Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 8

Episode 8 - Who Will Sing... and Who Will Swing?
by Camille LaGuire

We found the piano man in the hall of his hotel, a suitcase in his hand, sneaking toward the stairs.  When he saw us, he ran back to his room and tried to slam the door shut, but I threw myself against the door and slammed it back open.

That bowled him over, and Casey jumped on top of him.

"Please! No! I won't say a word!" he cried, covering his face.  "Don't shoot!"

"We ain't here to kill you," I said, and I kicked the door shut.

He didn't look like he believed me.  He looked up at Casey like a mouse looks at a snake.  Which, to be fair, was appropriate, since she was looking at him like a snake looks at a mouse.

"So what word won't you say?" I asked, as I  picked up his suitcase and emptied it on the bed, and started poking through the contents.  He didn't answer, maybe because he had just promised not to talk.

I found what I was looking for, hidden in the middle of a bundle of handkerchiefs.  Two letters, a little rumpled.  One for Miss Clarice and one for Madame Olenka.  Addressed and in French.  I held them up.

He kinda shrunk into his jacket like a turtle.  Casey, who was still sitting on him, bounced on his chest hard, and he un-shrunk real fast.

"You can have those," he said.  "I...I was going to burn them."

I squatted down next to him.

"What do these letters say?"

"Madame Olenka is from some little town in Indiana, and Mademoiselle Clarice is from Hatchetville, Missouri."

For a minute I couldn't see why that mattered, but then I figured it out.

"They ain't French!" I said.

"Clarice isn't French.  Olenka isn't Russian.  The letters are from the guy who teaches people to speak French and act like royalty.  They're fakes."

"They ain't fake if they can sing," said Casey.

"I agree," said the piano man.  "In regular show business, nobody's who they say they are.  It's part of the act.  But opera, that's almost society.  The Great Henri is not interested in hicks who can sing."

"So which one's trying to kill you?"

"I don't know.  I really don't," said the piano man, nearly breaking into sobs.  "I only left them a couple notes in their music, telling them to leave money on the piano. I didn't even sign it. I didn't know they knew it was me."

"Where'd you get the letters?"

"I found them in Clarice's dressing room. The teacher gave them both to her. That letter to Olenka is a letter of introduction for Clarice, asking for a job for her.  I don't think she ever used it. She just kept it to blackmail Olenka."

The piano man didn't know anything more, so we told him to keep the door locked until we got it sorted out, and left.

"It was Clarice," said Casey, "she was the one lying."

"Yeah," I agreed.  Most likely it was Clarice.  But I was thinking on all that confusion in the opera house.  All those people running around, it was quite a trick to hide Rufus and stab him and not be seen.  I stopped.  "Or maybe both of them."

"How you figure that?"

"They had me chasing all over the opera house, all distracted. They couldn't have done a better job if they had been working together."

"They hate each other."

"They're fakes.  Maybe that's fake too."

Casey let out a string of oaths that would take the paint off the walls.  "If it's both of them, then nobody's going to sing!"

She stalked off down the stairs.  I followed real quick, wondering if it was time to apologise, but she ducked past me before I could. Just then Mr. Henri came back from talking to the sheriff.  He looked tired and distracted, but Casey jumped into his way.

"Can you sing?" she said.

He looked surprised and then gave us a little smile and a shrug, kinda smug like.

"Bien sûr," he said.  "I have some talent, madame.  But if you will excuse, I must rest.  The sheriff is a difficult man. I am all of a frazzle."

Casey glowered at him as he trotted up the stairs.  She grumbled something, but I wasn't really listening.  All of a sudden, I had an idea floating in my head, but I couldn't quite grab on to it.

Casey had my arm and was hauling me toward the hotel parlor, saying something about wanting to get Clarice anyway.  I pulled back and blinked at her, as my idea finally settled in and let me grasp it.

"What?" she said.

"Casey," I began, "if you were French...."

"Well I ain't French," she snapped.  "And I never will be!"

I looked at her and spent a moment juggling my new idea with her reaction.

"That wasn't what I meant," I said.

"Oh," she said, settling down.  Now I'd lost track of what I'd been about to say.

"Okay," I said.  "If you was...American."

"I am American."

"Okay, but if somebody who wasn't American came up to you and started speaking English, you'd know they weren't American, wouldn't you?"


I pointed up the stairs where Mr. Henri had disappeared.

"How come he didn't know Clarice wasn't French?"

Casey looked me straight in the eye for the first time in what seemed like ages.

"He ain't French."


"But why didn't the piano guy say anything about him?"

"Maybe he didn't know.  He didn't sign the notes he left around for the ladies.  So maybe he didn't put their names at the top either.  Maybe Henri found one and thought it was for him."

Casey was already running up the stairs. I chased after.

* * *

Well, we caught Henri before he killed the piano man.  He had talked his way in and nearly stuck a letter opener in the guy. And after Case took that letter open and started trimming Henri's mustache with it -- which must have hurt on account of it not being sharp, so most of those hairs were being pulled out by the root -- we got a full and tearful confession.

It was evening by the time we had got him to jail and everything sorted out with the sheriff. Casey slipped off somewhere.  I knew that if she didn't want to be found, I wasn't going to find her, but I went looking anyway.  I figured it was time for me to apologize, even if she didn't want to hear it. I'd rather have her pissed off than ducking me.

The opera house looked empty, but I checked the balcony and then backstage, and the dressing rooms.  I was just about to leave when I heard her voice.


She was standing in the shadow of the curtains, her hands in her back pockets, looking at me from under her hat.  She kept glancing down, and her face was kind of pink.  I almost asked her if she had put some rouge on it, because her lips were a little more red than usual too, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.  She was working herself up to something.

So I stood there with my hands in my back pockets, looking just as uncertain, but probably not as pink.  Finally she sidled up closer, her arm just against mine.  She didn't look up, and she still had trouble coming up with what she wanted to say. So finally I talked.

"I may get distracted," I said.  "But nobody can distract me like you can.  You don't even have to try."

She took a deep breath, and nodded.  That was what she wanted to know.

"I love you," she said, flat, like how you'd tell somebody they had a spot on their shirt.  It wasn't something she said very often.  I would almost go as far as saying she never said it, but it wouldn't quite be true.  She just had a real hard time with it.  I smiled at her.

Then she punched me.  Hard.  In the pit of the stomach.  I staggered back and she waited until I had mostly caught my breath again.

"Would you like me better in a dress?" she asked.


"In a corset...?"


"Would you like me in a dress at all?"

She waited as I considered my options.

"Sure," I said.  It turned out to be the right answer.  And it was particularly good because it was true.  I like Casey any way she comes.  But I kinda like that she doesn't know that, even if it does get me into trouble sometimes.

I straightened up, took her by the shoulders and showed her just exactly what I had learned about kissing from that pretend French woman.  I think she liked it.  She didn't punch me again, anyway.

"You still want to hear them sing?" I said.

"Don't matter," she said.  "They won't."

"Sure they will."  I pulled out the two letters from my pocket.  "They don't want me sending these letters to that opera company in Chicago."

I didn't tell her that I had also told Clarice that she didn't have to sing, if she didn't want to, since Olenka had promised to give us the best singing anybody had ever heard.  It wasn't true, but it was enough to get Clarice to declare she was going to be the star of the concert. And when Olenka heard that, she wasn't going to let anybody out do her.

So, in the end, we got ourselves a fine concert, with two ladies singing their hearts out.  The most beautiful thing I ever heard, other than Casey saying "I love you."  Even so, I suppose it wasn't really opera.  Not a whole opera.  One day we're going to hear that.

And that concludes our little story. 
"Story Notes" about the writing of this to appear Thursday, April 4.

The next serial - The Case of the Misplaced Baroness - will start in  late April.

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 7

Episode 7 - But Which One?
by Camille LaGuire

So it had to have been someone inside the opera house.


I supposed there were a dozen ways I could be wrong.  Maybe, when the piano man had tried to leave, he'd flipped that backward lock around wrong and then I'd flipped it back wrong, and so the door hadn't locked.  Or maybe that "partner" the sheriff was looking for had been hiding in the closet too, before I locked the door, and he only went out later, after he stabbed Rufus.

But I was thinking maybe that didn't matter.  Maybe the question to ask wasn't who hired Rufus to shoot, but who Rufus was shooting at.

"Case!" I called again.  "Where was Rufus standing?" I pointed to a spot at the middle of the balcony.  "Right about there, wasn't he?"

Casey shook her head and pointed to the railing in front of her.

"Here," she said.  "Powder on the rail."

I nodded and looked back at the stage.  I tried to picture where folks were when we had first walked in.  They had all be standing still, and then they all moved just before the shot.

"He didn't like moving targets," I called back to Casey, as I jumped up on the stage.

"Or bein' seen," she added. She hunkered down, so that she was just peeking over the rail like Rufus might have.

I went and stood where Clarise had been.  Casey pointed her finger at me like it was a gun.  She looked awful serious about that aim, and I was reminded that I was in trouble with her.  I kinda hoped she was imagining that she was aiming at Clarise, rather than me.

"And just before the shot, she went over there," I said, and I moved across the stage like Clarise had.  I stopped where she had been standing when the shot rang out and hit the music she'd had in her hand.

Casey's finger didn't follow me so well.  She was resting her hand on the railing -- as Rufus might have done, he not being a steady shot. He was also a fellow who liked to take his time in aiming.  Casey shrugged and scowled -- that shot didn't feel right.

I went over and stood where Olenka had been and moved like she had.

"The ladies were too far away for the shot to end up where it was," said Casey.

"Maybe he tried to follow them and overshot."

"What about the mustache?" she said, meaning Henri.

Mr. Henri had been sitting in a chair on the floor, and had got up and moved forward.  He would have been at the same angle from Rufus the whole time.  I did as he had done.  Casey kinda frowned over that one.

"Maybe," she said.  "But you're taller than he is.  And he would have had to aim down a lot more to hit him when he was sitting."

All the same, Henri made the most sense.  The ladies were competing hard over him.  If one of them thought that he liked the other one better, she just might want to kill him....

But there had been one more person on that stage.  The one who had looked up and seen it coming.  The only one to move away from the shot, when he ducked.  I went over to the piano, and put my finger on the hole in the wood.  Casey squinted and aimed her finger at it. I sat down on the bench like I was playing the piano and I turned around, and saw Casey aiming right at me.

"Piano man," she said.

I agreed.  Most likely, the person Rufus was aiming at had been the piano man.

"Why?" she said.

"Not sure," I admitted.  "He don't seem to care much for any of them, and they don't pay him any mind at all.  But he was nervous all right, and so he probably knows why.  And maybe who.  Don't know why he didn't say anything, though."

Casey swung over the railing and landed in a crouch in the middle of the floor.

"He'll say something," she said ominously.  And I remembered how we were sure that Rufus would say something when she caught him... before he got stabbed.

"Case," I said.  "If somebody's out to kill him, this would be the best time to do it.  The sheriff's looking for somebody else.  And nobody's looking for one of them being the killer."

We ran out of that opera house in a flying tumble, hoping we weren't too late.

Stay Tuned For Episode 8 - "Who Will Sing... and Who Will Swing?"
Available after 8am EST, on Thursday, March 28

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 6

Episode 6 - No Reward For Rufus
by Camille LaGuire

The blood did not belong to any of the opera folk.  They all popped out to see what was going on as soon as Miss Clarice screamed.  The sheriff had Casey round them all up and keep them up front.

Meantime, the sheriff and a deputy tried to get the door open.  As nobody was complaining from the other side, I figured there wasn't that much of a hurry, but my opinion wasn't wanted.  They eventually sent for the opera house manager, who came huffing in a little bit later, apologizing because he hadn't been able to find his keys, and had to dig out another set.

"Mabye somebody stole them," I said.

The sheriff elbowed me, like I should stay out of it.  The manager looked alarmed and then looked down at the blood on the floor and looked more alarmed.  The sheriff took his keys and unlocked the door of the closet.

Inside the closet was old Ring-neck Rufus.  Dead as dirt.  Somebody had shoved a knife up under his breastbone and into his heart.  He must have gone fast, but he still bled out pretty good.

This time it was the manager who nearly fainted.  I hauled him around the curtain to the stage, where the opera folks were waiting with Casey.  I noticed that they were all sitting still for her.  Maybe it was the sight of blood, but I thought it was more the look of blood in her eye.

The sheriff joined us a moment later, wiping his hands and nodding his head.

"It's pretty clear what happened," he said.  "The bolt on that back door is set to twist in the wrong direction, and Mick here thought he was locking the door but he really left it unlocked."

"No, sir," I said. "I noticed it twisted wrong and I locked it."

"Don't want to hear it!" snapped the sheriff.  So I shut my mouth and he went on.  "Rufus wouldn't do something like that on his own.  Somebody must have hired him. And I expect when Rufus ran, he met up with his fellow and maybe told him how he'd screwed up.  That might have been enough motive right there, but this partner also would have been worried that Rufus would talk once he was caught."

"Yes!" said Mr. Henri.  "That is what Monsieur Mick said -- we would know everything when his magnificent wife caught the fellow."

He looked at me with a smile, and the sheriff shot me a glance that said he'd rather my name didn't come up again.

"Anyway," he continued.  "This partner had to get rid of Rufus, so he brought him back in here and knifed him and shoved him in the closet.  And slipped back out into the alley."

"Where you folks were searching," I said.  "How'd he get past you?"

"It was after we had moved on from the alley.  Had to be."

I supposed that was possible but it didn't set right.

"What I need from you folks," the sheriff went on, "is the straight story of who might want to kill you, or at least scare you."

For a moment they all murmured and glanced at each other, until finally Henri coughed and said something about a lovely lady in the previous town who had a jealous husband.

"I meant nothing," said Henri.  "Beautiful women are to be admired!"

"And what about her?" added Madame Olenka with a glance at Clarice. "She threw herself at that man with the angry wife, did she not?"

"What about you, you cow?" said Clarice with enough venom to make a rattlesnake feel inadequate.  Olenka shrugged and fanned herself.

"There are always jealousies," Olenka admitted.  "But I have no need to throw myself at anyone to cause them."

"I'm sure you ladies have your rivals," said the sheriff.  "But no lady could pull a crime like this."

I glanced at Casey, and I could see she was fingering her knife, but I couldn't tell if she was looking at him or me.  No, she was looking at Clarice.  But the sheriff told Mr. Henri he wanted to know more about the this fellow he'd made jealous, and he sent all the other opera folk back to their hotel.

Case and I were left alone.

Casey went off to the balcony to be by herself. She did that when she felt bad, which made me feel extra bad.  But I couldn't help but feel I did not deserve quite as much disgust as I was getting -- well, maybe I did from her, but not from the sheriff.

I had locked that door.  And it wasn't the kind of bolt you could unlock with a key.  Only someone on the inside could have unlocked it.  I remembered how the piano man had tried to leave, and I wondered for minute if he had got messed up by the backward lock and had managed to lock it rather than unlock, and I was distracted enough, maybe then I flipped it back, thinking I was locking it when I really unlocked it.

I didn't think I'd done that, but....  But maybe it didn't matter.

"Case!" I called.

"What?" she yelled back from up in the balcony.

"You didn't find any sign of Rufus in the alley?"

She came up to the railing and leaned over to look at me closer.

"No!" she called back.  "What're you thinking?"

"If he'd been back there, you'd have caught scent of him.  Sheriff might have lost him, but you wouldn't."


"So when Rufus ran, he must have run right around to the back door and come back in, before we even got to the alley to look for him."

"Why would even Rufus do a fool thing like that?"

"Like the sheriff said: He ran to his partner for help. And that partner was somebody in this building.  It was one of the opera folks themselves."

Stay Tuned For Episode 7 - "But Which One?"
Available after 8am EST, on Thur

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 5

Episode 5 - French Literature
by Camille LaGuire

Casey was keeping her look neutral, so I shifted my weight and waited for Olenka to say more.

"Clarice leaves threats for me sometimes," said the lady in a low, confidential voice.  "She has a letter of mine.  It is from a man other than Henri.  This man loves me, and Henri would not understand....  Do you read French?"

"No," I said.

"Well, the letter is addressed to me, so that should be clear it is mine.  I will pay you twenty dollars if you get it for me."

I thought about that.  I wasn't sure we were getting the straight story, but it sounded interesting.  I looked at Casey.  She gave me a little shrug without looking at me, so she was still mad, but she didn't object.  Maybe she wanted to get back at Clarice.

"We'll do it," I said.  "...but not for twenty dollars."

"Well, thirty?"

"No money.  You gotta sing."

Casey straightened up a little.  Yep, that's what she wanted.  I turned to Olenka and, and damned if that woman wasn't looking sour, like singing was the last thing in the world she wanted to do.

"Why not?" I said.  She shrugged and turned back to her mirror and started playing with her powderpuff and combs and things.  Because of the mirror, though, she really couldn't avoid looking at me.

"I...sprained my voice," she said.  "When that man shot his gun.  I screamed...."

"You did not.  The other gal did, but you didn't."

She looked at me in the mirror, reluctantly.  She sighed and turned around again.

"It is difficult to sing for people who do not appreciate...."

"We ain't good enough?" said Casey.  She uncrossed her arms, and stood like she was about to draw.  The lady narrowed her eyes, and made a little shrug.

"Perhaps," she said, "I will sing from sheer joy if I have the letter in my hand."

"You get the letter after you sing," I said.  "That's it.  It's the only deal."

The lady sighed and shrugged.  "If I must, I must."

It seemed to be a deal.

Casey was already out the door, and I found her in the hall, staring hard at the door of Miss Clarice's dressing room.  As I came up to her, she twisted around slow and looked at me with the scariest look on her face I ever saw.  I nearly took a step back.

"Okay, Sugar Lips," she said. "You lure her out of that room and distract her and I'll search it."

I did not like this plan.  But Casey didn't leave me any time to come up with a better one.  She reached out and knocked lightly on the door.

"Entrez!" came the voice of Miss Clarice.  Casey reached over and pulled the door open while staying behind it, out of sight. I didn't have any choice but to step into the room.

I thought quick and decided furtive was the way to go. I put a finger to my lips and hunched down.  Miss Clarice took a quick glance behind me, didn't see anybody, and gave me a mischievous smile.

"I need to talk to you," I whispered.  "But she might overhear."

I pointed toward Madame Olenka's dressing room, and Clarice smiled slyly.  I backed out of the room, looked both ways like I was watching out for trouble.  Trouble, as it happened, was well-concealed behind the door where she wouldn't be seen.

Miss Clarice followed me out, and I hustled her around the corner into the little hall that led to the back door.

It was a narrow space, and Clarice smiled, and reached up to caress my chest. In that moment I changed my mind on how I was going to handle it.  I shoved her away, down the hall where she was trapped.  Her face turned pink enough to match her rouge.

"You were not so unfriendly before," she said.

"Well, that's 'cause I'm slow," I said.  I backed her up another step, and said:  "So where's that letter?"

"I don't know.  What letter do you mean?"

"The one that belongs to Madame Olenka."

"Ha!  She is a liar.  She has my letter."

"Oh, it's your letter," I said.  "What's it about?"

"It is nothing, and indiscretion.  This man is in love with me, and he wrote a letter...."

"And Mr. Henri might not understand."


"It's in French, too, I bet."

"Yes, it is.  Can you read French?"

"No, but I'm sure it's addressed to you so if I saw it I would know it."

"Would you find it for me?  Could you?  I would be grateful.  I would make you very happy if you did...."

"That won't be hard to make me happy," I said.

She smiled and slipped forward, all friendly.  I poked her back, and leaned in.

"All you have to do is make my wife happy."

Her eyes got wide.  "How?" she said.

"You gotta sing in that concert tonight."

She had the same look on her face that Madame Olenka did.  Exactly the same.

"You sprain your voice?"

"Why, yes, I did."  She put her hand to her throat, and looked guilty.

"Tell me the honest truth.  Did you two ladies hire Rufus to take that shot just so you wouldn't have to sing tonight?"

"No," she said.  "But it would have been a good idea."

She sidled up to me like she was going to kiss me again.  I straightened up and tried to think of how keep stalling her, without shooting her or getting any more rouge on me.

But it turned out I didn't need a stall.  Just as she put her hands up to my shoulders, the door behind her opened up.

It was the sheriff.

"Why the hell is this door unlocked!" he said.

"But it was locked," I said.  It was only then that I realized I should have asked Casey how she had got into the building, seeing as the doors were both bolted from the inside.  I had thrown those bolts myself.

The sheriff slammed the door shut and locked it.  "You been standing here guarding the door the whole time?"

"No sir," I said, and I recounted just what I'd done to secure the building.  He gave me a look like I was the lowest fool he ever saw.

"It ain't locked," he said, pointing back to the door.  "And Rufus must have come back in this way.  It's the only place he coulda gone."

Clarice gave a squeal and grabbed onto me for safety, while the sheriff went stomping around the corner.

"You make sure those opera folk are all safe," he called back to me.  "I'm going search this place again and--"

He stopped, so sudden Clarice and I ran into the back of him.  He was looking down at the floor, and I looked down too.
There was a little pool of blood seeping out from under the door of one of the closets.

"That door was locked too," I said.  "I think."

The sheriff reached out and yanked on the handle, but it didn't budge.  Miss Clarice, in the meantime, let out a scream and fainted right into my arms.

Available after 8am EST, on Thur

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 4

Episode 4 - My Name Is Dirt
by Camille LaGuire

Casey stood there for just a second, arms crossed, while I scratched my head and shuffled my feet.

"I...I'm sorry?" I said.

She made a little face and then just walked right past me, around the end of the curtain to get to the stage.

"Casey, are you mad at me?"

"No," she said, and she kept going without looking back.

The thing is, Casey doesn't lie.  Not unless she's making a joke, which she doesn't do much, and this time she sure wasn't.

It's easy to forget that underneath the big hat, and the pair of sixguns and the big boots and spurs and sometimes bandaleros and chaps and the tough talk and all, there's a girl.  I forget sometimes that she's even younger than I am, because she doesn't seem so, and she's a lot more shy than she lets on.  She's a little gal in a big man's world, and she somehow manages to be tough when she isn't big or strong.

And I'm supposed to be the one watching her back.  And not just from bullets.

I had let her down.  I felt like a rat.  I was mad at myself, and I was mad at Clarice -- especially when I thought that she must have seen Casey coming up, and she pushed it anyway.  She was stomping on Casey's territory on purpose.

I followed Casey toward the stage, but she had actually gone to the end of the curtain where an extra fold gave her bit more privacy.  When she saw me she turned away.

"So," I said.  "I guess you found Rufus, then."
"No," she said, and she snapped it so hard I knew I wasn't the only one who let her down.  "Sheriff's still looking.  He's got some deputies, so he didn't need--"

 She cut herself off, but I knew what the sheriff didn't need.  A girl.  This day just wasn't turning out for Casey.

"I suppose you don't want to hear the opera now anyway," I said, trying to sound philosophical.

She turned half toward me, looking hard at my boots.

"Yes, I do."

"Well, they ain't gonna sing."

"Shit!" said Casey, and she kicked at the curtain.  It just fluffed around and caught on her spur.  She hopped there, cursing even worse, trying to get it unhooked.  I started to help, but she shoved me away.

"Why not? Because they got shot at?"

"It ain't a bad reason," I said.  I explained how Clarice wouldn't sing because she thought Madame Olenka was trying to kill her, while Casey tried to get her spur loose.  She couldn't because she had managed to kick up so high she couldn't raise her foot any to get unhooked.  I finally scooped her up, and she kicked loose, and I put her back down again.

"Maybe the other one will sing," she said, still not looking at me.  She punched the curtain aside and headed backstage again..  "Or if she's really trying to kill the other one, maybe we can hog-tie her and then Little Red Lips will sing."

* * *

Madame Olenka turned and looked at us wide-eyed when Casey kicked open the door to the other little dressing room.  She kept her cool pretty good, but I couldn't tell if she was just cool by nature, or if it was because she knew full well Rufus hadn't been aiming at her.

Casey crossed her arms and leaned back in a corner, glaring defensively at Madame Olenska.  I was supposed to do the talking, so I turned to the lady and scratched my head.

She was a beautiful woman too.  Older and a good bit heftier, but all woman, if you know what I mean.  But she wasn't interested in me, which was a good thing.

"Ma'am," I said.  "Do you know what's going on here?"

"It is sabotage!" said the lady.  She gestured with her powderpuff, and the room not being very big, I wound up with a splat of powder on my chest.  "Do you know what that is?"

"Yeah," said Casey, as I dusted myself off and sneezed.  The lady didn't listen to Casey, but kept talking.

"In Europe, if you want to stop a factory, you drop a sabot--a wooden shoe--in the machine.  And it stops.  She is dropping a shoe on me."

"Miss Clarice?"


"She says you're trying to kill her."

"Ha!  She would like you to believe that.  She would love for Henri to believe that."  She turned to Casey.  "Men are such fools.  No one is trying to kill anyone.  She hired that man herself."

I glanced at Casey, who straightened up in interest.  Madame Olenka powdered her chin and kept talking.

"Of course, Henri attempts to cultivate her.  One day I will stop singing.  But she refuses to learn.  She wishes to be the prima donna, to shine above all.  And to have Henri, but Henri is not interested in someone so trivial.  So she attacks me, and pretends to suffer.  She hires this man to shoot at her."

"That's a dangerous thing to do, don't you think?"

"She has the insanity of youth.  She doesn't think, except to scheme for what she wants."

Olenka turned and looked very closely at me.  She looked down at my guns, and then at my chest.

"You are not a sheriff."


"Not a lawman."


She looked at Casey, and Casey just looked back at her, arms crossed, eyes narrow.

"You..," she said and paused a long time. "You do things for hire, yes?  For reward?"

"Yeah," I said carefully, glancing at Casey.

"I would like to hire you for something perhaps not legal, but only for the good."

Stay Tuned For Episode 5 - "French Literature"
Available after 8am EST, on Thur

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Changes In The Blog

If you're expecting a Miss Leech cartoon, I'm sorry to say that she's going on holiday until September.  I've figured some things out, and I realize that it is necessary to make some changes right now.

I'm Changing The Blog. 

I have no idea if I'm going to do this for a month, or through the end of summer, or for the whole year.  It probably won't be beyond that, though.  Call it a sideways hiatus:

From now until ... sometime, this blog will be a fiction blog.  I will post three things:
  • Stories: mainly the Monday/Thursday episodes of serial novels.
  • Announcements: sales, new books, stories in magazines, breaks between serial stories, major life events (such as when I'll start regular blogging again)... stuff like that.
  • Story Notes: about stories posted here, or possibly on books in progress.

That's it.  The announcements and story notes will not be on a schedule -- they'll just appear when I have something to say.  The fiction will continue on Mondays and Thursdays.  I have drafts of many wonderful posts for you. They are going into a drawer until they get the perspective they need. I will undoubtedly add more drafts to the pile.

Why Am I Doing This?


I finally have the chance to focus.  Before I retired, I didn't have a Chance In Hell of achieving the focus I aimed for.  Since my retirement was, uh, a surprise for me, I had to take time to get past a lot of life-related distractions.  Now for the past few months I've been cutting down on the number of things I do, bringing myself down to the focus point.

I'm not there yet, so I'm going to keep cutting down until I get where I want to be with writing. 

Life changes are like global warming, or the demolition of a dam: they start slowly, almost imperceptably, but when they go, they go fast and certain.

I will keep you up to date now and then in the "announcements" posts, but until then:

Be brave.  Be fair.  Do good work.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 3

Episode 3 - Deep Trouble
by Camille LaGuire

The piano player stood off by his piano and clutched a folder of music sheets to his chest.  He was staring at the piano.  There was a hole in it.

When I went over to him, he told me his name was Dick, but he didn't want to talk. He wanted to leave.  I didn't blame him but I wanted to persuade him to stay and play piano for the concert.

Before I could start in on that, though, the fellow with the mustache came back from comforting the ladies.

"There will be no concert," he said sadly, in his bouncy French accent.  "It is too disastrous."

"Don't you worry, mister--"

"Monsieur Henri de Villefort.  I am the impressario," he said.  "You are the deputy?"

"Nope," I said.  "Name's Mick McKee.  The little lady who chased the fella out the window is my wife, Casey."

"Your wife!" he exclaimed, and for a minute he didn't seem to know what to say.  But he recovered fast.  "Ladies are so magnificent, are they not?"

"That one is," I agreed.  "And don't you worry about that gunman.  I know him.  He's dumb as a bag of hammers, and snivelly to boot.  My magnificent wife has probably caught him by now."

"Why would he do such a thing?"

"I don't know," I said, looking up at the balcony where he had been.  "He's too stupid to be crazy.  He had to think there was money in it.  Can you think of anybody who would pay him to give you folks trouble?"

"No!  Of course not. There is no trouble with us."

I saw the piano player's eyes slide over toward the curtain, where the ladies were hiding out.  I was thinking the same thing.

"Any jealousy over the ladies maybe?" I asked.

"Well, they are very beautiful," Henri admitted.  "Yes, perhaps, but I..."  He shrugged and his words drifted off.

"Well, if I know Rufus he'll tell us everything as soon as Casey gets her hands on him."

Henri was lost in his thoughts. He frowned back at the dressing rooms again.

"I should speak to Olenka," he said. "She will be upset that I reassured only Clarice."

He disappeared behind the curtain again and I called after him:  "You tell them it's all right!  It'll be safe to sing tonight. We'll see to it!"

I didn't hear any answer, just the sound of polite knock and a door.

Dick the piano guy reached over and hit a key on the piano. It made a funny scraping thunk sound. Must have been the wires that got hit by the bullet.

"We'll get you another piano," I said. "A good one."

"There won't be a concert," said Dick.

"I tell you, we'll catch him," I said.  "It'll be safe."

"Tell that to Clarice.  She is almost dead!" he said, mimicking her French accent.

"I"ll do that," I said. I went back behind the curtain and I found Miss Clarice just coming out of the door of her room.

"Ma'am," I said, tipping my hat.  "I just wanted you to know that you don't have to worry about a thing.  We're gonna catch him--"

"Are you the sheriff?" she said. Her voice had a pretty little lift to it, and so did her chin as she looked at me hopefully.

"No ma'am.  My name's Mick McKee.  I'm a gunslinger."

"You will protect me?"

"Well sure," I said. "That's what I'm here for.  To protect all of you."

"I am very frightened," she said, and she shrank back a little.  I naturally stepped forward and put a hand out to reassure her.  She grabbed my hand with both of hers.  "I cannot sing with people shooting at me.  I would die."

"You won't die, ma'am. We'll catch him."

"That would not stop her."

"Stop who?"

"Her!" she said, and she pointed toward the next room, thrusting her chest out in a way that I couldn't help but appreciate.  "She does not want me to sing.  Her voice, it is old and turning like a frog."

Madame Olenka's voice had not sounded all that bad to me.  What little I'd heard sounded better than Clarice, actually.  But I didn't say so.

"She knows that Henri favors me," she added, and that made some sense.  Clarice was younger, and though she was a bit skinny, she was awful pretty.  Awful pretty.

She came up closer and put a hand on my chest, looking up at me with those big eyes.  My heart started thumping, but it didn't seem like any of that blood was going to my head.  I blinked at her.

"You are very strong, Monsieur McKee," she said.

"Uh," I said.

"They call you Mick?  Don't they?"

"Uh...uh, yes, ma'am.  They do."   She smelled like flowers.  She put her other hand on my ribs, and began to slide it, ever so softly, around and down....

Then she kissed me.  They say that French people really know how to kiss, and she sure seemed to know.  She was a comfortable armful, but I was trying not to put my arms around her, just like I was trying to remember what it was I had meant to say.  I didn't succeed at all at the first, but I eventually managed the second as she slipped back and away from me.

"I'm, uh," I said.  Married.  The word was married.  It didn't make it out of my mouth.

She smiled and swayed back away from me, waving with her fingers, not at me, but at somebody behind me.  She slipped back into her room, and I turned around.

Casey was standing there, arms crossed.

"You've got rouge on your mouth," she said.

I did.  I could taste it.  But I reached up and wiped it off anyway, and looked at my hand.  Yep.  Red.

"She kissed me," I said.

"Yeah, I saw what a big fight you were putting up."

"Oh, hell," I said.

Stay Tuned For Episode 4 - "My Name Is Dirt"
Available after 8am EST, on Thur

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Update - Unpacking Life's Baggage

I didn't do the posts I wanted to do last week, and I might not do as much as I want this week.  The serial, with Mick and Casey and the Divas, will continue without interruption.  And you'll see the next Miss Leech cartoon (though the art may be rougher than it has been.)  I have no problem with creative work. 

I am having a problem with blogging -- I've got lots of things I want to say, but my mind seems to be processing too much.  Which is odd, except... well... here's what poured out of my head when I just sat down and opened a vein:

Brats and Day Dreams

I've really had it with brats.  The writing culture has always had it's share of them. The internet attracts them like flies to a festering wound. 

But right now I'm feeling really unusually intolerant of bratty behavior.  I can't even abide behavior that really is only moderate on the scale of brattiness -- things I've even done myself at times.  This is a sign of a very full gorge. My reaction is out of proportion.

Meanwhile, I find myself replaying an old day dream that I used to use to relieve stress about ten years ago.  I don't feel stressed, but I get an unusual amount of pleasure out of it even though it's not a particularly interesting day dream.  I haven't even been been adding new details to it to make it creative or new.  It just keeps playing for no reason whatsoever, occupying more of my time than it should.  It's like eating potato chips. I just keep dipping in again and again....

A ten year old day dream.

Ten years ago...ten years....

Ten years ago a particularly nasty gang of brats were running rampant at work.  They had staged a coup maybe a year or two before, and now the place was a hellhole.

They were incredibly destructive, but also incredibly incompetent.  (They would do things like hold required meetings in non-handicapper accessable buildings in hopes of punishing handicapped colleagues for non-attendance.  Then they'd get their asses handed to them by HR.)  But even though they were thwarted at every turn, they were freaking persistent, and it took the rest of us every ounce of effort 24/7 to fend them off and keep the ship afloat.

They liked to pick victims; single out folks they thought were the weak links (like people with disabilities).  And I was a part-timer.  Furthermore, I was a part-timer in a position to feed all sorts of info to my colleagues.  So yeah, I had a target on my back, and I was made the center of a lot of stress. But they were incredibly stupid, and I was not actually easy pickings.  Most of the time it was like a Tex Avery cartoon.  I was Droopy or Chilly Willy, footling along and minding my own business and then I'd sidestep the anvil they tried to drop on me, which would bounce and land on their heads.

But it was a constant barrage of petty hostility.  Hostility will always raise your stress level, no matter how unflappable you are, or how petty it is.  Malice is an ugly emotion.  And if you get fed enough of it, you start to feel it in return.  (We started "counting coup" that year.  We had handprint stickers to mark victories.)

Well, eventually, our diligence in holding off the ravening horde of brats paid off.  One by one, they were "moved along" as they got caught in one of their own traps, or higher ups just got tired of dealing with problem after problem.  Eventually the top brat got "reorganized" ....  

And peace ruled the land (more or less, kinda sorta -- we still had to deal with the more ordinary level of institutional idiocy). And I myself was rewarded with a new and magnificently sensible boss.

It took a while to sort out the emotional baggage from this.  Unpack it, acknowledge it, toss it out.  I think a couple of my colleagues are still struggling to get over the stress, but for the most part, life got better, and we have moved past the stage where we told jokes and stories about it, and into a new stage of life. Onward to new struggles.

But now, years after the removal of the brats, and a full five months into retirement, when I am very relaxed and happy, I find there is just one bit of that emotional baggage packed away in the back of a closet somewhere.  And my unconscious has pulled it out and begun to unpack it.

Leaving me with a complete intolerance for brats, and a weird and boring stress relief fantasy playing in my head like elevator music.

Why am I telling you this? What has this to do with anything?

Just that it is interfering with my writing, at the same time it's part of a blossoming of creativity.  (I'm having some amazing and creative night dreams, even if that day dream is boring and repetitive.)

Life changes take time.  They do things to you.  They unleash things.

I think what's going on is that I am growing impatient with baggage.  Not just the stuff that reminds me of those hard times, but any baggage.  Life is short.  I used to tell myself and others "These people aren't paying rent on our heads.  Evict 'em."

Right now, I'm evicting a lot of things from my life -- things that aren't toxic, but I don't need them.  Sorting out the junk, rethinking what I really want, and I think that resonated with the old feelings.  That's what brought the baggage out.

So it's slowed down my writing. It's interfered with my blogging.  But it's all good.  Those deadlines?  They're baggage too, or at least the feeling of duty is.

Two more bits of baggage from that time -- beautiful bits.

In the midst of that troubled time at work, Robert Altman made a movie of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion.  That radio show is one of the things that held me together back then.  That's a part of where I learned that whole unflappable Tex Avery cartoon hero thing.  (Also, Garrison Keillor's voice will relax you better than a prescription tranquilizer.)

There is a song at the climax of the movie, sung by Jerrilyn Steele, that hits the theme of what I just said above:  The chorus asks "Why do you work so hard to get what you don't even want?"  Here is a video of the song: The Day is Short

And here is a song that expresses the opposite feeling.  It's about a life that has been stripped of the things you don't even want, when the birds sing with angel tongues and small stones in the driveway are like diamonds.  Simplicity.  In the movie, this song took the place of "The News From Lake Woebegone." One of the most peaceful things I've ever heard: Slow Days of Summer

On that note....

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 2

Episode 2 - Herding Cats
by Camille LaGuire

Case and I scrambled forward and looked up at the balcony.  Somebody ran along the back, but we were too close to see him.

It didn't matter, I knew who it was.  Ring-Neck Rufus was a scrawny outlaw who could be paid to do anything, but wasn't much good at anything he was paid to do.  And I had just seen him counting money out front.

Casey jumped the railing and charged on up the stairs, drawing as she went -- which wasn't wise, because Casey's forté is not her draw, and she has a tendency to pull the trigger before she is ready.

I drew and stepped back further to cover her, and then I could see him.

"Rufus!" I shouted.

He had the gun in his hand and he was looking wild, but he had just enough brain to not shoot Casey.  He probably saw that if he shot her, he'd have me after him for the rest of his life. And if he didn't kill her, she'd be after him.  He went for the window at the end of the balcony.

Casey followed, and I ran out front.

As I cleared the doors, I could see the sheriff coming out of his office.  He must have heard the shot, because he had his gun drawn.  I whistled to him, and ran to the corner of the building.  Rufus wasn't in the lane beside the opera house.  I looked up and saw Casey was struggling to pull herself through the window.  The sash was stuck and didn't open high enough.  She ain't that big, but she's got hips, and guns on each of them.

She was swearing and pointing down to the alley behind the opera house, so I kept going.

There was no Rufus in the alley, but plenty of places to hide.  Piles of boxes and barrels behind the stores, and an open carriage house and a corral further on.

"What happened?" said the Sheriff, as he and Case caught up with me.

"Rufus Tillet took a shot at the opera singers."

"They hurt?"


The sheriff pointed at the back door of the opera house.

"See that he didn't double-back," he said.  Casey had already stalked off to the right, so he headed left.

I went in the back door and threw the bolt to make sure Rufus didn't come back in behind me.  I was in a narrow corridor that ran up to another little corridor behind the stage.  There were curtains and a fake wall, and I could hear the folks on stage talking on the other side of it.

"I am dead!" called one of the ladies.  I peeked through the curtain and saw the younger one -- the one who fell down -- gesturing and moving around.  It was pretty clear she was not dead or anything close to it.

They were all facing each other, talking, so I figured Rufus hadn't gone back out there.  I checked around backstage.  There were three or four little closets, but only two were unlocked. He wasn't in there.

I headed toward the front, just as the younger lady yanked back the curtain and came charging off the stage.  She turned around before she saw me, and made a last declaration to the others.

"I am to be murdered!" she cried. "I cannot sing, ever!"

"All for the better!" called out the other woman.

The fellow with the moustache appeared.  He was holding out a glass of water to the young lady, and she refused it with a wave of the hand and turned around again.

Which is when she ran almost flat into me.

She screamed and back-pedaled into the man with the mustache. Then he saw me and he screamed too.  They both went scrambling back to the stage.

"Hold on!" I said.  "I'm with the law!"

They didn't hold on.  As I came out on the stage, holding my hands up to show I wasn't there to shoot at them, they went running in all directions.  The only one who stood her ground was the older woman, who took the glass from the mustache man's hand and threw it in my face.

"I'm here to protect you!" I yelled, shaking the water off.

The mustache man and the young woman stopped and glanced at each other.  They started sidling back, but the piano man had slipped over to the curtains and was gone.  If he meant to run out the back, he'd unlock the door as he went.

"We ain't caught him yet, sir!" I called and I chased after.  I caught him at the door, just as he threw the latch.  I threw it back into place.  "You want to stay right here."

I hauled him back to the stage, only to see the older lady sailing off toward the front of the house like she was going to leave that way.  I ran to cut her off. She turned on me and snapped her fan like she she might take my head off with it.

"Ain't safe," I said real quick.  I stepped over and latched that front door too.

She turned around and sailed back toward the stage.  And I looked up to see the stage was empty except for the piano player.

"Where'd they go?" I asked.

"Dressing rooms," said the piano player pointing backstage.  "She says she can't sing in a place like this--"

"Or in any other place," said the older lady, who kept sailing on across the stage and behind the curtain.

I caught up with her just as she went into one of the little closets and slammed the door behind her. I heard her throw the latch, and I figured at least she was safe.  I could hear the other two talking behind one of the other doors.

I went back and faced the piano player.

"I suppose this means they ain't going to sing tonight," I said.

"You can bet the ranch on that, cowboy," he replied.

Stay Tuned For Episode 3 - "Deep Trouble"
Available after 8am EST, on Monday

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brain Crash - Update Instead of a Post

I said on Sunday that I would have a post today on "Character Structure" which is a really cool way to look at stories.  I had it 2/3 written.  But I just found I couldn't get over the hump tonight to finish it.

I told myself not to commit to particular blog posts in my Sunday preview any more, but did I listen? No.

Part of the reason is because I came across the ebook version of a text book from college which is kind of the foundation of the article, and I thought I should re-read it.  But mostly, my brain just crashed.  This may be partly because I am in fiction-mode, but mostly because the dry air of winter has been hell on my sinuses and I have not been getting good sleep lately.

Here is the very worst part of all this: I have a bunch of great blog posts lined up for you which are also in this same state: mostly done, and I want to get to them all now.  I think what I really need is to rest up and push through all of them at once.  My brain likes to splurge that way.

So I'm putting the Character Structure post off until Friday at least. (And the promised post on the Death and Rebirth of Reading to some unknown point in the future.)

But right now, I'm going to read.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Read an Ebook Week Sale at Smashwords

It's eBook Week at Smashwords. This sale runs from March 3-9. and uses coupon codes. The codes appear on the book pages, but I have also included them below.

I have put five books on sale:

Two Novellas - FREE
(Use coupon code: RW100.)

Harsh Climate - Story was originally written as a low budget screenplay (limited locations and cast), in the light crime thriller genre.  A pair of runaway teens seek shelter from the cold in an isolated farm house, only to find it's the lair of a gang of kidnappers.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero.  This the first of the summer serials.  An old-timey serial adventure about a young man and his drunken college professor, transported to a world inspired by silent movies.  In April we'll see the sequel... well PREquel to this as we flash back to how another character came into this story.

Three Novels at 75 percent off
(Use coupon code: REW75.)

These are$ 4.95 novels, which means they are now $1.24.
Have Gun, Will Play - The first Mick and Casey mystery/western novel about a pair of young gunslinger detectives in the old west.  I sometimes describe this as a cozy mystery with gunfights, and gunslingers playing with dolls.  (The current serial is a Mick and Casey story.)

The Man Who Did Too Much -A cozy mystery set in northern lower Michigan, in which a compulsive action hero joins forces with an eccentric movie buff to solve a case of kidnapping and murder.

The Adventure of Anna the Great - Middle Readers/YA Swashbuckler, in which a young noblewoman disguises herself as a boy to have one great adventure before she's too old to get away with it any more.

What do these three books have in common?  They all combine humor with adventure, and I just realized... they all involve kidnappings.  (And murders!)  There's also a kidnapping in Harsh Climate.  And I guess technically, there is an off-screen hostage taking in Misplaced Hero.

Holy Mazoli, I guess I have a thing for kidnappings.  (Well it IS a perennial theme for the light crime story.)  However, some of the kidnappings involved are FAUX kidnappings.  You'll have to read them all to find out which ones.

Some New Covers

I redesigned the covers for two of these books: Harsh Climate and The Adventure of Anna the Great. I am not fully happy with either of them.

The original cover for Harsh Climate was nice, but it looked like a serious thriller and I thought it was misleading. In the mean time, I did a mock up of a cover for another screenplay I am going to adapt to a novella -- another stand alone crime comedy.  I decided to redo Harsh Climate to match that.

I had a much cooler vision of that cover for HC, but it was in lines, not shapes, and I found that I couldn't make it work and have the title and name readable.  So this is a compromise until I figure out how to do what I wanted. (I admit, this is close.)

For Anna, I just wanted to get rid of the dorky font, and maybe push the color to closer to my "house" color of a blue with a touch of green. (Not as green as the crime covers above, but closer to the blue in Wife of Freedom or Misplaced Hero -- still too purple now, but it is lighter and easier to read.) 

I did not achieve what I wanted.  I achieved what I consider to be a "concept" cover.  I need to do the typography by hand, I think, and not leave it to effects.

I have not uploaded the new cover of Anna to Smashwords (because doing anything at Smashwords is a pain in the patoot), but I decided to put this interim cover up at Amazon to see how it looks.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Fistful of Divas - Episode 1

Episode One - The Opera House
by Camille LaGuire

The town was bigger than I'd remembered it, but there was nothing unusual about that.  It was the kind of western town that grew and changed by the minute.

We pulled up in front of the sheriff's office.  I jumped off my horse, but Casey stayed on hers, poking Bad Brachit with her rifle to make sure he didn't get any ideas.  Not that he had too many ideas left.

The sheriff came out as I pulled Brachit off his horse.

"Hey, Mick," said the sheriff in greeting.  He paused to touch his brim at Casey, and looked at the outlaw.  "What happened to his hat?"

Brachit's hat was pretty tattered.  The brim, which had been wide, was mostly gone, and what remained was all shot up.  So was the crown.  What he had left amounted to a headband.

"He pissed Casey off," I said.  Casey was a sharp-shooter.  She had to be, in our line of work.  She was too small and too, well, female to impress people on first sight.  So she got their attention in other ways.

I turned toward Casey, but she wasn't looking at Brachit any more.  She was looking down the street.  She twisted back to look at me, her eyes suddenly wide, and looking more like the seventeen year old girl she was.

"They got an opera house now!"

I looked, and they did.  A big one.  Well, big for that kind of town.  It might even have a stage.

"No shit," I said.  "This town is looking up."

Casey reined her horse around and went over to check it out.  I went in quick and finished up our business with the sheriff.  Brachit was only worth a hundred and fifty dollars, but that wasn't bad.  It was plenty to pay off some debts, get ourselves cleaned up and go see whatever was playing.

I really wasn't paying much attention as I headed out from the law office.  I was counting our money and thinking about music, and I nearly ran into a fella who was also counting some money.  Before I looked up, he had already dashed across the road, behind a moving wagon piled high with barrels. By the time it passed, he was gone, and all I saw was the opera house, and Casey.

"Did you see Rufus Tillet go by here?" I asked.

"We ain't workin' today," she said, not looking away from the poster that was pasted up on the wall.  I looked at the poster, and I lost all interest in an old rat like Rufus too.

Tonight Only, said the poster.  Madame Olenka Voshnovia, toast of Paris and London, and late of New York, Boston and Chicago, will perform various selections of grand opera for the delight and education of the audience.  Mademoiselle Clarice de Moncerf will be featured in duet and solo....

It went on like those kinds of posters do, but Casey's eyes were on those words, grand opera.  She grinned at me.  I grinned back.

"Opera," she said.  "We're gonna hear it."

"Yeah," I said.

You might wonder why a pair of dusty young saddle bums like us wanted to see an opera so bad.

See, when Casey's pa found out she had married me, he expressed the concern that she would never see the inside of an opera house.  The way he'd said it made it sound like a real loss, and that it was my fault.  It really wasn't, because Casey was considerably less civilized at the time than she is even now, and he was just a poor dirt farmer, and I doubt if she'd have seen much opera anyway.

But it was a concern of his, so we took it as a concern of ours.  Since then we had seen the inside of every opera house between here and Kansas City.  Every one.  And not an opera in the bunch.  Plenty of lectures, revival meetings, melodramas.  Heard some nice music too, but never an opera.

As we stood there gawping at that poster, we could hear somebody inside playing the piano.  You couldn't hear it too well, but then there was another sound, flitting up and down like water over rocks.  At first I didn't even recognize it.  It sounded like a couple of instruments -- like a flute and a fiddle. Then I realized it was women's voices.  Just dancing all over the air.

Casey pushed open the door, and we went in.  Unfortunately, the music had already stopped, and now we could hear arguing.  The arguing was musical, though, and not bad to listen to.

We stood close to the doors, in the shadow of the narrow balcony overhead.  The hall wasn't that big, and we didn't want them to notice us.  The floor was bare, except for a single chair, right up front in the middle.  A man with a curly moustache and a crystal-topped cane sat in it, while two ladies yelled at each other in French from either side of the little stage.  He looked real pleased with himself and with them, and I wondered if the ladies were fighting over him.

The only other person in the room was the piano player, who was just then resting his head against the top of his piano like his head hurt.

We got a clear view of what happened next.  They were standing there yelling, and then they all moved at once.  The Moustache got up and raised his hands like he was going to make peace.  The younger of the women charged to the middle of the stage, waving a sheaf of music.  The older woman stepped toward her and shouted "sabotage!" and pointed at the younger woman.  The younger woman wheeled around and threw her arms wide.  I think she meant to yell at the other woman.

The piano player turned around, looked up, and ducked.

And with an echoing boom, there was a gunshot from the balcony, right above us.  A gout of black powder shot out into the air, and everybody stopped talking and looked up.  The young woman screamed, and fell to the stage in an elegant heap.

Available after 8am EST, on Thur

If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.

Available in paper or as ebook at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Weekly Review/Preview

This past week we had a flash fiction story, "Flat Crossing" and some story notes about the writing of it.  I also continued my theme of Anthony Hope by talking about browsing at Project Gutenberg and how I am a complete fangirl of The Prisoner of Zenda.  And we had a joke about heavenly figures playing golf.

March is Mick and Casey Month

Tomorrow I will start a new, short serial: A Fistful of Divas, a Mick and Casey mystery novelette.  It is probably 8 episodes, but it might be 9, depending on whether I decide to include a certain complication or not.

This story is a favorite of mine, and an important part of the history of Mick and Casey, so I don't know why I never completed the prose version of this story.  Perhaps it was because it came at a time when I was really unhappy with where the mystery market was going and I had gone over to screenwriting and script analysis.  Or maybe it was because it looked like it was going to be a little long for the market -- and I had some thoughts of making it longer, maybe even a novel.  Whatever the reason, I never wrote it as fiction.  The only complete version of this story is a short screenplay.

The Mick and Casey series itself actually started with a screenplay -- a straight western about a gun-totin' teenaged girl -- and this story was spawned by one line from that story: Casey's father bemoans the fact that since she married Mick, she was unlikely to ever see the inside of an opera house.

Now, in those days, most settled towns had something they called an "opera house." It was usually an actual house, or more like a small church, with a large main room where plays, recitals and lectures could take place.  So even though it wasn't exactly what Casey's father had in mind, Mick and Casey have made a hobby of visiting opera houses whenever they find them... but they never have actually heard an opera or anything like it.

Now, in A Fistful of Divas, they just might get their first chance to hear a pair of honest-to-goodness divas sing... if the ladies don't get scared away by a hired gun shooting at them.  Who hired him and why?  That has to be resolved before the fat lady will agree to sing.

In the meantime, since I'm working on this serial, I'll be pulling together another go at the next Mick and Casey novel, Devil in a Blue Bustle, in hopes of finishing it by the end of March.  (And I'm scheduling a short hiatus from the blog in early April to be sure I'll get this done.)

No Illustrations

I have decided not to do illustrations for A Fistful of Divas the way I've done for the other serials.

This is because there is something about an established series -- we get a picture of the characters in our heads.  Illustrations tend to clash with it.  While I have gotten a lot better at character illustration, I know I cannot match my picture of Mick and Casey.

(Also, I'm afraid to say that I see that world from inside Mick's head, so I have no idea what he really looks like.  He's got dust colored hair and blue eyes and he's maybe big enough to be intimidating when he has to -- that's all I know.)

Instead of illos, I'll have a series "cover" or banner.  It might change from episode to episode, but only because I will work on it to improve it.

Coming Up This Week

Monday: A Fistful of Divas, episode 1

Tuesday: Announcements - Read An Ebook Week Sale at Smashwords
I've got several novels at 75% off  this week, and both of my novellas are free.  Also a previews of some upgraded covers.

Wednesday: Character Structure - Zenda and Fiction as Myth
Plot structure isn't the only place to find meaning in a story.  Sometimes you can look at it the way you look at folk tales and dreams.

Thursday: A Fistful of Divas, Episode 2

Friday: Death and Rebirth of Reading
What has happened to my reading habits over the past 20 years -- something I think has happened to a lot of people.  Especially writers.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Fangirl's Guide to The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda was published in 1894, and has been reprinted and adapted and refreshed and redone countless times.  It is a classic "cloak-and-sword" swashbuckler: where intrigue features as much as action, and therefore, though it is set in a time with guns, the heroes and villains fall back on swords because they are quieter.

I own several copies of the book -- an early edition with the original Charles Dana Gibson illustrations, as well as more modern ones.  Also, a copy of the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (with Gibson illustrations).  The Classics Illustrated comic book.  Of the movies I own the 1922, 1937 and 1954 versions.  Somewhere I think I have a VHS tape of the 1978 version with Peter Sellers. (There were at least six Hollywood versions, three silent, three talkie.) I also have a time travel military sf book called The Zenda Vendetta, in which time-travelling terrorists assassinate the hero and screw up the timeline, so time-travelling commandos have to go back and see the story happens as it is supposed to.

The plot -- of a hero who must impersonate a kidnapped king -- has been used again and again: in movies like The Great Race, Moon Over Parador and Dave.  It has been used many many times on television, including episodes of Dr. Who and Get Smart, to my memory. 

I even started to write a screenplay of my own, set in Frankenmuth, Michigan -- which has a yearly Bavarian festival and a world famous restaurant called... Zehnders.  It was, of course, to be titled The Prisoner of Zehnders.  (Although I probably would have had to change all the names of places to keep from being sued.)

The 1937 movie version also features rather prominently in my mystery The Man Who Did Too Much.  That version is second on my list of all time best movies ever.  (Right after Casablanca.)

It's hard to talk about this story without stopping to talk about that version of the movie.  Beautifully photographed by James Wong Howe, well directed by James Cromwell, and perfectly cast: not just in the starring roles with Ronald Coleman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Madeleine Carroll, but in all of the secondary roles with Mary Astor, David Niven, Raymond Massey and C. Aubrey Smith, and a host of character actors whose names you wouldn't recognize but who were top of their game at this time.

But more than anything else it was wonderfully written.  They preserved as much of the dialog of the book as possible, and the new material was clever and witty.  They added a lot of humor, particularly into the romance -- allowing Rudolf to charm Flavia with absurdities and irreverence.  And of course, the witty banter during the final sword fight is one of the classics of the screen.

That last sword fight, by the way, is probably the major change from the book, and, imho, a necessary one: Rupert, the secondary villain, who is so charming and villainous that the steals the show in every version, just kind of runs amok at the end of the book.  He is chaos personified, but he doesn't provide final conflict for the hero.  Rudolf has to fight off some minor characters, but he never faces off with Rupert. I expect they made that change in the very first stage version -- it was so obviously necessary.  (Anthony Hope, by the way, was closely involved in that first stage production.)

Interesting factoid: the 1937 movie version was so well loved that when they remade it in 1952, they did their best to replicate it shot-for-shot.  They had the 1937 version running on a Moviola on the set. Seriously.  (If they loved it so much, why remake it? Because it wasn't in color, and in those days, you didn't do major re-releases of old movies anyway.)

When a story gets retold as much as this one has -- both faithfully and unfaithfully -- it takes on a mythic quality. (Or perhaps it gets retold because it has a mythic quality.)  And mythic stories have an additional aspect, an additional lens, with which we can look at them and understand them.

This story has something I call "character structure" which is kind of like plot structure, only different.  I've decided that probably deserves it's own post, and it is more of a literary theory thing... so I'll tell you more about that on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you haven't read it or seen it before, you should get your hands on a copy of Zenda, book or movie.

Project Gutenberg version of The Prisoner of Zenda.  Amazon has the book in free and paid and ebook and paper versions and a dual DVD of the movie with both the 1937 and 1952 versions.

Or you could watch just a slightly jumpy version of that final confrontation between Rudolf and Rupert on You Tube, with Dutch subtitles.

See you in the funny papers.