Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Hygiene Effect.

Dr. Al Jenny. Wiki.

The hygiene hypothesis is a simple one. In modern society, we are exposed to far fewer pathogens in the everyday environment.

Over the long term, this causes an increase in the numbers of people reported to be suffering allergic and immunodeficiency diseases.

Our grandparents for the most part grew up on the farm, and worked in the outdoors. Their city-bred counterparts lived in tenements, and less than exemplary conditions in the old country in the case of immigrants.

Our parents took us camping and worked in industry, and lived in cities and towns where the air and the water were poor. Back then, poor people might have had two kids in a room, or five kids all in one bed.

Very few westerners live that way anymore. Kids play indoors, on the computer or game-box.

They camp in a trailer park with showers and working toilets…they’ve never drank water right out of the lake, or from an old-style farm pump in their lives.

One of my fondest memories is of my four year-old brother and the neighbour girl sitting in the driveway eating dirt…just dirt. When I laughed and told my mom, he started crying and it all dribbled down his chin and neck…a priceless memory.

I never wore disposable diapers. My mother used cotton diapers. She rinsed them in the laundry tubs, washed them, put them through the wringer and then hung them up on a line in the backyard to dry in the wind and the sun.

Are these really new diseases? Basically what is being said is that these are not new pathogens—they’ve been around as long as we have, and as they mutate over time our defenses also adapted over time.

But now, in the modern world, there is an increase, and a steep one, in the incidence of these diseases. It’s not a new set of ailments, but it is a whole new environment. If thirty years ago one kid in a hundred was born with blue hair and nowadays it’s thirty-five out of a hundred, it’s not a new disease but a new phenomena…a new vector.

What about your mental health? In the past, weren’t these things talked about or reported, or is there really an increase in this type of health issue in the modern world? That kind of depends on who you ask, and what they are selling, doesn’t it?

I’ll let the reader rely on their unspoken prejudices and provide their own answer, but first I would like to point out, that in the mental health sense, we live in a whole new environment, one that we arguably haven’t come completely to terms with.

Because in the good old days, no one went insane, no one went postal, and no one espoused an alternative point of view…right? Or maybe we’re being exposed to new kinds of psychological pathogens. I’m just saying.

When I write a story like ‘Lenny lays an Egg,’ or ‘The Second Coming,’ or ‘News from the Future,’ there are plenty of people who might object to those stories.

“Those are just crazy stories, Louis.”

Why in the heck would any serious writer do something like that?

I’m trying to poke and prod at your subconscious assumptions, your prejudices, (we all have them,) and your unspoken attitudes. I’m trying to arouse your objectivity, and force your critical faculties to adapt to the modern world, rather than rely on old, outmoded and archaic thinking, which in the end is merely a dogmatic incantation of the most superstitious sort—like how noble royalty is, and how indispensible for local politics in the global village.

I just want you to think about things.

One of the most troubling aspects of modern life is the tendency to try and make everything safe. Everything must make sense, serve a purpose, or turn a profit. Everything must be tasteful and polite, and inoffensive to all comers. It must be politically correct to be valid as art, and to me that’s just so much copulating nonsense.

You can get all that on Canadian TV. Right? It’s all they do.

First, it simply isn’t a credible goal or outcome, secondly, I don’t want any part of such a boring world as some may contemplate, where everyone is labeled for life by their economic status at birth, and all crimes of the mind are punished swiftly, and a difference of attitude is somehow criminal.

That is the difference between art and commerce, I suppose.

It’s like a delicate flower. They come for the honey and spread the pollen. The ideas bear fruit elsewhere and then they take on a life of their own.

I figure it’s my job or something to try and change the world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ceremonial Hockey Stick.


I often thought if I had to join a repressed minority group, I’d like to be rich.

Sarnia, Sarnia, what a town, gotta love it. Plug in your electric shaver and the streetlights get dimmer.

I wish I was like one of them people who had more money than brains, although some say in my case it would be about eleven bucks. Not worth it, I guess.

People tell me I’m losing weight, it’s not exactly a compliment though. Kinda skinny, you know. I sorta gotta run around in the shower to get wet.

I like thinking, I do a lot of it. Someone told me if I think too much it will wear my brain out. And then I’ll be an even bigger idiot than I am now. I don’t see how that’s possible, you know?

Middle age is a time of maturity. (How old are you, anyway? –ed.) (Fifty-two…and a half. My birthday’s coming up in August and I want blah blah-blah blah-blah blah…)

So like your typical middle-aged man I have the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy trapped in the body of a seventy-year-old. (Let’s not go down that road, keep it light. –ed.)

Um, um, oh yeah, when I was a baby I was so ugly my parents fed me with a slingshot. (Hey!) And, and, they had to tie a pork chop around my neck to get the dog to play with me. (Are you quite finished? --ed.) I have leadership qualities. (Really? –ed.)

People look up to me.

(You ARE unusually tall. Have you thought of getting an earring and tying a red hanky on your head? –ed. )

{Nope. –Louis.)

I saw a TV commercial where they said “Our national reputation is riding on a hockey puck!” (Your reputation is sliding headfirst into your own goal with the puck in your mouth and your stick--!!!) {Let’s not go down that road!--Louis.} (-all fouled up in your equipment. –ed.)

{Whew! Almost had me worried there. --Louis}

(You ain’t the only one. –ed.)

I don’t actually play the hockey. But since it is a part of Canadian culture I keep a hockey stick around the house for ceremonial purposes. It’s not a prohibited weapon.

As a Canadian, I enjoy the Easter, and the springtime, and the long speeches ever so much. It is such a jolly time to dress up in our colourful native costume.

(Which is what? Faded jeans, tacky running shoes and a plaid hunting shirt? -- ed.)

(Yes, --ed, that’s right. Oh, yeah. Don’t forget the dumb-looking hat…)

One more thing, if you are wondering why I don’t have a girlfriend at present, it is because I’m saving up for a real good one.

(You can’t seriously expect to buy a girlfriend.--ed.)

I expect to buy a Porsche. The girlfriend thing will take care of itself.

{And on that note I expect I best be going…--Louis.}

{ expect you best…better…aw, the heck with it. – ed.}

You're using my brackets. (Doh! -- ed.)

“As a man thinketh, so shall it be.” I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. And with a face like that, I’m going to need some kind of an edge. So I’m not really that shallow and superficial. It just sounds that way at first glance.

{God grant us patience…--ed.}

(--yeah, me too.-Louis.)


Today’s special bonus link.

Vancouver knows how to riot.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Running Pen Names: I just don't know who I am anymore.

by the Evil Dr. Emile Schmitt-Rottluff

Pen names are fascinating. They are all unique individuals, and seem to acquire their own voices very quickly. They have separate constituencies. Each audience is unique. Trying to think in those terms is challenging and insightful. (What sort of thing would that person say? What sort of book would that sort of reader like to read?) It takes up 'x' amount of time just developing their platform, and of course I have to write all their material for them.

Besides the Shalako Publishing imprint, I’m also running three pen names. Simple things like signing out of one Twitter account and signing into the proper one when following up new followers with another pen name aren’t hard to figure out.

When I open up Astor Fondue’s e-mail account and click on a link, it takes me right to Twitter.

It’s not immediately obvious who I’m signed in as on Twitter—I have to click on the little carat beside the gear symbol and see who I am. If I’m signed in as Svetlana Getonanov, then Astor wouldn’t be following back at all. Svetlana would be following back Astor’s new followers.

@louisbshalako has about 6,700 followers. But I have three accounts. I have @ShalakoBooks and @hyperlouis. When people are following people in their interest group, I have three chances to snag them as they’re going by, based on the weight of my numbers—those other accounts might have less than 2,000 followers, and in fact I’m tweeting identical content. That’s easy enough to maintain when setting out, although I could take any account and go on a big list-building campaign. I could easily target a new audience with any account. Let’s say pen name Ivan P. Krumholtz gets fifteen new followers. I can sign into any account and follow them back, say if @louisbshalako is building his list that day. Ivan has maybe sixteen hundred followers right now. The other couple of accounts are really only up to maybe 2-300 followers on Twitter.

They all have a separate e-mail address, or they couldn’t sign up for Facebook. They all get Facebook notifications by e-mail. I’m going to turn that off. I can confirm friend requests and like things directly from Facebook. In terms of network security, they have different passwords.

A hacker might knock out one account, but he won’t get my whole network all at once. Most hacks are either someone you know or your phone or laptop was misplaced or stolen. No one really cares about me anyway. I figure I’m pretty good there.

With an account like Smashwords, when pinning to Pinterest, or posting on Reddit, it’s always going to be posted by the default account; i.e. the one listed under the important payee information; either that, or the one you are presently signed into on Pinterest. I’ll try and analyze that further. Since all my pen names have the same payee information, you have to copy the link and go directly to Pinterest to post that under the proper pen name. Only one of my pen names is on Pinterest. None are on Stumbleupon, Goodreads, Kindleboards, etc. All of them are on Facebook. One of them is on LinkedIn. It takes time to build these names up. This is a long-term project.

Two pen names are male and one is female. It’s interesting to try and project some sort of personality through what are essentially characters into a social network. It’s challenging, but I’ve learned a lot too.

Men are easily fooled by a pretty face. Women don’t respond to the erotica ostensibly written by a member of their own sex. My approach and presentation are all wrong for that to work. I thought the big abs would do it, right? But they want to see a woman on there too, and some sort of romantic background images. She must be in expensive underwear—this is my gut instinct. And men don’t buy erotica—they just go off and look at porn pictures on someone else’s website, in other words not my website.

Men find the pen-name character fascinating, especially guys from eastern cultures. A sexually-liberated woman, and a good looking one, one is who accessible, is a rare find. They’re hitting on her, mostly nicely, which brings certain insights to this male writer.

The ones that don’t hit on her are quickly forgotten and relegated to the bottom of the list. Interesting glimpse into the female mind, and probably all human minds there, boys and girls. It’s a glimpse into the minds of my fellow males, because it’s quickly become obvious that I’m a little too shy with the ladies. I’m nowhere near forwards enough.

Most of them are pretty nice guys, really, they’re just a bit lonely and really don’t have much to lose by it. It was an interesting thought process that went through my head the first few times some guy opened up the chat box on me…

It struck me just how much of a pain in the butt real beauty must be sometimes. It would take some maturity and some experience in letting the poor fellows down nicely, with a little compassion, and trying to handle things in a nice way—although I’m tempted to send them a free ebook and ask for a five-star review. I reckon quite of few of them would do it, as there is a sucker born every minute according to one well-known source.

Sure glad I ain’t one of them.

Editor's Note: Dr. Schmitt-Rottluff is a regular contributor to this blog and also appears in a starring role in, 'On the Nature of the Gods.'

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Parting.

All good things must come to an end.

Fuego lay in the entrance to the cave all morning long. Soaking up the wan, late-summer sunshine, should have brought contentment and a sense of well-being. His belly was full, having sated his hunger on a fat buck three days before. Fuego had nibbled on a few choice greens to aid in digestion, as was his habit these many years. The aches and pains were mostly gone.

Sooner or later they would flare up, and he should have been enjoying the sloth, the ease--the sheer luxury of not having to work for his living. But it was no good.

At first, he thought she wasn’t coming, and his heart ached. But it would ache, and it was going to ache, and there was nothing to be done about it. As the sun rose higher in the sky, his ears caught the click of a stone, dislodged from its habitual resting-place with a small cry of indignation. He knew it was her foot that had kicked it. A flicker of white dress caught his eye through the trees lining the trail. He sat up then, with anticipation, and a sense of dread. He watched the gap in the cedars with the intensity of the hunt, with his big old heart beating coldly but insistently in his deep, hard, barrel of a chest. Flaring, pebble-skinned nostrils sought her precious scent on the wavering breezes. Her complex tangle of emotions were sensed rather than seen, although there were signs; as she clambered up the bluff to the base of the cliff, where the caves began and the forest was dark, wet and thickly-festooned with creeping vines. Something about the tension in the neck and shoulders, a clue in the tightness of the chest, the unhurried pace somehow languid and hopeless-looking; unconsciously putting off the telling of some unpleasant truth. He could feel the heat of her now. Even closing his eyes, he could follow her path as she managed the last few twists and turns.

So it was true, then.

Diana was going off to school. There was nothing he or she could do about it. Higher powers had decreed it. And once having gone, there was no coming back. He knew he would inevitably lose her. Little girls grow up and turn into tall, healthy, intelligent young women. They go on to other things. The slender, raven-haired girl, with the bottomless, sea-blue eyes, with her berry-like lips pursed up in tender pain, looked at him, and he just knew.

“Fuego.” She said it with pleasure, and regret.

He cringed and cowered at her feet, tongue hanging out, and then, as if he couldn’t help himself, he rolled over on his back, exposing the wide, flat, cloud-grey scales, fading into the sky when he hunted, just where they were the smoothest and the finest.

What had to be had to be, but not just yet. One last precious moment with her…

She stood just ahead of his thigh, and reached over and scratched him so, just the way he loved it. As she stroked and scratched at his abdomen, just where the ribs stop to make way for the soft, white underbelly, he rolled from side to side and his tail whipped gently and yet with blinding speed around to sweep itself about her feet and then crawl up to wrap her hips in a loving caress. He held her there, with a tender gentleness that belied his sheer size, speed and strength. The very symbol of courage, wrapped around her little fingers, if only; if only; as he tasted the base of her throat with his lighting-forked tongue, with the red centre, and its long stripes of jet-black on each side…the two lobes as sharp as a pin at the extremity. But he could never have hurt her. Never.

“Oh, poor Fuego.” She was half  laughing and then a sudden catch, like the very breath had seized up in her throat.

She stared into the hollow orbs of his golden eyes and he felt a kind of panic at losing her.

“Oh, Fuego."

She was uncomfortable with this moment, and yet it had to be done. He felt her pain as she shifted a little, back and forth, and forwards and backwards. He danced with her in sweet regret and joyful longing, a kind of grieving for a past that they could never forget, still laying flat on his back and swooning in physical contact with her. She put her hands into his wickedly sharpened talons, and they danced there for a moment, both feeling the same unspoken song of sadness, and love, and parting. He lay on his back and danced with her.

“I’ll never forget you.”

He carefully jetted out small bursts of smoke and ringlets of fire from his nostrils.

It was his way of saying that it was okay. Since they had known each other for quite some time, she understood. He had watched her grow up. She had gotten to know him as a gentle and lonely creature, with no other creatures like himself to be with. The girl walked over to the ledge and he followed. She stood beside the dragon for a moment, looking out over the valley, with its horses, pastures, fields of softly-bending ripe grain. They could see her manor, the red roof of the house where she lived on the far distant hill-top. He only had eyes for her, as she stood there with her arms wrapped around herself in a kind of desolation. Fuego lay on his back again, with his legs and forepaws sticking up in the air as if gravity had gone on vacation, and just stared at her in hopes of remembering this moment forever, to remember her just as she was at just this moment.

“I want to see you fly, for one last time, Fuego.”

The dragon felt her using both hands to rub and stroke him under the chin, which always made him feel so sleepy…but this time he felt tears, big salt drops of tears, each enough to fill a bucket, forming in the corners of his golden-orbed eyes, with their inscrutable, black vertical pupils.

To spare her as much pain as possible, he leapt up ever so carefully, yet startling in its sheer quickness, spinning right-side-up, and flapping his wings in a joy that he hoped was well-feigned, hoping to fool her. He fluttered up and down in lazy figure eights, backing and diving, and hovering there in an exhibition of pure, unrivalled vitality. She looked down at her feet for a moment, and he knew that he had failed, but it was all right, that she understood, and he settled to the ground momentarily. The strong beat of his leathern wings slowly subsided. The dragon rested his heart, aware that she had a long journey ahead, and that so did he; although he was trying not to dwell upon it.

Standing there, she looked so alone. The girl allowed him to approach; and yet what courage she had shown the first time they had met! What kindness…what compassion.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close.

“Good-bye, Fuego.” They clung together for a long time.

He had to let her go, to set her free. He could not keep her forever. To attempt to do so would be wrong.

Fuego sighed deeply. Sucking in one huge, vast, barren sob of air, he tried to speak. It turned to a low, forlorn howl, starting deep and low and building to a siren-like crescendo of love, and longing, fearfulness, and loneliness, grief, and despair. She stepped back, her eyes staring at his face, all lumpy, and green, and with the bones, great huge bones so alive and hard under the skin, as his muscles worked in response to emotions he could not articulate. Tears ran down her face.

Fuego turned his back on her; forcing himself to take two, then three steps; and dropped over the ledge, and then catching the rocks and boulders one by one with his talons, he thrust himself into flight over the hillside, with the gloomy darkness of the trees coming up from below. He gave a series of strong beats, with the heart and lungs responding magnificently, with his wings reassuringly flexing without unexpected cricks and aches. Turning into the stronger winds coming up from the far valley to the west, cautiously hooding his eyes internally to avoid burning them in the blazing globe of the sun, he stroked his way up to safety. With careful timing, matching his breath to the beating of his wings, purging his vast lungs each time with a forceful grunt, he clawed his way up, and out over the river, foaming in the rocky valley below.

And then he had no choice but to turn again…

There was time for one last look back, to see her standing there in fragile dignity. Her outstretched arm, the pale glimmer of her outspread fingers, her last, gentle, farewell wave, was almost more than he could bear.

She was all grown up now, and it was time for them both to move on.


This story originally appeared in Breath and Shadow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Signs of Aging.

'Snobserver,' Wiki Commons.

You know you’re getting old when you wake up one day and you have no hair on your feet. One of the very first signs of aging is when you come home and find fifty pink flamingoes on your lawn, and you’re not even Italian. When you go to write a singles ad, and all you can come up with is, “Man with no future seeks woman with no past.”

You are old.

When you need a pill to get it up; and your biggest worry is, ‘uncontrolled priapism that lasts more than four hours.’

What are you so worried about? Word gets around, and sooner or later they’ll be beating a path to your door.

Oh, God, you know you’re getting old when attractive women start to call you sir.

When your buddy asks: “Are you up for it?”

And you just say, “No!”

When you engage telemarketers in idle conversation, you’re getting old. You know you’re getting old when beer just makes you sleepy and you can’t stand your own music.

You’re getting old when you try to get out at least once a week—as long as it’s free.

(If there’s free coffee and donuts, you invite a friend.)

You’re getting old when you have a few beers and all you can do is complain about peeing. When pudgy forty-five year olds start to look good, you’re old. You know you’re getting old when the doctor has to tell you to whack off once a day, and you keep coming up with excuses: “If my wife catches me, she’ll say, ‘if you have so much energy why won’t you help me paint the dining room?’”

Yes, when the doctor tells you, “The left hand is a stranger,” your doctor is also getting old and just a little creepy, too.

Buddy, you’re getting old when you need your reading glasses to roll a joint and when you make a special day to go out to shop for socks and underwear. You’re getting old when you go to the supermarket once a day whether you need anything or not. When you suddenly realize that young people today just piss you off, you’re old.

When you start reading the obituaries, and all your friends are in there, you’re right to be concerned. That’s because you’re old too. You’re just not dead yet. Don’t worry, you’ll know when it happens. It will be in the paper.

It’s not up to me to say whether you’re getting old or not.

You know yourself best.

This story appeared previously in defenestration magazine.

Editor’s Note: I was looking at a photo of Andre Agassi on Wiki, which I could have used given the attribution/Commons License. In reading the license, I came across the term ‘personality rights.’ While parody has a fair latitude, and no disrespect would have been intended, the content might have been misunderstood.

Due to the egregious nature of this content I have elected to go with an anonymous model. Moral rights do require consideration and we are now aware of this issue. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Setting up Pen-Names.

Interact with a new audience or readership.

At first, setting up a few pen names seems more trouble than it’s worth. We’re sort of taking it on faith that we are planting some long-living electronic seeds that will bear fruit far into the future. These seeds will have to be nurtured, so that they may grow big and strong. Each pen name only starts off with one or two products, and I’ve been building the Shalako brand for maybe three and a half years now already...

Clearly the whole process is going to take some time. The rest of my life in all probability.

One reason for a pen name is simple author bad vibes. If someone decides they don’t much like Louis Bertrand Shalako, which they have every right to do, there is little chance of them buying a book. Yet their negative perceptions don’t carry over to the next author they look at. When they see my thriller by Nicky Krappazoli, they have no idea that’s me. They’ll read the blurb and look at the cover with an open mind. Nick gets an even break where I might not. By disassociation, none of the bad vibes carry over.

In the short term, Nicky Krappazoli (thrillers and crime for example) hasn’t sold a book. It took a disproportionate amount of time to sign him up for Smashwords, Amazon, Twitter, and LinkedIn and Facebook. All you have to do is put your proper payment information on the publishing platform payment pages. It’s not that difficult to get an e-mail address and set up each character with his own password, and ultimately his or her complete network.

The worst part is getting them started on the social networks which have certain hurdles to get through.

A couple of points. While I’m not fond of total reliance on ‘passive discoverability,’ the fact is that I have sold books in New Zealand through an iTunes store, and I have sold a book in Japan through Kobo. I’m not doing any targeted promotion there that I know of, and yet we have a few followers on Twitter. Some of them no doubt find me fascinating and one or two might live in the Antipodes or the Land of the Rising Sun. Yet it could also be the effect of simply being there, in that store, when that particular customer was browsing. They saw it and they liked it. Maybe they simply didn’t know any better and took a chance.

Now, pen name number two, Astor Fondue, sold a book on Smashwords and one on Amazon within a few hours of publication. Another name, Ludmilla Getonanov, (she’s doing erotica of the raunchy variety) sold a book, but it took her about a week. Those books might sell the odd copy in stores all over the world. Once you have more than one book out, the only thing that matters is total sales. Same with pen-names. The only thing that matters is total sales. I don’t care who is whom and whom is what.

Put some meat on them bones. Hell,
you can even be better looking.
While I am not fond of ‘passive discoverability’ I am also not that big a fan of the total spam blitzkrieg, where you will politely tweet me every seven minutes for the rest of my life how you will get me another 2,000 followers for only $29.95. If only I knew exactly the correct balance.

The world would beat a path to my hut.

Here’s a bit of a problem with pen-names.

They don’t have an e-mail list. They don’t know anybody, and so they have to crack into Facebook and LinkedIn without the benefit of actually having a life! If you friend yourself, you can raid your own friend’s list, and click like on your own stuff, and share things back and forth with different audiences, etc. Whether you try to friend all the same people or extend a whole new network into areas unexploited is again a question of balance. I’m not competing against myself in the same genres, so whole new audiences are called for.

If we are writing fiction, then we are inventing characters anyway. Now we extend that idea to our pen names. Each is an individual, with unique hopes, dreams and desires. They have certain unique challenges. They exist, in a sense, in the minds of other people they interact with.

Assuming you’re not using your own picture, the better written your pen names are, the more likely people are to respond in a positive way, by reading the blog, clicking the links, and ultimately buying a book.

I think of it in broadcasting terms, although it can be so much more intimate than that. But what I have done is to create certain specialty channels. They are tuned to a particular and specific audience. This makes it so much easier to write, and I’ll tell you why.

Because now I’m not trying to please everyone, and appeal to every taste in a book that inevitably pays too close attention to tropes and tripe.

If you figure out who you’re writing for, you can now start learning, by trial and error, how to write the sort of book that someone like that might actually read.

Getting inside of the head of any character and bringing them to life is an art in itself. Being four different people in one day is kind of fun too; although sometimes I do get tired.

Here is my original post on this subject.

I’ve been working towards this goal for many years: ‘The Entity.’

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Excerpt. Whack 'Em and Stack 'Em, a WIP.


Fairweather Nature Park Estates was located in a secluded area of southern Ontario.

Right next door to a plethora of heavily-populated bedroom communities and a nexus of highway nodes, commuting to and from the city was a snap at forty minutes or so. The sight of athletic Roscoe Burgess, looking good in the Armani suit and Gucci loafers, wearing Italian underwear and even an Italian aftershave when he thought about it, was nothing unusual in what was a pretty affluent little trailer park. He went about forty feet down the sidewalk.

Turning, he stood and watched for a moment as if waiting for the place to blow up. Not today, apparently, which was a good thing, by any rational standard. He liked to prepare himself in order to dive away from it at a climactic moment. It was this sort of thing that made reputations.

But the suspense was killing him…with a shrug, he turned and continued on his way.

“Good morning, Roscoe!”

“Good morning, Mrs. Beauvais.”

The cheerful calls rang all up and down along the sidewalk leading to Visitor Parking. The denizens, many older but with a few students and young families too, plus quite a number whose lives were complicated or they were exploring alternative lifestyles, were pretty laid-back. It seemed watering the postage-stamp of a lawn or even raking the heavily landscaped gravel terrain that some favoured was a morning ritual.

This fine Monday morning, sunny and unseasonably not snowing, the Firm had sent a car to pick him up, by which and the preceding phone call, he deduced that he was getting another assignment. He opened the door of the domestic sedan and looked in at the strange woman driving. There really was no other kind, as his father once said.


“Hi.” She waited until he was belted in and the door closed before setting off.

It was better than the ones who nailed the throttle the second your left buttock hit the seat pad and drove like there was no tomorrow. She was smooth but aggressive when she got going. The way people drove said a lot about them. One intern, he recalled, took the company car on a gopher everyone else in the office while you’re out type coffee run and never came back. The car was eventually found abandoned in Sri Lanka, in the hills overlooking Trincomalee Harbour and not too far from where Arthur C. Clarke used to live.


She looked over.

“Traffic’s light, and we’ll be there in plenty of time for the meeting.”

He nodded. The Monday briefing was a tradition, and when the workload was light, senior executives were expected to participate. That was one reason overseas assignments, no matter how short the duration, were highly prized and the stuff of contention amongst senior staff. Being at a meeting meant not just being there, but contributing. He didn’t have anything to contribute, but that had never surprised anyone before.

“Talkative, aren’t you?”

“Huh?” He gave her a blank look. “Sorry. It’s just that meetings are the bane of my existence.”

He’d been saving that line for somebody, why not use it?

She smiled knowingly, causing him to wonder just what she did know. She wasn’t bad looking in a hosey sort of a way, with long, straight, pitch-black hair, pale creamy skin like candy and those impossibly clear blue eyes. It was the fashion sense more than anything. She had black nail polish on at both ends for God’s sakes and was heavy on the mascara to boot. Her lashes were thick and attractively curly though.

“I’m Suzie.”


They shook hands awkwardly. Her shoes had what looked like ankle cuffs and chains, with heels three or four inches long…he quite liked the wrist guards. Her aroma was spicy and enticing, like cinnamon toast and green marmalade. It looked like being one of them days, horny as a ten-peckered Billy goat and no real prospects as she was a fellow employee. Maybe he should wrangle some kind of overseas assignment…his garden was in, and the peas were coming up already.

“Yes, I hear you’re the man of action.”

She wasn’t an intern then, even with the stud in her right nostril and the multiple rings on every finger. He wondered if she had pierced her labia or anything like that. He was just about to ask when she interrupted him. Interns were like mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them nothing but bullshit. Yet this one clearly knew something about him.

“Can I ask a personal question?”

“What? Oh, sure. Fire away, young lady.” If this was the sort of thing graduating from the training schools these days then the world was just in a whole heap of trouble.

“What’s with all the naked people?” She gave him a long look of assessment as they cruised down the 401 at a steady one hundred fifty or so k’s per hour.

He approved of that much. The girl could drive.

“What, you mean my place? Well, for one thing, no concealed weapons.” It made it difficult for even a Ninja to approach him, what with the constant surveillance from Mr. and Mrs. Brixton across the way and that gaily-lecherous old crackpot Pillbody over the back fence….and of course there was the well-known Ninja fear, an absolute overriding horror more like it, of being seen naked by Gaijin, (outsiders.)

She gave tight grin and a shake of her head.

“The grounds are beautifully kept, and you can’t even put up a garden shed without going through the Covenant Committee. No mini-bikes, no chainsaws…” No parties, no unnecessary noise after eleven or before six a.m.

Not too many children and half the dogs on Valium. A no brainer, really, which suited him just fine.

She looked over.

“You’re not as dumb as you look. Why, I’ll bet you even like playing volleyball naked and stuff like that, eh?”

He grinned in a feral fashion, causing a little shiver of something to go down her spine.

“You would love the pool.”

She alternately nodded and shook her head as she focused on a clump of traffic up ahead. Her eyes came around again.

“Yeah, I probably would. What do they think of you coming and going all dressed up like anything?”

“Everyone has to have a job. I cut my lawn once in a while and don’t gossip unless they already hate them—or if they’ve already heard it somewhere else.” It made sense, the key to a successful evasion.

She looked over.

“Yeah. I suppose you’re right.” She was quiet for a moment. “I could go for that.”

“Say what?” No!

She drove for a while and then turned again.

“We could barbecue some steaks and do a little swimming, you know, a little sun-bathing.”

Roscoe was sweating now in spite of the air conditioning and his expensive Italian deodorant. He thought very carefully about what he might say. That fair skin had rarely seen the sun and had suffered nothing from the loss. He could imagine its alabaster perfection.

“That would be very nice, young lady.”

Her low, throaty chuckle did nothing to lower his stress levels one iota, for all of this could only mean one thing. Suzie must, in all probability, be his new partner. Gorman had been threatening him with a partner for months, years even, and she was due for retirement very, very soon now.

This might just be the perfect revenge for a lifetime of personal torment.

She couldn’t possibly have meant it seriously.