NIGHTHAWKS

A while back I began writing stories inspired by Edward Hopper paintings. Hopper’s most iconic painting, Nighthawks, inspired this first one.

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, 1942
I was sitting at the counter of my favourite diner in Greenwhich village. It’s right at the corner of Mulry. You remember? The one with the big curved window? It’s not there anymore, of course. It’s just a vacant lot now, but back in 1942 it was a diner, one of the best in New York in my opinion.

I was sitting in my usual seat finishing a cup of coffee and waiting for Danny to come up with my bowl of chili. Danny made good coffee, and decent sandwiches, but he made a great bowl of chili.

Anyway, there we were, me and Danny, late on a Tuesday night when this couple walked in. I remember the fella was a tall drink of water with deep set eyes under the brim of his fedora and a long, pointed nose. The woman was a looker — red hair and a red dress — a nice shape, but pale.

They paused in the doorway, like they were assessing the place. Then theyy they walked in together. Not arm in arm but slowly and in step. They had to pass behind me to get to the seats that they wanted. As they passed I breathed in, trying to get a whiff of the woman’s perfume. Nothing. No odour whatsoever.

They walked all the way around the angled counter to the two furthest seats in. They sat quietly and said nothing. The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a single cigarette, then leant forward, his elbows on the counter and he stared ahead, seemingly at nothing. He made no move to light the cigarette. The woman was holding a compact in front of her face. I remember it because it was bright green and shiny. She made no move to open it. She just stared at it.

“Coffee?” Danny asked. The man nodded — a barely perceptible dip of his head — and Danny set them up.

Danny is dead now. H was an old man back then, but you wouldn’t know that to look at him. He had a full head of hair and his smile was one of the most youthful I’d ever seen. He was quick with a joke and went out of his way to make sure everyone in his place was happy. “Late night or early morning?” he asked the couple. It was something he often asked late-night patrons.

The man regarded Danny with a look of confusion. The woman didn’t look up at all.

Danny’s expectant smile faded in the face of the man’s stare. Danny dropped his eyes and turned away, catching my eye as he did so. I gave an slight shrug, as if to say It takes all kinds.. and Danny topped up my coffee. “Where’s that chilli, Dan?” I asked.

“It’s comin’, Mike. Keep your shirt on.” Danny tried to smile, but he seemed a little rattled.

Two minutes later Danny placed a piping hot bowl of chilli in front of me. He handed me utensils and crackers, gave me a smile and a wink, wiped his hands on his apron and then went into the back of the diner, through the swinging door with the little porthole in it.

The steaming bowl smelled incredible as usual and I dug my spoon in eagerly. Before I could get it to my mouth the man in the fedora piped up:

“The towers will fall,” he intoned. His voice was deep and seemed to come from deep in his chest and the sound of it sent a chill up my spine.

I looked up to see him staring at me, his deep set eyes seemed to be trying to burn their way out of his skull. “Sorry?” i managed, my voice a little weak sounding in my ears.

“First one tower, then the other. They will fall in fire and smoke.” The man just kept staring at me from under the brim of his fedora. I blinked. I wasn’t sure what to say or do. “What towers?” I asked.

The man blinked then and turned to the red-headed woman. The woman gave him a look and then went back to consulting her compact. This time the man seemed interested in it as well. The man scowled and the woman pursed her lips. She touched something inside the compact and then both of them vanished into thin air.

I froze, my mouth hanging open and my eyes goggling at the place that the strange couple were a few seconds ago and then suddenly weren’t.

Danny came back behind the counter and saw that the couple were gone. He went over and picked up the still full coffee cups, looking for payment on the counter and finding none. He turned to me. “Did they say anything?” he asked, then furrowed his brows at my expression. “What’s the matter with you?

I shook my head. “Nothin'” I managed. “They didn’t say nothin'”

I don’t know why I didn’t want to tell Danny what the man had said or how they had vanished. Maybe I was afraid that Danny would call the guys in the white coats. For a moment I was almost afraid that I really would need to be taken away.

I felt a cold chill all over and I just wanted to forget it ever happened.

Danny took the cups and dumped them in the sink. “Lousy chiselers”, he muttered.
end 


MA CA RONG

Image

DaVinci and I stepped off the plane in Saigon and walked directly into a particular hell of heat and mosquitoes.

Marty West was waiting for us at the bottom of the roll-away stairs. “Harlan,” he said warmly, his beefy paw devouring DaVinci’s hand.

“It’s good to see you again, Marty,” DaVinci smiled and cocked a thumb back at me. “You remember Jimmy?”

“How could I forget Jimmy Dupont?” Marty said, crushing my hand in his.

Marty was tall, broad and barrel-chested and had the friendliest smile that I’d ever seen. He wore glasses with thick rims that made him look like George Reeves from Superman in his Clark Kent disguise. Marty was to be our guide for the next few days. He worked as a minder to American journalists in Vietnam.

Marty was devoted to DaVinci. Some years back his daughter ran afoul of a coven of witches who’d taken up residence in Brooklyn. DaVinci and I were sent by the Inner Circle to investigate. If it hadn’t been for us, Marty’s little girl would have been the coven’s property — body and soul. Instead she was fine and healthy and attending Vassar.

“I’ve got a car waiting,” Marty said. “We can gather your luggage and go right into the city.”

“This is it,” I said, indicating the carry on I was carrying off. “We travel pretty light.”

“Good,” Marty said. “Then we can head straight for the Majestic. Monsieur LaFontaine will meet us there.”

Marty’s car was an old Studebaker with wood panels and everything. The top was down as we drove towards the Majestic Hotel.

Saigon was a jarring mix of Modern, Asian and Colonial French architecture. There were Vietnamese peddlers in the street hawking exotic foods in front of upmarket haberdashers. The street was a mix of white Europeans wearing new Paris fashions and the Vietnamese wearing traditional outfits. Dotted here and there amongst the crowd were American soldiers in fatigues. The soldiers were veterans, not the draftees — the kids — they would come later. What we saw were the advisors to the South Vietnamese Military — professional soldiers. Many of them had cut their teeth in Korea. Some of the older ones had probably been with MacArthur in the Pacific at the end of WW2.

The heat and the smells were overwhelming and almost nauseating to me. For the last two days all I’d seen were airport terminals. I was tired and grouchy and wishing that Marty hadn’t picked us up in an open roofed car, but thinking it would probably be better this way. After nearly two days wearing the same clothes, DaVinci and I were likely pretty ripe.

In the middle of downtown Saigon the car slowed. The streets were bustling with activity. The faces that surrounded us were mostly Vietnamese. I could hear shouting but couldn’t understand the words. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Marty said, gearing down.

“Is it a festival?” DaVinci asked.

Through a gap in the crowd I saw a group of what looked like Buddhist monks, their heads uniformly shaved, wearing saffron robes. One of them, an elderly fellow, sat down in the middle of the street.

Marty shook his head. “Another protest.”

“Protest? What, those monks?” I asked.

Marty nodded. “It’s been happening a lot. President Diem has had it in for them. He’s been trying to repress the growth of a southern communist movement. In doing so he’s brought in some pretty repressive measures against the Buddhist Church.”

“The church? Why” DaVinci asked.

Marty shook his head. “The politics of independence. The struggle for independence is linked with the rise of communism. At least that’s what it was with Ho Chi Minh in the north. Diem’s afraid of it happening in the south. Any nationalist movement…” Marty stopped mid sentence. I followed his gaze.

At first I didn’t understand what was happening. The Buddhists were dousing the old monk with water. It wasn’t until the crowds nearby started screaming and I saw another monk with a lit taper that I realized what was really happening.

“Jesus, no…!” I heard Marty say. I couldn’t tear my eyes away as the old monk went up in flames.

I could not believe what I was seeing. They’d doused him in gasoline and set the old fellow ablaze. He just sat there while the flames ate him up. No screams, no struggles and no movement until he finally just flopped over. No one ran forward to try to help him. The other monks just stood impassively and watched while the old monk burned.

***

 READ THE REST OF THIS OCCULT DETECTIVE STORY FOR ONLY .99c from Smashwords

THE CHANGELING’S GIFT


The distant bells of Westminster Abbey tolled suddenly and the sound, wafting over the cold morning air, made Arthur Freeborn stop in his tracks.


“What is it?” Nairn asked. “Do you see something?”


Freeborn shook his head. “The bells. Westminster. Her Majesty and Prince Albert are proud parents once again.”


Nairn gave Freeborn a wry smile. “God bless good Queen Victoria. Do those keen ears of yours tell you if it’s a boy or a girl?”


Of course Nairn could not hear them, not this far away. Freeborn smiled and then rubbed the tops of his ears in a self conscious gesture, his fingertips trying to rub warmth into the furrowed scars they found there. The scars, which he’d had since childhood, felt the cold December wind quite keenly as it whistled over them beneath the brim of his stovepipe hat.


Nairn squeezed Freeborn’s arm in a warm gesture. “We’ll have to have a tot of rum at The George in celebration. Once we’ve found our quarry.”


“Indeed,” Freeborn agreed. He resumed his course, walking a steady pace, his shoes sinking into the newly fallen snow, his ears and eyes alert for their quarry, a murderer the yellow journals had named  the Eastcheap Phantom. It was that pursuit that had brought them to this lonely cemetery near Wanstead. 


There were no mourners this morning neither was there any sound that Freeborn could detect other than the tramping sound made by Nairn’s boots as he trudged through the snow. Not that Freeborn was expecting to hear anything. Their quarry was a cunning one. He knew how to move silently and swiftly and hide in plain sight from most human eyes. But Arthur Freeborn was a Fey, despite all his attempts to appear human, and he could sense the other’s presence and the other was close.


He stopped moving and closed his eyes. He could still hear Nairn moving. Nairn probably thought he was moving quietly, but to Freeborn’s sensitive ears the dour former jesuit was lumbering around like a bull. But Nairn was a good man. He had always treated Freeborn fairly, even stood up for him against his fellow constables at the Yard who were prejudiced against him because he was a Fey.


Being a Fey was a secret that Freeborn was never able to keep despite his efforts to look and act like a human. Despite the painful disfigurement that he had put himself through in early childhood to make his ears look normal, Arthur Freeborn could do nothing to disguise his willowy frame, his ethereal manner and his startling bottle green eyes. He could not disguise the softly lyrical quality of his voice, nor could any amount of coloring agent cover up his golden hair. Despite this he had tried to live as a human, but it had never been easy. Even achieving the status of police constable at Scotland Yard had not lessened the prejudice, the taunting nor the outright hate that he experienced daily.


If it hadn’t been for Nairn, Freeborn didn’t think he would have lasted as long as he had. The kindly ex-priest had been supportive and had sponsored each and every one of his promotions. Rather than being frightened or intimidated by Freeborn’s Fey qualities, Nairn had known enough to put them to use in their work. Freeborn’s uncanny senses and attention to the most minute detail had put more than one villain behind bars.


Nairn had stopped moving. He had finally noticed Freeborn’s stillness and had stood still himself, trying not to breathe too loudly or to interfere with Freeborn’s perceptions. Freebornr could still hear his partner’s breathing, the ragged wheeze of his lungs that had survived consumption and still worked despite the foul smoke inflicted upon them by Nairn’s pipe. He could hear the bustle of daily commerce in the nearby market. He could hear all of these things but he could ignore them all to concentrate upon the one sound, the single noise that should not be there.


It was difficult because his quarry made almost no noise when he moved, seemed not even to breathe. It seemed the Phantom could mask himself completely from attentive ears, but he could not disguise the quiet whisper of a blade as it slid out of a hilt.


Freeborn was able to pinpoint where the sound came from and he sprang into action. Too late he realized that he had made the wrong move.


As fast as Freeborn had sprang, the Phantom had sprang as well, and the Phantom was faster. He felt the other brush past him and Freeborn turned, but too late. The other’s blade whistled in the air. Freeborn could only watch, helpless as Nairn’s expression registered shock. Nairn’s hand went convulsively to his throat and he dropped trying to stop the sudden flow of blood to no avail.


Freeborn froze for a moment only, but it was enough. The Phantom made a dash for stone wall that enclosed the cemetery. There was no chance that Freeborn could catch up with him now and the Phantom knew it. He stopped and stood stock still for a fleeting moment. Human eyes would barely have noticed but it was long enough for Freeborn to get a look at his enemy.


He… no… it was she!… wore a cloak of deep green. Raven hair, darker than the blackest night spilled out from underneath the hood. She wore a leather jerkin and leather breeches. and boots of animal skin. Her flesh bore marks… some sort of tattoo or scarification. Her eyes were darkened like they were smudged with kohl… more tattoos perhaps? Her eyes were white within the dark smudge and they seemed to taunt him. The edges of her crimson stained lips drew up into a smile. She knew he could see her. She had stopped this long just so that he could see his enemy.


Then she moved and faster than Freeborn thought was possible, she was over the wall and gone.


#


Download the rest of this fantasy adventure for only .99c from Smashwords!






THE CRYO GAME

 


I can hear the grapple clamping itself onto the airlock of my ship and it feels like a violation. The sound of metal grinding against metal vibrates down the wall panels and my bare feet can feel the deck vibrating with it like a shudder. My body does likewise.

I pull my bomber jacket tighter around me but it doesn’t help against the cold that I suddenly feel.

There’s a an echoing boom and the sudden pressure differential makes my ears pop.  The bastards have blown the hatch and ruined my airlock. I can feel the deck pounding under their weight as they pile in. The first one comes into view. It is a Rent-a-cop, which surprises me. He’s big and armored in black and he is pointing a gigantic weapon in my direction.

In a moment I am surrounded by these thugs – mercenaries for hire – giant black suits that look vaguely insectoid and about a bazillian guns, their business ends ready to hurl death at a bony young woman wearing a thin one-piece and a jacket that is too big for her.

I don’t remember putting my hands up but the harsh metallic voice coming from one of the mercenaries’ speaker units orders me down on the deck. I drop quickly before any of them decide to help me down. The deck’s metal face feels cold against the front of my one-piece. Before I can open my mouth to say anything one of them grabs my wrists and forces them roughly around behind my back. I yelp in pain and am immediately told to shut my mouth, or else…

“ Betratina Arris Rankin you are under arrest for the murder of  Solianis Fendiarachelli. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be recorded and used in evidence against you in a court of law.”

I shake my head. “You’ve got it wrong,” I manage, having found my voice at last. “Somebody moved the body! I didn’t kill her! It was somebody else! They’re setting me up!”

The metallic voice warns me again to shut my mouth. “If you resist arrest your recorded statement will be used in order to pronounce a posthumous judgment against you…”

“You’ve gotta believe me!” I continue stubbornly. “It wasn’t me, it was one of them! Whoever moved the body and then put it back! They must have done something to it!”

Something hard presses into the small of my back. I hear a small, but evil electronic whine and then a snap and then all my nerve endings feel like they’re firing at once. My body goes rigid. I can feel the muscles of my face pulling my lips into a rictus grin.

The universe goes black.

This is why I hate taking on passengers.

#


Download the rest of this space adventure for only .99c from Smashwords!




PIECES IN A GAME

Sirtago and Poet’s longest adventure to date, “Pieces in the Game” follows the pair as they navigate a war between the Tey’ei and the Kajaghn Fighters. Making things worse a Tey’ei sorceress is trying to unleash an unholy terror that has been locked away for millennia.

Can Poet solve the mystery and keep an eye on his over-zealous friend, Sirtago, Ka of Trigassa?

$1.99 from Smashwords

 

THE PHANTOM LEGION

 


The Case of the Phantom Legion by G. W. Thomas is a supernatural adventure novel in the great old pulp magazine tradition. M. D. Jackson did the cover art as well as the cover design and the interior of the book. The book looks like you were holding an old- beat-up pulp magazine from the ’30’s.

What’s it about?

The Athenodorians, a secret organization headed by the Baron von Klarnstein, must fight an invisible enemy that drains its victims. The Baron’s daughter, Orestia, has her sword ready to face an unfaceable terror.

$1.99 from Smashwords
$1.99 from Kobo
$1.99 from Barnes & Noble

It’s also available as a trade paberback
$13.49 from Lulu