Fiction Excerpt

Kilt Too Damned Many

I found this last night in a file folder full of old stuff–I’ve no idea when I wrote it, or why, or in what context, but I sure wish I did.

“A hero, pffft.” Keaner spat, “there’s them to call him that, and you say rascal which is something closer to the mark. A killer is the truth of it—a warlock, a demon, a he-witch and a defiler. He ages just a day for every 40 years and he can’t be kilt no matter what. He’s been cut, stuck, shot, smashed and burned—only the worst of it even scars him. Them injuns he cavorts with say he’s got tree sap for blood, that even if you cut him down at the ankles and cubed up his meat the bastard would grown right back from the stump like a locust and just as thorny. He’s a devil, that’s the bottom of it.”

“Why a devil, Mr. Keaner?” Arlene smiled in her mischief, “Why not an angel?”

“Aw, he’s kilt too damned many for that, little doll-girl.”

Fiction Excerpt

Theological Discussion

“One true Church,” He recited, grinning mischievously. “It is mine, obviously. The Church of Me—I, my and me, now that’s a trinity!”

I smiled, which only encouraged him. He poured.  “Para todo mal, Mezcal, y para todo bien, también!”

We both drank–with lemon and a pinch of chili powder. The Mezcal was beyond serviceable, a true delight that might very well prove to be the colony’s savior—although I suspected it also had something to do with the arrival of Bach and his slobbering rabble.

Svarog blathered on, “Faith is faith, brother; but look—look here: there are four Catholic churches beyond Rome—five popes—five and six if you count those Olympian Catholics.”

“My mother would have told you there’s just one,” I chuckled. “Right after she marked up your arse with her wooden spoon.”

He pounded once on the table, filling the glasses once more with a bit of a splash that he quickly wiped up with his shirt sleeve, lifting his arm to his mouth and sucking the alcohol from the cloth.

“To your mother, may the fifty-fletching-thousand gods bless her!” He threw down the drink, winking, and added. “Or, just the one, if that contents her.”

“One was always more than plenty,” I said.

“So closed-minded, and the universe awash in Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Edenites and all the others that split from that lot. Don’t get me started on the Protestants. Thousands of them, seems like. Thousands of Baptist churches alone. There’s a desk on Earth where a little man sits all day, registering Church names, keeping ‘em from stepping on each other’s toes—and he’s busy all day long, day after day.”

“You’re an expert?”

He nodded, and went on. “Mormons come in three flavors: Latter Day, Revised, and Restored—but that’s just the mainstream. Adventists, Witnesses, Annoited Universals—which have nothing to do with Universalists or Unitarians, I like to point out—and that’s just one point of the middle east trident. Jews and Muslims in all their varieties, all fighting with each other as only siblings can. I don’t even want to think about Buddhists and Hindus, Neo-Zorastrians– and still my head hurts! Fractures and Reformations, Revisions and Restorations, derivations, offshoots. Hades, brother—I know folks who bow to Zeus and that whole antique Greek lot.

“The way I see it, the trouble with religion and God is that we’re people, simple men, and lacking in subtlety. There’s some that hold that God appears to peoples in the forms best suited for them—might be that’s the Universalists—which leads me to wonder how God might decide some Aztec fellow needed to dissect Virgins on the roof of a pyramid. What I’m guessin’ is that he don’t.

“I settled on my faith because it matches the version of the word I grew up with and holds to my peculiar sensibilities. Maybe a thousand years from now I’ll seem just as wrong-headed as the Inquisition, or those nimrods who used the Christian bible to justify centuries of war, slavery and more centuries after of bashing in the heads of folks different than them.”

“It’s a lot harder to choose a religion than it is to reject one,” I said. “Doing either ineffectively can have grave consequences. Spiritually speaking. Brimstone and whatnot. That’s why I follow the path of least resistance.”

“I doubt God will judge us on the Church we choose,” he answered. “As long as we choose love. Jesus spoke of deeds, after all. Now, if that’s the case there’s plenty of Buddhists going to be bellying up the big table, having walked the walk so to speak, idolatry or not—but…”

“Shit.” I interrupted him, a laugh forming deep behind my diaphragm. “You’re a damned missionary, aren’t you?”

From “The Irishman’s Tale”–a novella.  Two men went into a bar…  The Irishman, having survived being marooned in a barren desert, reaches the planet’s sole settlement only to find the hardscrabble community of a few hundred has been taken over by the very same pirates who seized the colony transport ship upon which he’d been traveling.  Faced with no other options, and determined to avoid heroics at nearly any expense, he is reluctantly working to protect his fellow survivors and find allies with the will to stand up against the violent criminals, who have set themselves up as an ad hoc aristocracy, vowing not to kill as long as the settlers continue to labor in what promises to be the first truly bountiful harvest in the colony’s 9-year history.  In this segment, the Irishman is feeling out the settlement’s Water Master, named Svarog–a functional alcoholic who seems to know everyone in the community–as a potential ally.  What the Irishman doesn’t know is that Svarog is a devout layman missionary whose kind irreverence will prove a test to the Irishman’s own cynical fatalism.  In very broad strokes, Svarog is intended to be a very loose cross between Friar Tuck and Little John–although the Irishman would be the first to tell you, “I’m no goddamned Robin Hood.”

Fiction Excerpt Uncategorized

Excerpt: The Irishman’s Tale

Desert Meets Ocean

The Irishman’s Tale is a short story relating a pivotal moment in the life of a mysterious, iconic character from the earliest days of second tier colonization and namesake of The Irishman’s Mountains. As the story goes, the Irishman, whose name has been lost to history, emerged from the desert with a squad of devoted followers and liberated the pioneers of Red Hills City from a company of loathesome, murderous picaroons who had descended upon the already struggling settlement.  Some believe he was veteran, weary of the violence and corruption of the United Colonies during the tax wars, while others hold that he was a phantom, or even an angel.  A growing number of people suspect he is just a myth, a tall tale left over from a simpler time, which is a real shame because, in the end, he was just a man, not even a particularly good man, and that was what made all the difference. 

{First draft, redundancies intact}

I’d either find a way to survive, or I wouldn’t, and if I didn’t then I wouldn’t exactly have a lot of time to consider my mistakes in detail. I’d have better things to fill that flash that goes by as my breath slips away.  Not much to do but shake your head and smile in that regard–a lot of folks give lip service to “living without regret,” but here I was, walking the walk, however involuntarily.

Fearing death—it was useless. I have no loved ones to feel my absence or grieve my memory. What grand hubris it is, to ruminate on one’s own non-existence, a state which by its very definition I’d never get to see?  Oh, the dying part of it could be bad. I’d seen death enough times to understand. Pain is a bugger; futility is a drag. But death? Once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s the beauty of it. You’re either nothing, or you’re dancing in limbo with three cherubs, a couple of folks from history you always wanted to drink with, and dear departed Aunt Gilda.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t rage against the light, as the poet encouraged. Kick and scream, spit in death’s eye—it may beat you in the end, but what a hollow victory that is: death never gets to gloat.

And it hit me: I’m spending a hell of a lot of time thinking about not thinking about death.  Not much to do with that but laugh. the sound buried by the grumbling waves–rolling in as far as my failing eyes could see, to the north and to the south

Water, water–oh Coleridge, you old bastard.

I slugged down the final, hot ounces from my canteen, replaced the bottle in my bag and considered tossing the whole thing into the sand for archeologists to enjoy one day. The sky remained blue, and I winked at it. Tell the cherubs they’ll need to find a different sitter. I would be late.

The tide seemed to be receding, and the hard wet sand near the water’s edge provided the first solid footing in three days. I headed south and left the driftwood behind me.

Fiction Excerpt

Excerpt: Novel in Progress

Someone asked me about the novel in progress…here’s some:

It took both of them to drag me up from the hole, and from their grunts and curses  it wasn’t easy for them.  I had stopped struggling weeks before, and was paid for it with harder currency than when I’d fought back, but there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d walk docile, like a cow, to whatever was next.  Passive resistance was the better option,  although that brought the gnawing pleasure of my bare feet and ankles thumped against each concrete stair riser as they dragged me up, one thug under each arm.  My boots had been taken with my uniform—government property

At the stop of the steps they paused, waiting for the sentry outside, calling after her with additional profanity.  She wasn’t one of them—just one of those who stood by idly, day after day, doing what she was told, avoiding eye contact, complicit in their silence.  I can’t say that I blame her—or any of them—and had spent countless hours fixated on the question: would I do it again?  A better man than I certainly would.  A lesser man would lie and tell you he would.  I can’t say that I could. I’m not proud to admit it, but what’s pride but something someone stronger than you can take?

Tumblers spun inside the door, a bolt was thrown, and the armored entry swiveled open.  The goons and sentry exchanged more curses, and I was dragged to the right.  A turn to the left would have meant another visit with the Colonel, and another beating wrapped in a skin of interrogation.  The passage to the right led down a long hallway, through another armored door, and outside.  I could be headed for the stocks again, or the mudpit, the colonel’s preferred discipline—a pool of sopping mud into which a prisoner was tied spread-eagle and face up into the incessant rain. The mudpit was kept sodden, but not full, so a prisoner could relax as long as the rains were brief and widespread.  Prolonged showers filled the pool with slick mud, forcing the punished to crane his neck up and forward  in order to breath, for as long as it took for the rains to stop and the liquid to sink down into the sodden ground.

I much preferred the stocks, or the beatings for that matter.  Beatings lasted for minutes, then they left you alone.  It could rain here for a week straight.

“Hey there, Mikey’s awake,” Corporal Charkviani rumbled. Igor Charkvani, a perfect goddamn Igor if ever such a beast roamed.

Raul Cloutier laughed his exaggerated, hyena laugh. “We’re in trouble now, Private Space Command gonna is to get us.”

Charkviani, a leering, menacing coil of muscle and tendons, rumbled his amusement.  I imagined Cloutier, younger and smaller and ever ready to please, jumping up and down, clapping in satisfaction.

They had put the usual black bag over my head, bound tightly at the neck, ostensibly for safety—lest some maniac like me discover their true identities.  Of course, they insisted on tormenting and teasing me, with a regular selection of violence, all the while keeping a running dialogue in their distinctive, heavily accented voices. I held faith that the time would come that I could repay their hospitality.  In fact, I lived for the moment.

They wore rain hoods and goggles

The bag came off my face.  I squinted into the deep gray skies as specks of rain fell upon my cheeks.  Though afraid to look up—the guards responded intensely to eye contact—I recognized our location immediately.  We stood at the threshold of the main gate, far from the hewn wood scaffold the Colonel had erected behind the administration building.  A pair of sentries stood on either side of the gate, stone-faced  in their narrow shelters—Clarke and Modobo, decent soldiers not known to be the Colonel’s lackeys, but not the sort to take a stand against him, either.  Like most of the unit, their sin was in pretending not to see, and staying silent when what they saw was unavoidable.  Still, I doubted they’d let their compatriots execute me, at least not in the middle of the fort.

They had no problem with one last thrashing, however.  Charkvani and Cloutier wasted no time…

Fiction Excerpt

Novella Excerpt: Sharp Del

   Sierra Exif JPEG

“Come on out of there, you motherless—.” Sharp Del’s voice died beneath a deeper, more malevolent rumble.

“My mother,” the hulking Brin stepped out from the shadows behind him, “was very young.”

Sharp Del whirled around with startled fury, swinging the heavy ball gun a bit further from his body than he ought to have, a matter of centimeters.  The Brin snatched it in one huge, four-fingered paw and twisted it away to the snap of human fingers.  Sharp Del wailed.

“My mother could not provide me with the privileges customary to a male of our line.  My acceptance to the Warrior’s Third Creche honors both her sacrifice and our shared blood.”

“Just—an—expression,” Sharp Del moaned, recoiling, clutching his broken hand close to his chest.  “Wasn’t even talking to—Gods!” He wailed, “—to you.”

“Ah,” Vanya glowered, jabbing the broken ball gun into Sharp Del’s chest.

“Sad for you that I heard.”  His left arm swung, catching the human in the jaw.  Bones snapped and gave way, teeth broke free from infection-ravaged gums, beneath the blow.  Sharp Del staggered backwards and nearly righted himself, then his knees gave and he crumpled to the ground in a heap.

Vanya stood there a moment, inspecting the seized weapon.  A human-scaled trigger guard rendered it unusable to him, and it’s generally poor condition made it worthless for trade.  He removed the cartridge, scooped up a handful of sand, and poured it into the loading channel, then worked the action several times, until it jammed.  He dropped the ruined weapon beside Sharp Del.

He turned back to the cabin and shouted.  “Get out here, you motherless serpent!” He bellowed.

Half a minute later the door swung open and Qualm emerged, dragging his damaged leg.  His left arm was tied close to his chest in a makeshift sling.  His right hand clutched a steel fireplace poker.

“Serpent?” He asked. “Warrior’s Third Creche?”

The Brin shrugged. “You people,” he sniffed, “you eat that shit up like pudding or raspberries.”


Fiction Excerpt Short/Micro/Flash Fiction

Fiction Excerpt (Rough Draft in Progress: Olya’s Warhol Night


Try to ignore the issues with verb tense–these reflect unresolved narrative decisons in the longer form version and are not meant to imply that Olya exists on three different but simultaneous temporal planes, although now that I think on it….

Wake up at noon, legs trembling, back muscles slip-knotted, drawing tighter with every slight movement, something like arthritis in my elbows, arms weak. Cotton mouth—carefully, artfully extract my limbs from Olya’s—she’s sprawled like a squid across the mattress, a long-legged, mad, booth-tanned bleach blonde Czechoslovakian squid with maroon nail polish. But by the gods, if squids had legs like that the sea would be clogged with fishermen.

I should write that down, but I’m parched and bloated at the once, bloated and parched–parched to the point I’m not tempted to bury my face in her thigh and bite her awake—nearly tempted, I say. To the bathroom—mold and cobwebs, no heat, a garden hose duct-taped to the faucet, the shower curtain stapled to the ceiling in a gross approximation of those classy suspension showers that hang inside a vintage clawfoot tub.


I piss a gallon, bend down to suck cold, crisp water right from the tap. There’s no cup, but no problem: this is it, the ticket, the cure; it tastes like rust and chlorine, as good city water is supposed to taste. I pull back the window shade, let a shaft of daylight blaze into shadows, burn through my retina, skewer my brain. I see gray spires, yellow bridges, green heights.

That’s right: Pittsburgh.

Is that the dim future, waking each morning to hose down the fuselage and change fluids, hazily wondering where the hell yesterday left off?

Not yet.

Last night was the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum. We’d come out of the woods, drove three hours, gorged on goi cuon and mind-bending pho served up by a brusque, one-armed guy in a dismal Vietnamese joint across town, half expecting him to run us out of there two steps ahead of a waving cleaver, then drank ourselves silly at the Rosa Villa, last bulwark of the Genovese family, where the bartender kept passing out free rounds while shady guys filed in and out of a back room.  Olya slides around on her bar stool like she’s Rita Hayward, crossing and recrossing those legs, blouse dropped down to there.
Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on the juke box.


It’s almost too much.  I feel like I ought to be in a suit, wingtips, a brazen necktie.

Each time Olya proclaims she was done drinking, the tender lays down another Rolling Rock, looks down her shirt, and she’d sigh, Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in! And take a long pull off the cold, green bottle.

At some point, we wandered outside and took our place near the front of a thousands-faced throng that backed at least two blocks down the street, possibly all the way to the horizon, where we lingered until the doors opened. Brand Knight found us shortly after, trolling the line like a Rocky Horror cast0ff, vintage black mod suit—narrow lapels, tapered pant legs, and a bright red bow tie.

He’s got wingtips, I notice, black and white patent leather tuxedo shoes polished to mirror-like reflectivity, mutton-chop sideburns neatly trimmed, long autumn straw hair pulled into a pony tail.

“Hello, loves!” He grabbed us by the elbows and pulled us out of line. “You hardly look like farmers at all.”

“Thanks, I suppose.” What to do but laugh?  Olya in the black dress. Yep, that black dress, 4” heels, the stockings with seams down the back. I’ve gone with the blue-black sharkskin jacket and skinny black tie, both circa 1967, inherited from Uncle George but, luckily enough, presently on a fashion rebound.

Brand led us in through the back door, armed us with pilfered press passes, and pointed us to the freight elevator.

We were there until five in the morning, most of it a haze of soap boxes and mad Marilyn canvases, Giant Mao leering from the wall—communist maximus, the last grand Caesar–

Mao Series Andy Warhol

In the room of Silver Clouds, white walls with a sky of bobbing chrome-like mylar balloons, Brand was telling us how the same artist made these balloons who had made the original peices for Warhol.  I didn’t listen much, intent on trying to feel something from the images of the floating silver pillows.  Max wandered by, muttering “art ou fromage” and Olya was carefully pushing on of a handful of the balloons which hovered below the ceiling, some chest high, some near the floor.  Brand explained that they were still working on the best mixture of helium to oxygen, that all the balloons should be hovering around the ceiling.

A pack of feral adolescents giggled through, kicking and punching the clouds with fierce determination.  Olya kicked the loudest of the bunch in the shin, hard, and hissed a stage whisper that drew every eye within earshot.

Uciekaj! Pieprzony sączące infekcje psów świnia!

The whole bunch of them skittered away.

“One of the balloons,” Brand continued, “floated out of the room, down the hall, and somehow ended up in one of the elevators.  When the elevator was called down to the lobby, it’s doors opened and out floated the balloon.”

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” Max chanted, but quiet so that only I could hear him within the din of the opening night crowd.

Fiction Excerpt Uncategorized

West From Chicago…excerpt from another old story

*this is the final excerpt from what I’ve called the “big truck” series–an abandoned, unfinished road trip novel I lost interest in 17 years ago and recently revisited.  I added it partially in response to posts by our friends over at the excellent Great Plains Trail blog–where they’re building something awesome.  The Great Plains are remarkable, and filled with beauty and wonder both magnificent and subtle, but all that open land always strikes me as a little spooky, a sentiment that carried over into the following passage

From the hive he drove straight on, stopping three hundred miles in, when the fuel tank approached one quarter.  Standing tight-shouldered and shivering at a self-service pump, feeling the fuel surge through the hose and into the truck, a tangible exchange of power, perched on the edge of unending Iowa, he looked out on hard gray fields frosted soil and stubble pierced here and there with copses of Imagetrees clustered  about tiny empires of tidy framed houses, barns, and outbuildings: feudal kingdoms of maize, wheat, and soy.  He wondered what sort of paradise it would be once the trees donned their canopies; but something about the flatness of the land unnerved a young man who had spent the relatively few years of his life traveling far, but only in latitudes, only up and down the broad, fecund spine of the Appalachians and the lands that separated those ancient mountains from the sea that once lapped at their flanks.  Too young to fear death or need great favors, his musings rarely turned to the protestant God who had perched, predatory, above his childhood, but he thought it chilling that in the great exposures of plain and prairie, there was no place to cower and hide and cringe-that God could reach down to smite and scatter and howl vengeance unimpeded by mountain or foothill or cliff.  And indeed He did, Hart realized, needing no great powers of concentration to recall the droughts and floods and blizzards and twisters that ravaged the region in biblical justice, almost ritually scourged and scoured the Midwest.  He supposed that these were the prices exacted for the privilege of living in the long, flat shadow of God.

Fiction Excerpt

First Draft Excerpt, Action Scene From Novel In Progress

…pushing so hard he could barely maintain balance.  He fully expected to feel the thud of a slug in his back, the sear of an energy beam cutting him off at the knees, or the jolt of a plasma burst to reach out and slap him from his churning feet, but it didn’t happen.  No shouts of pursuit followed him, no thrum of a circling airship thundered in his ears.  Ahead, shelter beckoned: a modest out-building.  Fifty meters, forty meters…he cursed the owner who kept three acres of land mowed low and clean—open land that just lay there, unused.
Is this where my mind should be as I run for my life?  Ridiculous!

Yet here was the shed.  Qualm threw himself against the door—it wasn’t locked.

He tumbled across the threshold—the phrase “ass over teacups blazed across his consciousness—and tried to roll over his right shoulder in an effort to spring back to his feet, knocking down a half-dozen rakes and shovels with a tremendous clatter.  The move, new for him, proved much more difficult in person than it appeared at the cinema.

He was still on his seat when Kolesar stepped into doorway, the short-barreled 4-bore ballthrower leveled at his belly.

“Hey, Mike.”  He said, as if they’d met on a street mid-day.

Qualm nodded.

“I’m real sorry about this, you know.  Real sorry.  I tried to warn you.”

“You did.” Qualm kept nodding.  “McCauley knew you were there?”

“Maybe.” Kolesar shrugged, then conceded. “Probably.  He must have.”

“Sure he did.”

“I’m supposed to take you in the woods and hit you there.”

“I’m not helping,” Qualm said, his nod changing to a willful shake.  “He wants to put the blame somewhere else and validate what you’re doing here today.”

“He’ll do me if I let you go.”

“Like he did Carole.” Qualm reminded him.  “Like he’s pushing you to do to me.  Like he’ll do to you anyway, once you hit me, so it’s all wrapped up with a bow.”

“I just want a future, Mike.  I want a woman, a kid, a home.  Carole tried to take all that.”

“Was it you? With her?”

“Hell, no.”

“Good.” Qualm said.

“Still friends?”

“Not if you’re still going to shoot me.” Qualm replied.

“Oh, yeh,”  Kolesar smiled sheepishly, rocking gently from side to side.  “I really am sorry about that.”

“I’d do the same for you, if I could.” Qualm chuckled.

“Uh—“ Kolesar frowned.  “Um, thanks?  I think.”

Qualm had been shifting his hands, trying to find some measure of leverage for a last-ditch effort to save himself, but he didn’t hold much hope.  Kolesar might have been three shakes short of an idiot, but he was an extensively trained infantryman and—shockingly enough—an apparently reliable henchman.  Qualm’s move, if he made it, would be a hybrid lunge/roll/crawl/flail.   Worse options might present themselves in equally hopeless crises, but the traditional counter from an armed adversary would be to step back half a meter and riddle the attacker with flechettes.  At present range, the ballthrower slug weighed about 113 grams and was likely to cut him in half.

“We need to get finished,” Kolesar said.

“Give me some dignity,” Qualm asked.  “Let me stand.”

“Sorry, Mike. Safer for me if you stay down.  In a minute, it won’t matter.”


The other man shook his head.

“You’re a bastard,” Qualm hissed.  “You’ll remember this.  The rest of your life, you’ll remember.”

Kolesar raised the weapon so that Qualm got his first good look at it—new tech weapons like the standard issue multi-load, needle rifle, or energy weapons were harsh, angular, practical things but the smooth, softly rounded shape of an archaic chemical projectile weapon held a grim beauty.  He guessed that it wasn’t the antique upon which it was modeled, elegant in design as well as function.  McCauley was clever to arm his lackeys with the cheap, durable weapons favored by small time criminals across the Union.

Qualm fixed his eyes on the other man, determined to make it as difficult as possible, and it seemed to work. Kolesar trembled. He was flushed; perspiration glazed his forehead and upper lip.  For a brief moment Qualm thought he might actually not go through with it, but Kolesar leveled the weapon, steadied his hand, and squinted.

He never heard, much less saw the old-fashioned weapon fire.  Even as Qualm stared into the other man’s eyes,  Kolesar’s neck disintegrated, a stream of high-v flechettes chewing through skin and muscle and bone.  His lower jaw blew into fragments, his head lolled to one side, tenuously connected to his trunk by a few sinews.  The body stood like that for almost a second, blood pouring over his shredded collar as if from a cup forgotten beneath a running faucet, then crumpled.

Qualm scrambled backwards on hands and feet, like a crab, spitting fragments of bone and flesh.  Beyond the corpse, an unfamiliar woman stepped into the shed.  She wore light combat armor tinted spring green, black boots and camo boonie cap; she carried a very serious Jenny-gun in her hands, low slung in the manner of of an experienced soldier, with a pair of elastic bandoliers with matching k-bars crisscrossing her chest, loaded with cartridge packs.  Her long, brown hair was pulled back into a tight braid, her eyes obscured by sunglasses.

“Now you owe me,” she said.  “So get your ass moving.”

Qualm struggled to his feet, wiping more blood and gods-knew-what away with his sleeve.  “Who are you?”

“Enemy of your enemy,” she smiled harshly, though it was still a good smile: straight, white teeth set in a wide, if a bit thin-lipped, smile.  He didn’t fancy himself a great judge of character, but she scared him—despite, or perhaps because of, the bloody way she had just saved his life.  And why had she done that?  Was this one of those ploys where a captor allows a prisoner to think escape is possible, only to reel the victim back in the end, to more fully break his spirit?  If so, it was awfully hard on Kolesar—but McCauley was certainly capable of wasting a loyal man.


“Follow me, now.” She interrupted, lifting the jenny half-heartedly. “I can’t leave you here alive.”

“Wait.” He struggled to his feet.

She didn’t wait, turning her back on his instead, and taking off towards the forest in a trot.  Qualm nodded and sighed, following, across another few hundred meters of  open ground before reaching the forest’s edge.  He never looked back, nor did she, loping into the brush with speed made doubly impressive for the quietness with which she passed through the underbrush.  He struggled, again falling forward as much as he ran, stumbling and tripping with every other step.

Will she shoot me for not keeping up?  He wondered.  For making more noise than a platoon of dismounted cavalry?  The answer worried him, but it was certain that McCauley’s thugs would kill him, or worse, if they found him….