Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Cop humor - part 1

Since I'm on my way to SleuthFest, I've moved "Homicide - Hussey" up a day. I hope you enjoy seeing the lighter side of cop work. I don't have time to mess with the IE coding troubles, so again, if you can use Firefox, it should be better. Comments don't seem to be working in IE today.

Billy Hyatt's exploits as an officer with the Lakeland Police Department are legendary. Never in the history of this agency or any other that I know of, have so many classic practical jokes been played on so many. The list of unbelievers who have challenged the "Great One" is endless. Shortly they would come begging for a truce, sometimes they would be afforded mercy, sometimes not.

Often times the prank would be rather harmless, like the one he played on Glenn Seacrest.

Glenn got into his patrol car one evening and smelled the unmistakable smell of feces. He checked his shoes, he checked under the seats, he checked under the mats he looked everywhere. The smell remained. Glenn returned to the station when he could bear the smell no longer, and switched cruisers. The smell would not go away. Glenn just got used to smelling it and went to work.

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About halfway through the shift, a little old lady ran the red light at Florida and the Boulevard. Glenn stopped her and began issuing the citation. As he wrote, he could see the old woman sniffing the air like a bloodhound trying to get his bearings. Glenn smelled it too. It was that damn dog shit smell. It seemed to be getting stronger. It just wouldn't go away. Glenn completed the ticket and explained it to the motorist as she continued to snort and sniff. After tearing off the women's copy, he opened the ticket book to stow away the pink copy. That's when he found the carefully placed, small brown lump of excrement. The lady saw it too. They looked at each other, neither knowing what to say.

Glenn said, "Have a nice day."

"Oh I will," said the lady."

Or you might go to work on Monday morning, after working all weekend on your beautiful lawn, weeding, fertilizing, watering, mowing, and raking, and come home that evening to find that someone has delivered a dump truck load of fill-dirt onto your lawn. Those things would happen to you if Billy liked you. If he didn't like you, nothing was out of the question.

Billy was a top-notch practical joker, but he was also a top-notch cop. His experience and knowledge regarding police work was second to none. Billy knew a little about everything. When he and Ken Wnuk were under cover, no finer UC team ever worked the streets anywhere. He was a friend to all, and good husband and father. Then there was the other side.

This chapter in Detective Hussey's manuscript is a long one--I'll be posting it in installments. To make sure you don't miss any, you can sign up to follow the blog. As always, I'll share what I learn at conference workshops and panels when I return next week.

Surprises and SleuthFest

What I'm reading: Tempt the Devil, by Anna Campbell

First, thanks to Maris for sharing her experiences in the world of a writer. This is a short post today--I'm way behind in SleuthFest prep.

Some surprises: I got an email saying that HIDDEN FIRE was now available in print from the publisher. No advance warning, other than they'd told me it would be out in time for the book signing at the Romantic Times conference in late April. Thus, I spent much more time than I'd planned trying to put together an excerpt booklet so I could have them ready for SleuthFest.

In other news, I got an email from Night Owl Romance saying a reviewer had read What's in a Name?, loved it, and wanted to know what else I'd written. I haven't seen the review yet, but ego-stroking is always a good thing.

I'm going to be busy with SleuthFest preparations. We leave tomorrow, so I might be putting the next installment of Homicide- Hussey up a day early.

In the meantime, here's a quick peek at the opening section of my dialogue handout. Time permitting, I'll figure out the most effective way to share it.

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Some Dialogue Basics

First, the absolute nitty-gritty. If you don't understand these first four rules, your work will probably never get beyond the form rejection letter. If any of these aren't automatic, you should take a refresher course in basic writing.

1. Use quotation marks to indicate words which are spoken by characters.
2. Always start a new paragraph when changing speakers. You cannot have two people speaking in the same paragraph.
3. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
4. Use correct punctuation, capitalization and spacing.

Assuming you've got those down, what next? I suggest the following two books as handy references, not only for dialogue.

The First Five Pages, A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman

Self Editing for Fiction WritersHow to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King

Elaboration and examples later ... please come back.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh, Have Times Changed

Today, author Maris Soule joins me with a look back into the history of romance and mystery writing. Welcome, Maris.

Thank you, Terry, for asking me to be a guest on your blog. I tried to come up with something exciting to write and failed, but since I have been around this business for centuries (okay, maybe it’s only been a few decades), I thought I’d mention a few of the changes I’ve seen.

I started writing in 1979 with lots of desire and no experience, not even a major in English. (I have a BA in art.) I didn’t even know what kind of book I wanted to write; I just knew I liked happy endings. And boy were my first two tries terrible. But I was lucky. Within a year I found an agent willing to work with me (yes, they did that back then). She was wonderful, and I learned a lot from her. Because of her help, within three years she’d sold a romance of mine based on a synopsis and three chapters. Nowadays, most new authors need a completed manuscript.

Back when I started, romances were told in third person, solely from the heroine’s point of view. The hero was older and wiser and there to rescue the heroine. They didn’t make love unless they were married, and then it was primarily behind closed doors. My first book was the giveaway to introduce Harlequin’s “hot and sexy” Temptation line. In 1983, this was a big breakthrough; today that book would almost be considered a sweet romance. Today there are no restriction on point of view, the heroine is more apt to rescue the hero than the other way around, and she might even be older than he is.

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In the very early 80s, RWA and Sisters-in-Crime didn’t exist. Women mystery writers were ignored by reviewers and romances were routinely called “bodice rippers.” Through the efforts of many female writers (and a few men) both organizations have flourished and done a great deal to change the public’s perception. (Not that they’ve completely eliminated the stigma against romances or female mystery writers.) Conferences, contests, articles, and specialized groups within each of those organizations have allowed new writers to learn the craft and hone their skills. What pleases me is rather than being a cut-throat industry, it’s become supportive.

In 1984, I bought my first computer. I was delighted. Cut and paste no longer involved scissors and tape.
My IBM’s 128 K of memory (which cost a mere $4000) allowed me to change or delete sentences at will, and I could save an entire book on half dozen floppy disks. Whoopee! Sending out a “clean” copy didn’t mean using white-out or involve a trip to Kinko’s. By comparison, last Christmas I received a new computer (I’ve gone through 4 so far). This computer has 288 GB of memory, cost much less, and I can copy all twenty-six of my published books (along with several unpublished manuscripts) on a flash drive no bigger than my thumb.

I ventured onto the Internet in 1994. I remember looking for a romance writers group and finding myself in a “chat” room with some rather suggestive types. I wonder where I would have ended up if I’d typed “mystery writers?” Back then, on-line groups were just forming, writers’ Web sites were a rarity, and blogs unheard of. Up until the mid-nineties, correspondence with agents and editors was by telephone or letters. The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc was just being formed, and anyone could claim to be an agent. (Actually, I’m afraid that hasn’t changed.) For a long time there was no way to check the person’s credentials (other than ask around). Now a new writer can go to Preditors and Editors or check with MWA, SinC, or RWA to see if any complaints have been lodged against an agent. And most agents and publishing houses have Web sites.

The biggest change, in my opinion, is that publishing companies have been gobbled up by huge corporations, massive numbers of small publishers, distributors, and independent bookstores have disappeared. Book cover prices have soared. On the positive side, trade paperbacks have become more popular and e-books are showing respectable sales. However, cuts in staff have left editors with little time to edit, which means that job is being left to agents…and to the writer. Writers are being asked to do more and more promotion and to get at least one book out a year. More if they want name recognition.

In the last thirty years, the Industry has changed and so have I. I’m older and hopefully a little wiser. When I started, I wanted to capture the tension and excitement of a new romance, but I’ve always loved reading mysteries and even my romances started including a bit of suspense. Lucky for me, the mystery genre, as well as the romance genre, has grown and changed. Writers of thrillers have formed a new group. Mystery categories have developed sub-categories and crossed genres. There’s a spot for everyone…even me.

There are times when I think twenty-six published books is enough, but then a new story idea starts playing in my head and characters refuse to be ignored. I know then that I have to write down what they say because the one thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to write.

You can find out more about Maris, her books, including her most recent release, THE CROWS, on her website.

Monday, February 23, 2009

SleuthFest Prep - and real life headaches

What I'm reading: Dead Even, by Brad Meltzer

SleuthFest preparations continue. For one, I'm reading a book by one of the featured speakers. Next, I sent my panelists the outline for their session and received the information from the moderators of the panels I'm on. They're taking different approaches, so it should be fun.

But a mild digression to those "Things One Can't Control." On Saturday, I got a letter from a collection agency telling me I was a very naughty person and owed a substantial sum of money. Trying to decipher the references, the best I could surmise was that it was for MasterCard charges. Only thing is, I don't have a MasterCard. And they got my name backward. Why do these sorts of things always show up when you can't get in touch with anyone? All you get is two days of knots-in-the-stomach frustration. At best, it's a simple error. At worst, it's some sort of identity theft. We'll see what happens. But back to SleuthFest:

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The moderator of the romance-oriented panel (cleverly titled "Kiss the Detective") wants a discussion format. She's got about 15 topics suggested. It'll be interesting to see how many we cover, and to what extent. Also, since SleuthFest is a mystery writers conference, there will undoubtedly be some talk about where the line between a mystery book and a romantic suspense book should be drawn. Readers go to specific areas of bookstores and libraries with expectations of what the books will be like.

My other panel is Writing Great Dialogue. It's definitely geared toward the how-to side of writing. The moderator for this one sent her list of questions, and has earmarked them for each panelist, although we're only the starting point. She's also suggesting we use passages from our own books as illustrations. The ones she's highlighted for me:

1. Do you eavesdrop on people around you?
(That's a no-brainer. Duh, yes, next question please)

2. What about dialect? How much is too much? How do you determine the 'correct' spelling of dialect?
This one is more interesting. I've gone through When Danger Calls, where I've got a Texan as a secondary character and picked a few passages where I make his speech distinctive. I'm a minimalist. I definitely don't want to get into any clever phonetic spellings -- that just slows the reader down. I don't get beyond the occasional dropping of the final 'g' (darlin') I rely on the reader to 'hear' it when I simply mention his 'easy drawl.'

I'd rather show dialect in speech patterns and vocabulary choices. There are also a couple other 'non-English' speakers in the book. I might throw in a word in their language if it's easily recognized. Otherwise, if it's necessary, I'll find a way to translate it on the page.

3. How is dialogue misused?
I don't think I'm going to use any passages from my books as examples of this one!

4. How do you use dialogue to move the story along?
I've got several examples for this one to show how pace can be controlled with the style of dialogue.

Also, I prepared a 6 page handout covering some of the basics. If there's any interest, I can make it available here and/or on my website.

Meanwhile, come back tomorrow for my guest, Maris Soule, who's been writing since 1979 and is going to share some of the changes she's seen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Homicide - Hussey - The Policy Makers

Nothing, as the cliche goes, is etched in stone. This includes police policy and procedure. When you've been a cop a long time, as Deputy Hussey has, you see things come and go. And sometimes, you're even on the cutting edge of new policy. Read on as Deputy Hussey shares another case with us.

After a few years as a police officer, most cops have responded to all kinds of "signal sevens" or dead body calls. I've seen the human body in almost every form: burned, dismembered, decomposing, mummified. I've seen people shot, cut, hung, run over, bludgeoned, strangled and sexually mutilated. I've found people dead who were partially eaten by their pets; I've kicked in doors and had putrefied bodies explode. I've seen them decompose and drip down through the mattress, and I've seen them decapitate because they hung too long. I've worked 'em all and its never ceased to amaze me the things human beings do to themselves and each other.

The homicides and suicides are somewhat interesting, but the natural death calls are just kind of a chore. Usually the deceased is an elderly person who has been bedridden and had some terminal disease. Some family member is usually there, and you have to tell the people how sorry you are and appear to be saddened as you complete your report and try not to be late for dinner, which is usually when these calls come.

On this particular summer evening, my partner, Glenn Seacrest, and I had already eaten. We'd stopped off downtown to look at the new TV sets. There was a brand new channel on one of the sets. It was called "Cable News Network" or CNN.

"It'll never make it," I said. "Who the hell would watch news 24 hours a day?"

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We got the call for an address on West Quincy Street. As we pulled out of the appliance store parking lot, the dispatcher said it was a "natural", which meant that the person died of natural causes.

It was an African American family, and as we arrived, there were several carloads of people just arriving and getting out of their cars. The older families were very close and they usually congregated quickly after a family death. Sometimes you would have to help subdue a distraught family member who would be beside him or herself with grief. That was not the case here. The crowd was rather subdued. As we entered the neatly kept house, several people were weeping softly and comforting each other.

"Where is he?" I asked.

A large motherly looking black lady motioned us to a bedroom where the door was shut. "Papa been so sick," she said. "It sho is a blessin' dat he gone home."

I nodded. "Yes ma'am."

As Glen called the medical examiner and gave him the information, I started the paperwork. Event form, narrative, persons form, death investigation form, and of course, the toe tag. The toe tag was a dark red, 2"x5" tag which had blanks for the decedent's name, address, time of death and the name of the investigating officer and the case number. The tag had two strings attached to one end, and was to be tied to the "great" toe of the decedent.

I was finishing the paperwork when my partner came into the room. "How's he look?" Glenn asked.

"I haven't looked yet. I'm almost finished with the report. I just gotta' fill out the toe tag."

"Let's have a look." Glenn pulled back the sheet.

Willie Jasper Jones was born in 1886, which made him 96 years old. What a long life this man had lived. He was the son of former slaves. He had seen the first automobile, the first airplane, and the advent of the telephone. He'd gone from kerosene lamps to electricity. He had taken all these changes in stride. Yes, Mr. Jones had seen many changes in his lifetime, many not so good.

As we pulled down the sheet, I was somewhat shocked to see that the old man had no legs. I guess I wasn't prepared for it. The shriveled old torso was lying on its back. Only a medic alert bracelet adorned his naked body.

The legs were amputated even with his buttocks, and his limp penis hung unnaturally between what used to be the man's legs.

"I didn't know the guy was leg-less," I said.

"Yeah, he was a diabetic and had his legs whacked off a couple of years back."

"Well, let's tie the toe tag and get out of here," I said without thinking. I looked over at Glenn, and he was grinning that sick grin of his. He looked at me, looked at Mr. Jones, then at the toe tag. I realized what he had in mind.

"Let's just leave the tag with the funeral home guys," I said.

"Can't", Glenn said as he snatched the tag from my clipboard. "The back of the tag says to affix it to the great toe."

"He has no great toe.

"We'll tie it to the lowest place on his body," Glenn said.

"I don't want any part of this."

"Even kinda' looks like a big toe." Glenn giggled.

Glenn securely tied the string to the man's private parts, and shortly thereafter, the guys from the funeral home arrived and picked up the body. I knew we hadn't heard the last of this. I was right.

My phone rang about 8:30 the next morning, waking me from a sound sleep. It was the Chief's secretary. The Patrol Captain wanted to see me in his office right away. When I got to the Captain's office, Glenn was coming out with a large chaw of tobacco in his mouth and grinning from ear to ear.

"What happened in there?" I asked. I could hear the Chief screaming at the Captain inside his office.

"Oh the fuckin' M.E. couldn't take a joke, thought we should have tied the tag to his finger or something. I told the Chief the thing I tied it to was more like a big toe than his finger was. I asked the Chief, hell, haven't you ever stubbed your dick?" Glenn laughed out loud at his own joke. "The Chief didn't think it was funny either."

When I went into the Captain's office, I played the dumb rookie, "Just following the lead of my veteran partner." He apparently bought it, and I was glad. Several days later a memo circulated through the department. It read:

"In cases where the decedent is an amputee or the toe tag cannot be tied to either of the great toes for various reasons, the red medical examiner's toe tag shall be given to the funeral home personnel when the body is released to them."

There we were again, making policy.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Everything in Moderation

What I'm reading: Evil Without a Face, by Jordan Dane

What I'm working on: SleuthFest panels.

Continuing with the SleuthFest topic this week….

I'm used to doing workshops or solo presentations, so the panel format at SleuthFest creates a whole new set of preparation anxieties. In a panel, the speakers are at the mercy of a moderator and the kindness of the other panelists. I'm keeping that in mind as I deal with the two panels I'm on, plus the third that I'm moderating.

A good moderator can set the tone for the entire session. The job: introduce the panelists. My take: There's a bio of every speaker in the program. The attendees can read. The moderators who simply parrot that back lose points in my book. I've asked my panelists to provide at least one or two tidbits that are new.

In addition to discussing a writing topic, the other—albeit it unspoken—function of the workshops is to give authors a little face time to showcase their books. So, the moderator needs to give each panelist a moment or two for the dreaded BSP. The good panelists will work their books into their presentations rather than do commercials.

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Next, the moderator is expected to keep things moving according to the schedule. At SleuthFest, things run tight, with fifty-minute sessions. Moderators need to watch the clock, allow time for questions, AND make sure the speakers can exit because this conference schedules ten minute book-signings of panelists during the breaks between sessions. It's one of the few things I'm not fond of, because ten minutes isn't really long enough to participate and get to the next session on time. However, they also have an end-of-the-day signing for all speakers, which helps.

Moderators have to keep things 'fair.' This might mean having to cut off a Big Name to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Some moderators will ask a single question, then run down the panel for everyone's response. Others will ask specific questions of specific panelists. Some start joining into the discussion themselves.

I'm sure it's no surprise that the panelists are aware of the questions beforehand. The panel I'm moderating is on the Young Adult mystery market. (Not exactly my area of expertise). The interesting aspect of the panel, and its challenge, is that I've got 3 speakers. One is a multi-published YA author. Another has written numerous books but also has an editing business. The third is an agent. Each will have a very different slant to the topic.

Which leads to one of my little peeves about the format. The workshops have titles, and very little description in the program. So the attendees have to base their choices of which workshop to attend on the name, which is often more clever than informative. At least for the panel I'm moderating, "The Kid Sleuth" seems clear enough. However, it's my job to make sure the panelists remain true to the "writing a YA mystery" aspect of the panel and don't stray too far afield, no matter how valuable the information might be, because there's nothing more frustrating at a conference than to sit in on a session that isn't what you expected, or wanted. Odds are, you passed up another one that looked equally promising.

Tomorrow – Detective Mark Hussey is back, talking about the time he found himself on the cutting edge of setting new policy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SleuthFest 2009

What I'm reading: Mind Prey, by John Sandford

Yesterday, J L Wilson's post on small conferences generated a lot of interest. I'd mentioned I'll be going to SleuthFest, which is geared toward mystery writers.

Way back when writing was more of an experiment, something in the "can I learn how to do that?" category, my local crit group encouraged me to go to a writing conference. I went to a 'general' conference in St Petersburg, followed by a small RWA conference in Melbourne. Very different, although being surrounded by other people who have voices constantly playing in their heads was encouraging.

When I saw that Robert B. Parker was going to be the keynote speaker at a mystery conference, I decided to attend that one as well, although it was a little farther afield. Left hubby at home and drove the 4 hours to Fort Lauderdale (which was a major trip to do solo back then). At the time, I thought I was writing a mystery. Turns out, it was more of a "romantic suspense" according to industry labels, but what did I know? I had a detective, a crime and a victim. So what if they fell in love along the way, right?

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I remember applying for a slot in Barbara Parker's workshop for a critique session. I think I got the best of both worlds on that one when she didn't accept my pages among those she would critique, because she certainly pulls no punches when she discusses the writing. "Nothing wrong with this that a pair of scissors wouldn't cure," sticks with me all these years later. But she'd jotted a note on my returned pages and said she'd like to discuss the chapter with me. Over lunch (I paid, of course), she pointed out strengths and weaknesses – 'You've got the writing down, now learn about structure."

I also remember having an agent appointment with Dominic Abel. I was clueless. Totally. I knew he represented some big name favorites of mine, and had no delusions he'd be the least bit interested in my humble attempts at a story, which wasn't even a mystery. He said that didn't matter; if I could get readers to love Sarah, my heroine, that was the important thing. And he asked for a partial, which I thought was a given at a conference, but others said he only requested a few submissions. He wrote a very nice and personal rejection letter, too!

It took 3 tries before I managed to snag a spot in the "hot seat," and I hit the jackpot big time with feedback both from Barbara Parker's and PJ Parrish's workshops on Third Degree Thursdays. And by now, I also felt I had something to contribute during the discussions.

Year three, hubby came along, more because he had to give a short talk at a nearby university, and a 4 hour drive for a 30 minute brown bag lunch seminar seemed to be an inefficient use of his time. The King Tut exhibit was also in town, so with 3 reasons to make the trip, he tagged along. He's a biologist, specializing in marine mammals. Usually dead ones. So he had an absolute blast in the forensics tracks, and has been coming along ever since. I had to nudge him (ok, stronger than a nudge) to get the books he bought autographed. He "didn't want to bother the authors." Duh!He's learning.

I've met Christopher Whitcomb who gave me an ARC of his book, with an inscription I can't share. And Robert Crais and Michael Connelly showed much patience with my blathering about having grown up in Los Angeles while they signed books for me. I discovered Lee Child and Jack Reacher. This year's featured guests are John Hart and Brad Meltzer, who will probably end up on my readling list.

And last year, I was on the other side of the table for the first time. I moderated a panel, and participated in another. I signed my books. I met great people. This is one conference that stays on my list. I can't wait to get back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Conferencing We Will Go

I'll be heading off to SleuthFest, a mystery writer's conference, at the end of the month. Why do writers go to conferences? Join author J L Wilson as she talks about the Roman legionnaires she met while in Chicago.

I just got back from two writer’s conferences (back to back), and since I write murder mysteries set at conferences for writers, they were very, very useful to me.

I used to go to big conferences — RWA National and RT spring to mind. But in the last few years I’ve focused on three or four smaller conferences throughout the year. And let’s face it, three small conferences cost as much as RWA or RT, so I’m getting more bang for my buck.

The thing I like about smaller cons is that I usually get to either meet readers or I get to meet writers who are often with smaller presses, just like I am. So I get a chance to (1) reach a new audience and (2) exchange ideas with people in the same boat as me.

Speaking of boats …
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...the first conference was a cruise at sea. Since I’ve never cruised, it was fascinating (if you want more details you can check my newsletter, posted at my web site. It was a very brief cruise, but enough to give me a taste of the life, so to speak.

The last conference I attended was in Chicago and was a murder-mystery conference. I’m finding those more to my taste than the romance conferences. This one was particularly interesting because another conference was at the hotel at the same time, and it was “Re-Enactor Fest.” So we had a few hundred people sharing the hotel with us who were dressed as: soldiers (Roman soldiers, WWII soldiers, British soldiers — you name it, we had it), Southern belles (complete with hoop skirts), Henry VIII, pioneers, Native American Indian scouts, movie stars …

The variety was endless. I have to tell you, I got SO many plot ideas! And I had a chance to inspect muskets, blunderbusses, and swords up close (so useful for my time travel books) as well as see just how uncomfortable some of that clothing was (the consensus was that the shoes were the hardest to create accurately AND comfortably).

So all in all — a very good time. I sold a few books (my latest came out on the first day of the conference, so that was a bit of serendipity) and I gathered a lot of ideas for upcoming novels. My next conference is in June then one in August and I’m done for the year. Since I’m already contracted through 2011 that should give me enough plots to get me through 2012! For more information about my various books (mystery, romantic suspense, and time travel), check my web site

Monday, February 16, 2009


Our paper recently featured an article about nifty cop toys. It was of special interest to me because the books I'm writing feature a team of covert ops specialists, and the technology is something I'm always trying to keep up with. Of course, in my current WIP, I've created the requisite conflict for my techno-hero by denying him access to any of his toys. But below are some of the things I'm sure he's wishing for.

Note: The complete article is from The Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 6, 2009, written by Bianca Prieto. An abridged version below.

Gone are the days when cops storm barricaded homes without knowing what's inside.

Orlando's SWAT unit, like many other tactical teams across the nation, is now using cutting-edge gadgets, including camera balls, remote-control robots and extendable-pole cameras to peek inside buildings and protect officers from dangerous situations.

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Vision Stick System: Includes a pole camera, an under-the-door camera and remote-monitor system. An infrared camera sits atop a 12-foot extendable pole. This tool is often used to help SWAT-team members look around corners and under doors. Cost: $15,000.

Orlando officers recently used a remote-control robot equipped with cameras to pinpoint an armed and bleeding suicidal woman inside her house, allowing officers to know exactly where she was when they rushed in to help her.

The EyeBall R1, a 1.4-pound rubber ball with a built-in infrared camera. It can automatically adjust itself to an upright position after being thrown into a room. If it gets wedged and cannot right itself, the camera can flip the image upside down to correctly broadcast a video. The remote control has a full-color screen and can rotate the ball 360 degrees. SWAT members use this tool the most, OPD Sgt. Mark Canty said. Cost: $5,300.

Recon Scout:

This robotic camera is the size, shape and weight of a 1-pound dumbbell. The "dumbbell" is the most portable of OPD's robotic cameras. Its titanium shell and urethane wheels make the tiny camera easy to toss and highly maneuverable. Controlled by a hand-held remote with a screen, this robot once helped SWAT officers find an armed man hiding behind a bed. Cost: $4,200.

iRobot Negotiator: "It's like a remote-control tank," OPD Sgt. Mark Canty said of the 34-pound, two-camera machine. The robot can climb stairs but only goes 3.mph. It is controlled by a remote with a joystick and color screen. This is the device used to find the suicidal woman. Cost: $30,000.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when my guest, J L Wilson, will talk about some surprises she's encountered, including Roman legionnaires in Chicago.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How the Cops Saved Christmas

(Note: IE and Blogger are fighting again. This should work in Firefox until the problem is solved. If you can't see the sidebar, scroll down to the end of yesterday's post, click on the keep reading button and it should appear. Gotta learn more code, I guess. Me and technology)

Yes, I know tomorrow is Valentine's Day. So why a Christmas story? I can't say there's anything romantic in today's post from Detective Hussey, but you'll have to agree, there's a lot of heart. And, if you're new here, I don't write these. I merely post them with Detective Hussey's permission. The credit for the stories goes to him.

Christmas is a magical time of year for most people. The problem for cops is, after a few years in the business, the magic goes out of everything. We forget that the public is not exposed to all the horror and inhumanities of man. Most cops see more terrible things in a few months than most people see in a lifetime. Christmas, even for most cops, remains though, a beautiful, heart-warming, family time of year. It can be a sad time for many people, a depressing time for those who are forced to spend the holidays alone, it can be a time to do more crimes, for those opportunists who don't care who they hurt. It can be a time for some people to believe in something again, just when life seems hopeless. Even for cops.

Janice Foster had moved to Lakeland a year earlier from rural Illinois. Her husband had been killed in a farming accident and left her to raise two boys alone. His parents had been good to them, but she wanted to stand on her own two feet. Besides, she hated the long, cold dismal winters. The boys always had colds and she herself never seemed to feel very well. The farm reminded her of Sam, her husband and childhood sweetheart, and that made her even more depressed.

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One year in the mid-seventies before they were married, Janice and Sam had visited Lakeland in the spring, to see Sam's favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers played their spring training games in Lakeland. They had loved the little town so much and vowed to return after they were married. It just never happened. Nicholas came along just nine months after the wedding and then there was that terrible drought. Oh they always had enough to eat, but vacations were luxuries they could not afford. So when Janice decided to leave Illinois, Lakeland seemed a perfect destination. Even though Sam was dead, it would be like the fulfillment of a promise they'd made to each other.

In September it began to get cold in Illinois and Janice began to get depressed. She made up her mind to make her dream come true. She told Sam's mother and father of her plans and gave notice at the cafe where she was a waitress. Janice rented a small U-haul trailer and loaded up all the family's possessions. The trailer was hitched to the old Buick station wagon, and Janice, Nicholas and Tommy headed south on the first great adventure of their lives.

When they got to Lakeland they got a hotel room for the first week. Janice got hired at the first place she applied, the Pizza Hut restaurant on Memorial Blvd. She wasn't making the kind of money she had made in Chicago, but the apartment she found a week later was a lot cheaper than it would have been back home. The boys settled into the new school. The school bus picked them up and dropped them off near the apartment. Janice's job was within walking distance. The car died in November and Tommy broke his leg the same month. The little bit of savings they'd had were gone. Still the weather was beautiful. They had gone to the beach in October. It was unbelievable. In short, things were up and down. Most of it seemed good, the bills were paid and they seemed to be getting ahead.

Well it was December 23, Christmas Eve, Eve. The weather was in the 70's, and not a cloud in the sky.

My partner Tom Brown and I had just finished booking a shoplifter from the mall into jail. "Tis the season," Tom said as we left the police station and headed north toward our zone. It was after 5:00, 1700 for all you para-military personnel, and I suggested we eat. A few minutes later, we were sitting in our local Pizza Hut being waited on by a pleasant, slightly overweight, waitress. The name tag said Janice. She and Tom cut up as she brought us our dinner.

"You must be new," I said.

"Yes, I just moved here from the Chicago area," she said, smiling.

"Kinda cold up there," I said.

"They don't call it the windy City for nothing."

Tom and I talked a little more, then got up to leave. We left the standard cop tip of a dollar on the table.

"Be Safe fellas," Janice called after us.

About 2310 hrs, the tone alert sounded and the dispatcher's voice crackled across the old Motorola radio. "One-oh-six-alpha, signal 29 personal with a gun, rear of Pizza Hut on the Boulevard."

I put my foot in the carburetor of the Plymouth Fury and arrived behind the restaurant in less than thirty seconds. A female in a pizza hut uniform was sitting on the curb with her head in her hands and several other Pizza Hut employees were standing nearby.

"What happened here?" I asked, as I got out of the car?

"This lady was robbed," a man in a white shirt and tie replied.

"Is she hurt?" Tom asked.

"I think her arm is broken," another woman said. Then the lady lifted her head and looked up at me.

"Hey you're our waitress from dinner," I said. She just nodded and continued sobbing. Tom called the ambulance and I got what description I could.

It had all happened pretty fast. A young, thin male, race unknown, had come at her from behind, she thinks out of some bushes. The "perp" had grabbed her purse and attempted to run. Because the purse was precious to her, Janice did not let go without a fight. The man had kicked her in the ribs after knocking her to the ground, and dragged her until her arm snapped and the purse slipped off her arm.

Tom and I were silent as we drove the mile and a half to the emergency room. When we got there, Janice was being cleaned up and a doctor was preparing to set her broken right arm. The uncontrollable sobbing had stopped, but she was still crying softly to herself. "I just don't know what I'm going to do", she said as Tom and I entered the treatment room. "All the money I had was in that purse," she said. "My whole paycheck."

"Well if it was a check, I'm sure Pizza Hut will replace it," I offered.

"The manager cashed it for me so I could pay off the boy's bikes and take them off layaway in the morning and get a Christmas tree and buy things for Christmas dinner," she said. My boys, there'll be no Christmas for them at all." She began sobbing again.

"Don't you have any family here who could help?" Tom asked.

"I don't have anybody here," she replied. "Just me and the boys since Sam died."

"Where did you have the boy's bikes on layaway and how much did you owe?" I asked.

"They are at Woolco at the mall and I owe $50.00 on each one.

Tom and I finished getting the necessary information for the report and headed for our cruiser. We were already an hour late getting off. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking partner?" I asked Tom when we were back in the car.

"I think so." Tom and I actually had come to know one another to the point that we knew what each other was thinking. It sure paid off sometimes. Other times it was scary. We had been in so many tight situations, that we knew each other's next move and what to expect. "We could hit up the briefings tomorrow for some donations, and I've got a little extra," Tom said.

"Me too.Let's do it".

The next morning I was already up, when Tom rang my phone. We made the seven thirty briefing and after explaining the situation, we collected $48.00: not too bad for short notice. We collected another $20.00 from the manager at Pizza Hut and when we got to Woolco and explained the situation the manager knocked $20.00 off the bill for the bikes. Tom and I made up the rest, including tax. After getting the bikes loaded in the back of my truck, we stopped at a Christmas tree lot. We badged the owner and explained the situation to him. We picked out a nice large tree and loaded into the back of my truck.

"Merry Christmas, officers," the lot manager said as we drove away.

Our last stop was at the market on the Boulevard. We bought all the trimmings for a top notch Christmas dinner. We knew the manager and he threw in a pre-stuffed turkey, absolutely free.

Tom and I were having too much fun. We also bought two Santa hats and some fake beards. We drove to the apartment complex behind the Pizza Hut, found apartment 261 and knocked. I was so exited, my heart was beating so hard, I thought someone could hear.

We heard the lady call "who is it?" from inside the apartment. I guess she looked out the peephole and saw two guys with disguises on and thought the robber from last night had returned. I had to produce my police ID before she reluctantly opened the door. She was still somewhat suspicious.

We asked her where she wanted the tree, and the food. She just kind of pointed, in shock. I don't think she could believe it. The two boys had come sleepily out of a bedroom by now and were also looking suspiciously at Tom and me.

"I think there may be something in Santa's truck—I mean sleigh—for you guys too," I said.

We walked the boys outside and unloaded the bicycles. The kids whooped and hollered as they rode them around the parking lot. Janice walked out in her bathrobe, tears streaming down her face. She had one arm in a sling, but she hugged each of us with her good left arm. "Nobody has ever done anything like this for me, this is the best Christmas I've ever had." She choked back tears.

Tom and I agreed it was the best Christmas we'd ever had too. We went home that year and really enjoyed Christmas with our families more than ever.

I hoped the scumbag who stole Janice's purse bought Christmas dinner with the stolen money too. And choked to death on the damn wishbone.

Whether Valentine's Day is special to you or not, I hope you'll have a nice weekend. We'll be out of town visiting family and maybe doing a little celebrating of our own. Oh, and for today: Happy Friday the 13th.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What's in Your Bookstore? And Where is it?

Saw this in the paper the other day. Couldn't help but think about one of the first 'romance' books I read. My mother had been visiting, and she went on and on about this great book she'd finished, and then was even more excited when she found out she'd read the second in the series (which was only two books long at that time) and could go back and read more. Diana Gabaldon said her books present booksellers with the 'where do I shelve this?' dilemma. Is it a romance? Is it historical fiction? Faye Kellerman claimed all she thought she was writing was a nice little romance when she wrote her first Peter Decker/Rita Lazarus novel. Now, they're definitely in the mystery section.

I'd never read a traditional romance when I started writing Finding Sarah, and I thought it was a mystery. Who knew there were rules? At the time, I didn't think I could ever write a romance.
Because I, like so many others, was clueless about what a romance really was.

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If I say I write "romance", more often than not, I get the eyeball roll, and the "I don't read that stuff," response. I was chatting with someone last night, and the topic arose. Back in the day, when romances were 'bodice rippers'. She said she and her mother used to love to toss out the vocabulary of the books of that time, words like portmanteau and reticule.

The genre has expanded. Tremendously. My books, marketed as romance, have little resemblance to the short category romances that still bedeck the bookstores. I know. I just finished reading nine of them for the Romance Writer's of America's RITA contest. Some were good, some I finished more out of obligation to the contest than because I cared about the characters (which is, to me, the whole point of reading a book).

But just looking at the categories in any romance contest proves this is not a one-size-fits-all genre. The RITAs mentioned above have the following categories:

Contemporary Series Romance
Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense:/Adventure
Contemporary Single Title Romance
Inspirational Romance
Historical Romance
Regency Historical Romance
Romance Novella
Paranormal Romance
Romantic Suspense
Young Adult Romance
Novel With Strong Romantic Elements

And, I'm not touching the controversy about whether there should be categories for erotic romance, and if so, where they would belong.

Do people avoid the romance section entirely because they think all they'll find are the stereotypical stories?
So, should bookstores organize their shelves within the romance section? If I like to read romantic suspense (which has it's own myriad sub-genres), how hard should I have to look? Harlequin makes it easy to find the various subsets of it's traditional lines with distinctive color coded covers. Kind of Garanimals for books. But out in the world of single title, one has to know the author to look for.

Tomorrow, it's once again time to turn over this blog to the next installment of "Homicide - Hussey." For latecomers to the series, be aware, I didn't write these. They're posted here due to the kindness and generosity of a local homicide detective. Please come back.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender....?

What I'm reading: Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase

Note: this is very much out of the norm for me, but it's being snarkily reviewed at Smart Bitches by their newest (male) reviewer, and his comments were enough to send me to the e-book store for a download. Having finished the last of the Jack Reacher books, I figured I might as well go to the opposite end of the spectrum for a bit.

First: This blog is best viewed in Firefox, which is a free download. IE has been having problems. If things don't look right, try it in Firefox.

Next -- Welcome to Katie & Lisa, my newest followers. So glad you're here.

And on with today's topic:

We usually hit Panera on Sunday mornings, often catching up with a former colleague of my husband and his wife. One week, she was out of town, but her husband was there, and he returned a book his wife had borrowed, saying she made a point that he was to bring it with him. And this wasn't some 'had it for months' book, but one I thought she'd enjoy. I told her 'no hurry.' Some people are driven to return things in a timely fashion. Some aren't. Within a couple of days, I got an email from another friend about book borrowing. Given the synchronicity, I figured a blog topic was in order.

Do you lend books? If you do, do you make sure your name is in them? Perhaps on a bookplate reading ex libris (which, according to some, means "liberated from the library of"). Do you keep a list of who has what? I'll admit to being of the same bent as my friend, so I normally read a borrowed book immediately and return it as soon as I'm finished. I may scribble my name on the inside cover, but I've never kept a spreadsheet of outstanding loans. However, book hoarders seem to have been around a long time, judging from the following quotes:

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He who lends a book is an idiot. He who returns the book is more of an idiot. — Anonymous, Arabic Proverb

Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me. — Anatole FRANCE (1844-1924)

Great collections of books are subject to certain accidents besides the damp, the worms, and the rats; one not less common is that of the borrowers, not to say a word of the purloiners. - Isaac D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature--The Bibliomania

Borrowers of books --those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes. Charles Lamb

Henny Youngman once said: "I have 2,000 books and no bookcase. No one will loan me a bookcase."

And, since you undoubtedly can't read the poster illustrating this post, here's what it says:

A Curse Against Book Stealers

For him that stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink to dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of hell consume him for ever and aye. Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona (date unknown)..... Now that's one hell of a curse to accompany one's ex libris.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cruising with L C Hayden

Today I welcome L C Hayden to Terry's Place. Ever wanted to take a cruise? Ever wanted to do it for free? L C tells us how she does it. Welcome, L C.

On May 28 my husband and I will embark the Ruby Princess in Barcelona, Spain, and set sail on a twelve-day Grand Mediterranean cruise. The ports we will visit includes Monaco, Greece, Turkey (Turkey?) and Italy.

Naturally, my husband and I won’t be the only cruise passengers. We’ll be in a ship that holds thousands of people. What than makes this cruise so unique? The simple fact that the cruise for me is a working cruise and that makes it free.

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This is the part where people’s ears normally perk up. How did I manage to get a free cruise? I am lucky enough to have been selected for the Author-in-Residence Program or whatever name the cruise line adopts. One day I received a call from the cruise people offering me a free cruise provided I did presentations during the days at sea. The interview took over two hours. When it was over, plans were made for me to go on a short trial cruise to the Caribbean.

While at the cruise, the captain, cruise director, and several other officers evaluated my ability to do the presentations and watched me as I mingled with the passengers. At the end of the cruise, the passengers were also asked for their opinions.

I passed the test and my reward was a longer Caribbean cruise. Since then, Princess Cruise Lines and the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have sent me to the Mexican Riviera (twice,) Hawaii (twice) and now the Grand Mediterranean Cruise. Even though I have already established my reputation, I still go through the rigorous evaluations each time.

As an Author in Residence, I’m not considered a “real” employee of the cruise line, but I’m also not a “normal” passenger. I fall somewhere between the two. That means I have a lot of free time to enjoy myself, but at the same time, I’m expected to follow employees rules. Fortunately, they’re nothing more than simple guidelines such as no drinking in the bar, no short-shorts, and similar items.

During the time at sea, I’m expected to give a power point presentation about writing or my books. It lasts about thirty minutes followed by a fifteen-minute question and answer period. When that’s over, I sign books which the ship’s store carries. Prior to sailing, the cruise’s central office approves the titles and assigns each title its own individual number. That enters the book into their system and the ship’s stores are able to handle the books’ sales.

I am not allowed to sell books or any other item on my own. The passengers can, however, purchase books directly from me provided I use the purchase order form the cruise ship provides. All I have to do is have the passenger sign his name and write down his cabin number. I jot down the name and price of the book and turn it in to the ship’s main store.

The number of times I’m required make a presentation depends on the sailing schedule. I’ve done it as little as three times (when I sailed to the Mexican Riviera and when I did a seven day cruise to the Caribbean.) The most I’ve done it is eight times and that was on a sixteen day cruise to Hawaii.

Once during a Royal Caribbean cruise and once in a Princess Cruise, I was asked to hold a formal book signing where I sat down, people formed a line, and purchased the books which I signed. Other than that, the rest of the time is mine to do as I please. I take advantage of the ship’s facilities, enjoy the excursions that allows me to visit the points-of-interest at the various ports-of-call, and mingle with the passengers.

Many of them have become my readers and friends. They’ve signed up to receive my newsletter, purchased my latest mystery release Why Casey Had to Die as well as some of my back list titles. They’ve told me that they plan to purchase my future releases. Some have even pre-ordered my non-mystery young adult novelette Bell Shaped Flowers and that won’t be released until sometime later this month (February.)

When the cruise lines call, I always try to be available. However, life happens and I had to turn them down for back-to-back cruises to Alaska. My son was getting married at the end of the first cruise and at the beginning of the next. When I told them I was not available, I thought that would mark the end of my super job, but fortunately, they called me back later and offered me a cruise to Hawaii.

I’m lucky to have landed this “job”—but hey, somebody’s got to do it!

For more about L C Hayden, visit her website at Or you can reach her via email at lchauthor(at)

Monday, February 09, 2009

What Agents Are Looking For

What I'm reading: Nothing to Lose, by Lee Child.
My last RITA entry, 9 of 9.

Our RWA chapter hosted a literary agent at its last meeting. She was kind enough to share some of her hints for making your query stand out among the hundreds that cross an agent's desk.

Some of these are so basic, you'd wonder how in the world anyone could screw up something as simple as reading the submission guidelines and following them. Yet she gets a significant number of those who don't. This is a red flag, because the agent/author relationship has to be one of trust.

She told the story of an author who offered an exclusive read to agent A. Only trouble was, he'd also sent the same offer to agent B. And put the wrong cover letter with each, so agent A got the one intended for agent B. The literary community is small. Agent A called agent B and said, "Shall I decline for both of us?"

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What's attractive to an agent? Your voice. The story concept. Your hook. All of these are necessary because an agent has to get your work to an editor, right? Right. But it doesn't stop there. The editor sends the manuscript off for at least 2 or 3 more reads. It has to be presented to the marketing department, the sales department. There are a LOT of people on board, and they work in sound bites.

Things to consider:
Style and Flow. Read your work aloud. Hear what it sounds like. Polish to the point of minimal distractions. Nobody expects perfection (or editors would be out of a job), but it should be as close as you can get it. There's not much time anymore for taking a diamond in the rough and fixing it. You need to get it beyond that stage before submitting it.

Plotting and Pacing. Don't dump the entire problem at once. Layer in conflicts. Escalate the tensions. You need to up the stakes in every chapter. It can be related to character development, the plot, or in a romance, the relationship.

Her advice for queries.
Paragraph 1: Introduce your work. Genre, word count.
Paragraph 2: A brief summary
Paragraph 3: Any relevant information – bio, writing credits, platform, awards.
The tone of your query should reflect the tone of your book.


Oversized manuscripts – "A 250,000 word novel that is part 1 of a series."
Mislabeling. She's seen many queries saying, "this isn't science fiction," etc. Agents need to know where they can sell something.

And, back to where we started – not following submission guidelines.

From here, we divided into groups and were given 3 words to work with and about 15 minutes to come up with a pitch. The 'catch' was that the immediate response to the words would be the mundane, been-there-done-that story. She recommended taking the 1st three reactions to the word and throwing them away, because they would be the obvious, and would lead to a 'stock' story – and to the rejection pile.

Our words? Riot, Wing, and Poison. Feel free to leave your pitch in the comments!

Tomorrow. L C Hayden is my guest. She's going to tell us about how she gets to cruise for free. Be sure to check in.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Merry Freakin' Christmas

Welcome back to the continuing saga of Homicide Detective Hussey. No, it's not Christmas, but since we're in the midst of a major cold snap, I thought this was a fitting post.

One Christmas I remember in the early-eighties, started Christmas Eve when my partner and I responded to a "police service" call in Zone 1. Now a police service call can be almost anything. It means the dispatcher couldn't really get any information regarding the nature of the call, and most cops get a little nervous when they get these, because there is no way to prepare yourself mentally for a situation you can't visualize.

The complainant was a regular, a guy named T.R. Tremble. T.R. wasn't short for anything, his mamma just named him "T.R." He was an elderly black man who would drink anything that would alter his perception of reality. Mostly he drank Thunderbird purchased out the back door of the Sixth Street pool hall, usually after hours.

He would get roaring drunk then walk around getting into anybody and everybody's business. He'd been beaten, stabbed and shot on various occasions for his trouble.

Many a rookie policeman on the scene of a robbery or a murder would ask, "Did anybody see anything"? You always got the standard answer from T.R.

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"Sho did, I was right der." Usually the account of the incident would be so incredulous that before he finished his statement, even the rookie would realize that he was dealing with a nut case. Sometimes, however, the statement would be taken and T.R.'s name would appear on the witness list. T.R. Liked nothing better than to walk into a courtroom at a high profile trial, with the cameras flashing and tell the whole world he didn't remember a damn thing.

"I been drinkin' for years," he told a judge once. "Sir, I jes be talkin' stuff and lookin' round, I ain't seed nothin'." T.R. would be dismissed and be sent home to plan his next big caper.

Christmas Eve was incredibly cold for Florida that year. The citrus and strawberry industry had suffered greatly, and winter wasn't even over yet. As we arrived at the two room frame house in the 600 block of West Fourth Street, we noticed a light on. We got out of the car and walked toward the front door, and I could hear laughter coming from inside. The distinctive smell of kerosene burning, floated through the thick, quiet night air. I knocked on the door and heard someone yell, "Ya'll c'mon in."

As we opened the door, the stale smell of human perspiration, stale alcohol, urine and kerosene hit us like a wall. Inside the little shack was a kerosene stove burning red-hot. The stovepipe disappeared through a hole in the roof, around which some old rags had been stuffed.

"A fire looking for a place to happen," I thought. The furniture consisted of an old sofa, sweat stained and threadbare, with a hundred cigarette burns at various places on its arms and cushions. The wood floor had squares of plywood nailed in several strategic spots where the floor had given way. There was an old wooden cable spool turned on its side and used for a table, and two folding chairs where T.R. and another old black gentlemen were seated, playing cards. A single light bulb hung on a long drop cord over the table. The other end of the cord ran along the ceiling and down the wall to an electric receptacle where too many cords had been plugged in. I guess in a place like this, fire hazards are the least of your worries.

The most curious thing about the room, however, was not readily noticeable. As my eyes adjusted to the light—or lack of it—I noticed another human being over in a darkened corner. A woman. She was not moving, but something else near the person was. I squinted in an effort to see better. I realized that there was a small animal pacing back and forth in front of the motionless figure. It was too big to be a cockroach, although I had seen some big ones. As I moved closer to the woman on the floor, a small dog began to bark and growl. I tried several times to get near the old woman, with no luck. I finally took an old blanket, which covered one of the broken front windows and kept out at least some of the cold. I slowly approached the tiny terrier mix dog and when I was close enough, threw the blanket over him. I was now able to examine the female. As I was doing this, my partner was carrying on a conversation with the players.

"What's up T.R.?" my partner asked.

"We jis playin' some hearts, offica'," he replied. He laughed in his raspy voice, "We was jis callin, cause' dat lady ova der be's sick. We's tried but we can't wake her up."

"How long she been sick?" I asked.

"What time it is now?" the other man asked.

"About 12:30," I replied.

"Sheeeeiit, she been sick since dis evnin' around about five."

As I approached the female, I caught a whiff of vomit and saw that she was lying on one side, one leg behind the other, with her arms outstretched and encircling a galvanized washtub. She had apparently emptied her stomach contents, which by the smell, likely consisted of some steamed blue crabs from "Baker's Crab Crib," and some fine wine, aged since last week.

I reached down to the elderly lady's shoulder, in an attempt to wake her up and ascertain the nature of her illness. It was then I realized that even in the intense heat of this little house, her skin was cool to the touch. I tried to pull her toward me but gravity and rigor mortis held her firmly to the floor. As I lifted her partially, I could see the dark color of post-mortem lividity in her face. I grinned evilly to myself as I walked back over to the two card players, who up until this point, barely knew we were there.

"How she is?" my partner asked.

"Not too good." I smiled. Tom looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.

"Hey T.R., that girl ain't sick," I said, looking over at the pile in the corner.

"She ain't?" He didn't bother looking up from his game?

"No, she ain't sick, she's dead." Before I could get out the last part of my sentence, T.R. and his partner had kicked over the folding chairs and thrown their cards into the air. They almost ran over Tom getting out of the house.

After telling us what they remembered, which wasn't much, T.R. and his partner went to hang out in front of Harris' Grocery. They weren't about to go back in that house.

"Merry Christmas, Thomas," I said as we watched the medical examiner drive away. "Know where we can get some crabs this time of the morning?"

"Of course," he replied wryly. "Baker's Crab Crib, whose motto is...and I joined in the recitation of the advertisement which appeared on the side of Mr. Baker's building, "When they hot they hot and when they cold they hot too"!


Have a great weekend, everyone. I'll be at my RWA chapter meeting tomorrow, and will share any notes of interest on Monday. Tuesday my Guest Blogger is author L. C. Hayden who'll tell us about how she takes some very special cruises -- without paying for them.