We Don’t Get Along

Music has always been a part of my life, and has, in many ways, influenced my writing. I’ve gotten book and short story ideas from songs I’ve enjoyed; I write more effectively and more efficiently when I’m listening to music; and I used to go into what I always referred to as the zone when I was writing with music on. I used to put several CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle before sitting down to the computer; hours later I’d come out of it with several thousand or so words written and the stereo had stopped playing.

I don’t allow myself a lot of regrets in life–life is too short to spend time mourning things you didn’t get to do–but one I do allow myself is having no musical training. I cannot play any instruments, I cannot read music, and I have no talent for it whatsoever. I thought at one point I could possibly write lyrics…but no, I have no gift for lyrics or poetry, either.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music, and I do.

Which brings me to our next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Diane Vallere’s “We Don’t Get Along.”

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There’s more than one way to tie a knot, I thought. I yanked on the ropes, putting my weight into the move to increase the tension and tighten the cord. Kristine Chamberlain’s wide, brown eyes watched me in the reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was propped against the opposite wall. That was about the only thing she could do. The gag in her mouth kept her from a verbal response.

“Does this hurt?” I asked. “I don’t want it to hurt. It’s important to me that you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt, right?”

Kristine shook her head.

“Good. I didn’t want to tie you up.” Kristine raised one eyebrow. “This was Morgan’s idea. He said you wouldn’t be home. I told him to make sure. I told him I’ve been watch- ing your patterns every night for the past two weeks, so I could learn your schedule be- fore we picked a time to break in—a time when you’d be out. We needed to be patient. Morgan is impatient, so here we are.”

Kristine nodded again. Her eyes didn’t indicate fear. That was good. Fear made people do crazy things, and if tonight was going to go off without a hitch, everybody needed to act exactly as expected.

Kristine Chamberlain was a once-hot eighties pop star who’d lost her fame but held onto her wealth. She lived in the Hollywood Hills, where any number of houses fit the profile of potential target. She was like every other formerly famous celebrity hiding out in a too big house with too much stuff that cost too much money.

I was very pleased to see Diane Vallere in the table of contents, as she was an author whose work I’d been wanting to read. I have several of her novels in my TBR pile–I think the first two of her Costume Shop mystery series. She’s quite prolific, as you can see by clicking on that link, and if “We Don’t Get Along” is a barometer of her writing ability, I have a lot of hours of pleasure ahead of me in reading her backlist.

“We Don’t Get Along” is a very tightly written story, and quite a lot of fun. Morgan and Ginger (Ginger is a our POV character) are a married couple who burgle the homes of the wealthy in the Hollywood Hills…but after ten years of marriage they are calling it quits, after one last job–robbing former pop star Kristine Chamberlain’s home. As the burglary progresses, Ginger takes us through their “meet-cute” and then the years of marriage, from the happy early years to the slow growing realization that not only do they not get along, they don’t like each other very much. I love the entire concept of married-couple-as-criminals, and Diane does a great job here of fleshing them out and making Ginger–a criminal–not only likable but someone the reader can root for; we want her to succeed and get away from her loser husband.

And then the story takes a turn.

Great, great fun.

Mercenary

As I have said before, reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s indirectly led me to Spotify, which led me to rediscovering the magic of the Go-Go’s again after many years, and then led me on to rediscovering other 80’s music I loved, like the Cars and, just Friday, Josie Cotton. Josie Cotton is probably best known for her her cover of the Go-Go’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (which could never be released or recorded today, but at the time was kind of in-your-face and cool) as well as fronting the band playing the prom at the end of the terrific teen movie Valley Girl (which also should have been a much bigger hit than it was; but calling it Valley Girl was an attempt to cash-in on Moon Zappa’s novelty hit “Valley Girl”, but the movie was actually so much better than that; it was one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980’s and also starred a very young and beautiful Nicolas Cage in what may have been his first starring role). I was listening to two of her albums Friday night and yesterday (Convertible Music and From the Hip) and marveling that she wasn’t a bigger star than she was; she certainly had fun, upbeat music with lyrics that bit down hard, and she also had a terrific sense of personal style that should have caught on in the age of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Go figure.

Which leads me to the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Bryon Quertermous’ “Mercenary.”

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“They asked for my dental records,” Lodi Meyers said, “so they can identify my body if he kills me.”

Andre Taylor sat across from her at a diner on the outskirts of downtown Detroit. “You really want to talk about this now? With me?”

“I don’t have any other options,” she said, tears giving way to an angry flush across her cheeks. “They’re putting together this moronic safety plan for me while insisting there’s not enough evidence to keep him in prison.”

Andre flexed the fingers of his beefy, gnarled hands and picked up his coffee cup without taking a drink. The bleached white of the cup contrasted with the dark black skin of his hands, which were shaking enough to splash a bit of the freshly poured coffee onto the table.

“I’m really not the person you should be talking to about this.”

Lodi reached her hand across the table and clutched Andre’s wrist. “That’s exactly why we’re talking.”

Andre put his coffee cup down and stood up. “This was a mistake.”

Lodi grabbed his wrist again, this time more aggressively. “There’s a reason you showed up even though this is a terrible idea. You want to make sure I haven’t told any- one what you did.”

Bryon Quertermous has published two novels–Murder Boy and Riot Load–which are kind of hard to classify. They’re noir and hard-boiled, but there’s a twisted, slightly demented sense of humor about them that reminds me of Victor Gischler’s work (which you should also read).

“Mercenary” is a terrific tale, built around two people–a woman and a man–who are tied together by the weirdest connection (saying anything more would be spoilerish); she’s a former pain clinic manager and he’s a bail bondsman. Her husband is about to be released on bail–and plans to kill her. The rest of the tale, as she tries to convince the bail bondsman to help save her life, plays out as we find out more about their connection, why the husband is in jail, and see just how far Lodi is willing to go to protect herself and her daughter–who is in a coma. There’s a lot here, and Quertermous tells his story sparingly and carefully, with fewer words than most would have used, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s even more to be mined here; this easily could have been a novel. Instead, it’s an enormously satisfying dark tale with a sardonic sense of humor that was quite fun to read.

Breakdown Dead Ahead

Friday, and we made it through another week, Constant Reader–and a full week of work at that, on top of the Daylight Saving Change madness. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means the obligatory parade (and traffic congestion, complete with closed roads) in Uptown, which also means I need to get everything requiring driving finished and out of the way today. Fortunately, today is a half-day and I get off work at one, so I can cruise uptown and do all those errands and hopefully be safely inside my apartment by two-thirty.

My new MacBook Air arrived yesterday, and I’ve already gotten it all set up and taken care of so that it is usable, and I absolutely love it. I still have an issue with connecting it to the cloud, so this afternoon when I get home I’ll go on-line and talk to Apple Support and get that taken care of, after which it will be absolutely good to go. It’s very fast, has a lot more storage than my previous Air, and it’s rose gold–I didn’t specify a color so it defaulted to that, and it’s actually rather pretty.

I also intend to spend the rest of the day–after getting home–laundering the bed linens and devoting the day to finishing reading Alafair Burke’s superb The Better Sister, which hopefully will mean a review over the weekend. I’m also behind on reviewing the stories in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, so I need to get caught up on that as well.

As for my weekend plans, I need to get the Lost Apartment back into some sort of order. The house is being termite-tented later this month (scheduled while we’re staying at the Monteleone for the Festivals, and Scooter will be off to the Cat Practice for boarding and grooming and so forth), and I also intend to spend the weekend rereading the first ten chapters of the WIP and planning out the rest of the book. If the weather is nice–which it probably will be; the last few days have been spectacular–I may take a walk with my camera and take pictures of the Bead Trees of St. Charles. I think we’ll be getting a pizza from That’s Amore for dinner on Sunday as a treat for ourselves, and I do want to get a lot of cleaning and organizing and so forth taken care of this weekend.

And yes, I may start doing some research for the next Scotty book. I have an amorphous idea–I want to have the boys hired to investigate two different cases that end up being linked (the old Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew trick), but the trick is how to link the cases. I have a vague idea of how to do it, but am still not completely certain it’ll work, but the title will most likely be Hollywood South Hustle. I really like the idea of a local case juxtaposed against a case involving a film production scandal…

And on that note, ’tis back to the mines of spice before I head to the office. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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Fading Fast

When I started looking over the lyrics to the three Go-Go’s songs I was given to choose from as my inspiration for a story–as you well know, I settled on “This Town”–I was amazed, as I have said before in previous entries about these stories in this anthology, at how dark the lyrics actually were when removed from the context of the upbeat music and the cheerful singing voice of Belinda Carlisle.

Needless to say, the songs definitely loaned themselves to serving as inspiration from crime stories.

And Sarah M. Chen wrote perhaps one of the darkest stories I’ve read in a long time, inspired by “Fading Fast.”

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The guttural meow of a feral cat pierced the still night, making Sherry yelp. She stumbled on the gravel road and smacked into Justin, who crept silently in front of her.

“Jesus, what’s with you?” Justin whispered, spinning around. He held a finger up to his lips as if she needed to be reminded that they were supposed to be “stealth-like.” Jus- tin’s exact words because this was all his plan. He didn’t even want her here, but no way was she letting him do this without her.

“Sorry. Damn cat.” She hated cats. Mostly because that’s how they sounded late at night outside her window. Howling in that creepy, blood-curdling way.

His stern look softened into concern. “It’s not too late to back out, babe. Let me handle it.” His eyes traveled down to her bulging belly.

Sherry instinctively put her hand on her round tummy. She shook her head. “No, this is my thing.”

Their eyes locked in the darkness, illuminated by the full moon and the flickering streetlight behind them.

“It’s our thing.” Justin smiled and grabbed her hand. Gave it a squeeze. She squeezed back, and he motioned to the trailer about twenty feet ahead of them. “Ready?”

She nodded. Their footsteps crunched on the gravel as they closed in on the gray aluminum mobile home with the sagging bottom frame. The chilly night seemed to penetrate her bones, as if she weren’t wearing two sweatshirts and a windbreaker. Or maybe it was her nerves. She shivered.

Justin climbed the creaky steps and tried the front door. It was locked, as Sherry knew it would be. Justin pulled out a flathead screwdriver and went to work. Ernie didn’t bother with the deadbolt. Figured the few neighbors around knew better than to screw with him. Tonight, he was wrong.

The story opens with Justin and Sherry breaking into the trailer of Ernie; she is heavily pregnant, so immediately the mind runs to why would a pregnant woman be doing this? But as the story progresses, Chen deftly shows us precisely why a pregnant woman would take such a monumental risk, and why she is so driven. A powerful story about abuse, the damage that results from it, and how that damage can carry on to another generation unless someone breaks the cycle is handled quite expertly here; and the way the story ends is quite a punch in the mouth. Chen is quite gifted, and this is my first experience with reading her work…and it won’t be the last.

Well done!

Blades

Reading these stories, and revisiting the music, has drawn me into something I rarely do: reminisce and think about the past. I generally try not to think too much about the past; it’s the past and there’s nothing to be done about it, after all. Sometimes, though, when writing, I try to draw on my past and my own experience.

The 1980’s were a difficult decade for me, but one of the things I remember fondly about that decade was always the music. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1980’s music, and it was a weird, transitory time for it. MTV changed everything; exposing Americans and young people to new music and bands and artists they might not have ever heard, and the visual medium of the new “music television” channel also allowed us all to experience music visually, and there’s no question that interesting video presentation helped artists like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and many others to an even greater success than might have otherwise been possible for them.

The Go-Go’s videos were almost always very simplistic; probably “Vacation” was the most complicated video they ever made. Rewatching their videos recently kind of made me laugh–“Head over Heels”, for example, looks like it cost $20 to produce–and I’m not certain if this was because they didn’t care, or the record company thought they were big enough to not need the push from a terrific video.

The next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Blades,” by Steve Weddle.

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He was on his fifth Tequila Sunrise when his head hit the table.

“Everything, guys. Everything.”

We’d talked Nick into coming for drinks because he hadn’t been out of his apartment since twenty-nine days back when he and Laura had called it off. We had to get him out. Even without the wedding, the three of us considered ourselves his groomsmen. Until death do us all part, it seemed. Though another few drinks might take care of that.

The Thursday night crowd at Wingin’ It was worried more about the Cowboys-Eagles game than about the four of us concussing ourselves on a table.

Raphael slid the emptied tumblers away from Nick’s head. “She didn’t take every- thing, man.” Raph was the jokester among us, the one we sent in to cause a scene if we needed it, the one thinking he was just one prank away from going viral. When we’d go to games, he was the one who would sneak us in a diaper bag full of White Russians in baby bottles “You’ve still got your health,” he told Nick, pulling a coaster from the side of Nick’s face. “And that nasty cold sore.”

Truth be told, Nick was a bit of a late bloomer. We were all in our late thirties, but he hadn’t even gotten through his first marriage, yet. And with Laura dumping him a month before the wedding, he was even further behind us.

“Look,” Sam said, “if it wasn’t meant to be, it’s best you know now. The two of you can move on, find new people. It’s good news to find out now.”

“We’re still registered,” he said.

Ralph, Sam, and I looked at each other, then back to Nick.

“Sure,” Sam said, “I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. Probably moved on. You should too, man.”

“At Target,” Nick continued, ignoring Sam. “I checked. Target still thinks the wedding is going to happen. On the nineteenth. That’s next weekend.” He’d raised his head, apparently just he could drop it, rattling on the table again. “Next weekend.”

Sam said he’d get the next round, then walked across the room to the bar.

This story is different from the preceding ones in that the crime committed during the course of this story isn’t a felony; and the crime itself, while the driving force behind the story, isn’t really the focus of the story. The story is about friendship, and the things guys do to help out their friends, whether it’s a smart thing or not, and the ending of the story might be a little dark–the story itself is dark, emotionally–but it also leaves the reader with a strong sense of satisfaction; justice, of a sort, has been done, and everyone feels better about things. It’s about male bonding and male friendship, and not done in a way that feels non-relatable to not-straight men.

Quite good, and I loved the change of pace.

And now back to the spice mines.

Misunderstanding

Well, Iris is over for another year and as always, the ladies of Iris were most generous to Paul and I. The coffee table is now buried in beads and throws, and there’s a whole day of parades today, plus the magnificence that is Orpheus tomorrow night. We skipped Tucks and Endymion last night–we never have really gone to watch Endymion; we used to walk up St. Charles to go out dancing on that night, and always caught tons of beads from Endymion as we walked–and our attendance today is entirely dependent on the weather. The day parades have been moved up an hour already because of potentially inclement weather; but thus far Bacchus is scheduled to role tonight at its regularly scheduled time.

Paul went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday last night, leaving me home to my own devices for the evening, and so I pretty much spent the evening watching nonsense on television and reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long, which is so beautifully written I have to put it down every once in a while to digest it. I am hoping to finish reading it today before and between parade.  I am glad I have tomorrow off, so I can get all the odds-and-ends of my book finished before Orpheus rides, and on Fat Tuesday I am going to probably just relax and read most of the day. I am very behind, not only on the Short Story Project but on the Diversity Project, and I also have my TWFest homework to do as well–I have three books to read for that. But once the Festival is over and I have the first draft of the WIP finished (around April 1st, methinks), I can dive back into both projects. Huzzah!

And since I am taking today off from writing, I can spend the morning before the parades get here curled up in my easy chair with Lori’s book, which is an absolutely lovely way to spend a morning…and perhaps during the brief break between Thoth and Bacchus I can get it finished. It’s a very  well written book, and the story itself, intertwining present day grief in a family with a history of Klan leadership, is stunning in its scope and what it is trying to do, and I am here for it. It’s also interesting that it fits into one of my goals for the year–which is to read more diverse books as I try to get a better handle on this country’s horrific history with race and how that currently impacts and effects our current society–which was, as I started reading it, completely unintentional…so technically, it counts in the Diversity Project because it is about racial disparities and tackles the question of race head-on by doing something incredibly daring for this day and age–a look at the Klan from inside the family of one of its leaders.

Reminiscent of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, which I reread earlier this year.

And now, I am going to retire to my easy chair with Lori Roy’s book and my iPad, with the electronic copy of Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

Happy Sunday, every one!

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It’s Everything But Party Time

Since adding Spotify to my life this week, I’ve been having a great time listening to albums I love, and of course the Go-Go’s are on that list. I’d forgotten how much I love having music on while I do things around the Lost Apartment–whether it’s cleaning or editing or writing; music always makes things better, quite frankly.

It certainly makes the time go by a lot faster.

Next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is Lisa Alber’s “It’s Everything But Party Time”:

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It’s my humble opinion that nothing says “boondoggle” like a bunch of oddballs running around a hotel dressed in fursuits. Wolves, raccoons, polar bears, and kittens sitting around the Paradise Arms Hotel lounge munching on appetizers and scratching each oth- er’s backs below a banner announcing “Furtopia—Welcome to Party Time!” didn’t bode well for the investigation.

My partner Mac skidded to a halt. “Sully? What the blazing fuck is this? You don’t warn me?”

“Nope. Hotel fully booked for a furry conference.”

The previous morning, paramedics had carted away a guy from room 306. Apparent heart attack. Only, the M.E. cut him open, cried “homicide,” and now here we stood, a day late to the investigation, surrounded by animal wannabes.

“So that lazy turd Weaver screwed up the initial investigation,” Mac said.

“Yep, settled for face value—natural causes. Didn’t lock down the scene properly. I’d probably have done the same thing.”

Mac punched me in the arm, too hard. “Not with me around.”

MacKenzie MacDougal, also known as Double-Mac-and-Cheese, Two-Mac, and Mac Attack, sports an unfortunate name to go with a fortunate tendency to rock her retro pantsuits. Ever more the professional than I, she perused the lobby area with its antique Italian marble, plaster ornamentation, and wrought iron fixtures straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Era and jotted a few notes.

Lisa Alber is another new-to-me author, which is one of the great things about anthologies; the exposure to writers you’ve not read before. She’s published four novels, including the County Clare mystery series.

“It’s Everything But Party Time” is particularly clever in that it’s set at a furry convention hotel, where the only guest not attending the convention died–originally presumed to be from natural causes, but the autopsy turned up peculiarities. This is a fun police procedural, with an interesting homicide detective team in Los Angeles; what makes this more unusual is that the woman is the better detective, the male isn’t threatened by her expertise, and they work very well together. This story is witty and clever and fun, and I had a great time reading it!