Wednesday 30 September 2009

Hiking Trails - The Goat Creek Trail

The Goat Creek Trail begins near Kananaskis country at Canmore over an approximate 18km route south of Mt. Rundle to the Banff Springs Hotel parking lot. This trail is used a lot by mountain bikers. Hikers need to keep an eye and an ear out for bikers coming up behind them or down steep portions of the trail. To go the one-way from Canmore to the Banff Springs Hotel will take about 5 hours on a mountain bike and considerably longer if hiking. A map of the Spray River Loop provides an estimate of the trail location.

[1-Departing trail head]

The trailhead is at the Spray Lake Road parking area past the Canmore Nordic Centre where the first part of the trail is dirt. The trail drops about 291m (957ft). Many bikers and hikers have a ride drop them off here and pick-up later at the Banff Springs Hotel parking lot.

[2 - View from the trail - click to enlarge]

The trail makes its way through Engelmann spruce with Mt. Rundle to the north and the Goat Range to the south.

[3-Bridge over Goat Creek]

The footbridges at Goat Creek and Spray River are at the bottom of relatively steep grades and require awareness on the part of the hiker or biker. At the latter footbridge at about the 9 km mark cross over to the fire road which will go straight to the golf course at the Banff Springs Hotel.

[4-Goat Creek Trail

[5-click to enlarge]

[6-Goat Creek Falls - click to enlarge]



[9-View from Goat Creek Trail of Banff Springs Hotel]

[10-Goat Creek Trail - Golf Course]

[11-Bow Falls - click to enlarge]

PLEASE NOTE: The area of the Spray River Valley from its headwaters at Canyon Dam through to the confluence of Goat Creek and the Spray River. This area also includes the drainage from Sundance Pass south into the Spray River is CLOSED TO HUMAN TRAFFIC FROM APRIL 15, 2009 TO NOVEMBER 15, 2009. ACCESS IS FORBIDDEN AT THIS TIME.

ParksCanada Trail Condition Report
ParksCanada Bear Report
Moon Alberta: including Banff, Jasper and the Canadian Rockies (2007), Andrew Hempstead, p.194
Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks (2008), Oliver Berry, Brendan Sainsbury, p.122

Photo Credits: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]-dking CC=nc-sa-flickr.

Monday 28 September 2009

Zen Garden

Innovation Place is a research park located at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and situated on 80 acres. This zen garden with a small pond and waterfall is an excellent place to enjoy the summer, while in winter the pond serves as a skating rink.

UPDATE: Chris from Iceland inquired about the types of birds in Saskatoon. A perfect place to visit is Nick Saunders of Saskatchewan Birds, Nature and Scenery.

Photo Credits: Jordon CC=nc-sa-flickr. Click to enlarge the photos.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Bench of the Week (21)

These benches are located near Canmore, Alberta.

RuneE of Visual Norway began an informal meme on Bench of the Week. Please visit his site for other participants.

Photo Credit: Paul Hudson CC=nc-nd-flickr. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Gatineau Park

This lake is located in Gatineau Park north-west of Ottawa, Ontario in Quebec. A major attraction in this park is the estate of William Lyon Mackenzie, Canada's tenth prime minister.

Photo Credit: vtveen CC=nc-nd-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Fast Ships, Black Sails (Book Review) for International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Arggggh! To help commemorate the Pirate Guys at Talk Like a Pirate today’s book review of FAST SHIPS, BLACK SAILS is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy pirate stories published by Night Shade Books. For other participants to the International Talk Like a Pirate day please visit here.

Do you love the sound of a peg leg stomping across a quarterdeck? Or maybe you prefer a parrot on your arm, a strong wind at your back? Adventure, treasure, intrigue, humor, romance, danger - and, yes, plunder! Oh, the Devil does love a pirate - and so do readers everywhere! Swashbuckling from the past into the future and space itself, Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, presents an incredibly entertaining volume of original stories guaranteed to make you walk and talk like a pirate.

There will always be pirates, even today in the Mediterranean and in the seas around Africa. In the VanderMeer Anthology pirates have moved into space and beyond, chartering the vast unknown while making their livelihood at what they know best. Within these covers is the perfect pirate story for any reader, presenting classic and unique stories of buccaneers sailing the seas of the cosmos or present day Earth.

Boogum by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette – This first story is about piracy in space with unusual cargo taken from a captured freighter and a semi-sentient spaceship with Captain Black Alice who finds herself making a sacrifice.

Castor on Troubled Waters by Rhys Hughes – comic story of pirates and gambling debts well told.

I Begyn as I Mean To Go On by Kage Baker – a creepy classic pirate story. Two castaways are taken onto a ship, Martin Luther, whose captain has a bad reputation. By the law of the sea they are obliged to work on the ship, and things become interesting when they find their way to an ancient emerald mine in South America.

Avast, Abaft! by Howard Waldrop – found this one humorous and similar in nature to the HMS Pinafore and the Pirates of Penzance.

Elegy to Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves by Kelly Barnhill – about a woman with the ability to use magic whose daughter belongs to the sea.

Skillet and Saber by Justin Howe – a new sailor on a ship is assigned as the cook’s apprentice with some comedic episodes.

The Nymph’s Child by Carrie Vaughan– This is a story of a woman who poses as a man to be allowed to go to sea, and when caught by pirates must give up her daughter.

68° 07' 15" N, 31° 36' 44" W, by Conrad Williams provides a horror story about Captain Low on a revenge mission after his crew is slaughtered.

Ironface by Michael Moorcock – A very short piece about pirates in space on a trip to Venus that I felt should have been longer.

Pirate Solutions by Katherine Sparrow – This is an experimental piece about computer analysts who drink from a bottle of rum to become pirates, and setting sail in an old ship with masts. When they reach their isolated island, and dig up a treasure chest full of ancient rum bottles, they send out messages in bottle which in turn, bring other computer geeks from around the world to join them.

We Sleep on a Thousand Waves Beneath the Stars by Brendan Connell – A story about hungry pirates who don’t discriminate over what they eat.

Voyage of the Iguana by Steve Aylest – A story with a weird list of journal entries on said voyage with mishaps. This I found boring.

Pirates of the Suara Sea by David Freer and Eric Flint – This is a about space pirates in an alien sea where the vessel is manned by a woman captain. She manages to jettison part of the cargo when the pirates arrive, with special plans for the intruder’s captain.

A Cold Day in Hell by Paul Batteiger – provides a unique setting with three masted sailing ships on ice skates whizzing across frozen seas. Two ships leave Boston on an expedition to capture The Queen’s Revenge and its captain Frost, considered to be more monster than human.

The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth: a Nautical Tail by Rachel Swirsky – This story is great fun, featuring rat pirates and later a shipwrecked cat who had eaten her previous lover.

Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake by Naomi Novik – An alternative Earth awaits the reader where England is ruled by Roman deities and the sacrifices of women are dominated by mens’ will. Araminta, the daughter of an important noble is kidnapped by pirates, but she has a few unique abilities to assist her in outwitting them.

The Whale Below by Jayme Lynn Blaschke – An alien story of a pirate spaceship seizes a ‘whaler’ ship only to find no one on board.

Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe by Garth Nix – This story is about a gentleman rogue and his magical puppet facing a priestess who happens to be a cannibal. There are some interesting scenes with shapeshifters.

There were several authors in this anthology I had never read before, and will be looking up more of Rachel Swirsky, Katherine Sparrow and Garth Nix.

Format: Paperback, 272 pages
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Published: October 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59780-094-5

Available at:

Thursday 17 September 2009

Bench of the Week (20)

These benches and picnic tables are in Banff National Park, Alberta with a pretty background of changing colours.

RuneE of Visual Norway has an informal meme of Bench of the Week.

Other participants are:

Ackworth Born, Gone West

Steve Gallow of SG-photo

Photo Credit: Cuppojoe CC=nc-sa-flickr.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

This lake is in Algonquin Park in north-central Ontario.

Photo Credit: Two Big Paws CC=nc-nd-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Cut Short by Leigh Russell (Book Review)

When D.I. Geraldine Steel relocates to a quiet village near Woolsmarsh, she expects to find her new home to be a place where nothing much happens; a space where she can battle her demons in private. When she finds herself pitted against a twisted killer preying on local young women she quickly discovers how wrong she was.

By day, the park in Woolsmarsh is a place for children’s games, for people walking their dogs or taking a short cut to avoid the streets. But in the shadows a predator prowls, hunting for fresh victims.

This brilliant crime thriller begins with the murder of a young woman in Woolsmarsh, a location not often associated with serial murderers. As the body count rises, the town’s population questions the ability of the local police to arrest the murderer and begin to set up vigilante groups.

Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is a likeable heroine with a forward approach to police work. She questions her ability to do the job set out before her when the murders escalate. The head of the team, DCI Kathryn Gordon is rigorous and demanding to keep the Murder Investigation Team on track, pulling Steel back into the framework when she starts thinking outside the box.

The short chapters kept the pace brisk without any loss of momentum with succinct writing. There are multiple points of view from the other well developed characters that provide a refreshing look at the crimes as they unfold. The connections of the various characters including the killer were revealed by the end of the story with all the loose ends tied up. The last chapters draw the reader into a riveting conclusion.

I read this book in one day unable to put it down, and it certainly is a great start for a debut release. I look forward to Leigh Russell’s upcoming book in this series: Road Closed.

Book format: paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: No Exit Press
Author website: Leigh Russell


Saturday 12 September 2009


Most of the haying in Alberta would be done by now, as September often provides quick snow squalls that often melt quickly. I have witnessed snow on Labour Day weekend despite wishing for mild weather to continue.

Photo Credit: Karen Hall CC=nc-sa-flickr.

Thursday 10 September 2009

The Book of Secrets by Chris Roberson (Book Review)

Reporter Spencer Finch is embroiled in the hunt for a missing book, encountering along the way cat burglars and mobsters, hackers and monks. At the same time, he’s trying to make sense of the legacy left him by his late grandfather, a chest of what appear to be magazines from the golden age of pulp fiction, and even earlier.

Following his nose, Finch gradually uncovers a mystery involving a lost Greek play, secret societies, generations of masked vigilantes… and an entire secret history of mankind.

Although Angry Robot Books lists this book under the Thriller / Urban Fantasy category, it contains multiple genres: short stories similar to the noir pulps of the forties and fifties; adventure/action, spiritual journey and fantasy. The story comes in layers providing clues along the way. Some seem insignificant until the end of the book until the ‘ah ha’ moment.

Spencer Finch has been trying to find his way in life, struggling with situations that occur during his life as a journalist. He has a collection of people that he uses to acquire information from or do the legwork on portions of projects for him. Expect the unexpected as the clues are unraveled. Although the book has its noir and pulp fiction clichés, they are entertaining and fun.

Finch tries to unravel the mystery of his grandfather’s legacy contained in a cardboard box: a collection of old magazines that hold short stories written by him, books, type written pages, a loose sheet with foreign writing, plus a locked wooden case without a key. In alternative chapters are the short stories his grandfather wrote, revealing different aspects of a character known as “The Black Hand”. These short stories are in multiple genres as well: western, historical, swash-buckling sea adventure, crime. They all contain clues, and those who like noir and crime pulp will be delighted. I was.

In digging up information on a reclusive millionaire, Finch travels across country as the clues appear, and so does the body count. While finding out about his mysterious grandfather, Finch learns things about himself. He’s not perfect; at times downright stupid when going somewhere without backup or a safety net. Though he bumbles at times, Finch manages the detective work

The short stories Finch’s grandfather penned move backward in time, beginning with “The Talon’s Curse” in 1939, a noir mystery set in San Francisco, followed by a western in 1918, a rogue tale in 1833, a swash-buckling sea adventure in 1705, and so on. Mr. Roberson uses these fantasy stories layered in with the crime novel that progresses to solving the mystery, and the fantasy to early mythology and beliefs thus producing a portal to another place.

The ending is WOW. It wasn’t anything that I thought it would be, as the previous chapters stuck to the mystery involved in crime noir in combination with the clues in the collection of short stories by Finch’s grandfather.

This book was refreshing, fun, and with laugh out loud sections. I would recommend it for anyone wanting an entertaining read, to be carried away into the stories and shutting out the outside world.

Book format: paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, imprint of HarperCollins
Author website: Chris Roberson
Available: August 6, 2009 (UK / Australia)
£7.99 UK $tbc Aus
ISBN 978 0 00732 245 9
January 2010 (Canada / US)
384pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US $tbc CAN
ISBN 978 0 00 732 948 9

Tuesday 8 September 2009

This lake is somewhere in British Columbia.

Photo Credit: mark.woodbury CC=flickr. Click to enlarge.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Angel of Death by J. Robert King (Excerpt 5)

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.

This is the fifth excerpt from J. Robert King’s new urban fantasy Angel of Death from the HarperCollins new imprint Angry Robot Books. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4.

The excerpts are written for a mature reader.



Death comes in threes; everything comes in threes. It is the mathematics of God’s universe.

When Keith McFarland killed the editor in Burlington, I knew two more would die there, two people somehow connected to the rum man. This occurs naturally enough – a heart attack, a suicide, or some other resonation of an individual death. I typically do not have to do any of the arranging but merely approve the results.

I wasn’t surprised, then, when some days later I needed to oversee the death of Detective McHenry of the Burlington Police Department.

The man was a stereotypical career policeman: heavyset with a steely bristle of gray hair, blue eyes with yellow edges, a piercing stare that was half command and half reproach, a neck permanently scarred by worn razors and tight collars, a barrel body that could wrestle a mule to the ground, and narrow legs better suited for driving than running. If he were older – say, sixty-three – he would die when the last bit of grease that he had poured down his throat solidified across the web of his coronary arteries and made his heart explode.

But he was fifty-five, and it wasn’t to be a heart attack today. Only an accident. The detective deserved an elaborate death, with its measure of ceremony and civic pride.

Detective John McHenry had been a cop in Racine County for forty-five years and in Burlington for the last twelve. He’d been known as Officer Friendly by two generations of kids before landing the detective job in Burlington; had pushed for D.A.R.E. programs and started anti-graffiti campaigns; had rescued one adult, seven children, four dogs, a cat, and a hamster from various house and apartment fires; had organized the Tornado Task Force for the Union Grove Fire Department after the twister of ’83; and done countless other works for good.

He’d paid for it all with a bullet still in his left lung, a pack-a-day habit for his right lung, a hardened liver from nightly drinking, a few bar-fight scars on knuckles and face, two back-to-back failed marriages, and an addiction to twelve-hour days. He was a stereotypical cop and deserved a death better than what would be scripted for the average cop show.

Here’s what I came up with.

* * * * *

You still look like a cop, John. The faded blue Dockers don’t change what you are or who you are. You tug at your belt as you walk across the hardware store parking lot. You hold the plastic ball cock as if it were a blackjack, and the hardware receipt crouches in your shirt pocket. Nobody uses shirt pockets anymore, John.

Smile and nod, yes, greet your townsfolk, but what about the bright belligerence in your eyes? Always scoping. Level and unapologetic suspicion. Only sunglasses could mask that, but those are still in your squad.

In moments, it won’t matter.

Then you see her. After all these years, she still has her hooks in you. “Ah, Susan – how are you and Edward?” you ask the once-lithe creature on the sidewalk in front of the store. Her page-boy hair shifts as she turns toward you. A distant train bellows mournfully.

“Ed, please,” she says. “Can’t you call him Ed, after twenty-five years? And he’s fine.”

Even you notice the twitch in the corner of your eye, and you wish for those sunglasses. The windshield of a nearby car glares mirror-like, showing fragments of tattered sky. “Good to hear.”

The train’s marching feet clang on the track.

You stare at each other, nodding. A rebel thought reminds you that you were once inside her. You blush and look away.

Something’s going on in the elementary school parking lot across the street. The child’s fingers still show above the hard gray line of the Chevy’s roof when the rumple-faced man slams the door. Her scream is loud even through the glass. He tries the latch. It is locked. He drags keys from his pants and shouts angrily at her, “Shut up! Shut up!”

The ball cock trembles as you run across the parking lot and into traffic.

He has the passenger door open and the screaming girl tries to fight out past him but he throws her back into the front seat. The man’s plaid flannel shirt sticks to him, sweaty, and flaps a warning from his belt line. He rounds the hood and half-runs to the driver’s side door.

At best an abusive dad. At worst, a kidnapper.

“Hold it!” you shout. The cars around seem to hear, bunching back like wildebeests before a predator. The man, too, hears, swinging wide his door and lurching in beside the girl.

“Hold it! Police! What’s going on here?”

You catch the door he’s trying to slam and almost get your own fingers caught. You yank it open and grab thread-worn plaid that tears beneath your grip. He tips half out of his seat.

“Get up!”

The engine roars. As you reach to snatch the keys, you see something. Had you lived longer, you would have sworn it was a knife under her throat, but how can a man start a car and hold a knife under his own daughter’s throat? A reflection in the glass, your friends would have said. A hallucination, a prejudice of a white cop against a Latino father, the prosecution would have said. You’ll be dead before you even recognize his race or his daughter’s.

It is I who hold that phantom knife. I sit in the back seat of the car and hold the blade to her throat so that you will see it – so that what happens happens.

The car lurches. You grab the man’s shirt. Your own weight pinches your arm in the door, but you won’t let go. Tires squeal. Lights flash red. A claxon sounds. You fight to keep your feet, but the blacktop potholes steal your toes. The ball cock only now clatters to the ground. You cling to the man.

The car drags you fifty-eight feet before, at forty-five miles an hour, the undercarriage strikes the tracks and jolts you loose. You tumble, arms flapping like rubber from a stripped tire. You come to rest on the southbound line that hooks up with the Illinois Central.

Susan screams. The horn is louder and nearer, and the brakes, too. You hear nothing, though, and see only sky before your body is struck by the cattle catcher, rolled over twice, and then cleaved by the wheel. It rolls through you like a pizza cutter.

* * * * *

Cops die well. Cops and gang members. Soldiers, doctors, mobsters. They understand death. They face it at least minimally every day, and some are neck-deep in it. They have given death a lot of thought, and know it for what it is, a ubiquitous necessity. It is no less mysterious to these folks than it is to everyone else, but it is more a reality to them. They dwell at the edge of a black and endless ocean that others have only heard about.

Michael, row the boat ashore, alleluia…

Slaves face death, too. They know that the river of death is black and chilly and endlessly wide, and that the ferryman must row them safely across. And what of the Jews at Buchenwald and Dachau? Did they not pray to the angel of death for release? Mobsters know their saints and go to their confessions. Midwives go softly. Hookers, addicts, fugitives, and freaks – all those marginalized by the world and therefore pushed to the ragged edge of death, they know.

Only the soft white belly of America dies badly. They know more about Canada than they do about death, and that’s not saying much. They thrash and scream or go dumb in amazement. Most do not even realize they are dying until it is all done. In the face of all religion and science, they believe that if they want to live they will not die. They go about life in ruby slippers that will always fetch them home, wishing upon stars and cars and pensions to keep them alive.

But they will die. Every last one of them. That black sea is insatiable, and it rises. One day, it will lap at the doorstep of anyone, will fill the basement and rise until it swallows the man crouched in the attic and the woman waving from the rooftop.

Everyone dies. Pray to me, and die well.

* * * * *

It’s interesting how one glimpse can change a town. The white majority had called for and gotten the arrest of Manuel DeGarcia on charges of reckless homicide and child abuse.

He, in fact, could not have been telling his daughter to “Shut up!” since he neither spoke nor understood English. Nor could he have known McHenry was a policeman. Rattled from having accidentally slammed his daughter’s fingers in the door, he panicked when a fat man ran up, shouting, tore his shirt off, and tried to take his car keys. Manuel drove off, trying to escape, but the assailant wouldn’t let go.

That was the Latino’s story, once an interpreter could be found, and it was the truth. The truth didn’t matter. The police and community wanted someone to pay for the death of the detective, and a non-English-speaking, foreign, apparent child-abuser was without defense.

The death had been very satisfying for me. It was public, involved an ex-wife and a school-aged child, allowed Detective McHenry to play the hero one last time, included a harsh repayment for selfless action, used the trains that daily crisscross Burlington, occupied the staff of the Gazette for months, and divided the community that McHenry’s jurisdiction had done so much to unite.

* * * * *

I had overseen the deaths of one hundred twenty-two others in the Chicago-Milwaukee megalopolis before Keith McFarland went hunting again. This was the third death connected to Burlington – the editor, the cop, and now the priest. This time, I had little to do but observe and prevent things from going awry. Though Keith had no real plan – too psychotic for that – he was heading in a direction almost sure to satisfy us both.

It was Christmas Eve. The ground was white with hoarfrost, all that the Midwest would have of a white Christmas, and a priest from Burlington happened to serve at St. Francis in Woodstock, Illinois.

* * * * *

Keith steps down from the bus and looks around. The town glows beneath a woolen sky. The steeple of the Nazarene church scrapes the belly of the clouds. Behind his gray polyester trench coat, glass doors close. The bus hisses and moves on.

Keith ascends from the road to the curb. On the concrete, the frost has etched tiny stars. His Converse high-top All Stars look very red against the wintry ground. He imagines standing there through the next frost and the first snow and wonders how his shoes would look then.

Alone and lonely, that’s how. If I stand here all those days, I’d be alone and lonely for Father.

That last one wasn’t too good. He was not much of a father except to his dog. There were plenty of fathers there who got scared, maybe, which helped. But still, one bad father was bad enough. He would have to be replaced by one very, very good, good father.

The chimes of St. Francis on the hill at the end of the street say it is two o’clock: time for confession. Mass is at six.

Keith doesn’t put his hands in his pockets as he shuffles up the cracked sidewalk. Maybe if he holds them really still they will turn to ice and he can break them off at the wrists and put Father’s hands on in place of his own.

He walks. The round-leafed weeds that worked so hard to push through the sidewalk cracks are now bunched and dry, shaded gray by frost. He can probably kick them out and they will be the shape of manhood, long and with a ridge underneath. They are pushing to get down into the ground – the sky is always trying to burrow into the hard, cold earth.

Someone nods to him as he passes. Keith gestures in a way that looks like he is taking a DVD down from the rack. He wonders which DVD it is. Probably a naked one. He thinks of the Manhood of Eddy’s Father. That was a good one. For a while he walks with the scenes playing in skin-colored neon across his mind.

All the store windows have bright fantasies: lights, snowflakes, pictures, statues, TVs, smiling men, pointed toes, metal rods up into the back of the boy’s new pants, deer with targets on their sides, guns with those hard long ridges beneath them, men in white furs that cover their long chastities, a man who crouches and turns a screwdriver in a wall box, a little train that puffs real gray smoke and always swerves away from the dark, round tunnel through the cotton mountain, silvery sausages made out of the dirty parts, amber bottles wearing little red collars around their necks, elves working hard and fast beneath Santa – what a wonderful world.

He stands on the corner and waits for the light to change. It goes to yellow, and a black sedan roars up and dashes through the red. Someone shouts out of the window, “Fuck you!”

That is what the rum man had said. What a wonderful world.

Keith crosses the street and takes the sidewalk toward St. Francis. The church is massive. It is built of yellow brick. The cornerstone says A.D. 1953, but it looks older than America. He wonders if there is a cat in the cornerstone. They do that to give a building good luck. It is bad luck for a cat. It is not a good cat they use. It is an alley cat that isn’t fixed and has one eye and half a paw on one foot.

Maybe the luck isn’t in the cat. Maybe it’s just in the fun of killing it.

The windows are tall and colorful and shaped like manhood. The steeple has a wiry cross on top like an unbent coat hanger. It is a bigger church than the Nazarenes have, and higher. It needs lightning rods so that when God blasts out of the sky, He doesn’t burn it all up. It is bigger than the Nazarene church but it is still really small under God and it belongs to God and He can do whatever He wants to it.

There are three big red doors on the front, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Keith McFarland wants to go through the big Father door, but it is locked, and the Holy Spirit door is, too. The Son door is just right, and he goes in.

It is dark and damp and still cool inside. There is a smooth floor of stone like in a cave, and coats hang on one wall. He hangs his with the others.

The big part of the cave is up ahead. It opens up so the colored windows are standing tall and shining on both sides. There are two men sitting in fur coats in the dark pews, their heads down like they’re tired. The Father is in that cabinet with the curtain, behind a little square with a screen like he is about to do a puppet show.

Keith McFarland walks there.

“Hey, get in line,” says a man with big yellow hair – no, a woman. She is one of the tired people in the pews. The other one, who also has breasts, looks up, too.

Keith looks from the one man to the other and makes a dotted line in his head. He walks to the end of his dotted line and sits in the pew there. No sooner has he sat than a man comes out of a red curtain and walks slowly toward the hanging coats.

“Hey, g-get in line,” Keith shouts to him.

He keeps walking. He is tired, too. He must have been working very hard before he got here.

The man with the big yellow hair is gone, but Keith sees her high heels under the curtain. He listens hard in the buzzing quiet and hears everything. This man talks like a little boy: “That hurts, Father. No, not there. That hurts. That hurts. Don’t.”

There is one more man. She goes. Then it is Keith McFarland’s turn. He feels his pistol and his hunting knife.

He goes past the curtain into the cupboard and stands in there, waiting for something to happen. His gun is ready in his pocket.

“Kneel, my son,” says the voice through the screen. “Begin when you are ready.”

Keith McFarland kneels on the little velvet cushion on the little wooden ridge. He still has his hand on his pistol.

“What troubles you, my son?” the voice says.

“N-nothing, m-my F-f-father.”

“Have you any sins to confess?”

“I-is killing a s-sin, my F-f-father?”

“Killing what? An animal? A person?”

“A p-person.”

“Oh, yes, my son, that is a very serious sin – unless it was during a war. Did you kill this person during a war?”


“Ah, but it troubles you, still. Are you Catholic, my son?”

“Are you C-Catholic, my F-father?”


“I am C-Catholic, too, my F-father.”

“Have you confessed about this killing before?”


“Ah, but it still bothers you. Have you spoken to Our Lady of Mercies about it?”

“I d-don’t kn-know.”

“Are you C-Catholic, my son?”

“I don’t kn-know, my F-father.”

“What is troubling you? Speak freely. You have no need to fear.”

“I don’t l-like the w-way you touch m-me.”

There comes a pause. “What do you mean, my son?”

“Th-this way.”

“My son, this is a holy place. You must not do such things.”

“It is when you touch me here, and put your hands in here, my Father.”

There comes another pause. The Father is speaking, but Keith hears another father, a father long dead and gone. “Oh, so you don’t like that? You don’t want me doing this? Or how about this? Well, that’s too bad, Keith. When you’re the father, you can make the rules.”

“I am very angry about this.”

“Go ahead and be angry. Go ahead and go in the back yard, spitting and kicking the cat. The neighbors know what you are, what you’ve been doing. They could care less. The cops know, too. They just say, ‘Well, he’s a retard. At least he’s found something he’s good at.’ ”

“I’m good at shooting you with this.”

“You keep your hands off my guns. How did you get into the rack? Give me that. You want to shoot the thing? Shoot it down your own throat. You ought to be used to that by now, you little fuck.”

The bullet blasts out. It’s loud in the little box, and it echoes in the rest of the cave. There is a hole in the screen and something heavy leaning on the other side. Keith McFarland comes out of the cupboard and sees there is not a line, or anyone in the church at all. He opens the door where his father is and goes in with him.

The gun is hot in his pocket but the knife is very, very cold.

* * * * *

Father Mike could not have asked for a more fitting end. He was a young priest, very caring and sensitive. Such attributes lay a cleric open to charges of homosexuality and misconduct with younger parishioners, but Father Mike had not let suspicions prevent him from his work with the youth of Woodstock and nearby Rockford.

When his superior, Father Clayton, had advised against his volunteer work at the Boys Club of Rockford and in the intramural basketball league of Woodstock, Father Mike had shrugged it off and said, “I cannot and will not abandon these kids to the streets just because gossip mongers want something to talk about. My ministry and message come first. If they want to ruin me, let them take up the matter with God.”

Some had, and others with the parish council, but Father Mike was innocent of any offense, and the conflicting stories’ lack of evidence only served to prove the fact.

Then, two years after the last such rumblings, a youth he had never known not only accused him of a crime he was innocent of, but also executed him for it. Father Mike had been willing to be martyred for his ministry and now, in the way of a true martyr, he had died for his beliefs without anyone but his killer knowing why.

I am convinced that if he had seen Keith coming and known who and what he was, Father Mike would still have patiently counseled him, been similarly misheard, and would have died in much the same way.

It was a rare and beautiful thing to have a serial murder in which victim and killer were so attuned that I had only to sit back and let the music of the spheres well up around me.

All Rights Reserved. Angry Robot Books, HarperCollins Ltd.

Publication Date UK/AUS: September 3, 2009
US/Canada – Spring 2010

Saturday 5 September 2009

Angel of Death by J. Robert King (Excerpt 4)

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.

This is the fourth excerpt from J. Robert King’s new urban fantasy Angel of Death from the HarperCollins new imprint Angry Robot Books. Parts 1, 2, 3.

The excerpts are written for a mature reader.


Assuming after the third ring that the doorbell didn’t work, Investigator Leland knocked. She stood in the lee of a storm door held together by duct tape. The cool gray winds of a December 7th morning breezed past her.

It had been standard police work. Lots of dead-end leads. Lots of waiting for someone to file a missing persons report. Lots of phone conversations assuring cottagers and farmers that everything that could be done was being done. After two days of office work, Leland had at last been asked by Detective McHenry to help him knock on doors and canvas the Bohner’s Lake area to find out the identity of the body.

She looked down at the crime scene photo in her hand. In it, Sergeant Banks squatted gravely beside a dark pine tree and propped up a stiff collie mutt. At the zenith of a washed-out foreground, the dog looked spectral. Its frozen legs were poised in a flat line on tiptoe. The effect made the collie appear to be dashing pell-mell through the picture, past Banks’s stern, down-turned face. The dog’s eye glowed with the flash, as if Banks held a light to the blown-open back of its skull.

“I feel like a Goddamned trophy hunter,” Leland murmured to herself.

The door eased back, shuddering a little. Warm wet air came from within, along with the mill-wheel tumble of a stove-sized humidifier. A thin old woman stood there in a faded cotton housedress. A Kleenex jutted out, ready between two buttons. “Yes?”

“Sorry to bother you this morning, ma’am. I’m Investigator Leland of the Burlington Police Department – ”

“If you’re here about the cardboard, I didn’t know it could be recycled until just last week, and I’ve got it ready for the bin this time, if you want to come see – ”

Leland laughed in quiet dismissal. “Actually, ma’am, I’m looking for the owner of this dog.” She held up the photo.

The old woman peered, unblinking, at the picture. “You probably think I should have reading glasses or bifocals to see something like this, but I’ve had the new cataract surgery, which lets me read a book and look out at the sunset without any glasses at all, or see this picture of the dog and see Mr. Koenig walk that dog just about every evening at eight thirty before the gas station stops selling those little flasks of devil water that I’ve signed petition after petition against, always the first or second name…”

“Mr. Koenig?” asked Leland, writing. “And he lives where?”

“Three houses down, on the right, toward town, the one that still has the Christmas lights from three years ago up on the eaves even though he hasn’t plugged them in for two Christmases and he’s not turned them on yet this season if they work at all anymore. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he keeps those irregular hours, a newspaper man for the Gazette, and coming and going at all times and working on that old junker of his in the middle of the night sometimes, trying to keep a twenty-year-old car going with these two-day-old computer car parts they have nowadays, and him without the first bit of mechanical skill but too cheap to buy something better…”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Leland said, tucking the photo into her breast pocket. “You’ve been a great help.”

With no trace of humor on her face – the shape and hue of a garlic clove – she said, “Too bad about that dog of his. Sometimes it would break loose and dig in my petunias. Not that I would have wanted it dead – hit by a car, right? Forty-five’s too fast for a residential block.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Leland said, backing out of the door space and letting the storm door sway inward.

The old woman caught it and held it ajar as Leland backed away. “And if you’re going to get so up in arms about cardboard in the garbage, what about these folks that pile it in with their leaves to burn and we have to be breathing that all day long?”

Leland marched away. Her black boots splashed through the dead oak leaves, brown and gold like muddy water. Behind her, the woman’s voice continued to labor shrilly, a too-small pump struggling in anonymous obsession to empty a too-deep pit.

The oaks were tall and stout here, their crags deep with gray shadows. The sky above was an acrylic blue, and a wintry wind tumbled brown leaves over the rim of the Bohner’s Lake bowl and down toward the water.

Mr. Koenig’s house was on that rim, perched like a ship breaching the head of a standing wave and about to plunge down the trough beyond. The land dropped away behind it, baring a line where clapboards gave way to gray cement block. The white Masonite boards on the main floor were curved with inexpert installation and years of seepage, but they clung to the frame with all the tenacity of a gunwale on a ship.

She knocked. In good intention, someone had painted the white door red, and then left it to peel behind a rusting screen. No answer. Again she knocked, and again, nothing.

It was a Tuesday. He could well be at work, but a rust-riddled gray ’89 Olds sat on the cement slab beside the chimney. He couldn’t have walked to the Gazette from here, but could have carpooled. It wasn’t enough to warrant a search.

Unholstering her walkie-talkie, she switched it on. “This is Investigator Leland. I’m in the fourteen-hundred block of County P. I think I might’ve found our victim. Anybody near a phone? Over?”

The crackle and hiss of static answered at first, and then Banks’s butch voice: “What do you need, Leland?”

“I need somebody to call the Gazette, see if a Mr. Koenig – a newsman – see if he’s there.”

“I’ll get back once I know something.”

“Thanks, Bill. Out.”

Leland stowed the walkie-talkie and knocked again. Still, no response. She stepped from the front stoop and strolled slowly around the cottage. It had the decent dirtiness of most middle-class bachelor places, eaves stubbled with dirt, shingles beginning to curl, storms and screens in random assortment, flower beds gone to volunteers and weeds, grass left overlong after the mowing season, sticks lying on the walk. Ah, a dog tether, and no dog on it – and no dog barking inside. Perhaps he and his dog were at the vet, or on vacation.

She glanced back at the old woman’s house. The storm door was closed, though the woman still haunted its frame. This man was the same as she. Perhaps this whole block was the same, shipwrecked souls clinging to whatever sargasso they could gain and hold.

Leland descended a set of concrete steps beside the house. She came to a wide window of the walkout basement, a sixties design in aluminum and single pane glass, actually releasing more heat than it held in. In fact, the window where she stood poured dry furnace air out through its open side casement –

He had worn no jacket the night he was killed.

On the desk within was a framed photo of a shaggy collie mutt and a similarly hairy man embracing her. His bearded face smiled, and the dog, too, smiled.

Leland blinked, and the photo changed – half the dog’s head was gone and its remaining eye was gray with death, the man’s neck was vacant and his embracing arms ended in a pair of stubs.

“Leland, come in, over,” crackled the walkie-talkie.

She lifted it. “He’s not been in since the 29th, has he?”

“They’ve already given his job away.”

Day Five Excerpt Tomorrow

All Rights Reserved. Angry Robot Books, HarperCollins Ltd.

Publication Date UK/AUS: September 3, 2009
US/Canada – Spring 2010

Friday 4 September 2009

Angel of Death by J. Robert King (Excerpt 3)

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.

This is the third excerpt from J. Robert King’s new urban fantasy Angel of Death from the HarperCollins new imprint Angry Robot Books.

The excerpts are written for a mature reader.



Burlington, Wisconsin had not had a murder in five years when the headless, handless body was discovered. Despite spitting sleet, the nighttime cornfield was crowded. Detective McHenry, Investigator Leland, Sergeant Banks, Medical Examiner Schmitt, the volunteer fire department, half the staff of the Gazette, a few dozen farmers, and a handful of police scanner jockeys stood in the carnival glare of the three dispatched squads. The body had first been found by Daryl Jamison’s dogs, which had gnawed on it awhile before returning to their owner. Jamison, spooked by the sight of dogs with bloody muzzles, had gotten his brother Carl to go with him. Shotguns in hand, they had walked the fields. They’d followed the dogs’ tracks and found the body soon enough. Daryl claimed he had checked for the man’s wallet and, not finding it or any identification, gone straight away to call the police. The crime scene, though, looked as though Daryl and Carl had held a barn dance around the body, boot prints crushing every bit of soil for a twenty-foot radius. The old farmer had paced around the body, trying in vain to obliterate the tracks of his two unlicensed dogs. It hadn’t mattered. The dogs got loose while he was on the phone and were down chewing on the body when Detective McHenry arrived. To prevent further damage to the crime scene, the detective ordered nearly a quarter mile of road and farm field cordoned off.

Investigator Donna Leland volunteered to set up the roadblock and string the police line. She had seen enough of the ghastly scene. Just now, she wielded her ten pound sledge to drive the last rebar rod into the partly frozen field, and then let the muddy mallet rest in a black furrow.

As she tied the police line, someone in the crowd shone a flashlight toward her. She raised a hand before her eyes and blinked. Who’s shining that light? The old maxim was true: murderers often returned to the scenes of their crimes, wanting to relive the excitement of the moment. Some even injected themselves into their own investigations, monitoring the facts and providing false information to lead police astray. What if this is the murderer?

Leland gripped the sledge haft tightly in one hand and gestured with the other. At last, the light darted downward, becoming a short column of gray.

She finished tying the yellow plastic ribbon to the last crowbar and hoisted the ten pound sledge to her shoulder. It comforted her to carry that sledge. Whatever demon had done this would think twice about coming after her, what with the sledge and her .45.

At five-foot three, Leland was too short to step over the waist-high tape, so she crouched beneath it, making sure to keep the knees of her blues out of the mud. She straightened and tucked her braid into the collar of her jacket. Cops were supposed to be short shorn, like Dobermans, with nothing to grab in a fight. Cops were also supposed to be men, at least in rural Wisconsin, though men had one extremity that begged grabbing during a fight.

With a nervous sigh, Leland trudged across the avaricious cornfield, toward the crime scene. It was a man’s world, and this was a man’s crime.

The brutality alone made it such: a dog with half its head blown off and a dog walker with grisly stumps where hands and head should be. Even in the dark, before the scene was set up, the vertebrae and severed muscles stood clear. Now, though –

Lights glared down on the body – flashlights moving fitfully in the hands of cops and cop buffs, a couple of spotlights glaring from patrol cars on the road, a kind of miner’s helmet on Francis Schmitt, the county coroner, and even the flashes of the cop photographer. The place looked almost like an operating room instead of a lonely stretch of cornfield.

Leland approached, gut turning even as her eyes grew wider, taking in every detail.

The victim had been big, probably two-hundred-twenty pounds. He wore a pair of canvas pants, a T-shirt, and no jacket, though the last day that had been warm enough for such clothes was November 29, five days ago. A leash was found attached to the collar of the dead dog, and bits of tar were stuck to the dog’s pads. Despite the boot prints of the Jamison brothers, the ditch and trees between the road and the body showed no signs that the man had been dragged, nor did his heels or clothes contain any ground-in mud. It was quite clear that this was no mere dumpsite, but also the scene of the murder.

“Mother of God.”

She was close enough now to see the dog-gnawed leg of the man, and the neck and wrist stumps. Francis was leaning beside the body and checking beneath the shirt hem. Despite what must have been massive blood loss from the severed limbs, there had been enough left in the body to create a brown line of lividity on the man’s back.

Another flash went off. Leland turned away, seeing spots. Someone yelled. There was a scuffle. Her hand fell immediately to her gun before she made out what was happening.

Sergeant Banks was wrestling someone – the Burlington Gazette photographer-reporter, Blake Gaines. All she could see was the patrolman’s steel-wool hair and his muscular bulk straining against a scarecrow-thin man.

“Can’t you read? ‘Police Line, Do Not Cross!’ ” Banks growled through gold-capped teeth.

Blake, a gaunt and shaggy young artiste, did not answer, snapping off a couple more shots as he was propelled back toward the road.

The investigator reached the pair, slipped one of her own arms into Blake’s and helped to speed him on his way.

“We’re going to confiscate that film,” Banks warned as two more flashes went off.

“You can’t,” Blake yodeled. “Freedom of the press!”

“We can and will,” Investigator Leland said, “unless you cooperate.”

“I’m going! I’m going,” the bewhiskered man said, trying to break free.

Leland leaned toward him and whispered, “Not that. I want you to take pictures of the crowd. Get everybody you can – faces – but don’t be obvious about it.”

“What do I want with – ” he began loudly, but she broke in. “Get me the crowd, and we’ll let you print what you’ve got. Otherwise, I’m taking your camera now.”

“All right, all right,” he said as they muscled him to the police line and bundled him over. He regained his balance just beyond the tape but rebelliously lingered against it as he checked his camera rig for damage.

Leland turned to Sergeant Banks, poised there like a wolverine ready to strike. She touched his shoulder, meaning to appease, but got a startled jump from him. “Banks,” she said with quiet urgency, “you’d better get back to the scene. They’ll be wanting you on hand.”

The muscle nodded, not even recognizing the flattery. He trotted back to the scene.

Leland turned to the photographer. “Listen, Blake, we’ve got to work together on this.”

“What are you talking about?” the man asked, coddling his camera as though it were an injured baby. “You’re not going to dictate what the Gazette prints – ”

“It’s a lot easier than that,” responded Leland in a hushed voice. “You need good footage to sell papers. We need good footage to catch this guy. Work with us, and I’ll keep you close, on the inside. Fight us, and all your shots will be through fence holes.”

He seemed ready to make a rebuke but blinked it away in uncertainty.

“You get us a shot of the killer, and we’ll tell you. That’s called an exclusive. And a byline.”

Blake nodded, tight-lipped.

“And it’s not just that. I’ll have to talk to McHenry, but if he agrees, we can do some proactive strategies with the paper to flush this guy out. I’m sure the Gazette wouldn’t mind being credited with helping to catch this guy.”

Again, he nodded. A small smile crept onto his face.

“Good,” she said. “Now get at it.”

He loped away among the crowd.

Men knew so little about working with each other. Or, perhaps, they thought it beneath them to play to bruised egos. Better to bruise them some more until it comes to broken noses and black eyes.

No wonder there are no female serial killers, Leland thought.

That was not actually true, but the number of women who committed such crimes was almost statistically insignificant.

Of course, this was a serial crime. The last murder in the Burlington area, five years back, was a similar decapitation and amputation in Bohner’s Lake.

* * * * *

After closing down the crime scene, Investigator Leland returned home, showered, dressed in PJs, and leaned back in her favorite chair. It was a worn and low-slung piece of furniture, what she had considered a couch when she was a kid. Her mother had reupholstered it in bristly curtain fabric and set it in front of the upstairs TV. Then, it had room enough for Kerry and herself, a calico cat, and a Tupperware bowl of popcorn. Now, it was not quite even a love seat, and, crowded in a drafty bay window, was only just big enough for Donna and her books.

She pulled one of the books from the stack, a true crime expose about criminal profiling. Though modern mythology had made FBI profilers into supermen – divining the state of a killer’s underwear and his taste in movies from the position of a shell casing – the science of profiling was still largely unknown in small-town police work. What Donna knew of it was second-hand, pieced together from books by former members of the Quantico Behavioral Science Unit.

By dismembering victims and burying hands and heads separately, organized offenders can make identification difficult. A victim’s identity is a critical piece of evidence for narrowing the field of suspects, determining motive and opportunity, and rallying community assistance in tracking down the killer. The removal of these parts takes time and effort and produces large quantities of blood. It is a technique used almost exclusively by psychopathic personalities.

Donna paused. The dark bay window behind her breathed coldly and she drew up the tattered afghan she kept on the chair arm. Out of old habit, she crossed herself. How could a person think of heads and hands merely as forms of identification? She glanced up at the crucifix hanging above her twenty-four inch TV and reflexively imagined Christ dismembered. She crossed herself again.

By contrast, psychotic personalities engage in dismemberment not to eliminate clues, but for symbolic reasons and to fulfill personal fantasies. Their mutilations tend to center more on genitalia, viscera, hearts, and eyes.

Sickened, Donna closed the book. Sociopaths did what they did by design. Psychotics did what they did by instinct. One group were humans who thought they were gods. The other were humans who thought they were animals. Both were monsters.

Donna stopped that thought. Her hand strayed to a picture on an unvarnished end table. He was a boy. Only a boy. Her twin, Kerry, at fourteen – bright-eyed, hopeful, and human. In her mind, he would never be older than fourteen.

By their fifteenth birthday, Kerry had lost all his friends, dropped out of school, and never came out of his room in the basement. Father John, principal of St. Mary’s, joked about getting an exorcist. By their sixteenth birthday, Kerry was so sedated that he never spoke or even smiled. By their seventeenth birthday, he was institutionalized in Elgin. He didn’t reach his eighteenth, hanged by a noose he had made from his own torn-up shirt.

Kerry had not been a monster. A bipolar schizophrenic, they said, with homicidal fantasies. A manic-depressive with multiple personality disorder. A cyclops. A Grendel. A steppenwolf…

No, Kerry was not a monster. He was a sick boy.

Sighing sadly, Donna set the picture atop her pile of books and leaned back on the seat. Road to Utopia was on tonight. Kerry had loved the road pictures. Donna got up, turned on the set, and moved the rabbit ears to pick up WGN. Then she went to the kitchen.

“I’ve got a bag of popcorn around here somewhere.”

Day Four Excerpt Tomorrow

All Rights Reserved. Angry Robot Books, HarperCollins Ltd.

Publication Date UK/AUS: September 3, 2009
US/Canada – Spring 2010

Thursday 3 September 2009

Bench of the Week (19)

Butterstub Marsh is located in the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, B.C. It is a man-made bird sanctuary with a wide trail that loops around a wet marsh. A perfect spot for a stroll to get away and refresh one’s energy.

RuneE began an informal meme of Bench of the Week at Visual Norway.

Other participants this week are:
Tom at Wiggers World has a sea shore bench.

Steve Gallow at SG’s Random Photos has a perfect primitive bench.

Raph from Raph’s Ramblings has a different sort of bench that can be carried out into the garden when needed.

PERBS at For the Love of Benches has a busy bench.

Gerald at Ackworth Born, Gone West has a lovely row of benches.

Photo Credit: Alanna@VanIsle CC=nc-nd-flickr. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Angel of Death by J. Robert King (Excerpt 2)

I am sure those who visited recently are waiting with baited breath for the day two excerpt from J. Robert King’s new urban fantasy Angel of Death from the HarperCollins new imprint Angry Robot Books.

The excerpts are written for a mature reader. Part 1.

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.


Young man, I see you. I see how you move among them, like one of them. Your battered old London Fog coat comes almost to your knees and sticks too far out as if you are some kind of flasher – the coat of a Goodwill shopper and a murdering madman. Keith McFarland. I know you will kill even tonight. I know you are prowling.

You look lost in your trench coat. Your shoulders are too narrow for the smudged gray polyester that drapes you. Even your thin neck – it should be red but is white and stubbled with the new growth of an inattentive razor – holds an Adam’s apple two sizes too large. A greenish Granny Smith, swallowed whole.

You have not bought gas. You duck your oil-sheened black hair away from the cashier and move toward the compact orange bags of peanuts. There you stop. You seem to be looking at snacks. In fact, you glance at the T-shirted man who stands at the counter.

The man has his hand out. He waits for the small flask of Mr. Boston spiced rum he will be sneaking tonight on the walk with his collie mutt. He stinks already of a cheap cigar that smolders on the painted board of the gas station stoop.

The cashier knows this man. Not his name. Only his addiction. The man knows it too. He has already doled out the three dollars and ninety-four cents it will take to buy two hundred milliliters of oblivion. Sometimes he pays in nickels and pennies fished from the tie tack drawer and the couch cushions.

The rum is set in his hand. For a minute it glints, liquid gold. Then it is gone in a fold of loose canvas pants.

“Have a good one,” the cashier says, sliding closed the ringing register drawer.

The rum man nods and pushes his way out the door. Around him rises a breath of petroleum on asphalt in late autumn. In the momentary gap of the door, the collie is visible, eyes wide with anticipation beside the leash that holds her to the two-by-four stoop. The door closes. Through mud-spattered glass, you see the secret drunk loose his shaggy dog. They make their way out into the lifeless light of the gas station dolmen.

From within your trench coat, you watch.

They move toward the road. Cars whir past in the rushing, gravel-cracking haste of a November night in Wisconsin.

“You need some help?” asks the cashier. He is young. A baseball cap brim curves between his shoulder blades. A sleek, thin ponytail rides his spine.

Your black hair shifts listlessly above your sallow face. “N-N-No.”

The trench coat moves; not you, just your coat. Then you, too, are gone into the anonymous glare. You are just another wedge of light in the dirty-paned door.

You pause on the stoop and look toward the angry, shushing cars. A newspaper tumbles over wet blacktop, crumpled but still airborne, not yet soaked and plastered to the road. You follow, white trash after white trash.

Avatar. You do not know that term, but I do. You are the avatar of all backward inbred hicks – a disaffected loner from a silent race that has never been invited into the modern age. Sullen. Fitful. Gaunt. Enraged. As murderous as the night.

You stutter-step along the gravel margin of the road, in the very footsteps of the man with the secret rum. Human eyes cannot detect it, but I can: the rum man’s feet leave faint prints of warmth on the autumn stones, and your feet fall in those very prints. As you pass, the stones turn cold again with night and death.

The rum man turns down that dark road and takes the first bitter swallow of the gall he hides from all but himself and his dog. You stalk and follow. He will be your kill tonight.

These eyes of mine see more than footprints. I see who this man is, and that it is indeed time for him to die. He is a newspaper editor for the local rag, a man using distilled spirits to fill up the gap between what he is and what he had intended to be. A writer. A novelist. A family man. That’s what he had hoped for, but instead he lives alone, hacking apart the words of other hacks and making them into the bland garble of modern journalism.

He takes another drink.

Thirty-eight is young to die, but not young enough for this one. A depressive, an alcoholic, a loner, family off in Wichita, and friends… what friends, aside from that collie mutt?

Oh, you have chosen your victim wisely, a moody man who’ll be fired for not showing up before he is truly missed, who will be replaced by one of the clamoring young reporters who attack a job posting like piranha on bloody meat. The FBI would call this a low-risk victim, a drunken man walking alone at night on an untraveled country road.

Except for the dog. I might have had to step out of time to do some orchestration, but you hesitate; you fear the dog. And well you should. A gap-toothed cracker such as yourself had first owned her and kicked her daily until she ran off. She might seem friendly enough, but once there’s a shout and a scream and blood, she’ll remember your kind and go for your throat.

Ah, though, that’s the key. The man has only this dog in all the world. The leash he holds does not so much keep the dog next to him as keep him next to the dog. Ambush them and kill the dog. Let him see you kill the dog. Use your gun on the dog, not the man, and then let him worry over the thing’s body. Or, better yet, it’s deer hunting season, and this fellow’s a budding author – he has an imagination. He’ll put the pieces together.

I whisper the idea in your ear. You are too disorganized to do anything but listen. There’s a deer path that heads off from the road here through that little stand of trees and out onto the access road. If you walk quietly along it…

You stalk from the road, pulling your coat around you as if it were a rain poncho and you a little girl. Maybe that’s what he thinks when, on the red rim of road, he looks back and spits, then takes another drink. He thinks he is hiding from you, and not the other way around. You pick your way across the vacant field then among the autumn-hard rows of broken cornstalks. Already, he is down the other side of the hill.

Oh, what fun, to hunt this way! The pines are black and murmurous in the settling dark. You see the road beyond, where he will be shuffling into view in moments. You crouch down among tenacious roots of pine and pull out your pistol. It gives you a hard-on every time you touch it. Yes, here will be a good place. They will pass within ten feet. The shot will echo, and the editor will not know the difference between a pistol and a deer rifle. He’ll think you’re just a bad hunter.

He comes, leather-soled shoes on a chip-and-oil shoulder. He looks around. His face is slack already from drink, though his eyes squint against the night. The bottle in his hand glints purple inside its wrinkled skin of paper. He drains it one last time and throws it into the trees, just near you.

You fire. It’s all right. You were afraid, but it’s all right.

Half the dog’s head is gone. It whines a moment and turns as if to scratch its remaining ear, then goes down upon the chips and quivers sickly.

He doesn’t look toward you but sinks down atop the dog. Already he is wailing. He holds the thing stupidly. The thrown bottle was all the better, as if it had triggered the bullet. An accidental but elegant nuance.

He looks up. Blood is on his face, with tear tracks through it. He is furious. Some of the blood is his own, from a lip he has sawed open between teeth. He is murderous.

“Fuck you, God damn it! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he cries.

Yes, crouch lower, but grin still. That erection feels like a jabbing stick among the pine roots. Enjoy the moment, killer. Your day will come, too.

“Fuck you! Fuck you! God damned fucking asshole hunter! Fuck you!”

His shouts are like the moans of a lover. Don’t come yet, killer. Keep it in until he is dead, too.

Ah, he has stopped his shouting. He lifts the still body off the road and sets it gently on the shoulder. He kisses the mutt’s tangled fur and whispers something. Now he rises.

He’s coming to find you. He expects you to be in the glade beyond, a man who feels bad for having accidentally killed a leashed dog. A man with a rifle that the editor can grab and swing against a tree to break it. That’s what he expects to do. That’s what he would write about.

He rises, scarred leather soles on the smooth humus of pine. More curses grumble from him, these meant not for you but for himself, stoking his engine. He wants to be good and angry. Hunker down, now. He grabs the brittle bole of a nearby tree. He steps beyond it and keeps going.

You rise. Dead needles fall from you as if you are some monster of humus. He doesn’t even hear you, raging to himself. You follow him a couple paces.

“T-T-T-Turn around, quiet n-n-n-now, or you’ll be d-d-dead as your d-dog,” you say.

Your door-hinge voice is enough to spin him. His bravado is gone. He is white in the dead evening. You point the gun at his head. He holds his hands up, as if in a movie.

“Kneel!” You manage to say it without your stutter. He complies. Very good. You move up to him, getting the gun to his forehead. Your other hand fiddles with your fly, almost too slow. You’d wanted to be inside him, but this is almost as good.

He pulls away. You shoot.

His head is like a fountain as he falls back. You let him fall and strip off your coat. That’s why you had worn it. It will cover the blood on your clothes after you are finished.

The killing has not happened as I had hoped, as I had planned. You were supposed to ask him to write his own obituary before he died, so that the editor could become a published author only by writing his final words. I am distressed by your impulsiveness.

Still, you do the rest. You drag both bodies away from the road and into a cornfield. Then you take the man’s wallet, and cut off his head and hands. This is hard and messy work, but you’ve done it before. You used to do it because you heard it kept the body from being identified. Of course, in such a small town, it’ll take only days instead of weeks to do a head count and figure out who’s missing, but the amputations are now part of your fantasies. You’ll carry the head and hands home inside plastic and burlap.

These arrangements also happen to serve my ends. The man’s head and hands were what he worked with as an editor, and his work was always separated from his heart, which makes this death somehow fitting. Also, he lived a life of quiet desperation and inner anguish, so a death of overt anguish and loud desperation is also ironically satisfying.

I could have done better and may even return to the event to make certain you get the obituary written, but there have been serial killer victims who have done much worse than this one.

I will be glad the day I get to kill you, Keith McFarland.

All Rights Reserved. Angry Robot Books, HarperCollins Ltd.

Excerpt Part Three tomorrow.

Publication Date UK/AUS: September 3, 2009
US/Canada – Spring 2010

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Angel of Death by J. Robert King (Excerpt 1)

I am pleased to present for the next five days excerpts from J. Robert King’s new urban fantasy, Angel of Death, from the HarperCollins new imprint Angry Robot Books. This story has an exciting new premise on angels. A review will be forthcoming in the near future.
The excerpts are written for a mature reader.

From the publisher:

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.



Old man, old man – I see you with your lake-rights cottage and your knotty pine paneling, dark as walnut with cigar smoke. Even now, the blue haze tangles in your hair. You’ve burned your dining table all to hell – the table your wife bought to refinish four years back, though a heart attack finished her first.

I’d helped with that one, too.

I see you, old man. You were a widower even before she died. Of your own design, you marched backward in measured retreat. You never had to battle the army in front of you, nor run out of ground behind you. Until now, the day you will die.

Or rather, the night.

(The old should die at night, and in the fall or winter. The young should die in the morning and springtime. It is an aesthetic concern that had been ignored until the districts were parceled out to individual angels. The middle-aged adult can die any time in the day or year, according to whom or what is left behind. They are mourned as themselves, not as archetypes, as are the young or old.)

Old man, you die tonight in your home, cigar in hand, or better, in mouth. Your recliner would be an easy place to go and… ah, I have the perfect idea.

You see me now, don’t you? I can tell by that glassy-eyed stare that sees past all the world and sees nothing at all.

I am that nothing, old man. I am the Bastard Being, extension without substance. I am not the garden shears that snip a rose from the vine, but rather the unexplainable and persistent shadow that overcasts bush and bloom until both are dead. I am an angel descended of the archangels Michael and Samael and Azrael, the bringers of death.

You do not want to go with me. I should not have let you see me so soon. You leap up from the ash-pitted tabletop. Your hamstrings fling back the chair and it barks to the battered hardwood between us as you flee. But I am an angel. Chairs do not bother these sharp Caucasian shins, the linen pants I wear. They are appearances only. I bound through the chair.

You’ve left your cigar beside the ashtray on the table.

I grapple you. Your hair is greasy on my arm. You bite my shoulder, no more than a cornered badger. I need to calm you down, so I drag you downstairs to the basement. You claw at the pictures on the wall. Some fall. Glass breaks. Those will leave people wondering.

Ah, the furnace room. The exhaust usually goes through this white pipe. Not with a nest of mice in it. Now it comes out here and here, but mostly here. You’re gasping anyway now, so with your face rammed up into that galvanized triangle, it’s not long before you are limp in my hands.

The gas will go through the rest of the place by the time I’m gone.

Strange how much heavier you feel as dead weight. Your pants mop the stairs of glass shards as we ascend. I pick up the broken pictures, a nice touch in mind.

You look comfortable in the recliner, especially with the leg-rest up and the pictures on your lap like you are reminiscing. Ah, here’s your cigar. With a couple of long draws from me, it flares hot. Your chair catches easily, with all the towels draped over arms and back, and I stand to watch your bruised chest slowly breathing.

You won’t awaken. No, not with the carbon monoxide in the air. Your pants peel back like curling parchment, and your leg hair is flashing with orange and sending up white smoke.

I breathe that smoke, sweeter than any cigar.

I must leave. In this form, the carbon monoxide will make me dizzy. Soon the chair will catch the drapes, and the drapes the walls, and there will be neighbors calling the volunteers.

I shift, no longer a thirty-year-old white male with a disarming smile and a predilection for murder, becoming nothing at all, the Bastard Being. I move through the back door without opening it and disappear among the bare boughs of autumn.

* * * * *

Time means nothing to me. Time means nothing to any creature in the heavenly choir. But when one must work among humans, to whom time means everything, one must enter time and exit it. There are many such special dispensations for those of us who choose to descend the ladder of being.

Do not be mistaken. There is a true ladder of being – a Jacob’s Ladder, as humans might call it, and angels ascend and descend it all the time. There is an unbroken path from God down to the simplest virus, and humans are somewhere halfway up that infinite climb. Angels are a little more than humans.

Just as dog breeders work in the cycles of canine heat and dirty their hands with dog blood and sperm and shit, so I work in the cycles of humans and foul myself with human frailties.

See, here? I am down in a cafe just off the Dan Ryan, sitting in a vinyl booth and staring at a compartmentalized plate. The cafe is small, with a sixteen foot ceiling covered in dusty tin filigree and insulated pipes from the apartments upstairs. Smoke struggles to cling to the dark heights but is channeled downward from teetering fans that trail threads of soot.

They sit here and eat their congealed grease and smoke their cigarettes, at once adding puffiness to cheeks and taking it from lips. Their faces look like pantyhose puppets with puckered thread marks instead of lips. They sit here and talk of trucks and fish and wallow in German insistence upon old, stout ways. But I am not here to kill any of them.

I am here to kill the jogger who, in fascistic spandex, will be along any moment. He is a forty-four-year-old vice president with eyes that recede into his head behind burling brows. He’s shaved every day since his thirteenth birthday but even now has the blue-black aggression of denied animality sheening within his jaw. He is a modern positivist, believing that all of life is explainable by him, that anyone who wishes to be successful must merely become him, and that there are no such things as accidents or mysteries.

Here is a moment of accidental mystery for him.

I appear in his path as he reaches Ohio Street and slows to jog in place until the light changes. I have timed the moment perfectly. The eleven-forty CTA is five minutes behind and gunning for the yellow. The runner has a fly darting at his ear. I have a foot in the way and a helping hand-slap on the man’s back. He launches from the curb into the accidental and mysterious cliché of the bus’s path.

When there’s a red spray and a shriek of tires and the sound of screams, everyone notices the victim; no one the angel. As a final touch, I have one of the fat German smokers burst from the corner cafe and – disregarding the blood and its threat of AIDS and the fact that the man’s chest is a mere bag of bones – clamp his collagen-depleted lips to the dead mouth and inflate the corpse with lungful after lungful of nicotine and bacon grease.

* * * * *

It is what I do. I am assigned to the Chicago sprawl, reaching south through Lake County, Indiana, and north past Kenosha and Racine to Milwaukee. It is a natural unit. Heavy industry, mob operations, bedroom communities, ethnic tensions, lake-effect snow, mosquito wetlands, crime, drugs, dirt, and a sort of brutal grandiosity that belies a deep and corporate inferiority complex.

I cannot kill in Berwyn without mourners driving out from Hammond and Whiting. I cannot orchestrate a gang slaying in Racine without the Skokie Sears ending up with fenced diamonds. I cannot release a steel roll on the Edens without it bouncing atop a family of four from Wauwatosa and decapitating the sophomore quarterback of the Hobart Brickies.

Consistency of service is why I have the land I have. With hundreds of murders a year in Milwaukee alone, it is no wonder so many senseless deaths once occurred.

Not that what humans call senseless is what angels call senseless. The death of a child on a bike can be a very meaningful and worthwhile event. It makes for good, heart-wrenching drama. On the other hand, the death of a child in bed through the simple cessation of breath – that holds very little in the way of meaning. Only if the mother is a suffocating presence or the father is an oxygen salesman who is never home – only then would such a death have its poetic effect.

That is what I do, assure that the deaths in the megalopolis of Chicago-Milwaukee have a poetry to them, that the death fits the life. Mr. Jacob Sonnenbean, the widower with the cigars and the flaming recliner, died alone in the safety and caustic comfort of his cottage, asphyxiated by his own cheery furnace and burned by his own sources of comfort: cigar and throne. It would not have served for him to fall off a pier and drown or be killed by a shooter in a convenience store. To die of his own vices and devices – that was a beautiful death.

There it is. Beauty. Aesthetics. Keats was right about beauty and truth, and it is my job to assure true deaths. The deaths are many – eight murders a day, on average, ten suicides, seventeen accidental deaths, and ninety-three by natural causes.

I do most of my work with the accidents.

Murders, suicides, and deaths by disease or age have natural resonations. Murderers are usually loved ones, friends, or neighbors – people with a history of involvement with their victims. In these cases, the killer does the job of making sure the death fits the life. He selects the time, place, and means of the demise. Suicides do the same. So, too, bodies have a certain knack for paying back their owners with fitting ends – the dancer has a heart attack after years of bulimia; the businessman yellows and dies beside his basement wet bar; the whore lies in a back room of some dive, her flesh dismantling itself as though every sperm that ever entered her is slicing outward. Of course, I monitor all these incidents, and if a death occurs in a particularly disappointing way, I often will go back in time to manipulate events for a more pleasing outcome.

Accidents and random violence, however, are chaotic, and their results are often pointless. I have, on occasion, saved a person from one meaningless death on a given day only to subject him to a better end that evening. The old phrase ‘going down for the third time’ has its origin in this phenomenon, that a doomed person may be saved once or twice before finally being slain.

Accidents are my main work, yes, but there is one type of murderer whose work runs entirely counter to mine: the serial killer. Their victims tend to be unknown to them. Their murders are orchestrated to satisfy their own fantasies, not to provide a fitting end to a victim’s life. It was because of the likes of Heirens, Gacy, and Dahmer that I was assigned this area. I cannot stop such humans from killing, not until it is their own time to die. Nor can I do much about victim selection, since these men act according to random opportunity or elaborate fantasy. On a night that such a man is prowling for a kill, I struggle to keep up, saving those I can and attempting to tweak the deaths of those I cannot.

My jurisdiction does not go back to the time of Gacy, but does to that of Dahmer. They were similar murderers, in many ways, luring their victims to their homes and tricking them into vulnerable positions. Gacy used a pair of real handcuffs, saying he had a magic trick to show his guest. Dahmer used drugged beer. A mere queasiness was enough to save some of the victims. I caused one young man to throw up on the carpet, and while Jeffrey cleaned up the poisonous mess, his prey slipped out the door.

But I could not save all of them. Some were marked for death, and even if they escaped, I killed them later that night. Nor could I kill Dahmer, for his time had not come. When at last it did come, it was out of my jurisdiction, in the Columbia Correctional Institute, a maximum-security penitentiary. The job was sloppy – bludgeoning and stabbing with a broken broomstick. I had had a much more fitting end in mind.

Even now, there are three serial killers in my domain. One, Clive Darrow of Griffith, Indiana, hasn’t killed in over a decade. A white man, he had been an assassin-style killer, getting drunk and driving his 1976 Ford Grenada past toll booths, open garages, car washes, and other such places and slaying his white victims with a shotgun. The police suspected a race crime by a black man, but the FBI profiled a white man of a little less than Clive’s age – 54. The police arrested their black man at the same time that Clive struck and killed a pedestrian and was imprisoned for reckless homicide. He happened not to have the shotgun in the car because he had just lent it to a friend for duck hunting. The killings stopped, the police were satisfied, and Clive sat in a cell for five years of an eight-year sentence. A model prisoner, he found Jesus.

Since his release, Clive has spent his time working as a janitor for Harvey’s Department Store and volunteering his time at Hoosier Boys Town. His witness to the young men there includes frank discussions of his serial killings and the difference Christ has made. The listeners give Jesus little credence, and the talk of shootings even less. The police have been called fifty-seven times to investigate Clive’s allegations of serial killings, but have found no evidence, and have ceased responding.

The other two serial killers are still somewhat active. Jerome “Jerry” White is twenty-nine years old and has been killing since he was seventeen. He lives winters at his mother’s house in Evanston but spends his summers at a rundown cottage at the flood-prone Methodist Campgrounds in Des Plaines. Like Darrow, Jerry is a born-again Christian, though his conversion yielded the opposite effect.

Always an unbalanced zealot, Jerry’s conversion to evangelical fundamentalism at age fourteen gave him a whole new ground for obsession. While most boys his age were handling themselves and, if lucky, a breast or two, Jerry was turning all his attentions toward a leather-bound Bible. He considered his sexual desires to be a form of demonic possession, and eventually convinced himself that even humor was ungodly and evil. On several occasions, he stood with knife in hand and began slicing off his erect penis, only to quit after inflicting tiny cuts.

If he had gone off to college, as his parents had insisted, he likely would have outgrown his delusions. Instead, after high school, he moved to an upstairs apartment in Gary, Indiana, and began trying to rescue prostitutes. He was beaten bloody more than once by angry pimps who wanted twenty dollars for the half hour he’d spent preaching to the women. In time, he came to believe that all the abuses he suffered at the hands of black pimps and drug dealers had been, in turn, forced upon them by whites of all stripes.

Jerry got himself a junkyard car, painted it black, and used masking tape to write warnings all across it. He rarely had enough money to buy gas, but when he did, he drove the car until it ran dry. Then he would leave it and walk home. He stole the car back a number of times from various impound yards, in the last encounter running down the security guard.

This accidental killing convinced Jerry of his mission, to drive his car by day and slay whites by night until they heeded his warnings. Since that time, he has killed twelve. After his fifth kill, the very pimps and drug dealers who had once beaten him up began hiring him to do hits in white areas. Jerry considered the money a sign from God that what he was doing was right. The police have not yet linked all of his crimes.

Now, Jerry’s mental aberrations are so extreme as to prevent him from driving or committing untraceable crimes. His deterioration is severe enough that he may be captured in the act of one of his next murders. He probably doesn’t have the wit or the time to kill again, though. He will be dead before Friday this week. I’m planning for him to break into Wesley Tabernacle on the campgrounds, lie down on the altar, douse himself with gasoline, and die as a burnt offering to God.

The last of my three killers is on the prowl even now. I will step down one rung and see if I might direct his hand a bit.

Excerpt Part Two Tomorrow

All Rights Reserved to Angry Robot Books, HarperCollins

Publication Date UK/AUS: September 3, 2009
US/Canada – Spring 2010