Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter Three)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the third chapter of the novel:

As he turned the car around and headed back to the Johnstone house, he reported the murder to the detachment in Hanna, requesting backup if they had it. The woman in the detachment office told him that all the officers from Youngstown and Hanna were dealing with an accident on Highway 9, but once they were done there they could send someone along. One of them was supposed to be coming anyway, with Lara leaving for the week yesterday, but obviously circumstances had delayed that. She would also put in a request for a forensics team from Calgary to be sent as soon as possible. The way the storm was going, none of them might make it, he thought.

He pulled up in front of the house, stopping behind Leonard’s truck, and sat for a moment, unwilling to start this just yet. Why the hell had Lara picked this week for her vacation? The one time when he actually needed the backup, she was visiting her in-laws in BC. He put his hand to his temple as if to stave off a headache, and thought briefly about having a smoke. Lara had told him he should quit, though, and he was trying for her. That thought got him moving again up to the house. Continue reading

Now Available: The Devious Kind

THE DEVIOUS KIND

A MYSTERY

CLINT WESTGARD

The body of a local woman is found in a coulee on a ranch north of Loverna, her head blown off with a shotgun. New to town and the job, Constable Martin Thomas arrives on the scene as a spring snowstorm begins to wipe out all evidence before his investigation has even begun.

There is no shortage of suspects to consider. A spurned husband. A jealous lover. A betrayed business partner. And family members battling over an inheritance. All have motive and opportunity. And no one seems to be telling him everything.

As he tries to sift the truth from the lies, the snowstorm continues to build, leaving Loverna cut off from the outside world. And Martin alone to face a killer who will do anything not to get caught.

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Now Available: In A Flash

IN A FLASH

COLLECTION

CLINT WESTGARD

An inquisitor sets out on a journey to find a monster. An inventor creates a time machine and is horrified to discover it works all too well.

A living ship comes to give birth at edges of space. Wizards do battle for eternal supremacy.

Sleeper agents under deep cover are activated and must leave everything behind. Love affairs blossom and fade in springtime.

Hunters become the hunted and dwellings turn upon their inhabitants. And a warlock provides unique and particular advice on romance.

These and many other stories make up In A Flash, a collection of very short fiction that explores the vagaries of time and space, journeys to exotic realms, and the curious ways of the heart. From horror to westerns to romance to far-flung space opera and all points in between, In A Flash collects more than fifty stories.

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Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter Two)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the second chapter of the novel:

Half an hour later, a police car drove slowly up the driveway into the main yard, pulling to a stop in front of the ranch house, where Diane stood on the porch, a dog at her feet and a hood thrown over her head to keep off the snow.

Hello, Diane,” Constable Martin Tomas said as he stepped out of the car.

She just nodded. “It’s down there by the coulee,” she said, pointing. “You can take your car if you think it can make it through the mud.”

I’ll be all right.”

She paused, and then said, “We called him. Wayne said I probably shouldn’t, but I had to.”

He nodded. “He’s down there now?”

Yeah.”

Martin got back into his car and drove slowly down the laneway that led to the far pens that edged onto the coulee. He went past pens filled with cattle still heavy with their winter coats, but he paid them no mind. Even six months ago he might have, but now, a year and a half into his term here, a cow was just a cow. Continue reading

Excerpt: The Devious Kind (Chapter One)

In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the first chapter of the novel:

The body lay, sprawled awkwardly, partway down the coulee, right before the slope turned sheer and plunged to the creek far below. The night had hidden it, but the arrival of dawn made its presence obvious. There were several sets of footprints from where the body lay to the road, clearly marked in the muddy spring ground. Even as the new day’s light revealed these details, the first flakes of snow began to fall, wet and heavy. For a time the earth resisted their intrusion, but eventually the storm proved too much and the ground turned white, covering over the tracks. Continue reading

In A Flash: The End

Writing a short story a week for a year, that was the challenge I set myself in 2016. The stories had to be no more than 1500 words and they could not be connected in any way to other worlds or characters I had created. Once written, I would publish them here for the world to see.

Why did I decide to do this?

It’s not simply that I enjoy torturing myself with arbitrary challenges that inevitably end in tears and disappointment, at one’s basic inability to follow through on anything and the sure knowledge that failure (and ultimately death) awaits us all. That gets me through the night, as I’m sure it does everyone else, but that couldn’t be all this was about.

I wanted to push myself as writer. I felt I had become too complacent in some ways and I wanted to see if I could challenge myself. To force myself to write things that I might not otherwise. Whether this was a genre or a style I didn’t normally write in, or a tense, tone or perspective I didn’t normally adopt, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t do what came naturally.

I also wanted to see if I could get myself to write with more brevity, and what better way to do that than to force concision upon myself with a word limit. Practice is not something people often talk about with regards to writing, but that was a fundamental part of this challenge. If I made myself write a short story a week, with a strict (kind of) word limit, by the end of the year, I should have a better idea of how to write with concision and focus. That was the theory anyway.

Along those same lines, I also wanted to get better at writing when I had no inspiration and no ideas of what to write. Muses are fickle, tedious creatures in my experience, not to be relied upon. As a result, the majority of these stories began with a blank page and no sense at all of what I was going to write about that week. I began with a sentence and then another and let my mind take me where it wanted to go.

Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to have fun. Writing, is a pleasurable exercise. At least I think it should be. But, like anything else, it can grow stale if you keep doing the same thing over and over. By starting fresh each week, I ensured that I was always doing going down new and different paths.

As expected, there were a few failures. There were trips to Machu Picchu. Sickness. Health. Miscreant geese. Recalcitrant alpacas. 1500 word stories morphed into a multi-volume book series. The usual run of life, in other words. But I also managed a few weeks where I got more than one story written, with the end result that I ended with more than the 52 stories I had planned.

All the stories that resulted from that challenge I set for myself can be found under the In A Flash category. They will also be collected and published in a volume. Details will be posted on Lost Quarter Books.

As I write this, having successfully completed 52 plus weeks of writing short stories, I can say that I succeeded in meeting all the goals I had when I set out. The merits of the stories themselves, I will leave to the readers to judge. I know that I enjoyed writing them all, and I hope that you enjoyed reading them.

In A Flash: The Dame

There’s a woman here to see you. Real looker.” Daisy said, sticking her head in through Murphy’s door.

Murphy nodded to send her in. He got a good look at her as she came in through the door. Eyes downcast to look demur, but there was a light to them that said otherwise. Her lips were the kind that always seemed to be smiling, or on the verge of it. A beautiful girl, no doubt about it.

What can I do for you Miss…?”

Adeline Sandos. Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Murphy. I have a problem. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.”

Just start at the beginning,” Murphy said, with a generous smile, his eyes intent upon her.

Adeline hesitated, looking away and then back at Murphy. “Well, it’s my husband, you see.” Murphy nodded, as though he had expected her to say that. “He’s gotten mixed up with some bad people I think. And I’m worried…”

Here she hesitated again. Murphy leaned forward slightly. “What worries you, Miss Sandos?”

Well, I’m worried there may be another woman.”

Murphy nodded, as though he had expected that too. He made her tell him everything, even those things she seemed reluctant to talk about, asking questions about particular details. When he was done he sent her on her way with some reassurance, telling her to put a retainer down with Daisy. He watched her leave the room, his eyes lingering on her as she left, his lips pursed in thought.

***

Adeline left the detective agency and took a cab across town to the Hotel Bellmire, an old and majestic place downtown that seemed a little faded, as though it were a picture on a postcard that had sat in the sun too long. She did not stop at the front desk, heading straight up to the fifth floor where she let herself into one of the rooms. The Brides were waiting for her there.

They were a set of twins, handsome and youthful, though less youthful upon closer inspection, with glittering eyes and smiles with edges.

How did it go?” one said.

Just like you said,” Adeline said. “I told him everything, just like you told me to to tell it.”

And he didn’t suspect you of anything?”

Adeline shook her head. “It didn’t matter what I said. A whiff of innocence and desperation was all he needed. He was in all the way.”

Good girl. Fix her a drink,” the one brother said.

The first brother glared at him, as if to tell him to do it himself, but he got up and poured Adeline a whiskey. She drank it off in one gulp.

There’s the matter of my payment,” she said, fixing them both with a steady eye.

“All in due time, all in due time.”

Adeline shook her head. “How about now instead?”

The first Bride brother gave her a thin smile. “Very well.” He fished an envelope from within the breastpocket of his suit and handed it to her.

Ignoring the two men, Adeline counted out the bills. She glanced up at them. “This is half what I’m owed.”

“Yes, you see our little scheme is only workable if you make yourself scarce. You will do so tonight and, at the conclusion of the affair, you will receive the remainder of what was agreed.”

“This wasn’t the agreement,” Adeline said, shaking her head. “I get it all now, or I leave here and go straight to the police and sing my song.”

“That would be unwise,” the first brother said, with a disapproving shake of his head. The second brother pulled a pistol out from the waistband of his suit. “Most unwise.”

Adeline looked at the gun and shook her head. “You think you can scare me? You don’t need a body on your hands. You need me gone.”

“That can be arranged.”

“Not the way you want it, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No, you’re not going to kill me. Too messy. Too easy to tie to you. I made sure to talk to the front desk and let them know whose room I was headed to. So, I’ll just take the rest of what we agreed and be on my way to disappearing. Otherwise, you can expect visits from Murphy and the police.”

The second brother cocked the pistol and raised it up so that it was pointed directly at Adeline’s head. She stared at him without blinking, her face expressionless.

The first brother made a disgusted sound and waved at the other. “Put that away. We can’t be taking chances at this juncture of the affair. Very well, Miss Sandos.” He pulled out a thick roll of bills from his suit pocket and counted off ten. “This should square us, I think.”

Adeline tucked them into the envelope with the rest. “Pleasure doing business, gents,” she said with a curt nod. “You won’t be seeing me.”

She turned, not bothering to wait for a reply, and headed for the door.

***

Murphy was waiting for her when she came home.

“See, I knew it didn’t check out,” Murphy said to her, an amused, but superior expression on his face. The cat that had the mouse in its paws and was going to play awhile. “It smelled a little funny. All of it. And then I get to looking into you and it seems there is an Adeline Sandos, but you ain’t her. And that’s when I knew the Bride boys were up to something.”

Adeline’s face betrayed no emotion. “Am I supposed to congratulate you now, or something?”

“What are they about? What’s their game?”

“Shouldn’t you be over there asking them that?”

“In due time,” Murphy said. “In due time. First, there’s some things I need you to clear up.”

Adeline sighed. “They sent me. I’m supposed to disappear and cause you some problems. That’s my end of it. Anything else you want to know?”

Murphy seemed taken aback. He swallowed, his triumph not seeming so complete now. “Why are you telling me this?”

“It’s not my problem their little scheme is blowing up in their face. I got my money. Now run along and confront them. They’re probably hoping you will anyway. That’s what you all want isn’t it?”

Murphy frowned, but he stood and put his hat on his head. “Just tell me your end of it,” he said, shaking his head.

Adeline laughed. “I already told you. I got paid. Now, you don’t want to keep those boys waiting. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of yelling and threats and such.”

Murphy looked as though he wanted to disagree with her, but instead he walked out the door, leaving her alone. Adeline pulled out the wad of bills from the envelope and tucked them underneath the coffee cup at the back of one of the cupboards. Then she pulled out a bottle of whiskey and poured herself a shot.

***

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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In A Flash: Dime Novel Denouement

This moment does not seem to be a moment. It seems endless, interminable. An internment camp. The holding pen before the gulag. Devoid creatures wander through the night along empty streets, straying from the light. I am one of them now.

Rain begins to fall, softly at first, and then in staccato bursts. I scuttle across openings, clinging to the security of the damp mildewed walls. There are eyes everywhere, but none look for me. I am worth nothing to anyone. No price will be paid. Yet, I refuse to expose myself. I am no martyr, whatever else I may be.

You speak and I shiver and clutch my hands in my pocket. This parched feeling that holds and won’t let go. I fight for words; silence is like a wound, like a lie I always tell. You do not care whether I speak or stay quiet, all you care is what I do.

The thousand betrayals of a life leave the birth of the malformed. I’ve clawed at my own skin, it does not fit right. Nature seems dead and wicked dreams abuse.

***

I’m looking for a taste of ecstasy, I’ve had delight and it lost its potency. With you at my side on this long, damp and dark road.

I long to taste the sunrise in your mouth, as my tongue slides past your teeth and the morning dew is fresh on my lips. I want to smell your sweat on me, the heat of my flesh on the heat of yours, shivering, shimmering to a glow.

Oh, to look upon you now, through the blur of the rain. If I could take you in this doorway I would. Continue reading

In A Flash: The Warder

Xan the Warder stared at the newcomer with a skeptical eye. The man was a sorcerer of some kind, to judge by his robes. Xan knew little of magic, but enough to know that its users were not to be trusted. They were fiends, as likely to summon some demon from the depths of the many earths as to cast a curing spell and mend a broken leg. She had heard tell of a man, desperate in his affections for a woman, who had begged a wizard for a love potion, only to find himself short six coins of the realm and madly in love with a toad.

“What brings you this way, stranger?” Xan said. She swept the cloak back from her shoulders and let her hand rest upon her sword. A message of sorts.

The newcomers gaze followed the movement of her hand and a small grin touched his lips. “I’ve heard the air in these parts is restorative.”

“If you can restore something that’s been froze solid with your magic, then perhaps it might be,” Xan said, looking out over the frigid wastes that extended in all directions before her.

The newcomer laughed, his breath clouding the air. “My name is Ves. You are?”

“The Warder,” Xan said, refusing to be enticed by his friendliness. The wind swirled around them and the sorcerer shivered.

“Where’s the prison?” Ves said.

“Do you think I’m a fool?”

Ves laughed again. “I suppose not. It is a rather remote clime for a prison, wouldn’t you agree?”

Xan did not reply, staring hard at the sorcerer.

Ves shrugged, as if he could not understand her reluctance to talk. “Come now, Warder. Surely you must get bored being here, all alone in the cold? I’m only asking for a moment of your time.”

Xan rolled her eyes. “No one comes here to pass the time. I’m not much for conversation. Get to the point.” She moved her hand to the pommel of her sword.

“Easy now,” Ves said, holding up his hands. “Don’t you think you should be careful? You don’t know what kind of sorcerer I am.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Xan said, her voice sounding of death.

Ves smiled. “If you say so. You needn’t worry about me anyway, Warder. I’m just here to meet someone.”

Xan had to resist a laugh. “I doubt there is someone else in the realm foolish enough to wander out onto this wasteland for a chat.”

“But there is,” Ves said, gesturing with his hand as if to point out the person.

Xan followed the movement of his hand and the world went black.

She blinked, worried for a moment that the sorcerer had put a sleeping spell upon her. But it was just that the light had gone from the sky, which, now that she thought about it, was considerably more concerning than a mere sleep spell. The light returned a moment later, the vast wasteland of ice, snow and rock, appearing again before her.

The sorcerer, however, was gone.

Continue reading

In A Flash: Joe’s Shoe Repair

There was a place on 14th called Joe’s Shoe Repair. It had a small storefront, with a two storey ranch style house erupting out behind it, as if a tumor had metastasized in the shop’s rear wall, resulting in the development of some entirely new construction. Or perhaps it was the other way around, perhaps the home’s front porch had metamorphosed into a square, simple store. Either way, it was an oddity on a stretch of road dotted with strips malls, fast food joints and flat-roofed, anonymous buildings inhabited by lawyers and plastic surgeons and convenience stores.

Frank had noticed its incongruity driving by a few times before, but it was only when he moved into the neighborhood and began making regular trips to a nearby convenience store, for smokes and lotto tickets, that its angularity struck him as truly peculiar. Stranger still was the fact that the store was never open. There were a number of shoes and boots set out against window, displaying Joe’s handiwork no doubt, and he could clearly see a counter with a ancient-looking till and various tools of the trade set out on it.

None of their positions ever seemed to change—something Frank made a point of looking for after the first few times he went by. The lights were always off in the store, with an ever present closed sign hanging on the door. He never saw lights in the house behind either, though the shutters were always closed, so it was difficult to say for sure.

“That’s a front if I’ve ever seen one,” Frank would say to all his friends, though what it might be fronting he could not say. It just didn’t seem possible that the owner could let a piece of real estate like that sit idle and useless. There had to be a reason. “Joe ain’t fixing no damn shoes, let me tell you.”

His friends would nod and shrug at these pronouncements. What did it matter what went on in the place, odd as it was? But Frank could not let it go. The constantly closed store, the shuttered windows, the absence of any human activity on a busy stretch of a humming city, all worked at his mind until his fascination was absolute. He found reasons to pass down the street, would take walks by it even in the bitter depths of winter, just to see if there was any change. For over a year, there was none.

That all changed one long summer evening, the sun still setting after ten, and the air languorous. Frank walked by on his way to get a pack of cigarettes and saw the door to the house, off to the side of the storefront, standing open. He stopped to stare at it, almost unable to believe what he was seeing. Before he had a chance to think any further, he walked past the store, up the steps of the narrow porch, and into the house. Continue reading