December 31, 2010

The Top 10 Most Annoying Things and People from 2010



A new year is always a good time to look back... well sometimes it is. Here are some of the annoying things from 2010 that I at least hope don't get repeated in 2011. What are yours?

In no particular order:

1. Lady Gaga's meat dress.

Yuck. Not trendy or cool. Disgusting. Wasteful. Selfish. Pretentious. People are still starving in the world so is it a good idea to "play" with food? And how about putting on some clothes when walking around in public?

2. Justin Bieber.

Enough "Baby Baby." Funny, I saw quite a few Justin dolls and other stuff left over in the stores after Christmas.

3. Twilight.

Can we get back to "real" vampires already?

4. Sarah Palin.

Talk about cashing in.

5. Hearing another person interviewed on TV say "I'll do anything if it keeps us safe."

They probably will, and does it -- really?

6. "Celebrity" news

Since when are they "news"???

And speaking of celebrities - please enough reasonably cute + young + zero or average "singing voice" equals a big recording deal and overplay on the radio.


7. Idiots on Reality Shows

Everyone wants to be famous. Many (most) shouldn't be.

8. Cheap tricks

Manufacturers love changing packages to give you less and make you pay more. And it's always a big secret.

9. Yucky tasting products

Anyone else notice that regular chocolate like Hershey's now tastes terrible? And some store brand products like cheese crackers that were once good, now taste like garbage? Switching to cheaper ingredients only makes the consumer switch to another product and brand.

10. Talking, Talking...

"I'm a witch." And that qualifies you for public office?

"I made buckets of money last year." Etc. Good for you.

"I ---" (fill in blank).

The key? Too much of the word "I."


** Okay these are just a few that come to mind. What are your annoyances from 2010?

December 30, 2010

2011 Goals, What are yours?

Author Morgan Mandel at the Acme Authors Link asked today about other writers' GMC's - Goals, Motivations and Conflicts.

Much better than resolutions, which usually are broken and abandoned a day into the New Year.

My Goals:
1 Finish work in progress (hopefully this week.)
2 Yes the usual, lose weight
3 Get more freelance work done

Motivations:
1 Money - fame and fortune? haa! Just getting paid for projects is good.
2 Organization. I'm with Morgan; I spend too much time looking for stuff.
3 Finish projects then I get more organized as things get put away.

Conflicts:
Above leads to conflict.

What are yours? What do you plan on finishing in 2011?

December 29, 2010

New Winter Author Snapshot column at Mysterical-e



My winter Author Snapshot column in Mysterical-e features winter and Christmas tales by Brian Kavanagh, Vicki Delany and my short Christmas tale, Christmas at the North Pole Compound. Be sure to check it out!

December 26, 2010

Miniature Christmas Swap


I participated in a fun 7 Days of Christmas swap organized by the Miniature Collectors Club on Yahoo Groups. Fun and glad I joined since family members think I already have too many minis already so they don't give me any. (What? Never too many!)

While the swaps were numbered, I held out as long as I could. I cheated and opened them all at once, Dec. 23. Couldn't wait anymore. ha!

My swap was from Santa Jan M. in Canada. Thanks Jan!

The swap started with a fun surprise: all the gifts put in a crib, which she says she had "lying around." Well since a nursery is a someday project on my to-do list, it'll come in handy as I have three mini babies set aside and had only one crib. No, I didn't plan on making a Russian orphanage! (sorry the pic isn't great; camera batteries keep failing.)

Day 1: a cute bird feeder and yummy-looking candy. (No, not edible but love it!)



Day 2: I love mini plants and have no talent for making them in clay. And needlepoint this small? No way!



Day 3: More great flowers and a china chamber pot.



Day 4: A fantastic beaded purse and hat. I love that beading and it always looked so confusing to me so never tried it.



Day 5: A nice coffeepot and glass bowl of fruit.



Day 6: A fun mini recylcling bin keychain, packaged shirt and cactus plant.



Day 7: Wow, this is really neat. So much work in covering this fantastic mini box and decorating the toiletry set. Love it!



December 25, 2010

Christmas Short Story: A Theory of Murder by Dennis Palumbo, Part 2


Today we conclude our featured short story, A THEORY OF MURDER by DENNIS PALUMBO, whose latest is book is Mirror Image (A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery) (Poisoned Pen Press.), a twisty, psychological thriller that'll leave you guessing to the very end. I hope you enjoy the story and be sure to check out his book!






A THEORY OF MURDER, PART 2 - By Dennis Palumbo (Go back to read Part 1)

An embarrassed silence filled the room. Then the Commissioner settled into his chair and smiled gamely. “Sorry about the interruption. With children, one does what one can. After that...” He shrugged, then turned his attention to Mina. “So, Inspector, have we taken the young lady’s statement?”

“Yes, Commissioner.” Kruger sniffed. “It was Fraulein Strauss who gave Katie Gossen the locket we found. As a gift.”

Albert cleared his throat. “Excuse me, but how did the police know the locket had originally belonged to Hector?”

Kruger laughed shortly. “Because we are not incompetent, Herr Einstein. The locket is inscribed at the back with a serial number and the name of the maker,Gerd Oberlin, on Marktgasse. He checked his records and declared it had been sold to one Hector Franks, at whose instructions it was sent by post to Fraulein Mina Strauss.”

Albert nodded. “And from whose hands it then passed to the murdered girl. So I don’t see how Herr Franks is further involved.”

“Perhaps he learned his gift had been unappreciated by its recepient,” Burlick said officiously. “That in fact it had been given to another. Driven by jealousy and rage, he stole into the Gossen home to retrieve it. There, surprised in the act, he was forced to...”

“Butcher the entire family?” Albert chuckled.

The Commissoner looked at him sternly. “I have seen stranger things in the course of my career, young man. And I don’t appreciate Jewish impertinence.”

Inspector Kruger seemed embarrassed suddenly, but by what I couldn’t tell. At any rate, he was quick to usher Mina, Albert and myself out of the Commissioner’s office, and into the bustling corridor beyond.

“Am I free to go?” I said to Kruger, trying to sound indignant. I had somewhat found my feet again.

“For now. But keep yourself available to us.” He turned to Mina. “The same for you, Fraulein Strauss.”

Mina nodded, then turned and allowed the matron to escort her briskly down the corridor. She never even glanced in my direction. And I knew, as one knows these things, that I should never see Mina Strauss again.

* * *

That night, I sat in my rooms surrounded by discarded newspapers. The murders had gripped the imagination of the Continent. The killer’s reign of terror was recounted in explicit detail, including wild theories of genetic insanity, religious cults, political anarchists gone amok.

I poured myself an unaccustomed second brandy and sat, sleepless, in my chair by the fire. I couldn’t imagine sleep. Not after what I’d seen that day.
And Mina?...Seeing her again after all these years. Learning what had happened to the locket. How could she have been so callous as to give what I had offered her to another?

I was stewing in this self-pitying broth till almost four in the morning, when a pounding at my door broke me from my reverie. I glanced at the mantel clock. At this hour?

I pulled open the door to find an equally exhausted-looking Albert Einstein, bundled into a thick wool coat.

“My God, Albert, do you know the time?”

“More intimately than most, I promise you.” Then, with uncharacteristic urgency, he brushed past me into the room and began looking about. “You’ll need a warm coat, of course. And boots. You don’t happen to own a revolver?”

“A revolver? What are you talking about?”

“All will be explained.” He stared at me, impatient. “Well, are you coming or not?”

* * *

The pre-dawn chill was like a cloak of ice. It had also snowed again during the night, leaving two-foot-high drifts that impeded our progress toward the boat-house.

Beyond the long, wood-framed structure were the venerable spires of the university, which lay under the gloom as though crouching for warmth. The only sound was the distant tolling of Yuletide church bells for the morning’s first service.

As we carefully approached the silent building, I could now hear the river lapping gently at the dock. Out on the frigid water, silent as ghosts, the rowing team propelled their boat smoothly through the mist.

Albert led us to the near side of the boat-house, and then to a position beneath the single window. We peered through the smudged pane at an empty room, warmed only by the light of a huge cast-iron stove. At the far end of the room stood a large water keg.

I turned to see Albert nodding to himself. “Of course, the drinking water...I wondered how he planned to subdue them. Some kind of soporific in the water. Then he could--”

“I swear, Albert, if you don’t tell me what’s going on--”

“It occurs to me, Hector, that I might be putting you in harm’s way. I did leave a note for Inspector Kruger, but I doubt he’d take me seriously...” He frowned. “Not that I blame him, given my gross stupidity about these murders...”

By this point, I merely stared at him.

“It was so obvious, I couldn’t see it,” Albert went on. “There is a pattern, of course. Prime numbers. Divisible only by themselves and one. Perhaps a mocking reference to his own troubles with mathematics? Who can say with such a man? One who kills so ruthlessly...I recall reading Buhler on the subject of compulsions, Atwood on multiple murderers. Mileva has some interest in psychology, and keeps many books on--”

Flustered, I cut him off. “Wait! Prime numbers..?”

“Yes. 1,2,3,5,7, etcetera. One watch-maker, two old people, three seminarians, a family of five, a rowing team--”

“Of seven!” I exclaimed. “Six oarsmen and the coxswain.”

He nodded. “Where better to find the necessary seven victims than at his own university? He’s familiar enough with the sport to gamble on it. And there has to be at least one more murderous act for the pretense of a killing spree to be maintained.”

“Pretense?”

“To hide the real motive for the crimes, and the real--and only--intended victim. Katie Gossen. The killer knew her murder would inevitably lead the police to his door...unless it was merely one in a series of brutal, senseless deaths. Part of an insane pattern based on prime numbers.”

A sudden noise from within the boat-house silenced us. Footsteps against creaking floorboards. Muffled, secretive.

Carefully, we once again peered into the shadowy room.A figure in a black overcoat and gloves was leaning over the water keg. On the bench beside him, its blade glinting dully in the half-light, was a thick-handled axe.

I felt Albert’s restraining hand on my arm, but I risked another look. The man was lifting the keg lid, pouring some kind of powder inside. As he bent, his face shone in a pale shaft of light.

I sank back next to Albert, stunned. “But I thought it was--I mean, you saw what kind of creature Hans Pfeiffer is. The way he winked at Mina...”

Albert nodded. “Yes. Coarse, familiar. But how could he not take notice of Mina Strauss? An uncommonly beautiful girl. Yet Jeffrey never gave her a glance. I thought that was odd ...unless he knew her. Unless he purposefully ignored making eye contact. Because Mina knew him--or, at least, of him--from hearing of his unwanted attentions to her friend Katie.”

“How in God’s name do you know of this?”

“I asked around at the campus,” Albert replied. “Jeffrey was hopelessly enthralled by Katie, and she spurned him. I thought something like that might be at the core of this, thinking of how Mina had likewise rebuffed you.”

I stiffened. “Thanks very much.”

He ignored this. “I’m sure his advances were crude and improper. He has a reputation for violence and drink. A loutish, aggressive type, under which lies an even darker, murderous nature. He finds being thwarted in his desires intolerable. Emboldened by his father’s wealth and position, thinking himself above the laws of God and man, he’s driven to murder. But to disguise the motive, he embeds the killing of Katie Gossen in a series of brutal slayings, seemingly the work of a madman, following some absurd, fanciful pattern...”

I struggled to absorb his words. “So you guessed that he needed at least one more to make a convincing picture. The seven members of the rowing team...But how did you know?”

“Imagination, Hector. The unheralded seed-bed of all theory.” A wry smile. “I simply imagined what I would do in his place.”

Another squeak of floorboard from within drew our eyes to the glass. Jeffrey was moving back against the far wall, axe in hand. Melting like a wraith into the lattice of shadow.

“Now all he need do is wait,” Albert whispered. “The team will be returning any moment. After a vigorous workout, they will doubtless drink from the water keg. Jeffrey knew there were too many to handle unless they were incapacitated.”

I nodded. “So after the drug takes effect, he can move in for the kill. Unless...”

Where this sudden flush of courage--or foolishness--came from, I cannot say. But suddenly I was barreling as fast as possible through the snow, around the corner of the low-slung building and through the opened double doors.

“Hector!” Albert called out, but I’d already crossed the threshold into the room.

Jeffrey Burlick had turned at the pounding of my foot- steps, and rushed now from the shadows to confront me. I leapt at him, hands outstretched, a cry bursting from my lips.

We ended up in a heap on the floor, Jeffrey awkwardly trying to bring the axe to bear. I saw the horrible glint as its blade sliced down toward me. I saw my own death.
Then I saw Albert, face red with exertion, struggling with both hands for the axe. But the burly young student merely flung Albert to the floor.

Winded, scrambling to get up on our elbows, we looked up at the glowering face of a demon. Jeffrey hefted the axe as though it were weightless, raising it high.

“You two thought you could stop me?” he cried. “Two penniless patent clerks? No one can stop me!”

“You must stop!” I gasped. “Even you must see, killing these men avails you nothing. You’ve had your revenge on Katie...you’ve ended her life. Why must you end these others?”

“Revenge?...on Katie?” His eyes narrowed to dark slits. “She’s nothing! She means nothing to me. The design is all. The purity, the immutable beauty...”

He paused then, regarding me with bemusement. “Something a man like you could never understand. Bound by your pathetic, bourgeois pieties...”

As, tightening his grip, he raised the great axe once more to strike--

When another voice shot through the room. “Not as pathetic as you, Jeffrey!”

Burlick froze where he stood, as the tall, ramrod figure of Inspector Kruger stepped through the doorway. He held a police revolver pointed at Jeffrey’s chest.

“Put down the weapon, or I’ll be forced to fire.”

Jeffrey wavered, glance darting from us to the Inspector. “I assure you,” Kruger said sharply, “I don’t care who your father is. I will shoot you where you stand.”

A strange, anxious smile played across the young man’s lips. “My father?...with his rules and regulations. So rigid, unbending. The unspeakable hypocrite! You don’t know what he’s really like, what he did to--” His voice caught. “He’s the monster.”

His eyes blazed now as he turned to stare at Albert. “And yet powerless against the march of mathematical inevitability! Surely, Herr Einstein, you must understand. If no one else, surely you...”

Then suddenly, in two brisk strides, Kruger was at the killer’s side, the revolver pressed hard against his ribs. Jeffrey Burlick gave the Inspector the merest look, before letting the axe fall with a clatter to the floor.

Albert rose beside me and smiled at the Inspector. “I see you received my message,” he said. “I’m surprised you gave it any credence.”

“I’m surprised that anything surprises you, Herr Einstein. Not after this.” He nodded at Jeffrey, who, to my utter incomprehension, stood calmly with his arms folded, as though waiting for a train.

“No.” Albert was shaking his head. “I miscalculated. Your arrival here was an unexpected variable. A random occurrance.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think perhaps God plays dice with the universe after all.”


I struggled to my feet, my fear rapidly being replaced by irritation. I hated when Albert talked like this.

“Forget your theories, for the love of heaven!” I snapped at him. “We were almost killed this morning.”

“I wasn’t the one who seemed intent on heroics. Honestly, Hector, that was perhaps the most amazing surprise of all.”

In a matter of minutes, a police van had arrived, and Jeffrey was bundled away in restraints by two stout officers. Inspector Kruger followed them out.

Alone with Albert in the eerie stillness of the boat-house, I gave voice to my thoughts. “Young Burlick must suffer from a diseased mind...it’s the only explanation...”

Albert looked off, in that way I’d become accustomed to.“No, he’s not mad. He knows the difference between right and wrong. I saw that clearly. He just...doesn’t care.”

“But that’s unthinkable! To butcher innocent people without remorse? Without a conscience? Believe me, Albert,

I doubt there’s a word for such pathology in your wife’s scholarly books.”

“Perhaps not,” he replied with a sad smile. “But I fear one day soon there will be.”

* * *

Outside, another gentle flurry of snow had begun to fall, and I realized with a start that tomorrow was Christmas Day. Though, admittedly, such holiday thoughts were far from my mind at that moment.

Albert and I stood with Kruger, watching as the rowing team, oblivious, began making their way to shore. From the dock, I could hear the sounds of another pair of policemen, dumping the keg of drugged water into the river.

Another sound, that of boots scraping heavily against frozen earth, made us turn. Jeffrey Burlick, shackled hand and foot, was being led to the rear of a police van. As the door was held open for him, he paused and looked directly, nakedly, at us. Then, showing a small, tight smile, he turned and stepped into the van. As it rumbled away in the blur of morning light, Albert looked gravely at Kruger.

“He’s the Commissioner’s son. This will cause a scandal.”

“Not my concern.”

Their eyes locked. “I am curious why you believed me,” Albert said quietly.

“Let’s just say, not all of us share the Commissioner’s prejudices, Herr Einstein.”

Then, with a curt bow, Kruger went to join his men.

Albert watched him go, before brushing himself off and heading in the opposite direction. I followed.

“That’s quite enough adventure for me,” he said. “Now it’s back to my physics papers.”

“No,” I said. “It’s back to the office, and the Beringer patents. We work until six, even on Christmas Eve. Or Hoffmann will dock your pay.”

He grimaced. “And Mileva will be furious.”

Then, smiling, Albert Einstein put his arm around my shoulder. “Ah, Hector, the mathematics of love. Compared to it, physics is but child’s play.”

On the way back to work, we stopped for a sausage roll.

THE END

(c) 2010 D. Palumbo - reprinted with permission, Candid Canine, http://candidcanine.blogspot.com

December 24, 2010

Christmas Short Story: A Theory of Murder by Dennis Palumbo, Part 1



Today's Christmas treat is a short story by author and former screenwriter, DENNIS PALUMBO, whose latest is Mirror Image (A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery) (Poisoned Pen Press.), a twisty, psychological thriller that'll leave you guessing to the very end.



Palumbo's story, A THEORY OF MURDER, originally appeared in The Strand Magazine, and then was part of the short story collection, From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). Palumbo's credits include being a staff writer for the ABC TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter (remember that?)

His first novel, City Wars (Bantam Books) is currently in development as a feature film, and his short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand, Written By and elsewhere. He provides articles and reviews for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Lancet, and many others. His column, “The Writer’s Life,” appeared monthly for six years in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America. He’s also done commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and blogs regularly for The Huffington Post.

** Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2 of A THEORY OF MURDER, featuring Albert Einstein.




A THEORY OF MURDER - By Dennis Palumbo - Part 1

My friend Albert Einstein unwrapped his sausage roll, then looked up at me with those frank, dark eyes. “Tell me, Hector, what is the secret to living in harmony with a woman?”

I shrugged in my thick overcoat. It was cold out here
in the dawn mist, beneath the wintry mantle of holiday snow. We sat, as we did every morning before work, on a bench overlooking the Aare River.

“I know less about women than you do,” I answered, sipping my tea. “At least you’ve managed to marry one.”

“I prefer to think that Mileva married me. For my money, perhaps?”

“It can’t be for your looks,” I said.

He smiled, then bit into his steaming roll, chewing as carelessly as he did most things.

Below us, the river flowed stubbornly around islands of scrabbly ice. Traversing its treacherous surface was a sleek racing scull being rowed by the university team, undaunted by the frigid conditions. I could just make out the half-dozen broad-shouldered students, encased in thick coats and heavy blankets, urged on by their coxswain.

We ate in a familiar, comfortable silence. Then I became aware of the rolling of cart-wheels on icy cobblestones, the flap of shop windows opening to the new day. Cool morning light poked through the haze, revealing the shapes of old, weathered buildings--relics of a past that young men like Albert and I had long since shrugged off.

We were the new generation, like those students on the water. The men of the future. It was the year 1904.

We finished our meager breakfasts and trundled down the snow-draped streets. It was two days before Christmas, and we passed several small clusters of religious folk, in gaily-colored mufflers and hats, ringing their bells and collecting for the poor. As usual, guilt made me dig into my own relatively poor pockets for some change.

Albert had said little as we made our way through the growing, early-morning throng. He’d seemed quite distracted these past months, though whether due to marital problems or his struggles with his arcane physics papers I couldn’t be sure. Whenever I asked about them, he’d merely say they weren’t ready for publication yet. I confess I doubted whether they might ever be.

At last, Albert and I arrived at the patent office. Inside, we found our employer, Herr Hoffmann, his thick mustache stained with coffee. A copy of this morning’s Gazette was in his hand.

“Have you heard the news?” he said, more agitated than usual. “Have you?”

“Are the planets still holding to their prescribed parabolas?” Albert asked mildly.

“Are they what--? Honestly, Herr Einstein--”

Hoffman shook his head, and raised the folded newspaper like a flag.

“The most horrible of all,” he said gravely. “Just last night...not five blocks from this very room. And during Christmas, for the love of God.”

“More murders?” I said, stunned. “Like before?...”

“Worse. An entire family. Husband, wife, three children. Murdered in their beds. Slaughtered like cattle.”

I took the paper he offered, my hands trembling as I read the horrible details.

“You must see this, Albert,” I said. “It’s unnatural. A crime unlike any in history.”

“Now that, dear Hector, I sincerely doubt. I trust you’ve heard of the Boer War. The massacres on the African coasts. Certain penal colonies in the Australian continent...”

“Yes, yes,” I said irritably. Truly, Albert could be maddening at times. In such moments, I didn’t envy Mileva her choice of husbands.

“My point, Albert,” I went on cooly, “is that a monster is afoot in Berne.”

“Exactly!” Hoffmann sputtered. “We have a Jack the Ripper in our midsts.”

Albert opened his eyes, at once penetrating and leavened with sadness. “Yet one far less discriminating. The Ripper chose his victims from among the women of the streets. This killer chooses them...at random? That, I suppose, is the great bafflement. How he chooses his victims, or why.”

Hoffmann nodded. “That’s what the police say. There appears to be no motive.” He pointed to the paper in my hands. “You see, they’ve listed the deaths so far. The watch-maker, stabbed in his shop. The knifing of the elderly couple. Three seminary students, hacked to pieces. Now this poor family.”

“No recurring pattern,” Albert mused. “So unlike the universe, when you think about it. Or the habits of most men.”

“Except for one thing,” I said. “He always uses a blade of some kind. A scissors for the watch-maker, a knife for the old couple, a thick cleaver for the students. Appalling.”

“And inefficient,” Albert said. “Unless the killer’s trying different approaches to discern the most effective. Trial and error. Hypothesis and experimentation. The scientific method.”

I stared at him. “The man’s obviously deranged! And you talk of methods...?”

Hoffmann clucked his tongue. “Sometimes, Herr Einstein, I worry about you.”

“I’m touched, Herr Hoffmann.”

“Exactly. That’s what I’m worried about.” Hoffmann laughed at his own wit and shuffled over to his desk by the front door. “However, should you feel inclined to join the rest of us in the real world, I’d appreciate the schematics of the Beringer application by first post.”

As I turned to my own work, I caught sight of Albert once again leaning back in his chair. He seemed to be staring at a spot on the ceiling. Or perhaps through the ceiling, and the sky beyond, to the very edge of the universe.

I hated to agree with Hoffmann, but Albert’s mind did usually seem everywhere except in this real world of brick and soil and sausage rolls, of yearning and sorrow and sudden, horrible death.

My odd friend Albert. So secretive about his as-yet unpublished physics papers, yet so casually sure that they’d stun the world. At times as playful as a child, at others sober and introverted.

Especially today, since hearing the gruesome news about the murdered family. Albert and I had exchanged not a word, cloaked in a thick silence broken only by the shuffle of drafting papers, the scratching of pens, the muffled ticking of the wall clock.

Until lunch-time arrived...along with an Inspector Kruger of the local police, who entered stamping snow from his boots.

Herr Hoffmann stood, mouth agape, as the tall, slender Kruger pulled his gloves from his hands and saluted.

“Just routine police work,” Kruger assured us. “We have these murders, you see. The whole Department is engaged.”

“Of course.” Hoffmann rubbed his hands nervously. “It’s a comfort, knowing our police are on the job. Berne is a peaceful town. We’ve never known such brutal events before.”

Kruger smiled. “Calm yourself, Herr Hoffmann. Men must be strong. It is our duty.” He turned to me. “Actually, I’m here to ask Herr Franks to come with me. To headquarters.”

“Me?” Like an idiot, I actually pointed to myself.

Albert rubbed his nose inoffensively. “Is Hector a suspect in these killings, ludicrous as that sounds?”

Kruger tightened his jaw. “I can’t say more.”

I looked over at Albert, whose own jaw tightened. He’d never handled authority very well, he told me once. I could plainly see that now.

“I suggest I accompany you, Hector,” he said at last. “As your second.”

Kruger looked as though he were about to respond, but then merely shrugged. He ushered us out the door.
* * *

The police wagon, wheels rattling, turned onto Aar-strasse. I frowned at Kruger, wedged between Albert and myself in the rear. “This is not the way to police headquarters.”

Kruger shrugged. “We must make one stop first.”

We pulled to the curb before a rambling, two-storied house shadowed by ancient firs thick with snow. A squad of uniformed policemen milled out on the lawn, hugging themselves against the cold, smoking brown cigarettes. As we climbed out of the wagon, the men came quickly to attention.

Beside me, Kruger merely grunted his displeasure and led me up the icy porch steps and into the foyer of the somber house. I heard Albert’s steady shuffle behind us.

The first horror awaited us in the drawing room. Splashes of dried blood covered the carpet, the arms of chairs, the gilt-edged picture frames—-even the still-hanging Christmas tinsel and carefully-wrapped presents under the tree.

The Inspector pointed at an obscene black stain near the hearth. “Herr Gossen and his wife were killed there.”

I couldn’t find words, but I heard Albert’s quiet voice behind me. “The children?”

Kruger nodded to the staircase. “Upstairs.”

He led the way up the velvet-lined steps and into the first of two bedrooms. Toys, stuffed animals, and colorful downy blankets attested to the ages of the former occupants. Twin boys, I recalled from the Gazette, not yet five.

Kruger drew our attention to the little beds. Blood-soaked. Sheets a tangle. “Murdered as they slept,” he said. “Perhaps it was a blessing.”

I found my voice. “But why are you showing this to us? To me? I don’t understand--”

Kruger stirred. “You will. In the girl’s room.”

He led us to the second bedroom, evidently that of a girl in her teens. Soft, feminine. I thought I saw the glint of a blond hair in the afternoon sun, where it adhered to a blood-stained pillow.

I took a breath, then felt Albert’s reassuring grasp on my arm. It was he who questioned the Inspector this time.

“I don’t see the reason for bringing us here,” he said.

In reply, Kruger took a folded cloth from his pocket. Within lay a heart-shaped gold locket, smeared with blood.

“It was found clutched in the dead girl’s hand,” Kruger explained. “Which was severed from her body, and lay a few feet away from it on the floor.”

“No!!” I cried. It took both of them to keep me upright as I swayed, gasping. “It...it can’t be...”

“So you recognize the locket?” Kruger stared at me.

I nodded dumbly. How could I not? It had once been mine.
* * *

“It was a cruel act,” Albert was saying to Kruger, as we sat in the Commissioner’s office at police headquarters. “And unnecessarily theatrical.”

“Perhaps.” Kruger’s bald head shone in the wintry light from the windows. “But I thought it might be effective.”

“For what? Extracting a confession from Herr Franks? You can’t possibly suspect Hector of these heinous crimes?”

I sat in silence on a padded bench at the far end of the large, wood-paneled room. I felt disembodied. Adrift in a nightmare from which I couldn’t awaken.

Until I was startled from my melancholy by the arrival of a slender young girl, in the company of a police matron.

“Mina!” I said, leaping from my seat. Upon seeing me, Mina froze in her tracks, face turning pale as chalk.

She was as beautiful as I remembered, luminous eyes now red-rimmed from recent tears.

Kruger rose, and turned to Albert.“This is Fraulein Mina Strauss,” he explained. “She was a school-mate of the late Fraulein Gossen.”

Mina’s voice quavered. “Poor Katie. She was my best, my truest friend. We...” She burst into tears, hands covering her face. The stoic matron idly handed her a handkerchief.

“Fraulein Strauss is also known to Herr Franks,” Kruger said, finally looking at me. “Isn’t that so?”

“Yes. I...we...” I looked at the floor. “I loved her once. Some few years ago.”

“Love?” Mina’s eyes found mine. “It was an infatuation, Hector. I was only sixteen, and even I had the wit to know that.” She turned to Kruger. “Hector worked for a summer for my father. He...flattered me with his attentions. But I never returned his affections. Even after he sent me the locket.”

Kruger pointed to the gold locket on the table next to us, still nested in the folded cloth. “This locket?”

Mina nodded, miserable. “I shouldn’t have kept it, I know. But it was so pretty. Perhaps I’m vain. Perhaps...” Her smile back at me was kind. “I’m sorry, Hector.”

Albert took a step forward, hands in the pockets of his loose trousers. Old pipe ash flecked his sweater.

“Might I ask how the locket came into the possession of Fraulein Gossen?”

Mina gazed warily at Albert’s careless appearance. I could sense that she found him...unimpressive.

“I gave it to Katie,” she said carefully. “As a token of our friendship, our bond. We shared a special kinship...a...” She looked at me for a long moment, then away, as though having decided I wouldn’t understand. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Now my world is over. Finished.”

I found her words perplexing, and glanced over at Albert. But his expression was unreadable.

Suddenly, a heavy tread sounded in the doorway. It was the large, imposing figure of Commissioner Otto Burlick. In his wake came a sturdy-looking young man wearing rimless glasses and a crisp college uniform beneath his winter coat. He had the same thick, dark features as the Commissioner.

Behind him, lounging in the doorway, was another college youth. Though he had the sullen look of a street ruffian.

Burlick lumbered over to his desk, rumaging hastily through the top drawer until he pulled out a check-book.

“Won’t be a minute,” he said to the room, exasperated. “My son Jeffrey is in need of a loan.”

“It is a loan,” Jeffrey, the first boy, protested. He glanced neither at me, Mina, nor the Inspector. “I’ll pay it back.”

“Don’t grovel, Jeffrey,” said the boy in the doorway. “It’s disgusting.”

Jeffrey whirled at this, face reddening. “Do shut up, Hans. If it wasn’t for you, egging me on...”

Hans laughed sourly. “So now it’s my fault you bet on the wrong boat?”

Burlick looked up from his desk, bristling. “Hans Pfeiffer? I’ve heard Jeffrey speak of you. You think you’re some kind of tough character. No doubt you’d benefit from a good hiding.” He turned to his son. “As for you, Jeffrey. Gambling on athletic events? Is this what they encourage at your university? I shall have to speak to the Chancellor...”

Jeffrey gasped, mortified. “Father, don’t!”

Burlick returned to his check-book. Jeffrey, seemingly at a loss, swept the room with his eyes. Then, with a forced casualness: “Hello, Herr Einstein.”

Albert registered a mild surprise. “Do I know you?”

“I’ve seen you around the campus,” Jeffrey said easily. “A real scholar, I’m told. Not like me. You wouldn’t want to hear about my difficulties with mathematics.”

Albert gave him a rueful smile. “I can assure you, young sir, mine are far worse.”

The sound of Commissioner Burlick ripping a check from his book drew our collective gaze. He gave it to Jeffrey, glowering. “Now go! And, by God, look to your studies.”

Jeffrey nodded, stuffed the check in his pocket and sauntered out. Hans turned to follow, but not before giving Mina a leering wink that made her look away.

* Return tomorrow for Part 2.

(c)2010 D. Palumbo reprinted in Candid Canine, http://candidcanine.blogspot.com

December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas in Miniature: An Original Christmas Tale by Robert W. Walker, Part 2



Part 2: "The Thief of Christmas Present"
By Robert W. Walker

(** If you missed the beginning, read Part 1 of The Thief of Christmas Present.**)

(Photos: Christmas Santa House by C. Verstraete, see more pix here; Festive gold and white holiday scenes featuring the miniatures of Lissu, used w/ permission. See more pix and visit her blog)

Today we conclude our original Christmas tale by Robert W. Walker, author of more than 40 novels including the latest,Titanic 2012 (Curse of RMS Titanic - an Inspector Alastair Ransom title) - a time-travel, multi-genre novel touching both 1912 and 2012.

To recap: the family are watching the film to see who is stealing the Cluewellens' Christmas from Julia's dollhouse.

Shortly after, Stevie entered the room, asking, "What kinda movie is this?"

"The movie that's gonna prove you stole the Cluewellens' Christmas!"



"I didn't touch that stuff! I didn't do it, mom!"

Joannie came down from her room and asked, "Are you still blaming that on Stevie? He wouldn't do that!"

"We got you on tape this time, Joannie...or Stevie...whichever one of you guys did it, so there!" Julia set her jaw, determined to watch every hour of the unmoving movie frame by frame. "Mom and me...we gotcha good now. Liar."

Joannie came at her sister. "Who're you calling a liar? Me?"

"If the shoe fits!"

"Enough, both of you! Stop it. Either sit down and watch the tape or leave the room, but please, no more accusations, Julia, and no more shouting, Joannie-and you, Stevie, stop crying."

"I didn't do it," he complained through tears. "I always get blamed for everything!"


"All I know is somebody stole the Cluewellens' Christmas tree now!" Julia shot back.

"Hey, what's that?" asked Joannie, pointing at the screen. "I saw movement-a shadow-back of the miniature."

Julia, Stevie, and Mother Waldron stared at the slight squeaking noise, too, and in a moment, they all watched a pair of whiskers and a brown button nose rise over the back of the miniature at the chimney.

"It's Newton, my ferret!" shouted Stevie. "He's escaped again."

Newton lived up to his name, always finding ways to escape his cage, and often, Stevie allowed him 'free run time' but Newton always returned to his cage. Newton had even found a way out of the house one night.

"What's he doing?" asked Julia. "OMG-he's going down the chimney."

"Like Santa," said Stevie.




"No...more like The Grinch," replied Joannie. "There's your Christmas thief, Julia!"

"But...I mean how...why?" she asked. "Why's he terrifying the Cluewellens and destroying their Christmas?"

"You really think Newton is thinking along those lines, Julia?" Joannie couldn't hold back her laughter.

"Shhh...watch him. Look, look," said Mom. "The little thief! He's dragging the entire tree out the front door."

With the tree clear of the door, it snapped closed, and Newton scurried away with the five-inch high tree, ornaments trailing. He truly did look like a miniature version of The Grinch except that he was brown and not green.

"Stevie's pet's the thief...the whole time," Julia muttered in disbelief.

"What's he doing with all the stolen goods?" asked mom. "Shall we find out?"

"I think you're gonna need a ferret whisperer or a pet shrink to figure that out, Mom," replied Joannie, still laughing.



"Nothing funny about that little rat destroying the Cluewellens' Christmas!" countered Julia.

"Why don't we all just go on a scavenger hunt?" began Mom. "To see where Newton is stashing all the decorations and presents."

"And stockings!" added Julia.

The four of them started for Stevie's room where Newton lived in a cage. Everyone in the family had gotten so used to Newton's escapes and escapades about the house that no one took great notice of him of late.

"What's going on?" asked Jack Waldron, their father, who'd caught them gathered at the foot of the stairs as he came through the door, home from the office.

Everyone spoke at once until Anna calmed them and pointed to the still action shot on the TV. "We caught Newton red-handed. "He's Julia's Christmas thief."

"Must be the shiny stuff attracts Newton, eh?" asked Jack.



"But he's never done this before!" Anna replied. "Any rate, we're heading up to Steve's room to see where he's stashing the goods."

"Say, did anyone read that book that came with the ferret when you bought Newton at the pet store?" asked Joannie, who was browsing the book for any clues.

"Who's got time to read?" asked Julia.

They all went for Stevie's room, and looked into Newton's cage, a made-over fish tank. There, amid the usual sawdust and toy shelters and fake greenery, was a stash of Christmas miniatures, from the tree, to the presents and the stockings. All of it lay in a neat, orderly circular design. The look on Newton's face said, "I confess."



Joannie handed the paperback book on ferrets and ferret behavior to her mother. "Take a look at the last section on page sixteen."

She glanced at the page. "Oh, dear...then this means..."

"What is it?" asked Julia. "Nothing in that book could possibly excuse this rodent's behavior, and as for you, Stevie-this is all your-"

"No, Julia!" countered her father, who'd now read page sixteen. "No way is this Stevie's fault!"

"You owe Stevie and me an apology," Joannie said to Julia, having closed in on her, nose-to-nose. "And all our friends, too!"

"You do owe everyone an apology, Julia," her mother agreed. "In the meantime, Newton is going to need a new name."

"Whataya mean?" asked Julia.

"New name?" asked Stevie.



"Newton is a girl, and she's stealing shiny objects to make a nest, because she's going to have baby ferrets."

"OMG!" replied Julia. "That's it! That explains the mystery."

"But if Newton's not a boy...what're we going to call Newton?" asked Stevie.

"Newtonia?" suggested Joannie, a snicker escaping.

"Why don't we make it Madame Curie," suggested mom. "I think she outsmarted us all. In any event, case closed."

Stevie lifted the flimsy lid and started to reach in to retrieve the Cluewellens' Christmas stuff-his sister's stuff, but Julia stayed his hand. "No, Stevie. She-Madame Curie-she needs it now more than the Cluewellens."

"Aren't you ahhh worried about the Cluewellens?" asked Anna of her daughter.

"They'll understand when I explain it to them," Julia replied and shrugged, "and besides, there's always next year."

Anna hugged Julia and Jack put a hand on his daughter's shoulder, and with the entire family looking on at Newton-now Madame Curie-every one smiled, and if ferrets can smile, Madame Curie smiled back, a knowing glint in her eye.

"I have an idea for the Cluwellens' Christmas," said Stevie.

"What's that? asked Julia.

"Why not give them a front row seat for Christmas?"

"Meaning?"

"Put their house under our tree!"



Everyone agreed it was a wonderful solution, and that Julia had a lot of apologies to make, and that she'd tell and retell Newton's story between now and Christmas quite often indeed.

The End.
(c) 2010 RW Walker published by http://candidcanine.blogspot.com


** I hope you enjoyed this Christmas tale and be sure to come back for another original tale tomorrow. Merry Christmas and the best in the New Year to everyone! As Tiny Tim said, "God Bless us, every one!"

December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas in Miniature: An Original Christmas Tale by Robert W. Walker



Today I have the pleasure of again presenting an original Christmas tale I ran a couple years back by Robert W. Walker, author of some 40 novels.

Walker's latest is the exciting TITANIC 2012, Curse of the RMS Titanic, a multi-genre thriller that touches both past and present, featuring his well-known detective, Inspector Alastair Ransom.




Be sure to return tomorrow for Part 2 of our seasonal tale. Merry Christmas!


The Thief of Christmas Present

By Robert W. Walker

(Photos: Christmas Santa House by C. Verstraete, see more pix)



Julia rushed into her mother's room, her eleven-year-old arms flapping as she said, "Joannie stole my Christmas presents! I just know it was her!"

"Your big sister wouldn't do that, Julia."

"Then its one of her girlfriends."

"I've talked to Joannie, and she's given the third degree to every friend who has been visiting the house since Thanksgiving."

Julia's eyes filled with tears. "Musta been that boyfriend of hers then!"

"He seems like a nice, respectful boy, and whatever would possess him to steal your miniature Christmas presents from beneath your miniature tree?"

Anna Waldron hugged her daughter to her. "We'll find the stolen goods. They're likely somewhere on a shelf. Thoughtlessly moved by one of your little friends."

"No, no mom! I don't let anyone reach into my dollhouse and take out anything, not the figurines, not the furniture, and certainly not the presents under the tree."

Anna wondered how this could keep happening to her daughter. Julia had put heart and soul into her miniature house this year. In fact, she'd begun creating the tree, the ornaments, lights, stockings hanging over the fireplace, and the presents beneath the tree since last Christmas.

She'd got it in her head that her dollhouse ought to have all the ornaments and decorations of any home, that Mr. and Mrs. Cluewellen and their three children who lived in the miniature house ought to have a wonderful Christmas too.





Julia had worked so hard to make it happen, and now, day-by-day, all her work was coming unraveled. The day before she noticed an ornament missing from the tiny tree. The day before that one of the stockings she'd labored so hard to make was gone from the mantel. Poof. Now two of the tiny presents from beneath the tree-gone. Stolen.

"At this rate," moaned Julia, "by the time Christmas gets here, the Cluewellens won't have anything left."

Anna patted Julia's hand. "And The Christmas Crook of the Present will have won!"

"We can't let that happen, mom!"

"We must act, set a trap."

"A trap?"

"Yeah, we'll wire up a trap that will snap on those sticky fingers."

"Then you think it's Stevie?"

"I hope not, but your little brother is at that age. I sure hope he hasn't lied about this."

"Well...it's not a ghost. I asked the Cluewellens if they'd had any problems with anything like a poltergeist, and they said no."

"You believe them?" Mother Waldron laughed, but Julia stared at her, eyes saying, 'not funny'.

"They don't lie, cheat, or steal, mom."

"Neither does your brother or your sister for that matter, young lady."

"Well I'm not lying about it! Someone's stealing the Cluewellens' Christmas right under our noses."



"You set the trap," suggested Anna. "I'm going to set up a concealed camera, so we can get to the bottom of this before..."

Julia looked up at her mother, wondering why she'd stopped talking. "Before all of the presents and decorations are gone?"

"Before you make your sister and your brother angrier with you than they already are."

"Angry with me? I'm the victim here. Me and the Cluewellens."

"Honey, you have accused both of them of stealing and lying about it. Then you accused their friends."

Julia nodded, and for a moment Anna thought her child understood and agreed, but then Julia said, "It could've been one of Stevie's dumb friends."

"Well now, we're going to find out, aren't we?"

"You think it'll work, mom?"

"At the rate things are disappearing, my hunch is that whoever's behind the theft will be back."

They put the trap into play.

They wisely left the miniature house untouched and unmoved, the same enticement as ever.

An entire day and most of the evening went by with young Julia wanting to check the Cluewellens' living room and tree every hour, while her mother insisted they wait and see. When Anna decided the camera's battery would be in need of help, mother and daughter went into her room to determine if anything had been taken. They found the front door closed. Julia gasped when she looked in through the windows. The entire tiny Christmas tree had been taken! All about the front door and steps, glitter appeared like colored snow. Whoever was behind the theft, cleaning up after him-or herself-wasn't a concern.

"It's got to be Stevie or one of his goofy friends," Julia said, tears forming. "Maybe Stevie's too chicken to tell on Tad."

"Let's reserve judgment and see what the camera says."

They made popcorn and popped the film into the USB port of the TV and sat down to watch the unfolding events. Unfortunately, during the first hour, nothing unfolded.

"This is a real snore and a bore," Julia complained, tiring of the popcorn as well.

After a while, Julia began making up a storyline to go with the miniature people inside the house on the screen, and it was so vivid that her mom could almost imagine that the little Cluewellen family was as real as Julia believed them to be. She began to see Mrs. Cluewellen move that feather duster in her hand. But clearing her head and eyes, Mother Waldron thought better of saying she'd begun to see the miniature people roaming around inside their miniature house. Maybe the miniature was haunted at that....

(** Don't forget to see Part 2 of the Christmas Story, The Thief of Christmas Present, by Robert W. Walker tomorrow.

(c) 2010 RW Walker published by http://candidcanine.blogspot.com

December 20, 2010

Miniatures Monday: Egyptian Wizard Boxes






A few of the recent boxes (1/12th scale) I made for my wizard's room, this time with an Egyptian theme.

December 12, 2010

New Christmas story: Christmas at the North Pole Compound



Think you know what goes on at the North Pole during Christmas time?

In Christmas at the North Pole Compound, it's not all Fa-la-la and Ho-Ho-Ho when Santa's elves find someone's stolen the gifts!

Can Chief Elf Investigator Finius Flaherty crack the case by Dec. 24th and save Christmas?? A fun, lighthearted holiday crime story for all ages! - Only .99 cents!

On Kindle and Kindle for pc. (Don't have a Kindle? Download free Kindle for pc.)

December 09, 2010

New Christmas Miniatures!



See I did make a few things! New Christmas bags and Christmas medieval books

December 08, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

Today's the anniversary of John Lennon's tragic death.

Imagine... what other wonderful music he might have made...


December 07, 2010

Oprah picks classics; what about small, indie and midlist authors?


Looks like Oprah has dug in the classics archives for her next two Oprah's Book Club picks: “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. She reportedly hasn't read either one.

I admit, I can't remember all of these two, either, but playing devil's advocate, why not pick the appropriate "A Christmas Carol" (most having seen the movie, probably never read it in print) or "Oliver Twist?"

While Oprah can choose whomever she likes, it's a shame that author Jonathan Franzen, not only lied but got a second chance on her show. Not that second chances are bad, but at the same time, perhaps some lesser known authors could have better benefited from the push?

It's a shame that only names from big publishers, "literary"-style books, and much older classics have been chosen. While everyone should read the classics, will they, even with the "Oprah" touch?

With eBooks and the Kindle selling like gang-busters, wouldn't it be "novel" if Oprah or any of her staff perused some of the many worthwhile eBooks and short story collections by lesser known small press, indie and mid-list authors?

Wouldn't a Kindle or any eBook reader with a selection of books be a neat gift and focus? A suggestion perhaps?

** What do you think?

December 03, 2010

Merry Christmas! Free Artisans in Miniature December issue


An early Christmas gift! Check out the free December issue of the Artisans in Miniature (AIM) magazine.

And don't forget to check out the daily miniatures projects in the free AIM Advent Calendar.

My New "Baby!"



Just brought her home yesterday late afternoon... 7 wk old German Shepherd. Still deciding on a name - Cleo, Gracie, Lacey? Ideas? (We're calling her Gracie it seems. :>))

December 02, 2010

AIM: Artisans in Miniature Miniatures Advent Calendar

How fun! Enjoy a miniature Christmas project a day by AIM artisans.

Click door one and two at this link to access the AIM Advent calendar. Use this link to go to a door each day in December.

December 01, 2010

Wisconsin Regional Writer's Contest

WISCONSIN REGIONAL WRITERS ASSOCIATION SPRING WRITING CONTESTS OPEN JANUARY 1

WRWA Spring contests open January 1, 2011. Entries must be received by March 15.

WRWA Spring contests include the Florence Lindemann Humor Contest, for nonfiction essays or articles with a humorous theme, and the Al P. Nelson Feature Article Contest, for nonfiction articles with a link to Wisconsin. Reminiscences have dominated previous contests, but profiles, essays, how-tos, travel, humor, and round-up articles have made their mark, too.

The contest rules PDF can be found on the WRWA website.
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