Ask Correia – Writing stuff, 1st vs. 3rd person

Recently I’ve gotten a bunch of questions via e-mail, blog comments, and Facebook. Apparently I have a reputation of like, knowing stuff, or something. It must be because I now, like all really important people, have my own Wikipedia entry. Not surprisingly the questions are mostly related to guns or writing, two things which I know more about than say, crocheting or racquetball.  I usually just stammer some answer, embarrassed that I snookered somebody into thinking I’ve got a clue, but I got a really good one yesterday that I had to think about, and I thought it might make a good blog post.

Dear Correia, should I use 1st person or 3rd person for my book?

Great question. Got this one on FB yesterday from an aspiring writer, (paraphrased obviously), and I told him that I’d have to think about it some.

I’ve written books in 1st and 3rd. I like them both, but for different reasons.  For those of you who didn’t pay any attention in high school English (don’t feel bad, neither did I, and now I get paid to make crap up) 1st person would be a story told where the narrator is a character, and everything is from their perspective.  This is like when you’re telling your friends a story. “So then I punched the grizzly bear in the face!”.  3rd person is an outside narrator talking about other characters. “Jim punched the grizzly bear in the face!”  You get the picture.

Either way Jim gets eaten by a bear, but the difference is what kind of story you want to tell.

In Monster Hunter International, Owen Pitt is the point of view character and everything is told through his eyes. The major plus side of 1st person is that you can tell a very detailed story and really get into one person’s head.  Internal dialog is easy, and you can get the reader into the narrator’s shoes.  The downside is that you are limited in that you can really only see what one character can see, so you can’t tell as big of a story.  (some people asked why MHI had the magical elements of jumping around and reliving another character’s memory, well, dirty little secret, it is because it allowed me to write in 1st person and tell a bigger story, because cheating is totally cool if you can get away with it, see below on cheating).   

The greatest trap of 1st person is doing the really boring – “I walked into the room. I saw Jim’s body. I saw the bear. I smelled the blood. I saw the bear smiling at me. I decided that Jim’s bear punching idea was bad.”   Please don’t do that. That is a boring travelogue. You can talk about how things are without directly running it through your narrator.  Things just are, so tell the story.  This is not a slide show, mix it up to keep your reader interested.  “There was Jim’s body, hopelessly mangled. Blood coated the walls. The bear smiled. Apparently Jim’s bear punching plan hadn’t worked out.”

MHI and MHV are written in 1st person, mostly because Owen Zastava Pitt is one really funny dude, and therefore it was more fun for me to write that way. And if it isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

3rd person lets you tell a bigger story because you’re not limited to just one character’s perspective. You can still get into people’s heads, but it tends to be harder to make it feel immediate.  The vast majority of fiction is in the 3rd person for this reason.  It is strategically hard to place one character at every single event of importance.  Hard Magic is written in the 3rd person because I wanted to write an epic fantasy (well, believe it or not, that is actually how it started).  I could still get into the character’s heads, but now my primary point of view characters were Jake Sullivan and Sally Faye Vierra, who get about half the scenes, then I’ve got Madi, Cornelius, Travelin’ Joe, Francis, Dan, Harkeness, Black Jack Pershing, and John Moses Browning who each get some scenes told from their perspective. There are even a few individual scenes told from a really minor person’s POV who you never really get to know, just because for that one second they had the most interesting take on the action. Like the minor gangster getting tossed out a window by a Heavy or a random guard who loses his head to a teleporting magic ninja.

The downside of this is that some people don’t like the jumping around.  Well, you can’t please everybody.  I think most of the airport-bookstore bestsellers are garbage too, so shows what I know.  With 3rd person, try to stay interesting.  A challenge is that it is harder to get inside all those other heads as convincingly, and it really does help if you tie everything together.

Now there are hybrids too, which can be considered cheating. Which I personally think is awesome, because if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying hard enough.  Dead Six is written in 1st person, but it has two narrators, which allows us to tell a much bigger story, because we’re not limited to just one person through all the events.  As a plus, because I’m co-writing this with Mike Kupari, and each of us has taken one PoV character as our own, the two have very distinct voices.  

Now in the sequel to D6, Swords of Exodus, the plot got even more complicated.  We had a few elements that there was absolutely no way either of our PoV characters could have known when we needed them to be known. So we cheated. We took one of the supporting characters (a really popular one) who was not even around for the events of SoE, and we gave his journals to one of our PoV characters. Problem solved. We stuck with our same format, but cheated and added in what was almost a third 1st person. (plus it turns out that Bob Lorenzo is a hard core conspiracy theorist/vigilante/bad ass, so that made for some damn good journal).

Like I said before, I cheated in MHI by using magic. I do so again in Monster Hunter Vendetta.  Why? Because I wanted to mix stuff up. I cheat, so you guys can be entertained.  Not everybody likes those parts, but then again, there were people that reviewed MHI who thought it would have been better with less action, fewer monsters, or not as many guns… so once again, you can’t make everybody happy, and some reviewers are just smoking crack.

There is a downside to cheating though.  You’ve got to be smooth to get away with it. If it is your first book, and you break the format away from tradition, it becomes that much harder to sell to an editor.  Nobody knows you. You are not famous. So don’t go nuts.

When originally asked on FB, I suggested that he should check out Dan Simmons’ Endymion.  It is written in 1st person and 3rd person in a very creative manner. He does something similar in the earlier Hyperion where it is seven stories retold in different ways by different narrators, and then gets even weirder in Illium. I’m talking 1st, 3rd, poetry, memory, journals, dreams, hell, for all I know there might be some 2nd in there, and I don’t even know what that means. But then I thought about it. That might not be the best example of how to do stuff, because he’s Dan Friggin’ Simmons, who I happen to think is probably the single most badass writer alive. Dan Simmons can do stuff like that, but most of the rest of us can’t, because he’s like the Michael Jordan of writing.  You can ask Michael Jordan how to play basketball, and he’ll just tell you to leap from half court through five defenders and dunk it backwards, because he’s just that awesome.

On that note, how would it be, to be Dan Simmons’ editor, and he comes to you and says, “Yeah, I want to write a book about the Trojan War, on Mars, only in the future/past, and there are space Jews on Earth, and killer Muslim robots, but it’s okay, because the space Jews teleport, but then they walk under the ocean to Peru, and there’s dinosaurs, and the giant heads from Easter Island, only they’re actually put there by characters from the Tempest, and the narrator is a dead college professor who gets it on with Helen of Troy and two robots from Jupiter, one of whom loves to quote Proust, and Odysseus, and this one narrator gets eaten by a Tyrannosaurs Rex on his first page, but he gets resurrected on a space station, and shit, did I mention the dinosaurs? Yeah, well, see the real bad guy is a giant space brain that devours everything, but it has to fight Zeus!“ and then, God bless him, that editor answered “Dan! F*** yeah! That’s awesome! I bet we win like twelve Hugos! Here’s a giant check full of money!”

I want to be Dan Simmons when I grow up, but then again, I did just sell a book featuring a teleporting magic ninja fight on top of a flaming pirate dirigible in a world with bear cavalry, gangsters, wizards, and John Browning fighting the magic samurai of Imperial Japan with Tesla super weapons, so I’m working on it.

So really, I guess it comes down to what kind of story do you want to tell?  Does it have a plot that can be told by one person, that is more immediate, with a PoV that the reader will enjoy?  Then  do 1st person.  Is it bigger, and needs lots more PoV to get the story across? Then do 3rd.  And if you’re brilliant and everything you write sells 100,000 copies, screw the rules and do whatever you feel like… Or really, the big question is, which one do you like better?  That is the right answer for you. Go for it.

Wikipedia – Am I a “little famous” yet?

On a recent comment here on MHN, somebody said that I should have a Wikipedia entry.  I thought to myself, naw, I’m not that famous of an author yet.  Wikipedia is for like, really important type stuff, like a complete listing of every episode of the A-Team, or the history of the Post-It.

But then I got to looking, and pretty much every other author I know is on there already. It seems like most of the Baen people are on there.  The guys that I went on book tour with have entries.  So now I feel left out while the cool kids are having all the fun. 

So are any of you guys Wikipedia writers?

I guess that I’m not supposed to create my own, because I would be obviously biased.  For example, this was my first draft attempt at an entry:

Larry Correia is the greatest writer of his generation. He keeps all his many awards in the same room as his giant Scrooge McDuck style pile of money. He won the Noble Prize for literature three times in one year. Larry Correia is tough but fair. Larry Correia can bench press seven times his body weight (citation needed).  Women love Larry Correia, and men want to be Larry Correia.  In addition to punching out former president Jimmy Carter during a no-holds barred cage match, Larry Correia invented cold fusion, salami, and vinyl siding. Larry Correia founded the country of Suriname. Larry Correia was played by James Gandolfini in the movie SUDDEN VIOLENCE: THE LARRY CORREIA STORY.

Okay, so maybe a teensy bit of bias might creep in.  So, anybody want to volunteer?  I can give any factoids you need, (actual factoids, like the thing about Jimmy Carter. So there I was, twenty seconds into the first round, BAM! Have fun digesting those teeth, old man!)

EDIT:  Somebody actually posted the following. I figured I better save it here for posterity before Wikipedia takes it down for lack of “citations”.

LARRY CORREIA is an international man of mystery. This unique human is infact the illegitimate son of “Odin” who, when offered a place at his fathers side in Valhalla he declined as he would consider it slumming, Larry then kicked Odin in the testicles for such an insult Clearly, one could see that this is no mere mortal man, for example his many exploits include the following.

1. He tore down the Berlin Wall.

2. He once used a live Jaguar as a condom and then visited all the woman in a small Guatemalan village. It forever became known as ” La noche de los gatos sodomizar ” or ” Night of the sodomizing cat “

3. Larry is known to demands the sacrifice of a 1st born male once every 10 years in a small village located outside of Glasgow Ireland. The last time he did not receive his sacrifice was in 1845 and his wrath lasted to 1852. History recalls these years as ” The Great Potato Famine “

4. Russel Crowe spent a week with Larry in an ill advised attempt to learn the secret ways of combat for his film ” Gladiator ” Larry’s retribution for Russel’s impudence was a daily regiment of beatings, torture, and verbally berated him to the point that Russel ran off and screwed Meg Ryan as a means to regain his lost manhood. Larry still holds his manhood in a manson jar under his kitchen sink.

5. Former President Bush took the term ” Shock and Awe ” from when Larry gave him a small demonstration of what he would do in Iraq if given full unilateral freedom. This demonstration involved 3 hookers, a jar of mayonnaise, a dead pig, and a toilet scrubber.

6. In 2007 Larry wrote of his life story of adventure, love, and insanity…it was later published under the title of ” Monster Hunter International “

Located in Utah, Larry now spends his time as a writer and accountant, as well a part time firearm instructor. His latest novels are the following

Monster Hunter International (available now), Monster Hunter Vendetta (available September 28th), Monster Hunter Alpha (2011), and The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic (2011) all of which are available from Baen Books.

Thank you, anonymous wiki author, but I’m afraid that this article is simply riddled with errors.  Monster Hunter Alpha will be out in 2010 not 2011 as stated.  EDIT 2: Crap. I read that MHA as MHV.  I take back what I said. That article is 100% accurate.  EDIT 3: Except I don’t think that Glasgow is in Ireland…

EDIT 4: Okay, looks like there is an actual realistic one posted on Wikipedia now that isn’t flagged to be deleted. (because obvoiusly, if I made a best seller list, then that is way more important than founding Suriname).  I think we should just call this one good.

EDIT 5:  Mrs. Correia was not at all pleased when she found out about ” La noche de los gatos sodomizar”. Thanks a lot, guys.

EDIT 6: Looks like somebody did start a TV Tropes Wiki for MHI.  Myers and Franks are “Those two guys” and “My Orcs are different”.  Sweet. :)

Correia’s International Film Festival Week

As many of you regular readers know, I watch a lot of B-movies. I try to review the best/worst of them, but I don’t review even a quarter of the ones I actually watch.  Since my current writing project is another MHI novel, I find that monster flicks fuel my creative juices.  So I’ve been watching a bunch, and in the words of Invader Zim, I am now “Squishy, and filled with juice…”

So it was during this binge of Netflix fueled mayhem that I realized the movies I’d watched over the last couple of weeks were like an international smorgasbord of crap.  So I’ve decided to have an International Movie Festival Week!   

Our first contestant, from Mexico:  Vampiro 

Think low budget Blade, from East LA, only without all of that “plotting” and “editing” and Wesley Snipes level charisma (and that’s saying something).  I was surprised to discover that this movie was actually in English, which may disqualify it with our judges, but then again, the characters would randomly lapse into Spanish, and the English was also pretty incomprehensible, so I think Vampiro gets a pass.

Vampiro is about the a dude named Casanova Vladamirez Garcia Venezuela, or something like that. He repeated it like every few minutes, and it never sounded quite the same. Though IMDB does in fact confirm that his name was Casanova (and he told the story about how his mama gave him the name after he kissed a little village girl, like thirty-two times).   Casanova Vladamirez Con Queso is half vampire, and battles evil vampires, with the help of his little girl sidekick.

The story then introduces us to Blanca the love interest. Who apparently spends a lot of time being randomly assaulted by men.  The first scene, a guy tries to sexually assault her, but she says no, so then two guys beat her up. She gets help from a guy who I think was supposed to be her brother, but then he just makes fun of her for messing up the party. Then she goes out with a friend where she is assaulted again. So her and Sexicana (no really, I’m not making up that name) who has a lesbian crush on Blanca, go to make out, where they are picked up police officers and then… you guessed it… get assaulted by the Man only to be saved by Casanova Vladamirez Carne Asada.

Basically Blanca’s life is going from one place to another to be victimized by random people. Apparently women just get harassed nonstop there. Having done my best to avoid LA as much as possible, for all I know that may be accurate, but I think Blanca is something special. She’s just so annoying that everyone in the movie wants to hit her.   If she was walking down the street and ran into Elmo and Mr. Rogers,  within thirty seconds they’d be curb stomping her while Elmo screamed “Elmo wants his money, ho!”

The movie doesn’t make a lick of sense.  At one point, literally ten seconds after Casanova Vladamirez San Antonio tells us that he has super senses that enable him to sense vampires, there is a scene that shows a vampire sneak up on him.  The flash backs were awesome too, since the villain was wearing the same t-shirt in 1975 as he is right now.  I too have a fondness for certain shirts, but that’s taking it to a whole new level.

Overall, skip it. It was dumb, but not dumb enough to be entertaining.  Somehow a movie featuring a lesbian vampire named Sexicana wasn’t enough to make it interesting.

From Germany : Wolf Wolff’s The Beast Within

Called Virus Undead back in the fatherland, this movie is also in English, and inexplicably tries to act like it was filmed in America.  Which is bizarre considering that the actors don’t sound American at all, the cars are all little and have really big license plates, and the characters buy fish at a gas station. Now I don’t know about you, but as an American, I would not purchase fish at a gas station. That’s asking for trouble. Corndogs on the other hand… perfectly safe.

But I digress. The DVD cover says that it is “OUTBREAK meets Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS”.  My box must have mistakenly come with the wrong DVD in it.  

But there are CGI birds, briefly. I will give them that. Apparently some scientist has discovered that Bird Flu causes zombies, so created an antidote, or something, but then he’s devoured by birds. Then the actual plot starts where his estranged grandson and his two idiot friends leave med school to take a funeral road trip to the scientist’s place.  And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, my best friends were a sociopathic malcontent and an idiot bully.  Woot! Road trip!

The three imbeciles… sorry, protagonists, stop at a gas station where they meet Idiot #1’s old girlfriend (who just happens to be a molecular biologist, who works at a gas station) and Chick #2, who in typical European fashion is modest and chaste… Bwa Ha Ha HA! Snort.  Sorry.  Couldn’t help myself. They agree to get together later and have a party at the scientists old place. Because nothing says Party like recent death and swilling absinth.

Then zombies show up. People get infected. Imbeciles die and turn into mutants. Stuff randomly explodes, and despite that, it is actually pretty boring.  The med students are complete morons (thanks socialized medicine, because somebody like these fools are going to be the ones doing my future prostate exams!)

The ending does actually have one awesome bit. While the “hero” and his girlfriend have an epic battle to the death against a single zombie (before being attacked by bad CGI birds) the supporting character of Chick #2 (actress recruited from local strip club) takes an ax-sledge and kung-fu moxy and absolutely demolishes like twenty zombies to death in an orgy of face cleaving violence.  And thereby Chick #2 became, by far, the most interesting character. So of course, they showed her running away, never showed her again, and concentrated on the douchebag main actor. Yay. Thanks movie.

From Canada: Prey for the Beast

From our neighbors to the north comes this thrilling tale of wilderness survival, where a group of mostly unlikable morons are chased by a guy in a suit made out of a rubber pig mask and an old carpet, and devoured, one by one, as you root for the monster to hurry up and kill them faster.  At one point, one of the characters said that this was “Just like Predator! Without guns!”  Uh… Negative. Predator was a good movie.

The plot? Why bother. The director (literally) discovers that his wife is cheating on him (I’m guessing because he is an ineffectual eunuch) and his three special-needs friends decide to cheer him up by going camping. They run into four college girls.  SPOILER ALERT!!! Then the monster eats them until somebody machetes the monster in its rubber face. The End.

This one was bad. Bad. Bad. BAD.  Though as a professional gun-geek I’m very interested in finding that model of Desert Eagle they had in the movie that required the hammer to be manually recocked for every shot or the MP5 that is the choice of professional wilderness guides everywhere.  Apparently Canadian gun laws have worked well enough that they have now entirely forgotten how guns actually work.  (excellent… my invasion should meet with minimal opposition).  It wasn’t just guns. There was a bow that apparently has a magic string, where the arrow is always fully drawn without any pressure required. You just point and the arrow flies off while the string stays back.  Screw you physics. I do what I want!

From Norway: Dead Snow

And finally, a good movie! 

I won’t spoil this one for you guys. It is actually a decent story about Nazi-zombies, and the bumbling oafs that suddenly grow a pair and murder the crap out of them.  Was it brilliant? No. Was it intelligent? Not in the least.  Did it make a whole lot of sense? Nope.  But it is a funny, over the top, zombie chain sawing sack of awesome.

Thus concludes the Monster Hunter Nation First Annual International Film Competition. FATALITY! DEAD SNOW WINS! FLAWLESS VICTORY!

2 free sample chapters from Monster Hunter Vendetta

The infamous Joe Buckley twisted my arm into giving up some snippits.  The much anticipated Monster Hunter Vendetta will be out in September 2010.  The EArc should be up shortly from Baen.

Enjoy. :)

Good News! Grimnoir release date earlier in 2011

It looks like The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic, will be out from Baen in spring of 2011, so in the earlier part of the year. When I know the month, I’ll let you guys know ASAP.  The feedback on the snippit rampage was excellent.

Also, I’ll finally be making it back down to the south. I’ll be attending LibertyCon in Chatanooga the first week of July.

Talking to myself in the dark

Last Friday I went ghost hunting. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but I’m also an accountant who writes novels, shoots guns from helicopters for fun, and has eaten some stupid things on dares. Basically I like to try new stuff.

I met Tom Carr of Wasatch Paranormal a couple of years ago at ConDuit. Tom hobby is talking to himself in the dark in the hopes that dead people will respond. He’s a paranormal investigator. He did a panel where he talked about ghost hunting and played some of the audio that he’d caught over the years. I found Tom to be a funny and insightful guy, and when he started inviting some of the local authors to come along on a hunt, I took him up on it.

Now I’m a skeptical kind of person. I’ve never seen a ghost. My personal religious beliefs account for that kind of thing, but it wasn’t anything I’d ever thought about a lot. My knowledge of ghost hunting was based entirely around watching the TV show on Sci-Fi (excuse me, SyFy, because that is the dumbest marketing change I’ve ever seen).  I will admit, that I enjoy that show, but mostly tuned in for the last couple minutes for the video and audio reveals.

I wasn’t expecting to see anything, hear anything, and I mostly figured that I would go out and freeze my butt off in the dark, but like I said, I like to try new things. My wife asked me if I wanted to take our video camera, but since I wasn’t going to see anything, I was probably just going to drop it and break it and therefore feel stupid, so I left it home. (which I came to regret later).

I met Tom and his crew from Wasatch Paranormal in Tooele. We were joined my fellow fantasy author, Paul Genesse. I’ve known Paul for a few years, great guy, great writer, and I’m happy to say that he’s going to have some good news to announce here pretty soon about his writing career. Paul’s background is in cardiac medicine, so he’s a pretty analytical person. So I reasoned that at least two of us out there would be bored.

Hoo boy, was I wrong.

We travelled to Mercur, which was an abandoned mining town. The town itself is gone, but parts of the cemetery are still there. Tom and his crew liked this place, because they had gotten some interesting things on tape. It is considered one of the most haunted places in Utah, and many ghost hunters travel out there in the hopes of spotting something.

Mercur is an eerie place. Many of the graves have been fenced off, but the majority of them have just kind of been reabsorbed into the ground, so even as you are wandering around, you’re probably walking on someone.  According to the records there are over a hundred people buried there, but only forty or so are marked off. There is only one headstone still standing, and of course, it is for an eleven year old girl, and the locals keep leaving baby dolls on it, which I found kind of creepy. (at first).

Absolutely nothing happened for the first couple of hours. It got darker. It got colder. We wandered around. All of us were wearing digital recorders. I like wandering around in the desert at night, so I was cool with that though. That’s probably one reason that I like living in Utah.

Then we got to this one spot where many people say they’ve had strange things happen to them. Some “psychic” from an earlier trip said that they felt this low spot had once had a cabin on it, and the dirt was up on the walls for insulation.  Being a farm-kid, (and therefore understanding that water likes to go downhill) that took me all of thirty seconds with my stupidly bright flashlight to debunk, because if there was a cabin in that spot, it was because whoever lived there really liked to be damp.

But there is something weird about that particular spot. WP brought a K2 meter. If you’ve ever watched one of those ghost hunting shows then you know how they work. They measure fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Many ghost hunters believe that the supernatural has some effect on electromagnetic fields, so by using the meter they can pick up fluctuations. In layman’s terms, it is a little box with a flashing lights on it.

Various things can set off the meter, like radio waves, cell phones, magnets, that kind of thing. For the last few hours the K2 hadn’t done anything. It would occasionally flash once in a great while, probably from a random neutrino or something, hell if I know.

So we’re now at this low spot, and Tom suggested that we do an EVP session. (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) Basically you ask questions, and hope that ghost happens to be hanging out there so it will answer your questions, and you get it on the digital recorder. We start doing this, and I feel a little silly, but hey, it’s cool.  Then the K2 flickered.  So somebody said, hey, if you’re here, come over and touch the little green light.

So it goes off again… Tom said, fine, let’s talk. Touch the green light once for no, and twice for yes.  We then proceeded to have a five minute conversation with a dead guy.

Okay, I’m a skeptical kind of guy. My initial thought is that this is either A. Random electrical interference that is just happening to coincide extremely closely in timing with our questions. Or B. It is rigged somehow. Then somebody asked a question, that was kind of a double negative, that confused me, and I’m still alive. So far, everything had been two clear flashes all the way, or one clear flash all the way, green-yellow-red.  The nebulous question got at green-green-yellow-huh?  And for the first time, I thought, hmmm… maybe we’re talking to a dead guy. 

It was a very convincing conversation. 

So when we got back to the “safe area” (i.e. place with fire for warmth, and snacks) I checked the K2 meter. I reasoned that the most obvious way to manipulate that conversation would be by pushing a button on the box. There is only one button. Off/On. And when you shut it off, the little green light goes away completely. The light never went away, so it wasn’t that.  Nothing else came near the box, but I could set it off by putting my cell next to it and turning it on.  However there was no indication that anything ever came close to the box, and the operator’s hands were visible the whole time.

Okay, so moving on, as the night went on, more people began to freeze and left, so then there were only five of us left. It was quieter, and then it got weirder.

We had two more conversations using the K2. I won’t go into a ton of details, but either I spoke with a dead Italian immigrant miner who happened to like guns and found it great that I was carrying a gun though it looked different from what he was used to and he personally preferred revolvers—OR—I am actually able, through my psychic powers of wishful thinking able to manipulate the Earth’s magnetic field on demand with my brain in a pattern that makes for a very convincing Q&A session.  Because which one of those sounds less far-fetched?

And to make it weirder, remember, I’m not the ghost hunter, I’m the skeptical guy who thought doing this sounded fun.  The 2nd conversation was my doing.  We were blundering around in the dark, and two of us had thought that we’d seen something moving in the bushes. I assumed it was probably a rabbit.  So I walked over by myself to where I’d seen the shadow to see if there were tracks (ground was soft, since it was still a little damp from thawing, and I’ve killed a lot of animals, and I’m pretty good at spotting tracks) because that would be “debunking” and it made me feel smart.

Only when I got over there, I got this really weird feeling. All of a sudden the air got oddly still. All the hair stood up on my legs. “I said, hey Tom?”  and I got “Yeah, I’m on my— Whoa! Did you see that?” Apparently the three people behind me saw something move between me and them.  Okay, now I’m a little weirded out, but then the K2 went nuts and we ended up having another conversation.  (this time the K2 was being held by a different person).  

Oh, and I forgot the part about how we ended up on guns. This is Utah. We’re all armed, all the time. (and don’t you forget it! Red State Boo Yah!)  Tom was carrying a gun. Earlier in the evening, he jumped, because his Springfield XDM had shifted in its holster by itself. (we did actually get the rattling sound of the holster on audio right after an EVP of what sounds like a groan or a moaning noise).  Of course, this didn’t happen to me, so I can’t say what happened exactly, but it sure made him jump.  (I’m pretty sure he had on a Blackhawk, excuse me BLACKHAWK!, Sherpa with the finger lock, so BLACKHAWK! can now advertise that their retention system is ghost proof too)

So that’s how we got to the gun question. Tom asked if the “person” we were talking to had been the one to play with his gun. Very clearly, one full flash. No.  Okay, then, did somebody else try to move my gun? Yes. Are there more than one of you here? Yes. Are there more than two of you here? Yes. Are there more than three of you here? No.  Are there three of you here? Yes.

Okay… Now we’ve wandered into strange territory. There are only five of us present. I can see everyone’s hands. No one else is anywhere near us. Nobody is waving electronic devices or magnets around the box to set it off and, oh wait, yeah, I’m the one that started this one… Okay, my skepticism just took a kick to the teeth.  

But wait, there’s more. After clustering around the fire to stay alive, shooting the bull and laughing, I hear very clear and very loud footsteps coming up on the rocks behind me. (and keep in mind, my hearing sucks).  In fact, several of us heard them. Most of the people had left earlier, so I turned fully expecting to see that somebody had forgotten something and had returned. There was nobody there. So I took my 120 lumen Streamlight and I lit the hillside up. Nothing. I ran to the edge and shined the light down into the ravine, figuring that it must have been a deer. Nothing. I’ve used this flashlight to spotlight coyotes. There was no cover big enough to hide anything large enough to make that kind of noise. But I sure as heck heard it.

Then three of us went out. Tom the ghost hunter, and the two guest writers, Paul and I. And guess what? This time we have a K2 conversation with a little girl, who apparently thinks it is great when people leave dollies on her grave. Tom agreed to leave one for her the next day.

Okay, that’s it. I’m done. Good night.

It was an interesting experience to say the least.  The time between those three Q&A sessions, the K2 did nothing. I was never at any point scared, but I would describe the emotions I felt at the three different times as 1. Huh?  2. Weird… and 3. Awww, sad.  Well, the I’ll admit, the footstep incident was creepy, yet exciting. Okay, so my honest opinion? Mercur is flippin’ haunted.   

Tom’s organization: Wasatch Paranormal The website is under construction, but he does put up all the EVPs he’s every caught on there. And he’s got a ghost hunting podcast called Residual Haunting and Tom’s got a book out about how to conduct your own ghost hunt

The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – Chapter 7

The snippiting rampage draws to a close. This  is the last free sample chapter from my upcoming 2011 novel, The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic. I do not yet know the release month.  If you are just joining us, the links to the previous chapters are below.  I’ve just got one request. Please post in the comments of this thread and let me know what you think, if you’d like to get this, and if you are interested in the world of TGC.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


Thanks for reading, – Larry


MAGIC LEADS TO TERROR – City Firemen were unable to contain the FIRE that ripped through a Mar Pacifica estate on Sunday evening until there were only charred remains of the home, belonging to famous big game hunter L.S. Talon. A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY was made once the DEADLY flames were extinguished. So far, SEVEN human bodies have been recovered from the scene. Local residents say that there was a great commotion and much GUNFIRE before the conflagration spread.  RUMOR is that Mr. Talon was a supporter of MAGIC and was himself an ACTIVE. He has been missing since Sunday and is believed to be amongst the DEAD. 

Article, San Francisco Examiner, 1929.





Chapter 7

San Francisco, California 


The address on Grandpa’s note was on the far west side of the city. The neighborhood was called Richmond, and a lot of things must have changed from when Grandpa had drawn his little map. The area was filled with new houses, stores, and churches. Every now and then they would pass an area that was nothing but sand dunes, but then quickly enough there would be more homes. Some of the larger places had been started, but then abandoned when the developer’s money had run out along with everyone else’s.

“Lots of Jews and Irishmen in this part of town,” the driver told Faye helpfully. “The Russians built a great big church up over that way.” Faye just kept watching out the window. As Grandpa had always said, her brain would just get to spinning sometimes, and the real world would fade away. She lost track of time as the town turned into suburbs, and then into an area of gentle green hills as they went south.

She snapped back to reality as the cab stopped. “We’re here. This is the address you gave me.”

“This? This is it?” she asked, staring out the window. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” said the driver. “Not what you were expecting, I guess.”

There had been a house here once, that much was obvious, a really large one from the remains of the foundation that was poking out of the ground. Weeds had grown up over the crumbling brick and what had once been a big chimney stood like a monolith.

“Looks like it burned down a long time ago,” the cabbie said. “You want me to take you back?”

There was a strange smell in the air when Faye stepped out of the cab. It was kind of fishy but not too offensive. It took her a moment to realize that she was actually smelling the ocean for the first time. This couldn’t be it. This had been her only clue from Grandpa. She started to wander toward the ruins.


There had once been a fence of iron bars around the property, but whatever had engulfed the house had been so hot that the metal had softened and bent, and now the fence just looked lopsided. She ran her fingers across the bars and they came away orange with rust.

“Hey, lady! Pay me,” the cabbie growled.

“Oh, sorry,” Faye mumbled as she returned to the cab and carefully counted the money out exactly. The cabby looked at it in disgust before driving off, and it was only a moment later that she remembered Gilbert warning her that people in the city also expected tips.

The gate was lying in the weeds. The grass was hip deep on what had once been a lawn. Faye thought that she could just barely smell the ash as she gingerly put her weight onto the charred boards of what had been the porch, and it reminded her of another, more recent, fire. She noticed that somebody had etched strange symbols into the crumbling floor, and she stepped over them carefully.

There was nothing else there.

Somehow she knew that something bad had happened here, something worse than the fire. Lives had been lost in this place. Death was in the air. 

“I’m sorry, Grandpa. I didn’t expect this,” she said as she slowly turned around. “I thought maybe somebody around here would help me.” She had been so certain that the address would hold the answers that she had not thought about what she would do next if there were no answers to be found. She was on the outskirts of a strange city, had no friends, and no idea what to do. She picked out a pile of bricks and sat down.

Why am I here?

Faye wasn’t sure. Grandpa hadn’t even really given her any last words, he’d just choked out half a sentence before dying, given her some weird metal thing, which she’d managed to already lose half of, and now she was just alone. She wanted to cry, but she felt like she’d already cried all her tears, and now she was just all dry and hollow inside.

A fat brown squirrel crawled up onto a nearby board. It cocked its head at her curiously, as if wondering what this strange human girl was doing sitting on some ashy bricks in the middle of its forest.

“Hello,” said the squirrel.

Oh, great, now I’ve gone crazy.

“Hi,” Faye responded.

The squirrel just kept looking at her, twitching nervously like squirrels do, and for a minute Faye thought that maybe it had just sounded like the little animal had spoken. Grandpa had always said that she got her brain spinning too fast sometimes and that if she spun it too hard it might break. The squirrel examined her for what seemed like an abnormally long time, and Faye started to doubt that she’d heard anything at all, and felt stupid for talking to it.

“Nice ring,” the squirrel said. Its voice didn’t seem to match, like the sound wasn’t coming from the animal, but through it. It had a deep, scratchy, male voice. “It set the ward spells off. Where’d you get it?”

“My Grandpa gave it to me,” she answered, holding up her hand to show off the black and gold band. She could have sworn the squirrel nodded thoughtfully. “He gave me a list with some names on it. I’m looking for somebody named Pershing. Could you help me, little squirrel.”

“We’ve got a live one at the old place,” the squirrel said, like it was talking back over its shoulder. Faye looked into the grass for other squirrels but didn’t see anything else hiding in the grass.

“Are you okay, Mr. Squirrel?”

“You ain’t from around these parts, are you, kid?” asked the squirrel.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Well, yeah, actually…” The squirrel twitched and swiveled its head back toward the road as it sensed something. A large black automobile was coasting to a stop on the road. Its whiskers twitched violently as the doors opened. “Shit! If it ain’t some Imperium mother-fuckers!” exclaimed the squirrel, then it swiveled back to her. “Damn it! Hide, girl! Hide! Go!” Then it leapt off the board into the grass.

Faye watched the profane little animal disappear, then switched back to the car. Three men had gotten out and were heading straight for the fallen gates. They reached into their coats and came out with guns. She scrambled behind the pile of bricks and ducked down low. It was just like what had happened to Grandpa, and she realized that she was shaking uncontrollably.

She could hear the crunching of the grass as the men moved. They were obviously city-folk, not hunters, loud and clumsy. She risked a peek around the side of the bricks, and the closest was going to be on the porch in seconds. And there, right in the soft ashen wood, clear as day, were her footprints, leading right to where she was hiding.

“Psstt. Over here.” The squirrel’s head poked up out of the weeds. “Stay low.”     

It was either follow the squirrel, or Travel before they found her, but she didn’t know where to Travel to, and if she appeared in front of one of the other men, they’d shoot her dead just like they had done to Grandpa. Faye crouched down, bunched up her dress so she could crawl, and hustled after the squirrel. The animal was gone by the time she got there, but there seemed to be an indentation in the grass. When she pressed on it her hand went right through into an empty space.

There was a footfall a few feet away. With no time to think, Faye shoved her head through the grass and found herself staring down an ivy-coated chute. There was only a foot of light before everything was masked in shadow. She kept going, scooting down a gentle slope. Spider webs hit her in the face and insects skittered across her body. A second later her hands landed in soft dust, and she pulled herself into a tight black space. A few spikes of sunlight pierced the darkness from holes in the floorboards above. Every time one of the men took a step, ash cascaded through the light. Something furry and warm pushed past her lips and she almost screamed.     

“Easy…” the squirrel said softly.

“Where are we?” Faye whispered.

“Coal cellar… Hurry up, Francis. Imperium assholes right on top of us.”

“I’m not Francis. Who’s Francis?”

“Shut up, kid. I ain’t talking to you,” the squirrel hissed. “Move your ass, boy.” There was a thud directly overhead and one of the men shouted something. They’d found Faye’s tracks. “Shit… They’re gonna find us. Never a grizzly bear or a moose or a Doberman around when I need one… Hey, girl, you got any Powers?”

“Yeah,” Faye whispered. “I’m a Traveler.”

The squirrel sighed. “What? Son of a bitch. I was hoping you had super strength or shot lightning bolts out your eyes or something because these Imperium goons are gonna find us any second.”

“My name’s Faye.”

“Did I ask for a life story? We’re about to get killed here…” The squirrel let out a long sigh. “Aw hell… My name’s Lance. You just scoot for the woods. I’ll hold them off.”  

She wasn’t sure what exactly the squirrel, Lance, was going to do to fight off three men with guns, so she reached into her pocket, and pulled out her little revolver. She cocked the hammer as slowly and quietly as possible. The squirrel rubbed up against her face again. “Are you daft? The only thing you’re gonna do with that little thing is piss them off. What is that? A .32? Jesus, you ain’t hunting squirrels. Gonna use that to put us out of our misery?”

There was a sudden crash. A pile of ash broke lose from the ceiling, obscuring the tiny shafts of light. Then another crash, and a much larger shaft of light appeared as one of the men smashed a hole in the floor with his boot.  “Go!” Lance shouted. The furry shape left her face, bounded up into the light, and launched itself into the air.

One of the men screamed. “It’s crawling up my pants! Kill it! Kill it!”

“Quit being a punk, and step on it, Al. We’ve got business.”

There was a commotion, shouting, and then one of the men started to laugh at his companion’s problem. They didn’t know they were dealing with a magic squirrel. Faye thought about the area near the front gate, concentrated, feeling her magic. She hadn’t Traveled since getting the bug stuck in her foot, and for the first time in her life, she was scared to use her Power and hesitated.

I can do this.

Her thoughts went ahead of her. The air was clear of objects, the grass was tall, waving, not a concern for a normal, but for her, every piece represented potential death, a single blade of grass potentially as deadly as a steel knife. No leaves in the air. No big pieces of sand or grit, no bugs, only particulate so small that her passage would brush it aside. Nothing was about to enter that space. She saw everything. And it all happened within a tenth of a second and she was gone.

Faye appeared an inch over the tall grass, still in the same prone position she’d been in the cellar, and dropped like a stone. Her landing was cushioned by the weeds and she popped right back up.

The three men were standing in a circle over something. One of them was pointing his pistol at the floor, and she knew that the magic squirrel was just as dead as Grandpa had been. “Lance!”

The men looked up simultaneously, guns rising toward her, and Faye prepared to Travel again, but their eyes collectively jerked upward as something passed through the air over her head with a rustle of cloth in the wind. A petite shape landed between the men in a crouch, knocking one of them sprawling.

It was a woman in a red dress. She rose quickly, slammed her palm into another’s chest with a terrible crack, throwing him back and completely through the brick chimney, collapsing the entire structure in a cloud of red dust. She spun back toward the last man, just as his gun stabbed out toward her, and Faye screamed. There was a gunshot.

The man’s head snapped back. The pistol dropped from lifeless fingers before he collapsed into the ash.

“Good shot, Francis,” the woman shouted, then she turned back to the first one she’d knocked down. She kicked a giant beam casually out of the way, bent down and grabbed a handful of hair, dragging the struggling man from the ashes. 

There was the sound of an action being worked, and Faye turned to see a man standing back at the gate with a bolt-action rifle. Faye almost Traveled, but he didn’t point the rifle at her, instead he gave her an easy smile. “It’s going to be all right. We’re here to help you.”

The man was young, probably not much older than her. “Are you Lance the magic squirrel’s friend?”

“Huh?” At first he seemed bewildered by that, then he started to laugh, like she’d said something hilarious.

Faye was confused by his reaction. “Come on! I think they squished him!” she cried, then Traveled back to the house. Her shoes hit the ashen floor, just as the lady in the red dress was smacking the last man senseless. The scary woman glanced up, surprised. She was holding the much larger man effortlessly by the neck, one arm cocked back to hit him again, her delicate knuckles covered with his blood. Faye paid her no mind. These new people seemed to be on Lance’s side, and he had saved her life.

“Oh no!” Faye cried, falling to her knees next to the hole in the floor. The squirrel was inside. It moved weakly. “You’re alive!” She picked up the tiny body and hugged it close.  The magic squirrel blinked stupidly. It must have gotten hit in the head.

The young man joined her a moment later, putting one hand gently on her shoulder. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here. There might be more coming.”

“I wish they would,” said the woman. She appeared with a limp form thrown over one shoulder. The man was much bigger than she was, but she didn’t seem to notice the weight. “I hit that other guy through the chimney a little hard, but this one’s alive. I can remedy that real quick if you want…”

“Naw, the General will want to question him,” said a gruff male voice. “Francis, bring the car up and stick him in the back. Looks like some tough guys working for hire. They probably won’t know anything about the Imperium, but it’s worth a shot.” He sounded strangely familiar and Faye looked up. A burly, darkly-bearded man was standing at the base of the porch with his thick arms folded. He was wearing rough work clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. He was shorter than Faye, but nearly two men wide in the chest. Faye stood, still cradling the squirrel.


The man’s eyes twinkled as he grinned. “That’s me… Hell, kid. What’re you doing with that squirrel? I’m too proud and not near hungry enough to eat that flea-bitten thing for dinner.”

Faye looked down at the squirrel just as it regained its senses and bit the hell out her thumb. “Ow!” She flung her hands wide and the little animal scurried into the grass.

Lance turned and started to walk away with a pronounced limp, realizing a moment later that she wasn’t following. “You comin’ or what?”

Somewhere in Colorado

When Jake Sullivan woke up again it was later in the day and there were brown mountains outside blocking the sunlight, but a pair of electric lamps lit the train compartment fairly well. They were still moving and the air felt thinner when he inhaled. Someone was sitting in the chair next to the bed, reading a newspaper. The banner proclaimed that it was the Denver something or other, and the headline was about some anarchists causing trouble, but Sullivan didn’t feel like trying to move his head far enough to try and read it. He must have groaned, because the paper dipped down, revealing a thick pair of glasses and a friendly smile. “Evening, Jake. How’re you feeling?”

“Not dead. So could be worse.”

The man chuckled as he folded the newspaper. “Understandable. We haven’t had the pleasure of being formally introduced, though we’ve met twice now, I’m Daniel Garrett. I’ve been sent by my employer to make you an offer–” 

“Not to be rude, Dan, but which way’s the toilet?”

That caught him off guard, and he pointed for the rear of the compartment. “Well, you have been asleep for a really long time… But Ira said you shouldn’t try to move—“ Sullivan sat up abruptly, feeling the stitches pull and ache. “Never mind, I suppose.” He swung his legs off the bed, heaved himself up, and stumbled for the back. Walking would have been difficult under normal circumstances, but the rocking of the train made it worse. 

“Never been in a train car that had a private toilet. Now that’s high-class,” Sullivan stated on his return. This time there was a whole pitcher of water at the bedside instead of just a cup. He picked it up and started drinking

“Yes, I bribed our way onto the very best…” Garrett said as Sullivan pounded down the entire pitcher. “It was the first thing out of Chicago, well, this or a freight car, and the Doctor said he needed something decent to work on you, so I made sure I passed around enough dough to keep the crew from talking about the big, busted-up fella in the wheelchair.”

Sullivan slammed the pitcher down. “That’s better.” He leaned against the rocking wall, feeling every ache, stitch, and bruise, and he still had a cold. “I’m starved, any chance I could get you to spring for a couple of steaks?”

“Of course…” Garrett replied. “I… I thought you wanted to know what was going on first?”

Sullivan grimaced as his stomach growled.  Burning that much Power always made him hungry, and that wasn’t counting the blood loss. “You talk. I eat.”

That’s it.  Thanks for reading the sample chapters.  I promise it just keeps getting better after this, including the greatest climax I’ve ever written. Please leave a reply in the comments section below so I can guage the interest/excitement level.  And if you enjoyed this, please tell your friends.  Thanks, – Larry

EDIT: Now available for preorder

The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – Chapter 6

The snippets continue. There will be one chapter posted after this.  For those just joining us, I’m doing a chapter a day for a week from my upcoming novel, Hard Magic. Book one of the Grimnoir Chronicles.

For those of you just joining us, here are the links to the earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 –

Chapter 2 –

Chapter 3 –

Chapter 4 –

Chapter 5 –

After the last one is posted, I would really like to get your opinions. 

As always, I hope you enjoy.






I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball. The harder you grip the bat, the more magic power you use all at once, the more you can swing through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got, muscle and magic. So now they’re talking about banning us Actives from baseball because we’re not fair, not sporting? Hell, I hit big or I miss big. I am what I am and I live as big as I can.

George “Babe” Ruth, interview after hitting his 200th season home run, 1930

Chapter 6


New York, New York 


Billionaire industrialist Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant had many offices, but the one that had the best view was on top of the relatively new Chrysler Building. Not only did he like this particular office because it enabled him to look out over the city, which he considered his personal fiefdom, but he also found the building aesthetically pleasing. It was pointy.

His favorite pointy building had been the tallest building in the world, briefly, before the Empire State Building had been completed. He had a suite there as well, but preferred this location because from this position he could watch his fleet of trans-Atlantic passenger dirigibles docking at the Empire State, or his cargo airships landing at the industrial pads closer to the ocean. It made him feel like a child with a model train set.

Cornelius stepped away from the window as a servant brought him the morning paper. He took his place in a comfortable recliner and opened first to the obituaries, as was his daily custom, to see if anyone he disliked had died, but sadly the announcements held no joy.

On the bright side, that meant that his most hated enemy was still suffering and wasting away under the curse of the Pale Horse. His spies had confirmed that he had taken gravely ill, and he had not been seen in public in almost two years. The thought made Cornelius smile as he turned the pages. He still owed that foul Harkeness a favor, but whatever it was would be worth it.

The Times spoke of more war in Asia as the Imperium annexed another bunch of islands he’d never heard of, Herbert Hoover looked like he was going to be trounced by Governor Roosevelt (not that Cornelius minded, since he had donated plenty of money to both sides), and more general lawlessness and moral decay around the country. Most of the news was old hat for a man who had informants everywhere, but one item caught his attention.

“Well, I’ll be…” he muttered around his morning cigar as he studied the photograph. It was a grainy shot of one of the Imperium’s new tri-hulled, super-dirigibles, taken over some Dutch colony. It would look like a big blurry blob to most viewers, but he recognized the design because it had originated amongst the Cogs employed in his engineering department at UBF.

He disliked Cogs, just as he disliked all magical people, himself and immediate family excluded, but he had grown fabulously wealthy from their brilliance. Every Cog was already a genius in their own way, absolutely fanatically brilliant at something, but then they could occasionally use their Power to push them over the top, to achieve the most brilliant of all creative achievements. The Imperium’s new Kaga class flying battleship was a perfect example.

Nine-hundred feet long, with three separate hydrogen-filled hulls, each hull cordoned off into ten separate armored chambers, the Kagas were the biggest thing to ever take to the sky. Hydrogen was far more dangerous than helium, but provided more lift. The Imperials had asked for hydrogen in the specifications for an unknown reason, probably since the main source for helium in the world was unavailable to them in Texas, but with the redundant mechanical and magical provisions, the Kagas would be virtually indestructible, with armaments that outclassed the best dreadnoughts of the Great War, but with four times the speed, its own parasite air force, and a virtually unlimited range.

The picture was a bit different than the blueprints he had seen, more bulbous. The Imperials had added a few things that he did not recognize, but that did not concern him. UBF had been paid to provide the hull and engine design. His eldest son had arranged the deal while serving as the ambassador to Japan, may God rest his soul.

The government had forbidden the sale of super-science to the Imperium as part of the embargo, but Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant knew that laws were to keep the lower classes in line. Whereas, he did what he wanted, but did so in secret to avoid the hassle of know-nothing’s petty harassments.  The embargo forbid UBF from the construction of any warships for a foreign power. Cornelius was currently overseeing the construction of the Emperor’s personal flagship at the UBF plant, but since it was officially a diplomatic and scientific vessel, it was perfectly legal.  The warships, like the Kagas, on the other hand, were quite illegal, but with the economic slump, the Imperium were the only people with money to burn.

He’d sold them the Kaga design a few years ago. He was just surprised to see that the Imperium had gotten the bugs worked out so quickly. Once they started using their new super dirigibles to further their domination of the East, the US Navy would be forced to come to UBF for their own next generation airships.

Cornelius loved a good arms race as much as the next robber baron.

Chicago, Illinois

The Grid Iron Club was usually quiet on Sunday mornings, but today was the exception. Lenny Torrio was pacing up and down the bar, throwing bottles and whatever furniture he could pick up in a fit of rage.

His remaining seven men were standing around, waiting for the bout to pass like they always did. These spells had earned Mr. Torrio the nickname of Crazy Lenny, but they always eventually subsided.  They’d lost five boys last night, shot to death, and poor Amish tossed out a window. The old Rasmussen Hotel had been evacuated right before the boiler had exploded, and they’d just got word that the city inspectors were saying the building was unsafe and was going to fall down. They all knew that it was a mess and the public outcry would bring the law down on them hard.

Mr. Torrio was going on about how Al Capone was sure to move in on them, when some new faces arrived. It was another Japanese, this one younger than the last one. It made the men uneasy when they saw how unnerved the new arrival made their boss.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Torrio sputtered. “Really I am. Please, give your Chairman my full respects.” The Japanese did not speak or move.

Another man entered behind the Asian, this one was white, tall, muscular, with a badly scarred face and one milky white eye. Apparently, seeing him really shook Mr. Torrio. “Whoa, hey old buddy, been a real long time. I’d heard—“

“Heard wrong,” he grunted. “Call me Mr. Madi now, Lenny.”  

“Is this about last night? About Jake? Look, I’m sorry, ‘cause I just did what I was told…” Torrio looked back and forth between the two newcomers, apparently confused. “I didn’t know you were working for the Chairman now.”

The big man with the bad eye shrugged. “I don’t care about Jake. I go where the action is, Lenny… Your sources find anything on these other guys the Chairman’s lookin’ for?”

Torrio raised his hands defensively. “You know how it is with demons, man. You got to sort out what’s true and what’s not… but that device you were looking for, that your…” he nodded respectfully toward the Jap before continuing, “dear deceased associate showed me the drawing… it’s in California. I saw a skinny girl on a train, not far from where I found that old Portagee for you. She was easy, ‘cause she don’t know about Finders.”  

“Turns out that bit ain’t so important. What about the others?”

“They’ve hidden themselves too good, but I know Christiansen was last in the mountains and Southunder was on the ocean somewhere. I’ll track them down for you, I promise.”

“Well, that narrows it down a bunch.” Madi turned to the other man and spoke real slow in a language that none of the men understood. The Japanese gave a quick reply. Madi asked a question. The Oriental nodded once, and the big white man went back to Torrio. “My associate doesn’t think we need your services anymore and that you brought too much attention.”

“Aww, come on Madi,” Lenny begged. “It ain’t like that. Where else are you going to get another Finder as good as me?”

“Oh, somebody else told us where to find them already, and if we need to summon any critters… I figure we’ll get by,” Madi answered as something strange moved in the shadows of the warehouse rafters. Everyone looked up as the Summoned fell from the ceiling, spread its eight-foot wingspan, and settled gently to the floor. It hissed at the men with both heads and they instinctively stepped back. Claws clicked on the hardwood as it scuttled around the end of the bar and out of sight. Something squealed, and the dragon came back with Mr. Torrio’s imp clenched in one set of jaws. The other head came around and snapped onto the creature’s legs. 

“Mildred!” Lenny shouted as his imp was ripped in two. “No!”

The dragon kept chewing as the imp’s body dissolved into smoke. The whole crew was so distracted by the sight that they didn’t see the man called Madi reaching for his shoulder holster.

Ten seconds later Crazy Lenny Torrio and his entire gang were history.

San Francisco, California


It was all a little overwhelming, and all Faye could do for her first few minutes in the big city was gawk like the country girl that she was. There was an astounding number of people packed everywhere, scurrying along in every direction. The train station was easily ten times the size of the station in Merced, and there were more human beings milling around the platforms in those first few minutes than she had seen cumulatively in her entire life.

The air smelled like diesel, and humanity, and all sorts of unfamiliar perfumes. She tried to shrink down, uncomfortable, not used to moving through a crowd.  The people were so packed that they moved in waves, almost like a herd of Holsteins, only far more colorful.

Many of the men were in suits, some were in work clothing, and Faye saw military uniforms for the first time. One handsome young man in white, (Gilbert had said that meant Navy), winked at her as he went past, and Faye looked down, blushing. The young man was elbowed in the side by one of his friends and they all had a laugh.

The women were astounding, their dresses so pretty and flashy that Faye instinctively felt drab and boring in comparison. Their hair was all done up in ways that she had never even imagined, while hers was just flat. Many of them had jewelry and more wore furs, and almost everyone had a hat far nicer than her simple straw one.

Feeling under-dressed compared to other women, Faye paused long enough to put on the only piece of jewelry she possessed, the gold and black ring from Grandpa’s bag. It wasn’t nearly as fancy as the big things with all of the sparkles like the others had, but Faye figured it would do. The ring was too big and flopped around on her finger, but at least it was something.

She made her way through the masses, walking in the direction that seemed most of the other debarking travelers were heading. Somehow she ended up inside a building with really tall ceilings and big stained glass windows and then she was swept out onto a sidewalk along a street where more fancy cars than she had ever imagined were speeding back and forth.

She had seen Mexicans before. They came through the San Joaquin valley and picked the crops every year, but the Mexicans here were different. They didn’t seem to be passing through, they looked like they lived here. Faye saw other colors of people for the first time too. They were just part of the crowd, working just like everybody else, and nobody here seemed to pay them any extra mind. She tried not to stare, because that just didn’t seem polite.

When she looked up, the sheer massive tallness of the surrounding buildings took her breath away. A great black shadow was moving down the street, and she nearly broke her neck craning her head back to watch the super-dirigible passing overhead. She watched the giant bag until she could no longer track it behind the big buildings and it was the most magical thing she had ever seen.

San Francisco was supposedly one of the least harmed cities by the depression, being such a mighty cosmopolitan hub of commerce, and having all of those military folks stationed at the nearby Peace Ray spending all their money here had to help things. Faye could only begin to imagine how this place could have possibly been any fancier four years before. Compared to the Vierra farm, or especially the shack she had lived in before that, San Francisco was astounding.     

Gilbert had told her about how taxi cabs could drive her right to the address on Grandpa’s note for a fee. At first she thought that sounded absurd. Paying somebody good money to ride when you could just walk? But her foot still hurt from the stupid beetle and the city was so overwhelming that the idea of walking across it was terrifying, so she got in line behind the other travelers waving at the curb, and studied them, so that when it got to be her turn she wouldn’t look too much like a stupid hick.

Faye was so distracted by her new surroundings that she didn’t see the man watching her from the steps of the train station. He paused long enough to crumple and toss a telegram sheet before following.

Unknown Location

Sullivan’s head hurt, and the inside of his mouth was dry and tasted like he’d been chewing on rotten mouse-flavored cotton-balls. The first thing he saw as he came to was a cup of water sitting on the side of the bed. Forcing himself up with a groan, he reached for it, but the fresh stitches in his arm and chest pulled and burned. His head swam, so he had to give up and lay back down.

The water just sat there, taunting him.

At first Sullivan thought that he was really dizzy, because the tiny room seemed to be swaying, but then he saw the vibrating ripples in the water cup, and realized that it was the room that was moving, and not him. There was a rhythmic noise coming from under the floor, and after a moment his fogged brain put together that it was steel wheels on a train track. The thick curtains had been drawn, but enough light leaked around the corners to indicate it was afternoon.

He was on a train, in a private luxury car, apparently.

He vaguely remembered stumbling up a ramp under his own power, being led by the German on one arm, and the fellow with glasses on the other, and at some point he had wound up in a wheelchair. The trip from the Rasmussen was a blur, and Sullivan knew that he’d lost a lot of blood on the way. That swordsman had stabbed him good. It was only through luck and the timely intervention of the two strangers that he hadn’t got his head chopped off.

Sullivan frowned at the water, contemplating his next move.          

There was something fishy about the swordsman. The goons he’d popped had been Lenny Torrio’s boys, but the Japanese was way out of Lenny’s league. He’d never met someone with a Power like that, or with the ability to adapt so quickly. Sullivan had been challenged by all sorts in Rockville, and he’d always won because he was meaner, tougher, and faster than the other guy. This one had been different. But he’d still managed to squish him like a bug, nonetheless. He hadn’t used his Power like that since he had last lost his temper. That time had got him sent to prison, but strangely enough he felt equally justified in both uses.

It hurt to move his head, but he tried to rise a bit. There was a wheelchair shoved in one corner, blocked in by a regular wooden chair so it wouldn’t be able to roll about. Several bloody towels were piled on it.  Beside the water cup was a leather surgeon’s bag, still open, and a few implements were sitting on a white cloth. He couldn’t remember a thing, but apparently he’d had one hell of a night.

One wood paneled wall slid open, revealing itself as a door. The man that entered was in his forties, short and chubby. “Good afternoon, Mr. Sullivan. Glad to see you’re awake,” he said, walking over to the bedside, humming absently. He spared no time manhandling Sullivan’s arm so he could inspect the stitches. Sullivan cringed in pain, but the man didn’t seem to notice. “Hmm… Not my best work, but you’re not dead, so I’ll call it a win.”

Sullivan nodded his head at the water. “What? Oh yes? The side effects of opiate based pain relievers can include cotton mouth, which can be rather unpleasant,” the man stated matter-of-factly. It took him a second to realize that Sullivan didn’t want a medical lesson, he just wanted a drink. “Oh, yes, sorry. Here you go.”

He managed to spill half of it, but Sullivan cherished the victory over his enemy, the cup. “Who are you?” he finally croaked. “Where am I?”

“Dr. Ira Rosenstein. I was harassed by Mr. Garrett into coming on this trek. Mr. Koenig is in the next room getting some sleep. They had a late flight. I believe Mr. Garrett is in the dining car. I tried to tell him that I would prefer for you not to move for several days, but he was adamant that you must return to California immediately. The General must be briefed on the presence of an Iron Guard. Can you imagine? An actual Iron Guard acting with impunity within the United States? But of course you can, obviously. You did kill him after all, and in a particularly spectacular manner, if Heinrich is to be believed, though he does tend to embellish.”

Sullivan just nodded, as if he had any clue what the doctor was talking about.

“You will need to take it easy for awhile. Your physical condition indicates to me a rather intense lifestyle. In addition to what I attempted to fix last night, without my regular staff or equipment, in a moving train car rather than a proper operating room, but I digress… As I was saying, you are suffering from several other very recent punctures, contusions, and lacerations. I would strongly suggest that you tone down your activities, Mr. Sullivan.”

“You a Healer?”

Rosenstein snorted. “As if… No. I am a doctor. I work for a living. Yes, I do happen to be a Cog, so I am a particularly gifted surgeon when the opportunity arises, the finest in Chicago. But I went to medical school and have continually educated myself at every opportunity to further my knowledge of anatomy and the most cutting edge surgical techniques, if you will excuse the pun.” He smiled.

Sullivan didn’t get it, but he’d had a really hard week. “Sure…”

The doctor continued. “Most people do not realize that Cogs are not just limited to machines or theoretical equations capped with bursts of magical brilliance. Some of us prefer to toil in fields of a medical nature.  Whereas Healers…” He waved his hand dismissively. “Know absolutely nothing of anatomy or biology, but work their magic from base intuition, and oh how everybody just loves Healers. They just put their hands on you and poof, you are all better. And then everyone showers them in money. Do you know how many years I went to school, Mr. Sullivan?”

“Uh… a lot?” He could tell it was a sore spot.

“Yes. A lot.” Rosenstein raised his voice. “Have you ever met an Active Healer that wasn’t an insufferable bore? Full of themselves with a God complex and an ego bigger than Lake Superior?”

Sullivan had never actually had a conversation with a Healer. They were, after all, the rarest of the rare of Actives, or so he had thought, until he met a Jap who could shrug off dozens of rounds of .30-06. He shrugged.

“Well, trust me, sir. They’re all pompous, the lot of them. The only thing they’re good for is publicity.” 

Sullivan nodded. The miraculous ability of the Healer and the wondrous ingenuity of the Cog were the single biggest reasons Actives had been so accepted, even celebrated in American society. Some types of Powers did not fare so well. Heavies were generally valuable as dumb lugs, useful in industry, so he was in the middle of the pack. Other types were actually discriminated against, even despised.

Rosenstein checked the wound on his chest next, clucking approvingly at his work. “I am rather surprised that you survived this wound. It struck bone, but managed not to shear through. It is almost as if your bones are extremely dense… hmmm… You should be dead.”

Sullivan didn’t say anything, but he knew that it was probably because of all of his experimentation at Rockville. When breaking rocks had become too easy, he’d broken rocks in increased gravity. Sullivan had made his body as hard as his attitude. Even when he wasn’t altering his weight through magic, he tipped the scales at eighty pounds heavier than he looked. Toward the end, when he was using all his Power, he’d broken rock with his bones.

“Good thing Garrett thought to call me. Helping out is the least I can do.” He held up his right hand and used his thumb to wiggle a black and gold ring. “Considering I owe the Society my life.” Then he went back to work.

“Who’s the Society?”

The doctor paused, fingers on the bandage. “Excuse me?”

“The Society. What is it?”

“The Grimnoir, of course.” A look crossed Rosenstein’s face, partway between confusion and embarrassment. “I thought you were…” He grew even more troubled. “Oh my. Excuse me a moment,” and the chubby man leapt up and hurried from the room like he had just discovered his patient was inflicted with a highly contagious plague.

Sullivan sighed and watched the ceiling. He was a patient man.

Three minutes later the German entered the room, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Rosenstein stayed in the doorway, fidgeting nervously. The German pulled up the chair, knocked the bloody towels on the floor, and sat on it backwards, arms resting on the back, studying Sullivan. “I will handle this, Doctor,” he said finally. The doctor gladly fled, closing the door behind him.

The new visitor was young, with extremely short hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He waited a minute before grinning. “Ira is worried he said too much about us. Very good surgeon, but he’s always fretting about something.”

The smile seemed genuine, but Sullivan knew better than to trust anyone. “Who are you?”

“Heinrich Koenig, at your service,” he said. “Fade extraordinaire and all-around problem solver.”

Sullivan nodded. The German was probably in his early twenties, so at least a decade younger than Sullivan, but behind that easy smile was something dangerous. Sullivan could recognize a fellow traveler of the hard life, a survivor. Underneath the friendly veneer lurked the soul of a killer. “Thanks for stepping in there.”

“We did the world a favor by ending that man, perhaps more than you will ever know,” Heinrich replied. “No thanks necessary. That is what we do.”


“I cannot say that yet.”

“What are the Grimnoir?”

“That isn’t my place to explain. My associate will be back soon, and he is supposed to give you the pitch. Believe it or not, the reason we were at your hotel room was to make you a job offer. Daniel’s the one that’s good with words. Me, I’m more a man of action.”

“I got a couple of G-Men who’d agree with that.”

Heinrich shrugged modestly. “I have my talents.”

So did Sullivan. “How’s the jaw?”

The smile left. “You broke it in two places. Luckily we have a Mender on staff. She put it back together, fixed Francis’ knee too. Having a Healer around is nice.”

“The blonde on the blimp?”

“Yes.” Heinrich reached up and rubbed his jaw. “A very good one. It still hurts though.”

“Yep. Imagine it would.” Sullivan grunted. He wasn’t the apologizing type, and he was still waiting on some answers. “So you going to tell me what the straight deal is, or are you just here to waste my time?”

The German chuckled coldly. “The straight deal is beyond your comprehension. You have no idea what you have just walked into. We are in a war, the likes of which even you have not seen.”

“Don’t get lippy,” Sullivan replied. “I managed to stack a few of your relatives back in the biggest war ever, so don’t tell me what I haven’t seen, kid.”    

The German frowned. He was too young to have fought in the Great War, but Sullivan knew the country had fallen apart after the armistice. There were some tough feelings there, he could tell, but Heinrich kept his cool. “I just ask that you be patient, and your questions will be answered.” 

“I’m about done with this nonsense.” Sullivan gasped as he tried to sit up, all of the stitches pulling in his chest and arm like strands of fire. “I’m walking out that door, and don’t you try to stop me.”   

Heinrich uncurled his arms from the chair back, paused as if in thought, then reached into his grey suit coat and pulled a revolver from the inside pocket. Sullivan tensed, ready to Spike, but Heinrich just smiled again as he flipped the revolver around and handed it over butt first. “I believe you left this at the hotel. Your big gun was unfortunately smashed to bits.”

Sullivan warily took his Smith & Wesson. He swung out the cylinder. It was still loaded.

“You wish to go? Your clothes, or should I say, the bloody remains of your pants and your shoes are under the bed. Unfortunately, neither I, nor my associates have anything that will fit you, my large friend. Feel free to leave at any time. I believe we are in Kansas by now. You should have no problem wandering around the mid-west, especially missing half your blood. Oh, and the police are looking for you. Apparently Herr Hoover is a little upset about you destroying a downtown hotel in a rather newsworthy manner and wants you brought in. I am sure he will understand why the mob and an Imperium assassin were trying to murder you.”

He would also want to know why exactly Sullivan had gone to meet with Torrio. Hoover would more than likely send him back to Rockville just for being a pain in the ass.

The German continued. “Or…you could continue to rest until my associate returns, and then everything will be explained in full.”

It hurt to move. It hurt to think. Just rising this far had made him dizzy. Sullivan glowered and slowly lowered himself to the bed. He kept the .38 in one big hand.

Heinrich stood. “Very good. Daniel should be back in a moment.” He turned to leave.

“Answer me one thing,” Sullivan said just as Heinrich reached the door. “You say we’re in a war… what side are you?”

Heinrich paused. “This war is in the shadows beyond nations. I am on the side of righteousness, of all that is free, or holy, or good, Herr Sullivan… Rest. You look like death.” He closed the door.

Of course, the Grimnoir thought they were the good guys. Everybody thought they were in the right. The evilest bastards he had ever met had still thought of themselves as the good guys. It was just his dumb luck to blunder into a bunch of true believers. Sullivan closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Chapter 7

The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – Chapter five

The sample snippets continue.  I had no internet access yesterday, so I’ll put up another one of these tonight.  (most of you check in Monday morning anyway, what did people do at work before the invention of the internet? ) If you think TGC is going to be awesome, please spread the word. 

For those of you just joining us, here are the earlier chapters:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4




Gentlemen, we have now reached the last point. If anyone of you doesn’t mean business let him say so now. An hour from now will be too late to back out. Once in, you’ve got to see it through. You’ve got to perform without flinching whatever duty is assigned you, regardless of the difficulty or the danger attending it. If it is steering the clouds and calling down lightning, if it is hurling fire or steel, if it is breaking the German’s will, or dragging their Battle Zeppelins from the sky, if it is the closest kind of fighting — be anxious for it. You must know your Power, how to shoot, and how to stay alive. No matter what comes you mustn’t squeal. Think it over — all of you. If any man wishes to withdraw he will be gladly excused, for others are ready to take his place.

General Theodore Roosevelt, from speech given to 1st Volunteer Brigade (Active) before second battle of the Somme 1918

Chapter 5


Chicago, Illinois 

Sullivan tossed and turned, fevered dreams eating at his peace.      

Finally he gave up, and lay there, shirtless and sweating, miserable and sick, partially awake, his mind still running through the remnants of a muddled dream. Fields of mud and broken trees sticking out of the ground like splintered bones and so many Zeppelins in the air that they seemed to blot out the sky and the Germans that they just kept killing over and over and over while the Kaiser’s sorcerers would just wake them up and send them back into the fray until their bodies had been so pulverized that they could no longer hold a rifle and his brother getting half his face torn off by artillery and General Roosevelt dying in a spray of blood and fire under the claws of a Summoned and…

Then he was awake. Sullivan sighed, staring at the dark ceiling. His internal clock told him that it wasn’t even close to morning, but he wouldn’t be falling back asleep any time soon. He decided that the dream must have been from talking to Lenny. It had reminded him of the bad old days.

He heard flapping at the window, and at first he dismissed it as just a pigeon. But it had sounded too… leathery. Sullivan just kept breathing deep. Listening. 


Amish McCleary didn’t like being called a retard, but he was too scared of Mr. Torrio to complain about it. He would prove to the boss that he could pull his weight around here, and that he wasn’t just good for eavesdropping on meetings with bootleggers and hustlers.

He was going to pop the Heavy himself. The big lug had a reputation. He was supposed to be a real tough guy, a hard case, but Amish knew nobody was that tough when they were asleep in bed and you kicked in the door and sprayed them down with a Tommy gun. Who cared if he was asleep? The word on the street would still be that Amish McCleary had been the man who’d had the balls to take down Heavy Jake Sullivan.

That would show Mr. Torrio. Even Al Capone would have to respect him after that, and maybe then nobody would make fun of his cross-eyes anymore.

The Jap sat next to him in the front of the Packard. Amish was scared of Mr. Torrio, but he was terrified of the Jap. One time Amish had gotten curious to see if the Japs thought the same as white men, so he’d used his Power to try to Read him, even though Mr. Torrio had warned him not to. It was like his Power had hit a brick wall. Amish wasn’t a very strong Reader. His Power barely worked once in awhile, and he could only really get into the heads of the really dumb. When he tried to read smart people he just kind of bounced off. The Jap hadn’t just bounced him, he’d booted him out of his head and across the street. Amish’s head had ached for the last three days straight.

The Jap didn’t bother to look at him, like he was too good to give Amish the time. “The demon returns,” he said simply.

The Jap must have had really good hearing, because Amish didn’t hear the wings flapping until ten whole seconds later. Mr. Torrio’s imp settled on the side mirror and squawked at him. Amish listened for a second. He didn’t speak Demon good like Mr. Torrio, but he could get the gist of it.  “The Heavy’s asleep. Let’s go.”

The Jap held up a hand. “Send one man in first to make sure the lobby is clear.”

Amish hesitated. Mr. Torrio had put him in charge, not the Jap. He didn’t know who the Jap was supposed to even be or who he worked for, but all of a sudden he thought he could give the orders? But Amish hesitated, because first off the Jap scared him to death, and second, it was a good idea.


Daniel Garrett checked his pocket watch for the fifth time. It was almost three o’clock in the morning.

“It is exactly two minutes from the last time you checked,” Heinrich stated, not looking away from the window. The German seemed nonchalant as he watched the nearly empty street and the front of the Rasmussen Hotel, but Heinrich was always composed. The entire world could be exploding around them in flames and Heinrich would still play it cool.

“Well, sorry. I don’t have your Teutonic nerves of steel,” Daniel muttered. “Are they moving?”

Nein. Only the one went inside, probably to check the registry. The others are still waiting. We should take them now.”

“There’s at least six of them.”

“All the reason to go now. Element of surprise, my friend.”

The two of them had arrived on the last dirigible of the evening. A contact at the Chicago police had told them where Jake Sullivan was staying. The Grimnoir Society prided itself on having contacts everywhere.   

Daniel leaned forward so he could see out the stolen Chrysler’s passenger side window. He did not like stealing automobiles or blimps, but they were in a hurry, and besides, they always left the things they’d borrowed where they could be found when they were done.  He had to shove his glasses back up his nose. His natural vision was terrible. “You don’t even know who they are…”

“We’re staking out this particular hotel because of our mysterious Heavy, and a group of suspicious men arrive and are also watching the same hotel… Coincidence?”

Daniel thumped his head dramatically on the steering wheel. “Figures. I wonder what Sullivan did to tick them off?”

“I do not know, but he seems to have that effect on people.” Heinrich rubbed his jaw. Jane had Mended it good as new, but Daniel knew from personal experience that a magically fixed bone would still ache for days afterward. It was obvious the Society’s best Fade felt guilty for letting a Heavy knock him out. You don’t sneak up on Fades, they sneak up on you. “I’ve already said it once, but I do not have a good feeling about this Heavy.”

“Don’t feel bad. You should have seen the information the General gathered on this one. You’re lucky he didn’t eat you. Wouldn’t be the first German he’s done in, I figure,” Daniel said, trying to make his young friend feel better, and failing. “They quit pinning medals on his chest when they ran out of room, and you saw how big he was.”

“I don’t trust him. Maybe the Imperium is here for the same reason as we are?” Heinrich mused. “What do we do then?”

Daniel didn’t answer at first. He didn’t think he had to. It was open season on anybody who worked for the Imperium, and if they hired the Heavy, then he was fair game too. “You don’t even know they’re Imperium.”

“I can smell s–” Heinrich shifted. “He’s coming back.”

Daniel leaned forward again so he could see a man walking quickly from the hotel entrance to the parked autos. They conferred through the windows for a moment. After some discussion, doors opened, and men began to pile out. Long guns were removed from the vehicles and quickly covered in loose coats. The man who stepped from the passenger seat of the lead vehicle was familiar, Japanese, dignified, and Daniel swore under his breath as recognition came. He looked just like the photographs smuggled out of Manchuria. “That’s Rokusaburo.”  

“Told you so,” Heinrich said. “Imperium scheissen.”

The Japanese killer pulled a thin, three-foot, black object and held it under his long coat as he walked casually toward the hotel entrance.

“An Iron Guard, here in the US? I can’t believe this! Damn it. I wish we had the rest of the crew.” Dan moved to start the car. They would need to alert the General that one of the Chairman’s best men was in the States. There was no way just the two of them could take on an Iron Guard. There were other Grimnoir in the Midwest, and if he could raise enough of a force in time, they might be able to—“Heinrich, what’re you doing?” he hissed as the young German opened his door.

“I’m going to go and talk to this Heavy, like Herr General ordered,” he smiled as he got out. “Coming?”

“Are you crazy?” Daniel hissed. “Rokusaburo will cut us to bits. He can’t be killed!”

Heinrich shrugged. “He is magic. He is not immortal.”

Daniel banged his head on the steering wheel again.


Amish and two Torrio men, Brick and Hoss, stepped out of the elevator on the tenth floor. The Jap trailed them silently a few feet behind, his long black coat almost hitting the carpet. Amish had left the other two covering the lobby. He wasn’t expecting this to be too hard.

The imp couldn’t tell them a room number. It wasn’t like it could hop down the brightly lit hallways like a miniature kangaroo checking room numbers. It peeked through windows. That’s about all the stupid thing was good for, but the logbook at the desk had Sullivan’s blocky signature under Room 109, so that’s what Amish was looking for.

He’d draped his overcoat on top of his Tommy Gun, not that he needed to bother. The desk clerk had been passed out drunk. He tossed the coat over his shoulder as he rounded the corner and spotted the gold letters for 109.


Daniel Garret went straight for the front door while Heinrich went for the side. Fades worked better in the dark. Mouths always preferred the public.

There were two gangsters in the low-class lobby. One was sitting in a chair next to the desk, pretending to read the newspaper. The other was acting like he worked there, behind the counter, except he hadn’t even bothered to remove his hat. Both of them looked good and stupid. Dan kicked his Power up a notch.

“Good evening!” he said, friendly as could be. “I’m in need of a room.”

“We’re all full. Go away,” grunted the man behind the desk. His posture told Daniel that he was holding a gun under the table.   

Dan always did enjoy a challenge. He reached out, his magic telling him the emotional state of the two. They were small-minded and brutal men. The beauty of being a Mouth was that the dumber your audience, the easier they were to steer. Strong minds were much harder to sway, and they could usually sense the intrusion. “Hey, don’t I know you guys? You look really familiar.” So far, so good, so Dan pushed harder.

The two men glanced at each other, feeling a sudden deep sense of camaraderie. “Uh, yeah… I think I know you,” said the one with the paper.

“We’re friends, don’t you remember… that one time? We all got together?” Dan asked, pushing as hard as he could. There was no time for subtlety. He was their buddy, their old pal. His magic was based on lies and coercion, but any moral qualms he’d had about using it had been put to rest once he’d seen the Imperium schools in action.

“Oh yeah!” said the one behind the desk.

“I need a favor.”

Both of them were smiling now. “Anything, bub.”

“What room is Jake Sullivan staying in?”

The goon flipped open the book and scanned down the page. “Tenth floor. Ninth room. Our buddies is up there now to whack him.”

“Good. Good. Thanks a lot. That really helps me. You know what else would help a ton?” Both were smiling and nodding.


“Anything for a pal!”

Dan hesitated. He wasn’t as heartless as he’d thought. First he had to know. “Are you bad men?”

“I’ve killed three people for Lenny Torrio!” said the first one proudly.

The second one snorted. “Big deal, I once broke an old lady’s hip because she owed Mr. Capone protection money, then I beat her head in ‘cause she got lippy.”

That would do. “Great, guys, just great. Do me a favor, would ya?”

“No problem.” They both were grinning stupidly.

“Give me a second to get out of the way, then I want you to kill each other.”        

A Mouth couldn’t force someone to do something that they normally wouldn’t consider. It didn’t work like that. Even someone as strong as Dan could only sway someone down his natural path. All he could do was push what was already there. If he’d asked a decent person to murder a friend, it would simply break the spell. Only a real piece of work would take such a small amount of Influence to do something so heinous. Dan wasn’t even in the elevator before they started shooting.

Heinrich caught the door right before it closed and slipped inside. “That didn’t take long.”

“Not much loyalty amongst gangsters, I suppose. Tenth floor, please.”


Amish checked the safety on his Thompson. He wasn’t going to screw this up. Brick was the biggest, so he moved up to kick the door. Hoss reached up and unscrewed the hall light, plunging them into shadow. The boys had done this kind of thing before. The Jap just hung back, looking bored.

There was a big glass window at each end of the hall, and enough street light was coming in that Amish could still see his buddies. This was going to be great. He squeezed the Thompson tight. “Do it. Do it!”

Brick reared back and kicked hard. His considerable weight tore the lock right through the jamb, and the door flew open with a bang. Amish leapt through, screaming, turned toward the bed, spotted the lump in the middle of the blankets and mashed the trigger. He fired from the hip, stitching hot slugs through the bed, the headboard, and the wall. He jerked the foregrip back down and kept ripping the bed, flinging feathers and bits into the air, until he’d hammered through the entire 50 round drum in one continuous smoking burst.

“Take that, stupid Heavy! Yeah!” Amish shouted. “That’ll learn you up real good.”

Hoss rushed past him, double-barrel shotgun in hand, grabbed the blankets and yanked them off the bed, revealing nothing but a pile of bullet riddled pillows and clothing. Hoss started to shout, “Where is—“ but then his chest and head erupted in a shower of red as a swarm of giant bullets stitched him. Hoss tumbled dead to the floor. 

The Heavy stepped out of the bathroom, shirtless, holding an enormous black cannon to his shoulder. The smoking muzzle swiveled toward the doorway where Brick had appeared and there was a terrible thunder. Brick disappeared back into the hall and Amish blinked as something hot and wet splattered him in the face and it took him a second to realize that he had just been hit with part of Brick’s skull.

The cannon settled on Amish last and the Heavy paused, with a little smile that seemed almost sad. “Lenny couldn’t even bother to come himself?” Amish pushed the release and yanked the drum out of the Thompson, then fumbled at his pocket for a stick mag. The Heavy just shook his head, disappointed.

Then everything was wrong, down was now behind him, and Amish screamed as he fell through the door and into the hallway. How–  He felt his collar bone snap as he hit the wall. Gravity came back suddenly and Amish spilled onto the hall carpet. Pain washed through him in waves. The Heavy appeared in the doorway, glanced quickly both ways, and saw the Jap.

“Who are you supposed to be?” The Heavy asked.

The Jap didn’t answer. He just opened his big coat and showed his sword. Amish looked back and forth between the two terrifying men and knew that he was about to see one hell of a fight.

But the Heavy just did his trick with gravity again, and now down seemed to be the end of the hallway. The Jap began to fall, but whipped his sword out and jabbed it into the floor, and he was hanging there as Amish tumbled down the carpet past him. The window barely slowed him.

Amish opened his eyes inside the shower of glass to see that he was gliding over the street ten stories below. I’m flying! It was the most wonderful thing he’d ever experienced, until he reached the end of Sullivan’s range, then gravity returned to its normal direction and the street rushed up to meet him.


“Who are you supposed to be?” Sullivan asked.

The man at the end of the dim hall threw open his coat, revealing the blue-wrapped hilt of a sword. His hand hovered over the handle of the blade, waiting.

Jake’s curiosity did not run as deep as his apprehension at facing a crazy guy with a giant razor. He Spiked, bending gravity’s pull to a different angle. The dead body and the cross-eyed Reader slid down the floor, but the other drew his sword in a flash as the Power hit, took it in two hands, and drove the silver blade deep into flooring. The Reader zipped past, hit the window, and took the whole assembly with him into the city.

The swordsman hung from the end of the blade, parallel with the carpet, dangling, patiently waiting for the Spike to subside, watching Sullivan curiously the whole time.

The Power needed to distort gravity for so long was too much, and Sullivan let go, letting himself fall against the doorway. The swordsman landed on his hands and knees, then took his time getting up. He pulled his blade from the wood, then spun it once quickly through the air, before letting it dangle loose in his hand. His fedora had gone out the window with the Reader, but other than that, he seemed fine.

“I did not realize the Americans had developed their Heavies to this extent.”

“I’m big on self improvement.” The man was an Oriental. Sullivan had worked in a few Chinatowns before, and the truck drivers that had driven the 1st Volunteer around France had been Vietnamese, so he had more cultural exposure than a lot of his countrymen, but this man spoke English better than Sullivan did, and had a much nicer suit. Probably almost fifty, but strong and fit, he was remarkably tall compared to the other Asians Sullivan had known, probably just under six foot, and appeared a little too confident. “You ain’t from around here, are you?”

“I am impressed with your level of mastery, Mr. Sullivan,” he gave a very formal bow. “It is a great honor to battle one such as you.”

Sullivan raised the Lewis gun to his shoulder. “There’s nothing honorable about battle,” he replied, pulling the trigger.

A short burst of thirty caliber bullets hit the swordsman square in the chest. Sullivan lowered the machinegun, but the swordsman was still standing. “Impossible.” A string of .30-06 should have put even the toughest Brute on their ass.

The swordsman started forward slowly, raising his weapon, both hands on the hilt, blade held rigid next to his head.

Sullivan leaned into it this time. When the first Heavies started drifting into the 1st Volunteer, they had been put to work as machine-gunners. Even the least powerful Heavy could carry five times as much weight as a Normal. An Active Heavy could lower the tug of gravity on his weapon, so even a pig like the Lewis Mk3 was handy to run around with. But the less a gun weighs, the more it recoils, and the harder it is to control, so a clever Spiker actually increases the pull on his weapon when it was time to put the hammer down.

The giant barrel barely moved as Sullivan pounded the remainder of the drum magazine into the swordsman.  Each 30-06 bullet hit with an impact sufficient to quarter an elk, but instead of tumbling through flesh, the bullets exploded into fragments against his body. The hallway was pummeled with noise, the air was thick with unburned powder, and shining brass cases bounced along the floor.

When the Lewis bolt finally fell on an empty chamber, the swordsman was still there, clothes tattered, but flesh unharmed, and his slow walk turned into a charge. The sword descended as Sullivan desperately used his Power, hurling his attacker back. The swordsman fell a few feet but instantly adjusted, caught a door knob with his foot, and drove himself back toward Sullivan in a leap. The big man shouted as the end of the blade flickered through his skin.

Sullivan stumbled back, blood pouring down his bare chest. He Spiked again, totally reversing gravity, and the swordsman fell toward the ceiling. Again, he adjusted, twisted, and took the impact with his hands, rolling across the roof, getting closer. Sullivan cut the Power and the swordsman dropped, hitting the ground in a perfect crouch, coat billowing around him, sword extended behind. He looked up and smiled.

“What are you?” Sullivan gasped, reaching deep, gathering Power. He had one last trick. 

“I am Rokusaburo of the Iron Guard, Herald of the Imperium, warrior of the Emperor of Nippon. Know that before you die.” he said with pride. He rose and extended his sword, aimed directly at Sullivan’s heart. “I represent the future.”

“Not if we can help it.”

A grey shape appeared through the wall, colliding with the swordsman, locking up on his extended arm. Both of them crashed into the wall, cracking through the boards. The swordsman roared, the grey shape was instantly flung off, and the German from the stolen dirigible landed at Sullivan’s feet.

“Need a hand?” the Fade asked.

Sullivan shrugged. “I suppose.”

The swordsman came out of the wall swinging. The blade was insanely fast, and Sullivan was barely able to raise the Lewis. The metal cooling jacket around the barrel split in two. The German started pumping rounds from a pistol into the attacker and Sullivan was rewarded with bits of bullet jacket hitting him for the effort as they ricocheted off the Jap’s skin.

Rokusaburo spun into the hall, and they had to leap back to avoid being eviscerated. The sword lanced forward, and Sullivan barely blocked it, the Lewis flying from his hands under the impact. The blade instantly returned, humming through the air, and the tip pierced his bicep. The steel came out in a splash of red that painted the wallpaper, and Rokusaburo stepped back, triumphant, as Sullivan crashed, bellowing, into the wall.

The sword flicked back to finish him, but the swordsman’s head rocked as he was struck from behind, and the blade passed within a hair’s width of Sullivan’s throat. He jerked his eyes up to see a bespectacled man walking down the hallway, firing a handgun repeatedly into Rokusaburo’s back. It was just as ineffective as before, but at least it was distracting. The swordsman turned toward the new threat.

The Fade came off the floor, leaping past Sullivan, and kicked the Imperial in the back of the legs. The Japanese went to his knees, but simultaneously reversed his sword and drove it up, right through the German’s guts. The Fade was too quick on his Power, and the silver blade erupted through a nebulous grey smoke. The mass sidestepped, reformed into solid flesh and bone, and kicked Rokusaburo square in the skull.

The swordsman’s head snapped back hard, but then came right back wearing a vicious snarl, and the German had to dive back to avoid the sword.

Apparently hitting him did about as much good as shooting him. Sullivan pushed himself off the wall and stumbled forward, splattering blood in great pulsing gushes from his arm, but still he was calm, analytical, trying to find a way around Rokusaburo’s Power. Even while bleeding out, Sullivan was able to note that the Jap’s clothes were shredded, but it was like his skin turned to hardened steel on impact.  He had never heard of the Power of indestructibility before, but like any other Power it had to have limits. It had to run out eventually, or break when pushed too far.

Sullivan cleared his head, using his Power to see the world as it really was, mass, density, and force. He could feel the Power of his opponent, and he understood then what was happening. The Jap was like a reverse Fade. Instead of making himself hazy until his body could pass through solid things, this one was increasing it until nothing could pass through. It was taking a staggering amount of energy. 

It was time for Sullivan to play his final hand.

He needed to get real close for this to work. He was too big and slow to get past that three foot razorblade without loosing a limb. He needed a distraction. The man in glasses had reloaded his pistol and started shooting again, diverting Rokusaburo’s attention long enough for Sullivan to hiss, “Fritz. Take the sword again. Then get back.” The German nodded quickly and moved in.

The Fade charged in one way, going grey, just as Rokusaburo swung through him, and Sullivan dove straight at the swordsman. Superbly trained, the sword was already coming back around in a killing arc.

They collided. Sullivan took every bit of Power he had and let it all go at once, channeling it through his body, increasing gravity’s strength, bellowing at the world to pull them down under the strength of fifty Earths. The swordsman gasped as the magnificent force crushed down on him. He fired his own Power, and Sullivan could feel his own hammering like bombs against a bunker as the two magical forces slammed together. The floor beneath splintered and exploded, and the two dropped through, hitting the next floor down without even slowing, blowing through landing after landing, ten stories in an every quickening cascade, until they crashed through a series of pipes and into the concrete of the foundation.

Still Rokusaburo’s Power held, invulnerable, struggling, taking the impossible force. The foundations cracked and turned to powder under the pressure, but Sullivan kept pushing. The walls bent. The lights crackled and died. Sullivan could feel something burning beneath the swordsman’s clothing, some other alien source of Power that he was drawing upon to sustain his invulnerability. Then finally, inexorably, he felt his enemy weaken. Rokusaburo screamed in frustration. His Power flickered like a flame deprived of oxygen, and then it was extinguished.

The full impact of Sullivan’s Power hit him then, and Rokusaburo was just gone, replaced by a sudden pressurized red mist that instantly coated the entire basement.

Sullivan lay there for a moment as the world returned to normal. It took a few seconds before he could breathe again. He slowly pulled himself out of the dripping crater, and spit a mouthful of blood that he was relatively certain was his own. His Power was gone. He’d never felt so tired. Gradually realizing that he was bleeding, he mashed one big hand against his torn arm, but the blood just leaked between his fingers.

The Japanese sword was twisted like pretzel and embedded in the floor. The damaged boiler was hissing and screaming. It hurt to turn his head, and he was certainly no boiler mechanic, but all those gauges breaking and steam shooting out like that had to be a bad thing.

A grey shape fell through the broken ceiling and the Fade landed softly next to the indentation. He took in the majestic mess in awe, then looked down at his shoes in disgust and kicked away something that had probably been one of Rokusaburo’s more elastic organs. He paused long enough to pick up a piece of the broken sword. “Souvenir,” he explained with a smile, then noticed the hissing boiler. “Come, my large friend. I believe this building is going to fall down on our heads very soon.”         

Sullivan didn’t know if he could trust the German, but he was too tired to argue.

Chapter 6 –

The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – Chapter 4

The 7 days of snippiting rampage continues.  I would have posted this late tonight, but I’m going out with professional ghost hunters this evening, so I’m posting early.  It is unknown if I will get my own unlicensed nuclear reactor at this point or not, but if I do, I promise not to cross the streams.  So please enjoy Chapter 4.  Once again, if you like this sample, feel free to share.  Comments are welcomed.

And if you are just tuning in, I’m posting the first seven chapters, a chapter a day, of my upcoming alternative history/fantasy novel Hard Magic, the first book of The Grimnoir Chronicles.  It will be published by Baen Books in 2011. 

Chapter 1:

Chapter 2:

Chapter 3:



I do not know why almighty God saw fit to give to man, within this very decade, magics of the elements and a quickening of the mind, Powers beyond reason and comprehension, and spells of energy and the spirit, when we were already so poised to destroy ourselves on our own. We enter tumultuous times. Left to our own devices I believe that I could stay this nation’s course, to hold this Union firm, but now I fear. Only five years have passed since the magicians began to appear seemingly at random from our people and I know not where this path will lead.

Oh why, Lord, did you see fit to give that accursed Stonewall Jackson the strength of ten?   

Abraham Lincoln, Document discovered in the Smithsonian Archives, date unknown






Chapter 4


Merced, California 


Faye’s foot hurt with every step, but she was a girl on a mission, and she had a train to catch.

Gilbert Vierra, Grandpa’s son, who was really more like an older brother to her than anything, had found Faye passed out in the yard. He’d gotten her foot washed out with iodine and stitched shut before she had even come to.

The law had gotten there soon after, but the sheriff had been useless. Merced County was a sleepy place, and a murder investigation was over their head. Nobody knew the three dead men and it didn’t help that they’d all been burned along with the Vierra’s home. A few people at Potter Field had seen the one-eyed man arrive, but no one knew who he was, only that he had chartered a flight from back east and the others had been waiting for him to arrive. The law was on the lookout, but somehow she knew he would evade them easily.

She was bitter, angry, and alone.

The family was gone. With the farm ruined, there was nothing left for them in California. The land, cows, and equipment would be sold and they would go to work on relatives’ farms. Gilbert had asked Faye to come with them, but she knew that the one-eyed man was still out there, and she couldn’t bear to put the others in danger.

So now she found herself at the train station, limping along the platform, ticket in hand, her worldly possessions in a satchel tied around her back, and Grandpa’s little pouch under her shirt. It was no longer that odd for a young woman to travel on her own, and even if it had been, she wouldn’t have let that stop her. She was going to take care of Grandpa’s dying wish.

Gilbert had wanted to help, but he had a young wife and four small children, now homeless, counting on him. He had not known about the pouch, nor had he ever heard his father talk about anything from his past that would suddenly cause a gang of killers to show up on their doorstep. Gilbert had given her the huge sum of $240, which was all of the family savings he dared spare. It represented a fortune to Faye, and was nearly half the cost of an automobile.

The first few dollars went to purchase the train ticket to San Francisco, and then another ten was spent at the hardware store for a used Iver Johnson revolver and a box of fifty .32 S&W cartridges. The owner had sold tools to Grandpa for twenty years, and promised her that it worked fine, but she went behind the shop and shot two cylinders worth of ammunition into an old stump to make sure. Grandpa had taught her how to use a shotgun, but the revolver was a lot harder to aim. It was loud and kind of scary, but she hit wood most of the time.

The stubby little gun fit snuggly in the pocket hidden in the pleats of her traveling skirt. She just knew she would see the one-eyed man again, and when she did, she was going to pretend he was that stump behind the hardware store.

Grandpa’s bag had a strange mechanical implement inside. It was a bunch of metal cylinders twisted together inside a wire frame. It looked like it was part of something bigger, like an engine. The mystery object fit in the palm of her hand, and she couldn’t understand what could possibly make it worth killing people over. There was a hole in the top where the other part she had lost had probably gone, and a slot in the bottom where it had to connect to something bigger. A few words had been stamped on the back. N. TESLA. 1908 WARDENCLYFFE GEO-TEL. MK.1.

Faye listened to the radio. She knew that Tesla was the brilliant Cog inventor who had designed many incredible things, including the amazing Peace Ray that had ended the Great War, and that kept all nations at peace today. The news said that the rays had made it so that there could never be a big war again. Maybe Grandpa’s device was a part of a Peace Ray? The radio had always talked about those things in hushed tones. She had never seen one, but knew there were mighty fortress towers on the coasts, guarded by hundreds of soldiers and fleets of balloons. But how had Grandpa got a piece of one? All he had ever done was milk cows.

There had been one other thing in that bag, a scrap of old paper with a few words, a rough map and an address in San Francisco. She did not know who J. Pershing, B. Jones, R. Southunder, or S. Christiansen were supposed to be, but Gilbert had told her that the Presidio was some sort of army base right on the ocean.

The train pulled into the Merced station nearly twenty minutes late and Faye boarded, alone but determined.

Faye did not know exactly what she was going to do when she got to the spot on the map, but she would figure it out when she got there. She was Portuguese now, and Grandpa had always told her what brave explorers their people had been. 


Chicago, Illinois

Jake Sullivan had slept most of the last couple of days, trying to shake his miserable cold. He still felt like death warmed over when he walked out that evening. He didn’t know his way around the city, so he hailed a cab outside his hotel.

Staying in hotels had gotten to be second nature. He did not really have a home, other than a $10 a month rented room on top of a diner in Detroit. It was a place to sleep, stash some guns, his library, and served as his office, not that he’d had many regular clients lately. The money was tight for everyone, even for wives who would normally want their husbands tailed to check for mistresses. His only real work recently had been standing around intimidating the striking labor lines at the UBF factory, and J. Edgar’s assignments

Sure, there was always honest work to be had for a Heavy. Somebody like him was worth five normals on a construction crew, but that seemed too much like breaking rocks, and Sullivan had already had his fill of breaking rocks.

The cab smelled like Burma Cream. “Where too, buddy?”   

When Sullivan had a question that he couldn’t answer, it tended to just stick in his craw, bugging him, gnawing away until he figured it out. Hoover had lied to him and his own agents about Delilah, and he wanted to know why. Purvis had mentioned that she had been coming into town to do a job for the mob, so that was where he would start.

“Lenny Torrio’s place.” 


The speakeasy was in a warehouse near the new super-dirigible station. For something that was supposed to be a secret, it sure was busy, especially on a Saturday evening. There were two dozen automobiles parked inside the fence, including some Packards and even an expensive Dusenburg, plus there were three cabs waiting to drop off at the curb ahead of his and more coming up behind. The Chicago cops knew about this place, but the upper-crust needed a place to kick back.

Sullivan had traveled the country extensively since his parole. Prohibition was brutally enforced in some states, especially in the South and Midwest, and in others… not so much. It hadn’t been that long ago that one Eastern governor had promised to keep his state as wet as the Atlantic Ocean. The 18th Amendment was a joke from the start, and most everyone outside Kansas knew it. It was just American nature that when some authority told you that you couldn’t do something, that just made you want to do it all the more.

Sullivan was not much of a drinker by nature. Mostly because he was too cheap, and the only thing Prohibition had truly succeeded in doing was raising the price of booze. On the other hand, if somebody else was buying he was in favor of violating the Volstead Act as much as the next guy.

He followed a group of well-dressed men and women down the stairs to a large metal door. The others were far more presentable than he, the men in crisp $75 jackets and the dames in silk dresses with their hair in tight permanents. Sullivan looked a little ragged, since his good black suit had fallen through a train car, and so all he had left was his old brown suit, and it had already been unfashionable when he’d bought it used for $3 the day he’d gotten out of jail.  He waited his turn while they gave the password, some of the rich kids giving him the crusty eyeball.

The door opened and music spilled out. The sheiks went through the metal door and it clanged shut behind them. Sullivan waited a moment, then knocked.

A slot opened and two beady eyes scoped him. “Password?”

“I need to talk to Mr. Torrio.”

The eyes looked him over suspiciously. “You the law?”

“Do I look like the law?”

Apparently. “We got a dress code.” The bar slid back into place.

Sullivan just shook his head. He waited a moment, and then knocked again, harder this time. The slot opened.  “Password?”

Sullivan stuck a gold eagle through the hole. “Tell Mr. Torrio that Sullivan from the 1st Volunteer needs a minute of his time.”

The goon grumbled as he closed the peep. Sullivan pulled out his pack of smokes and settled down to wait. He had one on his lips when he remembered what the blonde, most likely a Mender, had said on the stolen dirigible. She’d certainly got the part about picking up a cold right. These things were supposed to be good for you, but Healers could see your insides… He frowned and put the cigarette back.

Maybe that was why he was so spun up about this case. There were enough magicals around nowadays that you were bound to have some in gangs. With the times being so tough, there were four times as many people making a living from crime as there was from carpentry, so you were bound to have Actives in there too. They had to make a buck, just like everybody else.

But this crew that picked up Delilah had been different. They weren’t just magical. They had all been hardcore Actives. The German had shadow-walked while being tossed around when every other Fade he knew could barely pull it off  taking their time without getting stuck in the wall. The Mouth and the Mover had been better at their Powers than any other he’d met. And the way the blonde had diagnosed him, she had to have been some sort of Healer, and those were so rare they were worth their weight in gold. Even a weak Passive Healer could write their own ticket, so it didn’t make any sense to have one slumming around in a gang.

Sullivan’s thoughts were interrupted when the door flew open. There were two burly toughs there. One leveled a Remington Model 8 rifle at his chest. The other had a Winchester pump and stuck it against his nose. Jake slowly raised his hands. “Bad time? ‘Cause I can come back later.”

“Mr. Torrio says he knew three Sullivans in the Volunteers,” the one with the shotgun said. “Which one is you?”

“Well, I ain’t the dead one. So I guess I’m the pretty one,” Sullivan answered. The goon pumped a round into the shotgun’s chamber for emphasis. “Jake… Sergeant Jake Sullivan. The one that saved Lenny’s sorry ass at Second Somme.”

The goombas exchanged glances, and finally the weapons were lowered. “You’s good. That’s what he said you’d say. Mr. Torrio will see you now.” He put one arm over Jake’s shoulder and steered him into a long brick hallway. The door slammed behind.

“Welcome to the Grid Iron.”


The club was about the ritziest thing Sullivan had seen. The exterior was a crumbling warehouse, but the inside was a palace. The brick walls had been covered in blue and white curtains, and an actual chandelier had been hung from the rafters. There had to be fifty folks on the dance floor, and double that sitting along the bar, drinking themselves stupid on quality Canadian booze.  The front of the space was filled with round tables and diners. The smell of fine cooking made Sullivan’s stomach rumble. The waiters were even wearing tuxes.

The back of the warehouse had a stage, and the music was both loud and good. A sparkling bridge spanned the stage over the band, darn near big enough to be an orchestra, and a long-legged dame was crooning a tune. She had great pipes.

One goon had remained at the door, and the other led Sullivan along the wall and up a flight of metal stairs. A balcony circled the room, and once at the top, they entered the private lounge, consisting of some leather couches overlooking Lenny Torrio’s kingdom. There were tables in darkness along the back, and Sullivan could make out a few shapes behind the glow of cigarettes. He had entered the inner sanctum.

There were two more muscle types camped at the top of the stairs. Jake saved them the trouble of the pat-down and handed over his spare gun. It was a beater Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38, but he couldn’t afford to replace his precious .45. “I’m gonna want that back,” Jake stated as the guard carried the revolver away.

Lenny Torrio was sprawled between two chippies in slinky gowns. He was wearing a red silk robe over his clothes. “Sarge! How you been?” he shouted in greeting. He snapped his fingers and the girls jumped up to leave. “Get outta here. Can’t you see I’ve got business to conduct?” He smacked one on the rump as they hurried away. “Have a seat. Have a seat!”

Sullivan settled his mass unto the couch across from Lenny. Physically, Lenny Torrio hadn’t changed much. He was still a skinny, bug-eyed, hyperactive type. The con was going bald now, but he’d slicked what was left over to one side in a failing attempt to hide it. “Hey, Lenny. Been a long time.”

“Sure has. You want a drink?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but clapped his hands. “Yo. Amish, get my boy a drink! What’re you waiting for?” Lenny turned back to Sullivan and frantically rubbed his nose. “Help these days… What can you do?”

Sullivan just nodded. “Nice robe… you supposed to be Rudolph Valentino?”

Lenny cackled, way too hard, slapping his knee. “You were always a crack up, Sarge. Mr. Truth, Justice, and the American way. Funny huh? That I’m on top of the world, and last I heard you were a slave to the feds.” A pair of glasses and a bottle were placed on the table between them by a cross-eyed man, who quickly hurried away. “How’s that treating you?”

“Pays the bills.”

“Good thing I’m a legitimate businessman.” Lenny poured them both a drink. “And Rockville? Is it as tough as everybody says?”

“Worse.” Sullivan took the whiskey, pounded it down in one gulp, and set the glass back on the table. It burned going down.  He’d never liked Torrio. The man was slime, always had been, always would be, and the only reason he’d been in the 1st was because a Brooklyn judge had given him the choice between serving his country or serving hard time, and for somebody like Torrio, that meant Rockville Special Prisoner’s Wing.

“So… you talk to Matthew lately?”

So that was why his door goons had asked him which Sullivan he had been. Torrio had always been scared of Jake’s big brother, and for good reason. He had been the meanest bastard in the 1st, after all. Sullivan shook his head. “You don’t want to go there. I ain’t my brother’s keeper.” He changed the subject. “Thanks for talking to me.”

“What? Just because you’d sell your own kind out to the government, I’m not supposed to entertain an old friend?”

Sullivan let the dig flow off him like water on a duck’s back. He didn’t rile easy. “My own kind? You mean crooks or Actives?”

Torrio shrugged. “Both. I heard why you went upriver, so in your case it’s the same thing. Guys like us are better than everybody else, so you got made an example. You should know that better than anybody, Sarge. We should be running this show, not them. Normals just keep us down. Times are gonna change though, I tell you that.”

Sullivan nodded like Lenny was just full of wisdom. He was full of something, but it sure as hell wasn’t wisdom. He scanned the room. The men at the tables weren’t clearly visible, but they were far enough not to eavesdrop over the music. The one named Amish was standing with arms folded about ten feet away. “I need some information…” Sullivan paused, frowning, as he sensed the intrusion. “And tell your boy to get out of my head before I open his.”

Lenny was surprised that his man had been caught, but he played it like he was offended. He turned toward the cross-eyed man. “Amish! Are you trying to Read my guest?”

“Sorry, boss,” the man replied sheepishly. 

“Beat it, retard!” Torrio threw his glass at the goon, missed, and it shattered on the far wall. The goon scurried away. “Sorry about that. You know how it is.”

“Yeah. I know how it is.” He decided to get right to the point. “I heard Delilah was coming to do a job for you.”

“Who’s asking? You? Or J. Edgar Hoover?”

“Just me.”

Torrio shook his head. “I got no idea what you’re talking about.”

Sullivan leaned back on the couch. Let the games begin. “I can’t afford to pay for information, Lenny. I don’t give a damn about the government, and they don’t know I’m here. I got lied to about Delilah, and I want to know why.”

“I make my living by knowing what’s going on, Sarge. That’d be like me asking you to… I don’t know… lift something heavy for free.” 

“I saved your life.”

Torrio snorted. “Are you kidding? You didn’t go out of your way for just little old me. You saved everybody you could. I just happened to be one of them.”

“You did happen to be one of them,” Sullivan said. “Remember that, and every time you look around your fancy club, and your fancy whores, and your fancy booze, you should remember that you should be too busy being dead to enjoy any of it.”

“I worked hard for what I got.”

“And you’d be fertilizing a field in France if I hadn’t carried you, on my back, through a quarter mile of hell.”

The mobster seemed to think about that. “You know, Sarge, the Chicago family could use a tough man like you…”

“I just want to know about Delilah.”

“You were sweet on her back before Rockville, weren’t you? She sure was a babe.” Lenny’s teeth seemed too big when he smiled. “Gotta be nice for a guy like you to have a girl he can’t break on accident.”  

Sullivan was tiring of this. Maybe it was just the cold giving him a headache, but he was about done with the mobster’s nonsense. “My business is none of your business.”           

Torrio sighed. “All right… for old time’s sake. But then we’re even, and I don’t ever want to see you again. Capishe? Talking to somebody like you hurts my reputation. I show weakness and that asshole Capone will run me out in a box.” He paused to pour himself another shot, got confused as to where his glass had gone, so took Sullivan’s instead. “The Grimnoir was looking for her, but she was on the run. They paid me to find her. I got her to come out of hiding so they could pick her up. Looks like they did, though from what I heard, you gave them one hell of a fight.”

The name meant nothing to him. “What’s a Grim Nor?”

The mobster downed his drink. “Not Nor. Nwarr. You’d think you’d spent enough time in France to not butcher everything. But they ain’t French as far as I can tell. That’s just what they call themselves. I don’t know who they are, real secret bunch, but they seem to know everybody, and their money is green and there’s lots of it. I think they’re some sort of crew, but they’re connected, big time.”

“What did they want with Delilah?”

“Beats me. The one I talked to said they were on the same side and wanted to protect her. Delilah was hiding out up north. The law’s been hunting her since she killed those lugs that went after her.”

The Chicago agents had been told the five mutilated corpses had belonged to innocent victims of her rampage. That had never sounded like Delilah’s style. “Who were they?”

Torrio looked at Sullivan like he was thick. He licked his teeth. “You got no idea what you’re getting into, do you?”

“You know us Heavies are dumb, Lenny. Humor me.”

“They were men you don’t want to cross, Sullivan. When they missed her, they stuck the law on her. Nobody messes with them. Not the feds, not the mob, not the army. They’re bad news. That’s all I’m saying.” He thumped his glass back down and stood. “You need to get out of here, and stay out of this if you know what’s good for you.”

Sullivan stayed seated. The couch was comfy. “So… you told this Grimnoir bunch which blimp Delilah would be on. Was that before or after you told the Bureau of Investigation?” Lenny’s face slipped for a second as he said that, and that second told Sullivan he had called it right.

Torrio composed himself, playing offended. “You calling me a snitch?”

“The BI prefers the term informant,” Sullivan smiled. “How much was the reward on that? Here you are, giving me lip about working for the Man… At least I’m honest about it. I like to pick one side and stick to it. But you… you were always good at playing all the sides.”

“Get out of my club.” Torrio’s robe whipped dramatically as he pointed at the stairs.

Sullivan stood. “See you ‘round, Lenny.”


Lenny Torrio waited until Sullivan had picked up his piece and was escorted out before summoning his imp. The spindly little creature crawled out of the shadows under the couch and clambered onto the table. Half monkey, half reptile, its bat-face opened in a hideous grin of jagged black teeth as it waited for the evening’s orders.

“Follow him,” Lenny ordered. “I want to know where he sleeps.”

The imp shrieked, leapt from the table and scurried up the bricks and out the nearest barely-open window. Spreading leathery wings, it disappeared into the night. Lenny poured himself another shot as his guest inevitably joined him. The Oriental had been waiting patiently in the darkened recesses of the balcony. The man made Lenny uncomfortable because he just stood there, like he was at attention or something. “What?”

“Will this man be an issue?” His English was perfect.

Jake Sullivan was probably the stubbornest, most single-minded, unwavering, bravest, and therefore dumbest son of a bitch Lenny had ever met. “Probably. He was asking about your outfit, about those men the Brute girl killed.”

“What does he know?” 

“Not much. He hadn’t even heard of the Grimnoir.”

The man nodded. “So…You told him then?” There was a thinly veiled threat in the words.

“Not about you people, of course,” Lenny sputtered. “I’m not stupid. Look, if I had known you wanted Delilah, I would have turned her over to you, and not them. That wasn’t my fault. I’ve got my sources looking for these Grimnoir people and the other two men you want, and as soon as I hear anything, you’ll be the first to know. Your boss can take that to the bank.”

The Japanese man raised a single eyebrow. “The Chairman will be pleased to hear that, and you will be exceedingly well-paid for your services. By the way…”  He reached into his suit and removed a heavy pouch. It clinked as it hit the table and a few octagonal gold coins spilled out. “Your source in California was correct. We found Traveling Joe, but we still desire something that was in his possession. Part of a device. It was missing.”

Lenny nodded as he took the piece of paper, examining it briefly. It was part of a mechanical drawing way beyond his understanding. He stuck it in his robe with one trembling hand. “I’ll see what I can do.” Lenny Torrio could find anyone or anything, because that’s what he did, that’s what had made him a powerful man. He was the best Finder in the business.  

“Is there any chance that this man would be willing to be in the Chairman’s service?”

“Hardly.” Torrio laughed, then stifled it quickly. “No offense intended of course. But old Jake has always been set in his ways. He sees things real simple in black and white, and once he sets his course, you can’t sway him.” 

“An admirable quality. Alert me when your demon returns. Your friend is too curious and will need to be dealt with. I will require the services of your staff.” He bowed slightly before returning to his table.

Lenny tried to pour himself another drink, but his hands were shaking too bad, and he spilled a bunch of the expensive hooch on the table. His old pal, Sullivan, had been right. He had a knack for playing more than one side. Unfortunately he’d just been drafted by the worst side of all, and there wouldn’t be any turning back now.  “Sorry, Sarge.” He finally gave up and took a long drink from the bottle. “This is just business.”

Chapter 5:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,530 other followers