FENWAY PARK

FENWAY PARK
art by Andy Jurinko

Monday, June 13, 2011

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 37

Chapter 76 -- Mischa Goss
The minute I read the story in the New York Times, I knew it had something to with Manny La Mancha, and with all of us.
"An Ardent Friend Forever; Then Came the Theft Charges," said the headline.

"When his drinking buddy and fellow hockey fan Jeffrey Shaw was arrested in February in rural Idaho and exposed as Enrico Ponzo, a fugitive mobster from Boston, Mr. Verceles brought a strikingly sunny outlook to the strange story.
He soon moved into Mr. Ponzo’s house in Marsing and said he planned to look after it until his friend, regardless of the ruse he later admitted his life had been, was eventually free. One day, Mr. Verceles said, they would fish together again for Idaho trout.
“What he did in the past,” Mr. Verceles said in an interview at the time, “it ain’t my right to know.”
Now prosecutors say Mr. Verceles, 39, was more curious than he made himself out to be. He and two other men have been arrested and accused of using a jackhammer to break through the foundation of Mr. Ponzo’s house, then using a blowtorch to open a steel safe beneath the floor and stealing more than $100,000 in cash, as well as gold and other valuables.
“It’s way crazy,” said Bodie Clapier, a rancher who grazes his cows next door to the house. “It’s just way crazy.”
The three men, arrested April 15, are charged with conspiracy, burglary and grand theft.
Many people have asked how Mr. Verceles, a mechanic, might have known to look beneath the foundation. Did Mr. Ponzo tip him off? Did someone else? Douglas D. Emery, the Owyhee County prosecuting lawyer who filed the charges, noted that Mr. Ponzo was believed to have overseen the house’s construction more than a decade ago.
“It’s conceivable that whoever put the floor in would have known something,” and that information was somehow passed to Mr. Verceles, said Mr. Emery, who emphasized that he did not know, because federal agents had handled the investigation.
Mr. Ponzo, who had been a fugitive for 17 years, has been extradited to Massachusetts to face charges that include attempted murder. Mr. Clapier said that Mr. Ponzo called him from jail on the day before Easter, and that he sounded surprised and “a little bitter” toward Mr. Verceles.
Mr. Clapier said it was now up to him to feed Otto, Mr. Ponzo’s schnauzer.
“I water my cattle right there,” he said, “so it’s easy.”




CHAPTER 77: Shane Dickey and Sepp Blatter
Why does everyone turn against me? Is there no one left I can trust? First that limp dick Lebby decides to screw me by going to the CIA doctor who hates me and to Park's assistant, Dee Nada, a tough dyke who hates me even more. Now comes that lunatic Russian gangster Misha Goss, whose role in this whole thing has always baffled me. What side is he on?
It's time to turn to someone who makes even me look like a hero -- Sepp Blatter. A real mechanic. He'll know what to do and who to kill, as long as he gets paid enough...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Burning Books

What began as a book rescue mission has become a literary nightmare for a Pike Lake, Sask., woman, Charles Hamilton of CBC reports.

Shaunna Raycraft took over a collection of 350,000 books when a neighbour threatened to burn them after her collector husband passed away.

But now Raycraft and her own husband don't know what to do with all the books and are forced to contemplate burning some books themselves.

Raycraft said she was amazed when she first set eyes on the massive collection kept by their neighbours on a nearby acreage. "There was a house floor-to-ceiling with books," said Raycraft. "He was the collector; she had tried to get someone to appraise the books but they wouldn't come out [to the rural setting]."

"She didn't know how to deal with them so she started to burn them," Raycraft explained.

But the Raycrafts are book lovers and couldn't stand the sight of them being destroyed. Some of the books appear to be old and quite rare. "There was a first edition copy of Black Beauty on the top pile and the bottom was all charred off [from being burned] but the top was just immaculate," she said.

So Raycraft and her husband plunged in and took over the collection, bringing a small house onto their property to accommodate all the books. They piled box after box of books into the house.

"We're talking 30 tonnes of books. The weight of the books is pulling the house apart."

The books range from old textbooks to volumes of Shakespeare to 'How-To' manuals.

Raycraft tried selling the books on eBay, and to collectors and used book stores, but no one wants the task of sorting through them.

So now the Raycrafts have come to the end of the road with all the books. "We are kind of at a standstill," said Raycraft. "I work at two jobs. My husband is a full-time student. We have three kids and no time. And no money. And so we're at the point now where were looking at having to burn some of the books ourselves."

Raycraft said the books need to be in a climate-controlled setting. And they need help and expertise sorting through them. Or just help disposing of them.

"My goal is to get a sea container brought to the house. Most of the boxes are still unopened and unsorted. When you say to somebody,'I have 350,000 books,' it just goes over their head — they have no concept. It's very hard to take a box in and say, 'Here, sort through this and see what you want.'"

Raycraft said she has no idea how much the entire collection is worth but is looking for suggestions as to what to do with it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Assault with a what?

posted Wednesday, June 8th


Man With Dead Weasel Accused of Assault
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 8, 2011 at 3:26 PM ET
HOQUIAM, Wash. (AP) — Police say a man was carrying a dead weasel when he burst into an apartment and assaulted a man in Washington state.
The victim asked, "Why are you carrying a weasel?" Police said the attacker answered, "It's not a weasel, it's a marten," then punched him in the nose and fled.
The attacker was apparently looking for his girlfriend and had gone to her former boyfriend's apartment Monday where the victim was a guest.
KXRO reports he left the carcass behind.
Police later found the 33-year-old Hoquiam man arguing with his girlfriend at another location and arrested him after a fight.
He said he had found the marten dead near Hoquiam, but police don't know why he carried it with him.
A marten is a member of the weasel family.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Don Winslow's 'Savages' gets film and prequel

From Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy comes this very interesting item about a writer I've raved about:

Mystery writer Don Winslow is getting an unexpected bonus out of Oliver Stone's adaptation of his book "Savages," about pot growers in Southern California getting in too deep.

First, the film begins shooting next month with the Oscar-winning director at the helm. With Stone comes a star-heavy cast, including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch, Salma Hayek, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson and Benicio Del Toro.

So what's the bonus? Winslow is now writing a prequel to "Savages," an idea that came out of working with Stone and screenplay co-author Shane Salerno, Deadline Hollywood reports. Not coincidentally, the new prequel will be published by Simon & Schuster around the time of the film's release in 2012.

"Savages," which juxtaposes high-end California living with the dangers of the drug trade, includes a powerful drug cartel, a beautiful girl's kidnapping and a dangerous criminal scheme. Our reviewer called it a "marvelous, adrenaline-juiced roller coaster of a novel" and it includes lines such as: "You can spend fifty thousand years practicing meditation or you can buy a gun."

Monday, June 6, 2011

POSTED MONDAY, JUNE 6TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 74: Dana Dancer, Youda Best, Al Inc.

I have a confession to make, and I just got Youda on her cellphone so I could explain it to all you guys at the same time.

I've been working both sides of the road here -- first for Manny La Mancha and then for Drew Lebby and his boss, Mr. Heartbag. When I pulled Al out of that pool, I knew that Manny had engineered it. But why? I had to find out.

Al seemed like a good guy. So when he and Quentin called to recruit me to their team, I said yes. Of course I told Lebby and his boss about it -- those guys are dangerous if you screw with them.

Not that Manny was any kind of a pussy, either. But I'd known him for a long time, and after he got popped I missed him. A classy crook…

Any road, I just can't go on with this deception. I'm calling you all to tell you that I'm back on your side. If anything happens to me, you'll know who did it...

CHAPTER 75: Drew Lebby, Dr. Elvin Park, Dee Nada

So we gathered in a booth at the Watergate Hotel's coffee shop -- a beautiful choice on their part, I must admit.

"Okay, you asked for this meeting," Dr. Park said. "What's up?"

"What's up is that I think my boss, Heartbag himself, has designs on my future," I replied.

"And what would you like us to do about it?" Nada asked.

"I think it's about time for me to get some protection, as the actress said to the Bishop. Are you still handing out those Stay Out of Jail passes?"

"That depends on what you have to trade," the good doctor said. "Right now, the only thing we don't know is what both La Mancha and Al saw that made them so dangerous. You have any thoughts on that?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," I answered. "Let me make a couple of calls and see what I can find out from a contact I've recruited."

Nada started to say something, but shut up after a quick look from Dr. Park...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Norma Jean


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

From the always crunchy Carolyn Kellogg, writer of the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy blog, comes this gorgeous item:

Norma Jean Mortenson was born on this day in 1926 right here in Los Angeles; she would endure a difficult childhood and become screen star Marilyn Monroe.

Although she often played blond bimbos, Monroe was quite a reader. There’s a photograph of Monroe reading “Ulysses” by James Joyce in what looks like down time during a playground photo shoot. Of course, since it’s Marilyn, she’s wearing a bathing suit. Such is the price of pinup-dom.

When she died in 1962, Marilyn Monroe’s library included “The Fall” by Albert Camus; a book of lectures by J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb; stories by Chekhov; Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”; Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio”; two books by Theodore Dreiser; three books by Bertrand Russell; lots of plays; “Moses and Monotheism” by Sigmund Freud; and “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert. Those are all part of Marilyn Monroe’s library as catalogued by volunteers on the Web site LibraryThing.

In 2010, Farrar, Straus and Giroux released a book of Monroe’s own writings, “Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe.” In our review, Richard Schickel noted that the book showed how much Monroe “became a devoted reader of serious literature.”

Happy 85th birthday, Marilyn Monroe.

Greetings, American Liz

From W Magazine, this nice gift -- the trailer for David Fincher's upcoming (December) film version of Steig Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

"We gave you an exclusive preview of Rooney Mara’s complete Salander transformation...and now we’ve got the official trailer," says the magazine. "It’s signature Fincher from the looks of it, and while there isn’t a lick of dialogue (just the brilliant Trent Reznor and Karen O. cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song"), it’s every bit as haunting as we could have hoped for."

Thanks, W.. Links served up at other sites now seem to have been removed by Sony Pictures, so you're the only game in town...

FORGET ABOUT IT: installment 35

POSTED MONDAY, MAY 30th

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 71: Drew Lebby

The New York Times story had Shane Dickey's name all over it. "Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder," said the headline. Turns out that one of his old hunting buddies -- Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater -- had taken $529 million from the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for an attack on the United Arab Emirates.

"The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts… Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year," said the Times article.

"The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The foreign troops are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion."

It was time to call Mr. Heartbag and find out what I could about this caper.



CHAPTER 72: Shane Dickey

Lebby thinks he's so cute, asking me if I had anything to do with those ragheads' latest mess.

I actually chuckled as I answered him: "If I told you, I'd have to kill you -- or have some Arab mercenary do it."

Lebby laughed back, although I think there was a hint of fear in his throat. Good. Let him be scared shitless. Better men than him have died because they got cute with me…



CHAPTER 73: Dr. Elvin Park, Dee Nada

"Our friend the Feeb just called," I told Dee on her secret cell. "He wants to meet with us ASAP."

"Did he say why?"

"I think it has to do with what we thought," I told her. "We know he's been working for Heartbag. Maybe he's beginning to be frightened by this latest affair in Abu Dabai. Anyway, I'll call him back and set up a meeting. How's tomorrow morning at about ten for breakfast at our favorite spot?"

"Sounds good," said Dee. "Meanwhile, I'll make a couple of calls to Al's friends, to see what they've been hearing."



TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, June 6th.

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.
Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

My Favorite Title of the Month

My Favorite Title of the Month
POSTED TUESDAY, MAY !7th

Product Description and Reviews from Amazon.com

"Total genius." --Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, father of two

"A children's book for grown-ups! I really did laugh out loud--hilarious!" --David Byrne, musician, father of one

"I wish this book had been around during my daughter's overly protracted sleep rituals! Finally, someone tells it like it really is. This is no-guilt funny and a godsend!" --Cristina Garcia, author of The Lady Matador's Hotel, mother of one

"This is the most honest children's book ever written. And it's f**cking hilarious." --A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, father of three

With illustrations by Ricardo Cortes, Go the F**k to Sleep is beautiful, subversive, and pants-wettingly funny--a book for parents new, old, and expectant. You probably should not read it to your children.

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 34

POSTED MONDAY, MAY 16TH



(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)



CHAPTER 67: Adan, Al

I watched Al Jr. and Saul leave for L.A. Drew had come through. I was glad to see that Suzie was nowhere in sight. I waited until the workers went home, then knocked on the door. Al opened it, on a walker.

"Shall we start?" I asked.

"Why not -- but try to keep the pain down, okay?"

"That's up to you. The truth is I can keep it down or crank it way up -- depending on how you answer my questions."

"What the hell do you mean?"

"Well, the people who pay me -- not your insurance company -- want me to get some information from you. If you tell me what they want to know, I'll go easy on you. I am a trained therapist, so I can probably even give you some relief…"

"And if I don't?"

"Don't even think about it, old man." I reached down, grabbed Al's knee and gave it a very hard squeeze.

Al screamed like a stuck pig. I squeezed hard again; he screamed even louder this time. This wasn't going to be easy, I thought. "Come on, pal" I said. "Give us both a break…"



CHAPTER 68: Suzie

I was sitting in the back yard with my laptop, catching some sun while I checked out a few recent Alzheimer's items. I heard Al's first scream of pain, then his second. What in hell was going on?

I slipped quietly into the house, stopping in our bedroom to pick up Saul's baseball bat. In the living room, I saw Mr. Gorgeous pressing down hard on Al's injured knee.

Without even thinking about it, I swung the bat hard against Adan's head. He collapsed like a sack of potatoes.

I went over to Al, who was pale and shaking from pain. "Don't try to talk," I told him, then handed him a glass of water and two extra strength Tylenol. "I'm going to make a couple of calls…"



CHAPTER 69: Quentin

Suzie's call scared the hell out of me. We all thought the attacks on Al were over, now that Chief Gates and his gunsel were history. So who was behind this one?

Who really wanted to know whatever it was Al had seen so badly that they'd use torture to find out? I called Hugh's boss, Dee Nada, who sounded as surprised as I was.

"Were the youngsters all there?" she asked.

"Suzie says that Saul and Al. Jr. got a call from an FBI guy who said he needed to see them in his L.A. office that evening."

"I think I'd better get to Elvin about this," she said after a moment. "Sounds like we've got a high level Feeb who's gone double…"



CHAPTER 70: Dr. Elvin Park

What was that over-eager guy's name who had tried so hard to make nice? Drew Lebby, that was it. I checked with my FBI contacts, but all they could find out was that the L.A. meeting was run by an agent named Garry Larsson. "He's one of our best and straightest," his boss assured me."

Larsson was the guy who had called me yesterday. All my instincts had shouted "No!" But maybe that was just paranoia talking. Still, I decided to call Larsson again and do a little probing…



TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MAY 23RD

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 33

POSTED MONDAY, MAY 9TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 64: Suzie

Every time I snuck a look over at that big, gorgeous, coffee-colored Adan, he was looking at me. The mutual attraction in our eyes should have been obvious to anyone, but Saul and the Als were preoccupied with checking out this new leg-saver.

I'd never cheated on Saul -- not my style. My old man screwed anything that could walk; it was what had finally broken up my parents' marriage, and I took it much worse than my mother did. Leon Charpentier had gone back to Canada and now made a living writing pseudonymous mystery novels which he self-published on the Internet. I never saw him.

It was time to stop this nonsense. "So, Adan, do you think you can help Al get around?" I asked.

"Definitely," he said. "When should we start?"

I noticed that he too had stopped playing the eyes game. "What do you think, Al?"

"The sooner the better," Al said.

"Is tomorrow too soon?" I asked Adan.

"I still have to get final permission from your insurance provider," Mr. Gorgeous answered. "Let's say the day after -- I know I have an hour open at 5 p.m."



CHAPTER 65: Adan

I called Drew Lebby as soon as I got out of Ventura. He was my immediate superior, even if I hated what he asked me to do. "The geezer is willing," I said. "But he has a support team -- his son and some geek he calls his assistant." I deliberately left out the girl, because I didn't want to have to hurt her.

"I'll see if I can get rid of them for a couple of hours," Lebby said. "When did you arrange to start?"

"I said day after tomorrow, after five. The ranch should be quiet then."

"Okay. Remember, Zymer saw or knows something about us that could bring down a shitstorm of trouble. Your job is to find out what he knows, and persuade him to forget about it."

"What if he lives up to his name and really can't remember?"

"Again, that's why we want you on his case. Use your best judgement about how far to go," Lebby said.

"But no killing, right?"

"It hasn't been authorized as yet," he replied. "But it still remains an option."



CHAPTER 66: Drew

I called an old friend at the FBI in L.A. for help. Garry was as straight as I was bent.

"Can you make a call to a CIA guy for me?" I asked. "He seems not to trust me, for some reason or other."

I gave Garry Dr. Parks' number. "Just tell him that you need to talk to two people -- Saul Kearney and Al Zymer Jr. -- tomorrow afternoon, about some aspects of a case you're working on. I'll be there for the session. How would 4 p.m. suit you?"

"I'm fine with that, you sneaky fuck. Then you can buy me dinner and tell me what you're really up to…"



TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MAY 16TH

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 32

POSTED MONDAY, MAY 2ND

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 63: Adan and Al, Inc.

I got to my appointment a few minutes early, to case the place out. The geezer lived in the largest house on a big lemon ranch. It was a quiet spread, full of the smell of lemon blossoms which made me think of that old Harry Belafonte song: Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet. But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.

At this time of day a small labor force was at work on the trees. I decided to make my next appointment much later in the day, when they'd probably be gone -- which should minimize the danger of anyone hearing Zymer's screams.

I rang the doorbell; it was answered by one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen. "Mr. Valenicia?" she asked. I nodded. "I'm Suzie Charpentier, a friend of Al's. We thought we'd all chat with you, if that's okay?"

"Sure." I didn't want to let this one out of my sight.

She took me into the kitchen, where three guys were drinking coffee. "This is Saul, Al's assistant," she said about a tall, pale geek whose eyes blazed with ownership and jealousy. "This is Al Jr." -- gesturing toward a short, scrappy 20-something. "And this is Al Zymer, your patient in waiting."

He looked to be a much older but still feisty version of his son. "Join us -- Adan, is it? You want coffee?"

As Suzie went to fill me a mug, I studied the man that I 'd been sent to torture. "I understand you took a bad fall, Mr. Zymer. Has that happened before?"

"Nope," he replied. "I've had trouble with my legs for a few years, sure. But this time was scary. My right knee just collapsed on me."

"You mind if I take a look?" He rolled up his trouser leg. The knee didn't look too bad, just a bit swollen. I grasped it gently and then pressed. "Oy," said Zymer.

"That hurt?"

"A little. Can it be saved, doc?"

"I think so," I said with a smile. But I knew it would hurt him a lot more before I got what Drew Lebby and his Washington boss wanted...

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MAY 9TH

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

Goodness Nose

From The Naked Scientist via Drew Lebby comes this book-sniffer's delight:

What is the smell of old books? The older the book, the better it smells. I’m not talking about the old mouldy smell of an ill-kept book. I’m talking about the heart-warming smell of a book you’ve loved and kept for twenty years. What is the smell of old books?

We put this question to Jana, Head of Laboratory for Cultural Heritage at the University Library of Slovenia. Latin Dictionary from 1858"A smell or odour is caused by volatile compounds which we perceive by the sense of olfaction. An odour of a book is a complex mixture of odorous volatiles, emitted from different materials from which books are made. Due to the different materials used to make books throughout history, there is no one characteristic odour of old books. A professional perfumer has evaluated seventy odorous volatiles emitted from books and described their smells as dusty, musty, mouldy, paper-like or dry.

The pleasant aromatic smell is due to aromatic compounds emitted mainly from papers made from ground wood which are characterised by their yellowish-brown colour. They emit vanilla-like, sweetly fragrant vanillin, aromatic anisol and benzaldehyde, with fruity almond-like odor. On the other hand, terpene compounds, deriving from rosin, which is used to make paper more impermeable to inks, contribute to the camphorous, oily and woody smell of books. A mushroom odour is caused by some other, intensely fragrant aliphatic alcohols.

A typical odour of ‘old book’ is thus determined mixture of fragrant volatiles and is not dominated by any single compound. Not all books smell the same."

Not A Woman to Mess With

Not A Woman to Mess With
Cover art: David Middleton
POSTED FRIDAY, APRIL 29TH



A couple of weeks ago, I got a Facebook offer which I couldn't refuse, from Linda L. Richards, editor of January Magazine and a contributing editor of The Rap Sheet. Through a smart new electronic publisher called Smashwords, Linda was asking if I'd like to receive a free copy of her new short story, Hitting Back.

You betcha.

I'd read and enjoyed Richards' books about former stockbroker Madeline Carter, especially Mad Money. It is one of the few mystery series which manage to make the world of business as fascinating as the crimes therein.

But Hitting Back is something else again -- an absolutely perfect (except I want a whole book!) look at the life of a professional hit woman. Spare, cool and totally convincing, it tells the story of a cypher ("Did you notice? -- you never learn her name or where she's from. A complete shadow figure, yet I'm fairly confident I'll spend time in her company again…" says Richards in her notes) turned into a human being in a few short passages.

Not to spoil your reading pleasure, but here's one quote which caught my attention early on: "I reach into my purse. It is Coach -- authentic Coach, not something you'd buy on Canal Street -- and my fingers touch the cold skin of my thirty-eight. It's a Bersa Thunder, considered to be a good gun for a woman…"

Anyone who has read Richards' other books doesn't need me to tell them how sharp (and often very funny) they are. "Mad Money is a breezy debut," says Adam Woog in The Seattle Times; "For unforgettable characters and sheer suspense, remember Linda L. Richards' name," says Gayle Lynds; "A bracingly intelligent whodunit," says Laura Lippman.

Mad Money bristles with characters like Emily, an ambitious and untrustworthy movie biz wannabe who says at one point, "Present company -- myself excluded, of course -- are on the A list. The movies I work on are somewhat below the B list. Lately I've been thinking that, if you want to change lists, it would be a good idea to hang with people from the list you aspire to be on." She snagged a scallop wrapped in bacon from a tray as it went past. "The food's better up here, too. We do a party at my level, you're lucky to get pizza."

Part of Richards' efforts to give Hitting Back as much attention as possible is to spread the word about her next Carter caper, the upcoming The Next Ex. Put me down for a copy.

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 31

POSTED MONDAY, APRIL 25TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 61: Al Takes A Fall -- Suzie

I was still clicking away on my computer, which I'd set up in Al's large living room, trying to find more connections between Dickey's mother's senility and his own mysterious motives. It was a gorgeous day, the smell of lemons drifting in through the windows, and I must have nodded off…

Al's shout woke me. "Can I get some help in here?" he called from his office. "I've fallen and I can't get up!"

He was stretched out on the carpeted floor, jammed between his overturned chair and a bookcase. "Have you broken anything?" I asked. "How did it happen?"

"Nothing broken, as far as I can see. What happened was that my right leg just collapsed on me. Lucky I wasn't in the bathroom!"

Saul and Al Jr. were bouncing around in the backyard on a trampoline which we'd all bought used from craigslist. "Guys, I need you in here," I shouted. "Al's taken a fall and needs help getting up." He was a small guy, 150 pounds at most, but I didn't want to try to lift him on my own and cause serious damage to both of us.

"Hold on there, pops," said his son in a soothing, concerned voice. "Let's make sure you're okay before we start yanking you around. How long has that leg been bothering you? And has this ever happened before?"

"No -- although I do seem to have gotten shakier than I used to be. I've been meaning to ask Doc Banman about it…"

"I'll call him right now," Saul said. "Should I also call the paramedics?"

"Please God, no! They'll want to take me to the hospital, and that I really don't need."

As we soon found out, going to the hospital wasn't the worst thing Al could imagine...



CHAPTER 62: Enter Adan, a Demented Physical Therapist

I got the call while smoking my favorite cigar -- a Hemingway Short Story by Arturo Fuente, given to me by one of my private clients.

"Got a job for you, big fella," said the voice that had become a part of my nightmares. Well, not so much the voice -- it was an ordinary, accentless American drone -- but what it asked me to do.

Despite what you might believe, I get no pleasure from hurting people. I'm much happier making them feel better. But pain brings in a lot more money -- tax free cash -- and I can certainly use it.

"No killing, right?" I asked.

"Absolutely. We have people who can do that a lot better than you could. But it pays more -- something you might want to think about…"

He rattled off the details. Some senior citizen with a silly name had taken a bad fall in Ventura, sixty miles north of where I was. Strings had been pulled or twisted to get me assigned to the case by his medical insurance company. My first appointment was tomorrow morning.

"What is it you want this time?" I asked.

"This old fart saw something he shouldn't have. We want him to be persuaded to forget about it. The problem is that he might not even remember what he saw. That's why we're giving this job to our top man. The first time I heard about it, I thought, 'This sounds like a job for Adan Valencia.' But we'll talk more about it tomorrow, after you get a chance to size up the situation."

"Half in advance, as usual," I reminded him.

"Twenty-five hundred going into your account as we speak."

He hung up and I took a deep breath. Then I went out to CPK for dinner and an early night.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MAY 2ND

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

FORGET ABOUT IT -- INSTALLMENT 30

POSTED WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20TH (To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)



CHAPTER 60 -- The Return of Drew Lebby

Okay, I almost blew it. I had slipped so well into my cover role as a disgruntled Feeb that I seriously underestimated my opposition.

Dickey warned me that Dr. Elvin Park was much sharper than he looked at first glance, and that his deputy, Dee Nada, was even sharper. But Dickey also tended toward serious paranoia the weaker his heart got, and his fears were starting to become just a tad boring.

What to do about it? Clean up the mess that the demented LAPD Chief Gates had left behind, first of all. He was no doubt spilling what little he knew to the CIA and the FBI. Which is why I took a chance and called Dr. Park.

"How did you get this number?" was his first question.

"We're on the same team, last I looked."

"Tell me again, just who in hell are you?"

"Drew Lebby. Friends in common thought we might exchange some information, you know? Sharing, all like that?"

"Where can I reach you?" he asked abruptly. "And who is your supervisor?"

Right. I was going to say "Shane Dickey" and wait for some applause. "Why don't I have him call you directly," I answered after a pause. Then I hung up -- which was what I should have done before even thinking about calling this mystery medic.

I'd heard that Park was that rarest of creatures in the spook world -- a totally honest and honorable man. Now I knew that his considerable power came from a combination of these features, plus an awesome intelligence.

How much did he know, for instance, about just how involved Dickey had been in the Valerie Plame mess -- what we now laughingly called "Operation Scooter"? Even that prime putz Oliver Stone had figured it out in W. (And wasn't Richard Dreyfus terrific as our beloved boss?)

But if Park knew (or guessed) that Dickey had leaked the fake news about Plame's husband finding the makings of weapons of mass destruction in darkest Niger, and then brainwashed a bunch of politicians to convince W. to push the button, did he also know about Al Zymer and Manny La Mancha seeing something they shouldn't have seen-- together or separately?

Thinking about all this was giving me a headache. Maybe Dickey was slipping; maybe it was time for me to take some of the kind of drastic action I'd learned at his feet…



TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, APRIL 25th.



Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.



Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

SO LONG, GEOFF -- AND THANKS FOR ALL THE LUNCHES

SO LONG, GEOFF -- AND THANKS FOR ALL THE LUNCHES
POSTED MONDAY, APRIL 18TH

Geoff Miller, the shrewd and genial founding editor of Los Angeles Magazine who gave many writers (including me) the chance to write and survive in Southern California, died over the weekend, reports LA Observed via The Wrap.

Geoff died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder, said his wife, Kathryn Leigh Scott. He was 74.

My favorite quote from the obits:

Miller said, "We got them to agree to do some of their best work for almost no money by providing them with a journalistic freedom they rarely found in other publications of the day -- as well as with frequent three-martini lunches."

Goodbye, old friend -- and frequent provider of small but welcome checks.

SARAH SEZ IT BEST

POSTED SATURDAY, APRIL 16TH

"Edmund Wilson was the leading literary critic of his generation," writes Sarah Weinman on her new blog. "He was also an accomplished tax delinquent. From 1946 to 1955, Wilson did not file any income tax returns. Taxes were withheld from his salary at The New Yorker, but the proceeds from his best-selling novel “Memoirs of Hecate County” and other freelance work went to pay for his two divorces, three children and various houses.

"The Internal Revenue Service eventually caught up with him, hitting him with some $68,000 in back taxes and penalties. Even after his death in 1972, his wife was still dealing with the paperwork.

"Jenny Schuessler’s essay ends up (naturally) being about DFW and the story-behind-the-story of THE PALE KING (including his research into tax history, interviews with accountants, etc.) but one of these days I am going to put together a monster essay or anthology about writers and their tax problems*. Because there are so many writers with so many tax issues and every now and then those problems get written about in fiction, like what Margery Allingham did with one of my favorite of her Albert Campion mystery novels, THE BECKONING LADY.

"Seriously, I am going to get to work on this ASAP."

*speaking as a writer who is only getting her tax issues in order this year, haha.

SON OF A GROUCH

SON OF A GROUCH

Arthur Marx , at 11, with Groucho Marx, on the set of “Duck Soup” in 1932.
POSTED FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH

One of the first books I reviewed for the New York Times was 1972's Son of Groucho -- the second book about his father by Arthur Marx.

Art died yesterday at 89 in his Los Angeles home. As William Grimes, former NYT restaurant reviewer and author of the splendid Appetite City reports in his obit, "His own show-business career was varied and long, writing Hollywood screenplays and scripts for some of television’s most popular sitcoms.

"Taken together, Arthur Marx’s two books about his father offered a bittersweet picture of life in the Marx home. He described himself as desperate both to escape from his father’s shadow and to please him, an impossible task. The comic genius who kept millions in stitches was, in his private life, miserly and emotionally distant.

“'No matter how much he loves you, he’ll rarely stick up for you,'” Mr. Marx wrote… “'He’ll make some sort of wisecrack instead to keep from getting involved. It’s a form of cowardice that can be more frustrating than his monetary habits.'”

Doyle Me In

POSTED WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13TH

BY LAURIE R. KING

"The last of the stories for A Study in Sherlock have come in—Les Klinger and I read them, made some small changes, and now we’ve sent the manuscript off to Random House: whee!

And the best part? They’re all fabulous. Absolutely great.

"Neil Gaiman writes about bees, China, and A Certain Beekeeper. Tom Perry set his story in 1901 Buffalo, New York. SJ Rozan’s is built around 'The Man With the Crooked Lip.' Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak meets 'The Eyak Interpreter.' Colin Cotterill did us a graphic story—that’s graphic as in drawings, not as in overt gore. And the 90 files he sent his story in has given Random House a…challenge (better them than me, thank heavens.) And by way of bonus, Les Klinger and I did an introduction—plus, there’s Twinterview (an interview, in 140 characters) between Les and Mary Russell!

"In fact, thinking over how great this anthology is going to be, maybe we’ll post brief snippets here from the various stories during the months to come, just to whet your appetite.

"Hey, I just finished reading the things, and I’m hungry to read them again!

Laurie R. King

A Study in Sherlock: December 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

POSTED WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13TH

From the still-crunchy Carolyn Kellogg over at Jacket Copy on the soggy Los Angeles Times comes this great item:

"It took two 10-foot U-Haul trucks packed to the ceiling to carry Tom McGuinn's collection of mystery novels away. McGuinn's inventory, amassed over more than 40 years, has been given by his widow to the nonprofit Friends of the Pasadena Public Library. On Saturday the organization will be selling those books in a massive mystery book sale to benefit the library's programs.

"In all, there are about 9,000 mysteries, stretching from the last few years back to the 1970s. The books are, for the most part, bestsellers -- books by Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Daniel Silva, Jonathan Kellerman and many, many more.

"Of those books, more than 3,600 have been signed by their author. That's an enormous number McGuinn gathered from various sources, according to the Friends of the Pasada Public Library's Helen Overstreet. He went to book signings, attended the annual Book Expo publishing conference and bought them signed from bookstores when he traveled.

"'Everything is in absolutely pristine condition,"' Overstreet added. There are hardcovers and paperbacks, and almost all -- even those signed books -- will be sold for 50 cents to $5.

"A few of the book books are signed and numbered limited editions (could they have come from Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop in New York?). Although she suspects they may be worth much more, Overstreet says they will be priced at around $20.

"The mystery book sale will be held at Roosevelt Elementary School in Pasadena. There will be a $20 fee for early birds at 9 a.m.; admission is free after 9:45. The Friends of the Pasadena Public Library ask buyers to bring their own bags and boxes; they've got their hands full just getting everything alphabetized. The sale is cash only."

NEVER TOO MUCH

POSTED FRIDAY, APRIL 8TH

When you've gone on about a fine writer like John Shannon as many times as I have, you're bound to find yourself making the same points and/or jokes on occasion. Some editors (you know who you are) worry about things like that. Get over it.

For example, I think that I first wrote this line in THE RAP SHEET: "In 1999, some silly bastard wrote: 'The hands-down winner in the ‘Where Is the Next Raymond Chandler Coming From?’ sweepstakes goes to The Cracked Earth, by John Shannon ...”

That silly bastard was me, of course. But was it for the august digital journal you are engrossed in as we speak? Or was it for my own blog, or for the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times, before they become bound at the bum?

Never mind. The point is that I've reveled in the skills -- wit, action, acid humor, heartbreaking characters -- on display in every one of Shannon's books about Jack Liffey ever since. The first few were original Berkley paperbacks of unusually high literary quality, which opened my eyes and caused me to arrange a breakfast interview with Shannon at the Firehouse on Main Street in Santa Monica.

Out of that exchange evolved the Suicide Club (named after a cycle of Robert Louis Stevenson short stories), whose members met at the Farmers’ Market in downtown L.A. on Saturday mornings, our ranks growing to include Dick Lochte, Richard Brewer, Tom Nolan, Gary Phillips, the late and much-missed Bruce Cook (aka Bruce Alexander), and our most gorgeous member, Twist Phelan.

Now comes the 13th in the Liffey series, A Little Too Much, just out from a smart British publisher called Severn House. Here's some of what Booklist's Bill Ott had to say in a starred review:

It starts out as a simple missing-persons case — find a marquee-caliber but notoriously troublesome African American actor who has disappeared in the middle of a shoot. Butb soon enough L.A. private investigator Jack Liffey is doing what he always does, trying desperately to help set the world right: “He wished he were three of four different people so he could watch over everything that needed watching over.” Maybe five or six would be good this time, as the watching over includes not only the actor, who is suffering from schizophrenia while trying to find his father, a former ‘60s radical turned drug dealer who is also in desperate need of help. Also in jeopardy are Jack’s daughter, Maeve, now a UCLA student; his live-in lover, Gloria, who is undergoing a midlife crisis that has landed her in the bed of a detective friend of Jack’s; and a good-hearted Jamaican who has fallen into the employ of a drug kingpin.

"I’m not much of a detective," says Jack at one point, "but I keep coming. That’s my virtue…"


Since my own first piece about Liffey, I’ve been joined by a ragtag bunch of reviewers in praising Shannon’s books -- everyone from Michael Connelly and Kent Anderson to Mike Davis and Clancy Sigal. He also became the first author I knew personally to make the big jump from paperback originals to hardcover. (I think Harlan Coben did it first, but I don't know him). Other titles included Palos Verdes Blue, The Devils of Bakersfield, The Poison Sky, The Orange Curtain, City of Strangers, Terminal Island, and The Dark Streets.


Once Liffey had a good job writing technical manuals and a daughter, Maeve (whose part grew as the series progressed). “His satisfactions now lay in disdain and self-control,” explains Shannon, “in his resistance to all the easy compensations that had once sustained him--cigarettes or drugs or drink or even the tough, edgy novels he had once read endlessly and that now seemed to be weirdly leaking back into his world.”


But let me step aside and let Jack speak for himself:


About the actor he's been hired to find: "Jhon had been her only child, an accident of religious intoxication from dancing too near a tall, handsome Colombian wrestler."

About the job itself: "It was probably the strangest job that had ever swept Jack Liffey into its orbit, and that was saying a lot. His worries had begun in earnest just after his wife (his live-in womanfriend, to be accurate, though he had begged her many times to marry him) had taken herself off for a while with a lover, his daughter had just about got herself killed by L.A. SWAT as she was so characteristically trying to rescue a crazy armed kid at UCLA, and a Colombian drug-runner’s gang had dropped out of the blue and were running wild in town, shooting, bombing and maiming so outrageously that they pushed the sexual scandals of a TV preacher right off the news."

About his daughter: "Maeve came back and hugged her father more reticently than he was used to. He supposed that was just part of the long slow separation of the lander module from the main spacecraft. He knew, in fact, with great pride, that she was a far better human being in many ways than he was."

About his studio bosses: "You probably never heard of it, but there’s this damn book by a guy named Chester Himes called If he Hollers Let Him Go."

Jack Liffey let out a slow breath. It was like being told they were making Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. No sane Hollywood studio would try it. He couldn’t help saying it. ‘Yeah, I know the book. What were you people thinking? It’s the angriest book about the black American experience that’s ever been written.’

I said last year that Shannon's ON THE NICKLE was his best yet. Now I think there's a new champ -- A LITTLE TOO MUCH

And on Wed., April 13th, comes word via Publisher's Lunch that "Severn House, Canongate Books and Granta Publications will now be digitally distributed by Ingram's Coresource."

Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THIS?

POSTED TUESDAY, APRIL 5TH

FROM PUBLISHERS LUNCH:

Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California-Irvine and Harvard PhD Aaron James's ASSHOLES, A THEORY, a philosophical and behavioral inquiry, with copious examples, into what makes a person an asshole, their impact on the human social condition, their alarming contemporary proliferation, and how non-assholes can deal with them, to Gerry Howard at Doubleday, at auction, by Melissa Chinchillo and Donald Lamm at Fletcher & Company (NA).

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An Odd Couple

POSTED WED., MARCH 30TH

Why would one of the best crime writers in the world decide to take on what its cover says is "a novel based on" the work of another writer?

That's what I wondered when I first heard that Don Winslow, author of such classics as The Death and Life of Bobby Z,  The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of the Dog and The Dawn Patrol had signed to write a prequel to Shimbumi, a 1979 thriller by the writer known as Trevanian, whose most famous book was The Eiger Sanction. Money probably had something to do with it, but Winslow has sold many books. And, to my knowledge, he is the only writer to make the work of an insurance investigator -- in California Fire and Life -- not only interesting but fascinating.

Now comes the result of this interesting and unlikely collaboration, Satori. The title itself is a tribute to its source. "The tea room was exquisite, elegant in its simplicity. a perfect expression of shibumi," says the lead character, Nicholai Hel…. In his role as guest, Nicholai admired the skillful brushwork. which depicted the Japanese symbol for satori. "An interesting choice, Nicholai thought. Satori was the Zen Buddhist concept of a sudden awakening, a realization of life as it really is… "Nicholai had never known satori."

The more  pages I turned, the more I understood why Winslow had taken on the project. He is very kind to Trevanian family members, and makes me believe that he really admires the author. Although I would argue that he has known satori in virtually all of his books, the challenge here must have been irresistible. And he pulls it off with so much energy and imagination that Satori turns out to be a total triumph.

When the young half-Japanese, half Russian Hel is suddenly released from an American-run prison in 1951 Japan, he quickly learns from his former captors what they have in mind for him. This gang of spooks, mostly new renderings of, and much more frightening than, the ones in Shibumi, make him an offer he knows he should refuse: they want him to go through painful plastic surgery on his face and carry out a probably-suicidal mission to assassinate a Soviet commissioner  in China. But he also knows that Solange, the older French woman who is looking after him and teaching him to talk, eat, drink, smoke and smell like a real Frenchman, will be in grave danger if he refuses. He has come to love this stunning woman with a tragic backstory of her own.

So, with the identity, face and smell of  a 26-year-old  French arms dealer, Hel enters a very dangerous and beautifully drawn world which eventually takes him to war-torn Vietnam -- where his expertise in playing the game of Go (I bought a set after reading about it here) becomes as important as his physical skills.

On the way, Winslow paints a bleak but touching picture of China two years after Mao seized power -- including a 1952 visit to Tianemen  Square. His book is proof that a fine writer can take on any challenge, and make it work for him.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING INSTALLMENT

No big deal. I'll explain later -- if I live...

BITE ME! I'M A BOOK!

POSTED WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23

From Drew Lebby (last seen as a dreary Fed in Beverly Hills) and ABE comes this delicous morsel:

"Eat Your Words With The International Edible Book Festival

"The International Edible Book Festival is no joke. The event, conjured up by two women over a Thanksgiving dinner with book artists, has become an annual event around the world since 2000.

"The festival coincides with the April (1755) birth date of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French gastronome most noted for his book Physiologie du goût, 'a witty meditation on food'"

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 29

POSTED MONDAY, MARCH 21st

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)



CHAPTER 58 – Ivan Davis

Finally, I get to narrate a chapter of my own, and not have to stand in the shadow of my old chum Al Zymer. We were all still in Los Angeles after our battle on land and in the air, but Dana, Saul and young Al had gone off on some mad adventure of their own. So Al, Quentin and I sat down for lunch in Al's favorite coffee shop on Rexford.

"Just what in hell is this all about?" I asked.

"My guess is that we -- you, Al -- got involved in something big which you didn't realize, or didn't remember, at the time," Quentin said.

"Big is the word," said Al. "I think those guys who saved our asses, including Hugh and his boss lady, come from somewhere really high up the ladder -- probably with a Washington address. So it wasn't Chief Gates at all; he was being used as a cover."

"Okay, sounds good," I said. "But what can we do it about it? And what happened to our Russian friend, Misha Goss?"

"Vot indeed? May I join you gentlemen for an onion bagel and coffee?" Misha asked as he moved from behind a staircase and sat down at our table. "I have found out some tings which might help us all. For instance, would you be as surprised as I was to learn that Manny LaMancha was not really Manny LaMancha?"

"What do you mean?" Al almost shouted. "I knew him for years in L.A. before he went into the Witness Protection program and set up in Ventura!"

"How old was he when you first heard of him?" Misha asked.

"I'd say he was in his 40s -- about ten years younger than me."

"Hokay. That was his second term in Witness Protection. For the first 35 years of his life, his name was Lawrence Zarate, a low-ranking Mafia guy who was charged with crimes that included attempted murder and extortion. But he was also listed as the target of a contract killing planned by one of the other defendants. So into the witness program for Zarate. He wound up somewhere out west, making believe he was a farmer, but he just couldn't stay away from crime. They nabbed him for robbing a bank; I guess he gave the Feds some names he had been conveniently hoarding, so they gave him another chance -- first in Los Angeles and then in Ventura."

"Why did they move him?" Quentin asked.

"Good question. I'm not sure, but it might be something he heard or saw that worried somebody high up in the government…"

CHAPTER 59 -- Al, Inc.

We were all back in Ventura, scratching our heads -- except for Misha, who was still scratching his in L.A. Dana, Saul and my son had called on Quentin's cell to say they were on to something huge -- "You're not going to believe this, Dad!" -- and Suzie had left a message saying she had some new thoughts. "Suzie, why don't you begin?" I said.

"What if," she plunged right in, "what if our least favorite Vice President -- Mr. Heartbag to his pals -- discovered that his own boss was showing serious signs of Alzheimer's? Most people put down POTUS's problems to dumbness and drink, but Dickey knew better: he'd watched his own mother slide into dementia at a relatively early age."

"Okay, let's say you're right," said Quentin. "What next?"

"Here's how I put it together," Suzie replied. "Dickey sees his boss following the same route. What to do about it? Why not have him killed? He arranges for a sniper he's probably used before, but Al sees something with his old partner that he shouldn't have seen. Maybe LaMancha saw the same thing -- but what?"

"I think we can add our discoveries to the package at this point," Dana said. "I used a few connections to find out the name of Dee Nada's boss -- Dr. Elvin Park, the CIA Director of Covert Operations -- and called him in Washington. He wouldn't say much, but didn't warn me off. Add to that is what the boys discovered on their own."

"Remember that Rolling Stone article, the one where a three-star general in Afghanistan was accused by a subordinate of instructing troops to carry out 'psychological operations' to sway visiting members of Congress and persuade them to endorse the allocation of more money and troops for the training effort?" Saul asked. "Well, we found a definite link between that general and Mr. Heartbag!"

"Put them all together, they spell mother," Al said.

"Or, as our new Russian friend Misha might say, 'Verrry interesting,'" added his son.



TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MARCH 28th.



Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.



Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 28

POSTED MONDAY, MARCH 14TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 55 -- Shane Dickey

How had it all gone so wrong? All I had in mind was a bullet to the head of my dim-witted boss, who -- as a President and as a human being -- would be no great loss. It wouldn't be the first time in our recent history that a veep played the Richard III card

But I had to pick as my shooter the guy who had been Al Zymer's LAPD partner, Lou Gabriel, and who then went on to do some dirty work for a mobster with another joke name -- Manny LaMancha. Chief Gates promised to bring Zymer down, but now he was in Federal custody, probably spilling his guts, while Gabriel seemed to be dead: killed during that insane shootout in Rosemead.

What could I do about it? I had a couple of ideas, but they had to be implemented quickly -- before Zymer remembered what he and LaMancha had seen that day…

CHAPTER 56 -- SUZIE

It was the Ron Reagan book and the firestorm of apologies and denials that followed which gave me the strongest clue to what was going on.

The younger Reagan said he never meant to suggest in his memoir that his father had dementia while in the White House. All he meant was that the amyloid plaque characteristic of Alzheimer’s can start forming years before it leads to dementia. “Given what we know about the disease,” his son told one reporter, “I don’t know how you could say that the disease wasn’t likely present in him during the presidency.” While spending a day in the Oval Office in 1987, the younger Reagan noticed that aides were providing his father with scripted index cards ― a technique he often used when giving speeches ― for phone calls lasting five minutes at most, implying signs of a failing memory.

The son noticed other little things that he could not explain and to which he did not attach a name at the time. Based on knowing his father’s demeanor and cognition over a lifetime, the observations created an impression “that something was amiss. It became very difficult for him to string sentences together and eventually just words together,” the son said.

I knew from talking to Al, still in Los Angeles with Saul and Al Jr., that his FBI guards were convinced that Shane Dickey was somehow involved. But why and how were still a fog -- until the light suddenly dawned. It was like coming up from a deep dive: the closer I got to the surface, the surer I was that I had discovered at least a part of what had really happened…

CHAPTER 57 -- Blake Hirskovitz And His New Alligator

The story, by John Asbury, was in the Riverside Press-Enterprise -- e-mailed by a fellow pot grower.

"What's the the size of a cocker spaniel and might make a fine pair of boots? How about an alligator seized from a Hemet home during a Department of Justice raid of a pot house?

"Department of Justice agents raided an East Hemet house and seized almost 2,300 marijuana plants valued at least $1.5 million -- and a four-foot alligator being used to help guard the stash.

"Agents with Arcnet, the Allied Riverside Cities Narcotics Enforcement Team, raided the house and found what they described as a 'watchgator' named Wally in a back room, where it was living in a black cement-mixing tub full of water. Alligators are illegal to own in California."

It sounded like a great idea for my new farm in the middle of Al's lemon orchard, especially now that Major Crime was putting on more pressure.

What should I call it? How About Allie Gator? Mischa Goss would love it…

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MARCH 21st.

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com
POSTED WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9TH

"Having a job as Senior Library Assistant at The Museum of Modern Art Library has been a big influence on my artistic practice," reports Rachel Morrison. "I use the library for research and inspiration, and as a site of investigation. In early 2010, I began the performance 'Smelling the Books', which consists of me smelling every book in the MoMA Library collection. This performance was recently highlighted in New York Magazine as one of the many reasons to love New York.

"My performance started with the first call number in the Library of Congress classification system AC5.S4 1934, Sermons by Artists, and I will smell until I reach ZN3.R45, Bibliography of the History of Art. I document the performance in a ledger, recording the call number, title, and a description of the smell of each book. The goal of this personal olfactory exploration is to foster a discussion of the future of print media, the ways we read, methods of classification, and the way in which smell is entwined with memory."

Thanks to Drew Lebby for spotting this.

Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 27

INSTALLMENT 27

POSTED MONDAY, MARCH 7TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 52 – The Ghost in the White House

Shane Dickey carried his heart in a bag. The former Vice President of the United States had been given a mechanical heart pump that, most doctors said, saved his life by taking on the task of helping to push blood through his arteries.

Dickey, as he did at several receptions in Washington, chatted about his new pump. At one cocktail party, he even opened his coat jacket to show it off. "I'll have to make a decision at some point whether I want to go for a transplant," he told a TV reporter. "The technology is getting better and better." He also said he has been making do with a battery-powered heart pump which makes it "awkward to walk around."

Now he was wondering how long he could last, and maintain the energy he needed to keep up his campaign against that private dick with a ridiculous name. From what he'd heard, the Rosemead battle had resulted in absolutely nothing. Zymer was still alive. Maybe it was time to take up another kind of ammunition – brain control instead of bullets.

CHAPTER 53: Dee Nada, Dr. Elvin Park

I called Elvin on his very private cell to report on what had happened and what I'd begun to worry about.

He was still in Washington. “It all went down much too easily,” I said. “What in hell is going on? Smells like someone high up in your neck of the woods.”

“Could be. I just heard something about a top secret exercise that could be involved. It's time to call in a few markers.”

He called back in less than an hour. "It's even weirder than we thought, and it's about to break big. Seems as though a bunch of high level troops on the ground in some very hot areas have been carrying out what they call 'psychological operations' to sway visiting members of Congress."

"No shit!" was all Dee could say.

"Wait, it gets worse. A Lieutenant General is about to be accused of using an Information Operations cell to influence distinguished visitors, to gather information about Congressional delegations and persuade them to endorse the allocation of more money and troops. Even Petraeus knows about it."

"So what's our plan?"

"Let's play it by ear, and keep a very low profile until we know more. I'll make a few more calls, maybe even see what the White House gang is up to. Meanwhile, stay cool."

CHAPTER 54 – Suzie

While she waited for word of Saul, Al and Al Jr., Suzie turned her energies to more Alzheimer's research. A recent study spelled it out: In a healthy brain, certain chemical processes ensure the proper functioning of neurons. One is the processing of amyloid precursor protein APP) that is attached to the outer membrane of nerve cells. An enzyme called alpha-secretase cuts off a section of the protein; then another enzyme, gamma-secretase, snips a second portion and releases APP from the cell’s membrane.  These APP fragments are then broken down and removed from the brain. Another process involves the microtubules, which carry nutrients through the nerve cells to keep them functioning normally. Tau protein helps to maintain the physical structure of microtubules. But when these processes go awry, a different enzyme, beta-secretase, cuts shorter APP fragments from the nerve cell membrane. These smaller pieces are more resistant to breakdown and tend to clump together in toxic clusters called oligomers; eventually, the oligomers collect into larger beta-amyloid plaques that interfere with nerve cell functioning.  Within neurons, abnormal tau strands separate from the microtubules and cause the microtubules to fall apart, crippling the transport of nutrients and destroying nerve cells. Loose tau threads join together to form knotted strands inside neurons. Called neurofibrillary tangles, they cause further neuron destruction.  In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, plaques and tangles form in brain areas responsible for learning, thinking, and planning -- in particular, the hippocampus. This is why forgetfulness, disorientation, and verbal repetition are often among the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s. As nerve cell destruction spreads, more brain areas are affected, especially the cerebral cortex, responsible for language, reasoning, and judgment. Speaking skills become impaired and emotional outbursts grow more frequent.  When large areas of nerve cells die off in the advanced Alzheimer’s stage, brain sections atrophy and the whole brain shrinks to as much as three quarters of its original size.

The study gave Suzie a thought about Rachel and Al. She told herself it might come to nothing -- or perhaps save a life.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MARCH 14TH.

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

Save the Indie Comic Book!

POSTED SATURDAY, MARCH 6TH From BoingBoing's Oric Scott De Las Casas.

GeekDad's Dave Banks explores the current state of indie comic's with New Brighton Archeological Society co-creator and writer Mark Andrew Smith.

Finally, here was an all ages graphic novel that treated kids intelligently and was really entertaining at the same time. So we were surprised to see that the sequel was going to require some Kickstarter funding to get going. Surely a critical darling like The New Brighton Archeological Society didn't need funding to get off the ground, did it?

Unfortunately, as with many creators in the indie scene, the answer from Mark and co-creator Matthew Weldon, is a resounding YES. "We're eight thousand dollars in the red on The New Brighton Archeological Society Book One for coloring and lettering costs... We front the cost of producing the book and promoting the book. The publisher (Image Comics) prints it and the distributor (Diamond) distributes it... In the model we're publishing under, we're the last to recoup."

The recent fundraising success of Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl and others has made Brooklyn-based Kickstarter a game changer in the world of comics -- providing micro-financing to projects that wouldn't otherwise get made in this current state of shifting business models and economic woes.

Support Mark and Matthew! You can donate to the NBAS Kickstarter project and help bring the much anticipated sequel to reality. Or buy the first book.

Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

Are You Being Served?

POSTED FRIDAY, MARCH 4TH

From a lively blog called Bookride comes some dumb questions overheard at bookstores. Anyone who has ever worked in a bookstore (my stint was at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica) will smile at:

‘ I’ve stopped reading H. P. Lovecraft, so have you got any Heidegger ?’

‘ Have you anything on sixteenth-century oak coffee-tables? ‘

‘ I’d like to order a brand new copy of this out of print book …’

‘ Where do you keep the books you don’t stock ? ‘

‘ How do you make a living out of this lot of old rubbish? ‘

There lots more at Bookride.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

An Open and Shut Case

An Open and Shut Case
POSTED WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2ND

Open City Magazine, one of the best little reads in the business, is closing after twenty years. But luckily for all writers, their release today reports: "Open City Books, a mere tyke at ten years, continues." The release goes on, "Starting with its first issue in 1991, Open City has made an important mark on the American literary scene, publishing a slew of debut writers, undiscovered posthumous gems, and hosting wildly successful readings and parties in New York City and beyond. Not just a publisher, Open City, true to its name, is a vibrant community of writers, artists, and readers.

"Highlights from twenty years of the magazine will be collected in an anthology, THEY'RE AT IT AGAIN: An Open City Reader (June 2011, Open City Books). Featured authors include Richard Yates (an excerpt of a novel he was working on at the time of his death), Irvine Welsh (his story in Open City in 1993 marked his US debut), Mary Gaitskill, Martha McPhee, Robert Stone, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Ames, and Sam Lipsyte."

The final issue of the magazine, Open City #30, was published in December 2010 and is available in stores and online @opencity.org. It's ten bucks very well spent -- no postage if you choose media mail

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 26

INSTALLMENT 26
POSTED MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 50 – The Wars Continue

The first shot came from the ground. Gates' sniper rolled down the driver's window and aimed directly at Al. The only reason he missed was that Goss had noticed the window opening and braked suddenly. “Close von,” said the Russian. “I suggest you crouch down and make yourself less wisible.”

“The shooting has begun, Boss Lady,” said David Simmons on his phone to Dee. “What do you suggest?”

“Let them have one of your lighter specials,” said Nada. “We want to scare them, but not kill them just yet. I should be at LAX in about an hour. There's a car waiting, plus a few more guns and troops.”

Two high-powered slugs from above slammed into the engine of Gates' armor-plated car. It swerved all over the parking lot for a moment; then Wambaugh managed to get it straightened out.

More shots aimed at the tires. They took out two, and suddenly the driver couldn't control the vehicle. He braked and then stuttered the car into a parking place.

With nothing moving to shoot at, both vehicles waited for what would happen next.

After about 40 minutes, an impressive Oshkosh M-ATV compact personnel carrier drove up quickly. “Cover us!” Dee shouted to her flyboys, who opened up some blistering fire.

CHAPTER 51 – The Return of Hugh Mungus

Out of the vehicle poured Nada and four heavily armed men. “Isn't that your huge football friend?” said a surprised Goss.

“Holy shit, that's Hugh!” Al shouted. “Back from the grave!”

Al Jr. and Saul both started to get out, but Dana stopped them. “It looks like things are beginning to go our way,” he told them. “But as the poet says, it ain't over till it's over..."

But Al and Quentin jumped out of their vehicles and ran toward the giant man. The three embraced. “Do your doctors know you're here?” asked Quentin.

“Not unless you tell them. Let's just say I used some old connections. Here's one of them now.”

Dee Nada, almost as big as Hugh, walked toward them. She held out her hand – the one that wasn't holding a serious-looking handgun – to Al and give him a bone-crunching shake.

“So you're Al Zymer, the man of the hour. Nice work, Al. Thanks to you and your mob, we've got Gates – alive and maybe even ready to chat.”

“Was it you who broke Hugh out of the hospital?” Al asked.

“Let's just say that Dee and I go back a ways. I've been a covert agent for a long time," Mungess answered. "You didn't think that the pocket change you and Quentin paid for body-guarding was enough to keep me in groceries, did you?”

They all laughed. But in the back of Dee's mind was a bad smell. This had all gone down much too smoothly, with few casualties. Who in hell was so anxious for them to get Gates?

She decided to call Elvin Park as soon as she could.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, MARCH 7TH.

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler. Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

Snow Maiden of San Francisco -- 2/27

Snow Maiden of San Francisco -- 2/27

Before Amazon

Before Amazon
If you remember these, you're an oldie

Marching Books -- Great Video

POSTED WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23rd

Once again, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing makes any overloaded book lover's day:

"Organizing the Bookcase" depicts books organizing themselves by color on a bookcase, then marching around and doing synchronized maneuvers. It's great fun and puts me in mind of the time when my old roommate got a new girlfriend who reorganized all our bookshelves by size. My, that was a day.

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 25

POSTED MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21ST


(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 46 – The War in the Air

Dee

As I flew west, I talked to David Simmons and Diego Ballestario – my flyboys – on my cell. “We've been picking up lots of talk from the soon-to-be-ex Chief from our spy in his car,” said Diego. “Looks like he knows we're up here watching, and that we mean him no good. Things could start to explode at any moment. How soon will you get here, Boss Lady?”

“With friendly winds and luck, about three hours. I'd love to be there when it starts, but I trust you guys to do what's necessary – including staying alive – if I'm late.”

On the intercom, I joked with the presidential pilot. “Can't you make this crate go any faster?”

Luckily, he got the joke and snorted.

CHAPTER 47 – The War on the Ground

Chief Gates, Lou Gabriel, Wambaugh

The Chief looked up again at the choppers over his head. “They're not ours!” he screamed. “Must be Feebs! That fucking Jackman has screwed up again!”

“Stay cool, boss,” Gabriel said quietly, putting the finishing touches on his snooper rifle. “We knew this wasn't gonna be easy. Wonder who they got in charge up there? Whoever it is knows how to run a chopper attack. They seem to guess every move we make.”

Gates looked over at Wambaugh. “You're sure there are no leaks on that phone of yours?”

“I'd stake my life on it,“ the driver said, swallowing some fear.

“Good. You may have to.”

CHAPTER 48: Al, Inc.

In their lead car, Misha said to Al, “I am beginning to think that those flyboys upstairs are on our side, not working for Gates at all. But who could they be?”

“Maybe a higher power, like the FBI. I'll check with Dana, see if my old buddy Wambaugh has leaked anything to him.”

“Whoever it is, they're making El Jefe very nervous,” Dana said when Al called. “Gates is blaming sombody called Jackman for screwing up.”

“Did you say Jackman?” Al mentally scratched the inside of his head. “There used to be a Justin Jackman on Gates's staff, but even as big an ass-licker as he was couldn't avoid doing something stupid (what was it again?) and in public, too. So Gates had to give him the sack. But I guess Jackman's been on his private payroll since then.”

Al told Misha what he learned. “Verrry interesting” was his only reaction – Christ, he must have been the biggest Laugh-In fan in Russia. But he smiled broadly as both their hopes took a hop.

CHAPTER 49 – Suzie, Rachel, Mia Kulpa, The Evil Umpire

Suzie had heard the news about the Madoff payoff: some partner of Bernie's had died and the government had seized $90 million of his assets to return to some of his victims – including the people trying to keep the Motion Picture Home open. The call came just after Al and his team had headed south.

“Miss Charpentier? This is Mia Kulpa of the Motion Picture Home. I tried to reach Mr. Zymer, but all I got was a garbled voice mail message. Is that his real name?”

“I don't think so. He told me what it was before he changed it, but I've forgotten what he said.” Suzie waited for a laugh, but of course Kulpa didn't get her joke.

“Oh. Well, as you might have heard, we're back in business. And we'd very much like to have Rachel Donner back as part of our family.”

Suzie remembered how Al had described Rachel's family life at the Home: slovenly care, no therapy or drugs to mention, just a sad old lady sinking further into her well of despair. Now, at The Last Resort, she laughed, talked a bit, and Suzie could see the woman Al still loved.

“Al is away at the moment,” she said to Kulpa. “I'll tell him about this as soon as I hear from him. In fact, I'll try to reach him right now.”

Instead, she called up Bob Churchill and set up a meeting that evening with Rachel.

It was Rachel who made the final decision.”That place is evil!” she said in the same voice she'd used in The Bride of Frankenstein. “Al doesn't want me to go back. No wine or chocolate or perfume. Al wants me to stay here.”

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

To be continued Monday, February 28th)


Comments: AlZymer@mail.co

Great Video

Great Video
Alan Arkin Sells His New Book
POSTED FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18TH

Never let it be said that Alan Arkin doesn't know how to plug his new book, An Improvised Life. Check out this hilarious video, directed by the Academy Award winner, and use it the next time you do a live radio interview...

As Borders Fall

As Borders Fall
POSTED WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH

Once again, Sarah Weinman has the first and best piece on the Borders bankruptcy. Read it and weep...

Borders Files for Bankruptcy; Owes Top Publishers $230 Million, and Will Close About 200 Stores

Borders formally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Manhattan Federal Court, listing total debt of $1.29 billion and supposed assets of $1.275 billion. Among the top 30 unsecured creditors listed in the filing, book publishers and distributors are owed roughly $230 million (see below for the full list).

The bookseller says in an announcement that it "has received commitments for $505 million in Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing led by GE Capital, Restructuring Finance. This financing should enable Borders to meet its obligations going forward so that our stores continue to be competitive for customers in terms of goods, services and the shopping experience." For customers, they expect to honor the Borders Rewards program, gift cards and other customer programs and they expect "to make employee payroll and continue its benefits programs for its employees."

The company says they had 642 stores open as of January 29. In their press release, they say they expect to close "approximately 30 percent" of those stores, or roughly 200 locations, "in the next several weeks."

Ken Hiltz has been named senior vice president - restructuring of the company. Named advisory firms include Jefferies & Company for financial and restructuring services; DJM Property Management for lease and real estate advisory services; and consultants AP Services for interim management and restructuring services. The company intends to "finalize and implement a store closure, store liquidation and lease modification plan" as already discussed and approved by their board.

President Mike Edwards addresses the obvious in the release, "It has become increasingly clear that in light of the environment of curtailed customer spending, our ongoing discussions with publishers and other vendor related parties, and the company's lack of liquidity, Borders Group does not have the capital resources it needs to be a viable competitor and which are essential for it to move forward with its business strategy to reposition itself successfully for the long term." Elsewhere, the announcement perpetuates the company's illusion that they are but one more step away from a turnaround into "a stronger and more vibrant book seller."

The publisher creditor list comprises: Penguin $41.1 million Hachette Book Group $36.9 million Simon & Schuster $33.75 million Random House $33.5 million HarperCollins $25.8 million Macmillan $11.4 million Wiley $11.2 million Perseus $7.8 million F+W Media $4.6 million Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $4.4 million Workman $4 million McGraw-Hill $3.1 million Pearson Education $2.8 million NBN $2 million Norton $2 million Zondervan $1.9 million Hay House $1.7 million Elsevier Science $1.6 million Publications Intl. $1.1 million


UPDATED 2/17 at Sarah's new blog

Comments to: AlZymer@mail.com
POSTED MONDAY, February 14th



(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 44 -- Enter Dee Nada

No jokes about the name, okay? My black momma and my Mexican daddio thought it was hilariously funny. I thought seriously about changing it when my fellow trainees at the FBI Academy in Quantico began ragging me from Day One, but I was bigger and stronger than most of them, so they soon quit.

Now I was on the way to a meeting with my boss -- Elvin Park , Director of Covert Operations -- and some shiny brass at the White House. Damn, I could get used to this -- a big girl from East L.A. and Pat Brown College of Nursing, walking up those front steps where a man of color ran the country, and had a delicious-looking wife in the bargain.

CHAPTER 45 – Dr. Elvin Park, Dee Nada, two men from the White House staff

Elvin, a tough and talented Korean medic whose skills went way beyond “First, do no harm,” met her in the designated parking area. Dee had seen him at work in his day job as a wound-care expert and also in his night job as a wound-causing lawdog, and still wasn't sure which she liked best.

She had been training to be a nurse practioner, the closest thing her family's budget could get to medical school, when Park came into her classroom at Pat Brown one day and turned her life around. Luckily, he was straight and happily married, so she didn't have to tell him she was neither.

“So, what else do you you want to do with your life?” he'd asked her over coffee. “Don't get me wrong: I started as a nurse practioner myself, got a scholarship to this very same nursing school, then worked with a greedy foot doctor for three years before I realized I needed another aspect to my life.”

“And what did that involve?”

“In a word – action. I was always a quiet kid, a good student, but I also loved thrillers and adventure movies. And I was a brown belt karate whiz, thanks to my local Boys Club in Santa Monica where the white kids enjoyed tossing a little yellow one around.

“As fate would have it, I heard through a friend about five year ago that the Feebs were increasing their minority hiring. So in I walked, all dressed up in a new suit. No prison tats, no needle marks – just 140 pounds of smiling muscle.”

As they walked up the White House stairs – something which Elvin did with practiced ease and Dee now tried to imitate – she remembered how easy he had made it for her just two years ago to get into the Quantico program. Her invitation and initial interviews slid under a well-greased door. Even the 10 classroom-hour weeks, in areas she could choose from the hundreds offered (Dee had picked behavioral science, forensic science, understanding terrorism, communication, and – because of her nursing background – health and fitness) were a cinch.

Then of course came the infamous Yellow Brick Road, the final test of them all. It was a 6.1-mile grueling run through a hilly, wooded trail built by the Marines. Along the way, the participants had to climb over walls, run through creeks, jump through simulated windows, scale rock faces with ropes, crawl under barbed wire in muddy water, maneuver across a cargo net. If the students completed this bone-breaking test, they were handed an actual yellow brick to memorialize their achievement.

Dee smiled at the memory of her own yellow brick back home on her mantlepiece in East L.A. Elvin saw the smile, asked, “What's the joke?”

“I was just thinking,” she said, “about how far we've both come from the Yellow Brick Road.”

They were escorted inside by two Secret Service agents who seemed to know Elvin well. “Howdy, doc,” one said with a Texas drawl. “This here your newbie hotshot?” Then they were taken to a presidental-looking elevator, which whizzed them down to a meeting room deep under the White House.

Inside the room, which had a round table that could seat a dozen, sat two men in suits, one black and the other Latino. No Barack or Michelle, but what the hell. She could live in hope...

“So, Miss Nada,” said the Latino – a smooth and sharp-looking FBI agent. “It looks like Chief Gates has done what we hoped and feared. Are you and your people ready to take him out before he starts a war in – what was that place called – Rosemead?”

“My lead guys are keeping an eye from the sky,” Dee replied. “Unless Gates is a total pyscho, he'll notice and give up peacefully. If not, he'll be history.”

The black man looked hard at her. “Presidential aide,” Elvin whispered.

“Nothing must link any of this to the White House,” he said. “If there are any leaks, we're all in deep Congressional doo-doo.”

“I've got a private jet waiting at Dulles to take you home,” the Latino guy said. God, he was hot, thought Dee. Too bad...



(To be continued Monday, February 21st.

Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.)


Comments: AlZymer@mail.co

Good News For Book Lovers

Good News For Book Lovers
POSTED FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13TH

Sarah Weinman, now a big honcho at Publishers Marketplace, offers this terrific story today:

At least two bookstores will open in spaces that formerly housed mall-based chain bookstores. Wakefield Books in Wakefield, R.I. will open tomorrow in a space once occupied by Waldenbooks, which closed its doors last month. The new store is a joint venture of Wakefield Mall owner Jeff Levy, David Didriksen, owner of Willow Books, and Susan Novotny, who owns stores in Albany and Troy, N.Y., and is staffed with former Waldenbooks employees. In addition, Montpelier, VT-based new and used store Rivendell Books will open a second location in the Berlin Mall, in space that had been occupied by a Waldenbooks that closed a year ago. And Shelf Awareness also reports that Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, N.D., is seeking a new bookstore to replace a closed Walden and a closed Dalton, which had combined revenues of more than $2 million.

Being Generous To A Fault

POSTED WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH

From my favorite blogger, Kevin Roderick, of LAObserved:

On this day 40 years ago, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake broke at 6:01 a.m. Sylmar got its name on the event, but the epicenter was deep under the San Gabriel Mountains, in the San Fernando fault zone. The quake ripped open the surface for about 12 miles in the mountains and San Fernando Valley, knocked down parts of the SFV Veterans Hospital and Olive View hospital in Sylmar, toppled the same freeway interchange in Newhall Pass that fell again in the 1994 Northridge quake, caused landslides and set fires burning in city streets. Sixty-five people died, most of them at the VA hospital. Many more were left homeless, but the quake occurred early enough in the day that schools were unoccupied and the freeways were not crowded. A big swath of the Valley was evacuated for several days out of fear that the Lower Van Norman Dam in Granada Hills would fail.

Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

THANKS, PATTINAISE

POSTED TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8TH

When Patti Abbott, the doyen of lost and forgotten crime books, asked me to write about FORGET ABOUT IT on her great blog, I said "How can I say no to anyone named Abbot?"

Here's what I wrote and she ran:

HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK

I guess I began with the title from watching THE SOPRANOS. Then came the invention of Al Zymer. After a lot of research, I realized that it had to be funny -- a serious novel about Alzheimer's would be too painful to read or write. Mordecai Richler did it well in BARNEY'S VERSION, but I'm not him (though we did play poker in London). And it had to be a mystery: that's what I know and mostly read.

And I'm also blessed/cursed with a punster's pain -- so Manny LaMancha was born. The idea of serialization on my own blog came when I realized that writers from Dickens to Hammett needed the deadline to keep them focused. And Jeff Pierce of The Rap Sheet knows all too well what happens when a would-be serial writer just can't keep it going. (For the sadistically curious, check out Men's Adventure).

Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

Don't Miss This Gem

POSTED TUESDAY, FEBUARY 8TH

One of the reasons I switched from reading science fiction to mysteries in my teens was that crime fiction allowed me to visit real places I might not otherwise get to see.

For instance, Jonathan Valin’s private eye Harry Stoner books (The Lime Pit) showed me a Cincinnati I never visited, even as a devout baseball fan. Robert Irvine, who in the 1980s and ’90s wrote a great series featuring Moroni Traveler, a Mormon detective in Salt Lake City, was another excellent guide. So was Miriam Grace Monfredo, as she sent her librarian heroine, Glynis Tryon, out from Seneca Falls, New York, on Civil War-era adventures -- one involving abolitionist John Brown. And Dianne Day’s lovely books about intrepid typist Fremont Jones, who became an early female (and feminist) sleuth in San Francisco right after the 1906 earthquake, whetted my appetite for Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell historical thrillers, as well as the wonderful series about a midwife in post-Revolutionary War Maine written by Margaret Lawrence, who more recently delivered Roanoke.

But Providence, the capital city of little Rhode Island, was never really a part of my crime education. The closest I came were a couple of Mark Arsenault’s books (Gravewriter), about an obit writer who solves crimes.

More recently, though, I stumbled (albeit late) onto a debut gem called Rogue Island, which was published last October by Forge. All of the usual suspects -- and some surprisingly unusual ones -- were buzzing madly about this book in ads and jacket blurbs. “A tense, terrific thriller and a remarkably assured debut from Bruce DeSilva, an author to watch,” said Dennis Lehane. “Rogue Island is a stunning debut in the noir tradition,” gushed Harlan Coben. And Michael Connelly, arguably the best modern writer of mysteries involving newspaper reporters, added this cherry: “Writing with genuine authority, a dose of cynical humor, and a squinting eye on the world, Bruce DeSilva delivers a newspaper story that ranks with the best of them.”

Rogue Island lives up to those plaudits, and even exceeds them. Its protagonist is L.S.T. Mulligan (only a few childhood friends know that his first name is Liam), a studly, just-turned-40 reporter and troublemaker working for the only newspaper in town, The Providence Journal. Born and reared in Providence’s Mount Hope neighborhood, he’s an old-school newsy with a clever patter and curious romantic draw. When one of the several women who’ve fallen for him asks Mulligan how his tiny, Mob-infected state got its name, he tells her, “Rhode Island is a bastardization of Rogue Island, a name the sturdy farmers of colonial Massachusetts bestowed upon the swarm of heretics, smugglers, and cutthroats who first settled the shores of Narragansett Bay.” Who knew?

In this fast-moving introductory tale (nominated recently for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel), we find Mulligan investigating a series of arsons that are destroying his old neighborhood and killing his lifelong friends. “While I waited, I looked over at what was left of 188 Doyle Avenue, where I’d played cops and robbers with the Jenkins twins when I was a kid,” Mulligan tells us at the scene of a particularly sad and nasty blaze. “Now half the roof was gone ... I stared at the unblinking third-story window on the southeast corner where old Mr. McCready, the teacher who’d first introduced me to Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck, had been strangled by the smoke. The arsonist was reducing my childhood to ashes.”

Liam, a reformed drunk with an ulcer, drips ink from his veins the way all lifelong newspaper people do. He muses at one point: “Seems like I’m always hustling for something -- a lead, a quote, a free parking space, space above the fold ...” And he has obviously been at a lot of fire scenes, which he describes with frightening perfection: “A sheet of flame climbed the front of the duplex. Black smoke boiled from cheap asphalt siding, mixing with gray smoke that curled from the eaves ...”

I could go on for pages, extolling DeSilva’s skill at creating memorable characters with a tap on his keyboard. One of those fictional players is a young reporter (the son of the Journal’s owner), who chooses Mulligan to be his mentor. The older man responds by calling his new protégé Thanks, Dad.

Oddly enough, DeSilva appears to be harboring a grudge against a criminal defense attorney named Brady Coyle, who he casts as his prime villain. Those of us who remember with affection the late William G. Tapply’s Boston-based series about a lawyer and fisherman named Brady Coyne can only laugh and shake our heads. Surely there’s an inside joke here, maybe about a fish that got away.

READ MORE: “The Fascinating, Edgar-nominated Bruce DeSilva,” by Toni McGee Causey (Murderati).

COMMENTS: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 23

POSTED MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7TH


(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 41: Meet Youda Best

My old and still occasional lover Dana Dancer (don't tell him I told you his last name -- he thinks it makes him sound gay, which I can assure you isn't true) called and asked if I knew of any of Manny LaMancha's gang who might want to switch sides now that Manny was gone. I said I'd look into it.

About six guys opted out, thinking it might still be a bit too dangerous. But two said they'd be ready to go if there was cash to be earned. Following Dana's instructions, I told them, "You bet your scrawny East L.A. ass there is!" Now I was on my way, along with my kid sister Esme -- like me carrying a nice little Glock -- to pickup Juan and Irving (what in hell kinda name was that for a mobster?) and drag them down to some shopping mall in Rosemead. Some life, no? As William Holden said in The Wild Bunch, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

CHAPTER 42: Rachel and Suzie

Suzie had just read a new study which showed that a section of the brain involved in memory grew in size in older people who regularly took brisk walks. The study backed up previous findings that aerobic exercise seemed to reduce brain atrophy in early-stage Alzheimer's patients, and that walking led to slight improvement on mental tests among older people with memory problems.

The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory, tends to shrink slightly with age and that's what happened in the group that only did stretching. But among people who took part in the walking program, the hippocampus region of the brain grew in size by roughly 2 percent. Now she was about to try it out with Rachel, in the friendly garden of The Last Resort.

First, She took a bottle of Jasmine Moss from her handbag and showed it to Rachel. "Does this bring back any memories? Al thought it might."

Rachel looked at the perfume and smiled. "Al," she said. "I should have married Al. Maybe we'd have a daughter like you if we did." It was the longest, most complete sentence she had spoken in Suzie's presence.

Tears gleamed on both women's cheeks as Suzie rubbed perfume on Rachel's arms and shoulders. "Now, " she said. "About that walk…"



CHAPTER 43: Armageddon in Rosemead

Chief Gates looked up as the sound of a chopper hit him. "That better be one of our private jobs," he said to Lou and Wambaugh. "If it's an official LAPD unit, we're all in deep shit."

The two men in the chopper spotted Gates's Cadillac. "Looks like the Chief is off on one of his nighttime rambles," said the co-pilot into his radio. "That man gets laid more often than Charlie Sheen. How shall we we proceed? " He listened to the female voice on his line, said "You got it," then turned to the pilot. "Boss sez to keep our eyes open and take no action until she tells us to. You okay with that?"

"That's why we call her Boss." He made a sharp turn to his right, showing his bottom with the LAPD logo to the four vehicles below him.

Gates was still on his phone, shouting instructions to his driver. Gabriel spotted the logo first. "Do your privates birds have an LAPD sign?" he asked as he snapped together the parts of his sniper rifle.

"I hope to Christ it's something Jackman did without telling me," the Chief said with a shudder.

The mall was dark and empty, with only a couple of isolated trailers which people were living in to save park rentals. Rosemead itself was just a twinkle of suburban lights. In the second SUV, Quentin checked the time. Almost midnight. Then he heard the chopper and looked up. "Keep your eyes open, hermanos," he said to his companions. "Eyes in the sky. Let's lock and load."

Dana heard the bird as he and the boys tooled along in his Audi. He looked up while listening to Wambaugh on one phone and directing Youda Best on another, smiling as he talked to the love of his life. Five years of miliary police work in Vietnam. then another couple with LaMancha when somebody he'd thought of as a friend gave him a tip about a high-paying, no-rules job. He'd hated almost every minute of it: only Youda kept him sane and decent. Maybe it was time for them to think about marriage.

In the lead SUV, both Al and Misha spotted the chopper as it appeared to be herding them all like sheep into a vast, dark open space ahead. "Vot heppens, heppens," said Misha almost sadly as he set his Uzi down between them.

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

To be continued Monday, February 14th)


Comments: AlZymer@mail.com

INSTALLMENT 22



POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 31st

To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)



CHAPTER 38 -- The Good Guys

As promised, Goss and his band of outlaws were waiting for them. They were in two SUVs this time, and Al got into the lead one with Goss and his Uzi. Quentin looked at his mostly Mexican car-mates with a shaky smile, then said, "Let's do it," which everybody seemed to understand and laugh at.

"Hokay, let's get this started," said Goss to Al. "Remember, don't let any LAPD pippels into this wehicle."

"You really think it was Gates who set this up?"

"Who elz? Manny may have started it, but who elz is benefitting from killing you now?"

"If Saul hadn't seen him die, I'd say Jon Castle. Who bombed his store? And why did he hire me to find out? Was that just a cover, to keep me off the real trail?" Al asked, thinking out loud. What was that other Russian's name again -- Petrov, Petrovsky? -- and what was his connection here? "You ever hear of a Russian called Petrov or Petrovsky? He was involved in a bomb extortion case I broke about 20 years ago."

"That name does tingle my brain cells," said Misha. "Vell, maybe we'll stay alive long enough to find out."



CHAPTER 39 -- The Other Guys

Chief Gates and Lou Gabriel rode together in the back seat of Gates's classic old Cadillac police car while his driver -- an old friend of Al's named Wambaugh -- tried hard to listen to what they were saying without being too obvious about it. "Remember," Gates warned Gabriel. "This has to work. We're running out of time. Our gover-nator friend is history, and Jerry Brown would love to have my ass in his pickle barrel. He'll probably bring in the Feds when he hears what happened."

"Relax," said Lou. "Manny was easy, so will this one be. You just keep thinking of where we get rid of the bodies."

As they drove south, Gates kept his cellphone to his ear, getting directions from somebody. "They're turning where? Okay, keep me posted."

"Take the 19 south to Rosemead," he told Wambaugh. "Two SUVs -- one black, one silver -- are heading for some shopping mall down there."



CHAPTER 40 -- Dana, Saul, Al Jr.

"Okay, boys, they're headed for the Rosemead mall as planned," Dana reported to Saul and Al Jr. as he listened on his cell to what Gates was telling Wambaugh. "Remember, neither Al nor Quentin want you involved in any shooting. You okay with that?"

"Yep," said Saul. "But I did bring my killer bat along in case Mr. Barrel needs another grand salami."

Al Jr., who had stuck his father's old .38 into his jacket pocket before they left, nodded his lie to Dana's question. "Fine, just keep the old man alive. Funny, but I'm getting used to having the senile old fart around."

They drove south in Dana's old Audi, the silence broken only by a chirp as the listening device which Wambaugh was using to transmit his signal did its job. Outside was a bleak urban jungle, houses they couldn't imagine anyone choosing to live in. The sadly hopeful suburban names flashed by -- Alhambra, Arcadia, San Gabriel -- until they saw a sign directing them to Rosemead and wondered how it would all come out.

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler To be continued Monday, February 7th)

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RIP, Ruth Britton

POSTED SATURDAY, January 29th

Ruth Britton, librarian, mystery fan and dear family friend, who said she read this blog every day, died this morning in Rosemead, California.

Ruth was in her late 80s but never revealed her exact age: she wanted to avoid retirement by USC, where she flourished as head librarian at the School of Social Work.

Ruth was a feisty woman whose usual opinion of a book or film was "Well, I liked it more than I didn't like it." Her long friendship with the legendary Frances Feldman of USC ended with Feldman's death some years ago: they went gambling together on trips to Loughlin and Las Vegas, and for years attended every game the USC basketball ball team ever played.

Ruth in her golden years was always there at the Mystery Book Store in Westwood or the Carnegie Deli when I was part of an event. She will be missed deeply by me and especially by my wife, Jane Wilson, who worked with her to establish the School of Social Work Archives at USC.

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You're Welcome

POSTED WEDNESDAY, January 26th

Dear Richard Adler,

FSG sent me your wonderful note on my book, for which I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Every writer wants to be read, and, if possible, by the right sort of reader. And that's what we have here. Now we need a 100,000 more of them. The book chugs along and I am now working with one of the city's television stations on an 8-part series that will track the history of dining out in NY, sort of Ken Burns meets Food Channel spliced with Robert Hughes' "Shock of the New." We start shooting next month. Again, thanks for your kind note. Bill Grimes.

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Bon Appetite!

Bon Appetite!
POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 24TH

I don't write many fan letters, but here's one I just sent which you might enjoy -- especially if you're a foodie.

It went to William Grimes, former food critic of the New York Times.

"Dear William Grimes: My wife gave me APPETITE CITY for Christmas, and I wanted to say this to you -- it is one of the best books I have ever read.

I don't think we have met, but we have similar backrounds. I've been a reviewer (the NYTBR, the Chicago Tribune, Barnes & Noble) and a magazine writer and editor (New York, New West). Now I'm writing fiction full-time
.

What impresses me most about APPETITE CITY is the complete, absolute sense of trust you create. Usually, my tendency is check on a writer's research by finding and reading at least one of the author's choices. I never felt the need to do this with your book. From Page 1, I knew instinctively that you had done this for me. So, many thanks, and best regards.

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FORGET ABOUT IT: installment 21

FORGET ABOUT IT: installment 21
INSTALLMENT 21

POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 24TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 37 -- Manny, Al, Blake, Quentin

LaMancha heard the first shot whiz by like a rabid bee as it missed his head by less than an inch. "What the fug!" he shouted, although he was alone in his bedroom high above Ventura. He knew instinctively that it was Gabriel somewhere out there, getting ready to shoot again. The second shot was even closer.

Amazingly, Manny felt no fear -- just unadulterated rage. Who had ordered this one? The Mad Russian? Somebody else he'd screwed in a drug deal? Then, as the final bullet ended his life, he knew…

Quentin's cellphone jangled. "This can't be good," he grumbled as he saw the incoming number. "Yes, boss. What's up? He was what? When? Okay, I'll get right on it."

He hung up and looked at the others. "Somebody just killed Manny. Long-range sniper shot took his head apart. Sounds like your old partner."

"Holy shit!" they both shouted.

O'Rourke was back on the phone. "Dana? Quentin. Yeah, I just heard that from the Major. What do you hear about it? Okay, keep me posted. I'm going to call in a few favors from the LAPD, but I think we're all going to be up to our necks in it very soon."

He placed another call. "Sam? Quentin O'Rourke up in Ventura. Chief Gates did what? Oh, boy -- this is happening too fast for my thin blood. I'll get back to when I know more. You do the same."

Quentin turned back to Al and Blake. "Another enemy heard from. Chief Gates has issued murder warrants for you, Al -- and for Dana, Ivan Davis, even for Hugh Mungess, although the last I heard he was still in a coma."

CHAPTER 38 -- Reenter Misha Goss

Quentin's phone jangled again. "What now?" he grumbled.

"Vot now? Now ve get serious, my friend."

"Is this your work, Comrade Goss?"

"No. I wanted LaMancha dead, of course, but this looks more like an LAPD dirty job, done by Zymer's old partner."

"Who could have hired him to do that?"

"My guess is someone at the top, probably this Chief Gates I keep hearing about. But why was he so interested in getting your Mr. Zymer framed for it? You got any ideas about that?"

"Al seems to think it was some kind of sex thing," Quentin said. "He says Gates always was an ass man, and wanted to shut Al up about sex-related cases involving women on the force."

"Verrry interesting," said Goss, making Quentin think of that old Laugh-In character. "So how do we handle this?" he asked. "My boss wants action, fast."

"I tink ve play it very close to -- how you say? -- our vests. Don't let Zymer and any LAPD peoples get in the same car. I'll bring in a few of my Mexican associates, whom you've already met. Then ve play it by ear -- another American saying I have never understanded."

They left it like that, Goss directing them to meet him in a shopping mall near downtown Los Angeles. "Let's go, Al," Quentin said. "We're back in the hands of our St. Petersburg buddy. Blake, I suggest you stay here -- it should quiet down when we move out. And I'll call Dana, have him do some back-up down south."

They roared off in a scramble of gravel, hit the 101 and headed out for another adventure. Al used Quentin's phone to alert the kids, telling them as little as possible. "Just make sure Rachel's okay. She what? She talked to Suzie? That's my dear old girl. As for her favorite perfume, I remember something from Estee Lauder -- Jasmine White Moss. Give her a dab of that, from me."

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler To be continued Monday, January 31st)

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GOODBYE, JOE GORES AND WILFRED SHEED

POSTED WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19TH

As usual, Mark Coggins and Jeff Pierce say it best about Gores in The Rap Sheet.

And Sheed -- goodbye, brave old friend -- said it best about himself:

“All I knew was that no amount of respectability in other sectors could make up for this one eccentricity: we were gypsies, oddities. ‘My parents are publishers,’ I would emphasize. But their Catholic publishing seemed almost as bizarre as their Catholic tub-thumping in the starchy secularity of England. So I resigned myself to the delicate pleasures of outsiderness at an early age.”

“In Love With Daylight: A Memory of Recovery” (1995) told of his surviving polio, drug and alcohol addiction, and cancer of the tongue. 'Physically challenged’ indeed!” he blurted out at one point in that book. “We were challenged and we lost, baby, and that’s all she wrote.”

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INSTALLMENT 20

INSTALLMENT 20
POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 17TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 36 -- Al, Blake Hirskovitz

Two years ago, Al had some successful cancer surgery at UCLA, and when his ace doctor suggested he try legal marijuana to ease the affects of radiation, he swallowed a large gulp of 1960s LAPD distaste, got himself a license and paid out a hundred bucks for some good buds from a dealer in Ventura named Blake Hirskovitz.

Now, Hirskovitz -- a shrewd young guy with a family background in the restaurant business and a wife who made sensational pot-laced brownies -- appeared to be under a lot of pressure from Quentin's boss, Major Crime, who obviously saw the failure of a badly-conceived state proposition as the start of his high profile war against drug growers and dealers which would become a major part of his campaign to be California's next attorney general. Crime had banned Hirskovitz's low-key ads in the Ventura County Reporter, which was quickly killing off his business. He couldn’t even pay the rent on his Camarillo farm, which he called Leaves of Grass.

"Blake? It's Al Zymer -- remember me? I got something on what's left of my mind which might help us both out. You interested? Great. I'll see you over here ASAP -- whateverthefuck that means…"

Hirskovitz, brisk and cheery, curly-haired and as sharp as a steak knife, was there in record time. "Junie made some kickass brownies this morning," he said, handing Al a ziplock. "Better save them for bedtime, if we're gonna talk business."

"You got it. I understand you've been having some trouble with that primo putz Major Crime."

"You know that creep? He wants to bury me!"

"Well, the guy who really runs the Sheriff's office is a buddy of my old pal Ivan Davis, Quentin O'Rourke, who is helping us out on a big case involving a protected witness named Manny LaMancha."

"Is this some kind of a joke? Did you make these names up?"

"Wouldn't I have come up with something better than Blake Hirskovitz if I did? Any road, Manny has something going on -- maybe drugs, maybe more. He's tried to kill me and my young associate Saul a couple of times already."

" Yeah, I did hear about a lot of shots fired out this way. And where do I come into this mishegos, if I might ask?"

"Oh, do you know him, too?"

"Know who? Never mind. What's my role?"

"I'd like to offer you a house on this ranch, rent free, and all the space you need to grow your buds."

"In return for…?"

"We need your help in tying this whole thing together."

"Who's the we here?"

"Quentin; me; a good tough little guy called Dana; my assistant, Saul; my 20-year-old son, also named Al, who I never even knew existed until two weeks ago. And one more good guy -- a former NFL linebacker called Hugh Mungess, who is unfortunately in a coma."

"Him I do remember. Eagles, right? This gets better and better. Any danger involved?"

"To you? Christ, I hope not."

"Not so much me -- I'm used to a some rough and tumble. But I don't want Junie getting hurt or scared. Okay?"

"Absofuckinglutely."

"Good. Tell me more."

Al made a quick call to Quentin, who promised he'd be right over. Then he laid out the problem to Blake. "We're not sure if it's Manny or our new friend Misha Goss -- who saved our asses bigtime last week. But they hate each other, and one of them hired my old LAPD partner to kill our client.

"So what we want from you is help us work some kinda sting operation here -- to find out just who the bad guys are."

Quentin roared up in a swirl of gravel and road rage. "So, is he in or out?" he asked after the introductions.

"I'm in -- especially if I can get in a few jabs at your erstwhile boss."

Both Al and Quentin exchanged quick, sly smiles at Blake's erstwhile, but said nothing.

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler

To be continued Monday, January 24th)

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Gone Shelly Gone

Gone Shelly Gone
Posted Tues., January 12th

From Kevin Roderick's LA Observed:

"Ack. Another independent bookstore in Los Angeles (and the last in Westwood Village) is closing. The Mystery Bookstore on Broxton Avenue in Westwood Village just sent an email to customers saying the last day will be Jan. 31. 'We simply cannot compete with the Amazons of the world and the impact of the economy,' the note says. Perhaps ironically, the store is located in the city-run parking structure that is the focus of a debate over leasing to a private company that will raise rates dramatically."

Shelly McArthur, who disappeared from the face of the earth several years ago, was not the easiest man in the world to get along with, but the Mystery Bookstore -- founded by Otto Penzler -- instantly acquired Shelly's whining, know-it-all persona when he took over. Sorry, Shelly: hope you're okay and that your wife still gets her Robert Parkers early. (Oh, shit -- he's gone, too.)

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Hem and Gert Talk Mysteries

Hem and Gert Talk Mysteries
Posted Monday, January 10th

Watching a glorious PBS documentary called Paris, The Luminous Years: Toward the Making of the Modern by Perry Miller Adato last week, I realized that I hadn't paid a visit to Hemingway's 1964 classic A Moveable Feast for too long. "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know," Hem says in that book, and those were words I was trying to carve into my remaining brain cells as I clacked away at my serial novel Forget About It (Installment Nineteen just posted; archives up in order of publication.)

Despite a nasty joke by Hemingway about "a rose is a rose is an onion" repeated on the program, I knew that he and Gertrude Stein had once been great friends, spending many hours in her apartment on the Rue de Fleurus near the Musee du Luxembourg, drinking homemade liqueurs and talking about writers and writing. What I'd forgotten is how Stein seems to have awakened a new interest in crime fiction in Hemingway -- who had written many newspaper stories about true crime during his Toronto days.

Two of her suggestions caught his attention: Georges Simenon and Marie Belloc Lowndes, the older sister of Hillaire Belloc: an Anglo-French writer and historian. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century, known as a writer, orator, poet, satirist, man of letters and political activist. Belloc Lowndes (1868/1947)) wrote dozens of very popular, surprisingly modern mysteries, starting with The Lodger in 1913 (filmed five times, including a silent version by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927) and then Hemingway's favorite -- 1914's chilling The End of Her Honeymoon. It's available free on Kindle.

So, another way to spend an idle hour. Just what we all needed, right?

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT NINETEEN

POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 10TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 33 — Saul

I hit the floor quickly. As I went down, I looked across the street. Was I imagining it, or did a curtain move in Al's office?

Later, when I got to tell a starchy Beverly Hills detective called Drew Lebby -- a John Malkovich wannabe -- about what I thought I'd seen, he sent a man over to check it out. The place was empty and locked up tight, he reported. So who had come in, killed Castle, then rolled out Barrel's inert body? My first thought was Al's old partner, Lou Gabriel.

I called Al as soon as I could. "Sounds like it could be Lou," he agreed. "I'll ask Quentin how he thinks we should proceed. Get back here as soon as you're up for driving -- and nice work with the bat, Dr. Watson. Meanwhile, I'll call in a few favors and get Brian Rosoff to lean on this Lebby stiff and maybe give us a tip on the slug in our ex-client's head."



CHAPTER 34 -- Al Jr.

I'd been working with Dana, trying to find a link between Manny and Chief Gates, when the news about Castle's killing came in from Pops. It turned out that Dana used to work for LaMancha in L.A., and had been badly shafted by him in some fashion -- which is why he was now on our side. The other reason, I'd noticed, was that he liked Suzie's lovely ass. I wasn't going to point this out to Saul, who was surely used to seeing it happen.

The connection, from one of Al's old informants who was also a former associate of Dana's, indicated that Gates and Manny were both involved (together or separately) in the killings of Tina Carone and Lucy Troncosco. This raised more questions than it answered, but at least it gave us a place to start.



CHAPTER 35 -- Suzie

Surrounded by blood and thunder, and worried about Saul, I decided to use my own skills and see how Rachel was getting on at The Last Resort.

Churchill's welcoming smile, as wide as an outfield, gave me my first clue. It turned out that he was an early advocate of a radical Alzheimer's management group known as Beatitudes. Disregarding typical nursing-home rules and practices, Beatitudes let its patients sleep, be bathed and dine whenever they wanted, even at 2 a.m. They could eat anything, too, no matter how unhealthy -- including unlimited chocolate.

Rachel seemed to be thriving. She didn't say much, but she looked at me as though I was someone she knew.

"Suzie," she said. I nodded."Yes, Rachel. I'm Suzie. Al's friend."

"Al's friend. I love Al. I hope he knows that."

"He does, Rachel. He knows."

In Churchill's office, he told me that patients at Beatitudes are allowed practically anything that brings comfort, even an alcoholic “nip at night. The state tried to cite us for having chocolate on the nursing chart. They said ‘It’s not a medication.’ I said, 'Yes, it is. It’s better than Xanax.'”

Back at my computer, I discovered that Beatitudes was actually following some of the latest scientific research, which suggested that creating positive emotional experiences for Alzheimer’s patients diminishes distress and behavior problems. Studies indicate that emotion persists after cognition deteriorates. In a University of Iowa study, people with brain damage producing Alzheimer’s-like amnesia viewed film clips evoking tears and sadness or laughter and happiness.

Six minutes later, participants had trouble recalling the clips. But 30 minutes later, emotion evaluations showed they still felt sad or happy, often more than participants with normal memories. The more memory-impaired patients retained stronger emotions.

This suggested that behavioral problems could stem from sadness or anxiety that patients cannot explain.

As one study evaluator said, "these patients appear to have virtually no sundowning,” referring to agitated, delusional behavior common with Alzheimer’s, especially during afternoon and evening.

For behavior management, Beatitudes plumbed residents’ biographies, soothing one woman by dabbing on White Shoulders perfume, which her biographical survey indicated she had worn before becoming ill. Food became available constantly, a canny move because people with dementia might be “too distracted” to eat during group mealtimes, and later “be acting out when what they actually need is food.”

I made a note to myself to find out from Al what Rachel's favorite perfume was.

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler.

To be continued Monday, January 17th)


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WRITING FOR GODOT

WRITING FOR GODOT
POSTED TUESDAY, JANUARY 4TH

Two gifts for the writers among you (we know who you are) to start the year:

First, a great video trailer for a missing movie: BAD WRITING -- which allegedly was released in May.

Play the trailer, then try to find Bad Writing to rent or buy. Nisht on Netflix; linking to Rent this at Blockbuster at IMDB gets this: "Your search for "Bad Writing 2010" did not match any products in our catalog." If you find a copy, let me know.

Gift Numero Dos is less mystery but more fun. Carolyn Kellogg, whose Jacket Copy blog is the only thing worth reading these days in the L.A. Times, one of my (many) former employers, has asked dozens of writers about their resolutions for 2011. Here are a few highlights. (I like David Kippen's best.)

Janelle Brown, author of the novels "This Is Where We Live" and "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything": Stop reading Amazon and Goodreads reader comments about my books. For really reals this time.

Ned Vizzini, author of "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and new Angeleno: I resolve for 2011 to move into a home with an actual bookshelf and get away from my current "pile system."

Janet Fitch, author of "Paint it Black" and "White Oleander:" My book-related resolution for 2011: To converse more with my books. To write in the margins. To read books that irritate me, inspire me, challenge the way I write, or in some way cast new light on this crazy life we lead. And I also resolve to shape these conversations into essays for the new LA Review of Books, starting up this spring.

 

Dani Shapiro, author of "Devotion: A Memoir": I am determined not to blog, tweet, check email, or shop for boots online before beginning each day working on my new novel. If I can't manage this, I'm going to pull a Franzen and disable my laptop so that it best resembles a Smith Corona.

David Kipen, former NEA director of literature and owner of Libros Scmibros bookstore in Boyle Heights: Find my Kindle.

Joseph Mattson, author of the novel "Empty the Sun": In 2011, maybe I'll work on only three books at once instead of five--crawl out of the wormhole a little bit and see your and everyone else's beautiful faces more often. Though I'm widely considered to be a dangerous whiskey-soaked hellraiser, I really don't leave the house much, and I think I need a little more sun, you know, Vitamin D, ward off the rickets. Shatter my own myth. I would say, thin the book collection a little, but that would be a lie, for it is the holy addiction that keeps the other good/bad stuff at bay. That, and I might read a Stephen King novel. I've never read one, for no particular reason, and I do believe I have some respect for the man. Eye exercises, too.

Antoine Wilson, author of the novel "The Interloper": My resolution, for the second year in a row, is not to talk smack about books (or authors) I haven't actually read.

D. J. Waldie, author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir": The books at the edge of the bathroom sink, under the kitchen table, cringing from the rain seeping under the garage door will be put up on regular shelves ... as soon as there are more shelves. After getting back from Skylight Books ... with just a few more books.

Neal Pollack, author of the memoir "Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude": I'd like to resolve to read at least an hour a day, every day. That's not so much, really. It used to be a bad reading day if I read an hour. Now it's not quite a rarity, but definitely not a routine. If I'm going to make my son read an hour a day, I should keep to a similar program. Less Fruit Ninja, more reading, that's what I say.

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT EIGHTEEN

POSTED MONDAY, JANUARY 3RD

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 31 — Rachel, Al, Suzie, The Evil Umpire

Despite its jokey name, The Last Resort turned out to be a good choice for Rachel. It was small, clean and didn’t radiate with despair as did some of the larger, fancier, more pricey places they had checked out.

Bob Churchill himself was like a good coach rather than a paper-shuffling desk jockey. “I’m so glad to see you again, Miss Donner,” he said. “Do you prefer Miss Donner, or shall we call you Rachel?”

Al watched in amazement as Rachel — who hadn’t uttered a word since they’d arrived — struggled to rise to the surface and then said, in a husky voice, “Rachel, to my friends.”

“I hope you’ll let me into that select group. I’ve seen and loved all your movies.”

A smile seemed to come to her face. It was a sad smile, but all the same it filled Al’s heart with almost unbearable lightness.

CHAPTER 32 — Saul

Dana had promised to keep an eye out for Creighton Barrel in Ventura, but I decided that I needed some more backup for my visit to Al's old office in the Writers and Artists Building in Beverly Hills. So I took along my trusty aluminum baseball bat. It wasn't as effective as an Ouzi or even Barrel's fists, but it might just give me an edge.

The place looked and sounded quiet as I slipped in. Al's files still lay scattered on the floor, some of them marked with my dried blood. Had it really been just two months ago that I'd found, hidden in my shorts and then lost to the hospital laundry while I was in dreamland that clue to the name Petrovsky in one of Al's files? It came back to me now: Petrovsky was a Russian-born extortionist who used homemade bombs. Al and his bomb squad buddy had caught him after a threat to reduce several plush department stores on Beverly Drive to rubble.

Did Petrovsky have any connection with our new Russian friend Misha Goss? And what about the link to Jon Castle, shirtmaker to the stars and now our paying client? On that same outing, I'd discovered Castle had been the president of the Beverly Hills Merchants' Association at the time of the Petrovsky bomb threat and multi-million dollar extortion attempt. Blog me dead, as Ivan Davis would say. Coincidence, or something more dangerous?

I decided to walk across the street and have a few friendly words with our client. I'd just picked up my bat to leave when I heard a sound at the door that froze my blood. Somebody -- guess who? -- was using a burglar's tool to open Al's door.

I stepped back and assumed the position. Barrel saw me and what I had in my hands. He tried to back out, but I gave him the best blast from my childhood past across his beefy chest. He fell like a lump of dead meat.

I was tempted to finish the job with a smash to the head, but finally decided that a murder rap might slow down our investigation. So I packed up my stuff, stepped over the inert body on the floor, and walked across the street to talk to Castle. I parked my killer bat in the trunk of the car, so as not to frighten him or his sales staff.

Castle was his usual dapper, charming self as I walked in. "You're Al's assistant, right? We met right after the bombing -- Saul, if I'm not mistaken. How's the investigation going up there in Ventura?"

He smiled at my obvious surprise. "I do read all your expense account reports as they come in, and noticed the change of venue. Anything else to tell me?"

"I'll leave that to Al, Mr. Castle." Then I tried a little test. "We've got our eye on a guy called Manny LaMancha, a former L.A. hoodlum now in the Witness Protection Program up north. You know him, by any chance?"

Castle failed the eyeball-to-eyeball test: he blinked, then said, "Yeah, I think he used to be a customer. Luckily, his account was paid in full: the Feds aren't always so efficient. Anything else I can tell you?"

"Just one more thing. Does the name Petrovsky mean anything to you?"

"I don't think so," Castle replied. "Should it?"

"Well, he was the Russian guy who threatened to blow up Neiman Marcus and a couple of other stores unless the Beverly Hills Merchants' Association paid him fifty million bucks. Captain Brian Rosoff, Al's friend on the bomb squad, says the stuff used on your store was the same kind of homemade brew."

"No shit!"

"And speaking of Russians, do you know a bent Ivan called Misha Goss?"

Castle went white, His mouth opened, but before he could answer an extremely high velocity sniper bullet tore off a large part of his head.

(Copyright © 2011 by Dick Adler. To be continued Monday, January 10th)

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT SEVENTEEN

POSTED THURSDAY, DECEMBER 23RD

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

Chapter 28 — Aftermath

Dana had taken a bullet in his upper thigh; two days later, he was already hobbling around on crutches, swearing revenge. But Hugh was still in Intensive Care at Community Memorial Hospital, lapsing in and out of consciousness, suffering from a much more dangerous sniper slug to his upper body. Aside from a few scrapes and bruises, the oldies — Al and Ivan — were fine, at their homes, trying to figure out what had just happened.

By the time the Ventura cops had arrived, a shaken but unhurt Quentin was gone — having left the scene to Major Crime and his other officers. Manny and his crew (minus a couple of wounded, left behind in the trees) had also disappeared. And Misha and his tankload of assorted hoodlums had roared off into the night with their own wounded -- Goss doing his best Arnold imitation, waving his Ouzi and shouting, “I’ll be bach!”

CHAPTER 29 — Saul

We returned from the touristy peace of the Apple Farm to find the remains of a battle zone in Al’s own orchard. Police tape yellowed the house and trees; beleaguered cops under the very loud direction of a man with a big voice and a weedy body (Quentin’s boss, the ubiquitous Major Charles Crime, as it turned out) dug bullets out anything made of wood. “You ever seen anything like this?” one asked a colleague, showing him an unusual slug.

“Yeah,” the other man said, “It comes from a Russian machine pistol — one of them Ouchies.”

“Al,” I said to him when we got inside, “I think it’s time we figured out just what in hell is going on. Why does LaMancha want you so dead? I know Dana is digging, but I think I’ll go back to what’s left of your files and do a more thorough search. Did our pal Mr. Barrel get hit, I hope?”

“Not that I noticed. But I’ll make sure that Dana keeps an eye on him.”

“Good idea, dad,” said his son. “Meanwhile, I’ll go over to Ivan’s and use his computer to see if I can find a link between Manny and the LAPD guy who fired you. We need to ask a lot more questions.”

I agreed. “Al, I know how much we both hate Conan Doyle — you remember, the Sherlock Holmes guy? But I think it’s time for me to take on the role of your Dr. Watson.”

CHAPTER 30 — Suzie

While the boys left on their various boyish pursuits, I decided to continue my own work on Al’s mental condition, using the new research I’d learned about from recent studies. (“When a middle-aged person jokes with his longtime family doctor that he feels as if he has a ‘Teflon brain,’ the doctor may do little more than laugh. But if the same man joked about having a pea-sized bladder, the doctor would insist on checking his prostate and probably refer him to a specialist,” was one gem).

On a more serious note, I’d discovered that some individuals with a very high IQ or those who are really good test takers appear “normal” on the Mini-Mental State Exam when in fact they have Alzheimer’s-induced memory slowdown.

To try to get by this, I’d also found that to assess language, a doctor might ask an obviously intelligent patient to name all the four-legged animals he or she can think of as quickly as possible, or to repeat complex phrases like “Nelson Rockefeller had a Lincoln Continental.” (Al liked that one, and repeated it three times — the last time adding, “Why not a Bentley?”)

It turned out that the creative leap may well be informed by subconscious cues. In a well-known experiment, psychologists challenged people to tie together two cords; the cords hung from the ceiling of a large room, too far apart to be grabbed at the same time. A small percentage of people solved it without any help, by tying something like a pair of pliers to one cord and swinging it like a pendulum so that it could be caught while they held the other cord. In some experiments researchers gave hints to those who were stumped — for instance, by bumping into one of the strings so that it swung. Many of those who then solved the problem said they had no recollection of the hint, though it very likely registered subconsciously.

We had some fun fooling around with that one. By then, it was time to get Al some free samples.

(Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

To be continued Monday, January 3rd
)

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A Book Lover's Christmas Nightmare

POSTED WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22ND

Here we all are, laboring away on our books (new episode of FORGET ABOUT IT going up here early -- tomorrow) and this kid sez "Poo!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv4Hpz-GI3g&feature=player_embedded

Thanks to Drew Lebby, the other love of my life. (Don't ask -- I won't tell)

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 16

POSTED MONDAY, DECEMBER 20TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

Chapter 26 — Misha Goss, Al, Quentin, Hugh, Dana

Prompted by Suzie’s questions, Al thought about his mother as he lay in bed. The truth was that he had never known she had dementia until the very end of her life, twenty years ago. Before that, his visits home were sporadic — mostly to see his old man, still lively until his peaceful death at 90 a few years ago.

His mother seemed to him then to be the same royal pain in the ass she’d always been — the reason he'd gone to the Police Academy as soon as they would take him. But thinking back, he began to remember feelings, incidents, concerns. Something had certainly been going on in her head.

A very early memory intruded out of the darkness: a sweetly smiling woman standing over his crib, singing something definitely not a lullaby…

The call from Misha Goss woke him from a deep sleep. “I hear dat your former partner Gabriel is a very hot shooter, and has been hired by our mutual enemy to knock you off,” said Goss in his usual sideways manner.

Dana called right after, to confirm. “Manny still has the hates for you. I haven’t found out why yet, but I’m working on it.”

Al reported the details to Quentin. “Who should we trust here?” he asked.

“Well, unless he’s a much better double-bluffer than I can imagine, my instinct says we go with Goss,” the deputy replied. “Maybe he can supply a couple of hot shooters of his own. I’d rather not involve the department if I can avoid it. The Sheriff would probably go batshit if he heard about it. Meanwhile, I’ll get Hugh and you recruit Dana. Find out if he has any guns, and maybe a couple of bodies he trusts. I have a hunch we’ll need all the help we can muster. But Al — not the kids.”

“Of course not. They’re away for the weekend at someplace called The Apple Farm up the coast.” He didn’t add that Al Jr. had taken along his new young lady — whose name Al had already forgotten.



CHAPTER 27 — The Good Guys and the Bad Guys

Quentin and Hugh arrived first. “Where’s your vest?” barked the deputy.

“I took it off to have a shower,” Al replied. “What is this, more bait? I hope I can go outside and play with the big boys.”

“From what I’ve heard about you as a shooter, you’re much safer in here,” Quentin said.

Dana drove up next, alone, but heavily armed and shelled. Quentin dug a bulletproof vest out of his car trunk for him, but didn’t have one big enough for Hugh. The three of them spread out in the lemon trees around the house.

Next to arrive was LaMancha’s team: Lou Gabriel, Creighton Barrel, three other guys from the gambling club — but no Manny. Since they’d never been here before, they took a few minutes to reconnoiter.

“Al, it’s Lou. Stay cool. Nobody has to get hurt here,” his old partner shouted at the darkened house.

Al couldn’t resist shouting back. “You gonna kill me without hurting me, Lou? Nobody’s that good a shot.”

Then Manny himself roared up with one other henchman — and they had Ivan with them. “Al, your pal here will see his blog title come true unless you come out the house with your hands in the air — and empty. That way, everybody stays alive. All we want is to take you someplace safe for a little chat.”

Quentin yelled “Stay put, Al! It’s a setup!” But Al did come out with his hands in the air. Then, from under his vest, he pulled out a handgun, a match to his old police revolver — a stolen gun he’d taken from his LAPD locker on the day he was sacked.

He fired a shot at Manny which missed by about ten feet and ricocheted off a car behind him. All hell broke loose. Gabriel, who had managed to get himself and his rifle up into a tall eucalyptus tree, fired down on Al and his team.

Quentin, Hugh and Dana blasted back; Manny’s boys returned their fire. Ivan hit the ground and rolled under a car. Hugh grunted loudly as he took a slug and fell like a giant tree. Dana also appeared to have taken a hit.

It began to look very bad for the good guys. They were definitely out-gunned. Then a tank-like SUV roared up, full of Russian and Mexican mobsters — headed up by an Ouzi-toting Misha Goss.

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

(To be continued Thursday, December 23rd)


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A Holiday Food Court Musical Surprise

The Great Wall of Norway

The Great Wall of Norway
An image of dissident writer Liu Xiaobo is projected on a hotel in the center of Oslo, Norway/From Boing Boing

Goodbye Rosie, Queen of Corona

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT 15

POSTED MONDAY, DECEMBER 13TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

Chapter 24 — Al, Al Jr.

The dream came back that night, and this time Al knew what it was trying to tell him.

Rather than wake up his son, who had been out on whatever passed for the town in Ventura with a young friend of Saul and Suzie’s named Lu Byanka, Al waited for the sun to reach the yardarm (as they used to say in the Patrick O’Brian novels he had once devoured but now could barely recall) before giving him the news.

“I think you kids and Dr. Freud helped me solve my dream problem,” he announced casually over a breakfast of poached eggs and canned roast beef hash.

Young Al dropped his fork in surprise. “No shit, Sherlock! What does it all mean?”

“I’m not sure about all, but I think it tells me why Chief Gates had to can me over the Troncoso case. He was afraid that after I’d cracked the Carone killing I was going to solve it, and now I’m certain that he had something to do with it — with or without Manny. Gates was always an ass man. Lots of women made complaints against him during his career, but they were all covered up.”

“Way to go, Daddy-o! The game’s afoot! How do we proceed?”

“We’ve got to talk to the professionals. I’ll call Quentin, Hugh and Ivan. And Dana — I suspect there’s some police or military experience there, though he’s never mentioned it,” Al said. “Meanwhile, our top priority is finding a decent place in town for Rachel. That clock is ticking, too.”

“Why don’t you let Suzie, Saul and me do some preliminary checking?”

“Good idea, my boy. We’ll make a detective out of you yet.”

“Speaking of which, Dad, could you advance me another twenty bucks?” his son asked.

“Another sawbuck? What happened to the dough I gave you yesterday?”

“You’d be amazed at how much it costs to get laid these days,” Al Jr. said with a smile.

CHAPTER 25: Suzie

We had scouted out a couple of possible places in Ventura and such nearby towns as Oxnard and Camarillo for Rachel Donner. Some were just awful: humanity stacked like cordwood in cell-like rooms or sitting in scruffy silence in dreary lobbies.

One place in Ventura, though — despite its ridiculously inappropriate name, The Last Resort — looked very promising. The man in charge, a former baseball field judge called Churchill (aka The Evil Umpire), seemed to know what the sick and demented needed: a clubhouse where they were treated like human beings and not just Medicare write-offs.

While we waited for Al to visit the place, I decided to try some new tests I’d picked up from a recent book on Alzheimer’s treatment at Duke University. “You once mentioned that your mother suffered from dementia,” I began. “How about your father?”

“No, he was a pisser till the day he died, never forgetting a joke or a sale,” Al replied. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, some families have a lot of members who develop Alzheimer’s. They’ve probably inherited a faulty gene that predisposes them to developing the disease. One of these genes is APE4, which gives carriers a three to eightfold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people without the gene.”

“Can it be tested for, and cured?” Al asked.

“Yes to the testing, no to the curing, I’m afraid. Alzheimer’s is still classified as incurable. But they’re working on it every day. Drug companies are spending vast amounts of money on drugs which slow down the rate of mental damage.”

“So these drugs really work?”

“They do. Some have already shown they can reduce the damage as much as 25 percent. Aricept and Exelon have been approved by the FDA, and a European one called Razadyne is also getting good results. We’ll do some more tests, and then ask your doctor to see if we can get you some free samples.”

“Free? I like that. And will you come to Dr. Banman with me, in case I forget to ask for them?”

“Saul and your son are right, Al — you are one cheap bastard. Of course I’ll come. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

(To be continued next Monday, December 20th)


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I'll BE DOYLED!

I'll BE DOYLED!
POSTED FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10TH

Remember I Write Like, a computer program which analyzes a block of your text and tells you what famous authors your style resembles? Last time I tried it, it said I wrote like Jack London -- which cheered me up no end.

With nothing to do but plow ahead on my serial novel, plus read and review dozens of books (they still arrive daily, in spite of my recent retirement after 50 years on the job; like Al Pacino, "Just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in!"), I decided to submit my recent blast at Conan Doyle (see below).

Guess what? According to I Write Like, I write like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! No shite, Sherlock -- that's what it says!

ADAMS GOES GENTLY

ADAMS GOES GENTLY
POSTED THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9TH

The late Douglas Adams, of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, has left us what looks like a jolly new crime series called Dirk Gently coming out on TV in the UK (and hopefully in the US of A) soon.

Here's a video trailer, thanks to Laurie R. King on Facebook and also to Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing.

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Laurie R. King Is Still The Queen

Laurie R. King Is Still The Queen
POSTED TUESDAY, December 7th

No wonder Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got tired of writing about Sherlock Holmes and tried to kill him off. I got tired of reading about Sherlock Holmes when I was 14, realizing probably a year too late that Doyle was a second-rank writer at best, as bad a plotter as Agatha Christie, and basically a one-trick pony.

So, when a new book called The Sherlockian, by a newcomer named Graham Moore, began to get some favorable reviews, I had my doubts.

As I’ve said in these pages many times, Laurie R. King is the only writer who adds a life to Holmes that his only begetter never begat. (King herself makes an appearance in Moore’s book, as a leading member of the group calling itself the Sherlockians greets a late-arriving guest: “Where have you been all week, you old dog? We’ve missed you. Yesterday we had the most marvelous talk from Laurie King about the Woman — her role in the Great Hiatus, all that” — the Great Hiatus being the seven years between the apparent death of Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and his lamely-explained return.

Moore’s book shifts between two stories and two periods, as does King’s absolutely perfect The Art of Detection (a wonderful mystery and the best novel about San Francisco then and now that I’ve ever read.) The modern hero is Harold White — a mild and bookish researcher and Holmes addict who has just been initiated into the Baker Street Irregulars (aka the Sherlockians) when a premier Holmes expert announces that he has found Conan Doyle’s long-lost 1900 diary. Then the expert is murdered.

The hero of the alternate chapters is Conan Doyle himself, rich and famous from his stories in the Strand Magazine but so pissed at the success of his hero and the public’s lack of attention to what he considered his serious works that he plunges Holmes into the icy waterfall and writes in his diary, “Killed Holmes.”

“Most Sherlockians sort of… uh, pretend that Holmes was real and that Conan Doyle had his adventures published as fiction to preserve his privacy,” explains Harold to Sarah, the pert and pushy young journalist who passes for his Dr. Watson in the ensuing investigation of the diary owner’s death. “The rival Doyleans, as they call themselves, think the Sherlockians are stupid. If we acknowledged Doyle as the author of the stories, half the room would bleat ‘Blasphemy!’”

In fact, the best parts of Moore’s book are more about the idea of Holmes and the way his legend has taken on a life of its own; the basic mystery plots are less than convincing. Tart observations like these apparently illuminate his real intention:

Bram Stoker, (yes, that Bram Stoker), a friend who Doyle involves in his own murder investigation, tells him, “Watson is a cheap, efficient little sod of a literary detective. Holmes doesn’t need him to solve the crimes any more than he needs a ten-stone ankle weight…”

Then, when they go to visit the scene of the crime, “This is Arthur Conan Doyle,” says Stoker to the scruffy landlord.

The man gives Doyle a long once-over. “Yes, that looks like you. I’ve seen your pictures in the paper, awhile back. You sitting at your writing desk…looking like a grubby queer.”

Just before his death in 1930, Doyle drew a memorable sketch of his life's work. He portrayed events from his life as a series of packing cases being loaded onto a wagon and pulled by a flea-bitten workhorse. Perhaps the heaviest case of all, notes Daniel Stashower in his biography Teller of Tales, is the one that reads "Sherlock Holmes."

My advice? Reread Laurie R. King — and Julian Barnes’ stylish Arthur & George is also great fun.

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT FOURTEEN

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT FOURTEEN
POSTED MONDAY, DECEMBER 6TH

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 22: Al, Quentin, Hugh, Dana, Ivan

“Sounds like you got it right,” said Quentin, when Al called to tell him about Lou Gabriel. “He wouldn’t be the first bent cop to realize that his pension doesn’t qualify him for food stamps. I wonder — could he have been our shooter?”

“You mean in L.A., or here?”

“Both,” said O’Rourke. “How is he with a handgun?”

“He scored top of the charts in the precinct’s annual shootouts — that I do remember. And as for his sniper skills, he was always bragging about how he could knock any slope out of any tree in Korea. His words, not mine.”

“I’ll call Hugh and tell him about Gabriel. Which brings up another point, Al. Hugh needs to sleep a couple of hours every night. We’re running a little low on manpower here. Any thoughts about recruiting another body?”

Zymer thought about the wiry little guy who’d yanked him from the Primrose pool. What was his name again? Dave? Dean? Nope, it was Dana. “I might have just the guy,” he told Quentin. “And he works for Manny, but doesn’t like him or trust him. I’ll give him a call.”

——

They met later that night at the Busy Bee. Mungess did look a bit shredded, but Dana was full of piss and vinegar. “So you think this bozo Gabriel is working for Manny?” Al asked.

“I wouldn’t put it past him — the pompous prick. I’ve heard of him doing the same thing with lots of other types who tried to screw him over. And with his new restaurant, I know he’s short of cash.”

“Well, it’s either LaMancha or our new Russian friend, Misha Goss,” said Quentin. “Trust a Commie hoodlum to come up with a Jewish name.”

Everybody laughed, except for Al, who looked blank.

“What’s the matter, Mr. Zimmerman?” Ivan asked. “No Yiddish spoken in your early life?”

“Nope. I guess my Pop thought it might turn off non-Jewish customers. What does it mean, anyway?”

“Loosely translated, a great big mess. As in, ‘Who needs this mishagoss?’”



CHAPTER 23: Al, Mia Kulpa

The call came the next day. “Mr. Zymer?”

“Who wants to know?”

“This is Mia Kulpa, the registrar at the Motion Picture Home,” a crisp voice replied. “I presume you’ve heard about our problems here?”

“I guess not. Is this about Rachel?” What was her last name, again? “Rachel…Donner?”

“I’m afraid it is, Mr. Zymer. We’re being forced to close down because most of our financial supporters were victimized by the Bernie Madoff swindle.”

A vague light began to flicker in Al’s mind. “Yeah, now that I think of it, I did hear something. What’s going to happen with your patients — with Rachel?”

“That’s why I’m calling. We’re trying to find other homes for them all, but we have to close down in a few weeks. Since you are the only visitor Miss Donner has had in the last several years, and since you know about her condition, we hoped you might have some suggestions.”

The thought of his lovely Rachel in one of those terrible rest homes he’d heard and read about filled Al’s heart with tears. On the other hand, Ventura did seem to have more than its share of places that looked fine from the outside. It sounded like a job for the youngsters.

“I’ll get right on it,” he said. “Did you say a few weeks? And your dough — your funds — are completely gone?”

“The place is up for sale, and some real estate developer is already sniffing around the grounds,” Miss Kulpa replied. “I don’t think high-cost patients like Miss Donner are going to be a top priority.”

(Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

To be continued next Monday; December 13th)


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An Upcoming, Very Promising Film About Prison Life

Posted Saturday, December 5th

As some of you may know, one of my proudest moments came when the late, much-missed Pat Brown (aka Jerry's dad) asked me to co-author a book about the death penalty: PUBLIC JUSTICE, PRIVATE MERCY: A Governor's Education on Death Row in 1989.

I've just been sent a piece from the Huffington Post about what looks to be an important new film on the same subject.

A young man named Jacob Simas has put together a remarkable film called Inside Story, based on a San Quentin Prison newspaper. Take a look at this video sample and let me know what you think.

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FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT THIRTEEN

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT THIRTEEN
Posted Monday, November 29th

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 20 -- Quentin and Major Crime

The Sheriff of Ventura, Major Charles Crime, was a Vietnam vet who had come home from the war, gained the support of a local right wing lunatic Republican Congressman called Elvin Gagrule, and never looked back.

Crime, who hated work, spotted Quentin O'Rourke as an eager young man who would do anything to shine. So he made O'Rourke his chief deputy, and then spent his time on important issues like hassling local pot dealers.

Quentin was indeed eager, and also a lot smarter than he looked. He took over the Sheriff's Office and ran it well -- never letting his boss know what was going on. So, when Los Angeles Chief of Police Byron Gates sent a warrant for the arrest of "one Albrecht Zimmerman, aka Al Zymer," as a material witness in the just-reopened murder of Tina Carone, it was O'Rourke who got the document.

"I'll kick it around for a while until it gets lost," Quentin told Al on the telephone. "Meanwhile, let's hope somebody tries to take another shot at you. And don't forget to wear your vest."

"Is Hugh still on the case? I haven't seen him lately."

"If you had seen him, he wouldn't be doing his job," Quentin said. "Now, I've gotta go screw up my boss some more."



CHAPTER 21 -- Al & Co.

"Okay, Al -- time for some more tests designed to make you feel stupid," his son cackled.

Their attempts to recover more of his dream linking the Tina Carone and Katie Troncoso murder cases hadn't yet come up with much, but Al could feel something stirring deep inside what was left of his mind. Now, if he could just reconnect a few of those tangled wires…

"Let's start out with something simple," said Suzie, who had briskly taken charge without complaint from Al Jr. or Saul. "Let's have you draw a clock. A nice, big round clock, with its hands pointing to 3:30. Can you do that?"

"A.M or P.M.?" Al Sr. joked, as he made a large circle on Suzie's drawing pad, then added huge Disney hands at the 3 and 6 marks. "How did I do, teach?"

"I'd call that a 10," said Charpentier. "Even with those Mickey Mouse mitts. Now, let's try something slightly different. I want you to read out the time on your wall clock."

Al glanced up at the battery-operated platter of bacon and eggs hanging behind him. "Looks like 4:17 to me," he said.

"Grand. Now I need some pocket change. Cough up, guys -- quarters, dimes and nickels, please." She passed Al three quarters, seven dimes and seven nickels. "Okay, Al -- make me a dollar's worth of change out of that. You've got three minutes."

This one was a bit harder. He had to try three different combinations of coins in his head before he came up with the three quarters, two dimes and one nickel which he shoved across the table as Suzie's finger lifted to click her stopwatch.

Saul took over. "Here comes a fun one," he said. "It uses your nose. Notice any signs of losing your sense of smell recently?"

"Now that you mention it," Zymer said, "my cigars just don't smell or taste the way they used to."

"Considering those stinkpots you smoke, I'm not surprised. But researchers have known for some time that loss of the sense of smell is an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. Turns out the beta-amyloid plaques that ultimately destroy memory and other cognitive abilities accumulate first in areas of the brain that are responsible for perception of odors. Anyway, I've got ten items here which I want you to identify. Ready?"

Al nodded, and Saul passed him samples to sniff. "Strawberry?" he said to the first one, not quite sure. Saul said nothing, just handed him another sample. Menthol, perhaps? Natural gas, he was certain of, also lemon -- or was that pineapple? Soap, to be sure. But the rest were blurred and could have come from a failed 1960s movie in Smell-o-vision…

His son leaped in with some more sneaky tests. "Okay, Pops, I want you to name as many fruits as you can in a minute -- try for ten if you can, but don't sweat it."

Lemons, of course. Avocados -- were they a fruit? How about tomatoes? Garlic? Peaches?

"Let's move on. I'm gonna say three words, and I want you to remember them and repeat them back: Ferocious, flounder, female. Before you start repeating, try multiplying seven by 489 in your head. Okay, what were those words?"

"Female. Ferocious. And the third was…. Shit, I forget."

"Okay, old boy. Two out of three ain't bad…"

A loud ring from the telephone interrupted the tests. "Al, it's me -- Lou Gabriel."

"What's up, Lou?"

"Well, my pension came through, and I heard a rumor that you could use some help up there. So I'm on my way…"

Help? The only person Gabriel had had ever helped was himself -- to whatever was going. There was something very odd about this offer, and Al made a mental note to check it with Quentin.

(Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

To be continued next Monday, December 6th)

Stieg, We Hardly Knew You

POSTED November 24th

Is there anyone left in the known world (with the possible exception of my elderly aunt Hannah) who hasn’t read at least one of the books in Stieg Larsson’s monumental Millennium Trilogy, starring superhacker Lisbeth Salander and her friend and occasional squeeze, editor Michael Blomkvist? If you haven’t, what are you doing here? Start reading!

My own holiday gift season began last week, when a splendid boxed set of three beautiful Larsson hardcover editions, designed by Peter Mendelsund, arrived from publisher Alfred A. Knopf. I had reviewed and discussed the three Salander-Blomkvist novels for everything from the Chicago Tribune to my daughter Katie Shinden’s book group. But tucked inside the slipcase of this boxed set was a fourth, much smaller book, as good as gold: On Stieg Larsson, a previously unpublished collection of essays about, and correspondence with the late author from five Swedish colleagues who knew him best.

The incredible world success--literary and financial--of Larsson’s trilogy has generated some intelligent, in-depth coverage, especially from The Rap Sheet’s Ali Karim and CBS Sunday Morning, which last month aired a fine piece in which Larsson’s heirs bared their teeth over royalties. But On Stieg Larsson offers many new and touching moments, such as these quotes from Jonas Sundberg, who was a friend of Larsson’s and a co-founder of Expo magazine, which became the model for Blomkvist’s Millennium in the novels:

Stieg received me at his office at the TT News Agency ... He had a hint of an accent from Northern Sweden and seemed a little bit reserved ...

I found him very humble, yet aware of the quality of his own knowledge and brilliant thinking, peering at me through his round glasses ...

He had made serious arrangements to conceal his home address ...I became more aware of the risks involved when Stieg showed us a 9-mm bullet he had received in the post ...


Expo was founded in 1995, Sundberg tell us, “and its accuracy seemed to scare the extreme right. Newsstands selling Expo had their windows smashed, printers were terrorized, [and the magazine] was about to go under, when Sweden’s major dailies stepped in to support it.”

In 2003, Larsson walked into Sundberg’s office and said, “I’m working on my pension insurance, you know!” He explained to his friend that he was finishing work on a crime novel. A few weeks later, Larsson announced that he’d sold the book “for real money! Not jubilant, but with that sort of quiet pleasure he had when a plan of his worked out well.”

Elsewhere in On Stieg Larsson, Eva Gedin, the author’s longtime lover and his first editor at Swedish publisher Norstedts, moves us to tears with this statement: “To think that his wildest dreams would come true. For despite his reserved air, there was also a measure of natural self-assurance about him that suggested he had a premonition that his crime novels might possibly become something truly significant.”

Larsson died in 2004, at the age of 50, after a massive heart attack. The first three of his novels (and possibly others) were finished and edited, but had not yet seen print.

For anyone who hasn’t yet discovered his work, or wants to enshrine it on their bookshelves, Knopf’s wonderful new boxed set is the answer. It carries a hefty $99 retail price tag, but Amazon will release it on November 26 for a somewhat more reasonable $53.45 -- including free shipping.
FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT TWELVE

Posted Monday, November 22nd

(To catch up, all the archives are now on their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 18 -- Al, Quentin, Hugh Mungess

Two days later, Al was still feeling frustrated about his forgotten dream. The youngsters had tried hard, but nothing more came out of their efforts. Al hadn't slept well since the original incident, so at about midnight he got out of bed and opened his front door to breathe in some cool night air.

He felt the shot pass close over his head, then heard the rifle's sound. No dream this time, no roscoe barking "Kachow!" as he dozed in his chair. Scared shitless, he backed into the house quickly, bolted the door behind him, then called Quentin.

"I'll round up Hugh and get right over," the deputy said. "And Al, this is no joke. Somebody wants to scare you."

"Well, they sure did that. You don't think they were trying to shut me up for good?"

"No, I don't," Quentin replied. "Whoever these guys work for, LaMancha or Goss, they can shoot better than that."

O'Rourke and his big buddy arrived about twenty nervous minutes later. They had obviously been putting together a plan, which Quentin explained. "We want you to put this on," he told Al, handing him a serious-looking bulletproof vest with "Property of Ventura County Sheriff's Dept." stenciled on it.

"What, you're using me for bait?"

"I'm afraid so. Hugh and I would do it, but we're both too big to fool even a blind shooter. And your shrimp of a son would leap at the chance -- so that's why I don't want you to tell him."

"Agreed," said Al. "Luckily, he's spending the night over at Ivan's house. Okay, then what?"

"Then it's my job," Hugh answered. "I do this for a living, Al. I'll be outside, and with any luck the shooter will try again when you show yourself. And then I'll handle him."

"Handle? Not kill?"

"We need to know who he works for," Quentin said. "He can't tell us if he's dead."

CHAPTER 19: Al & Co.

There were no more shots from either side during the night, and Al went back to bed -- first taking off the vest so as not to alarm the youngsters. They trooped in about ten, and Al and his son cooked up some very good French toast.

"I did some doodling on our new friend Misha Goss," Saul said with a smile. "It turns out that he is indeed a paid-up member of the Russian Mafia -- based in St. Petersburg and not Moscow, for reasons still to be determined."

"Any connection between him and Manny?" Al Sr. asked.

"Just one hint so far -- a Russian blog said Goss had been ripped off by some California mobster, and was seeking revenge. And somebody in a bathhouse spotted him naked, and noticed a very common mob tattoo on his back. This one said MIR, which is the Russian word for world. But it's also, I've discovered, an acronym for a mob motto: Menya Ispravit Rastrel -- Execution Will Reform Me."

"I didn't know you spoke Russian, my sweet string bean," Suzie said.

"I don't -- but luckily I've got a computer program that does."

"Okay boys, let's get back to work," she said. "We've decided to leave the dream recovery for now, Al. Today, we're going to try out a few tests. Nothing frightening -- just some new ways to see if you really do have any signs of your namesake disease. For example, have you had any money problems recently? Any payments you might have missed?"

"None that I can recall," said Al, with a late laugh as he got his own joke. "My only money problem is not having enough -- especially now that I've got this extra mouth to feed."

"Tough luck, Pops," said his son. "And I was about to ask you for some pocket money."

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29TH

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT ELEVEN



Posted Monday, November 15th

(To catch up, all the archives are now in their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 17 -- Al and Al

"Why didn't you and my mom ever get married?"

Al looked at his son across the kitchen table, as they ate some excellent cheese omelets the boy had made. Slightly leathery, just the way Al Sr. liked them.

The meeting with Misha Goss had been interesting, to say the least. The big Russian seemed to have a serious bone to pick with Manny LaMancha, and wanted Zymer's help in bringing him down. No reasons were given, even when Al and his son tried to press him. But Saul would start his "doodling" into that as soon as he was up to it.

"It wasn't for want of trying," Al finally said to his son's question. "You remember your grandmother at all?"

"Some. She died when I was four."

"Yeah. Well, the last thing she wanted for her Yale-educated daughter was to marry a cop. Your mom, bless her heart, argued as much as she could, but I could tell it was tearing her apart. So I broke it off. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do."

"So you really loved her?" the boy asked after a long pause. "It wasn't just sex with a gorgeous younger woman?"

"That was part of it, I have to admit. But did I really love her? Yes, I really did. Can you live with that? From what I understand, you had a better life with Frankel than I could ever have given you, or her."

Al Sr. chewed another bite of his omelet. "Of course, if I'd known about you, I probably would've done something stupid and tried to see you. Your mom probably knew that, which is why she never told me."

CHAPTER 18 -- Al and Al

Al was dreaming again, this time about Tina Carone. In his dream, he suddenly saw the connection between her and Katie Troncoso. But when he woke up, he couldn't remember the connection.

"Son, I need your help," Al said as he knocked on the kid's bedroom door. He explained what had just happened. "How can I recover a dream? Didn't Freud write something about that?"

Young Al, amazed that his father even knew about dream interpretation (what else did he know, or had forgotten he knew?), said the first thing that came into his head. "To hell with Freud, he was a sick cookie anyway. Let's stick with the experts we know. Saul's out of the hospital, and his girl Suzie, besides having a great ass, does medical research for a living. I say we convene a meeting of the minds."



CHAPTER 19 -- Al & Co.

They met two days later in Al's large living room, with the smell of lemon blossoms drifting in through the open windows along with the noise of trees being attacked by saws.

Suzie, her expertise on full display, took charge. "Al, there are a lot of things we want to try out on you, some new tests to measure memory loss. But that can wait. Right now, let's see how much of that dream we can recover. Any thoughts, guys?"

Saul stepped up to the plate. "Al, remember the first day we met? You were having a dream then, which I woke you up from. You were muttering something about Effie, and Toots McAllister. Can you recall any of that?"

Al thought for a minute. "Not much. Effie was my secretary… No! She was Sam Spade's secretary! And Toots, I seem to remember she had something to do with an old case… But that's all. I'm sorry."

"You're doing great, Pops," his son said. "Now let's try the same thing with your new dream. Katie Troncoso was, if I remember correctly from Saul's file, a big win for you: the LAPD thought the sun shone out of your ass. But Tina Carone was the one they fired you for! Why would the two cases be connected?"

Al gulped, then said it: "Would any of you mind if I lay on the couch while we do this?"

His son laughed. "Whatever turns you on. Maybe Freud wasn't as limp a dick as I thought…"



Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

(To be continued next Monday, Nov. 22nd)

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT TEN

Posted Monday, November 8th

(To catch up, all the archives are now in their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER 16: Enter Misha Goss

As young Al left Saul's room and exited the hospital, he noticed a big man in his 60s with a shaved head and white beard apparently watching him. The man, casually dressed in expensive jeans and a sleek leather jacket, looked foreign, but Al couldn't say why.

In the hospital parking lot he saw the man again, this time making no effort to hide his interest in Al. The boy took out his cellphone and called Zymer at home. He described the watcher, but the details didn't seem to match anyone the detective knew -- or remembered.

The man was standing next to a new black SUV as Al pulled out. He turned on his phone's camera on and got off two shots as he drove by. Maybe the pictures would turn out to be useful.

Young Al decided to take a little tour of Ventura before heading back to the ranch. That way, he might catch a glimpse of the big man if he was indeed tailing him.

As an L.A. kid, he was at first surprised -- not much traffic on the clean streets, nobody blowing their horns or shouting out nasty stuff at other drivers (except for one fat guy in an eye patch; probably a nut case) -- and then charmed by the place. Sure, there were plenty of shopping malls, but somebody had set some standards: no fast fooderies on every corner, many large green spaces to ease the urbanity.

Downtown Main Street was even more of a surprise. What had been a collection of thrift shops and old magazine stores when young Al and his parents had stopped ten years ago on their way home from the Ojai Valley Inn was now a bustling, trendy area, full of boutiques and restaurants of all flavors. "I'll be back," he growled in his best Arnold imitation, "as soon as that cheap dick starts paying me."

He spotted the black SUV behind him as he turned back toward the lemon grove. It was making no attempt to hide. What to do? He was unarmed, and Al Sr. had mentioned that he was, too -- thank the gun gods. But he didn't want to lead this guy to the grove. So he turned right and then left on a much quieter street. Now came the dangerous part.

Young Al slowed down until the SUV was right behind him. Then he braked hard and swung left to block the road. Then he waited.

"You vant to play games, young man?" The other driver had come out of his vehicle and stood next to Al's. "I tink you lose. And dat vould be a shame. All I vant is to talk to Al Zymer."

"He's in the phone book, last I looked." He wasn't, but screw this goon.

"I need to have -- vot is it called? -- a one on one chat vit him," the big man said.

"About what, the price of lemons?"

"About a mutual enemy of ours, a man vit the ridiculous name of Manny LaMancha."

This caught Al's attention. "Who is this joker?" he asked.

"Your fodder knows him him vell. And I can assure you dat he'll want to hear what I have to say."

Young Al took out his cellphone. "Pop, it's me again. I ran into that guy, following me home. He says he wants to talk…"

"Mr. Zimmerman, my name is Misha Goss," said the big man, taking the cellphone forcibly from young Al. "Am I vot? Carrying? Ah, you mean am I armed? Not at the moment. Are you? I thought not -- you lost your permit when you hit seventy, I understand."

From what he could overhear, young Al thought that this gent knew an awful lot about family business. Did that make him dangerous?

"He vants to talk to you," said Goss, handing the kid the cellphone. "Can he hear me?" was the first thing Zymer asked his son.

"I don't think so."

"Okay, bring him here -- as slowly as possible. I'll try to get Quentin and his large friend to hang around outside. And son, try not to worry. Most of us have done this before."

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

(To be continued next Monday, November 15th)

Cold Comfort Christmas

Posted November 5th, 2010

(Happy Birthday, Dear Katie)

Cozies have never been my subgenre of choice, and I especially avoid holiday cozies like a Tea Party rally. But something about this one caught my interest. Certainly the title -- THE FAT MAN: A Tale of North Pole Noir -- seemed to have my name on it. So I thought I'd give it a few pages…

And I was immediately hooked. Just like Louise Penny, John Lescroart and Steve Hockensmith, I found Ken Harmon's debut mystery starring a two-foot-three inch 1,300-year-old elf called Gumdrop Coal a sheer delight: hilarious, touching, amazingly inventive.

Gumdrop's troubles begin early, when he is fired from his centuries-long job as captain of the Coal Patrol, the elves who deliver lumps of carbon to naughty kids. Then he's framed for murder, and realizes that not all is cool at the North Pole. Even Kris Kringle himself could be on his way out.

A headline in the local paper says it all:

THE MARSHMALLOW WORLD GAZETTE Gumdrop Coal Fired from Coal Patrol -- Santa's Dark Elf is Out on His Ear

The story is written by Rosebud Jubilee, a sexy girl with a thing for elves, and it says that Gumdrop has been replaced by one Charles "Candy" Cane -- an arch villain who wants to take over the keys to Kringledom.

Harmon has the tremendous gift of taking what we've known all our lives and giving it a mighty spin. Here's a small collection of tidbits from narrator Gumdrop to savor:

"Truth is, there aren't that many places for elves in the world to go. Despite what you may have read, Middle Earth is really for outlaws. Middle Earth elves and dwarfs are desperadoes who are looking for a hole to hide in and maybe score a quick treasure…"

"Munchkins are elves, but they'll try and tell you different. Munchkins are elf elitists, and if their Lollipop Guild puts the kibosh on your application, they'll pretend they never knew you… They make their life sound all yippy skippy and ding-dong the witch is dead, but they don't tell you the Flying Monkeys are still around…

"The other poop you need to be wise to is that our world, Kringle Town, is in a different dimension than your human world, hovering at the edge of what you can see and hear. Kringle Town is always there, just out of sight. It's how we see you when you're sleeping, know when you're awake…"


Then there's the Island of Misfit Toys, where things that never worked but have acquired a life of their own are stored -- and the only access is a barge piloted by Tiny Tim. "Tim was lonely, forgotten except for when Christmas needed a sad, saintly cherub to tug at the heartstrings…"

I could go on for pages, but I don't want to spoil any of your pleasure. And I can't wait to see what Harmon has up his sleeve for Easter.

Buying Britain for Bullion

Buying Britain for Bullion
Posted November 3rd

UK Lord claims mysterious Foundation wants to give Britain £17B, no strings attached

Once again, the folks at Boing Boing are first with this amazing story:

Charlie Stross links to an official transcript of the Nov 1 debate in the UK's House of Lords in which the Tory life-peer Lord James of Blackheath (a respected industry magnate and financier) claims to have been contacted by a secret foundation with more gold on hand than all the world's bullion reserves combined.

This group, "Foundation X," apparently has offered to give the UK £5 billion right away, no strings attached, with another £17 million to follow before Christmas for works on hospitals, schools and London's crossrail project. Lord James seems to be totally serious about this, and he claims to have brought other respected Lords to meet with these shadowy goldbugs.

So: who's trying to buy Britain?

Lord James of Blackheath: "At this point, I am going to have to make a very big apology to my noble friend Lord Sassoon [Treasury Minister], because I am about to raise a subject that I should not raise and which is going to be one which I think is now time to put on a higher awareness, and to explain to the House as a whole, as I do not think your Lordships have any knowledge of it. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde [Leader of the House] is not with us at the moment, because this deeply concerns him also."


More to come? Hope so!

Don't Go To Bed Without This

Don't Go To Bed Without This
Posted November 2nd, (What the Chinese call "Election Day")

From that most talented chap Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:



Robert J Wiersema's second novel, BEDTIME STORY, is a spooky, fast-moving horror novel that asks whether the power of storytelling can be something less-than-wonderful. Christopher Knox is a failing novelist struggling with his very late second novel and his dissolving marriage. When his son turns 11, Christopher blows the birthday present: instead of buying the kid a copy of Lord of the Rings, he comes home with a leather-bound first edition of To the Four Directions, an obscure kids' fantasy novel by Lazarus Took, a writer Knox himself adored in his boyhood.

But Knox is redeemed when David gets utterly hooked on To the Four Directions, skipping meals and getting in trouble at school because he can't tear himself away from it. It seems that Knox has found the answer to his son's status as a "reluctant reader" -- right up to the point that David collapses into a catatonic state while reading the novel and is taken to hospital, gripped with seizure after seizure.

Though Knox doesn't know it (at first), David has been literally sucked into the novel, cast as the protagonist in a hero's journey fantasy plot where things aren't quite right. All Knox knows is that reading the book aloud to David takes him out of the seizures and calms him.

Soon enough, though, Knox is playing detective, learning more about the mysterious Lazarus Took, his literary estate, the book, and the other people whose lives it has ruined.

Bedtime Story becomes a supernatural thriller, a race between Knox and his attempt to discover and break the spell on David, and the forces within the story who are bent on devouring David's soul.

This is a well-crafted story, one that really works through the fantasy novel cliches and looks at the darkness lurking behind them. It was a fun read -- and quick, too, despite the hefty, near-500-page weight of the thing. Weirsema's a fine storyteller, and once he gets his hooks into you, you won't want to stop reading.

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT NINE

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT NINE
Posted Monday, November 1st



(To catch up, all the archives are now in their own site -- in order of appearance.)



PART TWO: THE KID



Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.
– Dorothy Parker

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Al and Al

Al jerked awake so hard he almost gave himself whiplash. A voice -- an oddly familiar voice -- was saying, "No sign outside, Al? Mom said you always had one at your office in L.A., which amused the neighbors no end."

It was the "Mom said" that give him the clue. Her voice on the phone a couple of weeks before -- "It's me" -- could still quicken his heart, even after twenty years of not hearing it.

"Hello, me," Al had said. "How are you? I heard you became a lawyer, got married, even had a kid."

"You have your sources, don't you?"

"Well, I'm still a detective, for what it's worth," Al answered. "Not that it's worth much these days."

"Do you ever get down to L.A.?" she asked

"The old legs gave out awhile ago. I even had to give up driving. How about you? Ever get up to Ventura? I inherited a little lemon ranch up here."

"No, Al – that's why I'm calling. I seem to have lost the breast cancer war.”

“I'm so sorry, my love,” Al began, but she interrupted. “I'm sending up someone to meet you,” she said. “You'll recognize him – and I hope you'll understand why I had to wait to tell you. Bye, my love. See you on the other side.”

"I didn't mean to scare you, old man," said the voice. Al suddenly realized who it reminded him of: a younger version of Saul Kearney, still recovering from his beating by LaMancha's muscle, Creighton Barrel.

Al looked up. As the boy's mother had said, he did recognize him. The youngster was an exact replica of Al as he had looked 50 years ago. Despite himself, he gasped and said the first thing that came into his mind. "Does your dad know?"

"He died two years ago," the boy replied. "And by the way, my name is Al -- Al Frankel. Mike Frankel was a great father; nobody could ever replace him." His hard look at Zymer made Al realize that there was a lot of resentment in the youngster.

"So you're 20. What have you been up to?"

"I gave Santa Monica College a try," the boy said. "But I didn't see anything that appealed. Then, when she knew she was dying, Mom told me about you, and what you did for a living. I figured, why not see if the PI gig was for me. And here I am -- your new assistant."

"Assistant? Hold on, boy. I have trouble making a living myself. There's no dough for an assistant..."

"Mom said you were the cheapest bastard in Hollywood," young Al laughed. "Don't freak out -- I'll work for room and food, at least for a while."

"Okay. You got a deal." He almost added "Son," but held off until they knew each other better. "You want to get started right away? My regular assistant, Saul Kearney -- a little older than you -- unfortunately got beaten up working on a case for me, so I could use some help."

"Beaten up?" the boy asked. "What kind of case?"

Al searched his mind for details, but nothing came up. Maybe Saul had written them down. He looked through the box of stuff which Kearney's friend Suzie had shipped to him. There was a file in it labeled "LaMancha." Zymer skimmed Saul's notes quickly, felt a switch in his brain click on, and passed the file to the boy. "Manny LaMancha, a former L.A. mobster now in the Witness Protection Program up here. He's tried to kill me a couple of times -- once in L.A. and once up here. And I still don't know why! What does he think I know?"

"His name really is Manny LaMancha?" young Al asked.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Guess you never read Don Quixote at Hollywood High," said his son. "Never mind. Why did Saul get the shit kicked out of him? Did he make some joke about the guy's name?"

"Damned if I know. Maybe Manny thought we were getting too close for comfort. trying to link him to a couple of cold cases. Anyway, one of his muscles…" (he almost said "Creighton Barrel," but decided to skip it)… "paid Saul a visit and put him in Community Memorial Hospital."

"Is he still there?" the boy asked.

"Yeah, for another week."

"Maybe I should drop in, see what else he's found. I'll drive over there after lunch. What have we got to eat, aside from lemons?"

"There's some avocados from my own trees," his father answered. "And a new bag of onion bagels. I'll make the coffee. You do drink coffee, don't you?"

"I'd rather have a beer."

"You're in luck," said Al. "The old lady…" (What was her name again?)… "left a case of Dos Xs in the pantry."



CHAPTER FIFTEEN:

Young Al, Saul, Hugh Mungess

After lunch, young Al got directions and drove off in his ancient Honda. There seemed to be more questions than answers in Saul Kearney's file, but the boy had read enough crime fiction in his short life to know that eventually everything would (probably) be made clear.

The largest human being young Al had ever seen was sitting in a too-small chair outside Saul's hospital room. Al blinked, then realized he'd seen him before -- a professional football player, certainly a blocker or a tackle. What in hell was his name?

It suddenly leaped into his head. "Hugh Mungess! The Eagles, 2006, right?" The giant rose slowly, recognized the kid as no threat, and walked toward him. "You got it. And who are you?"

"I'm Al Frankel -- Al Zymer's son. Are you guarding Saul's body?"

"Better late than never. Quentin O'Rourke is a good friend, knew I could use the work. Go on in -- I think he's awake."

"So this guy's real name is Manny LaMancha?" Al asked Saul as soon as they'd introduced themselves in Kearney's room.

"I couldn't believe it, either," a still battered and bandaged Saul replied. "And the guy who beat me up is actually called Creighton Barrel. What are we involved in -- some punster's nightmare?"

"Al didn't seem to get it when I asked if the name La Mancha was a joke. That's another thing I wanted to find out from you. Is the old fart really slipping into senility, or is he putting us on?"

"I asked my friend Suzie, who does medical research, the same thing. She says that's a definite symptom of early stage Alzheimer's. 'Do I have it, or don't I? You decide.' One of his clients asked him, 'What's with this Columbo routine -- asking the same questions over and over?' And Al's face convinced me that he had no idea who Columbo was…"



Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

(To be continued Monday, November 8th)

Ebert Makes A Pitch for Lis Salander

POSTED 10/28

From one of my all-time favorite blogs, Kevin Roderick's LAOBSERVED:

"Ebert: Lisbeth Salander must continue"

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest," the third and ostensibly final film with Noomi Rapace playing the part of Swedish hacker-punk-heroine Lisbeth Salander, opens Friday to the approval of Roger Ebert. He speculates that, even though writer Stieg Larsson only finished three "Girl" novels before he died, the Lisbeth character will somehow continue. He hopes so, anyway."

"Lisbeth Salander makes a transfixing heroine precisely because she has nothing but scorn for such a role. Embodied here for the third time by Noomi Rapace, she's battered, angry and hostile, even toward those who would be her friends. Some of the suspense in the final courtroom showdown of 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' comes from the excellent question of whether she would rather be found guilty than provide anyone with the satisfaction of hearing her testify in her own defense...

"That frees the director, Daniel Alfredson, to focus more time on Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the investigative journalist who collaborated with her in the first film and has become her fierce defender — and perhaps more, a man who loves her. Their mutual affection was an intriguing subtext in the first film, but has been on hold ever since, while Mikael continues his relaxed intimacy with his editor, Erika Berger (Lena Endre). There are said to be two more Larsson novels in various stages of completion, but even if they're not publishable, Lisbeth Salander is too good a character to suspend after three films, and my guess is there must be sequels.....

"So what has happened is that this uptight, ferocious, little gamine Lisbeth has won our hearts, and we care about these stories and think there had better be more."

"Maybe so," adds Roderick, "but Rapace was back in Hollywood this week and saying, once again, that she's done with the role. Meanwhile, Scott Timberg writes that Larsson's Millennium Trilogy 'has become the publishing phenomenon of the young century...success [that] has few parallels in publishing...without a single bookstore signing, author appearance or Charlie Rose interview.'"

Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the Grass
High End Pot Jar (from Boing Boing)
POSTED 10/28/2010

(Happy birthay, Dan)

Story by MALIA WOLLAN in NYT this ayem gave me an idea:

"SAN FRANCISCO — It was just about a year ago that Kevin Faler came up with his get-rich-quick marijuana scheme. No, he does not plan to sell the drug, even if Californians vote next week to become the first state in the nation to fully legalize it. He intends to sell the Internet real estate that could one day lead to marijuana Web sites.

Mr. Faler, a former police officer who once worked the narcotics beat, has registered more than 1,000 marijuana-related Internet domain names, including oddities like icecreammarijuana.com and marijuanapastry.com. And he is not the only one banking on the drug’s online future. He is part of an Internet land grab for marijuana domains by so-called domainers who hope to sell their holdings at a profit, betting that more lenient marijuana laws will eventually drive more people to the Web for their supplies, whether they are seeking seeds, bongs, recipes or drug-laced dog treats.

All of this has been given a fresh burst of intensity by next week’s vote on Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would legalize up to an ounce of the drug for recreational use. Fourteen states have already legalized medical marijuana.

“Marijuana domain name values will fly off the charts once Prop 19 passes,” said Mr. Faler, 49. “I’m hoping to make enough money to buy a condo in Morocco. That’s how big it’s going to be.”

I'm not sure about the condo, but I do have a good pot domain in my head: LEAVES OF GRASS2010.com. (From the Walt Whitman poem). So I've just bought the domain name LEAVES OF GRASS2010 for a mere $8.

Any bidders? Email me at dickadler@mail.com. I'm also planning to put it up on eBay...

FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT EIGHT

October 25th, 2010

(To catch up, all the archives are now in their own site -- in order of appearance.)



CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Saul

I had come down to Beverly Hills to search through Al's files, which hadn't yet made the move to Ventura. I used his key to open the door, then gently closed and locked it.

Where to start? Why not with Jon Castle, who had finally coughed up some cash to help us find his bomber?

I hoped that Al was familiar enough with the alphabet to make searching easier. Sure enough, there was a stained and battered folder marked "Castle" right after one that seemed to say "Bezerides." Why was that name familiar? Wasn't he a famous screenwriter who specialized in film noir? No time to waste now, but I made a mental bookmark for later.

I found my first clue in Al's cramped handwriting on a crumpled sheet of paper. The name PETROVSKY leaped from the page -- the same name that Al had muttered to me after some sexual encounter with a tough female arms dealer called Tess Tosterone. What in hell was going on here? Why was I trapped in a mad punster's nightmare?

Castle, I quickly discovered, was the president of the Beverly Hills Merchants' Association at the time of the Petrovsky bomb threat and multi-million dollar extortion attempt. Blog me dead. Coincidence, or something more dangerous? I folded the contents of the file in half and stuffed it into my undershorts. Lucky I did.

I heard a click behind me at the door. A cleaning person? Al hadn't mentioned this possibility, and the layer of dust didn't suggest it. Nope, somebody was definitely trying to break in with a credit card or other burglar's friend.

I eased myself around as quietly as possible, but it was too late. A short, round, barrel-shaped type was already inside and had spotted me at the file cabinet. We both spoke at the same time: "Who the fuck are you?" But his voice was cool and mine was just scared.

"I work here," was all I could manage. "What's your excuse?"

He laughed, then smashed my nose with a hard, fast right. "Creighton Barrel, at your service, asshole. You must be the new assistant. This should teach you both not to fuck with Manny." Another blow crashed into my face, splashed blood all over my shirt, then sent me quickly into dreamland.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Saul

I woke up slowly and painfully after about an hour, noticed that the contents of Al's filing cabinet were scattered on the floor and that my briefcase had suffered similar treatment, then used my cell phone to call not Al (who couldn't figure out how to work even a simple one like Jitterbug) but first Suzie and then Quentin O'Rourke at his office. I told them where I was and what had happened, then drifted off again.

Next time I woke up, I was in a bed in the ER at Ventura's Community Memorial Hospital. I had dozed through the arrival of the paramedics and the trip from Los Angeles at what I later learned was record speed.

Suzie and Al were both there, looking scared and surprised. Al had wanted to go after Manny's henchman himself, but Quentin had talked him out of it. "I've got a better idea," he'd said, and left to get it done.

Al tamped down his anger and apologized. "They were after me, not you," he said. "You still want in on this?"

Suzie shook her head, but I took her hand. "There are no quitters in the Kearney family," I said, but decided not to tell my parents just yet. "How long am I going to be in this nickel joint?"

"They said at least a week," Suzie answered. "Saul, are you sure you're up for this? You took a pretty bad beating, my old stringbean."

"She's got a point," Al growled. "You look like The Mummy with all those bandages."

"Looks aren't everything. Besides, I found out something good before that shitheel started pounding me." But before I could explain, I was off again into cloud cuckoo land...

(Continued next Monday, November 2)

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler

Our Favorite Rejection Slip

Saturday, October 23rd

From those fine folk at Boing Boing comes this rejection slip sent out in the 1920s by Essanay Pictures -- best known for early Charlie Chaplins.

Ouch!

Al's Been Wordled

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thanks to those smarties at Wordle, especially creator Jonathan Feinberg, we've been given this great new piece of art to urge us on.

FYI : From Today's RAP SHEET

Monday, October 18, 2010

Says Jeff Pierce: Checking my voluminous backlog of e-mail this morning, I found the following note from Rap Sheet contributor (and former Chicago Tribune books critic) Dick Adler. He writes:

While the rest of you were off enjoying yourselves at Bouchercon in San Francisco, I’ve been scrabbling away on my serial novel, FORGET ABOUT IT: The First Al Zymer Senile Detective Mystery. Installment Seven is up now at my new site, with archives still to be found here.

Why the change? Funny you should ask. Thanks to the efforts of the spammer/extortionist from Edinburgh (go get him, Rebus!) who digitally assaulted me on Facebook last year, I can’t currently access my personal page, The Knowledgeable Blogger. The best cops on the Web are at work trying to track this guy down, but if you’ve seen the excellent new film, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, you know that the bad guys usually win. Tell your friends about this latest installment, and thanks for listening.

INSTALLMENT SEVEN -- FORGET ABOUT IT

INSTALLMENT SEVEN -- FORGET ABOUT IT
October 18th, 2010
(To catch up, all the archives are now in their own site -- in order of appearance.)

CHAPTER TWELVE: Al, Ivan, Quentin

At 11 p.m. that night, Al and Ivan were sitting in the Busy Bee, a coffee shop on Main Street where Ivan's buddy Quentin O'Rourke, a Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy, preferred to conduct his business.

"What, they got no Dunkin' Donuts up here?" Al asked.

"Nope. No Walmarts, either. The City Council is very tough about keeping the place from turning into Los Angeles."

"Is this the same City Council where Manny has a chair?"

Ivan was spared from replying by the arrival of a large man in a rumpled uniform. "You must be Al Zymer," the deputy said. "Is the name real, or are you taking the piss?"

The only other person Al knew, aside from Rachel, who used that expression was Ivan. "You a Brit?" he asked.

"Nope. I was born in L.A. But I've picked up some of Ivan's weird lingo, plus a taste for British soccer -- which they call football. Try telling that to your average 300-pound linebacker."

"So, how did you guys meet?" asked Al. "Working on a case?" "Believe it or not, this mick is a member of my synagogue," Davis answered genially.

"The O'Rourke is from my father. My mother's name was Moscovitz. I feel right at home every time I walk into a temple."



CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Al

"Is this Albrecht Zimmerman?" asked a voice that had 'lawyer' dripping from it like icicles.

"Who wants to know?" Al said cautiously.

"My name is Bernard Montez. I represent the late Bertha Vanation. If you are indeed Albrecht Zimmerman, I have some news for you."

That was her name, Al thought. I never went to see her, and now she's dead. He vaguely remembered a thin, quiet woman, just the opposite of her sister. Al's mother was loud and insistent; his car salesman father put up with it, but Al left the house as soon as he could enroll in the Police Academy. He visited her once, after his old man died, but she was deep in senilty herself by that time.

"How did you get this number?"

"Your associate, Mr. Kearney, gave it to me," Montez said. "Can we get together tomorrow? Please bring as much ID as you can to prove you really are Albrecht Zimmerman."

The lawyer was as smooth and cold as a glass of horchata as he told Al that his Aunt Bertha had left him a small lemon grove on the eastern end of Ventura, along Telegraph Road. The main house was gorgeous -- six rooms full of old Mexican-style furniture. The only other private building on the ranch was the modest home of the longtime manager, Pablo. The seasonal workers who picked the lemons and cared for the trees were housed in a clean but depressing bunkhouse on the edge of the grove.

Al took one look and decided to move in. Ivan was amazingly generous letting him freeload at his house, but Al felt like the ranch was a kind of a homecoming. That plus the fact that Montez had told him the place was green-belted and couldn't be sold until 2020 made up his mind...

(To Be Continued Next Monday, October 25th)

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler