to ask this shit? You should know by now.”
Daly believed people can be changed through understanding, that each of us craves to communicate, no one is sincerely hateful. This was central to her character, key to the way she operated. She believed that if one spoke gently to people, they would come around.
“I’ve been on a bus for two days,” Daly said, trying to keep the weariness out of her voice. “I know I should have called ahead and warned somebody, but I didn’t. I don’t know why not, I guess I just didn’t think. Now I'm at the Greyhound Bus station in Phoenix, it’s on Buckeye Road, and I need a ride. Please tell me when Rhea will be coming back.”
This time, the reply was immediate.
“She won’t be coming back.”
The statement clattered with menace, and a burning spot of pain sprang in Daly’s forehead. It occurred to her that the man wouldn’t be so mean if he knew that he would have to answer to Rhea later, if Rhea knew he had been rude to a friend, almost a sister. Daly certainly was not seeking retribution; she didn’t want anyone dressed down. It was just that the man’s attitude worried her. And she couldn’t make sense of his cryptic response.
“You mean she’s left town?”
“Town and everything else.”
Daly sensed a subtle change in his tone—a lessening of his uneasiness. Perhaps he was finally recalling that Rhea, indeed, was expecting a visitor, that Daly fit into some scenario he had forgotten. Or perhaps he had simply decided it didn’t really matter what he told her. After all, the situation was there for all to see.
“Rhea got killed in a wreck yesterday,” he said, seeming to relish the information. “On I-10, down toward Casa Grande.” He paused as an actor does, ensuring his best lines will have impact. “Went under a semi, took the top of the car right off. Killed just like that, never knew what hit her. I always told her she was nuts to let that crazy bastard drive, shitty doctor and a worse driver, but she’d never listen to me.”
Now the formerly tight-lipped man couldn't stop talking. He went on and on, providing details, gossiping along without a care, as Daly’s world fell away, the shuffle of people around her fading into the background, the hard plastic phone melting into her hand, her thoughts hissing like far-off surf. She wasn’t prepared for this, and how could she be? No-one ever is. Devastation is always unexpected. We must believe things will be fine, events will be predictable, circumstances will not change. Often, we don’t realize how much we live in the future, happy in prospect, laughing with friends, feeling old hurts recede, being with those we love, or think we do. Daly had been living like that—close with Rhea, no longer alone.
“Funeral’s in an hour,” the man was saying. “You want directions?”
Now she was shocked and cold. She didn’t want to face the situation, but she had a duty, and Daly took duty seriously. Yes, she said, give me directions, though she had just lost the one direction she had in life. Despite her artistic temperament, Daly Marcus had fixed goals: build up the angels business, find a man to share her life (“a good man”—she could be old-fashioned), re-establish her sisterly relationship with Rhea. The search for a man had been going badly, the angels business sputtering. And now. . . Daly could hear her voice asking for details, hear her brain click, recording them. She could feel her hand replacing the phone, hear her feet moving slap-slap on the smooth composition-stone floor toward the ticket counter, her voice speaking again, with no feeling in it.
A shuttle was leaving for Tucson in twenty minutes and it had a seat open. Yes, it would take her where she needed to go. It would travel south on the Interstate, not far from the graveyard. Could she be dropped there? Well, that was quite unusual, it was not a scheduled stop. But the company always tried to accommodate. That was why it had a reputation for service. Fine. She would take advantage of the company’s desire to serve. She would get the driver to let her off. She would say goodbye to Rhea. And that would be the end of the brightness, her world shoveled under a patch of desert, her future suffocated, the one good person in her past ripped away from her forever.
If things had only been that simple. So much trouble would have been averted, so many deaths avoided, so much terrible knowledge left unknown. There would have been no need to tell the kind of bloody tale Mexican journalists call La Nota Roja, The Red Story. How much better things would have been for Daly Marcus. And for me.
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Posted on April 8, 2007 at 12:26am — 1 Comment