Saturday, February 28, 2015

Devil's Lake - available today for 99 cents.

Hello, friends.

I believe this is the best book I've written to date - of all the 22 published works, that is. ;o) Let me know if you agree? 

- Aaron Lazar
http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Lake-Aaron-Paul-Lazar-ebook/dp/B00LNFP8XU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425126355&sr=8-1&keywords=devil%27s+lake


After two years of brutal captivity, Portia Lamont has escaped and returned to her family’s Vermont horse farm—only to find her parents gone to New York to try an experimental treatment for her mother’s cancer, and her childhood friend Boone Hawke running the farm.

Like the rest of her family, Boone has never given up hope that Portia would return. But when she turns up battered, skinny as a twelve-year-old boy, afraid of everything and unable to talk about what happened, he does the only thing he can—try to help her heal. He summons the town doctor and Portia’s parents, and sets out to put this beautiful, broken woman back together again.

Through her family's love and Boone's gentle affection, Portia gradually comes back to herself, and starts to fall for her old friend in a whole new way. But one thing threatens her fragile hope for recovery: The man who took her promised that if she ever escaped, he'd kill her. Slowly. And someone is definitely watching her...waiting to make his next deadly move.

AMAZON BUY LINK

Aaron Paul Lazar
www.lazarbooks.com


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Just do it

Good morning Murderers! I hope this cold wintry day finds you warm and fulfilled. Let me say this is not going to be a cheery post but it will be a rather necessary one.

Recently, my family and friends have been experiencing a lot of loss. My kids especially have been hard hit. It hurts to lose someone and it hurts just as bad when someone you love loses someone.

Having said that, do you have plans for your digital world if you should leave the real one?

For an author, with content galore, who is going to carry on for you should you pass away?

I haven't done anything about this yet but you can bet I will soon. I mean, I have books, and blog posts, and videos, and audio files that must be protected, carried on, and in some cases, taken down.

Don't make your online life another thing that a family member has to figure out how to fix. Just go on out there and make some kind of contingency plan for what will happen to your online profile.

Facebook recently posted an article about what to do with your FB stuff. And I am sure other sites have info as well.

I am going to go get arrangements made for this myself so don't feel like you are alone. It is a necessary thing folks. We all must die at some point and it would be a total shame for all of our content to die with us - but if that is what you want, then you totally should make sure it is planned.

Have a blessed day, Murderers. Make it count.

JUST DO IT.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To Type or to Dictate?

Author Karen Vaughan Shares her Journey from the Keyboard to the Mic
An Interview with Dora Machado
 
 
Have you ever considered abandoning your keyboard and dictating your stories instead of typing?
Many of us have, but making the leap from the keyboard to the mic is no small change for a writer. Our creative processes are often intimately intertwined with our mechanics and changes to our setups can affect not only our productivity, but also our thinking processes. So I was intrigued when I heard that my writer friend, Karen Vaughan, was attempting the transition. "She's got guts," I said to myself. I wanted to learn more.
Karen Vaughan is the author of the humorous comedic mysteries Dead on Arrival, Dead Comic Standing and Daytona Dead. She's also the host of Writers Round Table, a popular internet radio show where she explores the ins and outs of the writing life. In her own words, she enjoys "helping her fellow writers to get their work done and put it out there." So today, Karen has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her migration from the keyboard to the mic.
Hi Karen and welcome to MB4. Tell us your story: When and why did you decide to trade out the keyboard for dictation software?
I have been seriously thinking about dictation software for the last few years but put off purchasing it. I had heard from a friend whose son was using it to help with his school work. It was expensive at the time—over $300.  I wanted something that would ease my hands as I get arthritic pain. That was the first reason I chose to go this route. The second reason was that I found that speaking as I wrote would improve my concentration on the project and allow me to work longer per session with twice the output. We finally purchased the software at the beginning of this year. 
 Which dictation software did you chose and why?
I had tried a few free programs, one of which had come with my laptop. I really didn’t like them. I went with DRAGON SPEAK NATURALLY BY NUANCE. It is more widely known and I found the home edition to be reasonably priced. ($75 USD-$90CAD)
Would you describe the transition as hard or easy?
I am still training the program to accept words I say regularly and find it to be accurate for the most part. I had no trouble downloading the software and was able to adapt from typing to speaking quite easily.
 What are the advantages of dictating your novels instead of typing them?
I can give my hands a rest from typing. The productivity is also slightly higher in that I can get more done per writing session.  I can concentrate on the writing and I am finding I have fewer issues with writers block once I get started.
I now make a point while dictating dialogue to include open and end quote marks as I go whereas before I did forget a lot of them and punctuation.
 What are the disadvantages?
The software is limited as you should have only one user who’s dictating with the program. I could see some major confusion occurring if more than one user was dictating.  Another thing I found was that you have to either turn the mic off or tell it to go to sleep between dictating sessions. If you don’t do this you may find the software will capture a regular conversation in your document. This will require a lot of editing. The good point of this is it does not know how to swear, so you have to teach it to cuss. I can just picture a certain writer I know taking the time to train it to capture the endless amounts of verbiage he uses in his writing.
I can picture quite a few of my writer friends doing that too. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. LOL. Are there any other disadvantages when you use the software?
If you have a cold and do not sound like yourself, it might not recognize your speech.  You need to keep your voice lubricated as your vocal cords get tired easily. Either that or just write or dictate in shorter sessions. Otherwise, the process cuts down on productivity. My suggestion would be to dictate for a while and then type for a while or alternate days for each. 
Training the software to learn your words takes time and is not for the impatient. It can be frustrating if there are days it just doesn’t want to listen to you (like a spouse, in-law or stubborn child). Those are the days I give it a time out and let my fingers do the walking. On those days, I also have to edit more myself and that takes time.
How has the change affected your creative process?
I am finding that my creative process has changed. I usually start each writing session by taking notes or just writing long hand to get me started. Then I can dictate from my notes and/or adlib as I go when a new idea comes to the surface. In short it keeps me focused, and I can go back and add things to other areas as I think of them instead of having to take notes and perhaps forgetting all together.
Would you recommend the change to your fellow writers?
 Absolutely! If you hate the thought of long typing sessions and use a voice recorder to capture your thoughts and listen and then type, this will cut out a step in the process. Like I said before it has cut down on writers block for me in a big way. I would suggest shopping around for the software that best fits your needs for versatility and price. I talked to the staff at my local store for what they recommended and I just found that DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING met my needs for price and features and benefits.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Karen, and good writing to you. 
******
About Karen Vaughan
Karen Vaughan lives in Peterborough, Ontario with her husband Jim and a cat named Sugar. She is the mom of a 24 year old daughter and four grown step children and a 4 year old grandson named Izak who could very well be smarter than a fifth grader. DEAD COMIC STANDING is her second novel. Her first novel DEAD ON ARRIVAL garnered praise from friends, family and online gamers.  She also enjoys doing crafts and other hobbies. Her third book and sequel to DEAD ON ARRIVAL is called OVER HER DEAD BODY. DAYTONA DEAD is the third in that series and was released in May 2013. Other than writing Karen loves to read, do crafts and play online games. Currently she hosts an internet radio show called WRITERS ROUND TABLE. She has a quirky sense of humor and shows this in her mysteries and her side hobby of stand-up comedy.

Click For More Karen Vaughan
 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Inspiration is something to be experienced

Aloha, Murderers. It's Thursday. Wahoo. It's been a rough few days. We have had an ice storm followed by snow and then by frigid temps. At the moment, the time of this writing it is 12 with a wind chill of 1 degree. Yes, and I am in the South. It is NOT supposed to get this cold down here. I wonder what it is in Miami today? I am ready to move.

SO anyway...the question of the week for you ... have you ever gone into a situation just to be able to write about it? Okay, full disclosure, I went on a ride along with a local cop just to see sights and hear the sounds that a police officer enjoys endures on a regular day. It was very enlightening. I also go to special events that are not usual just to get color and flavor. My absolute favorite event such as this was the (maybe 100th?) celebration of the Battle of Shiloh. Talk about immersing yourself in history!! It helped me with the writing of An Unexpected Performance. Those re-enactors have personas and they do not drop them the whole time an event is going on. I found out a LOT about soldiering and camp life in that one day.


As a writer, inspiration is everywhere but it helps to get into a situation that is about as real as it can be so you can capture the sensory details. I felt the cannon fire, smelled the camp fire, and heard the stories being told in every tent. Oh, and that ride along? Found out wayyyy more about gangs than I ever wanted to.

I hope you will do this, Murderers. Go out and find a setting that is out of your norm. And then write about it. Use all your senses. What does it smell like? Are there sounds a reader will identify with? There are a lot more things in events and places than just visuals.

Happy Thursday!
__________________________________
Kim Smith is a multi-genre'ed author of fantastical fiction for all ages. You can find her at her website, http://www.kimsmithauthor.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Writing a Book Is Like Preparing for a Marathon

By

Barb Caffrey
 
 

Please help me welcome the talented Barb Caffrey to MB4. She is a fantastic editor and the author of the comic urban fantasy romance, An Elfy on the Loose and the upcoming sequel, A Little Elfy in Big Trouble. Today Barb shares with us one of her classic bull's eye posts, small in size but huge in wisdom. Enjoy! D.

Why is writing a book so much like preparing for a marathon?

Writing a book takes time. Effort. Forethought, planning, a certain drive and sticktuitiveness…it’s a test that will push you to your limit. It shows you, as a writer, what you are made of — because you have to believe that your persistence, your effort, and your skill will pay off.

Runners do this, too, when they prepare to run marathons. They must get into condition, learn to eat efficiently, and prepare their bodies for a maximum effort. And they must believe that all of the training, all of their skill, will pay dividends when they finally run their races.

Runners are strong. They have to be. And they must believe in themselves, even if no one else does, or they can’t run their best races.

You have to be strong to be a writer, too. And you have to have faith in yourself that what you’re doing is the right thing, all because you have a creative vision that will not be denied.

Perhaps thinking about writing in the terms of preparing for a marathon will help you, especially if you are stalled or frustrated with your work-in-progress. While a completed book is not like running an actual marathon, writing that book is very much like preparing to run a marathon.

I know the metaphor only goes so far. But it’s still an interesting way to think about writing — as a marathon, not a sprint.

*****
Barb Caffrey is a writer, editor, musician, and composer. She holds two degrees, is an inveterate and omnivorous reader, and is the writer of the comic urban fantasy romance AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, available now from Twilight Times Books, and the upcoming sequel, A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE.
 
She is also the author of the transgender fantasy/romance CHANGING FACES and co-author of the two extant Joey Maverick stories with her late husband, Michael. Her stories and poems have appeared in STARS OF DARKOVER, HOW BEER SAVED THE WORLD, BEDLAM’S EDGE, BEARING NORTH, at the Written Word online magazine, at Joyful! Online, at Midwest Literary Magazine, at e-Quill Publishing, and at Vision online magazine. 

She reviews books for Shiny Book Review and, more occasionally, at Amazon.com for their Vine program. She follows politics, loves sports, watches far too much reality TV and is mystified by the “Maury” show.  What all this says about her is anyone’s guess.

 
 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lost Shots, by Aaron Lazar




How long will it take before we can burn images stored in our brain onto a computer? Do you think it will ever come to pass? I hope so, because even though I used to dabble in art in college, I never inherited the landscape gene. I could do portraits, from live models or pictures, but I didn’t have the knack to capture a glowing sunset or wavy grasses, or a frothy seascape. Perhaps, with the proper training, I could make a decent stab at it, but for now the only way I can immortalize scenes of nature is through the lens or with my pen. Figuratively speaking, that is, since I haven’t written books with a pen and paper in many years.

Lately, I’ve been lamenting potentially award-winning photos that I’ve missed. Lost shots. Those showstoppers, the gorgeous scenes I couldn’t acquire because of unsafe driving conditions or a timetable that didn’t allow lollygagging. I still see them, clear as cold lake water, simmering and shimmering in my mind’s eye.

The first lost shot occurred one fall, many years ago. We’d been scurrying around all morning, getting ready to deliver chairs to our customers. One of my side jobs, besides engineering, writing, and photography, is chair caning. My wife does the hand caning, and I do the rush, splint, flat reed, and pressed cane. Every Saturday morning, we load up the van with chairs and head for Honeoye Falls and East Bloomfield, where we deliver them to the shops that hire us. My wife and daughter were with me that morning, since we were going to squeeze in a little breakfast at George’s, our favorite small town. We were hungry. We were late. And I forgot my camera. Of course, this was before iPhones with their handy dandy cameras.

It happened only five minutes from the house, and I’ll never stop kicking myself for not turning around to go back. The night had been cold, and the morning dawned sunny. Frost crackled under our shoes as we tromped across the lawn, and there was a freshness to the air, heightened by the icy morning. We traveled north on Lakeville-Groveland Road, and when we passed Booher Hill, I glanced eastward. This is one of my favorite stretches of land, where multiple layers of trees, fields, and hills delineate the ridges that cradle Conesus Lake. When the sun rises over the eastern shore, it kisses the lake valley with rose, orange, lavender, and hot yellow.

This morning, however, the sun had risen hours earlier. But what greeted my eager eyes was not the sun, but a cloud.

I’m talking about a fully-fleshed, cotton ball cloud. It sat directly on top of the lake, lying like a thick eiderdown on the water. This cloud was not filmy, like mist or fog. It wasn’t transparent. It was rock solid puffy white, and it rose at least 1000 feet over the lake, stretching north-south along fourteen miles of the narrow trench carved many years ago by a glaciers. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and fear I’ll never see it again.

The memory is sharp, but I really wish I could show it to you.

The next two scenes that haunt me happened in winter. The frustrating part was that I had the camera with me both times, but just couldn’t stop because it wasn’t safe to pull over on the snowy roads.

The first was a scene I pass every day on the way to work. Normally, I admire the textures and contrasts of this spot with an almost casual, see-it-every-day insouciance. I do take pleasure in the old barns, dilapidated farmhouse, antique cars in the open sided shelter, and the young Thoroughbred who paces in a small paddock. And each time I pass the old milk shed, I admire the faded white paint and the attractive timeworn look it has from years of exposure to sun and wind. My fingers itch for the camera here most mornings, but it’s private property, 6:30 in the morning, and its positioned near a country intersection, which makes it a bit awkward to stop and snap pictures of this venerable old building. 


This particular morning, however, snow blasted sideways across the road in such ferocity and beauty, it quickened my heartbeat. It was a fierce burst of white, constant and rippling, blinding whoever crossed its path. The contrast electrified me. Deep turquoise metal-sided barn, cement block barn nearby, white post and board fence swaying in the storm…they were simultaneously shadowed and revealed by the spraying snow.


But I didn’t stop. I worried about arriving late to work, and the sides of the road looked very slippery. So… another lost shot.

Later that week, they closed the whole county for whiteouts. I had to get home, I was determined to get home, and I sure as heck didn’t want to spend the night in my office. So, I spent an hour and a half dodging blinding whiteouts, and finally made my perilous way down Groveland Road, almost home. Another half mile, and I’d be safe in the driveway. 

And then I saw them.

Snow devils. Cyclones of white. Billowing and flowing over the hills to the west, up the sides of the valley, rolling across the fields like massive sheet-white tornadoes.

My jaw dropped. My insides thrilled. And I gripped the steering wheel tighter to stay in the snowy lane. I didn’t get the shot. Once again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not really complaining. I’ve captured dozens of deeply satisfying photos  and have been blessed with pastoral scenes of breath-taking beauty year-round. I’ve snapped hundreds and hundreds of photos. But those lost shots… they keep haunting me. Which, I guess, is why I’ve written about them today. When visions haunt me, they spill out of my fingertips.

There is one consolation. The images still reside in my brain. And someday, maybe soon, I’ll download them and be able to show you. ;o)

***

Books by multi-award winning author, Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (print, eBook, audio book)
UPSTAGED (print, eBook, audio book)  
MAZURKA (print, eBook, audio book)
FIRESONG (print, eBook, audio book)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (print, eBook, audio book)
THE LIARS’ GALLERY (print, eBook, audio book)
UNDER THE ICE (print, eBook)

HEALEY'S CAVE (print, eBook, audio book)
FOR KEEPS (print, eBook, audio book)

FOR THE BIRDS (print, eBook, audio book)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (print, eBook, audio book)
SANCTUARY (print, eBook, audio book)

LOVE STORIES
THE SEACREST (print, eBook, and audio book)
THE SEACROFT (coming soon)

ROMANTIC THRILLERS
DEVIL’S LAKE (print, eBook, and audio book)
DEVIL’S CREEK (coming soon)

WRITING ADVICE: 

WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3  (audio books)

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, thrillers, love stories, and writing guides, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming releases, THE SEACROFT: a love story and DEVIL’S CREEK.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Merle Temple, author of A Ghostly Shade of Pale

Recently, I met with Merle Temple at his book signing in Tupelo MS. He is one of the most captivating people I have had the privilege to speak with, and I am honored to post his interview here on my site. He is a former Author Rodeo Roundup member and we will sorely miss him this year.

Thank you, Merle, for allowing me to post your interview and images.

MEET MERLE TEMPLE

I came of age in the South in the 50s and 60's, and write about what I know. Living three or four lives in one lifetime provides ample fodder for a novelist in his old age. The good, the bad, and the tragic of it all pours out on my pages. My time in Washington in the FBI and at Ole Miss, my days as an agent in the first drug wars where I survived death time and again, my journey through the corporate world and the treacherous passages of high level political campaigns, and my experiences with the crushing loss of personal liberty and people dear to me, all fuel my need to write. Within intriguing stories, I want to warn people about the dangers of the world, how easy it to lose yourself and jeopardize the eternal for momentary pleasures in the temporal world.

I live in Tupelo, MS. with my wife, Judy, and we travel around the country signing books and speaking.

Share about your work:

I have written the first two books of a planned trilogy, A Ghostly Shade of Pale and A Rented World. The Redeemed will follow.



Our reviews have been very good, and readers have been generous with their praise and notes to us about the books. We receive emails and Facebook messages from many readers. They write about how the books touched them or took them to places they had never been where they were surprised to discover that the characters were more like old friends than strangers. They say the writing is very descriptive, like reading a movie, and after reading certain passages, they think, "I didn't know anyone ever felt that way but me."

Criminal Minds read the draft of Ghostly and called us to Hollywood. We signed for the cast there, interviewed with local TV and radio outlets, and met with producers. Ghostly has been used in public and private secondary schools, and a local college just named it their contemporary novel, and it is now required reading for all English students. I travel around the country to sign and speak. We meet the nicest people, including Morgan Freeman, who I dined with last year, and Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist I had lunch with in Atlanta.

Tell us about your writing style:

I write fiction based on my life’s experiences, novels as literature to endure. What could be worse than writing just another throwaway item in a throwaway world? There is no profanity and explicit intimacy in my books. I hope to use words to edify and encourage. I try to write books that I would not be ashamed for my Mother and my English teacher to see if they were alive. The books are difficult to label. There are so many threads in the books, and because they are drawn from actual events, the plots are not predictable. Some readers say they are like books that were written 80 to 100 years ago. I hope so.

What do you find challenging about the writing life?

Never settling, always being worthy of the great opportunity to tell stories. I want to remember that readers may be moved by my words, for better or worse. I never want to write to the lowest common denominators or resort to purely salacious or titillating language. I strive to make readers think, and try to resist the temptation to take shortcuts when words are difficult to find or the threads in stories run bare. My books come from my experiences, so I always have a ready well to draw from.

If you could write from any place on earth, where would you choose to write from?

There is no place like our home in Tupelo. I also make notes and scribbles for the books while in church, when the Holy Spirit is downloading.

When asked to set goals, what do you see ( for yourself or current WIP) in five years with your writing?

I hope to finish this trilogy and then see what might be next. I am 66, so the day will come, due to age, when I can't travel as much. I hope to market the eBooks then and find new ways to leverage social media and the internet to speak to book clubs and give virtual interviews. There will always be readers who haven't found the books.

What are you reading right now?

I finished Unbroken a while back, The End of Reason, and reread some of the Travis McGee novels.

Who is your favorite author?

My favorite Christian writer is Ravi Zacharias, and John D. MacDonald is my favorite mystery writer.

Give a bit of advice for an aspiring author:

Follow your heart, take good advice from people who have no hidden agendas, and avoid those who tell you what you can’t do. Be wary of those who promise the moon, the sun, and the stars in promoting your book. Get a good editor who will tell you what you may not want to hear. Don’t be afraid to fall down, to make mistakes. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from your triumphs.

If you go with a publisher, make sure they have good distribution. If they don’t, publish your own book and sign directly with a distributor. They can open the doors to the bookstore chains and other opportunities that some publishers can’t or won’t. Keep knocking on doors, even when they won’t let you in at first. Kroger, which rejects 99% of books submitted, finally let me in, and as I said, a local college just made my first book required reading for all English students.

Believe in your product and sell it. Some of the best books ever written have gone unread because of poor marketing. When you are in bookstores and other venues, engage readers and tell them about your books, show them your passion. Adopt the mindset of "I never meet a stranger."

Writing is a privilege. Few writers achieve wealth and fame. If that's why you want to be a writer, you are probably going to be disappointed, and you may miss the pure joy of writing the books you want to, not those you write to please someone who tells you what to write for purely commercial reasons. You might miss the treasures along the journey in bookstores, libraries, schools, and churches, those small but great moments when people walk up, clutching your book, and say, "I just love your words."

More about Merle and his books and speaking/signing events can be found at his website: http://www.merletemple.com

___________________________________________________

Kim Smith is the author of An Unexpected Performance, The Case of the Missing Body series, Love Inn, and many others. She can be found at her website at http://www.kimsmithauthor.com
____________________________________________________

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Unallocated Space

A Brand New Thriller
By
Jerry Hatchett
 
Huge congrats to best-selling author Jerry Hatchett on his hot new release, the long-awaited Unallocated Space. It immediately climbed the charts to grab top digs among Amazon's Organized Crime Thrillers. You might recall that Jerry gave us a hint of what was coming just a few weeks ago, right here, on MB4. Today, he has graciously agreed to give us a sneak peak of his explosive new thriller.
So hang on to your hats, folks!

Enjoy.
D.




1

 
AFGHANISTAN

2002
 

"Good hell, Flatbread. Who names a horse Johnny?"

I glanced over at Ditto and watched his green self bob up and down in my night vision as his own horse climbed the rocky trail. "You ever been quiet for five minutes in your life, just because?" I said.

"Got a question for you."

Johnny slowed, picked his way through a ten-foot patch of bigger stones, about the size of bowling balls. Maybe if I ignored Ditto he'd clap his trap.

Ditto said, "What you think the public would think of us?"

"Most of 'em would cheer us on, but we'd end up villains anyway."

"How you figure?"

"The media would make us out to be monsters and find a couple dozen Americans who agreed with them and blast it twenty-four-seven."

"Assholes," he said. "Somebody's gotta do it."

I nodded and gave Johnny a nudge to pick it up a bit.

 
About two hours later, I checked my GPS. We were there. I reined Johnny to an easy stop. There was nothing to tie to in this hellhole of a place, so I looped the reins around his fetlocks as a makeshift hobble that would allow a quick getaway if needed. Ditto did likewise with his mount, whose name changed daily, but I think on this day the mare's name was Wildfire. ("’Cause that's one more awesome damn horse song," according to Ditto.)

We started our hike up the remaining distance, a couple hundred yards to go. It's slow going to check every footstep in advance to be sure you're not stepping on anything that could make a sound, but after a half hour we could see the destination through our goggles. A black hole in the side of the mountain.

I switched my view from infrared to thermal. Scanned the mountain face above the cave opening. Found what I was looking for: a hundred feet up, a smaller hole, leaking enough heat to look like a bonfire through the goggles. "Intel looks good," I whispered.

"No time like right now," Ditto said. "Let's do this thing."

We continued our quiet ascent and in a few minutes we stood outside the cave, me just to the left edge of the six-foot-wide opening, Ditto on the right. It was high enough for us to stand. That helped. I used hand signals for us to move in and we both took a step before Ditto held up a fist. I froze. He pointed to an electronic device on his chest and we pulled back to our positions flanking the hole.

The gadget was the latest and greatest Blackberry. It could send and receive electronic mail anytime it had a signal, and thanks to an adapter that connected to our satphones, that translated to pretty much anytime and anywhere we had a look at the sky. Ditto's had obviously vibrated. He detached it and flipped up his goggles. I could see its screen glowing a dim green as he read the message. Then he was typing on it with his thumbs. As soon as he stopped, mine vibrated its tickle-buzz across my Kevlar vest. I raised my headset and read the message.

 

SHIT. AIRSTRIKE IN 7 MIN

 

Damn. I stowed the Blackberry, dropped my goggles, and raised five fingers to Ditto. We set five-minute timers on our watches and, on my signal, simultaneously started the countdown. No time left for the kind of stealth I preferred. I signaled one more time and we moved inside the cave as quietly as we could while still making haste.

We worked our way through a few small chambers that twisted and turned, and then we could see light ahead in a larger space. At the edge of the opening to that space, we dropped to our bellies, flipped up our NV gear, made a quick scan. Nine assholes inside. The most important one, sitting in front of a laptop with a cable snaking up to the roof of the cavern and disappearing inside a vertical shaft, was on the leftmost wall. The cavern was lit by a couple propane lanterns on stands.

I counted down three fingers to Ditto and it was on. The left side was mine. Our suppressed M4s made quick work of most of them while we had the element of surprise. No idiotic movie spraying on full auto, just quick and efficient double-taps to the head. Seven of them could now have much more intimate conversations with Allah. Two remained, my guy with the laptop—I did not want to kill him yet—and one guy on the right behind a large wooden shipping crate. We stood and entered. I was focused on Computer Guy, but my peripheral vision picked up things going very wrong on the right. Standing from behind the crate and screaming like an animal, Ditto's guy opened up with an AK-47. My partner wasn't fast enough. Ditto's head burst open in a sickening spray of gore. Sonofabitch. I pivoted right and returned the favor to the jihadi. There was no need to check on Ditto.

When I turned back to Computer Guy, he was coming out of his state of shock, his hands over the keyboard. I popped a .223 round into each shoulder and he was no longer concerned with typing. While he wailed, I checked my watch. The firefight had felt like a half hour but my countdown was just moving through 3:18. I was at the computer in three quick steps. I grabbed the guy by his nasty beard and yanked him away from the computer. I took his place on the rock he'd been using as an office chair.

The laptop was asking for a password. In Pashto, I screamed, "What is the password?" to the waste of human flesh on the floor, still wailing and whining and slobbering. He looked at me and shook his head. I shot him in each knee and re-presented the question.

2:59... He was going into shock now, the blubbering giving way to a quiet mewling. He stared at me through wide, unfocused eyes. I had no time for this. My mission was simple. Recover the computer and its password, by any means. Even if the crypto guys could break through the password at all, that took time. The name of this game was Get the Info Now. Whatever data the laptop held could be useless in two days, much less the two months it might take to crack. I handed him a small notepad and a pen and started screaming, "Write the password! Write the password!" He spit at me.

 

2:47... Using my tactical knife, I split his pants open at the crotch. No underwear, and the stench of the filthy bastard's genitals was hellish. I grabbed the head of his penis in my left hand, stretched it up, and put the knife at the base. This takes the defiance out of ninety-nine percent of all men on the planet.

 

2:35... This one-percenter spit at me again and started screaming about Allah. I drew the knife lightly across, enough to bring plenty of blood but not enough to cut it off; the blood loss would be too quick for my needs. He continued to pontificate on Allah.

 

2:28... Time for the one-hundred-percent solution. I reached around to my pack, dropped a zipper on its bottom right, and reached inside. From a rubberized compartment, I pulled a small dead pig. I rammed my knife into its heart and pulled it out, now smeared with porcine blood.

 

2:07... Exaltation of his god ended and he stared at the knife. I put it to his throat and said, "Write the password or I'll send you to hell right now. No paradise. No wine. No virgins."

 

When he finished writing, I keyed in the password and the laptop opened to a screen of email addresses and phone numbers. Damn skippy. I turned back to the guy and slit his throat. After cutting the line that fed from the laptop up into the shaft, I pulled its battery and stowed the computer in my backpack, then left the way we had come, this time at a dead run.

 

1:31... Just inside the cave entrance, I dropped a laser designator to light the way for the missiles, then hustled back down the trail as fast as I could go without stumbling and tripping on the endless rocks. A sprained ankle right now would be a mortal wound.

 

0:30... I reached the horses. Unhobbled Ditto's mare first, pointed her downhill, slapped her ass. She bolted. With the mission complete, the sight of Ditto's head bursting like a melon started cycling through my mind. I unwound the reins from Johnny's fetlocks and leapt into the saddle, reined him around to head back down the mountain, then kickstarted him with my heels. "Go, Johnny! Go!" He launched. In my mind, poor Ditto's head exploded again.

 

0:10... The wind was an icy razor on my face. The countdown expired, and I knew I had ninety seconds max before the F-18s brought hell. Johnny was hauling ass, but we weren't far enough away from the cave for my comfort. It turned out to be closer to thirty seconds. I saw four little spits of fire in the sky ahead as the missiles dropped from their moorings on the F-18s, then ignited and streaked toward the laser designator, just as we reached the base of the mountain. The ground leveled out, and Johnny needed no encouragement. He was a magnificent creature with somewhere to go. We went.

The explosions at our backs lit the valley before us as the world roared. I felt heat and pressure a few seconds later, but that's it. I applied the brakes and Johnny stopped. We turned around and watched the cave spit fire from its maw and a column of sparks from the vent hole above it.

I patted Johnny on the neck, his taut hide drenched with sweat in the cold Afghan night and radiating the smell of proud horse. Then I leaned left and stretched way forward in the saddle so I could look him in the eye. "Buddy," I said, "I'll get you out of this miserable excuse of a country someday, and we'll never have to do this kind of shit again. I promise."

Johnny snorted.

  

2

 

LAS VEGAS
 

NOW

 

I had seen pictures. Read all about it. Even saw an episode about it on a reality show about amazing something or other. High-res and high-def did nothing to prepare me for the real thing. 'Amazing' didn't come close. It was shocking.

SPACE, not just the world's largest casino hotel, but the world's largest man-made structure. The company was my newest client; their high-dollar slot machines were paying out huge jackpots more often than they should, and the company suspected foul play. Hence the arrival of yours truly, owner and sole employee of Sam Flatt Digital Forensics.

The property loomed on the far south end of the neon canyon called Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. the Strip, like an unearthly presence. Which was exactly the point: The illusion was that of a space station, and its realism made the rest of Vegas's architectural wonders look like kitschy little toys from a dollar store. When the limo was a couple miles from it, already it looked enormous. I don't know how many hundreds of acres it covered, but the whole thing was bathed in a bluish light that heightened the surreality of the scene. Tiny white strobes flashed at random across the whole thing, both on the structures and in the air.

A huge white glass dome housed the casino and anchored the center of the spread. From the center of the dome, a 185-floor round hotel climbed the night sky, a gleaming white shaft peppered sparsely with dark windows among glossy white ones. On the ground, five spokes connected to and radiated out from the dome’s perimeter. Each of these spokes terminated in a structure that was itself some noteworthy attraction. On the north spoke, the largest mall in the country. Others ended variously in everything from entertainment complexes to a NASA museum with a retired space shuttle. In a city full of spectacles, SPACE was the one to end them all.

When the driver turned into the complex, I saw that the twinkling strobes in the air weren’t mounted on anything. They were tiny flashing orbs that were flying themselves around like mechanized fireflies. Wow. We arrived at the portico, and I stepped out of the car without waiting for anyone to open the door. The hot night air hit me, felt like I'd opened the door on an oven. The difference between its dryness and the soggy heat back home in Houston was immediately apparent.

Outside the car, I was greeted by an attendant in white coveralls emblazoned front and back with the SPACE logo. "Mr. Flatt," the attendant said when I exited the car, "welcome to SPACE. I'm James Nichols and I'll be your host while you're here." I shook his hand. "If you'll come with me, I'll get you settled in and have your luggage brought up."

I followed him through an entrance fashioned like an air lock. Twenty feet inside, we boarded an escalator with clear steps. At the top of its long climb, we stepped onto a people mover, also with a transparent floor, that arced up and over the casino floor. Above us, the massive dome looked to be one giant video screen. Its realistic panorama of the space environment combined with the nearly invisible conveyor we were riding created a convincing illusion of floating through space between components of a space station. Well, except for the hundreds of gaming tables and thousands of slot and poker machines below us. After a lengthy ride we arrived at an elevated platform at the top center of the dome. That platform turned out to be the hotel lobby. Nichols ignored the desk and headed straight for a bank of elevators. The acceleration was unlike anything I'd experienced in an elevator, my ears popping as the floor numbers whizzed by. I felt it slowing and watched the display as the number settled on 140.

My suite looked like something straight from the future, all softly glowing glass and plush furnishings. I had expected a much more modest room but I have a bit of a thing about small spaces so I was glad to see the spacious accommodations. As Nichols was showing me around, my bags arrived. When I tried to tip the bellhop, he nodded and said, "Thank you, sir, but that won't be necessary," and backed out of the room.

"What's up with that?" I said.

"You're our guest, Mr. Flatt. Nothing here will cost you anything, unless you want to gamble." He smiled and said, "That's on your dime. By the way, here's your credential bracelet." He handed me a thin rubbery bracelet, bright blue. "It functions as your key. Just wear it and it does the rest." I thanked him and he left.

Even the water in the shower glowed along a blue-to-red spectrum depending on temperature. Clean and fresh in a hotel robe, I stood at the window with my phone and touched the icon to initiate a video chat with my daughter. Ally's mom, my ex, had moved them here a few years ago, after the divorce, when a good job came up in her field. Ally’s mom is an event planner who sets up conferences and conventions and such, and Vegas is a hotbed for that industry. I objected to the move, but it did no good. Abby Lowenstein Flatt is a stubborn and formidable woman, and I wasn't willing to create great strife between the two of us. We compromised: I wouldn't fight the move, and she wouldn't gripe about my unconventional lifestyle when Ally came to visit me back in Texas. It worked.

When Ally answered, I held the phone against the glass so the camera faced out at the amazing view. "Guess where I am?" I said.

"Hmmm, lots of lights," Ally said. "Oh my gosh, you're here, Daddy? In Las Vegas?"

"Yup."

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

"Case just popped up this morning."

"Where are you staying?"

I braced myself. "SPACE."

"Daddy! You know I wanna see that place, and Mom won't take me! When can I come? Say I can come!"

"I don't know, sweetie. Not sure a casino is the best place for a fourteen-year-old, but I'll talk it over with your mom."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

We chatted a few minutes more and said good-night.

I stood at the window and marveled at the north-facing view, Las Vegas spread before me like a bejeweled domain. If only I had known what I was standing on top of.
 
 
 
 
 
 
******
ABOUT JERRY HATCHETT
Jerry Hatchett grew up in the creatively fertile Mississippi Delta. His stories often draw from his eclectic background, providing a foundation for intriguing tales populated with everyday people who often find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. His business experience runs the gamut from pawnbroker to inventor to technologist to specialized expert in digital forensics.
Hatchett lists John Grisham, James Rollins, Nelson DeMille, and Ken Follett as major influences on his writing. “I want to entertain people by creating new worlds and people for them to love and hate, and I always try to write a story that you just can't put down,” he says.
A lifelong fan of Ole Miss and SEC football, he awaits each fall with zeal. He’s also a movie fanatic, an avid reader, and with uncharacteristic immodesty claims to cook the world’s best ribeyes. He currently resides in The Woodlands, TX, a suburb of Houston.