A few years back I provided some background into the real story of St. Nicholas…
…and let us not forget the Christmas tale I wrote employing the two main characters from my supernatural thriller, So Dark the Night. “Finding Charlotte” is a case from Zinnea and Nightstalk’s early days and it’s available for free download and reading.
To my friends and readers, everyone who follows my work:
And each time I’ve tried to explain that I after I finished So Dark the Night, I fully expected to write more accounts of my partners in crime…but it just didn’t happen. I could no longer hear Nightstalk’s voice and, after awhile, moved on (with regret) to other things.
But a few weeks ago, my old friend Evgeny Nightstalk dropped in for a visit. Not an extended stay, I could only pry a short story out of him, a case from their first months together, an affair (wouldn’t you know it), set around Christmas time. Maybe Nightstalk was cutting me some slack for his long absence.
Here’s the first part of “Finding Charlotte”…if you’d like to read the rest, click on the link and you’ll find the complete PDF. Free reading, I should add: read it, download it, share it with friends. And if “Finding Charlotte” strikes your fancy, have a look at So Dark the Night. It’s a grand adventure, my two supernatural detectives involved with all manner of Lovecraftian monstrosities and occult-oriented schemes. A fast-paced yarn, I think you’ll love it.
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Finding Charlotte (A Zinnea & Nightstalk Mystery)
Cassandra Zinnea called them “C.O.N.C.s”. Cases of no consequence. She could be snooty like that sometimes. I told her once, hey, even Sherlock Holmes realized they can’t all be Studies in Scarlet or whatever. When you get handed a lemon, y’know, make lemonade.
She didn’t buy it. She got bored pretty easily. Very Holmes-like that way. Only she had different diversions than a seven per cent solution of cocaine. It’s debatable if they were any healthier in the long run but, well, that’s a discussion for another time.
The affair involving the disappearance of Charlotte Bednarski didn’t have a promising beginning and you’ll have to decide for yourself if everything worked out for the best in the end. I’m not what you would call big on analysis. That’s my partner’s domain. Smart and gorgeous, the complete package. Miss Marple and a Victoria’s Secrets model all rolled into one. As kind and decent a human being as you’re likely to encounter this side of Heaven. And that’s why it was nearly killing her giving the Turnbulls the bad news.
“—so terribly sorry,” Cassandra said, standing in front of our shared desk, her voice quaking with emotion. “It’s official policy and I’m afraid there are no exceptions. We don’t handle missing persons cases or divorces. We’ve found they both involve too many…complications. You say you’ve already been to the police—”
Dennis Turnbull snorted. “Fat lot of good they were. Wouldn’t give us the time of day, would they, hon? What’s this world coming to?” He was chubby, forty-ish, some kind of nerd. Baby fat and large, soft features. Likely cried during sappy movies and was good about helping with the washing up. A “girly man”, as my buddy Arnold would say.
I was hearing warning bells. The cops in Ilium may not have been top drawer in many respects but they tended to ramp up their game when there were children involved. “How long did you say your kid’s been missing? Two days?” They nodded, tired and discouraged, leaning into each other. The wife seemed older, utilizing a full palette of makeup to disguise her true age. Offhand, I’d say she applied it with a trowel. But they were nice people, just addled, desperate. “You gave us the impression she was quite young…”
“Around nine, I would say,” Cheryl Turnbull confirmed, “but small for her age.”
That sounded funny but at that point Cassandra jumped in. “So this isn’t any ordinary runaway. She’s under-aged, alone out there…” She choked up. Mrs. Turnbull nodded, the two of them close to blubbering.
“That’s what we tried to tell the police,” she croaked, “but they wouldn’t listen.”
I could see my partner wavering and decided enough was enough. “Yeah, that’s, uh, definitely strange and if I were you I’d, uh, definitely go back there and get them to put out an A.P.B. on your daughter and—”
Dennis Turnbull was shaking his head. He tapped his wife’s leg and they rose together. “We’ve been humiliated enough, thank you very much. That Detective-Sergeant or whatever he said he was. Snowden…” I glanced at my partner. “You must know the man. He’s the one who told us to come down here. ‘The court of last resort’, he called you.”
“He’s an idiot,” Cassandra said.
“What she says,” I added.
The Turnbulls helped each other on with their coats. We could only stand there and watch.
“I have to correct you on one point, Mr. Nightstalk.” Dennis Turnbull tugged brown leather gloves over his thick fingers; it was a cold night, a week ’til Christmas, the wind off Lake Erie downright lethal. “Charlotte wasn’t our daughter. My wife and I are childless by choice.” She offered us a thin smile. Not entirely by choice, it seemed to say.
Now I was really confused. “So…she was a niece? A neighbor–”
“Oh, no, she lived with us.”
Cassandra and I exchanged befuddled looks. “Adopted?” she ventured.
“No, she was there when we moved in.” She saw our bafflement. “She came with the house.”
Nope, still didn’t get it. But Cassandra did, I could tell from her spreading smile. Suddenly the case had become much more interesting.
I blundered on. “She was living there? Like…squatting?”
“No, Nightstalk,” my partner corrected me. “She’s always lived there.”
The Turnbulls smiled at each other. “She’s the reason we bought the place,” Cheryl Turnbull confided. “The location is nice but the backyard is far too small for our tastes.”
“We both like to garden,” Dennis chimed in.
“But once Charlotte made herself known to us…we knew we couldn’t let it go.” They were standing by the door. “It’s been ten years now and we’ve never regretted it a moment.” They clasped hands. Forming a common front.
Cassandra’s demeanor had undergone a radical transformation; all at once she was in full hunt mode. “Now that we’re more fully apprised of the situation,” checking with me for confirmation, “I think we might be of service to you after all.”
“Just don’t call her a ghost,” Cheryl Turnbull pleaded, crossing toward us, holding out her hands, a big purse looped over her wrist. “That awful Snowden man kept saying that. I hate it. Ghosts are feeble and sad and pathetic. Charlotte is none of those things. She has a personality, a—a—”
“Easy now, dear,” her husband coaxed her, “we’re among friends here.” He regarded us hopefully as he patted her shoulder. “It’s nice to be with folks who don’t make you feel like you’re, y’know, coo coo.”
“We’ve lost friends, even our families won’t come to visit.” Cheryl Turnbull managed to look hurt and defiant. “Just because we set an extra place at the table or put on her favorite show when it’s time. What’s that to any of them?”
I could only manage a sickly grin so they focused their attention on my lovely colleague. She, in contrast, gave off waves of understanding and empathy.
“Come over here and have a seat. We’ll start again.” Signaling me. “My associate, Mr. Nightstalk, will take down the particulars. Give us a bit of background and talk about the day she went missing. All the details you can think of, no matter how inconsequential they might seem.” I found my steno pad and a pen. “Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this…”
To read the complete story, click here: Finding Charlotte
The show starts promptly at 7:30. (Here are the details.)
Yeah, I said “show”. Because readings are public performances and I do my level best to make them as interesting and entertaining as I can. The best I’ve ever seen was Timothy Findley; man, could that guy read. And, natch, Tiff had a background in live theater. He knew how to turn it up a notch.
Others…not so much. I was at a reading once (no names!) featuring an award-winning poet, an icon of Canadian verse…and it was so appalling, so utterly fake and ridiculous, that it was all I could do to keep from shrieking with laughter. Cripes, he was funny. My wife kept trying to catch my eye but I refused to look at her, knowing we’d lose it and make a spectacle of ourselves. Little beads of sweat trickled down my temples as I fought to keep my composure.
He’d speak in this silly, affected voice, dragging out certain words: “The wind…moved through…the grassssss…”
Hee hee. Still makes me chuckle. What an arsehole.
I gave a reading on Baffin Island, sharing the bill with another writer who read so long that the candles in the wine bottles burned down and fell to the glass bottoms, extinguishing themselves. The room getting darker and darker as more and more of the stubs dropped. Pshh. Pshh. Pssh.
About seventeen years ago, I made the mistake of agreeing to read in a bar in Ottawa. The regulars tuned in for about the first six or eight minutes but then the noise level began to rise and I started frantically cutting passages as I read, rushing to finish the performance as quickly as I could. Anyone who was listening (probably damn few of them) would’ve found the narrative completely incoherent.
There won’t be any horror stories tomorrow night at McNally-Robinson. Nossir. I’m well prepped and I’m reading some of the most exciting passages from my supernatural thrillers, So Dark the Night and Of the Night. Anyone who shows up is gonna enjoy themselves, guar-an-teed; they sure as hell won’t be bored.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my rehearsing…
Every year my birthday rolls around and I do my level best to ignore it, dismissing its significance. This drives my wife crazy (that awful epithet “fun-killer” fired at me like a curare-tipped dart) but, on the other hand, it definitely simplifies gift-buying.
“Anything you want?”
And so forth. But this year, okay, I have to admit, there’s a lot to be thankful for. We had a health scare in our family recently and that really put things in perspective. My daily mantra of “health, happiness and wisdom” assumed new relevance…and poignancy. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But we had a renewed appreciation for the frailties of the flesh and the bonds of family.
Then there are the two books I’ve released this year—yeah, sure, the e-books had been bouncing about for awhile, but to walk into a bookstore and see my work sitting there, waiting for some curious reader to happen along…well. Sends a shiver through me just thinking about it.
Yeah, it’s official. We’ve cleared the proof and Of the Night is good to go. For sale as of…NOW. You’ll find pricing and shipping info in my Bookstore. Click on the book cover (above) and ogle the artwork, browse the jacket copy. If you order your copy from me, I’ll be happy to sign it. Otherwise, you can get it through your local bookstore, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
I love this book–it’s a fitting companion piece to So Dark the Night. Scary, darkly humorous, a short novel you’ll zip through in one or two sittings.
To accompany the release of Of the Night, providing a kind of fanfare, is a CD worth of new instrumental/ambient music I’d added to my Audio page. I call this selection of musical oddities Language With No Vocabulary and I’m making it available to you free—play it, download it to your heart’s content.
Here’s a sample cut, a luvly little number I call:
(Photo by Jason Minshull)
A good day of work yesterday:
I think I nailed down the final version re: the jacket copy for Of the Night. That’s one of the great things about being an indie writer and publisher, I have complete control over every aspect of my book, from the title and cover art to the selection of layout, fonts, even the composition of promo copy. Some authors may not want the responsibility, the expenditure of time and effort, but I sure as hell do. I have final say over the content and how it’s presented to readers. I love it.
I’d decided to add an Afterword to Of the Night but for some days had been stymied as to what I wanted to say. Yesterday the dam broke and the Afterword came in a rush. Spent most of the day editing and cleaning it up and last night, just before bed, read it to my wife and sons. They had some suggestions for revisions, small corrections, but for the most part they loved it. So I’ll be adding the short essay to the end of the manuscript in the next day or two.
The book itself is close to completion, really just little niggling things that need to be touched up and smoothed over. 98% of it is finished, in the can, and I pronounce myself delighted with the end result. Of the Night is a stand-alone effort but it’s set in the Great Lake city of Ilium, just like So Dark the Night, so it’s a short and sturdy companion piece to that longer tome. It is not a sequel; it features a new cast of characters and an entirely different storyline. Perhaps not as ambitious or immediately endearing as its predecessor, but Of the Night possesses a special charm of its own and readers are going to fall in love with it. Take my word for it.
And since I mentioned So Dark the Night, let me say that it’s doing quite well, sales-wise, though it seems to be selling better in the e-book and Kindle editions than as a physical book. The times they are a-changing. The new technologies (e-readers et all) leave me cold and, candidly, I’ll keep buying books until the last forest is felled and converted to pulp. Sorry, but it’s the truth. When you buy my book, the actual “dead tree edition”, you can hold it in your hands, ogle that gorgeous cover, feel the rasp of the pages with your fingertips.
Sorry, techno geeks, your gadgets just can’t compete with that sensation.
But I’ve said my piece, given you an update so I’ll leave it there. Gadgets/technology (pro and con) is a discussion for another time, another place.
The important thing for you to know is that Of the Night is on schedule and it looks very much like I’ll meet my self-imposed deadline and will be holding a proof of the book in my arthritic hands by my 47th birthday (end of October). A short time later, it will be ready for ordering and reading.
Thrilling times ahead.
Watch this space…
Scenes from our evening at the library here in town. The official launch of my new novel. My pal Laird Brittin and I performed to an appreciative audience of about seventy and, afterward, I was set up at a table near the door and chatted with a long line of folks who waited patiently to get a book (or two) signed. Sold 35 copies of So Dark the Night and that doesn’t include the three extra copies the library region ordered the next day.
It was, as promised, a terrific evening of words and music. Folks were still buzzing about it afterward. Let’s face it, when most people come to readings, they have pretty low expectations. And with good reason; the majority of writers, however skilled they might be with the printed word, are dreadful readers. Dull, no energy or charisma. We were determined to add some theatricality to our evening; we employed spotlights and borrowed a black backdrop from the Community Players.
Laird came perilously close to stealing the show with his set—must make a mental note to pare down his time considerably or mess with his mike to throw him off. If we ever decide to do this again. A big nod of thanks to Wendy and the library for sponsoring the event and to my family, who did technical stuff and handled all the lifting and toting so the “artistes” could concentrate on their work. They had it set up so that just after Laird finished his tunes, the lights came down and we debuted the book trailer for So Dark the Night. Great reaction and a fabulous lead-in to my reading.
Clearly, I must do something about that blue shirt. It’s a size too big and billows about me. I look like freakin’ Meatloaf. And I’m only 168 pounds, honest. Surrounded, in the preceding shots, by the local glitterati, Mercedes and Lamborghinis purring outside, waiting to whisk them home…
Can’t remember enjoying a reading as much as this last one; not for a long time anyway. Readings have become a chore to me, they don’t excite me like they used to. But this time it was different. I was showing off the best thing I’ve ever written, introducing friends and readers to the two most endearing and fully realized characters I’ve come up with in my 25 years as a professional scribbler. I chose four short sections and scored a hit every time. I fed off the crowd’s approval, getting stronger with each excerpt.
I could feel Sherron’s smile from the podium. Knew that we’d carried it off. The applause was nice but it was more what people said afterward. Hugging their copy of So Dark the Night. Thrilled at having it personally inscribed. Book lovers, every last one of them. Still not immune to possibility. Daring to be amazed.
My kinda people.