Murder by Numbers

•March 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

Murder is a part of life… and death.

It’s also a subject that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Maybe I should clarify that… It’s a subject that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the development of some of the characters  of Fog on the Horizon.

I’ve mentioned previously that music plays a big part in my life and a major source of  inspiration. “Murder by Numbers” by The Police gave me chills the first time I heard it back in 1983, and it still does. It is thought-provoking though.

What does it mean if you dream vividly about committing murder? I’m not suggesting that you enjoyed it. Maybe you woke up in a cold sweat, shaken by the  disturbing fact that your subconscious mind was capable of bringing these images and sensations to your fingertips, which when you woke, were still wrapped around that imaginary knife or gun handle, or maybe they were still wrapped around your victim’s throat. Maybe you did enjoy it. There’s a fine line between the conscious and the subconscious.

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

Murderers aren’t always evil people, right? So, what can push an otherwise peaceful person to go down that track? Revenge? Rage? Loss? Maybe all of that? It can’t be an easy choice to make. But what if you’re pushed to the edge and that’s seemingly the only way out? What if you have nothing to lose? It’s you or him, right? And once you commit one murder – is the next one easier?

Now if you have a taste for this experience
And you’re flushed with your very first success
Then you must try a twosome or a threesome
And you’ll find your conscience bothers you much less


The Drive

•March 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Nick could finally breathe again. The last sixty miles on the narrow Redwood Highway that threads west through the densely wooded coastal mountain range from Grants Pass, Oregon to the Pacific Ocean – with wilder curves than Dock Ellis pitched on LSD – had worn him out. Nick had grown up in the desert where roads that went straight for miles with no trees jumping into your path. As he eased his Jeep out onto Highway 101, his cheeks filled as he let out a big sigh of relief and tried to shake the blood back into his fingertips – numb from the hour-long death grip he’d had on the steering wheel.

Nick and his father, Braden, were on a long-overdue road trip. They were headed to Lurid Beach, Oregon – Braden’s childhood home. Nick glanced over at Braden and caught him gazing out the open window at the lush forest that framed the road. In the side-view mirror Nick saw the unexpected – a smile on his dad’s face. It had been so long since Braden had seemed happy. So much had happened over the previous months.

The Jeep’s top was down. Braden leaned back his seat and stared up at the canopy of green as they passed by, “You know these Redwoods are the northernmost ones in the country. Did you see the size of those giant ones that we passed back there?”

Nick shook his head. “Yeah, they were kind of hard to miss, especially where the road damn near disappeared into them. Couldn’t they just cut the fucking trees down and built the road a little straighter?”

Braden laughed. “We’re not in Vegas anymore. Some of those trees are at least a couple hundred years old. You don’t cut down trees like that. You show them respect. They’ve been here a hell of a lot longer than us.”

Nick was thinking about more than trees. He wondered why Braden had never talked about Lurid Beach.

Braden asked, “You all right over there?”

“Me? Yeah, I’m fine.” Nick said, “I’m just still trying to shake the sight of the ass-end of that logging truck out of my head. I swear those logs were about to fall off. Shit, I didn’t think we’d ever get around him.”

“Oh relax, they hardly ever fall off.” Braden smiled as he watched the lush scenery roll past them. The brown and green wall of cedar and redwoods that lined the road seemed to watch them as they picked up speed on the highway. “I’m glad you talked me into this trip. It’s been too long.”

With the top down on the Jeep, the warm June air whirled around them, drowning out the sound of the CD player; Nick turned it up and then shouted, “How come you never told me about this place, Lurid Beach, before? It sounds like a cool little place to live. Didn’t you like it?”

“I loved the area.” Braden said, “Beautiful weather, clean air, great hunting and fishing.”

“So, why’d you leave?”

Nick noticed a deer that stood alongside the road about a hundred yards ahead of them, and he instinctively knew what Braden was about to say.

Right on cue, Braden said, “Keep an eye on that deer. He might dart into the road.”

Always the guardian, Nick thought. The deer turned back into the safety of the forest as they slowly approached it. Nick watched Braden’s eyes follow it as they passed the spot where it had stood.

Nick waited a few seconds. “Dad?”

Braden’s head was turned toward the forest that flew past them.“Yeah?”

“What didn’t you like about Lurid Beach?”

After a few seconds, without looking at Nick, he said, “Oh, nothin’… just the people.”

Nick laughed, “Oh, come on, all of them?”

“All but one,” Braden said, still looking at the passing trees.

Detecting regret in Braden’s voice, Nick turned the radio down. “Who was that?”

“Nobody… just someone I knew before I went into the service.”

“Oh, an old flame, huh? Did you give her that ‘I’m shipping out tomorrow and I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again’ routine?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” Braden reached and turned the stereo back up and changed the subject, “Who’d you say this guy is singing?”

Nick knew when not to push the issue with his dad. When he didn’t want to talk about something, he didn’t. He answered, “That’s Robert Earl Keen.”

“What’s the name of the song? I like it.”

“Beats the Devil,” Nick said.

“Maybe it’ll come to you later.”

Nick laughed. “No, Dad, that’s the name of it – Beats the Devil.”

They entered a thick patch of fog that had drifted in from the ocean beyond the trees to their left. Keen’s singing – The soldier boy and the teenage queen have since become estranged. I keep moving, like the wind across the sea – spun with the cool fog mist in the open jeep. The song seemed to fit the mood.

Nick knew his dad had served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, but he didn’t know much more than that. It was another subject he kept bottled up. Nick glanced over at his dad and noticed that he seemed lost in the words of the song. He had once told Nick that he’d served on a submarine during his entire hitch and never saw combat. He said that their submarine would go into the combat zone just long enough so they would qualify for combat time. Nick believed that when he was a kid; he didn’t believe it anymore.

They broke through the fog just north of the mouth of the Smith River. The Pacific Ocean glistened in the distance.

“We’re almost there,” Braden said.

Nick glanced at the GPS mounted on his dash. “Thirty-eight miles to go.”

“You and your gadgets,” Braden said. “Why didn’t you just bring a damn map?”

“Welcome to the twenty-first century, Dad. We don’t need maps where we’re going. Besides, I remember you and Mom arguing over a map just about every time we went on a trip. Remember in Utah when she had the map spread out over the whole dash of the van? She was pissing and moaning, ‘I don’t how to read this goddamn thing. You figure it out.’ And then she wadded it up and threw it in your lap while you were driving. She could have gotten us all killed. I’ll stick with my gadgets. They don’t give me any shit.”

Braden had been with Nick’s mother for over thirty years – off and on. They had met in Las Vegas at a blackjack table in the Mint Hotel. Nick’s mother was the dealer. That should have been Braden’s first clue that there would never be a time that he could ever win with her. Nick was about eight years old at that time. Even though Braden was his step-father, Nick always considered him his dad. Nick never understood what Braden had seen in his mother. He felt bad to think that but it was true.

Shoveling Shit…

•February 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just a thought this week…
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”- Stephen King, On Writing

A long way down

•February 13, 2011 • 3 Comments

It’s 345 feet from the deck of the Thomas Creek bridge – the tallest bridge in Oregon – to the beach below where the creek sifts through sea-worn logs and ends its life, devoured by the relentless waves of the Pacific Ocean. If a body fell – or was thrown – from that bridge it would tend to get twisted and broken into something abstract when its 100 mile per hour flight is abruptly stopped by the mangled logs. The body’s blood would be drawn out by the creek’s cold waters and carried out to sea. Crimson would swirl into blue and green. The limbs of the body, etched by tiny scavengers that had waited in the sand for a meal, would become a muted greyish-beige and blend in with the sea logs that incaged them.

The Sheriff’s office had been notified of the body by two geocachers who had followed their GPS units to coordinates 42°09’57.24″ North, 124°21’33.84″ West, expecting to find a little coastal treasure or cache as they called it. What they found would make a great story to enter into the cache log which must be somewhere around or under the body. When the police worked their way down to the body, the two treasure hunters informed them that they weren’t leaving without first documenting this wild experience in the yet-to-be-found cache log book.

Something like this didn’t happen very often in Curry County. This was big news and the TV news crew from Coos Bay  sped to the scene. The deputies standing on the bridge, gripped in the cold, thick coastal fog, were busy making bets as to whether this was a suicide or a murder. Most of the money was on a suicide.

Sheriff Mike Mullen got out of his County issued Chevy Suburban, stuck a wad of chew in his cheek, stroked back his long gone hair, replaced his cap, and slowly made his way over to Deputy Clark Cowan. “So, what have got here, Cowan?”

“Well boss, seems some geo catchers found the body down below.”

“Some what catchers?” the sheriff asked.

“Geo catchers, sir. They’re kind of like treasure hunters.”

“Fuckin’ tourists. Well, where are they? I want to talk to them.”

“They’re still down there, Sheriff. They want to enter their log once the body is lifted.”

The Sheriff looked even more confused. He noticed the news crew talking to a rookie deputy at the north end of the bridge. “Shit, I better get over there before that dickwad says something stupid again.”

Later that same day, Nick Harrison sat under the TV glare at the dark end of a bar in Port Orford. A weathered guitar case lay against the bar next to him. He stared at the empty beer glass in front of him as he thought about all that had happened over the last few months – at least the parts that he could remember.

The bartender wiped the bar a couple of chairs down from Nick, “Another beer, Mister?”

Nick snapped out of his trance, “What? Oh yeah, sure, why not.”

As the bartender pulled the tap, he asked the same question he’d always asked his customers, “So, how’re things by you?”

The pool balls cracked in the far corner of the bar. Nick nodded in appreciation as the bartender set the beer on the cardboard coaster. “Well, let’s see, I’ve lost everything I own except for my guitar here. I’ve lost everyone that ever meant anything to me. And I’m in serious need of a shower. Other than that, everything’s just fuckin’ great. So, how’re things by you?”

The bartender just shook his head, “Damn, that’s… too bad.” Then he walked to the end of the bar where his coffee waited for him.

Nick looked up at the TV behind the bar as the news reporter said, “… a possible suicide occurred at the Thomas Creek Bridge on the Oregon coast…” Somehow, Nick felt that his troubles weren’t quite over.

Future on the Horizon

•January 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Changes are in sight and the future looks bright. It’s a new year and time to shift gears. (That’s all I’ve got; I’m not a poet). So, starting Sunday, February 13th, 2011 – I will post weekly excerpts, ideas, or thoughts from my work-in-progress. The excerpts may or may not end up in the final draft. I may even throw an idea out there for your vote. All of the posts will be open to your comments and ratings. Feedback is encouraged, helpful,  and I welcome it!

Please take a minute and subscribe to “Fog on the Horizon” to get notifications sent to you by email. You don’t have to have a WordPress account to subscribe. Go to the column on the right, enter your email address and  hit the “Follow the Fog” button. (If you are already signed into WordPress, just hit the button). It’s that easy!

Inspiration floating on the wings of music

•November 30, 2010 • 2 Comments

I get a good portion of my ideas and inspiration for writing from music. That’s probably because I listen to a lot of music. Lyrics and melodies can convey moods and tug at your emotions. Sometimes when I listen to a song – it could be a song I’ve heard many times before – something about it hits me and I say, “That’s the feeling I’m looking for in this scene!” It doesn’t mean that I use the lyrics in the writing of the scene. I just want to capture that emotion that I felt from the scene painted in the song. Today, I got something more from a song – inspiration to set writing goals for myself. It felt good; because I’ll admit that I need to be pushed and directed to keep focused on writing daily.

While at my office day job, I was listening (with non-disruptive headphones of course) to an advance copy of a CD by one of my favorite singer-songwriters. I was preparing for an upcoming interview with the songwriter that will appear on my other blog “Our Kind Of Music”. One song in particular made me stop working – I sat there and listened to these lyrics that carried a message about living life one day at a time; and appreciating every moment and opportunity it gives you. I replayed the song again and again:

Every step’s a miracle, and every breath’s a gift

So I wear a smile and grateful prayer upon my lips

Tomorrow’s just a mystery so I believe I’ll take

A couple hundred miracles today

If I wait for a sign

There’s a risk of missing out on what is mine

So my feet keep steady rhythm on the ground

There’s no wrong way; there’s no right way

There’s just one more time around.

It all made perfect sense to me. Don’t pressure myself. I’ll take a couple hundred miracles a day; write a couple hundred words a day. Just let the words come to me. That’s steady progress and a realistic goal. Heck, I hit almost 300 words with just this post (not counting the song lyrics). Now, I know that probably was not the intent of the songwriter; but that’s the message I got at that point in time. I’ll be sure to say thank you to him when we talk.

Nick and Dad

•November 18, 2010 • 1 Comment

Dreams, hopes and aspirations: We all have them. Some pursue their dreams with the belief that they can come true. Some, like my dad, keep their dreams locked up inside, rarely discussed or realized.

Actually, he was my stepfather. But, from the time I was eight years old, he was everything I could have hoped for in a father figure, he was Dad. In all the years I had known him, there was only one time he gave me a glimpse of one of his dreams. He was seventy-five years old and I was fifty. We were in his garage, which doubled as a huge workshop, outside of his home in Pahrump, a high desert town outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. To this day, I still wonder why someone would want to live in a town with a name like that. Pahrump had as much to offer as the name implies.

The December afternoon sky hung low and grey, the wind was bitterly cold and dry. Dad had a space heater in his shop and it was working hard to keep us warm; and the beer we were drinking was ice cold. I know, it makes no sense, but I never turned down the opportunity to have a beer with Dad. It was when we had some of our best talks.

After about an hour of the usual bullshit and small talk about new stuff and old times, he said something that caught me completely off guard. “You know, Nick,” he said, “I didn’t really want to move to Vegas back then.” All I could think of to say was “Oh, now you tell me.” Our family had left our beautiful Pacific Northwest home bound for Las Vegas over forty years ago. I moved to Las Vegas under fierce protest. I didn’t want to leave all my friends in Washington. But I was only fifteen years old and didn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter.

I never liked Las Vegas. It never grew on me. As Buckaroo Banzai said, “Remember, no matter where you go, well, there you are.” There I was, in Las Vegas, where I: finished school; worked many jobs; got married – for the wrong reasons; had a son; got divorced; was a single father for ten years; got married again –  for the right reasons; and raised our family. Before I knew it, over thirty years had passed and I was still there – in Las Vegas.

“Have I ever mentioned that I never liked Las Vegas?” I said somewhat sarcastically.  

Dad threw me a sideways pissed off glance, took a swig of his beer, and turned his focus to the pegboard on the wall as if he all of a sudden needed to find something and said, “Yeah, quite a few times, starting with the first day we arrived there. You know, I… never mind.” He continued to hide his head in the pegboard and drawers on his mock quest while I turned and walked out the garage door onto the gravel driveway.

I turned my collar to the cold wind, stared out at the harshness of the desert landscape and thought about how our lives could have been different if we hadn’t left the Northwest. Dad suddenly blurted out “Neither did I, Nick!”

I snapped back around, stormed back into the garage, and to his motionless back I said, “What did you say?”

After a long pause, his shoulders dropped and he mumbled, “I never really liked it all that much either. Fact is I hated it.”

I couldn’t believe what I just heard, “Then why the hell did we even move here Dad?” His head hung a bit as he quietly answered, “I had my reasons.”

He turned slowly towards me, tears of regret welled up in his eyes. A lump immediately lodged in my throat as I fought back tears of my own. It had been thirty years since I had seen tears in my Dad’s eyes. The last time was when he was forty-five. I had just brought him home from the hospital. He had been there for over a month recovering from his first heart attack – a massive one.

On the day he finally came home following his recovery he started to weep uncontrollably as I helped him through the doorway. I didn’t know what the hell to do. It scared the shit out of me. I thought he was in pain or something. “What’s wrong Dad? Does it hurt? Do you want me to call the doctor?” He just kept shaking his head. I sat him down in a chair at the breakfast table in the tiny kitchen of their mobile home. After he regained his breath, he looked up at me with terror-filled childlike eyes, and with quivering lips said, “I was afraid I’d never come home again.”

Now, for the second time that I knew of, there were tears in my Dad’s eyes. I knew that whatever was on his mind had to be serious. “I’ve made some mistakes in my life,” he confessed. I tried to lighten things up a little.

I gave him a quick hug. “Hey Dad, you did what you thought was right. People move all the time. Forget about it.” As I walked over to his vintage 1960s fridge to get us a couple more beers, I added, “I only hated it when I was a kid. Besides, if we hadn’t moved here, I never would have met Crystal, right? You know, we’ve been married over fifteen years now. Shit, I never thought I’d get remarried; let alone stay married for that long! I still love her too! Can you believe that? I couldn’t be happier! See, everything happens for a reason. So let’s just forget about it, OK?”

Jabbering was my way of avoiding a somber subject. As I handed him his beer, he said, “I need to talk to you about something, son.” Damn, I hate it when he says shit like that. “In case something happens to me; there are some things you’ve got to know.”

That was not something that I wanted to talk about. There were certain subjects I always tried to avoid: death was undeniably at the top of that list; talking about my Mother came in a close second. I had to somehow try and change the subject.

“Dad, come on, nothings going to happen to you.” Shit, he still had that serious look on his face. “You’re a survivor Dad! Christ, you’re tough as a two-dollar steak!” My Dad had not only survived that first heart attack: he’d also lived through gall bladder surgery; leaving my mother; open heart surgery; living like a bachelor with me for about a year; getting remarried and divorced – twice; getting back together with my mother; and colon cancer. Oh yeah, and moving to Pahrump.

“I’m serious,” he said, “Look, if anything ever happened to me, your Mother would love nothing more than to live with you and Crystal.”

Oh great, my two least favorite subjects all bundled up in one. I could hardly wait to hear the rest. “So, no matter what she says,” He continued, “Do not let that woman live with you!”

I almost spit out my beer. “What?” I said with a laugh.

Dad was laughing too. “Nick, damn it, I mean it!” he said, “If you let her have her way, she will suck the life out of you and your marriage. You know how she can be. I’ve made sure that she will have enough money to live on her own. So trust me on this one.”

I worked up my best dubious look and said, “Well, all right Dad. If you insist, I’ll do what you say.” That was a close one.

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