Sunday, February 05, 2006

Finished BoneSong + excerpt from Grave Images (chapter two) +

I can't believe I finished BoneSong yesterday! It seems like I've been writing it forever. I'm not sure, even now, that I tied up all my loose ends. Hopefully, any dangling scenes will resolve themselves in the rewrite.

In a minute I'm going out with my daughter to buy some chippies.

Oops - bought them. They're gone. Sour cream and chives - the only kind to get.

We ate M&Ms and drank Diet Coke to celebrate finishing my book.

Had a marketing meeting today, with some other NZ authors. We're all desperate to find ways to get our books onto NZ bookshelves. It's just so expensive to have books shipped here from overseas, and it prices us out of the local market. We could ask our publishers to produce them here, but it's difficult to find a competitive printer for POD - and even harder to find printers who will produce books a few at a time. That's the rate at which bookshops order them.

These are good authors, too - finalists, award winners. But they're - we're - making a pittance, because we haven't been able to get much name-recognition overseas. We're trying to figure out a way to boost sales, by hitting our local market. Besides, there's something about seeing your book(s) being read on the bus, or playing fly on the wall in the bookstore.

Part of our meeting was about name recognition, and getting our names into the marketplace. I have some fans (it sounds weird to say that!), and my books have been compared favourably with Koontz, King, and Anne McCaffery, but that doesn't assure me readers.


N. D. Hansen-Hill (all my ebooks...except Gilded Folly) (my INTERNATIONAL print books - so far, ELF & TROLLS ) (my under construction new website) (Gilded Folly)

Oh, below is an excerpt from Grave Images - to celebrate the completion of book#24!

Chapter Two

"Damned traffic!" Kris Chandler swore. Knowing what it was like in this part of town, he started looking for parking four blocks away. A place opened just ahead of him, and he slid the car straight in.

He grinned, and started walking. Nick was probably swearing up a storm about now. He always insisted on parking within a two-block radius. Kris, on the other hand, preferred his car as disconnected from his ownership as he kept his friends dissociated from his work.

The flashing lights triggered that tight feeling in his gut. They’re in front of you, Dumbass—not behind. They’re not after you.

An ambulance wailed past him. Some kind of traffic accident. Kris frowned as he thought about Nick’s driving.

No way. Too much of a coincidence. Don’t assume every police car is for you. Don’t assume every ambulance holds someone you know.

The ambulance was having a hard time of it. Something—Kris assumed it was the accident—had traffic backed up. He grinned again. If Nick was stuck somewhere in this, he’d be hard on the horn. It went with his carefully cultivated attitude of: "if it can’t be done fast, it’s probably not worth doing."

The police cars were close now, and Kris unconsciously averted his face. It was then he saw what was blocking the traffic—what a bunch of uniformed officers were trying to shift out of the way. Nick’s car. There was no mistaking it. Kris gulped. Where was Nick?

For the first time, Kris noticed where the police cars and a second ambulance were sitting. Jarron’s house.

Caution made him want to turn back the way he’d come—the years of friendship kept his feet moving forward. As Kris drew closer, and saw them pull the stretcher out of the back, his feet took over completely from his head. Kris Chandler began to run.


Kris beat the paramedics into the room. His eyes took quick note of the damage to Jarron’s house, as he knelt near Nick on the floor. Someone had rolled Nick on to his side, and placed him in a recovery position. Kris took off his jacket and laid it over his friend.

There was blood all over Nick’s shirt. Kris lifted it quickly, looking for an injury, but there wasn’t one. Then he saw the blood on the ground.

So much of it. Jarron’s? He paled.

He looked up, into the eyes of a policeman. Or, maybe not a policeman, Kris thought. He’d made a point of familiarising himself with the looks and characteristics of policemen. It came in useful in his work. This man was something else.

"Is he alive?" Kris asked.


The man’s eyes narrowed. Not "Where’s Jarron?" or "Who are you?". Just an "Is he alive?" Not only that, but this newcomer assumed that he’d understand the reference. That he’d realise they weren’t speaking of the victim on the floor, though obviously he was concerned about him as well.

No questions like "what happened?"

"I don’t know," the man replied honestly. "He was when he left here."


Kris nodded. As the paramedics went to work on Nick, Kris replaced his jacket with a blanket.

"We should have a talk." The man had moved behind him.

Blocking my retreat.

Keep a low profile. "No problem," Kris agreed as he walked alongside the stretcher.


The man watched as they loaded Acklin into the ambulance. Then, he turned to Kris. "Now, Mister—?"

But Kris was gone. The man looked in the ambulance, behind it, then up and down the street. Feeling like a fool, he even went back in the house, to see if the guy had gone past him somehow.

Then he felt more like a fool than ever. Right before his eyes, in full daylight, the guy had somehow vanished.



The whispered voice interrupted his dreams, and brought back the throbbing headache. "Go away!" he said grouchily. "Let me suffer in silence."

"Nick—it’s me."

Nick opened one eye. "I know it’s you. So what?"

Kris grinned. "So, how are you?"

"Hung over. Have you seen Jarron?" he asked worriedly.

"In the recovery room or intensive care?"

"He’s doing okay then?"

Kris smiled. "Yeah. He’s a real mess—face all puffy down one side, tubes coming out of his chest, bandages all over the place." He hesitated. "What happened?"

Nick made an effort to remember. "Whatever it was, it was fast. I saw him go in, and ran across the street. I only stopped to call the police—"

Kris looked at him in surprise. "You?"

"I had this bad feeling, okay?"

"Odds were against him?"

Nick gave him a trace of a smile. "Something like that." He yawned. "Anyway, when I came in the door, the guy hit me. Either he’d already shot Jar, or maybe I passed out. Never heard any shots."

"A silencer?"

"I don’t know."

Kris frowned. A silencer indicated this wasn’t any ordinary burglary.

"Did you do this?" Nick looked at the miniature TV, flowers, potted plants, stacks of racing mags, some math puzzle books, and several boxes of chocolates.

Kris grinned.

"Hand me a chocolate, you ass." Nick smiled back. As he bit into the caramel, he asked, "What’re you gonna do to Jarron’s room?"

"The man’s into fungus," Kris reminded him. "You don’t even want to know."


"Stupid thing to do." The words were out before Jarron even realised he’d spoken—before he even realised he was awake. The echo of them was like a whisper in his brain, and he didn’t recall thinking them.

But now he could agree with them. Everything he owned hurt—or, at least, that was the way it seemed. If it didn’t ache or pound or sting, it must belong to someone else. "Stupid," he muttered again.

"Probably," a voice said agreeably. "Unless he was going to kill you anyway."

"Con-man," Jarron tried to explain. He struggled to open his eyes. "Gonna murder Con-man."

"The ferret?" There was a trace of amusement in the other man’s voice. "They’d already wrecked your house."

Jarron tried to nod, sucked in a quick breath of pain and changed his mind. He gave a trace of a smile, pleased that the man understood. "Yeah. Not they. Only one—I think."

"Did you see him?"

Jarron thought about that one for a moment. He forced his eyelids apart. "He’s not you," he muttered.

"Good thing, huh?"

Jarron smiled. "Still tired," he whispered.

Andrew Wakeman looked around the room. "Someone really did this place up for you. Do you know who it was?"

Jarron’s eyes shifted from the pathology magazines that had been stolen from somewhere, to the posters of mushrooms on the walls. There were boxes of expensive chocolates, and a laptop computer sat on the table, waiting for him. Kris, he thought. His smile widened. "Friends," he told the police-type. Jarron was certain now that’s what the other man was.

"Do you want me to check into it for you? Find out who it was, so you can thank him?" Wakeman had his suspicions. Someone had done the same in Acklin’s room. Somehow come in and out—made his deliveries and escaped unseen. Not even the nurses had a clue. Disappearing acts. Like the man at Marshall’s house.

No friendly gesture. "Nope," Jarron replied. He knew the guy could dust for fingerprints, or run the serial numbers of the computer, but it wouldn’t do him any good. Kris had a way of covering himself. "I’m happy." He looked beyond Wakeman, to where some other people lingered in the shadows. "Sleepy," he muttered. "Could you get the rest of them to leave? Please—" he asked.

Wakeman twisted and checked behind him. No one there. A chill went down his spine, and he forcibly checked his reaction. Marshall had taken a hell of a blow to the head. Humour him, he thought. "They’ll come with me when I go. Talk to you later, Marshall." He hesitated, then added, "I’m putting a guard on your door, just in case."

Jarron didn’t hear him. He was already asleep.

Wakeman frowned and went out the door.


Andy Wakeman sat in his supervisor’s office, thinking for what must have been the hundredth time, how much better it was to be dishing out the questions instead of delivering the answers. Give me field work any time. "He might be able to recognise the man, once he’s stronger. He’s a little vague right now."

Colin Robart looked up worriedly at that one. "How vague?"

"The doctor thinks his memory’s intact, if that’s what you’re worried about. But it’s too early to know for sure. Marshall’s floating—talking about people who aren’t there. Things like that." Wakeman looked tired. Robart had put him on the case when the first police call had come through. It had been over forty-eight hours now. "We’ve got an unknown."


"Friendly. He’s managed to avoid me so far. I ran his description but no luck."

"How friendly?"

"At the scene, then at the hospital. At least, I’m pretty sure it was him at the hospital. No one admits to seeing him."

"Go home, Andy. Get some sleep. You’re rambling."

Wakeman smiled. "I’m not kidding. This guy’s the original disappearing man. He appears on the scene, agrees to be questioned, then vanishes before I can talk to him."

"Maybe I should hire him," Robart said, amused.

"Acklin’s and Marshall’s rooms at the hospital are suddenly filled with posters, flowers, chocolate—unbelievable. Nobody saw it happen."

Robart frowned. "What about the guard?"

"That’s why I posted a guard. I couldn’t believe Marshall could be under such close watch by the nursing staff, and nobody see his benefactor. I think it’s the same guy from his house."

"Get a composite made up and distribute it."

"Already did." Andy Wakeman sighed. "But I have a feeling it won’t do any good."

"What do you mean?"

Andy realised how foolish it must sound and shook his head. "Nothing. Just tired," he admitted. He rummaged in a clear file, and handed the composite picture to Robart. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "I’m going home to sleep. Unless the world’s coming to an end, don’t wake me up." He was silent for a moment. "On second thought—if the world’s coming to an end, just let me sleep."


It was no problem for Kris Chandler to access Jarron’s house once more. The place was being watched, and the surveillance went beyond human endeavour, to some fancy electronic gimmickry he’d read about. He easily circumvented both.

It was probably too late. If the thief hadn’t found what he was looking for, then Wakeman’s people probably had. Wakeman had struck him as the thorough kind. Unless he had no notion what he was looking for.

Kris, however, did. He’d known Jarron a long time. Long enough, anyway, to have figured out how sensitive his research could sometimes become. And—even if Kris hadn’t known—the presence of somebody like Wakeman, on a simple theft and assault case, would have clued him in.

Kris stood there in the shambles of Jarron’s living room. What a godawful mess. He already knew how it would go: Jarron would be released from the hospital, and forced to come back to this. He’d have to mop up syrup and old blood off the floor. It wasn’t in the budget to have someone do it for him.

Kris momentarily considered having a cleaning crew in to do the job. Except they might clean away the very things Kris was looking for. The things everyone was looking for.

Besides, Jarron would have a fit. Stuck in bed like he was, Kris had more or less forced him to accept what had happened at the hospital. Jarron would be furious if Kris extended the same kinds of unilateral changes to his humble home.

Kris sighed. If someone was going to be stuck with clean-up, it looked like it would have to be him. Nick was in no shape to help out—that was sure. Kris tried to picture Nick scrubbing the carpet and failed. He’d be the first to want to hire in the cleaning crews. Not a patient man.

Kris, on the other hand, could be infinitely patient—when he needed to. Still wearing the gloves he’d worn on entry, he squatted down, and began to carefully sift through and gather up the remains of Jarron Marshall’s belongings.


It was like someone nudging at his brain. Wake up. You’ve got company. Jarron opened his eyes to a nearly dark room. It was night, but one of the windows was standing open. Jarron didn’t even bother looking around. "Hi, Kris," he whispered.

"Did I wake you?"

"You mean when you fell in the window, then stomped around on the floor? Not a chance."

"Everyone’s a critic. I thought you’d be praising my subtlety."

"Like your subtle calling cards around the room?" Jarron reached out his hand. Kris grabbed it. "Thanks, Kris. Did it satisfy your yen to show-off?"

Kris grinned. Leave it to Jar, to pick up on the less obvious aspects of his "gifts". "Damn right. Everyone and their brother is trying to figure out how I did it."

Jarron’s eyes were dark with concern. "Kris—I’ve got problems."

Kris frowned. "What’s wrong?"

Jarron hesitated. Now that he’d brought it up, he felt embarrassed.

"Spill it, Jar."

"I keep seeing things. People who aren’t there. Lights. Voices."

"How do you know they aren’t there?"

"By the reaction I’m getting. Once I figured out that I was hallucinating, I could sort of pick out the unreal parts—the ones that don’t exist. They look more 2-D."

Kris nodded. "Can you tune ’em out?"

"To some extent. I think I could learn. It gets worse when I’m tired."

"How’s your memory?"

Jarron smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. "I think it’s okay, but about now, I’m not so sure I’m a good judge." There was frustration in his voice as he added, "Of anything."

"Concussion," Kris said confidently. "You’ll be better in a few days."

"You’ve heard of something like this?"

"Happens all the time," Kris lied.

"Thanks, Kris. For everything. Especially that last one."

"Would I lie?"

"Not usually to me," Jarron replied honestly. "That’s why I generally don’t ask what you’ve been up to." He frowned. "You’d better go."

Kris looked startled. "What’s up?"

"The guy—what’s his name? Wakeman? He’s on his way."

"You can’t know—"

"Go, Kris! Now!"

Kris didn’t say any more. He just headed for the window. He’d barely made it out when Wakeman walked in the door.

"They told me the way the monitor was acting, you were probably awake."

Jarron yawned. "Don’t you ever sleep?"

"Not nearly enough, Dr. Marshall." He gave an exaggerated shiver. "Cold in here. Opening the door slightly, he asked the man outside, "Could you get them to bring an extra blanket? Thanks." He turned to Jarron. "How’re you doing?"

But Jarron was lost in thought. When Wakeman had turned his back, Jar had caught a final glimpse of Kris’ face at the window. He’d looked startled, and there’d been a trace of something else there, too. Wariness. Maybe even fear?

Jarron knew that if he looked in a mirror, he’d see the same expression in his own eyes. How the hell had he known Wakeman was even here? That he was heading for the room?

It’s logical. You were awake, your heartbeat was showing up faster on the monitor, you guessed either Wakeman or one of the nurses would be in to check you.

It sounded good—even convincing—it’s what he’d tell Kris the next time he came.

Now, Jarron Marshall just wished he could convince himself.


Jack Halloran didn’t know what he was going to do. His life had undergone a major change in minutes. He’d thought he was in control. He had certain skills that paid well—mainly because he wasn’t afraid to use them. That gave him certain advantages. A lack of conscience always tended to pay better than any kind of moral outrage. Jack had been a master in a limited field.

But he’d totally blown the job. Failed to deliver the merchandise, allowed at least one of his victims to get a look at him, and nearly blown away the researcher—the one they were so interested in. Carelessness. Sloppiness. Stupidity.

Never allow yourself to get side-tracked.

If they knew, he’d be dead by now.

That was the funny part. They’d ordered the job, even paid him half, but they didn’t know he’d failed. Oh, they’d heard about the burglary, and the critical injuries inflicted on Jarron Marshall, but they didn’t realise Halloran had done it. If Halloran had been any more clever, or bungled just slightly less, he’d be dead. They’d have made sure of it.

But he’d never failed them yet. They wouldn’t have believed him capable of such criminal stupidity. The criminal part, yes—but not this degree of stupidity. They thought someone had beaten him to it. That in itself was ludicrous: as though the thieves were lining up, waiting to break in.

I can still get the CD. Take in a hard drive, and download anything else off the computer. Chances were the information was still there, untouched.

Jack wasn’t worried about the police, but he was concerned about the others—the ISO—Investigative Security and Operations—people watching Marshall’s house. He’d been warned they took their work seriously, but they were too damned purposeful— a fact which Halloran thought was damned stupid. If his employers had been doing their job, the ISO investigation should have been only cursory—the guard-duty an easily-averted formality. Instead, he’d have to work at this one now. Avoid being seen, or triggering their alarms. He frowned, disliking the effort this was going to cost him. Definitely people to watch out for.

And, if Marshall could identify him, he still had trouble. It seemed unlikely the man would remember much. The battle had been too brief, and too heated. Halloran doubted whether even he would have been able to form a clear picture of his adversary, and he’d had an opportunity to observe him first.

But, if Marshall did remember him, it would definitely be a problem. Jack couldn’t afford to have pictures of himself lodged in police files—not in his business. And he couldn’t afford to have his employers lay the blame for Marshall’s condition at his door.

For the fourth time that day, Jack picked up the phone. "Is Jarron Marshall still on the critical list?" he asked.

The woman recognised his voice. Pleased that he was so interested in his friend’s health, she told him enthusiastically, "He’s coming along, Mr. Haskins. He’s only listed as ‘serious’ now."

A feeling of doom tightened his gut, but Jack kept his tone light. "Thank you so much. I think I’ll pay him a visit."


Everyone—from Kris to the nurses to Wakeman himself—had been assuring him that Jarron was fine.

"Doing great," one of the nurses had said.

"He has a guard on his door," Wakeman had assured him, the last time he’d asked. As though that would stop him from bleeding to death, or dying from some kind of infection.

Nick couldn’t get the picture out of his brain. The blood seeping through his fingers as he tried to stop the bleeding. Blood going everywhere—

He scrunched his eyes closed, but the picture was still there.

It was no good. Nick knew he tended to get fixed on things, and right now, his fixation was on blood—blood and his best friend. He wouldn’t believe any of their assurances unless he could see for himself.

He knew Wakeman had wondered about him at first, but then Kris had come along, and made him wonder more. Nick grinned. Kris the magician, the special effects man, the industrial spy. Sneaky bastard. Kris set such a value on the few friendships he maintained, that you couldn’t help but value him back.

Nick climbed out of bed. He felt like he’d been sleeping forever. He’d had his little vacation. It was time to get back to the real world.

He was going home this afternoon, but he’d already made up his mind he wasn’t going until he’d visited Jarron. Just to make sure he was still alive. There’d been something wrong, when Kris had stopped by last night. Something Kris wasn’t willing to talk about. Time to find out what that something was.

Nick went to the closet and slipped on his clothes. Jarron’s room was upstairs, near the surgical unit. He cautiously opened the door, and headed for the elevator.


Jarron knew the moment the man entered. He came in silently, but there was something about him that drew Jarron’s attention. "I know you," Jarron said. He didn’t know where the words had come from, but they were accompanied by a sinking feeling.

"I’m your orderly," the man said, smiling.

Look at his eyes, Jarron, a voice said. Flat. Expressionless.

"No, you’re not." Indiscreet. Shut up, Jarron.


He wasn’t yelling for help. Halloran decided to play it out. Marshall might think he recognised him, but he might not know from where.


Some of the anger, that had driven him two days before, suddenly flared. Jarron’s eyes narrowed. "You’re the one—the one who trashed my things."

And nearly killed you, a voice reminded him.



Halloran relaxed. He could stop acting now. "Not everything," he said calmly. "That’s why I’m here."


Nick frowned. Wakeman had said there was a guard on Jarron’s door.

Huh. Nobody here. That had been one of Nick’s biggest concerns—talking his way into Jarron’s room.

He grinned. Must be on a break. I got lucky. He pushed open the door.

It took him a second to realise what he was seeing. The pillow. The flailing fist.

The Fucker was trying to smother him.

Nick took three steps and dove. Forward tackle. His momentum took him over the bed, and ploughed him full-weight into the guy. The two of them toppled off onto the floor.

For just a moment, Nick’s weight held the other man pinned. But he was tricky. Just like Kris. Tricky, fast, strong.

And trained. Nick had been in his share of fights, but this creep had moves he’d never seen before.

But Nick had the motivation. Something told him he was fighting the same one who’d rammed him into a wall. Who’d shot Jarron three times—an unarmed man.


Halloran wanted out. Nothing was going right on this one. Too noisy, too many witnesses. He booted his assailant hard—in the chest—and felt a satisfying crunch. That oughta do it.

But it didn’t. The man paused only briefly, then came at him again. What was it with these people?

Halloran pulled out a knife. Messy business, knives. But it would silence this one in a hurry. As the man lunged at him again, Jack Halloran lashed out and caught him in the side. The man collapsed, like a punctured balloon. Jack shoved him backwards, and watched him slam against the wall. As if in slow motion, his eyes rolled up and he slid down to the floor.

Jack stood up, casually straightened his shirt, and fastidiously mopped the blood off his hand with a handkerchief. He glanced at the bed. Marshall was moving, weakly stirring, but hadn’t regained consciousness.

Maybe he never will. Halloran glanced at the man on the floor. Too late to keep it clean. Get it done, and get out. Before they find the guard. Before—

He didn’t get a chance to think anything else. Someone else was there now, and Halloran had no idea where he’d come from. And this guy knew how to fight.


"Rickardson’s not answering his phone," Samuels told Andy Wakeman. They were downstairs still, in the hospital lobby.

"Shit!" Andy started to run.

The elevator seemed interminably slow. Sure enough, there was no sign of Rickardson. Wakeman pushed open the door to Marshall’s room.

It slammed back in his face, as a body was smashed against it. Then there was a muffled thud as the same body landed on the floor. Andy pushed open the door again, forcing the man’s legs to one side.

Andy took a quick look, then told Samuels, "See if you can find Rickardson."

Kris grabbed Halloran by one arm and yanked him out of the way.

"Don’t kill him," Andy said calmly, as he came into the room. "I need to know who he works for."

"Kellerman Enterprises," Kris told him. He went down on his knees beside Nick. Jarron was moving, but Nick wasn’t.

"Jesus!" Andy said, seeing the blood. "Shot?"

"Knifed. Get somebody," Kris urged. "Hurry!"

Andy nodded. "Don’t go anywhere," he yelled over his shoulder, as he tore out the door.

"S’bad?" Jarron’s voice came from the bed.

"I don’t know," Kris told him. "I don’t want to move him." He glanced up, and met Jarron’s worried gaze. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Nick must’ve pulled him off me."

Nick jerked awake. Kris caught his fist as it swung toward his face. "It’s okay, Nick. It’s me."

Nick’s eyes widened, and he blinked to clear them. "Did I get him?" he whispered.

Kris nodded. "Yeah, Nick. You got him good."


Andy couldn’t figure it out. It’d been bothering him from the first. He couldn’t figure out why ISO had been called in on this one.

It wasn’t as though Jarron Marshall was working on chemical warfare, or new weapons research. The man was into plant diseases. He worked at one of the dozens of ag research facilities around the nation. Andy had suspected there might be a drug affiliation—maybe Marshall had delved into new strains of hallucinogenic mushrooms or plants, that ISO wanted to keep out of the marketplace—but he couldn’t find anything to support the theory. Apparently, Marshall had a reputation for brilliance in his field—his field just wasn’t anything that had previously interested ISO.

You’re not supposed to ask. Your job is to protect him. Not to question his work. But Andy’s curiosity had been stirred. Now, as he faced Robart across the desk, he wondered just how far he should dig.

"We found Rickardson in the empty room across the hall."

"I heard. What I can’t figure out is why Halloran didn’t kill him."

Andy shook his head. "Too messy. Jarron Marshall saw Halloran—enough to ID him, anyway. I think that’s why he took a chance. He was worried Marshall could pick him out—give us a description." Andy’s voice was amused as he added, "As it turns out, the bastard was right."

"Has he told you what he’s after?"

Andy nodded. "With persuasion. A CD—some of Marshall’s research. He didn’t say what research."

"What about Kris Chandler? Did you find out who he is?"

"That’s the most interesting part of the whole thing. He doesn’t exist—on our records or anyone else’s. So we put him on ours." He chuckled. "By the next day, he’d somehow wiped the file. Gone again."

Robart looked startled, then angry. "How? How the hell did he get into our files? Who is this guy?"

Andy shook his head. "Damned if I know. It made me start wondering about Nicholas Acklin, and why Marshall and Chandler spend so much time with him. It turns out Acklin’s something of a genius, too. He’s into mathematics, but on the side he writes sci-fi. Best-selling sci-fi."

"Jealous?" Robart asked him.

"You know?" Wakeman frowned.

"I make it a point to know. You may not write best-sellers, but Tomkins and Rennet think you’re one of the best." Robart smiled. "Rennet says you’re wasted on mystery stories. Your field’s political intrigue—spy stuff."

"Too close to home. I might give something away."

"Not the way you write."

"You’ve read my books?"

"Sure. I agree with Rennet. Go with the spies. You’ve heard that adage ‘write what you know’."

Wakeman chuckled. "Spy stuff might be interesting to other people, but to me it’d be boring as hell."


Nick had just dozed off again. He was reaching that level of limpness, where everything was relaxed, and nothing ached, when the sound jerked him awake. He jumped, which hurt like hell.

"Now I know how you felt," a voice was saying.

"About what?" Nick grumbled. "And who the hell cares what you know, anyway?"

"Watching me bleed all over the floor."

"Didn’t bother me a bit," Nick replied. "As long as you didn’t expect me to clean up after you. Shut up, so I can get some sleep."

Jarron started working on the laptop—awkwardly tapping the computer keys with one hand.

"Dammit, Jarron. Can’t you just be quiet?"

"Like you, you mean? What about all your visitors, and the TV going all night long?"

"That was my agent—"

Jarron grimaced at him.

"Okay, so his wife and daughter came, too. What about your ‘friends’? Doctors Dung and Mucus. Going on and on about how well their cells were growing. And that’s bullshit about the TV. I used the earplug."

"Yeah—with the volume up just loud enough to make that insect whine."

"I feel inspired," Nick said sarcastically. "Tonight I’m starting my new book. Maybe I’m too weak to use the keyboard. I might have to use the microphone."

"Fuck you, Acklin. I feel a sudden attack of pain coming on. Give me enough drugs, and you can type yourself."

"What was Wakeman thinking of?" Kris’ voice interrupted the argument. "To put you two in the same room?"

"Don’t pull that bullshit on me," Nick told him. "He says it was your idea."

Kris’ shrug infuriated Nick. His grin infuriated him more.

"And why do you have to be so damn sneaky? Why can’t you come in the door, like everyone else?"

"I did come in the door. You just didn’t notice." Kris plopped a book on Jarron’s chest. "Read this. It’ll keep you out of Nick’s hair." He folded up the laptop and took it out of Jarron’s reach.

"Give it here," Nick said. He snatched the laptop out of Kris’ hand.

"What’s this?" Jarron turned the book over, and looked at the blurb.

"It turns out Wakeman’s a writer, too. Mystery stories. Not too bad." Kris grinned at Nick. "If he ever got into sci-fi, he might give you some competition."

"He doesn’t look like a writer," Jarron commented.

Kris just shook his head. He could guess what was coming.

"What do you mean by that?" Nick asked angrily.

"He’s the athletic type—obviously spends time at the gym. Looks like he has an IQ over forty, too." Jarron grinned, and relaxed back against the pillows.

"You’re an asshole, Jar," Nick told him. "Anybody got a club?" he yelled.

"Shut up, you moron."

There were two men on duty outside the door now, and one poked his head in. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Yeah—he’s raving. Give him some drugs," Nick said.

The man grinned, shook his head, and retreated. They could hear him laughing through the door. Marshall and Acklin had been at each other’s throats all day.

Kris pulled a sandwich out of a bag, stuffed a wad of cotton in one ear, and the TV’s earplug in the other. He tipped the chair back against the wall, and turned on the news.

"Jar?" Nick asked, a few minutes later.

Jarron was reading. He took a moment to respond. "Yeah?"

The slow response just added to Nick’s irritation. Jarron was never that absorbed reading one of his books. "The next time your life needs saving—warn me, so I can be out of town."

*If you'd like me to post a few more chapters, drop me an email to tell me (!


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