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Our Guest Today is Michael A. Black

Author names: Michael A. Black, aka Don Pendleton, aka A.W. Hart

I met Mike through the Public Safety Writers Association. He is always willing and ready to help others, whether it be writing or life in general. Mike has become a friend and mentor. Mike is holding a copy of one my favorite Michael A. Black novels: Legends of the West – A Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves Western.

Genre/genres you write in: It’s always been my goal to be published in as many different genres as I could. So far, I’ve been published in mystery, thriller, western, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, mainstream, new pulp, sports, historical, and horror. I’m still working on a romance story.

My latest ones are westerns under the name A. W. Hart, who’s an Amazon Bestseller. My titles in the series are Gunslinger: Killer’s Choice, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, and Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost. I try to blend historical accuracy with the traditional American western. Actually, I have some legitimacy in this genre. Author Zane Grey was a distant relative of mine.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? I’ve always had an interest in writing. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade and read it in front of the class. The teacher scrawled D—Poor work across the front of it in red pen and told me never to do it again. Naturally, I didn’t listen to her. I look back on the experience with fondness. I didn’t know it at the time, but it sort of foreshadowed my entire writing career to come: I got my first assignment, my first deadline, and my first rejection all in the space of about three days.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? I struggled for at least ten years trying to get published. In those days, they’d send you a rejection slip with your returned story. I had enough of them to paper the wall in every room in my house. One day I got another story back in one of my self-addressed-stamped-envelopes and noticed the one editor had scrawled something along the seal: Close, but no cigar. Too long. Try again. I was ecstatic. I’d finally gotten some actual feedback for an editor. I promptly rewrote the story and submitted it to another magazine, and it turned out to be my first published story.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? All of my stuff has been traditionally published. However, I started out in small press magazines. The market was a bit different back then. They didn’t pay a lot, sometimes only with contributor’s copies, but it gave me a place to learn. As Elmore Leonard once said about the old pulps: “They gave you a place to be bad.” I’ve been published by small press, big press, and a lot of them in between. To me, it makes little difference. I’m just as proud as of my stories that have appeared in those small press mags as I am the big houses. Although the money is nice, I always try to be professional and give my writing the best effort each time out, regardless of the size of the publisher.

Where do you write? I like to write at the kitchen table on the laptop. Once I’m into my zone, I don’t have to worry about anybody bothering me except one of my cats. I’m very leery about writing outside of my home because of my concern about being vulnerable. Some people say they like to write at a restaurant or coffee shop. For me, this would be virtually impossible due to me constantly watching my surroundings.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? I’ve tried listening to music, and it usually distracts me more then it helps. Normally, I don’t listen to any music and try to remain free of distractions.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? Being a military vet who served overseas and having been a police officer for thirty some years after that, I’ve had a ton of experiences to draw upon. I’m hesitant to use very many of them because so many involved victims of crimes. I’d never want a victim or a victim’s family to read something I’d written and think that I was capitalizing on their suffering, so I always mask these experiences heavily. Mostly it’s about what the characters experience, and I use the emotions and feelings that I experienced in my writing. I know what it feels like to experience danger, injury, be stabbed, have a bullet whiz by my head, etc. And I know what it feels like to be scared, and I know what it feels like to be lucky. As Winston Churchill once said, “The most exhilarating feeling in the world is to be shot at without result.”

Describe your process for naming your characters? Names are a double-edged sword for me. I tend to repeat them often. The name Jim turns up in my writing a lot for some unknown reason. I keep a character log listing each name I used when I’m writing a book. It’s one way of keeping them straight.

Real settings or fictional towns? I use both and often use fictional settings within real cities. I try to keep things realistic if it’s set in an actual location. I think a bit of artistic license and discretion is a good idea in regards to setting. It’s never good practice to portray a real place in your book in a negative way.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? I’ve had a lot of characters with quirks, so this is a hard one to answer. Writing the Executioner series (as Don Pendleton), I have to come up with James Bond-type villains who are larger than life. I usually try to put a dose of kink into some of the villains, but it’s also important to give the bad guys one of two good aspects, so they don’t come off as cardboard. An agent once advised me to give one of my villains a severe dental problem or a pet dog to which he was fiercely loyal. So I did the next best thing and gave him a phobia about tooth decay and had him brushing his dog’s teeth religiously. Since no good deed goes unpunished, I had the dog subsequently urinate on the guy’s rug.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? This is a tough one. I’d have to pick one of the books that I was forced to read in school, perhaps The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick … maybe one of Faulkner’s such as Light in August. I’d choose any one of the above, so I could cut all of the excess out of them and make sure they had satisfying endings.

Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I haven’t thought about it much. There are no do-overs, only regrets. But that’s why life is bittersweet.

What’s your biggest pet peeve? I don’t suffer fools gladly.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Food, water, and a quick way to get back to civilization.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? I’ve had quite a few, but I’d have to say pulling KP in the army was one. Well, maybe latrine duty … But these gave me the incentive to apply myself to become a squad leader, so I didn’t have to pull those anymore. When I was 19, I had to drive a truck around the South Side of Chicago delivering tires to gas stations. That was pretty bad.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Wow, this is a tough one. There have been so many. I suppose the best one is Deliverance, by James Dickey. He was a nationally recognized poet in the 1960s. He spent ten years writing a first-person thriller about four city dwellers who go on a canoe trip into the mountains of Georgia and have a horrific experience that changes them forever. It has the best first line of any book I’ve ever read:

It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling, and snapping back whenever one of us turned loose.

Man, that guy could write. When I finished the novel, I went back and reread that first line and realized he had summed up the entire book with that one sentence.

What’s on the horizon for you? That remains to be seen. Hopefully, more books and short stories to be written. I’m currently working on a new series for Wolfpack publishers about modern day bounty hunters. We’re calling it the Trackdown series. The first one is due on in October, and it’s called Trackdown: Devil’s Dance.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? My books are meant to be entertaining. I always try to write the kind of book I’d like to read, and this is essential because, as any writer knows, you have to read your own book several times before you turn it in.

Contact Information, Website, and/or blog links: Right now, my website is out of commission. I have an Amazon Author’s Page as well as author pages on Crossroad Press and Wolfpack Press. Anybody wanting to chat, my email is DocAtlas108@aol.com.

Today’s Guest is Lanie Longshore

Lani Longshore introduces us to science fiction, quilting and writing about life (blog)

The Chenille Ultimatum (with Ann Anastasio). Susan thought she was done with space aliens when she sent her mother, Edna, and daughter Cecily as ambassadors to the planet Schtatik. Instead, she must travel across the galaxy to stop a civil war that Edna started when she made herself queen of one of the clans. As Susan struggles to make everyone calm down, she learns how strong she really is, and how important it is to carry an embroidery project wherever she goes.

 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? I’ve thought of myself as a writer since elementary school. In high school and college, I produced short stories, poems, essays, and news articles. I was fortunate enough to find a good writing support group as an adult and wrote my first (still unpublished) novel.

How long was your road to publication? The first book in the Chenille series, Death By Chenille, was published twenty years after I began writing novels. I’m working on the fourth novel in that series with co-author Ann Anastasio.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am indie published.

Where do you write? I write at my computer desk in the family room. I transitioned from writing by hand to a typewriter when I interned at a local weekly newspaper while in high school. In college, my portable typewriter took up most of my desk.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Since I write in the family room, I write to all sorts of sound. Sometimes there is music, sometimes the television is on, sometimes there is only the drone of the dishwasher from the kitchen. As other people are often in the room, the choice of music isn’t entirely up to me, so I’ve learned to embrace all genres.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? While aspects of the plots and characters’ are drawn from life, I avoid pulling too much from my own experience. My co-author and I used to perform on the quilt lecture circuit, producing 1-act musicals about quilts and the women who make them. The real story behind a quilt isn’t always entertaining. We took the part that fit our needs and made up the rest, a process we’ve continued in our cozy sci-fi novels about quilters who repeatedly save the world from alien invasions.

Describe your process for naming your characters? I go through a baby book first. If that fails, I start searching the bookshelves for author names I can adapt. If that fails, I go to actors’ names I can manipulate. There was an old movie on TV when I needed a name for a secondary character in the first Chenille novel, Death By Chenille, so Randolph Scott became Scott Randolph.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? One of my aliens puffs out colored smoke from his body whenever he gets emotional. The colors match the emotion.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? There are many books I wish I had written, but I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow now by Amor Towles and would love to have written it. His character studies are brilliant, and his plot devices are amazing.

What’s your biggest pet peeve? Complicated punctuation in dialog. People speak in pauses and full stops. Who do you know who speaks in semi-colons? No one, that’s who! It’s rare enough to find someone who speaks in full sentences, so I prefer authors to stick to dashes, commas, and periods (with the occasional exclamation point and question mark where required).

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? I don’t suppose I could pull an ocean-going boat, fuel for me and the boat, and a really strong radio from a parallel universe, could I? Okay, then I’ll want a food replicator because I’m a vegetarian, so all the fish in the sea won’t do me any good, and what’s the use of life without chocolate? I’ll also want embroidery supplies to make fiber art to decorate my hut (I get a hut, right?), and a crate of notebooks and pens.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I’ve never been able to answer that question because there are so many wonderful books available and more on the way. I also can’t settle on a favorite color or even a favorite candy bar.

What’s on the horizon for you? If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll finish the fourth book in the Chenille series, The Captain and Chenille, by spring.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? When I finally outgrew imagining I knew everything, I realized if I wanted to know anything at all, I should say yes whenever someone offered to teach me. It’s why I know how to quilt when I don’t have a domestic bone in my body (okay, I love to cook, but that’s a survival skill), and why I’m a black belt in karate when I come from a long line of pacifists. Three bits of trivia: I’ve seen Lenin’s Tomb; two of my quilting students were recipients of presidential pardons for federal crimes; both sides of my family have scandals regarding running away from the clan and taking the reasons why to the grave. As to my books, The Chenille series came out of a failed plan to create a platform for a quilting technique book. Ann and I had a great idea, and our proposal received favorable comments, but we weren’t famous enough in quilt circles for a publisher to take a chance on us. We decided we would write a novel to get some publicity. Quilting mysteries were just starting to take off, but neither Ann nor I had enough confidence we could write a good mystery. Since we had already created quilting vaudeville with our 1-act musical comedies, we decided to create quilting science fiction. We still aren’t well known enough to get our technique book published, but we’re working on our fourth novel. The remarkable thing about our collaboration is that Ann and her family moved several states away before we had finished our second book, and yet we still managed to get that one and the third book completed.

 

Contact:  lanilongshore.wordpress.com

 

GUEST POST: MARK CLIFFORD

Our guest today is Mark R. Clifford

A Proud fourth-generation San Franciscan, Mark is the second-born in an Irish Catholic family of seven, making him a self-proclaimed expert in the pseudoscience of birth order characteristics. He served in the Marine Corps infantry for ten years and as a Police Officer for over a quarter-century. TYPHOON COAST tells the story of what haunts him.

In the Marines, he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Mark received Special Operations training while attached to the 3d Marine Division in Okinawa and was operating in the Philippines in 1991 during the historic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. His law enforcement career was equally eclectic. He rose to the sergeant’s rank and served in a myriad of assignments to include SWAT and undercover narcotics.

Mark still calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. He and his wife have been married for almost thirty years and have raised three beautiful children. He has written for the San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times, San Leandro Times, and read his works at the famous Cody’s Books in Berkeley.

 

Mark, we have a few questions about TYPHOON COAST and your writing history. To begin with, what genre or genres do you write in? I work mainly in adventure fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction.

Please tell us a bit about your book.

Ten-year-old Trent McShane watches in horror as his beautiful young mother is swept away from California’s Typhoon Coast into the unforgiving wild blue Pacific, never to be seen again. Lost and bewildered, Trent falls under the spell of class clown Eddie Thompson, who has a wanderlust for treasure hunts—in particular, the infamous World War II Golden Lily Treasure, buried on the other side of the ocean, deep in the wild green Philippine jungle.

Together, Trent and Eddie follow childhood illusions of grandeur through San Francisco, then become men in the vast Philippine mountains. Mount Pinatubo explodes with apocalyptic fury, but does it take the Golden Lily Treasure with it? Eddie and Trent are not alone in the hunt. The trillions in treasure could afford the US government incredible power in international affairs and bankroll the nation’s black operations. It’s all fair game.

Typhoon Coast is a rollicking ride through 1980s San Francisco, through the vibrant eyes of a boy who loses his mother, and then his innocence. In the jungles of the Philippines, in the 1990s, that boy becomes a man, falls in love, and begins a lifelong quest for a mythical treasure trove hidden in the canopy. Magical realism and romanticism merge with the hard, cold reality of a Marine’s life to reveal a glimpse into how the imagination conspires to keep us dreaming.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? After twenty-six years, I retired from police work as a Sergeant on June 1st, 2020. Sadly, I watched a massive mob loot and burn the town I served from one end to another. I had friends die on those streets. Friends become disabled; their dreams cut short. Police officers live many lifetimes. It is common to live a lifetime in one shift—all a single life’s emotions wrapped up in a unique tour.

I lost a friend and fellow writer on those streets. He was savagely gunned down. As I folded the flag over his coffin, I promised I’d write a novel. I started soon after.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? Sharing my work with the world was always part of the plan. As the writing process ended, the marketing began. I quickly realized that the publishing industry was changing, and I had to make my luck.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Next step! I am not the smartest guy. But I am stupidly ambitious. I found a guy (now friend) who wanted to give indie publishing a shot. I put the magic on paper, and Greg put his spell on the computer. It was a joint operation, and we were pretty proud of Typhoon Coast the day she was born.

Where do you write? I write from where I am in life. I went from being an altar boy and an Eagle Scout to being a Marine and a cop. I work at my computer in the family room every morning at 6:30. Writing is not a discipline for me; writing is something I serve.

I reach for my hot cup of black coffee in a military veteran mug that my kids gave me for Christmas years ago. The computed screen glows in a dark room. My dog sleeps on the couch behind me. I like quiet; however, I don’t need it. Technically, I was not a true feral child raised by wolves, but I’m Irish-Catholic, and I was the second oldest in a family of seven children—I got peace like I got stigmata.
The world is still quiet at six-thirty—a treat.

I remember my dreams from the night before. I still dream about the jungle and the streets. The concerns of the day will begin in a couple of hours. At six-thirty, the story I serve weaves itself into the rules of my craft. I am its servant.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I will never claim that Typhoon Coast is an autobiography. On the other hand, every single detail has a pure life nexus. A writer must write from a place they know.

Sadly, at twenty-six, I was wealthy beyond imagination.

The Philippines is a nation of 7,641 islands and just as many spectacles. June 1991, I was a Marine stationed on Luzon, the chain’s largest island, where fate had ushered me to a front-row seat to an epic adventure. While enduring the fatigue of jungle patrol, I’d befriended a Filipino selling machetes. He’d disclosed to me the suspected whereabouts of a treasure trove rumored to be near the top of the now-infamous Mount Pinatubo.

There is much history about this legendary Golden Lily Treasure, as well as intrigue behind its origin. My new cohort and I soon took a jarring jeepney ride, to board a slow-sinking banca boat that ferried us back to the boonies, where we footslogged toward Pinatubo’s Vesuvius splendor, to unearth our riches in Luzon’s lawless wilderness.

Treasure hunting is rousing. I don’t need to bother you with the intricate details of how the machete man read a series of etchings in rocks, or how we avoided a bottle as if it was a landmine because the Japanese filled Saki bottles with deadly gas to protect the cemented entrances from looters. But we’d found the sealed cave! I could smell the perfume of my soul within…that undeniable fragrance of one’s hopes and dreams. The bigger problem was staying alive to claim it. However, in the end, it didn’t matter. A few days later, I was back on filthy jungle patrol. I tasted the unmistakable lure of treasure that had seeped into my nose and caked to the back of my tongue, as I watched Pinatubo’s cataclysmic eruption blow 500 feet of its summit twenty-two miles into the wild blue yonder.

Typhoon Coast was inspired by the second-largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, which blew my life of opulence to oblivion. I have since raised a family and was a cop for more than twenty-five years. I plan on writing two more books based upon the adventures of Typhoon Coast’s main character, Trent McShane. We will follow his life of dramatic happenstance, as he is plucked off his beat and back into the Marines, seizing opportunities to right his life’s tragic wrongs on the trail of a high-stakes mission.

Describe your process for naming your characters? One of the biggest problems with man is that we name everything we see! A “name” is a label that simplifies very complicated things. For example, “Man” is a word that reduces a person’s biology, psychology, genetics, and personal history to three letters. I have lost lots of friends whom I immortalize throughout Typhoon Coast. Their loved ones will recognize them.

Real settings or fictional towns? Why? Create a world that your reader will understand and do it early. I learned something important about storytelling as a young cop. I’d lose my audience at body number two in a multiple homicide story. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell a dramatic tale; it was that the subject matter was just too remote for a reasonable person to grasp. Now try telling a story about being buried alive in quaking cataclysmic volcanic eruption while a typhoon raged outside. An actual apocalypse that blackened out the sun. They just can’t connect. As a result, I create composite settings and situations to better reach my reader. They are not looking for me. I’m looking for them.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I rarely read for pleasure today. I write. I do read voraciously to see how others have written. I have bookshelves uniformly fitted with tattered books that profoundly influenced my inner writer. Drum roll…. The best book I ever read (and recommend to fellow artists) …. Ready for the big reveal?

Answer: The Moon and Sixpence is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, told in episodic form by a first-person narrator, in a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character Charles Strickland, a middle-aged English stockbroker who abandons his wife and children to pursue his desire to become an artist.

BUT! Don’t run out and buy it. It’s available through my website and Amazon.

What’s in the future for you and your writing? To continue to write, of course. A story can be told from many perspectives.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Stay tuned for Barbary Coast: Fly from Evil to be released in 2021!

Website and/or blog links: www.typhooncoast.com

GUEST POST: Author Jackie Taylor Zortman

GHOSTED – The Drifter Series: Book Four

We have the great pleasure of a visit from Jackie Taylor Zortman. A fine write, Jackie lives in the Colorado Mountains not too far from the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever ridden. Jackie writes police procedural, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction grief.

 

 

 

When you finish check out Jackie’s website:www.jtzortman.wordpress.com  

Please tell us a bit about your newest book in the Drifter Series.

Jake rides his Harley again in GHOSTED – The Drifter Series Book #4. He brings his carefully concealed personal secret out into the open for the first time. An untimely and unexpected classified mission in The Tetons of Wyoming takes him away from Kimble, Colorado, at the worst possible time in anyone’s life. His leaving without warning creates hurt, embarrassment, and fury in Tomi. Will it end their relationship forever this time?

Leaving his beloved red Harley behind, Jake has his pilot friend, Stephan, fly him into Jackson Hole Airport in his private plane. Without his cycle, he rents a Jeep to pursue his assignment. An old friend suddenly re-appears in Jackson Hole and indirectly becomes an important fixture in Jake’s world as he finally settles an old score that changes the lives of many beloved people.

Find out what shocking discovery Jake has exposed this time and learn if it turns out to be the wonderful surprise he expected or a total disaster. It’s all there inside the pages of GHOSTED.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? My 21-year-old grandson fell to his death in the black of night from a mountain ledge. Sixteen months later, I sat down and wrote WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW to soothe my aching soul. It sold like hotcakes and still sells, as needed. I feel Pete lives on through its pages.

As for writing novels, my husband once mentioned he’d like to see a particular case he worked for the Wichita PD as the Senior Homicide Detective as a book. I wrote FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST, spiral bound it and tossed it on a shelf. Years later, I ran across it, modernized it, and sent it to the Public Safety Writers Association’s Writing Competition in 2014. If it bombed there, it was going into the trash. Imagine my surprise when it won First Place Fiction Book Unpublished. I wrote the sequel, SNOW ANGEL, and it won an Honorable Mention, so I was off and running as a novel writer.

Next, I began writing my JAKE series – he’s a drop-dead handsome hot-shot wildland firefighter with a Harley who is a drifter. He hides a secret and only stops when some place flags him down where there’s a disaster for him to solve. Women want him, and men envy him. I’ve written WHISKEY, WATER & WILDFIRE, WINDS OF CHANGE, ECHOES OF SILENCE & GHOSTED featuring Jake.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? My first non-fiction book was published immediately by Oak Tree Press, as was my first novel Footprints in the Frost, probably because of the award it won.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I was originally traditionally published by Oak Tree Press and then Aakenbaaken & Kent, but now I independently publish by choice.

Where do you write? I write in my office in the Colorado mountains on my desktop PC and scribble occasional notes by hand when I’m away from the office.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Depends on the book. My Detective Max Richards is loosely based on someone from real life. The other characters are pure fiction. My Jake character and most of the characters in those books are pure fiction, except for one. A young male friend wanted to be included in the book I was writing, so I put him in, but in a fictional manner.

Describe the process you use for naming your characters? I knew immediately what Detective Max Richards should be like, so he was easy. He’s very much like my detective husband. Everything about Jake came to me totally out of the blue and completely intact, name included.

Real settings or fictional towns? Why? At first, I used only fictional towns. Then I discovered it was okay to use actual towns. I prefer to use a fictional name for the town, that is my base setting. So the answer is, I use both. The reason I prefer fictional towns is that I don’t want readers who know me to confuse fiction with fact. I’ve discovered readers see themselves or people and places they think they know in my books, though they are wrong.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III is my all-time favorite. However, in a different genre, I think Where the Crawdads Sing is a fictional masterpiece.

What’s in the future for you and your writing? Hopefully, Jake will continue to stay with me as I continue to write. Book #5 is already haunting me.  I also intend to write another non-fiction book about Mild Cognitive Impairment because it has touched my life via someone very near and dear to me.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? I am a Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association, having started with Roger Fulton as The Police Writer. I am also proud to have won ten PSWA Writing Competition Awards since the day I sent that first manuscript in to see if it would sink or swim. I’m also a member of The Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers. GHOSTED is my seventh published book.

HARD TIME – Part 3

Jim said, “If we kill him, and get caught, they will electrocute us. If we kill him, we have to do it in a way that can’t be proved.” He went on, “We gotta make sure the rest of the prisoners know it was us, so they’ll fear us.” They spent weeks coming up with plan after plan.

* * * * *

Ben, the youngest and least threatening on the chain gang, was the water boy. He shuffled up and down the line passing out water from two canvas buckets hanging by ropes from a wooden yoke. A tin cup was attached to the yoke by a cord. The prisoners were allowed to dip bug laden and brackish water twice each hour. Pete reveled in his domination of Ben by forcing him to fill the cup and hand it to him.

Ben said, “We can grind up glass to a fine powder and put it in his cup. It’ll cut his innards to pieces.”

“It’ll cut you, and the guards will see your bloody hands.”

“I’ll carry it in something and slip it in before I get to him.”

“I like the idea, but not glass. There are too many risks. If you get caught, what’ll you say?”

The chain gang was on a particularly tough stretch of the swamp, clearing brush and bamboo. Hardly a week went by without someone getting bit by a snake. Everyone, including the guards, was jumpy. As one of the prisoners put it, “You had-ta look where you was cutting every time you swung your machete. Otherwise, you could-a hit a snake.”

The men carried long bamboo shafts to thrust ahead of where they worked to get the snakes to move away; even the guards had poles.

Ben had read somewhere that finely shaved bamboo slivers could kill a man slowly and painfully with little evidence. In these surroundings, he was sure he could conceal this deadly gift.

“I’ll try bamboo and see if it does the job.”

The next day Ben cut a few inches from his shaft. Working with a jailhouse knife made from a piece of tin, he cut fine shards. So fine, they were almost invisible to the human eye. He wasn’t careful, and a sliver got stuck in his finger. He felt the pain but could not see the offending shard. “Damn, this hurts.”

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“How you gonna test it?” Jim asked.

A pack of mongrel dogs hung about the camp surviving on scraps, roadkill, and what they could beg off the prisoners and guards. “I’ll try it on one of the mutts.”

Jim asked, “How can you do that?”

“Easy, I’ll save my meat Saturday and mix in the bamboo.”

Angrily, Jim retorted, “I mean, how can you kill a dog?”

“Easy if it will help get rid of Pete.”

Jim slumped, head down as he whispered, “Oh, God.” After a moment, he looked up and said, “Okay.”

Two days later, Saturday, the one night a week they got meat, Ben saved what passed for meat, ground-up hog, beef entrails, and chicken scraps. Because it was his plan, Ben said, “I’ll do it.” After dinner, he slipped one of the dogs, a mangy collie mix, a handful of bamboo-laced meat.

Ben and Jim watched the mongrel. The first day they saw no change in its behavior. The second day the dog began whimpering and crawling around in pain—the third, it passed blood from its ass and coughed up more—the fourth it died.

Two days later, Ben gave Pete a water and bamboo cocktail. Based on their experience with the dog, they expected some sign on the second day. Pete seemed as healthy as a sadistic bastard can be. Ben thought about giving him another dose of bamboo. Jim vetoed the idea as too risky.

Ben smiled at Pete and said, “How’s the water?”

“What the f*@k are you talking about, punk?”

Ben smiled. He made sure that Pete’s crew overheard the exchange, a conversation he repeated as the day wore on.

On the third day, Pete began to complain of severe stomach pain. Walking up with a bright smile, Ben almost sang, “Hey Pete, you want another cup of water? I fixed it special for you.” Pete declined—by then—it was too late.

By the fourth day, Pete was shitting and puking blood. He couldn’t walk. Even the guards knew he was dying. Once again, Ben offered to bring him water.

It took Pete five days to die.

No autopsy, no investigation, just a quick burial in an unmarked grave: the other prisoners knew Ben had killed Pete, only not how. Life on the chain gang remained hard.

Ben was never attacked again.

 

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