August 2010

The “Gabriel Writer” has printed the 3rd installment of “Chapter Play.” You can catch up on the whole story here: Chapter Play

I hope you enjoy it


ChapterIII: In which the hero is betrayed.

“Where am I?” Carl’s voice is a raspy whisper.

“St. David’s hospital.” The nurse smiles. She’s attractive in a 1940’s way. Her long brown hair is pulled back into a bun and she has sharp blue eyes. “The firemen pulled you out just in time. Do you remember?”

“A little.” He wheezes and starts coughing.

“Easy, you sucked down a lot of smoke.” She pats his back. “You’ve also got a minor fracture in your left ulna, a pretty bad gash on your head, and a 2nd degree burn on your leg.”

“What about my house?” Carl examines the cast on his left arm. It hurts but he can bear it.

“They said over half of it was destroyed before the fire could be put out. I’m so sorry.” She rubs his shoulder.

“Half a home is no home at all.” Carl grumbles.

“My father used to say the same thing. But I think he had something else in mind.” She smiles. Her kind eyes take him by surprise and he smiles in spite of himself.

“Carl McGavin, it’s been a while.” Carl looks up and sees two police officers standing by the door. The older one, Carl recognizes, but his partner looks like a rookie. “It’s Matt Richards, and this is officer Burke. How ya doin there?”

“I’ve been better.”

“You’ve looked better, but not by much,” Richards smiles.

“I’ll leave you guys alone.” The nurse excuses herself. “Make it quick, he’s still weak.” She says to Burke on her way out. He ignores her.

“Mr. McGavin, we need to discuss the events surrounding July 2nd and the fire at 2005 Maize Bend Drive. Your home, correct?” Officer Burke says, reading from his notebook.

“Vincent’s very professional. He means, what happened yesterday, Carl?” Richards nudges his young partner.

“It’s Officer Burke,” Vincent glares at Richards. “We just need the facts, Mr. McGavin.”

“I don’t remember much. One minute I was working in my office. The next, I was lying on my kitchen floor, bleeding. There was an explosion. Maybe a gas main.” Carl coughs again.

“So, you were alone then? No one else in the house?” Vincent rechecks his notes.

“I live alone, officer Burke.” Carl says frankly.

“That’s not what I asked, sir.”

“Now Vincent, Carl’s one of us – or was. He knows what you’re asking and his word is good.” Vincent starts to object but Richards cuts him off. “You’ve been through a lot there, Carl. We’ll check in on you later. After you’ve had a chance to clear your head. You get better now.” Richards pushes Vincent out of the room.

Carl is surprised. That was too easy. Clearly, they suspect something but he’s not ready to tell them about the Ellington woman yet. Someone killed her. They tried to kill him. He needs time to think before the police butt in and make a mess.

The nurse comes back with a cup of ice water and some medication. “So, do they know what happened?”

“Not yet. But that rookie’s pretty worked up.”

“Don’t mind Vincent, he’s a bit of a hot head,” the nurse says dismissively. “And he doesn’t much like his partner.”

“You know him?” Carl takes the pills from her.

“I never introduced myself did I? My name’s Margo Burke. Vincent is my brother.”

“Small world.” Carl is distant. He washes down the meds with a swallow of ice water. It burns his injured throat.

“Don’t worry, Mr. McGavin. Vincent may be a rookie and a little gruff but he’s a good cop. He’ll find out what happened.”

“I’m sure he will.”


Carl tosses and turns all that night, too many questions. Did Igor kill the Ellington woman? Why didn’t Katarina contact him directly? Does he really have a daughter? And where does he start looking for answers? By morning, he is bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. Around noon, Margo brings his lunch and sets it on the bedside table in front of him. She checks his IV. “The doctor says you’re looking good. You’ll be out of here in no time.”

“If this stuff doesn’t kill me first.” Carl eyes his lunch suspiciously. Margo laughs. On her way out, she almost runs into officer Richards. He whisperers something in her ear and Margo give’s Carl a sideway glance before leaving.

“I’m not happy, Carl.” Richards stands at the foot of the bed, his hands in his pockets. “The forensics boys found human remains in your house. You lied to us old friend.” Carl is quiet. They were never friends but he doesn’t have much choice now but to confide in Richards.

“You were a rookie when I transferred to Austin, Matt, but I’m sure you heard the rumors about why I left New Orleans.”

“I never cared for hearsay.” Richards smirks.

“For the most part, the rumors are true. I did get involved with a witness. Her name was Katarina Sereda. Things went south, I got shot up, and Katarina left town. I never saw her again. Then, yesterday, a woman named Martha Ellington showed up at my door. She claimed I have a daughter and Katarina is the mother. But someone must have planted a bomb in her purse to keep her quiet because she blew up right in front of me. Those are the remains you found. It was probably the same guy who shot me in New Orleans. Katarina’s husband, Igor Sereda.” Carl is winded. This is too much talk for his condition.

“That’s one hell of a story there, Carl.” Richards rubs his back with his right hand. “You don’t have anything else on this Ellington chick?” Carl shakes his head. “Then, it’s a dead end? So to speak.”

“For now, but I’m going to find out who did this.”

“Now Carl, that’s how you got in trouble last time. Let us handle this.”

“I’m not going rogue again, Matt. I just want to be involved. I might have a daughter out there. I can’t ignore that.”

A hospital tech barges in and closes the door behind her. “Officer Richards, I have a message for you.” Before she can take another step, Richards draws his right hand from behind his back. He holds a Walther PPK pistol with a silencer and shoots the Tech in her head. She falls without a sound. Richards pulls a second gun with his left, a police issued 9mm Smith & Wesson, and aims it at Carl.

“You never knew when to let things go.” Officer Richards fires the revolver.

Continued in Chapter IV…

The “Gabriel Writer” has printed the 2nd installment of “Chapter Play.” You can catch up on the whole story here: Chapter Play

I hope you enjoy it


Chapter II: In which the hero finds love

Carl McGavin knows he’s screaming. He can feel the muscles in his jaw strain, the vibration in his throat, and the pain in his lungs. But he can hear nothing but a high-pitched whine. Something is in his eyes, blurring his vision red. He rubs them with the back of his clenched fist and sees that it’s blood. Was he shot? Maybe the one-eyed dwarf shot him because Carl wouldn’t find his daughter. He pats his chest with his bloody fist and then his stomach where the scars of two bullet holes still remain. He doesn’t find any new wounds. No, he wasn’t shot and there was no dwarf. That’s only in his book. In reality, Louis wasn’t even a dwarf, just a short man with a Napoleon complex. But he did have one eye. Is it offensive to make him a dwarf in the book? Carl doesn’t know. And why is he on the kitchen floor?

Carl coughs and tries to sit up but his left arm collapses under his weight. Pain shoots through him and makes his jaw ache. There was an explosion. Jesus Christ, a woman just exploded in his house. What was her name? Martha…Stuart? No, Ellington. Martha Ellington. She claimed Carl’s daughter was missing. But that doesn’t make sense. He doesn’t have a daughter. She exploded, right in front of him. The blast must have knocked him into the kitchen. He coughs again, rolls over on his right arm, and pushes himself up onto his feet. Carl shakes his head to clear the fog. Fresh blood gushes down his face and he wipes it away with his forearm. The Ellington woman knew a lot about him. Too much, it made him uncomfortable. She knew he was forced to retire and she knew Katarina.

Coughing, he stumbles into his office. The air is smoky. The heat has him sweating. Something must be burning. The room looks like a charred cinder. His desk is wrecked and there is no sign of his laptop. His book is gone, all the notes he’s taken over the years, his outline, the short stories, the previous drafts, the shaky re-start to his first chapter, everything. The thought makes him sick. He remembers the Ellington woman’s wrinkled nose expression when she read his main character’s name out loud. Now, there is only a scorch mark where she stood, along with a few scraps of clothing and some chunks he won’t let his mind decipher. Someone must have planted a bomb in her bag, but why? Then Carl remembers what’s in his clenched right fist. He relaxes his hand and looks at the ring Ellington gave him. Katarina’s ring. She offered it as proof that he had a daughter. It doesn’t prove anything. He rolls it over and reads the engraving again, “LOVE ALWAYS – CM.” The same engraving he asked a jeweler to put there sixteen years ago. Damn it, all of this is Saffy’s fault.

Carl was a beat cop in New Orleans when he busted Saffron James for rolling some tourist. She was a fifteen-year-old junkie with no family and no future. Carl had already lost his sister, Marguerite, to drugs and didn’t want to see Saffy end up on the skids too. He took her under his wing, helped get her sentence reduced, and put her in rehab. He did what he could for Saffy but mostly he just listened when the kid needed him to.

Carl coughs but doesn’t notice the flickering orange light coming from behind him or the intense heat. The Ellington woman knew how important this ring was to him. Did Katarina tell her the story? Did she tell Ellington how they met?

One night, Saffy showed up at Carl’s door with a beautiful Russian blond named Katarina Sereda. She was in a bad way, Katarina had been beaten but refused to say who did it and wouldn’t go to the police. Carl reluctantly agreed not to report it and took care of her wounds. Although her English wasn’t very strong, Katarina and Carl talked most of the night. By morning, Carl knew two things. First, he’d been on enough domestic abuse calls to recognize the work of a wife-beater and second, he was in love with Katarina. Both spelled bad news. Saffy didn’t know much about Katarina’s husband, Igor Sereda, other than he was a dangerous man. He had been Saffy’s dealer and she became good friends with his wife but beyond that, she never had much to do with him.

Smoke fills the room. Carl tries to keep from coughing but can’t. Could Igor Sereda have planted the bomb in Ellington’s purse? Carl wouldn’t put it past him but bombs never seemed to be his style, too elaborate.

Igor was a small time thug. In the two years he’d been in the U.S., he’d already had a couple of run-ins with the law. A few charges of drug possession, one charge of dealing, some assault and battery, but none of the charges stuck. It seemed that Igor was protected on high. Because of this, the N.O.D.T., New Orleans Drug Taskforce, were keeping tabs on Igor. They suspected he might have connections to the Russian Mafia and could be trafficking drugs into the U.S. Carl tried to convince Katarina to work with the N.O.D.T. and put this scum ball behind bars. She wanted to but was afraid. Not only of Igor but also of the man he worked for. Igor’s benefactor had arranged for them to enter the U.S. and now they were his slaves. Carl promised he would protect her and she reluctantly agreed to wear a wire.

For six months, they tried to get the goods on Igor but he was too clever. Carl and Katarina saw each other whenever they could and fell deeply in love. But they got sloppy and Igor found the engraved pearl ring Carl had given Katarina. He followed them to a motel on the outskirts of town, kicked in the door, and put two rounds in Carl’s gut before grabbing Katarina and making a run for it. They didn’t get far. The police caught up with them and Igor was arrested. The taskforce couldn’t get him on the drug trafficking charge but shooting a police officer was good enough. They locked Igor away. However, once again, the case was ultimately dismissed. Maybe he turned stoolpigeon on his benefactor. Maybe Carl’s indiscretion with a key witness was a liability. All he knew was that Igor was on the streets a few weeks later.

Carl was still in the hospital when Katarina paid him one brief visit. Something had changed in her. She told him that Igor was going to be released and planned to leave town. Katarina made it clear she would be leaving with him and that Carl was not to follow. Igor’s bullets had almost ended Carl but Katarina’s words destroyed him.

“It’s because you were pregnant, wasn’t it?” Carl mummers to himself, “That’s why you left with him.” Tears stream down his face as he looks at the ring. “He would have killed you, me, and the baby if you’d stayed.” He coughs. Blood drips into his eyes again and he wipes it away. Carl looks around at the destruction. The flickering orange light of the fire now fills the room. He should get out. Carl starts for the door but a wave of dizziness washes over him and he stumbles to his knees. The fire quickly engulfs the room. “You should’ve told me about our daughter, Kat.” Carl’s vision blurs and he falls face forward to the floor, unconscious. The ring bounces into the encroaching fire. Flames quickly surround him, leaping onto his pant leg.

Continued in Chapter III…

I am currently writing a serialized short story called “Chapter Play” for “The Gabriel Writer,” a member’s only publication put out by The San Gabriel Writers’ League. The story is a modern pulp in the vein of the old Chapter Plays or Serial Films of the 40′s and 50′s. The chapters are short and each one ends in a cliffhanger – like the old Chapter Plays.

I will be posting each chapter as it is published in “The Gabriel Writer.” I hope you enjoy the story and please let me know what you think.


Chapter I: In which we meet the hero…

Cigar smoke swirled through the dark office in snaking tendrils. Thin rays of evening sun poured through the blinds, slicing the gloom, and dancing with the smoke. It irritated the one-eyed dwarf.

“Do you have to smoke those?” The dwarf waved his pudgy hand in front of his face.

“You wanna talk about why you’re here or about my bad habits?” Jon Sledge drew on his Cohiba and puffed out another funnel of smoke.

Carl McGavin looks at what he’s just written. “Jon Sledge?” Good god! What a horribly cliché name. Might as well have named him “Dick Tracy” or “Sam Spade.” The protagonist’s name needs to be stronger and more dignified but not highfalutin, like “Lamont Cranston” or “Phillip Marlow.” He sits back in his chair, staring at the screen of his Apple Laptop. He runs his calloused hands through his dark gray hair and considers naming the character “Carl.” After all, the detective is base on him. But, no, Carl is too pedestrian. And “loosely based” might be better anyway. No one wants to read about a 49-year-old retired PI with a beer belly and a face that’s taken far too much abuse. However, Carl’s boxer arms are still fairly impressive, they would work for a main character.

There is a knock at the door. Annoyed, Carl tosses the laptop on his desk. The screen flickers. He pushes himself up and cautiously looks through the peephole. A woman stands in the late Austin sun. She’s well dressed with medium length brown hair and large sunglasses. A huge purse hangs from her shoulder. She looks at her watch and knocks again. He opens the door.

“Carl,” a broad smile spreads on the woman’s face. “McGavin?”

“That’s me, do I know you?”

“No, but I know you.” She walks past him and begins to look around the house. “Nice shirt.” She says, referring to his stained wife-beater.

“Thanks. Who are you and how do you know me?” Carl lets his irritation show.

“My name is Martha Ellington and we have mutual friends.” She speaks slowly; her pronunciation is deliberate and calculated. “I have a job for you. I need you to find someone.”

Carl groans. “Straight to the point, huh? Well, maybe you haven’t heard, but I’m not in the people finding business any more.” He stands by the door, hoping she’ll take the hint. She doesn’t. Martha walks into his office, exploring the room.

“So, what business are you in?”

“I’m a writer, and I really should be getting back to it, Ms. Ellington.”

She looks at his laptop, reading what he’s written so far. “Jon Sledge?” She wrinkles her nose and looks up at him.

“It’s a work in progress.”

Martha stops snooping. Her mood is suddenly serious. “I know you are retired, Carl, and I know it wasn’t exactly your idea. But this is a chance to make up for what happened. You can redeem yourself.”

Carl takes a closer look at this woman who clearly knows too much about him. She’s in her early forties, a little overweight but still very attractive. He feels the old detective in him and has a thousand questions he wants to ask. Instead, Carl says. “I’m a writer now.”

“It’s a sixteen year old girl. She’s missing, Carl.” Martha starts rummaging through her huge purse. “She might already be…dead for all I know. But she’s won’t be the only one. Thousands will die if we don’t do something.” She pulls out a button pearl ring and holds it out for Carl to see. “The girl’s name is Isabella, Isabella Sereda. Your daughter.”

Carl’s mouth drops. “I…I don’t have a daughter.” Martha doesn’t reply. She holds the ring out for him. He reluctantly takes it and walks across the room to a lamp. He holds it under the light. Carl knows this ring and the inscription engraved on the band. Tears well up in his eyes.

“Isabella’s mother, Katarina, gave me that. She said you’d recognize it, she said you’d help.”

“I don’t have a daughter. I don’t.” Carl says in a whisper.

“I have a picture of Katarina and your daughter here.” She digs through her purse again but pauses when she finds something alien. “What’s this?” she says to herself. There is a small metallic click. Carl looks up. Martha Ellington explodes.

Continued in Chapter II…